My Overly Conscious Love for Pathfinder

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Pathfinder Tales Stalking the BeastLately I’ve been reading a fair amount of Pathfinder novels. Partly this is because I want to play Pathfinder and have no one with whom to play it, because all of my adult friends who are so inclined live too far away, and my children and I just aren’t in the same frame of mind. (Roleplaying with a fourteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old is challenging, simply because logic, for all involved, works a little differently. For this audience, a straightforward dungeon crawl, like Fantasy Flight’s Descent, is a more viable option, but, with that, you don’t get enough freedom for story creation and character generation.)

Another reason I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because my oldest son has started reading them. If I read them as well, we can inhabit a shared text (and perhaps, in time, a satisfying Pathfinder gaming session).

And yet another reason why I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because they’re good.

This was announced not too long ago, at least in reference to Howard Andrew Jones’s Stalking the Beast, when Nick Ozment realized that that novel was “better than it needed to be.” I’ve read some Pathfinder novels by other writers as well, and I will say that most of them are quite good.

Nick made clear why he found Jones’s second novel for the franchise so good, but what do I mean when I say that, in general, I like the series? I will say that they are highly satisfying Sword and Sorcery novels. They are entertaining. They are escapist. They have cool things in them. And, above all, they are quite familiar. They are based on the 3.5 (or 3.75) edition of Dungeons & Dragons, after all.

Yet I find that I’m a bit self-conscious about reading so many of these. Shouldn’t I (I frequently ask myself) be devoting more of my time – perhaps all of my time – to reading and thereby thinking the greatest thoughts of the greatest minds in history? If I read fantasy at all, shouldn’t I be reading the classics of the genre? Pathfinder novels are not all that “auteur” (if misplaced concern for originality and ownership should be the criteria with which we select our reading material). They’re industry novels. They’re franchise.

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New Treasures: For a Few Souls More by Guy Adams

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

For a Few Souls More-smallI’ve been waiting for the conclusion of Guy Adams’s Heaven’s Gate trilogy since the first installment, The Good The Bad and the Infernal, appeared in March 2013. The second volume, Once Upon a Time in Hell, was published almost exactly a year ago. It’s a gonzo Weird Western with demons, supernatural cowboys, and steampunk Indians.

In the third and final volume, For a Few Souls More, Heaven has fallen to Earth, joining the Union as the 43rd state… and the President sets out for the legendary town of Wormwood, the traveling community which appears once every hundred years for a single day.

The uprising in Heaven is at an end and Paradise has fallen, becoming the forty-third state of America. Now angels and demons must learn to get along with humans.

The rest of the world is in uproar. How can America claim the afterlife as its own? It’s certainly going to try as the President sets out for the town of Wormwood for talks with its governor, the man they call Lucifer.

Hell has problems of its own. There’s a new evangelist walking its roads, trying to bring the penitent to paradise, and a new power is rising. Can anyone stand up to the Godkiller?

For a Few Souls More was published on December 30, 2014 by Solaris. It is 316 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Jake Murray.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Cohen_CohenI am an unabashed fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Along with a lot of Carl Hiassen’s work, they are the only reads that cause me to laugh out loud. Unseen Academicals was the first Discworld book that I wasn’t really happy with when I finished it; which isn’t too bad considering it was the thirty-third in the series for me.

Though I have a very fundamental difference with Pratchett’s basic worldview, I think he is an absolutely brilliant satirist. Discworld isn’t nearly as well known generally as The Hitchhiker’s Guides to the Galaxy books, but I tell folks that if you like Douglas Adams, you should like Terry Pratchett.

Genghiz Cohen, better known as Cohen the Barbarian, appears in a few novels. He is Discworld’s greatest warrior, though now he is an old man in his late eighties or nineties, and he leads a band of senior citizen barbarians known as the Silver Horde.

Cohen/Conan. The Silver Horde/The Golden Horde. See? Get it? Discworld is full of this stuff.

Cohen is a skinny old man with a long white beard, a patch over one eye and a dirty loincloth. He has a set of dentures made from Troll teeth, which are pretty much the only things he has left from a wild life.

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The Series Series: The Wide World’s End by James Enge

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Wide World's End-smallYou have something wonderful to look forward to in February, and it’s sort of the opposite of Valentine’s Day.  The third volume of James Enge’s Tournament of Shadows trilogy, The Wide World’s End, is coming out, and it’s every bit as strange and glorious as Enge’s novels have all been so far, with an extra dimension of heartbreak.

Because it’s a tragedy. Not the schoolroom mountain-diagram tragedy plot here, not the victim-blaming hubris explanation, but a fresher, more original kind of tragedy. (Fortunately, the tragedy is leavened by Enge’s usual black humor, numerous inventively disturbing monsters, clever magical technologies, and crackling dialogue.)

