Unsolved Murders and Powerful Ghosts: Lockwood & Co by Jonathan Stroud

Friday, September 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Lockwood & Co The Screaming Staircase-small Lockwood & Co The Whispering Skull-small Lockwood & Co The Hollow Boy-small Lockwood & Co The Creeping Shadow-small

Two months ago I bought the second novel in Jonathan Stroud’s five-volume Lockwood & Co series. I don’t usually buy middle volumes in a series, at least not when I don’t have any of the other books. But this one had a whispering skull on the cover, so I’m sure you understand.

It did serve to introduce me to the entire series, though (the book, not the whispering skull). Jonathan Stroud is probably best known for his best-selling Bartimaeus Trilogy; here he turns his narrative powers to the tale of a teenage ghost-hunting agency in an alternate-history England infested with Visitors, malevolent spirits that can only be detected by young people with psychic gifts. Three such talented youngsters band together in London to form Lockwood & Co, facing a series of increasingly-horrifying challenges in these middle grade adventures.

The final volume in the series, The Empty Grave, was published this month in hardcover.

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In 500 Words or Less: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Friday, September 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_21202441DOA3mhHFNinefox Gambit
Yoon Ha Lee
Solaris (384 pages, $9.99 paperback, June 2016)

I will freely admit that I don’t think I understood everything in Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit.

Give me a break – there’s a reason I teach History and Social Studies and not advanced calculus. I spent about the first third of the novel trying to figure out what exactly “calendrical heresy” and “formation instinct” meant, which are cornerstones of a world where technology, military strategy and social order seem to be largely based on mathematical formulae.

I’m reasonably certain that the high calendar that dominates most of Ninefox’s human society is a sort of belief system that allows certain “exotic” technologies to exist; basically, if everyone in civilization is on the same page, then the machinery functions properly, but if people start believing a bunch of different things, machinery breaks down. That in and of itself is a brilliant concept – presuming I got it right.

But then you also add in the undead soul of a possibly-insane general bonded to an infantry captain in order to fight a campaign, robotic sentient servitors that take the forms of snakes and other animals, and apparently using antonyms as weapons (which I think was a way of disrupting the concentration of someone manning a protective shield around a space station) and things get even more… alien.

However, as Ann Leckie has said, Ninefox is somehow “human and alien at the same time.” Even as I slowly figured out the larger world of this novel, I was hooked by its characters and the conflict around them. Kel Cheris is great as a fish-out-of-water protagonist, someone comfortable as an infantry soldier promoted to general, and aware that she’s a pawn in someone else’s plot. Shuos Jedao, her undead bonded ally, is sort of like the hallucination of Kilgrave whispering in Jessica Jones’s ear, if Kilgrave recognized he was a psychopath and didn’t have absolute power to manipulate people.

You know you probably can’t trust a guy who murdered thousands of innocent people, including his own staff, and was locked away for four centuries as a result, but when he’s the guy telling Cheris to get some sleep and actually look after herself, it’s hard not to root for him.

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Goth Chick News: All Hail the Scream Queen, Back for Halloween #11

Thursday, September 21st, 2017 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween-small

First, a moment of fan girl squee’ing…

Okay, here we go.

Second generation scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is returning to play her iconic character Laurie Strode in what Universal Pictures promises will be the eleventh and final installment of the Halloween franchise. Curtis’ character will have one last confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago when the original movie opened in October, 1978.

John Carpenter will executive produce and serve as creative consultant on this film, joining leading horror producer Jason Blum, who’s behind The Purge and Paranormal Activity franchises. In case you forgot (and who really could?) the Halloween films were launched by Carpenter from his own original script; it and the nine films that followed have grossed nearly $400 million worldwide.

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New Treasures: New Fears, edited by Mark Morris

Thursday, September 21st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

New Fears Mark Morris-small

This delightful treasure showed up unbidden in my mailbox this week. It’s advertised as the first of a new series of original horror anthologies, which would be a major addition to the field. Editor Mark Morris (Toady, Vampire Circus, and The Society of Blood) gave the scoop to Ginger Nuts of Horror earlier this year.

Having grown up reading the Pan and Fontana Books of Horror and Ghost Stories, plus numerous other anthologies edited by the likes of Peter Haining, Michel Parry, Richard Davis and Mary Danby, it has always been one of my keenest ambitions to edit an annual – and hopefully long-running – non-themed horror anthology of new, never-before-published stories for the mass market.

Now, thanks to Titan Books, I’ve finally got that chance. I’ve signed an initial contract for two volumes of New Fears, with hopefully more to come in the future… In the first volume you’ll find stories which explore ancient myths in new and innovative ways, stories of human evil, stories of unnamed and ambiguous terrors, and stories where the numinous and the inexplicable intrude upon what we perceive to be reality in unexpected ways. You’ll find humor, and hope, and grief, and sadness, and regret, and impenetrable darkness. You’ll find stories that surprise you, unsettle you and shock you. But most of all, you’ll find stories that grab you and draw you in and compel you to keep turning the pages.

