A Shaper of Myths: The Best of Cordwainer Smith

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Cordwainer Smith-small The Best of Cordwainer Smith-back-small

He and I stared at each other. Was this what culture was? Were we now men? Did freedom always include the freedom to mistrust, to fear, to hate?
— Cordwainer Smith, “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard,” p. 300

Such are the questions set in the context of Cordwainer Smith’s utopian, futuristic society where people are seeking to go back to being “human” again. But this is only one small time slice and representation of Smith’s massive mythos in The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975). This volume was the fifth installment in Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series, and the first to be edited by someone other than Lester Del Rey (1915–1993). John J. Pierce (1941–) edits this volume and provides a very fine introduction. Pierce is a science fiction critic and was once a very outspoken pundit against the 1960s New Wave in science fiction.

Whereas the cover art of the first four volumes was done by the late Dean Ellis (1920–2009), the cover for this book was by the late Darrell Sweet (1934–2011). Sweet’s artwork here is very reminiscent of Ellis’ work on the Classic Science Fiction Series. This is interesting, seeing how Sweet’s later artwork is very different from Ellis. (See this Black Gate memorial post to Sweet for later examples of his work.) It seems Sweet was attempting to keep with the aesthetic feel that Ellis had already established.

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January 2017 Nightmare Magazine Now on Sale

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Nightmare Magazine January 2017-smallThe January 2017 issue of Nightmare is now available, with original fiction from Cadwell Turnbull and Carrie Vaughn, and reprints by Lilliam Rivera and Ashok Banker. Here’s Kevin P Hallett’s thoughts from Tangent Online:

“Loneliness is in Your Blood” by Cadwell Turnbull

This short dark horror describes a female vampire who makes herself invisible while she hunts for human blood. The vampire thinks she is immortal, living among the American slaves. But after hundreds of years, she finds herself growing old. As she ages, she is compelled to suck a young couple dry of their blood, an act that induces her own pregnancy and the birth of a new girl vampire…

“Redcap” by Carrie Vaughn

This horror short introduces us to Violet, the youngest of three sisters charged with minding the sheep. Her elder sisters warn her each day of the dangers outside the home, and that they will all starve if any sheep are lost. One day, as she prepares to herd the sheep from the pasture, she finds a lamb missing. Violet is torn between her sister’s warnings about the dangers and their cautions about starving if any sheep are lost.

She decides to search for the lost sheep. Drawn to its bleating, she climbs the haunted hill where the demon, Redcap, traps her… The story had a nice pace to it and the plot was engaging, pulling the reader forward…

Read his complete review here. The complete contests of the issue are listed below.

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The Pastel City by M. John Harrison

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

The Pastel CityM. John Harrison, like Joan Vinge or J.G. Ballard, hails from my terra incognita of the universe of sci-fi/fantasy authors. Over the years I’ve read praises of his fiction but have never read a word of it. Searching my shelves for something to review this week, I saw a copy of the Bantam omnibus of his novels and stories of Viriconium, a city in the twilight days of Earth. I have no memory of how, when, or where it came into my possession, but there it was. So I figured it was about time to investigate its unknown literary landscapes.

Harrison came to my attention from a pair of essays he wrote on the creation of fantasy. The first, “What It Might Be Like to Live in Viriconium,” is an attack on the effort to codify and specifiy the nature of fantasy. It opens with this bold statement:

The great modern fantasies were written out of religious, philosophical and psychological landscapes. They were sermons. They were metaphors. They were rhetoric. They were books, which means that the one thing they actually weren’t was countries with people in them.

For him, any effort to delineate geographical boundaries and the like in a work of fantasy undermines what really lies at its heart. He describes his own tales like this:

“Viriconium” is a theory about the power-structures culture is designed to hide; an allegory of language, how it can only fail; the statement of a philosophical (not to say ethological) despair. At the same time it is an unashamed postmodern fiction of the heart, out of which all the values we yearn for most have been swept precisely so that we will try to put them back again (and, in that attempt, look at them afresh).

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Old Dark House Double Feature VI: The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) and Hillbillies in a Haunted House (1967)

Monday, January 30th, 2017 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

The Ghost and Mr Chicken poster

This time around, two old dark house flicks that are separated by about a year. A classic of the genre and one’s that’s a bit of a dud.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
Universal Pictures (1966)
Directed by Alan Rafkin
Written by Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum
Starring Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Liam Redmond, Sandra Gould, Dick Sargent and Skip Homeier

Your opinion about The Ghost and Mr. Chicken will probably depend on how you feel about Don Knotts, someone who made a career of playing variations on the same character — a jittery, keyed up guy who often tried to cover up his bumbling with bluster.

