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Knight at the Movies: SIEGE (1983), or SELF DEFENSE or possibly NIGHT WARRIORS

Knight at the Movies: SIEGE (1983), or SELF DEFENSE or possibly NIGHT WARRIORS

You ever watch one of the long video game cutscenes that passes for movies these days and think “I kinda miss old, raw-looking films, like early Romero and Carpenter. Something that had teeth. Heart. Balls. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.”

Whether they do or don’t make them like that anymore is another blog post, but a good way to go back and get that early Romero vibe is to seek out overlooked titles from the era. One of those is the Canuxploitation shocker Siege (1983) (released in the USA as Self Defense and sometimes Night Warriors). Thanks to Severin Films, this lost thriller is now available to today’s Blu-ray audience and streaming through sites like Amazon.

Now I’ve seen this movie labeled online as pastiche/homage/ripoff of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. YMMV, but to me this is the work of a couple of filmmakers (Paul Donovan and Maura O’Connell of DEFCON-4 fame, most memorable for its excellent poster) who love Assault and want to make something like it, but improve on its weaknesses. They gave the attackers faces, names, and characters, cutting down the numbers to a handful, and made the defenders more vulnerable by putting them in two-story apartment quad, rather than a fortress-like police station. But I get ahead of myself.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Aztecs and Iron Chandeliers – Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Return of the Sorceress

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Aztecs and Iron Chandeliers – Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Return of the Sorceress

The Return of the Sorceress (Subterranean, June 2021). Cover by Fang Xinyu

One of the best things about Moreno-Garcia is that she writes whatever the hell she wants, and it is up to others to categorize it. In an era where authors are often told to “stay in their lane” (be that about what ethnicities or cultures they write about, or what genres the can write in without resorting to pen names), SMG has, in a short span of years, written Gothic horror,  vampires, in a pseudo-cyberpunk dystopian near future, edited a feminist anthology of Cthulhoid terror, a dark fairytale of Mayan gods set in 1920s Mexico, romance, and a thriller set in 1979. Much like Quentin Tarantino, Moreno-Garcia takes the themes and tropes of pulp fiction — noir, crime, romance, horror, fantasy, and infuses it with something new; in her case, often via the landscape of 20th century Mexico.

Now, with her novella, The Return of the Sorceress, the prolific author adds sword and sorcery to the mix. It’s a slender volume, the long novelette or novella being sword & sorcery’s preferred and most effective form, and the tale is a fairly straightforward story of revenge vs. redemption. Yalxi rose from insignificance to leadership of the Guild of Sorcerers; a position she only achieved by murdering her master, Teotah, the Guild’s previous Supreme Master. Unfortunately, at the heart of her power, was a diamond “heart,” set in a pectoral collar, rested from Teotah, and not stolen by Yalxi’s lover and confidant, Xellah.

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Ghosts of the Past, Ghosts of the Present: December Tales, edited by J.D. Horn

Ghosts of the Past, Ghosts of the Present: December Tales, edited by J.D. Horn

 

December Tales: A Collection of New and Classic Ghost Stories
Edited by J.D. Horn; Foreword by Colin Dickey
Curious Blue Press (468 pages, $19.95 paperback/$5.95 digital formats, September 28, 2021)

The title of the present anthology refers to the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time, a tradition enforced by Charles Dickens, who not only wrote the famous “A Christmas Carol” but also edited Victorian era magazines regularly featuring ghost stories in their Christmas issues.

Truth be told, ghost stories are now available throughout the year and, fortunately, modern writers are still devoted to the genre.

Editor J.D. Horn has developed the brilliant idea of assembling in one volume both classical ghostly tales from various parts of the world and brand new stories by contemporary authors.

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Galloway Gallegher — Kuttner’s Sauced Scientist

Galloway Gallegher — Kuttner’s Sauced Scientist

Robots Have No Tails (Lancer, 1973). Cover by Ron Walotsky

Try this one on for size…you go to sleep one night and have a lively dream. You see yourself doing wonderful things, creating new devices based on principles so advanced you can’t even image how they could be. You don’t question the fact that it is a dream because you know that, normally, you could never build such fabulous, world-changing technologies. It’s all kind of fuzzy though — what you’re building, the people you’re interacting with, everything.

When you wake in the morning you discover any number of strange devices in your house. You have no idea what they are, how they work, or where they came from. The phone rings. Apparently, there are several people to whom you now owe a lot money. You’ve never met any of them before but they seem to know you. Is it a scam? You hope so because one of them is suing you for breach of contract. Another is taking you to court for assault and battery. What happened? Could your dreams have been real somehow? Regardless, it seems that you’re now morally responsible for a whole lot of trouble.

