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Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook Now on Sale

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook Fifth Edition-smallIn June of 2008, Wizards of the Coast launched the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons with considerable fanfare. While there was a lot of initial interest — and solid early sales — it never truly caught on.

Personally, I enjoyed lot of the supplemental material like the updated Dark Sun setting and the excellent Shadowfell boxed set, but by 2011 I noticed new releases had slowed to a trickle. Eventually, they stopped entirely.

This was bad news for RPG fans. When sales of the world’s most popular role playing game collapse scarcely three years after the launch of a new edition, the entire industry suffers. Was this the end of the most famous game franchise in the adventure game hobby?

Fortunately, it was not. Wizards of the Coast made a major commitment to re-launch D&D, and in January 2012 it announced what was then known as D&D Next. The game had a few names changes over the next two years (it was Fifth Edition for a while, until WotC eventually settled on just Dungeons & Dragons), but for much of that time WotC maintained an open beta on the rules, and kept players involved and informed.

It paid off. The buzz surrounding the game has been building nicely. On Tuesday of this week the first of the three core volumes, the highly anticipated Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, finally shipped (click on the image at left to see it in its high-res glory). And according to io9, it was the number one selling book — of any kind — at Amazon on the day of its release.

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The 2014 Hugo Award Winners

Monday, August 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Ancillary Justice Ann Leckie-smallThe 2013 Hugos were awarded at LonCon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention in London, England.

There’s a lengthy list of winners, so let’s get to it. The complete list follows.

Best Novel

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)

Best Novella

“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)

Best Novelette

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor.com, 09-2013)

Best Short Story

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

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Win a Copy of Patrick Swenson’s The Ultra Thin Man

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Ultra Thin Man-smallPatrick Swenson may be the coolest guy in the genre.

He started doing what all the cool people do, of course: editing a magazine. Patrick founded Talebones in 1995, a small press magazine of SF and dark fantasy, and he produced 39 issues over the next 14 years, discovering writers like Patrick O’Leary, Ken Scholes, Carrie Vaughn, and many others in the process. I called the magazine “a thoroughly impressive piece of work” when I reviewed issue #17 in 1999 for SF Site. Patrick then turned to small press publishing with Fairwood Press, where he’s published over 50 books from folks like James Van Pelt, Mary Rosenblum, Ken Rand, Jay Lake, Michael Bishop, Devon Monk, Alexei Panshin, William F. Nolan, and dozens of others. Most recently he has turned his hand to writing, producing short stories for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine and other outlets.

Last year, Patrick announced that he’d sold his first novel, The Ultra Thin Man, to Tor, cementing his creative conquest of the entire genre. Not content with merely conquering science fiction, Patrick has also sent stories out to other genres, especially noir and detective fiction. Here’s a snippet from his recent interview with Forces of Geek on the inspiration behind The Ultra Thin Man.

It probably goes without saying that Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Thin Man was an influence, as was the 1934 film. Not so much for that particular plot, but the detective story in general. The witty dialogue. The one-liners. The back and forth repartee between the lead and other characters. Besides Hammett, I’d single out some of my favorite mystery writers, all of whom are masterful writing dialogue: Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, John D. Macdonald, and James W. Hall, to name a few.

To celebrate Patrick’s deep contributions to fantasy over the decades — and the fact that one human being can attain this level of coolness — we’re giving away a copy of The Ultra Thin Man, compliments of Tor Books.

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Taking Five Worlds Before Breakfast: The Pleasures of EVE Conquests

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Eve Conquests-smallI have a real weakness for board games, and especially large-scale space strategy games. It’s one thing to punch that Pop-O-Matic bubble and move your little green marker around a Trouble board; it’s something else entirely to stealthily assemble an unstoppable fleet and launch them en masse towards the unsuspecting alien armada in orbit around Sirius. Ah, I get a thrill just thinking about it.

Sometimes a great space game will sneak up on me. It’s not my fault – I can barely keep up with all the fantasy books that show up at Barnes & Noble every week. I’ve totally given up on keeping track of new sci-fi board games.

