Weird Fiction Review, and its Doppelganger

Monday, November 21st, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

wfrBack in August we reported that Wildside Press sold Weird Tales magazine to Marvin Kaye, leaving editor Ann VanderMeer out in the cold.

But it didn’t take long for Ann and her husband Jeff VanderMeer, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Finch and City of Saints and Madmen, to bounce back with a new enterprise: Weird Fiction Review, an online journal of fact and fiction: is an ongoing exploration into all facets of the weird, from the classics to the next generation of weird writers and international weird. Reviews, interviews, short essays, comics, and occasional fiction.

weird-fiction-reviewCool. Ann and Jeff are a creative force to be reckoned with, and together they have co-edited several fine fantasy anthologies, including The New Weird and the monumental The Weird: A Compendium of Strange & Dark Stories, a four pound, 1,152-page exploration of weird fiction over the last century. The new website looks extremely promising as well, featuring fiction by Jeffrey Thomas, Jean Ray, and Michal Ajvaz, non-fiction from Jeffrey Ford, Scott Nicolay, António Monteiro, and others, and a web comic by Leah Thomas.

Astute genre readers will note there’s already a fine periodical with the name Weird Fiction Review, a critical journal edited by the distinguished S.T. Joshi (see right). Published annually by Centipede Press, the first issue was released in Fall 2010. According to Ann & Jeff,

This site exists in a symbiotic relationship with S.T. Joshi’s print journal The Weird Fiction Review but does not share staff.

Whatever that means. But hey, we’re just happy to have Ann back at the helm of a new fantasy magazine, doing what she does best: discovering and promoting new talent. More power to her.

Steampunk Spotlight: Kings of Air and Steam

Monday, November 21st, 2011 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones


I was never a huge fan of history class. It wasn’t until after college that I really began to enjoy history, and then it was mostly in the form of alternate history novels. This reading motivated me to begin reading more widely in real-world history, too, though I still like the alternative stuff a little better. In 2005, I pulled some of this reading together into an essay for The Internet Review of Science Fiction on “fantastic adventure history“, stories blend alternate history with fantasy.

Definitely the most potent type of alternate history in publishing these days – with or without fantasy elements included – is the sub-genre known as steampunk. This alternate history is set in an Industrial Revolution or Victorian-era setting, but the steampowered technology is ramped up a bit beyond what was realistic for the time. The look and feel of steampunk is so enticing that even Disney has gotten into it, releasing a limited edition pin set, The Mechanical Kingdom, that features the classic Disney characters in steampunk variants.

Steampunk got its start as hard science fiction, as described at the recent “Founders of Steampunk” panel from the World Fantasy Convention, but it’s definitely moved beyond that. In fact, my first writing for this magazine, back in Black Gate 10, was a review of the fantasy steam-fueled roleplaying game, Iron Kingdoms, in which powerful wizards are able to control hulking mechanized constructs called warjacks. (Interested? Check out this interview with Iron Kingdoms artist Matthew D. Wilson.)

Without really seeking them out, these steampunk games seem to keep coming across my path … probably because there are just so darn many of them. In Black Gate 15, I reviewed the Victoriana roleplaying game (available on PDF at DriveThruRPG), which also has strong fantasy steampunk themes. In that same issue, I reviewed the steampunk zombie novel Boneshaker (Amazon, B&N). Today, steampunk seems to permeate through all sub-categories of genre fiction.

It also seems to permeate my house. I’ve got several steampunk novels, collections, games, and other oddities that I have had every intention of getting around to reading and reviewing. So, in an attempt to clear through this pile of steampunk populating my bookshelves, I’ve decided to begin a series of posts on recent steampunk goodies, starting with an upcoming steampunk board game: Kings of Air and Steam.

Joan North, The Cloud Forest, The Whirling Shapes, and The Light Maze

Sunday, November 20th, 2011 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Light MazeIf you read a lot, you’ll soon find yourself drawn to writers who become personal favourites but who, unaccountably, go unrecognised by the wider world. A little while ago my girlfriend introduced me to a book by one of her own favourite writers, a woman named Joan North. I want to write about North here, because I was impressed by her work and I think she deserves to be better known.