This is essentially the premise of Henry Kuttner’s five Galloway/Gallegher stories: “Time Locker” (1943), “The World Is Mine” (1943), “The Proud Robot” (1943), “Gallegher Plus” (1943), and “Ex Machina” (1948).

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In 500 Words or Less: Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

In 500 Words or Less: Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

Plague Birds by Jason Sanford
Apex Publications (274 pages, $16.95 paperback/$6.99 eBook, Sept 21, 2021)
Cover by Marcela Bolívar

I remember not long ago when CRISPR was on the tip of a lot of people’s tongues, among science fiction writers as well as the general public. Obviously we’re focused on other topics in science and medicine right now, but sooner or later people will come back to asking whether gene editing should be allowed, what should be permissible, and the possibilities if this branch of science is allowed to run unchecked.

Jason Sanford deals with that last point in Plague Birds, by jumping ahead thousands of years after a total societal collapse caused in part by conflict between genetically modified humans. The set-up and frame here is pretty cool: millennia after this collapse, humans live in isolated settlements and mostly stay away from each other, protected by AIs that are gradually weeding out the “crisper” inside their DNA. We get to see a lot of how the world has changed, but the real focus is on Crista, a young woman forced to become one of the “plague birds” who essentially root out the most heinous wrongdoers among the settlements – though it often isn’t a simple job.

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Arthur C. Clarke: Omnibuses, Collections, and Remixes

Arthur C. Clarke: Omnibuses, Collections, and Remixes

Omnibuses:
Across the Sea of Stars (Harcourt Brace World, 1959)
From the Ocean, From the Stars (Harcourt Brace World, 1961)
Prelude to Mars (Harcourt Brace World, 1965; book club edition shown)
The Lion of Comarre and Against the Fall of Night (Harcourt Brace World, 1968; book club edition shown)

Arthur C. Clarke was one of the major science fiction writers of the 1950s through the 1970s; his biggest claim to fame was as coauthor, along with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, of the film and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was a British scientist who lived most of his life in Ceylon, later known as Sri Lanka, and wrote numerous books about his skin diving adventures in that area. He began publishing short stories as early as 1937, and his novels beginning in the 1950s included Childhood’s End, The City and the Stars, and Rendezvous with Rama.

This is the first of two posts about Arthur C. Clarke’s short fiction, which comprise nearly 100 titles and include such famous works as “The Star” and “The Nine Billion Names of God,” not to mention “The Sentinel,” one of the  (several) inspirations for 2001. This post will trace the overlaps between Clarke’s early collections and the later “omnibuses” and “remixes.” The next post will review the stories, both in general terms and to highlight the 8 or 10 or 12 best, or most significant, Clarke stories, in my judgment.

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When the Goddess Wakes by Howard Andrew Jones

When the Goddess Wakes by Howard Andrew Jones

When comes my numbered day, I will meet it smiling. For I’ll have kept this oath.

I shall use my arms to shield the weak.

I shall use my lips to speak the truth, and my eyes to seek it.

I shall use my hand to mete justice to high and to low, and I will weigh all things with heart and mind.

Where I walk the laws will follow, for I am the sword of my people and the shepherd of their lands.

When I fall, I will rise through my brothers and my sisters, for I am eternal.

Pledge of the Altenerai

 

And with When the Goddess Wakes, Howard Andrew Jones’s Ring-Sworn Trilogy comes to a rousing conclusion. Perhaps the series’ greatest asset is its completion. In one two-and-a-half-year span — complete with a plague — all three books have appeared and that’s it, there ain’t no more. I waited six years between installments of Glen Cook’s Black Company, and millions of people have been waiting ten years for the next volume of A Song of Ice and Fire (good luck with that). Jones got in and got out, producing three tightly-plotted and -paced novels. For that alone, as a reader I say, “Thank you!” But there’s more to it than that.

The first book, For the Killing of Kings (2019) introduces the Altenerai, a corps of superior warriors complete with magical talents. They are dedicated to protecting the five realms of the Dendressi from forces magical and mundane. Just as it is discovered that a kingdom-destabilizing conspiracy leads right to the Queen, the five realms are invaded by the Naor, a brutal barbarian horde. Less than a decade earlier the Naor were almost victorious. This time around, most of the greatest Altenerai are missing or dead, and it seems as though only a pair of young Altenerai and a few veterans are ready to stand against the Dendressi’s enemies. That book ends grimly, with death and destruction and what seems certain victory of both the Naor and the Queen.

