The Editor As Author: Donald A. Wollheim’s The Secret of the Ninth Planet

Friday, June 27th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Wollheim2As a publisher and editor, Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990) is arguably the most important single figure in the 20th-century SF and Fantasy community. SF in paperback? SF anthologies? He started them – including The Pocket Book of Science Fiction, the first book with the words “science fiction” in the title.

Aside: for those who don’t already know, what we now call a “paperback,” used to be called a “pocket book.”

As the editor at Avon (1947-1951), he was responsible for introducing the likes of Lovecraft and Lewis to the mass market. At Ace Books (1952-1971), he created the now legendary Ace Doubles, reintroduced then out-of-print writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, and bought the paperback rights to Dune.

He was also responsible for bringing Lord of the Rings to paperback, and thus launching, however controversially, the modern Fantasy publishing world. It’s not my intention to discuss the controversy right now, but you can get a good look at both sides of it here and here.

Considering all this, it’s not surprising that Wollheim isn’t well known as an author – and a fairly prolific one if you remember that he also wrote under seven pseudonyms. So today I’d like to introduce you to The Secret of the Ninth Planet.

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Three – The Black Gang

Friday, June 27th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

2940011937965_p0_v1_s260x420BD02-Cover-01The most striking feature of the second Bulldog Drummond thriller by Sapper is the near complete removal of humor from the proceedings compared with the frequent light touch demonstrated with the initial book in the series. There is also precious little mention of the First World War, which was such an important factor in the first book, as the focus here is much more on the reaction against the Russian Revolution and the fear of a similar Communist uprising occurring in Britain during the early 1920s. Once more the influence of Edgar Wallace’s Four Just Men series is strongly felt, particularly in the first half of the book, where the Black Gang are featured anonymously with no mention of their true identities.

Many critics label this second entry in the long-running series as fascist. I suppose that is an understandable reaction to a vigilante storyline in which it is suggested Britain would benefit from modifying freedom of speech to deny protection to political radicals. The Black Gang is very much a Machiavellian work, but one which seeks to restore order at its conclusion by having Hugh Drummond agree to dismantle the Black Gang and let the law sit in judgment over criminals going forward. Of course with such a finale as this, one wonders why Sapper bothered to take the proceedings to such an extreme in the first place.

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Goth Chick News: A Review of The Heavens Rise

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Christopher Rice The Heavens Rise-smallIn May, the 2013 Bram Stoker award-winners were announced, creating a nice summer reading list for us genre enthusiasts. The Bram Stoker Awards were instituted in 1987 by the Horror Writers Association and cover eleven literary categories, recognizing “superior achievement” in dark fantasy and horror writing.

Though he didn’t ultimately win the category “Superior Achievement in a Novel” in which he was a finalist, Christopher Rice’s work The Heavens Rise piqued my interest. I’ve been keeping an eye on Rice since his first novel A Density of Souls appeared back in 2000. He has since published three other New York Times bestselling thrillers, and if his name rings a bell, it’s because he is the son of legendary vampire chronicler Anne Rice.

Honestly, until this year I hadn’t actually read any of Rice’s works end-to-end. I tried because I wanted to like him, probably due to spending so many hours with his mom’s books. But like many new, young authors finding their story-telling voices (Rice first published at 22 years of age), he often went over the top with his characters and plot lines.

He hadn’t yet learned to trust his readers, and allow their imaginations to immerse them in the story and fill in the tiny details. Instead, I found Rice’s self-indulgence, generalizations, and in-your-face descriptions made me feel like I was riding along on a story he was telling himself, rather than pulling me into a tale he was telling me.

The Heavens Rise marks a different direction for Rice. It’s his first foray into supernatural suspense. Perhaps because it is difficult to over-describe something you’ve never witnessed, his writing style has shown a marked evolution, helped along no doubt by interaction with his audience via his blog and weekly radio show. The upshot is that his style has become more confident and more interactive, which means it was time for me to tuck in and read one of his tales cover to cover.

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io9 on The 20 Most WTF Magical Items in Dungeons & Dragons

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Magic potion-smallOver at i09, Rob Bricken takes a hilarious look at some of the goofiest magic items in Dungeons & Dragons, including the infamous Wand of Wonder, the Bowl of Watery Death, and the Robe of Vermin.

Here he is on the Druid’s Yoke:

If you’re in a D&D campaign where you need to do any kind of farming, you have bigger problems than any magical item can fix. But this yoke allows characters to — when they put it on themselves — turn into an ox. Not a magical ox; a regular ox. Then you can till your field yourself! You can’t do it any faster, because again, you’re just a goddamned ox, but it does allow you to… do the horrible manual labor… instead of the animal you’ve bred for this exact purpose. So that’s… something someone would totally want. The best part? Once you’ve put it on, you can’t take the yoke off; someone else has to do it for you. Because you’re a goddamned ox.

