Fantasy Literature: Lord of Mountains or An Exercise of Wishful Thinking

Friday, March 27th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

Lord of Mountains-smallThis blog has discussed S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse in some detail for the past several months. Beware spoilers as we move on to Lord of Mountains, Stirling’s 2012 addition to the series.

The logical second third of the post-quest novel Tears of the Sun, Lord of Mountains is the Act II confrontation that follows logically from the Act I setup, and coming before The Given Sacrifice‘s Act III, resolution. That these three chapters, published separately as novels, did not appear together under the same cover is a pity.

As previously discussed, the amount of “recap” material included with each is now crippling any loyal reader’s enjoyment of the texts. In fact, even new readers now feel the grit in the gears, as every time a character new to the individual text — for example, the first time Ingolf the Wanderer appears in Tears, Lord, and Given paragraphs of material is provided to foreground the character. Unfortunately, that background is now long behind Ingolf, and the current action of the narrative. And besides, how many readers are genuinely picking up the Nth book in this series, cold? And need to be reminded? Like, that one guy in Missouri, right? Yeah, you in the hat.

Would that this need be done only one time in one larger novel of three parts. First, the overall text would shrink considerably. Second, the sense of immersion would increase (and loyal readers of this blog remember what value we genre readers place on immersion, right?). Third, the narrative would flow more naturally.

As a Bush-era Secretary of Defense once opined, one goes to war with the army one has, not the army one wished one had. This sentiment is echoed by a character in Lord of Mountains, and it applies to the novels, or extended chapters, that continue to arrive annually. Perhaps in some future republication they can be packaged together, but even then would it pay for Stirling to take the time to thin the herd of redundant descriptions? Surely not.

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Fantasy Literature: Tears of the Sun & the Frozen Pizza Effect

Friday, March 20th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

The Tears of the Sun-smallThis blog is currently late in the game of discussing S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse novels. Not exactly reviews, there are spoilers everywhere here. Watch your footing and carry on.

Book Eight of the Emberverse, Tears of the Sun carries forward from an aging, creaky The High King of Montival — downhill. What better time to talk book covers?

Despite the success of the series for Stirling’s publisher, none of the covers serve the series well. They are generic, unlovable, inaccurate, bland, forgettable, and one can only imagine Stirling holding his tongue if asked about them. They commonly show a single male figure — Mike Havel, presumably, for the first three, and Rudi/Artos thereafter — armed and armored in some random fashion. A crossbow makes an appearance on several covers, for example, and when it comes to Rudi, the image bears little resemblance to the striking description provided by Stirling.

Clearly, the publisher here proved unwilling to shell out for the services of an artist such as Michael Whelan (see his website). Self-described as “Imaginative Realism,” Whelan’s work spans decades, reflects the same qualities expressed literarily by Stirling (remember that hybridity thing?), and as far as one can tell demonstrates the artist read the text before completing the art.

The cover for The Tears of the Sun shows a prospective reader a man (got that right) with short (long) black (reddish blond) hair, wearing some form of plate armor (okay) overtopped with a many-pocketed vest (what?) and pants, combat boots, and knee pads (huh?). The sword quested after for two years of bloody narrative does not appear on the cover — instead the sword represented on the cover is a generic longsword. In the background, what looks ominously like a horde of zombies stalks our hero.

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New Treasures: Old Man’s Ghosts by Tom Lloyd

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Old Man's Ghosts-smallI’ve gotten to know a lot of writers — and aspiring writers — through my association with Black Gate over the years. Which means I’ve had the pleasure of reading many fine novels well before they’re released. Sometimes in draft, sometimes as an advance galley, and sometimes just as a favor to folks hoping for an advance review or a quick cover blurb. For a while in fact, it seemed I didn’t even pick up a novel unless I knew the author personally.

Recently I’ve been trying to change that. To go far afield, and seek out new talent from all corners of the world. I don’t know a single thing about author Tom Lloyd, for example, but I know I like the cover of his new book, and the description. What more do I need?

Some men can never outrun their ghosts. Enchei thought he’d found a home at last — a life of quiet obscurity far removed from the horror of his military days. After a decade in the Imperial City his mistakes have been few, but one has now returned to haunt him. As Narin’s pregnant lover comes to term, life has never been so perilous. There couldn’t be a worse time for a nightmare to be unleashed on the Imperial City, but luck’s rarely been on Narin’s side. Once, Enchei swore he’d take his own life rather than let his past catch up with him, but now it’s not just his own in the balance. Demons, rogue mages and vengeful noblemen haunt the city – and a man’s ghosts are always watching and waiting..

Old Man’s Ghosts was published by Gollancz on March 19, 2015. It is 400 pages, priced at $16.95 in trade paperback, and $9.99 for the digital version.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.

Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Harry Connolly

Great-Way-Final-Cover-eBook-3-copySome writers plan their careers.

They scan the top of the best seller lists, think Hmm… here’s a police procedural, this one’s steampunk, these two are zombie novels, and this one’s about angels. Great! I’ve been wanting to try steampunk. I’ll write a steampunk murder mystery about a pair of mismatched cops. One will be a zombie and the other will be an angel. No, a fallen angel who has lost his celestial whatsit.

Which is a silly example, obviously, but authors manage the non-silly version to great success. As I recall, John Scalzi has said that he wrote Old Man’s War because MilSF seemed to be selling well. There are others, too, but I hesitate to name them because writing to the market has a bit of a stigma attached to it, although it shouldn’t. More power to them, I say.*

Me, I can’t do it. Not that I haven’t tried, but I can’t make it work. I don’t read fast enough to sample the sales lists widely, I can’t make myself write a book without screwing around with the tropes of the genre, and I suffer from attack novels.

Attack novel: ( əˈtak ˈnävəl) n: a story idea that a writer can’t stop thinking about, even (especially) when they’re supposed to be working on something else.

The first book I ever sold was an attack novel. So was the first book I ever started and abandoned. They haven’t all been, but when they come on me, all I can do is put them off until I finish whatever’s on deadline.

At the beginning of March, I released an attack novel that I started five years ago, and in every way that matters, it was a book I shouldn’t have written.

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New Treasures: Star Trek: The Original Series: Savage Trade by Tony Daniel

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Star Trek Savage Trade-smallI’ve heard about many different ways that Star Trek fans have paid tribute to Leonard Nimoy over the last two weeks. For me, it was by watching Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home with my family. My kids have seen many of my favorite episodes over the years, but this was their first exposure to Nimoy as a director.

Of course, that just whet my appetite for more Star Trek. So while I’m waiting for the next episode of the excellent fan series Star Trek Continues, I thought I’d browse the latest licensed novels based on the original series. I was surprised and pleased to find Tony Daniel, author of Earthling, Metaplanetary, and the excellent The Robot’s Twilight Companion (which I reviewed for SF Site fifteen years ago), has penned a new novel, Savage Trade.

The U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of Captain James T. Kirk is en route to the extreme edge of the Alpha Quadrant, and to a region known as the Vara Nebula. Its mission: to investigate why science outpost Zeta Gibraltar is not answering all Federation hailing messages. When the Enterprise arrives, a scan shows no life forms in the science station. Kirk leads a landing party and quickly discovers the reason for the strange silence — signs of a violent firefight are everywhere. Zeta Gibraltar has been completely raided. Yet there are no bodies and the entire roster of station personnel is missing…

This is Daniel’s second Star Trek novel. The first, Devil’s Bargain (2013), is a sequel to my favorite episode, “Devil in the Dark,” and features the return of the bizarre and intelligent Horta. Savage Trade features the return of the mysterious rock creatures the Excalbians, from the season three episode “The Savage Curtain,” in which Kirk and Spock join Abraham Lincoln and the Vulcan Surak match wits against against four of the worst villains from history.

Star Trek: The Original Series: Savage Trade was published by Pocket Books on February 24, 2015. It is 384 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital edition. Read an interview with Tony Daniel about Savage Trade here, and an excerpt from the novel at Barnes & Noble.

Fantasy Literature: The High King of Montival

Saturday, March 14th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

The High King of Montival-smallFair warning: spoilers ahead. Fantasy Literature continues a week by week analysis of S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse novels. This week: Rudi, now better known as High King (or Ard Ri) Artos, figures out his nifty new sword and heads back west, where the home folks are hard pressed by the CUT and the CUT’s ally, the United States of Boise.

The quest for the sword went three full books; the series now morphs into “fighting the CUT” and the very naughty Higher Powers using the CUT as finger puppets in the shadow play that is our world.

Two battles bracket The High King of Montival. First, Artos, with his growing personal retinue, charges to the rescue of the King of the faux-Norse, beset by barbarian hordes led by a CUT high seeker. The Sword of the Lady proves to be the weapon that counts; it not only swords as if it were the Platonic Ideal Sword, it de-diabolizes those naughty high seekers at a touch.

Near the end of the novel, Ritva shines in her role as scout. In the company of post-change Mounties, she’s far ahead of Artos’s main body, moving west at speed using the rail net. CUT cavalry misses their ambush due to Ritva’s uncanny Dunedain instincts, and she’s able to sound the alarm and return to a walled village. Though wounded, she stands to defend the wall using bow and spear. Ritva falls to a blow to the head, and the action shifts to Artos, who acts to mousetrap the CUT cavalry. He deploys his faux-Norse heavy infantry to draw the CUT away from the village, saving them from certain defeat, then hammers the enemy with the hammer of his own cavalry, new recruits to his force from the Republic of Richland, Ingolf’s homeland. What few CUT escape are snapped up by a force of Lakota light horse, more usually known in the area as cattle thieves, now part of the new High Kingdom of Montival.

