“It’s just because I have picked a little about mystics that I have no use for mystagogues. Real mystics don’t hide mysteries, they reveal them. They set a thing up in broad daylight, and when you’ve seen it it’s still a mystery. But the mystagogues hide a thing in darkness and secrecy, and when you find it, it’s a platitude.” ― G. K. Chesterton
After a few unforeseen delays, Mystics in Hell has finally arrived. This is the latest edition in the long-running, shared-universe series, Heroes in Hell™. The gathering of real people from across our historical timeline, and the casting of fictional characters born of myth and legend, folklore and literature, is what makes this such a unique and fun series. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the series or for those readers who may wish to be brought up to date, once again I’ll do my best to recap what’s been happening in our favorite Afterlife.
Mystics in Hellfollows on the hot hooves of Lovers in Helland the two volumes preceding it. The plagues which first manifested themselves in Doctors in Hell are evolving and mutating. In Pirates in Hell, disastrous floods swept through Hell, leaving behind wrack and ruin, and new islands and coastlines. The damned sought the help of pirates and other seafarers, seeking refuge and passage, hoping to escape to dry land and whatever safe harbor they could find. But there is no such thing as a safe harbor in Hell, and there is no escape.
With regards to movies, my mantra has always been that if you tell me a good story, I’ll willingly suspend my disbelief. I’m not one to pick apart details or demand every plot hole be plugged if, overall, the story is entertaining. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed Wonder Woman 1984, even though critics were all over it for a number of plot-related reasons. However, even I have my limits, such as Godzilla vs. Kong. Since when is King Kong as big as the buildings he used to scale? That said, I was ready to go all in for Army of the Dead, especially as I really love a good zombie movie. I probably did have a bit of lingering doubt as I did not rush out to see this one during its theaters-only first week of release. Instead, I avoided all reviews and spoilers until I could watch it on Netflix where it debuted on May 14th.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2020, edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books, June 2021). Cover by Argus
The print version of Rich Horton’s 12th Year’s Best volume was delayed roughly six months by the pandemic, and it finally arrives next week. The delay was a little frustrating for those of us who look forward to this book every year, but considering how deeply the pandemic impacted the publishing world overall, I figure it could have been a lot worse. (The digital version has been available since December, but I remain stubbornly a print guy.)
Rich’s introductions to the early volumes belonged to the get-out-of-the-way-and let-the-fiction-do-the-talking school, but over the years they’ve loosened up a bit, and this year’s is one of his best, a lively and thoughtful look at the impact of this very eventful year on science fiction, and some thoughts on famous genre pandemic fiction. Here’s part of his comments on the tales within.
As outlined in Part One, in the Fifties postwar Japan’s film industry gradually returned to making chambara movies that glorified the samurai warrior code of bushido, but in the counter-cultural Sixties some filmmakers took an opposite tack, blaming bushido for supporting a culture of rigid oppression and cruelty. Some remarkable films came out of this movement, pictures of high art that depict the samurai’s wonderfully skilled swordplay while skewering the society that relied on the sword as a tool of domination. Let’s look at three films that exemplify this movement from three brilliant directors: Hideo Gosha, Kihachi Okamoto, and Masaki Kobayashi.
Co-writer and director Hideo Gosha’s follow-up to Three Outlaw Samurai takes an even less forgiving view of society than its predecessor: individuals may be good, bad, or both, but hierarchical authority cares only for power and does only ill.
Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #48 was uploaded to the world on May 1, 2021! We’ve got a full compliment, three short stories, three poems, art and audio!
Intrigue in Aviene, by Steve Dilks, Hardened mercenary Bohun of Damzullah, finds himself between wars and trying to get by in the great city of Aviene. But even in peaceful times, there are plots and dangers aplenty.
King Yvorian’s Wager, a classic reprint by Darrell Schweizter, Young king Yvorian is swept up into the games of the gods, and of that most mysterious and dangerous god, Rada Vatu.
A Night in the Witherlands, by Daniel Stride, with artwork by Simon Walpole, Manfred is hired to guard a merchant and his wares through the mysterious wasteland known as the witherlands. The ghosts of the witherlands have different plans for them both.
This reviews Scott Oden Presents: The Lost Empire of Sol brought to you by the Rogue Blades Foundation. This is a fine collection that certainly achieved its mission of inserting a jolt into Sword & Planet offerings. With its interesting premise and cast of authors, The Lost Empire of Sol is destined to become a historic Sword & Planet anthology.
It is edited by two who are well known to the Black Gate community. Firstly, Jason M. Waltz, champion of Rogue Blades Entertainment and the Rogue Blades Foundation, is notorious for rounding up contemporary authors in themed anthologies (perhaps most well known for the 2008 Sword & Sorcery classic Return of the Sword …. and most currently known for Robert E. Howard Changed My Lifereleasing ~now (appropriately on June 11th, REH’s anniversary of passing). And we also have Fletcher Vredenburgh, well known for his outstanding reviews, who provides the “Foreword”: he explains how discussions on Facebook with Scott Oden (adored author of historical fiction, Conan pastiche, and the Grimnir series) escalated into this collection. Also, to dimension the genre and set the stage for a revival is the esteemed John O’Neill (our esteemed chief editor of Black Gate Magazine) provides an introductory essay “Sword & Planet is the Genre We Need.”
