The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “Mackintosh Willy,” by Ramsey Campbell

Thursday, November 14th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Mark Berghash

Cover by Mark Berghash

The World Fantasy Awards are presented during the World Fantasy Convention and are selected by a mix of nominations from members of the convention and a panel of judges. The awards were established in 1975 and presented at the 1st World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island. Traditionally, the awards took the form of a bust of H.P. Lovecraft sculpted by Gahan Wilson, however in recent years the trophy became controversial in light of Lovecraft’s more problematic beliefs and has been replaced with a sculpture of a tree. The Short Fiction Award (sometimes called short story award) has been part of the award since its founding, when it was won by Robert Aickman for “Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal.” In 1980, the year Campbell received the award for the story “Mackintosh Willy,” the convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Campbell tied for the award with Elizabeth A. Lynn for the story “The Woman Who Loved the Moon.”

Ramsey Campbell’s story “Mackintosh Willy” was initially published in the Charles L. Grant anthology Shadows 2. It is the story of a young boy who is finding his way in the world and even the familiar can have a sinister feel to it.  In this case, the homeless man who appears to live in one of the shelters in the park near where he lives causes caution in all the children in the area, although it is not clear that the man is doing anything to gain the reputation he has.

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Plot Hooks, Apocrypha, and WTF: Degenesis by Six More Vodka

Monday, November 11th, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

Degenesis-cartoon-art-character-art-small

I’ve been meaning to write a review of Degenesis, the doorstop of a post-apocalyptic RPG from the “there has to be a story behind that name for your company” SIXMOREVODKA creative team for a while now. The main problem holding me back is that I haven’t played it yet with people, just dinked around testing things. Luckily, John’s editorial standards enjoy a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to old friends, and let ye who have not passed judgement on a game without playing it cast the first stone.

There’s another reason I feel safe recommending this beast. The art alone is worth the purchase of the slipcased two-volume edition of rules Katharsis and worldbook Primal Punk (Retailing at USD “If you have to ask you can’t afford it”). I’ve never seen a game with this level art throughout. Page after page of imagery usually reserved for a couple of splash pages in most game books.

What is this world? Refreshingly, it’s set in Europe and North Africa five hundred years after a 2073 meteor storm changed the face of the world (called the “Eshaton” but I think they meant “Eschaton”). Maybe the year is a hat tip to Fallout, I dunno, but Earth went through hundreds of years of cloudy hell and now there are a few hints of a Renaissance for a radically altered world. To make matters worse, the meteors brought with them a spore-like form of life called “Primer” that is radically altering flora, fauna, and us. Humans who have been taken over by the Primer (the process is generally called Sepsis) eventually become Psychonauts or Abberants, two names for the same deadly syndrome. Some of the spores carrying the primer have been deactivated or neutralized for use in drugs called Burn, because if thousands of years of human history have proved anything, it’s that people will try to get high by any means necessary. A final existential confrontation of homo sapiens vs homo degenesis is building.

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Bleak Creek overflows with Universal Truths

Friday, November 8th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Bleak CreekThe Lost Causes of Bleak Creak is not a novel I expected to be reviewing for Black Gate. It is a compelling thriller with a preternatural undercurrent that I heartily recommend, but that’s not what one would have expected from its authors. Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal have carved their own successful niche with Good Mythical Morning, a YouTube talk show/comedy show which seems to have successfully updated Ernie Kovacs’ format for the hipster generation. While that may be an accurate description on the surface, it belies the expansiveness of their burgeoning Mythical Entertainment media empire and its audience demographic composed of 20 million subscribers across their platform.

These two childhood friends from a small town in North Carolina have written two bestsellers; made their own critically-acclaimed, incredibly bizarre, but consistently funny streaming sitcom, Buddy System; hosted a trainwreck fascinating, but frequently funny IFC reality show, Commercial Kings; made an award-winning feature-length documentary about the search for their First Grade teacher, Looking for Ms. Locklear; released comedy albums; performed sold-out comedy concert tours on several continents; put together their own stage show to tie-in with their first book; and are currently undertaking a book tour in theaters around the country to promote their first novel. Regulars on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show where they provide a reminder of what late night comedy meant for those old enough to remember Carson or at least Letterman in his prime, they may be the two most ambitious and successful cult figures in the U.S. at present.

