October Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1851216pr439k8tThe last few weeks have been particularly busy for me in my real life (as opposed to the one I lead as a dashing blogger-about-town on all things old school Swords & Sorcery) so this won’t be as complete a roundup as I’d like it to be. Fantasy Scroll #3 will have to wait until next month. As for Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I failed to read either issue last month, but looking at October’s authors, I see World Fantasy Award-winning (for the splendid “The Telling“) Gregory Norman Bossert, along with some other talented writers, so let’s just assume you should go check them out for yourself.

What I did manage to read were magazines I never miss – Swords and Sorcery Magazine (#33) and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (#22). I’ve been following the former since the third issue, so I never want to miss out on what happens next. As for HFQ, it’s consistently the best — and my favorite — magazine for heroic fantasy, which means as soon as it hits the electronic superhighway, I try to check it out.

Swords and Sorcery Magazine #33 presents us with its usual quota of two new stories. In ages past, Jonathan Nathaniel De Este, commander of Queen Isabella’s Dark Army and protagonist of Alex B.’s “Black Water“, “drank the Black Water and took the Darkness upon his spirit.” Every other man who did that found himself transformed into a bestial man or a complete beast. Only Jonathan has managed to hold onto a portion of his humanity and prevent himself from being changed externally as well as internally.

It’s an interesting story filled with grisly bits. There’s real potential for some exploration of Jonathan’s past and motives, but it’s not supplied. The mystery over his relationship to a picture of a princess is left only vaguely answered at best.

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Seven – Temple Tower

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

BD06-01Temple_Tower_1st_edition_book_coverTemple Tower (1929) was the sixth Bulldog Drummond novel and marked a departure from the series formula. Having killed Carl Peterson off at the conclusion of the fourth book and dealt with his embittered mistress Irma’s revenge scheme as the plot of the fifth book, Sapper took the series in an unexpected direction by turning to French pulp fiction for inspiration.

Sapper also placed Hugh Drummond in a supporting role and elevated his loyal friend Peter Darrell to the role of narrator. The subsequent success of the venerable movie series and the future controversies generated by Sapper’s reactionary politics and bigotry obscured the versatility of his narratives and led to his being under-appreciated when considered with his peers.

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Monsters, Lobster Women, and Creepy Cats: Explore the Dark Side of the Circus in Nightmare Carnival

Friday, November 14th, 2014 | Posted by James McGlothlin

Nightmare Carnival-smallDepending on your perspective, a carnival or a circus can generate a host of pleasant or not-so-pleasant associations. You may have been thrilled by lions and elephants performing tricks, riding the Ferris wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl, or even eating popcorn and hotdogs.  Or perhaps you mainly associate carnivals and circuses with less pleasant things… like creepy clowns, freak shows, spooky fortune-tellers, and carnies. (No offense to the people that make carnivals possible!)

A newly released anthology, Nightmare Carnival, tends to present carnivals and circuses from this darker end of the scale. This new collection of dark fantasy and horror is edited by the inestimable Ellen Datlow, editor of scores of genre anthologies and the winner of many, many awards, including the Hugo, the Bram Stoker, the Shirley Jackson, and most recently the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. Datlow continues to show her impeccable ability for spotting good and chilling stories with Nightmare Carnival.

I’m a huge fan of Datlow’s horror anthologies. I raved about her latest Year’s Best Horror volume just a few months ago at Black Gate. Some of her efforts are better than others, and Nightmare Carnival is definitely one of Datlow’s better anthologies. As usual, she has corralled an impressive list of authors, as well as a few lesser known (at least to me). I’ll discuss a few of the best stories here.

I’m not familiar with N. Lee Wood, but her story “Scapegoats,” the leadoff story, was excellent. It is mainly told from the perspective of Mae, “The Amazing Lobster Woman,” part of the World Famous Bishop Brothers Traveling Carnival. Through Mae, we become acquainted with the various characters of this train-traveling carnival/circus, particularly a gentle elephant named Madelaine. The story focuses upon the carnival’s arrival in a small town, where an unjust incident involving Madelaine ends with a local man’s death, and the unfair consequences for the carnival. I won’t spoil the ending, but the title should give you some idea. And let me say that the ‘scapegoat’ scene is fairly traumatic. However, the ending offers something of a just desert, at least by some moral compasses.

