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Art of the Genre: David Trampier, 1954 – 2014

Friday, March 28th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

1509880_10153982624460584_2120060224_nToday is a day of mourning for those gamers who were brought into the industry during the ‘great launch’ of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1978. That year the AD&D Player’s Handbook hit the market, and nothing in the life of role-playing would ever be the same again. One reason, and certainly one of the most recognizable not named Gygax, was the cover art by David Trampier. On Monday, March 24th, Mr. Trampier passed away in southern Illinois at the age of 59.

That age in itself is a tragedy, but one that can only be further exacerbated by what could have been for a man many gamers considered the great white whale of RPG fantasy artwork.

More words than can easily be counted have been written about Trampier over the years, most hypothesis and some truths, but in the end all we know now is that he is gone.

As an adept in the industry of RPG artwork, I’ve made it my life’s calling to track down bygone artists. But Trampier was never one of them. Sure, I’ve spoken in depth to his relations, and even as late as last August had a lengthy conversation with a group of RPG power brokers on the best course of action to approach him, including old friends on a road trip and private detectives, but in the end Trampier was even too far removed for me, and honestly I can’t say whether that now makes me happy or sad.

What I do know it that in the late 1980s, during his run with the Wormy comic for TSR’s Dragon magazine, Trampier suddenly went off the grid.  At the time, he’d have been only 34 years of age, and smack in the middle of his prime as an artist. Now, 25 years later, he is gone, and not a single shred of artwork was produced by his hand over the course of those intervening years.

Now that brings me profound sadness.

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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.

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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Aaron Allston, December 8, 1960 – February 27, 2014

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Aaron AllstonAaron Allston, one of the most creative and prolific creators in the early adventure gaming hobby, died Thursday.

I first encountered his name in the early 80s, on the masthead of my favorite gaming magazine, Space Gamer, where he seemed to do just about everything — circulation manager, assistant editor, and eventually editor. When the magazine split in two in 1983, he also served as editor of the spin-off Fantasy Gamer.

By 1983, he was also an accomplished freelance game designer with a number of impressive credits, including Autoduel Champions, a mash-up of Hero Games’ Champions and Steve Jackson Games’ Car Wars. His many later credit included the Hollow World box set (TSR, 1990), Rules Cyclopedia for Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, 1991), The Complete Fighter’s Handbook (TSR, 1993), and the Fifth Edition of the Champions rules (Hero Games, 2002).

By 1990, he was working in the computer gaming industry at Origin System, publishers of Ultima and Wing Commander, where he co-wrote the acclaimed Savage Empire, named the Best PC Fantasy RPG of 1990 by Game Player magazine.

He eventually found his greatest success in fiction, beginning with the Baen novel Galatea in 2-D in 1993, followed by the second Car Wars novel Double Jeopardy (1994), Doc Sidhe (1995), and two Bard’s Tale novels co-authored with Holly Lisle. In 1998′ he published his first Stars Wars novel: Star Wars X-Wing: Wraith Squadron. He wrote four more in that series, and a total of 14 Star Wars novels, including three volumes each in the Fate of the Jedi, Legacy of the Force, and New Jedi Order series.

In April 2009, Allston suffered a heart attack and underwent an emergency quadruple bypass surgery. On Thursday of this week, while attending VisionCon in Springfield, Missouri, he collapsed and later died of apparent heart failure. He was 53 years old.

Goodbye, Professor

Friday, January 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gilligan's Island ProfessorRussell Johnson, who played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, died yesterday at the age of 89.

The news reporter for WXRT here in Chicago, Mary Dixon, wryly noted during her morning show that the Professor was the only eligible male on Gilligan’s Island. Watching the show as a young girl, “it was all about the professor,” she said.

For me, a young nerd in Junior High, the professor embodied a little more than that (not that being a brainy sex symbol wasn’t a major accomplishment in itself). Everyone looks for role models at that age, and Russell Johnson’s good-humored, everyman brainiac was perhaps the finest role model on the airwaves in the mid 70s for young science enthusiasts — and I can’t help but wonder who will be cast in the role in the upcoming remake.

There was no shortage of smart characters on television at the time, from Spock to Bruce Bixby’s David Banner (The Incredible Hulk) to Peter Falk’s genius detective Columbo. But none of them was as likable — or as endlessly inventive — as Russell Johnson’s easy-going Professor, who could build a lie detector and a sewing machine out of coconuts. Johnson’s Professor wasn’t just smart… he was funny and charming, and week after week he showed that over-the-top enthusiasm for science didn’t have to be a social liability if you didn’t want it to be. You could be both smart and well-liked; it didn’t have to be a choice.

