Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul: A Review

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Westlake SoulWestlake Soul is twenty-three, a good-natured surfing champion with a loving family, loving girlfriend, and loving dog. Then a terrible fall leaves him in a vegetative state, unresponsive to the outside world — but, locked in his own mind, he’s a superintelligent superhero, astrally projecting to the moon and battling the mysterious villain named Doctor Quietus. Westlake can’t affect the outside world; can’t even twitch a finger, can only sit and be cared for by his mother and father and little sister, and the nurses they hire. But he can see what goes on around him, and react, if only internally.

Rio Youers’ novel Westlake Soul is Westlake’s account of his life and opinions, and of his fights against Doctor Quietus. Youers pulls off a tricky proposition; Westlake’s completely incapable of actually doing anything, of changing anything in his physical environment. He can only view the world, describing what he sees and how he feels. That ought to make him too passive to work as the centre of a story — and make no mistake, more than simply a narrator, Westlake is the heart of his own story, speaking as he does with the unselfconscious egocentrism of youth — but it is precisely his struggle to make a change, to accomplish even the smallest of actions, that becomes involving.

In fact, the book succeeds due to its directness of affect. Westlake Soul’s had no choice but to become thoughtul and empathic, and those qualities, along with a certain precision of diction, make his voice endearing and highly readable. The book doesn’t hesitate to tug at the heartstrings, but the writing’s effective: it feels like a kind young man’s voice. And Youers deploys that voice nicely, giving us Westlake’s observations of both his exterior and interior worlds, keeping things moving briskly.

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Black Gate Goes to the Summer Movies: Battleship

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

battleship-teaser-posterYou sunk my interest.

And so The Avengers gets another week at #1. Welcome to the Billion Dollar Club. Have a seat next to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and watch that The Dark Knight doesn’t try to steal your popcorn.

The question burning my mind as I left the theater after watching Battleship was: “Why ‘Fortunate Son’?” At the close of two hours of a rah-rah, fist pumping, pro-military glamor parade, why play one of most famous and angriest protest songs ever over a montage of alien ships getting smithereen’d? Did no one involved in the movie listen to the lyrics? “Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Oh, they’re Red, White and Blue. / And when the band plays ‘Hail to Chief’ / Oh, they point the cannon at you.” Maybe the music supervisor thought, “Oh, hell ya! People love Creedence Clearwater Revival. Let’s crank it up!” Perhaps director Peter Berg was trying to allay blame for the film, screaming “It ain’t me! It ain’t me!” Or maybe Berg filled his Navy vs. Aliens blow-em-up flick with a subversive anti-military/industrial complex message that I failed to find on my radar.

However, I will never know for certain, because there’s no way I will ever watch Battleship a second time. This is the essential Stupid Summer Movie, a Michael Bay film without Michael Bay’s obsession with disaster porn that at least gives his junk a crazy edge. If you thought the idea of adapting a strategy guessing game was a poor choice for a blockbuster movie, you were right: stick a red peg on your upper tactical screen.

Maybe the “Fortunate Sons” are the film’s heroes, who have the luck of going up against an expeditionary force of the stupidest extraterrestrials since Mac and Me. These heavily armed dreadnoughts fly twenty light years to reach Earth, but immediately smash their most crucial vessel into a satellite (they were drinking, I assume). Later, the aliens suffer defeat from the insurmountable force of senior citizens, a tourist attraction, a paraplegic, a supermodel driving a Jeep, and a tech-geek with heavy luggage.

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Files for Bankruptcy

Monday, May 21st, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

lord-of-the-rings-hobbit2Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, US publishers of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Animal Farm, 1984The Time Traveler’s Wife, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and numerous books by Harlan Ellison, Kage Baker, Philip K. Dick, Philip Roth, Ray Bradbury, James Morrow, Margaret Atwood, Diane Duane, Jane Yolen and literally hundreds of others, filed for bankruptcy protection today.

Houghton Mifflin, an educational and trade publisher in the United States, acquired Harcourt Publishing in 2007 to become Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The company has 4,000 employees around the world.

It officially filed for pre-packaged bankruptcy this morning, citing debts and liabilities of over $1 billion. The filing is part of a restructuring that it hopes will cut debt by $3.1 billion. The company issued a statement today, saying it:

will maintain normal day-to-day business operations throughout the restructuring process, and we expect no disruptions to our relationships with our customers, agents, authors, employees, business partners and suppliers. Additionally, our plan provides for our suppliers and vendors to be paid in full during and after this process and for our employees to continue receiving their usual pay and benefits.

The company said it still expects to complete the restructuring by the end of June. For additional details, see this article at Publisher’s Weekly.

Spring 2012 issue of Subterranean Magazine Now Available

Monday, May 21st, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

subterranean-magazine-spring-2012I admit I never know when to blog about Subterranean magazine. I really enjoy it, and I used to go to great lengths to acquire the print issues. But now that they’ve converted to an online zine they’re releasing the contents in a rolling format, a new story or article every week.

