A Strong Case That We’re Living in a Golden Age of Horror: The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Six

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Six-smallIf you haven’t heard, we’re currently in a golden age of horror fiction, especially for short story fiction.

At least that seems to be the consensus of those “in the know.” I personally don’t claim to have a comprehensive grasp of the current field. But if Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Six is any indication, I’m in strong agreement that we are indeed in a great time for short horror fiction.

If you’re not familiar with Ellen Datlow’s editorial work, where have you been? Datlow has a long list of science fiction and fantasy anthologies in her resume. But in recent years, her name is often most associated with some of the best horror anthologies around, such as Lovecraft Unbound and Supernatural Noir.

In addition, Datlow has been publishing The Best Horror of the Year series through Night Shade Books for a few years now. This year marks volume six, and I think this is probably the best one yet. This is a really terrific anthology that makes a strong case that we are definitely living in a golden horror age.

I say this alongside a clear confession of my own personal horror bias. I don’t really consider myself a die-hard horror kind of guy. I’m a huge fan of H. P. Lovecraft, T. E. D. Klein, and Laird Barron. I love that flavor of horror — the sort of “cosmic horror” that doesn’t leave you depressed, but rather hungry for more. I’m not really into splatter-punk, ghost stories, psychological horror, slasher stories, or whatever.

But even though there is a plurality of horror styles in The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Six, I find that I really love the overwhelming majority of the stories. There are just some excellent writers here who have really mastered the craft of short story horror. Let me highlight a few, and give you a sense of the different kinds of stories within.

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Robed Figures and Snake-headed Staves: Lawrence Schick on Napoleon’s Pyramids

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Napoleon's Pyramids-smallOver on his blog Of Swords and Plumes, Lawrence Schick takes a look at the Ethan Gage Adventures, a promising new historical action series from William Dietrich.

The series is set in the Napoleonic era, and is clearly modeled, at least in part, on George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels. Like Flashman, the hero is a self-described amoral rogue who gets drawn into every major fracas of his time. But Dietrich’s books are no mere homage to Fraser, as they have their own distinctive tone; Dietrich is pulpier than Fraser, and has fewer qualms about embroidering on history in the pursuit of outlandish action scenes or occult overtones.

Dietrich’s hero, Ethan Gage, is an American frontiersman, a gambler and opportunist who finds himself in Europe after attaching himself to Ben Franklin during his term as Ambassador to France. After Franklin’s return to the States Gage hangs on in Paris, playing the “Franklin’s man” card in the salons of the Revolutionary elite, charming the ladies with his tales of the American savages and doing parlor tricks with that new scientific toy, electricity.

In classic pulp fashion, Gage wins a mysterious Egyptian amulet in a game of cards, refuses to sell it to an ominous foreigner, and is soon being pursued through the Parisian night by mysterious robed figures led by a man with a snake-headed staff. That pretty much roped me in right there: equip your villain with a snake-headed staff, and I’m sold.

Lawrence’s most recent article for us was Compiling The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, on his upcoming anthology from Pegasus Books. Read his complete review of Napoleon’s Pyramids here.

Napoleon’s Pyramids was published in paperback by Harper on April 24, 2012. It is 400 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback, and just $1.99 for the digital version. The sequel is The Rosetta Key and the most recent volume, The Three Emperors, brings the series to seven volumes.

Future Treasures: Stories of the Raksura by Martha Wells

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Stories of the Raksura-smallMartha Wells’s Books of the Raksura trilogy — The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths — have captivated readers around the world. In Stories of the Raksura: Volume One: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, she returns to the world of Raksura with a pair of exciting novellas.

In “The Falling World,” Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud Court, has traveled with Chime and Balm to another Raksuran court. When she fails to return, her consort, Moon, along with Stone and a party of warriors and hunters, must track them down. Finding them turns out to be the easy part; freeing them from an ancient trap hidden in the depths of the Reaches is much more difficult.

“The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” explores the history of the Indigo Cloud Court, long before Moon was born. In the distant past, Indigo stole Cloud from Emerald Twilight. But in doing so, the reigning Queen Cerise and Indigo are now poised for a conflict that could spark war throughout all the courts of the Reaches.

Stories of Moon and the shape changers of Raksura have delighted readers for years. This world is a dangerous place full of strange mysteries, where the future can never be taken for granted and must always be fought for with wits and ingenuity, and often tooth and claw. With two brand-new novellas, Martha Wells shows that the world of the Raksura has many more stories to tell…

Read Martha’s complete Nebula-Award nominated novel The Death of the Necromancer right here at Black Gate, and her article on the Raksura series, How Well Does The Cloud Roads Fit as Sword and Sorcery?  Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two will contain two more novellas; it is not yet scheduled.

Stories of the Raksura will be published by Night Shade Books on September 2, 2014. It is 240 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and digital format.

