See the Table of Contents for The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015, edited by Rich Horton

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015-smallLast month Prime Books announced the Table of Contents of my favorite Year’s Best book, Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015.

This is the seventh volume, and it looks like another stellar line-up, with 34 stories from the leading print magazines (Asimov’s SF, Interzone, Analog, F&SF, and others), online publications (Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and more) and anthologies (Fearsome Magics, Reach for Infinity, Rogues, and Solaris Rising 3, among others).

Authors include Kelly Link, Robert Reed, James Patrick Kelly, Alexander Jablokov, K. J. Parker, Ken Liu, Genevieve Valentine, Eleanor Arnason, Cory Doctorow, Peter Watts, and many, many others.

I was also very pleased to see two Black Gate contributors made the list: Saturday blogger Derek Künsken, with his Asimov’s tale “Someday,” and website editor emeritus C. S. E. Cooney, for her story “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale,” from Strange Horizons.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015 is a fat 576 pages, and goes on sale in trade paperback from Prime Books in June.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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New Treasures: The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Skull Throne Peter V Brett-smallThe Warded Man, the first novel in Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series, was released in March 2009. His second, The Desert Spear (March 2010), became an international bestseller, and the third, The Daylight War, followed in February 2013. Now the fourth book in the series, The Skull Throne, has been released this week.

The Skull Throne of Krasia stands empty.

Built from the skulls of fallen generals and demon princes, it is a seat of honor and ancient, powerful magic, keeping the demon corelings at bay. From atop the throne, Ahmann Jardir was meant to conquer the known world, forging its isolated peoples into a unified army to rise up and end the demon war once and for all.

But Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, stood against this course, challenging Jardir to a duel he could not in honor refuse. Rather than risk defeat, Arlen cast them both from a precipice, leaving the world without a savior, and opening a struggle for succession that threatens to tear the Free Cities of Thesa apart.

In the south, Inevera, Jardir’s first wife, must find a way to keep their sons from killing one another and plunging their people into civil war as they strive for glory enough to make a claim on the throne. In the north, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn struggle to forge an alliance between the duchies of Angiers and Miln against the Krasians before it is too late. Caught in the crossfire is the duchy of Lakton — rich and unprotected, ripe for conquest.

All the while, the corelings have been growing stronger, and without Arlen and Jardir there may be none strong enough to stop them. Only Renna Bales may know more about the fate of the missing men, but she, too, has disappeared…

The fifth (and final?) book in the series, The Core, does not yet have a release date. The Skull Throne was published by Del Rey on March 31, 2015. It is 704 pages, priced at $28 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital version. Read the first chapter here.


Amazon.com Returns to 1999 for April Fool’s Day

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Amazon.com April Fools 2015-smallAmazon.com has turned back the clock to 1999 for April Fool’s Day.

The world’s largest online retailer has re-formatted its main page to precisely mirror the look and feel it had on April 1, 1999. It’s not just a snapshot of the page from sixteen years ago — it has replaced everything on the page, including the links on its top Books, Music and Videos, with April Fools-themed products.

The Amazon 100 Hot Books, for example, is topped by these three titles:

April Fool’s Day, Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, by Carolyn Keene
The Practical Joker’s Handbook, by Tim Nyberg
April Foolishness, by Teresa Bateman

All the titles are real. None of the links function, however (clicking anywhere on the page will dump you back to the 2015 version of the Amazon home page).

As someone who used to shop regularly at Amazon in 1999, this page really takes me back. I love the prominent link to “VHS Top Sellers” in the bottom right. All of Amazon’s regular services — such as your cart, wish list, and the search functions — operate normally. It’s just the main page that’s been pranked.

Visit the Amazon home page here.

Presumably, Amazon’s home page will return to normal by the end of the day. Click on the image at right for a screen capture of the full page.


Epic Musket Fights and Vampire-Like Magic: Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Guns of Dawn

This book is a supremely good read. That it’s also also thoughtful, wise and clever, is a bonus, like a good honest curry that however leaves an exquisite aftertaste.

(This weekend, I’ll be doing my thing at Conpulsion, Edinburgh’s truly excellent gaming convention. If you’re there, drop by and say hello.)

Guns of the Dawn
Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tor UK (700 pages, February 12, 2015, £16.99 in hardcover, £7.99 digital)

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Guns of the Dawn is…

Imagine Pride and Prejudice meets Sharpe, or if some of the female characters of the Cherry Orchard got conscripted into All Quiet on the Western Front, or was it Red Badge of Courage or Catch 22?

With Magic.

