Mysterious Paintings in the Donjon of an Italian Castle

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Note the date next to the dove.

Note the date next to the dove.

When I visited the castle in Gorizia, Italy, the part that intrigued me most was the donjon. This cramped room is a grim little place with no window to the outside. It was used for several centuries and over the years bored prisoners decorated the walls and vaulted ceiling with drawings. Religious motifs, sailing ships, people, and a number of abstract shapes caught my attention.

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Merry Christmas from Black Gate

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Gate Christmas Tree 2013-smallIt always gets quiet around the Black Gate offices at Christmas time. It’s a good time to let go of the daily hustle and bustle of running an online magazine, and reflect on the really important things.

People frequently ask me what Black Gate is all about. There’s so much to the story — fifteen issues of a terrific print magazine, hundreds of original stories, the new writers we’ve discovered, nearly 4,000 blog-posts since 2007 — but none of that really tells the story. No, I always say the same thing when people ask.

Black Gate? We’re a loose collective of writers and artists who care about fantasy. We work together to promote forgotten classics, and celebrate overlooked modern writers. And especially, to promote each other. Black Gate has helped launch the careers of some very talented writers, and that hasn’t changed since we switched to an online venue. Drop by if you’re interested in discovering some of the very best new and classic fantasy. I guarantee you, we’ll point you towards something that will delight you.

I’ve been running Black Gate since 2000, and I’ve never been prouder of the team who write, edit, and produce the magazine. We have some of the finest writers in the industry, and they work tirelessly week after week to keep you informed on a genre with hidden depths and constant surprises.

It’s been an incredible year for us. For a second year in a row, traffic has very nearly doubled. While we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished, we know that the real engine of our growth has been you. You’ve been enormously supportive — with your comments, letters, and especially by spreading the word, and telling others about us.

So thank you once again, from the bottom of our hearts. On behalf of the vast and unruly collective that is Black Gate, I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Continue being excellent — it’s what you’re good at.


The Problem with Wonder Woman

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman-smallWonder Woman is my wife’s favorite superhero, and for good reason. The character is powerful, dynamic, and she isn’t afraid to throw down with evil villains. While I didn’t read the comic, I’m old enough to remember the television series with Linda Carter. I also knew the character from The Super Friends Saturday morning cartoon back in the day.

Every few years, rumors emerge from Hollywood about a Wonder Woman movie or show in the works. We hear about the possible casting choices, and then it goes away for a while. Meanwhile, movies about male superheroes are being churned out as fast as possible.

Recently it was leaked that actress/model Gal Gadot (left) might be cast as the legendary Amazon princess in the next Superman movie, and the internet went ape-poop.

At first I didn’t understand why. Then I read the various comments floating around, most of which had to do with Ms. Gadot being too skinny for the role. Which, of course, started debates about how much muscle mass she could pack on with the right trainer, comparisons to Hugh Jackson, et cetera and so forth.

At first, I thought to myself that it doesn’t matter who they cast; just making the @%#^$* movie. After all the travails this comic juggernaut franchise has encountered on its trek through Hollywood, I just want to see the ball rolling. Heck, it couldn’t be any worse than Daredevil or Green Lantern, right?

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“This Ghostly Little Book”

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

A Christmas CarsolIt’s one of the most famous stories in the English-speaking world, and it is a fantasy. A Gothic fantasy of Christmas, and the meaning thereof: the story of the miser and the three spirits. It’s been retold any number of times, parodied, set in America, updated to the modern day, acted out with mice and ducks, with frogs and pigs. It’s easy to overlook how powerful the original work really is.

For myself, I cannot remember how old I was when I first encountered some version of A Christmas Carol. Very young, and possibly pre-literate. The story’s often presented, I think, as a children’s story; but as I read it now, it seems far from that. Indeed it seems like a story that can only be understood with age. When I was a child I didn’t believe in Scrooge’s conversion, and didn’t see how simply revisiting his past could start such a change in his personality. Now that I’ve lived long enough to have distant memories of my own, I understand it. And rereading the story now, I see that while it’s true Dickens was unashamed of being sentimental and broad, he was also in many ways very subtle in the way he described Scrooge. To me, now, Scrooge and the change in his character seem only one reflection of the book’s central theme and of its vision: a vision of the human soul, both alone and as part of society.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. He was thirty-one, and already famous. Made to work as a child in a blacking-warehouse while his father was imprisoned for debt, the adult Dickens had a fierce drive to succeed, and a horror of the developing industrial capitalism around him; he worked as a journalist and editor, then had a massive popular success with the serially-published The Pickwick Papers. Oliver Twist followed, then Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, and A Christmas Carol. On the one hand, that’s already an incredible body of work. On the other, Dickens was a very young man to so powerfully capture the elderly Scrooge. But capture Scrooge he did; if A Christmas Carol works — and given that it hasn’t been out of print in a hundred and seventy years, we can say it does — it’s because Dickens gets at something in memory, and in how people age.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1951: A Retro-Review

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

galaxy science fiction July 1951-smallWith a colorful, 4th of July holiday-appropriate cover, the July issue of Galaxy hit newsstands (or arrived in your mailbox if you were a subscriber), much to the delight of its readers (or so I imagine). The issue felt very full — as though H. L. Gold used some undetectable device to cram extra fiction into the folds. Or perhaps it was the anticipated conclusion of “Mars Child” and the absence of any science article. At any rate, I think this was one of the better issues.