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Epic Fantasy from the Father of Sword & Soul: Abengoni: First Calling by Charles R. Saunders

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_105284GMwxHNOHAfter DAW killed the fourth Imaro novel, for nearly twenty years Charles R. Saunders’s published swords & sorcery output was limited to only a few short stories. Since 2006, starting with the reprinting of Imaro, new books from him have been appearing at a furious rate. In addition to new novels starring his established S&S characters, Imaro and Dossouye, he introduced a new pulp hero, Damballa.

Abengoni: First Calling (A:FC) is the first book in Charles R. Saunders’s foray into epic fantasy. From one of the masters of the 1970s golden age of swords & sorcery comes a project in the works for the past decade. And thanks to Milton Davis’s MVmedia, it’s seeing the light of day.

Full disclosure here: Milton Davis asked me to preview this book earlier this year and give him a blurb if I felt like it. Well, I jumped at the chance to read a new Charles Saunders book. That’s like asking if I want to hear some unreleased Led Zeppelin tracks before they hit the general public. There was no way I was going to say no. And before I go any further, I love the book and gave Milton this blurb I totally stand by:

“In Abengoni: First Calling, Charles Saunders writes the sort of epic fantasy I want to read. He tells the tale, with its large cast of sharply drawn characters and complex history, in a wonderfully spare and fast-paced style that doesn’t waste time getting to where it’s going. I can’t wait for the next book.”

When Saunders first created Imaro, his literary inspiration was Robert E. Howard. In this book, the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien is at work. He has specifically cited the two authors as his main influences. But in both cases, what he wrote was inspired by larger issues as well.

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In Praise Of Pavane

Monday, November 10th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Pavane hardcover-smallThe power of place. Where we’ve been, what we see, the lighting and the weather. These things hold us, sink roots into our nervous system; they unfurl massive Yggdrasils that coil within, then twist into memory.

So it must have been for author Keith Roberts, and his encounters with Corfe Castle, in southwest England. He built his story cycle Pavane around Corfe, almost as an homage.

I understand, I do, for I first saw Corfe – indeed, the only time I have ever seen Corfe – in 1976, in the rain, with my family. I was nine, but I have never forgotten that tusk of a castle, the last spike of it spearing skyward from a sharp, steep hill, the flanks yellow-green with shaggy, unkempt grass. A chain-link fence enclosed the base of the hill, and we could not get in.

My father was furious. Rain and all, he’d had plans to hike us up that hill, to see the ruin for ourselves, up close and appropriately personal. Instead, we never got out of our rented car – it really was the soggiest of days, British to the core — but I see that spike of mortared stone to this day, standing proudly in the storm and refusing, absolutely refusing to come down.

So it is for Keith Roberts, as his stories swirl around and finally come to roost at Corfe, a rebuilt Corfe, a Corfe in an alternate history where the keep’s motte and donjon have stood the test of time, and war now, against mighty odds, with Holy Rome.

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Self-Published Book Review: Spirit of a Kyrie by T. L. Rese

Monday, November 10th, 2014 | Posted by Donald Crankshaw

If you have a book you’d like me to review, please see the submission guidelines here. I’ve run short on books that I’ve received in the past year, so anything new has a good chance of being reviewed.

Spirit of a Kyrie

I’ve been at World Fantasy this weekend, and I fell a bit behind in writing this review, so it’s a little later than usual. World Fantasy was great fun, where I had the opportunity to spend some time with some of the esteemed luminaries of Black Gate, including Mike Allen and John O’Neill himself. Nonetheless I apologize for the delay.

