A Triumph of the Characterization

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 | Posted by Theo

Lest you doubt the complete artistic and commercial success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which has a real case for being the best translation from SF/F book to film yet performed, this clip of an utterly devastated fan of Lord Eddard Stark, albeit one who clearly never read the books, should serve as compelling evidence to the contrary. Every author and filmmaker should be amazed by the accomplishment of George R.R. Martin, the HBO producers, and Sean Bean in generating such strong feelings about the fate of a fictional character. It also demonstrates that the fantasy genre, when done right, has the potential to go well beyond its expected markets. Warning: extremely strong language.

A more appreciative, if equally shocked response, can be found at Grantland, as Andy Greenwald explains how Game of Thrones has gone where no television series has dared to go before.

Murray Leinster’s “Runaway Skyscraper”

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

murray-leinster-runaway-skyscraperI’m a nut about the trivia of dates, so the moment I heard about the birth of my second nephew, A. Dean Martin (yes, really), I had to look up the famous people who share his birthday of June 16. The list includes philosopher Adam Smith, legendary film comedian Stan Laurel, and Apache leader Geronimo. Oh, and some fellow named Murray Leinster.

It was that last name that struck me the most. Murray Leinster is one of those science-fiction masters who has managed to find a place in general public obscurity. Despite a writing career lasting over half a century, Leinster’s name probably means nothing to most casual readers of contemporary science fiction, unless they pick up anthologies of Golden Age stories.

Murray Leinster (pen name of William Fitzgerald Jenkins, 1896–1975) is a rare case of a twentieth-century science-fiction author whose career started before the Campbell Revolution in Astounding but also continued through and beyond it, into the era when Astounding had become Analog and the field had broadened with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy. Like Jack Williamson, Leinster shifted easily into the stable of authors that John W. Campbell corralled for Astounding, which was otherwise made up of newly discovered writers. Leinster wrote some of his best work for Astounding, most notable among them “First Contact,” a story which the Science Fiction Writers of America voted into the classic 1970 anthology The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, meant as a “Nebula Awards before there were Nebula Awards.” “First Contact” tied for fourth place in the list of stories with Theodore Sturgeon’s “Miscrocosmic God.” Its inclusion in the collection marked it as one of the greatest short stories in the field pre-1965.

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A review of Hellebore & Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic

Monday, June 20th, 2011 | Posted by Cynthia Ward

hellebore-and-rueHellebore & Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic
Edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff
Drollerie Press (Ebook [Kindle], 238 pp., $9.99, February 2011)
Lethe Press (Trade Paperback, 238 pp., $15.00, May 2011)

Fantasy allows us to see the world not as it is, but as it might be.

Worlds where mortals have powers and abilities we can only dream of; where women neither need nor expect to rely on a man; where genders and orientations are equal, or face inequities starker than our own.

You’ll find all these possibilities, and more, in the twelve worlds of Hellebore & Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic, the new anthology edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff.

In opening story “Counterbalance,” Ruth Sorrell’s impressive first fiction publication, the world isn’t too different from ours. It initially resembles a typical urban fantasy milieu: magic’s real; the setting’s a modern metropolis; there’s a vampire slayer; there’s a nightclub/bar/safe space for the supernatural set. But the protagonist, Riley, isn’t the vampire slayer–she’s the most powerful being in Toronto. And the safe space? It isn’t, leaving Riley facing a newcomer much too powerful to oppose alone.

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Thor and the Fear of Fantasy

Sunday, June 19th, 2011 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Thor, the MovieAs a good Shakespearean, Kenneth Branagh understands fantasy. I think the movie Thor succeeds mostly because of what he as a director brings to the film, and what he’s able to get out of his cast. What’s missing seems to be what the script doesn’t give him — a larger world, memorable supporting characters, and a willingness to engage with the matter of fantasy.

