Mystery Surrounds Everything: Return of the Obra Dinn, by Lucas Pope

Friday, January 31st, 2020 | Posted by Joshua Dinges

Return of the Obra Dinn-small

What an absolutely stellar game to start off the new year with. Yes, yes, I know it’s two years old, but suffice to say I’m kicking myself for not hitting Play on this one earlier than I did.

The Return of the Obra Dinn, by Lucas Pope.

One of those rare instances of every single aspect of the game coming together in harmonious perfection. The pacing, the writing, the near-wire-frame Zenith ZP-150 retro graphics, the music, the puzzles, the general sense of oddness, and most of all… the truly earnest sense of mystery that surrounds everything.

It being a very well-constructed mystery game, there’s not going to be a lot of replay value, but the modest entry price is more than worth it for the sheer gaming bliss you’ll encounter in that single play through.

The gist of this masterpiece is that you’re an insurance investigator for the East India Company in 1807, charged with the task of assessing the claim involving a derelict trading ship that reappears after five years in the wind… and the insurance settlements for all 60 souls on board.

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Goth Chick News: Follow Me into the Dark…

Thursday, January 30th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Twisted Dark Season Two Volume One-small

I fell hard for writer Neil Gibson back in early 2014 at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. At the time he was promoting volume one of Twisted Dark, his illustrated story which had just been published by indie comic house TPub in the UK.

A Brit who also writes dark stories with twisted endings?

All I could say to that was “Yes, please.”

By May 2015, Twisted Dark reached number one on the UK Kindle chart, and six volumes later it’s clear I’m far from being the only fan of Gibson’s unique style of storytelling. Along the way, Gibson has been personally responsible for several other unique and riveting tales such as Tortured Life, Twisted Light, and Tabitha, while TPub has continued to produce some of my favorite graphic novels like Transmissions which I told you about last fall.

So, it’s with a shiver of anticipation that I can now tell you Gibson is once again headed back into the dark, with me devotedly in tow.

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Vintage Treasures: The Timescape Robert Holdstock

Thursday, January 30th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Timescape Robert Holdstock-small

Cover art by Carl Lundgren

Robert Holdstock, who died in 2009, was one of the most important fantasists of the 20th Century. While he wrote over a dozen novels, he’s chiefly remembered for his breakout novel Mythago Wood and its sequels. In his review right here last year, James Van Pelt wrote:

I really can’t recommend Mythago Wood enough. In a time when everyone else was echoing Tolkien, Holdstock created a completely different take on fantasy (rural fantasy — if that’s a genre). I loved this story of two brothers, their estranged and absent father, and a patch of wood that was only three miles around but infinitely deep… Of all the books I’ve read, none has impacted me as strongly at the end as this novel. Endings are hard, so when I read a perfect one, I take notice…

Mythago Wood appeared in 1984. Holdstock published a number of novels prior to the huge success of Mythago Wood, including a pair edited by David G. Hartwell for his legendary Timescape imprint: Earthwind and Where Time Winds Blow, both published in 1982. The combination of Holdstock’s later fame, the Timescape logo, and the fact that neither was ever reprinted in the US has made both of these paperbacks of interest to collectors.

In his 2018 article Why Editors Matter: David Hartwell’s Extraordinary Timescape Books at, James Davis Nicoll highlighted why so many collectors today cherish Timescape.

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Stories That Work: “The Backstitched Heart of Katharine Wright” by Alison Wilgus, and “For the Wicked, Only Weeds Will Grow” by G.V. Anderson

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020 | Posted by James Van Pelt

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Interzone 279, January-February 2019; cover by Richard Wagner

When I was young, books addicted me. I read incessantly, imprudently, and in an unhealthy manner. My mother used to come into my room to check on me after bedtime by putting her hand on my reading light to see if it was warm (what she never knew was that I could read by my closet light that she didn’t check).

I finished novels in uninterrupted binges, starting one when I came home from school, and then reading until dawn. One year for Christmas, I asked for the Tom Corbett: Space Cadet books, which I had just discovered. Two weeks before the holiday, my parents left the house for an all-day outing. I hunted and hunted and hunted until I found the wrapped books, carefully unwrapped them, read them, and then rewrapped and returned them to the hiding place.

When I was in college, I found a dog-eared copy of The Fellowship of the Ring on a table in the student union. Four days of missed class later, I finished The Return of the King and then to my delight discovered that there was a prequel, The Hobbit, which is why I missed the fifth day too.

