J.K. Rowling, The Solitary House, and the Public Shaming of Lynn Shepherd

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Solitary House  Lynn Shepherd-smallLynn Shepherd’s latest novel The Solitary House, set in the gas-lit world of London in 1850, features a pair of detectives — one of whom appears to be suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s — in the employ of a powerful financier with a dark past. It sounds fascinating, actually, exactly the kind of book I’d be interested in reading.

Of course, that was before she took a swipe at the world’s most popular fantasy writer in an ill-conceived and mean-spirited article last week at The Huffington Post, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.”

I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them… But The Casual Vacancy changed all that… That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere… what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

And then there was the whole Cuckoo’s Calling saga… The book dominated crime lists, and crime reviews in newspapers, and crime sections in bookshops, making it even more difficult than it already was for other books — just as well-written, and just as well-received — to get a look in. Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do.

Now Rowling’s legions of fans are venting their anger at Shepherd in a cascade of 1-star reviews at Amazon,com, which are quickly overwhelming legitimate reviews of the book. As of this morning, there are 59; here are just a few snippets from the more entertaining examples.

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Vintage Treasures: And All Between by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Zilpha Keatley Snyder And All Between-smallI love doing these Vintage Treasures articles. I could tell you they’re popular, or they bring some historical weight to the blog, but really, they’re just an excuse to scan some of my favorite old paperbacks and happily yak about them for a few paragraphs. It’s the simple things that keep you happy.

But every once in a while, it’s interesting to feature a book, and an author, that I know absolutely nothing about. And that’s the case with today’s subject, And All Between, a 1985 paperback from Tor and the second volume in the Green-Sky trilogy, by an author I’ve never heard of:  Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

I picked it up in the Dealer’s Room at Capricon 34 two weeks ago. I bought it from Erin and Rich at Starfarer’s Despatch for two bucks, because the cover was so gorgeous that I couldn’t say no. I mean, just look at it.

Yes, it’s the second book in a trilogy. But that just makes it more intriguing to a paperback collector like me. Now I have two more to track down. Sweet! I hope their covers are just as luscious (turns out, they are.)

To be honest, the back cover text kinds of make the novel sound like an episode of The Smurfs, which isn’t really a selling point.

The Erdlings live in the underground world below the magical root — banished there forever by the Ol-zhaan, supreme members of the Kindar, who live in the lofty branches of their forest home in Green-sky.

The Erdlings are starving and escape through the iron-strong root is impossible. Yet, when eight-year-old Teera learns that her pet Lapin must be used for food, she runs away — and climbs through a break in the root to the forest floor above.

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Art of the Genre: The Halflings of Jeff Dee

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Does this Halfling have a cape or a shield on his back? I always wanted it to be a shield.

Does this Halfling have a cape or a shield on his back? I always wanted it to be a shield.

I was playing Keep on the Borderlands this past week, certainly one of my all-time favorite modules, and as I flipped through it I came across a Jeff Dee illustration that had a Halfling in the background.  As two weeks ago I’d done a piece here on BG called ‘The Top 40 RPG Artists of the Past 40 Years’ AND had left Jeff off that list, I couldn’t help but stare at the image and wonder why I had done so.

Certainly people in the OSR had raised a big fuss about Jeff’s lack of ‘love’ on my part, and for good reason.  He could have arguably made the list, depending on how you viewed the industry as a whole.  Add such a view to the fact that Jeff has been a tireless game designer, player, and advocate for the industry of RPGs since I was in grade school, then he could almost be grandfathered in just for trying so hard.  I guess it would be like a Lifetime Achievement Oscar or something.

Whatever the case, I sat there looking at this great little Halfling and couldn’t shake the feeling that of all the artists to ever do these little guys, Jeff was hands-down the best in my opinion, and here are the reasons why.

One: Jeff is a gamer, and as such, he has an inherent connection to how gamers see themselves, and with that, how gamers see their characters.  Certainly, the thought of a Halfling is appealing because of Tolkien, but not necessarily the thought of Bilbo Baggins.  Sure, we all love Bilbo, but do we love the Rankin/Bass version as a representation of our player characters?  I doubt it.

Two: Jeff drew from a comic book style and therefore his lean lines for humans and elves spilled over directly to Halflings.  Gone were the pot-bellied and cheery pipe-smokers, who were in turn replaced by ‘little men’ with ripped chests, chiseled faces, and weapons and armor that looked incredibly formidable.

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SFWA Announces the 2013 Nebula Award Nominations

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Stranger in Olondria-smallHappy day! The Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) announced the nominees for the 2013 Nebula Awards today.

So many novels! Last year, there were only six nominated; this year there are eight. Yowsah. Does that mean there were 33% more awesome novels published this year? Probably. That’s the most logical explanation.

