Category Archives: John O’Neill

I Look at the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series

bk_dream-quest_lovecraftI started to refer to this project as Sooper Seekrit Project Number 3, but it will go public too quickly to really have that title.  Number 1 was the Amazing Stories gig.  Number 2 has been put on hold indefinitely, and will thus remain secret for a while longer.

John ONeill asked me about a month or six weeks ago if I would consider doing some posts for Black Gate.  After a brief back and forth, this is what we settled on.  I said I would be glad to do it, but it would have to wait until October was over.  He agreed.

200px-Lin_Carter_DFR

Lin Carter

So here’s the deal.  I’m going to be reviewing the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series edited by Lin Carter.  The first post will be a brief overview of the series, placing it in its historical context.  Then I’ll start reviewing the books.  I’m going to take them in order of publication at first, but at some point I’ll start jumping around.  Some of the titles I find the most interesting were published later in the run.

KhaledFor those of you who might not be familiar with it, the Adult Fantasy Series was a series of books published by Ballantine Books in the late 1960s through the mid 1970s.  Edited by Lin Carter, the series included a number of works written in the 1800s or early 1900s, many of which had fallen into obscurity or were unfamiliar to American readers.  The books had gorgeous wraparound cover art and are highly collectible today.

I’m not going to be on a regular schedule, at least not for a while.  My intention is to get about one post a month done.  I’m still doing a weekly post for Amazing Stories, and that will continue through the end of the year.  Then I’m going to cut back.  Trying to review an independent work every week is starting to put more of a strain on my schedule than I want.

At the Edge fo the World

Black Gate’s First Online Fiction, is, Well, Strong out of the Gate

Yes, for those of you who are counting, that makes three posts this week that start with bad puns.  (The other two are here and here.)  I’ll stop sooner or later.  It’s just been that kind of week.

But you aren’t here to read my excuses.  You want to know about Black Gate‘s new online fiction   There will be a new story (which could be a novel excerpt) posted every Sunday for free.  Details are here at Black Gate

The first story went up this past Sunday.  The story is “The Duelist” by Jason E. Thummel.  (That’s his picture below, swiped from the Black Gate website.) I’ve had so many things going on and so much good short fiction to review this week that I’m just now getting to this one.  The question is, was it worth the wait?

Jason E. Thummel

The answer is “Yes!”  Note the exclamation point.  This is a tale of a drunken duelist who is the top in his field.  I’m not going into too much detail, because I don’t want to spoil any twists.  (Although I will say the encounter our hero has with the Baron’s wife upstairs implies there will be a sequel.)  Rather, let’s look at the writing and the characterization.  You’ll just have to trust me that the plot is a solid sword and sorcery story.

First I like the protagonist, Androi Karpelov, because even though he’s a very flawed hero, he’s still a man with honor.  And he’s willing to take great risks to satisfy that honor.  The alcoholic hero isn’t quite a cliche, but this trope has been around a while.  Thummel handles it with ease and breaths life into what could easily be a stock character from Central Casting.

The style is slightly old-fashioned, a perfect fit for the setting, which seems to be a quasi-Regency world from what we’re shown of it.  Yet, it only sounds old-fashioned.  The story moves at a nice clip, never dragging.  And believe me, if it had drug, I would have noticed.  I stayed up way too late to read this one, and if it had been slow I probably would have dozed off.  I didn’t.

There is magic here, but it’s not flashy or ubiquitous.  I like this approach.  Magic that’s everywhere is too much like technology, and for me at least, that takes some of the sense of wonder away.  And when the magic does appear, Androi reveals that he has a wicked sense of humor.

So, yes, like other short fiction venues I’ve looked at this week, Black Gate‘s online fiction debut has set a high standard of quality.  That’s a good thing.

Thummel is also the author of the novel The Spear of Destiny and the short story collection In Savage Lands.  I’ve got the latter and have read a couple of stories.  I liked them a lot.  Look for a review sometime in the next few months.  This is a writer whose work I’m going to keep an eye out for.

I’m looking forward to more of Black Gate‘s fiction offerings.  It’s been one of my favorite publications for a long time.  I’m glad to see it isn’t going to go away since it’s no longer being published in print form.  I hope they don’t run too many novel excerpts, though.  I generally don’t read them  I either know I’m going to buy the book, or else I don’t want to deal with the frustration of having to wait to finish the story.

