Ursula K. Le Guin, October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the greatest SF writers of the 20th Century, died yesterday.

Le Guin was equally at home in both science fiction and fantasy, and won virtually every accolade our field has to offer. Her novel The Dispossessed (1974) won the Locus, Nebula, and Hugo Awards, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) won both the Hugo and Nebula, and her Earthsea novel The Other Wind (2001) won the World Fantasy Award. The third Earthsea novel, The Farthest Shore, won the 1973 National Book Award. She won the Hugo Award in virtually every category available to writers, including Best Short Story (“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” 1974), Best Novelette (“Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight,” 1988), Best Novella (The Word for World Is Forest, 1976), and Best Related Work (her essay collection Words Are My Matter, 2016). She won the Locus Award a record nineteen times. Unlocking the Air and Other Stories was one of three finalists for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize.

In 1995 Le Guin was presented with the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and in 2003 she became a SFWA Grand Master Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Science Fiction Writers of America. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted her in 2001, and in April 2000 the U.S. Library of Congress made her a Living Legend in the “Writers and Artists” category. In 2016 The New York Times described her as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer.”

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Julian May, July 10, 1931 — October 17, 2017

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Julian MayJulian May, fan and bestselling science fiction writer, died this week at her home in Bellevue, Washington.

Julian May was active in US fandom in the 40s and early 50. She published her first story, “Dune Roller,” in the December 1951 Astounding; it was filmed as The Cremators in 1972. She was the first woman to chair a Worldcon, with the Tenth World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago in 1952. The next year she married T.E. Dikty, co-editor (with Everett F. Bleiler) of The Best Science Fiction Stories, the first Year’s Best SF anthology. Over the next few decades she wrote 250 books, chiefly non-fiction books for young readers and adults, including A Gazeteer of the Hyborian World of Conan (1977, under the name Lee N Falconer).

In 1976 May began attending SF conventions again, starting with Westercon 29 in Los Angeles. She wore an elaborate diamond-encrusted space suit to the costume party, and started sketching ideas for who might actually wear such a suit. In 1978 she began writing what became the Saga of Pliocene Exile, the tale of a group of refugees from the twenty-second century who flee six million years into Earth’s past, only to discover two alien species in deadly conflict with humans who’ve already arrived.

May demonstrated an immediate talent for ambitious SF series, and turned that 4-volume saga into essentially into an extensive prelude for Galactic Milieu sequence: Intervention (1987) Jack the Bodiless (1992), Diamond Mask (1994) and Magnificat (1996). Her other work includes three trilogies: Trillium (written with Andre Norton and Marion Zimmer Bradley, published 1990-97), The Rampart Worlds (1998-2001), and Boreal Moon (2003-06). The Science Fiction Encyclopedia calls her work “at times reminiscent of the Planetary-Romance Baroque of Roger Zelazny.”

May was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame at the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention in 2015. She died on October 17, 2017. She was 86 years old.


ElizaBeth Gilligan, August 16, 1962 – October 9, 2017

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Magic's Silken Snare-small The Silken Shroud-small Soverign-Silk-ElizaBeth-Gilligan-small

Back in 2002 I included ElizaBeth Gilligan’s third published story, “Iron Joan,” in Black Gate 3, and I was very pleased to do so. It was a terrific tale, about a proud princess who flees an abusive father, and builds a home in a tiny coastal village…. until the day her father comes looking for her. It was one of the most popular stories in the issue, and became the first BG story to make the preliminary Nebula ballot.

ElizaBeth’s first novel, Magic’s Silken Snare (DAW, 2003), was the first novel in the Silken Magic trilogy. The Silken Shroud (DAW, 2004) followed a year later, and the third, Sovereign Silk, finally arrived this past June. Locus called the opening novel “Excellent… alternate Renaissance Italy is the setting for this opulent tale of court intrigue and dark magics…. engaging characters in a well-realized world.”

ElizaBeth died of cancer on October 9, 2017. Her career spanned nearly three decades, beginning with the short story “Confessions of a Bimbette in Space” (Amazing Experiences, 1990). She wrote a regular column for Midnight Zoo in the 1990s, and was the secretary of SFWA from 2002 – 2003. More recently, she edited the anthology Alterna-Teas for Sky Warrior in 2016.

She was 55 years old. Read the complete story “Iron Joan” here.


Kit Reed, June 7, 1932 — September 24, 2017

Sunday, September 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Tiger Rag Kit Reed-small The Baby Merchant-small Where Kit Reed-small

Reports are pouring in that author Kit Reed has died.

