Get a Dozen E-books for Just $1.99 Each from Harper Voyager

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Ghosts By Gaslight-smallHarper Voyager has announced a special Halloween sale: a dozen urban fantasy, science fiction, and horror ebooks are on sale for $1.99 or less.

Titles on the list include novels from Vicki Pettersson, Nick Cole’s Soda Pop Soldier, The Stolen by Bishop O’Connell, Katherine Harbor’s Thorn Jack, Jack Heckel’s Once Upon a Rhyme, and additional suitable Halloween fare.

Also included is the excellent anthology Ghosts By Gaslight: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, containing seventeen all-new stories from Peter Beagle, James Morrow, Sean Williams, Gene Wolfe, Garth Nix, Jeffery Ford, Robert Silverberg, and others. This one’s well worth your attention, and at $1.99 you can’t go wrong.

The sale is for a limited time only — presumably until at least Halloween – so be sure to move quickly.

See the complete list of available titles here.


Robert Silverberg on Cannon Propulsion in Space

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Original Science Fiction Stories February 1959-smallIn my Sunday article on The Art of The Original Science Fiction Stories magazine, I called out the bizarrely goofy February 1959 cover (right), illustrating “Delivery Guaranteed” by Calvin M. Knox (Robert Silverberg). It’s the kind of gonzo image that only could have fit on a 1950s science fiction digest; but I was dying to know if Bob’s story actually had an intrepid couple piloting a cannon-powered wooden raft in space, and how the cover came about. Bob was gracious enough to answer; here’s what he said:

I often worked with Ed Emsh to produce cover/cover story combos for [editor Robert] Lowndes. Ed would come into the office with an idea, I would wrap a plot around it, Ed would go home and paint a picture, and I would write the story. It was Ed who thought a cannon might be sufficiently Newtonian to provide reaction mass in space; I agreed in delight, and that was how “Delivery Guaranteed” happened. (Randall Garrett sometimes wrote cover stories too, and one time Ed turned in a painting showing the drive room of a spaceship, with his signature, EMSH, on the base of the biggest gizmo. Randy promptly dubbed the gizmo “the Remshaw Drive” and made it clear that the four visible letters were part of the manufacturer’s label.)

I also asked about the cover of the November 1955 issue, illustrating Clifford D. Simak’s “Full Cycle,” which was re-used on the March 1959 issue of Double-Action Detective and Mystery Stories. (See the full article for details.)

In the case of the Simak/Silverberg story, Bob Lowndes was just being thrifty toward the end of the life of his magazine group, and recycled that Simak painting to use with my story in his crime mag a couple of years later.

Read the complete article here. And thanks to Robert Silverberg for being gracious enough to solve those mysteries for us!


Loot The Tomb of Horrors in Style in Conquest of Nerath

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Conquest of Nerath-smallWhen I lived in the dorms at the University of Illinois in the early 90s, it wasn’t unusual to see students clustered around tables in the lobby, playing Axis & Allies. The game took up an entire table and there were always a few spectators. Axis & Allies was a massive game, with a truly epic feel, and in the decades since its release, it has seen many versions — 19 last time I counted.

I’ve often wondered why there was no fantasy equivalent to Axis & Allies: a fast-playing game on a massive scale, pitting nations against each other across an imposing map. Sure, there have been a few ambitious attempts from small companies, but most fell down on the production side of things. Axis and Allies wasn’t just huge in scope — the whole game was huge, with hundreds of sturdy components, a beautifully detailed 40-inch folding map, and simple yet elegant rules. Even the box was humongous.

In 2011, Wizards of the Coast released Conquest of Nerath, a Dungeons & Dragons board game that pits four nations against each other in a desperate struggle for total supremacy. I probably would have overlooked it, if it hadn’t been for this rave review by Scott Taylor in July of that year:

In all my years of gaming, and all the games I’ve played, I’d yet to find something in the same realm of awesome as [Axis & Allies] until I sat down to play Conquest. Simply put, this game is an instant classic, a pure gamers paradise that mixes the very best of thirty years of game development into a single cohesive unit. What A&A was as a Risk upgrade, so too is Conquest to everything before it.

