Dave Gross on Pitching and Pinching

Sunday, June 21st, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pathfinder Tales Lord of Runes-smallYou know, of course, we love us some Pathfinder (the role playing game, not the Viking-American Indian movie) here at Black Gate. And I don’t just say that because Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones has written two novels (with a third coming in October) for their excellent fiction line, Pathfinder Tales.

There have been 30 novels in the series so far. The first (Prince of Wolves), the most recent (The Lord of Runes) and three in between (Master of Devils, Queen of Thorns, King of Chaos) have come from the prolific pen of Dave Gross.

With his tales of half-elven Pathfinder Varian Jeggare and his devil-blooded bodyguard Radovan, Gross has successfully blended the fantasy and mystery genres. Dave has taken some time out of his busy schedule to share some thoughts. Of course, I love the ‘Holmes and Watson’ references.

You can find more info on the Pathfinder Tales line here, including free web fiction. And here’s a link to some Black Gate coverage of the line, including The Lord of Runes. Check out the fine fantasy writing that’s taking place in Pathfinder’s world of Golarion. Take it away, Dave…


As a writer, I hate throwing what Hollywood calls elevator pitches — you know, those snappy “X meets Y” descriptions of a screenplay. We do the same thing in publishing, often still referencing movies rather than books. “It’s Star Wars meets Sixteen Candles,” or “Ocean’s Eleven meets Ghostbusters,” or “Casablanca with orcs as the Nazis.”

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The Camera Can Lie: FairyTale: A True Story

Monday, June 8th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Cottingley FairiesNews flash: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, having created literature’s greatest rationalist in the form of Sherlock Holmes, spent his later years heavily invested in the occult, the supernatural, and the possible existence of (yes) fairies.

Of course, people have always evinced a desire to believe — sometimes in this, sometimes in that — and so it is perhaps not so surprising that Conan Doyle played a large role in one of history’s great photographic deceptions, that of the so-called Cottingley Fairies.

In fact, he was one of those most willing to champion the trumped-up, cheap-looking fakes (black and white stills of young girls posing in shrubbery with paper cut-outs of highly Romanticized winged fairies) His role in this debacle (the girls only recanted decades later) is the subject of a FairyTale: A True Story (1997), a film well worth revisiting given our drone-happy, GPS-driven, target-rich world.

You see where I’m going with this, yes? Given our present era of photo manipulation and computer generated graphics, our collective ability to dupe the unwary has never been greater, and just like statistics, images lie.

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A Modest Proposal to Improve the Hugos

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

The Hugo AwardIn thinking about the recent unpleasantness (regarding the Hugo ballot, I mean), it occurred to me that one source of the issues with the Hugos right now has nothing much to do with slates or bloc voting or Sad Puppies or Social Justice Warriors or even taste (that much). It is simply this: there are a lot more SF stories published now than there were in the past. That makes it really hard for any reader to even come close to reading them all – something that was quite possible, I am told, back in the 1960s. I can testify: I used to try very hard to read every SF story that came my way, and there were years I read over 2000 stories. And every year I missed hundreds, at least, and some of those very good.

In a way this is one function of ballots and shortlists (and, indeed, recommendation lists): to try to condense the mass of stories published each year to a manageable set of the “the best.” My Best of the Year anthology every year serves that function (secondarily – the main function is to give readers a great book to read). So does, for instance, the Locus Recommended Reading list. But even there, note that our lists are by no means inclusive. Indeed, I signal that (as do other Best of the Year editors like Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow) by including a long list or recommended stories in addition to those in my book. And the Locus list is painstakingly cut from a much longer list of recommendations by all the contributors – a list that highlights the problem I cite, as all of us realize that our fellow recommenders have seen outstanding stories we have missed.

Though, I ask myself, why do I use the word “problem?” Surely it is a feature, not a bug, that there are so many stories published each year that are worthy of our attention? Indeed it is, but a result of that, I feel, is that if we want the Hugos to represent the very best stories of the year, we are failing, in the sense that it’s easier than before for a great story to slip under the radar.

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Adventures in RPGs: Long Arc or Short Arc?

Monday, May 11th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Scan 11AD&D carried me from middle school right through college, and about seventy-five percent of the time, I wound up as the referee. The core group with whom I played continued right on getting together for another fifteen years or so after graduation, engaging in annual reunions all over the country.

And I kept right on refereeing. After all, I had unfinished stories to “tell.” These story arcs played out over weeks, months, semesters, and then years. Many remain unfinished to this day. In the main, the rest of the group enjoyed my epic, often convoluted approach. For better or for worse, we weren’t much for hack-and-slash, in-and-out heroism.

