The Return of Horror on the Orient Express

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Horror on the Orient Express-smallIn 1991, more than 23 years ago now, Chaosium published the most ambitious Call of Cthulhu adventure ever created: Horror on the Orient Express.

It was a huge undertaking — a complete campaign that  spanned the European continent, crammed into a box containing four lengthy books, numerous player handouts, a European route map; cardstock plans of the train that could be laid end-to-end; scrolls, and even luggage stickers. It wasn’t merely a high water mark for CoC; it was a template for how mega-adventures could be created.

The box retailed for $39.99, a lot for a role playing supplement in those days, and it didn’t really sell that well. It wasn’t long before it went out of print, and Chaosium — which invested heavily in the failed Mythos card game in the mid-90s — ran into financial difficulties and broke apart a few years later.

As a result, Horror on the Orient Express got lost in the shuffle. It was never reprinted, and it rapidly became almost impossible to find. It was still talked about for many years by dedicated fans, however, and the combination of scarcity and its status as the pinnacle of CoC adventures meant it gradually acquired a legendary status.

Well, you know what happens to those rare game supplements (or books — or anything, really) that even determined fans can’t get their hands on. They become a holy grail for collectors. And that’s exactly what happened to Horror on the Orient Express. I started to see copies selling for $200-$300 and up, on those rare occasions I saw one at all.

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Book Pairings: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells and Royal Airs

Sunday, December 7th, 2014 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells-smallAh, a rainy night in December.

I was going to try to augment my blogging-to-raindrops experience by listening to Chopin, but after iTunes had been pianoing at me for a while, I admitted defeat, and realized once more that it’s difficult for me to blog and listen to music at the same time. (Hildegard of Bingen is, of course, an exception to this rule. Sometimes.)

Tonight I am feeling VIRTUOUS and TRIUMPHANT, for I have AT LONG LAST finished Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, followed by a reread of Sharon Shinn’s Royal Airs. I thought these two books would make a fine complementary pair of Gaslamp Fantasies You Might Like To Read.

Let’s start with Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells.

First of all… It took me LONG ENOUGH! Sigh. Have I told you how long it takes me to read an anthology? Any anthology? I think I did, way back in my Welcome to Bordertown blogging days. But don’t worry if you never read those three monster blogs o’ mine (although you should, because they are CHARMING and INFORMATIVE, and also go ahead and read the anthology itself if you haven’t, because that’s GREAT TOO); like Inigo Montoyo, I will sum up.

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Fantasy Keeps You Young

Saturday, December 6th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

John O'Neill at Capricon 2014 (photo by Patty Templeton)

John O’Neill at Capricon 2014 (photo by Patty Templeton)

Some years before I started Black Gate magazine, I was editing a science fiction fan site called SF Site. It’s still going strong today, managed by my old partners Rodger Turner and Neil Walsh in Ottawa. It was nominated for a Hugo award in 2002, and a World Fantasy Award in 2006; in 2002, it won the Locus Award for best webzine.

Anyway, before all that fame and glory, I was still struggling to get the damn site off the ground. That meant a lot of hard work, writing and posting articles that nobody read, late into the night. Around 1997 or so, I hit on an idea to give my site a higher profile: offering free hosting to the major SF and fantasy magazines, none of which had websites at the time. This worked splendidly, and over the next few years, Rodger and I launched sites for Analog, F&SF, SF Chronicle, and many others (meaning that I made a lot of phone calls, and Rodger did all the actual work.)

In 1998, shortly after we launched the Asimov’s SF site, I wrote A Brief History of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, to celebrate the magazine coming on board. I wrote about finding the second issue in 1977, the summer I discovered SF magazines. In my first draft, I said something about Asimov looking elderly and distinguished on the cover.

I ran the draft past Sheila Williams, then Executive Editor of Asimov’s, and received a very cranky note in return. She strongly objected to my wording, saying “Isaac was barely fifty when that photo was taken — hardly elderly!” I puzzled over that for a long, long time. What did she mean, exactly? It didn’t make any sense. Finally, I had an epiphany. Sheila was probably really old, too. She might even be approaching 50 herself! And as everyone knew, old people shouted at everybody, and didn’t make much sense. I tweaked my wording enough to pacify her and we published the article.

I’ve thought about that exchange a few times since I turned 50, just a few months ago.

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The Doom That Came to Lovecraft

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

santhulhuI turned 45 right before Halloween and once again I feel the cold claws of senescence tighten their grip around my throat. I used to pride myself on my memory, which, while not truly “photographic” – assuming such a thing even exists – was always extremely keen. Note that that I said “was.” Lately, I’m finding it harder and harder to keep the details of my wasted youth straight in my mind.

A good case in point concerns when I first encountered the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. I know for certain that it was after I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, but before Chaosium released its Lovecraft-inspired RPG, Call of Cthulhu. That suggests, then, the likeliest date is sometime in 1980, since, by then, I’d not only have acquired a copy of Gary Gygax’s masterwork, the Dungeon Masters Guide, whose Appendix N cited HPL as one of “the most immediate influences upon AD&D,” but had also made the acquaintance of older players who frequently extolled the virtues of pulp literature to my friends and I.

