A Fast-Action Space Romp: The Disasters by M. K. England

Monday, September 30th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

The-Disasters-small The-Disasters-back-small

Nax has wanted to be a space pilot his whole life, but he washes out of the Academy on his very first day. Walking to the shuttle that will take him back to Earth in disgrace, he realizes that he will never get behind the controls of a real spaceship. His dream of cruising among the stars is over before it even began. He’ll spend the rest of his life on his family’s farm, feeding chickens and herding goats.

Three other Academy rejects are waiting for the shuttle when he arrives at the gate: Case the girl genius, Zee the athletic doctor, and Rion the smooth-talking diplomat.

The shuttle arrives. They’re about to board it when Case notices something bright blue and green on its hull.

That’s when the lights go out and alarms start to sound.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hard Boiled Holmes

Monday, September 30th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne


OK: The kidney stone passed and I spent last week trying to dig myself out of…well, everything! So, it’s another repeat colum this week. I happen to think this the best thing I ever wrote before I joined Black Gate. Yeah – you’re actually getting my good stuff here at Black Gate. Sad, ain’t it?

I wrote this for Sherlock Magazine, where I wrote a column reviewing mystery websites. Then-editor David Stuart Davies (a notable writer of Sherlock Holmes stories and non-fiction) let me write a feature. I will probably revisit this some day, as I’ve learned a lot more about hardboiled since then; but I still think this is pretty darn good. Let me know what you think!

And we’ll be back on track next week. 

“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)

By now, readers of this column (all three of you) know that I’m ‘all-in’ on Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons. But I am also a long-time hard boiled fiction afficionado. I’ve got a section of the bookshelves well-stocked with private eye/police novels and short stories, from Hammett and Daly to Stone and Burke.

Now, I wouldn’t bet my house on the premise of the following essay, which first appeared in Sherlock Magazine back when I was a columnist for that fine, now defunct periodical. But I believe that I make a more compelling argument than you thought possible at first glance. The roots of the American hard boiled school can be seen in Sherlock Holmes and the Victorian Era. Yes, really.

And if any of the hard boiled heroes mentioned catch your fancy, leave a comment. I’ll be glad to tell you more about them. Without further ado, I bring you “Hard Boiled Holmes.”

“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

Raymond Chandler wrote these words in his essay, ‘The Simple Art of Murder.’ Ever since, the term ‘mean streets’ has been associated with the hard-boiled genre. One thinks of tough private eyes with guns, bottles, and beautiful dames. But was it really Chandler who created those words to describe the environment that the classic Philip Marlowe operated in?

Is it possible that it was Victorian London that gave birth to the mean streets, which would later become famous as the settings in the pages of Black Mask? Could it be that Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe were followers in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes?

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Airships in a Floating World: The Peridot Shift by R J Theodore

Sunday, September 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Flotsam R J Theodore-small Salvage R J Theodore-small

Covers by Julie Dillon

I don’t get enough steampunk in my diet these days. Once the industry was awash with it; that’s not true so much any more, although there are still a few publishers catering to readers like me. Parvus Press is one of the better ones, and their flagship steampunk series is R J Theodore’s Peridot Shift. The first, Flotsam, was published last year, and the sequel Salvage just arrived earlier this month. The novels deftly blend First Contact, Magic, and Steampunk, in a floating world where religion meets alchemy and the gods are not what they seem.

I was hooked from the moment I read the description for Flotsam last year.

Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.

R J Theodore continues to explore her imaginative setting; the next title in the series, the novella Hunter and the Green, arrives on October 22 from Theodore’s creator-owned press Creative Jay.

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Conscience Place and Story Mind

Sunday, September 29th, 2019 | Posted by Joyce Thompson

Conscience Place Joyce Thompson-small Conscience Place Joyce Thompson-back-small

Conscience Place by Joyce Thompson (Dell, 1986, cover by John Harris)

In a conversation with my son this week, the term “neurological diversity” arose. It entered the room courtesy of Greta Thornburg in conversation with Naomi Klein. Greta described her prodigious ability to research, absorb and synthesize complex information as a sort of compensation for lacking the more common gift of social intelligence. My son, who’s teaching an undergrad lit class in Berkeley’s African American Studies department about invoking and communing with ancestors surmised that the ability to see and communicate with the dead might be a real if not common human gift — another way of being differently able.


I recently read my 1984 novel Conscience Place for the first time in 35 years. It was about to be republished. My task was to proof the scanned text, and I secretly gave myself permission to make small tweaks if I thought they were needed. Thirty five years is a long time, after all, and I feared being embarrassed by a writer I no longer am telling a story in ways I no longer would to an audience of readers who might no longer give a s—t.


