Hither Came Conan: The Khoraja Saga

Monday, May 27th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_BlackColossusWTInterior1EDITEDDeuce Richardson will be looking into “Black Colossus” for Hither Came Conan. I wrote an essay last year for my friend James Schmidt’s Mighty Thor JR’s blog, looking at the expanded saga of the gem from that story. Surprisingly, it made the Preliminary List for the Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards! I’ve since read more Conan pastiches involving Khorajan affairs, and I expanded the original essay. So, here’s the updated version. My thanks to James for letting me appear over at his blog.

Robert E. Howard was a master worldbuilder, as Jeffery Shanks wrote about over at Black Gate for the Discovering Robert E. Howard series. The history of Hyboria is sprinkled throughout his Conan tales, creating a vast backdrop, in both time and place. Conan’s own Cimmeria, Set-worshipping Stygia, the jungles of the Picts, mighty Aquilonia, fallen Acheron: it’s really amazing the depth and breadth that Howard created in the short story format (there was one novel, Hour of the Dragon, which drew on existing short stories – an approach used by Raymond Chandler a few years later: he called it ‘repurposing.’)

Khoraja is a small nation southeast of Koth. It isn’t one of the great countries of Hyboria, but it sat front and center for “The Black Colossus.” “Colossus” was the fourth published story to feature the Cimmerian, and one of five to find its way to print in Weird Tales in 1933. Editor Farnsworth Wright had rejected two others (“The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and “The God in the Bowl“) that would have added to that total. But before Conan enters the story in Khoraja, we get a little history from Howard.

Shevatas the thief is exploring the ruins of Kutchemes, once a great city and part of Stygia when its borders extended far beyond their present state (‘present’ in the Conan stories, that is…). Prior to Shevatas actually doing anything, we get this from Howard:

Eastward, Shevatas knew, the desert shaded into steppes stretching to the Hyrkanian kingdom of Turan, rising in barbaric splendor on the shores of the great inland sea. A week’s ride northward the desert ran into a tangle of barren hills, beyond which lay the fertile uplands of Koth, the southernmost realm of the Hyborian races. Westward the desert merged into the meadowlands of Shem, which stretched away to the ocean.

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There’s a Lifetime of Reading in DAW Omnibus Volumes

Sunday, May 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Initiate Brother Duology-small The Nightfall Duology-small Species Imperative-small

DAW Books was founded in 1971 by uber-editor Donald A. Wollheim after he left Ace Books. In the last five decades it’s published almost two thousand science fiction and fantasy novels (W. Michael Gear’s Pariah, released on May 14, is Daw Book #1823), and it has launched the careers of hundreds of writers, including C. J. Cherryh, Julie E. Czerneda, Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams, Kristen Britain, Melanie Rawn, Violette Malan, and Tanith Lee.

Right. So there’s lots of reasons to love DAW Books. But here’s another one you may not be aware of: it has a fascinating tradition of re-releasing much of its most popular SF and fantasy in compact and affordable paperback omnibus editions. In fact, of those 1800 DAW titles released since 1971, nearly a hundred are omnibus editions, many of which are still in print.

Hard to believe? I didn’t believe it myself until I found all three of the omnibus collections above in a recent trip to my local B&N and, after I brought them home, began to poke around to see just how many others were still available. I counted well over 50 without even trying. Here they are.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Star Wars

Sunday, May 26th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

05-26 Star Wars 1 05-26 Star Wars 2 05-26 Star Wars 3

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won the award. The final awards were presented in 1985. The Film Hall of Fame Awards were not presented the first year the Balrogs were given out, being created in 1980. The SF Film Hall of Fame was given to two films each in its first and final years.

George Lucas’s film Star Wars isn’t just a film, it is a cultural phenomenon that has much longer tendrils than most people realize. Star Wars and its sequels have touched all aspects of film making, marketing, computing, culture, and more. A list of the companies that were founded because of Star Wars’s success is absolutely staggering. Obviously, there was LucasArts, ILM, Lucasfilm Animation, Skywalker Sound, Pixar, THX, Kerner Optical, and dozens more. The massive footprint of Star Wars makes it a little difficult to write about in the same way other articles in the series are structured.

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Back Deck Pulp Returns!

Saturday, May 25th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Deck_SetupEDITEDGood reader, we are, of course, friends. But some of you are closer friends than others. By that, I mean that in our social media-addicted culture, I am referring to Facebook, naturally. I was slow to join FB, and it can often be bad. Or, often for me, something to simply ignore. But as a writer (lower case ‘w’) and Reader (upper case ‘R’), I do discuss topics of interest with a wide range of knowledgeable folks. And naturally, I promote Black Gate and my blogging here. So, it has its uses.

Last year, from May 14th to December 31st, I wrote a hardboiled/pulp column, with a little help from some friends. It was called A (Black)  Gat in the Hand (if you don’t know the reference, go read some Raymond Chandler). And over on Facebook, I made a bunch of related posts under the moniker, Back Deck Pulp. I sat on my nice back deck and read pulp. Then I posted snippets of interesting (to me) info on said story, author, whatever.

