New Treasures: Dark Entries by Robert Aickman

Friday, September 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Robert Aickman Dark Entries-smallRobert Aickman was an English ghost story writer who died in 1981. I bought his famous collection The Wine-Dark Sea over 10 years ago, and was very impressed.

But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a contemporary printing of his most famous books — especially in an affordable paperback format. So I was thrilled to see Faber & Faber recently reprint three collections in both digital editions and handsome trade paperbacks: The Unsettled Dust (September 4), The Wine-Dark Sea (August 7), and his very first collection, Dark Entries. All are well worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of British horror.

‘Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was. All I know is that he did it beautifully.’ — Neil Gaiman

Aickman’s ‘strange stories’ (his preferred term) are constructed immaculately, the neuroses of his characters painted in subtle shades. He builds dread by the steady accrual of realistic detail, until the reader realises that the protagonist is heading towards their doom as if in a dream.

Dark Entries was first published in 1964 and contains six curious and macabre stories of love, death and the supernatural, including the classic story ‘Ringing the Changes.’

‘Robert Aickman was the best, the subtlest, and creepiest author of ghost stories of his time… still enormously readable, offering mysteries which get deeper and scarier with each return.’ — Kim Newman

Dark Entries was published June 5, 2014 by Faber & Faber. It is 256 pages, priced at £7.99 in trade paperback and $5.82 for the digital edition. The gorgeous cover is by Tim McDonagh; click for a bigger version.

New Treasures: House Immortal by Devon Monk

Monday, September 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

House Immortal Devon Monk-smallThe first story I ever bought for Black Gate was by Devon Monk.

I was probably more excited than she was. “Stitchery,” the tale of a young woman struggling desperately to hold her farm together, and drawing on her unique ability to create new creatures from the flesh of dead ones, eventually appeared in Black Gate 2, and was selected for David Hartwell’s Year’s Best Fantasy 2.

I’ve been following Devon’s career ever since — and an impressive career it’s been, too. Since her appearance in BG 2 she’s published over a dozen novels in three different series: Allie Beckstrom, Broken Magic, and the steampunk Age of Steam books.

Now she kicks off a brand new fantasy series, House Immortal, an intriguing take on the legend of Frankenstein, featuring a main character who’s been stitched together into an immortal body… it reminds me of that excellent story I bought from a promising new writer, all those years ago.

One hundred years ago, eleven powerful ruling Houses consolidated all of the world’s resources and authority into their own grasping hands. Only one power wasn’t placed under the command of a single House: the control over the immortal galvanized….

Matilda Case isn’t like most folk. In fact, she’s unique in the world, the crowning achievement of her father’s experiments, a girl pieced together from bits. Or so she believes, until Abraham Seventh shows up at her door, stitched with life thread just like her and insisting that enemies are coming to kill them all.

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New Treasures: The Ghost Pirates and Others: The Best of William Hope Hodgson by William Hope Hodgson

Friday, September 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Ghost Pirates and Others-smallNearly ten years ago, I bought The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, a five volume set from Night Shade Books. It’s a terrific group of hardcovers, with eye-catching cover art by Jason Van Hollander, and there’s no reason anyone who possesses that handsome collection would ever need to spend another penny on William Hope Hodgson.

And yet here I am, shelling out for The Ghost Pirates and Others, a beautiful trade paperback collection of the best short fiction of William Hope Hodgson, selected and edited by Jeremy Lassen. Maybe it’s the marvelously spooky cover. Maybe it’s the thought of having Hodgson’s best, including his finest Carnacki tales and the famous title story, under one cover, where I can curl up with it in my big green chair. Or maybe, as my wife Alice suggests, it’s a compulsion and I need psychiatric help. You decide — I’m busy with my latest treasure and will be unreachable for the next few hours.

“With its command of maritime knowledge, and its clever selection of hints and incidents suggestive of latent horrors in nature, [The Ghost Pirates] reaches enviable peaks of power.” — H.P. Lovecraft.

William Hope Hodgson was a contemporary of H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith, and was one of the most important and influential fantasists of the 20th century. His novel The Ghost Pirates is a take-no-prisoners supernatural adventure story that is just as powerful today as it was 100 years ago.

In addition to his landmark novel, this volume contains some of his most influential short fiction; from his supernatural detective Thomas Carnacki to tales of the mysterious Sargasso Sea. The Ghost Pirates and Others is the perfect introduction to the magic, mystery and adventure of William Hope Hodgson.

The Ghost Pirates and Others: The Best of William Hope Hodgson was edited by Jeremy Lassen and published by Night Shade Classics on December 4, 2012. It is 264 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The gorgeously spooky cover art is by Matt Jaffe.

Black Static #40 Now on Sale. Maybe, if You Move Quickly

Thursday, September 11th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Static 40-smallOn my way home from work yesterday, I dropped by Barnes & Noble to pick up the latest issues of Asimov’s SF and Fantasy & Science Fiction. I couldn’t find them at my local B&N here in St. Charles, Illinois, so I made a special trip all the way to Schaumberg.

