OR: Black Gate #2

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #3:-


Generously illustrated with book covers, photographs and artwork by the likes of Hung Ving Mac, Allen Koszowski and Brian Hughes, with clear print throughout and easy on the eye layout, this newish magazine certainly looks impressive. Just for those who didn’t catch on when they saw the dragon on the full colour cover, Black Gate‘s banner headline declares ‘Adventures in Fantasy Literature’. Its content, of which there’s quite a lot, divides roughly between one third non-fiction and two thirds fiction.

The non-fiction covers all aspects of the genre except ‘television, movies and computer games’, which editor John O’Neill feels get enough coverage elsewhere. Too bad he didn’t feel the same way about RPGs, as I really could have done without 26 pages of reviews etc. After six pages of anorak nit-picking regarding the role of orcs in RPGs I was about ready to tip the whole fantasy genre down the toilet. Still, if you like that sort of thing then it’s there, and if you don’t then there’s plenty of other stuff.

Other stuff includes reviews of book, for adults and young readers, reviews of comics, an interview with Gene Wolfe that’s funny and quite revealing in a minimalistic kind of way (more Wolfe please, less orcs!) and an article by Richard Horton on ‘Building the Fantasy Canon: The Classic Anthologies of Genre Fantasy’, which should prove useful for those seeking to broaden their experience of the genre. There’s also a couple of cartoon strips, best described as painless.

On the fiction side of things there are ten stories showcasing a satisfying diversity of themes and styles, but with quality as a defining factor throughout, the exception to the rule being the ‘Black Gate Classic Reprint’, in this case Edmond Hamilton’s first published story ‘The Monster-God of Mamurth’, complete with side bars profiling the author’s career, which is a nice idea, though in this case the story’s dated badly, a by the numbers skit about a lost city in the desert and an invisible giant spider.

‘The Whoremaster of Pald’ by Harry James Connolly has the pimp Zed, who’s really quite a nice guy despite his choice of profession, dealing with magic attacks and judicial enemies, a cleverly plotted and entertaining slice of hokum. In a darker vein, Jeff Verona’s ‘Under the Bridge’ has gangbangers taught a short, sharp lesson by someone bigger and uglier than themselves, a familiar scenario but executed with gratifying vigour, while the wry and ironic ‘Goyles in the Hood’ by Leslie What sees two gargoyles set to guard a vampire’s lair and coming to terms with the modern world where, thanks to the likes of Disney and Hanna Barbera, they’re regarded as wholly risible. Steve Carper’s ‘Pity the Poor Dybbuk’ has a setting more novel than most, with Jewish immigrants in Shanghai at the time of WW2 dealing with maleficent spirits. Sort of an Isaac Bashevis Singer pastiche of Empire of the Sun. In the erotically charged ‘Heart of Jade’ by Amy Sterling Casil we learn the fate of the Mayans, while ‘What They Did To My Father’ by F Brett Cox with its painful depiction of childhood suffering shows the Ku Klux Klan in a different light.

There’s nothing here that’s cutting edge fantasy, but apart from the Hamilton, which has a certain historic interest, all of the stories entertain, and some of them do a bit more than that. Black Gate provides a satisfying and varied bill of fare, one guaranteed to send the punters away with a smile on their faces and should certainly be commended to anyone who’s visited a high street bookshop recently and come away thinking the fantasy genre is all about never ending series chock full of ruddy orcs.

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