Censorship, Appropriateness, Taste

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

this-site-is-blocked-smThe august editor of Black Gate once asked me to remove two occurrences of the f-word in a story, because, he said, of wanting to be able to sell the magazine to high-school libraries. While it proved remarkably hard to find a substitute with the resonance I wanted, in this case referring to brief and utterly non-romantic sex, I didn’t mind the request.

In contrast, I did mind another editor’s demand to remove quite a bit of content from my novel Bear Daughter. “Just because it’s in ethnography,” she kept repeating, “doesn’t mean it should be in your book!” One of the things she was most bothered by were the references to post-partum bleeding, and the magical protection it briefly provided against the Giant Carnivorous Bird of the Underworld. I still for the life of me don’t understand her squeamishness–especially given a couple of violent and bloody scenes, one involving exploding frogs and mass dismemberment, that didn’t seem to faze her at all. In this instance I kept the (female reproductive) blood. Read More »

Different media, different story

Sunday, June 14th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

I have experience writing in three different mediums, games, comics, and novels. Of the three, I think I prefer novels; although they’re a lot more work and take a lot more time, they tend to be more satisfying in the long run. However, I’ve recently been attempting to turn a comic book series into a screenplay and it is remarkably more difficult than turning a game into a novel or a short story into a comic book. The problem, I think, is that comic books are so visual that often there simply isn’t much in the way of an actual story there. I finally had to knock off today after one bad guy told the others that he had a great plan.

What was the cunning plan? Bring in an even bigger bad guy! At that point, I had to call it quits for the evening. How do you make an interesting story out of a continuing series of doing nothing but bringing in a bigger bad guy? It’s not hard to come up with a new story, but then, it wouldn’t be the old story. At least with games, everything is nice and simple. It moved, ergo I killed it.

Conjunctions: Son of New Wave Fabulism

Saturday, June 13th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

conj52a3 The spring issue of  Conjunctions, the literary magazine of Bard College, is called “Between and Betwixt: Impossible Realism,” described as “postfantasy fictions that begin with the premise that the unfamiliar or liminal really constitutes a solid ground on which to walk.”  This is a follow-up to its “New Wave Fabulist” issue back in 2003, which I reviewed for Locus.

I like the title of this new edition (makes more sense to me than new wavey fabulous), though I’m not quite sure what “postfantasy” means, other than that because it is published by academia, “post”-things are kind of popular, as are terms like “liminal.” You can see the table of contents here, with links to some stories available on-line by Elizabeth Hand, Ben Marcus, Jonathan Carroll and Jeff VanderMeer.

Something I’m putting on my reading list.

Books Best Appreciated In Their Natural Habitat

Friday, June 12th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

bookstoreRecently I received a bit of a surprise when I went to a local library that has long been one of my ambush zones for the acquisition of unsuspecting books. All those lovely 25 cent mass market paperbacks with the stickers on the spine, all those nicely broken-in trades, all those hardbacks with the covers mylared over and glued down, were gone. Vanished. Whisked away on an electron breeze to inhabit the alternate world of the internet.

That’s a world I’ve hunted in a lot; in fact, the internet may indeed be my own Happy Hunting Grounds, the place where all those impossible to find treasures I’d only ever heard about as a kid grew like ripe fruit within easy reach. Not only was it simple and cheap, but it’s a world where anything is possible.

Of course, it’s also online cheapskates like me that are killing book stores.

I’ve blogged about my library shock in full over at my site, and talked about how important library sales were to me as a kid. How owning books, having a collection, taught a different sort of relationship and fostered a deeper respect for the world of books, fiction, and education than did borrowing them. I truly do think having these books available for purchase furthered the library’s mission of instilling a respect for the written word in the populace — especially in us kids who could buy a handful of SF novels with our lunch money after school — but, I suppose, it may have also reinforced other less desirable traits in me.

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White Wolf, Black Gate: Moorcock’s The Stealer of Souls

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

Joe Mallozzi’s online book club is reading Moorcock’s The Stealer of Souls this month (there’s already been some discussion here; Moorcock himself will appear as guest today, Wed. 6/10/09). So I thought I’d say a few words about the book… but which book is it, anyway?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Geeky details beyond the jump, cobbled together from various copyright pages, the wise words of Mr. Wikipedia, and other stuff I read somewhere once or heard someone say.

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Rome (2005)

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 | Posted by eeknight

I just watched about 25 hours of what I consider the best Sword and Sorcery I’ve seen in about the same number of years.

I’m speaking about HBO’s Rome, of course, the very expensive historical fiction epic that ran for two seasons 2005-2007. I’m sure many of you have seen it, but it was new to me (we don’t have cable). Apart from a few quibbles about some of the portrayals, specifically Cato the Younger and Octavian in the second season, I found it a fascinating peek into another age.

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Seventh Sanctum and Randomness

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Normally, I get verbose on my posts here at Black Gate. But I’ve had a busy week, the crunch comes down on the last day, and I don’t have time for a long amble through my usual obscura. So today I’ll dash through with a link to one of my favorite “writing experiment” sites.

Seventh Sanctum is a website of randomness. It contains an array of “generators” that can create instant character names, evil organizations, magic weapons, and super-powers. The bulk of the site consists of anime- and RPG-slanted generators, most of which were coded as a “lark,” in the words of the site’s creator. “Roll up a bunch of results. Use them. Make a ton of money. Or use them in a fanfic or an RPG.”

