Shadow of the Bunny

Friday, April 17th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

The Easter Bunny is a savage and unforgiving beast. This I always knew. I watched in dismay last week as he refused my daughter’s reasonable request for somehing practical and useful: the unyielding edict of the Bunny is that he brings only what is useless and frivolous. And chocolate, sometimes.

I thought I got off easy this year, as the Bunny brought me something I’d often thought about getting myself: the complete Spider-Man (complete at least through 2005). I haven’t been reading a lot of comics lately, but the Sam Raimi movies reminded me of how much I liked Spider-Man as a kid, and I’d often thought about having another look at them to see if they stood up to rereading.

The answer, of course, is that they do and they don’t. Some of the early stories creak audibly, even in PDF form, and there are definitely pacing problems. Page after page of costumed characters going THWAK! Ver-PLOCKKXKK! GLRRRT! at each other doesn’t really constitute storytelling, and as I boredly tapped on the “forward” button I felt some déjà vu from my school-age self, thinking these same thoughts forty-some years ago.

On the other hand, I thought then and think now that it’s pretty amusing when Spider-Man psychoanalyzes his opponents in-between punches. (“Why is it that everyone I fight is overflowing with neurotic hostility?”) And I like it that he has to use his brains to get out of most serious problems–it’s not all thwackery amd bonkery. And it’s just part of the Spider-Man set-up that he has this screwed-up personal life full of problems that superpowers can’t solve.

So: good and bad. But the worst shock that awaited me had nothing to do with the suspenseful plotting of (“Smilin'”) Stan Lee or Johnny (“Ring-a-Ding”) Romita. The horrifying details (with a possible Blood of Ambrose spoiler) beyond the jump.

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Short Fiction Review #16: We’ll Always Have Paris by Ray Bradbury

Thursday, April 16th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

We'll Always HAve Paris

In his for the most part disdainful observations of science fiction as a cultural phenomenon, The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, Thomas Disch characterizes Ray Bradbury, among other notable genre authors of the post- WW II generation, as being in “affluent decline” by the 1980s, suffering from “the literary equivalent of repetition compulsion” (122). He also rues that SF is a young man’s game, not because it is physically exhausting, but because the marketplace focuses on a largely juvenile audience in terms of intellectual temperament, if not actual age. Established authors such as Bradbury who remain successful within the genre do so because they have a “permanent mind-set that is ‘forever-young'” (213). I don’t think this is meant as a compliment.

I can only wonder what Disch may have thought of Bradbury’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize special citation. But, I have to admit he has a point.

Quick, name any Bradbury fiction written after the 1960s that had remotely any affect on you similar to The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Dandelion Wine (1957), A Medicine for Melancholy (1959) or Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)?  And if you weren’t a baby boomer reading any of these works at the so-called golden age of wonder, i.e. 12, and most likely male and most likely a bit of a nerd, during an era roughly contemporaneous to their publication, give or take a decade, you probably have no idea what the point of the question is.

As an aforementioned male baby boomer nerd whose reading of The Martian Chronicles in the fifth grade weaned me off of Hardy Boys books (for further details about this awakening, see this), Ray Bradbury is why you’re reading this (go ahead, blame him). Bradbury was my literary hero, though, for me, these days he’s something of a faded hero. The problem is that I’ve grown up, while Bradbury seems stuck in perpetual small town adolescence, a side trip to Europe or Mars or Los Angeles notwithstanding. For some readers, sometimes you can’t go home again.
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Strange Cities

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

If pre-industrial secondary-world settings are the norm for adventure fantasy (and for much Black Gate fiction), I’d like to detour today into some quite different fantasylands. A comment by braak last week on the differences between sf and fantasy started me thinking about fantasy works in which the mysterious is made extremely quotidian. I am writing without the books at hand, so I hope that if my memory is faulty (it usually is) someone will correct me.

The first are a pair of books by Walter Jon Williams, a writer better known for his straight-up sf. These are Metropolitan and its sequel, City on Fire, both Nebula nominees and the latter a Hugo contender as well. They are set in a roofed-over world-city powered by a geomantic substance called plasm, which accumulates naturally in (or under) buildings. The main character is a young woman named Aiah, who gets a job with the public utility that oversees collection and use of plasm. She finds a huge unmapped pool of plasm which she does not report properly… and then becomes entangled with a shady politician/mage named Constantine, whose protege she becomes. The ambiguous emotional resonances of her relationship with Constantine never fully came alive for me, but there’s plenty of action and intrigue and mystery, and I loved the steampunk-y bureaucratization of magic and the truly urban feel. A lot of people read the books as sf, but I would class them as a sort of proto-New Weird, only without the slipstream element. Back when they came out I had a conversation with Walter in which he ran down the list of fantasy tropes he had intentionally incorporated into the books, and they are all there, but one thing I have always found interesting about his work is the way his characters, even or especially his protagonists, are always morally ambiguous in some way. Constantine may be the wise mage/teacher figure, but he is also the dark mage of the books, and Aiah makes some pretty dubious choices of her own. He had a third book planned out, but couldn’t sell it, and as he supports himself with his writing he moved on to other things. Read More »

