James Davis Nicoll asks Who Are the Forgotten Greats of Science Fiction?

Monday, December 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Apocalypses R.A. Lafferty-small West of the Sun-small The House on the Borderland-small

As we close out 2018, I’m proud to look back at the last twelve months and all the new authors we’ve championed and celebrated. Dozens of debut novels, and hundreds of new short stories, from a lively graduating class of SF and fantasy writers. Of course, Black Gate isn’t just about the new — we try to spend just as many pixels illuminating the neglected writers of the Twentieth Century, who become more forgotten with each passing year.

We published hundreds of reviews, retrospectives, and Vintage Treasures posts about the forgotten greats of the genre here at Black Gate in 2018. But some of my favorite articles appeared at other venues, including Unbound Worlds, the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, and The Verge. One of the better writers showcasing classics this year was James Davis Nicoll, who in a September article at Tor.com asked Who Are the Forgotten Greats of Science Fiction?

To answer the question he looked at the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, which he rightly laments as underappreciated (“I wish the award were more widely known, that it had, perhaps, its own anthology. If it did, it might look a bit like this.“) James did his part to promote the award by showcasing the winners, including masters such as R.A. Lafferty, William Hope Hodgson, Edgar Pangborn, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Leigh Brackett, Fredric Brown, Mildred Clingerman, and others. Here’s James on three of my favorites.

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A (Black) Gat in The Hand: Saying Goodbye with a Black Mask Dinner

Monday, December 31st, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)


This is a pretty famous photograph in hardboiled/pulp lore. It’s of the attendees of the 1936 West Coast Black Mask Writers dinner. And it’s the only known meeting of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. But there was a lot more writing talent present!

From back left: Raymond Moffat, Raymond Chandler, Herbert Stinson, Dwight Babcock, Eric Taylor, and Dashiell Hammett.

From front left: Arthur Barnes, John K. Butler, W.T. Ballard, Horace McCoy, and Norbert Davis.


This post is going to focus on the man who was primarily responsible for making this gathering happen.

Dwight Babcock sent his first very first story to Underworld Magazine. They promptly lost it! He retitled it “At the Bottom of Every Mess,” and sent it to Black Mask, figuring he’d get a nice rejection letter. Instead, he got an acceptance letter and a $100 check. When most pulps were paying a quarter to a half cent a word, Babcock got a penny and a quarter cent per word for his first effort!

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Birthday Reviews: Connie Willis’s “D.A.”

Monday, December 31st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by James Gurney

Cover by James Gurney

Connie Willis was born on December 31, 1945.

Willis has won the Hugo Award eleven times and the Nebula Award seven times. Her joint winners include the short story “Even the Queen,” the novelette “Fire Watch,” the novella “The Last of the Winnebagos,” and the novel Doomsday Book and the two-part novel Blackout/All Clear. Her Nebula only wins were the short story “A Letter from the Clearys” and the novelette “At the Rialto.” Her Hugo wins were for the short stories “Death on the Nile” and “The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective,” the novellas “The Winds of Marble Arch,” “Inside Job,” and “All Seated on the Ground,” and the novel To Say Nothing of the Dog. Her novel Lincoln’s Dreams won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. To Say Nothing of the Dog also won the Prix Ozone, Kurd Lasswitz Preis, and Ignotus Award. Doomsday Book also won the Ignotus and Kurd Lasswitz. Willis won additional Ignotus Awards for the stories “Even the Queen,” “Why the World Didn’t End Last Tuesday,” and in 2000, her stories “Nonstop to Portales” and “Chance” tied each other.

Willis won the Forry Award from LASFS in 1999 and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2011 she received the Robert A. Heinlein Award from the Heinlein Society. She was named a Grand Master by SFWA in 2012. Willis was the guest of honor at LACon IV, the 64th Worldcon, held in Los Angeles in 2006 and served as Toastmaster at the 2011 World Fantasy Con in San Diego.

“D.A.” was written for the anthology Space Cadets, published in coordination with LACon IV, the Worldcon, in 2006 where Willis was guest of honor and edited by Mike Resnick. It was selected by Jonathan Strahan for The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume One and was also reprinted as a chapbook by Subterranean Press in 2007. In 2018 it was included in the Connie Willis collection Terra Incognita, published by Del Rey.

