Merry Christmas from Black Gate

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

black-gate-christmas-treeThe lights are dim at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters, and there’s a light dusting of snow on all the desks. I dropped by to pick up the leftover egg nog from the Christmas party and discovered a rare thing: a deserted office. Even Goth Chick’s minions seem to have slipped their chains.

The only noise I hear comes from deep in the comic archives, where the tireless Mike Penkas is scribbling a Christmas Red Sonja post, muttering “For the love of God, there’s a giant spider right on the cover.” Not sure what that’s about, but I tiptoe away before I break his concentration.

It’s nice to see the place when it’s not bustling with activity. Everywhere I look there’s evidence of this year’s accomplishments. There’s the stack of scrolls Howard Andrew Jones used while researching The Bones of the Old Ones (Seriously, where did he find actual scrolls? That’s just showing off). There’s the whiteboard where Scott Taylor sketched out his Art of the Genre ideas, before accepting a big job and vanishing out to the west coast. Sarah Avery sits in that corner now, writing constantly and giving Skype interviews for Broad Universe. And there’s the scratching post Ryan Harvey built for his cat Cassie, in a vain attempt to get her to stop playing with the office Christmas ornaments.

And here’s the table where all the freelancers sit. They always seem to be having a lot more fun than the rest of us. They’re certainly louder, anyway. Here’s Emily Mah’s recording equipment, and Josh Reynolds’ occult detective collection. Beth Dawkins has only been here a few months, but she fit in quickly, clearing away a section of William Patrick Maynard’s vast pulp collection to make room for her paranormal romance paperbacks. Mark Rigney has made excellent use of John Fultz’s battered old writing desk, composing his own sword-and-sorcery epics, and David Soyka has vanished inside a fortress built of thousands of science fiction digests. Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ desk is clean, probably because he’s never there — he’s always on assignment at a convention these days.

The only staff member who doesn’t have a desk is the mysterious Matthew David Surridge — which I suppose is fitting. He’s been part of the team for years, but no one is 100% sure what he looks like. He’s a riot at office parties, though.

It’s been an incredible year for Black Gate. The traffic to our humble website has very nearly doubled in the last 12 months, and interest has never been higher. While we’re very proud of what we’ve done, there’s no doubt in our mind that we owe it all to you, our loyal readers. You’ve never been more supportive than you have in 2012 — with your comments, letters, and your continued interest in our endeavors large and small.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. On behalf of the vast and unruly collective that is Black Gate, I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Continue being excellent — it’s what you’re good at.

Librarians to the Rescue: Worldsoul by Liz Williams

Saturday, September 8th, 2012 | Posted by Soyka

Liz Williams
Prime (311 pp, $14.95 in paperback, August 2012)

Reviewed by David Soyka

The stereotypical image of your local librarian is that of a dowdy, matronly spinster who is constantly telling you to “shush” while your adolescent self is trying to do something vastly more interesting (usually involving a person with whom you are sexually attracted) than figure out the Dewey Decimal system. And, these days with whatever we need to find out only a Google away, who needs librarians anyway?

Well, it would seem the preservation of the underlying fabric of the universe does.

While it’s unlikely that Liz Williams will make librarians cool the way that William Gibson made noirish anti-heroes out of computer nerds, in Worldsoul, librarians brandish magical swords that speak. Not to hush people, but to help defend ancient texts against rogue storylines amongst book stacks that date to the fabled Library of Alexandria before it burned to the ground (at least on Earth).

The novel’s title is the name of an otherworldly realm quartered into distinct cultural, climatic and political realms (and probably having something to do with maintaining the “soul” of the mundane world as we in ordinary life understand it): a hot desert land of ancient Cairo; a cold Nordica where Loki the trickster is an imprisoned nutcase, albeit not totally powerless; the Court inhabited by beings called the “disir” who take human form but aren’t; and the Citadel, the land of the library. This city of Worldsoul somehow or another connects Earth with something called the Liminality, a multi-dimensional storehouse of storylines, the integrity of which no doubt has something to do with the preservation of life as we know it here in realityland.