What’s tragic about Morlock is that the very things that make him so genuinely excellent, so uniquely able to save his world, are the very things that make it impossible for him to go home again. And that includes the great love between him and his wife.

The author and publisher have been completely forthright about that. The cover copy tells us even the happiest available ending on the cosmic scale will be a disaster on the personal scale.

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Vintage Treasures: Strange Cargo by Jeffrey E. Barlough

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Cargo Jeffrey E. Barlough-smallI didn’t know quite what to make of Strange Cargo when I received a review copy over a decade ago. The cover grabbed my attention immediately, as did the synopsis, but I didn’t immediately realize it was part of Jeffrey E. Barlough’s ongoing Western Lights series, set in a world where the Ice Age never ended and only a narrow sliver of civilization survives along the Pacific American coastline.

The vast majority of review copies I received a decade ago are already long forgotten. But Barlough’s fame has steadily grown as Western Lights, a delightful series in which Victorian society exists alongside saber-toothed cats and woolly mammoths, continues to attract new readers. Strange Cargo was the third volume, following Dark Sleeper and The House in the High Wood; the most recent are What I Found at Hoole and The Cobbler of Ridingham.

Something wicked this way comes…

Nantle is the destination for the wealthy Cargo family. A mysterious heir has been named in their grandfather’s will — and they have traveled a long way by sea to find him.

Mr. Tim Christmas journeys as part of his apprenticeship, seeking the mechanism behind a strange set of seemingly magical stones. On her twenty-first birthday, Miss Wastefield is given an odd gift, which she keeps locked up in a giant chest at all times — a keeping place from which she receives dire threats. In Nantle, she hopes to find the one man who can rid her of this evil.

It is in this old cathedral city that their paths will converge. And where they will find themselves at the mercy of a mighty and vengeful power.

Strange Cargo was published by Ace Books on August 3, 2004. It is 481 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback. It has never been reprinted and it currently out of print; there is no digital edition. The cover is by Gregory Bridges.

New Treasures: Vacant by Alex Hughes

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Vacant Alex Hughes-smallAlex C. Hughes’s Mindspace Investigations series has now reached Book 4, and I think it’s time I checked them out. The Parkersburg, WV News and Sentinel calls her novels “Science fiction mixed into an almost pulp-noir setting… a great series,” and that’s enough to catch my attention. The books are futuristic murder mysteries set 60 years after devastating Tech Wars nearly destroyed the planet. Adam, an ex-addict kicked out of the Telepath’s Guild, is now working for the police, gradually re-building his shattered reputation with a series of adventures that James Knapp calls “A fun blend of Chinatown and Blade Runner.”

Nothing ruins a romantic evening like a brawl with lowlifes — especially when one of them later turns up dead and my date, Detective Isabella Cherabino, is the #1 suspect. My history with the Atlanta PD on both sides of the law makes me an unreliable witness, so while Cherabino is suspended, I’m paying my bills by taking an FBI gig.

I’ve been hired to play telepathic bodyguard for Tommy, the ten-year-old son of a superior court judge in Savannah presiding over the murder trial of a mob-connected mogul. After an attempt on the kid’s life, the Feds believe he’s been targeted by the businessman’s “associates.”

Turns out, Tommy’s a nascent telepath, so I’m trying to help him get a handle on his Ability. But it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that there’s something going on with this kid’s parents that’s stressing him out more than a death threat…

Vacant was published by Roc Books on December 2, 2014. It is 337 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.

Fantasy Literature: A Meeting at Corvallis, Part 1 of 2

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

A Meeting at Corvallis-smallFirst, a quick note: this series of posts about S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse novels contain spoilers. While they are dubbed reviews, they are not particularly review-ish. However, should the posts encourage new readers to read Stirling’s Emberverse, the more the merrier, and enjoy — but beware, for here there be spoilers.

I discuss book 1 of the Emberverse series, Dies the Fire, here, and Book 2, The Protector’s War, here.

Series fiction obeys different rules than trilogies (why trilogies? A paper shortage in England in the mid 1950′s led to a certain book being published as a trilogy…) or standalone novels. Stirling’s A Meeting at Corvallis is, structurally, the second half of a duology on the one hand and the third novel in the Emberverse on the other.

Before the opening battles of the Protector’s War, Stirling provides some thrilling black ops (medieval-style) action. An embarrassment to the PPA (Portland Protective Association) needs to be eliminated before he can testify to the leaders of Corvallis, for if he and his crimes are shown in public, Corvallis public sentiment may swing against the PPA.

Sandra Arminger swings into action, arriving in state to handle the crisis, and her assistant Tiphaine Rutherton dresses all in black and slinks into the night. The good guys are on guard, though, and Tiphaine, later dubbed “Lady D’ath,” (hint, hint) is apparently caught in the act of disposing of the embarrassing PPA lord before he can be displayed to the people of Corvallis.

Here’s a lengthy quote to set the stage.