Upon the Flight of the Queen (2019) {That’s two books in one year, folks! It can be done.} begins right where the previous book left off, with death and destruction continuing apace. The Naor march on the capital, Darassus, and the Queen’s plot to resurrect a long lost goddess in order to create a utopia is revealed. Each promises destruction for the Dendressi. Both are thwarted, but the Queen escapes with every intention of carrying out her plan.

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Goth Chick News Reviews: My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

Goth Chick News Reviews: My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

My Heart is a Chainsaw (Saga Press, August 2021)

Over the Labor Day weekend, I got to do something I have literally not been able to do for close to four years. And before you ask, it had nothing to do with goat leggings or full moons.

Having been trapped in academic hell since January 2018 when I made the questionable decision to pursue a doctorate degree, I have had zero time to enjoy simple pleasures. Like sleeping, or having a weekend off. However, the thing I missed most was devoting an entire day (or two) to devouring a good book. To me, there is nothing quite as awesome as parking myself with some snacks and a cold drink, then tucking in to a novel from cover to cover. Due to a series of fortunate events, that is precisely what I was able to do this last Sunday and Monday.

Knowing I would have this extremely rare extravagance, I did another thing I haven’t done in ages:  spend a few hours at my local Barnes and Nobel choosing the perfect title. In the “new releases” section I found My Heart is a Chainsaw by prolific horror writer Stephen Graham Jones, which had just hit shelves on August 31st.

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Once There Were Two Rabbits…Watership Down by Richard Adams

Once There Were Two Rabbits…Watership Down by Richard Adams

When I was young I watched numerous live-action animal movies on The Wonderful World of Disney (Sunday nights on NBC, right after Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom). There was Run, Cougar, Run (1972), Nikki, Dog of the North (1961), and my favorite, The Incredible Journey (1963). I had, of course, also seen Bambi (1942), an animated movie that gave voice to its animal characters, unlike the live-action ones. The point being, when my friend Karl told me about an exciting book he’d just read about the adventures of rabbits, it sounded like something I’d like. Watership Down (1972) turned out to be nothing like the movies I’d seen and much more than just a book about rabbits.

Richard Adams, a British civil servant in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, created stories to tell his daughters on car rides. He began with the words “Once there were two rabbits called Hazel and Fiver”. The stories were set in and around the real Watership Down, a grass-covered hill in Hampshire, England. It wasn’t long before his daughters insisted he write them down, and in 1966 he started to do just that. After a years-long search for a publisher, Watership Down was released and achieved commercial and critical success, garnering several awards for children’s literature as well.

The bare bones of the novel’s plot are that a band of male rabbits flee their home warren to find a safe place to establish a new one. Along the way, they face adversity in the forms of scarcity, topography, weather, animal predators, and, of course, man. Unlike all those Disney movies, though, Adams wasn’t content to tell a naturalistic story of rabbits in the wild like a lagomorphic version of Tarka the Otter (1927). In the most basic sense, then, Watership Down is not allegorical; Adams repeatedly made that clear. Nonetheless, he dug deep into the sorts of mythic tropes Joseph Campbell explored in works like The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)* and the novel is brimming with archetypal elements, e.g. the young man maturing into a hero, self-sacrifice, existential struggles against evil and death. Though devised as a non-allegorical children’s work, Watership Down, informed by Adams’s conservatism and Christianity, addresses some of the deepest issues of humanity and society without ever stooping to didacticism or condescension. Even socialists have discovered great political meaning in the book.

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The Dream of the Numinous: Carl Sagan’s Contact

The Dream of the Numinous: Carl Sagan’s Contact

Contact by Carl Sagan
First Edition: Simon and Schuster, October 1985, Jacket painting by Jon Lomberg

Contact
by Carl Sagan
Simon and Schuster (432 pages, $18.95, Hardcover, October 1985)
Jacket painting by Jon Lomberg

Carl Sagan is known as the greatest science popularizer who was also a legitimate scientist of the late 20th century. His landmark achievement was a 13-part TV series, Cosmos, broadcast in 1980, and its companion book of that same year. Sagan was an astronomer and planetary scientist, whose achievements included planning the first Mariner mission to Venus in the 1960s and the Viking landers on Mars in 1976. His first popular book, The Cosmic Connection (1973), won a special nonfiction John W. Campbell Memorial Award – the only time that award went to a nonfiction book – in 1974. Indeed, that’s how I first heard of Carl Sagan, having been following the science fiction awards for just a year or two, at my age then.

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