On the Other Hand–Amen: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny. Volume One: Threshold; Volume Two: Power and Light

Thursday, July 16th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge


Who was the greatest American fantasist of the 20th century? People will have their own notions about this (as opposed to the greatest British fantasist of the 20th century, where most lists will begin with Tolkien). Personally, I think Fritz Leiber is several of the century’s greatest fantasists, and other obvious candidates would include Robert E. Howard, Kuttner and Moore, Leigh Brackett, Jack Vance, Ursula Le Guin. John Crowley has his advocates; no doubt there are others. One name I always think of in this connection is Roger Zelazny.

Zelazny was not a perfect writer. He was an avowed risk-taker, and some of his experiments didn’t come off. Others, which may have read well when they were first written, haven’t aged gracefully. His motto was “Trust your demon,” and demons aren’t always trustworthy. But Zelazny’s method (put less theologically: writers should be prepared to junk their outlines and follow whatever wild hairs present themselves) does tend to take the reader interesting places. Almost no one had heard of Zelazny before 1962. A few years later he was an acknowledged giant in the sf/f field. By end of the decade people were saying he was on the skids. De gustibus non disputandum. In my view (and many others) few fantasists will ever reach the heights Zelazny achieved in his later period.

In any case, his historical importance is beyond dispute, and when an sf/f author of historical importance needs an archival collection, you have but to wait politely and eventually NESFA Press will produce something stunning on the order of “The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny”. (Volume One and Two are the subject of this review; Volumes Three and Four are now out; Volumes Five and Six are slated for release later this year).

[Showers of sparky details beyond the jump.]

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Penelope Travels Home, Then Packs to Travel Some More

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

I’ve been traveling the past week-plus, from the Arabian desert to the hallucinatory green of the currently rain-sodden mid-Atlantic, north to Readercon outside of Boston (where I stood bareheaded in the rain!!), and then back again to Philadelphia. Among the many joys and oddities of return: the drivers in these cities are so calm and polite, and so observant of the traffic rules that I feel at peace on that crowded femoral artery of Philadelphia, the Schuylkill Expressway.* Which just goes to show the power of relativity.

Readercon is one of my favorite cons. It’s a small convention with programming pretty much only about books, and the dealers’ room (or crack den, as my friend Vickie calls it) sells no t-shirts or other tchotchkes, only books and magazines. One of my panels was about re-reading the classics, a poor choice by Programming since my reading history is lamentably patchy. Somehow (I think all I said was that Shakespeare was hard to read for speakers of present-day English) I seemed to become the person who thought the classics were all irrelevant. It’d be more accurate to say that I think the classics are valuable if not always relevant.

One interchange was about Homer, and how great the Odyssey was, and how much of the whole history of literature the Odyssey had influenced, and how Joyce’s Ulysses contained the whole of human experience (this last from critic and fellow panelist Michael Dirda). Read More »


Rogue Blades Entertainment releases Rage of the Behemoth

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

rotb-web-reg-front-cover1Heroic fantasy anthologies are a rare sight these dates.  And those willing to to take a gamble on emerging authors – virtually non-existant.

But don’t tell that to Jason M. Waltz, publisher of Rogue Blades Entertainment, and editor of Return of the Sword (2008) and the brand spanking new Rage of the Behemoth: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure. 

Described as “Almost 150,000 words of monstrous mayhem recording the ferocious battles that rage between gargantuan creatures of myth and legend, and the warriors and wizards who wage war against, beside, and astride them,” RotB gathers 21 splendid tales of pure adventure fantasy under one cover, including contributions from Black Gate‘s Bill Ward, Andrew Offutt & Richard K. Lyon, Lois Tilton, Mary Rosenblum, Sean T. M. Stiennon, Brian Ruckley, Bruce Durham, Jason Thummel, and many more.

Here’s what I said in my introduction, in part:

While I enjoy a great deal of the novels and short stories that come into my hands, I frequently find they’re missing something. They’re missing the creativity, the delicious tension, the high-voltage drama that turned me on to reading in my youth. Specifically, they’re missing monsters.

Jason Waltz understands this. It took Jason to realize what the literature of Western Civilization has recently been lacking, and do something about it. In Rage of the Behemoth, his second anthology and the follow up to last year’s Return of the Sword, he’s picked a theme near and dear to my heart: monsters.

And not just any monsters – behemoths, the tippy-top of the fantasy food chain.

