A Glorious Tapestry of Alternate History: The Empire of Fear by Brian Stableford

Saturday, October 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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British science fiction writer Brian Stableford has published more than 70 novels across a career spanning nearly five decades. His first novel was The Days of Glory (Ace, 1971), his most recent was The Tyranny of the Word (Black Coat Press, 2019), which appeared just last month. He’s produced a number of popular series, including six Hooded Swan science fiction novels, beginning with The Halcyon Drift (DAW 1972), six Daedalus Mission books, his famous werewolf trilogy (The Werewolves of London, The Angel of Pain, and The Carnival of Destruction), the Genesys trilogy, and the more recent six-volume Emortality series from Tor, beginning with Inherit the Earth (1998) and Architects of Emortality (September).

Back in 2013 I wrote a brief Vintage Treasures piece on his 1998 horror novel The Empire of Fear, and in the Comments section BG blogger Joe Bonadonna offered a splendid mini-review.

I read this one right after reading George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream, and these are 2 of my favorite vampire novels, because they are so much more than that. Empire of Fear is a glorious tapestry of alternate history a, “what mine have been,” had Van Helsing not slain Dracula. Beautifully written, with flesh-and blood characters, and quite well told. My only complaint — it’s too bloody short.

Joe’s comments stayed with me, and as I celebrate the spooky season by selecting classic horror novels to read in October, I picked up a copy to read this weekend.

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A Thrilling Gothic Fantasy: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Friday, October 18th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Sorcery-of-Thorns-smallElisabeth has sworn to do her duty onto death, and death has just shown up.

Panicked horses draw a carriage up to the Great Library. A Class Eight grimoire, bound in an iron coffer secured with more than a dozen locks, rattles inside the vehicle. A pair of wardens jump down from the driver’s seat.

The grimoire – the Book of Eyes – is centuries old and has driven dozens of people mad. As an apprentice librarian, Elisabeth shouldn’t be anywhere near it. But the library’s Director specifically summoned her here to help.

The Director must be testing Elisabeth. If she fails, the Book of Eyes will claim her life. But if she manages to survive this encounter, then she’ll show she really is a warden in the making. That is Elisabeth’s dearest wish: to prove herself worthy to the Director by becoming a warden herself. After all, she owes the Director everything. If it hadn’t been for her, Elisabeth would have been raised in an orphanage.

As Elizabeth and the Director carry the foul-smelling book down into the vault where the most dangerous tomes are isolated, it lurches in its bindings and tries to break free. When they reach its appointed cell, the table in the middle is gouged with enormous gashes. It looks like a demon clawed it. Grimoires that are damaged turn into Maleficts, huge monsters of ink and leather that kill the villagers and ravage the countryside. The wardens risk their own lives in hunting down and destroying them.

A Malefict must have been born on that very expanse of wood.

While the Director examines the Book of Eyes for damage, keeping the greasy black volume contained in a circle of salt and wearing iron-lined gloves, the grimoire opens its warty eyes and fastens them on Elisabeth. Sensing her inexperience and vulnerability, it calls to her, a whisper that threads through her mind…

She tries to ignore the voice, but it’s no use. Her gaze drifts down to the book… She feels like she’s sinking… The Director’s voice comes from very far away, as though she’s speaking underwater…

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In 500 Words or Less: Lost Transmissions by Desirina Boskovich

Friday, October 18th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

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Cover by Paul Lehr

Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy
By Desirina Boskovich
Abrams Image (304 pages, $29.99 hardcover, $13.99 eBook, September 10, 2019)

Did you know that Johannes Kepler wrote speculative fiction that got his mother imprisoned for witchcraft? Or that Weezer almost had an epic concept album to rival Pink Floyd and Rush? Or that Space Island One was even a thing?!

