The Dark Issue 6 now on Sale

Friday, November 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dark Issue 6-smallThe sixth issue of The Dark, cover-dated November 2014, is now on sale.

Truthfully, I haven’t paid much attention to The Dark magazine recently. But at the World Fantasy Convention I picked up a free sampler, containing an assortment of fiction from past issues, and crammed it into my travel bag. Of all the things I could have read on my flight back to Chicago (and believe me, that bag was so stuffed it barely fit under the seat in front of me), it was that sampler that seemed most intriguing, so once we were off the ground I pulled it out, reclined my chair, and started to read.

It only took a few minutes to convince me that overlooking The Dark has been a serious mistake. A quarterly magazine of horror and dark fantasy co-edited by Jack Fisher and Sean Wallace, The Dark has published short fiction by some of the brightest stars in the fantasy firmament, including World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor, Angela Slatter, Rachel Swirsky, E. Catherine Tobler, Stephen Graham Jones, and many others.

Issues are available in digital format for just $2.99. Each one contains four short stories (roughly 40 pages), and is available through Amazon, B&N.com, Apple, Kobo, and other fine outlets. They can also be read for free on the website. The sixth issue contains the following:

Calamity, the Silent Trick by Sara Saab
The Three Familiars by Eric Schaller
Mourning Flags and Wildflowers by Patricia Russo
Home at Gloom’s End by Naim Kabir

If you enjoy the magazine as I do, there are plenty of ways you can help support it, including by buying their books, reviewing stories, or even just leaving comments. See the Issue 6 story summaries here, and their complete back issue catalog here.


The Roots of Microgaming: The Classic Games of Metagaming

Friday, November 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Metagaming ad Analog 1978-small

I’ve been writing a lot about board gaming recently. It’s been a big part of my life ever since the late 70s, when I responded to an ad for a line of new “microgames” from a company called Metagaming.

I saw the ad on the inside cover of Analog magazine, which I started reading with the April 1997 issue, when I was 12 years old. Responding to ads in comics and magazines was something you did in the 70s, don’t look at me like that. Honestly, it was perfectly normal. You mailed a check to some address in Texas, and four weeks later a tiny package arrived in the mail containing X-ray glasses, sea monkeys, or a Polaris Nuclear Submarine. Seriously, the US Postal service and your mother’s checkbook were all you needed to access all the wonders of the world in the 1970s.

Well, the wonder that attracted my attention in the Fall of 1978 was an advertisement for SCIENCE FICTION GAMES from a company called Metagaming (click on the image above, from the inside cover of the October 1978 Analog, for a high-res version). I’d already taken my first steps into the hobby games market with the classic wargames of Avalon Hill, including Panzer Leader and Starship Troopers. But they were massive, requiring half an hour or more of set-up, and four to six hours to play. These mini-games looked portable and promised to be “fast-playing and inexpensive… a classic wargame that you can put in your pocket and play over lunch.”

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Goth Chick News: Dr. Jekyll Meets The Incredible Hulk on British Television… Kind Of

Thursday, November 27th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Dr. Jekyll Meets The Incredible Hulk-smallThis all seems kind of inevitable when you think about it.

Here in the good ol’ US of A, superheroes have been reigning supreme on the big screen for some time, while zombies are unstoppable on the small. So if you’re a British television executive gazing longingly across the pond at the entertainment bank being made over here, you’re probably also thinking how to capitalize on it at home without seeming so…well, American.

That’s when you decide to take a very English literary character (no ghastly dime-store comics here, I can tell you) and make him into a superhero – well sort of. But he’s not going to be happy about it because by God we are British after all. So he’s going to be rather tortured and guilt-ridden and all that – none of this happy swinging from spider webs or flying around in iron suits. Oh, and there will be monsters mixed in there too.

And this is how we get a new television series starring Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, commissioned by the oldest commercial network in the UK.

