Tuesday, June 26, 2007

By Barrington Bayley

So you’re an SF fan. You want all the crazy, swashbuckling action of Dan Dare and the Intergalactic Squid Invasion but the intellectual challenge of A Canticle for St. Squidbert. Oh yeah, and the outlandish fantasy of The Unicorn Chronicles Part XLIV. Whatcha gonna do, read The Economist? How about you try Barrington Bayley, the best-kept secret of SF.

Bayley writes thinking man’s Space Opera. Instead of dryly extrapolating quantum physics, Bayley boldly posits a futuristic world where the archaic art of alchemy rules and faster-than-light travel depends on the ether wind.

Star Winds begins on a decayed Earth where the technology to travel the “Star Winds”, the solar wind that blows through space, is being lost. Rachad, a young apprentice alchemist, makes an alliance with a washed up space-captain Zhorga. Together they will travel the old trade route to Mars before it’s too late to leave the Earth. It’s a desperate gamble to re-open Earth’s trade with the stars.

They find the space lanes strewn with forgotten weapons and strange dangers. Their destination is even more peculiar. Humanity exists in scattered feudal realms under attack from an invading alien race that absorbs people into their collective mind. Rachad is tasked with infiltrating a bizarre stronghold in order to wrest away its secret alchemy for the benefit of mankind.

Alchemy? Feudal kingdoms? Sailing ships? Is this an SF story or High Fantasy? I daresay Bayley realized that SF has its roots, not in the technical reports of engineers, but the fantastic dreams of a society where magic is found in the future. But his stories aren’t simply wish-fulfillment or power-fantasies. Bayley’s characters are well-rounded and his world is vivid with amazing wonders and terrible dangers. Bayley lets us stop every so often to wonder what its all about too. He’s not content to let the scurrying lives of merchant-adventurers, ambitious princes, and mercenary captains to be their own justification. He has the ability to show us the folly of our mad scramble to our demise. Like a good alchemist, Bayley knows that the thing to be transmuted is the metal of the soul.

-Dave Hardy

Monday, June 25, 2007

By Barrington Bayley

Imagine an Earth ruled by a Fascist regime whose primary goal is racial purity. Now it finds itself being invaded from the other side of the time-stream. That’s the premise of Barrington Bayley’s novel Collision Course.

Rond Heshke is an archaeologist summoned by the Bureau of Politics to investigate mysterious ancient ruins that seem to be getting less ancient. This is a crisis because the Titans, the totalitarian party that rules the world, is based on exclusive supremacy for the whitest of whites and genocide for all “devs”. Devs are defined as sub-species of mankind that “deviate” from the Nordic ideal of “True Man”. The ruins are associated with something worse than devs, aliens from the future.

Heshke is a somewhat reluctant defender of racial purity. He has connections with folks who traffic with devs. The survivors have been penned on reservations, but their existence is more than precarious.

Meanwhile the Titans have made contact with Retort City, one of Bayley’s deliciously imagined city-states. This one is a space station, or perhaps a time station, formed in the shape of two pods joined at the center. The people of Retort have solved the problems of class warfare by separating their folk into work and management classes in the two pods. To ensure that feelings of rivalry don’t develop alternate generations of families are split and sent to the opposite pod. The folk are sympathetic to the Titans’ problems. Unfortunately they are devs from the sub-class the Titans call Chinks.

Collision Course is satire of the blackest sort. The “ideal” societies built by Titans and Retort City dwellers are coming apart form their inherent contradictions. The politics of liberals come in for a thumping as well. The radical underground is composed more of talkers than actors, and though professing love for devs, they don’t actually want to have any around. In a grimly hilarious scene a True Man and his mixed-race lover bemoan the fate of the devs, except for a group called the Lorenes. Apparently they were such bastards they pretty much deserved genocide.

Collision Course is a gem of New Wave SF, one that engages with the social possibilities of futuristic technology without turning into turgid propaganda. It also has that most old-fashioned requirement of SF, a sense of wonder.

-Dave Hardy

Friday, June 22, 2007


By Barrington Bayley

Barrington Bayley’s SF is the kind of writing that would appeal to both a taste for old-fashioned action-oriented Space Opera and New Wave mind-trips that border on the surreal. The Zen Gun is a tale of galactic rebellion with Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader replaced by eccentric hippies and talking animals. They are living in a universe where there are lots of Forces, not all of them benign.

