John W. Campbell on Tolkien, Conan, and Sword & Sorcery

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

The August 1968 issue of Analog Science Fiction, with Sword & Sorcery creeping up on Science Fiction

The August 1968 issue of Analog Science Fiction, showing Sword & Sorcery creeping up on Science Fiction

Gordon van Gelder, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, has posted a fascinating excerpt from The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume 1. The excerpt is from a September 7, 1967 letter to Analog author and Hugo Award winning writer Gordon R. Dickson, author of Dorsai! and Soldier, Ask Not, and it captures the frustrations of the top SF editor in the country as he senses his audience being lured away by the growing popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The swords-and-sorcery and Tolkien have displaced science fiction almost completely. Why? Well, partly — but I think a small part — is the current leaning to escape-from-reality, LSD etc. to the undisciplined world of my opinion is as good as any other, and don’t tell me there’s a Universe’s Opinion I’ve got to accept, willy nilly.

But the larger item, I suspect, is *human beings want heroes.* Real heroes. Not common-men-who-proved-under-stress-they-could-struggle-through. The swords-and-sorcery yarns are all based on superhuman heroes — and it’s clearly obvious the readers love ’em.

Now in as much as it’s the readers who pay for the magazines, it damn well behooves us to give ’em what they want — and they obviously want super-heroes on the Conan order. They want for Frank Herbert’s Dune, with his super-hero. They used to go with all-out enthusiasm for Jack Williamson’s really-not-very-good “Legion” stories.

Now if the fans want — and they evidently do! — swords-and-sorcery type yarns, then we had damn well better give ’em the type of thing they want, or get out of the way for someone who will.

Campbell never published much fantasy in Analog, but he did champion adventure-oriented science fantasy in the late 60s, like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern stories (the first of which, the Hugo Award-winning “Weyr Search,” appeared in Analog in October 1967). It would be interesting to take a closer look to see if there was any noticeable editorial shift in this period.

Read the complete excerpt in Gordon’s Facebook post.


Enter the World of Pathfinder Legends… At a Discount!

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Rise of the Runelords-smallPaizo Publishing’s Pathfinder RPG has made a habit of breaking new ground. Or, in a sense, re-breaking old ground in completely new ways. They’ve revolutionized Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition by re-imagining it into the Pathfinder RPG. Their Pathfinder Adventure Path series seems to have transformed the scope of what can be done with pre-generated gaming modules. Their Pathfinder Tales line of novels set in the Pathfinder world of Golarion are frequently praised around the Black Gate world headquarters, only a fraction of which spills over onto the website. And, last year, they transformed the deck-building game with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (which, I promise, I will review one of these days! – but for now you can get it on Amazon).

Now they’re moving in a similar direction with their Pathfinder Legends line of audiobooks. Instead of adapting the Pathfinder Tales novels, they’re instead focusing this series of audiobooks on adaptations of their Adventure Paths. And, instead of merely being audiobooks relating a narrative of the adventure, these are instead full audio productions with a cast of talented actors, heralding back to the glory days of the radio age… but with modern production values. You can get a hint of what to expect from this audio trailer. It introduces the first episode, “Burnt Offerings,” which is the first installment of their Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path (Amazon)

If what you hear interests you, the first installment of Pathfinder Legends is available now for order through Paizo’s website. For a limited time, they are offering the first audio production at the discounted subscription price even if you don’t subscribe. This means you can order the audio CD for $12.79 (normally $15.99) and the audio download for $10.39 (normally $12.99). It’s not exactly clear when this offer will end, but they’ve said that it will last until the Pathfinder Legends subscription plan is available online.


Hurry Up With That Doctor Strange Movie, Marvel

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

Mesmeretics Doctor Strange poster-smallMarvel Studios has certainly been dragging its feet with the long-delayed Doctor Strange feature film. It still doesn’t have a release date. (Or a star. Or a director.)

That hasn’t stopped enthusiastic fans from trying to nudge the project along with fake trailers and posters, like the fan-made effort from Mesmeretics at left. C’mom, Marvel. If fans can make something that looks that sharp, so can you.

