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Category: Editor’s Blog

The blog posts of Black Gate Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones and Editor John O’Neill

It’s Good to be Back

It’s Good to be Back

It’s good to be back.

If you visited Black Gate between May 19th and May 31st, you may have noticed something odd. As in, it was completely missing. For the first time since the website went live in late 1999, Black Gate was off the air for more than a few hours. We were, in fact, dead for a dozen long days.

Our fault entirely. As our traffic continued to grow significantly in 2021, we started to notice some equally significant slowdown in the site in February and March. (You may have noticed it too. Lots of you did.) We’d outgrown our shared server, and desperately needed an upgrade. After a few months of tuning and planning, led chiefly by the stalwart Martin Page, we migrated to a much more powerful server on May 18. It passed all the preliminary tests, and on May 19th I ordered the DNS switchover.

Too soon, as it turned out. The new server crashed almost immediately, and never came back. We gave up after nine fruitless days of panicked effort, configured and migrated to another server with a lot more memory and, after a few error-filled days, here were are.

We apologize for the long absence, and thank you very much for your patience with us. As Tony Stark says so well, it’s good to be back. We missed you.

Revealing the Cover — and an Excerpt — from Robert V. S. Redick’s Sidewinders

Revealing the Cover — and an Excerpt — from Robert V. S. Redick’s Sidewinders

We’re big fans of Robert V. S. Redick here at Black Gate. I’ve lost count of how many of his books our staff has enthusiastically reviewed over the years but… whew, it’s a lot. That’s why we’re so excited at the impending release of Sidewinders, the second volume in The Fire Sacraments series (following Master Assassins, which we covered — you know it! — right here back in 2018).

As if we weren’t excited enough already, Black Gate website editor emeritus C.S.E. Cooney sent us this blurb for the book and I have to tell you, it wound us up pretty good. Have a look.

Sidewinders. I love this book, goddamnit. Robert V. S. Redick gives a fantasy reader everything her fiendish heart craves: plagues, prophets, demonic possessions, a desperate dash through desert dunes, giant spiders, giant cats, creepy children, plenty of vulgarity and sex, and an all-too-brief glimpse of paradise. So sure, if you like that kind of thing, go for it. Read this book. It’s for you. But wait, there’s more. For your not-so-average fantasy reader, your not-so-run-of-the-mill genre-lover, I beg you, look to Sidewinders. For it will give you ambiguity and delicacy. It will not spare you of its irony — and, oh, such irony! Its pages will impart so profound and aching an empathy that it just might leap off the page and follow you into your daily life. There is such courage in Robert V. S. Redick’s Sidewinders — such courage and fury and passion and hope. Truly a breathtaking work.

—C.S.E. Cooney, author of the forthcoming Saint Death’s Daughter, on Sidewinders

Talos Press will be publishing Sidewinders on July 6, 2021. Wunderkind PR were kind enough to send us a high-resolution sneak peek of the cover to share with you — and also a tasty excerpt from Chapter One of the book.

Without further ado — check out the gorgeous cover, featuring artwork by Mack Sztaba!

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Science Fiction is a Small Community

Science Fiction is a Small Community

The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1953, edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty (Frederick Fell, 1953). Cover art uncredited.

Two weeks ago I bought a handsome copy of The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1953, edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty, from a seller on eBay. As I carefully opened the package, I noticed the return address said “Stephen E. Fabian.”

Huh. Like, Stephan Fabian, the artist? Naturally I did what any of you would have done. I dashed off a quick message to the seller, and in due course I received this friendly response:

Yes, I am Stephen E. Fabian, the artist, though I’ve been semi-retired since way back in 1992. Thanks for asking. Stay safe, Steve

Well, that was cool. Fabian, of course, is one of the most talented artists to ever work in the field of SF and fantasy. We’ve covered his work here many times, and you can see some of his gorgeous pen & ink work here.

But that brief exchange reminded me (as if I needed reminding) that the science fiction community is a small one, and you never know who you’re going to run into. It reminded me of that day I ran into Fred Pohl on the street in downtown Chicago, and the week I discovered that the Bill Johnson I’d been working with at Motorola for years was the same one who won a Hugo Award for “We Will Drink a Fish Together.”

