New Treasures: The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Four, edited by Neil Clarke

Friday, July 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume Four-smallI always look forward to Neil Clarke’s Best Science Fiction of the Year, and Volume Four arrived right on time this week. This one is an important milestone in the series for two reasons.

First, it’s the first one to be available in hardcover. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It’s a step up in prestige for the series, and it’s great to finally have these books available in a permanent edition. Second, this volume is dedicated to Gardner Dozois, who died last year, and in his thoughtful introduction Neil makes it clear that he will be carrying on Gardner’s tradition of a lengthy annual summation.

I opened this year’s review of short fiction with an important dedication. Few people can be said to have shaped modern science fiction to the degree that Gardner Dozois did over the course of his career. He will most notably be remembered for his time as editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Science Fiction series, but he was also a Nebula Award-winning author. Gardner also won the Hugo Award for Best Editor a record-setting fifteen times and edited dozens of Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award-winning stories. He was also a friend and colleague, working for me as reprint editor of Clarkesworld for the last five years.

On my shelves lies a complete run of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, all thirty-five volumes plus his three Best of the Best volumes, and dozens of other anthologies he edited. While volumes one through three of my series were technically competing with his, he never once made me feel like that was the case. One of the best and more beautiful things most of you don’t know about this field is how collegial it is. Even when the stories were no longer new to me, I always preordered his next volume, simply for his annual summation of the field. For many of us, it was an important history of the field, one that spanned over thirty years and was yet another important part of his legacy.

No one can fill his shoes, but in his honor, I’m going to merge some of the short-fiction-oriented features of Gardner’s introductions into my own. It’s my way of noting that aspect of his work. It’s of personal value to me, and a desire to see that particular torch carried forward.

Neil is as good as his word, and this volume of The Best Science Fiction of the Year contains a lengthy look back at the year in short fiction, broken up into sections such as The Business Side of Things, Magazine Comings and Goings, The 2018 Scorecard — particularly appreciated by stats nerds like me! — The Most Interesting Development for Short Science Fiction, and In Memoriam. I miss Gardner’s idiosyncratic take on the field, of course, but I must say Neil acquits himself very well indeed. His new summation is informative, highly readable, and on-target. I think Gardner would have been proud.

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Support the Tales From the Magician’s Skull Kickstarter!

Thursday, July 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales From the Magician’s Skull 3-small Tales From the Magician’s Skull 3 contents-small

Cover by Sanjulian

Great news, adventure fans! The magazine Tales from the Magician’s Skull — published by Goodman Games and edited by our very own Howard Andrew Jones — has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the 3rd and 4th issues. The first two were a huge hit with Black Gate readers, a great many of whom signed on to the first Kickstarter. The contributor list for issue #3 is packed with names very familiar to our readers, like James Enge, John C. Hocking, Violette Malan, Sarah Newton, and Joseph A. McCullough. The new campaign has already blown away expectations, but the creators are still trying to reach new readers. Here’s Howard:

The launch of the next issues of our fantasy magazine has gone great — our Kickstarter funded the first day! But SURELY there are more than 400 people who want to sign on for a bi-annual subscription to a magazine chock full of swashbuckling fantasy adventure tales! We bring high octane sword-and-sorcery!

Help me spread the word to find more readers, and direct them to the Kickstarter, where they can buy-in at reduced cost!

We’re the home of James Enge’s Morlock the Maker and the action packed tales of John C. Hocking! We print famed Warhammer fantasy authors William King, Nathan Long, and C.L. Werner! We feature the ongoing adventures of Violette Malan’s Dhulyn and Parno! Not to mention tales from talents like Dave Gross, Chris Wilrich, James Stoddard, Setsu Uzume, and many more!

And did I mention the great artwork and old school pulp feel that permeates the entire magazine?

Swing by and take a look, and don’t miss the Kickstarter updates penned by the Skull himself!

Support the new campaign here, and help bring this exciting new project to life. If you won’t do it for me, do it for the Skull.

