An Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

Monday, December 19th, 2011 | Posted by Patty Templeton

jeff-vandermeerAre you interested in ominous cities covered in creeping, mysterious fungi? What about flamboyant narrators, noir and the New Weird? Yeah? Good. Sit down a spell and have a listen to a man who has written it all – Jeff VanderMeer. The two-time World Fantasy Award winner and creator of Ambergris talked a slice of time to Black Gate about music, new writers and a hep bit of miscellaneous more.

Black Gate:  What do you think are the three best, new albums to come out in 2011?

Jeff VanderMeer: That’s tough for me because I haven’t listened consistently to a lot of music. What I can tell you is that I’m really high on The Black Keys’ El Camino, and the latest releases by Ringside, Three Mile Pilot, Steve Wynn, and the Rosebuds.

Who are three bands that you “discovered” in 2011 and now can’t live without?

I really delved back into bands I already knew, for the most part. However, I can say I can’t live without Murder by Death, Black Heart Procession, and the sadly defunct Pleasure Forever.

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A Review of Embassytown

Sunday, December 18th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

embassytown1Embassytown by China Mieville
Del Rey (368 pages, $26.00, May 2011)

Embassytown is an excellent and astonishingly original science fiction novel. It is also a clever subversion of C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, defending as it does a literally Satanic theme in its rationalization of the intentional corruption of innocence. As such, it could be considered to be a philosophical novel of the sort that Umberto Eco writes; this is the sole aspect of the book that is both weak and unoriginal. But the trivial nature of the philosophical aspect does not detract from the novel in the slightest, as very few readers indeed will be aware of either the subversion or the subtext despite the relatively clear suggestions provided by Mieville.

The story concerns a human colony of the future that is established on a very distant planet inhabited by a strange and sentient alien race that speaks a unique language that involves two simultaneous voices. In order to communicate with the aliens, it is necessary for humans to speak in specially trained, genetically identical pairs because the alien’s link between Language and mind is such that the aliens cannot understand the sounds even if they are reproduced accurately by machines or unrelated human pairs. These trained pairs, called Ambassadors, are the colony’s only means of communicating with the aliens, whose biotechnology is required for them to survive given their very limited support from the human empire to which they owe a rather tenuous allegiance.

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Talk to Any Squids Lately? In Space, I Mean?

Sunday, December 18th, 2011 | Posted by Bud Webster

the-moon-poolWhen last we spoke, you and me, the subject was what I wasn’t. Feel free to go back and refresh your memory, I’ll wait here. La, la, la; biddley-biddley-boooo; Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee….

Ah, good, you’re back. And you brought me a root-beer, much thanks. This time around, I’d like to address the subject of what I am. At least in part:  if we did the whole thing, we’d be here through Entropy, and I’d have to pay you by the hour.

You already know I’m a bibliophile, and a stfnal historian, and Estates Liaison for the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I probably wouldn’t be here otherwise. I’m also a Leo (like that matters worth a tinker’s cuss), a native Virginian, white, middle-class and not nearly as overweight as I was a year ago. None of that is germane to this discussion, though, except perhaps peripherally.

For our purposes here at the Black Gate blog, I am a professional writer of science fiction and fantasy. Well, strictly speaking I write whatever I can get paid to write, within reason, but my preferences (not to mention my influences) run to fantastic fiction of one sort or another. I make no bones about that and never have; I don’t apologize to my family about it, I don’t qualify it as “something I’m doing to pay the rent while I work on My Novel,” and I don’t try to turn what I do into Art or Literature.

Don’t get me wrong, now; if anything I write approaches those lofty heights (and believe me, I do consider those heights both lofty and worthy of aspiration), I would be absolutely delighted. I’m just content when people tell me I’ve written a pretty good yarn. Anything else is space-icing on the cake-droid. With time-travel.

