Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Six – The Female of the Species

Saturday, September 20th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

female altFemale HC 1stSapper’s The Female of the Species (1928) is quite likely the best book in the long-running Bulldog Drummond thriller series. It’s one failing comes late in the narrative and spoils it as assuredly as Mickey Rooney’s bucktoothed yellow-face performance as Mr. Yunioshi sours Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) for modern audiences. As a devoted fan of both Blake Edwards and Sapper, I do my best to make exceptions for both artists’ failings, particularly when they were acceptable in the times they lived in.

In the case of the former, the suggestion of pornographic photos in Truman Capote’s novella could never have been transferred to the screen with an Asian actor in the role of Audrey Hepburn’s frustrated landlord. Edwards soft-pedaled the material and defused a scene that never would have slipped by the Production Code if handled dramatically by offering Mickey Rooney in a broad caricature of an Asian. It was a star cameo in a comic stereotype still common in television sitcoms of the 1960s and Jerry Lewis films. Audiences at the time laughed at the fact that it was Mickey Rooney making a fool of himself and nothing more. Today, the classic status of the film makes the sequence stick out as an unfortunate example of racial insensitivity in a fashion that does not taint comedies of the day which are now viewed as an example of what then passed for juvenile humor.

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Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1966: A Retro Review

Saturday, September 20th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantasy and Science Fiction April 1966-smallI called the last magazine I covered (Fantastic for April 1960) “determinedly minor.” This issue of F&SF seems much more significant to me.

The cover is by Jack Gaughan, illustrating Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever novelet “The Sorcerer Pharesm.” The features include a Gahan Wilson cartoon, a poem by Doris Pitkin Buck, a very short science snippet by Theodore L. Thomas, Judith Merril’s Books column and Isaac Asimov’s Science column.

Asimov’s column is one of his lesser ones: little but a list of the Nobel Prize winners in the Science fields by nationality. That’s a long list, so it takes up most of his page count. He does a tiny amount of analysis of the numbers, but not much.

Merril begins by reviewing two very ’60s-ish popular science books: LSD: The Consciousness Inducing Drug (edited by David Solomon, with contributions from those you’d expect, like Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and Timothy Leary), and Games People Play, by Eric Berne. She recommends the LSD book, but is quite negative about Games People Play.

In the way of SF she begins by looking at two John Brunner books, The Day of the Star Cities and The Squares of the City. She identifies the first as “up there with the best of his earlier work”, and the second as a step beyond, building on his growth that started with The Whole Man. I think that jibes with the consensus view of Brunner’s career. She ends up saying “it leaves me very eager to see Brunner’s next.”

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There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

There is no Lovely End-smallRegular readers of Black Gate will no doubt have noticed the return of infrequent interviewer Patty Templeton. For those who were wondering why Ms. Templeton wasn’t conducting more of her fantastic interviews with an eclectic rogues gallery of writers, the reason was, quite simply, that she was too busy writing a novel of her own. There Is No Lovely End was published back in July and has been garnering universally positive reviews. Here’s another one.

The book starts in pre-Civil War America and follows the lives of several seemingly unrelated characters whose lives will all eventually come crashing together in one disastrous night. Not all of these characters will survive to the end. In fact, one of them dies very early in the story, but continues to move events forward as a ghost. These early chapters can be a bit disorienting as the reader jumps from one subplot to another, each with its own main character and supporting cast. But once you get a feel for each character, the jumping about is much easier to follow and gives the story a frantic pace (which would otherwise be difficult, considering that it takes place over a 32-year period).

Hennet Daniels has undertaken a decades-long hunt for the medicine man who inadvertently poisoned his brother. Sarah Pardee is coping as best she can with a loveless marriage to a man who cares more about his dead daughter than his living wife. Graham Johnson is a suicidal newsman who falls hopelessly in love with a remorseless psychopath. Hester Garlan is a remorseless psychopath, searching for the lost son whom she believes has stolen her psychic abilities. Nathan Garlan is a young man trying to cope with his ability to speak with the dead.