The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in May

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Alchemist's Revenge-smallThe most-read piece of fiction on the Black Gate blog last month was our exclusive excerpt from The Alchemist’s Revenge by Peter Cakebread, the first novel from the co-author of the role playing games Airship Pirates and Clockwork & Chivalry. The first volume in the Companie of Reluctant Heroes takes place in a 17th century that didn’t quite happen, in a nation torn apart by civil war.

When an embittered mercenary agrees to escort a grieving widow to visit her husband’s grave, little does he realize the dangers they will face. This is the story of their struggle through a country divided. As they journey through tainted lands, ravaged by alchemical magic and giant clockwork war machines, they are reunited with old friends and stalked by sinister foes. The reluctant heroes band together in this tale of loss and despair, of redemption and friendship, and ultimately, of retribution and revenge!

“Stand at Dubun-Geb,” Ryan Harvey’s second tale of Ahn-Tarqa, returned to the setting of “The Sorrowless Thief,” for another heroic fantasy packed with adventure, swordplay, and weird magic. It took second place this month.

Steven H Silver’s tale of the strange astral adventures of Hoggar the Cremator, “The Cremator’s Tale,” continued its run at the top of the charts, taking third place.

Also making the list were exciting stories by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Mark Rigney, C.S.E. Cooney, Michael Shea, David Evan Harris, Aaron Bradford Starr, Joe Bonadonna, John C. Hocking, E.E. Knight, David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna, Jason E. Thummel, Jon Sprunk, John R. Fultz, Dave Gross, and Harry Connolly.

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 May.

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New Treasures: Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century Volume 2: 1948 – 1988: The Man Who Learned Better, by William H. Patterson

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Robert A Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century Volume 2-smallIn 2003, I was on a panel on classic SF and fantasy with Charles N. Brown, the esteemed editor of Locus, when the conversation turned to Robert A. Heinlein (as it does).

I don’t know much about Heinlein, really. I read a small handful of his books when I was younger, but I was never really a fan. I was more an Asimov guy. Brown however, was a dedicated Heinlein reader, and when Heinlein died in 1988, Brown famously wrote that there had never really been “the Big Three SF writers,” (meaning Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.) There had only ever been Heinlein, towering over the field.

Heinlein’s first novel, For Us, The Living, written in 1939 but unpublished until 2003, would appear later that year. I had received an advance proof, but I hadn’t read it. Brown had, however, and the book was major news. The rest of us on the panel deferred to Charles as he smoothly warmed to his topic, lecturing the assembled crowd on the importance of the novel in Heinlein scholarship, and indeed, to literature itself.

“The thing to remember,” Charles said, “is that Heinlein never intended the novel to be published –”

“Yes he did,” I said.

Charles looked startled. He seemed to have forgotten that there was anyone else on the panel. He looked around, obviously annoyed at the interruption.

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Weird of Oz Travels Ahead Three Weeks in Time, Finds Himself in New House

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

photo-4My wife and I just bought a house, so for the next couple weeks we will be moving and unpacking. Hopefully, it’s a haunted house! (But if it is, please let it be only in a benevolent way — not one of those houses where the haunt tries to turn the husband into an ax murderer or anything, or goes sucking the children into television sets. I just don’t have time for that.) The Weird of Oz — yours truly — will be taking a brief hiatus, returning with a new column on July 14.

In the meantime, I thought I’d tell you — here in my 70th post for BLACK GATE — what a pleasure it is to be a part of this team and to share, discuss, and debate with this fantastic (in all senses of the word) community. With the phenomenal growth of BG’s visitors, it is also gratifying to know that so many readers are seeing one’s output! I will continue to do my best to inform and entertain.

As for what I have in the works for future posts, I’ll be resuming my blogging of the ‘80s DC comic book Arak at some point, I promise. But there will also be book and film reviews in the mix, as well as new installments of “Collector the Barbarian”, highlighting vintage toys from our childhood that I’ve been hunting down — toys and games of the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror variety that have become collectible.

Finally, here’s a little peek into the column-writing process: these are a few “leads” I’ve typed up for potential posts, with commentary from the internal editor included…

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Meet Nero Wolfe

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Wolfe_Drawing1In 1926, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned his last Holmes tale, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman. Rex Stout, a fan of those tales, would shortly create a detective who would not only evoke memories of Holmes, but who would cast his own (gargantuan) shadow: Nero Wolfe. The seventy-four stories, written over forty-one years, would be collectively known as the Corpus, akin to the Sherlockian Canon.

Nero Wolfe lives in a New York City brownstone with Archie Goodwin, Fritz Brenner, and Theodore Horstmann. This boys’ club (Wolfe makes Holmes look like a romantic) is a self-contained unit, with Wolfe and Archie solving crimes, Fritz cooking and taking care of the household chores, and Horstmann assisting Wolfe with his hobby, the cultivation of orchids in a rooftop greenhouse.

Archie often comments on the beauty of the orchids, which is a far cry from the thoughts of General Sternwood in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep: “Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, and their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.” Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe, I guess.

