Expanding Our Magazine Coverage at Black Gate

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

New Realm magazine February 2015-smallI’ve slowly been expanding our coverage of fantasy magazines here at Black Gate. Despite how dramatically the industry has changed over the decades since I started reading it, I still consider magazines the heart of the field. Our coverage is not nearly as comprehensive as I’d like it to be, but we’re getting there. I thought I’d pause for a moment and take stock of those publications we currently cover, and see if there are any obvious holes. They are:

Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by C.C. Finlay
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, edited by Adrian Simmons, David Farney, William Ledbetter and James Frederick William Rowe
Nightmare, edited by John Joseph Adams
Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace
The Dark, edited by Jack Fisher and Sean Wallace
Uncanny, edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, and Michi Trota
Weirdbook, edited by Douglas Draa‎
Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
Black Static, edited by Andy Cox
Weird Tales, edited by Marvin Kaye
Swords and Sorcery Magazine, edited by Curtis Ellett
Shimer, edited by E. Catherine Tobler
Fantasy Scroll, edited by Iulian Ionescu, Frederick Doot, and Alexandra Zamorski
Gygax, edited by Jayson Elliot
Weird Fiction Review, edited by S.T. Joshi

Whew. That’s more than I thought.

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TSI Kickstarter is Rebooting the SSI Gold Box Series

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pool of Radiance SSI Gold Box-smallIt’s tough for me to look back and pick just one favorite computer game. Sword of Aragon, Dragon Wars, Wizardry, Starflight, Starcraft, Diablo… there were so many classic games that offered marvelous interactive adventures in the early days of home computing.

But more and more as the years go by, I find myself calling out SSI’s Pool of Radiance, and the groundbreaking Gold Box series of Dungeons and Dragons games it spawned, as the best computer games I’ve ever played.

The Gold Box series was built on Wizard’s Crown, a top-down tactical RPG designed by Paul Murray and Keith Brors and released by SSI in 1985. Keith Brors became the lead designer for Pool of Radiance, which was published in 1988. Pool of Radiance was one of the top-selling computer games of all time, and over the next 10 years more than two million Gold Box titles were sold. All told there were nearly a dozen Gold Box games released, and SSI spun off other RPGs using the same engine, including the Buck Rogers and Spelljammer games.

SSI was eventually sold to Mindscape, and the era of the Gold Box games came to and end. But now a handful of SSI veterans, including Paul Murray and producer David Shelley, have formed a new company, Tactical Simulations Interactive (TSI), to produce brand new titles in the spirit of the Gold Box games. Their first release, Seven Dragon Saga, is being funded on Kickstarter.

Players of Seven Dragon Saga will control of six characters, the Touched, commanded by the Emperor to reclaim the wild Drakelands, which they must explore, tame and conquer, and eventually bring back into the Empire. Game development is already well advanced, and the demos included in the Kickstarter video look very promising indeed — and nicely reminiscent of both the Gold Box games, and later D&D classics like Baldur’s Gate.

The Kickstarter has a goal of $450,000, and in just two days has already raised over $66,000. It runs until April 13. See more details, or pledge your support, here.


Robert Silverberg on the First Year of Galaxy Science Fiction

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

The First Issue of Galazy Magazine-smallGalaxy magazine was founded in 1950; its legendary first editor was H.L. Gold. At the time Astounding Science Fiction, under John W. Campbell, was the leading SF magazine, publishing such writers as Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Clifford D. Simak, and H. Beam Piper. Within a single year, Gold wrestled the mantle of leadership away from Campbell, making Galaxy the top magazine in the industry. In his first two years Gold published some of the most memorable SF of the century, including Ray Bradbury’s “The Fireman” (later expanded as Fahrenheit 451), Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, and Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man.

Author Robert Silverberg (who credits the first issue of Galaxy with saving him from becoming a smoker) offers his own comments on the effect Galaxy had on the field, saying:

It is impossible to overestimate the impact that Galaxy had on us in its first twelve or fifteen issues. There had never been such a succession of brilliant stories in an s-f magazine, not even in the Campbell Astounding of 1941, which had plenty of future classics but also a high percentage of pulp filler.

