Plums deify a Mercedes-Benz

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

I made a fascinating discovery today. I was reading one of the books by the dead George Carlin (if I called him ‘the late’ or ‘the lamented’ George Carlin, he would rise from the dead and crush my skull), enjoying some great laughs from his satirical observations about people and government. I then put down that book and picked up a collection of essay by the equally dead philosopher Bertrand Russell. And I found that his opinions, tone, and attitudes were exactly the same as Carlin’s. Not only that, they were just as funny. “Another way in which good men can be useful is by getting themselves murdered.” That’s brilliant. I realized at that instant that George Carlin is Bertrand Russell as a stand-up act.

I’m telling you all this to fill up space on this post. I’ve had a busy weekend, most of it a highly positive busy, but nonetheless busy. So I haven’t had the opportunity to carefully craft one of my more ponderous reviews. So instead I’ll sling at you a writing exercise that I did a few weeks ago. Writers looking for an engaging experiment might want to try it.

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Arab Fantasy

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

This, alas, is not going to be one of those highly informative posts by a knowledgeable person possessing vast information on the subject. Instead, it’s a partial response to several different topics that have crossed my consciousness lately. One is an ongoing issue–the role of the Other (exotic, evil, dangerous, wild, etc.) in our culture and our storytelling, and what it is like living in a country of one of our current primary Others (Arabs) for the last year. Another is an article I read recently on the current state of Arab cinema (burdened by censorship, unwieldy bureaucracy, and funding problems–see also here and here). Finally there was a conversation last night on the future of the Arab world in which the subject turned to education. As in the US, discussions about the role of education tend to focus on job readiness and the economy, but it’s art and storytelling that are crucial for cultural health, and growth.

“Arab Fantasy” could mean fantasy by outsiders using elements of Arab tradition, or fantasy by Arabs using traditional or other source materials. The best-known source in the west is, of course, One Thousand and One Nights in its numerous versions, although (quoting from wikipedia, that utterly reliable source), “Some of the best-known stories of The Nights, particularly “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”, while most likely genuine Arabic folk tales, were not part of the The Nights in its Arabic versions, but were interpolated into the collection by its early European translators.” Actually the article is a pretty interesting overview, and I learned a bunch of stuff. Genre works influenced by Nights are many; titles I’ve read recently enough that they float to the surface include Tim Powers’ World War II espionage-with-djinns novel Declare, Diana Wynne-Jones’ Aladdin sendup, Castle in the Air, and P.B. Kerr’s Children of the Lamp series, aimed primarily at middle-grade readers, but entertaining enough for undemanding adults, and, it seems, forthcoming as a movie from Dreamworks. Read More »

On Rebooting

Sunday, May 17th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

There has been a lot of discussion, understandably, about the new Star Trek movie. Let me admit, first off, that I have seen very little Star Trek and what little I have seen I pretty much loathed and despised. (NB: I’m neither judging nor prosecuting here, merely expressing a personal opinion. Live long and prosper.) That being said, the talk about the so-called “rebooting” has me wondering why television and film are so prone to remakes while there appears to be no similar practice in literature.

For example, much of the Seventies science fiction that reflected the norms of the preceding decade’s youth culture could do with a bit of revisiting these, as could the thinly disguised polemics against the Vietnam War. The latter have lost a bit of their punch now that we’ve learned Ho Chi Minh and company weren’t actually an Asiatic version of the American founding fathers intent on setting up an equitable worker’s paradise. And the evils of the Nixon administration, as admittedly foul as they were, look rather pedestrian in light of the killing fields of the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea. All the Cold War-influenced novels are also looking very out-of-date these days too, although I admit that a reboot involving the sudden and inexplicable collapse of one superpower on the basis of a satellite state no longer requiring exit visas for travel to a neighboring state might prove less enthralling than exotic weaponry and climactic space fleet actions.

But who could resist a reboot of John Norman’s Chronicles of Gor, where instead of finding women to be beautiful in chains and enslaving them, Tarl Cabot finds himself drawn to strong, independent women who take no stick from men? Or a reboot of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, in which Valentine Michael Smith is a derivatives trader attempting to share the golden secret of post-scarcity economics with the rigid and short-sighted world of Wall Street? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to contemplate a more multiculturally aware reboot of The Lord of the Rings, in which the motivations of the so-called “Dark” Lord are explored in more sensitive detail and the orcs are revealed to be a peaceful, artistic people much given to poetry and erotic wood carvings.

