On the Road to Khurdisan: Brak the Barbarian by John Jakes

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2702648M0L78hhBFor people of a certain age (the pushing-fifty crowd) John Jakes is probably best known for The Kent Family Chronicles, his massive series of massive books about American history and the mini-series made from the first one, The Bastard. Hearing that title said out loud on TV was a pretty shocking thing for us kids back in 1978.

It wasn’t until I was a little older that I discovered John Jakes had started his career as a real journeyman pulp writer. While working in advertising, he wrote science fiction, westerns, mystery, and horror stories for all the major genre magazines. His name appears on the contents page of Fantastic Adventures and Amazing Stories, as well as Tales of the Frightened (easily one of my favorite titles for anything ever).

While Robert E. Howard had created the basic template for swords & sorcery back in the 1930s, it wasn’t until several decades later that the genre really exploded. Fritz Leiber and Sprague de Camp labored throughout the 50s, but it’s in the early 60s that S&S really takes off. Suddenly, Lin Carter’s writing his Howard/Edgar Rice Burroughs mashups, Michael Moorcock’s inverting and mocking many of the field’s cliches while still writing exciting tales, and Andre Norton is expanding S&S’s vison beyond the too-common male thud and blunder.

In 1963, with “Devils in the Walls” published in Fantastic, Jakes introduced his own barbarian hero, Brak. In a 1980 preface to a new editon of the first collection of stories, Brak the Barbarian (1968), he wrote:

It was in the role of dedicated Conan fan that I wrote the first Brak tale, Devils in the Walls. In spirit, anyway, the story was a Howard pastiche, and I have acknowledged the fact more than once.

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Black Gate Interviews C.S.E. Cooney: From Metaphor To Manticore

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

C.S.E. CooneyWriter C.S.E. Cooney has published two stories in the mighty trove of Black Gate‘s online fiction catalog, “Life On the Sun,” and its prequel, “Godmother Lizard.” For the following interview, she and I met in the cavernous vaults of Black Gate‘s Indiana compound, where we lounged on Ottoman divans surrounded by steampunk tapestries and several thousand of John O’Neill’s second favorite sci-fi paperbacks. The results, transcribed by a Silicon Valley drone powered entirely by herbal tea, are as follows:

What do you write? Or, if it’s easier, what do you not write?

Well, I’ve never written a tech manual for aeronautics and robotics. Man, but if I did, then I could write all sorts of cool sci fi with my awesome SCIENCE KNOW-HOW!

I generally say I write Fantasy when people ask. With the understanding that I think “Fantasy” is a great umbrella term that tucks, um, ALL OF FICTION under its shadowy wings. But mostly I mean I write Secondary World Fantasy. With a bit of urbanish fantasy thrown in. And maybe a wee slice of sci fi when I’m feeling daring. And an even weesomer slice of horror, usually in the autumn. Oh, and a dollop of the Weird, when I’m in my Gabriel Garcia Marquez mood. Oh, and that one time I tried to write a Steampunk story but I’m still not entirely sure of the outcome…

Every story I write seems to require a whole different set of tools than the last story. One is constantly reinventing one’s toolbox. Thankfully, the good old standbys like “assonance” and “simile” don’t really change. Only get better. Or subtler. If subtle is better. I don’t do subtle very well, so I naturally think it IS better, mostly because it’s this mysterious thing.

Subtlety. I’m a big fan of it.

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New Treasures: The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Bloodbound Erin Lindsey-smallErin Lindsey’s debut novel is a tale of magic and court intrigue, the first in what looks like a promising new series. She also writes fantasy mysteries under the name E.L. Tettensor (including Darkwater, which we covered here last December).

Lindsey lives in Bujumbura, Burundi. I didn’t even know where Burundi is. I had to look it up (it’s in Western Africa). Already she knows things about the world I don’t; I like that in an author.

Of all those in the King of Alden’s retinue, the bloodbinders are the most prized. The magic they wield can forge invaluable weapons, ones that make soldiers like Lady Alix Black unerringly lethal. However, the bloodbinders’ powers can do so much more—and so much worse…

A cunning and impetuous scout, Alix only wishes to serve quietly on the edges of the action. But when the king is betrayed by his own brother and left to die at the hands of attacking Oridian forces, she winds up single-handedly saving her sovereign.

