More Hardboiled than the Dresden Files: The Way Into Chaos: Book One of The Great Way by Harry Connolly

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page


A good… Big Fat Heroic Fantasy Epic

I’m starting to think that writing a good — by good, I means delivers the tropes while meeting wider literary standards — Big Fat Heroic Fantasy Epic is like squaring a circle, reconciling Justice with Mercy, bringing World Peace… an exercise in balancing seemingly irreconcilable opposites.

You need to have the world building of Tolkien but the pacing of Ian Fleming, the escapism of C.S. Lewis but the grit and cynicism of John Steinbeck. It has to be an armchair-by-the-fire-dog-at-my-feet-on-a-winter-day read, and yet not pretend that pre-modern societies are anything but structurally unpleasant. It needs to take you on a flight of fancy, but ground you in the familiar. And, given that we live in the 21st century, despite the pre-modern setting, it’s nice to have believably empowered women helping to shape the story.

In his new book The Way Into Chaos, Book One of The Great Way, Harry Connolly has somehow managed to do this. Before I put on my writer hat, let me speak as a reader:

I approached this book with some trepidation because I was already a fan of Harry Connolly’s Twenty Palaces urban fantasy series (interview here).

More hardboiled than the Dresden Files, Connolly’s take on the UF genre has a delicious bleakness to it. His hero faces not just a nihilistic a-human magical world with shades of Lovecraft (…more grown up, more disquieting; you could almost call it Atheist Urban Fantasy) but also the bleaker corners of America. His mean streets and bedeviled small towns are as alienating as the magic, not leather-jacket-cool, not picket-fence cozy. His magic feels real in a maggots-under-the-skin way, and his horror elements throw into relief the things we truly care about. The plot and pacing meanwhile makes what could be an emotional battering into an adventure.

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Vintage Treasures: Echoes of Valor, edited by Karl Edward Wagner

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Echoes of Valor-smallIn 1987, a decade after he’d edited the three volume definitive editions of the Berkley Conan (The People of the Black Circle, Red Nails, and The Hour of the Dragon), Karl Edward Wagner set out to create a major reprint anthology of heroic fantasy.

He succeeded with flying colors with Echoes of Valor, the first volume of which was published in 1987. This volume is unusual for several reasons. First, it contained only three stories – three complete novellas by Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Henry Kuttner, wrapped in a rather terrible cover by Ken Kelly.

Second, it includes the first publication of the original version of Howard’s 100-page Conan story “The Black Stranger.”  Unsold in Howard’s lifetime, it had previously appeared — heavily revised by L. Sprague de Camp — in the February 1953 issue of Fantasy Magazine; it was later re-titled “The Treasure of Tranicos” when it appeared in the Gnome Press Conan editions. ”The Black Stranger” has become the definitive version, and it has re-appeared many times since.

Third, while later volumes in the series included lengthy introductions by Wagner, Sam Moskowitz, and Forrest J. Ackerman, this volume contains only fiction. The other two stories are Leiber’s 1947 Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella “Adept’s Gambit,” originally published in his collection Night’s Black Agents, and Kuttner’s “Wet Magic,” the tale of Morgan le Fay in World War II Britain, originally published in the February 1943 issue of Unknown Worlds magazine.

Wagner managed two more Echoes of Valor volumes, in 1989 and 1991, before he died. All three are highly collectible today and I hope to cover them in future posts.

Echoes of Valor was published in Feb 1987 by Tor Books. It is 286 pages, priced at $2.95. The cover is by Ken Kelly. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Watson’s Christmas Trick

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Watson_Chair2I opened the door to our rooms at 221 B Baker Street and entered, careful not to jostle the package I carried. I was immediately engulfed in the warmth of the crackling fire that blazed in our hearth. Sherlock Holmes  was in his favorite chair, looking half asleep. Opening his eyes, he turned his head and greeted me lazily.

“Ah, Watson, you have finished your rounds and holiday shopping and returned too late for Mrs. Hudson’s evening repast. However, I am sure she can be prevailed upon to provide you with some cold meats.”

Here, he stopped, and before I could reply, changed his tack entirely. “But I see that you stopped at your club, where I am sure you supped.”

You can imagine my astonishment, dear reader, to hear this. I had not uttered a word since entering the room, and I saw no way that he could know that I had indeed dined at the club. I was surprised that he hadn’t given the name of the former army colleague who had joined me.

“Holmes, this is outrageous! How could you possibly have deduced that in the few seconds I have been in this room?”

He airily waved a hand of dismissal. “Please, it is obvious.” The look on my face must have shown I was not convinced, so he continued.” Your boots have that dark sheen that is unique to the elderly boot man at your establishment. There are at least three other distinctive marks that tell me as much, but the boots alone were enough to deduce it. It is the merest child’s play. Pray, remove your coat, light your pipe and make yourself comfortable.”

