L. Frank Baum’s Oz Series: #1 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Saturday, October 24th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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If we were to look at the roots of American fantasy, or even world fantasy, the writer L. Frank Baum’s influence looms large in the pre-Tolkein era. The 1939 MGM The Wizard of Oz movie is an indelible part of world culture. Canvas for impactful movie villains and the Wicked Witch of the West tops most people’s lists. The movie is so pervasive in culture that we can forget the source novels, though.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, sold 3 million copies by 1956, when it entered the public domain. Baum wasn’t keen on sequels, but the fan mail from kids proved to be a powerful pressure and he ended up writing 14 Oz books before his death in 1919. Then the publisher hired Ruth Plumley Thompson to write another 21, and some other writers came later.

I’d of course seen the movie as a child and received the third Oz book (Ozma of Oz) from a classmate in grade six. I hadn’t known that the movie was based off of books, nor that there was a vast narrative mythology in prose form. I read Ozma of Oz and was charmed with the creativity, the tone, the promise of many more adventures, and began picking up other books as I encountered them.

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Future Treasures: The Fractured Void: A Twilight Imperium Novel by Tim Pratt

Friday, October 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Twilight Imperium, Third Edition (Fantasy Flight Games, 2004), and The Fractured Void (Aconyte, November 2020)

Tim Pratt has been nominated for all the major genre awards, including the Nebula, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Mythopoeic, and Stoker, and he won a Hugo in 2007 for his short story “Impossible Dreams.” His most recent books include the Axiom trilogy, and the 10-volume Marla Mason series.

His upcoming book is a space opera with a twist — it’s based on the rich background created for Twilight Imperium. Yes, that Twilight Imperium, Fantasy Flight’s epic (and I do mean epic) game of space conquest, politics, and trade. Designed by Christian T. Petersen and first released in 1997, Twilight Imperium is one of the most successful science fiction games of the last few decades. It’s been continuously in print for over two decades, and gone through four editions. The mythos that has grown up around the game and its 17 playable races is sprawling and rich, and certainly deserving of a line of fiction novels. I’m definitely looking forward to the first, The Fractured Void, and Pratt is an excellent choice to kick off the line. Here’s the publisher’s description.

A brave starship crew are drawn into the schemes of interplanetary powers competing for galactic domination, in this epic space opera from the best-selling strategic boardgame, Twilight Imperium.

Captain Felix Duval and the crew of the Temerarious quietly patrol a remote Mentak Coalition colony system where nothing ever happens. But when they answer a distress call from a moon under attack, that peaceful existence is torn apart. They rescue a scientist, Thales, who’s developing revolutionary technology to create new wormholes. He just needs a few things to make it fully operational… and now, ordered to aid the scientist, the Temerarious is targeted by two rival black-ops teams intent on reacquiring Thales. Can Felix trust Thales? Or is this a conspiracy to tip the balance of power in the galaxy forever?

The Fractured Void will be published by Aconyte on November 3, 2020. It is $16.95 in trade paperback and $9.95 in digital formats. Get more details and read an excerpt here, and check out the handsome fourth edition of Twilight Imperium at the Fantasy Flight website.

See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming SF and fantasy books here.


Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood by P. J. Thorndyke

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

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Let me start with a story from when I was fifteen and had yet read only the Lancer Conan the Warrior, but was friends with several serious Conan (and Kull, and Solomon Kane) readers. They learned that Creation Con in Manhattan would include a presentation about the upcoming movie Conan the Barbarian featuring Valeria actress Sandahl Bergman, and they quickly convinced a bunch of us to get tickets. On a Saturday afternoon, we made the drive into the city. My memories of the convention itself are pretty hazy, but the movie preview is etched in my brain. Bergman was beautiful and funny. Any teenage boy would want to see the movie after seeing her. The rest of the presentation, though — woohoo, it stank. It was a slide show, just a batch of lifeless stills that, if they didn’t kill our enthusiasm for the movie, they definitely dimmed it. Nonetheless, we all saw it as soon as we could.