North wrote three books, fantasies for children; what you’d now call stories aimed at the younger end of the YA category. North’s first book, The Cloud Forest, was published in the UK in 1965 and in the US the year after. Her second book, The Whirling Shapes, was published in 1967. Her last book, The Light Maze, was published in 1971 and shortlisted for the 1972 Mythopoeic Award.

I’ve looked for more information online about North, but can find nothing. What I know about her is what’s written on the dust jacket of The Light Maze:

Joan North was brought up in North China but now [1971] lives in North London, “in a household which comprises a mathematical husband, two daughters, and two Siamese cats.” She says that her chief interest is in “what might be called exploring Inner Space.” This preoccupation can be traced in her earlier books, The Cloud Forest and The Whirling Shapes, which, like The Light Maze, bring into an ordinary and often comical picture of everyday life an awareness of other worlds, other modes of being. She likes reading about Yoga, Zen, Christian mysticism and Eastern philosophy.

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Free Knights of the Dinner Table Online Strips

Sunday, November 20th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

kodt-webcomicThe talented Jolly Blackburn, creator of the comic Knights of the Dinner Table, has posted an epic KoDT comic strip online for your enjoyment.

Knights of the Dinner Table is the finest gaming comic ever made. It follows the misadventures of a group of misfits from Muncie, Indiana, whose love of gaming routinely trumps normal social conventions, and occasionally even their sense of self preservation.

This latest online strip, “Not Up To Speed,” finds the gang involved in an impossibly ambitious  live-action recreation of the D-Day landing in a vast convention hall at Gary Con.

Long time readers will recognize the characters Eddie and Sara, who appear in the KODT Java Joint strip in the pages of Black Gate magazine.

The latest issue of the Knights of the Dinner Table print magazine is #180 (October 2011), making it one of the longest-running independent comics in history.

Knights of the Dinner Table magazine is 64 pages of comics, reviews and gaming fun for just $5.99. It’s available at better comic and game shops around the country, or online at KenzerCo, and it gets my highest recommendation.

Let’s Play White by Chesya Burke

Saturday, November 19th, 2011 | Posted by Soyka

lpw_smallChesya Burke’s new short story collection newly out from Apex Publications provides a take on the horrific and strange from, as you might expect from the title, an African-American perspective. The title comes from the opening story, “Walter and the Three-Legged King,” in which the down on his luck protagonist is advised by a talking rat, one that he’s maimed by tearing off its leg, that “let’s play white” is the only way for him to get a job and avoid getting thrown out of his apartment.  The notion that you have to “play the game” in a job interview is hardly the province of any particular race, however; moreover, the no-doubt low paying  job of doorman the protagonist hopes to land might actually have less to do with “playing white” than “playing subservient,” which is why ethnic minorities probably hold a larger percentage of these kinds of positions.

Of course, sf and fantasy have been a natural home for ethnic writers to explore the state of “otherness” in which alien creatures and societies symbolize the psychology of oppressed racial and sexual minorities.  Burke’s stories are more grounded in the everyday realities of the disenfranchised, realities that are disrupted by cultural myths such as the actually benevolent but of course misunderstood village witch (“The Teachings and Redepmtion of Ms. Fannie Lou Mason”), zombies (“Cue Change”) voodoo (“Chocolate Park”), diviner-healers (“The Unremembered” and “The Light of Cree”)  and the evil eye (“I Make People Do Bad Things”).  Some of the scariest, however, are the most realistic.

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New Treasures: The Legend of Drizzt

Friday, November 18th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

legendofdrizztI love board games. But after collectible card games and computer games pretty much swept the market clean of them in the mid-90s, it seemed the era of the board game was over.  I put away my copies of Dragon Pass and Divine Right, and pretty much accepted the fact that I’d be explaining the quaint concept of “board games” to my grandkids. Assuming I could get them to put down their Xbox controllers long enough.

Then an interesting thing happened in the middle of the last decade: The board game experienced something that almost looked like a resurgence. Enticed by Settlers of Catan and a series of popular titles from Fantasy Flight, gamers began to cautiously put down their controllers and cluster curiously around kitchen tables again.

