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George R.R. Martin is Spoiling HBO’s Game of Thrones

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

George RR Martin A Game of Thrones-smallThis article has been making the rounds on the Internet since it was posted yesterday at UK satire site Underground Magazine — and it’s too good not to share. Funny as it is, the numerous outraged comments it’s received, from shall-we-say less informed fans of the HBO show, are equally hilarious (see some of the comments at Weird Tales’ Facebook post here).

The entertainment industry was today warning fans of the popular HBO series Game Of Thrones to avoid ‘at all costs’ a series of books by a rogue enthusiast named George R.R. Martin, who has written five whole volumes consisting solely of spoilers for the popular television show.

“This man is dangerous and wants to ruin everyone’s enjoyment of a much-loved fantasy drama.” said executive producer D. B. Weiss. “It’s a sad symptom of today’s ‘binge’ culture that people can’t just wait and enjoy things as they are released. They want everything at once…”

Some of the books in question, which add up to a total of some 4,200 pages, contain so many spoilers that they have had to be split into volumes. HBO executives are investigating how Martin is able to work on new editions set far in advance of the current TV series.

TV fan Simon Rix told us he “picked up a copy of one of the books thinking it was a companion piece or a spin-off from the TV show, but after reading all of them in one week, I had the whole show ruined for me in intricate detail. There were characters I’d never heard of, plot lines that went way off course, and not nearly as much nudity.”

Read the complete article here.


A Classic Moral Panic: The BBC on The Great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons Panic

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

D&D boxed sets-smallIf you’re as old (and as good-looking) as I am, you probably remember the occasional media hysterics surrounding Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and early 80s. Reports of teens committing suicide after playing D&D, getting lost in steam tunnels, turning to devil worship… it got to be almost routine by the mid-80s. You didn’t even pay attention after a while.

It certainly caused problems for some gamers, though. I knew of a few who were forbidden to play D&D by their parents. My own parents certainly heard the reports, but my Dad had a practical solution… he asked to sit in on a game. He rolled up a character named Drawde (Edward spelled backwards) and trooped down in the dungeon with us.

It was a decent enough session, actually, although my brother Mike and I exchanged a few wide-eyed glances as Dad started busting in dungeon doors. My older sister Maureen tagged along, and even my Mom joined in for a while. I remember Maureen found a +1 ring and when I explained it protected her from attack, she sauntered to the front of the party and started talking smack to the next group of orcs they ran in to.

She got peppered with arrows, and my father had to come to her rescue. She hung out in the rear after that. “Anyone want to buy a magic ring?” she asked.

We never had another family session of D&D. But my father was apparently satisfied that the game wasn’t leading Mike and I towards eternal damnation and we were never questioned after that, even as the press reports about the game got crazier. I think I still have Dad’s character sheet somewhere.

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Kirkus Looks at The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Gnome Press

Monday, April 7th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

judgment-nightThe legendary Gnome Press, founded by David Kyle and Martin Greenberg in 1948, put some of the most important SF and fantasy ever written between hard covers for the first time — including C.L. Moore’s Judgment Night and Shambleau and Others, The Coming of Conan and Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard, Clifford D. Simak’s City, Robert A. Heinlein’s Sixth Column and Methuselah’s Children, Two Sought Adventure by Fritz Leiber, plus Arthur C. Clarke, Edward E. Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Leigh Brackett, Murray Leinster, A. E. van Vogt, and dozens of others. It kept the genre’s most important writers in print, at a time when they appeared only in magazines, and in the process introduced them to a whole new generation.

