The Illustrated Safari

Sunday, January 26th, 2020 | Posted by Milton Davis

Changa and the Jade Obelisk cover-small

Cover for Changa and the Jade Obelisk #1

Changa’s Safari began in 1986 as a concept inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan. I wanted to create a heroic character with all the power and action of the brooding Cimmerian but based on African history, culture and tradition. Although the idea came early, the actual execution didn’t begin until 2005, when I decided to take the plunge into writing and publishing. During its creation I had the great fortune to meet and become friends with Charles R. Saunders, whose similar inspiration by Howard led to the creation of the iconic Imaro. What was planned to be a short story became a five-volume collection of tales that ended a few years ago with Son of Mfumu.

I had always seen Changa’s story as a visual experience. When I began writing the first story I imagined Michael Clarke Duncan as Changa, the Indian Ocean with his crew from adventure to adventure. After Duncan passed away; I settled on Michael Jai White as a worthy replacement for my hero. Having Changa travel the world for his various adventures was also part of the visual experience. It was my hope to one day see it all take place on the silver screen.

A few years ago I embarked a project to make Changa’s Safari an animated series, a project that is still in development. But recently I imagined Changa as a comic book series. I still had a strong desire to see Changa visually, and I felt that the comic book medium would be the fastest way to do so. The comic book would also serve as storyboards for a possible movie, if the opportunity ever came up.

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Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part I

Saturday, January 25th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

1A - Mayu Watanabe - Hikaru Monotachi (BQ)-small

The concept of ‘Virtual Idols’ that I’m looking to describe here is something of a slippery and multi-faceted notion — not unlike the culture that surrounds their real-life counterparts, to a large degree! The elements form a sort of loose meshwork of overlapping scenes, which often intersect and change as they progress.

So, am I basically attempting to define the indefinable here? Perhaps! There are certain recurring themes which connect a lot of it together, so I’ll keep those things in mind as I sketch out my ongoing exploration… and with any luck, that should be enough to make it all clear.

While there are theoretically no limits where we could go with this, it’s also something very much tied to one location — and yes, it’s exactly where you expect: the nation of Japan. But before we can fully understand this phenomenon of Japanese virtual idols, we first need to get acquainted with non-virtual idols, which form such a major part of pop music culture there. That can be a bit challenging in itself, actually! While not entirely different from pop idols in other parts of the world, the term ‘Idol’ has a much more specific usage and cultural history within Japan. There are various degrees of being an idol performer as well, as the context has evolved somewhat over time… which can be confusing for newcomers, or for those who follow just one aspect of overall fandom. I’ll try to make it clearer as I go, but suffice to say that being an idol definitely involves more than simply being a singer of pop music, in Japan!

First, let’s try to very briefly pin down a few of the most important qualities of an idol.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Ditmar Award for Best Australian Fiction: “Let It Ring,” by John Ossian

Saturday, January 25th, 2020 | Posted by Rich Horton

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Infinity Three, edited by Robert Hoskins (Lancer Books, 1972). Cover by Jim Steranko

1973 was the fifth year of the Ditmars, awarded in Australia. I have already covered the Ditmars for International Fiction (The Gods Themselves) and for Australian Fanzine (Bruce Gillespie’s SF Commentary.)

The Award for Best Australian Fiction went, curiously, to a short story, “Let It Ring”, by “John Ossian”. “John Ossian” was a pseudonym for the very well-known Australian fan and critic, John Foyster. The other nominees were all novels: Budnip, by Jack Wodhams; Gone Fishing, by David Rome; and The Hard Way Up, by A. Bertram Chandler. I haven’t read the Wodhams or Rome novel, and I read The Hard Way Up a long time ago – it’s a Grimes novel, and my impression is that it’s much like many Grimes novels, enjoyable enough but not special. So, I was willing to allow that perhaps “Let It Ring” was such a good short story that it would naturally beat out three likely enjoyable but not really brilliant novels.

Foyster, I should add, won three Ditmars – this one, and awards for Best Fanzine in 1970 for The Journal of Omphalistic Epistemology and in 1979 for Chunder. He also won the A. Bertram Chandler Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Australian SF in 2002. He was born in 1941, and died just short of his 62nd birthday in 2003. He and Bruce Gillespie occasionally collaborated on their fanzines SF Commentary and The Journal of Omphalistic Epistemology, but never in a year that either fanzine won a Ditmar.

I found a copy of Infinity Three, edited by Robert Hoskins, wherein the story appeared. I read “Let It Ring”, and I was completely puzzled. I had very little idea what was going on. There are nods to Cordwainer Smith, and his novel Norstrilia (then known by its two halves, The Underpeople and The Planet Buyer.) The action, such as it is, seems to concern a man trying to influence his fellows on the planet Strine, especially Mathers and Kenner, to help him either delay or prevent the entrance of Strine into the Federation. It’s really not very interesting, and it’s presented in a confusing fashion.

