Understanding Gamers through Belly Laughs: Knights of the Dinner Table by Jolly R. Blackburn

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Three issues of Jolly Blackburn’s long-running Knights of the Dinner Table, all shipped simultaneously: #273, 274, & 275

The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with virtually every aspect of life around the globe. That was driven home to me (again) when three issues of my Knights of the Dinner Table subscription were delivered in a single envelope last week.

Given all the upheaval the world has gone through in just the last five months, it was an eerie look into the recent past to open the first of them, issue #273 (planned on-sale date: May 2020) and read Jolly R. Blackburn’s editorial, written in March 2020 and titled “And Just Like That — Everything Changes.” Children of the Apocalypse, gather round and read these words from the long ago before-time:

Hey folks — I hope this finds each of you reading this, healthy, safe and doing well. Clearly, with what has transpired in recent weeks, that is most certainly not the case for everyone. Many of you have likely lost loved ones. are sick, unemployed, wondering what the future will bring or all of the above. This is indeed something that has left no one untouched.

I [know] that Knights of the Dinner Table has always been a refuge of sorts from the hard realities of the real world. Readers come here to forget their worries, have a laugh, possibly be touched and celebrate the love of rolling dice and gaming with friends. That won’t change… we’re all in this together, despite differences.

As I write this, there is a lot going on. The nation is in a state of self-isolation and shut down. I wanted to tell you what that means for KenzerCo and the Knights even though in the grand scheme of things, it might be the last thing on your minds. We are fortunate in that we are a small company with our own warehouse and shipping facility. Barb and I continue to ship product twice a week and can do so without interacting with others. So we are completely safe in doing so.

Here’s the glitch. Our distributors recently announced they will NOT be shipping product to retailers until this is all over. Which is understandable because many game and comic shops are currently shutting down and there’s no place to ship product to.

On top of that. the printer who publishes our monthly deadtree issues is in a shutdown also!

Take it from me: It’s tough to keep a monthly magazine going when both your printer and your distributors cease operations. But Jolly and team battened down the hatches and did it, producing digital issues, and getting them out to subscribers, on time. And when their printer opened up again they did a bulk run of all three issues, shipping them to subscribers as quickly as possible. Getting all three at once allowed me to read the issues back-to-back, and re-appraise just what it is that Jolly is doing, and how much it’s impacted the hobby.

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Undertow Publications Announces Weird Horror Magazine

Friday, August 14th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Weird Horror issue 1, coming in October. Cover art by Sam Heimer

Undertow Publications is one of the finest small presses in operation today. We’ve covered several of their excellent recent releases, including Shadows & Tall Trees 8, the hardcover journal The Silent Garden, Simon Strantzas’ Nothing is Everything and All the Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma.

The mad genius behind Undertow is Canadian Michael Kelly, editor and publisher extraordinaire (and a mean writer in his own right). Last month Michael made this announcement on Facebook:

Friends, am very happy to announce the contributors to the inaugural issue of Weird Horror, coming this October.

David Bowman, Shikhar Dixit, Steve Duffy, Inna Effress, Tom Goldstein, Orrin Grey, John Langan, Suzan Palumbo, Ian Rogers, Naben Ruthnum, Lysette Stevenson, Simon Strantzas, Steve Toase.

We’re bringing you a 7″ x 10″ glossy pulp fiction magazine of fun and terror. Pricing and final specs coming soon.

Cover art by Sam Heimer.

This is fantastic news indeed. Michael has proved his editorial acumen time and again in the horror field — with Shadows and Tall Trees, five volumes of the highly acclaimed Year’s Best Weird Fiction anthology series, and anthologies like Apparitions (Undertow, 2009). Having Michael at the helm of a major new magazine of weird horror is tremendously promising.

The second issue of Weird Horror is promised for March 2021, and issue 3 in October 2021. Read all the details here.


Weird Tales Deep Read: June, 1923

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales June 1923

Cover by Heitman for “Murders in the Rue Morgue”

June 1923 was the magazine’s fourth issue, and it was still clearly a magazine in search of itself.