Andrew Liptak at Kirkus Reviews has dug into the history of the press with an excellent piece, part of his ongoing look at the origins of SF and fantasy in America. Here’s his retelling of one of Gnome Press’s most famous acquisitions:

In 1950, Isaac Asimov began looking for a new home for some of his short stories… Rebuffed by his current publisher, Doubleday (who wanted new material, rather than repackaged short stories), Asimov approached Greenberg, who was eager to publish his stories. Asimov pulled together nine of his robot stories… into a single volume called I, Robot. Gnome released the collection at the end of 1950, with some of the stories reworked to include his character, Susan Calvin, telling a larger story of the evolution of robotics. The collection was a successful one, and Asimov brought Greenberg another series of books for which he would be well known: Foundation. First serialized in magazines, Gnome brought Asimov’s Foundation trilogy to hardcover between 1951 and 1953.

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Descend Into the Depths of the Earth in Forgotten Realms: Underdark

Monday, April 7th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Forgotten Realms Underdark-smallI’ve been fascinated with underground gaming ever since I took my first steps in Gary Gygax’s imaginative underworld in the classic 1978 AD&D module D1: Descent into the Depths of the Earth. That adventure — which first introduced the complex and sinister machinations of the drow — was one of the most popular ever released for AD&D and it has been much copied and imitated over the decades since.

A message not lost on TSR and WotC over the years, who have explored and expanded on Gygax’s concept of ancient and hostile subterranean civilizations in several releases — especially the popular Underdark products. With the publication of D&D Third Edition, the masterminds at WotC commissioned an updated version of Underdark for their Forgotten Realms setting, and it appeared in hardcover in 2003.

All of which is background to explain why I was sitting in the front row at the Spring Games Plus Auction and nimbling up my bidding arm when I saw a brand new copy of Underdark make its way to the auction block.

Bidding opened at a buck and was never very enthusiastic. D&D supplements one or two editions out of date don’t seem to command much interest these days and I walked away with it for the criminal price of seven bucks.

Their loss. Underdark is a terrific buy for any D&D gamers looking to add a fully fleshed-out subterranean setting to their existing campaign.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in February

Monday, March 31st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

AD&D DMGScott Taylor’s massive survey of the top artists working in the role playing industry since its birth — the latest in his popular Art of the Genre series — was our most popular article last month.

In second and third place were our reports on the latest fan turmoil inside the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), including a series of ugly personal attacks on ex-SFWA Vice President Mary Robinette Kowal.

Fourth was the first installment of Jon Sprunk’s Firefly retrospective, now up to seven chapters.

For fifth place it was back to the People-Behaving-Badly part of our program, with a report on Macmillan Associate Director of Contracts Sean P. Fodera’s threat to sue everyone who linked to the Daily Dot report on his attack on Mary Robinette Kowal (including Black Gate, presumably). We’re still waiting for that thick Fed Ex envelope from a legal firm.

The complete Top 50 Black Gate posts in February were:

  1. Art of the Genre: The Top 10 RPG Artists of the Past 40 Years
  2. Robert Silverberg, Gregory Benford, Dave Truesdale call for Changes to SFWA
  3. SFWA Ugliness Spreads to Personal Attacks on Mary Robinette Kowal
  4. Firefly, a Retrospective – Part 1
  5. Sean P. Fodera Threatens to sue 1,200 Writers
  6. Read More »


Vintage Treasures: Universe 13 edited by Terry Carr

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Universe 13 Terry Carr-smallLast Sunday, I was busy complaining about the apparent death of the original SF and fantasy paperback anthology series (as one does), when it occurred to me that I should probably read a few of the books I was talking about.

Nothing like waxing nostalgic and working up a good frothy indignation at the death of a vital part of American culture to remind you that your memories on the subject are actually kinda vague and unspecific. It’s a crime that Universe is no longer being published! It was a source of some of the most brilliant SF of the 70s! I think. Wait, which one was Universe again?

So I decided to start by reading Universe 13. Partly because Terry Carr really was a terrific editor and he knew how to put together a splendid anthology. But mostly because I found a copy in easy reach in a stack of vintage paperbacks and I didn’t have to get up out of my big green chair.