Or were we? I’ll never forget Eric S. musing, as one reunion year wound down, that it sure would be nice if for once we could storm the castle, rescue the maiden, and be done.

His wistful comment stemmed in part from my having that very year posed a variant on that longed-for maiden-in-the-tower paternalistic standby: Orcus hired the party to rescue a damsel in distress, but this particular blushing violet turned out to be a truly enormous, deformed frog that had to be kissed in order to… well. Let’s just say there aren’t enough kisses in creation to make the wife of Orcus any more desirable.

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Adventures In Near-Future Sci-Fi: Black Mirror

Monday, April 27th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Black Mirror White BearI don’t watch television. Or not, let’s say, broadcast television. Since the first X-Files video tape showed up, I have, instead, binge-watched episodic TV in irregular, spasmodic doses via VHS, DVD, and Netflix. I watch with my wife, and we’re not (to the shows) faithful: if a particular series bores us, we move on. Even Breaking Bad, after three seasons, felt like a joke gone on too long.

But Black Mirror. Holy cats!

It’s the best sci-fi you’ve never heard of.

A British show made for Channel Four, Black Mirror is the brainchild of one Charlie Brooker — whom you haven’t heard of, either. The series aired in the UK from 2011 through 2013. Based on that time span, you’d think it was a fabulous success spanning dozens of episodes. Only half true. Black Mirror consists of six shows total (plus a 2014 “Christmas Special,” which I have yet to see), and each is self-contained, a hermetic “What If?” often compared to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. The reference is not especially apt, but like Velcro and old chewing gum, it’s a label that seems to have stuck.

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Why I Was So, So Wrong about the Standard Fantasy Setting

Saturday, April 11th, 2015 | Posted by Connor Gormley

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate-smallSo I wrote a stonking great think piece thing about the Standard Fantasy Setting a while back and a lot of people read it. Some of those people liked it and some of those people didn’t; that’s fine, it’s got to the point where I only cry for fifteen minutes when someone criticizes me now.

The problem is, though, the more I think about it, the more I think about the points I made, the more I find myself in the latter camp, the more I catch myself bad-mouthing me behind my back and trying to suffocate me in my sleep. That’s a very bad thing when you’re a bona-fide messiah, chosen by the gods to lead the masses to enlightenment.

So yeah, I thought I’d write this follow-up post, explaining what was wrong with the article and to set the record straight. It’s more for me than anyone else… mostly because, goddammit, no one criticizes Connor Gormley better than Connor Gormley does.

I had good intentions at the start, yeah. It was going to be a much more balanced look at the standard fantasy setting, its pros and cons and a pretty mild critique; and you can still see elements of that initial idea kicking around in there, in what I actually said about the setting. The fact that it lets authors focus on narrative pacing, on character development, or outright, balls-to-the-mothertrucking walls action if they want, without having to worry about world building or introducing entirely new creations because most readers already know the characteristics of Elves, Dwarves and Orcs and what not, or at least the nature of a medieval-ish society. Michael Moorcock might be able to meet the compromise, yeah, but Michael Moorcock is essentially Jesus, so I don’t think it’s fair to count him (which, renders half of the article moot, anyway).

Where the problems arose was when I started spouting out things like “A genre that, by its very nature, should have no restrictions, that should be free of limitations and impossible to define has become one of the most rigid and easily distinguishable genres in our modern spectrum.”

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A Detailed Explanation

Saturday, April 4th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Hugo Award Black GateThis is going to come out at some point, so I might as well say it here and now: I declined a Hugo nomination for this year’s Best Fan Writer award. I think it’s only fair to the people who voted for me to say why. Be warned, this is going to take a while. (And long-time readers of mine around these parts know that coming from me, that really means something.)

Firstly, given the nature of this post and the scrutiny that surrounds a major award, I should probably introduce myself. Hi. I’m Matthew David Surridge, a Montreal-area writer. I had a couple of longish short stories published a few years ago, one in the paper version of Black Gate and one at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I’ve been fighting some minor but debilitating illnesses for a while which have kept me from writing fiction, but luckily reading and thinking about books is still within my power, and so I’ve been blogging here at Blackgate.com since 2010.

