Hither Came Conan: David C. Smith on Pool of the Black One

Monday, February 18th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Val Mayerik - Savage Sword of Conan #22

Val Mayerik – Savage Sword of Conan #22

Welcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert (and me) examine one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. Up today, it’s author and Howard literary biographer David C. Smith. I reda Oron long before I discovered Conan. Read on!

By mid-1932, when Robert E. Howard wrote “The Pool of the Black One,” his tenth story to feature Conan the Cimmerian, he was well past the journeyman phase of his career. The very successful Sailor Costigan boxing stories had been appearing regularly in Fight Stories since the summer of 1929; Howard was becoming one of the prize contributors to Oriental Stories with his historical fiction set during the Crusades; and his stories featuring King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn and the ancient Picts had earned him star status as one of the premier contributors to Weird Tales.

Of the first four Conan stories written in early 1932, Farnsworth Wright had accepted for publication “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Tower of the Elephant.” These stories, together with the two unsold manuscripts — “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and “The God in the Bowl” — make clear that Howard was finding his way with the character and with his Hyborian Age setting. Conan is introduced in “The Phoenix on the Sword” as the regal king of Aquilonia; in the unsold second story, “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” he is a lustful young man eager to rape a beautiful goddess. The weird and imaginative “The Tower of the Elephant” takes place in a haunted tower, introduces a space alien trapped by the magic of an evil sorcerer, and concludes with a comically dark turn equal to any of Clark Ashton Smith’s stories. “The God in the Bowl,” on the other hand, is essentially a murder-mystery.

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Swashbuckling Adventure with that Classic Epic Fantasy Feel: The Empire of Storms Trilogy by Jon Skovron

Sunday, February 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Hope and Red-smal Bane and Shadow-small Blood and Tempest-small

Cover art by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

I’m in the market for a quick read this President’s Day weekend. Something light, with fun characters, a great setting, and a lot of action. I found a copy of Jon Skovron’s Blood and Tempest in the bookstore last weekend and, even though it’s clearly the third book in a series, it seemed exactly what I was looking for, and I happily brought it home. The first two, Hope and Red (2016) and Bane and Shadow (2017), are still in print, and I added them to my Amazon cart.

For light action fare, these books have collected a lot of praise. The Sun labeled the first one “A great swashbuckling adventure,” and in a starred review Publishers Weekly called it “Exceptional… A compelling coming-of-age yarn.” And Sarah Beth Durst (The Queen of Blood) said

Hope and Red is my favorite book of the year. Full of nonstop, irresistible adventure, it captures that wonderful classic epic fantasy feel, while introducing a fantastic pair of memorable new heroes.

Together the three books compose The Empire of Storms trilogy, about a warrior and a thief who go up against the forces of Empire. Here’s the description for the opening book.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Dragondrums, by Anne McCaffrey

Friday, February 15th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Steve Weston

Cover by Steve Weston

Cover by Fred Marcellino

Cover by Fred Marcellino

Cover by Elizabeth Malczynski

Cover by Elizabeth Malczynski

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won. The final awards were presented in 1985. A Balrog Award for Novel was presented each of the years the award existed.

Anne McCaffrey first introduced her world of Pern in “Weyr Search,” the cover story of the October 1967 issue of Analog. Although the story had all the trappings of a faux Medieval fantasy tale, McCaffrey claimed from the very beginning that it was a science fiction story, a claim bolstered by its presence in Analog, a science fiction magazine. The story went on to win the Hugo Award and McCaffrey used it in her first Pern novel. By 1978, she had published three novels in the Dragonriders of Pern series and the first two novels in the related Harper Hall series, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger. She had also clearly demonstrated the science fictional underpinnings of her world.

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Telepathic Invaders and Desperate Revolutionaries: The Shattered Kingdoms by Evie Manieri

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Blood's Pride Evie Manieri-small Fortune's Blight Evie Manieri-small Strife's Bane Evie Manieri-small

Every time a fantasy trilogy wraps up, we bake a cake in the Black Gate offices.

