R.I.P. Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

aladdin genie

Mork has returned to Ork; the Fisher King has departed; the Genie, after granting us the wish for laughter, is gone.

Robin Williams died Monday, an apparent suicide. The Great Jester of my parents’ generation had been battling severe depression in recent months, according to his manager. Those who have followed Williams’s decades-spanning career know that this demon was the dark side to his manic comic talent. Ironically, while he so often made us laugh, there was no healing humor left for himself yesterday. The Jester has exited the stage, leaving an echo of laughter as the curtain falls on this tragic final act.

Here is part of what James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio, had to say in remembrance of Williams Monday evening on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell:

I asked him If heaven exists what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?, and this is what Robin Williams said to me: “‘There’s seating near the front. The concert begins at five; it will be Mozart, Elvis, and one of your choosing.’ Or, to know that in heaven there’s laughter. That would be a great thing, just to hear God say, ‘Two Jews walk into a bar…’” And look where he went with that. In fifteen different directions at once. You know, I suppose everybody has said it already, and I’m the last to say it: we are dealing with a real-life pagliacci. This is the clown who laughed, who cried. This the clown who cried, at last, in life, and who breaks our hearts. But in the end…in the end, as so many comedians are, Robin was pagliacci

Lawrence Santoro (1942-2014)

Monday, July 28th, 2014 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Larry and his wife, Tycelia

Larry and his wife, Tycelia

Lawrence Santoro passed away this past Friday. He was a two-time Bram Stoker nominee: once for his novella, “God Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate Him,” in 2001; again for his audio play adaptation of Gene Wolfe’s “The Tree Is My Hat” in 2008. Two collections of his short fiction, Just North of Nowhere and Drink for the Thirst to Come, provide a great overview of his fantastic work. For the last two years, he’s hosted the horror fiction podcast series, Tales to Terrify.

Those are the highlights, the reasons why a casual reader of Black Gate might recognize Larry’s name. But I’ve been living and writing in Chicago for the last ten years and so I knew him for other reasons. Larry often read at local open mic events and was a fixture at some of them. Larry had a background in theater and he brought all his skill and that amazing voice to every performance. No microphones were ever needed when it was his turn to read and his larger-than-life performances were perfectly suited to the nightmarish tall tales; imagine if Lake Woebegone had a dark side and you’d get an idea of his fictional town of Bluffton. Tony C. Smith at Tales to Terrify provides a nice tribute to Larry, including a previously-unreleased performance by him.

There’s a brief overview of the amazing life Larry led before he ever wrote so much as a poem. At reading events, he was always encouraging other writers to keep writing, as well as offering advice on where to get their stories published. While Tales to Terrify has featured a number of big-name authors, Larry also made certain that it featured at least as many fledgling writers.

Larry leaves behind not just an impressive body of work, but a writing community made stronger by his presence and saddened by his passing.

CJ Henderson, December 26, 1951 – July 4, 2014

Sunday, July 6th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANeil Baker, publisher of The Dark Rites of Cthulhu, informs us that fantasy short story writer and novelist CJ Henderson lost his battle with cancer earlier this week.

His first novel, Brooklyn Knight, was published by Tor in 2010; it was followed by one sequel, Central Park Knight (2011); his short story collection, Where Angels Fear, was released by Dark Quest Books in 2010. I first encountered him with Kolchak and the Lost World (Moonstone, May 2012), one of several licensed tie-in novellas he wrote featuring the great occult investigator Carl Kolchak, which I bought at the Moonstone booth at the Windy City Pulp and Paper show in April.

Neil writes:

A prolific writer for decades, CJ had a successful collection of novels to his name, numerous short stories for a wide selection of publishers and comic books for Marvel, DC and others. He also wrote books featuring Kolchak, wrote for Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series and collaborated with William Shatner on Man of War.

Personally, I only got to know him through my first publication, and he was an open and generous soul. He fought the disease all the way to end, determined to make it out to future conventions to sell more books and meet more fans, and in his many emails to me he would discuss his fight, his deep love for his wife and his passion for writing.

CJ leaves a legacy filled with hard-boiled characters, ripping yarns and good humor. He will be missed.

CJ Henderson died on July 4, 2014. He was 62 years old.

Jay Lake, June 6, 1964 – June 1, 2014

Sunday, June 1st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Jay LakeJay Lake’s website, jlake.com, is reporting that Jay passed away this morning.

Jay’s first published story was “The Courtesy of Guests” in the Bruce Holland Rogers anthology Bones of the World in September 2001. I first encountered him in the Black Gate slush pile a few months later. His stories were wildly original, astonishingly varied, and frequently brilliant.

I purchased two, the enigmatic “Fat Jack and the Spider Clown” (BG 8), and the vividly original “Devil on the Wind” (BG 14, co-written with Michael Jasper). It was while working with Jay on the first that I discovered just how much hidden meaning there is in a Jay Lake story, and how carefully constructed they are.

Jay was diagnosed with colon cancer in April 2008 and he reported on the progress of the disease and his tireless efforts to combat it with brutal honesty on his blog. For years after his diagnosis Jay continued writing tirelessly, producing three major series: The City Imperishable (Trial of Flowers, Madness of Flowers, and the forthcoming Reign of Flowers, all from Night Shade), Mainspring (Mainspring, Escapement, Pinion, published by Tor), and three novels in the Green universe (Green, Endurance, and Kalimpura, all from Tor).

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Mary Stewart, September 17, 1916 – May 10, 2014

Friday, May 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Hollow Hills-smallMary Stewart, my wife’s favorite author, died last week.

I’ve read only a handful of Stewart’s novels. Her Merlin TrilogyThe Crystal Cave (1970), The Hollow Hills (1973), and The Last Enchantment (1979) — is one of the top-selling Arthurian sagas of all time, hitting bestseller lists around the world. It was her only fantasy series, but it instantly made her one of the most popular fantasy authors of the 70s.

But I got used to seeing the covers of her romantic mystery novels. My wife re-read them constantly. Alice is a voracious reader and she’s read widely in both mystery and contemporary fiction, but at least once a year she pulls out one of her tattered Mary Stewart paperbacks.

“Why are you constantly re-reading those, when you have so many others to choose from?” I asked her once, shortly after we were married.

“Because these are the best,” she said simply.

Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy eventually extended to five novels, including The Wicked Day (1983) and The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995), but her gothic romance included Madam, Will You Talk? (1954), Thunder on the Right (1957), Nine Coaches Waiting (1958), My Brother Michael (1959), The Moon-Spinners (1962) — made into a 1964 Walt Disney film starring Hayley Mills, This Rough Magic (1964), The Gabriel Hounds (1967), Touch Not the Cat (1976), Thornyhold (1988), Stormy Petrel (1991), and her final novel, Rose Cottage (1997).

Mary Stewart lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. She died on May 10th at the age of 97.

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.

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