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Category: Editor’s Blog

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

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 writer 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 those stories 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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Black Gate is Moving!

Black Gate is Moving!

Black Gate is moving!

If you’ve had trouble leaving a comment recently, or logging into the site to create an article (or for any reason), that’s the likely reason. For the last 20 years we were hosted at Toybox in Ottawa, run with tireless efficiency by Roy Hopper, but Roy has decided to wind down the business. Effective yesterday afternoon, we migrated the entire site to a brand new hosting service in Florida.

This wasn’t exactly an easy process (not according to the exhausted late-night calls we got from Support at our new service provider, anyway). It involved moving over 211,000 files, uncounted gigs of images, sound files (who uploaded sound files?), and strange databases apparently created by DAW Books in the 1970s. Our offices look like a Marvel Studios sound stage after a wrap party.

All of this is a prelude to begging your indulgence for the next few days. Simultaneous with the migration, we upgraded our WordPress install, moved our email servers, and shed several old databases and obsolete plug-ins. Like Bones stepping off a transporter pad, we’re padding ourselves down to make sure all our parts arrived intact. Things are sure to be a little off-kilter for at least the next few days — and maybe a little later than usual. (And if you’re a BG contributor frustrated with the new setup, don’t hesitate to get in touch to ask for help.)

With luck, the whole team will be back to normal next month. In the meantime, enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday (for our US readers), and for international visitors, enjoy the coming slate of holidays SF and fantasy books.

And thanks in advance for your patience with us!

Gizmodo on November’s New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

Gizmodo on November’s New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

The Rush’s Edge by Ginger Smith-small This Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman-small Fishing for Dinosaurs and Other Stories by Joe R. Lansdale-small

Covers by Kieryn Tyler, Adam Auerbach, and Timothy Truman

We’re getting close to the holiday season, and you know what that means. 2020 will finally be over. But also! Many of us will have enough vacation time to catch up on our reading.

The new flurry of November releases hasn’t made that any easier. What we need is a roadmap to the most interesting destinations in this publishing wilderness. Something like Cheryl Eddy’s comprehensive list of November New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books to Help You Make It Through 2020’s Home Stretch at Gizmodo, which includes new titles from Brandon Sanderson, E.E. Knight, Joe R. Lansdale, Tamsyn Muir, Connie Willis, Peter F. Hamilton, Harry Turtledove, Ernest Cline, Bernard Cornwell, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Jonathan Lethem, C.S. Friedman, Charlie Holmberg, W. Michael Gear, Diana Gabaldon and John Joseph Adams, Tim Lebbon, Jonathan Maberry, Kiersten White, Christopher Hinz, P.D. Cacek, James Lovegrove, Greg Cox, R.F. Kuang, Tochi Onyebuchi, R.J. Barker, Benedict Jacka, Holly Black, Mercedes Lackey, and lots more. Here’s a look at some of the highlights.

The Rush’s Edge by Ginger Smith (Angry Robot, 328 pages, $14.99 paperback/$6.99 digital, November 10, 2020) — cover by Kieryn Tyler

A past-his-prime “genetically-engineered and technology implanted” former soldier is discarded by the government that created him, so he takes a salvage gig to pass the time. Things get complicated when the ship’s computer is overtaken by an alien invader.

Deep space salvage, rogue computers, aliens…. This debut novel is headed to the top of my TBR pile for November.

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Take Advantage of the Thanksgiving Sale at Dark City Games

Take Advantage of the Thanksgiving Sale at Dark City Games

Dark CIty Games

If you’ve been paying attention, you know we’re big fans of solo role playing games here at Black Gate. Whenever someone asks me for a superior modern example, I point them without hesitation to Dark City Games.

George Dew and his talented team of writers and artists at Dark City Games have been producing high quality solitaire fantasy and science fiction games for nearly two decades. They started with programmed adventures in the mold of The Fantasy Trip classics like Death Test, and soon graduated to much more sophisticated fare. Their games include ambitious fantasy epics likes The Island of Lost Spells (which I reviewed as Todd McAulty in Black Gate 10), and The Sewers of Redpoint, exciting SF fare like Void Station 57 and At Empire’s End, a line of Untamed West western adventures, and even tactical wargames set in WWII. Howard Andrew Jones took a fond look at their early catalog back in 2008, and we even published a free Dark City sample adventure titled S.O.S. in 2010.

That’s why I was so excited to see they have a Thanksgiving Sale. Every game in stock is discounted to $10. I ordered four — the SF horror title Into Chaos, dark fantasy Punisher’s Keep, Battle of the Bulge, first in their Combat Boots series of tactical wargames, and the SF mystery tale The Dark Star Incident.

Whether you’re a new gamer curious about role playing who wants to dip your toe in at your own pace, an experienced player looking for a real challenge, or just someone looking for a great bargain, Dark City has a game for you. Have a look at their catalog here, and try a game or two for just ten bucks each. And tell them Black Gate sent you!

