New Treasures: Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Monstrous-smallNow this looks like a cool book.

Monstrous, the debut novel from MarcyKate Connolly, features a city under the sway of dark magic, a mysterious curse… and a girl with bolts in her neck, who was built to defeat the curse and rescue the inhabitants of Byre. You can read the first 72 pages online, at the HarperCollins Web Sampler.

The city of Bryre suffers under the magic of an evil wizard. Because of his curse, girls sicken and disappear without a trace, and Bryre’s inhabitants live in fear. No one is allowed outside after dark.

Yet night is the only time that Kymera can enter this dangerous city, for she must not be seen by humans. Her father says they would not understand her wings, the bolts in her neck, or her spiky tail — they would kill her. They would not understand that she was created for a purpose: to rescue the girls of Bryre.

Despite her caution, a boy named Ren sees Kym and begins to leave a perfect red rose for her every evening. As they become friends, Kym learns that Ren knows about the missing girls, the wizard, and the evil magic that haunts Bryre.

And what he knows will change Kym’s life.

Reminiscent of Frankenstein and the tales of the Brothers Grimm, this debut novel by MarcyKate Connolly stands out as a compelling, original story that has the feel of a classic.

Monstrous was published by HarperCollins on February 10, 2015. It is 432 pages, priced at $16.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital edition.

The Omnibus Volumes of Jack Vance, Part II: Tales of the Dying Earth

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales of the Dying Earth-smallI’ve been reading Jack Vance recently. My interest was initially piqued by the beautiful collections of his earliest stories from Subterranean Press, The Early Jack Vance, including the upcoming fifth book, Grand Crusades. Two weeks ago I started a project to examine the current crop of omnibus volumes collecting his most popular series, starting with Planet of Adventure.

Part of the reason I do this, of course, is that these books are a terrific value for collectors and new readers alike, gathering as they do multiple novels — many of which have been out of print for decades — in inexpensive trade paperbacks. But seeing these fat volumes on bookshelves doesn’t always do anything for me… until I have a clear picture of exactly what’s inside.

I’m a visual guy, so for me that usually means the covers of the original paperbacks. Once I see those, these handsome omnibus volumes become a lot more desirable.

Of course, we’re dealing with Jack Vance here. His books were some of the most popular fantasy of the Twentieth Century, and went through multiple editions from a whole host of publishers. And his Dying Earth novels are perhaps his most popular and enduring works — I count more than two dozen English language editions just of the first book alone, since it first appeared in paperback in 1950.

So that presents a bit of a quandary. What I’m aiming to do here is provide a snapshot of the books contained within Tales of the Dying Earth that will jog the memory of the casual reader… perhaps remind them of that fascinating paperback they picked up at the cabin back in 1979, or that forgotten series they briefly glimpsed on bookstore shelves in 1994. I won’t attempt to catalog every appearance of the four novels in the Dying Earth sequence here, but instead just focus on the most popular editions that have been in circulation for the last sixty years or so.

I hope that if this article does jog your memory, perhaps reminding you of that long-forgotten paperback copy of Eyes of the Overworld or Rhialto the Marvelous you devoured twenty summers ago, you’ll seek out one of these omnibus editions and give it a try. The publishers who have brought these vintage classics back into print deserve your support.

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Future Treasures: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Crimson Bound-smallRosamund Hodge’s short story “Apotheosis” (Black Gate 15) was a marvelously original tale of three brothers who undertake a voyage across a vast sea only six inches deep, to find a new god for their small village. Her first novel, Cruel Beauty, mixed Greek mythology with Beauty and the Beast to create a tale of adventure and romance (read the first 59 pages at the HarperCollins Web Sampler).

Her second novel, Crimson Bound, is due May 5 from Balzer + Bray. This one is a dark fantasy inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, the fairy tale The Girl With No Hands, and Norse mythology.

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good — apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless — straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in a vain effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand — the man she hates most — Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as the two become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic… and a love that may be their undoing. Within a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Crimson Bound goes on sale on May 5 from Balzer + Bray. It is 448 pages, priced at $17.99 in hardcover, and $9.99 for the digital version.

Northern Matter in Poul Anderson’s “Middle Ages” of The Broken Sword and in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

1971 cover art by Boris Vallejo

1971 cover art by Boris Vallejo

Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword originally was published in a different form in 1954, which is why I’m discussing it at this time and not later. It is important to note that in Anderson’s introduction to the 1971 edition, he refers to his earlier self, the writer of the 1954 version, as if that person were not himself but in fact a different writer with the very same name. Anderson’s 1971 introduction also specifically takes into account J.R.R. Tolkien and his works. Anderson asserts that, like Tolkien, he has mined the rich veins of the Northern fantasy tradition, but he claims that, unlike Tolkien, he has found riches of a slightly different hue, perhaps gems with deeper or gloomier lusters. He writes:

In our day J.R.R. Tolkien has restored the elves to something of what they formerly were, in his enchanting Ring cycle. However, he chose to make them not just beautiful and learned; they are wise, grave, honorable, kindly, embodiments of good will toward all things alive. In short, his elves belong more to the country of Gloriana than to that house in heathen Gotaland. Needless to say, there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it was necessary to Professor Tolkien’s purpose.