Evie Manieri’s The Shattered Kingdoms trilogy ends this month with Strife’s Bane, published in hardcover last week, four years after the last volume appeared. The series opened with Manieri’s debut novel Blood’s Pride (2013), the tale of a secret rebellion against telepathic warriors twenty years after they enslaved a nation, and continued with Fortune’s Blight (2015). Although it’s received praise from multiple quarters — Publishers Weekly says “The suspense, character development, and worldbuilding are all superior,” and Sharon Shinn called the opening novel “A fast-paced tale of honor and betrayal, hope and despair, secrets, revelations, and a whisper of divine magic”– the series has flown under the radar for many readers. Fortune’s Blight has only two reviews on Amazon, and (so far) Strife’s Bane has none at all — and has an Amazon Sales Rank of 932,782 a week after publication, not a promising sign.

I know there’s a popular trend (certainly among Black Gate readers, anyway) to stay clear of epic fantasy series until they’ve successfully completed. I hope that now that The Shattered Kingdoms has wrapped up, it will spur some fresh interest in the trilogy. Unlike many writers afflicted with late-series bloat, Manieri has kept her series lean. The first book in fact was by far the longest (528 pages); the second came in at 377, and Strife’s Bane weighs in at a trim 317. Here’s the description for the final book.

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Hither Came Conan: Morgan Holmes on Iron Shadows in the Moon

Monday, February 11th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Mark Schultz from Del Rey’s ‘The Coming of Conan’

“Shadows in the Moonlight” (editor’s note: Howard’s original title was “Iron Shadows in the Moon”) was the eighth Conan story to appear in the pulp magazine Weird Tales.  Conan had turned out to be a popular character with Weird Tales readers. The character was so popular in fact that fellow Weird Tales writer, E. Hoffmann Price, later wrote that Conan had saved the magazine more than once.

“Shadows in the Moonlight” appeared in the April 1934 issue of Weird Tales. This was an especially strong issue of the magazine. The contents included:

“Satan’s Garden” (Part 1 of 2)      E. Hoffmann Price (cover story)

“Black Thirst”                                     C. L. Moore

“Corsairs of the Cosmos”              Edmond Hamilton

“Shadows in the Moonlight”        Robert E. Howard

“The Death of Malygris”                Clark Ashton Smith

“Behind the Screen”                       Dale Clark

“The Cane”                                         Carl Jacobi

“Bells of Oceana”                             Arthur J. Burks

“In Mayan Splendor” (poem)      Frank Belknap Long

The 1930s Golden Age of Weird Tales was in full force with the three main first stringers present: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and C. L. Moore. Carl Jacobi, while not a headliner author, always produced good-to-excellent horror stories. The Arthur J. Burks story is a reprint from 1927. Burks was the sort of middling writer along the lines of Otis Adelbert Kline and Seabury Quinn that editor Farnsworth Wright was comfortable publishing. The only real weak story was by Dale Clark. Farnsworth Wright has a penchant for barely competent and unmemorable stories of this sort.

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Ancient Gods, World in Darkness, Ragtag Band of Fighters: The Bound Gods Trilogy by Rachel Dunne

Saturday, February 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

In the Shadow of the Gods-small The Bones of the Earth-small The Shattered Sun-small

I made my Saturday bi-weekly trip to Barnes & Noble today, ostensibly to pick up the latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which has a brand new Alaric the Minstrel novella by my friend Phyllis Eisenstein. While browsing the new releases half a dozen books caught my eye, including The Winter Road by Adrian Selby, The Lost by Kevin A. Munoz, and The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless. But the one that leaped into my hands was The Shattered Sun by Rachel Dunne, with the words A Bounds Gods Novel stamped on the cover, which certainly meant it was the umpteenth novel in series. This was on the back.

The epic sword-and-sorcery Bound Gods fantasy series comes to its dark conclusion in this thrilling story of a vibrant world whose fate lies in the hands of vengeful gods and bold warriors.

The world has been plunged into darkness… and only the scheming priest Joros might be able to bring back the sun.

With his ragtag band of fighters — a laconic warrior, a pair of street urchins, a ruthless priestess, and an unhinged sorcerer — Joros seeks to defeat the ancient gods newly released from their long imprisonment. But the Twins have champions of their own, and powers beyond knowing… and the only sure thing is that they won’t go down without a fight.

The fate of the world hangs in the balance as the Twins aim to enact revenge on the parents that imprisoned them, and the world that spurned them. The Long Night has begun, and the shadows hide many secrets — including that the Twins themselves may not be as powerful as they would have everyone think.

Joros and his allies must strike now — before the Twins can consolidate their power… and before they are allowed to shape the world in their vision.