I asked a group of people with knowledge of that period in Australian SF, including Bruce Gillespie and Damien Broderick (who anthologized “Let It Ring” in The Zeitgeist Machine: A New Anthology of Australian Science Fiction in 1977.) And they were very helpful.

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An Ode to Robert E. Howard, from a Rogue Blades author

Friday, January 24th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeThis excerpt from author Cecelia Holland is taken from her essay for the upcoming book, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, from publisher Rogue Blades Foundation.

You have to understand, being a girl in the 1950s was a complete dead end. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t play Little League or football; I couldn’t even play full court basketball. I couldn’t take shop instead of home ec. I couldn’t ride in the rumble seat of my uncle’s new car because I was too young, although my male cousin who was a week older than I got to ride in it a lot. When I asked for an erector set for Christmas, they laughed and gave me a doll.

I was gently dissuaded from thinking about having a real life when I grew up, since I would of course find some nice man to marry me and take care of me and I would spend my life raising children and washing dishes (and probably drinking like a fish, as all my aunts did, drowning their personal ambitions), so why should I even bother with college?

I did have one aunt (I had many aunts) who did have a career, for which she was broadly pitied.

I escaped. Robert E. Howard helped me escape.

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Future Treasures: Mazes of Power by Juliette Wade

Friday, January 24th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Mazes of Power-smallWhat’s cooler than a cave cty? Nuthin’! Juliette Wade understands this fundamental truth, and she has set her debut novel Mazes of Power in the thousand-year-old cave city of Pelismara.

Just to be clear, that’s all I needed to be sold on this novel. However, I admit it does have other things going for it. Publishers Weekly calls it (in a starred review), “Excellent… [it] invites readers into an intricately constructed and morally ambiguous world full of complex political maneuvering,” and Laura Anne Gilman says it’s “A twisty ride… into a world of love and treachery.”

Mazes of Power is being described as a “work of sociological science fiction,” which strikes me as kind of heavy for a novel set in a cave city. Well, let’s not be picky. Here’s the publisher’s description; make up your own mind.

The cavern city of Pelismara has stood for a thousand years. The Great Families of the nobility cling to the myths of their golden age while the city’s technology wanes.

When a fever strikes, and the Eminence dies, seventeen-year-old Tagaret is pushed to represent his Family in the competition for Heir to the Throne. To win would give him the power to rescue his mother from his abusive father, and marry the girl he loves.

But the struggle for power distorts everything in this highly stratified society, and the fever is still loose among the inbred, susceptible nobles. Tagaret’s sociopathic younger brother, Nekantor, is obsessed with their family’s success. Nekantor is willing to exploit Tagaret, his mother, and her new servant Aloran to defeat their opponents.

Can he be stopped? Should he be stopped? And will they recognize themselves after the struggle has changed them?

Mazes of Power is the opening novel in The Broken Trust series. It will be published by DAW on February 4, 2020. It is 405 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Adam Auerbach. Read the first seven pages of Chapter One here.

See all our coverage of the best upcoming science fiction and fantasy here.


Goth Chick News: Grab a Pen, Here Comes Your 2020 Reading List

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Coyote Rage-small Inspection Josh Malerman-small The Worst is Yet to Come-small

If you live somewhere that, like Chicago, has been experiencing temperatures incompatible with human life recently, then thinking about a lounge chair, a book and an umbrella drink wearing anything less than a Tauntaun skin is pretty darn appealing. And with perfect timing, here comes the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot hot off the press from the The Horror Writers Association (HWA), providing a categorized list of reading material.

Now all you need is the lounge chair, an umbrella drink and a space heater.

Hazzah.

Named in honor of Dracula’s beloved Pappa, the Stokers are presented annually by the HWA for superior writing in eleven categories including traditional fiction of various lengths, poetry, screenplays and non-fiction. The HWA also presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to living individuals who have made a substantial and enduring contribution to the genre. Previous winners include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Joyce Carol Oates, and Neil Gaiman.

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Things Are As They Are: George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

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Cover by H. Lawrence Hoffman

Earth Abides (Random House, 373 pages, $3 in hardcover, 1949)
by George R. Stewart
Cover by H. Lawrence Hoffman

Here is one of the best science fiction novels of all time. It’s about the entire world, and implicitly the entire human race, and it’s as timely as ever as, for one reason or another, humanity faces the realization that its indefinite survival on planet Earth is not guaranteed.

The novel is Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. It was published in 1949 and was Stewart’s only SF novel (though he wrote a couple earlier novels about natural catastrophes, including one about a storm that inspired the US National Weather Service to give storms names). It won the first International Fantasy Award in a year preceding the advent of the Hugos. (Stewart never wrote any other science fiction, and this novel wasn’t published as science fiction, but was later embraced by genre critics, much as the famous novels by Huxley and Orwell were.)

Above is the cover of the first edition. And here are the two editions I’ve read, a 1971 Fawcett Crest paperback with a Paul Lehr cover, and the 2006 Del Rey trade paperback edition.

