Is Truth Knowable? Matthew Surridge on Golden State by Ben H. Winters

Sunday, March 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Golden State Ben Winters-smallOver at Splice Today, Matthew Surridge reviews a book a novel I overlooked back in January, but I wish I hadn’t: Golden State by Ben Winters. Matthew says it’s “in the vein of Philip K. Dick mixing detective stories and science-fiction dystopias. It’s a story about truth, the pursuit of truth, and whether truth is knowable.” Here’s the part of his review that grabbed me.

I take it on faith that California exists. Various sources I trust tell me it’s a real place, despite its presence in movies, and I believe most of those sources even though I’ve never been to the so-called Golden State. Much of life is like that: one patches together an idea of the world based on a sense of what information can be trusted and what can’t.

Ben H. Winters’ novel Golden State imagines a world in which that’s no longer the case, or at least imagines a strange version of California where the residents believe in the knowability of what is Objectively So. Cameras record everything that happens, everywhere. Citizens keep a record of their daily lives in Day Books, meticulously filing every note and receipt. Some keep a record of their dreams and other nocturnal activities in a Night Book. Fiction as we know it is unheard of. Lying is utterly forbidden by law on pain of exile to the desert beyond the State’s borders. And a force of secret police, Speculators, keep residents in line with a psychic ability to detect falsehood in their vicinity. Or, at least, what they believe is a psychic ability…

Golden State evokes the great science-fictional dystopias of the 20th century… [it] is a meditation on truth wrapped up in a science-fictional detective story.

Ben Winters is also the author of The Last Policeman trilogy, which we covered back in 2013.

Read Matthew’s complete review of Golden State at Splice Today.

Golden State was published by Mulholland Books on January 22, 2019. It is 336 pages, priced at $28 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. See all our recent coverage of the best new fantasy and science fiction here.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Titan, by John Varley

Sunday, March 31st, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Anthony Russo

Cover by Anthony Russo

Cover by Ron Walotsky

Cover by Ron Walotsky

The Locus Awards were established in 1972 and presented by Locus Magazine based on a poll of its readers. In more recent years, the poll has been opened up to on-line readers, although subscribers’ votes have been given extra weight. At various times the award has been presented at Westercon and, more recently, at a weekend sponsored by Locus at the Science Fiction Museum (now MoPop) in Seattle. The Best Book Publisher Award dates back to 1972, although in 1975 and 1976 the Publisher Award was split into paperback and hardcover categories. Ballantine Books won the award each year from its inception through 1977 (winning the paperback for the two experimental years with the Science Fiction Book Club winning the hardcover award). In 1978, when Del Rey was established as an imprint of Ballantine, Ballantine/Del Rey began winning the award. The award was not presented in 1979 for works published in 1978, but when it was reinstituted in 1980, Ballantine/Del Rey picked up its winning streak. In 1980. The Locus Poll received 854 responses.

Titan belongs to the subgenre of science fiction that Roz Kaveny described as “Big Dumb Objects,” or BDO, in her 1981 essay “Science Fiction in the 1970s.” As such, the novel is reminiscent of some of the earlier examples of that genre, such as Larry Niven’s Ringworld or Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. As with those earlier novels, a group of explorers, in this case human astronauts, find themselves exploring a massive artifact in space, often traveling into the interior of the world, as if they were space-faring European explorers delving into nineteenth century Africa.

In Titan, the BDO is referred to initially as Themis, and later as Gaea. The explorers are a band of human astronauts assigned to the Ringmaster: Captain Cirocco “Rocky” Jones and her group of six, split evenly between men and women. On a trip to explore Saturn’s moons and rings, they discover a strange object and immediately change their mission profile to explore it. As they close in on the object, their ship is grasped and pulled in. The crew awakens, widely separated with various levels of amnesia. Although Rocky manages to reconnect with four members of her crew, two of them, August, whose twin sister April is missing, and Calvin, who has managed to acquire a magical understanding of the world and creatures in it, go off to make their own way while Rocky, Bill, and Gaby begin their own exploration with only the knowledge imparted to them by the now absent Calvin to guide them.

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Future Treasures: Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud

Saturday, March 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Wounds Six Stories from the Border of Hell-smallIn his enthusiastic review of Nathan Ballingrud’s first collection, James McGlothlin wrote:

Ballingrud’s fiction is an amalgamation of some of the best elements of current dark fiction. The stories of North American Lake Monsters are poetic and literary (think Kelly Link or Caitlin Kiernan), forbidding and nihilistic (think John Langan), very real and raw (think Nic Pizzolatto), while also scaring the bejesus out of you (think Laird Barron).

Ballingrud’s 2015 novella The Visible Filth was filmed as Wounds, directed by Babak Anvari and originally scheduled for release March 29; it does not currently have a release date. Next month Saga Press is releasing a brand new hardcover collection of Ballingrud’s horror stories, Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell, which includes The Visible Filth, the acclaimed “Skullpocket” (which James called “an absolutely amazing story. It offers humor, sadness, and sheer creepiness throughout” in his review of Nightmare Carnival, 2014), a brand new novella, and three other stories. Here’s the description.

