I Need A Vacation – Or Is It A Holiday?

Friday, February 16th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

National LampoonI wonder if there’s still a distinction to be made between holidays and vacations?* Back before “holy day” became “holiday” was there even such a thing as a vacation? Or were holy days really enforced vacations, in the sense that for some of them at least no work was allowed? Would that make the Sabbath a vacation as well as a holy day? Hmmm.

I’m fairly certain that while the two words are now considered synonyms (at least in English) the concept of a vacation as a time of recreational activities is a relatively new one. That is, not just a cessation of work on the part of one’s self, one’s servants and even on occasion one’s animals, but the active pursuing of another activity altogether. Did the Romans go on vacation? Did travelling for a holiday start with the “grand tours” of the 18th century? Or with seaside bathing in the 19th?

Since seaside bathing was considered healthy, as was “taking the waters” in resorts like Bath in England, Lanjeron in Spain, and Baden-Baden in Germany was travel to these places a vacation?

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Birthday Reviews: Iain M. Banks’s “A Gift from the Culture”

Friday, February 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Paul Rickwood

Cover by Paul Rickwood

Iain M. Banks was born on February 16, 1954 and died on June 9, 2013. At the time of his death, two months after he was diagnosed with cancer, he was the Author Guest of Honor for Loncon 3, the seated Worldcon. Banks wrote both within the genre and outside the genre, using his middle initial, “M.” do designate science fiction works.

His first three books, beginning with The Wasp Factory, were more mainstream, although two of them, The Bridge and The Wasp Factory, would go on to win the Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis. Banks has twice won the British SF Association Award for Best Novel for Feersum Endjinn and Excession. The latter also earned him an Italia Award and another Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis. His fourth Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis was for Use of Weapons, while Inversions earned him another Italia Award. Many of his works are set against the background of The Culture, an advanced society made up of several interbred species combined with sentient AIs.

“A Gift from the Culture” was originally published in the Summer 1987 issue of Interzone, number 20, edited by Simon Ounsley and David Pringle. Banks included it in his 1991 short story collection The State of the Art. It was later included in the anthology Cyber-Killers, edited by Ric Alexander, and David G. Hartwell included it in The Space Opera Renaissance. Most recently, it was reprinted in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s massive anthology The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection. The story has also been translated into German, French, and Italian.

In “A Gift from the Culture” Banks presents just enough information about what the Culture is so the reader is not at a complete loss, but the society as a whole remains something of a mystery within the confines of this short story. Wrobik is down on his luck and living in Vreccis Loew City, in debt to a couple of mobster types, Kaddus and Cruizell, who are willing to forgive him his debt if he’ll do one little thing for them. With no good choices before him, Wrobik agrees to take a gun, which is designed to only work for people who are biologically part of the Culture, and use the weapon to shoot down an incoming space craft.

One of the main deciding points for Wrobik is concern that Kaddus and Cruizell will harm Maust, Wrobik’s boyfriend. While Wrobik has a job to carry out, he doesn’t particularly want to do it and tries to figure out a way around it which will not put Maust into danger. While the story is a dramatic look at Wrobik’s choices, an understated humor is introduced by the monologue carried out by the gun, in which it continuously describes itself and how to use it to Wrobik, an audio instruction manual.

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Goth Chick News Anniversary Interview: Aliens Carrie Henn

Thursday, February 15th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Goth Chick Aliens Newt

One of my favorite horror/sci fi movies of all time is the second in the original Alien franchise, Aliens (1986) directed by James Cameron, which I’ve watched more times than I can count. The film is a classic, from the story to the acting to the special effects, not to mention being one of the most quotable movies ever made (“Game over, man” and “Get away from her, you bitch!”). Even though the movies that came after paled in comparison, fans have continued to follow the crew of the Nostromo in games such as Alien: Isolation and kept hope alive for a real sequel to the storyline.

