In the first installment, I explored Volume 1 of the SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN Dark Horse reprints of the classic Marvel Comics black-and-white magazine.
Volume 2 begins with SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #11 from 1976. A terrific issue written by Roy Thomas–who wrote most of the stories in the magazine its first few years–with art from John Buscema and Yong Montano. Buscema/Montano paring is an interesting one, and the results are every bit as lush and detailed as Alfredo Alcala’s inks in Volume One.
It’s too bad Montano only did this one issue of SS because he brought Buscema’s superb pencils to life as well as Alcala, yet with a decidedly different style that was no less immersive. This adaptation of Howard’s “The Abode of the Damned” isn’t your typical tale of the Cimmerian, as Conan is either off-screen or in disguise as “Shirkuh” for half the issue. It’s a brutal excursion into the violent lives of desert tribesmen, as seen through the eyes of the intrepid maiden Mellani. Seeking vengeance for her slain brother leads her right into captivity where Cimmerian-in-disguise is her only hope of surviving. Yong Montano didn’t turn into a regular Buscema inker like Alcala and later DeZuniga and Chan did, but on SS #11 he did a bang-up job creating that Buscema/Alcala level of artistic detail, while offering a fresh texture in his mastery of light and shadow.
In SAVAGE SWORD #12, reigning artistic champions John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala return to help Roy Thomas adapt Howard’s “The Slave Princess” into a Conan tale called “The Haunters of Castle Crimson.” The lush black ink work is the high standard of the magazine’s early years. Alcala’s hyper-detailed panels took Buscema’s masterful pencils to a whole new level of artistic integrity. Following their bravura performances in SS #2, 4, and 7, Buscema/Alcala bring more lighting-in-bottle greatness to these pages–and it’s their high-end work that highlights this entire second volume, beginning with SS#12.
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Mysterion’s Front cover
One of the risks of telling people you don’t need money is that they’ll take you at your word.
When my wife and I decided to do Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith, an anthology of speculative fiction which engages with Christianity (which I introduced to Black Gate here), one of the first things we did was talk to other small press publishers, including Chizine’s Sandra Kasturi and Black Gate’s own John O’Neill. Based on our talks with them, we figured out what it took to do an anthology, and how much it would cost, including cover art, interior layout, and the story budget. Then once we figured out the budget, we determined whether we could afford it without crowdfunding. If we were committing to this project, we wanted to make sure we could do it regardless of the results of any fundraising. The answer was that we could.
And then we decided to do some crowdfunding anyway. Not to make the anthology happen, but to make it better. We fully intend to do the anthology whether anyone gives us money or not.
“We don’t need it, but give us money anyway” turns out not to be such a great crowdfunding pitch.
So let me try a better one. Now I could go into what donors get as rewards (The ebook at half the retail price and a month early! Both ebook and paperback at less than the retail price! Free shipping almost anywhere in the world!) or what your money will do for us (More stories! Higher rates! We’ll do it again!), but what I really want to talk about is why I’m excited about this anthology, and you should be too.
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“The Hand that Binds” art by Matt Hughes
There’s a lot of writing advice in the world. A person trying to read it all, in fact, would likely never be able to get anything written: I suspect more is written about writing in a given day than any one person could feasibly read in that same timespan.
That doesn’t mean that writing advice isn’t useful, of course, because it can be absolutely essential to a writer’s development. In my case, for instance, one of the key bits of advice I ever received as a young novelist-to-be was to try to cut my teeth on writing short stories. Doing so, it turned out, allowed me to hone my craft in smaller, more manageable chunks. It also led me to my first fiction sale: to Black Gate, which published my story “The Hand That Binds.”
Publishing short stories was an amazing experience. In composing and selling short fiction I learned far more than I could have ever imagined, and each of those “little” victories of publication were a shot in the arm of the best drug available to a writer: the confidence to know you can do it. So for me (though admittedly not for everyone), starting with short stories was vital to the development of my career.
