A Review of Master of Devils

Friday, August 19th, 2011 | Posted by Bill Ward

master-of-devils-pathfinder-fiction-dave-grossMaster of Devils
Dave Gross
Paizo Publishing (400 pp, $9.99, August 2011)
Reviewed by Bill Ward

Pathfinder’s new line of novels are making a good impression among fantasy readers, accessible as they are to fans of Paizo’s game world and the uninitiated alike. If you are not familiar with Pathfinder it is essentially Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, but with its own world that differs from existing D&D settings in various ways both large and small. The world of Golarion itself actually predates Pathfinder as a game system, and the wealth of detail and world-building that have gone into making it a fully-fleshed environment is impressive. And, while there are scads of Pathfinder supplements available at the time of this writing, the fiction end of things for Golarion is just getting started — Master of Devils representing the fifth novel set in the Pathfinder world.

Dave Gross has quickly distinguished himself as the go-to guy for Pathfinder fiction (be sure to check out Black Gate’s interview with him), having written two novels and co-written another, as well as having penned numerous Pathfinder Tales short stories available free at Paizo’s website, he has been fairly prolific. Gross’s signature characters are the adventuring duo Count Varian Jeggare and his bodyguard Radovan, a classically counter-balanced odd couple whose tales are told in alternating first person segments, allowing for the voice of the characters to emerge in interesting ways.

Master of Devils sees the pair in Tian Xia, Golarion’s equivalent of a politically-fragmented Ancient China, a realm as mysterious to the inhabitants of the continent of Avistan, from which Jeggare and Radovan hail, as it is to fans of the Pathfinder game, which has produced very little material on Tian Xia. Gross shows what he can do with this blank slate and admirably fills the gaps in the Pathfinder record with all manner of appealing details that bring the realm of the far east to life.

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Eight – “The Forest Kingdom of Mongo”

Friday, August 19th, 2011 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

blbforestkingdom61ykafrq1zl_sl500_aa300_“The Forest Kingdom of Mongo” was the eighth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally printed between October 25, 1936 and January 31, 1937, “The Forest Kingdom of Mongo” picks up the storyline where the seventh installment, “The Undersea Kingdom of Mongo” left off with Flash, Dale, and Zarkov winging their way to Prince Barin’s kingdom when they are ambushed by Ming’s air fleet. Their rocket ship is shot down and crash lands in an unknown forest near Mount Karakas. Ming orders Lu Chao, the commander of the air fleet to recover Flash’s body while Flash, an injured Zarkov, and an unconscious Dale stagger off into the forests.

Flash and Zarkov seek shelter in a nearby cave where Dale recovers consciousness. Lu Chao and his fleet arrive at the scene of the crash to discover the stolen rocket ship has been consumed by flames. Taking no chances that Flash might have survived, Lu Chao orders his men to set fire to the forest before they depart leaving the trio cut off by flames at every turn.

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Fictional Frontiers Interviews Howard Andrew Jones

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

the-desert-of-soulsSohaib Awan at Fictional Frontiers interviews Black Gate Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones on his first novel The Desert of Souls, non-Western fantasy, juggling modern expectations in historical fiction, and much more:

Fictional Frontiers: I’m spouting hyperbole here, but I think it’s so well earned…. give us an overview of The Desert of Souls.

Howard: Like a lot of adventure fiction, it starts with the discovery of a body. Of course, it’s the body of a dead parrot. The parrot’s beloved by Jaffar — I guess it’s a little Disney joke, because you know, Jaffar and the parrot. But of course Jaffar was a real character… arguably the most famous vizier in Arabian history. Anyway… his guard captain Asim suggests an adventure into the market. So he and Jaffar and the scholar Dabir go out into the city in disguise, and a dying man presents them with a strange and beautiful artifact, a golden door pull, and he asks them to keep it safe.  And that’s where things really take off. Dabir and Asim are tasked by Jaffar with learning the pull’s origin and purpose. Naturally they’re not the only ones after the thing, and they soon learn it may open a gateway to an unearthly realm, accessed in the ruins of the lost city of Ubar, which is sort of like an Atlantis of the sands.

The complete podcast runs 22 minutes, and is available here.


Some Thoughts on the Eve of Conan the Barbarian

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 | Posted by Brian Murphy

conan-2011-movie-posterI’ve refrained from talking about Conan the Barbarian (2011) until now, despite my love for Robert E. Howard’s works. But now that we’re poised on the eve of its U.S. release, I thought I’d weigh in with my personal hopes—and fears—regarding the film.

The bottom line for me is this: I’m going to do what the studio execs want, which is opening my wallet and seeing the movie. And I might even consider it money well spent. That said, the updates I’ve followed up to this point (your ultimate source is Al Harron’s Conan the Movie Blog) don’t leave me with great expectations.

