Thomas M. Disch on the Best Science Fiction of 1979

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction of the Year 9 Terry Carr-small Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year Ninth Annual Collection Gardner Dozois-small The 1980 Annual World's Best SF Donald A. Wollheim-small

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction February 1981-smallThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has put some delightful old content on their website for those who care to look, and earlier this month I came across their reprint of Thomas M. Disch’s Book column from the February 1981 issue, in which he compares the three Best of the Year volumes published the previous year.

1979 was a marvelous year for short SF, with many stories destined to become classics — including George R.R. Martin’s brilliant “Sandkings,” and his Hugo Award-winning “The Way of Cross and Dragon,” Barry B. Longyear’s novella “Enemy Mine,” Donald Kingsbury’s “The Moon Goddess and the Son,” Vonda N. McIntyre’s “Fireflood,” Orson Scott Card’s “Unaccompanied Sonata,” Richard Cowper’s “Out There Where the Big Ships Go,” and many others. Of course, Disch was as curmudgeonly as always.

The annuals are out, and here, if we can trust the amalgamated wisdom of our four editors, are the thirty best stories of 1979. It is in the nature of annual reports to pose the question, Was it a good year? and it pains me, as both a shareholder and a consumer, to answer that for science fiction, as for so many other sectors of the economy, 1979 was not a good year.

Against such a sweeping judgment it may be countered that sf is not a unitary phenomenon nor one easily comparable to a tomato harvest. Sf is a congeries of individual writers, each producing stories of distinct and varying merit. A year of stories is as arbitrary a measure as mileage in painting. Nevertheless, that is how the matter is arranged, not only by anthologists but by those who organize the two prize-giving systems, SFWA, which awards the Nebulas, and Fandom, which gathers once a year to hand out Hugos. The overlap between the contents of the annuals and the short-lists for the prizes is so great that one may fairly surmise that something like cause-and-effect is at work. As the nominating procedures are conducted in plain view, it seems certain that the editors will keep their eyes open for the likeliest contenders, since the annual that most successfully second-guesses the awards nominees has a clear advantage over its rivals.

Tomato harvest! At least he makes me laugh.

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John DeNardo’s February Speculative Fiction Books You Can’t Miss

Sunday, February 7th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Guns of Ivrea-smallJohn DeNardo gets it. It’s not a lack of choice that keeps us from choosing what to read… it’s that there are too many great books to choose from!

As the February lineup of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror books will prove, it’s not a lack of books that make it difficult to find something to read. If anything, there are too many books to read. Here’s a list of books to help you narrow down your selection. I’d say “choose wisely”… but all of these are sure bets. Titles this month include a serial killer, merfolk, human trafficking, illegal magic, a Lovecraftian demon, and more.

The Guns of Ivrea by Clifford Beal

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The fates of a former thief, a pirate mercenary, and the daughter of the chief of the merfolk converge on a series of events that could mean war.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: This is the first installment of what promises to be a swashbuckling seafaring fantasy series.

Graft by Matt Hill

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In near-future Manchester, a local mechanic named Sol who steals car parts stumbles onto a trans-dimensional human trafficking conspiracy.DreamingDeath

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: The chase is on as Sol and a three-armed woman named Y run from their pursuers.

Read the complete article, with 16 selections of top-notch February fantasy and SF, here.

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Support the Return of NorthGuard, Canada’s Greatest Superhero!

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

NorthGuard title Image-smallWhen I was a young comic collector living in Ottawa, one of my favorite titles was NorthGuard, the Canadian superhero created in 1984 by Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette and published by Matrix Comics in Montreal. When I started Black Gate 15 years later, I hired two of my heroes, Matrix artists Morrissette and the brilliant Bernie Mireault, creator of The Jam and Mackenzie Queen, as interior illustrators. So I was thrilled to hear from Bernie earlier this month that there’s an effort to return Northguard to print in a deluxe format for the first time:

I’m currently engaged in coloring the original Northguard series. Mark, Gabriel and I hope to run a Kickstarter campaign in late spring and if successful, get some 200-page color collections made… As the colorist I’m going over every nut and bolt of the material and appreciating it fully for the first time. This is a great story about a Canadian superhero that I’m proud of. Phillip might not be much at the physical combat stuff but he has lots and lots of heart. Which is the way I think about Canada.

