Analog Science Fiction, January/February 2020, Moby Dick, a Side-Quest, and HP Lovecraft

Sunday, September 20th, 2020 | Posted by Adrian Simmons


Part One: Analog

Back in the Before Times, I strolled, maskless and blissful, into Barnes and Noble and bought the Analog Science Fiction, January/February 2020 issue. It is a super-sized double issue with a reprint of a classic story from the 90s. I’ve read it in bits and pieces over the months and one tale stuck out at me — the cover story: “The Quest for the Great Gray Mossy” by Harry Turtledove.

Turtledove mines the classics with an enviable lack of shame in this Moby Dick pastiche. Is it even a pastiche? It is more of an abridged version, but with dinosaurs. Imagine if you had a test due on Moby Dick, but by some outlandish set of coincidences you lacked internet access and couldn’t even get your hands on an old copy of the Cliff Notes — hitting this story the night before would ensure you’d manage the test fine.

Honestly, while there wasn’t anything wrong with the story, it didn’t bring anything new to it, either. I mean, outside of the fact that they are dinosaurs.

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A Woman as President?

Sunday, August 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John-Henri Holmberg

Eclipse John Shirley-small Mike Resnick Alternate Presidentss-small Allen Steele Coyote-small

Eclipse by John Shirey (Questar/Popular Library, 1987), Alternate Presidents edited by Mike Resnick (Tor, 1992),
Coyote by Allen Steele (Ace, 2002). Covers by Joe DeVito, Barclay Shaw and Ron Miller

“It’s rigged,” said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump four years ago. What was? Everything. The system, the primaries, the TV debates, the media. And probably even the election itself.

His view, of course, was and remains that it’s all rigged against a hard-working, self-made billionaire who started out with two empty hands (and a small loan of $14 million from daddy – and this was more than 45 years ago, so consider inflation). But if you look at another aspect, that of general expectations, you might find a different kind of rigging.

So far, no woman has been president of the United States. Consequently, no historical or contemporary realistic fiction has portrayed a female President. But since science fiction is reality-based speculation, and since women make up a little over half of humanity, it would seem reasonable to expect at least some writers to write about possible futures, or alternate pasts and presents, where women inhabit the White House.

But in fact, such speculations have been few and far between. Kristin Lillvis (in “Take Me to Your Lady Leader,” in New Ohio Review #20, 2016) suggests that the first example of an imagined woman president may be found in C. L. Moore’s “Greater Than Gods,” in Astounding, July 1939. Moore’s story is basically about gender stereotypes: her protagonist, Bill Corey, considers which of two women to marry and visits the two possible alternate futures that would result from this decision. One of them is a patriarchal, technologically advanced but militaristic society of blind obedience to strong leaders; the other a matriarchal society with a succession of female presidents (though the first elected no earlier than around 2300), peaceful and comforting but also static and stagnant. “Women as a sex are not scientists, not inventors, not mechanics or engineers or architects,” the story says. And Moore lets her hero marry a third woman, who will add balance and reason to his own limitless ambition, and so give rise to a more diverse future.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar’

Monday, July 6th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Powell as Phlip Marlowe

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Dick Powell was Johnny Dollar? Well, no, not exactly. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, was a very successful radio show, which ran for over 800 episodes, covering thirteen years. It easily outlasted many competing programs, such as The Adventures of Sam Spade, and The (New) Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Dollar was “the insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account,” though he started out as more of a typical private eye. Which can also be said of Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer, Perry Mason.

In December of 1948, Dick Powell auditioned for the new show, recording the episode Milford Brooks III. With movies such as 1944’s Murder My Sweet, and 1947’s Johnny O’Clock, the popular song-and-dance man had carved out a niche as an unlikely hardboiled star. He’s actually my favorite movie Marlowe, and I wrote about Johnny O’Clock here at Black Gate. Here’s the episode, for your listening pleasure.

