My 300th Black Gate Post: Why I Write About What I Write About

Saturday, April 21st, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

cushing02 godzilla-2014-1108x0-c-default steve-reeves-and-sylva-koscina-in-hercules-pietro-francisci-1958 john-carpenter-bw j allen st john tarzan

This is my three hundredth post at Black Gate. This year also marks the tenth anniversary of my first post as a regular blogger. I remember when John O’Neill first invited me to be a part of this project, back when none of us had any idea where it would go — I certainly didn’t think it would last for a decade and that I’d still be around. Or that John would win a Hugo Award for it. Yet here the site is, ten years later and a Hugo richer, and I still can’t believe people show up to read what I have to say about Hercules movies, Godzilla, and Tarzan. It’s humbling to be part of a site with such a wealth of amazing material, great contributors, and so many dedicated and intelligent readers.

I’ve changed enormously as a nonfiction writer over these ten years, and most of the changes happened because of Black Gate. When I started my regular posts, I had only a blurry vision of the sort of blogger I wanted to be. The reality has turned out different because I made interesting discoveries about my own tastes along the way: specifically, what it is that I most enjoy writing about. I once imagined I’d write primarily about fantasy literature, Conan pastiches, and writing techniques. Now I write about monster movies, John Carpenter, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

To mark my personal anniversary, I’m going to offer an apologia of sorts — an explanation of why I write about the topics I write about most frequently on Black Gate. None of these were in the plan on Day 1, and I’m probably the person who’s most curious about how these subjects turned into my main nonfiction focus.

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Birthday Reviews: Fiona Kelleghan’s “Secret in the Chest”

Saturday, April 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Luis Royo

Cover by Luis Royo

Fiona Kelleghan was born on April 21, 1965. Most of her writing is non-fiction. She produced Mike Resnick: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide to His Work in 2000 and two volumes in the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature series. She has also published a variety of essays and  reviews over the years.

Kelleghan’s only fiction is the fantasy story “Secret in the Chest,” purchased by Shawna McCarthy for Realms of Fantasy, which published it in the October 1998 issue. The story has never been reprinted.

Although “The Secret Chest” seems to start out as a standard damsel in distress/knight on a quest story, it quickly demonstrates that Kelleghan is doing something very different. Sir Palavere comes across a castle while he is seeking to save his village and finds himself having to respond to three challenges from Darcia, a woman who is tied to the castle. The reasons for her link to the castle and the rules surrounding the three challenges are unimportant and Kelleghan doesn’t delve into them. They are part of the fantasy narrative and by ignoring them, Kelleghan is challenging them.

Throughout the story, Kelleghan also frequently breaks the structure of fiction, addressing the reader directly in phrasing which is designed to make the reader consider the clichés which the story includes and deconstructs. These asides are unnecessary to the story Kelleghan is telling, which works perfectly well without them, but they adds depth and additional humor. And “Secret in the Chest” makes the reader want to see additional fiction from the author.

Reviewed in its only publication in the magazine Realms of Fantasy, edited by Shawna McCarthy, October 1998.

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New Treasures: Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

Friday, April 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Blackfish City-small Blackfish City-back-small

Sam J. Miller’s short stories have been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, and Locus Awards. His debut novel The Art of Starving (2017), a YA tale about a boy who discovers that starving gives him superpowers, was nominated for the Andre Norton Award, and was an honorable mention for the 2017 Tiptree Award. John DeNardo selected it as one of the Best Bets for SF, Fantasy and Horror in July. His new novel Blackfish City is one of the most anticipated SF books of the year. It arrived in hardcover this week.

After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges — crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called “the breaks” is ravaging the population.

When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side — the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people — each living on the periphery — to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.

Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent — and ultimately very hopeful — novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.

Blackfish City was published by Ecco on April 17, 2018. It is 336 pages, priced at $22.99 in hardcover, and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Will Staehle. Read a sample chapter at the Orbit Books website.

Backstory Cards: for Roleplayers, Writers, and Game-Runners

Friday, April 20th, 2018 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney


So, our friend Tim Rodriguez came by our home a few weeks back when we were hosting a game-night. We’d thrown the doors open to a bunch of game-lovers of our acquaintance for a night of food and play, and they flocked in with their favorite games (Wari, or Oware, being the game that got the most giggles) and some very fine (I was told) single malt whiskey. (Or maybe it was double-barreled? Something. I don’t know; I was too busy making lasagna.)

Anyway, Tim brought some new Backstory Cards to playtest. Most of us (including me) who volunteered to playtest with him hadn’t role-played in, well, ever. Or at least for years, the fog of memory obscuring most of the details.

. . . But since we were just testing the cards for story-potential and not playing an actual game, it seemed to work out well enough, and pretty soon we were all, like, a gaggle of giant fungal glow-in-the-dark monster crabs running around ravaged urban landscapes bringing down mobsters. You know. Like you do.

And sometime in all the chaos, Tim may have mentioned something about a new Kickstarter project.

