Numenera, Nyarlathotep, and Runequest Glorantha: Some Recent Slipcase Sets

Sunday, April 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha Slipcase-small

Kickstarter has fundamentally changed board game publishing over the past decade, and more recently it’s started to have a similar impact on Role Playing as well. Monte Cook’s first Numenera campaign in September 2012 famously raised $517,255 (on a $20,000 goal), and Chaosium’s 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu campaign bested that in June 2013, raising $561,836 (on a $40,000 goal), and those opened the floodgates. Since then some of the most popular RPG properties have turned to fans to get major projects off the ground, with impressive results.

I don’t back crowdfunding campaigns (with the exception of the Veronica Mars movie because, hey, Veronica Mars). But I do trail along after them and buy finished products. Sometimes — not always — that’s more expensive, but it does save me all the drama of late delivery and wondering if the project I funded will ever arrive. Like Judges Guild’s infamous reprint of the City State of the Invincible Overlord, promised in December 2014 and which still shows no sign over ever becoming real nearly five years later.

So far in 2019 I’ve purchased four crowdfunded boxed sets, and I’ve been very, very impressed with all of them. There were:

RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha — $119.99
Numenera Discovery and Destiny — $119.99
Call of Cthulhu: Masks of Nyarlathotep — $129.99
RuneQuest: The Guide to Glorantha — $169.95

All are still available to latecomers. Here’s a closer look at all four.

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L. E. Modesitt Jr. wraps up The Imager Portfolio with Endgames

Saturday, April 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Imager-small Imager's Challenge-small Imager's Intrigue-small Scholar Imager-small
Princeps Imager Portfolio-small Imager's Battalion-small Antiagon Fire-small Rex Regis-small
Madness in Solidar-small Treachery's Tools-small Assassin's Price-small Endgames Modesitt-small

Cover art for all 12 volumes by Donato Giancola

Every time a trilogy wraps up, we bake a cake at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters. Strangely, we don’t have a protocol for when a 12-book cycle completes, but we’re working on it.

L. E. Modesitt Jr.’s Imager Portfolio series opened with Imager in 2009, and around about book 8, Rex Regis, Tor started referring to it as “The New York Times Bestselling Imager Portfolio.” Modesitt has hit those rarefied heights before — the 20 books in his Saga of Recluse have sold over three million copies — but it was good to see him with another major success.

The final volume in the series, Endgames, arrived in February. This time the publisher refers to it as “the third book in the story arc that began with Madness in Solidar through Treachery’s Tools and Assassin’s Price” and, despite having counted several times, I make Endgames the fourth book in that sequence, but hey, whatever. You count any way you want Tor, and don’t let ’em give you any grief.

However you count his books, L.E. Modesitt deserves some serious respect. He’s produced more than seventy novels, including two science fiction series, the Ghost Books and Ecolitan Matter, four fantasy series, the Imager Portfolio, the Saga of Recluce, the Spellsong Cycle and the Corean Chronicles, and many popular standalone titles such as Solar Express, which Arin Komins at Starfarer’s Despatch calls utterly wonderful. All 12 volumes in the Imager Portfolio series are still in print, which is no mean feat. Here’s the description for the first one.

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Total Pulp Victory: A Report from Windy City Pulp & Paper 2019

Sunday, April 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Windy CIty Pulp and Paper 2018 paperback treasures-small

A few of the $1 paperbacks I brought home from Windy City

I returned from the 2019 Windy City Pulp and Paperback Show a few hours ago, weary and happy. It was another fabulous convention, and once again it proved to be the undisputed best show in Chicagoland for those who love vintage books and magazines.

This was the 19th annual convention. It was founded in 2001 by Doug Ellis, and I’ve been attending ever since Howard Andrew Jones and John C. Hocking made the long trip to the 7th Windy City way back in 2007. This year I spent most of the show with friends, including BG bloggers Bob Byrne, Rich Horton, and Steven Silver, as well as local booksellers Arin Komins and Rich Warren, who had a booth and a few spare chairs and were kind enough to let us hang out. There was lots of great food and terrific conversation, and we toasted absent friends, including Howard Andrew Jones, Jason M. Waltz, Barbara Barrett, and especially bookseller and all-around great soul Dave Willoughby, who passed away last year. Dave personified the friendly and welcoming nature of Windy City better than anyone else, I think, and he was profoundly missed.