A Letter from the Publisher

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 | Posted by John ONeill

If you’ve been paying attention to the field’s short fiction markets, you’ve seen a lot of bad news recently. Some of the biggest magazines in the industry are changing owners, cutting frequency, or closing entirely. Ominous trends indeed for those of us who love short fantasy fiction.

I want to make it clear that Black Gate isn’t going anywhere. We made the decision years ago to grow slowly, publish when we could afford to, and invest to make the magazine the best it could be. It’s sometimes been a bumpy ride, but the result is that we’re completely debt free, in solid financial shape and growing nicely.

Our new website, designed by Leo Grin and executed and ably managed by Howard Andrew Jones & Dave Munger, has brought in new readers from around the world. The magazine has more subscribers than at any time in our history. Best of all, we’re now selling PDF versions online, and gradually making our complete back issue catalog available in PDF format for just $4.95 each. Try them out if you’re interested in getting some fantastic reading at a great price.

As we recently announced in Black Gate 13, our official publication frequency is now twice a year, in the Spring and Fall.  What’s coming in our next few issues?  A great deal – including a new tale of Giliead and Ilias from Martha Wells, the return of Morlock the Maker by James Enge, a novella of Lovecraftian horror from Michael Shea, and terrific new fiction from Nina Kiriki Hoffman, E.E. Knight, Chris Willrich, James Stoddard, Darrell Schweitzer, Frederic S. Durbin, John C. Hocking, Harry Connolly, David B. Coe, Howard Andrew Jones, Todd McAulty, John Fultz, Peadar Ó Guilín, and many more.

I want to take a minute to thank you for your support. We’re proud to be thriving in an economy that has resulted in so many magazine causalities, but the truth is we wouldn’t have survived this long without you. Your letters and support mean a lot. We deeply appreciate it.

John O’Neill
Editor & Publisher
Black Gate

A Letter to Dave Arneson

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

As Theo already posted yesterday, Dave Arneson, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and therefore one of the founders of the RPG hobby and responsible for suckering a lot of kids like me into the genre of heroic fantasy, died at age 61 on 7 April 2009 from cancer.

Gary Gygax, the man who co-wrote the original D&D, received much more fame for his work on the famous RPG, mostly because Arneson left the company in 1976. Arneson later filed a series of five lawsuits against TSR over royalties for D&D and later settled out-of-court with Gygax—but some things never quite heal.

I gained a greater respect for Arneson the more I found about his part in developing gaming theory. I also read some of Gary Gygax’s novels and thought they were terrible, which suddenly made me think much more about Arneson’s contribution to D&D.

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R.I.P. Dave Arneson

Monday, April 13th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

“Dave Arneson, one of the co-creators of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game and a pioneer of role-playing entertainment, died after a two-year battle with cancer, his family said Thursday. He was 61.”

I had the good fortune to meet Dave Arneson 13 years ago, at a book signing in Roseville, Minnesota. The large Barnes & Noble there was holding its first, and I believe only, SF/F day, which featured science fiction and fantasy authors including Gordon R. Dickson, David Feintuch, and Dave Arneson. It’s probably just as well that B&N no longer holds the event, considering that a significant percentage of the authors who were there are no longer with us. Dave was a friendly and humble man who was more than happy to discuss game mechanisms and the history of gaming with anyone who happened to be interested.

I had recently located and bought a boxed set of the three original brown books, so at lunchtime, I took the opportunity to run home and grab them. Mr. Arneson was obviously delighted to sign them; it was clear that while he bore no great bitterness towards Gary Gygax, he did feel as if most D&D fans were unaware of his primary role in the creation of what was not so much a game as an entire gaming genre. Arneson will neither be the first nor the last creator to be eclipsed by a more business-savvy partner, but it behooves those of us who are creators to recognize the man and salute his foundational contribution to fantasy and science fiction gaming as we know it today.


Saturday, April 11th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

I don’t know how people blog on a regular daily basis (well, actually I do, maybe that’s why I don’t read many blogs). I only have to do this once a week, and this week I really can’t think of anything to say that might be of interest to anyone, let alone me. So, here’s a link to someone who actually has something of interest to say about the concept of “The Other.”

