Doctor Who and the Daemons – the Novel!

Monday, March 31st, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Daemons002 More than once on Black Gate, I’ve heard that the seventies were a dead zone for science fiction and fantasy. For teens in search of readily available genre “gateway drugs,” I suppose this might have been true for many, but my particular experience of growing up managed, against all odds, to be different. Ohio was my home base, a vanilla environment for “culture” of the fantastical sort, but luckily I had a smorgasbord of British relatives. One especially perceptive and sibylline aunt started sending me Doctor Who novelizations.

Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, that was the first I tried. Next, one of the best offerings in the canon, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion.  I was in third grade and after facing down those blank-eyed Autons and their Nestene masters, I was hooked.

Note that I wasn’t in any way watching the TV show. In Columbus, Ohio, it simply wasn’t available, not until the early eighties, and then, when PBS did pick up a few random episodes, it was Tom Baker’s roost to rule. The Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and William Hartnell adventures I first encountered were absent entire.

What Tom Baker’s run taught me is that talented actors can be mired forever in substandard scripts and even worse special effects. This was a total and unpleasant surprise, because the novelizations were fast-paced genre gems, especially those penned by Terrance Dicks.  (Malcolm Hulke was the other regular adapter for the Doctor Who franchise, with a rotating cast of fellow contributors including Gerry Davis, Ian Marter, and David Whitaker.) How could such pacey, adrenaline-filled books arise from such hokey, hamstrung screen material?

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New Treasures: Once Upon a Time in Hell by Guy Adams

Monday, March 31st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Once Upon a Time in Hell Guy Adams-smallYou know, I try not to play favorites with these New Treasures posts. The whole point is to present a diverse sampling of the most intriguing fantasy crossing my desk every week. It defeats the purpose if I keep talking about the same writers week after week, so I don’t do it.

Unless your name is Guy Adams, apparently. I wrote up his novel of hidden laboratories, genetic engineering, and Sherlock Holmes, The Army of Dr. Moreau, back in August 2012, and his noir jazz club mystery Deadbeat: Makes You Stronger last October. But it was his gonzo fantasy-western, The Good The Bad and the Infernal, released last March, that really grabbed my attention and I’ve anxiously been awaiting the sequel. Now that it’s arrived, here I am talking about Guy Adams again. It’s not my fault, I swear.

A weird western, a gun-toting, cigarrillo-chewing fantasy built from hangman’s rope and spent bullets. The west has never been wilder.

Wormwood has appeared, and with it a doorway to the afterlife. But what use is a door if you can’t step through it?

Hundreds have battled unimaginable odds to reach this place, including the blind shooter Henry Jones; the drunk and liar Roderick Quartershaft; that most holy, yet enigmatic of orders, the Brotherhood of Ruth; the inventor Lord Forset and his daughter Elisabeth; the fragile messiah Soldier Joe and his nurse Hope Lane. Of them all, Elwyn Wallace, a young man who only wanted to travel west for a job, would have happily forgone the experience. But he finds himself abroad in Hell, a nameless, aged gunslinger by his side. He had thought nothing could match the terror of his journey thus far, but time will prove him wrong.

On the road to Hell, good intentions don’t mean a damn.

Once Upon a Time in Hell is Book two of The Heaven’s Gate Trilogy. It was published on December 31, 2013 by Solaris. It is 283 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes – Creation to Death and Back

Monday, March 31st, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Ormond1In 1882, Arthur Conan Doyle (not yet “Sir”) opened up his own shop as a doctor in Southsea (England). Business was slow and his most notable triumph was marrying the sister of a patient who died of meningitis.

With some spare time on his hands, Doyle wrote fiction. Somewhere around 1886, he came to the conclusion that he could write detective stories better than the ones he was reading. He would create, “a scientific detective, who solved cases on his own merits and not through the folly of the criminal.”

Putting the pen to the paper, he completed A Study in Scarlet (working title, The Tangled Skein) that year. Originally starring Sherrinford Holmes and Ormond Sacker, the names had settled into the now familiar Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.

Doyle’s stories of Holmes owe a debt to Edgar Allen Poe that has been discussed by far better minds than mine. The now mostly forgotten Emile Gaboriau was also acknowledged by Doyle as an influence.

Mystery maven and Doyle biographer John Dickinson Carr stated that Holmes was clearly based on Doyle himself, which seems overly flattering.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in February

Monday, March 31st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

AD&D DMGScott Taylor’s massive survey of the top artists working in the role playing industry since its birth — the latest in his popular Art of the Genre series — was our most popular article last month.

In second and third place were our reports on the latest fan turmoil inside the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), including a series of ugly personal attacks on ex-SFWA Vice President Mary Robinette Kowal.

Fourth was the first installment of Jon Sprunk’s Firefly retrospective, now up to seven chapters.

