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Neutron Stars, Dead Brains, and an AI in a Prison Colony: January/February 2022 Print SF Magazines

Neutron Stars, Dead Brains, and an AI in a Prison Colony: January/February 2022 Print SF Magazines

January/February 2022 issues of Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and The Magazine
of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Cover art by Dominic Harman, Eldar Zakirov, and Kent Bash

There’s a good mix of covers for this month’s crop of print magazines. All except F&F, an ugly piece which prominently features a man smoking. I haven’t seen SF heroes smoking on covers for a very long time; seeing it now, in 2022, is a major disappointment. I have absolutely no interest in that at Black Gate; this is the first time we’ve showcased a cover with smoking in well over a decade (and probably longer). Don’t expect to see it again.

Other than that blemish, the January/February print magazines have the usual mix of intriguing contributors, including Michael Swanwick, Tom Purdom, A.A. Attanasio, Ian Creasey, Nick Wolven, Tony Ballantyne, Adam-Troy Castro, Stephen L. Burns, Eugie Foster, Bogi Takács, M. L. Clark, Karen Heuler, and many others.

Victoria Silverwolf at Tangent Online has been doing a fine job discussing Asimov’s and Analog for the past half-decade. Here’s her thoughts on the latest Asimov’s.

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I Know That Actor (follow me on FB!)

I Know That Actor (follow me on FB!)

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I enjoy posting in an ongoing series I call I Know that Actor. It started a year or two ago, as I was re-watching Columbo periodically. I love that show – and one of my favorite things about it is the wide-ranging guest stars. I’d see Robert Stack in this episode. And then, Leonard Nimoy in the next. Hey, that’s Jose Ferrer! And isn’t that Jane Greer? Man, Martin Sheen was young in that one! And I would snap a screen shot on my phone, or find a pic on the internet, from that episode.

I’d say a bit about them: mostly other roles I liked them in. Columbo was a Who’s Who of stars. And various FB friends would leave comments – often some other show or movie that person had been in. The posts and the discussion are always positive, and information is shared. I like adding something that isn’t negative to FB.

I watch/re-watch a lot of shows with guest stars, which feeds this game: Monk, Psych, Suits, House, Leverage, Burn Notice, In Plain Sight, Royal Pains (USA shows shared a lot of folks), Star Trek: Discovery -I’ve probably done a couple hundred posts.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: A Matter of Identity

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: A Matter of Identity

I’m back! What? Really? Well, I’m sure SOMEBODY noticed I took a four-month hiatus from my weekly column here at Black Gate. Anywhoo… Last year, I wrote a Nero Wolfe pastiche for The Wolfe Pack fan group. It’s THE place for fans of the corpulent detective. I took “By His Own Hand” – an Alphabet Hicks short story written by Rex Stout – made it a solo case for Archie Goodwin, and reworked it a bit. And… I added one of my favorite pulp ‘PIs’, W.T. Ballard’s Hollywood studio troubleshooter, Bill Lennox (whom I wrote about here at Black Gate). Below is that story, which takes place during Nero Wolfe’s own hiatus. As always, I do my best to emulate Stout’s writing style, and his characters. Writing as Archie is something I enjoy doing very much.

A Matter of Identity – Bob Byrne (based on a short story by Rex Stout)

I

I was sitting at my office desk, eating a sandwich from Mike’s Deli, which was only a couple blocks around the corner. Growing up, I hadn’t been crazy about fried bologna, but that place did it right — with a mustard even Wolfe would approve of. ‘Wolfe’ being Nero Wolfe, my former employer. It had been six months since Arnold Zeck forced him into decamping from the brownstone in the middle of the night. Never one to sit around — and I certainly wasn’t going to be Lily’s kept man — I hung out my shingle as an independent private investigator and took a small office on the tenth floor of a downtown high-rise. I didn’t have any need for a secretary. I could handle the paperwork, and I had plenty of experience paying bills and typing up reports. Maybe if business got too much to handle, I’d bring someone in part-time. But that didn’t look to be a problem just yet.

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Now Streaming: The Rocketeer

Now Streaming: The Rocketeer

The Rocketeer
The Rocketeer

Based on the comic of the same name by Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer was a nostalgic film that looked back, with a nudge and a wink at the thrilling heroics of yesteryear. The film was a loving tribute to the action serials of a much earlier time while it also wasn’t afraid to look at the seamier side of Hollywood.

