Howard Andrew Jones and Todd McAulty on Five Authors Who Taught Me How to Write Fantasy

Sunday, November 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Five Authors at Tor

Howard Andrew Jones’ new novel Upon the Flight of the Queen arrived in hardcover on Tuesday, and the day before Howard and I (under my Todd McAulty pseudonym, the name I use to write and promote fiction) appeared at Tor.com to talk about authors who teach you how to write fantasy. Here’s a snippet.

Todd: How have you followed Zelazny’s dictum on keeping the readers in the dark in the second book?

Howard: Throughout [The Chronicles of] Amber, Zelazny had masterful twists and surprises, although none can really compare with the end of book 4, The Hand of Oberon, which literally made me dive across the bed, where I was reading, to grab the final book to find out what happened next. No book conclusion, ever, in all my years of reading, has worked so well, and it’s a high water mark I’ve yet to hit myself.

But it’s something I certainly keep in mind as I build a story. Keep your readers interested and wanting more. With Upon the Flight of the Queen I worked hard to implement the lessons we’ve discussed. Zelazny continues to surprise as Amber rolls along because there were always a few more secrets to be learned, both about character motivation and about how the world actually worked. Information you thought was accurate proves either to be more complicated, or to have been completely wrong. In my own books, there are definitely more secrets to learn, and as some mysteries are solved, other related mysteries are introduced.

This is our third article for Tor.com. The first two, Five Forgotten Swordsmen and Swordswomen of Fantasy and Five Classic Sword-and-Planet Sagas, were surprisingly popular, with nearly 250 comments between them, and that’s been hugely gratifying. We’re having a lot of fun with this series; our next one will likely be about Traveller and classic science fiction gaming.

Howard’s had a good week at Tor.com; on Wednesday reviewer Paul Weimer called Upon the Flight of the Queen “entertaining fun. Sieges, infiltrations, dragon riding, high magic, duels, and larger than life characters trying… to be big damn heroes of their own story. Jones does an excellent job.” Check out his feature review here.


A Grim Take on the Holy Grail: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019 | Posted by SELindberg

flight-of-the-queen-larger-BG When comes my numbered day, I will meet it smiling. For I’ll have kept this oath.

I shall use my arms to shield the weak.

I shall use my lips to speak the truth, and my eyes to seek it.

I shall use my hands to mete justice to high and low, and I will weigh all things with heart and mind.

Where I walk the laws will follow, for I am the sword of my people and the shepherd of their lands.

When I fall, I will rise through my brothers and sisters, for I am eternal.

Pledge of the Altenerai

The Ring-Sworn Trilogy

Howard Andrew Jones’s For the Killing of Kings jumpstarted the epic fantasy Ring Sworn trilogy this February 2019, and the sequel Upon the Flight of the Queen hits shelves next week (November 19th). MacMillan’s St. Martin’s Press pitches the series as “The Three Musketeers presented via the style of Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber.” The pacing is reminiscent of Zelazny since Howard Andrew Jones (HAJ) doles out action and backstory with precision. Yet there are many more than three heroes, and the milieu has more medieval flare than musketry, so it is more “King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table” than Musketeers.

For the Killing of Kings is actually a grim take on the consequences of seeking, and finding, a figurative Holy Grail (hearthstones). The Altenerai guard had been spread out over the Five Realms searching for many hearthstones that fuel magic — the enigmatic Queen Leonara deems them holy. Twice I was completely floored by plot twists, and the last third kept me from going to sleep. I haven’t had that much fun reading a book in a long time. Black Gate’s Fletcher Vredenburgh’s review should likewise entice new readers.

#2 Upon the Flight of the Queen

Summarizing a sequel can be tough without spoiling its predecessor, but the following overview will try as it showcases why you should commit to Ring-Sworn. Upon the Flight of the Queen starts off exactly where For the Killing of Kings ends. The adventure begins in high-gear with Alten Rylin assuming his action-thriller role (~James Bond) penetrating the Naor camp disguised in magic, dragging the reader into mayhem.

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Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones: a Trailer

Friday, November 8th, 2019 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

9781250148803November, 19th is a date worth marking on your calendar. It’s the day Upon the Flight of the Queen (St. Martin’s Press), the second installment of Howard Andrew Jones’ Ring-Sworn Trilogy debuts. I loved For the Killing of Kings, the first book. You can read my review of it here. It’s a terrific swords & sorcery tale with a heavy dose of swashbuckling. If you haven’t read it yet, it should be clear I heartily recommend it. It’s felt like an age since my last post here at Black Gate. I’m still not sure when I’ll return here with any sort of regularity, but for books like this, I’m willing to make an appearance.