“Venus is a Man’s World” by William Tenn — Ferdinand is the only boy on a rocket filled mostly with young women on a journey to Venus. That world offers a better opportunity of finding a suitable husband than Earth, where the population is mostly made up of women. Not that Ferdinand cares about any of that. He just wants something to do, so he explores the ship, including restricted areas, like one of the lifeboats. Except that someone’s already in the lifeboat — a stowaway who calls himself Butt. And Butt knows all kinds of things that Ferdinand’s sister never talks about. If only he’d let Ferdinand hold his gun…

I absolutely loved this story, and it was easily my favorite of the issue. The narration is told in first-person from Ferdinand’s point of view, and it is hilarious and engaging. Butt’s character is outstanding. This is also a piece that stands the test of time. It was eventually collected in William Tenn’s third collection, The Square Root of Man (1968).

“Common Denominator” by John D. MacDonald — As humanity begins to study another advanced race in the galaxy, they discover that the aliens have a crime rate and insanity rate of nearly zero. Charting the past millennia reveal that it all improved eight thousand years in the past. Lambert, Chief of the Bureaus of Racial Maturity, has the chance to speak with one of them and to try to understand how such a change was possible.

While the story itself is written well, I found the premises simplistic and absurd. But I’m not going to reveal the reason for the alien race’s rise in peace and safety because that is part of the bite of the story. I’m starting to see more of this trend in some of Galaxy’s fiction, though, where an author will envision what humanity (or a variety of humanity) might look like if X or Y was subtracted or added. And that utopia is but one tweak away.

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Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb)

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2355541zLiqR1TsBefore becoming the better known Robin Hobb, Mary Astrid Lindholm Ogden wrote under the pen name Megan Lindholm. Today, what little she writes under the Lindholm name tends to be contemporary fantasy. Initially, though, some of it came very close to heroic fantasy. Ogden’s first published story was a swords & sorcery tale under the Lindholm byline, in Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s important 1979 anthology Amazons!.

That first story, “Bones for Dulath,” introduced a pair of traveling adventurers: the stolid wagon driving Ki and her more lighthearted companion Vandien. In a review of Amazons! I wrote last year I said:

It’s not an especially exciting story but Ki’s voice and the easy camaraderie between the two feels real and comfortable. Ki and Vandien find themselves face to face with a strange, dangerous mountain creature and a town of people who’ve come to see it as a god. I’ve read a few of Lindholm’s novels under the Robin Hobb name and enjoyed them but they’re more mainline fantasy than this good slice of S&S.

In her first published novel, Harpy’s Flight (1983), Lindholm returned to Ki and Vandien to tell how they met and became companions. It’s not the work of heroic fantasy I was expecting based on “Bones for Dulath,” but instead something closer to the mainline fantasy of her Hobbs books. Still, it is good solid work, particularly for a first book. Lindholm/Hobb has a tremendous talent for creating truly strange, alien worlds and peopling them with multi-dimensional human characters, not simply hangers for a bundle of traits and quirks. That talent is beautifully displayed throughout Harpy’s Flight.

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The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in November

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Black Fire Concerto-smallFor the second month in a row, our exclusive excerpt from Mike Allen’s dark fantasy novel The Black Fire Concerto tops our fiction charts. Those interested in more from the book can listen to our own C.S.E. Cooney read from Chapter One, in a lengthy podcast at HauntedStars.com.

Last month’s third place holder, Dave Gross’ Pathfinder Tales: King of Chaos, moved on up into second place this month. You folks certainly enjoy novel excerpts.

In third place was Mark Rigney’s “The Find,” part of his perennially popular Tales of Gemen series; fourth was E.E. Knight’s “The Terror in the Vale,” his second tale of The Blue Pilgrim, following “That of the Pit.”

Rounding out the Top Five was Vaughn Heppner’s brand new Lod story, “Draugr Stonemaker,” the sequel to “The Oracle of Gog” (Black Gate 15), “The Pit Slave,” and “The Serpent of Thep.”

Also making the list were exciting stories by Joe Bonadonna, John C. Hocking, Martha Wells, Alex Kreis, David C. Smith, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Howard Andrew Jones, Aaron Bradford Starr, Jamie McEwan, Michael Shea,  Peadar Ó Guilín, Janet Morris and Chris Morris, and David Evan Harris.

