Rereading The Defenders with the Defenders Dialogue Podcast: Issues 1-64

Monday, May 20th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


I sometimes have trouble making my brain stop thinking. As a writer, it’s hard to read a book, story or comic or watch anything without having my “is this the way I would have done this?” or “what can I learn from this?” working in the background. This can be exhausting.

I’m in one of those periods now, so in the last couple of months, I watched the whole Logan’s Run TV series and a few episodes of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica for its kitsch, nostalgia and the mental time travel to my youth.  I blogged a bit about 70s sci-fi TV here. But I still needed something more to listen to while driving and doing dishes.

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Hither Came Conan: Bob Byrne on “Rogues in the House”

Monday, May 20th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_RoguesMarvelEDITEDWhen I was pitching this series to folks, I was using the title, The Best of Conan. I didn’t come up with Hither Came Conan for about eight months, I think. Yeah, I know… The idea behind the series came from an essay in my first (and so far, only) Nero Wolfe Newsletter. The plan for 3 Good Reasons is to look at a story and list three reasons why it’s the ‘best’ Wolfe story. And I toss in one ‘bad’ reason why it’s not. And finish it off with some quotes. You’ll be reading more 3 Good Reasons here at Black Gate in 2020.

So, I’m going to take a somewhat different tack from those who have come before me (I doubt I could have measured up, anyways) and pick out two elements that make this story one of Howard’s best recountings of the mighty-thewed Cimmerian. Then, throw a curveball from the Wolfe approach and highlight a few items worthy of note.


Obviously, you need to read this story, but here’s a Cliff’s Notes version: Nabonidus, the Red Priest, is the real power in this unnamed Corinthian city. He gives a golden cask to Murilo, a young aristocrat. And inside the cask is a human ear (remind you of Sherlock Holmes? It should.). We learn a little later on that Murillo has been selling state secrets, and the ear is from a clerk he had dealings with. The jig is up!

Given the choice of running away, waiting meekly for assured death, or finding a tool to escape his predicament, he chooses the latter. And Conan is that tool. Wait: that didn’t sound right…

Conan and a Gunderman deserter had been successful thieves until a fence, a Priest of Anu, betrayed them. The priest also happened to be a spy for the police. As a result, the unnamed Gunderman (more on that below) was captured and hung. Conan then cut off the priest’s head in revenge. A ‘faithless woman’ (presumably his current main squeeze) betrayed him to the police, who captured the Cimmerian as he hid out, drunk.

Murillo visits the cell and Conan agrees to kill Nabonidus in exchange for his freedom. Things go a bit awry and Murillo goes after Nabonidus himself but faints at the sight of the red priest in his house. Meanwhile, Conan, after casually killing his ex-girlfriend’s new lover and then dumping her in a cesspool, sneaks into the pits under Nabonidus’ house, where he encounters Murillo, who had been dumped down there.

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The Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction, Part Two

Sunday, May 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Games Plus 2019 auction 94-small Games Plus 2019 auction 95-small Games Plus 2019 auction 96-small

Two months ago I assembled a photographic record of the games I brought home from the Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction. I didn’t do a final count, but it was roughly 100 boxed games, and several boxes of RPG gamebooks, totalling some 15 boxes.

In that first piece I tried to capture the overwhelming experience of sitting in the front row for seven hours as thousands of new and used SF & fantasy games flashed by. It’s a deep immersion in the games aftermarket, an education in just how many titles have been released in the past 12 months, and a chance to learn — by watching the excited frenzy as certain titles come up to the auction block — which ones have truly captured the attention of players. I saw a lot of games go for a lot of money, and even more sell at rock-bottom prices.

In Part Two of my auction report, I want to try and communicate the sheer scale of the event. I estimate there were somewhere between 150-200 attendees for the Saturday Fantasy and Sci-Fi Games auction this year, nearly a record, and I’m fairly sure there were a record number of games sold.

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Future Treasures: The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion

Sunday, May 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Record Keeper-small The Record Keeper-back-small

Afrofuturism has become one of the most vibrant and exciting branches of modern science fiction and fantasy. Recent major novels include Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon and Who Fears Death, N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, and many others.

The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion is a near-future dystopia based on the life of Frederick Douglass, and it looks like a worthy addition to an exciting sub-genre. It arrives next month from Titan Books, and a starred review from Publishers Weekly calls it “a gut-punch Afrofuturist novel.”

