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Ivar the Boneless; the Dark Age Rommel!

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

Ivar Campaigns Black Gate

“a slow-motion Field Marshal Rommel”

In AD 851, an Arab merchant visited Tang dynasty China, admired the quality of the porcelain, relished its delicate transparency… but enough about civilized folk!

In the same year, in the hairy, sweaty West, Ivar the Boneless sailed in from nowhere with a posse of Viking longships and seized Dublin with the usual mayhem and slaughter.

He didn’t take it from the Irish, because it was founded by Vikings as a base for slaving and trading (usually the same thing). He didn’t take it from the Vikings who founded Dublin, because a previous wave of Vikings had taken it from them.

So Ivar the Boneless claim-jumped the claim jumpers and with his brother Olaf the White settled in to ruling a town that was basically Mos Eisley but with more Thor worship (they had a very nice grove outside the walls) and fewer aliens (unless you count foreign merchants).

“Settling in” meant stomping on everybody else within reach, teaming up with one clan of Irish kings (there were lots of them) to war on an ungodly alliance of established Irish Kings and Viking settlers. The Death Star moment came after fifteen years of war in AD 866, when Ivar’s forces stormed Clonard Monastery. Olaf the White drowned King Conchobar in a handy font and peace broke out.

What happened next makes Ivar the Boneless look like a slow-motion Field Marshal Rommel.

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Goth Chick News: An Anniversary Edition of the Ultimate Novelization

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Alien Alan Dean Foster-smallI’ll never forget my first time.

I was a very young Goth Chick, spending a typical Saturday combing the used paperbacks for sale at my local library. It’s hard to feed a literary addiction on a six-grader’s salary, as I know every last one of you understand.

And there it was.

Dog-eared and minus its back cover, but with that impossible-to-miss front cover art. It was based on the movie I wasn’t allowed to watch, the one with the R-rating, which obviously meant it was the best movie ever committed to film. Or at least the scariest.

My parents clearly had not considered the library a place to land contraband of this magnitude.

I bolted for the front desk, threw my two quarters at the librarian, waved the yellowed, pulpy tome in her general direction, and exited the library to the adjacent park where I sat planted for the remainder of the afternoon – transfixed.

That was where I fell in twisted, grossed-out love with the movie Alien – and the man who told me the story (which is better than seeing it anyway), Mr. Alan Dean Foster.  It was the beginning of a long and intense relationship, at least by sixth-grade standards.

Back then, a used-book seller would have been the most likely place to have found a copy of Alien, a book which has been out of print since 1992. A pity, since it is widely considered the defining testament to how a novelization can complement an already-great film.

But this week, all that changed.

On Tuesday, April 15th, in honor of its 35th anniversary, Titan Books released a new printing of Alien: The Official Movie Novelization.

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George R.R. Martin is Spoiling HBO’s Game of Thrones

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

George RR Martin A Game of Thrones-smallThis article has been making the rounds on the Internet since it was posted yesterday at UK satire site Underground Magazine — and it’s too good not to share. Funny as it is, the numerous outraged comments it’s received, from shall-we-say less informed fans of the HBO show, are equally hilarious (see some of the comments at Weird Tales’ Facebook post here).

The entertainment industry was today warning fans of the popular HBO series Game Of Thrones to avoid ‘at all costs’ a series of books by a rogue enthusiast named George R.R. Martin, who has written five whole volumes consisting solely of spoilers for the popular television show.

“This man is dangerous and wants to ruin everyone’s enjoyment of a much-loved fantasy drama.” said executive producer D. B. Weiss. “It’s a sad symptom of today’s ‘binge’ culture that people can’t just wait and enjoy things as they are released. They want everything at once…”

Some of the books in question, which add up to a total of some 4,200 pages, contain so many spoilers that they have had to be split into volumes. HBO executives are investigating how Martin is able to work on new editions set far in advance of the current TV series.

TV fan Simon Rix told us he “picked up a copy of one of the books thinking it was a companion piece or a spin-off from the TV show, but after reading all of them in one week, I had the whole show ruined for me in intricate detail. There were characters I’d never heard of, plot lines that went way off course, and not nearly as much nudity.”

Read the complete article here.

New Treasures: The Black Veil & Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths edited by Mark Valentine

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Black Veil and Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths-smallI love these Wordsworth Tales of Mystery And The Supernatural volumes. They’ve compact, attractive, and inexpensive — they look great on the shelf, and they make quick reads. Plus, they’re just so darned collectible.

My latest acquisition is already one of my favorites. We’ve paid a lot of attention to Supernatural Sleuths at Black Gate over the years, from William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki The Ghost Finder to Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone and Silver John stories, and Paula Guran’s terrific recent anthology Weird Detectives – and deservedly so. This has been a year of terrible weather and when it’s cold, dark, and blustery outside, the best antidote is to curl up with a cozy blanket and a warm beverage, and share the adventures of an intrepid occult detective.