A gripping collection of six stories of terror — including the novella The Visible Filth, the basis for the upcoming major motion picture — by Shirley Jackson Award–winning author Nathan Ballingrud, hailed as a major new voice by Jeff VanderMeer, Paul Tremblay, and Carmen Maria Machado — “one of the most heavyweight horror authors out there” (The Verge).

In his first collection, North American Lake Monsters, Nathan Ballingrud carved out a distinctly singular place in American fiction with his “piercing and merciless” (Toronto Globe and Mail) portrayals of the monsters that haunt our lives — both real and imagined: “What Nathan Ballingrud does in North American Lake Monsters is to reinvigorate the horror tradition” (Los Angeles Review of Books).

Now, in Wounds, Ballingrud follows up with an even more confounding, strange, and utterly entrancing collection of six stories, including one new novella. From the eerie dread descending upon a New Orleans dive bartender after a cell phone is left behind in a rollicking bar fight in The Visible Filth to the search for the map of hell in “The Butcher’s Table,” Ballingrud’s beautifully crafted stories are riveting in their quietly terrifying depictions of the murky line between the known and the unknown.

Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell will be released by Saga Press on April 9. It is 275 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover, $15.99 in trade paperback, and $7.99 in digital formats. See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy here.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Locus Award for Best Original Anthology: Again, Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison (Also, a 1972 Special Award for Excellence in Anthologizing)

Saturday, March 30th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Again Dangerous Visions-small

Again, Dangerous Visions (Doubleday, 1972)

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 in Black Gate.

1973 was the second year of the Locus “Original Anthology” award – in 1971, the first year of the Locus Awards, there was an award for Best Anthology/Collection (won by Robert Silverberg for The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume I), and in 1972 original anthologies got a separate category (won that year by Terry Carr’s Universe 1.) By 1972 the original anthology boom of the 1970s, fueled by Roger Elwood, was beginning to spike, and there were a lot of candidates, including Carr’s Universe 2, Silverberg’s New Dimensions II, two issues (10 and 11) of Damon Knight’s Orbit, entries from Robert Hoskins’ Infinity series, Harry Harrison’s Nova, Ted Carnell’s New Writings in SF, Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds Quarterly, and, indeed, Roger Elwood, with And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire. And many more. But I don’t think there was any doubt which anthology would win, for this was the year of Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions, the follow-on to the spectacularly successful 1967 book Dangerous Visions. (I should add that Ellison was also awarded a Worldcon Special Committee Award for “Excellence in Anthologizing” for this book, but that was, curiously, at the Worldcon the previous year, 1972, when A,DV had just appeared).)

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Let Me Outline It For You

Friday, March 29th, 2019 | Posted by Violette Malan

Block Writing the NovelTo outline or not to outline? Ah, the perennial question. The question that’s answered in every possible way by all writers’ guides. The kind of question that often comes up when a writer is being interviewed: are you an “outliner” or are you a “pantser,” as in, do you fly by the seat of your pants? Some writers swear by one, and some swear by the other.

Which basically means writers do a lot of swearing.

Pantsers like to grab the end of a thread they see trailing out a door and follow where it leads – with a bit of guidance here and tweaking there, sure, but basically letting the story evolve organically, on its own feet as it were.  This method has led to some of the best books ever, and when it works, it really works.

When it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve gone as far as a couple of hundred pages before deciding the idea wasn’t going anywhere, and setting it aside. It takes a brave writer to do that.

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Goth Chick News: Kicking Off “The Season” at the HAA

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

Transworld Halloween and Attractions Show 2019-small

Unless you are a regular visitor to the subterranean offices of Goth Chick News, and let’s be honest, no one voluntarily comes down here unless its “The Big Cheese” John O. to yell at us about our expense reports, then you may not know Halloween only takes a short hiatus for Christmas, before ramping right up again. Each year the new “season” kicks off in March with the mother of all industry conventions in St. Louis, MO, TransWorld’s HAA Show, resulting in a sometimes hazardous, 5-hour commute from Black Gate’s home in the Windy City.

The Haunted Attraction Association (HAA) is the only official association for the haunt industry, boasting a worldwide network of members from professional attraction owners, to Hollywood special effects and makeup artists. For the past 30 years, TransWorld Tradeshows LLC has hosted the HAA show where professional haunt content providers come together to show off their new offerings. Though 2019 actuals aren’t yet available, an estimated 9,000 guests from around the world piled into the St. Louis America’s Center, which has hosted the HAA for the past 10 years.  The tradeshow floor space itself has tripled since the show moved to St. Louis from Chicago in 2009, which is understandable when you think about Halloween now being a $9 billion industry with most of that money being made in the month of October.

One would think that being at the forefront of such a lucrative niche would earn us the right to expense a couple of Fireball shots… but alas… no.

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Why I’m Releasing My New Novel Online (for Free!)

