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Random Reviews: “Roses,” by Deborah Burros

Random Reviews: “Roses,” by Deborah Burros

Cover by Ron Walotsky
Cover by Ron Walotsky

Deborah Burros had a relatively short writing career, publishing a total of five stories between her debut in 1991 with “Masks” and her most recent story, “Artistic License,” which appeared in 2002. Three of her stories appeared in the Sword and Sorceress anthology series, while the other two appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. Her middle tale, “Roses,” appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of the magazine.

Burros tells the story of the marriage between Lady Rose and Lord Sleet. It is not a happy marriage, for neither of them loved the other and it was understood by both that Lord Sleet had married Lady Rose for her family’s money and Lady Rose had married Lord Sleet in order to gain a veneer of respectability for a family whose money was apparently made under unsavory conditions. The couple seemed to have come to an arrangements, however, wherein Lady Rose would spend her time cultivating a rose garden and Lord Sleet would spend his time in dalliance with his mistress, Jade.

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A Strange Song of Unknown Places: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

A Strange Song of Unknown Places: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

HPL’s original manuscript

Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles. It was a fever of the gods, a fanfare of supernal trumpets and a clash of immortal cymbals. Mystery hung about it as clouds about a fabulous unvisited mountain; and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.

HP Lovecraft (1890-1937) was a man who seems to have never been fully comfortable in the world. His racism, most unpleasantly, but also, his old-fashioned affectations and his adamant refusal to bend his artistic desires to the least sort of commercial demands, all these, I believe, indicate a severe unease with the way the world was (he even turned down the editorship of Weird Tales because he refused to move to Chicago “on aesthetic grounds.”) The old America, peopled by the heirs of the original colonial families, had been washed away on a tide of industrialization and immigration. It was decadent and in decline and he would not be a part of it.

From his earliest days, Lovecraft was plagued by strange dreams and nightmares. Many of these would serve as the basis of stories later in life. A tragic family life — his father died in an asylum of late-stage syphilis and his family slowly slipped into poverty — and an innate nervous disposition probably had much to do with his attitudes. At the heart of the horror stories for which he’s most famous is the belief that mankind is insignificant and powerless in the face of a vast and uncaring Universe. While I don’t think he was mentally ill or anything, I do believe he longed for some intangible, more fantastic and better world.

Not finding one at hand, he created one in a series of related tales that culminated with The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath in 1927 (though it wouldn’t be published until 1943). Typically referred to as his Dream Cycle, Lovecraft was greatly influenced in writing these tales by Lord Dunsany‘s lush stories. The stories are filled with dense descriptive passages, surreal imagery, and the illogical logic of dreams.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Rebecca Roanhorse’s Fevered Star Shines Against a Black Sun

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Rebecca Roanhorse’s Fevered Star Shines Against a Black Sun

Fevered Star (Gallery/Saga Press, April 19, 2022)

The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.

The Meridian: a land where magic has been codified and the worship of gods suppressed. How do you live when legends come to life, and the faith you had is rewarded?

As sea captain Xiala is swept up in the chaos and currents of change, she finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For the Clan Matriarchs of Tova, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens is reflected upon the earth.

And for Serapio and Naranpa, both now living avatars, the struggle for free will and personhood in the face of destiny rages. How will Serapio stay human when he is steeped in prophecy and surrounded by those who desire only his power? Is there a future for Naranpa in a transformed Tova without her total destruction?

In late 2020, a year of darkness, catastrophe and ill-omen, Rebecca Roanhorse published Black Sun, the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, a novel of darkness, catastrophe and ill-omen. While decidedly a coincidence, perhaps this was just the right book at the right time for me to curl up and read. Inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas, particularly, those of Mesoamerica, the Southwestern ‘Ancient Puebloans’ and the great, wooden city of Cahokia in central Illinois, this was a fast-paced, fresh story that turned the ideas and tropes of epic fantasy to a new set of myths and civilizations. I devoured it rather quickly, and you can see my thoughts in my review here at BG.

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New Treasures: Skallagrim – In the Vales of Pagarna by Stephen R. Babb

New Treasures: Skallagrim – In the Vales of Pagarna by Stephen R. Babb

Skallagrim – In the Vales of Pagarna (Hidden Crown Press, 373 pages; Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, March 2022). Cover by Walking of Sky Tree
Frazetta – Against the Gods

Experience Skallagrim – In the Vales of Pagarna by Stephen R. Babb in all its forms. This post covers everything to get you hooked, from a summary, review, excerpts, and links to the complementing albums from Glass Hammer. Reading Skallagrim feels like you are a witness to the live version of Frazetta’s “Against the Gods” painting! You actually witness a hero grab a sword from the sky.

