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Exploring Complex Human Themes by Blowing $%#! Up: Teenage Space Mercenary by M. Harold Page

Exploring Complex Human Themes by Blowing $%#! Up: Teenage Space Mercenary by M. Harold Page

That is a slight oversimplification of M. Harold Page’s mission as a fiction writer. Let’s get the whole thing: “The exploration of complex human themes through the medium of interpersonal violence and blowing $%#! up in space.” If you threw “and magical worlds” on the end, you’d have a pretty good starting description of what most of us Black Gate readers look for in a book.

That may sound a bit flippant, but in fact Page can be deeply thoughtful and historically informed about interpersonal violence. I confess, I’m biased in his favor. Page and I have corresponded off and on over the years, often through comment threads on BG. I’ve reviewed a couple of his books, historicals with a light sprinkling of fantasy elements, both of them great fun.

So when I saw the announcement that he had a new book available for preorder, I had to see it. Now you can find it here.

Which brings us to the cover copy:

Jason is a NetShooter champion. Now he must do it for real.

The teen coding nerd escapes hi-tech slavery only to end up on a gloomy jungle moon guarding an archaeological expedition, literally light years in the wrong direction from the comfortable new life he planned.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Heard of Chris London? Didn’t Think So

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Heard of Chris London? Didn’t Think So

“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)

In the early fifties, a lot of movie stars took on radio shows, in an effort to boost their incomes. Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Joel McRea – some big names tried their luck at it. Many were short-lived efforts. You can read my scintillating essay about Bold Venture – a good show which starred Bogie and his wife, Lauren Bacall – here at Black Gate.

NBC had Erle Stanley Gardner create a character specifically for a radio show to go up against CBS’ hugely successful Jack Benny Show. CBS had ‘acquired’ much of NBC’s Sunday night programming. ABC had also hit big with the first music quiz show, Stop the Music (think Name That Tune for radio).

Music ran against the long-time successful The Fred Allen Show. Allen’s show took a big ratings hit, and his health was failing at the same time. So, his show ended. NBC then aired the glitzy, big-budget, Hollywood Calling. Movie stars called common folk, who got a watch and ‘something else’ (like Jennifer Jones’s scarf) if they were at home and answered – no cell phones, ya know! The lucky peasant got to talk to a star, and won money, and got entered for a bigger prize, if they could answer a question.

It didn’t beat Jack Benny in the ratings, it cost a lot of money, and NBC canceled it after only half a season. Enter a replacement detective show – The Adventures of Christopher London.

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All My Robert E. Howard Essays

All My Robert E. Howard Essays

I am the in-house mystery guy (that’s how I hoodwinked John O’Neill into giving me a weekly column. Eight years later, he’s still trying to configure the Fire Wall to keep me from getting up my Monday morning post! I organized the Discovering Robert E. Howard, and Hither Came Conan series’ here at Black Gate. And contributed, of course. That’s the advantage of being in charge of them!

Robert E. Howard is my second-favorite writer (trailing only the terrific John D. MacDonald), and I’ve written quite a bit about him here at Black Gate. With more to come, of course. I’ve got part of a series written, in which I’ll look at the first dozen of Roy Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian comics; including how the series came about. And I’m pretty sure Solomon Kane will succeed Hither Came Conan in the all star contributor series.

I came late to Howard. I have loved mythology since grade school. The Iliad remains one of my all-time favorite stories, and I have a copy of Schleimann’s Ilios. That led me to Dungeons and Dragons in Middle School, and I know I was reading The Lord of the Rings somewhere around the 8th grade. I was a fantasy fan for life.

I bought the first Ace Conan paperback, but it sat on my shelf, unread. Not sure why. I know I read David C. Smith’s Oron, but not that one. As my son was playing with the Thomas the Train layout in the kids section of Barnes and Noble one day, I started reading the first Dely Rey Conan book. I read that the next time we were there. And I bought it. And Robert E. Howard would move up the ranks of my favorite writers, as I bought more Del Reys. Conan still holds the top REH spot, followed by El Borak, and then Solomon Kane. But I just continued to like Robert E. Howard, more and more.

