The Real Argo: The Lord of Light Film and the Lost Jack Kirby Sketches

Monday, February 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Kirby-Lord-of-LightI was pleased to see Ben Affleck’s Argo win the Academy Award for Best Picture last night. It was the best film I saw last year, although I admit I didn’t see all the nominees.

But I was a little annoyed during parts — especially scenes which included dialog from the fake movie, Argo. It’s clear that Affleck (and his characters) have little respect for science fiction, as the script and its source material are portrayed as utterly terrible sci-fi at its pretentious worst.

Which was particuarly annoying because the source material in question — the script used by real-life CIA agent Tony Mendez, the man portrayed by Affleck — is based on my all-time favorite SF novel, Roger Zelazny’s brilliant Lord of Light. The man who wrote the original Wired article that inspired Argo, Joshua Bearman, explains it this way:

Argo was the name Tony gave to a script that was in turnaround and sitting in a pile at [makeup artist John] Chambers’ house. That script was called Lord of Light and had been adapted from a successful Roger Zelazny science-fantasy novel of the same name. A small-time self-starting dreamer… named Barry Geller had optioned Zelazny’s book himself and raised money to get the project started. He hired Jack Kirby to do concept art and Chambers to make the alien masks. But the whole project fell apart…

It was hard to see the script for Lord of Light merciliessly skewered for laughs in Argo. Still, something good has come out of it all. As a result of the recent spotlight on the film, Jack Kirby’s original sketches — thought lost for years — have come to light.

BuzzFeed has reproduced eleven of the sketches in an article by Richard Rushfield. If you’re a Kirby fan, or a fan of Zelazny’s SF masterpiece, they are well worth a look. Check them out here.

Who is the Daughter of Fu Manchu?

Monday, February 25th, 2013 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

the-destiny-of-fu-manchu2The Destiny of Fu Manchu
By William Patrick Maynard
Black Coat Press (264 pages, $20.95 in trade paperback, April 2012)
A review by Joe Bonadonna

So who is the daughter of the infamous, the mysterious, the brilliant Fu Manchu? Is it the exquisite Koreani? The exotic Fah lo Suee? The lovely Helga Graumann? Who or what is the destiny of Fu Manchu? And who is “Khunum-Khufu,” and why is he in control of the Si-Fan?

The clues are there, the disguises are many, and the deception is all part of the fun in William Patrick Maynard’s sequel to his wonderful, The Terror of Fu Manchu.

I’ve become a fan of Maynard’s Fu Manchu. More importantly, I’m a fan of William Patrick Maynard. (His short story, “Tulsa Blackie’s Last Dive,” is one of the highlights of The Ruby Files, published by Airship27 Productions.) Now, in The Destiny of Fu Manchu, Bill picks up the story years after the events of his first novel, and this time he ups the ante in a tale that is far more complex and insidious than the good doctor’s previous adventure. I’ll do my best to give you a rundown without, hopefully, spoiling any of the fun.

The story opens with a prologue written by good old Petrie himself, the hero/narrator of the aforementioned The Terror of Fu Manchu. This time, however, Petrie has been abducted by Khunum-Khufu and a new faction of the Si-Fan, which plays back to the theft of the Seal of Solomon and the events related in the previous novel.

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A Touch of Evil: Colonial Gothic Horror Board Gaming At Its Finest

Monday, February 25th, 2013 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

TouchofEvilThe quiet colonial hamlet of Shadowbrook is cursed by evil and you are one of the small group of people who can investigate the growing danger, discover the evil’s source, and then collect together a group of Town Elders to destroy it!

That is the premise of Flying Frog Productions’ board game A Touch of Evil (Amazon). You move through the village, exploring various locations and getting clues and equipment. Your currency in the game are Investigation points, which you can spend to learn the secrets behind the Town Elders, or to buy new equipment from the town’s blacksmith. Each round, you uncover new mysteries … many of which result in a confrontation with the foul minions of the main villain tormenting the village and bringing it more under the sway of darkness.

The victory at the end comes from purchasing a Lair card (the price of which changes as evil gains control over Shadowbrook), gathering together a group of Town Elders, and going to confront the villain. However, the Town Elders all have secrets, and if you’re not careful, those secrets could cause them to turn on you, increasing the villain’s power during the confrontation. If you fail to defeat the villain, it escapes and play continues until another player is able to trigger a confrontation. This process continues until someone succeeds at actually defeating the villain.

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Heroic Fiction Quarterly 15

Monday, February 25th, 2013 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

logoOne of an editor’s greatest pleasures is coming upon a fine story, so Adrian Simmons, David Farney, and William Ledbetter must have felt pretty delighted when they came upon the most recent batch of fiction they’ve published in Heroic Fiction Quarterly.

I’m sad to say that I’m more familiar with Heroic Fiction Quarterly e-zine in theory rather than in practice. I’ve heard good things about it for some time and I’ve read a few tales now and then, but it’s been years since I sat down for a visit. I’ve tried two of the stories in the most recent issue, “Dusts of War” by Ben Godby and “Kingdom of Graves” by David Charlton and was tremendously impressed. This is stirring, polished adventure fiction and needs to be seen by more readers. I’m looking forward to finding out what the rest of the issue holds. I’m looking forward to seeing what PREVIOUS issues hold.

