SEPTOBERFRIGHT Prologue…

Monday, August 31st, 2015 | Posted by Nick Ozment

photo-20Up here near Lake Wobegon, the last two weeks of August have felt more like fall than summer. In the past three days I have seen two sure signs of autumn: the first changing leaves and the first Hallowe’en displays.

I snapped the picture at right in Michael’s three days ago. Those skeletons may be a little early to the party, but what the heck: let ‘em in, and let the Macabre Danse Party begin!

Sure, All Hallow’s Eve is still two months off, and talk of trick-or-treating might strike some as being premature as an Edgar-Allan-Poe-imagined burial. I know it drives some folks batty that retailers start hawking holiday products months ahead of the calendar, and it makes them want to howl at the moon when they walk into their favorite box store in August and see Spook Alleys and Creepy Corners and Haunted Aisles already being rolled out. And even before the last cry of “trick or treat!” has echoed down the block, one can bet that the Christmas displays will debut.

(I took a wonderful pic in Shopko last year that was borderline surreal — Christmas angels vying for shelf space with zombies and ghouls, a strange Nightmare-Before-Christmas juxtaposition. It perfectly captured the retailer crossover moment when the last of the fright-night nick-nacks are on clearance and have not yet been cleared out for the glittery gewgaws celebrating peace on Earth and goodwill to mankind.)

If it bothers you, I understand. I sympathize. I do. But I must confess that I have a weakness for all the holiday trappings, even the cheap plastic kinds that move and light up and make sounds for (if you’re lucky) one season and then break. When I spot the first plastic jack-o-lantern on an end-cap display or the first bag of Brach’s Halloween Mellowcremes on the checkout aisle, I do get a bit giddy.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons & The Dorak Affair

Monday, August 31st, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Dorak_BookOne of my favorite Solar Pons stories by August Derleth is “The Adventure of the Golden Bracelet.” If you’ve read that one, you know that an archeologist discovered a fabulous treasure horde at a mysterious woman’s house, made rubbings of the pieces, then found himself embroiled in a scandal when the items turned out to be stolen and no trace of the woman could be found. Pons figures things out and it’s quite a tale.

Derleth didn’t spin this tale out of whole cloth. It relied heavily on The Dorak Affair. James Mellaart was a well-known archeologist with some great successes in Turkey. Riding on a train in Turkey, a woman came in and sat across from him.

She wore a bracelet like the ones found at Troy. She gave her name as Anna Papastrati and said she had many more like it at home. Mellaart accepted her offer to go see them.

She revealed a large collection of artifacts, which she said came from tombs her family uncovered in the village of Dorak. The elated Mellaart was convinced he had proof regarding the Yortans, Troy’s sea-faring neighbors.

He spent three days and nights at her house (certainly bold for the married man), making sketches of the collection. She promised to send him photographs he showed her of the tombs. The photos never came, but after a time, Mellaart did receive a letter from her, saying he could use his sketches in an article.

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Locus Online on C.S.E. Cooney’s Bone Swans

Saturday, August 29th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Bone Swans CSE Cooney-smallBone Swans, the long awaited first collection from C.S.E. Cooney, has been loudly acclaimed since its release last month. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and a rave review from Tor.com – especially for “Life on the Sun,” which was originally published here at Black Gate. And Library Journal called it “Five beautifully crafted stories… full of flying carpets, fairy-tale characters, and children confronted with a postapocalyptic Earth… [a] gorgeous new collection.” Now Locus Online‘s Paul Di Filippo weighs in, saying:

This is a strong and enduring debut collection… As might be predicated based on its name, the genre dubbed the “New Weird” has its roots in the Old Weird, and one tendril of those roots extends back to the Weird Tales crew. Thus it’s not too surprising that Cooney’s state-of-the-art New Weird tale “Life on the Sun” at times reads like something from the Robert E. Howard canon, with strange tribes, bizarre magics, desert-circled cities, and other nifty pulp tropes. But of course, since Cooney’s poetic, evocative prose is of a higher order of sophistication than Howard’s, the resulting tale is a thing apart. The city of Rok Moris is undergoing a simultaneous assault from without and rebellion from within. At the heart of both movements, it eventuates, is a young woman named Kantu. Her denied birthright contends with her chosen mature allegiances, and she must somehow reconcile them for the survival of her city and all its citizens… Overall, if the byline had been stripped from this tale, one would not be surprised to hear it came from the pen of Tanith Lee…

In his beguiling and affectionate introduction, Gene Wolfe nominates Cooney as a fully formed savant of fantastika at age eighteen. Having matured and honed her skills since then, as seen in this collection, she surely is embarked on a literary odyssey as rewarding and thrilling as any undergone by her bevy of unforgettable heroes and heroines.

Bone Swans was published by Mythic Delirium Books on July 1, 2015. It is 224 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback and $5.99 for the digital version. The cover art is by Kay Nielsen. See the Mythic Delirium website for more details, and the complete Table of Contents here.