I’ve talked about Universe before, especially about Carr’s insight into the field. One of the most famous quotes about science fiction comes from his introduction to Universe 3, which I printed in 2012 and I’d like to reprint here:

When aficionados of this field get together, that’s a standard topic of discussion. When was science fiction’s golden age? Some say the early forties, when John W. Campbell and a host of new writers like Heinlein, Sturgeon and van Vogt were transforming the entire field; others point to the early fifties, to [editors] H.L. Gold and Anthony Boucher and to such writers as Damon Knight, Alfred Bester and Ray Bradbury. Some will lay claims for the late sixties, when the new wave passed and names like Ballard, Disch and Aldiss came forward. There are still people around, too, who’ll tell you about 1929 and David H. Keller, E.E. Smith and Ray Cummings.

The clue in most cases is when the person talking first began to read science fiction. When it was all new, all of it was exciting. Years ago a friend of mine, Pete Graham, tersely answered the question “When was the golden age of science fiction?” by saying “Twelve.” He didn’t have to explain further; we knew what he meant.

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Explore the Echoes of a Vanished Product Line in Lost Empires of Faerûn

Friday, March 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Lost-Empires-of-Faerun-smallI’m still processing the boxes of gaming loot I brought home from the Spring Games Plus Auction. Honestly, this could take a while. You may want to get a coffee or something.

I find it fascinating to watch the items that set off a bidding frenzy. The Descent games I talked about last time, for example. Or absolutely any expansion sets for Wizard of the Coast’s out-of-print Heroscape – lordy, yes. I wish I had a closet filled with those babies. I’d retire to Bermuda.

But it’s no fun to bid on stuff that far out of my price range. Gape while everyone else bids like crazy? Sure. But bid yourself? No. It’s like asking the Homecoming Queen to Prom. Sure, everybody’s doing it, but it ain’t easy on your self-esteem.

But you know what is fun to bid on? Cheap stuff, and especially cheap stuff that was once very expensive. Like premium D&D products that are now one or two editions out of date and selling at rock bottom prices. Items like a brand new copy of Lost Empires of Faerûn, which originally retailed for $29.95 and which I snapped up for 6 lousy bucks.

Let me paraphrase from the back of the book. Something, something, secrets of past empires of the Forgotten Realms, comprehensive sourcebook, new feats, stuff, prestige classes, magic stuff, equipment stuff. Can I use this to put together an adventure in 10 minutes when I manage to forget game night switched to Friday? Yes? I’m sold.

Apparently, the book also contains gaming advice on ruins, including rules for how to build and sustain a ruin-based campaign, a bunch of detailed adventure sites with maps, artifacts, and some new monsters. You had me at “ruin-based campaign.” Take my money already.

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John W. Campbell on Tolkien, Conan, and Sword & Sorcery

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The August 1968 issue of Analog Science Fiction, with Sword & Sorcery creeping up on Science Fiction

The August 1968 issue of Analog Science Fiction, showing Sword & Sorcery creeping up on Science Fiction

Gordon van Gelder, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, has posted a fascinating excerpt from The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume 1. The excerpt is from a September 7, 1967 letter to Analog author and Hugo Award winning writer Gordon R. Dickson, author of Dorsai! and Soldier, Ask Not, and it captures the frustrations of the top SF editor in the country as he senses his audience being lured away by the growing popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The swords-and-sorcery and Tolkien have displaced science fiction almost completely. Why? Well, partly — but I think a small part — is the current leaning to escape-from-reality, LSD etc. to the undisciplined world of my opinion is as good as any other, and don’t tell me there’s a Universe’s Opinion I’ve got to accept, willy nilly.

But the larger item, I suspect, is *human beings want heroes.* Real heroes. Not common-men-who-proved-under-stress-they-could-struggle-through. The swords-and-sorcery yarns are all based on superhuman heroes — and it’s clearly obvious the readers love ‘em.

