GAMA Trade Show 2008 Report

Monday, June 30th, 2008 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

By John O’Neill



Every year the game industry gathers at the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) Trade Show in Las Vegas, Nevada — the industry’s biggest and longest-running trade event, where publishers showcase their most exciting upcoming products for retailers and other insiders. It’s the place to be to see the best and most innovative new science fiction, fantasy, and hobby games — including board games, miniatures, role playing games, collectible card games, and much more.

This year Black Gate publisher and editor John O’Neill walked the floor of the exhibition hall, talking to over fifty companies set to launch a wide variety of fantasy titles, including the giant-monster themed collectible miniatures game Monsterpocalypse from Privateer Press, post-apocalyptic slug-fest Dust Tactics from Fantasy Flight, Wizard’s Gambit from intriguing newcomer Gryphon Forge, and his personal favorite: CthulhuTech from Mongoose Publishing, which pits mighty Cthulhu against giant fighting robots, 100 years in the future.

Read on for John’s extensive report on the very best fantasy games of 2008!

Read More »

Sneak peek at Black Gate 12

Sunday, June 15th, 2008 | Posted by Web Master

With the release of our new issue slated for July 7, we thought we’d give you some fiction excerpts and a look at the Table of Contents to tantalize your fantasy taste buds. James Enge’s Morlock is back, and so are Martha Wells’ wizard hunters, Giliead and Ilias. The redoubtable Dabir and Asim stalk into an all-new adventure courtesy of Howard Andrew Jones, and Kris the outrider from Black Gate 10 air-sails through another Ed Carmien tale. Joining these BG stalwarts are a host of new characters, freshly erupted from the minds of Todd McAulty, Constance Cooper, and John R. Fultz. And last but not least, we finally have the final Tumithak adventure, a fantasy classic from the late pulp writer Charles R. Tanner.

Excerpts from all of these are just a click away, along with first looks at all the great new art in BG 12 from the likes of Storn Cook, Mark Evans, John Kaufmann, Chuck Lukacs, Michael Vilardi, and John Woolley, plus some hints about the mountain of book and game reviews we have in store for you. So dive in, do some exploring, and get ready for the official BG 12 release on July 7.


Black Gate 12

Thursday, June 12th, 2008 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

A final onceover of Black Gate 12 has kept me from finishing up the lengthy sword-and-sorcery examination I’ve been conducting in my recent essays. I hope to get back to it next week.

In the meantime, here’s a nifty recent essay from Charles Saunders on the origin of his sword-and-sorcery character, Imaro:

And here’s a sneak peek* at the blurbs from the Table of Contents in Black Gate 12. Writing those blurbs is a fun perk to the magazine, and is done in combination with John. John usually writes really nifty ones like “If you like stories with verbs, then this one’s got plenty!” Okay, not really; he was writing catchy blurbs long before I came on staff. It’s good fun to be involved in writing them, though. It’s the pulpiest thing I get to do.

“Oblivion is the Sweetest Wine” — John R. Fultz
The spider haunted towers held untold riches – and a terrifying secret.

“Payment in Full” — James Enge
In which Morlock the Maker faces slavers, golems, sandboys… and the Byzantine trap of an old nemesis.

“Houses of the Dead” — Martha Wells
There were no bodies. Only the empty village, the rumors of wizardry… and, of course, the ghouls.

“The Wily Thing” — Constance Cooper
A desperate client, an unusual bayou town, and a far more unusual object… a tale of things better left undisturbed.

“The Soldiers of Serenity” — Todd McAulty
He had 24 hours to save his entire team from corporate “downsizing” and far less to discover why he was being stalked by a ghost.

“Knives Under the Spring Moon” — Ed Carmien
Kris found herself amongst the outlaws, and in a deadly fight for her life with her oldest enemy.

“Whispers from the Stone” — Howard Andrew Jones
The ruins of Assyria held many secrets – but none so deadly as that which Dabir and Asim discovered amongst the stones.

Black Gate Fantasy Classic “Tumithak and the Ancient World” — Charles R. Tanner
The thrilling conclusion to the epic saga of Tumithak! Tumithak races to rescue his kidnapped wife and son, only to become embroiled in a fiendish scheme to drive humanity back to the tunnels under the earth…

Plus book and game reviews, Knights of the Dinner Table, John’s editorial, and a solitaire role-playing game from Dark City Games!