However, I’ve gotten a lot of writing practice ideas from the category of generators under the heading “Writing.” A general heading that covers a number of great randomizers that can hatch up story settings, themes, and “what-if” scenarios. For example, today on Writing Challenges (my favorite of the generators), I pulled out this confluences of different elements for a strange tale: “The story ends during a war. During the story, an organization begins recruiting. The story must have a lost soul in it. The story must involve some oil at the end.” That was enough to keep me scribbling in my composition notebook for at least an hour; and even if I develop a story that doesn’t contain any of those elements, battering the ideas about always develops something of interest I can use later. One of my favorite short stories I wrote in the last year emerged from using Seventh Sanctum’s What-if-Inator. The finished work had almost nothing to do with the original “what-if” from the site, but I probably wouldn’t have started the journey without the push.

Any writer could get a few decent exercises from Seventh Sanctum—maybe even a the start of something more serious—and you can always waste some time with the Humorous Fantasy Classes generator. (I like the “Stripper-Lancer” and “Valkyrie Salesman.” Both might work in a Risus campaign.)

Text & Countertext

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

One of the best books I’ve read about writing (and, full disclosure, I don’t read many) is Samuel Delany’s About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters & Five Interviews (Wesleyan). When I say “best,” I don’t mean I was nodding my head the whole way through going, “Right! Exactly!” Although in many places I was. Overall, I was in constant dialogue, sometimes offering additional examples or counterexamples, sometimes arguing vociferously, sometimes muttering, “WTF are you talking about?” Almost every page was good for a long train of thought.

The subject of one chapter is illustrated by its title, “After No Time at All the String on Which He Had Been Pulling and Pulling Came Apart into Two Separate Pieces So Quickly He Hardly Realized It Had Snapped….” Writing, Delany argues, has at least two technical levels. The sentences of a story describe a progression of events and occurrences, and this is what he calls the “text.” These sentences, though, are simultaneously “gesturing, miming, and generally carrying on about a supportive countertext that gives the story we’re reading all its resonance, highlighting, and intensity.” Read More »

Review: The Warded Man by Peter Brett

Sunday, June 7th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

Because I’ve sat on a few Nebula juries in the past or perhaps due to the fact that a few thousand people are bored enough to stop by my blog every day, publishers send me books from time to time. The vast majority of them aren’t just bad, but amazingly bad, and I usually attempt to do the kindest thing I can do for them, which is to say nothing at all about them. I don’t know what has gone wrong at some of the genre’s leading publishing houses, but someone needs to send them a very strong message to stop publishing novels where the central theme involves the importance of being true to oneself, features a strong, independent, sarcastic hero who don’t take no crap from nobody, concerns love triangles with the angst-laden but irresistible reader stand-in at the center, or incorporates sex scenes involving more than four different individuals and at least two different species. Weve been there, a lot. We’ve done that, a lot.

The nadir has got to be what I like to consider “were-seal porn” due to one unforgettable book about a lonely, but beautiful lighthouse keeper and her mysterious lover. You probably think I’m kidding, but I swear, not only did someone actually write that book, someone decided to publish it! So, my expectations were extremely low when I picked up a book out of the PR pile, mostly because I badly needed a break from the history of economic analysis. I was surprised, then delighted, and ended up blowing off the rest of the evening in order to finish what was really a very good fantasy novel.

The Warded Man isn’t exactly low fantasy, but it’s probably closer to low fantasy than high fantasy. More to the point, it’s original, it’s well-written, and it’s extremely absorbing. It’s a strange world, one of the weirdest post-apocalyptic worlds that I’ve encountered, as the greater part of both magic and science have been forgotten in the face of a plague of demonic forces that rise from the ground at night and can only be fended off by scripted or carved wards. The author does an excellent job of conveying the essential horror and helplessness of the common people, while portraying a realistic picture of the way in which no situation is so dire that petty human weaknesses can’t stir up unrelated conflicts of their own.

The book is one of the best debut novels I’ve ever encountered in the genre, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if it ended up claiming an award or two along the way. The author rewards the reader by seldom going for the obvious, and the character development tends to be a little deeper and more original than is the norm. If you feel that the fantasy field has been a bit barren of late, you should give The Warded Man a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Leaks and Peeks

Saturday, June 6th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

So a lot of people are on the edge of their seats because Apple is introducing a new iPhone model next week, and some people have fuzzy pictures supposedly leaked from China that purportedly show that the new model will have a matte black case. I can hardly contain my excitement. I’m cynical enough to think that Apple itself might be leaking the sneak peeks as a way to generate buzz about what sounds to me as just some feature improvements so people will want to stand in line for two weeks at the wireless store until the new model is available and they can belong to the technical elite for a couple of days or so.

All of which reminds me of a recent short story by Bruce Sterling, “Black Swan” in the March-April 2009 (Issue 221) of Interzone. The protagonist is an Italian blogger-journalist (sounds a little like Sterling himself in some respects) who gets insider tips on new technologies from a mysterious source who is so secretive he can’t be Googled. There’s a lot of techno-speak and the plot hinges on the notion that the 1980s (when, perhaps not coincidentally, Sterling and his fellow cyberpunks first started making names for themselves) was a critical historical point from which multiple realities branched. The story also features Nicholas Sarkozy (yes, the president of France) and his actress-singer wife (yes, that wife).

Fun stuff and much more interesting than the gloss on the iPhone.

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