New Treasures: Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood

Monday, June 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Shield and Crocus-smallI used to tell folks submitting to Black Gate that the easiest way to grab my attention was with a unique setting. Writers — especially beginning writers — make greats efforts to impress with prose and plot, but very few seem to have the ability to imagine some place other than Middle Earth or a tavern in a D&D game.

It’s the same when I’m choosing a new novel. It’s the ones with the most imaginative settings that really win me over. And Michael R. Underwood’s Shield and Crocus — set in a city built on the bones of a fallen giant, ruled by five criminal tyrants — has by far the most intriguing setting I’ve come across this year.

The city of Audec-Hal sits among the bones of a Titan. For decades it has suffered under the dominance of five tyrants, all with their own agendas. Their infighting is nothing, though, compared to the mysterious “Spark-storms” that alternate between razing the land and bestowing the citizens with wild, unpredictable abilities. It was one of these storms that gave First Sentinel, leader of the revolutionaries known as the Shields of Audec-Hal, power to control the emotional connections between people — a power that cost him the love of his life.

Now, with nothing left to lose, First Sentinel and the Shields are the only resistance against the city’s overlords as they strive to free themselves from the clutches of evil. The only thing they have going for them is that the crime lords are fighting each other as well — that is, until the tyrants agree to a summit that will permanently divide the city and cement their rule of Audec-Hal.

It’s one thing to take a stand against oppression, but with the odds stacked against the Shields, it’s another thing to actually triumph.

In this stunning, original tale of magic and revolution, Michael R. Underwood creates a cityscape that rivals Ambergris and New Crobuzon in its depth and populates it with heroes and villains that will stay with you forever.

Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy and Celebromancy. I was much impressed with his reading at Wiscon 2012. He was also the North American Sales Manager for Angry Robot Books (in which capacity he’s sold me a book or two.)

Shield and Crocus was published by 47North on June 10, 2014. It is 416 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and just $4.99 for the digital edition.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Crimes Club

Monday, June 30th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Doyle with Harry Houdini

Violette Malan wrote a post about Isaac Asimov’s Black Widower mysteries. These were stories about a group of men, members of a private club, who met monthly and tried to solve a guest’s mystery.

The Black Widowers were based on a real-life group that Asimov was a member of, The Trap Door Spiders. Founded by science-fiction author Fletcher Pratt, I believe that the roots go even deeper and can be traced back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Name That Crime – In December of 1903, six men met for lunch at the Carlton Club in London. That meal was the genesis for the formation the following year of Our Society, better known as The Crimes Club. The founding members, including Doyle, met at London’s Grand Central Hotel on July 17, 1904 for a dinner.

The Crimes Club would meet three or four times annually on a Sunday evening. After dinner, a member and/or a guest would give a talk about a celebrated crime, recent or historical, and the members would discuss and debate it, likely over drinks and cigars. Often, lawyers who had been involved in the case would provide inside information.

Doyle was pleased with the opportunity to hear what had happened to persons in the famous cases, as well as to see trial exhibits and even handle actual evidence.

Such items included strychnine pills found on convicted poisoner Dr. Thomas Neill Cream when he was arrested and bones from the right arm of the Radcliffe Highway Murderer, John Williams.

Williams’s burial site had been dug up when a water main was being laid in 1910. Club member George Sims saw a unique opportunity and grabbed the bones!

And of course, they talked about Saucy Jack: Jack the Ripper!

Read More »


Sunday, June 29th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

MedeaLately in this space I seem to be writing a lot, one way or another, about worldbuilding. As it happens, I also read a book not long ago which both imagines a detailed science-fictional world and determinedly lifts the curtain on the group act of creation that generated the world. The book is Medea: Harlan’s World, and there are some interesting things to take away from it — not just ideas about worldbuilding, either.

Medea is in the lineage of shared-world books, though Ellison, who has expressed disdain for shared worlds, would likely dispute that; at any rate, it was originally conceived in 1975, but not published as a whole until 1985, so was imagined before Thieves’ World or Wild Cards or Liavek, before the articulation of the ‘shared world’ as a specific kind of endeavour. Perhaps ironically, Medea would spawn a kind of conceptual sequel, Murasaki, edited by Robert Silverberg, one of the participants in the Medea collaboration. Medea‘s an anthology of stories by different writers, all set on what is notionally the same science-fictional planet. Many of the individual stories were highly praised. Ellison’s “With Virgil Oddum at the East Pole” was selected for inclusion in The 1986 Annual World’s Best SF; Larry Niven’s “Flare Time” placed ninth in that year’s Locus poll for best novella; Frederik Pohl’s “Swanilda’s Song” placed fourth in the novelette category; Poul Anderson’s “Hunter’s Moon” won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. Whether they work well together is in the eye of the beholder.

It doesn’t much read like the typical shared-world anthology. Ellison’s quite specific about that in his introduction, where he describes an editorial process that gladly welcomed individual takes on the basic concepts of the fictional world, even encouraging contradictions between stories: “Not only do I admit to the contradictions in these yarns, I champion them!” It probably does help give the book an idiosyncrasy unlike many shared worlds; the problem, I found, was that the individual stories were of varying quality (as one would expect of an anthology), none were really excellent, and they didn’t seem collectively to create a real unity out of the book. Then again, I also thought Medea as a whole was well worth reading for the extensive look at the creative process behind the making of the fictional world, and indeed for the look it gives us at a specifically science-fictional kind of creativity.