Set in 1938, Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) is a stunt pilot who only cares about flying a beaten up Seabee to qualify for the national air races and spending what little time and money wasn’t invested in flying on his girl, Jenny (Jennifer Connelly). Working to help Cliff achieve his goal was Peevy (Alan Arkin), a washed up mechanic who had an intrinsic understanding of anything mechanical.

After Cliff’s plane is destroyed upon landing, he and Peevy happen to find an experimental rocket pack that was hidden on the airfield by gangsters trying to get away from the FBI. While Peevy is the voice of reason, suggesting they turn the rocket pack over to the authorities, Cliff begs him for the opportunity to try it out, the ultimate flying experience.

Once he flies, Cliff is completely hooked, finding solid reasons to keep the jetpack, like rescuing a pilot who passed out while flying, but when the gangsters figure out that the guy with the jetpack is somehow connected to Jenny, he needs to use the pack to rescue her.

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New Treasures: Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter

New Treasures: Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter


Activation Degradation
(Harper Voyager, September 2021)

Marina J. Lostetter is the author of the acclaimed Noumenon space opera series, and the fantasy novel The Helm of Midnight, released just this past April. She doesn’t appear interested in just soaking up the glory of those accomplishments, however — her next novel (and her second this year) arrived in September. Activation Degradation features a spunky robot hero in a fast-paced tale of alien invasion in high orbit over Jupiter, one with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

The Suspected Bibliophile calls itMurderbot mixed with first contact with a heavy dash of body horror… from there it’s its very own being, filled with the horrors of space, the horrors of humanity, and the rising and falling implications of the reverberations of the past continuing to slam dunk on the present.” That definitely sounds like something I need.

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Deep in Wildest Britain: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Deep in Wildest Britain: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

I had the sense of recognition…here was something which I had known all my life, only I didn’t know it…

English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams on discovering English folklore and folk music

The late Robert Holdstock prefaced his 1984 novel, Mythago Wood with that quote, and that’s sort of how I feel about the book myself. Holdstock dug deeply into the idea of myth, how it might arise from a culture, and how, in turn, it might affect individuals.

I have no memory of when I first learned of Mythago Wood. I must have seen it on the Forbidden Planet’s shelves when it was released; I didn’t read it, though, until 2001. I read it again while traveling in England eight years later, and just now. At times it seems like I must have read it so much longer ago and more times than that. Much of it reads like a dream of some true past, equally joyful and nightmarish, and elements of it have rattled about my brain ever since. Rereading it now, I realize that over the years, my memories of the novel, like the mythic figures born of the forest around which the story revolves, have faded and changed with each passing season, but the underlying haunting design remains; a mesmerizing tale of father-and-son and brother-and-brother struggles, Freudian and Jungian elements, woven together with a wholly original mythopoeic retelling of the history of Britain from Paleolithic times to the present (or at least 1948, the present of the book). I will more than likely read it again before I’m through.

The central conceit of Mythago Wood is that archetypes and legends spring from the collective unconscious when needed.

The mythagos grow from the power of hate, and fear, and form in the natural woodlands from which they can either emerge — such as the Arthur, or Artorius form, the bearlike man with his charismatic leadership — or remain in the natural landscape, establishing a hidden focus of hope — the Robin Hood form….

Ryhope Wood, a three-mile square ancient woodland in Herefordshire, is capable of interacting with the minds of people near it and giving physical reality to these figures. Characters like Cernunnos, King Arthur, and Jack-in-the-Green can be summoned up from the deepest recesses of people’s minds. More importantly, it can also conjure up the legends that lie behind the legends. Perhaps the story of Robin Hood arose from even older stories of green-clad forest bandits, and behind those, yet older and darker ones. The more intimately a person becomes involved with Ryhope Wood the deeper and deeper ancient memories it can draw upon and summon forth. Ryhope Wood also exists beyond normal time and space, expanding, almost without limit, the further one ventures into it, and time speeds by much faster within the forest than without. Deep inside, whole settlements and tribes called out in long past days carry on telling and retelling their stories through their daily lives and routines.

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Fantasia 2021, Part LXXII: Final Thoughts

Fantasia 2021, Part LXXII: Final Thoughts

I saw more movies at Fantasia 2021 than at any previous iteration of the festival. By my count, I watched 96 short films from 25 countries and 69 features from 19 countries, with a total of 32 different countries represented in my viewing this year. The quality was there, too. I don’t have any metric to track these things, but it felt like both the number of exceptional films and the overall quality of the movies in 2021 was higher than in the past.