Going Portentiously Where Everyone Has Gone Before

Saturday, May 16th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

Okay, so I’m interested in seeing what everyone is calling “the reboot” of Star Trek, though I could be content to wait until the DVD comes out. And, sure, there’s a lot of buzz (as well as some discussion in this forum), if only because the franchise appears to be doing something interesting, for a change. Fine. But all this blather about the “significance” of Star Trek, particularly this article by Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times is really too much.

Itzkoff characterizes Star Trek as “supremely influential,” and I guess in that it has promoted grown-ups dressing in space pajamas and wearing pointy ears and expecting to be taking seriously, I suppose he’s right.

Look, I’m old enough to have watched the original Star Trek when it was first on television. As I recall, I lost interest sometime in the middle of the second season. Because, even then I realized what a lot of commentators such as Itzkoff overlook: for a supposed science fiction series, it was pretty bad science fiction.
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HBO’s A Game of Thrones

Friday, May 15th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

a-game-of-thronesReading James’ post on Wednesday about the fan angst surrounding George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (and some of the unnecessarily blunt backlash), I started thinking about just how much I know about this hugely popular saga which I have actually never read. Indeed, having not even read it, I can say I am predisposed to already like it but, as Dave commented on James post, I’m also one of those people who tends not to buy into series with no end in sight.

However, with the announcement that Martin’s A Game of Thrones is being seriously considered for an HBO series, with a pilot already in the works, that rule is going to have to get chucked out of the window.

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A Song of Fice and Ire

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

Neil Gaiman recently dismissed fan entitlement regarding George R.R. Martin with a memorable line–as memorable now as when it was coined in the comment section of John Scalzi’s blog 2 or 3 months ago (see comment 258 by “Tully” , who may be Neil Gaiman incognito, for all I know). Pointing out that writers are not machines is maybe a less abusive way to respond to the same concern (see comment 136 on the Whatever thread linked above). NG’s conclusion is that “George R. R. Martin is not working for you.” This undoubted truth is not really on point, though.

By the way: I am not one of the people who are chewing their nails down to their elbows waiting for the next “Song of Ice and Fire” volume. I read the first book, liked it a lot (though certain plotlines moved with what seemed to me glacial slowness, I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing). But I resolved not to read any more until he was done with the thing, because I was sure it would take a significant chunk of a working lifetime to complete and I didn’t want to suffer through the agonizingly long wait between installments.

I do, however, buy each one as it comes out, for the benefit of a SoIaF addict I live with. I’m not suggesting that GRRM owes me anything, except the book I’m actually buying when I plonk coin down for one of his books. But neither do I or the other coin-plonkers have to go on plonking our coins.

Fan entitlement may indeed be pernicious, but it can only exist in the presence of a fan base which is a good thing. It doesn’t seem to me that directing abuse towards GRRM’s fan base does GRRM any long-term favor.

The Future Is Now

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

trekfinal2Star Trek (2009)
Directed by J. J. Abrams. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder.

I wrote a review of the new movie Star Trek for my own blog within a few hours of seeing the film on Friday morning. I have nothing against that review, but it’s definitely the sort of free-form exercise I do on my personal blog, and it goes deep into the story and specific details for general readers. I never intended to put such a review on my Black Gate blog.

But Star Trek deserves it’s own take on Black Gate, one geared toward the specific audience. This isn’t truly a review, but an essay analysis of a cultural phenomenon that takes into account the many other reviews I’ve now read of the movie since I saw it (I purposely avoided reading others reviews before seeing the film) and the reaction of people I know who have seen it so I can paint a canvas of the sort of zeitgeist we’re experiencing.

Although Black Gate takes heroic fantasy as its theme, while the Star Trek franchise is science fiction, the people who read this magazine and its website belong to a genre community of which Star Trek forms one of the cornerstones. It doesn’t matter if you like Star Trek or not… if you count yourself a fan of anything that is “genre,” Star Trek has a place in your universe. Star Trek is the personification of “fandom.”

A few days before the new movie hit theaters, I wrote a short essay examining my own relation to Trek fandom. You can read that if you want to know where on the “Trekker” scale I stand, if that’s of interest to you regarding reading the rest of this essay.

