Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Escape as Homecoming

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 | Posted by Sarah Avery

the-way-back-homeHurricane Sandy roared and wailed outside our door, shook down trees across the street, pounded our roof so hard my two little sons couldn’t even recognize the sound as rain. “Drum!” insisted my two-year-old. The kids coped fine until the lights went out. Then they panicked.

Of all the things to fear about a hurricane, darkness is one of the least dangerous. Try telling that to a five-year-old. He can’t wrap his head around why 70 mph winds are worse than wind he’s allowed to play in. He probably could have understood why storm surge is scary if we’d been close to any — fortunately, we’re on high ground and nowhere within sight of a body of water. All the anxiety the boys had detected in the adults around them, all their own anxiety from watching the storm through the windows that day, rushed instantly to compound their longstanding fear of the dark.

As soon as we had flashlights ready to read by, the kids knew exactly which book they wanted. The Way Back Home is the story of a boy and a Martian who get stranded on the Moon and work together to get themselves and their flying machines back where they belong. Before the boy and the Martian find one another, they huddle in the dark, hearing strange noises, fearing the worst. The boy’s flashlight goes out! My sons wanted that page again and again, because that night the idea of losing the flashlight’s comfort was utterly terrifying.

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The Force is With Disney

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

star-wars-poster-small1By now, most of you have heard that Disney has purchased Lucasfilm — the studio that produced Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and many other SF and fantasy properties — for over $4 billion. The deal was very similar to Disney’s acquisition of Marvel three years ago.

Prominent among the headlines was the news that Disney and Lucasfilm are already hard at work on Star Wars VII, aiming for a 2015 release, and that they also plan to produce Episodes VIII and IX. Walt Disney chairman Bob Iger announced that they expect to “release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years.” If this is all news to you, Entertainment Weekly has a lengthy article here, including a 5-minute video in which you can hear George Lucas detail his current work on future films with unnamed writers.

“We could go on making Star Wars for the next 100 years,” Lucas says.

Okay. While part of me is appalled to see Lucasfilm, perhaps the most successful and creative independent studio of the last century, get swallowed up by an all-devouring entertainment conglomerate, that part has been roundly shouted down by my inner twelve-year-old, who desperately wants more Star Wars movies.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Do I want Star Wars movies if they’re ground out on a schedule by a soulless corporation interested only in profit?

You know, I kinda do.

I’ve got nothing against corporations. Disney’s done pretty well by Marvel, far as I can see — and Pixar, now that I think about it (Disney bought Pixar from Steve Jobs in 2006). As for profit, the neat thing about profitable franchises is that they can attract talent. Look at Batman, Iron Man, and The Avengers.

And finally, I’m a fan of serial fiction. I know that properties can pass out of the hands of their creator, and land safely — especially pulp properties. That’s the process that brought us Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Star Trek IV, and the tenth regeneration of Dr. Who.

So while I expect to see a lot of debate in the fan press, I don’t expect to be part of it. Instead, I’ll be in line early in 2015, anxious to see the new Star Wars film. Even if it’s terrible, I won’t be too worried. Disney will keep trying. When you pay $4 billion for something, you tend to treat it right.

Black Gate Online Fiction: Pathfinder Tales: Queen of Thorns by Dave Gross

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

pathfinder-tales-queen-of-thorns-smallBlack Gate is very pleased to offer our readers an exclusive first look at the latest Pathfinder Tales novel by Dave Gross, the acclaimed author of Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils.

In the deep forests of Kyonin, elves live among their own kind, far from the prying eyes of other races. Few of impure blood are allowed beyond the nation’s borders, and thus it’s a great honor for the half-elven Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn bodyguard Radovan to be allowed inside. Yet all is not well in the elven kingdom: demons stir in its depths, and an intricate web of politics seems destined to catch the two travelers in its snares. In the course of tracking down a missing druid, Varian and a team of eccentric elven adventurers will be forced to delve into dark secrets lost for generations — including the mystery of Varian’s own past.

Dave Gross is the former editor of Dragon, Star Wars Insider, and Amazing Stories. His adventures of Radovan and Count Jeggare include the Pathfinder Tales novels Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils, as well as many novellas and short stories available at Paizo.com. His other novels include Winter Witch with Elaine Cunningham, and the Forgotten Realms novels Black Wolf and Lord of Stormweather.