Maybe you did. We can’t quite use the excuse that an almost-thirty Millennial like myself obviously wouldn’t know a lot about the rich history of sci-fi and fantasy, however, since Lost Transmissions focuses on far more than the Golden Age. Desirina Boskovich has accumulated information on lesser-known SFF from across history, and I guarantee there are things in here you weren’t aware of. I had to tweet at Desirina while I was reading my ARC, for example, because the chapter “Speculative Music of the New Millennium” outlined artists and albums I’d never heard of, even though I should have grown up paying attention to them in the nineties and early 2000s. (My “To Listen” list doesn’t need to be any bigger, Desirina.)

My To-Read and To-Watch list doesn’t need to be any bigger, either, but too late now. After Charlie Jane Anders’ passionate and excited article about Space Island One, I’m determined to find a way to watch it, even though a DVD or streaming version doesn’t exist, apparently. Now that I’ve read the premise and background of Clair Noto’s The Tourist, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for a Netflix or Amazon adaptation. I need to look into the Mellon Chronicles to explore Lord of the Rings fandom. I want to find a group of people to try Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. And so on and so on and so on.

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Goth Chick News: When the Size of Your Spirit Matters

Thursday, October 17th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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Long before the Travel Channel’s obsession with spirits and professional ghost hunters, folks in the mid-1800’s became obsessed with spiritualism and all it’s trappings. Among the ‘spirit photography,’ levitating tables, and crystal balls, perhaps the most famous and long-lasting are ‘talking boards.’

First appearing around 1848, talking boards were used to summons and communicate with spirits. Most Americans, especially anyone who has ever attended a teenage sleepover, are aware of the most famous talking board, Ouija, which was first introduced in 1890 by the Kennard Novelty Company and sold today by Hasbro, Inc. These days there is even an organization in Massachusetts called Talking Board Historical Society, whose mission is to research, preserve, and celebrate the history of talking boards along with the people who continue to use them.

Now, just in time for Halloween, the Talking Board Historical Society have gone and outdone themselves by breaking a world record with “Ouijazilla,” officially declared by Ripley’s as being the world’s largest Ouija board.

If you’re like me, you’re probably sitting there absorbing the fact there was even a Ouija board record to be broken, but moving on…

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New Treasures: A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by John Hornor Jacobs

Thursday, October 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

A Lush and Seething Hell Two Tales of Cosmic Horror-small A Lush and Seething Hell Two Tales of Cosmic Horror-back-small

I’m hearing a lot about John Hornor Jacobs’ new book, A Lush and Seething Hell. Like, a lot.

Like this starred review from Kirkus:

Two lush, sprawling novellas that are nothing like each other except that they’re both scary as hell… Two spectacular novellas. After a glowing foreword by Jacobs’ fellow fabulist Chuck Wendig, the book launches into “The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky,” a Lovecraft-ian horror story set in a fictionalized South American nation. In it, a young academic named Isabel Certa becomes involved with a famous one-eyed poet named Rafael Avendaño, a cavalier scoundrel who’s heading into a war zone… Then there’s the chill-inducing, artfully paced “My Heart Struck Sorrow,” in which we’re introduced to Cromwell, a librarian from the Library of Congress who specializes in oral tradition [who] accidentally stumbles upon a long-hidden treasure trove of blues recordings from the 1930s… Falling somewhere between House of Leaves (2000) and The Blair Witch Project, it is a terrifying, gothic descent into madness… This book has a fitting title if there ever was one, and these nightmares are worth every penny.

And Sam Reader’s rave review at The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.

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On the Virtue of Patience in Publishing

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 | Posted by Pierce Watters

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At a publishing convention in New Orleans in the 80: Ralph Arnote, book sales guru; Jim Baen,
Editor-in-chief for Tom Doherty at Ace; C.M. “Dink” Starns, my mentor; Tom Doherty, founder
and publisher of Tor; Ed Gabrielli, Macmillan VP; Jane Rice, career sales rep at Ace; and others

I was thinking of the importance of patience. Beth Meacham brought it to mind with a post.

An example: In the 80s, there was a time when my income was neither stable nor plentiful. At the time, Pocket Books was distributing Zebra Books. The local wholesaler was feuding with Pocket. As a consequence, Zebra was not being distributed either.

The Zebra Publisher, Walter Zacharius, was a power in publishing and a friend. But a dear friend of mine, one of Walter’s comrades, was Harry Hills. A mentor.

