Black Gate Online Fiction: The Death of the Necromancer, Part Five

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Death of the Necromancer paperbackBlack Gate is very proud to present the final installment of Martha Wells’s Nebula Award-nominated novel, The Death of the Necromancer, presented complete online for the first time. In his SF Site review Wayne MacLaurin wrote:

The setting is a gaslit European continent that has familiar sounding names (Vienne, Lodun) and comes complete with steam engines and revolvers. But magic works and sorcerers walk the streets of the cities, have a great university and hold positions of power at the courts… The plot revolves around Nicholas Valiarde, a disgraced nobleman, consumed with the desire to revenge the wrongful death of his godfather. He also happens to be the greatest thief in all of Ile-Rien (a helpful talent which, I am sure you can see, would significantly help with those late night prowls around your arch-enemy’s estate)…

Valiarde’s revenge starts getting interrupted by a series of increasingly bizarre, unexplainable events. Somebody, or something, with significant magical ability begins to oppose him. More chilling is the obvious taint of necromancy — and necromancy is an art that has been outlawed for centuries…

The Death of the Necromancer is a fabulous read and earns my vote for “Most Exciting New Book of the Summer!”

Martha Wells is the author of fourteen fantasy novels, including City of BonesThe Element of FireThe Cloud Roads, and The Serpent Sea. Her most recent novel is the YA fantasy, Emilie and the Hollow World, published by Strange Chemistry Books in April. Her previous fiction for us includes “Reflections” in Black Gate 10, “Holy Places” (BG 11), and “Houses of the Dead (BG 12). Her most recent article for us was “How Well Does The Cloud Roads Fit as Sword and Sorcery?,” which appeared here March 13. Her web site is www.marthawells.com.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Mary Catelli, Michael Penkas, Vera Nazarian, Ryan Harvey, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, E.E. Knight, C.S.E. Cooney, Howard Andrew Jones, Harry Connolly, and many others, is here.

The Death of the Necromancer was originally published in hardcover by Avon EOS in 1998. The complete, unedited text is being presented here; it began on June 2 with the first four chapters here.

Part Five includes Chapters Nineteen through Twenty-Two. It is offered at no cost.

Read Part Five of the complete novel here.


Masks and Talismans: Kurt Busiek’s Astro City

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Astro City #1A couple Wednesdays ago, I did something I haven’t done in ages. I went down to my local comic store on new-comic day (which is Wednesdays) and bought a new super-hero comic off the rack. Not a Marvel or DC book, though — not really, though it was published by DC’s Vertigo imprint. This was the return of a series first published in 1995, under the Image Comics banner. The title’s moved around a fair bit since, and frequently been on hiatus from regular publication. But it’s back now, and hopefully for a long time to come. It’s Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, and I want to talk about what it is and why I’m going to be buying it going forward.

In this comic, Astro City’s a metropolis located somewhere in the continental United States; it’s a hub for super-heroic activity, and has been for decades. Mad science, high sorcery, aliens: all of that. Men and women in strange costumes. Wild sprawling battles. Secret societies and crime rings. Everything you expect from super-hero stories — but not told the way you expect it. Because alongside all that imaginative chaos, there’s a city. Filled with millions of human beings. Astro City tells us their stories, as well. It’s an anthology book, alternating single issues and longer arcs, displaying incredible dramatic and emotional range for a genre often considered to have distinct formal limitations.

Writer and creator Kurt Busiek summed it up as “about being human among the superhuman,” which is true and also only part of it; superhumans are often the main characters of the stories, but Astro City as a place gives them a kind of context, a human connection, human meaning to the fantasy of their powers. Astro City uses the super-hero form as a way to talk about human beings, and vice-versa. It is, from one point of view, a struggle with the super-hero traditions of the past, an examination of genre conventions, a turning of those conventions to new ends. First appearing not so long after the ‘deconstruction’ of super-heroes exemplified by Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, Astro City was at one time considered as part of a wave of ‘reconstructionist’ titles; but it was always more than that. It was, and is, a comment on super-heroes — working with perhaps the most meta-fictional of all genres, a form that endlessly reinvents its own past, Busiek pastiches and re-imagines the whole history of hero comics, creating a kind of ocean of story out of which he can draw seemingly endless incidents and anecdotes.

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The 2013 Locus Award Winners

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Apocalypse Codex Charles StrossYesterday the Locus Science Fiction Foundation announced the winners of the 2013 Locus Awards at the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle. The winners are:

FANTASY NOVEL

  • The Apocalypse Codex, Charles Stross (Ace)

SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

  • Redshirts, John Scalzi (Tor)

FIRST NOVEL

  • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

YOUNG ADULT BOOK

  • Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey)

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The Top 50 Black Gate Blog Posts in May

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Federation Commander Klingon BorderWe published 99 posts in the month of May. 99! If I’d known that I would have tossed off one more at the last minute, just to cross that magic 100.