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New Treasures: Clarkesworld: Year Six edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Clarkesworld Year Six-smallClarkesworld Magazine is one of the finest online outlets for science fiction and fantasy. Edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace, it has been published monthly since October 2006. Fiction from the magazine has been nominated for countless awards — including the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, WSFA Small Press, World Fantasy, Hugo, and Nebula — and the magazine has been nominated for the Chesley, Hugo, World Fantasy, Locus, and Nebula awards. It won the 2010, 2011, and 2013 Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, the 2014 British Fantasy Award for Best Magazine, and the 2014 World Fantasy Special Award in the Non-Professional category.

Every year, the editors gather all the online fiction from the previous year into a single generous volume and this year is the biggest yet: 427 pages, collecting all 34 stories published in 2013, from authors like Aliette de Bodard, Robert Reed, Mari Ness, Erik Amundsen, Catherynne M. Valente, Carrie Vaughn, Suzanne Church, Kij Johnson, Sofia Samatar, Lavie Tidhar, Ken Liu, and many others.

The book also serves as a fund-raiser for the magazine (which is available free), and every purchase helps support one of the finest magazines out there. In his introduction to this year’s volume, Neil says:

In July of 2012, I had a “widow-maker” heart attack that nearly killed me. Afterwards, I took a long, hard look at my life and started pruning away the unnecessary…

Since then Clarkesworld has slowly, but steadily, grown. I can’t quit the day job just yet, but thanks to people like you, I’m even more confident it will happen. By purchasing this book, subscribing to Clarkesworld, writing a review, or supporting us at Patreon, you are helping me realize that dream. Thank you! It means a lot.

Clarkesworld: Year Six was edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace and published by Wyrm Publishing on May 24, 2014. It is 427 pages, priced at $16.95 in trade paperback, and $6.99 for the digital version. I bought my copy in the Dealers Room at the World Fantasy Convention. Visit the Clarkesworld website here or subscribe for just $2.99/month.

Celebrate the Holidays with A Cosmic Christmas, edited by Hank Davis

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Cosmic Christmas-smallI admit it — I love Christmas stories. Some of the finest fantasies ever told — including Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life — have been Christmas stories. It’s a great time of year to curl up in my big green chair with a cup of hot chocolate, a cat in my lap, and a Christmas fantasy in hand.

One of the better Christmas anthologies I’ve stumbled on recently is Hank Davis’s 2012 A Cosmic Christmas, which celebrates twelve cosmic days of Christmas with a dozen tales of vampires, robots, A.I’s, alien invasions, and stranger things, from the hills of Appalachia to a high orbit space station. It includes a novella by Catherine Asaro, a Jon & Lobo story by Mark L. Van Name, a John the Balladeer tale from Manly Wade Wellman, a Venus Equilateral story by George O. Smith, a Grimnoir Chronicles novelette by Larry Correia, a Technic History story by Poul Anderson — and a brand new novelette by Sarah A. Hoyt.

Joy to the world… or, joy to the worlds! Let heaven and nature — and also the supernatural — sing. A Cosmic Christmas presents twelve stories of Christmas in very unusual circumstances, ranging from vampires to robots, from the hills of Appalachia to a high orbit space station, all celebrating the holiday in their own, off-beat ways.

New York Times best-selling author Larry Correia sends his popular tough guy detective and magicwielder, Jake Sullivan, on a special case, while visions of tommy guns dance in the heads of the thugs he’s up against. Mark L. Van Name’s Lobo, an A.I. housed in a pocket battle starship, drops his usual cynical pose when challenged by a troubled family at Christmas time. Nebula Award-winner Catherine Asaro tells of a romantic weekend that turns into a mystery in a futuristic high-tech house — all that and Christmas, too. Mercedes Lackey delivers a ghost story with a not-so-friendly visitation from the beyond, and George O. Smith, a star of the Golden Age of science fiction, is on hand with an episode from his classic Venus Equilateral series, in which a Christmas celebration on a gigantic space station is interrupted by the arrival of a ruthless interplanetary criminal, who didn’t drop by to hand out presents. And much more, in a holiday package that any fan of science fiction and fantasy would be delighted to find under their tree, on any planet.

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Embrace the Odd: The Fantasy Catalog of ChiZine Publications

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

They Do the Same Things Different There-small We Will All Go Down Together-small Year's Best Weird Fiction-small

Last month, I attended the World Fantasy Convention in Washington D.C. (my first trip to the city) and had a marvelous time. I attended readings by over a dozen writers, sat in on terrific panels, and reconnected with close friends I haven’t seen in far too long.

But I probably spent the most time in the Dealers Room, where publishers and collectors laid out their wares on closely packed tables. We talk about a lot of new books here at Black Gate, and I’m proud of our coverage of the industry, but let me tell you — there’s nothing like wandering past stacks of newly-published fantasy titles from dozens of publishers to make you realize how woefully you’ve underrepresented the cavalcade of new books that have arrived in just the last few months.

I vowed that when I returned to our rooftop headquarters here in Chicago, I’d showcase those publishers that most impressed me — and not just with a book or two, but by trying to show you what it was like to stand in front of their tables in that room, with the full range of their current books on display. I’ve done that once already, with Valancourt Books; today I’d like to focus on one of the most innovative small press publishers in the field, the brilliant ChiZine Publications.

