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Author: markrigney

Mark Rigney is the author of numerous plays, including Ten Red Kings and Acts of God (both from Playscripts, Inc.), as well as Bears, winner of the 2012 Panowski Playwriting Competition (during its off Broadway run, Theatre Mania called Bears “the best play of the year”). His short fiction appears in Witness, Ascent, Unlikely Story, Betwixt, The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, Realms Of Fantasy, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and Black Static, among many others. “The Skates,” a comic (and ghostly) novella, is now available as an ebook from Samhain Publishing, with two sequels forthcoming, “Sleeping Bear” (Feb. 2014) and the novel Check-Out Time (autumn, 2014). In non-fiction, Deaf Side Story: Deaf Sharks, Hearing Jets and a Classic American Musical (Gallaudet University Press) remains happily in print one decade on. Two collections of his stories are available through Amazon, Flights of Fantasy, and Reality Checks. His website is www.markrigney.net.
The Wit and Wisdom of Connie Willis

The Wit and Wisdom of Connie Willis


Asimov’s Science Fiction, December 2011, containing “All About Emily,” and the Subterranean
Press hardcover edition (January 31, 2012). Covers by Duncan Long and J.K. Potter

Far too often, the best among us are roundly ignored. This can hardly be said of Connie Willis, who has collected an astonishing array of Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards, yet her name somehow doesn’t seem to ring from the battlements. Perhaps I’m simply attending to the wrong battlements, but when I hear discussions of the great women of science fiction, I tend to catch the names LeGuin, L’Engle, Butler, and, now, Jemisin. Willis seems to come up less frequently.

Better yet, let’s just leave gender entirely out of the equation.

Willis’s name deserves to come up front and center in any discussion of top-tier sci-fi, first and foremost because she is very funny.

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It All Started in Lockdown: An Interview with Wyldblood Editor Mark Bilsborough

It All Started in Lockdown: An Interview with Wyldblood Editor Mark Bilsborough

What pushed you to get Wyldblood up and running? And for the uninitiated, what exactly is Wyldblood?

It all started in lockdown, as many things do. I’ve published magazines before, but nothing like Wyldblood, and it just felt like the right time. More importantly, I had the time, though for some reason that’s been quickly sucked away in a nasty combination of too much reading to do and the real world returning with full force.

Wyldblood is a small press and we specialize in science fiction and fantasy – speculative fiction, basically, though we’re not big fans of horror and stories that drip too much blood. We publish a regular magazine (we’re up to issue 8), occasional anthologies (we’ve got werewolves in Call of the Wyld and steampunk in Runs Like Clockwork), reprints of classic authors and, when we get all our reading done, we’ll be publishing original novels and novellas. We’re based in the U.K., but we’re everywhere, really. We lurk on the internet: wyldblood.com and @WyldbloodPress.

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Set in Stone: N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

Set in Stone: N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season


The Fifth Season
(Orbit, 2015). Cover by Lauren Panepinto

So, there I was, strolling through the endless corridors of Black Gate’s Indiana compound, when I chanced upon a book shelf I hadn’t noticed before. Over it hung a sign, carved in blasted stone, reading, The Fifth Season. I picked up the lone book on the shelf, toted it home, and read, with increasing awe, one of the finest science fiction novels of my adult life.

Strike that. The Fifth Season is one of the finest novels I have read, period.

Maybe that’s why it won the 2016 Hugo Award.

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A Demanding Work that Sings all the Stronger in 2018: The Queen of Air and Darkness by T.H. White

A Demanding Work that Sings all the Stronger in 2018: The Queen of Air and Darkness by T.H. White

The Witch in the Wood-small The Witch in the Wood-back-small

In my early teens, I discovered and devoured T.H. White’s omnibus quartet of novels, The Once and Future King. The first and most child-like remains the best known: The Sword in the Stone. After this, and unjustly neglected (by Disney and the world in general), come The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle In the Wind.

In my later teen years, I concluded that The Once and Future King, taken as a whole, was the single best novel I had ever read. Having reached the ripe old age of fifty, it’s time to re-evaluate. Is White’s work still worth its weight in gold?