A Tour of a Pop-Culture Phenomenon: Marvel: The First 80 Years

A Tour of a Pop-Culture Phenomenon: Marvel: The First 80 Years

Marvel the First 80 Years magazine-small

Marvel: The First 80 Years, magazine edition from Titan Comics. On sale November 2020

I was in Barnes & Noble yesterday, picking up some new releases, including a new Stellaris anthology and the latest Year’s Best anthology from John Joseph Adams (here’s the complete stack of titles I walked out with), and literally on my way out of the store my eye fell on a colorful cover in the magazine section. I reversed course to get a closer look, and three minutes later I was back in the checkout line, buying one more item.

The magazine was Marvel: The First 80 Years, a 160-page full color special release from Titan. It’s a little pricey, even with my B&N discount ($19.99 cover price), but according to the scant facts I can find on the internet, it’s a limited release magazine version of the upcoming book Marvel: The First 80 Years, scheduled for hardcover release in two weeks with a $29.99 price tag.

I didn’t know any of that yesterday, tho. I shelled out nearly 20 bucks for an oversize magazine because it looked more than worth the money. Have a look at the gorgeous interior photo spreads below and see if you agree.

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On a Mission to Disable a Gigantic Robot: Tangent Online on “The Ambient Intelligence” by Todd McAulty

On a Mission to Disable a Gigantic Robot: Tangent Online on “The Ambient Intelligence” by Todd McAulty

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 125 October 2020-smallIt’s been a while since I’ve been reviewed at Tangent Online, so it was a delight to find a review of my Lightspeed story “The Ambient Intelligence,” written by Tara Grimravn.

Due to a mysterious government program called the Deep Temple Project, the water in Lake Michigan has been steadily boiling away. Its shoreline is now little more than a series of mudflats and interconnected stagnant pools that go on for at least a mile before one reaches the water. Barry Simcoe is on a mission by AGRT, an international peacekeeping organization, to disable a gigantic robot destroying large portions of Chicago and killing its citizens. According to his friend Zircon Border, it was spotted coming and going from the exposed remains of an old shipwreck. In order to do this, Simcoe must navigate the treacherous bog that is now the lakebed and try to disable his opponent before it can kill him.

McAulty’s SF story is a great read. It takes a little while to get to the more exciting bits, but that’s necessary to give the reader enough background to understand what’s happening and why. The ending doesn’t disappoint either. The characters are quite well-done, and I especially liked the interactions between Simcoe and True Pacific. Give this one a read!

“The Ambient Intelligence” appeared last month in Lightspeed magazine, and it’s free to read online. It’s published under the name Todd McAulty, the name all my stories appeared under in Black Gate magazine all those years ago. It’s the story of Canadian Barry Simcoe and his robot friend Zircon Border, who face off against a mysterious 60-ton killer robot hiding in a shipwreck on the shores of Lake Michigan… one that’s hiding a very big secret. It shares a setting (and two characters) with my debut novel The Robots of Gotham, but it’s not otherwise related to that book, and stands completely on its own.

Read “The Ambient Intelligence” in its entirety here. And if you enjoy it, why not help support Lightspeed with a subscription? Six-months subs will run you just $17.94, for more than 50 stories — a whopping 350,000 words of fiction. It’s one of the true bargains in the field.

Samuel R. Delany on The Shores Beneath, edited by James Sallis

Samuel R. Delany on The Shores Beneath, edited by James Sallis

The Shores Beneath-back-small The Shores Beneath-small

The Shores Beneath (Avon, August 1971). Cover by Ron Walotsky

It’s been a good few weeks for obscure SF anthologies. Sunday I talked about the 50-year old Swords & Sorcery anthology Swords Against Tomorrow, which Alan Brown at unexpectedly reviewed recently. And two weeks ago the great Samuel R. Delany posted this on Facebook, about James Sallis’ long-forgotten 1971 anthology The Shores Beneath, which collected four tales by Delany, Thomas M. Disch, John Sladek, and Roger Zelazny.

This 1971 collection of four long stories is a collection that made me very happy to be in — though all the stories have been reprinted, it never got the introduction that the editor had promised when he first sold the idea of the book to Avon. I wonder if that has anything to do with why the book was never reprinted.

“The Asian Shore” [by Disch] is an upsetting tale about racism again Muslims. [Zelazny’s] “The Graveyard Heart” is an SF vampire tale. To flip through [John Sladek’s] “Masterson and the Clerks” is to encounter a text that looks just like Aeolus chapter in Ulysses — and to read it is to realize it presents the same theme. The extra information about my own story is actually on the back — it won a Hugo Award (and a Nebula) which is probably why it also got the wonderful Walotsky cover. But might it have [helped] to add that it was a fairly early tale about same-sex desire…? Might even that much extra information have kept the collection itself in print for more than the year it was widely available?

The book dates from the time when Zelazny and I had the same agent — and when Avon was doing some of the most literary books in English. (I assume the in-house editor on the book was George Ernsberger, if not Peter Mayer himself.)

The saddest words of tongue or pen
Are the words “it might have been.”

The Shores Beneath was published by Avon Books in August 1971. It is 192 pages, priced at $0.75. The cover is by Ron Walotsky. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition. See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.