Greco-Roman Mummy Masks in the Egyptian Museum

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Mask of a boy named Heraklion, Roman Period 2nd century AD.
This painted plaster mask covered the head and chest of the
mummy. Heraklion offers a bunch of grapes to a small bird.

Visitors to Egypt tend to want to see the great sites of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the splendid temples around Luxor are all well worth a visit, but Egypt’s later periods are of interest as well. I just went on one of my semi-regular trips to Egypt with the specific intent to study the Greco-Roman period. It plays a role in the third book in my Masked Man of Cairo neo-pulp series and there’s no better inspiration than actually seeing the sites and artifacts themselves.

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With Dark and Twisted Turns: Bad Times at the El Royale

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 | Posted by Tina Jens

Bad Times at the El Royale

I just watched Bad Times at the El Royale and really liked it. It was clearly influenced by the best of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

The cast is an impressive one, including Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth (giving a remarkable messianic performance worthy of Jim Morrison), and Nick Offerman (in a small role). Cynthia Erivo also does her own singing. Her voice, like her acting, is stunning, and she provides the soundtrack to much of the movie.

Dakota Johnson, Cailee Spaeny, and Mark O’Brien also turn in top-notch performances. All the actors are excellent, and I do mean that. I’ve never seen a movie that was more perfectly cast and perfectly acted.

It toys with who the protagonist or point of view character is, slipping in and out of each character deftly. Each is revealed to be not who we thought they were, and then when we think we know who they really are, that’s proven wrong, too. With dark and twisted turns it explores the question of what is good and what is evil. It posits that there’s more than a little of each in all of us.

The movie handles time slips really well, which allows us to see scenes from different perspectives, turning our understanding of the events upside down.

The pacing is unusual, which is probably why the movie wasn’t a bigger hit. In the beginning, particularly, you have to settle in and not try to rush it. It starts out at a low simmer, lulling you into a false belief that you know what’s coming next. That makes the reveals that are coming far more powerful.

Vintage Treasures: The Passing of the Dragons by Keith Roberts

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Passing of the Dragons-small The Passing of the Dragons-back-small

Keith Roberts, who was active as an SF writer from the 60s through the 80s, has had the kind of posthumous success most authors can only dream of. His 1968 fix-up novel Pavane was called “Alternate History’s Lost Masterpiece” by io9 in 2009, nine years after his death:

I found it dense, unclear…and brilliant… This is a book to read once, get stuck, return to with a clear head, blast through, and then read again in search of deeper meanings. They are definitely there, and they are definitely worth finding.

In a 2016 piece at Dave Hutchinson called Pavane “a significant achievement, by any measure. I was utterly bowled over by it.” And in his SF Site review back in 2001, Rich Horton compared it favorably to The Man in the High Castle:

The recent crop of alternate history stories, enjoyable as some of them may be, seem largely minor works… The shadows of two great AH novels of the 60s loom over the present-day offerings, both books with their ambition and success, and their moral centre, trivializing the current work. These are Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1963), winner of the Hugo Award, and Keith Roberts’ Pavane.

Okay, okay, I get it. I should read Pavane. But, you know, I’m busy. Doesn’t Keith Roberts have anything shorter I can read, just so I can nod along at science fiction cocktail parties, and mumble things like, “Yeah, totally love the guy?” Yes. Yes he does. Thank God. Turns out he has no less than nine collections, including a sort of “Best of” collection of his early short fiction, The Passing of the Dragons, published in paperback by Berkley Medallion in 1977.

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Weird and Wonderful and Frightening: An Interview with Fantasy Renaissance Man Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Killing of Kings-smaller Howard Andrew Jones thinks big thoughts-small

Howard Andrew Jones is a true renaissance man of modern fantasy. He began writing short stories featuring his Arabian heroes Dabir & Asim for magazines and anthologies like Paradox, Sages & Swords, and Black Gate. He switched to novels with the widely acclaimed The Desert of Souls, one of the major works of fantasy of 2011. He followed that with a sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones (2011), and a 4-book sequence for Pathfinder Tales: Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast, Beyond the Pool of Stars, and Through the Gate in the Sea.

In addition to writing, he’s also a gifted editor. He edited eight volumes of the collected tales of Harold Lamb for Bison Books, rescuing the early short fiction of one of the greatest adventure writers of the 20th Century from the moldering pages of pulp magazines. He was Managing Editor for the early e-zine Flashing Swords from 2004-2006, and in 2006 accepted the position of Managing Editor of Black Gate. He is the founding editor of Goodman Games’ new sword & sorcery magazine Tales From the Magician’s Skull, which published two issues last year. And in late 2018 he became Executive Editor at Perilous Worlds, where he oversees the publication of new titles for some of most popular properties in fantasy, including John C. Hocking’s Conan and the Emerald Lotus and Conan and the Living Plague.