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Goth Chick News: Cool Stuff from the Chicago Comic-Con

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image004Ah, August in Chicago.

Bicyclists along the lake front, street festivals, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel… and so many guys dressed like storm troopers you can’t spit a piece of gum without hitting one.

It’s once again Comic-Con time in the city.

Each year, following the bacchanalia in San Diego in July, the less manic, more edgy and far more spandex-laden version makes its way to my favorite city and thanks to my Black Gate creds, I get VIP access every August. The big Hollywood bunny-huggers in California can keep their con. Give me the artsier, indy-er and far more laid back Midwest version where you can still hobnob with the entertainment industry; but instead of seeing them from behind black draped partitions, you walk right up, shake hands and have a chat.

Amazing cartoonists, emerging authors, small-movie moguls and performance artists all mix with Iron Man-costumed day traders and slightly overweight Batmen.

A better afternoon you couldn’t hope to spend.

In the coming weeks it will be my distinct pleasure to bring you in-depth looks at some of my absolute favorite finds from the 2011 show. But being one of those “open at least one present on Christmas Eve” kind of girls, I couldn’t wait for the interviews to start taking shape.

So, here are a few of the most unique sights that caught my attention, in a good way. Believe me, there were a lot of sights that caught my attention in an entirely different way altogether, but I’ll stow my snark and stick to the cool stuff, listed in no particular order.

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Art of the Genre: Top 10 Fantasy Artists of the Past 100 Years

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Da Vinci didn't make the list because of the timeframe... but still... how about those eggs?

Da Vinci didn't make the list because of the timeframe... but still... how about those eggs?

So as it often happens here a BG L.A., John O’Neill issues a challenge and then we beat writers have to find a way to make it happen [Ok, so that only me and Ryan, but still]. John was looking over stories that got good hits from various sites around the internet and then phones me to say that I should do a piece on ‘Top 10s’ because people seem to really like top ten lists.

Ok, so after hanging up with him I yelled for Kandline to bring me the LA Times, which she was currently using to keep nail polish from dripping on her far too short skirt. After she made her way into my office I tried to convince her to help me determine what might be an interesting top ten. She suggested ‘Top 10 Disney stars who have a chance at winning an Oscar’, but Ryan Harvey shot that one down from his office next door as the sound of Miley Cyrus from the reception desk delivered wooden lines like a chorus of malevolent crows.

After some further consideration, these without my secretary’s help, I finally decided to go with the old standby of an art related article. That being said, I’m happy to bring you the Top 10 Fantasy Artists of the Past 100 Years.

Now you might be wondering how I came into possession of this list. Well, I went deep into my contacts and put together fifty names that consisted only of artists, art directors, convention organizers, and RPG publishers. Not a single voter on this panel didn’t have a vested interest in the topic at hand, and when all was said and done my list contained over fifty incredible names, but alas, I was only looking for 10, so that’s where we are. Oh, and if you’re wondering, no, I didn’t vote [no matter how much I would have loved to].

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The Unqualified Unique: The Daily Mail Interviews Me for Clark Ashton Smith’s 50th Morbid Anniversary

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

young-clark-ashton-smith-1912Sunday was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Clark Ashton Smith. We morbid fans of a writer with a delectable taste for morbidity love to celebrate death anniversaries as much as birth ones, and the seduction of the half-century mark is too great to dismiss.

My own celebration ended up in the hands of others, however. Two weeks ago, Jim Planck, an editor for The Daily Mail, a New York State newspaper, contacted me about doing an interview to commemorate Clark Ashton Smith’s death for a Sunday feature. He had come across my articles on Smith on Black Gate (here, here, here, and here) as well as on my website, and thought I could contribute to the article.

It’s flattering to realize that others have started to view you as an expert on one of your favorite authors. I dream that one day a publisher will ask me to edit and/or write an introduction to a collection of the works of either Clark Ashton Smith or Cornell Woolrich.

The Daily Mail Sunday edition does appear on-line, but the C-1 section of the paper doesn’t. (And unless you live in the Catskills and have access to the Daily Mail or its sister paper out of Hudson, NY, The Register-Star, you won’t be able to see it in print.) I’ve brought the full text of the interview over to Black Gate so you can hear me heap more praise on CAS.

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Ars Magica and the Specificity of Setting

Sunday, August 14th, 2011 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Ars MagicaFantasy fiction is very often set either in the European Middle Ages, or in lands that are intentionally highly reminiscent of the Middle Ages in terms of technology and social structure. It is true that the use of European medieval settings is less common now than it has been, and also true that there have always been counter-examples. But it seems that much fantasy still relies on the European Middle Ages to define itself, one way or another. Sadly, one often has a sense that these backgrounds are not wholly thought-through; not realised as completely as they might be. The setting in a lot of fantasy, particularly I think in commercial fantasy fiction, seems to be a very generic Middle Ages in which medieval stereotypes mix with unexamined modern assumptions.

