The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in October

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dragon34-KenRahmanSometimes people critique Black Gate by looking over the site, noting our focus on books and magazines, and proclaiming us “books snobs.”

That’s not true at all, I argue calmly. Look — you know what the most popular article on the Black Gate website was just last month? It was Scott Taylor’s Art of the Genre post, “The Top 10 Dragon Magazine Covers of the 1970s & 80s.”

You see? We’re not merely book snobs. We’re also art snobs.

This is Scott’s second month at the top of the charts — back in September, he claimed the top spot with his article on the Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings of All Time, a nostalgic look at the finest artwork from the Golden Age of roleplaying. Scott certainly knows his stuff when it comes to fantasy art — and our readers love him for it.

The next few articles at the top of the charts don’t do much to help my thesis that we’re not book snobs, however. The #2 article for the month of October was M. Harold Page’s “Four Books on Historical European Martial Arts.” Hard to argue that you’re not just all about books, when your most popular posts are all about books.

The #3 article for the month was my look at The Fantasy Roots of Fan Fiction, an argument that the modern fan fiction phenomenon grew largely out of the tradition of the pastiche novel, and especially the long-running success of the Conan pastiche, and the success of writers like Lin Carter, who wrote pastiches for most of his career.

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Avatars of Wizardry

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 | Posted by John R. Fultz

AvWizMore often than not, the best art comes from the indie side of any field. Case-in-point:

AVATARS OF WIZARDRY from P’rea Press is one of the best works of pure dark fantasy I’ve read in a long time. This superb collection of poems inspired by the work of Clark Ashton Smith and his mentor George Sterling offers one fantastic, phantasmal head trip after another, transcendental goth romanticism with shades of cosmic sword-and-sorcery.

I’m not usually someone who seeks out poetry. I teach it often, but fantastic poetry is something of a rarity in academic texts. Reading this collection (with some Pink Floyd, Kyuss, or Monster Magnet rumbling softly in the background for good measure) takes me right back to the “wonder years” of my early reading life. From the ages of 9 to 12, I discovered the amazing fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and other great fantasists. Reading AVATARS OF WIZARDRY sends me back to those days when fantasy was still dangerous, mysterious, and full of strange wonders.

One of Smith’s greatest poems “The Hashish Eater, or The Apocalypse of Evil” was inspired by George Sterling’s “A Wine of Wizardry.” Both of these poems are celestial odysseys of fantasy perfection. They begin AVATARS OF WIZARDRY back-to-back and are followed by eight poems from more contemporary writers: Alan Gullette, Wade German, Michael Fantina, Richard L. Tierney, Liegh Blackmore, Bruce Boston, Earl Livings, and Kyla Lee Ward. The result is an epic fantasy experience like none other. The words “psychedelic” and “phantasmagorical” are barely enough to describe it.

These poems aren’t for the shallow-minded 160-character world that we live in today. Each one is an epic adventure beyond space and time, directly into the center of eternal imagination, rife with cosmic transcendence. This is spirit-freeing fantasy in the best sense of the word, literary escapism as psychological catharsis. It’s some of the best damn poetry I’ve ever read, which makes it some of the best fantasy I’ve ever read, period.

You don’t have to be a poetry expert (or fan) to take this cosmic ride. Just get yourself a copy before they’re all gone.


Astounding Science Fiction, February and March 1953: A Retro-Review

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

astounding science fiction February 1953-smallI thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at John Campbell’s Astounding, from the early ’50s, after its dominance of the market had been shaken by Galaxy and F&SF. So here are two 1953 issues.

I bought these two issues because the March issue has John Brunner’s first story for a major market, “Thou Good and Faithful.” I noticed that that issue also has the second part of a Piper serial that I hadn’t read, so I bought the February issue to get part 1.

Details, then. The February cover, for H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire’s serial “Null-ABC,” is by H. R. Van Dongen, a pretty good one with a skull on a reddish background (flames and smoke, I think), and books and test tubes in the foreground.

The March cover, for “Thou Good and Faithful,” is less to my taste. It’s by G. Pawelka, an artist with whom I am unfamiliar, and it features a robot with a monkey-like creature on his shoulder, holding a globe of sorts — a very accurate depiction of a scene from the story, but not a picture I fancy much.

