The Attenuated Hero: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

ViciousV.E. Schwab had written a number of YA novels when, in 2013, Tor published her book Vicious. Billed by some as a super-hero story, it had elements of that genre while also, to some extent, questioning its assumptions. Reading it, I found that the book seemed interested in questions of morality, heroism, and villainy, but that the super-hero aspects were so attenuated I doubt it would have occurred to me to consider it as a super-hero story without the claims of the book jacket. Its handling of ideas of heroism felt like a reiteration of themes comics (Marvel, DC, and independent) have been interrogating relentlessly (if not neurotically) for at least thirty years. In some ways, it’s best to simply ignore the ‘super-hero’ tag. If you do, you’re left with a well-paced and sharply-structured novel. And on its own terms, it’s an enjoyable tale.

The book alternates between present-day scenes and flashbacks, and a large part of the success of the novel rests in the fact that Schwab successfully pulls off this technical trick without blunting her momentum. Ten years ago, Victor Vale and Eli Cardale (later Eli Ever) are brilliant pre-med students who discover that near-death experiences can, under certain circumstances, grant survivors strange powers. They experiment, things go wrong, and while they both get powers, they end up as enemies. Now, in the present, Victor’s gotten out of prison, recruited some assistants, and is seeking out Eli — who himself has been up to some surprising things in the previous years, having come to hate the extraordinary people (or EOs) gifted with powers.

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io9 Looks at the Megadungeon

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Temple of Elemental EvilOver at io9, Ed Grabianowski has posted a thoughtful survey of that underappreciated RPG stable, the megadungeon.

He covers many of the essentials — including The Temple of Elemental Evil, Undermountain, and Castle Greyhawk — and throws in a few clever suggestions I hadn’t thought of (such as the Death Star and Minecraft.) He here is on the modern classic Blackreach:

Blackreach is a signature location in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. It’s semi-abandoned underground city filled with eerily beautiful glowing mushrooms, strange ruins, rare plants and other oddities. The first time you delve into Blackreach, you can’t help but be a bit awestruck. The silence down there is intense, creating a tension and wonder I’ve rarely experienced in video games. Blackreach itself is massive, but to get to it you actually have to work your way down through another dungeon, a Dwemer ruin. And Blackreach is actually connected to three of these dungeons, so there’s no doubt it’s worthy of the “mega” appellation.

As thorough as he is, there’s plenty left over for folks in the comments section to add, including the epic Rappan Athuk, Dragon Mountain, Judges Guild’s early classic Tegel Manor, Arduin Dungeon, Ultima Underworld, and many others.

I’m disappointed that so far no one has mentioned a few of my favorites, including Monte Cook’s massive (and now extremely hard to find) Ptolus, Gygax’s Castle Zagyg modules, AEG’s ridiculously oversized World’s Largest Dungeon, and Goodman Games’ massive Castle Whiterock. Ah well. Who would have thought the market would be crowded with megadungeons?

You can read Ed’s complete io9 article here.


Writers – Don’t Start at the Start…

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Block_TellingLiesChapter 25 of Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (which should be on EVERY writer’s bookshelf) is titled, ‘First Things Second.’ As he succinctly summarizes (nice but unneeded alliteration there), “Don’t begin at the beginning.”

It’s a popular screenwriting maxim to enter the scene as late as you can. In other words, don’t begin at the beginning. I seem to recall William Goldman espousing this.

Block tells of being advised to switch the first two chapters of a detective novel he had written. Basically, this put the reader in the thick of the action from the outset, with some explanation following. Tension can be created at the outset and carried forward by not beginning at the beginning.

Sitting here at the keyboard, I can’t think offhand of a Sherlock Holmes or Solar Pons story that uses this technique. There’s a reason we’ve all got the image of Holmes and Watson sitting in their rooms at 221B Baker Street when a client or Inspector Lestrade comes to visit and we’re off on a case.

As I read this chapter, I thought of Will Thomas’s Barker and Llewlyn books (love them, but what’s with the two “L”s at the beginning of that name?). Barker has more than a passing resemblance to Sherlock Holmes (I suspect that Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal owes a debt to these books) and Llewellyn is his Watson (or Boswell). Mind you, they are excellent books and not simply Holmes copies.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in March

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Pictures for Sad ChildrenYou Black Gate peeps sure are a reliable bunch. You love vintage fantasy paperbacks, 80s horror movies, and gaming news, and with a noble passion. But you know what you really crave? Tales of People Behaving Badly, that’s what. Figures.

And thus we find that the #1 article on the Black Gate blog last month was our report on John Campbell’s ugly KickStarter implosion, a sad tale of comics, hubris, and book-burning. (It was my favorite, too. I’m not throwing stones.)

Things got a little more wholesome (sort of) with our #2 article, M. Harold Page’s “What’s the Point of Steampunk?” (You remember. The one with the line, “WHAT WAS THAT, SIR? I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THE SOUND OF MY ZEPPELIN ENGINES.”)

