The IX by Andrew P. Weston

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_235511s7P3HzLYAre you old enough to remember the Kirk Douglas Saturday Night Live sketch from 1980 that asked the important question: “What if Spartacus had a Piper Cub?” Well I am, and it was the first thing that popped into my head when I received a review copy of Andrew P. Weston’s new novel, The IX, from the fine people at Perseid Press. I don’t read or review much sci-fi, but they suspected, quite correctly it turns out, that this would be right up my alley.

No, modern aviation doesn’t save the famous Roman IX Legion from destruction. Instead, the IX — and a host of other soldiers from across the ages — get a chance to play with advanced weapons to stave off a massed army of energy-devouring monsters on a star far across the galaxy from Earth.

The Ardenese, a highly advanced race, rule dozens of worlds, crossing the stars in ships that rip holes in space…until they encounter an enemy they come to know only as the Horde.

First discovered on a colony world, the energy-devouring Horde manage to secrete themselves aboard Ardenese starships. One by one the colonies fall, until all that remains is the homeworld and the capital city, Rhomane.

Even protected by barriers and nearly impregnable walls, the Ardenese know they are doomed. In the end, and it is surely near, they will all die, subject to the hideous ravages of the Horde. To ensure the survival of their race, the handful of survivors turn their fates over to the Architect, a massive AI computer.

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High Space Opera: Jim Starlin’s Metamorphosis Odyssey and Dreadstar

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Marvel Graphic Novel #3: DreadstarRecently, Black Gate overlord John O’Neill reported the news that Jim Starlin’s comic-book creation Dreadstar was in development as a TV series. Starlin will be a writer and executive producer of the new show, which is to be developed for television by Universal Cable Productions and Benderspink. No network was announced for the series, but io9 observed that Universal’s behind a number of shows for Syfy, where a Dreadstar show would presumably fit nicely.

As it happens, I was a fan of Dreadstar when it was being published back in the late 80s. It had been years since I’d looked at an issue, though, so the news of the TV deal prompted me to dig out the old comics and go through them again. I ended up with mixed feelings. For me, at least, the golden age of Dreadstar was about twelve. But if I can see problems with the book more clearly now, I can also see what works. And I can see how an ongoing TV show makes a certain amount of sense.

To explain that I need to start by going through the book’s publishing history. This gets complicated. Before Dreadstar there was The Metamorphosis Odyssey, a painted serial that ran for the first nine issues of Marvel’s Epic Illustrated. Epic was an anthology of creator-owned work somewhat along the lines of Heavy Metal magazine. By the time Starlin’s serial ended, late in 1981, he’d also published a related story through Eclipse Comics, a painted story called The Price. (Originally in black-and-white, it would later be reprinted by Marvel in colour. The Metamorphosis Odyssey, meanwhile, was in black-and-white for its first few chapters, then switched to colour as it went on.) The next chapter of the story came in Marvel’s third “graphic novel” — a line of books which somewhat resembled softcover European graphic albums — called, simply, Dreadstar.

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Fantasy Literature: That Conan Thing & The Sword of the Lady, Part 1

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

The Sword of the Lady-smallAs the treasure map says, here there be spoilers. This isn’t exactly a review, and besides this is just Part 1 of my look at The Sword of the Lady, of S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse series. As the novel begins, the CUT are determined to kill Rudi McKenzie no matter the political cost of attacking him and the leader of Iowa, a powerful post-change entity. After the attack fails (naturally), Iowa becomes a Good Guy, Rudi & Co. head off to Wisconsin, Major Graber & Co. regroup with some new allies, and the quest continues.

But enough plot. Let’s talk Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Let’s talk S. M. Stirling’s Rudi McKenzie. Let’s talk the hard-eyed desert of the real making it with the saucy romantic.

In Fantasy Literature: The Scourge of God & “I See You” I referred to Conan/Rudi as a way of highlighting how Stirling manages, in a somewhat realistic way, to portray the ultimate warrior at work. Able to reach down and tap deep bodily resources at will, in a tall, well-muscled frame, with a lifetime of martial training (from the very best instructors), and equipped with the best that can be made, Rudi is indeed like Conan himself, a practically unstoppable killing machine. Yet Stirling keeps it real, or a reasonable facsimile of real, making the danger to Rudi palpable. For example, Odin foretells Rudi shall not live so long as to see his hair go gray with age. Better yet, Rudi will die with a blade in his hand.

Conan himself could wish for no better end. Indeed, as mercenary, thief, pirate, and eventually king, Conan risked far worse during his career. Of course, when it comes to career path, Rudi McKenzie, Artos, Ard Ri of Montival, owes more to Aragorn than to Conan, but for now a comparison of how melee is portrayed serves us better than mere kingly politics.

Let us first enjoy some Conan, dug from the very roots of Sword & Sorcery (for this IS Black Gate, isn’t it?).