Harry and I went back to the 70s at Ballantine together. Harry started out doing marketing stunts at Bantam. One involved 6 people, including Harry, holding a very large python on a California beach. I’m not sure if Ian Ballantine was still at Bantam then.

Harry’s memos always started, “Attention All Hands!”

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Future Treasures: Quillifer the Knight by Walter Jon Williams

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Gregory Manchess and Alejandro Colucci

Walter Jon Williams is one of the most versatile writers we have. Space opera, military science fiction, cyberpunk, alternative history, SF police procedural — you name it, he’s done it. He’s written historical adventures, disaster novels (The Rift) and even a Star Wars novel (The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way). In his Locus review of the opening novel in William’s ambitious new fantasy series, Quillifer, Gary K. Wolfe says “Williams has been cheerfully genre-hopping for most of his career, sometimes even in the same novel.”

Quillifer is worth a second look — and not just because it’s one of Williams rare attempts at historical fantasy. Booklist calls it a “swashbuckling tale reminiscent of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman.” The second novel in the series, Quillifer the Knight, arrives in three weeks. Here’s Gary on the first volume.

Quillifer belongs to the ranks of what we might call displaced historical fantasies, stories which make meticulous use of actual historical detail (Williams’s character quote Elizabethan poets, and his weapons and ships are all historically real), but which are set in imaginary nations or kingdoms, often with restrained use of fantasy elements – such as we see from writers like Ellen Kushner, K.J. Parker, or Guy Gavriel Kay (although Kay is far more specific in his historical analogues).

In classic adventure-novel tradition, Quillifer comes from modest beginnings: the son of a butcher, he studies law in the port city of Eth­lebight, but is also something of a classic 18th-century rake, and the novel opens with his comical escape out the window of the young woman with whom he’s currently in love… things quickly begin to change when Ethlebight is invaded, plundered, and destroyed by pirates from the rival empire of the Aekoi. Quillifer survives, but is later captured by a notorious bandit calling himself Sir Basil…

With the aid of a nymph-goddess who finds him appealing, he manages to escape again, but rejects her advances as he realizes that joining her in her kingdom might result in his returning to his world as much as a century later (one of the few classic fantasy motifs that Williams employs). Spurning her sets up a threat that will hang over Quillifer for the rest of the novel, which consists largely of fully realized independent episodes: Quillifer finds his way into the court of Duisland, where he assumes the title “Groom of the Pudding” and almost accidentally proves himself to be a champion stag-killer (drawing on his background as a butcher), later a brilliant naval strategist, and eventually an effective field-marshal in a crucial land battle to save the kingdom from usurpers…  a thoroughly enjoyable series of historical adventures in a faux-Europe that is as meticulous in its details as it is vague in time and place.

Here’s a look at the back cover.

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Of Swords & Scrolls: An Interview with Author David C. Smith

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

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David C. Smith, June 2019 delivering the Guest of Honor presentation at Howard Days 2019

Joe Bonadonna introduces David C. Smith

In 1978, before emails and the Internet, I was working on a novella and reading Dave’s excellent first novel, Oron, when I came across a plot device/character trait in his novel that bore a striking similarity to something I had already incorporated into my story. Already a fan of Dave’s, and knowing he knew Charles Saunders, to whom I had sold several short stories for his and Charles de Lint’s excellent Dragonfields, I asked Saunders for Dave’s address; he was still living in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio at the time. I wrote Dave a letter and he responded almost immediately. From 1978 until early 1996, when he and his wife Janine — who has a graphic design degree and is a very talented illustrator who did the maps for the brand-new, Wildside Press edition of Dave’s Fall of the First World trilogy — moved to Palatine, IL we kept up a steady correspondence that rivaled if not exceeded the lengthy correspondence between Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft. Their move occurred during a time when Dave and I had taken vacations from writing. But during the summer of 1996, I finally persuaded him to work with me on a zombie apocalypse screenplay called Twilight of the Dead (later retitled Children of the Grave), and then we collaborated on what we consider to be a solid screenplay called Magicians, which was based on his two David Trevisan novels: The Fair Rules of Evil and The Eyes of Night. That script did exceedingly well in screenplay competitions and we still have hope that one day it will be optioned by some wise, far-sighted and talented producer or director. (By the way, it was at the late and lamented Top Shelf Books in Palatine, at the monthly author’s live-reading night in 2010, where Dave and I met John O’Neill, the Great Eye of Black Gate.)

