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Carving Out Destiny: Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

Carving Out Destiny: Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

There came a time when the destiny of Men and Gods was hammered out upon the forge of Fate, when monstrous wars were brewed and mighty deeds were designed. And there rose up in this time, which was called the Age of the Young Kingdoms, heroes. Greatest of these heroes was a doom-driven adventurer who bore a crooning runeblade that he loathed.
His name was Elric of Melniboné…

from the Prologue to Stormbringer

That cover, more than any other, depicts the absolute coolness of swords & sorcery and what I like about it. Michael Whelan’s painting for the 1977 DAW edition of Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer (1965) is the first time in over two hundred essays I haven’t put the first edition cover first. You can talk about heroism, barbarism vs. civilization and whatnot until the end of the day but, ultimately, this is what I dig. That depiction of Elric, runeblade held high, Horn of Fate trailing behind him, under the storm-wracked heavens, says more about what brings me back to the genre than any book-long disquisition ever could. It’s just so stinking cool. Its appeal is purely and mind-blowingly visceral.

When I was in my mid-teens, all my friends and I devoured these books relentlessly. As soon as one of us finished one series we plunged right into the next. The gradual realization that all of Moorcock’s S&S stories were linked in some crazy pattern made our reading even more compulsive. Many, many elements in his books wound up in roleplaying sessions. I ended at least one universe in a very Moorcockian style.

I did a quick count of how many Moorcock books I’ve read and got over thirty. Some of them, particularly the assorted Eternal Champion books (Elric, Dorian Hawkmoon, Corum, etc.), I’ve read numerous times. I’ve probably read all six Corum novels five or six times. I have definitely not reread any other S&S books, neither Robert E. Howard’s nor Karl Edward Wagner’s, anywhere near that number of times. Moorcock’s books have done more than any other’s to build the framework of what S&S writing is for me if by no other measure than number of pages read. There’s more creativity when it comes to characters and world-building in almost any of his slim DAW yellow-spine books than nearly any monstrous tome I’ve bludgeoned my way through.

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Random Reviews: “The Box” by Bruce Coville

Random Reviews: “The Box” by Bruce Coville

Cover by David Palladini
Cover by David Palladini

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I roll several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 4,023 which turned out to be Bruce Coville’s short story “The Box.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a personal point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

“The Box” refers to a gift an angel has given to Michael when he was a young boy. The box wasn’t a gift, but rather a duty, for Michael was told to take good care of the box until the angel returned to retrieve it. Holding onto the box shaped his life from the time he received it through school, dating, work, and into old age.

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DEMONS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND: Call of the Cambion (The Cambion Journals — Book Two) by Andrew P. Weston

DEMONS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND: Call of the Cambion (The Cambion Journals — Book Two) by Andrew P. Weston

Call of the Cambion (The Cambion Journals: Book Two), by Andrew P. Weston. (Raven Tale Publishing. Kindle edition. 190 pages. Released May 2022. Paperback coming soon.)

Augustus Thorne is a Cambion — a human/demon hybrid. Cursed with a hunger he can barely control, it’s been a struggle to retain his humanity. All he’s ever wanted to do is enjoy what everyone else takes for granted. To lead a normal life. Fall in love. Start a family. Alas, such things are denied him because of what he is. Fated to feed off humans, he has channeled his self-loathing into a quest for revenge. For over two hundred years, Augustus has hunted and executed every Incubi and Succubae he can find. But he has yet to track down and kill the one responsible for attacking his mother and causing decades of suffering: his own spawn-father, Fanon.
— From the Prologue to Call of the Cambion

Andrew P. Weston’s second outing is just as good as the first book in his new series, A Hybrid’s Tale, which I have also reviewed here. This time around, in Call of the Cambion, Weston delves deeper into Augustus Thorne’s past, his relationships and his character. Born in 1760, Thorn has sworn to seek out and destroy the Demondim and its “department” of Incubi and Succubae assassins, known as the Forge, as he hunts for Fanon, the Incubus who sired him, then abandoned him and his mortal mother. Thorne is a complicated man: in spite of his supernatural and magical powers, and his killer’s instinct, he is an honorable and loyal man, not without mercy and his own code of ethics. Once again, Weston combines magic, metaphysics, science fiction, and the paranormal to tell his tale and give substance to his world and his characters.