Moving on, we find that Derek Kunsken’s interview with comic wunderkind’s Mirror Comics was the third most-read post for the month, followed by Bob Byrne’s opening post in his popular new blog series, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes. Rounding out the Top Five was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s look at a forgotten Lin Carter novel, Kellory the Warlock (forgotten by everyone but Black Gate readers, apparently).

The complete Top 50 Black Gate posts in March were:

  1. Another Crowdfunding Fail: John Campbell Self-Destructs on Kickstarter
  2. What’s the Point of Steampunk?
  3. Rising Star Indie Publisher Mirror Comics on their Weird Western Mission Arizona
  4. The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes
  5. His Name is Vengeance: Kellory the Warlock by Lin Carter
  6. Read More »


Something Unspeakable Has Come Home: 1972’s Deathdream Revisited

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Andy_at_the_Drive-In-smallOne of the most enduring tales in all horror literature is W.W. Jacobs’s classic 1902 shocker, “The Monkey’s Paw,” in which a father acquires a magic talisman (the paw) from a soldier home from service in India. The paw supposedly grants three wishes — wishes that of course come at a price. Not really believing that it will work, the father wishes for two hundred pounds to pay off his house. The next day, his son is killed (“caught in the machinery”) at the factory where he works and in compensation, the company presents the family with…two hundred pounds.

Some days later, after her boy has been buried, the grief-blinded mother realizes that they’ve only used one wish, and compels the appalled father to use the paw to wish their son alive again. A short time later, they hear a soft knocking at the door, knocking that quickly grows into a deafening fusillade as whatever it is that waits outside the bolted door furiously tries to gain entry. While the ecstatic mother fumbles with the bolt, the terrified father, imagining the mangled horror outside, uses the paw for one last wish. When the door finally swings open, there is nothing there — “The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.”

This powerful tale has been adapted many times over the decades, for stage and radio, for television and movies, and for comics, and it has additionally inspired many stories and films that are not direct adaptations; of these Stephen King’s 1983 novel Pet Semetary may be the most well known. Another example, not nearly as well known as it deserves, is the 1972 low-budget horror film, Deathdream.

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A World Mottled With Decay: The Throne of Bones by Brian McNaughton

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

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For all their laughter, ghouls are a dull lot. Hunger is the fire in which they burn, and it burns hotter than the hunger for power over men or for the knowledge of the gods in a crazed mortal. It vaporizes delicacy and leaves behind a only a slag of anger and lust. They see their fellows as impediments to feeding, to be mauled and shrieked at when the mourners go home.
— from “Meryphillia”

The late Brian McNaughton’s 1997 collection The Throne of Bones is a book I want to on one hand praise and with the other hold it away from myself with a pair of iron tongs. It contains some of the best writing I have ever read in fantasy; by turns tense, dark, grimly funny, and occasionally majestic. And it’s set in a vivid world, parts of which will haunt me for a long time.

On the other hand, many of the characters are by far the most despicable I’ve ever met and their actions among the vilest put to paper. Lots of the characters’ actions are motivated by sexual appetites that are many things — mostly disturbing — but never even remotely erotic. So if this review leaves you curious about McNaughton’s work, be warned: while it’s not sadistic or very frightening, it is strong stuff.

The Throne of Bones contains nine short stories and the novella, “Throne of Bones” itself composed of six intricately intertwined stories. They are set within and on the edges of an old empire slipping into decay: crumbling cities, clashing religious sects, and feuding noble clans. The rich and powerful lead lives of luxury, while the poor live in squalor. Between them a small middle class live in dual fear of the nobility and of falling into poverty.

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OMG! Immortal Immodesty (Deities and Demigods, Part 3)

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Whoops! The Goddess of Pain has had a wardrobe malfunction!

Whoops! The Maiden of Pain has had a wardrobe malfunction!

In my ongoing exploration of TSR’s first edition Deities and Demigods (1980), I must now confront the mammary in the room.

Did you ever notice there’s a fair amount of nudity in those first generation ADD books? I’m just, um, wondering if you guys did. I mean, I didn’t. I just noticed. Someone pointed it out to me — yeah! That’s the ticket! When I was twelve years old, I was much too pious to have had any impure thoughts toward Loviatar, aka Goddess of Hurt aka “Maiden of Pain.”

Okay, I may have noticed in passing that there was less modesty in those ‘70s and early ‘80s realms of fantasy, whereas with second edition on there is nary a nipple to be noticed. The cleaning up happened before the Wizards of the Coast buy-out and seems to track pretty closely with the culture in general (note many PG movies from the same era — say, the original Clash of the Titans — that couldn’t be shown on basic cable these days without heavy editing to assure that preteens aren’t sullied by viewing bare human breasts and buttocks, which they have never seen because who ever heard of the Internet?).

The interior illustrations are gorgeous. This is old-school RPG, so it’s all black-and-white line art by the likes of Erol Otus, David S. LaForce, Jim Roslof, and David C. Sutherland III.

To undress, er, address the tempestuous topic of topless deities in the temples, I must confess that, as an adolescent, I did appreciate the fact that goddesses by and large disdained mortal-kind’s prudery when it came to attire. It’s stunning, really, how many goddesses not only do not cover up their breastesses, but wear outfits that positively accentuate them.

