Rogue Blades Presents: Recalling a Fantasy Hero — Hanse Shadowspawn

Friday, September 18th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Thieves' World-Walter-VelezAs I’ve written before, my introduction to Sword and Sorcery literature came not through the more traditional routes of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, etc. I first delved into Sword and Sorcery almost by accident about 1979 when at the age of nine I picked up a collection of fantasy short stories titled Thieves’ World, the first in what eventually would become a long series of anthologies and novels and even gaming-related material.

At that point in my young life I had discovered Tolkien, and I had read what was then the first of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books, but that was about the extent of my fantasy readings outside of comic books.

Thieves’ World opened my eyes to a much larger and somewhat darker potential for fantasy literature, one I had yet to envision at that time.

Yet my love for the series, and for Sword and Sorcery, would not come immediately upon opening the book. The introduction by series editor Robert Asprin proved interesting enough as did the first short story, “Sentences of Death” by John Brunner, and the following tales were also worthy reads.

Yet when I got to the fourth tale, “Shadowspawn” by Andrew Offutt, something … changed. Something opened within me.

This tale featured one Hanse Shadowspawn, a young, cocky thief who often wore bright garb by the day but dark garb by the night. And he also wore a dozen or so daggers about his body. Hanse showed himself to be a cocky, swaggering sort of fellow, though he also had a soft spot for those he loved.

Over the next forty or so years throughout multiple short stories and a few novels, Hanse Shadowspawn still remains one of my favorite fantasy characters. Despite his upbringing on the roughest streets of the city of Sanctuary, he became a friend to royalty, rescued a near-god from a fate worse than death, found love, grew old and learned his parentage consisted of … but that would be telling. I’ll try to leave more than a little mystery. Let’s just say, Hanse proved no mere thief, and he was the best at what he did for a reason, for several reasons.

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Fantasia 2020, Part XVIII: A Mermaid In Paris

Friday, September 18th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

A Mermaid In ParisBack in my 2014, my first year covering the Fantasia Festival for Black Gate, I reviewed an animated movie called Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, the debut film from director Mathias Malzieu. The songwriter and lead singer of French pop band Dionysos, Malzieu’s also a writer; Jack was also a concept album and novel as well as a film. Now Malzieu’s got a new movie, filled with singing and dancing and whimsy. A Mermaid In Paris (Une sirène à Paris) has many of the same visual influences as Jack, but moves beyond them in a new way. Although it has a happier ending, it also has a truer feel for melancholy and grief, and with that a sense of greater depth.

We follow Gaspard (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a singer at a bar owned by his father Camille (Tchéky Karyo) who is thinking about selling the magical place, located on a boat, hidden under a café. One night, Paris is flooded, and Gaspard finds a beautiful mermaid (Marilyn Lima) washed up on the cobbles. He takes her to a hospital where, unknown to him, she gains strength by draining the life of a doctor, Victor (Alexis Michalik), with her song. Unable to get the staff to give her treatment, Gaspard takes her home, not knowing that Victor’s wife Milena (Romane Bohringer) has sworn to find her husband’s killer. Will Lula, the mermaid, kill Gaspard? Will Gaspard, who believes he cannot love a woman after a failed relationship in his past, be drawn to her nevertheless? If so, will Lula survive, who must be returned to her native element?

Such the questions of the film. We get fine answers, though the plot that provides them is a bit ragged, here and there. Specifically, Milena is a little underplayed. Nominally the villain, she doesn’t do that much over the course of the movie, and creates little sense of tension or threat. In a way, that’s a testament to how much Bohringer brings to the part; it’s impossible not to feel for her, and Malzieu’s direction and visual imagination makes her love for Victor a powerful counterpart to the development of Gaspard and Lula’s love.

It’s also true that the basic tone of the movie is one of romance, not logic. Reality is heightened, the visual world of the film shaped by emotion, primarily love. This is the Paris of fairy-tales and dreams: colour is rich, music is everywhere, the people are whimsical and lightly ironic. Where Malzieu’s first film was strongly influenced by Tim Burton, this one marries the Burton feel to Jean-Pierre Jeunet, specifically the Jeunet of Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain. It is the kind of city into which a mermaid might wash up, and if the people of the film show less surprise at a mermaid than you might expect, that’s probably why.

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Fantasia 2020, Part XV: Kakegurui

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

KakeguruiConsider if you will the high school story. By which I mean a story set at a high school, usually involving some members of the student body. It’s relatively unusual for these kinds of stories to be about actual academic achievement, or to put more than maybe one or two members of the faculty in the foreground. It happens, of course. But usually high school stories are about the students, and their lives and interactions, with classes and teachers and adults as external factors that can be used to shape the story but are ultimately incidental to it.

