Interspecies Conflict in a Universe with More Aliens than the Star Wars Cantina: Sholan Alliance by Lisanne Norman

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Lisanne Norman Turning Point-small Lisanne Norman Fortune's Wheel-small Lisanne Norman Fire Margins-small
Lisanne Norman Razor's Edge-small Lisanne Norman Dark Nadir-small Lisanne Norman Stronghold Rising-small
Lisanne Norman Between Darkness and Light-small Lisanne Norman Shades of Gray-small Lisanne Norman Circle's End-small

Covers by Romas Kukalis, Jim Burns (#6) and Chris Moore (#8,9)

There haven’t been many times when it’s better to be a science fiction fan than right now. Big-budget SF is king at the box office and on the small screen, the shelves are groaning with new releases, and truly exciting new authors are appearing every year. But there are a few things I still miss. The humble paperback original (PBO) has become less and less common as more and more top-tier SF appears first in hardcover or trade paperback, and much of it never sees a mass market paperback reprint at all.

I like hardcovers just fine, but it was paperbacks that introduced me to SF, and it’s paperbacks — compact, accessible, and cheap — that still draw in young and casual readers and gradually turn them into fans. More publishers have been turning their backs on paperbacks, and the result is our field has less to offer curious young readers browsing the SF shelves for affordable and enticing titles. And thus, fewer young fans discovering science fiction at all.

But it wasn’t just paperbacks that made me a lifetime science fiction fan in my teens — it was great science fiction series, like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Asimov’s Foundation, Farmer’s Riverworld, Fred Pohl’s Heechee Saga, David Brin’s Uplift Saga, H. Beam Piper’s Fuzzy novels, and many, many more. DAW is one of few publishers willing to make a significant investment in PBO series, and it’s paid off well for them over the years, with now-established writers like C. J. Cherryh (the Alliance-Union Universe and the long-running Foreigner series), Julie E. Czerneda (the Trade Pact Universe), Gini Koch (the Kitty Katt novels), Jacey Bedford (Psi-Tech), and many others.

For many years DAW’s bread and butter has been extended midlist SF and fantasy series that thrive chiefly by word of mouth. I’m frequently drawn to them just by the sheer number of volumes. You won’t connect with them all of course, but when you find one you like they offer a literary feast like no other — a long, satisfying adventure series you can get lost in for months.

Lisanne Norman’s Sholan Alliance is a perfect example. It only recently caught my attention, after decades of patiently waiting on the shelves. It began with Turning Point way back in 1993, and recently wrapped up with the ninth volume, Circle’s End, in 2017. In between it quietly gathered a lot of accolades. B&N Explorations called it “fast-paced adventure… [with] more alien species than the Star Wars cantina!” And SF Chronicle labeled it “big, sprawling, convoluted… sure to appeal to fans of C.J. Cherryh and others who have made space adventure their territory.”

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The Complete Borderlands Campaign now Available in PDF from Chaosium

Saturday, January 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Chaosium Borderlands-small Chaosium Borderlands-back-small

A few years ago I took a nostalgic look back at one of my favorite adventure settings, the boxed set Borderlands published by Chaosium in 1982, in the provocatively titled “Can Playing RPGs Really Make You a Billionaire?

Some of the most treasured possessions in my games library are the boxed adventure supplements published by Chaosium between 1981 – 1986. They include some of the finest adventure gaming products ever made, such as the classic Thieves’ World (1981), Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer (1981), the brilliant Masks of Nyarlathotep (1984)… Borderlands is still very much worth a look today. It’s a complete, self-contained adventure scenario in the River of Cradles in Prax, part of Greg Stafford’s world of Glorantha, and is (relatively) easy to adapt to Sixth Edition RuneQuest and other modern game systems. Players play the role of down-on-their luck mercenaries drawn to the lawless borderlands along the river, “a fertile valley separating the devastation of Vulture’s Country and the wretched chaparral of Prax.” There, in the employ of the generous Duke of Rone, they will help civilize a new domain filled with tribal peoples, creatures, and monsters (ducks to dinosaurs, whirlvishes to wraiths.)

Like all the Chaosium boxed sets of the era, it came absolutely packed with content, including a heavily illustrated, 48-page Referee’s Handbook, a dense 32-page Referee’s Encounter Book, mostly filled with tables, two sets of maps, and seven individually bound, linked scenarios.

The article frustrated more than a few readers since, like virtually all Chaosium’s boxed adventure supplements from the early 80s, copies are highly collectible and very pricey today. Even the Moon Design paperback reprint from 2005 is ridiculously expensive, routinely commanding $100 and up on eBay. So I was delighted to see a completely remastered edition of the Borderlands boxed set offered as a single PDF by the original publisher, Chaosium, as their final PDF release of 2018.