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Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King Hits Half the Mark

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted by Kelly Swails

Half a King Joe Abercrombie-smallHalf a King
By Joe Abercrombie
Del Rey (352 pages, July 15, 2014, $26 in hardcover/ $10.99 digital)
Cover by Mike Bryan

Yarvi was never meant to be King. For one thing, he’s second in line behind his older brother. For another his left hand is deformed, and because of this deformity, Yarvi has been told his entire life (mostly by his father, the current king) that he will never truly be a man. He certainly could never be King, which is fine by him. He has trained for several years to be a Minister — a skilled confidant to Kings and others in power — and will soon qualify to take the vows that will break his ties to his family and make him Brother Yarvi.

That is, until his father and older brother are killed in a battle with a neighboring King. During their funeral, Yarvi swears an oath to kill those who killed his family. During the subsequent battle, he learns his uncle murdered his father and brother. After this revelation, Yarvi is thrown from a tower window and into the sea. He is presumed dead, sold into slavery, and becomes an oarsman on a pirate ship. He must use his skills and gather allies if he hopes to fulfill his oath to avenge his father and brother.

Half a King is marketed as a YA novel. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Abercrombie and I was curious to see how an epic fantasist would do YA. Most epic fantasy readers I know love Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, so I thought I would give this book a shot. I found it enjoyable enough to consider reading his other work, but didn’t like it enough to continue reading this series.

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A Mining Colony, a Blind Date, and a Ghostly Alien Hand: A Review of Outpassage by Janet Morris & Chris Morris

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Outpassage-smallOutpassage
By Janet Morris & Chris Morris
Perseid Press (430 pages, February 10, 2014, $24.95 trade paperback/$6.99 digital)
Cover by Vincent Di Fate

You only live once.

That is not only the theme of this excellent science fiction novel — it is also at the very heart of the novel’s story premise. Once again, I continue with my reviews of my favorite novels by Janet Morris and Chris Morris. But how I ever missed Outpassage when it was first published in 1988 I cannot say, because this is exactly the type of science fiction story I grew up reading in the pages of Amazing Stories and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. So this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure to read this great science fiction adventure.

Outpassage is action-packed, character-driven, and thought-provoking. The science is grounded in reality, but isn’t integral to the plot, and the tech never gets in the way of story and character: there is no garbage science or techno babble to muddle the plot. While this story has the feel of an old-fashioned, traditional science fiction novel from back in the day, it has a hip and modern sensibility to it. The characters are vivid and memorable, and the lean prose style is perfectly suited to the story. The dialogue is perfectly matched to each character — crisp and sharp, and very smart, with a fine balance of humor and gravitas.

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Dueling Rakes, Mysterious Women, and the Goblin Aristocracy: The Queen’s Necklace by Teresa Edgerton

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1605134EiRbubaPThe Queen’s Necklace (2001) by Teresa Edgerton (with its title borrowed from Alexandre Dumas) is a perfectly splendid swashbuckling adventure in an Age of Reason-like world as it teeters on the precipice of collapse.

For five thousand, years Goblins using powerful magical gems ruled the world, keeping Humans enslaved and uneducated. Fifteeen hundred years ago, Humanity rose up and slaughtered most — but not all — of the Goblins. Now a millennium of plotting by the Goblin aristocracy is about to culminate in their return to power in a wave of chaos and destruction.

The Queen’s Necklace (TQN) is one of the many (too many!) books that’s sat unread for years on my shelf. Ocassionally the thought would occur to me to pull it down and finally give it a go, but I never followed through. When I reread and reviewed Edgerton’s earlier novel Goblin Moon this summer, she suggested I give The Queen’s Necklace a try, mentioning that it was possibly going to be reprinted in the autumn. So I figured, what the heck, I had bought it with every intention of reading it at some point, so why not now? And I’m glad I did.

