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Month: September 2013

The Horror! Weird of Oz Introduces 5 Weeks of Frights

The Horror! Weird of Oz Introduces 5 Weeks of Frights

old-postcards-vintage-halloween-01There are ghosts roaming around / Don’t you hear that spooky sound? / They’re out to scare / It’s like a nightmare / There are ghosts roaming around / Tonight’s their night / They’re out to fright / There are ghosts roaming around / Where oh where? / I think one’s there! / There are ghosts roaming around — Nick Ozment, 3rd grader, 1980

Okay, that is one of the earliest pieces of writing I have, about thirty-three years ago. As you can see, my themes haven’t changed much. October is my favorite month.

Sooo, throughout October, my Black Gate blog posts are all going to be horror-themed, building up to my favorite holiday (which I spell with an apostrophe), Hallowe’en.

For those readers who have been following my blogging of Arak, Son of Thunder through the first 10 issues of its 50-issue run, fear not! I will be returning to that in November (so you’ll have to wait a month for another installment, coincidentally the typical wait for a new issue of an actual comic).

Ghosts and hauntings are on my mind pretty much year-round (for the record, I consider myself an open-minded skeptic). Nary a month goes by that I don’t watch a horror film or read a horror story or do some prying into the paranormal, and this month in particular such thoughts will be at the forefront of my haunted lobes.

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Vintage Treasures: The Best of James Blish

Vintage Treasures: The Best of James Blish

The Best of James Blish-smallAnd so we come to the final Classics of Science Fiction volume, The Best of James Blish, published in August 1979.

Final as in the last one published, not the last one we’ll talk about here. We’re at roughly the halfway point in terms of coverage, as I’ve only written about 11 of the 21 volumes so far. I’m not covering them in chronological order (but that probably would have been a good idea, now that I think about it).

As we’ve discussed in the Comments section of previous posts, Lester Del Rey’s Classics of Science Fiction library is perhaps the finest mass market survey of early 20th Century short SF and fantasy. But looking at it purely from a historical viewpoint, it sure made some odd choices.

Where’s the Best of Robert A. Heinlein, for example? Or Isaac Asimov? Arthur C. Clarke? For that matter, Jack Vance? Keith Laumer? A.E. van Vogt or Gordon R. Dickson? Larry Niven, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Theodore Sturgeon, Frank Herbert, or Anne McCaffrey?

The answer is simple, of course. Del Rey was limited to publishing the stories he could get rights to — and the short fiction of many of the genre’s top writers, including Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, and Clarke, was tied up with other publishers. It’s a wonder he was able to acquire as many top-flight writers as he did.

And there were obviously commercial factors weighing on his selection as well. While some of his early authors — like John W. Campbell and Stanley Weinbaum — had stopped producing fiction decades ago, Del Rey caught on quickly to the idea that his popular Best of… line was a great way to introduce readers to his midlist authors. And so later entries included The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun and The Best of Hal Clement, authors with a much lower profile than Leiber, Henry Kuttner, or Edmond Hamilton, but who had the good fortune to have books in print from Del Rey in the late 70s.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: “Vestments of Pestilence” by John C. Hocking

Black Gate Online Fiction: “Vestments of Pestilence” by John C. Hocking

John C Hocking-smallJohn C. Hocking returns to the pages of Black Gate after too long an absence, with another exciting tale of the Archivist and his friend Lucella.

Sevron Glauco turned with a swirl of his fine cloak, and we followed him out of guard tower 47 into the nighted city of Frekore, wondering where we were going and what a daughter of the Royal House wanted with two such as us.

“She’s broken house arrest in defiance of the King,” I said softly.

“Yes,” said Lucella, sounding unaccountably cheerful, “which makes us her accomplices in treason.”

“Gods and demons,” I swore. “What is it with you?”

