Mark Sumner reviews Black Gate

Mark Sumner reviews Black Gate

devils-tower2Well, sort of.

Mark Sumner, the Nebula Award-nominated author of the Devil’s Tower books — and one of Black Gate‘s most prolific and popular contributors — has a popular blog at Daily Kos where he discusses… well, everything.

Recently he touched on the impermanence of fiction, especially short fiction:

Speaking as someone whose entire lifetime oeurve is at this moment out of print, I can tell you with certainty that books are no more guarantee of immortality than games….But if novels are transient, short story collections are the mayflies of the literary world… Still, a good short story is a jewel of writing, and a collection of stories from the same author can subject you to more ideas, more emotion, and more pure wonder than any novel. They’re a great chance to get an insight into the most important character in any book — the one behind the pen.

Sumner points to four classic short fiction collections, any one of which is a great place for a new short fiction reader to get started.

They are: the horror collection Soft and Others: 16 Stories of Wonder and Dread by F. Paul Wilson, Simak’s book of  terrific early SF, The Worlds of Clifford Simak, Cordwainder Smith’s expansive future history The Rediscovery of Man, and especially George R. R. Martin’s Sandkings.

His recollection of Sandkings was right on the money, and made me want to read it all over again.


“Sandkings” concerns Simon Kress, a more than a little cruel character with a fondness for exotic pets. When Kress acquires a set of sandkings — insectile creatures that live in a large terrarium — he has the opportunity to study and shape a whole miniature world and society. But Kress uses the opportunity to explore the limits of his own depravity, and ultimately shapes his “children” more than he knows. Also included in this collection is “The Way of Cross and Dragon,” where a future Church fights to define heresy. If all you’ve read of Martin is his astounding A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy series… this is a terrific introduction to the scope of his work.

Finally, Sumner closes with a keen observation for those searching for short fiction today:

Science fiction and fantasy still enjoy something that has long vanished in many areas of fiction — a number of active magazines dedicated to publishing new work and new authors. Not only can you still go down to a news stand and pick up Asimov’s, Analog, and Fantasy & Science Fiction, there are a number of younger publications that are bringing out great fiction with regularity. Among these I’d like to make special mention of Black Gate whose quarterly editions arrive with nearly the heft of an old Sears’ Wish Book. It’s not just the quantity but the quality of the stories in Black Gate that have made it one of the few recent magazine start ups to hang on through tough times. They’ve taken chances on some new authors and on some risky stories… and I don’t just say that because they’ve published several of my own bits.

We have indeed. 

You can find Mark’s “Leather Doll,” which The Internet Review of Science Fiction called “Absolutely riveting…. A masterpiece of contemporary science fiction,” in Black Gate 7 (excerpt here), and his serialized novel The Naturalist, which Tangent Online called “Absorbing and thoroughly enjoyable…  it recalls the “lost world” tales of H. Rider Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… Fraught with danger and excitement, and full of the mystery and color of a grand adventure,” starting in Black Gate 10 (excerpt here).

Watch for more from Mark in future issues.

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