The Golden Age of Science Fiction: SF Commentary, edited by Bruce Gillespie

Sunday, September 15th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

SF Commentary: Tenth Anniversary Edition

SF Commentary: Tenth Anniversary Edition

The Ditmar Awards are named for Australian fan Martin James Ditmar Jenssen. Founded in 1969 as an award to be given by the Australian National Convention, during a discussion about the name for the award, Jenssen offered to pay for the award if it were named the Ditmar. His name was accepted and he wound up paying for the award for more years than he had planned. Ditmar would eventually win the Ditmar Award for best fan artist twice, once in 2002 and again in 2010. The Australian Fanzine Award was one of the Ditmar’s original awards and the first one was won by John Bangsund for Australian SF Review. Bruce Gillespie won his first Ditmar for SF Commentary in 1972 and the ‘zine also won the award in 1973, 1977, 1980, 2002, and 2018. He also won the award in 1986 and 1999 for his ‘zine Metaphysical Review and in 2010 for Steam Engine Time. Rich Horton took a look at SF Commentary as the winner of the 1973 Ditmar Award in his companion series looking at his own Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Bruce Gillespie began publishing SF Commentary in 1969 and by 1979 he was ready to publish issues 55 through 57, although the numbering a count was a little screwy. In January, he published a 68 page combination issue, numbered 55-56 and in November, he published the final issue of the year, 57, which came in at 16 pages.

Combined issue 55/56 opens with an editorial by Gillespie extolling the ten years that he has been publishing the fanzine. The article traces the history of the fanzine, and through it Australian fandom, through the ten years of its existence, including the ill-fated attempt in 1976 to turn the ‘zine into a semi-professional magazine. Toward the end of the article, Gillespie turns his attention away from the zine and fandom and discusses the major events and publications in science fiction over the course of the decade, along with a lengthy bibliography of stories published during that time that he would recommend. The article provides a lengthy and full view of the world of science fiction, as seen from Australia, from 1969 through the beginning of 1979. Gillespie summation of the decade runs for about a third of the article.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 17, Part 5: Les Particules

Saturday, September 14th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Les ParticulesFor my last movie of July 27 I crossed the street to the De Sève Cinema to take in the French-Swiss co-production Les Particules (The Particles). It’s the first fiction feature by director Blaise Harrison, who co-wrote the script with Mariette Désert. After a day of particularly frenetic movies, this was good way to end the evening; a subtler, atmospheric, intelligent, and character-based film that thoroughly succeeded at what it was trying to do.

The movie follows Pierre-André, or P.A. (Thomas Daloz), an inarticulate older teen in a small town on the Franco-Swiss border. He’s in a band, kind of, or at least has a group of friends; we see them at school, and buying drugs, and taking drugs, and wandering around. We see a romance between P.A. and a chronically ill girl named Roshine (Néa Lüders), and watch their relationship develop. It’s all good slice-of-life storytelling.

Except we also follow P.A. on a school trip into the Large Hadron Collider hundreds of feet below their village. And we come to suspect the installation might be linked to the strange things that happen over the course of the movie, slowly at first, then as the film goes on a little faster and a little more obvious. Reality changes. Things, and characters, disappear. Are the quantum-level forces of the LHC causing the world to change? Or does this have to do with mental illness? Or both?

This is a stunning movie, in its sound and images, but also in the way it brings out the sense of lived experience and everyday life. And then again in the way that everyday life fits into a symbolic pattern, exploring many meanings of ‘particles’ in human existence and in the larger world. So the first shot is a view from above of the countryside as P.A. takes the bus to school: lights of houses, here and there, against the darkness of the night, glowing particles in blackness. And so, later, Christmas tree lights are something similar. So also is snow, as winter and the school year wind on.

But the crucial point, I think, is that the youths we see in the film are particles themselves, fitting into the school system, fitting (or not fitting) into society, bouncing off each other in unexpected collisions. P.A.’s relationship with Roshine is symbolically matter and anti-matter meeting. The hard physics of the LHC provide the underpinning for a metaphor that gives the material of the film some unity.

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Future Treasures: The Warrior Moon by K Arsenault Rivera

Saturday, September 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Tigers-Daughter-small The-Phoenix-Empress-small The Warrior Moon-small

Cover art by Jamie Jones

I’ve gotten in the comfortable habit of not starting trilogies until all three books are published. It’s served me well (very well) over the years. But what happens when the third book in a series appears and you’re not sure it’s a trilogy? What if you waited all this time and and there’s still a damn cliffhanger??

