The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Frederic Dorr Steele

Monday, October 12th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Colliers Black PeterBack in July, in a post on Sidney Paget, I wrote “Along with Frederic Dorr Steele, Paget is certainly one of the two most significant illustrators of the great detective.” Having covered Paget, now we look at Dorr Steele.

In 1893, Doyle, feeling that writing Holmes stories was holding him back from more important works, did the unthinkable: he killed the world’s most popular detective. In 1902, he revived Holmes for one adventure in his most famous story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, with good old Sidney Paget illustrating again. Doyle made it clear this was an earlier case of Holmes’ and that the great detective was, in fact, still dead.

The stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes had been illustrated by various artists in America, where they appeared in different magazines and newspapers. There was no sole source for the stories, as there was in England with The Strand. For the most part, the drawings were rather uninspired

Some of Paget’s were also used, but often just a few, not the full set for each story. Thus, a common image of Holmes had not evolved from the drawings. There was no Sidney Paget in the United States. But there was about to be!

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Time Flies: Reflections on Reading Fantasy

Friday, October 9th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Reading Strange MattersTime flies when you’re having fun. My first post on Black Gate went up a bit more than five years ago, a piece about storytelling, role-playing games, and what happened when I ran a group of friends through the original Temple of Elemental Evil D&D module. A couple weeks later I began a run of weekly posts with a discussion of Arthur Howden Smith’s too-often-overlooked historical pulp adventure collection Grey Maiden. A couple weeks after that I finally got around to introducing myself properly.

And in that post I asked a question I’m still trying to answer. Why am I drawn to fantasy? As I put it then: “Why am I so passionate about these stories?” And, as I wondered in the comments, what is fantasy, anyway? About a year later I took a stab at answering at least the first question. I noted that ‘escapism’ didn’t seem like a good answer, that ‘fantasy’ to me is an extremely broad field, and that when I’m disappointed in a fantasy story it’s often because the story’s not fantastic enough — not strange enough, not deeply enough invested in the world it creates. Fantasy’s draw for me, I thought, has to do with its ability to create its own reality, and to organise facts and experience in a distinct way. And with its relation to language and myth: from a certain perspective, a metaphor is a fantasy. Fantasy is, to me, a way of constructing symbols and meaning.

A few years on, I think I can take that answer a little further. I’ve been going over my essays for Black Gate to prepare a series of ebook collections — the first of which, looking at fantasy novels in the twenty-first century, is now available at Amazon and Kobo (and if anybody is gracious enough to buy it, I’d love to hear any reactions in comments to this post). I’m hoping to get a second collection out by Christmas, with more to follow. Preparing them I find myself thinking about those original questions. Why is fantasy more powerful to me than mimetic fiction? What is there in fantasy’s relation to meaning that appeals to me? What follows is an attempt to expand on my earlier answers; it’s entirely personal, and perhaps self-indulgent. This is me trying to work out for myself how I react to stories. It might be useful food for thought for others. It might not.

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Needling at Society’s Wounds: Horror in Pop Culture, From the 1950s to True Detective

Monday, October 5th, 2015 | Posted by Samuel Sattin

Invasion-of-the-saucer-men 1957 poster-smallIt appears near impossible to pinpoint what drives popular culture as it develops. If you look back through science fiction and horror of the nineteen fifties, you can hone in on Cold War undertones in retrospect, on the painful obviousness of America’s paranoia during its long conflict with the USSR. Fiction, and especially genre fiction, is a sponge for social anxieties. Horror in particular, since it thrives on fear, excels at needling at society’s wounds.

One need only turn to the seventies, as America moved beyond the optimism of the previous decade into a chilly, post-Summer of Love winter, to see the dynamic at play. The horror fiction during that time is so spectacular precisely because of how it responded to the decaying optimism of the previous generation. With the dream of Civil Rights leading to widespread racial inequality, with the closure of Vietnam, the introduction of long feather haircuts, the dissolution of the Beatles, and the rise of disco, society was wide open for big budget, socially scathing works of terror.

The eighties turned towards renewal and perceived stability, creating prolonged franchises and creature features that intermixed humor and gore with boatloads of camp. The nineties brought forth a self-referential realism that, in this author’s opinion, accompanied the economic boom of the Clinton years, where pre-9-11 excess bubbled in size and gave way to less politically indulgent modes of entertainment. In the current moment, however, in the wake of terrorism, global economic crisis, and two wars, one thing seems abundantly clear: we’ve returned to championing bleakness in pop culture that feels in many ways similar to what was seen in the seventies. But bleakness weaned on a new generation of plenty that can make the convention feel plastic, and even hypocritical, in nature.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: After the King

Monday, October 5th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

AfterKing_CoverBack in January, I wrote a post on Terry Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian. It was primarily based on the short story “The Troll’s Bridge,” which was included in the anthology, After the King. That anthology was subtitled, ‘Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien.’

