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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Mind-blowing in the Best Science-fictional Tradition: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Monday, October 7th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

This Is How You Lose the Time War-smallAt Wiscon in 2017 I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Guest of Honor (and Black Gate blogger emeritus) Amal El-Mohtar and author Max Gladstone conducted a joint reading of a project they’d been working on together. Here’s how I described it in my convention report for Black Gate.

For the second half of her reading, Amal invited Max Gladstone to the stage to perform a joint reading of their collaborative tale. It’s an epistolary Spy vs. Spy novella, set in a universe where time is a braid, and two timelines exist simultaneously. One where consciousness is embedded, one where it is more abstract. (Think of them as a technologically advanced timeline, and a more natural world.) Both timelines are unstable. There’s a time war between the two realities, and two opposing agents, Red and Blue. At the end of a successful and bloody opp, Red finds a letter left for her by her enemy that reads “Burn before reading. ” She knows it’s a trap, but it’s also a thrown gauntlet, and she cannot resist. Soon she’s leaving her own notes in response.

What starts as inquisitive taunts at mysterious opponents gradually become much sharper, funnier and more poignant as the two take their game — and their taunts — to higher and higher levels. All the while hiding their correspondence from their superiors, and gradually learning at least grudging respect for each other. Once again, the audience got only a tantalizing snippet of a wider story, but it was a fascinating one.

The story is tentatively titled “These Violent Delights.” It does not yet have a publisher.

“These Violent Delights” eventually became the collaborative novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, published by Saga Press in July of this year. It has been widely praised; Martha Wells calls it “rich and strange, a romantic tour through all of time and the multiverse,” and Publishers Weekly says it’s “Exquisitely crafted… Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure… dazzling.”

But I think my favorite review comes from our own Matthew David Surridge, writing at Splice Today. Matthew is insightful and illuminating as always, calling the novel “mind-blowing in the best science-fictional tradition.” Here’s the highlights.

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A Mysterious, Whirling Fantasy: Anaïs Nin at the Grand Guignol by Robert Levy

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Ford

Anaïs Nin at the Grand Guignol-small Anaïs Nin at the Grand Guignol-back-small

Anais Nin At The Grand Guignol
By Robert Levy
Lethe Press (170 pages, $13 in paperback, no digital edition?)

Read Robert Levy’s Anais Nin At The Grand Guignol from Lethe Press. Being a fan of Henry Miller and Anais Nin and the whole dynamic milieu of 1930’s Paris, when I saw this book I had to check it out and was not disappointed.

In the voice of Nin, it tells of her journey into the dark world of the Grand Guignol, a playhouse of horror themes and outre sketch drama where she finds a new passion beyond Miller and June and her husband. Someone thrilling and dangerous, Maxa, the most murdered woman in the world. To have Maxa she finds she must match wits against a monstrous creature of the night, Monsieur Guillard, in a surreal contest. The writing is really beautiful, from the descriptions of place, to the sex, to the macabre world of the bizarre theatre. A mysterious, whirling fantasy.

Levy really captures Nin’s writing voice and sensibility as well as her times. This is an instance of a writer doing more with less. A short novel that creates a complete reading experience. Check it out.

A Fast-Action Space Romp: The Disasters by M. K. England

Monday, September 30th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

The-Disasters-small The-Disasters-back-small

Nax has wanted to be a space pilot his whole life, but he washes out of the Academy on his very first day. Walking to the shuttle that will take him back to Earth in disgrace, he realizes that he will never get behind the controls of a real spaceship. His dream of cruising among the stars is over before it even began. He’ll spend the rest of his life on his family’s farm, feeding chickens and herding goats.

Three other Academy rejects are waiting for the shuttle when he arrives at the gate: Case the girl genius, Zee the athletic doctor, and Rion the smooth-talking diplomat.

The shuttle arrives. They’re about to board it when Case notices something bright blue and green on its hull.

That’s when the lights go out and alarms start to sound.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Seven

Friday, September 27th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Deadly_Hands_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_15The continuing success of Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella led Marvel to relaunch its black & white magazine division in 1973. While the best of these Marvel Magazine titles supplemented the color comic line with material that could not easily be published in a monthly Code-approved title (Dracula Lives and Savage Sword of Conan, for instance) or offered unique material not spun-off as a companion title to a monthly (Planet of the Apes and Tales of the Zombie, among others), The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu sought a middle ground as a response to the martial arts craze that had taken America by storm on the silver screen, the small screen, comic books, and even the radio (Enter the Dragon, TV’s Kung Fu, Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, and Carl Douglas’ novelty hit single “Kung Fu Fighting”).

