Congratulations to Black Gate on 3,000 Blog Posts!

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

3000I feel like one of the service staff at a restaurant, waiting excitedly at the entrance for their 10,000th customer. Minus the cool food service uniform.

Ryan Harvey’s article on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Oakdale Affair, which went live less than an hour ago, was our 3,000th post. Congratulations to Ryan — and indeed, to the entire Black Gate staff.

The Black Gate blog was the brainchild of Howard Andrew Jones, who suggested I replace the outdated site he and I updated haphazardly with a modern WordPress web publication. I originally said no — and in fact said ‘No” the next half dozen times Howard brought it up. But he eventually talked me into it. Our new look was designed by Leo Grin and our first two posts, in November 2008, were both written by our site engineer David Munger. Our first regular bloggers were David Soyka, Judith Berman, E.E. Knight, Ryan Harvey, James Enge, Scott Oden, and Bill Ward.

Note that I was not a regular blogger. I was not a blogger at all. It took me six months just to figure out how to log in and puzzle out WordPress — and much longer before I dared make my first, timid post. I wrote over 750 in the next four years, and gradually got the hang of it.

We are very proud to be able to bring you, our readers, the best in new and overlooked fantasy every week. The site has grown by leaps and bounds in the last four and a half years, and today a team of nearly 30 bloggers contributes over 20 articles per week. In November 2008 our readership was in the hundreds; this month we are perilously close to breaking 100,000 visits. It’s been an honor and a privilege, and we’re pleased to have you here to celebrate with us.

Affair of the Bear: The Oakdale Affair by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Oakdale Affair frontspiece Jack BurroughsYes, this is the 3,000th post on Black Gate. Discovered after the fact, of course. Never thought I’d be writing about a murder mystery centered on a bear for the occasion, but what the hey.

In the spring of 1917, as he was completing the last of the “New Tarzan Adventures” that would eventually fill the volume Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a short novel (40,000 words) titled “Bridge and the Oskaloosa Kid.” A reader of the previous year’s The Return of the Mucker might recognize the name “Bridge” as belonging to that novel’s itinerant poet and co-hero. Burroughs liked the character so much that he spun him off into his own story: a crime drama/mystery, something different for the author.

Editor Bob Davis at All-Story found little to appreciate about ERB’s new tact when “Bridge and the Oskaloosa Kid” landed on his desk. He argued that its twist ending stretched credulity past what readers would tolerate: “Lord! Edgar, how do you expect people who love and worship you to stand up for anything like that? And the bear stuff, and the clanking of chains!” Davis may also have objected to mentions of one of the villains injecting morphine to feed an addiction. Although Davis remarked that Bridge was a “splendid character” in The Return of the Mucker and “well worth a great story,” the editor didn’t think this was it. He bounced the novel back to ERB.

Burroughs had his own doubts about “Bridge and the Oskaloosa Kid,” criticizing his performance as “rotten” even before he finished. But his name was still good for a sale in a magazine in 1917, and the novel ended up at Blue Book, printed in full in the March 1918 issue under the more economical title The Oakdale Affair. Editor Ray Long paid $600 for it, considerably less than ERB’s standard pay-rate at the time.

A year later, a movie titled The Oakdale Affair starring Evelyn Greeley premiered from World Film Company. It was the fourth film made from ERB’s work, and a rare non-Tarzan one. Somebody must have liked the book, the opinions of the author and his editor be damned!

What to make of this unofficial third novel of the “Mucker Trilogy,” a crime thriller/mystery with a vanished heiress, murderous drifters, gypsies, an enthusiastic child detective, a deadly bear, a lynch mob, a couple of dead bodies, and a chain-clanking ghost in a haunted house? Did ERB stray too far in looking for somewhere else for his poetry-loving Bridge to roam?

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Adventure on Film: Mirror, Mirror

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

Stand back, comrades, the gloves are off.mirror-mirror-440

I hate this movie.

Unfortunately — and somewhat confusingly — I also love it.

Help.  I’m so confused!