I made numerous great purchases at the show, including an assortment of Arkham House hardcovers from Doug, some marvelous books from the Glenn Lord estate (purchased from his widow, Lou Ann), a couple of recent Dark Adventure Radio Theater releases from Greg Ketter, a box of vintage SF digests in great condition — and some really wonderful treasures at the auction, including a copy ofthe 1990 Donald Grant illustrated edition of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness, several stacks of pulps, and an absolutely magnificent set 1927 Weird Tales, bound in two volumes.

But as usual, most of what I took home with me was paperbacks. Lots of paperbacks. I found a few that I was willing to pay a premium for, including some Clark Ashton Smith collections and horror anthologies, but the vast majority of them — well over 200 in total — were less than $1 each, including all those I spread out on my kitchen floor to photograph when I got home (see above).

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The Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction: Part One

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Games Plus 2019 auction sample-small

A few of the treasures acquired at the 2019 Games Plus Spring Auction

I’ve been attending the Games Plus Auction in Mount Prospect, Illinois ever since David Kenzer first told me about it, when we worked at Motorola in the late 90s. So, twenty years, give or take. I’ve been writing about it here ever since my first report in 2012 (in the appropriately titled “Spring in Illinois brings… Auction Fever.”)

The four-day auction occurs twice a year, in Spring and Fall.  Each day focuses on one of four popular themes: Thursday is collectable and tradable games like Magic: The Gathering and the Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures Game; Friday is historical wargames and family games; and Sunday is the massive miniatures auction, focused on Warhammer and like-minded pastimes. I’ve checked in on the others over the years, but my jam is the Saturday Science Fiction and RPG auction, which includes board games, minigames, and role playing rules, supplements, adventures, and magazines.  It runs from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, with no break, and this year was on March 2.

When I first started going, I was was on the hunt mostly for 70s and 80s RPG and gaming collectables, especially TSR gaming modules, microgames, Avalon Hill and Chaosium board games like Stellar Crusade and Dragon Pass, and of course ultra-rare Dwarfstar titles like Barbarian Prince. That’s changed dramatically over the decades. We live in a golden age of science fiction and fantasy board gaming, and between the many, many active publishers, countless Kickstarters and other crowdfunding campaigns, and seemingly numerous new role playing games, it’s impossible for me to keep track of all the new releases.

Those games show up in great quantity as the skilled auctioneers move rapid-fire through thousands of titles over seven hours, and often at bargain prices. Nowadays I attend the auction chiefly to discover what’s new and exciting in fantasy and science fiction board gaming, and see if I can’t pick up a few. It’s an expensive outing, to be sure, which is why I save up for months beforehand. I rarely escape will a bill less than a thousand dollars, and this year was no exception. When they totaled up the damage at the end of the Saturday auction, I’d spent $1,573 on games that filled some 15 boxes.

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Smithsonian Magazine on how Sci-Fi Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Betty Ballantine

Sunday, March 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Hyperborea Clark Ashton Smith-small Star Wars George Lucas-small A Guide to Barsoom by John Flint Roy 1976-small

Assorted Ballantine paperbacks, 1971 – 1976

Anyone who’s been reading Black Gate for any period of time, or is a fan of vintage science fiction, knows the name Betty Ballantine. With her husband Ian she founded Bantam Books, and later Ballantine Books. Last month Smithsonian Magazine paid tribute to Betty in an article titled Sci-Fi Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Betty Ballantine, in which they focus on the many ways in which she shaped 20th Century Science Fiction and Fantasy. Here’s a snippet.

The Ballantines made the decision to leave Penguin following the end of World War II due to creative differences, and from there, they went on to found Bantam Books, and, later, Ballantine Books, making them the first outlet to release hardcover and paperback editions simultaneously. Both publishing companies are now part of Penguin Random House, according to the Associated Press.

It was at Ballantine that Betty gave a voice to the then-fringe genre of sci-fi. Tom Doherty, founder of Tor Books, says that before Betty, those works were deemed “unimportant pulp” only fit to be published in cheap magazines and books. But Betty was inspired by the concept of using real science to hypothesize the future of innovation. As if she was a character in her favorite genre, Betty was able to see the potential of science fiction in novel form.

Both Bantam and Ballantine were instrumental in finding, publishing, and promoting early science fiction and fantasy, but Ballantine Books especially was crucial. They were responsible for Lin Carter’s legendary Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, the groundbreaking Best of series (which we have paid tribute to many times), bringing Tolkien to American audiences in an authorized edition, and much, more more.

