Art of the Genre: Looking Back at Old Readings with Neil and Fritz Leiber

Monday, June 24th, 2013 | Posted by Scott Taylor

neil_gaiman_f1Neil Gaiman and I have a strange relationship, that being that we have no relationship whatsoever. That said, I take full responsibility for our lack of communication as the first time I turned my nose up at speaking privately with Neil was back in 1993 at the Diamond Comic Distributors convention in Atlanta.

So there I was, two floors above the off-entry lounge and looking over a railing when Neil, in his usual black, walked into the empty square couches all alone, kicked up his feet, and just sat there for a full twenty minutes without a soul coming to disturb him. Sure, I could have gone to the elevator behind me, traveled down and taken a seat, asking Neil how it felt to have Tori Amos sing about hanging out with him and the Dream King on her Little Earthquakes album, but no, I just wasn’t that into doing so. [Perhaps the most intriguing part of this tale is that I timed his small respite from the convention crowds on my wristwatch, and neither he nor I had the use of a smartphone to keep our attention… ah, what a massively different world we once lived in!]

Fast forward to San Diego and the 2011 World Fantasy Convention. Again, fate would put me in Neil’s path, this time after he’d given a secondary non-sanctioned signing session when the convention had forced him to close his first one because it went too long. Between restaurants, Neil took a moment amid the palm fronds to collect himself as the convention broke down and people said goodbye around his private island unaware. Me, having said farewell to my Black Gate crew, witnessed this act of peaceful contemplation and decided yet again that Neil and I just weren’t in the right place for a confab.

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

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Death of the NecromancerBlack Gate is very proud to present Part Four of Martha Wells’s Nebula Award-nominated novel, The Death of the Necromancer, presented complete online for the first time. On her blog, Martha describes the book thusly:

It’s basically about a Moriarty-like master criminal and his friends in an otherworldy version of La Belle Epoque Paris with magic, who get involved in a clandestine battle with a sorcerer who seems to be trying to raise the dead.

And Publishers Weekly had this to say about the novel:

The setting echoes with the lively sounds and sights of turn-of-18th-century France, with a mesh of dark magic woven throughout. In her third novel, Wells (City of Bones; The Element of Fire) continues to demonstrate an impressive gift for creating finely detailed fantasy worlds rife with many-layered intrigues and immensely personable characters.

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 Four includes Chapters Fourteen through Eighteen. It is offered at no cost.

Read Part Four of the complete novel here.


Gothic Ambiguity: Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

White is for WitchingI picked up Helen Oyeyemi’s third novel, 2009’s White is for Witching, knowing very little about it. I’d read that Oyeyemi was a highly-regarded young writer in ‘mainstream’ literary circles, whose work contained some speculative elements (born in 1984, her first book had been 2005’s The Icarus Girl, followed by The Opposite House in 2007; a fourth book, Mr Fox, came out in 2011). What I found in White is for Witching was an excellent horror story whose intricacy demanded careful attention. It’s sharply-written and tightly-constructed, and if its plot is not immediately clear, the book’s strong enough to encourage careful attention.

The novel moves back and forth between several perspectives, building an unusual structure out of their interplay. The prologue at first borders on nonsensical, but as the tale goes on, things become clear: this is a novel of great ambition, not afraid to possibly bite off too much. If the tone had been slightly different, the sheer flashiness and verve might have been distracting; as it is, the book modulates nicely between voices, building from a normal-seeming reality to an increasing awareness of wrongness, madness, and the supernatural.

The inventiveness of the book rests on a traditional gothic framework. There’s a family saga here and a cursed dwelling. The house, in fact, is given a voice, a personality, and may be the monster, or a monster, moving events. But one of the book’s unusual aspects is the way you’re never quite sure who is the monster, even when you’re given the point-of-view of each character. It’s a book that seems to resist any one possible reading, any reduction to one truth.

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Vintage Treasures: Tales of Outer Space, edited by Donald A. Wollheim

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales of Outer SpaceSometimes I think I owe Donald A. Wollheim for a big chunk of my childhood.

Today we’re looking at Tales of Outer Space, a collection of interplanetary adventure tales edited by Wollheim in 1954, a decade after he invented the mass-market SF anthology with The Pocket Book of Science Fiction in 1943 (the first book with the words “Science Fiction” in the title), and not long after he produced  the first original SF anthology, The Girl With the Hungry Eyes, in 1947.

That’s some pioneering stuff. But Wollheim spent most of his career as a pioneer. From 1947 to 1951, he was the editor of Avon Books, where he introduced mainstream America to mass-market editions of some of the best fantasy from the pulp era — including Ralph Milne Farley’s An Earth Man on Venus (which I discussed last month), A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool, and eighteen issues of the highly sought-after fantasy paperback magazine, The Avon Fantasy Reader, among many other accomplishments. He even published C. S. Lewis’s Silent Planet space trilogy.