In this sense Kakegurui may be considered to approach the platonic ideal of the high school story, dealing as it does with a school for the children of the ultra-rich where there are no teachers and no classes and no adults. All the students do is gamble, with not only money but status on the line. A tyrannical student council runs the school, and those who lose the games become slaves — called ‘kitties’ or ‘doggies’ depending on gender.

The movie was directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa from a script Hanabusa wrote with Minato Takano; it’s an entry in a franchise that started with a manga written by Homura Kawamoto and illustrated by Toru Naomura. There are spin-offs series and a prequel, along with an anime adaptation. The live-action movie follows the continuity of a live-action TV version, which has run for two seasons and is available on Netflix. I haven’t watched the show, but there were relatively few manga adaptations at Fantasia this year; and I tend to enjoy those more than most do, perhaps because I have little experience with the original comics. At any rate, I watched Kakegurui (also Kakegurui: The Movie, Eiga: Kakegurui, 映画 賭ケグルイ), and was entertained.

The first minutes of the Kakegurui film introduce us to the school, Hyakkaou Private Academy, and to some of the people and factions at play. A mysterious transfer student named Yumeko Jabami (Minami Hamabe, Ajin: Demi-Human) emerges as the lead character, but there are also a group of punkish rebels, and a puritanical sect of anti-gambling students who have formed a Village of their own in an unused building on the school grounds. The plot of the film’s mainly to do with Jabami being pulled into the conflict between the Village and the student council, but there are schemes within schemes at play.

Which is to say that the film doesn’t end with anything approaching finality. It’s still mostly satisfying. The construction of the plot’s solid, and I’m impressed at how much exposition is delivered quickly yet comprehensibly in the film’s opening minutes. Much of what’s set up pays off, but this is clearly an installment in an ongoing story, and while it wraps things up for its main characters the institution of the school remains relatively untouched.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: September 2020

Monday, September 14th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Whitfield_GarCoverEDITEDI haven’t done one of these in a while. And I’ve been reading a ton of stuff as summer has moved into Fall (hopefully the weather will follow suit!). So, here we go…

West of Guam: The Complete Adventures of Jo Gar – Raoul Whitfield (Ramon Decolta)

I re-read this entire anthology for the third time. I absolutely love Whitfield’s stories about the little Filipino detective. Written under the name Ramon Decolta, there were 24 Gar stories, all of which appeared in Dime Detective. Imagine a hardboiled David Suchet as Poirot, not afraid to blast it out with the bad guys. This is just about my favorite hardboiled series, and I’m working on a massive essay about Gar. Steeger Books (formerly Altus Press) put out this collection, which is still available. I can’t recommend it enough.

Whitfield was a Black Mask Boy right up there with Dashiell Hammett, Frederick Nebel, and Carroll John Daly. But he has largely been forgotten – even though he had a couple of his pulp serials novelized: including Death in a Bowl, which really established the tropes for the Hollywood mystery story.


The Annotated Sherlock Holmes – William Baring-Gould

I’m working on a new Holmes short story, so I decided to go back to the source material as a refresher. And I chose my two-volume Baring-Gould annotated set to read from. I’ve got annotations from Baring-Gould, Klinger (two different ones) and the Oxford edition. And I was in a Baring-Gould mood this time around.


BBC Sherlock Holmes Radio Series – Clive Merrison and Michael Williams

I absolutely love this series, which covered the entire Canon, created and produced by Bert Coules. After Williams (Judi Dench’s husband) passed away of cancer, Andrew Sachs stepped in as Watson and the series continued on with original stories.

When I write Holmes, I hear Merrison and Williams. Their voices are simply perfect for the roles. Throughout the year, I listen to various episodes, and I’m never disappointed. This is the best Holmes radio play ever recorded.

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Fodder for the Imagination: Nothing is Canon

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière


Image by Drajt from Pixabay

Good morning, Readers!

There has been, shall we say, a vigorous discussion happening online about speculative fiction, and whose favourites ought to be considered canon and thusly paid homage for all eternity, regardless of either their fraught legacies or the brilliance of newer fiction. For myself, I find it particularly odd that speculative fiction, particularly science fiction, famous for writing about the future should have adherents that are so backwards-looking. These people insist that past fiction should be heralded as beacons of the genre, and all future writers should know everything about these works.

Except that they don’t. Not really.

I’m not the only one to feel this way. John Scalzi has written a couple of blog posts along these lines recently, and I find I agree with him. It isn’t necessary for up and coming writers to know everything about writers or stories of the past. They’re writing fiction, not a dissertation on the history and development of fiction.

And more, with a world that is privy now to a greater pool of stories; a great influx of them having little to do with the distinctly European roots and focus of fictions past. From primary sources, including archaeology and repositories of mythologies previously unknown to us, to modern writers drawing on their own cultural traditions and morays, what old white men wrote back in the day is decreasingly relevant.

