The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Cohen_CohenI am an unabashed fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Along with a lot of Carl Hiassen’s work, they are the only reads that cause me to laugh out loud. Unseen Academicals was the first Discworld book that I wasn’t really happy with when I finished it; which isn’t too bad considering it was the thirty-third in the series for me.

Though I have a very fundamental difference with Pratchett’s basic worldview, I think he is an absolutely brilliant satirist. Discworld isn’t nearly as well known generally as The Hitchhiker’s Guides to the Galaxy books, but I tell folks that if you like Douglas Adams, you should like Terry Pratchett.

Genghiz Cohen, better known as Cohen the Barbarian, appears in a few novels. He is Discworld’s greatest warrior, though now he is an old man in his late eighties or nineties, and he leads a band of senior citizen barbarians known as the Silver Horde.

Cohen/Conan. The Silver Horde/The Golden Horde. See? Get it? Discworld is full of this stuff.

Cohen is a skinny old man with a long white beard, a patch over one eye and a dirty loincloth. He has a set of dentures made from Troll teeth, which are pretty much the only things he has left from a wild life.

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The Top 80 Black Gate Posts of 2014

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Premium 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook-small2014 was a pretty good year for Black Gate. Our readership nearly doubled, and we published a record number of articles. I was going to do an exact count of all the posts we made in 2014 so I’d sound a little more together here, but I lost count after 1,200.

But trust me. It was a lot.

At the end of every month last year, I compiled a brief report itemizing our Top 50 articles for the month (here’s the list for December, for example). Mostly because the lists were fun and popular. But also because I couldn’t believe Scott Taylor’s Art of the Genre pieces kept beating my Vintage Treasures posts, month after month. Seriously, how does that happen?

Anyway, those of us who obsess over traffic stats every month (chiefly me and Scott) noticed a few surprises when we tabulated the results for all of 2014. Several of the overall most popular articles of last year rarely made the Top 20 every month. But they had steady traffic month after month, and those numbers added up. I guess it’s true what they say about slow and steady winning the race. That Aesop guy knew what he was talking about.

Below we’ve tabulated the 80 most popular articles on the Black Gate website for all of 2014 — starting with Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ report on the hit Dungeons and Dragons reprint series, “My Youth Was Delivered Yesterday: AD&D 2nd Edition Re-Released,” originally posted in 2013. It was read 26,380 times last year, making it our most read blog post in 2014, and one of the most popular pieces we’ve ever published.

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ConFusion Convention Report

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

GalaxyGameI attended my first science fiction convention in 2000 or so. EerieCon in Niagra Falls, New York. A decade-and-a-half later, I’ve become a regular at some conventions, such as GenCon, but others I don’t regularly attend. The big, more corporately-driven conventions like GenCon, Comic-Con, and DragonCon, are very popular, but it’s the smaller literary conventions where the real die hard fans like to gather. As much as I love many of the media representations of science fiction and fantasy, I fell in love with the genre through books.

Last weekend, I made the drive from my central Indiana home up to Dearborn, Michigan, for ConFusion. I lived in Detroit for 4 years and attended ConFusion several times during that period, but moved away over a decade ago and have only been there a couple of times since. Twice I was fully prepared to go, but mid-January weather caused last minutes changes in my plans.

This year, the weather cooperated. The drive took about 4 hours, and I wasn’t alone. This time it was a family trip, with my wife and two sons (9 and 5 years old) along for the adventure. We typically devote a day as a family to GenCon, but I’ve avoided bringing my kids to the more literary conventions. ConFusion has historically had a pretty solid kid’s track, KidFusion, including a Saturday night pizza/pajama party. It’s definitely one of the more kid-friendly conventions, so we decided to give it a try as a family this year.

Weather allowing, ConFusion is a great convention for those in the Midwest to attend, both for those who love to read and those who love to write. It draws a lot of fantastic authors, including a regular stream of top names in the field, authors that regularly appear on award nomination (and winner) lists.

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Black Static #43 Now on Sale

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Static 43-smallBlack Static is a British magazine of dark fantasy and horror, edited by Andy Cox. It used to be called The 3rd Alternative, until it was acquired by TTA Press, the publishers of Interzone and Crimewave, and was relaunched as Black Static in 2007.

I reported on the first issues of Black Static I purchased, issues 40 and 41, back in October. I enjoyed both, and thought the magazine was deserving of regular coverage here at Black Gate. (Besides, we Black publications need to stick together.)

The November–December issue contains short stories by Ralph Robert Moore, Usman T. Malik, Simon Bestwick, Annie Neugebauer, Andrew Hook, and Aliya Whiteley. The cover, for Ralph Robert Moore’s ‘Drown Town,’ is by Ben Baldwin; interior illustrations are by Ben Baldwin, Tara Bush and Dave Senecal.

