Doc Savage Meets… The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Doc Savage Grinch-small

Kez Wilson has been publishing Doc Savage fantasy covers at his website for years, and they get more and more creative as the months go by. His December entry this year (#252) sees Doc Savage face off against a diabolical agent of Christmas evil. Here’s his Doctor Seuss-inspired back cover copy:

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. Then he got a wonderful idea! An awful idea! THE GRINCH GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA! Word of his plan to steal Christmas did leak, and the holiday began to look rather bleak. Then Cindy Lou Who took matters in her own tiny hands and got word to the one man who could foil those evil plans. Now when Grinchy Claus slips down the chimney with intent to burglarize, he’ll be face to face with a new holiday protector with glistening bronze skin and golden eyes.

Wilson’s pastiche covers are based on the brilliant work of James Bama and Bob Larkin, who illustrated the original Doc Savage paperbacks from Bantam. Check out his marvelous Doc Savage Fantasy Cover Gallery to see the Man of Bronze face off against Buffy, Ming the Merciless, Cthulhu, 007, The Thing, the Terminator, Sharknado, the Hardy Boys, Barbarella, Doctor Who, Kirk and Spock, and many others.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Arthur Wontner, the Third Great Holmes

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Joseph Simpson’s drawing from 1908


Wontner; circa 1935

With his turn-of-the century stage play, William Gillette was the first great Sherlock Holmes. Eille Norwood was the second, making a series of popular silent film adaptations of Doyle’s stories in the early twenties. The third great Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Wontner, is one of my personal favorites.

Britain’s Twickenham Film Studios snagged Wontner after his successful performance as Sexton Blake (a detective hero of British schoolboys) and signed him to play the world’s foremost private consulting detective. The Sleeping Cardinal was a hit in England, with Wontner’s performance praised widely. Picturegoer Weekly wrote: “Wontner’s rendering of Sherlock Holmes is wholly convincing, even to the smallest mannerisms.”

Retitled The Fatal Hour to better appeal to action-oriented American audiences, it played for over a month on Broadway, which was unheard of at the time for a British film. In those pre-Oscar days, it even won the New York Critics’ Cinema Prize as the best mystery drama.

The story included elements of “The Empty House” and “The Final Problem,” though Colonel Moran only plays a minor part and Moriarty himself shoots at the bust of Holmes! Norman McKinnel’s Moriarty is one of the more under-appreciated portrayals of the Professor.

Wontner, who bore a strong resemblance to Sidney Paget’s drawings, received rave reviews. A few years later, the famous American Sherlockian Vincent Starrett wrote, “No better Sherlock Holmes than Arthur Wontner is likely to be seen and heard in pictures in our time…his detective is the veritable fathomer of Baker Street in person.”

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The Classic Games of Metagaming: Chitin I: The Harvest Wars

Sunday, December 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Chitin Second edition cover-smallWe’re back to reviewing the games that introduced me to fantasy and science fiction gaming. This is the second in a series, following my look at Steve Jackson’s classic Ogre earlier this month.

The second game I purchased from Metagaming (still by mail order, if I remember correctly) was Howard Thompson’s ambitious and imaginative science fiction wargame Chitin I: The Harvest Wars. I ordered it after seeing the advertisement in Analog magazine in 1978. The brief text of the ad read:

The intelligent insects of the plant Chelan go to war for one reason only. Food. This detailed tactical game pits varying forces of the specially-bred Hymenopteran warrior types against one another. Victory goes to the player who removes the most food — including enemy bodies — from the board.

Now, this was pretty cool. In 1978, science fiction games primarily meant things like SPI’s Outreach, and Avalon Hill’s Stellar Conquest. You got a bunch of starships and space marines, you plopped them down on a stellar map, and tried to blast the hell out of the other guy. Something like Ogre, in which one player took the role of an A.I.-powered supertank, was considered innovative.

Chitin, however, was genuinely different. There were no starships. No space marines. No planets ripe for the plucking.

There weren’t even any humans. Chitin was a true science fiction game — it placed you in an imaginative setting on a far away world, smack dab in the middle of a life-or-death struggle between two alien cultures.

Like all microgames, it shared a couple of appealing aspects with its predecessor Ogre: it could be set up, and played, in a matter of minutes. It was also about one-fifth the price of those big SPI and Avalon Hill games… no small thing when you’re an unemployed teen.

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Vintage Treasures: Unknown and Unknown Worlds, edited by Stanley Schmidt

Sunday, December 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Unknown edited by Stanley Schmidt Baen-smallI intended to post a brief article on Echoes of Valor II today, continuing the series as promised after I covered the first volume last week.

But the first comment on that article, from BG blogger Thomas Parker, was:

Isn’t it time for someone to do some anthologies from Unknown? (Have there been any since the old Pyramid paperbacks?)

Thomas is talking about two paperback anthologies edited by western author D.R. Bensen, The Unknown (1963) and its sequel The Unknown 5 (1964), which collected stories from Unknown magazine. I covered the 1978 Jove reprints of both books in a lengthy Vintage Treasures post last December.

