Black Gate on the list for the 2018 REH Foundation Awards

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

REHaward_ShanksIf you were to take a poll at Black Gate World Headquarters, asking for the staff’s favorite author, I’d put my money on Robert E. Howard coming in at the top spot. ‘Conan’ appeared in a Black Gate headline over a decade ago (thank you, Charles Rutledge!). Ryan Harvey, John Fultz, Bill Ward, William Patrick Maynard, Brian Murphy, Howard Andrew Jones, Barbra Barrett and more have written about Howard and his works under the Black Gate banner.

And the respect and love of Howard’s work has only increased over the past few years. All with the standard Black Gate quality. For the third year in a row, there is a solid Black Gate presence on the Robert E. Howard Foundation Preliminary Awards List. Our nominees for 2018:

The Cimmerian—Outstanding Achievement, Essay (Online)

(Essays must have made their first public published appearance in the previous calendar year and be substantive scholarly essays on the life and/or work of REH. Short blog posts, speeches, reviews, trip reports, and other minor works do not count.)

BOB BYRNE – “Robert E. Howard Wrote a Police Procedural? With Conan?? Crom!!!”

JAMES McGLOTHLIN – “A Tale of Two Robert E. Howard Biographies”

M. HAROLD PAGE – “Why Isn’t Conan a Mary Sue?”

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Doubling Down, or Just How Bad Are Ace Doubles, Anyway?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

The World of Null-A-small Universe Maker-small

Ace Double D-31: The World of Null-A (cover by Stanley Meltzoff)
paired with Universe Maker (cover by Paul Orban)

Just so you know where I stand, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat — I love Ace Doubles (and if you don’t know what an Ace Double is, are you ever in the wrong place. You should immediately go to Slate or HelloGiggles or Shia LaBeouf.com or somewhere, anywhere else or risk irreversible contamination. You’ve been warned.) I’ve loved them ever since the first time I laid eyes on one, in the thrift store that was around the corner from my middle school. The day I pulled the dual volume of A.E. Van Vogt’s The World of Null-A and Universe Maker (D-31) off the dusty shelf, I fell and fell hard; my lunch money never had a chance. I have a lot of reasons for loving these books, some of which have nothing to do with the quality of the writing found between their gaudy covers, and a good thing too, but we’ll get to that. First, though, the looooove.

To begin with, I love them for those aforementioned gaudy covers, and why not? For twenty years, from 1953 to 1973, from D-31 to 93900 (mastering the Doubles numbering system is an arcane science in itself, especially the legendarily convoluted final five-digit series), artists like Ed Emshwiller, Kelly Freas, George Barr, Jack Gaughan, Gray Morrow, Ed Valigursky and many others poured forth a stream of wonderful images that amount to a romp in a candy shop of pulp science fiction props: mutants, ray guns, futuristic metropolises, bug eyed monsters, alien armadas, hostile planets, a-bomb shattered landscapes, femmes in danger, dangerous femmes, space stations, super-submarines, time machines, jut-jawed heroes in bubble-helmeted spacesuits, robots, domed cities… and, of course, spaceships, spaceships, spaceships! What, I ask you, is there not to love about that?

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Greco-Roman Treasures in the Egyptian Museum

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Mummy portrait from the 2nd century AD
of two brothers who appear to have died together

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is an addictive place. On my two writing retreats in Egypt last year I found myself returning again and again. The collections are so vast, the displays so stunning, that no matter how many times you go you always find something that bowls you over.

Much of the museum is laid out chronologically, from the predynastic era all the way up to the Greco-Roman period (332 BC – 395 AD). This last period of ancient Egypt is often overlooked except for the famous mummy portraits like the one pictured above, lifelike paintings of the deceased. The rest of the art from this time is less compelling. Some of it is overdone, almost cartoonish, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Here’s a small sample of what the museum had to offer.

I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. The Egyptian Museum is poorly lit and many of the cases are dirty, making good photography difficult. Hope you enjoy them anyway!

