At we wrap up each year, I usually look back at all the new books we’ve highlighted over the past twelve months and make one final effort to slip in a few titles we’ve overlooked. If a hardcover has been on the shelves too long to showcase as a New Treasure without embarrassing myself, I sometimes feature the paperback reprint instead. Usually I get away with it without too many complaints — Black Gatereaders are an indulgent lot, especially when it comes to books.
I’m in bit of a jam with The Waking Engine, though. David Edison’s debut novel has received lots of terrific press… I’m not sure how I managed to miss it when it first came out, but I can’t let the year close out without at least a mention. The paperback’s not due until May 5th, however, so it looks like I need to fess up that I’m trying to pass off a February 2014 title as a new release, and hope everyone is too distracted by New Year’s festivities to notice. Thank you for your indulgence, and Happy New Year.
Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times… until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found.
Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls… and one very confused New Yorker.
Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys… and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.
The Waking Engine was published by Tor Books on February 11, 2014. It is 396 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Stephan Martiniere. Read an excerpt at Tor.com.
Three-time Edgar Award winning mystery author Donald Westlake famously dissed virtually every editor in the field in an article in fan magazine Xero in 1960, saying in part:
Campbell is an egomaniac. Mills of F&SF is a journeyman incompetent. Cele Goldsmith is a third-grade teacher and I think she wonders what in the world she’s doing at Amazing. (Know I do.) As for Pohl, who can tell? Galaxy is still laden with Gold’s inventory, and when Pohl edited Star he had the advantage of no deadline and a better pay rate than anyone else in the field, so it’s difficult to say what Galaxy will be like next year, except Kingsley Amis will probably like it.
In the years since, many have asked how much of Westlake’s famous complaint was true. In retrospect, I think we know. Not a lot.
Campbell was indeed an egomaniac and a science crank fully as credulous as Ray Palmer had ever been. But he still had an eye for a story and when not forcing (or being tricked by) regurgitations of his own editorials, he could still develop new writers and inspire occasional greatness.
The 1960s was a dull period for Analog... but it did serialize Dune, which says quite a lot. I think Campbell was well past his prime by this point, but he still had occasional flashes of what made him so important in the ’40s.
Jeffrey E. Barlough’s first three Western Lights novels were published in trade paperback by Ace over a decade ago, beginning with Dark Sleeper (2000), and followed by The House in the High Wood (2001) and Strange Cargo (2004). All three are highly prized today. Barlough began to publish them though his own Gresham & Doyle press beginning with the fourth volume, Bertram of Butter Cross (2007). I recently acquired the second book. Back when I was running SF Site, I recruited the author Victoria Strauss to write for us; here’s what she said about it the year it was published:
Framed in good Gothic style by ante and post scriptums in which a nameless narrator encounters the teller of the main tale (a somber, haunted Oliver Langley, 11 years later), The House in the High Wood is a homage to such classics of the Gothic genre as The Monk and Woman in White, replete with mystery, madness, illegitimacy, ghostly visitations, ancient ruins, brooding forests, sinister dwellings, and supernatural terror. Like the first in the series, Dark Sleeper, it’s a neo-Victorian pastiche, with an agreeably verbose 19th-century prose style and a large cast of eccentric characters. But where the previous book was as much digression as story, devoting entire chapters to character study and whole pages to the description of the contents of a single room, this novel is much more a straight-ahead narrative of suspense, proceeding grippingly from plot turn to plot turn, with moments that are genuinely bone-chilling.
The Western Lights novels have steadily been gathering acclaim (and readers) over the last few years. Jackson Kuhl reviewed the fifth volume Anchorwick for us in 2011, calling it “A Victorian Dying Earth —- gothic and claustrophobic yet confronted by its inhabitants with upper lips held stiff… It’s P.G. Wodehouse with woolly mammoths.” More recently, we covered What I Found at Hoole (2012) and the eighth volume, The Cobbler of Ridingham. We published an interview with him in 2013.
The House in the High Wood was published by Ace Books on August 1, 2001. It is 336 pages, originally priced at $14.95. The digital version is $17.99. The cover art is by Aleta Jenks.
We’re kicking off the year (wrapping it up, technically, but since this is an introduction, we’ll elide the difference) with a return to form. I’m also giving myself a holiday present, because this? This is a work by one of my favorite authors of all time.
And when a Classicist says that, it really means something.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses were written under the reign of the Emperor Augustus. If we didn’t have solid dating on Ovidius Naso’s life (he was born on March 20, 43 BC and died sometime in 17/17 CE) we’d have this detail, because he and the first emperor of the Romans did not get on. Ovid ended his life in exile, in part because of his poetry (including the Metamorphoses) and in part because of…something. That something is one of the most tantalizing mysteries of the Augustan era. We know that Ovid did something that offended Augustus so deeply that he was sent to the very end of the empire and left there to rot. He writes in the Tristia (his book of poems written from that exile) that he was sent away for “carmen et error”: a “poem and a mistake”, but never reveals more.
