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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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in September

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

I’m honestly not sure where September went. It was just here a second ago, and then…. bam. It slipped out the back like a grounded teenager with the car keys.

Well, September may have been brief, but it was action packed. We published 108 blog entries, celebrating neglected fantasy of all kinds — old, new, and in between. We explained why humorous fantasy isn’t popular, examined the iconic beauty of Princess Leia, revealed the lost Sherlock Holmes story, and highlighted a great many new releases and vintage paperbacks. I’m still catching up on all the great stuff we covered, and it’s halfway through October already.

Our most popular article last month was Scott Taylor’s list of the Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings of All Time, a nostalgic look at the finest artwork from the Golden Age of roleplaying. If you played RPGs at all last century, Scott’s piece will bring back some great memories.

Second on the list was Part I of Patty Templeton’s Self-Publishing Checklist, an item-by-item catalog of the essential steps to getting your self-published novel into the hands of readers. Patty’s own book, There is no Lovely End, exploded onto the scene in July and has already become one of the hottest self-published horror titles of the year.

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The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in September

Sunday, October 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Black Fire Concerto-smallThe top fiction posts at Black Gate last month both come from writers who recently released popular new books.

Mike Allen returns to the top of our charts with the exclusive excerpt from his first novel, the dark fantasy The Black Fire Concerto. Not too surprising, given that Mike has received a lot of attention recently, chiefly as a result of his breakout collection, Unseaming, released on October 1st from Antimatter Press. Check it out here.

Knocked out of the top slot last month was “The Find,” Part II of The Tales of Gemen by Mark Rigney. “The Trade” and “The Keystone,” Parts I and III respectively, also made the list. Check out Mark’s first novel, the popular Check-Out Time, released on October 7 from Samhain Publishing.

The #3 and #4 fiction posts in September were from a couple who have become very acquainted with the top of our fiction charts: Janet Morris and Chris Morris. They claimed the #3 slot with an excerpt from their heroic fantasy novel, The Sacred Band, and #4 with “Seven Against Hell,” an exclusive sample from their new anthology, Poets in Hell.

Rounding out the Top Five was Joe Bonadonna’s exciting sword & sorcery tale featuring his popular hero Dorgo the Dowser, “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum.”

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Volkswagen Ad Reunites William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

You’ve probably heard the recent reports about William Shatner’s possible return in the upcoming Star Trek 3, where he and Leonard Nimoy would appear together as Kirk and Spock one more time.

Pretty exciting stuff for an old-time Star Trek fan like me. Although the big event has just been scooped by a German Volkswagen ad released this week, which features both Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner (not to mention the Star Trek theme music, which probably wasn’t cheap to license for a car ad) in a charming 45-second spot. Yes, the ad is in German, but you’ll have no trouble following the dialog (Hint: The German phrase for “Captain Kirk” is “Captain Kirk.”)

The complete spot is below. Enjoy.

Take to the Skies in Iron Battleships in Catalyst Game Labs’ Leviathans

Sunday, October 5th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Leviathans Box Set

I’ve had my eye on Catalyst Game Labs’ steampunk miniatures game Leviathans since it was released in 2012.

Leviathans simulates epic battles in the sky between iron juggernauts in an alternate history/steampunk 1910. The huge, nine-pound game box includes eight high-quality plastic ship miniatures for the British and French fleets, a bunch of ship cards, two massive 18″ x 22″ board-game maps, and instructions on how to use the dice and cards within to simulate the thunderous clash of nations in the clouds. Ten minutes after I opened my copy, I was joyfully maneuvering  my king leviathan battleship over London and, in my best pseudo-French accent, ordering my loyal gendarmes to smash the limey light cruisers and destroyers out of the sky.

Not that it did any good. I still haven’t read the combat rules yet. But lordy, it felt great.

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The End of an Era: The Death of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Friday, October 3rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-manI’ve watched cartoons most of my life. It started with Spider-Man, Underdog and Star Trek: The Animated Series in the 1970s. In the 90s, it was Ren and Stimpy, Pinky and the Brain, and the brilliant The Tick. When my kids came along, we’d watch Gargoyles, Samurai Jack, Static Shock, and especially the great Batman Beyond together. For most of my first four decades, Saturday mornings meant curling up on the couch to share the adventures of my favorite funny animals and cartoon superheroes.

