The Ground Rules Have Been Put in Place: Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery, by Brian Murphy

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 | Posted by David C. Smith

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Cover by Tom Barber

Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery
By Brian Murphy
Pulp Hero Press (282 pages, $19.95 in trade paperback/$7.99 digital, January 16, 2020)

At long last, we have a history of the sword-and-sorcery genre, and a very welcome and erudite study it is. Brian Murphy is to be commended for his honest appreciation of our frequently dismissed and often mocked genre. He intelligently surveys the expanse of the sword-and-sorcery field warts and all, low points and high, putting the genre into its proper literary perspective.

To present a linear history of the sword-and-sorcery genre is in fact to dissect an Yggdrasil of many branches, which is precisely what Murphy has done here. His challenge in undertaking Flame and Crimson was great—confronting a century of work and reducing discussion of it to the reasonable length of about 250 pages. He has risen to the challenge.

(Full disclosure: I am mentioned a few times in Flame and Crimson and am cited in a pull-quote in the header to chapter 1. I am also published by Pulp Hero Press, the imprint that has brought out Flame and Crimson.)

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An Exuberant Celebration of a Century of Fantasy: Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery by Brian Murphy

Sunday, March 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Tom Barber

Brian Murphy was one of the most important of Black Gate‘s early contributors. In 59 articles published between 2010 and 2017, he thoughtfully asked what fantasy was good for (“Transcendent Fantasy, or Politics as Usual?“), suggested classic S&S tales for busy modern readers (“Six Sought Adventure: A Half-Dozen Swords And Sorcery Short Stories Worth Your Summer Reading Time“), and vividly recalled the joys of discovering fantasy in the 70s (“An Ode to the Berkley Medallion Conans“).

I can’t think any anyone more qualified to write Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery, an impeccably well researched study — and simultaneously an exuberant celebration — of a century of great fantasy. Here’s a representative sample from the Underground, Resurgence, and New Directions chapter, which is packed with enthusiastic recs for those looking for modern writers worth paying attention to.

Other notable recent sword-and sorcery/sword-and-sorcery-infleunced authors and stories include James Enge’s Morlock the Maker series, including Blood of Ambrose (2009), This Crooked Way (2009), and The Wolf Age (2010), and Paul Kemp’s Egil and Nix stories including The Hammer and the Blade (2012), A Discourse in Steel (2013) and A Conversation in Blood (2017)…. the episodic, street-level adventures of the outsider Moorlock [sic] — a spellcaster and black-blade wielder harkening back to Elric, albeit with more heart and humor — returns it to its sword-and-sorcery roots. Kemp is perhaps best known for his work writing fictional tie-ins to the Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting The Forgotten Realms.

When I asked Brian about writing the book, his reply was characteristically thoughtful and humble. Here’s what he said.

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Future Treasures: Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole

Thursday, March 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Sixteenth Watch-smallMyke Cole’s fourth short story sale was “Naktong Flow” (2009), which appeared in Black Gate 13 in Spring 2009. It was a terrific tale, and when I met Myke in person a few months later at the World Fantasy Convention, I urged him to send more fiction my way.

By then, however, he’d already moved on to better things. His first novel Control Point, the opening volume in the ultra-realistic military SF/superhero series Shadow Ops, was published in 2012; five more in the series followed in quick succession. His fantasy series The Sacred Throne became a trilogy last year with the arrival of The Killing Light.

His latest is near-future SF featuring a US Coast Guard team racing to prevent the first Lunar War. It’s already getting great reviews, including this one from SFX:

It’s incredibly refreshing to find a sci-fl novel with a female protagonist who’s a confident woman in her fifties… The author’s experience in the Coast Guard lends a strong sense of verisimilitude to his portrayal of military operations, and his action scenes sizzle with the rush of adrenaline… Briskly paced, the book strikes a fine balance between military minutiae and imagination.

Here’s the description.

The Coast Guard must prevent the first lunar war in history.

