Genre 2012: The Trouble With (no, not Tribbles) Pace

Thursday, December 27th, 2012 | Posted by markrigney


One should never read one’s own notices, as many a British actor, most of them knighted, have said. Does it then follow that a writer should never read reviews of his or her work? Or, for that matter, the fine print of incoming rejections?

Tangent Online was kind enough, just recently, to give my Black Gate story “The Trade” a really glowing review, but while that review made me very happy, it also gave me pause. It forced me to reflect both on my own writing and on writing in general. Why? Because of one line, short and sweet: “The pace is fast.”

And so it is, I suppose. But consider the email I got ten days after “The Trade” debuted, a note penned by David M. Armstrong, fiction editor for Witness, a literary magazine into which I’ve been trying to jam my work for about a decade. At last, a Witness acceptance, and for their upcoming spring 2013 issue! Can you guess what Mr. Armstrong said he appreciated in my story? The pace. “This,” he wrote, “was a layered and often impressively restrained narrative.”

Let’s translate, shall we, to the realm of fantasy adventure fiction. What Mr. Armstrong just said is that my Witness story, “The Last Horse in Skopje,” exhibits a pace so glacial and plodding that it would put a charging sabre-tooth to sleep at thirty paces.

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SF/F Corruption: Part I

Thursday, December 27th, 2012 | Posted by Theo

the-quantum-roseWhy Amazon is Correct to Ban Author Reviews

There is word of a backlash against Amazon’s policy of preventing authors from reviewing certain books on its web site. The Telegraph reports: “Critics suggest this system is flawed because many authors are impartial and are experts on novels.” However, speaking as the first nationally syndicated game review columnist and a longtime professional reviewer for publications such as the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Atlanta Journal/Constitution, Chronicle Features, Computer Gaming World, and Electronic Entertainment, I can assure those who find this policy to be unjustified and unfair that it is absolutely and completely necessary due to the corruption, both professional and ideological, that is rife within the publishing industry in general and the SF/F industry in particular.

The problem isn’t merely one of authors sockpuppeting and heaping praise upon themselves under false identities. I am a member of the SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and I have had the dubious privilege of sitting upon three of its Nebula Award juries in the past. More importantly, I have had access to the SFWA Forum, and its updated list of Nebula Award nominations, for more than ten years. And one of the things that rapidly became obvious to anyone who attempted to participate honestly in the system between 2000 and 2010 was that the Nebula Award is, first and foremost, a means for various small groups of people to shamelessly and dishonestly promote the works of themselves and their friends.

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Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Beginner’s Mind in Hobbiton

Thursday, December 27th, 2012 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The students in Intro to Poetry read scared. They started the semester twitchy as rabbits. Poetry made them feel stupid. No, let’s be more specific: being asked to explain poetry made them anticipate humiliation. Their baggage from their high school English classes led them to expect, reasonably or not, that they had to be experts already, that they would be chastised in front of one another and punished with bad grades for not already knowing as much as their teachers did. They felt like newly licensed drivers trying to merge onto a freeway from a stop sign.

Before they could get anywhere with poetry, they had to embrace being beginners. Not to accept that they were beginners–some of them weren’t–but deliberately to become beginners. I didn’t want them to perform their expertise in my classroom. I wanted them to read with curiosity. I wanted them to encounter each poem we read together with questions like What is this? What does it do? How am I experiencing it? I urged the students to wait until they had read with beginner’s eyes, at least once through, before asking questions like What is my judgment upon this?

Reading with some approximation of the Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind is something I’ve been fairly good at since I first began teaching–it’s almost impossible to comment usefully on student writing without it–but the Intro to Poetry course forced me to model this kind of reading so assiduously that I have found it difficult ever since to read creative work, or even watch movies, in the mode of a judge in the sentencing phase of a criminal trial.

I watched Peter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit in an intermittent state of beginner’s mind, and my experience of it was so different from that of the film critics whose reviews I have seen since, one might think I’d seen a different film.