In 1952, Wollheim left Avon to spearhead a new paperback imprint, Ace Books, where he remained for 20 years. While there, he added science fiction to their lineup for the first time and, in a stroke of brilliance which endeared him to future generations of paperback collectors, invented the Ace Double in 1952.

You may have heard of some of his other successes at Ace as well: he first introduced Tolkien’s The Lord of Rings to the US in 1964 (against Tolkien’s wishes, as it happened) and published Frank Herbert’s obscure hardcover Dune in a paperback edition that made it a bestseller in 1965.

That ought to be enough for anyone. But of course, as many of you know, it wasn’t enough for Wollheim. In 1971, he left Ace to found his own publishing company, which bore his initials. DAW was the first mass market publisher to specialize in SF and fantasy, and before his death in 1990, it had acquired and published over a thousand titles, making it one of the most successful genre publishers of all time.

Of course, most of that was in Wollheim’s future when he released Tales of Outer Space — but the seeds of greatness were already there for anyone who looked.

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Sean T. M. Stiennon reviews Circle of Enemies

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Sean Stiennon

Circle of EnemiesCircle of enemies cover
By Harry Connolly
Del Rey (320 pages, mass market first edition August 2011, $7.99)

And so we come full circle. Circle of Enemies is the final novel in the Twenty Palaces series as it stands, and in some ways the most crowded with monsters, sorcery, and mysteries. If it has one major flaw, it’s that it whet my appetite for a sequel that will likely never be written.

The action moves south from the Pacific northwest hamlets of Child of Fire (my review here) and Game of Cages (review) to the sun-scorched sidewalks and shadowy mansions of Los Angeles, as Ray revisits the life he lived before his stay in prison. One of his old friends from his carjacker days — a woman named Caramella — arrives in Ray’s Seattle room with a cryptic message: “You killed me, Ray.” After delivering it, she vanishes into thin air.

Magic — and all the horrors that accompany it — have found Ray’s old crew. He drives south to his old stomping grounds in Los Angeles to find his old allies and save them before the Twenty Palaces society arrives to wipe them out. The world is once again in danger from a predator with the potential to annihilate all human life, one hapless victim at a time.

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Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

China Mountain ZhangThere’s a distinctive kind of surprise some science fiction books can generate: surprise that a book which seems to be speaking to the beliefs, fears, or world-view of a given time was in fact written well beforehand. I remember being taken aback, for example, that A Clockwork Orange was first published in 1962, before hippies and punks and the coining of ‘generation gap’ (first recorded 1967). And it’s interesting to me that Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, published in 1992, calmly and thoroughly imagines a future dominated by China — something much discussed today, but a less common idea before the turn of the millennium. McHugh’s book is a twentieth century novel, lacking a world wide web or smartphones, that speaks to the twenty-first.

It does so because it’s a very strong book. And because the world it imagines is credible; the setting doesn’t seem a product of the anxiety of an ebbing imperial power, but a depiction of life as it is lived in the future. Characters go about their business, negotiating with the structures of their society as we do ours. We recognise them, and what they do, and their attempts to plan out their lives. As in much of the best science fiction, the imagined society’s complex and deeply imagined, existing in a dynamic relationship with character; it’s realistic, but not mimetic, and uses both its differences and similarities to the world we know as a way of getting at its thematic interest.

The book’s made up of long chapters that have the shape of short stories. Most follow an engineer surnamed Zhang, whose given names are ‘Rafael’ and ‘Zhong Shan,’ the latter of which can be translated ‘China Mountain.’ We follow Zhang as he finds his way to a career and builds a life for himself, a task complicated by ethnicity and sexual orientation. In and around the chapters dealing with Zhang are stories following other characters, minor figures in his life who broaden the story and add depth to the novel’s setting and structure. One of the metaphors that emerges in the book is chaos theory, and the now-familiar image of the butterfly fluttering its wings and causing a hurricane on the far side of the world; so these characters help demonstrate the interconnectedness of the world, affecting each other slightly or significantly, a structural embodiment of the chaos imagery.

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New Treasures: Titan

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Titan Avalon HillThere are classic fantasy games and there are classic fantasy games. Jai Kamani and David A. Trampier’s Titan, a massive game of conflict between mythological armies of ogres, unicorns, griffons, and other creatures, was perhaps the most ubiquitous fantasy game of my youth. There were copies everywhere, tucked under arms at gaming conventions and on the shelves of department stores.

Titan was first published in an ultra-rare first edition in 1980 by tiny Gorgonstar, Inc. It was later made a hit by Avalon Hill, and remained in print for nearly two decades until Avalon Hill was sold and ceased operations in 1998. After that, copies of the most popular fantasy board game of the 80s and 90s gradually became harder and harder to find.

I remember getting my boys excited about Titan by nostalgically telling tales of epic battles between behemoths, dragons, and trolls. They clamored to play it.

I’d never owned Titan, but that’s not a problem in the age of the Internet. I found a pristine copy on eBay and hung on during a spirited bidding war. 90 bucks later, it was on my kitchen table.

