Stories That Work: “The Story of a True Artist” by Dominica Phetteplace, and “An Awfully Big Adventure” by Barbara Krasnoff

Thursday, December 26th, 2019 | Posted by James Van Pelt

Bing Crosby Holiday Inn poster-small

Someone told me once, “Life is short but art is forever,” which I took to mean that art has no “sell by” date on it. If the art is beautifully rendered, it will always be beautiful and universal, but that’s not true, I’m afraid. Art can have a “sell by” date on it because time changes the window through which we view art.

Time’s cruelty demonstrated itself to me recently when I rewatched the classic Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire musical, Holiday Inn. There was a time when I loved Holiday Inn without reservation. It’s the only musical I know where the singing and dancing don’t seem grafted on to the story. Because it’s a tale of a song and dance partnership, the music arises spontaneously from the plot, and like all good musicals, the music also advances the plot. And what a combination of talent! Bing Crosby, arguably one of the best crooners of all time, teamed with Fred Astaire, a legendary dancer. Mikhaile Baryshinikov said of Astaire, “It’s no secret we hate him. He gives us complexes because he’s too perfect. His perfection is an absurdity.”

Besides, Holiday Inn introduced “White Christmas” to the world.

But time has done its work. As much as I love Holiday Inn, I’m finding it harder and harder to overlook the casual racial stereotypes baked into the structure. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about, starting with the black “nanny” housekeeper to the cringe-worthy black face routine to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday.

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Vintage Treasures: The Space Anthologies, edited by David Drake with Charles G. Waugh and Martin Harry Greenberg

Thursday, December 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Walter Velez

Almost exactly a month ago I wrote about a trio of military/adventure science fiction anthologies edited by Joe Haldeman, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin Harry Greenberg, and published by Ace Books between 1986-88: Body Armor: 2000, Supertanks, and Space Fighters. Today they’re called the Tomorrow’s Warfare trilogy, and they’re a fun and collectible set of vintage paperbacks well worth tracking down, especially if you enjoy 80s-vintage military/adventure fantasy or are even remotely curious about 80s science fiction in general. Check out all the details here.

Haldeman did no further books with Waugh and Greenberg. But I suspect the three he did were fairly successful, as scarcely a year later David Drake picked up the reins and produced three books with them in the exact same vein:

Space Gladiators (1989)
Space Infantry (1989)
Space Dreadnoughts (1990)

These are loosely referred to as the Space anthologies (by me, anyway), and they followed the same formula as the previous titles, with stories from the most popular writers of the day including a Retief novella by Keith Laumer, a Dorsai tale by Gordon R. Dickson, a Magnus Ridolph novelette by Jack Vance, a Falkenberg’s Legion story by Jerry Pournelle, a Hammer’s Slammers novelette by David Drake, a Thousand Worlds tale by George R. R. Martin, plus the Hugo-award winning “Allamagoosa” by Eric Frank Russell, the classic “Arena” by Fredric Brown (inspiration for the famed Star Trek episode of the same name), and fiction by Isaac Asimov, Brian W. Aldiss, Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Leiber, Joe Haldeman, Poul Anderson, Algis Budrys, Jack Williamson, Michael Shaara, Mack Reynolds, C. M. Kornbluth, and many others.

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Merry Christmas from Black Gate

Wednesday, December 25th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Gate Christmas tree

It’s Christmas evening. All the presents have been opened, Alice’s quiche has been consumed, the kids have settled down… and it’s 56 degrees outside, the warmest Christmas of my entire life. Every year a new surprise.

I have a cup of hot cocoa, and it’s finally quiet enough for me to write my annual Christmas message. As the years have gone by (decades now, since that long ago time in 1999 when I made the fateful decision to start a fantasy magazine), I find that I look back at each successive year very differently. I used to take stock of our accomplishments, count up how many books and games we’d reviewed, how many articles written. Nowadays I value things differently. The things I care about now are the comments from our readers, the small suggestions and feedback from our regulars. In the end, it’s always the relationships that matter.

