A Wiscon Reading Report: The Best in Upcoming Fantasy – 2017 Edition

Monday, July 3rd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

CSE Cooney and Amal El-Mohtar reading at Wiscon 2017-small CSE Cooney and Amal El-Mohtar reading at Wiscon 2017 2-small CSE Cooney and Amal El-Mohtar reading at Wiscon 2017 3-small

CSE Cooney and Guest of Honor Amal El-Mohtar perform Music & Miscellania at Wiscon 2017

Just a few days ago I wrote about Kay Kenyon’s upcoming novel At the Table of Wolves, the tale of a young woman forced to use her budding superpowers to spy on Nazi Germany and prevent the immanent invasion of England. It’s pretty clear to me that this is one of 2017’s breakout novels, and I was thrilled to get a sneak peek at it last year.

How did that happen? By attending a small, intimate reading at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio. In fact, convention readings have tipped me off to countless breakout books over the years, including works from Guy Gavriel Kay, N.K. Jemisin, Ian Tregillis, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe, Connie Willis, Cory Doctorow, and many others. I even attended a reading by George R.R. Martin many years ago, in which he read from an unpublished novel titled A Game of Thrones — and then stuck around afterwards to chat to the small audience, and sign my advance copy of the book.

Any convention worth its salt will have a decent reading program. But the best conventions showcase a wide range of writers, and have multiple reading tracks. And after decades of attending cons, I can say without hesitation that the one with the best record for introducing me to stellar new talent — and tipping me off to fantastic new books — through its reading program is Wiscon, held every May in Madison, Wisconsin. And this year’s con was no exception.

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You Deserve a Great Mummy, So Here’s My Favorite: The Mummy ‘59

Saturday, June 17th, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Mummy-1959-US-posterMy short take on The Mummy unleashed to theaters last week as the start of Universal’s “Dark Universe” franchise gamble: It’s an embarrassment for everyone involved. Except maybe Sophia Boutella as Princess Ahmanet. She deserves a real mummy film, not a schlock Tom Cruise action picture only interested in selling later movies. The Mummy ‘17 is ugly, confused, stupid, and boring. North American moviegoers decided to watch Wonder Woman again rather than see Universal trash its own legacy: The Mummy opened to a glum $32 million domestically, putting it almost $25 million behind Wonder Woman’s second weekend. However, The Mummy is targeting international revenue (one of the reasons Universal allowed the criminally miscast Tom Cruise into the room), and so far it’s grossed $141 million in foreign markets. The “Dark Universe” will proceed, but under a bleak curse.

Okay, I’m finished with that movie. Healing time. I shall now read from the Scroll of Life, brew tana leaves, and bring back the sleeping Gods of Egypt with what I consider the high point of eighty-five years of movies about the undead of the Nile River Valley: 1959’s The Mummy from Hammer Films Productions.

The Alchemical Feat of The Mummy ‘59

The Mummy made by Hammer Films is, in my opinion, one of the best films of its kind that British cinema has made.” — Christopher Lee

Because it stands in the shadow of Hammer’s first two Gothic hits, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula/Horror of Dracula (1958), it’s easy to gloss over The Mummy as merely a good Hammer horror film rather than one of the greats. But since it debuted on Blu-ray in the U.S., I’ve come to the realization I prefer The Mummy ‘59 to the famous 1932 Boris Karloff-Karl Freund film. I didn’t believe this was possible: The Mummy ‘32 is on my shortlist of Universal’s best classic monster movies. But watching the Hammer version in a pristine Hi-Def restoration, the vibrancy of its colors and designs rescued from dull DVD transfers, I had to face my emotions honestly and embrace it as My Favorite Mummy.

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Goth Chick News: A Unique Musical Take on a Weird Tales Classic

Friday, June 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Weird Tales May 1933-small The Beast of Averoigne-small

When musician Matthew Knight contacted me about his new release, The Beast of Averoigne I admittedly had to do a bit of research. I knew I had heard of the story somewhere, but could not immediately place it.

The story’s author, Clark Ashton Smith (1893 –1961) was one of “the big three” of Weird Tales, alongside Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft. Smith was a member of the Lovecraft circle and his literary friendship with Lovecraft lasted from 1922 until Lovecraft’s death in 1937.

First appearing in the May, 1933 issue of Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith’s story “The Beast of Averoigne” concerns itself with a man of science whose superior knowledge enables him to deal with a dark threat that the ignorant, religion-besotted inhabitants of 14th century France simply cannot. What sets “The Beast of Averoigne” apart is that it might be called a science fiction tale rather than a fantasy one, for the titular “beast” is not some demon from Hell but an alien invader.

