Book Review: Shackleton by Michael Smith

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The furthest south of the Nimrod expedition, 9 January 1909. From left to right: Jameson Boyd Adams, Frank Wild, and Ernest Shackleton pose for a self portrait at 88°23'S, only 97 geographical miles (178 km) from the South Pole.

The furthest south of the Nimrod expedition, 9 January 1909. From left to right: Jameson Boyd Adams, Frank Wild, and Ernest Shackleton pose for a self portrait at 88°23′S, only 97 geographical miles (178 km) from the South Pole.

As the world marks the centennial of World War One, it’s in danger of forgetting that the year 1914 saw the beginning of one of the most ambitious Antarctic expeditions ever launched, the Endurance expedition led by Ernest Shackleton. A complex and driven man, Shackleton’s accomplishments were overshadowed by personal failures and a global war.

There hasn’t been a full biography of Shackleton since 1985, so to mark the centennial, Polar exploration expert Michael Smith has come out with Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer. This detailed, 440-page study traces Shackleton’s life from his Anglo-Irish roots through his early years at sea and his first Antarctic expedition as a member of Scott’s Discovery expedition.

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Game Review: Dead of Winter from Plaid Hat Games

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by eeknight

dead-of-winter-boxColor me rotting-flesh green and call me thunderstruck. I believe I’ve been playing the best board game in my thirty years of dice rolling this week: the Plaid Hat Games survival horror magnificence that is Dead of Winter.

Ron Burgundy “That’s No Lie” seal of approval. I know I often write here with tongue probing my cheek, but this time I’m undeadly serious. Maybe it was just the subject matter, or how dark the game can get as desperation builds, but I found it my most enjoyable gaming session in memory.

I’m not just trying to squeeze in another gore-dripped Zombie-related post before Halloween, either. I was perfectly willing to let my one sad little movie post for the month be my fall contribution, but honestly, this game has taken over my brain like a Venusian virus brought back to Earth and I must write about it.

Like tabletop gaming with friends? Like Zombies? If either of these conditions = TRUE, you can read through all my blah blah questionable-humor blah blah blah, or you can get off the Internet, utilize your preferred mode of transport (I don’t care about your hair, that’s why God created baseball hats), go to your Friendly Local Game Store and grab this jewel so you can read the rules and play it over the course of Halloween all the more quickly.

You’re welcome.

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On the Road to Khurdisan: Brak the Barbarian by John Jakes

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2702648M0L78hhBFor people of a certain age (the pushing-fifty crowd) John Jakes is probably best known for The Kent Family Chronicles, his massive series of massive books about American history and the mini-series made from the first one, The Bastard. Hearing that title said out loud on TV was a pretty shocking thing for us kids back in 1978.

It wasn’t until I was a little older that I discovered John Jakes had started his career as a real journeyman pulp writer. While working in advertising, he wrote science fiction, westerns, mystery, and horror stories for all the major genre magazines. His name appears on the contents page of Fantastic Adventures and Amazing Stories, as well as Tales of the Frightened (easily one of my favorite titles for anything ever).

While Robert E. Howard had created the basic template for swords & sorcery back in the 1930s, it wasn’t until several decades later that the genre really exploded. Fritz Leiber and Sprague de Camp labored throughout the 50s, but it’s in the early 60s that S&S really takes off. Suddenly, Lin Carter’s writing his Howard/Edgar Rice Burroughs mashups, Michael Moorcock’s inverting and mocking many of the field’s cliches while still writing exciting tales, and Andre Norton is expanding S&S’s vison beyond the too-common male thud and blunder.

In 1963, with “Devils in the Walls” published in Fantastic, Jakes introduced his own barbarian hero, Brak. In a 1980 preface to a new editon of the first collection of stories, Brak the Barbarian (1968), he wrote:

It was in the role of dedicated Conan fan that I wrote the first Brak tale, Devils in the Walls. In spirit, anyway, the story was a Howard pastiche, and I have acknowledged the fact more than once.

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Film Review: The Conjuring (Hallowe’en Post # 1)

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

the conjuring doll“Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville.”

Whatever you think of the Warrens as real people, they do make mighty fine fictional characters.

Ed and Lorraine Warren — dark-forces-battling demonologists associated with such notoriously famous cases as the Amityville Horror — provide us with supernatural sleuths who fit comfortably in the tradition of such occult detectives as Doctor Abraham Van Helsing, Carnacki the Ghost Finder, and John Thunstone. That the Warrens are real people and the cases they have investigated are allegedly true does add another compelling dimension to the whole enterprise.

But I’m not here to debate whether the Warrens’ adventures were bona fide excursions into paranormal realms or just elaborately staged (and profitable) hoaxes. I’m here to review The Conjuring — the 2013 horror film purportedly based on the Warrens’ 1971 investigation into the Perron family’s troubled Rhode Island farmhouse. I am meeting it on its own terms, not as a docudrama, but as a fright flick.

Still, I’ll make a few observations about the “based on a true story” conceit, which is wrung for full effect in opening and closing montages. Judging from interviews, the scriptwriters — twin brothers Chad and Carey W. Hayes — certainly give the impression that they buy in to the Warrens’ whole shtick, or are at least pretty open-minded to it. However, that clearly did not constrain them only to crafting a straight-ahead historical re-enactment. To the contrary, their prime focus is to use the original case as a springboard for launching wall-to-wall scares at an audience hungry for terror of the supernatural kind. They start out eerie, sprinkling in events that may well be straight out of the case file, and then liberally follow those up with any tried-and-true horror effect that will “get” the audience. It is a film full of “gotchas.”

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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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