What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Monday, January 20th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.

GLEN COOK – SWEET SILVER BLUES

I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.

JOHN D MACDONALD

John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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A Classic Science Fiction Simulator: Howard Andrew Jones and Todd McAulty on Traveller

Sunday, January 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Classic Traveller box set (Games Designers Workshop, 1977)

Over at Tor.com, Howard Andrew Jones and I (under my pseudonym Todd McAulty, the name I use for fiction writing) have posted an article on Classic Traveller, a science fiction role playing game we both dearly love. Here’s a taste.

Todd: It’s fair to say that Classic Traveller was basically a ‘50s/’60s science fiction simulator. It was deeply inspired and influenced by the mid-century SF of E.C. Tubb, H. Beam Piper, Keith Laumer, Harry Harrison, Isaac Asimov, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, and most especially Poul Anderson.

Howard: Classic Traveller was very light on setting—

Todd: To put it mildly!

Howard: —but it sketched the scene in broad strokes. Players adventured in a human-dominated galaxy riven by conflict, thousands of years in the future. The star-spanning civilization of that future looked an awful lot like the galactic civilizations imagined by Asimov, Anderson, Jack Vance, Gene Roddenberry and others.

The two of us had a lot of fun, but I have to say the article got a lot more interesting once E. E. Knight showed up to share some of his experiences at the gaming table.

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A Cyberpunk Video Game Between Two Covers: The Cry Pilot Trilogy by Joel Dane

Sunday, January 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Matt Griffin

“Joel Dane” is the pseudonym of an author of over 20 novels who launched an intriguing new military SF trilogy in August. The opening novel Cry Pilot followed a recruit with a secret drawn into a desperate war against lampreys, biological horrors created by the terra fixing process remaking a ruined Earth. Publishers Weekly raved, summing it up as “Riveting action paired with a sharp psychoemotional landscape.. the explosive launch of a futuristic trilogy.” In a review titled “The Closest Thing to an Immersive Cyberpunk FPS Video Game Between Two Covers,” S. Qiouyi Lu at The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog said:

Terrafixing gives abandoned machines and technology a new life, turning them into violent creatures that are both organic and inorganic — a fusion of weapon and mutated animal. After proving himself as a cry pilot, Kaytu becomes part of a squad training to defend against the latest of these threats (not to mention the most dire to date) — mysterious, ruthless creatures called lampreys hell-bent on destruction. With no known weaknesses and a casualty count mounting higher and higher, the pressure is on Kaytu and his squad to keep their reflexes quick and use all their training to fight against this seemingly unbeatable foe…

Cry Pilot… is a vivid, immersive novel that leans strongly into its military science fiction identity. Its main asset is its voice: Kaytu’s strong personality and first-person narration creates an intimate reading experience… Cry Pilot feels like a high-definition cyberpunk first-person shooter video game, with sleek, polished graphics and tons of lore to explore. If that’s your thing, suit up and dive in — this book will take you for a hell of a ride.

Hot on the heels of Cry Pilot comes Burn Cycle, with the third volume Kill Orbit already in the pipeline for July 2020. Here’s all the details.

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X-Men, Part 4: Issues #24-39: The Middle Years of the Original Team

Saturday, January 18th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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While travelling in November, I loaded a bunch of X-Men comics onto my phone for the airports. I haven’t stopped reading and I started blogging about my reread. I’ve made the reread slightly more complete by adding in stories that were written later but fit into the canon. I’ve talked about:

  • Part I: X-Men #1 (Nov, 1963) to X-Men #20 (May, 1966)
  • Part II: Early X-Men guest appearances (1964-1965), X-Men #21-23 (1966), and X-Men: First Class Volume I (2006)
  • Part III: X-Men: First Class, Volume II (2007)

In this post, I’m covering my thoughts on X-Men #24-39, with cover dates 1966-1967 which cover, most significantly, the introduction of Banshee and the multi-part Factor Three story. I mention the dates though because for the older issues I often spool up music from the corresponding year to play in the background for flavour. If you’re reading along at home via Marvel Unlimited or trades or Masterworks, give it a try. It’s weird way to situate yourself in the historical era.

It’s also important to situate ourselves in the comics era. During this period, Roy Thomas was getting his feet under him, with maybe as many hits as misses? Elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, Kirby and Lee were introducing the Silver Surfer, Galactus, and the Black Panther. On TV, the Adam West Batman series was premiering, as was the animated Spider-Man series, the first Fantastic Four animated series, as well as Marvel’s old Thor, Captain America and Iron Man cartoons which were half animated, half motion comic. It was a heady time to love superheroes, although I missed it by 15 years.

