The Strangest Alien: Julie E. Czerneda’s Esen-alit-Quar Returns in Two New Books

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Webshifters Julie E Czerneda-small

Julie E. Czerneda is one of the leading SF writers of the 21st Century. A biologist by trade, she’s brought a unique appreciation for the far-ranging possibilities of extraterrestrial biology to her fiction, and the result has been some of the most joyously alien characters in all of modern SF. One of her most popular characters is Esen-alit-Quar, the alien protagonist of the Web Shifters trilogy (Beholder’s EyeChanging Vision, and Hidden in Sight), published by DAW between 1998-2003. Who or what is Esen? Here’s Julie, in an essay she wrote for The Little Red Reviewer.

Short answer? A blob of blue, shaped like a teardrop. Who happens to be a semi-immortal shapeshifter. Who has really good intentions… but is working on her life skills.

Writing Esen’s attempts to protect life in the universe – or at least keep it civil – makes me happy and always has. As it turned out, Esen made you happy too, dear readers. I’ve received more feedback and love from you for the Dear Little Blob than for all my other work combined.

For those unfamiliar with my work, I’m a biologist by training, an optimist by preference, and have been writing the stories I want to read for quite a while now, thanks to Sheila Gilbert and DAW Books. If you read and enjoy my other SF, you’ll find Esen’s stories funnier, with more aliens and their worlds, but with no less — and sometimes more — heart. I came across this email from Tanya Huff the other day, about Esen’s first book. “…this was so much fun. It reminded me of all the reasons why I started reading SF in the first place.” Yup. Grinning.

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Sign up to Support Heroic Fantasy Quarterly through Patreon!

Friday, August 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

HFQ Patreon-small

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is one of the most reliable outlets for top quality adventure fantasy on the market. In his review of Volume One of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is… the most consistent forum for the best in contemporary swords & sorcery. Some may think I’m laying it on a little thick, but The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 1, 2009-2011, a distillation of the mag’s first three years, should prove that I’m not.

HFQ‘s reputation doesn’t just rest on quality. They’ve published four issues a year like clockwork for nearly a decade — and all of it available free online. Fans have been asking for a way to support the magazine for years, and the editors have finally created a Patreon where those who love quality fantasy can make meaningful contributions. Here’s HFQ editor and Black Gate blogger Adrian Simmons:

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has brought new voices in sword and sorcery, adventure fiction, and historical fiction to the people since 2009. On our shoestring budget we have hit our goal of publishing three stories and two poems every three months AND started working in artwork, AND starting working in audio; and with more funds we could do much more.

Even just a few dollars a month can have a huge impact. Make a much-needed contribution to HFQ here, to help ensure one of the best modern fantasy magazine can continue for years to come. And check out their latest issue here.

Time Travel, Shoggoths, and the Land of the Witches: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018 edited by Rich Horton

Thursday, August 9th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018-smallI always enjoy Rich Horton’s introductions to his annual Year’s Best collection, and this one doesn’t disappoint. I was especially delighted to see him select one of my favorite stories of last year for this year’s volume, and to see him call it out in the intro:

One source of originality is new voices, and thus I am excited every [year] to see new writers producing excellent work… But one of the reasons I choose stories by some writers over and over again is that they are always fresh. What story this year is stranger than C.S.E. Cooney’s “Though She Be But Little?”

This year’s volume is dedicated to Gardner Dozois, who passed away in May, and I was particularly touched by Rich’s thoughtful reminiscence.

As for Gardner Dozois, who was closer to me in a personal sense — I was really shaken by news of his passing. He was one of the greatest editors in the field’s history (an argument can be made — and I’ve made it — that he ranks at the top); and he was also a very significant science fiction writer…

We who produce these similar books, the best of the year volumes, never regard ourselves as rivals. Our books are paragraphs in a long conversation about science fiction. I talked with Gardner about science fiction for years, in different ways — face to face, or on message boards, discussing our different ideas about who should have won the Hugo in 1973 or whenever; month by month in our columns in Locus; or in the tables of contents of these books, each of us proposing lists of the best stories each year. I always looked eagerly for Gardner’s “list,” and his stories for me represented a different and completely interesting angle on what really mattered each year.

I already miss that voice.

Rich’s 2018 volume is so crammed with fiction that the publisher had no room for the traditional “About the Authors” and “Recommended Reading” sections in the print edition; instead they’ll make them available online for free at the Prime Books website (and in the ebook version). They’re not available yet — and in fact the Prime website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2016? — but presumably they will be soon.

This year’s volume has stories by Samuel R. Delany, Rich Larson, Sarah Pinsker, Michael Swanwick, Peter Watts, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Charlie Jane Anders, Robert Reed, Maureen McHugh, Sofia Samatar, Yoon Ha Lee, Kameron Hurley, and many others. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Birthday Reviews: Rick Norwood’s “Portal”

Saturday, August 4th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Todd Lockwood

Cover by Todd Lockwood

Rick Norwood was born on August 4, 1942.

