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Alex Bledsoe Writes a Love Letter to Carl Kolchak

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Kolchak The Night Stalker-smallOver at Tor.com, occasional Black Gate blogger Alex Bledsoe has written a Love Letter to Carl Kolchak. As brilliantly portrayed by Darren McGavin in a single season of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75), Carl Kolchak was one of the greatest supernatural sleuths of all time — and a personal hero of mine when I was 10 years old. (And for much of my 30s and 40s, now that think about it.)

So get your eyes off him, Alex. He’s all mine.

I already had vague notions of writing my own stories, but as a lonely geek in small-town Tennessee, being a writer seemed about as likely as getting a date.

But when I saw Kolchak, everything changed. So what if girls ignored me? I could ignore them just like Carl did. What did it matter if there was nothing in my small town to make me look forward to the future? The Truth, long before the X-Files, was out there somewhere, in a big city like Chicago where monsters could lurk with impunity. All I needed were a few pieces of gear, like a portable cassette recorder (these were cutting edge at the time), a 110 camera … and that most glorious of inventions, the typewriter, featured in the show’s credits.

Alex Bledsoe is the author of five Eddie LaCrosse novels (including The Sword-Edged Blonde, and the latest, He Drank, and Saw the Spider), Blood Groove, The Girls with Games of Blood, and the Tufa novels, The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing. His last article for us was Pacific Rim and the Culture of Rip-Off Vs. Homage.

Read the complete article here.


Fantasia Focus: The Zero Theorem, by Terry Gilliam

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Zero TheoremBefore continuing my Fantasia diary with a look at the movies I saw last Sunday, I want to focus in on one specific film that struck me as an utterly brilliant piece of science-fiction satire. I think it divided the audience; I’ve heard and seen reactions from people who were left cold by it as well as from people who loved it as much as I did. Perhaps that’s not surprising. The movie is The Zero Theorem, directed by Terry Gilliam from a script by Pat Rushin, and it is as idiosyncratic and persistently individual as you’d expect from Gilliam.

Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is an eccentric solitary in a hyperconnected future. He works for a corporation, Mancom, plugging numbers together — which he does by manipulating blocks on a screen with a joystick, effectively playing video games. A chance encounter with Management (Matt Damon) allows him to work from home, a deserted church, trying to put together the zero theorem, a mathematical proof of the pointlessness of life — which Management believes can be leveraged to make money. Qohen’s pleased, since what he wants more than anything else in life is a phone call he believes will come out of the blue and grant him enlightenment, and now he can sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. But his solitude’s plagued by outsiders, including the seductive Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), and Management’s son Bob (Lucas Hedges), an even sharper computer whiz than Qohen.

The Zero Theorem is visually startling, steampunk gone day-glo. It’s a perceptive, idiosyncratic take on the Wired World Of Today, here depicted as Brave New World gone berserk. In fact, Gilliam considers this movie part of his ‘Orwellian trilogy,’ along with Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, but it certainly feels more like Huxley. It depicts a world commercialised and infantilised, where ads for the Church of Batman the Redeemer float above the street. It’s a sharp criticism of easy escapism, but seems to question as well where contrasting meaning is to be found, whether religious transcendence is valid or whether belief is just another form of escape. The movie’s more interested in questions than answers, even questioning itself and its own metaphors on occasion. Days later, I’m still thinking about it, arguing with it, astounded by it.

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Not A Visit From The Suck Fairy

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

My Real Children Jo Walton-smallA while ago, I was reminded of Jo Walton’s post on the “Suck Fairy.”

You should look at the whole post yourself, here, but let me give you a quick recap: when you reread something you once loved, that had a significant impact on you, you sometimes find that it has deteriorated considerably from what you recall.

Don’t worry, says Walton, it’s not you, it’s just that the book has been visited by the Suck Fairy, who has endowed it with… well, you get the idea.

This is an experience we’ve all had, I’m sure, but being reminded of it started me thinking about why we reread books in the first place, and, if we do, what books do we re-read?

Of course, the Suck Fairy can only affect beloved books which haven’t been revisited in some time, though they may have been read and reread often in the past. For example, I read LOTR at least fourteen times between the ages of eleven and twenty-one, but I haven’t reread it in its entirety since. I’m not afraid of the Suck Fairy – I’ve written papers on LOTR, and if that doesn’t bring on the Suck Fairy, nothing will – I’ve just been a bit busy.

No, I’m talking about books you might reread or re-visit maybe only once, maybe twice, as well as those you might regularly reread. I reread the novels of Jane Austen every year or so, for example, and the Sherlock Holmes Canon every two or three years.

