The Top Black Gate Posts in January

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

godzilla-planet-of-monsters-radioactive-blast

Ryan Harvey was the man to beat at Black Gate in January. He claimed three of the Top Ten articles — including our overall most popular post last month, a review of the new animated film Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.

Bob Byrne came in at #2 with his Conan pastiche review round-up, “By Crom: Some Conans are More Equal Than Others…” Fletcher Vredenburgh took third with a look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin. Derek Kunsken’s review of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune was the fourth most popular post in January, and Fletcher rounded out the Top Five with “Why I’m Here – Part Two: Some Thoughts on Old Books and Appendix N.”

Our obituary for the great Ursula K. Le Guin was #6, followed by John DeNardo’s Definitive List of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of last year. Eighth was my article on vintage paperbacks, “Christmas for the Paperback Collector,” followed by Ryan’s review of Beyond the Farthest Star by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ryan closed out the Top Ten with a piece on that Saturday morning classic, Warlords of Atlantis.

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Vintage Treasures: The Long Way Home by Poul Anderson

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

The Long Way Home Poul Anderson-small The Long Way Home Poul Anderson-back-small

Cover by Michael Whelan

When Jim Baen left Ace to found Baen Books in 1983, he implemented a publishing strategy that served him well for decades: buying up the back catalog of popular authors and re-issuing them in visually similar covers that could be identified at a glance on crowded bookstore shelves. It was a strategy he learned while working under Tom Doherty at Ace Books from 1977-1980 (and refined under Doherty at Tor Book from 1980 – 1983).

While at Ace, Baen’s genius was to marry popular authors that had substantial back catalogs — like Andre Norton, Gordon R. Dickson, and Keith Laumer — with brilliant new cover artists. For me the exemplar of this strategy was Poul Anderson’s late 70s Ace editions, given new life by the striking world of a rising new artist named Michael Whelan.

When Richard Powers single-handedly remade science fiction art in the late 60s, it wasn’t long before bookshelves were overrun with abstract art. SF paperbacks, once criticized for pulp-era sameness and tired spaceship motifs, now suffered from a very different but no less stifling form of sameness. Plenty of writers were victims of the “Powers revolution” in SF art in the 1960s, but I think Poul Anderson was more victimized than most. His colorful tales of science fiction adventure on far planets were sold to the public under abstract covers that told them nothing about what they were getting.

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Birthday Reviews: Gahan Wilson’s “The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be”

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

02-18-unknownGahan Wilson was born on February 18, 1930 and is best known as a cartoonist with a very identifiable style. For many years, his bust of H.P. Lovecraft was used as the trophy for the World Fantasy Award. His cartoons have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as more mainstream publications like Collier’s, The New Yorker, and Playboy.

Although most notable as an artist, Wilson has published several short stories and wrote a movie review column for The Twilight Zone Magazine and a book review column for Realms of Fantasy.

“The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be” is one of Wilson’s few short stories and was originally published in the May 1967 issue of Playboy Magazine and reprinted in The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural. It has since been reprinted several times, including in Fantasy: The Literature of the Marvelous, edited by Leo P. Kelley, Gahan Wilson’s Favorite Tales of Horror, Blood Is Not Enough, edited by Ellen Datlow, who also reprinted it in Sci Fiction, Wilson’s collection The Cleft and Other Odd Tales and his Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons, Otto Penzler’s The Vampire Archives, and the Vandermeers’ The Weird. It was also reprinted in the December 2015 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. In 1986, the story was translated into French.

Just as Wilson’s cartoons demonstrate a dark sense of humor, “The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be” offers a similar outlook on life. Based on the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and containing a significant portion of Carroll’s text, Wilson recasts the oysters of the poem as a group of people picnicking on the strand.

One of their number, Phil, doesn’t quite feel at home with the rest, himself cast as the oldest oyster of the poem, and decides that he is going to change his life’s circumstances. Into this rather glum party, two interlopers come, and the characters in Wilson’s story compare them to the Walrus and the Carpenter of Carroll’s poem. Wilson never defines who, or what his Walrus and Carpenter are, although he provides them with names.

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The Black Panther’s Magical World of Wakanda

Saturday, February 17th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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I watched Black Panther yesterday with my 13-year-old son and enjoyed it more than most superhero movies. Ant-Man and the first Iron Man movie usually top my charts for fun superhero movies. Wonder Woman (which I reviewed here) and then Captain America top the charts for me as superhero war movies. The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy and Justice League are too busy and quippy to have much emotional resonance after the popcorn is done. But Black Panther felt very different.

