The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Speckled Band — He’s Done Better…

Monday, August 25th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Band_Roylott

“I will go when I have said my say. Don’t you dare to meddle with my affairs…”

“The Speckled Band,” the eighth of the short stories which make up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, first appeared in the Strand Magazine in February, 1892. It is often cited as a favorite Holmes case by fans of the great detective. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself put it at number one on his own list in 1927. I’ve read it at least a dozen times.

However, it also appears to be one of the most poorly handled the world’s first private consulting detective. There are several questionable aspects that leave one to wonder at Holmes’ actions:

HERE BE SPOILERS

If you haven’t read this story yet, take fifteen minutes and do so. You can read it online here, with illustrations. Going on with my article before you’ve read the story will truly ruin one of the Canon’s best known tales.

Sending Helen Stoner Home – Helen Stoner is worried that her stepfather will be angry with her when they are both back home after their separate visits to Baker Street. Holmes tells her that Roylott must “guard himself” or he may find that someone is on his track.

Roylott already knows that Helen has been to visit Holmes: the cat is out of the bag. It is unclear why Holmes is not concerned for her safety. He even says that if Roylott gets violent with her, he will take her to her aunt’s home. That’s a bit reactive. Holmes does not seem to be properly safeguarding her welfare.

Read More »


Vintage Treasures: Big Planet by Jack Vance

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Startling Stories September 1952-small Big Planet Jack Vance Ace-small Big-Planet-Ace-1978-small

I’m embarrassed to admit that I became a Jack Vance fan only late in life. I blame a misspent youth.

I first discovered him through his short fiction — especially “The Dragon Masters” and “The Moon Moth,” two brilliantly imaginative tales of far-off worlds. But I was slow to discover his novels and I’ve spent the last few years trying to catch up.

The one I want to read next is Big Planet, his 1952 novel of a massive but technologically backwards world known simply as Big Planet, settled over the centuries by a host of criminals, malcontents, and outcasts from Earth. Claude Glystra is sent to Big Planet to investigate rumors of a dark plot against Earth, but his ship is sabotaged and crash-lands 40,000 miles from his destination. Glystra and his crewmates must undertake an impossible journey on foot across a dangerous landscape filled with aliens, human colonies isolated for centuries, and the treacherous agents of his enemies.

Big Planet was Vance’s first major SF novel, and it is one of the classic adventure fantasies of the 1950s. It has been reprinted over a dozen times. I have several different paperback editions — and they are, in fact, very different. All I have to do is figure out which one to read.

Read More »


New Treasures: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Full Fathom Five Max Gladstone Tor-smallBack in June, I reported on the second novel in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. And just in time, too… the third, Full Fathom Five, arrived barely a month later, and I don’t wanna appear behind the times (any more than usual, anyway.)

The best description of this series I’ve found so far is from Elizabeth Bear (no surprise), who says at her blog:

The Craft Sequence books are all about ancient necromancers in charge of corporations; liches running litigation; court battles fought by means of sorcerous contests; deities dueling by means of legal proxies and stock trading souls.

I have several narrative hot buttons when shopping for fantasy and that description punches every one of them. If John Grisham wrote zombie novels, we might have plots as cool as Max Gladstone’s. Maybe.

I wrote about the first book in the sequence, Three Parts Dead, in 2012, and Two Serpents Rise in June. The fourth, Last First Snow, is not yet scheduled. Max describes it as follows:

Last First Snow, as the (working) title suggests, is set a bit earlier along the series timeline, and shows the older generation’s history. Dresediel Lex teeters on the edge of a knife, riven by protest over controversial zoning legislation, while a younger Elayne Kevarian confronts a tangle of conspiracies, revolutionaries, personal demons, and dead gods.

I can see I’m going to have to set some time aside for that one, too.

Read More »


Experience the Second Era of Space with Mindjammer

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mindjammer-smallTrying out a new role playing game takes a pretty serious investment of time and energy, and I don’t do it often. I think the last time was probably Pelgrane Press’s excellent SF game Ashen Stars, which turned out to be worth the investment.

A few months ago, the talented Sarah Newton sent me a copy of her ambitious new RPG Mindjammer, and I found myself intrigued. Early this year, it beat out 13th Age, Hillfolk, and other great games to win the Griffie Award for Best Roleplaying Game, which only sharpened my interest.

So over the last few weeks and months, I’ve been digging into it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a really terrific SF role playing game, with a flavor all its own.

