AD&D Figurines: Youth In a Box?

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

DSC04791A few weeks back, a friend (quite unexpectedly) handed me the boxed set of AD&D miniatures pictured at right. I say “unexpectedly” because so far as I know, this friend had no idea that I ever played D&D. Nor were the figures intended for me; the note she enclosed made it clear the box was for my fourteen-year-old son, “just in case.”

My son was marginally interested, but not seriously so. I, however, was kind of downright sorta hypnotized.

Confession: I never gravitated to miniatures. My twin objections were, first, that the figures never, ever looked the way I pictured either my characters or those of my fellow gamers, and second, they were small enough that painting them to my own exacting standards was next to impossible.

I had Testor’s model paint, of course (most boys I knew in the late seventies and early eighties did), so accessing a mouth-watering color palette wasn’t the issue.

Application, however: yipes!

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Creeping Menace and Midnight Apparitions: The Crimson Blind and Other Stories by H.D. Everett

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Crimson Blind H D Everett-smallI haven’t had the opportunity to read much to my kids around the fireplace this holiday season, as suggested by Thomas Parker in his BG article Ghost Stories for Christmas.

But I have been sneaking a peek at my collection of Wordsworth’s Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural (or TOMAToS, for short) myself. As I’ve observed before, it’s the perfect line of books if you’re looking for great Victorian horror tales — and Thomas is right that cold wintry nights are the perfect time to be settling down under a blanket with a book of ghost stories.

One thing I appreciate about the Wordsworth TOMAToS books is that they’ve introduced me to several authors I likely would never have discovered on my own. M.R James, William Hope Hodgson, Wilkie Collins, Edith Nesbit… I was certainly familiar with their work. But Henry S. Whitehead? William Fryer Harvey? May Sinclair? I would not have discovered them if Wordsworth hadn’t made collections of their work available in an inexpensive and attractive format as part of the Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural. H.D. Everett is another fine example. Here’s the back cover blurb from her collection The Crimson Blind and Other Stories.

Mrs H.D. Everett was the last in a long line of gifted Victorian novelists who knew how to grip the reader through the invasion of everyday life by the abnormal and dramatic, leaving the facts to produce their special thrills without piling on the agony. “I always know,” says one of her characters, “how to distinguish a true ghost story from a faked one. The true ghost story never has any point and the faked one dare not leave it out.” From the chilling horror of “The Death Mask” to the shocking violence of “The Crimson Blind,” from the creeping menace of “Parson Clench” to the mounting suspense of “The Pipers of Mallory,” these thrilling stories were enthusiastically received by readers and critics when they first appeared, and are sure to delight and terrify the modern reader in equal measure. With their haunting influences, their permeating scents, their midnight apparitions and unexplained sounds, they plunge us, along with the hero or heroine, into a state of increasing nervous excitement.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Frank Thomas and Holmes

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Thomas_SwordIn the nineteen fifties, thousands of American boys thrilled to the television adventures of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Frankie Thomas, Jr, offspring of acting parents, had been in the business for two decades when he starred in the adaptation of a popular comic strip.

It was a hit, spawning comics, books, a radio show, toys, et al. As with all shows, it ran its course and came to an end. Thomas went on to become one of America’s foremost bridge experts. That’s the card game, not the things that span waterways. His Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective, was a popular book on the subject (as was its sequel).

When I started branching out beyond Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, I think that Thomas was the very first Holmes pastiche writer that I read.

Keep in mind that around 1980, pastiches were relatively uncommon. You bought Holmes books at actual bookstores: no Amazon. Indie-press Holmes stories were rather rare and hard to find. There wasn’t a self-publishing industry to speak of. So, avid Holmes fans gobbled up paperbacks by L.B. Greenwood, Richard Boyer, and Frank Thomas. Yep: same guy.

In 1979, Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Bird came out, followed the next year by Sherlock Holmes and the Sacred Sword.

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Dwarves, Dragons, Wizards and Elves: Thinking About the Standard Fantasy Setting

Sunday, December 14th, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Warhammer Elves-smallYou know, for a genre that should be based entirely around the thing, Fantasy really is lacking in that lovely little commodity everyone calls imagination.

I’m serious; there are three-book series kicking around called Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs respectively. That’s pretty much the holy trinity of fantasy clichés right there. And all the book covers I’ve seen lately feature these grizzled, Batman-ish, waylander types, which is fine, because Batman kicks butt, when he starts cropping up everywhere he just gets annoying, with all his gritty, gravelly-voiced sadness.