We previously reviewed the Pathfinder Tales novels Death’s Heretic by James L. Sutter, Master of Devils by Dave Gross, and Howard Andrew Jones’s Plague of Shadows, and introduced you to BG Contributing Editor Bill Ward’s Pathfinder Tales story “The Box, and “The Walkers from the Crypt” by Howard Andrew Jones.

Pathfinder Tales: Queen of Thorns is published by Paizo Publishing and is part of their Pathfinder Tales Subscription. It is a 432-page mass market paperback available for $9.99 ($6.99 ePub and PDF). The digital versions are available today; the print version is officially on sale November 13, 2012. Learn more at Paizo.com.

“The Midsummer Masquerade,” the complete first chapter of Queen of Thorns, is presented exclusively here at Black Gate; Chapters Two and Three are available at Flames Rising and SF Signal.

Read Chapter One of Queen of Thorns here.

Arthur Machen and “The Great God Pan”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Great God PanArthur Machen first published a version of “The Great God Pan” in 1890, in a magazine called The Whirlwind; then revised and extended the tale for its republication as a book in 1894, when it was accompanied by a thematically-similar story called “The Inner Light.” It’s a fascinating work, creating a horrific mood mostly through suggestion and indirection. Nowadays, one looks at it and notes very Victorian attitudes toward women. At the time of its original publication, the story’s implied sexuality caused real scandal.

Machen was born in Wales in 1863 as Arthur Llwellyn Jones-Machen; the ‘Machen’ was his mother’s maiden name, which he later took for his pen name. His father was a clergyman, and while Machen’s lifelong interest in the occult and the weird seems to have been sparked by precocious reading of his father’s library, his family was too poor to send him to university. Following the publication of a long poem in 1881, Machen lived in London as a journalist and translator. He married in 1887, meeting occultist A.E. Waite through his wife. She died in 1897; in 1900 he joined Waite’s Order of the Golden Dawn. In 1901, he became an actor, and remarried in 1903. He continued to write, and in 1914 one of his short stories, “The Bowmen,” inspired the urban legend of the Angels of Mons. He died in 1947.

Machen’s literary reputation has seen several ups and downs, starting during his lifetime. The controversy surrounding “The Great God Pan” seems to have blackened his name, but there was a re-evaluation of his work in the 1920s. H.P. Lovecraft hailed him as a contemporary master of the supernatural in literature, and Lovecraft’s mythos was significantly influenced by Machen’s fiction, including “The Great God Pan.” Today, Machen is considered a major early fantasist, with “The Great God Pan” one of his masterworks. I want to look in some detail at the story, and consider some of what’s going on in it (that involves a complete plot summary; you can read the whole story online here first, or listen to a reading of it here.)

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Solitaire Gaming

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

eia_front_cover_fullI should probably blame the whole thing on John O’Neill and Eric Knight.

It was Eric who introduced me to the true joy of war board games. Sure, I’d played many a game of Risk back in junior high, but the more I read about actual tactics, the more frustrated I became with the original board game which is more about luck than real strategy.

The late ’70s and ’80s, when I was in junior high and high school, were a golden era for tactical boardgames like Panzer Leader and Axis & Allies. I was aware of, but rarely played these games because when given the chance to game with friends, I chose role-playing over board games every time. I didn’t know how cool they could really be until Eric drove down a few years back and introduced me to the wonderful old Yaquinto board game French Foreign Legion and we had three hours of fun pushing cardboard counters into death-defying positions a la old Hollywood desert adventure movies. In those over-the-top extravaganzas every bullet counts and even the extras get dramatic death scenes.

I suddenly realized the fun I’d been missing, but I wasn’t well and truly hooked until O’Neill gave me an extra copy of Barbarian Prince and told me about solitaire boardgames. You can play a lot of games solitaire if you have to do so — as any younger sibling or only child can tell you — but it was never much fun to play Risk or Clue against yourself. Some games, though, are designed to be played solitaire, which is what drew me to Victory Point Games.

What I was REALLY looking for was a copy of French Foreign Legion (copies are very, very scarce, although Eric generously tracked one down for me as a gift). What I found was a solo wargame based on the Battle of Rorke’s Drift that had been inspired by one of my favorite movies, Zulu. Since stumbling upon that first game I’ve tried out a number of Victory Point Games titles, and today I thought I’d write about one of my favorites, Empires in America.

