The Dark Net, Encryption Keys, and Lethal Secrets: The Silence of Six by E. C. Myers

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Kelly Swails

The Silence of Six-smallThe Silence of Six
E. C. Myers
Adaptive Books (368 pages, November 5, 2014, $17.99 in hardcover)

When we meet Max Stein, he and his friends are attending a presidential debate hosted at their high school. This isn’t just any debate — the candidates are there to discuss education and internet regulations, both of which are topics of great concern to the youth of America. To highlight this, the moderator fields questions posted through Panjea, a popular social network. As the debate is about to begin, Max gets a text from an anonymous number: a passcode several digits long from a person who identifies himself as STOP.

Max instantly knows STOP’s identity: Evan Baxter, his best friend and fellow hacker. Moments later, Evan — wearing a hood and masking his voice — hacks into the debate’s live feed and posts a live video question: “What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?” Then, horribly, Evan kills himself with a gun on camera.

Max is devastated. While he and Evan had grown apart over the past several months — Max had left the hacking world behind to pursue soccer and girls and popularity — he still considers Evan his best friend. He knows Evan wouldn’t have committed such a heinous, irreversible act without a good reason; he also knows the passcode that Evan gave him is the key that will unlock everything.

With no one to trust and the Feds on his tail, Max goes on the run in search of what Evan knew. His discovery will change how the world views social media forever. That is, if he can make it public before he becomes the seventh person silenced…

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Metal on Metal: Swords of Steel edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_3111058UFfTOs2zWhen John O’Neill posted a few weeks ago about Swords of Steel, edited by D.M. Ritzlin, I knew I had to read it. The hook was simple: swords & sorcery stories written by members of metal bands. Tons of heavy bands — Uriah Heep, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Metallica, Megadeth, to name several — have drawn on the themes of heroism, monster-fighting, and sorcery for lyrics and look. Sometimes they lift stuff directly from favorite authors, like the UK band called Conan, or Texas band The Sword with the song “Beyond the Black River.”

When I read Tolkien I hear folk music in my head; when I read Karl Edward Wagner I hear Black Sabbath. So although I recognized the name of only one band represented in the collection, I was stoked to dive in. With an amazingly cool cover by Martin Hanford and its back cover claim that it’s “NOT FOR WIMPS!,” I was expecting great things from Swords of Steel. It came tantalizingly close.

Set in England during the reign of Elizabeth I,”Into the Dawn of Storms” by Byron A. Roberts (vocalist, Bal-Sagoth) gets the book off to a solid start. Captain Blackthorne is plagued with dreams of death and magic and seeks help from the legend-shrouded scholar, John Dee. It’s billed as the first chapter in an ongoing saga and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for Chapter Two.

From the author bio (and there’s a nice one included for everybody), I learned that Roberts has developed a mulitverse that forms the foundation of his band’s music. This story, with references to past exploits and multiple worlds, is set there as well.

“The Riddle Master” by Ernest Cunningham Hellwell (bassist, Hellwell) is one of the best stories in the collection but, sadly, not S&S at all. A nameless writer narrates his run-in and bet with a demon, made to ensure eternal fame.

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Adventures In Italy: Calvino’s Italian Folktales

Monday, March 30th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Blue FolktalesI grew up on Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and the myriad anthologies of Andrew Lang: The Blue Book Of Fairy Tales, The Brown Book Of Fairy Tales, The Red Book Of Fairy Tales, etc. Most of these were read aloud by my father, so I received them as part of humanity’s long oral tradition, a fact for which I am now very grateful. Aesop, too, arrived in my life as something overheard rather than read.

All of the above work shared a common heritage. In fact, prior to high school at least, they led me to believe that fairy tales were specific to Europe, something vaguely Nordic, and familiar to the degree that the characters within the stories were uniformly white and spoke English. Who knows when it finally occurred to me that these stories were translated, and that many had international sources that transcended culture, race, and geography.

