Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones: a Trailer

Friday, November 8th, 2019 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

9781250148803November, 19th is a date worth marking on your calendar. It’s the day Upon the Flight of the Queen (St. Martin’s Press), the second installment of Howard Andrew Jones’ Ring-Sworn Trilogy debuts. I loved For the Killing of Kings, the first book. You can read my review of it here. It’s a terrific swords & sorcery tale with a heavy dose of swashbuckling. If you haven’t read it yet, it should be clear I heartily recommend it. It’s felt like an age since my last post here at Black Gate. I’m still not sure when I’ll return here with any sort of regularity, but for books like this, I’m willing to make an appearance.

I’m old, so the idea of doing a trailer for a book isn’t something I’ve ever thought of. Apparently it’s a thing and it can be pretty cool. Up above is the brand new one for Upon the Flight of the Queen and it was done by Jones’ son, Darian Jones, an animator (as well as many other talents as will become clear later). As trailers are a whole new concept for me, I figured I’d ask Darian about himself and how he created the one for Flight.


Fletcher: So, Darian, can you please, tell us about yourself and your animation background?

Darian: Hello! Well, like my father, I have always been a performer and a storyteller. As a kid, he and I would be unable to watch a movie or listen to a song without taking it apart and analyzing it together. Animation seemed like the natural marriage of writing, art, and music, all things I loved to create. It started with simple comics during middle school at recess (and anytime the teacher wasn’t looking). Then I tried my hand at stop motion using stuffed animals and action figures. Over time I just fell in love with the medium. There is a vast storytelling potential in animation. I believe it is the best way to make any story visually beautiful and expressive. Unlike film, animation grants its creator the most minute control over every detail. I determine exactly what colors I use scene-by-scene. I determine how a character gesticulates and how their face emotes when they speak. I can give them shark teeth or hair made of drifting clouds if I want. My commitment to the study of animation earned me straight As and a position as Lead Animator on our class’ student thesis film. My professor said it was not only my skills with the medium but also my ability to negotiate calmly and effectively during times of extreme stress that won me the title. Now I have graduated college and I’ve been making little animations every chance I get to build my portfolio and, hopefully, win new positions at studios. Until then, I’m doing freelance work for writers and businesses.

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Vintage Treasures: City of Pearl by Karen Traviss

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

City of Pearl-small City of Pearl-back-small

Cover by Greg Bridges

Karen Traviss’s debut novel City of Pearl was a big hit here in the Black Gate offices, and it was passed around repeatedly and excitedly. We were far from the only ones who liked it — it was shortlisted for both the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the Philip K. Dick Award, and came in third in the 2005 Locus poll for Best First Novel. It launched her career quite effectively, and it eventually became the opening novel in the 6-volume Wess’har Wars series.

City of Pearl tells the ambitious tale of the clash of several distinct alien civilizations near Cavanagh’s Star in the year 2299. In his review of the novel and its sequel Crossing the Line at SF Site, Stuart Carter wrote:

This isn’t hard SF by any means. Although the laws of physics are largely obeyed they’re not particularly important to the story; there’s no arousing military- or techno-porn, and precious little ‘common-sense’ machismo or gung-ho soldiering. It’s worth mentioning that there are philosophical similarities with The Dispossessed, but these books are, in my opinion, even deeper and more complex than Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic, and they’re still far from over.

Another glorious aspect of these two books is that they’re almost the antithesis of everything Trek: humans haring round the universe imposing their morality and point-of-view upon anyone who can listen, and always, eventually, turning out to be right, or at least admirable. And if we’re not even admirable then at least we have bigger guns than everyone else to console ourselves with. In Karen Traviss’s universe we’re seen as being far from admirable and even further from right, and it looks like being a very hard, possibly even fatal, lesson for us to learn… If you want to read something that will leave you thinking, perhaps if you’re a fan of Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson or, more generally, of intricately gloomy English science fiction, then this series is one you want to read — I promise.

City of Pearl didn’t just hit with the critics. It is still in print, 15 years long after it was originally published; an extraordinary feat by any measure. Here’s the complete list of all six novels in the series.

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Bleak Creek overflows with Universal Truths

Friday, November 8th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Bleak CreekThe Lost Causes of Bleak Creak is not a novel I expected to be reviewing for Black Gate. It is a compelling thriller with a preternatural undercurrent that I heartily recommend, but that’s not what one would have expected from its authors. Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal have carved their own successful niche with Good Mythical Morning, a YouTube talk show/comedy show which seems to have successfully updated Ernie Kovacs’ format for the hipster generation. While that may be an accurate description on the surface, it belies the expansiveness of their burgeoning Mythical Entertainment media empire and its audience demographic composed of 20 million subscribers across their platform.