In the distant future, Theodora is a high school student whose goal is to get into UCLA, unlike most of the students in her class who hope to get an appointment to become a cadet at the Academy to go into space. Unfortunately for her classmates, only 300 people are selected for the Academy each year, so when one of the students at Theodora’s school is selected, it is a major event and a mandatory assembly is held. To everyone’s surprise, Theodora is announced as the lucky appointee, despite the fact that she never applied and didn’t go through the interview process.

The strongest points of the story are when Willis looks at Theodora’s attempts to figure out how she managed to get into the Academy and get acclimatized, or fight against getting acclimatized, to life in outer space. Her only lifeline and support is her friend Kimkim, back on Earth and using her prodigious hacking skills to open a line of communication with Theodora and try to help her work her way through the Academy.

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The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on Their Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2018

Sunday, December 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Senlin Ascends-small Foundryside-small Vita Nostra-small

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and, if you’ve been paying attention at all, you’re doubtless stumbled on a few Best Books of the Year lists. I’ve seen over two dozen, and they are not all created equal. One of the best for true SF & fantasy fans is The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog list of their Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2018, which includes 25 novels, 12 “Alternate Universe” Picks, and 13 of The Year’s Best Collections & Anthologies. It was compiled by Joel Cunningham; here’s a few of his selections.

Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft (Orbit, 448 pages, $15.99 trade paperback/$4.99 digital, January 16, 2018)

Bancroft’s buzzy debut was already a self-published sensation in ebook when Orbit acquired the rights to publish in print, with three sequels to follow in short order. It’s set in a steampunk universe whose main feature is the Tower of Babel, a legendary tourist attraction that soars endlessly into the sky, shrouded in clouds. No one knows how high the tower goes, and it seems to contain an infinite number of rooms, all of them unique. Thomas, a small town schoolteacher, and his beloved wife Marya take their honeymoon at the Tower, but Thomas loses his new bride in the immense crowd milling about the base. Desperate to find her, he begins to climb the Tower in hopes of finding her. Every room he enters is a world unto itself, as detailed and deeply imagined as any described in entire novels. Thomas finds himself in a mental and physical battle with various factions and personalities as he slowly ascends the tower and learns its secrets — well, some of them, at least. Deeply strange and instantly addictive, it’s one of the most original fantasy novels in years — and book two, Arm of the Sphinx (released in May) might be even better. Read our review.

The third book in Bancroft’s The Books of Babel series, The Hod King, is scheduled to be published on January 22, 2019.

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Mark Finn on the Future of Skelos Magazine

Sunday, December 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Skelos magazine

Skelos magazine, launched as a result of a terrifically successful Kickstarter in 2016, is one of the best new magazines of weird fantasy on the market. Editors Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeffrey Shanks produced three of the first four promised issues — all of which look fabulous, and were well reviewed. But the fourth, originally cover-dated Summer 2017, has yet to appear, and after a year of delays and virtually no communication from the editors, there’s been a lot of open speculation around the fate of Skelos. Late yesterday Mark Finn posted a lengthy update with good new for dark fantasy fans.

Starting in 2019, we will resume publishing Skelos at a rate of two issues per year, during the Summer and Winter seasons… We will also pursue a more leisurely publishing schedule with regards to collections and original anthologies. Right now, there are two books in our hopper; a collection of Mythos Fiction by Don Webb, and a collection of Elak of Atlantis stories by Adrian Cole. We are very excited to bring those books out in 2019. Other original volumes and collections will follow and be announced, one at a time, as we can, and still keep our scheduled commitments.

As for the rest of this year: there’s not much left, but we are keen to finish and publish Skelos #4. Also, we are keen to fix/re-organize all of the ebook files so that they are standard and uniform and most important, all available. Once Skelos #4 is out, and the four issues have been secured and locked down in a digital format, we will turn our attention to publishing Skelos #5 and Skelos #6 in 2019, and Skelos #7 and Skelos #8 in 2020. Don’s book, Building Strange Temples, will be available in 2019, along with Adrian’s Elak collection. We will announce their on-sale dates in a timely manner… There are not enough places to read the things we like to read. Skelos was formed to address that, and we’d like to see it flourish.

We thank you for your patience. We will fix this, and try to do better going forward.

Speaking as a fan of the magazine, and one who’s been following the personal difficulties of Mark and his team with considerable sympathy, I’m relieved and impressed at the dedication of the entire team, and very much looking forward to the new issues. Read Mark’s complete Open Letter on Facebook here.

