Sorcery, Foxkin, Giants, and the Return of Dabir & Asim: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #45!

Monday, September 21st, 2020 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

Epic Swamp

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #45 was released on an unsuspecting world on the second of August. Four works of fiction, one outstanding poem, plus artwork and audio. A great issue that you should check out!

What have we got? This is what we’ve got:

Fiction Contents

Assailing the Garden of Pleasure, by Danial Ausema, with audio by Karen Bovenmeyer. The wounded apprentices of a corrupt teacher must gather what little power and skill they have to attempt to wrest the stolen parts of themselves from their corrupt master. The mastery of sorcery exacts a price. The search for vengeance exacts an even greater one.

Fox Hunt, by Rebecca Buchanan, with artwork by Simon Walpole and audio by Karen Bovenmeyer. There is a horror worming its way into the world of feudal Japan in this outstanding story. No bold samurai or powerful sorcerer fights against it — only a lone foxkin and a willful old woman stands in its way. A unique tale!

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Understanding Gamers through Belly Laughs: Knights of the Dinner Table by Jolly R. Blackburn

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Knights of the Dinner Table 2020-small

Three issues of Jolly Blackburn’s long-running Knights of the Dinner Table, all shipped simultaneously: #273, 274, & 275

The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with virtually every aspect of life around the globe. That was driven home to me (again) when three issues of my Knights of the Dinner Table subscription were delivered in a single envelope last week.

Given all the upheaval the world has gone through in just the last five months, it was an eerie look into the recent past to open the first of them, issue #273 (planned on-sale date: May 2020) and read Jolly R. Blackburn’s editorial, written in March 2020 and titled “And Just Like That — Everything Changes.” Children of the Apocalypse, gather round and read these words from the long ago before-time:

Hey folks — I hope this finds each of you reading this, healthy, safe and doing well. Clearly, with what has transpired in recent weeks, that is most certainly not the case for everyone. Many of you have likely lost loved ones. are sick, unemployed, wondering what the future will bring or all of the above. This is indeed something that has left no one untouched.

I [know] that Knights of the Dinner Table has always been a refuge of sorts from the hard realities of the real world. Readers come here to forget their worries, have a laugh, possibly be touched and celebrate the love of rolling dice and gaming with friends. That won’t change… we’re all in this together, despite differences.

As I write this, there is a lot going on. The nation is in a state of self-isolation and shut down. I wanted to tell you what that means for KenzerCo and the Knights even though in the grand scheme of things, it might be the last thing on your minds. We are fortunate in that we are a small company with our own warehouse and shipping facility. Barb and I continue to ship product twice a week and can do so without interacting with others. So we are completely safe in doing so.

Here’s the glitch. Our distributors recently announced they will NOT be shipping product to retailers until this is all over. Which is understandable because many game and comic shops are currently shutting down and there’s no place to ship product to.

On top of that. the printer who publishes our monthly deadtree issues is in a shutdown also!

Take it from me: It’s tough to keep a monthly magazine going when both your printer and your distributors cease operations. But Jolly and team battened down the hatches and did it, producing digital issues, and getting out them subscribers, on time. And when their printer opened up again they did a bulk run of all three issues, shipping them to subscribers as quickly as possible. Getting all three at once allowed me to read the issues back-to-back, and re-appraise just what it is that Jolly is doing, and how much it’s impacted the hobby.

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Behind Where the Veil Is Thin

Friday, July 31st, 2020 | Posted by Alana Abbott

Where the Veil Is Thin-smallWhere the Veil Is Thin, an anthology of original stories where humans run afoul of faeire-like creatures (or sometimes, faeries run afoul of humans), is a project of my heart, and I’m so pleased that it began to show up on bookshelves—at least, virtual ones—earlier this month! It is a project that was years in the making.

And it almost didn’t happen.

Back in 2017, the publisher of the company now folded into Outland Entertainment approached me with an idea. He and his wife loved fairy stories, he said; what would I think about doing an anthology of original stories based on the Seelie and Unseelie courts? I liked the idea, but I wanted to go one better; I didn’t want to limit our tales to the Celtic tradition of Seelie and Unseelie. What would an anthology look like if it reached into different parts of the world, with stories from authors who wouldn’t just retell tales from a European tradition? I was excited about the idea of pairing tales that could feature fox spirits or boo hags with the types of stories and fairies I was more familiar with.