I was pretty sure the answer was no — there haven’t been any other paperback anthologies collecting tales from Unknown. But before I could open my mouth, Keith West posted the following comment:

Baen published a collection of stories from Unknown entitled Unknown in 1988. It was edited by Stanley Schmidt with a Thomas Kidd cover and contained 9 stories…

Galahad Books, which is a British publisher IIRC, published a substantial hardback, also in 1988, entitled Unknown Worlds Tales from Beyond. It had a blah cover but contained 25 stories. I think I picked my copy up in either a Waldenbooks or a B. Dalton’s in the remainder bin…

Keith is exactly right. I put my notes on Echoes of Valor II aside for now, and went on a hunt to find out what I could about these two Unknown anthologies.

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Future Treasures: Aickman’s Heirs, edited by Simon Strantzas

Saturday, December 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Aickman's Heirs-smallI admit that I’d never heard of Undertow books before March of this year, when they announced they’d be publishing the first volume of a new Year’s Best collection, Year’s Best Weird Fiction, edited by Laird Barron.

I’ve heard about them a great deal in the last few months, however. While I was at the World Fantasy Convention in November, I heard a lot of good things about their annual journal of the fantastic, Shadows & Tall Trees, edited by Michael Kelly; the sixth volume, Shadows & Tall Trees 2014, was released in trade paperback in June. And back in October, Undertow made the following announcement on their website:

Coming Spring of 2015, Aickman’s Heirs, edited by Simon Strantzas, an anthology of strange, weird tales by modern masters of weird fiction, in the milieu of Robert Aickman, the master of strange and ambiguous stories. Editor and author Strantzas, an important figure in Weird fiction, has been hailed as the heir to Aickman’s oeuvre, and is ideally suited to edit this exciting volume. Cover art by Yaroslav Gerzhedovich. Cover design by Vince Haig.

This is great news. Robert Aickman is one of the most revered ghost story writers of the past 50 years. In October I reported on the beautiful new Faber & Faber editions of his classic ghost story collections, Dark Entries, The Unsettled Dust, The Wine Dark Sea, and Cold Hand in MineAickman’s Heirs’s will contain stories by Nina Allan, Michael Cisco, Brian Evenson, John Langan, Helen Marshall, David Nickle, Lisa Tuttle, and many others.

Undertow is an imprint of the highly regarded ChiZine Publications (whom we examined in detail just last week.) We discussed Simon Strantzas’s fourth collection, Burnt Black Suns, in November.

See all our recent coverage of upcoming books here.

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Saturday, December 27th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Lud in the Mist front coverLud-in-the-Mist
Hope Mirrlees
Ballantine Books (273 pages, March 1970, $0.95)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

One of Lin Carter’s greatest achievements as editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, in my opinion, was rescuing Lud-in-the-Mist from obscurity. The third and final novel by Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist was her only fantasy. After this book was published, she stopped writing. More on that later.

Carter tells the story in his introduction that he had never heard of the book when a friend recommended it to him. The friend had a copy, which he loaned to Carter. Carter was immediately impressed and wanted to include Lud-in-the-Mist in the BAF series. At the time, Carter says, he didn’t know if Ms. Mirrlees was even still alive. (She died in 1978.) It’s questionable how much effort he put into locating her, since by that time the book was in the public domain.

The story takes place in a country based on both England and the Low Countries. Lud-in-the-Mist is the capital of the small country of Dorimare. It is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. The Dawl is the largest river in Dorimare. The Dapple, on the other hand, has its source beyond the Debatable Hills in the land of Fairy.

Until 200 hundred years ago, relations between Dorimare and Fairy were good. Then, during the reign of Duke Aubrey, the merchants rose up and overthrew him. Aubrey wasn’t the best of people. He had a bet going with another man that they could drive the court jester to suicide. (They were successful.) But he wasn’t all bad, either. He was also known for acts of extreme generosity.

Since the time of the revolution, all traffic with the inhabitants of Fairy is forbidden. Indeed, even mentioning fairy fruit is illegal. According to the Law, it doesn’t exist, despite the fact that it was consumed with regularity before Duke Aubrey’s overthrow.

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New Treasures: Trail of Cthulhu: Mythos Expeditions from Pelgrane Press

Saturday, December 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mythos Expeditions-smallI honestly don’t know why no one has done this before: created an anthology of Cthulhu-based RPG adventures based around dangerous expeditions to the four corners of the earth.

Pelgrane Press does absolutely top-notch game products. The production values are excellent, the art is terrific, and the writing is marvelous. Mythos Expeditions was released to support their Trail of Cthulhu role playing game earlier this year; I bought a copy as soon as it became available and I haven’t been disappointed.

