Dr. Nikola: An Introduction

Friday, November 26th, 2010 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

nikola311Dr. Nikola is another highly influential Victorian character who has been all but forgotten in the intervening century. The creation of Australian novelist Guy Boothby, Antonio Nikola was one of the earliest examples of a villain granted his own series. Nikola appears in five novels: A Bid for Fortune (1895), Dr. Nikola Returns (1896), The Lust of Hate (1898), Dr. Nikola’s Experiment (1899), and Farewell, Nikola (1901).

Many of the trademarks associated with later criminal geniuses begin with Nikola. Like James Bond’s nemesis Blofeld and his ever-present white Persian cat, Nikola is rarely seen without his black cat Apollyon. Fu Manchu’s pet marmoset Peko is often depicted perched on his shoulder in Sax Rohmer’s thrillers, so Apollyon is regularly described as perching on Nikola’s shoulder.

It is Fu Manchu who owes the most to Nikola. The description of Fu Manchu’s “brow like Shakespeare and face like Satan” finds a parallel in Nikola’s similarly striking features. Nikola is described as having “the Devil’s eyes.”
Even more so, Fu Manchu shares with Nikola an uncharacteristic code of honor that makes these villains somewhat sympathetic in the reader’s eye. Both villains make generous gifts to the individuals they formerly persecuted treating the entire affair as if it was merely a game.

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Last Chance to Win a Copy of Terror in the House: The Early Kuttner, Volume One

Friday, November 26th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

kuttnerThree week ago we announced we were giving away three copies of the first volume of The Early Kuttner, titled Terror in the House, newly released from Haffner Press.

How do you win a copy? Just send an e-mail to john@blackgate.com with the title “Kuttner Contest,” and a one-sentence review of your favorite Henry Kuttner short story. And don’t forget to mention what story you’re reviewing!

That’s it.  Three winners will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries, and we’ll publish the best reviews here on the Black Gate blog.

But time is running out — the contest closes on December 1. Because if these things are still piled on top of Alice’s sewing table after that, believe me, there will be hell to pay.

Haffner’s archival-quality hardcovers are some of the most collectible books in the genre. Terror in the House is 712 pages in hardcover, with a preface by Richard Matheson and introduction by Garyn G. Roberts, Ph.D. It is edited by Stephen Haffner and illustrated by Harry V. Parkhurst, and has a retail price of $40.

All entries become the property of New Epoch Press. No purchase necessary. Must be 12 or older. Decisions of the judges (capricious as they may be) are final. Not valid where prohibited by law. Terms and conditions subject to change as our lawyers sober up and get back to us. Eat your vegetables.

Goth Chick News: You Really Need to Tell Me Everything… Now

Thursday, November 25th, 2010 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image0083I’m about to cross into some sacred territory here, but what the heck.

I really didn’t like The Empire Strikes Back, originally the second (ultimately fifth) in the Star Wars series. In fact, it pretty much put me off the rest of the movies and though I doggedly attended each and every one, the shine went off at number two.


Because the story left me hanging.

Yep, that’s basically it. The fact that we had to — nay, were forced to — come back for number three to find out what became of Han Solo, who was frozen in carbonite and being rocketed toward certain doom at the end of Empire, sucked the life out of the entire experience for me. Darth Vader’s evil pales in comparison to a cheap trick like an unfinished storyline.

Now before you start peppering me with email and comments about how George Lucas is a national treasure and “how dare I” and all that, please hear me out.

I know a lot of you will say that being left in suspense is part of the fun, and that if a tale is too rich to be told in under three hours it deserves to be broken up into segments. In the case of an HBO series or daytime soap operas I completely agree; waiting to see what happens tomorrow or next week is indeed the hook that keeps the viewers coming back, me included (i.e. True Blood).

The big difference is, the individual segments were never conceived or written to stand alone. And perhaps this is the argument one could make about George Lucas and his intentions when he wrote the entire Star Wars epic. However, a little cynical part of me can’t help but wonder if it had something to do with money, and that’s the bit that ever so slightly gets under my skin.

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A Review of The Lion of Cairo, by Scott Oden

Thursday, November 25th, 2010 | Posted by Brian Murphy

lion-of-cairo1The Lion of Cairo, by Scott Oden
Thomas Dunne Books (384 pages, $25.99, December 7, 2010)

I think it’s totally cool that the dedication page of Scott Oden’s forthcoming novel The Lion of Cairo (U.S. publication date Dec. 7) pays homage to a sword and sorcery legend:

To Robert E. Howard
whose tales of swordplay and sorcery
gave inspiration to a kid from Alabama
and caused him to take up the pen
in his own time

After the Howard name-drop you pretty much know what you’re in for: Pulse-pounding sword play, leagues of warring assassins, political intrigue, a hint of evil sorcery, and the clash of armies on a grand stage. On all these elements Oden delivers.