Sherwood Smith at SF Site had this to say about “A River Through Darkness and Light,” the fourth Archivist tale, when it appeared in Black Gate 15:

Lucella, a tough warrior woman, and the first-person narrator Archivist, have history together, as they travel in search of a hidden stash of ancient scrolls, accompanied by a scholar and an old soldier. Unfortunately, they are chased by bandits bent on vengeance… and then there’s the demon…

I think of Hocking’s stories as characteristic of Black Gate: a strong blend of the old sword and sorcery action and mood, but with modern attention to character development, especially of the women… this story is a promising opening to the issue.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Michael Shea, Ryan Harvey, Peadar Ó Guilín, Dave Gross, Vaughn Heppner, Aaron Bradford Starr, Martha Wells, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, E.E. Knight, C.S.E. Cooney, Howard Andrew Jones, and many others, is here.

“Vestments of Pestilence” is a complete 10,000-word novelette of sword & sorcery. It is offered at no cost.

Read the complete story here.

The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in August

The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in August

Lonesome Wyatt-smallThe top article on the Black Gate blog last month was Patty Templeton’s interview with enigmatic author/musician Lonesome Wyatt, guitarist and vocalist for the gothic country music band Those Poor Bastards, and author of the pulp horror novel The Terrible Tale of Edgar Switchblade.

Second on the list was our look at the first volume in the Classics of Science Fiction line, The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum, followed by Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s massive roundtable interview with the editors of four Year’s Best volumes: Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois.

Roundtable interviews seem to be popular this month. Next on the list was Garrett Calcaterra’s hard look at the life of a fantasy midlister, a conversation with authors M. Todd Gallowglas, Patrick Hester, Wendy N. Wagner, and David B. Coe. Rounding out the Top Five for the month was Nick Ozment’s look at the eldritch work of H.P. Lovecraft.

The complete Top 50 Black Gate posts in August were:

  1. An Interview with Lonesome Wyatt of Those Poor Bastards
  2. Vintage Treasures: The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum
  3. Finding the Best: An Interview with Year’s Best Editors Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois
  4. Gallowglass, Hester, Wagner, Coe: Four Authors Sound Off on the Writing Life of a Midlister
  5. So You’re a Horror fan and You’ve Never Read
  6. L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Gardner Fox and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D
  7. Weird of Oz Conjures up Some Other Horrors
  8. When Ideas Collide
  9. More Than Whodunit: The Science Fiction Mystery
  10. The Exploding World of Castles and Crusades


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Something Wicked This Way Comes: Michael D. Langois and Flock Theatre’s Halloween ’13 Macbeth

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Michael D. Langois and Flock Theatre’s Halloween ’13 Macbeth

BGMacBanWitDear Black Gate Readers,

I must confess.

I confess that I’m not sure I believe in confession, despite a semi-confessional blog style.

I confess that I don’t even really believe in Full Disclosure on blogs. I mean, they’re BLOGS. Whaddya need disclosure for? Come on!

But here I am, about to disclose.

Supposedly there is a chance I might feel guilty if I let you read this entirely fabulous interview all the way through and didn’t tell you that WAY BEFORE (like two whole weeks before) I ever interviewed Michael D. Langois, director of this year’s production of Flock Theatre‘s Macbeth, I also auditioned for the man.

Yea, even auditioned for THIS VERY PRODUCTION! GASP!

So what aren’t you going to get in this interview, dear Black Gaters?

You aren’t going to get a cool, calm, collected, impartial, disinterested, “Oh, so you’re doing Macbeth? How nice! Tell me about the play and its DARK MAGIC!” sort of interview-blog-article-thing.

(In fact, such an attitude would go against my aesthetic intentions for this “Fantasy and the Arts” series of interviews I’m doing.)

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New Treasures: Three by Jay Posey

New Treasures: Three by Jay Posey

Three Jay Posey-smallIn case anybody has surfed over accidentally from io9 or something, I want to make clear that we’re a fantasy website. Fantasy is J.R.R. Tolkien, Conan, Harry Potter, movies with wizards, pretty much any game with oddly-shaped dice, most anime, and those secret daydreams you have about Scarlett Johansson. That’s fantasy.

