Goth Chick News: Get Ready, Here Comes Your Summer Reading List

Thursday, February 28th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

If you live somewhere that, like Chicago, has been experiencing temperatures incompatible with human life over the past couple months, then thinking about a lounge chair, a book and an umbrella drink wearing anything less than a Tauntaun skin is pretty darn appealing. And with perfect timing, here comes the 2018 Bram Stoker Award nominees hot off the press from the Horror Writers Association (HWA), providing a categorized list of reading material.

Now all you need is the lounge chair, an umbrella drink and a space heater.

Named in honor Dracula’s spiritual Daddy, the Bram Stoker Awards are presented each year for superior achievement in writing in eleven categories. It is also the coolest physical award ever. I mean, Oscar is just a naked gold guy while the Stoker looks like this:

Bram Stoker Award

Previous winners include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Joyce Carol Oates, and Neil Gaiman.

The HWA is a nonprofit organization of writers and publishing professionals around the world, dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it. The HWA formed in 1985 with the help of many of the field’s greats, including Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and Joe R. Lansdale, and in addition to the Stoker, the HWA is the sponsor of the annual StokerCon horror convention which takes place in Grand Rapids, MI.

So grab a pen Black Gaters and get ready to make your list…

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Future Treasures: The Spin Trilogy by Andrew Bannister

Thursday, February 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Creation Machine-small Iron Gods-small Stone Clock-small

Last week, in my article about Elizabeth Bear’s upcoming novel Ancestral Night, I included a quote from Publishers Weekly about the current “space opera resurgence.” The most common response to that piece has been, “There’s a space opera resurgence?”

You know, I think there might be. Just in the last few weeks we’ve talked about Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War books, Jesse Mihalik’s Polaris Rising, Lisanne Norman’s Sholan Alliance series, Alastair Reynolds’s Shadow Captain, Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings, Tom Toner’s The Amaranthine Spectrum trilogy, Marina J. Lostetter’s Noumenon series, K.B. Wagers There Before the Chaos, and a whole lot more. That’s a critical mass of space opera, especially for a site that pretends to mostly cover fantasy books…. so yeah. I kinda think there’s a resurgence.

The latest evidence landed on my desk earlier this week, in the form of a new review copy from Tor. It’s the debut novel from British author Andrew Bannister, the first in a promised trilogy, and it received some enviable attention in the UK when it was first published there three years ago. Here’s the notice from The Guardian, from their May 2016 roundup of the Best Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels.

Space opera lends itself to the depiction of grand dimensions and great duration, but it’s one thing to talk big, quite another to present a vast universe through the eyes of fully rounded characters without the former overshadowing the latter. Many a novice has floundered, their vision ill served by technique. Fortunately, debut novelist Andrew Bannister comes to the genre with his talents fully formed in the ambitious, compulsively readable Creation Machine, the first volume in a trilogy. Fleare Haas, the maverick daughter of the industrialist tyrant Viklun Haas, is imprisoned in a monastery on the moon of Obel, her crime to join rebels opposed to her father’s ruthless regime. Her escape from prison and her headlong race across the galaxy to the Catastrophe Curve is just one of the novel’s many delights. Creation Machine has everything: intriguing far-future societies, exotic extraterrestrial races, artificial galaxies and alien machines dormant for millions of years. Bannister holds it all together with enviable aplomb.

Tor has scheduled the sequel, Iron Gods, for publication in July. It will be followed by Stone Clock. Here’s the back covers for the first two.

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Kelly Chiu Gives us 6 Reasons to Devour Ryōko Kui’s Delicious in Dungeon

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Delicious in Dungeon Volume One-small Delicious in Dungeon Volume Two-small Delicious in Dungeon Volume Three-small

Every few years I promise myself I’m going to do a better job keeping up with the latest fantasy manga, but I never really do. But last year I did manage to discover the delightful Delicious in Dungeon, written and illustrated by Ryōko Kui, and I consider that a major win.

Delicious in Dungeon is a Japanese fantasy comedy about a 6-member adventurer party very nearly wiped out in a Total Party Kill deep in a dungeon. In the last moments before she’s swallowed by a dragon, the magic-user Falin uses the last of her strength to teleport her brother Laios and the rest of the party to the surface. Defeated and demoralized, and faced with the loss of most of their coin and equipment, two members quit immediately, but Laios convinces the last two to join him in a desperate sprint back into the dungeon before his sister is digested and beyond the reach even of the most powerful healing magic. Famished and too penniless to provision, Laios concocts a foolhardy plan to eat the monsters they encounter on their way down.

That’s the basic set-up for a extremely imaginative and frequently hilarious dungeon romp featuring three hapless foodies in a gloriously elaborate monster haven. The setting in fact is a huge part of the charm of this series, and it will be warmly familiar to anyone who’s played D&D or a similar early RPG, with its crowded underground markets and well stocked trading outposts scarcely 50 yards from trap-infested monster gardens. The slimes, mushroom men, man-eating plants and other oddball creatures they come up against will also bring back fond memories of the classic dungeon delves of your youth. They’re delightfully wacky, just like the plans our heroes come up with to eat them.