What I do remember is that, at the time, the very name “Lovecraft” sounded fantastical to me. I almost couldn’t accept that it was a real name, since I’d never heard of anyone with such a moniker before. This probably contributed greatly to the reverence in which I’d later hold his writings, a reverence that has only increased as I’ve grown older and had occasion to read and re-read his stories countless times.

What I also remember was that, not long after learning about the Gentleman from Providence, I rushed to my local library to find copies of his “books,” not yet realizing that most of his output consisted of short stories. What I found were battered copies of some of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy collections, along with the Scholastic Book Services edition of The Shadow over Innsmouth and Other Stories of Horror. The latter had a lasting effect on my imagination, thanks to its creepily comical depiction of a spectral inhabitant of the titular New England town. From then on, Lovecraft’s creations struck a powerful chord with me and, as I later learned, with so many of my fellow gamers. They were the epitome of horror.

How times have changed.

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Astounding Science Fiction, February and March 1953: A Retro-Review

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

astounding science fiction February 1953-smallI thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at John Campbell’s Astounding, from the early ’50s, after its dominance of the market had been shaken by Galaxy and F&SF. So here are two 1953 issues.

I bought these two issues because the March issue has John Brunner’s first story for a major market, “Thou Good and Faithful.” I noticed that that issue also has the second part of a Piper serial that I hadn’t read, so I bought the February issue to get part 1.

Details, then. The February cover, for H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire’s serial “Null-ABC,” is by H. R. Van Dongen, a pretty good one with a skull on a reddish background (flames and smoke, I think), and books and test tubes in the foreground.

The March cover, for “Thou Good and Faithful,” is less to my taste. It’s by G. Pawelka, an artist with whom I am unfamiliar, and it features a robot with a monkey-like creature on his shoulder, holding a globe of sorts — a very accurate depiction of a scene from the story, but not a picture I fancy much.

The features in each issue are the usual: Campbell’s editorial (“Redundance,” about information theory, in February; and “Unsane Behavior,” about war and the naivete of both those who think it works very well, and those who think stories of Atomic Doom will prevent it, in March); In Times to Come, The Analytical Laboratory, Brass Tacks, and P. Schuyler Miller’s review column.

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Vintage Treasures: Zacherley’s Midnight Snacks

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Zacherley's Midnight Snacks-smallI love Zacherly’s Midnight Snacks.

I love the whole goofy premise: a ghoul’s favorite midnight reading. A ghoul named Zacherley. Who comments on each story, with special “cheering notes.” You go, Zacherley.

Of course, it’s in the long-standing tradition of the Old Crypt Keeper, who introduced the horror tales in EC Comics, and Cain and Abel, hosts of DC Comics’ long-running House of Mystery and House of Secrets comics, just to name a few. The cheerful undead storyteller, who delights in a good creepy tale (not to mention the occasional moral fable or two.)

In keeping with the fiction that these stories were selected by a ghoul, the editor of Zacherly’s Midnight Snacks is uncredited. Someone must know who compiled this (and subsequent) volumes for Ballantine, but they’re not talking.

The book collects nine short stories and novelettes from the pulps (“precious old mouldering records”), including Thrilling Wonder, Unknown, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, and Fantastic Universe. Authors include Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, Wallace West, A. E. van Vogt, and Henry Kuttner. Here’s the blurb on the back of the book:

As choice a brew of ghouls, vampires, ghosts and creatures of EVEN MORE VARIED TALENTS as you could wish to meet, in stories garnered from precious old mouldering records, and with special cheering notes on each by ZACHERLEY.

This volume was released in March 1960. Zacherley managed one additional anthology, Zacherley’s Vulture Stew, released in August the same year, before (presumably) laying down for his eternal rest.

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Bringing Neglected Classics Back Into Print: The Horror Catalog of Valancourt Books

Thursday, November 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Cormorant Stephen Gregory-small The Monster Club R. Chetwynd-Hayes-small The Killer and the Slain Hugh Walpole-small The Smell of Evil-small

One of the many delights of the World Fantasy Convention, as I reported last week, is meeting the small publishers doing marvelous work in the industry. Seeing their catalogs of books spread out before you on a table in the Dealers Room can be quite a revelation. That was certainly the case with Valancourt Books.

As they proclaim proudly on their website, Valancourt Books is an independent small press specializing in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print fiction. They have five major lines: Gothic, Romantic, & Victorian; Literary Fiction; Horror & Supernatural; Gay Interest; and E-Classics. For World Fantasy, they crammed their table with titles from their Horror & Supernatural line. And I do mean crammed: their small table was piled high with dozens of beautifully designed trade paperbacks reprinting long-out-of-print horror paperbacks, chiefly from the 70s and 80s.

All it took was one glance to see that Valancourt Books has two significant strengths. First, their editorial team has excellent taste. They have reprinted work by Stephen Gregory, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Hugh Walpole, Charles Birkin, Jack Cady, Basil Copper, Russell Thorndike, John Blackburn, Michael McDowell, Bram Stoker, and many, many others. And second, their design team is absolutely top-notch. Their books are gorgeous, with beautiful cover art and striking visual design. I’ve selected eight to highlight in this article, just to give you a taste of what they have to offer, and replicate (in a small way) what it was like to stand in front of their table gazing appreciatively at their assembled treasures.

