The Top 50 Black Gate Blog Posts in March

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Waters of DarknessI think we’ve finally deciphered what it is that Black Gate readers truly want: great fantasy novels, with lots of action and an enchanting cast of characters.

And pirates.

That would certainly explain how the brief announcement of David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna’s first collaboration, Waters of Darkness, vaulted to the top of our traffic stats and stayed there for the entire month of March — edging out Emily Mah’s Ellen Datlow interview, Sean McLachlan’s examination of one of the greatest miniature battles of history, Violette Malan’s look at swearing in fantasy, and Matha Well’s thoughtful look at how her novel The Clouds Roads fits the Sword & Sorcery sub-genre.

There are plenty of surprises — and lots of great reading — in the Top 50 Black Gate posts in March. The complete list follows. Enjoy — and stay tuned for more posts about pirates. We know a good thing when we see one.

  1. Damnation Books releases Waters of Darkness by David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna
  2. Ellen Datlow on Hating one of my Questions…
  3. The Battle of the Three Kings, 1578, in Miniature
  4. My Characters Don’t give a Damn
  5. How well does The Cloud Roads fit as Sword and Sorcery?
  6. Sorry, can you say that again?
  7. Adventure on Film: Why Hollywood gets it Wrong
  8. Weird of Oz considers Postbuffyism
  9. On the one year Anniversary of John Carter, Let’s Look Forward to a New Tarzan Movie
  10. The battle of Tondibi, 1591, in Miniature


  11. Read More »

The Book of Horrible Stories by Sheila C. Johnson

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

The Book of Horrible Stories by Sheila C JohnsonThe first thing we can tell about Sheila Johnson, before we even open this book, is that she has no fear of jinxing herself with a title like The Book of Horrible Stories. For a change, I was delighted to find that the work did not live up to the title.

Within are five (six, if you count the preface, which I do) short stories that explore the art of storytelling, the source of inspiration and how the tropes of horror are often metaphors for things even more horrifying. Beautiful and surreal, but never so vague that they lose the reader. “The Garden Witch and the Boy” sets the tone with a tale of childhood guilt and nightmares. (And when are guilt and nightmares more intense than in childhood?) “The Tree in the Field” starts with a quirky, surreal premise and takes it further than expected. “An Interlude” is Johnson’s answer to that eternal question asked of writers: “Where do you get your ideas?” (It follows up with the question no one asks: “What happens if you ignore those ideas?”) “Mrs. Ambrose and the Conversational Shimmer” is my favorite of the bunch, a ghost story of sorts and a zombie story of sorts, that delves into themes more disturbing than gruesome. The collection is capped by the story that gave the collection its name: “The Book of Horrible Stories,” a love letter to the horror genre itself and to every child who discovers it.

The collection is beautifully illustrated by Wesley Wong and available for $12.00 on Sheila Johnson’s web site. If money’s tight, you can get the Kindle version for a measly 99 cents. This one goes on the shelf between Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link (and not just because that’s where it happens to fall in the alphabet).

Seriously. Ninety-nine cents. Go. Buy.

Belfort Board Game and Kickstarter Expansion

Monday, April 29th, 2013 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

belfort-componentsIn the board game Belfort (Amazon), you are trying to complete the building of a city before the snow season arrives, along with the accompanying yeti attacks. This gives you seven months (or rounds) to prove your mettle by completing more of the project than your rival architects.

Toward this end, you carry out the following activities:

  • Recruit a team of elves and dwarves to gather wood, stone, and metal resources, as well as gold coins
  • Buy and sell resources at the trading post
  • Buy property cards, representing new properties you can build
  • Earn income from your properties and pay taxes
  • Use wood, stone, and metal resources to build new properties within the town, which provide various benefits
  • Hire gnomes to work at your properties to gain the benefits from them
  • Send your elves or dwarves to guilds (randomly determined each game) to gain benefits

To get a sense for the flow of the game, you may also check out this YouTube video. The graphics of the game are fun and engaging, giving it a lot of personality compared to other games of this type and even inspiring a charming comic book (read the digital version here) that brings the dwarf/elf rivalry to life.