This month’s book is Spirit of a Kyrie by T. L. Rese. Kityrah is a young girl with ambitions curtailed by her environment. Growing up poor in the Sallarah Desert during a famine, she and her brothers beg and steal to help their family survive on more than their meagre wolly herd. Her older sister arranges for her to be promised to the son of a wealthy family on the Shores, but Kit is unsatisfied with that life, and instead steals away to seek a new one. Through a combination of ambition and boldness, she manages to join the knights. The story is focused on her rise as a Hopeful for each of the various levels of knighthood, starting with Ash, then Furian, and finally Kyrion. For each level, she must pass a difficult and deadly test, one which most of the Hopefuls fail, many dying in the process.

T. L. Rese’s world is rich and detailed and very different from our own. A lot of the difference is in the little things: Coals that you can carry in your hand or your pocket, but that burst into flame on command. The shape-changing weapons carried by the knights, each class of knight bearing a distinct and lethal set of weapons. The wollies who seem to be dog-and-sheep hybrids, and the fire-breathing eira birds. With so much of the world different, it’s not always clear what you should expect. This is especially true when the descriptions are too spare, and the reader is left puzzling over why things work the way they do, expecting the rules to be the same as those in our world when they are not. In a few places, it sounded like the things Kit was doing were physically impossible, and I couldn’t be sure whether it was just that the world was different.

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The Series Series: The Godless by Ben Peek

Friday, November 7th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Godless Ben Peek-smallA fresh, fascinating story hides in this book. The gods are dead — their bodies litter the earth — but their powers leak into the lives of mortal men and women. And sometimes, tragically, children. Deific power is messy. One sprouts extra limbs, trails plagues in one’s wake, or combusts and takes out whole buildings. It’s a curse, isn’t it, to bear such power?

Ayae, a young apprentice cartographer, took refuge in a city built on a dead god’s bones when her homeland fell. Now an army of fanatics marches on her new home and those fanatics seem to want to wake the dead gods. What will Ayae do now that she’s cursed with the local god’s power over fire? She could be a doomsday weapon or a loose cannon that destroys the people she cares about. Her best hope for help in mastering her powers is a man so old he remembers the world as it was before the gods died, fifteen-thousand years ago. He’s been wise. He’s been mad. He has done terrible things with the power that curses him. Ayae wants to trust Zaifyr, but he doesn’t always trust himself. The dead — human and divine — talk to him, and the dead have their own agenda.

Alas, the story is hiding, not in the sense of requiring a brisk readerly workout to piece the clues together, but rather in the sense of having been copyedited so poorly that it’s hard at times to figure out what the author is trying to make many of the sentences say.

I’ve written reviews before of books with lots of promise that could have used one last pass of polishing. This is not that.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Spawn of Cthulhu edited by Lin Carter

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

The Spawn of Cthulhu edited by Lin Carter-smallThe Spawn of Cthulhu
H. P. Lovecraft and Others
Lin Carter, ed.
Ballantine Books (274 pages, October 1971, $0.95)
Cover by Gervasio Gallardo

Lin Carter edited more than one anthology for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Up until now, I’ve not discussed any of them. One reason is that where I am sequentially, there have only been two. The other reason is it’s easier to discuss a single novel than the contents of an anthology.

I’m going to break with that practice for this particular entry in the series. Carter has built a thematic Mythos anthology with The Spawn of Cthulhu. Taking references to the work of other writers referenced in Lovecraft’s short novel “The Whisperer in Darkness,” Carter then proceeds to include either the story referenced or other stories written about the Old Ones mentioned.

I’m going to include some mild spoilers in this post. If that is of concern to you, then let this paragraph serve as your warning. The discussion will start after on the other side of the Read More link just below.

Let’s start with “The Whisperer in Darkness,” shall we? It’s 85 pages long, by far the lengthiest story in the book. The story concerns a folklorist at Arkham University named Wilmarth who is writing a series of newspaper articles debunking sightings of strange bodies seen in swollen rivers and creeks after a particularly bad storm in Vermont. The articles generate some lively discussion in the paper, and are eventually reprinted in Vermont papers.