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Future Treasures: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Monday, January 30th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Wintersong-smallRemember the 80s fantasy classic Labyrinth? Of course you do. Directed by the brilliant Jim Henson and introducing a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly, the film revolved around the efforts of Sarah to rescue her brother Toby from the clutches of the Goblin King (played with marvelous panache by David Bowie).

Labyrinth is chiefly remembered today for its terrific puppetry and Brian Froud’s ace conceptual designs. But the story it tells is a very old one, one which recurs often in fairy tales. Debut author S. Jae-Jones brings us a fresh new retelling in her novel Wintersong, coming in hardcover next month from Thomas Dunne. Roshani Chokshi (The Star-Touched Queen) says, “This was Labyrinth by way of Angela Carter. Deliciously romantic, with a nuanced Goblin King and a strong heroine, this story was rife with fairy tales, music, and enchantment.”

The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride…

All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind, her spirit, and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away.

But when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds ― and the mysterious man who rules it ― she soon faces an impossible decision. And with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

Rich with music and magic, S. Jae-Jones’s Wintersong will sweep you away into a world you won’t soon forget.

Wintersong will be published by Thomas Dunne Book on February 7, 2017. It is 448 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital edition. Read a massive 44-page excerpt (in PDF format) at the Macmillan website.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Not Impressed With “The Mazarin Stone”

Monday, January 30th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Mazarin_StickCurrent writers of Sherlock Holmes stories (such stories are known as ‘pastiches’) are held to the standard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals. And rightfully so. But that’s not to say that all sixty of Doyle’s tales featuring his famous detective are of the same quality. Followers of the great detective debate the merits of various stories. I myself am less than thrilled with “The Dying Detective,” since Holmes doesn’t do much of anything in it. He’s less mobile than Nero Wolfe in that one.

But I can’t think of too many fellow Sherlockians (and I don’t mean followers of the BBC television show) who are enamored with “The Mazarin Stone.” I definitely am not and consider it one of the weakest in the entire Canon. Of course, if you haven’t read it, you probably should do so before continuing. You’re back? Good.

The Play’s the Thing

Jack Tracy’s The Published Apocrypha contains the full text of the play The Crown Diamond, as well as an informative essay. “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and The Crown Diamond are pretty much the same story and share much dialogue, differing only in a few minor details.

One of those details worth noting is that Colonel Sebastian Moran is the villain in play, whereas it is Count Negreto Sylvius in the story. Using Moran makes sense, since playgoers likely would know the character, based on his feature role in “The Empty House.” Both men like air guns and are big game hunters, so the real difference is negligible.

Dennis Neilson Terry starred as Holmes in the stage production of The Crown Diamond.  It’s nowhere near as good as Doyle’s play, The Speckled Band, which I wrote about in this post.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: I’d Rather Be a “Librarian” Than a Disney Princess

Sunday, January 29th, 2017 | Posted by Tina Jens

Librarian 1

On the advice of my students, I’ve finally delved into The Librarian/s franchise. If you haven’t encountered it yet, there’s three made-for-TV movies (The Librarian: Quest for the Spear; TL: Return to King Solomon’s Mines; and TL: Curse of the Judas Chalice), starring Noah Wylie, Bob Newhart, and Jane Curtin. They’re a wacky spoof of adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Congo. Seeing Bob Newhart wield a broadsword and fend off villains is worth the price of a theater admission.

In 2014 the franchise was turned into a TV series, The Librarians, which made the unique move of keeping the three movie leads on in bit or slightly bigger parts, while bringing in three new young assistant librarians and a guardian (bodyguard) who have the bulk of the adventures. They also introduced a new “caretaker,” (mentor and minder) who is the immortal Sir Galahad, played with disarming charm by John Larroquette. Christian Kane is one of the new librarians. He plays basically the same character he played on Leverage, which is delightful.

The series airs on TNT. The movies and previous seasons are available on Amazon Prime video, at the moment. Jonathan Frakes has directed eight episodes. Matt Frewer, Vanessa Williams, Rene Auberjonois, John de Lancie, Felicia Day, and Bruce Campbell (as Santa) are among the guest actors from the genre world.