It included tales by nineteen fantasy and sci-fi authors, ostensibly all told in the style of Tolkien. The more cynical among us might view this as a cheap way to cash in on the Tolkien name (back in 1992, pre Game of Thrones, et al, Tokien still had a bigger grasp on fantasy publishing).

But not so much. The stories in this collection don’t bring to mind Michael Moorcock, Steven Erickson, Fritz Lieber or Robert E. Howard. My idea of a dragon hunt looks a lot more like a Dungeons and Dragons game than Patricia A. McKillip’s “The Fellowship of the Dragon.” Elizabeth Scarborough, Andre Norton and Jane Yolen don’t bring to mind Glen Cook. The stories in this collection do have more of a Tolkien, mythic, “pastoral” feel.

With the possible exception of Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shanarra (which is the subject of an upcoming post by Fletcher Vrendenburgh), Dennis L. McKiernan’s Mithgar stories are as close to Tolkien pastiches as we’re likely to get this side of a novel commissioned by the Estate. He’s present with “The Halfling House.” I recently re-read his first Mithgar work, The Silver Call (written as one novel but issued as two books) and it’s as Tolkien as it gets (more on that in an upcoming Mithgar post).

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Armored Rampage!

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

SVT 256

“Write what you know”, they said.

Somebody yells, “Form a wedge! Form a wedge!”

This is my last chance to experience something I’ve craved since reading Ronald Welch’s Sun of York back when I was twelve. I love my plate armor, but I’m now in my forties, a dad, and my days of hitting the road with my armor are numbered. (“Write what you know”, they said. So I had set out to know what I wanted to write about.)

“Let me go first!”

I take my place at the front of the knot of my friends in armor from different periods. Everybody jostles around and, without the benefit of NCOs, forms a rough triangle with me at the point.

Ahead, the Viking ranks stiffen, dress their shields. Locals mostly, and many of them students, so there’s a lot of quilted armor and even some linen shirts.

I grin into my visor. We’re older, heavier in build. One-to-one we outweigh them and we’ve concentrated our weight into a human battering ram…

…and yes, it’s a small multi-period medieval faire at St Andrews, Scotland. The weapons aren’t sharp. It’s not real.

But read on, because the experience was illuminating…

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Adventures in Spellcraft: Rope Trick

Monday, September 28th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Calling all old-school gamers, the folks who cut their teeth on the Players1st-edition-players-handbook Handbook, the Monster Manual, or even those long-lost oddities like Eldritch Wizardry and Greyhawk. For those of us still standing, which I do hope is the majority, I’d like to take a quick stroll down Memory Lane.

Don’t worry, it’s only a block or so away, just past Green Town, Illinois, and not so far from my last (highly opinionated) write-up on the ill-behaved sorcery known as Chain Lightning.

Great. Now that we’re walking, let me ask, do you remember that clever little escape hatch spell, Rope Trick? Very handy for “taking five” in the midst of a battle not otherwise going well. Very useful for getting undisturbed shut-eye while camped overnight in hostile territory. Very helpful when the goal of your particular role-playing adventure is to drive the GM bats.

The basics, for those who may not recall, is that the casting of a Rope Trick causes a length of rope to suspend itself vertically in mid-air. Anyone shinnying up the rope will disappear, arriving in a pocket of extra-planar space. The Players Handbook phrased it this way:

The upper end is in fact fastened in an extra-dimensional space, and the spell caster up to five others can climb up the rope and disappear into this place of safety where no creature can find them.

(I’m on page seventy-one, second level magic user spells, for those of you following along on the app.)

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes on Screen

Monday, September 28th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

HoS_BarnesHolmes enthusiasts have their peculiarities. One of mine is that I enjoy just grabbing Alan Barnes’ Sherlock Holmes on Screen from the shelf and randomly reading about some past tv or film effort starring the great detective.

Almost twenty years ago, I couldn’t find a single picture of Ronald Howard’s Holmes on the internet. So I scanned one from a book and that was the basis for, which for about a decade, had more info about Holmes television and film projects than any other site on the web. With the coming of Guy Ritchie’s Holmes, I decided to shut down the site (surprisingly, I enjoyed the movie) and soon thereafter set up

But Holmes on screen has remained a major interest area for me. By my count, twenty-one The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes posts have covered that subject! Now, I’m not saying that if you read every one of the links below, you’d be a leading expert on Holmes on screen. But you’d probably know more than most folks you talk to on the subject. And hey; they’re all free!