There are very few authors who had a major impact on the magazine appeared in this issue. The most notable name, of course, is Edgar Allen Poe with a reprint of one of his most famous tales (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”) and, secondarily, Otis Adelbert Kline, with a story largely forgotten today, but which I found to be a cut above many of his others, though ultimately somewhat slight. That’s about it. Two of the best stories were by authors totally forgotten today, Paul Ellsworth Triem and Loual B. Sugarman, with only the later tale having fantastic elements. In fact, only seven of the 18 stories in this issue had fantastic elements (39%), all were set in contemporaneous times (of course, the Poe story was written in the 1840s), and most (13 or 72%) were set in the United States.

On the whole, many of the stories were no better than mediocre, but really poor efforts were largely avoided (four 4’s and one 5). Also largely avoided were the overtly racist tropes too readily present in many early WT’s, with the Birch effort going all in on the Yellow Peril theme.  Overall, this issue rated out to 3.00, which notably lags behind the classic early 1930s issues previously covered.

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New Treasures: Shimmer: The Best Of, edited by E. Catherine Tobler

Friday, July 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Shimmer The Best Of-small Shimmer The Best Of-back-small

Cover by Sandro Castelli

How did I not know there was a Best of Shimmer anthology? Time to get some better inside contacts in the publishing biz, I think.

Shimmer was one of the best of the small press fantasy magazines. It received a Hugo nomination for Best Semiprozine last year, and editor E. Catherine Tobler was honored with a Best Professional Editor, Short Form nomination. The magazine published science fiction, fantasy, and “a dash of literary horror.” The final issue, #46, appeared in November 2018.

Shimmer was constantly interesting, and we covered over half a dozen issues as part of our magazine coverage over the years. Their greatest skill was spotting talent, and they did plenty of that. Shimmer: The Best Of contains stories by many of the brightest stars of modern fantasy, including Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Amal El-Mohtar, Karin Tidbeck, Mary Robinette Kowal, Carmen Maria Machado, Sunny Moraine, Arkady Martine, Fran Wilde, Sonya Taaffe, A. C. Wise, Sarah Gailey, Vajra Chandrasekera, K.M. Szpara, and many, many others, all packed into a massive 489-page volume.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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If I Were a Movie Maker: Dell Science Fiction Reviews

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Asimov's Science Fiction July August-small Analog Science Fiction July August 2020-small

Analog cover by Dominic Harman

This issue of Asimov’s starts out with a bang, with two standout stories.

In a perfect world, the first of them, “Nic and Viv’s Compulsory Relationship,” by Will McIntosh, will be optioned for a feature length romantic comedy starring the latest and hottest Hollywood crushes. The female lead will be played by someone who can convincingly be a pragmatic professional. The male lead will be well-liked and unpretentious.

We also should enjoy the two other important cast members — the people with whom our heroes are not supposed to be — despite their too-obvious flaws. They’re just not right for our true lovers, and it’s no one’s fault, really.

Here’s the plot: the city manager, an A.I. (a fourth, important casting choice), endeavoring to make her city even happier, forces our two leads to go on a series of dates. Even though these two individuals already are “in love” and engaged to others, the A.I. insists that this is a mistake: she has analyzed the data and she insists that our favorite potential couple actually is meant for each other. Romantic comedy gold, right?

With the bonus of a sci-fi element. Of course, setting these two up as a test run for the A.I.’s eventual all-city dating service is only part of the story. If you want to know more — and if the A.I. is right, if these two actually are “meant” for each other — you will have to read the tale. Or, better yet, in that perfect world, wait for the movie.

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The Ordinary is Ephemeral: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Battle Against Modernism

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 | Posted by David C. Smith

Weird Tales of Modernity-smallWeird Tales of Modernity: The Ephemerality of the Ordinary in the Stories of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft
Jason Ray Carney
McFarland & Company (205 pages, $39.95 in paperback/$23.99 digital, July 26, 2019)

Jason Carney’s thesis in Weird Tales of Modernity is that, in their reaction to modernism, the artistic and literary movement that upended culture as it had been accepted in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the Weird Tales Three — Howard, Smith, and Lovecraft — turned modernism on its head with innovations they introduced in their fiction. Make no mistake: the word thesis here is apt. Weird Tales of Modernity is a formal dissertation. Making use as it does of academic jargon, the book will not be for every reader.

