A Brief History of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine

Saturday, April 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Pulphouse the Hardcover Magazine-small

In 1988 I had just started grad school at the University of Illinois, and finally moved out of my parent’s basement. I’d also left my book collection behind and settled into a small dorm room. I continued collecting, albeit in a much more cramped space, and as the years went by the book piles on the floor gradually grew into towering stacks that made moving around tough. I graduated just in time in 1991, before I completely ran out of floor space, and moved into my first apartment (with real bookcases!) in Wheaton, Illinois.

While in grad school I missed my regular runs to the shops to buy magazines, and during my periodic trips back to Ottawa I was hungry for any fiction mags I could find. My friends were talking about a strange book/magazine crossbreed titled Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine and, curious, I picked up a few issues at the House of Speculative Fiction on my next visit. It turned out to be very impressive indeed, and over the next few years I bought copies whenever I found them.

Pulphouse was closer to a regular anthology series than a magazine; its quarterly issues varied between 243 and 311 pages, and featured a compelling mix of new and established authors. It was the brainchild of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch; the first issue appeared in 1988, and it stuck to a quarterly schedule for three years, before wrapping up with issue #12 in Fall of 1993.

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Are We Fans of a Dying Art Form? James Wallace Harris on Old Science Fiction Stories

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Best-Science-Fiction-Stories-1951-small The-Best-Science-Fiction-Stories-1951-back-small

I’ve been enjoying James Wallace Harris’ blog Auxiliary Memory. Recent topics include A History of the SF Best-of-the-Year Anthology, a cover survey of the Del Rey Classic Science Fiction series and, a particular favorite of mine, his review of Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg’s The Great SF Stories 1 (1939). I think one of the reasons I enjoy his blog is that, like a few of us here at Black Gate, James particularly enjoys classic SF stories, which is kind of a speciality interest these days. Although James seems to worry more about declining readership than I do.

There are a handful of blogs that reflect a love for old science fiction short stories. That suggests we are the keepers of a very weak flame. I see many of the same names posting comments at these sites. Are we the fans of a dying art form? I don’t think science fiction is dying out, but I do think new science fiction gets most of the attention… There are more anthologies than ever collecting the best short science fiction of the year, including one from the prestigious Best American Series. And there’s plenty of places that publish new short science fiction. I believe the readership is smaller today than we I was growing up, but the science fiction short story is still going strong despite the overwhelming popularity of media science fiction.

Yes, new science fiction gets most of the attention — and that’s because it is blessed with talented newcomers producing terrifically exciting new work, like Lavie Tidhar, Linda Nagata, Sarah Pinsker, Kelly Link, Yoon Ha Lee, Charlie Jane Anders, C.S.E. Cooney, Rich Larson, Aliette de Bodard, and many others. And that’s exactly as it should be. There’s a word for a genre that focuses too much on the past: Dead. Science Fiction is not dead, it is very much alive and thriving. That’s takes nothing away from the great old SF we enjoyed decades ago — it’s still there waiting for readers of a new generation to discover. But first we have to win over that new generation of readers, and it takes modern writers to do that.

You can read the complete text of James’ rambly but entertaining post Remembering Old Science Fiction Short Stories here.

Announcing the 2018 Hugo Award Finalists

Saturday, March 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Featured_HugoAward Spiffy

Holy neutron stars, it’s the end of March, and you know what that means…. it’s time to announce the finalists for the 2018 Hugo Awards! Doubtless most of you paid close attention to Rich Horton’s suggestions for the best science fiction and fantasy of last year, did a lot of heavy reading over the last four weeks, and thoughtfully cast your nominating ballots. Or maybe not.

But either way, it’s time to see who all your fellow voters nominated. Ready? Here we go.

Best Novel

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in February

Sunday, March 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill


January sure was popular with readers. The most popular article at Black Gate last month was… our summary of the most popular articles at Black Gate the previous month. If that patterns hold, this will be the most popular article on the blog in March. To guarantee that, I’ve put a big picture of Godzilla at the top. You’re welcome.

Getting back to more regular fare, the second most popular post on the blog last month was Elizabeth Crowens’ epic interview with Buffy the Vampire Slayer author author Nancy Holder. Third on the list was a Vintage Treasures feature on Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane 1: Skulls in the Stars (which just proves Bob Byrne’s thesis that REH is a sure ticket into the Top Ten). Rounding out the Top Five were our look at a much more recent book, the new Looming Low anthology from Justin Steele and Sam Cowan, and my salute to a vanished book imprint, A Farewell to Roc Books.

As always, games were well represented in the Top Ten. Andrew Zimmerman Jones scored the #6 slot with his feature review of the new RPG Tales from the Loop, and M Harold Page entertained us with his report on I Love the Corps, which was good enough for #7. No Top Ten list would be complete without Ryan Harvey, and he made his appearance at #8 with the latest installment of The Complete Carpenter, this time featuring Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Wrapping things up was our look at Unbound Worlds on A Century of Sword and Planet, and the debut effort of new BG blogger David Neil Lee, with his review of Kong – Skull Island.