Now, last thing I need is the final book in a series I’ve never heard of. But then again… there’s a lot that appeals to me here. Epic sword-and-sorcery. Desperate battle against ancient gods. World plunged into darkness, ragtag band of fighters. And Tony Mauro’s cover, with the stooped priest Joros and a mischievous imp familiar on his shoulder, is terrific. Ah, the hell with it. My house is already filled to the brim with fantasy novels. One more won’t hurt.

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Future Treasures: The Blackest Heart, Book 2 of The Five Warrior Angels by Brian Lee Durfee

Friday, February 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Forgetting-Moon-medium The Blackest Heart-small

The Forgetting Moon, the 800-page fat-fantasy debut from Brian Lee Durfee, was published in 2016 to some acclaim, and drew comparisons to Steven Erikson, David Eddings, and George R. R. Martin. SFFWorld was impressed, though it found things a little on the grimdark side.

When a young boy, Nail, is orphaned and taken in by a gruff and mostly silent warrior named Shawcroft, you might have an idea that Brian Lee Durfee’s The Forgetting Moon is going to tread into the waters of Epic Fantasy. You’d be mostly correct, but the routes he takes are down some of the more shadowy, grim, and darkest roads traveled in this popular sub-genre of Fantasy. To say that The Forgetting Moon leans on the shady grimdark side of fantasy would be an understatement, but nothing else about Durfee’s epic novel (and saga) is understated.

Not too surprisingly, one of the most enthusiastic reviews came from Matthew Cropley at Grimdark Magazine.

The Forgetting Moon by Brian Lee Durfee is a fantastic new addition to the grimdark fantasy landscape… The story begins with Nail, a young man living in a sleepy whaling village in the corner of the kingdom of Gul Kana. Unbeknownst to Nail, he has a grand destiny to fulfil and magical items that only he can wield. In Amadon, the capital of Gul Kana, Princess Jondralyn seeks to become a warrior as her younger sister, Tala, is swept into an assassination plot. Gault, a knight of the invading army from Sør Sevier, has become disillusioned with the conflict, and questions the rule of the conquering Angel Prince, Aeros Raijael. Other individuals scattered across the kingdom give further insight into the escalating war… It sounds like a familiar story but, in this case, Durfee turns it on its head. Nail is far from the moralistic hero of traditional fantasy, and everyone seems to have a different interpretation of the prophecies, if they’re even genuine in the first place…

The Forgetting Moon is an engaging tale about the fine line between truth and lies. It skilfully subverts stories of destiny and ancient magic without losing the grandeur such stories possess. The characters are memorable and realistic, the world is steeped in lore, and the book succeeds in being both fast-paced and sweeping. Brian Lee Durfee has done a fantastic job with his first novel, and the four more to come in the series are books to get excited about.

Wait, there are four more?? Volume two, The Blackest Heart, arrives in hardcover on February 26, and my advance copy tips the scales at 941 pages. We’re only two books into this series, and it’s already over 1,700 pages long. It you like your grimdark epic, I have good news for you.

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A Rich Library of Modern Science Fiction: The SF Gateway Omnibus Editions

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Heinlein The Past Through Tomorrow The SF Gateway Omnibus-small Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus-small Connie Willis SF Gateway Omnibus-small
Heinlein The Past Through Tomorrow The SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small Connie Willis SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small

Yesterday I posted a brief article on Jack Vance, and as one of the header images I included a pic of the Jack Vance SF Gateway Omnibus, a massive volume from Orion Publishing/Gollancz containing three complete works: Big Planet, The Blue World, and the collection The Dragon Masters and Other Stories. I did it because I thought the book was very cool, and I wanted readers to know about it. And it paid off — in the comments section Glenn posted the following:

Just an aside John. Has anyone at Black Gate taken a look at the Gateway Omnibus series? I saw a whole bunch of them turn up at my local Half Price Books. The covers are weird but they seem dedicated to getting some lesser read classics out there in an inexpensive format.

Glenn read my mind. And in fact, he had the exact same experience I did. In April last year, while I was in Lombard, Illinois for the Windy City Pulp & Paper Show, I dropped into the local Half Price Books. I came out with a few interesting vintage paperbacks, but the real find was a handsome assortment of bright yellow oversized trade paperbacks with the Gateway Omnibus logo. All were brand new, and each volume contained a generous sampling of reprints from a well-known science fiction name. I’d never seen them before, but I was struck by both the eclectic mix of titles, and the wide range of authors: folks like Algis Budrys, C.L. Moore, Damon Knight, Clifford D. Simak, Edmond Hamilton, E.C. Tubb, Edgar Pangborn, John Brunner, Jack Williamson, Kate Wilhelm, James Blaylock, Joe Haldeman, Frank Herbert, Henry Kuttner, and many others. Best of all, the books were very reasonably priced — $7.99 each. I ended up taking four home with me that day (the Wilhelm, Kuttner, Williamson and Moore), and doing an online search to find just how many were out there.

