Saturday, June 24, 2023

Rentschler Park - Earthworks, Deer, and Graves

From May 28th; Family hike at Rentschler Park. Spotted a fawn in the Native American mounds hidden in the forest... and then we stumbled into an old graveyard. Folks buried there around 1830's. Many born about 1800.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Old Moon Quarterly Vol III - Review by SE

 Old Moon Quarterly Vol III — Winter (119p, March, 2023). Cover by Daniel Vega.


Old Moon Quarterly is a magazine of weird sword-and-sorcery fantasy. In the tradition of Clark Ashton Smith, Tanith Lee and Karl Edward Wagner, it contains stories of strange vistas, eldritch beings, and the bloody dispute thereof by swordsmen and swordswomen both.

Old Moon Quarterly emerged in 2022. This reviews the four stories inside the Winter 2023 issue (Vol III), which delivers solid doses of the weird adventure it promises. The Editor-in-Chief is Julian Barona, flanked by Assistant Editors Caitlyn Emily Wilcox and Graham Thomas Wilcox (who recently debuted here on Black Gate with his review of John Langan's Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies, so I gleefully checked this out).  Excerpts best convey the style and elements of what to expect, so you'll get those here!

Vol III Contents:

  • "Evil Honey" by James Enge.
  • "Knife, Lace, Prayer" by T.R. Siebert.
  • "Singing the Long Retreat" by R.K. Duncan.
  • "The Feast of Saint Ottmer" by Graham Thomas Wilcox.
  • A review of Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other Spectacles, edited by Ellen Datlow.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Gen Con Writers' Symposium - Special Guests and Program release


Gen Con is the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America. In 2019, they welcomed over 65,000 unique visitors and offered over 19,000 events. By its nature, Gen Con attracts a large number of attendees who enjoy speculative fiction.

Gen Con 2023 will be held August 3-6 in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Gen Con Writers’ Symposium (GCWS) is a semi-independent event hosted by Gen Con and intended for both new and experienced writers of speculative fiction. All registration is handled through the Gen Con website. 

Over the past 28 years, the Writers’ Symposium has grown from a small set of panels over a day or two to one of the largest convention-hosted writing tracks in North America, offering hundreds of hours of programming from authors, editors, agents, and publishers to nearly 3000 unique visitors per year on average.  

We’re proud to announce that the Scalzi Family Foundation will be this year’s Gen Con Writers’ Symposium Legendary Sponsor! This sponsorship will enable the symposium to support more writers to attend, creating a more representative and inclusive event.

Sunday, May 21, 2023



We have an ongoing series at Black Gate on the topic of “Beauty in Weird Fiction” where we corner an author and query them about their muses and methods to make ‘repulsive’ things ‘attractive to readers.’ Previous subjects have included Darrell SchweitzerAnna Smith SparkCarol BergStephen LeighJason Ray Carney, and John C. Hocking (see the full list at the end of this post).

Inspired by the release of Nightborn: Coldfire Rising (July 2023, see Black Gate’s review for more information), we are delighted to interview C.S. Freidman!  Since the late 1990’s she has established herself as a master of dark fantasy and science fiction, being a John W. Campbell award finalist and author of the highly acclaimed Coldfire trilogy and This Alien Shore (New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1998).

Let’s learn about C. S. Friedman’s muses & fears, her experience with art, and tease a future TV series!

SEL: Tell us about your fascination with Human vs Alien Colonization, and the struggle over shared souls/minds/psyches. That foundation resonates across This Alien ShoreThe Madness Season (the Tyr’s gestalt-mind), the Coldfire series (via the ethereal fae), and the Magister Trilogy (consumable souls!).

CSF: Science fiction and fantasy offer an opportunity for us to step outside of our normal human perspective, questioning things we normally take for granted. What better vehicle could there be for this than to have humans confront a non-human being or force?  Or to have two souls battle over a single identity?  Such stories invite us to question what ‘identity’ really means, and whether the assumptions we make about the world are rooted in some kind of universal reality, or are simply a human construct.

