Degenesis by Six More Vodka

Monday, November 11th, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

47c5e028033026e36f693097e6d83dd7--cartoon-art-character-artI’ve been meaning to write a review of DEGENESIS, the doorstop of a post-apocalyptic RPG from the “there has to be a story behind that name for your company” SIXMOREVODKA creative team for a while now. The main problem holding me back is that I haven’t played it yet with people, just dinked around testing things. Luckily, John’s editorial standards enjoy a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to old friends, and let ye who have not passed judgement on a game without playing it cast the first stone.

There’s another reason I feel safe recommending this beast. The art alone is worth the purchase of the slipcased two-volume edition of rules “Katharsis” and worldbook “Primal Punk” (Retailing at USD “If you have to ask you can’t afford it”). I’ve never seen a game with this level art throughout. Page after page of imagery usually reserved for a couple of splash pages in most game books.

What is this world? Refreshingly, it’s set in Europe and North Africa five hundred years after a 2073 meteor storm changed the face of the world (called the “Eshaton” but I think they meant “Eschaton”). Maybe the year is a hat tip to Fallout, I dunno, but Earth went through hundreds of years of cloudy hell and now there are a few hints of a Renaissance for a radically altered world. To make matters worse, the meteors brought with them a spore-like form of life called “Primer” that is radically altering flora, fauna, and us. Humans who have been taken over by the Primer (the process is generally called Sepsis) eventually become Psychonauts or Abberants, two names for the same deadly syndrome. Some of the spores carrying the primer have been deactivated or neutralized for use in drugs called Burn, because if thousands of years of human history have proved anything, it’s that people will try to get high by any means necessary. A final existential confrontation of homo sapiens vs homo degenesis is building.
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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Will Murray on The Spider

Monday, November 11th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Murray_SpiderdoomLegionEDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

You know, of course, that Will Murray carried on the adventure tales of the Doc Savage – because you read about it here!  Will is also carrying on the adventures of another legendary pulp figure – The Shadow.  So, he’s making another guest post here in the series. Read on for: Secret Origins of the Spider.

I have to confess that writing The Spider is a completely different experience for me than writing the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage, Tarzan, John Carter, or any of the other classic pulp heroes I’ve been privileged to bring back to life in new novels.

With these other pulp heroes, it’s largely a matter of concocting a logical plot and having the heroes go through their customary pieces, although I seem to have quickly become an accidental king of crossovers since I’ve managed to convince the various license holders to permit me to have a few of them collide, such as Doc Savage and The Shadow, Tarzan of the Apes and King Kong. Most recently, the Spider encountered both Jimmy Christopher of Operator #5 magazine fame and G-8, but without his Battle Aces in my first Spider novel, The Doom Legion. So some of their customary paces are not so customary.

When I acquired a license to the Spider a few years ago, I asked the late Joel Frieman of Argosy Communications about a mystery that had vexed me for a long time. Namely, why did Canadian novelist R.T.M. Scott write only the first two Spider novels, and then give way to Norvell W. Page, who worked under the house name of Grant Stockbridge?

Joel knew Popular Publications founder Harry Steeger and got the answer from him.

Watching the phenomenal sales growth of Street & Smith’s Shadow Magazine, he naturally itched to produce something in that emerging category. But Steeger didn’t want to get sued. So he conferred with his attorney and asked, essentially, how do we do something like The Shadow and not risk an expensive lawsuit?

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Ancient Gods and Trees That House an Entire City: The Titan’s Forest Trilogy by Thoraiya Dyer

Sunday, November 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Crossroads-of-Canopy-small Echoes-of-Understorey-by-Thoraiya-Dyer-small Tides of the Titans-small

Cover art by Marc Simonetti

In her 2017 guest post at Tor.com ,”Walk Beneath the Canopy of These 8 Fictional Forests,” Thoraiya Dyer wrote:

Give me your Fangorns and your Lothloriens, your Green Hearts and your Elvandars. Evoke your Haunted Forest Beyond the Wall complete with creepy weirwoods, your Steddings and your Avendesoras. Send me pleasant dreams about Totoro’s Japanese Camphor and the Forest Spirit’s kodama-filled canopy. Or, y’know, tree cities full of Wookiees instead of elves. I will take them all!