Did he have an affair with Augustus’s daughter Julia, who was exiled for promiscuity? Did he have a part in a revolutionary plot, a role that was too vague for execution but too solid to be ignored? Did he make one joke too many? We don’t know, and it keeps me up at night. In all seriousness, if I ever wake up in the dead of night to hear that telltale whoosh-rattle-whoosh and a blue phone box appears in my garden, you will see me running outside in my nightie waving a copy of the Oxford Classical Dictionary and screaming “TAKE ME TO OVID!”
Lately I’ve become interested in what may be termed “seasonal” books — stories or novels that are perennially suited for a particular time of year. I long have considered Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist a spring book. Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting is a summer book. The fall season has any number of offerings: Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, the anthology October Dreams, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and this last fall I discovered John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk.
Perhaps in due time I will look at this last in more detail, but for now I want to examine Masefield’s “Christmas Book,” The Box of Delights, something that sits well alongside Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
The Box of Delights was published in 1935 and, like The Midnight Folk, contains many delightful period terms. I choose as just one example the word “scrobble,” which means to kidnap. In this book, all sorts of people get scrobbled. The antagonist of this book, Abner Brown, who also is the antagonist of The Midnight Folk, is attempting to steal the Box of Delights from “Punch and Judy man” Cole Hawlings, who has entrusted the Box to Kay Harker, the protagonist both of this book and of The Midnight Folk. Brown scrobbles Hawlings and, unable to get any information out of that magician, scrobbles anyone who was in the vicinity of Hawlings: two of Kay’s friends and all of the clergymen and servants attached to the Tatchester Cathedral. By the end of the book, the crisis of the tale becomes in equal measure one of keeping the Box from Brown’s villainous clutches and one of returning all of the religious to the Cathedral in time to hold the Christmas services at midnight.
I like to commemorate the birthdays of authors whose works I’ve enjoyed or that have exercised an influence over me in some way. Unfortunately, I only write one day a week here at Black Gate. Consequently, the odds that an anniversary of one of the handful of writers I hold in high esteem should fall on a Tuesday aren’t high enough that I can consistently write commemoration posts on the day in question. Sometimes, like last week’s post about Fritz Leiber (which proved surprisingly popular, if the comments it generated are any indication – thank you), the calendar cooperates somewhat and my post can appear a day before or a day after the intended date. It’s a bit of a cheat, but not one so egregious that my over-developed sense of propriety feels it’s “wrong.”
January is the birth month of multiple writers I esteem highly. As fate would have it, the birthdays of two of them happen to fall on Tuesdays in 2015, which makes my job a lot easier next month. In a couple of other cases, though, the birthdays fall on days of the week far enough away from my regular slot that I really do feel as if I’d be acting out of turn by devoting a post to them. Yet, in both of these cases, the author is such a colossal figure in the field of fantasy – never mind in my own personal pantheon of fantasists – that it would seem wrong to let his birthday pass without comment.
This long-winded preface is my way of saying that, while J.R.R. Tolkien’s 123rd birthday isn’t until this coming Saturday (January 3), this post is nevertheless about him and the incredibly long shadow he has cast over the field of fantasy fiction. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that, for good or for ill, the contemporary popular understanding of what fantasy is derives almost entirely from his novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I can scarcely think of another author whose idiosyncratic vision has so transformed the commonplace conception of the genre in which he wrote that it is now seen as not merely normative but exhaustive.
Which is why I’m now going to spend a few hundred words considering just a few of the things fantasy (and fantasy gaming) owe largely, if not necessarily exclusively, to Tolkien.
Oh, best and most delicious of conspiracy-theory secret histories! From the first moment I heard the premise of American Craftsmen, I knew I would love this book. I am glad to report that it was even better than I imagined — smarter, funnier, more multi-layered and suspenseful, with even more kickass action.
Tom Doyle’s craftsmen are mages whose lineages have served in defense of our nation since George Washington bound them in a secret Compact. As the novel opens, with a craft op gone wrong in Iraq, old feuds between the Fighting Families and classic turf wars among occult branches of government bureaucracies threaten the United States from within.
Our hero Dale Morton gets hit with the triple-whammy of a dying foe’s curse, a case of straight-up PTSD, and subtle undermining by a mole who has infiltrated America’s supernatural defense forces. Whoever wants Morton out of the way is up to no good, so Morton leaves the Army to save it. His inner life is painstakingly honorable, but his environment is so full of intrigue that he has needed to cultivate his own devious tendencies and sufficient gallows humor to get himself through the day. He cunningly gives every appearance of going home to lick his wounds. Meanwhile, he works out how he’ll get a crack at the traitor hiding among his former comrades-at-arms.
