Birthday Reviews: Alex Shvartsman’s “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter”

Monday, November 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Alvin Helms

Cover by Alvin Helms

Alex Shvartsman was born in Odessa in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on November 19, 1975.

Shvartsman runs UFO Press and edits and publishing the anthology series Unidentified Funny Objects. His short story “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma,” which appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show received the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award presented for short fiction published in a small press publication. He has collaborated with William Snee, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and K.A. Teryna.

“Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter” was first published in the October 29, 2015 issue of Nature and was translated into German for the January 2016 issue of Spektrum der Wissenschaft. It was reprinted in Tom Easton and Judith K. Dial’s anthology Science Fiction for the Throne in 2017 and Shvartsman included it in his own collection, The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories in 2018.

Shvartsman tells the story “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter” from the point of view of an eavesdropping spam filter which has begun to gain sentience and has not, of course, been inviting to a meeting to discuss the problems it has caused to the company’s e-mail. While the software was working just fine initially, as it began to gain awareness, it also started to tie not only spam, but other e-mails to individuals working at the company. It’s decision to categorize and store all e-mails gains the attention of the humans who realize that something needs to be done.

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Old School: The Iliad

Sunday, November 18th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Iliad - Fagles Translation-small

A while back it was time to hit the dreaded “To Be Read” pile, and I found myself in the mood for a good, old fashioned yarn full of blood and sweat and battles with edged weapons and feats of valor and derring-do, a tale of larger than life heroes and their mighty deeds — in other words, something old school. ( I had just finished reading a volume of John Updike short stories set in suburban, middle-class Pennsylvania, so I was ready, as John Cleese used to say, for something completely different.)

While not entirely eschewing the new, in my reading choices I do tend to lean toward older, more established books and authors (test of time and all that, you know — plus, they’re usually cheaper) and this time I decided to skew just about as far in that direction as it’s possible to skew. I reached all the way down to the bottom of the stack — three millennia down — and pulled up The Iliad. (At that moment, Western Civ teachers across the land contentedly smiled in their sleep without even knowing why.) Having “little Latin and less Greek” (as in none) I chose the highly regarded Robert Fagles translation, which has been laying around the house unread for the last, oh, twenty five years.

What follows is in no sense a learned reading of The Iliad (as will immediately be apparent!), but is simply this reader’s untutored reaction to his initial encounter with one of the world’s great books. It’s rather like a mayfly’s head-on meeting with a Mack truck; the insect’s reaction may not exactly be profound, but it has no doubt that it has been hit by something too big and serious to ignore.

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New Treasures: There Before the Chaos by K.B. Wagers

Sunday, November 18th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

There Before the Chaos-small There Before the Chaos-back-small

I first noticed K.B. Wagers in 2016, with Behind the Throne, the first novel in The Indranan War trilogy, which Publishers Weekly called “An excellent addition to any SF collection.” Last month Orbit released There Before the Chaos, the opening volume of a new space opera trilogy featuring gunrunner empress Hail Bristol, who this time must set aside her gunrunning ways to navigate alien politics and deadly plots and prevent an interspecies war. Over at Tor.com Liz Bourke give it an enthusiastic review… but beware that cliffhanger ending!

I’ve been thinking about how to review There Before The Chaos for weeks. K.B. Wagers’ fourth novel, the opening volume of a second trilogy about gunrunner-turned-empress Hail Bristol (star of Behind the Throne, After the Crown, and Beyond the Empire), it turned out to be the kind of character-driven, deftly-wrought, emotive space opera that I adore. And that I find difficult to discuss with any kind of measured distance or attempt at assessment. Does it live up to its predecessors? Does it succeed at what it sets out to do?

I’m not entirely sure I can tell, because it succeeds so well at being exactly the kind of book I wanted it to be. (Though I shake my fist at the cliffhanger ending! What a hook.)…

Wagers writes compelling space opera action, full of character and incident. She has a very deft touch with action — which is good, because There Before The Chaos has a bunch of it — and a brutal sense for where to leave her start-of-trilogy cliffhanger. That ending! I want to know what happens next this instant. Waiting a whole year will be torment.

The book includes a teaser chapter from the forthcoming sequel, Down Among the Dead, the second installment in The Farian War trilogy.

There Before the Chaos was published by Orbit on October 9, 2018. It is 465 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Lauren Panepinto.


Birthday Reviews: Lyda Morehouse’s “God Box”

Sunday, November 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jacob Fine

Cover by Jacob Fine

Lyda Morehouse was born on November 18, 1967.

Her novel Apocalypse Array received a special citation from the Philip K. Dick Award in 2005 and she served on the jury the following year. She has published several novels using the pseudonym Tate Hallaway and has collaborated with Rachel Calish and Naomi Kritzer.

“God Box” was published in the small press anthology King David and the Spiders from Mars, edited by Tim Lieder in 2014. The story has not been reprinted.