Mindjammer describes itself as a game of “Transhumanism Adventure,” which in practical terms means it’s a mix of science fiction and superhero gaming. Hyperadvanced technology, synthetic intelligence, cybernetics, and ancient lost tech have changed what it means to be human, opening up a wide range of fabulous and inventive skills for your players — things like Xeno-empathy, Starship therapy, logic shields, and many others. It makes character generation a lot of fun, and really gets players thinking about the type of universe they’re about to step into.

And what kind of universe is that, exactly? One where humans mingle with divergent hominids, uplifted animals, synthetic beings, and stranger things. Players can even play a sentient starship — which may give you some idea of the scale and ambition of this fine game.

Read More »


Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Shadow of Fu Manchu, Part One

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Doubleday ShadowShadow JenkinsThe Shadow of Fu Manchu was serialized in Collier’s from May 8 to June 12, 1948. Hardcover editions followed later that year from Doubleday in the U.S. and Herbert Jenkins in the U.K. The book was Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller and was also the last of the perennial series to make the New York Times bestseller list.

The story had its origins in a Fu Manchu stage play that Rohmer had developed for actor Basil Rathbone. The project had failed to get off the ground, but became instead the first new Fu Manchu novel in seven years. Sadly, during these seven years, the property had begun to fade from the public eye.

It had been eight years since the character last appeared on the big screen (in the popular 1940 Republic serial, Drums of Fu Manchu) and eight years since the well-received Shadow of Fu Manchu radio series (from which the planned stage play and later novel borrowed its title) had left the air. Detective Comics had long since finished reprinting the Fu Manchu newspaper comic strip as a back-up feature for Batman. As far as the public was concerned, Fu Manchu was a part of the past that seemed far removed from the world that had been transformed by the Second World War.

Read More »


The Huffington Post on Fantasy Series Better Than Harry Potter

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Master of the Five Magics-smallOver at The Huffington Post, author Jeff Somers (The Digital Plague, The Ustari Cycle) holds forth on fantasy worlds that are more appealing than the mega-successful Harry Potter series.

I was surprised to see his list consisted exclusively of vintage paperbacks, including Jack L. Chalker’s Midnight at the Well of Souls (1980), Piers Anthony’s first Xanth novel A Spell for Chameleon (1977), L. Frank Baum’s The Magic of Oz (1919), and Master of the Five Magics (1980) by Lyndon Hardy. Perhaps not coincidentally, all are part of a fantasy series. Here he is on the latter book:

I read this book as a kid, and the magic system Hardy creates remains one of the more interesting and entertaining ones out there. He imagines a universe that has (initially) five magical disciplines: Thaumaturgy, Alchemy, Magic, Sorcery, and Wizardry. Each form of magic has a clear set of rules that govern how it works. For example, Wizardry is the discipline that summons demons, and it has two rules: the Law of Ubiquity, which states that flame permeates all (making it a gateway between worlds), and the Law of Dichotomy, which states that once a demon is summoned it must either dominate the summoner or be dominated. All in all, a logical system that requires the protagonist to actually study and learn and think critically about the magic, instead of waking up one morning with the ability to turn people into newts or something.

Lyndon Hardy wrote two sequels to Master of the Five Magics: Secret of the Sixth Magic (1984) and Riddle of the Seven Realms (1988). He has not returned to fantasy since. Outside of fantasy, he is perhaps best known as the mastermind of the 1961 Great Rose Bowl Hoax.

Read Somers’ complete article here.


The Series Series: Quintessence by David Walton

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Quintessence David Walton-smallQuintessence is a story of the Age of Exploration, as it might have unfolded on a literally flat Earth where some of the wilder alchemists’ ideas were right. Here there be dragons. If you list all the cool stuff in this book, it looks like a sure bet for most fantasy readers: voyages at sea (doomed and desperate), houses of solid diamond, heresy, plucky young people changing the world, and monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

In attitude, character, and pacing, however, the book feels more like science fiction in the tradition of John W. Campbell. I grew up reading that stuff — odds are that you did, too — so I found a great deal to enjoy in Quintessence. Just not quite the things I came to the book hoping to enjoy.

David Walton’s bestiary is worth the price of admission. The man knows how to fill a fanciful ecosystem, and if he had found some comic artist to collaborate with and had published a volume of the characters’ field notes, it would have been its own weird hit.

Perhaps if the creatures had been less gloriously inventive, the characters would have felt more vivid. As the book stands, the characterization falls far enough behind the worldbuilding for the characters to feel at times like types out of Commedia Dell’Arte. That is, if Commedia Dell’Arte had been invented by John W. Campbell.