That first year of Galaxy left us all gasping, and I still look at those early issues with reverence and awe. It was as if Campbell’s whole stable had been holding in its best work, which Gold now was able to set free. Alas, by 1954 much of the magic was gone, and from 1955 on Galaxy was a good magazine indeed but no longer, well, astounding.

Rich Horton has been reviewing individual issues of Galaxy (and other vintage science fiction digest magazines) for us for the past few years. And Matthew Wuertz has taken on the ambitious project of reading and reviewing the Gold issues of Galaxy for Black Gate, starting with issue 1, dated October, 1950. His most recent review was the July 1952 issue, containing stories by John Wyndham and Richard Matheson, and the second installment of Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth’s serial novel The Space Merchants.


Top 50 Black Gate Posts in February

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

TSR's Known World

TSR’s Known World

Last month we had a look at the Top 80 Black Gate Posts of 2014, our most popular articles for all of last year.

The most popular blog posts from February include several that are guaranteed to make the Top 80 Black Gate Posts of 2015, as they garnered enough traffic last month alone to rival those near the top of our 2014 list. At the top of the heap was “The Known World D&D Setting: A Secret History,” Lawrence Schick’s fascinating reminiscence of the early fantasy world he created with Tom Moldvay that became the basis for TSR’s famed Known World campaign setting.

Second on the February list was Howard Andrew Jones’ report on the Star Trek Continues Kickstarter, “Star Trek Kickstarter Warps Ahead,” which more than doubled its $100,000 goal and secured enough funding to make two more episodes of this excellent fan-made series.

Third on the list was M Harold Page’s advice for aspiring novelists, “Writing: Why You Shouldn’t Tinker With the Beginning Until You’ve Written to the End.”

The distinguished Mr. Page had a good month, also claiming the fourth spot with “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Edmond Hamilton: Who did Douglas Adams Really Read?” And rounding out the Top Five for February was Marie Bilodeau, with her look back at classic video games like Final Fantasy II and Dragon Warrior, “Seven Lessons I Learned from RPG Games of Yore.”

The complete list of Top Articles for February follows. Below that , I’ve also broken out the most popular blog categories for the month.

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Weirdbook Relaunches

Friday, March 6th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Weirdbook 22-smallW. Paul Ganley’s Weirdbook, one of the all-time great weird fiction magazines, will be relaunched this year by David A. Riley and Black Gate blogger Douglas Draa‎.

Weirdbook, a large-sized magazine with excellent production values, produced thirty annual issues between 1968 and 1997, publishing fiction by Stephen King, Joseph Payne Brennan, H. Warner Munn, Robert E. Howard, Tim Powers, Darrell Schweitzer, Basil Wells, Charles R. Saunders, Michael Bishop, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Ramsey Campbell, Delia Sherman, and countless others. The magazine was also famous for its gorgeous interior artwork by Gene Day, Victoria Poyser, J. K. Potter, Allen Koszowski, Stephen E. Fabian, and many others.

Douglas Draa, a prolific blogger and the former Online Editor for Weird Tales, is the Managing Editor and Fiction editor; Riley has signed on as Senior Editor and Publisher. When I asked Doug for additional details he shared this with us:

We’ll closely, but not slavishly, follow the original format. Content wise we hope to have a strong mix of weird, horror, weird-sf, dark fantasy, swords & sorcery, and everything in between. The accent will be on strong story telling that the reader will enjoy. The eclectic mix of style and sub-genres that the original was famous will be our “leitfaden.” Paul is on board as Editor Emeritus with “kill-switch” powers to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Our goal is to bring the reader high quality genre fiction original in the Weirdbook tradition. The key word will be entertainment. Critics be damned.

On a personal note, W. Paul Ganley and Weirdbook were a big influence on me, and a major inspiration for Black Gate. I was consciously following in Paul’s footsteps when I launched BG 15 years ago, and I’m very excited to see his magazine return. For more details, see Doug’s announcement here, and the magazines’s new website here.


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.


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