Birthday Reviews: Kara Dalkey’s “Bouncing Babies”

Sunday, November 4th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Not of Woman Born

Not of Woman Born

Kara Dalkey was born on November 4, 1953.

Dalkey was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award in 1989 for her novel The Nightingale, a retelling of one of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales in a Japanese setting. Ten years later her novel Heavenward Path was also nominated for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature. She was also nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award in 2004 for her short story “Lady of the Ice Gardens.”

“Bouncing Babies” was published in the anthology Not of Woman Born, edited by Constance Ash in 1999. The story has never been reprinted.

Although the people who live in the world of “Bouncing Babies” may see it as a utopia in which people don’t have to worry about giving birth unless they want to and the need to work is obviated, it is also a world in which a person’s worth is based solely on their ability to provide reproductive material. Teenage girls are genetically tested and if they prove to fit societal requirements are paid ten million dollars to have their eggs harvested, their genotype then used to determine their ability to fit into society.

Ms. Goodwin has long since had her eggs harvested and is living a life of luxury when she receives a notification to visit the Reprotec Bank. Not having any clue what they want to talk to her about, she goes in and discovers that her eggs are no longer genetically desirable. In fact, a child born from them was returned as defective by its parents. The bank has seized her assets to regain their investments and Goodwin realizes that she has nothing to fall back on.

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The Feminine Mystique: The Big Book of Female Detectives edited by Otto Penzler

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Big Book of Female Detectives-smallI think that if I were stranded on a desert island, and I could grab the works of a single writer to bring with me before my ship went down, I’d be a fool not to choose Otto Penzler.

Penzler’s brick-sized Big Book anthologies form a pretty darn complete intro to genre fiction. He’s produced more than a dozen over the last decade, publishing roughly one per year since 2007. They include:

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps — 2007
The Vampire Archives — 2009
Agents of Treachery — 2010
The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories — 2010
Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! — 2011
The Big Book of Adventure Stories — 2011
The Big Book of Ghost Stories — 2012
The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries — 2013
The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries — 2014
The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories — 2015
The Big Book of Jack the Ripper — 2016
The Big Book of Rogues and Villains –- 2017

His latest is a delicious mix of gumshoe gals and debutant detectives. It was published last month by Vintage Crime. Here’s the description.

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New Treasures: A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland

Friday, November 2nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

A Conspiracy of Truths-smallI’m at the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore this weekend. This is my first trip to the city (Holy cats! Did you know Baltimore was on the Atlantic Ocean?? They should tell people this stuff), and so far I’ve dined at a terrific seafood restaurant, taken in the salt air, and visited what has to be the largest Barnes & Noble on the planet.

I’ve also reconnected with plenty of friends whom I only see at conventions these days, including more than a few Black Gate contributors (quick shout out to Derek Kunsken, Marie Bilodeau, Howard Andrew Jones, Patty Templeton, Doug Ellis, L.E. Modesitt, and Sarah Avery!) and wandered through the beautiful Dealer’s Room, packed to the brim with fantasy books. It may seem strange that even surrounded by a hive of activity like WFC I can still be distracted by new books, but there you are. One of the first to catch my eye was the debut fantasy novel by Alexandra Rowland. I think I’ll be taking this one home with me.

A wrongfully imprisoned storyteller spins stories from his jail cell that just might have the power to save him — and take down his jailers too.

Arrested on accusations of witchcraft and treason, Chant finds himself trapped in a cold, filthy jail cell in a foreign land. With only his advocate, the unhelpful and uninterested Consanza, he quickly finds himself cast as a bargaining chip in a brewing battle between the five rulers of this small, backwards, and petty nation.

Or, at least, that’s how he would tell the story.

In truth, Chant has little idea of what is happening outside the walls of his cell, but he must quickly start to unravel the puzzle of his imprisonment before they execute him for his alleged crimes. But Chant is no witch—he is a member of a rare and obscure order of wandering storytellers. With no country to call his home, and no people to claim as his own, all Chant has is his wits and his apprentice, a lad more interested in wooing handsome shepherds than learning the ways of the world.

And yet, he has one great power: his stories in the ears of the rulers determined to prosecute him for betraying a nation he knows next to nothing about. The tales he tells will topple the Queens of Nuryevet and just maybe, save his life.

A Conspiracy of Truths was published by Saga Press on October 23, 2018. It is 464 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $7.99 for the digital edition.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.

From Beneath the Review Pile: The Same Old Story

Friday, November 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_1235943NVf82AxcAs they used to say in Monty Python, “and now for something completely different.”