But we focused on quality, not quantity (he tells himself stoically). And our top article for the month — no doubt ably assisted by the release of Star Trek Into Darkness — was a look at the Federation Commander: Klingon Border board game. Number two was also gaming-related: a peek at the Against the Odds historical gaming magazine. Third was our obituary for the talented editor and Thieve’s World author Andrew J. Offutt, followed by Violette Malan’s entirely reasonable question, “Why is it Always a Northern Barbarian?” and a guest post by Milton Davis on Sword and Soul fantasy.

The Top 50 Black Gate posts in May were:

  1. New Treasures: Federation Commander: Klingon Border
  2. Explore History Through Tiny Cardboard Counters With Against the Odds Magazine
  3. Andrew J. Offutt: August 16, 1934 – April 30, 2013
  4. Why is it Always a Northern Barbarian?
  5. Sword and Soul Revisited
  6. The Hunger Games and Kids: When to Say When
  7. The Kids Are Alright: The Fate of the Novel lies in the Hands of Teenagers
  8. Forrest J Ackerman and the Days of the Do-it-Yourself Anthology
  9. Vintage Treasures: Robert E Howard’s Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors
  10. Remembering Ray Harryhausen Through Ten Great Visual Effects Scenes 

     

  11. Read More »


New Treasures: The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill

Saturday, June 29th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Beautiful LandI’d never heard of Alan Averill, but I think that’s because this is a debut novel. I like debuts — they make me think I’m the first to discover an exciting new writer. I get to tell all my friends and be cool. Being cool doesn’t happen to me very often, believe me, so anything that even hints at the possibility gets a closer look.

The Beautiful Land is a tale of dimension-hopping and alternate realities. Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders called it “a great love story disguised as a thriller.” Here’s the book description.

Takahiro O’Leary has a very special job… working for the Axon Corporation as an explorer of parallel timelines — as many and as varied as anyone could imagine. A great gig — until information he brought back gave Axon the means to maximize profits by changing the past, present, and future of this world.

If Axon succeeds, Tak will lose Samira Moheb, the woman he has loved since high school — because her future will cease to exist. A veteran of the Iraq War suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Samira can barely function in her everyday life, much less deal with Tak’s ravings of multiple realities. The only way to save her is for Tak to use the time travel device he “borrowed” to transport them both to an alternate timeline.

But what neither Tak nor Axon knows is that the actual inventor of the device is searching for a timeline called the Beautiful Land — and he intends to destroy every other possible present and future to find it.

The switch is thrown, and reality begins to warp — horribly. And Tak realizes that to save Sam, he must save the entire world…

The Beautiful Land was published by Ace Books on June 4. It is 362 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback ($9.99 for the digital edition).

See all of our recent New Treasures here.


The Opposite of the Uncanny: Wonder and The Night Circus

Saturday, June 29th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Night Circus‘Magic’ is an elastic metaphor. Among its many possible uses is that of a descriptor for something that happens in performance, especially live performance: the magic of an actor possessed by a character, the magic of a given moment invested with wonder and remaining in the memory, though inevitably passing away. The magic of stage magicians isn’t in the sleight-of-hand; it’s in the effect on the audience. The related magic of the carnival — the amusement park, the theme park — is a kind of second-person secondary-world magic. You are there. You are in a conjured fantasyland. A circus, in this reading, isn’t about the stink of animals or the scutwork of putting up tents and preparing performance spaces; it’s about the feeling the show tries to inspire. It is, potentially, for some, a venue for magic — transient, susceptible to thinning, but capable of generating wonder.

Which brings me to Erin Morgentern’s 2011 novel, The Night Circus. Set in the years leading up to and just after the start of the twentieth century, it tells the story of a kind of duel between two magicians, fought by proxy through talented pupils. Both pupils are recruited at a young age, and brought up to compete in the contest knowing nothing about the nature of the duel, not the rules, not how to win, not even who their opponent is. But this much swiftly becomes clear to them: the scene for the contention will be a fantastical circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, travelling through the great cities of the world.

We follow the story through the eyes of both contestants: Celia, the circus’s magician, and Marco, who assists the (non-wizardly) man who puts the circus together — Marco doesn’t travel with Le Cirque des Rêves, but plans tents filled with magical effects. The duel, Marco and Celia soon realise, is based around rival performances: each striving to outdo the other in creating wonder, therefore building a circus, incidentally filled with other performers and obsessed fans, dedicated to art. As the story moves easily back and forth through time, we also get several other perspectives on events, brief chapters constructing an artful, patterned plot that resolves nicely at the climax. The highly-worked plot mirrors the highly-worked nature of the book. The writing aspires to elegance, sometimes perhaps too obviously, relying too much on single-sentence paragraphs, but always displaying a striking visual imagination.

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It’s a Strange Chemistry Book Cover Montage

Saturday, June 29th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Chemistry — publishers of such marvelous titles as Martha Wells’s Emilie and the Hollow World, Blackwood by Gwenda Bond, Pantomime by Laura Lam, Christian Schoon’s Zenn Scarlett, and many others — have produced a montage displaying all of their book covers.

