New Treasures: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Truthwitch-smallSusan Dennard is the author of the popular Something Strange and Deadly series from Harper. Last month she launched the Witchland series from Tor with the opening novel Truthwitch. The early reviews have been very strong, with Books of Wonder saying it’s “Full of magic, unbreakable friendships, and purpose… a lush and wonderful adventure tale.” And I have to admit, I love Scott Grimando’s cover.

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others. In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble — as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires. Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her — but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Truthwitch was published by Tor Teen on January 5, 2016. It is 416 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Scott Grimando.

Post-Modern Pulp: Speaking With Indie Action Writer Jack Badelaire

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

COA_SmallToday we’re talking to Jack Badelaire, author of numerous action books in the tradition of the 70s “Men’s Adventure” genre. His best known work is his Commando series of WWII action novels. Jack reflects on indie publishing and the state of the genre.

Full Disclosure: Jack is a critique partner of mine. He’s also a fellow member of the secret commando group Sicko Slaughterers (“SS,” we really need a new acronym), which goes after terrorists and human traffickers. So far I’ve killed 1,487 sickos, while wimpy little Jack has only killed 1,059. He gets props for killing that ISIS commander in Raqqa with a blender, though.

Anyway, on with the interview.

The Men’s Adventure fiction of the 60s and 70s is obviously a huge influence on your work. You’ve mentioned that you think there’s a lot more going on in these books than many people think. Could you expand on that?

This genre of fiction was brewed up during an especially turbulent period of history. The Cold War, Vietnam, rejuvenated organized crime syndicates, the rise of international terrorist organizations, the War on Drugs… and those are just the chart-toppers.  These post-modern pulps of the period were a direct reflection of, if we want to get Freudian for a moment, society’s collective Id. The Executioner went out and slaughtered Mafiosi because we wished someone would, and Phoenix Force obliterated terrorists because we wished someone would. Even today, the modern successors to these stories feature ex-SEALs and former Delta Force operators hunting terrorists and organized crime syndicates, stories little different than those written thirty or forty years ago.

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Vintage Treasures: Science Fiction Carnival, edited by Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Science Fiction Carnival paperback-small Science Fiction Carnival paperback-back-small

In the early 50s, everyone was busy trying to prove how grown up science fiction was. That it wasn’t just kid’s stuff, pulp tales of alien invasions that only appealed to fourteen year-old boys. The earliest genre anthologies on the market — like Groff Conklin’s The Best of Science Fiction (1946) and Healy and McComas’ Adventures in Time and Space (1946) — strained to show the ambitious side of SF, its respect for science and the unique way it examined the future.

In 1953, Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds decided to take a very different approach, displaying instead the fun side of SF in their classic anthology Science Fiction Carnival. It collected stories showing “a sharply sardonic view of our future” from Murray Leinster, Richard Matheson, William Tenn, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Eric Frank Russell, and many others.

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The 2015 Locus Recommended Reading List

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Empire Ascendant-smallLet’s assume that you’re a busy guy or gal, and don’t have time to read every new book on the shelves, regardless of how damn tantalizing the cover is. Heck, you don’t even have time to read the reviews. And let’s also assume that you still want to stay on top of the best new books. How on earth are you supposed to manage that?

As usual, Locus magazine makes it easy — by compiling a massive recommended reading list drawn from the consensus vote of Locus editors, reviewers, and outside professionals. All told, they poll some three dozen industry pros to compile the mother of all reading lists, capturing the most acclaimed fantasy novels, SF novels, YA novels, collections, anthologies, Art books, nonfiction, and short fiction of the year. It’s an invaluable resource, especially if you’re trying to get up to speed in advance of Award season.

Here, for example, is the complete Locus Recommended Reading List of 2015 Fantasy Novels:

Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz 2014; DAW)
A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown; Doubleday UK)
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
Nightwise, R.S. Belcher (Tor)
Beneath London, James P. Blaylock (Titan)
The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard (Roc; Gollancz)
Prodigies, Angelica Gorodischer (Small Beer)
Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand (PS; Open Road)

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Future Treasures: A Painted Goddess by Victor Gischler

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

A Painted Goddess-small A Painted Goddess-back

Never let it be said that Victor Gischler is not a versatile writer. His most recent novel, Gestapo Mars, was an over-the-top tale of interstellar Nazi mayhem, and his graphic novel, Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth, was a tale of undead mercenary dinosaur mayhem (among lots of other mayhem).

Compared to those, A Painted Goddess is actually a pretty straightforward tale. It’s the conclusion to the A Fire Beneath the Skin trilogy, in which the young warrior duchess Rina Veraiin, armed with mysterious, magical tattoos, must draw on all her abilities to save her kingdom of Helva from a nightmarish future of endless bloodshed. The first two volumes, Ink Mage (2014) and The Tattooed Duchess (2015), are still available from 47North.

A Painted Goddess will be published by 47North on March 15, 2016. It is 400 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $4.99 for the trade paperback. The cover is by Chase Stone — see his gorgeous wraparound version here.

Pulp-era Gumshoes and Queen Victoria’s Underwear: Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear by Lucy Addlington

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016 | Posted by M Harold Page


…boots-on-the-ground anecdotes about living and loving in period costume.

Did you know that men used to wear falsies?

Not for their chests, but for their calves. Back in the 18th-century, men wore stockings and knee-britches, and if you didn’t have well-turned calf muscles, then you were a “spindle shank.” So some men with skinny legs wore little cushions.

Which leads us to the young soldier Jean-Roche Coignet, seduced by an older woman, thus beset by the excruciating problem of how to hide his “wretched false calves and… three pairs of stockings.” He managed to blow out the candle and stash them under the pillow. However, what was he going to do in the morning..?

