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Andrew Offutt’s Greatest Contribution to the Genre: Swords Against Darkness

Andrew Offutt’s Greatest Contribution to the Genre: Swords Against Darkness

The complete run of Swords Against Darkness (Zebra Book, 1977-1979).
Covers by Frank Frazetta, Larry Kresek, Greg Theakston, and Luis Bermejo

In my opinion, Andrew Offutt’s greatest contribution to literary history is the five book anthology series he edited called Swords Against Darkness. They were simply called I through V and published between 1977 and 1979, all by Zebra.

I’ve got them all and have read them all. They knocked my socks off. I was just beginning to write around the time the series ended and one of the first pie-in-the-sky goals I had for myself was to write something good enough to be included in the series. The series ended before I got close to making it, or even submitting.

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Bob’s Books – Shelfie #8 (McKiernan, Watt-Evans, Leiber, Bischoff, Rosenberg)

Bob’s Books – Shelfie #8 (McKiernan, Watt-Evans, Leiber, Bischoff, Rosenberg)

It’s installment number seven in Bob’s Books Shelfie series. Links to the prior shelfie posts can be found at the end of this one; including some prior fantasy shelves. If you’re new to this column, I posted shelfies of over a thousand of my books, in the r/bookshelf subreddit. The mods got too annoying for me, and I quit the group.

But with each shelfie I posted info on the books/authors show, so I’m bringing them over to Black Gate. Hopefully you’ll see some interesting stuff.

DENNIS L. MCKIERNAN

I have been a fantasy fan since junior high. This is my Dennis L. McKiernan shelf – double-layered.

McKiernan used to live here, and he let me come out and visit him at his house. Signed my books, talked about other authors, and talked RPGs (he was an ICE guy – I played D&D). He’s a really cool guy.

Back in the seventies, he had a terrible accident while riding a bike (or maybe a motorcycles. I forget). He was bedridden for many months. So, he decided to write a sequel to the Moria part of The Lord of the Rings. The Tolkien people, after he finished it, said “Nope. You can’t do that.” So he made it into his own world of Mithgar.

Doubleday told him to write a trilogy ala The Lord of the Rings. So, he wrote The Iron Tower Trilogy. It did well, and that ‘Moria sequel’ was released as The Silver Call Duology. McKiernan went on to a long career, with many more Mithgar books, and a couple other short series’.

If you like Tolkien, McKiernan’s Mithgar is as close in style and setting, as anyone has yet written. And he’s clearly a huge Tolkien fan. I like The Silver Call Duology, and the novel, Dragondoom, the most.

The Iron Tower Trilogy is the heart of the series. That’s good, too. McKiernan is definitely a good read for fans of The Lord of the Rings. Back in college, I found his number in the phone book, called him up, and he invited me out (he lived in Columbus, OH, back then. We talked fantasy and RPGs. He’s a really nice guy (lives out in the warmer West, now).

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New Treasures: The Soulfire Saga by Matthew Ward

New Treasures: The Soulfire Saga by Matthew Ward


The first two books in The Soulfire Saga: The Darkness Before Them and The Fire
Within Them (Orbit, November 7, 2023 and June 11, 2024). Covers by Joe Wilson

I spent the Christmas break working on a number of projects, and not doing any of the catch-up reading I promised myself. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I did grit my teeth on January 1st and resolve to read more this year. Especially books from new writers.

I have a break coming up as I complete a big writing project, and as a reward I have my eye on the new fantasy series from Matthew Ward. He’s the author of the Legacy Trilogy, and this new project — featuring a thief caught up in a failed heist, on her way to the capital to be turned into an animated skeleton — sounds like just what I need. Adrian Collins at GrimDark Magazine says it’s “full of action, heart, betrayal, and set in a dark, engaging world,” and that’s all the recommendation I need.

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Learn the ABC’s of Horror with Mark Morris

Learn the ABC’s of Horror with Mark Morris

The first four volumes of the ABCs of Horror anthology series, edited by Mark Morris
and published by Flame Tree Press. Covers by Nik Keevil and Flame Tree Studio

I miss the days of the paperback horror anthology. The great horror anthologists of the late 20th Century — Peter Haining, Sam Moskowitz, Charles L. Grant, Karl Edward Wagner, David Hartwell, and others — curated dozens of volumes of top-notch fiction that kept me thrilled and entertained many a late night, and introduced me to countless new authors in the process.