I consider Doctor Strange to be the last major untapped Marvel property and I’m a little cranky that C-listers like Ant Man and Rocket Raccoon are making it to the silver screen before he is. It wouldn’t surprise me if Baron Mordo was behind it all, somehow.

Doctor Strange was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (the same team that created Spider-man) in 1963. He has flirted with live action versions before… there was a 1978 TV movie starring Peter Hooten, which I watched after school and thought perhaps was the coolest thing in the history of ever. In 2005 Paramount acquired the rights to Doctor Strange from Miramax and in 2008 reports surfaced that Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct and that he’d approached Neil Gaiman to do the script. Never happened.

More recently, in June 2010, Marvel Studios hired Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, the team behind the underrated Sahara and the 2011 reboot of Conan the Barbarian, to produce a script, and in January of last year Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed that Doctor Strange would be part of “Phase Three” of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe. In November, he confirmed that a Doctor Strange feature is in development, but so far no additional details have emerged. And so we wait.

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Ancient Worlds: Shots in the Dark

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

220px-Lorenzo_Costa_001Previously on Ancient Worlds: We’ve been discussing Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica, which tells the story of Jason and the Argonauts, well known from many a late night creature feature.

After Heracles convinces his fellow Argonauts that the encircling Lemnian peril is too perilous, they sail on and the Argo makes its way through the Hellespont. There they find an island populated by “Earth-born monsters” with six arms each.

This is a recurring theme in Greek myth. Not just monsters, of course, although the Greeks love a good monster. (AND WHO DOESN’T?) The most terrifying and most anthropomorphic tend to be Earth-born, that is, creatures that spring up out of the earth.

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I Invoke the Voidal! Oblivion Hand by Adrian Cole

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

oie_24224952K95LzfUEStripped of all his memories for some great transgression against the Dark Gods, the mysterious one called the Voidal, or Fatecaster, endlessly traverses the dimensions of the omniverse. Always he brings vengeance via his Oblivion Hand, an additional punishment of the Dark Gods. And furthermore, any who aid or befriend him are made to suffer.

Oblivion Hand (Wildside Press 2001) is a fix-up of eight early stories by Adrian Cole about his dark wanderer, the Voidal. Cole’s amnesiac protagonist was introduced in a chapbook titled “The Coming of the Voidal” (in this book reworked and retitled “Well Met in Hell.”) Five more tales appeared in a variety of small magazines and anthologies between 1977 and 1980, including Fantasy Crossroads and the Gerald Page-edited Heroic Fantasy. Two more, “The Lair of the Spydron” and “Urge and Demiurge,” were scheduled to be in Phantasy Digest and Weird Adventures respectively, but both magazines shut down before the stories could be published. They appear for the first time in Oblivion Hand.

In a review I did of the first two stories, “Well Met in Hell” and “The Lair of the Spydron,” I was harsh and almost disdainful. Still, there was something about them that I remember liking. Reading Lin Carter’s Kellory the Warlock last week (and whoever thought a writer most people agree was generally mediocre could attract so many comments a quarter of a century after his death?), elements of it reminded me of Cole’s book. Both authors were intent on creating a setting that wasn’t just another watered down mimeograph of Middle-earth; they wanted something stranger. Carter succeeded, but Cole did immeasurably better.

Cole’s omniverse is an endless collection of interesting settings: universe-sized dimensions; monster-infested pocket worlds; a realm filled not with planets but islands that float in space. Countless arrays of gods rule over these various worlds. Terrible beings like the Spydron create and work their will on hidden places they carve out for themselves. Powerful sorcerers raise themselves up above the gods in other worlds.

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New Treasures: The Last Wild by Piers Torday

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

The Last Wild Piers TordayI don’t know much about this Piers Torday fellow. Not that there’s all that much to know — The Last Wild is his first novel, he lives in London, and is hard at work on additional adventures featuring Kester and Polly. Admit it — that’s all you need to know, too.