Do I announce it here when the first article goes up? Or wait until the entire magazine is posted, two months later? By the time a new issue is up, I’ve already forgotten what I did last time. So over the years I’ve finally developed a consistent system: I blog about it whenever I remember.

So here I am to tell you about the Spring 2012 issue. And it’s got a terrific line-up, nearly 70,000 words of fiction, including two big novellas from Jay Lake and Allen Steele:

  • “The Weight of History, the Lightness of the Future,” by Jay Lake (24,000 words)
  • “Angel of Europa,” by Allen Steele (19,000 words)
  • “Sic Him, Hellhound, Kill Kill!” by Hal Duncan
  • “Random Thoughts Before a Fatal Crash,” by Caitlin R. Kiernan
  • “Here and There,” by Neal Barrett, Jr.
  • “A Holy War,” by Mike Resnick

Subterranean is edited by William Schafer, and published quarterly. The Spring 2012 issue is completely free and available here.

We last covered Subterranean magazine with their previous issue, Winter 2012.

Kickstarter Alert: New Fire, an Aztec-inspired RPG

Monday, May 21st, 2012 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Kwaytlachtli of the Screaming One Warrior House

Kwaytlachtli of the Screaming One Warrior House

With 10 days left to go, I’d like to make everyone aware of the upcoming game New Fire, currently being funded through a successful but so far fairly low-key Kickstarter campaign. Most readers of the blog are probably familiar with Kickstarter through Scott Taylor’s great posts on the subject. New Fire has their game fully designed, but is seeking Kickstarter support in order to fund professional-level artwork for the product.

They’ve hit their $3,000 goal and their $6,000 stretch goal, so they’ll be releasing full-color versions of their core rulebook and are currently in the process of getting together a second stretch goal. At low levels, you can purchase a PDF copy of the book, but at higher backing levels there are hardcopy books available, as well as T-shirts, and even some design a Landmark or village for the campaign setting. (The backer goal to help design a god is, unfortunately, sold out.)

I spoke with the game’s creator, Jason Caminsky, and after the conversation was even more excited about the prospect of this game. There are three things which really make it stand out for me.

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Aqueduct Press releases The Moment of Change, an Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry

Monday, May 21st, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

the-moment-of-change2I’ve received word this morning that contributor copies of Aqueduct Press’s The Moment of Change have started to arrive, and the book is now available for order on their website.

The Moment of Change is an anthology of feminist speculative poetry with an absolutely stellar line-up of contributors, including Ursula K. Le Guin, Jo Walton, Delia Sherman, Catherynne M. Valente, Theodora Goss, Phyllis Gotlieb, Yoon Ha Lee, Nisi Shawl, Greer Gilman, Sonya Taaffe, JoSelle Vanderhooft, and Nicole Kornher-Stace.

It also includes two members of Team Black Gate: two poems by Amal El-Mohtar, “Pieces” and “On the Division of Labour,” and a long poem by our website editor, C.S.E. Cooney,  “The Last Crone on the Moon.” The anthology is edited by Rose Lemberg, and she’s posted the complete Table of Contents here. In her introduction she writes:

In these pages you will find works in a variety of genres — works that can be labeled mythic, fantastic, science fictional, historical, surreal, magic realist, and unclassifiable; poems by people of color and white folks; by poets based in the US, Canada, Britain, India, Spain, and the Philippines; by first- and second-generation immigrants; by the able-bodied and the disabled; by straight and queer poets who may identify as women, men, trans, and genderqueer.

I had the pleasure of listening to C.S.E. read “The Last Crone on the Moon” last year at the monthly Top Shelf Books Open Mic here in Chicago, and it is worth the price of the book alone.

Rose Lemberg and many of the contributors will be reading from The Moment of Change at Wiscon in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend. I’ll be there, and I’m looking forward to it.

The Moment of Change is 174 pages in paperback. The cover art is by  Terri Windling. It sells for $20.

New Treasures: Shadow Blizzard by Alexey Pehov

Sunday, May 20th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

shadow-blizzard2I tend to avoid fantasy trilogies until the third book is published, for the same reason that I don’t date musicians under 30. Because I’m married. Duh.

Man, that didn’t make any sense. I blame these stupid cold medications. My head feels four feet in diameter, and my thoughts seem to take… longer… to travel from one side to the other. I wish Alice were here to make me soup and send me to bed, but on Friday she left to take our son Tim to music camp in… um… I forget. Some state that has music camps.

You know what I need? A really good fantasy I can curl up with until I feel better. And now that Shadow Prowler, the third book in Alexey Pehov’s epic The Chronicles of Siala, has arrived I can do just that. Shadow Prowler is the sequel to Shadow Prowler and Shadow Chaser. Here’s what Matthew David Surridge said about the first volume in Black Gate 15:

Pehov has written a fantasy trilogy, with elves and orcs and dwarves and wizards and a quest… this first book, at least, feels fundamentally like a game of Dungeons and Dragons. The story is even structured around the exploration of an ancient burial ground, Hrad Spein, the Palaces of Bone, filled with traps, magic, and the undead… there is an enjoyable buzz of plot going on in the book. In fact, once you get over the echoes of Tolkien, in the form of the ancient artifact, the quest story, the elves and dwarves and the setting, you notice that the actual structure of the book is closer to Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat: a thief tells the story of how he is captured by the good guys, and made to work for them.