The more I read, the more difficult it is for me to be entranced by a novel or short story. My writer brain is always whirring away in the background, pointing out when an author has done something clever or highlighting specific techniques like Chekhov’s gun. To be honest, it’s sort of a pain in the ass. If a novel isn’t gripping to the point that my writer brain clicks off for a bit – or at least gets quieter – I usually put it down somewhere around the fifty-page mark, if not sooner.

Doing this column makes it tough sometimes, too, because a) I don’t like to review something I didn’t at least enjoy enough to finish, but b) I need to find a book worth reviewing every two weeks. And honestly, two years into this column it’s getting harder, since I keep seeing the same story over and over again.

Let me give you an example, without giving too many specifics (since I don’t want to insult anyone). Recently I started a space opera ARC that I received from a publisher, because the back cover blurb sounded really cool, involving a protagonist who’s vilified by the galaxy he worked to save. Except the novel doesn’t start with that; it goes back to the protagonist’s youth, struggling to find his own way in a typical noble household, feeling stifled and controlled until he escapes and begins to come into his own, etc, etc. Sigh. Where’s my story about the intergalactic savior grappling with whether he should consider himself a hero or a villain? If we started there, I’d be able to forgive yet another far-future imperial setting structured like a hundred other novels I’ve read in the last few years.

Sorry if that sounded a little more heated than I usually get here. It’s just that I keep seeing the same story, and it’s wearying. Sometimes the story pretends to be different through its main characters. Like a post-alien invasion apocalypse where the adults are gone and young people have to survive on their own. Jazz it up with lead characters that are different than your usual fare, whether it’s based on gender identity, race, mental health, physical disability, etc, and maybe you’ve got a hit. Or maybe it’s the same story with the exact same beats and even some of the same tropes, and all the author is trying to do is be clever.

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DMR Books is Open to Submissions

Thursday, November 1st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

DMR Books

I had lunch with the hard-working Dave Ritzlin yesterday, the mastermind behind DMR Books, and he casually mentioned that they are now open to submissions. This is great news for any aspiring writers out there who produce fantasy, horror, and adventure fiction in the tradition of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and other classic writers of the pulp era. Instead of trying to summarize exactly what Dave’s looking for, here he is in his own words.

Heroic fantasy adventure fiction of the sword-and-sorcery subgenre. Rather than give a detailed explanation of what that means, I’ll just say that if you’re familiar with the books we’ve published, as well as the titles on the following list, you’ll have a good idea of what we want.

What are you waiting for? Start your writing adventure here.

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Unbound Worlds on the Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of October 2018

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Astounding John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction-small The Dream Gatherer-small The Monster Baru Cormorant-small

Happy Halloween everyone!

Later tonight, as you’re curled up in your favorite chair munching Halloween candy, you’ll remember that today is also the last day of the month, and you’ll wonder what exciting new releases you overlooked. (Trust me. It’ll happen.) I mean, I get it. There are so many great new books being published these days that it’s impossible to keep track.

Impossible without very special resources, that is. Resources like Matt Staggs at Unbound Worlds, who’s curated an impressive list of 45 (yes, 45) new novels, collections, photobooks, anthologies, and nonfiction books representing the very best in science fiction, fantasy, horror and the unclassifiable. Here’s some of his best selections.

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee (Dey Street Books, 544 pages, $28.99 hardcover/$15.99 digital, October 23, 2018)

Astounding is the landmark account of the extraordinary partnership between four controversial writers — John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard — who set off a revolution in science fiction and forever changed our world.

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Future Treasures: The Thing in the Close by Jeffrey E. Barlough

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Thing in the Close-small The Thing in the Close-back-small

While Manhattan publishers spend six-figures promoting the latest fantasy doorstopper, on the other side of the continent Jeffrey E. Barlough is quietly producing one of the best and most original fantasy series on the market. The Western Lights novels have steadily been winning readers since the first volume Dark Sleeper appeared in 2000. In his review of Anchorwick, fifth in the series, Jackson Kuhl summarized the setting this way:

In a world where the Ice Age never ended, a cataclysm has reduced humanity to a slip of English civilization along North America’s western coastline. It’s neither steampunk nor weird western; the technology is early 19th century. It’s 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 yet confronted by its inhabitants with upper lips held stiff. As the books are fantasy mysteries, the less said about their plots, the better… mastodons and mylodons mixed with ghosts and gorgons? Yes, please.

In 2016 Fletcher Vredenburgh reviewed Dark Sleeper for us, saying:

For nearly twenty years now Barlough has been creating a truly unique series that has seems to have escaped too many readers’ attention… If you have the slightest affinity for the works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, or the steampunk works of Tim Powers and James Blaylock, then I highly recommend Dark Sleeper.