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The 2019 Philip K. Dick Nominees

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Alien Virus Love Disaster-small Time Was Ian McDonald-small THE BODY LIBRARY by Jeff Noon-small

The nominees for the 2019 Philip K. Dick Award, given each year for distinguished science fiction originally published in paperback in the United States, have been announced. They are (links will take you to our previous coverage):

Time Was by Ian McDonald (Tor.com)
The Body Library by Jeff Noon (Angry Robot)
84K by Claire North (Orbit)
Alien Virus Love Disaster: Stories by Abbey Mei Otis (Small Beer Press)
Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman (Europa Editions)
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh (Small Beer Press)

Special shout-out to Small Beer Press for placing two fine collections on the ballot.

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The Silent Garden: A Journal of Esoteric Fabulism is a Beautiful New Fantasy Magazine

Thursday, January 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Silent Garden-small The Silent Garden-back-small

I don’t usually buy books or magazines sight unseen. But I made an exception for the inaugural volume of The Silent Garden, a beautiful new “Journal of Esoteric Fabulism.”

Part of the reason was the publisher. Mike Kelly’s Undertow Publications has produced some of the most memorable dark fantasy and horror of the past few years, including the anthology Aickman’s Heirs, Simon Strantzas’s new collection Nothing is Everything, and five volumes of Year’s Best Weird Fiction. To be honest the list price, $50 for a deluxe full color hardcover on 70lb. paper, gave me sticker shock, but the list of contributors — V.H. Leslie, Nick Mamatas, Helen Marshall, Brian Evenson, D.P. Watt, and many more — and the discounted 4-volume “The Year in Weird” bundle pricing on their website eventually won me over.

I’m very glad it did. At 249 pages, there’s a whole lot of content crammed into this journal, including eleven short stories, poems, book reviews, articles, and a 24-page full-color gallery devoted to the work of Manchester artist David Whitlam. But just describing the contents doesn’t do it justice. The real strength of The Silent Garden is its top-notch design. It looks fantastic, and every piece is accompanied by at least one striking visual or full-color work of art. Here’s a few pics of the gorgeous interiors.

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The Future of Politics, a Desert Fantasy, and Murder in the City of the Dead: Spring Titles from Parvus Press

Sunday, January 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

If This Goes on Cat Rambo-small The Ragged Blade-small Necropolis PD-small

Early last year I wrote about a trio of books I discovered from a promising new publisher, Parvus Press. They were plenty interesting: Flotsam, by RJ Theodore, a steampunk space opera, and Vick’s Vultures & To Fall Among Vultures, the first two titles in Scott Warren’s Union Earth Privateers space opera. Parvus Press’s catalog was filled with an enticing assortment of new and forthcoming titles, especially for such a small company. They certainly made a fine first impression, and I made a note to keep close tabs on them.

While prowling the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore I spotted Colin Coyle, one of the co-founders of Parvus, and after badgering him for three solid hours he cracked like a nut and started spilling secret intel on their 2019 titles. In a dark corner of the bar he grudgingly gave up details, glancing nervously over his shoulder the entire time, while I hastily scribbled notes.

Okay, it wasn’t exactly like that, but it can’t hurt if you picture it that way, so humor me a little. Besides, I did get some good quotes and lots of juicy book details out of Colin, and I’m willing to share them with you, so stop being so negative. Here’s all the secret pre-release info I gathered on the spring 2019 titles titles from Parvus Press. Many bothans died to bring us this information, so listen up.

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The Tome of the Living Dead: Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! edited by Otto Penzler

Saturday, January 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!-small Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!-back-small

For Christmas this year I got Alice a copy of The Big Book of Female Detectives, a 1136-page anthology edited by Otto Penzler. It’s the 13th (I think?) of Penzler’s massive pulp-style anthologies from Vintage, which he’s published one per year (roughly) since 2007. I’ve been cataloging them here as I stealthily acquire them all. They are:

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps — 2007
The Vampire Archives — 2009
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
The Big Book of Female Detectives — 2018

An oversight in my survey so far has been Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!, Penzler’s 2011 tribute to everyone’s favorite undead (“It’s so good, it’s a no-brainer.”) This one is packed with stories by Stephen King, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, HP Lovecraft, Hugh B. Cave, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Robert McCammon, Theodore Sturgeon, Seabury Quinn, Gahan Wilson, Ramsey Campbell, Micheal Swanwick, Joe R. Lansdale, Steve Rasnic Tem, Dale Bailey, Edgar Allen Poe, and many, many more — including a complete novel by Theodore Roscoe, Z is for Zombie (1989). I ordered a copy last year, and it turns out to be just as much fun as the previous volumes. Packed with fascinating intros and delicious pulp spot art, it makes an irresistible addition to your horror collection.

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Closing Out 2018 with Interzone Magazine

Saturday, January 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Interzone 276-small Interzone 277-small Interzone 278-small

I don’t get to pick up British SF magazine Interzone as often as I like, though I buy it whenever I see it. I was lucky enough to find three issues recently on the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble, and they’ve help remind me what a terrific magazine it is. If you’re at all interested in what’s going on in modern SF, I urge you to check it out.