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On Heroes and Humiliation

Monday, May 11th, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

Oh where have you been, Lord Randall, my son,
Oh where have you been, my handsome young man?

Not to the greenwood, that’s for sure, and not eating eels and toadstools, though sometimes the job application process (not to mention the writing career) can feel like it. Let’s just chalk up my recent absence from this space to life generally and move on. Though, parenthetically, it’s strange how fragments of ballads you haven’t heard in decades can suddenly breach the darkness. Now I can’t get the impossible-to-sing tune out of my head….

We read together as a family at my son’s bedtime and have been making our way through Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. It wears well after all the years (I won’t say how many) since I first read it. We also recently saw Paul Blart: Mall Cop. That was not an experience I want to repeat in the decades to come, but the momentary temporal conjunction of the two got me thinking about the humiliation of the hero as a trope. It’s an exceedingly common one in comedy, and I can think of a zillion examples in movies, everything from Bridget Jones’ Diary to There’s Something about Mary. That it’s uncomfortable to watch (at least I find it so) even while I’m laughing (sometimes, anyway) must have something to do with the cathartic value of comedy–the second half of the arc in that genre is success, especially romantic success, and among other things the hero’s humiliation makes his/her success all the sweeter. Read More »

Serial Distractions reviews Black Gate 13

Sunday, May 10th, 2009 | Posted by John ONeill

Shedrick Pittman-Hassett’s Serial Distractions has reviewed our latest issue.  Here’s an excerpt:

I have treasured Black Gate ever since I first discovered Issue 10.  I had dropped my charter subscription to another fantasy magazine a couple of years before because I wasn’t finding what I was looking for: old-fashioned, but highly imaginative, adventure fantasy.  Black Gate delivers this in spades and the latest issue is no exception.

The Evil Eater by Peadar Ó Guilín

A horror story about the price of deception…especially self-deception.  Toby, a somewhat-aspiring actor and his scheming girlfriend Marie walk into a world of ancient terrors while attending an exclusive restaurant on a “borrowed” invitation.  In the Lovecraftian horror of Ahriman’s kitchen Toby learns to see the truths of his life and the deceptions that have brought him to his current state. 

Return of the Quill by John R. Fultz

The conquered city of Narr is ruled by a council of Sorcerer Kings.  The darkest of these is Grimsort, who resides in the crypts and animates the ancient dead to protect the city from threats without and rebellion within.  His loyalties are soon put to the test as he begins to see the city as it once was and what it probably should be.  This powerhouse story aptly shows that rebellion does not live in riots, screeds, or demonstrations but in the desires inherent in all people.  This is probably my favorite story in this issue.

The complete review is here.

Rage of the Behemoth Review

Sunday, May 10th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

Rage of the BehemothI have to confess that I was not initially impressed with Rage of the Behemoth, the heroic adventure anthology from Rogue Blades. The first two stories didn’t start out slow, exactly, but they struck me as being more akin to fan fiction than professional fantasy literature. I was on the verge of setting it aside when I read Sean T. M. Stiennon’s strange and enthralling “Black Water”, which is without a doubt the best story about a heroic crab warrior I have ever encountered. Intrigued anew, I lost the urge to put the book down and by the time I had reached Bill Ward’s excellent “The Wolf of Winter” a few stories later, I realized that I needed to completely revise my attitude about what had turned into one of the more consistent anthologies I have had the good fortune to read.

Editor Jason M. Waltz has done an excellent job both in selecting the stories for this anthology as well as presenting them in loosely connected theme sets based on their environments. This approach really works well as it prevents the reader from being jarred too completely in the transition from one fantasy world to the next. There is the Water set, the Jungle set, the Mountain set and so forth; my favorites tended to be concentrated in the Winter set although that may reflect nothing more than a susceptibility to the romanticism that CS Lewis once described as “Northernness”. The average level of the stories is very strong regarding both quality and action; this is supposed to be heroic fantasy after all. And it is truly heroic, there is very little of the anti-heroism that has become so tiresomely cliched over the last two decades. If some of the heroes whose deeds are recorded here commit acts of appalling violence, they mostly do so out of necessity and often with a genuinely sacrificial sensibility. It is Conan, but it is Conan with a soul.

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