I guess a life of literary ambition is never truly free of risk. The third novel in K Arsenault Rivera’s maybe-trilogy Ascendant series arrives in bookstores September 24 and, hidden on the author page of the copy the publisher sent me is a novel called Sixteen Swords (listed as “forthcoming.”) But I’ve waited impatiently to start this series ever since Liz Bourke gave a rave review to the first two novels at Tor.com.

The Tiger’s Daughter recounted the adventures of their youth from Shefali’s perspective, including Shefali’s infection the blackblood plague — the first person ever to be infected and survive, albeit changed — culminating in their marriage and Shefali’s exile by Shizuka’s uncle, the emperor. Shefali may only return to the lands ruled by the empire once she has completed an impossible quest: acquire and bring back a phoenix feather.

The Phoenix Empress is essentially two stories at once. It is the story of Shefali and Shizuka, rediscovering each other after eight years apart, facing the deep problems of their potential destinies—and it’s the story that Shizuka tells to Shefali to explain how she’s changed. Why Shizuka drinks so much and wakes nightly from nightmares, and why she has no tears to cry…

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Some Random Big Box PC Games

Saturday, September 14th, 2019 | Posted by Stuart Feldhamer

Wizard's Crown-small Thomas M Disch's Amnesia-small Waxworks Accolade-small

Wizard’s Crown (SSI, 1986-87)

This is a tactical fantasy role playing game from SSI, somewhat similar to their breakout hit Pool of Radiance, but with simpler graphics (and of course without the D&D license). Up to 8 adventurers have to find some crown that used to belong to some wizard king guy. Although the box says copyright 1985, it apparently was not released until 1986, and the IBM release not until 1987.

I have never played this one. Who has? Please, share your thoughts, opinions, and memories.

Thomas M. Disch’s Amnesia (Electronic Arts, 1985)

This is a text adventure where you wake up naked in a hotel room in New York City, with amnesia (of course), and you need to figure out what’s going on. At some point early on you can steal the tuxedo that it shows you wearing on the front cover. What a handsome guy you are…?

The cool thing about the game is that they implemented locations for all of Manhattan, and the game comes with various guides to the subway etc. for any non-New Yorkers (shame on you). The game came in the standard EA folder, and EA made a big deal out of the fact that it was written by a real author, Thomas M. Disch, but I never heard of him until I saw the game. You can learn more about him here at Black Gate.

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New Treasures: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

Friday, September 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Do You Dream of Terra-Two-small Do You Dream of Terra-Two-back-smll

Cover design by Krista Vossen

I’ve recently signed up for Audible, Amazon’s downloadable audiobook service, and it’s totally changed my daily commute to downtown Chicago. I’ve finished three audiobooks in the past two weeks, and enthusiastically filled up my queue with titles from my to-be-read pile. Sure, it’s a little irritating to pay for audio versions of books I already own, but the satisfaction of finally making progress on that towering pile more than makes up for it.

If anything can interrupt that victorious clearing of the dusty pile on my night table, it’s a highly acclaimed debut. There have been a few in the last two months, and one of the most compelling is Temi Oh’s Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, which NPR calls “Gorgeous. Thoughtful. Contemplative.” And Colleen Mondor at Locus reviewed it warmly, saying:

This book is a doorstop, but it’s also an incredibly unique and realistic space novel that will give read­ers a lot to think about and should not be missed… various space agencies have been working on various plans to reach a distant planet, Terra-Two, and have begun a colonization project. As humans have already been to Mars and there are other missions slightly beyond that point, reaching Terra-Two is not im­possible. The problem is that it will take over 20 years to get there, and so the first astronauts need to be very young when they depart. The solution is a space academy for teenagers and a selection of six of them to launch, with four older, experi­enced astronauts, when the younger “beta” group is under 20 years old….

In most space operas, there is an attack or some other horrific drama brought upon the people traveling in space. There certainly is, eventually, something dramatic that happens to the crew of the Damocles (spoiler alert: no aliens), but most of the narrative involves itself with the quieter dramas involved in the reality of this great commitment the young crew has made… once on Damocles, once they have settled into what will become a years-long rhythm of life and work, then the proverbial wheels start to come off the bus… Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is not the usual sort of space novel; it’s an investment in relation­ships, a look at how complicated the social aspects of interstellar space travel will likely be. Temi Oh takes big risks with this big novel, and I think she accomplishes some big things. It’s not what you expect but, in every important way, it’s what you really need to read.