Gomillion debuts with a gut-punch Afrofuturist novel that examines the incalculable damage systemic racism wreaks on individuals and societies, and the many forms liberation can take. Sometime in the future, in the aftermath of WWIII, societies enforce peace through rigidly controlled racial hierarchies. That control includes using medication to erase the memories of the less privileged. Born in the remnants of America, Arika Cobane inhabits the upper echelons of the race of dark-skinned laborers known as the Kongo, trained by her white teachers to be a record keeper and write false histories that reinforce social norms. As rumors spread of rebels challenging the state’s authority, a new Kongo student, Hosea Khan, enters Arika’s class, shocking her by openly questioning the violence committed against the Kongo people… This intellectually rich, emotional, and ruthlessly honest confrontation of racism proves Gomillion is a critically important new voice.

The Record Keeper will be published by Titan Books on June 18, 2019. It is 457 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover artist is uncredited.

Disgust and Desire: An Interview with Anna Smith Spark

Saturday, May 18th, 2019 | Posted by SELindberg


It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses.  This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.”  Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John FultzJaneen WebbAliya WhiteleyRichard Lee ByersSebastian Jones, Charles Gramlich, and Darrell Schweitzer. This one features the “Queen of Grimdark,” Anna Smith Spark.

Anna Smith Spark is the author of the critically acclaimed Queen of Grimdark. The David Gemmell Awards shortlisted The Court of Broken Knives and The Tower of Living and Dying continued the Empires of Dust trilogy (Harper Voyager US/ Orbit US/Can). The finale, The House of Sacrifice, will be published August 2019. Anna lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a Ph.D. in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher and fetish model. Anna’s favorite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at sff conventions wearing very unusual shoes.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Universe 9, edited by Terry Carr

Saturday, May 18th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Roger Zimmerman

Cover by Roger Zimmerman

Cover by Carlos Ochagavia

Cover by Carlos Ochagavia

Cover by Richard Weaver

Cover by Richard Weaver

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 Anthology Award dates back to 1976, although it was not presented in 1978. The inaugural award went to the anthology Epoch, edited Roger Elwood and Robert Silverberg. The 1980 award was won by Terry Carr for Universe 9. It was Carr’s third win in a row, with his first two being for entries in his Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year series. The Locus Poll received 854 responses.

Terry Carr’s Universe series of anthologies ran for 17 volumes, beginning in 1971 and only ending with Carr’s death in 1987. During that time, he also edited 16 volumes of Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year, five volumes of Fantasy Annual, and two volumes of The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year. Sixteen of the volumes of Universe ranked in the Locus Poll (only Universe 7 missed out), and Carr won the Locus Poll for entries of Universe for volumes 1, 4, and 9. In four years, Carr’s best of year anthology beat out his own Universe anthology in the poll.

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New Treasures: Last Tango in Cyberspace by Steven Kotler

Friday, May 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Last Tango in Cyberspace-smallTwenty years ago Steven Kotler’s debut The Angle Quickest For Flight, from small press Four Walls Eight Windows, made a minor splash. A science fiction novel about book thieves, an ancient Kabbalistic text, and a quest “Indiana Jones would have signed up for in a second had he known about it” (Randall Cohan), it was praised by John Barth as “a brilliant novel.”

In the intervening decades Kotler has become a New York Times bestselling author, but with Last Tango in Cyberspace he returns to science fiction for the first time with a near-future thriller about the evolution of empathy. Library Journal proclaims it “A fascinating read. Highly recommend,” and Booklist calls it “an intriguing blend of detective story and social critique… a vivid picture of near-future earth.” Here’s the description.

Hard to say when the human species fractured exactly. Harder to say when this new talent arrived. But Lion Zorn is the first of his kind―an empathy tracker, an emotional soothsayer, with a felt sense for the future of the we. In simpler terms, he can spot cultural shifts and trends before they happen.

It’s a useful skill for a certain kind of company.

Arctic Pharmaceuticals is that kind of company. But when a routine em-tracking job leads to the discovery of a gruesome murder, Lion finds himself neck-deep in a world of eco-assassins, soul hackers and consciousness terrorists. But what the man really needs is a nap.

A unique blend of cutting-edge technology and traditional cyberpunk, Last Tango in Cyberspace explores hot topics like psychology, neuroscience, technology, as well as ecological and animal rights issues. The world created in Last Tango is based very closely on our world about five years from now, and all technology in the book either exists in labs or is rumored to exist. With its electrifying sentences, subtle humor, and an intriguing main character, readers are sure to find something that resonates with them in this groundbreaking cyberpunk science fiction thriller.

