David Soyka Reviews The Translated Man and Other Stores and Mr. Stitch

Saturday, March 17th, 2012 | Posted by Soyka



The Translated Man and Other Stories Threat Quality Press (224; 11.99 USD; softcover 2007)

Mr. Stitch Threat Quality Press (248; 11.99 USD; softcover 2010)

Chris Braak

Chris Braaks’s duology featuring Detective-Inpector Elijah Beckett demonstrates that you can tell a book by its cover.  These book jackets are dark, primitive and ugly; the novels are set in a steampunk Victorian metropolis called Trowth that is equally dark, primitive and ugly.

It was early morning and the strained watery light that flickered off the mountain of stormy architecture of Trowth did little to alleviate the cold, though it was actually one of the

warmest periods of the day — when warm air swept briefly in from the sea — and the late afternoon were the only times during Second Winter that pedestrians were common; a small, muted collection of passers-by and vendors had tentatively come out into the cold streets above St. Dunsany’s. The air was just barely

tolerable, and tasted faintly of salt and fish. Even the normally antisocial and solitary citizens of the city would take the time to wander about for a few hours, trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of the sun.

ps.52-53 (Mr. Stitch)

What we have here is a police procedural that mixes Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft. I’m not much a fan of either (I know, how could I possibly be allowed on the BG staff, but mistakes happen). Nor do I much care for plotting littered with flaws in logic (a character can pick the lock of  a room to steal papers without ever thinking they  might be noticed missing, but apparently doesn’t think for a second to pick the lock of a suitcase she is forced to deliver to a train station to see if it contains anything potentially explosive, which, of course, it does) that hinges on fantastical mysteries with improbable coincidences (even if they take place in the context of an improbable reality) that seemingly have little point beyond giving the intrepid characters something to do so they can preserve civilization as they know it (though in this case, “civilization” is a questionable term).

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this short series, mainly because of  the characters. Beckett is dedicated to his career as a Coroner, an elite force with a license to kill at will heretics and the consequences of their heretical metaphysical experiments.  He also suffers from the “fades,” a disease contracted by factory work as a child that results in deteriorating flesh (he wears a scarf to hide the missing half of his face) and drug addiction to control the pain.  Of course, every detective needs a fearless sidekick to fight the forces of evil.  Beckett has two.  Valentine Vie-Gorgon, an absent-minded aristocrat dabbling as a police functionary, and Elizabeth Skinner, a blind “knocker” aetherically equipped with telekinetic abilities that serve as a sort of radar to detect unchartered passageways and conspirators in hiding.

But the most interesting character of all is the city of Trowth, a mess of overbuilt, over thought architecture that results in dangerous labyrinths that connect ghettos of unusual creatures pressed into subservience to the human overlords.

It was almost evening when Beckett emerged from the depths of the Arcadium. The sky has turned from a dull, dark, sooty gray to a duller, darker sootier gray, redeemed only by the fact that looking at it no longer caused migraines. The perpetual cloud of thick, puissant smoke, spewed out by factories that burned phlogiston and flux and coal, hung low over the stony war of parapets, crenulations, buttresses, towers and arches that composed Trowth’s skyline.

p. 7 (The Translated Man)

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David Soyka Reviews Journal of a UFO Investigator

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 | Posted by Soyka

76377593Journal of a UFO Investigator
David Halperin
Viking (304 pp, $25.95, Hardcover February 2012)
Reviewed by David Soyka

The premise here is we’re reading a diary account of the titular UFO investigator who also happens to be a troubled teenager (though, arguably, “troubled teenager” is redundant).  What starts out as a geeky outlet for outcast middle schoolers to pretend to be something other than outcast middle schoolers metastasizes into a fantastic escapade involving a self-selective group of super smart teenagers seemingly without parental supervision, one of whom is particularly sexy with amorous leanings towards our narrator, a concoction of conspiracy theories, a grueling ordeal in outer space and a love child between our hero and insect-like aliens aliens that has something to do with peace in the Middle East.  In other words, just the kind of grandiose cracked thought process that leads a kid either to a life of lonely megalomaniacal rantings on Facebook or to develop the next on-line role playing game that makes him a fortune so he’s finally interesting enough to get laid.

