Read an excerpt from Bradley P. Beaulieu’s The Straits of Galahesh

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 | Posted by Bradley Beaulieu

galahesh-cover-v2-medWith the release of The Straits of Galahesh imminent (it hits shelves April 3rd), I’m grateful to John O’Neil and Howard Andrew Jones for having me by to share an excerpt. The Straits of Galahesh is the second book in my epic fantasy trilogy, The Lays of Anuskaya. The story picks up five years after the close of the first book, The Winds of Khalakovo. (And by the way, if you don’t already have a copy of WINDS, it’s available for FREE in the US from the Amazon Kindle Store until the end of the month.)

Here’s the cover blurb for STRAITS:

West of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya lies the Empire of Yrstanla, the Motherland. The Empire has lived at peace with Anuskaya for generations, but with political turmoil brewing and the wasting disease still rampant, opportunists from the mainland have begun to set their sights on the Grand Duchy, seeking to expand their empire.

Five years have passed since Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, was tasked with finding Nasim, the child prodigy behind a deadly summoning that led to a grand clash between the armies of man and elder elemental spirits. Today, that boy has grown into a young man driven to understand his past – and the darkness from which Nikandr awakened him. Nikandr’s lover, Atiana, has become a Matra, casting her spirit forth to explore, influence, and protect the Grand Duchy. But when the Al-Aqim, long thought lost to the past, return to the islands and threaten to bring about indaraqiram – a change that means certain destruction for both the Landed and the Landless – bitter enemies must become allies and stand against their horrific plans.

Can the Grand Duchy be saved? The answer lies hidden within the Straits of Galahesh…

I also wanted to let the readers of Black Gate know that I’m holding a giveaway to help promote The Straits of Galahesh. Everyone is welcome to come by and enter. I’m giving away a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet (winner’s choice), a Kindle Touch or Nook Simple Touch (winner’s choice), a rare ARC of The Straits of Galahesh, and ten SETS of the first two books in both physical and electronic form. The details, including how to enter, can be found here.

One last item of note, if you enjoy the excerpt below, you can download the first eleven chapters from my website.

So, without further ado, here’s the prologue from The Straits of Galahesh.

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Return of the Barbarian Prince

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

barbarian-prince-256If you’ve spent much time on the Black Gate website you’ve probably seen Barbarian Prince get mentioned at least once.

A solo board game from the 80s designed by Arnold Hendrick, Barbarian Prince is a little like one of those old “choose your own” adventure books, except that the order of events is far more random, for they’re generated by rolling on a number of tables depending upon your location on the map and are partly affected by choices you have made and gear and allies you may have accumulated in your travels.

It never plays the same way twice, and a lot of us find it glorious fun — although it is difficult to win. John O’Neill is a huge fan of the game, and he got me interested some years back when he gave me an extra copy he had lying around.

When I heard rumors of an unofficial redesign over at BoardGameGeek, I dropped by to take a look and was incredibly impressed. Someone — Todd Sanders, as it turns out — had gotten permission to create a new game board, pieces, and redesign the layout of the rule and event books.

The result was brilliant, beautiful, and a completely professional product.

It’s available, free, for anyone who wants to download the files and create their own version of the game (the original version of Barbarian Prince is also available for free download, courtesy of Reaper Miniatures and Dwarfstar Games).

I contacted Todd to learn more about his redesign and what had inspired it, and discovered he was responsible for a number of stunning games of his own creation.

We talked last week about game design, Print and Play games, and, naturally, Barbarian Prince. Larger versions of the lovely game boards can be seen by clicking on their pictures.

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Finding the Balance: Workshopping

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 | Posted by Bradley Beaulieu

galahesh-cover-v2-medOver the past year, and as I prepare for the release of my second book, The Straits of Galahesh, I’ve been interviewed a number of times. I’m often asked about the process of writing and how I cut my teeth as a writer. I went fairly “workshop heavy,” and I thought this would make for an interesting discussion for those who are just getting into writing.