Last Tango in Cyberspace was published by St. Martin’s Press on May 14, 2019. It is 330 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Ervin Serrano. Read an excerpt here, or listen to an audio sample from the book here.

In 500 Words or Less: Flip, Volume 1, edited by Jack Briglio

Friday, May 17th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Flip comic-small Flip comic-back-small

Flip: Volume 1
edited by Jack Briglio
Solaris (74 pages, $14.99 paperback, $6.99 eBook, December 21, 2018)

What’s that line from The Twilight Zone? “Imagine if you will…” or something, right?

I’ve been teaching a high school creative writing course recently, and one of the things I’ve loved is encouraging my students to explore the question of “What If?” as they’re brainstorming ideas. Once we get past the cliched stuff like “What if Germany won the Second World War?” they come up with some really powerful ideas, since “What If” can lead you in all sorts of crazy directions.

Mind you, all speculative fiction has a “What If” quality, so to say that I’ve been reading a lot of that kind of book lately is a bit redundant. For this post though, I’m thinking of the kind of story that twists things just slightly into the unknown, whether it’s Mary Robinette Kowal lobbing an asteroid into the United States in The Calculating Stars or Guy Kay turning the early Renaissance a “quarter turn to the fantastic” in A Brightness Long Ago. Sometimes it’s historical fiction, and sometimes it’s turning our world slightly askew, which is what’s intrigued me about the first volume of Flip, a new comics anthology edited by Jack Briglio.

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Goth Chick New: Who You Gonna Call? The Vatican Apparently…

Thursday, May 16th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Goth chick meme 1

The Roman Catholic Church has always been a bit cagey on their stance regarding possession. They haven’t exactly confirmed they believe it exists in the modern day, nor have they denied it exactly. After a bit of online research, I discovered that even “official” Catholic websites seem to indicate that yes, demon possession ran rampant in ancient times, but today is extremely rare and most often the symptoms of mental illness.

Rumors of there being an official “head exorcist” at the Vatican have for years been the stuff of urban legend and movie plots, which is why this most current information is a bit astounding. Apparently, the Roman Catholic Church has been hosting an annual exorcism class in Rome for the past fourteen years and this year, due to the rising tide of demonic forces worldwide, opened up the class up to all major Christian faiths.

“The idea is to help each other, to establish best practices if you will,” Father Pedro Barrajon, 61, one of the organizers of the 14th edition of the “Course on Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation,” taking place at the Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum, told the Telegraph News in the UK. “This is the first time that different denominations have come together to compare their experiences on exorcisms.”

Described as the first of its kind in the world that proposes academic and interdisciplinary research of exorcisms, the one-week course, taught exclusively in Italian, from May 6 to 11, was priced at $450.

Accommodations and meals not included.

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Vintage Treasures: Davy by Edgar Pangborn

Thursday, May 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Davy Edgar Pangborn-small Davy Edgar Pangborn-back-small

1982 Ballantine paperback reprint; cover by Boris Vallejo

Edgar Pangborn died in 1976. His last book, the collection Still I Persist in Wondering, was published in 1978. The first Pangborn story I can recall reading was his splendid tale of the first landing on an alien world, and the majestic and deadly creatures found there, “The Red Hills of Summer,” in Gardner Dozois’ anthology Explorers (2000). It was enough to turn me into an instant fan.

I never read any Pangborn during my formative teen years, but he still managed to feature prominently in my early science fiction education. That’s chiefly because the reviewer I read most avidly at the time, Spider Robinson, was a late convert and a huge fan. In his column in the March 1976 Galaxy magazine, Spider raved:

I’ve only just discovered Edgar Pangborn. I haven’t been so delighted since (years ago, thank God) I discovered Theodore Sturgeon. In fact, the comparison is apt. I like Pangborn and Sturgeon for very similar reasons. Both are thoughtful, mature writers, and both remind me at times of [John] Brunner’s Chad Mulligan [the hero of Stand on Zanzibar], bitter drunk, crying at the world, “Goddammit, I love you all.” Both are bitterly disappointed in man’s evil, and both are hopelessly in love with man’s good. Both are addicted to creating and falling in love with warmly human, vibrantly alive characters, and making you love them too.

In the November 1976 issue of Galaxy, shortly after he learned of Pangborn’s death, Spider wrote a bitter rant of his own, lamenting the loss of a great writer and the fact that the world had stubbornly refused to acknowledge his achievements. He held up Pangborn’s 1964 novel Davy as a testament to what the field had lost. I’m not sure there’s a short story from 1976 that’s lived in my mind as vividly for the past four decades as Spider’s review of Davy. Here it is.

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