A Demon Rising: Ardneh’s World by Fred Saberhagen

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_3043513UJFHNzOyAnd so we come to the end of the Empire of the East, Fred Saberhagen’s sword & science trilogy. Originally titled Changeling Earth (1973), Ardneh’s World (1988), provides the answers to mysteries raised in the previous two books, The Broken Lands and The Black Mountains, as well as an explosive conclusion. When it’s done, great powers have been broken and the world has been changed again.

The last book ended with the destruction of one of the Empire’s great commanders, Som the Dead, and of one of the great demons at its command, Zapranoth. The armies of the Free Folk of the West, now under the command of Prince Duncan of Islandia, are marching on the Empire. In the East, the utterly bad Emperor John Omninor is himself leading his legions onto the field of battle for a final confrontation.

Moving behind and through the characters is the mysterious and powerful Ardneh. No one knows who or what Ardneh is. He speaks to the commanders and wizards of the West telepathically. To the emperor and his minions, he remains an elusive enemy who must be dealt with by any means necessary if the West is to be defeated, its army crushed, and its people enslaved.

Following an unsuccessful attempt to trick Ardneh into revealing himself, Omninor dispatches a force under his his High Constable, Abner, to find his enemy. Magical divination and electronic tracking has told the emperor that Ardneh resides in a mountain far to the north of civilization.

Simultaneously, farm boy hero Rolf and ex-imperial Chup have been tasked with tracking down a mystic stone and bringing it to Ardneh. Because Rolf has a strange, innate affinity for technology, Ardneh has chosen him as his special connection with the West.

At length and not unexpectedly, the two parties meet, an old villain reappears, and violence ensues. Eventually, Rolf and a new companion, Catherine, are split from Chup and the rest of the company.

So much of Ardneh’s World is exposition, but, oh, what exposition it is. When Rolf and Catherine finally meet Ardneh, his pre-catastrophe origins and how magic came into existence are unveiled. Saberhagen’s big idea is pure pulp insanity. Part of what makes Empire of the East original is its ostensibly realistic take on magic, but there’s absolutely none of that here. In order to prevent Earth’s destruction in the face of a nuclear war, untested new technological safeguards were put in place in America. When the war finally came, those precautions proved invaluable. In the wake of the mostly-averted war, the deepest nature of reality was changed. Ardneh, an intelligent, self-aware being is a result of the change.

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Birthday Reviews: April Index

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Richard Powers

Cover by Richard Powers

by Johnathan Sung

by Johnathan Sung

Cover by Douglas Chaffee

Cover by Douglas Chaffee

January index
February index
March index

April 1, Samuel R. Delany: “High Weir
April 2, Ann Leckie: “Eyes of Amber
April 3, Colin Kapp: “Ambaddasor to Verdammt
April 4, Stanley G. Weinbaum: “The Worlds of If
April 5, Robert Bloch: “The Fane of the Black Pharoah
April 6, Sonya Dorman: “When I Was Miss Dow

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Win a Copy of The Annotated Watchmen by DC Comics

Saturday, April 28th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

The Annotated Watchmen Leslie S Klinger-small

I don’t think DC’s 1985 Watchmen needs a whole bunch of introduction (or any). As both a reader and a writer, I’ve read, re-read, analyzed, watched other people analyze, and blogged about the seminal work by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

DC Comics has released a retrospective edition of the story that landed on Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In Watchmen: The Annotated Edition, Leslie S. Klinger looks at each of the series’ twelve issues in detail, moving page by page and panel by panel. Klinger drew on critical and scholastic commentary, interviews with Dave Gibbons, and previously unseen original source material.

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Is That What You’re Wearing? Or, Books Have A Bigger Budget

Friday, April 27th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

Robin HoodOne of the most common topics of conversation among those who both read books and watch movies is the difference between the one and the other. Often it’s specific things like “that’s not how I pictured the protagonist” or, “where’d my favourite character go?” Sometimes it’s more general stuff like which medium did the overall job better.

That kind of argument can go on all night, but one thing is not in doubt: No matter how much money is spent on a movie or TV show, books have a bigger budget. Look at the big picture:  In a book you can have your characters go anywhere you’d like, live wherever you’d like, and use whatever transportation you’d like and it doesn’t cost you a dime. You don’t have to have the budget to reproduce your ideas on the screen.

And this just as true for every aspect of the smaller picture, though just now I’m going to talk about what your characters are wearing. No outfit is too extravagant, too simple, too colourful or too plain for your reader’s imagination. Your characters can even wear clothing that it is virtually impossible to eat, walk, or sit down in – as some cosplayers have discovered for themselves.

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My 300th Black Gate Post: Why I Write About What I Write About

Saturday, April 21st, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

cushing02 godzilla-2014-1108x0-c-default steve-reeves-and-sylva-koscina-in-hercules-pietro-francisci-1958 john-carpenter-bw j allen st john tarzan

This is my three hundredth post at Black Gate. This year also marks the tenth anniversary of my first post as a regular blogger. I remember when John O’Neill first invited me to be a part of this project, back when none of us had any idea where it would go — I certainly didn’t think it would last for a decade and that I’d still be around. Or that John would win a World Fantasy Award for it. Yet here the site is, ten years later and a World Fantasy Award richer, and I still can’t believe people show up to read what I have to say about Hercules movies, Godzilla, and Tarzan. It’s humbling to be part of a site with such a wealth of amazing material, great contributors, and so many dedicated and intelligent readers.