And it is around this story that Matthew Knight weaves his debut release under the label Haunted Abbey Mythos. The theatrical, musical audiobook presentation consists of a dramatic narration of “The Beast” read by Knight and set to a backdrop of eerie soundscapes scored by avant garde electronic musician, Jon Zaremba. The CD also contains five unique interlude pieces by Knight, which range from ambient synth-driven, to darkly romantic.

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Sound the Horns! Swords of Steel III Arrives Next Week

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Swords-of-Steel-small Swords-of-Steel-II-small Swords-of-Steel III-small

In his review of Swords of Steel II, the second volume in D.M. Ritzlin’s ambitious Sword & Sorcery anthology series, Fletcher Vredenburgh expressed his enthusiastic support for the project.

Metal and S&S have been fist in glove for many a year now. They have the same penchant for extremes — the big gestures not the subtle, small ones. The idea that heavy metal musicians could turn their love for S&S into prose makes perfect sense.

And that’s exactly what D. M. Ritzlin has encouraged, starting with last year’s Swords of Steel, an anthology of heroic fantasy written by members of heavy metal bands. While I gave it a mixed review, I was utterly sold on the idea. The authors’ ardor was undeniable, even overwhelming weaknesses in some of the stories. Each story was illustrated with a work of hand-drawn lo-fi art that harks back to sketches on the backs of D&D character sheets and murals painted on the sides of vans. Flaws be damned, I enjoyed the book and was happy to learn that a second volume was being planned.

Needless to say, we were very pleased to hear that a third volume had been announced. Swords of Steel III, with brand new tales of Sword & Sorcery from eight musicians, new illustrations, and an epic intro from the legendary Mark Shelton (Manilla Road), arrives next week from DMR Books.

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Cthulhu in Metallica

Monday, May 1st, 2017 | Posted by Mick Gall

Hardwired to Self Destruct-small

That Cthulhu is a cultural force is a truth self evident to the readers of this blog, as evidenced by his numerous movies, RPGs and plush dolls. But his ubiquitousness can still surprise when he appears in unexpected media. The most recent creative force to sing (literally) Cthulhu’s praises: Metallica.

Metallica’s recent album Hardwired… to Self Destruct dropped November 18, and I was surprised to find one of their songs directly singing about great Cthulhu, and what exactly his rising means for humanity. The song “Dream No More” opens with singer James Hetfield declaring “He sleeps under black seas waiting / Lies dreaming in death”, followed by the litany of horrors that follows as “He wakes as the world dies screaming / all horrors arrive.”

That a metal band would sing about the end of humanity at the hands of an alien entity is not surprising; the genre has a long history of dabbling in the imagery of the occult, pseudo-satanic and even Lovecraftian. That Metallica would do it, however, is unusual. The band’s songs have catalog struggles and personal pains, exploring human themes like contemplating suicide (“Fade to Black” from 1984’s Ride the Lightning), drug abuse (“Master of Puppets,” 1986’s Master of Puppets), the horrors of war (“One” from 1988’s …And Justice for All) and the fear engendered by nightmares (“Enter Sandman” from 1991’s Metallica).

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What Black Sabbath Can Teach Us About Writing

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Sabs

The world got some sad news last week — Black Sabbath just played their last concert.

OK, that’s small potatoes compared with all the other crap going on, but it was the end of an era. I bet I’m not alone among Black Gate readers and writers in being a Black Sabbath fan. Unfortunately I never got to see them in concert and now I never will.

They did teach me a lot about writing, though. As an author I get tips and inspiration from lots of different sources, not just other writers. Sure, I have a fondness for the great prolific authors and the literary giants, but I often learn more from the greats in different arts. Perhaps that’s because there’s a certain distance that allows you to see what they do more clearly. With other writers I tend to spend a lot of time looking at the nuts and bolts of their work, while with musicians and painters that’s not the case. I know very little about playing the guitar, and nothing about painting a landscape, so I focus more on the philosophy behind the work rather than the techniques of the work itself.

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Seeking Solace

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

howard-zebras-smallWhen assembling the first round of Black Gate bloggers one of the few rules I laid down was that we keep our personal politics and religion out of our posts. John and I both wanted to create a safe and welcoming space where people of all stripes could come together to discuss the genres we love.

Over the last week I’ve never found that admonition more of a challenge. You see, I’ve been grieving. Not for any one person’s loss, or even because the side I backed lost, but because it feels to me that an ideal has vanished. That ideal may not have been flawless, but I shudder at the manner in which the leading proponent of a replacement movement conducts himself. And for the first time in my life I’m not just disheartened by an election result contrary to my own wishes, I’m a little frightened.

