Chris Braak Reviews The Magicians

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 | Posted by Bill Ward

the-magicians-by-lev-grossmanThe Magicians
Lev Grossman
Viking (416 pp, $16.00, August 2009 – May 2010 paperback edition)
Reviewed by Chris Braak

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians makes an admirable attempt at an ambitious premise: is it possible to use the form and structure of Harry Potter to tell a story about ennui, dissipation, and cynicism? What is the difference between the childhood wonder evoked by the “you’re such a special child” childrens’ fantastic literature — with its black and white morality, its uplifting sense of meaning and hope — and the obdurate, insistent messiness of real grown-up life?

The Magicians follows Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant, industrious high school student who spends his time working obscenely hard at schoolwork for ends that are not entirely clear to him, as he is selected for and matriculates at a secret school for wizards in upstate New York. The story self-consciously mimics such similar novels as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, except it equally self-consciously subtracts the moral clarity, the battle against ultimate evil, and the soul-building trials of its main character’s childhood.

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Rogue Blades Entertainment Announces eSsassins Electronic Anthologies

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

assassins1Jason M. Waltz at Rogue Blades Entertainment tells us the distinguished heroic fantasy publishing house has added a series of electronic anthologies to its already-crammed slate of planned publications for the year:

RBE is proud to introduce not only four additional titles under the Clash of Steel series, but its first four e-only anthologies as well! Better yet, these four e-anthologies deliver even more of the eagerly desired Assassins: A Clash of Steel print anthology to be released later in 2011! These 4 eSsassins titles carry over the same steel-bearing protagonists in dangerous, powerful prose, and the same eye-catching cover art from Didier Normand that the print anthology pledges.

Each volume in the eSsassins line will contain four stories, totalling 15,000 – 18,000 words in length.  They will be sold in multiple electronic formats for $3.00 each.

The volumes will be released monthly, starting in February.  The RBE website lists the complete contents of each upcoming volume, including stories from Laura J. Underwood, Yeoryios Pantazis, Amy Sanderson, Charles Kyffhausen, and G.K. Hayes.

RBE’s previous Clash of Steel anthology was last summer’s Demons, which I’m currently reading and quite enjoying. Cover art for each of the upcoming volumes will be unveiled soon, so keep your eye on their website for updates.

Philip K. Dick Award Nominees Announced

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

yarnThe nominees for the Philip K. Dick Award were announced by the Philadelphia SF Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust on Tuersday, January 18.

The Philip K. Dick Award is presented “for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States.” It honors the legendary science fiction author Philip K. Dick, many of whose classic early novels, including Eye in the Sky, Solar Lottery, Martian Time-Slip and The Game-Players of Titan, appeared originally in paperback.

This is a juried award, so don’t bother hunting online for a way to vote. The judges for 2010 are Andy Duncan (chair), William Barton, Bruce McAllister, Melinda Snodgrass, and David Walton. The award is administered by David G. Hartwell and Gordon Van Gelder. Previous winners include William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Richard Paul Russo’s Ship of Fools, Carol Emshwiller’s The Mount, and C. L. Anderson’s Bitter Angels.

Wikipedia has a complete list of the nominees and winners for each year. Nominees this year are:

Yarn by Jon Armstrong (Night Shade Books)
Chill by Elizabeth Bear (Ballantine Books/Spectra)
The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell (Henry Holt & Co.)
Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy (Eos)
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder (Pyr)
Harmony by Project Itoh, translated by Alexander O. Smith (Haikasoru)
State of Decay James Knapp (Roc)

Congratulations to all the nominees! The winner will be announced on Friday, April 22, 2010.

An Inadvertent Celebration

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 | Posted by Theo

solomonkaneHappy Birthday, REH.  I have to confess that while I liked the idea of commemorating Robert E. Howard’s birthday, I really had no idea what I was going to write about.  With the exception of a brief stint with Funcom, I have never had a whole lot to do with his signature creation and although I am not unaware of his enormous influence on the adventure fantasy genre, I don’t necessarily have much to say about it.  So, I shrugged and decided that I would simply look forward to reading what others might happen to say about the man, whose literary output was as creative and prodigious as his life was tragically short.

