The House of Styx (Solaris, May 2021). Cover uncredited.
It’s been a genuine pleasure to watch Derek Künsken’s career take off. We published his third story in Black Gate 15, and he’s been a blogger with us since 2013, publishing nearly 200 articles here. But it’s his recent novels that have really grabbed the spotlight, including The Quantum Magician (2018) and The Quantum Garden (2019).
His latest is The House of Styx, released in hardcover by Solaris in May, and this one has breakout novel written all over it. SciFiNow calls it “Stunning,” Locus labels it “Wonderful,” and Library Journal proclaims it an “electrifying planetary adventure.” Here’s an excerpt from the rave review at Publishers Weekly.
The Human Resources Bunker for Black Gate is on sub-level 12, which is normally dank, dim, and mostly empty. But as it was Quarterly Reviews, the cargo elevators continued to disgorge people, making those of us already waiting on long benches between decorative columns pack in even tighter. As I waited, number in hand, I peered up past the moss-covered chandeliers and the ductwork of the air circulation system, to the massive murals painted onto the arching ceiling far overhead, framed in gold, showing scenes of the early days of Black Gate. But the lichen that had accumulated in the years since made the details hard to pick out.
The vents overhead dripped continuously, and I had begun to worry about possible rust stains on my already threadbare suit. So my trepidation was mixed with relief as I heard my number finally called over the loudspeakers, and I strode forward, to sit on the stool before the desk of my Human Resources representative, Salinger. He looked up from his case file with a professional smile.
“So, Mr. Starr! Hope you weren’t waiting more then a few hours!”
“Great, great!” he continued, and I settled further onto a hard stool as he continued to scan reports on my quarterly output. At last he set it aside, and gave me an appraising look. “So, why don’t you tell me how you think your writing has been going?”
“Well, progress on my current novel has been steady-”
“Ah yes,” he said, as if I’d reminded him of a small annoyance that needed to be cleared up. “Let’s begin with that. I hear there’s a marketing issue…” He consulted reports, but I didn’t wait.
“Marketing issue?” I asked, and he gave a wordless grunt in the affirmative. “It’s not even finished yet!”
Are you haunted, perhaps obsessed, with Sword & Sorcery?
Heroic fiction is infectious. Sometimes vicariously “being the hero” via reading is not enough to satisfy the call. Being compelled to write manifests next. Ghosts may be to blame. Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) is credited with originating the genre with his characters: Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn; in a 1933 correspondence to his friend and contemporary author, Clark Ashton Smith, Howard explained his interaction with the muse that inspired his Conan yarns.
Juneteenth was just marked a federal holiday in the United States to commemorate the June 19th, 1866 end to slavery. Like many memorial dates, it resonates with equal parts celebration and reflection. This June 19th, 2021, we highlight the book release of Eda Blessed II, appropriately published by a champion of Black Speculative Fiction, Milton Davis (author and editor of MVmedia, a publishing company specializing in Afrofuturism, and Steamfunk). Notably, Milton Davis has been a proponent and publisher of works by Sword & Soul originator Charles Saunders who is known for his Imaro/Nyumbani series (check out the tour guide to the Imaro Series on Black Gate). Omari Ket is the protagonist of Eda Blessed and his first name is an anagram for Imaro, but apparently, that was not done intentionally; in any event, Omari is a very different personality than Imaro.
Omari Ket is a rogue warrior; an Agency onto himself
From the first Eda Blessed, we know that Omari Ket is a rogue warrior, not a spy, but he is as suave, cunning, and as lethal as any Secret Agent Man. ‘Agency’ is a term for the capacity of a character to act independently, and Omari is an Agency onto himself: he reports to no one. Omari is a ladies’ man in a dog-eat-dog world. If you like a cut-throat, libertine, action-oriented protagonist, then you are ‘Eda Blessed.’
“It’s just because I have picked a little about mystics that I have no use for mystagogues. Real mystics don’t hide mysteries, they reveal them. They set a thing up in broad daylight, and when you’ve seen it it’s still a mystery. But the mystagogues hide a thing in darkness and secrecy, and when you find it, it’s a platitude.” ― G. K. Chesterton
After a few unforeseen delays, Mystics in Hell has finally arrived. This is the latest edition in the long-running, shared-universe series, Heroes in Hell™. The gathering of real people from across our historical timeline, and the casting of fictional characters born of myth and legend, folklore and literature, is what makes this such a unique and fun series. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the series or for those readers who may wish to be brought up to date, once again I’ll do my best to recap what’s been happening in our favorite Afterlife.
Mystics in Hellfollows on the hot hooves of Lovers in Helland the two volumes preceding it. The plagues which first manifested themselves in Doctors in Hell are evolving and mutating. In Pirates in Hell, disastrous floods swept through Hell, leaving behind wrack and ruin, and new islands and coastlines. The damned sought the help of pirates and other seafarers, seeking refuge and passage, hoping to escape to dry land and whatever safe harbor they could find. But there is no such thing as a safe harbor in Hell, and there is no escape.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2020, edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books, June 2021). Cover by Argus
The print version of Rich Horton’s 12th Year’s Best volume was delayed roughly six months by the pandemic, and it finally arrives next week. The delay was a little frustrating for those of us who look forward to this book every year, but considering how deeply the pandemic impacted the publishing world overall, I figure it could have been a lot worse. (The digital version has been available since December, but I remain stubbornly a print guy.)
