Is Truth Knowable? Matthew Surridge on Golden State by Ben H. Winters

Sunday, March 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Golden State Ben Winters-smallOver at Splice Today, Matthew Surridge reviews a book a novel I overlooked back in January, but I wish I hadn’t: Golden State by Ben Winters. Matthew says it’s “in the vein of Philip K. Dick mixing detective stories and science-fiction dystopias. It’s a story about truth, the pursuit of truth, and whether truth is knowable.” Here’s the part of his review that grabbed me.

I take it on faith that California exists. Various sources I trust tell me it’s a real place, despite its presence in movies, and I believe most of those sources even though I’ve never been to the so-called Golden State. Much of life is like that: one patches together an idea of the world based on a sense of what information can be trusted and what can’t.

Ben H. Winters’ novel Golden State imagines a world in which that’s no longer the case, or at least imagines a strange version of California where the residents believe in the knowability of what is Objectively So. Cameras record everything that happens, everywhere. Citizens keep a record of their daily lives in Day Books, meticulously filing every note and receipt. Some keep a record of their dreams and other nocturnal activities in a Night Book. Fiction as we know it is unheard of. Lying is utterly forbidden by law on pain of exile to the desert beyond the State’s borders. And a force of secret police, Speculators, keep residents in line with a psychic ability to detect falsehood in their vicinity. Or, at least, what they believe is a psychic ability…

Golden State evokes the great science-fictional dystopias of the 20th century… [it] is a meditation on truth wrapped up in a science-fictional detective story.

Ben Winters is also the author of The Last Policeman trilogy, which we covered back in 2013.

Read Matthew’s complete review of Golden State at Splice Today.

Golden State was published by Mulholland Books on January 22, 2019. It is 336 pages, priced at $28 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. See all our recent coverage of the best new fantasy and science fiction here.

Read the Best of Matthew David Surridge in Once Only Imagined: Collected Reviews, Vol II

Sunday, June 5th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Once Only Imagined Matthew David Surridge-smallMatthew David Surridge is Black Gate‘s most successful blogger, both in terms of critical and popular success (his post “A Detailed Explanation,” on why he declined a Hugo nomination last year, is the most popular article in our history). He’s also one of our most prolific, with 270 articles to his credit, and he’s had more reprinted than anyone else on our staff. Of course, that’s mostly due to last year’s Reading Strange Matters, which collected 24 of his posts, chiefly focusing on 21st Century writers.

Reading Strange Matters was successful enough to encourage his publishers to produce a second volume, Once Only Imagined, released last week. It collects another 30 articles, with a slightly different focus than last year’s book. Matthew is our sure-footed guide to the true origins of modern fantasy, tracing them through the twisted maze of late 20th Century publishing to the nearly-forgotten fantasy masters of the era. Here’s Matthew, from his introduction.

My first collection of essays about fantasy fiction, Reading Strange Matters, looked at books from the twenty-first century. This second one moves back in time, to the second half of the twentieth… There was a revival of sword-and-sorcery adventure fiction at about this time, relatively short novels focused on plot, action, and violence. And Ballantine Books reprinted several pre-Tolkien fantasies under the editorship of writer and fan Lin Carter. But many of the fantasy novels published in the 1960s and 1970s had a veneer of science fiction about them — their setting explained as another planet (as in the case of Andre Norton’s Witch World and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series), or their magic explained as pseudo-scientific psionic powers (as in Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni series).

1977 is usually cited as the year when everything changed, with the publication of Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara and Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane ushering in a new age of commercial fantasy fiction. This ignores several important predecessors, I feel, not only Norton, McCaffrey, and Kurtz, but also Patricia McKillip, whose The Riddle-Master of Hed came out in 1976. I think the form that eventually developed for commercial fantasy was shaped in part by these books… Writers like Raymond Feist and David and Leigh Eddings (the first few of whose books were published under David Eddings’ name alone) soon had popular series as well…

Still, it’d be wrong to think of the fantasy genre of the 1980s as populated entirely by Tolkien knock-offs. Some writers were trying to do new things, and some idiosyncratic books were published as the genre developed. Writers like Glen Cook, with his Black Company series, challenged the new conventions with gritty stories set in a pseudo-medieval world but told in a very modern tone.

Matthew’s knowledge of fantasy is breathtaking, and his deep insights into the evolution of the genre — and many of its greatest and most neglected works — are profoundly illuminating. At $3 for the digital edition, it’s the best purchase you’ll make all year.

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Matthew David Surridge on The Great Hugo Wars of 2015

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Rabid Puppies logo-smallOver at culture site Splice Today BG blogger Matthew David Surridge, who declined a Hugo nomination last year for Best Fan Writer, looks back at his involvement in Puppygate.

