An Ancient Egyptian Temple in Madrid

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Templo de Debod in Madrid by flickr user jiuguangw

Templo de Debod in Madrid by flickr user jiuguangw

When the Egypt government began its massive Aswan Dam project in 1960, it realized that a large number of temples and archaeological sites would be submerged forever. Teaming up with UNESCO, it started an ambitious project of survey and excavation, as well as the relocation of several key monuments.

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The Royal Armory of Vienna

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

This highly decorated harness was made in Nuremberg around 1555.

This highly decorated harness was made in Nuremberg around 1555. Many of the pieces in the Vienna collection retain their paint and gold inlay.

Last week we looked at the Royal Armory of Madrid, founded by the Hapsburgs in the 16th century. Another of the great Hapsburg armories of Europe is the one in Vienna. Part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and housed in the Neue Burg palace, it is one of the most impressive collections of royal arms and armor anywhere.

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Vintage Treasures: Bow Down to Nul by Brian W. Aldiss / The Dark Destroyers by Manly Wade Wellman

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Bow Down to Nul-small The Dark Destroyers-small

We’re back to our survey of Ace Doubles, this time with a volume from 1960 containing lesser-known novels from two of science fiction’s brightest stars: Bow Down to Nul by Brian W. Aldiss and The Dark Destroyers by Manly Wade Wellman. Ace Doubles didn’t always have a clear connecting theme, but they did in this case, as both novels feature the struggle against brutal aliens who have conquered Earth.

Bow Down to Nul is a Galactic Empire novel, a fairly common theme in early pulp SF, made popular by writers like Asimov and Van Vogt. The empire in this case is a huge stellar realm controlled by the Nuls, an ancient race of giant three-limbed creatures. Earth is a backwater colony world, ruled by a Nul tyrant. The human resistance is disorganized, but aided by a Nul signatory attempting to bring to light abuses on Earth.

As Aldiss noted in his Note From The Author, the set-up strongly parallels the complex colonial relationships he witnessed first hand while serving in India and Indonesia in the forties.

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Fearie Tales Has the Best Cover Art of the Year

Friday, December 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Fearie Tales 2-smallOne thing I miss about the lack of a print edition of Black Gate is that I no longer shop for cover art.

I still do, sort of, by keeping an eye on the best pieces of art every year. And as we close out 2014, I think I can say that my favorite cover this year was for the deluxe limited edition of PS Publishing’s Fearie Tales, painted by Alan Lee (click on the image at left for a bigger version.) What can I say? I’m a sucker for castles and crows.

Fearie Tales was edited by Stephen Jones and takes inspiration from the original versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Jones invited some of today’s top fantasy and horror writers to create new Grimm Fairy Tales, with a decidedly darker twist. It contains retellings of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, The Robber Bridegroom, and more from Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Garth Nix, Robert Shearman, Michael Marshall Smith, Christopher Fowler, Angela Slatter, Brian Hodge, Joanne Harris, John Ajvide Lindqvist, and many others. Check out Goth Chick’s review of the US edition here.

Cover artist Alan Lee was, along with John Howe, the lead concept artist for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. He has illustrated dozens of fantasy novels, including the covers of the 1983 Penguin edition of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, and several works by J.R.R. Tolkien, including the centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings (1995), a 1999 edition of The Hobbit, and The Children of Húrin (2007).

Fearie Tales was published PS Publishing in a deluxe signed traycase edition limited to 200 copies on July 1, 2014, priced at £249.00. It is also available in a trade edition (with a different cover), published by Jo Fletcher Books on September 23, 2014, priced at $24.99.

AD&D Figurines: Youth In a Box?

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

DSC04791A few weeks back, a friend (quite unexpectedly) handed me the boxed set of AD&D miniatures pictured at right. I say “unexpectedly” because so far as I know, this friend had no idea that I ever played D&D. Nor were the figures intended for me; the note she enclosed made it clear the box was for my fourteen-year-old son, “just in case.”

My son was marginally interested, but not seriously so. I, however, was kind of downright sorta hypnotized.

Confession: I never gravitated to miniatures. My twin objections were, first, that the figures never, ever looked the way I pictured either my characters or those of my fellow gamers, and second, they were small enough that painting them to my own exacting standards was next to impossible.

I had Testor’s model paint, of course (most boys I knew in the late seventies and early eighties did), so accessing a mouth-watering color palette wasn’t the issue.

Application, however: yipes!

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Vintage Treasures: Gateway to Elsewhere by Murray Leinster / The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gateway to Elsewhere-small The Weapon Shops of Isher-small

And now we come to one of my favorite Ace Doubles: Murray Leinster’s Arabian Nights fantasy Gateway to Elsewhere, paired with the classic science fiction novel The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt.

Of the two, Gateway to Elsewhere is significantly lesser known. It was Leinster’s first fantasy novel, although he’d previously published two SF novels, The Murder of the U.S.A. (as Will F. Jenkins, in 1946) and The Black Galaxy (in Startling, March 1949). Gateway to Elsewhere originally appeared in a two-part serial in the seventh issue of the small circulation digest Fantasy Book in 1950/51 under the title Journey to Barkut. The entire novel was reprinted in the January 1952 issue of Startling Stories, still under the title Journey to Barkut, with a handsome cover by Earle Bergey (see below).