A lifelong Search-and-Rescuewoman, Coast Guard Captain Jane Oliver is ready for a peaceful retirement. But when tragedy strikes, Oliver loses her husband and her plans for the future, and finds herself thrust into a role she’s not prepared for. Suddenly at the helm of the Coast Guard’s elite SAR-1 lunar unit, Oliver is the only woman who can prevent the first lunar war in history, a conflict that will surely consume not only the moon, but earth as well.

Myke Cole’s guest blogs for us include “Drizzt Do’Urden Simply Won’t Stop Adventuring: Learning to Love Serial Fantasy” (2015) and “Selling Shadow Ops: Control Point” (2012), not to mention this 2012 interview with Patty Templeton.

Sixteenth Watch will be published by Angry Robot on March 10, 2020. It is 432 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Isaac Hannaford. Read an excerpt at the Angry Robot website, and see all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF & Fantasy here.


Write Your Legislators: Dell Science Fiction Reviews

Friday, February 28th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

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Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead!

My copies of Asimov’s Science Fiction and Analog Science Fact & Science Fiction arrived in the mail on the same day. Consequently, I wondered what to read first. I perceived that Black Gate’s very own Derek Kunsken had something in Asimov’s, but he also did in Analog. In Analog, his contribution was much longer, a serial, the beginning of a novel.

For whatever reason, or none, I began with Asimov’s. I noticed that the topic of the guest editorial serendipitously is what I myself wrote about last review: the sometimes tense relationship between science fiction and fantasy (though David D. Levine’s “Thoughts on a Definition of Science Fiction” deemphasizes this tension while addressing it, briefly, at the very end of the article). It’s well worth reading. In short, Levine arrestingly says that (to compress the entire discussion) “Technology [science fiction] depends on what you have; magic [fantasy] depends on who you are.” I’ve never before encountered the differences between the two genres explained in quite this way.

I’d say that there were two standout stories in this Asimov’s. Since I’m still fairly new to reviewing these, I should remind readers that my callouts are contingent on my idiosyncratic interests and sensibilities. If I were to characterize what science fiction stories most often excite me, I’d settle on those that (in addition to all of the qualities that make for all good writing, fictional or otherwise) contain philosophical or metaphysical concepts that startle my presumptions.

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The Ash-Tree Anthologies, edited by Barbara Roden and Christopher Roden

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Jason Van Hollander

Ash-Tree Press was a highly respected small press publisher of ghostly fiction. It was founded in Ashcroft, British Columbia, in 1994 by Christopher and Barbara Roden, and over the next 20 years produced 160+ collections, anthologies and novels of supernatural fiction, mostly reprints. They published volumes by M. R. James, H. R. Wakefield, A. M. Burrage, David G. Rowlands, Richard Marsh, Robert W. Chambers, E. F. Benson, Margery Lawrence, Marjorie Bowen, Alice Askew and Claude Askew, Jonathan Aycliffe, Frederick Cowles, and many, many others. Their handsome books, produced in very small print runs (anywhere from 5-500 copies, but typically  200-300), were usually outside my price range, but I certainly coveted them. The last one appeared in 2013.

In addition to premium reprints aimed at the collectors market, the Rodens had a keen interest in modern ghost fiction, and they published a lot of it. They took over the reins of All Hallows, the Journal Of The Ghost Story Society, with issue #6 in June 1994, and turned it into a thick regular anthology (the last issue, #43, was a whopping 304 pages) published every four months. And they produced five original anthologies between 1997 – 2008, including three nicely affordable paperback editions: Acquainted with the Night, At Ease with the Dead, and Shades of Darkness. All three had delightful covers by Jason Van Hollander.

Van Hollander’s intricate cover paintings are both modern and traditional in the best sense. They’re strangely detailed portraits of overcrowded medieval towns, with houses that huddle together in fear (or maybe just to gossip). The townsfolk remind me of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas — garrulous small town characters with colorful personalities, hurrying through the streets on mundane tasks, and who for the most part are dead. Ghosts drift through eaves, long tendrils of mist coil out of the river, brightly adorned skeletons wave to neighbours, and inhuman watchmen shuffle through the night streets, clutching lanterns.

