Of Phibes and Androbots I Sing

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

phibes 5Phibes 4Dr. Phibes is far more than the evocation of the great thriller characters of its creator’s childhood; he is a character that stands proudly alongside Dracula, Moriarty, Nikola, Fu Manchu, Fantomas, and Mabuse as an equal in inventiveness and execution. William Goldstein, as screenwriter and novelist, created an immortal as only the best storytellers do. Phibes is a character who transcends his era, defines his own archetype, and is firmly established in his own mythology to pass from one generation, century, and millenium to the next. The best news for fans is The Master’s work continues with the fifth and latest book in the ongoing series, The Androbots – Book I of The Dr. Phibes Manifest.

Those who have read the first four books in the series or, at the very least, my other Black Gate articles covering these titles, are aware there is a significant tonal difference between the two Vincent Price Dr. Phibes films of the early 1970s and William Goldstein’s novels. The books retain the films’ eccentricities, but are far more tragic than comedic. I do revere the two AIP releases. Director Robert Fuest and his production crew imbued both pictures with a sardonic touch that allowed Vincent Price and several of his co-stars to turn in subdued performance that carefully balance extreme bursts of horror, tragedy, and comedy. One never knows quite what to expect as one scene ends and the next begins when watching the films.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Five

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_29Master of Kung Fu #29 was the beginning of the much-promised new direction the series would take. Having carefully established warring factions of the Si-Fan with loyalties divided between Fu Manchu or Fah lo Suee, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy now set aside this key storyline they had developed and expanded since replacing Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin on the book and took Shang-Chi in a decidedly different direction, albeit one that would guarantee the series’ longevity.

While Moench had taken pains to ensure a greater fidelity to Sax Rohmer’s work, he would still deviate from it at key points. Part of this was in shaving twenty-some years off the back continuity inherited from Rohmer to make elderly characters like Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie a bit more viable in the 1970s than they would be as men who should have been in their nineties. More importanly, Moench chooses to make Petrie an MI5 agent the same as Smith rather than simply Sir Denis’ lifelong friend and amanuensis.

Shang-Chi is summoned to Sir Denis’ New York estate where Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston have already gathered along with Dr. Petrie. Smith offers Shang-Chi a place among his operatives in taking down heroin dealer Carlton Velcro. Reston is the key man in the operation as he has taken the identity of Mr. Blue, the New York connection in Velcro’s heroin pipeline. Reston’s personality has been softened to make the character more mature and more of a team player with Tarr, Smith, and Petrie.

Shang-Chi is torn between his pacifist philosophy and his trust in Sir Denis as a good man who desires to eradicate evil from the world. A visit to a Manhattan rehab clinic is enough to convince Shang-Chi that stopping the powerful heroin dealer is justification enough to use violence against the greater social ill. Of course, this Machiavellian decision is one that will bring Shang-Chi much grief. It is to Moench’s credit that the reader immediately understands that choosing to be a hero brings Shang-Chi closer to the the philosophy his father has embraced – a philosophy Shang-Chi has sworn to reject. Choosing Sir Denis as a father figure illustrates that Shang-Chi, like the traditional reader of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series,  fails to perceive just how much of a mirror image Sir Denis is to his venerable foe.

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New Treasures: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter-small The Affair of the Mysterious Letter-back-small

Have you ever picked up a book in a bookstore and known instantly it was coming home with you? That’s exactly what happened with The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall when I plucked it off the shelf on Saturday. Glancing over the top-rated Amazon reviews (kimbacaffeinate sums it up as a “Sherlockian based tale set off planet and filled with magic, vampires, gods and limitless worlds,” and Sherry M. calls it “Clever and very funny queer mashup of Holmes/weird fantasy”) when I got home reassured me I’d definitely made a wise purchase.

But it was this blurb from Ruthanna Emrys, author of Winter Tide and Deep Roots, that convinced me I’d found my reading project for the week.

This book is so far up my alley that I discovered new, non-euclidean corners of the alley that I didn’t previously know existed. The world has heretofore suffered from a sad lack of queer consulting sorceresses, prudish-yet-romantic Azathoth cultists, existentially surreal urban planning, and post-colonial Carcosan politics.

Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new — very new — twist on some of the most famous characters in literature, in a book that’s equal parts homage to Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is not the kind of book I expect to see from Ace Books these days, but that’s their logo right there on the spine. It was published by Ace on June 18, 2019. It is 340 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Adam Auerbach. Read the first six chapters (29 pages) here.


Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone – 3 Good Reasons: Not Quite Dead Enough

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

NotDeadEnoughPBjpgI have written a LOT about Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons — some of it here at Black Gate. I even write newsletters about each one. And I had a pretty neat hardboiled/pulp column here. But my favorite mystery series, bar none, is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. I’ve read and re-read each story multiple times and never tire of them. I even adapted one of the old Sidney Greenstreet radio shows into a pastiche (more of those are coming).

The genesis of Hither Came Conan (which I’m sure you’re following here at Black Gate) was actually an essay I wrote for my first (and so far only) Nero Wolfe Newsletter: 3 Good Things. Since I have far more writing projects (including a similar Robert E. Howard Newsletter) planned than, you know, actually written, issue two of The Brownstone of Nero Wolfe isn’t in the immediate future. So, as time allows, I’m going to write up some new 3 Good Reasons entries and post them here under the Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone moniker. I’d read and write REH and Wolfe just about all day, if I could. So, here we go…

Welcome to the first installment of 3 Reasons. With a goal of eventually tackling every tale of the Corpus, I’ll give three reasons why the particular story at hand is the best Nero Wolfe of them all. Since I’m writing over seventy ‘Best Story’ essays, the point isn’t actually to pick one – just to point out some of what is good in every adventure featuring Wolfe and Archie. And I’ll toss in one reason it’s not the best story. Now — These essays will contain SPOILERS. You have been warned!

The Story

It’s World War II and Archie is ‘Major Goodwin’, working for military intelligence. The Army wants Nero Wolfe to help with a particularly tricky issue, and the corpulent detective won’t talk to anyone. Archie is assigned back to the Brownstone to talk some sense into Wolfe. He finds the world’s most ordered household routine turned upside down and is dragged into a case brought to his attention by Lily Rowan.

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New Treasures: For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Friday, January 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Sake of the Game-smallLaurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger have edited four popular Holmes-themed anthologies: A Study in Sherlock (2011), In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (2014), and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes (2016). Their newest features contributions from a stellar list of authors, including Peter S. Beagle, F. Paul Wilson, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Duane Swierczynski, and Gregg Hurwitz. Publishers Weekly says it presents a wide range of genres “from cozy to horror;” here’s a snippet from their full review.

The 14 selections include a poem, Peter S. Beagle’s “Dr. Watson’s Song,” which provides a deeper look at the doctor’s emotional life, and a comic, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello’s “The Case of the Naked Butterfly,” which continues the exploits of insects Inspector Mantis and Dr. Hopper. Fans of the BBC’s Sherlock will appreciate Alan Gordon’s take on Holmes’s relationship with Mycroft in “The Case of the Missing Case.” Reed Farrel Coleman weighs in with one of the more memorable contributions, the metaphysical “A Study in Absence,” in which a book editor asks for help tracing an author using the pseudonym of I.M. Knott. The best light entry is Harley Jane Kozak’s “The Walk-in,” featuring a Sherlockian British intelligence agent, which opens with the tantalizing line “It’s not every day that you walk into your apartment and find that your cat has turned into a dog.”

Here’s the description.

For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers ― regardless of genre ― to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Leslie S. Klinger’s previous books include In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe and The Annotated Watchmen; Elizabeth Crowens interviewed him for Black Gate last year. For the Sake of the Game was published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018. It is 264 pages, priced at $25.95 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Christine Van Bree.


Incendiary Conspiracy Theory Suggests Possible Collusion Between She-Ra: Princess of Power and Hordak

Monday, February 12th, 2018 | Posted by Nick Ozment

she-ra-chicks-rule-small

The 1985 cartoon She-Ra: Princess of Power was a spin-off of He Man and the Masters of the Universe aimed at young girls. It ran for 2 seasons, 93 episodes, and was canceled in 1986. Both series were produced by Filmation in conjunction with toymaker Mattel.