Two years later, it appeared as half of Ace Double D-53, with the new title Gateway to Elsewhere, and a splendid cover by Harry Barton.

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Vintage Treasures: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick / Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Cosmic Puppets-smallWe’re back to looking at Ace Doubles.

This month, I have a special treat for you. A 1957 pairing of two major science fiction writers, both early in their careers, which resulted in a very collectible paperback: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, published back-to-back with Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton.

Let’s start with The Cosmic Puppets because, while Dick was never as popular as Andre Norton while he was alive, over the past three decades his fame has grown steadily, to the point where he’s now considered one of the most important SF writers of the 20th Century. The Cosmic Puppets was his fifth novel, and appeared here for the first time (in this form, anyway). While Sargasso of Space is a popular and important SF novel — for reasons I’ll get to shortly — The Cosmic Puppets is the primary reason this paperback commands real interest among collectors.

The Cosmic Puppets is a tale of alien invasion… although, as usual for Dick, it disregards most of the typical conventions of an alien invasion story. Some readers consider it Dick’s most approachable novel (although that doesn’t mean you won’t close the book with a lot of questions.) It’s also the Dick novel that skirts closest to pure fantasy.

The novel opens almost like a Twilight Zone episode, as our protagonist returns to his home town, only to discover that the inhabitants have no memory of him at all. Here’s the summary from the 1957 Ace edition.

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Somalia’s Forgotten Past: The Prehistoric Painted Caves of Somaliland

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


When we think of Somalia, we usually think of the endless civil war and the rise of the militant Islamist group Al-Shabab. That’s all that gets in the news, after all. But Somalia has a rich past that’s been all but forgotten thanks to its sad present. Back in 2012, I went in search of it.

I visited Somaliland, an independent state that makes up the northern third of the former Somalia. While it remains unrecognized by any other nation, it has established a viable government with free and fair elections, a growing economy, and the rule of law. Visiting Somaliland gives outsiders a chance to get to know Somali culture and see some of the best prehistoric painted caves in Africa.

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See Westeros the Way George R.R. Martin Intended in The World of Ice & Fire

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill



If you’ve been watching HBO’s Game of Thrones, then you’ve already been treated to some spectacular sights.

It seems George R.R. Martin is not content to let HBO be the final word on the visual splendor of Westeros, however. His new book The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones, released this week, gives Game of Thrones fans the chance to see visions of Martin’s world that are much closer to what he intended.

In an interview at The Huffington Post, Martin explains why there are so many pictures of castles:

I wanted accurate versions of these castles. We’ve had a number of different artists draw them on covers and on the fantasy like cards and games, and some of them have been beautiful images but not necessarily accurate to what I described.

The World of Ice & Fire, co-authored with Elio M. García, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, who run the site, isn’t just an art book, however. It’s a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms — all the battles, betrayals, and back-room deals that lead to the events of Martin’s novels. It includes full family trees for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen; detailed histories of the cultures of Westeros; and more than 170 pieces of original art and maps, many in full-color.

See five high-resolution images from the book at The Huffington Post article here. The World of Ice & Fire was published on October 28 by Bantam Books. It is 336 pages, priced at $50 in hardcover and $19.99 for the digital edition.

Robert Silverberg on Cannon Propulsion in Space

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Original Science Fiction Stories February 1959-smallIn my Sunday article on The Art of The Original Science Fiction Stories magazine, I called out the bizarrely goofy February 1959 cover (right), illustrating “Delivery Guaranteed” by Calvin M. Knox (Robert Silverberg). It’s the kind of gonzo image that only could have fit on a 1950s science fiction digest; but I was dying to know if Bob’s story actually had an intrepid couple piloting a cannon-powered wooden raft in space, and how the cover came about. Bob was gracious enough to answer; here’s what he said:

I often worked with Ed Emsh to produce cover/cover story combos for [editor Robert] Lowndes. Ed would come into the office with an idea, I would wrap a plot around it, Ed would go home and paint a picture, and I would write the story. It was Ed who thought a cannon might be sufficiently Newtonian to provide reaction mass in space; I agreed in delight, and that was how “Delivery Guaranteed” happened. (Randall Garrett sometimes wrote cover stories too, and one time Ed turned in a painting showing the drive room of a spaceship, with his signature, EMSH, on the base of the biggest gizmo. Randy promptly dubbed the gizmo “the Remshaw Drive” and made it clear that the four visible letters were part of the manufacturer’s label.)

I also asked about the cover of the November 1955 issue, illustrating Clifford D. Simak’s “Full Cycle,” which was re-used on the March 1959 issue of Double-Action Detective and Mystery Stories. (See the full article for details.)

In the case of the Simak/Silverberg story, Bob Lowndes was just being thrifty toward the end of the life of his magazine group, and recycled that Simak painting to use with my story in his crime mag a couple of years later.

Read the complete article here. And thanks to Robert Silverberg for being gracious enough to solve those mysteries for us!

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