We don’t cover much mystery, current events, or science fiction. Except maybe for Star Trek, ’cause it’s Howard’s favorite show, and we’re big William Shatner fans (but who isn’t?)

I mention this because I bought a copy of Three today and thought I would turn it into my Saturday New Treasures column. But no sooner do I settle into my big green chair and crack it open, then I discover it’s actually science fiction. Should have paid more attention in Barnes & Noble. That’s what dreaming about Scarlett Johansson will do to you.

Well, what the heck. Still looks more like fantasy than SF to me. Three is the first book in a new trilogy (see? What’s more fantasy than that!) called Legends of the Duskwalker. Here’s the book description.

The world has collapsed, and there are no heroes any more. His name is Three, a travelling gun for hire in a dying world. He has no allegiances, no family, no ties.

Against his better judgment, he accepts the mantle of protector to a sick woman on the run, and her young son. Together they set out across the plains in search of a mythic oasis, attempting to survive the forces that pursue them, and the creatures of the dark. In these dark times, a hero may yet arise.

Angry Robot, in their efforts to be helpful, have the words “Not a sequel” buried in the copyright page. That was helpful, actually. They’ve also printed handy category labels on the back — apparently Three should be filed under Science Fiction, Apocalyptic Wasteland, A Journey Home, Three For All, and Fear the Weir. Fear the Weir? Let’s just say that book categorization sure has changed since I learned the Dewey Decimal system, and leave it at that.

Three was published by Angry Robot on July 30.It is 480 pages, priced at $7.99 for the paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The moody bloke-in-a-cloak cover is by Steven Meyer-Rassow.

Adventure in a Place of Unholy Shadows: A Review of Crypts and Things

Adventure in a Place of Unholy Shadows: A Review of Crypts and Things

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 10.39.17 Back in the 70s, when I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), I spent a long time wanting a ruleset that would let me recreate the sort of sword and sorcery that I was reading back then.

I wanted to play a game that caught the atmosphere of Robert E Howard’s Conan, Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane, or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories. I wanted to adventure in a place of unholy shadows, where magic was scary and thrilling and men with swords sought lost treasures in glittering towers where old gods and dark secrets waited.

Clearly, D&D was not quite what I was looking for. The white box contained an unholy mishmash of Tolkien, bits of medieval history, and a weird variation of Vancian magic from the Dying Earth which, while awesomely powerful, was not very scary or, well, magical. Magic items were as common as if they came in cereal boxes. And what was with it with those cleric guys and the undead?

The setting of D&D did not look like any fantasy world I had read about, but it was clearly influenced by a number of them. There were thieves that might have been Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. There was a barbarian character class in an issue of White Dwarf that might, if you squinted, have resembled something like Conan.

But D&D did not quite hit the mark. There were also elves and halflings and dwarves and all manner of other things that did not exist in the S&S universes of my particular dreams. There were echoes of Howard and Leiber and Clark Ashton Smith, but they were smudged over with bits of Tolkien and a kind of high fantasy.

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The Devil in the Details: A Review of Lawyers in Hell

The Devil in the Details: A Review of Lawyers in Hell

Lawyers in Hell-smallLawyers in Hell (Heroes in Hell, Volume 12)
Created by Janet Morris, edited by Janet and Chris Morris, and written “with the diabolical assistance of the damnedest writers in perdition.”
Perseid Press (456 pages, June 8, 2011, $19.95 in trade paperback)

This is volume twelve in the most clever and interesting shared-universe series I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Lawyers in Hell actually precedes Rogues in Hell and Dreamers in Hell, both of which I previously reviewed here. And like those other volumes, this one is also outstanding.  So let me start off with a bit of info on what’s going on this time around in Hell, among the characters drawn from the pages of history, legend, folklore, and mythology.

Hell is a twisted, ironic echo of life on Earth. Here the mighty have fallen, though they retain some delusion of grandeur. Here the lowly have risen in rank, though they are no more than toys for Satan to play with. Everyone in Hell is HSM’s (His Satanic Majesty’s) pawn, his puppet.