A big part of it was that Black Panther doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in places we know. Sure, there’s a great sequence in Busan, South Korea, but most of it takes place in Wakanda, and Wakanda itself is a powerful experience.  It seems like so much of the visuals in superhero movies are the same, so the surprising and beautiful aesthetic of Afro-futurism hits the eyeballs hard, like tasting a great new food. But with our eyes.

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Modular: Trouble in the ’80’s with Tales from the Loop

Saturday, February 17th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

TalesFromTheLoopAs a child of the ’80’s, I grew up with the understanding that a group of kids might stumble upon a series of mysterious events and have to band together to deal with the challenges from it. Parents, law enforcement, and other authorities would be of no help, so there was no point in telling them what was going on. They either wouldn’t believe it or, worse, would stop the kids from fixing things. The kids, through determination and luck, were the only hope to set things right … whether it was finding a way to keep their families from being evicted, returning a strange visitor to another planet, or stopping rampaging monsters. Or, heck, even just making it through a day of detention.

E.T., The Goonies, Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club, Flight of the Navigator, The Last Starfighter, Lost Boys, SpaceCampGremlins. These are the types of films, along with more recent period pieces like The Iron Giant and Stranger Things, and maybe a touch of the SyFy Channel’s television series Eureka thrown in, that inspire the science fiction role-playing game Tales from the Loop from Modiphius Entertainment.

Tales from the Loop centers around a community in the 1980’s that is home to a research center and particle accelerator, called “The Loop.” There are actually two settings outlined in the book: the Swedish island of Svartsjolandet or the American town Boulder City. Whichever community your characters live in, you play a group of Kids who come into contact with a Mystery related to the particle accelerator, and join together to resolve the Mystery. The game can be extremely episodic, great for a standalone one-shot game, or played in a more “sandbox” format where the players are able to explore the setting in more depth, allowing for a more long-term campaign.

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New Treasures: Looming Low edited by Justin Steele and Sam Cowan

Saturday, February 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Looming Low cover

Looming Low is my favorite kind of anthology. Highly acclaimed (Ginger Nuts of Horror calls it “Truly a wonderful gathering of the freshest voices in weird fiction,” and This Is Horror says” There is a palpable sense of unsettling dread woven throughout… [it] boasts almost every type of weird one can imagine”) and packed with both big names — including Michael Cisco, Brian Evenson, Gemma Files, Sunny Moraine, Scott Nicolay, Lucy Snyder, Simon Strantzas, Damien Angelica Walters, Michael Wehunt, and A.C. Wise — and fast-rising stars.

In a case like Looming Low, a hearty collection of over 300 pages, I’m just as eager to read the new authors as my old favorites. This is the kind of book that can introduce you to half a dozen new writers whose careers you could follow for decades.

Here’s a look at the complete Table of Contents.

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The Last Dragon (1985): My Big Trouble in Little China or Black Panther Double Feature Pick

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

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This week I have two reasons to write about The Last Dragon, a.k.a. Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. First, the biggest black superhero movie ever produced arrives in theaters this weekend, Black Panther. If projections are accurate, it will steamroller all February opening records with a domestic box-office take of $200 million and become a cultural touchstone for 2018. It’s the right time to celebrate with one of Black Panther’s earlier progenitors in black superhero movies that isn’t Blade. (Nothing against Blade, but it’s the example the other magazines will cover.)

Second, I looked at Big Trouble in Little China last week for my John Carpenter series. Few films are a better fit for a double feature with Big Trouble in Little China than The Last Dragon, a martial arts comedy fantasy that came out the year before Carpenter’s take on a genre still unfamiliar to U.S. audiences.

On a double bill with Big Trouble in Little China, I’d show The Last Dragon first. This is based on my guidelines for crafting double features — a subject I’ve given far too much thought — that either 1) the lesser quality film goes first, or 2) the lighter/less grim film goes second, whichever factor feels dominant. Since both movies are on the same level of buoyancy and feel-good fun, The Last Dragon opens for Big Trouble in Little China.

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Birthday Reviews: Andre Norton’s “The Gifts of Asti”

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

Cover by Laura Ruth Crozetti

Cover by Laura Ruth Crozetti

Andre Norton was born on February 17, 1912 and died on March 17, 2005. She began publishing with “People of the Crater,” using the pseudonym Andrew North (reprinted in 2003 in my anthology Magical Beginnings).