WHAT FOLLOWS IS AN OFFSCREEN CONVERSATION FROM A SECRET RECORDING OF SOME OF THE SUPPORTING CAST. 

This is a partial transcript of video obtained from the memory files of one of Hordak’s captured Hover Robot spies. It has never been declassified or released on Etheria or Eternia, and we are publishing the audio transcript here at Black Gate at great personal risk, like the brave souls in the movie The Post. You’re welcome, people of planet Earth!

FLUTTERINA: “Well, since we’re dishing gossip, lemme tell you guys — totally off the record — lemme tell you what bothers me about this whole She-Ra charade. I saw her lift a whole lake once.”

LOO-KEE: “Huh?”

FLUTTERINA: “A whole lake. With the bedrock beneath it — like a bowl, ‘cuz you can’t just lift a body of water — and toss it like a mile through the air. A lake. That puts her at what power level? Like a hundred He-Mans? So why doesn’t she just stamp out The Horde?”

KOWL: [flaps his ear-wings and hovers excitedly] “Yeah! Every time she ‘defeats’ Hordak, she just lets him slip away. Sometimes she sees him off with a shake of her finger and a ‘Don’t you ever get up to this sort of mischief again’!”

FLUTTERINA: “It is kind of demented, isn’t it? Like she just likes toying with him, dragging out a cruel game for her own perverse pleasure.”

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By Crom: Some Conans are More Equal Than Others…

Thursday, January 4th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan and the Emerald LotusI’ve been in a bit of a Robert. E. Howard mood lately, so I re-read some of his Solomon Kane stories (fine stuff). But, as always, I gravitated back to Conan. And that inevitably led me to the pastiches. A quick count of the shelves produced 42 non-Howard Conan tales, excluding the de Camp/Carter books, of which I’m missing two or three, I think.

I’ve read at least a third of those pastiches, I’d say, maybe close to half. Except for a few, they are part of the Tor line I wrote about here. And as I mentioned, they’re a mixed bag. I also wrote a post regarding how official those pastiches are considered, which generated a lot of good commentary.

The Tor line came to a halt in 1997, with one additional book in 2003 (I wouldn’t have minded if they’d skipped that last one). There have been no official Conan pastiches in fifteen years, though that’s going to change shortly.

Howard Andrew Jones, fantasy author and Black Gate‘s Managing Editor, had some thoughts similar to mine over at his blog a few years ago. Ryan Harvey’s Pastiches R Us looked at about a dozen of the Tor books: you can search Black Gate for them, but here’s one and here’s another. He also had Charles Saunders do a guest post for him.

A multitude of writers have penned a plethora of words about the Conan pastiches, but I’m keeping this post ‘in-house’ and will focus on musings from Howard, Ryan and myself.

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By Crom! New Robert E. Howard Pastiches Coming in 2018!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan_FrazettaFrostgiantsOf course, you saw yesterday’s Black Gate post on Heroic Signatures, the new digital/gaming partnership, which includes the rights to about two dozen Robert E. Howard characters and stories. With the recent releases of Modiphius’ Robert E Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of RPG, Monolith’s Conan board game and Funcom’s in-beta Conan: Exiles video game, Conan is a very viable gaming brand these days. And Funcom’s Age of Conan MMO (which I play) is still going strong as it approaches the decade mark.

But fans of Conan’s creator, such as the contributors and readers of our recent Discovering Robert E. Howard series, are yearning for new pastiches featuring Howard’s characters. And not just Conan, but Solomon Kane, El Borak, Breckenridge Elkins and Steve Harrison, to name a few. Aside from some Age of Conan tie-in novels, the Conan pastiche market dried up when Tor finished its series in 2003 with Harry Turtledove’s Conan of Venarium.

The Tor novels were a mix of varying quality, as I wrote about here. I quite enjoyed some, such as John Maddox Roberts’ Conan the Rogue (an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest), Chris Hocking’s The Emerald Lotus and Leonard Carpenter’s Conan the Raider. But unfortunately, some were just simply bad fantasy books.

