The Awesome Villainy of the Kafers

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Kafer Sourcebook by William H. Keith (GDW 1988)

A common science fiction trope is the terrifying alien. The one determined to destroy humanity… or whatever… is in its path. The xenomorph from the Alien franchise is probably the first that comes to mind for many, but others include the unnamed Force from Event Horizon, the Bugs from Starship Troopers, the Taurans from The Forever War, the Predator, and the Thing. These aliens serve as vehicles to terrify and challenge humanity in many ways. In science fiction tabletop role-playing games, aliens abound. Many ruthless enemies like the Sathar of Star Frontiers, the Jinsuls from Starfinder, along with the Alien xenomorph exist in the pages of role-playing games. In my opinion, the Kafers from the 2300AD game are the best of the lot.

Bold statement.

2300AD was released by GDW in 1986. Set in the near-ish future and part of an extended timeline from GDW’s Twilight 2000 game, the people of Earth have recovered for a nuclear war in the late 2000s, discovered the stutterwarp drive, and colonized many worlds in the near-earth vicinity. The game pitched itself as hard science fiction — the stutterwarp drive, one of the concessions. Many of the materials focus on realistic orbital mechanics and lifeforms. Planets are often hostile. The book is about humanity’s struggle and challenges in colonizing the stars.

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The Ground Rules Have Been Put in Place: Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery, by Brian Murphy

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 | Posted by David C. Smith

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Cover by Tom Barber

Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery
By Brian Murphy
Pulp Hero Press (282 pages, $19.95 in trade paperback/$7.99 digital, January 16, 2020)

At long last, we have a history of the sword-and-sorcery genre, and a very welcome and erudite study it is. Brian Murphy is to be commended for his honest appreciation of our frequently dismissed and often mocked genre. He intelligently surveys the expanse of the sword-and-sorcery field warts and all, low points and high, putting the genre into its proper literary perspective.

To present a linear history of the sword-and-sorcery genre is in fact to dissect an Yggdrasil of many branches, which is precisely what Murphy has done here. His challenge in undertaking Flame and Crimson was great—confronting a century of work and reducing discussion of it to the reasonable length of about 250 pages. He has risen to the challenge.

(Full disclosure: I am mentioned a few times in Flame and Crimson and am cited in a pull-quote in the header to chapter 1. I am also published by Pulp Hero Press, the imprint that has brought out Flame and Crimson.)

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New Treasures: Sword of Fire by Katharine Kerr

Monday, March 30th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Sword of Fire-smallKatharine Kerr’s science fiction novels include Polar City Blues, Palace (with Mark Kreighbaum), and Snare. But she’s much more well known for sixteen epic fantasy novels set in the world of Deverry, starting with Daggerspell (1986), Darkspell (1987), and The Bristling Wood (1989).

Kerr’s roots are firmly in fantasy gaming, which immediately increases her cred in my book. She was introduced to fantasy gaming in in 1979, and she quickly began writing articles for gaming magazines. She was a contributing editor to Dragon magazine, and authored adventure modules for TSR and Chaosium’s Pendragon role-playing game. Her first novel was published in 1986, and she’s never looked back. It’s fiction that brings the fame and the fast cars, so I guess I can’t blame her.

The last few years she’s been occupied with her Nola O’Grady urban fantasy series for DAW (which the author describes as a “female James Bond with magic rather than violence”). It’s been over a decade since we’ve seen a new novel in Deverry, though, and it’s good to see her return. Ralph Harris gave Sword of Fire a warm review at BookPage; here’s a sample.

Sword of Fire centers around a sociopolitical struggle against the unjust courts of the Kingdom of Deverry. While that certainly could be a backdrop for a bleak, dark struggle, Kerr’s novel is instead a lovely quest with an ever-optimistic, wholeheartedly enthusiastic crew of brilliant women and chivalrous men. Alyssa, our primary heroine, embarks on a trip to recover a book that can help usurp the old traditions of the courts with even older, supposedly more fair traditions….

