The 2015 Nebula Award Winners

Monday, May 16th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Henry Lien and the Eunuchs of the Forbidden City perform the brilliant Radio SFWA at the 2016 Nebula Awards 2-small

Henry Lien and the Eunuchs of the Forbidden City
perform the brilliant “Radio SFWA” at the 2016 Nebula Awards

I attended the 2016 Nebula Awards banquet here in Chicago on Saturday night, and I thought that meant I’d be able to announce the winners in a timely fashion. Instead, I wasted my time hobnobbing with winners, nominees, and just all around cool people until very late in the evening, got home at 2:15 am, and fell asleep for roughly 24 hours. So I’ve been scooped by every website in the industry (and even some periodicals that only publish monthly).

Ah, that’s okay. For those loyal readers who steadfastly looked away when other sites reported the winners, and waited with confidence for the Black Gate report, thank you (both of you.)

The highlight of the weekend was the awards ceremony, hosted by the genuinely hilarious John Hodgman (from The Daily Show). And the surprise highlight of the ceremony was the opening number by Henry Lien and the Eunuchs of the Forbidden City, “Radio SFWA,” which I’ve been humming non-stop for the past two days. You don’t attend an SF conference expecting to hear live pop music, much less an 80s New Wave/Space Disco anthem that doubles as a recruitment tool for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, but that’s exactly what it was. I’m a 52 year-old guy who can’t dance, but at the end I was on my feet, pounding my hands together and ready to jump into the mosh pit.

Songwriter, lead singer and front man Henry Lien is some kind of genius. Listen to the whole thing here (be sure to read the hilariously brilliant lyrics by clicking “Show More”), and read the background here.

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More Metal on Metal: Swords of Steel II edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_905944pvOdEQohFrom its emergence out of the hard rock genre, heavy metal has drawn from the inspiration of swords & sorcery. “The Wizard” is the second track on what is considered the first metal album, the eponymous Black Sabbath. Uriah Heep upped the ante with its albums Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday. Manowar’s epic song “Battle Hymns,” from the album of the same name, channeled all the blood and thunder of heroic fantasy into 6 minutes and 55 seconds. Behold:

Gone are the days, when freedom shone – now blood and steel meet bone
In the light of the battle’s way, the sands of time will shake
How proud our soldiers stand, with mace and chain in hand
Sound of charge into glory ride, over the top of their vanquished pride

Other bands have gone as far as spinning songs directly from actual stories and novels. The Sword, for example, has Game of Thrones-inspired “To Take the Black,” and Manilla Road drafted both the plot and title of of a Robert E. Howard story for their “Queen of the Black Coast.”

The point is, 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.

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Goth Chick News: The Exorcist Gives Us Ear Seizures…

Thursday, February 11th, 2016 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Exorcist poster-smallWilliam Friedkin’s 1973 film The Exorcist was a landmark in horror cinema, a cultural phenomenon, and (if adjusting for inflation) the ninth highest-grossing film of all time. I remember hearing stories about it from relatives who described the mixture of fascination and revulsion with which the movie-going public met The Exorcist at the time.

I also remember skulking around the library in search of William Blatty’s novel, just to try and figure out what was so awesome about the story, but as I also kept getting caught it wasn’t until many years later that I both read and watched The Exorcist.

As you may or may not recall, the film makes minimal use of music — a stylistic choice which ran contrary to the norm of the 70’s when nearly every film regardless of genre, gave birth to a soundtrack album.

Of the little music used in the film, most famous is Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” which went on to become a smash so huge that it essentially birthed the Virgin empire.

Before Friedkin settled on Oldfield’s masterpiece, he had originally commissioned a score from Lalo Schifrin, who had famously done soundtrack work for Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry, and the instantly recognizable Mission Impossible TV show theme.

This score was used in an advanced trailer which has often been referred to as the “banned trailer.” As the stories go, this trailer literally made audiences sick when it was shown.

Check it out for yourself below.

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Experience the Creepy and Compelling Rhythms of De Staat’s “Witch Doctor”

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

I don’t usually share music videos here (I think the last time was due to some fascinating musical detective work on Star Trek by the CBC). But in the case of De Staat’s new video “Witch Doctor,” I’m compelled to do so. After watching it four times, I feel like I’ve been indoctrinated into a secret cult.

It’s one of the most effective music videos I’ve seen in years (and apparently done on a shoestring budget). As Black Gate author Jeremy Tolbert says, ” I can’t seem to stop watching it… It has this creepy, Constantine vibe – an evil necromancer or black magician controlling a cult or something.”

Check it out. Just don’t blame us if you find yourself penniless in Budapest with a shaved head when it’s all over.