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Vintage Treasures: The World of Science Fiction: The History of a Subculture by Lester Del Rey

Saturday, September 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The World of Science Fiction-small The World of Science Fiction-back-small

Lester del Rey is one of the most important figures in the long history of Science Fiction. Along with his fourth wife Judy-Lynn del Rey, he was the editor at Del Rey Books, the hugely successful fantasy and science fiction imprint of Ballantine Books, from 1977 until his death in 1993. He wrote the long-running The Reference Library review column in Analog magazine, and was a member of the Trap Door Spiders, the New York supper group that was the basis for the Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov’s fictional group of dining detectives. But he was also a gifted writer, author of over three dozen novels and collections.

But I think my favorite book by Del Rey is his non-fiction SF history The World of Science Fiction: The History of a Subculture, written in 1979. which looked back at fifty years of genre history from 1926-1976. This is an entertaining and embracing read for true SF fans, one which wraps us up in a warm hug and lets us know we’re not alone in obsessing over obscure stories published in Galaxy magazine in the 1950s.

The World of Science Fiction is not an objective history of SF. There’s plenty of those out there — and besides, that’s not what we want or expect from del Rey. This is the story of an enormously successful publisher, the man who published the first true bestselling science fiction book in North America in 1977 (The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks), yet who remains a steadfast fan in his heart. A man whose primary emotion, as he sits atop the publishing empire he built with his own hands, is ill-concealed resentment that it took so long for the rest of the world to finally accept the genre he loves.

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9 Seasons of Hell on Earth: Some Thoughts About The Walking Dead, Part Two

Saturday, September 28th, 2019 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

NightOfTheLivingDead 1968

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

dawn of the dead 1978

Dawn of the Dead (1978)


Day of the Dead (1985)

“Yeah, they’re dead. They’re all messed up.”  — George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead (original 1968)

Oh, How Those Zombies Have Evolved, Devolved and Decayed!

This ends a two-post series (Part One here) on The Walking Dead. The first post concluded with the observation that TWD has a mysterious lack of “zombie” vocabulary.

To my knowledge, George A Romero invented the flesh-eating zombie genre. Before him there were films like White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie, and The Zombies of Mora Tau — films I saw as a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, and all of them deal with more traditional, Haitian-voodoo zombies. After the original Night of the Living Dead, filmmakers such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci jumped into the zombie arena. Then came a host of spin-offs, take-offs, remakes, reboots and rip-offs.

I always thought George Romero never used the word zombie in his Living Dead films. But after binge-watching all six of his living dead films, I learned a few things. In Night of the Living Dead, the Dead are referred to as cannibals and ghouls. In Dawn of the Dead, the character of Peter (Ken Foree) calls them zombies; the end credits list four actors under the heading, LEAD ZOMBIES. The characters in Day of the Dead call the Dead everything but zombies. By the time Romero got around to filming Land of the Dead, the zombie genre had exploded like a Walker’s head after being hit by a shotgun blast. In this film, the Dead are called Stenches, although one character refers to them as Walkers. Dennis Hopper calls them zombies in one scene. In Diary of the Dead, which I consider Romero’s best, and was basically a reboot of the series, no one knows what’s going on, and the Living Dead are referred to as “the Dead.” In his final film, Survival of the Dead, the word zombie is used a couple of times. Tom Savini’s fairly decent 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, with a new screenplay by George Romero, went back to the basics and did not use zombie as a term for the Living Dead.

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Future Treasures: Nebula Awards Showcase 2019 edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Friday, September 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Tiffany Dae

The Nebula Awards Showcase is one of the most prestigious and honored anthologies in Science Fiction. It has appeared every year since 1966, and been published by Pyr since 2012. Pyr’s once considerable output has slowed in the last year, and I was very pleased to see the 2019 Showcase volume picked up by one of the best of the new small press publishers, Parvus Press. It’s a significant coup for them, and I hope it’s a sign of even greater things to come.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s introduction is one of the most powerful non-fiction pieces I’ve read in a Nebula anthology in a long time, both a celebration of the increasing diversity in our field, and a bald statement about why it’s so vitally important.

When I first harnessed the courage to start sending my stories out in 2006, it truly was a frightening prospect. I had never seen a Latina writer in any of the fantasy and science fiction magazines I read, nor at a bookstore… The science fiction and fantasy section was virtually devoid of people like me…

It’s easy to declare that diversity is a done deal, or even worse, that diversity is a trend, a fad, which has run its course. It is easy to churn lists that purport to contain the 10 Best Science Fiction Novels of all time and find out that the only woman who made the list was Mary Shelley. Or to find threads with people saying that women can’t write Lovecraftian fiction because women are able to give birth and therefore cannot understand cosmic horror (I am not making this comment up)…

What is hard is to build a better, more inclusive publishing community. It’s hard to read widely, to read beyond the things that you are used to, to organize events which feature a broad variety of guests, to write lists which go beyond the usual suspects. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible… We call speculative fiction the literature of the imagination, so why not imagine a future in which a young writer can find plenty of authors to emulate? A future in which that author is not silent and scared and feeling like she has no stories to tell, as I was 13 years ago when I began my writing journey.