I shared some neat info on pulp and hardboiled stuff worth reading. And I included a picture of the subject. There was so much great art with that old pulp stuff. I posted a LOT of Back Deck Pulp (which people did seem to like…). So much, that I collected the entries and came up with six whole A (Black) Gat in the Hand posts!

Well, A (Black) Gat in the Hand is making a return appearance this summer, while I continue to work on my next Robert E. Howard/Conan series. And once again, I’ve got some seriously talented guest posters lined up, so at least a few essays will be good. So, naturally, Back Deck Pulp is back in business! I’ve got the patio furniture out and I’ve started doing my research.

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New Treasures: Zero Bomb by M.T. Hill

Saturday, May 25th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Zero Bomb-small Zero Bomb-back-small

Cover by Julia Lloyd

M.T. Hill used to write under the name Matt Hill. Under that name he published the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award nominee Graft, which we covered back in 2016. Lots of folks really liked that book; Edward J Rathke called it “a brilliant eulogy for our ruined future” and Publishers Weekly said it “captures the dark underbelly of Manchester in visceral prose… [a] refreshing take on a futuristic mystery.” His follow-up Zero Bomb was released in March, and is already winning accolades. Here’s an excerpt from Paul Di Filippo’s Locus Online review.

The byline M.T. Hill is a not-too-opaque screen for the writer Matt Hill, whose two previous books under that name have been The Folded Man (2013) and Graft (2016). I mention this fact only because his third novel, Zero Bomb, is so good that you will want to snatch up copies of the first two, as I just did… It features a not-unfamiliar and especially au courant theme — near-future societal and technological collapse — but presents it in so poignant and authentic and original a manner… that it feels fresh, insightful and powerful.

Part I opens in the year 2030, and focuses on a man, approaching middle age, named Remi. Due to a family tragedy — the death of his young daughter Martha — Remi suffers a mental breakdown and abandons his wife Joan and every aspect of his successful life. He becomes more or less a vagrant temp-worker, gets hooked on the drug spark, recovers, and begins to lift himself out of the pit of despair and nihilism. When the tale really kicks off, Remi is a bike messenger in London… One day his current errand is short-circuited when a driverless car attempts to kill him. After that, the deluge. Remi is contacted by a cybernetic fox, who, we eventually learn, is named Rupal, and is one of the more charming personages in the story. The fox delivers a package to Remi with instructions for delivery. Arriving, coerced, at his destination, Remi discovers he has been enrolled willy-nilly in a conspiracy to topple the civilization of “automatic England…” The whole conspiracy is modeled on an old SF novel from 1971: The Cold Veil, by Laurel M. Brace. In fact, Brace might still be around and leading the movement. Part II leaves Remi behind and gives us an abridged sample of The Cold Veil itself. It’s a spot-on rendition of such an artifact from a different era.

Zero Bomb was published by Titan Books on March 19, 2019. It is 303 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $3.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Julia Lloyd. Read an excerpt at Tor.com. According to Hill’s website, Zero Bomb and his upcoming novel The Breach (Titan, March 2020) “share a fictional northern town called Dillock… but they’re otherwise standalone.”


A Tale of Two Covers: If This Goes On edited by Charles Nuetzel and Cat Rambo

Friday, May 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

If This Goes On Charles Nuetzel If This Goes On Cat Rambo-small

Art by Albert Nuetzell and Bernard Lee

If This Goes On seems like the perfect title for a science fiction anthology; I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more often. It was first used by Robert A. Heinlein for his 1940 famous novella, which became a key part of his massive science fiction Future History. The story won a Retro Hugo in 2016, but was renamed Revolt in 2100 for its publication as a novel in 1953. Charles Nuetzel co-opted the title 25 years after Heinlein used it for his first (and only) anthology, published in paperback in 1965, reprinting stories by Fredric Brown, Richard Matheson, A. E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, Fritz Leiber, Forrest J. Ackerman, and others (above left).

My recent interest springs, of course, from Cat Rambo’s brand new anthology If This Goes On (above right), funded by a June 2018 $12,000 Kickstarter campaign and published in trade paperback by our friends at Parvus Press in March. It contains 30 brand new SF tales by some of the most exciting writers in the field today, including Andy Duncan, Nisi Shawl, Sarah Pinsker, Scott Edelman, Beth Dawkins, and many more. Subtitled The Science Fiction Future of Today’s Politics, this ambitious anthology looks at what today’s politics and policies will do to shape our world a generation from now. Tales within include:

  • “Green Glass: A Love Story” by Lily Yu, Hugo and World Fantasy Award nominee, and winner of the 2012 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, filters the future of now through a wholly relatable lens: relationships and marriage.
  • Hugo-winning editor Scott Edelman’s “The Stranded Time Traveler Embraces the Inevitable” expertly employs an age-old science fiction convention to tell a deeply human tale of love, loss, and desperate hope.
  • Streaming our everyday lives has become commonplace, but in “Making Happy” Zandra Renwick examines a very uncommon consequence of broadcasting your every experience.
  • Former Minnesota Viking and noted equal rights advocate Chris Kluwe’s “The Machine” deals with one of the most important and hotly contested questions of the day: what truly defines citizenship and American identity?
  • Nebula winner Sarah Pinsker’s “That Our Flag Was Still There” uses possibly the most powerful symbol in American iconography to create a frightening and darkly illuminating vision of freedom of speech.
  • NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Literary Work Steven Barnes offers up the consequences of integrating technology and surveillance into our daily lives with his detective story “The Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Dayveil Gambit”

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Goth Chick News: Touch My Books and I’ll Turn You into a Newt

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Goth Chick She turned me into a newt-small

For years my one grand ambition was to have an Edwardian-type library in my house, providing the perfect sanctuary for perusing my favorite titles, while offering all my lovely tomes a suitable resting place from which to be admired. So, when I built this house the focus was entirely on having my library, and who cared about anything else?

Though my collection of hardcover volumes is small by most standards (not the least of which is compared to BG Big Cheese John O’s library), I am extremely proud and highly protective of my 500+ collection. Each one tells a story in addition to the literal one, as I’ve collected them on my travels and sometimes, in those early days, saved up for extended periods to buy a highly-desired volume, stood outside in Chicago winters to get first editions signed by the authors, or had them given to me by very special people. Friends have long since stopped asking to borrow a book off my shelf as I’d rather purchase another copy and gift it to them then let any of mine out of sight.

You get the idea.

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Future Treasures: Time’s Demon, Book 2 of the Islevale Cycle by D. B. Jackson

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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

D. B. Jackson is the author of four novels in the popular Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, and the collection Tales of the Thieftaker, which Fletcher Vredenburgh called “tense… the mysteries [are] good, the characters well-drawn… 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 blog posts here have covered topics as diverse as World Building and Nicola Griffith’s 90s classic Slow River.

David’s 2018 novel Time’s Children was the opening novel in the Islevale series. It related the adventures of Tobias Doljan, time-traveling agent of the court of Daerjen. In her Black Gate review Margaret S. McGraw said:

This is an epic fantasy with magic, sword fighting, political intrigue, demons, assassins, and budding romance. Plus time travel! And well done time travel at that. I’m a sucker for time travel stories, but I’m often disappointed by their simplistic delivery or avoidance of temporal paradox — that’s not the case here at all. Jackson created an entirely believable world of Travelers and other magical beings… I look forward to Time’s Demon — where I hope we will learn more about Droë, as well as the continued adventures of Tobias, Mara, and Sofya.

Time’s Demon finally arrives next week amid much anticipation. Here’s the description.

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The Triumphant Return of Fantomas

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

The Wrath Of Fantomas-smallThe Wrath of Fantomas is a book I approached with extreme prejudice. It’s a graphic novel that seeks to present a new version of Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain’s Fantomas series, which proved so successful when it was introduced a scant 108 years ago. As a rule, I dislike the concept of rebooting a series.

When first discovering a book series as a kid, continuity was key. It made a property more meaningful if there were numerous volumes to find and devour. Scouring used bookstores for dogeared copies of the missing pieces in the narrative puzzle made such books far more valuable to me. It seemed there were always a half dozen series I was working on completing in those decades long before the internet. They form some of the happiest memories of my formative years.

The entire concept of rebooting a series as a jumping-on point for new readers (or viewers, in the case of films) is distasteful to me. It devalues the worth of the original works. It suggests a series can be boiled down to its lowest common denominator and elements juggled so that a name and basic concept are enough to move forward with renewed sense of purpose.

Generally, in these overly sensitive times of ours, it also means elements that are no longer fashionable or politically acceptable will be whitewashed, bowdlerized, and otherwise made acceptable for Stalin, Mao, or whomever else has the clout to say censorship is required when the past inconveniently reminds us people were always flawed, unfair, uncouth, or sometimes just bluntly honest.

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Spectacular Church Frescoes in Valencia, Spain

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In my last post, we looked at some of Valencia’s ancient ruins, but of course this historic Spanish port has more to offer. Perhaps the city’s most impressive sight is the Church of San Nicolás.

Like so many other European churches, it’s built on the remains of an old pagan temple from the Roman times. The first Christian building on the site was founded by James I of Aragon (ruled 1213-1276) and donated to the Dominicans.

In the 15th century, the church was greatly refurbished, taking on a Gothic style and the addition of a rose window.

When I visited a couple of weeks ago, I barely noticed those medieval elements. They’re almost invisible next to the flamboyant Baroque frescoes covering the entire vault. Painted between 1690 and 1693 by Juan Pérez Castiel, these frescoes have been brilliantly restored in recent years.

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