The Omnibus Volumes of P.N. Elrod: The Vampire Files

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Vampire Files Volume One The Vampire Files Volume Two-small The Vampire Files Volume Three

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t initially interested in P.N. Elrod’s The Vampire Files. A few things happened to change that.

First, I started to hear about Jack Fleming, the investigative journalist in Prohibition-era Chicago who becomes a vampire and private investigator, and whose first case was to solve his own murder. Folks used adjectives like “surprising” and “old fashioned fun” to describe his adventures. That sounded pretty good. By then, the series had gotten pretty far along, and I wondered idly if I should pick one up. But it seemed a little late to jump on board, and I was never really sure what volume to start with. Plus some of the earlier books became harder to find, and it all seemed like just a bit too much effort.

Then Ace Books released the first omnibus volume in 2003, containing the first three Vampire Files novels. And, well, you know what a sucker I am for omnibus collections. All those hard-to-find paperbacks, in one handsome and economical package? It’s too much to resist.

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New Treasures: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Girl With All the Gifts-smallI like knowing the premise of a book before I start reading it. I think that’s fairly normal. But what happens when knowing the premise is a spoiler, and the publisher won’t tell you?

That seems to be the case with the trade paperback reprint of M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, which I found on the New Releases table at Barnes and Noble last Saturday. The front and back cover reveal almost nothing about the book, beyond calling it “The Most Original Thriller You Will Read This Year,” and this cryptic text on the back:

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

Instead of a plot synopsis, the book is plastered with blurbs… lots and lots of them. Joss Whedon says “So surprising, so warm and yet so chilling… as fresh as it is terrifying.” Vogue calls it “Haunting, heart-breaking,” Marie Claire says it’s “Tense and fast-paced with a heartwarming tenderness,” and Reader’s Guide gushes with “Propulsive, imaginative.”

Wait a minute. Vogue? Marie Claire? Last time I picked up something Marie Claire called “heartwarming,” I ended up reading Eat, Pray, Love. I don’t want that to happen again.

A little investigation (I have sources) reveals that The Girl With All the Gifts is, in fact, a genre novel. It’s (mild spoiler!) some kind of future dystopia. Revealing more than that would be telling, but suffice to say that I’m very intrigued indeed.

This is M.R. Carey’s first novel. The Girl With All the Gifts was published by Orbit Books on April 28. It is 435 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback.

Allen Koszowski’s Inhuman Magazine #6 Now on Sale

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Inhuman 6-smallWell here’s an unexpected bit of good news. Allen Koszowski’s Inhuman Magazine, which I had listed as defunct in our mid-May Fantasy Magazine Rack, has just released a new issue.

Allen Koszowski is a terrifically talented guy. I hired him to illustrate our reprint of Edmond Hamilton’s first story, “The Monster-God of Mamurth,” and he delivered three marvelous pieces that appeared in Black Gate 2. Since 2004 he’s been involved in the most noble and selfless act of creation known to humankind — publishing his own magazine. Allen K’s Inhuman Magazine is a monster magazine that consistently features the top names in dark fantasy and horror, and Allen handles the art for each story personally.

Centipede Press took over production with issue #5, and the magazine looks better than ever. Issue #6 is the first in four years, and it features original stories by Tim Curran, Peter Rawlik (two stories), Don D’Ammassa, Lee Weinstein, C. J. Henderson, J. F. Gonzalez, Marilyn “Mattie” Brahen, Weston Osche, and Randall D. Larson, plus reprints from Michael Bishop, Darrell Schweitzer, Gahan Wilson, Jason Van Hollander, and Chad Hensley and W. H. Pugmire. The magazine also includes verse and art from David Sutton, Kurt Newton, Justin Gustainis, Jill Bauman, Cullen Bunn, Gene O’Neill, William C. Rassmussen, Stephen Jones, Bob Eggleton, Augie Weidemann, Robert H. Knox, Nick Gucker, Chris Kuchta, Steve Gilberts, Alex Lakhtarnik, and Allen Koszowski. The artists this issue are all part of a special gallery section dedicated to The Thing from Another World.

