Art of the Genre: Bill Willingham Loved the Ladies, Even if TSR Wouldn’t Always Let Him Show Them…

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Check out the lady below Elric in this Willingham done for White Plume Mountain.  Bet you didn't realize it was cropped, did you?

Check out the lady below Elric in this Willingham done for White Plume Mountain. Bet you didn’t realize it was cropped, did you?

Former TSR Artist and now comic writer sensation [Fables] Bill Willingham wanted to be Frank Frazetta, or so I surmise. I’ve always been a fan of his work, dating back to those early days in the RPG field when he was a member of ‘The First Four’ at TSR.

Along with Jim Roslof, Jeff Dee, and Erol Otus, Bill managed to produce some absolutely lovely interior illustrations and acrylic covers for the first sets of D&D modules, once the business took off and TSR could afford color. His tenure there, which ended with a blow up concerning the termination of artists that removed both he and Dee from the company, ended up being the best thing for him as he went on to relative fame and fortune in comics, a place that his talent certainly spawned from.

I sat with Bill at a seaside café back on 2009 when ComicCon was still a monster, but not the headache it is today and we discussed his work in the field. Nothing too in-depth, and sadly he was unable to add his art to my Art Evolution project because it had been too many years since he’d done that kind of work. Still, he looked over all the other artists who had donated work and was most pleasantly surprised to see his old friend Jeff Dee in there. Obviously Dee was ‘the kid’ during his time in the burgeoning TSR ‘pit’, and at 19 there was no doubt that was the case, but Bill seemed to have a twinkle in his eye for Dee’s version of Lyssa in the project, and I was at least happy to somehow connect the two again, if even for a just a nostalgic moment.

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Vintage Treasures: The Sioux Spaceman by Andre Norton / And Then the Town Took Off by Richard Wilson

Saturday, June 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sioux Spaceman-small And Then The Town Took Off-small

The Sioux Spaceman was one of the very first Andre Norton novels I ever laid eyes on (other than The Last Planet and Daybreak — 2250). It was certainly one of the first Ace Doubles I ever encountered. It was first published in 1960, paired with Richard Wilson’s And Then the Town Took Off, with covers by Ed Valigursky (above).

The Norton volume was the first book in her Council/Confederation series, which eventually grew to encompass four novels:

  1. The Sioux Spaceman (1960)
  2. Eye of the Monster (1962)
  3. The X Factor (1965)
  4. Voorloper (1980)

The entire series was collected in an omnibus volume from Baen in 2009, The Game of Stars and Comets (2009; see below).

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A Tour of the National Museum of Iraq

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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A bas-relief showing an Assyrian king with various symbols of deities around his head. The renovated museum has improved lighting for key pieces such as this one, and has added more detailed signs in Arabic and English.

Iraq gets a lot of bad press. As usual with far-off countries, we only hear about them on the news when something goes wrong, and a lot has been going wrong in Iraq for the past few decades.

As usual, though, the news doesn’t tell the whole story. Iraq may be home to the 21st century’s most psychotic religious group and countless warring factions, but you can also find decent people and bastions of culture. The Iraqi intelligentsia fights a peaceful daily struggle to keep the nation’s culture and history alive.

Nowhere is this more clear than at the National Museum of Iraq. Like the Iraqi people, it’s a survivor, having withstood sanctions, invasion, and looting. That it’s survived at all shows just how dedicated its staff is to preserving humanity’s past.

