Keep Your Blaster Close: The Many Horrors of Outbreak: Deep Space

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Outbreak Deep Space-smallBeing at the Games Plus Fall Auction can be an exhilarating experience. Take my discovery of Outbreak: Deep Space, just as an example.

There I am, sitting in the second row of the auction on October 4th, ninety minutes into the auction, wondering if I’ve blown my budget already. I’ve just made the decision to add up my purchases when the auctioneer holds up a brand new copy of Outbreak: Deep Space and starts the bidding at $5.

What the heck is that?, I think. And then, I have no idea, but it looks fantastic.

I immediately hold up my bidding card. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one to be intrigued by this strange gaming artifact. About a dozen bidders have their cards in the air, and the auctioneer quickly runs the price up to ten bucks. This is how you get in trouble, I remind myself. Bidding like mad on a book when you have absolutely no idea what it is. 

But my card stays in the air. The bidding hits 15 bucks, then blows past it. The cards around me are starting to waver and drop.

This thing could be on sale at Amazon for $10. Just because you’ve never seen a copy doesn’t mean it’s hard to find.

But I keep my card in the air. It’s a sharp-looking and professional bound hardcover — my instincts tell me it’s going to cost a lot more than 10 bucks to track down a copy if I miss out on this one. And besides… there’s more going on now than just bargain hunting. It looks like a science fiction horror RPG, and a very professional one. I’m deeply curious and willing to pay more than $15 for the opportunity to find out what it is.

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C. S. E. Cooney Joins Uncanny Magazine as a Podcast Reader

Friday, December 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

C. S. E. Cooney has hair like Medusa seriously it's amazing-smallThe brand new fantasy magazine Uncanny — which we discussed excitedly last month when its first issue went on sale — has shown uncanny good sense by hiring our very own C.S.E. Cooney as a podcast reader. Here’s a bit cribbed from the press release:

Uncanny Magazine is thrilled to announce that the marvelous C.S.E. Cooney has agreed to join us as the second reader on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast! Ms. Cooney is a Rhode Island writer and actor… She loves to read aloud to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen. Some of her narration work can be found on Podcastle and Tales to Terrify. With her fellow artists in the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours, C. S. E. Cooney appears at conventions and other venues, singing from their growing collection of Distant Star Ballads, dramatizing fiction, and performing such story-poems as “The Sea King’s Second Bride,” for which she won the Rhysling Award in 2011.

Ms. Cooney will make her debut as an Uncanny Magazine Podcast reader in Episode 3 this January.

So much exciting C.S.E. Cooney news! Just last month, we reported on Amal El-Mohtar’s review of her short story “Witch, Beast, Saint,” and our roving reporter Mark Rigney interviewed her in late October. The two C.S.E. Cooney short stories we published here at Black Gate, “Godmother Lizard” and “Life on the Sun,” consistently rank among the most popular pieces we’ve ever published. Her most recent blog post for us was Book Pairings: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells and Royal Airs, published last Sunday. She is a past website editor of Black Gate, and the author of How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes and Jack o’ the Hills.

In other C.S.E. Cooney news, today is her birthday. Happy Birthday, Claire!!

Fantasy Keeps You Young

Saturday, December 6th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

John O'Neill at Capricon 2014 (photo by Patty Templeton)

John O’Neill at Capricon 2014 (photo by Patty Templeton)

Some years before I started Black Gate magazine, I was editing a science fiction fan site called SF Site. It’s still going strong today, managed by my old partners Rodger Turner and Neil Walsh in Ottawa. It was nominated for a Hugo award in 2002, and a World Fantasy Award in 2006; in 2002, it won the Locus Award for best webzine.

Anyway, before all that fame and glory, I was still struggling to get the damn site off the ground. That meant a lot of hard work, writing and posting articles that nobody read, late into the night. Around 1997 or so, I hit on an idea to give my site a higher profile: offering free hosting to the major SF and fantasy magazines, none of which had websites at the time. This worked splendidly, and over the next few years, Rodger and I launched sites for Analog, F&SF, SF Chronicle, and many others (meaning that I made a lot of phone calls, and Rodger did all the actual work.)

In 1998, shortly after we launched the Asimov’s SF site, I wrote A Brief History of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, to celebrate the magazine coming on board. I wrote about finding the second issue in 1977, the summer I discovered SF magazines. In my first draft, I said something about Asimov looking elderly and distinguished on the cover.

I ran the draft past Sheila Williams, then Executive Editor of Asimov’s, and received a very cranky note in return. She strongly objected to my wording, saying “Isaac was barely fifty when that photo was taken — hardly elderly!” I puzzled over that for a long, long time. What did she mean, exactly? It didn’t make any sense. Finally, I had an epiphany. Sheila was probably really old, too. She might even be approaching 50 herself! And as everyone knew, old people shouted at everybody, and didn’t make much sense. I tweaked my wording enough to pacify her and we published the article.

I’ve thought about that exchange a few times since I turned 50, just a few months ago.