I was very excited by Scott’s review, and promised myself I’d buy a copy as soon I could. I finally acted on that promise earlier this month and, after spending some time with the game, I’m very pleased to be able to say that Scott was not off in his assessment.

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Backing my First Kickstarter: Scott Taylor’s The Folio

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Scott Taylor The Folio-smallOkay, technically Scott Taylor’s The Folio isn’t the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve ever backed. I think that was probably Grim Dawn, the computer RPG from the creators of Titan’s Quest. Plus the Veronica Mars movie. But I only did those because my kids begged me.

So, yeah, I think Scott’s The Folio may be the first campaign I’ve backed on my own. It hasn’t been hard to stay away from Kickstarter so far… there’s been plenty of intriguing projects that have tempted me but, between eBay and Amazon, I already have enough high tech platforms draining my finances, thank you very much. As a collector with poor impulse control, it’s been safest just to stay away entirely.

What’s so magical about The Folio that’s undermined years of careful self-control? Well, first, there’s its creator, Scott Taylor. Scott’s been blogging at Black Gate for many years, and he was a contributor to the print magazine before that. Scott is enormously talented, with five published novels to his credit, not to mention the highly acclaimed shared-world anthologies Tales of the Emerald Serpent and A Knight in the Silk Purse, which he published and edited.

I’ve wondered for years what Scott could do if he focused his considerable talents on the gaming industry, but with The Folio, he has surpassed even my high expectations. The Folio is an ongoing adventure module series using 5th Edition mechanics, adapted to multiple genres.

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Alien Quakes, Space Birds, and Door-to-Door Salesmen in Space: The Art of The Original Science Fiction Stories

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Original Science Fiction Stories May 1956-small The Original Science Fiction Stories January 1957-small The Original Science Fiction Stories November 1958-small

I recently bought a small collection of The Original Science Fiction Stories, a 1950s digest magazine that lasted for only 36 issues. I paid $18 for a dozen issues (including shipping), which was more than I usually pay for SF digests — but still a bargain, especially considering the great shape they were in. I was willing to pay a little more because I’ve had a hard time finding copies. Analog, Galaxy, F&SF — they’re all pretty easy to obtain in the same vintage. But Original Science Fiction Stories has done a good job of eluding me.

When they finally arrived, I was immediately struck by the cover art. It was vibrantly colorful and frequently gorgeous. But more than that, it was downright playful. Most SF magazines of the era took themselves very, very seriously, with intrepid, square-jawed explorers and sleek spaceships on their covers. But The Original Science Fiction Stories featured much more prosaic images, frequently showcasing less-than-heroic characters. They featured very ordinary-looking space pioneers reacting to an alien earthquake, a man on a remote planet hiding from a door-to-door salesmen, and a space-suited explorer dealing with an unexpected alien threat — a bird pecking at his air hose (all images above by Emsh).

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Vintage Treasures: The Horror Horn by E. F. Benson

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Horror Horn E.F. Benson-smallIs Bruce Pennington the finest cover artist in publishing history?

Probably. I talked at length about my own interest in his art — and how we licensed two of his paintings as covers for Black Gate – in The Lost Art of Bruce Pennington. Over the years, I’ve collected much of his work and seen a great deal more online and in various art books, but from time to time I’m still surprised to see a previously undiscovered Pennington cover on a hard-to-find book (as I was with the Panther edition of Fritz Leiber’s Night Monsters back in January.)

So you can understand my delight last week when I stumbled upon The Horror Horn on eBay, a 1974 collection by British horror writer E. F. Benson. It had a marvelously macabre cover by Bruce that I’d never laid eyes on before. In fact, I didn’t even know this book existed. The bidding stood at 5 bucks, with less than two days to go.

