Birthday Reviews: Marcos Donnelly’s “As a Still Small Voice”

Sunday, March 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Full Spectrum 2-small Full Spectrum 2 flap-small

Cover by Peter Stallard

Marcos Donnelly was born on March 18, 1962. He has published a handful of short stories, mostly dealing with religious themes and three novels, Prophets for the End of Time, Letters from the Flesh, and The Mostly Weird Chronicles of Steffan McFessel, the last in collaboration with Ted Wenskus.

Donnelly’s debut story, “As a Still Small Voice,” appeared in 1989 in Full Spectrum 2, edited by Lous Aronica, Shawna McCarthy, Amy Stout, and Pat LoBrutto. It has never been reprinted.

Father Jim is a priest at a small seminary where the rumors that one of the students, Danny, actually hears God’s voice. Jim has mixed views about Danny’s gift and sees him as an innocent child who needs to be protected, particularly from one of the other students, Bob, an older man who has come to the seminary after servicing in the marines. Jim can only see Bob as a bad influence on Danny, although the reasons for Jim’s mistrust don’t seem to be fully justified by anything aside from Jim’s own biases.

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Looking at the Density of Comic Book Page Layouts

Saturday, March 17th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Eternals01-003 copy

I may have picked the most boring blog post title in history, but this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

I was listening to Kieron Gillen’s excellent podcast Decompressed. Decompressed is a look under the hood at the craft of comic book creation and in the 4th one, he interviewed Matt Fraction and David Aja, the creative team behind Marvel’s Hawkeye from 2012. During the episode, Matt Fraction mentioned that Hawkeye was meant to feel different from most of the mainstream comics at the time, especially with respect to how much compression there was.

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New Treasures: First-Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg

Saturday, March 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

First-Person Singularities-smallA new book by SF grandmaster Robert Silverberg is a cause for celebration. It took a while for the cake and balloons to arrive, but we’re now ready to celebrate his collection First-Person Singularities. It gathers stories spanning the last six decades, all told in first person singular. Here’s Kirkus Reviews.

The sheer diversity of storylines is nothing short of extraordinary. In “House of Bones,” a time traveler is marooned more than 20,000 years in the past and is forced to assimilate into a tribe of nomadic cavemen. “Ishmael in Love” chronicles a bottle-nosed dolphin’s attempt to woo a human researcher with whom he’s fallen in love. The Nebula Award–winning “Passengers” tells the tale of a man living in a future where aliens have invaded Earth and can temporarily take possession of human minds and hijack their bodies. “Going Down Smooth” is told from the perspective of a computer, designed to help psychoanalyze troubled human patients, that finds itself slowly losing its sanity. “Caliban” chronicles a normal man’s plight in a world where everyone looks like a model. But arguably the most memorable story is “The Reality Trip,” about an alien spy — a beetle-ish creature living inside a humanlike body made of synthetic flesh — who must deal with an amorous woman who lives, as he does, in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel and is bent on seeking an intimate relationship with him…. this book [is] a master class in first-person narrative for aspiring writers. Additionally, each story is preceded by a short introduction by Silverberg that offers invaluable insight into the cultural landscape, the publishing industry, and the author’s personal life at the time of writing.

Decades after being originally published, most of these stories are still just as entertaining and powerful as they were when first released. A singularly unique collection.

The collection includes multiple awards winners and nominees, including the Hugo Award-nominated “Our Lady of the Sauropods,” the Nebula Award-winning “Passengers,” and the Locus Award-winning novella “The Secret Sharer.”

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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The Complete Carpenter: Prince of Darkness (1988)

Saturday, March 17th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

prince-of-darkness-original-posterThis is where I came in. I’ve reached the point in my John Carpenter career retrospective where I’m writing about a movie that I’ve already given a full Black Gate article. In fact, it was writing about Prince of Darkness for its 2013 Blu-ray release that planted the idea in my head of surveying the full Carpenter filmography. I’ll make my best effort to offer new insights on Prince of Darkness, but overlap with the previous article is inevitable as I look at the second of John Carpenter’s self-proclaimed “Apocalypse Trilogy,” which starts with The Thing (1982) and ends with In the Mouth of Madness (1994).

Prince of Darkness was Carpenter’s return to indie filmmaking after a series of financial disappointments and general aggravation with the big studios. Carpenter made the movie as part of a multi-picture deal with Alive Films that would also include They Live. Universal picked up Prince of Darkness for distribution, and in the fall of 1987 it achieved that rare distinction among Carpenter films: it was a financial success during its initial theatrical run.

