Deep in Wildest Britain: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Deep in Wildest Britain: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

I had the sense of recognition…here was something which I had known all my life, only I didn’t know it…

English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams on discovering English folklore and folk music

The late Robert Holdstock prefaced his 1984 novel, Mythago Wood with that quote, and that’s sort of how I feel about the book myself. Holdstock dug deeply into the idea of myth, how it might arise from a culture, and how, in turn, it might affect individuals.

I have no memory of when I first learned of Mythago Wood. I must have seen it on the Forbidden Planet’s shelves when it was released; I didn’t read it, though, until 2001. I read it again while traveling in England eight years later, and just now. At times it seems like I must have read it so much longer ago and more times than that. Much of it reads like a dream of some true past, equally joyful and nightmarish, and elements of it have rattled about my brain ever since. Rereading it now, I realize that over the years, my memories of the novel, like the mythic figures born of the forest around which the story revolves, have faded and changed with each passing season, but the underlying haunting design remains; a mesmerizing tale of father-and-son and brother-and-brother struggles, Freudian and Jungian elements, woven together with a wholly original mythopoeic retelling of the history of Britain from Paleolithic times to the present (or at least 1948, the present of the book). I will more than likely read it again before I’m through.

The central conceit of Mythago Wood is that archetypes and legends spring from the collective unconscious when needed.

The mythagos grow from the power of hate, and fear, and form in the natural woodlands from which they can either emerge — such as the Arthur, or Artorius form, the bearlike man with his charismatic leadership — or remain in the natural landscape, establishing a hidden focus of hope — the Robin Hood form….

Ryhope Wood, a three-mile square ancient woodland in Herefordshire, is capable of interacting with the minds of people near it and giving physical reality to these figures. Characters like Cernunnos, King Arthur, and Jack-in-the-Green can be summoned up from the deepest recesses of people’s minds. More importantly, it can also conjure up the legends that lie behind the legends. Perhaps the story of Robin Hood arose from even older stories of green-clad forest bandits, and behind those, yet older and darker ones. The more intimately a person becomes involved with Ryhope Wood the deeper and deeper ancient memories it can draw upon and summon forth. Ryhope Wood also exists beyond normal time and space, expanding, almost without limit, the further one ventures into it, and time speeds by much faster within the forest than without. Deep inside, whole settlements and tribes called out in long past days carry on telling and retelling their stories through their daily lives and routines.

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Goth Chick News: Days of the Dead – Season Greetings from Our Family to Yours

Goth Chick News: Days of the Dead – Season Greetings from Our Family to Yours

That time of year has once again rolled around. “The Season” is officially over. Black Gate photog Chris Z has thrown a tarp over the Hummer and sent his kilt to the dry cleaners. We’ve emptied the final airplane-sized bottles of Fireball, and filed our last expense report with BG’s financial fun police. Because on the weekend before Thanksgiving we attended the final convention of our annual show circuit, Days of the Dead.

It certainly doesn’t feel like nearly ten years since we attended our first DotD convention at its sophomore outing in the Chicago suburbs. I readily admit that Chicago isn’t Los Angeles or even New Orleans when it comes to sub-cultures, though the elements that do exist are certainly worth wading into — if you know where to look. But when DotD came to Chicago for the first time in 2011, its home was the Schaumburg Marriot of all places.

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Now Streaming: The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Now Streaming: The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

A friend of mine has often joked that I am his go-to source for television series which were cancelled during their first season. I believe that the series I recommended to him that cemented my reputation was The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which ran on FOX for one season in 1993 and starred Bruce Campbell in the title role. His support staff included Julius Carry as Lord Bowler, Christian Clemenson as Socrates Poole, and recurring characters Professor Albert Wickwire (John Astin), Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford), Pete Hutter (John Pyper-Ferguson), John Bly (Billy Drago), and Whip Morgan (Jeff Phillips).

In my article on The Middleman, I commented that it could most properly be compared to a tongue-in-cheek version of Men in Black. If I were to make a similar comparison for The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., I’d compare it to the 1965 television series The Wild Wild West (the film version of which happened to star Will Smith, who was also in Men in Black).