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Bringing Neglected Classics Back Into Print: The Horror Catalog of Valancourt Books

Thursday, November 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Cormorant Stephen Gregory-small The Monster Club R. Chetwynd-Hayes-small The Killer and the Slain Hugh Walpole-small The Smell of Evil-small

One of the many delights of the World Fantasy Convention, as I reported last week, is meeting the small publishers doing marvelous work in the industry. Seeing their catalogs of books spread out before you on a table in the Dealers Room can be quite a revelation. That was certainly the case with Valancourt Books.

As they proclaim proudly on their website, Valancourt Books is an independent small press specializing in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print fiction. They have five major lines: Gothic, Romantic, & Victorian; Literary Fiction; Horror & Supernatural; Gay Interest; and E-Classics. For World Fantasy, they crammed their table with titles from their Horror & Supernatural line. And I do mean crammed: their small table was piled high with dozens of beautifully designed trade paperbacks reprinting long-out-of-print horror paperbacks, chiefly from the 70s and 80s.

All it took was one glance to see that Valancourt Books has two significant strengths. First, their editorial team has excellent taste. They have reprinted work by Stephen Gregory, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Hugh Walpole, Charles Birkin, Jack Cady, Basil Copper, Russell Thorndike, John Blackburn, Michael McDowell, Bram Stoker, and many, many others. And second, their design team is absolutely top-notch. Their books are gorgeous, with beautiful cover art and striking visual design. I’ve selected eight to highlight in this article, just to give you a taste of what they have to offer, and replicate (in a small way) what it was like to stand in front of their table gazing appreciatively at their assembled treasures.

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Melissa Marr’s Made For You is Stay-Up-Past-Your-Bedtime Good

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 | Posted by Kelly Swails

Made For You Melissa Marr-smallMade For You
by Melissa Marr
HarperCollins (368 pages, September 2014, $17.99)

Eva Tilling has everything one needs to be the town darling in small-town Jessup, North Carolina: one grandfather is a prominent minister, the other owns a well-known winery, and she has learned the nuances of Southern etiquette. She also has a secret admirer who shows her how much she loves her by running her over with a car.

Eva wakes up in the hospital with more than just broken bones and stitches: she has a new ability to see someone’s death when they touch her. She finds the new ability confusing, but when she touches her friends and discovers they die horrible deaths — and soon — it frightens her. Once people in her social circle start dying, she knows she needs to tell her two best friends her secret so they can use her ability to save their lives and find the killer.

Made for You is Melissa Marr’s (best-selling author of the Wicked Lovely series) attempt at the mystery/thriller genre, and she succeeds. She uses first-person/present-tense to bring immediacy to the story and three points of view to ramp up the tension. Marr definitely tips her hat to classic who-dun-it novels by weaving in just enough details to keep me reading.

As for the characters, I found all of them believable and well-rounded. The author doesn’t shy away from teenage activities (specifically, sex and drinking). The parents are present throughout the second half of the book; Eva’s mother specifically has a relevant back story that adds depth to their relationship.

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Future Treasures: Dungeon Master’s Guide from Wizards of the Coast

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dungeon Master's Guide-smallThe Dungeon Master’s Guide ships in less than two weeks, finally completing the rules set required to fully run Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.

Truthfully, everything you really need to play is contained in the core rules, barely 25 pages of the Players Handbook (one of the reasons I think the new edition has been such a hit), but players have been waiting anxiously to complete the Fifth Edition rules set and enjoy the full scope of the game. The DMG contains magic items, optional rules, advice for Dungeon Masters, and a lot more.

The Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set was published July 15, 2014; Andrew Zimmerman Jones did a forensic analysis for us here. The Players Handbook was released on August 19; Andrew reviewed it for us a few days later. The Monster Manual arrived September 30; Andrew was all over it the day before it came out. I was going to review this one, but I’m pretty sure Andrew will beat me to it.