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Future Treasures: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

Sunday, June 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

sword-of-the-bright-lady-mc-planck-smallM.C. Planck is the author of The Kassa Gambit, an SF novel released in hardcover by Tor last year. For his second novel, he turns to fantasy, with the tale of a mechanical engineer transported to a world in midst of an eternal war.

Christopher Sinclair goes out for a walk on a mild Arizona evening and never comes back. He stumbles into a freezing winter under an impossible night sky, where magic is real — but bought at a terrible price.

A misplaced act of decency lands him in a brawl with an arrogant nobleman and puts him under a death sentence. In desperation he agrees to be drafted into an eternal war, serving as a priest of the Bright Lady, Goddess of Healing. But when Marcius, god of war, offers the only hope of a way home to his wife, Christopher pledges to him instead, plunging the church into turmoil and setting him on a path of violence and notoriety.

To win enough power to open a path home, this mild-mannered mechanical engineer must survive duelists, assassins, and the never-ending threat of monsters, with only his makeshift technology to compete with swords and magic.

But the gods and demons have other plans. Christopher’s fate will save the world… or destroy it.

Sword of the Bright Lady is the first novel of World of Prime. The conceit of a contemporary hero transported into a fantasy world isn’t used as much as it used to be — obvious examples are John Carter of Mars, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame novels — but I still find it an interesting one.

Sword of the Bright Lady will be published by Pyr Books on September 9, 2014. It is 440 pages, priced at $18 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition.

The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in May

Sunday, June 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

GodzillaMillenniumIt was all about the king of monsters at the Black Gate blog last month.

Ryan Harvey’s Godzilla review was our top article in May. His mammoth 5-part history of the Big Guy was also picked up by Boing-Boing, among other places, exposing the series to thousands of new readers; the final installment came in at #3 for the month. If you visited the site last month and read nothing but Godzilla articles, you weren’t the only one.

My analysis of John C. Wright’s conservative manifesto “Heinlein, Hugos, and Hogwash,” and the frequently hilarious response in the blogosphere, was our second most read article last month. Garrett Calcaterra’s well-researched “Can SF Save the World From Climate Change?” came in at #4.

Rounding out the Top Five was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s warm appreciation of Keith Taylor’s sword & sorcery classic, Bard.

The complete Top 50 Black Gate posts in May were:

  1. Godzilla (2014) Is a True Godzilla Film and a Unique Blockbuster
  2. A Ride Along with the Thought Police: John C. Wright, Foz Meadows, and Rachel Aaron
  3. A History of Godzilla on Film, Part 5: The Travesty and the Millennium Era (1996–2004)
  4. Can SF Save the World From Climate Change?
  5. A Perfect Artifact from the Glory Days of 1970s Swords & Sorcery: Keith Taylor’s Bard
  6. Read More »

July/August Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction now on Sale

Saturday, June 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine July-August 2014-smallHoly cats! C.C. (Charles) Finlay is the guest editor of the July/August issue of F&SF.

How did this happen? Did Charles win some kind of contest? Did he travel back in time and convince regular editor Gordon van Gelder that the previously-planned July/August issue would lead to an apocalyptic future timeline? Was he selected in a process of elimination from a group of a dozen contestants in a grueling and deadly contest of wills?

Nah. Gordon asked him to do it, and Charles said, “Sure.”

Here’s how Charles says it went down on his blog:

About 13 years ago, I made my first short story sale… it was to Fantasy and Science Fiction – the magazine that published writers I grew up with, like Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Stephen King. That was a rush. Nothing since – not award nominations, not other short story sales, not book sales – has been quite as exciting as that first sale.

Until now.

I’ve wanted to try editing for a while. Maybe it’s all the workshopping I’ve done, the excitement of seeing a great story for the first time before anyone else gets to read it. Maybe it’s the time I’ve spent as resident editor at the Online Writing Workshops… So when F&SF publisher Gordon Van Gelder asked me if I was interested in guest editing an issue of his magazine, I immediately said “Yes.”

Actually, I think I said “HELL YES.”

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A New Literary Fantasy Magazine: A Review of Lackington’s #1

Saturday, June 28th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Issue 1 CoverI live in Ottawa, Canada and despite being up to my eyeballs in the sci-fi and fantasy and geek scenes, I’m still caught flat-footed by the talent this city seems to pack in the woodwork.

I’ve blogged previously about our science fiction publisher Bundoran Press, our indie comic publisher Mirror Comics, and a couple of our writers like Geoff Gander, module-writer extraordinaire, and novelist Robin Riopelle.

This week, I was surprised by editor Ranylt Richildis, who, apparently not content with co-editing an amazing dark fantasy and horror anthology series called Post-Scripts to Darkness, decided to launch a new online magazine.