What I discovered was an extremely impressive catalog of over 50 titles. All were originally published in the UK, so distribution in the US is spotty at best, but many are still widely available (and still reasonably priced). To give you an idea of the amazing scope of the collection, I’ve gathered 51 thumbnail images for you to browse below.

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Nora Roberts meets Neal Stephenson: The Felicia Sevigny Trilogy by Catherine Cerveny

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Rule-of-Luck-medium The-Chaos-of-Luck-medium The Game of Luck-small

I first discovered Catherine Cerveny’s Felicia Sevigny trilogy when Unbound Worlds selected the second novel, The Chaos of Luck, as one of the Best SF Titles of December 2017. The tale of a Brazilian tarot card reader and a Russian crime lord and their desperate race to unmask a conspiracy sounded different enough to be very appealing, and I took a chance and bought the first two books.

The series opened with The Rule of Luck (2017), Catherine Cerveny’s debut novel, an unusual blend of romance and SF thriller in which tarot card reader Felicia Sevigny discovers she’s at the heart of a far-reaching plot to manipulate human genetics. Alison Spanner at Booklist gave the book a starred review, saying

In the year 2950, dark days of floods, war, famine, and devastation are over, but the world has been reshaped forever. Terraforming on Venus and Mars, tech implants allowing for seamless access to the Internet-like CN-net, genetic modification to enhance beauty, government-sponsored anti-aging treatments, and strictly regulated population control are the new normal under the world’s new government, One Gov. Felicia Sevigny grows up blindly believing her life is her own until she discovers, for reasons unknown to her, she has been blacklisted from having a baby. Felicia has made a name for herself as a skilled fortune-teller, and her life changes the day Alexei Petriv, a high-ranking member of the Tsarist Consortium, a shadow organization set to take One Gov down, walks into her shop and demands a reading. In return for a promise to remove her blacklisted status, Felicia agrees to help Alexei in his quest to take power from One Gov… Cerveny’s first novel in a planned trilogy mingles romance and science fiction — think Nora Roberts meets Neal Stephenson — and is certain to satisfy audiences of both genres.

The final novel, The Game of Luck, arrived in September 2018. All three volumes were published in trade paperback and digital formats by Orbit Books; the striking covers were designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio. The digital version of The Rule of Luck is priced at just $4.99 at most major online bookstores — well worth checking out.

See all of our recent coverage of the best SF and fantasy series here.

Hither Came Conan: John C. Hocking on The Scarlet Citadel

Monday, February 4th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_ScarletSavageI’m here to sing the praises of Robert E. Howard’s Conan story, “The Scarlet Citadel.”  This classic yarn first appeared in the January 1933 issue of Weird Tales and was the second Conan story to see print, following “The Phoenix on the Sword.”   This is a tale of Conan when he was King of Aquilonia, and many, Karl Edward Wagner among them, have noted it shows clear parallels to Howard’s only Conan novel, the peerless The Hour of the Dragon.

In “The Scarlet Citadel,” Amalrus, King of Ophir, requests military aid from Aquilonia, saying that the kingdom of Koth, ruled by Strabonus, is pushing over his borders.  Conan comes to the aid of an ally in need, of course, but soon finds he has been deceived, that Amalrus and Strabonus are in league to betray and entrap the Cimmerian and his army.  Conan’s forces are mercilessly destroyed, and he is captured and tossed into the dungeons of a sorcerer of Koth, Tsotha-lanti.  This wizard has been using his dungeons to work eldritch experiments and otherwise practice occult deviltry, the result being a dark underworld setting as memorable as Tolkien’s Moria.

Attempting to escape the dungeon, Conan encounters Pelias, a wizardly foe of Tsotha-lanti, and sets him free from the embrace of a grotesque plant.  Pelias, sinister but apparently genuinely grateful, helps Conan escape and get back to Aquilonia, where the barbarian eventually leads an army against his enemies in a spectacularly described battle.

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