The tale’s simple enough. Following an incursion of evil frost giants into the realm of Asgard, Thor, son of Asgard’s ruler Odin, leads a retaliatory raid against the giants; because this endangers a fragile peace between the realms, Odin exiles Thor to earth, stripping him of his power. Thor and his magic warhammer Mjolnir materialise in New Mexico, where he’s befriended by rogue cosmologists, deals with agents of the superspy organisation S.H.I.E.L.D., and struggles against the plots of his brother Loki. Thor ultimately has to regain his power to return to Asgard to save all the worlds from Loki’s schemes.

It’s an enjoyable adventure movie. The set-pieces are well staged, the design of the visuals are distinctive, and the actors sell the material by consistently hitting the right balance between the grounded and the larger-than-life. But the script of the movie struggles to fit the mythic material at the core of the story into standard superhero movie structures.

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New Treasures: Fraser Ronald’s Sword Noir

Sunday, June 19th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

forsimplecoinFraser Ronald is an author who will be familiar to readers of Black Gate 15. His story “A Pound of Dead Flesh” is a terrific sword-and-sorcery action piece, featuring two legionnaires who become involved in a plot to cheat a necromancer — a plot that very quickly goes very wrong.

Two of the hallmarks of Fraser’s writing are his gift for worldbuilding, and his clear love of sophisticated action tales in the noir genre. Both of these have served him well in his next projects: For Simple Coin, a collection of four tales of “Sword Noir,” and a compact, complete role-playing game called simply Sword Noir:

Hardboiled sword & sorcery – it’s Conan seeking for the Maltese Falcon, it’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in The Big Sleep, set in Lankhmar, it’s hardboiled crime fiction in the worlds of sword & sorcery.

Inspired by mashing up the novels and stories of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Robert E Howard, and Fritz Leiber, Sword Noir: A Role-Playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery is a new RPG from Sword’s Edge Publishing. In it, characters’ morals are shifting at best and absent at worst. The atmosphere is dark and hope is frail or completely absent. Violence is deadly and fast. Trust is the most valued of commodities – life is the cheapest. Grim leaders weave labyrinthine plots which entangle innocents. Magic exists and can be powerful, but it takes extreme dedication to learn, extorts a horrible price, and is slow to conjure.

Now is the time for your characters to walk down mean streets, drenched in rain, hidden in fog, and unravel mysteries, murders, and villainy.

sword-noirSword Noir is available today from Sword’s Edge Publishing or RPGNow in PDF format for just $4.99, and in print for $10.73. It is a 6″ x 9″ softcover book with black & white interiors — including maps — running 104 pages.

For Simple Coin is 90 pages, and collects three short stories which originally appeared in AtFantasy, Forgotten Worlds, and On Spec, as well as one story original to this collection.  These tales perfectly illustrate the appealing mix of dark fantasy and noir detective fiction that Fraser has perfected.

If you’re a fan of the hard-boiled fantasy of Alex’s Bledsoe’s Eddie LaCrosse novels or Glen Cook’s Garrett, P.I., you’ll want to check these out.

For Simple Coin is $1.99 in PDF, or $6.99 for the print version.  It is available through RPGNow. Cover art is by Paul Slinger.

Howie Bentley Reviews The Drums of Chaos

Sunday, June 19th, 2011 | Posted by Bill Ward

the-drums-of-chaos-2The Drums Of Chaos
Richard L. Tierney
Mythos Books (440 pages, $45, Sept 2008)
Reviewed by Howie Bentley

Simon of Gitta, Richard L. Tierney’s famous escaped gladiator turned student of the occult, has returned to the Holy Land to take revenge on the Roman officials who killed his parents and sold him into slavery. The Drums of Chaos shows Simon at his most savage as he slays his foes and writes messages on the wall in their blood. Simon is a hell hound on his enemies’ trail, but his plans start being disrupted as apocalyptic supernatural events unfold and cross his path. It seems that there are a handful of different factions of sorcerers, all with their own agendas; not excluding Jesus Christ, the son of Yahweh Zava’ot (A.K.A. Yog-Sothoth).