The creators of Belfort are now releasing an expansion – currently funding on Kickstarter until May 9 – which will allow you to hire Assistants that provide special benefits. Or you can forego the Assistant benefit to get an expansion permit which augments an existing property, such as adding a Pool to the Inn or an Archives onto the Library. These property expansions provide scoring bonuses for those who have them, giving the potential edge you need to win the game.

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New Treasures: Pandemomium, by Warren Fahy

Monday, April 29th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Pandemonium Warren FahyIn 2009, Warren Fahy released Fragment on an unsuspecting world.

An unassuming paperback about the cast and crew of a reality show on a long-range research vessel in the South Pacific, who receive a distress call from the mysterious Henders Island, Fragment wasn’t just a great modern adventure tale. It was also an over-the-top monster thriller, a glimpse at how life on Earth might have looked if evolution had taken a very different turn half a billion years ago. Henders Island proved to be a fragment of a lost continent, packed with the kind of creatures that could wipe out our fragile ecosystem.

Since the release of Fragment, fans have been waiting for Fahy’s next monster-laden follow up, and it has finally arrived in the form of Pandemomium, a new hardcover from Tor.

Deep beneath the Ural Mountains, in an underground city carved out by slave labor during the darkest hours of the Cold War, ancient caverns hold exotic and dangerous life-forms that have evolved in isolation for countless millennia. Cut off from the surface world, an entire ecosystem of bizarre subterranean species has survived undetected — until now.

Biologists Nell and Geoffrey Binswanger barely survived their last encounter with terrifying, invasive creatures that threatened to engulf the planet. They think the danger is over until a ruthless Russian tycoon lures them to his underground metropolis, where they find themselves confronted by a vicious menagerie of biological horrors from their past — and by entirely new breeds of voracious predators. Now they’re rising up from the bowels of the Earth to consume the world as we know it.

Yup, that sounds pretty much like what I was waiting for. Pandemomium was published by Tor Books on February 28. It is 306 pages (with 11 extra pages of maps and illustrations of monster innards), priced at $24.99 in hardcover and $11.99 for the digital edition.

The Scariest Hour in TV History: Space 1999: “Dragon’s Domain”

Monday, April 29th, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

What IS the scariest single hour of TV ever? Something out of Night Gallery, perhaps, or one of the space1999-07more high octane Twilight Zone episodes? Star Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark?” What about recent vintages like True Blood, or some modern-day zombie flick? Salem’s Lot was made for TV and that has chills aplenty, but it’s far longer than an hour.

What’s left?

Space 1999. That’s right. Not usually a rock ‘em-sock ‘em sort of program, and definitely relegated now to the “dated” category, but still… for one awful hour in 1975, Space 1999 changed my life.

Let me admit up front that I was a scaredy-cat kid. If a more frightened child ever existed, I have yet to meet him, her, or it. I was scared of the dark, terrified of the basement, and petrified of being alone: demonstrating fear of abandonment in all its forms, from sensorial to parental. For years, in watching TV broadcasts of The Wizard of Oz, I never once saw the Wicked Witch; at the least hint that she was to make an appearance, I’d flee the room.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: “Assault and Battery” by Jason E. Thummel

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Jason E. Thummel 2Gunnerman Clap, the hero of “The Gunnerman,” returns in a tale of a daring night assault on a cliffside fortress:

Up they climbed, gusted by winds determined to knock them from their perch on the rock. Clap kept his mermaid’s tooth talisman close as he kept reminding Shullum that he was a sailor true, that it wasn’t his fault he was on land, that he really wished to return to the sea, to the ship, and that any protection the Great God of the Deep could lend would be much appreciated.

Ahead they could make out the flickering flame of a storm lantern, dimly illuminating a doorway that looked little protected by the overhang of a small roof. The same could be said of the drenched rat of a guard, huddled up in oiled skins with hat brim pulled to cover his face. Illsby gestured to several marines.

“Soon I be sending the souls I promised you, Great Shullum.” Clap tucked his talisman under his shirt and put a calloused hand on the worn hilt of his cutlass.