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Chaotic and Lawful Alignments in Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

ThreeHeartsI’m willing to bet that Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions published in 1953 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (and Anderson’s close friend and frequent collaborator Gordon R. Dickson’s St. Dragon and the George, published likewise in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction at about the same time – later republished as The Dragon and the George) owes quite a bit to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. And Anderson doesn’t disguise this, for he at least once overtly references Twain’s historical romance when he has his protagonist, Holger Carlsen (a “Carl” again!), unconvincingly scare away a band of barbarians by using his tobacco pipe to blow smoke out of his mouth. The work further encourages comparisons to Twain’s book through Holger’s use of other “Enlightenment” tricks in a secondary world, and Anderson uses bookends reminiscent of Twain’s. Anderson’s bookends here are worth a closer look.

Holger Carlsen’s history, as relayed by an unspecified narrator, funhouse-mirrors Anderson’s personal history. In a book profiling Supernatural Fiction Writers, Ronald Tweet reports that Anderson was born to Danish parents and lived in Denmark for a while previous to WWII. Holger of Three Hearts and Three Lions is a Dane who, after wandering Europe, starts attending an Eastern university in the U.S. When WWII breaks out, he goes back to Denmark, where, through fairly compressed and elliptical telling, the narrator says that Holger eventually ends up in a pistol fight with Germans. At this point, “all his world [blows] up in flame and darkness.” And Holger finds himself in a fantasy world.

In light of Anderson’s own biographical information, one is tempted to believe that much of this work is the result of a highly personal fantasy, a kind of daydream out of which many fantasies certainly must arise. I’m sure that most of us have fantasized about being an important person in an important place – If only we could get there, somehow!

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Michael Moorcock’s Fantasy Autobiography: The Whispering Swarm

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Whispering Storm-smallMichael Moorcock is a giant. He is probably most famous for his Elric of Melniboné stories, but he also has written many other fine works. In addition, he is also well known for having been the editor of the controversial British science fiction magazine New Worlds from 1964 to 1971. From this position Moorcock is usually credited with fostering the development of the New Wave in science fiction and fantasy.

Personally, I have been a big Moorcock fan for years and was something of a rabid devotee in junior high. I read the Elric stories over and over, almost memorized the “Melnibonéan Mythos” section of the Dungeons and Dragons Deities and Demigods book, and even bought the old Chaosium RPG Stormbringer, which was based on Moorcock’s Elric tales.

So I was incredibly excited when I heard that Moorcock was releasing a new novel, The Whispering Swarm, the first in a new trilogy. Having just finished it, I have to say that it is one of the most unique books I have ever read. Described in a sentence: It’s part fantasy and it purports be part autobiographical.

What?!

I think a little light can be shed on the book’s conception with the following.

StarShipSofa, the excellent British science fiction podcast and website, interviewed Moorcock back in 2008 (if you’re interested, you can watch it here). At one point in the interview, Moorcock relates that his publisher thought he should write a memoir. But Moorcock admits that he is very reticent to do so because many of the people he would be writing about are still alive, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings — nor did he want to get into any “he said vs. she said” controversies.

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Belated Movie Review #2: Apocalypto

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

Apocalypto-smallI recall that 10,000 BC (Belated Movie Review #1) and Apocalypto came out at roughly the same time. My recall is wrong! Apocaltypto is from ’06 — a full two years earlier than 10KBC!

Still, it was a stone-age adventure movie and has been on my list to see for almost a decade, so I finally did. Like 10KBC, I’m going to RECOMMEND it. Conditionally, as you’ll see below.

A lot of work went into this — cast of thousands! Build an entire Mayan city/prop in the jungle! Translate “I wanna dip my balls in it!” into Mayan! What it is NOT, outside of the first 15 minutes, is particularly fun or pleasant or uplifting. Leaves you kind of feeling like you just watched Leaving Las Vegas, only with more ripping out of still-beating hearts.

The plot is very similar to 10KBC. A group of hunter gatherers in forest are going about their lives, hunting, gathering. A group of slavers from the nearby city-state sweep into the village in a pre-dawn raid. Grizzly fighting ensues, with the hunter gatherers on the losing side.

Things get much grimmer as the slaves are marched off to the city, through the city, and right up to the pyramid in the middle. Still-beating hearts and decapitations and Jaguar Paw (the main character, although it takes a while to figure this out) is next on the block (literally) when an eclipse starts up.

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Fantasy Literature: The Scourge of God & “I… see… you”

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

The Scourge of GodFantasy Literature — this blog right here — continues looking at work by S. M. Stirling. I began with a look at this author’s Nantucket trilogy, moved on to the first three books of the Emberverse, and last time The Sunrise Lands came into view. The Scourge of God carries the series forward. These are not reviews, spoilers exist, set the table for some Fantasy Literature and dig in.

A cliffhanger is a useful device. No better hook exists for engaging a reader’s devout and ongoing attention, across the months and years between books. Emberverse novels appear on a regular annual basis, but not every author is so regular — yes, Martin, we’re all thinking of you.

The Sunrise Lands ends with Rudi’s rescue from certain capture or death by the fortuitous arrival of Boise’s pedal-powered airship. The “Sword of the Lady” is free, but three of his companions remain captive of the CUT. The Scourge of God must begin, therefore, with their rescue.