Richildis details Lackington’s very clear editorial vision in the foreword to the debut issue, where she quickly establishes how important storytelling rules are before eviscerating that concept and planting her flag on the goal that Lackington’s provides something different to the world. The territory she’s staking out is overtly literary, poetry in prose.

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New Treasures: Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

Saturday, June 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Tower Lord-smallI have a pretty standard routine when I wander the aisles at book stores. It goes like this.

  1. Find a great book I want to read immediately.
  2. Discover it’s the second installment in a series.

Seriously. Happens every time. Most recently, it happened with Anthony Ryan’s second novel Tower Lord, which drew me in with the title alone (Wait, Tower Lord? Like some guy with no kingdom, just a kick-ass tower? That rocks!) What can I tell you, I’m a man with simple needs.

Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, called Darkblade, called Hope Killer. The greatest warrior of his day, and witness to the greatest defeat of his nation: King Janus’s vision of a Greater Unified Realm drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause Vaelin alone knows was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, he comes home, determined to kill no more. Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Janus’s grateful heir, he can perhaps find peace in a colder, more remote land far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm.

But those gifted with the blood-song are never destined to live a quiet life. Many died in King Janus’s wars, but many survived, and Vaelin is a target, not just for those seeking revenge but for those who know what he can do. The Faith has been sundered, and many have no doubt who their leader should be. The new King is weak, but his sister is strong. The blood-song is powerful, rich in warning and guidance in times of trouble, but is only a fraction of the power available to others who understand more of its mysteries. Something moves against the Realm, something that commands mighty forces, and Vaelin will find to his great regret that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.

Yup, yup, Darkblades, realms in chaos, weird magic. Whatever. They had me at “Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches.” I’ve been blindly seeking the wrong material possessions my entire life. I don’t even remember what I wanted before I saw this book. All I want now is to be a Tower Lord. I could have my own zip code.

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Evidence of a Higher Power at Work: Pacific Rim 2 Gets a 2017 Release Date

Friday, June 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Pacific Rim is too good for you-smallPhilosophers and scientists search for God using logic and telescopes, while evidence of the divine at work in their daily lives escapes them. Me, I look for God in the Hollywood press. Certainly no truly loving deity would allow Pacific Rim, the best film of 2013, to wither away without a sequel.

And lo is my diligence and faith rewarded. BuzzFeed reports this morning that Pacific Rim 2 will arrive in theaters April 7, 2017. Here’s Director Guillermo del Toro:

The characters I love will return… Raleigh, Mako, Newt, Gottlieb and who knows, maybe even Hannibal Chau – but we are taking them into a fresh territory that will display amazing sights and battles. The first film set the stage and now we’re ready to have a blast.

Del Toro is currently wrapping up production on Crimson Peak and his upcoming TV series The Strain. Box Office Mojo reports the first Pacific Rim earned over $411 million (against a budget of $190 million), by far the biggest hit of Del Toro’s career, but a sequel was by no means a sure thing — especially considering the relatively anemic domestic box office ($101 million.)

This is the best news of the week — especially for my son Drew, who’s a huge Pacific Rim fan. If you haven’t seen the first film yet, I urge you to get the Blu Ray edition, cook up a big bucket of popcorn, and settle in for a joyous two hours of giant-robot-versus-mega-monster mayhem. (And be sure to turn the speakers WAY UP.) Read Ryan Harvey’s deliriously happy Black Gate review “Pacific Rim Loves You. Love It Back” here, and the complete BuzzFeed article here. (Thanks to for the tip!)

Heroes and Antiheroes

Friday, June 27th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Kerdark grabs a chance at the original Black Company cover

Kerdark grabs a chance at the original Black Company cover

We’re all familiar with heroes. They claim the central role in most fantasy stories. They are, well, heroic — usually noble, brave, and good. They are often the kind of people we wish we could be in real life. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America are iconic heroes. So is Luke Skywalker. The good guys.

Antiheroes are also the leading characters in their stories, but they lack some (or all) of those traditional heroic traits. They have flawed personalities. The new Dark Knight and Wolverine are comic book antiheroes. In Star Wars, Han Solo is the antihero, always looking out for himself (until he finds love and changes his ways).

In fantasy, we have been treated to a plethora of both kinds of heroes. For every Conan, there is an Elric of Melnibone. For every Rand al’thor, there is a Thomas Covenant. Heck, The Black Company by Glen Cook features antiheroes almost exclusively.

When I begin preparing to write a new book, one of the first things I do is decide who my main character will be. In that process, I work out whether I’m going to feature a hero or an antihero. And it’s a big decision. Massive, in fact, because it affects every other aspect of the story.

The main character in Shadow’s Son is an assassin. I gave him some heroic traits—physical courage and stamina — but he’s not a nice guy. Instead of brooding about his life as a professional killer, he accepts it. As a result, we see more of the underbelly of society in that series, from Caim’s perspective.

Whereas if I had chosen an idealistic young knight or captain of the guard as the main character, the entire series would have been portrayed in a different light. Indeed, in the later books I use just such a character (Josephine) as a counter-balance to Caim’s story.

So which is better, the hero or antihero?

Read More »

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