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A Demanding Work that Sings all the Stronger in 2018: The Queen of Air and Darkness by T.H. White

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 | Posted by markrigney

The Witch in the Wood-small The Witch in the Wood-back-small

In my early teens, I discovered and devoured T.H. White’s omnibus quartet of novels, The Once and Future King. The first and most child-like remains the best known: The Sword in the Stone. After this, and unjustly neglected (by Disney and the world in general), come The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle In the Wind.

In my later teen years, I concluded that The Once and Future King, taken as a whole, was the single best novel I had ever read. Having reached the ripe old age of fifty, it’s time to re-evaluate. Is White’s work still worth its weight in gold?

Perhaps you recall Book One, in which the young King Arthur, known affectionately as the Wart, meets Merlyn, gambols through a lifetime’s worth of transformational adventures, and draws a certain sword from a stone. Hysterically funny, dreamy and given to long flights of fancy about hawks and birds, The Once and Future King still works genuine magic, even when its digressions and mood swings threaten to topple the whole everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink mess into a stew of narrative anarchy.

In short, it’s a full meal and then some, and I, along with fantasy lovers the world over, adore it still. (Ursula K. LeGuin, R.I.P., lent her opinion to one edition’s jacket copy, saying, “I have laughed at White’s great Arthurian novel and cried over it and loved it all my life.”) Yet, many seem unaware that the cycle, tracing Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, continues.

Book Two began life as The Witch in the Wood, and arrived in print in 1939, just as the world fell off a precipice it hadn’t seen coming, and descended into a darkness from which it is still fighting to recover. Revised and expanded, The Witch in the Wood became The Queen of Air and Darkness, and no book better upholds the argument for valuing a work as the sum of its discordant parts.

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Exploring the Tomb of Idu at Giza

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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The rather unobtrusive entrance to the tomb. Like most
mastabas, its superstructure has disappeared over time.

Put on your pith helmets, Black Gate readers, because today we’re going into an ancient Egyptian tomb!

This tomb, on the Giza plateau, was built for Idu, an inspector of priests of the pharaohs Khufu and Khafre and overseer of scribes. Idu made sure the rites and rituals in honor of the departed pharaohs were done properly, and that the priests had all the equipment they needed. Idu lived in the VI Dynasty, probably during the reign of Pepi I (2332-2283 BC), a couple of hundred years after the death of these two important pharaohs. The most prominent Egyptian pharaohs had cults that lasted centuries.

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Results of a Writing Retreat in Cairo

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Obligatory pyramid shot

Hello, Black Gaters! I’m back after a month’s silence, and my silence on here usually means I’m drunk I’ve gone off somewhere. This time I spent three weeks in Cairo on my second writing retreat of the year.

During my previous Cairo retreat back in February, I started The Case of the Purloined Pyramid, the first in my neo-pulp detective series The Masked Man of Cairo. It’s set in Cairo in 1919, with the hero trying to solve a murder while the city is convulsed with its first major independence demonstrations. That book recently won the Kindle Scout program and is being published by Kindle Press on January 9. This time around I worked on the next in the series, The Case of the Shifting Sarcophagus.

So what does a wandering writer do when he goes to Cairo to write a novel? Try desperately hard not to let his research take too much time away from his writing!

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Simulations Publications Inc: The TSR Incursion

Monday, December 4th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Around the end of 1981, brothers Kevin and Brian Blume wrested control of TSR away from founder Gary Gygax. The company would change dramatically under their leadership, until Gygax returned from his west coast exile in 1984 and (briefly) reclaimed his company. One ‘Blume Incident’ from 1982 is a pretty good example of the way they did things.

In 1958, Avalon Hill was formed, creating the modern wargaming industry, out of which role playing games grew. In 1969, James Dunnigan created Simulations Publications, Inc. — to be known as SPI — with Redmond Simenson as co-founder. He started the company to save an existing wargaming fanzine, Chris Wagner’s Strategy & Tactics, which was in a precarious financial state. Simenson was the graphic designer for the magazine and a huge part of its success. For the princely sum of $1 (yes, you read that right), SPI took on Strategy and Tactics and made it the industry’s leading newsletter, starting with the September, 1969 issue.

