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A Classic Moral Panic: The BBC on The Great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons Panic

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

D&D boxed sets-smallIf you’re as old (and as good-looking) as I am, you probably remember the occasional media hysterics surrounding Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and early 80s. Reports of teens committing suicide after playing D&D, getting lost in steam tunnels, turning to devil worship… it got to be almost routine by the mid-80s. You didn’t even pay attention after a while.

It certainly caused problems for some gamers, though. I knew of a few who were forbidden to play D&D by their parents. My own parents certainly heard the reports, but my Dad had a practical solution… he asked to sit in on a game. He rolled up a character named Drawde (Edward spelled backwards) and trooped down in the dungeon with us.

It was a decent enough session, actually, although my brother Mike and I exchanged a few wide-eyed glances as Dad started busting in dungeon doors. My older sister Maureen tagged along, and even my Mom joined in for a while. I remember Maureen found a +1 ring and when I explained it protected her from attack, she sauntered to the front of the party and started talking smack to the next group of orcs they ran in to.

She got peppered with arrows, and my father had to come to her rescue. She hung out in the rear after that. “Anyone want to buy a magic ring?” she asked.

We never had another family session of D&D. But my father was apparently satisfied that the game wasn’t leading Mike and I towards eternal damnation and we were never questioned after that, even as the press reports about the game got crazier. I think I still have Dad’s character sheet somewhere.

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The Future of the Magazine of the Future: On the Return of the SFWA Bulletin

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 | Posted by JaymGates

SFWA Bulletin 203-smallRight about now, the new SFWA Bulletin should be starting to hit mailboxes. The first SFWA electronic Bulletin won’t be far behind. It’s a new era for the Bulletin and one I’m really excited about.

The Bulletin is one of those magazines that’s a particular challenge to edit. The SFWA membership is relatively small, but wildly varied in its needs and interests. Our members range in experience from a couple of years of sales to 50+ years of publishing, in markets from small magazines to Big Six publishers. We could probably put out ten different versions of the magazine and still miss a few needs.

Finding the balance so that everyone gets something, but a cohesive product is still put out, is a hearty challenge. The pool of potential authors is one of the richest in the industry, as we are also able to reach into the scientific, entertainment, and artistic communities for relevant content, but that has to be balanced against highlighting what the membership has to offer.

The revamped Bulletin will, we hope, be a force in the modern market, offering benefits and information for authors at every stage of the business. Content will range from SFWA-oriented information to in-depth journalism on a variety of subjects.

Issue 204 is chock-full of information about SFWA and the writing business, from interviews to budget breakdowns, and even a honey badger cartoon. Tansy Rayner Roberts and I edited this special issue, with significant groundwork from long-time editor Jean Rabe. It will be our go-to handout for the next few years, offering a concentrated look at what SFWA has to offer, as well as remaining a useful resource for years to come.

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Lucius Shepard, August 21, 1947 – March 18, 2014

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Life During Wartime Lucius Shepard-smallMultiple sources are reporting that Lucius Shepard, one of the most talented writers to emerge from the cyberpunk movement in the mid-80s, has died.

I first encountered him in the pages of Omni magazine in 1988, with his novelette “Life of Buddha.” I remember being astounded with the natural realism of his dialog, which captured the flow of modern speech in a way I’d never seen before. I read his brilliant Nebula Award-winning novella “R&R” — which opens with an artillery specialist in Central America getting a glimpse of a war map and wondering if he’s somehow caught up in a war between primary colors — and the novel it turned into, Life During Wartime (1987). His dark visions of the near future frequently involved inexplicable wars, and he wrote extensively about Central America, where he lived briefly.

Shepard won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 1985. His 1992 novella “Barnacle Bill the Spacer,” which I read in the pages of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, was a vivid character study of a mentally disabled cleaning man on a troubled space station, and his unexpected actions during an attempted mutiny. It won the Hugo Award in 1993 and was eventually collected in Barnacle Bill the Spacer and Other Stories (1998) and Beast of the Heartland (1999.)

