Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H. P. Lovecraft

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Lovecraft Sarnath frontThe Doom that Came to Sarnath
H. P. Lovecraft
Ballantine Books (280 pages, February 1971, $0.95)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

The Doom That Came to Sarnath was the second volume of H. P. Lovecraft stories published under the BAF imprint. It served as a bridge between the Dunsanian fantasies of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and the Cthulhu Mythos related titles that followed.

Many of the stories in this volume weren’t published until years after they were written or were published in amateur press publications of the day. These days, we’d call them fanzines. The contents include the aforementioned Dunsanian fantasies, some traditional horror stories, and some early Mythos tales. Also included are a few prose poems and one selection of Lovecraft’s verse.

Rather than give a brief description of each of the 20 items in the book, I’ll highlight some of the ones I liked best, then offer some general thoughts. Carter broke the selection up into groups loosely based on either chronology or theme. I’m not that organized.  I’m also not a Lovecraft scholar, so I’m not going to comment much on the specific chronology  of the stories or try to get into the nitty gritty of Lovecraft’s authorial evolution.

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The Series Series: Diviners by Libba Bray

Friday, September 26th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Diviners Libba Bray-smallWhat does YA urban fantasy need to breathe fresh life into its tropes? Prohibition! Not your first guess, either, was it? Yet it works beautifully.

Libba Bray set The Diviners and the series it opens in 1926, in a New York where all the superstitions have just become true, and all the forms of charlatanry have just started working. Most people don’t know it yet and the ones who find that they have powers they never believed in are still isolated and afraid.

The novel opens with two party tricks gone wrong. In Manhattan, a debutante desperate to liven up her birthday bash breaks out a Ouija board and releases something nasty. In Ohio, a girl with a world-class attitude shows off her talent for psychometry and the touch of the town golden boy’s class ring reveals his secrets to her.

She flaunts what she knows. The boy’s family is rich and powerful. Pretty soon, Evie O’Neill’s parents have to send her out of town to the farthest available relative on the soonest available train. A train to New York City, perhaps the only place on Earth big enough for Evie’s personality.

These two unquiet spirits, one living and one dead, circle around one another, both growing in power and community, through six hundred pages of suspense punctuated with bursts of laughter.

One of the things that impressed me most about The Diviners is that it’s a book about the Roaring Twenties written for a generation of readers who have, for the most part, never seen a black-and-white movie.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Land of Unreason by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Land of UnreasonLand of Unreason
Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp
Ballantine Books (240 pages, January 1970, $0.95)
Cover art by Donna Violetti

Lin Carter ended the inaugural year of the BAF series with a reprint of a novel from the pulp Unknown, Hannes Bok’s The Sorcerer’s Ship. His first selection for the series’ first full calendar year was another tale from Unknown (the October 1941 issue), a collaboration between Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.

Land of Unreason followed the first two Harold Shea stories among their collaborations. In this story, they introduce a new character, a young diplomat named Fred Barber, who is taking a medical rest in the Irish country-side.

One night, he notices his hostess leaving some milk out for the fairies, so that her infant son won’t be taken and a changeling left in his place. Fred is contemplating his bottle of single malt to help him get to sleep and decides he’s rather have the milk since that has been his proven cure for insomnia all his life. Also, milk is strictly rationed, and he doesn’t want to see it wasted. He drinks most of it, leaving just a little, into which he pours a generous amount of his whiskey.

Fred then goes to bed and quickly drops off to sleep. The fairy who finds the whiskey drinks it and gets plastered. Since he didn’t get any milk, he goes into the house to take the baby and leave a changeling. Only in his inebriated state, he takes Fred rather than the infant sleeping in the next room.

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Fantasy Out Loud V: Steeleye Span Meets Terry Pratchett

Monday, September 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

815A5CiM4DL._SL1200_In late 2013, a strange event occurred: Steeleye Span, a British band that has outlived just about all other contenders except the Rolling Stones, released a CD entitled Wintersmith.

Coincidence? After all, there’s a Discworld spin-off by that name, too, a Terry Pratchett novel aimed at the young adult market and starring the infinitely resourceful tween witch, Tiffany Aching. Could there be a connection?

Indeed. It turns out that Pratchett has been a fan of Steeleye since the early seventies (“Boys Of Bedlam” was a particular favorite), and Steeleye’s lead vocalist, the incomparable Maddy Prior, has been, in turn, an unabashed fan of Pratchett’s. They got to talking, and next thing you know, the world was gifted with a terrific fantasy-driven album of folk, rock, and traditional Morris dances, all tied together by the Great A’Tuin and a nasty case of winter.