No dice. After poking behind all the knitting and puzzle magazines for nearly 10 minutes, all I managed to come up with was last month’s Asimov’s and Analog. Both clearly stated “On sale until 9/2″ in the bottom left corner, which tells me the new issues are more than a week overdue.

Come on — what’s a guy gotta do to buy a science fiction magazine around here? It’s almost enough to make me give up and buy Health Magazine instead. Maybe I can get some suggestions on how to reduce all this stress in my life.

Now, it’s not strictly true that all I found was Asimov’s and Analog. Just a few inches over, hidden behind the latest issue of McSweeney’s, I discovered something unusual: issue #40 of British horror magazine Black Static.

Well, this is timely. Just last week, as I was formatting the article on the British Fantasy Awards and looking for pics to go with it, I stumbled on the cover of Black Static #33 (containing Best Short Story winner “Signs of the Times,” by Carole Johnstone), and I thought, “Damn, that’s a mighty fine cover, with that creepy subway, and floating vapor, or whatever the heck that is. I should really get a copy of this magazine. I bet I’d like it.”

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New Treasures: A Discourse in Steel by Paul S Kemp

Monday, September 8th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Discourse in Steel-smallThere’s a school of thought in cover design that says that book covers with a heavy design element — as opposed to a reliance on artwork — are taken more seriously.

There’s something to this. A lot of bestsellers eschew artwork altogether in favor of design, and it seems to work just fine. When George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones became a bestseller, Bantam Spectra jettisoned the artwork by Stephen Youll that had been on the cover for nearly ten years, and replaced it with the boring cover you’re familiar with today. No artwork, just a shining sword. Most mainstream readers won’t buy a book that looks too much like a fantasy novel — or at least, that’s the theory.

That was the first thing I thought of when I saw the cover of Paul S. Kemp’s  A Discourse in Steel, the second novel in his Tales of Egil & Nix series. It’s a sharp cover, actually, with a clear adventure fantasy theme. The lack of artwork and focus on design brought A Game of Thrones to mind (maybe it’s supposed to). But I also found it a little generic.

Here’s the book description.

Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword and hammer-play for them!

But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild.

And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head…

A hugely-enjoyable stand-alone adventure in classic sword and sorcery mode, from the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Deceived and The Hammer and the Blade.

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New Treasures: The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett

Friday, September 5th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Company Man-smallYes, I’m late to the party with The Company Man. Yes, it came out three years ago. And yes, here I am trying to pull a fast one and sneak it in as a “New Treasure.” Work with me here; it’s been a long week.

Basically, I decided it’s time to pay attention to this Robert Jackson Bennett fellow. He made a considerable splash with his debut novel, Mr. Shivers (2010), and since then he’s put out a book a year: The Company Man (2011), The Troupe (2012), and American Elsewhere (2013). His latest, City of Stairs, which described this morning as “an atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city,” goes on sale next week. The Company Man looks like a very dark alternate history that combines gumshoe pulp fiction with a steampunk setting. I bought a copy last week, and it shot immediately to the top of my TBR pile.

The year is 1919.

The McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. They built the guns that won the Great War before it even began. They built the airships that tie the world together. And, above all, they built Evesden – a shining metropolis, the best that the world has to offer.

But something is rotten at the heart of the city. Deep underground, a trolley car pulls into a station with eleven dead bodies inside. Four minutes before, the victims were seen boarding at the previous station. Eleven men butchered by hand in the blink of an eye. All are dead. And all are union.

Now, one man, Cyril Hayes, must fix this. There is a dark secret behind the inventions of McNaughton and with a war brewing between the executives and the workers, the truth must be discovered before the whole city burns. Caught between the union and the company, between the police and the victims, Hayes must uncover the mystery before it kills him.

Others have clearly caught on to Robert Jackson Bennett long before me — he’s been awarded an Edgar, the Shirley Jackson, and the Philip K. Dick Citation of Excellence. The Company Man was published in April 2011 by Orbit Books. It is 466 pages, priced at $13.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital version.

10 Acclaimed Historical Fantasy Novels You Need to Read

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club Genevieve Valentine-smallIf there’s something we’re consistently good at here at Black Gate, it’s jumping on a trend late. What can I tell you? We’re too busy reading to be hip. On laundry day, I still wear bell bottoms.

But there are some trends so obvious that even we notice. Social media? It’s starting to catch on — take our word for it. Superhero movies? They’re going to be popular. Believe it.

Most recently, I’ve noticed that the emerging trend in fantasy — the one attracting the hottest writers in the field — seems to be historical fantasy. Mary Robinette Kowal, Genevieve Valentine, Patty Templeton, Catherynne Valente, and many others have penned some really terrific historical fantasies recently… and more are arriving every week.