Despite the fact that fantasy is a genre in which the writer can do literally anything, put their characters in whatever situation they damn well please, everyone seems way too content with dwarves, dragons, wizards, and elves. We could have quadruple amputees with tentacles for eyes who fight off the slavering hordes of hell by playing rock guitar solos with their earlobes, but nope, we’re happy with elves.

My point is that fantasy, and all the genres like it, give writers a medium through which they can explore every facet of the human imagination, test the very limits of what we, as human beings, can envision and relate to, what’s within our power to articulate. Fantasy challenges writers to make social commentary and philosophical statements within the most fantastic and diverse circumstances possible. Fantasy has the potential to take its readers to places they could never conceive of, on adventures that transcend comprehension; with this tool, fantasy could become the most beautiful, poetic, and diverse form of escapism we have.

It could be, if we didn’t focus so much on the elves, the dwarves, and the dragons, but we do, because we’re idiots.

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Vintage Treasures: The White Bird of Kinship Trilogy by Richard Cowper

Sunday, December 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Road to Corlay-small A Dream of Kinship-small A Tapestry of Time-small

A lot of people were talking about Richard Cowper’s The Road to Corlay just as I was discovering fantasy in the late 70s. It appeared in the UK in 1978, and was published in paperback in the US by Pocket Books in 1979, with a striking cover by Don Maitz (above left). It was nominated for the British Fantasy Award in 1979, and both the Nebula and Balrog awards in the US a year later. It also placed 7th on Locus’s annual lists for Best SF novel.

I wasn’t even aware it was a series until many years later, as I gradually stumbled on the sequels. Volume two, A Dream of Kinship, was published in 1981, and A Tapestry of Time followed in 1982. The cover artist of the second volume is unknown, but Don Maitz returned for the third book (above right). Click on any of the images for bigger versions.

Richard Cowper was a pen name for John Middleton Murry, Jr, a UK author who died in 2002 — of a broken heart, according to his friend Christopher Priest, following the death of his wife Ruth four weeks earlier. He wrote several other SF and fantasy novels, the most famous of which was probably The Twilight of Briareus (1974); his other titles included Clone (1972), Time Out of Mind (1973), Worlds Apart (1974), and Profundis (1979). I found the complete trilogy in the estate of my sister-in-law Mary, who passed away in May, and brought it home with me to read for the first time. We shared an interest in SF and fantasy, and these books remind me of her.


Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1952: A Retro-Review

Saturday, December 13th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction April 1952-smallAh, Galaxy. My old friend. I wonder if this is how readers felt by the time the April, 1952 issue rolled out. Officially labeled as Volume 4, Number 1, this issue marked the completion of 18 months for the magazine. You can tell a lot about a magazine by that point in time, especially if it’s hitting newsstands every month. And I think readers could tell that this was something amazing.

“Accidental Flight” by F. L. Wallace — Medical advancements can save people with profound injuries, but in some cases, the patients can’t recover into “normal” status. They might be amputees, lack vital organs, or have any variety of conditions that makes them unsuitable to join the rest of society. These people live on an asteroid, cared for and guarded by medical staff. And though they don’t wish to rejoin society, they do wish to leave their asteroid in order to explore the stars.

It’s interesting to see a cast of characters with disabilities. The story moves well, and I think (or perhaps hope) that this fiction touches on the theme that all people have value, despite what limitations a society may perceive. Wallace later expanded this tale into a novel titled Address: Centauri, published by Gnome Press in 1955, and as Galaxy Novel #32 in 1958 (see below).

“Katahut Said No” by J. T. M’Intosh — A computer system on Earth helps the Economic Center determine unviable towns on Venus. After all, there are only a limited amount of resources available, and the latest analysis shows one of the towns must die. The people would be dispersed elsewhere, and efficiency would increase. Unfortunately, the computer picks Katahut, the first settlement on the planet. And the citizens of the town do not wish to comply.

I liked the politics around this story — how one man tries to rally the town to fight the decision and what that may mean for all of the settlements. But the zinger was the final sentence.

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Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Best New Horror

Saturday, December 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

25th-anniversay-edition-best-new-horror-1-small 25th-anniversay-edition-best-new-horror-2-small

Stephen Jones has been editing an annual Best New Horror collection since 1990. The first five volumes were co-edited with Ramsey Campbell; since 1995 Jones has edited them solo. The 25th volume, now retitled The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 25, was published by Robinson back in October.

Now PS Publishing is celebrating 25 years of Best New Horror by re-releasing the first two volumes in this groundbreaking series, with brand new comic-inspired covers by Lee Elias and Ken Bald. The first volume won both the 1991 British Fantasy Award and the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. They contain short fiction by Robert R. McCammon, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Karl Edward Wagner, Peter Straub, K.W. Jetter, Jonathan Carroll, Ian R. MacLeod, Kim Newman, Gene Wolfe, and dozens of others.