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Locus Online on the Best Fantasy Novels of the 20th and 21st Centuries

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

lord-of-the-rings‘Tis the season for Top Ten lists. David E. Harris kicked it off here this morning with his Arbitrary Top 10: Fantasy Films (which missed Watership Down and It’s a Wonderful Life, but at least had the good sense to include Jumanji), but similar lists have been popping up all over the blogosphere.

Locus Online conducted a poll to determine the best novels and short fiction of the 20th and 21st centuries last month, with five categories: science fiction novel, fantasy novel, novella, novelette, and short story. Since all votes were write-ins counting has taken a while, but on Friday Mark Kelly announced the results for the novel categories. The complete poll includes the Top 50 winners; here are the Top 10 Best Fantasy Novels of the 20th and 21st Centuries:

20th Century Fantasy Novel

  1. Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Lord of the Rings (1955)
  2. Martin, George R. R. : A Game of Thrones (1996)
  3. Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Hobbit (1937)
  4. Le Guin, Ursula K. : A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
  5. Zelazny, Roger : Nine Princes in Amber (1970)
  6. Lewis, C. S. : The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
  7. Mieville, China : Perdido Street Station (2000)
  8. Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
  9. Crowley, John : Little, Big (1981)
  10. Adams, Richard : Watership Down (1972)

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Another Arbitrary Top 10 List: Fantasy Films

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 | Posted by David E. Harris

the-green-mile-smallRotten Tomatoes recently published its list of the 50 Best-Reviewed Fantasy Fims of all time. Such lists are by their subjective natures both entertaining and infuriating, designed perhaps to produce reactions ranging from nostalgic admiration to sputtering, slack-jawed amazement, and opening debate as to whether not only a particular film should have been selected, but also whether whole categories of films should have been selected.

What counts as a fantasy film? RT’s list, for example, is dominated by decades of Disney and Pixar films, from classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (#3 on the list) and Pinocchio (#2) to the Shrek franchise, not to mention all five of the Mayazaki releases. Sure, somebody casts a magic spell in each one of them, but are these fantasy movies or kid’s movies? If a bit of magic is all you need to qualify as a fantasy film, where are all the movies featuring Santa Claus? Why is Mary Poppins not on the list?

Few viewers loved The Princess Bride (#15) more than I, and while Miracle Max could not have brought Wesley back to life without a magic pill, is it a fantasy or a comedy? If it isn’t a comedy, Monty Python and The Holy Grail (#7) surely must be. And if comedies involving any sort of magic count as fantasy movies, why aren’t Groundhog Day and Splash on the list? What about Ghostbusters, featuring not only a panoply of ghosts, but also a Mesopotamian demigod with the power to create a giant marshmallow man?

Does Stephen King’s Carrie become science fiction if we distinguish her magical ability with the scientific moniker of psychokinesis? Since the gentle giant in The Green Mile has no name for his magical healing ability, does that film qualify?

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Merry Christmas from Black Gate

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

black-gate-christmas-treeThe lights are dim at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters, and there’s a light dusting of snow on all the desks. I dropped by to pick up the leftover egg nog from the Christmas party and discovered a rare thing: a deserted office. Even Goth Chick’s minions seem to have slipped their chains.

The only noise I hear comes from deep in the comic archives, where the tireless Mike Penkas is scribbling a Christmas Red Sonja post, muttering “For the love of God, there’s a giant spider right on the cover.” Not sure what that’s about, but I tiptoe away before I break his concentration.

It’s nice to see the place when it’s not bustling with activity. Everywhere I look there’s evidence of this year’s accomplishments. There’s the stack of scrolls Howard Andrew Jones used while researching The Bones of the Old Ones (Seriously, where did he find actual scrolls? That’s just showing off). There’s the whiteboard where Scott Taylor sketched out his Art of the Genre ideas, before accepting a big job and vanishing out to the west coast. Sarah Avery sits in that corner now, writing constantly and giving Skype interviews for Broad Universe. And there’s the scratching post Ryan Harvey built for his cat Cassie, in a vain attempt to get her to stop playing with the office Christmas ornaments.