It was obvious that, in the microcosm of civilization that was Gilligan’s Island, the Professor was the one individual who kept everything running. His was a thankless role. He was constantly taken for granted, many of his ideas failed, and not a single one of his inventions ever got them off the island. But Johnson filled that role with a character who was noble, kind, and constantly upbeat. Here was a man of science who fit in; who was admired and, yes, loved.

Goodbye, professor.

Neal Barrett, Jr, November 3, 1929 – January 12, 2014

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Neal Barrett, JrNeal Barrett, Jr, author of The Karma Corps (1984), The Hereafter Gang (1991), and the four-volume Aldair series, died on Sunday.

Barrett first published story was “To Tell the Truth” in the August 1960 issue of Galaxy Magazine. He made a name for himself with his quirky, hard-to-classify short fiction, including the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist “Stairs” (Asimov’s SF, September 1988), and the Hugo and Nebula Award nominee “Ginny Sweethips’ Flying Circus” (Asimov’s SF, February 1988). His short work has been gathered in half a dozen collections, including Slightly Off Center (1992), Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories (2000), a nominee for the World Fantasy Award, and Other Seasons: The Best of Neal Barrett, Jr. (2013). He continued writing short fiction right up to his death, with his “HERE and THERE” appearing in the Spring 2012 issue of Subterranean Magazine, and “Bloaters” in Impossible Monsters, an anthology released by Subterranean Press in July 2013

Barrett’s first novel was Stress Pattern, published by DAW in 1974. DAW published all four volumes of his Aldair series between 1976 and 1982, and his 1984 science fantasy The Karma Corps, which we covered in a Vintage Treasures piece just a few short months ago. His later books included Through Darkest America (1987), Pink Vodka Blues (1992), Dead Dog Blues (1994), Prince Of Christler-Coke (2004), and Finn, the Lizard Master series from Bantam (The Prophecy Machine, 2000, and The Treachery of Kings, 2001).

We discussed Neal Barrett’s Aldair novels — which Fletcher Vredenburgh called “a blast of strangeness and adventure. Really, [Barrett is] an author without enough attention from the average reader” — in the Comments Section of my September 10th Vintage Treasures post.

Neal Barrett was born in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up in Oklahoma City. He was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2010. He died January 12, 2014, at the age of 84.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy of Mick Farren

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

The Novels of Mick Farren-small

First time I heard of Mick Farren was when I opened a box of review copies from Tor in 1996 to find his novel The Time of Feasting, a dark fantasy concerning a hidden colony of vampires living underground in New York City. I flipped to the bio, where I read that Mick was the writer and singer for the punk band The Deviants, and that he also had several solo hits.

This was pretty cool. Here was a successful rock musician making a mid-career transition to dark fantasy writer. This just re-affirmed what I already knew: there were plenty of glamorous professions out there, but nothing as awesome as being a fantasy novelist.

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Colin Wilson, June 26, 1931 – December 5, 2013

Monday, December 9th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Space VampiresBill Crider is reporting that Colin Wilson, the British author of over 110 books — including Ritual in the Dark (1960), The Mind Parasites (1967), The Space Vampires (1976), Science Fiction as Existentialism (1980), and the Spider World novels — passed away late last week.

Wilson debuted in 1956 with a bestselling work of non-fiction, The Outsider, when he was only 24 years old. Written mostly in the Reading Room of the British Museum, while he was living in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath, the book examined the psyche of the Outsider by looking at the lives of artists and writers including Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vincent van Gogh, T. E. Lawrence, and others. (See “Now they will realise that I am a genius,” The Observer‘s entertaining piece on his autobiography, for more details)

Wilson was immediately celebrated as one of Britain’s leading intellectuals — a reputation “that sank as fast as it had rocketed” (as he later observed) after the publication of his second book, Religion and the Rebel (1957), which Time magazine reviewed under the headline “Scrambled Egghead.” By the 60s and early 70s, Wilson had left academic subjects behind to focus on the Occult, in books like The Occult: A History (1971), Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast (1987), and biographies of other spiritualists. Wilson became an active member of the Ghost Club and began to seriously explore topics such as telepathy, life after death, and the existence of spirits in his later writing.

