An Ode to Robert E. Howard, from a Rogue Blades author

Friday, January 24th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeThis excerpt from author Cecelia Holland is taken from her essay for the upcoming book, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, from publisher Rogue Blades Foundation.

You have to understand, being a girl in the 1950s was a complete dead end. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t play Little League or football; I couldn’t even play full court basketball. I couldn’t take shop instead of home ec. I couldn’t ride in the rumble seat of my uncle’s new car because I was too young, although my male cousin who was a week older than I got to ride in it a lot. When I asked for an erector set for Christmas, they laughed and gave me a doll.

I was gently dissuaded from thinking about having a real life when I grew up, since I would of course find some nice man to marry me and take care of me and I would spend my life raising children and washing dishes (and probably drinking like a fish, as all my aunts did, drowning their personal ambitions), so why should I even bother with college?

I did have one aunt (I had many aunts) who did have a career, for which she was broadly pitied.

I escaped. Robert E. Howard helped me escape.

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Future Treasures: Mazes of Power by Juliette Wade

Friday, January 24th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Mazes of Power-smallWhat’s cooler than a cave cty? Nuthin’! Juliette Wade understands this fundamental truth, and she has set her debut novel Mazes of Power in the thousand-year-old cave city of Pelismara.

Just to be clear, that’s all I needed to be sold on this novel. However, I admit it does have other things going for it. Publishers Weekly calls it (in a starred review), “Excellent… [it] invites readers into an intricately constructed and morally ambiguous world full of complex political maneuvering,” and Laura Anne Gilman says it’s “A twisty ride… into a world of love and treachery.”

Mazes of Power is being described as a “work of sociological science fiction,” which strikes me as kind of heavy for a novel set in a cave city. Well, let’s not be picky. Here’s the publisher’s description; make up your own mind.

The cavern city of Pelismara has stood for a thousand years. The Great Families of the nobility cling to the myths of their golden age while the city’s technology wanes.

When a fever strikes, and the Eminence dies, seventeen-year-old Tagaret is pushed to represent his Family in the competition for Heir to the Throne. To win would give him the power to rescue his mother from his abusive father, and marry the girl he loves.

But the struggle for power distorts everything in this highly stratified society, and the fever is still loose among the inbred, susceptible nobles. Tagaret’s sociopathic younger brother, Nekantor, is obsessed with their family’s success. Nekantor is willing to exploit Tagaret, his mother, and her new servant Aloran to defeat their opponents.

Can he be stopped? Should he be stopped? And will they recognize themselves after the struggle has changed them?

Mazes of Power is the opening novel in The Broken Trust series. It will be published by DAW on February 4, 2020. It is 405 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Adam Auerbach. Read the first seven pages of Chapter One here.

See all our coverage of the best upcoming science fiction and fantasy here.


Goth Chick News: Grab a Pen, Here Comes Your 2020 Reading List

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Coyote Rage-small Inspection Josh Malerman-small The Worst is Yet to Come-small

If you live somewhere that, like Chicago, has been experiencing temperatures incompatible with human life recently, then thinking about a lounge chair, a book and an umbrella drink wearing anything less than a Tauntaun skin is pretty darn appealing. And with perfect timing, here comes the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot hot off the press from the The Horror Writers Association (HWA), providing a categorized list of reading material.

Now all you need is the lounge chair, an umbrella drink and a space heater.

Hazzah.

Named in honor of Dracula’s beloved Pappa, the Stokers are presented annually by the HWA for superior writing in eleven categories including traditional fiction of various lengths, poetry, screenplays and non-fiction. The HWA also presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to living individuals who have made a substantial and enduring contribution to the genre. Previous winners include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Joyce Carol Oates, and Neil Gaiman.

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Things Are As They Are: George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

EarthAbides1sted

Cover by H. Lawrence Hoffman

Earth Abides (Random House, 373 pages, $3 in hardcover, 1949)
by George R. Stewart
Cover by H. Lawrence Hoffman

Here is one of the best science fiction novels of all time. It’s about the entire world, and implicitly the entire human race, and it’s as timely as ever as, for one reason or another, humanity faces the realization that its indefinite survival on planet Earth is not guaranteed.

The novel is Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. It was published in 1949 and was Stewart’s only SF novel (though he wrote a couple earlier novels about natural catastrophes, including one about a storm that inspired the US National Weather Service to give storms names). It won the first International Fantasy Award in a year preceding the advent of the Hugos. (Stewart never wrote any other science fiction, and this novel wasn’t published as science fiction, but was later embraced by genre critics, much as the famous novels by Huxley and Orwell were.)