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Unbound Worlds on Where to Start with Gothic Space Opera

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Hyperion Dan SImmons-small Blind Sight Peter Watts-small The Burning Dark Adam Christopher-small

I didn’t even know one of my favorite SF sub-genres had a name. But it does, and over at Unbound Worlds Matt Staggs tells us what it is.

In a gothic space opera, pseudo-medievalism, superstition, insanity, and decay are juxtaposed with space travel: a perfect embodiment of progress, science, and rationality. The starship becomes a stand-in for the haunted mansion, and the universe at large the misty moors that surround it.

Cults, all-powerful religions, and demonic forces are commonly found in the genre, and the wear and tear of space travel — time dilation, and the assumption of death-like states of suspended animation for examples — on human relationships are often emphasized. Human life far from civilization becomes stranger, perhaps even hostile. In gothic space opera, human beings become the aliens they fear.

Gothic space opera! It’s like Dracula married Star Wars and they had a little goth space baby. Matt says gothic space opera is “Movies like Event Horizon and Sunshine, the popular wargame franchise Warhammer 40,000, and the video game Dead Space.” I like all those things, so I’m on board (I also like Alien, the ultimate haunted-space-ship movie, but maybe that’s a separate sub-sub-genre or something. I don’t question the experts.)

It was probably Warhammer 40,000, with its exciting tales of the Dark Ages of a vast galaxy-wide empire paralyzed by superstition and constant warfare, that really cemented my love of this brand new sub-genre. Matt suggests some excellent starting points for curious fans; and this is where I really paid attention. Here’s a few of the highlights.

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Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast: Clark Ashton Smith, Poet of The Fantastic

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Clark Ashton Smith Poet of the Fantastic

I’ve started listening to podcasts during my morning commute on the train and, let me tell you, I am an instant fan. I can’t explain what took me so long to discover them, but I am a convert. I’ve really been enjoying Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe’s Coode Street Podcast, and am just getting into Welcome to Night Vale. But the best podcast I listened to this month was Episode 9 of the Literary Wonder & Adventure Show from our old friends Robert Zoltan and Dream Tower Media. This month’s topic is Clark Ashton Smith, Poet of The Fantastic, and the special guest is our very own Saturday blogger Ryan Harvey.

Ryan practically introduced me to CAS with his epic four-part examination of The Fantasy Cycles of Clark Ashton Smith, starting with The Averoigne Chronicles. He brings both a deep knowledge and genuine passion to the topic, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Here’s a clip from around the 7-minute mark.

The first of [Smith’s] weird short stories that he sold to a magazine was 1926, a story called “The Abominations of Yondo,” which he sold to a local magazine called The Overland Monthly. And H.P. Lovecraft, who was his pen pal at the time, and for the rest of Lovecraft’s life, encouraged Smith to sell his stories to Weird Tales. And he got into Weird Tales, and for a period of about five years he, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, were also all pen pals, and were the major focus of the magazine. And Smith sold a lot of stories at this time, and then in 1934-35, right about the same time both Lovecraft and Howard stopped writing – although for very different reasons – Smith just no longer needed to support his parents (his mother died in ‘35 and his father died in ‘37) and he just lost interest in writing prose.

Ryan is a terrific resource for anyone who wants to understand the mystery and appeal of the great pulp fantasists of the early 20th Century, and host Robert Zoltan has edited their conversation into a fascinating 1-hour package. Check the whole thing out here, and see our coverage of previous episodes of the Literary Wonder & Adventure Show here

The 1001 Treasures of Black Blade Publishing and Goodman Games: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part II

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales from the Magicians's Skull in the Goodman Games booth at Gary Con 2018-small

New releases at the Goodman Games table, including the magnificent Tales From the Magician’s Skull

In Part I of my Gary Con 2018 report, posted here yesterday, I talked about one of the great pleasures of walking the Exhibit Hall: meeting the creative masterminds behind the most dynamic companies in old-school RPGs, like Goodman Games, North Wind Adventures, Troll Lord Games, Black Blade Publishing, Frog God, Kobold Games, and many others. Today I want to talk about the other great pleasure of a truly rich Exhibit Hall. Namely, all those marvelous gaming treasures.

I do a pretty good job staying on top of the newest releases in the adventure gaming industry. More than that, I have a staff of top-notch game writers — like Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Bob Byrne, M. Harold Page, Howard Jones, Fletcher Vredenburgh, and Gabe Dybing, just to name a few — who constantly keep me informed. And yet virtually every step through the Exhibit Hall was filled with surprises. Anyone who’s ever visited the Exhibit Hall of a major gaming con or science fiction convention knows what I’m talking about. That sense of having stepped into a virtual Cave of Wonders, packed with a dozen lifetimes worth of magical discoveries.

