The Art of the Con: Can*Con 2016

Friday, August 26th, 2016 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Can*Con promo image designed by Jay Odjick

Can*Con promo image designed by Jay Odjick

Earlier this year I was invited to join the programming team for Can*Con, the annual conference on speculative arts and literature held in Ottawa, Ontario. Since about January, I’ve been working with co-chair Derek Kunsken (who also blogs for Black Gate) and fellow author Evan May to develop the panels, presentations, workshops, etc, for this year’s conference, which will be held from September 9th to 11th at the Novotel Hotel. The next few paragraphs will be a glance behind the curtain at the work that goes into putting a con together.

I like to joke that behind that curtain are a few bedraggled wizards desperately seeking additional caffeine and occasionally pulling out the little hair left on their heads … but in all seriousness planning Can*Con has been a delight. My role really came into play after the Guests of Honor (GoHs) had already been confirmed by Derek. Those GoHs are critical because your programming tracks are based around them in many ways. For example, having Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s, attending this year allows us to create panels looking specifically at her magazine, analyzing what it means to be a woman in the publishing industry, and so on. If you want to have an entire track related to comics or costuming, you need a solid GoH to establish your framework. But that’s just a piece: the programming you can develop is also largely dependent on your Special Guests and panelists, and the sooner their attendance can be confirmed, the sooner you can start drafting ideas. That was pretty much where Evan and I came in earlier this year.

We started by asking potential panelists for panel ideas they would like to see or contribute to, as well as presentations, workshops, etc, they would be willing to offer. The more you can tap into people’s expertise and interest, the stronger your programming will be; you can’t have a really excellent panel focusing on queer narratives in science fiction, or the fundamentals of witchcraft, or whether The Exorcist still works in the 21st century unless you have panelists with a deep understanding of those topics. A lot of the work at this stage is emailing back and forth with panelists, to both solicit ideas and then sometimes refine them, if the idea is too similar to something that ran the year before or something that we don’t think would quite appeal to our attendees. The little brainstorming sessions with panelists hopefully yield programming that is compelling and which everyone is happy with.

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Fantasia 2016, Day 6: Twice-Told Tales (The Throne and The Lure)

Thursday, August 25th, 2016 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The ThroneSometimes the movies I get to see on a given day at Fantasia have an obvious common theme. Sometimes not. Sometimes there’s a commonality binding two otherwise different movies, but it’s tenuous. So it was that on Tuesday, July 19, I watched a Korean historical drama called The Throne (originally Sado), and followed it with a Polish musical-fantasy-tragicomedy called The Lure (originally Córki dancingu). They’re both films based on older stories, in the first case recorded history from the eighteenth century, and in the second Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid.” As you might imagine from those two very different source materials, these are very different movies in very different genres. But it also seemed to me that the process of retelling the stories was very different as well.

Let’s begin with The Throne, which reinterprets history in high style. Directed by Lee Joon-ik from a script by Cho Chul-hyun, Lee Song-won, and Oh Sung-hyeon, it begins one rainy night with a rebellion led by Prince Sado (Yoo Ah-in) against his old father, King Yeongjo (Song Kang-ho). It fails, and Sado’s condemned to death. The precise crime and precise punishment are determined by legalistic rules that Yeongju must follow or risk his throne; the result is that Sado’s condemned to a slow death, imprisoned in a small box without food and water. We see Sado slowly waste away, but most of the film takes place in flashback, as we learn about his life and his relationship with his father, and why he led the rebellion and why he failed.

The structure of the movie is masterful, unveiling events bit by bit. It’s not quite a mystery structure, as there’s no central investigator revealing the truth, no doubt in anyone’s mind about what’s happened or why. Instead Sado’s slow death triggers a series of memories, both Sado’s own and those of his family. As the memories accrue, we start being able to draw connections between symbols and between repeated phrases and repeated choices. Things acquire different meanings at different times. Something as simple as the choice of a gate through which the king walks, or the presence of Sado at a certain point in his father’s ritualised washing ceremony, comes to have terrible significance. We get to understand Sado, and then Yeongjo, and then Sado through Yeongjo and the way Yeongjo had to raise him.

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Goth Chick News: Phantasmagoria the Game Turns 21 and Gets a Movie Treatment (Maybe)

Thursday, August 25th, 2016 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Phantasmagoria-smallAs you know (or can guess) I have publicly declared Phantasmagoria, the horror-themed video game by Sierra On-Line, as one of my all-time-favorites to this day.

Why you ask, when the quality of today’s gaming experiences are movie-like, compared to which Phantasmagoria’s live-actor-against-computer generated-background appears fairly cheesy?

To start, I’ll re-share some stats that my buds over at Bloody Disgusting dug up as part of their own Happy Birthday tribute.

Back in the ‘90’s when point-and-click adventure games reigned supreme, LucasArts and Sierra were the “Nintendo and Sega” of the era. And Roberta Williams was Sierra’s wunderkind; the designer responsible for a number of hit franchises like King’s Quest, Mystery House, and The Colonel’s Bequest. But in spite of the many titles that Williams worked on, she’s said that her sole entry in the horror genre, Phantasmagoria, is her favorite.