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The Classic Games of Metagaming: Ogre

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Ogre Metagaming-smallLast week, I wrote about discovering early Metagaming advertisements in copies of Analog and Asimov’s SF, as well as other science fiction magazines I read in the late 1970s. The ads — for tiny science fiction games I could carry around in my pocket — fired my imagination.

I was already gaming with my friends over lunch at school and the thought of playing games featuring giant robot tanks and wizard duels instead of another round of chess was too much to resist. I mailed off my check and waited impatiently for my treasures to arrive.

Now, ask most young folks how they felt when the magical item they ordered from the back of a comic or magazine finally came in the mail and you’ll hear some pretty sad stories. Those X-ray spectacles? A crushing disappointment. That family of sea monkeys? In reality, tiny frozen shrimp. And don’t even ask about the Polaris Nuclear Submarine.

But Metagaming microgames were not disappointments. Quite the opposite.

Microgame #1: Ogre was one of the first games I ordered from Metagaming. It was not the last. I still remember the first trial games I played with my brother Mike; the thrill of moving my Ogre cybertank relentlessly across the heavily cratered map board. Ogre was a wonderful game — brilliantly simple in design, easy to set up, and lightning fast to play.

It became, in fact, one of the most successful science fiction board games ever published, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. It went through numerous editions, and is still in print and available today — in both a no-frills reprint of the original 1977 edition and a limited edition deluxe version with multiple giant mapboards, more than 500 oversized full-color unit counters, and 3-D models, which will run you over $150 (if you can find a copy).

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in October

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

Dragon34-KenRahmanSometimes people critique Black Gate by looking over the site, noting our focus on books and magazines, and proclaiming us “books snobs.”

That’s not true at all, I argue calmly. Look — you know what the most popular article on the Black Gate website was just last month? It was Scott Taylor’s Art of the Genre post, “The Top 10 Dragon Magazine Covers of the 1970s & 80s.”

You see? We’re not merely book snobs. We’re also art snobs.

This is Scott’s second month at the top of the charts — back in September, he claimed the top spot with his article on the Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings of All Time, a nostalgic look at the finest artwork from the Golden Age of roleplaying. Scott certainly knows his stuff when it comes to fantasy art — and our readers love him for it.

The next few articles at the top of the charts don’t do much to help my thesis that we’re not book snobs, however. The #2 article for the month of October was M. Harold Page’s “Four Books on Historical European Martial Arts.” Hard to argue that you’re not just all about books, when your most popular posts are all about books.

The #3 article for the month was my look at The Fantasy Roots of Fan Fiction, an argument that the modern fan fiction phenomenon grew largely out of the tradition of the pastiche novel, and especially the long-running success of the Conan pastiche, and the success of writers like Lin Carter, who wrote pastiches for most of his career.

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The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in October

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

The Black Fire Concerto-smallMike Allen continues to dominate the top of our charts for a second month, with the exclusive excerpt from his first novel The Black Fire Concerto. Mike’s breakout collection Unseaming was released on October 1st from Antimatter Press. Check it out here.

Surging back into second place are Janet Morris and Chris Morris, with an excerpt from their heroic fantasy novel The Sacred Band. They also claimed the #3 slot with “Seven Against Hell,” an exclusive sample from their new anthology, Poets in Hell.

Knocked out of the #2 slot was “The Find,” Part II of The Tales of Gemen by Mark Rigney, which settled at #4 this month. “The Keystone,” Part III of the series, also made the list. Check out Mark’s first novel, the popular Check-Out Time, released on October 7 from Samhain Publishing.

Rounding out the Top Five was Ryan Harvey’s sword & sorcery story “The Sorrowless Thief,” a tale of intrigue and dinosaur beasts, part of his popular science-fantasy set series on the continent of Ahn-Tarqa.

Also making the list were exciting stories by Joe Bonadonna, John C. Hocking, David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna, Judith Berman, Michael Shea, C.S.E. Cooney, Aaron Bradford Starr, Jason E. Thummel, Steven H Silver, Martha Wells, Sean McLachlan, Harry Connolly, Howard Andrew Jones, and John R. Fultz.

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Robert Silverberg on the Tragic Death of John Brunner

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Great Steamboat Race John Brunner-smallSix months ago, I wrote about an unusual find I made online: The Great Steamboat Race, an enormous and ambitious historical novel written by none other than John Brunner. Brunner, of course, was a highly regarded SF and fantasy writer, beloved even today for Stand on Zanzibar, The Complete Traveller in Black, and many other novels. He died in 1995, at the World Science Fiction convention.

The Great Steamboat Race was an enigma. I’d never seen a copy before, never run across one in dozens of years of haunting bookstores. The copy I found online was very inexpensive — less than the $7.95 cover price for a brand new copy, for a book published over 30 years ago — so I bought it. I wrote it up as a Vintage Treasures curiosity, and then more or less forgot about it.

At least until this week, when I was browsing through a collection of Asimov’s SF magazines from the late 90s I recently acquired. Before I packed it away in the Cave of Wonders (i.e. the basement), I plucked one out of the box at random, and settled back in my big green chair to read it.