So I want to take a moment to thank all the BG readers who’ve given so generously of their time over the past year. Those that drop in with a book suggestion, a thoughtful comment, an encouraging word. It means a lot. And I’d especially like to thank our regulars: Thomas Parker, Rich Horton, Glenn, smitty59, Major Wootton, Eugene R, Bob Byrne, R.K. Robinson, James Enge, Aonghus Fallon, Joe H, silentdante, Charles_Martel, Jeff Stehman, Barsoomia, kelleyg, Allard, Joe Bonadonna, Jason Waltz, Robert Adam Gilmour, James McGlothlin, Gabe Dybing, Martin Christopher, James Van Pelt, Tony Den, Todd Mason, John E. Boyle, dolphintornsea, John Hocking, and many, many others. You make the effort we put in every day worthwhile. Thank you.

On behalf of the vast and unruly collective that is Black Gate, I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Continue being excellent — it’s what you’re good at.

A Sword & Sorcery Christmas

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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It’s Christmas Eve. Everyone in the O’Neill household is wrapping presents, munching Christmas cookies, and listening to music (so… much… loud… music…). Yesterday I gave up and turned off the portable Bose speaker next to my head, because the music coming out of the basement was so loud I couldn’t hear it.

Christmas break isn’t just about having our kids home, food, and taxing my eardrums. It’s also when I have time for more ambitious reading projects, and this year there’s one in particular I’m really looking forward to. Bob Byrne challenged me to read more Robert E. Howard, and suggested I started with The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1:Crimson Shadows from Del Rey. When I asked what was special about the stories in that book, Bob said:

You need to read a couple. The guy running Black Gate has to be a little more REH-read. Solomon Kane is good, but… Read “Worms of the Earth,” the Conan, and the el Borak. That book is where I read my first Solomon Kane. I bought the Kane book right after.

That seems like a good idea to me. I started investigating what others books I wanted to read over the 2019 Christmas break, and came across G. W. Thomas’s exhaustive survey of 44 S&S anthologies on his Dark Worlds blog on November 14. Sword & Sorcery Anthologies 1963-1985 was a handy resource, and helped inspire my reading project to grow into a deeper exploration of 20th Century Sword & Sorcery.

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Future Treasures: Stars Beyond, Book 2 of Stars Uncharted by S. K. Dunstall

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Stars Uncharted-small Stars Beyond-small

Cover art by John Harris and Fred Gambino

S. K. Dunstall has rapidly become one of my favorite science fiction writers.

OK, that’s not entirely accurate, but not because of any deficit in my admiration. It’s because “S. K. Dunstall” is actually two people, the sibling writing team of Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall. I wrote about their splendid Linesman Trilogy from Ace Books in 2016 (which I consumed in the audible version narrated by Brian Hutchison, and which I highly recommend), and last year I alerted you to the release of Stars Uncharted, the opening novel in a new series about a band of explorers who make the greatest find in the galaxy, which John DeNardo said “Combines the best parts of space action and space opera.” The sequel Stars Beyond arrives next month, and it’s one of my most anticipated books of 2020. Here’s what Everdeen Mason at The Washington Post said about Stars Uncharted in her list of the Best science fiction and fantasy books of August 2019.

Nika Rik Terri and Josune Arriola are two women on the run from corporate gangsters in a future where humans lay claim to multiple planets and colonies across the galaxy. Explorers and companies alike seek maps to long-lost worlds, where they hope to find precious resources. Nika is a body modifier who redesigns people into works of art, but she leaves all she’s built to escape from an abusive boyfriend and the company he works for. Josune is a crew member of the explorer ship Hassim and has infiltrated a rival explorer ship. But when she tries to return to the Hassim, Josune finds that the company has wiped out her crew, and now she’s a target…. This is a fun adventure novel with an irresistible ragtag crew.

Stars Beyond will be released by Ace Books on January 21, 2020. It is 407 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Fred Gambino. Read the complete 15-page first chapter of Stars Uncharted here, and see all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.