BG author Jeffrey Ford writes:

Saw today online that my friend, Kit Reed, passed away. A professional author from 1957 to just this year, and her work was exceptional. I especially loved her stories. Kit was one of a kind. Did not stand on ceremony and would not shy away from telling it like it was. Perhaps that’s why she was never lauded for having been a leading female voice in those earlier completely male centric years… She was also wonderfully generous with young writers and helped to start many careers. I’m gonna miss her honesty and her insights… One of the greats.

Reed was the author of 16 novels and 10 collections, including the Campbell nominee Where (2016), Tiptree Award nominee Little Sisters of the Apocalypse (1994), and Shirley Jackson Award nominee The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories (2013).

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Tobe Hooper Is Dead … Long Live Lifeforce!

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

lifeforce-mathilda-may-2

Director Tobe Hooper, the man who helped alter horror forever in the transgressively transformative 1970s with the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, died at age 74 last weekend. Although the 1974 Chain Saw Massacre (yes, it’s two words, dammit) is Hooper’s most important work, he leaves behind a filmography of strange and, shall we say, eclectic quality. His other movies include the swamp-sploitation Eaten Alive; a notorious Stephen King adaptation, The Mangler; a quite good Stephen King television adaptation, Salem’s Lot;  a remake of Invaders from Mars; his own black-comedy sequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre (now with Chainsaw as a single word); a likable classic-era slasher, The Funhouse; and a remake of ‘70s sleaze The Toolbox Murders.

There’s also a film called Poltergeist on his resumé. The most financially successful movie of Hooper’s career, it also has a large asterisk next to it, as the question of who actually directed the film remains a point of contention. I’m not rehashing that debate now, because I have a bizarre nude space vampire epic to look at.

Lifeforce, Hooper’s 1985 science-fiction horror film, is receiving plenty of press in the wake of the director’s death. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is his principal legacy, but most people would rather not relive this existential nightmare of brutality for the purpose of a eulogy. Despite the minimal amount of on-screen gore — the film is far bloodier in memory than actuality — this original visit to a backwoods Texas family of cannibals is a descent into unrelieved madness that leaves most audiences scarred. My first viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still one of the most depressing movie-watching experiences of my life.

Watching Lifeforce, however, is all about joy. This is a sprawling, wonderful, insane, bizarre, ridiculous, beautiful work of big-budget dementia. It should not exist. Not as a $25 million tentpole movie in the same summer as Back to the Future.

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Jerry Lewis (Julius Kelp, Buddy Love), March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017

Monday, August 28th, 2017 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Jerry Lewis-small

The book has finally closed on the eight decade long career of Jerry Lewis, the American actor, comedian, and filmmaker, who died on Sunday, August 20th, at the age of ninety one. Jerry Lewis is one of those colossal, divisive figures like Lenin, Mao, or Meryl Streep; few people are noncommittal about him. Ever since he shrieked and jerked his way into the public consciousness with his partner Dean Martin, first in nightclubs and on radio, then in a series of highly successful movies, and finally, after an acrimonious split with Martin, on his own as an actor and director, the standard responses have been either overboard adoration or utter loathing, a split that even effects entire nationalities — the French have a much snickered-at (at least among Americans) reputation for their extreme and almost universal love of Lewis, while Swedes and all other Scandinavians can’t stand him. (I made that last part up, but it’s probably true.)

This might be of only passing interest to Black Gate readers, except for one thing. In 1963, Lewis co-wrote (with Bill Richmond), directed, and starred in what is arguably the best version of that much-filmed classic of dark fantasy, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Lewis altered the title even more than most adapters do, calling his movie The Nutty Professor, and that’s not all he altered.

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Brian Aldiss, August 18, 1925 — August 19, 2017

Monday, August 21st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Sci-fi writer Brian AldissBrian Aldiss, one of the most brilliant and acclaimed science fiction authors of the 20th Century, produced more than 80 books and some 40 anthologies in a career spanning more than six decades. His first publication, the short story “Criminal Record,” appeared in the July 1954 issue of John Carnell’s British SF magazine Science Fantasy, and his recent anthology The Folio Science Fiction Anthology, was published just last year.