It was the March 1996 issue, with stories by Tony Daniel, Suzy McKee Charnas, Steven Utley, and the late John Brunner. I always take the time to read Robert Silverberg’s Reflections column, and I flipped to that first. The title was “Roger and John,” and it was a tribute to two recent deaths that had shaken the SF community: Roger Zelazny and John Brunner. Silverberg had been friends with both men for decades and said “Their deaths, for me, illustrate the difference between a tragedy and a damn shame. Let me try to explain.”

Silverberg portrays Zelazny’s death as a damn shame, saying “Roger was the happy man who led a happy life… By the time he was twenty-five he had begun what was to be a dazzling career in science fiction.” Zelazny’s career, Silverberg observes, had been filled with a series of triumphs, and his death by cancer at the age of 58 had robbed the field of future great work from a master.

Brunner, Silverberg observes, was a tragic figure. And central to the tragedy was the novel The Great Steamboat Race.

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The Roots of Microgaming: The Classic Games of Metagaming

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

Metagaming ad Analog 1978-small

I’ve been writing a lot about board gaming recently. It’s been a big part of my life ever since the late 70s, when I responded to an ad for a line of new “microgames” from a company called Metagaming.

I saw the above ad on the inside cover of Analog magazine, which I started reading with the April 1997 issue, when I was 12 years old. Responding to ads in comics and magazines was something you did in the 70s; don’t look at me like that. Honestly, it was perfectly normal. You mailed a check to some address in Texas, and four weeks later a tiny package arrived in the mail containing X-ray glasses, sea monkeys, or a Polaris Nuclear Submarine. Seriously, the US Postal Service and your mother’s checkbook were all you needed to access all the wonders of the world in the 1970s.

Well, the wonder that attracted my attention in the Fall of 1978 was an advertisement for SCIENCE FICTION GAMES from a company called Metagaming (click on the image above, from the inside cover of the October 1978 Analog, for a high-res version). I’d already taken my first steps into the hobby games market with the classic wargames of Avalon Hill, including Panzer Leader and Starship Troopers. But they were massive, requiring half an hour or more of set-up, and four to six hours to play. These mini-games looked portable and promised to be “fast-playing and inexpensive… a classic wargame that you can put in your pocket and play over lunch.”

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Bringing Neglected Classics Back Into Print: The Horror Catalog of Valancourt Books

Thursday, November 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Cormorant Stephen Gregory-small The Monster Club R. Chetwynd-Hayes-small The Killer and the Slain Hugh Walpole-small The Smell of Evil-small

One of the many delights of the World Fantasy Convention, as I reported last week, is meeting the small publishers doing marvelous work in the industry. Seeing their catalogs of books spread out before you on a table in the Dealers Room can be quite a revelation. That was certainly the case with Valancourt Books.

As they proclaim proudly on their website, Valancourt Books is an independent small press specializing in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print fiction. They have five major lines: Gothic, Romantic, & Victorian; Literary Fiction; Horror & Supernatural; Gay Interest; and E-Classics. For World Fantasy, they crammed their table with titles from their Horror & Supernatural line. And I do mean crammed: their small table was piled high with dozens of beautifully designed trade paperbacks reprinting long-out-of-print horror paperbacks, chiefly from the 70s and 80s.

All it took was one glance to see that Valancourt Books has two significant strengths. First, their editorial team has excellent taste. They have reprinted work by Stephen Gregory, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Hugh Walpole, Charles Birkin, Jack Cady, Basil Copper, Russell Thorndike, John Blackburn, Michael McDowell, Bram Stoker, and many, many others. And second, their design team is absolutely top-notch. Their books are gorgeous, with beautiful cover art and striking visual design. I’ve selected eight to highlight in this article, just to give you a taste of what they have to offer, and replicate (in a small way) what it was like to stand in front of their table gazing appreciatively at their assembled treasures.

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Give a Warm Welcome to Saga Press, Launching This Spring

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grace of Kings Persona City of Savages The Darkside War

There are a lot of books vying for your attention at the World Fantasy Convention. Publishers put free books in your convention bag, publicists place colorful flyers on the giveaway table, and hopeful authors hand out bookmarks and cards by the dozens. I always leave the con with my head brimming with promising new books, authors, and publishers.

Of course, I forget most of them within a day or two. Well, maybe it’s for the best. I couldn’t possibly read them all anyway.

It’s the ones that linger in my mind a couple weeks after the con that truly deserve my attention. Sort of a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest contest, taking place in the dusty corners of my brain. Good to know those brain cells are doing something, I suppose.

It’s been over two weeks since the 2014 World Fantasy Convention now, and I’m already having trouble remembering what city it was in. (Some brains are more skilled at forgetting than others. My brain is an expert.) But a handful of books I glimpsed at the con have managed to stay with me, and a surprising number of them are from the brand new publisher, Saga Press. In fact, I’d venture to say that Saga had perhaps the most impressive slate of upcoming titles I saw at the con — and that’s saying something.

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