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Elizabeth Bear on 8 Forgotten SFF Classics of the ’70s and ’80s

Saturday, March 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Diadem from the Stars Jo Clayton-small Sorcerer’s Son Phyllis Eisenstein-small Dreamsnake Vonda McIntyre-small The Idylls of the Queen Phyllis Ann Karr-small

Elizabeth Bear speak my language.

Over at Tor.com last month, she holds forth on my favorite topic — vintage science fiction and fantasy paperbacks. In a survey of 8 Forgotten SFF Classics of the ’70s and ’80s, she tells tales of a handful of forgotten (and a few even more forgotten) genre classics, including Jo Clayton’s Diadem from the Stars (DAW, 1977), which she compares to Jack Vance.

There’s a girl in a profoundly misogynous society, whose mother was an offworlder. She gets her hands on a powerful alien artifact that she doesn’t know how to use, and makes her escape. This is a feminist revisioning of the planetary romance, and it shows the influence of Jack Vance and similar authors — the lone wanderer in a post-technology barbaric world that hovers somewhere between magic and superscience.

Definitely on the grimdark side, this might appeal to fans of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy.

When I posted this on Facebook last month, I got a number of enthusiastic comments from Black Gate readers. Charlene Brusso wrote:

Yes! Jo Clayton’s Moongather series and the Diadem series are both worth revisiting. One of the few writers I can go back and reread and not be disappointed.

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John DeNardo on Terrific Science Fiction & Fantasy for Every Kind of Reader in March

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

A Memory Called Empire Arkady Martine-small The Near Witch V. E. Schwab-small Titanshade Dan Stout-small

I don’t know why I even try to keep up with all the new science fiction and fantasy every month. It’s literally an impossible task. Well, impossible unless you’re SF Signal founder and ace Kirkus reviewer John DeNardo. When he was a child John was bitten by a radioactive bookworm, and now he has literary superpowers. Probably. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, anyway.

Fortunately for mankind, John uses his awesome powers for good. Meaning he catalogs all the coolest science fiction and fantasy new releases every month, and summarizes them for eager readers in a handy format. Here’s the highlights for March.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Mahit Dzmare is the newly-assigned ambassador of an independent mining station. Her predecessor, she learns after the fact, was killed in a highly-suspicious accident. While Mahit maneuvers to keep the station from being absorbed by the ever-encroaching reach of the Teixcalaanli Empire, she must also find out who is behind the murder and save herself from the same fate.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: High stakes political intrigue abounds in this fast-paced story.

A Memory Called Empire is Arkady Martine’s debut novel, and the opening volume in the Teixcalaan series. Black Gate author Martha Wells (The Murderbot Diaries) calls it “a murder mystery wrapped up in a political space opera, and deeply immerses the reader in a unique culture and society.” It is 464 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover/$13.99 digital; it will be published by Tor Books on March 26, 2019.

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Kelly Chiu Gives us 6 Reasons to Devour Ryōko Kui’s Delicious in Dungeon

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Delicious in Dungeon Volume One-small Delicious in Dungeon Volume Two-small Delicious in Dungeon Volume Three-small

Every few years I promise myself I’m going to do a better job keeping up with the latest fantasy manga, but I never really do. But last year I did manage to discover the delightful Delicious in Dungeon, written and illustrated by Ryōko Kui, and I consider that a major win.

Delicious in Dungeon is a Japanese fantasy comedy about a 6-member adventurer party very nearly wiped out in a Total Party Kill deep in a dungeon. In the last moments before she’s swallowed by a dragon, the magic-user Falin uses the last of her strength to teleport her brother Laios and the rest of the party to the surface. Defeated and demoralized, and faced with the loss of most of their coin and equipment, two members quit immediately, but Laios convinces the last two to join him in a desperate sprint back into the dungeon before his sister is digested and beyond the reach even of the most powerful healing magic. Famished and too penniless to provision, Laios concocts a foolhardy plan to eat the monsters they encounter on their way down.