One of my favorite creations is the first story I decided to publish, which wound up being chapter 11 in my first book, In Conquest Born.  Stranded on an alien world, a human telepath is forced to seek mental communion with an alien race.  In doing so, she must surrender her human identity, because the manner in which these aliens perceive the world is not something a human psyche can comprehend. One must see reality through their eyes to understand them.  That is a repeated theme in my work.

One of my favorite stories that someone else wrote was published many years ago in Asimov’s SF magazine.  It was Nancy Kress’s “A Delicate Shade of Kipley.” It takes place on a world where constant fog makes everything appear gray, so that the entire world is drained of color. The humans who landed there desperately hunger for color and treasure the few colorful pictures of Earth that they have managed to salvage.  To their child who was born there, however, the grey world has its own kind of beauty, and she relishes fine gradations of gray as her parents once relished the brilliant colors of a rainbow. (“A Delicate Shade of Kipley” can be found in Isaac Asimov: Science Fiction Masterpieces)

Jeszika Le Vye’s cover for Nightborn prominently features the fae even more so than the striking trilogy covers by Whelan (more on those below); we learn in the novella Dominion (bundled with Nightborn) that the fae has colors (to those blessed to see them). The alien energy seems to be both muse and nightmare, and we’d love to learn your take on them. Do you envision your own nightmares and muses this way?

No, my nightmares are much more mundane. The most terrifying ones involve the American Health Care system 😊.

The fae is described: Earth-fae is a luminescent blue, dark fae the intense purplish glow of a UV lamp, solar fae gold.  One of the opening scenes in Jaggonath takes place when an earthquake hits, and the wards on buildings pulse with visible blue power.  The fae is beautiful and energizing and terrifying, all at once.

I was thrilled to find some pictures of bioluminescent ocean waves while I was working on Nightborn. No doubt my cry of “Oh my God, it’s the fae!” could be heard for miles. The eerie beauty of rippling blue light as it ebbed and flowed with the waves was mesmerizing, and that will be my image of it forever, now that I have found those videos (here’s a link to sample them).

The Coldfire Series, cover art by Michael Whelan

What scares you? Is it beautiful?

“I was afraid that if I became a happier person I would not be able to write dark fiction” — C.S. Friedman

What scares me most is the darkness in my own soul, the capacity for depression that can cause me to sabotage my own life and undermine my own spirit. The only thing positive I will say about it is that I drew upon my experience with depression in my early books when I depicted psychological darkness.  In fact, I recall when I was first diagnosed and offered anti-depressants, I was afraid that if I became a happier person I would not be able to write dark fiction.  And it is harder now, to be sure.

There is a song by the band Renaissance, Black Flame. It tells the story of someone struggling against inner darkness, in powerfully evocative poetry.  For me it has always reflected that terrible inner seduction, the darkness that can drive a human soul to lose sight of its path, and ultimately destroy itself. Here is the song on Youtube, and here are the lyrics.

Here is another piece they did in which psychological darkness becomes hauntingly beautiful.  (A radio contest declared it “the most depressing song ever.”). I believe the original music is by Bach.

There is a dark beauty in such songs, and I hope in my writing.

Do you detect beauty in art/fiction that appears to be repulsive (weird/ horror)? Any advice for writers on how to strike the right balance to keep readers engaged?

What is beauty?  Is it something that is “pretty?” or a deeper, more visceral quality? Classically beautiful things transfix us, but we will also stop at the site of a road accident, mesmerized by its horror. Against our will, we want to see it.

Gerald Tarrant is the essence of human beauty, described as nearly angelic in appearance. When he walks through a room, everyone notices him, and women are magnetically drawn to him. But it is the horror of that appearance being wedded to pure evil that makes us want to read about him — that makes it impossible for us to look away.  It is when the nature of something horrific fascinates us that we cannot turn our eyes away, no matter how much we want to.

“… it is the horror of that appearance being wedded to pure evil that makes us want to read about [Tarrant].” – C. S. Friedman

Fashion Muse: You were formerly trained in Costume Design [link]), creating for professional theater, PBS, and all sorts of productions; you even were a lecturer on the topic for years. Do you still dabble in fashion arts, and how does that influence your prose and/or character design?