Before going on with a look back at this year’s Fantasia experience, I want to thank, as every year, Fantasia’s organisers and programmers and volunteers, and generally everyone involved with the festival. It is always in many ways the highlight of my year. I also want to thank John O’Neill for hosting these reviews here, and for keeping Black Gate up and running. And I want to thank everyone who takes the time to read and comment. Fatigue issues have tended to keep me from replying here as much as I’d like, but every comment is noted and valued.

The Fantasia experience this year was similar to last year’s; there was just more of it. There was a notable improvement in the way scheduled movies played — last year you had to start watching within five or ten minutes of the scheduled start time, while this year the films were available for a three-hour window beginning at a given time. That made things a lot easier, and the fact that almost all of them were also available for 24 hours two days after their first showing helped a lot as well.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard – The Series

Discovering Robert E. Howard – The Series

Back in 2015, because I didn’t know any better, I thought I could reach out to Robert E. Howard experts and fans from around the world, and convince them to contribute essays about Robert E Howard, for a Black Gate series. Yeah, I know: “Who are you, Byrne? Why do you think you can pull this off?” Because I don’t have the common sense that God gave a rock. Also – I can’t even sing as well as a rock (Bible reference there). So, without a clue (GREAT movie!), I reached out to a few folks, got pointed to a few more, and with the Black Gate name behind me, rounded up a VERY knowledgeable and talented group.

Howard was much more than just the creator of Conan (who I LOVE). He, of course, wrote many other characters, and for many other markets and genres. He lived an interesting life as well. And some generous folks contributed some tremendous essays!

It was a fantastic series, nominated for a Robert E. Howard Foundation award. The Howard community loved it, to no one’s surprise. The wide-ranging look at REH, covering his life and his works, was a superb addition to REH scholarship. It also planted the seeds for a follow-up series at Black Gate, Hither Came Conan, which was an even bigger hit! And you fans of either series, it will be a trilogy, as we’ll be emulating Hither Came Conan with another Howard character. But I’ve got another non-Howard series to put together first.

Here below is the entire series (which included a blog series being done separately by Howard Andrew Jones & Bill Ward). I intentionally minimized the Conan content, as the goal was to paint a broad REH picture. And we covered Conan in depth with Hither Came Conan. Click on a few links and explore the amazing world of Robert E. Howard. Some tremendous stuff, which Black Gate was proud to bring together.

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KNIGHT AT THE MOVIES: RED DUST (1932)

KNIGHT AT THE MOVIES: RED DUST (1932)



I took a break from my depressing Noirvember playlist last weekend and watched Red Dust (1932) one of the scandalous movies that led to the Hayes Code. I remember it being mentioned in “A Confederacy of Dunces” in that Ignatius Jacques Reilly claims that his parents went to the pictures one night, saw Red Dust, then went home and conceived him.

Clark Gable, in peak SILF* form, runs a rubber plantation in SE Asia. Two women come up the river in a boat and into his life: Jean Harlow, a prostitute looking for a place to hide out from police trouble in Saigon, and Mary Astor, a good young bride with a good young husband Gable has employed to survey for an expansion. Everyone involved gets hot and bothered. And drenched. Clark Gable gets a wet shirt scene that rivals the classic Pride and Prejudice Colin Firth plunge.

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: So Many Prisoners of Zenda

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: So Many Prisoners of Zenda

The Prisoner of Zenda (USA, 1922)

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins (1863-1933) wrote some thirty-two books, mostly novels, many of them bestsellers that were adapted to stage and screen. Today he is remembered only for his swashbuckler The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and its sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (1898). Both were set in the fictional principality of Ruritania, and were so popular that they spawned a host of imitators known as “Ruritanian romances.”

A littéraire at Oxford, Hawkins took a first in Classics at Balliol College, then a law degree. He settled into work as a barrister in the City in London, but the time weighed heavily on his hands, so he turned to writing. His first literary success, The Dolly Dialogues (1894), established the pattern for most of his novels, wry commentaries on London society mixing romance with politics. His second success was The Prisoner of Zenda, a rollicking adventure in a very different mode. Tastes have changed, and nowadays Hope’s Edwardian comedies of manners are largely forgotten, but The Prisoner of Zenda, with its iconic dash, flair, excitement, and humor, lives on.

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