Now, I am not a television watcher and the last movie I saw in the theater was The Return of the King.  I prefer books to TV and computer games to film, so it was fortunate happenstance that I happened to sit down on the couch late Saturday night just as a World of Warcraft-like action sequence was unfolding on the screen.  “He’s got a bigger flaming blade than yours,” my wife cracked wise, comparing the weapon born by the giant demonic figure to a rather unfortunate inspiration on the part of a newspaper photographer some years ago.  The dialogue was a little clunky and the effects were less than spectacular, but there was something about the troubled character that was just interesting enough to keep me on the couch.  Or perhaps it was just the warmth of the winter fire, either way, I found myself unexpectedly settling in to watch what appeared to be the start of a movie.

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The Best KULL Comic Ever: “Demon in a Silvered Glass”

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 | Posted by John R. Fultz

kullsmall-1Happy Birthday, Robert E. Howard…

I am a huge Conan fan, but I have to admit that I like Howard’s King Kull stories even better. The Kull tales are more poetic, more lyrical, more mystical … and they reveal more of Howard’s Shakespearean influence than any of his Conan tales.

All of those terrific Kull tales are collected in a terrific illustrated volume from Del Rey entitled Kull: Exile of Atlantis.  If you want the true Kull experience, this book has it all. Yet of all the Kull and Conan comics produced by Marvel Comics in the 70s and 80s, there is one that stands head-and-shoulders above them all: Bizarre Adventures #26, featuring Kull the Barbarian. John Bolton’s dark, lush artwork brought Kull, Brule, and the City of Wonders alive in a work of timeless excellence.

Kull always had it rougher than Conan in the comics world. When the fantastically talented Barry Windsor-Smith put his unique stamp on the Conan character in 1971’s Conan the Barbarian #1, he and writer Roy Thomas ensured it would become a Marvel mainstay. Yet when Marvel added a Kull the Conqueror comic a few years later, they weren’t lucky enough to strike gold again. Various artists did the Kull series, and despite a terrific run by Marie Severin and a couple of great Mike Ploog issues (and later work by Alfredo Alcala and Ernie Chan), the series never approached Conan in popularity or longevity. However, in 1981 King Kull finally got his due in a true masterpiece of sword-and-sorcery: “Demon in a Silvered Glass.”

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Robert E. Howard in his Own Words

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Brian Murphy

kull-atlantisIn honor of what would be his 105th birthday, I thought I’d let Robert E. Howard’s own words do the talking.

Here’s a few of my favorites culled from his Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane stories. There’s so many to pull from but I chose these because they capture the ferocity, humor, and poetic qualities of Howard’s writing.

If you got any favorite passages to share, post ‘em here.

There comes, even to kings, the time of great weariness. Then the gold of the throne is brass, the silk of the palace becomes drab. The gems in the diadem and upon the fingers of the women sparkle drearily like the ice of the white seas; the speech of men is as the empty rattle of a jester’s bell and the feel comes of things unreal; even the sun is copper in the sky and the breath of the green ocean is no longer fresh.

–“The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune”

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Robert E. Howard Birthday Celebration

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

solomon-kane3Here’s to Robert E. Howard, creator of my favorite genre, sword-and-sorcery, on the anniversary of his birth. Raise high your goblets and drink deep.

What is best about Robert E. Howard’s writing? The driving headlong pace, the seemingly inexhaustible imagination, the splendid cinematic prose poetry, the never-say-die protagonists? It is hard to pick one thing, so it may be simpler to state that Robert E. Howard possessed profound and often astonishing storytelling gifts. Without drowning his readers in adjectives (he had the knack of using just enough adjectives or adverbs, and knew to let the verbs do the heavy lifting) or slowing pace, he brought his scenes to life. Vividly.

Writer Eric Knight may have most succinctly described this particular aspect of Howard’s power in an article on Solomon Kane:

“’Wings of the Night’ features a marathon running fight through ruin, countryside, and even air that only a team of computer animators with a sixty-million dollar budget and the latest rendering technology (or a single Texan from Cross Plains hammering the story out with worn typewriter ribbon) could bring properly to life.”

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Robert E. Howard: The Day That I Was Born

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Barbara Barrett


Robert E. Howard, author and poet, was born on January 22, 1906. In an undated letter to his friend Clyde Smith (“Salaam/Again glancing…), Howard wrote of this day in the poem, “I Praise My Nativity.”