I was a sick puppy, drunk on story.

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IMHO: Giving Voices to Your Characters

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna


James Doohan (as Scotty): “I’m giving her all she’s got, Capt’n!”

I owe a great debt of gratitude to my two good friends, who were of immense help to me in the creation and shaping of my two (so far) volumes of Mad Shadows. Neither are strangers to Black Gate, for I interviewed both of them for this e-zine: Ted Rypel (author of the Saga of Gonji Sabatake: The Deathwind Trilogy, Fortress of Lost Worlds, A Hungering of Wolves, and Dark Ventures); and David C. Smith (author of the Oron series, The Fall of the First World Trilogy, the original Red Sonja novels (with Richard L. Tierney), Dark Muse, the recently-released Bright Star; Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography, for which he won the 2018 Atlantean Award from the Robert E. Howard Foundation, and many other novels, including Waters of Darkness, on which we collaborated.) Both gentlemen write wonderful dialogue, and taught me how to make my characters “talk like real folks.”

Now, I don’t claim to be a great writer nor do I think I’m a “know-it-all” when it comes to plotting, creating characters, telling a story and writing crisp, entertaining and enlightening dialogue. I am far from being a literary genius. I’m not a college professor or a grammar Nazi. I’m not here to tell you what to do and how to do it. We each have our own styles and methods. I’m here to just pass on my own way of doing things, hoping what I have to say will help a writer or two. As far as creating compelling dialogue is concerned — and we’ve all heard this one — my personal rule is:

Give Each of Your Characters Their Own Unique Voice.

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Future Treasures: Straight Outta Dodge City, edited by David Boop

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Straight-Outta-Tombstone-smaller Straight-Outta-Deadwood-smaller Straight Outta Dodge City-small

Cover art by Dominic Harman

On February 4th, David Boop’s Straight Outta weird western anthology series becomes a trilogy with the arrival of Straight Outta Dodge City, the third (but hopefully not final) volume. It follows Straight Outta Tombstone and Straight Outta Deadwood, and it looks like a strong addition to the series. Here’s a peek at the Publishers Weekly review.

This dark, diverting anthology of 14 original tales, the third in a series edited by Boop (after Straight Outta Deadwood), continues to explore “the weird Wild West.” By tossing weird fiction concepts into western settings, these tales give rise to unusual what-ifs. What if the unquiet ghost of Doc Holiday haunted his six shooter, as in “The Dead Can’t Die Twice” by Sam Stone? What would happen if, as in “The Adventures of Rabbi Shlomo Jones and the Half-Baked Kid” by Eytan Kollin, Jewish magic created a golem to confront a mob of anti-Semitic bad guys?… the ever-enjoyable Joe R. Lansdale is on hand with “The Hoodoo Man and the Midnight Train,” an energetic tale of a mystical gunfighter, and Harry Turtledove presents the delightful “Junior & Me,” set in an alternate world in which evolution favored reptiles rather than mammals, and the ornery galoot narrating the yarn is actually a highly evolved dinosaur.

Here’s the publisher’s description.

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The Changed Face of Geekdom

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

Wallpaper flare com 1

A party of travelers arrive in a city…

Good afternoon, Readers!

I had a thought – literally just this moment – about geekdom and how much it has changed. Some people’s perception of it appears to be slow in catching up, but that is to be expected, really.

When I was a young girl, growing up in small town Australia, geeks were a bad thing. They were variously sun-deprived, pimply walking skeletons, or sun-deprived, pimply fat blokes. Either way, they were unhygienic outsiders with zero social skills, or, indeed, any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Rarely now, except for a certain talkshow host who shall remain nameless, do people conjure such an image when speaking of geeks and geekdom any more.

This isn’t, of course, to say that geekdom is without its bad actors. Misogyny and racism (and other foolish ideologies) are still a huge problem in the geek community (though that is thankfully changing, despite the best attempts of a dedicated bunch of morons), but that is a discussion for another day.

Today’s prominent geeks, however, are happily blasting away this stereotype just by being themselves, and it’s wonderful to see. Let’s have a look at some of my favorites geeks in popular culture.

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Start Prowling Night City with the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit

Monday, January 27th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit
By Mike Pondsmith, David Ackerman, J Gray, James Hutt, and Cody Pondsmith
R. Talsorian Games [96 pages, 6 dice, 2 maps, 6 pre-generated characters, 2 double-sided maps, 2 reference sheets, 23 standees and stands, $30.00 boxed set, $10.00 digital (no dice or stands)]

Cyberpunk, a popular science-fiction RPG first released in 1988, has gone through several editions, the most famous and much beloved of which is Cyberpunk 2020 published in 1990. This year’s much anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 video game from CD Projekt Red (makers of the Witcher video game series) is based on the world and lore of the tabletop RPG.

The Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, released at Gen Con 2019, is the latest iteration of the tabletop game and serves as a teaser for the forthcoming full core ruleset and as a prequel to the Cyberpunk 2077 game by filling in chunks of the timeline between Cyberpunk 2020‘s 4th Corporate War (a major event in the 2020 timeline). If that is unfamiliar to you, never fear, the included World Book provides enough background to catch you up.

The boxed set comes with six pre-generated characters, two reference sheets, maps, a set of Cyberpunk themed dice (4 d6 and 2 d10), and flat minis (or standees) along with two booklets: the World Book and Rule Book.

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Street Battles and God-like Machines: The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty

Monday, January 27th, 2020 | Posted by Neil Baker

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Cover design by Mark R. Robinson

The Robots of Gotham has nothing to do with Batman (much to the chagrin of one, 1-star reviewer on Goodreads) and everything to do with A.I. dominance on a global scale, with this particular story set in an embattled Chicago. The year is 2083, and the world is dominated by Venezuelan ‘peace-keeping’ forces and vast, God-like super robots. Uprisings have been hastily and ruthlessly quashed, and humans now go about their lives in an uneasy alliance with the machines they inadvertently created.

The story is told from the point of view of Barry Simcoe, a 30-something I.T. specialist and CEO of a Canadian company, who is visiting Mud Town to secure some deals. From the outset of the novel, Barry is caught up in a violent street battle involving Venezuelan forces and giant, murderous mechs. He barely squeaks out alive, and holes up in a hotel, which becomes the focal point for the rest of the book. As the story unfolds, Barry discovers an insidious plot to do away with a vast swathe of humanity to pave the way for fascist robo-leaders, and he must ally himself with a collection of well-drawn characters in order to reveal the truth and, most importantly, survive.

The Robots of Gotham is a solid debut novel, coming in at 688 pages in the chunky hardback edition, and it takes commitment to heft it, even with the dust jacket off. I didn’t have to strain for long though, as reading it was a breeze. McAulty’s writing skips along lickety-split and was intriguing enough to keep me engrossed, even during the ‘technical’ bits which needed a second read, as the first time all I heard was Charlie Brown’s teacher.

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New Treasures: The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding

Sunday, January 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Blacksheep-UK

Chris Wooding is the author of the 4-volume steampunk adventure series Tales of the Ketty Jay, the Braided Path trilogy, The Fade, and a healthy number of young adult novels from Scholastic, including Malice and Poison. His latest, The Ember Blade, is the opening novel in The Darkwater Legacy, a new epic fantasy series. It’s been well received, but my favorite review was a grumpy article by Mark Yon at SFF World, who points out that the book treads a lot of familiar territory before taking an unexpected shift about halfway through:

Though undeniably well-written, the initial set up felt like typically Tolkien-esque fare. So much of it was similar to things I’ve read many, many times before… Like many other plots, there’s a quest, but this time for a legendary sword, the Ember Blade, not a ring, where the heroes and heroines of our story have to get the sword. As the story develops we meet others that seem familiar – rebel leader Garrick could be Aragorn, a fighter with a secret past, and there’s a degree of mystical flim-flam with Vika-Who-Walks-the Barrows, a druidess with connections to ‘the old ways’…. a female Gandalf, albeit with a loveable and faithful canine companion….

Once the reader is pretty much resigned into expecting the expected, about half-way through the book – remember, this is after about 400 pages – there’s an abrupt left-turn. Where Tolkien’s story moved from the bucolic rural environment of The Shire to etherial Lothlorien and then the extremes in the mountains of Mordor, here Aren, Cade and the rest of our heroes and heroines have escaped to the Ossian city of Morgenholme, where… we’re into an urban environment, with dark, dirty streets, poverty, disease and original inventions…

The last part of the book is a heist story, with the eclectic group attempting to get The Ember Blade from the hands of the Krodans and generate a revolution amongst the oppressed Ossians.

The Embler Blade was published by Gollancz on July 30, 2019. It is 824 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover, $15.99 in trade paperback, and just $2.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Blacksheep-UK. See all of our coverage of the best new Science Fiction and Fantasy here.

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