The guard’s head jerked up as the marines leapt into the small sphere of light and one clobbered the senses from him. One marine quickly searched the downed man as the other waved them forward; Clap and the rest jogged behind Illsby to crowd under the scant cover of the overhang.

The marines unpacked their rifles and affixed bayonets. The long lengths of steel looked thin and fragile to Clap, and he was thankful for the seaman’s sword that he carried. The buckler would have been nice, but he’d lost that when the boat went down. “Not that I’m in any hurry to be reunited,” he whispered.

Jason’s first story for us was “The Duelist,” published as part of our Black Gate Online Fiction line on September 30th, 2012. His work has also appeared in Flashing Swords magazine, Rage of the BehemothMagic and Mechanica, and other venues. Some of his sword & sorcery and heroic fantasy is collected in In Savage Lands and The Harsh Suns, and the first two novels chronicling the supernatural adventures of occult detective Lance Chambers, The Spear of Destiny and Cult of Death, are now available.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Ryan Harvey, Steven H Silver, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Emily Mah, C.S.E. Cooney, Howard Andrew Jones, Harry Connolly, and many others, is here.

“Assault and Battery” is a complete 5,200-word sword & sorcery tale offered at no cost.

Read the complete story here.

The Top 12 Black Gate Fiction Posts in March

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

bones-of-the-old-onesNovel excerpts were the top draw last month, as Howard Andrew Jones held the top spot for a third month in a row with tantalizing slice of sword-and-sorcery goodness from The Bones of the Old Ones, followed closely by The Waters of Darkness, the new supernatural pirate novel from from David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna. And Vaughn Heppner’s novel Star Soldier was not much further down the list.

Still, short fiction proved plenty popular, with stories by Aaron Bradford Starr, Joe Bonadonna, David Evan Harris, Judith Berman, E.E. Knight, Gregory Bierly, John R. Fultz, Harry Connolly and Vaughn Heppner filling out the Top 12.

If you haven’t sampled the adventure fantasy stories offered through our new Black Gate Online Fiction line, you’re missing out. Every week, we present an original short story or novella from the best writers in the industry, all completely free.

Here are the Top Twelve most read stories in March, for your enjoyment:

  1. An excerpt from The Bones of the Old Ones, by Howard Andrew Jones
  2. An excerpt from The Waters of Darkness, by David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna
  3. The Sealord’s Successor,” by Aaron Bradford Starr
  4. The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” by Joe Bonadonna
  5. Seeker of Fortune,” by David Evan Harris
  6. The Poison Well,” by Judith Berman
  7. The Terror in the Vale,” by E.E. Knight
  8. A Princess of Jadh,” by Gregory Bierly
  9. When the Glimmer Faire Came to the City of the Lonely Eye,” by John R. Fultz
  10. The Whoremaster of Pald,” by Harry Connolly
  11. An excerpt from Star Soldier,” by Vaughn Heppner
  12. The Pit Slave,” by Vaughn Heppner

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Ryan Harvey, Steven H Silver, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Emily Mah, C.S.E. Cooney, Howard Andrew Jones, Harry Connolly, and many others, is here. The most popular Black Gate fiction from February is here.

We’ve got plenty more fiction in the coming months, so stay tuned!

Read Last Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary in Speculative Fiction 2012

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Speculative Fiction 2012It’s no surprise that some of the best and most insightful writing in 2012 took place on blogs.

Blogging — with its immediacy and ease of public access — has attracted some of the most gifted writers we have, and fantasy and SF readers are increasingly turning to the blogs and writers they trust for news and opinion. For the latest evidence, look no further than Speculative Fiction 2012, a new collection of the very best online reviews, essays, and commentary from Jurassic London press.

Speculative Fiction 2012 gathers over fifty of the best articles published last year, from the top tier of bloggers and authors in science fiction and fantasy. The contributor list includes some of the most acclaimed writers in the field, folks like Christopher Priest, N. K. Jemisin, Joe Abercrombie, Daniel Abraham, Elizabeth Bear, Myke Cole, Kate Elliott, Niall Alexander, Rose Lemberg, Kameron Hurley, Adam Roberts, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Sam Sykes, and Lavie Tidhar.

