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The Series Series: The Barrow by Mark Smylie

Friday, April 18th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Barrow-smallThe book mugged me. It was supposed to stay safely several weeks down in my queue while I kept commitments to other law-abiding books that had been waiting patiently for review. Then up walks The Barrow, brazen as you please, distracts me by flashing its jacket copy, and steals two weeks of all my attention right out of my calendar. But what else can you expect from a book full of gangsters, extortionists, rabble-rousers, mercenaries, slumming disgraced nobility, and assorted other low-life types?

I haven’t quite figured out how Mark Smylie pulled it off. The book has some obvious excellences, and some obvious failings, and some oddities that might be mistaken for one only to turn out to be the other. I’ll need to read more of Smylie’s work to figure out what tipped the balance in the book’s favor.

I found most of the characters somewhere between off-putting and odious, and nearly every time the body count went up by one, I was relieved at not having to put up with that character for one page longer. It’s as if Smylie had set himself the task of outdoing George R.R. Martin for grittiness of characterization, and overshot by twenty miles.

There are readers who love that sort of thing; I’m not usually one of them. As the endgame of the novel came in sight, there were only three characters I cared about at all — the enigmatic hero Stjepan Black-Heart, the cross-dressing street fighter Erim, and the disgraced noblewoman Annwyn. I kept coming back to my two snarky rhetorical questions: How are these two women going to survive ten more minutes surrounded by all those sociopaths? And when is Stjepan going to have a male friend who does not suck?

Only it turns out those are the questions that matter most, and several of the glitches I had mistaken for goofs on the author’s part ended up being the keys to the story’s other puzzles.

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The Mind and Soul of an Honest Creator: Paul Di Filippo on Robert Moore Williams

Friday, April 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Time Tolls for Toro-smallOver at Locus Online, author Paul Di Filippo reviews the latest in the Masters of Science Fiction line from Armchair Fiction, Time Tolls For Toro and Other Stories by Robert Moore Williams, which collects a nice assortment of pulp fiction from Super Science Stories, Amazing Stories, Fantastic Universe, Planet Stories, and Imaginative Tales from 1950 – 1959.

Like a combination of Asimov’s robot stories and Simak’s robot stories, “The Soul Makers” (Super Science Stories, 1950) takes us to the far-off year of 1987, in the middle of an atomic war. Humanity’s sentient robots are going AWOL, and the two men sent to discover the reason uncover more than they anticipated. Williams extracts a fair measure of pathos from the noble actions of the robots, and the inevitable doom and rebirth of humanity… “The Diamond Images” (Fantastic Universe, 1959) is one of those “Old Venus” tales so common in the consensus future history of this era. A butterfly collector named Wolder has made friends with the seemingly unsophisticated Venusians after eight years among them. But then his son arrives, unwittingly leading pirates to the treasure of the natives…

There’s an almost Ballardian feel to the opening of “To the End of Time” (Super Science Stories, 1950). A Venusian song, brought back to Earth, is literally driving people insane. Into the jungle wastelands of Venus, our psychologist hero Thorndyke sets out to find a cure, encountering a strange race of Venusians and the human missionary and his beautiful daughter who minister to them…

Reading this volume is no chore or dull swotting up of past history for academic purposes. The stories, however creaky at times, remain very entertaining and illustrative of the mind and soul of one honest creator, doing the best he could to enrich the soil of the genre.

Read the complete article here. We covered the launch of Armchair Fiction back in January 2012 and Paul’s review of Masters of Science Fiction Vol. #8, Milton Lesser’s A is for Android, last May.

Masters of Science Fiction, Volume Ten: Time Tolls For Toro and Other Stories by Robert Moore Williams was published by Armchair Fiction on January 22, 2014. It is 320 pages, priced at $16.95 in trade paperback. There is no digital edition. No word on who did the cover… Emsh, maybe?


Goth Chick News: An Anniversary Edition of the Ultimate Novelization

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Alien Alan Dean Foster-smallI’ll never forget my first time.

