Rogue Blades Presents: It’s a Time for Heroes

Friday, April 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

the-lost-empire-of-sol-front-cover-smallIn a matter of weeks, months, it has become a different world. Even within the confines of speculative literature and what’s oft referred to as nerd or geek culture, there have been big changes. For instance, disappointing to those of us who had planned to attend this year, Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, has been canceled, as have hundreds of conventions and gatherings across the globe. Closer to home for me, a board member of Rogue Blades Foundation, a nonprofit publisher focusing on all things heroic, we have had to push back to 2021 publication of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (though The Lost Empire of Sol is still expected to be published next month).

Now don’t think this is grousing, complaining. I’m merely pointing out how some of the world has changed of late. For that matter, some of the changes aren’t all bad.

As a writer and editor, I normally work from home, so all this isolation most of us are having to contend with of late isn’t new to me. What is new for me is that everybody else is home. Including all my online gaming buddies. And most of them don’t seem to be working at home. Which means they have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. Which means I have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. And other games. Which means I’m getting less work done than usual.

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Vintage Treasures: Imaginary Lands edited by Robin McKinley

Friday, April 3rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Imaginary Lands (Ace Books, 1985). Cover by Thomas Canty

By 1985 Robin McKinley was already a star. Her breakout novel The Blue Sword (1982) was a nominee for both the Mythopoeic Award and the Newbery Medal, and two years later The Hero and the Crown (1984) won the Newbery Medal, one of the most coveted accolades in children’s literature. If there was a hotter new writer in the field at the time, I can’t think of her.

In 1982 Ace Books had published her successful collection The Door in the Hedge, and in 1985 McKinley approached them with a different idea: an original anthology of secondary world fantasy tales, with contributions primarily from newer writers. Patricia A. McKillip, whose Riddle-Master trilogy had been a significant hit in the 70s; Joan D. Vinge, whose 1980 novel The Snow Queen had won a Hugo; P. C. Hodgell, whose 1982 debut novel God Stalk became a cult classic; modern master James P. Blaylock, whose career was just getting started with The Elfin Ship (1982) and The Disappearing Dwarf (1983); popular YA author Robert Westall; and McKinley’s husband Peter Dickinson, author of The Changes Trilogy, among others.

Imaginary Lands was a doozy, winning the World Fantasy Award and helping cement McKinley’s reputation. It contained some of the year’s best fantasy, including Blaylock’s famous story “Paper Dragons” (a Nebula nominee and winner of the World Fantasy Award), and “Flight,” by Peter Dickinson, a World Fantasy Award nominee for Best Novella. Imaginary Lands was a paperback original, and was successful enough to be re-released in hardcover in 1986 for the library market by Greenwillow. It had a UK release from Orbit in 1987, but that was the end of its short literary life. It’s a classic volume of fantasy that’s been out of print for over three decades, and never had a digital release.

I think that’s a shame. There are a lot of things I like about modern publishing, but the slow death of the mass market anthology isn’t one of them. It’s just not economical to bring books like this back into print, and certainly not as cheap paperbacks, and that means modern readers will probably never learn about this book. Unless folks like me champion it, and point out that you find buy copies online at criminally low prices — like the one above, a virtually new copy which I bought on eBay for less than two bucks back in January.

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Goth Chick News: A Rare Opportunity to Attend the HAA

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist


As you likely know the Halloween Association and Attractions show (HAA for you cool kids) is the grand kickoff of each year’s scare season. Usually held in March it is the only industry trade show of its kind in the world, gathering the entire haunt industry together to view and purchase new products from over four hundred exhibitors. It’s a place to see the hottest trends and get a peek at the latest in special effects, from small visuals perfect for a home haunt, all the way up to $15K ‘life size’ dragon animatronics. Normally this is an ‘industry only’ show requiring a tax ID number and other credentials to score a ticket. However, Black Gate photog Chris Z and I have been lucky enough to be invited to cover the HAA for the past 17 years and we look forward to it each and every time; along with the ability to give you a look behind the curtain of a $9B industry. Impressive when you consider that money comes from six weeks annually.

Unfortunately, the current zombie apocalypse caused the HAA, like everything else, to be cancelled for 2020. Postponing is not an option as the haunt industry gets after it early, to be ready for September / October. Holding the show over the summer would not allow enough time for orders to be placed and received before the start of the haunt season.

However, out of sadness comes opportunity.

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Lindbergher, Slightly Overdone: The Plot Against America, Part 3

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 | Posted by James Enge


I don’t know, man. It seemed like something that could not possibly fail. A brilliantly weird memoir-novel by one of America’s great writers, a timely subject, the team of writer-producers who created The Wire (one of television’s greatest shows), a gifted cast, high production values, a network known for sponsoring bold and innovative work. And yet…

No, this isn’t about the only-in-my-dreams TV adaptation of The Wolf Age. It’s the ongoing HBO adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America that’s making me sad.

