Future Treasures: Sustenance, A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Monday, November 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Sustenance Chelsea Quinn Yarbro-smallI was pleased to be at the Awards ceremony at the World Fantasy Awards last weekend when Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Yarbro virtually invented the vampire romance, perhaps the most popular fantasy sub-genre of the past decade, with her popular Count Saint-Germain novels, the tales of gentleman vampire Saint-Germain and his adventures down through the centuries, beginning with Hôtel Transylvania in 1978. Sustenance, the 27th novel in the series, which finds the Count caught up in Cold War politics in 20th Century Europe, will be released next month.

Just after World War II, Saint-Germain travels throughout Europe, determining what of his business and properties survived the war, and offering what comfort and aid he can to refugees. Charis Treat, an American writer, academic, and professor, is one such. Persecuted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Charis has left her husband and young sons in the United States and fled to Paris, falling in with a community of expatriate intellectuals.

When they meet, Saint-Germain is taken by Charis’s intelligence and by her grace under pressure, and they soon begin an affair. She introduces him to the other expats, and in so doing, brings him under the scrutiny of the fledgling CIA, who are determined to squelch Communist sympathizers at home and abroad. Such close examination might expose the vampire’s true nature, but Saint-Germain has long practice at convincing duplicity.

The expats are not so lucky. Illniss, accidents, and death begin to winnow their numbers, Saint-Germain wonders if the accidents are truly accidents, or if there is a traitor in their midst. In an international game of cat and mouse, it’s difficult to determine who is the prey and who is the predator.

We previously covered Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s novels To The High Redoubt and Night Pilgrims. Sustenance will be published on Dec 2 by Tor Books. It is 480 pages, priced at $29.99 in hardcover and $14.99 for the digital edition. Read an excerpt here.

Meet a Dominatrix Who Solves Murders in Mistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client by Michael Penkas

Monday, November 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client-smallWhen I discussed his short story collection Dead Boys last year, I said the following about Michael Penkas:

Michael has an uncanny ability to pry open your heart with sparkling prose, humor, and warm and genuine characters… and then drive a cold spike through it with relentless and diabolical twists. All with some of the most compact and economical prose I have ever encountered.

Now that I’ve read his first novel, Mistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client, I can confirm that he is just as impressive at longer lengths. Mistress Bunny, a cozy mystery featuring a Chicago dominatrix who’s very good at her job, is, in the words of C.S.E. Cooney, ”Too weird to dismiss as quirky, too warm and funny to keep you at a distance, but so kinky and clear-sighted and compassionate.” I predict that it will launch Michael on a very successful career.

Life’s hard enough for a working class dominatrix without the occasional murder.

After getting dumped by her boyfriend, Mistress Bunny cancels her six o’clock session so that she can cry and drink herself to sleep. When she learns the next day that her client was found dead in his office, shot in the head at the same time she should have been tying him up, she can’t help but feel a little responsible.

But when she attends his funeral, Bunny begins to suspect that the gunshot wound wasn’t nearly as self-inflicted as the police believe. Her investigation uncovers a string of “suicides” that don’t begin (or end) with her client … a string where the next mysterious death might be her own. Hounded by a drunk ex-boyfriend, a pissed-off widow, and an office assistant with a hidden agenda, Mistress Bunny finds herself at the center of a mystery and discovers that there are some secrets a man won’t even share with his dominatrix.

If you’d like a taste of the twisted sense of humor on display in his novel, try Michael’s chilling and hilarious biblical fantasy ”The Worst Was Yet to Come,” published right here at Black GateMistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client was published on November 6, 2014. It is 208 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $5 for the digital edition. The cover is by Viola Estrella.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons

Monday, November 17th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pons_ReturnPinnacleThere have been a few posts here recently about fan fiction. That concept has been taken to its furthest extreme with the character of Sherlock Holmes. Amateur and professional writers have been penning tales about Holmes for about a century.

Parodies are stories that poke fun at Holmes. Many, such as this one I wrote (page 10), utilize Holmes himself and are clearly tongue in cheek. Others use “new” characters, such as Robert Fish’s Schlock Holmes and his Bagel Street Saga.