It was difficult to keep up with everything that was happening; when a controversy strikes the literary world, writers are affected, meaning much will be written. And I was out of it. Appreciative reaction to my post continued to come in at Black Gate, but as what Martin called “Puppygate” sprawled on, I was watching from the sidelines. I saw calls for boycotts of publishers, I saw counter-calls to buy books from the same publishers, I saw reports that the number of people buying memberships to Worldcon had hit record numbers. I saw satires and arguments. I saw proposals to change the Hugo voting rules to limit the impact of future slates. I kept track of as much as I could, partly because it was fascinating to watch, and partly because I never knew if my name would come up. Mostly, it didn’t, which suited me fine. If for no other reason than that the culture-war overtones that Breitbart had highlighted in the Puppies became increasingly front and center…

In the end the Hugo voters opted for “No Award” over the Puppy nominees in almost every category. The Best Novel Award went to Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem, which made it onto the ballot when Marko Kloos, whose book Lines of Departure was on Beale’s slate, declined the nomination after learning about the Rabid Puppy actions. Beale, ironically, ended up urging his Puppies to vote for The Three Body Problem; the Rabid vote seems to have given it the margin of victory. Meanwhile, Best Fan Writer was won by the lone non-Puppy, Laura J. Mixon. Later, the final nomination data confirmed a rumour I’d heard that Mixon had gotten the nomination when I declined it.

See Matthew’s complete comments here.

Celebrating the Arrival of Matthew David Surridge’s Reading Strange Matters: Collected Reviews, Vol I

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Reading Strange Matters-smallMatthew David Surridge became a blogger here in June 2010, after his acclaimed story “The Word of Azrael” appeared in Black Gate 14. His very first post was “The Art of Storytelling and The Temple of Elemental Evil,” a look at how unpredictable stories spontaneously arise out of D&D sessions, using his own experience with Gary Gygax’s classic adventure as an example.

Since then he’s published 259 articles with us, and become one of our most respected and cherished writers. He was nominated for a Hugo Award this year (and his post declining the nomination, “A Detailed Explanation,” became the most-read article in Black Gate‘s history.)

Matthew’s blog posts are very different from what we normally do here. We cover a lot of ground at the site — keeping you up-to-date on the newest fantasy releases, reminding you of overlooked vintage paperbacks, informing you when magazines go on sale, and the like. By their nature, most of those articles are short and to-the-point. In contrast, Matthew’s pieces dive deep into carefully-selected subjects, exploring some of the best (and most overlooked) novels and writers in the field, and engaging them with depth and passion.

“I think I do good work,” one of his fellow bloggers confided in me years ago, “but Matthew raises blogging to a fine art.”

So I was delighted to see the release this week of the first collection of Matthew’s Black Gate columns, Reading Strange Matters: Collected Reviews, Vol I, from Grace & Victory Publications. It collects 23 of his best book reviews, plus one brand new piece, on Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk.

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Letters to Black Gate: Ed Carmien, Scott Taylor, Matthew David Surridge, and our Digital Future

Sunday, August 12th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

Ed Carmien's "Before the Wind," from Black Gate 10. Art by John Kauffman.

Ed Carmien's "Before the Wind," from Black Gate 10. Art by John Kaufmann.

John Burt writes:

I am really enjoying the back issues of Black Gate I purchased. The Morlock series is awesome! The next article for me is the Choose Your Own Adventure in issue 12.

Other writers I enjoyed: Ed Carmien’s “Before the Wind” (BG 10) blew my socks off, probably my favorite story so far. Martha Wells is always enjoyable, Mark Sumner’s “Leather Doll” was the best until “Before the Wind.” Todd McAulty is very good. Those are the ones that come to mind while writing this.

I am a rebel when reading these as well, I start at the beginning and read from end to end, skimming over the RPG stuff (I play boardgames mainly), Which leads me to a comment about an earlier article, when discussing the magazines of the 70s that are gone, the writer mentions that Rodger MacGowan disappeared from the scene, he did, sort of. He is the art director of GMT Games and has RBM Studios, which does art for games (mainly wargames) and publishes the house organ for GMT Games, C3i.

Thanks for the feedback, John. We have fiction in inventory from Martha Wells and Todd McAulty that I think you’ll enjoy, as well as more Morlock stories by James Enge. Stay tuned!

Simone Stubbs comments on our plans to switch to a digital format:

John, I am writing to say that I won’t read the new Digital Issue. I prefer a hard copy sent to my address. Yes, it is what the new generation wants to do, read by hand held devices. But, I am sixty nine years old and my husband and I just have one desktop computer and one Track Phone between us for communication. Whenever you publish hard cover please send it to my address.

Simone, I know what you mean — a lot of our readers are constantly asking for digital versions of the magazine, and I know we’ll have to make them happy to survive. But I still prefer a physical copy of the magazine myself. I’m 48, and my house is filled with old books and magazines. It would make me very sad to have to totally give up print.

It will be some time before we’re able to do another physical edition of the magazine, however. If you’re missing any of the print issues, I’d be happy to offer you print back issues while you wait.

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Matthew David Surridge Reviews The Last Page

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 | Posted by Bill Ward

the-last-page-husoThe Last Page
Anthony Huso
Tor (431 pp, $25.99, 2010)
Reviewed by Matthew David Surridge

Anthony Huso’s debut novel The Last Page is something of a problem. It’s not that it is a bad book; in many ways, it is quite a good one. In fact, it is good enough, creative enough, smart enough, that it raises expectations. You want it to be great. And that is the problem, because I don’t think it is.