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The Omnibus Volumes of Steven Brust: The Adventures of Vlad Taltos

Saturday, June 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Book of Jhereg-small The Book of Taltos-small The Book of Athyra-small

Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels are unique in modern fantasy. They’re caper novels in which a supremely gifted assassin, Vlad Taltos, teams up with a group of like-minded companions (including pickpockets and vampires) to right wrongs, alter the course of destiny, and sometimes make a little coin. The odds are always against them, and things don’t always go their way, but Vlad, our protagonist and narrator, has a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor that makes the books highly entertaining. There are plenty of great reviews out there I could point you to, but one of my favorites is this concise one-paragraph bit from Amazon reviewer Wizard’s Apprentice:

Vlad is a human in a city dominated by eight-foot Dragaerans, who never have to shave and live to be a thousand. It’s their turf, and their rules, and they routinely conquer and abuse “Easterners” like Vlad. He’s not the type to take this, so he becomes a “Jhereg” assassin, working up the ranks of a criminal syndicate until he comes to boss dozens of Dragaerans around, befriending some and terrorizing others. He adopts a new-hatched mini-dragon or jhereg, finding that the cat-sized beast has a humanlike intelligence and a nasty sense of humor, and wins a grudging respect from the dominant species. All his friends are 900 years old, or undead vampires, or legendary thieves; but don’t hold it against them. Vlad solves mysteries and evades death, and cooks fiery fungus-laced omelets, in a bizarre semi-alien milieu. He finds love. He sharpens knives. He gloomily bandages his jhereg bites. He’d be right at home in a Zelazny novel, which is reason enough to buy this or any other Brust book.

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The Novels of Tanith Lee: The Secret Books of Paradys

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Book of the Damned Tanith Lee-small The Book of the Beast Tanith Lee-small The Book of the Dead Tanith Lee-small The Book of the Mad Tanith Lee-small

We’re continuing with our look at the extraordinary 40-year career of Tanith Lee, who passed away on May 24th. We started with The Wars of Vis trilogy and her acclaimed Tales From the Flat Earth, and today we turn to her four-volume saga, The Secret Books of Paradys, published in the US by The Overlook Press between 1990-1993, with a striking series of covers by Wayne Barlowe (above).

Matthew David Surridge wrote a fine summary of the entire series for us two years ago, and I doubt I could do a better job of summarizing them than he did:

The fictive city of Paradys itself seems to accrue layers of meaning and complexity like a recurring landscape in a lucid dream. Above all, the books are weird with the weirdness of nightmare; though written with incredible technical skill, it’s difficult to articulate a single overall theme to the books, though multiple meanings suggest themselves.

Paradys is a city in northern France, originally a Roman settlement based around the exoploitation of soon-played-out silver mines. It developed over time into a major city, with a cathedral and taverns and damned poets and all the appurtenances of decadent gothic romance. The various stories of Paradys take place in different eras of the city’s life, told from different perspectives, using different styles. They’re linked by certain patterns of imagery — notably the ambiguous symbol of the moon — and a concentration on colour: each book, or long story, has a certain colour which defines it, and all colour-references within that story will refer either to white, black, or that specific hue. I can only imagine how difficult that technique is, but it’s incredibly effective at building distinct and distinctive atmospheres…

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Vintage Treasures: Dragonflight and Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey

Monday, June 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Dragonflight McCaffrey-small Dragonquest McCaffrey-small

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern is one of the most famous and bestselling science fantasy series of all time. All told there are sixteen novels, written between 1968 and 2006, the last two in collaboration with her son Todd.

The artist most closely associated with it is probably Michael Whelan, who was hired to paint the cover for the third novel, The White Dragon, published in June 1978. The White Dragon became the first bestseller in the series, and Whelan was hired by Ballantine to create new covers for the first two novels, Dragonflight and Dragonquest, late in 1978. He did a fine job, and was subsequently hired for the next four volumes in the series.

But I still admit a great fondness for the early 70s covers of the first two books (above), both painted by Gino D’Achille. Both books were Ballantine paperback originals. The covers are more whimsical and fairy-tale like, and speak to me of 1970s fantasy.

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The 2015 David Gemmell Award Nominees

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Words Of Radiance-small The-Mirror-Empire-small2 The Slow Regard of Silent Things UK-small

The nominations for the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel of 2014 have been announced by the DGLA. Simultaneously, the DGLA has also announced the nominees for The Morningstar Award for Best Debut Novel, and The Ravenheart Award for Best Fantasy Cover Art. May we have the envelope please!