I’m very pleased to say that it also includes one of our own: Matthew David Surridge, whose February 2012 Black Gate article “Tolkien and Attila” is in the Table of Contents. Here’s what Matthew tells us:

This is out now, and has one of my Black Gate articles in it — to paraphrase the Amazon blurb, a look at what Tolkien learned from Attila the Hun. Happy to have a piece of mine in a very strong line-up! And worth noting: proceeds from the sale of the book go to a charity promoting international literacy and education.

You can read the announcement, including the complete list of contributors, here, and Matthew’s original article is here.

Speculative Fiction 2012 was edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin, with a foreword by Mur Lafferty. It published on April 23, 2013 by Jurassic London. It is 380 pages in paperback, priced at $11.99. There is no digital edition.

Vintage Treasures: The People of the Black Circle by Robert E. Howard

Saturday, April 27th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

people-of-the-black-circleI may have more books by Robert E. Howard in my collection than any other writer.

I’m not certain, as I haven’t counted, and if you allow anthologies then he’ll be beaten out handily by folks like Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg. But the venerable Mr. Howard occupies more than two shelves in my library, which is astounding for someone who died at the age of thirty.

I came to Howard early. The first story I read by REH was “Pigeons from Hell,” which Charles Saunders mentioned in a speech he gave to the Ottawa Science Fiction Society in 1981, the year his groundbreaking Imaro was released. “Horror doesn’t usually scare me,” he told us. “‘Pigeons From Hell’ scared me.”

I think the second REH tale I read was the Solomon Kane tale “Skulls in the Stars,” which I enjoyed even more. (I wrote about the two Bantam Solomon Kane collections, Skulls in the Stars and The Hills of the Dead, last year.)

But I wasn’t a Conan fan. Most of it was prejudice — in those days, all those novels with barbarians on the cover were considered the lowest form of fantasy, and I generally snubbed them. Oddly, I don’t think I even associated Conan with Robert E. Howard.

I surreptitiously tried a Conan book in my early teens, a collection of tales mostly by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, if I remember correctly. Didn’t impress me. That was all I needed to confirm that I was better than this stuff and return to reading books of quality, like Perry Rhodan and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.

All that began to change with The People of the Black Circle, a Christmas gift from my brother Michael.

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Some Thoughts on Grimus

Saturday, April 27th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

GrimusBrian Aldiss has told a story (and I have no reason to doubt it) in which he, Arthur C. Clarke, and Kingsley Amis were the jury for a 1975 Sunday Times science fiction award. One of the books they were strongly considering for first prize was a novel called Grimus, by a 25-year-old first-time writer who worked in advertising. But as they deliberated, the publisher pulled the book from the competition, evidently because said publisher didn’t want the book given the label of ‘science fiction.’ Odd to think of the impact on the writer’s career: “Had it won,” Aldiss has been quoted as observing, “he would have been labelled a science-fiction writer, and nobody would have heard of him again.” As it happened, Salman Rushdie’s second novel, 1981’s equally-fantastic Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Prize (as well as both the 25th anniversary and the 40th anniversary “Booker of Bookers” prize, which pitted all the books that had won the prize up to those points against each other); he’s gone on to have a distinguished and controversial career, though one famously marked by the outrage his writing provoked in certain quarters.

Reading Grimus, I find that, whatever his publisher might have wanted, it’s easiest to define it as that subset of fantasy called science fiction. At times, and perhaps by the end of the book, that’s even the best way in which to read it. But the novel’s so strange and supple it moves quickly and effortlessly from one genre to another, one narrative approach to the next. It reinvents its form as it goes, incorporating what came before while opening up new ways for its tale to proceed. You can see why a jury of writers would look at it as a potential prize-winner; it’s remarkable, and if I found it only sporadically involving on a human level, its fluidity of prose and image still made it work — there’s a pleasure in storytelling, here, and in the plasticity of story, in story that refuses to be bounded by any descriptor and so spills out to embrace all genres.

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