Although this is a Sword & Sorcery novel in the grand Howardian tradition, it is just as much about the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as it is about Simon’s adventures in the Holy Land. Imagine the Christ Passion viewed through the eyes of H.P. Lovecraft and you start to get an idea where this is going. Some may scoff at this portrayal of biblical events but I think, looking at it objectively, you have to admit that Tierney’s account of the crucifixion is just as plausible as the stories you hear in church, and a hell of a lot more interesting – as I often found myself on the edge of my seat while reading Drums, as opposed to slumped down in my seat asleep. This might well be considered the most blasphemous yarn of the whole literary body termed “the Mythos,” and considering the nature of the field, that’s saying something.

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Realms of Fantasy Celebrates 100 Issues

Saturday, June 18th, 2011 | Posted by Soyka

june-cover-e1306695326756Congratulations to Realms of Fantasy on its 100th issue (which actually has 101 pages, but I guess the extra page is for good luck, and doesn’t make for quite the same alliterative headline), a notable accomplishment for a publication that has been brought back from the dead on several occasions.  In fact, the magazine has had five publishers, with founding editor Shawna McCarthy the only person who has been there for the duration, according to the issue’s “Little Known Facts.”  Fiction contributors include Leah Bobet, Josh Rountree and Samantha Henderson, Sharon Mock, Thea Hutchinson, Patrick Samphire, Euan Harvey and David D. Levine, as well as poetry by Ursula Le Guin and various art, book, gaming and movie reviews along with the regular Folkroots column by Theodora Gass.  Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

I’m guessing that Realms of Fantasy has never before been mentioned in the same breath as The Paris Review, so we here at Black Gate197-outline1 Tastemaker Central take particular pleasure in noting that the latter literary bastion has much of interest to the same people who read the bastion of fantasy genre tales (and perhaps vice versa?). The Summer 2011 features “Art of Fiction” interviews with  Samuel R. Delany and William Gibson, as well as a story by Jonathan Lethem, “The Empty Room,” that’s available online.

Free RPG Day 2011

Friday, June 17th, 2011 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

This Saturday is Free RPG Day, and as a lifelong gamer I wanted to encourage all of you current, former, and interested potential gamers to drop by your local gaming store to see what free role-playing game products are being offered for your enjoyment.

I’m especially interested in the new Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game Adventure Starter. Any readers of the Black Gate game review section know what a fan I am of Dungeon Crawl Classics, so I’m expecting good things. The Adventure Starter includes an atmospheric scenario for beginning characters, as well as one for higher level characters, and I’m looking forward to running my group through them this evening.

The Adventure Starter is just half the tale, though, for the beta version of the Dungeon Crawl Classics game is available online here. It looks to be a back-to-the-basics style heroic fantasy game, with no feats, prestige classes, attacks of opportunity, etc.  Some days I like the fussy bits and customization of modern fantasy adventure games as much as the next guy, but sometimes I want to throw those books across the room and run something without so many rules, exceptions, and charts. The DCC Beta looks promising: I’ll find out this evening how it plays out, and report back.