The features in each issue are the usual: Campbell’s editorial (“Redundance,” about information theory, in February; and “Unsane Behavior,” about war and the naivete of both those who think it works very well, and those who think stories of Atomic Doom will prevent it, in March); In Times to Come, The Analytical Laboratory, Brass Tacks, and P. Schuyler Miller’s review column.

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The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in October

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Black Fire Concerto-smallMike Allen continues to dominate the top of our charts for a second month, with the exclusive excerpt from his first novel The Black Fire Concerto. Mike’s breakout collection Unseaming was released on October 1st from Antimatter Press. Check it out here.

Surging back into second place are Janet Morris and Chris Morris, with an excerpt from their heroic fantasy novel The Sacred Band. They also claimed the #3 slot with “Seven Against Hell,” an exclusive sample from their new anthology, Poets in Hell.

Knocked out of the #2 slot was “The Find,” Part II of The Tales of Gemen by Mark Rigney, which settled at #4 this month. “The Keystone,” Part III of the series, also made the list. Check out Mark’s first novel, the popular Check-Out Time, released on October 7 from Samhain Publishing.

Rounding out the Top Five was Ryan Harvey’s sword & sorcery story “The Sorrowless Thief,” a tale of intrigue and dinosaur beasts, part of his popular science-fantasy set series on the continent of Ahn-Tarqa.

Also making the list were exciting stories by Joe Bonadonna, John C. Hocking, David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna, Judith Berman, Michael Shea, C.S.E. Cooney, Aaron Bradford Starr, Jason E. Thummel, Steven H Silver, Martha Wells, Sean McLachlan, Harry Connolly, Howard Andrew Jones, and John R. Fultz.

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Vintage Treasures: Zacherley’s Midnight Snacks

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Zacherley's Midnight Snacks-smallI love Zacherly’s Midnight Snacks.

I love the whole goofy premise: a ghoul’s favorite midnight reading. A ghoul named Zacherley. Who comments on each story, with special “cheering notes.” You go, Zacherley.

Of course, it’s in the long-standing tradition of the Old Crypt Keeper, who introduced the horror tales in EC Comics, and Cain and Abel, hosts of DC Comics’ long-running House of Mystery and House of Secrets comics, just to name a few. The cheerful undead storyteller, who delights in a good creepy tale (not to mention the occasional moral fable or two.)

In keeping with the fiction that these stories were selected by a ghoul, the editor of Zacherly’s Midnight Snacks is uncredited. Someone must know who compiled this (and subsequent) volumes for Ballantine, but they’re not talking.

The book collects nine short stories and novelettes from the pulps (“precious old mouldering records”), including Thrilling Wonder, Unknown, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, and Fantastic Universe. Authors include Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, Wallace West, A. E. van Vogt, and Henry Kuttner. Here’s the blurb on the back of the book:

As choice a brew of ghouls, vampires, ghosts and creatures of EVEN MORE VARIED TALENTS as you could wish to meet, in stories garnered from precious old mouldering records, and with special cheering notes on each by ZACHERLEY.

This volume was released in March 1960. Zacherley managed one additional anthology, Zacherley’s Vulture Stew, released in August the same year, before (presumably) laying down for his eternal rest.

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Voices in Fantasy Literature, Part 4

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

no-lonely-seafarer-208x160It’s not just Hallowe’en, Christmas, and Thanksgiving, but it’s also that time of year when I try to catch up my 2014 short fiction listening so that I’ll be ready to make some choices about the Nebulas, the Hugos, and the Auroras.

This is a good kick in the pants for me, and it lets me pick up the thread of my Voices in Fantasy Literature series (see parts I, II, III). I started with Lightspeed magazine and three stories I loved in my first batch of listening.

No Lonely Seafarer” by Sarah Pinsker tells the coming-of-age story of Alex Turlington, an intersex orphan being raised by a tavern-keeper in a sea-town. When a flock of sirens set up a nest overlooking the harbor, all the sailors are trapped in the town, until one captain has an idea of how to get past them, and it involves Alex. There’s some beautiful, closely intimate language, but the strength of the story is in Alex’s growth. A great listen in under 40 minutes.