Though inspired by the man from Cross Plains, The Lion of Cairo is no slavish imitation of Howard. The work — book one of the Emir of the Knife trilogy — shares just as much or more in common with Harold Lamb’s Swords from the East or Steven Pressfield’s historical fiction than REH’s tales of the Hyborian Age. Cairo’s main character, the assassin Assad, is more Pale Rider than muscular Cimmerian. He’s a dude you don’t want to tangle with: Deadly with a blade instead of a six-gun; not cocky but quietly confident in his abilities; single-minded of purpose; a stone-cold killer. Though he’s an assassin Oden successfully manages to portray him as sympathetic, a killer we can get behind. It’s a pretty nifty bit of characterization.

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Great Gift Ideas For Geeks and Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

honey-monthI love being interviewed.  Especially on weeks when Jack Nicholson isn’t talking to the press.  I tell my wife, “I was interviewed more often than Jack Nicholson this week.”

Alice is rarely impressed. “I don’t like Jack Nicholson,” she tells me. But I keep it up, in the hopes that it will win me some lovin’.

I was interviewed by SF Signal for their regular Mind Meld column, along with people less famous than me, like Jeff VanderMeer, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick, Martha Wells, David B. Coe, Jaym Gates, Brenda Cooper, Mike Brotherton, A. Lee Martinez, and other international celebrities and rock stars like that.  The topic was Great Gift Ideas For Geeks and Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans, and here’s what that VanderMeer guy said about some book about honey by Amal El-Mohtar:

The Honey Month – This beautifully illustrated volume of short fictions and poems takes as its inspiration the author’s tasting of 28 different kinds of honey, one per day. Each tasting leads to a different literary creation, but she begins each entry by describing the honey in terms that will be familiar to wine connoisseurs. To top it all off, Oliver Hunter’s finely rendered color illustrations make encountering such rich, heady prose even more delightful…. The book’s a slim 73 pages for a reason: like the honey described, any more and it would be too rich for most readers. As it stands, however, The Honey Month is the perfect length, and the perfect gift.

I tried to buy a copy of The Honey Month from Amal at Wiscon, but she wouldn’t sell it to me (I think because I was more famous than her). Now that she’s had a book blurbed by VanderMeer and done, like, the most popular interview in the history of Black Gate, I expect all that to change. And maybe a brother can buy a simple book, know what I’m sayin’?

You can read the complete SF Signal article here.

Art Evolution 11: Jim Roslof

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Art Evolution, 1979-2009, continues as we journey back in time to the founding days of the RPG genre. For those of you who have missed what’s come before, you can catch-up here.

The year was now twenty-ten, I had my ‘Iron Kingdoms Lyssa‘, and I was deep in the process of expanding my vision of true Art Evolution to a full-blown epic. Ten artists down and I was ready to move on to the second half of my dream list.

b2modulecover-254The first name on that slate was Brom. Pressed by Tony DiTerlizzi, and with other artists clamoring for this gothic-genius to be included, as well as my own love of the Dark Sun universe, I sent out my appeal him. Unfortunately Brom turned me down, nicely, to be sure, but he didn’t have the time to commit.

I took a breath, tried to find my Zen center, and placed images of a Brom Lyssa on hold. As in the cases of Erol and Clyde, it’s very tough to give up a dream, and I determined that if I kept these wonderful artists in the project loop, there might be a chance for a change of heart before all was said and done.

Putting my Dark Sun boxes to the side, I pulled forth one of the great TSR modules of all time, B2: Keep on the Borderlands. This cover was done by Jim Roslof, someone I’d seen on Facebook, and although he was long and again retired, he had been the Art Director at TSR when they went from black and white to full color. This was someone who mattered, and I needed to include him.

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“And It Goes On From There…” An Interview with Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

Gene Wolfe at Top Shelf Books

Gene Wolfe at Top Shelf Books

As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon, a quarter to five, and there is some serious gloaming and wuthering going on outside my window.

Gloaming and wuthering accurately describe the state of my stomach as well. I’ve just gotten home from a long lunch with Gene and Rosemary Wolfe at The Claim Jumper, where the appetizers are colossal, the entrees epic, and each dessert the size of a football field.

