Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood by P. J. Thorndyke

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

51S+zjgYptLLet me start with a story from when I was fifteen and had yet read only the Lancer Conan the Warrior, but was friends with several serious Conan (and Kull, and Solomon Kane) readers. They learned that Creation Con in Manhattan would include a presentation about the upcoming movie Conan the Barbarian featuring Valeria actress Sandahl Bergman, and they quickly convinced a bunch of us to get tickets. On a Saturday afternoon, we made the drive into the city. My memories of the convention itself are pretty hazy, but the movie preview is etched in my brain. Bergman was beautiful and funny. Any teenage boy would want to see the movie after seeing her. The rest of the presentation, though — woohoo, it stank. It was a slide show, just a batch of lifeless stills that, if they didn’t kill our enthusiasm for the movie, they definitely dimmed it. Nonetheless, we all saw it as soon as we could.

All these years later, I can’t speak to how my friends felt, but I hated the movie. I just rewatched it and now, having read all of Howard’s original stories several times, I hate it even more. But that’s a conversation for another day. My opinion, sadly, didn’t matter, and Conan the Barbarian became a cult success, helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, and set the stage for an explosion of barbarian-themed movies. It’s that eruption of films starring loin-clothed, overly-muscled warriors that is the subject of  Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood by P.J. Thorndyke.

When I stepped back from reviewing at Black Gate (almost two years ago — holy shlamoley!) I knew there could always be something to lure me back. Clearly, John O’Neill knew what that something was when he saw it. He e-mailed me a copy of Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood, I scanned it and immediately knew I had to read it.  It opens with a solid history of sword & sorcery and closes with a brief explanation of why the film genre died. The heart of the book are synopses of dozens, if not all, of swords and sorcery movies of the eighties. If you’ve ever had any interest in movies like Thor the Conqueror or how Richard Corman came to produce such fare as Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans in Argentina, this is the book for you.

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A World of Pirates and Victorian Detectives: The Map of Unknown Things Trilogy by Rod Duncan

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Queen-of-All-Crows-smaller The-Outlaw-and-the-Upstart-King-smaller The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man-smaller

Covers by Will Staehle, Amazing15, and Kieryn Tyler

Rod Duncan’s debut was the supernatural mystery trilogy The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, a series I found fascinating in part due to the main character, Elizabeth Barnabus, a woman who lives a double life as herself and as her brother, a private detective.

His next project, The Map of Unknown Things, is set in the same world. It opened with Queen of all Crows (2018), in which Elizabeth investigates the disappearance of an airship that went down in the Atlantic. Sydney Shields at The British Fantasy Society said “Duncan’s Gas-lit Empire reads and feels like the world of a Victorian detective adventure (think Sherlock Holmes, the Blake & Avery Mysteries, Charles Dickens) but the twist is that the year is actually 2012… Definitely recommend.” The Outlaw and the Upstart King was published last year, and the third volume, The Fugitive & the Vanishing Man, arrived in January of this year. Here’s an excerpt from the PW review:

Illusionist spy Elizabeth Barnabus has barely returned from her pirate voyage in The Outlaw and the Upstart King when she is forced to venture back to the fringes of the Gas-Lit Empire in the exhilarating third installment of Duncan’s The Map of Unknown Things series. Upon returning to London, Elizabeth must recount her adventures to the hostile Patent Office, a clever bit of exposition that will ease new readers into the steam punk world of this alternate history. When the Patent Office brands Elizabeth a traitor, she flees to America and the untamed wilds of the Oregon territory to track down her long-lost twin, Edwin, and prove her patriotism… But trouble’s brewing in Oregon, and Elizabeth is torn between loyalty to her twin or her beloved Empire. The charismatic duo at the heart of this adventure are sure to please.

The Fugitive & the Vanishing Man was published by Angry Robot on January 14, 2020. It is 401 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Kieryn Tyler. Read the first three chapters at

See all our recent coverage of the best new series fantasy here.

In 500 Words or Less: The Language of Beasts by Jonathan Oliver

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

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The Language of Beasts
By Jonathan Oliver
Black Shuck Books (392 pages, $25.99 hardcover, $8.99 eBook, October 1, 2020)
Cover by Simon Parr

We’re approaching Halloween, so let’s talk horror and the weird! I was looking at earlier reviews of Jonathan Oliver’s debut collection The Language of Beasts and what I found interesting is how often it’s described as both horrific but heartfelt – keeping people up at night by speaking to our humanity. And it’s true. (All of it, Han.) There have been so many accolades already for this collection that I’m not even sure what else I can add, but I’ll try.