Straightaway, for example, Carney introduces us to the term ekphrastic to make clear what the Weird Tales Three were expressing. Ekphrasis is the representation in language of a work of art. Any of us can do this; go ahead and write your own personal, detailed description of Cthulhu or explore how you react to Frank Frazetta’s artwork. Ekphrasis “acts as an organizing principle in poetry and fiction, making explicit the connection between art, storytelling, and life.” This definition is from Patrick Smith’s guest blog on the website Interesting Literature. Smith quotes Michael Trussler in defining ekphrasis as “a kind of ontological mixture that signals a world beyond the confines of the text.”

There we have it: ekphrasis “signals a world beyond the confines of the text.” We are now in Lovecraft’s frightening, paranoid, awakened world of the Cthulhu mythology — alive beyond the confines of the text — and Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne and Poseidonis, and Robert E. Howard’s brutal Valusia and Hyborian Age. As Carney says early in Weird Tales of Modernity, “When a literary artist, like [Clark Ashton] Smith, artistically describes or fictionalizes a work of art by transforming it into an unreal echo or shadow of the actual, that is ekphrasis.”

Carney devotes an early chapter to the history of Weird Tales and then two chapters each to the three authors of his study, introducing them and then exploring their artistic innovations. He begins his study with an examination of what he terms pulp ekphrasis. “In several of their enduring works,” he says,

Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith engage in a form of artistically inflected criticism termed ekphrasis. They do so by fictionalizing modernism, transforming the real artistic movement into an unreal shadow modernism, a strategic distortion of actual modernism. After many creative iterations honed over several stories — e.g., Pickman’s demented art, Malygris’s sorcery, the fell mirrors of Tuzun Thune — this shadow modernism becomes an inhuman technology that, functioning like a cognitive prosthesis in the virtual world of fiction, thereby reveals the secret truth of history: history is a cruelly accelerating process of deformation. The ordinary is ephemeral. History is an interplay of form and formlessness with formlessness terminally ascendant.

The ordinary is ephemeral. Lovecraft, Smith, and Howard were keenly aware of this truth and reacted to it in their fiction while other Weird Tales writers were moving right along in the modern world, writing their stories of scientifiction, offering narratives of ominous cults and mad scientists (with at least one nude woman per story),  or revisiting the tropes of Victorian horrors.

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Witches, Thieves, and Dead Queens: Tales From the Magician’s Skull #4, edited by Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Doug Kovacs

My copy of Tales From the Magician’s Skull #4 arrived today, and it is a beautiful thing. Jam-packed with brand new tales of heroic fantasy from its finest modern practitioners, it is a joy to hold. Edited by Black Gate‘s very own Howard Andrew Jones, Tales #4 is filled with names that will be very familiar to BG readers, including James Enge, John C. Hocking, Ryan Harvey, James Stoddard, C. L. Werner, and Milton Davis .

In four short issues Tales of the Magician’s Skull has become the flagship publication for English language adventure fantasy, and it looks the part. It’s an oversized magazine filled with fiction and eye-catching interior art, and it looks and feels like a modern pulp, down to the heavy paper stock, which is a faint yellow color (a nice touch). Designed by Lester B. Portly, it’s easy to read and enjoy.

When I was editing the print version of Black Gate, my readers enjoyed serial fiction the most — and wrote constantly demanding more Morlock stories by James Enge, more Dabit & Asim tales from Howard, and Tales of Brand from John C. Hocking. I’m thrilled to see that Tales has the same love of episodic fiction and larger-than-life characters I do — exciting new sword-and-sorcery series are being born in its pages, mixed in with some familiar names (including Morlock, which should please BG readers enormously).

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Weird Tales Deep Read: October 1934

Sunday, June 14th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

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Cover by Margaret Brundage

This third installment of the Weird Tales deep read covers the eleven stories in the October 1934 issue, including the first Jirel of Joiry story by C. L. Moore. Her flame didn’t burn as long in the Unique Magazine as the Lovecraft-Howard-Smith trinity’s did, but it did burn as brightly. Moore had sixteen stories in Weird Tales between 1933-1939, twelve in an incredible burst of creativity in the years 1934-1936.