Illustration sketch of  woman with eagle wings, made with digital tabletThe Quality of Descent” by Megan Kurashige is a different kind of fantasy voice, one that is confused, vacillating, self-deprecating, and self-eviscerating by turns, a thematic match for this love collision story. The narrator gets unusual animals and items for parties and performers, and is visited by a vagabond girl with wings on a bicycle. They are both broken in different ways and this is that kind of love story. Beautifully done. Worth listening to a second time. Clocks in at 32 minutes.

The last story, “Thirteen Incantations” by Desirina Boskovitch, is a bit of a cheat for me, because this is a 2011 story from fantasy magazine and was only recently reprinted in Podcastle, but was such a captivating listen that I couldn’t leave it off.

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Robert Silverberg on the Tragic Death of John Brunner

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Great Steamboat Race John Brunner-smallSix months ago, I wrote about an unusual find I made online: The Great Steamboat Race, an enormous and ambitious historical novel written by none other than John Brunner. Brunner, of course, was a highly regarded SF and fantasy writer, beloved even today for Stand on Zanzibar, The Complete Traveller in Black, and many other novels. He died in 1995, at the World Science Fiction convention.

The Great Steamboat Race was an enigma. I’d never seen a copy before, never run across one in dozens of years of haunting bookstores. The copy I found online was very inexpensive — less than the $7.95 cover price for a brand new copy, for a book published over 30 years ago — so I bought it. I wrote it up as a Vintage Treasures curiosity, and then more or less forgot about it.

At least until this week, when I was browsing through a collection of Asimov’s SF magazines from the late 90s I recently acquired. Before I packed it away in the Cave of Wonders (i.e. the basement), I plucked one out of the box at random, and settled back in my big green chair to read it.

It was the March 1996 issue, with stories by Tony Daniel, Suzy McKee Charnas, Steven Utley, and the late John Brunner. I always take the time to read Robert Silverberg’s Reflections column, and I flipped to that first. The title was “Roger and John,” and it was a tribute to two recent deaths that had shaken the SF community: Roger Zelazny and John Brunner. Silverberg had been friends with both men for decades and said “Their deaths, for me, illustrate the difference between a tragedy and a damn shame. Let me try to explain.”

Silverberg portrays Zelazny’s death as a damn shame, saying “Roger was the happy man who led a happy life… By the time he was twenty-five he had begun what was to be a dazzling career in science fiction.” Zelazny’s career, Silverberg observes, had been filled with a series of triumphs, and his death by cancer at the age of 58 had robbed the field of future great work from a master.

Brunner, Silverberg observes, was a tragic figure. And central to the tragedy was the novel The Great Steamboat Race.

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The Hardy Boys Meet M.R. James: The Supernatural Mysteries of John Bellairs

Friday, November 28th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt-smallIn the world of publishing today, books written for children and young adults are the tails that are increasingly wagging the dog, especially when those books also fall into the horror, fantasy, or science fiction categories. Many mainstream or “literary” authors would probably sell their souls to Voldemort for the kind of success that J.K. Rowling achieved with her Harry Potter books, though Thomas Pynchon or Phillip Roth pushing Harry from his place atop the bestseller lists would be rather like a Marxist literary critic becoming a judge on Dancing With the Stars. (That’s something I’d like to see, actually.)

One relatively new aspect in this ascendance of what is called YA (or young adult) fiction is its popularity with older readers. Where in previous years some might be embarassed to be seen reading books written for younger readers, now there is nothing unusual in seeing people with jobs, mortgages, and children of their own eagerly perusing The Hunger Games or Twilight.

And why not? (Well, I could give you a big why not for Twilight, but that’s another matter.) Good writing comes in all sorts of packages, and there are plenty of legitimate pleasures to be had in reading the best YA books.

However, in sorting through the many worthwhile reads available in this era of new-found YA respectability, it is easy to overlook work that was written before the current boom; some fine authors of only twenty or thirty years ago are now unjustly neglected, their reputations eclipsed by those who are fortunate enough to still be alive and producing new work in this YA golden age (a golden age of cultural visibility and publishing advances, if nothing else.)