Forests in speculative fiction novels have a special place in my heart. Especially tree-cities.

Now there’s a woman who talks my language. Tree cities! Haunted forests! Creepy weirwoods! Kodama-filled canopies!(Uh, what?) Whatever, just tell me Dyer has a more than casual interest in tree cities. Like a book trilogy or something?

Yeah, it’s a rhetorical question. I write a book blog; everybody I talk about has a book trilogy. Dyer’s is titled Titan’s Forest, in which trees loom large as skyscrapers, mortals can be reborn as gods, and a young man sets out on an epic woodland journey to unlock the great Forest’s hidden secrets. It opened with Crossroads of Canopy (Tor Books, 2017), her debut novel; Echoes of Understorey was published last year, and the third book Tides of the Titans arrived earlier this year.

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Mindhunter: A Bloodless Noir about Serial Killers

Sunday, November 10th, 2019 | Posted by Mick Gall

Mindhunter2poster-small

All genres have their tropes that get returned to again and again. Historians write about the Civil War and World War II and the Civil War; singers write about breakups. For crime shows, serial killers represent the genre’s bottomless well. Netflix’s Mindhunter seeks to explore that vein as deeply as possible, and in the process creates television’s quietest noir.

FBI Special Agents Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) are the founders of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, which gave birth to the idea of “profiling” serial killers. Tench and Ford crisscross the country, interviewing serial killers with the intent of developing tools that will allow for the developing of psychological fingerprints of these compulsive killers, as an aid to capturing them. Fascinating and thoughtful, the series is significantly quieter than other cop shows. Mindhunter jettisons the foot chases and gunfights, and focuses on the agents interviewing serial killers

Mindhunter is based on the book of the same name by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Again, lesser cop shows pay lip service to the idea of “getting into the sick bastard’s head,” usually followed by some leap of logic that leads to the cops catching the killer. In Mindhunter, the interviews are the big centerpieces of most episodes. They’re great exercises in text and subtext, with the agents asking about thoughts and processes of the killers. The challenge of the show, and the reward for the patient viewer, is the agents discussing the interviews afterwards. They debate if the answers given were sincere, if the killer was being truthful, or misinterpreting things, or just outright lying. While fascinating, the interviews carry their own frustrating ambiguity.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Joan Hanke-Woods

Sunday, November 10th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Mariner over Mars

Mariner over Mars

Joan Hanke-Woods

Joan Hanke-Woods

Metropolis: Maria with Friends at Play

Metropolis: Maria with Friends at Play

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The Fan Activity Achievement Awards, or FAAN Awards were founded in 1976 by Moshe Feder and Arnie Katz. Created to highlight writing in fandom, they differed from the Fan Hugos in that they were voted on specifically by fanzine fans. The original awards were presented at various convention. Following the 1980 awards, the awards were on hiatus until 1994 and have been presented each year since, with the exception of 1996. Joan Hanke-Woods won the last of the original run of FAAN Awards for Best Fan Artist—Serious, her second consecutive win. The first winner was Jim Shull. The category was not revived after the hiatus, being combined with the Best Fan Artist—Humorous category and replaced by the Best Fan Artist category.

Over the years, joan hanke-woods used a variety of monikers for her artwork. By the time I got to know her, she was using the name delphyne woods. She first discovered fandom in 1978 at Windycon V and rapidly began providing artwork for fanzines. She won the FAAN Awards in 1979 and 1980. While the FAAN Awards are given by fanzine fandom and the Hugos are presented by a more varied electorate, her work gained recognition and from 1980 through 1986, she was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist, eventually winning in 1986.

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The Return of The Thing: Frozen Hell by John W. Campbell

Saturday, November 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Frozen Hell John W Campbell-back-small Frozen Hell John W Campbell-small

Cover by Bob Eggleton

Several years ago, while researching his groundbreaking book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (which Thomas Parker reviewed for us here), Alec Nevala-Lee found a yellowing letter from John W. Campbell that mentioned he’d donated his papers to Harvard Library. Alec tracked them down, and inside a carton in an offsite storage facility he made a major discovery: the original uncut version of “Who Goes There?”, which Alec calls “The greatest science fiction horror story of all time.” Last year John Gregory Betancourt of Wildside Press launched a hugely successful Kickstarter to publish it (raising $155,366 on a $1,000 goal), and the book appeared last month. Here’s John’s Kickstarter description.

