A Medieval Synagogue in Toledo, Spain

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


In my last post, I talked about an early Christian church and some Visigothic remains in Toledo in central Spain. Toledo was a mix of cultures during the Middle Ages, with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities all leaving their mark. The city is home to an excellent Sephardi Museum housed in a medieval synagogue.

The synagogue was founded in 1356 by Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, Royal Treasurer to King Pedro of Castile and León. It was attached to Abulafia’s palace and intended as a private house of worship.

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Medieval Wall Paintings and Visigothic Artifacts in Toledo, Spain

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Portion of a Visigothic sarcophagus, with scenes from the Bible

Enough about the Western Desert of Egypt! Let’s pull the sand out of our teeth, bid the mummies goodbye, and go to Toledo, Spain. You can eat pork, drink wine, and see some historic churches.

One of the most interesting is the Iglesia de San Román.

This church dates to the early 13th century, and like many buildings in town was built atop earlier structures. Before the church there was a mosque, and before that a Visigothic church. There may have been a Roman building before that. Its interior is in the Mudéjar style, a Moorish influenced architectural style that has continued in Spain until the modern day.

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Support Songs of Giants: The Poetry of Pulp, Illustrated by Mark Wheatley

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Giants The Poetry of Pulp banner

I spent this weekend at the Windy City Pulp & Paper Show and, as usual, I met a lot of great folks and discovered plenty of fabulous books and artwork. One of my most intriguing discoveries came when Christopher Paul Carey introduced me to Mark Wheatley, the renowned comic writer and artist behind Mars, Breathtaker, and Comico’s Jonny Quest. Mark had launched a Kickstarter for an ambitious project titled Songs of Giants: The Poetry of Pulp, an illustrated book featuring some of the greatest pulp writers of all time. Here’s what Mark told me about it.

It’s really gratifying to see how poetry in general is popular these days. When we launched Songs of Giants about a month ago on Kickstarter we had no expectation that the Poetry of Pulp would be so popular. But we are now at 200% of our goal. This means that everyone is getting great extras with stretch goals and we expect to add a few more before we’re done. My personal favorites are the audiobook and the signed limited-edition prints. And I’m very much looking forward to adding the three portrait set of our masters of Pulp poetry, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H. P. Lovecraft.

Having Jack McDevitt, one of our very best current writers of science fiction, write the introduction to Songs of Giants is a huge personal perk for me. I have loved Jack’s books for many years. And he actually evokes that sense of wonder that was so prevalent in the Pulps in his own writing today. Ultimately though it’s obvious from his introduction that he truly understands pulp and poetry and I think he gives us some good insights.

Songs of Giants is a terrific project, and the unlocked stretch goals already include a complete audio book, exclusive bookmark, a Robert E. Howard music video, multiple signed art prints, and much more. It wraps up in three days, but there’s still time to get on board. Here’s a closer look at that gorgeous cover art.

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Greco-Roman and Early Christian Ruins at Bahariya Oasis, Egypt

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


The guard at the Temple of Alexander showing off
some of the stray finds to me and my Bedouin driver

In my last post, I talked about the Egyptian tombs at Bahariya Oasis, some 340 km southwest of Cairo. The oasis was on the fringe of civilization in those days, but became more important during the Greco-Roman period because its well-watered soil didn’t flood like the Nile valley and thus was a good place to grow grapes to make wine, something the Greeks and Romans couldn’t live without.

The oasis became prosperous during Greek and Roman rule. It gained significance right from the start when Alexander the Great passed through here on the way to Siwa Oasis further to the west, where he had his famous meeting with the oracle of Amun at the sanctuary there, where he was proclaimed the son of the god and thus pharaoh. The temple honors his visit to the oasis and is the largest in the Western Desert, with a two-room sandstone chapel and a temple enclosure with at least 45 rooms and a surrounding wall.

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On The Fringes of Ancient Egypt: Exploring the Antiquities of Bahariya Oasis

Thursday, March 14th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


One of the Golden Mummies.
Creative Commons photo courtesy Roland Unger.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. The oasis became famous in 1996 with the discovery of a series of tombs of the Greco-Roman Period (332 BC-395 AD). They were found accidentally when an Antiquities Guard was leading his donkey on a sandy stretch near the Temple of Alexander the Great when the animal’s hoof broke through the surface. Once he extricated the donkey, he peeked inside and saw an underground chamber.

Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass excavated the site and found several tombs, removing more than 250 mummies. Many had gilded masks like the one pictured above, and the site soon became known as The Valley of the Golden Mummies. Hawass believes that he has uncovered only a tiny fraction of the tombs. A few are on display in Bahariya, including the one above, but photography is forbidden, so I wasn’t able to take any shots for you. How Roland Unger got this shot I’ll leave as a riddle unsolved.

Bahariya was an important place in Greco-Roman times, having good agricultural land that could be cultivated year-round, instead of the Nile valley that flooded every year. Thus it was a good spot for growing grapes to make wine.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist, and the 1973 Locus Awards for Best Magazine Artist and Best Paperback Cover Artist: Kelly Freas

Sunday, February 24th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Weird Tales November 1950-small Astounding Science Fiction October 1953-small Analog February 1975-small

Steven Silver has been doing a series covering the award winners from his age 12 year, and Steven has credited me for (indirectly) suggesting this, when I quoted Peter Graham’s statement “The Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, in the “comment section” to the entry on 1973 in Jo Walton’s wonderful book An Informal History of the Hugos. You see, I was 12 in 1972, so the awards for 1973 were the awards for my personal Golden Age. And Steven suggested that much as he is covering awards for 1980, I might cover awards for 1973 here at Black Gate.

