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.


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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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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The Omnibus Volumes of Jack Vance, Part I: Planet of Adventure

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Vance Planet of Adventure-smallI’ve been exploring the work of Jack Vance recently, inspired by the beautiful volumes from Subterranean Press collecting his earliest short stories, The Early Jack Vance. Four have been released so far, and we covered the upcoming fifth volume, Grand Crusade, here.

I don’t think I really understood just how prolific Jack Vance was until I set out to collect his paperbacks. I began that undertaking decades ago, and it’s still underway. At last count, I had well over 50. He published over 20 through DAW alone (Amazon has listed many of them here).

Still, one of the great things about Vance is that you don’t have to work hard to find his most popular fiction. Over the years much of it — including his Dying Earth, Demon Princes, Durdane, Alastor, and Ports of Call books — has been collected in handsome and affordable omnibus editions from Orb/Tor, Gollancz, and the Science Fiction Book Club. And most of them are still in print.

Earlier this week I published the third and final installment of my survey of The Omnibus Volumes of C.J. Cherryh. That started out as a modest attempt to catalog the omnibus editions of Cherryh’s early paperback SF and fantasy from DAW Books, and eventually became an excuse to showcase the covers of all 22 of her original novels. It was a lot of fun, especially if you have an obsessive interest in vintage paperbacks like I do.

Coincidentally, I ordered a set of Jack Vance omnibus editions earlier this month, and when they arrived I realized I could do the same thing with Vance. I’ve never really explored Vance’s back catalog with any thoroughness here at Black Gate, and it seemed like the right time.

So here we are. We’re kicking things off today with Planet of Adventure, an omnibus collection of four linked space opera novels: City of the Chasch (1968), Servants of the Wankh (1969), The Dirdir (1969), and The Pnume (1970). Next to The Dying Earth this is perhaps Vance’s most popular series, so it’s as  good a place to start as any.

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New Treasures: California Bones and Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

California Bones-small Pacific Fire-small

What we have here is a pair of novels in an intriguing new dark fantasy series which were both released last month — California Bones in paperback, and Pacific Fire in hardcover.

California Bones is the first; it was published in hardcover by Tor last year. It’s an epic adventure set in a world similar to our own, in the Kingdom of Southern California, in a city of canals and secrets and casual brutality.

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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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A Neglected Classic from the Golden Age of Sword & Sorcery: H. Warner Munn’s Merlin Cycle

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | Posted by Tony Den

Merlins Godson H Warner Munn-smallI first encountered H. Warner Munn by chance. Or maybe he encountered me, and it was more than pure chance.

I started reading fantasy and science fiction in high school, when a friend recommended Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight books. I dutifully took the first one out of the public library and soldiered through it. I was impressed enough to decide to start broadening my narrow literary horizons. The problem was that, in South Africa in the 1980′s, the big book sellers stocked a pretty limited selection of genre titles, and the more specialized sellers were few and far between.

The solution was for my friend Graham and I to take a bus to the city center after school, and explore some of the independent and more specialized shops. One in particular has a vast array of genre books, and to this day I lament its eventual closure.

I encountered a myriad of unknown authors and works on that shop’s shelves. One that particularly intrigued me – although not enough to part with my pitifully small amount of cash – was The Misplaced Legion, by Harry Turtledove. I never saw that book on the shelves again.

Fast forward a decade and a bit and, lo and behold, the internet was here and much exploring was done. I dredged my memory — while whittling away at my employer’s internet bandwidth — looking for bits and pieces to fill out my book and RPG collections. Memory failed me somewhat, however, and when I attempted to recall that vague, impressive book from the ‘80s, I remembered it as… The Lost Legion. I no longer had a clue to the author’s name, either.

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Destination Barsoom, Nehwon, Narnia: A Few Thoughts in Defense of Escapism

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 | Posted by Nick Ozment


The wardrobe that inspired C.S. Lewis. Collection of Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College.

I memorized all of John Carter and Tarzan, and sat on my grandparents’ front lawn repeating the stories to anyone who would sit and listen. I would go out to that lawn on summer nights and reach up to the red light of Mars and say, “Take me home!” I yearned to fly away and land there in the strange dusts that blew over dead-sea bottoms toward the ancient cities. — Ray Bradbury (“Take Me Home,” The New Yorker June 4, 2012)

A couple weeks ago, friend and fellow Black Gate blogger Gabe Dybing texted me with a proposition. “Read chapter one of Maker of Universes,” he typed, “and if you’re interested let’s talk about doing a survey of the series together.”