Bon voyage! You are about to depart on ten journeys into the unknown, following the trail of Cthulhu to isolated Pacific islands, into the icy wastes of the Arctic, through jungles and war zones and even off the Earth itself. In the blank spaces of the map, dark deities flourish and evil festers… but the truth waits to be discovered, secret knowledge that man may not be meant to know but that Miskatonic University covets. Into that mystery your Investigators go, armed with gun and camera and notebook, risking their own survival to keep those blank spaces from swallowing up the world. Hurry on board — the gangplank is going up!

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in November

Friday, December 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

John Brunner

John Brunner

Boy, we sure covered a wide range of topics in November.

They included a look at the tragic death of British SF author John Brunner, the triumphant return of one of the fathers of modern Sword & Sorcery, a high-resolution snapshot of a 1942 pulp magazine rack, bulletins from the World Fantasy Convention, and a detailed report from inside the prehistoric painted caves of Somaliland.

And that’s just a sample of the Top Ten most popular articles.

The #1 article of the month was an excerpt from Robert Silverber’s article in the March 1996 issue of Asimov’s SF magazine, on the tragic death of John Brunner, and a look at Brunner’s career following his ill-fated detour into historical fiction.

The second most popular blog post last month was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s review of Charles R. Saunders’s new Sword & Soul novel Abengoni: First Calling. Saunders reshaped sword & sorcery with his first novel Imaro in 1981, and Howard Andrew Jones calls him “one of the greatest sword-and-sorcery writers of the ’70s (and one that by all rights should be a household name).”

The #3 article for the month was a sample from the Shorpy Historic Picture Archive, with a gorgeous high-resolution pic of a 1942 magazine rack crammed with hundreds of pulp magazines, slicks, and comics — all in glorious color.

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Fearie Tales Has the Best Cover Art of the Year

Friday, December 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Fearie Tales 2-smallOne thing I miss about the lack of a print edition of Black Gate is that I no longer shop for cover art.

I still do, sort of, by keeping an eye on the best pieces of art every year. And as we close out 2014, I think I can say that my favorite cover this year was for the deluxe limited edition of PS Publishing’s Fearie Tales, painted by Alan Lee (click on the image at left for a bigger version.) What can I say? I’m a sucker for castles and crows.

Fearie Tales was edited by Stephen Jones and takes inspiration from the original versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Jones invited some of today’s top fantasy and horror writers to create new Grimm Fairy Tales, with a decidedly darker twist. It contains retellings of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, The Robber Bridegroom, and more from Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Garth Nix, Robert Shearman, Michael Marshall Smith, Christopher Fowler, Angela Slatter, Brian Hodge, Joanne Harris, John Ajvide Lindqvist, and many others. Check out Goth Chick’s review of the US edition here.

Cover artist Alan Lee was, along with John Howe, the lead concept artist for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. He has illustrated dozens of fantasy novels, including the covers of the 1983 Penguin edition of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, and several works by J.R.R. Tolkien, including the centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings (1995), a 1999 edition of The Hobbit, and The Children of Húrin (2007).

Fearie Tales was published PS Publishing in a deluxe signed traycase edition limited to 200 copies on July 1, 2014, priced at £249.00. It is also available in a trade edition (with a different cover), published by Jo Fletcher Books on September 23, 2014, priced at $24.99.

My City’s Heroes (Part 2 of 2)

Friday, December 26th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Jam: Urban Adventure #1Not long ago, a friend of mine went on patrol with a super-hero.

Real-life super-heroes have become a kind of small-scale trend, and not long ago Montréal got one of its own. Lightstep is a decidedly 21st-century hero, according to reports a vegan “queer radical feminist” who “prefers to be referred to using the pronoun ‘they.’” Lightstep also maintains a Tumblr where they discuss subjects like non-violence and Derrida. My friend Sophie, a webcomics artist and blogger, spent a night accompanying Lightstep on their rounds. She writes about her experience here.

Like a lot of ‘RLSH,’ Lightstep’s approach (so far as I can see) is less about adventure than about simply helping people. Lending a hand when needed. Doing things for their chosen community. As I write this, the first post on Lightstep’s tumblr talks about non-violence as theatre, which seems appropriate. Sometimes heroism comes from keeping a positive attitude, and inspiring that attitude in others. Sometimes the helping hand makes a difference out of all proportion. Which seems to relate well to Montréal’s most famous fictional super-hero.

The Jammer was the creation of cartoonist Bernie Mireault (a regular artist for the print version of Black Gate; John O’Neill profiled Mireault here). Clad in a modified Sears thermal jogging suit (his sister added a hood), Gordon Kirby wanders around Montréal helping people at random. He gets involved with domestic disputes, private eyes, and a sect of would-be assassins. And Satan decides to take him down because he’s just too darned happy all the time. Originating in the 80s as occasional short stories, in 1992 Tundra published the first issue of The Jam: Urban Adventure as an ongoing comic. After five full-colour issues, the book shifted to Dark Horse and reverted to black-and-white. With issue nine it moved to Caliber, and took on more of the feel of an anthology, as Kirby’s adventures increasingly became frames for various short stories — a Jam in a completely different sense. The final issue, number 14, came out in 1997.

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