I believe I’m in the letter of my own law still because I’m not here to proselytize. The preceding paragraph is solely for context so you’ll understand what it is that’s upset me. If, like me, the depth of your own grief and your anger and fear surprise you, you’ve probably been wondering how to cope. I wish I could give you a good answer. I can tell you that one of the things I’ve done is distract myself with the genres I love. The other was to create some art. That is one (and not the only) way I mean to act.

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Goth Chick News: John Carpenter Rocks Out

Thursday, September 29th, 2016 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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Though when we last encountered John Carpenter at the 2015 Wizard World Comic Con in Chicago, Black Gate photog Chris Z and I quietly wondered if the legendary horror master might be on his proverbial last legs. He didn’t look at all well when he finally appeared an hour late for his press call and after all, he is approaching his 70th birthday, which in Hollywood years is approximately 150.

However, recent events seem to indicate Carpenter may have been the temporary victim of an overindulgence of Chicago nightlife – on that day at least. Because though he may no longer be making feature-length films, his music career is giving fans quite a lot to enjoy.

As you well know, Carpenter scored most of his iconic movies. But earlier this year he released a second stand-alone, studio album entitled Lost Themes 2, a follow up to the 2015 Lost Themes, and this week we got to feast our eyeballs on the music video associated with the track “Utopian Façade.”

Arguably, the video which runs just over three minutes could be a Carpenter short which takes you into a virtual reality world populated by gnarly monsters and one very peculiar heroine who is sporting the contact lens I want for Christmas. Plus the man himself makes a cameo.

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Goth Chick News: Midnight Syndicate Releases Zombies!!! Board Game Soundtrack

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 | Posted by Sue Granquist

zombies-official-board-game-soundtrack-midnight-syndicate-smallOh be still my little black heart…

Award-winning composers, dark music pioneers and my goth-boy-band crush, Midnight Syndicate has released the Zombies!!! Official Board Game Soundtrack. The new release features Midnight Syndicate’s signature, sultry blend of sound effects and instrumental music set in the modern day, post-zombie apocalypse world of the Zombies!!! board game.

Darkly brooding front man Edward Douglas explains;

We wanted to design a soundtrack that would not only heighten the Zombies!!! game play experience, but also appeal to all fans of zombies and our friends in the haunted attraction industry. I think we were able to achieve that.

Given the character and core elements of the game, I think we immediately felt this album should focus on having a more modern, aggressive sound. In order to achieve that, we brought in a lot of electronic and percussive instruments and kept the fundamental game scenarios firmly in mind, approaching it more as an actual soundtrack than as a collection of songs built around a particular theme or setting. While there are a few tracks that are more situation or location-specific, most are intended to evoke the general feel and atmosphere of the game world, allowing you to play along without interruption.

“The soundtrack is a perfect complement to the game,” added Twilight Creations co-founder, Kerry Breitenstein. “I couldn’t be more excited for the Zombies!!! fans to hear it, let alone the rest of the world!”

Picking up this album is a no-brainer… get it? Zombies? “No brainer”?

Never mind…

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Heavy Metal Lyrics, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy and Video Games: A Cultural Synergy by Dr. Fred Adams

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Fred_SpaceInvadersLast year, Dr Fred C. Adams, Ph.D., joined our parade of writers in the Discovering Robert E. Howard series with an entry on Esau Cairn, REH’s classic science fiction character. Dr. Adams is back for another guest post here at Black Gate. Put on your headphones and go!


The parallel (and almost simultaneous) ascensions of heavy metal music, video game technology (which later migrated to personal computers), and sword and sorcery fantasy to mass popularity from the early 1970s forward are not coincidental. Rather, they are synergistic. All three draw from the late 20th century youth culture’s fatalism and nihilism, honed to a fine edge in the fin de siècle era of the 1990s.

Consider the aesthetic of the Ur-arcade-video game of the 1980s, Space Invaders: ranks of grotesque aliens march across the screen as space ships fly overhead firing missiles. You, represented by a screen icon, scuttle back and forth, trapped in a small area firing and dodging missiles while trying to destroy the oncoming ranks of invaders before they reach you and symbolically stomp you into the earth.

The more you destroy, the more ranks appear, starting closer and advancing more quickly. You can forestall death for a time, but the denouement is inevitable. You will lose; the programming foreordains that you will die no matter how well or how long you fight. Other games of the era, like Missile Command, and Asteroids followed suit.

An occasional arcade game like Dragonquest allowed victory, but most reduced play to a life-and-death struggle the player will never win. The kill tally represents the only satisfaction—how many of them do I take with me? As the Time Traveler of Wells’ famous novel says of fighting an impossible number of Morlocks in the darkened forest, “I will make them pay for their meat.”

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