Ancient burial grounds, traps, magic, the undead, and a reluctant thief. Yup, that could get me through this cold. Here’s the plot summary for the third volume, just for comparison:

Shadow Harold’s quest is almost at an end: he and his companions have fought long and hard to make their way to the tomb Hrad Spein, in search of the magic horn that is their only hope to defeating The Nameless One. The journey was perilous, and many in their company did not survive. Together, however, they have come further than anyone else ever has — but their struggle isn’t over just yet…

Wow. Three books, and they’re still in the same dungeon? Holy cats, that does sound like an epic game of D&D. If that’s not enough to sell you, here’s the cool book trailer.

Shadow Blizzard is 462 pages in hardcover. It was published on April 24th by Tor, and has a $26.99 cover price. It was translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield.

2011 Nebula Award Winners Announced

Sunday, May 20th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

among-othersI turned 48 today. Not a bad accomplishment, considering that when I started reading science fiction in 1974, I didn’t even know people got that old. And ever since I started reading novels on my iPad and Kindle, I’ve decided I’m officially living in the future.  SF used to prep me for the future, but whatever the next 48 years have in store, I ain’t ready.

Fortunately some things don’t change. People fall in love, tax bills come due, and great writing still wins awards. Case in point: the 2011 Nebula Awards, given out last night in a ceremony at the Nebula Awards Weekend in Arlington, Virginia.


Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)


“The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov, 2011)


‘‘What We Found’’, Geoff Ryman (F&SF Sept-Oct, 2011)

Short Story

“The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (F&SF, March-April 2011)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife”

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)

You can find the complete list of nominees at Locus Online.

Octavia Butler and John Clute received the Solstice Award, and Black Gate blogger Bud Webster received the SFWA Service Award, for his tireless work with the Estate Project to track literary estates for deceased members of the science fiction community. Congratulations, Bud!

Beth Dawkins Reviews The First Days

Sunday, May 20th, 2012 | Posted by Bill Ward

the-first-daysThe First Days
Rhiannon Frater
TOR (335pp, $14.99, Paperback July 2011)
Reviewed by Beth Dawkins

The First Days lives up to its title. Opening with Jenni getting attacked by her own children pulls the reader right into it. Housewife Jenni witnesses her abusive husband chewing on their near infant son. Jenni flees while her older son stays behind to confront her zombie husband. By the time Katie enters the picture Jenni has barricaded herself on the porch. Katie hasn’t had the best of days. She went home to find her wife turned into a zombie, and has decided the best thing to do is to get out of town. She is trying to find her way out of the city when she comes across Jenni. Katie is there in the nick of time for Jenni, who is forced to make a mad dash for Katie’s truck. The two women form a bond with one another as they go out to rescue Jenni’s stepson, and find a safe haven in a small town to start rebuilding their lives.

This is the first installment of a trilogy, and a rerelease of an originally self-published title. The heart of the novel is about what happens to people during the zombie apocalypse. They have to come to grips with their loved ones turning into monsters, and the bleak future. The story is nothing new, yet it is done in a very compelling way. After Jenni and Katie set out to find Jenni’s stepson, they find themselves forced towards a town containing other survivors. The town of Shady Springs former construction crew has put together a perimeter fence that is keeping the zombie hordes out. It is in the town where the story slowed down. A lot of time is spent on what each character feels about certain situations, and how they come to decisions. The two lead men are introduced near the middle of the book, and once they enter the story a lot of time is spent on how each character feels. The narrative can at times slow the story down, but it is a character driven story.

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Ernie Chan (1940-2012): A Legend Passes

Friday, May 18th, 2012 | Posted by John R. Fultz

savagae-sword-of-conan-erniechanEarlier this evening I heard the sad news that one of comics’ great legends, Ernie Chan, has passed away. Ernie was set to appear at the BigWow Comicfest in San Jose this weekend, so his death comes as a real surprise to those of us who expected to see him there.

I wanted to post a tribute in the form of my favorite Chan images. You can see that tribute right here. Some of these he painted, some he penciled and inked, and some he only inked — but Ernie’s inks were some of the most powerful in the world of comics.

When I was a kid I couldn’t get enough of Conan the Barbarian and its black-and-white companion magazine The Savage Sword of Conan. But I was incredibly picky about the art in my comics — if the art didn’t blow me away, I wouldn’t buy the comic. Plus, I had the seriously limited budget of a child, so I had to be impressed by the art or I left the book sitting on the rack.

Whenever I found a Conan book that was drawn (or inked) by Ernie Chan, my money hit the counter immediately.

Rest in peace, Ernie. You will be missed…

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