Well, this is a surprise.
A few weeks back, I purchased a collection of vintage paperbacks on eBay for around 50 cents each (the same collection I found Orbit 3 in, which I wrote about on Wednesday.) You never know what you’re going to find in these things, and buried near the bottom of the box was a 1973 sword & sorcery paperback titled The Book of Paradox, with a typically alluring Frazetta cover. I was setting it aside when I caught the author’s name, in tiny print under the title: Louise Cooper.
Wait a minute. Louise Cooper, author of the 12-volume Time Master novels, and the Indigo series? I had no idea she wrote sword & sorcery.
Turns out The Book of Paradox was her first novel. Originally published in hardcover in 1973, when she was just 20 years old, it launched her career. She became a full-time writer in 1977, and in her 30-year career published more than eighty fantasy novels. Looks to me like Dell just had no idea how to categorize her in 1973, so they just threw her in with their S&S line. The book has a fairly typical cover blurb: “An occult odyssey through the Tarot to an inner world beyond the portals of death.” Here’s the back cover text:
A hypnotically fascinating Tarot adventure to a psychedelic nether realm of mysterious fantasy where lies are truths and truths have no meaning… where terror is real and reality is always questionable…and where a valiant hero must become The Fool to succeed on a perilous quest for love through changing worlds of eternal night.
Myth, mystery and magic abound in a mesmerizing novel of considerable imaginative talent.
Louise Cooper died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 57 in 2009, leaving behind a rich legacy of much-loved fantasy. The Book of Paradox was published in paperback in February 1975 by Dell. It is 236 pages, with a cover price of $1.25. The cover is by Frank Frazetta. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition.
Today I’m turning over the Black Gate rostrum to the talented Tom Doyle. Take it away, Tom!
When my first novel, American Craftsmen, went to Tor’s production department, I received an odd request from my editor: could I put together genealogical notes and a family tree for an appendix?
An appendix? That sounded like Lord of the Rings territory, with its line of the Kings of Númenor. My book was set primarily in modern America, with a style that probably owed as much to the techno-thriller as fantasy. How did I end up with a story that required an extra, often-mocked feature commonly associated with door-stopper epics?
Perhaps my subconscious was partly to blame: I enjoy all sorts of speculative fiction, but I was raised on the big epics of high fantasy and those still give me a special kick.
But mostly, I had made deliberate choices to include certain story and style elements based on their own merits, and only after the appendix request did I realize that those elements are particularly highlighted in the epic genre.
So what elements of epic did I put in a contemporary fantasy setting, and for what purposes? First, and my use of this element is the main reason my publisher probably thought I needed an appendix, epic characters don’t just have background detail; they have histories.
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Last month, I reported on Devon Monk’s newest novel, House Immortal, the tale of Tilly Case, one of thirteen unfathomably strong creatures stitched together nearly a century ago, who finds herself tangled up in a deadly struggle between powerful Houses for dominion over death itself. One of the things I commented on in my article was the intriguing resemblance between House Immortal and the excellent short story I bought from Devon nearly 15 years ago, “Stitchery.” On her blog this week, Devon confirmed the connection.
[House Immortal] isn’t a “standard” urban fantasy, but more like a science-fiction-y urban fantasy. But even though it’s set in the future a bit, it still (I hope) reads like urban fantasy, with a strong female lead character, some butt kicking, some humor, some trouble that could spell out the end of a world or two, and a host of interesting people and places.
Publisher and Editor John O’Neill at Black Gate noted here, that it reminded him of ”Stitchery” the first short story he bought from me for Black Gate. I’m so happy he noticed! The series is based off of that short story, (albeit loosely) and Matilda, Neds, and Grandma were all first introduced in that short.
Now, the novel went quite a different way than the short story, so I think of the short story as an alternate timeline Matilda may have lived, but not the timeline she is living in the trilogy.
If you want to check it out (“Stitchery” also was chosen for David Hartwell’s Year’s Best Fantasy #2) you can find it in Black Gate #2, or in my short story collection: A Cup of Normal.
I’m very proud to see Devon nurture the terrific story idea she had for “Stitchery” into something far more ambitious. Check out her complete comments on her blog here. House Immortal was published on September 2 by Roc Books. It is 351 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital versions. The cover artist is not credited. The second volume, Infinity Bell, is scheduled to be published on March 3, 2015.
I was surprised and delighted to receive a new book in the Vlad Taltos series from Steven Brust in the mail last week.
Hawk is the 14th novel in the adventure fantasy series that began with Jhereg (reviewed by Fletcher Vredenburgh here) way back in 1983. A total of 19 are planned; the last one was Tiassa (2011), and the next is Vallista. If you’re a newcomer to the series, I highly recommend The Book of Jhereg, a paperback omnibus collection of the first three novels (Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla), which has been in print from Ace for over 15 years.