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Would You Spend $44 on a Collection of 30 Vintage DAW Paperbacks?

Would You Spend $44 on a Collection of 30 Vintage DAW Paperbacks?

Would you spend $44 on these 30 vintage DAW paperbacks?

I buy a lot of paperbacks on eBay.  I mean, a lot. But believe it or not, I don’t spend a lot of money. I’ve gotten in the habit of buying small collections; because shipping costs work out better and I spend much less per item. I haven’t done the math recently, but I budget anywhere from $0.25 to $0.50 per book when I go hunting, and usually stick to it.

Of course, there are plenty of expensive paperbacks on eBay. Crazy-priced paperbacks, if you want to go looking for them. But eBay is also a clearing house for hundreds of individuals dumping collections en masse, often with very little description, and if you’re willing to dig a bit and take a chance, you can find bargains every day of the week. (And every hour of the day). In fact, eBay has become my go-to site for bargain-basement vintage paperback collections. Someday collectors will stop dying off, and their put-upon spouses will stop dumping their collections on auction sites at rock-bottom prices as they clean out the attic, but today is not that day.

I can’t remember the last time I spent more than $25 for a lot of paperbacks. But last month I scrambled all over myself to hit the buy button on the lot above: 30 vintage DAW paperbacks priced at $44.

Sure, I love DAW. And I’m happy to welcome all these books into my collection, But if you look carefully, you’ll see exactly why I wrecked my monthly collecting budget to acquire these books — and would’ve been happy to spend a lot more. I didn’t buy this lot because it’s a fine assortment of books (though it is). I spent the money because of one author, and one author only. Do you know which one?

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Nerd Daily on 48 Fantasy & Sci-Fi Book Releases To Look Out For In 2021

Nerd Daily on 48 Fantasy & Sci-Fi Book Releases To Look Out For In 2021

2020 was pretty hard on publishing. But 2021 seems to be a year of recovering — and fast recovery at that. Over at Nerd Daily Elise Dumpleton has compiled 48 Fantasy & Sci-Fi Book Releases To Look Out For In 2021, and it’s a pretty spectacular list. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley (Solaris, 336 pages, $24.99 hardcover/$8.99 digital, March 16, 2021)

Drink down the brew and dream of a better Earth.

Skyward Inn, within the high walls of the Western Protectorate, is a place of safety, where people come together to tell stories of the time before the war with Qita.

But safety from what? Qita surrendered without complaint when Earth invaded; Innkeepers Jem and Isley, veterans from either side, have regrets but few scars.

Their peace is disturbed when a visitor known to Isley comes to the Inn asking for help, bringing reminders of an unnerving past and triggering an uncertain future.

Did humanity really win the war?

Aliya Whiteley is the author of The Arrival of Missives (2018) and The Beauty, a dystopian horror filled with cosmic weirdness, strange fungi, and terrifying tales told around post-apocalyptic campfires, which we covered back in 2018.

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James Davis Nicoll on Five Thrilling SF Stories About Patrolling Space

James Davis Nicoll on Five Thrilling SF Stories About Patrolling Space

Crashing Suns (Ace, 1965), A Matter of Oaths (Questar, 1990), and The Prefect (Ace Books, 2009).
Covers by Ed Valigursky, Martin Andrews, and Chris Moore

What’s better than thrilling stories of patrolling space?? (No need to email an answer; it’s a rhetorical question. And the answer is “nuthin'”).

Mind you, I’d be hard pressed to cite actual examples. Star Trek books maybe? EC Comics Weird Science, naturally. After that, I got nothing.

Fortunately James Nicoll reads a lot more than I do. Over at Tor.com he’s posted a fun little article titled Five Thrilling SF Stories About Patrolling Space, which includes classics like Edmond Hamilton’s Crashing Suns, but also more modern titles I was totally ignorant of. Here’s his take on Helen S. Wright’s sole SF novel A Matter of Oaths:

There are but three powers of note — the Old Empire and the New Empire, both ruled by their respective immortal emperors, as well as the Guild of Webbers that supplies both sides with starship crews — but the simmering conflict between empires, not to mention basic human cussedness, means an endless need for the services of patrolships like Bhattya to deal with raiders and the like. Being short-staffed, Bhattya’s Commander Rallya grudgingly hires Rafe. Rafe’s service record and qualifications are exemplary… enough so that Rallya is forced to overlook the alarming fact that Rafe was previously mind-wiped for reasons unrecorded. It is only once Rafe is a member of the crew that Rallya belatedly becomes aware of a fact that would have been nice to know before Rafe came on board: someone appears to want Rafe dead and to achieve this goal, they are quite willing to sacrifice everyone in Rafe’s vicinity. Including the crew of the Bhattya.