The titular character is hired by a bunch of robber barons to track down the members of John Bly’s gang who ambushed and killed Brisco’s father and, in so doing, damaged the robber barons’ hold on the commerce in the American West in the 1890s.  The barons’ liaison with Brisco is Socrates Poole, an effete businessman who strikes up a friendship with Brisco, but is apparently as far removed as possible from the bounty hunter. Early on, Brisco finds a rival, later partner, in the form of Lord Bowler, another bounty hunter who has some surprises of his own.

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Starfinder: Galaxy Exploration Guide and Tech Revolution

Starfinder: Galaxy Exploration Guide and Tech Revolution

Back in September, I made it back to Gen Con. It was different in so many ways after the year off from last year. First, and perhaps least significant, it was in mid-September instead of the beginning of August. On the personal level, it was extremely different because I was there as a game designer, playtesting my new card game design, Eureka Science Academy, in the First Exposure Playtest Hall (a profoundly unfortunately-named place to hang out during a global pandemic). Normally, I’m there on a press pass, and my goal is to get exposed to as much new material as I can to share with the Black Gate readership.

On top of all of that, though, it was profoundly different because most of my favorite game companies weren’t even there. No Paizo. No Privateer Press. No Fantasy Flight Games. No Asmodee. No Looney Labs. No IELLO. Instead, these companies took their Gen Con presence online this year, and Paizo had a particularly robust selection of online content.

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords – 1981: The Old Order Changeth

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords – 1981: The Old Order Changeth

Excalibur (Warner Bros, 1981)

1981 was a watershed year in fantasy films. The success of Star Wars had made it possible to fund and produce large-scale SF and fantasy movies, but it also heralded a change in the way such movies were made, placing high-quality (and thus expensive) special effects front and center. Prior to Star Wars, special effects in fantasy films were almost invariably low-budget and cheesy, reflecting movie producers’ almost invariable belief that such films appealed only to a niche and rather undiscerning market.

The conspicuous exception to this rule was the films of master animator Ray Harryhausen, but even in his movies, beyond the creature animation, the production values, script, and human performances were often afterthoughts. However, the creatures were magnificent, and that was considered enough.

Not anymore. Harryhausen’s painstaking stop-motion animation had been superseded by new approaches that integrated stop-motion with puppetry, classical animation, and most importantly computer graphics. And indeed, 1981’s Clash of the Titans was Harryhausen’s final film. If Clash wasn’t completely outdone by Dragonslayer, the effects in that film, largely produced by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, nonetheless pointed the way toward a new era in fantasy.

However, it wasn’t all about the special effects. John Boorman’s Excalibur showed that a film of heroic fantasy could also be cinematic art, aspiring to the best the medium was capable of. After Excalibur, plenty of critics would continue to sneer at fantasy films, but the proof was in: they were wrong.

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New Treasures: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2021 edited by Veronica Roth and John Joseph Adams

New Treasures: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2021 edited by Veronica Roth and John Joseph Adams

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2021 (Mariner Books, October 2021). Cover uncredited

John Joseph Adams was my editor on my first novel, The Robots of Gotham, so naturally I assume he is the leading editor in the field (you should too.) For the past seven years he has been editing The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy with a strong line-up of annual co-editors, including Karen Joy Fowler, N.K. Jemisin, and Carmen Maria Machado. This year Veronica Roth joins him at the podium, the bestselling author of The Divergent series and Chosen Ones.

The 10 fantasy tales in this year’s volume are by Kate Elliott, Ken Liu, Yohanca Delgado (with two stories), and others; the ten SF stories are from Daryl Gregory, Ted Kosmatka, Karen Lord, Tochi Onyebuchi, Yoon Ha Lee, and others. Also within are Celeste Rita Baker’s World Fantasy Award Winner “Glass Bottle Dancer,” Meg Elison’s Locus Award winner “The Pill,” and Sarah Pinsker’s Nebula winner “Two Truths and a Lie.” Here’s a look at some recent reviews.

