Birthday Reviews: Michael G. Coney’s “The Byrds”

Friday, September 28th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver



Michael G. Coney was born on September 28, 1932 and died on November 4, 2005.

Coney won the 1977 British SF Association Award for his novel Brontomek! and was also nominated in 1984 for his novel Cat Karina. In 1996, his story “Tea and Hamsters” made the ballot for the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and two of his stories, “Die, Lorelei” and “The Sharks of Pentreath” were nominated for Seiun Awards.

“The Byrds” first appeared in the 1983 anthology Changes, edited by Michael Bishop and Ian Watson. In 1985 Judith Merril selected it for inclusion in the inaugural volume of the Tesseracts anthology series of Canadian science fiction. Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery also included the story in The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990. The story appeared the following year in David G. Hartwell and Glenn Grant’s Northern Stars: The Anthology of Canadian Science Fiction. It made its most recent appearance in Mike Ashley’s The Mammoth Book of Awesome Comic Fantasy.

Michael Coney takes a look at mass hysteria in “The Byrds,” in which a Canada which is struggling with population problems sends out questionnaires to the elderly which encourage them to choose euthanasia. In one family, as Gran gets on in years, she refuses to kill herself and instead strips naked, paints herself like a bird, and straps on an anti-gravity belt before taking to the trees to the mortification of her family.

The family calls in a psychiatrist, Dr. Pratt, who seems more intent on writing papers, appearing on television, and generally making a name for himself than helping the family. As the word spreads about what Gran did, others begin doing the same and Gran becomes an unwilling and uncooperative guru for the movement following her lead.

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Goth Chick News: Visiting Great America’s Fright Fest, I Mean Hell Fest… Well Neither Actually

Thursday, September 27th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Six Flags Fright Fest

It was in my second year of writing for Black Gate, that I was invited to my very first Halloween press event, which was to cover our local Six Flags Amusement Park’s Fright Fest. Launched in 1993, the Gurnee, IL attraction, Six Flags Great America, is hosting its 25th Fright Fest this year, and the Friday prior to its opening Saturday night has traditionally been used as a “dress rehearsal” for the staff while also hosting corporate outings and press. Attendance is held to 2000 people which is awesome for a park that reportedly has a capacity of 30K. This means lines are short and its actually possible to hit up all the rides as well as the special “haunted attractions” in the five hours the park is open that evening.

Over the years Fright Fest has had its ups and downs which seems to have loosely followed the mood of America itself. In 1999, Six Flags licensed and opened Alice Cooper’s Brutal Planet “haunted house,” featuring music from the album and using leather-clad go-go dancers as entertainment while you waited in line – assuming, I can only suppose, that something called “Fright Fest” was meant to be more of an “adult” event. Six Flags also licensed other intellectual properties for mazes and scare zones over the years, including the Saw films. Décor in the park back then pulled no punches, with elaborate and sometimes very gory scenes set up in the grassy areas, and impressive, movie-quality makeup on the actors.

Following the real-life horror of 2001, Great America pulled way back. That year and for several years after, Fright Fest became family friendly in the extreme with almost no decorations and the scares confined to a corn maze and lots of creepy clowns. I didn’t mind. We’d seen enough stuff on the news to last us awhile.

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July-August 2018 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: A Review

Thursday, September 27th, 2018 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction July August 2018-small

Having just come out of the 1969 Retro-Reviews, AND Black Gate Book Club’s 1981 Downbelow Station, I wanted to dip into the modern SF/F scene a bit before starting the 1979 Retro-Reviews. I delved into Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2018. I’ll be talking about the fiction and poetry in this review, spoiler-free, but skipping book review columns and such.

This is a somewhat special issue, with stories inspired by (or matching) the excellent Bob Eggleton cover art “Big Mars.”

“The Phobos Experience” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Darlene Ritika works on the Bradbury Space Center, orbiting Mars, in this alternate history tale. She is hiding a severe case of vertigo from her superiors and co-workers and gets called out by the Man to go to Phobos and find an entrance to a series of secret caves. They find a cave, but discover they are not the first people to be there. A slow-motion chase/fight ensues in the low gravity. With the heart of the story being such a slow scene, the story in its entirety seemed really rushed to me.

