Pastiches ‘R’ Us: Conan the Hunter

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

conan-the-hunterConan the Hunter
Sean A. Moore (Tor, 1993)

You know I’m getting busy in other parts of my life when I pull out another Conan pastiche review for you here at Black Gate. (I store them up in a locked chest to be used in emergencies.) I’ve so far looked at a book each from John Maddox Roberts, Leonard Carpenter, and Steve Perry. So now it’s time for one from Sean A. Moore.

First, a prologue. (Almost all Conan pastiches have prologues, so why not start a review with one?) There is a moment in Conan the Hunter where a palace gardener beats our hero unconscious. Incredibly, the book is not as completely horrible as that absolutely ridiculous statement would make it sound. But it just has to be one of the most unbelievable moments I’ve read in any Conan story. Go ahead, read that statement again. By Crom, I dare you not to laugh.

Now that I’ve set the tone, it is time to dive into the meat of Conan the Hunter, or at least the gristle.

This is the first Conan novel from Sean A. Moore. Like John C. Hocking, Moore came late to Tor’s pastiche series, and went on to pen a two more before the line went on hiatus. Judging from this outing, Moore’s strengths lie in crafting a clever, dense plot with immense, epic scope, and populating it with an imaginative flood of action and monsters. This novel bursts at the seams with supernatural menaces and crimson battles: A leech beast in the sewers. Hordes of gargoyles. Repugnant, horror-laden traps everywhere. An invincible demon-sorceress trying to revive her race. A cramped duel to the death in the corridors of a palace. A henchman with a magnetic lodestone for a shield. Nifty stuff all around, candy for a heroic fantasy reader.

Yet for all this material, Conan the Hunter can make for miserably slow going. Moore demonstrates two tremendous flaws that impede the novel and make it only sporadically entertaining and otherwise a chore to read.

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Black Gate 14 Game Reviews: Sneak Peek

Monday, November 16th, 2009 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

I just turned the game reviews over to John O’Neill. It’s the last section — save for the Knights of the Dinner Table art — that was needed to complete the upcoming issue, most of which John already has set up for the printer.

You may have noticed lately that all the game reviews are favorable. It’s not that we don’t find bad modules, it’s that we like to devote our rather limited space to describing goodies we think our readers would enjoy.

This time we’ve got a big review for Paizo’s impressive Pathfinder Role-Playing game core rulebook. The indefatigable Andrew Zimmerman Jones (no relation despite certain name similarities) dug in deep and then took the rules for a spin with several Paizo modules.

Vincent Darlage’s excellent Ruins of Hyboria was covered in detail by the EvilDM himself, Jeff Mejia, and I enlisted Vincent to write up some reviews of several Goodman Games products. Though not really a Dungeons and Dragons fan, he was quite taken with Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens, as well as the Cortex system from Margaret Weiss games.

New reviewer Robert Rowe took a long look at the Mongoose Games new Judge Dredd hardback.

I’m an unrepentant Traveller fan, so I was delighted to find much to like in the new Mongoose Traveller releases Aslan and Tripwire.  As sword-and-sorcery is my favorite genre, my heart was won by Legends of Steel. .

It’s a big issue, and I think you’ll like our broadselection of product reviews, among them info on an innovative science fiction game, Far Avalon, from one of my favorite game writers, and Shard, a nifty game Andrew stumbled across at Gen Con this year.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was a boardgame I’d been sent. I foolishly put off reviewing it until the last possible moment, never dreaming how much fun it would be to run with the family. I tested out the game with HeroScape’s new wave 9 products (I especially liked the Mohican Indians that came in two of the four expansion packets) heroscape2with my good friend [info]bthepilot and two young gamers I found loitering in my living room, and all four of us were converted. I’ll explain why inside the issue. I hope to cover HeroScape’s wave 10 products and their new Dungeons & Dragons playset in an upcoming issue. Be warned — I’ll probably do my best to convert all of you into players.

All of these products and more will be reviewed in depth in the upcoming issue of Black Gate, available in December. See you there!

–Howard Andrew Jones

Goth Chick News: Dracula the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker

Sunday, November 15th, 2009 | Posted by Sue Granquist

dracula2As far as I’m concerned, Christmas just came early.

Let’s be honest.  In my house, Christmas always comes early; usually on October 31st to be exact, and everything after that is just commercial fall-out.  However, I truly got a  horror-movie-opening-night, new-season-of-True-Blood-sized surprise to find that on October 13th the literary event of the century had slipped past me.  But I’m sure it’s because I was busy installing my life-sized, automated Specter of Death in the front yard to scare the crap out of the neighbor kids.  One can only multi-task so much.

