An Infinity of Worlds: Encountering The Madness of Cthulhu

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 | Posted by G. Winston Hyatt

The Madness of Cthulhu-smallJonathan Mayberry observes in his introduction to The Madness of Cthulhu that H.P. Lovecraft has inspired a subgenre that “already has thousands of stories and hundreds of novels in it, not to mention movies, TV shows, toys, video and board games, and even live-action role playing.” Nowadays, it seems every other horror fiction outing can at least in part be described as “Lovecraftian,” an amorphous adjective that has come to mean so many things that one wonders if it retains any meaning at all. This, as Mayberry points out, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Lovecraft didn’t give us one world — he gave us “an infinity of worlds.”

Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness serves as the inspiration for many of the authors in The Madness of Cthulhu. HPL’s reputation among science fiction writers (as well as critics) has always been, as S.T. Joshi states in the anthology’s second introduction, “ambivalent.” At the Mountains of Madness itself is a fine example of both the first-rate and the rather questionable aspects of HPL’s work.

On one hand, it’s masterful in concept and at times in execution. A fusion of Antarctic adventure, science fiction, and early-modern horror, it not only offers chilling passages with an escalating sense of dread and isolation but also constructs a world horrifying in its implications about mankind.

On the other hand, it includes phrases such as “a myriad of grotesque penguins.” The Antarctic landscape is compared, between two characters, four separate times to “the Asian paintings of Roerich.” HPL is simultaneously brilliant and absurd, at turns deeply unsettling and unintentionally comical. Rather than sweep this ambiguity aside, The Madness of Cthulhu wisely embraces the spectrum of tone and content HPL can inspire.

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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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New Treasures: Hidden by Benedict Jacka

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

Hidden Benedict Jacka-smallBenedict Jacka’s first Alex Versus novel, Fated, was published by Ace on February 28, 2012. He’s kept up a regular schedule since, with four more following over the last two years: Cursed, Taken, Chosen, and now Hidden.

They’ve gradually been gathering some acclaim, too. In a starred review of Chosen, Publishers Weekly said “Jacka puts other urban fantasists to shame.” It called Cursed “An even more impressive tale of gunplay and spellcraft in present-day London… [a] tasty blend of magic, explosions, and moral complexity.” And Patricia Briggs, author of Shifting Shadows, called the opening volume in the series “A stay-up-all-night read.” I haven’t been able to keep up with the latest in urban fantasy over the past five years, but the Alex Versus novels are definitely near the top of my list.

With his talent for divining the future, Alex Verus should have foreseen his friends’ reactions to the revelations about his previous life. Anne Walker no longer trusts him—and has also cut all ties with the mage community after getting kicked out of the apprentice program. As a favor to Luna, Alex’s own apprentice and Anne’s best friend, he checks in on her only to be told to leave her alone.

Then Anne gets kidnapped. The Council Keepers of the Order of the Star believe Dark mages from her past may be involved. Working with the Keepers, Alex and Luna discover that Anne has been taken into the shadow realm of Sagash, her former Dark mage mentor, and they must find a way to rescue her.

But another shadow from the past has resurfaced—Alex’s former master may be back in London, and Alex has no idea what his agenda is…

Hidden was published by Ace Books on September 2, 2014. It is 293 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.

Game Books, Epic Fantasy, and Military Science Fiction: The Multiple Identities of R.A.V. Salsitz

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

The Magickers-small Death Storm-small Night of Dragons-small The Sand Wars-small The Dark Ferryman-small

Do you enjoy the fantasy novels of Emily Drake, author of the popular The Magickers series? What about the contemporary horror of Anne Knight, author of Death Storm? Perhaps you’re more partial to the light fantasy of R.A.V. Salsitz, author of Night of Dragons and The Unicorn Dancer novels. Or the military science fiction of Charles Ingrid, author of the long-running Sand Wars series. Or maybe the dark fantasy of Jenna Rhodes (The Dark Ferryman).

Possibly the contemporary science fiction of Elizabeth Forrest (Phoenix Fire, Dark Tide) is more your thing. Or the fantasy novels of Rhondi Vilott Salsitz (The Twilight Gate). Perhaps the eleven volumes in Rhondi Vilott’s Dragon Roads gamebook series have fired your imagination.

Possibly you’ve enjoyed them all, as they’re all written by the same person.

It’s not unusual for popular writers to use a pseudonym in this industry — indeed, even multiple pseudonyms. But in a field where almost everyone seems to have a secret identity or two, R.A.V. Salsitz still stands out. She has an amazing number of pseudonyms, and has published successfully in numerous genres, including epic fantasy, horror, mystery, game books, YA, military science fiction, romance, and urban fantasy. Her first novel was Her Secret Self, published by Bantam in 1982; since then she’s published dozens more.

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Future Treasures: The Wide World’s End by James Enge

Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Wide World's End-smallTurn off the television, unplug the phone, and disconnect the wireless. We just received an advance proof of The Wide World’s End, the latest Morlock novel from James Enge and our friends at Pyr Books. Don’t bother us for two days, okay? Unless you’re going to send food.

The tale of the early days of Morlock Ambrosius — master of all magical makers, wandering swordsman, and son of Merlin — concludes!