* I have absolutely got to stop using the expression “sneak peek” because I always spell “peek” “peak” the first go around. This time I caught it within twenty minutes of the post and fixed it. Sometimes it languishes there for days. And, honest to God, I’ve been a professional editor for more than a dozen years. Sheesh.

Black Gate Short Fiction Reviews

Sunday, June 8th, 2008 | Posted by Web Master

We at Tin House endeavor to widen the circle of lit. mag. readers, and to make extinct the preciousness and staid nature of journals past. That is our mission. Please lift your glasses in toast, and read on…

Thus proclaims the website for Tin House magazine, one of the more arch-literary venues to dip into the realms of the weird and fantastic in recent memory. Their thirty-third issue was devoted to “Fantastic Women” — a title guaranteed to attract the attention of Black Gate‘s resident short fiction guru, David Soyka. David braved the deep, unconventional, sometimes narratively challenged tales and found himself at turns frustratingly bewildered and pleasantly engaged. Some of the authoresses were new to him, others were old favorites.

So is the magazine ultimately worth investigating? And if so, which writers shined brightest in the Tin House literary starscape? Click on the link below and let David light the way.


Revisiting the New Edge: Honing the New Edge, Part 2

Thursday, June 5th, 2008 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

When I first wrote about the New Edge back in an editorial for the Flashing Swords e-zine, there were a number of bloggers who LOUDLY misinterpreted what the crafters of the manifesto and I were after. One proclaimed that we must not be in touch with modern fiction; after all, writer A had just written a novel with some sword-and-sorcery in it a few years back, so, see, the genre was alive and well!

Anyone who’s been trying to get sword-and-sorcery published knows better. First, there’s really not much sword-and-sorcery in long form. Write me with examples if you want, but those examples are the exception, not the rule. And short fiction markets, well, those have been unwelcoming and hostile to sword-and-sorcery for a very, very long time. Ask anyone who’s been trying to get it published. I’m not talking about the bad stuff, either; I’m talking about talented authors. Take James Enge, whose Morlock stories were routinely bounced before John O’Neill pulled him out of Black Gate’s submission pile. Those of us who write sword-and-sorcery have been duking it out in the trenches, fighting for a place in the small press and dreaming that the larger magazines that claimed to accept sword-and-sorcery on their guidelines pages really would.

Sword-and-sorcery has been down and out for so long that it has often survived in a bastardized form by parodying itself. Writers who claim to craft it have had to do so with sly winks and nods, looking the while straight into the camera to let the audience know it’s all just a giggle. The parodies, the mocking irony, the humorous send-ups; they have all the charm and finesse of a man who chuckles as he sneaks up to kick a sleeping dog.

To be new, to be fresh, we must throw off the shackles of those who have tried to remold the genre to be respectable, and we must step past those who hoped to de-fang it to apologize for the genre’s faults and bad practitioners. That is not to advocate being humorless. Fritz Leiber and Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny (and others) all employ both humor and irony in their works. And lest we forget, no matter the stereotype, Robert E. Howard’s Conan could crack a smile. These writers, though, wove the humor, the irony, through their work. The story was still paramount. They were trying to please the same sort of audience who gathered at the foot of ancient storytellers, not the young critic who lurked on the edges of the campfire, sneering at the conceits of the story, or the notion that anyone would really want to hear about heroes and brave deeds.

It might be that those critics were sneering for a reason, of course; it might be that they wanted to spread their wings and try new things and were angry that they had no forum that would take them. Once upon a time, they were the minority. They were the rebels yearning to break old forms. Once upon a time, when the short fiction magazines offered nothing but adventure fiction, I might have joined them, or at least experimented a little bit along with them. Maybe you would have tried it too.

Those rebels overthrew the evil empire, drove out its adherents, and assumed the throne. But the rebellious work that daringly flew in the face of all the sword-slinging, raygun-blasting adventure fiction has transformed into the kind of intractable behemoth it fought so hard to overcome. Now, all too often, it is only those flavors that we find in short fiction markets. It might be that this change in featured fiction has something to do with declining magazine readership, but there are so many other factors involved in declining readership that this point would be difficult to prove. No matter: you will never convince me that the shift in publishing preferences and decline in readership are unrelated.