With a lightly magical, extremely familiar setting and lovable cast of characters, Kerr sets out to take the reader through the Kingdom of Deverry’s evolution to a (hopefully) more just world. She doles out plot points via chatty gossip between noble families and secret messages sent by way of servants… Meandering through the pages of Kerr’s Sword of Fire was escapism of the finest quality. For readers looking for a dark drama of epic proportions, these 380 pages will hold nothing for you. Here, you will only find charming banter, happy endings and optimism in prose form.

Sword of Fire is the opening volume in The Justice War. It was published by DAW on February 18, 2020. It is 384 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Katie Anderson. Read an excerpt from Chapter One here.

See all our recent New Treasures here.


Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: The ‘Lost’ 1959 Pilot

Monday, March 30th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Only a few years ago, the ‘lost’ pilot of a 1959 Nero Wolfe television show came out on DVD. Surprisingly, no one posted it on YouTube until March of 2020, while much of America was staying at home during the Corona virus Pandemic. I myself saw it for the first time on March 22, so here we go!

Back in 1959, Edward Fadiman, part of Fadmian Productions, (which also acted for Rex Stout as ‘Nero Wolfe Attractions’), got a pilot episode made through CBS. Unfortunately, it was fated to be a one-episode series (or was it?). TV was still an emerging medium, competing with radio, the silver screen, and the stage. It’s no surprise that the project turned to Broadway for the dual leads. And in this episode, Archie’s star shines at least as brightly as Wolfe’s.

Kurt Kasznar appeared in one episode of a lot of TV shows, which was common in the fifties and sixties. He was a successful stage actor, including roles in The Sound of Music, and Barefoot in the Park. When notices about the pilot project began appearing in early 1959, he was appearing in Look After Lulu. At 280 pounds, he had the build for Wolfe. The press reported that he actually had lost 70 pounds and needed padding for the part! William Shatner was appearing on Broadway in The World of Suzi Wong. He was years away from boldly going where no man had gone before.

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John Bullard on Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”

Sunday, March 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Beyond the Black River-smallKeith West dropped me a note this week to alert me to the publication of an intriguing 3-part article on his blog Adventures Fantastic.

“Beyond the Black River”: Is it Really “Beyond the Brazos River”? was written by Robert E. Howard scholar John Bullard, who’s been editing Howard’s correspondence for the next edition of his collected letters. The article examines Howard’s influences when writing the classic Conan tale “Beyond the Black River,” and particularly how he drew from a famous incident in Texas history to create the ending.

I’m not a Howard scholar myself, and generally leave these debates on Howard’s sources to the experts, but Bullard’s piece weaves together fascinating tidbits from letters to H.P. Lovecraft, Carl Jacobi, and others, plus an interview with Novalyne Price Ellis, to make a compelling case for his theory. Just as interesting to me was the intimate glimpse into Howard’s creative process, and his close friendships with his fellow pulp writers. Here’s a sample:

Robert E. Howard’s Conan story, “Beyond the Black River” is considered to be one of his best stories by his fans. It tells of an attack by Howard’s favorite historical peoples, the Picts, against the encroaching colonization of the Aquilonians on the Picts’ deeply forested land between the Thunder River to the East, and the Black River to the west in his fictional Hyborian world setting…

Howard’s recounting of Texas history and characters enthralled his pen pals, and in several of the surviving letters, they encouraged him to write about this history in his fiction…. Yet, prior to the second half of 1934, Howard was unsure of how to incorporate his knowledge of the settling of the Texas frontier into his stories….

Yet sometime after writing the letter to Jacobi, Howard seems to have had a breakthrough in how to incorporate his knowledge of Texas history into his stories and began writing what is generally considered to be one of his finest stories sometime during the Summer or possibly early Fall of 1934… In a December 1934 letter to Lovecraft, Howard wrote:

“My latest sales to Weird Tales have been a two-part Conan serial: “Beyond the Black River” — a frontier story; …in the Conan story I’ve attempted a new style and setting entirely — abandoned the exotic settings of lost cities, decaying civilizations, golden domes, marble palaces, silk-clad dancing girls, etc., and thrown my story against a background of forests and rivers, log cabins, frontier outposts, buckskin-clad settlers, and painted tribesmen. Some day I’m going to try my hand at a longer yarn of the same style, a serial of four or five parts.”(Lovecraft, Dec. 1934)

We’ve discussed “Beyond the Black River,” and its importance to the modern fantasy canon, previously at Black Gate. Recent coverage includes:

Hither Came Conan: Keith West on “Beyond the Black River”
Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “Beyond the Black River”

Read John Bullard’s complete 3-part article at Adventures Fantastic, starting here.


