Saturday, February 28th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

You may have heard that a fairly good copy of the iconic first issue of Action Comics that introduced the character of Superman — the first superhero — is on the auction block.  Recession be damned, some estimate a winning bid could be as high as $400,000.  For a comic book.

Like any other red-blooded American boy in the Cold War era, I was a comic book collector.  But, as my childhood chum and fellow collector once remarked, “The trouble was we actually read these things, so pages would be torn and folded.  So, even if we didn’t end up throwing them out,  they probably wouldn’t be worth much today as collectibles to people who are more interesting in owning the things as an object, rather than what they were originally intended for – something to make being a kid more bearable.”

I think I started collecting comics at around third or fourth grade, but by the time I got to junior high school it was, to use a Biblical phrase that has come into use of late in the political realm, time to put childish things away.  I had graduated to the tales of Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke and real books without pictures.  I wasn’t (or at least didn’t want to be treated like) a kid, anymore.  Consequently, I emptied my drawers of comics and sent them, I don’t really remember where.
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The Blish Is Back: James Blish’s The Warriors of Day

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

I thought I was done with this series of posts on planetary romance, a.k.a. sword-and planet, at least until the new edition of Kline’s Outlaws of Mars comes out. But then I came across a reference to James Blish’s Sword of Xota (a.k.a. The Warriors of Day). I had a hard time believing it was for real. Blish, the hardnosed “‘Sour Bill’ Atheling”, the apostle of modernism in literature and Spenglerism in history, the author of the quadruply ambitious trilogy After Such Knowledge (a four-book trilogy–ambition has no higher scope–no, I don’t believe in your five-book trilogy–sheesh, will this parenthesis never end?)–that Blish was the author of a planetary romance?

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The Land That Time Forgot: The Movie

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Land That Time Forgot PosterThe Land That Time Forgot (1975)
Directed by Kevin Connor. Starring Doug McClure, John McEnery, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Baron, Anthony Ainley, Bobby Parr.

In A.D. (Anno Dinosauriae) 1975, the old era of low-budget fantasy and science-fiction filmmaking neared its close — although nobody knew it. In 1977, an under-marketed flick called Star Wars forever changed the way studios approached genre movies, elevating them to A-budget, blockbuster, mega-studio super-entertainment with emphasis on attaining photo-realistic effects.

Progress? In a way. But when I look at a movie like 1975’s The Land That Time Forgot, a British adaptation from Amicus Productions (famed for their horror anthologies) of the first third of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic “Lost World” novel, I feel a tug of regret that such handmade, analog epics, crafted on tight budgets with intense imagination and invention, have largely suffered extinction. There’s a beautiful innocence to The Land That Time Forgot that makes it an ideal approach to Burroughs’s style. If its effects aren’t “realistic,” they certainly are thrilling and wonders to behold. We shall never see such marvels again.

It’s easy for the general public and the old-guard movie critics who still lumber around major magazines and paperback video guides to dismiss this “rubber dinosaurs and cavemen” film as campy, but The Land That Time Forgot plays it straight — it isn’t camp unless you choose to approach it that way. That’s acceptable, of course; the film belongs to the viewer. But taken as a serious adventure-fantasy, The Land That Time Forgot provides remarkable entertainment, far better than a campy romp. And it’s smart.

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Coming Soon: Black Gate Winter Issue (13)

Monday, February 23rd, 2009 | Posted by David Munger

Black Gate Winter Issue (13)Black Gate 13 is already off to the printers and will be out soon. We’re excited about another great issue, packed with the fantastic fiction and non-fiction you’ve come to expect! For more information on what you can expect, check out our Preview page for Issue 13.

Homeless Cinderella, Murdered Toad Kids, and Other Non-Western Non-Archetypes

Monday, February 23rd, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

As an anthropologist specializing among other things in myth and folk literature, and as a writer who has sat on many a con panel on myth, fairy tales, quest stories and the like, I often have to wrassle the monsters Monomyth, Universal Archetype, and their lesser-known littermates, who have been spawned by Joseph Campbell and other Jung-influenced writers.

The monomyth, a word Campbell took from James Joyce, is essentially a proposed universal structure underlying the hero’s journey, with phases that include The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Supernatural Aid, Crossing the Threshold (into the magical realm), and so on. What’s wrong with the monomyth? There’s no doubt that pieces of it are found not only in a huge percentage of fantasy fiction, but also in widely scattered mythic and folk literary traditions all over the world.

However. Is it universal?

Methodologically, what both Campbell and Jung have done is cherry-picking, and often from texts that have already been translated and/or rewritten to conform to Western notions of what makes a satisfying story. Let me start with an example of the latter. Read More »

We apologize for the lack of service

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009 | Posted by Theo

I posted previously today – or at least thought I did – but the post appears to have vanished into the aether.  It’s no great loss, as it was a rambling collection of largely incoherent thoughts about the ease with which humans are slain in fantasy fiction, so I shall summarize it thusly:

Heroes and Villains appear to be significantly harder to kill than everyone else.  This occasionally reaches risible proportions, although some authors, such as Simon Green in his Deathstalker novels, at least provide some rationale for slaughtering millions while leaving nearly every main character unscathed.  Also, if it is a common theme in the Western genre that being gutshot is a slow and lingering death, then why does a sword thrust into the stomach always appear to kill people instantly?