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An Alien Mystery in the Heart of an Ancient Space Object: The Embers of War Trilogy by Gareth L. Powell

Saturday, January 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Julia Lloyd

Gareth L. Powell is the author of the popular Ack-Ack Macaque series, and two short story collections, The Last Reef (2008) and Entropic Angel and Other Stories (2017). His new space opera trilogy began with Embers of War (Titan Books, 2018), and folks took notice immediately. Here’s Joel Cunningham at The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War is a space opera that does everything right: it’s expansive in scope, but character-focused. It nods to genre tropes, but interrogates them too, considering the real-world ramifications of the lasting trauma of war. Oh, also: it has a great sentient starship. It quickly became a favorite of ours — not to mention the voters who handed it this year’s British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel — and our enthusiasm was not at all muted by the recent release of the just-as-good sequel Fleet of Knives.

Powell’s series is one of the more popular space operas on the market (and you all know how I feel about space opera). I was intrigued by the first two books immediately, but hesitant to jump in until the third one arrived. So this week I was delighted to receive a review copy of Light of Impossible Stars, the third installment in Embers of War, which formally goes on sale February 18 from Titan.

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A YA Novel that Violates Contemporary Writing Conventions: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason

Friday, January 17th, 2020 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse CoverYoung Adult fiction is populated with fast-paced novels that sweep readers into adventure from the very first page, only letting up when the final page reads The End. Their prose shows in gorgeous detail, transporting readers into whole new universes, rather than merely telling what’s going on. Novels that feature heroines begin when they are old enough to be the targets of romance; starting when they are younger not only provokes no interest, but also threatens to confuse booksellers, who must decide where to shelve them. According to many writing experts, passive voice must be scoured from the pages. The first chapter should be comprised exclusively of action; exposition kept to a minimum, and sentences clipped short. The author must avoid entire discursive paragraphs like, say, this one.

Eason’s How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is marketed as a Young Adult Hardcover. But it violates these contemporary writing conventions.

We begin before Princess Rory Thorne is born. Indeed, while she is still in the womb. Our heroine, who will cause many kerfluffles throughout her childhood, creates her first by being born a girl, when everyone had planned for her to be a boy.

Shortly after Rory’s birth, thirteen fairies descend onto the palace for Rory’s Naming Ceremony, even though no one really believes in fairies anymore, and the only reason they were invited was as a nod to tradition, silly as it may be. But still, the thirteen fairies suddenly appear in the ballroom, coming from out of nowhere. The first eleven give Rory various gifts, some of which are obviously quite useless, like playing the harp.

The thirteenth fairy gives Rory the ability not just to tell when people are lying, but also to hear the truths they are covering up.

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Vintage Treasures: A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason

Friday, January 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

A Woman of the Iron People Part One In the Light of Sigma Draconis-small A Woman of the Iron People Part Two Changing Women-small

Covers by Gary Ruddell

Eleanor Arnason is the author of five novels, including The Sword Smith (1978), To the Resurrection Station (1986), Daughter of the Bear King (1987), and Ring of Swords (1993), plus dozens of short stories, chiefly in her Hwarhath series, SF tales of mankind’s interactions with the sole other species we find able to travel among the stars. But her most famous book is the first contact novel A Woman of the Iron People, which won both the inaugural James Tiptree Jr. Award in 1991, and the 1992 Mythopoeic Award. Publishers Weekly called it “excellent, anthropologically oriented SF… an intelligent, provocative book,” and at Tor.com Jo Walton wrote:

It’s definitely Arnason’s masterpiece and I love it. A Woman of the Iron People is anthropological science fiction, in the tradition of The Left Hand of Darkness and Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed and Janet Kagan’s Hellspark. Lixia has come on a spaceship through cold sleep to a new planet, one that has aliens…. A Woman of the Iron People also won the Tiptree Award, and this is easier to understand without any parables, because it really is a book with a focus on gender. The aliens live separately — the women live in usually nomadic villages, raising children. The men leave at puberty and live alone, fighting each other. They mate with the women in the spring. These are their accepted customs and their biological imperatives, but we see several edge cases…

Lixia travels with Nia, and later with the Voice of the Waterfall, a male oracle, and Derek, another human anthropologist. They travel through culture and landscape, learning them both. It’s great that these future humans are also strange and also bring problems of their own to the story… Unlike almost all the other anthropological SF out there, the end of the journey and connecting up with the main expedition raises more questions than it solves, and there’s a twist at the end of the book that I thought was wonderful.

