Medieval Arms and Armor at the Wallace Collection, London

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

South German armor, c. 1480. By this period, the finest armor was being made with low-to-medium carbon steel, which was lighter and more comfortable than earlier steel suits of armor.

South German armor, c. 1480. By this period, the finest armor was being made with low-to-medium carbon steel, which was lighter and more comfortable than earlier steel suits of armor. The barding (horse armor) is extremely rare. Only three complete suits from before 1500 are known to exist and this is perhaps the best preserved of the three. The barding and knight’s armor was quite light. This horse would have carried about 140 kilos (308 lbs), which included the weight of the rider, his armor, and the horse’s armor. This is not an unreasonable load for a warhorse.

The Wallace Collection in London is often overlooked by international visitors in favor of the more famous British Museum and National Gallery, but if you’re looking for a world-class collection of medieval European and Asian arms and armor, this is the place to go.

The Wallace Collection is a national museum that displays works of art collected in the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. It was bequeathed to the British nation by Sir Richard’s widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897. Located in Hertford House and free to the public, it gives you an insight into a sumptuous home of a leading art collector of that era. The collection is especially strong in paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and antique furniture. The arms and armor section has some 2,500 objects dating from the 10th to the 19th century and is one of the best collections in Europe.

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Vintage Treasures: The Last T’En Trilogy by Cory Daniells

Monday, May 4th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Broken Vows Cory Daniells-small Dark Dreams Cory Daniells Desperate Alliances Cory Daniells-small
Broken Vows Rowena Cory Daniells-small Dark Dreams Rowena Cory Daniells-small Desperate Alliances Rowena Cory Daniells-small

Two months ago, in my March New Releases article, I said a few words about a handsome omnibus volume from best selling author Rowena Cory Daniells, The Fall of Fair Isle, published in paperback by Solaris on March 10. A complete trilogy on one volume, it collects Broken Vows, Dark Dreams, and Desperate Alliances, all originally published over a decade ago and recently republished with new cover art. Together, they form a sequel to her epic fantasy saga The Outcast Chronicles.

After that, I kinda forgot about it. Until last week, when I was sorting through some old review copies that I received in the late 90s, while I was editor of SF Site. I found the original paperback editions from Bantam Books (above, top row) and, to be blunt, it took a few days before it dawned on me that they were the same series. Where the Bantam editions were packaged as high fantasy/medieval romances, the new Solaris versions are marketed as dark fantasy — with starkly different cover design, and under a different name. It’s one of the more interesting examples of a publishing make-over I’ve seen in a while.

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Vintage Treasures: Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

Friday, May 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Argosy April 1943-small Fantastic Novels Magazine July 1950-small Earth's Last Citadel Ace 1964-small

Last week I talked about The Watcher at the Door, the upcoming second volume in Stephen Haffner’s The Early Kuttner. By coincidence, I found a copy of the 1983 Ace reprint edition of C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner’s early novel Earth’s Last Citadel – a novel that’s been blessed with some really fine cover art over the decades — a few days later in a small collection I’d purchased on eBay, and I thought it would be fun to track down all the various covers it’s had over the years.

Earth’s Last Citadel first appeared as a four-part serial in Argosy magazine, April-July 1943 (above left, cover artist unknown; click for bigger version.) When I talk about great art, I’m not talking about this cover. But I suppose in 1943, you couldn’t go wrong with a square-jawed G.I. clocking a soldier in a Nazi helmet.

The entire thing was reprinted seven years later in Fantastic Novels Magazine, July 1950, with a cover by Lawrence (above, middle). Collecting pulps wasn’t easy even in the 40s, and if you were unfortunate enough to stumble on one installments a few years later, and wanted to read the rest… God help you. Trying to track down all four issues was no easy task. Fantastic Novels Magazine is one of my favorite pulps for that reason — it collected countless novels that were originally scattered across 3-4 magazines and reprinted them whole. It also commissioned new artwork, much of it, as in this case, by the great Virgil Finlay. Finlay’s full-page pieces for Earth’s Last Citadel (below) are gorgeous, and just as famous as the novel is today.

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Remembering Nepal’s Ancient Cultural Heritage

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Darbar Square, Kathmandu. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Durbar Square (“Palace Square”), Kathmandu. Surrounding these two large temples are a host of palaces and smaller temples and shrines. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

There’s a downside to being well-traveled — any time there’s a disaster overseas it feels close to home. This week’s earthquake in Nepal was another one of those disasters.

I visited Nepal in 1994 at the end of a year-long trip across Asia. I’d been working as an archaeologist in Bulgaria and went overland through Turkey, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and India to make it finally to Nepal. That trip gave me some of my favorite spots on Earth — Cappadocia, Damascus, Isfahan, Varanasi, and the Himalayas. Like most people who visit Nepal, I went for the trekking. While the view from Annapurna base camp is something I’ll never forget, the people and ancient art and architecture of the Kathmandu valley have also stuck with me after all those years.

