Wolfe’s lost road: Discovering an author’s personal essay on J.R.R. Tolkien

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Brian Murphy

gene-wolfe-1Freedom, love of neighbour, and personal responsibility are steep slopes; he could not climb them for us—we must do that ourselves. But he has shown us the road and the reward.

–Gene Wolfe, “The Best Introduction to the Mountains”

J.R.R. Tolkien has so many readers, and his works have become so pervasive in the broader culture, that coming to his defense hardly seems necessary anymore. Haven’t we established Tolkien’s credentials by now? Magazines like Time have selected The Lord of the Rings as one of the top 100 novels ever written, according to Wikipedia it’s one of the top 10 best-selling books of all time with 150 million copies sold, and the movies upon which it’s based won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Tolkien has made it onto several college syllabi and there are academic journals and numerous critical studies devoted to his works, including Tom Shippey’s par excellence works Author of the Century and The Road to Middle-Earth.

But someone always comes along to attack Tolkien on the basis of his conservatism or religion, his perceived racism, and/or the perceived shallowness/non-literary nature of The Lord of the Rings, and I’m reminded of why we need to vigilant. For example, David Brin of Salon.com, Science fiction/fantasy author Richard Morgan (author of The Steel Remains), and Philip Pullman (author of the His Dark Materials trilogy) have all taken shots at The Lord of the Rings and/or Tolkien himself in recent years, calling him outdated and dangerously conservative (Brin), a refuge for 12-year-olds and adults who have never grown up (Morgan), and shrunken and diminished by his Catholicism (Pullman).

Now I’m not saying Tolkien is above criticism, but critics like Brin and Morgan have essentially gutted The Lord of the Rings, attacking it on an existential basis and more or less claiming it should be placed in the dustbin of history. When people take aim at classics like Ulysses or Moby Dick you rarely see criticism elevated to the level of calling into question the very existence of these works. Yet Tolkien criticism for whatever reason frequently ascends to shrill peaks of outrage.

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Luke Reviews looks at Black Gate 14, Part III

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

lasenorodleoro-277Luke Forney wraps up his detailed, three-part examination of Black Gate 14 with a look back at Part II:

The novellas really took the cake for the middle section, and had me really excited about the last part of this juggernaut of a magazine.

In the closing section he singles out “La Señora de Oro” by R.L. Roth:

This epistolary tale of a man out seeking gold to buy his farm from the bank is very engaging, playing with some nice horror themes, and really drawing out the protagonist’s character. The story races to a conclusion that was plenty rewarding.

And “Building Character” by Tom Sneem:

An entertaining tale of a character being run through a novice writer’s series of stories, this one manages to be both engaging and funny. A nice piece to build towards the end.

He closes coverage of the issue with:

The volume wraps up, as usual, with a Knights of the Dinner Table: The Java Joint comic strip, in which one of the characters plans on confronting Neil Gaiman for stealing his ideas. The extra-long strip was a fun way to close such a large issue, and manages to be plenty funny.

You can find the complete text of Part III here; Part I and Part Two are also still available. The complete TOC for Black Gate 14 is here.

Art by Malcolm McClinton for “La Señora de Oro.”

Goth Chick News: I Can’t Believe I’m Writing This, But…

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Sue Granquist

rocky-horror2No seriously, I can’t believe I’m writing this. But here goes.

I live next door to a twenty-something, just out of college couple I’ve referred to here before as “Mr. and Mrs. Disney.” Though you probably wouldn’t immediately come to this conclusion, I am truly fond of them; I just think they’re a little too cute together, and they think I’m personally responsible for knocking out Sleeping Beauty and Snow White (with a spindle and an apple, respectively).

That being said, they are generally pretty tuned into pop culture — they even attended last year’s Chicago ComicCon, along with several movie and sci-fi conventions. It is in this context that I plan to couch my mortification.

A week ago Mr. and Mrs. Disney showed up on my doorstep in a driving rain to return some borrowed items. Side-by-side as always, they stood there on the stoop sharing an open newspaper as a makeshift umbrella, and when I opened the door I couldn’t help myself. I broke out into the first verse of “There’s A Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)” and Mr. and Mrs. Disney’s starred at me like I had bats crawling out of my ears. They asked me why I was singing to them; was it like a “Singing in the Rain” thing?

The reality of what I was facing started sinking in, but slowly.

“No, it’s just that the two of you standing there under an open piece of newspaper in the rain made you look like Brad and Janet.”

Blank stares. This can’t be happening.

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E-Books surpass hardcover sales on Amazon.com

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

kindleOn Monday Amazon.com announced that sales of electronic versions of books outsold hardcovers for the past three months.

Amazon sells books for its electronic reader, the Kindle.  It said that for every 100 hardcover books it sold, it sold 143 Kindle books. That’s a lot of electronic reading.