Epic Science Fiction with a Spectacular Toolbox: Silver by Linda Nagata

Monday, December 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

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Silver by Linda Nagata (Mythic Island Press, Nov 2019). Cover art by Sarah Anne Langton

Silver is the direct sequel to Edges, which is itself a continuation of Nagata’s Nanotech Succession series. In Edges, some of the heroes from Nagata’s earlier series decide to head back in from the frontier of human expansion in the Milky Way to the galactic region of Earth and its immediate environs. In this science fiction universe, the laws of physics are firm, and no one has figured out a way around the universal speed limit of light itself or the constraints of relativistic travel. This means distances and time spans are immense, and voyages are spread over centuries. It also means that as humanity spread itself into that emptiness, it became diffuse and attenuated and that the sharpest telescopes on the frontier give only clues but no answers about what has taken place in the intervening centuries on the cradle worlds of humanity.

Edges was the story of Urban’s ship and crew and what happened on their way home. As with most trips, things got complicated quickly. The expedition back to Earth ran afoul of an unwelcome passenger: Lezuri, a godlike intelligence that attempted to take over the ship and was only expelled at the apparent cost of Urban himself. Silver follows directly on the heels of this conflict. Urban has fled to a nearby world, to which Lezuri is bound as well. With limited resources, Urban has to find a way to both prepare for Lezuri’s eventual arrival and warn off his ship and crew, who assume he is dead.

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The Rise of Skywalker: A GREAT Ending to the Star Wars Saga

Monday, December 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

SW_RisePosterEDITEDI was ten years old in the summer of 1977, and my dad took me to Cinema East that summer to see Star Wars (A New Hope). Cinema East, then on Broad Street in Whitehall, but now long gone, had 70 MM screenings. I think it was the biggest screen in town.

Forty-two years and seven movies later this past Saturday, one day before my son turned twelve, I took him to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I have liked some of the series, and the ‘extra’ movies, and the animated shows. I didn’t like others. But I can value that generations have been able to share the Star Wars universe. That’s something powerful in our increasingly shallow culture.

I’m going to write a short, relatively spoiler-free post. I liked The Force Awakens, even though it seemed rather unoriginal. But after the second trilogy, which I didn’t care for, I was happy to enjoy a Star Wars movie again. And then came The Last Jedi. Had I not taken my son to see it, I probably would have either fallen asleep, or left before the end. It was a dull, plodding movie. And I feared the saga was going to limp to its final end.

But I’ve approached every Star Wars film with an open mind. I don’t have an agenda, or any strong feelings about it. I watched the first three movies, read a few books like Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.  But I wasn’t overly big into Star Wars. I was more interested in fantasy than science fiction. I’d rather read Michael Moorcock, Terry Brooks, or Terry Pratchett, than dig deeper into Star Wars.

And The Rise of Skywalker was an excellent ending to the epic cycle. I don’t think they could have done a whole lot better in putting the original movie series to bed. It’s a movie about hope, redemption, courage, perseverance, honor, and commitment. It’s cool in our Dark Knight era of superhero movies (a genre created for kids and totally taken over by adults who really need to lighten up and examine their lives a bit), to denigrate uplifting, feel-good stories.

Rise is a return to the values, themes and messages of the original trilogy. It brings closure to a story begun over four decades ago. And it does it in a way that lets the movie-goer walk out of the theater satisfied. Especially someone who has been watching Star Wars for decades.

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New Treasures: The Light of All That Falls, Book 3 of the Licanius Trilogy by James Islington

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Shadow-of-What-Was-Lost-small An Echo of Things to Come-small The Light of All That Falls-small

Covers by Dominick Saponaro

Three long years ago, in November 2016, Jim Killen at the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog shared his thoughts on The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of the month. Based on his rec I purchased the debut novel by James Islington, The Shadow of What Was Lost, volume one of what was to become the Licanius Trilogy at some nebulous point in the future.