Wilson’s fiction includes several noted Cthulhu Mythos pieces. The hero of The Return of the Lloigor (1974) discovers the Voynich Manuscript is actually a medieval translation of the Necronomicon; and in the preface to his 1967 novel The Mind Parasites, Wilson wonders “what would have happened if Lovecraft had possessed a private income – enough, say, to allow him to spend his winters in Italy and his summers in Greece or Switzerland?… what he did produce would have been highly polished, without the pulp magazine cliches that disfigure so much of his work.”

In 1985, Poltergeist director Tobe Hooper filmed Wilson’s The Space Vampires as Lifeforce. Wilson hated the film version (so did a lot of people), but it’s cheesy fun, as Leonard Maltin happily reported in his review for Entertainment Tonight.

Colin Wilson was a tireless writer; his last two books, Super Consciousness and Existential Criticism: Selected Book Reviews, appeared in 2009. He suffered a stroke in June of last year, losing the ability to speak. He died on December 5th in Cornwall, at the age of 82.

Tom Clancy, April 12, 1947 – October 1, 2013

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Tom ClancyThomas Leo “Tom” Clancy, Jr, one of the top-selling authors of the past three decades, died yesterday after a brief illness.

Clancy published his first book, The Hunt for Red October, though the tiny Naval Institute Press in 1984. He’d written several articles for the Proceedings of the Naval Institute and, although they’d never published a novel, he sent them Red October after it was rejected by several major publishers. To his surprise, they accepted it and paid him a small advance.

President Ronald Reagan turned the book into a best seller when he mentioned it during a televised press conference, saying it was “unputdown-able” and a “perfect yarn.” It sold more than five million copies, and became a hit film in 1990 starring Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery. Clancy won a $3 million contract with mainstream publisher Putnam Penguin for his next three books.

Clancy published a total of 28 books, 17 of which hit The New York Times best-seller list — many at No. 1. His novels have been licensed for several major video game franchises, including Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. Eight of his books feature his most famous character, CIA agent Jack Ryan, including The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games (1987), The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988), Clear and Present Danger (1989), and The Sum of All Fears (1991).

Ryan returned in Debt of Honor (1994), in which a fictional war with Japan results in the destruction of the U.S. Capitol building during a joint session of Congress, elevating the reluctant Vice President Ryan to the Presidency; he returned again in Executive Orders (1996) and Red Rabbit (2002). Four of the Ryan novels – The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears — have been adapted as feature films, with Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck playing Jack Ryan.

Clancy’s final novel Command Authority, which will also prominently feature Jack Ryan, will be released in December.

Clancy passed away yesterday in a Baltimore hospital near his Maryland home. He was 66.

Remembering Dave

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 | Posted by James Maliszewski


David L. Arneson (1947-2009)

Had he not died of cancer in 2009, today would have been the 66th birthday of David L. “Dave” Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and one of the most under-appreciated creators of the past century.That may sound like an exaggeration, but I mean it most sincerely. Through the medium of tabletop roleplaying games, a concept that owes as much to his imagination and ingenuity as anyone’s, Arneson has profoundly affected millions of lives, including my own. If you’ve ever played in any kind of game that featured a “dungeon” or had a character with “hit points” or who earned “experience points,” you can thank Dave Arneson, who pioneered all these game mechanics in his Blackmoor campaign in Minneapolis during the early 1970s. It was Arneson who made the conceptual leap from fighting battles on a sand table with miniature metal figures to playing individual characters who explored monster-filled labyrinths in search of “more and bigger loot,” as Volume 3 of the 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons memorably puts it.

Sadly, Arneson is far from a household name. When Gary Gygax, D&D‘s other co-creator, died in 2008, it was big news. Newspapers, magazines, and websites across the world, including such prestigious ones as The New York Times, The Economist, and the BBC (to cite but a few) all included high-profile obituaries of the man whom they called “the Father of Roleplaying Games.” More than that, these obituaries often served as springboards for wide-ranging reflections about RPGs and their place in shaping contemporary popular culture. The video game industry in particular hailed Gygax as its intellectual forefather, citing the seminal role Dungeons & Dragons played in shaping it – and rightly so, I should add. There’s no question that Gary Gygax played an incalculably huge role in the popularization of the roleplaying game, a new form of entertainment whose ideas took the world by storm.

Arneson’s death, just a little over a year later, didn’t receive quite the same kind of coverage. There were still obituaries in The New York Times and on the BBC, of course, but they were shorter, more muted affairs, perhaps in part because Gygax’s death was still fresh in people’s minds and there didn’t seem to be much more to say about Arneson that hadn’t already been said about Gygax.

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