New Fears contains brand new fiction from Adam Nevill, Ramsey Campbell, Angela Slatter, Nina Allan, Chaz Brenchley, Kathryn Ptacek, Christopher Golden, Alison Littlewood, and many others. See more details here.

Here’s the complete TOC.

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Axiom Verge: Retro Gaming At Its Finest

Thursday, September 21st, 2017 | Posted by Matt Drought

Axiom-Verge-1-small

Over the past few years retro-gaming has been on the rise. From the NES Classic, to the upcoming AtariBox, many companies are releasing games and devices that pull at your nostalgia, allowing you to relive some of the gaming moments from your past.

Along with retro gaming, indie game development has rocketed over the past few years. Independent game developers with small budgets and small teams are creating new games and experiences in a variety of genres, leading to the creation of compelling stories and incredible pieces of art.

In 2015, Thomas Happ created a sci-fi game that matched the wonder and exploration of a nearly bygone era. An era of 2 dimensional side scrolling games, featuring exploration, with an emphasis on combat, puzzle solving, and powerups.  This game is called Axiom Verge.

Axiom Verge features many of the game mechanics from classics such as Zelda, Castlevania, and Metroid. This game and many others similar to it are often categorized as a “metroidvania” game. The comparisons between Axiom Verge and Metroid are more than a subtle nod, with the difference being Axiom Verge takes those ideas and expands on them.

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Amazing Stories, December 1964: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories December 1964-smallThe cover to this issue is by Robert Adragna. Interiors are by Adragna and George Schelling. The editorial concerns Sam Moskowitz’ series of Profiles of SF writers, and signals a change to essays by Moskowitz addressing SF’s treatment of certain themes, beginning in this issue with a discussion of Philip Jose Farmer and — you guessed it! — sex and SF.

The article — a fairly long one — begins with a review of some of the SF stories that occasioned controversy by brushing up against sexual issues, and continues with a detailed look at Farmer’s career to date (1964), including of course the controversy surrounding “The Lovers,” but also mentioning I Owe For the Flesh, the first version of To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which had been written for a contest in the early ’50s, and won, and was lost (I understand) after the contest sponsor (Shasta) ran out of money. On the whole, it’s an interesting and worthwhile piece, one of the better things I’ve seen from Moskowitz.

Robert Silverberg’s book review column covers Alfred Bester’s collection The Dark Side of the Earth, Fritz Leiber’s novel The Wanderer, and The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Silverberg approves of all three books, and reserves especial praise for The Wanderer — a book which, I would suggest, has not retained much of a reputation (I myself have not got through it on two tries, though it has been a long time, and I suppose I should give it another chance.)

The stories are:

Short Novel

“The Further Sky,” by Keith Laumer (20,000 words)

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Making it on the American Grub Street: Hired Pens, Professional Writers in America’s Golden Age of Print

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

0821412043Last month I posted here about Researching the Habits of Highly Prolific Authors for a book I’m working on. Black Gate reader John Hocking kindly suggested in the comments section that I read Hired Pens: Professional Writers in America’s Golden Age of Print, by Ronald Weber. I took him up on his advice and I’m sure glad I did.

This book looks at the careers of writing and editing from the nation’s earliest days until the end of World War Two. Weber shows us a parade of successful writers and editors — many well-known to this day, many more now forgotten — who found success in the ever-changing market for American popular periodicals.

Until the middle of the 19th century, American writers were hampered by the lack of international copyright laws. Newspaper and magazine editors filched English publications for free and saw no reason to pay homegrown talent. As the population grew and both American and British writers managed to get their governments to set up legal barriers to such theft, the market for American writing blossomed.

These writers certainly didn’t waste their time moaning about their lack of inspiration and hoping the muse would visit them. As prolific and successful Western writer Zane Grey said in a letter to a friend:

This morning I had no desire to write, no call, no inspiration, no confidence, no joy. I had to force myself. But when I mastered the vacillation and dread, and had done a day’s work — what a change of feelings. I had a rush of sweet sensations.

This is a common thread throughout the book. In example after example, we are shown that writer’s block is a myth and that writers should not — indeed, must not — sit around all day twiddling their thumbs. These writers worked hard.

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Future Treasures: Quillifer by Walter Jon Williams

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Quillifer-smallIt’s been a good week for review copies here at Black Gate (see some of the recent arrivals here). But the moment Quillifer arrived, I knew it was the most significant release of the current crop, by a pretty good margin.