The Last Page is a high-fantasy steampunk novel, and a love story. We follow the sexually charged relationship between the improbably named Caliph Howl, heir to the throne of the northern country of Stonehold, and a witch named Sena. The two of them meet at university, go their own ways, and then come together again after Caliph has become king and Sena has acquired a vastly powerful magical tome. Unfortunately, Caliph is facing a civil war against a national hero, and Sena’s book has a lock which can only be opened at a fearsome emotional cost.

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Matthew David Surridge Reviews Shadow Prowler

Thursday, January 5th, 2012 | Posted by Bill Ward

shadowprowler-coverShadow Prowler
Alexey Pehov, translated by Andrew Bromfield
Tor (412 pp, $7.99, mass market edition February 2011)
Reviewed by Matthew David Surridge

Translation enriches a language, bringing in new styles, new influences, new approaches. The phrasing, the way of thinking, native to a given language can often still be found in a text translated into another tongue. Sometimes, even an ordinary story can gain a touch of originality in translation, a kick from unexpected turns of expression.

I don’t know for sure that this is the case with Alexy Pehov’s Shadow Prowler, not speaking Russian myself, but I wouldn’t be much surprised if it were. Pehov has written a fantasy trilogy, with elves and orcs and dwarves and wizards and a quest. Despite a few self-conscious deviations from the norm – elves have fangs, dwarves don’t grow beards – this first book, at least, feels fundamentally like a game of Dungeons & Dragons. The story is even structured around the exploration of an ancient burial ground, Hrad Spein, the Palaces of Bone, filled with traps, magic, and the undead; a quest, naturally, better undertaken by a small party of highly-skilled adventurers rather than a large army.

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Tangent Online reviews Matthew David Surridge’s “The Word of Azrael”

Friday, September 30th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

yearsbest2011Reviewer Nader Elhefnawy at Tangent Online offers a detailed review of the latest volume of Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2011, including Matthew David Surridge’s story from Black Gate 14, “The Word of Azrael.”

In Matthew David Surridge’s “The Word of Azrael” (which first appeared in the Winter issue of Black Gate magazine, an excerpt of which can be read on the magazine’s web site), warrior Isrohim Vey encounters the Angel of Death on the battlefield. Having seen the Angel’s smile once, he spends the rest of his life pursuing another glimpse of it – a colorful, wide-ranging, action- and adventure-filled epic journey in the tradition of Conan the Cimmerian and Elric of Melnibone. The resulting piece is one of the strongest heroic fantasies I have seen in years.

Fine praise indeed, for a terrific story that’s been one of the most acclaimed pieces we’ve published in recent years.

You can read the excerpt from “The Word of Azrael” here, and the complete Black Gate 14 Table of Contents is here.

And you can read more about Rich’s excellent The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2011 here.

… Not to mention Matthew David Surridge and C.S.E. Cooney

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

bg-14-cover3Congratulations to James Enge on the inclusion of his latest novel The Wolf Age in the Locus 2010 Recommended Reading List!

This is the second time on the list for James — his first novel, Blood of Ambrose, made the list in 2009.

Both novels feature Morlock the Maker, who appeared in Black Gate 8 in James’ first published story, “Turn Up This Crooked Way.”

Since that first appearance Morlock has been in our pages a half-dozen times. We’re practically his second home — he doesn’t even knock when he drops by anymore.

But that’s not the only reason we’re celebrating the Locus list. Also on the list is Matthew David Surridge’s “The Word of Azrael“, from Black Gate 14, which was recently selected for the upcoming Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, edited by Richard Horton.

And although she was too modest to mention it in her post below, C.S.E. Cooney’s own story “Braiding the Ghosts“, from the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 3, made the list as well.

[While we’re on the topic, C.S.E. made the list last year too, with “Three Fancies from the Infernal Garden“, from Subterranean magazine, Winter ’09. “Braiding the Ghosts” will also be in Rich’s Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy volume, coming this summer.]

Congratulations to all!

Black Gate 14 Sneak Peek: “The Word of Azrael” by Matthew David Surridge

Saturday, February 13th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

azrael-cropNext up in our Black Gate 14 Preview is an old-school Sword & Sorcery epic from  talented newcomer Matthew David Surridge.

Eventually Isrohim Vey went to the land of Marás, where, in the nave of the Obsidian Cathedral, he slew the Black Bishop called Nimsza; and, taking up Nimsza’s ring, spoke with the demon Gorias that Nimsza had commanded in life.

“It may be true,” Gorias purred, “that demons know something of the ways of angels.” Gorias held Nimsza’s soul between its claws, and was content.

“Tell me of the Angel of Death,” said Isrohim Vey.

“Azrael cannot be evaded,” the demon said.

“I do not want to evade the Angel,” said Isrohim Vey. “I want to find him.”

“The Word of Azrael” appears in Black Gate 14, coming in February.  You can read an excerpt here.

The complete Black Gate 14 Sneak Peek is available here.

Matthew David Surridge lives in Montreal. “The Word of Azrael” was his first fiction sale. You can find him online at

Art by David Bezzina.

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