I haven’t decided yet if Do You Dream of Terra-Two? will displace any of the titles on my Audible queue, but I did pick up a print copy. It was published by Saga Press on August 13, 2019. It is 532 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $7.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Krista Vossen. See all our recent New Treasures here.


Fantasia 2019, Day 17, Part 4: Why Don’t You Just Die!

Friday, September 13th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Why Don't You Just Die!My fourth film of July 27 was once again in the Hall Theatre. It was a Russian film about which I had heard very good things, with one web site calling it among the best action movies of the year so far. You may have heard of Chekhov’s gun; well, Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, Sdokhni) gives us Chekhov’s gun, along with Chekhov’s other gun, Chekhov’s claw hammer, Chekhov’s power drill, Chekhov’s CRT TV, and any number of Chekhov’s other odds and ends.

Written and directed by Kirill Sokolov, the film opens with a young man before the door of an apartment, nervously contemplating the doorbell, a claw hammer clutched behind his back. His name is Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Marten in The Scythian), and he has come to visit Andrey Gennadievitch (Vitaliy Khaev), the father of Matvey’s girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde). Matvey’s got a score to settle with Andrey, or thinks he does. There’s more going on than he knows, though, and after the opening tension explodes into violence things settle down only to open up as more and more characters get drawn into the confrontation.

The film unfolds largely within Andrey’s apartment, with flashbacks now and again showing us background that shapes what goes on. New wrinkles are constantly added, new aspects of character demonstrated. The plot takes on new shapes at unexpected moments. Violence is a leitmotif; beautiful, horrific, entertaining violence.

There is a lot of blood and blood-splatter in this film; there is torture and the threat of torture. It’s all presented with a cartoony verve, but this is not violence for the sake of violence, or violence for the sake of comedy. The movie is in fact very violent and very funny, but uses violence for the sake of story, creating a tension and a tone and, in the end, getting a certain point across. It will not be to all tastes. It very much was to mine.

There’s a temptation to talk about Quentin Tarantino when faced with a violent but clever small-scale crime film. The sense of corruption is probably most like Tarantino; more than brutal men doing brutal things, there is here the feel of a tough world in which everybody’s out for their own interests. But then the characters also, most of them, have redeeming features, too. Goons are also friends. Sometimes. As a result Why Don’t You Just Die! feels more like an early Guy Ritchie film — the Guy Ritchie of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, not the Ritchie of the Sherlock Holmes films. The film’s pacing in particular is like those movies, and how flashbacks are cut in after a bizarre or unexpected plot twist as a way of explaining the twist. But also how people do bad things for good reasons, or what they think are good reasons.

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Of Horizons and Common Sense Lost

Friday, September 13th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

51G8TVzla+L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I recently got around to reading Gerry Conway’s introduction to Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus, Volume One for a forthcoming article. If there was a retroactive Astounding Award for Best Self-Loathing Writer of 2016, Mr. Conway would surely be a contender. There is nothing wrong with a writer looking back in some embarrassment over past work or even admitting their good intentions now seem naive from the vantage point of the present, but Mr. Conway apologizes so profusely for several thousand words one would be forgiven for thinking he committed a capital crime.

Truth be told, Mr. Conway’s unforgivable sin was his cultural appropriation in daring to cast people of color as heroes in his fiction of the 1970s. For you see, by some cruel twist of fate, he had the misfortune to be born to a white family and raised in a white neighborhood in the 1950s. Personally, I thought his having created diverse characters to appeal to minority readers and encourage tolerance among all readers in the decade following the Civil Rights movement is something he should be proud of, but apparently not so.

What’s more, all of his wailing and grinding of teeth is in the form of an introduction to a volume reprinting the work he is so ashamed of. One wonders what the purpose is of writers telling readers who just spent money buying reprints of their work how truly offensive those same works are. Given that Mr. Conway spent much of his career at Marvel Comics channeling Stan Lee’s voice, one wonders why Stan Lee isn’t likewise condemned for cultural appropriation for creating Black Panther and the Utopian nation of Wakanda. Of course, logical thinking isn’t advisable in a society that feeds off emotional reactions to maintain a constant state of division.