Perhaps you recall Book One, in which the young King Arthur, known affectionately as the Wart, meets Merlyn, gambols through a lifetime’s worth of transformational adventures, and draws a certain sword from a stone. Hysterically funny, dreamy and given to long flights of fancy about hawks and birds, The Once and Future King still works genuine magic, even when its digressions and mood swings threaten to topple the whole everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink mess into a stew of narrative anarchy.

In short, it’s a full meal and then some, and I, along with fantasy lovers the world over, adore it still. (Ursula K. LeGuin, R.I.P., lent her opinion to one edition’s jacket copy, saying, “I have laughed at White’s great Arthurian novel and cried over it and loved it all my life.”) Yet, many seem unaware that the cycle, tracing Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, continues.

Book Two began life as The Witch in the Wood, and arrived in print in 1939, just as the world fell off a precipice it hadn’t seen coming, and descended into a darkness from which it is still fighting to recover. Revised and expanded, The Witch in the Wood became The Queen of Air and Darkness, and no book better upholds the argument for valuing a work as the sum of its discordant parts.

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The Story of Your Life: Arrival

The Story of Your Life: Arrival

arrival-markerboard-600x337Having taken in Arrival at my basement Cineplex, I proceeded at once to my local library, to dig up a copy of Ted Chiang’s “The Story Of Your Life,” on which Denis Villeneuve’s film is based. I suspected I would discover that the adaptation took broad liberties with Chiang’s original story, and I was not disappointed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This notion of being ahead of oneself, as you’ll soon discover –– or know already, if you’re familiar with either Arrival or “The Story Of Your Life” –– might be considered a joke. A wry joke, at best. Sad, perhaps. Devastating.

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Vintage Treasures: Watership Down by Richard Adams

Vintage Treasures: Watership Down by Richard Adams

watershipdown“I announce,” read the Times of London’s review in 1972, “with trembling pleasure, the appearance of a great story.”

This is not the typical language of a contemporary book review, but then the book in question, Watership Down, was not a typical book. It was and is a fantasy with wide crossover appeal, a mythic adventure with rabbits as the principal characters. That’s right, rabbits: those long-eared good-for-nothings whom we humans largely dismiss as being dumber than a box of rabbit-sized rocks.

Having read and adored the book in my early teens, I determined it was time to share it with my twelve-year-old son, who still craves his daily dose of bedtime story. And why not? I’d get to read a tale I had not revisited for more than thirty-five years, and I’d get to gauge my son’s reactions every step of the way.

To say he was impressed would be an understatement. As we approached the closing chapters, he wanted extra, before-bed reading time, but in the same breath kept exclaiming how he didn’t want to finish. “Are there more books about Hazel and Bigwig?” he asked. “Are there?”

Spoilers follow. If by some terrible chance you, gentle reader, have not read Watership Down for yourself, then please, close this page. Go do something else. Purchase a copy of Watership Down, for example. You can always return here once you’ve read to “The End.”

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An Open Letter To George R. R. Martin and the Producers of Game Of Thrones

An Open Letter To George R. R. Martin and the Producers of Game Of Thrones

game-of-thrones-daenerys-stormbornDear George & Co.,

I was wrong.

Back in 2011, when the first season of Game Of Thrones aired, I watched up until the episode where Ned Stark gets speared in the leg during a street fight. (His opponent? That bastion of modesty and ethics, Jaime Lannister). And then I gave up. I stopped watching despite the fact that the storytelling was excellent, the acting superb, the locations first-rate, the camera and tech work all but faultless. I gave up because I was tired of seeing the female characters on the show abused, one after the next. I began to suspect the worst of both you and the show runners.