And here’s the table where all the freelancers sit. They always seem to be having a lot more fun than the rest of us. They’re certainly louder, anyway. Here’s Emily Mah’s recording equipment, and Josh Reynolds’ occult detective collection. Beth Dawkins has only been here a few months, but she fit in quickly, clearing away a section of William Patrick Maynard’s vast pulp collection to make room for her paranormal romance paperbacks. Mark Rigney has made excellent use of John Fultz’s battered old writing desk, composing his own sword-and-sorcery epics, and David Soyka has vanished inside a fortress built of thousands of science fiction digests. Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ desk is clean, probably because he’s never there — he’s always on assignment at a convention these days.

The only staff member who doesn’t have a desk is the mysterious Matthew David Surridge — which I suppose is fitting. He’s been part of the team for years, but no one is 100% sure what he looks like. He’s a riot at office parties, though.

It’s been an incredible year for Black Gate. The traffic to our humble website has very nearly doubled in the last 12 months, and interest has never been higher. While we’re very proud of what we’ve done, there’s no doubt in our mind that we owe it all to you, our loyal readers. You’ve never been more supportive than you have in 2012 — with your comments, letters, and your continued interest in our endeavors large and small.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. On behalf of the vast and unruly collective that is Black Gate, I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Continue being excellent — it’s what you’re good at.

Red Sonja 3

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

red-sonja-3-coverYou know how sometimes you’re watching the trailer to a movie and it looks really good and you suddenly realize that you’ve figured out the surprise ending of the movie just by watching the trailer? I don’t mean that you make an educated guess based on the clues in the trailer and it happens to be correct. I mean that someone actually cut a crucial scene at the end of the film into the trailer so that you’re watching the eight year-old boy change into the child-snatching goblin. And maybe you go see the movie anyway because it still could be good; but you’ve lost a little something going in, that sense of surprise, because the filmmakers spoiled their own film.

Anyway, Sortilej is a giant spider in human form. Surprise. Thanks, cover.

So, “The Games of Gita” starts with a fat, opulently-dressed Athosian being pulled in a rickshaw by a lean, rag-wearing Zotozian, whipping him on. Red Sonja stops the pair to demand that the Athosian lets his rickshaw-puller (What’s the word for that?) have a drink of water before he collapses. Because that’s compassion in the Hyborian Age: offering a glass of water to a slave being whipped to death.

So the fat guy shrugs off her concern by saying that he can easily replace the man if he dies of thirst or a severe beating. Then he asks Sonja if she’d like to accompany him to a banquet as his date. She says no. Technically, she says, “The fires of seven hells wouldn’t tempt me to sup with the likes of you.” (Someone please use this line the next time a jerk invites you to dinner.) And then she kicks his ass. Literally, the last panel of page three is her boot connecting with his ass.

The fat guy runs off and Red Sonja is then approached by a stranger named Mikal. He offers to escort her to the wealthy city of Athos. Mikal is very mysterious. Mikal wears a hood. Mikal has a goatee. Mikal is probably the devil. This bothers me just a little because his name is a Tolkienized version of mine.

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Ursula Vernon’s Digger

Monday, December 24th, 2012 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

DiggerThe Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story was first given out in 2009. The category was a nice idea, especially given the increased prominence of comics in the media landscape, but I have to admit that up to this year, I’ve been underwhelmed by the choice of winners. Or, more precisely, winner, singular: Phil and Kaja Foglio’s webcomic Girl Genius took the award three times straight. I don’t dislike the comic, but from what I’ve read, I’d be hard-pressed to identify anything in it that makes it worth a major award ahead of any number of series — Hellboy or Mouse Guard or Wednesday Comics or RASL or All-Star Superman or you name it. After their third win, though, the Foglios announced they would decline to accept a nomination for the next year, in the interest of helping to establish the validity of the award. So the 2012 Hugo went to another title: Digger, a webcomic by Ursula Vernon. I find it’s much more interesting.

