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08 October 2012

Black Gate's Opening Salvo a Swashbuckling Romp with Heart

Jason E. Thummel’s “The Duelist” appeared at Black Gate recently, their first online fiction offering, which signals an exciting  new phase in this fine publication’s life cycle.

A rollicking, swashbuckling adventure set amongst the aristocratic intrigues of a city where the distinction between the wealthy Uphill aristocrats and the poor folk who live below in Plague Bottom is everything, “The Duelist” is reminiscent of  Ellen Kushner’s “mannerpunk” novels Swordspoint, The Privledge of the Sword, and The Fall of Kings.

Thummel’s protagonist, Androi Karpelov, is an aging duelist – a profession centered around a ritualized trial by ordeal for the settling of grievances between aristocrats. Androi is one of the best, but he is also jaded and tired of being reminded of his place in this deeply flawed society.

When he gets tangled up in the intrigues of the deplorable Baron Wyck, Androi’s life takes a turn for the complicated. Androi’s personal code of honor drives him into peril both Uphill and down, and the question becomes how to adhere to his sense of honor without losing his life in the process.

I have to admit to being a bit put off by the somewhat stilted, highly formal dialogue between the characters, including many of the denizens of Plague Bottom. I have grown rather accustomed to (spoiled by, perhaps) the  use of quite modern language in a lot of recent secondary-world fantasies, and it took a bit of adjustment to get used to Thummel’s style. All in all, though, this is an exciting story, filled with well-choreographed sword fights that would not be out of place in The Princess Bride. Well-executed and clever, “The Duelist” promises good things to come from both Jason E. Thummel and Black Gate’s online fiction offerings. En Garde!

06 October 2012

Why I have to remember to check out Locus more often -- or Black Gate is back!

I used to have a subscription to Locus Magazine, which bills itself as "The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field" and is, in fact, the premiere news source for anyone interested in the business/writing end of the speculative fiction field. It was a Christmas gift from my wonderful mother-in-law/drinking buddy (when my wife was pregnant the first time, her mother, who we lived with, valiantly stepped in to keep me from having to drink alone). Anyway, long story short, the subscription expired, and I have yet to pony up the cash for another. And boy, do I miss it.

Luckily, Locus also happens to have a really cool and useful website, so one would think that I could stay up-to-date on who's doing what. Except I forget to check it, and important things slip by me. One of those is the super exciting news that Black Gate has reentered the field with an online fiction offering once a week or so. Let me just say, that is awesome news! Best of luck to John O'Neill and the rest of the crew--I'll be reading.

I have loved Black Gate since its inception as a beefy print magazine packed with adventure fantasy, articles, a comic strip, and much more. I have nearly every issue. I even have one really encouraging rejection from John O'Neill from years ago, and I regret not having submitted more to them back then. Black Gate has long been one of the magazines I really want to see my work in, and I even have a quartet of linked stories I started writing with this particular market in mind. The problem is they have been closed to submissions for some time. They have a very active and interesting blog, but the most recent print issue was Spring 2011, and for a while now I have been dreading the announcement that they were closing for good, like so many other good magazines have done (RIP Realms of Fantasy). I've been periodically checking their submissions guidelines for a change, but missed the big news in their blog that they are publishing fiction again. True, they are still closed to submissions, but once the backlog of stories they have already purchased clears, it sounds like they will be reopening.

I guess that means I'd better get cracking on finishing up the quartet (#1 is mostly drafted, #2 is completely drafted, #3 is mostly drafted, while #4 exists only in my mind). Ah, motivation is such a fine thing.

So get on over and check out Black Gate, and take a look at Locus while you're at it. I plan to review Black Gate's first online offering, Jason E. Thummel's "The Duelist," shortly, so be on the lookout for that. Until next time then.

05 October 2012

They just don't build them like they used to (wait, I don't think they ever built them like that)

For the past week or so, I've been noticing a shallow pool of water under our furnace. The basement is a bit shady to begin with, in more ways than one, but actual standing water is unusual. It appeared to me, as a layman, that the water might be seeping up through concrete where the PVC waste pipe goes down under the slab floor.

The landlord concurred, hypothesizing that the pipe was backing up and leaking at a bad union. So he called in Mr. Rooter to snake the drain (you have no idea how much I hoped that just happened to be the name of the plumber). After a couple of hours at it, the drain was clean, but David, my landlord, had discovered a different source for the water.

It seems it was indeed from the waste pipe, but that it was leaking, not where it went through the slab, but from the cast iron pipe that runs between the second floor bathroom and the basement. Oh, and someone years ago had decided that it would be a good idea (or just funny, in a practical joke sort of way) to run that pipe between floors via an unused chimney flu. That's right, eight feet of the waste pipe is concealed within the brick chimney. And that's where it appears to be leaking.

So next week the landlord will be back with a crew to disconnect the cast iron pipe and install a new PVC one in its place. But not really in its place, because getting that eight feet of pipe out of the chimney would be more than a little interesting, and putting the PVC back in there would be almost as ridiculous. So they'll have to find another way to get the waste pipe to the basement, which means, in all likelihood, tearing out a wall or two, and maybe some of the bathroom floor. Even though I will be neither doing the work, nor paying for it, we're still not looking forward to it. But until then the only functioning toilet is downstairs from the bedrooms.

It just makes me wonder, under what circumstances did the whole pipe-in-the-chimney thing seem like a good idea?!

03 October 2012

Theodora Goss at Clarkesworld

Have you ever read a story that was just right -- that is, a story that was exactly what you needed and just when you needed it? I came across Theodora Goss's "England Under the White Witch" at Clarkesworld today, and I couldn't be more impressed. Goss's name is one of those I've seen around a lot in the last few years, but this is the first of her work I've read, and am I ever glad that I finally did.

If C.S. Lewis and Suzanna Clarke sat down over a cold beer (or hot tea) to write a shared-world story, it might look something like this alternate history of the British Empire. Imagine Lewis' White Queen invading the England of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and you are on your way. Not quite a club story or a fantasy of manners, "England Under the White Witch" nonetheless shares elements with both. There is also something reminiscent of Alan Moore's V For Vendetta in the totalitarian society that the White Queen establishes.

"Our Empress has promised us a perfect world," says the narrator near the end of the story, "but the only perfection is death." Indeed, isn't improving the lot of the conquered one of the justifications for imperialism, the spread of which usually involves far more casualties on one side than the other?

In addition to the more obvious reference point of the United Kingdom, there are echoes of American imperialism in the story as well, especially in the effects of imperialism on everyday life, most notably on the food we eat. I suspect Goss has some of the same concerns that Paolo Bacigalupi dramatizes in much of his work. The difference, of course, is that Goss embeds her criticism in a deft fantasy, while Bacigalupi amplifies the problem in a near future dystopia.

This is also a story about men and women, about the effects of imperialism in the home and on the world stage -- a story about the terrible peace that follows an ice storm. Check it out and let me know what you think. Then go out and find her novel, The Thorn And The Blossom, and her story collection, In the Forest of Forgetting.