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New Treasures: The Hand of Fu Manchu, by Sax Rohmer

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

the-hand-of-fu-manchu-smallWilliam Patrick Maynard, Black Gate‘s resident Sax Rohmer expert, wrote an excellent 9-part series on The Hand of Fu Manchu, starting last November. It piqued my curiosity towards Rohmer, and The Hand of Fu Manchu in particular, and I vowed I would spend some quality time with both.

You’ll note it’s now October. Maybe I don’t always do it quickly, but I do keep my promises. This one was made even easier by the arrival of the gorgeous reprint edition of Rohmer’s third Fu-Manchu novel from Titan Books.

London, 1913. The era of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and the Invisible Man. A time of shadows, secret societies, and dens filled with opium addicts. Into this world comes the most fantastic emissary of evil society has ever known… Fu-Manchu.

A sealed box and murder most foul call Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie back from distant Egypt to the fog-enshrouded streets of London. There they discover that Dr. Fu-Manchu is an agent of a vast and deadly organization — one which will stop at nothing to achieve its ruthless goals.

The Hand of Fu Manchu was originally published in 1917 (the UK title was The Si-Fan Mysteries). There have been numerous paperback reprints over the last century, but few of this level of quality. These Titan editions are handsome and very affordable, in oversize trade paperback format; this one includes an afterword by Leslie S. Klinger, an abbreviated version of his essay from The Mystery of Fu-Manchu.

The Hand of Fu Manchu was published by Titan Books in May 2012. It is 266 pages, and priced at $9.95 for the print version and $7.99 for the digital edition. Read more at the Titan Books website.

Adventure on Film: The Thief of Baghdad

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 | Posted by markrigney

the-thief-of-baghdad-smallOn a recent Friday night, I sat down with my wife to watch The Thief of Baghdad (the definitive Korda/Powell version, from 1940). Thirty minutes later, my wife was fast asleep. When she woke up, she said, knowing I planned to mention the film to Black Gate’s readership, “What are you going to write about this?” Her notable lack of enthusiasm could, of course, be due to any number of factors, but only three reasonable alternatives present themselves: A) my wife is entirely lacking in taste; B) my wife has been replaced by a cantankerous alien entirely lacking in taste; C) this particular movie might well cause many a discerning viewer to harbor similar sentiments.

Let’s be clear: The Thief of Baghdad is one of the most universally acclaimed fantasy films ever made. Even my old (well-loved) copy of The Movie Guide gushes. “Perhaps the most splendid fantasy film ever made,” writes James Monaco and his various contributors, ending the review with “Film fantasy just doesn’t get much better than this.” Halliwell’s is equally enthusiastic, and they don’t like anything. Time Out raves. Coppola and Lucas cite it as a significant influence.

The story is crackerjack from start to finish. (Spoilers here: if you don’t want the plot, skip to the next paragraph.) Ahmed, the king deposed by Jaffar, his own Grand Vizier, falls in love with a princess whom no man can see, and of course vows to see her repeatedly. Ahmed is aided by Abu the thief, but of course Jaffar has designs on the very same princess. When Jaffar kidnaps her, Ahmed and Abu follow, but Jaffar conjures up a storm that separates our two heroes. In order to find Ahmed again, Abu must gain the reluctant help of a fifty-foot genie (the exceptional Rex Ingram), then steal the Eye of the World from a temple guarded by, among other things, a giant spider and giant octopi. Finally, with Ahmed captured and about to be beheaded, Abu swoops in on a flying carpet to save the day.

Given all this, how on earth did my wife (or some random alien) pass out?

The Thief of Baghdad has not aged gracefully. It’s essential viewing, yes, but only for buffs of either fantasy films or Old Guard Hollywood. The inconsistent special effects are the least of its problems; worse by far is what one might call presentational acting, but is in fact mostly just plain bad. Even Sabu, the Indian star who first made it big with Elephant Boy, is revealed to be a truly wooden performer. Conrad Veidt, as the cruel-as-an-adder Jaffar, comes off as a well-oiled villain, but he’s horribly miscast; he’s German through and through.

