Goth Chick News: Anne Rice’s Vampires and Witches Get a Final Resting Place on AMC

Thursday, June 25th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Gotch Chick 1

To say I was a fan of Anne Rice’s stories is to under-report the nature of my obsession. Not only do I have all of her work in multiple formats (at least all of it up to 2005), I have hardcover first editions of many, signed by the lady herself. These were the results of multiple pilgrimages to New Orleans to attend her book releases at the Garden District Book Shop as well as her annual Vampire Ball which used to be held every October. These trips lead to my own love affair of NOLA which remains to this day, all thanks to the incredible mystery, terror and romance Rice conveyed in her works, most of which were anchored in the city time forgot.

So, what happened in 2005 that changed everything?

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans that year. Rice had decamped in 2002 when her husband passed away, selling all her properties and moving to California to join her son Christopher, a successful author in his own right. However, her leaving the city had not stopped the tourism generated by Rice’s stories. Following Katrina, city leaders appealed to Rice to come back to New Orleans to host an event or two and help get the city back on its feet. Unfortunately, Rice declined, which was understandable if it had been too hard to return to the place where her husband’s memory was everywhere. But Rice’s stance went much deeper.

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Diplomacy, Politics and Military Action: The Breaker of Empires Trilogy by Richard Baker

Thursday, June 25th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Larry Rostant

Every time an author completes a trilogy, we bake a cake at the Black Gate offices. We’re gotten pretty pudgy over the years, but hey. You don’t mess with tradition.

I missed the arrival of Scornful Stars, the final book in Richard Baker’s Breaker of Empire trilogy, last December — which means I missed an excuse for another cake. Sounds like I missed a good story too, if the Tzer Island review is anything to go by. Here’s an excerpt.

North’s ship is patrolling four systems in the Zerzura Sector. Piracy has been a problem that North hopes to do something about. He is, in fact, entreated to do so by a lovely woman whose shipping company is plagued by pirates… The pirates seem to know when the military will arrive. North develops a theory as to why that might be, putting him in a position to shoot it out with pirate ships. Later, he seizes an opportunity to thwart Bleindal’s nefarious plans, which leads to more shootouts, both between vessels and between North’s boarding parties and provocateurs.

The emphasis in the second novel was on diplomacy, while this one explores how corruption results in a breakdown of diplomacy. All three novels feature strong action scenes and interesting discussions about military strategy in the context of space, where warships are separated by thousands of kilometers. A fair amount of military science fiction is ghastly, but the Breaker of Empires series combines a thoughtful balance of diplomacy and politics with military action…

Scornful Stars continues Baker’s strong characterization and carefully conceived universe building. The story balances moments of excitement with convincing descriptions of what it might be like to serve in a space-based military organization. Baker’s attention to detail adds credibility to the story, while his focus on the impact of war on his characters adds an important dimension that most military action novels address only in generic terms. RECOMMENDED.

Baker began his career as a game designer at TSR, where he co-designed the highly-regarded Birthright campaign setting. He wrote nine Forgotten Realms novels for TSR over the next decade, but Breaker of Empires is his first non-licensed project. We covered Valiant Dust here, and Restless Lightning here.

Scornful Stars was published by Tor Books on December 3, 2019. It is 462 pages, priced at $23.99 in trade paperback, $8.99 in mass market, and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Larry Rostant. See all our recent coverage of the best in SF and Fantasy series here.

Vintage Treasures: Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman. Berkley Books, June 1979. Cover by Wayne Barlowe

Robert Aickman was not part of my early genre education, and even today I’ve read only a handful of his stories. But he had a fine reputation; one that hasn’t faded at all since he died in 1981. Today he’s highly collectible, and his collections are tough to find, especially in the original paperback editions. I recently came across a copy of the 1979 Berkley edition of Cold Hand in Mine on eBay — tucked away in a lot of 11 SF paperbacks offered for $8 — and snapped it immediately.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a copy before.

Aickman has plenty of fans even today, and it’s not hard to find modern commentary on his 40-year old paperbacks. That’s fairly unusual (trust me on that). Will Errickson at Too Much Horror Fiction has one of my favorite recent reviews; here’s an excerpt.