Over the last ten years, more stations have abandoned Saturday morning animated programming. Now The Washington Post is reporting that the CW, the last broadcast station with a full slate of animated shows on Saturday morning, has just done away with them.

This past Saturday, the CW became the last broadcast television network to cut Saturday morning cartoons. The CW is replacing its Saturday cartoon programming, called “The Vortexx,” with “One Magnificent Morning,” a five-hour bloc of non-animated TV geared towards teens and their families.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Saturday morning time slots were synonymous with cartoons. Broadcast networks and advertisers battled for underage viewers. But that started to change in the 1990s. In 1992, NBC was the first broadcast network to swap Saturday morning cartoons for teen comedies such as “Saved by the Bell” and a weekend edition of the “Today” show. Soon, CBS and ABC followed suit. In 2008, Fox finally replaced Saturday morning cartoons with infomercials.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a Saturday morning cartoon viewership could grab more than 20 million viewers. In 2003, some top performers got a mere 2 million, according to Animation World Network.

Read the bad news here (and for Slash Film’s take, read Peter Sciretta’s article Saturday Morning Cartoons Are Officially Dead.)

Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition Available for Pre-Order

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

I have a deep fondness for old school computer games — especially classic RPGs like Wizardry, Pool of Radiance, Wasteland, Starflight, and Baldur’s Gate. Those games helped get me through my teen years (and most of grad school, now that I think about it). So when Beamdog announced an Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate in November 2012, I was thrilled.

Beamdog was founded by two ex-employees of Bioware, the company that created some of the finest computer RPGs ever made, including Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect. Co-founder Trent Oster and lead programmer Cameron Tofer formed Beamdog in July 2010 with the vision of bringing old school RPGs to modern platforms, and spent two years lovingly crafting a complete re-write of Baldur’s Gate — originally released only for Windows 95/98 — for modern versions of Windows, iPad , OS X, and Android. Their version eventually included over 400 enhancements, like new high-res cinematics, UI improvements, enhanced multiplayer, bug fixes and higher level caps, and over six hours of bonus quests & new adventures. It was, in short, the ultimate edition of Baldur’s Gate.

As excited as I was to see the Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition — and its sequel, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition, released in 2013 — I was even more delighted to learn that Beamdog’s next project was Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. Icewind Dale was my favorite of the Dungeons & Dragons Infinity Engine line of games (which included Baldur’s Gate I and II, Planescape: Torment, and several others), and I have very fond memories of playing it with my children over a dozen years ago.

Now Beamdog has made Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition available for pre-order on their website for just $19.99, in a package that also includes both of the expansion packs: Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster. Check out the trailer for the enhanced edition above.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in August

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Guardians of the Galaxy poster-smallAh, August. We miss you already. The nights were warmer, the kids hadn’t started school, and Alice still hadn’t discovered those new paperback collections I tried to hide in the garage. It was a simpler time, a happier time. A time when I didn’t have to sleep on the couch.

Black Gate bloggers were busy in August, too. We posted 105 new articles last month, and our faithful servers in the back room worked overtime delivering 1.28 million pages views… a new record. That’s a page every two seconds, 24 hours a day. Don’t you people ever sleep?

The most popular article last month was Nick Ozment’s review of the blockbuster film The Guardians of the Galaxy. No surprise — it’s well on its way to becoming the biggest film of the year. It’s a terrific science fantasy that could well become this generation’s Star Wars.

Second on the list was Robert J Howe’s reminiscence of his time in various writer’s groups, Writer’s Workshops: Under the Black Flag. Third was Lou Anders’ article on his breakout middle grade fantasy Thrones & Bones: Why I Write What I Write How I Write it.

Fourth on the list was Matthew David Surridge’s report from the fabulous Montreal film festival, My Fantasia Festival, Day 10: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai and Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. Rounding out the Top Five was Connor Gormley’s feature review of Karl Edward Wagner’s sword & sorcery classic Dark Crusade.

For this month, I tried something a little different by also including the top Categories. The biggest surprise was that one of the top items on the list (at #4, higher than any of the categories except New Treasures and Books) was the RSS feed for our Tuesday blogger James Maliszewski. Way to bring in the crowds, James!

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