This year’s volume contains some magnificent material, including “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience(TM)” by Rebecca Roanhorse, “A Human Stain” by Kelly Robson, and the complete text of Martha Wells’ Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella, All Systems Red, the first Murderbot tale. Here’s the complete tale of contents.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Seven

Friday, September 27th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Deadly_Hands_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_15The continuing success of Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella led Marvel to relaunch its black & white magazine division in 1973. While the best of these Marvel Magazine titles supplemented the color comic line with material that could not easily be published in a monthly Code-approved title (Dracula Lives and Savage Sword of Conan, for instance) or offered unique material not spun-off as a companion title to a monthly (Planet of the Apes and Tales of the Zombie, among others), The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu sought a middle ground as a response to the martial arts craze that had taken America by storm on the silver screen, the small screen, comic books, and even the radio (Enter the Dragon, TV’s Kung Fu, Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, and Carl Douglas’ novelty hit single “Kung Fu Fighting”).

Master of Kung Fu may have been the lead feature at the start of the magazine’s run, but the title was never built solely around the continuing adventures of Shang-Chi alone. Articles, interviews, reviews, back-up strips, and reprints were just as important for a magazine that wanted not only to exploit the martial arts fad but also be taken seriously by martial arts students. For the purpose of our continuing series on Shang-Chi, we shall only be considering the black & white Master of Kung Fu strip that featured in most issues with passing reference to other material only where appropriate.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 launched in April 1974 with Master of Kung Fu as the lead feature written and illustrated by Shang-Chi’s creators Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. Following just a few months after the character’s color comics debut in Special Marvel Edition #15, the story returned us to Shang-Chi’s early years in Honan, China when he trained as an assassin in service of his father. We see that as early as age fourteen, the seeds of doubt were sown in Shang-Chi as he questions the deadly violence of his martial arts training after learning from his mentor, Cho Lin that the assassins he dispatched who infiltrated the temple for the sole purpose of murdering the son of Fu Manchu were actually hired by his father as a lethal training exercise. The largest flaw here is that Starlin clearly drew Shang-Chi without knowledge that Englehart wanted him depicted as a fourteen year old. It is a nice touch to see that the deliberate manipulation of Shang-Chi by Cho Lin is intended as a slow fuse rebellion on his part. The monk recognizes that Shang-Chi will eventually reject his father’s doctrine and the deadly force that is Shang-Chi will be turned upon his maker.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “Songhouse,” by Orson Scott Card

Friday, September 27th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Lucinda Cowell

Cover by Lucinda Cowell

Analog Award was launched in 1979 for works published in the magazine in the preceding year. The award for Best Novelette has been given every year. The first award, presented in 1979, was presented to “Fireship” by Joan D. Vinge, although Orson Scott Card’s “Mikal’s Songbird” was also up for the award. In 1980, Card won the award for the sequel to “Mikal’s Songbird,” “Songhouse,” which appeared in the September, 1979 issue.

“Songhouse” related the story of a young boy over several years, although the passage of time is vague, as he is being trained in the Songhouse on Tew. Ansset Originally came to the Songhouse as an orphan, although the story does mention that he was a kidnap victim, a background feature which is mostly ignored within the confines of this specific novella. The Songhouse trains singers, who use songs, melodies, and harmonies to communicate on a variety of levels. Ansset is early on pegged to be trained for the highest honor of the house, the position of Songbird, and then to be given over to Mikal, the benevolent dictator of the galaxy.

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9 Seasons of Hell on Earth: Some Thoughts About The Walking Dead, Part One

Thursday, September 26th, 2019 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna


I chose to finally write about The Walking Dead after nine seasons because of the departure of a major character, which changed the whole dynamic of the series, turning it into a different direction (Season 10 broadcasts Oct 6, 2019). For fans of the show, much of what is in this article is me stating the obvious. I know many people who have stopped watching the show after various seasons, for one reason or another. I also know people who have never watched TWD and never will, and some who have just started watching. There may be some hints and clues about certain things, but there are no real spoilers here. This article is about how the show affects me, personally.

Someone on Facebook commented that they stopped watching simply because the show is so sad, even depressing. True. This is not a comedy. There’s a lot of sorrow and sadness in almost every episode, a veritable trail of tears. Sometimes the grief on an actor’s face is enough to get to me. There are powerful emotions here: both love and hate, as well as fear and horror in the eyes of the characters; there’s also plenty of heart and soul poured into these scenes, which the cast so effectively conveys. As a relative told me when we were discussing the series over the Labor Day weekend, “My heart has been ripped out over and over again by what happens to these characters. I feel their pain, I feel their grief and I mourn with them.” I agree with her. I’ve gotten caught up in the lives and deaths of these characters. So please, bear with me.

Although I’ve read only a handful of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, I’ve been a fan of the television series since episode one, and still remain a fan. I’m not a mad puppy because the show’s producers and writers made some changes which aren’t part of Kirkman’s mythos. Certain characters that had been killed in the graphic novels became so popular on the TV show that the producers decided to keep them around. Other popular characters were killed off on the show and, as most writers know, characters and plot twists often demand to be heard and made.

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