Not really. I was in an abusive job situation for 13 years and I burned out pretty badly. Knowledge of aesthetic principles and fashion history inform my descriptions, of course, but I have left that field behind in favor of writing and teaching. Sometimes I miss it, but what I miss is the pleasure I originally took in it, not what it became. There are too many bad memories now. I sew when I have to, not for pleasure.

What other muses inspire you (i.e., for your bead jewelry [link]), and does that creativity spill over to writing?

I took up glasswork because it was different from my writing, using different parts of the brain, explorations of color and texture rather than language.  It speaks to a different side of my creativity, which is why I enjoy it.

Do you identify with your protagonists?

No, and sometimes I feel like I am unique among writers in not having a personal connection to my characters. I have been on writing panels where writers talk about how they talk to their characters, or sense what their characters want to do…I just write them. They are my creations. I relate to them as I would relate to clay I was molding into a sculpture, or glass I was wrapping around a mandrel. I am deeply invested in them as creations, but not as people.

The Magister Series – cover art by John Jude Palencar

Let’s talk about covers & how artists depict your characters via illustrations. Gerald Tarrant was famously adapted in the Michael Whelan cover for the Coldfire trilogy) and Kamala from the Magister Series depicted by the renowned John Jude Palencar. Traditionally, authors have no say in the cover art design, but I’m curious about your experience. Did the costume designer in you have any influence or comment on those?

I have been permitted to offer input into my covers, to varying degrees. This is something that evolved over time. I studied graphic art in college, and of course I spent years as a theatrical designer, so I have enough understanding of graphic design to offer meaningful input, and I have always understood that the purpose of a cover is to help market the book. Over time, my editor learned that I could offer meaningful suggestions in that context, so I have been allowed to do so.

Any current or future endeavors we can pitch? More Coldfire? In August 2022, Deadline reported The Coldfire Trilogy may become a TV series; also according to Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, you have plans for another Coldfire novella will be focused on Gerald Tarrant bringing faith to his world, even as darkness begins to take root within his own soul.

The most exciting news right now is my novel Nightbornwhich is coming out in July. It tells the story of the founding of Erna and mankind’s discovery of the fae, and is one of the most intense things I have ever written. That volume will also include Dominion, a novella dealing with Tarrant’s transformation from a simple creature of the night into the Hunter. Both are compelling works that I know Coldfire fans will enjoy, but also accessible to new readers.

And yes, we are attempting to market a TV series based on Coldfire, so fingers are crossed on that. I want to see the fae in visual media!  The next novel will probably be in my Outworlds series (This Alien Shore, etc.) but I am considering shorter works in the Coldfire series.  There are so many interesting time periods and events in Ernan history!  I am working on a timeline that will enable me to offer many different stories, all in the context of the greater setting. It’s all very exciting, and the enthusiasm my fans have shown for all my Coldfire stories has been downright inspiring.

“And yes, we are attempting to market a TV series based on Coldfire, so fingers are crossed on that. I want to see the fae in visual media! ” – C. S. Friedman

Lots of updates are forthcoming! How do we stay in touch with the latest?

Please join me on Facebook, and/or Patreon for news, essays, project excerpts, and of course conversations with my readers.

C.S. Friedman

An acknowledged master of dark fantasy and science fiction alike, C.S. Friedman is a John W. Campbell award finalist, and the author of the highly acclaimed Coldfire trilogyThis Alien Shore (New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1998), In Conquest Born, The Madness Season, The Wilding, The Magister Trilogy, and the Dreamwalker series. Friedman worked for twenty years as a professional costume designer, but retired from that career in 1996 to focus on her writing. She lives in Virginia, and can be contacted via her website, www.csfriedman.comFacebook, or Patreon.

#Weird Beauty Interviews on Black Gate

  14. S. Friedman. Beauty and Nightmares on Aliens Worlds  2023
  15. interviews prior 2018 (i.e., with John R. Fultz, Janet E. Morris, Richard Lee Byers, Aliya Whitely …and many more) are on S.E. Lindberg’s website

Monday, April 3, 2023

Nightborn: Coldfire Rising by C. S. Friedman - Review by S.E.