Thursday, March 28th, 2019 | Posted by John R. Fultz

A Few Odd Souls Fultz-smallWhat do you do when you’ve written a novel that’s so weird and unclassifiable that it doesn’t seem to “fit” anywhere? Well, you can throw it in the fireplace and watch it burn along with all your hopes and dreams. Or you can self-publish.

Self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma it used to have. There are plenty of self-publishers who sell thousands of books–many of them in e-book only format. Apparently there is a set of skills and procedures that can lead to self-publishing e-book success. However, self-publishing traditionally in either paper or digital format involves far more marketing and “business” work than simply turning over your latest manuscript to a publisher. As a writer, I’m interested in telling stories. I don’t care much for the other aspects of self-publishing: marketing, management, promotion, etc. I’m in this game to WRITE, not to market, promote, or run a business.

I want to write good books/stories and find readers who might enjoy them. So I thought: Outside of a traditional publisher, and without jumping through the hoops of e-publishing, what is the quickest, easiest, and least painful way to get my new novel to readers across the globe? I pondered this question for many months. Then I heard about a guy named Andy Weir.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Play Ball – The Mets in ‘Please Pass the Guilt’

Thursday, March 28th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Archie Goodwin was a fan of America’s national pastime, and the Wolfe Corpus is full of baseball references. One story is even shades of the 1919 Black Sox scandal! In 2020, you’re going to see a lot of Nero Wolfe Wolfe here at Black Gate (assuming I don’t get canned before then). Since today is Opening Day, here’s a little Archie and baseball. Play ball!

Since the Nero Wolfe tales were all essentially set in the year that Rex Stout wrote them, we can answer the question I’m about to posit simply by looking at the publication date. Except, as I’ll show, it couldn’t have been 1973. So that approach is out.

Baseball references can be found throughout the Corpus. Archie was a Giants fan – at least he was until Horace Stoneham abandoned Coogan’s Bluff for sunny San Francisco — while Saul preferred his games at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. There’s no indication of who Saul rooted for after Dem Bums relocated to Los Angeles, though it’s reasonable to assume that he, like Archie, followed the Mets, who played at the Polo Grounds until Shea Stadium was ready.

“This Won’t Kill You” took place at game seven of the World Series, with the Giants playing the Red Sox. All players were fictitious, however. In “Please Pass the Guilt” we get the real deal. Archie goes to visit a prospective client as the Mets are hosting the Pirates. Fortunately, she has the game on television, with Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner calling the action.

Over the course of a couple innings, Archie mentions the actions of several Met players. From his comments, we’re going to reconstruct the two missing pieces of the lineup that day. Which of course first requires us to identify the year. Which poses a few questions but is no problem for a seasoned baseball investigator.

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Exploring the White Desert in Egypt

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


In my last post, I looked at some of the archaeological remains around Bahariya Oasis, in the Western Desert of Egypt. Those ancient buildings had been hammered by centuries of sandstorms so the article didn’t have the prettiest pictures in the world. To compensate, I’ve decided to give you something a bit more pleasing to the eye this week.

To the south of Bahariya Oasis, almost to the next major oasis at Farafra, is a large expanse of soft white limestone and chalk that has been scoured by the wind into elaborate and surreal shapes. The view is constantly changing as the white stone takes on various hues through the day, turning a deep crimson at sunset. Anyone going to either Bahariya or Farafra Oasis will find a night or two camping out in this natural wonder one of the most memorable events of their trip.

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Tillie the Toiler and Rosie the Robot

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

Tilie the Toiler, Large Feature Comics #30 1942

The history of comic strips sometimes seems like a roll call of male names. The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Nemo, Tarzan, Moon Mullins, Li’l Abner, Barnaby, Terry and the Pirates, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Joe Palooka, Barney Google, Mutt and Jeff, Dick Tracy, Harold Teen, and the name of names, Rube Goldberg’s Boob McNutt. Even Blondie heads a strip that’s 99.9% about Dagwood.

Probably the most famous female comic strip heroine is Little Orphan Annie. Digging into archives brings up a roster of mostly forgotten others: Ella Cinders, Etta Kett, Winnie Winkler, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil, Little Annie Rooney, Dixie Dugan, Betty, Nancy, and Dimples, a roster that will bring few images to mind.

Only a handful of comic strips ever ran a major series starring robots, and those were mostly in the male-oriented science fiction strips. Two rare exceptions occurred in Invisible Scarlet O’Neil and Ella Cinders, but both robots were drawn and referred to as males. (How do you sex a robot? The top set of swimmerets on a female’s tail are soft, translucent, and crossed at the tips. A male’s swimmerets are bony, opaque, and point up toward his body. Sorry. That’s how you sex a lobster. You sex robots by the length of their hair and the size of their breasts, just like humans. Check below if you don’t believe me.) Finding a strip with a female star going up against a female robot is the rarity of rarities.

Today’s unique find is Rosie the Robot in Tillie the Toiler. (Not the far more famous Jetson’s Rosie. Rosie is to girl robots what Robbie is to boy robots: hideously overused.)

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