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Review of Sinister: Is Bagul the New Bogeyman on the Block?

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Irelyn Ozment's depiction of a "bad robot," November 2014

Irelyn Ozment’s depiction of a “bad robot,” November 2014

Anyone who has used the search engine Google more than once knows that it automatically generates ads based on your search terms that are then embedded into your search list. Aside from a little yellow “Ad” button, they look deceptively like more search results, tricking the unwary 2-a.m. web surfer into accidentally clicking on them and then being nightmarishly whisked off to some random retail site. The algorithm often creates nonsensical advertisements, proving yet again that we are still a long way off from AI (or even, in some cases, from I).

When I did a search for “Bagul,” aka Mr. Boogie aka ancient Babylonian deity who consumes the souls of children, the following three ads popped up at the end of my first page of hits (actual web links redacted, because I do not want to be responsible for you unleashing Mr. Boogie onto yourself or your family):

1. Bagul Store: Bagul: super cheap Hurry while stocks last!

2. Bagul – 70% Off – Lowest Price On Bagul: Free shipping, in stock. Buy now!

3. Bagul up to 70% off – Bagul sale: Compare prices and save up to 70%

If you’ve seen the 2012 film Sinister, the thought of having Bagul shipped to you for free should be absolutely chilling. Even if he is up to 70% off. Just 30% of Bagul will probably still mean certain death for you and your loved ones. In fact, someone inadvertently clicking on one of these ads could be the premise for Sinister 2, the sequel.

On the recommendation of several people (well, two — but since one of them was Black Gate ed-in-chief John O’Neill, that should count as several), I selected Sinister as my Hallowe’en 2014 viewing. After the last peals of “trick or treat” had long since dwindled away down the dark, cold streets, and our own little homespun Mrs. Munster (yes, that is what my 5-year-old specifically chose to be this year) and zombie cop had been tucked into their beds to sleep off their Hershey/Mars/Nestle comas, my wife and I inserted the Blu-Ray we’d rented into the player. My wife promptly fell asleep, but that has no bearing on the quality of the movie in question. For the next hour and fifty minutes, I was transfixed. I’ve got to concede: for this genre of film, this one is a high water mark.

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“It Is Neither Allegory Nor Fable But A Story To Be Read For Its Own Sake”: E.R. Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros, and Zimiamvia

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Worm OuroborosLast August, John O’Neill noted that HarperCollins would be reprinting four classic fantasies by E.R. Eddison: The Worm Ouroboros (first published in 1922), Mistress of Mistresses (from 1935), A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941), and The Mezentian Gate. Gate was unfinished when Eddison died, but he prepared it as best he could for publication before his death, writing a detailed synopsis for the chapters he hadn’t completed. The book was published in 1958 as the synopsis with some finished chapters. A 1992 one-volume reprinting of Mistress, Fish Dinner, and Gate, which together make up a sequence called the Zimiamvia trilogy, added several fragments of chapters found since Gate’s first publication. I have not seen the new printing, so can’t tell if anything more has been added to Gate for the Harper edition. But, as the new printings of the books came out in October, I thought I’d take a look back at Eddison’s best-known fantasy stories.

The Worm Ouroboros is widely and justly acclaimed as a classic. It deals, broadly, with the conflict on the planet Mercury (any resemblance between this Mercury and the real planet Mercury is purely coincidental) between Demonland and Witchland. The Demons and Witches — and Imps and Goblins — are all basically human, but their kings and champions are legendary heroes on a Homeric or Arthurian scale, while the setting echoes the Elizabethan and Jacobean era in its culture and especially its elaborate language. The plot follows four great heroes of Demonland as they quest across deep seas and high mountains for a means to defeat the armies of the Witch-king Gorice, while the in-fighting of his scheming court provides a kind of counter-plot centering around the ambiguous figure of the exiled Goblin Lord Gro.

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Firefly Friday: Leaves on the Wind Comic

Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Serenity_Leaves_on_the_Wind_HC_coverThe film Serenity brought a fair amount of closure to fans of Firefly, but as with any great story it didn’t end there. Each character goes through events in the film that transforms them in some way, and the story is never over. The classic hero’s journey ends not with the climactic battle, but with the return. The hero comes back to where he (or she) began and, through the events, has been transformed. Indeed, often their home itself has been transformed in some way, even if only in the way they view it.

The 6-issue limited comic book limited series, now collected together in Serenity: Leaves on the Wind (Amazon) completes the “Return” aspect of the hero’s journey for our crew … and since it’s a story in its own right, it also contains a full journey within it, with a new call to action, a new conflict, a new shift under the feet of the heroes. New allies and enemies are introduced, and the crew continues to change.

The series begins in the aftermath of Serenity, where the revelations about the origins of the Reavers spark heated debate across the ‘Verse. While pundits debate the veracity of the allegations, both the Alliance and a growing New Resistance movement are looking for the man who started it all: Malcolm Reynolds.

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