Our librarian heroine, Mercy Fane, is struggling to counteract strange beings that have escaped from primeval manuscripts and the boundaries of their original storylines. And which take on a female personality that seems to have an agenda to fix some longstanding wrong:

[Mercy] thought of the thing she had seen; the thing that, mentally, she had started calling “the female.” Part of a story from so long ago that any humanity had surely been leached from her, if indeed she had ever possessed any. Something forgotten, that raged, like so many forgotten things. Something that wanted to be known.

And something that, now, would be.

p. 35

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Uncle Ray is Dead

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 | Posted by Soyka

Ray Bradbury has died, chronologically at age 91, though he managed throughout his career to maintain the awe and wonder of a 12-year old.

Here is a picture of him surrounded by one of the many anachronisms he loved,  something called printed books.


And here’s something I wrote a while ago about his influence on me.

Historical Authenticity or Historical Verisimilitude?

Sunday, May 13th, 2012 | Posted by Theo

the-chronicles-of-narniaAfter reading through the various responses to my post two weeks ago, some of which were insightful and intelligent, others perhaps a little less so, I found myself concluding that I had probably gone a little too far in the process of defending historical authenticity against Daniel Abraham’s charge that it is not an effective defense against charges of insufficient strong women, excessive white people, or a surfeit of sexual violence.

Upon further reflection, I don’t think it is correct to conclude that a work of fantasy will necessarily be improved by additional historical authenticity. Would The Chronicles of Narnia be improved by religious schism or removing the historically ludicrous notion of four siblings ruling simultaneously? No, I can’t honestly say it would. Would Abraham’s own The Long Price Quartet be improved by making the imperial Asian culture utilize a historically authentic kanji/hànzì system of writing that would likely be all but unintelligible to the various warlike Caucasian societies surrounding it? No, I don’t think so.

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Cosmic Crimes Stories #2

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

cosmic-crime-2Okay, I don’t really know anything about Cosmic Crimes Stories. I’d never even heard about it until today.

But I know it’s cool. And let’s be honest — that should be good enough for you.

What is Cosmic Crimes Stories? I’m operating a little on faith here, since I’ve never actually seen a copy. But according to the website, it’s “a biannual digest of science fiction and fantasy crimes and criminals.”

Um, what?

A little more digging reveals that it’s a magazine of science fiction mysteries, tales of crime on far off planets and in strange dimensions. That alone makes it totally unique in the history of the genre, far as I know.

And it’s published two issues in 2011, which already makes it one of the most reliable small press magazines in the genre.

Here’s the blurb for the second issue, dated July 2011:

Crime will always be with us, and as laws evolve, so will the techniques of violating them. Will slavery exist when we encounter other intelligences, and if so, will the relationship be parasitic or symbiotic? What complications can arise when a detective pursues a criminal across dimensions? How does a perfect society react to an axe murderer in its midst?

Perhaps I just have a weakness for unusual magazines. But I’m intrigued. Maybe I’ll ask David Soyka to review the latest issue. That guy covers everything.

Cosmic Crimes Stories is published in January and July, and edited by Karen L. Newman. Individual issues are $9 plus $2.50 shipping and handling, and a one-year subscription is $16 plus $4 S&H.  You can order online here.

Not So Short Fiction Review: The River of Shadows

Saturday, June 4th, 2011 | Posted by Soyka

96714827The River of Shadows (Book III of the Chathrand Voyage Series)
Robert V.S. Redick
Del Ray (592 pages,$16.00, April 2011)
Reviewed by David Soyka

My purpose here is simply a warning. If you are part of that infinitesimally small [and ever smaller] band of dissidents with the wealth, time and inclination to set your hands on the printed word, I suggest you consider the arguments against the current volume.  To wit: the tale is morbid, the persons depicted are clumsy when they are not evil, the world is inconvenient to visit and quite changed from what is here described, the plot at this early juncture is already complex beyond all reason, the moral cannot be stated, and the editor is intrusive.  The story most obviously imperils the young.