All these years later, I can’t speak to how my friends felt, but I hated the movie. I just rewatched it and now, having read all of Howard’s original stories several times, I hate it even more. But that’s a conversation for another day. My opinion, sadly, didn’t matter, and Conan the Barbarian became a cult success, helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, and set the stage for an explosion of barbarian-themed movies. It’s that eruption of films starring loin-clothed, overly-muscled warriors that is the subject of  Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood by P.J. Thorndyke.

When I stepped back from reviewing at Black Gate (almost two years ago — holy shlamoley!) I knew there could always be something to lure me back. Clearly, John O’Neill knew what that something was when he saw it. He e-mailed me a copy of Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood, I scanned it and immediately knew I had to read it.  It opens with a solid history of sword & sorcery and closes with a brief explanation of why the film genre died. The heart of the book are synopses of dozens, if not all, of swords and sorcery movies of the eighties. If you’ve ever had any interest in movies like Thor the Conqueror or how Richard Corman came to produce such fare as Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans in Argentina, this is the book for you.

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A World of Pirates and Victorian Detectives: The Map of Unknown Things Trilogy by Rod Duncan

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Will Staehle, Amazing15, and Kieryn Tyler

Rod Duncan’s debut was the supernatural mystery trilogy The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, a series I found fascinating in part due to the main character, Elizabeth Barnabus, a woman who lives a double life as herself and as her brother, a private detective.

His next project, The Map of Unknown Things, is set in the same world. It opened with Queen of all Crows (2018), in which Elizabeth investigates the disappearance of an airship that went down in the Atlantic. Sydney Shields at The British Fantasy Society said “Duncan’s Gas-lit Empire reads and feels like the world of a Victorian detective adventure (think Sherlock Holmes, the Blake & Avery Mysteries, Charles Dickens) but the twist is that the year is actually 2012… Definitely recommend.” The Outlaw and the Upstart King was published last year, and the third volume, The Fugitive & the Vanishing Man, arrived in January of this year. Here’s an excerpt from the PW review:

Illusionist spy Elizabeth Barnabus has barely returned from her pirate voyage in The Outlaw and the Upstart King when she is forced to venture back to the fringes of the Gas-Lit Empire in the exhilarating third installment of Duncan’s The Map of Unknown Things series. Upon returning to London, Elizabeth must recount her adventures to the hostile Patent Office, a clever bit of exposition that will ease new readers into the steam punk world of this alternate history. When the Patent Office brands Elizabeth a traitor, she flees to America and the untamed wilds of the Oregon territory to track down her long-lost twin, Edwin, and prove her patriotism… But trouble’s brewing in Oregon, and Elizabeth is torn between loyalty to her twin or her beloved Empire. The charismatic duo at the heart of this adventure are sure to please.

The Fugitive & the Vanishing Man was published by Angry Robot on January 14, 2020. It is 401 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Kieryn Tyler. Read the first three chapters at Issuu.com.

See all our recent coverage of the best new series fantasy here.


In 500 Words or Less: The Language of Beasts by Jonathan Oliver

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

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The Language of Beasts
By Jonathan Oliver
Black Shuck Books (392 pages, $25.99 hardcover, $8.99 eBook, October 1, 2020)
Cover by Simon Parr

We’re approaching Halloween, so let’s talk horror and the weird! I was looking at earlier reviews of Jonathan Oliver’s debut collection The Language of Beasts and what I found interesting is how often it’s described as both horrific but heartfelt – keeping people up at night by speaking to our humanity. And it’s true. (All of it, Han.) There have been so many accolades already for this collection that I’m not even sure what else I can add, but I’ll try.

