On Stranger Tides

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 | Posted by Jackson Kuhl

Cover for the 1988 Ace MMPB.Extolling the virtues of Tim Powers to this audience is probably preaching to the choir, but if you haven’t yet read On Stranger Tides, get thee to Amazon. It was the first Powers I ever read. It’s still my favorite.

The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, neither based nor inspired but rather “suggested by the novel by Tim Powers,” is so-so. It has a clumsy first act, full of cameos and nudge-nudge references to the original film; and the leaden action and fighting choreography is wound into slow-motion by the editing. The biggest problem is POV: the story shouldn’t have had Jack as the main character but rather should have, like Curse of the Black Pearl, focused on the straight man (here, the missionary Philip) whose path intersects with Sparrow’s. That said, it’s not as bad as some of the reviews say. I found the mermaid sequence in Whitecap Bay delightful and I’ll gladly pay $9 to watch Geoffrey Rush channel Robert Newton (or to listen to Penelope Cruz’s accent) anytime. The film’s biggest stars are actually the percussive guitars of Rodrigo Y Gabriela who, along with Hans Zimmer, give the score a Spanish Main emotion missing from the previous installments.

If only the filmmakers had adapted Powers whole cloth! In the 1987 novel, 18th-century puppeteer John Chandagnac — or Jack Shandy, as he becomes known — accidentally falls in with pirates and thereby enters a heretofore unknown world of sorcery and West African animism. The buccaneers of the Caribbean, it turns out, are magicians who can manipulate spirits. Blackbeard himself is a master warlock, but having become infested with vodun loas, must seek out the Fountain of Youth to banish them; he keeps them at bay by drinking gunpowder and burning slow matches in his hair. And he’s not even the main antagonist. Shandy must meanwhile race to save his love from a horrific plot involving zombies and body swapping.

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Entering the Lists in Defense of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 | Posted by Brian Murphy

ivanhoe-coverThere’s a school of thought that views the Middle Ages as a dark gulf between the Classical Age and the rebirth of reason known as the Renaissance. The Middle Ages were, to paraphrase science fiction author David Brin, an unhappy time of small-mindedness and fear, marked by the squabbles of petty nobles, ignorance, superstition, and religious persecution.

Thus, any historical fiction that dares emit a whiff of romanticism of the age is viewed by some as anathema, a whitewashed but corrupted view of “reality”.

But as time marches on and new discoveries and scholarship come to light, we’ve realized that these times weren’t quite as dark and backwards as we once believed. And that allows us to revisit old works of art like Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe with a fresh perspective. My recent re-read of Scott’s 1819 classic of historical fiction reminded me of the following reasons why it’s still relevant and worth re-reading.

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Goth Chick News: Following the YellowBrickRoad

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image0041Sometimes I feel a Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, only different.

I do have a dog (three actually) but even the smallest one wouldn’t fit into a wicker basket and they’d treat Toto like a chew toy. The ruby colored shoes I own are not constructed for long distance walking and if you ever catch me in poufy sleeves and gingham, please just put me out of my misery. Chicago does get the occasional tornado, but it would be an exceptional storm indeed that could pick up my house and set it down on a fortuitous target that I’d never, ever equate to my mother-in-law, at least not in writing.

However, I do have a few really cool friends who are exceptionally good at introducing me to very interesting people. They are wonderful traveling companions, knowing precisely the types of twisted adventures I enjoy. And though I’ve never exactly met a Great and Powerful Oz, generally when I agree to go with them somewhere, the results are often adrenaline-rushing, sometimes heart-thumping, and every once in awhile, mind-blowing.

In this particular case, my traveling companions are Brad Miska from Bloody Disgusting and film makers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton. And yes, there’s even a real yellow brick road; but in this case it pretty much leads straight to Hell.

Though Brad runs the world’s most popular horror website, we actually became acquainted in such a ridiculously normal way that I’m actually embarrassed. Somehow it seems that “Mr. Disgusting” and Goth Chick should have met in some underground S&M bar in Taiwan (not that I have any independent knowledge of said S&M bar).

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Going Commando: The Endless War Between Pantsters and Outliners

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 | Posted by Aaron Starr

Outlining makes you more attractive to the opposite sex.

Outlining makes you more attractive to the opposite sex.