He had also spent the previous two years as Richard Rogue in the rather unusual PI radio show, Rogue’s Gallery. Like many shows of the time, Rogue’s Gallery had a lack of stability in network, time slot and even renewal, and Powell left after 1947, replaced by Barry Sullivan. This left him available to try out for Johnny Dollar. The original title was Yours Truly, Lloyd London, but was presumably changed to avoid trouble with the well-known insurance company.

However, it appears that Powell decided to pass on the part to pursue a different radio opportunity; Richard Diamond, Private Eye (another of my favorites). So, actor Charles Russell was given the part. This essay is going to talk mostly about Powell’s audition, but will go beyond that focus.

In this earliest incarnation, Powell plays a somewhat light-hearted version of Dollar, though he’s still more of a typical private eye than a distinctive insurance investigator. His witty patter is consistent throughout, and he even hums ‘Slow Boat to China;’ a tip of the fedora to his Hollywood musical background. In fact, Powell comes across as pretty similar to his next part, Richard Diamond.

Early on, a young man he’s dealing with bites him, which later lets Dollar make a cryptic comment that “Let’s just say, he put the bite on me.” That comes just after saying, “That kid’s liquor sure can hold him.” Very much like Diamond, Powell’s Dollar is quick with a quip. Which is fine. But it’s more prevalent here than it would be with other actors in the role.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: It’s a Hardboiled June on TCM

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Sheridan_Solo“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Coming off of Edward G. Robinson as the May Star of the Month on TCM, June is Ann Sheridan Month. The ‘Oomph Girl’ appeared in several hardboiled/noir/crime movies, so we’ll tell you some movies to look for.

Every Tuesday, there is a batch of Sheridan movies, and things kicked off June 1st, with eight flicks, including two Bogart movies: Black Legion, and The Great O’Malley. But the past is prologue.

Now, all of these films can be streamed live on Watch TCM if you get Turner Classic via your cable company. But even if you don’t, most of them can be viewed for at least one week after airing on WatchTCM. Some, like Casablanca, don’t get put up. I assume it’s to help sell mover DVDs. But most do. So, if you miss a movie, you can watch it via the app, or the website.

Having laid all of that out, let’s take a look at some of the June films, all EST:

June 2 (look for on Watch TCM)

8:00 PM – Black Legion

A 1937 ‘social cause’ movie. It’s based on the real-life Black Legion, which was a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan. Humphrey Bogart is a factory worker with seniority who gets passed over by a smarter, harder-working foreigner. And ends up joining the hate group. It was a strong performance by Bogart, who was just being forced by Warners to crank out B-movies (this was four years before High Sierra). Sheridan is fourth-billed and is really only the third main female. The speech from the judge at the end is as heavy-handed propaganda as you’ll run across in a Bogart film. Worth a watch.

9:30 PM – Dodge City

This is a big budget western, starring the swashbuckling Errol Flynn. Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) directed, with a great musical score by Max Steiner. One of my favorite comic supporting actors, Frank McHugh, is here, as Sheridan plays female second banana to Olivia de Haviland. This movie features a heck of a bar room brawl, and the cast is solid. There was an unrelated follow-up with Flynn, Virginia City. Which included Bogart as a Mexican raider with a cheesy mustache.

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Breaking News: HBO’s The Plot Against America Parts 4-6

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020 | Posted by James Enge


The story so far: in this tale of an alternate America, based on a pseudo-memoir written by Philip Roth, anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh was elected president in 1940, keeping the USA out of the war in its darkest hours and inaugurating a scary time for American Jews, especially 9-year-old Philip Levin (Azhy Robertson).

Feelings about the Lindbergh administration vary through America’s Jewish community. For some, like Rabbi Bengelsdorf (John Tuturro) and his new bride Evelyn (Winona Ryder), it’s an opportunity for social climbing and collaboration. To some, like young Sandy Levin (Caleb Malis), Lindbergh is a hero and any concerns to the contrary come from ignorant frightened “ghetto Jews” — like his parents. For some, like Philip’s overbearing Uncle Monty (David Krumholz), business is good; the nation is at peace; there are worse things than President Lindbergh.