I didn’t want to do it alone, so I reached out the Cerece Rennie Murphy, whose work I had deeply admired on the website Narazu. The mission of Narazu is to bring the best of Indie Sci-Fi to a wider audience, and to celebrate the cool works that indie writers and artists are creating. Cerece was interested in the idea, and we started hashing out plans.

And then the publishing company where we’d started the idea fell apart. It closed its doors in November 2017.

After some maneuvering, Outland Entertainment decided to keep moving forward on the anthology, and Cerece agreed to stick with the project. We started reaching out to authors, some that Cerece knew, some I had worked with before on other projects, some recommended to us by other contributors. We planned to line up the writers and have all their stories completed by July 2018, when we would launch the anthology.

The best plans, however, were a bit ambitious. Outland Entertainment already had two anthologies slotted for 2018, and because we were a new company at putting together anthologies and fulfilling their Kickstarters — not to mention completing some projects that the previous publisher had left unfinished — we had no idea we’d bitten off more than we could chew. Eventually, Outland released two really fantastic anthologies from those 2018 Kickstarters, which I was excited to help edit, but it took a long time.

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After Hastings: On Names

Friday, July 24th, 2020 | Posted by Steven H Silver

After Hastings-small

After Hastings cover by Laura Givens

Coming up with a title or character names can be much more difficult that you might expect. The title, especially, is a reader’s first introduction to the book and the way word about the book will spread. Because of this, it needs to be as perfect as the first line.

When I was working on After Hastings, I questioned the title, trying to come up with something catchier that still captured the essence of the novel, which is set in the two years after the Battle of Hastings (specifically, January 5, 1067-January 5, 1069). I asked around and received some suggestions, such as 1067. Eventually, I decided After Hastings was the way to go. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t until after the novel was published that I looked at it and realized that its initials, AH, were how Alternate History, the subgenre to which it belongs, is often abbreviated. Sometimes we’re just too close to things.

For characters, my choices should have been easier. A lot of the characters in After Hastings are historical. Their names were selected by their parents over a millennium ago. Unfortunately, even there things weren’t always easy.

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Dorgo Returns! Mad Shadows, Book Two: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent-small Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent-back-small

Joe Bonadonna’s 2011 sword and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser won the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Choice Award for Fantasy. In his BG review William Patrick Maynard wrote:

Joe Bonadonna describes his fiction as ‘Gothic Noir’ and it is entirely appropriate… 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.

Pulp Hero Press reissued Mad Shadows last December, in a revised second edition with a new cover, new maps, revised text, and an expanded Afterword. Now they’ve given the same treatment to the sequel, Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent. Here’s a brief snippet from Fletcher Vredenburgh’s terrific review of the original 2017 release.

I totally dig these stories and especially the world Bonadonna’s created. Tanyime is rife with magic and magical beings. Minotaurs serve as guards, a cyclops runs a gambling den, and an old satyr is one of Dorgo’s best friends. Bonadonna’s too skilled a storyteller to let his setting become overwhelmed by the possible cutesiness of it all, instead, creating a good, hardboiled world with room in it for justice…. Aside from his deep understanding of S&S and hardboiled fiction, Bonadonna knows how to write a hero… [Dorgo] is an honest-to-goodness hero looking to do the right thing,

Read a generous excerpt from Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent right here at Black Gate.

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What if King Harold had Prevented the Norman Conquest: After Hastings by Steven H Silver

Sunday, July 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

After Hastings-small After Hastings-back-small

Cover designed by Laura Givens

Steven H Silver is one of Black Gate‘s most prolific contributors. He produced many reviews for the print magazines, sold me the terrific short story “The Cremator’s Tale” back in 2013, and has written an astonishing 471 articles for the blog.

Steven’s many accomplishments don’t end with Black Gate, however. He’s an acclaimed editor, co-editing three DAW anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg (Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings), and the two volume Selected Stories of Lester del Rey for NESFA Press. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace (June 2019), co-edited with Joshua Palmatier. From 2004-2012 he was the publisher and editor of ISFiC Press, and his annual fanzine Argentus has been nominated for the Hugo Award multiple times. In fact Steven has received 17 Hugo nominations over the years.