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Street Battles and God-like Machines: The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty

Monday, January 27th, 2020 | Posted by Neil Baker

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Cover design by Mark R. Robinson

The Robots of Gotham has nothing to do with Batman (much to the chagrin of one, 1-star reviewer on Goodreads) and everything to do with A.I. dominance on a global scale, with this particular story set in an embattled Chicago. The year is 2083, and the world is dominated by Venezuelan ‘peace-keeping’ forces and vast, God-like super robots. Uprisings have been hastily and ruthlessly quashed, and humans now go about their lives in an uneasy alliance with the machines they inadvertently created.

The story is told from the point of view of Barry Simcoe, a 30-something I.T. specialist and CEO of a Canadian company, who is visiting Mud Town to secure some deals. From the outset of the novel, Barry is caught up in a violent street battle involving Venezuelan forces and giant, murderous mechs. He barely squeaks out alive, and holes up in a hotel, which becomes the focal point for the rest of the book. As the story unfolds, Barry discovers an insidious plot to do away with a vast swathe of humanity to pave the way for fascist robo-leaders, and he must ally himself with a collection of well-drawn characters in order to reveal the truth and, most importantly, survive.

The Robots of Gotham is a solid debut novel, coming in at 688 pages in the chunky hardback edition, and it takes commitment to heft it, even with the dust jacket off. I didn’t have to strain for long though, as reading it was a breeze. McAulty’s writing skips along lickety-split and was intriguing enough to keep me engrossed, even during the ‘technical’ bits which needed a second read, as the first time all I heard was Charlie Brown’s teacher.

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The Future is Barreling Down on Us: Derek Künsken on Transhumanism

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Derek Künsken Explores Our Transhuman Future

Most Black Gate readers know Derek Künsken as our Saturday evening blogger. Many of you are also familiar with his exciting Quantum Evolution series from Solaris, which started with The Quantum Magician (2018) and continued with The Quantum Garden this past October.

But he also speaks knowledgeably on fascinating topics, as proved last month in his interview with The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, in which he talks about futurism — and reveals great taste in books in the process. How often do you get to do that?? Here’s Derek.

Maybe one of the earliest books I read about overtly changing ourselves is Frederick Pohl’s Man Plus, where a colonist for Mars is augmented, organ after organ, capability after capability, into something capable of surviving the harsh Martian days and nights. It’s a haunting novel whose mild body horror unsettles, while at the same time not shying away from the fact that terraforming Mars, if it’s possible at all, would take many, many human lifetimes.

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion was also an early read for me. The first two books don’t give the Ouster swarms a lot of screen time, but what we see bundles sense of wonder, inevitability and alienation into the reader experience. Of course if people are going to live in micro-gravity among the comets, they’ll need to modify their bodies, their organs and so on. The Ousters have different body types, different biologies and ways of interacting with technology and it’s all fascinating….

Transhumanism has a much broader meaning than it did when I first encountered it, and this list of books and authors is just my view, informed quite a bit by my love of space opera and far future sci-fi…. The important thing about transhumanism in sci-fi is that we’re thinking about how we’re going to engage with technology and bioengineering, because the future is barreling down on us.

You tell ’em, Derek! Also, chops for the shout out to Frederick Pohl and Dan Simmons. You can read the entire interview with Derek here, and check out his novels here.


A Classic Science Fiction Simulator: Howard Andrew Jones and Todd McAulty on Traveller

Sunday, January 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Classic Traveller box set (Games Designers Workshop, 1977)

Over at Tor.com, Howard Andrew Jones and I (under my pseudonym Todd McAulty, the name I use for fiction writing) have posted an article on Classic Traveller, a science fiction role playing game we both dearly love. Here’s a taste.

Todd: It’s fair to say that Classic Traveller was basically a ‘50s/’60s science fiction simulator. It was deeply inspired and influenced by the mid-century SF of E.C. Tubb, H. Beam Piper, Keith Laumer, Harry Harrison, Isaac Asimov, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, and most especially Poul Anderson.

Howard: Classic Traveller was very light on setting—

Todd: To put it mildly!