One of my issues with modern horror is how creators keep leaning into the freaky, bloody, disgusting parts of the genre, which isn’t my thing. Jon’s stories do the opposite; you could replace the horrific with something else “spec” and the core of the story would be the same. They’re about characters with deep backstories that affect their entire life; people facing some of the worst traumas imaginable, made worse because they’re experiences we know are too common. “Tea and Sympathy” starts with a young woman whose husband dies suddenly of a heart defect, and then leads to his spirit returning to her using men who are near death. The body-snatching and haunting isn’t the part that got to me: it’s the knowing that, at barely thirty-one, if something happens to me I would want to do everything in my power to make sure my partner was okay, even at the expense of the soon-to-be-deceased. That’s a startling realization to grapple with, but making you consider things like that is one of the most powerful aspects of Jon’s writing.

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A Sinister Quartet: An All Authors-Signed Giveaway, with 4 Original Postcards by Paula Arwen Owen

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

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We, the authors of The Sinister Quartet, have done it all this year!

We’ve done ZOOM readings! We’ve made up playlists, recipescocktails (and mocktails!) to go with our dark-hearted stories! We’ve done a Reddit AMA, and The Big Idea over at Scalzi’s blog!

Lately, we did that GINORMOUS interview with Zig Zag Claybourne here at Black Gate magazine!

And now, we’ve got PRESENTS! For YOU!

We’re doing a GIVEAWAY here at Black Gate magazine!

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS.

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New Treasures: The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover design by Chelsea McGuckin

Ursula Vernon is one of the more talented young fantasy writers in the business. She won a Hugo and Mythopoeic Award for her webcomic Digger, which was hugely popular in the Black Gate offices (reviewed here by both Alana Joli Abbott and Matthew Surridge), another Hugo for her novelette “The Tomato Thief,” and a Nebula for her short story “Jackalope Wives.” She’s also the author of the bestselling Dragonbreath series.

As T. Kingfisher, she writes much creepier fare, including The Twisted Ones and The Seventh Bride. Her latest is The Hollow Places, which Kirkus Reviews calls “wonderfully twisted… The perfect tale for fans of horror with heart.” Here’s an excerpt from the enthusiastic notice at Publishers Weekly.

Kingfisher (The Twisted Ones) imagines the horrors lying between worlds in this chilling supernatural thriller. Recently divorced Kara (aka Carrot) moves in with her uncle Earl to help run his Wonder Museum… Then a hole mysteriously opens in the museum’s wall, revealing a hallway that should not exist. With the help of Simon, the barista from the coffee shop next door, Carrot sets out to discover where the hall leads. On the other end they find a strange world comprised of tiny islands covered in willows and containing concrete bunkers — and a mysterious group of occupants… Kingfisher has crafted a truly terrifying monster with minimal descriptions that leave the reader’s imagination to run wild. With well-timed humor and perfect scares, this one is a keeper for horror fans.

The Hollow Places was published by Saga Press on October 6, 2020. It is 341 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Chelsea McGuckin. Listen to an audio excerpt here, and read a sample chapter at Ginger Nuts of Horror.

See all our coverage of the best new SF and Fantasy here.


Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: Volume One edited by Paula Guran and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve edited by Ellen Datlow

Sunday, October 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: Volume One (Pyr) and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve
(Night Shade Books). Both published October 20, 2020. Covers by unknown and Reiko Murakami

The pandemic has shaken up publishing schedules, including the usual batch of Year’s Best anthologies. (The 2020 edition of Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy didn’t have a publication date until last week; it now looks like it will appear Dec. 8 from Prime Books.) But as we near the end of the year we’re seeing a much more crowded release schedule — and in fact on Tuesday of this week two of the most anticipated anthologies of the year will be released on the same day: Paula Guran’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: Volume One from Pyr, and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve, edited by Ellen Datlow, from Night Shade Books.

Paula published ten volumes of The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror with Prime Books; we covered the last in November of 2019. This year she’s switched to Pyr, who published the annual Nebula Awards Showcase for many years. The 2020 volume looks especially appetizing, wth 25 stories and over 400 pages. Authors include Theodora Goss, Maria Dahvana Headley, Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, Seanan McGuire, Sam J. Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Sarah Pinsker, Angela Slatter, Rivers Solomon, and many more. Here’s the complete table of contents.