In 1938, acclaimed science fiction author John W. Campbell published the novella “Who Goes There?,” about a team of scientists in Antarctica who discover and are terrorized by a monstrous, shape-shifting alien entity. The story would later be adapted into John Carpenter’s iconic movie The Thing (following an earlier film adaptation in 1951). The published novella was actually an abridged version of Campbell’s original story, called “Frozen Hell,” which had to be shortened for publication. The “Frozen Hell” manuscript remained unknown and unpublished for decades, and it was only recently rediscovered. “Frozen Hell” expands the Thing story dramatically, giving vital backstory and context to an already incredible tale. We are pleased and honored to offer Frozen Hell to you now, as Campbell intended it.

Frozen Hell will include a preface written by Alec Nevala-Lee, who rediscovered the “Frozen Hell” manuscript while doing research for his upcoming book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (Dey Street Books).

This is a highly anticipated book, and for good reason. I don’t know if the post-Worldcon negative publicity around John W. Campbell will impact sales at all, but I’m certainly still interested, and I know I’m not the only one. Frozen Hell was published by Wildside Press on October 8, 2019. It is 158 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $6.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Bob Eggleton.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.


Gaming at the End Times: Degenesis

Saturday, November 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Degenesis English in the Blood Cloister-small

Sample page from Degenesis: In the Blood adventure book

Gen Con 2019 was a journey of discovery for me. Well, more like a long painful marathon where discovery whacked me in the head with a club every few feet.

Over the course of three days I walked the floor of the massive Exhibit Hall, taking a picture with my iPhone every time I came across a booth I found interesting. I took hundreds of photos every one of those three days, and I doubt I could write up every one the interesting games I came across if I devoted the rest of my life to it. But I can talk about the highlights. So yeah. Let’s do that.

Gen Con this year seemed to be all about the board games. Titles like Raccoon Tycoon from Forbidden Games, mechanical monster game The Boldest from Stronghold Games, and the forest warfare simulator Root by Leder Games all captured my attention, but after trudging past five hundred new board games, I got kind of numb to them. New role playing releases were thinner on the ground, but the ones I did come across were very high quality, and perhaps none more so than Degenesis from Berlin development shop Six More Vodka.

Degenesis is set in a devastated Europe and North Africa, 500 years after a major asteroid impact completely reset human civilization. An alien something buried in the asteroid has begun to infect terrestrial flora and fauna, giving rise to horrific mutations. New cultures have emerged and given birth to 13 powerful cults that partner, war, and trade with each other. So far half a dozen core books and sourcebooks have been released, and they are gorgeously illustrated and beautiful in design and production.

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Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones: a Trailer

Friday, November 8th, 2019 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

9781250148803November, 19th is a date worth marking on your calendar. It’s the day Upon the Flight of the Queen (St. Martin’s Press), the second installment of Howard Andrew Jones’ Ring-Sworn Trilogy debuts. I loved For the Killing of Kings, the first book. You can read my review of it here. It’s a terrific swords & sorcery tale with a heavy dose of swashbuckling. If you haven’t read it yet, it should be clear I heartily recommend it. It’s felt like an age since my last post here at Black Gate. I’m still not sure when I’ll return here with any sort of regularity, but for books like this, I’m willing to make an appearance.

I’m old, so the idea of doing a trailer for a book isn’t something I’ve ever thought of. Apparently it’s a thing and it can be pretty cool. Up above is the brand new one for Upon the Flight of the Queen and it was done by Jones’ son, Darian Jones, an animator (as well as many other talents as will become clear later). As trailers are a whole new concept for me, I figured I’d ask Darian about himself and how he created the one for Flight.


Fletcher: So, Darian, can you please, tell us about yourself and your animation background?

