Leah Schnelbach Ranks the Fantasy Films of the 1980s

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Krull poster-smallOver at Tor.com, Leah Schnelbach is having entirely too much fun ranking the major fantasy films of the 1980s. Here she is on Krull, which she ranks an abysmal 17 (out of 18):

What this movie’s actually about is the Glaive, but it only gets like ten minutes of screentime. This film was developed as a starring vehicle for the Glaive, the five-bladed boomerang-like weapon wielded by the hero. Unfortunately, the Glaive’s career never really took off: After one too many brawls at the Viper Room, and one two many sunrises spent waking up on the lawns of strangers, the weapon checked itself into a much-needed stint at Hazelden. Deciding that the Hollywood lifestyle just wasn’t enough to fill the void in its soul, the Glaive finally retired to Oregon, where it raises alpacas, and is said to be very happy.

I’m pretty sure her article is a lot more fun than watching Krull all over again.

If there was a decade of fantasy film tailor-made for impassioned fan debate, it’s the 80s. It’s ten years of classics, and stinkers, and classic stinkers, like The Beastmaster, Dragonslayer, Highlander, and many more. Schnelbach is hilarious, and even Excalibur doesn’t escape her snarky commentary (“Have you heard of an actor from Ireland or England? Yeah, he’s in this movie.”)

The article isn’t perfect (um, where’s the timeless S&S classic The Sword & the Sorcerer?) But she does give real movie fans the true gift of being dead wrong on several occasions (Master of the Universe is better than HighlanderWillow and Clash of the Titans both rank above Excalibur??), and we all know movie fans cherish nothing as much as a good debate.

Read the complete article at Tor.com, and leave your impassioned defense of Labyrinth or the original version of Conan the Barbarian in the comments.


Leonard Nimoy, March 26, 1931 — February 27, 2015

Friday, February 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Leonard Nimoy Dead-smallLeonard Nimoy, the gifted actor who breathed life into the emotionless Vulcan Spock — and in the process created one of the most famous and enduring TV characters of all time — died today in Bel Air, California.

Nimoy was born in Boston in 1931. His first major role was at the age of 21, when he was cast in the title role of the film Kid Monk Baroni (1952), followed by more than 50 small parts in TV shows and B movies, including an Army sergeant in Them! (1954) and a professor in The Brain Eaters (1958). He was a familiar face in westerns throughout the early sixties, appearing in Bonanza (1960), The Rebel (1960), Two Faces West (1961), Rawhide (1961), Gunsmoke (1962), and on NBC’s Wagon Train four times. He starred alongside DeForest Kelley (the future Dr. McKoy) in The Virginian (1963), and with William Shatner in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1964).

Nimoy was the only actor to appear in every episode of the original Star Trek series, which ran from 1966-69. He received three Emmy Award nominations for playing Spock, and TV Guide named him one of the 50 greatest TV characters in 2009. The role both haunted him and enriched for the rest of his life — which he famously addressed in two autobiographies, I Am Not Spock (1975) and I Am Spock (1995). After Star Trek ended Nimoy found regular work on the small screen in Mission: Impossible for two seasons, the TV documentary In Search of… , and more recently in Fringe. He also appeared in eight feature-length Star Trek films, including the recent reboots directed by J.J. Abrams. He directed two, Star Trek III: Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Star Trek was one of the first science fiction shows to be taken seriously as adult entertainment, and Leonard Nimoy was a huge part of that success. In his near-perfect portrayal of a hero in flawless control of his emotions, Nimoy connected with his audience — and an entire generation of young SF fans — in a way that very few actors, living or dead, have succeeded in doing. Leonard Nimoy died today of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, at the age of 83.


Short Fiction Reviews: “Tuesdays,” by Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2015)

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Asimov's Science Fiction March 2015-smallFor today’s column I’m covering for our regular Tuesday short fiction reviewer, Fletcher Vredenburgh, who’s goofing off this week. Which is a nice excuse for me to blow off other stuff I’m supposed to be doing, and settle back in my big green chair with the latest issues of my favorite magazines.

I started with the March issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction (which used to be called Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, back when the pace of life was slower and people had time to read a title that long.) Partly because it’s been far too long since I’ve read an issue, but mostly because I love Paul Youll’s delightful cover, with a strangely sinister UFO hovering outside a diner. I opened the magazine hoping that it’s illustrating the featured story, Suzanne Palmer’s “Tuesdays,” because I think I’d enjoy a good UFO story, and also because I want to know what that mischievous-looking blonde on the cover is up to.

The Table of Contents lists “Tuesdays” as starting on page 13. I flip to page 13. It’s an ad for a crossword magazine. I chuckle a little. Getting the Table of Contents 100% right was always the biggest pain with the print edition of Black Gate, too. I usually did it last, because last-minute changes were constantly messing with story placement.