Suddenly, she is head of the king’s personal guard, an honor made all the more dubious by the king’s exile from his own court. Surrounded by enemies, Alix must help him reclaim his crown, all the while attempting to repel the relentless tide of invaders led by the Priest, most feared of Oridia’s lords.

But while Alix’s king commands her duty, both he and a fellow scout lay claim to her heart. And when the time comes, she may need to choose between the two men who need her most…

The Bloodbound was published by Ace Books on September 30, 2014. It is 359 pages, priced at $7.99 in both paperback and digital formats. The cover art is by Lindsey Look.


The Best One-Sentence Reviews of H.P. Lovecraft: Announcing the Winners of The Madness of Cthulhu

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Madness of Cthulhu-smallEarlier this month month, we invited Black Gate readers to send us a one-sentence review of their favorite H.P. Lovecraft tale.

In return, we offered to give out two copies of S.T. Joshi’s major new horror anthology, The Madness of Cthulhu, Volume One, on sale this month from Titan Books. The winners were randomly drawn from a list of all qualified entries.

And what entries they were! This was the most popular contest we’ve run in some time — by a wide margin. Before we announce the winners, let’s have a look at some of the best entries. We can’t reprint them all, but we can share the Top 20 or so with you. (But fret not — all qualifying entries received before October 21 were included in the drawing.)

We left the choice of what story to review up to you, and we weren’t too surprised to find most of Lovecraft’s most famous stories represented — starting with one of the most famous horror stories in the English language. A reader who went simply by “Bob” kicked off the contest with his brilliantly concise entry:

What could possibly be better then rats…..in the walls?

The Rats in the Walls

Rich Miller beautifully sums up the appeal of this classic tale with his entry:

For fans of large rodents, ruined estates, underground caverns, degenerate humanity, and dark family secrets better left undiscovered, you can’t go wrong with this classic Lovecraft tale from 1924.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The List of 7 by Mark Frost

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

List_fullcoverMark Frost made the news not too long ago with the announcement that he and David Lynch will be making a new Twin Peaks series for Showtime. Yay! Twin Peaks came to an abrupt end in 1991: just after its second season. Frost apparently wasn’t one to let grass grow under his feet, as only two years later, The List of 7 hit bookshelves.

John O’Neill wrote about (mostly the cover…) this book last year.

Frost is absolutely a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Not only is the novel’s protagonist none other than Arthur Conan Doyle and bits of his life are scattered throughout, but there are Holmes-isms aplenty. Thus, this book is a type of pastiche, though darker than any straight Holmes tale I’ve read.

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Vintage Treasures: The Horror Horn by E. F. Benson

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Horror Horn E.F. Benson-smallIs Bruce Pennington the finest cover artist in publishing history?

Probably. I talked at length about my own interest in his art — and how we licensed two of his paintings as covers for Black Gate – in The Lost Art of Bruce Pennington. Over the years, I’ve collected much of his work and seen a great deal more online and in various art books, but from time to time I’m still surprised to see a previously undiscovered Pennington cover on a hard-to-find book (as I was with the Panther edition of Fritz Leiber’s Night Monsters back in January.)

So you can understand my delight last week when I stumbled upon The Horror Horn on eBay, a 1974 collection by British horror writer E. F. Benson. It had a marvelously macabre cover by Bruce that I’d never laid eyes on before. In fact, I didn’t even know this book existed. The bidding stood at 5 bucks, with less than two days to go.

Well, you know how reluctant I am to pay more than $8 – $10 for a paperback. It’s rare indeed that the patient collector has to pay more than that for anything. But this was an exception, and I submitted my bid for $14 and sat back to see what happened.

In the meantime, I did a little homework on E. F. Benson. We’ve never really mentioned Benson here before (although he’s popped up in horror collections from time to time, including Otto Penzler’s magnificent The Vampire Archives and Henry Mazzeo’s Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural), and that’s probably an oversight.

Benson, who died in 1940, was an English novelist and short story writer, with 68 novels to his credit and 10 collections published in his lifetime. He was a frequent Weird Tales contributor and he also appeared regularly in British publications like Hutchinson’s Magazine and The Illustrated London News.

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New Treasures: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

City of Stairs-smallLast month, I made a feeble attempt to sneak in a three-year old book as a New Treasure: The Company Man, a Robert Jackson Bennett novel I’d missed when it first came out. Truthfully, I’d only stumbled on The Company Man because of all the pre-publication buzz around his newest, City of Saints, and I didn’t want to seem late to the party.