Still in the shrink wrap.

It was perfectly preserved. My boys stood at my side, ready to go, anxious to throw down some dice, and experience some of that legendary Titan action. To shred the shrink and punch out counter sheets that had staunchly stood fast for over twenty years. My hands gripped the game, hesitating.

I couldn’t do it.

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Parke Godwin, January 28, 1929 – June 19, 2013

Friday, June 21st, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Sherwood Parke Godwin-smallParke Godwin, the American author of more than a dozen fantasy novels, died this week.

I first encountered Godwin with The Masters of Solitude, his 1978 science fiction collaboration with Weird Tales editor Marvin Kaye. They wrote one sequel, Wintermind (1982), and one horror novel together: A Cold Blue Light (1983).

But I’ll chiefly remember Godwin for my favorite Robin Hood adaptation, Sherwood, published in hardcover by William Morrow & Co. in August 1991. The novel follows young Edward Aelredson, Thane of Denby, who’s driven from his home by Norman invaders and takes refuge in primeval Sherwood forest — where he meets a surprising cast of characters and gradually becomes a thorn in the side of the usurping king. Set during the Norman conquest, Sherwood features both William the Conqueror and William Rufus as major characters. Godwin wrote one sequel, Robin and the King, in 1993.

Sherwood was perhaps his most successful book, but he’s also fondly remembered for his Arthurian trilogy set in 5th century Britain during the collapse of the Roman empire: Firelord (1980), Beloved Exile (1984), and The Last Rainbow (1985).

Godwin’s first novel was Darker Places (1973), his last was Prince of Nowhere, published in 2011. In between, he wrote a number of popular historical and romantic fantasies, including A Truce with Time (1988), The Tower of Beowulf (1995), and Lord of Sunset (1998). He also turned his hand to solo science fiction with Limbo Search (1995) and the humorous Snake Oil series: Waiting for the Galactic Bus (1988) and The Snake Oil Wars (1989).

As an editor he produced Invitation to Camelot (1988) and, with Marvin Kaye, one collection of Weird Tales reprints, Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies (1988). He had one short story collection, the Hugo-nominated The Fire When It Comes (1984), which included the World Fantasy Award-winning title story.

His short story “Influencing the Hell out of Time and Teresa Golowitz,” (Twilight Zone magazine, January, 1982) was adapted as “Time and Teresa Golowitz,” an episode of The Twilight Zone TV show in 1986.

Parke Godwin was born in New York City in 1929, and lived there much of his life. He died on Wednesday at the age of 84.


Did I Do That? Or, We’ve Had the Sword, Where’s the Sorcery?

Friday, June 21st, 2013 | Posted by Violette Malan

ElricA while ago, when I started writing these posts, I talked about how to put the sword in Sword and Sorcery, and while doing my latest posts on the Fantasy and SF hero, it struck me that, in a way, I was still really talking about the sword. Maybe it’s time to talk about the sorcery.

This is not to say that our heroes can’t be wielding some kind of magic at the same time they’re wielding swords – but that’s not the way things started out. Most of the early heroes of the genre that we’re familiar with, Conan, for example, and yes, even Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, weren’t magic users. In fact, many of these early heroes were fighting against those who were. Sorcerers were often seen as the enemy, or, at best, as very gingerly tolerated allies.

Along came some notable exceptions to this idea, particularly Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, and, someone I mentioned last week, Roger Zelazny’s Dilvish the Damned. But these two, we might argue, are representatives of the “New Wave” in Fantasy, which in part introduced the concept of the more complex, multidimensional, anti-hero. They also fall into a special category of sorcerer, in that they’re at least partially magical beings, not humans. Which brings us to the first major subdivision of sorcery or magic that any writer in our genre has to consider: Is the magic internal, or external? Does it come from within, or without?

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Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Four

Friday, June 21st, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

kurtzman_flash_gordon_cvrflabarry“Mr. Murlin” was artist Dan Barry and writer Harvey Kurtzman’s follow-up to “The Awful Forest” and was published by King Features Syndicate from December 31, 1952 to April 20, 1953. The story would be the last pairing for the team, although Barry would continue on with the strip until 1990.

Their finale marks another departure from the formula. Flash and Ray stumble upon a medieval cottage in a forest clearing and, knocking upon the door, they encounter Mr. Murlin, an alchemist from 14th Century Earth who inexplicably recognizes Flash and Ray. The old man has an adolescent daughter, Marilyn, with whom Ray has his first crush. Murlin explains how he invented a time case through which he traveled far into the future and to another world.

Flash views the future by looking in the time case and sees he is reunited with Dale. Eager to know when the reunion will occur, Flash is startled to see Dale emerge from the back of the cottage. Murlin tells him he found her wandering in a dazed state in the forest and gave her refuge. Dale explains that she looked into the time case and saw that she would be reunited with Flash in the cottage and so has waited for him. This accounts for Murlin’s knowledge of Flash and Ray’s identities.

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