And so in an effort to reintroduce Northguard to the public at large and create awareness of our pending attempt to solicit funding for the collection through Kickstarter or Indie gogo, etc. I’ve created a dedicated Northguard Facebook page that is designed to bring people who are unfamiliar with the work up to speed on the story and historical/political context. www.facebook.com/bem61

Matthew David Surridge profiled Bernie’s The Jam in Part II of his series My City’s Heroes, and columnist Timothy Callahan called him an artist who combined “the high Romanticism of the fantastic with the mundane life on the street” in Comic Book Resources.

If you’re at all interested in Canadian comics, or just want to keep tabs on the ongoing effort to return one of the best Canadian superheroes to print, check out Bernie’s Facebook page here. Vive Le Protecteur!


The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in December

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Storyteller-Tools M Harold PageBG blogger M Harold Page had a fabulous month in December, with three of the top four posts for the month, all dealing with Medieval Worldbuilding:

How to Get From Worldbuilding (or Research) to Story
An Adventurer’s Guide to the Middle Ages: What if There’s No Room at the Inn (or No Inn Whatsoever?)
Three Classic Books for Medieval Worldbuilders and Armchair Time Travellers

Mr. Page has clearly fired the imaginations of all the aspiring medieval novelists in our audience (and managed to keep things fascinating for the rest of us.)

The third most popular artcile for December was a guest post from editor Dominik Parisien, announcing the contents of his upcoming Clockwork Canada anthology. Rounding out the Top 5 was the second installment in William I. Lengeman III’s Star Trek movie rewatch, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Also on our top ten were two articles on collecting pulp art by Doug Ellis, the newest installment of our vintage paperback series, Collecting Robert E. Heinlein, Sean Stiennon’s review of Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, and Sarah Newton’s detailed review of the new Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls role playing game.

The complete list of Top Articles for December follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles and blog categories for the month.

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C.S.E. Cooney’s Novella “The Bone Swans of Amandale” Available Free Online

Sunday, January 24th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Bone Swans CSE Cooney-smallC.S.E. Cooney’s 2015 novella “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” from her acclaimed collection Bone Swans, has been made available free online by the publisher, Mike Allen at Mythic Delirium Books. Here’s what Paul Di Filippo said about the story in his Locus Online review:

Original to this volume, “The Bone Swans of Amandale” reads as if Patricia McKillip and Laird Barron decided jointly to rework the Redwall series. In a land where, among other wonders, a Fairy Mound rises “smooth as a bullfrog,” Maurice the Rat Man must come to the aid of the last Swan Princess, Dora Rose, whom he hopelessly loves and who has seen all her kindred slain, their precious bones turned into musical instruments by the evil ogre Mayor of Amandale, Ulia Gol, whose “florid face was as putridly pink as her wig.” With the help of Nicolas the Pied Piper, suitable reparations are exacted. To say this lively tale recaps its famous model legend is also to say that the Coen Bros.’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a straight-ahead rendition of the Labors of Hercules.

Our previous coverage of Bone Swans includes:

Locus Online on C.S.E. Cooney’s Bone Swans
C.S.E. Cooney Gets a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly
New Treasures: Bone Swans
Bird People, Evil Clowns, and the Crooked One: Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney

Read the complete story online for free here.


I Don’t Mean to Alarm Anyone, But We’ve Discovered Giant Insects on Monster Island

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Balls Pyramid is Monster Island-small

Seriously. Monster Island. Scientists at the Melbourne Zoo have now started breeding these giant insects, because apparently no one at the Melbourne Zoo has ever watched a single monster movie.

Four years ago, NPR’s Robert Krulwich’s wrote an in-depth feature on the astounding discovery made by a determined group of Australian scientists who scaled Ball’s Pyramid, the fragment of an ancient volcano that juts out of the South Pacific off the coast of Australia (that’s it above. What did I tell you? Monster Island). Climbing that crag of rock in the middle of the night, the scientists discovered a tiny colony of Lord Howe stick insects, Dryococelus australis, or “tree lobsters,” the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world. Tree lobsters were native to Lord Howe Island, and were long thought extinct.

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John DeNardo’s January Must-Read Speculative Fiction

Saturday, January 16th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Assimilated Cubans Guide to Quantum Santeria-smallWe try to keep tabs on the best in upcoming fantasy here at Black Gate. But nobody does it as well as John DeNardo, editor of SF Signal. Over at Kirkus Reviews he offers a tantalizing survey of the best new speculative fiction for the month.