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Vintage Treasures: Book of the Isle by Nancy Springer

Friday, March 13th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The White Hart-small The Silver Sun-small The Sable Moon-small

I have to admit that I was always confused by this series. For several decades, to be perfectly honest.

The problem was that I could never quite figure out what order the books were meant to be read in — or even how many there were. I never did sort it out it on my own… in my first draft of this article, I arranged them in the wrong order, and I was convinced I was missing a volume. (I wasn’t.) I eventually had to turn to ISFDB and Wikipedia to get a definitive answer.

Anyway, the end result was that I never read them, despite having the entire series on my shelves (filed in the wrong order) for over 30 years. I guess it’s true what they say: books are like pretty girls… if they make you feel awkward and stupid, you rarely ask them out.

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Vintage Treasures: Sheila Gilluly’s Greenbriar Trilogy

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Greenbriar Queen-small The Crystal Keep-small Ritnym's Daughter-small

Sheila Gilluly had a brief career as a fantasy writer. She published two trilogies in the late 80s and early 90s, and has produced nothing else for the last 20 years. But I’ve always been curious about her Greenbriar Trilogy — composed of Greenbriar Queen (1988), The Crystal Keep (1988), and Ritnym’s Daughter (1989) — mostly because of the beautiful covers (click the images above for bigger versions). I’ve tried to identify the artist, but the art is uncredited in my copies, and so far an internet search has been fruitless.

Greenbriar Queen opens in a pretty dark place, with the Dark Lord’s reign about to begin, the heroes scattered, the king dead, and a traitor on the throne. If you like high stakes and desperate battles, The Greenbriar Trilogy might be for you.

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Legion from the Shadows by Karl Edward Wagner

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_9192021nLnODdJxFor those raised in this day of pure unadulterated Robert E. Howard texts, it may interest you to learn that once upon a time a flourishing industry of pastiche publication existed. There were only so many Howard stories to satisfy hordes of swords & sorcery fans, so the powers that were created more. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, the masterminds as it were, behind the pastiche industry were either greedy exploiters of Howard’s legacy or passionate fans who saw the need for further Howardian adventures. As a fan myself at the time, I was quite happy to buy and read a lot of them. Most weren’t better than alright but they scratched an itch.

De Camp (who fiddled mercilessly with Howard’s own short stories) and Carter wrote some of the weakest pastiches. For all his involvement with Howard’s fiction, de Camp never seemed to understand its nuance and why it worked. By education he was an engineer, and the need for things to be logical and systematic undermines his fiction. Carter, sadly, just didn’t have the talent to mimic the writer whose work he loved so dearly.

Unknown Swedish author, Bjorn Nyberg wrote The Return of Conan (1957). Decades later famous authors such as Poul Anderson and Andrew Offut tried their hands at the game. Howard Andrew Jones wrote a good piece on the pasticheurs a while back. Eventually a critical mass of fans and academics rose up, rightly so, to decry the inferior copies — and really, most were — of Howard’s creations.

There’s one Conan pastiche novel I remember truly liking: The Road of Kings (1979) by Karl Edward Wagner. It was good; equal parts dark and exciting. You can read Charles Rutledge’s review from a few years back here.

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Adventures In History: George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman

Monday, March 9th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

First FlashmanA few months back, I was (ever so gently) castigated for not giving proper credit to the screenwriter of the Michael York / Oliver Reed rendition of The Three Musketeers. That man was George MacDonald Fraser, he who wrote the Flashman books, a series into which I had never delved.

That has now been corrected, and just in time, too: no lesser a light than Ridley Scott (Alien; Blade Runner) is developing a reboot of Flashman with 20th Century Fox. As the fool on the hill once opined, everything old is new.

So let’s set aside fantasy for just a moment and allow for historical action-adventure as a sideline of the vast cultural behemoth that is now Black Gate. Swords, after all, form a big part of heroic fantasy, and in Flashman (first published in 1969, never out of print), swords of many types are on display and put to use. Lances, too. Plus primitive rifles, dueling pistols, and cannons.

The only thing missing? The heroism of our anti-hero, Harry Paget Flashman. He’s a survivor, and an accurate judge of other people’s character and abilities, but beyond that, he’s the very definition of reprehensible. He’s a cad, a coward, and an unrepentant racist; he’s treacherous, larcenous, and vindictive besides. Let’s leave off his appalling treatment of women, at least for now, and accept him for what he’s best at: looking sharp in military regalia. Ah, if only looks could kill…

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