In a nutshell, two vaguely 1800s nations go to war. As attrition grinds down her side’s army to the point where they are conscripting women, upper class Emily decides not to draft dodge and goes to war, in a red coat, with a musket, ultimately in a swamp. And somewhere in there, there is an emotionally complex romance, coming of age, a mediation on truth and propaganda,  and a hint of… but that would be a spoiler.

Actually, the whole X meets Y thing breaks down very quickly. “Oh this is the French Revolutionary War..? or is it the American Revolution? Or…”

Tchaikovsky is obviously well-read, has life experience, understands war and organisations, and people, and if there are parallels with classic literary works and moments of Military History, it’s because they in turn reflect truths about life and people. Though, as I read on, I got the sense that he was quietly enjoying playing with reader expectations. Just sometimes, you think, “Oh I know how this goes. This is a Rorke’s Drift sequence…” and then it’s not.

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Vintage Treasures: The Ghatti Tales of Gayle Greeno

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Sunderlies Seeking-small The Farthest Seeking

When I was running SF Site in the late 90s, I got hundreds of review books every year. Many appealed to me, though I had time to read almost none, and instead assigned them to our freelance reviewers. (Isn’t that always the way? You can have plenty of books, or you can have plenty of time, but you can never have both.)

Anyway, in the intervening 15+ years, I’ve long since forgotten most of the delightful volumes that passed through my hands. Yesterday I was in my basement — excuse me, the Cave of Wonders — making room for recent arrivals, packing up nearly a thousand old review copies to store in the attic, when I came across my dust-covered copy of Sunderlies Seeking, the first novel in Ghatten’s Gambit, a two-volume fantasy series published by DAW in 1998 and 2000.

I did remember Sunderlies Seeking. Even after 17 years, I recalled Mark Hess’s great cover and the evocative description on the back, promising a tale of adventure in a land of “convicts, rebels, and the unwanted refuse of society.” Not to mention a pair of friendly cats on the cover, helping sail a ship into the harbor. I’d never heard of author Gayle Greeno before Sunderlies Seeking crossed my desk in 1998, but after it did I sought out her other novels with great interest.

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The Dark Net, Encryption Keys, and Lethal Secrets: The Silence of Six by E. C. Myers

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Kelly Swails

The Silence of Six-smallThe Silence of Six
E. C. Myers
Adaptive Books (368 pages, November 5, 2014, $17.99 in hardcover)

When we meet Max Stein, he and his friends are attending a presidential debate hosted at their high school. This isn’t just any debate — the candidates are there to discuss education and internet regulations, both of which are topics of great concern to the youth of America. To highlight this, the moderator fields questions posted through Panjea, a popular social network. As the debate is about to begin, Max gets a text from an anonymous number: a passcode several digits long from a person who identifies himself as STOP.

Max instantly knows STOP’s identity: Evan Baxter, his best friend and fellow hacker. Moments later, Evan — wearing a hood and masking his voice — hacks into the debate’s live feed and posts a live video question: “What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?” Then, horribly, Evan kills himself with a gun on camera.

Max is devastated. While he and Evan had grown apart over the past several months — Max had left the hacking world behind to pursue soccer and girls and popularity — he still considers Evan his best friend. He knows Evan wouldn’t have committed such a heinous, irreversible act without a good reason; he also knows the passcode that Evan gave him is the key that will unlock everything.

With no one to trust and the Feds on his tail, Max goes on the run in search of what Evan knew. His discovery will change how the world views social media forever. That is, if he can make it public before he becomes the seventh person silenced…

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New Realm March 2015 Now on Sale

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

New Realm magazine March 2015-smallI discovered New Realm last week, as I was preparing my update on magazine coverage here at Black Gate. It’s one of seven new monthly digital magazines launched at FictionMagazines.com over the past few years; the others are eFiction (literary fiction), FIVE Poetry, Heater (mystery/thriller), Nebula Rift (science fiction), Romance Magazine (romance/adult), and Under the Bed (horror).

eFiction was the first; it was started by Doug Lance in his college apartment, and published its first issue April 1st, 2010. The others were added in 2012. The magazines rely on a community to produce each issue; volunteers read and vote on story submissions, and those with the most votes end up in each issue. It’s a daring and unusual approach to short fiction publishing.

Each issue of New Realm contains five stories; there’s no non-fiction mentioned, although the guidelines talk about book reviews and interviews. Looking over the 23 monthly issues published so far, I notice two things. First, the covers, by Doug Lance and a team of artists, are excellent, easily a notch or two above most other small press fantasy magazines. Second, I don’t recognize any of the contributors, which tells me the mag is looking far afield of the usual sources to bring new voices into the genre.

The March 2015 issue contains the usual five stories. Here’s the complete table of contents.