We have our earnest scientist and our mad one. We have our plucky maiden and her plucky suitor, both brilliant engineers whose talents for tinkering had gone unnoticed back in England. We have a sort of Greek chorus of thinking men whom the earnest scientific hero forms into a discussion society for brainstorming and peer review. For villains, we have a smarmy politician and a religious fanatic, who care nothing for science.

Read More »


Future Treasures: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Slow Regard of Silent Things-smallPatrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle includes only two volumes so far — The Name of the Wind, reviewed for us by Robert Rhodes, and the Gemmel Award winner The Wise Man’s Fear — which doesn’t make it much of a chronicle by fantasy standards, really. But it has already vaulted into the front rank of modern fantasy, with great critical acclaim and a growing body of fans. Expectations are high for the third volume.

Now comes word that Rothfuss’s next book, featuring a character from the previous novels, is not the long-awaited third volume in The Kingkiller Chronicle. Instead it’s a novella featuring Auri, former student at The University, titled The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

This is the second of three novellas set in Temerant (known as the Four Corners of Civilization in the novels) that Rothfuss reportedly has planned. The first, ”The Lightning Tree,” was centered on Bast and was recently published in Rogues, the massive heroic fantasy anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. The third, a very lengthy (100,000-120,000 words) volume featuring Laniel Young-Again, has not yet been officially announced.

The upcoming third volume in The Kingkiller ChronicleThe Doors of Stone, has a title but no firm release date.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things will be released as a standalone hardcover by DAW this October. Here’s the book description.

Read More »


Bloody Battles, Espionage, Dark and Beautiful Prose, & Lovecraftian Horror: A Review of Karl Edward Wagner’s Dark Crusade

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Dark Crusade Karl Edward Wagner-smallYou guys are going to love for me for this. So very much. Someone, somewhere might have mentioned this already, but whatever, now it’s my turn.

All of the Kane books, both the novels and short story collections, have been released on Kindle for four or five bucks each, which is a mere three pounds if you live in England. It’s kind of bittersweet actually, because it means all that time I spent rummaging around in the musty corners of used bookshops looking for Bloodstone (which I reviewed, by the way) has kind of gone to waste, and anyone that spent around 100 bucks for a copy of Gods in Darkness or Midnight Sun is going to want to curl up in a big ball over there in the corner and have a little cry. So whilst you do that, I’m going to get on with the review, if you don’t mind.

Dark Crusade revolves around the rise of the dark Cult of Sataki, its meteoritic domination of the kingdom of Shapeki, the brutal regime it establishes and its enigmatic and mysterious prophet Orted something or other. When Orted’s fanatical cult of peasants try to seize the southern kingdoms, they are swiftly and brutally quelled by a superior military force, and that’s when Kane, a mercenary, steps in to help.

Kane really is the star of the show here, as anyone familiar with the series will tell you, but for anyone not in the know, Kane is a prince cursed with immortality who has wandered the world for eternity, plumbing its secrets, learning grim and interdicted sorceries, seeking out mysteries and conflicts and battle and war, and just generally trying to entertain himself during the course of his unending life.

Read More »


Win a Copy of Peter Watts’ Echopraxia

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Echopraxia-smallPeter Watts is a fellow Canadian and that makes him cool.

Well, that and the fact that he writes intensely cool SF novels, like the Hugo-nominated Blindsight, which Charles Stross described as “a first contact with aliens story from the point of view of a zombie posthuman crewman aboard a starship captained by a vampire.” Any time you can get Charles Stross on record saying “zombie posthuman crewman,” you know you’re cool. Plus, Ken Levine, the Creative Director for the hit video game BioShock, credits Watts as a significant influence on his game. That’s coolness right there.

Watts’s latest novel Echopraxia, described as a “sidequel” relating events on Earth during Blindsight, arrives at the end of the month, and Tor Books has been kind enough to offer us a copy to use as a giveaway (Thanks, Tor! You guys are super-cool.)

How do you enter? Just send an e-mail to john@blackgate.com with the title “Echopraxia” and a one-sentence review of your favorite Tor science fiction novel. One winner will be drawn at random at the end of the month from all qualifying entries and we’ll publish the best reviews here on the Black Gate blog.

All entries become the property of New Epoch Press. No purchase necessary. Must be 12 or older. Decisions of the judges (capricious as they may be) are final. Not valid where prohibited by law, or outside the US and Canada.

Here’s the book description.

Read More »


« Later Entries   Earlier Entries »

This site © 2004-2011 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.