One of my issues with modern horror is how creators keep leaning into the freaky, bloody, disgusting parts of the genre, which isn’t my thing. Jon’s stories do the opposite; you could replace the horrific with something else “spec” and the core of the story would be the same. They’re about characters with deep backstories that affect their entire life; people facing some of the worst traumas imaginable, made worse because they’re experiences we know are too common. “Tea and Sympathy” starts with a young woman whose husband dies suddenly of a heart defect, and then leads to his spirit returning to her using men who are near death. The body-snatching and haunting isn’t the part that got to me: it’s the knowing that, at barely thirty-one, if something happens to me I would want to do everything in my power to make sure my partner was okay, even at the expense of the soon-to-be-deceased. That’s a startling realization to grapple with, but making you consider things like that is one of the most powerful aspects of Jon’s writing.

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A Sinister Quartet: An All Authors-Signed Giveaway, with 4 Original Postcards by Paula Arwen Owen

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

A Sinister Quartet postcards-small

We, the authors of The Sinister Quartet, have done it all this year!

We’ve done ZOOM readings! We’ve made up playlists, recipescocktails (and mocktails!) to go with our dark-hearted stories! We’ve done a Reddit AMA, and The Big Idea over at Scalzi’s blog!

Lately, we did that GINORMOUS interview with Zig Zag Claybourne here at Black Gate magazine!

And now, we’ve got PRESENTS! For YOU!

We’re doing a GIVEAWAY here at Black Gate magazine!


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New Treasures: The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover design by Chelsea McGuckin

Ursula Vernon is one of the more talented young fantasy writers in the business. She won a Hugo and Mythopoeic Award for her webcomic Digger, which was hugely popular in the Black Gate offices (reviewed here by both Alana Joli Abbott and Matthew Surridge), another Hugo for her novelette “The Tomato Thief,” and a Nebula for her short story “Jackalope Wives.” She’s also the author of the bestselling Dragonbreath series.

As T. Kingfisher, she writes much creepier fare, including The Twisted Ones and The Seventh Bride. Her latest is The Hollow Places, which Kirkus Reviews calls “wonderfully twisted… The perfect tale for fans of horror with heart.” Here’s an excerpt from the enthusiastic notice at Publishers Weekly.

Kingfisher (The Twisted Ones) imagines the horrors lying between worlds in this chilling supernatural thriller. Recently divorced Kara (aka Carrot) moves in with her uncle Earl to help run his Wonder Museum… Then a hole mysteriously opens in the museum’s wall, revealing a hallway that should not exist. With the help of Simon, the barista from the coffee shop next door, Carrot sets out to discover where the hall leads. On the other end they find a strange world comprised of tiny islands covered in willows and containing concrete bunkers — and a mysterious group of occupants… Kingfisher has crafted a truly terrifying monster with minimal descriptions that leave the reader’s imagination to run wild. With well-timed humor and perfect scares, this one is a keeper for horror fans.

The Hollow Places was published by Saga Press on October 6, 2020. It is 341 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Chelsea McGuckin. Listen to an audio excerpt here, and read a sample chapter at Ginger Nuts of Horror.

See all our coverage of the best new SF and Fantasy here.

A Man of Science: A Study of the Readership of Analog Science Fact-Fiction

Monday, October 19th, 2020 | Posted by Doug Ellis

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Here’s what I think is an interesting little item, a 20 page booklet (including covers) entitled A Man of Science: A Study of the Readership of Analog Science Fact-Fiction. This was published by Street & Smith, the then-publisher of Analog, and was a promo piece aimed at advertisers.

There’s no publication date, but my guess is it was published in early 1962 — on page 3, Ralph Sharp, Director of Research for the S&S mags, mentions that in the November 1961 issue of Analog a return postcard was included (I’ve looked through several copies of that issue and haven’t found one that still contains the postcard; I’d love to see that, if anyone has one). He states that the issue went on sale on October 17, and within a month 4,700 usable returns had been received by Intercity Research, an independent tabulating firm.

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What I’m Watching: 2020 (Part Two)

Monday, October 19th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Campbell_Name1EDITEDA couple weeks ago, I talked about some of the shows I’ve watched during this Pandemic-plagued 2020. Well, I have a few more to talk about – along with some movies. So, awaaaay we go!

My Name is Bruce

In the first essay, I mentioned that I did a complete rewatch of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, which is my second-favorite show of all time. Along with listening to Campbell read both of his autobiographies (highly recommended), I re-watched My Name is Bruce. It is an amusing parody of both his own career and his low budget B-movies. Campbell has a fantastic sense of self-deprecating humor (trust me on the autobiographies: great reads, and great fun to hear him narrate his own life story), and this movie is all about him poking fun at himself.

He filmed the whole thing up in Oregon on his own property, and the cast is full of old friends, including several folks from The Evil Dead. Ted Raimi plays no less than three different parts. And he’s funny in all of them. I quite enjoy this silly movie. The in-jokes are fun to look for.

