The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The List of 7 by Mark Frost

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

List_fullcoverMark Frost made the news not too long ago with the announcement that he and David Lynch will be making a new Twin Peaks series for Showtime. Yay! Twin Peaks came to an abrupt end in 1991: just after its second season. Frost apparently wasn’t one to let grass grow under his feet, as only two years later, The List of 7 hit bookshelves.

John O’Neill wrote about (mostly the cover…) this book last year.

Frost is absolutely a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Not only is the novel’s protagonist none other than Arthur Conan Doyle and bits of his life are scattered throughout, but there are Holmes-isms aplenty. Thus, this book is a type of pastiche, though darker than any straight Holmes tale I’ve read.

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The Savage Influence of Doc Savage

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Doc Savage magazine 1-smallToday I’m turning over the Black Gate rostrum to the talented Jonathan Wood. Take it away, Jonathan!

Doc Savage is one of the most influential and poorly known literary characters of all time. Forget Cthulhu, if you’re really looking for a pulp-era monster that’s torn through 20th century popular culture, he’s your man. But you won’t know him, because when you do encounter him, he’s always in disguise.

But make no mistake, he’s there. Because he’s Superman. He’s Indiana Jones. He’s every chisel-jawed action hero you can name.

Doc Savage first tore his way onto the bookshelves in the 1930s. The Man of Bronze. Golden-haired, golden-skinned, golden-eyed. A veritable Midas of two-fisted action. There wasn’t a problem he couldn’t punch out. There wasn’t a deus-ex-machina he couldn’t invent.

Seriously, what the A-Team needed a barn full of industrial machinery to invent, the Doc could probably do with a paperclip and some wax paper. He was the original infallible hero. Victory was assured.

And his true super-powers? Calisthenics and mathletics. This was pulp action madness at its deranged best.

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Backing my First Kickstarter: Scott Taylor’s The Folio

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Scott Taylor The Folio-smallOkay, technically Scott Taylor’s The Folio isn’t the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve ever backed. I think that was probably Grim Dawn, the computer RPG from the creators of Titan’s Quest. Plus the Veronica Mars movie. But I only did those because my kids begged me.

So, yeah, I think Scott’s The Folio may be the first campaign I’ve backed on my own. It hasn’t been hard to stay away from Kickstarter so far… there’s been plenty of intriguing projects that have tempted me but, between eBay and Amazon, I already have enough high tech platforms draining my finances, thank you very much. As a collector with poor impulse control, it’s been safest just to stay away entirely.

What’s so magical about The Folio that’s undermined years of careful self-control? Well, first, there’s its creator, Scott Taylor. Scott’s been blogging at Black Gate for many years, and he was a contributor to the print magazine before that. Scott is enormously talented, with five published novels to his credit, not to mention the highly acclaimed shared-world anthologies Tales of the Emerald Serpent and A Knight in the Silk Purse, which he published and edited.

I’ve wondered for years what Scott could do if he focused his considerable talents on the gaming industry, but with The Folio, he has surpassed even my high expectations. The Folio is an ongoing adventure module series using 5th Edition mechanics, adapted to multiple genres.

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Alien Quakes, Space Birds, and Door-to-Door Salesmen in Space: The Art of The Original Science Fiction Stories

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Original Science Fiction Stories May 1956-small The Original Science Fiction Stories January 1957-small The Original Science Fiction Stories November 1958-small

I recently bought a small collection of The Original Science Fiction Stories, a 1950s digest magazine that lasted for only 36 issues. I paid $18 for a dozen issues (including shipping), which was more than I usually pay for SF digests — but still a bargain, especially considering the great shape they were in. I was willing to pay a little more because I’ve had a hard time finding copies. Analog, Galaxy, F&SF — they’re all pretty easy to obtain in the same vintage. But Original Science Fiction Stories has done a good job of eluding me.