Wizards of the Coast took notice and tossed their hat in the arena with several very well received games, including Ikusa and the epic Conquest of Nerath, both of which Scott Taylor reviewed for us here.

With just a few titles, WotC has become a heavyweight in fantasy board games — and they show no signs of slowing down.

Earlier this month a box landed on my doorstep (with a resounding thud) containing a review copy of their latest entry: The Legend of Drizzt, a massive 7-pound contender that has every appearance of being another winner.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Hand of Fu Manchu, Part Two – “Zarmi of the Joy Shop”

Friday, November 18th, 2011 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

si-fan-germanhand-pyramid“Zarmi of the Joy Shop” was the second installment of Sax Rohmer’s The Si-Fan Mysteries. The story was first published in Collier’s on May 13, 1916 and was later expanded to comprise Chapters 5 – 9 of the third Fu-Manchu novel, The Si-Fan Mysteries first published in 1917 by Cassell in the UK and by McBride & Nast in the US under the variant title, The Hand of Fu Manchu. The US book title marks the first time that the hyphen was dropped from the character’s name, although it was retained within the text.

“Zarmi of the Joy Shop” gets off to a cracking start with Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie bringing the purloined brass box belonging to the Si-Fan to Inspector Weymouth’s office. The Inspector introduces them to Detective Sergeant Fletcher who patrols Limehouse. Fletcher tells them of John Ki’s Joy Shop, a gambling house of ill repute which has recently had two new arrivals: a beautiful Eurasian woman called Zarmi and a mysterious crippled man who walks on crutches who has excited much interest among the gambling house’s denizens. Weymouth associated Smith and Petrie’s mysterious ‘man with a limp” with Fletcher’s mysterious cripple. Zarmi has recently approached Fletcher, who was working undercover, to find another “big strong feller” to help her with a job. Smith agrees to accompany Fletcher to the Joy Shop in disguise the following night after depositing the brass box in a bank safe in the morning.

A sentimental Petrie bids Smith farewell at the New Louvre Hotel where the dreary November weather turns Petrie’s mind to Cairo where he left his fiancée, Karamaneh behind. Rohmer does a wonderful job contrasting the gray London so familiar to his readers with the paradise of sunny Cairo with its domes and minarets that recall Burton’s translation of 1001 Arabian Nights that was so close to the author’s heart. Petrie spends the day visiting a colleague, Dr. Murray, who purchased Petrie’s old practice from him after he moved to Cairo to prepare for his wedding with Karamaneh. Upon his return in the evening, he learns that Smith failed to turn up at Weymouth’s office and failed to deposit the brass box at the bank in the morning. Only then does Petrie recall that the taxi Smith stepped in was driven by an effeminate-looking dark-skinned man. He immediately deduces that Smith has fallen into the hands of the Si-Fan.

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Goth Chick News: The Blueprints, and Goth Chick News Turns Two

Thursday, November 17th, 2011 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Happy Birthday Goth Chick News!

Happy Birthday Goth Chick News!

This week marks two years since our beloved editor John O’Neill convinced me there was a place for blood-streaked, supernatural stuff to be splattered around the Black Gate web site.

A publication dedicated to sci-fi and fantasy certainly wasn’t the first place I would have thought to set up shop. And in the last twenty-four months a few sites where “my sort” of topics would have been more at home have come calling. I could have pulled up stakes and gone to live and write in a sea of angsty 20-somethings, with multiple piercings and a monochrome wardrobe.

Or I could stay in the bowels of the Black Gate offices, where above me E.E. Knight stands on the roof taking the occasional pot shot at a curious tourist with his Mauser, and Ms. Clooney’s Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood brews endless pots of foul-smelling herbal tea.

Ultimately it was an easy decision.

And now, two years later, I’ve become accustomed to the seat in the unisex bathroom being forever left in the “up” position (Howard Andrew Jones, I know that’s your doing) and the occasional office brown-outs caused by Scott’s tinkering with the cable television.

I’ve also had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of some of the most innovative talent in literature, music, indy film and art.  I’ve introduced you to the guy who sound-tracks Hugh Hefner’s Halloween parties, the abducted kid from Close Encounters and a zombie-blasting, 80’s pulp-fiction hottie.