I’m not here to tell you that it’s a disaster, because it’s not. In every episode so far (see here for my assessment of episode 1, and here for my wise words on episode 2) there has been great stuff. One example: young Philip’s nightmare at the beginning of this week’s episode when all the faces on his precious stamps turn into Hitler. It’s horrible — the thing that must not happen, and yet seems to be happening no matter what anyone does to stop it. In a few seconds, without a word spoken, it expresses what the show (not to mention its source-novel) is about.

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Stories That Work: Short Story Collections

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 | Posted by James Van Pelt

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Normally I look at a couple short stories that have caught my eye since my last article, and then dive into them for a closer look. But in these stay-at-home times I realized how important short stories are in my reading life, and how short story collections are often my favorite pastime.

Like many of you, I became a recreational reader early on. My school desk always had science fiction tucked inside that I would sneak peeks at every chance I could. Some teachers just let me read. They must have decided that a book kept me still and quiet. It’s illuminating to consider my introductions to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Madeleine L’Engle happened during math or social studies lessons at East Elementary.

As much as I loved books, though, the idea of writing stories didn’t come to me until I read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. There was no way I could write a book! A two-page essay on Abraham Lincoln took an entire weekend (and I didn’t choose the topic), but those short stories that Bradbury wrote, the ones that made me cry and laugh and tied my heart with emotions I didn’t even knew existed, might just be possible to finish. Heck, “Rocket Summer” was only 228 words long. I could write a story that short.

More than that, Bradbury turned me onto enjoying short stories. From The Martian Chronicles, I went to The Illustrated Man, R is for Rocket, S is for Space,  and I Sing the Body Electric. I’m glad I didn’t discover The Small Assassin at that time. The trajectory of my writing career might have careened differently.

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Future Treasures: Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Jacket design by Jonathan Bush

Hao Jingfang won the Hugo Award in 2016 for her novelette “Folding Beijing,” translated by Ken Liu and published in the January/February 2015 issue of Uncanny magazine (you can read the complete story at the Uncanny website here). Her debut novel is one of the most anticipated books of the year; it finally arrives in two weeks from Saga Press.

A century after the Martian war of independence, a group of children are selected to travel to Earth as delegates. Five years later they return to Mars, only to find themselves caught between two worlds and two cultures… and facing some difficult questions. Kirkus Reviews calls it “Social science fiction…. a thoughtful debut” in its online review:

The year is 2201. Just over a hundred years ago, the Martian colonies fought and won a war of independence against Earth, and since then, the two planets have diverged sociologically. In Hao’s incisive and all-too-plausible extrapolation, Earth embodies the triumph of Western laissez faire capitalism driven by the internet’s savagely competitive social media. Mars, technologically much more advanced and apparently utopian — and here the author treads more cautiously — persuasively represents what benevolent Chinese communo-capitalism might possibly evolve into. Consequently, mutual suspicion and resentment bordering on outright hostility dominate the Earth-Mars relationship….

A thoughtful debut with ample scope for reader engagement.

Read the complete review here.

Vagabonds is translated by Ken Liu, and will be published by Saga Press on April 14, 2020. It is 603 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover design is by Jonathan Bush. Read a lengthy excerpt (the complete 16-page first chapter, titled The Ship) at the Simon & Schuster website. See all of our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.

The Awesome Villainy of the Kafers

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Kafer Sourcebook by William H. Keith (GDW 1988)

A common science fiction trope is the terrifying alien. The one determined to destroy humanity… or whatever… is in its path. The xenomorph from the Alien franchise is probably the first that comes to mind for many, but others include the unnamed Force from Event Horizon, the Bugs from Starship Troopers, the Taurans from The Forever War, the Predator, and the Thing. These aliens serve as vehicles to terrify and challenge humanity in many ways. In science fiction tabletop role-playing games, aliens abound. Many ruthless enemies like the Sathar of Star Frontiers, the Jinsuls from Starfinder, along with the Alien xenomorph exist in the pages of role-playing games. In my opinion, the Kafers from the 2300AD game are the best of the lot.

Bold statement.

2300AD was released by GDW in 1986. Set in the near-ish future and part of an extended timeline from GDW’s Twilight 2000 game, the people of Earth have recovered for a nuclear war in the late 2000s, discovered the stutterwarp drive, and colonized many worlds in the near-earth vicinity. The game pitched itself as hard science fiction — the stutterwarp drive, one of the concessions. Many of the materials focus on realistic orbital mechanics and lifeforms. Planets are often hostile. The book is about humanity’s struggle and challenges in colonizing the stars.