I’m not going to make the same mistake with City of Saints, a tale of vast conspiracies, dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city. Robert Jackson Bennett, author of Mr. Shivers (2010), The Troupe (2012), and American Elsewhere (2013), is quickly gaining recognition as one of America’s most acclaimed young fantasy writers.

Personally, I think he owes at least part of his fame to the fact that he’s a dead ringer for Chris Pratt, star of Guardians of the Galaxy. (See the results of our explosive investigative report: Robert Jackson Bennett and Chris Pratt: Separated at Birth?)

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions — until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself — first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it — stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem — and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

City of Stairs was published by Broadway Books on September 9, 2014. It is 452 pages, priced at $25 in paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Sam Weber.


The Solar Pons – Fu Manchu Connection

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

200px-OTSolarPonsOmnibusExpoloits_of_solar_ponsMy colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street.

Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

“The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward, who has been abducted by his archenemy, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor.

Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse.

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Miracles, Mystery, and the Ghost of Hank Williams: Steve Earle’s I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive Steve Erle-smallFantasy is an odd genre, filled with surprises.

I was browsing the remainder table at Barnes and Noble earlier this month, when I stumbled on a dark fantasy featuring ghosts, mystery, drug addiction… and miracles. The author was none other than singer Steve Earle (Copperhead Row), who’s had his own battles with heroin addiction. I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is Earle’s only novel (he published one collection of short stories, Doghouse Roses, in 2001), and the back cover was plastered with enthusiastic reviews from The New York Times, USA Today, Rolling Stone, and even Patti Smith. But it was the brief book description that won me over.

Doc Ebersole lives with the ghost of Hank Williams. Literally.

In 1963, ten years after he may have given Hank the morphine shot that killed him, Doc has lost his license. Living in the red-light district of San Antonio, he performs abortions and patches up the odd knife wound to feed his addiction. But when Graciela, a young Mexican immigrant, appears in the neighborhood in search of Doc’s services, miraculous things begin to happen. Everyone she meets is transformed for the better, except, maybe, for Hank’s angry ghost — who isn’t at all pleased to see Doc doing well.

Legendary American singer Hank Williams died — at the ripe old age of 29 — in 1953, and on the night he died, a doctor did indeed give him an injection of vitamin B12 mixed with morphine. I think we can safely assume the book departs from reality after that point, however.

Steve Earle is something of a Renaissance man. In addition to being a singer-songwriter, record producer, and author, he’s also an actor. He’s appeared on two HBO series, The Wire and Treme, and briefly appeared on 30 Rock. His fourteenth studio album, also titled I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, arrived in 2011. On September 16, The Wrap reported that Chris Hemsworth (Thor) will star in and produce a film adaption of I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. It was published by Mariner on May 22, 2012. It is 256 pages, with a cover price of $13.95 in trade paperback. I bought my copy remaindered for $4.98.


Goth Chick News: Clive Barker Lets His Fans Back Into Hell… Finally

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Scarlet Gospels-smallWaiting for a sequel for nearly two decades could be considered one of Satan’s personal jokes, were it not for the fact that in  this case the irony would be too blatant even for the Prince of Darkness himself.

Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels has been teased for so long, and in so many incarnations, that it was beginning to look like one of the worst publicity stunts in publishing history. As far back as 1993, Barker talked about a new book of short stories that would include a sequel to The Hellbound Heart, the novella that introduced the world to the Cenobites.

Those rumors soon morphed into scuttle about a potential short novel pitting the most famous Cenobite, Pinhead, against another iconic Barker character, the occult detective Harry D’Amour.

However, as the story developed over the course of several years, Barker decided to expand the concept into a novel and the unrelated short stories were put aside.

Rumors of a release date were bantered about, sending Barker fans into repeated frenzies of speculation. But delays came in the form of Barker’s several throat surgeries, and in 2012 his lapse into a coma for eleven days following a trip to the dentist that led to blood poisoning. Barker recovered, but his near-death experience left him with “many strange visions” (which may or may not have found their way into his work).

Finally on Sept 9, 2013, Barker announced via social media that although no date has been set for release, “The Scarlet Gospels are finished.”

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