When they finally arrived, I was immediately struck by the cover art. It was vibrantly colorful and frequently gorgeous. But more than that, it was downright playful. Most SF magazines of the era took themselves very, very seriously, with intrepid, square-jawed explorers and sleek spaceships on their covers. But The Original Science Fiction Stories featured much more prosaic images, frequently showcasing less-than-heroic characters. They featured very ordinary-looking space pioneers reacting to an alien earthquake, a man on a remote planet hiding from a door-to-door salesmen, and a space-suited explorer dealing with an unexpected alien threat — a bird pecking at his air hose (all images above by Emsh).

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Vintage Treasures: The Horror Horn by E. F. Benson

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Horror Horn E.F. Benson-smallIs Bruce Pennington the finest cover artist in publishing history?

Probably. I talked at length about my own interest in his art — and how we licensed two of his paintings as covers for Black Gate — in The Lost Art of Bruce Pennington. Over the years, I’ve collected much of his work and seen a great deal more online and in various art books, but from time to time I’m still surprised to see a previously undiscovered Pennington cover on a hard-to-find book (as I was with the Panther edition of Fritz Leiber’s Night Monsters back in January.)

So you can understand my delight last week when I stumbled upon The Horror Horn on eBay, a 1974 collection by British horror writer E. F. Benson. It had a marvelously macabre cover by Bruce that I’d never laid eyes on before. In fact, I didn’t even know this book existed. The bidding stood at 5 bucks, with less than two days to go.

Well, you know how reluctant I am to pay more than $8 – $10 for a paperback. It’s rare indeed that the patient collector has to pay more than that for anything. But this was an exception, and I submitted my bid for $14 and sat back to see what happened.

In the meantime, I did a little homework on E. F. Benson. We’ve never really mentioned Benson here before (although he’s popped up in horror collections from time to time, including Otto Penzler’s magnificent The Vampire Archives and Henry Mazzeo’s Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural), and that’s probably an oversight.

Benson, who died in 1940, was an English novelist and short story writer, with 68 novels to his credit and 10 collections published in his lifetime. He was a frequent Weird Tales contributor and he also appeared regularly in British publications like Hutchinson’s Magazine and The Illustrated London News.

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New Treasures: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

City of Stairs-smallLast month, I made a feeble attempt to sneak in a three-year old book as a New Treasure: The Company Man, a Robert Jackson Bennett novel I’d missed when it first came out. Truthfully, I’d only stumbled on The Company Man because of all the pre-publication buzz around his newest, City of Saints, and I didn’t want to seem late to the party.

I’m not going to make the same mistake with City of Saints, a tale of vast conspiracies, dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city. Robert Jackson Bennett, author of Mr. Shivers (2010), The Troupe (2012), and American Elsewhere (2013), is quickly gaining recognition as one of America’s most acclaimed young fantasy writers.

Personally, I think he owes at least part of his fame to the fact that he’s a dead ringer for Chris Pratt, star of Guardians of the Galaxy. (See the results of our explosive investigative report: Robert Jackson Bennett and Chris Pratt: Separated at Birth?)

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions — until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself — first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it — stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem — and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

City of Stairs was published by Broadway Books on September 9, 2014. It is 452 pages, priced at $25 in paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Sam Weber.

The Solar Pons – Fu Manchu Connection

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

200px-OTSolarPonsOmnibusExpoloits_of_solar_ponsMy colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street.

Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

“The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward, who has been abducted by his archenemy, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor.

Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse.

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The Lost Lands: A New Campaign World for Pathfinder

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

LostLands_StoneheartOn the opening day of Gen Con 2000, Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons was unveiled. That same day, Necromancer Games released The Wizard’s Amulet, more or less the second OGL/D20 adventure (that’s another discussion).

Necromancer, working with other companies such as White Wolf, Judges Guild, and Kenzer and Company, became one of the most successful d20 companies. Their mega dungeon, Rappan Athak, is one of the best known Third Era adventures.