I’ve changed enormously as a nonfiction writer over these ten years, and most of the changes happened because of Black Gate. When I started my regular posts, I had only a blurry vision of the sort of blogger I wanted to be. The reality has turned out different because I made interesting discoveries about my own tastes along the way: specifically, what it is that I most enjoy writing about. I once imagined I’d write primarily about fantasy literature, Conan pastiches, and writing techniques. Now I write about monster movies, John Carpenter, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

To mark my personal anniversary, I’m going to offer an apologia of sorts — an explanation of why I write about the topics I write about most frequently on Black Gate. None of these were in the plan on Day 1, and I’m probably the person who’s most curious about how these subjects turned into my main nonfiction focus.

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Backstory Cards: for Roleplayers, Writers, and Game-Runners

Friday, April 20th, 2018 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney


So, our friend Tim Rodriguez came by our home a few weeks back when we were hosting a game-night. We’d thrown the doors open to a bunch of game-lovers of our acquaintance for a night of food and play, and they flocked in with their favorite games (Wari, or Oware, being the game that got the most giggles) and some very fine (I was told) single malt whiskey. (Or maybe it was double-barreled? Something. I don’t know; I was too busy making lasagna.)

Anyway, Tim brought some new Backstory Cards to playtest. Most of us (including me) who volunteered to playtest with him hadn’t role-played in, well, ever. Or at least for years, the fog of memory obscuring most of the details.

. . . But since we were just testing the cards for story-potential and not playing an actual game, it seemed to work out well enough, and pretty soon we were all, like, a gaggle of giant fungal glow-in-the-dark monster crabs running around ravaged urban landscapes bringing down mobsters. You know. Like you do.

And sometime in all the chaos, Tim may have mentioned something about a new Kickstarter project.

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The Secret Origin of Ultron

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper


With the entire world counting down to an imminent and inevitable event that may shake the entire world and light up Twitter like nothing previous – no, not a Trump impeachment, but the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War – an Avengers robot column may be the only thing to soothe and distract the hordes long enough for the rest of us to stock up on survival gear, water, and dark chocolate.

For that I need to go back one movie to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Every good comic historian knows the origin of Ultron. He’s introduced in the pulsating pages of Avengers #55 (August 1968) as Ultron-5 and his back story is laid out in delectable detail in Avengers #58 (November 1968). Some indefinite time in the past Hank Pym – Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, pick one – was noodling around in his workshop tinkering with “a crude but workable robot .. A faltering step on the path to synthetic life!” For reasons never explained, the robot turns itself on and its brain evolves from infant to adult in a matter of magnificent moments, giving it more daddy issues than all the Miss Golden Globes titlests combined. He, now definitely a gendered he, blanks Hank’s memory while he spends time off-page continually upgrading his body so that when readers get their first glimpse he introduces himself as Ultron-5.

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2000AD’s The Complete Futureshocks, Volume 1

Saturday, April 14th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


In my ongoing study of comic history and the craft of comic storytelling, I’ve looked at the history of 2000AD, Alan Moore’s Halo Jones, and the density of comic layouts, in part because as a novelist and short story writer, I’m trying to learn things from other story forms. And comics have a lot to teach me about pacing, conciseness and story density.

And in no place are stories more dense than in 2000AD‘s Futureshocks. These are stories that range in length from 1.5 pages to 4 pages (basically 6-20 panels). Luckily for me, 2000AD is issuing a collection of their first 5 years of Futureshocks in The Complete Futureshocks Volume 1, and they sent me a review copy.

The Complete Futureshocks Volume 1 is over 300 pages of comics, which by my rough count is about 80 individual stories ranging in length from 1.5 – 4 pages, with a few rare ones that stretched across two issues and totalled 6-8 pages.

What did I learn from all these very brief science fiction stories? A few things.

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March Short Story Roundup: Part 2

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Cirsova 7-smallThe past month saw a bumper crop of new short fiction arrive in my mailboxes, digital and physical. This time out, I looked at Cirsova #7, Swords and Sorcery Magazine #74, and the bonus story I forgot to read for my review of Tales from the Magician’s Skull.

I love Cirsova. When it first appeared two years ago, I was impressed with what I saw, and ended my review of its first issue with these words:

If this is what the first issue looks like, I expect future ones will blow me away.

Subsequent issues have upheld that initial promise, but I found this particular issue’s heavy dose of space opera and sword & planet tales not to my liking. I’m too easily bored by rockets and rayguns these days.

#7 commences the proceedings with “Galactic Gamble” by Dominka Lein. It opens with a line that demands more funny than is delivered by the story:

Rasmuel lost his keys on the asteroid Zalima-46. 

Space gangsters, space monsters, and even a fight in a pit did not manage to make this one a winner for me.

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By Crom: Arthurian Elements in the Conan Canon

Saturday, April 7th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ConanArthurian_GuideCoverJohn Teehan, in The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy: Volume One, challenges the reader to think of their favorite contemporary fantasy novels. And we’re talking Tolkien-onwards here, not just the past few years. Then he gives a list and says it would be difficult to think of a book that didn’t have any of the five themes on the list. He is making the point that the Arthurian legend, largely brought to popular culture by Thomas Malory, was an interweaving of those five themes. High fantasy epics like David Eddings’ Belgariad still follow this path.

I immediately thought about Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales and how they didn’t really emulate this pattern. Or so it seemed to me. My friend Deuce Richardson immediately pointed out two stories that did significantly incorporate these elements. So, I decided to go back to the very beginning and take a good look at “The Phoenix on the Sword”: then, do a less detailed survey of the following stories.

So, here we go!

Characteristic One – Commoner who is Really a King

Well…we’re definitely 0 for 1 right out of the gate. I think of Shea Ohmsford, who is a descendant of Jerle Shannara (Terry Brook’s Sword of Shannara) or Belgarion in Eddings’ previously mentioned Belgariad). They have the lineage of kings (or great sorcerers) in their blood. And they rise up to perform great deeds or rule kingdoms.

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