A Rogue’s Early Days: Yendi by Steven Brust

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_28150EMzOHUFYSteven Brust has written that Yendi (1984), second in his ongoing series about gangster Vlad Taltosis his least favorite book. As it’s only the second of his novels I’ve read, I can’t tell you where it falls on a greater continuum of his work, but I can tell you it’s a pretty good book. Sure, the book is flawed, but the good bits far outweigh the bad. If this is the low point in the series, then I’m REALLY looking forward to the later volumes.

The first book in the series, Jhereg (read my review here), introduces Vlad Taltos, a human assassin in a magic-heavy world ruled by the Dragaerans (who are pretty much elves). In that book, Vlad finds himself forced into carrying out a complex assassination. Aided by his mini-dragon familiar, Loiosh, and several powerful and clever friends, he succeeds beyond his own expectations. It’s a blast and I’m grateful to Bill Ward for getting me to check it out.

Instead of taking the story forward, Brust goes back in time with Yendi. Here we learn how Vlad rose in the ranks of the mafia-like House Jhereg. By a combination of smarts, daring, and just enough violence, he secures a position in the gangland ecology of the Dragaeran Empire’s capital city, Adrilankha. By book’s end, he’s well on his way to becoming the successful racketeer we meet in the first book. Unfortunately for him, things happen between the beginning and end of Yendi that make for a lousy time for Vlad, but a fast-paced story for us.

The book begins with Vlad learning that another low-level boss, a Dragaeran named Laris, has opened a gaming parlor in his territory. When confronted, Laris is apologetic and presents a series of nearly believable excuses. After the meeting, Vlad informs his lieutenant, Kragar, that they have probably no more than two days to get ready for an all-out war. His intuition proves correct.

The war between Vlad and Laris is so violent that one of the five rulers of House Jhereg summons Vlad and tells him to handle his war with more subtlety, or else. Unfortunately, it’s too late to avoid the or else. Incensed by the steady string of fires and killings, the Dragaeran empress dispatches members of her Phoenix Guard to clamp down. There are curfews, restrictions on the size of gatherings, and all criminal operations are shut down.

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New D&D Monster Manual Unleashed on the World

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

D&D Monster Manual Fifth EditionA fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes. Though Dungeons & Dragons has always been driven primarily by the imagination of the Dungeon Master and the players, the fact is that you can usually get only so far with just the Player’s Handbook (Amazon). It has the basic rules mechanics for playing the game, but lacks the array of exotic monsters necessary to populate – and threaten – the fantasy world that the characters are exploring.

With the arrival of the new 5th edition D&D Monster Manual (Amazon), that gap has now been alleviated. This book contains a beautifully-illustrated 350 pages of monsters, adversaries, and maybe even a few allies to introduce flawlessly into 5th edition games. The name really says it all; it is a manual full of monsters. There’s an appendix of “Miscellaneous Creatures” and one of “Nonplayer Characters” which are also useful, but there is one stand-out mechanic introduced that is worth mentioning in its own right, for those who might be wondering if the book is worth picking up.

Legendary Creatures

The manual contains a class of “Legendary Creatures” which “can take special actions outside their turns, and a few can exert power over their environments, causing extraordinary magical effects to occur in their vicinity.” In addition to these “legendary actions,” legendary creatures also sometimes come along with a lair, which gives the legendary creature ability to take extra “lair actions” and may have ambient powers, representing how the legendary creature’s power has physically warped the terrain of the lair.

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“Shardik, Shardik the Power Of God!”

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Shardik-smallMidway through Richard Adams’s doorstop of a book, Shardik (1974), I decided I had stumbled into the world’s longest parable.

Biblical parables are typically quite brief, but Adams pulls toward the opposite shore, reasoning that in thoroughness lies salvation. And why shouldn’t he? That tactic worked like gangbusters in his astounding debut, Watership Down (1972).

Shardik could indeed function as a serviceable doorstop, but to dismiss it out of hand would be a disservice to literature in general, and to fantasy novels in particular. Shardik is a brave, uncompromising examination of how “mere” mortals encounter and deify the exceptional, thus giving rise to portents, omens, prophecies, and ultimately continent-conquering religions.

In the case of Shardik, the talismanic inciting event takes the form of a gigantic bear, a bear of monstrous, prehistoric proportions, and this bear first flees a forest fire and then crashes, half-burned and exhausted, into a far-flung outpost of human civilization, Ortelga. Unfortunately – or not, depending on one’s point of view – the Ortelgans entertain a fervid belief that God’s manifestation on Earth will come in the form of a massive bear.

While Watership Down stayed locked within the heads of its rabbit characters, Shardik spends only a few pages at the outset inside the eponymous bear’s mind, just long enough to convince any alert reader that while Shardik may be a divine instrument, he is very much a bear, no more, no less, and will behave accordingly. After that, the story turns to Kelderek-Plays-With-Children, a hunter of simple tastes who first stumbles upon the injured, recovering bear-god.