So, while we have been treated to quality reprints of Howards’ works from Del Rey and the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, new tales have not been forthcoming. Behold: that is about to change!

In 2018, new pastiches featuring Robert E. Howard characters will be forthcoming!!!!  

Cabinet Group LLC, the REH rights holders and 50% of Heroic Signatures (with Funcom) “have decided to curate a line of carefully picked novels and start a publishing program next year.” This will not just be Conan but other Howard works as well.

Black Gate will have a Q&A post with Cabinet Group head Fredrik Malmberg shortly. Updates coming from Cabinet Group with more information.

But to the many fans of Robert E. Howard, this is exciting news. Could we even see a new Steve Harrison tale? Asks the in-house mystery guy who writes Sherlock Holmes stories? (Hint, hint, hint, Cabinet…)

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Casebooks (Vol 2) & The Thinking Engine

Monday, December 11th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Lovegrove_MiskatonicLast December I wrote about Sherlock Holmes & the Shadwell Shadows, volume one of James Lovegrove’s Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy. And this December, it’s on to book two, Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities. I wasn’t quite as fond of the second installment, though not because it’s a bad book.

As I wrote in that first review:

The basic premise of the… trilogy is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul.

The darkness exists because Holmes, with Watsons’s assistance, waged a career-long war with the otherworld beings of the Cthulhu mythos.

Somewhere in another Black Gate post, I calculated the percentage that Holmes is absent in each of the four novellas which Doyle wrote featuring the great detective. Lovegrove chose to use that novella model and it’s my biggest complaint about the book. Holmes and Watson find a journal and read it. It reminds me of the Mormon interlude in A Study in Scarlet and it takes up thirty-five percent of the book.

Fully one-third of this novel has nothing to do with Holmes or Watson. It provides background to the mystery, but it could be a standalone story and it would have no more tie-in to Holmes than an account of my going out to lunch yesterday.

The flashback takes place in Arkham and it is essentially a Cthulhu short novella. Lovegrove got to write a Lovecraft pastiche within a Holmes pastiche. Of course, these three books are aimed at fans of the Cthulhu stories, so it’s not totally out there. I’ve read stories by Lovecraft, Derleth and others. I don’t mind them, but I’m not a particularly big fan. So, I’m not the target audience for the trilogy.

Those who are avid Holmes and Cthulhu fans are likely to enjoy this second book more than I did. But the fact is that this was a third of the book with no Holmes and/or Watson.

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New Treasures: Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions, by Lois H. Gresh

Friday, September 1st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Sherlock Holmes vs Cthulhu-smallI know, I know. Call this one a guilty pleasure. Bob Byrne, our resident Sherlock guru, is probably rolling over in his grave, and he ain’t even dead.

What can I tell you? Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu, together again. A whole lot of promising novels from bright young faces got shoved aside this week in my eagerness for this one. Titan Books, you’re deranged, and I love you for it.

Titan has made quite an industry of Sherlock Holmes pastiches over the years, publishing novels by Sam Siciliano, Mark A. Latham, Steven Savile, David Stuart Davies, Cavan Scott, Barrie Roberts, William Seil, Richard L. Boyer, and others. This isn’t even their first Holmes/Cthulhu crossover — I believe that honor goes to The Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy by James Lovegrove. How well did that turn out? Here’s Bob from his BG review:

Lovegrove, who has written several non-Holmes books, is part of Titan’s stable of new Holmes authors. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is the first of a trilogy, with Sherlock Holmes & The Miskatonic Monstrosities due out in Fall of 2017 and Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea Devils to wrap things up in November of 2018.

The basic premise of the book (yea, the trilogy) is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul… something extremely unpleasant happened to Watson in a subterranean city in Afghanistan – giving him a wound that had nothing to do with a Jezail bullet.

Holmes and Watson take lodgings together at 221B Baker Street and immediately set off on a case. In a nutshell (somebody needs to clean the floor of all these nutshells here at the Black Gate offices!), Holmes is going to do battle with beings from the Cthulhu tales. The first part of the book has almost a Fu Manchu type of feel to it, but then it shifts into straight Lovecraft horror.

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