Here we are, almost halfway through June, and I can hear you asking, “Gee, I wonder what Bob has been watching?” Seriously. I can hear it. This isn’t just me putting off the hard work of starting up A (Black) Gat in the Hand this week. I watched some stuff for the first time, and revisited a few things.
The late Elmore Leonard was a terrific writer. His characters and his dialogue were outstanding. He excelled at hardboiled, and could spice it with humor as needed. 3:10 to Yuma (The original and the remake are fine films) is based on one of his early short stories – the man could write Westerns. My all-time favorite TV show, Justified, sprang from his Raylan Givens short story, “Fire in the Hole.”
Leonard has been the source of over two dozen movies and television shows. His 1990 novel, Get Shorty, helped re-launch John Travolta’s career. With Gene Hackman, Dennis Farina, Danny DeVito, and Delroy Lindo, it’s a great watch. And a highly recommended read!
In the summer of 2017, EPIX launched a ten-episode series starring Chris O’Dowd (who was GREAT in The IT Crowd) and Ray Romano. It’s been renewed twice, for a total of twenty-seven episodes. The third season finale aired on November 3, 2019. There has been ZERO noise on whether the show will get another season, or be canceled. Get Shorty is running on radio silence. Kinda odd, really.
I love the book. I love the movie. I like the series. It is not an adaptationof the novel. I would say that it’s based on the concept of Leonard’s book. In the series, a mob soldier wants something more and ends up laundering his boss’ money by producing a historical epic in Hollywood. That’s a variation from the book, where a small-time loan shark runs down a skip and forces his way into the movie business while dealing with an unfriendly mobster from back home.
George Wyatt Proctor (1946 – 2008) was an prolific Texas author who produced some two dozen novels and collections after he retired from The Dallas Morning News in 1976. He wrote both science fiction and westerns, and collaborated with a host of well known writers, including Arthur C. Clarke, Howard Waldrop, and Steven Utley. With Robert E. Vardeman he produced nine Swords of Raemllyn sword & sorcery novels in the 80s and 90s, and with Andrew J. Offutt he contributed two novels to the Spacewaysseries (as John Cleve). In 1985 he wrote two novels in the long-running series V, based on the hit NBC series.
Stellar Fist was his last standalone science fiction novel, following Fire at the Center (1981) and Starwings (1984). From a modern perspective, it’s pretty much exactly what you expect from an 80s military SF novel. But that may not be a bad thing, as put so eloquently in this 2-star Goodreads review by Mark.
This book was pretty much awful, but I found myself really enjoying it — from the ridiculous interstellar-sexpot-spy-turned-time-traveling-lounge-singer-returned-interstellar-spy to the last 20 pages of complete story- and character-breaking chaos. Would highly recommend reading it if you’ve got a sense of humor and nothing better lying around.
That reads like a solid recommendation in my book.
Stellar Fist was published by Ace Books in January 1989. It’s 229 pages, priced $3.50. The cover is by Martin Andrews. It has never been reprinted, which really isn’t very surprising.
The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars, by Elliott Dold.
From Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories, April-May 1931
I’ve written from time to time about original science fiction art delivered to us by our Friendly Neighborhood Mailman.
Among the various original black and white interior illustrations we own from the science fiction pulps, this is our earliest, appearing 90 years ago. By artist Elliott Dold, it ran as a frontispiece in the April-May 1931 issue of Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories. It was not for any particular story; instead it was a one page feature showing “An Incident of the Future: The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars.”
Dold was the art editor of this short-lived title; the April-May 1931 issue was the first of only two. He appears to have been the editor as well, though some sources state that Dold’s brother, Douglas, was the editor. Both Elliott and Douglas, as well as the publisher of Miracle, Harold Hersey, had worked together previously over at the Clayton pulp chain. Elliott and Douglas each had a story appear in Miracle; Douglas’ in the first issue, Elliott’s in the second, dated June-July 1931. In an interview in the October-November 1934 issue of Fantasy Magazine, Elliott discusses how Miracle was his brainchild – he’d talked Hersey into publishing it, and obtained all the stories, as well as doing all the art. He blamed its cessation on an illness which made it impossible for him to work on it. Perhaps coincidentally, during this same period his brother Douglas passed away, on May 6, 1931.
Hooting Grange, eleventh volume in Jeffrey E. Barlough’s Northern Lights series, published March 2021 by Gresham & Doyle. Cover “The Close Gate” by Ernest William Haslehust.
One of the most popular fantasy series in the Black Gate offices these days doesn’t come from a major Manhattan publisher. In fact, it doesn’t come from traditional publishing at all. For the last 23 years Jeffrey E. Barlough has quietly been writing one of the strongest and most unusual fantasy epics on the market, put out by tiny California publishing house Gresham and Doyle.
Jackson Kuhl describes the eleven volume Northern Lights series as “kinda-sorta gaslamp fantasy, except there doesn’t seem to be any natural gas. Barlough’s creation is best described as a Victorian Dying Earth — gothic and claustrophobic… mastodons and mylodons mixed with ghosts and gorgons.”