PULP LITERATURE: How about some wisdom with your fantasy?

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 | Posted by John R. Fultz


The three books of the PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy. Fantasy that goes beyond entertainment and achieves enlightenment. Or at least challenges the reader's grasp of reality.

One of my favorite modern writers of fantasy is R. Scott Bakker. His PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy absolutely blew my skull a few years back, and his latest book in that continuing saga is THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR, due to be released in Spring 2011.

I’ve been singing the praises of Bakker’s fantasy work for awhile now. His is a fantasy on the scale of Tolkien without stealing any of the usual tropes that go with that scale. His work is brilliant, illuminating, and challenging. In short, it is literary fantasy…i.e. fantasy with literary qualities. “What exactly does that mean?” I hear somebody asking. Well, here’s what I tell my students on the first day of any literature class: Literature is a written work of art that explores what it means to be human.

Literature allows us to view human nature, i.e. the human condition, through the lens of the written word. And the real magic is that good literature transcends time and space. Shakespeare, for instance, is still shedding light on the human condition even though he wrote 500 years ago. But literature is not just for the glimmering “elite” in their ivy-grown universities and ivory towers. Bakker’s fantasies do exactly what great literature does, while remaining tremendously entertaining.

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James Bond vs. the Giant Squid: Pulp 007 in Doctor No

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

giant-squidMania, my dear Mister Bond, is as priceless as genius.

Some time ago in the earlier days of the Black Gate blog, E. E. Knight wrote a post about the James Bond movies as classic fantasies. No argument here—especially when I consider things like The Spy Who Loved Me and Bond-drives-an-invisible-car Die Another Day.

However, the conventional wisdom about the divide between the long-running movie franchise and the series of novels and short stories that Ian Fleming wrote in the fifties and sixties is that Fleming is the realistic, grim, down-to-earth Bond, where the movies are outrageous action-filled rides.

I’m a hardcore Bond fan, but unlike most Bondians my age (born into the ‘70s and Roger Moore’s tenure) I grew up on Fleming’s Bond, not cinema’s. I read all the novels for the first time in junior high school, and at that point had only watched perhaps three of the movies. I ended up approaching the film series from the perspective of a Fleming Purist. This doesn’t mean I flip out when anything un-Fleming occurs in the movies—for Apollo’s sake, I actually get a kick out of the Space Opera/Chuck Jones cartoon called Moonraker—but it does mean I have a very different lens on than film series than even most serious Bond fans.

And here’s something I’ve learned over the years from watching the films series develop and tracing the history of the earlier movies (Goldfinger is my favorite of the movies, in case you’re interested): Fleming ain’t realistic. His novels are extremely romanticized views of espionage life, and were thought so at the time. Read John le Carré’s extraordinary The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, meant as an answer to Fleming’s spy-romances, and you’ll immediately see what flights of fantasy Fleming really took with his super-spy. Compared to many of the movies, the novels Casino Royale and From Russia, With Love seem relatively believable, but they are still escapist romances.

Here’s the key difference between the escapism of the films and the books: The movies are fantasies. The novels are pulp adventure—almost literally so.

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A review of Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Monday, June 28th, 2010 | Posted by Todd Ruthman


Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Roc (592 pages, $26.95, April 2010)

We don’t have that many rituals in our home. One is the creeping countdown to Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest novel. I am always a little sad when it finally comes, though, because it means years before I will see his next one.

If you liked Tigana or The Sarantine Mosaic, you will like Under Heaven. If you have not read Kay before, then do. But don’t start with Under Heaven. It’s one of his best, but you’ll want to save it for last.

Start with Tigana, then maybe A Song for Arbonne and The Lions of Al-Rassan. Jump to The Last Light of the Sun (or skip it entirely) and then go back for the two volume The Sarantine Mosaic (his second best). Then, and only then, should you read Under Heaven*.

Kay’s efforts have definitely improved with time.  A big part of that is no two stories are  in the same place, or use the same characters. I recently whipped through Jim Butchers’ twelfth Dresden installment, and am eager to read the upcoming sixth Temeraire dragon novel by Naomi Novik. Both series are fun, likely lucrative, and the authors pump out new adventures every year or two. But I sometimes wonder if they and other fantasy series novelists are a little jealous of GGK’s apparent freedom to always work on new ideas.

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Fantasy and the Mondiale

Sunday, June 27th, 2010 | Posted by Theo

Carlos Tévez

Carlos Tévez

Long ago, before I moved to Europe, I wrote a story that was the sports version of the Fantasy Noir trope. It wasn’t very good, and after living through my first European Cup tournament in Italy, I realized that the most outlandish aspects of the fictional tale didn’t half live up to the absurd reality of a fortnight dedicated to dozens of international calcio games watched by very enthusiastic tifosi who were imbibing vast quantities of alchohol.

Even those who don’t follow the sport avidly during the professional season get caught up in the nationalistic elements; as the wry English joke has it, why shouldn’t the Germans beat them at their national game, when the English always beat the Germans at theirs? 

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Judgment Night: Space Opera and More From One of the Female Pioneers of the Genre

Sunday, June 27th, 2010 | Posted by Paul Di Filippo

judgFamed with her husband Henry Kuttner for turning out superlatively compelling and complex stories for the pulps, both jointly and singly, Catherine Moore began writing in 1933.

But she had to wait nearly twenty years for any of her fine tales to achieve single-author book form, and the volume under discussion today is the long-awaited result. It contains five stories — one actually a short novel — from the pages of John W. Campbell’s Golden Age and Silver Age  Astounding.

