Black Gate Zeppelin to Dragon*Con Update 5: It’s too Hideous

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 | Posted by Todd McAulty

The Harold Lamb approaches Caracas to ask for directions

The Harold Lamb approaches Caracas to ask for directions.

Oh God. Oh, God.   Lovecraft was right.  Things that are seen, cannot be unseen.

So I thought I’d have a private cabin on this flying death-trap Howard Andrew Jones has poetically named The Harold Lamb, but no.  That’s reserved for important bloggers, like Sue “Goth Chick” Granquist, and our fancy pilot, Bill Ward.  During our trip to Atlanta, I’m stuck down here in engineering, sharing a tiny cabin with Jason Waltz and John Woolley.  They’re good guys, but for the past two days they’ve been laughing about some private joke.  This morning, when I was finally done shoveling coal into the engines, I asked them to let me in on it.

They share a glance, and then Woolley moves a little closer, his voice lowered.  “Okay,” he says. “You know how naive editor John O’Neill is, right?”

Well, yeah.  He’s a Canadian, he trusts everyone.  I nod, and Woolley continues: “He’s never been to Dragon*Con before.  Yesterday he asks me and Jason about it.  What he should expect, stuff like that.  So I tell him, it’s tradition to dress up as Princess Leia — that wins everyone over. And he totally falls for it.”

I chuckle.  That sounds like John.  Right now he’s probably in the stores, cutting up sheets to make a white princess dress.  But before I can comment, Jason adds: “That’s not the worst part. Yesterday I heard him asking Howard about those illegal genetic samples we picked up when we raided Dr. Zarius’ polar labs.  He took two back to his room.”

“Wait,” I say, with mounting horror. “O’Neill’s not crazy enough to experiment with those…. is he? They can change you, in ways you’d never imagine.” I can see in John’s and Jason’s faces that they’ve suddenly come to the same dread conclusion I have.  In moments, the three of us are pounding on the door to O’Neill’s cabin.

“Go away!” he shouts from inside.  But his voice…. it’s changed.  Changed in indescribable ways.

“We’ve got to break down this door,” Woolley says fervently, grabbing a crow bar.  Jason helps him, but I start to back away.  I know, with absolute mounting horror, what we’ll find when we open that door.  It can’t be… it can’t be… but I know that it will be.  And I can feel my very sanity slipping away… just as I hear the door crash open, and the screaming begins, as John and Jason look upon the horror within…

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Get Wasted in the Desert, Mad Max-Style

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

mad-max-chaseNo deals . . . I want to drive the truck.

I love to study the Middle Ages, but I don’t participate in the Society for Creative Anachronisms. I am a Godzilla and kaiju movie fanatic, but I have no interest in collecting Bandini toys and other figurines. I am all for free artistic expression and community, but I wouldn’t go to Burning Man.

However . . . I might wander out into the wastelands, into some blighted and desolate place, to learn to live again . . . if it means post-apocalyptic cars, Bartertown, and the re-creation of the tanker chase from The Road Warrior.

Somebody finally figured out that there’s a market out there for the Mad Max fanatics and other folks who decided that Burning Man doesn’t blow up enough crap or feature enough motorcycle marauders and crushed limbs. In fact, the article that originally brought my attention to this celebration of geekdom gone decidedly deadly is titled: “Screw Burning Man: This Year’s Greatest Desert Festival is a Three-Day Mad Max Reenactment.”

I love that movie fandom re-creations have such extremes. Imagine a collision between this and a Harry Potter convention. Does Harry have a spell that will let him saw through his ankle in less than five minutes? Go!

Honestly, I really wouldn’t go to Wasteland Weekend, because it requires Mad Max-themed costumes and cars, and I possess neither. My idea of “dress up” is vintage 1930s suits. I’m also not much for camping, and this is extreme “roughing it”—post-apocalypse roughing it. But I can see a slightly altered universe where I would drop everything on my schedule and rush out to the Southern California Desert (wait, I already live here . . .) for October 22–24 to witness a re-creation of George Miller’s legendary ruined world from the film trilogy that re-wrote the rules of the “post-apocalypse” film for all time.

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A review of Chase the Morning, by Michael Scott Rohan

Monday, August 30th, 2010 | Posted by Isabel Pelech

chaseSteve is a very normal man, perhaps even a bit boring. He works at an English shipping company, handling inventories and looking forward to a career in politics once he climbs the business ladder as far as it will take him. One day, for no particular reason, a sudden fit of discontent sends him down to the docks looking for something different, perhaps a restaurant he hasn’t visited. In an alley, he sees a man being attacked . . .

