A Tale of Two Covers: Swords Against Darkness

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Swords Against Darkness Andrew Offutt-small Swords Against Darkness Paula Guran-small

Last September we reported here on the massive stack of research material Paula Guran was digesting in a noble attempt to produce the ultimate modern Swords & Sorcery anthology. The project, Swords Against Darkness, now has a cover (above right), and a release date (July). It does not (yet) have a table of contents. But when it does, you’ll be the first to know.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to put Paula’s cover side by side with its namesake, Andrew J. Offutt’s groundbreaking 1977 paperback anthology from Zebra, which spawned a series of five books containing original S&S tales from Poul Anderson, Tanith Lee, Charles R. Saunders, Orson Scott Card, Charles de Lint, Diana L. Paxson, Keith Taylor, Manly Wade Wellman, Richard L. Tierney, David Drake, Ramsey Campbell, Andre Norton, and many others. Paula’s new anthology is twice as long as that slender paperback, and will come crammed with classic stories by Leigh Brackett, Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Steven Erikson, and many others.

Of course, Offutt’s version also boasted an original cover by the great Frank Frazetta, and it’s hard to compete with that. The new cover goes for a more modern look and, while I’m old-school enough to wish for cover art instead of a photo edit, I think it does the job well enough. Here’s the back cover text.

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Future Treasures: The Girl From Rawblood by Catriona Ward

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Girl From Rawblood-small The Girl From Rawblood-back-small

Catriona Ward’s debut The Girl From Rawblood won the 2016 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel — an impressive accomplishment for a first novel. Critics have raved over both its unabashed gothic horror sensibilities, and its originality… no easy feat!

Comic artist/writer Mike Mignola calls it “Brilliant… the old-school gothic novel I have been waiting for… I have never read anything like it and that’s saying something.” Kelly Link says it’s “A story to satisfy the most gothic of hearts… Sentence by sentence, Catriona Ward made herself one of my very favorite writers.” And Sarah Pinborough calls it “Terrifying… a dazzlingly brilliant Gothic masterpiece.” With praise like that, I might just have to clear an entire weekend for this one.

The Girl from Rawblood will be published by Sourcebooks Landmark on March 7, 2017. It is 368 pages, priced at $15.99 in paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition.


In the Hot Seat: The Reviewer Gets Grilled: An Interview with Fletcher Vredenburgh

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Fletcher Vredenburgh-small

Fletcher is no stranger to the readers and fans of Black Gate. His articles and reviews are not only well-written, insightful and entertaining, they are extremely popular, as well. He is the “reviewer extraordinaire,” and his reviews have led me to read many books. I trust his opinion and his taste in what makes for a good novel. Fletcher is also one of the most voracious readers I have ever met; even in my prime, when I was reading about 2 books a week, I couldn’t top him. Tireless and energetic, Fletcher amazes me with his wonderful reviews, which are also very well written. He is not a “book critic,” however, as you’ll find out when you read my interview with him. He is a reviewer of books. A Master Review Writer. I’m happy I met him through social media, proud to call him my friend, and grateful to him for his great reviews of my books.

So let’s begin, shall we? Let’s see if we can find out what makes him tick, what he likes to read and his whole process for reviewing a book.

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The Cold Counsel of RPGs

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Posted by Chris Sharp

AD&D Monster Manual-small

I discovered Dungeons & Dragons at the age of six. I didn’t really understand the rules at the time, but the original Monster Manual and Deities & Demigods (the one with Elric and Cthulhu) were my gateway drug. Those books had everything I needed to spin off into the place I wanted to be. And when the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual 2 came out, and I started to play in earnest, I quickly became a full on junkie.

Throughout grade school, high school, and college, I returned to the same house and crew of friends that I started rolling dice with whenever I could. It almost seemed like a secret life I kept on the side, though in truth it was more like my stand-in for church: the pseudo-religious trappings of dice, paper, and pencils; the ritual of the suspension of disbelief and speaking in tongues; the doctrine of the books as led by our dungeon master/priest. The smell of that house, and the feel of sitting at the table — how could something so simple and stagnant carry such potential? Despite the hovering kindly mother, the stink of filthy teens, and the array of gross snacks, at times it felt like real magic was possible there.

The satanic panic of the 80’s around D&D, an absurd made-for-TV movie, and the “not-cool” stigma of roleplaying — we just closed the blinds and rolled through that nonsense with a chuckle and a finger in the air. In those days, I had trouble sitting still long enough to read books, and movies were not interactive or epic enough for my taste. Only that house, my characters, and the dice could give me what I craved.

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Final Thoughts on Narnia. The Last Battle: A Criticism and a Defense

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Posted by Nick Ozment

the last battle 1Well, these were my books. You know, the ones that got me forever hooked on fantasy worlds and addicted to stories untethered from the things we know. I was eight, in the second grade, when I began reading them, and they were the first to begin teaching me that precious lifelong lesson: that though you might not trod in Faerie with your flesh-and-bone feet, there are many other pathways thither.