The opening scene poses a set of mysteries as the titular protagonist is brutally attacked in the streets of Archon, the Dreaming City. He loses his memory during the struggle, by wounds or sorcery, so the hero and the reader want to know: Why Skallagrim in a melee? Who is he, really? Why does he feel protective over a maiden kidnapped during the conflict? Why are multiple sorcerers after him? Why the hell can he grab a sentient, screaming sword that materializes from a sudden storm?

The rest of the book unravels these questions, as Skallagrim races against time to save the mystery maiden. He’ll wrestle with eldritch, chthonic creatures, a herd of ghouls, a few necromancers, and an assassin. As Skallagrim unearths the weird history of Andorath’s Southern Region, we get to learn about it as he battles. The book stands alone, but did you know that Stephen R. Babb has been a progressive rocker and theatrical-album-leader for thirty years (more on Glass Hammer below!). Poems and lyrics infuse the prose. For the full effect, readers should listen to the complementary Skallagrim albums. These are not Audio Books. These are thematic rock sets chronicling Skallagrim’s heroic journey.  Embedded below are the opening songs to (1) and (2).  Listen to these!  Babb is creating a rich world here.

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Haunted Trains and the Rock-and-Roll Afterlife: The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series X, edited by Karl Edward Wagner

Haunted Trains and the Rock-and-Roll Afterlife: The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series X, edited by Karl Edward Wagner


The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series X (DAW, August 1982). Cover by Michael Whelan

The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series X was the tenth volume in DAW’s Year’s Best Horror Stories, copyrighted and printed in 1982. A whole decade for this anthology thus far! This was the third volume edited by horror author and editor Karl Edward Wagner (1945–1994). Michael Whelan’s (1950–) artwork appears for an eighth time in a row on the cover. This is one of his eeriest and best yet. The same cover would later appear on the 1989 omnibus Horrorstory: Volume Five, a collection of volumes XIII-XV of this series from Underwood Miller.

Of the eighteen different authors in The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series X, all but two were male, with one story cowritten by a male/female team. (G. W. Perriwils is the pen name for Georgette Perry & William J. Wilson.) Eleven were American, the other seven were British. Of the fifteen stories included seven were from professional magazines, four from books, three from fanzines or booklets, and one was original to this anthology, though was to appear shortly afterward in another periodical.

I enjoyed the first volumes in DAW’s Year’s Best Horror Stories edited by Richard Davis (Series I–III) and Gerald Page (Series IV–VII). I would not say that these editors were “stale,” but Wagner does seem to bring a fresher vitality. I think this is due primarily to his introductions, which operate more as “state of horror field” yearly addresses, and his short bios before each story. I’m sure all good editors put forth their best efforts, but Wagner’s passion, I think, really shows itself in these volumes.

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A Must-Buy For Any Howard Fan: Robert E. Howard Changed My Life edited by Jason M. Waltz

A Must-Buy For Any Howard Fan: Robert E. Howard Changed My Life edited by Jason M. Waltz


Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (Rogue Blades Foundation, June 9, 2021). Cover by Didier Normand

Many of us “older folk” (I’m using that term very broadly) can attest to some experience in their early years — usually somewhere around 13-years old — where some individual, some book or books, some movie, some band or something similar made a huge impact upon our lives, an impact with a positive and profound, lasting influence.

For me, it was probably getting my first basic box set of Dungeons & Dragons (with the Erol Otus cover) for Christmas in 1981. I was only 12 at the time. Thereafter I immediately began to beg for, or scrap together any money I could to buy, any D&D books that I could get my hands on. And probably the most influential D&D book I got shortly thereabout was the hardback Deities & Demigods (again with an Erol Otus cover). This book had chapters on a host of traditional mythologies, each with its own heroes, gods and monsters — provided with D&D stats of course! But Deities & Demigods also contained other “mythologies” that were rooted in the books of authors like Michael Moorcock, H. P. Lovecraft and Fritz Leiber. This opened up a whole literary world for me that, I can fairly say, changed my life in integral ways.

Perhaps you’re old enough to relate to something similar happening to you. Evidently many can claim that the books of Texas writer Robert E. Howard (1906–1936) had such an impact. Rogue Blades Entertainment’s new book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life: Personal Essays about an Extraordinary Legacy gives a whole litany of testimonies to such. How did this interesting book come about?