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Birthday Reviews: Willard E. Hawkins’s “The Dwindling Sphere”

Thursday, September 27th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gilmore

Cover by Gilmore

Willard E. Hawkins was born on September 27, 1887 and died on April 17, 1970.

Hawkins only published eleven short stories of genre interest over a span of nearly thirty years, although he published his first story as early as 1912. In addition to writing various genres, he established World Press, for which he was the publisher and editor of mostly non-fiction books about the West. He also worked as a newspaper editor for various Colorado papers, including Denver Times and the Rocky Mountain News. His first genre story, “The Dead Man’s Tale,” appeared in the debut issue of Weird Tales.

“The Dwindling Sphere” was originally published in the March 1940 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Laurence Janiver reprinted it in his 1966 anthology Masters’ Choice (a.k.a. 18 Greatest Science Fiction Stories). The story was picked up by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg for their anthology The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 2: 1940 (a.k.a. Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction), which caused it to be translated into German in 1980. In 2017, Hank Davis used the story in his anthology If This Goes Wrong…

Hawkins explores several generations of a single family in “The Dwindling Sphere.” The first section, set in 1945, discusses how Frank Baxter accidentally created the Plastocene process while attempting to find a way to create atomic energy. He was partially successful in creating a reaction, but the energy he was seeking completely dissipated, leaving behind a product which would revolutionize manufacturing. Subsequent sections focus on his descendants who discover Baxter’s journals and add on to them as they deal with the long-term repercussions of his discovery.

Hawkins deals with a society in which the working class has been turned into a luxury class since only a small number of people are needed to supply the world with plastocene, and therefore everything it needs, although food production hasn’t (yet) been switched to plastocene. In this period, the new luxury class is discovering that work provides them with a raison d’etre. Several hundred years later, society has evolved more and the early Baxters have been all but forgotten until a distant relation finds their diary, which corrects many historical misconceptions. By that time, plastocene production is beginning to threaten the livability of Earth, leading to the final sections of the story in which the Baxters’ descendants are forced off Earth by the long-term success of plastocene.

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Mage: The Hero Denied 12

Thursday, September 27th, 2018 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage 12Before we begin this review, you might still be on the fence about whether or not to even start reading this series. If so, there’s a list of eight great reasons to start the series, with number 7 being the very best of them.

The way this last mini-series has been set up is that Matt Wagner will release four monthly issues, take a one-month break, release four more monthly issues, then another one-month break, four more monthly issues, a one-month break, then the final three issues. While this process allows everyone involved a bit more breathing room when putting out a regular series, it also ends up creating three extra-special cliffhangers. What that means for issue 12 is that we’re getting to the last special cliffhanger of the series before Matt Wagner finally powers through to the big finale.

It opens with Magda and Hugo stuck on a platform, being attacked by snake women. Last issue, we saw Magda’s Mary Poppins umbrella trick. This issue, we see her Penguin umbrella trick as she uses it as a gun to melt two of them before another one destroys it.

Meanwhile, the Umbra Sprite takes a dip in her pool of darkness in order to gather even more power, stating that “The Three” MUST be united for the plan to work. Of course, she still has no idea about who exactly composes “The Three,” although she’s fairly sure that Kevin and the Fisher King are two of them. Before submerging, she essentially places Karol in charge, warning her that “Sasha is a vain and vapid creature” and “Zophia (is) a slave to her own cruelty.” She then informs her most trusted daughter that all four of the remaining Gracklethorns must be prepared to fight and likely to die in the coming struggle. Given that she murdered one of her daughters in the previous issue, there’s no doubt that the Umbra Sprite is prepared to sacrifice all of them to achieve her goals. It’s also clear that the daughters so fear the Umbra Sprite that they’re willing to die rather than defy her.

Elsewhere, Kevin and Miranda are pursuing the mysterious imp. Despite knocking down some trees, Kevin loses not only the imp, but also the Questing Beast, who slips through a magic portal, sealing the portal behind itself. Even worse than losing their quarry, the magic mirror that Isis gave Kevin to stay in touch with Magda has been cracked.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 22, Part 5: Lords of Chaos

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Lords of ChaosMy last film of Fantasia 2018 was a late surprise. The Festival often starts with a screening slot still to be announced, as the Directors negotiate to add one last film to their line-up. This year, just a few days before Fantasia ended, they announced that they’d close this year’s festival with a screening of Lords of Chaos, a film by Jonas Åkerlund based on the true story of the band Mayhem in the early 1990s. It’s a drama, with a lot of very dark comedy, involving murder, suicide, and church burnings. The version of the film that played Fantasia was the same unrated version that premiered at the Sundance festival earlier this year; apparently cuts will have to be made before the movie can be shown again in a North American theatre. (I can’t say with absolute certainty what those cuts will be or what the reason for them is, but the leading theory I heard is that they have to do with the film’s realistic depiction of suicide.)