While not connected to Goblin Moon and its sequel, The Gnome’s Engine, TQN occurs in a similar Enlightenment setting. There are perfumed fops, dueling rakes, mysterious women, and equal parts quackery, science, and magic.

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Fantasy Out Loud V: Steeleye Span Meets Terry Pratchett

Monday, September 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

815A5CiM4DL._SL1200_In late 2013, a strange event occurred: Steeleye Span, a British band that has outlived just about all other contenders except the Rolling Stones, released a CD entitled Wintersmith.

Coincidence? After all, there’s a Discworld spin-off by that name, too, a Terry Pratchett novel aimed at the young adult market and starring the infinitely resourceful tween witch, Tiffany Aching. Could there be a connection?

Indeed. It turns out that Pratchett has been a fan of Steeleye since the early seventies (“Boys Of Bedlam” was a particular favorite), and Steeleye’s lead vocalist, the incomparable Maddy Prior, has been, in turn, an unabashed fan of Pratchett’s. They got to talking, and next thing you know, the world was gifted with a terrific fantasy-driven album of folk, rock, and traditional Morris dances, all tied together by the Great A’Tuin and a nasty case of winter.

Pratchett’s Wintersmith is the third installment in the irregular Tiffany Aching series, a sort of sideline to the “official” Discworld novels (The Color Magic, et al). The story centers on Tiffany’s impulsive decision to “dance the Dark Morris,” a rite that shifts summer to winter – except that when Tiffany includes herself, both summer and winter, elemental godlings, take note of her and seek, in their own ways, to possess her. Tiffany now faces the possibility of endless winter, in the demi-human form of a smitten teenage boy.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer… In the Beginning, Part Four

Friday, September 12th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

illo-Sax Rohmerrohmer2We already noted in our last installment that Arthur Henry Ward had adopted the pseudonym of Sax Rohmer for his relatively successful career as a music hall songwriter and comedy sketch writer. He would later claim that he worked as a newspaper reporter during these years, but that his articles were published anonymously. Allegedly he covered waterfront crime in Limehouse, but he also claimed to have successfully managed interviews with heads of state. There is little doubt the man was a great raconteur, but none of the anonymously published articles and interviews Rohmer credits himself with writing have ever been located by researchers. It is highly questionable whether he ever actually worked as a journalist or at least to the extent he claimed. What is factual is that he did begin having works published anonymously.

As a young man, he ran with a crowd of self-styled bohemians who occupied a clubhouse on Oakmead Road in London. Each member of the gang was known by rather fanciful nicknames with Rohmer being known as Digger. Their activities ran from simply hanging around the clubhouse to picking up girls and attempting various get-rich-quick schemes to avoid making an honest living. Some of their schemes were of questionable legality.

Around this time, Rohmer decided he would fictionalize their exploits. It is believed he authored seven stories about the Oakmead Road Gang. Five manuscripts were known to have survived their author’s death: “Narky,” “Rupert,” “Digger’s Aunt,” “The Pot Hunters,” and “The Treasure Chest.” All seven stories were submitted for anonymous publication to Yes and No. It appears only the first of the group of stories ever saw print. The surviving four manuscripts passed upon the death of Rohmer’s widow to Cay Van Ash. When Van Ash died in Paris twenty years ago, Rohmer’s unpublished manuscripts were being held by a friend in Tokyo (where Van Ash lived for many years while teaching at Waseda University). When the friend had his visa rescinded on short notice in 2000, he was forced to leave his  belongings behind, where they were junked by a Japanese family who thought the storage boxes contained worthless garbage.

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August Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_955935TUQkHqmzFive weeks off have done a lot to recharge my batteries. Among other things, I actually read several books that are not swords & sorcery in the slightest. Among them were Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy by John LeCarre (rereads both), The Children of Old Leech edited by Russ Lockhart and Justin Steele, Killer Move by Michael Marshall, and Miami Blues by Charles Willeford (also a reread). I recommend all of them highly.