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A Gateway to Fantasy for Young Readers: Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Monday, June 1st, 2015 | Posted by Nick Ozment

amulet coverWith the height of the “Harry Potter phenomenon” nearly a decade past, we now have a new generation of seven- and eight-year-olds who were born after the final book in that series came out. A perennial question comes up: What will be the next “gateway” work that ushers young readers into a lifelong love of fantasy and speculative fiction?

Well, some may rightly ask, why can’t it be Harry Potter? Or A Wrinkle in Time, or The Dark is Rising sequence, or The Chronicles of Prydain, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Hobbit, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or…?

Many do still find their first taste of enchantment in books that are decades or even a century old, but there is no denying that — at least in the publishing and bookselling world — there has to be a “latest model.” Librarians still push those beloved older books faithfully, but their sales pitch is a lot stronger when it comes as a follow-up to a young reader who, having just read something that is currently “all the rage,” asks, “What else out there is like this?”

I’m here today to suggest that if you want a contemporary work that will introduce 3rd to 7th graders to the pleasures of epic fantasy, steampunk, people with animal heads, and wise-cracking robots, you could do a lot worse than hand them the graphic novel Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper (2008) by Kazu Kibuishi. But be prepared: odds are good that they will immediately be demanding books 2 through 6. And then they will be waiting with bated breath for book 7 and cursing that there is now a two-year interval between volumes (welcome, Young Reader, to the Pains of Following a Series that is Ongoing. To better understand what you are in for, see any conversations referencing George R.R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss).

But I’m also here to recommend them to anyone who likes this sort of stuff, regardless your age. I mentioned “3rd to 7th graders” in the last paragraph because those are the perimeters the publisher, Scholastic, says they are written toward. As someone who does not fit that demographic, I can vouch for them being worthwhile reads even if you are middle-aged.

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Vintage Treasures: Hôtel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Sunday, May 31st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Hotel Transylvania Signet-small Hotel Transylvania Tor Hotel Transylvania Yarbro-small

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has written over 70 novels, and has received many of the highest honors the field can bestow. She was named a Grand Master at the World Horror Convention in 2003, and the International Horror Guild named her a “Living Legend” in 2005. In 2009 the Horror Writers’ Association presented her with the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2014 she was honored with the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.

But she is most widely known for her long-running historical horror series featuring the vampire Count of Saint-Germain. The gentleman vampire Saint-Germain has featured in 26 novels and two collections, detailing his adventures down through the centuries, from the reign of emperor Heliogabalus in 3rd century Rome (Roman Dusk) to his escape from Genghis Khan in Tibet and India (Path of the Eclipse), 6th Century China (Dark of the Sun), France during the Reign of Terror (Commedia della Morte), and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany (Tempting Fate).

The Count first appeared in Hôtel Transylvania in 1978, set in Paris in 1744. The novel was an immediate success, and he returned in The Palace the same year. The Palace was nominated for a World Fantasy Award (and was voted #11 for the Locus Award for Best Novel of the Year), and thus began one of the most successful horror series in the English language.

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The Novels of Tanith Lee: Tales From the Flat Earth

Saturday, May 30th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Night's Master 1986-small Death's Master 1986-small Delusion's Master 1987-small

We’re continuing with our look at the monumental 40-year career of Tanith Lee, who died last week. We started with The Wars of Vis trilogy, and today we continue with her most acclaimed fantasy series, Tales From the Flat Earth.

I say “most acclaimed” because — in addition to World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Balrog award nominations these books have accumulated over the years — in the Comments section of her obituary, this series was called “the towering pinnacle” (by Joe Hoopman), “towering legend” (by John R. Fultz), “my faves” (by Arin Komins), and “engrossing” (by rrm). It’s a small sample of fandom, but a compelling one. In my experience, Black Gate readers know what they’re talking about.

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