Amidst all the Ufology is some contrasting harsh reality:

It was Tuesday, but I wasn’t in school. A freak snowstorm the day before had forced the schools to close and put my father into an even nastier mood than usual.

He’s come into my room about eleven the night before, complaining about the racket I was making, typing up UFO sightings on file cards. I promised I’d do something else that didn’t make noise. But he sat down on my bed to talk, starting out calm, reasonable. The way his inquisitions usually do.

He just wanted to understand, he said. How was it a bright kid like me could piss  away my life on this UFO garbage?

You should be able to figure out where this is all heading even without reading the book blurb that gives it away.  While this shall be a spoiler-free review, suffice it to say the fun here isn’t the outcome, but the ride chock-full of allusions to just about every B-movie SF  trope and mystical imaginings about visitors from other worlds that take you there.

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David Soyka Reviews Prince of Thorns

Saturday, February 25th, 2012 | Posted by Soyka

prince-of-thornsPrince of Thorns (Book One of The Broken Empire)
Mark Lawrence
Ace (324 pp, $29.95, Hardcover August 2011)
Reviewed by David Soyka

This is pretty brutal.  Relentlessly brutal, right from the opening paragraphs:

Ravens! Always the ravens. They settled in the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead. Even before Rike had finished taking fingers from hands, and rings from fingers. I leaned back against the gallows post and nodded to the birds, a dozen of them in a black line, wise-eyed and watching.

The town-square ran red. Blood in the gutters, bloom on the flagstones, blood in the fountain. The corpses posed as corpses do. Some comical, reaching for the sky with missing fingers, some peaceful, coiled about their wounds. Flies rose above the wounded as they struggled. This way and that, some blind, some sly, all betrayed by their buzzing entourage.

“Water! Water!” It’s always water with the dying. Strange, it’s killing that gives me thirst.

And this the ostensible hero talking in Prince of Thorns, the first in a (you guessed it) projected trilogy collectively called The Broken Empire.  So, we’re clearly in anti-hero land, in the “shit and blood” sub genre of sword and sorcery that aims to rub your face in what rusty blades, poor sanitation and disease actually do to people living under medieval conditions, in stark contrast to high fantasy depictions of noble quests in which divinely provident good triumphs over corrupt and therefore ultimately doomed to fail evil.

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David Soyka Reviews Prospero in Hell

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Bill Ward

prospero-in-hellProspero in Hell
L. Jagi Lamplighter
Tor (347 pp, $25.99, August 2010)
Reviewed by David Soyka

As you might expect, L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Prospero in Hell, the second volume of her Propsero’s Daughter trilogy and follow up to Prospero Lost, is loosely based (very loosely) on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In Lamplighter’s retelling, Miranda, daughter of the magician Prospero, does not marry Ferdinand but instead becomes the virgin devotee of the Greek goddess Eurynome, which qualifies her for a life extension and youth preserving elixir she can share with her father and eight siblings, the results of various Prospero marriages over the centuries. Until Miranda becomes a full-fledged “Sybil” of the Eurynome cult, however, there is insufficient quantity of the elixir available to share beyond her immediate family members. Consequently, the Prospero offspring who marry and have children are doomed to watch them live out their mortal lives. Except, of course, Miranda who must of necessity remain unattached as a condition to continue to receive her elixir allotment.

Flash forward to the present day and Miranda is still not a Sybil, with little idea how she is supposed to be deemed worthy. In the meantime, Miranda runs Prospero, Inc., a multinational corporation that maintains business contracts among magical entities designed to avoid “natural disasters” such as hurricanes and earthquakes these sprites would normally unleash, thus allowing human existence to continue and perfect its technological progress.
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David Soyka Reviews Is Anybody Out There

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 | Posted by Bill Ward

is-anybody-out-thereIs Anybody Out There?
Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern, eds.
DAW (312 pp, $7.99, June 2010)
Reviewed by David Soyka

