New Treasures: Hawk by Steven Brust

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Hawk Steven Brust-smallI was surprised and delighted to receive a new book in the Vlad Taltos series from Steven Brust in the mail last week.

Hawk is the 14th novel in the adventure fantasy series that began with Jhereg (reviewed by Fletcher Vredenburgh here) way back in 1983. A total of 19 are planned; the last one was Tiassa (2011), and the next is Vallista. If you’re a newcomer to the series, I highly recommend The Book of Jhereg, a paperback omnibus collection of the first three novels (Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla), which has been in print from Ace for over 15 years.

Vlad Taltos was an oppressed and underprivileged Easterner — that is, a human — living in Adrilankha, capital of the Dragaeran Empire. Life was hard. Worse, it was irritating. Then Vlad made a great discovery: Dragaerans would pay him to kill other Draegarans. Win-win!

The years of Vlad’s career as a crime boss and top assassin were cut short by a revolution, a divorce, and an attack of conscience (not necessarily in that order). In the midst of all that, he broke with the Jhereg, the Dragaeran house of organized crime. He’s been a marked man ever since. The Jhereg want to kill him. The Jhereg would love to kill him.

So Vlad’s been avoiding Adrilankha as much as possible. That hasn’t worked out too well. His life is there: his ex-wife Cawti, his son, and all his friends. One of those friends is his former assistant Kragar, who’s taken over Vlad’s old territory and criminal operations. Vlad will need Kragar’s help if he’s going to return to Adrilankha and deal with this mess.

It won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be simple. Because there are no messes like the ones you make yourself.

Hawk was published by Tor Books on October 7. It is 320 pages, priced at $24.99 in hardcover ($11.99 for the digital edition). The cover is by Stephen Hickman. Read an excerpt at

Crossing the Threshhold: Making Ultra-Long Fiction Work For You

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Erin M Avans Author-smallToday I’m turning over the Black Gate rostrum to the talented Erin Evans. Take it away, Erin!

I have a confession to make: I have a word count problem. I always have. Short fiction is a struggle. My short stories are secretly novelettes, the few true short stories I’ve written begun as flash. I struggle mightily to keep my novels leashed, but, readers, I mostly fail.

There are those that say a novel has no business being over 100,000 words, and from an editor’s perspective, I agree. More than that and there’s certainly fat to be cut, scenes you don’t need and characters cluttering up the page. More than that and you’re asking a lot from a reader — a narrative that stretches that long risks becoming meandering and slow. It risks losing your reader’s attention. It risks being put down.

But for all I know “the rules,” I love a big, fat tome of a book. Epic fantasy is my jam — and I know I’m not alone. So it’s not surprising my latest book, Fire in the Blood, eventually broke free of the leash and came in twice as big as it was supposed to be. I turned in the final manuscript, waiting to hear back that I needed to cut a whole novel’s worth of words (or more).

But my editor couldn’t cut it by much. This story was meant to be big. “I think you found your stride,” she said. “Congratulations: you’re meant for epic fantasy.”

Words every long-writing author wants to hear. Here’s how I got them.

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Vintage Treasures: Orbit 3, edited by Damon Knight

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Orbit 3 Damon Knight-smallI enjoy reading vintage anthologies for pretty much the same reason I enjoy reading modern anthologies: they’re a great way to discover terrific new writers. Or in this case, terrific old writers.

Plus, they’re cheap. In any decent used bookstore, you can usually find at least one or two old SF anthologies priced less than a buck. (If you’re not sure what a “used book store” is, exactly, never mind. It’s even easier to find cheap anthologies on eBay, if that helps you.)

I admit I haven’t tried very many of Damon Knight’s Orbit volumes. But after making my way through most of the major SF anthologies of last century — The Hugo Winners, the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Before the Golden Age, Dangerous Visions, the Carr and Wolheim’s Year’s Best volumes — I think I’m ready to branch out a bit.

While Orbit routinely showcased some of the finest science fiction and fantasy writers of the 20th Century — including folks like Gene Wolfe, R. A. Lafferty, Philip Jose Farmer, and Knight’s wife, Kate Wilhelm — it also had something of a reputation for being on the cutting edge of the controversial New Wave. It wasn’t at all unusual to find readers loudly deriding the sometimes plotless, experimental fiction within, or criticizing fiction they disliked in letters columns around the industry as “too much like that Orbit stuff.”

Nonetheless, the series was quite popular. It ran for 21 volumes (not including a huge Best of Orbit collection) from 1966 to 1976, and helped cement’s Knight’s reputation as one of the best editors in the field. He took a lot of chances with Orbit, both in the fiction he chose and the authors he championed, but over and over again it seemed to pay off. While most editors worked hard to attract big names, Knight seemed to think nothing of having three quarters (or more) of his table of contents staffed entirely with newcomers. It must have made it difficult to attract buyers, but it certainly kept the series constantly fresh.