But the more serious Holmes tales, those that attempt to portray Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective to varying levels, are called pastiches. Just about the earliest ‘serious’ attempt at a Holmes copy was by Vincent Starrett, who wrote “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” in 1920.

The Doyle sons (whom I wrote about here) didn’t like pastiches and they’re relatively uncommon during the first half of the twentieth century as they protected their copyright. The Doyle Estate has been fighting over the copyright right up to this month!

Richard Lancelyn Green’s The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collects many of the early pastiches, including several from the nineteen forties. There are thousands of pastiches out there now. Search “Sherlock Holmes” or “Sherlock Holmes anthologies” at Amazon and you’ll get a list too big to go through. A future post will talk about some of my favorite pastiches, such as Frank Thomas’s Sherlock Holmes & the Sacred Sword and Michael Hardwick’s Prisoner of the Devil.

But this post is about the detective that Starrett called “The best substitute for Sherlock Holmes known”: Solar Pons. In 1928, August Derleth, a college freshman at the University Wisconsin, wrote to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, asking if there were to be any more Holmes tales. Receiving an emphatic reply of “no” scrawled on his own letter, Derleth made a note on his calendar: “In re: Sherlock Holmes.”

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New Treasures: The Elementals by Michael McDowell

Sunday, November 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Elementals-smallI spent only four days at the World Fantasy Convention in Washington D.C. last weekend, but I picked up enough new books to fuel a few months of New Treasures. It was extremely rewarding just to spend a few minutes at each booth in the Dealers Room, perusing the handsome titles on display. I was familiar with many of the various publishers, of course, but more than a few — like the amazing Hippocampus Press, whom I talked about on Friday — were new to me, and discovering all of their titles at once, I felt like a kid in a candy store.

That was the case with the impressive Valancourt Books, who describe themselves as “an independent small press specializing in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print fiction.” The team behind the table was very friendly and enthusiastic, but I remember almost nothing of our conversation because I was so taken with their wide range of horror titles. I’ll have a lot more to say about their catalog in a future post, but for now I want to highlight the first book I picked up, a gorgeous reprint of Michael McDowell’s 1981 mass market paperback The Elementals.

After a bizarre and disturbing incident at the funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, the McCray and Savage families look forward to a restful and relaxing summer at Beldame, on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, where three Victorian houses loom over the shimmering beach. Two of the houses are habitable, while the third is slowly and mysteriously being buried beneath an enormous dune of blindingly white sand. But though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty. Inside, something deadly lies in wait. Something that has terrified Dauphin Savage and Luker McCray since they were boys and which still haunts their nightmares. Something horrific that may be responsible for several terrible and unexplained deaths years earlier — and is now ready to kill again…

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Seven – Temple Tower

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

BD06-01Temple_Tower_1st_edition_book_coverTemple Tower (1929) was the sixth Bulldog Drummond novel and marked a departure from the series formula. Having killed Carl Peterson off at the conclusion of the fourth book and dealt with his embittered mistress Irma’s revenge scheme as the plot of the fifth book, Sapper took the series in an unexpected direction by turning to French pulp fiction for inspiration.

Sapper also placed Hugh Drummond in a supporting role and elevated his loyal friend Peter Darrell to the role of narrator. The subsequent success of the venerable movie series and the future controversies generated by Sapper’s reactionary politics and bigotry obscured the versatility of his narratives and led to his being under-appreciated when considered with his peers.

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What Old Futures Can Tell Us About Worldbuilding

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page


JKR did it better

I was taking a look at Stand by for Mars!, the first of the classic 1950s Tom Corbett Space Cadet Adventures, and this passage stood out like a sore thumb:

Speaking into an audioscriber, a machine that transmitted his spoken words into typescript, he repeated the names of the candidates as they passed.