I flip to page 14. Page 14 opens in mid-sentence. I glance back at page 12. It’s the last page of James Patrick Kelly’s On the Net column. I flip back and forth for a minute, confused, before the truth finally dawns: the first page of “Tuesdays,” the cover story for the issue, is missing.

Now, I haven’t been an editor of a print magazine for almost four years. But that doesn’t dull the sympathetic horror that crawls up my spine. This is every editor’s nightmare (and probably every writer’s horror — but let’s be truthful, writers are terrified of everything). No one understands just how easy it is to make a mistake like this.

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SFWA Announces the 2014 Nebula Award Nominations

Friday, February 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Goblin Emperor-smallWow, it’s almost the end of February. And that means that the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) finally put an end to all that suspense, and announced the nominees for the 2014 Nebula Awards, one of the most prestigious awards our industry has to offer.

Last year there were no less than eight nominees for best novel; this year that number has dropped back to six. Does this mean there will be less infighting and disagreement over who should win?

You’re kidding, right? (In truth, the debate is half the fun — and it generates a lot of interest in a lot of deserving books.)

This year’s nominees are:

Novel

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals)

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James Mishler’s Color Maps of TSR’s Known World

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

TSR Known World James Mishler-small

On Saturday Lawrence Schick posted The “Known World” D&D Setting: A Secret History here at Black Gate, a look behind the scenes at the early version of TSR’s Known World, one of the earliest published settings for Dungeons and Dragons. Yesterday Lawrence pointed me to James Mishler’s blog, Adventures in Gaming V2, where he said Mishler had “taken the maps from our article and transformed them into labeled, full-color wonders.” That’s an example of Mishler’s re-worked maps above (click for legible version). Here’s what Mishler said on his blog, in part:

Lawrence Schick, one of the early designers of Dungeons & Dragons at TSR, has revealed some interesting maps that detail the Original Known World that he and Tom Moldvay used in their Kent, Ohio Dungeons & Dragons campaign. If the “Known World” sounds familiar, it is because it is the world that was used in the 1981 edition of Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons, revealed in the module X1: The Isle of Dread and detailed further in the Expert Set book… He has posted several maps and note sheets with this article on the Black Gate website…

It is not exactly the same world, but instead is obviously the progenitor of the Known World that eventually evolved into Mystara. When Tom Moldvay, David Cook, and the rest of the development team for B/X needed to use a world, they went back and borrowed from Moldvay and Schick’s Original Known World. Many of the names and ideas survived; you can also see much of the TSR Known World geography owes its design to the Original Known World’s eastern half.

So as usual, when I get excited about mapping stuff, especially when it comes to one of my favorite campaign settings, I kind of took the maps presented and ran with them…

James took Moldvay and Schick’s hand-made Known World maps and knit them together with annotations of location names to create the image above. He also created Hexographer versions of the Western and Eastern Known World, and a jumbo map of both stitched together. See the impressive results on his blog.


The Recent Best: The Fantasy Catalog of Prime Books

Sunday, February 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Time Travel Recent Trips-small Magic City Recent Spells-small Aliens Recent Encounters-small

In November of last year I attended the World Fantasy Convention in Washington, D.C. I’d never been to the city, and there was a tremendous amount to do and see — including the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the White House, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial.

All very impressive, even for a Canadian like me. But three months later, the place that’s lingered longest in my mind is the convention Dealer’s Room. It was packed with dozens of tables from the finest publishers in the genre, all showing their latest wares. Since I pay attention to the market every day, I naturally assumed there wouldn’t be a lot of surprises, even in a target-rich environment like that.

I was dead wrong. Walking from table to table, and seeing the dazzling display of novels, anthologies and collections piled in dense stacks before all the smiling vendors, drove home just how marvelously rich and diverse our industry is. Since returning from the convention I’ve tried hard to replicate that experience here, in a series of posts showcasing the catalogs of several of the most impressive publishers. So far I’ve covered Valancourt Books and ChiZine Publications; today we turn our attention to the gorgeous catalog of Prime Books.

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The Top 80 Black Gate Posts of 2014

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Premium 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook-small2014 was a pretty good year for Black Gate. Our readership nearly doubled, and we published a record number of articles. I was going to do an exact count of all the posts we made in 2014 so I’d sound a little more together here, but I lost count after 1,200.

But trust me. It was a lot.

At the end of every month last year, I compiled a brief report itemizing our Top 50 articles for the month (here’s the list for December, for example). Mostly because the lists were fun and popular. But also because I couldn’t believe Scott Taylor’s Art of the Genre pieces kept beating my Vintage Treasures posts, month after month. Seriously, how does that happen?

Anyway, those of us who obsess over traffic stats every month (chiefly me and Scott) noticed a few surprises when we tabulated the results for all of 2014. Several of the overall most popular articles of last year rarely made the Top 20 every month. But they had steady traffic month after month, and those numbers added up. I guess it’s true what they say about slow and steady winning the race. That Aesop guy knew what he was talking about.