Howard: —but it sketched the scene in broad strokes. Players adventured in a human-dominated galaxy riven by conflict, thousands of years in the future. The star-spanning civilization of that future looked an awful lot like the galactic civilizations imagined by Asimov, Anderson, Jack Vance, Gene Roddenberry and others.

The two of us had a lot of fun, but I have to say the article got a lot more interesting once E. E. Knight showed up to share some of his experiences at the gaming table.

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New Treasures: One Man by Harry Connolly

Thursday, January 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Harry Connolly was one of the most popular writers we published in Black Gate magazine, starting right out of the gate with his first fiction sale “The Whoremaster of Pald,” which you can read here and which appeared way back in Black Gate 2. His career really took off with his first novels, including the 4-volume Twenty Palaces series (which opened in 2009 with Child of Fire) and The Great Way trilogy, which M Harold Page called “More hardboiled than the Dresden Files.” It’s been some four years since Harry published a new novel, so the arrival of One Man in November, from Harry’s own Radar Avenue Press, was a very welcome surprise. He explains on his blog.

It’s been four years since I released a new novel… This book is the reason.

I spent two years writing One Man. It’s is a big book, over 150,000 words. It’s complicated, with lots of POV characters and locations. The setting is limited – almost every chapter takes place in a single city – but it’s complex. Which is another way of saying that a lot of time and sweat went into this novel, and I’m proud of the result.

See, I wanted to try an experiment. Most fantasy novels have huge stakes: A Dark Lord trying to conquer all. A usurper seizing the throne, pushing a kingdom toward civil war. A world-shattering magical cataclysm. Invasion of monsters. Return of monsters. Whatever. But what if I wanted to create a fantasy story about a quest for something small. Something important, but not world-shattering. For instance: the life of a single little girl. Not even his own, just someone he knows…

I think it’s a good book. A thriller with strange magic, desperation, betrayal, and murder. But it’s an odd book, too, with bourgeois hobbit vampires, and sleeping giants whose flesh can heal you, and a sprawling city built inside the skeletons of two gods… I’m hoping you’re interested in a big, odd, ambitious book about crime and magic and a screwed-up guy who has one last chance to do something decent in this world.

One World is the first novel in The City of Fallen Gods (which is maybe the name of a new series, I dunno?) It was published by Radar Avenue Press on November 26, 2019. It is 637 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 in digital formats. Read the first two chapters here, and see all our latest coverage of Black Gate writers here.


Gothic Noir in the Tradition of Weird Tales: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, Book One: Mad Shadows by Joe Bonadonna

Sunday, January 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Joe Bonadonna’s first swords and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, which won the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Choice Award for Fantasy, is one of the most successful modern S&S offerings — especially among our readers. It contains many fine stories, including the novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” perhaps the most popular piece of online fiction ever published at Black Gate.

Mad Shadows was originally published in January 2011, and last month Pulp Hero Press released a second revised edition with a new cover, new maps, revised text, and an expanded Afterword on Heroic Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery. In his 2012 review Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote “Mad Shadows is good stuff. It’s got no pretensions to be anything other than a worthy addition to the canons of S&S and there it’s wildly successful.” And in his BG article “The Coming of Dorgo the Dowser,” William Patrick Maynard wrote:

Joe Bonadonna describes his fiction as ‘Gothic Noir’ and it is entirely appropriate. As much as Mad Shadows succeeds in carrying on the tradition of Weird Tales, the brooding, darkly-humored Dorgo could have easily found a home in the pages of Black Mask if only his (dowsing) rod shot lead rather than divined spirits. The six stories in Mad Shadows offer a mixture of traditional sword & sorcery necromancers and demons as well as werewolves, vampires, witches, and bizarre half-human mutations that H. P. Lovecraft would happily embrace.

Joe followed up his original collection with Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent in 2017 (which Fletcher reviewed for us here). Read an excerpt right here at Black Gate.

The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, Book One: Mad Shadows was published by Pulp Hero Press on December 8, 2019. It is 282 pages, priced at $14.95 in paperback, and is available worldwide in paperback and Kindle editions. Check it out, and read all our previous coverage of Dorgo’s adventures here.


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