Human beings are sort of odd. That might be why we love examining our motives and actions so much. In fantasy, the traditional alternative races, such as elves and dwarves, have certain views about humans, and, if you were to ask any elf or dwarf you might meet how they felt, they would likely hew closely to the party line. The same goes with science fictional alien races. Their cultures have pretty much set viewpoints on how humies act, and they are generally not impressed.

One of the odd things about the humans, perhaps the most odd thing (according to these non-human viewpoints) is that we are generally given the full spectrum of viewpoints to choose from. Some of us distrust elves, and some of us have been raised with an unshakable hate for the bog-leapers of Epsilon Sigma. But then there are those humans who adore elves, and others who organize “Save the Bog-Leaper” campaigns. Humans, you see, can hold any viewpoint.

But that, obviously, is a far cry from accepting that diversity. We tend to caricature, pigeonhole, and stereotype other viewpoints, cracking that smooth continuum of opinion into a mere handful of glittering shards with massive generalizations filling in for what’s lost in the process. This makes the complexity of human thought approachable, and understandable, but it’s pretty irritating sometimes, especially when an opinion is contrary to a strongly held opinion of our own. Suddenly certain other humans are little better than bog-leapers themselves.

Outlining before writing is one small example.

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A Review of Knight of the Realm

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 | Posted by Bill Ward

knight-of-the-realm-reynoldsKnight of the Realm
Anthony Reynolds
BL Publishing (410 pp, $7.99, 2009)
Reviewed by Bill Ward

A sequel to last year’s Knight Errant, Anthony Reynolds’ Knight of the Realm continues the story of the young Bretonnian knight Calard and his adventures in the grim world of Warhammer. If you are not familiar with the Warhammer setting – a world based on a very popular gaming franchise from Games Workshop – it is essentially a mash-up of very familiar fantasy elements such as orcs, elves, and dwarves with a decidedly dark edge. It is a bleak, violent place, a place always in the midst of war and in danger of being overrun by the insane worshippers of Chaos.

Chaos has proven to be this series’ primary antagonist, as Calard and his half-brother, Bertelis, earned their knightly spurs in the first book fighting against tides of goat-headed beastmen. In Knight of the Realm, an army of Chaos-worshipping Norscans – think seven-foot-tall black magic Vikings – are raiding the length and breadth of Bretonnia and the combined armies of the land must ride out to defeat them. Bretonnia is a region modeled on an idealized medieval France replete with chivalry, knightly contests, and a rigid feudal hierarchy, but infused with a strong Arthurian flavor in the form of a cult of the Lady of the Lake and saint-like Grail knights.

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Art of the Genre: Maps and World-Building

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 | Posted by Scott Taylor

MERP made a map that started it all for me, and Tolkien only explored about a quarter of it!

MERP made a map that started it all for me, and Tolkien only explored about a quarter of it!

Way back in the day, I remember collecting I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth Role-Playing Game. If anyone ever bought those initial MERP supplements, they know that I.C.E. put a photo collection of what products were available on the back [much like TSR listed their products series on the backs of their early modules]. I was young, probably thirteen of fourteen at the time, and didn’t have much money, but I went out and collected everything represented on the back except three things, two of which were the campaign modules, Umbar Haven of the Corsairs and The Court of Ardor in Southern Middle Earth. Both were VERY early in the production line, probably out of print before I even started collecting, and the final piece was the MERP map set. Years later, I managed to purchase both Umbar and Ardor [actually my wife bought me Ardor after my first professional sale], but even though I’ve studied the image on that back cover a hundred times, and longed for the map beneath, I’ve never laid hands on a copy. The concept of that map laid the groundwork for my love of cartography and maps in general.

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Vincent N. Darlage Reviews Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

blackdirge1I’ve had the privilege of reviewing several excellent supplements from Goodman Games over the years, but this particular one somehow slipped by me. Fortunately, Vincent N. Darlage provided a wonderful review of it in Black Gate #14, making the case that this supplement is superior to the official D&D 4th edition Monster Manual:

Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens

Aeryn Rudel
Goodman Games (144 pages, hardcover, $24.99)
Reviewed by Vincent N. Darlage

Laid out in easy to read black and white, this book was reminiscent of old school 1st edition AD&D. The artwork was evocative and not overblown like so much modern role-playing art. Dungeon Denizens is well- organized and easier to use than the 4th edition core monster book. The fonts are easier to read, the artwork more interesting, and the monsters are easier to find and understand. In the front, a list of different ways to look up the monsters is offered, giving lists of monsters by origin, type, and by keyword.