If you haven’t sampled the adventure fantasy stories offered through our new Black Gate Online Fiction line, you’re missing out. For the past year we’ve presented an original short story or novella from the best writers in the industry every week, all completely free. Here are the Top Twenty most-read stories in November:

  1. An excerpt from The Black Fire Concerto, by Mike Allen
  2. An excerpt from Pathfinder Tales: King of Chaos, by Dave Gross
  3. The Find,,” Part II of The Tales of Gemen, by Mark Rigney
  4. The Terror in the Vale,” by E.E. Knight
  5. Draugr Stonemaker,” by Vaughn Heppner
  6. The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” by Joe Bonadonna
  7. An excerpt from Pathfinder Tales: Queen of Thorns, by Dave Gross
  8. Vestments of Pestilence,” by John C. Hocking
  9. The Death of the Necromancer, a complete novel by Martha Wells
  10. The Renunciation of the Crimes of Gharad the Undying,” by Alex Kreis

     

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Skyfall: In Which a Pulp Hero Meets the 21st Century

Monday, December 23rd, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

Skyfall_wallpaper1 Let me offend as many readers as possible right at the start by stating that Daniel Craig is the best James Bond the screen has yet known. The man is equal parts chiseled granite and lithe predator; he has charm, but he withholds it whenever possible, forcing us to catch it on the sly, as if we’re at a peepshow. Nobody in movies today looks better in a suit.

Yes, Sean Connery was great, but the role of Bond requires a greater world-weariness than Connery, at least in his nineteen-sixties roles, could bring. Roger Moore brought out 007’s upper-crust prep school tastes, but he was never believably dangerous; he actually needed Q’s endless gimmicks to survive, as Craig surely does not. The various Bond inhabitors since have filled the shoes without fleshing out the man. Only Craig does justice to the flinty, ruthless public servant that Ian Fleming originally envisioned, without reducing the character to a dusty fifties history text: Cold War Tactics 101, With Style. Daniel Craig makes 007 both contemporary and relevant.

Skyfall (2013) opens with a shot of an approaching figure, out-of-focus, stalking down a dim corridor. When the figure gets close enough, the image locks on at last: it’s Bond, of course, weapon in hand, but the initial blurriness is central to the film. Skyfall presents James Bond between epochs, uncertain of his exact identity and purpose. Is he still a tool of the Cold War establishment, of traditional spy vs. spy operations, or does the world now require him to be something new? To be (as he is in the extraordinary credits sequence) reborn?

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The Weird of Oz Wraps Up Christmas Shopping

Monday, December 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Nick Ozment

12d9_dungeons_and_dragons_clue_boxSince geek culture has pretty much overtaken popular culture these days, any visit to the local shopping mall comes inundated with looming dragons, flashing robots and space vehicles, menacing creatures from myth and legend, superheroes of every stripe, and a certain familiar blue police callbox. Now that I have kids of my own, Christmas shopping is really interesting…

Okay, I’ll confess: my gift purchases sometimes tend to be of the “Oh man when I was that age I would’ve loved this!” variety. My wife chides me about how my daughter’s tastes are starting to slant away from superheroes and monsters and toward Barbie and Polly Pocket.

I have a son, too, but he’s still just two, so some of the coolest toys just aren’t age appropriate for him yet. My daughter, on the other hand…

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New Treasures: Tales From Rugosa Coven by Sarah Avery

Monday, December 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

tales-from-rugosa-coven-Avery-smallUnless you’ve ever been a submissions reader, I don’t think you can truly appreciate what it was like to discover Sarah Avery in the slush pile.

The story in question was “The War of the Wheat Berry Year,” a slender and deceptively simple fantasy in which The Traitor of Imlen finds she must face her old instructor on the battlefield at last. After a long day reading amateur tales about unicorns, knights slaying dragons, and teenage girls with vampire boyfriends, it was a revelation — packed with a rich and fascinating back story, subtle characterizations and, like all the best fantasy, the tantalizing sense that you were being given the briefest window into a wider tale.

I bought “The War of the Wheat Berry Year” for Black Gate 15, where it won acclaim from Keith West at Adventures Fantastic and other sites. And believe me, I kept a weather eye out for future work from Sarah.

So I was delighted when my copy of Tales From Rugosa Coven arrived last week. Rugosa Coven shows off Sarah’s talents with a collection of three linked novellas of contemporary fantasy focusing on a coven of modern witches living on the Jersey Shore. If you’re eager to find the next big name in fantasy, do yourself a favor and order a copy today.

Catch a glimpse of a New Jersey even weirder than the one you think you know, as a covenful of very modern Wiccans wrestle challenges both supernatural and mundane — and, occasionally, each other.

The personal injury attorney who chose kitchen-witchery over his family’s five-generation lineage of old school ceremonial magic would like to miss his dead parents, only now that they’re dead they won’t leave him alone. The professional fortuneteller stands out at forty paces, with her profusion of silver amulets glittering over her Goth wardrobe, but nobody has guessed her secret sorrow, especially not the covenmates who see her as their wacky comic relief. And the resident skeptic, a reluctant Pagan if ever there was one, will have to eat her words if her coven sister’s new boyfriend really does turn out to be from Atlantis.

The Jersey Shore’s half-hidden community of Witches, Druids, and latter-day Vikings must circle together against all challenges. It’s a good thing they’re as resilient as the wild rugosa roses that hold together the dunes.

Tales From Rugosa Coven was published by Dark Quest on December 21, 2013. It is 341 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback.


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