I’m off to my first-ever Howard Days in a few days! It’s gonna be great!!  Here are all of my own Robert E. Howard-related essays here at Black Gate. A couple are pretty good, I think. Mostly in the first two sections below. Check out a couple, please. By Crom!

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The Fantastic Novels of Harlan Ellison

The Fantastic Novels of Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison speaking to the audience at the Los Angeles
Science Fantasy Society, May 1982. Photo by Pip R. Lagenta

Harlan Ellison published three novels early in his career, and spent the rest of his life trying to complete another1. Despite a large and successful body of work, and the willingness of publishers to pay large advances for a novel, he never succeeded.

Returning to the novel form was important for Ellison; he announced the titles of works in progress as “forthcoming” in the front matter of his short story collections, ghost titles that would appear in successive volumes, sometimes for years, then vanish to be replaced by new ones. In 2010, when he was 76 and announced he was dying, Ellison said that he was working on a new novel, The Man Who Looked for Sweetness;2 and in 2014, shortly before he suffered the stroke that ended his writing, he returned to an earlier project.3 Completing another novel was a dream he never relinquished.

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Goth Chick News: Way More Fun Than the Jubilee, Draculas Gathered to Celebrate Stoker

Goth Chick News: Way More Fun Than the Jubilee, Draculas Gathered to Celebrate Stoker

As you have probably heard by now, Queen Elizabeth II is marking 70 years on the throne of England with her Platinum Jubilee Celebration, set to kick off across the UK today, on the anniversary of her coronation in 1953. Yes, it is all quite grand that her 96-year-old Majesty is now the third longest reigning monarch in world history. Taking the top spot is Louis XIV from France, who reigned total of 72 years and 110 days, while in second place is Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) from Thailand who reigned for 70 years and 126 days.

And we’re all really impressed over here in the colonies, I can tell you. Unless of course you consider that Vlad Dracula (ne Tepes) took the throne of Romania (ne Wallachia) in 1448 and has remained in some portion of the collective conscience ever since.

Okay, I might be stretching this connection just a bit, but here’s where it’s going.

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The Sound of Far-Away Music: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Sound of Far-Away Music: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

“Hullo, Mole!” said the Water Rat.

“Hullo, Rat!” said the Mole.

So begins one of the greatest of literary friendships. That simple introduction between two soon-to-be-best friends has stuck with me ever since my dad first read me The Wind in the  Willows (1908). They’re the opening chords of a song like the dream-music Mole and Rat hear on a mysterious river island, that has remained with me my entire life. Even, if like them, I can’t remember all the words, it’s a song that’s “simple–passionate–perfect.”

This book, one I find wonderful beyond measure, is a collection of several distinct tales. The most famous, probably due to Walt Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) and the attendant amusement park ride, involves the foolish escapades of Toad. Those chapters are riotously funny and, I’d imagine, the most easily enjoyable to any child hearing them. More of the book, however, involves Mole and Rat, and those parts are by turns wistful, melancholic, and wondrous. In his memoir, Christopher Robin Milne wrote:

A book that we all greatly loved and admired and read aloud or alone, over and over and over: The Wind in the Willows. This book is, in a way, two separate books put into one. There are, on the one hand, those chapters concerned with the adventures of Toad; and on the other hand there are those chapters that explore human emotions – the emotions of fear, nostalgia, awe, wanderlust. My mother was drawn to the second group, of which “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” was her favourite, read to me again and again with always, towards the end, the catch in the voice and the long pause to find her handkerchief and blow her nose. My father, on his side, was so captivated by the first group that he turned these chapters into the children’s play, Toad of Toad Hall. In this play one emotion only is allowed to creep in: nostalgia.

If I thought I could get away with it, I’d just write out all of The Pipers at the Gates of Dawn for this piece and leave it at that. I believe it is one of the most affecting things I’ve ever read. Its beauty only grows with each read. Sadly, I must write more (but I’ll still quote it a lot).