The Story

An English priest (Donald Pleasence) discovers a secret that for centuries has been under the protection of an enigmatic monastic sect called the Brotherhood of Sleep: a giant cylinder of swirling green energy held in the underground vault of a church in downtown Los Angeles. The priest calls on his professional acquaintance, physics professor Edward Birack (Victor Wong), to investigate the bizarre phenomenon, which the priest believes is beginning to “awaken.” Birack gathers a team of his graduate students and other researchers for a weekend camp-out in the church to make observations.

To make a long and often baffling story short and perhaps more baffling … The team learns from a medieval volume filled with Latin, Greek, Coptic, and quadratic equations that the cylinder contains Satan, an energy entity that is the son of the Anti-God from an antimatter dimension. The Catholic Church kept the physicality of the evil disguised for two millennia behind religious symbolism. Satan’s essence escapes the containment cylinder and possesses members of the observation team, while a horde of zombified homeless people encircles the church to prevent escape. Nightmare visions possibly sent from the future through tachyon particles portend an apocalyptic nightmare if the Anti-God isn’t prevented from crossing into this reality. Alice Cooper impales a tech nerd on a bicycle and it only gets stranger from there.

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Birthday Reviews: James Morrow’s “The Fate of Nations”

Saturday, March 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Picacio

Cover by John Picacio

James Morrow was born on March 17, 1947. In addition to the novels in his Godhead trilogy, beginning with Towing Jehovah, Morrow has written several other books, including Galápagos Regained and The Last Witchfinder.  Many of his works deal with the role of religion in a rational society.  He has also edited three volumes of Nebula Award anthologies as well as the SFWA European Hall of Fame, the last with his wife, Kathryn Morrow.

James Morrow won the Nebula in 1989 for his Short Story “Bible Stories for Adults No. 17: The Deluge” and again in 1993 for the novella City of Truth. His novel Towing Jehovah and novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima were nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula.  Towing Jehovah and Only Begotten Daughter both received the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and Shambling Towards Hiroshima won a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. A translation of Towing Jehovah received the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.

“The Fate of Nations” was originally published in Ellen Datlow’s Sci Fiction on May 14, 2003.  Morrow included it in his 2004 collection The Cat’s Pajamas & Other Stories and it was also reprinted by Paula Guran in Future Games.

Morrow produces a short, clever conspiracy story in “The Fate of Nations.” It’s written as a diary entry by Carlotta, who explains something she’s just learned that has surprised her.  Her husband has developed an avid interest in sports, cheering on all sorts of teams and watching games to the detriment of their relationship. When she asks him to attend a marriage counselor, she learns the truth about a conspiracy of all men with interstellar ramifications.

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Unbound Worlds on Where to Start with Gothic Space Opera

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Hyperion Dan SImmons-small Blind Sight Peter Watts-small The Burning Dark Adam Christopher-small

I didn’t even know one of my favorite SF sub-genres had a name. But it does, and over at Unbound Worlds Matt Staggs tells us what it is.

In a gothic space opera, pseudo-medievalism, superstition, insanity, and decay are juxtaposed with space travel: a perfect embodiment of progress, science, and rationality. The starship becomes a stand-in for the haunted mansion, and the universe at large the misty moors that surround it.

Cults, all-powerful religions, and demonic forces are commonly found in the genre, and the wear and tear of space travel — time dilation, and the assumption of death-like states of suspended animation for examples — on human relationships are often emphasized. Human life far from civilization becomes stranger, perhaps even hostile. In gothic space opera, human beings become the aliens they fear.

Gothic space opera! It’s like Dracula married Star Wars and they had a little goth space baby. Matt says gothic space opera is “Movies like Event Horizon and Sunshine, the popular wargame franchise Warhammer 40,000, and the video game Dead Space.” I like all those things, so I’m on board (I also like Alien, the ultimate haunted-space-ship movie, but maybe that’s a separate sub-sub-genre or something. I don’t question the experts.)

It was probably Warhammer 40,000, with its exciting tales of the Dark Ages of a vast galaxy-wide empire paralyzed by superstition and constant warfare, that really cemented my love of this brand new sub-genre. Matt suggests some excellent starting points for curious fans; and this is where I really paid attention. Here’s a few of the highlights.

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We Don’t Get No Respect

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

alatriste barIt’s often struck me that writers get more respect in other countries than they do in North America (I’m thinking specifically Europe here, since that’s the limit of my experience). When I told my (Spanish) mother as a child that I was going to be a writer when I grew up, she asked why was I wasting time talking to her, why wasn’t I getting started?

When a friend told her (Canadian) mother she wanted to be a writer, her mother told her she’d never make a living that way, and that she should go to law school. My mother recognized writing as a profession, and she further recognized that many writers do “other things” in order to live, because the writing doesn’t always pay. She always told people “my daughter is a writer” regardless of what I was doing to pay the bills.