I have the touchdown in my fridge right now, all festooned in gobs of made-fresh-daily whipped cream. It’s the sort of dessert you’d wish on your worst enemy, in the interest of stopping her heart at a distance when she sees it waddling toward her.

A few weeks ago, I wheedled Gene into letting me interview him. He said sure, “Provided it is face-to-face and entirely hand-to-hand,” which made the whole thing sound like armed combat. I didn’t know then I’d be wrestling with an insurmountable mound of mashed potatoes and a heap of bellicose mushrooms, but things are always a bit surreal when you’re lunching with Wolfes.

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Pastiches ‘R’ Us (And My Two-Year Anniversary): Conan the Renegade

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

conan-the-renegadeConan the Renegade
Leonard Carpenter (Tor, 1986)

Salutations, lovers of blood and thunder and me babbling about Frederick Faust! This week marks my second anniversary as a blogger on Black Gate. I’ve now held down the Tuesday spot for two years, and I believe that this missive you are now reading is my 104th post (I missed one week, but did a double-post another week during an REH birthday celebration).

Do you know what I am going to do to celebrate? I’m going to do the exact same thing I did on my first post . . . review a Leonard Carpenter Conan pastiche novel! Because I pride myself on my ability to change and adapt with the times.

Leonard Carpenter debuted on the Conan series with Conan the Renegade, which can be summed up in two words: “mercenary adventure.” Military action takes precedence over magic and wonder; most of the story unfolds in a small area around Koth and the bordering kingdom of Khoraja (seen in “Black Colossus,” which Conan the Renegade closely follows in the chronology that Tor Books was using for the pastiches at the time), and Conan’s adventuring mostly occurs within his role as a military leader and tactician. Carpenter does toss in a few horrific fantasy events, such as an unusual combat sorcerer and an ancient dungeon copied right out of “The Scarlet Citadel,” but readers who want a dark fantasy Conan should look elsewhere. Like, uhm, “The Scarlet Citadel.”

The warfare tale follows Conan to the Kothian city of Tantusium where he joins the Free Company of the mercenary captain Hundulph. Hundulph’s men are in the pay of Ivor, a Kothian prince who has risen in revolt against his uncle King Strabonus. Among the other mercenary captains rides the enticing warrior woman Drusandra, who leads an all-female band. Conan has suspicions of Ivor’s sorcerer Agohoth, a Khitan-trained wizard. This is very weird, since Conan never has suspicions about sorcerers.

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A Review of The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Isabel Pelech

outlaws-of-sherwoodThe Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley
Greenwillow Books (282 pages, $12.95, 1988)
Cover by Alan Lee

“I am no historian,” Robin McKinley writes in the author’s note to The Outlaws of Sherwood, “and never flattered myself that I would write a story that was historically accurate. I did, however, wish to write something that was, let us say, historically unembarrassing.” I’m no historian either, but I’d say she succeeded.

The Outlaws of Sherwood is, of course, a retelling of the Robin Hood legend. It also feels extremely real, despite the historical issues mentioned in the author’s note. This is a good story for people who like a touch of logistics in their fiction. In between adventures — the book has a somewhat episodic feel, although it’s building up to a definite climax — there are plenty off details that highlight the problems and solutions to maintaining a covert community in a tangled forest.

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Mission: Space

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

mission1I escaped with the family for the realm of Florida over the last week, and we did the usual tourist things. I managed to leave most of my deadline worries behind me, and while I took my writing notebook, I actually got very little work done. Instead, I recharged, spent time with my wife and kids, and didn’t obsessively think about plotting, dialogue, or character motivation.

I wanted to share one realization, though: of all the rides at any of the Disney parks and Universal, there was one true standout for me, and that was Mission Space. It simulates a craft that accelerates you out of the atmosphere, slingshots your craft around the moon toward Mars, and lands you there. I’m not much of a souvenir guy, but I loved the thing so much that I tried to go back later and buy a Mission: Space t-shirt. Alas, there were none to be found in the gift shop, which I found pretty odd, as Disney’s usually good at marketing. I could have bought a wheelbarrow full of EPCOT shirts or Star Wars junk, but alas, no Mission: Space t-shirt.

I’ve had a lot of fun on various rides over the years, but this one had me grinning with joy at the thrilling illusion that I, Howard, was really blasting off into space and feeling the Gs as I was pressed back into the acceleration couch. I sure have been wanting to game  some Traveller or Firefly since I climbed out of the ride, and I’ve been wishing that there were other space flight simulations available in a similar vein.

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