Jerry Springer through the Time Portal! Tom Holland’s Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar

Thursday, July 28th, 2016 | Posted by M Harold Page

Tom Holland Dynasty

The heir to Harold Lamb?

The wildest period of Roman political history — from the rise of Augustus, through Tiberius, Caligula and C… C… Claudius, to the demise of Nero — is also the hardest to follow.

There are just too many unfamiliar names and too many repeated names — thanks to Roman naming conventions, there are, e.g., more Julias than you can shake a stick at. Worse, people don’t just marry for politics, they divorce for it, and even adopt for it.

Thus you have Emperor Tiberius, son of Emperor Augustus’ second wife Livia by her first husband but adopted by Augustus (originally called Octavian, by the way) adopting his nephew Germanicus who then marries Agrippina (the first: there are two Agrippinas ) daughter of Julia by her first marriage with Marcus Agrippa.  Julia, of course, was the daughter of Augustus by his first wife Scribonia, and not to be confused with Julia’s grandmother, daughter or granddaughter of the same name.

I hope you’re following that?

But really, you’re probably having difficulty hearing me over the sound of a million Ancient Romans chanting, “Jerry! Jerry!

Because it is like a Jerry Springer show, except with more exiles, more murder, and more death by starvation or ritual suicide.

Despite, or because of this, the period is a favorite fictional setting. Robert Graves’ I, Claudius is the classic, but Simon Scarrow’s excellent Eagle series romps through the military thread. And of course we have the screen adaption Graves’ book plus the more recent BBC Rome.

Personally I have difficulty following even fictionalised renditions of this mayhem! For this reason I was intrigued to get a review copy Tom Holland’s Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar.

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July 2016 Lightspeed Magazine Now Available

Thursday, July 28th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Lightspeed July 2016-smallThe complete July issue of Lightspeed is now yours to enjoy free online. This month brings new fantasy by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Kenneth Schneyer, and fantasy reprints by A. Merc Rustad and Spencer Ellsworth, plus original science fiction by Ted Kosmatka and Jilly Dreadful, along with SF reprints by Genevieve Valentine and Seth Fried.

In his editorial, editor John Joseph Adams shares some award good news, plus intriguing news about his new book line with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

We’re thrilled to report that Alyssa Wong’s story, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” from the Queers Destroy Horror! special issue of Nightmare (Oct. 2015), won the Nebula Award for best short story! Congrats to Alyssa and to all of the other winners. You can find a full list of the winners at

John Joseph Adams Books News

In my role as editor of John Joseph Adams Books for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I just acquired two books in a new series by Molly Tanzer (author of Vermilion).

The first book is Creatures of Will and Temper, a Victorian-era urban fantasy inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which epee-fencing enthusiast Evadne Gray and her younger sister are drawn into a secret and dangerous London underworld of pleasure-seeking demons and bloodthirsty diabolists, with only Evadne’s skill with a blade standing between them and certain death.

Publication of book one will likely happen in late 2017. Can’t wait for you all to read it!

I’m especially intrigued by the Book News. We covered Molly Tanzer’s Vermilion here, and I’m very interested in seeing her latest. John has proved to be an editor with a very keen eye… What other wonders will he offer us through John Joseph Adams Books? I’m looking forward to finding out.

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Adventure in The Old Kingdom: The Minikins of Yam by Thomas Burnett Swann

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 | Posted by Tony Den


DAW edition

I am on holiday and, while taking a break from work, am also taking a short break from my ongoing retro review of Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga. My growing Books to Read shelf produced two volumes that spoke to me: The Minikins of Yam by Thomas Burnett Swann, and Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber. The latter has been well reviewed and discussed on the Black Gate blog, but Swann has received a lot less attention.

Thomas Burnett Swann (1928 to 1976) wrote a number of books, essays and short stories during his career, but seems to have been most prolific during his later years. He is an author I have never read before, and I picked up the DAW copy of The Minikins of Yam at a second hand book shop for the huge sum of ZAR12 (about 80 cents).

The cover and age intrigued me and when I glanced at the first three lines: “Egypt. Chemmis. The palace of Pharaoh,” I was hooked. I have always been fascinated with ancient Egypt, and this book spoke to me. While Mr Swann was not familiar to me, he has appeared before in Black Gate, in blog posts about his novels The Weirwoods and Wolfwinter by John O’Neill.

The volume I read is a slim 156 pages and was published by DAW books in 1976, so it may be one of the last books the author saw published in his lifetime. The only later edition appears to have been from Wildside Press in 2013. The DAW edition includes a few internal illustrations by the prolific George Barr, who also did the cover, featuring a near-naked satyr like creature (a minikin) riding an ostrich.

The story commences with the juvenile Pharaoh, Pepy II, in Old Kingdom Egypt, where the lonely young Pharaoh sneaks out each night in disguise to help the poor. Next wee meet the Pharaoh’s father-like friend Harkhuf, an accomplished soldier and adventurer, who has traveled beyond Nubia into the land of Yam in search of a black dwarf, whom the Pharaoh would be pleased to see dance in his court.