Last week Steven’s writing career entered an exciting new phase with the publication of his long-awaited debut novel After Hastings, a masterfully constructed alternate history from one of the field’s true experts. I asked Steven to say a few words about it for BG readers, and this is what he shared:

After Hastings is an exploration of a world in which King Harold of England successfully beats back the Norman Conquest but finds himself facing other enemies, both domestic and foreign, leading him to jump start the reformation four hundred years early.

After Hastings was published by Ring of Fire Press on July 10, 2020. It is 347 pages, priced at $15.99 in paperback and $5.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Laura Givens. Order copies here.

See all our coverage of recent releases by Black Gate staff here.


Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Lambs and Lizardmen

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020 | Posted by Greg Mele

For the Killing of Kings-small Upon the Flight of the Queen-small When the Goddess Wakes-small

The Ring-Sworn Trilogy by Howard Andrew Jones: For the Killing of Kings (Feb 2019), Upon the Flight of the Queen
(November 2019) and the forthcoming When the Goddess Wakes (April 2021)

A bit of prologue and some full disclosure to the Gentle Reader

The purpose of this column has been looking at the challenges of historicity vs. fantasy in the process of world-building; well at least when the fantasy in question is trying to be either realistic or set in our world or a near-neighbor. From contrasting the visual departure of Jackson’s LotR films as a more effective means of showing the vast sweep of Middle Earth’s history, to critiquing the swordplay of the Witcher TV show, to interviewing authors who play in both the worlds of Historical Fiction and Fantasy,  I’ve come to realize we have a pretty clear continuum:

  1. Historical Fiction – just what it says. Whether it’s set in the Paleolithic or WWII, it’s a story set in our own past, with the ostensible goal of painting a portrait of that time and place.
  2. Historical Fiction with Elements of “Magical Realism” – really more of a technique of “literature” but the story is more or less as above but there may be hints or some unexplained and unexplainable element.
  3. Historical Fantasy – this is a specialty for folks like last month’s interviewee Scott Oden. Our historical past, only elements of magic, monsters, etc., exist, something like a “secret history.” A lot of traditional sword & sorcery exists here, but so does the fantastical work of writers like Judith Tarr or G. Willow Wilson.
  4. Low Fantasy in a Secondary World – the world I NOT ours, and may not even be based on any clear cognate of our civilizations, but it’s “realistic” in the sense that it’s technology and structure follows our historical models. Magic and monsters exist, but farming gets done with an iron plow and three-field rotation, people ride horses and camels (or something like them), etc. A lot, if not most, of fantasy fits this model and fantasy.
  5. High Fantasy – Magic is powerful and sweeping, there are non-human races who can do magical things, the gods may be capable of manifesting themselves or their will, etc. A lot of epic fantasy fits into this mode.

We can quibble on where those lines are (Tolkien is High Fantasy, but is Martin?), and maybe there are further subdivisions (for example, Urban Fantasy overlays the last two), but the definitions work for this column because the further you go from #1 on the continuum, the less important “historicity” becomes. 

Which brings me to my guest….

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Future Treasures: Where the Veil Is Thin edited by Cerece Rennie Murphy and Alana Joli Abbott

Saturday, June 27th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Where the Veil Is Thin-smallAlana Joli Abbott is the co-editor of the Blackguards anthology Knaves (with Melanie Meadors) and Kaiju Rising II: Reign of Monsters (with N.X. Sharps). She was a reviewer at Black Gate for over a decade, dating all the way back to our early print days; these days she is Editor in Chief at Outland Entertainment. Her latest project is the anthology Where the Veil Is Thin, co-edited with Cerece Rennie Murphy, author of the popular Wolf Queen series. Where the Veil Is Thin arrives in trade paperback on July 7 and has a stellar list of contributors, including Seanan McGuire, Minsoo Kang, Carlos Hernandez, and Black Gate‘s own C.S.E. Cooney. Here’s the description.

These are not your daughters faerie stories…

Around the world, there are tales of creatures that live in mist or shadow, hidden from humans by only the slightest veil. In Where the Veil Is Thin, these creatures step into the light. Some are small and harmless. Some are bizarre mirrors of this world. Some have hidden motives, while others seek justice against humans who have wronged them.

In these pages, you will meet blood-sucking tooth fairies and gentle boo hags, souls who find new shapes after death and changelings seeking a way to fit into either world. You will cross the veil — but be careful that you remember the way back.

Here’s the impressive Table of Contents.