Nightborn: Coldfire Rising by C. S. Friedman. (DAW Books, July, 18th, 2023, 304pages).
 Cover art by Jeszika Le Vye.


Every wonder if your feelings had shape and were visible?
What if you could see your nightmares manifest as they turn on you?

C. S. Friedman has published 14 novels, including the highly acclaimed Coldfire Trilogy and the groundbreaking science fiction novel This Alien Shore (New York Times Notable Book of the Year -1998). Her Nightborn: Coldfire Rising novel will be published this July, 2023 by DAW Books; this post reviews an advanced review copy (preorder from the publisher).

The stunning cover art by Jeszika Le Vye evokes and extends the signature covers of the Coldfire Trilogy crafted by Michael Whelan; the trilogy was released during 1991-1995 followed by a 2012 prequel novella, Dominion. Note that a revised version of Dominion, starring the Hunter himself, is in Nightborn.

And stay tuned — Black Gate has an interview in the works with C. S. Friedman (a perfect fit for our series on Beauty in Weird Fiction).

Coldfire Series

  • #0 Nightborn: Coldfire Rising 2023 (DAW, also contains Dominion)
  • #0.5 Dominion 2012 novella (Tridac Publishing)
  • #1 Black Sun Rising 1991 (DAW)
  • #2 When True Night Falls 1993 (DAW)
  • #3 Crown of Shadows 1995 (DAW)

Nightborn is Beautiful Horror Sci-Fi Infused with Ethereal Nightmares

Nightborn will hook new fans while exciting veteran Coldfire enthusiasts. The original trilogy occurs hundreds of years after humans found a way to survive on the planet Erna, whose energetic fae transform from an intangible mist into real nightmares. You’ll experience the initial colonization with Nightborn, before humans had any clue. Like Leo, Lise, and Ian (who all bring juicy, haunting memories with them) you’ll get to witness the beautiful, and horrific, wisps of fae manipulate and consume the crew. Friedman is a master at interweaving perspectives so you should expect a splendid interplay between every character’s personal trauma and that of Erna’s hungry energy.

The fae is the foundation of the Coldfire series, it is the source of lore, conflict, religion, and magic. Its various flavors ebb and flows with the moons/sun on Erna, but I won’t spoil the joy of experiencing it any further. Excerpts (below) emphasize what to expect: (1) Beautiful Nightmares (2) Weird Melee (3) Hypnotic Horror.

Expect Beauty, Nightmares, Weird Melee, and Hypnotic Horror

Already a fan of the series? Then read this to learn more lore, the origins and coining of key terms, and enjoy watching fae-worship evolve. Having Dominion bundled with Nightborn amplifies their impacts since they both are highlights of critical events (humans colonizing planet Erna and the Prophet of the Church for Human Unification dominating the Forest); the Book Blurbs serve as excellent summaries (provided below). Whereas the fae begins as nearly indescribable, supernatural energy/evil (almost Lovecraftian) in Nightborn, we learn that it can be manipulated and summoned with spells (aka Workings) in Dominion (more Dark Fantasy).

The role of personal sacrifice on how the fae responds is made poignant and breathtaking. This powerful synergy builds in Nightborn and sets up the epic prologue to Black Sun Rising (Book #1) that defines Gerald Tarrant as a fascinating, immortal protagonist.  In short, be prepared to (re)read the Coldfire series!

Be Prepared to (re)Read the Coldfire Series!


Summary Blurbs


A ship full of colonists arrive on a seemingly hospitable planet, only to discover that it harbors a terrifying secret. Soon the settlers find themselves caught up in a desperate battle for survival against the fae, a natural force with the power to prey upon the human mind itself, bringing a person’s greatest fears and darkest nightmares to life.

As Colony Commander Leon Case and Chief Medic Lise Perez struggle to find a way to control the fae before more people die, other settlers have ideas of their own…and they may prove more of a threat to colony than the fae itself.

