Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: A Matter of Identity

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: A Matter of Identity

I’m back! What? Really? Well, I’m sure SOMEBODY noticed I took a four-month hiatus from my weekly column here at Black Gate. Anywhoo… Last year, I wrote a Nero Wolfe pastiche for The Wolfe Pack fan group. It’s THE place for fans of the corpulent detective. I took “By His Own Hand” – an Alphabet Hicks short story written by Rex Stout – made it a solo case for Archie Goodwin, and reworked it a bit. And… I added one of my favorite pulp ‘PIs’, W.T. Ballard’s Hollywood studio troubleshooter, Bill Lennox (whom I wrote about here at Black Gate). Below is that story, which takes place during Nero Wolfe’s own hiatus. As always, I do my best to emulate Stout’s writing style, and his characters. Writing as Archie is something I enjoy doing very much.

A Matter of Identity – Bob Byrne (based on a short story by Rex Stout)

I

I was sitting at my office desk, eating a sandwich from Mike’s Deli, which was only a couple blocks around the corner. Growing up, I hadn’t been crazy about fried bologna, but that place did it right — with a mustard even Wolfe would approve of. ‘Wolfe’ being Nero Wolfe, my former employer. It had been six months since Arnold Zeck forced him into decamping from the brownstone in the middle of the night. Never one to sit around — and I certainly wasn’t going to be Lily’s kept man — I hung out my shingle as an independent private investigator and took a small office on the tenth floor of a downtown high-rise. I didn’t have any need for a secretary. I could handle the paperwork, and I had plenty of experience paying bills and typing up reports. Maybe if business got too much to handle, I’d bring someone in part-time. But that didn’t look to be a problem just yet.

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Learn RuneQuest by playing an Online Solo Adventure: The Battle of Dangerford

Learn RuneQuest by playing an Online Solo Adventure: The Battle of Dangerford

The Battle of Dangerford (Chaosium, 2021)

Happy New Year, fantasy gamers! If you’re like me, all your resolutions this year involve trying new games. At least two dozen. And maybe a truckload of snack foods.

Yeah, but which games? There’s a ton to choose from. Fortunately Chaosium has made it a little bit easier — by publishing their newest RuneQuest solo adventure online completely free. And also structuring it so that you can learn the rules as you play! The title is The Battle of Dangerford, and it really is a simple as it sounds:

Learn to play RuneQuest in the best way possible — by playing! The Battle of Dangerford is a single-player scenario designed to teach you the rules of the game as you play. Take on the role of Vasana as she joins her Sartarite brothers and sisters in an epic clash against the invading Lunar Empire.

Get all the details below — or jump right in here!

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Vintage Treasures: The City of the Singing Flame by Clark Ashton Smith

Vintage Treasures: The City of the Singing Flame by Clark Ashton Smith


The City of the Singing Flame (Timescape, 1981). Cover by Rowena Morrill

We’ve written a lot about Clark Ashton Smith at Black Gate. Like, a lot. Over two dozen articles over the last decade or so by my count, by many of our top writers, including Brian Murphy, Matthew David Surridge, Fletcher Vredenburgh, Thomas Parker, James Maliszewski, M Harold Page, Steven H Silver, John R. Fultz — and especially Ryan Harvey, who’s penned a third of our coverage all on his own.

I’m not an expert on Smith — far from it. Although he published in the pulp magazines I was obsessed with as a teen, I didn’t discover him until relatively late. He had no novels to his name, and was virtually ignored by the editors who assembled the ubiquitous science fiction anthologies I devoured in my youth (I know Isaac Asimov, whose name was on every second anthology I read, strongly disliked Smith’s work, and that was pretty much the kiss of death for SF writers in the 80s).

It wasn’t until David Hartwell, editor of the ambitious Timescape imprint at Pocket Books, reprinted much of Smith’s back catalog in a trio of handsome paperbacks that I corrected this injustice. And specifically, it wasn’t until I laid eyes on Rowena Morrill’s beautiful cover for The City of the Singing Flame in 1981 that I was finally introduced to the rich and fascinating work of Clark Ashton Smith.

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Elven Phantoms, Children of the Corn, and Kane: DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series VI (1978), Edited by Gerald W. Page

Elven Phantoms, Children of the Corn, and Kane: DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series VI (1978), Edited by Gerald W. Page


The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series VI (DAW, 1978). Cover by Michael Whelan

The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series VI, published in 1978, was the third volume in the series edited by horror author and editor Gerald W. Page (1939–). Michael Whelan (1950–) appears for the fourth time in a row on the cover, though with a very different style from his previous efforts. Where Whelan’s covers usually have a big surreal background, this one is more muted and draws your eyes to the foreground. It’s fairly creepy, but not one of my favorite Whelan horror pieces.

In comparison with the series’ first British editor, Richard Davis, Gerald Page tend to focus on American authors, almost all men. There are three women in this volume: Janet Fox, Tanith Lee, and Lisa Tuttle, and a total of three Brits: Ramsey Campbell, David Campton, and Tanith Lee. 

Series VI includes fourteen stories, only one from a professional magazine; three came from books, four from fanzines, but six stories were original to this volume. Six! Almost half of the stories in an anthology called Year’s Best were not published previously. Defending another editor in a different context John O’Neill recently said, it’s “entirely the editor’s call.” But doesn’t Year’s Best imply more than simply the editor’s own particular choices? Maybe not. And perhaps it doesn’t matter if the collected stories are indeed that good.

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Five Reasons Hades Deserved that Hugo

Five Reasons Hades Deserved that Hugo

Hades (Supergiant Games, 2021)

When I looked at the list of Hugo winners this past week, I was thrilled to see one of my favorite video games had won for Best Video Game.