Strategy & Tactics would include a new wargame in every single issue from then through the current one, which is remarkable. With the popularity of the magazine, SPI also became Avalon Hill’s major competitor in the wargaming market and enjoyed great success in the seventies. Things were good. Then, as for JFK, came Dallas. Okay, not quite.

Dunnigan’s Dallas: The Television Roleplaying Game, was a licensed product, intended to cash in on the massively successful show. My first thought is to wonder how many Dallas fans wanted to play an RPG — apparently not many. It was a disaster. Simonsen commented that they produced “80,000 copies and that was 79,999 too many.”

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Off on Another Writing Retreat in Cairo

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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The title of this post is a not-so-clever way to say I’m taking the month of December off from blogging. Back in February, I spent a few weeks in Egypt writing my neo-pulp detective novel The Case of the Purloined Pyramid, which recently won the Kindle Scout contest. It’s coming out soon and I’m using part of my advance to head on back to Cairo to write the next one, The Case of the Shifting Sarcophagus.

I’ll be seeing friends, hopefully making new ones, helping a colleague with his fascinating book proposal, and visiting some sights. Mostly I’ll be wandering around the old medieval neighborhood, where one of my heroes has his antiquities shop. Nothing like walking the actual streets to get the old brain pan bubbling!

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Spanish Castle Magic, Part Four

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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One of the best things about living in Spain is being able to visit the many castles that dot the landscape. Actually it’s the food and wine and relatively low cost of living, but the castles are nice too. Not far from Madrid is the Castillo de Manzanares El Real. It was built in 1475 by the I Duque del Infantado, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, and is billed as one of the “jewels of Spain.”

The castle replaced a smaller and less elegant castle in town, and was constructed as both a fortification and a residence. The choice of construction was a bit outmoded, as artillery was already making fortifications such as this one ineffective. Fortunately for the duke, it was never attacked and in fact the family only lived there until 1530.

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Piracy: It’s the Creative Ecosystem that Matters

Friday, November 10th, 2017 | Posted by M Harold Page

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Jack Campbell: “…a few hundred more of less sales can mean the difference between a new contract and being cut loose.”

finntroll

“Oh, you streamed it, did you? Well #### you, sir. #### you.”

“Who has the new album?” asks the lead singer of Finntroll, a rather wonderful Viking Metal band (*).

One of the fans yells out something incomprehensible.

“Oh, you streamed it, did you?” responds the singer. “Well #### you, sir. #### you.”

Which seems fitting, because when you pirate an artist’s work, it feels like you’re saying a big, “#### you!” to the artist.

For that reason alone, can I suggest that you click through to Change.org and sign the petition to ask Google to do something about ebook piracy. If Google can hide results for legal reasons (*), then it can also start hiding the pirate sites.

Of course, my plea opens a can of worms.

Whenever ebook piracy comes up, people leap in to provide (self) justifications ranging from pseudo economic or political victim-blaming through to rhetorical sleight of hand. The same arguments could be used to justify, for example, blatant commercial cultural apparition, big players pirating indy jewelry designs, and the hacking and passing around of the very private pictures of celebs. It’s a pointless debate because really there’s an underlying unspoken, “‘#### you”. (Feel free to discuss this in the comments, but count me out.)

Usually, the pro-piracy advocate then appends, “Besides, anyway, it doesn’t do any harm.” That’s what I want to talk about here, because in all the kerfuffle about ethics, people tend to lose track of the effect on the creative ecosystem.

A post by Joanna Penn spells two arguments:  Serious readers prefer to buy books rather than download stolen copies, and some authors use piracy as a marketing strategy. I’ve also heard on good authority that most pirated books aren’t actually lost sales because they are never read – there’s a culture of… odd people hoarding and sharing.

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