Nightborn: Coldfire Rising is a tale that blends sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, suspenseful and emotionally intense, as a handful of humans struggle to survive on an alien world that seems determined to kill them. In the end they will have to draw upon both scientific knowledge and mystical traditions to save themselves.

Whether you’re just discovering the Coldfire universe through this prequel or returning to it as a classic favorite, Nightborn: Coldfire Rising is the perfect entry point to this unique, genre-blending space fantasy epic.


Four hundred years after mankind’s arrival on Erna, the undead sorcerer Gerald Tarrant travels north in search of a legend. For it is rumored there is a forest where the fae has become so powerful that it devours all who enter it, and he means to test its power.




A dose of Enigmatic Fae

Light was rising now, as if flowing forth from the earth: a strange blue glow, dim in illumination but intense in color. There were currents visible in it now, and as the light intensified waves became visible; they seemed to pulse across the ground in time to the pounding of Ian’s heart. It was as if the entire field was a vast luminescent lake, and he was part of it. The sight of it was mesmerizing enough, but the sensation— the sensation!— was like nothing he had ever felt before…

“I was looking out at the land beyond the camp, when a strange light seemed to rise up from the ground. A blue glow that rippled in waves over the grass, like water. There were visible currents, and in a few places it looked like they were flowing around invisible obstacles. It was . . .”   He drew in a deep breath. Beautiful. Terrifying. “Otherworldly.”

—from Nightborn

Weird Melee

…A large beast was atop the table— twice the size of a man, at least— and it was unlike any creature Leo had ever seen. Its head was rat-like but its torso reptilian, and black spider legs jutted out on both sides. Its tail had the diamond patterning of a snake, with a long stinger at the end. A dark and viscous fluid dripped from that stinger, and when the tail whipped toward a nearby colonist—who quickly jumped out of the way—drops of it splattered across the table.

All this Leo saw in an instant, and then he was running towards it, Lise following close behind. What he was going to do when he reached it, he had no clue.

People were screaming and running in the other direction, and one of them almost knocked him over. A few people were simply frozen, and they stared at the beast in horrified helplessness as it grabbed Tom Bennet by the neck and shook him from side to side like a dishrag. Several others had pulled out their guns, and Leo did so as well…

As the creature turned towards him [Steve] thrust the black rod into its chest—deep, deep into the hellish flesh. Whether he hit a vital organ was anyone’s guess, but he must have stabbed something important, because the creature howled in pain and rage, and stopped trying to attack people. It began to draw in on itself, legs curling up against its chest like those of a dying insect, neck and tail pulling back into its body, a grotesque contortion. It began to shrink—no, dissolve—features running down its face in rivulets, legs melting like wax, all of it sinking into a pool of undefined flesh that was taking on a strange blue light… he watched in horrified fascination as the blue light grew stronger, the flesh lost all definition—and then suddenly it was all gone. Only Tom’s body remained, so mangled that it hardly looked human.

—from Nightborn

Hypnotic Horror

But at last her fragile will gave way. She slashed downward toward her left arm with the knife— fiercely, awkwardly— cutting deep into her own flesh. Bright red blood gushed out of the wound, splashing down into the tankard. A small moan of misery escaped the mother’s lips, and Tarrant could see the father tremble as he fought to break free of the Binding, but from the girl herself there was no sound, only a delicious admixture of resignation and terror, as refreshing to him as the blood itself.

—from Dominion

C.S. Friedman

An acknowledged master of dark fantasy and science fiction alike, C.S. Friedman is a John W. Campbell award finalist, and the author of the highly acclaimed Coldfire trilogy, This Alien Shore (New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1998), In Conquest Born, The Madness Season, The Wilding, The Magister Trilogy, and the Dreamwalker series. Friedman worked for twenty years as a professional costume designer, but retired from that career in 1996 to focus on her writing. She lives in Virginia, and can be contacted via her website,



Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Citadel of Forgotten Myths - review by S


The Citadel of Forgotten Myths by Michael Moorcock
SE rating: 4 of 5 stars

This extension to the Elric saga is okay.