Pratchett’s Wintersmith is the third installment in the irregular Tiffany Aching series, a sort of sideline to the “official” Discworld novels (The Color Magic, et al). The story centers on Tiffany’s impulsive decision to “dance the Dark Morris,” a rite that shifts summer to winter – except that when Tiffany includes herself, both summer and winter, elemental godlings, take note of her and seek, in their own ways, to possess her. Tiffany now faces the possibility of endless winter, in the demi-human form of a smitten teenage boy.

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The Series Series: Quintessence by David Walton

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Quintessence David Walton-smallQuintessence is a story of the Age of Exploration, as it might have unfolded on a literally flat Earth where some of the wilder alchemists’ ideas were right. Here there be dragons. If you list all the cool stuff in this book, it looks like a sure bet for most fantasy readers: voyages at sea (doomed and desperate), houses of solid diamond, heresy, plucky young people changing the world, and monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

In attitude, character, and pacing, however, the book feels more like science fiction in the tradition of John W. Campbell. I grew up reading that stuff — odds are that you did, too — so I found a great deal to enjoy in Quintessence. Just not quite the things I came to the book hoping to enjoy.

David Walton’s bestiary is worth the price of admission. The man knows how to fill a fanciful ecosystem, and if he had found some comic artist to collaborate with and had published a volume of the characters’ field notes, it would have been its own weird hit.

Perhaps if the creatures had been less gloriously inventive, the characters would have felt more vivid. As the book stands, the characterization falls far enough behind the worldbuilding for the characters to feel at times like types out of Commedia Dell’Arte. That is, if Commedia Dell’Arte had been invented by John W. Campbell.

We have our earnest scientist and our mad one. We have our plucky maiden and her plucky suitor, both brilliant engineers whose talents for tinkering had gone unnoticed back in England. We have a sort of Greek chorus of thinking men whom the earnest scientific hero forms into a discussion society for brainstorming and peer review. For villains, we have a smarmy politician and a religious fanatic, who care nothing for science.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Those Sweet Silver Blues: Garrett, PI

Monday, August 11th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_BluesLast year, John O’Neill wrote a post about the Garrett PI collections by Glen Cook. The talented Cook is best known for his excellent dark fantasy series about a mercenary group, The Black Company.

The Garrett books are light years away in tone and style from those of The Black Company. However, they are identical in regards to quality of writing. Garrett is the pre-eminent fantasy PI (private investigator).

Cook has written a series of books that appeals to fans of the hardboiled PI, notably practiced by Raymond Chandler, fans of the humorous fantasy world best typified by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and to those who have read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. The fact that Cook has masterfully combined all three of these elements is admirable in the extreme.

Garrett is a former Marine who spent five inglorious years serving in the seemingly endless war between his nation of Karenta and Venagata. They battle over a region called The Cantard, home to most of the world’s silver mines. And silver is the resource that fuels sorcery. And since Karenta is ruled by the magic using Stormwardens, no cost in human capital is too great to rule The Cantard.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Deryni RisingDeryni Rising
Katherine Kurtz
August 1970
271 p., $0.95
Cover art by Bob Pepper

When Lin Carter started the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, he began by reprinting works that were obscure and/or considered classic in the field at that time, but as he wrote in the introduction to Deryni Rising, he had hoped from the very beginning to be able to publish high quality new works as well. The first original fiction he published was Deryni Rising, the first novel by Katherine Kurtz.

I think he hit the ball out of the park when he selected this one.

The story takes place in a pseudo-Welsh land called Gwynedd,. The book opens with the murder of King Brion Haldane by the sorceress Charissa. Brion and his closest friend Alaric Morgan defeated and killed her father some years ago. Brion’s murder is part of her plan for revenge.

Brion has, or rather had, the ability to practice Deryni magic. The Deryni are a long-lived race with inherent magical abilities. A few generations ago, humans and Deryni lived together in peace until a group of Deryni rose to power and severely oppressed the humans in Gwynedd. They were overthrown by a Deryni priest named Camber, who discovered a way to impart the Deryni’s magical powers to ordinary humans. At first, Camber was considered a saint, but later the Church declared him a heretic. Now some humans tolerate the Deryni, while others seek to exterminate them. Most Deryni keep a low profile. Morgan is part Deryni and doesn’t hide that fact.

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Writing a Fantasy Series

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Shadows Son Jon Sprunk-smallThe fantasy genre loves series (especially trilogies.) As a fantasy reader, I love them, too.