These two childhood friends from a small town in North Carolina have written two bestsellers; made their own critically-acclaimed, incredibly bizarre, but consistently funny streaming sitcom, Buddy System; hosted a trainwreck fascinating, but frequently funny IFC reality show, Commercial Kings; made an award-winning feature-length documentary about the search for their First Grade teacher, Looking for Ms. Locklear; released comedy albums; performed sold-out comedy concert tours on several continents; put together their own stage show to tie-in with their first book; and are currently undertaking a book tour in theaters around the country to promote their first novel. Regulars on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show where they provide a reminder of what late night comedy meant for those old enough to remember Carson or at least Letterman in his prime, they may be the two most ambitious and successful cult figures in the U.S. at present.

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Goth Chick News: Fantasticland Is Well… Fantastic

Thursday, November 7th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Fantasticland-smallA couple months back, before the insanity of “the season” got into full swing, my Amazon account hit on an incredibly spot-on recommendation. Under the “ you might like” section was a book I had not come across previously; Fantasticland by Mike Bockoven. I opted for the audio book, as the description made it seem like a fine way to spend my daily hellacious commute in Chi-town traffic.

Since the 1970s, FantasticLand has been the theme park where “Fun is Guaranteed!” But when a hurricane ravages the Florida coast and isolates the park, the employees find it anything but fun. Five weeks later, the authorities who rescue the survivors encounter a scene of horror. Photos soon emerge online of heads on spikes outside of rides and viscera and human bones littering the gift shops, breaking records for hits, views, likes, clicks, and shares. How could a group of survivors, mostly teenagers, commit such terrible acts?

Presented as a fact-finding investigation and a series of first-person interviews, FantasticLand pieces together the grisly series of events. Park policy was that the mostly college-aged employees surrender their electronic devices to preserve the authenticity of the FantasticLand experience. Cut off from the world and left on their own, the teenagers soon form rival tribes who viciously compete for food, medicine, social dominance, and even human flesh. This new social network divides the ravaged dreamland into territories ruled by the Pirates, the ShopGirls, the Freaks, and the Mole People. If meticulously curated online personas can replace private identities, what takes over when those constructs are lost?

FantasticLand is a modern take on Lord of the Flies meets Battle Royale that probes the consequences of a social civilization built online.

Fantasticland might end up at the top of my 2019 reading list. As a frequent visitor to Disney World in Florida, the parallels are entirely obvious, though Disney is presented as a competitor to Fantasticland.

The story is biting social commentary which explores themes we have all thought about – what would happen if our technology-rich environment was suddenly gone? It probes the prejudices, harassment and bullying that is all too frequent in today’s headlines, but pushes each to its most horrifying extreme. For me, it was all the more terrible taking place, as it was, against a backdrop that was the antithesis of all things negative; “where fun is guaranteed.”

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A Four-Way Road to Darkness: The Pale Illuminations, edited by Robert Morgan

Thursday, November 7th, 2019 | Posted by Mario Guslandi

The Pale Illuminations-small

Dust Jacket Art by Paul Lowe

The Pale Illuminations
Edited by Robert Morgan
Sarob Press (145 pages, £35/$60 for a limited edition hardcover, September 2019)
Cover by Paul Lowe

Following up its long lasting tradition of providing elegantly produced volumes collecting old and new dark and supernatural stories, the excellent small imprint Sarob Press ( formerly based in the UK, then relocated in France) has just published a new anthology entitled The Pale Illuminations.

The book assembles four new stories ( one actually a novella) by four well respected authors of dark fiction, exploring the supernatural side of different geographical environments, where eerie mysteries are still lurking.

Peter Bell, a renowned author of refined modern ghostly tales, contributes “Labyrinth,” a complex, atmospheric novella set in the wilderness of the Peak District, where ancient worship, Roman old secrets and modern romance blend in a very disturbing, fascinating tableau.

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Future Treasures: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones

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

For the Killing of Kings-small Upon the Flight of the Queen-small

In his Black Gate review of For the Killing of Kings, the opening novel in Howard Andrew Jones’ new epic fantasy Ring-Sworn Trilogy, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

For the Killing of Kings is proof that great, modern heroic fantasy is being written. Like Doc Smith’s Lensmen or DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps, the Altenerai are an elite band of warriors endued with magical talents and dedicated to protecting the land and ensuring justice… Heroes are a too often forgotten commodity in fantasy these days, but not here.

I think Fletcher nailed what I loved so much about this book: it’s packed with heroes you can root for. More than that, it pits those heroes against truly overwhelming odds. The courageous men and women of the Altenerai aren’t just up against a nearly-unbeatable army of their ancient enemy; they also face betrayal from within, mysterious and sinister magic, and a conspiracy whose roots run to the very highest levels of government. To win, they’ll have to emulate the Altenerai legends of old: use bravery, guile, and magic of their own, and — especially — rely on each other. For the Killing of Kings is filled with powerful moments in which untested men and women faced breathtaking odds, and somehow find the strength to become genuine heroes.