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Slushpile Blues

Saturday, September 26th, 2015 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 24I’m going to start this by getting on my high horse for a second.

When we started Heroic Fantasy Quarterly back in ’09 we had several goals; one of them was to bring a little class back into the public face of editing. We had seen one too many editor panels at conventions that turned into sad little pity parties. We vowed (and at HFQ when we vow something, blood oaths are involved) that we would not do that.  Further, we would blood-eagle ourselves before we bitched, pissed or moaned about having to read slush.

In fact, from day one, we don’t even call it reading “slush”, we call it reading submissions. “Slush” is a fundamentally derogatory term. And I want everyone to know that if you see me on a panel and someone else is going on about the slush pile, I’ve got a devil on my shoulder telling me to bust their stupid face into next week. And all the angel on my other shoulder is telling me is just not to use a closed fist to do it.

With all that out of the way, I will be using the term “slush” and “slushpile” in the following article, as distasteful as it is for me to do so.

I ran into this article at New Republic: “Cheat! It’s the Only Way to Get Published.” The writer was an intern at a literary magazine and, aside from the usual denigration of, and projection onto, the writers on the slushpile, the important part is this.

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How One Award-Winning Author Thinks About Awards

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Sarah L. Avery (photo by Theodora Goss)

Sarah L. Avery (photo by Theodora Goss)

A funny thing happened on my way to lifelong obscurity. I accidentally won a book award.

The award didn’t quite fall out of the sky and land on my head. After all, I had put the best I had to give, day after day, for many years, into the book’s drafts. Then I’d sent it to the most exacting readers I knew, and put the absolute best I had to give into revising it. Tales from Rugosa Coven was worthy. I had just stopped expecting anyone who didn’t already know me to notice.

And that was all right. I had other projects in process, and I when I sat down to work at them, I put the best I had to give into them, too. It’s joyful work. Universe willing, I’ll get to do it for the rest of my life.

Well, someone noticed. When the Mythopoeic Society shortlisted me for their award, it was such good news I was sure it had to be an error. The award may not be widely known in mainstream literary circles, but in the world of fantasy literature, it’s a big deal. I traveled to Mythcon to meet my unexpected readers, who were excited to see me. People who’d never met me had actually read my book and wanted to talk about it. I’m not being facetious when I say it was an utterly disorienting experience. The strength of the rest of the shortlist was such that, every time I sat down to write acceptance remarks just in case I won, I found myself drafting congratulatory emails and rehearsing what I’d say to my hotel roommate, a fellow nominee. If she hadn’t insisted that I must at least prepare a few notes, I have no idea what I’d have said at the podium when my hosts put the Aslan in my hand.

Even now, a month later, it’s hard to believe it really happened. Now I know what trophies are for. They’re how dark horse candidates who win things confirm for themselves that it wasn’t all a dream.

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Sarah, William Morris, and Me

Thursday, September 17th, 2015 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Sigurd the Volsung-smallHurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up, you whippersnappers, and see Old Fogy’s Carnival of Cantankerous Complaints. Present your tickets and take your seats for yet another unsolicited argument justifying my personal preference for bound paper books over electronic texts. Keep your arms and hands inside the diatribe at all times. (Go away kid, you bother me.) Ready?

A while back I decided I wanted to read William Morris’s 1877 book-length epic poem, Sigurd the Volsung, a violent Victorianizing of old Norse myth. After discovering that the paperback copy I ordered from Amazon was heavily abridged (grrrr!) I located an old used copy online — an American edition published in Boston by Roberts Brothers in 1891. (Morris was a popular author, and editions of his works that are this old are not at all scarce; I think it cost me ten or fifteen dollars.)

When the book arrived, I carefully took it out of the shipping package (books of this vintage are wonderfully heavy) and opened the dark green cover to look through it. I immediately saw, on the very first blank page, a name and a date neatly written in pencil:

Sarah Anderson Bates 1892

I’m not specifically a collector of signed editions, though I have acquired quite a few over the years (mostly from science fiction writers), among them books signed by Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Ramsey Campbell, Michael Shea, Harlan Ellison, Peter Beagle, Fritz Leiber, and Cormac McCarthy — some pretty heavy hitters.

The signature I value most is Sarah Anderson Bates. Why? Partially for the surprise of having it at all, but mostly because she is someone I know nothing about, who was — just like me — an ordinary person who had a book she valued, and who, by writing her name in it, became a kind of time traveler, sending a signal to me, a person who probably wasn’t even born until long after she was gone.

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