Eighties Fantasy Classics: Six of Swords and Exiles of the Rynth by Carole Nelson Douglas

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Tony Den

Six of Swords Corgi-small Exiles of the Rynth-small

Corgi editions of Six of Swords (1985) and Exiles of the Rynth (1986); art by Steve Crisp

I started reading fantasy as a teenager during the second half of the 1980s. A friend recommended Anne McCafferey’s Pern books, readily available at the public library. Another friend whom I had recently started playing D&D with was very much taken with David Eddings’ Belgeriad and advised me to give them a bash. I have since grown out of Eddings, but at the time I thought The Belgariad was the best thing since sliced bread.

I began to mince about the fantasy and science fiction shelves in local bookshops. The main chain store bookseller of the day predominantly stocked British publishers; mainly Corgi, Grafton and Orbit. Corgi was the most accessible, being moderately cheaper than Grafton. They also had a habit of including advertisements in back pages. One came up consistently; Six of Swords by Carole Nelson Douglas. It looked interesting , and I picked it up in a clearance sale and read it sometime in the mid 1990s. I eventually discovered the sequel, Exiles of the Rynth, and a follow on series, the Sword and Circlet trilogy. I thought I would concentrate on the first two here, and post about the others in due course.

I will not go too much into the development of 1980s fantasy. Matthew David Surridge explored how the decade in many ways was a proving ground for the Big Fat Fantasy that followed in his review of Lyndon Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics series, and touched on the topic several times in his book Once Only Imagined: Collected Reviews, Vol II. What I can say is that my fantasy baptism mostly occurred in the 80s, notwithstanding my dabbling with Jane Gaskell. As such I was unencumbered with other expectations. I only got around to Robert E Howard and JRR Tolkien right at the end of the decade.

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From Beneath the Review Pile: We Need More New Suns

Friday, March 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

New-Suns-Original-Speculative-Fiction-by-People-of-Color-smallerHere’s a not very shocking statement: we still need to focus on diversity in sci-fi and fantasy.

My hope is that many of you will read that and think, Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. But I imagine many of you would also agree with me that it needs to be said, given how many people still openly disagree with the push to see more works published by creators from marginalized groups, whether that marginalization is based on race, age, sexual orientation, etc.

Take an anthology like New Suns: Original Speculation Fiction by People of Color. The title openly proclaims the editor and publisher’s intent: to highlight PoC authors who are doing phenomenal work in SFF, in the same vein as the Disabled People Destroy series. The outpouring of support for these anthologies is awe-inspiring, especially considering the apparent risk, I suppose, in alienating some readers – often those who don’t acknowledge the need for these anthologies, and the smart business sense in producing them.

Some people, apparently, aren’t paying attention to trends in speculative fiction, or maybe not understanding why these trends exist. Collecting and producing works by authors from diverse groups is a response not just to a need, but to a burning desire for these works. The success of Black Panther and Captain Marvel are obvious examples of this, but we see it in prose fiction, comics, video games, and more. Uncanny Magazine raised almost $60,000 for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction on Kickstarter last year, virtually tripling their funding goal. Why? People are tired of watching or reading stories about the same kinds of characters, in settings based on the same (dare I say it) Eurocentric framework.

Not everyone – there’s still a market for a rehashing of Tolkien or Brooks or Vance, if that’s your thing – but enough people to make this sort of thing viable. And authors like Rebecca Roanhorse, Fran Wilde, Nnedi, Okorafor, Saladin Ahmed, Bogi Takács and more aren’t just generating buzz because of their identities – it’s because they’re amazing creators, producing work that’s well-written AND fresh.

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Future Treasures: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Thursday, March 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Last Hanna Jameson-small The Last Hanna Jameson-back-small

If you keep tabs on upcoming titles like I do, you get used to the relentless hype and the breathless blurbs. After a while it takes something really special to get your attention.