You can’t recreate something that overwhelming with a simple blog post. But what the hell. I’m going to give it a shot anyway. To do that, I’m going to focus on the experience of walking around a single booth at Gary Con. In this case, the largest and most well-stocked one at the show, the joint Black Blade/Goodman Games tables at the entrance to the Hall. The sixteen photos below attempt to capture a few of my delightful discoveries — as well as give you a taste of the countless tantalizing items I had to hurry past in my efforts to be a gaming journalist. Prepare yourself.

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Old School Role Playing, and Pathfinder by the Pound: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part I

Monday, March 12th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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My favorite gaming convention is Gary Con, founded in Gary Gygax’s home town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in 2009, the year after he passed away. I attended many of the early Gary Cons, but regrettably have missed the last few years. I’d heard the convention had outgrown the lodge outside of town and was now being held in a much larger venue a few minutes outside town, the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, and I was very curious to see just how big it has become. So I packed up my car on Saturday morning and made the 90-minute drive north from St. Charles, Illinois, to Lake Geneva.

How much has it grown? A lot. Just a few years ago Gary Con was a few hundred gamers who gathered to remember Gary and celebrate all that he brought to gaming. But on Saturday morning I walked into a sprawling modern gaming convention, with thousands of folks happily throwing down dice in multiple buildings and numerous gaming rooms. I’m delighted to report that, while it had gotten much grander, Gary Con has lost none of its friendly atmosphere — or its focus on the kind of old-school role playing pioneered by Gygax.

The highlight of the con for me is always the Exhibit Hall, which has always felt more like an intimate gathering of friends than just a place to hawk wares. In past years I’ve met many some of the most creative minds in the OSR (“Old School Revival”) community there, including Jeffrey Talanian, author of the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea RPG, Daniel Proctor, creator of Labyrinth Lord, Stephen Chenault, creator of Castle & Crusades, and Jon Hershberger, co-founder of Black Blade Publishing (OSRIC). Every year I also take the opportunity to meet up with friends such as Dave Kenzer and Jolly Blackburn of KenzerCo.

The tiny Exhibit Hall has grown enormously since I’d last attended, however. In fact, there were over 50 exhibitors spread across two halls, including Frog God Games, Goodman Games, Kobold Press, Northwind Adventures, Troll Lord Games, Hammered Game Tables, Inner City Games Designs, Pacesetter Games, Total Party Kill Games, and many more. Truly an old-school role player’s paradise!

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Andrew Liptak on 18 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Read in February

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Tarnished City Vic James-small The Gone World Tom Sweterlitsch-small Echoes of Understorey by Thoraiya Dyer-small

Andrew Liptak’s February book selections give you a nice opportunity to be an armchair tourist in some pretty exotic locales (“Visit distant planets, conspiracies, and galactic conflicts!”)

Just as important for diligent book fans, Andrew catches us up with some of the more intriguing ongoing fantasy series. So without further ado, let’s see what he has for us this month.

Tarnished City by Vic James ( Del Rey, 416 pages, $25 in hardcover/$10.99 digital, February 6, 2018)

Vic James began her career last year with The Gilded Cage, in which the world belongs to a class of gifted magical aristocrats. In the next installment of her Dark Gifts trilogy, an uprising has been crushed, and protagonist Abi Hadley’s brother Luke has been framed for the murder of Parliament’s Chancellor Zelston. She goes into hiding, and after her brother is condemned to a remote estate, she hatches a plan to save him. Publisher’s Weekly says that readers will “appreciate the multifaceted complexity of James’s world and its lively, determined characters.”

We covered the opening volume, Gilded Cage, back in April.

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Comics & Graphic Novels of February 2018

Saturday, February 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I don’t have time to keep tabs on all the fabulous new comics showing up every week at my local comic shop, so I’m glad there are folks I trust who do. One of them is Ross Johnson at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, who checks in with a list of the 19 most promising new graphic novels this month. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Scales & Scoundrels, Vol. 1: Into the Dragon’s Maw, by Sebastian Girner, Galaad, and Jeff Powell

Girner and Galaad introduce a new breed of fantasy adventurer in Luvander, a tough loner who sets out on a quest to find what treasure awaits in “the Dragon’s Maw,” a labyrinth that she hopes will bring an end to her days of penniless wandering. The only problem: she needs a team. The colorful story offers a modern take on medieval-style fantasy with a light touch and a sense of the epic.

Godshaper, by Simon Spurrier and Jonas Goonface

Following the collapse of the laws of physics in 1958, everyone received their own personal deity, whose size, shape, and influence determines your fate. Then there are those women and men like Ennay, who were born without their own gods but with the power to shape the deities of others. Ennay meets up with Bud, a god without a human, and together, they wind up in the heart of a mystery. It’s a unique story with some lovely, colorful artwork.

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