I also read the first of Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood books, Brethren of the Main, and am in the midst of reading The Chronicles of Captain Blood. I can place the revival of my obsession with pirates at Howard Andrew Jones’s and my seven-year-old nephew’s feet. These are books you will definitely be hearing about in the near future.

But enough blather; I’m here to fill you in on the past month’s S&S shorts. Between Swords and Sorcery Magazine #31 and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #21, six new stories made their appearances this past August. You may not love every story or even the ones I do, but I can never stress strongly enough the need to check them out for yourself. The authors and editors need to know there’s an audience for the work they’re doing.

As he has every month for the past two and half years, Curtis Ellett presented two new stories in his most recent issue of Swords and Sorcery Magazine. In the first, “Red Cat’s Marriage” by Melanie Henry, the skillfully manipulative daughter of a king brings dire consequences down on herself when she tricks a man into marriage. While well written, it’s not suspenseful nor really fantasy, let alone swords & sorcery.
oie_960117K1fBKqD

Paul Miller’s “A Promise Made” is nice meat-and-potatoes S&S. It’s right on target, giving the reader a heroic sword-wielding main character, a dangerous world filled with deadly denizens, and innocents in peril needing rescue. The Blademistress is a supernaturally gifted warrior working as a guard on a caravan in a world that has fallen to the forces of darkness. She’s determined and more than ready to do whatever is necessary to honor her promises — even to the point of death. Among the many evils haunting her world are the Fallen.

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Self-Published Book Review: Malarat by Jessica Rydill

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 | Posted by Donald Crankshaw

Malarat - eBook Cover DisplayingIf you have a book you’d like me to review, please see the submission guidelines here. I’ve run short on books that I’ve received in the past year, so anything new has a good chance of being reviewed.

This month’s self-published novel is Malarat by Jessica Rydill. The book is the third book in Ms. Rydill’s shamanworld series, but also a standalone novel. The novel takes place in a world much like our own, with France (called Lefranu), England (Anglond), Jews (Wanderers), and Christians (Doxans). But these analogs are not exact (for example, the Doxans elevate Megalmayar, the Mother of God, to the position of a goddess) and there are also a number of things that are very different, such as the Great Cold, that isolated a portion of Lefranu so that it remained stuck in Medieval times while the rest of the world advanced to what most closely resembles the late 19th and early 20th century, complete with trains, firearms, and electricity.

The novel focuses on Annat Vasilyevich and her father, Yuda, two Wanderers who are also shaman, who have a number of magical (or psychic) abilities, such as communicating by thought, traveling to other worlds, and blasting things with shaman fire. They have been asked by the rulers of Masalyar, a large city-state in Lefranu, to investigate the rise of Clovis, a new claimant for the crown of Lefranu, who has the support of the Duc de Malarat, a powerful duke, and the Canes Dei, Doxan warrior-priests with a reactionary theology and an invention, the Spider, which they can use to overcome shaman. The Canes Dei are led by the beautiful but brutal Valdes de Siccaria. Yuda is a former Railway guard, who has connections among the Railway workers, but he was crippled in a previous adventure. He plans on disguising himself as a pilgrim seeking the blessing of the new king. They are accompanied on their mission by Yuda’s non-shaman son Malchik, Malchik’s lover, Camille, and their newborn daughter, Annat’s current lover Genie and ex-husband Cluny, Yuda’s apprentice Huldis, the railway workers Nico and Lukacs, and the nuns Sister Coty and Mother Kana. This is admittedly a large cast, but they soon split into smaller parties, with Annat and Genie staying in the city of Yonar in order to defend it. There they are joined by Casildis, Huldis’s sister, and her husband, Sergey Govorin, and the shaman Semyon Magus. The others continue on toward their fateful encounter with Clovis’s forces.

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