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My City’s Heroes (Part 1 of 2)

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

My Life in HockeyThere’s a post I’ve wanted to write for this site for some time. I wasn’t sure exactly how to approach it, but I knew the general subject. I’d thought it’d fit here because it would be about myth and heroes. About stories and storytelling, and about the importance of story. In the wake of recent events I’ve come to feel the time has come to finally write that post. So here, on the shortest day of the year, are a few words about legends; about those that bear a torch through the longest darkness and inspire us to follow them. About heroes, in reality and in stories. And about the Montréal Canadiens.

Jean Béliveau died on December 2 at age 83. He played for the Montréal Canadiens hockey franchise for eighteen full seasons, and won the Stanley Cup ten times. He was the team’s captain from 1961 until his retirement after winning the Cup in 1971. I’m not going to get into his career statistics — though they are impressive, enough so to put him in conversations about the greatest player of all time — because the numbers aren’t really the reason I’m writing about him here. I’m writing about him because beyond being a hockey player, he was, by any measure, a legend. And what I mean by that is that beyond the facts of his career, he was — is — a man about whom stories are told. And these stories have a common theme.

As I write the first draft of this post, I have the live broadcast of his funeral on TV; it’s being carried in both French and English. I’m seeing figures from beyond the world of hockey: past and present Prime Ministers and Premiers of Québec are filling Cathédral Marie Reine-du-Monde as, amid the grey of a major snowstorm, a crowd lines the street outside. Commentators are recalling stories about the man. The most telling stories aren’t about Béliveau’s remarkable scoring talent. They’re about his grace, kindness, and instinctive nobility: the guidance he gave to other players, the charisma of his presence, even simply the man’s smile and the time he gave freely to perfect strangers. As much or more is said about the man’s life after he retired from hockey as it is about his career. This is not surprising to me. I’ve been hearing Jean Béliveau stories all my life.

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Future Treasures: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Foxglove Summer-smallBen Aaronovitch began his writing career with two Doctor Who serials, Remembrance of the Daleks (broadcast 1988) and Battlefield (1989), which means he’s already living the dream life millions of aspiring American fantasy writers. He was a regular writer on the Galaxy Channel’s science fiction series Jupiter Moon.

He became a novelist in 1990 with his first Doctor Who book, a novelization of Remembrance of the Daleks. He produced three more (and one featuring the adventures of companion Benny Summerfield), before launching the best selling series Rivers of London in 2011. The fifth volume, Foxglove Summer, will be published in paperback on January 6th.

When two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire, police constable and wizard-in-training Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine — Nightingale, Peter’s superior, thinks he’ll be done in less than a day.

But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing overtly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police, who need all the help they can get. But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realize that dark secrets underlie the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Soon Peter’s in a vicious race against time, in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear….

I’m a big fan of this series. We covered the first novel, Rivers of London (published as Midnight Riot in the US), which Diana Gabaldon describes as “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz,” in March 2011, and the fourth, Broken Homes, back in February. Foxglove Summer will be published by DAW Books on January 6, 2015. It is 326 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.

After Forty Years: The War of the Worlds Revisited

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Tripod-smallIt’s that time of year, friends, the time when we look back in sorrow on the New Year’s resolutions that drooped and faded before the first bloom of spring, and when we start to formulate the resolutions that we know we’re really going to keep this time, dammit. I generally don’t make new year’s resolutions myself, for the reasons implied above, but last year I did — I decided that 2014 would be the year of rereading.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that even as I’m reading more than ever, I almost never do any re-reading. There are just so many books, both enticing new ones and old ones that I’ve always meant to get around to and never have (you know, all those great books, old and new, that you find out about whenever you visit a certain website which shall remain nameless).

When I finish one book and reach for another, the pressure exerted by both the never-ceasing pile up of the present and the still-unexplored past seems to weigh overwhelmingly in favor of the as-yet-unread. Rereading falls by the wayside.

This is in sharp contrast to my adolescent days, when I would regularly reread my favorite books, some of them many times. (I’ve probably read Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Gods of Mars eight or ten times each, for instance.)

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Want to Break into Comics? Check out the Make Comics Podcast!

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Like most writers, I too dream the unreasonable dream of breaking into comics as a writer.

header-img-11Who wouldn’t want to correctly and appropriately use the word “Bam!” as part of their daily writing? Nobody.

So while writing short fiction and novels, I continue to do my research and recently stumbled onto the Make Comics Podcast.  The format is pretty simple. Each episode, Joey Groah posed a comics-making question, sometimes his own, but more often from the mail bag of listeners. Then, Andy Schmidt, former Marvel and IDW editor, answers. Sometimes they switch it up with special guests.

Now, this isn’t 100% altruistic on their part. They’re obviously promoting classes on making comics for the Comics Experience company. That’s cool though. Power to them. If I was just starting my writing career, it’s just the sort of thing I would have loved to have taken. But with that very minor caveat, these guys are giving out amazing stuff, and needless to say, I listened to a bunch on my commute and took notes.

There’s way too much good stuff in there for me to talk about all of it, so I’ll mention a few high points.

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