As Theo commented in his recent review right here at Black Gate:

One of the more consistent anthologies I have had the good fortune to read… Rage of the Behemoth is an intriguing glimpse into a multitude of savage worlds. The anthology is a throwback to the glory days of Burroughs and Howard, with an icy, ominous edge.

Rage of the Behemoth is available at Amazon.com or directly from Rogue Blades Entertainment for $16.99, plus shipping. Do your part to support short fiction markets for adventure fantasy – and get a terrific anthology in the bargain.


Summer Reading

Saturday, July 11th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

26928919mortalOne good thing about the recession is I have more time to catch up on my reading. And  I don’t have to worry about spending money on books during tough times as I already own a ridiculous number of volumes that I never had the time to get around to.  One of almost recent vintage is Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow. It’s a clever premise: a parallel effort to the Manhattan Project is to develop a race of super lizards to level Japanese cities and end World War II. The irony here is that the whole Godzilla mythos of badly made, badly acted 1950s Japanese movies was a metaphorical projection of the atomc bombings.  The plot, such as it is , concerns an American horror monster actor who is recruited to provide a realistic demonstration of the lizard’s destructiveness to force the Japanese surrender without having to deploy the monsters (what many critics of the U.S. atomic bombings argue might have sufficed instead of targeting cities).  Morrow is one of my favorite authors, though this is a minor work; even at novella length, the premise is stretched a bit thin, and maybe would have  worked better at a shorter length in pruning some plotting that doesn’t really advance the theme.  Still, worth checking out.

I’m almost finished with Elizabeth Hand’s  Mortal Love, which I bought new in hardcover in 2004 and is now available for a penny (before shipping ) on Amazon. I’m also a big fan of Hand’s, despite the fact that plotting isn’t her strong point. The story spans several historical eras and deals primarily with a lost Gaelic princess who down through the ages can’t help but seduce human males, with unfortunate consequences for her paramours. It all seems headed to a resolution which seems to be setting me up for a letdown (but not having finished it in time for this week’s deadline, I don’t know yet). Anyway, who cares?  Hand is masterful in creating mood and setting. Besides, we have the same tastes in music, of which there are the usual high quota of references.  Even without having finished it, recommended reading for this summer, or any time of year. And at a recession price that can’t be beat.


Sapkowski Wins Gemmell Legend Award

Saturday, July 11th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

blood-elvesMy first thought upon hearing that Andrzej Sapkowski had won the inaugural David Gemmell Legend Award (which happens to be the award most suited to home-defense — just try to scare off a burglar with a Hugo rocket) was “great, there goes that post I planned examining if Abercrombie’s work really fits the spirit of David Gemmell’s fiction.” My second thought, of course, was “just who exactly is Andrzej Sapkowski?”

In his native Poland, people don’t have to ask that question because there Sapkowki is a Really Big Deal, author of a fantasy series that outsells the works of Stephen King (all the press releases love to use that datum — but for all I know Poles don’t like Stephen King). In the Anglophone world, Sapkowski’s work is just now being offered in translation, but his world is probably most widely known as the subject of a computer role playing game which saw world-wide release (The Witcher).

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Robots Have Tales: Henry Kuttner’s Gallagher Stories

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

Apologies for my radio silence last week. Candidly, I was at a loss for a subject, until Fate and Amazon put the perfect book into my hands (which I’ll talk about below), which wasn’t until sometime late in the week.

And, with further apologies, here’s a self-pimping update: there’s still time to participate in the discussion of Blood of Ambrose at Stargate producer Joe Mallozzi’s blog.

As to the “perfect book”–the new issue from Paizo Press’ Planet Stories line, Henry Kuttner’s Robots Have No Tails, may not be perfect in some absolute sense (although it comes pretty close) but it’s certainly one that I and others have been looking forward to for years. And it’s only the latest (hopefully not the last) in a series of Kuttner reprints from Planet that now includes Elak of Atlantis, his pioneering sword-and-sorcery stories, and The Dark World, probably the best of his swashbuckling adventure tales. (I say “probably” only because I can’t claim to have read all of Kuttner–maybe no one has, although Planet publisher Erik Mona has certainly come closer than most.)

[Sagrazi the unvastenable beyond the jump.]