Walter Jon Williams has had an extraordinary career, displaying an easy mastery of cyberpunk (Hardwired, Angel Station), military SF (Dread Empire’s Fall), SF police procedural (Days of Atonement), light-hearted fantasy (the Majistral series), space opera (Aristoi), contemporary disaster (The Rift), and even the Star Wars universe (The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way).

Quillifer, the tale of a young man forced to flee his beloved home and find his fortune among goddesses, pirates, war, and dragons, is his long-awaited foray into epic fantasy. It’s the first in an ambitious new series from one of the most respected authors in the genre.

Quillifer is young, serially in love, studying law, and living each day keenly aware that his beloved homeport of Ethlebight risks closure due to silting of the harbor. His concerns for the future become much more immediate when he returns from a summery assignation to find his city attacked by Aekoi pirates, leading to brigands in the streets and his family and friends in chains.

First, he has to survive the night. Then, he has to leave his home behind and venture forth into the wider world of Duisland, where he can find friends and allies to help avenge his losses and restore Ethlebight to glory. His determination will rock kingdoms, shatter the political structure of Duisland, and change the country forever.

Quillifer will be published by Saga Press on October 3, 2017. It is 530 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $7.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Gregory Manchess. Learn more at Williams’ website, and read Emily Mah’s interview with the author (“Why UFOs Are Actually Made of Bread, and Other Little Known Facts”) here.


Modular: A First Look at Starfinder 1: “OMG! All Your Trope Are Belong To Us”

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017 | Posted by M Harold Page

256 Starfarer Combat Technician Pic

Well-authored and beautifully illustrate

256 Starfinder Core

Does for Science Fantasy what Dungeons and Dragons did for “traditional” Fantasy.

“Dad, we can’t get the Starfinder combat system working…”

“Look, Son, it’s a D20 system, so Armor Class reduces the chance of being hit, rather than absorbs damage.”

“OK. I get it now! You’re the best, Dad!”

(Tousles hair) “That’s what Dad’s are for, Son.”

OK it didn’t quite go like that. For a start, I did not in fact tousle my 13-year-old son’s hair since (a) it’s shoulder length and he gets cross if you tangle it, and (b) he’s 13. Even so, it was a “life’s full circle” Country and Western moment of the same order as when non-geeks teach their kids to throw a rabbit or skin a baseball or whatever.

However, Kurtzhau was indeed encountering a D20 system for the first time, the engine at the heart of Starfinder, Paizo’s new Science Fantasy (it uses that term in the text!) system, with which he’s pretty much fallen in love. The blurb says it all.

The Starfinder Roleplaying Game puts you in the role of a bold science-fantasy explorer, investigating the mysteries of a weird and magical universe as part of a starship crew. Will you delve for lost artifacts in the ruins of alien temples? Strap on rune-enhanced armor and a laser rifle to battle undead empires in fleets of bone ships, or defend colonists from a swarm of ravenous monsters? Maybe you’ll hack into the mainframe of a god-run corporation, or search the stars for clues to the secret history of the universe or brand new planets to explore. Whether you’re making first contact with new cultures on uncharted worlds or fighting to survive in the neon-lit back alleys of Absalom Station, you and your team will need all your wits, combat skill, and magic to make it through. But most of all, you’ll need each other.

Inspired by my son’s enthusiasm, I decided to take a look myself…

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September/October Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Now on Sale

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction September October 2017-smallThe September/October F&SF is the 68th Anniversary issue, and it contains some nice special atractions, including fiction by Robert Reed, Michael Swanwick, Tina Connolly — and, most surprising of all, a brand new novelette by the brilliant Samuel R. Delany, who hasn’t appeared in F&SF in 40 years. Here’s a snippet from Charles Finlay’s intro.

Throughout his career, Delany’s work has pushed the boundaries of sf to address more adult situations and issues, particularly at the intersections and language and memory, sexuality and society. He returns to these themes again in his first new science fiction story in a decade… this new story would get an NC-17 rating at the movies and is not appropriate for younger readers.

It’s tough to compete with the return of a Grand Master, but Michael Swanwick manages it with his cover story, “Starlight Express.” Here’s Jason McGregor’s review at Tangent Online.

Via Flaminio’s eyes we learn about Roma in the far, far future and the woman who seemed, not to go to the carrier beam of the transmission station relic as suicidal people often do, but to come from the carrier beam where, as far as most people know, people haven’t come from for millennia. How her universe has changed, and how she changes his, makes the bulk of the tale.

I could understand seeing this as a dull and underplotted story if the poetry of it all doesn’t speak to you but, if it does, it’s a really remarkable story (if more bitter than sweet) which strongly evokes deep time and vast space and an enduring humanity… beautiful. Recommended.

Read Jason’s complete review here.

I note that the cover price has increased a buck this issue, to $8.99 — still a bargain, if you ask me. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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