Because the characters do not age, the stories all have a comfortable familiarity about them. Also, they are set contemporary to their writing, so while in a Holmes tale, it is ‘always 1895’, the Wolfe stories feel much more like modern mysteries, even though some are over seventy-five years old.

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Sage Stossel’s Starling

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

StarlingThere’s a suspicion common in genre circles when a writer or creator from ‘the mainstream’ uses genre conventions or plot points. It’s sometimes a justified suspicion, as the writer unfamiliar with genre falls into cliché or loses control of their material through inexperience with the form. But sometimes something else happens: fresh eyes can find new truths. And every so often somebody approaching a genre by starting at square one can show why the classic genre material works in the first place — and even twist that material a bit to find new life for it going forward.

I’m prompted to this reflection by reading Sage Stossel’s graphic novel Starling, an unconventional super-hero story. Stossel readily admits that she wasn’t a super-hero fan befoe starting the book. As she says:

I happened to walk past Newbury Comics in Harvard Square, and I noticed all these superhero-related materials in the window and found myself wondering why people are so into that stuff. After all, I figured, if you really think about it, being a superhero would be kind of a logistical nightmare. And it occurred to me that there might be some humor to be mined from that.

It’s an obvious idea, and it’s not wrong — just something super-hero comics have been investigating since at least the 1960s and the early Marvel Comics. Arguably it’s something underlying a lot of early DC books, as well: the tension between two identities and trying to succeed at both without compromising either. Stossel doesn’t seem terribly aware of this background, but as it turns out, she doesn’t need to be. She’s a skilled enough storyteller that she makes her story work, with charm and humour, and say something about super-heroes and super-hero stories into the bargain. However unintentionally, Starling becomes an odd mix of classical ideals (the super-hero who is a hero, striving through the compromises of everyday life to try to do something they feel is right) and new directions.

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How I Lost My Soul and Learned to Love Hell

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Poets in Hell-smallAs many readers of Black Gate no doubt know by now, I have previously reviewed the shared-universe anthologies Lawyers in HellRogues in Hell, and Dreamers in Hell, all edited by Janet Morris and Chris Morris.

Well, this time out, with Janet’s help, I am going to do something a little different for Poets in Hell, the 17th volume in the highly-acclaimed, award-winning, and very successful Heroes in Hell (HIH) series, what I like to call The Eternal Infernal Saga. Let me first give you a little back story, a little history as to how I, unplanned and undreamed, found myself wandering through the circles and levels of Hell.

A couple years ago, I was asked by my friend and fellow author, Bruce Durham, if I would write a review for the then-newest volume in the Heroes in Hell series, Rogues in Hell. I said sure, I’d be happy to, even though I was in the middle of writing my second novel.

I remembered the original Baen Books Heroes in Hell series, having enjoyed a number of those, and I was familiar with Janet Morris from her work in Thieves World™ and many of her own novels. But it had been years since I read those; and I’d been so long away from the fantasy genre that I had no idea that Heroes in Hell had continued on past the 4 or 5 volumes I had read in the 1980s and early 90s.

So I read Rogues in Hell, loved every word of it, wrote my review, and then bought the previous and first volume in the new 21st century series now published by Perseid Press, Lawyers in Hell. Now, while lost somewhere deep in the nether regions, I get contacted one fine day by none other than Janet Morris herself, who read my review, was very pleased with it, and liked the way I wrote it.

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Vintage Treasures: Master of Hawks by Linda E. Bushyager

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Master of Hawks Linda Bushyager-smallThursday’s article on Theodore Sturgeon’s The Stars Are the Styx reminded me of other Dell paperbacks we used to read, collect, and pass around enthusiastically in 1979. Perhaps the most popular was Linda E. Bushyager’s Master of Hawks.

Linda Bushyager is forgotten today. She wrote only two novels, Master of Hawks and its loose sequel, The Spellstone of Shaltus (May 1980), before vanishing, like J.D. Salinger. But she was far from forgotten among fantasy fans in the early 80s, who found her pair of novels set in the magical Eastern Kingdoms original and a lot of fun. Here’s the back cover blurb for Master of Hawks.

War of the Wizards

Backed by the power of the world’s mightiest sorcerers, the forces of the Empire marched on the Kingdom of York. But York had its own wizardry… including the telepathic gift of young Hawk, who could control every kind of bird — and more, see through their eyes.

The key to York’s survival was an alliance with the Sylvan — mysterious forest dwellers who mistrusted all humans — and to win their friendship, Hawk embarked on a quest deep into Empire territory, where only his mastery of his winged comrades could bring him through alive.

Linda E. Bushyager reappeared briefly in 2002, co-authoring the SF novel Pacifica with John Gregory Betancourt. She’s published nothing since.

Master of Hawks was published in July 1979 by Dell Publishing Co. It is 256 pages, originally priced at $1.95. The cover is by Maelo Cintron. It remained out of print for nearly 30 years, before being reprinted by Fantastic Books in trade paperback in April 2010. There is no digital edition.

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