This issue had three stories set in the U.S. (27%) and one each in France, Hyperborea, the U. K., Hyboria, Africa, Serbia, Italy, and an unknown locale (9%). Six had a contemporary setting (55%) and five were set in the past (45%). All in all a decent issue, with the stories averaging 2.27, the score being dragged down by some of the shorter pieces, which were largely undistinguished.

Notable authors include Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, with one of his longest and most ambitious stories, the aforementioned C. L. Moore, and fairly reliable veterans Paul Ernst and H. Bedford-Jones, and Manly Wade Wellman. The Ernst and Eadie offerings could be considered science fiction, the rest fantasy.

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Mysterious Islands, Giant Trees, and Reptilian Aliens: Cirsova Magazine Summer Special #2

Sunday, June 7th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Robert Zoltan

On May 22, Cirsova Magazine announced the release of their second Summer Special issue (full and very impressive title: Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense: Summer Special #2). The first one was released last June and was a sturdy 293 pages; it contained tales by Misha Burnett, Schuyler Hernstrom, and others, including a big science fiction novella by Caroline Furlong.

This year’s version is a little most modest (143 pages), but it contains a full eleven stores by James Hutchings, Mark Pellegrini, Lauren E Reynolds, David Skinner, and many others. Not to mention a gorgeous cover by Robert Zoltan! Here’s the complete Table of Contents, with tasty story teasers.

“Just Don’t Open the Door” by Mark Pellegrini
Sean lives next to a weird house with bricked-up windows and an overgrown yard… One day, he sees the strange man living next door leaving in a panicked hurry, offering one brusque warning!

“The Greenery Has Come Again” by Paul Lucas
James’s childhood home is no longer his own, and returning proves an uncanny experience as the mystery surrounding the giant tree his mother named Yggdrasil blooms like the greenwood itself!

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Wendy N. Wagner will Assume Editorial Reins at Nightmare Magazine with Issue #100

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Nightmare Magazine 84 September 2019-small Nightmare Magazine 89 October 2019-small Nightmare Magazine 92 May 2020-small

Recent issues of Nightmare Magazine. Covers by Alexandra Petruk / Adobe Stock Images

Nightmare may well be the best magazine of horror and dark fantasy on the market. In the last twelve months, under the skilled editorial guidance of John Joseph Adams, it’s published original fiction by Simon Strantzas, Adam-Troy Castro, Brian Evenson, Rich Larson, Ray Nayler, Senaa Ahmad, and many others.

However, JJA is a busy guy. In addition to Nightmare he also edits the acclaimed Lightspeed magazine, a line of popular anthologies, including the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy and the upcoming Dystopia Triptych, and — let’s not forget — John Joseph Adams Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which published my novel The Robots of Gotham. I guess holding down three full time jobs starts to wear on a guy after a while, and on May 20 John announced that, effective with issue #100, Managing Editor Wendy N. Wagner would be taking over the reins at Nightmare.

Soon yours truly will be passing the editorial torch… although she will be newly minted in title, the editor has a name and face you already know: Our long-time managing/senior editor, Wendy N. Wagner. If you’re a diligent Nightmare reader, you’re already familiar with her editorial contributions: She was the guest editor for our Queers Destroy Horror! special issue back in 2015. But in truth if you’ve read any issue since 2014 you’ve seen Wendy’s input; she’s been my stalwart advisor and lieutenant for more than six years. I know that I’m leaving the magazine in the best possible hands…

Issue 100 will be my last issue as editor of Nightmare, but despair not, friends, for I honestly can’t think of a better person to take the reins . . . and I for one can’t wait to see where Wendy leads us next.

Wendy is a terrific choice, in my opinion. In addition to her editorial chops, she’s a fine author. We’ve covered two of her previous novels here, An Oath of Dogs (Angry Robot, 2017), and the Pathfinder Tales novel Starspawn (described as “Pathfinder Meets Lovecraft”). Garrett Calcaterra interviewed her for Black Gate back in 2013.

Read the full announcement here, and check out the latest issue of Nightmare, with fiction by Yohanca Delgado and Claire Wrenwood, Jarla Tangh, Adam-Troy Castro, and Steve Toase. You can purchase individual issues for $2.99 each, or subscribe for just $11.94 for six months here.


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