I started workshopping not with a local group (I was traveling too much for that), but with an online community—Critters, to be specific. After a few months with Critters I moved on to the Online Writing Workshop, which worked very well for me for years. In terms of instructor-led workshops, I’ve been to Viable Paradise, Writers of the Future, Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp, and Clarion. I took a bit of a break after Clarion, but then attended Starry Heaven I and II in Flagstaff, AZ, a peer-to-peer workshop run by S.K. Castle that was modeled off of Charlie Finlay’s Blue Heaven. I enjoyed those so much I started Wellspring, another Blue Heaven offspring. I ran the first last summer in Lake Geneva, WI, and I’m running the second this coming summer, just before WorldCon in Chicago.

If it wasn’t obvious from that list, I strongly recommend workshopping. If you come with the right attitude and the right expectations, it will take your writing much farther than you could have brought it on your own. The greatest strength of workshopping, in my opinion, is the wealth of knowledge that others will bring to the table, things your own set of experiences and knowledge haven’t led you to.

Strangely, when you workshop you’ll find that you’ll gain insight from what other writers find in your work, but you’ll soon learn that you get as much benefit or more from critiquing work that others have also critiqued. You won’t be working with your own material, where you will inevitably have blind spots. You’ll be working as a first reader, as will the other writers, and it’s in comparing how well (or not) you found issues in the writing that you’ll learn. And so, pay close attention to what others have said about work you’ve also critiqued. See what you missed and then start taking notes. Identify your blind spots and then create stories that expose those weaknesses. Actively work to strengthen those muscles, and soon you’ll find them becoming strengths, or at least not liabilities. What I said about experimenting earlier? This is why you experiment. To become stronger in your craft with targeted exercises.

In these early days, enter with an open mind and an open heart. Learn from the other writers. Try not to get defensive. Absorb. And for the love of all that is good, experiment. You may want to write a particular type of fiction—for me it was epic fantasy—by try other things on for size. It will only help you as you progress.

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Range of Ghosts

Monday, March 26th, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth Bear

range-of-ghostsI’ve always wanted to write an epic fantasy.

A real epic fantasy, something with sweep and scope, tumbling empires, wizards and warlocks, monstrous fantastical beasts and horses of supernatural speed and stamina and crooked old gods vying for power. Something in the sword-and-sorcery mode, but not exactly a Leiberesque low fantasy… or a Tolkienesque high fantasy either. Rather, a book–a series of books, really, because what I had in mind wouldn’t fit in a hundred and fifty thousand words or so–in which the fate of kingdoms hung in the balance, but which wasn’t uncritical of the role of kings.

I wanted to write a book that had the sense of scope and sense of wonder of the books I loved as a young adult… but I kept running into the same problem.

There’s so much epic fantasy out there. And so much of it looks strangely similar. Not identical, of course… but like different chefs’ versions of the same recipe. The ingredients are all the same.

I’m a fan of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar books, for all their slightly string-pulling manipulativeness. I love the way he takes every possible overplayed trope of fantasy and dumps them all into the same pot–and then pokes them with sticks and makes them fight. But I knew I didn’t want to do that. I wanted a narrative with elements of quest in it, but not simply a quest to reclaim or destroy the magic widget that makes the story go. I wanted a book that would shift scenes from city to city, from culture to culture — and I knew I wanted a world that wasn’t inhabited by nothing but Europeans.

In fact, I was pretty sure I wanted to dispense with the Europeans all together.

In the meantime, I was researching Central Asia and North Africa and their border cultures, and trying to come up with my own world inspired by those settings but not too derivative of them. I didn’t want to write a historical fantasy — or even an ahistorical fantasy, like Conan, which purports to take place in the antediluvian history of our own earth. I very much wanted a fantasy world, it’s own place, with a few thousand years of history as backdrop.

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Gary Con IV Report

Sunday, March 25th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

gary-con2Yesterday I drove up to Lake Geneva, the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, for Gary Con IV, the annual gathering in honor of Gary Gygax, the father of role-playing games.