Just prior to joining the Black Gate staff, I was managing the Flashing Swords e-zine. I selected and edited the tales for the first six issues. It was a small market with a small budget, and as might be expected, some of what I pulled from the submissions pile were diamonds in the rough, work from promising amateurs. It was sort of a “market with training wheels”: a place where burgeoning writers could hone their craft and start their careers. But a lot of the stories proved very fine indeed, better than such a small market had any right to be, and I can recall my frustration that more attention wasn’t being paid to them, as well as the frustration when the wrong sort of attention was paid — a reviewer tearing apart a first-time writer’s first published story with the same claws that would be used on a veteran writer in a pro market, or a fine writer’s work being dismissed by something as foolish as the old saw “first person stories have no tension because you know the narrator will survive.”

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Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” by Joe Bonadonna

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

mad_shadowsWe first posted Joe Bonadonna’s sword and sorcery novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” in December 2011, and it has proven to be one of our most popular online stories. We’re proud to re-present it here as part of the new Black Gate Online Fiction library.

Long before the legendary cities of Cush and Erusabad were destroyed by war, the graveyard was old. No one knew how old the graveyard truly was, for the carvings on its headstones and markers had been long worn away by the hands of time, wind, and weather. The cemetery crouched with its dead in a hidden vale in the dark heart of Khanya-Toth, land of shadows, black magic, and creatures of the night.

A tall, slim woman sat on the opposite side of the fire, close to the entrance to her bamboo hut. She wore a black robe, her face partially hidden within its hood.

“You’ve come a long way from Valdar to see me,” she said. Her name was Zomandra Chuvai, and she was a witch, one of the Kha Jitah. She lived alone in that ancient graveyard, with only ghosts and memories to keep her company.

“We’re the Blunker boys,” Ollo said. He was all skin and bone, with a sickly yellow pallor.

“I’m well aware of who you are,” Zomandra said. “Shall we talk business?”

“The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” is part of Joe’s first published swords and sorcery collection, Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser. Read more about Mad Shadows in “Dorgo the Dowser and Me,” posted on the Black Gate website here.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Mark Rigney, C.S.E. Cooney, Vaughn Heppner, E.E. Knight, Jason E. Thummel, Judith Berman, Howard Andrew Jones, Dave Gross, Harry Connolly, and others, is here.

“The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” is a complete 15,000-word novelette of weird fantasy offered at no cost.

Read the complete story here.

The Weird of Oz Locates Scooby-Doo

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 | Posted by Nick Ozment

scooby-doo“Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you?” is a question I’ve heard asked — or, rather, sung — ever since I was a child. For most of my life, I didn’t care where the hell he was. But things have changed.

Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang have been unmasking criminal hoaxers longer than I’ve been around, having debuted three years before I was born. They belong to that collective mob of pop-culture figures that have just always been there and are still going strong performing their antics for new generations…Looney Tunes, Mickey Mouse and his club, the Muppets, the Peanuts Gang, Tom and Jerry. Others from my childhood have fallen by the wayside — Heckle and Jeckle, Woody Woodpecker — waiting to be re-launched or else forever consigned to the Old Toons Retirement Home.

As a boy, I followed all of them at one time or another. This was largely determined by which programs the networks happened to be running during the hours just before or just after school (and, of course, that golden block of children’s programming: Saturday morning). It may be almost unfathomable to some of my younger readers, but there was a time not all that long ago when a latchkey kid getting home from school only had three or four channels to choose from, perhaps only one of which would be playing cartoons — two channels if you were lucky, in which case you might actually have a choice between, say, Care Bears or He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (and you can guess which one I chose). For us, the idea of six or seven channels playing cartoons 24/7 would seem about as far off as some of the far-out gadgetry on Star Trek.

Scooby-Doo is one of the franchises that has had real staying power, obviously. Unlike, say, The Flintstones, the live-action movies did not kill the franchise, which has gone through numerous new incarnations of TV series as well as dozens of made-for-TV or direct-to-video animated films.

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Howard and Sandra Tayler Discuss Being Mercenary, Living By Faith, And Sergeant Schlock: An Audio Interview

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 | Posted by Emily Mah

HowardI had the privilege of meeting Sandra Tayler last year at the Nebulas and Howard online at the start of this interview. Famous as the team behind Schlock Mercenary, they’re a noteworthy example of how to build a creative business. What began as a hobby for Howard, doodling a space opera, has become the primary source of income for their family of six, and I really wanted to get a chance to talk to them about the process of moving from a corporate job to self employment. Their web comic has been nominated four times for the Hugo Award and the Taylers have branched out into print books, merchandise, and even a board game.

downloadHoward originally did his degree in music and then went to work for Novell, the software company, for a decade. He and Sandra ran a small music production company for several years before Howard’s interest turned to drawing and comics.

Sandra earned her degree in humanities, which she says she chose, in part, because it didn’t require math. However, one of the first jobs she took on for the family business was the accounting, which she learned through her own study to do as well as a professional accountant. She also took on the book design portion of the business, again teaching herself how to use InDesign and manage the workflow.