Others (young Philip’s parents, played by Morgan Spector and Zoe Kazan, and his cousin Alvin, played by Anthony Boyle) are intent on resisting the tide of anti-Semitism rising in America and the rest of the world. But, tragically, they can’t agree on what should be done and end up fighting with each other as much or more than with the real enemy.

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“Authenticity” in Sword & Sorcery Fiction

Thursday, March 12th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Gabe S&S-small

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

These days, in intersection with my Conan gaming (I enjoy both Monolith’s board game and Modiphius’s roleplaying game), I have been reading a lot of two things: weird fiction from the turn of last century into, maybe, the 1940s; and sword & sorcery — anything that, on its cover, features a muscled male wielding medieval weaponry — predominantly from the ‘70s or ‘80s. (This latter does the double duty of encouraging me to work out.)

As is to be expected, these works offer various levels of quality. Early-last-century weird fiction is in a class of its own, and, though writers of that era freely borrowed tropes, themes and elements from each other (they very much appear to have been in conversation, literally or otherwise), the form of the weird tale is not as calcified as that of sword & sorcery appears to be by the ‘80s. Even within this latter’s straitjacket, however, I have encountered some standouts, including John Dalmas’s The Orc Wars (beginning with The Yngling, 1971), Gordon Dickson’s and Roland Green’s Jamie the Red (an unofficial Thieves’ World novel, 1984), and John Maddox Robert’s The King of the Wood (1983). Why I like these is for the reasons that one would like any work of fiction, of course, but with one addition: they present a sense of verisimilitude. I should add here, for anyone who might not be privy to how sword & sorcery is supposed to be subdivided from its parent genre of fantasy, that sword & sorcery is supposed to be more “realistic.” The world presented in such tales is premodern. Life is hard. The cultures do not have our present technology (nor magic — magic, in this subgenre, if not “low,” is rare and mysterious and terrifying and usually very, very “wrong”) with which to ease the drudgery of existence. In other words, the characters in such stories live in the way that folks in the Middle Ages lived, possibly in the way that many of our grandparents or great-grandparents lived, if they were homesteading somewhere.

This is why I no longer write sword & sorcery. I am a city boy. I am modern. I have no idea what “real life” is like. And yet I somehow have enough of one to know — intuitively or otherwise — when a writer knows even less than I do. To catalog the many errors of some of our most famous current fantasy writers is outside of the scope of these observations, but I’ll point to the occasion that spurred me finally to write on this topic here.

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Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part II

Monday, February 3rd, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

2A - Hatsune_Miku_a001_feature_prm

In Part I of this 3-part series, we looked at how the concept of the Virtual Idol first emerged in anime during the 1980s, featuring some of the more popular storylines and prominent idols to make an appearance in this genre, a phenomenon which could be seen as the precursor to an eventual reality where technology would let them enter our lives more directly. This is the reality that unfolds before us now!

As we enter the digital age, the possibilities open up considerably. Idols can go beyond just appearing in a futuristic context — and actually manifest as creations on our own computers!! The giant leap forward comes with the arrival of a line of software products called Vocaloids. Created by Crypton Future Media, and using technology developed by musical equipment giant Yamaha, a Vocaloid is a type of speech synthesis program which converts words and melodies designated by the user into an electronic singing voice.

There are some parameters for tweaking the sound, but for the most part each version of the program is based on one specific voice, and is tied to a related character avatar representing the singer. The first two major entries in the series featured a female singer named Meiko, along with her male counterpart Kaito. They remained somewhat obscure for most people though, at least in the beginning. It was the next entry, the first in the newer ‘Vocaloid2’ line, who was to become the star that would launch a massive cultural revolution in Japanese music — the virtual idol known as Hatsune Miku!!

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Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part I

Saturday, January 25th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

1A - Mayu Watanabe - Hikaru Monotachi (BQ)-small

The concept of ‘Virtual Idols’ that I’m looking to describe here is something of a slippery and multi-faceted notion — not unlike the culture that surrounds their real-life counterparts, to a large degree! The elements form a sort of loose meshwork of overlapping scenes, which often intersect and change as they progress.