Phantasmagoria to this day remains one of the biggest spectacles of gaming. No expense was sparred and the game sprawled across 7 CD-ROMs due to the heavy amount of FMV (Full Motion Video).

Williams wrote a 550-page script for Phantasmagoria, (a typical movie screenplay is around 120 pages, as a point of reference), which required a cast of 25 actors, a production team of over 200 people, took two years to fully develop and four months to film. Phantasmagoria’s initial budget was $800,000, but by the end of production costs had hit a staggering total of $4.5 million (with the game also being filmed in a $1.5 million studio that Sierra built specifically for it).

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I Am Not a Serial Killer Film Drops (Someplaces) Tomorrow

Thursday, August 25th, 2016 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

i-am-not-a-serial-killer-poster-2I am not particularly active on Twitter lately, but today I had a bit of time and hopped on, only to see the following headline shared by Dan Wells:

Retro-horror mashup ‘I Am Not a Serial Killer’ has an unexpectedly warm and fuzzy side

The tweet included a link to an LA Times review of the film I Am Not a Serial Killer which, according to IMDB, is set to release tomorrow, on August 26. Another review, over at the A.V. Club, proclaims “Psychopaths are people too.”

Despite being fond of Wells’ horror novel of the same name, I had no idea this film was on the horizon, and am definitely pleased to see it getting initial praise. If you want to really get a taste for what to expect, I suggest the fantastic trailer for it. (If you want to see the movie, check the bottom of this article for links, which I’ll update if I find more online availability after it is released. Feel free to skip there, if you have seen enough and want to avoid spoilers.)

The movie is based on the novel of the same name, which has gone on to spark a number of sequels featuring the main character, teenage John Cleaver, who is also a diagnosed psychopath. John’s fear is that his psychopathic urges will get the better of him, and that he will lose control of himself. To prevent this, he studies serial killers intently and has developed a series of rules that are designed to maintain his veneer of normalcy. One of the rules shown in the trailer, for example, is that when he feels an urge to kill someone, he instead compliments them. (A tip that is also helpful when maneuvering social media.)

John works in his family’s mortuary, which gives him some release for his interest in death. But he gets more than he bargains for when a series of murders in his quiet down prove to be the work of an actual serial killer. John’s expertise in this area leads him to discover who the serial killer is, and it turns out the police are not equipped to deal with the menace. In attempting to deal with things the “right” way, John finds events slowly becoming worse. He is forced to step up, breaking his own rules, and slowly getting in touch with his own darkness in order to combat the killer that threatens his community.

And that’s when things start getting really bad.

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The mid-August Fantasy Magazine Rack

Thursday, August 25th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Asimovs-Science-Fiction-August-2016-rack Cirsova 2-rack Clarkesworld-119-rack GrimDark 8-rack
Swords and Sorcery Magazine July 2016 Lackington's Summer 2016-rack The-Dark-August-2016-rack Red Sun magazine issue 1-rack

Looks like Fletcher has been working a lot harder than me in the back half of the month — I thought I was doing pretty well by covering three August magazines (Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and The Dark), but he’s managed detailed reviews of no less than six: Cirsova, GrimDark, Swords and Sorcery, Lackington’s, Weirdbook, and the newcomer, Red Sun. Here’s Flecher:

It turns out there were lots and lots of really good horror and science fiction short stories published this summer… In its short life, Collins has made GdM a consistently exciting publication, and GdM #8‘s two sci-fi stories are not bad at all. The first, “Viva Longevicus” by Brandon Daubs, is about genetically engineered pets going very, very wrong. It’s told by a colonel in the U.S.S. AeroCorps sent to investigate an infestation on a colonial world. A monster hunt on an alien world just isn’t the most original plot, but if it’s told with verve and intensity (and just the right amount of crazy)… “Burying the Coin” by Setsu Uzumé is about a sky-pirate’s sidekick getting her own ship at her boss’ expense. Nothing extraordinary but well done, decent tension, some real depth of characters, and an ending with real weight.

Finally, we come to newcomer Red Sun Magazine… I really like the first story, “The Orion Incident,” by David W. Amendola. It’s a paranoid excursion into the hull of a ghost starship. Believed lost several years ago, when it makes a sudden reappearance and looks to be on a collision course with Earth, its lone survivor is sent with an exploration team to see what’s going on. Suffice it to say, things goes less well than hoped for. The other story that grabbed me was Brenda Kezar’s “Star Jelly.” We already know from the movies that one blob from outer space is bad. This story explores, in gory detail, what would happen if a whole bunch of blobs fell at once.

Read Part One of Fletcher’s Summer Short Story Roundup here and Part Two here.

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Fantasia 2016, Day 5: Bewitched and Bewailing (The Love Witch and The Wailing)

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Love WitchI had only one movie on my schedule for Monday, July 18, but thanks to the good offices of the people at the Fantasia Film Festival and at Oscilloscope Laboratories, I ended up able to catch another film first. The Love Witch was a movie that I’d been unable to watch in its theatrical showing at Fantasia due to a scheduling conflict. After seeing it Monday, I’d go on to the Hall Theatre for The Wailing (Goksung), a two-and-a-half hour Korean horror film. The movies made for an odd contrast. In both cases I greatly appreciated them but came away fairly sure I wasn’t part of their primary audience. But movies play to whoever sees them, and perhaps writing about these films will bring them to the attention of people with better perspectives than my own.

