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Author: John ONeill

Vintage Treasures: The Empire of Kaz by Leslie Gadallah

Vintage Treasures: The Empire of Kaz by Leslie Gadallah

Cat’s Pawn and Cat’s Gambit (Del Rey, 1987 and 1990). Covers by Barclay Shaw

Canadian writer Leslie Gadallah isn’t well known today. She produced a handful of novels in the late 80s for Del Rey, including two books in a highly regarded space opera, Cat’s Pawn and its sequel Cat’s Gambit, the first volumes in what’s now called the Empire of Kaz trilogy. Here’s an excerpt from Delia Sherman’s enthusiastic coverage in the May 1987 issue of Fantasy Review.

Cat’s Pawn is a first novel in the aliens-befriends-human mode. The plotting is masterful. The novel is made up of three complexly interrelated stories, and Gadallah moves easily among them, revealing what we need to know just when we need to know it. Bill Anderson, a linguist. suffers a heart-attack after the starship he is on is captured by pirates. Taran, a cat-like Orian diplomat, keeps him alive, rescues him, heals him, and generally takes a disconcerting interest in his health and welfare. When Bill moves to the port city of Space Central, he is taken up by its villainous boss Steven Black, who blackmails him into agreeing to assassinate Taran. Woven into all this is a plot to take over the galaxy by a race of murderous bugs…

Cat’s Pawn is always exciting. It is smoothly written and deals forthrightly with the question of how basic xenophobia is to human nature. And toward the end there are a coupe of scenes in the deserts of Orion which are truly strange and wonderful

Gadallah, now in her 80s, is — according to recent interviews at least — still writing.

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It’s Good to be Back

It’s Good to be Back

It’s good to be back.

If you visited Black Gate between May 19th and May 31st, you may have noticed something odd. As in, it was completely missing. For the first time since the website went live in late 1999, Black Gate was off the air for more than a few hours. We were, in fact, dead for a dozen long days.

Our fault entirely. As our traffic continued to grow significantly in 2021, we started to notice some equally significant slowdown in the site in February and March. (You may have noticed it too. Lots of you did.) We’d outgrown our shared server, and desperately needed an upgrade. After a few months of tuning and planning, led chiefly by the stalwart Martin Page, we migrated to a much more powerful server on May 18. It passed all the preliminary tests, and on May 19th I ordered the DNS switchover.

Too soon, as it turned out. The new server crashed almost immediately, and never came back. We gave up after nine fruitless days of panicked effort, configured and migrated to another server with a lot more memory and, after a few error-filled days, here were are.

We apologize for the long absence, and thank you very much for your patience with us. As Tony Stark says so well, it’s good to be back. We missed you.

Criminal Dragons and a Brotherhood of Thieves: The Broken God, Book 3 of The Black Iron Legacy by Gareth Hanrahan

Criminal Dragons and a Brotherhood of Thieves: The Broken God, Book 3 of The Black Iron Legacy by Gareth Hanrahan

The Black Iron Legacy trilogy (Orbit Books). Cover art by Richard Anderson

Gareth Hanrahan first got my attention with his top-notch work in the RPG industry for Ashen Stars, Trail of Cthulhu, and Traveller. That served him well when he released his breakout debut novel The Gutter Prayer, which was roundly praised. Holly at GrimDark Magazine wrote:

To say that the hype surrounding this book is intense would be an understatement. Anticipation levels have been through the goddamn roof… Briefly, it features three friends, thieves, who get caught up in an ongoing magical battle. Shenanigans abound…. It’s evident that Hanrahan writes role-playing games, because he took all of the best things from RPG’s & made it into something even more mesmerizing within this fantasy epic. The world building is just wondrous.

The second volume in the series. The Shadow Saint, was released in January of last year; Fantasy Inn labeled it “brilliant” and Publishers Weekly called it “epic, surreal… mixes diplomacy, espionage, and religion to excellent effect.” Volume three, The Broken God, arrives this week, and it’s one of the most anticipated fantasy releases of the year in our offices. Here’s the publisher’s description.

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Vintage Treasures: Maurai & Kith by Poul Anderson

Vintage Treasures: Maurai & Kith by Poul Anderson

Maurai & Kith (Tor Books, 1982). Cover art by Thomas Kidd

Uber-editor Jason M. Waltz kindly invited me to write the introduction to his new anthology The Lost Empire of Sol: A Shared World Anthology of Sword & Planet Tales, co-edited by Black Gate blogger Fletcher Vredenburgh, a terrific new shared-world volume that contains new stories by Howard Andrew Jones, E.E. Knight, Mark Finn, Keith Taylor, Joe Bonadonna and David C. Smith, and many more. As I was putting it together I realized that my concept of Sword-and-Planet is probably a little displaced from the modern definition. Nowadays it refers very specifically to John Carter-like tales fantasy adventure on far-off planets, as Howard Andrew Jones and I explored in our 2019 column over at Tor.com, Five Classic Sword-and-Planet Sagas (written under my Todd McAulty pseudonym).