Not convinced? Have a look at the following list of 10 recent, and highly acclaimed, historical fantasy novels, written by a Who’s Who of emerging fantasy writers.

If you’re like most readers, you’ll find more than a few you haven’t read. Do yourself a favor and check out one or two that sound interesting.

Trust us; you’ll be glad you did.

1. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses , set in Jazz Age Manhattan.

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New Treasures: Sword & Mythos, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles

Monday, September 1st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Sword and Mythos-smallInnsmouth Free Press has done some really terrific work recently, including the groundbreaking anthologies Future Lovecraft (2011) and Historical Lovecraft (2011), and the splendid Innsmouth Magazine (which we discussed here).

The Editor-in-Chief of Innsmouth Free Press, Paula R. Stiles, may be familiar to Black Gate readers as the author of the dark fantasy featuring the Queen of Hell, “Roundelay,” in Black Gate 15. With her latest anthology, Sword & Mythos, Stiles and her co-editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia have assembled another dynamite collection of stories, this one featuring sword & sorcery heroes and heroines coming face-to-face with monstrosities out of the Cthulhu Mythos.

The Blades of Heroes Clash Against the Darkest Sorcery

Aztec warriors ready for battle, intent on conquering a neighboring tribe, but different gods protect the Matlazinca. For Arthur Pendragon, the dream of Camelot has ended. What remains is a nightmarish battle against his own son, who is not quite human.

Master Yue, the great swordsman, sets off to discover what happened to a hamlet that was mysteriously abandoned. He finds evil. Sunsorrow, the ancient dreaming sword, pried from the heart of the glass god, yearns for Carcosa.

Fifteen writers, drawing inspiration from the pulp sub-genres of sword and sorcery and the Cthulhu Mythos, seed stories of adventure, of darkness, of magic and monstrosities. From Africa to realms of neverwhere, here is heroic fantasy with a twist.

Sword & Mythos was published by Innsmouth Free Press on May 1, 2014. It is 315 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $5 for the digital edition. The cover is by Nacho Molina Parra. Order a copy or get more details at the Innsmouth Free Press website.

New Treasures: Reach For Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Reach For Infinity Solaris-smallReach For Infinity makes me very happy.

A while back, I wrote a blog post titled “Is the Original SF and Fantasy Paperback Anthology Series Dead?“, in which I lamented the death of the great genre anthologies like Orbit, New Dimensions, and Universe, and noted that no modern publisher had the courage to launch one these days. None except Solaris that is, which recently started several excellent new anthology series — including Jonathan Strahan’s terrific Infinity line, beginning with Engineering Infinity (2010) and Edge of Infinity (2012).

I’m thrilled to see at least one publisher willing to take the risk… and more importantly, to pull it off. Kudos to Jonathan Strahan and his editors at Solaris for making the impossible look easy. These books deserve your support and they’re a fantastic and inexpensive way to introduce yourself to some great writers. Check them out — and start with Reach For Infinity, the third in the series, now on sale.

Humanity Among the Stars

What happens when we reach out into the vastness of space? What hope for us amongst the stars?

Multi-award winning editor Jonathan Strahan brings us fourteen new tales of the future, from some of the finest science fiction writers in the field.

The fourteen startling stories in this anthology feature the work of Greg Egan, Aliette de Bodard, Ian McDonald, Karl Schroeder, Pat Cadigan, Karen Lord, Ellen Klages, Adam Roberts, Linda Nagata, Hannu Rajaniemi, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds and Peter Watts.

Reach For Infinity was published by Solaris on May 27, 2014. It is 346 pages, priced at $9.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.

New Treasures: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Full Fathom Five Max Gladstone Tor-smallBack in June, I reported on the second novel in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. And just in time, too… the third, Full Fathom Five, arrived barely a month later, and I don’t wanna appear behind the times (any more than usual, anyway.)

The best description of this series I’ve found so far is from Elizabeth Bear (no surprise), who says at her blog:

The Craft Sequence books are all about ancient necromancers in charge of corporations; liches running litigation; court battles fought by means of sorcerous contests; deities dueling by means of legal proxies and stock trading souls.

I have several narrative hot buttons when shopping for fantasy and that description punches every one of them. If John Grisham wrote zombie novels, we might have plots as cool as Max Gladstone’s. Maybe.

I wrote about the first book in the sequence, Three Parts Dead, in 2012, and Two Serpents Rise in June. The fourth, Last First Snow, is not yet scheduled. Max describes it as follows:

Last First Snow, as the (working) title suggests, is set a bit earlier along the series timeline, and shows the older generation’s history. Dresediel Lex teeters on the edge of a knife, riven by protest over controversial zoning legislation, while a younger Elayne Kevarian confronts a tangle of conspiracies, revolutionaries, personal demons, and dead gods.

I can see I’m going to have to set some time aside for that one, too.

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