However, the advent of Fourth Edition spelled doom for Necromancer. Co-founder Bill Webb founded Frog God Games, a clear successor to Necromancer, and they published products for Paizo’s Pathfinder. Frog God produced new items and also updated old Necromancer goods as well, Pathfinderizing them.

With the advent of Fifth Edition D&D, Frog God is now publishing for both lines (in addition to retro-clone, Swords & Wizardry). Necromancer and Frog God adventures and supplements had loosely been connected in that they took place in Webb’s personal campaign world.

Frog God is currently putting out that campaign world under the moniker The Lost Lands. It is going to incorporate nearly everything produced by Necromancer and Frog God Games. Some products, such as their Judges Guild updates and the Hex Crawl Chronicles, belong to other folks and won’t be included. But if you look at the long list of products, there’s an awful lot, including Gary Gygax’s under-appreciated Necropolis.

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Miracles, Mystery, and the Ghost of Hank Williams: Steve Earle’s I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive Steve Erle-smallFantasy is an odd genre, filled with surprises.

I was browsing the remainder table at Barnes and Noble earlier this month, when I stumbled on a dark fantasy featuring ghosts, mystery, drug addiction… and miracles. The author was none other than singer Steve Earle (Copperhead Row), who’s had his own battles with heroin addiction. I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is Earle’s only novel (he published one collection of short stories, Doghouse Roses, in 2001), and the back cover was plastered with enthusiastic reviews from The New York Times, USA Today, Rolling Stone, and even Patti Smith. But it was the brief book description that won me over.

Doc Ebersole lives with the ghost of Hank Williams. Literally.

In 1963, ten years after he may have given Hank the morphine shot that killed him, Doc has lost his license. Living in the red-light district of San Antonio, he performs abortions and patches up the odd knife wound to feed his addiction. But when Graciela, a young Mexican immigrant, appears in the neighborhood in search of Doc’s services, miraculous things begin to happen. Everyone she meets is transformed for the better, except, maybe, for Hank’s angry ghost — who isn’t at all pleased to see Doc doing well.

Legendary American singer Hank Williams died — at the ripe old age of 29 — in 1953, and on the night he died, a doctor did indeed give him an injection of vitamin B12 mixed with morphine. I think we can safely assume the book departs from reality after that point, however.

Steve Earle is something of a Renaissance man. In addition to being a singer-songwriter, record producer, and author, he’s also an actor. He’s appeared on two HBO series, The Wire and Treme, and briefly appeared on 30 Rock. His fourteenth studio album, also titled I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, arrived in 2011. On September 16, The Wrap reported that Chris Hemsworth (Thor) will star in and produce a film adaption of I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. It was published by Mariner on May 22, 2012. It is 256 pages, with a cover price of $13.95 in trade paperback. I bought my copy remaindered for $4.98.

The Perils of Writing a Series, Er, Part Two

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Blood PriceLast time I talked about writing a series and how there can be other things, besides how a character ages – or whether they age at all – that can complicate things for the writer. I mentioned the type of detail that can catch a writer flat-footed in a contradiction or even a simple change, which likely occurred because the writer, unlike the reader, didn’t write all of the books in one sitting.

Even when a writer does write all the books of a series in one sitting (which is to say, one after another) it can still be tricky. Some people keep extensive and detailed charts on the things that they’ve said about each character, for example. For us Fantasy and SF writers, that might also include what we’ve said about magic systems, technological differences from our own society, and basic socio-political infrastructures. And when it comes to the characters themselves, every writer of a series has to keep track of not only details like hair colour, eye colour, and clothing preference, but family relationships, education, and training. You may need to remember that casually mentioned cousin in the military or that aunt in the sorcerer’s guild.

In fact, it can be those “casual mentions,” things that somehow supply the right touch of verisimilitude at the time, that can come back and haunt you two or three books down the line. When you think about it, it’s no wonder so many main characters are orphans.

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