Well, you know how reluctant I am to pay more than $8 – $10 for a paperback. It’s rare indeed that the patient collector has to pay more than that for anything. But this was an exception, and I submitted my bid for $14 and sat back to see what happened.

In the meantime, I did a little homework on E. F. Benson. We’ve never really mentioned Benson here before (although he’s popped up in horror collections from time to time, including Otto Penzler’s magnificent The Vampire Archives and Henry Mazzeo’s Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural), and that’s probably an oversight.

Benson, who died in 1940, was an English novelist and short story writer, with 68 novels to his credit and 10 collections published in his lifetime. He was a frequent Weird Tales contributor and he also appeared regularly in British publications like Hutchinson’s Magazine and The Illustrated London News.

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See the Teaser Trailer for Avengers 2 (or, Why Can’t I have Hulkbuster Armor?)

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Avengers 67 Ultron-smallAll work at the rooftop headquarters of Black Gate came to a standstill this afternoon, due to the surprise release of the first teaser trailer for Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron.

Now, this doesn’t happen for just any trailer. (At least, not those that aren’t Star Trek-related). However, we are big fans of the Avengers, both their comic incarnation and the Joss Whedon movie.

Also, we’re fans of Ultron.

Ultron usually gets a bad rap. Did you know he was the first person (erm, machine), to speak on the cover of The Avengers? True story. Before that, everyone on the cover — superheroes and villains alike — stood brooding in heroic poses, afraid to say anything. Ultron finally opened his mouth on the cover of Avengers 67 (saying “Die, Avengers, Die!”, y’know, as he usually does), and after that, you couldn’t get people to shut up on the cover of The Avengers.

Did you know Ultron was built by Henry Pym, also known as Ant Man? Okay, everybody knows that. How are they going to ret-con that into the movie continuity, given that the Paul Rudd Ant Man movie doesn’t come out until July 2015, two months after The Avengers 2? No one knows. I’ve looked for any trace of Rudd or Henry Pym in the IMDB cast list, but no dice.

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Join the Struggle Against the Minions of Cthulhu in 17th Century England in Clockwork and Cthulhu

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

clockwork-cthulhu-smallTwo years ago, I wrote a brief New Treasures post about Clockwork and Cthulhu, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired supplement for the 17th century alternate history fantasy setting Clockwork & Chivalry. A role playing game where giant clockwork war machines lumber across the land, witches whisper of the old gods and terrorize entire villages, and the Great Old Ones seek entry into our world while their corrupted servants covertly follow their eldritch agendas, was simply too much to resist.

I was enormously impressed with Cakebread and Walton’s creative backdrop for their game, an alternate 17th Century England where Royalists, led by Prince Rupert, attempt to restore an absolute monarch to the throne, and Parliamentarians, led by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, defy the kingship and support the rights of parliament. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there actually was an English Civil War from 1642–1651. Apparently, history is not my strong suit.

A few weeks after the first article appeared, co-author Peter Cakebread graciously accepted my invitation and wrote a fascinating follow-up piece for us, “The English Civil War with Clockwork War Machines: an Introduction to Clockwork & Chivalry,” in which he filled in the details on his fascinating setting:

Clockwork & Chivalry is a RPG set in the time of the English Civil War. The English Civil War was fought between the Royalists (the Cavaliers) and Parliament (the Roundheads). We haven’t veered away from most of the real history, it’s simply too interesting, but we have added a couple of rather big twists – in our setting the Royalists use magick, and the Parliamentarians have giant clockwork war machines.

Who says role playing can’t be educational? Over the last few years, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment (and rewarding history lessons) out of Clockwork and Cthulhu, and in that time Cakebread and Walton have continued to produce top-notch supplements and games. Here’s a quick look at some of their related products.