p. 107-108

There are various reasons for such “editorial” intrusions into a narrative rolling along quite nicely seemingly without need for meta-fictional comment.  One is in fact to be meta-fictional, to purposely draw attention to the illusion of storytelling.  But, another, opposite tact, is to give the text the illusion of legitimacy, that what we’re reading, however improbable, is an actual historical document.  The latter is the approach of the modern über-fantasy, Lord of the Rings, in which the tale  is presented as an ancient manuscript edited for a contemporary audience by a medieval scholar.

Given that this was J.R.R. Tolkien’s day-job, this might have been intended as a kind of inside joke, albeit from a guy who wasn’t particularly jokey.  In the case of Robert V.S. Redick, whose The River of Shadows, the penultimate volume in the Chathrand Voyage Series, is a sort of Tolkien at sea, he pointedly wants us to be in on the joke.

There are a lot of “paint by the numbers” Tolkien clones for the simple reason that there is a market for people who want more of the same.  They’ll probably enjoy this series.  But while Redick may be guilty of a little too slavish attention to both fantasy cliché and Perils of Pauline dilemmas resolved by convenient magical cavalry to the rescue, it’s all in good fun. Not the sort of fun that’s saying, “Ew, how stupid all this heroic questing stuff is.” Rather, it’s the sort of fun that’s saying, well, isn’t this all great fun?

Which, it is.

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Black Gate 15 Complete Table of Contents

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

bg-15-cover2The theme of our massive 15th issue, captured beautifully by Donato Giancola’s striking cover, is Warrior Women. Eight authors — Jonathan L. Howard, Maria V. Snyder, Frederic S. Durbin, Sarah Avery, Paula R. Stiles, Emily Mah, S. Hutson Blount, and Brian Dolton — contribute delightful tales of female warriors, wizards, weather witches, thieves, and other brave women as they face deadly tombs, sinister gods, unquiet ghosts, and much more.

Frederic S. Durbin takes us to a far land where two dueling gods pit their champions against each other in a deadly race to the World’s End. Brian Dolton offers us a tale of Ancient China, a beautiful occult investigator, and a very peculiar haunting. And Jonathan L. Howard returns to our pages with “The Shuttered Temple,” the sequel to “The Beautiful Corridor” from Black Gate 13, in which the resourceful thief Kyth must penetrate the secrets of a mysterious and very lethal temple.

What else is in BG 15? Howard Andrew Jones bring us a lengthy excerpt from his blockbuster novel The Desert of Souls, featuring the popular characters Dabir & Asim. Harry Connolly returns after too long an absence with “Eating Venom,” in which a desperate soldier faces a basilisk’s poison — and the treachery it brings. John C. Hocking begins a terrific new series with “A River Through Darkness & Light,” featuring a dedicated Archivist who leads a small band into a deadly desert tomb; John Fultz shares the twisted fate of a thief who dares fantastic dangers to steal rare spirits indeed in “The Vintages of Dream,” and Vaughn Heppner kicks off an exciting new sword & sorcery saga as a young warrior flees the spawn of a terrible god through the streets of an ancient city in “The Oracle of Gog.”

Plus fiction from Darrell Schweitzer, Jamie McEwan, Michael Livingston, Chris Willrich, Fraser Ronald, Derek Künsken, Jeremiah Tolbert, Nye Joell Hardy, and Rosamund Hodge!

In our generous non-fiction section, Mike Resnick educates us on the best in black & white fantasy cinema, Bud Webster turns his attention to the brilliant Tom Reamy in his Who? column on 20th Century fantasy authors, Scott Taylor challenges ten famous fantasy artists to share their vision of a single character in Art Evolution, and Rich Horton looks at the finest fantasy anthologies of the last 25 years. Plus over 30 pages of book, game, and DVD reviews, edited by Bill Ward, Howard Andrew Jones, and Andrew Zimmerman Jones — and a brand new Knights of the Dinner Table strip.