Dracula in Espanol? Si!

Sunday, March 29th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

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Hello. Since this is my first blog post for Black Gate, I feel that an introduction is in order. My name is John Miller and I am a writer. My name is a both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it is short and simple and easy to remember, a curse because it’s common and as easy to forget as it is to remember. I have written under the name of J. J. Miller (only when I was young, and somewhat under the influence of E. E. Smith), as John J. Miller, and, finally, as John Jos. Miller, when I had to differentiate myself from the other John J. Millers of the world. (Also, as simply John Miller, but only for my technical archeological reports and papers. You can try to track down “Resource Allocation Strategies on the Navajo Reservation in the Early Twentieth Century,” but good luck in finding it.) I’ve been told that I probably should use a pseudonym (I did write one novel under a pseudonym, but that was not my choice.), but I am stubborn and bad at self promotion and John Miller is my name (along with tens of thousands of other Americans) and I’m sticking with it.

I read a lot of stuff and watch a lot of stuff and like to share my opinion of what I like and don’t like. Who doesn’t? I have my prejudices, which I will admit up front. I don’t like torture porn or most slasher movies. I don’t like most modern Rom Coms. I don’t like movies where the whole point is that the characters are stupid. Dumb and Dumber? I don’t think so. (Once I actually paid money to see an Adam Sandler movie and I’ve regretted that ever since.) I really don’t like movies where they shoot the dog. (The exception that proves this point is John Wick. I’ve seen it three or four times, but not the scene where they kill the dog. Sometime I’ll have to tell you about the discussion I had with George R.R. Martin as to why Old Yeller is a terrible children’s movie.)

Rating movies under a five star system is insufficient, even if you cheat by halving the stars. I use a modified IMBD 10-1 system, but to add a soupcon of nuance, I use a “plus,” so my scale actually runs from 10+ to 1.

I almost always finish everything, book, novel, or movie, that I start. Thing is, I’m willing to take the bullet so you don’t have to. That’s what I’m here for, but mainly I like to share things I like, so let’s get down to it already.

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Fighting Schools, Ancient Palaces, and a Killing Fog: The Grave Kingdom Trilogy by Jeff Wheeler

Sunday, March 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover design by Shasti O’Leary Soudant

Jeff Wheeler was been toiling away in the fantasy word mines for nearly two decades, and in 2014 he took the leap and retired from Intel to write full-time. He’s written several popular series, including the Whispers from Mirrowen trilogy, two novels in the Landmoor series, and two trilogies in the Muirwood universe, the second of which was the Covenant of Muirwood, which we covered here back in 2015.

His latest, The Grave Kingdom trilogy, kicked off this month with The Killing Fog. At Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog, Jeff Wheeler contributed a My Favorite Bit entry that piqued my interest — and not just for the Big Trouble in Little China and Kung Fu references (though they definitely didn’t hurt). Here’s what he said.

When I was young, I used to watch the TV show Kung Fu with David Carradine. I respected the loner monk wandering through America’s Wild West and taking out the bad guys. During high school, one of my favorite films was Big Trouble in Little China, just for the great martial art medley of different styles they demonstrated. What many don’t know about me is that I’ve been a practitioner of many forms of Kung Fu for almost thirty years, starting at Wing Lam Kung Fu school in Silicon Valley after my missionary service.

When I was inspired to write The Killing Fog after a month-long trip to China, I chose to set it in a world with the geography of Alaska and the culture of medieval China. Instead of palaces and royalty, I wanted to focus on the martial artists. The protagonist of the story, Bingmei (a name which means ‘ice rose’ in Chinese), is the granddaughter and daughter of a family who owns a fighting school… Bingmei’s world is a lot harsher than the one we live in. While ancient forms of fighting have been passed down within families, history has not. There is no written language, no knowledge of where the ancient buildings and palaces came from. No understanding of why the Death Wall was built and why no one is allowed to cross it. Most importantly, no one knows who left behind magical relics carved from meiwood and imbued with magical power. People collect these relics to hide them away because if their power is invoked, the presence of magic summons a deadly fog which kills any creature caught within it. And no one knows why.