Historically, the wounded significantly outnumber the slain in most combat situations.  In even the most lethal battles of WWII, the wounded/killed ratio was around 3-1.  In most fantasy fiction, this ratio appears to be closer to 1-100.  Also, it takes a long time to heal; even a pulled muscle can take months to recover.  Perhaps this is why authors prefer to simply kill everyone off.

Terry Pratcher’s Night Watch is hugely underrated and is arguably the best of the Discworld novels.  This is, in part, because he takes a collection of characters who would serve as mere cannon fodder in almost any other novel and forces the reader to see things from their perspective, to identify with them, and to recognize how even cannon fodder can rise to heroic heights when pressed by circumstance.


Saturday, February 21st, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

I just started the latest from Neal Stephenson, which I notice has already hit the remainder tables after coming out in late 2008. It’s a little slow going, in large part because Stephenson really wants you to understand what he’s making up. Opening at a random page, here’s a random paragraph:

The praxis had done it with water power.  Far outside of our walls, upstream of the cataract — therefore, at an altitude well above our heads — they had carved a pool, like an open cistern, out of the river’s stony course, and made it feed an aqueduct that cut due south towards the Mynster, bypassing the cataract , the bridge and the bend.  After rushing through a short tunnel and loping on stone stilts across half a mile of broken terrain, this dove into the ground and became a buried pipe that passed beneath what was now a settled neighborhood of burgers.  The water in the pipe, pressurized by gravity, erupted in a pair of fountains from a pond that lay just outside of the Day Gate.  A causeway ran across the middle of that pond, connecting the central square of the burgers’ town, at its northern end, to our Day Gate at its southern, passing between those two fountains.

Geez, I would have just been happy to know there were two fountains in front of the gate that flanked the town’s central square!


Back Away from the Egg! Or: Getting Straight to It

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

I was reading a newish fantasy novel the other day and every time a new character or place was introduced, the author felt compelled to lather him/her/it in opaque chunks of backstory.

Binky “Bosco” Sorenson walked into the Taberna Generica. He was called “Bosco” because of his resemblance to [some guy named Bosco; a page or so of backstory follows]. The Taberna Generica had been established several centuries before so that parties of elves, wizards, rogues, dwarves and assassins could meet before departing on their quests. The first such meeting [was as dull as you might expect; a page or two of backstory follows].

As the door clicked shut, Binky realized he had never heard a door click shut like that before. [A page or two of exposition follows, documenting Binky’s talents in analyzing door-sounds.] He instantly realized that he was facing a danger neither he nor anyone had ever faced since the founding of the Imaginary City. [Scene break.]

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Remember to Punch In: Writing “On-the-Clock”

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

I originally planned to make today’s post a review of the film version of The Land That Time Forgot. But I decided that 1) I didn’t want to pack in too much Burroughs back-to-back, and my upcoming plans would start changing my Black Gate blogging into an “All-Burroughs, All-the-Time” radio station; 2) You probably don’t want yet another post from me that requires approximately three hours to read; and 3) …well, look, I just got too busy this week and ran out of time to craft the proper tribute to that movie.

And I ran out of time because I’ve gotten productive with my revision work these last two weeks. I’ve started to write “on the clock” and “punch in” whenever I start. The technique has worked so well for me that I’ve decided I can make a blog post out of it. And have it come in under a thousand words.

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Seek the Gnarl

Monday, February 16th, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

A rather entertaining comment on the cross-posted version of my last week’s entry takes up the subject of women’s roller derby skating in relation to the woman warrior.

Venturing onto another tributary of the Great River that is the topic of realism, a few years back I heard Rudy Rucker give a pretty interesting GoH talk at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. The talk was called called “Seek the Gnarl,” and the pdf file can be found here. (Wow, his site is blocked by the UAE government! I wonder whether it’s for “offense against religion” or “hacking and malicious codes”…)

Basically, Rucker’s talk was about predictability and lack of it in fiction, and how fiction should strive–in plot, character, setting, and so on–for the complex beauty of chaotic structures like flowing water or tree bark. Those structures are what he calls gnarl. Too much unpredictability and we don’t feel the aesthetic satisfactions of pattern; too much predictability and it’s flat and boring.

A lot of genre readers might take issue with where he puts realism in his various tables–might feel that the problem with a lot of mimetic fiction is that it’s too boring and predictable. (I’d argue RR is talking about realism as a literary technique rather than as a marketing category, and that he means certain specific things by “mimetic realism” not necessarily found in so-called mainstream fiction, but that’s a rather long digression.)

When I heard the talk, I didn’t feel the concept of gnarl was completely adequate to describe the mix of familiarity and surprise possessed by really satisfying fiction. I’ve always liked Kenneth Burke on “the arousal and satisfaction of expectations” in fiction, and what I find interesting about that concept is the way that as readers we can be so completely satisfied by something utterly unexpected. We love surprises and reversals, obstacles appearing at unexpected times or in unexpected ways, a different reality suddenly ghosting into solidity out of what have now been proved to be mere appearances. The maguffin is a fake, the villain is your father, the first-person narrator is the one who dunit. But the satisfaction arises out of the feeling that a pattern, an arc, has been completed–it’s just one we couldn’t at first perceive. We’re outraged by surprise if it we can’t fit it into an aesthetic whole. So the most satisfying “arousal and satisfaction of expectations” comes from complex flows and overlays of pattern–competing patterns that combine in unpredictable ways, or unfold and transform one into another. In other words, we’re back to gnarl.

(The last few paragraphs are taken from an from old and longer LJ post of mine.)

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