Another word I’d use to describe his stories is “uncanny,” since they rarely adhere to generic conventions but instead move subtly around them, hinting at unconscious drives, highlighting how the real world and the real people in it may be illusions obscuring darker forces at work. Odd occurrences do not add up; the killer does not remove a mask and identify himself, because we aren’t sure there’s a killer at all, but only time and chance and that what might be called fate. You might not be surprised when I suggest Aickman is a bit of an acquired taste.

Aickman has long been a favorite of adventurous readers who search high and low for the forgotten or the overlooked, the challenging and the obscure; in recent years his reputation has grown and grown, and his books have been brought back into print by several publishers. After years of fruitless search myself, I recently bought, for a few dollars more than I generally like to pay for old paperbacks, a copy of Cold Hand in Mine (Berkley Books reprint 1979…) these are quiet, literate tales of creepiness; the front and back ad copy oversell it and I wonder of buyers’ remorse back in the day…

These stories generate little heat; no melodrama, no generic twist, no jump scares, no slow dawning of horrible realization. When the “horror” occurs, rarely does it overly alarm or unduly concern anyone. The polite thing seems to be to ignore it… for that whisper of other worlds, or even an intimation that our perception of this world is flawed and incomplete, not up to the task, is simply intolerable. Characters view these things askance, never head-on.

Cold Hand in Mine contains eight long stories, all but one of them novelettes, including the World Fantasy Award-winning “Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal.” Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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New Treasures: Hella by David Gerrold

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Hella by David Gerrold-smallDavid Gerrold is the author of some three dozen novels and collections, including When Harlie Was One (1972), the Star Wolf novels, Jumping Off the Planet (2000), and the as-yet unfinished War Against the Chtorr series. Not to mention his acclaimed non-fiction books on Star Trek, including the classic The World of Star Trek (1973).

I first heard about his new SF novel Hella at Tammy Sparks review blog Books, Bones, & Buffy, where she wrote,

I loved the idea of a group of colonists living on a planet where everything is huge… Gerrold does a great job of setting the stage and presenting a cool idea.

I wasn’t even aware that there was a new book by Gerrold, but I’m excited to see it. And like Tammy, I’m very intrigued by the premise. (Are there alien dinosaurs?? Please let there be alien dinosaurs.) It received a starred review at Publishers Weekly, and you know what that means — it must contain dinosaurs. Here’s a peek at the review.

Hugo and Nebula Award–winner Gerrold (The Martian Child) showcases his powerful storytelling skills with this outstanding tale of interstellar intrigue. Hella is a planet of extremes, so named because its oxygen-rich atmosphere causes everything from the trees to the leviathans that inhabit it to grow “hella big.” The barely self-sufficient human colonists who call Hella home flee its blistering summers and harsh arctic winters in a biannual migration. Among these colonists is Kyle, a neuroatypical 13-year-old with a chip implant meant to regulate his emotions…

The worldbuilding is masterful, with hard scientific explanations for Hella’s many abnormalities and rich descriptions sure to keep the attention of even the most casual reader. The effortlessly diverse cast, complex political machinations, and heartfelt coming-of-age themes combine to create a fleshed-out vision of the future that is intense, emotional, and immersive while still maintaining a sense of rollicking fun. Sci-fi readers should snap this up.

Hella was published by DAW on June 16, 2020. It is 448 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The jacket is designed by Leo Nickolls. Read a lengthy excerpt here.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

Future Treasures: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Sunday, June 21st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Mexican Gothic-smallSilvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of Signal to Noise (2015), Gods of Jade and Shadow (2019), Certain Dark Things (2018), and Untamed Shore, just released in February. Her second novel for 2020 is Mexican Gothic, which Booklist calls “A shiver-inducing tale,” and which Kirkus raves over, calling it,

A terrifying twist on classic gothic horror . . . Moreno-Garcia weaves elements of Mexican folklore with themes of decay, sacrifice, and rebirth, casting a dark spell all the way to the visceral and heart-pounding finale. Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

Mexican Gothic is set in glamorous 1950s Mexico, and has all the ingredients for a good beach read (providing you can find an open beach) — an isolated mansion, a suavely charismatic aristocrat, and a spunky young socialite to expose their mysterious secrets. Here’s the publisher’s description.

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find — her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

Mexican Gothic will be published by Del Rey on June 30, 2020. It is 320 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. Read the first chapter at Entertainment Weekly.

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

Back to the Bookstore

Saturday, June 20th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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At least the magazine section still isn’t crowded

I took a trip to the Barnes & Noble in Geneva, Illinois today, for the first time since mid-March.