Call me a pig-headed liberal progressive if you must, but I’d like to see the arts, both commercial and fine, be aspirational, which I realize is a very millennial sort of term, but I like it. I’m with Gene Roddenberry: I want at least some of our creative output to showcase what we could be as a society, not merely depict what we are (i.e., barbarous and brutal). Of course the particular world of A Song Of Ice and Fire and Game Of Thrones demands its share of brutality, but it became my position, following those early episodes, that the show was reveling in the violence rather than merely depicting what was necessary to develop the story. It was my considered opinion that I was once more in the throes of a TV show where female agency was, at best, a limp afterthought.

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John Crowley’s Aegypt Cycle, Books One and Two

John Crowley’s Aegypt Cycle, Books One and Two

613744Elsewhere in the hallowed halls of Black Gate, you can find my musings on what I consider to be among the best and most endearing fantasy novels ever written, Little, Big. Perhaps its author, John Crowley, could have hung up his spurs after that one, certain that his honorifics were now firmly in place, his spot in the pantheon assured. But then, Little, Big was never a major financial success, never “popular,” and besides, Crowley is that rare jewel, a writer who is also a thinker, and he wasn’t done thinking.

Among the works that have followed is The Aegypt Cycle, beginning with The Solitudes and Love and Sleep, then extending into Demonomania and Endless Things. I read The Solitudes in early 2015, and, having finished, set it down with a pensive hmmm, the same restless yet satisfied noise made by those who encounter an attractive puzzle box more devious and brilliant than themselves.

At the risk of sounding like a bent brown puppet from The Dark Crystal, let me repeat that: Hmmm.

Little, Big is sufficiently mysterious for most mortals, the equivalent of a buffet so satisfying and sumptuous that one reaches the end and returns at once to the beginning, eager to begin again. (Which I, in fact, did; I read the damn thing twice in a row.)

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Does Netflix Know Me Better Than I Know Myself?

Does Netflix Know Me Better Than I Know Myself?

krysten-ritter-jessica-jonesIt’s late. The rest of my family has gone off to bed. I, however, have some busy work to accomplish. Folding laundry, perhaps. Packing up some gifts to send to my nephews. So what form of media do I power up to help me pass the time? Netflix, of course. As of now, it’s movie night. And why not? Netflix knows precisely what I want to see. Right?

Based on my previous viewing habits, Netflix has provided a sumptuous spread, a whole raft of tempting suggestions. There’s even a section entitled “My List,” which confuses me no end, because several of the titles (Atari: Game Over and The Act Of Killing among them) are ones I’ve never heard of, much less added to a playlist.

In theory, Netflix knows me well. But do they? The first lineup of choices is headed “Because I watched Jessica Jones,” and because I delved into all things Marvel and fantastical, I am now expected to sample Daredevil, which I don’t plan to do because I generally don’t care for super heroes (Jessica Jones was well done, but overlong, and I never finished).

Sense 8 pops up next, a slick show with terrific performers, but its Matrix-makers have only one solution to all problems, and that’s force. Season one will do for me. Flash, no. Arrow, no. More superheroes! Blacklist? I saw the pilot, and I adore James Spader, but sometimes craft can swallow heart. I wasn’t tempted to watch episode two.

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The Magic of Hobbyland

The Magic of Hobbyland

HobbylandMy first addiction was model trains, HO gauge engines and layouts that I was forever redesigning. Because I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, the need for new boxcars and Plasticville edifices led me without fail to a mid-sized indie shop in the Graceland Shopping Center called Hobbyland.

What I didn’t know until the summer between sixth and seventh grades was that Hobbyland had also begun to carry, mixed in with the how-to guides on paper airplanes and WW II tank models, peculiar tomes that hinted at inexplicable mysteries: Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry.

To enter Hobbyland in those early years of my next addiction was to experience, in its most literal form, the marvelous. Forget about the trains, planes, and automobiles. The real heartbeat of the place turned out to be the display-rack bookshelves, gray-painted, not numerous.

You remember. You recall how those early D&D books were so peculiar, so thrown-together, more like pamphlets and broadsides than the sort of book that sat on your parents’ shelves at home. Greyhawk, etc., would have sat well with quackery advertising (phrenology, anyone?) or the meditations of theosophists or Doctor Dee.

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