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The Pirates of the Canary Islands

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


El Castillo de Santa Barbara, built in the 15th century to protect
the port of Teguise from pirate attacks. It was extensively rebuilt in the 16th century and
now houses a piracy museum. Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero

When I told Black Gate‘s editor, high guru, and overall generalissimo John O’Neill that I was headed to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and would visit a castle that had a piracy museum, he was over the Moon. What fantasy blog wouldn’t want an article on that?

Unfortunately for him, I spent my week eating, swimming, and learning to play Grand Theft Auto 5 with my son and nephew. When I finally got around to driving out to the castle, it was closed. Yeah, I failed in my job as a travel writer because I enjoyed my vacation too much.

But the island itself is worth a look, and its history is fascinating. Lanzarote lies in the Canary Island chain just off the coast of Western Sahara. It’s volcanic in origin, with a dramatic coastline ringing an interior that looks like something from a post-apocalyptic movie.

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New Treasures: Time Siege by Wesley Chu

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Time Siege Wesley Chu-smallFew writers have the kind of year that Wesley Chu had in 2015. He received a contract to continue his popular Tao series with Angry Robot, announcing that the first book in a related series, The Rise of Io, would be released in 2017. And in August he won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. But the big news came in June, when Publishers Weekly revealed that Paramount Pictures had acquired the rights for a feature film franchise based on Chu’s new novel Time Salvager, with Michael Bay attached to direct and Chu set to executive produce.

Details on the film have been sparse ever since — but the praise for Time Salvager, a fast-paced time-travel adventure and the opening volume in a new series, has been plentiful. Publishers Weekly called it “Fascinating… this page-turner is a riveting, gratifying read.” And RT Book Reviews called it “Utterly captivating… to put it simply, Chu’s world-building is extraordinary.” The second volume in the series, Time Siege, was released in hardcover earlier this month by Tor.

Having been haunted by the past and enslaved by the present, James Griffin-Mars is taking control of the future.

Earth is a toxic, sparsely inhabited wasteland — the perfect hiding place for a fugitive ex-chronman to hide from the authorities.

James has allies, scientists he rescued from previous centuries: Elise Kim, who believes she can renew Earth, given time; Grace Priestly, the venerated inventor of time travel herself; Levin, James’s mentor and former pursuer, now disgraced; and the Elfreth, a population of downtrodden humans who want desperately to believe that James and his friends will heal their ailing home world.

James also has enemies. They include the full military might of benighted solar system ruled by corporate greed and a desperate fear of what James will do next. At the forefront of their efforts to stop him is Kuo, the ruthless security head, who wants James’s head on a pike and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

Time Siege was published by Tor Books on July 12, 2016. It is 431 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Richard Anderson.

Solitaire Wargaming: B-17 Leader

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

b17 More and more I think John O’Neill is right — we’re in a golden age of boardgames. And not just the familiar sort where it takes a room full of friends to play, but solitaire wargames, such as those produced by Victory Point Games, White Dog Games, and Dan Verssen Games, or DVG. Given the dearth of nearby board gamers, it was these solitaire games that most interested me, and I’ve played and reviewed a number over the years. Eventually I began to loiter on the periphery of some boardgame sites, most regularly Board Game Geek, where I noticed that there were some great game tweaks to DVG’s U-Boat Leader game by a fellow named Dean Brown.

We struck up a friendship, and when I saw he was developing his own game for DVG, I signed on as a playtester. I wasn’t actually that curious about B-17 bombers, or airplanes in general, but it didn’t matter: the game’s turned out to be a blast. Tuesday it launched as a Kickstarter, so I sat down yesterday and talked with Dean a little about it and his history with gaming.

Read More » on Five Anthologies Worth Setting Aside a Novel For

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Blackguards Tales of Assassins Mercenaries and Rogues-smallOver at, Adrian Collins has written an article after my own heart, celebrating five of the best anthologies of the past few years. Here he is on Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues, edited by J.M. Martin and published by Ragnarok Publications in May 2015.

For me, the Reddit Stabby Award-winning Blackguards started my love of the Kickstarter anthology. The cheeky Kickstarter marketing campaign grabbed my attention, and who doesn’t love discovering new grimdark worlds, cunning anti-heroes, and gripping stories?

From the foreward by Glen Cook to the last page, Blackguards is spectacular, hitting every sonorous grimdark note from the blackest humor to the downright horrible. Peter Orullian’s “A Length of Cherrywood” was the pick of the bunch for me. It was dark, brutal, horrible, but had that little ray of light in it to keep you reading.

Soon after reviewing Blackguards on the GdM blog, I began planning how my team and I could put together something just as magnificently sinister.

Curiously, Adrian has selected fantasy anthologies exclusively for his list. Here are the other four to make the cut:

Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Unfettered: Tales by Masters of Fantasy, edited by Shawn Speakman
The Best Horror of the Year – Volume Eight, edited by Ellen Datlow

Our own coverage of Blackguards is here. See Adrian’s complete article here.