For fifth place it was back to the People-Behaving-Badly part of our program, with a report on Macmillan Associate Director of Contracts Sean P. Fodera’s threat to sue everyone who linked to the Daily Dot report on his attack on Mary Robinette Kowal (including Black Gate, presumably). We’re still waiting for that thick Fed Ex envelope from a legal firm.

The complete Top 50 Black Gate posts in February were:

  1. Art of the Genre: The Top 10 RPG Artists of the Past 40 Years
  2. Robert Silverberg, Gregory Benford, Dave Truesdale call for Changes to SFWA
  3. SFWA Ugliness Spreads to Personal Attacks on Mary Robinette Kowal
  4. Firefly, a Retrospective – Part 1
  5. Sean P. Fodera Threatens to sue 1,200 Writers
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Urban Areas: The City, by Stella Gemmell

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The CityA little while ago, I stumbled on a book that seemed especially worth writing about here: The City, by Stella Gemmell. It’s Gemmell’s first solo novel; she also completed Troy: Fall of Kings, the last book by her late husband, David. David Gemmell was a widely-known heroic fantasy writer — those unfamiliar with his work can see his Wikipedia entry, a wiki dedicated to his books, an obituary from The Guardian, a retrospective of his life and career from this site, and a look back at his first novel, Legend. I’ve only read a couple of his works myself, his early novels Legend and Waylander, but knowing his background I found myself curious about The City.

It’s the story of a vast, unnamed city at the centre of a sprawling empire, engaged in an ongoing brutal war and ruled by a mysterious immortal. The novel begins with a disgraced general struggling to survive in the labyrinthine sewers that undergird the city, then begins moving freely through a large cast, most of whom are soldiers in the city’s army. It becomes clear that the Emperor’s a tyrant, who must be overthrown — but can any merely human conspiracy survive against his mysterious powers?

The fantasy element of the book’s fairly light, beyond the setting (which itself turns out to have its own secrets). The book’s main focus is on war, battle, and the experience of the individual soldier. It ably moves from plot strand to plot strand, character to character, and occasionally skips forward by years or months. It’s an intricately-plotted book, and I suspect benefits from being read in a short time. Luckily, the style’s clear and plain without being simplistic, driving the reader on quickly through a series of fights and betrayals.

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Vintage Treasures: Universe 13 edited by Terry Carr

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Universe 13 Terry Carr-smallLast Sunday, I was busy complaining about the apparent death of the original SF and fantasy paperback anthology series (as one does), when it occurred to me that I should probably read a few of the books I was talking about.

Nothing like waxing nostalgic and working up a good frothy indignation at the death of a vital part of American culture to remind you that your memories on the subject are actually kinda vague and unspecific. It’s a crime that Universe is no longer being published! It was a source of some of the most brilliant SF of the 70s! I think. Wait, which one was Universe again?

So I decided to start by reading Universe 13. Partly because Terry Carr really was a terrific editor and he knew how to put together a splendid anthology. But mostly because I found a copy in easy reach in a stack of vintage paperbacks and I didn’t have to get up out of my big green chair.

I’ve talked about Universe before, especially about Carr’s insight into the field. One of the most famous quotes about science fiction comes from his introduction to Universe 3, which I printed in 2012 and I’d like to reprint here:

When aficionados of this field get together, that’s a standard topic of discussion. When was science fiction’s golden age? Some say the early forties, when John W. Campbell and a host of new writers like Heinlein, Sturgeon and van Vogt were transforming the entire field; others point to the early fifties, to [editors] H.L. Gold and Anthony Boucher and to such writers as Damon Knight, Alfred Bester and Ray Bradbury. Some will lay claims for the late sixties, when the new wave passed and names like Ballard, Disch and Aldiss came forward. There are still people around, too, who’ll tell you about 1929 and David H. Keller, E.E. Smith and Ray Cummings.

The clue in most cases is when the person talking first began to read science fiction. When it was all new, all of it was exciting. Years ago a friend of mine, Pete Graham, tersely answered the question “When was the golden age of science fiction?” by saying “Twelve.” He didn’t have to explain further; we knew what he meant.

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The Top Five Differences Between HBO’s Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Eckhart

Game of Thrones-smallIt’s rare a show comes along that leaves readers wondering whether the book or screen version is better.

Generally speaking, film and television adaptations rarely live up to the complexity and depth of novels. In an effort to condense plot and keep things moving relatively quickly, and understandably, shows and films often act as the tip of the iceberg.

The original works, however, are more likely to reveal the underlying complexities (the rest of the iceberg, you might say) and true personalities of most of the characters. And, as expected, whole scenes are generally chopped from the film version due to lack of time.

So, of course, when a show like Game of Thrones comes along (the fourth season of which will be starting next week), that has some fans claiming the show is as good, perhaps even better, than George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, then we have no choice but to examine the merits of each.

In my opinion, the show lacks in several major areas. First: relationships.