One-hundred and twelve years after the original novel, Dracula the Un-Dead, just released in the United States, is a sequel to Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic.   Written by Dacre Stoker, the original author’s great-grandnephew, and co-written by Dracula historian Ian Holt, the book picks up 25 years after the Victorian-era monster was supposedly killed in the original.

Dracula the Un-Dead is based in part on 125 pages of handwritten notes left by Bram Stoker.  Of all the books, movies and other tales to use Dracula’s name throughout the decades, this is the first since the 1931 Bela Lugosi movie to have the Stoker family’s endorsement and input.

Needless to say, I violated several traffic laws and took out a couple of skate boarders getting to my local book store. It was a bit anti-climatic to find there was no Dracula the Un-Dead display up front, but it was prominently displayed in the horror section, and like Golem with his “precious” I clutched it in one hand (and clutched the steering wheel in the other) to get back here. 

And I thought the tickets I just bought to Adams Family – the Musical were going to be the pinnacle of the holiday season.  Oh please, PLEASE let it live up to the hype! 

Stay tuned!

Short Fiction Review #21 1/2: Intelligent (?) Design and the Godfall’s Chemsong by Jeremiah Tolbert

Saturday, November 14th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

interzone-224If there is a watch, then there must be a watchmaker. That’s the crux of the argument for intelligent design, that existence, and specifically you and me, are the result of some conscious creator. My main problem with this is the adjective “intelligent.” If I was designing existence, there’s a lot I’d leave out, like cancer or maggots or flatulence or Glenn Beck. Or that for certain kinds of life to continue and thrive, other life forms must suffer. Besides, this all begs the question of, if there is a designer (intelligent or otherwise), who created the designer?

Whether our universe was a random cosmic accident, the result of some higher consciousness declaring, “Let there be light,” Olaf Stapledon’s “Starmaker,” or a computer simulacrum created by another dimension of beings with a lot of bandwidth, who knows? And whatever we come up with as an explanation, most likely it is wrong.

Why? Well, the answer is in the Bible, though it’s not the answer religious fundamentalists tend to appreciate. In the Book of Job, God has plagued his good and loyal servant with one catastrophe after another. Job petitions for explanation. But Job’s friends keep telling him the explanation is obvious: Job must have offended God. Job insists he hasn’t. God gets tired of listening to all this, and appears before them and asks if any one of them ever created a deer, or the arch of the heavens. No one here except, God, right? Then stop being arrogant and thinking you have any idea of what God does or why he does it. It’s beyond your limited comprehension. You guys haven’t got the faintest clue.

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Clash of the Titans Remake Trailer

Friday, November 13th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

medusaI’m not going to say anything about how Hollywood hasn’t had an original thought since 1997. Or the absurdity of remaking films when they are going to be rewritten or re-imagined anyway. Or how most remakes turn into hyper-kinetic kaleidoscopes of eye-candy and dumb dialogue.

I’m not even going to say that this trailer makes the film look kinda cool. We’ll see come March 2010 if Clash can get by without a mechanical owl.

Link to the trailer at my site.

And, is it just me, or is Perseus staring directly at Medusa’s face in one scene? (edit: As has been pointed out to me it isn’t Perseus, but rather his cousin, Maurice.)
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.

Short Fiction (World) Beat

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

apex-digestFrom Jason Sizemore of Apex Magazine:

    This month we present a special “international” issue of our online
    magazine. Lavie Tidhar, editor of The Apex Book of World SF, guest
    edits this issue and brings us three excellent selections from around
    the globe. To round things out, Charles Tan interviews Malaysian
    author Tunku Halim and Lavie writes an editorial about the
    international genre scene.

    Editorial: “A Celebration of World SF” by Lavie Tidhar
    Interview: Tunku Halim by Charles Tan
    Short Fiction: “After the Fire” by Aliette de Bodard
    Short Fiction: “Benjamin Schneider’s Little Greys” by Nir Yaniv
    Short Fiction: “An Evening in the City Coffeehouse, With Lydia on My
    Mind” by Alexsandar Žiljak

Write-or-Die Spreads Fear Toxin from Your Desktop

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

ScarecrowMy novel-writing continues apace. Therefore, I shall be brief today. Or as brief as I possibly can.