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The Ground Rules Have Been Put in Place: Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery, by Brian Murphy

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 | Posted by David C. Smith

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Cover by Tom Barber

Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery
By Brian Murphy
Pulp Hero Press (282 pages, $19.95 in trade paperback/$7.99 digital, January 16, 2020)

At long last, we have a history of the sword-and-sorcery genre, and a very welcome and erudite study it is. Brian Murphy is to be commended for his honest appreciation of our frequently dismissed and often mocked genre. He intelligently surveys the expanse of the sword-and-sorcery field warts and all, low points and high, putting the genre into its proper literary perspective.

To present a linear history of the sword-and-sorcery genre is in fact to dissect an Yggdrasil of many branches, which is precisely what Murphy has done here. His challenge in undertaking Flame and Crimson was great—confronting a century of work and reducing discussion of it to the reasonable length of about 250 pages. He has risen to the challenge.

(Full disclosure: I am mentioned a few times in Flame and Crimson and am cited in a pull-quote in the header to chapter 1. I am also published by Pulp Hero Press, the imprint that has brought out Flame and Crimson.)

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New Treasures: Sword of Fire by Katharine Kerr

Monday, March 30th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Sword of Fire-smallKatharine Kerr’s science fiction novels include Polar City Blues, Palace (with Mark Kreighbaum), and Snare. But she’s much more well known for sixteen epic fantasy novels set in the world of Deverry, starting with Daggerspell (1986), Darkspell (1987), and The Bristling Wood (1989).

Kerr’s roots are firmly in fantasy gaming, which immediately increases her cred in my book. She was introduced to fantasy gaming in in 1979, and she quickly began writing articles for gaming magazines. She was a contributing editor to Dragon magazine, and authored adventure modules for TSR and Chaosium’s Pendragon role-playing game. Her first novel was published in 1986, and she’s never looked back. It’s fiction that brings the fame and the fast cars, so I guess I can’t blame her.

The last few years she’s been occupied with her Nola O’Grady urban fantasy series for DAW (which the author describes as a “female James Bond with magic rather than violence”). It’s been over a decade since we’ve seen a new novel in Deverry, though, and it’s good to see her return. Ralph Harris gave Sword of Fire a warm review at BookPage; here’s a sample.

Sword of Fire centers around a sociopolitical struggle against the unjust courts of the Kingdom of Deverry. While that certainly could be a backdrop for a bleak, dark struggle, Kerr’s novel is instead a lovely quest with an ever-optimistic, wholeheartedly enthusiastic crew of brilliant women and chivalrous men. Alyssa, our primary heroine, embarks on a trip to recover a book that can help usurp the old traditions of the courts with even older, supposedly more fair traditions….

With a lightly magical, extremely familiar setting and lovable cast of characters, Kerr sets out to take the reader through the Kingdom of Deverry’s evolution to a (hopefully) more just world. She doles out plot points via chatty gossip between noble families and secret messages sent by way of servants… Meandering through the pages of Kerr’s Sword of Fire was escapism of the finest quality. For readers looking for a dark drama of epic proportions, these 380 pages will hold nothing for you. Here, you will only find charming banter, happy endings and optimism in prose form.

Sword of Fire is the opening volume in The Justice War. It was published by DAW on February 18, 2020. It is 384 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Katie Anderson. Read an excerpt from Chapter One here.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: The ‘Lost’ 1959 Pilot

Monday, March 30th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Only a few years ago, the ‘lost’ pilot of a 1959 Nero Wolfe television show came out on DVD. Surprisingly, no one posted it on YouTube until March of 2020, while much of America was staying at home during the Corona virus Pandemic. I myself saw it for the first time on March 22, so here we go!

Back in 1959, Edward Fadiman, part of Fadmian Productions, (which also acted for Rex Stout as ‘Nero Wolfe Attractions’), got a pilot episode made through CBS. Unfortunately, it was fated to be a one-episode series (or was it?). TV was still an emerging medium, competing with radio, the silver screen, and the stage. It’s no surprise that the project turned to Broadway for the dual leads. And in this episode, Archie’s star shines at least as brightly as Wolfe’s.

Kurt Kasznar appeared in one episode of a lot of TV shows, which was common in the fifties and sixties. He was a successful stage actor, including roles in The Sound of Music, and Barefoot in the Park. When notices about the pilot project began appearing in early 1959, he was appearing in Look After Lulu. At 280 pounds, he had the build for Wolfe. The press reported that he actually had lost 70 pounds and needed padding for the part! William Shatner was appearing on Broadway in The World of Suzi Wong. He was years away from boldly going where no man had gone before.

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