Short Fiction Beat: Story Discussions

Saturday, October 17th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

Over at Torque Control, the blog of the editorial staff of the British Science Fiction Association journal Vector, there’s a weekly short story roundtable discussion.  This week’s subject is Ken McLeod’s “A Tulip for Lucretius”.  As I write this, I haven’t read the whole story, but it certainly has an attention-getting opening paragraph.

There’s also a discussion about the relative utility of book reviews, inspired by a Huffington Post proclamation that, if I understand correctly, it will blog about books, but not “review” them. Given that blogging in general is conversational, highly opinionated (often without substantive argumentation, let alone sophisticated discussion), and neither edited nor fact-checked, I fail to see why this is an improvement. Though, yeah, I know you could say the same thing about some reviews.


Writing Book Reviews — How and Why

Friday, October 16th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

pile-of-books3I’ve been in reviewer overload lately, reading, taking notes, and penning reviews for the next issue of Black Gate. But, more than that, I’ve also been coordinating our crop of reviewers this time out, and thinking in terms of what exactly it is that ought to be in the review section of the magazine, not just in the reviews I put up on my own website. Having done over 50 reviews in the last year and a half or so, I think I’ve learned a few things, and I’d like to share my thoughts on what a good review should consist of. And at the end of this essay I’ll also offer some practical advice to anyone that wants to become a web reviewer themselves and share the reasons behind just why someone would want to take the time to review a book in the first place.

The first distinction we need to make is between a book review and a book report. Reviews are critiques that take a lot of factors into consideration and demand a certain level of knowledge and discernment from the reviewer. Book reports are those bland plot summaries you used to have to write in school to prove to the teacher you actually did your assigned reading. I’ve seen so-called reviewers whose work falls squarely into the later category but, aside from generating web content for google, such work holds little real value.

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Who Gods There?: “The Elder Gods” by Don A. Stuart

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

Unknown October 1939I’m guest-blogging this week at Babel Clash, along with fellow Pyr author Matt Sturges, and for the past couple days we’ve been kicking around the topic of our influences and anti-influences. It’s not always the biggest books or the best that are influences, though. For instance…

Don A. Stuart‘s “The Elder Gods” is a fantasy novella from the late 1930s that reads a lot like the science fiction being written around the same time. That’s no accident: the author behind the pseudonym is John W. Campbell, once a leading light in the “super science” stories of the 1930s, later a pioneer of a more sophisticated form of speculative fiction, and (by the time the work under review appeared) he was well into his third and longest career as the influential editor of Astounding Science Fiction–and the new fantasy magazine Unknown, in which “The Elder Gods” first appeared. (I reread it in a rather battered copy of the 1970s Ace reprint of The Moon is Hell; but there’s a NESFA edition of Campbell’s Stuart stories, including “The Elder Gods”. That’s what I’d recommend seeking out, if you’re interested, as there are some typographical glitches in the Ace edition; plus, it may be harder to find; plus, I’ve always thought “The Moon Is Hell” was a stupid title.)

In Unknown, Campbell didn’t want to create yet another knockoff of Weird Tales; the tagline for the paper-covered anthology From Unknown Worlds was “Fantasy Stories for Grown Ups”–by which he seems to have meant the serious grownups who were reading Astounding. Lots of his Astounding writers crossed over to write for Unknown, and “The Elder Gods” was apparently his how-to-do-it example, applying the Astounding method of speculative fiction to fantasy.

[ Spectacular Stories of Scientific Theology beyond the jump.]

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The Ultimate Halloween Party Movie: House of Frankenstein

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

house_of_frankenstein_movie_poster1House of Frankenstein (1944)

Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Starring Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, J. Carrol Naish, Glenn Strange, Anne Gwynne, Elena Verdugo, George Zucco, Lionel Atwill.

I was working in the lab, late one night…

Ah, October. My favorite month. No other time is so ideal for exploring dark fantasy, the Gothic, the classic ghost story … and of course, Universal horror films. The monsters of Universal’s 1930s and ‘40s films have given the Halloween season its mascots, creatures as closely identified with the holiday as Santa Claus is with Christmas. So there’s no better Halloween party flick than the wall-to-wall monster epic that was the original “The Monster Mash”…

In seventy-one minutes, House of Frankenstein brings you:

  • Dracula
  • The Wolf Man
  • Frankenstein’s Monster
  • A mad scientist
  • A hunchback
  • A torch-wielding mob of angry villagers
  • A laboratory full of Kenneth Strickfaden-influenced sizzling equipment
  • Brain transplants!