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Vintage Treasures: Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Richard Bober

Before she became an international fantasy superstar with The Farseer trilogy and the Liveship Traders novels, Robin Hobb published nearly a dozen highly-regarded books under the name Megan Lindholm, including Wizard of the Pigeons (1985), the SF novel Alien Earth (1992), and The Ki and Vandien Quartet. In tone and subject they are very different from the Robin Hobb-branded heroic fantasy that made her a bestselling author, but even by that standard Cloven Hooves stands out. It’s the story of a modern woman who leaves her husband to have an affair with a satyr, with a lot of graphic sex.

It’s a very different adult fantasy, and while it made the preliminary Nebula ballot, it vanished almost without a trace. It remained out of print in the US for nearly three decades, until it was reprinted by Harper Voyager as part of their Voyager Classics line this past April. It’s worth seeking out for Hobb fans, or any serious fan of contemporary fey fantasy. Here’s a snippet from Georges T. Dodds SF Site review.

Read a hundred pages into Cloven Hooves and you’d be convinced you were reading a very conventional, if well-written, mainstream novel: an everyday story of a woman, Evelyn, and her odyssey from an unfettered and imaginative childhood in rural Alaska to a crumbling marriage among her husband’s family in Washington State. The remainder of the book, however, chronicles her passionate relationship, mating, and bearing a child to a woodland satyr. Certainly, as with her urban fantasy Wizard of the Pigeons, mainstream readers said, “what’s with the fantasy element?” While fantasy readers said, “what’s with the 100 pages of character development and the mythology that’s as old as the hills?” Ultimately the poor sales of her novels under the name Megan Lindholm, by her own admission, led her to recast herself as Robin Hobb…

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The Future is Barreling Down on Us: Derek Künsken on Transhumanism

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Derek Künsken Explores Our Transhuman Future

Most Black Gate readers know Derek Künsken as our Saturday evening blogger. Many of you are also familiar with his exciting Quantum Evolution series from Solaris, which started with The Quantum Magician (2018) and continued with The Quantum Garden this past October.

But he also speaks knowledgeably on fascinating topics, as proved last month in his interview with The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, in which he talks about futurism — and reveals great taste in books in the process. How often do you get to do that?? Here’s Derek.

Maybe one of the earliest books I read about overtly changing ourselves is Frederick Pohl’s Man Plus, where a colonist for Mars is augmented, organ after organ, capability after capability, into something capable of surviving the harsh Martian days and nights. It’s a haunting novel whose mild body horror unsettles, while at the same time not shying away from the fact that terraforming Mars, if it’s possible at all, would take many, many human lifetimes.

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion was also an early read for me. The first two books don’t give the Ouster swarms a lot of screen time, but what we see bundles sense of wonder, inevitability and alienation into the reader experience. Of course if people are going to live in micro-gravity among the comets, they’ll need to modify their bodies, their organs and so on. The Ousters have different body types, different biologies and ways of interacting with technology and it’s all fascinating….

Transhumanism has a much broader meaning than it did when I first encountered it, and this list of books and authors is just my view, informed quite a bit by my love of space opera and far future sci-fi…. The important thing about transhumanism in sci-fi is that we’re thinking about how we’re going to engage with technology and bioengineering, because the future is barreling down on us.

You tell ’em, Derek! Also, chops for the shout out to Frederick Pohl and Dan Simmons. You can read the entire interview with Derek here, and check out his novels here.


Yes, Weird Tales is Back

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Weird Tales 363-small

Cover by Abigail Larson

A few months ago I started to hear rumors that Weird Tales, the most storied and collectible American fantasy magazine of all time, had returned. Whispers, really. But I’d been hearing whispers for the last six years, ever since the last issue appeared from Nth Dimension Media, and especially since I published the article “Is Weird Tales Dead… Again?” in 2016. So I didn’t pay much attention.

But then I heard more reliable reports, and started to see listings online…. and then I ordered a copy, and right now I’m holding it in my hot little hands. And I can report that, in fact, Weird Tales is back.

It returns with a new publisher, Weird Tales Inc., but the same editor, Marvin Kaye, who took over the editorial reins from Ann VanderMeer in 2011, and managed only three issues in the last nine years. But the magazine looks terrific, with glossy paper and full color interiors, and an impressive Table of Contents, including stories by Victor LaValle, Jonathan Maberry, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and others. Not to mention an eye-catching cover by Abigail Larson, a tribute to perhaps the most iconic Weird Tales image of all time, the famous bat woman cover by Margaret Brundage.

Is Weird Tales back for good? Too early to tell — though to be fair Weird Tales has never exactly been a stable publication. (There’s a reason it’s called “The Magazine That Never Dies,” it keeps having to be resurrected.) There are the usual troubling signs already, including the fact that the website they proudly promote on the back page (weirdtales.com) is down already. But this looks like a quality package, and I’m hopeful. Let’s have a closer look at the contents.

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