The 25th Anniversary Edition of Best New Horror volumes 1 and 2 were edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell and published in trade paperback in September and October of this year. They are priced at £11.99 and £12.99 respectively. Get more information, including the complete table of contents and snaps of the gorgeous wraparound covers, at the PS Publishing website here and here.


New Treasures: The Shotgun Arcana by R. S. Belcher

Saturday, December 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Shotgun Arcana-smallWe covered R.S. Belcher’s first Golgotha novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, in April, as part of my review of the current crop of Weird Westerns. Now Belcher returns to the bustling frontier town of Golgotha, Nevada, a place that hides more than its fair share of unnatural secrets, in The Shotgun Arcana.

Don’t know much about this R. S. Belcher fellow. He doesn’t have a website, and his only other publications are two short stories that appeared in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 and Deep Cuts.  A background check on the Black Gate supercomputer reveals that he runs Cosmic Castle, a comic book shop in Roanoke, Virginia, and that Tor.com interviewed him in October. That’s enough to make him alright in our book.

1870. A haven for the blessed and the damned, including a fallen angel, a mad scientist, a pirate queen, and a deputy who is kin to coyotes, Golgotha has come through many nightmarish trials, but now an army of thirty-two outlaws, lunatics, serial killers, and cannibals are converging on the town, drawn by a grisly relic that dates back to the Donner Party… and the dawn of humanity.

Sheriff Jon Highfather and his deputies already have their hands full dealing with train robbers, a mysterious series of brutal murders, and the usual outbreaks of weirdness. But with thirty-two of the most vicious killers on Earth riding into Golgotha in just a few day’s time, the town and its people will be tested as never before — and some of them will never be the same.

The Shotgun Arcana was published by Tor Books on October 7, 2014. It is 400 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital version. The deliciously creepy cover is by Raymond Swanland.


C. S. E. Cooney Joins Uncanny Magazine as a Podcast Reader

Friday, December 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

C. S. E. Cooney has hair like Medusa seriously it's amazing-smallThe brand new fantasy magazine Uncanny — which we discussed excitedly last month when its first issue went on sale — has shown uncanny good sense by hiring our very own C.S.E. Cooney as a podcast reader. Here’s a bit cribbed from the press release:

Uncanny Magazine is thrilled to announce that the marvelous C.S.E. Cooney has agreed to join us as the second reader on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast! Ms. Cooney is a Rhode Island writer and actor… She loves to read aloud to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen. Some of her narration work can be found on Podcastle and Tales to Terrify. With her fellow artists in the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours, C. S. E. Cooney appears at conventions and other venues, singing from their growing collection of Distant Star Ballads, dramatizing fiction, and performing such story-poems as “The Sea King’s Second Bride,” for which she won the Rhysling Award in 2011.

Ms. Cooney will make her debut as an Uncanny Magazine Podcast reader in Episode 3 this January.

So much exciting C.S.E. Cooney news! Just last month, we reported on Amal El-Mohtar’s review of her short story “Witch, Beast, Saint,” and our roving reporter Mark Rigney interviewed her in late October. The two C.S.E. Cooney short stories we published here at Black Gate, “Godmother Lizard” and “Life on the Sun,” consistently rank among the most popular pieces we’ve ever published. Her most recent blog post for us was Book Pairings: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells and Royal Airs, published last Sunday. She is a past website editor of Black Gate, and the author of How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes and Jack o’ the Hills.

In other C.S.E. Cooney news, today is her birthday. Happy Birthday, Claire!!


Amazon Announces its Top-Selling Books of 2014

Friday, December 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Blood of Olympus-smallAmazon.com has announced its top-selling books of 2014, and the list includes half a dozen fantasy novels.

This isn’t a truly definitive breakdown of top sellers for the year, since it’s just from one bookseller (as powerful as Amazon may be). Also, 2014 isn’t even over yet, fer cryin’ out loud.

Still, it’s an interesting list, with plenty on it for fantasy fans — including several popular series (The Heroes of Olympus, The Mortal Instruments, and two Outlander books, just to name a few), and a standalone novel from Stephen King. The most surprising thing about the list, however, is that Amazon claims that Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the only title on the list to sell more copies in print than for the Kindle.

Here’s the complete list.

  1. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  2. Gray Mountain by John Grisham
  3. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  4. Twenty Seconds Ago by Lee Child (Jack Reacher No. 19)
  5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  6. The Target by David Baldacci (Will Robie series)
  7. The Fixed Trilogy by Laurelin Paige
  8. The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (The Heroes of Olympus, Book Five)

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