That definitely sounds like something I shouldn’t have overlooked three decades ago. Here’s the back covers for all three books above.

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The Secret World of Greg Ketter

The Secret World of Greg Ketter

Hit or Myth by Robert Asprin (Starblaze, 1983). Cover by Phil Foglio

Greg Ketter, owner of Dreamhaven Books in Minneapolis, is one of the best booksellers in the business, and he’s sold me many fine volumes over the years. Greg doesn’t talk about it much, but he’s also friends with many of the most famous writers and artists in the field. This being a creative industry, Greg’s friendships reveal themselves in entertaining ways. In fact, Greg has been Tuckerized more than anyone else I know, and in some surprising ways.

I’ve been enjoying Greg’s tales of Tuckerization on Facebook. What is “Tuckerization?” Here, I’ll let Greg explain it.

Wilson “Bob” Tucker was an early SF fan who also went pro, writing mystery and science fiction stories alike. His first book, mystery novel The Chinese Doll, contained the names of many of his friends as characters. Thus you had been “Tuckerized.” The practice continues today sometimes with people paying great sums of money (usually for charities) to be included as characters in books. The most popular seems to be getting killed off in whatever silly/gruesome/disgusting/crazy way the author can dream up.

Greg’s namesake has appeared in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, Nick Pollata’s Satellite Night Fever, Joe Domenici’s Bringing Back the Dead, and many more. But my favorite story is the time he appeared on the cover of Hit or Myth, the fourth book in Robert Asprin’s popular and long running Myth Adventures series:

I was staying with Phil Foglio for a while when he said he needed a model for the new Robert Asprin Myth book. Sure, why not. So, I became a demon for Hit or Myth. Notice those ripped abs (actually, back then I was a bit closer to that than I am now. Everything has dropped down a ways since then). I helped with some of the atrocious puns scattered about the cover and Phil named the place “K’tier Abu’s Djin Mill” as a nod to his old buddy.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to spot all those visual puns Greg mentions. Just about every one of my friends in Ottawa back in the day read Asprin’s Myth Adventures series, and the books were scattered around our house when I was in University. It’s quite the kick to discover that’s I’ve secretly known the cover model for the demon Aahz all these years. Small world.

A Fine Addition to any SF Library: Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh

A Fine Addition to any SF Library: Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh

Tin Stars (Signet, 1986), volume 5 of Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction. Cover by JAV

Isaac Asimov published more than 500 books in his lifetime. Now Asimov was amazingly productive — averaging around 1,700 words published per day over the last two decades of his life — but no one is that prolific. In later years he became a proficient book packager, working with editors like Charles G. Waugh and especially Martin H. Greenberg to churn out dozens and dozens of science fiction anthologies in which he contributed little more than an introduction and perhaps some editorial guidance.

If this sounds dismissive, oh my friends, it is not meant to be. Asimov was interested in a great many things, but one of his earliest and most enduring passions was short fiction. It was his love for early science fiction pulps that set him firmly on the path towards being a successful SF writers by his later teens, and in his later years he became one of the staunchest champions of the science fiction short story — and in particular fiction and authors that by the 70s and 80s were in growing danger of being forgotten. Between 1979 and his death in 1992 he put his name (and the considerable selling power behind it) on numerous SF anthologies and long-running anthology series edited with Greenberg and Waugh, including The Great SF Stories (25 volumes, 1979-92), The Mammoth Book series (6 books, 1988-93), Isaac Asimov’s Magical Worlds of Fantasy (12 books, 1983-91), and others. I don’t know if it was ever made explicit, but it seemed pretty clear that Waugh made the selections, Greenberg handled the rights paperwork, and Asimov was sort of a godfather over the whole process. In any case, the success of these books helped inspire other reprint anthologies, and for many decades life was good for classic science fiction lovers.