Birthday Reviews: Somtow Sucharitkul’s “Dr. Rumpole”

Sunday, December 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Realms of Fantasy, 8/98

Realms of Fantasy, 8/98

Somtow Sucharitkul was born on December 30, 1952. He also writes using the pseudonym S.P. Somtow. In addition to writing science fiction, Sucharitkul is a successful composer and conductor, including the opera The Snow Dragon, which debuted in Milwaukee in 2015, and five symphonies.

In 1981 Sucharitkul won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He has published as both Somtow Sucharitkul and S.P. Somtow and won the World Fantasy Award for his novella “The Bird Catcher” in 2002. His short story “Brimstone and Salt” won the International Horror Guild Award in 1997. He has also been nominated for the Hugo Award twice, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. He also won the Silpathorn Kittikhun Award, presented by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture of Thailand’s Ministry of Culture. Sucharitkul was guest of honor at the 15th World Fantasy Con, held in Seattle in 1989.

The story “Dr. Rumpole” was published for the first time when Shawna McCarthy printed the story in the August 1998 issue of Realms of Fantasy. Sucharitkul included the story in his 2000 collection Tagging the Moon: Fairy Tales from L.A..

Sucharitkul takes a new spin on the story of Rumpelstiltskin in “Dr. Rumpole,” casting the princess with the impossible task as Adam Villacin, a wannabe screenwriter stuck in the mailroom at Stupendous Entertainment. When he happens to meet the studio head in an elevator, his friend’s fast-talking gets him an assignment as a script doctor. If he can’t turn a turkey of a script into a hit overnight, he’ll lose his job. Into this scenario comes Dr. Rumple, a mythic script doctor who can fix any script. However, he takes everything Villacin is paid for his scripts.

Just as Sucharitkul and the reader are aware that the story is a re-telling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin, the characters also compare their situation to the fairy tale. Knowing how the fairy ends, they also know what they need to do in order to avoid the threat that Dr. Rumpole could conceivably pose for Villacin and his friend/agent, Bobby Detweiler. The story works because Sucharitkul doesn’t follow the formula slavishly. Rumpole’s name doesn’t matter, but it is when Villacin and Detweiler uncover his past that they figure out a way to get out from under his thumb.

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God Of War (2018): Masterpiece

Saturday, December 29th, 2018 | Posted by Matt Drought

god of war

God Of War (2018) is an incredible work of art. I believe that it is the best game of this generation. I understand this is an incredible claim to make. Each component of the game, story, graphics, and gameplay complement each other, providing a fun and immersive game that resonates with the player.

(Beware spoilers if you have never played a God Of War game)

The God of War series of games began in 2005 on the Playstation 2. The first game was named, appropriately, God Of War, which is also the name given to the entire series.

The story begins in ancient Greece, with a Spartan Warrior named Kratos. Kratos is tricked into killing his wife and daughter by the Greek God Of War, Ares. Kratos, armed with the Blades of Chaos, and fueled by utter rage, kills Ares and ascends to become a God, the new God Of War. In the following titles, it is revealed that Kratos is the son of Zeus. Kratos, disgusted with the behavior and manipulation by the Olympians, embarks on a dark path, destroying allies and foes alike to take down Zeus and the pantheon of Greek Gods.

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Birthday Reviews: Charles L. Harness’s “Child by Chronos”

Saturday, December 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by George Gibbons

Cover by George Gibbons

Charles L. Harness was born on December 29, 1915 and died on September 20, 2005.

Harness’s novelettes “An Ornament to His Profession” and “The Alchemist” were both nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Awards. His novella “Probably Cause” was nominated for a Nebula and the novella “Summer Solstice” was nominated for a Hugo. He was also nominated for a retro-Hugo for the novella “The Rose.” Harness’s novel The Ring of Ritornel was nominated for the Ditmar Award in 1969.

“Child by Chronos” was first published by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas in the June 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The following year, they included it in the anthology The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Third Series. It was translated into French for the magazine Fiction #26 in 1956, in 1966 for the anthology Historiques fantastiques de demain, and again for Planète #33 in March 1967, the last translation being done by Alain Dorémieux. Jacques Sadoul would also include it in his Anthologie de la littérature de Science-Fiction in 1981. It was published in German in 1969 in 9 Science Fiction-Stories, translated by Brigit Ress-Bohusch and in Italian in 1977 in Il future alla sbarra, translated by Roberta Rambelli. Charles Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg included it in 1980’s anthology Love 3000 and it was reprinted in 1998 in the NESFA Press Charles L. Harness collection An Ornament to His Profession.