Vlad Taltos was an oppressed and underprivileged Easterner — that is, a human — living in Adrilankha, capital of the Dragaeran Empire. Life was hard. Worse, it was irritating. Then Vlad made a great discovery: Dragaerans would pay him to kill other Draegarans. Win-win!
The years of Vlad’s career as a crime boss and top assassin were cut short by a revolution, a divorce, and an attack of conscience (not necessarily in that order). In the midst of all that, he broke with the Jhereg, the Dragaeran house of organized crime. He’s been a marked man ever since. The Jhereg want to kill him. The Jhereg would love to kill him.
So Vlad’s been avoiding Adrilankha as much as possible. That hasn’t worked out too well. His life is there: his ex-wife Cawti, his son, and all his friends. One of those friends is his former assistant Kragar, who’s taken over Vlad’s old territory and criminal operations. Vlad will need Kragar’s help if he’s going to return to Adrilankha and deal with this mess.
It won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be simple. Because there are no messes like the ones you make yourself.
Hawk was published by Tor Books on October 7. It is 320 pages, priced at $24.99 in hardcover ($11.99 for the digital edition). The cover is by Stephen Hickman. Read an excerpt at Tor.com.
Today I’m turning over the Black Gate rostrum to the talented Erin Evans. Take it away, Erin!
I have a confession to make: I have a word count problem. I always have. Short fiction is a struggle. My short stories are secretly novelettes, the few true short stories I’ve written begun as flash. I struggle mightily to keep my novels leashed, but, readers, I mostly fail.
There are those that say a novel has no business being over 100,000 words, and from an editor’s perspective, I agree. More than that and there’s certainly fat to be cut, scenes you don’t need and characters cluttering up the page. More than that and you’re asking a lot from a reader — a narrative that stretches that long risks becoming meandering and slow. It risks losing your reader’s attention. It risks being put down.
But for all I know “the rules,” I love a big, fat tome of a book. Epic fantasy is my jam — and I know I’m not alone. So it’s not surprising my latest book, Fire in the Blood, eventually broke free of the leash and came in twice as big as it was supposed to be. I turned in the final manuscript, waiting to hear back that I needed to cut a whole novel’s worth of words (or more).
But my editor couldn’t cut it by much. This story was meant to be big. “I think you found your stride,” she said. “Congratulations: you’re meant for epic fantasy.”
Words every long-writing author wants to hear. Here’s how I got them.
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I enjoy reading vintage anthologies for pretty much the same reason I enjoy reading modern anthologies: they’re a great way to discover terrific new writers. Or in this case, terrific old writers.
Plus, they’re cheap. In any decent used bookstore, you can usually find at least one or two old SF anthologies priced less than a buck. (If you’re not sure what a “used book store” is, exactly, never mind. It’s even easier to find cheap anthologies on eBay, if that helps you.)
I admit I haven’t tried very many of Damon Knight’s Orbit volumes. But after making my way through most of the major SF anthologies of last century — The Hugo Winners, the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Before the Golden Age, Dangerous Visions, the Carr and Wolheim’s Year’s Best volumes — I think I’m ready to branch out a bit.
While Orbit routinely showcased some of the finest science fiction and fantasy writers of the 20th Century — including folks like Gene Wolfe, R. A. Lafferty, Philip Jose Farmer, and Knight’s wife, Kate Wilhelm — it also had something of a reputation for being on the cutting edge of the controversial New Wave. It wasn’t at all unusual to find readers loudly deriding the sometimes plotless, experimental fiction within, or criticizing fiction they disliked in letters columns around the industry as “too much like that Orbit stuff.”
Nonetheless, the series was quite popular. It ran for 21 volumes (not including a huge Best of Orbit collection) from 1966 to 1976, and helped cement’s Knight’s reputation as one of the best editors in the field. He took a lot of chances with Orbit, both in the fiction he chose and the authors he championed, but over and over again it seemed to pay off. While most editors worked hard to attract big names, Knight seemed to think nothing of having three quarters (or more) of his table of contents staffed entirely with newcomers. It must have made it difficult to attract buyers, but it certainly kept the series constantly fresh.
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About a month ago, I reported (with some delight) on my acquisition of Robert Aickman’s Dark Entries, a reprint collection of the author’s ghost stories from British publisher Faber and Faber.
I was so pleased to get it — and the book was just so damn gorgeous — that it wasn’t long before I started hunting down Faber and Faber’s other Aickman reprints: The Unsettled Dust, The Wine Dark Sea, and Cold Hand in Mine. All three are collections, gathering the author’s short stories and novellas.
Aickman has long been recognized as one of the finest horror writers in the field. He received the World Fantasy Award in 1975 for his short story, “Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal,” originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and reprinted in Cold Hand in Mine. In 1981, the same year he died, he was awarded the British Fantasy Award for “The Stains,” which originally appeared in New Terrors, and was eventually reprinted in The Unsettled Dust.
