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 catalog 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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What Old Futures Can Teach Us About What SF and SciFi is Really For

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

In EC Tubb's imagined future... Security means men with guns. And I don't care!

In EC Tubb’s imagined future… Security means men with guns. And I don’t care!

So, last week I talked about how old Science Fiction and most media SciFi fails to portray realistic futures. They often do well at predicting specific technical advances, for example speech recognition, but underestimate the way humans will exploit any technology to its limits and use it in conjunction with other technologies.

What’s interesting is that (almost) nobody cares.

For example, I’m reading EC Tubb’s Dumarest books. The technology is wildly inconsistent. Conspirators have devices to block eavesdropping, electronic and human, but use landlines without worrying about phone taps.

Did I mention people use landlines?

In EC Tubb’s imagined future, it’s possible to steal a flyer without somebody tracing it through an ID chip, and without it being spotted on radar or by satellite as you cross the sea. Security means men with guns.

And I don’t care!

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Culture, Corporate and Otherwise

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!It’s been a while since I posted anything here at Black Gate. There’s no one reason; a number of things have kept me busy or occupied, most recently a persistent head cold and ear infection. I mention this because being under the weather has indirectly to do with the following post. Firstly, being sick led me to watch some TV shows which I now want to write a bit about. Secondly, my mental state shaped the way I thought about what I experienced; I can only hope now to capture the sense of coherence I had then. This essay will be more shapeless than usual, I’m afraid, an attempt to explain the connections that drifted through my mind between Alan Moore, Doc Savage, and Scooby Doo, among others.

When you’re feeling sick — or at least when I’m feeling sick — it’s sometimes restful to read or watch something familiar. As it was coming up to Halloween when I caught a bad cold, I decided to watch something spooky but unchallenging. And it turned out that Canadian Netflix had both the very first Scooby-Doo TV series, 1969’s Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears), and the most recent, 2010’s Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated (created and produced by Spike Brandt, Tony Cervone, and Mitch Watson).

I’d read some very good things about the latter show, some here on this blog from Nick Ozment, so I decided I’d rewatch the series I knew from my youth and then see the modern reboot. Because curiosity takes many odd forms, I also ended up drifting around Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database, reading up on the creation of both shows. Which touched off a few reflections on the shape of stories, generational differences, and popular culture.

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Firefly Friday: Better and Not-So-Better Days in Serenity Comics

Friday, November 14th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

SerenityBetterDaysNext week will mark the release of the hardcover collection of the Serenity: Leaves on the Wind (Amazon) limited series, which marks the first official story set in the post-film Serenity ‘Verse.

However, this is actually the fourth collection of Serenity comics. I previously reviewed the Serenity: Those Left Behind comic story, which was published before the release of the film Serenity. Two additional stories have been released as comics to tell further adventures of the Serenity crew since the film came out, but these were telling stories that took place before the film.

Serenity: Better Days (Amazon)

The second limited series to get collected together, Better Days tells the story of a mission that goes surprisingly right for the Serenity crew. It sets them on a path where they all might be able to live their wildest dreams. More importantly, though, the series is set before the events of Serenity – so the series includes characters who don’t make it out of the film alive. We get yet another glimpse of some of our favorite characters all together.

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2014 World Fantasy Convention: Saturday Wrap-Up

Sunday, November 9th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

This will be our final post about the World Fantasy Convention in 2014. Tomorrow, we will be leaving early to drive back to Indianapolis.

Today, I slept in a bit more and didn’t join the convention activities until 11. I attended readings by Joe Haldeman, Kelly Link, Mary Robinette Kowal (my close friend), and Lee Martindale.

Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman

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Firefly Friday: Going Behind the Scenes

Friday, November 7th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Firefly the Official Companion-smallThe cornerstone of the fans’ love affair with Firefly is the 13 television episodes, culminating in the film Serenity. But if you’re a fan of the show, you’ve probably watched all of the episodes numerous times – maybe even with the audio commentary from Whedon, the stars, and other show creators. For real fans, though, this may not be quite enough. Is there any way to dive into the individual episodes more deeply?

Titan Books helped out the fans by publishing a series of stunning, glossy fan-gasmic volumes that include not only images of the props and various production stills, but also full scripts of the episodes of the series. Across these three books – ultimately collected into a single volume – there’s a glimpse into nearly every aspect of the production process on the series, why it was ultimately cancelled, what the various actors felt about their characters, and even some new stories.

And so very many shiny, shiny pictures.

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Vintage Treasures: Weird Tales #1, edited by Lin Carter

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Weird Tales 1 paperback-smallIf you’ve hung around Black Gate for any length of time, you’ve heard us talk about Weird Tales, the greatest and most influential pulp fantasy magazine every published.

Weird Tales has died many times, and crawled out of the grave and shambled back to life just as often (if you’re a Weird Tales fan, you’ve heard countless zombie metaphors about your favorite magazine). When the pulp version of the magazine died in September 1954 after 279 issues, many believed it was for the final time. But it returned to life in the early 1970s, edited by Sam Moskowitz and published by Leo Margulies, and then perished again after four issues.

Bob Weinberg and Victor Dricks purchased the rights to the name from Margulies some time after that, and in December 1980 a brand new version appeared: Weird Tales #1, an original paperback anthology of horror and weird fantasy edited by none other than Lin Carter. On the inside front cover (under the heading The Eyrie, the name of the old editorial column in the pulp magazine) Carter introduced his anthology to a new generation of fantasy readers:

WEIRD TALES was the first and most famous of all the fantasy-fiction pulp magazines. It featured tales of the strange, the marvelous, and the supernatural by the finest authors of the macabre and the fantastic, old and new, from its first issue in 1923 until its 279th and last consecutive issue in 1954.

Now it is back, with all new stories — and even such an exciting find as “Scarlet Tears,” a recently discovered and never before published novelette by Robert E. Howard.

Over the years many great writers were published in the pages of WEIRD TALES, and now a great tradition is being continued into its second half-century.

“Scarlet Tears,” a Robert E. Howard story featuring his private detective Brent Kirby, never sold in his lifetime, and it’s not hard to see why (Kirby, a brawler who leads with his fists, doesn’t actually do much “detecting.”) Nonetheless, this kind of star billing for a Robert E. Howard trunk story gives you some indication just how much his reputation had grown since his death 44 years earlier.

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