So, am I basically attempting to define the indefinable here? Perhaps! There are certain recurring themes which connect a lot of it together, so I’ll keep those things in mind as I sketch out my ongoing exploration… and with any luck, that should be enough to make it all clear.

While there are theoretically no limits where we could go with this, it’s also something very much tied to one location — and yes, it’s exactly where you expect: the nation of Japan. But before we can fully understand this phenomenon of Japanese virtual idols, we first need to get acquainted with non-virtual idols, which form such a major part of pop music culture there. That can be a bit challenging in itself, actually! While not entirely different from pop idols in other parts of the world, the term ‘Idol’ has a much more specific usage and cultural history within Japan. There are various degrees of being an idol performer as well, as the context has evolved somewhat over time… which can be confusing for newcomers, or for those who follow just one aspect of overall fandom. I’ll try to make it clearer as I go, but suffice to say that being an idol definitely involves more than simply being a singer of pop music, in Japan!

First, let’s try to very briefly pin down a few of the most important qualities of an idol.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Monday, January 20th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.


I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.


John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: December/2019

Monday, December 16th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Oden_MenBronzeEDITED“What have I been reading lately, you ask?” Oh. You didn’t say that. Well, I’m going to tell you anyways.  When I ‘get into’ something, I jump in full-bore for a short time: up way past my elbows. That’s how most of my series’ here at Black Gate start. Fortunately, I can be reading a couple different books simultaneously, and I also listen to audiobooks to help cover more ground (though I ALWAYS prefer reading to listening).


And I recently went on a short Sword and Sandals kick. Scott Oden and I have become friends through our mutual love of Robert E. Howard: he did the “Devil in Iron” entry for Hither Came Conan. I grabbed the digital version of Men of Bronze (a STEAL at $3.99!). It’s historical fiction (non-fantasy) set in 529 BC in ancient Egypt. It’s near the end of the time of the Pharaohs and Egypt is trying to hold off the encroaching Persian Empire. As is often the case with faltering empires, it is relying heavily on mercenaries to keep order.

Hasdrabal Barca is the protagonist; the deadliest mercenary of them all, leading the fight to stop the betrayal of Greek mercenaries, and the ambitious Persians. I had trouble keeping the various names straight, but I very much liked this book. It’s got a grand sweep, and I love Scott’s depiction of Egypt. There’s a rough scene early on, but fortunately, that not the norm for the rest of the book. Much recommended. I also bought his Greek historical novel, Memnon, at the same time (same price). It’s on my massive To Read list.


Of course, I couldn’t just read one book of a type, and move on. That’s not me! Howard Andrew Jones was Black Gate’s first Managing Editor (a post recently assumed by Seth Lindberg) and is currently receiving rave reviews for his epic fantasy, The Ring-Sworn Trilogy. I had not yet read his two fantasy Sword and Sorcery novels, featuring the wise and learned scholar Dabir and the brave man of action, Asim (I was not totally unfamiliar with them – more on that below).

So, I got the audiobook for Desert of Souls, the first novel. The adventures take place in a fantasy-real version of Arabia, with sorcery and monsters. And there’s a Robert E. Howard Easter Egg near the end. I like the main characters, and their world, so I have started on the audio book of Bones of the Old Ones.

I had already read The Waters of Eternity; a collection of six short stories featuring the two men. I re-read it, and I actually prefer it to the novels. They are really mysteries, set in that fantasy Arabia. I like the mix of fantasy and detective work, and also the shorter length. You should check them out.


For months, I have been listening repeatedly, to an audiobook of the five Max Latin short stories. I simply never get tired of them. The woefully under-appreciated Davis, who I wrote about last week, as well as last year, is on my Harboiled Mt. Rushmore. And the stories about the not-as-crooked-as-he-pretends Latin are the best of the bunch. I listen and read them throughout the year.

I also picked up volumes one and two of The Complete Cases of Bail Bond Dodd, the first series character that Davis created for Dime Detective Magazine. The Dodd and Latin collections are from Steeger Books. You should be reading some Davis.

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