Rudi McKenzie calls on what mystical powers he possesses to fight like Conan himself; this seems to go beyond any ordinary beserker rage. “Fast, hard, and accurate: pick any two” is the way melee combat works for an individual, but Rudi manages all three.

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Unbound: Flipping the Pages of Reality

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

UnboundFor those of us who love books, they are often like windows into their own vibrant, living worlds. The idea that these stories contain a magical power to transport the reader to a new world, not merely figuratively but also literally, has shown up before, perhaps most prominently in The Neverending Story. In recent years, the idea of storybook worlds being tied to our own have become the driving force behind the popular television series Once Upon a Time. And, of course, many magical systems throughout fantasy literature have involved words of power.

Jim C. Hines has contributed one of the most intriguing interpretations on this theme in his Magic Ex Libris series. The first two books, Libriomancer and Codex Born, have been previously reviewed by our very own Alana Joli Abbott, but here’s the quick recap:

Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer, a magician with the ability to tap into the magic of books, drawing objects from them into the real world. His particular interest is science fiction and fantasy, allowing him to manifest anything from a lightsaber to a laser assault rifle to healing potions.

Magic has its limits, though. Isaac, with more skill and tenacity than common sense, has pushed beyond those limits more than most other libriomancers. So much so that he has come directly into contact with a dark presence that exists within books, a consciousness called the devourers, which has existed on the periphery of magic for centuries.

The third book, Unbound (Amazon), brings this conflict between the libriomancers and the devourers to a head. Isaac begins the book at about the lowest point imaginable. Not to give away too many spoilers from the end of Codex Born, but Isaac has no access to his magic and has been ostracized from the Porters, the magical society founded and led by the near-immortal sorcerer Johannes Gutenberg. (Yes, that Johannes Gutenberg. Like John O’Neill, reading keeps him young.) But this doesn’t prevent him from trying to hunt down more information about the devourers.

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Fantastic Universe, September 1959: A Retro-Review

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantastic Universe September 1959-smallHere is probably one of the less-remembered digest SF magazines of the 1950s. Fantastic Universe was founded in 1953 and lasted until 1960, publishing 71 issues overall… it was a bimonthly briefly then a monthly until its demise (with a missed issue or two along the way). Thus it survived the collapse of the pulps in about 1955, and the American News Company disaster in 1957 or so, and even Sputnik. That’s not a bad run, all things considered.

But what does historian of the field Mike Ashley say of it (in Tymn/Ashley, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines):

Fantastic Universe was born at the height of the SF magazine boom in 1953, and perhaps the most surprising fact about it was that it survived the boom and appeared regularly throughout the rest of the 1950s.  Because if FU had any distinguishing feature it was its remarkable lack of memorable or meritorious fiction.

Ouch!

Alas, a skim through the TOCs of its run supports that notion: the most memorable stories were perhaps “Short in the Chest,” by “Idris Seabright” (Margaret St. Clair); “The Large Ant,” by Howard Fast; “Be My Guest,” by Damon Knight; and Robert Silverberg’s “Road to Nightfall.”

Add a couple of stories more famous for either their novel expansion, or the movie version: Algis Budrys’ “Who?” and Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report,” and a couple decent but minor stories each by Poul Anderson and Jack Vance, oh, and say Walter Miller’s “The Hoofer” and Avram Davidson’s “The Bounty Hunter.” There was a short Borges story in translation as well (before Borges was all that well known in the US). Not all that much to show for 71 issues: even these stories I mention are solid works but not their authors at their very best.

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January Short Story Roundup

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

oie_1743017Z1jBJggOHere we are again with a new batch of short stories for your reading pleasure. Some were good, some were alright, you know, the usual. Remember, though, whatever I write about these stories, take the time to go check them out yourself and let the writers and magazines know what you think.

Swords and Sorcery Magazine Issue 36 marks three years of continuous publication and is one of its best in a while. The first tale, “The Fourth River” by Brandon Ketchum, is a good old bit of monster-fighting set in the forests of a magical land called Ohio, in a seventeenth century filled with fantastical beasts. The story tells of the violent encounter between a party of colonial traders and a bunch of Shawnee with a Kinepikwa — a giant serpent with antlers and the power to paralyze any unlucky enough to view the evil gem embedded on its brow.

“The Fourth River” is good example of the continuing movement by some writers away from the too, too common medieval trappings of much fantasy. There’s not much to the characters — they’re too busy struggling to save the Ohio Territories from destruction — but Ketchum does a good job limning out his alternate reality in six thousand words.

Issue #36′s second story is “Warden’s Legacy” by Daniel Moley. It’s only his second published story, but it feel like it’s part of a much longer tale. Dane is a talented soldier hoping to join up with an elite unit, the Phantoms. They are the frontline in a war against a force of wizards bent on resurrecting the Forshai, a race of reptilian beings who once ruled mankind. Not a bad story at all, with enough tantalizing refrences to a larger world to make me want to read more.

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