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Five – “The Final Count”

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

1189621421509Sapper’s The Final Count (1926) saw the Bulldog Drummond formula being shaken and stirred yet again. The first four books in the series are the most popular because they chronicle Drummond’s ongoing battle with criminal mastermind Carl Peterson. The interesting factor is how different the four books are from one another. Sapper seemed determined to cast aside the idea of the series following a template and the result kept the long-running series fresh, as well as atypical.

The most striking feature this time is the decision to opt for a first person narrator in the form of John Stockton, the newest member of Drummond’s gang. While Drummond’s wife, Phyllis, played a crucial role in the first book, she barely registers in the early sequels. One would have expected Sapper to have continued the damsel in distress formula with Phyllis in peril, but he really only exploits this angle in the second book in the series, The Black Gang (1922).

The Black Gang reappear here, if only briefly, and are quickly dispatched by the more competent and deadly foe they face. This befits the more serious tone of this book, which has very few humorous passages. The reason for the somber tone is the focus is on a scientific discovery of devastating consequence that threatens to either revolutionize war or end its threat forever. Robin Gaunt is the tragic genius whose invention of a deadly poison that could wipe out a city the size of London by being released into the air proves eerily prescient.

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How to Slay a Dragon, Realistically

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

Dragonslayers from Beowulf to St. George

How does a Dark Age warrior or Medieval knight imagine he might kill a dragon?

One of the draws of  Heroic Fantasy is that it takes the archetypal, the magical — the magical realistic even! — and makes it immersively real by engaging with it in a practical, sweaty-browed, grimy handed way.

For example, a surrealist artist might paint a city inhabited by human wolves, but James Enge in Wolf Age plunges his hero into a realistically imagined civilization of werewolves and makes him fight to survive physically and morally.

That’s what the genre does. It says: Assume this crazy but cool thing was true; what would be the implications?

Now, dragons are about as crazy and cool and magical as beasts get. Suppose you had to kill one?

Don’t look to Greek Myth for tips! Yes, Heracles prunes the Hydra to death,  but he’s a demigod. Jason slays the Colchian dragon, but only after Media cast Sleep on it. Faced by a dragon, a mythological hero uses supernatural cheat codes. Puny humans without magic or divine descent don’t get a look in — which is fine. The listener, or reader, is civilised, and dragons belong to another era.

You’ll have more luck with the tales crafted — evolved in the telling — for the descendants of the barbarians who took down the Roman Empire. These rough men were accustomed to resolving problems through the medium of muscle-powered violence. The dragon, like a post-Roman city, a Byzantine army, or the walls of Jerusalem, merely presented an interesting challenge and thus their response becomes interesting to us:

So how does a Dark Age warrior or Medieval knight imagine he might kill a dragon?

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My Fantasia Festival, Day Three (Part Two): Han Gong-ju and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Han Gong-juTo my mind, if you’re a critic of any integrity, sooner or later the criticism you write will lead you to challenge your views of yourself as well as your views of the art you experience. That’s the nature of much truly effective art: it makes you look at yourself and think about yourself in new ways. If you’re trying to articulate your reaction and assessment of such a work, honesty will compel some self-examination as well. Powerful art requires an acknowledgement of one’s subjective response.

I mention this because the films I saw at the Fantasia festival last Saturday evening both did this in different and complementary ways, leading me to similar conclusions. The first was a South Korean movie called Han Gong-ju, written and directed by Lee Su-Jin. The second was Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, directed by Josephine Decker from a script she co-wrote with David Barker; Decker’s earlier short feature Butter on the Latch screened afterwards.

The eponymous lead of Han Gong-ju is a Korean schoolgirl who, as the movie opens, is being transferred from her old high school to another school in a different city. Why? We don’t know; but it’s clear that something grave has happened. The mother of one of her teachers takes Gong-ju in, and the movie alternates between showing Gong-ju’s new life and flashing back to slowly answer the question of what caused this sudden and massive change.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Sorcerer’s Ship by Hannes Bok

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

The Sorcerer's Ship 001The Sorcerer’s Ship
Hannes Bok
Ballantine, 205 p., December 1969, $0.95
Cover Art by Ray Cruz

First, I’d like to apologize to John and everyone else who reads these posts for taking so long to get this one done. I was on the road quite a bit from the end of May up through the Fourth, but I thought I would be able to get this particular post done quickly. Then things started happening. Car repairs, then house repairs, and then more car repairs. (This has necessitated bank account repairs.) Then last night, one of the wires in my son’s braces snapped loose. If anything else happens, I’m going to snap.

I don’t mean to kvetch. As you can see, I’ve been a bit distracted and apologize for the delay. I’ve already started the next book I’ll read for this series.