Late last year Kelly Chiu at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog wrote a fine piece on the series, just before the English translation of the sixth volume arrived in stores. Kelly has a sharp sense for what makes the series so appealing to old school gamers and general comic fans alike, and in 6 Reasons to Devour Delicious in Dungeon she hit on many of the things I most enjoy about it. Here’s a few of her most on-target comments.

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Mechanical Man, Inc.

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

Frank Dale patent 2,180,951 figure 3

You can’t get your science fiction merit badge without knowing that Isaac Asimov’s robots were made by the fictional U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., founded in 1982, the same year Susan Calvin was born. (Yes, that means she’s a millennial. She joined the firm in 2008, if it comes up in a trivia contest.)

When people see the name of the firm they immediately start to wonder what the difference is between a robot and a mechanical man. Some people. Me, mostly. I’ve never found anybody else asking the question. But I can’t tell you how much it bugs me. If a company has both names it must make both things. Yet nowhere in I, Robot or The Rest of the Robots does Asimov so much as mention a mechanical man or differentiate his robots in any way. Robots by the score but no mechanical men or for that matter mechanical women.

Others did. He probably didn’t know it at the time, but Asimov was scooped. A real world firm had been started in 1938. Its name was Mechanical Man, Inc.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Leanne Frahm

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gavin O'Keefe

Cover by Gavin O’Keefe

The Ditmar Awards are named for Australian fan Martin James Ditmar Jenssen. Founded in 1969 as an award to be given by the Australian National Convention, during a discussion about the name for the award, Jenssen offered to pay for the award if it were named the Ditmar. His name was accepted and he wound up paying for the award for more years than he had planned. Ditmar would eventually win the Ditmar Award for best fan artist twice, once in 2002 and again in 2010.

The first Ditmar for Best Fan Writer was awarded in 1979, when it was won by Marc Ortlieb. The award has been presented each year since then with a record four-year winning streak set by Bruce Gillespie (1989-92). Gillespie tied with Ian Gunn in the second year of that winning streak and has won the award a record nine times between 1989 and 2005. Leanne Frahm won the award for the first time in 1980 and would win the award a second time in 1998.

Leanne Frahm was born in Brisbane, Australia on February 28, 1946.

Frahm attended James Cook University and worked in a bank. She became involved in acting in and directing community plays and eventually attended a writers’ workshop in Sydney, which led to her publishing in fanzanes and a professional career.

She was nominated for the Ditmar Award for Best Fan Writer in 1979 and the following year she won the award. She would win a second Ditmar Award for Best Fan Writer in 1998.

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In Defense of Escapism

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

In defense of Escapism

One of the many attractions of genre fiction is the ability to have deep, meaningful conversations with the world around us; where we’re headed and what it might mean, where we’ve been and how that affects us today, where we are and the struggles we face in the moment. It gives us a lens, via the imagination, through which we can tackle some of humanity’s greatest challenges and, perhaps, offer solutions.

Crucially, however, it is entertaining, delivering important messages or asking important questions along with epic battles, political intrigue, inter-personal drama, more battles and a touch of romance. With all the potential in genre fiction for tackling the difficulties of the human condition, it doesn’t come as a surprise that some in the field turn their noses up at stories that do not do so, the stories that are still horror, fantasy or science fiction but skirt the big issues in favor of something else: fun, entertainment, escapism.

We tend to devalue escapism for its own sake as being somehow lesser, or entirely unworthy.

This, I feel, is a mistake. Escapism has value in and of itself. That value might be different from the big-issue type, but it is not lesser by any means.

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New Treasures: American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

American Hippo-small American Hippo-back-small

There are books that I ignore until I get a solid personal recommendation, those that win me over only with rave reviews, and those that I warm to, like, immediately. Sarah Gailey’s alternate history of an American west overrun by feral hippos is definitely the latter.

In her review of the first volume, River of Teeth, NPR reviewer and former Black Gate blogger Amal El-Mohtar said:

In 1909, the United States was suffering a shortage of meat. At the same time, Louisiana’s waterways were being choked by invasive water hyacinth. Louisiana Congressman Robert F. Broussard proposed an ingenious solution to both those problems: Import hippos to eat the water hyacinth; then, eat the hippos.

Luckily for the United States in our timeline, the fact that hippos are ill-tempered apex predators not amenable to being ranched was pointed out, the American Hippo Bill failed to pass by a single vote, and consequently, we don’t have hippos casually chomping on passers-by due to a lack of their usual forage. Sarah Gailey’s imagined United States, however, are differently fortuned.

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The Government We Take into Space: Imperial Stars, edited by Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr

Monday, February 25th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Imperial Stars 1 The Stars at War-small Imperial Stars 2 Republic and Empire-small Imperial Stars 3 The Crash of Empire-small

Much early science fiction concerned itself with the rise and fall of galactic empires, and I admit being rather taken with the idea in my youth. There’s something rather romantic in the notion of man’s ultimate destiny being among the stars, testing himself against vast and incalculably ancient powers as he carves a home for himself across the parsecs, proving his worth on the greatest stage of all through gumption, guile, and fearless determination.