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One Picture = One Thousand Words . . .?

Friday, April 24th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Huff price 1About a month ago Gabe Dybing wrote an excellent post in which he, among other things, praised my Dhulyn and Parno Novels (thanks again, Gabe). I obviously don’t quarrel with anything he had to say, but there was one observation that made me raise my eyebrows, and that was his take on the cover art. The whole post is worth reading (not just the part about my books) but what Dying has to say about my covers is important not just for me, but for any of us involved in the writing and reading of books. Looking at the art from the sales perspective, what it is about the cover that encourages a reader to buy a book, Dybing has two caveats. First, he feels the characters are too “posed,” in that they’re “battle-ready” when nothing is in fact happening. Second, he objects to the photo-realism, since it could restrain the readers in imagining the characters for themselves. As it happens, he feels the artist, Steve Stone, did capture Dhulyn pretty well, except for her skin colour, and her “wolf smile.”

Huff PriceInteresting bit about that. The artist chose his models from modeling/acting agency photos to match the physical descriptions I’d provided to my editor/publisher, Sheila Gilbert at DAW. It wasn’t until the models arrived for the session that Stone realized the woman was black. I know, it does make you wonder what the photos were like, but that’s not a question I can answer. The situation was explained to her, and apparently the model/actress didn’t mind being depicted as a woman from a race noted for the pallor of their skin and the redness of their hair.

As for the wolf’s smile, you don’t really want to see that. Ever. Trust me.

On the whole, I think I’ve been very lucky with my cover art, but before I go on I have to confess a couple of things. First, I have almost no visual memory (except for faces), and don’t really respond to visual cues. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t describe to you the cover of any book, not even the ones I’ve read over and over. Okay, I can recognize the Tenniel drawings from Alice in Wonderland, the original art from the Chronicles of Narnia, and the Dali illustrations from a recent edition of Don Quijote, but there I’m thinking about the artists, not the books. And even there I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell you what was on the covers.

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Relaunched Weirdbook Scores a Stephen Fabian Cover

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Weirdbook 31-smallEarlier this month I was very pleased to report that one of the greatest of all weird fiction magazines, W. Paul Ganley’s Weirdbook, is relaunching, with David A. Riley as Senior Editor and Publisher, and Douglas Draa, former Online Editor for Weird Tales, as Managing Editor and Fiction editor.

Last week on his blog David Riley revealed the cover for the upcoming Weirdbook 31, with art by none other than the great Stephen Fabian (at right; click for bigger version).

We are very pleased to be able to reveal the cover for issue 31, the first of the new Weirdbooks. It’s the work of Stephen Fabian, whose art often featured on earlier copies of the magazine.

Indeed, Fabian’s cover art was a hallmark of the original Weirdbook, and I’m thrilled to see that David and Doug have managed to secure him for issue 31. I’m certain it will make old-timers like me feel right at home.

You can see more of Fabian’s artwork in our detailed look at Stephen E. Fabian’s Ladies & Legends last year, and read more about Weirdbook (including their recent call for book reviewers) at David’s blog. They expect to have issue 31, the first issue of the relaunched magazine, available by the end of August this year.

The Daily Beast on the Surreal Science Fiction Art of Richard Powers

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Man in the High Castle Richard Powers-smallRichard Powers was one of the greatest paperback artists of all time. He revolutionized science fiction art in the early 1950s, and over the next four decades — during which he painted some 1,200 cover illustrations for SF and fantasy novels, including Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night (1954), Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. ‘s The Sirens of Titan (1959), and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1974) — he was one of the most instantly recognizable artists on the shelves.

Over at The Daily Beast, author Mark Dery kicks off what he promises will be a series of articles celebrating book cover art and design with a detailed look at Richard Powers, sampling some of his most famous covers.

Haunted moonscapes. Alien cenotaphs whose shadows stretch from here to forever, tracing the geometry of dreams. Emissaries from the unconscious, their features running like melting wax. Cancerous cities a trillion light years from now, the undifferentiated growth of their lumpy, tumorous sprawl now silent, still as a fumigated wasp’s nest. Richard M. Powers’s science-fiction book-jacket landscapes are usually depopulated but not always: sometimes, a splinter of a man — an inch-high relative of one of Giacometti’s stick figures — stands alone in the emptiness, contemplating infinity…

Robert de Graff had launched the paperback revolution with his Pocket Books in 1939 and now publishers like Jason Epstein at Doubleday and Ian and Betty Ballantine at Ballantine Books were in the thick of it…. The Ballantines believed in science fiction as a literature of ideas, not gadget porn for ham-radio buffs, so when they opened their doors in 1952 they thought of Powers. His modernist sensibility, steeped in things seen at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, set him apart from the pulp-magazine style — astronauts rippling their pectorals at bug-eyed aliens while space babes cowered in fear — that had dominated the genre for decades. “One of the things that appealed to me about science fiction,” he says, in The Art of Richard Powers, “is that it was possible to do Surrealist paintings that had validity … in their own right, and not necessarily functioning as the cover of a book.”