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A New First Comic Strip Robot

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

1903-03-01 Adventures of Inventor Wheelz and his Wonderful Dummy 23 panel 1

Paleontologists constantly push the date of the first known human or the first known use of symbols earlier. Word detectives compete with one another to spot ever earlier uses of a word or phrase or bit of slang. And historians take their reputation in their hands whenever they state that such-and-such was the first one in history.

In my book, Robots in American Popular Culture, I cited Hans Horina’s short- lived robot series, Professor Dodger and His Automatic Servant Girl, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sunday comics section in late 1907, as the first comic strip to feature a robot. I didn’t dig that up myself. I found it on Stripper’s Guide, the wonderful blog on old newspaper comics run by Allan Holtz.

As inevitable as Homo Nadali, another comics historian, Alex Jay, found an even earlier robot strip and posted about it on Stripper’s Guide. But there’s a catch. Is it a robot strip or isn’t it?

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: H. Warner Munn

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

H. Warner Munn

H. Warner Munn

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won the award. The final awards were presented in 1985. Although the Balrog Award for Poet was presented each year of the Balrog’s existence, it only went to four different winners, with H. Warner Munn winning the award twice and Frederick Mayer winning it three times.

H. Warner Munn was born on November 5, 1903 and died of cancer on January 10, 1981. Munn’s mother died when he was an infant and he was raised by his grandmother, who was a correspondent with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Munn began his own correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft who suggested that Munn try telling a story from a werewolf’s perspective. The resulting novelette “The Werewolf of Ponkert” became Munn’s debut story when it appeared in the July 1925 issue of Weird Tales.

Munn and Lovecraft were not only correspondents, but also knew each other, visiting at each one’s homes in Providence, Rhode Island and Athol, New York. During this time, Munn helped Lovecraft formulate and eventually write the story which would become “In the Mountains of Madness.”

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Exploring Pathfinder‘s Age of Lost Omens

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

LostOmensWorldGuideWith the release of Pathfinder Second Edition at GenCon in August, Paizo set out to once again re-capture fire in a bottle. They’d done it once before, a decade ago, when they took the ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e, slapped it together with a ton of house rule modifications and other changes, and then rebranded it as the Pathfinder RPG. Here they were taking that very same Pathfinder RPG, which had itself grown wildly successful, and trying to create a new and compelling variant of that.

Having played a handful of the Pathfinder Second Edition games now, I’m finding quite a lot to like about it the system. But one of the things that drew me so powerfully to Pathfinder First Edition was when I got my hands on the Inner Sea World Guide. While the rules were great, the dynamic nature of the setting, with the rich diversity of nations and storytelling options, was what really engrossed me.

And clearly I’m not alone, because one of the first releases that Paizo planned to follow-up the release of Pathfinder Second Edition was the Lost Omens World Guide (Paizo, Amazon). The default setting for Pathfinder (both editions) is the Age of Lost Omens on the world of Golarian, and thus the name of the guide. This re-introduces the core of the Pathfinder setting, while at the same time introducing a quick infusion of new character creation and advancement options to supplement the basic rules.

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I Admit, I’m Intrigued

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

The Witcher USA

Good morning, Readers!

So, the main trailer and release date for Netflix’s new nerd acquisition, The Witcher, dropped a fortnight or so ago. Knowing that I streamed the lengthy final game (and its DLCs) in the trilogy not all that long ago and had a good time with it, a number of my friends directed me towards the trailer when it dropped. I may have also had and voiced opinions about the news that Netflix acquired the rites to The Witcher, and then had more opinions when Henry Cavill was announced in the titular role.

A few things to note about me and my opinions. They’re horribly ill-informed. My experience with The Witcher is the third game (The Wild Hunt). That’s it. If you’re curious about how I felt about the game, you can check out my review on Chalgyrs here. I’ve not read the books on which the game was based, though I do plan to (should I make it a thing to do, and then share my thoughts here, do you think?). I don’t have as strong an emotional attachment to the world, the characters or the story as I might have had I read (presuming I enjoyed them) the books, or even had followed the games from the first.