Our real expert is Josh Reynolds, who over the last few years has covered many of the most famous literary examples in his series on The Nightmare Men – from Sheridan Le Fanu’s Dr. Martin Hesselius to Aylmer Vance, The Ghost-Seeker; from Manly Wade Wellman’s stalwart Judge Keith Hilary Pursuivant to Seabury Quinn’s always resourceful Jules de Grandin.

Looking back over all those articles, you may just find yourself more than a little curious. But where to start? Why not start with Mark Valentine’s generous collection of some of the best short stories featuring some of the greatest  supernatural sleuths in all of literature?

The Gateway of the Monster… The Red Hand… The Ghost Hunter

To Sherlock Holmes the supernatural was a closed book: but other great detectives have always been ready to do battle with the dark instead. This volume brings together sixteen chilling cases of these supernatural sleuths, pitting themselves against the peril of ultimate evil.

Here are encounters from the casebooks of the Victorian haunted house investigators John Bell and Flaxman Low, from Carnacki, the Edwardian battler against the abyss, and from horror master Arthur Machen s Mr Dyson, a man-about-town and meddler in strange things. Connoisseurs will find rare cases such as those of Allen Upward s The Ghost Hunter, Robert Barr s Eugene Valmont (who may have inspired Agatha Christie s Hercule Poirot) and Donald Campbell s young explorer Leslie Vane, the James Bond of the jazz age, who battles against occult enemies of the British Empire. And the collection is completed by some of the best tales from the pens of modern psychic sleuth authors.

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My Favorite Fantasy Settings

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

The Shire, from War of the Ring (SPI)-smallIn writer’s jargon, they are often called “secondary worlds.” They are places of imagination where we authors create characters, towns, city-states, nations, and even entire planets. One of the aspects of writing I love best is the ability to fashion my own setting, from the politics and government down to the clothing fashions and local foods.

As a fantasy reader, I’ve had so many favorites over the years. They have inspired and amazed me. Here are some that I’ll never forget.

Middle Earth: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a fantastic epic for many reasons, but one of the most enduring is its setting. Middle Earth.

Tolkien may have created the most elaborate, detailed fictional setting in history, even creating his own languages for the various races. Some detractors have called his opus a “travelogue,” but to read LOTR is to enter a living, breathing world, both familiar and strange. Sometimes the journey IS the adventure.

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Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Worlds Without End

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Fourteen years ago, I taught my first college-level writing class. Let’s face it, I was verySO-2 green, an adjunct hired to fill an unexpected gap in the wake of a fast-departing faculty member. Whether I did well or poorly I do not claim to know, but of my eleven students, two had their final projects subsequently published, and one went on to get an M.F.A. in creative writing (which means he’s now flipping burgers in your local Mickey D’s, so next time you’re there, be nice).

The other fact of which I’m sure is that my toss-the-feathers syllabus mixed fantasy and literary readings. Yea and verily, it’s a wonder I wasn’t burned as a heretic – but perhaps the resident firemen, Montag & Smaug, Inc., were extra busy that season.

I’m now on my third go-round as a writing teacher, and while my reading selections remain whimsically mixed, I do have one fresh challenge on my plate: for the first time, I have a student invested in writing out-and-out science fiction. And not just any sci-fi, we’re talking guns-a-blazing space opera.

By the glowing rings of Saturn, what am I to do?

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Meet Some Very Big Dragons in the How to Train Your Dragon 2 Trailer

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

I don’t post a lot of movie trailers. We’re all about the books here at Black Gate. (And the games. And TV. Plus, snacks).

Okay. Truthfully, we cover a lot of ground here at Black Gate. But mostly, we’re all about promoting the best in neglected fantasy. And DreamWorks Animation’s 2010 feature How To Train Your Dragon was one of the best fantasy films of the last decade. Andrew Zimmerman Jones reviewed it for us here, calling it “Hands down, of the fantasy films I’ve seen this year, my favorite.”

I missed it in theaters and I wasn’t the only one. It wasn’t until my kids came screaming out of the basement and pulled me downstairs to watch it with them (for the fourth time) in the summer of 2011 that I realized just how fabulous it was. I won’t make that mistake with the sequel. In fact, I may camp out early to catch it on opening night (I know my kids will be up for it).

We showed you the teaser trailer last July; now Dreamworks has released the second full trailer. It’s packed with brand new characters, gorgeous visuals, surprises… and some very big dragons. Check it out below.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 was produced by DreamWorks Animation and directed by Dean DeBlois. The voice cast includes Gerard Butler, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, and Craig Ferguson. It’s scheduled for release in June.

