I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again (before this column dies the hero of Black Gate or lives long enough to become its villain): I love a novel that’s about conflict resolution through words.
Mike Brooks’ Dark Run space opera trilogy was published in 2016/17, and was warmly received. Kirkus Reviews called it an “old-fashioned space Western… an entertaining page-turner,” and Andrew Liptak at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog said it “deserves to be this year’s break out. A space opera in the rollicking tradition of Timothy Zahn [and] John Scalzi…”
For the past few years Brooks has been playing around in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, writing novels like Rites of Passage and Brutal Kunnin’. This spring he re-invented himself again, this time as an epic fantasy novelist, kicking off The God-King Chronicles series with the novel The Black Coast. It was named an Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best SFF in February, and Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review. Here’s a snippet from their enthusiastic review.
When I was a young(er) person, I was a voracious reader. I blew through books all the time. Once, during a school reading challenge, I read so many books that I ran out of books to read, and ended up doubling up on some titles. I read so many books, my teachers didn’t believe me. They thought I made up the lot. Reading so much, and loving every minute I got to dive into another world; that I got to escape my reality for a little bit is in no small part of why I’m a writer now.
But I will admit, that I’ve been struggling to read of late. A combination of a time-consuming job, several side-hustles, and the added stress of a global pandemic, and all the stupidity of (some) folks regarding it, losing a long-time flatmate and having to move…. It’s all added up. The result was that I could barely pick myself up, let alone a book.…
The Forever War (Ballantine Books, 1976). Cover by Murray Tinkelman
Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is one of the most honored science fiction novels of all time. First published by St. Martin’s Press in 1975, it swept every major SF Award, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. A decade later, in 1987, it placed 18th on Locus’ list of All-Time Best SF Novels, ahead of The Martian Chronicles, Starship Troopers, and Rendezvous with Rama.
Unlike many SF classics, its reputation has grown steadily over the decades. It’s been widely praised by critics, from Thomas M. Disch (“It is to the Vietnam War what Catch-22 was to World War II, the definitive, bleakly comic satire”) to contemporary authors such as Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz. …
I think most people are familiar with Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). (Certainly, there’s a delightful musical from 1948 featuring Bing Crosby that I loved as a kid.) Twain’s hero is an engineer from Connecticut who receives a blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to King Arthur’s England. Although the story is a social satire, it celebrates homespun ingenuity and democratic values, among other things. Although not a satire, Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1965) by H. Beam Piper, similarly celebrates good old American ingenuity and values, but takes place on an alternate 20th century timeline instead of the far past. It’s Piper’s last work and part of his Paratime universe.
In this article I’m going give you six (relatively) spoiler-free reasons to read the book, and one reason that has a spoiler, but that I think will only enhance your enjoyment of the work.
“It’s just because I have picked a little about mystics that I have no use for mystagogues. Real mystics don’t hide mysteries, they reveal them. They set a thing up in broad daylight, and when you’ve seen it it’s still a mystery. But the mystagogues hide a thing in darkness and secrecy, and when you find it, it’s a platitude.” ― G. K. Chesterton
After a few unforeseen delays, Mystics in Hell has finally arrived. This is the latest edition in the long-running, shared-universe series, Heroes in Hell™. The gathering of real people from across our historical timeline, and the casting of fictional characters born of myth and legend, folklore and literature, is what makes this such a unique and fun series. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the series or for those readers who may wish to be brought up to date, once again I’ll do my best to recap what’s been happening in our favorite Afterlife.
Mystics in Hell follows on the hot hooves of Lovers in Hell and the two volumes preceding it. The plagues which first manifested themselves in Doctors in Hell are evolving and mutating. In Pirates in Hell, disastrous floods swept through Hell, leaving behind wrack and ruin, and new islands and coastlines. The damned sought the help of pirates and other seafarers, seeking refuge and passage, hoping to escape to dry land and whatever safe harbor they could find. But there is no such thing as a safe harbor in Hell, and there is no escape.…
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2020,
edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books, June 2021). Cover by Argus
The print version of Rich Horton’s 12th Year’s Best volume was delayed roughly six months by the pandemic, and it finally arrives next week. The delay was a little frustrating for those of us who look forward to this book every year, but considering how deeply the pandemic impacted the publishing world overall, I figure it could have been a lot worse. (The digital version has been available since December, but I remain stubbornly a print guy.)