However, my first published novel, Shadow’s Son, was originally written as a stand-alone. I suppose I had an idea that publishers would be more inclined to take a chance on a single book from an unknown writer, so I was shocked when my agent came back with a deal for a three-book series that would become the Shadow Saga. I’m not ashamed to admit I was also a wee bit terrified.

How in the seven hells was I going to write a trilogy? I had never written anything longer than a single book before.

And each of the sequels has a contractually-agreed deadline? AND they want outlines for books two and three right away? Gulp.

Despite my trepidations, the adventure of reaching out into unknown territory was also thrilling, so I dove in head-first. What was the big deal, right? Writing a series is probably just like writing three separate books, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no.

My personal philosophy is that every novel must contain a complete story. That means my books each have their own plot that begins and ends within those pages. However, with a series there is also a series arc in play, another plot (super plot?) that starts in the first book and continues to develop through each subsequent novel to the very end.

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The Series Series: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

sword-of-the-bright-lady-mc-planck-smallIf you liked Eric Flint’s 1634 books, if you liked The Chronicles of Narnia, if you liked… Well let’s just start with those two, because Sword of the Bright Lady deals in surprising juxtapositions of familiar tropes.

At times I wondered whether it dealt in anything deeper. I’ve concluded that it does. This is a fun book and it feels like it was fun to write. The author’s acknowledgments note that it took three months to write and ten years to revise. Am I churlish to wish the revision had gone one step further?

What works here works beautifully. Less than a day after I finished reading, I had to go back and prove to myself that the narration was in the third person, because I remembered Christopher’s adventures with first-person clarity, as if they had happened to me.

Christopher went out to walk his dogs one Arizona night and woke up in the snowy hinterlands of another world. His rescuers, an earthy old churchman and his orphaned servant girl, nurse him back to health, though they have no common language with him. When he’s well enough to pick up some of the household work, he tries practicing kata from his martial arts practice back home. Before he knows it, he’s challenged to a duel by a local nobleman, blessed by a language spell that allows him to understand exactly how much danger he’s in, and claimed by the local war god.

At first, Christopher insists that he’s an everyman, not famous back home nor expected to be famous by anyone who knew him there. But as he begins to see how he can help the people who have saved him, he accepts the identity the villagers thrust on him: “Crazy Pater Christopher, who never means what everyone else means.” He sets about industrializing his feudal neighbors — who all have lively personalities and complex lives — preparing them for the spring’s military campaign, because the war god Marcius has promised to return Christopher home to his beloved wife… um… what was her name again?

And that brings us to a sticking point I have to talk about. It’s not that M.C. Planck has done anything uncommonly wrong here, but rather that he’s fallen into a classic blunder that I see committed all over the place, but that nobody seems to talk about.

Let’s call it the Precious Ming Vase Problem.

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New Treasures: One Night in Sixes by Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson

Monday, August 4th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

One Night in Sixes-smallWe get a lot of review copies every month here at the Chicago rooftop headquarters of the Black Gate global publishing empire. You know what else we get? Press releases, pre-release galleys, PDFs, free Kindle books, stuff like that. We could never leave the office, and still keep you decently posted on the newest fantasy every month.

But we don’t aim for decent. We aim to keep you completely informed on the very best in the genre. And that means putting feet on the street, talking to folks in the industry, and visiting to bookstores. Lots and lots of bookstores. Like yesterday, where I found a copy of a fascinating “rural fantasy” from new writer Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson. I would never have discovered her first novel if I hadn’t been wandering the aisles at B&N, and believe me, it deserves your attention.

The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day. Still, Appaloosa Elim has heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient animal gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.

And the daylight is running out. Elim’s so-called ‘partner’ — that lily-white lordling Sil Halfwick –- has disappeared inside the old adobe walls, hell-bent on making a name for himself among Sixes’ notorious black-market traders. Elim, whose worldly station is written in the bastard browns and whites of his cow-spotted face, doesn’t dare show up home without him.

If he ever wants to go home again, he’d better find his missing partner fast. But if he’s caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth in his own flesh – and discovering just how far he’ll go to survive the night.

One word of warning: One Night in Sixes is the kind of novel that has a 10-page glossary and 11-page “People and Place” reference in the back. If that scares you, go back to reading E. Nesbit and the Ranger’s Apprentice books. Lightweight.

One Night in Sixes was published on July 29, 2014 by Solaris Books. It is 439 pages (plus all those glossaries and stuff), priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The moody and effective cover is by Tomasz Jedruszek.

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