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Devon Monk’s House Immortal is Based on her Black Gate Short Story “Stitchery”

Friday, October 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

House Immortal Devon Monk-smallLast month, I reported on Devon Monk’s newest novel, House Immortal, the tale of Tilly Case, one of thirteen unfathomably strong creatures stitched together nearly a century ago, who finds herself tangled up in a deadly struggle between powerful Houses for dominion over death itself. One of the things I commented on in my article was the intriguing resemblance between House Immortal and the excellent short story I bought from Devon nearly 15 years ago, “Stitchery.” On her blog this week, Devon confirmed the connection.

[House Immortal] isn’t a “standard” urban fantasy, but more like a science-fiction-y urban fantasy. But even though it’s set in the future a bit, it still (I hope) reads like urban fantasy, with a strong female lead character, some butt kicking, some humor, some trouble that could spell out the end of a world or two, and a host of interesting people and places.

Publisher and Editor John O’Neill at Black Gate noted here, that it reminded him of ”Stitchery” the first short story he bought from me for Black Gate. I’m so happy he noticed! The series is based off of that short story, (albeit loosely) and Matilda, Neds, and Grandma were all first introduced in that short.

Now, the novel went quite a different way than the short story, so I think of the short story as an alternate timeline Matilda may have lived, but not the timeline she is living in the trilogy.

If you want to check it out (“Stitchery” also was chosen for David Hartwell’s Year’s Best Fantasy #2) you can find it in Black Gate #2, or in my short story collection: A Cup of Normal.

I’m very proud to see Devon nurture the terrific story idea she had for “Stitchery” into something far more ambitious. Check out her complete comments on her blog here. House Immortal was published on September 2 by Roc Books. It is 351 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital versions. The cover artist is not credited. The second volume, Infinity Bell, is scheduled to be published on March 3, 2015.


The Fantasy Roots of Fan Fiction

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Conan of the Isles-smallMy fifteen year-old daughter is a voracious reader. I thought I read a lot, but I’m not even in her league. She reads fairy tales, a great deal of YA fantasy, and a smattering of horror. Just a few days ago, she asked me where to find Stephen King in our library. I wonder if that means she’s finally going to stop re-reading The Hunger Games.

But mostly what she reads is fan fiction. I mean, a ton of fan fiction. She reads it online on her Kindle, curled up on her bed. Walking Dead fanfic, Buffy fanfic, Harry Potter fanfic, Fairy Tail fanfic… I know all this because every time she reads something she really likes, she comes bounding downstairs to breathlessly relate the details. Having trouble communicating with your teenage daughter? Here’s a tip: shut the hell up and listen when you’re drying dishes, or trapped with her on a long road trip. I think I can name every character on The Walking Dead, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an episode.

Anyway, the point is, my daughter treats fanfic with the same respect and enthusiasm as published fiction. It’s fully legitimate to her. There’s also a certain sense of ownership — her friends read fan fiction, but she doesn’t know any adult who does, so there’s a generational divide. Fanfic belongs to her generation, the way Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars belonged to mine. Part of her love for fan fiction stems from the fact that her generation is the first to really discover it.

Except it’s not, of course. Not really. Yes, the explosive growth in the fan fiction community is relatively new, but the phenomenon is not. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and it all stems from a comment Fletcher Vredenburgh made in his review of Lin Carter’s Kellory the Warlock:

Most of his fiction, rarely more than pastiches of his favorite authors (Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft, and Dent), never garnered enough attention to be republished…  Most of the time, he was trying to create fun, quick reads that were recreations of his favorite writers. In a way, he was writing fan fiction; it’s just that he got his published.

I think this is fairly astute. I think Lin Carter might be more appreciated today if he were reassessed for what he truly was: an imaginative and extremely prolific fanfic writer. The same is true of many other writers, in fact, who are long out of print and in danger of being forgotten, including L. Sprague de Camp, Andrew J. Offutt, August Derleth, and even folks like Karl Edward Wagner.

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