The blurbs for Hanna Jameson’s The Last, arriving in hardcover in two weeks, got my attention. Kirkus Reviews says it’s “”Reminiscent of The Shining… an eerie and unsettling tale,” and Luca Vesta (Dead Gone) says it’s “Nuclear apocalypse meets murder mystery… It’s Stephen King meets Agatha Christie. This is *the* book of 2019.” And Publishers Weekly calls it “An engrossing post-apocalyptic psychological thriller… equal parts drama and locked-room murder mystery.” Here’s the description.

Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife’s text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he’s waiting in the lobby of the L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That’s all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black—and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange.

Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can’t bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel’s water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl.

As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world?

The Last will be published by Atria Books on April 9, 2019. It is 352 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $12.99 for digital editions.

The Fortress World and the Eye of Terror: Warhammer 40K: The Cadian Novels by Justin D. Hill

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Cadia Stands-small Cadian Honour-small

When I made the 90-minute commute to Glenview every morning (and the 90-minute drive home every evening), I got addicted to Warhammer 40K audio dramas. They made the long drive bearable. When I left that job four years ago I fell out of the habit, and haven’t kept up on the unfolding drama in my favorite dark space opera. I did hear rumors of a Thirteenth Black Crusade, the unexpected return of the loyal primarch Roboute Guilliman (in Guy Haley’s Dark Imperium series), and the catastrophic fall of the fortress world of Cadia, the last line of defense against the daemonic tide spilling out of the Eye of Terror. Man, you take your eye off the ball for a minute, and everything goes to hell.

Justin D. Hill’s new Cadia series seem like the perfect place to jump back into the saga. The first novel, Cadia Stands, was published in March 2018, and the sequel Cadian Honour is scheduled for September of this year (and is already available in digital format). Here’s the description for the first volume.

The brutal war for Cadia is decided, as Lord Castellan Ursarkar Creed and the armies of the Imperium fight to halt the Thirteenth Black Crusade and prevent a calamity on a galactic scale.

Under almost constant besiegement by the daemonic hosts pouring from the Eye of Terror, Cadia stands as a bulwark against tyranny and death. Its fortresses and armies have held back the hordes of Chaos for centuries, but that grim defiance is about to reach its end. As Abaddon’s Thirteenth Black Crusade batters Cadia’s defences and the armies of the Imperium flock to reinforce this crucial world, a terrible ritual long in the making comes to fruition, and the delicate balance of this brutal war shifts… From the darkness, a hero rises to lead the beleaguered defenders, Lord Castellan Ursarkar Creed, but even with the armoured might of the Astra Militarum and the strength of the Adeptus Astartes at his side, it may not be enough to avert disaster and prevent the fall of Cadia. While Creed lives, there is hope. While there is breath in the body of a single defender, Cadia Stands… but for how much longer?

And here’s the description for Cadian Honour.

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That Horrid Question

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière


A young AUTHOR, new to pitching, steps cautiously into the room clutching a binder full of papers to their chest. An EDITOR for a well-regarded publisher sits at a table with an empty chair opposite. The EDITOR smiles at the AUTHOR and beckons them to the chair. So nervous they’re shaking, the AUTHOR sits down.


Thanks so much for seeing me. I really appreciate it.


My pleasure.  So what have you got for me today.


Well, it’s a [insert genre of choice].  The audience is quite adult.  I think.  I’m not sure.  The young adult/adult distinction is not something I’m all that familiar with.


All right.  So, what’s it about?


Well, uh, it follows [character] and their team of [insert any kind of unit you like, knights? Rangers? Robot Space Marines?] and they —


No, that’s what happens.  That’s the plot.  I want to know what the book is about.  What is the theme?


Internal Screaming

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Top Gun for YA Sci Fi Buffs: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Monday, March 18th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Skyward Brandon Sanderson-small Skyward Brandon Sanderson UK-small

If even one of the aliens’ bombers gets through and releases its payload, Spensa Nightshade and her family will die, along with the remnants of humanity. It’s up to her father and his fellow fighter pilots to take to the skies and drive the invaders away.

Spensa doesn’t just admire her father – she’s determined to follow in his footsteps and become a pilot herself. In her militant society, which is named Defiant after the flagship that crashed on this planet, there’s no higher calling.