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Sorcery, Romance and Wine: The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

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Cover designed by Micaela Alcaino

A fantasy set in turn-of-the-century French countryside full of sorcery, romance and wine? I couldn’t wait to dive in to this debut novel from Luanne G. Smith.

Elena Boureanu is a vine witch. Not familiar? Vine witches are responsible for curating the most delectable vintages of the Chanceaux Valley, in a fantasy version of rural France. Elena is responsible for Chateau Renard, well known for producing some of the best wine in the Valley. Elena, and the vine witches that have come before her, use their powers to harness the perfect weather, moon phase, and terroir. Paired with their creative tastes they hope to blend the perfect bottle.

Our story opens with Elena cursed, stuck in the body of a toad surviving off slugs, flies and having almost no memory of who she was, and much less who would inflict such a terrible sentence on her. After all, she was so engrossed in creating the world’s best wine, she rarely paid attention to anything but her work.

During the seven years Elena has been missing, Chateau Renard has been sold to Jean-Paul Martel, a city dweller with no knowledge of spells or witches. Instead, he is focused on science and has little use for the folklore and traditions of the Valley. To help with the daily operations of the Chateau, he allowed the previous proprietor, Ariella Gardin, to stay on. As much as she tries to influence him to be more open to the “old ways,” he dismisses her claims as nonsense.

Finally, Elena is able to break the curse return home to her beloved vineyard. She is greeted by Ariella (her Grand Mere), and discovers the truth about the sale of the only home she’s ever known. What’s more, she is able to see a terrible hex has been placed over the entire vineyard. With Jean-Paul’s aversion to magic, Elena must pretend to be someone she’s not, while trying desperately trying to fix things behind his back.

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What Happens After the Greatest Con in History: The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken

Monday, October 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Quantum Magician-small The Quantum Garden-small

Covers by Justin Adams

Derek first appeared in Black Gate in issue 15 with his short story “The Gifts of Li Tzu-Ch’eng.” He’s been our regular Saturday evening blogger since 2013, producing nearly 150 articles on diverse topics such as web comics, Alan Moore, Star Trek, New York ComicCon, Percy Jackson, Science Fiction in China, and much more.

His first novel, The Quantum Magician, was published by Solaris on October 2, 2018. In his Black Gate review Brandon Crilly said,

The worldbuilding here is intricate, compelling and absolutely fascinating. From the moment concepts were introduced I wanted to know more, especially the different subsets of humanity that Künsken presents, each the product of generations of genetic manipulation. I mean, an entire population of neo-humans nicknamed Puppets because of their diminutive size, who double as religious zealots worshipping their divine beings’ cruelty? Or an intergalactic political hierarchy based on the economics of patrons and clients, complete with the inequalities and social issues you might expect?…

The core plot is a con game perpetrated by a team of ragtag scoundrels, trying to sneak a flotilla of warships through a wormhole controlled by another government… but don’t ask me to explain more than that. Künsken does an amazing job of presenting a bunch of quirky protagonists who play off each other well, but the characters that stand out do so powerfully; between that and the rich worldbuilding of things like the Puppets, I forgot about that flotilla and the original aim of the con for a good third of the novel, until they came back into focus.

Much as I rooted for protagonist Belisarius (who would be the Danny Ocean of these scoundrels) and his partner/love interest Cassandra (who I suppose is Tess and Rusty from Ocean’s Eleven combined), the secondary characters stole the spotlight for me, particularly AI-on-a-religious-mission Saint Matthew and the creepily dangerous Scarecrow hunting these scoundrels down.

Solaris releases the sequel The Quantum Garden tomorrow. Here’s a look at the back cover.

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