Reconsiderations: The Book of The Dun Cow and The Book of Sorrows

Sunday, September 26th, 2010 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Book of the Dun CowOne of the characteristics of a great book is that you can go back to it at different times in your life and get different things out of it. But then sometimes the reverse happens: you read a book before you’re ready. If you’re lucky, though, the book hangs around in the back of your mind, and eventually you pick it up again and find out what you weren’t able to grasp the first time around.

When I was in elementary school, someone gave me a copy of The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr. I read it, but I didn’t particularly appreciate it. Many years later, I bought another copy, and was much more impressed. I also understood why I didn’t care for it as a child. Not long ago, I found a copy of the sequel The Book of Sorrows. Reading the books together I was impressed again.

The books are an animal fantasy, set when “the earth was still fixed in the absolute center of the universe. It had not yet been cracked loose from that holy place, to be sent whirling — wild, helpless, and ignorant — among the blind stars. And the sun still traveled around the moored earth, so that days and nights belonged to the earth and to the creatures thereon, not to a ball of silent fire. The clouds were still considered to flow at a very great height, halfway between the moon and the waters below; and God still chose to walk among the clouds, striding, like a man who strides through his garden in the sweet evening.”

Humans have not yet been made, and the world is inhabited by animals, who talk and think. And they have a purpose, which is to act as Keepers against Wyrm, the evil that dwells in the heart of the earth and wants to ruin all creation. It is the connection between the animals — their community — that keeps Wyrm from rising. The two books describe two particularly vicious assaults by Wyrm against his keepers, and what happens to the animals as a result.

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Jennifer Rardin, April 28, 1965 — September 20, 2010

Sunday, September 26th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

oncebitten2Jennifer Rardin, author of the Jaz Parks series of contemporary urban vampire novels, died unexpectedly at the age of 45 on Monday, Sept. 20.

Her first novel, Once Bitten, Twice Shy, was published by Orbit Books in October 2007. It was followed by Another One Bites the Dust, Biting the Bullet, Bitten to Death, One More Bite, and Bite Marks.

The seventh volume in the series, Bitten in Two, will appear in November, and the eighth and final book is scheduled for June, 2011.

Rardin’s death took her fans by surprise.  Her most recent blog post, three days before her death, is upbeat and filled with details of her trip to Kenosha. Her obituary does not list a cause of death.

Rardin was born in Evansville, Indiana and lived in Robinson, Illinois. She leaves behind a husband and two teenage children.

More information can be found on her online bio and the Jaz Parks Wikipedia entry.


Not-So Short Fiction Review: Prospero Lost

Saturday, September 25th, 2010 | Posted by Soyka

prospero-lost2Prospero Lost, by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Tor (448 pages, $7.99, June 2010)

Prospero Lost is the first book of a trilogy and the first published novel by L. Jagi Lamplighter, whose name I assume is not a pseudonym,  though it sounds as if it could be a character in her own book.  As you might gather from the title, the story has something to do with what many critics perceive as Shakespeare’s alter ego in his final play, The Tempest, while also somehow involving hell and rebellious offspring given the  allusion to Milton’s Paradise Lost. What you might not expect is just about every fantasy trope you can think of, including (I kid you not), Santa Claus.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Lamplighter is married to John C. Wright, who also favors the everything-including-the-kitchen sink approach to fantasy and manages to make it work. In many respects, Lamplighter’s book reminds me of Wright’s Chronicles of Chaos series which deals with the foibles of family relationships among seeming humans possessed of fantastical natures. Of course, the root of this is Greek/Roman mythology in which imperfect gods irrationally vie among each other out of jealously, envy, egotism or other petty and irrational motivations.  They are, in other words, normal human beings dressed up in magical togas.

According to Lamplighter, the inspiration for her novel’s fantasy world  stemmed from a roleplaying game.