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January 2017 Apex Magazine Now Available

Sunday, January 29th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Apex Magazine January 2017-smallThe January 2017 Apex is a Special Double Issue, with brand new short stories by Lia Swope Mitchell, Iori Kusano, James Beamon, and J.J. Litke, a novelette by Ursula Vernon, and reprints from Rich Larson and Mike Allen. Mike’s contribution, “The Quiltmaker,” the sequel to his Nebula nominee “The Button Bin,” is a massive 20,000 word novella which Mike calls “easily my most gruesome published work to date” (and as the guy who edited and published his The Black Fire Concerto, easily the most gruesome novel I’ve ever read, I can tell you that means something). Here’s editor Jason Sizemore with his summation of the January issue.

Ursula Vernon returns to our pages with the powerful “The Dark Birds.” This dark fantasy (and dare we say…horror) allegory is my favorite Vernon piece thus far. James Beamon explores time travel and racism in “Soliloquy in a Cheap Diner Off Route 66.” “The Invisible Box” is a fun and quick little story of revenge. “Next Station, Shibuya” by Iori Kusano continues the conversation our magazine has ongoing with Japanase-influenced horror and SF. In “Mag, the Habitat and We” Lia Swope Mitchell’s little protagonists protect and fight for their home. Our two reprints are from Mike Allen and Rich Larson. “The Quiltmaker” is a terrifying dark fantasy/horror novella that will leave a mark. “Masked” by Rich Larson will have you thinking of Black Mirrors, but hey, his story came out before the third season of the show, so we’re giving Rich all the credit for the idea!

Our nonfiction includes interviews with cover artist Aaron Nakahara and author James Beamon. Dr. Amy H. Sturgis contributes a scholarly piece titled “The Once and Future Chief: Tecumseh in (Science) Fiction.” Be sure to check out our August, 2017 issue as Dr. Sturgis will be our guest editor and will focus on First Nations and Indigenous authors of North America.

Poetry contributors this month include Barton Paul Levenson, Laura Madeline Wiseman, Tracy May Adair, and Amanda Pekar.

Here’s the complete TOC, with links to all the free content.

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Oz’s Bag of Holding: My Beef with Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

Sunday, January 29th, 2017 | Posted by Nick Ozment

the magiciansI have here a Bag of Holding. I am now going to pull some things out of it…

Well, I did read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians back in 2011. Now that The Magicians Trilogy is generating so much buzz (consequent to the popular Syfy series now in its second season), I suppose I’ll have to say something about it. However, what I say won’t be very nice. [Here is another review by Chris Braak that appeared in Black Gate back in 2011.]

Since it had been awhile, I went back and skimmed through the final chapters of the first installment. It was enough to remind me why I did not enthusiastically delve into the second book (I did pick up The Magician King, got a chapter in and set it aside. I might go back to it, if anyone furnishes me with a compelling argument that the trilogy as a whole manages to ameliorate the criticism I am about to level against the first book.)

It is well written. The thinly-veiled pastiches of Narnia, Hogwarts, and other beloved fantastical realms are, on the whole, perceptively done. Grossman manages both to evoke the sense of wonder of those books and to convincingly portray characters sensitive to the special draw of Faerie — kindred spirits who, deep down, wish they could escape our world into those imaginary places. Grossman is clearly no stranger to the deep affinity such works can stir in the receptive reader. And he gets great mileage (meta-mileage?) out of having the characters allude to and reference J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien and all the other fantasy authors they grew up with.

But, like Philip Pullman with the His Dark Materials trilogy, Grossman seems to feel some obligation to poop on that to which he is ostensibly paying homage.

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Launched! The Future Chronicles

Sunday, January 29th, 2017 | Posted by Emily Mah

The Jurassic Chronicles-smallThe Jurassic Chronicles is live, and $0.99 for a limited time! This is the latest installment in Samuel Peralta’s Future Chronicles anthology series, and was edited by Crystal Watanabe. Hugh Howey states: “The best place to discover new SF authors, I think, is any of the anthologies coming from Samuel Peralta.” Don’t just take his word for it, though. Check out the authors and stories included in this one:

“Fatal Mutation” (Anthony J Melchiorri)

A Baltimore beat cop is called to check out screams coming from a run-down laboratory. But when she answers the seemingly routine call, she finds herself embroiled in a deadly race to solve a terrifying mystery compounded by two hundred million years of evolution.

“Noble Savage” (Terry Maggert)

Other worlds are possible through the massive engine of The Point project, but where it leads will reveal that humanity is the alpha predator only as long as it remains on Earth. With the promise of unlimited power, one woman will make the decision to match wits with beings who are not our equal. They’re better.

“An Implant and a Hard Place” (Zen DiPietro)

To achieve her dream of becoming a cyberneticist, Brak had to fight everything it means to be Briveen. Now, she has to wrestle with her morals. Can she disregard them in order to help other people?

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