The Three Phases of Adam Warlock: Return from the Dead

Saturday, August 29th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Infinity_Gauntlet_Vol_1_1_001I’ve been taking a look at Adam Warlock, one of my favorite comic characters. In previous posts, I’ve written about his early period as a failed messiah figure on Counter-Earth in the early- and mid-1970s, and then his Jim-Starlin-written tragic middle period as the cosmic champion of life, which led to his heroic death in 1977.

Today, I want to take up the thread of the Adam Warlock saga fourteen years later, when both he and the Champion of Death, Thanos, were resurrected as the core of a massive cross-over event called The Infinity Gauntlet.

This may be timely for some folk who had never read the original or reprinted Warlock runs, because Marvel movies have already teased us with a hero-sized cocoon in a Thor movie and have announced an Infinity War movie for 2018.

So, since the Infinity Gauntlet series is now 24 years old, I’m not going to issue spoiler alerts; I’ll likely just berate you for not having read this already (you can, incidentally, stop reading this post, go pick up the Infinity Gauntlet at comixology.com, and then come back when you’re done; I don’t own Marvel stock or anything, it’s just that much fun).

To remind readers where we left off, in 1977, Adam Warlock, the lonely, tragic Champion of Life, killed Thanos, the nihilistic, insane cosmic Champion of Death. Fast forward to 1991 to Infinity Gauntlet #1, and we find that quite a bit has happened. Death has been chaffing at the imbalance between Life and Death and has pulled out her greatest admirer and lover, Thanos to rectify things.

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Chivalry: Might is Right… Not Quite What You Think

Friday, August 28th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Chivalry and Violence

I love writing knights because they had such a fascinatingly simple way of looking at the world.

I love writing knights because they had such a unapologetically simple way of looking at the world (first blog entry in this series here).

The knightly world view was internally consistent, but must have been infuriating to anybody with a logical turn of mind. In Swords Versus Tanks, I had fun imagining just such a conversation:

Ranulph swept his arm around the cell to indicate the corpses. “God has just shown you His will.”

“Knights!” The red-haired girl gestured at the carnage. “You think that was a trial by combat.” Her eyes narrowed. “You wear a somewhat soiled arming jacket, so it was defeat in battle which brought you to this dungeon. Was that also God’s will, Sir Ranulph?”

“I suppose that God wanted me here to save you,” said Ranulph, with a vague, familiar, feeling that he was going to regret arguing with her.

Swords Versus Tanks 1: Steel Tide (forthcoming)

In fact — if Kaeuper’s Chivalry and Violence is to be believed — real knights tended to take things further with an utterly glorious piece of reasoning:

Knight: “God granted me victory, therefore  I am more pious than the dead guy.”

Priest: “But you still need to do penance!”

Knight: “Penance, Sir Priest? Pah! Wearing armor in the field is mortification enough.”

Partly this was lazy thinking at work.

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When Is Fantasy Not Fantasy? Or, One Person’s Religion = Another Person’s Mythology

Friday, August 28th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Peters BonesI’ve always been intrigued by the appearance of the supernatural in historical fiction. When a modern writer sets a novel in the historical past, and uses elements of the supernatural, or magic, or some such item, it’s fantasy, right? Or, is it magic realism? Or is it magic realism only if the story is set in modern day South America, preferably written by a modern day South American?

Just what is magic realism, anyway? Is it more than magical thinking on the part of characters? Or a way for non-genre critics to talk about supernatural elements in books they don’t like to think contain supernatural elements?

Are Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael novels examples of magic realism? Or plain old fantasy, for that matter? Cadfael prays to the Welsh Saint Winifred, and she responds. Miracles happen. The authorities, in this case the Abbot of Shrewsbury, might check for fraud (was the lame boy truly lame to start with?) but no one doubts the possibility of the miraculous, and no one searches for another explanation. On the other hand, no one suggests that this is a series of crossover books. Why not?

It’s one thing for modern writers to write of historical times and include the belief systems of the people of those times. Maybe that isn’t, strictly speaking, fantasy. But what about contemporary writers, by which I mean the people writing in those times? What about that kind of “historical” fiction?

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Vintage Treasures: The Pocket Games of Task Force Games, Part One

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Starfire Task Force Games-small Asteroid Zero-Four-small Valkenburg Castle-smaller

The Shiva Option-smallTask Force Games, based in Amarillo, Texas, was one of the very best board game companies in the business in the 80s, especially for science fiction fans. They published the majestic Federation & Empire (and its follow-up, Federation Commander), Kings Bounty, Godsfire, Battlewagon, Armor at Kursk, Musketeers, and the RPGs Crime Fighter, Prime Directive (based on Star Trek), and the glorious Heroes of Olympus — among many, many others — before the company was sold to Might & Magic developer New World Computing in 1988, and then went out of business.