In this interview, we discuss that whole journey, and even share a few anecdotes about our mutual faith. As coincidence would have it, all three of us are Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons), and religion also played a significant role in Howard and Sandra’s business decisions.

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Win One of Four New Copies of The Unearthed Arcana 1st Edition Premium Reprint!

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

unearthed arcanaWizards of the Coast has offered us four new copies of The Unearthed Arcana 1st Edition Premium Reprint as giveaways. Is this a great country or what?

Until last week, Gary Gygax’s seminal Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rule book Unearthed Arcana — which introduced the Cavalier, Barbarian, and Thief-Acrobat classes, among many other earth-shaking changes — had never been reprinted. This premium reprint incorporates the many corrections and updates published in Dragon magazine, making it the definitive edition. We first covered the release on Thursday and the excited discussion still continues in the Comments. Here’s what Seven Kings author John R. Fultz has to say:

The release of Unearthed Arcana changed everything. Suddenly we had new spells! Weapon Specialization! Barbarians and Cavaliers! One of the greatest long-term campaigns I ever ran centered around two players that exemplified the classic “buddy-cop” paradigm, although they were opposites: Lystoke the Cavalier and Braigore the Barbarian. One was all about civility and the martial code of honor, the other was a Chaotic Neutral ass-kicker who took no prisoners. Together they made a legendary team… at one point they kicked Mammon’s ass, drove him back to Hell, and plundered his treasure room. Ah, memories.

Oh, I almost forgot one of the other major game-changers from Arcana: Tons of new Magic Items!!! First Edition just isn’t the same without this book.

How do you win a copy? Easy! Just follow in John’s footsteps and send an e-mail to with a one-paragraph summary of your most memorable D&D or AD&D characters. Points will be awarded for conciseness and originality. We’ll publish the best here at Black Gate, and the Top Ten as decided by our judges will be included in a draw for one of four copies of the new Unearthed Arcana 1st Edition Premium Reprint, compliments of Wizards of the Coast.

All entries become the property of New Epoch Press. No purchase necessary. Must be 12 or older. Decisions of the judges (capricious as they may be) are final. Sorry, US entrants only. Not valid where prohibited by law. Eat your vegetables.

How to Put the Sword in Sword and Sorcery

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Violette Malan

The Princess BrideI love sword fighting. All of my favourite movies involve sword fights, and most of my favourite books. I love the Star Trek TOS episode where Sulu runs around with a sword, so it should come as no surprise that I primarily write sword and sorcery novels.

The sorcery part’s easy – pretty well everyone knows I’m making that up, and so long as I keep things internally consistent, I’m in the clear.

But what about the sword part? I can’t just make that up, can I? Viz. this exchange, which took place on a martial arts panel at Ad Astra back in the 90’s:

Panellist: “You know in the movie when Wesley and Iñigo are fighting? Well, they’re not really using the moves they say they’re using.”

Called out by a wit from the back of the room: “Gee, they are in the book.”

And there’s at least part of your answer. You can write whatever you like, but, like William Goldman in The Princess Bride, it behoves you to do some research.

There are some great books that explain all kinds of things about swords and swordplay. There’s Captain Sir Richard Burton’s The Book of the Sword. There’s By the Sword, Richard Cohen’s excellent book on the history of duelling and fencing from ancient into modern times. And there’s also John Clements’s Renaissance Swordsmanship, which has illustrations showing fighting with different kinds of swords, against different kinds of  weapons. It also describes fighting moves in such a way that you can put together a fight — so long as it’s not too complicated.

But is book learning enough? I don’t think so.

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Kickstarter Alert: Up Your Game with Realm Works

Friday, February 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

RealmWorksI’m in the midst of starting up a Pathfinder RPG, the first game that I’ve run in several years. As always, the planning and character creation is half the fun. The setting, especially as outlined in the Inner Sea World Guide, contains a lot of opportunities for diverse storylines, from traditional fantasy to sword and sorcery to pirate adventures to planetary romance.

But all of these opportunities also create difficulties. I have the backstories that my characters have come up with, the mysterious things about their past that I have come up with, the skeletons in their various family and friend’s closet, plot hooks and story arcs that I’ve got to seed which will likely take months to bear fruit, if they ever do.

Unfortunately, I’ve got enough demands on my time that I know I’m not as focused as I once was, and I’m concerned about keeping it all straight. I’m starting a binder and notebook to track the events in, and have typed some up in Google Docs so that I can share the background information they know with my players. I’m thinking of keeping a blog, so that we all can reference back to figure out what events have taken place, as I anticipate this will be a fairly long-lived campaign if all goes well. There’s a lot to potentially keep track of …

Which brings me to the Kickstarter for Realm Works, which has 49 hours to go as I write this. Realm Works is a RPG campaign management engine that is being designed by Lone Wolf Development, with the goal of streamlining exactly the sort of things that I’m currently in the process of meticulously tracking. I’ve heard good things about Lone Wolf’s Hero Lab software, though I’ve never used it, but Realm Works looks like it’ll really be useful.

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