Darian: Hello! Well, like my father, I have always been a performer and a storyteller. As a kid, he and I would be unable to watch a movie or listen to a song without taking it apart and analyzing it together. Animation seemed like the natural marriage of writing, art, and music, all things I loved to create. It started with simple comics during middle school at recess (and anytime the teacher wasn’t looking). Then I tried my hand at stop motion using stuffed animals and action figures. Over time I just fell in love with the medium. There is a vast storytelling potential in animation. I believe it is the best way to make any story visually beautiful and expressive. Unlike film, animation grants its creator the most minute control over every detail. I determine exactly what colors I use scene-by-scene. I determine how a character gesticulates and how their face emotes when they speak. I can give them shark teeth or hair made of drifting clouds if I want. My commitment to the study of animation earned me straight As and a position as Lead Animator on our class’ student thesis film. My professor said it was not only my skills with the medium but also my ability to negotiate calmly and effectively during times of extreme stress that won me the title. Now I have graduated college and I’ve been making little animations every chance I get to build my portfolio and, hopefully, win new positions at studios. Until then, I’m doing freelance work for writers and businesses.

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Vintage Treasures: City of Pearl by Karen Traviss

Friday, November 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

City of Pearl-small City of Pearl-back-small

Cover by Greg Bridges

Karen Traviss’s debut novel City of Pearl was a big hit here in the Black Gate offices, and it was passed around repeatedly and excitedly. We were far from the only ones who liked it — it was shortlisted for both the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the Philip K. Dick Award, and came in third in the 2005 Locus poll for Best First Novel. It launched her career quite effectively, and it eventually became the opening novel in the 6-volume Wess’har Wars series.

City of Pearl tells the ambitious tale of the clash of several distinct alien civilizations near Cavanagh’s Star in the year 2299. In his review of the novel and its sequel Crossing the Line at SF Site, Stuart Carter wrote:

This isn’t hard SF by any means. Although the laws of physics are largely obeyed they’re not particularly important to the story; there’s no arousing military- or techno-porn, and precious little ‘common-sense’ machismo or gung-ho soldiering. It’s worth mentioning that there are philosophical similarities with The Dispossessed, but these books are, in my opinion, even deeper and more complex than Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic, and they’re still far from over.

Another glorious aspect of these two books is that they’re almost the antithesis of everything Trek: humans haring round the universe imposing their morality and point-of-view upon anyone who can listen, and always, eventually, turning out to be right, or at least admirable. And if we’re not even admirable then at least we have bigger guns than everyone else to console ourselves with. In Karen Traviss’s universe we’re seen as being far from admirable and even further from right, and it looks like being a very hard, possibly even fatal, lesson for us to learn… If you want to read something that will leave you thinking, perhaps if you’re a fan of Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson or, more generally, of intricately gloomy English science fiction, then this series is one you want to read — I promise.

City of Pearl didn’t just hit with the critics. It is still in print, 15 years long after it was originally published; an extraordinary feat by any measure. Here’s the complete list of all six novels in the series.

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Bleak Creek overflows with Universal Truths

Friday, November 8th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Bleak CreekThe Lost Causes of Bleak Creak is not a novel I expected to be reviewing for Black Gate. It is a compelling thriller with a preternatural undercurrent that I heartily recommend, but that’s not what one would have expected from its authors. Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal have carved their own successful niche with Good Mythical Morning, a YouTube talk show/comedy show which seems to have successfully updated Ernie Kovacs’ format for the hipster generation. While that may be an accurate description on the surface, it belies the expansiveness of their burgeoning Mythical Entertainment media empire and its audience demographic composed of 20 million subscribers across their platform.

These two childhood friends from a small town in North Carolina have written two bestsellers; made their own critically-acclaimed, incredibly bizarre, but consistently funny streaming sitcom, Buddy System; hosted a trainwreck fascinating, but frequently funny IFC reality show, Commercial Kings; made an award-winning feature-length documentary about the search for their First Grade teacher, Looking for Ms. Locklear; released comedy albums; performed sold-out comedy concert tours on several continents; put together their own stage show to tie-in with their first book; and are currently undertaking a book tour in theaters around the country to promote their first novel. Regulars on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show where they provide a reminder of what late night comedy meant for those old enough to remember Carson or at least Letterman in his prime, they may be the two most ambitious and successful cult figures in the U.S. at present.

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