The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff That Dreams are Made of

Monday, February 8th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Much of my hard boiled knowledge came from Black Lizard's editions of the classics.Last week marked the 86th anniversary of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon in book form. It had been serialized the year before in the pages of Black Mask Magazine. Hammett gets my vote for best writer of the hard-boiled genre. And I am quite the fan of Red Harvest (the uncredited source for Bruce Willis’ under-appreciated gangster film, Last Man Standing) and of the Continental Op stories (well worth reading). But I happen to think that The Maltese Falcon is the best private eye novel yet to be written. Period.

Sam Spade (who looked like a blonde Satan) also appeared in three short stories, which I wrote about in a prior post here at Black Gate. Sadly, they aren’t particularly memorable and definitely aren’t in the upper half of Hammett’s works. In 2009, Joe Gores wrote Spade and Archer, an authorized prequel. I love Gores’ Daniel Kearney Associates series of books, but I’m still saving this Sam Spade gem for a future read.

A great deal has been written about Hammett’s novel and about Spade himself, including William Maynard’s post here. It’s certainly worthy of a post all by itself. But I’m going to focus on the media Falcon: specifically the third of three filmed versions. It’s far and away the best known and I’m guessing that many people who haven’t actually read the book have seen the movie.

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Star Trek Movie Rewatch: Star Trek Into Darkness

Sunday, January 31st, 2016 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

Star Trek Into Darkness crash-small

I don’t remember if I groaned aloud when I realized that the second Star Trek “reboot” was going to be a Khan movie. It’s entirely possible. One might reasonably wonder why the production team chose to do a reboot of a reboot, if you’ll pardon the expression, when they could have taken so many directions with the story. I suspect that sheer commerce ruled the day and the notion, common in moviemaking and publishing, that whatever worked before must surely work again.

So did Star Trek Into Darkness work? Not so much for me. I’ll admit that I wasn’t disposed to be too charitable to either of the reboots in the first place. But I made a valiant attempt to be open-minded.

But, anyway. In my review of The Wrath of Khan I noted that it was something of a war of the overactors, with William Shatner going toe to toe with Ricardo Montalban. While Shatner’s character won the day in the movie, I awarded Montalban an honorary retro-Oscar for Best Overacting Performance in a Star Trek Movie.

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Undying Compassion and Fearless Ecoterrorism: Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

Saturday, January 30th, 2016 | Posted by Zeta Moore

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind box-smallNausicaa of the Valley of Wind will exceed your expectations. You must have many, what with the comics having been written by Hayao Miyazaki.

Prepare to ask yourself what lengths you would go to save your world from destroying itself, and prepare to detest characters who at first seem like antagonists but then prove that no one is wholly good or bad. More than anything, prepare to fall in love with Nausicaa, one of the most compassionate heroines ever to exist on paper.

The love within an individual who possesses as much compassion as she does can overcome any struggle born from hate. She does so without ceasing. Her story is told within the span of four graphic novels, and they do indeed read like novels.

The people of the Valley of Wind cherish their princess. She lives for them as much as she lives for her world. When the Ohmu, a group of insects inhabiting her world, begin a perilous journey, her compassion compels her to follow.

She then embarks on an endless journey through myriad wars, all the while attempting to bring them all to an end. Along the way, we meet memorable characters such as Kushana, an invincible warlord with a past worthy of a comic of its own and her sidekick, Kurotowa, who could do without Nausicaa. Not everyone shares his sentiments, least of all Lord Yupa, her uncle who adores her and remains by her side through much of the story.

The same can be said for Asbel, a young pilot who devotes much of his time to locating Nausicaa. His superior, an elderly pilot named Mito, guides him through life and acts as the father figure he needs.

This brings me to the relationship between Ketcha, Asbel’s younger sister, and Lord Yupa, whom she encounters with her brother. He remains devoted to her throughout the story, and their friendship mirrors that of his connection to Nausicaa.

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Goth Chick News: Tim Burton’s Used Napkins… Yes, Please

Thursday, January 28th, 2016 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Things-You-Think-About-in-a-Bar-The-Napkin-Art-of-Tim-Burton-small

When I got hold of this news, I was about to type “pinch me!” But then I realized that phraseology would not end well here.

Suffice to say, this is at the “epic” end of the coolness scale.