Mark Morris has been working hard to recapture that old-school magic with a brand new series of anthologies, all of which feature new work from the top names in horror today — including Ramsey Campbell, Grady Hendrix, John Langan, Simon Strantzas, Nathan Ballingrud, Christopher Golden, Seanan McGuire, Steve Rasnic Tem, Alison Littlewood, Josh Malerman, Tim Lebbon, Angela Slatter, Michael Marshall Smith, Simon Bestwick, Robert Shearman, Stephen Volk, Catriona Ward, Paul Finch, Priya Sharma, Aliya Whiteley, Lisa Tuttle, Lynda E. Rucker, Nina Allan, Brian Evenson, Peter Atkins, Mark Gatiss, Simon Clark, Helen Marshall, and many, many more.

Mark Morris posted his first article at Black Gate on Sunday (a rave review of the Netflix series The Fall of the House of Usher, which he calls a masterpiece,) and while we were chatting I asked him about his inspiration and plans for the series. His response was interesting enough that I thought I’d share it with you here.

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Five Things I Think I Think (January, 2024)

Five Things I Think I Think (January, 2024)

It’s the first 2024 version of Ten Things I Think I Think – albeit, in abbreviated form. And awaaaay we go!

1) ARCHER KNOWS HOW TO DO HOMAGE

Back in November’s What I’m Watching post, I mentioned I would talk about Archer Later. I’m not yet ready to do a deep dive, but I want to give a shout out for a couple seasons I just watched.

The adult cartoon just wrapped up its fourteenth and final season, last month. It had its ups and downs, but it was terribly wrong and almost always funny, for 144 episodes. Archer is the chief spy at the international Secret intelligence Service. The fact that their name is ISIS, tells you all you need to know about this satirical show. Archer is the most self-absorbed, irresponsible person imaginable, and his office mates are all terribly flawed as well (though Lana is pretty close to normal).

A lot happens over fourteen seasons (I’m on season eleven). A few seasons take place with Archer in a coma – they’re dream seasons. The first of those was an homage forties hardboiled/noir. Centered on The Maltese Falcon, with a dash of Chinatown thrown in, I LOVED it. Visually it was wonderful. As a fan of the genre, it was clear that the show’s staff were as well. Still ‘wrong’ in that Archer way, it was a terrific take on the genre. Extremely well done.

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The Best of Bob – 2023

The Best of Bob – 2023

Happy 2024! Let’s kick butt for another year. Or at least, limp to the finish in 52 weeks. I take what I can get.

One of my greatest talents as a blogger, is finding folks more talented than I, to write my weekly column for me. Hey – the reader gets a better end product, so they win, right? I brought Talking Tolkien to Black Gate in 2023. And I had some great help yet again for A (Black) Gat in the Hand.

So some of you Black Gaters may be surprised that I occasionally actually write my own essays for the Monday morning slot. John O’Neill is too savvy an editor for me to completely fool him for almost ten years.

So here are what I thought were ten of my better efforts in 2023. Hopefully you saw them back when I first posted them. But if not, maybe you’ll check out a few now. Ranking them seemed a bit egotistical, so they’re in chronological order. Let’s go!

Don’t Panic! We’ve Got Douglas Adams Covered Here at Black Gate (January 2, 2023)

If I do say so myself, things absolutely started off strong, the second day of the new year! Black Gate has a bunch of Douglas Adams fans. This was my eighth Adams-related post, and I included links to five prior posts by Black Gaters (Steven H Silver, and M. Harold Page).

Thirteen posts about Douglas Adams. SURELY you can find something interesting. This current post included me fooling around with a new entry for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think it’s pretty funny. And if you’re not familiar with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, that’s actually my favorite Adams book. Click on this one and get a larf.