The magazine’s regular columns include Coffinmaker’s Blues by Stephen Volk and Blood Pudding by Lynda E. Rucker (comment); Blood Spectrum by Tony Lee (DVD/Blu-ray reviews); and Case Notes by Peter Tennant (book reviews). This month Tennant’s column includes a lengthy interview with James Cooper.

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The Series Series: The Wide World’s End by James Enge

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Wide World's End-smallYou have something wonderful to look forward to in February, and it’s sort of the opposite of Valentine’s Day.  The third volume of James Enge’s Tournament of Shadows trilogy, The Wide World’s End, is coming out, and it’s every bit as strange and glorious as Enge’s novels have all been so far, with an extra dimension of heartbreak.

Because it’s a tragedy. Not the schoolroom mountain-diagram tragedy plot here, not the victim-blaming hubris explanation, but a fresher, more original kind of tragedy. (Fortunately, the tragedy is leavened by Enge’s usual black humor, numerous inventively disturbing monsters, clever magical technologies, and crackling dialogue.)

What’s tragic about Morlock is that the very things that make him so genuinely excellent, so uniquely able to save his world, are the very things that make it impossible for him to go home again. And that includes the great love between him and his wife.

The author and publisher have been completely forthright about that. The cover copy tells us even the happiest available ending on the cosmic scale will be a disaster on the personal scale.

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Future Treasures: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, edited by John Joseph Adams and Joe Hill

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015-smallThe Mariner Books Best American series is one of the more successful anthology series on the market. Their titles include Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Essays, Best American Science and Nature Writing, and Best American Sports Writing.

This year for the first time they’re adding an SF and fantasy volume, with John Joseph Adams as series editor. The editors are still selecting for the inaugural volume; the submission guidelines are here.

The Best American series is the premier annual showcase for the country’s finest short fiction and nonfiction. Each volume’s series editor selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites. A special guest editor — a leading writer in the field — then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publish. This unique system has made the Best American series the most respected — and most popular — of its kind.

Now, with Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, series editor John Joseph Adams will curate a new anthology series that will demonstrate what science fiction and fantasy literature is capable of — that will demonstrate that science fiction and fantasy is more than just retreads of Star Trek and Star Wars, that it is the genre of Flowers for Algernon and Fahrenheit 451, of The Man in the High Castle, The Book of the New Sun, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, that it is the genre of Wild Seed and The Left Hand of Darkness, and of Little, Big and The Sparrow and Dhalgren.

Fans of the genres know that the finest science fiction and fantasy is on par with the finest works of literature in any genre, and the goal of this anthology series is to prove it. The 2015 volume will collect the best material published in 2014, selected by series editor John Joseph Adams and guest editor Joe Hill.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 will be published by Mariner Books on October 6, 2015. It is 320 pages, priced at $14.95 for both the print and digital editions.

Dark Comedy, Retro-futurism and a Bucket Load of Charm: Why Fallout 3 is a Bloody Good Game

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Fallout_3I’m willing to bet that, at some point in your childhood, you wanted to be Mad Max, and why not? Mad Max kicks ass: he’s got a shotgun, an Australian accent, a really cool dog, and the most grizzled beard in history: the five o clock shadow. Right then, so take the aesthetics and feel of Mad Max, mix it in with some retro-futurism, a brilliantly realized post-apocalyptic DC, and a bucket load of dark comedy, and you know what you get?

Fallout 3. That’s what you get. And yes, it’s every bit as badass as it sounds.

Now, if I weren’t a rambling, borderline incoherent muppet, I would end this post here and tell you to buy it, but I am a rambling, borderline incoherent muppet, so now I’m going to waste the next 10 minutes of your life telling you why it’s so good.

In fact, no, scratch that, let me go over what’s going on first, give you some context. After slapping the disc in your Xbox or whatever and booting this bad boy up, you’re asked to create your character and call him something stupid (I called mine Moist Pete). From there you live out your childhood in the safe but subjugating arms of Vault 101, one of the underground vaults built before the apocalypse to shelter the world’s best and brightest from the nuclear bombs dropped all over the US by the Chinese. You’ll go through your childhood, getting bullied, going to school and passing your exams and generally having a pretty decent time of things.

Then you wake up one morning to find out that Liam Neeson, your dad, has legged it off out into the wasteland because, according to him, running around an irradiated wasteland and having his legs blown off by an unexploded mine sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon. You then find out that everyone in the vault is looking for you too, so, after beating all of your childhood friends to death with a baseball bat and a police baton you go off in search of him, because, let’s face it, a man as smooth as Liam Neeson doesn’t make it through the apocalypse unmolested. He’s gonna need help.