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Random Review: “A Conglomeration of Bees” by Kiel Stuart

Random Review: “A Conglomeration of Bees” by Kiel Stuart

Beyond the Last Star
Beyond the Last Star

Beyond the Last Star was the fifth and final anthology put together on SFF.net, a one-time website that served not only as the webhost to numerous science fiction authors from 1996 until 2017. In addition to webhosting, SFF.net also ran a bulletin board analogous to USENET or the GEnie boards out of which it grew.  The community that existed at SFF.net not only put out a series of anthologies, but also compiled and submitted the infamous Atlanta Nights, as written by Travis Tea, as a sting operation after PublishAmerica stated that “the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction.”

Kiel Stuart’s story for the final SFF.net anthology, “A Conglomeration of Bees” has a wonderfully nostalgic feel to it, a story that inhabits the same world as Ray Bradbury’s tales of growing up in “Green Town.” The story is set in a small town that could be anywhere in the United States although Stuart defines it as Sag Harbor, Long Island.

The focus is on Kate Demarest, who sold various random items off the front porch of her house.  Her day started out normally, including a visit to an antiques shop, when she heard rumors or a swarm of bees moving through town in the shape of a man, apparently walking around and emulating tipping its hat. Although Kate hopes to see the bee-man, with a sense of trepidation, she also has her own business to run, no matter how slow it is.

When dealing with a regular customer, Mrs. Sedgwick, who is sure that Kate is hiding the items she is interested in, Kate’s day is enlivened by the appearance of a mandrill, who enters store on Kate’s porch and begins to rummage through the miscellany she is selling. While Mrs. Sedgwick is disturbed by the creature, Kate treats it as any other customer, knowing that there is a bonus in that the mandrill with cause Mrs. Sedgwick to leave.

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Random Review: “Reborn” by Ken Liu

Random Review: “Reborn” by Ken Liu

Cover by Richard Anderson
Cover by Richard Anderson

In 2014, David G. Hartwell, at Tor Books, edited to second anthology of stories which were based on a specific painting. He provided a piece of art created by Richard Anderson to multiple authors and asked them to write stories inspired by the art. The first of the three novelettes to appear in The Anderson Project is Ken Liu’s “Reborn.”

The world of “Reborn” is one in which humans are living in an uneasy relationship with the alien Tawnin. The story opens with the arrival of a Tawnin ship, returning some of the Reborn, humans who have been altered by the Tawnin, back to Earth.  A crowd has gathered for the event and Josh Rennon, a policeman working with the Tawnin, as well as one of the Reborn, is on the scene to see if he can spot anyone who is less than happy with the Tawnin’s residence on Earth.  When a bomb explodes, he is able to apprehend someone who appears to be connected with it.

Although the story begins to take on the tone of a police procedural, Liu is interested in following up on several different threads.  Rennon is in a relationship with Kai, one of the Tawnin, and Liu explores what their relationship means, from a physical as well as an emotional and intellectual point of view. In some ways, both Kai and Rennon are new.  As a Reborn, some of Rennon’s memories have been excised from him while the Tawnin take the view that just as their cells are completely replaced every few years, so too are their memories, and so a Tawnin today is a completely different individual than the person thie was a decade earlier.

The procedural potion of the story also continues and Rennon begins to discover that his suspect appears to be part of a larger conspiracy.  As Rennon tracks down the threads that appear during his interrogation of the suspect, he comes across the mysterious Walker Lincoln, who appears to be the key to this particular terrorist cell, even if there doesn’t seem to be a record of Lincoln.  Nevertheless, Rennon insists on following up on any leads, which makes his colleague Claire, as well as Kai, concerned about where the investigation is taking him.

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As Subversively Funny and Modern as Anything Ever Written: The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville

As Subversively Funny and Modern as Anything Ever Written: The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville


The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (Dover Thrift Editions,
November 2017). Cover: New Orleans Map, Currier and Ives, 1885

Last night I finished re-reading Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. I had not read it in many years — I first read it in the mid-1970s in a graduate seminar on Hawthorne and Melville taught by the wonderful Professor Elizabeth Schultz at the University of Kansas.

It’s perhaps my favorite Melville book, and a significant influence on my writing; my first solo novel Good News From Outer Space was an attempt to cross the figure of the multiply-disguised Confidence Man from Melville’s book with the shape-changing aliens of classic science fiction.

It all takes place in a single day — April Fool’s Day — on a steamboat that leaves St. Louis for points south, carrying a carnival of American character types, among them a confidence man who assumes eight different disguises as he interacts with, and bilks, various passengers during the the course of the day. It’s been described as a series of sketches or conversations. But that description does not do justice to the ways in which this book deconstructs America — and friendship and society and capitalism and progress and nature and religion and language itself — pretty much anything that any of us put faith in.