From beyond the northern edge of the world, the Sunkillers (undying enemies of everything that lives and breathes and is an individual) are reaching into the sky of Laent to drain out its light and warmth. Their hope is to scrape sky, land, and sea clean of mortal life and return to where they once dwelled, before the first rising of the sun. Against them stand only the Graith of Guardians, defenders of the peaceful anarchy of the Wardlands. But the agents of the Sunkillers are abroad even in the Wardlands: plotting, betraying, murdering among the Graith.

Married now for a century, Morlock Ambrosius and Aloê Oaij will take different paths to counter the threat. As Aloê ferrets out the enemy within the Graith, Morlock joins forces with his sister, the formidable Ambrosia Viviana, and crosses the monster-haunted plains of the deep north to confront the Sunkillers in their own realm. Morlock and Aloê think their parting is temporary, but it is final. They may or may not save the world, but they will not save each other, or themselves.

The Wide World’s End is the third volume of A Tournament of Shadows, the origin story of Morlock Ambrosius. It follows A Guile of Dragons (2012) and Wrath-Bearing Tree (2013). James’s tales of Morlock first appeared in Black Gate magazine, starting with BG 8.

The Wide World’s End will be published by Pyr Books on February 17, 2015. It is 409 pages, priced at $18 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Steve Stone.

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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Methodology: Not Just For Scientists Anymore

Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Block Telling LiesI’ve been known, via Twitter and Facebook, to let people know how my writing is going. So I’m apt to say things like “chapter 16 is going feral on me, I need a net.” This prompts some of my writer friends to say “been there, done that” and others to say “you write in chapters?”

This isn’t to say that they themselves don’t write in chapters, per se. What I think this particular friend actually meant is that she just writes, and lets the chapters appear where they may. After all, we know that, with very few exceptions, all novels end up being divided into chapters. Exactly when and how that division occurs is part of each individual’s methodology. Or perhaps the sensibilities of their editor.

And all advice on writing tells you the same thing: there’s no right or wrong way, there’s only the way that works for you.

I tend to work and think in chapters of about 25 to 30 pages, or somewhere between 5000 and 6000 words. Why? Because when I was starting to write my dissertation (don’t ask, you don’t want to know) the Chair of the Department gave me this advice: “Make your chapters about 25 pages long, Violette. No one wants to read longer ones.”

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Discover an Historical Action-Adventure Travel Story with Predatory Ant-Riders: Mark Sumner’s The Naturalist

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Naturalist-smallMark Sumner is one of the most popular writers we’ve ever published. When his short story “Leather Doll” appeared in Black Gate 7, The Internet Review of Science Fiction called it “an absolutely riveting story, certainly a Best-Of caliber work, and I am retroactively adding it to my Best-Of 2004 list… I do not usually open Black Gate expecting to find masterpieces of contemporary science fiction, but I think this gem may be exactly that!”

But it was his next contribution to the magazine that really made an impact: a complete novel published in three standalone installments in BG 10, BG 11, and BG 13. The tale of a botanist/scientist who discovers a highly advanced and aggressive colony of predatory ant-riding insects in Central America, and his desperate struggles to survive and warn the nearly human communities, was widely acclaimed when it first appeared. In his 2010 short fiction summary Rich Horton summarized the final installment as follows:

My favorite story this year was the third and last in Mark Sumner’s series The Naturalist, this episode called “St. George and the Antriders.” In an alternate 19th Century Central America, naturalist Mr. Brown and the resourceful landowner Miss Marlowe lead a band of refugees back to the capital city where they find the corrupt governorship of the territory as menacing as the antriders. The series as a whole is novel length, and while each individual story stands well enough alone they make a sufficiently unified whole that I could see The Naturalist as a book…

I wasn’t at all surprised to find that Mark has in fact assembled the pieces into a complete novel, published this month by Word Posse. I’m delighted to see three of the strongest and most popular stories we published in Black Gate finally made available in one volume. If you remember the original stories, you’re sure to want a permanent edition. And if you don’t, then you definitely want to check out the one-volume edition of The Naturalist.

Here’s the book description.

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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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New Treasures: The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

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

The Winter Long Seanan McGuire-smallSeanan McGuire published her first novel, the urban fantasy/detective story Rosemary and Rue, on September 1, 2009, barely five years ago. In the last five years, she has come dangerously close to conquering the entire field.

To start with, she’s produced seven additional novels in what’s now known as the October Day series — including the latest, The Winter Long. In between she’s also published three novels in her InCryptid series (with one more on the way.) Both series have put her on the New York Times bestseller list. Because 11 novels isn’t enough in five years, she’s also written five novels under her pseudonym Mira Grant, including the Newsflesh zombie trilogy and two novels in the new Parasitology trilogy, plus at least one standalone novel. I’m not sure how many novels that is in total, because I’ve lost count.

Blackout, the final Newsflash novel, received a 2013 Hugo Award nomination — and in fact, that year McGuire received a record five Hugo nominations, two for Grant and three under her own name. In 2010, she was awarded the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2010 World Science Fiction Convention. I’m telling you, this woman intends to conquer the entire genre, and she’s perilously close. If you haven’t been paying attention to Seanan McGuire, it’s probably time to change that. Here’s the compact blurb for her latest novel, The Winter Long.

Toby thought she understood her own past; she thought she knew the score.

She was wrong.

It’s time to learn the truth.

The Winter Long was published by DAW Books on September 2, 2014. It is 358 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital version. The cover is by the ubiquitous Chris McGrath,

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