I think he’s reaching pretty far afield for some of these items, because I sure as hell don’t recall a Druid’s Yoke or Crystal Parrot in the Dungeon Masters Guide (or Unearthed Arcana, for that matter). Since he doesn’t cite any references, it’s entirely possible he’s making half of them up. (I mean… the Brooch of Number Numbing? That’s gotta be from an April 1 issue of Dragon or something, right?)

In any event, the article is well worth a read. Check it out here.

Vintage Treasures: Stephen E. Fabian’s Ladies & Legends

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Stephen Fabian Ladies and Legends-thumbI brought home two boxes of treasures from the 2014 Windy City Pulp & Paper show in April. I’ve been very happy with my various finds, which included a rich assortment of eye-catching pulps, vintage paperbacks, classic anthologies, and hard-to-find fanzines and magazines. I’ve covered some of the more interesting items here in the past few months.

But I’ve saved the best for the last: a luscious collection of black and white artwork from one of my all-time favorite artists, Stephen E. Fabian.

A few years ago, Scott Taylor asked me to provide my list of nominees for his Top 10 Fantasy Artists of the Past 100 Years and I had Fabian right near the top, along with Wally Wood and Al Williamson. (None of those three made the list. Go figure.)

Stephen Fabian is one of the great craftsmen in all of fantasy. It’s not merely his command of the medium and his consummate technical skill… his art is genuinely beautiful (a characteristic I frequently find lacking with some of his contemporaries). Fabian has an unerring eye for composition, perfectly positioning his knights, mermaids, and grave robbers among moonlit ruins, floating fairy castles, and more imaginative settings.

He’s equally at home with humor, action, and horror, and all are on display in Stephen E. Fabian’s Ladies & Legends. He’s frequently at his best with pen and ink drawings, as he is here. This is a gorgeous book and, like the best fantasy artwork, it will set your imagination soaring.

Warning — some adult content ahead.

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“Gamera Is Really Neat!” (Sometimes): The Classic Gamera Series on Blu-ray

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Gamera two disc setThe Japanese giant monster world of the 1960s and early ‘70s was about more than Godzilla. It was also about the Frankenstein Monster, dueling Frankenstein Monsters (a.k.a. “Gargantuas”), wrathful stone idols, burrowing Boston Terrier lizards, alien saucer-headed chicken thingies, King Kong, a robot King Kong, huge squids and crabs, Atlantean dragon-gods, and a gratuitous giant walrus.

Mixed up in there was a flying turtle who was the friend to all children, Gamera. This airborne Chelonia somehow managed to sustain a seven-film franchise during the Golden Age (plus a strange one-off in 1980), making it the most successful monster after Godzilla, and the only giant monster from a studio other than Toho to make a large impression on audiences outside its home country.

Gamera is Godzilla’s poor stepchild/competitor, but the spinning turtle has leaped into the Blu-ray ring right along with the recent influx of Godzilla films as part of the release of the U.S. Godzilla. Reaching North American shelves a month before Godzilla stormed onto screens, all eight of the Gamera films from 1965–80 are available courtesy of Mill Creek on two separate releases, presented in their original Japanese language soundtracks. Now people with little acquaintance with Gamera, outside of memories of watching the AIP television versions in the late ‘70s and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing episodes, can witness all the full weirdness of this uniquely strange/wonderful/awful region of kaiju cinema.

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Any Black Gate Readers or Bloggers Going to Worldcon in London This Summer?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

LONCON3_logo_270wUm… what the title said. This will be my first Worldcon and I’d love to meet up with other Black Gate readers and writers.

I’ll be attending the entire con and sitting on a few panels, too.

Drop me a line in the comments section and let’s get something organized!

Dodging Molten Rock and High Voltage: The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Chapter Six: Lens of Death

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

lens of death lobby card-smallCongratulations on squeezing a dime out of your notoriously stingy dad, and successfully ditching your twerpy kid brother on the way to the show. You’ve proven your worthiness and can now lean back and enjoy today’s chapter of The Adventures of Captain Marvel, “Lens of Death.” (You can’t put your feet up, not just because you’d get in trouble with the ushers, but because the floor is so sticky you’d leave your shoes behind if you tried.)

By this point, mid-way through the serial, the filmmakers know that attention spans are waning, so we’re down to a mere two title cards to catch up those who dozed through last week’s episode (which we covered here). “The Scorpion – Forces Owens to lead Billy Batson into the Harrison mine tunnel.” “Captain Marvel – Unmasks the Scorpion and finds a loud speaker concealed in a dummy.” Now say the magic name and gain the fabulous power of forgetting all the chores that are waiting for you at home!