Today the whole idea seems rather quaint, and more than a little naive. As modern history has shown us, empires — all empires — are built on blood, and the notion that war could somehow be a noble pursuit died a well-deserved death in the trenches of World War I. Modern news reporting, which brought the brutal realities and costs of war into our living rooms in the 60s, has largely prevented us from making the appalling mistake of romanticizing war and conquest the way previous generations did.

In science fiction, galactic empires largely fell out of fashion by the late 70s, nudged off the stage by the more mature model of Star Trek‘s Federation (and ultimately done in for good, I think,  by the depiction of the ultimate Evil Empire in Star Wars.) Personally I think the arrival of more women writers in the 80s and 90s played a huge part in moving SF past its early infatuation with interstellar imperialism, but that’s debatable.

Jerry Pournelle made a career of writing and promoting military science fiction, and he made no secret of his belief that wherever man went among the stars, he’d bring war with him. In the three-volume anthology series Imperial Stars (Baen, 1986-89), he and his co-editor John F. Carr collected over 1,200 pages of fiction and non-fiction on the topic of galactic empires, from authors like John W. Campbell, Jr., Poul Anderson, Vernor Vinge, Harry Turtledove, C. M. Kornbluth, Rudyard Kipling, Norman Spinrad, Eric Frank Russell, Philip K. Dick, Gregory Benford, Theodore Sturgeon, Christopher Anvil, Algis Budrys, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Everett B. Cole, Donald Kingsbury, and many others. The series is long out of print, but I recently came across a set and found it strangely irresistible.

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Hither Came Conan: Dave Hardy on “Vale of Lost Women”

Monday, February 25th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_ValeMarvelCoverEDITEDWelcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert (and me) examine one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. Dave Hardy is the leading El Borak scholar around, and today he weighs in with a fresh perspective on what is pretty much regarded as one of Howard’s worst Conan tales.


“She was drowned in a great gulf of pain—was herself but pain crystallized and manifested in flesh. So she lay without conscious thought or motion, while outside the drums bellowed, the horns clamored, and barbaric voices lifted hideous chants, keeping time to naked feet slapping the heard earth and open palms smiting one another softly.”

“The Vale of Lost Women” is a neglected part of the Conan canon, scorned even. It was not particularly loved in Howard’s time. Howard wrote “Vale of Lost Women” probably around February 1933. Howard was unable to sell “Vale.” If he submitted it to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, Wright didn’t buy it. The story was first published in The Magazine of Horror in the Spring, 1967 issue. Compared with such gems as “Queen of the Black Coast,” “Red Nails,” “Black Colossus,” or “Tower of the Elephant,” “Vale” might seem a very slight tale indeed.

And yet there is something primal about “Vale” that defies one to forget it. Despite its crudities and glibness, it taps into dark recesses of fundamental fears and dream logic.

The setting is a village in Kush, the fictional equivalent of Africa. Livia is a young woman from Ophir, one of the civilized countries of Hyboria, in Howard’s setting for the Conan stories. It is a pseudo-European country, inhabited by a fair-skinned folk. She had journeyed with her brother, Theteles, who sought to learn sorcerous wisdom in a remote Stygian city. Instead they were captured by Kushite raiders and came to be captives of Bajujh, king of Bakalah.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist, and the 1973 Locus Awards for Best Magazine Artist and Best Paperback Cover Artist: Kelly Freas

Sunday, February 24th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Weird Tales November 1950-small Astounding Science Fiction October 1953-small Analog February 1975-small

Steven Silver has been doing a series covering the award winners from his age 12 year, and Steven has credited me for (indirectly) suggesting this, when I quoted Peter Graham’s statement “The Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, in the “comment section” to the entry on 1973 in Jo Walton’s wonderful book An Informal History of the Hugos. You see, I was 12 in 1972, so the awards for 1973 were the awards for my personal Golden Age. And Steven suggested that much as he is covering awards for 1980, I might cover awards for 1973 here at Black Gate.

As I began reading the SF magazines, and buying SF paperbacks, there was really no doubt who the most popular artist was: Kelly Freas. (This is not to deny the excellence of the likes of John Schoenherr, Jack Gaughan, and many more.) Kelly Freas was one of the most regular artists at Analog, and he did covers for many book publishers, at that time perhaps most often DAW. (Later he was the cover artist for every one of the Laser Books line.) His art was very colorful, very recognizable. His work was often humorous, but also could be dark and gritty. He was also an excellent interior illustrator.

Freas was born Frank Kelly in 1922. He took his stepfather’s last name after he was adopted. (His artwork was signed both Kelly Freas and Frank Kelly Freas.) He served in the second World War right out of High School, doing reconnaissance camera work and painting bomber noses. He spent some time in advertising. His first painting in the SF field was the cover for the November 1950 issue of Weird Tales (above left). One of his most famous paintings in the field was the 1953 cover of Astounding, illustrating Tom Godwin’s “The Gulf Between” (above middle). He later repainted it (with slight changes) for use as the cover of Queen’s album News of the World. Outside of SF he may have been best known for his work at Mad Magazine – he was the originator of the Alfred E. Neumann character.

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