The Solar Pons – Fu Manchu Connection

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

200px-OTSolarPonsOmnibusExpoloits_of_solar_ponsMy colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street.

Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

“The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward who has been abducted by his archenemy, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor.

Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse.

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Firefly Friday – Firefly: The Game

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Firefly-The-Game

Ever want to just buy a ship and take off into the night sky, making your own rules and living a life that was truly free? Firefly: The Game (Amazon) gives you the chance to do just that, if you think you’re up for it.

On the off chance that you’ve been in a coma for the last decade: Firefly was a tragically short-lived television series created by Joss Whedon. After his success on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, he turned to science fiction, creating a series that can best (but simplistically) be described as “cowboys in space.” The series centered around a spaceship crew living on the fringe of society, taking jobs of questionable legality while trying to stay off the radar of the government. It was cancelled before all 13 of the episodes even aired, but fan enthusiasm resulted in a feature film, Serenity, that gave some measure of closure for fans.

But, as so often happens in our little world of fandom, even that was not the end of the story. In a few short episodes, Joss Whedon had created a rich and dynamic universe of rugged heroes who traveled the expanse between worlds just trying to find a job, work the job, get paid, and keep flying. It has continued in a number of forms, from comic books to board games. As I’ve mentioned before, my shelves contain a number of these related materials. (More than I typically care to admit.)

It’s hard to overstate how great this short television series was … And it’s equally hard to overstate how well Firefly: The Game captures the feel of trying to make your way out in the black, even if that means you have to misbehave a bit.

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The Books of Blood, Captain Blood

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

blood novelA few months ago, I discovered that Fletcher Vredenburgh was reading Captain Blood at the same time I was working my way through the lesser-known book-length Captain Blood story collections (Captain Blood Returns – aka The Chronicles of Captain Blood – and The Fortunes of Captain Blood). We made a solemn pact to compare notes and share our findings on Black Gate, which brings us here today.

Now Blood isn’t remotely a fantasy figure – except in the loosest of senses – but historical swashbucklers had a huge impact on sword-and-sorcery, my favorite flavor of fantasy, so Sabatini and other writers like him are “in the wheelhouse,” if you will pardon the pun, and certainly merit a look if it’s the action and swordplay in fantasy that you most enjoy.

Also, pirates. With the exception of Treasure Island, Captain Blood is probably the most famous of all pirate stories. Many people have certainly heard of it who’ve never read it. And if they’re curious, they should probably give it a go. Fletcher and I will explain why over the course of the rest of this article.

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Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H. P. Lovecraft

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Lovecraft Sarnath frontThe Doom that Came to Sarnath
H. P. Lovecraft
Ballantine Books (280 pages, February 1971, $0.95)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

The Doom That Came to Sarnath was the second volume of H. P. Lovecraft stories published under the BAF imprint. It served as a bridge between the Dunsanian fantasies of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and the Cthulhu Mythos related titles that followed.

Many of the stories in this volume weren’t published until years after they were written or were published in amateur press publications of the day. These days, we’d call them fanzines. The contents include the aforementioned Dunsanian fantasies, some traditional horror stories, and some early Mythos tales. Also included are a few prose poems and one selection of Lovecraft’s verse.

Rather than give a brief description of each of the 20 items in the book, I’ll highlight some of the ones I liked best, then offer some general thoughts. Carter broke the selection up into groups loosely based on either chronology or theme. I’m not that organized.  I’m also not a Lovecraft scholar, so I’m not going to comment much on the specific chronology  of the stories or try to get into the nitty gritty of Lovecraft’s authorial evolution.

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Knight at the Movies: The Battery (2012)

Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Posted by eeknight

GregBunburyTheBatteryMoviePosterAs Black Gate‘s resident oddball zombie movie reviewer (Honest! John O’Neill did it in style of Mad Men‘s Roger Sterling, he did a Jedi hand wave and anointed me thus) I have to say a little bit about the ultra-low budget 2012 movie The Battery.