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Random Reviews: “The Wonderful Conspiracy” by Spider Robinson

Random Reviews: “The Wonderful Conspiracy” by Spider Robinson

Cover by Vincent di Fate
Cover by Vincent di Fate

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 40,770 which turned out to be Spider Robinson’s short story “The Wonderful Conspiracy.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a personal point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

The Wonderful Conspiracy is the final story of Spider Robinson’s first Callahan book, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and it has the appropriately maudlin nostalgia of a bar nearing closing time. Robinson has set the story on New Year’s Eve when the bar is mostly empty, save for employees Mike Callahan and Fast Eddie, as well as inveterate drinkers Long-Drink McGonnigle, the Doc, and Robinson’s narrator.

Although “The Wonderful Conspiracy” has many of the signature tropes of a Callahan story, including the series of puns and breaking of glasses, it is a lower energy story, just five men sitting around talking. Set at the end of the year and in a bar that is practically empty, the discussion between the men turns introspective, led by Long-Drink.

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In 500 Words or Less: Midway 2022 Round-Up!

In 500 Words or Less: Midway 2022 Round-Up!


Becoming Crone by Lydia M. Hawke, Mickey7 by Edward Ashton, and Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales
of Insatiable Darkness
, edited by dave ring. Covers by Deranged Doctor Design, uncredited, and Robin Ha

Back by popular demand! As you might have noticed, I’ve been on a serious reviewing hiatus lately due to busy (and exciting) times in both writing and teaching. But I love discussing new books and signal boosting works I think deserve some more attention, so I’m back!

With a caveat, however, that I’m changing my format slightly moving forward. Instead of a regular column discussing one book in five hundred words or less, I’ll be doing a round-up a couple times per year, similar to what I’ve done for my year-end posts. How many books can I mention in five hundred words…? We’ll see. And nobody count, in case I go over.

Thanks as always for reading and for the folks who asked, “when’s your next column, dude?” If you enjoy any of the books I mention, be sure to give them a review of your own on your platform of choice and feel free to let me know here.

In alphabetical order, please enjoy my reading picks for the first half of 2022!

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The Sillliest Stuff I’ve Ever Read: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

The Sillliest Stuff I’ve Ever Read: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

HIPPOLYTA

’Tis strange, my Theseus, that these lovers speak of.

THESEUS

More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
That is the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear?

If you take the time to skim over the history of criticism of William Shakespeare’s sublime A Midsummer Night’s Dream (ca. 1596), you might lose your mind. Early commentary seems to have centered on the appropriateness of depicting imaginary beings such as the fairies while more contemporary scholars (say, over the last fifty years) have seen support, as well as opposition, to such things as patriarchy and the “hegemonic order.” All sorts of dark sexual allusions are intimated by several authors.

It’s not all like that, with much focus on metatextual aspects like artistic creation, dream versus illusion, or metamorphosis. Some of this is interesting, some of it ridiculous.

Oh, there are things being said about art, love, and perception, but little of that matters much to me, and none of it matters to the pleasures of the play. For my tastes, the most accurate comment  about A Midsummer Night’s Dream is from Thomas McFarland, who described it as “dominated by a mood of happiness and that it is one of the happiest literary creations ever produced.”

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Exploring Complex Human Themes by Blowing $%#! Up: Teenage Space Mercenary by M. Harold Page

Exploring Complex Human Themes by Blowing $%#! Up: Teenage Space Mercenary by M. Harold Page

That is a slight oversimplification of M. Harold Page’s mission as a fiction writer. Let’s get the whole thing: “The exploration of complex human themes through the medium of interpersonal violence and blowing $%#! up in space.” If you threw “and magical worlds” on the end, you’d have a pretty good starting description of what most of us Black Gate readers look for in a book.

That may sound a bit flippant, but in fact Page can be deeply thoughtful and historically informed about interpersonal violence. I confess, I’m biased in his favor. Page and I have corresponded off and on over the years, often through comment threads on BG. I’ve reviewed a couple of his books, historicals with a light sprinkling of fantasy elements, both of them great fun.

So when I saw the announcement that he had a new book available for preorder, I had to see it. Now you can find it here.

Which brings us to the cover copy:

Jason is a NetShooter champion. Now he must do it for real.

The teen coding nerd escapes hi-tech slavery only to end up on a gloomy jungle moon guarding an archaeological expedition, literally light years in the wrong direction from the comfortable new life he planned.

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