But about the Netflix series….

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Absolutely Spectacular: Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Mister Miracle cover

So my ongoing quest to read as many of the classic comics has covered a lot of ground. I read and blogged about The Immortal Hulk. I covered Image’s Lazarus. Two weeks ago I blogged about Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Vision. A while ago I talked about a significant chunk of Kirby’s Fourth WorldThe last two bring me to DC’s 2017 series Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads.

In addition to Marvel’s VisionTom King has previously written DC’s Omega Menco-written DC’s Grayson, and Vertigo’s Sheriff of BabylonHis striving for the artistic in comics, and his admiration for Alan Moore are both well-known and he seems to swing for the fences on every outing. That kind of innovation will come with some misses. I know a lot of fans didn’t respond well to King’s Batman or Heroes in CrisisHis natural medium seems to be the maxi-series starring characters who aren’t central to their fictional universes. In Mister Miracle, he and Gerads hit a home run, the kind that netted them four Eisners, a Hugo nomination, and big sales.

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Ralph Arnote: In the Middle of Interesting Stories

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Pierce Watters

Fallen Idol Ralph Arnote-small False Promises Ralph Arnote-small Evil's Fancy Ralph Arnote-small

Paperback editions of Ralph’s Willy Hanson novels: Fallen Idols (Tor, 1992), False Promises (Forge, 1995), and Evil’s Fancy (Forge, 1996)

Note: Most of this comes straight out of my wee tiny brain. So, dates may be off, but I’m telling these stories as best as my memory allows. I also have a few people from the industry vetting some of my stories.

Ralph Arnote was in the middle of many interesting book and magazine stories. Ralph was manager of sales for Ace (where I worked for him), for Ballantine, and Beagle Books, and, he finished his sales career heading up sales for Tom Doherty and Tor Books.

After retiring, Ralph wrote several novels for Tor. We lost Ralph in 1998 after a heart attack. Harry Hills called and let me know Ralph had passed.

During a brilliant career, Ralph was known and welcome everywhere. He always wanted to build a ship, sail to Singapore, and drink a Singapore Sling at Raffles. I’m certain Ralph had his share of Singapore Slings, but he never got around to building that boat.

One of my favorite stories, Ralph was working for Capital Distribution. Capital was a small magazine and book distributor. Ralph had just lost his book line, so he had a sales force but nothing to sell.

That year, the ABA (American Booksellers Association) met in Washington DC. One afternoon, Ralph was dining al fresco, when an older gentleman asked to share Ralph’s table. This man was Ian Ballantine, founder of many successful publishing companies, one of the people, if not “the” person who brought paperback books into their greatest glory (Several Ian Ballantine stories will appear here at a later date.).

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner on ‘The Bad Guys of Pulp’

Monday, October 28th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Schildiner_LesHabits1EDITEDMy buddy Frank Schildiner is a prolific New Pulpster who wrote about Max Allen Collins in the first run of A (Black) Gat in the Hand. I immediately turned back to him and he’s back again for round two with a look at the bad guys of pulp. 

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

  “Bring on the Bad Guys…Pulp Edition”

“The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“There’s something about America’s sweetheart and America’s bad boy. That juxtaposition is what everyone desires.” – Machine Gun Kelly

Bad guy, villain, evildoer, crook, criminal, and gangster. Fiction has a love affair with these characters ranging from low-level sneak thieves to wizards intent on destroying all life on Earth. In many cases, the villain is the driving force behind the tale. Where would fiction be without Lady MacBeth, Grendel’s Mother, Long John Silver, or Count Dracula?

Though the villain is often the impetus, they rarely hold the place of protagonist in novels until recent times. A few famous characters did achieve notoriety, influencing fiction to this day.

The first true villain-centered, serialized fiction was probably Paul Féval’s series Les Habits Noirs. The eleven novels reveal a worldwide criminal conspiracy led by the evil, manipulative, and possibly immortal, Colonel Bozzo-Corona. The Colonel, and his organization the Black Coats, battled the forces of good as well as each other in tales which thrilled readers for thirty-one years.

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