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Long Live the Physical Book–at least for now

Saturday, December 17th, 2011 | Posted by Soyka

jp-holiday-articleinlineSo it would seem that the death of the physical book and the physical bookstore is greatly exaggerated. According to The New York Times, bookstores are having a banner year. In part this is because some of the competition (i.e., Borders) is no longer a factor in brick-and-mortar retailing, a number of popular books (ironically including the biography of Steve Jobs, the very guy who sought to digitize and commodify the object in question) and a desire among consumers in a slowly recovering economy to give gifts that are attractive in a way that bits on a screen don’t quite emulate.

Also, content owners are, as they are prone to do, shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to digital retailing. Despite the fact the e-book readers are more affordable than ever with a growing proliferation of titles in e-book format, pricing strategies are frequently rendering physical books as less expensive than their digital counterparts, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Long live the dog-eared book, if only for another few years.

On another note, and though it has nothing to do with the normal realm of Black Gate matters, I’m sad to note the passing of Christopher Hitchens.  Right up to the end, he was one gutsy bastard.  Here’s what I presume was his last piece of Vanity Fair.

Art of the Genre Review: Jeff Dee’s new Kickstarter

Saturday, December 17th, 2011 | Posted by Scott Taylor


Last month I was intrigued to see that former TSR artist Jeff Dee had started a project on Kickstarter to recreate his classic images from the Egyptian pantheon in Deities & Demigods. Now, first, I didn’t really know anything about Kickstarter, but the more I looked at it the more interested I became.

If you don’t know about it, I’ll give you the Cliff’s notes version. Kickstarter is a site that provides creative people an outlet to connect with fans and take contributions for projects they might otherwise not get to do.

In this fashion Jeff, who hadn’t seen work from TSR in nearly 30 years, got to go back and recapture some of AD&D’s faded glory.

You see, in those early days of TSR things were changing fast, money was coming in like water into a sinking ship, and nobody really had any idea what they had. That being said, all of Jeff’s original works for the company were unceremoniously tossed in a dumpster to make room in the files for newer artwork, so original copies of his stuff no longer exits.

Jeff decided that it was high time he remedy that fact, and so he went out to recreate the images he did for Deities & Demigods, one pantheon at a time, with an added caveat that he’d also create several new images of Egyptian gods that the former TSR deadlines didn’t allow time for.

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Goth Chick News: Animated, Severed Zombie Ears; It’s Gonne Be a Great 2012!

Friday, December 16th, 2011 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image0042I’m so excited about this news that I almost don’t know where to start.

Back in the late summer I got wind of some tantalizing rumors about a new project from the companies who last combined animation with gothic themes; two of my favs.

Focus Features and LAIKA, the folks behind the Academy Award-nominated animated feature Coraline were rumored to be re-teaming for a new project, ParaNorman. Details were maddeningly scarce but the name, which went from “working title” to the actual title in early October, had me pulling out my best cyber-stalking techniques to learn more.

Now, just when it started to look like entertainment in my favorite genre was going to be disappointinly thin in the New Year, Focus Features opened the information floodgates and I’m spinning around the office like Julie Andrews on top of an Austrian hillside.

No, you don’t have to picture that if you don’t want to.

ParaNorman is currently in production and being directed by Sam Fell (The Tale of Despereaux and Flushed Away) and Chris Butler, storyboard supervisor on Coraline and storyboard artist on Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.  So right there is enough reason to be quivering in anticipation.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Hand of Fu Manchu, Part Six – “The House of Hashish”

Friday, December 16th, 2011 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

hand-original1sifanmys“The House of Hashish” was the sixth installment of Sax Rohmer’s The Si-Fan Mysteries. The story was first published in Collier’s on February 17, 1917 and was later expanded to comprise Chapters 22 – 26 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.

“The House of Hashish” starts off with a wonderfully atmospheric opening with Dr. Petrie keeping a lonely nighttime vigil in the now abandoned shadow-filled wharf-side Joy Shop with only the sound of lapping waves and the incessant squealing of rats to accompany him. From a window, he watches Nayland Smith approach an old beggar woman and overhears their conversation. The old woman claims to have twisted her ankle and begs Smith to help her to the rooms she keeps in a wharf-side warehouse. Smith obliges and, of course, walks into a ruse as a dacoit leaps upon his back and quickly wraps a cord around his neck and begins strangling him. Fearing he is witnessing his friend’s death and helpless to stop him, Petrie is flabbergasted to see Smith’s apparent twin arrive to the rescue. Smith’s double beats off the dacoit and hurls the man into the Thames.