The Times has compared The Last Wild to Roald Dahl’s classic James and the Giant Peach – a pretty rousing endorsement. It looks like a quick, exciting, Middle-Grade read, and I think I’ll settle down with it later in the week. That is if my kids don’t steal it first.

In a world where animals no longer exist, twelve-year-old Kester Jaynes sometimes feels like he hardly exists either. Locked away in a home for troubled children, he’s told there’s something wrong with him. So when he meets a flock of talking pigeons and a bossy cockroach, Kester thinks he’s finally gone crazy. But the animals have something to say. And they need him. The pigeons fly Kester to a wild place where the last creatures in the land have survived. A wise stag needs Kester’s help, and together they must embark on a great journey, joined along the way by an overenthusiastic wolf cub, a military-trained cockroach, a mouse with a ritual for everything, and a stubborn girl named Polly. The animals saved Kester Jaynes. But can Kester save the animals?

The Last Wild was published on March 18, 2014 by Viking. It is 322 pages, priced at $16.99 in hardcover and $10.99 for the digital edition.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.


The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in February

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

AppleMarkMark Rigney’s “The Find,” part of his perennially popular Tales of Gemen series, maintained  the top spot last month, holding off a stiff challenge from Jon Sprunk’s hit novel Blood and Iron.

“The Find” is actually Part II of the series. It began with “The Trade,” which Tangent Online called a “Marvelous tale.” Read all three tales in their entirety right here.

Jon Sprunk’s Blood and Iron, Book One of The Book of the Black Earth, was released this month by Pyr Books and we offered an exclusive pre-release excerpt of this brand new sword & sorcery epic in February.

Next on the list was Joe Bonadonna’s fast-paced adventure “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” followed by E.E. Knight’s sword & sorcery epic “The Terror of the Vale,” the second in the Blue Pilgrim sequence, and sequel to “That of the Pit.”

Fifth and sixth were our excerpt from Sword Sisters, the new novel from Tara Cardinal and Black Gate blogger Alex Bledsoe, and “The Sealord’s Successor,” by Aaron Bradford Starr, a new tale of Gallery Hunters Gloren Avericci and Yr Neh, last seen in “The Tea-Maker’s Task” and “The Daughter’s Dowry.” Next was Martha Wells’s complete novel, the Nebula nominee The Death of the Necromancer.

Also making the list were exciting stories by Dave Gross, Jamie McEwan, Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Mike Allen, Ryan Harvey, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, C.S.E. Cooney, Vaughn Heppner, Jason E. Thummel, David C. Smith, Michael Shea, and John C. Hocking. If you haven’t sampled the free adventure fantasy stories offered through our Black Gate Online Fiction line, you’re missing out. Here are the Top Twenty most-read stories in February.

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Take Dungeon Delving to the High Seas in Descent: The Sea of Blood

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

Descent the Sea of Blood-smallOkay, that title doesn’t make any sense. Dungeon delving… on the ocean. You know what that sounds like? Drowning, that’s what it sounds like.

But let’s move on. I’m still processing the four boxes of loot I brought back from the Spring Games Plus Auction and, like a determined CSI agent at a crime scene, putting clues together to determine how I ended up with a copy of Descent: The Sea of Blood.

Let’s say a few words about the basic game, Fantasy Flight’s Descent: Journeys in The Dark, because it came up for auction and … man. Everybody wanted it. Seriously, it was like feeding time at the crazy cat lady house. There were two copies of the long out-of-print first edition and they were way out of my price range. The first, a jumbled box containing the game and all the expansions, sold for $92, and the second, an unpunched set of the first edition only, sold for $130. (If you’re in the market, Amazon still has new copies from a handful of vendors, starting at $289.)

So what’s Descent all about, then? To be honest, I’m a little vague on the specifics, ’cause my copies are still in the shrinkwrap, but I do know it’s one of the most popular of the dungeon-delving board games, which simulate the loot-and-scoot dynamic of Dungeons and Dragons in a more contained setting. (Other examples include Super Dungeon Explore, Castle Ravenloft, Legend of Drizzt, Claustrophobia, Warhammer Quest, DungeonQuest, Tomb, Cutthroat Caverns, and many others. And yes, my copies of those are shrinkwrapped too, so don’t bother asking.)