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Sci-Fi Meets Police Procedural – Asimov’s Baley & Olivaw

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Sci-Fi Meets Police Procedural – Asimov’s Baley & Olivaw

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)

So… it’s a sneak preview, as A (Black) Gat in the Hand returns for the fifth straight summer. How about that? We’ll get going full bore after I get back from Howard Days, but here’s a little sci-fi meets mystery to get the 2023 season under way.

From October to December of 1953, a three-part serial from Isaac Asimov ran in Galaxy. In February, The Caves of Steel was published in hardback. Asimov combined the science fiction and mystery genres in the story. The Caves of Steel paints a bleak future for humanity that served as more than just the background of a murder investigation.

Earth became overpopulated and civilization had to adapt to the massive resource needs. Cities became densely populated collectives. Efficiency drove everything. Section units (one, two and three room apartments) rather than houses. Group eating areas, rather than individual kitchens. Common shower and bath units instead of one (or more) per family. Hundreds of miles of high-speed conveyor belts, rather than roads and cars. The ancient, underground roadways were used by official forces to fight fires, or to move about to quell riots.

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KISS’ Hard Luck Woman – It was for Rod Stewart?

KISS’ Hard Luck Woman – It was for Rod Stewart?

And now, for something completely different. My older sister was a huge KISS fan. She and some friends went out for Halloween dressed as the band one year. So, I heard their music as a little kid, but it wasn’t until later I really got into them. I saw them on the Crazy Nights tour. That remains my favorite album by the band, followed by Alive II.

While I like a lot of their songs, I acknowledge, lyrically, their tunes are the equivalent of a horny 14-year old boy. Titles like Love Gun, Bang Bang You, and Ladies Room, are about as deep as they sound. And there are a lot more ‘clear’ examples; without even getting into lyrics. Rocket Ride isn’t exactly an existential examination of interstellar travel…

But it is what it is. They’re a great rock and roll band. Paul Stanley grew up on the Motown and Philly soul sounds, and his Soul Station project is a reflection of that. IF you don’t much use for him, google him singing the classic, Get Ready, as he emulates Eddie Kendricks’ falsetto. This is the music Stanley loves. And it’s got those great Motown horns. And listen to an original song he wrote for the album, I, Oh I. It’s simply terrific and would have been a smash in 1966.

He was also a big fan of Rod Stewart, and liked songs such as Maggie May, and You Wear it Well. He wanted to write a song for Stewart, and came up with Hard Luck Woman. This explains why it doesn’t sound like a typical KISS song. The lyrics bring to mind the nautical classic Brandy, from Looking Glass.

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May I Read You This Book?

May I Read You This Book?

I would rather read a book, but I listen to a LOT of audiobooks. I listen to them in the car (fewer work commutes with the Pandemic); and often during my work day. My mind is wired so I can listen to an audibook/radio play and still concentrate on something else. I’ve had friends and coworkers tell me they can’t do that at all, so I feel fortunate. It lets me ‘read/re-read’ a lot of things I otherwise wouldn’t have time to get to. I use the Overdrive App to get them out of the library, and I do Audible.

Many a night, I fall asleep to an audiobook (not a problem when you sleep alone. Sigh…). Usually something I’ve read or listened to before and know reasonably well. Like Max Latin (Norbert Davis), Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler), or Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie). That way it doesn’t matter if I doze off.

Of course, If I REALLY like the book, or author, I tend to favor the narrator more (unless they are screwing up my book!). But I’m pretty objective in determining whether or not I’m glad this person is doing the narration. Today I’m gonna talk about some who I really like – and plugging some authors I like as well!

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What I’m Streaming – May 2022

What I’m Streaming – May 2022


Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Man – last week I realized how many good shows I’m streaming these days. Not too long ago I wrote this post about shows you should be streaming. And with almost no overlap (Bosch), I realized I could write one on the things I’m watching now.

You can click on this link to go to last week’s post, which included my thoughts on Halo, Outer Range, Star Trek: Discovery, and Star Trek: Picard: With a little more on one of those today. But let’s look at even more!

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