Lords of Chaos is based on the book of the same name by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, with a script by Dennis Magusson in collaboration with Åkerlund. It’s worth noting that in the mid-80s Åkerlund was briefly a member of Bathory, a band that laid the groundwork for the black metal scene that emerged a few years later. Definitions are tricky in metal, and some will argue that Bathory was one of the creators of black metal; the point is that Åkerlund has roots in this world as well as being an experienced director with a long list of credits.

The film he’s made now claims to be “based on truth and lies.” Starting in 1987, we’re introduced at once to young Norwegian metal musician Øystein Aarseth (Rory Culkin), who is our narrator: “this is my story, and it will end badly,” he promises. Aarseth, under the name Euronymous, leads the band Mayhem, which has hit a plateau — but when a new singer sends in an audition tape (along with a dead mouse), Euronmymous sees new hope for the band. Per Yngve Ohlin (Jack Kilmer), who takes the name Dead, is deeply troubled but immensely talented, and Mayhem takes off, helped also by Euronymous’s knack for self-promotion: he positions Mayhem as “true Norwegian black metal,” in contrast to the proliferation of un-true Swedish death metal bands. Mayhem, he implies, is at the vanguard of a movement, harder and more unyielding than anyone else. More evil.

And so we get a moment in which an enthusiastic young fan approaches Euronymous to gush about the band, Euronymous stares at him in a long silence, then points to a patch on the fan’s jacket and reads out “Scorpions” in a flat and chillingly ironic tone. The old-school German hard rock band’s used like a bludgeon, a sign of the un-trueness of the fan, who is crushed; and we realise how Euronymous can and will pick instantly on a small tell to dominate and manipulate people around him. Because the fan, Kristian (Emory Cohen), isn’t driven away but instead becomes even more determined to gain Euronymous’s approval. Dead commits suicide, but if Euronymous is affected, he doesn’t show it much. With his parents’ money he opens a metal record store, and in the basement holds meetings of a “black circle” of favoured musicians. “I was building my own empire,” he reflects. “Everything that had happened had made me immune to reality.” Kristian, still a fan, wants to be a part of this group — for he’s a musician, too, and, it turns out, a talented one. Brought into the circle, he takes new names, Varg Vikernes and Count Grishnackh, and slowly emerges as a rival for Euronymous among the black circle. The two young men compete with each other to say and do ever more extreme things, driving each other further and further, and it is very clear that Euronymous’s early promise is true: this can only end badly.

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Exploring the Mithraeum of Roman London

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Bloomberg London

A glass walkway allows you to get inside the temple without touching
it. You are then treated to a rather cheesy sound and light show.

London is a massive city with 2,000 years of history behind it. It’s hard to tell these days, but the banking and financial center of it all, with its frantic building, insider wheeling and dealing, and massive cocaine consumption, is actually the oldest neighborhood. This center of commerce is called “the City”, and its area corresponds to the Roman city of Londinium, founded around 43 AD.

Not much has survived the centuries, just a section of the original city wall and a few traces in the cellars of later buildings. In 1954, however, a subterranean temple was found that belongs to one of the ancient empire’s foremost mystery religions — Mithraism. Little is known for certain about this religion since its rites were private and most written accounts are by early Christians seeking to destroy the faith.

The cult centered around worship of the god Mithras, who originated in Persia. One common scene in Mithraic iconography shows Mithras being born out of a rock, and this may be why his temple, called a mithraeum, is generally located underground. It was a secretive religion that only accepted men, and this is one of the reasons it eventually lost out to the more inclusive Christianity.

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A Robot Has No Soul

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

1929-10-22 New York Daily News AFM Robot as Entertainer 39 cropped

Probably the quickest and most thorough technological disruption in history was the introduction of sound to movies. A novelty when a few short scenes were included in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, sound had almost completely taken over the industry by 1930 despite the at times desperate battle against the cost of changing by both movie studios and theater owners.