So, it is with great pleasure that I celebrate my 18th year and 400th article for Black Gate by scoring an interview with the youngest star of Aliens, Carrie Henn who played Rebecca “Newt” Jorden alongside Sigourney Weaver. As I mentioned in the post about Days of the Dead, she agreed to an interview in spite of my telling her how I cyberstalked her, while Black Gate photog Chris Z died of embarrassment behind me.

So without further delay – everyone, meet Carrie. Carrie, meet everyone.

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Future Treasures: The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

Thursday, February 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Call Peadar O'Guilin-small The Invasion Peadar O'Guilin-small

Peadar O’Guilin has been one of our most prolific and popular contributors. He published his first story with us, “The Mourning Trees,” in Black Gate 5 (Spring 2003), and followed it with “Where Beauty Lies in Wait” (BG 11), “The Evil Eater” (BG 13), and “The Dowry,” which appeared as part of our Black Gate Online Fiction catalog.

His fourth novel The Call (2016) was an international sensation; here’s Howard Andrew Jones from his 2016 interview with Peadar:

What I discovered was a novel absolutely deserving of the hype it has received — a dystopian YA story about a fractured society, with heroic teenaged protagonists who are realistic AND don’t whine. There are moments of chilling otherworldly horror owing to the frequent presence of the fae folk, the force behind the terrible situation facing these Irish children. And there’s excellent pacing and characterization, and growth…

After keeping the world on tether hooks for the past two years, Peadar has finally revealed a sequel, The Invasion. It arrives in hardcover from David Fickling Books on March 27. Here’s the description.

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Birthday Reviews: Jack Dann’s “Rings Around the Moon”

Thursday, February 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jay Lake

Cover by Jay Lake

Jack Dann was born on February 15, 1945. His novels include The Man Who Melted, The Memory Cathedral, and The Silent, among many others. Dann has edited several anthologies, often in conjunction with Gardner Dozois, Janeen Webb, or George Zebrowski. He edited the Jewish science fiction anthology Wandering Stars in 1974 and followed it up with More Wandering Stars.

Dann won the Nebula Award for Best Novella for his 1995 story “Da Vinci Rising” and has won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology twice, for Dreaming Down Under, edited with Janeen Webb, and Dreaming in the Dark. His anthology Ghosts by Gaslight, edited with Nick Gevers, won the Shirley Jackson Award and the Aurealis Award. He also won the Aurealis Award for his short story “Niagara Falling,” written with Webb, and his novel The Memory Cathedral. “Niagara Falling” also earned him his first Ditmar Award, which was followed up with anthology awards for Dreaming Down Under, Dreaming Again, and Dreaming in the Dark and a short fiction award for “The Diamond Pit.” In 2004, he received the Peter McNamara Award for a professional working in the Australian SF field.

“Rings Around the Moon” was originally published in Polyphony 3, edited by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake. It was later reprinted in Dann’s collection Promised Land: Stories of Another America. “Rings Around the Moon” is part of Dann’s “The Rebel” cycle, which includes several stories as well as the 2004 novel The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean. The story was nominated for the Darrell Award for best Mid-South science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

Mostly told from the viewpoint of a young Elvis Presley, “Rings Around the Moon” opens in Memphis on the evening of September 30, 1955, around the time his career was starting to take off. Unfortunately for Elvis, his burgeoning touring career, and the rumors of his sexual escapades, are putting a strain on his relationship with Lizzie, his girlfriend. As the two are trying to figure out what their relationship is, Gladys Presley informs them that the actor Elvis is always talking about, James Dean, has been injured in a car accident.

Elvis decides he needs to visit Dean and asks Lizzie to go with him. The set up allows Dann to explore the blessings and curses of fame through a fictitious meeting between two of the most legendary individuals of the burgeoning 1950s youth culture. James Dean lying in his hospital bed recovering, and the young Elvis having his first taste of stardom listening to what Dean has to say.

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Reading The Lost Oases by Ahmed Hassanein Bey

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

2342997I’ve always loved vintage travelogues. The world was bigger a hundred years ago, its cultures more distinct and isolated. Travel was hard and sometimes dangerous. Accounts of old journeys bring me back to a time when people could go to places like Africa and not be able to text home.