Read Jo’s complete review here. A Woman of the Iron People was published in hardcover in 1991 by William Morrow, and broken into two volumes for AvoNova’s paperback reprint a year later. Here’s the back covers for the paperback editions.

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Goth Chick News: The Fireball Makes Our Feet Hurt Less, or 2020 Show Coverage

Thursday, January 16th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Goth Chick Press Pass

As the winter doldrums settle over the offices of Black Gate, exacerbating the fug which permanently hangs over the men’s WC, the only remedy is to start thinking about all our upcoming events.

Black Gate photog Chris Z and I will once again be crisscrossing the Midwest seeking out new authors, indie filmmakers and the purveyors of the strange and unusual; partially for our own amusement, but mostly for yours. I mean, let’s be honest, once we’ve downed our customary pre-show Fireball shots, pretty much everything is funny. But I am always careful to get a good night’s sleep before telling you about all we saw, to ensure what I share is interesting, if not hilarious, once we’ve sobered up.

So, without further ado, here is the 2020 lineup. Most of these shows are open to the public and many do a wider national tour, so if you’re interested, be sure to click the link to see if a similar event is coming to a city near you.

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New Treasures: One Man by Harry Connolly

Thursday, January 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Harry Connolly was one of the most popular writers we published in Black Gate magazine, starting right out of the gate with his first fiction sale “The Whoremaster of Pald,” which you can read here and which appeared way back in Black Gate 2. His career really took off with his first novels, including the 4-volume Twenty Palaces series (which opened in 2009 with Child of Fire) and The Great Way trilogy, which M Harold Page called “More hardboiled than the Dresden Files.” It’s been some four years since Harry published a new novel, so the arrival of One Man in November, from Harry’s own Radar Avenue Press, was a very welcome surprise. He explains on his blog.

It’s been four years since I released a new novel… This book is the reason.

I spent two years writing One Man. It’s is a big book, over 150,000 words. It’s complicated, with lots of POV characters and locations. The setting is limited – almost every chapter takes place in a single city – but it’s complex. Which is another way of saying that a lot of time and sweat went into this novel, and I’m proud of the result.

See, I wanted to try an experiment. Most fantasy novels have huge stakes: A Dark Lord trying to conquer all. A usurper seizing the throne, pushing a kingdom toward civil war. A world-shattering magical cataclysm. Invasion of monsters. Return of monsters. Whatever. But what if I wanted to create a fantasy story about a quest for something small. Something important, but not world-shattering. For instance: the life of a single little girl. Not even his own, just someone he knows…

I think it’s a good book. A thriller with strange magic, desperation, betrayal, and murder. But it’s an odd book, too, with bourgeois hobbit vampires, and sleeping giants whose flesh can heal you, and a sprawling city built inside the skeletons of two gods… I’m hoping you’re interested in a big, odd, ambitious book about crime and magic and a screwed-up guy who has one last chance to do something decent in this world.

One World is the first novel in The City of Fallen Gods (which is maybe the name of a new series, I dunno?) It was published by Radar Avenue Press on November 26, 2019. It is 637 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 in digital formats. Read the first two chapters here, and see all our latest coverage of Black Gate writers here.


Stories That Work: “Selfless” by James Patrick Kelly, and “I Met a Traveler In an Antique Land” by Connie Willis

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 | Posted by James Van Pelt

Asimov's Science Fiction November December 2017-medium Asimovs-Science-Ficion-November-December-2019-medium

Covers by Eldar Zakirov and Donato Giancola

Do you remember a German pop band called Nena and their single big song, “99 Luftballons”? No? Well, they were a one-hit wonder. How amazing is it, to be a one-hit wonder? Think of all the bands, playing in garages, trying their hardest to line up gigs, who never make the charts, whose songs are never heard by anyone other than family and friends. What do you think the ratio of unheard bands to one-hit wonders is?

Hard to calculate, but I’ll bet it’s huge.

Consider all the factors that have to come together for a song to rise to the prominence of “99 Luftballons,” and then imagine how all the other bands vying for attention would give almost anything to have that single moment of success that Nena enjoyed.

Just one hit.

And then think of Linda Ronstadt or Bruce Springsteen and their numerous triumphs.

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