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Metal on Metal: Swords of Steel edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_3111058UFfTOs2zWhen John O’Neill posted a few weeks ago about Swords of Steel, edited by D.M. Ritzlin, I knew I had to read it. The hook was simple: swords & sorcery stories written by members of metal bands. Tons of heavy bands — Uriah Heep, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Metallica, Megadeth, to name several — have drawn on the themes of heroism, monster-fighting, and sorcery for lyrics and look. Sometimes they lift stuff directly from favorite authors, like the UK band called Conan, or Texas band The Sword with the song “Beyond the Black River.”

When I read Tolkien I hear folk music in my head; when I read Karl Edward Wagner I hear Black Sabbath. So although I recognized the name of only one band represented in the collection, I was stoked to dive in. With an amazingly cool cover by Martin Hanford and its back cover claim that it’s “NOT FOR WIMPS!,” I was expecting great things from Swords of Steel. It came tantalizingly close.

Set in England during the reign of Elizabeth I,”Into the Dawn of Storms” by Byron A. Roberts (vocalist, Bal-Sagoth) gets the book off to a solid start. Captain Blackthorne is plagued with dreams of death and magic and seeks help from the legend-shrouded scholar, John Dee. It’s billed as the first chapter in an ongoing saga and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for Chapter Two.

From the author bio (and there’s a nice one included for everybody), I learned that Roberts has developed a mulitverse that forms the foundation of his band’s music. This story, with references to past exploits and multiple worlds, is set there as well.

“The Riddle Master” by Ernest Cunningham Hellwell (bassist, Hellwell) is one of the best stories in the collection but, sadly, not S&S at all. A nameless writer narrates his run-in and bet with a demon, made to ensure eternal fame.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 Campaign Adventure Module Series of All Time

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Did Bloodstone make the list?

Did Bloodstone make the list?

I’m not really sure when I played my first adventure module, although I think it was at my first D&D Club meeting in 8th Grade. My only clear memory of actual adventure, while I sat in that library on Wednesday evenings after school, was trying, and failing, to enter the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. So, I assume that G1,2,3 [well, at least G1] was my first ever module, and I think that is interesting because it means my induction into gaming came from the adventures that define what campaign modules should be.

Having recently begun my own quest to create a campaign series of modules, I’ve decided to put my epic game of Risk with Ryan Harvey on hold, tell Kandi to hold all my calls, and pray that Goth Chick doesn’t show up unexpectedly wearing a corset and stockings that would most assuredly derail my Black Gate L.A. productivity for the day.

Why would I do this? Well, to create another Top 10 list of course! This time around, I’m not looking at the best modules of all time, but instead looking at the best/greatest campaign series of modules of all time. Yes, so without running my deadline further into the red, let me get started.

First and foremost, I’d like to say that this is my list, and therefore shouldn’t be judged as some kind of ‘true’ entity. My views are certainly colored by the experiences I’ve had with most of what you see below, and at one time in my life I’ve owned them all.

As for Bloodstone, I’ve played it as recently as 2007, but that said, I can neither confirm of deny the fact that it did or did not make the list. I do, however, hope you enjoy what I’ve created below and that it does bring back a few good memories to you all!

So, let’s get started, shall we?

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Adventures In Italy: Calvino’s Italian Folktales

Monday, March 30th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Blue FolktalesI grew up on Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and the myriad anthologies of Andrew Lang: The Blue Book Of Fairy Tales, The Brown Book Of Fairy Tales, The Red Book Of Fairy Tales, etc. Most of these were read aloud by my father, so I received them as part of humanity’s long oral tradition, a fact for which I am now very grateful. Aesop, too, arrived in my life as something overheard rather than read.

All of the above work shared a common heritage. In fact, prior to high school at least, they led me to believe that fairy tales were specific to Europe, something vaguely Nordic, and familiar to the degree that the characters within the stories were uniformly white and spoke English. Who knows when it finally occurred to me that these stories were translated, and that many had international sources that transcended culture, race, and geography.

By 1980, when Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales finally arrived in an English-language edition (translated by George Martin), I was moving into different myths: Tolkien, certainly, but also the grittier, street-savvy story-telling of S.E. Hinton, Robert Cormier, and early Bruce Springsteen. The publication of Italian Folktales made not a ripple in my life. Indeed, I eventually read several other Calvino classics (If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler…, The Baron In the Trees, and The Non-Existent Knight) before realizing his omnibus folktales even existed.

It took me another ten years to order a copy and crack the covers, and ten more still to really delve into this enormous, 760 page trade paperback (Harcourt). What finally tipped me over the edge was the need for a new book to read to my adventure-obsessed youngest son.

At the outset, I admit to being worried that Calvino might not be a hit.

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