Rich’s introductions to the early volumes belonged to the get-out-of-the-way-and let-the-fiction-do-the-talking school, but over the years they’ve loosened up a bit, and this year’s is one of his best, a lively and thoughtful look at the impact of this very eventful year on science fiction, and some thoughts on famous genre pandemic fiction. Here’s part of his comments on the tales within.
This reviews Scott Oden Presents: The Lost Empire of Sol brought to you by the Rogue Blades Foundation. This is a fine collection that certainly achieved its mission of inserting a jolt into Sword & Planet offerings. With its interesting premise and cast of authors, The Lost Empire of Sol is destined to become a historic Sword & Planet anthology.
It is edited by two who are well known to the Black Gate community. Firstly, Jason M. Waltz, champion of Rogue Blades Entertainment and the Rogue Blades Foundation, is notorious for rounding up contemporary authors in themed anthologies (perhaps most well known for the 2008 Sword & Sorcery classic Return of the Sword …. and most currently known for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life releasing ~now (appropriately on June 11th, REH’s anniversary of passing). And we also have Fletcher Vredenburgh, well known for his outstanding reviews, who provides the “Foreword”: he explains how discussions on Facebook with Scott Oden (adored author of historical fiction, Conan pastiche, and the Grimnir series) escalated into this collection. Also, to dimension the genre and set the stage for a revival is the esteemed John O’Neill (our esteemed chief editor of Black Gate Magazine) provides an introductory essay “Sword & Planet is the Genre We Need.”…
Stellar Fist (Ace, 1989). Cover by Martin Andrews
George Wyatt Proctor (1946 – 2008) was an prolific Texas author who produced some two dozen novels and collections after he retired from The Dallas Morning News in 1976. He wrote both science fiction and westerns, and collaborated with a host of well known writers, including Arthur C. Clarke, Howard Waldrop, and Steven Utley. With Robert E. Vardeman he produced nine Swords of Raemllyn sword & sorcery novels in the 80s and 90s, and with Andrew J. Offutt he contributed two novels to the Spaceways series (as John Cleve). In 1985 he wrote two novels in the long-running series V, based on the hit NBC series.
Stellar Fist was his last standalone science fiction novel, following Fire at the Center (1981) and Starwings (1984). From a modern perspective, it’s pretty much exactly what you expect from an 80s military SF novel. But that may not be a bad thing, as put so eloquently in this 2-star Goodreads review by Mark.
This book was pretty much awful, but I found myself really enjoying it — from the ridiculous interstellar-sexpot-spy-turned-time-traveling-lounge-singer-returned-interstellar-spy to the last 20 pages of complete story- and character-breaking chaos. Would highly recommend reading it if you’ve got a sense of humor and nothing better lying around.
That reads like a solid recommendation in my book.
Stellar Fist was published by Ace Books in January 1989. It’s 229 pages, priced $3.50. The cover is by Martin Andrews. It has never been reprinted, which really isn’t very surprising.
See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.
Hooting Grange, eleventh volume in Jeffrey E. Barlough’s Northern Lights series,
published March 2021 by Gresham & Doyle. Cover “The Close Gate” by Ernest William Haslehust.
One of the most popular fantasy series in the Black Gate offices these days doesn’t come from a major Manhattan publisher. In fact, it doesn’t come from traditional publishing at all. For the last 23 years Jeffrey E. Barlough has quietly been writing one of the strongest and most unusual fantasy epics on the market, put out by tiny California publishing house Gresham and Doyle.
Jackson Kuhl describes the eleven volume Northern Lights series as “kinda-sorta gaslamp fantasy, except there doesn’t seem to be any natural gas. Barlough’s creation is best described as a Victorian Dying Earth — gothic and claustrophobic… mastodons and mylodons mixed with ghosts and gorgons.”