Directed and written by Anna Biller, The Love Witch is a mix of horror, satire, and melodrama which follows Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a witch and murderess, as she moves to a new home and seeks love. Unfortunately for the men she desires, she’s both unforgiving and possessed of high standards. Any sign of weakness or emotional neediness is a sign of her partner’s unfitness, which she puts to an end both swift and fatal. Will Elaine finally find the man of her dreams? Or will her interest in Richard (Robert Seeley), the husband of her friend Trish (Laura Waddell), bring about her downfall?

From the opening shots of a bright scarlet car driving along a California highway we know this is going to be a stylish treat for the eyes. Biller’s created a colour-drenched world out of a Hollywood melodrama, circa 1970. It isn’t set in that time — we get a few signs to the contrary, mostly in scenes involving policemen trying to figure out where all the dead male bodies are coming from — but it’s largely played that way, with sets and props evoking the period. More than that, there’s a mannered artificiality to the acting styles and dialogue that (I felt) mimics the specific artificiality of the late 60s.

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A Historic Stroll Along the Thames Path

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

20160817_155045

Part of the much-ruined Wallingord Castle

On a beautiful sunny day, there’s nothing I enjoy more than walking in the English countryside. Unfortunately, most of this August has been more like autumn, with overcast skies, unseasonably cold temperatures, and rain. Ah well.

But at least I got out for one walk, along an eight-mile stretch of the Thames Path National Trail. The trail took me from the old Anglo-Saxon burgh of Wallingford to the pretty little village of Goring-on-Thames. Like most of the Thames Path, it’s an easy, level walk through attractive countryside and historic sights.

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Steve Russell of Rite Publishing – RIP

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

SteveRussell2Steve Russell was the CEO and man behind Rite Publishing, a third party RPG publisher that was quite active with Pathfinder, including the very cool magazine, Adventure Quarterly. Pathways, Rite’s free e-zine, is one of the best Pathfinder periodicals you’ll find.

Steve and his pregnant wife, Miranda, had just moved back to his hometown of Dayton, OH, in late June. They were embarking on a new phase in their life when, sadly, Steve was killed in an auto accident.

I backed his Adventure Quarterly kickstarter. We exchanged a few emails about it, but I don’t claim to know him. But he was friendly to me and he was very earnest about Rite’s deliverables.

You can read Steve’s obituary here (with almost two dozen comments from friends and fans) and also tributes from Matt McElroy and Boric Glanduum.

We here at Black Gate send our prayers and condolences to Steve’s family.

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Future Treasures: Ninth City Burning, by J. Patrick Black

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Ninth City Burning Cover-smallHere’s a promising debut SF novel of alien invasion…. or, perhaps, post-apocalyptic alien dystopia? Whatever. It has aliens, desperate battles, and mutant powers. Bring it.

We never saw them coming.

Entire cities disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but dust and rubble. When an alien race came to make Earth theirs, they brought with them a weapon we had no way to fight, a universe-altering force known as thelemity. It seemed nothing could stop it — until we discovered we could wield the power too.

Five hundred years later, the Earth is locked in a grinding war of attrition. The talented few capable of bending thelemity to their will are trained in elite military academies, destined for the front lines. Those who refused to support the war have been exiled to the wilds of a ruined Earth.

But the enemy’s tactics are changing, and Earth’s defenders are about to discover this centuries-old war has only just begun. As a terrible new onslaught looms, heroes will rise from unlikely quarters, and fight back.

Ninth City Burning will be published by Ace Books on September 6, 2016. It is 496 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Matthew Griffin. Read an excerpt at Entertainment Weekly.

See all our coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy here.


An Epic Finale for Ancient Opar

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

BOAO-cover-small2Hadon-front-final1Over forty years ago, Philip Jose Farmer published a pair of officially sanctioned books recounting the history of ancient Opar, the lost civilization familiar to readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. Opar was the first of the author’s lost cities that survived undiscovered in the African jungle until the noble apeman came along. Burroughs’ lost civilizations, like his alien worlds, were fantastic places of adventure that allowed the author to sharpen his satiric blade and skewer organized religion and politics alike.

Farmer, in notable contrast, was interested in using Burroughs’ concepts as a springboard for more realistic and decidedly more adult adventures. Farmer’s histories are peopled with conquerors and king-makers who are not just noble savages, but also savage rapists and murderers. His Opar novels opened Tarzan fans’ eyes to the antediluvian kingdom of Khokarsa. While the sword & sorcery boom of the 1960s and 1970s flooded bookshelves with immoral and amoral barbarians, Farmer set his work apart by treating the material as realistically as possible. His characters die tragically and sometimes prematurely. Sexual intercourse leads to unplanned pregnancies that alter people’s lives as it changes the course of a kingdom’s destiny.

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