The covers of the new Faber and Faber editions are by Tim McDonagh, and they are absolutely stellar (click the images above for bigger versions). I love them all, but perhaps my favorite is The Unsettled Dust, with its subtle portrayal of two children taking a late-night shortcut across a spooky English landscape. McDonagh’s hyper-detailed, almost comic book style fits the subject matter beautifully; he captures the brooding menace of Aickman’s “strange stories” better than any artist I’ve ever seen.
All four books are currently in print in trade paperback, priced at £7.99 - £8.99, or around 8 bucks each for the digital editions. The print editions are not directly available in the US; I ordered them from an overseas book vendor through Amazon for between $8 – $9 each, plus shipping.
Mike Allen has made a name for himself with his unique blend of dark fantasy and horror. John R. Fultz called his debut novel, The Black Fire Concerto (which we published an exclusive excerpt from last August), “a post-apocalyptic melody played on strings of Terror and Sorcery. “ This month, Mike releases his long-anticipated debut short story collection, Unseaming, collecting fiction from Weird Tales, Cthulhu’s Reign, and other places. Mike’s short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award, and in a starred review, Publishers Weekly said the stories within “deliver solid shivering terror tinged with melancholy sorrow over the fragility of humankind.”
Everyone in the world awakens covered in blood-and no one knows where the blood came from. A childhood doll arrives to tear its owner’s reality limb from limb. A portal to the spirit realm stretches wide on the Appalachian Trail, and something more than human crawls through on eight legs. Words of comfort change to terrifying sounds as a force from outside time speaks through them. The buttons in the bin will unseam your flesh to bare your nastiest secrets.
Opening with “The Button Bin,” a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, and culminating with its sequel, “The Quiltmaker,” which Bram Stoker Award and Shirley Jackson Award winner Laird Barron has hailed as Mike Allen’s masterpiece, this debut collection gathers fourteen horror tales that, in the words of Barron’s introduction, “rival anything committed to paper by the likes of contemporary masters such as Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, or Caitlín Kiernan. This is raw, visceral, and sometimes bloody stuff. Primal stuff.”
Unseaming was released on October 1, 2014 by Antimatter Press. It is 222 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback and $5.99 for the digital edition. The introduction is by Laird Barron. Get more details or order a copy directly from the Antimatter website.
The setting for Henry Treece’s Red Queen, White Queen (1958) is Britain in 60 AD during the bloody uprising of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni against the Romans. RQWQ is the third book in his Celtic Tetralogy. I reviewed the fourth book, The Great Captains, his down-to-earth vision of King Arthur, last year. The other two volumes are The Golden Strangers, about the Copper Age settlement of Britain, and The Dark Island, set during Caractacus’s war against Rome.
Gemellus Ennius, a young Roman junior officer, has been transferred to Britain after five years’ service in Germany, arriving just after the onset of Boudicca’s revolt. Already she has burned the towns of Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium, killing over seventy thousand Romans and allied Britons.
When her husband died, he left his kingdom to Boudicca as well as to the emperor, in contravention of Roman laws. Not only did Rome refuse to recognize the will, but it sent soldiers to beat her and rape her daughters. Then the moneylenders called in the tremendous debts her husband had incurred and enslaved the Iceni. Boudicca became a ferocious creature forged by the cruel hands of Rome.
… Boudicca strode towards them a couple of paces and stood, her legs wide apart, staring down at them, from the wooden dais by the altar.
A short brown frieze jacket laced with thongs held her heavy breasts. From waist to ankle her legs were encased in tight-fitting trousers of deer hide. Her feet were bare and rather large. Gemellus noted that they were very red and calloused, not like the dainty feet of the Lady Lavinia, for example.
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Possibly the most rambunctious children’s author out there is Robert Munsch, whose characters drive bus loads of pigs to school, vanish beneath layers of permanent markers, and scream in the bath with sufficient volume to summon the police.
All of his (uniformly excellent) picture books employ elements of fantasy, but only once, to my knowledge, did he and his regular collaborator, illustrator Michael Martchenko, depart entirely our real and rational world long enough to include that nemesis of humanity: the green-scaled, fire-breathing dragon.
Yes, it’s The Paper Bag Princess, one of the best kids’ books I know, rife with hilarious prose, ebullient artwork, and the pluckiest heroine this side of Dorothy Gale. Who says girls can’t have adventures?
The plot is a model of efficiency. Princess Elizabeth lives in a castle, and she’s got riches and a boyfriend, Roland, whom she expects to marry. Curly blonde Roland sports a crown and a tennis racket, and just to be sure we get the idea, Martchenko adds a butterfly cloud of hearts around Elizabeth’s smitten head.
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