One such writer who perhaps came just a little too early was the once highly popular writer of children’s supernatural mysteries, John Bellairs, who died in 1991.

If Bellairs is remembered by fantastic fiction readers at all, it is for his single adult novel, the superb and eccentric fantasy The Face in the Frost, which was published to little notice in 1969. (Though in his 1973 history of the genre, Imaginary Worlds, the ever-perceptive Lin Carter hailed it as “one of the best fantasy novels to appear since The Lord of the Rings.”)

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New Treasures: Elisha Barber by E.C. Ambrose

Friday, November 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Elisha Barber E C Ambrose-smallI missed E.C. Ambrose’s Elisha Barber when it was released over the summer. But I met the author, and found a copy in my freebee bag, at the World Fantasy Convention, and it seemed like I was missing out on a promising new voice in fantasy. I started reading it today; so far it’s a fast moving and well written dark fantasy of an alternative fourteenth century of brutal war, necromancy… and stranger things.

England in the fourteenth century: a land of poverty and opulence, prayer and plague… witchcraft and necromancy.

As a child, Elisha witnessed the burning of a witch outside of London, and saw her transformed into an angel at the moment of her death, though all around him denied this vision. He swore that the next time he might have the chance to bind an angel’s wounds, he would be ready. And so he became a barber surgeon, at the lowest ranks of the medical profession, following the only healer’s path available to a peasant’s son.

Elisha Barber is good at his work, but skill alone cannot protect him. In a single catastrophic day, Elisha’s attempt to deliver his brother’s child leaves his family ruined, and Elisha himself accused of murder. Then a haughty physician offers him a way out: come serve as a battle surgeon in an unjust war. Between tending to the wounded soldiers and protecting them from the physicians’ experiments, Elisha works night and day. Even so, he soon discovers that he has an affinity for magic, drawn into the world of sorcery by Brigit, a beautiful young witch… who reminds him uncannily of the angel he saw burn.

In the crucible of combat, utterly at the mercy of his capricious superiors, Elisha must attempt to unravel conspiracies both magical and mundane, as well as come to terms with his own disturbing new abilities. But the only things more dangerous than the questions he’s asking are the answers he may reveal.

Elisha Barber is the first novel in The Dark Apostle series; the second volume, Elisha Magus, was released on July 1, 2014. Elisha Barber was published on June 3, 2014 by DAW Books. It is 386 pages, priced at $24.95 in hardcover, $7.99 in paperback, and $6.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Cliff Nielsen. Download the first three chapters at E.C. Ambrose’s website


The Dark Issue 6 Now on Sale

Friday, November 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dark Issue 6-smallThe sixth issue of The Dark, cover-dated November 2014, is now on sale.

Truthfully, I haven’t paid much attention to The Dark magazine recently. But at the World Fantasy Convention I picked up a free sampler, containing an assortment of fiction from past issues, and crammed it into my travel bag. Of all the things I could have read on my flight back to Chicago (and believe me, that bag was so stuffed it barely fit under the seat in front of me), it was that sampler that seemed most intriguing, so once we were off the ground I pulled it out, reclined my chair, and started to read.

It only took a few minutes to convince me that overlooking The Dark has been a serious mistake. A quarterly magazine of horror and dark fantasy co-edited by Jack Fisher and Sean Wallace, The Dark has published short fiction by some of the brightest stars in the fantasy firmament, including World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor, Angela Slatter, Rachel Swirsky, E. Catherine Tobler, Stephen Graham Jones, and many others.

Issues are available in digital format for just $2.99. Each one contains four short stories (roughly 40 pages), and is available through Amazon, B&N.com, Apple, Kobo, and other fine outlets. They can also be read for free on the website. The sixth issue contains the following:

Calamity, the Silent Trick by Sara Saab
The Three Familiars by Eric Schaller
Mourning Flags and Wildflowers by Patricia Russo
Home at Gloom’s End by Naim Kabir

If you enjoy the magazine as I do, there are plenty of ways you can help support it, including by buying their books, reviewing stories, or even just leaving comments. See the Issue 6 story summaries here, and their complete back issue catalog here. We last covered The Dark with Issue #1.


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