Speaking of encountering the other in literal terms, as some efforts of NASA purport to do by sending Elvis Presley recordings out into the cosmos, I highly recommend Stanislaw Lem’s Fiasco, which satirizes the whole notion of alien contact as encountering people from other star systems who are more or less just like us, but maybe with pointy ears.

Views Re Reviews

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

Blood of Ambrose has been out for a while now and it’s starting to be reviewed, rather generously on the whole (a not-uncommon reception for first novels, so I’m trying not to be an egomaniac about it). The reviews somehow make the publication more real to Enge-the-reader (as opposed to Enge-the-writer; these guys aren’t usually on speaking terms). I was looking at the review in Romantic Times Book Review and found myself wondering whether I should trust the reviewer’s judgement and buy the book, when I realized that there were already a few copies of the thing scattered around the house. Presumably these surreal “oh, yeah, that’s me” events will taper off after a while.

I’ve been bracing myself for the inevitable Memo to Morlock: YOU SUCK!!!! sort of review. It’s axiomatic that snarling at critics just makes the writer look worse, so I’m trying to figure out in advance ways that I can cope. (We’ve all seen how these things go. The writer begins by politely justifying his use of colons on p. 58, and before long the whole business resembles an informal colonoscopy of a wholly different sort.) Coincidentally, I ran across a link to this essay on “How to Handle Criticism” (mentioned, with comments, by Jeremiah Tolbert here).

Both of these guys have good advice, but they don’t touch on a potential coping mechanism: pay close attention to how better writers have been slagged in the past; it lends a certain perspective. And, as it happens, I was recently reading an old issue of The New Yorker (1926 vintage) where I came across a dismissive review of a book that some people (including me) still sort of like and which, unlike many a book published in 1926 (or for that matter 2006) is still in print: Dunsany’s The Charwoman’s Shadow.

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Concerning Interactive Fiction

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building . . .

My interest in computer interactive fiction, a.k.a. “adventure games,” dates from before I could read chapter books. I belong to the first generation to grow up with the personal computer. When I entered elementary school, computers had just made their first forays into classrooms, and I remember vividly my first encounter with a Commodore PET, the most popular educational computer during those formative years. Soon after, I met the Apple ][ . . . and Adventure. (Perhaps I met Hunt the Wumpus before Adventure, but I’m no longer sure.)

Adventure, also known as Colossal Cave, Colossal Cave Adventure, and its original file name ADVENT, started life as a simulation of an actual location in Kentucky, the Bedquilt section of the Flint-Mammoth Cave System. Programmer and caving enthusiast Will Crowther created the textual simulation in FORTRAN. But instead of simply writing descriptions of cave locations the user can visit through a series of movement commands, Crowther merged the real world with elements of Tolkien-esque fantasy and puzzle-solving. The result: interactive fiction, or IF. Most of the conventions of the genre that still exist today debuted in Adventure: the “VERB NOUN” parser, moving using compass directions, locations referred to as “rooms,” logic puzzles, treasure-hunting, locked doors and keys, mazes, monsters.

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In Memory

Monday, April 6th, 2009 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Steve Tompkins has died.

It wasn’t just that Steve was incredibly well read, it was that he could tap into his vast depth of knowledge and recognize themes and connections that no one else had seen and then articulate them cogently and thoroughly, with great insight and an inimitable sly wit.  When he decided to write about an author, or a genre, then by God it was worth the time to read every word and ruminate over what he had to say.  His writing was so rich with depth and meaning that a second, third, or fourth look might well be needed to truly appreciate what Steve was saying, for he never wrote without thinking long and hard.  If you don’t believe us, then visit The Cimmerian and leaf through any number of wonderful essays archived there, or pick up Del Rey’s KULL and read Steve’s introductory essay, or read the fine remembrance Steve co-wrote about the passing of David Gemmell right here on the Black Gate web site.

If, like us, you are an aficionado of sword-and-sorcery, then you should understand that we have lost a sword-brother.  And not just any sword-brother, but one of the elite, a Cimmerian, a Red Slayer, someone who formed the shield wall when anyone moved against the authors and stories that we revere.  Someone who saw the heroic history of our genre, understood its power and worth, and who could articulate its value in words of iron.

He has fallen now and the ranks will close, but no one can take his place. What five men could?  We have lost more than a brother; we have lost all that he might yet have done, and are poorer for it than we can ever know.

Raise high your glasses then, and drink deep in his name.  Cleave close to those you love and do not waste your time with the shadow players who blot our days.  Find your passion and, so long as it harms no one, follow it.  For all too soon those you treasure and the work you mean to do will be lost to you, for if life is sweet, death is ever greedy.

Carpe diem.

Howard Andrew Jones & John Chris Hocking

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