Competition in Ancient Greece

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Marble statue of a discus thrower. Second century A.D. copy
of a fifth century B.C. Greek original. Said to have been found
in Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli. The Emperor Hadrian had quite a
thing for beautiful young athletes. His favorite youth, Antinous,
was immortalized in numerous statues. Antinous didn’t have
those awesome deltoids, though.

It’s autumn, and that means here in Madrid the summer art shows are wrapping up and the autumn exhibitions are upon us. Madrid has several fine galleries and world-class museums to choose from, and the line-up this year is looking pretty good. Stay tuned for some fun shows here on Black Gate.

In the meantime, one of the last of the summer shows to finish is Agon! Competition in Ancient Greece at the Caixa Forum, a private gallery owned by one of the big Spanish banks. The show brings together dozens of objects from the British Museum in London, some of which are usually on permanent display there and others that I’ve never seen before.

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Raphael’s Drawings at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

23. Two Apostles (c) Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The heads and hands of two apostles, c. 1519–20.
Black chalk with over-pounced underdrawing
with some white heightening.

One of the highlights of my regular stays in Oxford is visiting the Ashmolean Museum. With its fine collections of all periods, especially Medieval Europe and Ancient Egypt, it’s a place I and my family keep going back to. It also has excellent special exhibitions. I wrote up last summer’s exhibition on Underwater Archaeology for Black Gate, and this year we got to enjoy the treat of studying some little-seen drawings of an Italian Renaissance master.

Raphael: The Drawings brings together 120 rarely seen works by the Italian master, including 50 from the Ashmolean’s collection, the largest and most important group of Raphael drawings in the world. They came to the museum in 1845 following a public appeal to acquire them after the dispersal of the collection of the portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), who had amassed an unrivalled collection of Old Master drawings. A further 25 works are on loan from the Albertina Museum in Vienna, which will show the exhibition in autumn 2017. The remaining drawings come from various international collections.

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Repent Your Crimes: Marvel’s Black Bolt Series

Sunday, August 20th, 2017 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

I’ve been a Saladin Ahmed fan for a while. I probably heard his first fantasy fiction at Beneath Ceaseless Skies with Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride, or in Podcastle’s Judgement of Swords and Souls (click on the links for free audio versions). I also met him in person in 2013 when I ended up at the same table as him during the Nebula Awards Banquet (where his first novel had been nominated).

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So I perked up when I saw that Marvel had Ahmed writing a new Black Bolt solo series. I picked up the first issue in June, put it in my backpack and promptly…. left it sitting in my TBR pile. For two months. And I didn’t even crack it open until issue #4 was already out.

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A Tale of Two Covers: The Race and The Rift by Nina Allan

Friday, June 30th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Race Nina Allen-small The Rift Nina Allen-small

Last July Titan Books released Nina Allen’s debut novel The Race, which was nominated for the British Science Fiction Award and short-listed for both the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel The Rift arrives from Titan next month, and I immediately assumed — based on the strikingly similar art, title font, and cover design — that it was a sequel.

Turns out looks are deceiving (maybe?) Nothing I can find points to any kind of connection between the two. The Race (which we covered here last year) is a loosely connected set of four stories set in a near future Britain ravaged by ecological collapse, and The Rift is about two sisters re-united after two decades, when one of them claims to have been abducted by aliens.

There’s nothing wrong with using similar cover designs for disconnected books. I suppose it’s more of a refection of the times, in which the default assumption for a second novel is automatically that it’s a sequel. Of course, if it turns out the two books are connected, then ignore everything I just said. In fact, here’s the description for The Rift. Make up your own mind.

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A Tale of Three Covers: Only the Dead Know Brooklyn

Saturday, June 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn Chris Vola-small Only the Dead Know Brooklyn Thomas Boyle-small Only the Dead Know Brooklyn Thomas Wolfe-small

Chris Vola is the author of two previous novels, Monkeytown (2012) and the self-published E for Ether. His first mainstream release is the horror/thriller Only the Dead Know Brooklyn, published last month by Thomas Dunne Books.

If the title sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because you’re remembering the crime novel by Thomas Boyle (Cold Stove League, Post Mortem Effects) about the kidnapping of Whitman scholar Fletcher Carruthers III. It was published in hardcover by David R Godine in 1985, and reprinted in paperback by Penguin in 1986.