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National Novel Writing Month: A Five-Year Veteran’s View

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

nanowrimo-2012November is almost here, which means for tens of thousands of people spanning the globe the time has come to crunch numbers over thirty days to maximize their ability to write at least fifty thousands words of a novel. It is called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and by this point most of you with any connection to the world of books — whether writing, reading, wholesaling, or propping up the couch — have heard of this social creative writing event. In fact, I expect “NaNoWriMo” and “WriMos” to enter the Oxford American Dictionary within a few years.

Three years ago, I wrote a lengthy post explaining NaNoWriMo and why I started doing it; if you want a longer explanation from a participant about what the month entails, check out that hoary article. Or you can look at the official site. Last year, I again offered my evolving thoughts on NaNoWriMo.

This is my fifth year participating, and although the event started in 1999, a five-year vet such as myself is a rarity. The first time I did NaNo, the Los Angeles TGIO Party (“Thank the Gods It’s Over”) managed to pack all the attendees around a single table in the Cat and Fiddle pub in Hollywood. Half a decade later, the Kick-Off party for Los Angeles jammed wall to wall half of an El Cholo restaurant in Pasadena, standing-room only, with raffles for sponsored gifts and two professional writing gurus in attendance. The growth of the event over half a decade has been enormous, with at least four times as many participants as when I started, and that’s my conservative estimate.

As NaNoWriMo has changed, so has my relationship with it: my feelings about its public face, and how it become more globalized and systematized while losing some of its “handmade” origins. It’s natural that I would start to develop more cynical opinions about the event, but then I acknowledge that some of this comes from how much I’ve changed as an author since 2008 — and that NaNoWriMo played a big part in making those changes.

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Marvel Feature: Red Sonja 2

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

marvel-feature-2-coverBy this stage, Red Sonja has had several highly-regarded artists drawing her; but this is the first issue where we meet the artist most closely associated with the She-Devil: Frank Thorne. His art style takes the character into an almost psychedelic landscape. Check out the cozy inn she stops for a drink in and tell me that place isn’t haunted. Every tree looks like something pulled from The Wizard of Oz and the farm is something straight out of EC Comics.

And while Frank Thorne draws a bad acid-trip version of the Hyborian Age, his Red Sonja is a truly a hell-spawn, living up to the title “She-Devil with a Sword.” Check her out on the cover: that’s not a woman reveling in the thrill of battle. That’s a woman who’s pissed off at the Picts. I love the expression on the one in front, who’s obviously trying to get away from Red Sonja, wielding a sword and axe while riding her zombie horse. In the story itself, she wears a riding cloak that flaps behind her like the wings of a huge bat.

The story begins with Red Sonja robbing a brigand of his ill-gotten loot, not to return to the true owner, mind you, but to keep for herself. Among these items is a gold key inscribed with a prayer to Balek, this issue’s guest demon. One page later, the horse she stole from the brigand is stolen from her by a one-legged man named Dunkin, who’s pretty rude to her even after she decides not to kill him for stealing her horse and trying to behead her.

Dunkin has a bit of resentment towards women because he believes that having one leg prevents any woman from wanting him (maybe if he stopped calling them “wenches”). Apropos to nothing, he grabs Sonja and kisses her. This is something she wouldn’t even let Conan get away with; but she has been questioning her vow recently, so maybe she decided to let a man get just a little closer to her to see what happens.

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Popular Marketing Mistakes: Cannibalism

Monday, October 29th, 2012 | Posted by peadarog


1. The Sadness — It is too Much!

When my first book, The Inferior, came squalling into the light back in 2007 it received absolutely wonderful reviews.

Read this and remember why Science Fiction lit your fire in the first place!

An exhilarating read, highly recommended and an incredible first novel in what is going to end up an incredible career.

It made several “Best of the Year” lists. Foreign editors snapped up the rights. An agent in Hollywood got excited about the idea of a movie. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for a start, nobody bought it.

By nobody, I don’t just mean sweaty little nerds like myself with fistfuls of notes or book vouchers. No, the shops didn’t want to buy it either. They failed to stock it, or did so in small quantities. They were right too, because the few copies that made it into stores gathered dust or wept quietly in the back of warehouses.

After “Best of the Year” lists, The Inferior began turning up in other places, such as “most underrated book” lists and — now that I have two novels in print — “most underrated series.” That’s a gentle way of saying “loserville.”

Yes, this depressed me and I whined to whoever would listen until I bored my friends to sleep with it. I didn’t understand back then that both myself and my publishers had made some interesting mistakes in our marketing of the book.

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