I’m old, so the idea of doing a trailer for a book isn’t something I’ve ever thought of. Apparently it’s a thing and it can be pretty cool. Up above is the brand new one for Upon the Flight of the Queen and it was done by Jones’ son, Darian Jones, an animator (as well as many other talents as will become clear later). As trailers are a whole new concept for me, I figured I’d ask Darian about himself and how he created the one for Flight.


Fletcher: So, Darian, can you please, tell us about yourself and your animation background?

Darian: Hello! Well, like my father, I have always been a performer and a storyteller. As a kid, he and I would be unable to watch a movie or listen to a song without taking it apart and analyzing it together. Animation seemed like the natural marriage of writing, art, and music, all things I loved to create. It started with simple comics during middle school at recess (and anytime the teacher wasn’t looking). Then I tried my hand at stop motion using stuffed animals and action figures. Over time I just fell in love with the medium. There is a vast storytelling potential in animation. I believe it is the best way to make any story visually beautiful and expressive. Unlike film, animation grants its creator the most minute control over every detail. I determine exactly what colors I use scene-by-scene. I determine how a character gesticulates and how their face emotes when they speak. I can give them shark teeth or hair made of drifting clouds if I want. My commitment to the study of animation earned me straight As and a position as Lead Animator on our class’ student thesis film. My professor said it was not only my skills with the medium but also my ability to negotiate calmly and effectively during times of extreme stress that won me the title. Now I have graduated college and I’ve been making little animations every chance I get to build my portfolio and, hopefully, win new positions at studios. Until then, I’m doing freelance work for writers and businesses.

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Future Treasures: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Killing of Kings-small Upon the Flight of the Queen-small

In his Black Gate review of For the Killing of Kings, the opening novel in Howard Andrew Jones’ new epic fantasy Ring-Sworn Trilogy, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

For the Killing of Kings is proof that great, modern heroic fantasy is being written. Like Doc Smith’s Lensmen or DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps, the Altenerai are an elite band of warriors endued with magical talents and dedicated to protecting the land and ensuring justice… Heroes are a too often forgotten commodity in fantasy these days, but not here.

I think Fletcher nailed what I loved so much about this book: it’s packed with heroes you can root for. More than that, it pits those heroes against truly overwhelming odds. The courageous men and women of the Altenerai aren’t just up against a nearly-unbeatable army of their ancient enemy; they also face betrayal from within, mysterious and sinister magic, and a conspiracy whose roots run to the very highest levels of government. To win, they’ll have to emulate the Altenerai legends of old: use bravery, guile, and magic of their own, and — especially — rely on each other. For the Killing of Kings is filled with powerful moments in which untested men and women faced breathtaking odds, and somehow find the strength to become genuine heroes.

But I think the best thing about Howard’s new Ring-Sword Trilogy may be that we don’t have to wait long for the sequel. For the Killing of Kings was released in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press earlier this year; the sequel, Upon the Flight of the Queen, will be in stores in less than two weeks. It’s already getting rave reviews — Publishers Weekly calls it “a heart-racing, action-packed thrill.” Here’s the back covers for both books, and a snippet from the PW review.

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Future Treasures: Novice Dragoneer by E.E. Knight

Thursday, October 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Novice Dragoneer-smallI’m a huge fan of E.E. Knight. For one thing, he hosts the best board game nights I’ve ever seen. His Heroscape sessions, held annually in Chicago after the Windy City Pulp and Paper show for many years, were the stuff of legend. As he noted in one of his epic post-game Action Reports, they featured “Mohicans and British infantry and lizard men battling dinosaurs, giant spiders, dragons, and Atlantean robots in a jungle-choked ruin.” Don’t ask me to describe them, but they were life-changing.

He’s also a damn fine writer. You’re probably familiar with his 11-volume Vampire Earth series, which opened with Way of the Wolf, or his six-volume Age of Fire series. He’s also an occasional blogger here at Black Gate. And I was very proud to publish his Blue Pilgrim tale “The Terror in the Vale,” one of the very best stories in our Black Gate Online Fiction library (and reprint the first, “That of the Pit,” which first appeared in the underrated anthology Lords of Swords).

So naturally I was very excited to hear that he has a new novel arriving next month, the tale of an impoverished girl who enters into a military order of dragonriders. And if the buzz already building around Novice Dragoneer is any indication, it’s the beginning of a major new fantasy series. I asked Eric if he could tell us a little about it, and he graciously shared the following.

I’m very much looking forward to readers, both long-time and new, meeting our novice Ileth. She’s a little bit of each of my three kids spun around my own experiences at that age. I’ve even worked my first job, which I took on at twelve, into the story (although I was dealing with dog poop rather than dragon waste). I’ve been on a bit of a break from writing raising those three, so I’m excited to find out if I have any game left.

Here’s the publisher’s description.