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Low-rate Mining Gigs, Warships, and the Power of Song: on 7 Space Operas and Adventures

Saturday, July 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

All Systems Red Martha Wells-small Ancillary Justice Ann Leckie-small Space Opera Cat Valente-small

I’ve been saying for a while now that we’re in a space opera renaissance, and I’m not the only one to have noticed. There’s been plenty of discussion of some of the best new titles at many of our favorite sites.

Back in March I bought a copy of Arkady Martine’s Tor debut A Memory Called Empire, the tale of an independent mining station’s efforts to avoid being absorbed by the encroaching Teixcalaanli Empire, and as part of their promotional efforts at Natalie Zutter assembled an interesting piece comparing the book to seven other recent space operas. Her list included books by Martha Wells, Ann Leckie, and Catherynne M. Valente, and I’ve found myself recommending it to people interested in modern tales of solar empires, intergalactic dynasties, and plucky space crews.

Any list that useful deserves to be shared. Here’s three of Natalie’s recommendations.

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The Stark House Algernon Blackwood, edited by Mike Ashley

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Promise of Air The Garden of Survival-small The Promise of Air The Garden of Survival-back-small
The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-small The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-back-small

I’ve been enjoying the attractive and affordable Stark House reprints of the work of Algernon Blackwood, much of which has been out of print for many decades. If I’ve counted correctly (and no guarantee of that) there have been ten volumes so far, collecting some dozen novels and six collections, all released under their Supernatural Classics banner in handsome trade paperbacks. Two more have arrived recently(ish), a slender collection titled The Face of the Earth and Other Imaginings, and an omnibus of two lesser-known novels, The Promise of Air/The Garden of Survival, both edited with fascinating introductions by Mike Ashley. Here’s a snippet from Mike’s intro to the latter.

Unfortunately for Blackwood, no sooner had he completed The Promise of Air, than tragedy struck. His brother, Stevie, who had long been in poor health, died on 16 June 1917 aged only forty-nine. There were deaths of other close friends, along with Blackwood’s every day witness of death working as an Intelligence Agent in Switzerland and as a Searcher for the Red Cross. Blackwood needed to express his innermost feelings and those emerged in a highly personal document later called The Garden of Survival. Blackwood had no intention of publishing it until others who read his manuscript implored him to do so.

The Garden of Survival is more a novella (taking up a mere 52 pages in this edition), but it made an impact. The Bookman called it “A remarkable psychological study,” and the Boston Herald said, “Mr. Blackwood makes the occult seem part and parcel of daily life.”

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2019 Locus Award Winners Announced

Sunday, June 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Calculating Stars Mary Robinette Kowal-small Spinning Silver Naomi Novik-small The Cabin at the End of the World Paul Tremblay-small

The Locus Awards, voted on by readers in an open online poll, have been presented every year since 1971. (A quarter century before there was such a thing as an online poll. Back in the day, we used to send ballots through the mail. Ask your parents what that means.) The final ballot lists ten finalists in each category, including Science Fiction Novel, Fantasy Novel, Horror Novel, Young Adult Book, First Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Anthology, Collection, Magazine, Publisher, Editor, Artist, Non-Fiction,Art Book, plus a Special Award given by committee. The winners were announced at the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle, Washington, June 29, 2019.

Even if you didn’t vote in the awards, the list of Finalists makes a terrific Recommended Reading list. Two years ago Jonathan Strahan posted the following on his Facebook feed, and it still makes a lot of sense.

Here’s a thought, fellow SF readers. Locus has just announced its long list for the Locus Awards. Forget that it’s an awards list for a moment, though. It’s a reading list.

So why not look down the list below for Best First Novel. and try something new? Pick a book from the list below. Buy a copy, borrow a copy, go to the library and grab a copy. Track one down, and try something new…. I can recommend the Lee, Shawl and Slatter books very highly. Some of the others look really interesting.