I really enjoy Gary Con. In both locale and tone it’s very much what I imagine the earliest GenCon gaming conventions — which took place in Lake Geneva over thirty years ago — were like.

Just like the early GenCons it’s small and very friendly, with a focus on vintage gaming and first edition D&D/AD&D, with many early TSR employees and industry giants from that era in attendance.

Just a few of the distinguished guests this year included Basic D&D boxed set author Frank  Mentzer; Knights of the Dinner Table creator Jolly Blackburn; author and Dragonlance co-creator Margaret Weis; long-time TSR employee Mike Carr, author of In Search of the Unknown and many others; Troll Lord Games CEO Stephen Chenault; classic AD&D artists Jeff Easley and Jeff Dee; founding Dragon editor Tim Kask; KenzerCo chief David Kenzer; Metamorphosis Alpha creator Jame M. Ward;  Snit’s Revenge creator Tom Wham; Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 co-creator Skip Williams, and many others.

One of the marvelous things about small conventions, of course, is that it’s possible to talk to the guests — unlike big cons where they are usually mobbed.

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Art of the Genre: Why and how I build a Kickstarter

Saturday, March 24th, 2012 | Posted by Scott Taylor

lyssa-lobby-card-kickstart-lockwood-serpent-2Yes, yes, I’m trying to keep up with my Kickstarter theme each Saturday, but as I’m releasing a new Kickstarter myself, and its progress will be tracked right here on Black Gate at the bottom of my posts, I thought I’d show you what I was thinking as I did it. Keep on sharing the knowledge, you know, because the more people I can help get onto this platform, the better it is for all those already using it. So, here is a run down of what goes on in my head as I start one of these projects.

First, I go back into my ‘nostalgia archives’ and find something I loved. In this case it was the old-school shared anthology. Considering what it would mean to bring something like this back, especially since I work for a short fiction publisher in Black Gate Magazine, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

To do this, however, I needed authors that filled the bill, so I promptly went out and got some, eight to be precise. With these creative folk in the fold, I then created a website to host as a kind of creative sand box for all the authors to help build a world in. I decided we’d start small, inside a single city, and work our way out from there as success allowed.

However, you know me, I couldn’t do this without art, so I got an artist to start doing conceptual work on the world using the ideas of the authors and myself. Then, once concept art was in play I found a cover artist who had no peer in the fantasy genre, and signed him on as well. [Note: You would be surprised how much creative people love the thought of working freely on stuff like this, especially after spending the bulk of their time doing what others want instead of what their own creative mind is telling them.]

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Clarkesworld Issue #66

Saturday, March 24th, 2012 | Posted by Soyka

cw_66_300The March  issue of Clarkesworld is currently online. Featured fiction: “Sunlight Society” by Margaret Ronald, “The Bells of Subsidence” by Michale John Grist and “From Their Paws, We Shall Inherit” by Gary Kloster.  Non fiction by E.C. Ambrose, Jeremy L.C. Jones and Neil Clarke.  The cover art is by Sergio Diaz.

All of this is available online for free; there’s even an audio podcast version of all three stories read by Kate Baker. However, nothing is really free. The magazine is supported by “Clarkesworld Citizens” who donate $10 or more.

We last covered Clarkesworld with issue #64.

New Treasures: The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction

Friday, March 23rd, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

wesleyan-anthologyWow. This may be the finest SF anthology I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly the best I’ve come across in many years.

Editing an anthology — especially a reprint anthology — is a delicate balancing act. You want to include the very finest stories you can, of course. But you’d prefer not to fill your book with tales your readers have seen a dozen times over.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a book that manages this as well as The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. Starting with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (published 1844) and ending with Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” (2008) it spans 164 years of science fiction publishing, including some of the finest SF stories ever written — Edmond Hamilton’s “The Man Who Evolved” (1931), James Patrick Kelly’s “Think Like a Dinosaur” (1995) — alongside dozens I’ve never read. Virtually every major SF and fantasy short fiction writer of the last 164 years is represented, from H. G. Wells, C.L. Moore and Stanley Weinbaum to Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Gene Wolfe and Charles Stross.