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New Treasures: Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Die And Stay Dead Nicholas Kaufmann-smallLast October, I talked about Nicholas Kaufmann’s dark fantasy novel Dying is My Business, which I called “the tale of a badass hero facing down the forces of darkness in modern-day Brooklyn.” I’m very pleased to see the sequel arrive this week — this looks like a gritty and appealing dark fantasy series I can really sink my teeth into.

In this pulse­pounding sequel to Dying Is My Business, Trent, a man who can’t stay dead or retain his memories, tries to uncover his connection to a deadly doomsday cult bent on destroying NYC.

A brutal murder in Greenwich Village puts Trent and the Five-Pointed Star on the trail of Erickson Arkwright, the last surviving member of a doomsday cult. Back in the day, the Aeternis Tenebris cult thought the world would end on New Year’s Eve of 2000. When it didn’t, they decided to end it themselves by summoning Nahash-Dred, a powerful, terrifying demon known as the Destroyer of Worlds. But something went wrong. The demon massacred the cult, leaving Arkwright the sole survivor.

Now, hiding somewhere in New York City with a new identity, Arkwright plans to summon the demon again and finish the job he started over a decade ago. As Trent rushes to locate a long-lost magical artifact that may be the only way to stop him, the clues begin to mount… Trent’s past and Arkwright’s might be linked somehow. And if they are, it means the truth of who Trent really is may lie buried in the twisted mind of a madman.

Die and Stay Dead will be published on Tuesday, September 30 by St. Martin’s Griffin. It is 388 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $10.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Chris McGrath.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: An Index (So Far)

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Index_Holmes

An awesome print by Tom Richmond of Holmes on screen over the years. I own print #7 of 450

Surprisingly, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes has now made it to thirty posts. While I’m sure the dedicated reader types ‘Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ in the search field to call up all the posts in the series, I said to myself (I talk to myself a lot),  ”Bob, there’s got to be an easier way for someone to bask in the entirety of your writings so far.”

And there is! Below is an index with links to all the posts, followed by some topics likely to come.

 

Sherlock Holmes/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – Introduction to the column (rather unoriginal title, eh?)

Lord of Misrule – Christopher Lee as the great detective

The Case of the Short Lived Sherlock – One of my favorite Holmes’, Ian Richardson

Creation to Death and Back – A good intro to Holmes, focusing on Doyle’s love-hate (minus the love) relationship with his most famous creation

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Vintage Treasures: The Dance of Death by Algernon Blackwood

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dance of Death Blackwood-smallAlgernon Blackwood is one of the acknowledged masters of the ghost story — and also one of its most prolific practitioners. He wrote a dozen novels and published some 34 short story collections, including John Silence (1908), Incredible Adventures (1914), Ancient Sorceries and Other Tales (1927); and Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural (1949). He died in 1951.

In his review of Incredible Adventures, Ryan Harvey saluted Blackwood thusly:

Of all the practitioners of the classic “weird tale,” which flourished in the early twentieth century before morphing into the more easily discerned genres of fantasy and horror, none entrances me more than Algernon Blackwood. Looking at the stable of the foundational authors of horror — luminaries like Poe, James, le Fanu, Machen, Lovecraft — it is Blackwood who has the strongest effect on me. Of all his lofty company, he is the one who seems to achieve the most numinous “weird” of all…

In my view, Blackwood achieved his finest work in his earlier collections The Listener and Other Stories (1907), John Silence — Physician Extraordinary (1908), and The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910), where he combined his weird adventures with aspects of horror and fear. These earlier classics are supernatural horror, but are also superb works of mood.

Much of Blackwood’s impressive catalog is now out of print, but not all of it. S. T. Joshi, who called his work “more consistently meritorious than any weird writer’s except Dunsany’s,” and said Incredible Adventures “may be the premier weird collection of this or any other century,” has edited two contemporary short story collections: The Complete John Silence Stories (1997), and Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories (2002).

Of course, I’m most interested in the vintage paperback editions of Algernon Blackwood, and especially his 1963 Pan paperback The Dance of Death, which I recently acquired on eBay.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in August

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Guardians of the Galaxy poster-smallAh, August. We miss you already. The nights were warmer, the kids hadn’t started school, and Alice still hadn’t discovered those new paperback collections I tried to hide in the garage. It was a simpler time, a happier time. A time when I didn’t have to sleep on the couch.

Black Gate bloggers were busy in August, too. We posted 105 new articles last month, and our faithful servers in the back room worked overtime delivering 1.28 million pages views… a new record. That’s a page every two seconds, 24 hours a day. Don’t you people ever sleep?

The most popular article last month was Nick Ozment’s review of the blockbuster film The Guardians of the Galaxy. No surprise — it’s well on its way to becoming the biggest film of the year. It’s a terrific science fantasy that could well become this generation’s Star Wars.

Second on the list was Robert J Howe’s reminiscence of his time in various writer’s groups, Writer’s Workshops: Under the Black Flag. Third was Lou Anders’ article on his breakout middle grade fantasy Thrones & Bones: Why I Write What I Write How I Write it.