New to Elric? Don't start here. Start with the Elric of Melniboné (1972).

There are three books within The Citadel of Forgotten Myths, the first two being short stories that appeared elsewhere; revised versions of these are the best parts of this. In all parts, Moonglum travels with Elric to the World Above, a parallel realm where Melnibonean ancestry persists.

Part 1: based on Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery 2010's "Red Pearls: An Elric Story"

Part 2: based on Weird Tales 349 - 85th Anniversary Issue #349 2008's "Black Petals" (Elric novella)

These both have action, wild bits of over-the-top fantastical magic, and a decent dose of expanded lore. We get to learn more about the Phoorn (dragon relatives of Meniboné too). These are five stars....

Part 3: And...the disappointing Third itself a 3-star (at best):

The third Book admittedly has a nice outline/scope with Arioch not responding when summoned, Xiombarg stirring up major trouble with Dyvim Marluc (introduced in the first stories); a cool bee-hive driven city called Karlaak that mirrors Elric's original city plays a major role.

But the delivery is terrible.

It is mostly exposition (all telling, little-to-no showing). It reads like an outline full of info dumps.

There are more exclamation marks than periods (I didn't count them, but that statement is close to being accurate). It is truly bizarre to read! Really it is! Almost comical! Eh gad!

Also, there is some forced romance? noble-blood incest? It comes across as just silly. Elric has some nice flashbacks regarding his first love Cymoril and his second (Zarozinia, who is still alive during this adventure into other worlds). Here, Elric feels like it is still "ok" to court a young, female Melnibonean noblewoman despite his genuine love for his other wives. I guess Zarozinia is cool with an open relationship, and Cymoril has long since passed. Anyway, the relationship falls flat/weird, and is not even developed well. I was reminded of Moorcock's weird, misogynistic entry for Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga of Genseric's Fifth Born Son.

Oh, then there is Orlando Funk. That is not a typo. Minus the "o" we have Orland_ Funk, who is one of Moorcock's heroes from his Runestaff series; this is the same dude. Moorcock loves weird cross overs.... but here Mr. Orlando comes across (at least to me, who was not aware of the character before) as a time-traveling, Floridian (i.e., from Orlando) who might as well have been wearing bell-bottom jeans. Every time I read his name, I had Bruno Mars' "uptown Funk" song trigger in my head. Orlando's presence added more silliness than it did mind-blowing plot twists.

Elric along with his companion Moonglum return, in this prequel set within the early days of Elric’s wanderings, in order to investigate the history of Melniboné and its dragons, known as the Phroon, in this exciting new addition to the Elric Saga from World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award winner Michael Moorcock.

Elric is the estranged emperor of the Melnibonéan empire, struggling with his nature while desperately striving to move forward with his dying empire alongside the constant thirst of his soul-sucking sword, Stormbringer. Elric is on the hunt for the great Citadel of Forgotten Myths while traveling through the remnants of his empire with his tragic best friend Moonglum, as Elric seeks the answers to the nature of the phroon of The Young Kingdoms. Taking place between the first and second book in the Elric Saga, The Citadel of Forgotten Myths is perfect for longtime fans and those new to this epic fantasy series.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 3, 2023

Preview of S.E. Lindberg's "Orphan Maker" from Issue #9 of Tales from the Magician's Skull magazine

Reposting from Goodman Game's website:

Tales From the Magician’s Skull Issue 9 is now available for purchase in stores and online, and as always we’re sharing samples of every story in the issue!

S.E. Lindberg’s grimdark fable “Orphan Maker,” dares to ask the question ‘can a flaming be-horned skeletal revenant truly be one of the good guys, and can you trust the motives of a guy named Doctor Grave?’

Samuel Dillon’s frantic combat between otherworldly horrors sets the stage for this latest sample from the Skull’s current issue!

Be sure you don’t miss Tales From the Magician’s Skull’s undyingly cool ninth issue — out now!

Be sure to check out Tales From the Magician’s Skull Issue #9 for more tremendous sword-and-sorcery fiction!