The Wesleyan Anthology has a grand total of six editors, which tells you right off the bat it’s an academic endeavor targeted at libraries and school curriculum. All six are editors for Science Fiction Studies, DePauw University’s long-running critical journal, and they do a fine job of introducing the tales. Now, academic anthologies like this usually don’t appeal to me. They typically devote a considerable page count to proto-SF of the late 1800s or early 1900s, and that stuff puts my feet to sleep.

Not this time.  By the fifth tale we’re already into the 1930s, and the editors pay proper respect to both the Golden Age of SF — the Campbell authors of the 1940s like Asimov and Simak — and the earlier pulp writers of the mid-30s such as Hamilton and Leslie F. Stone. They’ve even plucked some tales from the pulps that I’ve never heard of, and that takes some effort.

I first laid eyes on The Wesleyan Anthology at Wiscon last year when SF author Richard Chwedyk showed me his copy with some wonder and amazement. Alice bought me my copy for Christmas, and I’ve been slowly (very slowly) making my way through it. The Wesleyan Anthology is $39.95 for 787 pages in trade paperback, and is published by Wesleyan University Press. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

The Big Barbarian Theory

Friday, March 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna and David C. Smith

the-sorcerers-shadowConan, King Kull, Cormac, Bran Mak Morn — characters often imitated, never duplicated. These creations of Robert E. Howard started the sword-and-sorcery boom of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Then there are the barbarian warriors inspired by Howard — Clonans, as one writer recently referred to these sword-slinging, muscle-bound characters.

A fair observation, but in some cases, not so true.

We prefer to think of these tales of wandering barbarian heroes as “Solo Sword and Sorcery” because the majority of these characters are lone wolves, without sidekicks or even recurring companions. This is a big part of their appeal, in fact.

We’ve read many, if not most, of the Conan pastiches, including the novels based on Howard’s other creations. Karl Edward Wagner’s, Poul Anderson’s, and Andy Offutt’s portrayals of the Cimmerian come within a sword’s stroke of Howard’s vision.

L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, in commodifying the character, arranged the long, informal saga of Conan in chronological order and, by extenuating these adventures with dozens more, made of Howard’s original vision a long-form series similar to the episodic success of a television show on a prolonged run of diminishing returns.

For some readers, however, the advantage of this development is that it provided a sort of character arc as Conan grows from a youth to an older man.

That said, however, it is better to read the Conan tales in the order in which Howard wrote them.

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Lost Classics of Pulp: Guy Boothby’s Dr. Nikola and Pharos the Egyptian

Friday, March 23rd, 2012 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

nikolapharos-book-first-editionOne doesn’t have to dig very far to discover my devotion to the works of Sax Rohmer. Peter Haining was, I believe, the first commentator to propose that Australian writer Guy Boothby’s works were a likely influence on Rohmer in the excellent survey, The Art of Mystery and Detective Stories. I first stumbled upon Boothby’s name and that of his most famous creation, Dr. Nikola courtesy of Larry Knapp’s brilliant Page of Fu Manchu website. Finally, it was a very informative piece written by that eminent Sherlockian, Charles Prepolec that convinced me I had to read the Nikola series for myself.

Five Nikola books were published between 1895 and 1901. The best editions available today are in the two-volume The Complete Dr. Nikola published by Leonaur Press. Dr. Nikola is a criminal mastermind with an occult twist. Think Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty (introduced only one year before Nikola) eerily anticipating Aleister Crowley and you have a pretty good idea of Boothby’s ambitions.

Like much fantastic fiction of the Victorian era, the books are more about how others fall into Nikola’s web than they are about the sinister doctor himself. This was the same approach taken by Bram Stoker with Dracula and Rohmer with his Fu Manchu series. The Nikola books are also globe-trotting adventures that move rapidly from Australia to Europe to Egypt to London to Africa to Tibet. The sense of mystery that pervades these exotic settings in those imperialist days of empire-building is part of the books’ nostalgic appeal today.

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