Now in as much as it’s the readers who pay for the magazines, it damn well behooves us to give ‘em what they want — and they obviously want super-heroes on the Conan order. They want for Frank Herbert’s Dune, with his super-hero. They used to go with all-out enthusiasm for Jack Williamson’s really-not-very-good “Legion” stories.

Now if the fans want — and they evidently do! — swords-and-sorcery type yarns, then we had damn well better give ‘em the type of thing they want, or get out of the way for someone who will.

Campbell never published much fantasy in Analog, but he did champion adventure-oriented science fantasy in the late 60s, like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern stories (the first of which, the Hugo Award-winning “Weyr Search,” appeared in Analog in October 1967). It would be interesting to take a closer look to see if there was any noticeable editorial shift in this period.

Read the complete excerpt in Gordon’s Facebook post.


Hurry Up With That Doctor Strange Movie, Marvel

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mesmeretics Doctor Strange poster-smallMarvel Studios has certainly been dragging its feet with the long-delayed Doctor Strange feature film. It still doesn’t have a release date. (Or a star. Or a director.)

That hasn’t stopped enthusiastic fans from trying to nudge the project along with fake trailers and posters, like the fan-made effort from Mesmeretics at left. C’mom, Marvel. If fans can make something that looks that sharp, so can you.

I consider Doctor Strange to be the last major untapped Marvel property and I’m a little cranky that C-listers like Ant Man and Rocket Raccoon are making it to the silver screen before he is. It wouldn’t surprise me if Baron Mordo was behind it all, somehow.

Doctor Strange was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (the same team that created Spider-man) in 1963. He has flirted with live action versions before… there was a 1978 TV movie starring Peter Hooten, which I watched after school and thought perhaps was the coolest thing in the history of ever. In 2005 Paramount acquired the rights to Doctor Strange from Miramax and in 2008 reports surfaced that Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct and that he’d approached Neil Gaiman to do the script. Never happened.

More recently, in June 2010, Marvel Studios hired Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, the team behind the underrated Sahara and the 2011 reboot of Conan the Barbarian, to produce a script, and in January of last year Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed that Doctor Strange would be part of “Phase Three” of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe. In November, he confirmed that a Doctor Strange feature is in development, but so far no additional details have emerged. And so we wait.

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The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in February

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

AppleMarkMark Rigney’s “The Find,” part of his perennially popular Tales of Gemen series, maintained  the top spot last month, holding off a stiff challenge from Jon Sprunk’s hit novel Blood and Iron.

“The Find” is actually Part II of the series. It began with “The Trade,” which Tangent Online called a “Marvelous tale.” Read all three tales in their entirety right here.

Jon Sprunk’s Blood and Iron, Book One of The Book of the Black Earth, was released this month by Pyr Books and we offered an exclusive pre-release excerpt of this brand new sword & sorcery epic in February.

Next on the list was Joe Bonadonna’s fast-paced adventure “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” followed by E.E. Knight’s sword & sorcery epic “The Terror of the Vale,” the second in the Blue Pilgrim sequence, and sequel to “That of the Pit.”

Fifth and sixth were our excerpt from Sword Sisters, the new novel from Tara Cardinal and Black Gate blogger Alex Bledsoe, and “The Sealord’s Successor,” by Aaron Bradford Starr, a new tale of Gallery Hunters Gloren Avericci and Yr Neh, last seen in “The Tea-Maker’s Task” and “The Daughter’s Dowry.” Next was Martha Wells’s complete novel, the Nebula nominee The Death of the Necromancer.

Also making the list were exciting stories by Dave Gross, Jamie McEwan, Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Mike Allen, Ryan Harvey, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, C.S.E. Cooney, Vaughn Heppner, Jason E. Thummel, David C. Smith, Michael Shea, and John C. Hocking. If you haven’t sampled the free adventure fantasy stories offered through our Black Gate Online Fiction line, you’re missing out. Here are the Top Twenty most-read stories in February.

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