Spensa lives in a cave deep underground, since the planet’s surface is dangerous. Space debris frequently falls from the sky in flaming chunks, destroying everything in its path before hitting the ground. It comes from the ruins of a prior civilization that rings the planet – massive hunks of metal and electronics that used to be shipyards and ancient fortifications.

Despite the danger, Spensa has always wanted to see the sky. When her father agrees to take her up to ground level, she leaps at the chance.

It’s a hard climb through the caves until they reach a crack from which the sky shines. Gazing up in awe, Spensa sees the layers of space junk shifting overhead like enormous ice floes.

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New Treasures: Rabbit & Robot by Andrew Smith

Sunday, March 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Rabbit and Robot-smallI’ve been on a prolonged space opera kick for the past few weeks, munching snacks while taking in epic sagas about cloned warriors, space battles, massive killer A.I’s, galaxy-spanning conflicts, fast ships, ancient tech, and more space battles. To tell the truth I probably would never have picked up Andrew Smith’s new novel if I hadn’t been looking for something very (very) different this weekend.

Andrew Smith is the author of The Marbury Lens (2012) and Grasshopper Jungle (2015). Rabbit & Robot tells the story of Cager Messer, a boy stranded on a massieve lunar-cruise ship with with insane robots, while a World War breaks out on the surface below. It’s about as uncommercial a novel as you’re likely to find. Here the description.

Cager has been transported to the Tennessee, a giant lunar-cruise ship orbiting the moon that his dad owns, by Billy and Rowan to help him shake his Woz addiction. Meanwhile, Earth, in the midst of thirty simultaneous wars, burns to ash beneath them. And as the robots on board become increasingly insane and cannibalistic, and the Earth becomes a toxic wasteland, the boys have to wonder if they’ll be stranded alone in space forever.

Booklist is quoted extensively every time I look this book up. So to save you time, here’s the a few lines from the Booklist review

Cager Messer and his best friend, Billy — both sons of wealthy industrialists—have stolen upon a luxury space cruiser along with Cager’s ever-faithful servant, Rowan. Aboard with them are “cogs” — humanlike android attendants programmed with unsettling, occasionally dangerous emotional instabilities. Then the latest (and last) in a long line of world wars breaks out on Earth below, and Cager and company believe that they’re the last humans in the universe. But before the true horror of that can set in, they must figure out how to defend themselves from the cogs, who have developed a penchant for robotic cannibalism… Those delving into Smith’s zany dystopia will find much to laugh and gasp at, including comedic and serious musings upon sex and violence. But most of all, they will find many deep, essential questions worth pondering.

Read the complete review at Booklist Online here.

Rabbit & Robot was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on September 25, 2018. It is 438 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $10.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Mike Perry. Read all our recent New Treasures here.

Smithsonian Magazine on how Sci-Fi Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Betty Ballantine

Sunday, March 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Hyperborea Clark Ashton Smith-small Star Wars George Lucas-small A Guide to Barsoom by John Flint Roy 1976-small

Assorted Ballantine paperbacks, 1971 – 1976

Anyone who’s been reading Black Gate for any period of time, or is a fan of vintage science fiction, knows the name Betty Ballantine. With her husband Ian she founded Bantam Books, and later Ballantine Books. Last month Smithsonian Magazine paid tribute to Betty in an article titled Sci-Fi Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Betty Ballantine, in which they focus on the many ways in which she shaped 20th Century Science Fiction and Fantasy. Here’s a snippet.

The Ballantines made the decision to leave Penguin following the end of World War II due to creative differences, and from there, they went on to found Bantam Books, and, later, Ballantine Books, making them the first outlet to release hardcover and paperback editions simultaneously. Both publishing companies are now part of Penguin Random House, according to the Associated Press.

It was at Ballantine that Betty gave a voice to the then-fringe genre of sci-fi. Tom Doherty, founder of Tor Books, says that before Betty, those works were deemed “unimportant pulp” only fit to be published in cheap magazines and books. But Betty was inspired by the concept of using real science to hypothesize the future of innovation. As if she was a character in her favorite genre, Betty was able to see the potential of science fiction in novel form.