Anyway, on to something a little different than what we’ve seen in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series up to this point. Rather than something deep and complex, with complicated writing (The Wood Beyond the World) or bizarre imagery (Lilith) or even not-so-subtle innuendo (The Silver Stallion), The Sorcerer’s Ship is almost a children’s story.

It’s not intended to be, but this is one that might hold a younger person’s interest. There’s certainly nothing in it that most parents would find objectionable for a child capable of reading a book of this length.

Hannes Bok is best remembered for his art, but as Lin Carter discusses in his introduction, Bok was also a more than capable writer. Carter chose this volume and The Golden Stair for inclusion in the BAF line. The Sorcerer’s Ship was originally published by John Campbell (not the world’s easiest sell by any means) in Unknown in December 1942. After Weird Tales, Unknown is arguably the greatest fantasy pulp in the history of the field.

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Vintage Treasures: To Here and the Easel by Theodore Sturgeon

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

To Here and the Easel-smallA few weeks ago, I wrote about Theodore Sturgeon’s collection The Stars Are the Styx and complained that virtually all of Sturgeon’s brilliant short story collections had now been out of print for over three decades.

I did this mostly out of bitterness and greed. I’d spent several years happily tracking down all 16 of Sturgeon’s paperback collections — a highly collectible lot — but now, those days were over. I wanted more, but  no more were forthcoming. It’s not like I was going to discover a new Sturgeon collection I’d never heard of or something.

Of course, a few days after I wrote that article, I discovered a new Sturgeon collection I’d never heard of.

It was To Here and the Easel, a gorgeous Panther paperback from 1975, with an eye-catching Peter Jones cover. I discovered it accidentally on eBay and, after gawking at it for several long minutes — and them making sure it wasn’t simply a retitled version of a US collection I already had — I promptly purchased it.

It arrived a few days later and I am thrilled to have it. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Here are all the ingredients for a splendidly varied and entertaining collection of science fiction and science fantasy: a mental parasite which lives in the minds of successive human hosts, forcing them to do its will… the man who ‘reads’ gravestones… a devastating weapon sent from beyond space and time which poses the ultimate threat to an already shaky galactic federation… and more!

With virtuoso skill and brilliance of invention, Theodore Sturgeon displays in this collection the mastery of his field which has won him international acclaim.

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My Fantasia Festival, Day Three (Part One): The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Demon of the Lute, and Patch Town

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Satellite Girl and Milk CowSaturday was my first really big day at Fantasia. On weekdays, the festival usually starts its screenings at 5 or 6, with the occasional matinée at 3. Weekend days kick off around noon, meaning many more movies are on offer. Which also incidentally increases the risk of losing track of the need for a meal. I ended up seeing five movies last Saturday, with a dinner break after the first three. So this post will cover those first three films and I’ll have another up shortly looking at the next two. (In general it seems like I’m going to have more Fantasia posts than I’d thought, as I try to keep up with the films I’ve watched.)

I started at the Hall Theatre at 11:40 with an animated film from Korea called The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. As soon as that ended, I ran across the street to the smallest of the three main Fantasia theatres, the J.A. De Sève, where I watched the wild Shaw Brothers kung-fu film Demon of the Lute. After which I stayed with the De Sève to watch the Canadian feature Patch Town, which turned out to be a charming, surreal fantasy. It was a good, if somewhat lunatic, afternoon.

(Incidentally, the reason why I mention the theatres in which the movies are playing is because after a few days, it seems like each one has developed its own personality. Big broad-appeal films play at the Hall — bearing in mind that ‘broad appeal’ at Fantasia can mean something like Zombeavers as well as Guardians of the Galaxy. The D.B. Clarke seems to host a lot of thoughtful films with fairly high production values. And the De Sève has featured a number of experimental films and documentaries, as well as screenings of older films and the occasional thriller or horror movie.)

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A Saxon Tower in Oxford

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The Saxon Tower rises above a busy shopping street.

The Saxon Tower rises above a busy shopping street.

Ha! I bet you were expecting another Spanish post, weren’t you? Well, I spend the summers in Oxford, so this week you’re getting something a little more northern. When I’m not researching my next book in the Bodleian Library, I set out to explore the city and surrounding countryside for sights of historical interest.

Oxford is a beautiful university town filled with fine architecture. It’s also an ancient city with roots back into prehistory. It first came into prominence in Anglo-Saxon times and a trace of this has survived. On busy Cornmarket Street, there’s a well-preserved example of a Anglo-Saxon tower. It’s part of St. Michael at the North Gate church and was built around the year 1040. This makes it Oxford’s oldest building and one of the oldest Anglo-Saxon structures anywhere.

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