Low and behold, the future is here. The second book, An Echo of Things to Come, arrived in August 2017, and now the final volume, The Light of All That Falls, appeared on December 10. Just in time to keep me company over my long Christmas break! What did Killen say all those years ago that got me so interested? I had to go look it up this morning:

The Shadow of What Was Lost feels old-fashioned in the best of ways, molding familiar genre traditions into something wholly unique. In a world where the magical class has been overthrown, hunted, and subjugated, the struggle cannot simply be divided between magic and mundane or human and divine. The evil that encroaches Andarra, the center of the action, is neither simple, singly focused, or, for that matter, definitively evil. It’s been 20 years since the Unseen War, which overthrew the Augurs, powerful and portentous demigods. Those who once feared and obeyed the them rose up, wiping out the leaders and binding those with lesser magical abilities, the Gifted, to Four Tenets that restrict the use of their powers. Davian, a student of the Gifted, struggles to wield Essence, the magic that should sustain and flow through him with ease, but can “read” people to determine whether they’re telling the truth, a power that once belonged only to the Augurs. That’s a dangerous association for one raised in a world endlessly suspicious of those with abilities outside the norm. But as forces long thought defeated descend from the North, Devian’s quest to understand who he is and what he can do takes on greater urgency than he can comprehend.

Here’s the complete publishing details for all three.

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Rejuvenating Weird Fiction in the 21st Century: Occult Detective Magazine #6

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Occult Detective Magazine 6 cover-small

Cover by Roland Nikrandt

Occult Detective Quarterly has changed its name to Occult Detective Magazine and, not surprisingly, hand-in-hand with that comes a change in frequency. The last issue, Occult Detective Quarterly #5, was published on January 15, 2019; editor John Linwood Grant tells me issue #6 was released in print on 12th December, and will be available for Kindle in January.

The big change this issue, however, has nothing to do with frequency. The magazine tragically lost its publisher Sam Gafford to a massive heart attack earlier this year, and there were serious questions about whether it would be able to continue at all. The editorial team of Grant and Dave Brzeski deserve a great deal of thanks for the heroic effort it must have taken to produce this issue under extraordinary circumstances. The issue bears this heartfelt dedication:


And both Dave and John pay tribute to Gafford; Dave in his Editorial, and John in a fine In Memoriam that looks back at how they bonded over William Hope Hodgson and 1970s comics, and how their friendship evolved into a magazine. Here’s an excerpt from John’s article, and the complete Table of Contents for the issue.

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Corporate Dystopia, Androids, Cults, Science, and even Archaeology: Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League

Saturday, December 21st, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

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“You don’t beat this thing, Ripley. You can’t. All you can do is refuse to engage. You’ve got to wipe out every trace. Destroy any clue. Stop its infection from spreading. Make sure there’s no chance of the human race ever making contact with it again. Because the moment it makes contact, it’s won.”
―Marlow (from Alien: Isolation)

Sweden’s Fria Ligan has been running up the score in the tabletop role-playing game industry lately with titles like Tales From the Loop and Forbidden Lands. So when I heard they had finessed a license to an RPG set in the Alien universe, I ran down Grandmaster Games in Oak Park and told Charlie to get me EVERYTHING in my best Gary Oldman voice.

The only absolutely necessary items you need to enjoy the game is the Alien: The Roleplaying Game core rulebook, a couple handfulls of assorted six-sided dice, and an ordinary deck of cards. The game itself is simple to understand yet is role-play heavy enough that seasoned gamers will enjoy it. I’ll go a step beyond and say this would be an excellent game for introducing someone who has never played a tabletop roleplaying game to the hobby.

The world is familiar. There are tons of reference points to explain game mechanics like panic (“you know when Lambert just froze up in terror?”) or a character sustaining enough damage that they are broken (“like after Cpl. Hicks got the acid splashed on him…”). You just need six-sided dice of two colors (or two different sizes) and the usual paper and pencils. The mechanics are simple: take your skill at doing something and add the controlling attribute for that skill and roll a number of six sided dice equal to the total. If you get a six, congrats, you succeeded.

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