The Thing in the Close, the tenth volume in the series, arrives in trade paperback in December from Gresham & Doyle. Its has been long awaited in the Black Gate offices.

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Birthday Reviews: Neal Stephenson’s “Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast”

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Full Spectrum 5-small Full Spectrum 5-back-small

Cover by Michael Parkes

Neal Stephenson was born on October 31, 1959.

Stephenson won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1996 for The Diamond Age and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2004 for Quicksilver. His novel Snow Crash won the Prix Ozone, the Ignotus Award, and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. Stephenson’s novel Seveneves won the Kurd Lasswitz Preis and the Prometheus Award. Stephenson has also won the Prometheus Award for The System of the World and Cryptonomicon.

“Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of ‘Tribes of the Pacific Coast’” is one of Stephenson’s few short stories and it originally appeared in Full Spectrum 5, edited by Jennifer Hershey, Tom Dupree, and Janna Silverstein in 1995. The story was reprinted in Steampunk, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. It has not, otherwise, been reprinted.

The opening of “Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of ‘Tribes of the Pacific Coast’” has the feel of David McCauley’s Motel of the Mysteries, with a group of men in the ruins of an ancient shopping mall. However, while Stephenson seems to signal that the expedition will explore the mall and come to erroneous conclusions about twentieth century culture, the story itself is quite different.

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Mark Morris on the New Fears Anthologies

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

New Fears cover-small New Fears 2-small

I was pretty excited by Mark Morris’ New Fears last year. It was a terrific horror anthology, with brand new stories by Alison Littlewood, Angela Slatter, Nina Allan, Chaz Brenchley, Ramsey Campbell, Adam Nevill, Muriel Gray, Kathryn Ptacek, Christopher Golden, and many others.

I kept an eye out for the second one in the series, and it arrived right on schedule from Titan Books last month. New Fears 2 looks even better, with 21 stories by the most acclaimed writers in the genre, including Priya Sharma, Robert Shearman, Gemma Files, Tim Lebbon, Brian Hodge, V. H. Leslie, Brian Evenson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Aliya Whiteley, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, and many others.

But anthology series are a tough sell in today’s market, as we’ve talked about here a few times (see “Is the Original SF and Fantasy Paperback Anthology Series Dead?” for some extensive discussion on the topic) So I was dismayed, but not too surprised, to see a public plea from Morris last week for support for his new series.

On Sunday New Fears picked up the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. The reviews for the book have been overwhelmingly positive, with a couple of reviewers even saying that it’s the best horror anthology they’ve read for years… And as with New Fears, the reviews for New Fears 2 have been phenomenally good.


Despite all these accolades, New Fears simply hasn’t sold enough copies for Titan, at this time, to recommission the series… However if sales pick up, and the first two volumes earn out their advances, then there’s a possibility they make pick the series up again at a later date.

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Birthday Reviews: Douglas E. Winter’s “Splatter: A Cautionary Tale”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Masques II

Masques II

Douglas E. Winter was born on October 30, 1950.

Winter won the World Fantasy Award for Non-Professionals for his reviewing in 1986 and has won the International Horror Guild Award three times, for his stories “Black Sun” and “Loop” and for the anthology Revelations. He served as the Toastmaster for the 1986 World Fantasy Com in Providence, RI and the Master of Ceremonies for the 2003 World Fantasy Con in Washington D.C. He has collaborated with Melissa Mia Hall at least twice.

“Splatter: A Cautionary Tale” was first published as a chapbook by Footsteps Press in 1987. In June of that year, J.N. Williamson included the story in the anthology Masques II and reprinted it the following year in The Best of Masques. 1988 also saw the story reprinted in David J. Schow’s Silver Scream and Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection the first volume in their long-running series better known as The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Barry Hoffman reprinted it in Gauntlet 1 in 1990 and Williamson again published it in the omnibus volume Dark Masques in 2012. It was translated into Italian in 1988 by Alda Carrer and in 1990, Gisela Kirst-Tinnefeld translated it into German. The story was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction in 1988.

“Splatter: A Cautionary Tale” is told in segments, with each paragraph headed with the title of a horror film. It describes the lives of three people, Cameron Blake, a woman who is crusading against the portrayal of violence in horror films, Thomas Tallis, an artist who is figuring out what the boundaries are, and Renhquist, a horror fan who may have begun to accept the violence in films a little too much. Winter uses language and arguments about horror films which are generally reserved for pornography.

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