A flashback to last week’s searing cliffhanger shows an increasingly agitated Captain Marvel trying to find a way out of the Harrison mine as the Scorpion and his stooges turn the power of the lenses on the entrance, melting the rock and sending a river of steaming lava gushing through the tunnels. Trapped, the World’s Mightiest Mortal backs against a wall, a look of dismay on his face. (Our hero certainly can’t be frightened – he just knows that it’ll be a big pain getting that tight-fisted old Shazam to pop for the bill if this costume needs to be dry-cleaned.)

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Dark of the Moon by P. C. Hodgell

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

“Just once, why can’t we have a simple crisis?”

Jame from Dark of the Moon

oie_21182141KKAZmv94P. C. Hodgell’s Dark of the Moon (1985), a swift-paced dual narrative of twins Jame and Tori Knorth, is the sequel to her awesomely-amazing-why-haven’t-you-read-it-yet first novel, God Stalk (see my Black Gate review here). Jame, heroine of the first book, is racing into the west to find her brother while Tori, High Lord of the Kencyrath, is racing south to bring his army to bear on a threat that could destroy the world.

Hodgell wrote God Stalk as an introduction for her heroine Jame and to be sure she could write a full-length novel. To ease readers into the complex and madly elaborate world of Rathilien, she set it in the deliberately Leiberesque city of Tai-Tastigon. Like Leiber’s S&S, Hodgell’s moves easily from the grim to the funny and back without dissonance in an intimately scaled, fantastical urban playground.

But Hodgell had already planned a story of vaster scope about Jame and the Kencyrath which is only hinted at in God Stalk. The Kencyrath were bound to their god in order to fight Perimal Darkness, the embodiment of evil and chaos, and had been waging that battle for millennia. The war and the consequential flight of the Kencyrath to the world of Rathilien is always lurking beneath the surface of the story, but it’s never the driving force, the focus being on Jame’s adventures and efforts to understand the true nature of the world’s gods.

With Dark of the Moon, Hodgell and Jame leap out of the familiar shallows of Tai-Tastigon and its plethora of cults, sects, and secret societies, into the depths of full-blown epic fantasy. The ages-long struggle against Perimal Darkness moves to center stage and Jame emerges as possibly the most important figure in the war.

I’ve read that some fans of God Stalk were put off by the epic scale of Jame’s new adventure. I admit that in 1985, when I first read DotM, I was a little disappointed when I realized that Tai-tastigon was fading behind her, but within a few pages Hodgell had me hooked. High in a snowy mountain pass, Jame and her companions are confronted by something like a nasty pack of wolverines, a shapechanging enemy out of legend, and wonderfully miscast magic. This book charges into motion and never lets up. This is my fifth or sixth reread of this book and it thrills every time.

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Art of the Genre: The Art of D&D is Not Right for Lankhmar [and Most Other Fiction Settings]

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Lankhmar Cover CompressI, like many folk of my age, category, and interest set, have many fond memories of Waldenbooks. I mean, as a kid there were basically two things you could be guaranteed were fun at any U.S. mall: Kay-Bee Toys and Waldenbooks. They were two oases in a desert of clothes outlets and anchor stores that your mother dragged you to on far too many occasions. Still, being able to go to those two stores somehow made it all worthwhile and I weep for the youth of today (and myself for that matter) that malls have now become all clothing & eateries, as both those wonderful chains are gone forever.

Yet I digress, as I’m writing today to speak a bit about a book I well remember purchasing at Waldenbooks back in probably 1987 (although the book’s production date is 1985). This gaming campaign setting, Lankhmar: City of Adventure, was produced by TSR after it acquired the license to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & Gray Mouser universe and it does an admirable job detailing the base game mechanics for driving a square peg (Swords & Sorcery) into a round hole (Dungeons & Dragons).

I was too young at the time to properly see this problem and simply enjoyed the game for what it was, another cool setting to have my characters visit (and more importantly steal Nehwon Throwing Daggers, which did 1D6 damage instead of the 1D4 of normal D&D daggers). This was also one of the more interesting cities designed by TSR, in that it is not only huge, but it has a series of square ‘blocks’ that are empty in the map and can be filled in by the DM to customize the city to your personal campaign.

Still, as I look at this large 95-page supplement today, I’m saddened by the thought of what could have been if this kind of development and money had been focused in the right direction. To me, Lankhmar falls well short of the mark because the world of Leiber is inherently NOT D&D, and therefore trying to statistically recreate Fafhrd & Mouser, or anyone or anything else in that universe, is going to fall dramatically short. It is for the same reason that Pete Fenlon developed Rolemaster, and thereafter Middle-Earth Role-playing, because he couldn’t play the world of Tolkien using the table-top mechanics of Gygax’s gaming opus, D&D.

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