Review: Black Gate, Issue 8, Summer 2005 (V2,#2)

The obvious question would be ‘Why is Deven reviewing an issue of a magazine that is over two years old?’ And the obvious answer would be ‘Well… he must have just finally finished reading it.’ Which is true.

But the real answer is a tad more complex. I became startlingly aware about a year ago that I had almost totally abandoned reading fantasy. The only fantasy I had read for about seven years had been the new generation Thieves’ World novel and anthologies. I had been keeping a list of fantasy books that I wanted to read, but I never got around to getting them. I started reading some fantasy in online magazines, but that is inconvenient for me because I work at a computer all day, and I would rather read a hard copy book or magazine. Black Gate was recommended as a great fantasy magazine, so I purchased a back issue that had three authors I recognized, one that I had encountered online, one that I had read before in hard copy science fiction magazines, and one that I have never read but who had a lot of hype and at least one prestigious award.

And then there is the reason I am doing these reviews in the first place. They are for me. I want to be a better writer, and I figured that if I take the time to think about why I like or don’t like a particular story, scene, sentence or word in someone else’s work, then perhaps I can figure out how to use what I have learned to put the best scenes, sentences and words in my own stories.

Black Gate: Adventure in Fantasy Literature, Issue 8, Summer 2005

First off I was astounded at the size of this magazine. Had my first encounter been seeing it sitting on a shelf I would have likely thought that it was a trade paperback of some sort. It is perfect bound (like a book, no staples). With 200+ 10X7 inch pages it certainly has enough content volume to justify the price. Does it have enough entertainment content? Heck yes!

The Turning of the Tiles by Iain Rowan

I have said in previous reviews that I enjoy stories with strong characterizations. Dao-shi is an example of what I mean; a character does not have to be powerful, to be strong, for him to carry the story forward. When a character draws you in, the story becomes a shared experience with the author. And perhaps we as readers get to see just a little bit of the vision the writer has. This story pulled me in and I couldn’t set it down. I am going to be keeping a lookout for more of Iain Rowan’s work.

Turn Up This Crooked Way by James Enge

Have I ever mentioned I like stories with believable characters? Morlock the Maker is another such character. Perhaps I enjoyed this story even more because Morlock has some traits that both of my grandfathers had. Pluck and determination. Morlock is set upon a journey and we are entertained all the way to the destination. James Enge provides us with such vivid descriptions of the places and events that this reader felt as if he were with Morlock, not just reading about it. Fun stuff. I plan on seeking out more fiction my Mr. Enge.

Heat Waves by Sherry Decker

This short story is packed full of character. I like to see the goodness in people and I am happy that Sherry Decker gives us a main character that has character. Most often I see children in stories portrayed as tiny adults and it was very refreshing to have a child character behave like a child, or at least what I remember being a child was like. This is a very strong story. With an issue packed with great stories it is hard to single out a favorite, but this is it, my favorite story in this issue.

The Carrion Call by Paul Finch

This was quite an enjoyable story. This time we get two characters that feel realistic. There was nothing that really surprised me about this tale. However, it evoked dread and fear in a way that I could grasp and that in itself was all that was necessary to carry me to the end. Vivid descriptions when they were called for and vague descriptions to set the tone and the mood really worked well. I enjoyed it.

Winter’s Touch by Justin Stanchfield

I like stories that can surprise me, but not necessarily stories with surprise endings. This is the former, and I was surprised because the story did not end the way that I had expected it to. It ended the way that it needed to. I have encountered Justin Stanchfield’s work in the past each time he has been able to paint with words a world that I can see when I close my eyes. He has a gift of description. This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, filled with magic and hope.

Mortal Star by Aaron Bradford Starr

So many fantasy worlds have the same texture. It is a joy to encounter a world that feels radically different. The setting of “Mortal Star” is itself another character in the story. I was trying to figure out why it seems that way to me, and the best explanation I could arrive at had to do with the way the world is presented to us. We don’t get a world building info dump. We don’t get a vague smattering of anti-world building hints either. Starr introduces the world to us with action sequences and enmeshed within the dialog of the characters. The story itself has a gritty reality. I would like to see more stories in the world of the Mortal Star.