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What Happens After the Greatest Con in History: The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken

Monday, October 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Quantum Magician-small The Quantum Garden-small

Covers by Justin Adams

Derek first appeared in Black Gate in issue 15 with his short story “The Gifts of Li Tzu-Ch’eng.” He’s been our regular Saturday evening blogger since 2013, producing nearly 150 articles on diverse topics such as web comics, Alan Moore, Star Trek, New York ComicCon, Percy Jackson, Science Fiction in China, and much more.

His first novel, The Quantum Magician, was published by Solaris on October 2, 2018. In his Black Gate review Brandon Crilly said,

The worldbuilding here is intricate, compelling and absolutely fascinating. From the moment concepts were introduced I wanted to know more, especially the different subsets of humanity that Künsken presents, each the product of generations of genetic manipulation. I mean, an entire population of neo-humans nicknamed Puppets because of their diminutive size, who double as religious zealots worshipping their divine beings’ cruelty? Or an intergalactic political hierarchy based on the economics of patrons and clients, complete with the inequalities and social issues you might expect?…

The core plot is a con game perpetrated by a team of ragtag scoundrels, trying to sneak a flotilla of warships through a wormhole controlled by another government… but don’t ask me to explain more than that. Künsken does an amazing job of presenting a bunch of quirky protagonists who play off each other well, but the characters that stand out do so powerfully; between that and the rich worldbuilding of things like the Puppets, I forgot about that flotilla and the original aim of the con for a good third of the novel, until they came back into focus.

Much as I rooted for protagonist Belisarius (who would be the Danny Ocean of these scoundrels) and his partner/love interest Cassandra (who I suppose is Tess and Rusty from Ocean’s Eleven combined), the secondary characters stole the spotlight for me, particularly AI-on-a-religious-mission Saint Matthew and the creepily dangerous Scarecrow hunting these scoundrels down.

Solaris releases the sequel The Quantum Garden tomorrow. Here’s a look at the back cover.

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Mind-blowing in the Best Science-fictional Tradition: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Monday, October 7th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

This Is How You Lose the Time War-smallAt Wiscon in 2017 I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Guest of Honor (and Black Gate blogger emeritus) Amal El-Mohtar and author Max Gladstone conducted a joint reading of a project they’d been working on together. Here’s how I described it in my convention report for Black Gate.

For the second half of her reading, Amal invited Max Gladstone to the stage to perform a joint reading of their collaborative tale. It’s an epistolary Spy vs. Spy novella, set in a universe where time is a braid, and two timelines exist simultaneously. One where consciousness is embedded, one where it is more abstract. (Think of them as a technologically advanced timeline, and a more natural world.) Both timelines are unstable. There’s a time war between the two realities, and two opposing agents, Red and Blue. At the end of a successful and bloody opp, Red finds a letter left for her by her enemy that reads “Burn before reading. ” She knows it’s a trap, but it’s also a thrown gauntlet, and she cannot resist. Soon she’s leaving her own notes in response.

What starts as inquisitive taunts at mysterious opponents gradually become much sharper, funnier and more poignant as the two take their game — and their taunts — to higher and higher levels. All the while hiding their correspondence from their superiors, and gradually learning at least grudging respect for each other. Once again, the audience got only a tantalizing snippet of a wider story, but it was a fascinating one.

The story is tentatively titled “These Violent Delights.” It does not yet have a publisher.

“These Violent Delights” eventually became the collaborative novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, published by Saga Press in July of this year. It has been widely praised; Martha Wells calls it “rich and strange, a romantic tour through all of time and the multiverse,” and Publishers Weekly says it’s “Exquisitely crafted… Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure… dazzling.”

But I think my favorite review comes from our own Matthew David Surridge, writing at Splice Today. Matthew is insightful and illuminating as always, calling the novel “mind-blowing in the best science-fictional tradition.” Here’s the highlights.

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Ghost Ships, High-tech Farming, and Prospecting the Moon: September/October Print Magazines

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction September October 2019-small Asimov's Science Fiction September October 2019-small Analog September October 2019-small

The big news among magazine fans this month is the spectacular 70th Anniversary issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which has one of the most impressive line-ups I’ve seen in many years. It contains fiction by Michael Moorcock, Kelly Link, Maureen McHugh, Michael Swanwick, Ken Liu, Esther Friesner, Paolo Bacigalupi, Elizabeth Bear — and one of Gardner Dozois’ last stories. This one will be snatched off the shelf quickly; if you haven’t secured a copy already, I would move quickly.

In his editorial for the issue, C.C. Finlay talks about what really makes the magazine special.