Why wait two months to publish the DMG? No idea, but there’s probably some kind of marketing strategy behind it. The tradition of publishing D&D rules sets in three volumes goes all the way back to Gary Gygax, and he took two years to produce all three (the first Players Handbook was published in 1977; the DMG didn’t show up until 1979.) So I guess we should consider ourselves lucky it’s showing up now, instead of 2016.

Everything a Dungeon Master needs to weave legendary stories for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides the inspiration and the guidance you need to spark your imagination and create worlds of adventure for your players to explore and enjoy. Inside you’ll find world-building tools, tips and tricks for creating memorable dungeons and adventures, optional game rules, hundreds of classic D&D magic items, and much more!

The Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide was written by the Wizards RPG Team, and will be published by Wizards of the Coast on December 9, 2014. It is 320 pages, priced at $49.95 in hardcover. There is no digital edition. Get more details at the WotC website.


Vintage Treasures: Revelations in Black by Carl Jacobi

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Revelations in Black-smallCarl Jacobi is a hard guy to collect.

Part of the problem is that he just didn’t publish many books. Five collections of horror stories in his lifetime. No novels. All of the collections were released through small presses, including Arkham House and Fedogan & Bremer, and only one was reprinted in paperback. Pretty thin pickings, especially if you like paperbacks.

However, the ISFDB listing for Carl Jocobi includes over 120 short stories, three chapbooks, and a poem, among other publications. Guy was certainly prolific enough, even if only a fraction of his output ended up reprinted in more permanent editions. He wrote for most of the major pulps all through the 30s and 40s, including Startling Stories, Wonder Stories, Ghost Stories, Thrilling Wonder, Amazing, and especially Weird Tales.

He was widely respected, too. Stephen King called him “One of the finest writers to come out of the Golden Age of Fantasy,” and his stories were reprinted in numerous SF and fantasy anthologies. They were also translated into French, Swedish, Danish, and Dutch.

On May 6th of this year, the marvelous Centipede Press released Masters of the Weird Tale: Carl Jacobi, the latest volume in their deluxe Masters of the Weird Tale series. Clocking in at 900 pages, with new and reprint art and lots of photos, it’s the definitive collection of Jacobi’s fiction. It’s also $350 retail. Considering that I recently bought a vintage collection of some 1,000 SF and fantasy paperbacks in nearly new condition for about a third that price, let’s just say that spending $350 on a single book is not a good option for me, and move on.

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New Treasures: Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms and Weapons from the Age of Steam by Philip Smith and Joseph McCullough

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Steampunk Soldiers-smallI’m a sucker for the Steampunk aesthetic — and especially the really creative fashion and fiction it’s helped create. It’s not often that a literary movement simultaneously spawns a fashion and cosplay movement, and I think that’s neat. The two have helped fuel each other, and how could they not? It’s easier to be creative when there are hundreds of artists, jewelers, seamstresses, and cosplayers out there coming up with ideas.

There’s been some terrific Steampunk-related releases in the past few months, including Sean Wallace’s Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures (containing a story by our very own C.S.E. Cooney), Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay novels, Peter Cakebread’s The Alchemist’s Revenge, and Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, just to name a few. But I think my favorite may be the just-released Steampunk Soldiers, a handsome illustrated hardcover that purports to be a serious historical study of the of steam-powered weaponry and equipment that abounded in the days before the Great War of the Worlds.

Steampunk Soldiers is a unique pictorial guide to the last great era of bright and colorful uniforms, as well as an important historical study of the variety of steam-powered weaponry and equipment that abounded in the days before the Great War of the Worlds.

Between 1887 and 1895, the British art student Miles Vandercroft traveled around the world, sketching and painting the soldiers of the countries through which he passed. In this age of dramatic technological advancement, Vandercroft was fascinated by how the rise of steam technology at the start of the American Civil War had transformed warfare and the role of the fighting man. This volume collects all of Vandercroft’s surviving paintings, along with his associated commentary on the specific military units he encountered.