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The Cold and Encroaching Doom of Death in Space

The Cold and Encroaching Doom of Death in Space

Player and gamemasters (GMs) of tabletop roleplaying games often refer to “crunch.” This is in reference to how the mechanics of the game work, and generally (though I suspect some folks will fight me on this), a crunchier game has more context-based rules. For example, the least crunchiest game is someone roles a 20-sided die and no matter what, if it rolls above 10, it is always a success. You start adding crunch to it when the rules start to say, “okay, not modify that roll by +2 for attempting to break a grapple or -1 if doing the task in the dark.” Games can get crunchy in a whole lot of ways (lots of rules for various situations–looking at you Starfinder). Some go way crunchy (an example of an extreme crunchy game is Dystopia 23, see my article here).

In the early 2000s, games tended to get more complex and crunchier and a “movement” referred to as the OSR, or old-school revival (sometimes old-school renaissance), crept into the tabletop gaming community. Originally hearkening back to the supposed simpler days of tabletop RPGs in the early 70s (okay, the early days of Dungeons & Dragons), the movement’s core can best be summed up in “rulings over rules.”

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Wise in the Ways of Procrastination: James Davis Nicoll on the Science Fiction Book Club, and Five Great Books He Never Meant to Read

Wise in the Ways of Procrastination: James Davis Nicoll on the Science Fiction Book Club, and Five Great Books He Never Meant to Read

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Three Hainish Novels (SFBC, 1978), John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up (Del Rey, 1981),
and Triplicity (SFBC, 1980) by Thomas M. Disch. Covers: Jack Woolhiser, Murray Tinkelman, and Ron Logan

Over at Tor.com, occasional Black Gate contributor James Davis Nicoll has penned a charming look back at the way the Science Fiction Book Club introduced him to some terrific science fiction.

While but a callow youth, I subscribed to the Science Fiction Book Club. The club, wise in the ways of procrastination, would send each month’s selection of books to subscribers UNLESS the subscribers had sent the club a card informing the SFBC that one did not want the books in question. All too often I planned to send the card off, only to realize (once again), when a box of books arrived, that intent is not at all the same thing as action.

Thus, I received books that I would not have chosen but, once in possession, I read and enjoyed them. All praise to the SFBC and the power of procrastination! Here are five of my favorite unintended reading experiences…

Anyone who was a member of the SFBC knows of what James speaks — this is exactly how I discovered Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. Check out the complete article here.

Vintage Treasures: Other Days, Other Eyes by Bob Shaw

Vintage Treasures: Other Days, Other Eyes by Bob Shaw

Other Days, Other Eyes (Ace, 1972). Cover by J. H. Breslow

Bob Shaw was a prolific science fiction writer from Northern Ireland who wrote over two dozen novels, including The Orbitsville trilogy, about the discovery of an intact Dyson sphere orbiting a far star, Medusa’s Children (1977), Who Goes Here? (1977), and perhaps his most popular book, the Hugo-nominated The Ragged Astronauts (1986), the tale of a technologically advanced civilization that builds spaceships out of wood. It wasn’t something you forgot in a hurry.

Shaw produced several highly-regarded collections, including Ship of Strangers (a fix-up novel, 1978) and Cosmic Kaleidoscope (1979). His most famous short story is still fondly remembered today: the Hugo and Nebula nominee “Light of Other Days,” originally published in John W. Campbell’s Analog Science Fiction and Fact in August 1966. The central concept of ‘slow glass’ — which slows down light so that it takes years or decades to pass through — was simple and enormously compelling, and Shaw returned to the idea several times, most notably in his 1972 fix-up novel of slow glass stories, Other Days, Other Eyes.

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Intelligent Lizards, Asteroid Mining, and Hardboiled Noir: November/December 2021 Print SF Magazines

Intelligent Lizards, Asteroid Mining, and Hardboiled Noir: November/December 2021 Print SF Magazines

November/December 2021 issues of Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and The Magazine
of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Cover art by Maurizio Manzieri, Shutterstock, and Maurizio Manzieri (again)

The November/December print magazines have an impressive list of contributors, including Jack McDevitt, Nalo Hopkinson, Robert Reed, Eleanor Arnason, David Gerrold, Megan Lindholm, Bill Pronzini & Barry N. Malzberg, Jack Skillingstead, Sandra McDonald, Sheila Finch, R. Garcia y Robertson, Ray Nayler, Gregory Feeley, Shane Tourtellotte, Alice Towey, and many others.

Sam Tomaino at SFRevu has been covering science fiction magazines for over a decade. Here’s a few of his thoughts on the latest Analog.

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