Here’s the complete list of winners.

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Where Dogs Play a Part: Dogtime on the 5 Best Fantasy And Science Fiction Books With Dogs

Saturday, June 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

City Simak-small The Robots of Gotham paperback-small Top Dog Jerry Jay Carroll-small

Everybody loves recommending science fiction books. It’s not just our friends at, Kirkus Reviews, and The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog anymore. Last week at Dogtime (Dogtime?!) Jean Andrei recommended the 5 Best Fantasy And Science Fiction Books “where dogs play a part in the story.” Starting, of course, with one of the great classics of the genre, the 1944 fix-up novel City.

Written by Clifford D. Simak, it’s told from the perspective of dogs as they explain what happened at the end of human civilization. The story tells of the advancements of humans and their desire to explore the universe. Before they leave, however, they give the gift of speech to all dogs on earth, as well as robots as their companions. It’s a compelling novel that is as strange as it is fascinating.

Even Black Gate contributors are getting in on the act. Amazon reviewer Tim in Chicago recommends Todd McAulty’s robot apocalypse novel The Robots of Gotham, released this month in trade paperback.

All of you plot-driven, immersive world, dystopian fantasy, robot-obsessed, political intrigue, action fans come right in — the pages practically turn themselves. Like a Jason Bourne with robots and a more sympathetic hero, Barry uses his most human qualities to navigate a world of robots that would rather just crush him than care about him. And there is a loyal dog — robots will never understand dogs.

Most BG readers will know about those two of course, but there are plenty more if you know where to look. Starting with Jerry Jay Carroll’s 1996 fantasy Top Dog, the opening novel in his A Dog’s Life series.

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You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Bookshelf: John DeNardo on the Best June Science Fiction & Fantasy

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Girl in Red Christina Henry-small The Iron Dragon's Mother Michael Swanwick-small Wastelands The New Apocalypse John Joseph Adams-small

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with John DeNardo, the most well-informed man in science fiction (way back in March, if you must know, when he recommended Titanshade and A Memory Called Empire to us.) John never slows down, and at the beginning of the month he surveyed the best new science fiction and fantasy arrivals in his regular column at Kirkus Reviews. Here’s a few of the highlights, starting with a post-apocalyptic version of Little Red Riding Hood from Christina Henry.

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry (Berkley, 304 pages, $16.00 in trade paperback/$11.99 digital, June 18, 2019)

With The Girl in Red, Christina Henry one again proves that retellings don’t necessarily lack originality. (Her previous re-spins of classic stories include 2015’s Alice, 2016’s Red Queen, 2017’s Lost Boy, and 2018’s The Mermaid.) In this post-apocalyptic take on Little Red Riding Hood, a Crisis has decimated much of the world population, forcing survivors to huddle in quarantine camps. But that doesn’t mean that the woman in the red jacket is helpless against the new kind of monster that the Crisis has created.

Next up is Michael Swanwick’s long-awaited sequel to his World Fantasy Award nominee The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1993), which came in #2 in the voting for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and The Dragons of Babel (2008).

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The Adventure Stories We’ve Needed: Crossbones & Crosses: An Anthology of Heroic Swashbuckling Adventure, edited by Jason M Waltz

Thursday, June 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Crossbones & Crosses-small

Art by Dieder Normand

There’s been no shortage of publishing events in 2019, but one of the most exciting for me personally has been the return of Rogue Blades Entertainment.

In its heyday about a decade ago, RBE was well on the way to becoming the most important adventure fantasy publisher in the US. With a back catalog that included Writing Fantasy Heroes (which included contributions from luminaries such as Steven Erikson, Brandon Sanderson, Orson Scott Card, Glen Cook, and Howard Andrew Jones), and hit anthologies like Rage of the Behemoth (2009) and Demons (2010), it had built a loyal customer base and a stellar reputation. Then the creative mastermind behind Rogue Blades, Jason M Waltz, scaled back operations to make certain they could reliably deliver on their long-term commitments.