I was at first horribly confused by this reference to Gloriana, able to uncover at first only a post-dated work by Michael Moorcock of that title. Until I realized that Moorcock’s novel borrows from the very thing that must be Anderson’s reference – Gloriana, or the Queen of Faerie in Spenser’s The Faerie Queen (a work of whose ending I have not yet got to) who is herself an allegory of Queen Elizabeth.

What a very puzzling suggestion. Of course we know, from Tolkien’s own introduction to The Lord of the Rings, that Tolkien detests allegory, so this certainly isn’t the point of comparison that Anderson finds. So it must be Gloriana’s character, and in Spenser’s medieval reconstructionist tradition Gloriana must of necessity stand as the ideal form of every human virtue. But does this truly characterize Tolkien’s Elves? One may even become incensed when Anderson appears to make a slightly disingenuous comparison by claiming that he harks “further back” than Tolkien, to medieval Europe in which “cruelty, rapacity, and licentiousness ran free.” Um. Tolkien’s Elves lived in a vanished Earth Age, not in Spenser’s proto-Romanticist reimagined “Arthurian” England. If we’re talking in terms of scope, Tolkien’s setting might have more to do with Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age than even Anderson’s Middle Ages.

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Vintage Treasures: Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Damnation Alley hardcover-small Damnation Alley Berkley Medallion-small Damnation Alley Movie tie-in-small

Roger Zelazny is one of my favorite authors. He wrote a wide range of fantasy, from Hugo-winning science fantasy (the brilliant Lord of Light) to a wildly original epic (the ten-volume Chronicles of Amber) to Sherlock Holmes-Lovecraft pastiche (A Night in the Lonesome October). Only one of his novels has ever been adapted for the screen, however: his post-apocalyptic adventure Damnation Alley, first published in hardcover by Putnam in 1969 (above left, cover by Jack Gaughan).

The book follows Hell Tanner, a condemned murderer, who’s offered a pardon if he will attempt a suicidal run across the blasted terrain from L.A. to Boston to deliver a plague vaccine. Tanner faces radioactive storms, 120-foot-long snakes, killer bats, giant mutated scorpions, and desperate human survivors as he traverses the thin habitable zone zig-zagging across the nuclear-scarred ruins of America.  The movie, which barely rises above the level of camp, was expected to be a major blockbuster. But it had the misfortune to be released the same year as Star Wars, and it sank without a trace.

The movie did a lot of things wrong… but one thing it did right was to focus much of the marketing on Tanner’s sweet ride: the Landmaster, a gigantic, grenade-throwing, nearly impenetrable all-terrain vehicle. It was custom designed for the film. Only one was every built — at a staggering cost of $350,000 in 1976 — and it still survives today. That’s why it pays to get the extended warranty, especially during periods of nuclear armageddon.

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New Treasures: Swords of Steel edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Swords of Steel-smallSwords of Steel is a brand new sword & sorcery anthology edited by D.M. Ritzlin, filled with stories written exclusively by heavy metal musicians. In his introduction, David C. Smith says the “idea was to create a collection of the kinds of stories you would have found in the late 1960s and 1970s — in the Swords Against Darkness anthologies, for example.” I’m a fan of Andrew Offut’s Swords Against Darkness, and I heartily approve of any effort to recapture their spirit.

Swords of Steel is an anthology of fantasy/horror adventure stories; it  includes interior illustrations and maps by a variety of artists, and poems by Sean Weingartner. There’s also an artilcle, “Headbanging Warriors,” by Black Gate‘s Thursday blogger  M Harold Page.

Mighty-thewed barbarians… vengeful lords of chaos… desolate devil-haunted ruins… carnage-soaked battlefields… forbidden spells of great power… All of these you will find in the works of authors of heroic fantasy as well as heavy metal musicians. But modern fantasy has been plagued with convoluted plots and series without end. Who better to return traditional fantasy to its former glory than the heavy metal bards?

Swords of Steel is an anthology of fantastic and horrific adventure stories, each penned by a heavy metal musician. Members of such bands as Bal-Sagoth, Manilla Road, Twisted Tower Dire, Cauldron Born, Solstice, and more — proving their talent for the written word as well as song — cut through the modern wasteland, wielding Swords of Steel.

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The IX by Andrew P. Weston

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_235511s7P3HzLYAre you old enough to remember the Kirk Douglas Saturday Night Live sketch from 1980 that asked the important question: “What if Spartacus had a Piper Cub?” Well I am, and it was the first thing that popped into my head when I received a review copy of Andrew P. Weston’s new novel, The IX, from the fine people at Perseid Press. I don’t read or review much sci-fi, but they suspected, quite correctly it turns out, that this would be right up my alley.