(Historian and fantasy writer Kari Sperring had an excellent blog post not long ago in the course of which she decried ‘theme park’ fantasy; fantasy set in a world which has the trappings of medievalism but which lives on stereotypes about the past. Fiction that does not approach the Middle Ages as a distinctive culture — or, more properly, set of cultures — but rather as a way of reflecting some culture of the present day, with a few period trappings.)

In fact it’s a mistake to talk of ‘the Middle Ages’ as a single thing; between the sack of Rome and the advent of the Renaissance was a full thousand years, and different areas of Europe experienced those times very differently. It is wrong to imagine the Middle Ages as stagnant or unchanging or uniform. Technology changed, the arts changed, the understanding of the world changed. There were multiple Middle Ages, which varied with time and place; good fiction, I feel, understands this. Which is to say that good fiction, for the most part, understands the historical material it’s working with, and draws inspiration from the specifics of its background. History is an attempt at a record of human affairs, which means that it lends itself to drama and intensely human stories.

All of which brings me around to Judith Tarr’s 1989 novel Ars Magica, the story of a wizard a thousand years ago who became Pope.

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The 50 Best SF/F books and/or Series

Sunday, August 14th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

night-watchAfter much discussion of NPR’s 100 greatest science fiction and fantasy works, I was moved to construct my own list of what I consider to be the top 50. As with all such lists, this is somewhat arbitrary, nevertheless it should be taken as complete, definitive, and the final word on the matter. I see no purpose in honoring innovation for innovation’s sake when others have subsequently done it better, for example, John Polidori’s The Vampyre and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein have both been long surpassed as examples of their type, whereas the same is not true for Tolkein’s oft-imitated The Lord of the Rings or Orwell’s Animal Farm. In some cases, I have chosen to highlight a single book, Dune, for example, whereas in others I have chosen to view a series as a whole. Night Watch is easily the best of Terry Pratchett’s books, but it cannot be judged fairly in isolation as one has to have a fuller understanding of Ankh-Morpork to fully appreciate the novel. I have paid zero attention to book sales or authorial reputation, I have read all of the books on the list, and I have tended to rate genuinely amusing books more highly than others might due to the additional degree of difficulty involved.

I further note that if you happen to disagree with the reverence shown to Mr. Ray Bradbury, you are clearly inhuman, possess no soul, and should consider returning to your home planet. If you have not read or heard of Tanith Lee, people should throw rocks at you on the street until you rectify the error. On the other hand, if you have not read Hesse, that is understandable since he’s not traditionally considered a genre author. But do yourself a favor and read the book anyhow. And yes, Edgar Allen Poe should by rights be on here somewhere near the top, but the metric is books and/or series, not authors and/or short stories.

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Dune, Frank Herbert
3. Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury
4. The Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis
5. The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse
6. Watership Down, Richard Adams
7. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
8. The Secret Books of Paradys, Tanith Lee
9. The Sprawl Trilogy, William Gibson
10. The Cthulhu Mythos, HP Lovecraft

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PGS: The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories

Saturday, August 13th, 2011 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

Philippine Genre Stories Issue Four Cover

Philippine Genre Stories Issue Four Cover

I first encountered the name Charles Tan a few months ago, through publisher Erzebet YellowBoy of Papaveria Press. Mr. Tan kindly agreed to review the first two books in the new Wonder Tales series, Jack o’ the Hills and The Winter Triptych.

I did what one usually does. Commented on his blog. Friended him on Facebook. You know. The rounds.

On Facebook, Charles is a friendly presence, often wishing me a, “Good morning!” with such exuberant emphasis that I realized it must not be morning wherever he was. So I looked into it — and lo! As I’d begun to suspect, he’d been wishing me good morning from his evening — in the Philippines! So I started writing, “Good evening!” right back, which, at 10 AM, never fails to strike my silly bone.

As for who Charles Tan is, the World SF Travel Fund site (a crowdfunding effort to bring Mr. Tan to the states for the World Fantasy Convention — where he’s up for the Special Award – Non Professional ) sums him up nicely:

“Charles is a tireless promoter of speculative fiction. Besides his own Bibliophile Stalker blog, he contributes to the Nebula Awards blog, the Shirley Jackson Award blog, SF Signal and The World SF Blog. He also edited two online anthologies of speculative fiction from the Philippines. Charles is highly regarded in the SF scene both in the USA and internationally.”

But Ms. Cooney, you ask, what does this have to do with your subject line?

Well, darling thing! I’ll tell you.

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