That’s the basic set-up for a extremely imaginative and frequently hilarious dungeon romp featuring three hapless foodies in a gloriously elaborate monster haven. The setting in fact is a huge part of the charm of this series, and it will be warmly familiar to anyone who’s played D&D or a similar early RPG, with its crowded underground markets and well stocked trading outposts scarcely 50 yards from trap-infested monster gardens. The slimes, mushroom men, man-eating plants and other oddball creatures they come up against will also bring back fond memories of the classic dungeon delves of your youth. They’re delightfully wacky, just like the plans our heroes come up with to eat them.

Late last year Kelly Chiu at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog wrote a fine piece on the series, just before the English translation of the sixth volume arrived in stores. Kelly has a sharp sense for what makes the series so appealing to old school gamers and general comic fans alike, and in 6 Reasons to Devour Delicious in Dungeon she hit on many of the things I most enjoy about it. Here’s a few of her most on-target comments.

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Frazetta and Family: Ace Books House Ads, circa 1975

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Ace Books House ad 1975-small

I bought a small collection of Mack Reynolds paperbacks on eBay last week, and they arrived yesterday. I settled in with them last night, and was surprised to find one of them, the 1975 title The Five Way Secret Agent and Mercenary From Tomorrow, which looked like a collection of two novellas from Analog, was actually an Ace Double. It didn’t have two covers in back-to-back dos-à-dos format, and the second book wasn’t printed upside down, but otherwise it was an Ace Double, with separate pagination for each novel and everything. It had the usual Ace house ads in the middle, which I normally flip past, but the double-page spread above brought me to a complete stop.

I mean, just look at this thing. Never mind the questionable tactic of trying to sell gloriously color Frazetta posters (for 3 bucks each) using muddy black & white images. Check out that house ad on the left: The number 1, formed from the names of the  most prominent authors in the Ace Books publishing family. And what a staggering list!

Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss, Leigh Brackett, John Brunner, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John W. Campbell, Terry Carr, A. Bertram Chandler, Lester del Rey, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Philip Jose Farmer, Edmond Hamilton, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein, R.A. Lafferty, Damon Knight, Ursula K. Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Stanislaw Lem, Andre Norton, Michael Moorcock, Barry Malzberg, Alexei Panshin, Frederik Pohl, Mack Reynolds, Joanna Russ, Bob Shaw, Clifford D. Simak, Robert Silverberg, Brian Stableford, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree, Jr., EC Tubb, A.E. Van Vogt, Jack Vance, Jack Williamson, Roger Zelazny

It’s not just the amazing list of authors — which is, let’s face it, a nearly unprecedented line up of talent for a single SF publisher. It’s that fact that most of those authors are still revered today, and in fact more than a few — Philip Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, and others — have achieved even greater fame in the intervening four decades.

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Weird and Wonderful and Frightening: An Interview with Fantasy Renaissance Man Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Killing of Kings-smaller Howard Andrew Jones thinks big thoughts-small

Howard Andrew Jones is a true renaissance man of modern fantasy. He began writing short stories featuring his Arabian heroes Dabir & Asim for magazines and anthologies like Paradox, Sages & Swords, and Black Gate. He switched to novels with the widely acclaimed The Desert of Souls, one of the major works of fantasy of 2011. He followed that with a sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones (2011), and a 4-book sequence for Pathfinder Tales: Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast, Beyond the Pool of Stars, and Through the Gate in the Sea.

In addition to writing, he’s also a gifted editor. He edited eight volumes of the collected tales of Harold Lamb for Bison Books, rescuing the early short fiction of one of the greatest adventure writers of the 20th Century from the moldering pages of pulp magazines. He was Managing Editor for the early e-zine Flashing Swords from 2004-2006, and in 2006 accepted the position of Managing Editor of Black Gate. He is the founding editor of Goodman Games’ new sword & sorcery magazine Tales From the Magician’s Skull, which published two issues last year. And in late 2018 he became Executive Editor at Perilous Worlds, where he oversees the publication of new titles for some of most popular properties in fantasy, including John C. Hocking’s Conan and the Emerald Lotus and Conan and the Living Plague.

Though that keeps him plenty busy, he has not neglected his own writing. For the Killing of Kings, the first novel in a brand new series, The Ring-Sworn trilogy, arrives today from St. Martin’s Press. It’s the top pick of the month of March for Bookpage, and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, saying it “will have readers laughing, crying, and cheering.” Somehow Howard found time to sit down with us for a lengthy interview about his writing process, his influences (including Zelazny, Raymond Chandler, and Leigh Brackett), and the fast-changing trends he sees from his catbird seat in the industry. Enjoy.

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