Have you made any reading-related New Year’s resolutions? If speculative fiction is on your reading radar, allow me to offer some suggestions. Here’s an abundant selection of tasty speculative titles being released this month. Titles here include a two-second time [machine], cosmic horrors, multiple worlds, a prison memoir, 1920s Hollywood, and airship heists.

John’s highlights for the month include All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Broken Hero by Jonathan Wood, Ancestral Machines by Michael Cobley, Jani and the Great Pursuit by Eric Brown, and several that we’ve covered here at Black Gate — including Daughter of Blood by Helen Lowe, Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers, Skinner Luce by Patricia Ward, The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson, and the acclaimed first collection from Carlos Hernandez, The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria.

Read the complete article here.

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The 2016 Philip K. Dick Nominees

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Archangel Marguerite Reed-smallThe nominees for the 2016 Philip K. Dick Award, given each year for distinguished science fiction originally published in paperback in the United States, have been announced, and it’s an interesting ballot. Over at Barnes&Noble.com, in an article titled This Year’s Philip K. Dick Award Nominees Take SF in Strange New Directions, Joel Cunningham writes:

Sorry Hugos, but for my money, there’s no more interesting award in sci-fi than the ones named for Philip K. Dick. In the tradition of everyone’s favorite gonzo pulpist, the “PKD Award” honors innovative genre works that debuted in paperback, offering a nice reminder that you don’t need the prestige of a hardcover release to write a mind-blowing book (just ask William Gibson, whose seminal cyberpunk classic Neuromancer claimed the title in 1984), and in fact, if past winners are any evidence, the format might be seem as a license to take greater risks. This year’s nominees are of a piece with PKD contenders of the past: they twist genre tropes in new ways, carving new toe-holds in well-worn tropes. Which brings us to another thing we love about this particular award: the winner is basically impossible to [predict].

This year the noninees are

Edge of Dark, Brenda Cooper (Pyr)
After the Saucers Landed, Douglas Lain (Night Shade)
(R)evolution, PJ Manney (47North)
Apex, Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)
Windswept, Adam Rakunas (Angry Robot)
Archangel, Marguerite Reed (Arche)

The winner will be announced on March 25, 2016 at Norwescon 39 in SeaTac, Washington. Congratulations to all the nominees!


When the Ghost is Unseen: Finding Fantasy in Mainstream Fiction

Monday, January 11th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Seance John Harwood-small The Vanishing Wendy Webb-small The Somnambulist Jonathan Barnes-small

When I browse the SF and Fantasy section at my local Barnes & Noble every Saturday, I usually return home with a handful of intriguing finds. There’s certainly no shortage of books to choose from, and more showing up every week.

One thing I miss in my book hunts, however, is the thrill of the unknown. When I settle into my big green chair with a new horror novel, I know there’s a monster hiding somewhere. That’s the one drawback of always shopping in the genre section: you know the ghost will pop out by chapter five.

That’s why I like to spice up my reading by browsing in the gothic mystery section (my wife Alice’s favorite section). Is there a spook, or isn’t there? Often you don’t know until the end of the book (and sometimes not even then), and that adds a delicious element of mystery. Here’s a quick rundown of three delightful gothic mysteries I recently added to my collection.

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A Concentrated Dose of the Best Our Field Has to Offer: Jonathan Strahan’s Best Short Novels 2004-2007

Saturday, January 9th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Best Short Novels 2004-small Best Short Novels 2005-small Best Short Novels 2006-small Best Short Novels 2007-small

Jonathan Strahan is one of the most accomplished and acclaimed editors in the genre. He’s edited the annual Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year since 2007, as well as some of our most highly regarded original anthologies — including the Infinity series (Engineering Infinity, Edge of Infinity, etc) and the Fearsome books (Fearsome Journeys and Fearsome Magics), all for Solaris. He’s also edited (with Terry Dowling) one of my favorite ongoing series, the five volumes in the monumental Early Jack Vance from Subterranean Press.

But the work that truly made me a Strahan fan was a brief (four volume) series he did exclusively for the Science Fiction Book Club, Best Short Novels. I’d been a member of the SFBC since the age of twelve but, after leaving Canada for grad school in 1987 and moving around after that, I’d let my membership lapse. I received plenty of invites to rejoin after settling here in St. Charles, but it was Strahan’s first volume in the series, Best Short Novels: 2004, that finally enticed me to do it. I’ve never regretted it.

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