This one snuck up on me at the Games Plus Spring Auction back in March. I’m sitting there in the front row, minding my own business, when the auctioneer suddenly hefts this big heavy box unto his shoulder, says something like “EVE Conquests, a strategy game set in the world of EVE Online. Opening bid: one dollar,” and starts the bidding.

So I blink a couple of times, and think, what the heck is this thing? I thought EVE Online was an online game? Oooooo, it looks cool, whatever it is. And heavy. Like it’s packed with beautiful starship miniatures and mounted boards and strange artifacts of alien civilizations… I want it. I shall bid on it.

Well, not for long I won’t. Twenty seconds after the bidding started, it moved well out of my price range and remained there for some time. Screw this, I thought. I can find a cheaper copy online. Famous last words.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in June

Monday, July 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dave Truesdale 1997The most popular article on the Black Gate blog last month was “An Open Letter to Dave Truesdale,” which was visited roughly 8,000 times and generated 100+ comments. It’s the first article to beat out New Treasures in overall monthly traffic in nearly a year — which just goes to show you, controversy trumps tradition, every time.

Next was my brief article “Star Trek 3 Confirmed,” which was read over 5,500 times. Glad to see interest in classic Trek remains strong among BG readers!

Third was Elizabeth Eckhart bit of Games of Thrones scholarship, “The HBO Season 4 Finale of Game of Thrones: How Different Was it from George R.R. Martin’s Version?”, read over 4,600 times.

Rounding out the Top Five were M Harold Page’s review of Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan’s Column to Icelandic Sagas, and our report on Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson’s return to comics for the first time in nearly two decades.

The complete Top 50 Black Gate posts in June were:

  1. An Open Letter to Dave Truesdale
  2. Star Trek 3 Confirmed
  3. The HBO Season 4 Finale of Game of Thrones: How Different Was it from George R.R. Martin’s Version?
  4. Review: Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan’s Column to Icelandic Sagas
  5. Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Draws Pearls Before Swine
  6. Read More »


The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in June

Sunday, July 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Oron David C Smith-smallThe most popular piece of fiction on the Black Gate blog last month was David C. Smith’s “The Shadow of Dia-Sust,” the first new Oron story in 30 years, taken from his brand new short story collection The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories.

Second on the list was our excerpt from The Sacred Band, the new novel in the popular Sacred Band of Stepsons series by Janet Morris and Chris Morris.

Third was perennial favorite “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” by Joe Bonadonna, published here nearly three years ago in December 2011 — and in the Top 10 virtually every month since.

Next was Aaron Bradford Starr’s epic novella “The Sealord’s Successor,” the third adventure fantasy featuring Gallery Hunters Gloren Avericci and Yr Neh, the most popular adventuring duo we’ve ever published.

Rounding out the Top Five was ”The Find,” Part II of The Tales of Gemen, by Mark Rigney.

Also making the list were exciting stories by C.S.E. Cooney, E.E. Knight, Dave Gross, Michael Shea, John C. Hocking, Steven H Silver, John R. Fultz, Harry Connolly, Gregory Bierly, Jon Sprunk, David Evan Harris, Judith Berman, Peter Cakebread, and Ryan Harvey.

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 June.

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Geek Tyrant on “10 Great 1950s Sci-Fi Movies You May Never Have Heard Of”

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Flight to Mars 1951-smallWhen I was growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, there was a theater that had a science fiction and monster-movie double feature every Saturday. After we finished our paper route, my brother Mike and I would walk downtown and plunk down our hard-earned money for three and a half hours of monster movie bliss.

The theater was always packed with screaming kids. There Mike and I saw films that are still burned into my brain today — like the terrifying Planet of the Vampires (1965), giant-monster classic Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), and the greatest film of all time, Destroy all Monsters (1968).

Needless to say, I still have a weakness for classic monster movies, and especially the great science fiction films of the 50s and 60s. Also, the not-so-great science fiction films of the 50s and 60s.

You can’t walk downtown with 50 cents and watch a monster-movie double feature these days. Fortunately, you don’t have to — virtually every science fiction film of the 20th Century is available on DVD, Blu-ray, or download, for your home-viewing enjoyment. The real question these days isn’t how to see these great old films, but which ones are worth your time?