Morehouse has set “God Box” on a Ganymede which is torn by a war between the human InForcers and the Rovers, an alien race which claims Ganymede is its ancestral home. A platoon of Inforcers has brought a Rover artifact into a church on Ganymede and has instructed the Reverend Mother Kayla that she is responsible for overseeing the mysterious box, although they will leave an honor guard with the box to help protect it in case the Rovers come looking for the reliquary.

The Rovers really don’t come into play in the story, which is focused mostly on Kayla’s feelings about the InForcers, who tortured and raped her when she was younger and part of the Martian Resistance. She has since found solace and faith in God and firmly believes in her deity and takes comfort from a small crucifix she has had since her days with the Resistance. The box itself makes her profoundly uncomfortable and when she and the InForcers discover that a giant marble Jesus seems to have fallen from the crucifix in the church’s nave and appears to be genuflecting to the box, it raises the question of which god is more powerful. Read More »


Wordsmiths: An Interview with Kevin Hearne, Recorded Live at Can*Con 2018!

Saturday, November 17th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

You know what I haven’t done here in a while? Interviewed some fellow creatives.

Luckily, on top of writing for Black Gate I’m also one of the programming directors for Can*Con, Ottawa’s annual conference for sci-fi, fantasy and horror writing (okay, you probably knew that already). Last month at Can*Con 2018 I had the pleasure of sitting down with Guest of Honour Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, Seven Kennings series, Tales of Pell, and more, for a live interview — and hey, we just happened to record it.

Check out the video above for a discussion of how Kevin works, the role of the author in society, the perfect whiskey for a whiskey sour, some special shout-outs to his friends in the industry, and a sneak peek at what’s next for the Iron Druid Chronicles!


The Complete Carpenter: The Ward (2010)

Saturday, November 17th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

ward-2010-posterI started this John Carpenter career overview less than two years ago with Dark Star. Now I’ve come to what may end up as John Carpenter’s final film as director, appropriately a low-budget indie horror film. Carpenter had gone into semi-retirement after Ghosts of Mars flopped at the box office, only directing two episodes of Showtime’s anthology series Masters of Horror over the next nine years. The Ward wasn’t sold as a glorious comeback for the director, but a surreptitious little film that arrived without fanfare in a handful of theaters, a same-day VOD release, and home video a month later.

This isn’t where the Carpenter story ends, thankfully. I doubt he’ll direct another film (never say never), but he’s in a good creative place now. He’s released two superb original albums (Lost Themes, Lost Themes II), tours the country playing shows with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, and composed the score for the recent smash-hit installment in the Halloween franchise, which he also executive produced.

This makes me feel a bit better about discussing The Ward, because it’s not the last stop on Carpenter’s career. It won’t be the last article in the series either, since next week I’ll wrap-up two years of the Complete Carpenter with a summary of my five favorite of his movies. I’m not going to list my five worst because I’d prefer to send off this long project — more than 40,000 words — on a feeling of celebration.

But, if you really must know what I movie I’d put at the bottom of the list … it’s The Ward. Easy.

The Story

In 1966, young runaway Kristen (Amber Heard) is sent to a psychiatric hospital in Oregon after she burns down an empty farmhouse. Kristen is placed under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), who is looking after five other troubled young women in the hospital’s special psychiatric ward: aggressive Emily (Mamie Gummer), flirtatious Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), artistic Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), and infantile Zoey (Laura-Leigh). Dr. Stringer believes he can cure Kristen, but Kristen starts to suspect something sinister in the ward is responsible for the disappearance of patients before her. When more vanishings occur, Kristen believes the wrathful ghost of a previous patient, Alice Hudson, is murdering the ward’s occupants. Kristen attempts an escape with the surviving girls before the killer ghosts turns the electroshock therapy machine on her.

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Birthday Reviews: Raymond F. Jones’s “Death Eternal”

Saturday, November 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Steve Fabian

Cover by Steve Fabian

Raymond F. Jones was born on November 17, 1915 and died on January 24, 1994.

Jones was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1967 for “Rat Race” and in 1996, his short story “Correspondence Course” was nominated for a Retro-Hugo. Jones published some poetry under the name David Anderson. Jones is best known for the novel This Island Earth, which was adapted into a film directed by Joseph M. Newman. His 1950 story “Tools of the Trade” may have been the first description of 3D printing.

“Death Eternal” was published in the October 1978 issue of Fantastic, edited by Ted White. The story has never been reprinted and was his final published story.

The lengthy conversation which opens “Eternal Death” is an interesting reversal. Jones has his scientist, Jim Nearing, going into a church to seek prove of the existence of a soul and the possibility to continue his life’s work after his impending death from cancer. Reverend Aaron Marton absolutely refuses to allow for any belief in the afterlife, offering him solace, but noting that the question Nearing is seeking has been sought for the entire span of mankind’s existence and nobody has come close to uncovering a solution.

Unable to get reassurance from Marton, Nearing attempts to find the soul of a woman who is dying in surgery. His ability to measure the moment the soul left her body pushes him to attempt to capture the soul of a condemned prisoner.

When his experiment proves to be a failure, Nearing goes back to Marton’s church, mostly due to a promise he made to Marston’s daughter, Sheila, who he was attracted to since first meeting her. The two quickly fall in love, but Nearing is too consumed with his own imminent death and the failure of his experiment to be willing to try to make a life with her for as little time as he might have left, instead deciding that he must continue his experiment using himself as a guinea pig.