Interzone is published and edited by Andy Cox, who has assembled a top-notched team of writers, artists, and columnists. It is one of the sharpest-looking magazines on the market, with full color interiors and gorgeous art. The most recent three issues of the bi-monthly magazine (#276, 277, and 278, cover dated July-December 2018) include fiction from Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Aliya Whiteley, Natalia Theodoridou, Fiona Moore, Rachael Cupp, James Warner, and many others. They also include some of the best columns and non-fiction in the business, including the long-running Ansible Link by David Langford (news and obits); my favorite film review column, Mutant Popcorn by Nick Lowe; the excellent Book Zone (book reviews); Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupted (column); Nina Allan’s Time Pieces (column); interviews, and guest editorials.

Here’s a few samples of that gorgeous interior art I was talking about.

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New Treasures: Clarkesworld Year Nine, Volumes One & Two, edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Clarkesworld Year Nine Volume One-small Clarkesworld Year Nine Volume Two-small

It’s hard to believe Clarkesworld magazine launched over a decade ago (in October 2006, believe it or not). I remember when Neil Clarke announced it, as sort of a side project/marketing scheme for his online Clarkesworld bookstore. I was already a regular customer — Clarkesworld was far and away the best source for small press magazines, and they sold a lot of the print edition of Black Gate — and I was curious to see what he could do with it.

The rest, as they say, is history. The bookstore shut down a few years later, but the magazine exploded. Last time I counted it had a World Fantasy Award, three Hugo Awards, a British Fantasy Award, and in 2013 it received more Hugo nominations for short fiction than all the leading print magazines combined. Clarkesworld keeps getting bigger and more ambitious every year… although, in one way at least, things haven’t changed much since 2006: I’m still intensely curious to see where Neil and Sean will take it next.

I don’t have time to read every issue, so I greatly appreciate their tradition of producing an annual print volume every year collecting a complete year of fiction under a single cover. Last year’s Year Eight was a huge 448 pages and, given how much the magazine has grown in the past year, I was looking forward to seeing just how big Year Nine would be. When I finally set eyes on it (at the Clarkesworld booth at the World Fantasy convention) I wasn’t disappointed. For the first time it’s been broken into two books, both over 300 pages.

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Guilds, Glasses, and Galaxies: Joshua Palmatier’s 2018 Kickstarter Anthologies

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Guilds and Glaives-small Second Round A Return to the Ur-Bar-small The Razor's Edge Joshua Palmatier-small

There’s a lot of different ways to have a career in SF and fantasy. Don’t believe me? Just look at the fascinating case of Joshua Palmatier.

Over the last decade Joshua has built a formidable reputation as an author, producing both an acclaimed fantasy trilogy (The Throne of Amenkor) and a popular science fiction trilogy (Erenthrall) with DAW books. Not content with merely being an author, he partnered with Patricia Bray to co-edit a pair of DAW anthologies, After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar (2011), and The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (2012). Shortly after that DAW ended their monthly anthology program. Undaunted, Joshua launched his own small press, Zombies Need Brains, and over the next three years produced half a dozen additional anthologies with editors Bray and S.C. Butler. As author, editor, and now publisher, Joshua has moved steadily from success to success.

2018 was perhaps his most ambitious and successful year yet. He delivered three complete anthologies funded with a simultaneous Kickstarter campaign, and successfully funded three more in October. I’m not much of a Kickstarter nut, but I backed the first project. Not simply due to my admiration for Joshua (which was considerable), but because one of the books, Guilds & Glaives, contained stories from no less than four Black Gate authors: David B. Coe, James Enge, Howard Andrew Jones, and Violette Malan. The others, Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar and The Razor’s Edge, were almost as appealing for different reasons, and I consider the set to be one of the best-kept secrets of genre publishing in 2018. Here’s a closer look at all three.

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James Davis Nicoll asks Who Are the Forgotten Greats of Science Fiction?

Monday, December 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Apocalypses R.A. Lafferty-small West of the Sun-small The House on the Borderland-small

As we close out 2018, I’m proud to look back at the last twelve months and all the new authors we’ve championed and celebrated. Dozens of debut novels, and hundreds of new short stories, from a lively graduating class of SF and fantasy writers. Of course, Black Gate isn’t just about the new — we try to spend just as many pixels illuminating the neglected writers of the Twentieth Century, who become more forgotten with each passing year.

We published hundreds of reviews, retrospectives, and Vintage Treasures posts about the forgotten greats of the genre here at Black Gate in 2018. But some of my favorite articles appeared at other venues, including Unbound Worlds, the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, and The Verge. One of the better writers showcasing classics this year was James Davis Nicoll, who in a September article at Tor.com asked Who Are the Forgotten Greats of Science Fiction?

To answer the question he looked at the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, which he rightly laments as underappreciated (“I wish the award were more widely known, that it had, perhaps, its own anthology. If it did, it might look a bit like this.“) James did his part to promote the award by showcasing the winners, including masters such as R.A. Lafferty, William Hope Hodgson, Edgar Pangborn, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Leigh Brackett, Fredric Brown, Mildred Clingerman, and others. Here’s James on three of my favorites.

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