By 1980, when Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales finally arrived in an English-language edition (translated by George Martin), I was moving into different myths: Tolkien, certainly, but also the grittier, street-savvy story-telling of S.E. Hinton, Robert Cormier, and early Bruce Springsteen. The publication of Italian Folktales made not a ripple in my life. Indeed, I eventually read several other Calvino classics (If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler…, The Baron In the Trees, and The Non-Existent Knight) before realizing his omnibus folktales even existed.

It took me another ten years to order a copy and crack the covers, and ten more still to really delve into this enormous, 760 page trade paperback (Harcourt). What finally tipped me over the edge was the need for a new book to read to my adventure-obsessed youngest son.

At the outset, I admit to being worried that Calvino might not be a hit.

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Fantasy Literature: Lord of Mountains or An Exercise of Wishful Thinking

Friday, March 27th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

Lord of Mountains-smallThis blog has discussed S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse in some detail for the past several months. Beware spoilers as we move on to Lord of Mountains, Stirling’s 2012 addition to the series.

The logical second third of the post-quest novel Tears of the Sun, Lord of Mountains is the Act II confrontation that follows logically from the Act I setup, and coming before The Given Sacrifice‘s Act III, resolution. That these three chapters, published separately as novels, did not appear together under the same cover is a pity.

As previously discussed, the amount of “recap” material included with each is now crippling any loyal reader’s enjoyment of the texts. In fact, even new readers now feel the grit in the gears, as every time a character new to the individual text — for example, the first time Ingolf the Wanderer appears in Tears, Lord, and Given paragraphs of material is provided to foreground the character. Unfortunately, that background is now long behind Ingolf, and the current action of the narrative. And besides, how many readers are genuinely picking up the Nth book in this series, cold? And need to be reminded? Like, that one guy in Missouri, right? Yeah, you in the hat.

Would that this need be done only one time in one larger novel of three parts. First, the overall text would shrink considerably. Second, the sense of immersion would increase (and loyal readers of this blog remember what value we genre readers place on immersion, right?). Third, the narrative would flow more naturally.

As a Bush-era Secretary of Defense once opined, one goes to war with the army one has, not the army one wished one had. This sentiment is echoed by a character in Lord of Mountains, and it applies to the novels, or extended chapters, that continue to arrive annually. Perhaps in some future republication they can be packaged together, but even then would it pay for Stirling to take the time to thin the herd of redundant descriptions? Surely not.

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Shock Midnight Ambushes, Last Gasp Duels and Paraplegic Dwarves: I’ve Been Playing Mount and Blade

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Mount & Blade-smallI’m not, by any means, a PC gamer: the laptop I’m using to write this is just about held together with duct tape and clumps of old twig, and I have no idea where I could even find a graphics card, let alone which one to get.

Mount & Blade, however, makes me want to become one. I’m running this thing on its lowest possible settings: reduced the character models to stickmen, the trees to papier-mâché, the textures to cardboard. I’ve stripped this game of all possible graphical fidelity to get it running OK. I mean it wasn’t all that much to start with, but now it looks like interactive diarrhea.

Yet, I’ve still decided that this is the most fun I’ve had with a game with ages. It’s one of the few games nowadays that can leave me transfixed for hours, or even days, at a time. It’s a shame then, that it’s still pretty darn obscure.

Just one little caveat before we start, though. I’m talking about the original Mount & Blade here, not the jazzed up sequel: Mount & Blade Warband. The two are pretty much the same; it’s just that Warband has a few minor improvements and tweaks, like a greater variety of quests, better graphics, better animations, the ability to flirt relentlessly with the ladies of the realm and a whole new faction to join.

There’s also multiplayer, really, really good multiplayer. If you can get Warband, get that, but the original ran better on my laptop, and I played it a load more, so I feel a little more comfortable talking about it. Although, really, everything I talk about here is applicable to Warband, even more so, probably.