The sales Amazon is reporting don’t include  books sold for Apple’s iPad, which went on sale in April (those are sold exclusively by Apple).  It also doesn’t include free Kindle books, meaning the total number of electronic books being read could be significantly higher.

Don’t panic, print lovers. The American Publishers Association reports industrywide sales for hardcovers are up 22% this year. 

That just can’t compete with the reported quadrupling of sales in eBooks of all kinds, which occurred between January and May.

The lowly paperback, of course, continues to outsell all other formats. For now.

Genre pundits have already begun to weigh in — Andrew Wheeler has an interesting analysis of Amazon’s rather funky algebra here.

Stay tuned to Black Gate for continuing coverage of the coming Luddite Apocalypse.


Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 | Posted by John R. Fultz

dunsany“If any man wishes to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts…”

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
–Anton Chekhov

“A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.”
–W. Somerset Maugham


The five basic Elements of Fiction are character, plot, setting, theme, and style. In a previous post I added Originality to this list, especially when it comes to Fantasy Fiction. This time around I’d like to talk about Style…what it is, why it’s important, and most importantly how to get one.

Style is important in all kinds of writing, but Fantasy has its own stylistic demands. Very few people alive today are experts at writing in Old English, Middle English, or other antique forms of language. And what’s more, very few readers want to read stories/book written in such a style.

Consider this passage from E. R. Eddison’s fantasy masterpiece, THE WORM OUROBOROS:

“Then befell great manslaying between the sea-cliffs and the sea. The Demons, taken at that advantage, were like a man tripped in mid-stride by a rope across the way. By the sore onset of the Witches they were driven down into the shallows of the sea, and the spume of the sea was red with blood. And the Lord Corinius, now that he had done with feigned retreat, fared through the battle like a stream of unquenchable wildfire, that none might sustain his strokes that were about him.”

worm1For those of us who relish Shakespeare and thrill to antique forms of language, this brilliant passage is highly enjoyable. Yet there is no doubt that its style is vastly outdated and many modern readers would shy away from this fantastic novel simply because of its weight of style and ponderous language. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but keep in mind that Eddison published his masterwork way back in 1922. Although beautiful and perfect for the feel of high fantasy, that language just doesn’t fly today…unless you’re staging a production of HAMLET.

Instead of antique language, today’s fantasy demands a certain timelessness of language. That’s where the writer’s Style means everything.

There’s on old show-biz joke that goes: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The punch line: “Practice.” It’s much the same with Style. The absolute WORST thing you can do as a young/beginning writer is consciously emulate someone’s style. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is NOT the best route to great writing. Style comes mainly from a writer’s subconscious and natural tendencies…it is as distinctive as a thumbprint and it can change over time. We all change as we grow, learn, and develop in life, and so it’s only perfectly natural for our writing style to change.

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Black Gate subscriptions to increase to $39.95 on August 15th

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

bg_3-277As previously announced, Black Gate subscriptions will increase from $29.95 to $39.95 for four issues, starting August 15.

Why the increase? Frankly, it’s time to renovate the Black Gate rooftop headquarters, and all that crime-fighting equipment doesn’t come cheap.

Plus, what’s with postage costs?  When we started the magazine ten years ago, it cost roughly $1.70 to send the magazine to US destinations, Media Mail.  Now that’s risen to $2.77, or almost $12  for four issues, including packaging. When the new crime-fighting supercomputer arrives, first thing on the agenda is ferreting out the crimelords in the US Post Office.

All that means we see about $18 from every $29.95 subscription.  With our new larger size and cover price (BG 14 was $15.95), even the old steam-driven computer was able to point out that selling four issues for $18 just wasn’t going to cover all that French mineral water Howard keeps ordering.

The good news is that the magazine has grown substantially in size. We don’t promise that each issue will be as large as BG 14 (384 pages), but future issues will boast an increased page count and be priced at $12.95.

Best of all, until August 15 we’ll honor the old subscription price of $29.95 for four issues.  So if you’ve been considering a subscription, now’s the time to take action.

Back issues will also increase to $12.95/copy, but until August 15 any four back issues are available for just $29.95 as part of our Back Issue Sale .

As always, we deeply value your support. And if you’ve got a used portable forensics labs, we’re in the market.

This Review Is the Scene of the Crime: Inception

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

inception-city-posterInception (2010)
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, Tom Berenger.

You expected a review of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, didn’t you? I respect Dukas and Goethe too much for that. As apparently does the rest of the nation, since over the weekend the film made roughly the amount of change found in the lint catcher of the dryer.

Inception right now is the movie conversation. No matter what else occurs in cinema during 2010 (Tron Legacy! So hyped for that), this will known as the year of Inception. Even if We Make Contact. Inception is guaranteed to become a speculative-fiction classic that will sit on the same shelf with Metropolis, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, The Terminator, The Matrix, et al.