Master of Kung Fu may have been the lead feature at the start of the magazine’s run, but the title was never built solely around the continuing adventures of Shang-Chi alone. Articles, interviews, reviews, back-up strips, and reprints were just as important for a magazine that wanted not only to exploit the martial arts fad but also be taken seriously by martial arts students. For the purpose of our continuing series on Shang-Chi, we shall only be considering the black & white Master of Kung Fu strip that featured in most issues with passing reference to other material only where appropriate.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 launched in April 1974 with Master of Kung Fu as the lead feature written and illustrated by Shang-Chi’s creators Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. Following just a few months after the character’s color comics debut in Special Marvel Edition #15, the story returned us to Shang-Chi’s early years in Honan, China when he trained as an assassin in service of his father. We see that as early as age fourteen, the seeds of doubt were sown in Shang-Chi as he questions the deadly violence of his martial arts training after learning from his mentor, Cho Lin that the assassins he dispatched who infiltrated the temple for the sole purpose of murdering the son of Fu Manchu were actually hired by his father as a lethal training exercise. The largest flaw here is that Starlin clearly drew Shang-Chi without knowledge that Englehart wanted him depicted as a fourteen year old. It is a nice touch to see that the deliberate manipulation of Shang-Chi by Cho Lin is intended as a slow fuse rebellion on his part. The monk recognizes that Shang-Chi will eventually reject his father’s doctrine and the deadly force that is Shang-Chi will be turned upon his maker.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy The Gods Themselves Part 1-small If The Gods Themselves Part 2 Galaxy The Gods Themselves Part 3-small

Galaxy and IF magazines serializing Asimov’s The Gods Themselves in 1972. Covers by Jack Gaughan

In 1973 the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for Best Novel were each won by The Gods Themselves, by Isaac Asimov. The Gods Themselves also won Australia’s Ditmar Award for Best International Novel.

Isaac Asimov had won two previous Hugos, but neither was a “Regular” Hugo – he won a Special Award for his F&SF Science articles in 1963, and in 1966 the Foundation Series was named Best All-Time Series, a one-time category, beating out (to his expressed great surprise) Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History, Doc Smith’s Lensmen novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Asimov had largely stopped writing fiction in the late 1950s, slowing down to roughly a short story a year through the 1960s. Beginning in the early ‘70s, however, he began to produce more fiction, including the Black Widower mysteries, and some more SF. Robert Silverberg coaxed a story out of him for his new original anthology series, New Dimensions, and Asimov wrote “Plutonium-186,” but soon realized it should be a full novel. (He gave Silverberg another story, “Take a Match.”) “Plutonium-186” became The Gods Themselves, his first novel in 15 years (not counting the novelization of the movie Fantastic Voyage.)

The novel was first serialized in a strange way. Galaxy and If were sister magazines, each published bi-monthly. So the three (fairly separate) parts of The Gods Themselves appeared in Galaxy for March-April 1972, If for March-April 1972, and then Galaxy for May-June. The hardcover appeared from Doubleday in May.

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The Cost of Becoming Royalty: Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 | Posted by CAITLIN MCALLISTER

Crown of Coral and Pearl-smallTwins Nor (coral) and Zadie (pearl) live in Varenia, a world built on stilts above the ocean. The floating village makes a living diving for and collecting rare pearls that have healing capabilities and trading them to Ilara, a distant kingdom.

In addition to pearls, Ilara also barters for queens. Once every generation, the most beautiful woman in Varenia is sent to land to become Ilara’s next lady sovereign.

Nor and Zadie have been preparing their entire lives to become royalty: protecting their skin and hair with ointments and treatments; not playing too hard to avoid accidents that might mar their complexions; and learning the etiquette expected of queens. Unfortunately, accidents aren’t entirely avoidable, and Nor’s cheek is ultimately scarred for life in a struggle with a fishing net while diving. After the accident any hope of being chosen as queen is smashed. Ironically, Nor is the more adventurous of the twins, and she has always yearned for more than what her tiny village can offer. Zadie is content in her small, floating world, in love with a local boy Sami and happy to live a life of the familiar.