But I tend to agree with Gardner Dozois, who used the term far more broadly to refer to old-school science fiction, and especially pulp-inspired tales of adventures in exotic locales. One of my favorite anthologies is his 1998 volume The Good Old Stuff: Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition, which I reviewed for the SF Site way back in 1999, and which is packed with exemplary examples. Here’s what I said at the time.

“Old Stuff” refers here to the spirit of early SF — the grand Space Opera, the planetary romance, what Dozois calls “the lush sword-and-planet” tale. Collected here are a fine assortment of short stories and novellas which celebrated that tradition, and in some cases took it in significant new directions.

There are tales of far exploration into the vastness of the galaxy in the face of hostile opposition (A.E. van Vogt’s “The Rull”), unknowable ancient alien civilizations (“The Last Days of Shandaker,” by Leigh Brackett), mysterious and deadly inter-dimensional invaders (James H. Schmitz’s superb, and oddly pastoral, “The Second Night of Summer”), rites of succession for a Galactic Empire (Jack Vance’s “The New Prime”), and brave men and women faced with terrible peril (just about any of them, really, but most especially Poul Anderson’s swashbuckling novella of intrepid explorers on a post-apocalyptic Earth coming face-to-face with strangely advanced barbarians from the far continent of Nor-Merika, “The Sky People.”)

I’d been a Poul Anderson fan for two decades by the time I read “The Sky People,” but I’d never read anything like that story, and it sent me scrambling to find more. That led me to Maurai & Kith, a 1982 Tor collection that gathers all the short stories in the series, plus two tales in his semi-related Kith series of early interstellar explorers in the 21st and 22nd centuries. It’s a volume that belongs in the collection of every SF fan.

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Strange Alien Invasions and Orbital Salvage Teams: May/June 2021 Print SF Magazines

Strange Alien Invasions and Orbital Salvage Teams: May/June 2021 Print SF Magazines

Asimov’s Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction & Fact for May/June 2021. Cover art by Shutterstock.com

Sam Tomaino at SFRevu raves over the latest issue of Asimov’s.

The May/June 2021 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction is here and it has two Hugo-worthy novelettes!

“Reclaiming the Stars” by James Gunn. This is the fourth and final story in a series that features the adventures of Harry and Lisa George, who as of the previous story, were physically long dead but survived as personalities in black boxes on an Earth… The story begins with Harry and Lisa working at recreating human life with Lisa more comfortable with that than Harry, who has nightmares about a future Adam being killed by a sea monster. He wonders if there is something wrong with him. But when Lisa has a nightmare of her own about their progeny dying. They speculate that these visions are coming from an outside source. Who or what? Could it be a “ghost” of the AI that they defeated in the first story in this series?

Harry and Lisa have one last adventure and the series concludes in a perfect way. This story will be on my shortlist for consideration for a Best Novelette Hugo Award next year.

The issue concludes with the novelette, “Flattering the Flame” by Robert Reed. The Great Ship has two possible routes, the Prudent or the Impetuous. The Impetuous takes them through a very ancient developed system inhabited by the people known as the Flame. The Flame knows of the coming of the Great Ship and plan to take it for their own, led by their captain, Fierce. But Washen, the Great Ship captain, has other ideas. Another wonderfully rich tale from one of the genre’s most unique writers.

The May/June Dell magazines also contain stories by Neal Asher, Lettie Prell, Dominica Phetteplace, Ray Nayler, David Moles, and many others. Here’s all the details.

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Future Treasures: A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

Future Treasures: A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

A Dead Jinn in Cairo (Tor.com, 2016), The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (Tor.com, 2019),
and A Master of Djinn (Tor.com, 2021). Cover art by Kevin Hong (left) and Stephan Martiniere (right two)

I get a lot of email from Black Gate readers. Stuff like, “Hey John, I’m boarding a five hour flight to LA , what should I put on my Kindle?” Seriously? Come on, people. I have a life. I don’t have time to drop everything to be your personal librarian.

Ha-ha-ha-ha. I know, right? Like I have a life, outside of being your personal librarian. So let’s get to this. Got five hours? Here’s what you do: You download P. Djèlí Clark’s novelette “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” (originally published at Tor.com), and his Locus, Nebula, and Hugo-nominated novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015, set in the same alternate fantasy Cairo.

And then when you land, you can pre-order the next book in the series, Clark’s debut novel A Master of Djinn, on sale from Tor.com on Tuesday. Here’s the details.