Above is the cover of the first edition. And here are the two editions I’ve read, a 1971 Fawcett Crest paperback with a Paul Lehr cover, and the 2006 Del Rey trade paperback edition.

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Vintage Treasures: Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Cloven Hooves Megan Lindholm-back-small Cloven Hooves Megan Lindholm-small

Cover by Richard Bober

Before she became an international fantasy superstar with The Farseer trilogy and the Liveship Traders novels, Robin Hobb published nearly a dozen highly-regarded books under the name Megan Lindholm, including Wizard of the Pigeons (1985), the SF novel Alien Earth (1992), and The Ki and Vandien Quartet. In tone and subject they are very different from the Robin Hobb-branded heroic fantasy that made her a bestselling author, but even by that standard Cloven Hooves stands out. It’s the story of a modern woman who leaves her husband to have an affair with a satyr, with a lot of graphic sex.

It’s a very different adult fantasy, and while it made the preliminary Nebula ballot, it vanished almost without a trace. It remained out of print in the US for nearly three decades, until it was reprinted by Harper Voyager as part of their Voyager Classics line this past April. It’s worth seeking out for Hobb fans, or any serious fan of contemporary fey fantasy. Here’s a snippet from Georges T. Dodds SF Site review.

Read a hundred pages into Cloven Hooves and you’d be convinced you were reading a very conventional, if well-written, mainstream novel: an everyday story of a woman, Evelyn, and her odyssey from an unfettered and imaginative childhood in rural Alaska to a crumbling marriage among her husband’s family in Washington State. The remainder of the book, however, chronicles her passionate relationship, mating, and bearing a child to a woodland satyr. Certainly, as with her urban fantasy Wizard of the Pigeons, mainstream readers said, “what’s with the fantasy element?” While fantasy readers said, “what’s with the 100 pages of character development and the mythology that’s as old as the hills?” Ultimately the poor sales of her novels under the name Megan Lindholm, by her own admission, led her to recast herself as Robin Hobb…

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The Future is Barreling Down on Us: Derek Künsken on Transhumanism

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Derek Künsken Explores Our Transhuman Future

Most Black Gate readers know Derek Künsken as our Saturday evening blogger. Many of you are also familiar with his exciting Quantum Evolution series from Solaris, which started with The Quantum Magician (2018) and continued with The Quantum Garden this past October.

But he also speaks knowledgeably on fascinating topics, as proved last month in his interview with The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, in which he talks about futurism — and reveals great taste in books in the process. How often do you get to do that?? Here’s Derek.

Maybe one of the earliest books I read about overtly changing ourselves is Frederick Pohl’s Man Plus, where a colonist for Mars is augmented, organ after organ, capability after capability, into something capable of surviving the harsh Martian days and nights. It’s a haunting novel whose mild body horror unsettles, while at the same time not shying away from the fact that terraforming Mars, if it’s possible at all, would take many, many human lifetimes.

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion was also an early read for me. The first two books don’t give the Ouster swarms a lot of screen time, but what we see bundles sense of wonder, inevitability and alienation into the reader experience. Of course if people are going to live in micro-gravity among the comets, they’ll need to modify their bodies, their organs and so on. The Ousters have different body types, different biologies and ways of interacting with technology and it’s all fascinating….

Transhumanism has a much broader meaning than it did when I first encountered it, and this list of books and authors is just my view, informed quite a bit by my love of space opera and far future sci-fi…. The important thing about transhumanism in sci-fi is that we’re thinking about how we’re going to engage with technology and bioengineering, because the future is barreling down on us.

You tell ’em, Derek! Also, chops for the shout out to Frederick Pohl and Dan Simmons. You can read the entire interview with Derek here, and check out his novels here.


Yes, Weird Tales is Back

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Weird Tales 363-small

Cover by Abigail Larson

A few months ago I started to hear rumors that Weird Tales, the most storied and collectible American fantasy magazine of all time, had returned. Whispers, really. But I’d been hearing whispers for the last six years, ever since the last issue appeared from Nth Dimension Media, and especially since I published the article “Is Weird Tales Dead… Again?” in 2016. So I didn’t pay much attention.

But then I heard more reliable reports, and started to see listings online…. and then I ordered a copy, and right now I’m holding it in my hot little hands. And I can report that, in fact, Weird Tales is back.

