Vintage Treasures: Cemetery World by Clifford D. Simak

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Analog Cemetery World-small Cemetery World-small Cemetery World 1976-small

Clifford D. Simak practically introduced me to science fiction.

This was, as you may have guessed, a while back. A cold spring day in 1976, if I recall correctly. I was too sick to go to school, and my friend John MacMaster brought me two novels to read while I recuperated. I was already an avid reader, a huge fan of Scholastic books like The Case of the Marble Monster, and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. But the books John brought me weren’t like those. They were adult novels and they were unlike anything I’d ever read before. Most of the details of that long ago school semester have long since faded, but I remember those two books vividly: they were Ox by Piers Anthony and Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak.

Piers Anthony, of course, was a fine choice to introduce an eleven-year old to science fiction. But Simak was inspired. If I had the opportunity to introduce young readers to SF and fantasy today, I think I might still choose the novels and stories of Clifford D. Simak. His deceptively simple adventure tales were wrapped up in some of the most imaginative settings — and featured some of the most delightfully quirky characters — of any SF writer of the era.

In the years since, I’ve gotten much more acquainted with the work of Clifford D. Simak. I believe his Hugo Award-winning novelette “The Big Front Yard” may well be the finest science fiction story of the 20th Century — it’s certainly in the running, anyway. His classic City (1952) is probably his most acclaimed work, but Way Station, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1964, is perhaps best remembered today.

Simak produced a total of 29 novels and 19 short story collections, and even after all these years I’ve read only a fraction of them. He’s the writer I return to when I find myself frustrated, or when other authors disappoint. I returned to him this week, and while my hand hovered over several other enticing choices, including The Werewolf Principle and The Goblin Reservation, ultimately it was Cemetery World that proved irresistible.

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Walter Booth: Pioneer of British Science Fiction Film

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

A fearsome foe in The Magic Sword (1901)

A fearsome foe in The Magic Sword (1901)

Last week, I talked about the Spanish master of silent film, Segundo de Chomón. This week, I’d like to talk about another early genre filmmaker who has also been all but forgotten.

Walter R. Booth was an English stage magician who teamed up with film pioneer Robert W. Paul, who was making and screening films as early as 1896 at London’s Egyptian Hall, where Booth did his magic act. In 1899, Booth and Paul co-founded Paul’s Animatograph Works, a production house that specialized in trick films using Paul’s technical know-how and Booth’s skill at magic and illusion. These short films wowed audiences with special effects such as animation, split screen, jump cuts, superimposition, multiple exposures, and stop motion animation.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings of All Time

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Sorry Wayne, you aren't making this list

Sorry Wayne, you aren’t making this list

I’ve spent 30+ years looking at RPG artwork and I’ve yet to get tired of doing so. Sure, there are days when I wonder how the fantasy art world went to hell, but those are few and far between, as there are enough great new artists that still manage to inspire me in the mix of things [yeah Cynthia Sheppard I’m talking to you].

Nonetheless, I did begin thinking about well-aged TSR art this past month when James and I started digging in the nostalgia mines of old boxed sets. It prompted me to consider just what a ‘Top 10 list of TSR cover artwork’ would look like.

And to be clear, I wasn’t thinking about D&D in particular, but simply TSR catalogue stuff, which of course puts any artwork post WotC acquisition out of the picture. It does, however, allow for the additional inclusion of other games, although as I comprised this list I found it nearly impossible to include them. D&D, as it should be, dominated the RPG landscape from the mid-1970s, and thus is the bag of holding that any role-player will go back to again and again.

There are so many ‘things’ that could go into the making of this list, but for today I’m going to go with my gut. If I had feelings for it, it gets considered. If I know a lot of people owned it, it gets considered. Other than that, I don’t really have much to lean on other than the fact that this is what I do. I deal in old art. I buy it, I sell it, I broker it, I contract for it, I agent for its creators, and as you can see here, I blog about it. My only regret is that I wish it paid more, but since when does living your dream always to come with luxury?