I was a very young Goth Chick, spending a typical Saturday combing the used paperbacks for sale at my local library. It’s hard to feed a literary addiction on a six-grader’s salary, as I know every last one of you understand.

And there it was.

Dog-eared and minus its back cover, but with that impossible-to-miss front cover art. It was based on the movie I wasn’t allowed to watch, the one with the R-rating, which obviously meant it was the best movie ever committed to film. Or at least the scariest.

My parents clearly had not considered the library a place to land contraband of this magnitude.

I bolted for the front desk, threw my two quarters at the librarian, waved the yellowed, pulpy tome in her general direction, and exited the library to the adjacent park where I sat planted for the remainder of the afternoon – transfixed.

That was where I fell in twisted, grossed-out love with the movie Alien – and the man who told me the story (which is better than seeing it anyway), Mr. Alan Dean Foster.  It was the beginning of a long and intense relationship, at least by sixth-grade standards.

Back then, a used-book seller would have been the most likely place to have found a copy of Alien, a book which has been out of print since 1992. A pity, since it is widely considered the defining testament to how a novelization can complement an already-great film.

But this week, all that changed.

On Tuesday, April 15th, in honor of its 35th anniversary, Titan Books released a new printing of Alien: The Official Movie Novelization.

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George R.R. Martin is Spoiling HBO’s Game of Thrones

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

George RR Martin A Game of Thrones-smallThis article has been making the rounds on the Internet since it was posted yesterday at UK satire site Underground Magazine — and it’s too good not to share. Funny as it is, the numerous outraged comments it’s received, from shall-we-say less informed fans of the HBO show, are equally hilarious (see some of the comments at Weird Tales’ Facebook post here).

The entertainment industry was today warning fans of the popular HBO series Game Of Thrones to avoid ‘at all costs’ a series of books by a rogue enthusiast named George R.R. Martin, who has written five whole volumes consisting solely of spoilers for the popular television show.

“This man is dangerous and wants to ruin everyone’s enjoyment of a much-loved fantasy drama.” said executive producer D. B. Weiss. “It’s a sad symptom of today’s ‘binge’ culture that people can’t just wait and enjoy things as they are released. They want everything at once…”

Some of the books in question, which add up to a total of some 4,200 pages, contain so many spoilers that they have had to be split into volumes. HBO executives are investigating how Martin is able to work on new editions set far in advance of the current TV series.

TV fan Simon Rix told us he “picked up a copy of one of the books thinking it was a companion piece or a spin-off from the TV show, but after reading all of them in one week, I had the whole show ruined for me in intricate detail. There were characters I’d never heard of, plot lines that went way off course, and not nearly as much nudity.”

Read the complete article here.


New Treasures: The Black Veil & Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths edited by Mark Valentine

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Black Veil and Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths-smallI love these Wordsworth Tales of Mystery And The Supernatural volumes. They’ve compact, attractive, and inexpensive — they look great on the shelf, and they make quick reads. Plus, they’re just so darned collectible.

My latest acquisition is already one of my favorites. We’ve paid a lot of attention to Supernatural Sleuths at Black Gate over the years, from William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki The Ghost Finder to Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone and Silver John stories, and Paula Guran’s terrific recent anthology Weird Detectives – and deservedly so. This has been a year of terrible weather and when it’s cold, dark, and blustery outside, the best antidote is to curl up with a cozy blanket and a warm beverage, and share the adventures of an intrepid occult detective.

Our real expert is Josh Reynolds, who over the last few years has covered many of the most famous literary examples in his series on The Nightmare Men – from Sheridan Le Fanu’s Dr. Martin Hesselius to Aylmer Vance, The Ghost-Seeker; from Manly Wade Wellman’s stalwart Judge Keith Hilary Pursuivant to Seabury Quinn’s always resourceful Jules de Grandin.