“Oh, evil the day that I was born, like a tale that a witch has told;
I came to birth on a bitter morn, when the sky was dim and cold.
The god that girds the loins of Fate and sends the nighttime rain,
He diced my game on an iron plate with dice carved out of pain.
“This for the shadow of hope,” laughed he, as the numbers glinted up,
“This for a spell and this for Hell, and this for the bitter cup.”
A Shadow came out of the gloom of night and covered me with his cowl
That carried the curse of The Truer Sight and the blindness of the owl.
Oh, evil the day that I was born, triply I curse that day,
And I would to God I had died that morn and passed like the ocean spray.”

While he may have wished to God that he had died that morn, as one of his legions of fans, I’m grateful that he didn’t. And I have about twelve hundred reasons for my gratitude: the over four hundred short stories and more than seven hundred poems that he wrote.

Unlike many of the Black Gate readers, I’m relatively new to the writings of Robert E. Howard. I became interested in him when I saw the movie The Whole Wide World in 2006. I started with the Del Reys: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane and Kull Exile of Atlantis. I also read my way enthusiastically through all the Conan stories and then everything else of Howard’s I could get my hands on. I haunted the REH eBay offerings looking for the books and stories I didn’t have.

My efforts were rewarded. I was *there* when Dark Agnes, Valeria and Howard’s strong women flashed their swords and fought beside men as equals. I laughed out loud at Meet Cap’n Kidd and the other Breckenridge Elkins tales, relished Lord of Samarcand and chewed my nails during Pigeons in Hell.

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Better Late Than Never…

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Soyka

71056_199372154485_5464068_nWell, with only about a week left to go in January, today I just received a copy of the December Realms of Fantasy.  You remember, the last one that Warren Lapine could afford to publish, originally available only as a download, but I guess he decided to have a last hurrah.  A February 2011 edition is due out soon from new publisher Damnation Books.

Though I recognize that media tie-ins have always been part of the magazine’s business plan, the less said about a Harry Potter cover, the better.  Four stories: “Queen of the Kanguellas” by Scott Dalrymple, “Maiden, Mother, Crone” by Anne Leckie & Rachel Swirsky, “The Banjo Singer” by Dennis Danvers and “Tools of the Devil” by Jerry Oltion.

I was never a big fan of the magazine, though I was sorry to hear it was going, and glad to hear that it is coming back.  Here’s hoping the third incarnation does the trick.

Of Joe Gores, Ace Atkins and Wrestling with Hammett’s Legend

Friday, January 21st, 2011 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

4330071663_4e7a003ec4The recent passing of veteran mystery writer Joe Gores on the anniversary of Dashiell Hammett’s own death set me thinking about Hammett’s enduring legacy and continuing influence on detective fiction.

Gores was born too late to fight for a place in the Holy Trinity of hardboiled detective fiction alongside Hammett’s immediate heirs Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, but the influence of the man who did so much to transform hardboiled fiction was no less strong in Gores’ work.

While most commentators would agree that the DKA series was Gores’ crowning achievement, my own preference was for his 1975 novel, Hammett and his last book, 2009’s Spade & Archer.

Gores’ death led me to pick up Ace Atkins’ 2009 novel, Devil’s Garden. Atkins’ book is a semi-fictionalized account of Hammett’s real-life involvement as a Pinketeron operative gathering evidence for the scandalous Fatty Arbuckle trial in 1921.

devilsgardeninside-198x300Thirty-five years earlier, Gores had likewise fictionalized Hammett’s Pinkerton days when he immersed himself in real and imagined political corruption in Roaring Twenties San Francisco in his novel, Hammett.

When granted the honor of penning a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, Gores later drew heavily on Hammett’s own experiences as a Pinkerton to fill in Sam Spade’s back story. Atkins has much in common with Gores in that both men are natural writers who can easily make one envious of their prodigious talent and, at times, frustrated that they aren’t quite as perfect as you wish them to be.

No matter how many times I’ve read Hammett’s five novels and the posthumous collections of his short fiction, I never cease to be amazed at his perfection. Chandler’s remark that Hammett repeatedly wrote scenes that struck readers as wholly original is not mere hyperbole; it still rings true today despite the endless parodies and imitations. It is also what makes following in his footsteps so difficult.

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