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Datlow’s Scary Monsters: SCREAMS FROM THE DARK

Datlow’s Scary Monsters: SCREAMS FROM THE DARK

Screams from the Dark (Tor Nightfire, June 7, 2022)

Monsters are among the most common, classic characters in horror, so it’s not surprising that the latest from famed horror anthologist Ellen Datlow is devoted to them. Datlow’s call for contributions generated a massive response from some of today’s most acclaimed horror writers, and the result is a mega-anthology with twenty-nine original stories.

The average quality is obviously high although, due to the theme, there is a certain, inevitable tendency to repetitiveness. With such a huge anthology it is quite impossible to comment upon each story (see table of contents, below). However, taking advantage of a reviewer’s privileges, I will simply focus on my “Magnificent Seven” among the contributions.

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Random Reviews: “Twelve-Steppe Program,” by Esther Friesner

Random Reviews: “Twelve-Steppe Program,” by Esther Friesner

Cover by Tristan Elwell
Cover by Tristan Elwell

Last week’s story, “The Birth of A.I.” was a humorous short story which led up to a single punchline. This week’s story, Esther Friesner’s “Twelve-Steppe Program” is a longer humorous short story that rather than serve as the delivery system for a joke, focuses on the situations Friesner establishes to find its humor rather than punchlines.

The eunuch Nir Mung-Mung has been ordered to travel to the Garikkh horde to retrieve Princess Anuk’ti so she can become the bride of Prince Floats-like-dandelion-fluff-upon-the-scented-waters. Unfortunately for Nir Mung-Mung, he is entirely aware of the political machinations of the Chief Eunuch who is less interested in establishing a marriage between Prince Fluffy and Princess Anuk’ti and more concerned with holding onto his role as Chief Eunuch and making sure that any of his rivals, of whom he includes Nir Mung-Mung, are removed from contention to replace him.

For her part, Princess Anuk’ti is not the demure bride that Nir Mung-Mung was expecting to escort. Among her first interactions with him was an attempt to seduce him, not recognizing that he was a eunuch. In any event, Anuk’ti has her own agenda and once Nir Mung-Mung and Anuk’ti begin listening to each other, they come up with the beginnings of a plan to ensure both of their survivals in a court that is designed to be inhospitable to them.

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Carving Out Destiny: Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

Carving Out Destiny: Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

There came a time when the destiny of Men and Gods was hammered out upon the forge of Fate, when monstrous wars were brewed and mighty deeds were designed. And there rose up in this time, which was called the Age of the Young Kingdoms, heroes. Greatest of these heroes was a doom-driven adventurer who bore a crooning runeblade that he loathed.
His name was Elric of Melniboné…

from the Prologue to Stormbringer

That cover, more than any other, depicts the absolute coolness of swords & sorcery and what I like about it. Michael Whelan’s painting for the 1977 DAW edition of Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer (1965) is the first time in over two hundred essays I haven’t put the first edition cover first. You can talk about heroism, barbarism vs. civilization and whatnot until the end of the day but, ultimately, this is what I dig. That depiction of Elric, runeblade held high, Horn of Fate trailing behind him, under the storm-wracked heavens, says more about what brings me back to the genre than any book-long disquisition ever could. It’s just so stinking cool. Its appeal is purely and mind-blowingly visceral.

When I was in my mid-teens, all my friends and I devoured these books relentlessly. As soon as one of us finished one series we plunged right into the next. The gradual realization that all of Moorcock’s S&S stories were linked in some crazy pattern made our reading even more compulsive. Many, many elements in his books wound up in roleplaying sessions. I ended at least one universe in a very Moorcockian style.

I did a quick count of how many Moorcock books I’ve read and got over thirty. Some of them, particularly the assorted Eternal Champion books (Elric, Dorian Hawkmoon, Corum, etc.), I’ve read numerous times. I’ve probably read all six Corum novels five or six times. I have definitely not reread any other S&S books, neither Robert E. Howard’s nor Karl Edward Wagner’s, anywhere near that number of times. Moorcock’s books have done more than any other’s to build the framework of what S&S writing is for me if by no other measure than number of pages read. There’s more creativity when it comes to characters and world-building in almost any of his slim DAW yellow-spine books than nearly any monstrous tome I’ve bludgeoned my way through.

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Random Reviews: “The Box” by Bruce Coville

Random Reviews: “The Box” by Bruce Coville

Cover by David Palladini
Cover by David Palladini

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I roll several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 4,023 which turned out to be Bruce Coville’s short story “The Box.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a personal point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

“The Box” refers to a gift an angel has given to Michael when he was a young boy. The box wasn’t a gift, but rather a duty, for Michael was told to take good care of the box until the angel returned to retrieve it. Holding onto the box shaped his life from the time he received it through school, dating, work, and into old age.

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