Mount & Blade is an open world, action RPG developed by Taleworlds and published by Paradox interactive in 2008. Taking place in a moderately realistic fictional medieval world called Caladria, players take the role of a nondescript migrant from some distant land, come to make his or her fortune amidst the wars that have torn the country apart.

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Belated Movie Reviews #3: Blood of Heroes

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

The Blood of Heroes poster-smallThe 80s were quite a time for movies (word has even reached me that certain millennials have discovered the decade over at, and some of my favorites are firmly rooted in that era — and one of my favorites from that decade is the 1989 Rutgur Hauer, Joan Chen, Vincent “REH” D’Onofrio effort The Blood of Heroes (BoH).

BoH stands both above and beside the many other dystopian movies for being a post-apocalyptic sports movie. And here’s the thing — that is ALL it is.

The apocalypse that put the world into such a sorry state? Not discussed — too busy trying to put a dog skull on a stake.

The high-tech dingus that will turn things around? That doesn’t happen in this movie — too busy winning matches in the hinterlands.

The guy-who-knows-the-only-weakness-of-Lord Motherraper? Also does not happen. Gotta win matches in the hinterlands to get into the Red City match.

But surely Joan Chen is going to get revenge on Lord Motherraper for murdering her family when he was roaming the world for steel and they wouldn’t name another target, a military target.

NO! Her family is alive and well, she just wants more out of her life than sustenance farming. And that means being a kwik for a team of juggers, sticking dog skulls on stakes in the hinterlands to win enough matches to play in the Red City and the big leagues!

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Fantasy Literature: Tears of the Sun & the Frozen Pizza Effect

Friday, March 20th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

The Tears of the Sun-smallThis blog is currently late in the game of discussing S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse novels. Not exactly reviews, there are spoilers everywhere here. Watch your footing and carry on.

Book Eight of the Emberverse, Tears of the Sun carries forward from an aging, creaky The High King of Montival — downhill. What better time to talk book covers?

Despite the success of the series for Stirling’s publisher, none of the covers serve the series well. They are generic, unlovable, inaccurate, bland, forgettable, and one can only imagine Stirling holding his tongue if asked about them. They commonly show a single male figure — Mike Havel, presumably, for the first three, and Rudi/Artos thereafter — armed and armored in some random fashion. A crossbow makes an appearance on several covers, for example, and when it comes to Rudi, the image bears little resemblance to the striking description provided by Stirling.

Clearly, the publisher here proved unwilling to shell out for the services of an artist such as Michael Whelan (see his website). Self-described as “Imaginative Realism,” Whelan’s work spans decades, reflects the same qualities expressed literarily by Stirling (remember that hybridity thing?), and as far as one can tell demonstrates the artist read the text before completing the art.

The cover for The Tears of the Sun shows a prospective reader a man (got that right) with short (long) black (reddish blond) hair, wearing some form of plate armor (okay) overtopped with a many-pocketed vest (what?) and pants, combat boots, and knee pads (huh?). The sword quested after for two years of bloody narrative does not appear on the cover — instead the sword represented on the cover is a generic longsword. In the background, what looks ominously like a horde of zombies stalks our hero.

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Amazing Stories, August 1967: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories August 1967-smallI have recently covered a lot of issues of Amazing (and Fantastic) from the Cele Goldsmith/Lalli era, which extended (officially) from December 1958 through June 1965. The two magazines were then sold to Ultimate Publishing, owned by Sol Cohen. Cohen (and managing editor Joseph Ross) immediately instituted a policy of publishing mostly reprints of stories previously published in Amazing/Fantastic, which lasted until Ted White took over in 1969. (White’s issues still featured reprints for a while, but by the time I was buying the magazine (in 1974) the cover would proclaim “All Stories New – No Reprints.”)