Read the complete article here.

Art of the Genre: The Art of the Iconic Character

Monday, March 9th, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Predating Paizo by a decade and a half...

Predating Paizo by a decade and a half…

By Webster’s definition, Iconic means ‘of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon’, which in essence reminds me of looking for the Wizard’s 1E D&D Protection from Evil spell only to be told to ‘see Cleric spell of the same name’, unless, of course, you know the word Icon means ‘a person who is very successful and admired’.

Now, having established the meaning, I intend to look at the evolution of ‘Iconic Characters’ [thus Iconic Character Classes] in the RPG setting.

It can be universally accepted that Paizo coined the phrase ‘Iconics’ with the release of its Pathfinder Adventure Paths [and their beta versions from Paizo’s Dungeon Magazine], but that is simple semantics.  In reality, the first true ‘Iconics’ were from the Wizard of the Coast release of D&D 3rd Edition, namely Krusk, Jozan Vadania, Tordek, etc.

These characters were really the first to take players through the game by repeating their exploits in both artwork and description.  Created by artists Todd Lockwood and Sam Wood, players from a whole new D20 generation were introduced to this new system and cut their teeth with the WotC Iconics.

However, I would contend that perhaps the definition of Iconic doesn’t have to depend on players of RPGs actually knowing the character’s name, but rather recognizing their image.  If that is the case, then the role of character class Iconics goes back much further.

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Bernie Mireault: The Forgotten Herald of the Modern

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Bernie MireaultOver the weekend, Mark Shainblum pointed me towards columnist Timothy Callahan’s article in Comic Book Resources discussing the work of artist Bernie Mireault. It’s been around for a while, but I’d managed to miss it, so I appreciated the link. Here’s a snippet:

If we look around the axis of American superhero comics, at the groundbreaking Modern work produced in the mid-1980s, it’s the same four or five names that keep popping up in our conversations: Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Rick Veitch, Howard Chaykin, maybe Matt Wagner. These were the creators who changed the landscape of American superhero comics, for better or worse. They heralded the Modern.

Yet there’s one creator who doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often. A writer/artist who was combining the high Romanticism of the fantastic with the mundane life on the street as well as any of the others. A comic book creator whose visual style has rarely been duplicated… I’m talking, of course, about Bernie Mireault.

Mireault (rhymes with “Zero”) has been working continuously in the comic book industry for the past 24 years, but he gets almost none of the acclaim given to his peers… in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s, Mireault produced or helped produce three essential texts of the Modern era, and it’s time those three books were given their due.

I first met Bernie in 1985, when he crashed at my home in Ottawa, Canada, while attending a local comic convention. I was impressed with him immediately — especially his groundbreaking work on the hilarious Mackenzie Queen for Matrix Comics. He’s extrememly gifted as a comedic artist, and his character design is second to none — as you can see from his marvelous panel illustrating “The Loiterer in the Lobby” by Michael Kaufmann and Mark McLaughlin for Black Gate 4 (above). I hired Bernie as an illustrator when I launched Black Gate, and he graced virtually every issue of the print magazine. I profiled him back in 2009, and Matthew David Surridge wrote a detailed review of his excellent comic The Jam last December. His other work includes Grendel (with Matt Wagner), The Blair Witch Chronicles, and Dr. Robot.

Read the complete CBR article here.

Vintage Treasures: ATTA by Francis Rufus Bellamy/ The Brain-Stealers by Murray Leinster

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Atta Francis Bellamy-small The Brain-Stealers Leinster-small

For the past 17 months I’ve been surveying Ace Doubles here at Black Gate; this is the eighteenth in the series. Donald Wollheim, the founding editor of Ace Books and the man who created the Ace Double, had excellent taste, and he published countless successful titles that would remain in print for decades — and help launch the careers of major stars, including Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Andre Norton, and a great many others. I’ve really enjoyed tracking down later printings and presenting them in these articles as testament to just how enduring the Ace Double selections were — including books like Jack Vance’s Big Planet and Andre Norton’s The Beast Master, both of which have been reprinted more than a dozen times over the decades, with an eye-opening gallery of cover art.

And then we have ATTA and The Brain-Stealers, by Francis Rufus Bellamy and Murray Leinster, published as an Ace Double in 1954.

It’s obvious not even Don Wollheim could pick a pair of winners every time. When I started researching both books, I was fairly certain neither had ever seen another printing. That turned out to be incorrect (but not by much). At least this installment will be short.

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