In the film Somewhere in Time, based on Richard Matheson’s novel Bid Time Return, Elise McKenna (Susan French) gives Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) a pocket watch in 1972 which he carries back with him to 1912 and gives to a much younger Elise (Jane Seymour). At no time in its existence is the watch out of Elise’s or Richard’s possession, so there is no way for the watch to have been made or purchased, it just is. Charles Harness published “Child by Chronos” 18 years before Matheson’s novel and 23 years before the film, but has a similar paradox at the heart of his story.

Harness’s story focuses on a woman who hates her mother, whom she is amazingly like, and who notes that all the men she has ever loved were also involved with her mother, an unhealthy psychological situation. Her life isn’t made easier by the strange educational regimen her mother instituted. Rather than allow her to attend school, she was made to memorize all the headlines published from the time of her birth. Her mother, who made her living as a highly successful prognosticator, never gives her an explanation for this strange education.

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New Treasures: Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Friday, December 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Zenith the Androma Saga-small Zenith the Androma Saga-back-small

I order a lot of books online, and I’m pretty procedural about it. I make regular orders from my favorite sellers, but I have a limited budget and — between novels, anthologies, video games, board games, graphic novels, and blu-rays — a lot of things that catch my eye every month. So I debate long and hard before pulling that new Andy Duncan collection out of my cart to make room for that discounted copy of Dark Souls II.

On the other hand, my bi-weekly trip to Barnes & Noble is a lot more fun, because it’s all about the impulse buy. I’ve brought home a lot of exciting discoveries that way, simply because I give myself the freedom to buy those books that leap off the shelves into my hands.

I usually make a beeline for the SF books. But last month I parked myself in the Young Adult section, three huge and very colorful bookcases, and took the time to browse the latest. Because I already had a decent stack of magazines, I limited my take to a single book.

It was tougher than I expected. When you really take the time to browse, there’s a whole lot to interest the SF and fantasy fan in the YA section, believe me. In the end, my selection surprised me. The book that won out over all the others was an instant New York Times bestseller by two popular YA writers, a tale of an all-girl crew of space privateers getting caught up in “a dark and complex sci-fi drama” (Library Journal), and it just screamed fun. Young Adult it may be (and a romance, to boot), but this book is currently on the top of my TBR pile. Way to go, space girls.

Zenith, the first novel in The Androma Saga, was published by Harlequin Teen on July 31, 2018. It is 556 pages, priced at $9.99 in trade paperback and $1.99 in digital format. The cover was designed by Mark Luna. Read an excerpt at USA Today.

Fantastical Crime Noir for the New Year: Crazy Town edited by Jason M. Waltz

Friday, December 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Crazy Town cover-small

Jason M. Waltz may be our favorite independent publisher. His publishing house Rogue Blades Entertainment, newly relocated to Texas, is celebrating its first 2018 release: Crazy Town: A Dark Anthology of Fantastical Crime Noir, and it looks very good indeed.

Jason earned his rep with top-notch titles such as Return of the Sword (2008), Rage of the Behemoth (2009), Demons (2010), and Writing Fantasy Heroes (2013), with original contributions from Brandon Sanderson, Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, E.E. Knight, Glen Cook, Orson Scott Card, Steven Erikson, Bill Ward, Mary Rosenblum, C.L. Werner, Brian Ruckley, Andrew Offutt, Richard K. Lyon, Cat Rambo, Janet and Chris Morris, and many others.

His latest book is a dark anthology of fantastical crime noir, with a forward by Peter McLean (Drake, Priest of Bones) and new and reprint tales from Jay Caselberg, Michael Ehart, Milo James Fowler, Julie Frost, Matthew Chabin, and many others. Jason has scoured far and wide for the best tales of dark urban adventure, and Crazy Town includes stories from Bards & Sages Quarterly, Dark Wisdom, Damnation and Dames, Liquid Imagination, David M. Donachie’s collection The Night Alphabet, and other fine publications, plus half a dozen pieces original to this book.

Here’s the back cover text and full TOC.

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