It was a strategy that paid off. The contest anthology Challenge! Discovery, RBE’s first new book in four years, appeared in 2017, and Crazy Town, a brand new anthology of hard boiled tales, arrived to wide acclaim in November. And the book I’ve really been waiting for, Crossbones & Crosses, an anthology of Heroic Swashbuckling Adventure, was published just last month with a stellar cover by artist Dieder Normand.

Crossbones & Crosses is a collection of new and reprint tales of swashbuckling historical adventure featuring pirates and crusaders. Contributors include Howard Andrew Jones, Keith Taylor, C.L. Werner, and many others. Here’s a snippet from Keith West’s review at Adventures Fantastic.

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Big, Ambitious and Experimental: BBC Culture on John Brunner

Thursday, June 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Stand on Zanzibar-small Stand on Zanzibar 1976-small

John Brunner was one of the greatest science fiction writers of the 20th Century. Unlike many of his peers, however — like Philip K. Dick. Ursula K. Le Guin, Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein — his star has dimmed considerably since his death in 1996, and virtually all of his fiction is now out of print. So I was very pleased to see this May 10th feature story on Brunner at the BBC Culture site, focusing on his uncannily on-target predictions, especially those in his brilliant novel Stand on Zanzibar.

If some of his predictions now read like wacky sci-fi clichés, others have proven spot on. For instance, in his 1962 novella Listen! The Stars! he conjured up the ‘stardropper’, an addictive portable-media-player-like gizmo. In 1972, he published one of his most pessimistic novels, The Sheep Look Up, which prophesies a future blighted by extreme pollution and environmental catastrophe. And his 1975 novel, The Shockwave Rider, created a computer hacker hero before the world knew what one was. It also envisaged the emergence of computer viruses, something that early computer scientists dismissed as impossible. He even coined the use of the word ‘worm’ to describe them…

[Brunner] won, too, almost every sci-fi prize worth winning, including the Hugo Award for best science-fiction novel, which had never before gone to a Brit. Nevertheless, Brunner’s gripes about heavy-handed editing and in-fighting within the claustrophobic sci-fi scene gave him a prickly reputation. By middle-age, much of his work had fallen out of print in the UK, and he’d been forced to sell his London home and move to Somerset… Today, his name is little known beyond sci-fi aficionados, and he’s chiefly remembered for Stand on Zanzibar. Big, ambitious and formally experimental, it’s a science-fiction thriller that depicts a world confronting population control. By 2010, Brunner declared, the world’s population would top seven billion (he was a year out – this actually happened in 2011).

In his June 2 article on classic dystopias here at Black Gate, Joe Bonadonna made some similar observations.

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Become a Time Traveling Detective in Tragedy Looper from Z-Man Games

Monday, June 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Tragedy Looper-small Tragedy Looper-back-small

I don’t know about you, but a lot of the video games I play are Japanese in origin, from Final Fantasy to Ys to Resident Evil. That’s not the case with board games, of course. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to name a single board I own that was originally published in Japan. At least, that was the case until I bought Tragedy Looper and its expansions.

Tragedy Looper was originally published in Japan as 惨劇RoopeR in 2011; the first English version was released by Z-Man Games in 2014. If you’re familiar with the “time loop” mystery genre made popular by films like Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Before I Fall, and Source Code, the intriguing premise of Time Looper will make immediate sense. While it’s not a role playing game, it’s complex enough to require a Mastermind who sets the game up and unfolds events for the players.

At its core Tragedy Looper is a deduction game played on four location boards by one mastermind and up to three protagonists. After the programmed tragedies occur, players can travel back in time, restarting the scenario from the beginning in an attempt to find out precisely what happened, who the culprit was, and what their secret motive was. Each scenario features a set number of characters and character roles (eg: murderer, conspiracy theorist, victim). The players win if they ultimately manage to shield key individuals from tragedy; if they fail, the mastermind triumphs.

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