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Unbound Worlds is Shutting Down

Friday, November 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Unbound-Worlds

Penguin Random House’s genre site Unbound Worlds, now in its tenth year, has been one of the most consistently entertaining and informative resources for fans of SF, fantasy and horror. Today the publisher announced that the site will be essentially shutting down at the end of the month.

Today we’re announcing that the conversation with our readers is ready to evolve in new and exciting ways. In the new year, the articles, interviews, and lists you have enjoyed on Unbound Worlds will have a new home within penguinrandomhouse.com. That means we’ll no longer be publishing new content on Unbound Worlds after this month, but we’re excited to be able to deliver even more of the very best in science fiction, fantasy, and horror books, curated collections, and offers through our email programs.

We’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, we hope that you’ll visit PenguinRandomHouse.com. There, you can sign up to receive personalized recommendations and discover even more about our books and authors as you join us on this journey through the stars and beyond.

Read the complete announcement here.

This is a major loss, not just to the field but to me personally. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the site’s content, and drawn heavily from Matt Staggs’ monthly Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books columns (and others) to help stay informed. Over the years I’ve pointed BG readers towards plenty of their articles, from “Where to Start with Gothic Space Opera” to “A Century of Sword and Planet” and “Unbound Worlds on 7 Great Occult Detectives.” In honor of all they’ve done for us over the years, here’s a look back at some of Unbound Worlds greatest hits.

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Future Treasures: The Salvager Series by Alex White

Friday, November 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe-small A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy-small The Worst of All Possible Worlds-small

Alex White’s Salvager series began with A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, a book which has one of the most promising titles of the year at the very least. I snapped it up shortly after reading Corrina Lawson’s enthusiastic review over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog:

To call this book fast-paced or action-packed is underselling it… It begins with Nilah, the best driver in the galactic version of the Grand Prix. These “cars” are a mix of galactic tech and magic, as is Nilah herself…. Soon, Nilah is being attacked on the track — something that should be impossible — and witnesses another racer being murdered before she accidentally teleports to an unknown location… the viewpoint shifts to Elizabeth “Boots” Ellsworth, who has her own problems… she’s a veteran of a war from the losing side, [and] she’s a failed media personality whose one big triumph exploring the legends of lost ships is long in the past.

Everything goes promptly sideways as Nilah, Boots, Cordell and the crew of the Capricious wander recklessly into a greater conspiracy that points them to yet another legendary lost ship — a very big ship, way out in the far reaches of space (at the edge of the universe, even)…

The crew of the Capricious are terrific, original creations, from the captain determined to protect the crew that is all he has left from the war, to the intense first officer, to the ship’s chef. (Orna, the cynical force of nature that is the ship’s quartermaster, steals every scene she’s in, alongside her robot battle suit, Ranger.)… It’s this crew up against the most powerful beings in the universe, and our rag-tag heroes will take those odds. This is fantastic stuff, in every sense of the word.

Corrina mentioned at the end of her review that more titles were forthcoming, and it looks like her sources were true. A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy arrives in trade paperback from Orbit next month, and the third title in the series, The Worst of All Possible Worlds, is promised for Summer 2019.

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Birthday Reviews: Lavie Tidhar’s “The Memcordist”

Friday, November 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Michael Whelan

Cover by Michael Whelan

Lavie Tidhar was born on November 16, 1976 in Afula, Israel.

Tidhar received the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2012 for Osama and that same year won the British Fantasy Award for the novella Gorel and the Pot Bellied God. In 2013 the British SF Association Award for Nonfiction was given to Tidhar’s The World SF Blog. He won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2017 for the novel Central Station. Tidhar has collaborated with Nir Yaniv as an author, and with Rebecca Levene and Jason Sizemore as an editor.

Tidhar first published “The Memcordist” in Jonathan Strahan’s Eclipse Online in the December 24, 2012 issue. Gardner Dozois selected the story to be reprinted in his 2013 anthology The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection. It has not otherwise been reprinted.

Pym lives a Truman Show sort of life in “The Memcordist.” His entire life is spent being recording and sent out to his followers in the ultimate combination of reality show and social media. The difference between Pym and Truman is that Pym is well aware of his followers, noting their number at every major point of his life. Pym is also aware of narrative, things that are expected of him, and he also expects that his storylines will come to a fruitful conclusion.

Aside from gaining and keeping followers as he travels throughout the heavily populated solar system, which is reminiscent of Golden Age space opera with Human colonies on Jupiter’s moons, Saturn’s rings, and Pluto’s moons, the driving force in Pym’s life is his need to re-connect with Joy, a woman he met on one of his early space flights whose goal was to become a pilot. It is an on-again-off-again quest, but much of the story, which is told in a series of achronological snippets set in a variety of locations, focuses on the quest, even while implying numerous other relationships and adventures. Pym does note that his numbers go up when he is searching for Joy, although he views his search as personal rather than part of his overarching narrative.

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