Norwood published his first piece of fiction in 1972, following up with several stories in 1982, and then began publishing fiction again in 2003 with “Portal.” He was active in the nderground comic scene, editing God Comics and writing essays and articles for various comic magazines and websites. He also earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics and has taught since the early 1980s.

“Portal” appeared in the sixth issue of Black Gate magazine, released in Fall 2003 and edited by John O’Neill. The story has not been reprinted.

Ostensibly, “Portal” is the story of Ian, an escaped serf who is eluding capture and working temporarily at a fair for Stolnesserene, who runs a Blade Maze, a chance for people to try to reach into a box containing a series of razors and blades to retrieve a sword. However, rather than focus solely on Ian, the stories jumps between him, his boss, Ian’s friend Tod, and Carver, an art dealer who is also on the fair circuit and is intent on retrieving the blade from the maze.

Norwood follows each of these characters to some extent, but in a manner that indicates there is more to the story than he is sharing, not necessarily in background, although that clearly has depth, but in the future. As such, “Portal” almost comes across as a vignette rather than a full story. The title takes its name from an ability that Ian has to create portals that open to other worlds. These portals are not fully understood by the inhabitants of Ian’s world and when he first opens one accidentally, his father berates him. In the course of “Portal,” Ian enters one of the doorways he creates, which may be the first time someone has gone through and come back, further pushing the idea that this story is part of a larger whole.

“Portal” has the feel of the opening chapter of a much longer work, whether a series of short stories set in the same world or a novel. Norwood introduces several characters as well as their situations and includes prediction about Ian and Tod without showing how their fate will play out or even if they will live up to the expectation laid before them. Ian’s backstory opens “Portal,” and although his concern at being captured runs through much of the story, it isn’t picked up again, further providing the feel that Norwood is positioning this story as the opening of a novel.

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Amazon Selects the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (So Far)

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Only Harmless Great Thing-small Artificial Condition The Murderbot Diaries-small The-Robots-of-Gotham-medium

Amazon has selected the Best Books of 2018 (so far) in a dozen different categories, including Mysteries & Thrillers, Comics & Graphic Novels, Literature and Fiction… and, of course, Science Fiction & Fantasy. The list includes several titles we’ve covered recently at Black Gate, including

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer
Before Mars by Emma Newman
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

and others. Best of all, it showcases a pair of Black Gate writers: Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition, the second installment of her wildly popular Murderbot series from, and Todd McAulty’s breakout debut novel The Robots of Gotham. Check out all the details here.

Birthday Reviews: Cory Doctorow’s “Chicken Little”

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Pablo Defendini

Cover by Pablo Defendini

Cory Doctorow was born on July 17, 1971.

Doctorow won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2000. He has won the Prometheus Award three times, for his novels Little Bother, Pirate Cinema, and Homeland. Little Brother also won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Golden Duck Award, the Emperor Norton Award, and the Sunburst Award. Doctorow had previously won the Sunburst Award for his collection A Place So Foreign and Eight More. He received the Copper Cylinder Award for the novel Homeland. His story “The Man Who Sold the Moon” received the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 2015. Doctorow is also one of the editors of the website Boing Boing.

Doctorow originally self-published “Chicken Little” in his collection With a Little Help through CorDoc-Co, Ltd., the company’s only project, in 2009. The next year it was included in Gateways, a Festschrift anthology celebrating the life and work of Frederik Pohl, edited by Pohl’s wife, Elizabeth Anne Hull. On April 6, 2011, the story appeared on, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Liz Gorinsky. Gardner Dozois included the story in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Eight Annual Collection. Nielsen Hayden and David G. Hartwell chose the story for their anthology Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, published in 2013.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from and you me.” Cory Doctorow takes this statement to the extreme in “Chicken Little.” Leon works for an ad company whose sole purpose it to figure out what product can be sold to one of the super-rich quadrillionnaires who live in vats, having shuffled off their human bodies, but not their mortal coils.

When it becomes clear to Leon that he issn’t doing anything useful at the company, he began delving into what everyone else at the agency is working on, trying to build up a complete picture and unable to come up with any leads. This approach, however, brings him to the attention of Ria, a representative for Buhle, one of the super-rich. Ria gives Leon insight into the levels of mechanization the super-rich employ.

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Birthday Reviews: Michael Shea’s “Fast Food”

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by David Christiana

Cover by David Christiana

Michael Shea was born on July 3, 1946 and died on February 16, 2014.

Shea won the World Fantasy Award twice, in 1983 for the novel Nifft the Lean and in 2005 for the novella “The Growlimb,” the latter of which was also nominated for the International Horror Guild Award. His story “Autopsy” was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novelette and the Nebula Award for Best Novella. He previously had been nominated for a Nebula for his novelette “The Angel of Death.” His novel A Quest for Simbilis was nominated for the August Derleth Award.

Shea sold “Fast Food” to Robert K.J. Killheffer and it appeared in the third issue of Century in September/October, 1995. Shea subsequently included the story in his 2008 collection The Autopsy and Other Tales, published by Centipede Press.