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William Goldman’s Hollywood Adventures

Monday, September 7th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Today, I’m going to take a week off from A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And no, not to dust off The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes. I constantly read. Often related to my weekly column here at Black Gate. A thousand words every Monday morning takes some research. And I like to ‘read now’ to start future projects. And I read ‘how to’ books to try and bolster my fledgling attempts at writing fiction. And I do Bible study. So, I don’t read ‘just to read’ that much these days. Which is fine. I like reading the stuff I do. But sometimes, I just want to pull something off of the shelves solely for enjoyment’s sake. And it’s often something which I’ve read before.

I read two books just for fun last week. And since a big part of why I write for Black Gate is to introduce people to things I think they might be interested in, I’m going to talk about those two books. William Goldman, who passed away in 2018, was a very successful screenwriter (that’s short for ‘screenplay writer’ – Nero Wolfe would not approve!). Harper, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Marathon Man, A Bridge Too Far, Misery, Maverick, Absolute Power: the guy knew what he was doing. And he was a novelist first – not only did he write the screenplay for The Princess Bride, he adapted it from his own novel.

In 1983, Goldman published the best-selling Adventures in the Screen Trade. It is simply a FANTASTIC book. It is an honest, compelling memoir from a Hollywood insider who remained an outsider (he never lived in California. He would go there to work, but he always returned to NYC). And the book contains insights into screenwriting, as well. I read it about twenty years ago when I decided to teach myself how to write screenplays (I’ve written a couple. That’s all we need to say about that). I really liked it.

And last week, re-reading it, I liked it even more. In 2000, there was a followup: Which Lie Did I Tell?. And it is also a fun, absorbing read. Anybody who enjoys movies should read these books.

Goldman was sure The Great Waldo Pepper was going to be huge. And as he’s sitting in a screening, he realizes why it didn’t fly (see what I did there? Helps if you actually saw the movie). He dishes the inside scoop on the battle over the hobbling scene in Misery (if you haven’t read King’s story, the source material is brutal). We learn that Clint Eastwood stood in line to get his lunch at the cafeteria while filming and producing Absolute Power. Just like a normal person. Goldman explains why he walked out on The Right Stuff (the only time he quit a project).

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Rogue Blades Author: 1975: The Year of the Cormac

Friday, September 4th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeThe following is an excerpt from Keith J. Taylor’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.

It has often been said that Robert E. Howard’s main heroes were largely cut to the same pattern — tall, powerful Gaels or proto-Gaels, black-haired, blue-eyed, mighty in combat, scowling and somber. Conan himself fits that description, as does Kull of Atlantis, Turlogh Dubh O’Brien, the less-than-idealistic Norman-Irish crusader Cormac FitzGeoffrey — and Cormac Mac Art, though the latter has “narrow eyes of a cold steel-grey” rather than blue ones.

There are other types, certainly. James Allison’s former incarnations are all Nordic. Bran Mak Morn, the dark, compact Pict committed to a losing fight for his people, is of Mediterranean race. Solomon Kane, though he has black hair and pale, icy eyes, is not particularly Celtic.

The black-haired, blue-eyed Gaels, much alike as they are physically, show greater variation in character and personality than they sometimes receive credit for. Kull seems asexual (“He had never been a lover”) and although a great fighter, he often broods on the nature of existence and reality, the difference between appearance and what truly is, even whether anything truly is.

Conan is decidedly not asexual! His interest in lovely women is active and frequent. Nor is he concerned with the difference between seeming and reality. “If life is illusion, I am no less an illusion, and so it is real to me,” he says to Bêlit, and leaves it at that, untroubled. Although, like Kull, he becomes a king who was once an outlaw barbarian, he does not constantly feel like a misfit in the civilized kingdom he rules, and even acquires a sense of responsibility and loyalty to his adopted land. Turlogh O’Brien, who flourishes in the early 11th century after the battle of Clontarf, doesn’t have much of a love life, but then he spends most of his time as an outcast from his clan, fighting for bare survival, outlawed on false charges. Nevertheless, he remains loyal to his people when, for instance, one of them is kidnapped by Vikings — for whom he feels an “almost insane hatred.”

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Steven H Silver Asks ‘Can You Name This Hardboiled Flick?’

Monday, August 31st, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

SilverMarx_Todd2EDITEDA hallmark of my success here at Black Gate has been to get other writers, with actual talent, to write for my column. I accomplish that feat again today as fellow Black Gater Steven H Silver takes a look at a classic film and gives it a hardboiled review. You may not immediately guess what film he’s looking at, although I’d bet you’ve heard of it before. Take it away, Steven!

I’m going to look at one of the stranger “Gat” films. With action taking place in a variety of places, ranging from a state room on an ocean liner to a swanky long island party to a rousing conclusion in a barn.