Digger is a 759-page fantasy story (free online, or available in six printed volumes) about a talking tough-as-nails wombat named Digger-of-Unnecessarily-Convoluted-Tunnels, who gets lost and finds herself in a strange land filled with gods, humanoid hyenas, magic, oracular snails, and mysteries. Digger wants to get home, but it looks like some unknown force has manipulated events to bring her to the temple of Ganesh where she surfaces. Who and why? That’s the central mystery that unfolds through the tale. Digger makes friends, makes enemies, and takes several harrowing journeys before all is settled.

It’s a comedy, and an effective one, but with a number of serious themes running through it. Vernon seems to have something to say, and the talent to say it well. Her storytelling’s strong, and she handles mythology deftly — both the mythology of various cultures of our world and the mythology of the story she’s creating.

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Buy The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones for Just $1

Monday, December 24th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

the-desert-of-souls‘Tis the season for great book deals.

Hot on the heels of the one-day $1.99 sale for the digital version of A Prince of Thorns, and the giveaway of Theo’s A Magic Broken (still available if you act fast) comes word that Head of Zeus, the British publisher of Howard Andrew Jones’ The Desert of Souls — the first installment of The Chronicles of Sand and Sword — is making the digital version of the novel available for just $1.

The special pricing is available only until January 7th. On his website Howard also writes:

Head of Zeus has cooked up a pretty nifty series introduction for The Chronicles of Sand and Sword. I like it so much I wish I’d thought of it:

The Chronicles of Sand and Sword: Baghdad, AD 790. Caliph Harun al-Rashid presides over the greatest metropolis on Earth, ruler of an empire that stretches from China to Byzantium. His exploits will be recorded in Alf Layla or, as we know it, The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

But The Thousand and One Nights are silent on the deeds and adventures that befell two of the Caliph’s subjects: the renowned scholar Dabir ibn Kahlil, and his shield and right hand, Asim el Abbas. For their story, we must turn to The Chronicle of Sand and Sword

For complete details and links to sites with the discounted pricing (including and Waterstone’s) visit the Head of Zeus website here.

A 4-Star Review of Black Gate 15

Monday, December 24th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

bg-15-cover2We got an early Christmas gift this year, courtesy of Goodreads, the social cataloging website dedicated to helping users find and comment on good books. With over 20 million readers each month, Goodreads is one of the most popular online destinations for dedicated readers.

All fifteen issues of Black Gate have been cataloged at Goodreads, and our latest issue has several outstanding reviews. This week, I came across a 4-star review from none other than publisher and editor Forrest Aguirre, author of Archangel Morpheus and Fossiloctopus, and co-editor of the prestigious Leviathan anthology series. Forrest writes:

My favorite piece of fiction in the volume was “The Shuttered Temple,” by Jonathan L. Howard (author of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, among others). Kyth the Taker, a brilliant and rather glib thief, is the heroine here. This was a very clever story whose strongest point is less the adventure than the philosophical underpinnings that drive Kyth and Tonsett, her foil. Witty, funny, and thought provoking, I found this the best of this excellent volume.

I have to admit, though, that a piece of non-fiction overshadowed all the fiction in the volume. “Art Evolution,” by Scott Taylor, is an epic article that touched a soft spot in my heart and made me wax nostalgic for role-playing days of old. This was as thoroughly-researched an article on the subject of fantasy-art in role-playing as I’ve ever seen. Of course, I’m hard pressed to think of other articles that have even endeavored such an undertaking. From Jeff Dee to Matthew D. Wilson, Taylor traces the history of art in role-playing. It’s an incredible journey that is worth the price of the issue alone.

Copies are still available for only $18.95 each (or as part of a heavily discounted back issue bundle) at our online store. Also available in PDF for $8.95, and for the Kindle — with enhanced content and color art and images — at for just $9.95!

You can read the complete review at Goodreads here. The complete BG 15 table of contents is here.

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