(And then I froze and said, “Wait, there’s a Hugo for video games??” Answer: yes! This was the first year an award was given for Best Video Game, and it was proposed as a special award category. The last two years have seen a sharp rise in the video game market as first time gamers and previously casual gamers suddenly found themselves with a lot more time and a need for both entertainment and a new way to connect with others. Hopefully, this will be established as a continuing award category for the WSFS, but time will tell.)

Hades, developed and published by Supergiant Games, now carries the honor of being either the first or the sole winner of this category, and it solidly deserves it. Is it the best game in the last twenty years? No. There are bigger, grander, more ambitious games out there. Dragon Age comes to mind (Origins or Inquisition, anyway), as do Skyrim and Call of Duty. But with that conceded, Hades is absolutely a worthy Hugo-bearer. Why?

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The Universe Under Attack: The Protectorate Trilogy by Megan E. O’Keefe

The Universe Under Attack: The Protectorate Trilogy by Megan E. O’Keefe


The Protectorate trilogy by Megan E. O’Keefe (Orbit, 2019-2021). Covers by Sparth

Megan E. O’Keefe’s debut novel Steal the Sky was nominated for the 2017 David Gemmell Morningstar award, and became the opening book in the Scorched Continent trilogy, which author Beth Cato called “An epic steampunk Firefly.” Not a bad way to kickstart a writing career.

But it was her second trilogy, the space opera The Protectorate, that really launched her into the big time. Opening volume Velocity Weapon (2019) was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, and Kirkus Reviews called it “edge-of-your-seat space opera with a soul; a highly promising science-fiction debut.” Chaos Vector was published last year, and the trilogy wrapped up in June of this year with Catalyst Gate. If you’re looking for modern SF filled with with twists and far-future political intrigue, you’ve definitely come to the right place.

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Not Streaming: Electric Dreams

Not Streaming: Electric Dreams

Electric Dreams
Electric Dreams

In 1984, the movie Electric Dreams was released, providing a prescient view of the capabilities computers would eventually have. At the same time, as one of the first films directed by a music video producer, Steve Barron, the film made heavy use of MTV style montages during some of its musical sequences.

The film opens with a montage at the airport as a technophobic Miles Harding (Lenny van Dohlen) tries to catch a flight. The scenes in the airport establish how pervasive technology is in the world, with shots of computers, printers, computerized toy cars, and calculators. Upon arriving at his architectural firm in San Francisco, a friend shows Miles his electronic organizer. The conversation is seen through the lens of a surveillance camera in the company’s elevator. Miles goes to buy one, but is talked into purchasing the latest computer from the store clerk.

Although the computer Miles purchased looks like an Apple available in the early 80s, it had capabilities more in line with a modern Alexa.  Within moments of unboxing the computer, Miles is connecting it to run his blender, coffee machine, stereo, and home security system. When he hacks into his boss’s computer to gain the information he needs so the computer can help him design an earthquake resistant brick, the computer begins to malfunction and he pours champagne on it, resulting in a computer that begins to gain sentience.

While all this is going on, Miles gets a new neighbor, when classical cellist Madeline Robistat (Virginia Madsen) moves into the upstairs apartment.  Despite making a bad first impression on her, when they bump into each other in a grocery store, the strike up a relationship.  Miles is as awkward around women as he is around computers, but Madeline is intrigued when she hears music coming from his apartment, playing a duet as she practices and thinks it is Miles.

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Euro Dumas Trio

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Euro Dumas Trio

The Count of Monte-Cristo (UK, 1975)

Completing our survey of Seventies movies that attempted to recapture the fire (and the box office success) of Richard Lester’s Musketeers films, here are three European productions that are often overlooked, in America at least. All three are adaptations of novels by Alexandre Dumas, but the real gem here is D’Artagnan and Three Musketeers, a Russian adaptation of the master’s greatest novel, presented with Slavic brio and panache. If you’re a fan of cinematic adaptations of The Three Musketeers, you really owe it to yourself to track this one down.

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New Treasures: The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan

New Treasures: The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan


The Art of Space Travel (Titan Books, September 2021). Cover by Vince Haig

I had the chance to wander the Dealer’s Room at Worldcon last week — and if you’ve never had that pleasure, I encourage you to do it at least once. If there’s a worthy pilgrimage for science fiction and fantasy readers, it’s the peerless Dealer’s Room at Worldcon. The only things in my experience that come close are the vast Dealer’s Room at Windy City in Chicago, and the endless Great Exhibit Hall at Gen Con.

As I wandered starstruck between the cramped aisles of booksellers, painfully aware that I couldn’t return to Chicago with more than I could carry onto the plane, my eyes lighted on numerous wonders. Virgil Finley art books, out of print for decades. Stacks of vintage paperbacks from the 1970s. Handsome sets of limited edition books from Centipede Press, Subterranean Books, and numerous others. A wall of press clippings about Worldcon, some dating back to the very first in 1939. Joshua Palmatier’s table, heavily laden with more anthologies than I could count.

And in the middle of it all was Sally Kobee’s island of tables, all piled high with new books. I wasn’t at Worldcon to buy new books — but you can’t help it when one catches your eye. And the first one to do so was Nina Allen’s new collection The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories.

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The State of the Unions: Twilight: 2000

The State of the Unions: Twilight: 2000

In this journey exploring the Twilight: 2000’s first edition adventures and supplements, we have two remaining items (other than the supplements of weapons and vehicles) that address the state of the United States and United Kingdom. Both are supplemental releases that allow players and referees (gamemasters) to conduct adventures and campaigns.

The Survivor’s Guide to the United Kingdom is the only official supplement by the late GDW that covers the isles. And the situation is not good in the old country.

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