For quite some time now, poets and artists and musicians and writers have been struggling against the crushing judgment that art that resembles things, poetry that scans and rhymes and tells stories, music that’s actually melodic, and stories about heroism are unrefined, staid, and unworthy of notice. Despite the weight of all prior human artistic achievement, despite basic common sense, we’ve sheepishly bowed our heads and gone along with it.

Maybe a lot of human behavior is petty and small. Maybe a lot of people and events leave us bemused and saddened and feeling powerless. But even if that’s true it doesn’t mean that we need to drown in tales of powerless people emoting their woes, or that it is good for us to subsist only upon that fiction (or that we are childish if we don’t find satisfaction reading it!). No; if those things are true then we have all the more reason to need stories of heroes — stories of men and women who stood up when the odds and the gods and even their dearest friends and family seemed against them and did the right thing anyway.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that there aren’t any real heroes and that everyone’s in it for themselves; we’ve been trained to be skeptical and ironic and detached and sarcastic and hip. Yet even as we sneer and laugh with our friends, we know it’s a lie. Heroes really are out there. They’ve lived and breathed and sacrificed right here on this very Earth, and some of them are still at it. Students of history know them. Sometimes we can even find them covered by our local news stations. Stories of heroes, not of dejected mopers, have inspired us since the dawn of humanity, and we should not be embarrassed if they continue to fire our imagination.

I do not say that turnabout is fair play; I do not advocate overthrowing the current mindset with an older one. But I do say that all short fiction has a place. Sword-and-sorcery and other tales of high adventure should no longer be cast out from the camp fire, or given only grudging room there, like a crazy uncle with fleas. We have not outgrown these stories, no matter what some would have you think. You know in your hearts we need them still.

Coming Soon: Part 3


Revisiting the New Edge: Honing the New Edge, Part 1

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Black Gate 12 is off to the printer, and when it returns, I think no further evidence need be presented that this is the truest home for sword-and-sorcery in a modern print magazine. With that in mind, I thought it high time to revisit The New Edge manifesto.

When I helmed Flashing Swords I sat down with William King and John C. Hocking, and, later, Tom Floyd and C. L. Werner, and together we hashed out an outline for what we thought ought to be the paradigms for new sword-and-sorcery fiction (or, if you want to cast the net a little wider, for heroic fiction). A tremendous amount of support flooded in, but so to did some vitriol. Some of those bad reactions came from purposeful misreads, and some from a knee-jerk reaction to our use of the term sword-and-sorcery. And some people out there just delight in being snarky.

I’ve been meaning to take another look at those paradigms for months and was inspired to expand the manifesto after I saw an essay from Martin Zornhau. This time I won’t be as shocked by the barbs.

Before I venture into the manifesto, though, I want to briefly revisit the tenets of sword-and-sorcery, and what makes it different from other fantasy, by looking at the environment, the protagonists, the obstacles, and story structure. These bullet points and the following paragraphs are how I define the genre, with a little help from John Hocking, William King, Robert Rhodes, and John “The Gneech” Robey.

  • The Environment: Sword-and-sorcery fiction takes place in lands different from our own, where technology is relatively primitive, allowing the protagonists to overcome their martial obstacles face-to-face. Magic works, but seldom at the behest of the heroes. More often sorcery is just one more obstacle used against them and is usually wielded by villains or monsters. The landscape is exotic; either a different world, or far corners of our own.
  • The Protagonists: The heroes live by their cunning or brawn, frequently both. They are usually strangers or outcasts, rebels imposing their own justice on the wilds or the strange and decadent civilizations which they encounter. They are usually commoners or barbarians; should they hail from the higher ranks of society then they are discredited, disinherited, or come from the lower ranks of nobility (the lowest of the high).
  • Obstacles: Sword-and-sorcery’s protagonists must best fantastic dangers, monstrous horrors, and dark sorcery to earn riches, astonishing treasure, the love of dazzling members of the opposite sex, or the right to live another day.
  • Structure: Sword-and-sorcery is usually crafted with traditional structure. Stream-of-consciousness, slice-of-life, or any sort of experimental narrative effects, when they appear, are methods used to advance the plot, rather than ends in themselves. A tale of sword-and-sorcery has a beginning, middle, and end; a problem and solution; a climax and resolution. Most important of all, sword-and-sorcery moves at a headlong pace and overflows with action and thrilling adventure.