But I think the best thing about Howard’s new Ring-Sword Trilogy may be that we don’t have to wait long for the sequel. For the Killing of Kings was released in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press earlier this year; the sequel, Upon the Flight of the Queen, will be in stores in less than two weeks. It’s already getting rave reviews — Publishers Weekly calls it “a heart-racing, action-packed thrill.” Here’s the back covers for both books, and a snippet from the PW review.

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A New First Comic Strip Robot

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

1903-03-01 Adventures of Inventor Wheelz and his Wonderful Dummy 23 panel 1

Paleontologists constantly push the date of the first known human or the first known use of symbols earlier. Word detectives compete with one another to spot ever earlier uses of a word or phrase or bit of slang. And historians take their reputation in their hands whenever they state that such-and-such was the first one in history.

In my book, Robots in American Popular Culture, I cited Hans Horina’s short- lived robot series, Professor Dodger and His Automatic Servant Girl, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sunday comics section in late 1907, as the first comic strip to feature a robot. I didn’t dig that up myself. I found it on Stripper’s Guide, the wonderful blog on old newspaper comics run by Allan Holtz.

As inevitable as Homo Nadali, another comics historian, Alex Jay, found an even earlier robot strip and posted about it on Stripper’s Guide. But there’s a catch. Is it a robot strip or isn’t it?

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: H. Warner Munn

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

H. Warner Munn

H. Warner Munn

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 award. The final awards were presented in 1985. Although the Balrog Award for Poet was presented each year of the Balrog’s existence, it only went to four different winners, with H. Warner Munn winning the award twice and Frederick Mayer winning it three times.

H. Warner Munn was born on November 5, 1903 and died of cancer on January 10, 1981. Munn’s mother died when he was an infant and he was raised by his grandmother, who was a correspondent with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Munn began his own correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft who suggested that Munn try telling a story from a werewolf’s perspective. The resulting novelette “The Werewolf of Ponkert” became Munn’s debut story when it appeared in the July 1925 issue of Weird Tales.

Munn and Lovecraft were not only correspondents, but also knew each other, visiting at each one’s homes in Providence, Rhode Island and Athol, New York. During this time, Munn helped Lovecraft formulate and eventually write the story which would become “In the Mountains of Madness.”

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Exploring Pathfinder‘s Age of Lost Omens

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

LostOmensWorldGuideWith the release of Pathfinder Second Edition at GenCon in August, Paizo set out to once again re-capture fire in a bottle. They’d done it once before, a decade ago, when they took the ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e, slapped it together with a ton of house rule modifications and other changes, and then rebranded it as the Pathfinder RPG. Here they were taking that very same Pathfinder RPG, which had itself grown wildly successful, and trying to create a new and compelling variant of that.

Having played a handful of the Pathfinder Second Edition games now, I’m finding quite a lot to like about it the system. But one of the things that drew me so powerfully to Pathfinder First Edition was when I got my hands on the Inner Sea World Guide. While the rules were great, the dynamic nature of the setting, with the rich diversity of nations and storytelling options, was what really engrossed me.

And clearly I’m not alone, because one of the first releases that Paizo planned to follow-up the release of Pathfinder Second Edition was the Lost Omens World Guide (Paizo, Amazon). The default setting for Pathfinder (both editions) is the Age of Lost Omens on the world of Golarian, and thus the name of the guide. This re-introduces the core of the Pathfinder setting, while at the same time introducing a quick infusion of new character creation and advancement options to supplement the basic rules.

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I Admit, I’m Intrigued

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

The Witcher USA

Good morning, Readers!

So, the main trailer and release date for Netflix’s new nerd acquisition, The Witcher, dropped a fortnight or so ago. Knowing that I streamed the lengthy final game (and its DLCs) in the trilogy not all that long ago and had a good time with it, a number of my friends directed me towards the trailer when it dropped. I may have also had and voiced opinions about the news that Netflix acquired the rites to The Witcher, and then had more opinions when Henry Cavill was announced in the titular role.

A few things to note about me and my opinions. They’re horribly ill-informed. My experience with The Witcher is the third game (The Wild Hunt). That’s it. If you’re curious about how I felt about the game, you can check out my review on Chalgyrs here. I’ve not read the books on which the game was based, though I do plan to (should I make it a thing to do, and then share my thoughts here, do you think?). I don’t have as strong an emotional attachment to the world, the characters or the story as I might have had I read (presuming I enjoyed them) the books, or even had followed the games from the first.

But about the Netflix series….

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