Erra is the Babylonian god of mayhem and plague, and rumors of Erra and his 7 Sibitti enforcers running amok in Hell are spreading like hellfire. They have been sent by Heaven to audit Hell, to enforce punishment equally. They are there to make damned sure that every damned soul in Hell “receives injustice justly. Or something like that,” to quote author Nancy Asire. “Lawyers are shaking in their boots or salivating over their opportunities.”

As the title of this volume suggests, each story/chapter revolves around legal battles being fought, court cases being heard, and lawsuits being drawn up. Everyone in Hell wants out of Hell and the damned are going through whatever legal system there can be said to exist in Hell. Where’s Perry Mason when you need him? I don’t think he’s in Hell. Not yet, at any rate.

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Low Adventure: Clasp-knives and Fortunetelling in Carmen

Low Adventure: Clasp-knives and Fortunetelling in Carmen

Prosper Mérimée Carmen-smallWhy does it have to be the days of “high adventure?”

Low adventure can be extraordinarily riveting, as I recently found when I revisited Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen, the novella that inspired the Bizet opera. I’d read it once before, after seeing the (definitive, to my taste) Rosi film of the opera in the early 80s. Thanks to that film, I was so enchanted with the light and color of Andalusia that on my first trip to Europe I spent the better part of it there, on the coasts, in the alleys of Gibraltar, and especially in the stony mountains of Spain’s Sierra Nevadas. Thanks to a stay at an Andalusian cortijo (estate-farm) I was able to see some of the more remote areas on horseback, dragging a dutiful, saddlesore (need I say “ex”?) girlfriend behind who would have much rather been sunning on the beaches of Marbella or examining the wonders of the Alhambra.

Spain is a country of regions. The differences you might notice between northern Italians and southern are trebled in the expanses of Spain, divided as it is by mountains and joined by indirect routes reaching back into the dust of antiquity. There’s something of Robert E. Howard’s Zamora in Andalusia. Rome, the Caliphate, Catholicism, and for the history-minded traveller with a good guidebook, traces of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Napoleon can still be found. Each province has its flavor, industrious Bilbao, pretentiously bustling Madrid, historic Toledo, artistic Barcelona, leaving a distinct impression. The Andalusians are famous for just living life. Every meeting is an excuse for a party, every parting as one between old friends. Visiting Spain revised my personal definitions of “courtesy” and “hospitality.”

I see I’ve imitated Mérimée in framing these notes, elaborating the circumstances of my acquaintance with Carmen and Don Jose and the search into their origins. So enough about me.

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“And They All Lived Happily Ever After”

“And They All Lived Happily Ever After”

The Snow Queen's Shadow-smallNot a lot of exposition in that type of ending, was there? Didn’t tell us much of what happened “after” – which actually turned out to be quite handy, when you consider the number of writers who have gone on to tell that “after” tale. Take Jim Hines and his Princess Novels, for example, where we learn the true, ever-after fates of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty.

We no longer see much of that type of ending, perhaps because when that phrase was used more often than it is now, there was an understanding of what “after” meant, and what “happiness” was, that removed the need for any further details.

What I’m really talking about here, of course, is that old story structure chart we were taught in school, the action that rises to the climax, followed by the denouement. Where “climax” is defined by “the point at which you know how the story ends” and “denouement” is defined by “what happens after that point” – or, as we might call it, the final exposition.

We’ve all had the experience, when discussing a movie or a book with our friends, of finding that some of us want the “final” explanation, the wrap up after the climax, and some of us are satisfied that we know what happens “after,” without having it spelled out for us.

The fact is that often where you as the writer want to stop isn’t where readers want you to stop – or so my editor tells me. In my own case, with my first novel, The Mirror Prince, I had what I thought was the perfect spot to end the story. Both my agent and my editor told me that I had to tell a little bit more, that the readers would want to know what happened after.

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