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.

The Classic Games of Metagaming: Chitin I: The Harvest Wars

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

Chitin Second edition cover-smallWe’re back to reviewing the games that introduced me to fantasy and science fiction gaming. This is the second in a series, following my look at Steve Jackson’s classic Ogre earlier this month.

The second game I purchased from Metagaming (still by mail order, if I remember correctly) was Howard Thompson’s ambitious and imaginative science fiction wargame Chitin I: The Harvest Wars.  I ordered it after seeing the advertisement in Analog magazine in 1978. The brief text of the ad read:

The intelligent insects of the plant Chelan go to war for one reason only. Food. This detailed tactical game pits varying forces of the specially-bred Hymenopteran warrior types against one another. Victory goes to the player who removes the most food – including enemy bodies — from the board.

Now, this was pretty cool. In 1978, science fiction games primarily meant things like SPI’s Outreach, and Avalon Hill’s Stellar Conquest. You got a bunch of starships and space marines, you plopped them down on a stellar map, and tried to blast the hell out of the other guy. Something like Ogre, in which one player took the role of an A.I.-powered supertank, was considered innovative.

Chitin, however, was genuinely different. There were no starships. No space marines. No planets ripe for the plucking.

There weren’t even any humans. Chitin was a true science fiction game — it placed you in an imaginative setting on a far away world, smack dab in the middle of a life-or-death struggle between two alien cultures.

Like all microgames, it shared a couple of appealing aspects with its predecessor Ogre: it could be set up, and played, in a matter of minutes. It was also about one-fifth the price of those big SPI and Avalon Hill games… no small thing when you’re an unemployed teen.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in November

Friday, December 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

John Brunner

John Brunner

Boy, we sure covered a wide range of topics in November.

They included a look at the tragic death of British SF author John Brunner, the triumphant return of one of the fathers of modern Sword & Sorcery, a high-resolution snapshot of a 1942 pulp magazine rack, bulletins from the World Fantasy Convention, and a detailed report from inside the prehistoric painted caves of Somaliland.

And that’s just a sample of the Top Ten most popular articles.

The #1 article of the month was an excerpt from Robert Silverber’s article in the March 1996 issue of Asimov’s SF magazine, on the tragic death of John Brunner, and a look at Brunner’s career following his ill-fated detour into historical fiction.

The second most popular blog post last month was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s review of Charles R. Saunders’s new Sword & Soul novel Abengoni: First Calling. Saunders reshaped sword & sorcery with his first novel Imaro in 1981, and Howard Andrew Jones calls him “one of the greatest sword-and-sorcery writers of the ’70s (and one that by all rights should be a household name).”

The #3 article for the month was a sample from the Shorpy Historic Picture Archive, with a gorgeous high-resolution pic of a 1942 magazine rack crammed with hundreds of pulp magazines, slicks, and comics — all in glorious color.

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Merry Christmas From All of Us at Black Gate

Thursday, December 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Gate Christmas Tree-smallThe Black Gate offices are empty, the lights are off, and the only illumination is from the the tiny tree the interns put on top of the filing cabinets during the Christmas party. Another year gone. Another 780 books discussed, 112 games reviewed, 84 comics examined, and numerous issues of critical importance to the genre fiercely debated. The staff are all at home with their loved ones, sleeping the sleep of the just (and the exhausted), and the office is strangely quiet.

It’s during the few times the office is like this — and not filled with raucous debate, and the never-ending tension of the nearly-blown deadline — that I can really remember what Black Gate is all about. Sometimes, when we’re busiest, it seems that we’re just a website, just another stop on the Internet where people promote their opinions.

But if that were true, Black Gate would still just be Howard Andrew Jones and me, working away in near-total obscurity. Instead, Black Gate has become a thriving and growing collective of writers and artists who care about fantasy. We work together to promote forgotten classics and celebrate overlooked modern writers. And to help each other.

We have some of the finest writers in the industry and they work tirelessly week after week to keep you informed on a genre with hidden depths and constant surprises. It’s been an incredible year and traffic to the site has nearly doubled in just the last 12 months. The real engine of that growth has been you, the fans, who have helped spread the word, telling others about us.

So thank you once again, from the bottom of our hearts. On behalf of the vast and unruly collective that is Black Gate, I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Continue being excellent — it’s what you’re good at.

Celebrate the Holidays with A Cosmic Christmas, edited by Hank Davis

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Cosmic Christmas-smallI admit it — I love Christmas stories. Some of the finest fantasies ever told — including Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life — have been Christmas stories. It’s a great time of year to curl up in my big green chair with a cup of hot chocolate, a cat in my lap, and a Christmas fantasy in hand.