He won many other awards during his lifetime. Two of his early collections, The Jaguar Hunter (1987) and The Ends of the Earth (1991), won the World Fantasy Award; his novella “Vacancy,” from the Winter 2007 issue of Subterranean Online, won a Shirley Jackson Award (read the story here).

Shepard published his first short stories in 1983; his first novel was Green Eyes in 1984. For the first few years of his career, he was considered part of the cyberpunk movement, but quickly broke free of that market label with his horror novel The Golden (1993) and titles like Valentine (2002), Colonel Rutherford’s Colt (2003), Louisiana Breakdown (2003), and A Handbook of American Prayer (2004). His final novel, Softspoken, was published by Night Shade in 2007. His acclaimed Dragon Griaule stories, including “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule” and “The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter,” were collected in The Dragon Griaule by Subterranean Press in 2012.

Shepard was still very active in the field at the time of his death. He published Five Autobiographies and a Fiction in April of last year and he wrote a regular film review column (which I regularly enjoyed, although I seldom agreed with him) for Gordon van Gelder’s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He died on March 18, 2014 at the age of 66.


Tom Reamy, the Iron Throne, and George R.R. Martin’s Plan to Stay Ahead of HBO: The Game of Thrones Issue of Vanity Fair

Monday, March 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Vanity Fair Game of Tthrones-smallYou know your HBO fantasy series has hit it big when it makes the cover of culture and fashion magazine Vanity Fair.

The April issue, on sale now, features a cast photoshoot by star photographer Annie Leibovitz and a feature on the making of the show written by Jim Windolf. But more interesting is a wide-ranging interview with author George R.R. Martin which covers, among other things, the true scale of the Iron Throne and Martin’s plan to stay ahead of the rapidly-progressing show.

The season that’s about to debut covers the second half of the third book… But there are two more books beyond that… A Dance with Dragons is itself a book that’s as big as A Storm of Swords. So there’s potentially three more seasons there, between [A Feast for Crows] and Dance, if they split into two the way they did [with Storms]. Now, Feast and Dance take place simultaneously… You can combine them and do it chronologically. And it’s my hope that they’ll do it that way and then, long before they catch up with me, I’ll have published The Winds of Winter, which’ll give me another couple years. It might be tight on the last book, A Dream of Spring, as they juggernaut forward.

I was also fascinated by his comments on the death of the brilliant Tom Reamy, whom we profiled in Black Gate 15:

Tom died of a heart attack just a few months after winning the award for best new writer in his field. He was found slumped over his typewriter, seven pages into a new story. Instant. Boom. Killed him… Tom’s death had a profound effect on me, because I was in my early thirties then. I’d been thinking, as I taught, well, I have all these stories that I want to write… and I have all the time in the world… and then Tom’s death happened, and I said, Boy. Maybe I don’t…

After Tom’s death, I said, “You know, I gotta try this. I don’t know if I can make a living as a full-time writer or not, but who knows how much time I have left?…” So I decided I would sell my house in Iowa and move to New Mexico. And I’ve never looked back.

Read the complete interview here.


Goth Chick News: Coveting Bram Stoker – 2013 Award Nominees Announced

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Bram Stoker AwardRegarding the actual item you get to put on your mantel; as awards go, forget the Oscar statue and give me a Stoker any day. You have to admit – it’s pretty darn cool.

The Horror Writers Association (HWA), who have been honoring the premiere writers in horror and dark fiction since 1987, announced their nominees for the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards last week.

So if you don’t have time to sit cross-legged in the horror section of your fast-dwindling local bookseller to get a bead on the best new writers in this genre, then the annual Stoker nominees announcement could be a shortcut to creating your reading list for the next twelve months — if you’re so inclined.

And I am.

So without further pontificating, here are the 2013 Stoker Award nominees.

