I don’t know why I waited so long to get a subscription to Black Gate. I read a couple of the early issues a long time ago, so I had a vague notion that I liked the choices, but there were so many magazines, both subscriptions and online, that I was trying to keep up with, and the paper subscription for Black Gate is a bit high for me.
However, a friend who I met at World Fantasy, John Fultz, has a story in the latest that’s a continuation of earlier tales. I wanted to read something of his, so I thought now was the time.
Imagine my surprise to discover Black Gate now sells ezine versions at a subscription I can afford! So instead of starting with the latest, I went back to the beginning of the ezine version.
From the moment I got to the stories, I was hooked. Many of them are continuations of previous tales, but more in the terms of same characters new adventures than any sense of a “to be continued” where I came in on the second half. In fact, I wouldn’t have known many were of this type if not for the notes.
There was not a single story in Issue 11 (where I started) that I didn’t enjoy. That’s rare for magazines and anthologies just because so much is dependent on personal preference. There were ones that sucked me in more than others, but none I could point to as being less interesting.
Some quick notes about the ezine: I use a Sony eReader and often convert ebooks to a format optimum for my reader. Because the issue begins with columns, that isn’t possible. However, the PDF read well on my eReader with one exception: it was not always clear where the author notes began and ended, and they showed up at random points in the story, sometimes leaving me hanging in half a sentence and sometimes spanning multiple “pages”. Once I figured it out, I could tell that the author notes were italics and it was easier to skip them, but some kind of separator would have been helpful.
My favorite stories were these, though I found something to like in all of them:
Where Beauty Lies in Wait by Peadar Ó Guilín is a haunting tale that would be just as at home in a science fiction magazine. It posits a female-dominant culture where sexual restraint is the difference between a lowly male and a leading female, only that restraint is directly challenged. A complex, fascinating culture with a good story for demonstrating its strengths and weaknesses.
The Lawless Hours by James Enge is a tale of loyalty and betrayal. It starts simple and known, but with the introduction of Morlock the Maker, everything Roble believes about his sister’s loss, what his duty is, and how his world works even is torn apart. He has choices to make that show his measure.
The Naturalist, Part II: An Incident at Gray’s Works by Mark Sumner is one of those that is a direct continuation of the previous tale, nor does it reach the end in this issue. However, I was given enough backstory to ground me in the events that went before, and the story as a whole advances a full and complete stage in this installment. I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that this was not a complete tale simply because it has a fascinating story voice. It is the diary of a man with dreams and a role to play in an early colony who lacks the credibility to be believed when things turn fantastical. He has good friends and bad enemies, but muddles through as best he can based on his own sense of responsibility. It’s steampunk in feel, though not in contents, and a wonderful dive into the character of what is essentially an indentured servant trying to work his way through the Company well enough to become a landholder.