Looking back over all those articles, you may just find yourself more than a little curious. But where to start? Why not start with Mark Valentine’s generous collection of some of the best short stories featuring some of the greatest  supernatural sleuths in all of literature?

The Gateway of the Monster… The Red Hand… The Ghost Hunter

To Sherlock Holmes the supernatural was a closed book: but other great detectives have always been ready to do battle with the dark instead. This volume brings together sixteen chilling cases of these supernatural sleuths, pitting themselves against the peril of ultimate evil.

Here are encounters from the casebooks of the Victorian haunted house investigators John Bell and Flaxman Low, from Carnacki, the Edwardian battler against the abyss, and from horror master Arthur Machen s Mr Dyson, a man-about-town and meddler in strange things. Connoisseurs will find rare cases such as those of Allen Upward s The Ghost Hunter, Robert Barr s Eugene Valmont (who may have inspired Agatha Christie s Hercule Poirot) and Donald Campbell s young explorer Leslie Vane, the James Bond of the jazz age, who battles against occult enemies of the British Empire. And the collection is completed by some of the best tales from the pens of modern psychic sleuth authors.

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My Favorite Fantasy Settings

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

The Shire, from War of the Ring (SPI)-smallIn writer’s jargon, they are often called “secondary worlds.” They are places of imagination where we authors create characters, towns, city-states, nations, and even entire planets. One of the aspects of writing I love best is the ability to fashion my own setting, from the politics and government down to the clothing fashions and local foods.

As a fantasy reader, I’ve had so many favorites over the years. They have inspired and amazed me. Here are some that I’ll never forget.

Middle Earth: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a fantastic epic for many reasons, but one of the most enduring is its setting. Middle Earth.

Tolkien may have created the most elaborate, detailed fictional setting in history, even creating his own languages for the various races. Some detractors have called his opus a “travelogue,” but to read LOTR is to enter a living, breathing world, both familiar and strange. Sometimes the journey IS the adventure.

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The Dungeon Dozen

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

DDcoverNext copyThe first roleplaying game I owned was the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set edited by J. Eric Holmes, as you’re all probably tired of hearing by now. Among the many memorable features of that boxed set was that some of its printings (including my own) did not include dice. Instead, these sets included a sheet of laminated paper chits printed in groups that mimicked the ranges of polyhedral dice (1–4, 1–6, 1–8, 1–10, 1–12, and 1–20).  The purchaser of the game was instructed to cut them apart and “place each different type in a small container (perhaps a small paper cup), and each time a number generation is called for, draw a chit at random from the appropriate container.”

This I dutifully did, taking several small Dixie Cups from my upstairs bathroom for the purpose. Leaving aside the disbelief-suspending flower print of the cups, this method of random number generation was awkward and decidedly un-fun. Consequently, I set out to find a proper set of dice with which to play D&D, a quest that took me to a local toy store, which had them hidden away behind the counter. I bought that set – made of terrible, low impact plastic – and rushed home to use them. I wanted to be a “real” Dungeons & Dragons player. For all their faults, those dice were, in many ways, what sealed my fate as a lifelong roleplayer. There was something downright magical about those little, weirdly shaped objects that captured my imagination almost as much as the game itself.

I am fascinated not just by dice, but also by randomness. I’ve come to believe that one of the real, perhaps fundamental distinction between “old school” roleplaying games and their latter day descendants is the extent to which randomness informs game play. As a younger person, I went through a period when I intensely disliked randomness and used it as a bludgeon against games, including D&D, that I decided I disliked. Older, if not wiser, I no longer think that way. Indeed, I celebrate randomness as a vital part of what makes a RPG enjoyable for me. Randomness is frequently a godsend, providing me with a steady stream of ideas and inspiration when I find myself at a loss for either (which is often). Randomness also enables me to be surprised, even when I’m the referee, which is no small feat after more than three decades behind the screen. In short, I love randomness.