Of course, who could afford big games like that? Not me, that’s for sure. But that’s okay, because Task Force Games was also a pioneer in the microgame market, with a line of truly stellar Pocket Games, starting with Starfire in 1979. Starfire was one of the most successful microgames ever released. It sold a zillion copies, went through six different editions, and is still being sold today by Starfire Design Studio. It was so popular it eventually inspired a series of novels by David Weber and Steve White, including the New York Times bestseller The Shiva Option.

Starfire wasn’t even the most popular Task Force pocket game. That honor belongs to the ubiquitous Star Fleet Battles. Everybody owned a copy of Star Fleet Battles in the 80s. I think it was required by law. I’d tell you how many editions of Star Fleet Battles exist, but no one truly knows. Academics around the world have gone insane, just trying to figure out how many editions of Star Fleet Battles there are. It’s like writiing your Ph.D. thesis on the Necronomicon.

Anyway, Task Force Games had a huge hit with their Pocket games line. Shipped in zip locks bags (eventually shrinkwrap), and priced at $3.95, the games were designed to be easy to learn and quick to play. All told they released twenty-two, all but three with science fiction or fantasy themes, including many that are still highly regarded today. The most successful, like Starfire, Star Fleet Battles, Armor at Kursk, and Swordquest, eventually graduated to  full-fledged boxed editions, but the zip-lock versions were fully playable (and a lot more portable).

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: David Hardy on El Borak – The First and Last REH Hero

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ElBorak_EarlyToday, our ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series talks about my favorite REH stories: those featuring El Borak. David Hardy wrote the introduction to the Robert E. Howard Foundation’s The Early Adventures of El Borak and he also contributed what is essentially the afterward to Del Rey’s El Borak and Other Desert Adventures.  There’s no one better suited to expound on Francis Xavier Gordon, so enough blathering from me. Let’s check out ‘The Swift.’


Francis Xavier Gordon, known from Stamboul to the China Sea as “El Borak”-the Swift-is perhaps the first of Robert E. Howard’s characters, and the last. El Borak is one of those distinctive characters that could only come from the fertile imagination of REH. He is a Texas gunslinger from El Paso, an adventurer, who has cast his lot in the deserts and mountains of Arabia and Afghanistan. There’s a little bit of John Wesley Hardin in his makeup, a bit of Lawrence of Arabia, and just a touch of Genghis Khan.

Howard described the origin of Gordon and other characters to Alvin Earl Perry: “The first character I ever created was Francis Xavier Gordon, El Borak, the hero of “The Daughter of Erlik Khan” (Top Notch), etc. I don’t remember his genesis. He came to life in my mind when I was about ten years old.”

That would put El Borak’s origins about 1915, the year Rafael Sabatini’s pirate novel The Sea Hawk appeared. The titular Sea Hawk is an Englishman who joins the corsairs of the Barbary Coast. There is also a supporting character named El Borak. Howard also noted that Bran Mak Morn, hero of “Worms of the Earth,” bore a resemblance to El Borak.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: What to Write About?

Monday, August 24th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

The itsy-bitsy spider, went up the water spout...

The itsy-bitsy spider, went up the water spout…

For the past 76 Monday mornings, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes has appeared here at Black Gate. I’ve written a couple other posts, but this column is why they keep me around. Well, that and I work for free.

Most of my posts involve (a little or a lot of) re-reading. Which means that more often than I would like, what I want to post on a particular Monday isn’t ready to go. For example, I’ve read ten books and watched one tv pilot for a post on Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘Cool and Lam’ private eye books (fantastic stuff). And I still need to read more.

And I’ve listened to at least six dozen radio shows for posts on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, The Fat Man and Box 13: with more listening to go. So, for this week’s post, I thought I’d talk about some of the subjects that I have started digging into, but which I’m not ready to tackle yet:

Sherlock Holmes A to Z – A post that’s going to include at least one recommended author, movie or book title for every letter of the alphabet (this is a fun one).

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Dear Conservatives: Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Jay Maynard

Loncon 3 Hugo statue-smallThe results of the 2015 Hugo balloting are in. The results are a clear statement to conservatives: you’re not welcome in true SF fandom as long as you bitterly cling to your ideals.

When I read io9’s liveblog of the results this morning, I was dismayed, but not the tiniest bit surprised, to see NO AWARD after NO AWARD, all to the accompaniment of raucous cheering and Charlie Jane Anders’s gloating. This is exactly what I predicted after reading the clamor here at Black Gate and elsewhere on the net, and the surging tide of people saying “Vote NO AWARD on everything! Let’s show the Puppies they can’t get away with it!”

In the editor categories, as well as some of the others, there were plenty of nominees who have won Hugo awards in the past, and are considered at the top of their field. All went down beneath the NO AWARD tidal wave.

After the readers’ packets were distributed, there were comments to the effect “Eh, all these works are crap, anyway.” John O’Neill’s post this morning here at Black Gate reiterated this view after the results were announced: “Dear Puppies: Your Taste Sucks.”

There’s also comment from editors and the like around the net about how they read the works and found them worthy not of being tossed lightly aside, but rather hurled with great force.

So which is it? Is it a vote against slate tactics, or is it a vote against the specific works nominated?

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