I wasn’t even sure it was open. I just took a chance after my Saturday trip to the post office — to put a dozen Black Gate back issues in the mail for a curious buyer — and swung by. There was a big paper sign proclaiming WE ARE OPEN in the window. The guy wearing a mask behind the counter told me they’d been open for two weeks. Who knew?

There were signs advising that entry was not permitted without a face mask, and lots of reminders to maintain social distancing. But still. It feels really good — if a little weird — to be back in a bookstore again, browsing the latest releases, as if there weren’t a pandemic going on.

OK, there weren’t a lot of new releases. To be truthful, most of the stock looked pretty similar to the last time I was there three months ago. Even the magazines were the same; every one I picked up was cover-dated March or April. It’s almost like the store was shuttered overnight, like in I Am Legend or 28 Days Later, and the staff just cautiously dusted stuff stuff off and opened up again.

But it doesn’t matter. It was a pleasure just to wander the aisles, pick up books, and do a little impulse buying.

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Vintage Treasures: Skinner by Richard S. McEnroe

Friday, June 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Skinner by Richard S. McEnroe. Bantam Spectra, June 1985. Cover by Enric

One of the advantages of writing up at least one Vintage Treasure every week is that it gives me an excuse to read a lot of the forgotten and overlooked classics I missed out on over the decades. And occasionally, to indulge in a guilty pleasure.

Take Skinner for example. It’s the fifth (and last) science fiction novel by Richard S. McEnroe, a literary agent turned author who began his career writing Buck Rogers novels in 1981. Skinner didn’t make much of a splash when it first appeared; it had a single paperback printing in the US, a UK edition from Orbit a year later, and then went out of print forever. But I don’t care. It’s got a dinosaur on an alien planet right there on the cover, and I want to read it, damnit.

When I went looking for contemporary reviews, I was surprised to find a few. And they only sharpened my interest. Here’s the most popular review on Goodreads, by Scott Schmidt.

What an odd, unique and refreshing work of science fiction. Well worth the fifty cents I paid for it at Goodwill. While I initially picked it up for the content depicted on the cover, this is only a part of a bigger plot that essentially boils down to interstellar shipping economics. I really loved the ending, which came about just as I was beginning to wonder where the story was headed. Great to read a piece of science fiction that didn’t have to be an epic, seven-part space opera. If I happen upon more of McEnroe’s works, I won’t hesitate to pick them up.

It might not be part of a seven-part space opera, but Skinner is the third book in a trilogy (which I didn’t learn until about 30 minutes ago… thank you, ISFDB). Here’s the first two.

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We Have Launch: Arthur C. Clarke’s Prelude to Space

Thursday, June 18th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly


Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke; First Edition: World Editions, Inc. (Galaxy Science Fiction Novel #3), 1951
Cover art by Bunch (click to enlarge)

Prelude to Space
by Arthur C. Clarke
World Editions, Inc. (Galaxy Science Fiction Novel #3) (160 pages, $0.25 in magazine digest format, 1951)

Having in my two previous columns here covered Isaac Asimov’s first proper novel (Pebble in the Sky) and Robert A. Heinlein’s first-written novel (For Us, the Living), it’s appropriate now to revisit Arthur C. Clarke’s first novel, Prelude to Space. (Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke were regarded as the “Big Three” science fiction writers for several decades beginning in the 1950s.) This is a novel about the launch of the first spaceship to go to the moon. Clarke had a background in radar and aeronautics — he famously anticipated the use of geosynchronous satellites for communications — and so one might expect a more truly scientifically authoritative novel compared to those from Asimov (whose background was only in biochemistry) and Heinlein (military service and politics). Indeed, Clarke’s novel is a better guess about how a launch to the moon would work than were those of other writers of the time, who clung to the vision of heroic lone inventors and single enormous rockets that would take off and return intact. Still, some of Clarke’s guesses were misses.
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The Ordinary is Ephemeral: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Battle Against Modernism

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 | Posted by David C. Smith

Weird Tales of Modernity-smallWeird Tales of Modernity: The Ephemerality of the Ordinary in the Stories of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft
Jason Ray Carney
McFarland & Company (205 pages, $39.95 in paperback/$23.99 digital, July 26, 2019)

Jason Carney’s thesis in Weird Tales of Modernity is that, in their reaction to modernism, the artistic and literary movement that upended culture as it had been accepted in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the Weird Tales Three — Howard, Smith, and Lovecraft — turned modernism on its head with innovations they introduced in their fiction. Make no mistake: the word thesis here is apt. Weird Tales of Modernity is a formal dissertation. Making use as it does of academic jargon, the book will not be for every reader.