The answer, of course, lies on the Internet. There’s a ton of info out there, if you’ve got the energy to look for it (and sort out the relevant stuff). Or you could just rely on us — that’s what we’re here for.

One of the most useful articles I’ve stumbled on recently is Joey Paur’s Geek Tyrant piece ”10 Great 1950s Sci-Fi Movies You May Never Have Heard Of,” which covers many terrific SF films I really enjoyed, such as When Worlds Collide (1951),  and more than a few I’ve never seen, such as Flight to Mars (1951) and 4-D Man (1959). Lots here to keep you entertained in the late hours — check it out here.

Thanks to SF Signal for the tip!


The 2014 World Fantasy Awards Ballot

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Natural History of Dragons A Memoir by Lady Trent-smallThe 2014 World Fantasy Awards Ballot, listing a bunch of books I haven’t read yet, has just been released.

The ballot is compiled by the voting attendees of the World Fantasy Convention, all of whom clearly read a lot more than I do. Seriously, where do you people find the time? Don’t you have blog posts to write, like normal people?

Once again, the coveted Life Achievement Award is being given to two recipients: Ellen Datlow and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I think this is a new trend. Last year, it was awarded to Susan Cooper and Tanith Lee. (I’ve read their books; at least that’s something.)

The winners in every other category will be selected by a panel of judges. Here’s the complete list of nominees, with links to the online stories (where available) and our previous coverage:

Life Achievement

  • Ellen Datlow
  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

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Harry Potter Returns in New Short Story by J.K. Rowling

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Harry Potter 2014-smallEarlier today, J.K. Rowling posted a brand new 1,500-word story featuring Harry Potter at her Pottermore website. Titled “Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup Final” and written as a July 8th Daily Prophet article by gossip correspondent Rita Skeeter, the story highlights the media circus surrounding the reunion of Potter and those who fought beside him to bring down Lord Voldemort, at the 2014 Quidditch World Cup Final in the Patagonian Desert in Argentina. Here’s a snippet:

The Potter family and the rest of Dumbledore’s Army have been given accommodation in the VIP section of the campsite, which is protected by heavy charms and patrolled by Security Warlocks. Their presence has ensured large crowds along the cordoned area, all hoping for a glimpse of their heroes. At 3pm today they got their wish when, to the accompaniment of loud screams, Potter took his young sons James and Albus to visit the players’ compound, where he introduced them to Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum.

About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror’s black hair… The famous lightning scar has company: Potter is sporting a nasty cut over his right cheekbone. Requests for information as to its provenance merely produced the usual response from the Ministry of Magic… So what are they hiding? Is the Chosen One embroiled in fresh mysteries that will one day explode upon us all, plunging us into a new age of terror and mayhem?

While there’s little dialogue in the “news piece,” the story is surprisingly satisfying, briefly featuring Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, most of the Weasley clan, and a handful of others, including Harry’s sixteen-year-old godson, the half-werewolf Teddy Lupin. In her catty tabloid style, Rita Skeeter skillfully highlights major events in the lives of our favorite characters since the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sixteen years ago — there’s even a nice twist at the end.

Read the complete story at Pottermore (free registration required).


Watch The First Full-Length Trailer for The Boxtrolls

Saturday, July 5th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Waahh!! The Boxtrolls movie is ALMOST UPON US.

As I reported when the teaser trailer was released last July, this is sort of a big deal for me personally. The Boxtrolls is based on Alan Snow’s hilarious fantasy Here Be Monsters, the last book I read out loud to my three children. I could tell it was time to give up our night-time reading sessions because they grabbed it from me when I stopped and started reading it on their own.

Here Be Monsters is the opening volume in the YA series The Ratbridge Chronicles – a fantasy series so overlooked that America forgot to publish it — and is being adapted into a feature film by the creators of Coraline and ParaNorman. The second book in the series is Worse Things Happen at Sea, which was finally released in the US just last year. The third volume, Thar She Blows, came out last December.

The Boxtrolls will be released on September 26 by Laika animation studio. It is directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and stars the voice talents of Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Elle Fanning, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Toni Collette, and Jared Harris. Check out the trailer below, and then go get in line now.


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