Somewhere in the early Nineties, John and I were invited to play in a roleplaying game run by a friend. He was a new moderator for us, so I decided to write a short story demonstrating what my character could do, so there would be no misunderstandings. For my character, I picked Miranda, the daughter of the magician Prospero from Shakespeare’s Tempest, only in the game, Prospero would turn out to be one of the magicians in the game background…We only played in that game a few times, but I liked the character and the story I had written.

Miranda is the narrator and focus of the novel (indeed, the overarching title of the trilogy is Prospero’s Daughter) and Prospero remains totally off-stage.  He is lost, and Miranda is trying to find out what happened to him.

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Supernatural Spotlight – Episode 6.1 “Exile on Main Street”

Saturday, September 25th, 2010 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Season 6 starts a year after the events in the finale of Season 5, which I detailed a few days ago. This blog post is being written somewhat stream-of-consciousnessly as I watch the episode.

SUPERNATURAL

Dean Winchester (left), Sam Winchester (center), and their formerly-dead grandfather, Samuel Campbell (right)

It will contain spoilers (like the picture at the right).

You have been warned.

At the start of the episode, Dean’s been living a year with Lisa and her son, Ben, in suburbia, after his Lucifer-possessed brother, Sam, dove into a trans-dimensional prison to save the world. It’s clear that Dean hasn’t completely gotten over his past, though, as a montage relating his mundane daily tasks to his former life makes clear.

Still, he’s making friends. One in particular, a neighbor named Sid, seems to have bonded with him over regular beers, but Dean isn’t sharing anything about his past with him. He tells him that he used to be in pest control. (I, for one, am pegging Sid as a demon or something. He’s just a little too interested in Dean’s past.)

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Adventure Tales #6 Arrives

Friday, September 24th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

adventure-6Wildside Press continues their excellent pulp reprint series with the sixth issue of Adventure Tales, presenting tales of classic fiction from Nelson S. Bond, Arthur O. Friel, Talbot Mundy, and Zorro creator Johnston McCulley, and poetry by Poul Anderson and Clark Ashton Smith, among others. The issue is cover-dated Winter 2010, but the publication date on the copy we received was September 13.

This is a special H. Bedford-Jones issue, with three complete stories from the pulp master. As usual the issue is handsomely illustrated, with finely detailed reproductions of the original accompanying artwork. It also includes a reprint of the complete first issue of George Scithers’ legendary Sword & Sorcery fanzine Amra, which is pretty darn cool, and I hope future issues of Adventure Tales  keep up this tradition.

John Betancourt’s editorial laments the loss of Scithers, one of the most accomplished editors in our field. Scithers was founding editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction and edited both Amazing and Weird Tales in a long and varied career. He was a typesetter and Assistant Editor at Wildside until his death at 80 (and perhaps the loss of George’s keen eye explains the rather unfortunate back cover credit to “Frits Leiber,” for the poem “The Gray Mouser: 1” )

Overall this is a very handsome package, typical for Wildside’s pulp reprints, and there were brief fisticuffs atop the Black Gate rooftop headquarters to determine who would take home our sole review copy.  John Fultz sucker-punched Bill Ward and had me in a headlock when Howard Andrew Jones unleashed an evil trained chicken who swooped in and scored the prize. Howard retreated to Indiana and, in his latest mocking transmission back to headquarters, claims to be already at work on a review.

Adventure Tales is 152 pages and is now available directly from Wildside for just $12.95.


Sometimes We Are in the Presence of Awesome and There Simply Are No Words

Friday, September 24th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

enterprise_pizza

Yes, that’s a Star Trek Enterprise pizza cutter.

Available for $24.99 at Think Geek.

The brief advertising video must be seen to be believed.


Blogging Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDON, Part Three: “Tournaments of Mongo”

Friday, September 24th, 2010 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

tournaments-big-little“Tournaments of Mongo” was the third installment of Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDON Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally printed between November 25, 1934 and February 24, 1935, “Tournaments of Mongo” picked up the storyline where the second installment, “Monsters of Mongo” left off with Dr. Zarkov being knighted by Vultan for saving the Hawkmen’s sky city from crashing to the ground.