Joseph Ross (and Cohen) were briefly succeeded as editor by Harry Harrison and then by Barry Malzberg, both of whom (as I understand) resisted Cohen’s reprint policy. To make things worse, Cohen refused to pay the authors for reprinted stories (technically legal under the terms Amazing had originally bought the stories under). The then new organization SFWA took exception, and threatened a boycott, after which, I believe, Cohen agree to pay at least a nominal fee.

After Amazing and Fantastic stopped publishing reprints (and even before), Ultimate published a variety of dreadful magazines with different titles like Great Science Fiction Stories, and Thrilling Science Fiction, that were all reprint. (Again, all from inventory owned by Ultimate.)

I remember buying one early in my reading career – I thought I had found a brand new SF magazine, and was crushed to realize it was all mostly shoddy reprints. (There was a decent John Campbell story, probably “Uncertainty,” which appeared in the July 1974 Science Fiction Adventure Classics.)

Anyway, I happened to buy one of the Cohen/Ross era Amazings, mainly because it has a rather obscure Jack Vance story that I had not read. And I figured it would be interesting to compare it to Lalli’s Amazing. What is interesting is that, viewed objectively and ignoring the fact that most of the stories are reprints, this is quite a good issue, with at least one very fine story that has been largely forgotten.

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Witch Hunts and True Heroes: Reading Violette Malan’s The Sleeping God

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

The Sleeping God Violette Malan-smallThe Odin’s Day Poul Anderson work scheduled for discussion this week is The High Crusade. But, since I find that I have very little to say about it, I’ll focus instead on Violette Malan’s The Sleeping God.

Last week Elizabeth Cady asked Black Gate readers what she should read next. I would never deign to give her an answer. As a reader and a scholar, in general I find that book recommendations more often curse than bless. Here is my simple reasoning for this: There simply is too much to read already. I don’t even want to think about accommodating every well-meaning aunt, mother-in-law (notice the gender bias here? I’ll let it stand: I infrequently receive recommendations from men in the family), neighbor or co-worker who says, “Oh, I see you like to read. Well, you absolutely must read FILL IN THE BLANK.” These recommendations are all the worse (I’m sure many Black Gate readers can testify) when the recommenders are pushing a book on you for no other reason than that they have noticed that you read at all in a culture wherein so many don’t. As such, they often don’t recognize the fine distinctions of what genres or periods in which one might prefer to read.

On many occasions I have thought about and discussed reading through food metaphors. The title of the lengthiest work from food thinker Michael Pollan frames this discussion perfectly. The title is The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In that work, Pollan argues that a modern Homo sapien in what are considered “developed” countries is confronted in the supermarket with a similar complexity of choice that his or her distant ancestor experienced. In a state of nature, the human must choose amongst a variety of foods that grow in the wild. What is nutritious? What will make you sick? What should be sampled in moderation? Now, Pollan argues, the food system has processed these foods into – in some cases – potentially lethal formulations. In the supermarket, Homo sapiens face similar challenges that their ancestors did: What is good for me? What will make me sick? What might cause cancer?

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February Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_174947HoPAYr1cHere we are again, people. It’s that time when I let you know what’s going on in genre magazines that might possibly appeal to fans of heroic fantasy. Whatever lack of love swords & sorcery gets from the big publishers, it’s doing quite well at the short story length in the ‘zines.

Swords and Sorcery Magazine Issue 37 kicks off its fourth year of publication with two decent enough stories. The first is “Old Bear and the Grey Bird“ by Nathan Elwood. It’s narrated by Old Bear, a non-human native of a land increasingly dominated by human colonists. He’s almost nine feet tall, covered in thick gray fur, and two short horns rise out of his head. His people have retreated into the remote, hidden places of the land and most humans consider them legendary.

Despite his own efforts to escape interaction with humans, Old Bear feels moved to intervene when he comes across a burned and pillaged human settlement. When he spots several raiders about to kill the only survivor, a young girl, the hunter steps in to rescue her. The rest of the story is about him deciding what he should do with her.

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