And later

…he picked up the audioscriber microphone and recorded a brief message. Removing the threadlike tape from the machine, he returned to the house and left it on the spool

Bit of background. It’s the year AD whatever. In the first excerpt, somebody is recording the arrival of candidates for the Space Academy. In the second excerpt… actually I have no idea what’s happening. I bounced halfway through the first chapter, not because of the retro future, but because I didn’t much care for standard issue school stories where the personality clashes weren’t tied to wider issues and themes — JKR did it better. However, it’s the retro future I’m interested in here.

Let’s think about the audioscriber.

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Vintage Treasures: The Worlds of A.E. Van Vogt

Friday, November 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Worlds of A.E. Van Vogt-smallWe haven’t discussed A.E. Van van Vogt at Black Gate very much, and that’s probably a significant oversight.

True, he’s primarily thought of as a science fiction writer (when he’s thought of at all these days.) But however you categorize him, van Vogt was one of the most important writers of the pulp era. I looked at one of his most famous novels, a fix-up of his early pulp stories from Astounding Science Fiction, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, back in September, but that’s really the first time we discussed van Vogt at any length.

Well, that leaves us a lot of ground to cover, so we better get started.

Van Vogt’s longer works include some of the most famous early novels in the SF canon, including Slan (1946), The World of Null-A (1948), and The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951). If you’re interested in sampling his shorter work, there are a lot of collections to choose from — including Transfinite: The Essential A. E. Van Vogt (2003), the deluxe, 576-page hardcover collection of his best work from NESFA Press (still in print, you lucky dog.) If you’re looking for something a little more economical, I highly recommend Transgalactic (2006), a handsome trade collection containing eleven short stories and a short novel, The Wizard of Linn, still in print from Baen.

Of course, you know how I feel. If you want to experience Van Vogt in the pure state, the way his original fans did, you should collect pulps, like any decent person. Failing that, I recommend tracking down a few of his most important paperbacks. Besides, that’s the truly economical approach.

I suggest starting with The Worlds of A.E. Van Vogt, a generous sampling of his short fiction spanning 1941 – 1971. It was originally published in 1974 and is still easy to find and very inexpensive. Twelve of the stories within (plus Forrest J. Ackerman’s one-page introduction) appeared in a smaller paperback, The Far-Out Worlds of A. E. van Vogt, in 1968; but this edition includes all of those stories plus three long novelettes, adding over 100 pages. It’s the one you want.

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New Treasures: Burnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas

Friday, November 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Burnt Black Suns-smallAnother interesting thing about exploring the Dealer’s Room at the World Fantasy Convention was meeting all these marvelous small press publishers, and discovering just how many delightful books they’ve produced. Hippocampus Press, whom I’m not really familiar with, had a table packed high with books by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, S. T. Joshi, Wade German, Algernon Blackwood, William F. Nolan, Donald Wandrei, and Thomas Ligotti, as well as several copies of their journals, Dead Reckonings, Spectral Realms, and The Lovecraft Annual.

I had to try at least one. I was sorely tempted by John Langan’s collection The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies and Clint Smith’s Ghouljaw and Other Stories. But the one I eventually settled on was Simon Strantzas’s most recent collection, Burnt Black Suns, mostly because I was drawn to the cover and the story descriptions on the back. Adam Nevill’s quote on the back cover (“In Burnt Black Suns Strantzas casts far into time and space to find the alien, and what comes back wriggling inside his net is ghastly”) didn’t hurt, either. The first story, “On Ice,” described as “a grim novella of arctic horror,” will be the story I read this weekend.

In this fourth collection of stories, Simon Strantzas establishes himself as one of the most dynamic figures in contemporary weird fiction. The nine stories in this volume exhibit Strantzas’s wide range in theme and subject matter, from the Lovecraftian “Thistle’s Find” to the Robert W. Chambers homage “Beyond the Banks of the River Seine.” But Strantzas’s imagination, while drawing upon the best weird fiction of the past, ventures into new territory in such works as “On Ice,” a grim novella of arctic horror; “One Last Bloom,” a grisly account of a scientific experiment gone hideously awry; and the title story, an emotionally wrenching account of terror and loss in the baked Mexican desert. With this volume, Strantzas lays claim to be discussed in the company of Caitlín R. Kiernan and Laird Barron as one of the premier weird fictionists of our time.