I mostly write about books I’ve recently enjoyed. In 2014, that included posts about surrealist Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, Elizabeth Hand’s Bride of Frankenstein tie-in novel Pandora’s Bride, a collection of short stories by Violet Paget AKA Vernon Lee, Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the medieval tales in the Gesta Romanorum, Mary Gentle’s The Black Opera, Stella Gemmell’s The City, V.E. Schwab’s Vicious, Olga Slavnikova’s 2017, Jan Morris’ wonderful Hav, Phyllis Ann Karr’s Wildraith’s Last Battle, Steven Bauer’s Satyrday, the Harlan Ellison–edited shared-world anthology Medea, Pat Murphy’s three ‘Max Merriwell’ novels (There And Back Again, Wild Angel, and Adventures in Time and Space With Max Merriwell), Sylvia Townsend Warner’s debut novel Lolly Willowes, E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros and Zimiamvia trilogy, and Patricia A. McKillip’s The Changeling Sea. I also often write about comics, and last year I discussed the Steve Ditko/Wally Wood/Paul Levitz run of Stalker from the 1970s; the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Hugo-winning Saga; Alan Moore, Antony Johnston, and Facundo Percio’s Fashion Beast; and Sage Stossel’s Starling.

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Adventures In Italy: Calvino’s Italian Folktales

Monday, March 30th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Blue FolktalesI grew up on Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and the myriad anthologies of Andrew Lang: The Blue Book Of Fairy Tales, The Brown Book Of Fairy Tales, The Red Book Of Fairy Tales, etc. Most of these were read aloud by my father, so I received them as part of humanity’s long oral tradition, a fact for which I am now very grateful. Aesop, too, arrived in my life as something overheard rather than read.

All of the above work shared a common heritage. In fact, prior to high school at least, they led me to believe that fairy tales were specific to Europe, something vaguely Nordic, and familiar to the degree that the characters within the stories were uniformly white and spoke English. Who knows when it finally occurred to me that these stories were translated, and that many had international sources that transcended culture, race, and geography.

By 1980, when Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales finally arrived in an English-language edition (translated by George Martin), I was moving into different myths: Tolkien, certainly, but also the grittier, street-savvy story-telling of S.E. Hinton, Robert Cormier, and early Bruce Springsteen. The publication of Italian Folktales made not a ripple in my life. Indeed, I eventually read several other Calvino classics (If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler…, The Baron In the Trees, and The Non-Existent Knight) before realizing his omnibus folktales even existed.

It took me another ten years to order a copy and crack the covers, and ten more still to really delve into this enormous, 760 page trade paperback (Harcourt). What finally tipped me over the edge was the need for a new book to read to my adventure-obsessed youngest son.

At the outset, I admit to being worried that Calvino might not be a hit.

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Representations of the Amazon in Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet and in DC’s Wonder Woman

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Legolas_portrait_-_EmpireMagBut first, I’d like to ask readers a very important question:

Do Tolkien’s Elves have pointy ears?

This came up after my last post, in which I wondered why Anderson and Tolkien (and many other fantasy writers) agree that elves are tall and have pointy ears. After reading this, Frederic S. Durbin contacted me to say,

Does Tolkien ever say that the elves have pointed ears? To my knowledge, he never does. Please correct me if I’m wrong! This is a bone I had to pick a few years back, when some writer somewhere described hobbits as having “hairy toes and pointed ears.” I think this misconception about Tolkien’s elves and hobbits has come from artwork. Artists need to have a way of making magical races look different from humans, so they go for the ears. We need Spock to look different from humans in a cheap and easily-reproducible way from day to day in the studio, so we give him pointed ears. People have been seeing illustrations of pointy-eared elves and hobbits for so long that they’ve begun to believe Tolkien described them that way. I don’t think it’s true. (Again, I’m willing to stand corrected if someone shows me a passage!)

So there you have it, folks! Please help! Is there a passage anywhere in Tolkien’s writings that suggest that Elves (or even Hobbits) have pointy ears?

And now let’s turn our attention to Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet.

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Adventures In History: George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman

Monday, March 9th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

First FlashmanA few months back, I was (ever so gently) castigated for not giving proper credit to the screenwriter of the Michael York / Oliver Reed rendition of The Three Musketeers. That man was George MacDonald Fraser, he who wrote the Flashman books, a series into which I had never delved.

That has now been corrected, and just in time, too: no lesser a light than Ridley Scott (Alien; Blade Runner) is developing a reboot of Flashman with 20th Century Fox. As the fool on the hill once opined, everything old is new.

So let’s set aside fantasy for just a moment and allow for historical action-adventure as a sideline of the vast cultural behemoth that is now Black Gate. Swords, after all, form a big part of heroic fantasy, and in Flashman (first published in 1969, never out of print), swords of many types are on display and put to use. Lances, too. Plus primitive rifles, dueling pistols, and cannons.

The only thing missing? The heroism of our anti-hero, Harry Paget Flashman. He’s a survivor, and an accurate judge of other people’s character and abilities, but beyond that, he’s the very definition of reprehensible. He’s a cad, a coward, and an unrepentant racist; he’s treacherous, larcenous, and vindictive besides. Let’s leave off his appalling treatment of women, at least for now, and accept him for what he’s best at: looking sharp in military regalia. Ah, if only looks could kill…

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