When I tell non-writing strangers in Canada that I’m a writer, they ask me how much money I make; when I tell them I write fantasy, they either say “I don’t read that stuff” or they want to know why my books haven’t been made into a TV series. In Spain people congratulate me when they learn I’m a writer, are impressed when I say I write fantasy, and want to know if my books have been translated into Spanish.

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Birthday Reviews: P.C. Hodgell’s “Knot and the Dragon”

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Tom Wood

Cover by Tom Wood

P.C. (Patricia Christine) Hodgell was born on March 16, 1951. She has written the eight volume Chronicles of the Kencyrath, which began with God Stalk and continued most recently with The Gates of Tagmeth in 2017. God Stalk was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award as was its follow-up, Dark of the Moon.

“Knot and the Dragon” was originally published in Esther Friesner’s Chicks and Balances, the most recent addition to her long-running Chicks in Chainmail series. The story has not been reprinted.

One of the common tropes in fairy tales is the step-daughter whose father has died, leaving her with an unloving mother. Hodgell uses this set up for “Knot and the Dragon,” with Knot living with her step-mother, Marta, and her two step-sisters. Everyone in town makes it clear to Knot that she doesn’t fit in with them.

Knot’s character comes across as a mixture of a Cinderella-type mixed with Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, for Knot is constantly striving to learn more about the world in which she finds herself, lamenting the death of her father, with whom she had things in common, but also accepting her current life.

Reports of nearby dragon attacks further bring out the town’s character, with the villagers firm in their belief that since they haven’t done anything wrong, there is no reason the dragon would punish them. Naturally enough, this conviction is enough (narratively) to bring a dragon down on their village, and they decide that Knot should essentially be a sacrifice to the dragon.

Rather than do as she was instructed, Knot seeks out the witch who lives nearby ever since she was forced from her home by the dragon. Although the witch’s first inclination is to flee with her son, who was accidentally turned into a pig during her last encounter with the dragon, the witch agrees to offer (dubious) help to Knot.

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Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast: Clark Ashton Smith, Poet of The Fantastic

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Clark Ashton Smith Poet of the Fantastic

I’ve started listening to podcasts during my morning commute on the train and, let me tell you, I am an instant fan. I can’t explain what took me so long to discover them, but I am a convert. I’ve really been enjoying Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe’s Coode Street Podcast, and am just getting into Welcome to Night Vale. But the best podcast I listened to this month was Episode 9 of the Literary Wonder & Adventure Show from our old friends Robert Zoltan and Dream Tower Media. This month’s topic is Clark Ashton Smith, Poet of The Fantastic, and the special guest is our very own Saturday blogger Ryan Harvey.

Ryan practically introduced me to CAS with his epic four-part examination of The Fantasy Cycles of Clark Ashton Smith, starting with The Averoigne Chronicles. He brings both a deep knowledge and genuine passion to the topic, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Here’s a clip from around the 7-minute mark.

The first of [Smith’s] weird short stories that he sold to a magazine was 1926, a story called “The Abominations of Yondo,” which he sold to a local magazine called The Overland Monthly. And H.P. Lovecraft, who was his pen pal at the time, and for the rest of Lovecraft’s life, encouraged Smith to sell his stories to Weird Tales. And he got into Weird Tales, and for a period of about five years he, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, were also all pen pals, and were the major focus of the magazine. And Smith sold a lot of stories at this time, and then in 1934-35, right about the same time both Lovecraft and Howard stopped writing – although for very different reasons – Smith just no longer needed to support his parents (his mother died in ‘35 and his father died in ‘37) and he just lost interest in writing prose.

Ryan is a terrific resource for anyone who wants to understand the mystery and appeal of the great pulp fantasists of the early 20th Century, and host Robert Zoltan has edited their conversation into a fascinating 1-hour package. Check the whole thing out here, and see our coverage of previous episodes of the Literary Wonder & Adventure Show here

Future Treasures: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Thursday, March 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Dread Nation-smallJustina Ireland is author of the YA novels Promise of Shadows and Devil’s Pass. Her latest, Dread Nation, is an audacious fantasy set in a post-Reconstruction America battling a plague of zombies risen from Civil War battlefields, and it’s getting a heck of a lot of pre-release buzz for a zombie book. Booklist calls it “Brilliant and gut-wrenching,” and Publishers Weekly praised its “Abundant action, thoughtful worldbuilding, and a brave, smart, and skillfully drawn cast… [with] a nail-biting conclusion.”

Bustle has a great interview with Ireland in which she says, “Sure, you have well-to-do white women fighting, but it didn’t seem realistic. It would’ve been black women fighting in the streets.” That led her to the intriguing idea of a school for black and Native girls who train to fight the swarms of undead. Dread Nation arrives in hardcover next month.

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities — and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Dread Nation will be published by Balzer + Bray on April 3, 2018. It is 464 pages, priced at $17.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover was designed by David Curtis.

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