Chase the Morning, by Michael Scott Rohan, doesn’t have all that much in common with modern urban fantasies like The Dresden Files. It does, however, feature a magic world hiding in the shadows and back streets of this one, so it may fit the category. The setting of Chase the Morning is easily my favorite part of the book — not because the rest of the book is bad, but because the setting touches my sense of wonder.

It’s nicely built up, too. The man Steve rescues is named Jyp, and as Steve’s wounds are stitched up in an old-fashioned gaslit pub, Jyp casually discusses his ship’s exotic cargo: black lotus, conqueror root, merhorse hide. But the pub proves elusive the next time Steve searches for it, the sailing ships he saw at the dock don’t exist, and as for the cargo, Steve actually finds it in his computer — on a ship from 1868. Ass he slips in and out of the mundane world, he keeps seeing an illusory landscape in the clouds — the same landscape. The magical world starts intruding into Steve’s world, to find out who he is and why he’s interfering; this culminates in the kidnapping of his secretary, Clare, by not-quite-human savages called Wolves. In search of Clare, in search of Jyp’s help, he manages to locate the magical version of the docks, the one that’s packed with sailing ships from all eras. And then, too desperate to be skeptical, he watches a ship sail off into the sky, into the landscape of clouds.

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Die Hard With Avatars: A review of Surrogates

Monday, August 30th, 2010 | Posted by George R. Morgan

surrogates-dvdEarly on in this film we see Bruce Willis with hair and looking young, and not Die-Hard bashed up, and we wonder absently if this time he’ll actually finish the film as scar-free as he began it. The Willis we begin with is quickly established as a ‘surrogate,’ the robot avatar of the real Willis character, Tom Greer, and it doesn’t take long for both Greer and his surrogate to get bashed up in familiar form.

The problem for the inhabitants of near-future Boston — as well as of the rest of the world — is that mind-boggling economies of production have resulted in custom made, universally affordable, avatars brought to market for just about anyone who wants one, and now real people are vegetating alone in their homes while vicariously carrying on social interaction with each other through their surrogates.

The two inventors have had a falling out as to how much of a good thing surrogates really are. The ousted partner, Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) has decided they are robbing humankind of their humanity and has taken steps to sink the business.

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Black Gate Zeppelin to Dragon*Con Update Episode 4: Boys Smell

Monday, August 30th, 2010 | Posted by Sue Granquist

zeppelin-girl1On the whole, I’m not opposed to traveling with boys. Generally speaking they are amusing companions particularly when refusing to ask directions, thereby winding you through mildly interesting places while attempting to locate the desired destination sans MapQuest. Along the route, in an effort to distract their hapless passengers from all the pointless meandering, they can generally be counted on for lively and revealing conversation about former girlfriends, prior arrests and entirely icky things done in frat houses; all of which become prime blackmail fodder for later use.

Therefore, I did not immediately dismiss Howard’s idea of coming along on a road-trip to the Atlanta Dragon*Con in the Black Gate zeppelin via the Canadian Rockies, Baja and Rhode Island. Frankly by the normal standards, it’s about as much planning as I’ve ever know these boys to do. Besides, just seeing the look on John’s face when he heard the whole plan would have been more than enough incentive in and of itself, but when I learned the zeppelin had enough cargo space to house the new batch of interns plus my blender, I was in.

Now several days into the trip we are, of course, hopelessly astray of the original brilliantly planned route, E.E. Knight keeps going on and on about the steaks at Le Cheveux Club Pour Les Hommes and how big his Mauser is, and in an attempt to get cell coverage John insists on going topside in spite of the turbulence, then throwing up over what I hope is Cleveland but at this point could just as easily be New Mexico.

And the overall conditions in this zeppelin are starting to deteriorate.

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Worlds Within Worlds: The First Heroic Fantasy (Part I)

Sunday, August 29th, 2010 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

William MorrisWho was the first person to write high fantasy?

It seems like a simple enough question. By “high fantasy” I mean a story set in a world that is not this one. John Clute, in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, defines high fantasies as stories “set in otherworlds, specifically secondary worlds, and which deal with matters affecting the destiny of those worlds.” In this definition, ‘Secondary worlds’ is Tolkien’s useful term for a fictional, self-consistent world with its own geography and history.

There’s a bit of ambiguity here, though. A secondary world is not necessarily a wholly other world. Tolkien intended his world of Arda to represent this world in a mythic, pre-historic time. Similarly, Robert E. Howard’s stories of Conan and Kull were meant to take place before the dawn of recorded history, and even most (if not all) of Clark Ashton Smith’s stories are given a precise relation to reality. In fact, Smith locates his stories almost everywhere in the existing universe that a fantasy could conceivably be placed: in the past (Hyperborea, Poseidonis), in the far future (Zothique), on other worlds known (Mars) or unknown (Xiccarph).