Burnt Black Suns was published by Hippocampus Press on May 1, 2014. It is 310 pages, priced at $20 in trade paperback and $6 for the digital edition. The Foreword is by Laird Barron. The cover art is by Santiago Caruso. Burnt Black Suns is available for half price on the Hippocampus Press website this month — check out their November specials here.

Monsters, Lobster Women, and Creepy Cats: Explore the Dark Side of the Circus in Nightmare Carnival

Friday, November 14th, 2014 | Posted by James McGlothlin

Nightmare Carnival-smallDepending on your perspective, a carnival or a circus can generate a host of pleasant or not-so-pleasant associations. You may have been thrilled by lions and elephants performing tricks, riding the Ferris wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl, or even eating popcorn and hotdogs.  Or perhaps you mainly associate carnivals and circuses with less pleasant things… like creepy clowns, freak shows, spooky fortune-tellers, and carnies. (No offense to the people that make carnivals possible!)

A newly released anthology, Nightmare Carnival, tends to present carnivals and circuses from this darker end of the scale. This new collection of dark fantasy and horror is edited by the inestimable Ellen Datlow, editor of scores of genre anthologies and the winner of many, many awards, including the Hugo, the Bram Stoker, the Shirley Jackson, and most recently the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. Datlow continues to show her impeccable ability for spotting good and chilling stories with Nightmare Carnival.

I’m a huge fan of Datlow’s horror anthologies. I raved about her latest Year’s Best Horror volume just a few months ago at Black Gate. Some of her efforts are better than others, and Nightmare Carnival is definitely one of Datlow’s better anthologies. As usual, she has corralled an impressive list of authors, as well as a few lesser known (at least to me). I’ll discuss a few of the best stories here.

I’m not familiar with N. Lee Wood, but her story “Scapegoats,” the leadoff story, was excellent. It is mainly told from the perspective of Mae, “The Amazing Lobster Woman,” part of the World Famous Bishop Brothers Traveling Carnival. Through Mae, we become acquainted with the various characters of this train-traveling carnival/circus, particularly a gentle elephant named Madelaine. The story focuses upon the carnival’s arrival in a small town, where an unjust incident involving Madelaine ends with a local man’s death, and the unfair consequences for the carnival. I won’t spoil the ending, but the title should give you some idea. And let me say that the ‘scapegoat’ scene is fairly traumatic. However, the ending offers something of a just desert, at least by some moral compasses.

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Future Treasures: Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Archivist Wasp-smallOne of the great things about the World Fantasy Convention — or any decent convention, really — is the opportunity to attend readings. Just think about that for a second. You get to sit back in a comfortable chair in an intimate setting, while some of the finest fantasy writers in the field personally read their stories to you. Why would you waste your time doing anything else? (Except trolling the Dealer’s Room, of course.)

This year was especially rewarding, as I got to attend readings by Frederic S. Durbin, the delightful Liz Argall, Helen Marshall, Nathan Ballingrud, Christopher Barzak, Peter V. Brett, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tiffany Trent, Sharon Shinn, Bradley Beaulieu, Jeffrey Ford, Mike Allen, Elwin Cotman, Kathryn Sullivan, Andy Duncan, Kelly Link, and many others. But the reading that surprised and delighted me the most was by a new writer named Nicole Kornher-Stace, who read from her upcoming novel to be published by Small Beer this spring. A fast-paced and beautifully written story of ghosts, a mysterious post-apocalyptic world, and a young woman of extraordinary bravery, I predict Archivist Wasp will make a major splash when it arrives next May.

Wasp’s job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-lost ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They’re chosen. They’re special. Or so they’ve been told for four hundred years.

Archivist Wasp fears she is not the chosen one, that she won’t survive the trip to the underworld, that the brutal life she has escaped might be better than where she is going. There is only one way to find out.

Archivist Wasp will be published by Small Beer Press on May 12, 2015. It is 256 pages, priced at $14 in trade paperback and $9.95 for the digital edition.

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