The galactic empire ruled by planet Diadem has grown decadent. Admiral Archier of the elite Ten-Fleet is a mere youth because of the declining birth-rate, children age fast because adults are scarce. The robots have been on strike for a few centuries, so genetically modified animals and human-animal hybrids have stepped in to fill the gap. The colonies are taxed of scientists and artists to help prop up imperial culture. Both the animals and the colonies have their own agendas, which makes for interesting times.

If that isn’t complex enough, a mentally defective hybrid called Pout has escaped from a secret lab and stolen an ancient weapon of mysterious, but immense power. He crosses paths with a futuristic samurai and Hesper, a shipwrecked rebel. And the universe is coming apart at the seams.

Bayley’s novels, the Zen Gun in particular are difficult to describe, thanks to the complex multi-sided struggles, the swiftly moving and varied crises, and the large cast of characters. What is wonderful to see is how colorfully the characters stand out, how deftly Bayley keeps his plot moving, and how vivid are the settings. Even more astonishing is that the whole thing runs about 160 pages. There is not an ounce of fat in the novel, nor does Bayley pull punches when it comes to looking at the underside of a decadent culture.

The Zen Gun is a mind-boggling little tour de force. If we could still get SF this well written in the 21st century, the future of the genre would be assured.

-Dave Hardy

Thursday, June 21, 2007

By Barrington J. Bayley

I was trolling about the internet one day when I should have been working and I came across the Cheap Truth summary of Barrington J. Bayley’s science fiction. I thought anything described as the “literary equivalent of psilocybin” by the “Zen master of space opera” can’t be all bad.

Actually it’s a lot better! Comparisons with William S. Burroughs aside, this is space opera of a high order. The Pillars of Eternity is grand, fast paced, full of high adventure, and high ideas. Try to imagine Seneca the Stoic starring in a cross between The Maltese Falcon and The DaVinci Code crafted by Doc Smith and you might get the idea.

The hero, Joachim Boaz, starts life as a crippled street-urchin. He encounters a sect of philosophers who rebuild him into a cybernetic superman. But when Boaz is crippled in an alchemy lab accident, he is rebuilt again as a symbiote with his spaceship, literally a cybernetic organism (κυβερνητης means shipmaster). He is also emotionally crippled. There’s a little matter of a lost planet with the galaxy’s most powerful treasure, government assassins who leave calling cards, a computerized version of the Kray twins, and a fad for getting killed as a kinky thrill. All that in 160 pages.

Pillars of Eternity is what they meant when they coined the phrase “new baroque space opera”. I just call it exciting, thought-provoking, and adventurous.

-Dave Hardy

Thursday, June 14, 2007


My long overdue re-appearance on the F&S blog has finally come. At present I am reduced to a single laptop and use of an ISP that I think actually uses camels to deliver e-mail. It’s not a pretty picture, but I have to return to the fray.

First up: BLACK SAILS!

Straight from Sam & Josie Hawken of 1018 press comes a tome of tales of piracy and fantasy on the high seas. There are a whopping 16 yarns of sea-dogs, curses, salt, swords, and sorcery.

  • "The Ghost Ship," by Charles Edward
  • "The Death of Captain Eugene Bloodcake and the Fall of the Horrid Whore," by Joel A. Sutherland
  • "Black Curse of the Noose," by David Hardy
  • "The Breaking of Hell's Bones," by Christopher Heath
  • "The Curse of the Dull Knife," by L. Roger Quilter
  • "Sea of Cards," by Scott Almes
  • "In the Lesser Southern Isles," by Cat Rambo
  • "The Curse of Isla Cura," by George Mann
  • "On the Old Dabreau," by Jens Rushing
  • "The Siren's Lure," by Jordan Lapp
  • "The Call of Kuazataml," by Jonathan Moeller
  • "The Wandering Star," by Donna Taylor Burgess
  • "His Mother's Son," by Michelle Klein
  • "Black Mary's Curse," by Kim Despins
  • "The Squall," by Steven Winkelstein
  • "La Malédiction de Mort," by Juleigh Howard-Hobson

My own contribution “Black Curse of the Noose” is my first proper horror story. Not that it is without bloodshed and battle, however the focus is on the anti-hero’s peculiar sense of what is and is not a fitting way to die. It’s definitely the most savage tale I’ve written to date. I haven’t yet got my contributor’s copy (I am pretty much holding my breath, I’m so excited!). I’m looking forward to some classy entries by Christopher Heath, Jordan Lapp, and Joel A. Sutherland (he wins for coolest title).

You can order it today by going to http://www.lulu.com/content/883546.


The annual pilgrimage to Cross Plains for Robert E. Howard Days passed off well. There was much merriment, much blowhardery, and much eating of catfish. And, despite being a gathering of REH fans, no one had a fist-fight, nor died of heart-attack, heat-stroke, nor alcohol poisoning.