Riddle me this: why exactly did Mirror, Mirror’s good king have to marry the wicked stepmother queen? Perhaps it’s because she’s so smartly played by Julia Roberts, but no: the reason given, in a sassy prologue, is that the king discovered certain things (martial skills) that he could not teach his daughter. Therefore, he had to marry anew, his first wife having conveniently died giving birth to Snow White.

Let’s stop right there. This is an example of what we Black Gate critics call GLOSSING OVER. In certain circles, it’s also called DELIBERATE OBFUSCATION.

The information that the king must remarry is presented so fast, and with all the confidence of a logical fait accompli, that we are supposed to ignore its hypocrisy, stupidity, and outright vapidity and quickly move on.

Well. This lil’ critic ain’t fallin’ for it.

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More Bad News for ‘Zines: Reader’s Digest Files For Bankruptcy

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

READERS-DIGEST March 2013Reader’s Digest, the most widely-purchased magazine in the world, has filed for bankruptcy protection for a second time.

Reader’s Digest was founded in 1922; it is currently published in more than 70 countries, with 49 editions in 21 languages. Not long ago, it had a worldwide circulation of over 10 million copies per month, making it the largest paid circulation magazine on the planet.

The magazine emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, selling off assets to lower its debt — including cooking website (sold for $180 million) and sister magazine Every Day With Rachael Ray (for $4.3 million). Its paid circulation fell to 5.5 million at the end of 2012, making it the fifth-biggest consumer magazine by circulation in the U.S., behind two publications from the AARP, Game Informer Magazine, and Better Homes and Gardens.

The magazine filed for Chapter 11 protection in an attempt to cut debt; it is hoping to convert about $465 million of debt into equity held by its creditors. Reader’s Digest has about $1.1 billion in assets and slightly under $1.2 billion in debt, and has arranged roughly $105 million to keep it afloat during bankruptcy proceedings.

The news follows a lengthy obituary list for magazines in 2012, including the 80-year old Newsweek, which published its last print issue in December, music magazine Spin, Nintendo Power, Whole Living, American Artist, and many others. Fantasy fans lost the print version of the excellent New York Review of Science Fiction in 2012, which converted to digital format last spring.

Red Sonja 11

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Red Sonja 11 coverThe story opens with Red Sonja and Suumaro in the talons of a giant peacock, being flown away from the ruins of the sorceress Apah Alah’s honeymoon suite. It was explained (though not very clearly) last issue, but to catch up with the story (and the series in general), all you have to know is that a lot of crazy things happen to Red Sonja and she usually ends up stabbing most of those crazy things. Oh, and she’s blind after being covered in the blood of a peacock-blowing man-stallion (seriously, not half as sick as you’re thinking).

If you’re honest with yourself, you know how you’d react to being blinded, then clutched in the talon of a giant peacock. I’d be terrified. Red Sonja’s first line this issue: “I’d hoped that when death arrived for me – I’d at least be able to see well enough to spit in its face!” And that’s really all you have to know about Red Sonja.

The giant bird drops them on the upper section of the palace, where they are greeted by a bald woman with a crossbow named Narca. It turns out Narca is angry at the bird for trying to take Sonja and Suumaro out of the palace (even though the bird wasn’t taking them out of the palace, just the crumbling part of it). So she shoots the giant peacock with her crossbow, then has her army of albino gorillas drag its corpse to a giant vat of blood, where it is dumped.

Why is she so mad about Sonja and Suumaro’s escape attempt? Because she’s trapped there too. In her own wing of the palace. With an army of gorillas. And a blood pit that she uses for demonic summoning. And this isn’t even the dumbest prison set-up I’ve seen in the series (see issue two).

Sonja can’t see Narca, but Suumaro tells her that she’s “purely evil,” which he seems to conclude from the fact that she’s bald and shot a big bird. Then she shoots a second giant peacock and has it tossed into the blood pit as well. Some demon is apparently very thirsty.

Read More »

Steampunk Spotlight: Society of Steam Trilogy

Monday, February 18th, 2013 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

the society of steam the falling machineImagine the  gilded age… but with superheroes and steampunk technology.

That is the central premise of Andrew P. Mayer’s Society of Steam trilogy, which just published its final volume in January. The books portray a world in which the brilliant inventor Sir Dennis Darby has brought together heroes to form the Paragons, a New York City group of adventurers that fight menaces to decent society. Among the heroes is the Automaton, an intelligent steam-powered construct of Darby’s own invention.