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Some Things Need to Be Broken: Seeker’s Mask by P.C. Hodgell

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

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Cover by P.C. Hodgell

A friend once told me of his desire to see a movie with even more action than Die Hard. He envisioned a film with action from first frame to last. I bring this up because the third book of P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath series, Seeker’s Mask (1995) is one of the most fast moving, packed-to-the-gills-with-thrills books I have ever read. It may not be the all-action nirvana my friend hoped for, but it’s about as close as I’ve ever found.

It starts in the rules-smothered confines of the Women’s Halls, and then whips Hodgell’s heroine Jame up and down the world before ending in the middle of a barbarian tribe’s fiery ceremony. Invisible assassins, gods, malign magics, and trips into people’s minds smash up against one another for the reader’s attention. If all I did was list the events in Seeker’s Mask, this article would be twice as long as I want it to be.

Jame is a Highborn of the Kencyrath, one of three species molded into one race by their god to fight against Perimal Darkling. The Highborn are the rulers and priests and the fewest in number. The most numerous species, the Kendar, are the soldiers and craftsmen. Finally there are the leonine Arrin-Ken, who served as the race’s judges until frustration led them to leave Kencyrath society in order to decide what needed to be done next in the war against Perimal.

Thousands of years ago, the High Lord Gerridon betrayed his people to Perimal Darkling in exchange for immortality. Two-thirds of the Kencyrath were killed and the survivors fled to the world of Rathilien.

In the previous book, Dark of the Moon (1985), Jame had reunited, after a decade of separation, with her twin brother, Torisen, Lord of the House of Knorth, and High Lord of all the Kencyrath. He and the Kencyrath armies had just emerged victorious from a great battle against the Waster Horde (read the review here). As the only other known member of the House of Knorth, Jame’s sudden appearance throws political calculations out of whack.

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Review of Sinister: Is Bagul the New Bogeyman on the Block?

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Irelyn Ozment's depiction of a "bad robot," November 2014

Irelyn Ozment’s depiction of a “bad robot,” November 2014

Anyone who has used the search engine Google more than once knows that it automatically generates ads based on your search terms that are then embedded into your search list. Aside from a little yellow “Ad” button, they look deceptively like more search results, tricking the unwary 2-a.m. web surfer into accidentally clicking on them and then being nightmarishly whisked off to some random retail site. The algorithm often creates nonsensical advertisements, proving yet again that we are still a long way off from AI (or even, in some cases, from I).

When I did a search for “Bagul,” aka Mr. Boogie aka ancient Babylonian deity who consumes the souls of children, the following three ads popped up at the end of my first page of hits (actual web links redacted, because I do not want to be responsible for you unleashing Mr. Boogie onto yourself or your family):

1. Bagul Store: Bagul: super cheap Hurry while stocks last!

2. Bagul – 70% Off – Lowest Price On Bagul: Free shipping, in stock. Buy now!

3. Bagul up to 70% off – Bagul sale: Compare prices and save up to 70%

If you’ve seen the 2012 film Sinister, the thought of having Bagul shipped to you for free should be absolutely chilling. Even if he is up to 70% off. Just 30% of Bagul will probably still mean certain death for you and your loved ones. In fact, someone inadvertently clicking on one of these ads could be the premise for Sinister 2, the sequel.

On the recommendation of several people (well, two — but since one of them was Black Gate ed-in-chief John O’Neill, that should count as several), I selected Sinister as my Hallowe’en 2014 viewing. After the last peals of “trick or treat” had long since dwindled away down the dark, cold streets, and our own little homespun Mrs. Munster (yes, that is what my 5-year-old specifically chose to be this year) and zombie cop had been tucked into their beds to sleep off their Hershey/Mars/Nestle comas, my wife and I inserted the Blu-Ray we’d rented into the player. My wife promptly fell asleep, but that has no bearing on the quality of the movie in question. For the next hour and fifty minutes, I was transfixed. I’ve got to concede: for this genre of film, this one is a high water mark.

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