World of Tiers is probably Philip José Farmer’s most renowned series next to Riverworld, which I read a few years back. Currently I’m reading the Dungeon books, a shared-author series of six novels set in another world created by Farmer. Did I want to add this to my plate? Gabe piqued my interest by noting that the protagonist is an older English professor, somewhat disillusioned, who wants to escape — a character with whom we would feel some personal sympathies.

And so I read the first chapter, and the survey is on. In coming weeks we will be reviewing the books together — interspersed, I’m sure, with Gabe’s own Wednesday survey of the fantasy works of Poul Anderson and my own eclectic ranging far and wide across the spec-fic landscape.

But before we begin that undertaking, here is a prologue of sorts, a few thoughts I jotted down after reading the first chapter of Maker of Universes (1965). My thoughts, you will see, apply broadly to all “escapist” fiction…

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Future Treasures: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

Monday, February 16th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Last First Snow-smallWell, Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence has officially moved past three novels now, meaning it’s no longer a trilogy and it’s now a “Sequence.” That means I’m even further behind, because I haven’t even read the second one yet.

The best description of this series I’ve found so far is from Elizabeth Bear, who says at her blog:

The Craft Sequence books are all about ancient necromancers in charge of corporations; liches running litigation; court battles fought by means of sorcerous contests; deities dueling by means of legal proxies and stock trading souls.

Last First Snow, the fourth novel in the sequence following Three Parts DeadTwo Serpents Rise, and Full Fathom Five, is due to arrive in July. Here’s the description:

Forty years after the God Wars, Dresediel Lex bears the scars of liberation —especially in the Skittersill,  a poor district still bound by the fallen gods’ decaying edicts. As long as the gods’ wards last, they strangle development; when they fail, demons will be loosed upon the city. The King in Red hires Elayne Kevarian of the Craft firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to fix the wards, but the Skittersill’s people have their own ideas. A protest rises against Elayne’s work, led by Temoc, a warrior-priest turned community organizer who wants to build a peaceful future for his city, his wife, and his young son.

As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, old gods stir in their graves, civil blood breaks to new mutiny, and profiteers circle in the desert sky. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own demons to save the peace — or failing that, to save as many people as they can.

Last First Snow will be published on July 14, 2015 by Tor Books. It is 384 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.

The Omnibus Volumes of C.J. Cherryh, Part III

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dreaming Tree-small At the Edge of Space-small The Deep Beyond-small

We’ve come to the end of our three-part series on DAW’s omnibus reprint volumes of C.J. Cherryh’s early fantasy and space opera novels. Part I examined The Faded Sun Trilogy, The Morgaine Saga, and The Chanur Saga, all published in the year 2000, and Part II continued with Chanur’s Endgame, Alternate Realities, and Alliance Space. In Part III, we’ll take a look at The Dreaming Tree, At the Edge of Space, and The Deep Beyond., each of which collects a pair of novels.

With The Dreaming Tree, we’re back to fantasy again. Cherryh dabbles in fantasy only occasionally — she’s had the greatest success with space opera over her long career, especially her long-running Foreigner and Chanur series, which together encompass some 20 novels. But The Dreaming Tree, which collects the two Ealdwood novels, The Dreamstone and The Tree of Swords and Jewels, has proved to be one of her most enduring works. The omnibus volume was published in 1997 and is still in print, eighteen years later.

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The Series Series: What, You Mean Sarah Beth Durst’s Conjured Is A Stand-Alone?

Friday, February 13th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Sarah Beth Durst Conjured-smallConjured defied nearly all my expectations. That’s part of what makes it awesome.

Alas, one of my expectations was that it would be the first volume in a series. It’s strong enough to have carried that work, and then some. Instead, the book turns its final twist with a near-audible click, and we must leave its characters for good.

I need to tell you about it anyway.

My copy of Conjured came to me in a big bag of freebies at the World Fantasy Convention. Most of the books in that bag were first volumes in series, given away to promote the later volumes. When I gave each book a one-page chance to catch my attention, this was the story that wouldn’t let me go.

Eve can’t put together a coherent memory of the crimes she witnessed, or much else about her past, but the FBI must find the killer she escaped from. She knows she’s the only victim who ever escaped. She knows he wants her back. Nothing else she remembers fits the life she’s living now in the Witness Protection Program.

She’s as big a mystery to herself as her former captor is to the FBI. Why, she wonders, does she know what pizza is, but not how to unbuckle a seat belt?

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