Rich’s introductions to the early volumes belonged to the get-out-of-the-way-and let-the-fiction-do-the-talking school, but over the years they’ve loosened up a bit, and this year’s is one of his best, a lively and thoughtful look at the impact of this very eventful year on science fiction, and some thoughts on famous genre pandemic fiction. Here’s part of his comments on the tales within.
This reviews Scott Oden Presents: The Lost Empire of Sol brought to you by the Rogue Blades Foundation. This is a fine collection that certainly achieved its mission of inserting a jolt into Sword & Planet offerings. With its interesting premise and cast of authors, The Lost Empire of Sol is destined to become a historic Sword & Planet anthology.
It is edited by two who are well known to the Black Gate community. Firstly, Jason M. Waltz, champion of Rogue Blades Entertainment and the Rogue Blades Foundation, is notorious for rounding up contemporary authors in themed anthologies (perhaps most well known for the 2008 Sword & Sorcery classic Return of the Sword …. and most currently known for Robert E. Howard Changed My Lifereleasing ~now (appropriately on June 11th, REH’s anniversary of passing). And we also have Fletcher Vredenburgh, well known for his outstanding reviews, who provides the “Foreword”: he explains how discussions on Facebook with Scott Oden (adored author of historical fiction, Conan pastiche, and the Grimnir series) escalated into this collection. Also, to dimension the genre and set the stage for a revival is the esteemed John O’Neill (our esteemed chief editor of Black Gate Magazine) provides an introductory essay “Sword & Planet is the Genre We Need.”
Sorrowful and Sorrowless Fear neither Moon nor Sun,
Side by side, we flip the stones…
…Until both can claim we’ve won.
Last October, Black Gate alerted folks to the Turn Over the Moon’s Kickstarter campaign which brought Ryan Harvey’s world of Ahn-Tarqa into novel form (with Dream Tower Media). That journey began a decade prior and we’ll cover the ancillary tales leading up to that. Although a prequel and side stories exist, be assured that the novel feels designed to be the gateway into this Sorrow-laden world. Have no fear (or Sorrow) and enter here (with Turn Over the Moon).
The subtitle “Saga of the Sorrowless Book #1” had me gearing up for an epic fantasy in which (a) most mysteries would resolve in subsequent books and (b) the pace may be slower than the short stories I typically read. That would have been fine, of course, but Harvey (who already has proven himself a master of the short form) pleasantly delivers a cross-breed of short-story style with typical novel form: there are mysteries, but you get to learn them speedily, and the pace is super-charged. The opening chapters will have you wondering (no worries, no spoilers here): (1) who are the Shapers, (2) how the heck does the prevailing Sorrow connect to the heroine, world, and conflict, and (3) who is the mystery woman? I won’t tell you here but rejoice in knowing that the revelations are engaging and explained satisfyingly within the covers.
“The Shapers can reach me in my dreams. I escaped their clutches once, but in the blackness of sleep they tear open the walls of my head and slither inside. In each nightmare they glare down on me as they once glared down on all the land, from the edge of the eastern desert to the dwindling tip of the western peninsula. As they once glared down on my father, bound across his own workbench for their tortures. Even though their eyes are drowned within the dark slits of their masks, I can feel their stares. The robes hiding their bodies flutter around me in a barrier. There is nothing beyond.” — the teenage heroine Belde
As the Black Gate watch warned you, Joe Bonadonna’s Mad Shadows series had a recent release (Book III: The Heroes of Echo Gate). So it is timely to review the entire series, and for that esteemed author Andrew Paul Weston steps up. Incidentally, Mr. Weston is no stranger to Black Gate, or Hell for that matter (check out his Bio below). So I pass the microphone over to him so he can recap each entry.
Rakefire and Other Stories released July 2020 via Pulp Hero Press
Nine weird adventures span the 216 pages of this grimoire. Penned by emerging thaumaturgist Jason Ray Carney, Rakefire promises to corrupt any reader. So let us get this disclaimer out of the way: the mere reading of this tome may thicken your blood with wonder. Red turning to black, your blood will never bleed the same. Read this review at your own risk.
The book blurb labels this “Fever Dreams of Sword & Sorcery in an Eld Realm of Unfathomable Beauty and Cruelty” and it also contains “enigmatic tales of horror and fantasy in the pulp tradition.” That summary is spot on. Most of the tales focus on the sorcery end of the spectrum. Jason Ray Carney’s writing style is reminiscent of Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith (full of pregnant shadows and intellectual skullduggery!). Excerpts throughout this review reinforce what to expect.
The majority of the stories (6/9) have been published in various magazines, but reading them piece-meal is like eating random snacks instead of a five-course meal. The confluence amplifies the lore threading them all together (lore discussed below). Plus, the three newly published tales extend the impact. Each is recapped below, and most have excerpts that emphasize the style and common milieu (while avoiding spoilers). This serves as a tour guide into Jason Ray Carney’s strange world.