This alone would be enough of a premise for a trilogy of novels, but the first book in the trilogy, The Falling Machine (Amazon, B&N), begins by throwing this fascinating world into turmoil… by killing off Darby himself in the first chapter, leaving his student Sarah Stanton – forbidden by gender to become a hero in society – to take a stand and see that his vision of the future has a possibility to come to pass. The trilogy therefore is not about the Paragons so much as it’s about the Paragons facing their darkest hour… with an outcome that is far from predictable.

To think about the challenge facing Mayer in writing this series, consider that this would sort of be like if the first issue of X-Men began with Professor Xavier dying. The series is trying to depict the status quo changing, but also has to — at the exact same time — depict what the status quo was. It’s a tough balancing act and Mayer does a good job with it, though there are times where it’s a little uneven, particularly in the first book, which ends with several characters dying and the ranks of the Paragons devastated by their greatest challenge: the villain Eschaton.

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Art of the Genre: The Weight of Print

Monday, February 18th, 2013 | Posted by Scott Taylor

DSC_1027When I was a kid, I loved where I lived. Honestly, I had a great childhood, raised along a tranquil riverbank in a peaceful little town in northwest Indiana. I had no siblings to distract me from my internal reverie, was cared for by a loving mother who chose me over all else, and had friends fostered from Kindergarten all the way to High School Graduation.

I would sit and wonder about all the kids in my class that would rage and swear at our small town, and ‘how they were going to get out as soon as they could’. To me, I could think of no place I’d rather be.

However, upon graduation I moved to southern Indiana to go to university, and by my sophomore year had met my wife. She, unlike me, had a turbulent childhood with dozens of moves and no lifelong friends or a place that she identified as ‘home’. As is the case with most single children who become involved with people who have many siblings and large families, I was pressed to follow her family and so began a journey that has taken me all over the U.S. in the intervening years.

Yes, the kid who never wanted to leave his town has lived in half a dozen states and moved more times than I’d like to remember, which is to say pretty much every three years for two decades.

Why do I bring this up, you might be asking yourself? Well, I bring it up because of my books, most specifically my RPG books. If you have ever had to move, you know the burden each piece of your life [bed, couch, clothes, kitchen supplies, etc.] places on you as you try to pack it, protect it, and hump it into trucks, cars, up steps, down steps, and across countless miles.

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Amazing Stories, January 1963: A Retro-Review

Monday, February 18th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

amazing stories January 1963This issue was published almost exactly 50 years ago. This was well into Cele Goldsmith’s tenure. Goldsmith is regarded now as one of the great magazine editors in our field’s history, for what she did with Amazing and Fantastic from December 1958 through June 1965.

I immediately noticed the subtitle: “Fact and Science Fiction.” This appeared with the October 1960 issue and lasted through Goldsmith’s tenure (she was Cele Lalli by the end). 1960 was also the year Astounding Science Fiction became (starting with the February issue) Analog Science Fact and Fiction. Amazing may have been following Analog’s lead, or both may have been reacting to the Space Race, and the increased U.S. emphasis on science education.

Goldsmith/Lalli left the magazine when Ziff-Davis, her employers, sold it – she stayed on with Ziff-Davis and became a very successful editor with Modern Bride.

The cover is by Lloyd Birmingham, an unfamiliar name to me. I didn’t like it very much. As John Boston puts it: “an attempt at pompous pageantry that just looks silly.” It illustrates the lead story, “Cerebrum,” by Albert Teichner.

Interiors are by Birmingham, Leo Morey, George Schelling, and the great Virgil Finlay. There are a couple of inhouse ads, a Classified section, and two full page ads, one for the Rosicruans, and one for the 1963 Stereo/Hi-Fi Directory.

The Fact content is represented by Ben Bova’s article, “Progress Report: Life Forms in Meteorites,” the subject of which seems clear enough, though the article actually discusses the discovery of chemicals possibly related to life in meteorites, as well as where meteorites come from.