The $64 question of the modern era is not whether God exists. How you answer that depends on intangibles and inferences based more on faith than the scientific method. What is nearly as imponderable is the empirical evidence of a vast universe (and possibly co-existent multi-verses) within which conditions exist (or once existed) that may give rise to life as we know it (putting aside consideration of life as we don’t know it and are incapable of comprehending). Moreover, given the age of the universe, it is further conceivable that there is, somewhere in some galaxy, more advanced civilizations capable of interstellar travel that, by now, should be aware of our existence. Even if we are in an Einsteinean universe in which speed of light travel cannot be exceeded, seeing as how that we are already capable of mapping distant universes, presumably a more advanced civilization would have the technology to find us and make radio contact, just as we have been launching Elvis recordings out beyond the solar system in hopes of doing the same. With no results.

So, where are they? This is the crux of the famous Fermi Paradox, posed by the Nobel physicist who reasoned that given the mathematical probabilities of the existence of alien civilizations, why hasn’t anyone phoned home? Is it truly possible that we are the only intelligent beings in the universe? Or, more depressing, are “intelligent” beings fated to self-destruct, allowing technology to harness their fate instead of the other way around, before becoming capable of interstellar travel?

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New Treasures: The Best of Amazing Stories, The 1926 and 1927 Anthologies, edited by Steve Davidson and Jean Marie Stine

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of Amazing Stories 1926-small The Best of Amazing 1927-small

While I was wandering the aisles of the Windy City Pulp and Paper Show here in Chicago last month, I came across a delightful find… the second volume of Steve Davidson and Jean Marie Stine’s The Best of Amazing Stories, covering 1927 (above right). I snatched it up immediately, and hunted up the first volume online (above left).

My fascination with Amazing Stories began with Isaac Asimov’s biographical anthology Before the Golden Age, in which he collected his favorite pulp SF stories. Asimov noted that Amazing had the best reputation at the time, saying “It was Amazing Stories all the way with me.” But there hasn’t been much attention paid to the early days of perhaps the greatest SF magazine, so I was very pleased to see an anthology series that attempts to collect the best of the Grand Old Lady of the pulps, year by year.

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Exploring the Subterranean

Monday, December 4th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Subterranean Magazine back issues-small

I founded Black Gate in 2000, and we published the first issue at the World Fantasy Convention in Corpus Christi, Texas in October of that year. We produced the print magazine for 11 years (the last issue, #15, was published in May 2011), and during that decade-plus I was keenly observant of other print magazines, especially new ones. A handful of new zines popped up during that period, but I think my favorite was William Schafer’s Subterranean magazine, which produced eight print issues between 2005-2011 before transitioning online.

I only managed to come across a handful of issues during the print era, but that’s okay. I keep an eye out for back issues at conventions, and occasionally snag one or two (as I did with Subterranean #2 at the 2015 Windy City Pulp & Paper convention). They’re hard to come by, but they’re generally not expensive. I have an eBay saved search that alerts me when new lots are listed, and a few months ago I got a ping about the set of three issues above.

Subterranean #4 – 2006
Subterranean #6 – January 2007
Subterranean #8 – October 2011 — the last print issue

They were in pristine, unread condition, and offered for $16 total. I was the only bidder, and took the whole set home for less than the original cover price. It’s lonely being an obsessive magazine collector, but sometimes it has its benefits.

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Bookriot on 5 Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines You Should Be Reading

Monday, June 26th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

On Spec 81 Summer 2010-small Shimmer 36 March 2017-small Uncanny magazine 14 January February 2017-small

Over at Bookriot, Amy Diegelman sheds some light on a handful of top-notch magazines that deserve more attention.

The old science fiction and fantasy magazines whose over-the-top covers and bizarre ads we often chuckle at were some of the first to publish names like Heinlein, [Asimov], and Butler. Today, some of the best new writers are being published in science fiction and fantasy magazines, which take chances on women, authors of color, and genre innovators who have more trouble breaking into large-scale publishing. The best part about this content, though, might just be how easy it is to access. Try these five science fiction and fantasy magazines to take your reading to the next level.

Amy is absolutely right — these magazines are publishing the breakout writers of today and tomorrow, and their content has never been easier to access. Here’s a few of my favorites among her choices. Check out the links to the sample stories she recommends.