It was this shared knowledge that made an eight-year-old American boy feel he had much more in common with an old British professor who had died a decade before he was born than he did with most people he met day to day. And that remains true to this day. My spirit is more kindred with a New York woman born in 1918 (Madeleine L’Engle) than with my next door neighbor, closer to a Japanese man born in 1941 (Hayao Miyazaki) than to many of my blood kin.

It’s because we all share the secret – both those of us who weave the stories and those who are the audience willing and eager to fall under their spell – that there are doors to Faerie hidden in our own imaginations. Whenever and wherever we might have lived, wherever we might be. It’s a gift that goes back to the Beowulf poet, and back further to Homer, and back further still; indeed, it is one of the first magical abilities that separated man from the beasts.

But lest I diverge into a long-winded tribute to the power of fantasy, let me get to the issue at hand today. I have recently revisited Narnia, this time with a fellow traveler newly discovering the wonders of other realms. My daughter, just turning eight – the exact age I was when I first went through the wardrobe – has become a big fan.

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February 2017 Clarkesworld Now Available

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Clarkesworld February 2017-smallThe February 2017 issue of Clarkesworld, issue #125, marks an important milestone for the magazine — and for its editor and founder, Neil Clarke. Here’s Neil to explain (from his editorial, “The Next Chapter Begins“).

The day this issue is published will be my first day as a full-time editor, which isn’t to say I’ve reached the point where I’m making a full-time salary. That’s going to take time, which I finally have. The first order of business is to close the salary gap between Lisa’s job and my old one and to cover the cost of our new health plan. I’ve agreed to do some consulting and knowledge transfer sessions with my former employer, so that should help create a bit more of a buffer before our savings account has to come into play.

As for the impact all this new-found time and energy will have on Clarkesworld, give me a couple of months to work that out. I still have some backlogged tasks that need to be completed and then I can start hammering out a long-range plan. In the meantime, each new subscription, Patreon supporter, or advertiser takes a little bit of the financial pressure away, so this will be one of my immediate areas of focus.The other will probably be targeting more anthology projects, both original and new, including catching up on the remaining Clarkesworld annuals. I’ll probably take on a few more ebook clients as well.

If you are already a subscriber or supporter, thank you. You’ve made this leap possible. If you aren’t a subscriber, there’s no better time than now. I know money is tight for many of our readers and listeners, so if you can’t afford to, you can always help by amplifying the calls for new subscribers/supporters on social media or perhaps adding a review on one of the many sites that sell our digital subscriptions — you’d be really surprised by how much of an impact that sometimes makes.

And while part of me will miss my old career, I’m eager to get started on this new chapter in my life and look forward to the new opportunities it presents. Now, back to work… !

Clarkesworld is one of the finest magazines we have — and one of the best things to happen to genre short fiction in the last decade. If you care at all about the future of the field, I hope you’ll consider supporting Clarkesworld, perhaps by just buying a sample issue at Amazon or B&N.com for $2.99 or, as I did, signing up at their Patreon page. I’m very excited to see what the new era brings at Clarkesworld, and I hope you’ll join us for the ride.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Erle Stanley Gardner on Mysteries

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ESGMystery Grand Master Erle Stanley Gardner, best known for his Perry Mason books, was a prolific letter writer. He was also an emotional letter writer and when he was unhappy about something, he would dash off a no-holds barred missive to his agent, Bob Hardy, or William and Morrow President Thayer Hobson, like the one below. They were the equivalent of today’s Facebook rants. A book collecting Gardner’s letters would be great reading.

From 1924 through 1926, Gardner sold over three dozen stories to various magazines. That hectic pace continued and in 1933, after a few rewrites, his first Perry Mason book, The Case of the Velvet Claws, came out. He was constantly writing short stories, novels and even nonfiction books for the rest of his life.

But in the thirties, he was having trouble placing stories in the usual magazines and his struggle to break into the higher paying, glossy ‘slicks’ continued. Some of this was due to the behind-the-scenes work of his former agent.

Bob Hardy had died of cancer and his wife Jane had taken over the company. She and Gardner butted heads until he terminated their relationship. As he feared, she badmouthed him throughout the industry and it hurt his sales.

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Some Historical Novels for Readers and Writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Sunday, February 26th, 2017 | Posted by J M McDermott

Homer The Iliad Robert Fagles-smallWhen I was an undergraduate at the University of Houston, I minored in history. My professor of the history of the Old South explained the difference between an antiquarian and a historian thus: An antiquarian will know lots of facts and figures and data; a historian will interpret the information to seek what it means. For this reason, I have always considered historical fiction inextricably linked to the work of historians. As historians are inextricably linked to the work of fantasists, the transitive property holds that historical fiction is an important part of the world of fantasy fiction. The past is a ripe field for the imagination, and full of stories.