All this, plus the hat trick of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and John Carradine in the same film; roles for classic supporting actors Lionel Atwill and George Zucco; and sexy Anne Gwynne. Now how much would you pay?

I paid $8.99 for my DVD, and I got Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man on the same disc!

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Tales of the Otori

Sunday, October 11th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

One of the interesting things about fantasy fiction is the way in which it is still mostly an English language phenomenon. This isn’t to say that there isn’t any original non-English fantasy, but even in European bookstores the vast majority of fantasy books in Deutsch or italiano will feature the names of familiar English or American writers. I spent my semester abroad in Japan, so I find it interesting that the best Japanese-flavored fantasy I have encountered to date is written by an Australian woman who apparently hasn’t even spent all that much time there.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Japanese culture, so no doubt there are numerous details that Japanese readers would find jarring, incorrect, and annoying, but the small-scale saga which begins with Across the Nightengale floor seamlessly incorporates various elements of Japanese culture with magical elements that are derived from Japanese folk myths and animist religion rather than conventional Western tropes. The author, Lian Hearn, also does a very good job of making her characters abide by historical cultural norms, although unfortunately she can’t quite resist giving one female protagonist a strong streak of strong independent Western womanhood that is misplaced by some five centuries. It’s not egregious, though, and doesn’t detract from what is an excellent series of unusual fantasy fiction. I particularly liked how the author wisely avoids the Imperial court in favor of setting the saga in the midst of the sort of the rivalries between petty noble fiefdoms that took place far from the center of shogunate power as well as how she shows the importance of agriculture and the peasantry in the calculations of the warring aristocracy.

I can recommend Tales of the Otori without reservation, although I will caution ebook readers to be careful not to confuse them with a series of very bad adult novels also set in Japan with similar sounding names.


Short Fiction Review #19: Fantasy & Science Fiction 60th Anniversary Issue

Saturday, October 10th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

cov0910lg-250Fans of Tom Waits are often divided into two camps: those who favor the early boozy Kerouac, be-bop inspired crooner of life’s derelicts and losers up until he transmogrified beginning with the “Heartattack and Vine” album and “crossed over” into Kurt Weill cacaphonous orator of the absurd; fans of the later period sometimes disdain the earlier, and vice versa, despite the obvious connections.  Me, I’m in the third camp as a huge admirer of both milieus.   (I suppose there’s a further quarter of people who can’t stand Waits at all, but, much like the folks who still tiresomely maintain Dylan hasn’t done anything since his protest days, aren’t worth serious attention.)

A similar kind of division exists in genre.  Those who regale the Golden Age of pulp when men were men and women’s curves were accentuated by tight-fitting space suits and can’t stand all this new weird, new wave, fabulist  whatever it’s being called, stuff that frequently has a radical socio-political feminist agenda (see, for example, Dave Truesdale) as opposed to  those who welcome a reinvigoration of stale conventions (me, for example).

Then there are those whose eclectic tastes recognize and appreciate the connections of the old and new.  This brings us to the 60th Anniversary Issue (October/November) of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which blends both the newer literary stylings as well as its pulp antecedents  in celebrating its longevity (no mean trick, these days) as a classic genre magazine.

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Bernie Mireault’s THE JAM: URBAN ADVENTURE

Friday, October 9th, 2009 | Posted by John ONeill

the_jam_demoBefore he became a regular artist for Black Gate, Bernie Mireault was already something of a Renaissance man in the comics industry. He’s been a writer, artist, letterer, and highly acclaimed colorist, and worked with Matt Wagner (Grendel), Joe Matt, Mike Allred, and many others.  His comics include Dr. Robot, Bug-eyed Monster, The Blair Witch Chronicles, and his masterpiece, The Jam.