What I want to talk about today, though, is that next move: transitioning from short stories to novels. Because although I loved (and still love) writing short fiction, I knew I wanted more. I wanted to be a novelist. What follows are the five principles and one rule that helped me make that leap.
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This flourishing sub-genre of undead detective fiction? I like it. Recent examples include Tim Waggoner’s zombie detective saga The Nekropolis Archives, Stefan Petrucha’s Dead Mann series, Stephen Blackmoore’s Eric Carter books, Chris F. Holm’s Dead Harvest, Simon Kurt Unsworth’s The Devil’s Detective (a detective in hell), and Ian Tregillis’s Something More Than Night (a detective in heaven).
Bavo Dhooge’s Styx promises an intriguing spin on the zombie detective. Rafael Styx is a corrupt Belgian cop who is gunned down in pursuit of a diabolical serial murder. In death he meets the famous nude painter Paul Delvaux, who gives him his first real clue… and Styx finds his cop instincts won’t let him rest. Returning as a zombie (with an inconvenient taste for human flesh), Styx takes up the case again. Even death won’t stop him from capturing his murderer.
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We’ve got lots of great magazine coverage to point you towards the best new short fiction this month. We started our coverage of Interfictions with issue #6, and reported on the arrival of the massive Best Of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Volume 1. In our reviews section, Learned Foote took a look at Nike Salway’s “The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club” in the October Lightspeed, and Fletcher Vredenburgh highlighted the best in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and Swords and Sorcery Magazine in his October Round-Up. For vintage fiction fans, Matthew Wuertz journeys back over 60 years to look at a magazine from January 1953, with fiction by Philip K. Dick and Clifford D. Simak, in the latest installment of his issue-by-issue read of Galaxy.
Check out all the details on the magazines above by clicking on the each of the images. Our November Fantasy Magazine Rack is here.
As we’ve mentioned before, all of these magazines are completely dependent on fans and readers to keep them alive. Many are marginal operations for whom a handful of subscriptions may mean the difference between life and death. Why not check one or two out, and try a sample issue? There are magazines here for every budget, from completely free to $12.95/issue. If you find something intriguing, I hope you’ll consider taking a chance on a subscription. I think you’ll find it’s money very well spent.
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…an Ankh Morpork-style town watch
The first thing that Conan — or Locke Lamora, or Grey Mouser, or Vimes, or a D&D party — would notice about a real medieval city would be the almost total absence of an Ankh Morpork-style town watch.
It’s a stock trope: here come a dozen
Keystone Cops town watch in their funny armour, to arrest the drunken barbarian or catch the thief. Only it’s not like that in reality, or at least not quite like that in Later Medieval and Early Modern England, France, and Germany.
That’s not a criticism. Fantasy writers must write what they will. Dickensian thief takers are plausible, and raise themes to do with policing and justice. However, if, like me, you write Historical Adventure Fiction , then you need to know how policing worked because integrity, and because somebody else will know and will gleefully correct you in reviews. (It’s funny when your research is better than theirs though — and the one time I ever answered a review.)
It’s actually quite hard to drill down to D&D level details about the medieval past. Scholars are usually more interested in the development of legal systems and local authority than what happens when Conan gets into a brawl. However, there are a few useful sources: This PhD thesis on trial by battle; The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (link); The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany: Civic Duty and the Right of Arms (link); plus various more antiquarian tomes on my research shelf.
And, there are some surprises beneath the crust of sometimes dry text. Let’s kick off with what every aspiring thief and rogue needs to know…
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Megan E. O’Keefe has published stories in Shimmer and Writers of the Future Volume 30. Her first novel launches an ambitious fantasy series set in an oasis city, featuring a noble conman on the run from some very powerful people who stumbles onto a complicated conspiracy… and a chance to pull off a heist of epic proportions.
Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sight’s on their biggest heist yet — the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.
But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreck havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful — there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.