Superior Achievement in a Novel

NOS4A2, Joe Hill (Morrow)
Doctor Sleep, Stephen King (Scribner)
Malediction, Lisa Morton (Evil Jester)
A Necessary End, Sarah Pinborough & F. Paul Wilson (Thunderstorm)
The Heavens Rise, Christopher Rice (Gallery)

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Mindjammer RPG: Transhuman Sci-Fi Adventure in the Second Age of Space

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Newton

Several years ago, I published my first ever roleplaying game supplement, a 200-page softback for the Starblazer Adventures RPG, using the Fate 3rd edition rules. Black Gate‘s very own Howard Andrew Jones reviewed it here, and a few short months later we were delighted when it won a Judges Spotlight Award at the ENnies in GenCon. We decided to produce a second edition…

… And here it is! A lot has happened in the meantime, not least the release of a brand new edition of Fate, the Fate Core System, from Evil Hat Productions, which won Best RPG in the Golden Geek Awards only last week. The publication of an elegant and sophisticated new edition of Fate meant that I had a golden opportunity to update Mindjammer and publish it as a full roleplaying game, taking full advantages of the Fate Core System‘s cutting edge innovations. Last month, we launched Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game for pre-orders, providing customers with an immediate download of a “Thoughtcast Edition” pre-release PDF of the game, and this week we’re going to print and updating the PDF to the final production version.

So what’s Mindjammer? Put simply, it’s a game and a setting. As a game, it’s been called the “lovechild of Traveller and Eclipse Phase” – a full-featured science-fiction roleplaying game for the 21st century, featuring all the elements of “modern” science-fiction: transhumanism, hyperadvanced technologies, culture conflicts, rules for organisations, worlds, star systems, ecosystems, and alien life forms all drawing on the latest discoveries in xenoscience and astrophysics, wrapped up in an expansive and action-packed game which lets you play in any modern science-fiction genre.

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Another Crowdfunding Fail: John Campbell Self-Destructs on Kickstarter

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Pictures for Sad ChildrenWe’ve reported here on a handful of Kickstarter failures, including Erik Chevalier, whose Doom That Came To Atlantic City campaign raised an astounding $122,874 on a $35,000 goal, and who managed to spend virtually all the money without producing a single copy of the game. But I don’t think I’ve ever read an example as egregious as John Campbell’s Sad Pictures for Children.

Campbell is the author of the web comic Pictures for Sad Children. He self-published his first book, collecting the first 200 comics, in 2011 and launched a Kickstarter campaign in April 2012 to fund a second volume. He set a goal of $8,000 and raised over $51,000.

Unlike Chevalier, Campbell managed to print the books and began distributing them to backers, but he quickly became disillusioned with the level of effort and cost involved. As complaints from his backers mounted, an apparently furious Campbell posted a video showing him burning 127 copies of the book, one for every e-mail he received requesting an update.

In a rambling and nonsensical Update 32, Campbell vents his wrath at his backers, saying no more books will be mailed, that he’ll burn one copy of the book for every attempt to contact him, and asking for more money — this time with no promises attached.

I shipped about 75% of kickstarter rewards to backers. I will not be shipping any more. I will not be issuing any refunds. For every message I receive about this book through e-mail, social media or any other means, I will burn another book… If you would like a refund, please contact a fan of my work directly for your money. This is where the money would come from anyway. I am cutting out the middle man…

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Expand Your Digital Library with 300 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

three-parts-dead-smallI don’t know about you, but when I first bought my Kindle, I dreamed of having a vast portable library of great new fantasy books, patiently acquired through diligent bargain hunting. Also, I dreamed about Jennifer Lawrence in a Carmen Miranda banana hat, but that’s a different topic.

The Kindle turned out to be pretty great. Huge avalanche of great new digital books over the last few years — also great. But who has time to constantly hunt for the latest discounts?

John DeNardo at SF Signal, that’s who. John regularly keeps up-to-date on digital special offers at Amazon.com and reports on them in fabulous detail. But this morning, he outdid himself, posting a list of 300 Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Kindle eBook deals for $3.99 or less — including some of the most intriguing books we’ve covered in the last few months:

The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley Beaulieu — $0.99
The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley Beaulieu — $0.99
Legends: Stories in Honor of David Gemmell edited by Ian Whates — $3.99
The Woodcutter by Kate Danley — $0.99
The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells — $2.99
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone — $2.99
Necropolis by Michael Dempsey — $1.99
Clockwork Phoenix edited by Mike Allen — $3.99
The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty — $1.99
Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio — $3.79
Chrysanthe by Yves Meynard — $1.99
The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu — $3.79

And many, many others. See John’s detailed list of discount digital delights at SF Signal. And remember to thank him, next time you see him.