Descent was originally released in 2007 and designed by Kevin Wilson. It pits an overlord against up to four hero players, who cooperate to complete a range of exciting objectives, like clobbering a sea-monster, or beating down a dragon (going strictly by the box cover art, which is generally a good indicator). For extra collectability — like it needed it — the game shares a setting with Fantasy Flight’s other popular titles, Runewars, Rune Age, and Runebound.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Short-Lived Holmes

Monday, March 24th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

HouseofCardsNetflix’s House of Cards redefined what can be achieved by a web series. Everything about it, from casting to story to visuals, screams “quality.” The fact that it was intended to run for only a single season yet has already been renewed for a third testifies to the success that the show has had. It’s tough to maintain viewership when there’s almost nobody to root for, but they’ve done it.

But I wonder how many people realize that it is a remake of a 1990 British miniseries (apparently lust for power transcends decades. And centuries…)? Ian Richardson plays the Kevin Spacey role. Francis Urquhart has a disarming smile that makes him seem more warm than Spacey’s Frank Underwood. Don’t be fooled!

HouseofCardsRichardsonThe original House of Cards has a few Holmes ties. Female lead Susannah Harker appeared opposite Charlton Heston in the TV version of Crucifer of Blood, a modified version of The Sign of the Four.

She was also the client in Jeremy Brett’s version of The Adventure of the Dying Detective. Also, Colin Jeavons was Brett’s Inspector Lestrade. But it is Richardson’s brief tenure as Sherlock Holmes that we will look at now.

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Why We Keep Weaving These Webs

Monday, March 24th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

uncle hugosMy buddy Gabe and I, when we first met almost two decades ago, we knew — man, we knew our stuff was better (or was going to be better) than just about anything out there. It was the haughty arrogance of youth and ego, plus the fact that we just hadn’t read nearly as much of what was out there as we have now.

Consider, too, the impressions we’d formed in our teen years of what was most prevalent in the various popular-media streams: the (much smaller) fantasy book aisle was dominated by Terry Brooks and many lesser Tolkien imitators churning out derivative high-fantasy formula. Comics were still stuck in stunted-development adolescence, just on the cusp of the revolution when writers like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman would kick that medium in its juvenile ass. Films were mostly sci-fi knockoffs of Star Wars or B-grade fantasy with special-effects budgets so meager they wouldn’t fund a single episode of a typical SyFy TV show. And television animated fantasy didn’t aspire much beyond Hanna-Barbera cartoons and He-Man.

In short, based on that narrow and selective assessment, any cocksure young tale-weaver could survey that crop and think, “I can do better than that.” But we weren’t the only Gen Xers who nursed such thoughts. Many others could also do better, and they have.

With our generation, speculative fiction has entered into what seems a golden age, borne out in all those mediums — books, comics, film, television (and add another medium that was just emerging from its nascent stages when we entered the fray: video games). Individuals with tastes and perceptions kindred to our own are drawing on the best of the past like never before, fusing with modern sensibilities what they mine from those rich veins to create some of the finest work the genre has ever seen.

And they’ve infiltrated all levels of the creative business. When I watch old He-Man and She-Ra reruns with my kids, I get the impression that those writers were just lazily phoning it in for a paycheck and couldn’t give a damn about the words they were putting to paper or the stories they were slapping together. Contrast that with the short-lived He-Man relaunch (2002-2004). It wasn’t a stand-out show by any means, but it was heads above virtually anything that cynically aired in the early ‘80s to sell us toys from Mattel and Kenner and Hasbro. Yeah, that particular corner of the market still exists to sell toys — to our kids and grandkids now — but the people who are creating the product were kids like Gabe and me, who thought, “Man, if I could have a job writing that show, I would make it so cool.” And they do have those jobs, and they are.

So where does that leave us, web-weavers in a surfeit of webs?

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