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Dion Fortune and The Demon Lover

Monday, February 18th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Demon LoverWhen I took a look at Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House the other week, I did not know that February was in fact Women in Horror Recognition Month. The establishment of WiHM, as it’s abbreviated, began in 2010 as “a month-long celebration that would promote and assist underrepresented female artists while educating the public about current and past discrimination.” In 2011, WiHM was backed by the Viscera Organization, a non-profit assisting female genre filmmakers. If you want to know more, here’s the web site for the event, from which I took the foregoing quote, and the Facebook page; here’s a link to the Viscera Organization, with info on the annual film festivals they hold in Los Angeles and Boston. As for me, as a result of learning all this, I stumbled on a couple of lists of works by female horror writers. And on one of those lists, I noticed a book I’d had on my shelf for ages: The Demon Lover, by Dion Fortune.

Fortune is an interesting figure. Born in Wales in or about 1890 (sources vary) as Violet Mary Firth, in her twenties she grew interested in psychotherapy and occultism — possibly a function of visions she claimed to have had since the age of four, which she came to believe were memories of a past life in ancient Atlantis; or of a nervous breakdown she suffered at age twenty, which she believed was the result of a magical attack against her. She became a Theosophist in 1914, and in 1919, while studying magic under a man named Doctor Theodore Moriarty, she took the name ‘Dion Fortune’ and joined the Order of the Golden Dawn. She founded her own magical society in 1922, the Community (later Fraternity, now Society) of the Inner Light, which aimed at bringing Chistian teachings into occultism. In 1926, she published a book of short stories based on her magic experiences: The Secrets of Dr. Taverner. The Demon Lover, her first novel, followed in 1927, with more novels coming in the years after that. She wrote several non-fiction books about occultism — I’ve read The Mystical Qabalah — although it has been argued that her novels ended up being more important for later occultists, especially Gardenerian Wiccans.

Fortune’s work certainly seems to have influenced Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana Paxson, both as literature and as spiritual inspiration. Alan Moore has spoken highly of Fortune’s magical writing, and more equivocally ranked her with Sax Rohmer as an imaginative writer. For the sake of this piece, it may be worth noting that I’m temperamentally agnostic — I make no claim to wisdom — but naturally skeptical. I want to write about The Demon Lover because I thought it was an interesting book. Not flawless; but interesting. It’s not necessary to know, much less share, Fortune’s history and beliefs in order to enjoy the novel. But Fortune’s biography does suggest some interesting ways to look at what she wrote, and consider the relation between horror (and fantasy) and what is commonly perceived to be real.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Find,” Part II of The Tales of Gemen, by Mark Rigney

Sunday, February 17th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

AppleMarkGemen the Antiques Dealer gathers a resourceful team of fighters and adventurers to assist him in his mysterious quest, in the sequel to “The Trade”:

The guards finished lowering their prisoner into the octagonal pit. Gemen guessed that at least three hundred now looked on as the woman, very much alone, paced back and forth with restless, furtive energy while a bored-sounding magistrate, above, read out a host of generic accusations.

The magistrate rolled up his paintbark parchment. “The accused calls herself Velori, and she will now defend herself! Survival connotes innocence!”

Immediately four ladders snaked down, and as Velori planted herself in the center, four warriors slid down and advanced, their heads encased in bestial masks of iron and leather, inlaid axes at the ready.

Gemen’s companion let out a dry laugh. “You’re about to tell me it isn’t fair, aren’t you? They’ve got weapons. She doesn’t.”

Gemen shook his head. “It looks fair to me.”

Mark Rigney is the author of the plays Acts of God and Bears and winner of the 2012 Panowski Playwriting Competition. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Black Static, The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, Realms of Fantasy, Talebones, Not One Of Us, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and many more. His contemporary fantasy novel, A Most Unruly Gnome, won the 2009 First Coast Novel Contest. Two collections of his stories (all previously published by various mags and ‘zines) are available through Amazon, Flights of Fantasy, and Reality Checks.

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

“The Find” is a complete 14,000-word novelette of weird fantasy offered at no cost. It is the sequel to “The Trade,” Part I of The Tales of Gemen the Antiques Dealer, which Tangent Online called a “Marvelous tale. Can’t wait for the next part.”

Read the complete story here.

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