That said, one name found on most RPG art lists these days won’t appear here because he came too late, and frankly, his greatest recognizable cover was done not for TSR, or WotC, but for Paizo. Yes, this means no Wayne Reynolds, but that is how this list is going to roll, so without further introduction, I give you my personal list of ‘Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings.’

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The Art of Jim Pavelec

Friday, September 12th, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

SONY DSCJim Pavelec is an award-winning freelance illustrator in the tabletop gaming and comic book industry and has over 15 years of professional experience. I was first introduced to him by our mutual friend E.E. Knight more than a decade ago, and put him in touch with John O’Neill, who hired him to illustrate several issues of Black Gate magazine. He has worked on properties such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Eerie Comics, and many more. He is also co-founder of the artist’s rights website ArtPACT.

The other day I decided to sit down with him and talk about his work and the life of a professional artist. Click to enlarge any of the accompanying illustrations.

What was your first big professional break?

My first paying gig was on a card game called Galactic Empires. Its pay was royalty based (which is something I’d like to see reinstituted in the illustration world), and didn’t amount to very much, but it was a good experience overall. At that time, hardly anyone did any promotion online, so getting work published was a little more valuable in terms of getting your work in front of the eyes of other art directors.

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Segundo de Chomón: Forgotten Fantasist of Silent Film

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Voyage to Jupiter, 1909.

Voyage to Jupiter, 1909.

Fantasy, science fiction, and horror themes have been in the movies since almost the beginning. During the first few experimental years, movies consisted of simple scenes such as a man sneezing or a train pulling into the station, but soon that novelty wore off and audiences wanted stories. Since the medium itself seemed almost magical, directors began to experiment with the fantastic in order to tell gripping tales.

Most film buffs know of Georges Méliès and his 1902 Trip to the Moon, generally considered the first science fiction film. Méliès started out as a stage magician so it’s not surprising he added an element of the fantastic in his pioneering movies. Other early filmmakers such as Auguste and Louis Lumière and Thomas Edison tended to film realistic subjects or historical/adventure stories, although Edison did make a version of Frankenstein in 1910.

Lost amid these famous names is a man who did as much for the development of fantastic film as any of them. The Spanish director Segundo de Chomón pioneered many early special effects techniques and worked on some two hundred films. Having spent much of his career in France and Italy, he’s been claimed by no country and thus has fallen through the cracks of history.

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Art of the Genre: Art of the Iconic Female #5: Princess Leia

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

fa832e1c671c8fb5638dadc8425630da-d5lc2cf-industry-reacts-to-star-wars-episode-vii-s-lack-of-womenToday continues the Art of the Genre series on the Iconic Female.  If you’ve missed any of the others, click on the hotlinks to find #1, #2, #3, and #4, and now on to the good stuff!

I was six when Star Wars was initially released.  I did get to see it in the theater, but I more remember the feel of the venue and the oddity of the aliens rather than if I had an emotional attachment to Princess Leia.  I know I must have enjoyed the film because my house quickly filled up with Star Wars figures, posters, and memorabilia, but none of this led to a particular ‘love’ of Leia.  Honestly, the only true memory of Leia I had in those early days was that her very thin and small laser pistol was lost when I tried to put her in Luke’s landspeeder.  To this day, I swear it is still ingeniously stuck inside that toy even though the odds are that it was devoured by my mother’s two inch shag carpeting where the incident occurred.

Nonetheless, Leia didn’t ‘blossom’ for me until the release of Empire Strikes Back, where, like Han Solo himself, I became smitten with her.  By this point, in 1980, I was a precocious nine year-old who was just beginning to truly understand that girls had more to offer than all my friends had previously surmised.  I well remember my Cloud City play-set, and the outstanding Han Solo figure with blue jacket that could stand proudly beside the intricately woven hair of Cloud City Leia.  I’m also pretty sure this was the first time I ever saw a kiss onscreen that didn’t make me look away, so certainly some things were readily changing in my view of this iconic character.

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Vintage Treasures: The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder by Andre Norton

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Andre Norton Beast Master hardcover-small The Beast Maser Ace Double-small The Beast Master Ace-small

Andre Norton’s The Beast Master is one of the most famous Ace Doubles ever published.