One of the better Christmas anthologies I’ve stumbled on recently is Hank Davis’s 2012 A Cosmic Christmas, which celebrates twelve cosmic days of Christmas with a dozen tales of vampires, robots, A.I’s, alien invasions, and stranger things, from the hills of Appalachia to a high orbit space station. It includes a novella by Catherine Asaro, a Jon & Lobo story by Mark L. Van Name, a John the Balladeer tale from Manly Wade Wellman, a Venus Equilateral story by George O. Smith, a Grimnoir Chronicles novelette by Larry Correia, a Technic History story by Poul Anderson — and a brand new novelette by Sarah A. Hoyt.

Joy to the world… or, joy to the worlds! Let heaven and nature — and also the supernatural — sing. A Cosmic Christmas presents twelve stories of Christmas in very unusual circumstances, ranging from vampires to robots, from the hills of Appalachia to a high orbit space station, all celebrating the holiday in their own, off-beat ways.

New York Times best-selling author Larry Correia sends his popular tough guy detective and magicwielder, Jake Sullivan, on a special case, while visions of tommy guns dance in the heads of the thugs he’s up against. Mark L. Van Name’s Lobo, an A.I. housed in a pocket battle starship, drops his usual cynical pose when challenged by a troubled family at Christmas time. Nebula Award-winner Catherine Asaro tells of a romantic weekend that turns into a mystery in a futuristic high-tech house — all that and Christmas, too. Mercedes Lackey delivers a ghost story with a not-so-friendly visitation from the beyond, and George O. Smith, a star of the Golden Age of science fiction, is on hand with an episode from his classic Venus Equilateral series, in which a Christmas celebration on a gigantic space station is interrupted by the arrival of a ruthless interplanetary criminal, who didn’t drop by to hand out presents. And much more, in a holiday package that any fan of science fiction and fantasy would be delighted to find under their tree, on any planet.

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Embrace the Odd: The Fantasy Catalog of ChiZine Publications

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

They Do the Same Things Different There-small We Will All Go Down Together-small Year's Best Weird Fiction-small

Last month, I attended the World Fantasy Convention in Washington D.C. (my first trip to the city) and had a marvelous time. I attended readings by over a dozen writers, sat in on terrific panels, and reconnected with close friends I haven’t seen in far too long.

But I probably spent the most time in the Dealers Room, where publishers and collectors laid out their wares on closely packed tables. We talk about a lot of new books here at Black Gate, and I’m proud of our coverage of the industry, but let me tell you — there’s nothing like wandering past stacks of newly-published fantasy titles from dozens of publishers to make you realize how woefully you’ve underrepresented the cavalcade of new books that have arrived in just the last few months.

I vowed that when I returned to our rooftop headquarters here in Chicago, I’d showcase those publishers that most impressed me — and not just with a book or two, but by trying to show you what it was like to stand in front of their tables in that room, with the full range of their current books on display. I’ve done that once already, with Valancourt Books; today I’d like to focus on one of the most innovative small press publishers in the field, the brilliant ChiZine Publications.

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Keep Your Blaster Close: The Many Horrors of Outbreak: Deep Space

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Outbreak Deep Space-smallBeing at the Games Plus Fall Auction can be an exhilarating experience. Take my discovery of Outbreak: Deep Space, just as an example.

There I am, sitting in the second row of the auction on October 4th, ninety minutes into the auction, wondering if I’ve blown my budget already. I’ve just made the decision to add up my purchases when the auctioneer holds up a brand new copy of Outbreak: Deep Space and starts the bidding at $5.

What the heck is that?, I think. And then, I have no idea, but it looks fantastic.

I immediately hold up my bidding card. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one to be intrigued by this strange gaming artifact. About a dozen bidders have their cards in the air, and the auctioneer quickly runs the price up to ten bucks. This is how you get in trouble, I remind myself. Bidding like mad on a book when you have absolutely no idea what it is. 

But my card stays in the air. The bidding hits 15 bucks, then blows past it. The cards around me are starting to waver and drop.

This thing could be on sale at Amazon for $10. Just because you’ve never seen a copy doesn’t mean it’s hard to find.

But I keep my card in the air. It’s a sharp-looking and professional bound hardcover — my instincts tell me it’s going to cost a lot more than 10 bucks to track down a copy if I miss out on this one. And besides… there’s more going on now than just bargain hunting. It looks like a science fiction horror RPG, and a very professional one. I’m deeply curious and willing to pay more than $15 for the opportunity to find out what it is.

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