The zombie movie has reached the arthouse at last. And the arthouse loved it, this micro-budget film won numerous awards.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a traditional zombie movie as much as the next fan. I have a soft spot in my heart for 2008′s Day of the Dead, despite such howlers as the assertion that zombie Bud is safe because he was a vegetarian in life, as though that moral choice trumps thousands of years of cultural conditioning toward a similar moral choice against cannibalism.

But back to The Battery. Filmed on a budget of $6000, writer/director Jeremy Gardner put together a horror film that delivers the most entertainment per budget dollar since Blair Witch Project – though I expect The Battery, while not as original as that legendary effort, will prove more enjoyable on the re-watch.

Its strengths are the same as Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead: a limited budget means you have to spend your time on character and tension. Without money for a lot of extras in zombie makeup to be featured more than briefly, you have to make do with the sounds of zombies outside the windows, which is creepier anyway.

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Re-reading Michael Moorcock’s The History of The Runestaff: What I Missed the First Time Around

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

The History of The Runestaff UK omnibus-smallI don’t do re-reads, not often anyway. I’m usually too busy fighting neo-Nazis in the far future and wrestling dinosaurs on Mars. (You know, normal, everyday sort of stuff.) I decided to make an exception for The History of the Runestaff, however, mostly because I realized I had been recommending the thing to friends for years, but hadn’t touched it since I was twelve, when one of my friends dug the omnibus edition out of some weird corner in our school’s library, plopped it into my hands and mumbled something about multiple universes.

I remember staring, wide-eyed, at the thing, fascinated; the Conan covers might have been brutal and bloody and prominently featured big burly men, but this was strange, this was something different entirely; its pulsing yellows and light greens were alien, steeped in the psychedelia of the sixties (which, as the inside of the book told me, was when the books were written), it completely dashed away my expectations, crushed them under an iron-clad boot, made my little eyes wide. It contrasted brilliantly with the pulsing purples and browns and blacks of the Conan covers, its swirling surrealism was as far away from Frazetta as I had been.

Despite all that, I didn’t get around to actually reading it until a few months later, when my friend convinced the librarian to delete the book from the school files and I, somehow, managed to get him to trade me it for a copy of some other book. So it wasn’t until a few months later that I discovered that it wasn’t actually that different from Conan, anyway.

The History of The Runestaff was what introduced me to sword and sorcery, what truly opened the gate to Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, David Gemmel, Jack Vance, Karl Edward Wagner, and so many others; it was, ultimately, what led me here. If there’s anything I’m going to re-read, I thought, it should be this.

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Art of the Genre: A Review of the 5E Monster Manual and its Place in D&D Product History

Friday, October 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

So a month ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Players Handbook. At first, it seemed to me that I’d be doing a rather standard review, but the more I read the product, the more it began to light a fire in me about what the game had to offer.

New mechanics, or should I say neo-retro, because it seamlessly combines great features of both old and new D&D, had me wondering just how the game played on a table-top. By the end, I fully understood that this was not only a product to be respected, but also that I had to take the first chance I got to play it.

That said, I began to break down the mechanics and tried to extrapolate them into a small adventure that would help new players better understand the flow of the game. It was a truly fun and insightful process, but the double-edged sword of it was that I needed monsters!

Now sure, as an experienced DM with 30+ years behind the screen, I was able to extrapolate statistics from older versions of the game and translate them to 5th Edition, and it also helped to have a copy of the 5E Starter Kit, but if you’ve ever run a game of D&D, you know that it is always nice to have a copy of the Monster Manual close by! So, it is with great pleasure that I get to introduce players and fans alike to just what has changed in the 5E version of the game where monsters are concerned.

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The Hunt is On: Werewolf Game Review and Kickstarter Alert

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

You’re just a villager, going about your daily villager-related business. What could possibly go wrong?

How about there being a werewolf secretly hiding in your village?

Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition (Amazon)

That’s the premise of the popular game Ultimate Werewolf, designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bezier Games. There are two teams: villagers and werewolves. You get on a team by being randomly dealt cards at the beginning of the game. Everyone sleeps through the “night” and a moderator tells the werewolves to open their eyes. So the werewolves all know who each other are. Then the moderator has everyone open their eyes and wake up for the “day” … and the town debates who to kill. There’s a vote, and whoever gets the most votes dies. Then the village sleeps again, and the next day they vote on another person to kill.

Will the village kill a werewolf, or will the werewolves fool the villagers into killing an innocent? This continues until either all werewolves are dead, or enough villagers have been killed that they no longer outnumber the werewolves.

But the village can contain more than merely run-of-the-mill villagers. The Seer, for example, is able to point at one player during the night and be told by the moderator if that player is a werewolf. The Tanner hates his life and wants to die, so he wins if he can get you to kill him. (Screaming “I’m a werewolf!” is not usually a winning strategy for this role. You’ve got to be a little more subtle.)

The current edition of the game produced by Bezier games is actually Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition, which contains dozens of extra roles beyond villagers. In total, the Deluxe Edition can support play with a group of up to 75 players … which is a bit extreme, even for an avid gamer like me, but makes for a great party game, and you can create a set of cards tailored toward the comfort level of the group, to avoid overloading those who might be intimidated by the idea of so many different roles.

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Red Queen, White Queen by Henry Treece

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Red Queen White Queen Henry Treece-smallThe setting for Henry Treece’s Red Queen, White Queen (1958) is Britain in 60 AD during the bloody uprising of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni against the Romans. RQWQ is the third book in his Celtic Tetralogy. I reviewed the fourth book, The Great Captains, his down-to-earth vision of King Arthur, last year. The other two volumes are The Golden Strangers, about the Copper Age settlement of Britain, and The Dark Island, set during Caractacus’s war against Rome.

Gemellus Ennius, a young Roman junior officer, has been transferred to Britain after five years’ service in Germany, arriving just after the onset of Boudicca’s revolt. Already she has burned the towns of Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium, killing over seventy thousand Romans and allied Britons.

When her husband died, he left his kingdom to Boudicca as well as to the emperor, in contravention of Roman laws. Not only did Rome refuse to recognize the will, but it sent soldiers to beat her and rape her daughters. Then the moneylenders called in the tremendous debts her husband had incurred and enslaved the Iceni. Boudicca became a ferocious creature forged by the cruel hands of Rome.

… Boudicca strode towards them a couple of paces and stood, her legs wide apart, staring down at them, from the wooden dais by the altar.

A short brown frieze jacket laced with thongs held her heavy breasts. From waist to ankle her legs were encased in tight-fitting trousers of deer hide. Her feet were bare and rather large. Gemellus noted that they were very red and calloused, not like the dainty feet of the Lady Lavinia, for example.

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Danger: Here There Be Dragons (and Clever Children!)

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

paperbagPossibly the most rambunctious children’s author out there is Robert Munsch, whose characters drive bus loads of pigs to school, vanish beneath layers of permanent markers, and scream in the bath with sufficient volume to summon the police.

All of his (uniformly excellent) picture books employ elements of fantasy, but only once, to my knowledge, did he and his regular collaborator, illustrator Michael Martchenko, depart entirely our real and rational world long enough to include that nemesis of humanity: the green-scaled, fire-breathing dragon.

Yes, it’s The Paper Bag Princess, one of the best kids’ books I know, rife with hilarious prose, ebullient artwork, and the pluckiest heroine this side of Dorothy Gale. Who says girls can’t have adventures?

The plot is a model of efficiency. Princess Elizabeth lives in a castle, and she’s got riches and a boyfriend, Roland, whom she expects to marry. Curly blonde Roland sports a crown and a tennis racket, and just to be sure we get the idea, Martchenko adds a butterfly cloud of hearts around Elizabeth’s smitten head.

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