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In 500 Words or Less: Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Friday, April 20th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Gods Monsters and the Lucky Peach-smallGods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach
By Kelly Robson
Tor (240 pages, $14.99 paperback, $3.99 eBook, March 2018)
Cover by Jon Foster

The other night I was looking out my window at the light snowstorm cascading onto Ottawa, after dealing with freezing rain and power outages, and trying very hard not to wonder what the world is going to look like in fifty years. I mean, we all ponder it sometimes, right? Maybe half the planet is underwater. Maybe we’ve developed solid, widespread renewables. Maybe we’re making plans to go somewhere else. Maybe we’ve moved everyone into skyscrapers like Kim Stanley Robinson suggests, to let nature rebuild?

Writers like to focus on what the near-future might look like a lot, which means it’s tough to come up with a unique take on it – and that makes Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach so impressive. (How’s that for a segue?!) In her novella, humanity isn’t just rebuilding from past ecological disasters – we’ve also figured out time travel, which makes long-term restoration projects suddenly less interesting. The corporate stranglehold in both arenas is just one piece of a world that feels like it could be decades ahead of us, instead of centuries. Between vivid, realistic technology like “fakes” for handling instant messaging and designer prosthetics, and slang nicknames like “hells” for underground habitats and “fat babies” for children born in creches, Robson gives us something instantly relatable but also fresh. (All of that sounds very review-y in its lingo, but it’s 100% true!)

On top of that, Robson gives us an octogenarian protagonist, Minh, who struggles with anything that isn’t done “her way” and is balanced with a youthful counterpart who’s just as stubborn and determined to succeed. There’s no preachiness about age in either direction, though; instead, the story hinges on Minh realizing things about herself and working with a team, as they face the very real dangers of 2024 BCE. That overlap between past and future is where the truly excellent tension-building presents itself, as the story jumps between Minh and her team preparing for their journey and the perspective of a Mesopotamian king, Shulgi, whose people are troubled by new stars and bizarre monsters. Knowing that the latter is obviously a bunch of time travelers and that things are going to horribly wrong is only half the fun; the rest is when the two timelines sink up, and you realize exactly where Minh and her team fit into Shulgi’s story.

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Birthday Reviews: Peter S. Beagle’s “King Pelles the Sure”

Friday, April 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Lisa Snelling

Cover by Lisa Snelling

Peter S. Beagle was born on April 20, 1939.

Beagle received the Nebula Award and Hugo Award for his novelette “Two Hearts,” set in the same world as his classic novel The Last Unicorn. He received the Mythopoeic Award in 1987 for his novel The Folk of the Air and in 2000 for the novel Tamsin.  His collection The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances received the Grand Priz de l’Imaginaire and his story “El Regalo” received the WSFA Small Press Award. He has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award seven times, and in 2011 received their Lifetime Achievement Award. In about a month, Beagle will be inducted as a SFWA Grand Master at the 2018 SFWA Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

“King Pellas the Sure” was first published in the chapbook Strange Roads, which contained three original stories by Beagle. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer included the story in Year’s Best Fantasy 9 and Rich Horton included it in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2009 Edition. Beagle has included the story in two of his own collections, We Never Talk About My Brother and Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle.

“King Pelles the Sure,” focuses on the monarch of an infinitesimal kingdom who yearns for the glory that he sees warrior kings attaining. Despite the protestations of his Grand Vizier, who has already seen what war really does, as opposed to the glorification of war that is the stuff of bards and legend, King Pelles insists that they arrange to be invaded by one of their neighbors.

In this strangely manufactured war, Beagle’s story recalls the 1955 Leonard Wibberley novel The Mouse That Roared, although Beagle’s story is much less satirical than Wibberly’s. After the war begins, King Pelles finds that no matter what his intentions, once the dogs of war have been loosed, they can not be effectively reined in. The tale could have been a trite fairy tale, but the manner in which Beagle teaches Pelles a variety of lessons makes it a memorable fable.

Reviewed in its original publication in the collection Strange Roads, by Peter S. Beagle, DreamHaven, 2008.

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Goth Chick News: If You Sniffed Dracula, Would You Be Coughin’…? Or, Our Trip to the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo

Thursday, April 19th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

C2E2 2018 cosplay 2

For the last eight Aprils, Chicago has played host to one of the most heavily-attended comic conventions in the US, not to mention the largest and most prestigious cosplay competition in the world. The final numbers for the 2018 Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2 for you cool kids) have not yet been reported, but estimates have the attendance approaching the 100,000 mark, meaning that is indeed quite a lot of spandex all in one place.

And boy, do we love cosplayers.

I mean, press credentials aside, I would probably have payed the organizers, ReedPOP, for the privilege of hanging around McCormick center and people watching all day. Instead, Black Gate photog Chris Z and I got to do it for free (aside from the fireball shots John O still won’t let us expense).

This year’s show boasted 1370 exhibitors ranging from costumes to books, memorabilia to comics and wall-to-wall artists of all kinds. It was truly difficult to figure out where to look first, or how long to look before someone pointed at one of the signs posted throughout the facility declaring “Cosplay Is Not Consent.”