But there’s always been a problem with the genre. The vast majority of the books available in English are from the Western perspective, especially the Anglo perspective. So The Lost Oases, written by Egyptian Ahmed Hassanein Bey and published in 1925, came as a welcome change. It’s an Arab account of discovering two remote oases in the far southwest of Egypt, hundreds of miles from the nearest habitation.

Ahmed Hassanein Bey was a wealthy Egyptian of Bedouin stock who was educated at Oxford, so he is good at explaining his own culture to the Western reader and yet remains enough of an outsider that we can enjoy watching his learning curve as he visits his country cousins.

He was already an experienced desert traveler when he set out on this mission, and we’re carried through a detailed description of his preparations and planning. When all is ready, he goes to his father for a moving scene where the old man blesses him and the baggage for a safe journey.

After skirting the coastline, the caravan heads south along the Egyptian/Libyan border. At this point in history, Egypt was administered by the British Empire and Libya by Italy. The main group along the border, then and now, is called the Senussi. I mainly knew of them from their attempt to invade Egypt during the First World War at the urging of the Germans and Ottomans.

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New Treasures: Blood Binds the Pack by Alex Wells

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Hunger-Makes-the-Wolf-by-Alex-Wells-smaller Blood Binds the Pack-small

As Rachael Acks, Alex Acks published some two dozen stories in places like Lightspeed, Shimmer, and Mothership Zeta. For novels he uses the name Alex Wells; his first, Hunger Makes the Wolf, was released last March by Angry Robot, and it got praised by a whole lot of people I respect. E Catherine Tobler said “It has a wonderful weird west vibe and some of the phrasing is simply delicious… Alex crafts a host of fascinating characters here – the Weathermen, the Bone Collector – and I reckon you’re going to love their adventures.” And at Tor.com, Liz Bourke said “It’s a science fiction Western thriller, and it is great, and I’m really, intensely, eagerly looking forward to the sequel.”

Well I have good news for Liz: the sequel has arrived. Blood Binds the Pack was released last week, it sounds as engaging as the first, and I ordered a copy as soon as it was available. Here’s the description.

War is coming to Hob Ravani’s world. The company that holds it in monopoly, TransRift Inc, has at last found what they’re looking for — the source of the power that enables their Weathermen to rip holes in space and time, allowing the interstellar travel all of human society now takes for granted. And they will mine every last grain of it from Tanegawa’s World no matter the cost.

Since Hob Ravani used her witchy powers to pull a massive train job and destroy TransRift Inc’s control on this part of the planet, the Ghost Wolves aren’t just outlaws, they’re the resistance. Mag’s miner collective grows restless as TransRift pushes them ever harder to strip the world of its strange, blue mineral. Now Shige Rollins has returned with a new charge — Mr Yellow, the most advanced model of Weatherman, infused with the recovered mineral samples and made into something stranger, stronger, and deadlier than before. And Mr Yellow is very, very hungry.

Blood Binds the Pack was published by Angry Robot on February 6, 2018. It is 496 pages, priced at $8.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Ignacio Lazcano. Read the first two chapters here.


Birthday Reviews: J.T. McIntosh’s “Hermit”

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Schoenherr

Cover by John Schoenherr

J.T. McIntosh was born James Murdoch MacGregor on February 14, 1925 and died some time in 2008 or late 2007. He used a variation of his primary pseudonym for most of his writing, occasionally spelling it MacIntosh or M’Intosh. When he wrote in collaboration with Frank Parnell, they published as Gregory Francis, and he used Stuart Winsor for works written with Jeff Mason.

His first story, “The Curfew Tolls” appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1950 and three years later he published his debut novel, World Out of Mind. In addition to his science fiction, he also wrote a couple of detective novels and in 1956 he collaborated on the screenplay for the film Satellite in the Sky. He retired from writing in 1979 after publishing the novel A Planet Called Utopia.