Before Vultan can host Flash and Dale’s royal wedding, Emperor Ming and his daughter, Princess Aura arrive with Ming’s air fleet demanding Flash be handed over. Of course, Aura wants Flash for herself while her father wants to see him dead. Vultan invokes the ancient rite of tournament to determine Flash’s fate and Ming heartily agrees, certain it will mean the Earthman’s doom.

The obvious change beginning with this strip is that Alex Raymond’s artwork is being granted more space than before as Raymond decreases the strip from nine equally-sized panels to a more inventively designed seven panels to better showcase his stunning artwork which was steadily growing in both complexity and sophistication.

Raymond began to move away from word balloons in each panel to more formal narrative in small print at the top or bottom of the panel, often relegated to a single corner. This allowed Raymond to concentrate on majestic paintings depicting Mongo’s people and wildlife in all their glory.

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Goth Chick News – Shadowland Part Deux: Thirteen Questions for Actor Jason Contini

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 | Posted by Sue Granquist

legacies-endIn case you hadn’t noticed, and I’m pretty sure you did, the Black Gate webmaster got a little worked up by my last post. Though I was telling you about my latest indy-horror obsession, Shadowland, one might have gathered from the choices of accompanying pictures, that I was instead bringing you a story about lead actress Caitlin McIntosh and her former life as a beauty queen. Somewhere, wedged between those images was my interview with Wyatt Weed, Shadowland’s writer and director; but good luck finding it.

This is what happens when there are too many boys on the staff and they are left unattended for too long.

So this week I’m personally bringing you the second installment of my Shadowland coverage; an interview with lead actor Jason Contini and co-creator of the new comic series Legacies End.

I can assure you there will be no further shenanigans involving staff members who forget their professionalism and get carried away by lust.

Now where was I…?

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Supernatural Spotlight – Season Four and Five Recap

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

supernatural-season4Yesterday, I described the second and third seasons of Supernatural which all built up toward Dean Winchester’s death, as part of a demonic deal to save his brother.

Dean was sucked into Hell, leaving his brother Sam on Earth with the demon Ruby, who has taken on something of a friend and mentorship role with him.

More spoilers to follow …

Season Four

Season four of Supernatural began, a year after his death, with Dean crawling his way out of the grave with no real idea how he got back. But he doesn’t appear to be a demon or any other kind of beastie … so what’s going on?

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Harold Lamb’s Swords From the West and Swords From the Desert

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Bill Ward

haroldlambSwords From the West
Harold Lamb
Howard Andrew Jones, ed.
Bison Books (602 pp, $26.95, 2009)

Swords From the Desert
Harold Lamb
Howard Andrew Jones, ed.
Bison Books (306 pp, $21.95, 2009)
Reviewed by Bill Ward

Harold Lamb (1892-1962) is an author in danger of being forgotten. This should not be the case, for a number of reasons. Firstly, Lamb is good — from his historical biographies that read like action-adventure novels, to his actual action-adventure stories that cemented his status as a king of the pulps, Lamb is a terrific writer. He is also a diverse writer, having achieved success in both fiction and non-fiction, magazines and books, and even as a Hollywood screenwriter.

And, not to be overlooked, he is a historically significant writer in the evolution of fiction — serving as a bridge from the pulp era to the post-war era, and as a grandfather figure to the kind of adventure fantasy pioneered by Robert E. Howard and then expanded upon by the greats of the field such as Fritz Leiber, C.L. Moore, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, Leigh Brackett, Steven Brust, and Charles Saunders. The idiom in which today’s current crop of rising Sword & Sorcery stars work within can be traced right back to the nineteen teens and twenties, and the historical adventures of Harold Lamb that did so much to inform the approach of the future creator of Conan.

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