It returns with a new publisher, Weird Tales Inc., but the same editor, Marvin Kaye, who took over the editorial reins from Ann VanderMeer in 2011, and managed only three issues in the last nine years. But the magazine looks terrific, with glossy paper and full color interiors, and an impressive Table of Contents, including stories by Victor LaValle, Jonathan Maberry, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and others. Not to mention an eye-catching cover by Abigail Larson, a tribute to perhaps the most iconic Weird Tales image of all time, the famous bat woman cover by Margaret Brundage.

Is Weird Tales back for good? Too early to tell — though to be fair Weird Tales has never exactly been a stable publication. (There’s a reason it’s called “The Magazine That Never Dies,” it keeps having to be resurrected.) There are the usual troubling signs already, including the fact that the website they proudly promote on the back page (weirdtales.com) is down already. But this looks like a quality package, and I’m hopeful. Let’s have a closer look at the contents.

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New Treasures: The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Heart of the Circle-small The Heart of the Circle-back-small

Cover by Francesca Corsini

There’s lots of shortcuts you can take while deciding where to spend your precious book dollars. If you’re lucky enough to have friends who read — and read the same things you do — you can trust their recommendations. You can trust reviewers. Or if you’ve been around long enough, you can come to trust editors. I’ve been around long enough now that I’ve learned to trust the editorial team at Angry Robot, who’ve taken a lot of chances on new and emerging writers. Those bets have paid off over the years, and Angry Robot has gradually developed a reputation for both a keen editorial eye and cutting edge taste.

They’ve published some very fine books in the last 12 months from Kameron Hurley, Christopher Hinz, Tim Pratt, Tyler Hayes, Anna Kashina , Cameron Johnston, and many others. So when they introduce an author I’ve never heard of, I pay attention. That was the case with The Heart of the Circle, the first English language release by Israeli author Keren Landsman, which just won the 2019 Geffen Award. Here’s Dr. Dann Lewis from his review at Grimdark Magazine.

Set in an alternate reality whereby magical users (sorcerers) exist, The Heart of the Circle follows the protagonist Reed, an empath, who becomes the next target of the religious extremist group, the Sons of Simeon after a brutal march for equal rights. This is further complicated by a burgeoning romance and the lackadaisical efforts of protection by the government… Landsman not only delicately reinforces the state in which her sorcerers live, but the merciless conditions in which they are treated. I was enthralled with this line and of course, this is indicative of Landsman’s writing throughout. Her skill with the world-building of this alternate reality is masterful…

Landsman’s novel is exceptionally paced and full of intriguing characters and concepts. I do appreciate that this is situated in a vastly different part of the world… Landsman expertly weaves social and political commentary.

The Heart of the Circle was published by Angry Robot on August 13, 2019. It is 391 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Francesca Corsini. Read the complete first three chapters (36 pages) at Issuu, and see all our recent New Treasures here.


Orbiting Colonies, Giant Mechs, and Child Soldiers: War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

Monday, January 20th, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Brett

War Girls-smallWar Girls (Razorbill, 450 pages, $18.99, October 15, 2019)
By Tochi Onyebuchi
Cover by Nekro

The facts that war is brutal, savage, and harms the innocent together with the guilty are no new revelations. Nor is it news that children in the 20th and 21st centuries have been suborned into brutal combat across the globe. Finally, no one is ignorant that technology continues, as it always has, to make war exponentially deadlier in its efficiency. What Tochi Oneybuchi has done with his powerful new novel War Girls is to combine these knowns into a story of love and sisterhood that together cross political and social divides and battlefields alike, and where traumatized soldiers dream of a true peace in a thriving, reborn nation. War Girls is a novel of intense, determined hope in the face of overwhelming obstacles; in this current historical moment it’s exactly the book we need.

In 2172, the world is a damaged place. Climate change and war have destroyed much of the Earth, and millions have fled the planet to live in orbiting Colonies. Nigeria is a country rent by turmoil, where the breakaway southeastern province of Biafra has formed its own nation (as it did in real life between 1967-1970) and battles Nigeria to secure its independence. The war has left much of the area saturated in radioactivity that kills or mutates the local wildlife, and battles are fought using unmanned drones, human-piloted mechs, and augmented soldiers refitted with bionic limbs.

Onyii is such a soldier, a young woman and war hero who lives to protect both her new nation and her adopted orphaned sister Ify. When the two become separated through the usual vagaries of war, they find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. Much of the novel shows the ways in which the two sisters see the war from different angles – Onyii as an embattled Biafran war hero who must realize the consequences of her past actions, and Ify having to face her own traumatic past while embedded deep within the Nigerian military establishment.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Monday, January 20th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.

GLEN COOK – SWEET SILVER BLUES

I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.

JOHN D MACDONALD

John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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