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New Treasures: Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

New Treasures: Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Rivers Solomon’s debut novel An Unkindness of Ghosts was one of the breakout books of 2017, listed as a best book of the year in The Guardian, NPR, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and others, a finalist for the Locus, Lambda, Tiptree, and John W. Campbell Awards. Faer latest novel Sorrowland was published this week, and Bookpage calls it “terrifying… a truly powerful piece of storytelling.” Here’s the publisher’s description.

Vern — seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised — flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future — outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland is a genre-bending work of Gothic fiction. Here, monsters aren’t just individuals, but entire nations. It is a searing, seminal book that marks the arrival of a bold, unignorable voice in American fiction.

Sorrowland was published by MCD on May 4, 2021. It is 368 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover, $13.99 in digital formats, and $50.99 in audio formats.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

Vintage Treasures: The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein

Vintage Treasures: The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein

The Past Through Tomorrow (Berkley Medallion, January 1975). Cover uncredited

I’ve never been a big Heinlein fan. Not my fault. I enjoyed Starship Troopers well enough, but the next two novels I tried — The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and especially Friday — I bounced off pretty hard. I never tried again.

It didn’t help that I made most of my discoveries through short fiction in those days, and Heinlein almost never showed up in anthologies. Sometimes editors would apologize for omitting him, admitting (with some frustration) that they just couldn’t get the rights to the Heinlein tales they wanted. The problem was that by the mid-70s Heinlein was a star, the top-selling author in the field, and his entire short fiction catalog was locked up in his own bestselling collections.

I read collections, of course. Lots of them. But the seminal Heinlein collection, the one containing virtually all of his really important short work — including classics like “The Roads Must Roll,” “Blowups Happen,” “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” “Gentlemen, Be Seated,” “The Green Hills of Earth,” “Logic of Empire,” “The Menace from Earth,” “If This Goes On —”, and the short novel Methuselah’s Children — was the massive The Past Through Tomorrow. And that 830-page beast was just a bridge too far for a traumatized veteran of the first 100 pages of Friday.

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A Uniquely Terrifying Voice: To Drown in Dark Water by Steve Toase

A Uniquely Terrifying Voice: To Drown in Dark Water by Steve Toase

To Drown in Dark Water (Undertow Publications, April 2021). Cover by Stefan Koidl

Undertow Publications, one of the finest small press publishers on the continent, just announced Open Submissions for novels and novellas. It’s caused a huge swell of excitement among many of the writing circles I keep tabs on — and a flurry of folks asking, “Wait, what kind of books do they want?”

Read the guidelines, people. Even better, pick up one of their excellent previous releases, including Simon Strantzas’s Nothing is Everything, V. H. Leslie’s Skein and Bone, Grotesquerie by Richard Gavin, or their top-notch magazine Weird Horror.

Or you could buy their latest, Steve Toase’s debut collection To Drown in Dark Water, just released this week with a magnificently creepy cover by Stefan Koidl. It’s already accumulated strong notices. Nathan Ballingrud calls it “an outstanding first collection,” and Bram Stoker winner Sarah Read says:

There are masters of folk horror and masters of weird horror; there are masters of cosmic horror and masters of psychological horror. But on the Venn diagram where all those intersect, there is only Steve Toase. To Drown in Dark Water is a masterpiece.

Here’s a quote from the rave review at Booklist.

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New Treasures: Wings of Fury by Emily R. King

New Treasures: Wings of Fury by Emily R. King

Wings of Fury (47North, March 2021). Cover by Ed Bettison

Emily R. King is the author of the popular Hundredth Queen series. For her latest fantasy series she mines Greek Mythology to tell a tale of titans, gods, oracles, and an 18-year old girl who takes them all on. This one looks like a lot of fun. Publishers Weekly says “King ably weaves Greek mythology into a cat-and-mouse spectacle… This is a winner.” Here’s an excerpt from the full review.

Set in ancient Greece, this sumptuous adventure from King (the Hundredth Queen series) sees a fierce heroine contending with brutal Titans, suspicious vestals, and a petulant Boy God. Eleven-year-old Althea Lambros witnesses her mother die while giving birth to a half-Titan baby after having been raped by the god Cronus, the most powerful Titan. At her dying mother’s request, Althea vows to protect her older sisters, Cleora and Bronte. But when Althea is 18, Cronus’s goons kidnap Cleora. Althea seeks advice on how to defeat Cronus from the oracle Clotho, who tasks Althea with retrieving the 15-year-old Boy God Zeus from the island of Crete, where he’s been hidden from Cronus…. King ably weaves Greek mythology into a cat-and-mouse spectacle. Readers will cheer for Althea as she upholds her family’s honor and fights belligerent gods with determination and confidence. This is a winner.

The second and final book in the series, Crown of Cinders, will be released on October 5th.

Wings of Fury was published by 47North on March 1, 2021. It is 301 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback, $4.99 in digital formats, and $14.99 for the audio CD. The cover was designed by Ed Bettison. See all our recent New Treasures here.