It’s actually very difficult to separate the historical fiction from what is generally considered the fundament of realist fiction, or whatever fiction mode it takes as its fundament. The widely-acknowledged first work of what we call the modern novel described as a novel, Don Quixote, was about a character who read to much historical fiction, hearkening back to a different time. The character of Don Quixote, himself, became so enamored of the past that he invented his life into a historical re-enactment. He was perhaps the original member of the society of creative anachronism.

Even such Ur-texts as The Illiad, The Odessey, and The Epic of Gilgamesh seem to be acts of historical invention in their own time. Telling the story of “where we came from” is one of the fundamental stories that drives narrative forms, because it seems to speak to where we ought to go, and who we ought to be. The past tense is a standard mode. Nearly all fiction is driven by a sense of the past, hopefully one that bridges to a future.

Our relationship to history is a fraught one. We carry our preconceived notions of reality, as readers and writers, inside of our judgment of books and characters. History doesn’t have to be plausible, but fiction does. To truly study history, we almost have to abandon those ideas, and embrace ways of thinking that are not natural to us. One of the limitations of historical fictions versus non-realist work is that we don’t really approach the characters as intellectual equals, when we should. When the villagers in The Scarlet Letter demand the A upon Hester Prynne, we are pre-made as modern individuals to see her as the noble martyr, and them as morally repugnant hypocrites, without even understanding the sense of helplessness against a harsh universe that drove their fear of such misbehaviors, even into the horrors that they committed. We simply don’t empathize with the villagers. But, to bring to life, and to comprehend, history and where we came from, we must challenge ourselves to take people seriously, even when they are on the wrong side of our version of history.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in January

Sunday, February 26th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Black-Science-Volume-1-smallerWell, this is a little recursive. As I draft the list of Top Ten BG articles last month, I learn that our most posts in January were… Top Ten lists.

That includes Brandon Crilly’s Top Ten Books I Read in 2016, sitting right at the top of the heap, as well as GeekDad‘s Best Tabletop Games of 2016 (at #2), John DeNardo’s Best of the Best: The Definitive List of 2016’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy (#3), and even the Top 50 Black Gate Posts in December (#6).

What can I say? At the start of a new year, everybody seems to want to know what the heck they missed last year.

It wasn’t all about Top Ten lists last month, of course. Coming in at number 4 was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s review of Michael Crichton’s 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead (and the classic film derived from it, The 13th Warrior). Rounding out the Top 5 for the month was Ryan Harvey’s second installment in his survey of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar Saga.

Also on the Top Ten list were Violette Malan’s essay “Retrofitting, And When It Doesn’t Work,” Bob Byrne’s look at a gorgeous new Solar Pons Omnibus, Bob’s affectionate examination of perhaps the finest D&D adventure ever made, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About The Temple of Elemental Evil,” and Elizabeth Crowens’s Interview with a Brooklyn Vampire.

The complete list of Top Articles for January follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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Hugo Nomination Thoughts, 2017

Sunday, February 26th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Too Like the Lightning-smaller The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe-smaller Beneath-Ceaseless-Skies-192-smaller

It’s that time again, right? Hugo nominations are open, and they will close on March 17th. I’ll be discussing most of the categories, but as usual, I’m better informed about short fiction than anything else.

I should mention going in that there have been some significant changes to the Hugos. There is a new Hugo Category, for Best Series. (I don’t like the idea much, but I’ll play along.) There is a new non-Hugo for Best Young Adult Book, up for ratification in Helsinki for a potential award next year. There are changes to the voting process: now there will be 6 nominees instead of 5 (though each nominator still just votes for 5), and the 5% rule (that each story on the final ballot must appear on 5% of the nominating ballots) has been eliminated. And the EPH process for counting the final votes has been approved. I won’t try to explain that – there are much clearer explanations than I could offer readily available.

One more note to begin with – though I participate with a lot of enjoyment in Hugo nomination and voting every year, I am philosophically convinced that there is no such thing as the “best” story – “best” piece of art, period. This doesn’t mean I don’t think some art is better than other art – I absolutely do think that. But I think that at the top, there is no way to draw fine distinctions, to insist on rankings. Different stories do different things, all worthwhile. I can readily change my own mind about which stories I prefer – it might depend on how important to me that “thing” they do is (and of course most stories do multiple different things!) – it might depend on my mood that day – it might depend on something new I’ve read that makes me think differently about a certain subject. Bottom line is, in the lists below, I’ll suggest somewhere between 5 and 8 or so stories that might be on my final ballot. Those will be in no particular order. And the other stories I list will all really be about as good – and I might change my mind before my ballot goes in.

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