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Patrick Swenson on Talebones, Fairwoods Press, and the Bad Old Days of Print on Demand

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 | Posted by Emily Mah

Patrick Swenson-smallThe Ultra Thin Man-smallPatrick Swenson has been a major figure in speculative fiction for decades, first as the editor of Talebones, and now as the editor in chief of Fairwood Press. Many still remember his semi-pro magazine as the market to send to if you had a story that fit nowhere, but was nevertheless amazing. He has an eye for such things.

Nowadays, getting published by Fairwoods requires more than a good agent or query letter. It is by invitation only, and to be invited, one has to be on Patrick’s radar, and to be on Patrick’s radar, one has to be excellent.

He isn’t just an editor and publisher, though. He’s a writer as well, and his career is both exciting to watch, and an excellent snapshot of modern day publishing. His first book, The Ultra-Thin Man, was published by Tor, but when they passed on the second book, The Ultra Big Sleep, he elected to publish it himself.

Patrick explained this to me while I was standing at his table during the mass signing at Mile-Hi Con. There on the table were both books, and no one who saw them would have been able to say which was self published and which was published by Tor. The quality of their covers and bindings were identical.

On top of all this, Patrick also runs the Rainforest Writer’s Retreat twice a year. This retreat is where:

Writers gather at a location of minimized outside interference or influence, ready to spend an intensive four or five days on their own work, with others involved in the same who were present for support and interactive development of written creative work as art, craft, and science. Balanced against this is a schedule of events aimed at supporting this process, with the number of retreat guests and attendees kept to a limit.

Held in a resort village on the Olympia Penninsula, it’s an opportunity unlike any other to give an added boost to one’s writing career.

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Celebrate 10 Years of the Black Gate Blog!

Sunday, March 19th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

black-gate-11The Black Gate website was launched several months before the release of our first print issue at the World Fantasy Convention in Corpus Christi, Texas in October 2000. It was updated once a week (or so), until the site was completely revamped as a regular blog in 2007, shortly before the release of issue #11 in Summer 2007 (cover at right).

The architect of that redesign, Howard Andrew Jones, assembled a crack team of bloggers over the next few months — including Ryan Harvey, David Soyka, Mac Denier, Sue Granquist, Rich Horton, D. K. Latta, Mark Rigney, and E. E. Knight — but for the first few weeks he wrote everything himself. Including our very first blog post, on March 19, 2007, exactly ten years ago today. The title of that post was “Sword-and-Sorcery Musings,” and here’s how it started.

After mulling it over for some time, and after consultation with Black Gate Exalted Leader John O’Neill, I decided to try this whole blog thing with a first entry.

First things being first, I’m Howard Andrew Jones, Black Gate‘s Managing Editor… I know John will post here from time-to-time as well, so we’ll do our best to let visitors know which one of us is doing the writing. Herein you’ll find matters related to Black Gate, such as where we are with submissions and how soon the mag is coming out, and when new articles go live on the web site. It will also give us a chance to talk about other issues near and dear to our hearts.

I’ll have a go with one of my own favorite topics: specifically, the writing of sword-and-sorcery.

While sword-and-sorcery is a relative to high fantasy, it is a different animal. High fantasy, mostly invented by William Morris as an echo of Sir Thomas Mallory and then popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien, moves for the most part at a slow, stately, pace, meandering gently from plot point to plot point, or, as is often the case, from location to location. Movie critic Roger Ebert has some astute observations on The Lord of the Rings, which I will quote here.

There was precisely one comment on that post, a pingback from something called “The Scrolls of Lankhmar.” 8,355 blog posts and 10 years later, the Black Gate blog is stronger than ever, with a staff of 45 volunteers, and two Hugo nominations and a World Fantasy Award under our belt.

I’d like to take a moment to salute Howard for his vision all those years ago, along with those early bloggers who are still with us, especially Ryan Harvey, Sue Granquist, Rich Horton, and Mark Rigney. We owe them an enormous debt of graditude (also, a whole lot of back pay). Well done, team! Here’s to another 10 great years.

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