Over the years, she published numerous short stories and novels, including the various stories of the Witch World cycle. She also published the first Dungeons and Dragons tie-in novel, Quag Keep, set in Gary Gygax’s World of Greyhawk. In addition to her own novels, she collaborated with a variety of authors including Rosemary Edghill, Jean Rabe, Mercedes Lackey, Lyn McConchie, Susan Shwartz, Julian May, Marion Zimmer Bradley, P.M. Griffin, Sherwood Smith, Dorothy Madlee, Sasha Miller, and more.

From 1999 through early 2004, Norton organized the High Hallack Library, a research library and authors retreat in Tennessee. The library, along with her collaborations, were only a few of the ways Norton helped shape new generations of authors. Many authors claimed Norton as an influence on their own styles, even if they didn’t work directly with her. She edited the Catfantastic anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg and the Magic in Ithkar series with Robert Adams. Other anthology series allowed authors to write in her Witch World series.

Norton was named the first female SFWA Grand Master in 1984. She received the Phoenix Award in 1975, the Skylark Award in 1983, the Big Heart Award in 1988, and the Forry Award in 1989. In 1994, she was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame and was the first woman inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1997. In 1998, the World Fantasy Convention gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award (11 years earlier, they gave her a Special Convention Award). When SFWA created a Young Adult Award in 2005, it was named in honor of Norton. She received the only Coveted Balrog Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1979 and was named a Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy in 1977.

“The Gifts of Asti” was originally published under Norton’s Andrew North pseudonym in the July 1948 issue of Fantasy Book, edited by Garret Ford. The next year, it was reprinted in Griffin Booklet One and was included by Sam Moskowitz in The Time Curve in 1968. Norton used it in The Many Worlds of Andre Norton (a.k.a.The Book of Andre Norton). It was the title story in Roger Elwood’s The Gifts of Asti and Other Stories of Science Fiction and editor Jane Mobley used it in the anthology Phantasmagoria: Tales of Fantasy and the Supernatural. Spastic Press opened Anthology of Sci-Fi: The Pulp Writers: Volume I with the story and it was also reprinted in Tales from High Halleck: The Collected Short Stories of Andre Norton, Volume I in 2014.

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A Farewell to Roc Books

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

logo-pub-rocThe big 2017 Year in Review issue of Locus magazine arrived this week, and the second paragraph of the annual summary confirmed something that’s been whispered in fannish circles for a few months: that parent company Penguin Group has “quietly retired” the Roc Books imprint, folding it in with its existing Ace line. Only four books with the Roc logo were published last year, and none is on the schedule for this year. It’s the end of an era in many ways.

Roc Books was founded by John Silbersack in 1990. Over the last 27 years it has published hundreds of science fiction and fantasy titles by Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Peter S. Beagle, Arthur C. Clarke, Nancy A. Collins, Terry Pratchett, Andre Norton, and hundreds of others. It had a well-deserved reputation for taking chances on new authors, and many of those gambles pay off handsomely, like Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop, Carol Berg, Rob Thurman, and many more. Roc proved to be a warm home for many Black Gate authors, including E.E. Knight, Devon Monk, and others.

There were many reasons to be a Roc fan over the decades. For me, they were simple. The editorial team had a profound and enduring appreciation for adventure fantasy, especially during the lean years when the market turned towards YA dystopias, paranormal romance, and other trendy niches. They loved a great series, and gave many quality series the time they needed to truly find an audience. The whole line had a distinct look, so much so that for 27 years you could tell a Roc Book at a glance.

The editors, authors, artists and packagers at Roc Books gave us countless hours of reading pleasure over the past quarter century. Penguin has decided to quietly retire the imprint, but there’s no reason we have to let them go without a worthy send-off. If you’ve got a favorite Roc title or two, I invite you to help us say farewell by giving them a shout-out in the comments.


I Need A Vacation – Or Is It A Holiday?

Friday, February 16th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

National LampoonI wonder if there’s still a distinction to be made between holidays and vacations?* Back before “holy day” became “holiday” was there even such a thing as a vacation? Or were holy days really enforced vacations, in the sense that for some of them at least no work was allowed? Would that make the Sabbath a vacation as well as a holy day? Hmmm.

I’m fairly certain that while the two words are now considered synonyms (at least in English) the concept of a vacation as a time of recreational activities is a relatively new one. That is, not just a cessation of work on the part of one’s self, one’s servants and even on occasion one’s animals, but the active pursuing of another activity altogether. Did the Romans go on vacation? Did travelling for a holiday start with the “grand tours” of the 18th century? Or with seaside bathing in the 19th?

Since seaside bathing was considered healthy, as was “taking the waters” in resorts like Bath in England, Lanjeron in Spain, and Baden-Baden in Germany was travel to these places a vacation?

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