Last year I did a series of posts about the “hi-tech lo-tech” devices that have emerged to help authors remove themselves from the distractions of today’s tech-crammed environment. The temptations that lure people away from writing seem to increase exponentially with each month, but these clever creations have found ways to use technology to create settings that don’t evoke technology, combining ease of use with the simple feeling of a clean sheet of typing paper. I’m as devoted this year as I was last year to the Alphasmart NEO and WriteRoom (which has a PC equivalent called DarkRoom), but I had reservations about the third lo-tech helper I discussed, Write-or-Die, the work of a certain Jeff “Dr. Wicked” Printy.

I blogged at the time that Write-or-Die wasn’t the sort of writing help that I needed: a web application that provides punishment if the writer did not continue to pound away at the keys in a steady beat. Many people love it, and claim they would never meet any of their daily deadlines without the program’s specter of terror, like the Scarecrow from Batman Begins hovering over them with his fear toxin, forcing them to dash forward. But I never found it that useful a tool—and I had a fear of losing my writing that was stronger than Write-or-Die’s punishments of annoying sounds and un-typing my last few words.

However, Dr. Wicked has a November present for writers: a desktop version of Write-or-Die, which he wrote using Adobe AIR so it runs on both PCs and Mac OS X. It isn’t free like the older online version, but Dr. Wicked asks for the modest fee of $10 for the application. If you find the online version immensely helpful, you’ll discover the desktop version doubly so because of its new features, and worth the investment.

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Short Fiction Review #21: Love in Infant Monkeys

Friday, November 6th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

43583086jpgWhile her work sometimes hints at the fantastic, Lydia Millet isn’t strictly speaking a fantasy writer, certainly not in the sense of questing elves or weird alternate universes, and certainly not as evidenced in her new short story collection, Love in Infant Monkeys.  Yet Millet’s work  is frequently mentioned in genre venues; indeed, one of the stories collected here, “Thomas Edison and Vasil Golakov,” (in which the famed inventor of light bulbs and power generation attains metaphysical illumination by continually re-running a film of a circus elephant’s seemingly Christ-like electrocution)previously appeared in Tin House Magazine’s Fantastic Women issue. I think this might be because her depiction of human relations is satirically weird, even though in these days of reality television and talk shows, that’s pretty much standard fare. As Tom Lehrer once lamented, it’s hard to make fun of something that is already so patently absurd.

Millet, however, takes the actual absurd and elevates it to a higher level of preposterousness, in the process depicting how humans in observing, caging, exploiting or otherwise interacting with undomesticated animals illustrate how evolution may be working backwards on the so-called higher species. Specifically, she extrapolates real-life occurrences between animals and real celebrities and  other well-known historical figures to illustrate human instincts for cruelty, self-centerness or just plain indifference, both to other  species as well as their own.

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Warhammer 40,000 Movie Announced

Friday, November 6th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

logo-ultramarinesChances are if you are at all interested in fantasy or science fiction books or games, you’ve at least brushed against Games Workshop’s ubiquitous Warhammer franchise. Warhammer comes in roughly two flavors, the fantasy version which is a Tolkien, D&D, and Moorcock mash-up, and the space opera version, called Warhammer 40,000. Taking place in the bleak world of the 41st millennium, with the tagline “In the grim darkness of the future there is only war,” Warhammer 40k is a violent world of warring factions, lost technology, dark and corrupting forces, fanaticism, and a medieval Gothic aesthetic. It is a universe where power armored soldiers charge into battle with chainsaw swords screaming religious oaths, millennia-old spaceships a mile long look more like Notre Dame Cathedral than the starship Enterprise, and daemonic forces and hostile races in the form of orks, ‘elves,’ and H.R. Geiger aliens erode the power of a moribund human civilization presided over by a nearly-dead God Emperor.

Fans of the setting — which has slipped the moorings of miniature wargaming to include a fecund book publishing arm and a series of extremely popular and acclaimed video games — will be happy at the long overdue announcement that Warhammer 40,000 will be getting its first film, an animated/CGI straight to DVD production entitled Ultramarines (turn your speakers down if you click that link). Well, it’s about time — if the rather obscure Warzone/Mutant Chronicles can get its own film, it’s rather surprising that it has taken so long for such a visible and demonstrably bankable property such as 40k to enter the film arena.

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Time Has Come Today

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

I’m short on time and words today, but I didn’t want to fall into a slack habit of not posting, so here’s something freakishly weird and wonderful that’s been around for well over a year, but I didn’t know about until a few jumps of the grasshopper ago: the Corpus Clock or Chronophage.

I guess this is in honor of those wrestling with NaNoWriMo… or any of us who are writing on deadlines these days.

[The grasshopper waits beyond the jump, or vice versa.]

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