I’m also hoping editor John O’Neill will consider making the new fiction available in some type of ebook that I could download and read on my ereader.  I like that the fiction is free, but I would be willing to pay for it to have the convenience of not having to be at my computer to read it.  That’s been a successful model for several online publications, so I’m hoping BG can make a go of it.

Anyway, congratulations, John, on a great kickoff and good luck with in the future with the fiction component of Black Gate

A Review of the Warrior Women in Black Gate

New Epoch Press, $18.95
I wrote a post about Bud Webster’s column on Tom Reamy a couple of days after receiving the magazine in the mail, but since then I’ve been busy with other projects to read much of the fiction in the current issue of Black Gate.  On the flights home from my meeting last week, I made sure to rectify that omission.  Since it looks as though Black Gate will be an annual publication now, I’ve decided rather than read it all at once, I’m going to ration it.  That way the wait for the next issue won’t be so interminable.
This issue has as its theme Warrior Women.  The stunning cover by Donato Giancola kinda makes the point.  Eight of the twenty-one stories (not counting the excerpt from The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones) are part of this theme and have their own separate table of contents.  They’re scattered throughout the volume rather than having their own section.  I’m not sure what I make of that editorial decision, considering most issues with special themes I’ve seen tend to group the themed stories together, although I have no problem with Mr. O’Neill arranging them this way.  He’s also taken a pretty broad definition of warrior woman, including stories with characters that don’t fit the image of the woman on the cover.  Let’s take a quick look at them, shall we?

First up is “The Shuttered Temple” by Jonathan L. Howard, featuring the return of his thief for hire, Kyth, who made her first appearance in “The Beautiful Corridor” in BG 13.  Of the two, I think I preferred the first story because it had more humor, but this is still a clever tale well worth your time, even if it is somewhat darker in tone.  In both stories Kyth is required to survive by her wits, rather than her brawn or skill with a sword.  I’m not sure I would consider her a warrior based on what I’ve seen of her so far, but I’m certainly open to having my mind changed by further adventures (that’s a hint Jonathan and John).  Mr. Howard has an inventive imagination, and I enjoyed trying to figure out the puzzle of the temple in this one.
Next is “The War of the Wheat Berry Year” by Sarah Avery.  This has a traditional warrior woman, who is leading an army in revolt against her former kingdom.  It’s part of a larger story arc, with a novel being shopped to publishers and a novella scheduled to appear in a future issue of Black Gate.  That may have been why I felt like I was missing something a few times.  Still Ms. Avery did a much better job than many writers would have done with this subject.  The heroine, Stisele, has to face her old mentor on the battlefield, making this a story of greater than expected emotional depth.  I look forward to Stisele’s further adventures.
Paula R. Stiles tells the tale of a sorceress who challenges the Queen of Hell for the soul of her husband in “Roundelay”.  It seems the woman’s son died of fever and her husband went in pursuit of the boy’s soul only to end up trapped himself.  The story takes place on a flying ship over an ocean.  There are a couple of supporting characters, and Ms. Stiles does a great job of fleshing them out so that they are more than just stock characters from central casting.
“The River People” by Emily Mah is the story of a young woman, Sora, and her blind mother who have fled their homeland and have been taken in by a tribe of the River People.  Of course they’re more tolerated than accepted (I had to wonder if Ms. Mah had ever moved to a small town, she captured the feeling of being an outsider in a closed community so well).  In order to survive, Sora attempts to enter the warrrior’s trial and become a warrior for the tribe.
Maria V. Snyder’s heroine, Nysa, in “Cursing the Weather” is probably as far from the sterotypical warrior woman as you can get.  She’s a young girl working in a tavern, trying to earn enough money to buy the medicine needed to keep her dying mother alive.  Then a weather wizard moves in across the street, and things begin to change.  Ms. Snyder has training in meteorology, and she puts it to good use here.  The fantastic is pretty minimal in this story, and the conflict, while deadly, in primarily nonviolent.  I wouldn’t have considered this one to really fit the theme of warrior woman.  In spite of that, I think I enjoyed it the most.  I’m going to be checking out more of Ms. Snyder’s work.
“The Laws of Chaos Left Us All in Disarray” by K. Hutson Blount is one of the darker, if not the darkest, of the warrior woman stories.  This one concerns a woman acting as a guide to some pilgrims on their way to a shrine.  Only for some reason they keep getting attacked by various unpleasant creatures.  Perhaps one (or more) of the group is hiding something?  The impact of this story comes in its final paragraph.
“World’s End” by Frederic S. Durbin pits two women, one a fighter and a killer, the other a princess on a quest, against each other in a confrontation that can only end with one of them dead.  While I was initially a little dissatisfied with the ending, upon further reflection I found the story to be a meditation on the conflicts each woman has to deal with in the different roles she plays in life.
The final story of the theme is “What Chains Bind Us” by Brian Dolton.  In this one a young conjuror fights a supernatural battle against a ghost and the conjuror who sumoned him.  This one reads like its part of a series.  If so, I would like to read some of the other entries.  The author keeps raising the stakes with each encounter with the ghost.  The character, Liang Zao, is different from your typical fantasy heroine.  I won’t say how because it will give away too much. 
So, to recap.  Some of the stories relating to the issue’s theme stretch the definition of warrior woman pretty far.  Still, it’s not often that I can find eight stories by eight different authors (four men and four women if anyone’s counting) in a single venue that I enjoyed this much.  Usually there’s at least one or two that don’t click with me.  Not here.  Every selection was a winner.  (So were the two stories I read that weren’t part of the theme.)  There are no chain mail bikinis or comic book bodies among these women.  Instead, they have brains, wit, courage, faith, and love.  If I had to choose, I’ll take those qualities over bouncing bosoms and ridiculous underwear any day.
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Black Gate, this issue is a good place to start.  I’ll have more to say in a future post about the rest of the stories.  The previous issue had three novellas, a length I greatly enjoy.  All the fiction seems to be short stories with one or two novellettes.  While I miss the novellas, if the rest of the fiction is as good as what I’ve read so far, I won’t make a fuss about it.