Though that keeps him plenty busy, he has not neglected his own writing. For the Killing of Kings, the first novel in a brand new series, The Ring-Sworn trilogy, arrives today from St. Martin’s Press. It’s the top pick of the month of March for Bookpage, and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, saying it “will have readers laughing, crying, and cheering.” Somehow Howard found time to sit down with us for a lengthy interview about his writing process, his influences (including Zelazny, Raymond Chandler, and Leigh Brackett), and the fast-changing trends he sees from his catbird seat in the industry. Enjoy.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Australian Gnomes, by Robert Ingpen

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Robert Ingpen

Cover by Robert Ingpen

The Ditmar Awards are named for Australian fan Martin James Ditmar Jenssen. Founded in 1969 as an award to be given by the Australian National Convention, during a discussion about the name for the award, Jenssen offered to pay for the award if it were named the Ditmar. His name was accepted and he wound up paying for the award for more years than he had planned. Ditmar would eventually win the Ditmar Award for best fan artist twice, once in 2002 and again in 2010. The Ditmar Award for Best Australian Long Fiction (alternatively, Best Australian Novel) has been presented each year the Ditmar Awards have existed. The 1979 award was won by Robert Ingpen for his artbook, Australian Gnomes at Swancon 5, held in Perth.

In 1979, in his Ditmar Award winning book Australian Gnomes, Australian author/artist Robert Ingpen created a version of Australia in which gnomes lived, mostly unseen, amongst humans, much as Brian Froud would do with the subsequent Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book (1984). Since Australia is a land of immigrants, Ingpen’s gnomes also came from different places around the world, each group retaining ties to its specific culture of origin and based on the human society from whence they came. His gnomes come from Ireland, Northern and Southern Europe, Mongolia, and Argentina. Just as with the humans who have settled Australia, they have built a combination culture even while retaining their ties to their homelands.

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The Poison Apple: Mr. Sci-Fi: An Interview with Marc Zicree and the Future with Space Command

Monday, February 18th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Crowens


Crowens: I wanted to interview someone whose focus was not only the entertainment industry but also science fiction. Previously, almost everyone I’ve interviewed has been involved in fantasy or horror. After following you on Facebook I really wanted to interview you. Right away, I’ve been able to pick up on your “contagious enthusiasm” and high energy.

Zicree: Glad I could do it.

What was your very first job in the entertainment industry, and how did you get your foot in the door?

I grew up reading in the genre watching the original versions of Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and I started going to science fiction conventions when I was a teenager growing up here in LA. My heroes were the writers. There was a lot of crossover from the stories I read and the writers from those three shows: Richard Mathieson, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Harlan Ellison… they were all doing books and TV shows. When I was ten, I heard Ray Bradbury speak at a local library — a huge influence, and I became a big fan. When I was around fifteen or sixteen-years-old I started going to conventions and meeting them, and from there they became mentors.

There was also a radio show on KPFK in Los Angeles called Hour 25, and they interviewed all the great science fiction writers. Around 1973 when I was eighteen, I wrote a half hour radio play that was a satire of science fiction conventions, TV shows and movies called Lobotomy. So, I wrote, directed and acted in it with three of my friends and it aired on KPFK. On that same show, I heard Harlan Ellison talking about the Clarion Writer’s Workshop. When I was nineteen and an art student at UCLA, I attended Clarion that summer. It was at Michigan State University. The students included people like Kim Stanley Robinson and Robert Crais, who became well-known science fiction and mystery novelists, respectively. Our teachers were Gene Wolfe, Roger Zelazny, Samuel R. Delaney, Kate Wilhelm, Damon Knight and Joe Haldeman – all very famous and accomplished science fiction writers. It was a great lineup.

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Hither Came Conan: David C. Smith on Pool of the Black One

Monday, February 18th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Val Mayerik - Savage Sword of Conan #22

Val Mayerik – Savage Sword of Conan #22

Welcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert (and me) examine one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. Up today, it’s author and Howard literary biographer David C. Smith. I reda Oron long before I discovered Conan. Read on!

By mid-1932, when Robert E. Howard wrote “The Pool of the Black One,” his tenth story to feature Conan the Cimmerian, he was well past the journeyman phase of his career. The very successful Sailor Costigan boxing stories had been appearing regularly in Fight Stories since the summer of 1929; Howard was becoming one of the prize contributors to Oriental Stories with his historical fiction set during the Crusades; and his stories featuring King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn and the ancient Picts had earned him star status as one of the premier contributors to Weird Tales.