Michael Shea, July 3, 1946 – February 16, 2014

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Michael Shea-smallFor all of the many obituaries I’ve written, I’ve been fortunate enough to have to write only two for Black Gate contributors: prolific short story writer Larry Tritten, and Euan Harvey, taken from us too young. So it is with a heavy heart that I report the death of Michael Shea, BG contributor and one of the most acclaimed sword & sorcery and horror writers of the last four decades.

In the early 70s, Michael picked up a battered copy of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novel The Eyes of the Overworld in a hotel lobby in Juneau, Alaska. Four years later, he tried his hand at fan fiction, writing a novel-length sequel to Vance’s classic titled A Quest for Simbilis. Not knowing what else to do with it, Shea submitted it to Donald Wolheim at DAW Books. Jack Vance graciously granted permission for it to be published (and declined any share in the advance), and Wolheim released it in paperback in 1974. It was a finalist for the British Fantasy Award and launched Michael’s career — a career that produced some of the most acclaimed fantasy of the past four decades.

Eight years later, Michael published one of the most important works of modern sword and sorcery: Nifft the Lean, a collection of four linked novellas published in paperback by DAW in 1982. It won the World Fantasy Award and was followed by two sequels: The Mines of Behemoth (Baen, 1997) and the novel The A’rak (Baen, 2000). His other novels include The Color Out Of Time, the sequel to Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Colour Out of Space;” In Yana, the Touch of Undying (1985); and The Extra (2010) and its recent sequel Assault on Sunrise (2013). His highly acclaimed collections include Polyphemus (1987), The Autopsy and Other Tales (2008), and Copping Squid and Other Mythos Tales (2010).

I had the good fortune to meet Michael at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2007. We hit it off and a few months later, I found an original novelette of Lovecraftian horror by Michael in my inbox. I was proud to publish “Tsathoggua” as part of the Black Gate Online Fiction line.

I was shocked and dismayed to find that Locus Online reported today that Michael Shea died unexpectedly on February 16, 2014. He was 67 years old. He will be sorely missed.

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The Return of The SFWA Bulletin

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

SFWA Bulletin 203-smallIt’s been a rough twelve months for The Science Fiction Writers of America Bulletin.

Early last year, issue #200 drew complaints for some generally tasteless remarks on female editors from columnists Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg (and a cover that did nothing to allay concerns that SFWA was still presided over by an Old Guard unwelcoming to women). The problems compounded in later issues as Resnick and Malzberg mocked and trivialized those who raised the issue, and C.J. Henderson praised Barbie for maintaining “quiet dignity the way a woman should.” In June, editor Jean Rabe stepped down and the Bulletin went on hiatus.

Compounding the problem, the recent petition to protect the magazine from perceived censorship and the evils of political correctness put the spotlight back on the missing Bulletin. (And, naturally, in the midst of a fierce debate on whether sexism inside SFWA was a real issue, a member used the SFWA boards at SFF.Net to launch a sexist attack on ex-SWFA officer Mary Robinette Kowal.)

Now SFWA reports that the long-delayed issue 203 has gone to the printer. Guest-edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts, who was ably assisted by Production Editor Jaym Gates, this issue is described as “an outreach tool for conventions and other events.”

While Resnick and Malzberg are noticeably absent, the issue does contain interviews with Eileen Gunn, Adam Rakunas and 2013′s Norton winner E.C. Myers, and contributions from Sheila Finch, Richard Dansky, James Patrick Kelly, Cat Rambo, Ari Asercion, Michael Capobianco, Russell Davis, M.C.A. Hogarth, Nancy Holder, and Erin Underwood, and many others.

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