“Fast Food” is a revenge story with a difference. Jivaro in native to a part of the Amazonian rain forest which is being bulldozed to make way for grazing land for Mighty Burger, an American fast food chain. Befriended by Henry, one of the bulldozer drivers, Jivaro swaps bodies with another driver, Vic, sending Vic to live in the rainforest as Jivaro while the original Jivaro destroys the two bulldozers and gets himself and Henry sent back to the states. Applying for a job at the fast food chain, Jivaro continues to body swap while at the same time causing the chain’s food to infect its diners with strange bumps and rashes.

Jivaro had a long term plan to not only get vengeance on Mighty Burger, but also to attempt to repopulate the Amazon rain forest. Shea’s story points out that just as the forces behind Mighty Burger don’t care what happens when they pillage the rain forest, dooming animals and the indigenous population, Jivaro also doesn’t care what happens to the innocent people whose only connection to Mighty Burger may be that they eat there, or to the animals that he summons up far from their natural habitat.

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Birthday Reviews: Kay Kenyon’s “The Executioner’s Apprentice”

Monday, July 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Kenn Brown and Chris Wren

Cover by Kenn Brown and Chris Wren

Kay Kenyon was born on July 2, 1956.

Kenyon has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award for her novel Maximum Ice. Her novel The Braided World was nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. She was nominated for the Endeavour Award three years in a row for the novels Bright of the Sky, A World Too Near, and City Without End.

She wrote “The Executioner’s Apprentice” for Julie Czerneda and Isaac Szpindel’s anthology ReVisions, which focused on scientific achievements as the catalyst for alternate history. Published in 2004, the story has never been reprinted.

“The Executioner’s Apprentice” takes a place in an Aztec empire which is advanced enough to make use of genetic testing in determining who has violent tendencies and likely criminal behavior to determine the appropriate victims of execution. Pacal is the titular apprentice who is preparing for his first execution and has completely bought into the traditional system. When his friends arrange for him to lose his virginity prior to his first execution, Kina, the woman he is with, tries to make him understand that there are better ways than executions.

On the eve of his induction into the ranks of Executioners, Pacal learns that the methodology he has been taught by the priests to find victims is a lie, and that his first victim will be Kina. Rather than culling the Aztecs of their most violent citizens, the priests are working to remove those who abhor violence, building a society which is ready to defend themselves not only against their traditional enemies but also the mysterious Eastern Army, which is implied to be made up of European conquistadors.

The discovery that genetic testing was not used for what Pacal believed is only the first twist that Kenyon introduces. When Kina and Pacal flee so he doesn’t have to kill her, Kenyon reveals more about the Eastern religion Kina follows and the holy book she reveres and tries to get Pacal to understand. This last twist is a nice touch, although it doesn’t help place the time period or the evolution of society to the story, if anything confusing it even more.

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Shadows, Robots, and Warrior Monks: Amazon Selects the Five Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of June

Saturday, June 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Amazon Top Five SF & Fantasy in June

Amazon closes out a month of great books with their 5 Top Picks for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of June. The list includes some pretty familiar titles, including Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M, Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun, Stephanie Garber’s Legendary, and the debut novel by Black Gate‘s own Todd McAulty. Here’s their take.

The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty

Robots have taken over most of the world, but not quite in the way you’d expect. Some have fought their way to dominion. Others have been voted into power by human citizens who think AIs will make better decisions. Readers who enjoyed the complex robot-human relationships within Robopocalypse and the investigations in World War Z about how institutions function (or don’t) in the face of species-changing event will happily sink their teeth into The Robots of Gotham.

See the complete list here.

The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of June 2018

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Brief Cases-small Revenant Gun-small The Robots of Gotham McAulty-small

June has been a fantastic month for new books. My TBR (to-be-read) pile is reaching structurally unsound heights already, and Jeff Somers at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog isn’t helping matters any by showcasing nearly two dozen of the best new releases. Here’s a few of his more interesting selections.

Brief Cases, by Jim Butcher (Ace Books, 448 pages, $28 hardcover/$14.99 digital, June 5, 2018)

Butcher offers up 12 stories set in the world of Harry Dresden, wizard and private investigator working an alternate, magic-filled Chicago. Several stories follow Harry’s adventures with River Shoulders, a smart sasquatch with a half-human son. Others involve Harry’s apprentice Molly Carpenter, crime boss John Marcone, and even Wyatt Earp. The novella “Zoo Day” follows Harry as he takes his young daughter Maggie to the zoo — and since this is Harry Dresden, you know there’s more in store than daddy/daughter bonding. Dresden fans may have encountered some of these stories before, but rereading them in this collection, alongside one all-new tale, should help ease the pain for waiting for Harry’s next novel-length adventure.

Our previous coverage of Harry Dresden includes Barbara Barrett 2014 article “A Wizard is a Wizard is a Wizard — Except When He’s Harry Dresden.”

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