Fourth on the list was Matthew David Surridge’s report from the fabulous Montreal film festival, My Fantasia Festival, Day 10: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai and Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. Rounding out the Top Five was Connor Gormley’s feature review of Karl Edward Wagner’s sword & sorcery classic Dark Crusade.

For this month, I tried something a little different by also including the top Categories. The biggest surprise was that one of the top items on the list (at #4, higher than any of the categories except New Treasures and Books) was the RSS feed for our Tuesday blogger James Maliszewski. Way to bring in the crowds, James!

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Eugie Foster, December 30, 1971 – September 27, 2014

Saturday, September 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Eugie FosterAuthor and editor Eugie Foster died of respiratory failure today at Emory University in Atlanta.

Eugie announced last October that she has been diagnosed with cancer, a “malignant, fast-growing tumor, around 6cm, in my sinuses and hard and soft palate regions.” She was undergoing aggressive treatments, including a stem cell transplant, which left her vulnerable to infections. In one of her last blog posts, on August 12, 2014, she wrote:

[One] opportunistic bacteria infection has taken up residence in my lower bowels and another one has set up shop in my stomach. Not only is food unpleasant to eat but it’s not doing anything enjoyable once it hits my GI Tract, including staying put. Waaaahhhh!!

They have me on lotso antibiotics and other meds to make this easier on me. I appreciate that but honestly, I just want to be unconscious. None of this is unexpected but it all sucks. Hurry up stem cells. Graft! Graft already!!

I first encountered Eugie when she took over Tangent Online after Dave Truesdale stepped down. Her own short stories were appearing in Interzone, Apex, Fantasy Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and other places; her story “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” won the 2009 Nebula Award. Jason Waltz introduced me to Eugie at Dragon*Con in 2010, at her busy press station where she produced the onsite newsletter, the Daily Dragon. I found her charming and highly articulate, filled with drive and energy, and seemingly unstoppable.

Her death was announced in a brief blog post by her husband, Matthew M. Foster. She was 42 years old.


September/October Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction now on Sale

Saturday, September 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Sept Oct 2014-smallI like this era of Internet magazine reviews. When I was growing up, back when computers communicated only through punched cards (or with the voice of Majel Barrett), I would read fabulous short story reviews in fanzines and such, and breathlessly race down to my local news stand to buy the magazine in question, only to have the bookseller look at me funny and say, “That issue sold out six months ago, son.”

Not today. Today, booksellers don’t even know what a magazine is. They still look at me funny though, but now it’s because I forgot to change out of pajama pants before leaving the house.

Also, the wonders of the Internet include short story reviews that appear before the magazine even goes on sale, which means me and my pajama pants can wander out to Barnes & Noble on a Saturday morning to pick up a copy of the September/October issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, after reading this terrific Tangent Online review of “The Caravan To Nowhere,” a new Alaric story in the issue by my friend Phyllis Eisenstein:

Her stories have been nominated for Hugos and Nebulas and this reprint from Rogues, a recent anthology edited by Gardner Dozios and George R. R. Martin, shows why… Alaric, a wandering minstrel and recurring character in Eisenstein’s larger universe, joins a merchant on his journey to harvest a mysterious drug, Powder. The drug has made the merchant’s son an addict and part of Alaric’s job is looking out for the young man, who tends to wander and rant.

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Last Chance to Win a Copy of Mark Rigney’s Check-Out Time

Saturday, September 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Check Out Time Mark Rigney-smallLast week, I told you that you had a chance to win a copy of Mark Rigney’s brand new Renner and Quist novel Check-Out Time, on sale next week from Samhain Publishing .

How do you win? Just send an e-mail to john@blackgate.com with the subject “Check-Out Time.” That’s it. That’s all that stands between you and a copy of one of the best horror novels of the year. Two winners will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries and we’ll announce the winners here on the Black Gate blog. What could possibly be easier? But time is running out — the contest closes October 1st.

Mark Rigney’s Tales of Gemen, which Tangent called “Reminiscent of the old sword & sorcery classics,” have dominated our Fiction charts since we published them in 2012. His thrillers starring occult investigators Reverend Renner and Dale Quist began with The Skates and “Sleeping Bear,” and anticipation has been building for their first novel-length adventure. Here’s the book description.

All things must pass — or so we’re told. When Reverend Renner responds to an invitation sent from a long-demolished hotel filled with ghsots of guests from times past, he soon discovers that checking out will be a lot harder than checking in. His sometime friend and investigative partner, Dale Quist, heads to the rescue, but it will take more than brawn and benedictions to put this particular hotel out of business.

All things must pass, indeed –– but that doesn’t mean they have to go quietly.

No purchase necessary. Must be 12 or older. Decisions of the judges (capricious as they may be) are final. Not valid where prohibited by law. Eat your vegetables. Check-Out Time will be published by Samhain Publishing on October 7, 2014. It is 250 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $5.50 for the digital edition. Be sure to read Mark’s article on the series, The Adventure Continues: the Return of Renner and Quist, published right here in February.


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