Of the first four Conan stories written in early 1932, Farnsworth Wright had accepted for publication “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Tower of the Elephant.” These stories, together with the two unsold manuscripts — “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and “The God in the Bowl” — make clear that Howard was finding his way with the character and with his Hyborian Age setting. Conan is introduced in “The Phoenix on the Sword” as the regal king of Aquilonia; in the unsold second story, “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” he is a lustful young man eager to rape a beautiful goddess. The weird and imaginative “The Tower of the Elephant” takes place in a haunted tower, introduces a space alien trapped by the magic of an evil sorcerer, and concludes with a comically dark turn equal to any of Clark Ashton Smith’s stories. “The God in the Bowl,” on the other hand, is essentially a murder-mystery.

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Swashbuckling Adventure with that Classic Epic Fantasy Feel: The Empire of Storms Trilogy by Jon Skovron

Sunday, February 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Hope and Red-smal Bane and Shadow-small Blood and Tempest-small

Cover art by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

I’m in the market for a quick read this President’s Day weekend. Something light, with fun characters, a great setting, and a lot of action. I found a copy of Jon Skovron’s Blood and Tempest in the bookstore last weekend and, even though it’s clearly the third book in a series, it seemed exactly what I was looking for, and I happily brought it home. The first two, Hope and Red (2016) and Bane and Shadow (2017), are still in print, and I added them to my Amazon cart.

For light action fare, these books have collected a lot of praise. The Sun labeled the first one “A great swashbuckling adventure,” and in a starred review Publishers Weekly called it “Exceptional… A compelling coming-of-age yarn.” And Sarah Beth Durst (The Queen of Blood) said

Hope and Red is my favorite book of the year. Full of nonstop, irresistible adventure, it captures that wonderful classic epic fantasy feel, while introducing a fantastic pair of memorable new heroes.

Together the three books compose The Empire of Storms trilogy, about a warrior and a thief who go up against the forces of Empire. Here’s the description for the opening book.

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A Rare and Powerful Book of Magic: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Sunday, February 17th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I’ve gotten used to being a decade or two behind the times. I just got Netflix a few weeks ago, I don’t have a cell phone, and I still cling to some vestigial regard for the political and civic institutions of my native land. Yeah, I know – I’m a real museum piece, sure to be coming soon to a display case near you, right next to a stuffed Neanderthal skinning a rabbit with his teeth.

So when I decided that the next book I read would be something recent, and having plucked it from THE PILE, I wasn’t distressed – or even much surprised – when I glanced at the copyright page and saw that this “new” book’s date of publication was 2004. 2004! There are tech billionaires who were in kindergarten then. (Heck, there are tech billionaires who are in kindergarten now.) So much for recent.

But none of that matters, because that not-nearly-as-new-as-I-thought-it-was book, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, is, without qualification, one of the greatest fantasy novels I’ve ever read, and I started reading them when Richard Nixon was president.

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Future Treasures: The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books by John Wade

Saturday, February 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Golden Age of Science Fiction A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books-smallJohn Wade is the author of more than thirty books published in the US and the UK, including London Curiosities and The Ingenious Victorians. His newest is The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books, a gorgeous hardcover that celebrates classic science fiction in all its forms. Well, the early forms that made vintage SF what it is, anyway.

John Wade grew up in the 1950s, a decade that has since been dubbed the ‘golden age of science fiction.’ It was a wonderful decade for science fiction, but not so great for young fans. With early television broadcasts being advertised for the first time as ‘unsuitable for children’ and the inescapable barrier of the ‘X’ certificate in the cinema barring anyone under the age of sixteen, the author had only the radio to fall back on – and that turned out to be more fertile for the budding SF fan than might otherwise have been thought. Which is probably why, as he grew older, rediscovering those old TV broadcasts and films that had been out of bounds when he was a kid took on a lure that soon became an obsession.

For him, the super-accuracy and amazing technical quality of today’s science fiction films pale into insignificance beside the radio, early TV and B-picture films about people who built rockets in their back gardens and flew them to lost planets, or tales of aliens who wanted to take over, if not our entire world, then at least our bodies. This book is a personal account of John Wade’s fascination with the genre across all the entertainment media in which it appeared – the sort of stuff he revelled in as a young boy – and still enjoys today.

Science Fiction has long been a genre of obsession, though modern fans have a healthy range of sub-genres to obsess over, like video games, anime, role playing games, comics, television, Marvel movies, Star Wars, toys, Star Trek, George R.R. Martin, and many others. In the 1950s there was just magazines, movies…. and radio.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction has a lot of appeal for me, since I hope it will be a look at the genre from a fresh perspective…. well, fresh to me, anyway. I don’t know much about classic SF radio and 1950s monster movies, I’m looking forward to it. It will be published by Pen and Sword Books on February 28, 2019. It is 240 pages, priced at £25.00/$42.95 US. Get more details at the Pen and Sword website here.

See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy releases here.

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