 

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The Sword & Planet of Gardner F. Fox: The Llarn Novels

The Sword & Planet of Gardner F. Fox: The Llarn Novels

Warrior of Llarn and Thief of Llarn by Gardner F. Fox (Ace Books,
1964 and 1966). Covers by Frank Frazetta and Gray Morrow

I discovered Thief of Llarn in my small hometown library. The swordsman on the cover screamed John Carter to me, and the demon skull with the gem in it didn’t hurt any.

I fell in love with this book and finally found a copy for myself. It’s not in great shape. It took me another fifteen years (pre-internet) or so to find Warrior of Llarn, which was actually the first book of the two book series.

I was somewhat disappointed in Warrior, probably because Thief had become almost mythically good to me in my memories. These are solid entries in Sword & Planet fiction. They were published in 1964 and 1966 respectively.

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Vintage Treasures: A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski

Vintage Treasures: A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski


A Door Into Ocean (Avon, February 1987). Cover by Line

Joan Slonczewski’s first novel, Still Forms on Foxfield, was published in 1980, but it was their second novel, A Door Into Ocean, which made a real splash, winning the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (not to be confused with the old Campbell Award for Best New Writer, now called the Astounding Award, on account of Campbell being a racist goofball.)

Slonczewski is referred to as ‘she’ and ‘her’ on virtually every bio and interview I’ve found on the web — including the Kenyon College faculty page where Slonczewski is a Chair of Biology — but their website and Wikipedia page give their pronouns as they, them, theirs, so that’s what I’ll use here.

A Door Into Ocean was the book that made readers sit up and take notice of Slonczewski. They followed it with three more books in what became known as the Elysium Cycle: Daughter of Elysium (1993), The Children Star (1998), and Brain Plague (2000). Often compared to Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, A Door into Ocean explores a colony planet covered entirely by water, occupied by an all-female offshoot of humanity who have become skilled genetic engineers.

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Vintage Treasures: The Bard Series by Keith Taylor

Vintage Treasures: The Bard Series by Keith Taylor


Bard, Volumes I-IV (Ace Books, 1981-97). Covers by Don Maitz

In October 1975 an unknown author named Dennis More made his debut in Fantastic magazine with “Fugitives in Winter,” the rousing tale of Felimid mac Fal of Eire, a bard whose tools are his ancient harp Golden Singer, and his magic sword, Kincaid. Eight more tales of Felimid followed, in places like Fantastic, Weird Tales, and Andrew Offutt’s Swords Against Darkness.

‘Dennis More,’ as it turned out, was Australian writer Keith Taylor, who began writing under his own name with the story “Hungry Grass” in Swords Against Darkness V (1979). In 1981 Taylor collected four of his early Felimid stories  — along with a brand new novella — in the fix up novel Bard, which Fletcher Vredenburgh called “a perfect artifact from the glory days of 1970s swords & sorcery.” It spawned a long-running series that lasted five volumes (with rumors of a sixth in the pipeline).

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Vintage Treasures: Tales By Moonlight edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Vintage Treasures: Tales By Moonlight edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson


Tales by Moonlight, volumes One and Two (Tor, January 1985
and July 1989). Covers by Mark E. Rogers and Jill Bauman

Jessica Amanda Salmonson has produced only a handful of anthologies, but they are all highly regarded. Her first, Amazons!, won the World Fantasy Award in 1980, and the two Heroic Visions volumes she edited in the mid-80s are still enjoyed and discussed today, with an original Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella by Fritz Leiber, plus terrific sword and sorcery tales by Jane Yolen, Phyllis Ann Karr, F. M. Busby, Alan Dean Foster, Robert Silverberg, Joanna Russ, Michael Bishop, Keith Roberts, Ellen Kushner, Avram Davidson, Manly Wade Wellman, Grania Davis, and Thomas Ligotti.

Salmonson’s held in such high regard that I recently decided to investigate her two Tales by Moonlight anthologies, published by Tor in the late 80s, and I’m very glad I did. They contain a rich assembly of talent, including Thomas Ligotti, Ruth Berman, H. P. Lovecraft, Janet Fox, Steve Rasnic Tem, W. Paul Ganley, Spider Robinson, John Varley, Charles L. Grant, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jayge Carr, W. H. Pugmire, Ramsey Campbell, Joseph Payne Brennan, Phyllis Ann Karr, Eileen Gunn, and many more.

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