Where, oh where to begin.

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Birthday Reviews: Steven H Silver’s “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium”

Thursday, April 19th, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy's Edge March 2018-smallSteven H Silver was born on April 19, 1967. Despite allegations that the H stands for Hodputt, Horatio, or Horseshoes, in fact the initial is his entire middle name.

Silver has been nominated for the Best Fan Writer Hugo 12 times, putting him in contention for the Susan Lucci Award in that category. He is the long-time editor and publisher of Argentus. He has edited three anthologies for DAW in collaboration with Martin H. Greenberg, celebrating the first sales of prominent SF, Fantasy, and Horror writers. His first story appeared in Helix magazine in 2008, and he has published several further stories in anthologies such as Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies; and Little Green Men — Attack! He is widely regarded as the primary heir to the legacy of the great Jerome Walton.

“Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” was published in the March 2018 issue of Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Shockingly, the story has not been reprinted since.

As the titles of the anthologies mentioned above might hint, many of Silver’s stories are comical in nature. So it is with “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium.” The narrator, Garoa, is an alien who has come to the title location, a notorious black market. He’s planning to sell his crop of hydroponically grown Brussels Sprouts, which evidently are a prized drug to a certain category of aliens.

He is accosted by a thug working for a gangster with whom he had done business, accusing him of cheating his boss before. He denies this, and things might get tricky, but the huge Hodputt intervenes. However, when Garoa unwisely agrees to leave the premises with a prospective customer, he is beaten up by the aforementioned thug, and on reviving, realizes that all his valuables are gone, including the key to his spaceship. He makes his way back there and begins to take revenge — but the prospective customer instead makes him an offer…

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Something Sinister in Savertown: Erica Satifka’s Stay Crazy

Thursday, April 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Case

Stay Crazy Erica L Satifka-small Stay Crazy Erica L Satifka-back-small

If you missed Erica Satifka’s Stay Crazy, her debut psychological thriller from a couple year back, not to worry. There’s a lot going on, all the time, and it happens to the best of us. But the fact that it won the British Fantasy Award for best newcomer is perhaps reason enough bring it to your attention. Satifka has crafted a tale of mental illness and weirdness set against the deeper malignancy of a post-industrial Midwest and despair, tied up nicely by some frustratingly relatable inter-dimensional entities.

There’s a long tradition in fiction and myth that those who are not entirely sane nonetheless have perceptions, resources, and even abilities beyond those of ordinary folk. Insanity is sometimes the price of vision. Characters of Philip K. Dick for instance, who’s work Satifka’s has been compared with, immediately spring to mind. There are similarly lots of authors who play with the idea of the unreliable narrator, something that Gene Wolfe does to great effect. How is the narrative itself subverted when the reader can’t trust the person telling the story, or the person telling the story can’t trust their own perceptions?

Satifka’s Stay Crazy plays into both these questions by building the narrative around Emma, an erstwhile college student whose schizophrenia has cost her the chance to escape a dying Midwestern town (on economic life-support by a giant Walmart-esque superstore called Savertown, USA). The reader joins Emma, who comes to herself in a mental hospital after a psychotic break, returning home, reconciling herself to her condition and trying to put her life back together with her mother and a Fundamentalist Christian younger sister.

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Birthday Reviews: Adrian Rogoz’s “The Altar of the Random Gods”

Thursday, April 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Almanahul literar

Almanahul literar

Adrian Rogoz was born on April 19, 1921 in Bucharest Romania, and died on July 28, 1996. He was a founding member of the first science fiction fan club in Romania, SF Cenacle. In addition to his own work, Rogoz translated works by Ivan Efremov and Stanislaw Lem into Romanian.

“The Altar of the Random Gods” was originally published in Almanahul literar in 1970 as “Altarul zeilor Stohasrici.” Its English translation first appeared in Franz Rottensteiner’s anthology of European science fiction View from Another Shore, and has been included in several reprints of that volume. The story has also been translated into French, Dutch, Hungarian, German (twice), Serbian, and Italian.

In this translation of “The Altar of the Random Gods,” by Matthew J. O’Connell, Rogoz describes the trip from Mobile to Huntsville Alabama via a superfast highway of computer controlled cars. Homer is making the journey and looking forward to seeing Barbara at the end of it when a freakish malfunction occurs.

The story is interesting not because of its predictions about technology or the way Homer takes the superhighspeed transportation for granted, but rather because of the way it feels like a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. The first half of the story, up until the collision, is clearly in the realms of science fiction, tothe point where Rogoz’s descriptions (or at least the translations of those descriptions) feels clichéd.

Following the accident, the story moves more into the realm of fantasy, with Homer meeting three gods, who may well be aliens, who explain to him what has happened. Rather than speak in the terms gods in fantasy stories usually use, the gods in “The Altar of the Random Gods” speak in terms of probability, using mathematics to tell Homer what has happened to him and what he can expect for his life going forward.

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