The havoc wreaked over Hollywood is the stuff of a thousand books. Performers, especially those dozens of stars who migrated from Europe to share in the movie boom of the 1920s, saw their careers disappear because of their accents or some other failing in their speaking voices. Writers who until that time could make do with plot outlines lost their jobs to stage writers accustomed to creating atmosphere from pure dialog. Cameramen found their expressively mobile cameras confined to soundproof booths whose heat could make them faint if a take too took long. Practically every craft got turned upside down and shaken hard – just as America started sinking into the Great Depression.

One allied but non-Hollywood aspect of the business got hurt worst of all, an entire profession wiped out in a matter of months. Who got the blame? Robots.

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Birthday Reviews: Tanya Huff’s “Finding Marcus”

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver



Tanya Huff was born on September 26, 1957.

Huff has won the Aurora Award twice. Her first Aurora was in 1988 for her short story “And Who Is Joah?.” She won the second in 2013 for the novel The Silvered. Huff has also been nominated for several Gaylactic Spectrum Awards as well as the William L. Crawford – IAFA Fantasy Award, the Sapphire Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award.

“Finding Marcus” was written for the anthology Sirius: The Dog Star, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Alexander Potter in 2004. The story was reprinted in 2007 in Huff’s collection Finding Magic and again in 2013 in the collection He Said, Sidhe Said & Other Tales.

Reuben is a dog in in “Finding Marcus.” As the title implies, he is attempted to find his master, Marcus, from whom he has become separated. Their separation is not a normal one, for several reasons. Marcus had been working on a project to find Gates between dimensions and when he was eventually successful, he brought Reuben with him. Unfortunately,  Marcus learned that the Gates are only one way and they would have to find and pass through several Gates before returning to their own world.

In their passage through the Gates, Reuben managed to acquire the ability to understand human speech, and speak as well, although whether he can speak to Marcus is left ambiguous. The worlds they pass through are a mixture of hi-tech, low-tech, and mid-tech, with our own timeline apparently considered mid-tech. The two became separated when they appeared in a low-tech marketplace and Marcus was accused of being a demon. In trying to escape, Marcus and Reuben learned that in order for a Gate to deposit them in the same location, the two had to be touching, leading to Reuben’s quest.

As Reuben focuses his quest on finding each Gate to take him to the next world and eventually Marcus, which Reuben knows will be the eventual outcome, Huff explores the pitfalls of being a dog alone in the world. The danger posed by people, either well-meaning or not, the hunt for food, the avoidance of traffic, and the seeming ever-presence of cats. Although Reuben is happy to be searching alone, he winds up connecting with a crow, Dark Dawn With Thunder, who can also speak and wants to hear Reuben’s story. Even as Reuben tries to push Dawn away, the crow insists on helping him find the next Gate, offering him advice and warnings from her position in the sky and forging a bond with Reuben that he refuses to acknowledge, just as he refuses to accept Dawn’s pessimistic view of the ultimate success of his quest.

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Future Treasures: The Islevale Series by D. B. Jackson

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Time's Children DB Jackson-small Time's Demon DB Jackson-small

D. B. Jackson is the author of four novels in the popular Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, which Kirkus Reviews calls “Splendid… with [a] contemporary gumshoe-noir tone… An unusual series of great promise.” Fletcher reviewed D.B.’s collection Tales of the Thieftaker for us, saying:

I enjoyed myself, ripping through the book at a quick pace. Jackson’s prose is clean; he’s a good storyteller. The stories are tense, the mysteries good, the characters well-drawn. His Boston reeks believably of crowded, dirty streets and you can smell the creosote from the wharves… Tales of the Thieftaker is a brisk read with an engaging lead, a colorful supporting cast, and a nicely detailed setting.

‘D.B. Jackson’ also happens to be Black Gate contributor David B. Coe, whose “Night of Two Moons” was the most popular story in Black Gate 4, and whose Books and Craft blog posts here have covered topics as diverse as World Building and Nicola Griffith’s 90s classic Slow River.

David’s latest release is Time’s Children, arriving next week from Angry Robot. It’s the opening novel in the Islevale series, and David tells us “This is my best book to date.” Sequel Time’s Demon is scheduled for May. Here’s what we know so far.

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