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Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Avenger, Together Again: The Vril Agenda by Derrick Ferguson and Josh Reynolds

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Vril Agenda-smallOne of the first things I did when I landed at the Windy City Pulp and Paper show on Friday was make a beeline for the Airship 27 booth.

Time is finite and the Windy City Dealer’s room is vast, and to make sure you get the treasures you really want, it helps to be a little determined. The treasures I really wanted this year included B.C. Bell’s 1930’s pulp vigilante novel, Tales of the Bagman, which I wrote about enthusiastically in my report on last year’s show, and Jim Beard’s supernatural detective collection, Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker — both of which are published by Airship 27Plus, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to look over their whole table, since it’s always piled high with a tantalizing array of new titles.

As proprietor Ron Fortier happily sold me those two volumes, I casually mentioned that I’d first heard of Sgt. Janus via Josh Reynolds’s splendid Nightmare Men column, published at the fabulous Black Gate website… which, coincidentally, I happened to run, did I mention? Without missing a beat, Ron pointed out one of the many titles on his table, saying, “Josh is a terrific guy. That’s his latest book, a new pulp adventure, right there.”

I was suitably astounded. Here I was, trying to impress Ron by name-dropping Josh Reynolds, and he was able to produce a novel I didn’t even know existed! I know when I’ve been one-upped. Besides, I’ve known Josh as a terrific writer for years, so it was a thrill to discover he’d written a pulp adventure novel.

The Vril Agenda was co-written by Derrick Ferguson, author of Dillon and the Voice of Odin. Derrick does a terrific job of relating how the book came about on his blog and I think I’ll turn it over to him:

It got into my melon of a head a particular obsession to have Dillon be trained in various disciplines by the great pulp champions of the past. Since Dillon is a spiritual son of those heroes, I always thought it would be a gas for him to seek out some of these men and women to learn what they know…  Of course I knew I couldn’t use The Big Three by name. I’m talking about Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Avenger. But I could allude to them…

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The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in March

Monday, April 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Steven H SilverSteven H Silver’s tale of the strange astral adventures of Hoggar the Cremator, “The Cremator’s Tale,” surged to the top of our fiction charts in March.

Second on the list was Jason E. Thummel’s fast-paced story of a skilled swordsman caught up in a web of treachery in a decadent city, “The Duelist.”

Joe Bonadonna’s sword & sorcery tale, “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” a perennial favorite, claimed the #3 spot.

Martha Wells’s complete novel, the Nebula-nominee The Death of the Necromancer, came in fourth, and Michael Shea’s novelette of Lovecraftian horror, “Tsathoggua,” rounded out the Top Five.

Also making the list were exciting stories by C.S.E. Cooney, Peter Cakebread, Janet Morris and Chris Morris, E.E. Knight, Aaron Bradford Starr, Mark Rigney, John C. Hocking, Jon Sprunk, Harry Connolly, Tara Cardinal and Alex Bledsoe, John R. Fultz, Dave Gross, Jamie McEwan, Mike Allen, and Ryan Harvey.

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 March.

  1. The Cremator’s Tale” by Steven H Silver
  2. The Duelist,” by Jason E. Thummel
  3. The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” by Joe Bonadonna
  4. The Death of the Necromancer, a complete novel by Martha Wells
  5. Tsathoggua,” by Michael Shea
  6. Godmother Lizard” by C.S.E. Cooney
  7. An excerpt from The Alchemists Revenge by Peter Cakebread
  8. An excerpt from The Sacred Band by Janet Morris and Chris Morris
  9. The Terror in the Vale,” by E.E. Knight
  10. The Sealord’s Successor,” by Aaron Bradford Starr
  11. Read More »


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Science Fictional Humphrey Bogart

Monday, April 28th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ReturnX_PosterInto the nineteen fifties, Hollywood operated under the studio system. A few major movie studios owned both the production and distribution channels and dominated the industry.

They cranked out “B” pictures to provide product to support the “A” films and keep the theaters they owned filled.

Actors, especially non-stars, made several films a year, either appearing higher in the credits on B films or as supporting actors in A movies. Those actors had very little power in the system as well.

In 1936, Humphrey Bogart (who had already twice failed to stick in Hollywood) received his first critical acclaim for The Petrified Forest, in which he recreated his Broadway role as gangster Duke Mantee.

He would really strike it big in 1941, first with  High Sierra, and then The Maltese Falcon  (if you haven’t seen this one,  rent it tonight and then leave an apology comment on this post for waiting so long). In the five years between Forest and Sierra, he appeared in twenty-nine films: most not as the star.

Bogart famously said, “I made more lousy pictures than any actor in history.” This was because Warner Brothers tossed him into every low budget B movie they could.

Sometimes it was so bad that he refused the part, which then got him suspended without pay. That’s why you see Dennis Morgan and not Bogie in the awful western, Bad Men of Missouri (with Wayne Morris starring – see below).

Bogie, in a career with over eighty credits and possibly the greatest star in film history, made only one horror/science fiction movie. And he considered it one of his worst. He’s got a point.

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