No, modern aviation doesn’t save the famous Roman IX Legion from destruction. Instead, the IX — and a host of other soldiers from across the ages — get a chance to play with advanced weapons to stave off a massed army of energy-devouring monsters on a star far across the galaxy from Earth.

The Ardenese, a highly advanced race, rule dozens of worlds, crossing the stars in ships that rip holes in space…until they encounter an enemy they come to know only as the Horde.

First discovered on a colony world, the energy-devouring Horde manage to secrete themselves aboard Ardenese starships. One by one the colonies fall, until all that remains is the homeworld and the capital city, Rhomane.

Even protected by barriers and nearly impregnable walls, the Ardenese know they are doomed. In the end, and it is surely near, they will all die, subject to the hideous ravages of the Horde. To ensure the survival of their race, the handful of survivors turn their fates over to the Architect, a massive AI computer.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Lords of Dus

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Dus_BasiliskThe eighties was full of epic fantasy series’ by the likes of David Eddings, Raymond Feist, Stephen R. Donaldson, Terry Brooks and Katherine Kurtz, to name a few. While many remain giants in the history of the genre, Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote a largely forgotten series: The Lords of Dus.

Watt-Evans has written quite a bit of fantasy, science fiction and horror and is probably best known for his Ethshar series. Ethshar was created as a role-playing game world and he ended up writing many novels and short stories using the setting.

Watt-Evans had flunked out of Princeton’s architectural school and had to wait a year before he could re-apply. He had heard (the possibly apocryphal story) that Larry Niven started his career by deciding to write for one year and if he sold something, continue on: if he didn’t, he’d give it up. Watt-Evans decided to do the same and wrote a slew of short stories, selling one.

He did go back to school, but he wrote a novel (The Cyborg and the Sorcerer) on a summer break and after two years of college, gave it up to make a living with the typewriter (as a writer, not a typewriter salesman).

Influenced by Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter’s anthologies (Flashing Swords, anyone?), he was ready to spin a fantasy saga featuring a non-human (but less effete than a Melnibonian) hero. Thus, the race of overmen.

He wanted to write a ‘quest’ series, so he needed somebody to tell Garth what to do. He borrowed from Robert Chambers and came up with The King in Yellow (yes, people were influenced by Chambers before HBO’s True Detective). So, we had a sort of Elric meets the Labors of Hercules.

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The Future of Fantasy: March New Releases

Sunday, March 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Buried Life-small The Devil’s Detective-small Defenders of Mankind-small

Ah, March in Chicago. The ice finally starts to melt off the porch, and you can find all that lost mail you’ve been looking for (and occasionally, a frozen postal worker.)

March is packed with exciting fantasy releases — featuring a detective in Hell, a subterranean city, a teenage boy who squares off against Deep Ones, mysterious goings-on in an old cemetery,  a new anthology of Lovecraftian fiction, and much more. Sit back and let us do our job, and fill you in on all the noteworthy fantasy fiction coming your way in the next 30 days.

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Vintage Treasures: Echoes of Valor III, edited by Karl Edward Wagner

Saturday, February 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Echoes of Valor III-smallAnd so we come to the end of our all-too-brief series on Karl Edward Wagner’s ambitious and highly regarded sword & sorcery anthologies. Echoes of Valor III was published in paperback by Tor Books in September 1991, just three years before poor Karl drank himself to death in 1994.

The three Echoes of Valor books are perplexing in some regards, especially for collectors. Wagner had taken a huge step towards literary respectability for Robert E. Howard in 1977, by compiling and editing the definitive three-volume hardcover collection of the unexpurgated Conan for Berkley: The People of the Black Circle, Red Nails, and The Hour of the Dragon. It’s clear that he intended Echoes of Valor to accomplish the same feat for a wider rage of his favorite writers, by assembling the defining collection of their best heroic fantasy in hardcover — and with non-fiction commentary that treated them to genuine scholarship.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The first volume of Echoes of Valor appeared only in paperback in 1987, and it had no non-fiction content at all. It was also burdened with a Ken Kelly cover that pretty obviously had originally been intended for Tor’s Conan line — I wouldn’t be surprised if most book shoppers in 1987 mistook it for just another Conan pastiche, and didn’t give it another glance.

With the second volume, Echoes of Valor II, Wagner finally got the book he’d aspired to. It appeared in hardcover in 1989 with an original cover by Rick Berry, and no less than eight non-fiction pieces (autobiographical sketches, forwards, and author appreciations) from four distinguished writers: C.L. Moore, Forrest J. Ackerman, Sam Moskowitz and Wagner himself.

Echoes of Valor II was one of the first books to treat sword & sorcery as serious fiction, and the hardcover format meant that Tor was able to sell it into libraries and schools across the country. It was a groundbreaking book for the genre. So it was a bit puzzling when Echoes of Valor III appeared three years later — exclusively in paperback, and with only one brief essay from Sam Moskowitz.

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