Straightaway, for example, Carney introduces us to the term ekphrastic to make clear what the Weird Tales Three were expressing. Ekphrasis is the representation in language of a work of art. Any of us can do this; go ahead and write your own personal, detailed description of Cthulhu or explore how you react to Frank Frazetta’s artwork. Ekphrasis “acts as an organizing principle in poetry and fiction, making explicit the connection between art, storytelling, and life.” This definition is from Patrick Smith’s guest blog on the website Interesting Literature. Smith quotes Michael Trussler in defining ekphrasis as “a kind of ontological mixture that signals a world beyond the confines of the text.”

There we have it: ekphrasis “signals a world beyond the confines of the text.” We are now in Lovecraft’s frightening, paranoid, awakened world of the Cthulhu mythology — alive beyond the confines of the text — and Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne and Poseidonis, and Robert E. Howard’s brutal Valusia and Hyborian Age. As Carney says early in Weird Tales of Modernity, “When a literary artist, like [Clark Ashton] Smith, artistically describes or fictionalizes a work of art by transforming it into an unreal echo or shadow of the actual, that is ekphrasis.”

Carney devotes an early chapter to the history of Weird Tales and then two chapters each to the three authors of his study, introducing them and then exploring their artistic innovations. He begins his study with an examination of what he terms pulp ekphrasis. “In several of their enduring works,” he says,

Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith engage in a form of artistically inflected criticism termed ekphrasis. They do so by fictionalizing modernism, transforming the real artistic movement into an unreal shadow modernism, a strategic distortion of actual modernism. After many creative iterations honed over several stories — e.g., Pickman’s demented art, Malygris’s sorcery, the fell mirrors of Tuzun Thune — this shadow modernism becomes an inhuman technology that, functioning like a cognitive prosthesis in the virtual world of fiction, thereby reveals the secret truth of history: history is a cruelly accelerating process of deformation. The ordinary is ephemeral. History is an interplay of form and formlessness with formlessness terminally ascendant.

The ordinary is ephemeral. Lovecraft, Smith, and Howard were keenly aware of this truth and reacted to it in their fiction while other Weird Tales writers were moving right along in the modern world, writing their stories of scientifiction, offering narratives of ominous cults and mad scientists (with at least one nude woman per story),  or revisiting the tropes of Victorian horrors.

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New Treasures: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden. Harper Voy­ager, October 2019. Cover by Courtney ‘Seage’ Howlett

I missed Nicky Drayden’s Escaping Exodus when it was published late last year. Seems I wasn’t the only one — the book has only 19 reviews on Amazon, far fewer than her debut The Prey of Gods, which won the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and has over 100 Amazon reviews.

It’s a pity it hasn’t connected with more readers yet, as Escaping Exodus is generating good critical buzz. Kirkus praised its “top-notch worldbuilding and sharp characterization,” and Tom Whitmore at Locus Online was even more enthusiastic, saying “it’s got a breakneck pace: I wanted to take just a little longer to be with these people as they grow.” Here’s an excerpt from his review.

On a generation ship, two young people from different classes meet and fall in love. One rises, one falls, and their complex and forbidden rela­tionship causes a major rupture in the society. This is a classic SF trope: Drayden takes it to new places.

In Escaping Exodus, people use a pod of space whales as generation ships to escape an (unnamed) catastrophe on Earth. The people “ter­raform” the interior of the beasts, exploiting both the beasts’ internal systems and the biota that have adapted to live inside them; as those systems are exhausted, the society has to move from one beast to another. There are ten different groups, each with a different social system… Nicky Drayden’s new novel builds on the amaz­ing strengths she’s shown before. If you can imag­ine a feminist, Afro-centric, queer Heinlein juve­nile, with a strong discussion of class politics, then you might get close to what she’s doing here. I don’t think I could have imagined such a book be­fore reading this one. This is something I’ve been missing.

The sequel, Escaping Exodus: Symbiosis, is scheduled to be released next January. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover.

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