Steal the Sky is the first volume of The Scorched Continent. It will be published by Angry Robot on January 5, 2016. It is 448 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.
Unless you frequent coffee shops, book- or record stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul, you probably have never come across the literary journal Whistling Shade, a fine regional publication currently in its fifteenth year. Black Gate readers may want to track down a copy of the Fall-Winter 2015 issue, though, as there is much herein of particular interest. No road trip or airline ticket is necessary: a full PDF replica of this horror-themed issue is available for $1 HERE. All of the issue’s contents are also posted (free) online HERE.
In addition to the horror fiction and poetry, the issue includes two excellent pieces on H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Bloch. Sten Johnson’s eight-page essay “The Lonely World of H.P. Lovecraft” is one of the finest introductions of the enigmatic author I’ve seen. It provides not only a lively biographical sketch but does a swell job of situating Lovecraft’s oeuvre in the canon of twentieth-century literature. In “Once More Around the Bloch: The Man Behind the Fright Mask,” Thomas R. Smith provides a tribute to his mentor Robert Bloch that is entertaining, insightful, and thought provoking.
Before I give you a rundown of the table of contents, please indulge me a moment while I brag a bit as a proud father. This issue marks the first publication for my six-year-old daughter. Her poem “The Ghost that Hides in My House,” which she came up with this past summer and I faithfully copied down, appears on page 2 of Whistling Shade‘s HORROR Issue! In landing her first acceptance at the age of six, she has got me beat by a full decade. The publisher has kindly granted me permission to reprint Irelyn’s poem here (Please check it out just after the “Read More” tag — she’s very excited about it and will be stoked to know lots more people read it online).
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Peter Haining was a prolific editor, producing over 100 anthologies between 1965 and his death in 2007. Black Gate readers are probably most familiar with his Sherlock Holmes books (which Bob Byrne has mentioned more than once), his 1976 Weird Tales facsimile anthology, and his various volumes on the pulps, including The Fantastic Pulps (1976), Terror!: A History of Horror Illustrations from the Pulp Magazines (1977), Supernatural Sleuths (1986), and The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines (2001).
I stumbled across a very rewarding anthology of horror stories in a $1 bin at Windy City Pulp and paper earlier this year. Beyond the Curtain of Dark was originally published in October 1966 in the UK by Four Square Books, with a delightful cover by Josh Kirby (above left). It was reissued in November 1972 by New English Library in the UK with a cover by the fabulous Bruce Pennington (middle), and in the US by Pinnacle Books (right, cover artist unknown). It contains 23 stories, a nice mix of pre-1910 fiction (nine stories by Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Marion Crawford and others) and pulp horror stories published between 1938-1965 (14 stories by Robert Bloch, Harry Harrison, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, Henry Kuttner, Isaac Asimov, and others).
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I received my DVD of Ian McKellan’s Mr. Holmes in the mail and anxiously popped it into the player, with the expectation that I would be writing about it for this week’s post. I fell asleep during the first try. Hey: I’m 48 years old and by the time my son is asleep and I settle down in front of the television, I’m near my own bedtime. It happens.
It took two further sessions to complete the film. It was such a disappointment that I’m not going to do a review. At least, not for a while. It’s a fair British melodrama, but as to the elements I look for in a Holmes movie, sadly lacking. I’ll note that most of my Holmes friends really liked it, so I’m in the minority. But that’s how I saw it.
Which left me with a hole in the schedule. An overview of Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library (a nine-book collection of some classic Holmes writings from yesteryear) is high on my list. But I’ve still got some re-reading to do before that’s a go.
So, glancing over my shelves, my eyes, of course, wandered towards Solar Pons. Noted Sherlockian Vincent Starrett wrote the introduction to the first Pons short story collection, In Re: Sherlock Holmes – The Adventures of Solar Pons. I talked about the Doyle sons’ attempt to stop publication of that book in a prior post.
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