These choices of settings justify the fantasy. They explain how the fantasy can be imagined to exist, and make suspension of disbelief easier by linking the fantasy to reality. They frame the fantasy, if you like, in a connection to the real. That’s interesting, but it makes you wonder who the first person was that discarded the frame, and stepped wholly outside of reality. Or, to reframe my original question: who was the first person to come up with the idea of setting a story entirely in a world that is not our own? Who told the first story that had no link to the real world?

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Bull Spec #2: A Magazine of Speculative Fiction

Sunday, August 29th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

bullspec2aThe second issue of Bull Spec, Samuel Montgomery-Blinn’s quarterly print magazine of Speculative Fiction, arrived last week, with a spectacular cover by Vladimir Krizan.

I asked Samuel to give a quick rundown of the contents for us, and he delivered with style:

Greetings, fantasy adventurers of Black Gate! Bull Spec #2 was published on July 13, with original short speculative fiction ranging from far future science fiction on distant worlds, to a near future science fiction NYC, to a fantasy take on naga mythology. And there’s Kaolin Fire’s “By the Dragon’s Tail” which follows a broken man from a soothsayer’s table to his journey into a volcano’s mouth in search of… well, you might be able to guess by the title, eh? There’s an essay from John Kessel on posthuman ethics, in-depth interviews touching on subjects including non-narrative game design and even Wagner’s operas, and, of course, the serialized graphic story “Closed System” which features a scientist who travels through time. On a motorcycle chassis. Grafted onto a giant ape head. Black Gate folks might also be interested in a darkly fantastic bit of poetry, “The Torturer’s Boy” by J.P. Wickwire. And the cover. Thank you, Vladimir Krizan! It’s available in print (yes, print! in this day and age!) and DRM-free, pay-what-you-want PDF.

You had me at “giant ape head.” And I’m still jealous of that cover. Copies of Bull Spec #2 can be ordered from their website.

The Collecting Game: Urban Legends and What Entropy Means to Me

Sunday, August 29th, 2010 | Posted by Darrell Schweitzer

entropy2There are indeed urban legends at work in the Collector’s market. For example, the entire print order of George Alec Effinger’s first novel, What Entropy Means to Me (Doubleday, 1972) was supposedly pulped before publication (almost certainly untrue).

We associate Doubleday with very short print-runs, quickie pulpings, and fabulously high collector’s prices. Many of the most expensive books in our field are Doubledays. (Specifically, early Heinlein, early Zelazny, early King.)

What Entropy Means to Me is not a rare book, even in non-ex-library copies. I have one. It may be that the price is still low because the demand is low, but this is not a hard book to obtain.

What I have always heard is that it was Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness which was mistakenly pulped prematurely. Apparently they planned to pulp something else, most likely Nine Princes in Amber, and pulped the wrong one, which resulted in Creatures only being in print a few months.

Meanwhile, most copies of Nine Princes were sold to libraries and were either defaced or destroyed. In retrospect this became a very sought-after title, and thus one of the great collector’s items of SF. There is one on Abebooks right now for $8,500.

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Midnight – When evil triumphs…

Saturday, August 28th, 2010 | Posted by Tom Doolan

“Imagine if Frodo had died during his journey and the One Ring had returned to Sauron.”

That was how it was described to me the first time I picked up the Midnight Campaign Setting book, once again from Fantasy Flight Games. A very apt description, and if it doesn’t get your d20-shaped heart pumping, nothing will.

Midnight is a world where an evil god has triumphed in his war for power, and the characters are fighting a seemingly hopeless battle against the forces of darkness. The races of Eredane, the main continent, are besieged on all sides by orcs, demons and the Night Kings.

In flavor and description, Midnight borrows heavily from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. But where his story is that of the light of hope sparking in the midst of descending darkness, Midnight is one of the fading glimmer of hope in the midst of near-total darkness. The rulebook does quite a good job of creating this sense of doom, and strife.

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Short Fiction Roundup: World Fantasy Nominees

Saturday, August 28th, 2010 | Posted by Soyka

readerLocus reports the ballot of nominees for the World Fantasy Awards.  It’s a little confusing.  I can’t seem to find the ballot on the World Fantasy site, which does references the “2009” nominees and winners for last year (meaning these were for works published in 2008 that won at the 2009 convention). Locus refers the “2009 Nominees,” by which it means works published in 2009 that will be awarded at the 2010 WF convention in October. Why this isn’t on the WF site I couldn’t say.  Now that I’ve cleared that up, here are the nominees in the novella and short story categories:

(Haven’t read any of these.  In fact, for the entire ballot, the only thing I’ve read is The City & The City by China Miéville.  Maybe I get extra credit for reading some of James Enge’s Morlock stories; his Blood of Ambrose is also a novel nominee.)

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