Strange Chemistry is known for their gorgeous cover designs, and this montage of eighteen captures all of them. Sort of makes you want to collect them all, doesn’t it? Click on the image for a full size version.

Strange Chemistry Book Button2

We’re supporters of Strange Chemistry and so we’re reproducing it here with pride. Steal this smaller button for your own blog, and check out all of their books at the Strange Chemistry website.


Sterling E. Lanier and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D

Saturday, June 29th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Hiero-s JourneyTor.com writers Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode have been reading Gary Gygax’s famous Appendix N, the list of fantasy and SF titles in the back of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. This time Tim Callahan tackles Sterling E. Lanier, author of Hiero’s Journey.

It’s a terrific article, but I note that the editors chose Darrell K. Sweet’s cover for the 1983 Del Rey edition to accompany it, featuring our hero next to his mutant giant moose, chatting amiably with a bear. Dudes. (Or Dames, I dunno.) That’s waaay too sedate a cover for Lanier’s classic. The Vincent di Fate cover for the 1974 Bantam paperback (at right) is the one you want. (Click for a much bigger version, showing that toothy dino in all his glory).

It’s… an incredibly enjoyable book. Lanier may not be even close to as famous as Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, or Roger Zelazny or some of the others from Gygax’s list, but Hiero’s Journey constantly surprised me with its inventiveness and slow built toward a satirical climax. It also moves with a pace appropriate to a story about a guy riding a giant moose and unleashing the occasional psychic fury on mutated howler monkeys and other nefarious creatures….

It’s also a book that seems to have informed one of the weirder seemingly-slapped on aspects of Dungeons & Dragons — I’m speaking about psionics, which seemed out of place in the original AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide — and almost the entirety of the later Gamma World game setting. Gygax isn’t credited with designing Gamma World, but James Ward’s original rulebook for Gamma World cites Hiero’s Journey as an influence, and with that game’s post-nuclear-holocaust setting and mutated animals and cities with names like primitive spellings of our own, it’s like playing scenes straight out of Lanier’s novel…

What Hiero and his companions find, as they explore and escape capture from the new breed of machine-friendly beings who don’t seem to recall what trouble technology hath wrought, is a deep and treacherous dungeon. This part is almost pure D&D adventuring, with roving monsters (mutated beasts) and foul threats from below.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer’s President Fu Manchu, Part One

Friday, June 28th, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

President NewspaperPresident DoubledaySax Rohmer’s The Invisible President was originally serialized in Collier’s from February 29 to May 16, 1936. It was published in book form later that year by Cassell in the UK and Doubleday in the US under the title President Fu Manchu. The novel is the first in the series to fictionalize real events with characters based on familiar figures in the US in the 1930s such as Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin. More than one critic has noted that the story may have influenced the classic Cold War conspiracy thriller The Manchurian Candidate.

The novel gets underway with Sir Denis Nayland Smith on special assignment with the FBI in a reworking of the Parson Dan episode from the very first Fu Manchu novel over twenty years before. Rohmer is much more comfortable with his second effort at a third person narrative for the series.

The early chapters do an admirable job of introducing Smith and his opposite number, FBI Agent Mark Hepburn, into the life of the highly controversial radio talk show host, Abbot Patrick Donegal. The celebrated Catholic priest had his manuscript on the foreign power threatening the USA stolen from his studio at the Tower of the Holy Thorn during his most recent broadcast. Abbot Donegal can recall nothing of the theft or even the contents of the manuscript he prepared.

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New Lamps for Old; Or, Now That I’ve Got the Sorcery, How do I Use it?

Friday, June 28th, 2013 | Posted by Violette Malan

HarryLast week I started talking about how we put the sorcery into sword and sorcery novels. People who don’t read fantasy are often mistaken about how its supernatural tropes actually work. In part, they feel that you can’t have any real tension or conflict because there’s magic and magic solves everything. You know, you just wave the magic wand and the problem goes away.* To which I say, “Tell that to the wicked Witch of the West.” Or Harry Potter. Or Gandalf.

I know that this kind of thinking is a lot less prevalent since the success of the LOTR movies, to say nothing of Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones; but it hasn’t gone away completely. And let’s not forget, strange as it may appear to us, there are still more people who haven’t seen these movies (or read the books) than there are people who have.

Before I start talking about plot devices, I would like to address something. Fantasy and SF are frequently described as “plot-driven” as opposed to “character-driven” – where the former means “not-so-good” and latter means “much-much-better.” Sure, there are some badly written books for which that kind of distinction can be made, but in any well-written book, of any genre, character drives plot. Your characters are certain kinds of people. Because they are who and what they are, they make certain kinds of decisions when faced with problems. Those decisions determine what happens next.

Yes, every writer is occasionally faced with the situation where a character simply won’t do what the writer “needs” them to do next. A good writer sits back and figures out a way to deal with that situation – a poor writer “makes” the character act in the needed way.  Hmm. Maybe it’s the writer that’s plot-driven.

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