"Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng" by Richard Parks
"Wingless Angels" by Charles de Lint
"Exo-Skeleton Town" by Jeffrey Ford
"The Dreamthief's Daughter, Book One" by Michael Moorcock
Tangent editor David A. Truesdale is the managing editor of the new quarterly Black Gate, which is published and edited by John O'Neill. This, the first issue, features spectacular cover art by Keith Parkinson, and in addition to the high-quality fiction offerings, it is stuffed with well-written book, comic, and gaming reviews and columns, and even a couple of comic strips. I particularly liked the "about the author" sidebars; each fiction author gets a photograph, along with a lengthy bio, and often a separate sidebar showcasing his other published work, including book cover photos. My only beef about the magazine as a whole is that the printing process used in the interior clearly wasn't meant for detailed artwork, and it made all but line art and the text itself look like bad photocopies.
This issue gets off to a great start with "Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng" by Richard Parks. It's a fairy tale set in ancient China, simply and elegantly told. Inspired by the discovery in modern times of the 3rd century BC tomb of the Marquis of Zeng, it follows the quest of a common man to rescue a beautiful consort of the dying Marquis before she is killed and buried in the tomb along with the rest of the Marquis's wives. The commoner, Seven, must literally give his heart and soul to a witch, Golden Bell, before he can attempt to rescue the consort. We're treated to hidden treasures, statues of men and monsters coming to life, and heavenly music before it's all over.
I found "Wingless Angels" by Charles de Lint less well constructed. A guy finds a roll of undeveloped film in the gutter, and takes it to his semi-girlfriend, who works in a photo store. The woman finds weird monsters lurking in the shadows of the pictures. One of the pictures shows a man being torn apart by the creatures a week in the future (as indicated by the date settings on the camera that took the pictures). The guy and the woman go out looking for the monsters, which turn out to be fallen angels working for the devil. Where did the roll of film come from? Who took the pictures? Why do they show the future? These gaping plot holes are never filled. The payoff at the end of heartbreakingly beautiful music sung by the hideous, foul-smelling fallen angels almost, but not quite, redeemed what I thought was an otherwise uninspired piece.
I was a little surprised to find a story like Jeffrey Ford's "Exo-Skeleton Town" in a magazine subtitled "Adventures in Fantasy Literature," and whose stated mission is "to publish original epic fantasy in the classic mold." Ford's story is pure science fiction, taking place on a planet populated by a civilization of giant bugs. Human explorers have discovered that the bugs love old movies, almost to the point of addiction, and they'll trade them for aphrodisiac dung, which can be sold on Earth for extremely high prices. Human entrepreneurs, hoping to score dung, arrive on the planet wearing survival gear that makes them look like old movie stars, and many of them go bust, living out their days hanging out in seedy bars. The best part of the story for me was this eye-opening first sentence: "An hour ago I came out of Spid's Smoke House and saw Clark Gable scoring a couple of balls of dung off an Aphid twice his size." The rest of the story develops the bizarre scene in this sentence as an effective melodrama in the style of old movies.
This issue concludes with a novel excerpt, the first chunk of a new Elric novel by Michael Moorcock, The Dreamthief's Daughter. The first-person narrator is the last of his line, Ulric, Graf von Bek, hauled away by the Nazis for refusing to relinquish a family relic, a supernatural sword. In a Nazi prison, he resists his German tormentors to the brink of death, and then is revived when the sword materializes in his cell so he can wreak vengeance and escape to a magical underground kingdom, with the Nazis in hot pursuit. The excerpt served its purpose in leaving me wanting more, and it is indeed "original epic fantasy in the classic mold." The Dreamthief's Daughter is due out from Warner Aspect in April, 2001.
This issue also includes a "classic reprint," "The Dark Muse," by Karl Edward Wagner. This story originally appeared in Midnight Sun #2 in 1975.
Altogether, Black Gate makes for very enjoyable reading; there's bound to be something here to appeal to just about anyone interested in the literature of the fantastic. Look for the next issue in February, 2001.
Michael P. Belfiore has sold short fiction to Aboriginal Science Fiction, Aberrations, VB Tech Journal, and other publications. A German language version of his science fiction play for one actor, Abducted! will open in March 2001 at the Wolfgang Borchert Theater in Münster, Germany. Michael lives in New York's Hudson River Valley, where he and his wife, Wendy Kagan, run a writing-for-hire business (www.write-edit.com).