However, a grave and tragic encounter with a sea jelly leaves Zadie unable to make the journey even after she’s chosen as the royal successor. In a dangerous plot, Nor disguises her scar and takes her twin’s place. The king doesn’t take kindly to imposters, and Nor is aware that Varenia’s entire fresh water supply was once cut off when a different woman was sent in place of the chosen one due to illness. Knowing the risk, Nor sets off on an adventure full of intrigue, politics and romance.

I could not put this book down and finished it in about a day. Rutherford has created a really interesting setting, and the world building is polished and sure. The floating world of Varenia is described incredibly well, and you’re immediately immersed in the salty sea breezes and vibrant colors of Nor and Zadie’s world — and, in contrast, the cold and dark of New Castle, where Nor settles into her new life on land. Nor is a fantastic protagonist with a very well-developed character – she’s everything you want a fierce female to be, yet with a soft and complex relationship with her sister. I enjoyed Nor’s story arc immensely.

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Space Empires, Ruined Civilizations, and Lovable Aliens: The Best of Eric Frank Russell

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Eric Frank Russell-small The Best of Eric Frank Russell-back-small

Cover by H. R. Van Dongen

The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was the eighteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Alan Dean Foster (1946–) provides the introduction, his first and only introduction for the series. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his seventh cover (far surpassing Dean Ellis’s five). Since Eric Frank Russell (1905–1978) was unavailable at the time this volume was compiled, no Afterword is included.

Alan Dean Foster relates in the introduction that during a lunch with John Campbell they realized they both had the same favorite sci-fi writer: Eric Frank Russell. But both lamented (this was 1968) that Russell no longer wrote that much. This seems like very high praise, since it comes from two very influential figures in the sci-fi field. But who was Eric Frank Russell, and why did he quit writing?

Eric Frank Russell was a British writer (which I found surprising since his dialogue sounds American to my reading). He grew up in a military family, but didn’t serve in the military until World War II. Most of his early life was spent writing for American and British pulp magazines. He also produced a few novels, some fairly successful, including Sinister Barrier (1943) and Wasp (1957), which was optioned by Ringo Starr of The Beatles, but never filmed.

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Ghostly Corners in a Fictional London: Where Shadows Gather by Michael Chislett

Monday, September 16th, 2019 | Posted by Mario Guslandi

Michael Chislett
Sarob Press (224 pages, £33.95/$60.00 [including shipping], July 2019)
Cover by Paul Lowe

Following his previous, acclaimed Sarob Press collection In the City of Ghosts Michael Chislett provides another bunch of ghostly tales, mostly set in the fictional London borough of Milford and the suburb of Mabbs End. Five stories are brand new, whereas eight have previously appeared in genre magazines (especially the excellent Supernatural Tales).

Chislett has a knack for creating creepy urban atmospheres, depicting sinister encounters and eerie experiences. Although, in my opinion, not up to the level of his previous collection, the present volume confirms his ability to create elegantly written, disquieting stories.

Among my favorite pieces are: “In the Garden,” an unusual story of botanical horror, where an ordinary garden of a London suburban house becomes the venue for ancient pagan forces, “Downriver,” an atmospheric tale where a walk along the Thames turns into a veritable nightmare and “The Raggy Girl”, a modern, disturbing ghost story revolving around a frightening apparition among the ruins of an old apartment building now being demolished.

A couple of stories are actually taking place overseas, such as the gloomy “The Coast Guard” set on the Baltic shore, hosting strange foxes and other horrific creatures.

The two highlights of the book are  “Mara,” an excellent, dark tale of vampirism featuring a beautiful but deadly vixen and an equally dangerous gentleman, and the outstanding “Endor,”a powerful, intoxicating mix of witchcraft, eroticism and possession.

A warning to the potential reader: if you’re interested in this book hurry up and order a copy. As usual, Sarob Press volumes have a limited print run and become quickly unobtainable.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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The Dawn of Comics in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


It isn’t often that comic books are a legitimate topic in works of literature, or that when they are, the book in question wins a Pulitzer. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, is such a novel. It was published in 2000 to near universal acclaim. It tells the story of two Jewish cousins from 1939 to 1953.

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