[Caution – one brief occurrence of adult language.]


Forbes on the Tragic Failure of Jem And The Holograms

Monday, October 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Jem And The Holograms-smallLast week Box Office Mojo reported that Guillermo del Toro’s gothic horror film Crimson Peak “crashed and burned into 2,984 theaters to the tune of an estimated $12.8 million.” So what did it make of Jem And The Holograms‘ historically bad take of one-tenth of that total this weekend, $1.3 million from 2,413 theaters? It calls it one of “the year’s biggest flops… the fourth worst opening for a film in more than 2,000 theaters.”

Jem And The Holograms was a much-loved 80s cartoon produced by Hasbro, Marvel, and Sunbow (the same team behind G.I. Joe and Transformers). Featuring the plucky Jerrica Benton, whose father left her virtually flawless hologram technology that allowed her to disguise herself as a beautiful pop singer, Jem was the brainchild of comics writer Christy Marx (Sisterhood of Steel, Conan, Red Sonja). Forbes writer Scott Mendelson sees the massive failure of the live-action version as a genuine tragedy.

The film took a source material that is over-the-top colorful and over-the-top exciting, filled with larger-than-life characters and musically-charged action sequences where Jem and her friends had to both be kick-ass rock stars and kick-ass crime fighters at the same time, and made a toned-down, muted, and overly patronizing “young girl gets in over her head due to fame and artistic success and forgets what matters” fable that basically penalized its young heroes for wanting and achieving success and power…

It was the kind of film that Josie and the Pussycats spoofed a decade ago, and basically operated as a dark-n-gritty origin story that spent the entire film building up to the possibility of maybe seeing a Jem movie that Jem fans wanted to see the first time out in a would-be sequel. Okay, so a cheap film that spit on the source material bombed, who cares right? Well, here’s the rub: The overriding message of Jem and the Holograms is that a girl-centric action cartoon from the 1980′s doesn’t deserve or justify even 5% of the resources given without a second thought to boy-centric properties cashing in on 80′s nostalgia.

Read the complete article here.


Goth Chick News: Christmas at Beetlejuice’s House – Midnight Syndicate Does It Again

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Midnight Syndicate's "Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering" album coverAs you are all likely aware by this point, I go all fan-girl when it comes to my goth-boy-band crush, Midnight Syndicate.

From way back when they were providing the soundtrack to the Playboy Mansion’s Halloween bashes to the music they produced for movies like The Dead Matter, I’ve hung on their every note; and no fantasy game night or Halloween season would be complete without them.

So when Ed Douglas contacted me to say Midnight Syndicate had recently completed something really special that would be right down my under-lit, cob-webby alley, I promptly began stalking the mail carrier until the package arrived.

And once again, the boys deliver – in a wonderfully different and unexpected way.

A Christmas album.

Yes, you read that right. Midnight Syndicate has just released Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering.

How, oh how to describe this to you?   Let’s just say that if Beetlejuice invited you over to the Maitlands for a holiday Zagnut, he’d be playing this collection on all speakers.

Midnight Syndicate has taken your favorite holiday tunes and added in their unique mixture of dissident chords, eerie harmonics and original craftsmanship to deliver charmingly haunting fare that will take you from October straight through December.

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Metal on Metal: Swords of Steel edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_3111058UFfTOs2zWhen John O’Neill posted a few weeks ago about Swords of Steel, edited by D.M. Ritzlin, I knew I had to read it. The hook was simple: swords & sorcery stories written by members of metal bands. Tons of heavy bands — Uriah Heep, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Metallica, Megadeth, to name several — have drawn on the themes of heroism, monster-fighting, and sorcery for lyrics and look. Sometimes they lift stuff directly from favorite authors, like the UK band called Conan, or Texas band The Sword with the song “Beyond the Black River.”

When I read Tolkien I hear folk music in my head; when I read Karl Edward Wagner I hear Black Sabbath. So although I recognized the name of only one band represented in the collection, I was stoked to dive in. With an amazingly cool cover by Martin Hanford and its back cover claim that it’s “NOT FOR WIMPS!,” I was expecting great things from Swords of Steel. It came tantalizingly close.

Set in England during the reign of Elizabeth I,”Into the Dawn of Storms” by Byron A. Roberts (vocalist, Bal-Sagoth) gets the book off to a solid start. Captain Blackthorne is plagued with dreams of death and magic and seeks help from the legend-shrouded scholar, John Dee. It’s billed as the first chapter in an ongoing saga and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for Chapter Two.

From the author bio (and there’s a nice one included for everybody), I learned that Roberts has developed a mulitverse that forms the foundation of his band’s music. This story, with references to past exploits and multiple worlds, is set there as well.