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Mary Gentle’s The Black Opera: Another Opinion

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Black OperaTwo years ago, veteran author Mary Gentle’s most recent novel The Black Opera was published to mixed reviews. Some liked the book’s mix of alternate-history fantasy and comic-opera theatricality — as the sub-title has it, “a novel of Opera, Volcanoes, and the Mind of God.” Others, ably represented at Black Gate by Sean Stiennon’s review, found the pacing was slack, the fantastic elements underdeveloped — particularly with regard to how they affected the setting — and, perhaps especially, that the drama was undermined by a lack of conflict among the characters. Having just read the book myself, and having greatly enjoyed it, I felt like putting forward a few thoughts in the novel’s defence. Oddly, I don’t so much disagree with many of the criticisms as think that in context they actually work to make a pleasant, effective story.

First, let’s be precise about what we’re looking at. The Black Opera‘s set in the early-to-mid nineteenth century in a world where miracles happen: inconsistent but often startlingly powerful violations of physical laws that seem to be related to powerful musical performances. Ghosts and the walking dead are not uncommon. In Naples, a freethinking opera librettist named Conrad Scalese is saved from the Inquisition by agents of King Ferdinand II, who conscripts Conrad into a secret project: combating a secret society of Satanists who plan to invoke a miracle that will raise Satan and destroy Naples. They will do this by staging a Black Opera — so Conrad, on Ferdinand’s behalf, must create a countering ‘white opera’ to overcome their evil plan. The book follows Conrad’s frantic attempts to create and stage his opera on a tight timetable, introducing and setting up characters and subplots before an extended climax brings everything to a dramatic head.

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The Novels of Michael Shea: A Quest for Simbilis

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Quest for Simbilis-smallThe stories that surround Michael Shea’s first novel, A Quest for Simbilis, have the stuff of legend.

In the early 70s, Michael found a copy of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novel The Eyes of the Overworld in the lobby of a hotel in Juneau, Alaska. The book stayed with him for four years, through a brief first marriage and extensive travels, hitch-hiking through France and Spain, until he sat down to write an homage to Vance and a sequel to his novel. It was published in paperback by DAW Books in 1974 and was a finalist for the British Fantasy Award.

There are dangers to playing in someone else’s playground, and some at the time saw Michael as a dabbler, not really serious about writing. But nothing could have been further from the truth, as his wife Lynn noted in the announcement of his death at Michael Shea’s website on March 7th.

Michael published his first novel, A Quest for Simbilis, in 1974, and for all the years that I knew him, he wrote almost every day. Novels, short stories, and, his first love, poetry poured out of him up through the very last day of his life. Some thought of Michael as reclusive, when in fact he was just old-fashioned, a writer’s writer. Once a piece was perfect, he wanted to set it aside, forget it, and begin the next project. Even so, we, his family, feel that, along with our memories, his written works are what we still have of him.

Michael’s family have now turned his website into a forum where his friends and fans can “share their experiences, both literary and personal, as well as find access to new releases and formats of his work.” Visit the site here.

Jack Vance graciously declined to share the advance offered by DAW Books for A Quest for Simbilis, but allowed the book to be released as an authorized sequel to his Dying Earth novels. Eventually, Vance took the series in a different direction when he published a third book, Cugel’s Saga, in 1983.

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New Treasures: The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies by Clark Ashton Smith

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dark Eidolon and Other FantasiesAt long last, Clark Ashton Smith gets a little respect.

The highly regarded Penguin Classics line — which scholars and teachers love to rely on when drawing up things like course reading lists — has been slow to embrace pulp writers, and especially pulp fantasy writers. But in the last decade or so they’ve been correcting that oversight, starting with Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, Oct. 1999, The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, Oct. 2001, and more.) They’ve done a little better with other fantasy writers, including Lord Dunsany (In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales, February 2004), Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson, M. R. James, and others.

Much of this has been the result of the efforts of editor S.T. Joshi, who now brings Penguin Classics their very first pulp sword & sorcery collection, gathering together the best work of the great Clark Ashton Smith.

Called “unexcelled by any other writer, dead or living” by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, a prolific poet, amateur philosopher, bizarre sculptor, and unmatched storyteller, simply wrote like no one else. Now, The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies, the much-awaited collection of poetry and prose from Clark Ashton Smith, introduces him into the Classics as a cosmic master artist who saw horror and wonder in all things, and in whose pen note a single sentence was safe.

This collection of his very best tales and poems, selected and introduced by supernatural literature scholar S.T. Joshi, allows readers to encounter Smith’s visionary brand of fantastical, phtantasmagorical worlds, each one filled with invention, terror, and a superlative sense of metaphysical wonder. The volume’s title story — a revenge tale that ends with macrocosmic stallions returning to trample a house they had formerly spared — is set in Smith’s Zothique story circle, in which the last inhabited continent on Earth watches humanity at the end-time regress to a pre-modern state.

The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies was published by Penguin Books on March 25. It is 370 pages — including 32 pages of Explanatory Notes on the stories by Joshi — and priced at $16 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition.

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