The protagonists in sword-and-sorcery fiction are most often thieves, mercenaries, or barbarians struggling not for worlds or kingdoms, but for their own gain or mere survival. They are rebels against authority, skeptical of civilization and its rulers and adherents. While the strengths and skills of sword-and-sorcery heroes are romanticized, their exploits take place on a very different stage from one where lovely princesses, dashing nobles, and prophesied saviors are cast as the leads. Sword-and-sorcery heroes face more immediate problems than those of questing kings. They are cousins of the lone gunslingers of American westerns and the wandering samurai of Japanese folklore, traveling through the wilderness to right wrongs or simply to earn food, shelter, and coin. Unknown or hazardous lands are an essential ingredient of the genre, and if its protagonists should chance upon inhabited lands, they are often strangers to either the culture or civilization itself.

Sword-and-sorcery distances itself further from high or epic fantasy by adopting a gritty, realistic tone that creates an intense, often grim, sense of realism seemingly at odds with a fantasy setting. This vein of hardboiled realism casts the genre’s fantastic elements in an entirely new light, while rendering characters and conflict in a much more immediate fashion. Sword-and-sorcery at times veers into dark, fatalistic territory reminiscent of the grimmer examples of noir-crime fiction. This takes the fantasy genre, the most popular examples of which might be characterized as bucolic fairy tales with pre-ordained happy endings, and transposes a bleak, essentially urban style upon it with often startling effect.

Part 2 Coming Soon


Get Out the Vote

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

I may be addressing a small number of folk here, but I wanted to call attention to a few folks who I think deserve some credit. So… if you happen to have attended the 2006 or 2007 World Fantasy Convention and are in the mood to vote for such categories as Life Achievement, I hope you’ll lend me your ears.

Here’s who I’ll be voting for, Life Achievement wise — Glenn Lord. Who’s that, and why should we care? Well, Glenn Lord’s the man who tracked down, on his own initiative, hundreds of Robert E. Howard stories and texts in the 1950s. He then safeguarded those texts for many decades and eventually became the agent for the Howard heirs — not because of any desire for self-aggrandizement, but because he cared deeply for the stories. Without what has been a lifetime of work on Lord’s part, numerous stories would now be lost, and outlines, alternate takes, correspondance, and other matters would not be available to scholars. Fantasy fans owe him a big thanks, and the least we can do is vote him this award.

You can’t just drop by and vote for one category, though. So allow me to make another suggestion — I’ll be voting for Leo Grin in Special Award, non-professional. Leo runs the Black Gate web site, but he’s up for nomination again this year (third year!) because of his sterling work on The Cimmerian, the journal of Robert E. Howard studies. If you want some small idea of the quality work he does, drop by The Cimmerian web site.

Here’s where to find a ballot (read the fine-print on the ballot — you can e-mail it once you know the categegories). Don’t delay, though. I believe votes can only be made through the end of June!

I’ve got a stack of interesting things to post — I hope to upload more things later this week.


A Review of The Return of the Sword

Sunday, June 1st, 2008 | Posted by Web Master

For those who enjoy Sword& and the quarterly fiction magazine Flashing Swords, there’s a new anthology to pick up. The Return of the Sword, edited by Jason M. Waltz, trumpets “Flashing Swords presents” on the cover, and among its contributors are many veterans of the that venerable enterprise.

Black Gate correspondent Ryan Harvey has explored the entire book, and gives you the lowdown on pieces by Stacey Berg, Bill Ward, Phil Emery, Jeff Draper, Nicholas Ian Hawkins, David Pitchford, Ty Johnston, Jeff Stewart, Angeline Hawkes, Robert Rhodes, E. E. Knight, James Enge, Michael Ehart, Thomas M. MacKay, Christopher Heath, Nathan Meyer, S. C. Bryce, Allen B. Lloyd, William Clunie, Steve Goble, Bruce Durham, and Harold Lamb. There’s something for everyone, so click on he link below and let Ryan be your guide.



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