A Pulp Hero in Mythological China: Alyc Helms’s Missy Masters Novels

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dragons Of Heaven Alyc Helms-small The Conclave Of Shadow-small

I sometimes wonder why, in this age where superheroes rule all media, pulp heroes haven’t made more of a comeback in popular fiction. 

I think the answer is that I’m just not looking hard enough. Case in point: Alyc Helms’s Missy Masters novels, in which Missy takes her grandfather’s place as the pulp hero Mr. Mystic, make a fine example.

My friend Alex Bledsoe, author of The Sword-Edged Blonde and The Hum and the Shiver, sums up the first book: “A tough, witty young woman who inherited her superhero grandfather’s powers barrels through a rollicking Big Trouble in Little China-esque tale filled with magic, monsters and wisecracks. I loved it.” And Cassie Alexander, author of the Edie Spence series, says “The Dragons of Heaven combines superheroes, romance, ancient mythological China, and does it right. The world-building is stunning.”

There are two novels in the series so far, both published by Angry Robot, and both priced at $7.99 in mass market paperback, and $6.99 for the digital edition. They are:

The Dragons of Heaven (416 pages, June 30, 2015) — cover by Amazing15
The Conclave of Shadow (336 pages, July 5, 2016) — cover by Amazing15

Here’s the descriptions.

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Dark Sleeper by Jeffrey E. Barlough

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_265522dm2u1J6BLooking back, I’m not exactly sure what made me buy Dark Sleeper (1998), the first volume of Jeffrey E. Barlough’s ongoing Western Lights series. Perhaps it was the Tim Powers blurb on the front cover, but I’m thinking it was more the Jeff Barson painting of woolly mammoths pulling a coach across a dark, snow swept landscape. Whatever the reason, I’m happy I did, as the book turned out to be a very strange and often funny trip through a weird and fantastical post-apocalyptic alternate reality.

In Barlough’s fictional world the Ice Age never fully ended. With much of its north covered by ice and snow, medieval England sent its ships out around the world looking for new lands. Some of the most successful colonies were planted on the west coast of what we call North America. Devoid of people, it is instead home to great megafauna such as smilodons, megatheres, teratorns, and mammoths.

With great cities such as Salthead and Foghampton (located around the same places as Seattle and San Francisco), the western colonies flourished and expanded. Then, in 1839, terror struck from the heavens: “Then it was a great disaster struck, a tragedy of near-incomprehensible proportions.” Something crashed into the Earth, and almost instantly, all life except in the western colonies, was obliterated and the Ice Age intensified. Now, one hundred and fifty years later, the “the sole place on earth where lights still shine at night is in the west.” For a fuller, more detailed explanation, just go here.

Dark Sleeper opens on a very foggy night; a deliberate homage, I suspect, to the equally mist-shrouded opening of Bleak House.

Fog, everywhere.

Fog adrift in the night air above the river, creeping in through the estuary where the river glides to the sea. Fog curling and puffing about the headlands and high places, the lofty crags and wild soaring pinnacles, fog smothering the old university town in cold gray smoke. Fog squeezing itself into the steep narrow streets and byways, the roads and cart-tracks, into the gutters and shadowy back-alleys. Fog groping at the ancient timbered walls of the houses — the wondrous, secret, familiar old houses — and at their darkened doors and windows, filling the chinks and cracks in the masonry and coaxing the tightly fastened surfaces to open, open.

Not your common ordinary fog but a genuine Salthead fog, drippy and louring…

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Chaosium’s Borderlands: Can Playing RPGs Really Make You a Billionaire?

Monday, July 25th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Chaosium Borderlands-small Chaosium Borderlands-back-small

Some of the most treasured possessions in my games library are the boxed adventure supplements published by Chaosium between 1981 – 1986. They include some of the finest adventure gaming products ever made, such as the classic Thieves’ World (1981), Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer (1981), the brilliant Masks of Nyarlathotep (1984), the Arkham Horror board game (1984), Larry Niven’s Ringworld (1984), the revolutionary King Arthur Pendragon RPG (1985), and H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands (1986).

I bought each as it was released, and over the last 30 years I’ve made a concerted effort to pick up spare (i.e non shrink-wrapped) copies whenever I can find them. I had to give that up about a decade ago, as prices have skyrocketed… copies of many of Chasoium’s early boxed sets in good condition sell for $200 and up these days. A few years back I was lucky enough to find a decent condition copy of Borderlands, an epic campaign for RuneQuest published in 1982, for 40 bucks — a bargain! — and snatched it up. It’s been sitting next to the big green chair where I write all my BG posts ever since, waiting until I have the time to say a few words about it.

Coincidentally, yesterday I stumbled upon a fascinating tidbit at Geek & Sundry that reports that LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman — who recently sold his company to Microsoft, becoming a billionaire in the process — was one of the writers of Borderlands, and in fact was a contributor to Chaosium at a very early age. Here’s the relevant part of the article, written by Ben Riggs and titled “Playing RPGs Can Totally Make You a Billionaire, You Guys.”

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