The Expanse

I mentioned this one in the earlier post, and I’ve since completed seasons two through four, so I’m all caught up. Season three was a disappointment, but I liked season four well enough that I’m looking forward to the fifth installment, which should drop on Prime in December.

Based on a series of novels by James S. Corey, this is intellectual scifi. There’s action, but the show is more about political intrigue, genetics, national expansionism, and evolving character relationships. I felt this was a better version of the Battlestar Galactica remake. That show just plodded along, weighed down by its own gravitas. I was more bored than intrigued and I gave up on it.The Expanse has the same heft, but moves along more smoothly and kept my interest.

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Charming and Dangerous: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Sunday, October 18th, 2020 | Posted by Lawrence Ellsworth

The Prisoner of Zenda

Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was a fine actor with a considerable range, but he never got out of the shadow of his more famous father. Douglas Fairbanks Sr., after all, was more than a fine actor, he was a force of nature who single-handedly established the conventions of the cinematic swashbuckler in a series of grand, albeit silent epics. Doug Jr.’s parents divorced when he was young, and against his father’s wishes he was raised in the movies, starting in the silent era as a child star with his own studio contract. He played mostly romantic and dramatic roles as he matured, but inevitably he made some swashbucklers of his own, showing that he had, unsurprisingly perhaps, a natural talent for them. His Rupert of Hentzau is certainly one of the most memorable portrayals in all swashbuckler cinema.

The Prisoner of Zenda

Rating: *****
Origin: USA, 1937
Director: John Cromwell
Source: Warner Bros. DVD

David Selznick bought the rights to The Prisoner of Zenda as a starring vehicle for Ronald Colman, who was at the height of his fame coming off Lost Horizon (1937). Colman played the dual role of Rudolf Rassendyll and King Rudolf, and Selznick surrounded him with a first-rate cast, including the glowing Madeleine Carroll as Princess Flavia, and C. Aubrey Smith and his whiskers as the king’s loyal Colonel Zapt. But best of all were the villains: Raymond Massey, looming and ominous as the would-be usurper Black Michael, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as the raffish rogue Rupert of Hentzau, who stole every scene he appeared in (as Rupert does in every version of Zenda).

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Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: Volume One edited by Paula Guran and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve edited by Ellen Datlow

Sunday, October 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: Volume One (Pyr) and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve
(Night Shade Books). Both published October 20, 2020. Covers by unknown and Reiko Murakami

The pandemic has shaken up publishing schedules, including the usual batch of Year’s Best anthologies. (The 2020 edition of Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy didn’t have a publication date until last week; it now looks like it will appear Dec. 8 from Prime Books.) But as we near the end of the year we’re seeing a much more crowded release schedule — and in fact on Tuesday of this week two of the most anticipated anthologies of the year will be released on the same day: Paula Guran’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: Volume One from Pyr, and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve, edited by Ellen Datlow, from Night Shade Books.

Paula published ten volumes of The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror with Prime Books; we covered the last in November of 2019. This year she’s switched to Pyr, who published the annual Nebula Awards Showcase for many years. The 2020 volume looks especially appetizing, wth 25 stories and over 400 pages. Authors include Theodora Goss, Maria Dahvana Headley, Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, Seanan McGuire, Sam J. Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Sarah Pinsker, Angela Slatter, Rivers Solomon, and many more. Here’s the complete table of contents.

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Survive in a Post Apocalyptic World: Posthuman Saga by Mighty Boards

Saturday, October 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Posthuman Saga by Mighty Boards

I miss walking the crowded aisles at Gen Con. In fact, these days I wonder if we’ll ever see something like the vast Exhibit Hall of Gen Con ever again. Hundreds and hundreds of vendors proudly displaying wares, and tens of thousands of eager gamers, all crammed into a vast indoor space bigger than a football stadium. And I do mean crammed — sometimes those narrow aisles were so packed you could barely move.

Just the thought of that makes my skin crawl these days. Talk about a potential pandemic superspreader event. You could take out an entire generation of gamers in 72 hours. Yiiiii.

Like all major social gatherings this year, Gen Con 2020 was canceled. But that’s okay. Truth be told, I’m still processing the hundreds of photos I took as I wandered the Hall in awe the year before. The impossibly large Gen Con Exhibit Hall is something every gamer should experience at least once, if only to get a sense of the vast scale and enormous creative energy in our hobby. It’s been fourteen months, and I’m still a little overwhelmed by the experience.

I’ve slowly been processing it all by writing about the games that most impressed me, like Alien: The Roleplaying Game, The City of Kings, Escape the Dark Castle, and Heroes of Land, Air & Sea. And now we come at last to one of the most visually impressive titles on my list, Posthuman Saga by Mighty Boards, which throws players into a beautifully designed and adventure-filled post apocalyptic world.

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