Art of the Genre: The Dreaming Work of Travis Hanson

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

poster2final2My suggestion, assuming my AotG followers ever listen to me, is to go here and do what you must.  Seriously, find some change in your pocket and put it somewhere that is worthy.  I find I can’t help but support incredible artists, especially those willing to tell a beautiful story for children and adults alike.  So hurry and add this to your ‘what I did in 2014 that was worth something’ list.

Ok, now that you’ve made the world a better place, I’ll do the same by talking a bit about the art of Travis Hanson.

Trav, as he’s known to me, decided he wanted to do a comic, but he didn’t have any place to put it.  Luckily for him, and so many creative people, the Internet gave him the opportunity to share his talent and vision, for free, with people across the globe.  Thus, a few years back, The Bean was born.  Fast forward to now and you’ve got Fifteen Chapters and 579 comic pages of incredible fantasy adventure all at your fingertips for ZERO dollars and ZERO cents!

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The Dungeon Dozen

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

DDcoverNext copyThe first roleplaying game I owned was the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set edited by J. Eric Holmes, as you’re all probably tired of hearing by now. Among the many memorable features of that boxed set was that some of its printings (including my own) did not include dice. Instead, these sets included a sheet of laminated paper chits printed in groups that mimicked the ranges of polyhedral dice (1–4, 1–6, 1–8, 1–10, 1–12, and 1–20).  The purchaser of the game was instructed to cut them apart and “place each different type in a small container (perhaps a small paper cup), and each time a number generation is called for, draw a chit at random from the appropriate container.”

This I dutifully did, taking several small Dixie Cups from my upstairs bathroom for the purpose. Leaving aside the disbelief-suspending flower print of the cups, this method of random number generation was awkward and decidedly un-fun. Consequently, I set out to find a proper set of dice with which to play D&D, a quest that took me to a local toy store, which had them hidden away behind the counter. I bought that set – made of terrible, low impact plastic – and rushed home to use them. I wanted to be a “real” Dungeons & Dragons player. For all their faults, those dice were, in many ways, what sealed my fate as a lifelong roleplayer. There was something downright magical about those little, weirdly shaped objects that captured my imagination almost as much as the game itself.

I am fascinated not just by dice, but also by randomness. I’ve come to believe that one of the real, perhaps fundamental distinction between “old school” roleplaying games and their latter day descendants is the extent to which randomness informs game play. As a younger person, I went through a period when I intensely disliked randomness and used it as a bludgeon against games, including D&D, that I decided I disliked. Older, if not wiser, I no longer think that way. Indeed, I celebrate randomness as a vital part of what makes a RPG enjoyable for me. Randomness is frequently a godsend, providing me with a steady stream of ideas and inspiration when I find myself at a loss for either (which is often). Randomness also enables me to be surprised, even when I’m the referee, which is no small feat after more than three decades behind the screen. In short, I love randomness.

Therefore, I suppose I’m predisposed to love a book like The Dungeon Dozen by Jason Sholtis. This 222-page book is a compilation of the many “flavor-rich yet detail-free” random tables available on Sholtis’s eponymously named blog, accompanied by a great deal of black and white art provided by Chris Brandt, John Larrey, Stefan Poag, and Sholtis himself.

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March Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1551226jPhPhKow (1)This is really the March and first week of April short story roundup. While Swords and Sorcery Magazine came through with two new tales, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly did not come out in a timely enough fashion to suit my schedule. Then Beneath Ceaseless Skies spent all of March publishing science fantasy issues. It’s all right if you’re inclined to read that sort of stuff, but I’m here to write about fantasy, preferably of the heroic kind.  Actually, most of those stories in BCS really do look all right, but the arrival of a new story by Raphael Ordoñez in the April 3rd issue made me include it in this week’s post.

I joke about Beneath Ceaseless Skies’s neglect of heroic fantasy in favor of steam punk or sci-fi, but don’t ever make the mistake of thinking I don’t love the folks over there and everything they’re doing for speculative short fiction. Every two weeks, they publish a very well-polished magazine with stories by great writers from all over the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum. There are few platforms getting as much new material out in front of the public (and for as little money). And if, like me, you don’t like what’s in one issue, there’s a great chance you’ll find something in the very next one.

So, after all that praise, let me start off with a story from BCS #144 I didn’t love: “Golden Daughter, Stone Wife” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, a writer unfamiliar to me. In a world peopled by exiles from some unknown calamity, in a country ruled by the Institute of Ormodon, a woman mourns the loss of her golem-daughter.

Hall-Warden Ysoreen Zarre has been sent to retrieve the remains of a golem from Erhensa, an exiled sorceress. All golems, whomever makes them, belong to the Institute. Having learned of the thing’s existence when it “died,” the Warden was dispatched to collect it. For the Institute, it is something to be studied and understood. Erhensa, though, considered the golem a daughter and is reluctant to submit to the Institute’s demands. Her maneuvers around the Warden comprise the rest of the story.

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