On Tuesday, Steeles Publishing announced their new title, The Napkin Art of Tim Burton; Things You Think About in a Bar. Which is literally what the title claims. The book is a collection of doodles Tim Burton has done on napkins… in bars.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Talking About Nero Wolfe

Monday, January 25th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Wolfe_FerDeLancedrawingI’m writing this in the aftermath of hosting a sleepover for my son and three of his eight-year old friends. My state is…I don’t know what it is, but it’s not normal. I’ve been reading a lot of Nero Wolfe-related stuff lately, so I’ll riff on that. Speaking of the gargantuan detective, I wrote about him earlier here at Black Gate.

Back in September, I’m sure you read my post, “Who Needs a Hard Boiled Detective?” It looked at how, during the rise, rule and decline of the American hard-boiled school of fiction, August Derleth was writing Solar Pons stories that were pure throwbacks to the Victorian Era mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. I’d say more, but you already either know it or should go read essay if you haven’t!

And the following excerpt is from the initial version of “Hard Boiled Holmes,” an essay I wrote tracing the roots of the American hard boiled school back to Victorian London and Holmes:

Rex Stout created Nero Wolfe in 1934 and the last story was published in 1975, a month before the author’s death. Fortunately, there were over sixty Wolfe tales in between. Stout created a synthesis of Holmes and the hard boiled school that has yet to be surpassed.

Nero Wolfe was a brilliant, disagreeable and incurably lazy detective. He seems very much to be a successor to Mycroft Holmes, with a bit of Sherlock thrown in. His chronicler and assistant was the smooth talking tough guy, Archie Goodwin.

Goodwin himself stacks up with the best of the hard-boiled private eyes. To over-simplify, Stout paired Mycroft/Sherlock Holmes with Sam Spade. Two characters, representing the Doylean and hard-boiled approaches, worked together in each story. This characteristic is probably one of the primary reasons that the Wolfe books have enjoyed so much success over three-quarters of a century.

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What We Can Learn From a Time Lord: Doctor Who and a New Enlightened Perspective

Sunday, January 24th, 2016 | Posted by Nick Ozment

The DoctorsThere’s an underrated benefit to science fiction and fantasy, and it is not dissimilar from a benefit one gains by being a student of history. Since many folks consider speculative fiction and historical scholarship (or “flights of fancy” and “recorded fact”) to be the antithesis of each other, I think this benefit is worth some attention.

The benefit I here have in mind is the gaining of a healthy detached perspective. Detractors of fantasy and sci-fi will immediately object to my use of the word “healthy,” being that they regard such literature as mere escapism. And it often is that, yes. As is golf, and the Super Bowl, and birthday parties, and most fun things that we do when we aren’t engaged in utilitarian labor. But I’m thinking about a different sort of escape: escape from our own temporal status in this particular time and place and culture and society to which we were born. This is a benefit that is greatly under-appreciated, but I believe it holds real power.

The reader of science fiction, like the historian, steps out of his or her own time frame: if you’re a historian, you step back in time; if you’re a sci-fi fan, you become accustomed to stepping ahead into some speculative future. And if we cultivate that mental exercise, it gives us the unique opportunity to look at our own time from that same detached perspective.

When you do this, it can be liberating. We put so much stock in what people say. We are angered, hurt, offended, cut to the core by what we are bombarded with when we turn on the TV or log onto Twitter or get together with family over Thanksgiving dinner. But the power of these viewpoints — and the hostile ways in which they are sometimes expressed — to affect us is really only predicated on the fact that we are alive now and that these are opinions being expressed by our contemporaries.

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Goth Chick News: J.J. Abrams Sneaks Up On Us Again

Thursday, January 21st, 2016 | Posted by Sue Granquist

10 Cloverfield Lane posterThe story I’m about to tell you gets a little confusing, but it contains J.J. Abrams, one of my all-time favorite modern-day monster films, Cloverfield and an entire movie filmed right under the noses of the people whose business it is to keep tabs on this sort of thing. So stay with me, I think it will be worth it.

Our tale begins early last week when the internet exploded with the news that a new Cloverfield film was not only confirmed, but that it was already filmed and would be coming out in just under two months. Titled 10 Cloverfield Lane, the film is a. “…blood relative of Cloverfield,” according to J.J. Abrams, who produced the original film, and stars John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr.

Before we go on, let’s take the way-back machine to 2008 in the months before the release of the original Cloverfield, which was also kept very much under wraps and was credited with being the object of a new concept in millennium marketing; “guerilla campaigns.”