What? Did you think I was going to go against the grain of critical and viewer opinion that has almost cased and mounted Inception in the Hall of Fame?

I’m not. I can’t. The movie deserves every accolade it has received. I don’t even think there can possibly be a fan-backlash against it like there was with Avatar. Inception is as good as you’ve heard it is, and for many of you, it might even be far better.

But don’t walk into the theater with expectations, or even that much knowledge about it. Writer-director Christopher Nolan remained closed-mouth about the film in the build toward its premiere, which was the perfect approach. Inception isn’t exactly a “twist” movie (Bruce Willis was dead all along!), but it is a film of the constant escalation of surprise. Its story continues to plunge deeper and deeper, turning more complex with each passing scene, where the stories of most movie strip away complications as they head toward their finales. It’s a reversal that recalls Nolan’s second movie, the breakthrough Memento, but Inception is much more intricate in design. Hell, it makes Memento seem linear! Therefore, even though Inception can’t be spoiled with a single sentence the way you might spoil The Crying Game, it’s still best if you know as few details about the plot as possible or any of the specific scenes before you go in.

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A Review of The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

Monday, July 19th, 2010 | Posted by Isabel Pelech

hero-and-the-crownThe Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Ace Books (240 pages, $6.99, 1987)

Almost two decades before The Hero and the Crown begins, we are told, a witch seduced the king of Damar.

She married him, bore a child, and then died of disappointment when the child turned out to be a girl, unlikely to take the throne and fulfill her ambitions. Or, at least, that’s the version of the story that everyone knows.

The protagonist of the story is that daughter, a young woman named Aerin. I have to admit to some positive prejudice here: the maladjusted princess is a favorite archetype of mine, and Aerin fits it perfectly. Awkward, prickly, shy, taller than all the other women around her, an outsider in her own family and to her own court — it’s even mentioned that her embroidery is lousy, which has gotten to be a little bit of a cliché.

But she’s also determined, kind, brave, and — interestingly — thinks very scientifically for a quasi-medieval person, so even if you don’t like princesses with problems, I believe she’s a relatable hero.

Shortly after the story begins, we get an extended flashback explaining how she came to her current place in life. At fifteen, Aerin hadn’t yet manifested the magical gifts that mark Damarian royalty. To prove to her cousin Galanna that she truly had royal blood, she ate some leaves from a plant that was supposed to be deadly poison to all those outside the royal family — and nearly killed herself.

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Exploring Fantasy in Metal, Part II: Six Albums In the Dark of Night

Sunday, July 18th, 2010 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

metal-dragonflameOnce upon a time, on a dark winter’s night, a black-clad adventurer came to my apartment to tutor me in the ways of Heavy Metal. Such Metal, that is, as pertained to my favorite genre ever, Fantasy. The long and fraught road leading to this nocturnal excursion can be found here, if you care for a saga’s beginnings.

So there we were. We sat on the floor of my bedroom. I was nervous and babbling; he was amused and patient. Before us like a Tarot spread: six CDs, each with songs or themes based in the fantastical or epic.

The night was long, but not infinite. Neither were my powers of concentration, my will, or my bladder.

In order to preserve my sanity, I asked Metal Master Sam to choose one or two songs from each of the six albums that best typified the whole. I felt a little guilty making him do all the work, but we had to focus.

Focus we did. We listened to two songs on every album but The Odyssey. We only listened to Track 8, “The Odyssey” on “The Odyssey,” because it was perforce very long. One cannot, after all, embark on only part of an Odyssey. It’s unseemly. More on that later.

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Torg and Marvel Super Heroes: The shared vocabulary of stories

Sunday, July 18th, 2010 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

marvel-supers-4John O’Neill’s editorial in Black Gate 14 touched on gaming, on wargaming and role-playing, and on the way these things shaped the way friends interact. It hit home for me, because I recognised in my life much the same sort of phenomenon John described in his own.

I didn’t play Nova, the game he and many of his friends played as a sort of long-form creative wargaming campaign. I did play, and in one case referee, long-running role-playing campaigns that gave everybody who took part a special vocabulary, a shared set of touchstones and references that (I think) acquired a particular power from being our own: our own stories, independent from the culture at large, shaped by us and our choices.

I was about seventeen when I met a group of role-playing gamers who’d created their own world for the Marvel Super-Heroes role-playing system. I think the game had been going on for something like eight years at the point I met them, and it’s still going today. (Jeff Grubb has a thoughtful reminiscence on the secret origins of MSH here.)

The world, as such, was not and is not stable; it has been re-invented several times over, as campaigns and storylines begin and end (and, this being a super-hero game, occasionally lead to a reboot of the timeline in the course of play), sometimes incorporating actual comic-book characters and sometimes not, but always using many of the same heroes and villains created by our group of gamers.

The characters were, are, the essence of the game; not their histories, but their concepts, and if you played in that world you could add something to it that would become a part of the ongoing tale.

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