Our first meeting (that we know of) was in 1985, when Bernie  crashed at my home in Ottawa, Canada. I was living with my parents while I studied at the University of Ottawa, and Bernie and his fellow creators with Montreal-based Matrix Comics were attending a local comics con. Bernie had just published the first issue of Mackenzie Queen, a marvelous piece of satirical horror featuring an exiled demon with a taste for dripping meat, who learns to be satisfied with Corn Flakes (“at least they drip.”)  It was one of the first comics to make me laugh out loud. I’d been corresponding with Mark Shainblum at Matrix for months, and when I learned he was coming to town, I graciously offered my parent’s home as crash space (pretty sure I neglected to check with my parents first, which is part of what made it so gracious).  Mark brought Gabriel Morrissette and Bernie Mireault, and the rest is history.

mac-queen-2I say “first meeting that we know of” because Bernie and I were born in the exact same (and very small) place  — a Canadian Air Force base in Marville, France — only a few years apart in the early 60s.  Did we pass briefly as toddlers in the officer’s mess, and maybe compare our love for cartoons and comics while our fathers saluted each other over trays of french bread and beans?  Probably not.  But hey, man.  It’s possible.

We lost touch for a few years when I moved to the US to finish grad school (and meet a girl from California and get married, but that’s another story).  But I followed Bernie’s career closely.  It wasn’t hard — he was all over the place, from Wonder Woman to Mr. Monster to Tales of the Batman.  He even showed up — along with Matt Wagner — in Joe Matt’s autobiographical classic, Peep Show, as a minor character named only “Bernie.”  But I recognized him immediately. Who wouldn’t?

But enough of trying to describe how cool Bernie is.  To understand, you need to experience his work.  And now you can!

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SF/F: Field, or Dangerfield?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

“When I was a kid I got no respect. When my parents got divorced there was a custody fight over me… and no one showed up.”

–Rodney Dangerfield

Somewhere, even as I type, there is someone wearing a tuxedo who is looking at a piece of sf/f with an expession of scorn so intense that it hurts all genre readers everywhere. Isn’t there?

No. This person (variously called “the Establishment,” “the literati,” “English professors,” “the critics,” “your mom,” etc.) is largely imaginary and his power to hurt genre readers with his contempt is wholly imaginary. I’m not saying that no critic, no English professor, no mom has never expressed a hurtful opinion towards some genre or genre work. I am saying that markets for fiction are too diverse to be controlled by any centralized network of opinion.

But even if “the Establishment” (or whatever it’s called) actually existed, cries of outrage like this or this would still be pointless.

[Sail the whine-dark sea beyond the jump.]

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On Getting Current in Heroic Fantasy, Part II

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 | Posted by Don Lee

ambrose-2I was commenting the other day on the surplus number of wonderful S&S anthologies I’ve stumbled on since a friend and I began a collaborative shared world writing project a few weeks ago, both writing stories set in a fantasy/medieval city with a history and a river and neighborhoods and taverns and all the usual trappings. His background in world building (via D&D or whatever) is less than mine, and mine is quite scant, so our efforts have grown in odd bits and pieces: first the tavern, then the name of the city, then a mountain backed up against it, and so on.

And while writing and inventing and noting what I was writing and inventing, I’ve kept reading new (to me) material, noting those books and writers people clamor about and ordering their books and waiting impatiently by the mailbox every afternoon to see what’s arrived – David Gemmell’s first novel, or George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, or Matthias Thulmann: Witch Hunter  or, just yesterday, James Enge’s Blood of Ambrose  – I read and very much enjoyed his “The Red Worm’s Way” in Return of the Sword and want to read further about his hero Morlock Ambrosius…

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Fifty Years in the Zone: The Twilight Zone’s 50th Anniversary

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

tz-title-card2serlingThe place is here, the time is now, and the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch could be our journey.

With those words, spoken exactly fifty years ago by a respected television dramatist over an image of a man walking down a lonesome dirt road toward an empty town, started a journey into the imagination that continues to this day.

Last Friday was the fiftieth anniversary of The Twilight Zone. The speculative-fiction show created by Rod Serling broadcast its first episode, “Where Is Everybody?”, on 2 October 1959 on CBS. The world has never been the same since we crossed over into another dimension, not of sight or sound, but of mind. Brilliant writing, endless imagination, and the inspiration for countless authors, filmmakers, and other assorted dreamers resulted from this landmark along the roadway to the metaphorical Zone.

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