The book’s full of good stuff. The monsters are interesting and come with more background and information than the core monster book offers. One of my biggest complaints about the core book is the lack of information – this book has information in spades and is a real top notch effort. I could see these monsters in games I might run.

Aside from not knowing (or really caring) who or what Blackdirge is, I found this a superior monster volume. If I were to stick with 4th Edition, I would probably use this book more often than the core book. It has my unqualified recommendation.


Writers of the Future: I Got an Illustration . . . and an Interpretive Dance!

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

with-framed-acolyte-illustration1chelsea-as-hallett-1I have returned after a two-week hiatus from Black Gate. It was a — busy time.

To get this out of the way first: Yes, I gave a shout out to Black Gate in general, with John O’Neill, Howard Andrew Jones, and Bill Ward in particular, when I accepted my award at the Writers of the Future Ceremony on 15 May 2011 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. (Here is the video of my section of the event, starting with the dance.)

When I started to write with the aim of publication — I don’t remember the exact moment when my love of writing began to seem like a possible profession, but it occurred about fifteen years ago — I liked to imagine a time when a professional artist would make an illustration of one of my books or stories. However, I never imagined that professional acrobats and dancers would create an interpretive dance of one of my stories as well.

I received many great gifts from my time at the Writers and Illustrators of the Future Workshop in Hollywood last week. Some are the tangibles like publication in a major anthology, a gala awards ceremony, my first official book signing, and payment. Some gifts are social, like a new network with the other winners as well as with the many celebrated writers and illustrators who make up the judging panel and the workshop teachers. All of us at the workshop will carry away a lifetime’s worth of advice, on everything from story construction to the best way to avoid getting a cold while on a book-promotion tour, from people such as Tim Powers, Robert J. Sawyer, Gregory Benford, K. D. Wentworth, Eric Flint, Dr. Yoji Kondo, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kevin J. Anderson, Dave Wolverton, Rebecca Moesta, and Mike Resnick.

There’s plenty for me to say about the experience of the workshop and getting published in Writers of the Future Vol. XXVII, and I will say more in future posts. But for this post, I am going to delve into the purely emotional and personal high points: the picture, and the dance. The first I knew was coming — and it was better than I could have imagined. The second I did not expect — and no surprise could have been more sublime.

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The Lord of the Rings: A Personal Reading, Part Three

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Return of the KingThis is the third of three posts on The Lord of the Rings, prompted by a recent re-reading of the book. You can find the first post, looking at Tolkien’s sense of character, here; the second post, about Tolkien’s use of landscape, is here. This week I’m going to write about structure, irony, and postmodernism.

Which means that I need to start with some definitions. I’ll get to what I mean by ‘postmodernism’ later. I want to start with ‘irony,’ a vexed word that means a number of things which aren’t really much like each other. The general description of irony I have in mind is ‘what happens when a text says the opposite of what is meant.’ On perhaps the simplest level, that’s sarcasm. But there are other ironies. ‘Dramatic irony,’ for example, is what happens when, without realising it, a character acts in a way opposite to his wishes, or unintentionally foreshadows some future event; the sort of thing that happens, for example, when an oracle gives a misleading answer to a question. Supposedly Croesus appealed to the Delphic oracle before leading his army against the Persians, and was told that if he went to war he would destroy a great empire — so he did, and the empire he destroyed was his own.

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Andrew Zimmerman Jones Reviews Intelligent Design

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Bill Ward

intellignet-designIntelligent Design
Edited by Denise Little
DAW books (307 pp, $7.99, September 2009)
Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Intelligent Design collects eleven stories focused on the theme of the creation of life. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I was impressed by the stories presented. This is a thinking person’s collection, an idea-driven romp through one of the most contentious topics in modern society.

One of my favorites was the final story, Laura Resnick’s engaging creation retelling “Project: Creation,” which actually made me laugh out loud. It reminded me of a mix between the Book of Genesis and The Office. What impressed me most was that it seemed like it could be read and appreciated by people on both sides of the debate. It leaves the basic tenets of creationism and religion intact, while providing a context where those who are less mystical can still appreciate the story. Each side could think, if only for a moment, “Yeah, maybe it could have sort of happened like that,” and at least see a glimpse of the other side’s point of view.

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