For the past five years, one of my guiding principles as the editor of F&SF has been to find work that still accomplishes those two goals. I scour the submission queue for stories that are fun to read — entertaining, compelling, and well-crafted — with a narrative that pulls you from paragraph to paragraph, page to page, from the first sentence to the final line. At the same time, I’m also hunting for stories that have at least one additional layer to them beyond the surface, something that makes you think, even if it makes you think by making you laugh, that makes you want to discuss the story, to consider the way it reflects our lives and the world we live in. I believe that it’s this particular combination of qualities that has made the stories in F&SF continually feel fresh and relevant in every decade of its existence.

We have a wonderful collection of those kinds of stories for you in this issue as we celebrate the magazine’s seventy years of publication. In typical F&SF fashion, they span the genre from literary fantasy to wuxia adventure, from the near future on Earth to the far future in outer space, from ridiculous satire to thoughtful speculation, from one of the genre’s Grand Masters and some of its most awarded figures to up-and-coming authors, from the debut story of a brand new writer to the final tale from one of science fiction’s greatest writer/editors. Once you add in a couple poems, a special essay from Robert Silverberg, our usual columns and features, and some cartoons, you have an issue that is both like every other issue of F&SF and also something special.

Asimov’s SF and Analog can’t compete with a line-up like that, but they make a good run at it. This is Asimov’s annual “slightly spooky” issue, which is always one of my favorites. The two magazines contain fiction from Andy Duncan, Sandra McDonald, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Rich Larson, James Sallis, Adam-Troy Castro, Tony Ballantyne, Edward M. Lerner, Norman Spinrad, Brendan DuBois, Michael F . Flynn — and Black Gate blogger Marie Bilodeau! Here’s the complete Tables of Contents for all three.

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Making our Journey to Machine Domination More Fun: The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty

Thursday, September 5th, 2019 | Posted by SELindberg

The Robots of Gotham cover wrap-small

Wearing aluminum hats won’t help us anymore. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant likely conspire against humanity, and no doubt will copulate and have gendered, machine children. That is one vision of the future. The Robots of Gotham will at least make our journey toward machine domination more fun. Todd McAulty’s first-person blog-style is profoundly easy to consume. Highly recommended for everyone who has a smartphone!

What is the best way to deal with being constantly surveilled by devices? Reading fiction about robot invasions can help, preferably paperbacks (eBooks and Kindles are monitoring you). Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham has already received great praise from Publisher’s WeeklyBooklist, the Toronto StarKirkus Reviews, and numerous authors. Here is more.

Artificial Intelligence

I am by no means an expert in artificial intelligence, which makes my perspective even more alarming (exciting?). Many readers likely share this history, and it is why you’ll enjoy Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham.

As a teenager (1980’s), I had the experience of interacting with Apple IIe and TI94 computers (when data was never stored on disk or was saved to tape), which had users game with a computer that served as a dungeon master. Digitized, text-based adventures like Infocom’s Zork provided a surreal version of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. Practicing science for decades, I’ve witnessed computers grow from simple calculators to devices that measure, store, analyze and report data with limited human intervention.

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Invincible Warriors and Goofball Sidekicks: Robots in American Popular Culture by Steve Carper

Saturday, August 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Robots in American Popular Culture-small Robots in American Popular Culture-back-small

Cover by Emsh

Steve Carper has been blogging about robots at Black Gate ever since his first post, The First Three Laws of Robotics, appeared back in November 2017. His delightful and entertaining articles have explored every facet of robots in America over the last century and a half. And now his first book on the subject, Robots in American Popular Culture, has been published by McFarland. Here’s what Steve tells us about it.

Robots in American Popular Culture is the first truly comprehensive prose history of the automaton, the mechanical man, the android, the robot, and all its variants. The index runs from “A. Lincoln, Simulacrum” to “Zutka” (stage act). Robots starts in the 19th century, long before Karel Capek used the old Czech word robota in his play, and the concept of the robot as a replacement for humans has been constantly present in the popular mind since. Both famous and long forgotten robots from comic books and strips, movies and television, stories and the stage, amateur and professional inventors, and science fiction of all flavors are part of this vast history.

Robots is available from my publisher and from Amazon. Because McFarland is an academic publisher, most bookstores will not have Robots on their shelves, but they can easily special order it for you.

But wait, there’s more. PBS publishes a companion book to their documentaries. I’ve created a companion website to my book. RobotsInAmericanPopularCulture.com has more than 350 images, movie and tv clips, music videos, and the ever-popular “other”, each keyed to the book’s page number so you can get a quick visualization and let you see what contemporaries saw. Not to mention over 50 additional articles on robots that grew out of the book…

Thanks to all who have long given me encouragement. I hope Robots will live up to and even surpass your expectations.

Robots in American Popular Culture is packed with vintage photos and Steve’s entertaining and superbly researched prose. It’s the best resource you’ll find on one of the most fascinating topics of our new century. Here’s the publisher’s description.

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