Rockliffe Fellows plays “Big Joe” Helton, an older mob boss who is returned from Europe aboard an ocean liner with his daughter, Mary, played by Ruth Hall. Also on board the ship is Alky Briggs, played by Harry Woods, Briggs is accompanied by his wife, Lucille, portrayed by Thelma Todd, right at the midpoint of her career. Oddly enough, aside from these women, both of these men seem to be traveling without any members of their gangs, although they both are able to rectify that oversight.

We’re first introduced to Briggs in his cabin, where his wife, Lucille is complaining that he has been ignoring her on the voyage. Briggs makes it clear that he isn’t making a play for any other woman, rather his purpose for being on the ship is because he has determined that being alone on the ocean is the perfect time to attempt to muscle in on Helton’s territory. Here is a huge difference between Lucille’s language and Briggs. The writers have given Thelma Todd natural dialogue and she delivers it well. Briggs’ lines are written almost as a parody of a movie gangster, with no recognition that he and Lucille are in an actual relationship and Woods delivers them in a such a stereotypical manner that the only conclusion a viewer can have is that he’s decided to play tough-guy Briggs as a satire.

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Today is Jack Vance’s 104th Birthday

Friday, August 28th, 2020 | Posted by John-Henri Holmberg

Jack Vance-smallToday, just 104 years ago, Jack Vance was born in San Francisco. Or, actually, John Holbrook Vance. He grew up to live on a farm, suddenly become almost destitute and have to leave junior college, work in a cannery, as a bellhop and on a gold dredge. Later, at UC Berkeley, he studied mining engineering, physics, journalism and English, and wrote his first science fiction stories. Still later, he worked as an electrician in the naval yards at Pearl Harbor, but left a month before the Japanese attack. During the war he worked as a rigger and a merchant seaman, after faking his eyesight test. A jazz musician, a carpenter, a surveyor and a ceramicist he was a sailor throughout life, building his own boats and dreaming of vast oceans and rivers on distant planets.

He began publishing science fiction in 1945, had his breakthrough with The Dying Earth in 1950, became a staff writer for the Captain Video TV show in 1952, had further breakthroughs when his first crime novel under his own name, The Man in the Cage, had a 1961 Edgar Award for best first novel, and again when his novellas “The Dragon Masters” and “The Last Castle” won Hugos and Nebulas in 1963 and 1966. But his real and lasting breakthrough was as one of the finest, most bitingly satirical and ironic, most stylistically intransigent and most unforgettably original science fiction (and, by all means, also fantasy) authors of the 20th century.

In 1976 I and Per Insulander, who co-chaired that year’s Swedish national SF convention, invited Jack to be our guest of honor. He accepted, stayed for a week in Stockholm, and called us his friends; I think we were. A year later we sailed with him in San Francisco bay and stayed at his house in Oakland; for many years, I kept in touch with him and continued to publish him in Sweden. When Jack grew almost totally blind in the 1990s, he kept writing. If you haven’t already read his work, you must. It is sui generis; nobody else has written science fiction as Jack did, and you either love it or just can’t see what he was doing. Nobody else has written science fiction that to the same extent bares our souls, satirizes our most cherished idiocies, heckles the hypocrisies and nonsensicalities of our religions, social codes, moral codes and pointless squabbles. Read the five novels in his Demon Princes series; read his wonderful and absurd Tschai novels (published in the US as the Planet of Adventure books); read his subversive Lyonesse fantasy trilogy; read him. Thanks to his son, John Vance, all of Jack’s books are in print. I hope they remain so. Jack Vance was a writer for the ages, and of the enlightenment.

Jack died on May 26, 2013. I mourn him still, but more importantly I still read him. So should you.

Fans Can Be Scary

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière


They’re watching. Always watching. Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Good morning!

I hope you’re all well, given how everything is still, well, 2020. I’m writing this rather hesitantly, for many reasons (not least of all because I promised at the end of my last post that I would stop publicly obsessing about InuYahsa, and this is the only other topic I had on my list), but I do feel like this is something worth discussing.

I am an unknown author, I’m sure you’re sick of me saying so, and I bemoan the fact a little too often, if I’m honest with myself. Sorry about that. I would love to be widely read and have my books celebrated, hell, even discussed! I mean, obviously. That is the dream of every writer. Yet, I balk at the idea of becoming famous. I don’t ever want to be famous. My books? Sure! Me? Absolutely not. Fame is terrifying, and the thought of being recognized while I’m going about my business on any given day turns my stomach and cranks my anxiety up to eleven. When I hear stories from others about what their life is like after celebrity, the fear sharply intensifies. When I hear stories about what fandoms have done to creators for perceived miss-steps, I want to burn my entire ambition to the ground and retire to the country to embroider and milk cows.

Okay, I would retire to the country to embroider and milk cows… and ride horses… and open a martial arts school… if my books got big and I ever acquired any kind of wealth. That’s kinda my dream. Not the point!

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