Fat Jack and the Spider Clown by Jay Lake

I was just a tad disappointed in this story. I can honestly say that perhaps I bought into the promise of a Jay “John W. Campbell winner” Lake story just a little too much and expected grander things. It is a perfectly fine story, in reality. I did see the ending coming and that perhaps was the biggest disappointment. I did like the characterization of the Spider Clown, but Fat Jack seemed hollow. I did enjoy the setting, and Mr. Lake’s descriptions of it. I will never think of cats and children in the same way again. See. I did find good stuff. I have to learn to ignore any hype I encounter.

The Nursemaid’s Suitor by Charles Coleman Finlay

This was a good story to finish off this issue with. It kept my attention and was hard to put down. Again, this is a strong character piece and I have to say that I am impressed with the realism of the main character as he struggles to be both protector and friend. Yvon’s relationship with Xaragitte, and his efforts to improve it, makes for great reading. I am going to go back to this story and try and figure out what it is that Mr. Finlay did to make me become so interested in these two characters. I am sure that there is a lesson I can learn from delving further into this tale.

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6 Responses

  1. I was never a big fantasy reader. I read a handful of fantasy books, but seldom any short works. I always gravitated to science fiction, where my wife read fantasy. Opposits attract, you know.

    When I started writing, I really intended to write nothing but science fiction, and yet I seem to be writing a lot of what could best be called “light fantasy”. Why? Well, mostly because my background in science isn’t that strong. But also because the science fiction that I really like to read seems to be regarded as somewhat archaic these days. I’m a bit on the retro side.

    Anyway, I really hadn’t read much short fantasy fiction and had been looking for a decent source. I’d heard of Black Gate, but their scope seemed pretty narrow. After reading your review (albeit a bit on the late side), I’ll give them a try.

  2. Two of the stories in this issue (#8) of Black gate fit into the style/theme of the “speculative fiction” that Asimov’s SF is printing. Both “Heat Waves” and “Fat Jack and the Spider Clown” have science fictional elements. Black Gate lists their back issues’ table of contents on their website. I scanned the list and picked issue #8 because I recognized a few author names.
    I know what you mean about the science fiction that is considered archaic. I want some old fashioned Asimov, Heinlein, Pohl, etc. Retro is good!
    The only authors Asimov’s SF publishes with any regularity that come close to what I want are Allen M. Steele and R. Garcia y Robinson.

  3. I think the magazines feel a pressure to print work that is new and pushes boundries a bit. While that sounds good and forward thinking, I am afraid that good storytelling might sometimes be an afterthought.

    I got a rejection back from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction (it at least made it through the slush pile all the way to the editor) who remarked that he liked the way the story was handled but thought that the science fiction elements weren’t “fresh enough”. I could see his point, as my story was fairly traditional (it’s since been accepted elsewhere). However, I’ve read too many stories both there and in the other magazines that had wild new ideas, but, frankly, weren’t very entertaining.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that science fiction as a genre needs to keep slinging out repeats of the past greats (although like you, I’d like some old fahioned Heinlein, Asimov and Pohl!), but at the same time, storytelling should ultimately be the prime factor.

    But then, as I said, I’m somewhat retro.

  4. Well, keep at it (being retro), and let me know when more of your work is published. Who accepted the F&SF reject?

  5. Neo-opsis Magazine picked it up. I was actually very pleased because they picked up my story right after they won the Aurora award for Best Work in English.
    Let’s hope they don’t decide to quit publishing as soon as my story sees print.

  6. I had to look up the Aurora awards. I’d never heard of these Canadian awards before. It looks like Neo-opsis has been around for a few years and should survive a few more. I’ll keep an eye out for your story.

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