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Goth Chick News: Receiving Transmissions in London

Thursday, September 12th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Transmissions comic

I know I’ve said it before, but one of the greatest things about working for Black Gate is the talented artists, actors and other creatives I get a chance to meet. They all share a passion for what they do which is contagious, and whether its an indie filmmaker, a special-effects creator, an author or illustrator, it is impossible to spend time with them learning about their particular crafts without admiring their amazing imaginations. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I have the opportunity to remain in touch beyond that initial interview, and follow their creative evolutions over a series of years.

Such is the case with comic book author and editor at TPub Comics, Neil Gibson.

I first became acquainted with Gibson during his appearance at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in 2014 where he was promoting book one of his Twisted Dark comic series. Seven volumes later, I’m not only completely hooked on this particular story line, but have also become a fan of Gibson’s other tales as well, most recently The Traveller, which was released in August. Full disclosure, I couldn’t help fan-girling just a bit when I found my praise of the Sneak Preview on the back cover.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 17, Part 3: Kingdom

Thursday, September 12th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

KingdomMy third movie of July 27 was a live-action manga adaptation by the dauntless and prolific Shinsuke Sato. Having been thrilled by his previous work in past years (I Am A Hero, Bleach, Inuyashiki, Death Note: Light Up the New World, and Library Wars), I was eager to see something new from him. This year’s offering was Kingdom (Kingudamu, キングダム), which Sato scripted along with Tsutomu Kuroiwa, adapting the manga of the same name by Yasuhisa Hara. As of August, there were 55 volumes of the manga, which had already been adapted into a 77-episode anime. I am not familiar with the source material beyond those statistics, but they suggest that Kuroiwa and Sato had their work cut out for them fitting the story into a two-and-a-quarter-hour movie.

The setting is ancient China, where war swirls among feuding kingdoms. Two orphans are taken as slaves by a wealthy merchant. They grow up dreaming of a better life, and practicing swordplay on their own in the forest near their master’s home. One, Piao (Ryo Yoshizawa, Gintama), is bought by a government minister. Piao’s blood-brother, hothead Xin (Kento Yamazaki, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), is therefore surprised some time later when a dying Piao returns with a mission for him — and the soldiers who gave Piao his mortal wound hard on his heels. Xin’s launched on a quest that leads him to the young king Ying Zheng, now deposed by a palace coup. The minister who bought Piao had used him as the king’s double, which saved Ying’s life. Now the ambitious Xin wants to keep him alive, and make his own way to a great destiny.

This is a well-told story. It builds nicely, through varied set-pieces that come at key structural points, are executed with flair, and move the story forward. It’s always colourful and fun to look at, though unsurprisingly the costumes show the manga roots of the film: major characters stand out through their eye-catching gear, to the point that we know a general we see at only a couple of points is obviously going to play a major role in the climax. But this fits into the overall tone of the movie, both narratively and visually. The choreography is strikingly effective, which is important, and the humour works, mostly coming in the form of Xin’s aggressive attitude toward just about everything.

If you look carefully, you might notice the film’s not actually as lavish as it seems. There aren’t any major urban scenes, for example. But there’s enough variety generally that you don’t notice any lack. Xin and company explore a lot of different places, and the story feels full to bursting. The sense of a vast kingdom containing a range of people and cultures and landscapes comes across, and that means more is not needed.

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Vintage Treasures: Minds Unleashed, edited by Groff Conklin

Thursday, September 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Minds Unleashed-small Minds Unleashed-back-small

Minds Unleashed, Tempo Books, 1970. Cover by, well, no one really knows.

You know what I try hard to do every day? Not sit around and talk about the good ‘ole days. It takes effort, let me tell you.

Not that everything was better in the good ‘ole days, Lord knows. But you could get terrific original anthologies in spinner racks at the supermarket for under a buck, and let’s face it, that’s what really matters.

Anthologies like Groff Conklin’s Minds Unleashed (Tempo, 1970). Just look at that gorgeous cover. A big red brain with a glowing blue ball representing… I dunno? The super brainpower we’d all have fifty years in the future, probably? I love it. I don’t love that Tempo Books was such a low-budget operation that they couldn’t afford to tell you who painted the damn cover, but these are the burdens we live with. Mind you, if you do the math, that far-off future fifty years after 1970 is… the year 2020. Which means my blue floaty brainball should show up any day now. Come on, future brainpower.

While we’re waiting, we can all can help prepare our superbrains by reading great science fiction stories about “the potential of human imagination and the range of strength of human intelligence” by Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Eric Frank Russell, Isaac Asimov, William Tenn, and many others. Let’s have a look at the table of contents.

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