It’s Bingmei’s destiny to find out.

The KIlling Fog will be followed by The Buried World in June of this year, and The Immortal Words arrives three months later, on September 22. Publishers Weekly calls the opening volume a “winding tale of valor and sacrifice… [an] excellent introduction to the prolific Wheeler’s work.”

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 9: Filling in the Corners of the Original X-Men with Savage Hulk #1-4

Saturday, March 28th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Welcome to the 9th episode of my reread of the vast X-Men story that began in 1963. The X-Men series stopped putting out original stories in early 1970, due primarily to low sales; it was a reprint magazine from issues #67–93, cover dated December 1970 to April 1975, until the beginning of the Claremont and Cockrum run in issue #94.

I’m going to go through their early Bronze Age appearances in coming blog posts, but for story continuity purposes, I’m also reading issues created in contemporary times but fitting into that 5-year dead period, like I covered for the original X-Men in X-Men: First Class.

So this time I read the 2014 series Savage Hulk, by writer/penciller Alan Davis, inker Mark Farmer and colorist Matt Hollingsworth. If this is the first of these posts you’ve seen, you can find my previous ones at the links below.

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When We Catch It, Let’s Chase It Again: An Interview with Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Author Jim Breyfogle

Saturday, March 28th, 2020 | Posted by P. Alexander

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Cover Art by Anton Oxenuk

Cirsova Publishing has been putting out its flagship magazine focusing on action, adventure, and romance in science fiction and fantasy since 2016. Last year Cirsova began branching out, with the two-author anthology, Duel Visions by Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen, their fully illustrated 70th Anniversary Edition of Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark Planet Stories [which we covered at Black Gate last year], and the 35th Anniversary Edition of Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars.

Cirsova’s newest upcoming release is an anthology of Jim Breyfogle’s Mongoose & Meerkat adventures, lavishly illustrated by up-and-coming artist DarkFilly. Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 1: Pursuit Without Asking collects all of the stories published in the pages of Cirsova Magazine through 2019.

Mangos is a bit of a bravo, ready to knock a few heads for some coin. Kat is a mysterious wanderer with more than her share of street-smarts and a head for ancient history. Together, the Mongoose and the Meerkat are a pair of rogues looking to keep their bellies and wine skins filled. Fitting in a comfy mid-point somewhere between Slayers and Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser, this duo is sure to appeal to fans of classic Sword & Sorcery.

We had a chance to talk with Mongoose & Meerkat author Jim Breyfogle about this thrilling new project.

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Gloomhaven, or How We Spent 2018 (and Wish We’d Spent 2019)

Friday, March 27th, 2020 | Posted by Jeff Stehman

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For a year, the only board game my wife and I played was Gloomhaven. We completed 33 scenarios, which is about half what it typically takes to complete the campaign. We were looking forward to playing little else for the next year, but alas, life interfered.

That’s doubly disappointing, as the Kickstarter for Frosthaven, a stand-alone follow-up to Gloomhaven, with all new characters and setting, is scheduled to launch March 31, 2020. (We’ll back it, even though we might not open it until 2022.)

Gloomhaven is a fantasy RPG board game, designed by Isaac Childres, for one to four players. We picked it up at a steal for $75 on its second Kickstarter. It’s big (22 pounds), it’s long, and we don’t know what’s coming. Gloomhaven fits neatly into the cooperative tactical combat legacy fantasy RPG double-deck-builder hand-management storytelling category of board games….

Yeah, I should unpack that, but first let me say that, although this game is number one on Board Game Geek, it’s not for everyone. The initial learning curve is steep, and it’s got a lot of moving parts that someone has to remember to move. I strongly recommend having a meticulous player at the table. (Alternatively, there’s an early access computer version on Steam that looks pretty close to the board game.)

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