Those days, of course, are long over, and mass market reprint genre anthologies are scare as hens teeth today. But when times are tough, the tough get creative, and so I’ve been on the hunt for older science fiction anthologies I may have overlooked all those years ago. That’s how I rediscovered Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction — and it is a delight.

Like many of his other popular series it was edited with Greenberg and Waugh, and included 10 volumes published between 1983-90. Each had a different theme: Intergalactic Empires, Space Shuttles, Monsters, Invasions, and so forth. They were generously sized (300-400 pages) and came packed with wonderful stories selected by an editor with a keen eye. These books have never been reprinted, but they’re not hard to find. In fact I recently bought a set of five in nearly brand new condition for significantly less than original cover price.

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Merry Christmas from Black Gate

Merry Christmas from Black Gate

It’s early evening in the O’Neill household, and the frenzy of Christmas Day is starting to die down. The presents have been opened, Alice’s Christmas quiche has been eaten, the Zoom calls are over, and the family movie is done (this year we all watched Stephen Chow’s brilliantly funny Kung Fu Hustle for the first time, and unanimously agreed it was a wonderful Christmas film).

In the two decades I’ve been running Black Gate, my priorities have changed quite a bit. As I mentioned last year, it’s not about the awards and accolades any more. These days the things I look forward to and cherish the most are the comments from our regulars.

In the early days I was very focused on reaching as many fans as possible, with as much content as we could manage. Helping readers around the world discover neglected science fiction and fantasy old and new and, when we could, rescuing writers of the past Century from undeserved obscurity. In short, it was all about us and our mission.

These days I’m not so focused on us. Nowadays I’m far more interested in hearing from the countless regular readers who, for reasons of their own, have joined us on our journey. I used to look forward to telling everyone (at great length) how much I love Clifford D. Simak’s old paperbacks. But today I find I’d much rather hear about one of Thomas Parker’s all time favorite gosh-wow space operas, and Joe H’s Top Five Harryhausen films, and what book gave Smitty nightmares when he was 12 — and all the other fascinating tidbits this friendly and knowledgeable community chooses to share with us every day. I’ve discovered that the real joy to be found at Black Gate comes from listening, not teaching. And that’s true because of all of you.

So thank you once again, regulars and newcomers, from the bottom of our hearts. On behalf of the vast and unruly collective that is Black Gate, I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Continue being excellent — it’s what you’re good at.

Witches, Menacing Forests, & the True Meaning of Fairy Tales: A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Witches, Menacing Forests, & the True Meaning of Fairy Tales: A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Covers by Dan Santat

The Christmas break is usually a bit of a reading vacation for me, a chance to catch up on the year’s big reads. Of course, I don’t always want to read big, important books while I’m on vacation. Sometimes (usually), I just want something fun.

That’s how I ended up reading Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark & Grimm yesterday, the first book in his dark retelling of favorite kid’s stories. The series was published nearly a decade ago, and re-issued with gorgeous new covers by Dan Santat in 2016. The first book was a New York Times bestseller, and it follows Hansel and Gretel as they skip their own story and leap into other classic Grimm fairy tales, meeting witches, warlocks, dragons, and even the devil himself. As they roam menacing forests, the siblings learn the true story behind the famous tales. Here’s a snippet from my favorite review, by Robin Smith at BookPage.

When I teach my second graders about Grimm’s fairytales, they are often shocked by the graphic details… Now that I have read Adam Gidwitz’s take on Hansel and Gretel, I know exactly what my students really feel: sheer terror.

Like any good storyteller, Gidwitz lures his readers into his tale. His light touch, humorous use of direct address (“if such things bother you, we should probably stop right now”) and tongue-in-cheek warnings make the reader want to take up his challenge and turn the page, no matter what. Gidwitz weaves a number of original tales into one satisfying, daring story of a brother and sister making their way in a world where adults, particularly parents, are unreliable, untrustworthy and in desperate need of forgiveness.

The first volume was followed in short order by two sequels. Here’s a closer look at the wraparound covers for all three volumes.

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