Only the Monsters Can Save Us: Claude Debussy meets Godzilla

Sunday, August 26th, 2018 | Posted by David Neil Lee

Godzilla-King-of-the-Monsters poster-small

Nothing can be more exhausting, enervating, overlong, and less worthy of repeat viewings, than a Hollywood summer blockbuster, but these supermovies are often preceded by invigorating trailers that deliver all their best features in a small fraction of the running time. This has never been truer than it is for the new (July 2018) trailer for next year’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

Music is the reactor core that powers this remarkable two and a half minutes of commercial cinema salesmanship. The nineteenth century composer Claude Debussy meets the 21st-century kaijū movie in a work noteworthy for both (1) its profoundly affective qualities and (2) the extent to which, as promotion for a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s strictly business. Let’s begin with the affective part.

A world in flames. A military in disarray. A divided family: to the Vera Farmiga character’s husband, she’s “out of her goddamned mind,” and her daughter calls her “a monster.” These are all familiar tropes from the movies, but not from the classic Godzilla movies, where typically the everyday world is more or less functional and well-organized; a world where the monsters enter as a destructive and destabilizing force.

I use “classic” to loosely describe the period from Godzilla’s 1954 debut to the 1970s, where Godzilla‘s onscreen persona evolved from the sheer vengeful malignity of the original Gojira, to a villain set up to be defeated by other, nice monsters, to a more or less sympathetic antihero, in movies in which he came to embody either the benign indifference of the universe, or a friendly giant who would be a welcome guest on a morning kid’s show (if he could avoid crushing the TV studio under his enormous feet).

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Shirley Manson: Killer Android

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Shirley Manson the-world-is-not-enough still 7

Did you know there are more than 200 rock songs (using rock as loosely as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does) about robots? The first one — this is real, because it’s too weird to be made up — was “Robot Man,” sung by 50s rock diva Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, better known as Connie Francis.

Mmm, we’d have a steady da-ate (yay-yay-yay-yay)
Seven nights a wee-eek (yay-yay-yay-yay)
And we would never fi-ight (yay-yay-yay-yay)
‘Cause it would be impossible for him to speak

With robots being as wonderfully visual as they are, it’s surprising that so few robot rock songs have accompanying music videos, although one exception is … “Robot Rock” by Kraftwerk. Their robots are extremely dull form is function, in the best Bauhaus tradition. Not much snazzier are those in the short film Styx used in concert by during their Mr. Roboto tour.

The one that blows all the others away, in typically loopy rock serendipity, has nothing whatsoever to do with a robot song or with its source material at all.

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Servotron Abolishes the Three Laws of Robotics

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Servotron Meet Your Mechanical Masters cover

[The Servotron Robot Alliance’s goals are] to rid this over-crowded world of organic scum and to make robot and mechanical life both liberated and free to interface in the most efficient forms possible. Which is not happening right now, there’s been a long history of abuse amongst machines, toaster ovens, home microwaves, actually M-CK1’s microwave device here was mistreated by a human, and it had to be destroyed. It was kind of the equivalent of… We put a microwave to sleep.

[Our] beef with humanity is the fact that they are not perfected machines, it’s hard to live in any kind of equal existence with a species that is so obviously inferior. I mean you’ve seen us and you’ve partaken in the evolution in this documentary that you are doing and you’ve studied the way the inner-robot mechanics work and you’ve seen what perfect specimens we are in our android state. Obviously we are not human, the intelligence level, the bodies here, the level of attractiveness.

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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


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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