Introduction by Jim Hines
“The Tooth Fairies” by Glenn Parris
“Glamour” by Grey Yuen
“See a Fine Lady” by Seanan McGuire
“Or Perhaps Up” by C.S.E. Cooney
“Don’t Let Go” by Alana Joli Abbott
“The Loophole” by L. Penelope
“The Last Home of Master Tranquil Cloud” by Minsoo Kang
“Your Two Better Halves: A Dream, with Fairies, in Spanglish” by Carlos Hernandez
“Take Only Photos” by Shanna Swendson
“Old Twelvey Night” by Gwen Nix
“The Seal Woman’s Tale” by Alethea Kontis
“The Storyteller” by David Bowles
“Poisoned Hearts” by Zin E. Rocklyn
“Colt’s Tooth” by Linda Robertson

Where the Veil Is Thin was funded by a successful Kickstarter in March of this year, and will be published by Outland Entertainment on July 7, 2020. It is 210 pages, priced at $16.95 in trade paperback and $7.99 in digital formats. The beautiful cover is by Anna Dittmann. Order copies directly at Outland Entertainment. See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and Fantasy releases here.


Witches, Thieves, and Dead Queens: Tales From the Magician’s Skull #4, edited by Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales from The Magician's Skull 4-small

Cover by Doug Kovacs

My copy of Tales From the Magician’s Skull #4 arrived today, and it is a beautiful thing. Jam-packed with brand new tales of heroic fantasy from its finest modern practitioners, it is a joy to hold. Edited by Black Gate‘s very own Howard Andrew Jones, Tales #4 is filled with names that will be very familiar to BG readers, including James Enge, John C. Hocking, Ryan Harvey, James Stoddard, C. L. Werner, and Milton Davis .

In four short issues Tales of the Magician’s Skull has become the flagship publication for English language adventure fantasy, and it looks the part. It’s an oversized magazine filled with fiction and eye-catching interior art, and it looks and feels like a modern pulp, down to the heavy paper stock, which is a faint yellow color (a nice touch). Designed by Lester B. Portly, it’s easy to read and enjoy.

When I was editing the print version of Black Gate, my readers enjoyed serial fiction the most — and wrote constantly demanding more Morlock stories by James Enge, more Dabit & Asim tales from Howard, and Tales of Brand from John C. Hocking. I’m thrilled to see that Tales has the same love of episodic fiction and larger-than-life characters I do — exciting new sword-and-sorcery series are being born in its pages, mixed in with some familiar names (including Morlock, which should please BG readers enormously).

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Adventure and Tragedy on a Far Future Earth: Keith West on Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Zothique Clark Ashton Smith

Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith. Ballantine Adult Fantasy #16, 1976. Cover by George Barr

Some years back Keith West wrote a series of articles for Black Gate on the legendary Ballantine Adult Fantasy series edited by Lin Carter. In fifteen pieces between 2013-2015 Keith covered the first fourteen or so titles, including The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt, The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany, and The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H. P. Lovecraft. Yesterday I was delighted to see that Keith picked up the reins again at his own blog, Adventures Fantastic, to review the 16th book in the series: Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith. Here’s a taste.

Zothique was the first of four collections of Clark Ashton Smith’s short fiction that appeared in the BAF series. The wrap-around cover is by George Barr. (One of the best things about this line of books was their covers.)… Zothique is the last continent on a far future Earth in which much science and history has been forgotten, and magic has returned. If this reminds you of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, keep in mind Smith did it first. Some of the stories are better than others, but all are well-done. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • “Xeethra” tells the tale of a young man who wanders into a magical vale, and when he returns he travels to the far side of the continent, where he makes a bargain that ultimately brings him sorrow.
  • In “The Isle of the Necromancers,” a man is searching for his lover, who has been kidnapped by slave traders. When his ship is caught in a current, he finds himself on an island of necromancers. And then things get interesting…
  • “The Dark Eidolon” tells the story of an abused beggar who returns years later to seek revenge on the prince who injured him. This is a close second for my favorite story in the book. There are passing references to Hyperborea and Poseidonis, two other story cycles Smith wrote that were collected in the second and third volumes of Smith’s stories in the BAF series. Shucky darn, I guess I’m going to have to read those, too. How awful.

Check out the whole thing here, and Keith’s previous articles for BG here. While you’re at his website, leave a comment encouraging Keith to keep going! I’d love to read his thoughts on all 65 books in the set.


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