Blogging Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula, Part Six

Friday, June 17th, 2011 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

gsd-3tod-29Giant-Size Dracula #3, “Slow Death on the Killing Ground” offers another strong script from Chris Claremont. It is a pity that Marvel’s Curse of Dracula series (as the Giant-Size quarterly companion title was listed on the splash page of each issue) did not continue longer for Claremont and artist Don Heck actually made a good B-team to stand alongside Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan with the monthly title. The story concerns Lady Elianne Turac, a 15th Century Wallachian noblewoman whose father fell victim to Dracula. Elianne swore eternal vengeance on the vampire and thanks to her becoming an Adept of the Black Arts, she was granted that immortality (bizarrely at the cost of her vision). Flash forward to 1974 and Elianne is now a blind Romanian militant who leads her band of terrorists in an unexpected raid on a society party in London. Their purpose is to abduct Quincy Harker to gain access to the Montesi Formula and wipe all vampires from the face of the earth. Being terrorists, Quincy should not be surprised when they gun down all of the dinner guests to insure no witnesses survive. As events transpire, Dracula ends up saving Quincy from the terrorists and only the timely arrival of the quarterly series’ protagonist, psychic investigator Kate Fraser saves Harker from ending up a vampire himself. Quincy ends up hospitalized yet again while Dracula sets out to end the threat posed by Elianne by destroying each of her associates and then draining her blood. The post-script sees Inspector Chelm and Kate Fraser arrive on the scene in time to put a stake through Elianne’s heart.

The Tomb of Dracula #29, “Vengeance is Mine, Sayeth the Vampire” is exactly the story readers should anticipate next. Having had time to brood over Sheila Whittier’s decision to leave him for David Eshcol, Dracula is at his most sadistic in this issue starting with a truly terrifying attack on an innocent woman and the crowd that tries to save her as the story opens. Sheila knows Dracula well enough to fear retaliation and for his part, David resolves to seek the vampire out in daylight and put a stake through his heart. From there the story transitions to India where Taj Nital and his wife relive the painful memories of Dracula’s visit to their village several years before with a legion of the undead. Before all was said and done, Taj had been left mute, his vocal chords slashed by the vampire’s bite. But for the timely arrival of Rachel Van Helsing, Taj would have fallen to become a vampire like his son. Through the tragedy of their lives, Taj and his wife reconcile and declare their love for one another as best they can. Meantime, poor David Eshcol finds Dracula not so easy to kill as he imagined. Wolfman and Colan depict the vampire at his most malevolent as David flees for his life only to find the vampire waiting at the door for him, laughing maniacally. From that horrifying scene, we cut back to Sheila as she answers the doorbell to find David’s bloodied corpse in the doorway and Dracula behind it, taunting her to welcome him home. It is a jarringly effective scene that drives home the point that a woman who ignores a predatory male’s nature believing she is the exception is doomed to find she is just another victim in the end. That is precisely how the story concludes with Sheila hurling herself through her bedroom window after Dracula has backhanded her. Colan’s artwork is simply stunning showing Sheila and the broken glass falling ever closer toward the “camera” in three succeeding panels as an anguished Dracula tries and fails to reach her in time. This is simply the comic medium at its most effective and rises above the standard set by nearly every Dracula film ever produced. Stunning work that is as effective then as it is now.

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LOVECRAFT eZINE: Keeping It Weird

Thursday, June 16th, 2011 | Posted by John R. Fultz

LOVECRAFT EZINE #1 - 5 are available for reading NOW.

Horror fans and Lovecraft afficionados have been darkly singing the praises of LOVECRAFT eZINE. Editor/founder Mike Davis and Crew offer monthly chills and thrills that “share the tone and themes of Lovecraft.”  That is, cosmic fear, or simply “weird fiction” if you prefer. Within that spectrum there is a vast array of possibilities for horror, dark fantasy, and beyond. Some of the zine’s current best include tales by horrormeister W.H. Pugmire, an Old School Gent when it comes to all things Lovecraftian, as well as stories by Joe Pulver and David J. West.

LOVECRAFT eZINE will be featuring my story “The Lord of Endings” in its August issue. This is a tale inspired by Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, the Black Pharaoh, the Haunter of the Dark, the Faceless God and Messenger of the Old Ones. It’s also about hate, and the power it has to poison the dreams of the living. Fans of Lovecrafts’ Dreamlands stories will either love it or weep about it.

The inspired art at the site is done by Pat (mimulux). Above is the fantastic cover of the first issue. Issues #1-5 are available for reading at: lovecraftzine.com/

Check it out now and keep an eye open for “The Lord of Endings.”

Sweet dreams!

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