Tom Godwin’s short story, “The Cold Equations” was published in the August 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Over the years, many authors have written stories which attempt to resolve the dilemma that Godwin described. In the June 1963 issue of Astounding Science Fact Science Fiction, J.T. McIntosh wrote a story which in many ways was reminiscent of Godwin’s original piece.

“Hermit” is the tale of Experimental Station Officer Duncan Clement, on duty at Station 47 for ten months of a year-long stint. Located in a secluded area of space, his orders are to destroy any terrestrial ship that attempts a landing. When he hears a distress call from a lifeboat with a single young woman on board, he decides to rebel against his orders.

The woman turns out to be, or claim to be, Lesley Kay, the seventeen year old daughter of a Senator. The gender politics of McIntosh’s story are dated and somewhat jarring. Although Clement’s age is never revealed, McIntosh continuously tries, without much success, to build up a sexual tension between the two characters and many of Clements actions, which McIntosh himself notes, are the result of the fact that the lifeboat’s passenger is female.

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Vintage Treasures: The Snail on the Slope by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Snail on the Slope-back-small The Snail on the Slope-small

Russian science fiction writers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky are the authors of a pair of acknowledged classics, Hard to Be a God (which Zeta Moore reviewed for us here) and Roadside Picnic (1977). Their books were introduced to a broad audience in the US in the 1970s by Donald Wollheim at DAW Books. Over a dozen of their novels have been translated into English, including The Ugly Swans (1972), The Final Circle of Paradise (1976), Monday Begins on Saturday (1977), Prisoners of Power (1977), and The Time Wanderers (1987).

When I recently discovered there was a Strugatsky paperback I didn’t have, The Snail on the Slope, it was bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s always a delight to find a new object of interest. On the other hand, copies on eBay started at $30, and on Abe Books anywhere from $40 and up. (I suppose I can’t be too cranky. The vast majority of genre paperbacks from the 70s and 80s have declined in value over the past 40 years; it’s good to see the vintage paperback market has at least a few hot spots.)

But what’s the deal with the skyrocketing prices for a pair of relatively obscure Soviet-era science fiction writers? Fifteen years ago you could have had virtually any of their paperbacks for a song.

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The Courage of the Question: Tuck Everlasting

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Tuck Everlasting-smallIf you have children at home, you know their propensity for asking questions. “Can I have some more?” “Why not?” “Are we there yet?” “Do I have to?” These questions and many others are familiar to everyone who deals with children, and they (the questions, that is) usually don’t pose much of a problem. (In my house, we have long had a standard reply to this kind of query, taken from a Ring Lardner short story: “Shut up, he explained.”)

Not all childish questions are so easily disposed of, however. The hard ones can range from the mathematical, such as “What if there was no such thing as five?” to the epistemological, like “How do you know?” The roughest ones are literally life and death: “Why did my puppy, why did my friend, why did my Grandpa have to die?” When faced with these, too often the adult impulse is to brush the child off with a pat answer that answers nothing, or better yet, to quickly change the subject.

Tough questions don’t cease to be questions, though, just because we grow too experienced, too jaded, too busy, too complacent, too disappointed, too bored — too old to be willing to ask them ourselves.

This is one of the reasons children can keep you feeling young… when they’re not making you feel ancient. It’s also why reading great children’s literature can be such a wonderful, renewing experience; such books are addressed to an audience that hasn’t yet gotten into the fatal habit of thinking that all questions have either already been answered or are unanswerable. Such books are themselves like fearless, inquisitive children; they’re willing to speak their minds, whatever the consequences. Books like this are assured of long lives…books like Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 children’s fantasy, Tuck Everlasting.

In the little town of Treegap, in the first week of August in the year 1880, ten year old Winnie Foster feels like life’s possibilities have already dried up. Her overprotective family won’t let her roam, won’t let her experience all that she wants to; her world is cruelly circumscribed by the white picket fence that keeps her safely penned in her front yard. Before the hot August days are over, though, Winnie will have an encounter that will change her life forever, and she’ll be faced with a momentous and irrevocable choice.

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