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Fantasia Extra: Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin

Friday, October 16th, 2020 | Posted by a.update.wordpress.org

Lost GirlsFor my last Fantasia post of 2020, I’m again going back to cover something I was too fatigued to get to in a previous year. In 2017 publisher Spectacular Optical put out Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin, a collection of essays by women scholars. The book launched at Fantasia and I asked for a pdf, then was too wiped out after the festival and for some time beyond to write a review. Although the book’s currently sold out, I’m reflecting on it now for three reasons. The first is simply because I dislike yielding to fatigue permanently. The second is that I think it’s worth writing a bit about Rollin, who I had not heard of in 2017, who does not seem to have been previously mentioned on this web site, and whose films of the fantastic are (to judge by this book) worth covering here. The third is to consider more generally the experience of reading about film, especially films one has not seen.

Let me start with Lost Girls. Edited by Samm Deighan, it’s 437 pages long, with a foreward, 16 essays, and an afterword. The tone’s academic but still accessible to a general audience — there are references and lists of works cited, and a general interest in placing Rollin within a broader cultural and intellectual context, but the essays tend to avoid the intricately theoretical and recondite. The book’s lavishly illustrated, with stills from Rollin’s films sometimes sharing a page with text they’re illustrating, and at other times assembled into two-page spreads.

Given the nature of Rollin’s work, there’s a lot of blood and nudity in the pictures. From this book and what I’ve read elsewhere I gather that while Rollin made low-budget films across a number of genres he’s best known for a cycle of movies in the 70s that combined horror, erotica, and arthouse surrealism. Ostensible exploitation films had their genre conventions undermined by ambiguity and mythopoeic imagery. Women were leads, heroes and villains and both in one; thus the idea of a book about Rollin by women, examining a male filmmaker whose work was ostensibly gazing upon often-nude young women but who also gave those characters unusual agency and range.

The essays in Lost Girls are generally respectful of Rollin. The book moves in a roughly chronological arc across his career, perhaps focussing especially on his early vampire films: Le viol du vampire (The Rape of the Vampire, 1968), La vampire nue (The Nude Vampire, 1970), Le frisson des vampires (The Shiver of the Vampires, 1971), and Requiem pour un vampire (Requiem For A Vampire, 1971). Recurring imagery in Rollin’s films is considered, as are his influences from the serial form, and fable-like or fairy-tale characteristics of his stories.

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New Treasures: Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Friday, October 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold (Orbit, 2020). Covers by Emily Courdelle

Luke Arnold is an Australian actor and star of the pirate saga Black Sails. He played Silver John, a younger version of Long John Silver, the antagonist of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and one of the greatest characters in English literature.

Arnold is also an author, and earlier this year his fantasy debut The Last Smile in Sunder City (Orbit, February 2020) was selected by io9 as one of the SF & fantasy titles You Need to Know AboutKirkus gave it a warm review, saying:

The debut novel from Australian actor Arnold is a fusion of paranormal fantasy and mystery set in a world where magic has been effectively destroyed by humans, forcing the supernatural population to live a radically diminished existence. Fetch Phillips is a “Man for Hire,” which is another way of saying the down-on-his-luck, hard-drinking former Soldier–turned-detective will do just about anything to pay the bills. When a principal from a cross-species school enlists him to find a missing professor — a 300-year-old Vampire named Edmund Rye — Phillips quickly agrees. Without magic, the Vampires — and all other supernatural beings — are slowly dying. So how difficult could it be to find a withered bloodsucker who is so weak he can hardly move around?… The first installment of an effortlessly readable series that could be the illegitimate love child of Terry Pratchett and Dashiell Hammett.

Orbit promised the second volume would arrive in the Fall, and low and behold Dead Man in a Ditch arrived right on time last month. Here’s an excerpt from Annie Deo’s enthusiastic review at Nerd Daily.

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