That’s perhaps the raciest story in Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear, Lucy Addlington’s follow up to the exquisite Great War Fashion, but gives you a sense of how she laces the book with boots-on-the-ground anecdotes about living and loving in period costume. She also scatters it with quirky side notes. Did you know, for example, that there is a market for Queen Victoria’s underwear? I’ve very glad the publishers sent me a review copy.

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Despair All The Way Down: The Illearth War by Stephen R. Donaldson

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh


“You’re determined to make this hard, aren’t you? You’re determined to make it hard for everyone.”

                                                                  Hile Troy to Thomas Covenant

If Lord Foul’s Bane (go here for my review) with its rapist leper hero is a trip into the Black Hole of Calcutta, its sequel, The Illearth War (1978) is an unremitting journey into the blackest space over the event horizon. Where the first book offered hope to its characters with the successful completion of their quest, this one holds out no hope even in victory. At the best of times there is only a stay of certain execution. Mostly, though, there is loss, deep and devastating loss.

It’s also a book that almost defeated me. For three weeks it defied my efforts to put into words what I thought was going on in it and what I thought of it. It’s not that it’s super complicated, but it’s a shadowy thing that required more work than I’m used to to understand its guts.

The Illearth War is a story steeped in existential dread. Both inaction and action in the face of soul-crushing evil seem to lead to disastrous ends. To believe or not to believe? To fight or not to fight? To kill or to be killed? Does it make any difference? This is heady stuff for fantasy and bound to put off more casual readers, but Donaldson takes on the debate with conviction and seriousness.

The dilemma is addressed primarily by contrasting Thomas Covenant’s attitude toward the Land with that of a new character from our world, Hile Troy. Covenant refuses to accept the magical Land, its healing properties, or to lift a finger to save it, while Troy fully embraces it and is completely dedicated to its survival. Each man is convinced of the rightness of his path, and both suffer calamitous losses for their convictions. Covenant scoffs at Troy for thinking he can thwart Lord Foul while Troy berates Covenant for refusing to fight. Donaldson plays these titans, inaction versus action, against each other like musical counterpoints. Each reflects off the other, exposing its opponent’s dangers and rewards. This is the heart of The Illearth War.

It’s not an argument made lightly or with straw men. Donaldson digs deeply into each man’s mind and character, exploring the complex motives and reasoning behinds their choices.

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New Treasures: The Birthgrave Trilogy by Tanith Lee

Monday, February 1st, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Birthgrave-small Shadowfire-small Hunting the White Witch-small

Tanith Lee passed away on May 24 of last year, and her loss was a major blow to fantasy readers around the world — especially fans of heroic fantasy. In the fast-paced world of modern publishing, the death of an author frequently means the death of their backlist as well, since without new books being released to drum up interest, older titles can quickly be forgotten.

So I was extremely pleased to see DAW, Lee’s long-time US publisher, re-release her first fantasy novel The Birthgrave in a handsome new edition last June, followed by Shadowfire, the second title in the trilogy, last September. The final volume, Hunting the White Witch, arrives on bookshelves tomorrow, completing the trilogy.

The Birthgrave (452 pages, $7.99 print & digital, June 2, 2015)
Shadowfire (304 pages, $7.99 print & digital, September 1, 2015)
Hunting the White Witch (304 pages, $7.99 print & digital, February 2, 2016)

All three covers are by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Dr Watson, Doormat

Monday, February 1st, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

WatsonDoormat_IntellectSherlock Holmes was rather a jerk. His people skills needed some serious work. It’s blatantly obvious in Benedict Cumberbatch’s over-the-top obnoxiousness in BBC’s Sherlock, but it’s all over the Canon as well. I wrote about his unwarranted negative attitude towards Dr. Watson’s detective work in a previous post. And the Canon is replete with snide comments and remarks at Watson’s expense: to say nothing of the official police force’s!

“Come at once if convenient – if inconvenient come all the same.”

Thus does Sherlock Holmes summon Watson in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man.” And Watson obeys. We get a sample of Holmes’ imperious attitude from this quote. But Watson’s response is also rather telling.

When Grimesby Roylott of Stoke Moran confronted Holmes, he referred to the detective as a “meddler, a busybody and a Scotland Yard jack-in-office.” One has to wonder if some villain or policeman in the Canon didn’t refer to Watson as Holmes’ lapdog, lackey or errand boy?

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Frankenstein and R. J. Myers’ Domination Fantasies

Sunday, January 31st, 2016 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

NOTE: The following article was first published on May 30, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.

Myers Slave 2Myers Slave 1A couple weeks ago I reviewed R. J. Myers’ The Cross of Frankenstein. It was the respected political commentator’s first foray into fiction. He followed it with a sequel, 1976’s The Slave of Frankenstein and despite the promise of a third book, his only other genre efforts were a late seventies soft-core vampire title and a privately-published guide to blood-drinking as an alternative lifestyle.

I always feel a pang of guilt when I come down hard on a fellow pastiche writer. I’ve been on the receiving end of disappointed Sax Rohmer and Conan Doyle fans who felt I had no business continuing the adventures of characters they love. At the same time, I believe I have been fair and honest in my assessments when reviewing pastiches. I have the utmost respect for Joe Gores, Michael Hardwick, Cay Van Ash, and Freda Warrington as writers who tried hard to stay true to the original author in terms of style and spirit. I can still enjoy Peter Tremayne and Basil Copper who, despite falling short of the mark, can still spin an entertaining yarn. Consequently, I feel justified when I confine Myers to the lowest pit of literary Hell alongside Ian Holt and Richard Jaccoma for The Slave of Frankenstein, while a very different beast than Myers’ first effort, is equally contemptible.

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