Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Black Gate 15

The latest issue of Black Gate recently arrived. The immense tome is now the standard size, much to the chagrin of mail carriers everywhere. For those who love adventure fantasy, however, it is a welcome change for the bi-annual publication.

This is one of the best issues I’ve read. There is a mix of old and new writers, and there is even a theme around strong female protagonists (or “Warrior Women” as John puts it). If you’ve read Black Gate in the past but have fallen away from it in recent times, this is an excellent issue to jump back in with. If you’ve never read Black Gate, check them out.

Because this issue is so immense, I felt that I could not reasonably review every story contained within its pages. Instead, I’ll focus on my five favorite stories. By the way, I’m not counting the novel excerpt of The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones within my list of five, despite how entertaining I found it, since it’s only an excerpt. I’ll have to get the book and read it sometime soon. If you like adventure fantasy, you should probably add it to your reading list as well.

Alas, even in my attempt to narrow down to five, I’ve been unsuccessful. There are so many great stories in this issue! So here are my favorite six:

“The Vintages of Dream” by John R. Fultz – A thief infiltrates a sorcerer’s home, knowing the mage to be quite wealthy. He steals enchanted bottles that contain the sorcerer’s dreams and then departs to sell them at expensive prices, saving only the most intricate bottle for himself.

I had the pleasure of hearing Fultz read this tale at last year’s World Fantasy Convention. I recall him saying he would just plough through, or something to that effect, and off he went. This is a great tale with a great ending. But then, the quality should be of no surprise to anyone familiar with Fultz’s other tales.

“Cursing the Weather” by Maria V. Snyder – Nysa serves tables for Gekiryo Lady, taking what little she earns to purchase medicine for her dying mother. When a weather wizard comes to town, he becomes a regular patron and seems to enjoy forcing Nysa to question the things around her, including her own life.

Snyder’s characters jump to life in this tale that explores superstition and magic. Very enjoyable.

“World’s End” by Frederic S. Durbin – Kian seeks to do the god Arhazh’s work by slaying a princess at World’s End. The princess Erhin seeks a crown at World’s End. Their paths seem certain to converge, but the monkey-god who follows Erhin pleads with her to return from her journey prematurely, even if greater gods demand more from her.

This was another tale I heard in part directly from the author at the Black Gate reading at the World Fantasy Convention. When I read it, I could hear Durbin’s voice for the monkey-god and even recall the way he would change his face as he read the part. The tale is full of action, with a bit of humor thrown in as well. It is a very fast read.

“Groob’s Stupid Grubs” by Jeremiah Tolbert – Groob the goblin leaves his mate’s nest to search for food. They live deep within a mobile city – a mechanical monstrosity that devours entire towns while the residents within scavenge what comes their way. While on his search, Groob avoids attackers and ends up being hoisted to the higher realms of the city where goblins seldom go.

I rank this as third best in the issue. It’s quirky, funny and very imaginative. The uniqueness of the tale makes it so refreshing.

“The Lions of Karthagar” by Chris Willrich – As two great armies converge on Karthagar -- one from the east and one from the west -- a weather mage from each army leads the way. Blim the Damp forges ahead for his princess and is surprised to discover a beautiful mage who does not share his language. The two explore Karthagar together, leaving Blim torn between duty and his romantic interest in the other mage.

This was my second favorite tale of the issue. Normally, I praise Willrich for his outstanding creativity that always leaves me gasping. His creativity certainly abounds in this tale, but what struck me even more was his character development. I also have a soft spot for light romance in fantasy, and I was completely drawn into Blim’s struggles. I think readers of Willrich’s Bone and Gaunt series will be quite pleased with this one.

“The Oracle of Gog” by Vaughn Heppner – Lod has survived as hunters’ bait and seeks to end his slavery. Meanwhile, the Nephilim, Kron, comes to his master – the terrible Firstborn named Gog – who has peered into the future and sees a threat. Kron’s mission is to eliminate that threat, while Lod’s mission is to simply survive in his newfound freedom.

This was my favorite tale within the issue. Heppner’s narrative style wrapped me into each scene and into the characters’ minds. I hope to see more stories of Lod in future issues.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


My wife and I are expecting our third child later this year. Third. That makes me think of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, one of the few books I’ve read more than once.

We don’t know whether we’re having a boy or girl yet, and I would honestly be pleased either way. My main pre-birth thought around any child is what to name him or her. Actually, I take that back. I’m only concerned when it’s a him rather than a her.

My criteria for names (which may differ from my wife’s) is that my wife and I both like the name and that it isn’t common. Yes, my son’s name is William, which is common, but few people actually go by William (which is what we call him), so in that aspect, I consider it uncommon. An added bonus is if the name has familial significance or touches on pop culture interests of ours (for example, my daughter Elora’s name ties to the princess in the movie Willow).

Girl names are easy to match to the main criteria. There are a lot of names that sound great and are uncommon. In fact, I could probably invent my own word and end it with a suffix of -elle, -anna, or -een and come up with an original girl name. Either that, or I’d end up with the name of a new pharmaceutical drug.

With boy names, a lot of names that I like are common. If you have a common name, as I do, you either end up being referenced as First Name plus Last Name Initial (Matt W), or you take up a new name, perhaps a middle name or a nickname (I went by my last name throughout high school and college). So the cool name has a good chance of getting lost by the need to actually identify the boy uniquely, and there’s a fair (or perhaps unfair) chance that you won’t choose your own soubriquet.

My first thought was to try to repeat the process of how we chose Elora’s name. Unfortunately, referencing the movie Willow for boy names leads to horrific outcomes like Madmartigan or Rool. Referencing other fantasy material also does little good, I’ve found. In fact, I consider Tolkien’s works to be a foundation for high fantasy, yet the most normal name I recall from his works is Samwise. Samwise, really? Oh, there are some cool names in Tolkien’s fiction, but I would never punish a child for life by actually using them. Of course, if I’m pressed to come up with something, dragon names might command attention. Or ridicule.

At any rate, stay tuned much later in the year for the grand announcement when I introduce little Glaurung or Trimethylneen.