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The End of the Story: Sorceress of the Witch World by Andre Norton

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_324651kfYzNZDkAndre Norton’s Sorceress of the Witch World (1968) completes the trilogy begun with Three Against the Witch World and continued in Warlock of the Witch World. (Follow the links to read my reviews here on Black Gate). The trilogy itself is a continuation of Norton’s Witch World saga begun in Witch World and followed with Web of the Witch World.

The heroes of the first two novels, Simon Tregarth and his wife Jaelithe, mysteriously disappear at the beginning of the trilogy. Their triplets, born between Web of the Witch World and this trilogy, are searching for them. Each volume tells the adventures of one of the siblings, Kyllan, Kemoc, and Kaththea.

In Three, brothers Kyllan and Kemoc rescue their sister Kaththea from her forced induction into the ranks of the Witches and escape into the magically hidden eastern land, Escore. In addition, the warrior Kyllan’s talents are put to the test against a growing horde of vile enemies. In Warlock, the scholarly Kemoc travels across dimensions to rescue his sister from her evil suitor.

You can probably tell from the title that Kaththea herself takes center stage in Sorceress of the Witch World. For reasons related to her situation in the previous book, Kaththea is spiritually damaged. Sadly, for the reader that damage seems to have rendered her a little boring also. She narrates the entire story in a dull voice that distances the reader from the action.

At the end of Warlock, Kaththea lost most of her magical abilities. Now, fearing that stripped of her defenses she is vulnerable to control by the powers of Shadow, she decides she must return to the West and seek guidance from the very same Witches from whom she once fled.

While trying to cross the mountains back into the West Kaththea’s party is caught in an avalanche. She is taken prisoner by a hunter from the Inuit-like nomads, the Vupsall. She manages to escape from the tribe during a bloody attack on their camp by raiders. Armed with magical knowledge gleaned from the possessions of the tribe’s wise woman, she makes for a great ruined city nearby. Hoping to escape the forces of Shadow she still fears, she enters an old dimensional gate. She doesn’t know what lay on the other side, only hoping it will be some sort of sanctuary. What she encounters are tremendous dangers in an utterly alien world.

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A Modern Classic of Heroic Fantasy: The Sword of Demelza by J. E. Rogers

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

The Sword of Demelza-small

In the shadow of Fortress Demelza, the lives of three friends collide, forging an unlikely friendship. Devon, a young red fox, along with Erik and Emma, two young marsupials, learn that an evil king has gained control of a powerful sword. Under the king’s command, a demon thylacine and dragon lizards are burning villages and threatening the peaceful creatures of the countryside. In an act of desperation, the three friends realize they must put everything aside and join a rebel army whose main purpose is to end the reign of the king!
— from the back cover of The Sword of Demelza

And so it begins, this magical story — which was a ForeWard Clarion Reviews Book of the Year Finalist for 2013, and also received Honorable Mention in the 2013 Writer’s Digest eBook Awards.

It has been many a year since I read a fantasy written for middle graders, but this one was first brought to my attention during a comment “thread” in a Facebook group for indie authors. A few days later, it was highly recommended to me by an adult friend who found herself caught up in the characters, action, and adventure when reading some chapters to her young son, who was bedridden with the flu at the time. So I bought a copy for myself, stretched out on the couch the day it arrived, and got lost inside the story, just as my friend had. Like any good novel, whether it’s written for children, teens, or adults of any age, The Sword of Demelza picks you up, pulls you in, and takes you on a grand adventure.

J. E. Rogers’s first novel is driven by its characters, with the perfect balance of plot to keep the reader entranced by and invested in the overall story. Unlike so many novels, where formula and tired old clichés drive the story, The Sword of Demelza is something new and fun — partly because the setting, a fully-realized, alternate version of Australia, is so masterfully handled by Rogers. But it isn’t just the setting that draws you into this novel, like so many deeply woven fantasy stories, although the author has certainly done her homework — this wonderful novel is filled with great detail and research.

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