The title piece is the novel, from 1943. A primal space opera, it concerns the star empire of the Lyonese, whose central world is Ericon, where ancient patron gods live, remote from day-to-day affairs of the empire.

But now the vast holdings of the Lyonese are crumbling under the assault of a younger race, the H’vani. The Emperor’s heir is Juille, a daughter, and she’s determined her dynasty will continue. She wages a one-woman campaign against the wishes of her doddering father to save all that her ancestors built.

But she doesn’t count on falling in love with the H’vani ruler — or the machinations of Ericon’s living deities.

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Black Gate 14 Sneak Peek: “Building Character” by Tom Sneem

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

buildingcharacter277It’s hard to be a modern hero. Especially when the author can’t make up his mind.

Instead of going back to the church, I start to open the car door. But half way open it becomes difficult, like pulling against a great weight. The weight of an author’s stubbornness. The Kid really wants me to go back. I brace one foot against the car and with both hands on the handle, lean back, my force against the Kid’s. And we are locked in a tug of war. But then I hear strange voices coming down the path. The Kid has released the ghouls.

Tom Sneem lives in a small cottage on the west coast of Ireland where he writes a variety of fiction.

“Building Character” appears in Black Gate 14. You can read a more complete excerpt here. The complete Black Gate 14 Sneak Peek is available here.

Art by Bernie Mireault.

Locus magazine announces the 2010 Locus Awards Winners

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

boneshaker2The 2010 Locus Awards winners were announced today, at the annual Science Fiction Awards Weekend in Seattle. The winners include:

     Best SF Novel: Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor)
     Best Fantasy Novel: The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
     Best First Novel: The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
     Best Young Adult Book: Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)
     Best Novella: ‘‘The Women of Nell Gwynne’s,’’ Kage Baker (Subterranean)
     Best Novelette: ‘‘By Moonlight,’’ Peter S. Beagle (We Never Talk About My Brother)
     Best Short Story: ‘‘An Invocation of Incuriosity,’’ Neil Gaiman (Songs of the Dying Earth)
     Best Anthology:  The New Space Opera 2, Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan, eds. (Eos; HarperCollins Australia)
     Best Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

The Locus Award has been presented annually since 1971. It’s given to winners of Locus magazine’s annual readers’ poll. You can find the complete list of winners at Locus Online.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Essential Short Fiction

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 | Posted by Soyka

deathbirdstoriesSf Signal has an interesting discussion going on.067976783501_sclzzzzzzz_sl200_

What single-author, non-“Best-of” collections of sf/f/h stories should be in every fan’s library? You may choose between 1 and 10 titles.

Once again, the gaps in my own reading are extensive.

Classic Horror Games of the 1980s: Alma Mater

Friday, June 25th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

alma-mater2Over at Grognardia, James Maliszewski has posted a retrospective review of one of my favorite RPG relics, Oracle Game’s Alma Mater, the role playing game of high school life in the 1970s.

And I do mean relic. I collect role playing games and, after nearly two decades of fruitless searching, I finally gave up and paid an outrageous sum for an unused copy on eBay a few years ago. It was the last significant RPG title from the era I didn’t own.

It was worth it.  Alma Mater was notorious when it was released in 1982, and it retained much of that notoriety through the years.  It was banned from Gencon by TSR, and well-known artist and editor Liz Danforth wrote a famously scathing editorial in Sorcerers Apprentice magazine attacking the game.

Today though, Alma Mater is chiefly remembered for its artwork, by old-school TSR artist Erol Otus (who did the classic cover for Deities & Demigods, and interior artwork for the AD&D Monster Manual, among many others).  The content of the game itself, as you’d doubtless expect, is fairly tame by modern standards, but the artwork can still raise eyebrows. You can see much of it collected at the Cyclopeatron blog.

I’ve never played the game. Not a lot of people did, as a matter of fact — it quickly vanished, despite (or perhaps because of) all the publicity. Hence its relatively scarcity today, and the delight it still brings to bloodless eBay vulture sellers, may they suffer a thousand deaths.

I’m not sure why more game companies didn’t stumble on this idea — it seems completely natural to me now.  Let’s be honest; not much scares me any more.  My senior biology teacher, Ms. Bray?  She still scares me.

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Goth Chick News: Video Killed the Radio Star

Thursday, June 24th, 2010 | Posted by Sue Granquist

inner-sanctumI’ve always been most terrified by the stuff I’ve never even seen. I’ve screamed my way through ghost hunting expeditions having never once actually laid eyes on an apparition of any kind. Jaws is one of my favorite movies, mainly for the scenes when you know the shark is somewhere just outside your line of sight, and I have read books that have made me afraid to have any part of me not under the covers once I’m in bed, for days on end.

It is universally true that what you imagine is exponentially more horrible than the reality, which is why hack-and-slash movies copiously strewn with limbs and drenched in bodily fluids have never done it for me.

It’s no surprise then, that I’ve recently become addicted to the “theater of the mind” known as classic radio.

Having repeatedly watched the movie A Christmas Story, where little Ralphie makes a bee-line to the enormous living room radio to listen to “Little Orphan Annie,” I was aware that radio serials predated television. But it wasn’t until channel surfing on my satellite radio one day that I stopped on a station, and hearing Peter Lorre’s voice, fell hopelessly in love.

No, not with Peter Lorre. I’ve been in love with him since reruns of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “Tales of Terror.” What I fell in love with was an old time radio drama called The Inner Sanctum, and I had to know more.

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