Buy this issue for only $18.95, or as part of bundle of back issues — any two for just $25 plus shipping!

Buy this issue in PDF for only $8.95!

Buy the Kindle version at for just $9.95!

Black Gate 15 is another huge issue: 384 pages of fiction, reviews, and articles. It contains 22 stories, totaling nearly 152,000 words of adventure fantasy. Complete details on all the contents after the jump.

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Fantasy Magazine Issue 48 Arrives — Including George R. R. Martin, Tanith Lee and Holly Black

Sunday, March 13th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

fantasy-mag-march-2011The March 2011 issue (#48) of the excellent Fantasy magazine is now online.

This issue includes original fiction from George R. R. Martin, Tanith Lee, Holly Black, and Genevieve Valentine. It is the first issue assembled by the new editor, John Joseph Adams.

Nonfiction includes author spotlights, and the articles “Three Real Historical Figures Who Embarked Upon the Hero’s Journey,” by Graeme McMillan, “Five Fantasy Worlds That You Wouldn’t Want to Visit,” by Te Jefferson & J. Corbeau, “From Story to Screen,” by LaShawn Wanak, and an interview with Steven Erikson, conducted by Andrew Bayer.

Each week in March one story and one nonfiction article is posted free online. So far they’ve posted an editorial by John Joseph Adams, and the HTML and podcast version of Genevieve Valentine’s “The Sandal-Bride.”

You can buy the complete issue at any time for just $2.99 USD, or subscribe via Weightless Books. The complete Table of Contents is here.

The cover is by Scott Grimando. David Soyka reviewed Fantasy #2 for us back in 2008.

New Year Short Fiction Roundup

Saturday, January 8th, 2011 | Posted by Soyka

2011-snI’ve contributed book reviews to the SF Site since 1998 (wow, that’s a long time); in fact, it was the first on-line “publication” I wrote for (and, yes, you can end a sentence with a proposition, though, technically, I haven’t).  That’s where I “met” John O’Neill, which explains how I wound up here (for those of you wondering how that could possibly have happened).  You can see a list of all my SF Site reviews here.

My latest review in the January 2010 issue is about a short story collection entitled “She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror. ” Worth checking out for the title alone.

Best American Fantasy comes to an End

Saturday, August 14th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

best-american-fantasy2aOver at Ecstatic Days, Jeff VanderMeer has announced that the annual anthology series he founded with Ann VanderMeer, Sean Wallace, and Matthew Cheney, Best American Fantasy, has wrapped up after three volumes.

The first, published in 2007 by Sean Wallace at Prime Books and edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, was an eclectic and delightful mixture of fantasy assembled from Zoetrope: All-Story, Analog, McSweeney’s, Zahir, Strange Horizons, The New Yorker and others sources, featuring nearly two dozen writers I’d never heard of. The second offered a slightly more familiar cast, including Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, and Peter S. Beagle, but still cast a wide net to include fiction from Cincinnati Review, Tin House, Barrelhouse, Harpers, Mississippi Review, and many others.

With the third volume the series jumped to Victoria Blake’s Underland Press, and changed editor to Kevin Brockmeier (our review, by David Soyka, is here). It contained work from Stephen King, Lisa Goldstein, Peter S. Beagle, Jeffrey Ford, and others. Jeff reflects on the decision to end the series thusly:

The amicable move from Prime to Underland following the publication of BAF2 was meant to rejuvenate the series and to finally achieve stability for it. Unfortunately, this didn’t occur, for a variety of reasons. BAF did not having a wide margin for error. A cross-genre fantasy year’s best that focused not just on genre magazines but also on literary magazines, that required sympathy and generosity from both the mainstream and genre, as well as the right placement in the chains, was always going to be a difficult sell.

New series editor Larry Nolen has posted the short list of stories under consideration for the unpublished fourth volume here — including fiction from Richard Parks, Sean McMullen, and Catherynne M. Valente, and four stories from Clockwork Phoenix 2.

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