The film appeared to feature a mysterious monster of unknown origin ravaging a large city in the style of Godzilla movies from decades past, but what really made it notable as far as big-budget movies are concerned, was its seeming lack of any promotion at all. The film was ushered into theaters with an incredibly simple teaser trailer that didn’t even feature the title of the film. It only contained the release date – 11/18/08. Beside the fact that it starred a cast of unknown actors and featured a monster doing something in a city that had yet to be identified, almost nothing was known about the film prior to its release. It initially wasn’t even clear if Abrams himself was even involved.

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A Horror-Movie Imagination: The Old Dark House We Lived In

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Introduction

house of twilightMy frame of reference is at least partly informed by years of being entertained by horror stories and films. Frame of reference shapes expectation, and expectation influences perception. In other words, if you’re a horror fan, you may feel a little twinge of nervous anticipation every time you go alone into the basement. You’re primed for it.

Even if you don’t for one second think that anything is actually lurking down there more frightening than a basket of laundry or a bit of black mold (which actually can be pretty scary, health-wise: not good to breathe that stuff), it’s just that you’ve seen so many artful and artless portrayals of What. Might. Be. Down. There… You get that twinge, a frisson that can be quite delightful, given that you know there’s no real bogeyman waiting to pounce from behind the furnace, just the thrill of imagining there is one. Which is why you’re a horror fan.

I am a storyteller, yes. Sometimes I write horror stories, and I am an aficionado of the genre: guilty as charged. But everything I recount in the following pages really happened. I have restrained myself from the storyteller’s natural tendency to exaggerate for the sake of effect. In this case, the facts are arresting enough without embellishment. My aim is simply to reconstruct some of the thoughts and impressions that went through my head at the time, thoughts and impressions colored by a horror-movie imagination. This may thereby serve to illustrate how one’s perspective can shape perception.

Some of what follows may seem a bit strange. But if you doubt any of it, just ask my ex: it might have gotten weird at times, but to the best of my memory it all happened. (Except for the part where she claims I screamed like a little girl. Take that with a grain of salt. When I am startled, I tend to think of my vocalization as a deep, throaty, manly yell.)

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Shannara Chronicles

Monday, January 18th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ShannaraChron_PosterI was reading fantasy before I discovered Sherlock Holmes and it’s still one of my two favorite genres. Now, one of my favorite series’ has finally been brought to the screen. Last October, Fletcher Vrendenbuergh posted about his re-read of Terry Brooks’ classic, The Sword of Shannara. Sword, loved by many (me among them) and reviled by many, was a huge hit upon release, appealing to the horde of Tolkien fans who wanted more of that style of fantasy. It’s a good essay with lots of comments: go check it out.

After Sword, Brooks wrote a big chunk of a sequel, which (Lester) Del Rey told him to chuck and start over. Brooks did so and in 1982, we got The Elfstones of Shannara, which took place two generations after Sword. Shea’s grandson, Wil Ohmsford, now had the magical elfstones. Wishsong of Shannara rounded out the trilogy.

Two dozen more Shannara books would follow, with another due out later this year. Some take place before Sword, with most afterwards. Back when fantasy films consisted of “efforts” such as The Sword and the Sorcerer, Krull, Ator and even Ah-nuld’s two Conan movies, I always wondered why someone didn’t take Sword to the screen; be it live-action or animated. But nope: nothing.

Of course, Peter Jackson redefined fantasy films with his six movies from Tolkien’s books. And HBO created a monster with George R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. The 44-episode Legend of the Seeker, based on Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels, did not fare so well and was cancelled after two seasons on television.

But now, in 2016, we finally have The Shannara Chronicles, a ten-episode miniseries, based on The Elfstones. For that, we have MTV to thank. Well, it’s a mixed blessing.  You got a sneak preview and some Black Gate commentary HERE last summer.

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Feast Or Famine?

Friday, January 15th, 2016 | Posted by Violette Malan

Tom Jones1Typically my characters don’t spend a lot of their time eating. It’s not because I’m not interested in food, quite the contrary (see my previous BG posts on the subject, here, here, and here.) No, it’s usually because, if I can paraphrase my agent for a moment, I’ve found my characters something more interesting to do. Having your characters sit down and eat is a useful device, however, in that it does give them something to do – even if it doesn’t forward the plot – while they’re talking, which usually does forward the plot. As a general rule, characters need to be doing something while they talk to each other, and if they eat, you can also use the details of the food to help with world-building and setting.

Joyce RedmanStill, even when my characters are eating, they’re not usually attending a banquet. Indeed, banquets and eating scenes in general are usually something we encounter visually, rather than on the page. Who can forget the scene in the Errol Flynn version of The Adventures of Robin Hood, where he walks into Prince John’s supper banquet with a stag on his shoulders?

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