Remember to vote! These awards count on your input to pick the winner. Ha-ha — except they don’t, of course. Only active members of SFWA can vote. Which they do, when they’re not loudly denying there’s harassment of women writers or spending all their time actually harassing women writers. Let’s hope the spectacle of the awards puts all the recent ugliness behind us — at least until the inevitable next blow up.

This year’s nominees are:

Novel

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow)
Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)

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Ancient Worlds: Argonauts Assemble!

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

"Ok, we've got a tank, two clerics, a bard, a couple of light fighters... did anyone roll a mage?" "No worries, we're picking her up in Colchis."

“Ok, we’ve got a tank, two clerics, a bard, a couple of light fighters… did anyone roll a mage?”
“No worries, we’re picking her up in Colchis.”

So you’ve been given an impossible task by a king, primarily for the purpose of getting rid of you. What do you do first?

Well, to be honest, I would move to a new kingdom, but that’s why I’m not a Greek hero.

Jason, on the other hand, set out to assemble a team of the greatest heroes Greece had to offer. Not all of these are memorable: if you’ve heard of Phlias of Araethyrea, for example, you’re a bigger mythology geek than I am.

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For Want of a Dragon… The Dragon Lord by David Drake

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2323565902PNa1BCOne of the greatest incentives to start blogging about S&S was that it would force me to read more.

For the three or four years before I started my blog, I was reading only a dozen or so books a year, instead of the fifty to sixty I had in the past. If I wanted to have something to write about, I would actually have to read. That part’s worked out very well for me.

Coupled with that was the hope of getting to all those books I’d bought and been meaning to read for years — even decades in a few cases. I would leave used book stores with shopping bags full of books, heady with plans to read them all some day. A lot of the S&S books I hoped to blog about had been in those bags.

One was The Dragon Lord, David Drake’s tale of an Irish adventurer in the days of King Arthur. Last week, after ten or fifteen years, I pulled it from its dusty purgatory on the bookshelf.

According to the ISFDB, Drake has written seventy novels and over a dozen collections of stories. I’ve read my share of his fiction over the years, including the early Hammer’s Slammers stories and the horror collection From the Heart of Darkness. A few years ago, I read and reviewed his stories about Vettius, a legate in the late Roman Empire. While I thoroughly enjoyed those stories, I had no plans to read Drake again any time soon.

For me to choose to read a David Drake book at this point means that something hooked me. It’s nothing against Drake, but at my age I’ve got stacks of other books picked out. I need a reason to pick out a back row book. In the case of The Dragon Lord, the impetus was a picture from Wayne Barlowe’s Guide to Fantasy.

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Blogging Arak 14: Arak Has a Fling with Fate (Literally)

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Arak_Vol_1_14Satyricus is offstage sleeping for most of this issue, so we don’t get any comic-relief banter between that randy old goat and Arak. That’s as it should be, though, because this episode delivers a private and transformative event in Arak’s life. This is the issue where Arak comes into his own as a character. (Also, he scores — with one of the Fates, no less! ––which would have been awkward with a satyr on hand.)

Up until now, Arak has been a confused man lacking in self-identity. His tribe was wiped out when he was a boy. He was raised into adulthood by Vikings. Now he wanders in a land where everyone calls him a heathen “red devil.” As he interacts with more “civilized” people, he often displays a stronger innate core of morality and honor than those around him — ironically, and despite his Viking past. He is intelligent, resourceful, but quick to anger when he has been wronged or when he sees someone else wronged (the latter point making him more of a traditional hero than many of his anti-hero barbarian counterparts in fiction).

He is a man who is searching, on an existential quest about the very nature of the universe and his place in it. You see, he assumes his people’s god He-No died with his people, but he was always told he was the son of He-No — the son of Thunder. He has learned in his journeys that there are other thunder gods: Thor, Zeus, Jupiter, and the Christian deity who is said to be the god and maker of everything. Are all these thunder gods but names for one god, he wonders — and, if so, is he somehow a son to all of them? This haunting question has been further compounded by earlier events: his defeat of the sea serpent (back in issue 1) by stabbing it with a heavy metal cross that was subsequently struck by lightning. (Was it the god of the cross or his own father of the thunder who intervened?) Finding his own face carved next to that of Hercules, a Greek hero of old, atop Mount Olympus, only to witness the stone faces cleaved in two by a bolt of lightning. And now, he has discovered a tapestry portraying his life up until now, hung deep in the caves that honeycomb Mount Athos.

Answers to some of these questions will be given in the pages of this issue…

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in January

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Medieval Fantasy-smallWe dove into the politics of fantasy in January, with articles from M Harold Page (“Why Medieval Fantasy is not Inherently Conservative,”) and Derek Kunsken (“Is Fantasy Inherently not Political?”) — both of which cracked the Top Five for the month.