We set out on Thursday with the intent of meeting the crew at Enchanted Rock. This is a great dome of rock thrusting up from the Texas Hill country. It has served as the inspiration for Cimmeria, the home of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, as well as Lost Knob, the site of a tragic staff picnic in James Hynes Kings of Infinite Space. I made a point to wear my “Hello, my name is: BOY G” nametag.

Anyway the plan was guys in Cross Plains would drive south to Ft. McKavett and then to Enchanted Rock State Park. We stopped in Frederickburg for a visit to Dooley’s 5& Dime store. It’s part fly-in-amber, part tourist kitsch. The place is way cool and missus finds crazy bargains on hairnets, white gloves, and handkerchiefs. I like the straw hats and the young ‘un likes the toys.

We rolled from there to Enchanted Rock, arriving at 2:45. Given the late time and the uncertainty that we’d actually meet up with the Howardheads (I am the last man in N. America w/out a cell phone), we paused in the parking lot, took a good look and headed north. I’d already made reservations for my room twice (don’t ask) and was frankly a bit antsy. More so since this was a new route for me.

As it turned out, we made good time. Route 16 and 190 skirt Loyal Valley, the epicenter of the Mason County feud that raged in the 1870s. It was a battle between mostly German-Texan ranchers and Anglo-Texans. Bitterness from the Civil War era lynchings, rustling, and some plain, old-fashioned gangsterism contributed to a violent conflict. Passing down 190 I saw places that still bore the family names of prominent feudists. The past often stays close in small towns. We made Cross Plains safely and got our room, which I may add did not seem to have mice.

Friday began my days of panel-going and presentations. At the high school library, fans were treated to a talk by Greg Manchess on his artwork for the third Wandering Star/Del Rey volume of Conan tales. Like Gianni, he’s influenced by the Brandywine artists. I quite like his work, though I’ve a pet peeve about curved swords. Manchess’s vision of Conan manages to have the savagery of Frazetta, with the lushness of Wyeth. A nice combo. He also showed us work from a forthcoming children’s book on Magellan. Manchess’s historical art is truly stellar.

Next I sat in on Duece Richardson’s talk on the geography and history of Kull’s Valusia. Suffice to say it’s a complex subject, but Howard left us some rather good clues as to who lived next to what, and feuded with whom else. Duece had some interesting ideas about how the often conflicting visions of Atlantis, Mu, and Lemuria could have fit together in Howard’s work.

I also got to meet Norris Chambers. Whenhe was a youngster his father worked with Dr. Howard, and Norris knew Bob as a boy. I can’t wait to see what all will come of Leo Grin’s interview with Mr. Chambers.

Dinner involved lots of catfish (my favorite) and more slides from Greg Manchess. I spent quite a bit of time outside playing with my young’un (she’s not much for sitting still and quiet, especially when she’s got Indy Bill Cavalier to make her giggle). The missus got to see the slide show and seconded my opinion on Manchess’s Magellanic manifestations.

On Saturday, I held forth at the library on “Desert Adventurers”, REH’s various American gunslingers who hang out in Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and other parts of the Wild East. I brought along some scans of artwork that had appeared in Top Notch when the El Borak and Kirby O’Donnell tales first appeared back in 1934/35. No one fell asleep and the audience even laughed out loud at a few points.

I spent a good of the afternoon visiting the Barbarian Days festival. I always enjoy chatting with the guy that brings his Ferret armored car every year. The young’un liked looking at the old autos. She took it in stride when I told here how they started cars with a crank instead of a key. If I’d have let her I think she’d have climbed in and tried to drive one away.

At Caddo Peak in the evening, I climbed the peak with the young’un at my side. She made it all the way under her own power. Not bad for a 5-year old. After a third straight evening of carousing at the pavilion, I crashed for some blissful sleep.

On the morrow, we rose and had a last fling at Jean’s Feedbarn (that and the Staghorn are two of the best little eateries in Texas). I chatted with Don Gosnell, the Cross Plains policeman, about Howard Days, oddball crimes, and little towns to visit. He told me that the catfish came from Cook’s Fish Barn outside of Rising Star. We drove back by way of Rising Star and stopped off in a local thrift store that is a resource center for families in crisis: Women's Christian Ministry Resource Center. We chatted with Iris Ratliff, who runs the place about her work. She’s a very nice lady working in a very good cause.

The run home was uneventful. My ninth straight REH Days was over. I’m putting together my priorities from old projects and new ones and counting the days for number ten.

-Dave Hardy