“The Riddle Master” by Ernest Cunningham Hellwell (bassist, Hellwell) is one of the best stories in the collection but, sadly, not S&S at all. A nameless writer narrates his run-in and bet with a demon, made to ensure eternal fame.

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Beyond Ever After: Into the Woods

Monday, January 5th, 2015 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Into the Woods poster-smallWhenever I walk into my local chain bookstore, I am immediately attracted to a display near the entrance which bears the enticing banner, “Former Bestsellers.”

Here reside the Grishams, the Clancys, and the Kings of last year and the year before, pushed off the pedestal of the New and the Now by the never-ceasing flood that issues from the mouth of modern publishing. It is a great place to grab a good read, cheap.

It is, alas, the fate of even the most successful book to eventually become a “former.” A quick consultation of the New York Times bestseller list reveals that the number one hardcover fiction book of this first week of 2015 is Gray Mountain by John Grisham. It is, I am sure, an efficient and effective novel, but if we could leap forward two or three hundred years and conduct a cyborg-on-the-street interview, what is the likelihood that any of our subjects would be able to name the characters or recount the plot of Gray Mountain?

Of course I’m being unfair to Grisham, a writer who is a straightforward, popular entertainer of the moment with no aspirations to membership in the Pantheon. Might we do better asking our 24th century citizen about A Farewell to Arms, or Lolita, or Portnoy’s Complaint? Yes? Umm… no, I think.

What could we ask about with any chance of success — never mind centuries from now, but even today? (Outside the halls of the English Department, I fear that the great works of Hemingway, Nabokov, and Roth wouldn’t fare any better than Forever Amber — and if you’ve never heard of that one, that’s my point, and if you have… oh, just sit down and be quiet!) Here’s a guess — Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestilskin, Hansel and Gretel, stories that were already old when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm first collected them two hundred years ago.

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Art of the Genre: Roger Dean, Asia, and Finding Myself in ’82

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

asia_alphafThere was a time back in my middle-school days when friends of mine were allowed to join those ‘record clubs’ that you could find in magazine ads. You might remember these deals, where you’d pay like a penny and get twelve cassette tapes if you promised to buy six at regular price over the next year. Now for an eleven-year-old, this was a pretty significant addition to a small tape collection, so imagine my chagrin when I’d see friends show up with all this new music and me still with such a modest collection.

It was during one of these bulk purchases that my best friend at the time, Jason, picked up a copy of Asia Alpha. Jason eventually moved away after 7th grade, but years later, we became roommates in college during our freshman and sophomore years in the dorm. During our time together, around 1990, I purchased an Asia collection (Then and Now) on disc and Jason asked what I’d purchased. When I told him, he replied ‘I don’t know that band’, and I was like, ‘What!? You owned Asia Alpha back in middle school!’ and he was like ‘I did?’ I guess the moral of that particular story is that when providing twelve tapes at once to an eleven-year-old, it might be more about the bragging rights and cool factor than the music.

Anyway, the prime reason I’d remembered he had the tape was that the album cover was so incredibly cool. It was far beyond anything I’d seen at the time and to this day I’m still pretty enchanted with it. Many years would pass before I discovered that the artist was Roger Dean, and that he’d been doing funky and incredible alternate fantasy images for more years than I’d been alive.

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Fantasy Out Loud V: Steeleye Span Meets Terry Pratchett

Monday, September 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

815A5CiM4DL._SL1200_In late 2013, a strange event occurred: Steeleye Span, a British band that has outlived just about all other contenders except the Rolling Stones, released a CD entitled Wintersmith.

Coincidence? After all, there’s a Discworld spin-off by that name, too, a Terry Pratchett novel aimed at the young adult market and starring the infinitely resourceful tween witch, Tiffany Aching. Could there be a connection?

Indeed. It turns out that Pratchett has been a fan of Steeleye since the early seventies (“Boys Of Bedlam” was a particular favorite), and Steeleye’s lead vocalist, the incomparable Maddy Prior, has been, in turn, an unabashed fan of Pratchett’s. They got to talking, and next thing you know, the world was gifted with a terrific fantasy-driven album of folk, rock, and traditional Morris dances, all tied together by the Great A’Tuin and a nasty case of winter.

Pratchett’s Wintersmith is the third installment in the irregular Tiffany Aching series, a sort of sideline to the “official” Discworld novels (The Color Magic, et al). The story centers on Tiffany’s impulsive decision to “dance the Dark Morris,” a rite that shifts summer to winter – except that when Tiffany includes herself, both summer and winter, elemental godlings, take note of her and seek, in their own ways, to possess her. Tiffany now faces the possibility of endless winter, in the demi-human form of a smitten teenage boy.

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