Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 44 Now Available

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly–Q44

Issue banner by Rengin Tumer

The ancient druids used to use gigantic standing stones to precisely chart the passing of the seasons. Me, I have a more accurate and satisfying method. I rely on the mystical and inexorable cosmic cycle that gives birth to a new issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, every quarter, without fail.

HFQ 44 is a special treat as it contains a complete story by our very own Greg Mele, whose most recent article for Black Gate, an Interview with Christian Cameron, appeared just last week. Tangent Online gives “Heart of Vengeance” a solid thumb’s up, calling it “A dark tale of betrayal and lethal fury, this thoroughly enjoyable story is as much about the power of love and sacrifice as it is the justice of the grave.” For audiobook fans, there’s also a complete reading of the tale by Karen Bovenmeyer.

The issue also contains “The Whispering Healer,” by Larisa Walk (which Tangent calls “full of the unexpected,”) and “Do Not Fear, for the Work Will be Pure,” by Michael Johnston (which “follows the mission of the royal sculptor Deonoro Zayal… [into] the wilds facing down mutated brigands”).

Here’s the complete TOC, with fiction links.

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Network Effect is the First Full Novel in the Martha Wells’ Epic Murderbot Saga

Saturday, April 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

All Systems Red-small Artificial Condition-small Rogue Protocol-small
Exit Strategy-small Network Effect-small

Covers by Jaime Jones

Martha Wells exploded into the big time with Murderbot. Black Gate readers, of course, know and love Martha from her Ile-Rien tales “Holy Places,” “Houses of the Dead,” and “Reflections,” which originally appeared in the pages of our print magazine (and her Nebula-nominated novel The Death of the Necromancer, which we serialized online in its entirely here.) But the world at large didn’t truly know her the way we did until the first Murderbot tale All Systems Red appeared in 2017, sweeping all the awards — including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus — and kicking off one of the most successful SF series of the 21st Century. Sequel Artificial Condition (2018) won the Hugo and Locus, and she declined the nominations that came her way for the third and fourth installments (there’s a tradition of Black Gate writers declining Hugo Awards, beginning with Matthew David Surridge, but that’s another story.)

Network Effect, the first full-length Murderbot novel, is one of the most anticipated books of 2020, and it arrives in less than three weeks. I’ve heard plenty of glowing reports from folks who received advance copies, but my favorite came from Martha’s fellow BG writer C.S.E. Cooney, who wrote:

Finished reading Martha Wells’ Murderbot 5 Network Effect aloud to Carlos and Sita.

From time to time, I’d come across a sentence that would make me — and then Carlos too, and then my mama, in solidarity — just yell out: “MAARRTHHAA!!!”

Anyway. That was my second read, and it just keeps getting better.

Network Effect will be published by Tor.com on May 5, 2020. It is 352 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Jaime Jones. Read Chapter One of All Systems Red at Tor.com.


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

Flame and Crimson-small Flame and Crimson-back-small

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

Flame and Crimson-small Flame and Crimson-back-small

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

Asimov's Science FIction March April 2020-small Ananlog Science FIction Science Fact March April 2020-small

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

Acquainted with the Night-smaller At Ease With the Dead-smaller Shades of Darkness-smaller

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

The Robots of Gotham paperback-small The Robots of Gotham paperback-back-small

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

Traveller Role Playing Game closeup-small

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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