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I ask for Black Ice, and all I get is Angry Birds

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 | Posted by Aaron Starr

It's like a how-to guide for living in the present!

It's like a how-to guide for living in the present!

The year which we have so long awaited is finally upon us. 2013. Finally, our dreams of a cyberpunk-style distopia can be fully realized. Let’s do a rundown, shall we?

Corporate personhood? Check! Finally, the mega-corporations have revealed the iron fists beneath their velvet gloves! Pharmaceutical companies are now pursuing legal actions allowing their salespeople to basically say whatever they want to under the premise that the corporations are exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech. Can Second Amendment rights be far behind? This is like manna from heaven to those of us longing to live in a cyberpunk-fueled future.

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Art of the Genre: Redheads hate clothes!

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Nope... you're wrong, this is Jirel of Jory, but nice try.

Nope... you're wrong, this is Jirel of Jory, but nice try.

I walked into work today, a holiday themed hot chocolate in my hand and was greeted by Kandi as usual, although her normally blonde locks were now blazing red. Granted it was eye-catching, perhaps even stunning, but as I looked at her from my office I couldn’t help but wonder what the obsession was with redheads… especially in fiction.

I picked up my phone, buzzed Ryan next door and hear the distinctive Black Hole Soundtrack ringer.

“Hello?” says Ryan.

“Hey,” I reply. “Did you see Kandi?”

“Yeah, why?”

“What did you think?” I asked.

“I thought she was channeling some Christina Hendricks,” he answered.

Exactly! Kandi turned from Barbie to Firefly’s Saffron in the course of a night, but she still had something going for her that the bulk of fantasy redheads don’t… clothing.

You see, redheads don’t like clothes… At least that’s what I was brought up to believe. I’m really not sure why this is considering that in my forty years on this planet every single redhead I’ve known was intelligently required to wear clothes because their freckled skin would burn a nice shade of crimson in less than five minutes if exposed to the sun.

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Harryhausen’s Mysterious Island on Blu-ray

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

mysterious-island-title-cardMysterious Island (1961)

Directed by Cy Enfield. Starring Michael Craig, Herbert Lom, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Percy Herbert, Dan Jackson, Beth Rogan.

I have no qualms admitting that I enjoyed the 2007 Walden Media adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth. It surprised me how much of Verne’s novel made it onto the screen in a contemporary setting. However, the prospect of a sequel, riffing slightly (at least from what I can detect from the first trailer) on Verne’s 1874 classic The Mysterious Island, does nothing for me other than as a reminder to read that recent translation of the novel from the Modern Library that has stared at me from my “to read” stack for over a year. The new film is called Journey 2: Mysterious Island, which explains exactly what the filmmakers intend: the same thing as the last film. Maybe some younger viewers will go find the book after watching the movie, although the novel is less child-appealing than some of Verne’s other works, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, which children should read first anyway because Mysterious Island is a sequel to it. Will Captain Nemo show up in the new film? Who cares.

However, the marketing for Journey 2 coincides with the Blu-ray release of an earlier adaptation, the Ray Harryhausen-Charles H. Schneer Mysterious Island released in 1961. A number of Harryhausen’s classics have reached Blu-ray already, but Mysterious Island makes its high definition debut in a limited edition from a small direct distributor, Twilight Time, that specializes in film soundtrack albums. This concerns me for the release of other of Harryhausen titles. Mysterious Island is a Columbia film, and Sony Home Video released The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts on Blu-ray. Apparently, they preferred to farm out Mysterious Island to an independent—and on the film’s fiftieth anniversary! I may never have learned about the Mysterious Island Blu-ray if I wasn’t a soundtrack collector on mailing lists for small labels. (If you want to buy the Mysterious Island Blu-ray, go here. It’s limited to 3,000 unit, and I have no idea how fast they will sell.) Read More »

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