The House of Morton itself is a House divided. Dale is the only living member of the household, and his numerous resident ghosts form rival camps around the sorcerous styles of Hawthorne and Poe. He knows how to recognize the cruel magics of the Left-Hand Path, because he grew up literally haunted by its most famous practitioners. Like every virtuous member of the Morton family for a century and a half, Dale has dedicated himself to the line of protective ancestors and pitted himself against the wicked ancestors his peers in the service will never let him live down.
Back in September, I told you about Jonathan Strahan’s newest fantasy collection Fearsome Magics: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy, the follow-up to his acclaimed Fearsome Journeys. Fearsome Magics has a stellar list of contributors, including Ellen Klages, Robert Shearman, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Tony Ballantyne, and many more. I’m too lazy to copy over the complete list and the back copy text from my prior post, but you can read them here.
Here’s what James McGlothlin said in his review of the first volume:
Many of Fearsome Journeys’ stories fit squarely within the tradition of fantasy — which I love! For instance, many contain typical tropes such as magic, dragons, wizards, fighters, thieves, etc., as well as familiar plot angles like quests to recover treasure or kill some monster or dragon. However, as one would expect from this lineup, many are fairly experimental attempts to push the boundaries of what is, or should be, considered fantasy…
I can say — without any reservation — all of stories contained within Fearsome Journeys are extremely well-crafted… There’s no doubt that these are some of the best writers in the field today.
Solaris Books continues to single-handedly fuel a renaissance in paperback anthologies, including two top notch science fiction anthology series: Ian Whates’s Solaris Rising and Jonathan Strahan’s Reach for Infinity. I’m very pleased to see a fantasy series join that august list. They’ve shown no signs of resting, either — their newest anthology is Dangerous Games, edited by Jonathan Oliver.
Fearsome Magics is edited by Jonathan Strahan and published by Solaris Books. It was published on October 7, 2014. It is 352 pages, priced at $7.99. The cover is by Tomasz Jedruszek. Our last report on Solaris was Tor.com Salutes Solaris Books on September 30.
Adventure On Film: Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers
I can hear the protests already: “Don’t you mean Alexander Dumas’s The Three Musketeers?” Well, yes. In a way. But I refer here to the film, not the novel. This 1973 outing is one of perhaps eight full-length film adaptations of this grand French chestnut, and, as directed by Richard Lester, it’s essential viewing for all fans of action, swordplay, and pace.
Indeed, to cut and slash the weighty novel down to a manageable length, no small violence has been done to the text, and the film practically tumbles over itself trying to keep up with its own story-telling requirements. Lester fills each rowdy frame with visions of period France; in his crowd scenes, there’s so much going on that the film bears an immediate second viewing, just to keep up with the busy visuals.
Best of all, of course, are the fabulous, kinetic, and often hilarious sword fights. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis may be musketeers, but there’s hardly a discharge of powder and shot to be found; these heroes (dandies and drunks, really) live by the sword, full stop.
Back in May, BG blogger Lawrence Schick (who also writes as Lawrence Ellsworth) told us about his huge upcoming anthology The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure: Classic Tales of Dashing Heroes, Dastardly Villains, and Daring Escapes. Now the book has arrived, and it looks very appetizing indeed. If you enjoy tales of adventure, this one looks like it would make a splendid late Christmas present to yourself.
The word “swashbuckler” conjures up an indelible image: a hero who’s a bit of a rogue but has his own code of honor, an adventurer with laughter on his lips and a flashing sword in his hand. This larger-than-life figure is regularly declared passé, but the swashbuckler is too appealing to ever really die. Who wouldn’t want to face deadly danger with confidence and élan? Who can deny the thrill of clashing blades, hairbreadth escapes, and daring rescues, of facing vile treachery with dauntless courage and passionate devotion?
The swashbuckler tradition was born out of legends like those of the Knights of the Round Table and of Robin Hood, revived in the early 19th century by Romantic movement authors such as Sir Walter Scott. The genre caught hold with the publication of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers in 1844, and for the next century it was arguably the world’s leading form of adventure fiction.
Featuring selections by twenty hugely popular writers from the last century including Rafael Sabatini; Johnston Mcculley (creator of the Zorro character); Alexandre Dumas: Arthur Conan Doyle; and Pierce Egan (author of Robin Hood), this anthology is dedicated to the swashbuckler’s roots: historical adventures by the masters of the genre. Most of these stories have been out of print for decades; some have never before been collected in book form. All are top-notch entertainment.
The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure was published by Pegasus on December 15, 2014. It is 604 pages, priced at $24.95 in paperback or $20.08 for the digital edition.