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Elemental Evil Attacks Dungeons & Dragons

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

D&D Elemental EvilDungeons & Dragons has transformed itself lately, and that trend continues with the upcoming Elemental Evil storyline set to hit the Forgotten Realms in pen-and-paper, board, and digital formats starting in March and continuing through the summer. In the words of the press release:

Heroes are needed in the Forgotten Realms to discover and defeat secret cults that threaten to annihilate the Sword Coast by harnessing the powers of the elements of fire, water, air, and earth.

Certainly sounds impressive, but before diving into Elemental Evil, let’s quickly review the status of the world’s most iconic fantasy gaming line.

The Road to Now

Back in 2012, Dungeons & Dragons hosted the keynote event at GenCon.  Everyone knew that Dungeons & Dragons was in the process of releasing D&D Next (they were avoiding “5th edition” at that time). Among a lot of experienced gamers, their 4th edition was viewed as a step in the wrong direction. This 2012 keynote was the event where they were going to lay out their strategy for the gaming public. And, I am proud to say, I was there. Since then, I’ve been closely watching the evolution of this process and have been incredibly impressed with what I’ve seen coming out from Wizards of the Coast.

In addition to the fact that they were releasing a new core rule set (which we all knew already), they also announced at this time that Dungeons & Dragons was focusing their entire attention on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, rather than splitting their attention among a myriad array of different worlds. As the start of this, they released a series of 6 novels from August 2013 through June 2014, each by a different author and depicting how the world-shaking event “The Sundering” (also the name of the book series) was impacting the Forgotten Realms world. The 2013 GenCon keynote coincided with Drizzt Do’Urden’s 25th birthday, and also with the release of the first The Sundering book.

Throughout fall of 2014, after the final Sundering book, Dungeons & Dragons finally began releasing their new set of 5th edition core books. These have been covered fairly extensively at Black Gate. Here are some of the highlights for those interested:

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Vintage Treasures: Strange Cargo by Jeffrey E. Barlough

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Cargo Jeffrey E. Barlough-smallI didn’t know quite what to make of Strange Cargo when I received a review copy over a decade ago. The cover grabbed my attention immediately, as did the synopsis, but I didn’t immediately realize it was part of Jeffrey E. Barlough’s ongoing Western Lights series, set in a world where the Ice Age never ended and only a narrow sliver of civilization survives along the Pacific American coastline.

The vast majority of review copies I received a decade ago are already long forgotten. But Barlough’s fame has steadily grown as Western Lights, a delightful series in which Victorian society exists alongside saber-toothed cats and woolly mammoths, continues to attract new readers. Strange Cargo was the third volume, following Dark Sleeper and The House in the High Wood; the most recent are What I Found at Hoole and The Cobbler of Ridingham.

Something wicked this way comes…

Nantle is the destination for the wealthy Cargo family. A mysterious heir has been named in their grandfather’s will — and they have traveled a long way by sea to find him.

Mr. Tim Christmas journeys as part of his apprenticeship, seeking the mechanism behind a strange set of seemingly magical stones. On her twenty-first birthday, Miss Wastefield is given an odd gift, which she keeps locked up in a giant chest at all times — a keeping place from which she receives dire threats. In Nantle, she hopes to find the one man who can rid her of this evil.

It is in this old cathedral city that their paths will converge. And where they will find themselves at the mercy of a mighty and vengeful power.

Strange Cargo was published by Ace Books on August 3, 2004. It is 481 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback. It has never been reprinted and it currently out of print; there is no digital edition. The cover is by Gregory Bridges.

New Treasures: Vacant by Alex Hughes

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Vacant Alex Hughes-smallAlex C. Hughes’s Mindspace Investigations series has now reached Book 4, and I think it’s time I checked them out. The Parkersburg, WV News and Sentinel calls her novels “Science fiction mixed into an almost pulp-noir setting… a great series,” and that’s enough to catch my attention. The books are futuristic murder mysteries set 60 years after devastating Tech Wars nearly destroyed the planet. Adam, an ex-addict kicked out of the Telepath’s Guild, is now working for the police, gradually re-building his shattered reputation with a series of adventures that James Knapp calls “A fun blend of Chinatown and Blade Runner.”

Nothing ruins a romantic evening like a brawl with lowlifes — especially when one of them later turns up dead and my date, Detective Isabella Cherabino, is the #1 suspect. My history with the Atlanta PD on both sides of the law makes me an unreliable witness, so while Cherabino is suspended, I’m paying my bills by taking an FBI gig.

I’ve been hired to play telepathic bodyguard for Tommy, the ten-year-old son of a superior court judge in Savannah presiding over the murder trial of a mob-connected mogul. After an attempt on the kid’s life, the Feds believe he’s been targeted by the businessman’s “associates.”

Turns out, Tommy’s a nascent telepath, so I’m trying to help him get a handle on his Ability. But it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that there’s something going on with this kid’s parents that’s stressing him out more than a death threat…

Vacant was published by Roc Books on December 2, 2014. It is 337 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.

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