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Collect the Complete Faber & Faber Editions of Robert Aickman’s Classic Ghost Stories

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Unsettled Dust Robert Aickman-small The Wine Dark Sea Robert Aickman-small Cold Hand in Mine Robert Aickman-small

About a month ago, I reported (with some delight) on my acquisition of Robert Aickman’s Dark Entries, a reprint collection of the author’s ghost stories from British publisher Faber and Faber.

I was so pleased to get it — and the book was just so damn gorgeous — that it wasn’t long before I started hunting down Faber and Faber’s other Aickman reprints: The Unsettled Dust, The Wine Dark Sea, and Cold Hand in Mine. All three are collections, gathering the author’s short stories and novellas.

Aickman has long been recognized as one of the finest horror writers in the field. He received the World Fantasy Award in 1975 for his short story, “Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal,” originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and reprinted in Cold Hand in Mine. In 1981, the same year he died, he was awarded the British Fantasy Award for “The Stains,” which originally appeared in New Terrors, and was eventually reprinted in The Unsettled Dust.

The covers of the new Faber and Faber editions are by Tim McDonagh, and they are absolutely stellar (click the images above for bigger versions). I love them all, but perhaps my favorite is The Unsettled Dust, with its subtle portrayal of two children taking a late-night shortcut across a spooky English landscape. McDonagh’s hyper-detailed, almost comic book style fits the subject matter beautifully; he captures the brooding menace of Aickman’s “strange stories” better than any artist I’ve ever seen.

All four books are currently in print in trade paperback, priced at £7.99 - £8.99, or around 8 bucks each for the digital editions. The print editions are not directly available in the US; I ordered them from an overseas book vendor through Amazon for between $8 – $9 each, plus shipping.

New Treasures: Unseaming by Mike Allen

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Unseaming Mike Allen-smallMike Allen has made a name for himself with his unique blend of dark fantasy and horror. John R. Fultz called his debut novel, The Black Fire Concerto (which we published an exclusive excerpt from last August), “a post-apocalyptic melody played on strings of Terror and Sorcery. “ This month, Mike releases his long-anticipated debut short story collection, Unseaming, collecting fiction from Weird Tales, Cthulhu’s Reign, and other places. Mike’s short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award, and in a starred review, Publishers Weekly said the stories within “deliver solid shivering terror tinged with melancholy sorrow over the fragility of humankind.”

Everyone in the world awakens covered in blood-and no one knows where the blood came from. A childhood doll arrives to tear its owner’s reality limb from limb. A portal to the spirit realm stretches wide on the Appalachian Trail, and something more than human crawls through on eight legs. Words of comfort change to terrifying sounds as a force from outside time speaks through them. The buttons in the bin will unseam your flesh to bare your nastiest secrets.

Opening with “The Button Bin,” a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, and culminating with its sequel, “The Quiltmaker,” which Bram Stoker Award and Shirley Jackson Award winner Laird Barron has hailed as Mike Allen’s masterpiece, this debut collection gathers fourteen horror tales that, in the words of Barron’s introduction, “rival anything committed to paper by the likes of contemporary masters such as Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, or Caitlín Kiernan. This is raw, visceral, and sometimes bloody stuff. Primal stuff.”

Unseaming was released on October 1, 2014 by Antimatter Press. It is 222 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback and $5.99 for the digital edition. The introduction is by Laird Barron. Get more details or order a copy directly from the Antimatter website.

Red Queen, White Queen by Henry Treece

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Red Queen White Queen Henry Treece-smallThe setting for Henry Treece’s Red Queen, White Queen (1958) is Britain in 60 AD during the bloody uprising of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni against the Romans. RQWQ is the third book in his Celtic Tetralogy. I reviewed the fourth book, The Great Captains, his down-to-earth vision of King Arthur, last year. The other two volumes are The Golden Strangers, about the Copper Age settlement of Britain, and The Dark Island, set during Caractacus’s war against Rome.

Gemellus Ennius, a young Roman junior officer, has been transferred to Britain after five years’ service in Germany, arriving just after the onset of Boudicca’s revolt. Already she has burned the towns of Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium, killing over seventy thousand Romans and allied Britons.

When her husband died, he left his kingdom to Boudicca as well as to the emperor, in contravention of Roman laws. Not only did Rome refuse to recognize the will, but it sent soldiers to beat her and rape her daughters. Then the moneylenders called in the tremendous debts her husband had incurred and enslaved the Iceni. Boudicca became a ferocious creature forged by the cruel hands of Rome.

… Boudicca strode towards them a couple of paces and stood, her legs wide apart, staring down at them, from the wooden dais by the altar.

A short brown frieze jacket laced with thongs held her heavy breasts. From waist to ankle her legs were encased in tight-fitting trousers of deer hide. Her feet were bare and rather large. Gemellus noted that they were very red and calloused, not like the dainty feet of the Lady Lavinia, for example.

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Danger: Here There Be Dragons (and Clever Children!)

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

paperbagPossibly the most rambunctious children’s author out there is Robert Munsch, whose characters drive bus loads of pigs to school, vanish beneath layers of permanent markers, and scream in the bath with sufficient volume to summon the police.