I’ve got the greatest job ever.

But most important, I’ve been introduced to the greatest audience ever.

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Black Gate Interviews James L. Sutter, Part One

Thursday, November 17th, 2011 | Posted by Bill Ward

sutterrockI recently caught up with Paizo’s James Sutter for a conversation about his work heading up Pathfinder’s new fiction line, as well as his own writing and influences.  In part one of our conversation James tells us about his new novel for Pathfinder, Death’s Heretic, and sheds a little light on one of fantasy’s gray areas. Over the next two weeks we’ll be covering a range of topics as James divulges on media-tie in fiction, early reading, assembling the killer lineup of the Before They Were Giants anthology, working in the game industry, and turning off the ‘editorial eye.’

A Conversation with James L. Sutter

Death’s Heretic is your first published novel, so that seems like a pretty good place to begin the conversation. Tell us a bit about the book and about Salim, Death’s Heretic’s protagonist.

First off, Death’s Heretic is a Pathfinder Tales novel, which means that it’s set in the campaign setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Fortunately for me, while it’s a shared-world novel, it’s a shared world that I’ve been helping to create over the last several years, and I had a lot of free reign with regard to the book’s setting.

The book is a fantastical mystery set in the desert nation of Thuvia, where folks with enough money can bid on an extremely rare potion which acts like a fountain of youth. A lot of people will do anything for a few more years of life and youth, so it’s not too surprising when one particular merchant wins the annual auction and winds up assassinated. The surprising part comes when the priests of Pharasma, the death goddess, go to resurrect him, only to find that his soul’s been stolen from the afterlife by an unknown kidnapper, who’s offering to ransom the soul back for the merchant’s dose of the elixir.

That’s where Salim comes in. A former priest-hunting atheist, Salim hates the death goddess with a passion, yet is bound against his will to act as a problem-solver and hired sword for the church. In this case, he’s in for even more aggravation than usual, as the investigation is being financed by the merchant’s headstrong daughter, who demands to accompany him. Together, the two of them end up traveling all over the various planes of the afterlife in a race to uncover the missing soul, interacting with demons, angels, fey lords, mechanical warriors, and more.

At the risk of spoilers, to me the book is actually three stories: the mystery of the stolen soul, the story of how a staunch atheist ends up working for a goddess, and the colliding worlds of the hard-bitten warrior and the wealthy aristocrat.

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Art of the Genre: Wizardry, Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 | Posted by Scott Taylor

This twisting dragon was a genesis for me in so many ways...

This twisting dragon was a genesis for me in so many ways...

I guess my string of nostalgia continues here at the Black Gate L.A. offices. You see, it was ‘bring you son to work’ day last Friday and I decided even though it might come back to bite me, I’d expose my 5-year old son Ash to Ryan Harvey and Kandi. I figured if worse came to worse, I could just skip out and spend a few hours on the beach with him, but a few stars aligned and that wasn’t the case.

Luckily for me, unlucky for him, Ryan had left the office for the opening of Immortals, and Kandi took a personal day for a casting call in some new Roland Emmerich blockbuster so Ash and I sat in my office and had Starbucks as I tried to explain to him what it was I did exactly. The conversation quickly devolved into a justification for all things fantasy before he lost interest and asked if he could play Angry Birds on my iPhone.

This, for all you scoring at home, was a turning point for me. I had one of those ‘when I was a kid’ epiphanies. I mean really, when I was a kid there were no iPhones, heck we had a corded rotary phone in my house until the phone company demanded my mother remove it a decade ago, and that phone was even on a party line if anyone remembers what that is.

Yeah, I just turned the big 4-0 a couple of months back, and as I sat looking at my little pixie-faced boy with his Bieber hair and Quicksilver surfing attire I tried to remember what I was doing when I was getting ready to turn 6.

Well, I guess I was going to Star Wars, playing with action figures, enjoying platter meals at Burger Chef, and reenacting Smokey and the Bandit with my Hotwheels. In that year, 1977, the Atari 2600 would be released, but I’m sure I didn’t see it until I was 8 or 9, and probably didn’t own one until 1980 or 81. Yep, there were no video games for the first decade of my existence, but we somehow made due with our imagination.

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