Therefore, I suppose I’m predisposed to love a book like The Dungeon Dozen by Jason Sholtis. This 222-page book is a compilation of the many “flavor-rich yet detail-free” random tables available on Sholtis’s eponymously named blog, accompanied by a great deal of black and white art provided by Chris Brandt, John Larrey, Stefan Poag, and Sholtis himself.

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New Treasures: Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Santa Olivia-smallJacqueline Carey is a bestselling author known chiefly for her Kushiel novels, erotic fantasies that follow the adventures of a courtesan in a fantasy version of France. I tried the first one, Kushiel’s Dart, over a decade ago, but gave up after about a hundred pages. I couldn’t really get into it.

I didn’t pay much attention to Jacqueline Carey after that, and as a result I almost overlooked her highly regarded Santa Olivia. A significant departure from her previous novels, it has been described as “Jacqueline Carey’s take on comic book superheroes and the classic werewolf myth.”

Set in Outpost 12, a small town in a buffer zone shielding a near-future Texas from plague-devastated Mexico, Santa Olivia follows a group of orphans who decide to strike back against the oppressive military rule. All in all, it sounds like a pretty captivating mix — and well worth checking out.

There is no pity in Santa Olivia. And no escape. In this isolated military buffer zone between Mexico and the U.S., the citizens of Santa Olivia are virtually powerless. Then an unlikely heroine is born. She is the daughter of a man genetically manipulated by the government to be a weapon. A “Wolf-Man,” he was engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, stamina, and senses, as well as a total lack of fear. Named for her vanished father, Loup Garron has inherited his gifts.

Frustrated by the injustices visited upon her friends and neighbors by the military occupiers, Loup is determined to avenge her community. Aided by a handful of her fellow orphans, Loup takes on the guise of their patron saint, Santa Olivia, and sets out to deliver vigilante justice-aware that if she is caught, she could lose her freedom… and possibly her life.

Santa Oliva was published on May 29, 2009 by Grand Central Publishing. It is 341 pages, priced at $13.99 in trade paperback.


The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Lilith by George MacDonald

Monday, April 14th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Lilith Back Cover HRLilith
George MacDonald
Ballantine Books (274 pages, September 1969, $1.25)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

Lilith was the fifth volume in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. The cover is one of the darkest in the series to date. The back cover shows the inside of an attic. I normally post an image of the back cover, but I won’t here. It’s almost a monochrome and it’s dark.

In many ways, Lilith was different from the few that came before it. For starters, it was written from a decidedly Christian worldview and there were passages in it that seemed allegorical to me. Lilith was certainly the most metaphysical of the books I’ve read in the series so far. There were several conversations about identity and how a person can know who they are.

A favorite practice of literature majors everywhere is to try to determine symbolism in works and to dissect them for hidden meanings. The structure of Lilith certainly lends itself to this type of thing and, not being an English major, I’m not going to attempt much of that here.

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish pastor who retired early to devote himself to literature, although he continued to preach in a lay capacity at times. Much of his output consisted of novels that were set in what for MacDonald was contemporary times, but also contained poetry, collections of sermons, and fairy stories. There are two other volumes by MacDonald in the BAF series: the novel Phantastes and Evenor, a collection of three novellas.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: All The World’s A Stage

Monday, April 14th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Speck_PagetSnake

Sidney Paget’s well-known drawing from The Speckled Band

There are two Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that have a gothic feel to them. The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of four novels featuring Holmes and the best-known story of the sixty which Doyle wrote. The other, the ninth short story to feature Holmes, is “The Speckled Band.”

A creepy mansion; exotic animals roaming loose, gypsies, an imposing stepfather, eerie whistles in the night and the mysterious death of a daughter some years before: it has all the trappings. Doyle himself listed it as his favorite story and I’m not going to ruin it here. If you haven’t read “The Speckled Band,” you should go do it right now. Well, after you finish this post.

Doyle wrote several plays, two of which featured Sherlock Holmes. The Crown Diamond was and remains a poor one (as does “The Mazarin Stone,” the Holmes short story it mirrors).

But the other, born of financial necessity, was a big hit.

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