All of his (uniformly excellent) picture books employ elements of fantasy, but only once, to my knowledge, did he and his regular collaborator, illustrator Michael Martchenko, depart entirely our real and rational world long enough to include that nemesis of humanity: the green-scaled, fire-breathing dragon.

Yes, it’s The Paper Bag Princess, one of the best kids’ books I know, rife with hilarious prose, ebullient artwork, and the pluckiest heroine this side of Dorothy Gale. Who says girls can’t have adventures?

The plot is a model of efficiency. Princess Elizabeth lives in a castle, and she’s got riches and a boyfriend, Roland, whom she expects to marry. Curly blonde Roland sports a crown and a tennis racket, and just to be sure we get the idea, Martchenko adds a butterfly cloud of hearts around Elizabeth’s smitten head.

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Future Treasures: A Play of Shadows by Julie E. Czerneda

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Play of Shadows Julie Czerneda-smallCanadian writer Julie E. Czerneda has published over a dozen acclaimed science fiction novels and has rapidly built an enviable fan base.

She first dipped her toe into fantasy with Scott Taylor’s groundbreaking anthology Tales of the Emerald Serpent (announced right here back in March 2012), and its sequel, A Knight in the Silk Purse. She took the plunge with her first full-length fantasy novel, A Turn of Light, earlier this year.

The upcoming sequel, A Play of Shadows, returns to the pastoral valley of Marrowdell, home to a pioneer settlement of refugees, enigmatic house toads, and Jenn Nalynn, the turn-born who has always dreamed of exploring beyond the valley’s borders… and who finds that increasingly impossible.

What would you risk for family?

In the second installment of Night’s Edge, Bannan Larmensu, the truthseer who won Jenn Nalynn’s heart, learns his brother-in-law was sent as a peace envoy to Channen, capitol of the mysterious domain of Mellynne, and has disappeared. When Bannan’s young nephews arrive in Marrowdell, he fears the worst, that his sister, the fiery Lila, has gone in search of her husband, leaving her sons in his care.

The law forbids Bannan from leaving Marrowdell and travelling to Mellynne to help his sister. In this world. As a turn-born, Jenn Nalynn has the power to cross into the magical realm of the Verge, and take Bannan with her. Once there, they could find a way into Mellynne.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Michael Stone’s Streeter

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

The Low End of NowhereJust after I moved to Colorado Springs, a Denver private investigator named Michael Stone released his first book about Streeter, a bounty hunter in the Mile High City. The Low End of Nowhere had a very cool cover by Owen Smith, who would provide three more for A Long Reach, Token of Remorse, and Totally Dead.

Then, nothing: After four very good novels, Stone simply quit writing. It was as if he’d suddenly passed away. Over the years, I tried to find some news of him on the web but came up empty. He just seemed to lose interest in being a writer in 1999.

That’s a shame, because the Streeter books are quite good. They are very much in the style of the old pulpsters, but with a light touch. Stone clearly appreciated those who had gone before him, like Hammett and Nebel. But his character was no Mike Hammer or Race Williams. There’s finesse in the writing that reminds me of Joe Gores and his DKA novels.

Steeter (we never learn any other name) is physically imposing, having played football at a small division one school for two years before a fight with tragic consequences derailed that life plan. He was working as a bouncer and an accountant (how many of those have you read about?) when he ended up getting a job as a bounty hunter.

He lifts weights daily, fighting a slowly losing battle against the aging process. He even buys some hair-restorer but promptly puts it in a bathroom drawer, afraid to use it. Streeter isn’t a superhero: he’s a guy who works hard at working hard.

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Discover the Best Short Fiction of the Year with Paula Guran’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014

Sunday, October 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014-smallOver the last decade or so, I’ve watched the emergence of a new generation of leading anthology editors. Folks like Jonathan Strahan, John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, Ian Whates, and Jonathan Oliver. These are the editors who are successfully defining the best in the genre, and whose books I order immediately.

And now, I’m very pleased to add Paula Guran to that short list. I sampled the fourth volume of her Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror back in February, and was very impressed. The fifth volume arrived this summer, with an absolutely stellar line up of authors, and I nabbed it the first chance I could.

Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror is the companion volume to The Year’s Best Science Ficiton and Fantasy, edited by Rich Horton and also published by Prime. We covered the 2014 edition of Rich’s series back in July. Together, these two volumes give you a comprehensive catalog of the best genre short fiction of the year.

This year, the book contains fiction from Dale Bailey, Nathan Ballingrud, Laird Barron, Elizabeth Bear, Neil Gaiman, Glen Hirshberg, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Tanith Lee, Joe R. Lansdale, Ken Liu, Brandon Sanderson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Lisa Tuttle, Carrie Vaughn, and over a dozen others.

It draws from the finest magazines in the field, including Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Subterranean Online, Interzone, Apex Magazine, Asimov’s SF, Strange Horizons, and, and top-notch anthologies like Fearsome JourneysShadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe, Clockwork Phoenix 4Dangerous WomenQueen Victoria’s Book of Spells, and many others.

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