As I began reading the SF magazines, and buying SF paperbacks, there was really no doubt who the most popular artist was: Kelly Freas. (This is not to deny the excellence of the likes of John Schoenherr, Jack Gaughan, and many more.) Kelly Freas was one of the most regular artists at Analog, and he did covers for many book publishers, at that time perhaps most often DAW. (Later he was the cover artist for every one of the Laser Books line.) His art was very colorful, very recognizable. His work was often humorous, but also could be dark and gritty. He was also an excellent interior illustrator.

Freas was born Frank Kelly in 1922. He took his stepfather’s last name after he was adopted. (His artwork was signed both Kelly Freas and Frank Kelly Freas.) He served in the second World War right out of High School, doing reconnaissance camera work and painting bomber noses. He spent some time in advertising. His first painting in the SF field was the cover for the November 1950 issue of Weird Tales (above left). One of his most famous paintings in the field was the 1953 cover of Astounding, illustrating Tom Godwin’s “The Gulf Between” (above middle). He later repainted it (with slight changes) for use as the cover of Queen’s album News of the World. Outside of SF he may have been best known for his work at Mad Magazine – he was the originator of the Alfred E. Neumann character.

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Greco-Roman Mummy Masks in the Egyptian Museum

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Mask of a boy named Heraklion, Roman Period 2nd century AD.
This painted plaster mask covered the head and chest of the
mummy. Heraklion offers a bunch of grapes to a small bird.

Visitors to Egypt tend to want to see the great sites of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the splendid temples around Luxor are all well worth a visit, but Egypt’s later periods are of interest as well. I just went on one of my semi-regular trips to Egypt with the specific intent to study the Greco-Roman period. It plays a role in the third book in my Masked Man of Cairo neo-pulp series and there’s no better inspiration than actually seeing the sites and artifacts themselves.

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Treasures of the Archaeological Museum, Córdoba, Spain

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Funerary stela, Roman, middle of the first century AD

In past weeks we’ve looked at the historic city of Córdoba, Spain–its famous mosque/cathedral, its castle, and other sites. To wrap up this miniseries, let’s look at the city’s excellent archaeological museum. Like many local museums in Spain, it covers a broad range of history from the Paleolithic to the Renaissance. It is especially strong in Roman artifacts, and is in fact built on some Roman ruins that can be seen in the basement.

I love these local museums because you get to see just how long people have been living at some of these places. The museum in Córdoba is especially well presented and has some interesting pieces from the city and the surrounding countryside. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

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Artzybasheff’s Robots

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

Mechanix Illustrated Oct. 1954, 84 Boris Artzybasheff Brings Machines to Life

Boris Artzybasheff is one of my favorite science fiction artists. He’s one of my favorite artists, period, but I put it that way because most people never think of him as a science fiction artist. Look at his work through that modifier, though, and it snaps into place. Perhaps no other artist sees the alien in the everyday as much or depicts it as well as Artzybasheff.

Born in Russia in 1899, he fled to New York in 1919 after having fought with the White Russians. He didn’t speak a word of English. Nevertheless he was a working illustrator by 1922 and supplied the art for the Newbery Award winning Gay-Neck, written by Dhan Gopal Mukerji in 1928.

That early art was stylized but mundane, in the f&sf usage of the word. Nevertheless, publishers saw his true strengths from the beginning. Few mainstream presses released fantasy before WWII but those who did made Artzybasheff their go-to artist. He did the covers for classics like The Worm Ouroboros, The Incomplete Enchanter, and Land of Unreason.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Titan Cover Art, by Paul Lehr

Thursday, January 10th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Paul Lehr

Peter Graham is often quoted as saying that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12. I was reminded of this quote last year while reading Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugo Awards (Tor Books) when Rich Horton commented that based on Graham’s statement, for him, the Golden Age of Science Fiction was 1972. It got me thinking about what science fiction (and fantasy) looked like the year I turned twelve and so this year, I’ll be looking at the year 1979 through a lens of the works and people who won science fiction awards in 1980, ostensibly for works that were published in 1979. I’ve also invited Rich to join me on the journey and he’ll be posting articles looking at the 1973 award year.

The Analog Award was launched in 1979 for works published in the magazine in the preceding year. The Best Cover category was added in 1980, so this was the first year the award was presented. The award has been given every year since then with the exception of the year covering works published in the magazine in 2002, when the award was replaced, for one year only, with a cover artist award, when it was won by David A. Hardy, who painted two covers for the magazine (May and December issues).

Paul Lehr painted the cover for the first installment of John Varley’s four-part serial for the novel Titan, which ran from the January to the April issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact.

The artwork from the January 1979 issue of Analog seems to depict the spindle that runs up the center of the torus moon discovered in orbit around Saturn. The tower looks like a mixture of organic parts, wires, and high tech platforms growing out of a small globe and inside a massive dome. The night sky with other moons of Saturn can be seen through windows and a rainbow-like arc stretches behind the tower.

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