It was also one of her most popular books. It was originally published in 1959, and it’s still in print today, 55 years later. To give you some understanding of how amazing that is, try and find a paperback from, oh, 2010 at your local Barnes & Noble. (It’s not easy — 98% of fiction paperbacks four years old are out of print already.) Ladies and gentlemen, that’s literary staying power.

The Beast Master has been reprinted in a number of handsome editions over the last five decades, with covers by Richard Powers, Ed Valigursky, John Schoenherr, Ken Barr, Julie Bell, and many other talented folks. If you’re a struggling midlist writer, that’s one more reason to be jealous of Andre Norton. She was covered by the best.

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Art of the Genre: The Art of Selling your Past

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

photoConsidering the fact that James ‘Grognardia’ Maliszewski is one of my office mates here in Black Gate L.A., I’m often inspired by what he has to say on the subject of gaming.  Now sure, James comes at the hobby from a more mechanics angle, while I take on the artistic side, but nonetheless, we are still cut from the same cloth and overlap on many details [he’s two years older than me, so MUCH wiser].

After reading his The Golden Age article this week, I couldn’t help but find an odd pleasure in the fact that I too was revisiting my gaming past, only once again from a different angle.

So, when he posted his image of the ‘treasure’ found at his ancestral home, I couldn’t help but smile because I’d just taken a picture similar to it myself the day before.  You see, James, according to the article, was enjoying the nostalgia of his TSR collection in his visual framing, but for me, I was working toward the reality of parting ways with mine.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been selling off parts of my RPG collection.  It began as a quest to raise capital for other projects, but as it continued, it turned into a kind of cathartic shedding of unneeded pounds.  Last year, I wrote an article for Black Gate entitled The Weight of Print, and over the past weeks I’ve toted at least a hundred pounds of books to the USPS from my RPG shelves.

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Art of the Genre: Reki Kawahara, Depression, and Sword Art Online

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Vol1_Special_Poster compI read an article a while back that very eloquently debated the theory that online games, specifically Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games [MMORPGS], were the root cause of depression. There were arguments on both sides, of course, but after I was done, I couldn’t help but side against them actually causing the mental disorder.

You see, I live in a world of artists and writers, and that means depression is probably the most prevalent topic [both overtly and covertly] among my fellows every day of the year.  Some cope better than others, some take drugs, and in the extreme, some take their own lives. It is a hard truth, but as I sit and think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter who you are, you carry depression with you.

Depression is a constant but varied affliction of the human condition, and to those suffering the least, perhaps a nightly sitcom and a bowl of popcorn stave off the stresses of a cubical lived workday. As above, for the worst cases, like Robin Williams last week, the only true escape seems to call for the end of it all on a permanent basis.

As with any Bell Curve, I think the bulk of Americans and their First World Problems (I know Ethiopia, you are currently crying us a river) are in some comfortable (yet stoically miserable) place right in the middle.  This is where online gaming might come into play.

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Vintage Treasures: Big Planet by Jack Vance

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Startling Stories September 1952-small Big Planet Jack Vance Ace-small Big-Planet-Ace-1978-small

I’m embarrassed to admit that I became a Jack Vance fan only late in life. I blame a misspent youth.

I first discovered him through his short fiction — especially “The Dragon Masters” and “The Moon Moth,” two brilliantly imaginative tales of far-off worlds. But I was slow to discover his novels and I’ve spent the last few years trying to catch up.

The one I want to read next is Big Planet, his 1952 novel of a massive but technologically backwards world known simply as Big Planet, settled over the centuries by a host of criminals, malcontents, and outcasts from Earth. Claude Glystra is sent to Big Planet to investigate rumors of a dark plot against Earth, but his ship is sabotaged and crash-lands 40,000 miles from his destination. Glystra and his crewmates must undertake an impossible journey on foot across a dangerous landscape filled with aliens, human colonies isolated for centuries, and the treacherous agents of his enemies.

Big Planet was Vance’s first major SF novel, and it is one of the classic adventure fantasies of the 1950s. It has been reprinted over a dozen times. I have several different paperback editions — and they are, in fact, very different. All I have to do is figure out which one to read.

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