Or perhaps you’re thinking of the famous short story by Thomas Wolfe (which you can read here), about four guys on a subway platform in a heated discussion on how to get to Bensonhurst, narrated in a thick Brooklyn dialect. It was originally published in the June 15, 1935 New Yorker magazine, and collected in paperback by Signet in 1952 under the same title, with a spectacular cover by Ruth Nappi. To this day, readers are still debating what the story is about.

Whatever the case, you have to admit it’s a killer title, and I can’t blame Vola one bit for poaching it. Here’s the description of his novel.

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Stained Glass Windows in Cairo

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Last week in my post on the Coptic Heritage of Cairo I posted a photo of a stained glass window done in the traditional Egyptian style, from the so-called “Hanging Church” in Cairo, officially known as St. Virgin Mary’s. It got its name because it’s built atop an old Roman gatehouse.

I was surprised at this and other stained glass windows I found all over Cairo, both in Christian and Muslim settings. I had never read about these windows in my (admittedly small) collection of Islamic art books, and I didn’t remember them from my previous visit in 1991. I’ve been able to find very little about them online, so if anyone knows more, please comment!

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A Tale of Two Covers: Chasers of the Wind by Alexey Pehov

Sunday, June 4th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Chasers of the Wind-hardcover-small Chasers of the Wind-small

Back in 2013 I bought a hardcover copy of Shadow Prowler, the opening volume in Alexey Pehov’s epic fantasy trilogy Chronicles of Siala. An international bestseller in his home country of Russia and across Europe, Pehov has been called “the Russian George R.R. Martin.” Two more volumes in translation followed, Shadow Chaser and Shadow Bllizard, both from Tor.

In June 2014 Tor released Chasers of the Wind in hardcover, with an action-filled cover by Kekai Kotaki (above left). Set in the same world as Pehov’s previous trilogy, the cover proudly proclaimed this was the first book of The Cycle of Wind and Sparks, a four-volume series that had already appeared in Russia and Germany.

Eleven months later, in May 2015, Tor reprinted the book in mass market paperback (above right). There were the usual small tweaks in design and font for the paperback edition. But the biggest change was a little more subtle — all mention of The Cycle of Wind and Sparks had been scrubbed. For fans of the series, this was like running into a close friend and noticing her engagement ring was missing. I’m not sure if Tor was unable to secure English language reprint rights, the sales on the first series didn’t meet expectations, or there was some other reason, but Tor never released the next three volumes. They remain unavailable in English.

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Coptic Heritage in Cairo

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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A stained glass window using small bits of colored glass in a plaster
framework. Mosques and private houses also use this style of
decoration, although the mosques don’t include crosses, of course

While Egypt’s ancient civilization is the main draw for visiting the country, I find its medieval and modern history equally fascinating. Cairo is full of historic monuments. Minarets built a thousand years ago rise above the honking traffic, old houses from the Ottoman period are nestled in quiet back alleys, and a medieval citadel looks out over the city.

Many of Cairo’s most interesting historic sites are Christian. Early in Christian history, Egypt started a distinct tradition of worship that developed into what is now known as Coptic Christianity. The Coptic church traces its origins back to 50 AD, when Saint Mark visited the country and established the Church of Alexandria. The word “Copt” comes from the ancient Greek word for Egypt, “Aigyptos.”

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A Fantastic Art Collection at the Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Madrid is famous for its world-class art museums, but residents to this city know of many more, smaller museums that are also worth a look. Some, like the Museo Cerralbo that I covered in a previous post, are private collections in mansions-turned museums. Another of these is the Museo Lazaro Galdiano, which is the product of a wealthy collector of that name from the turn of the last century. His mansion in central Madrid is filled with more than 12,600 works of art.

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Four Thousand Year Old Bread from Ancient Egypt

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Here’s something you don’t see every day, some preserved bread from the Eleventh Dynasty (2134-1991 BC) from Thebes. I snapped this photo in the Cairo Museum during a recent writing retreat.

… and I’m afraid that’s all I have for you this week from Egypt. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m working as a ghostwriter and I have a heinous deadline for a novel due this Friday. I’m also finishing up a short nonfiction booklet and my own novel, the one I went to Cairo to write in the first place. A minor character knocked the plot sideways and added 10,000 words to it.

So if I don’t want to be eating this bread next week, I have to get back to writing. But here are some more pics because I love you.

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