Both Bantam and Ballantine were instrumental in finding, publishing, and promoting early science fiction and fantasy, but Ballantine Books especially was crucial. They were responsible for Lin Carter’s legendary Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, the groundbreaking Best of series (which we have paid tribute to many times), bringing Tolkien to American audiences in an authorized edition, and much, more more.

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Future Treasures: Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Saturday, March 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Greystone Secrets The Strangers-smallMargaret Peterson Haddix is The New York Times bestselling author of a bunch of stuff, including The Shadow Children, Children of Exile, and The Missing series. Her latest is a middle-grade thriller that Booklist says “blends adventure and sf elements into an engrossing mystery… secret rooms, alternate realities, and a cliffhanger ending raise the stakes and delight fans new and old.” It arrives in hardcover on April 2.

What makes you you?

The Greystone kids thought they knew. Chess has always been the protector over his younger siblings, Emma loves math, and Finn does what Finn does best — acting silly and being adored. They’ve been a happy family, just the three of them and their mom.

But everything changes when reports of three kidnapped children reach the Greystone kids, and they’re shocked by the startling similarities between themselves and these complete strangers. The other kids share their same first and middle names. They’re the same ages. They even have identical birthdays. Who, exactly, are these strangers?

Before Chess, Emma, and Finn can question their mom about it, she takes off on a sudden work trip and leaves them in the care of Ms. Morales and her daughter, Natalie. But puzzling clues left behind lead to complex codes, hidden rooms, and a dangerous secret that will turn their world upside down.

Here’s the rundown from Publishers Weekly.

In Ohio, the Greystone kids — responsible Chess, math-savvy Emma, and excitable Finn — have established a pleasant life with their mother years after their father’s death. Until, that is, the day they find their mother weeping and wan over a news story about three kidnapped Arizona children… After their mom disappears on a “work trip” the very next day, the Greystones receive a cryptic farewell and a coded letter… A secret-stacked, thrilling series opener.

Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers will be published by Katherine Tegen Books on April 2, 2019. It is 416 pages, priced at $17.99 in hardcover and $10.99 in digital formats. It is illustrated by Anne Lambelet, whom I presume also did the terrific cover. Read the first eight chapters here.

See all our recent Future Treasures here.

Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Short Story: “The Meeting,” by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, and “Eurema’s Dam,” by R. A. Lafferty

Saturday, March 16th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

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The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1972; cover by Ed Emshwiller

Steven Silver has been doing a series covering the award winners from his age 12 year, and Steven has credited me for (indirectly) suggesting this, when I quoted Peter Graham’s statement “The Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, in the “comment section” to the entry on 1973 in Jo Walton’s wonderful book An Informal History of the Hugos. You see, I was 12 in 1972, so the awards for 1973 were the awards for my personal Golden Age. And Steven suggested that much as he is covering awards for 1980, I might cover awards for 1973 here in Black Gate.

In 1973 there was a tie for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story. (There have been several ties in Hugo history, perhaps most famously for the 1966 Best Novel, shared by Roger Zelazny’s F&SF serial “… And Call Me Conrad” and Frank Herbert’s Dune.) The winners were Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth for “The Meeting,” and R. A. Lafferty for “Eurema’s Dam.” This was the first fiction Hugo for each of these writers, and the only one for Kornbluth (not surprising, as he died in 1958) and Lafferty. Kornbluth did win a Retro-Hugo in 2001 for his 1950 novelette “The Little Black Bag,” and another posthumous award, the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for The Syndic. Lafferty won a World Fantasy Life Achievement Award, as well as the Phoenix Award and two Seiuns for Best Story translated into Japanese (“Eurema’s Dam” and “Groaning Hinges of the World”). Pohl’s lists of awards is very long indeed: they include later Hugos for his novel Gateway and his short story “Fermi and Frost,” three Hugos as Editor of If, the Best Magazine winner in 1965-1967, Campbells for Gateway and The Years of the City, Nebulas for Man Plus and Gateway, Locus Awards for his memoir The Way the Future Was and his novella “The Gold at the Starbow’s End,” a late (2010) Hugo for Best Fan Writer, and of course he was named SFWA Grand Master in 1993.

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