Below we’ve tabulated the 80 most popular articles on the Black Gate website for all of 2014 — starting with Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ report on the hit Dungeons and Dragons reprint series, “My Youth Was Delivered Yesterday: AD&D 2nd Edition Re-Released,” originally posted in 2013. It was read 26,380 times last year, making it our most read blog post in 2014, and one of the most popular pieces we’ve ever published.

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The Top Black Gate 50 Posts in December

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Chainmail bikini-smallMarie Bilodeau, our newest blogger, didn’t waste any time making a name for herself. Her first post, “Nine (mostly) Distinct (almost) Positive Traits of Chainmail Bikinis,” shot right to the top of the traffic charts for the month of December, and stayed there. Welcome aboard, Marie! I think you’re going to fit right in.

Sticking with the theme of fashionable armor, Dungeons and Dragons turned out to be a popular topic last month as well — and fantasy gaming in general, from Call of Cthulhu to the new Dragon Age game.

Mark Rigney examined early fantasy miniatures in our #3 post for the month, “AD&D Figurines: Youth In a Box?” And James Maliszewski proved that it’s not just readers who are frequently overwhelmed with choices, with his post “The Coolest RPGs I’ve Never Played,” fifth for the month.

Connor Gormley took a hard look at the overused trappings of much of modern fantasy in his article “Dwarves, Dragons, Wizards and Elves: Thinking About the Standard Fantasy Setting,” which clocked in at #2.

Also on the Top Five was Adrian Simmons, with another look at subtle storytelling of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Frodo Baggins, Lady Galadriel, and the Games of the Mighty,” a follow up to his popular article “Fools in the Hotzone: Saruman as the Bold but Incompetent Firefighter.”

Moving on to the Top Ten, we have M Harold Page’s latest review, “More Hardboiled than The Dresden Files: The Way Into Chaos: Book One of The Great Way by Harry Connolly.” Harry’s been a perennial favorite with our readers since we published his very first story, “The Whoremaster of Pald,” back in issue #2.

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Start Off the New Year With Strange Tales

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange-Tales-Wildside-Pulp-Reprint-smallerSanta was good to me this year. Lots of great paperbacks, some Warhammer 40K audio dramas, two graphic novels… and a copy of Strange Tales #6, cover dated October 1932 (the Wildside reprint edition, of course.)

Nothing like getting a famous pulp magazine for Christmas. This one contains a novella by Victor Rousseau and short stories by Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Hugh B. Cave, Sewell Peaslee Wright, and Henry S. Whitehead, among others. I even know who Henry S. Whitehead is, thanks to my recent post on the Wordsworth edition of Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead (and yes, I felt smug when I spotted him on the TOC). There’s even an essay on True Tales of the Weird by Robert W. Sneddon. The reprint includes all of the interior artwork by Amos Sewell and Rafael Desoto. Here’s the complete table of contents:

“The Hunters from Beyond” by Clark Ashton Smith
“The Curse of Amen-Ra” by Victor Rousseau
“Sea-Tiger” by Henry S. Whitehead
“The Dead Walk Softly” by Sewell Peaslee Wright
“Bal Macabre” by Gustav Meyrink
“Strange Tales and True,” essay by Robert W. Sneddon
“The Infernal Shadow” by Hugh B. Cave
“The Artist of Tao” by Arthur Styron
“In the Lair of the Space Monsters” by Frank Belknap Long
The Cauldron (Letters)

We covered several of Wildside’s pulp reprints in December. Strange Tales #6 is about 148 pages, priced at $14.95. Wildside’s has replicas of issues 4, 6, and 7 for sale as pulp reprints here.


Doc Savage Meets… The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Doc Savage Grinch-small

Kez Wilson has been publishing Doc Savage fantasy covers at his website for years, and they get more and more creative as the months go by. His December entry this year (#252) sees Doc Savage face off against a diabolical agent of Christmas evil. Here’s his Doctor Seuss-inspired back cover copy:

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. Then he got a wonderful idea! An awful idea! THE GRINCH GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA! Word of his plan to steal Christmas did leak, and the holiday began to look rather bleak. Then Cindy Lou Who took matters in her own tiny hands and got word to the one man who could foil those evil plans. Now when Grinchy Claus slips down the chimney with intent to burglarize, he’ll be face to face with a new holiday protector with glistening bronze skin and golden eyes.

Wilson’s pastiche covers are based on the brilliant work of James Bama and Bob Larkin, who illustrated the original Doc Savage paperbacks from Bantam. Check out his marvelous Doc Savage Fantasy Cover Gallery to see the Man of Bronze face off against Buffy, Ming the Merciless, Cthulhu, 007, The Thing, the Terminator, Sharknado, the Hardy Boys, Barbarella, Doctor Who, Kirk and Spock, and many others.


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