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New Treasures: Ahriman: Exile by John French

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Ahriman Exile-smallI’ve been listening to Horus Heresy audiobooks during my daily commute recently. They’re a heck of a lot of fun, and Black Library does an absolutely stellar job with them — not just by choosing top-notch readers (which they do), but also with excellent music and sound effects. They’re more like audio plays than books-on-tape… battles ring with bolter fire and explosions, and tense chases are punctuated by heavy footsteps, distant echoes, and static-laden vox transmissions. Twice I’ve almost missed the freeway exit on the way into work, and that’s usually a sign that the book I’m listening to has complete command of my attention.

One of the better audiobooks I listened to over the summer was Graham McNeill’s A Thousand Sons, read by the talented Martyn Ellis. It has a huge cast, but one of the more interesting characters was Ahzek Ahriman, the faithful Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons Legion. Ahriman is noble and self-sacrificing almost to a fault, and the destruction of his legion at the end of that book is a great tragedy. When I finished A Thousand Sons I looked around for similar books, and I was surprised to find that Ahriman featured prominently in several other Warhammer 40K novels. I was even more surprised to find that, in almost every case — such as Atlas Infernal by Rob Sanders, or C.S. Goto’s Dawn of War trilogy — Ahriman is the villain, a relentless and feared Chaos Sorcerer. How did that happen?

John French, who has written for the Rogue Trader and Dark Heresy role playing games, sets out to answer that question with a trilogy of books that follows the history of Ahriman after the events of A Thousand Sons, and Ahriman’s exile into the Eye of Terror. The first volume, Ahriman: Exile, was released in 2013; the second, Ahriman: Sorcerer, was published this week.

A Chaos Space Marine Sorcerer seeks the power of the gods.

All is dust… Spurned by his former brothers and his father Magnus the Red, Ahriman is a wanderer, a sorcerer of Tzeentch whose actions condemned an entire Legion to an eternity of damnation. Once a vaunted servant of the Thousand Sons, he is now an outcast, a renegade who resides in the Eye of Terror. Ever scheming, he plots his return to power and the destruction of his enemies, an architect of fate and master of the warp.

Ahriman: Exile was published by Games Workshop on July 2, 2013. It is 416 pages, priced at $14 in trade paperback. There is no digital edition.

Future Treasures: Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

Monday, January 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Gemini Cell-smallMyle Cole carved out a unique niche with his popular Shadow Ops novels, ultra-realistic military SF crossed with superheroes. Along the way he picked up a reputation for telling intricate, fast-action stories with rich characters.

So I was very intrigued to receive a copy of his newest novel today. The first in a Shadow Ops prequel series, Gemini Cell is set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel. Featuring a Navy SEAL forcibly returned to duty from beyond the grave, Gemini Cell looks like another epic adventure as only Myke Cole can tell.

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself — and his family — in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.

That should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty — as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realizes his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark — especially about the fates of his wife and son…

Myke Cole’s short story “Naktong Flow” appeared in Black Gate 13. His first novel was Shadow Ops: Control Point; our roving reporter Patty Templeton interviewed him shortly after it was published. He looked at the hard facts of selling a fantasy series in his Black Gate essay “Selling Shadow Point.” We last covered Myke’s work with Shadow Ops: Breach Zone.

Gemini Cell will be published on January 27 by Ace Books. It is 366 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Larry Rostant.

Whispers Around Every Corner: Try Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh, the First Great Serialized Novel of 2015

Monday, January 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Nigh Marie Bilodeau-smallMarie Bilodeau’s first post for Black Gate, “Nine (mostly) Distinct (almost) Positive Traits of Chainmail Bikinis,” was the top article on the blog for the month of December. Her sparkling sense of humor, and her considerable prose gifts, instantly made Marie one of our most popular writers.

Marie has far too much energy to be content with just blogging, however, and I was not at all surprised to see her first fiction release in 2015 is in ambitious project that’s already getting a lot of buzz. Nigh is a serialized novel that will be released over the course of 2015; Book 1 is due in just 10 days. You can pre-order it now on Amazon for just 99 cents.

A disappearing watch. A thief in the night. Whispers around every corner…

Then a mist rolls into town and refuses to dissipate.

Alva Viola Taverner has lived in her small town all of her life, working as a car tech while saving for her little sister to go to university. But everything is about to change as the veil between our world and the world of the faeries weakens and falls.

Suddenly, even the smallest bump in the night can prove the deadliest.

Marie is the author of the Heirs of a Broken Land trilogy, published in 2009-2010. Her space fantasy Destiny’s Blood was nominated for the Aurora Award. Her short stories have appeared in When the Hero Comes Home, Masked Mosaic, Ride the Moon, and other places.

Book 1 of Nigh will be released by S&G Publishing on January 29, 2015. It is 59 pages, priced at 99 cents.

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