New Challenge Writing Competition at Rogue Blades

Rogue Blades announced its 2011 Challenge Writing competition this morning.  This year’s theme is Stealth.  Judges are author Mary Rosenblum, Black Gate editor John O’Neill, and cover artist Storn Cook.  That’s the cover over on the right. 

There’s a $10 entry fee, which is more than reasonable.  Rouge Blades will begin accepting submissions in 15 days, so that should give all of us time to get something ready.  I’m intending to submit.  There’s a minimum of 30 entries needed for this project to go forward.  The stories can be any genre, so long as there’s a heroic element. 

Here’s our chance to make sure there’s good heroic, adventure oriented stories to read.  Let’s inundate the judges and make their job hard by having to agonize over choosing form an avalanche of great stories. 

Odds and Ends

Between allergies, taxes, and trying to finish my upcoming column for Home of Heroics, I’m a little behind in getting some things up that I’ve been working on.  It might be next week before anything substantial is posted since I’ll be traveling over the weekend starting tomorrow.  In the meantime, check out the new material at Home of Heroics if you aren’t already doing so.  Yesterday’s guest column was by John O’Neill, publisher of Black Gate, in which he talked about how Scholastic Books got him hooked on science fiction and fantasy.  It brought back memories for me, because I used to read those books as well.  My son is now starting to read them, and I’m looking forward to what he’s going to be bringing home.

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who’s visited Adventures Fantastic, especially in the last couple of weeks.  Traffic seems to be picking up, and I appreciate your interest, support, and comments.  I’ve got some cool things planned for the next couple of months, including a two-part interview with Robert E. Howard scholar Mark Finn, some Long Looks at Short Fiction, a review of Jasper Kent’s Thirteen Years Later, a look at Henry Kuttner’s Prince Raynor stories, and some more Kull.  So stick around.  It’s only gonna get better.

Dianna Wynne Jones (1934-2011)

Diana Wynne Jones, British fantasy author, has died of lung cancer.  John O’Neill was written a eulogy on the Black Gate website.  Since I can’t improve on it, I suggest you read it here.  Jones wrote a variety of books, from YA to adult, but my favorite is still The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a tour guide of a generic land one might encounter in a fantasy novel.  It’s one of the best books on how (not) to write fantasy that I’ve ever read, and hilariously funny as well.