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iBrain and from Homer to Twitter

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

ibrain_cover_finalLast month I read a psychology book exploring the implications of the digital information age. In iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Human Mind, authors Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan walk the reader through the possibility that the influx of digital communication technology and social networking tools has not only changed the way we behave, but it is also causing our brains to evolve differently. Small and Vorgan discuss the gap between “digital natives” (Generation X on up) and “digital immigrants” (everybody else) and cite psychiatric studies showing behavioral changes that have occurred from a flood of multi-tasking with digital technology and the different parts of the brain that are activated by this technology.

Thankfully, iBrain isn’t an anti-technology screed—you can find plenty of those, and they won’t do one bit of good in halting technology’s march. But the book does fail to follow through on the grand promise of the first half where it shows the tremendous psychological changes that have swept through our society and right into the neurons in our gray-matter. Ultimately, iBrain devolves into a tepid “self-help” book that can only advise that maybe digital natives should turn off the computer and read a book or go outside occasionally so they can also learn social skills. Oh, and if you’re a digital immigrant, maybe you should take some computer classes or ask younger people for help.

Well I could have told you that, and I don’t have an M.D. in psychiatry like Gary Small. It’s a shame that a great premise in book like iBrain has to collapse into humdrum advice that anybody could come up with.

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A minor holiday musing

Sunday, July 5th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

First, apologies for the two-week absence. I was wrapping up a non-fiction book that one can only hope will be of very little interest to the readers of Black Gate.

Second, the recent U.S. holiday got me to thinking about the general dearth of holidays one sees in fantasy fiction. Having spent an amount of time in parts of Europe where it seems there is a holiday practically every week in June and July that is the remnant from some forgotten medieval saint’s day, one would imagine that a quasi-medieval fantasy society would have more holidays than we presently do, not less. So, where are they and is this just another example of the ahistorical nature of most modern fantasy? Okay, not the most interesting of insights, but one possibly worth noting if you’re one of the many people writing fantasy these days. Considering how the Black Gate editors were all but buried under the weight of the recent submissions, one occasionally wonders if there is anyone reading Black Gate who isn’t also a writer of one sort or another.


The Red Wolf Conspiracy

Saturday, July 4th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

2009-rw2
I guess it’s kind of of odd that I write for a publication that features adventure sword and sorcery type fantasy when that really isn’t my thing. Nothing against it; it’s just that with so much to read, there has to be something to really grab my attention for me to pick up a traditional epic fantasy, particularly if it means a commitment to multiple volumes. Here’s one that has, Robert Reddick’s The Red Wolf Conspiracy. To find out why, read more here.


Tangent Online reviews Black Gate 13

Friday, July 3rd, 2009 | Posted by John ONeill

The esteemed Dave Truesdale, founder of Tangent, has posted a detailed critique of our latest issue:

This thirteenth issue of Black Gate—with its usual complement of book and fantasy gaming reviews (not to mention a dandy article by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. on the magic in his popular Recluse series), and with its hallmark 200+ pages—was another wild ride, with some real standout pieces. Easily worth the $9.95 cover price.

Dave draws particular attention to two stories, including Myke Cole’s “Naktong Flow”:

Myke Cole‘s prose in “Naktong Flow” is smooth, evocative, and thoroughly professional. Some years ago he won the Writers of the Future contest, and it shows. “Naktong Flow” is set in the forest-jungles of the Far East, and follows Ch’oe, his men, their ancestor-magician, and a strange, magically-imbued wooden machine as they travel up the Naktong river in pursuit of the less-than-human creatures named the bonesetters… Think Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now and you’re on the right track. While totally self-contained and a proper short story, the ending is not what one might expect, and leads to the obvious conclusion that “Naktong Flow” should be part of a larger story. I, for one, will be eager to read it.

As well as the final chapter of The Naturalist by Mark Sumner:

An absorbing read and thoroughly enjoyable. Set in an alternate Central America in the 1830’s, it tells the tale of British explorers who encounter a race of swarming antriders who destroy everything in their path, including, of course, human settlements. Told through journal entries written by the protagonist, a Mr. Brown—the “naturalist” of the title–in the wonderfully expressive language of the time, it recalls the “lost world” tales of H. Rider Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sumner constructs a remarkably rich and well-researched world, full of detail and nuance, through which the naturalist, his entourage, and the British forces stationed there must fight to survive. Fraught with danger and excitement, and full of the mystery and color of a grand adventure, I heartily recommend The Naturalist.

The complete review is here.


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