Aldiss’ groundbreaking SF included the novels Non-stop (1958), Hothouse (1962), The Dark Light Years (1964), Barefoot in the Head (1969), The Malacia Tapestry (1976), and The Helliconia Trilogy (1982-85). His most important anthologies and collections include The Saliva Tree and Other Strange Growths (1966), Penguin Science Fiction (1961), The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus (1973), Space Opera (1974), Galactic Empires, Volume 1 & 2 (1976), and six volumes of The Year’s Best Science Fiction (edited with Harry Harrison, 1968-1973). Aldiss received two Hugo Awards, for Hothouse and Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1986) [in his acceptance speech, Aldiss famously held the Hugo high and said “It’s been a long time since you’ve given me one of these, you bastards!”], and a Nebula Award for the novella “The Saliva Tree.” His short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969) was basis for the Steven Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Our previous coverage of Brian Aldiss includes:

Starship/Non-Stop
Bow Down to Nul
Hell’s Cartographers, edited by Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison
The Digest Enthusiast #6: Hothouse: Brian Aldiss’ Dystopian Odyssey, by Joe Wehrle, Jr.

Brian Aldiss died on Saturday at his home in Oxford. He was 92 years old.


Haruo Nakajima (1929–2017): The Man Who Was Godzilla

Saturday, August 12th, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Haruo-nakajima-as-godzillaWhile I was debating on Tuesday whether to focus on writing about the Blu-ray release of Shin Godzilla or completing the next John Carpenter series installment, The Thing, the news hit of the death of one of the last surviving participants of the 1954 Godzilla, Haruo Nakajima, from pneumonia at age eighty-eight. It was a painful blow: that Nakajima was still out there and alive was a reassurance to any Godzilla fan, because he actually was Godzilla — the first performer inside the monster costume, back in the original Godzilla, and the one who stayed with the part the longest, playing the monster until near the close of the original Showa Era. He suited up as Godzilla in twelve films from 1954 to 1972, a record that’s unlikely ever to be beat now that even Japanese Godzilla films have switched to using CGI rather than the old fashioned suits.

We talk about how Japanese giant monster (kaiju) films are done with “man-in-a-suit” special effects, but we often don’t understand what that implies. Since we’re once again deep in the “Does Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination for a performance-capture role?” debate that comes after the release of each of the new Planet of the Apes films, it’s appropriate to remember the great performances from the suitmation actors who long preceded CGI-assisted characters.

And among suitmation performers, Nakajima was one of the finest. He infused Godzilla with a personality that emerged stronger and stronger during the period he was inside the costume. Godzilla, arms stretched forward in an attack pose, daring another giant monster to charge with the slight turn of the head — that’s down to Haruo Nakajima. He influenced the way Godzilla is acted as much as Boris Karloff influenced the Frankenstein Monster.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: The Many Faces of Bob Weinberg

Sunday, June 18th, 2017 | Posted by Tina Jens

Bob Weinberg and Tina Jens-small

Robert Weinberg and Tina Jens

In many ways, Bob was like the Tony Randall character in the movie 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. In the movie, Tony Randall is the “owner“ of a mysterious circus that visits a western town. He appears in different guises to teach the townspeople what they each need to know to become better people. Based on a novel by fantasy writer Charles G. Finney, the screenplay was written by one of Bob’s favorite authors, Charles Beaumont. To one townsperson, Dr. Lao is the oracle Apollonius; to another, the music-loving, goat-god Pan; to yet another, Merlin the magician and wizard.

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Nancy Willard, June 26, 1936 – February 19, 2017

Saturday, February 25th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Things Invisible to See Nancy Willard-small Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch Sister Water Nancy Willard paperback-small

Nancy Willard was the author of more than 70 books, including more than 40 books for children, such as the Anatole trilogy, Firebrat (1988), East of the Sun and West of the Moon: A Play (1989), and Pish, Posh Said Hieronymus Bosch (1991), illustrated by the Dillons. She won the Newbery Award in 1982 for her book of poetry, William Blake’s Inn, illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen. It was the first book of poetry to win the Newbery.

She also wrote a handful of fantasy novels for adults, including Things Invisible to See (1985), which I bought in Ottawa in the Bantam Spectra paperback edition in 1986 (above left; cover by Todd Schorr). Set in her home town of Ann Arbor in the 1940s, it tells the tale of two brothers who meet a paralyzed young woman, and ends with a baseball game featuring some of the sport’s most famous players. Sister Water (1993) was called “Heavenly…Marvelous… A kind of miracle,” by People magazine (see the back cover of the Wayne State edition here).

Nancy Willard was born on June 26, 1936 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, and became a professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1965. She retired from Vassar in 2013. Her last children’s book will be released this fall. She died peacefully at her home in Poughkeepsie on February 19. She was 80 years old. Read her obituary at the Poughkeepsie Journal.


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