We didn’t steer clear of controversy on the rest of the chart, either. Nick Ozment dissected the latest Peter Jackson pic, with a little help from friends Frederic S. Durbin and Gabe Dybing, in “Inkjetlings Round eTable: Jackson’s Desolation of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”

Rounding out the Top Five for the month were our look at the economics of labeling the film 47 Ronin an early flop, and Joe Bonadonna’s detailed review of The Sacred Band by Janet Morris and Chris Morris.

The complete Top 50 Black Gate posts in January were:

  1. Why Medieval Fantasy is not Inherently Conservative
  2. Inkjetlings Round eTable: Jackson’s Desolation of The Hobbit
  3. Universal Labels 47 Ronin a Flop less than 24 hours After Release
  4. Heroic Fantasy with the Sharp Edge of Reality: A Review of The Sacred Band
  5. Is Fantasy Inherently not Political?
  6. Observations: The Fellowship of the Ring movie
  7. The Weapons of Fantasy
  8. Observations: The Two Towers movie
  9. You Can’t Go Home Again
  10. A History of Godzilla on Film, Part 3: Down and Out in Osaka
  11. Read More »


NBC’s Heroes to Return in 2015

Monday, February 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

I enjoyed the first season of NBC’s superhero drama Heroes — quite a bit, actually. It was smart and fun, and had a genuinely original take on the ensemble superhero idea. It didn’t hurt that it had a very talented and diverse cast, either, including Hayden Panettiere, Ali Larter, Masi Oka, George Takei, and Zachary Quinto as the sinister supervillian Sylar. Now, I haven’t seen Seasons 2 through 4. I understand the cast expanded a bit — adding Kristen Bell, Zeljko Ivanek, and Malcolm McDowell, among others — and, as usual, the show received a lot of fan criticism for losing its way. Fans. They love you, until they don’t.

Regardless, I was surprised and pleased to read on the CNN website this morning that NBC is bringing back Heroes next year:

NBC helped kickstart the superhero TV trend in 2006 with Heroes, an X-Men-ish action-drama about a group of people with superhuman powers. Now the network is bringing back the show for a 13-episode event series to air in 2015. Original series creator Tim Kring is on board to run the show. Titled Heroes Reborn, the project is billed as a stand-alone story; the characters have not yet been announced.

The announcement has already generated buzz and backlash in the fan press. NBC has also announced they will introduce the new characters and storylines in a digital series before the mini-series airs. Until then, enjoy the 20-second teaser promo that ran during Olympics coverage.


New Treasures: A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda

Monday, February 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Turn of Light-smallI managed to miss A Turn of Light when it was released in trade paperback last March. A pity, as I’ve tried to keep up on the novels of Julie E. Czerneda ever since her first, A Thousand Words for Stranger, landed at my door back in 1997. The fact that she’s a fellow Canadian just adds an extra layer of awesome.

In the 17 years since her debut, Julie has published no less than four highly regarded science fiction trilogies: Trade Pact, Stratification, Species Imperative, and Web Shifters. But with her latest, she turns to epic fantasy for the first time and I’m keenly interested in seeing where she’ll take the genre.

The pastoral valley of Marrowdell is home to a small pioneer settlement of refugees, lush fields of grain, enigmatic house toads — and Jenn Nalynn, the miller’s daughter. Life here is full of laughter and peace, as well as hard work, and no one bothers overmuch about the outside world. Except Jenn Nalynn. Jenn longs to travel, to seek what’s missing in her life. Not that she’s sure what that is, but since this summer began, she’s felt a strange and powerful yearning. She’s certain she’ll find what she needs, if only she can leave the valley.

But she must not. Jenn is turn-born and cursed, born by the light of two worlds and bound to both. For the valley is more than it seems. Long ago, a cataclysm of misused power pinned Marrowdell to the Verge, a place of wild magic, home to dragons and even stranger creatures. Should Jenn step beyond Marrowdell, she will pull the worlds asunder. To prevent this, powers from the Verge have sent a guard to watch over her, a disgraced dragon Jenn knows as Wisp, her invisible playmate. Wisp’s duty is to keep Jenn in Marrowdell. By love, if he can. By her death, if he must.

But time is running out. What Jenn unknowingly feels is the rise of the Verge’s magic within her, a magic that will threaten her and those she loves. Worse, this summer will end with a Great Turn, and strangers seeking power at any cost have come to Marrowdell to try to force an opening into the Verge, to the ruin of all.

A Turn of Light, the first in the Night’s Edge series, will be published by DAW on March 4th. It is 822 pages, priced at $8.99 for the paperback and $7.99 for the digital edition. The second volume, A Play of Shadow, is scheduled to be released in November. Check out her website for fresh updates.


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