The magazine is huge — 208 pages! — and copiously illustrated. It is perfect bound for the criminally low price of just $6.99. Copies of the latest issue can be hard to come by, but at least two eBay vendors are currently stocking it at cover price. Check it out — I think you’ll enjoy it.

We last covered Inhuman Magazine with Issue #5. See all of our recent magazine coverage here.

Charles de Lint and The Little Country

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

The Little CountryIn talking about portal fantasies last time, I was moved to reread one of the more unusual examples of the sub-genre, Charles de Lint’s The Little Country (1991).

The book is in a very real sense two books, but it isn’t a simple play-within-a-play, story-within-a-story thing: Each book is being read by the protagonist of the other. The now-overused self-referential concept known as “meta” wasn’t so common when The Little Country was written, but it might have been invented to describe the novel. The book is extremely self-aware, something which even the protagonists are forced to recognize.

The two stories do run parallel to one another, but this isn’t a case of success in one world reflecting or depending on success in the other world, as we see in King and Straub’s The Talisman, for example. The characters don’t overlap, the settings aren’t the same, though you might say that the outcomes are. There is a physical object common to both worlds, a standing stone with an opening through which objects and people can pass. Both worlds have the tradition that passing through the stone nine times at moonrise effects some magical change – entrance into the land of the faerie, a cure for sickness or barrenness, etc.

In the thread which most resembles our world, Janey Little, a twenty-something traditional musician, finds a book in her grandfather’s attic – a one-of-a-kind hitherto unknown work left in her grandfather’s keeping by the author, an old and eccentric friend. The book is called “The Little Country.”

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Vintage Treasures: A Touch of Strange by Theodore Sturgeon

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Touch of Strange 1959-small A Touch of Strange 1965-small A Touch of Strange 1970-small

I’ve really been enjoying this gradual survey I’ve been doing of Theodore Sturgeon’s paperbacks. It hasn’t been a particularly deliberate undertaking… the truth is that, as I come across his books, I’ve been talking about them. This week I stumbled on a copy of the 1965 Berkley edition of A Touch of Strange (above middle), and here we are.

Part of the reason I enjoy them is that I find it fascinating that a writer could have made a decent living in this business selling almost exclusively short stories. Sturgeon did write five novels (six, if you want to count his 1961 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea novelization), but he’s far more well known for more than two dozen short fiction collections. And it was upon them that he largely built his considerable reputation.

Another reason is that I genuinely find it delightful to catalog the different editions, and note all the variations. A Touch of Strange was reprinted five times, by three different publishers, between 1958 and 1978, before it vanished from bookstores forever. Each of those editions is unique, not just in cover art and design, but also in how it was packaged and presented — and, in some cases, in content as well.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: The Testament of Tall Eagle by John R. Fultz

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Testament of Tall Eagle-smallBlack Gate is very pleased to offer our readers an exclusive excerpt from The Testament of Tall Eagle by John R. Fultz, the new fantasy novel from the author of the Books of the Shaper trilogy.

A second mountain sat atop the first. Yet the second mountain was made of glowing gold, beaded with shimmering crystals set in weird designs. The second mountain had been carved into slim, pointed spires like tremendous teepees of gold. Giant domes of sparkling stone gleamed brighter than Mother Moon at her fullest… All these things thrilled me and stole my heaving breath, but it was the eagles that filled my heart with joy.

Between the golden spires a flock of eagles soared. They skirted the surrounding peaks, and sometimes I heard their shrill songs tearing through the sky. Here are the Lords of All Eagles, I thought. The Eagle Spirit himself must live here. These are his people…

I had no idea how huge these eagles were until one of them descended. The light of the golden mountain made it a massive shadow winging toward me. It did not cry out, but I felt the great beating of its wings. They made a wind that nearly knocked me backwards, where I would have fallen to my death. But I knew no fear in the face of that great bird, for it served the Eagle Spirit, and had it not called me here?

John’s Books of the Shaper trilogy includes Seven Princes,Seven Kings, and Seven Sorcerers (Orbit Books). His short story collection, The Revelations of Zang, is a series of interrelated tales born in the pages of Weird Tales and Black Gate. His website is

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Jon Sprunk, Tara Cardinal and Alex Bledsoe, E.E. Knight, Vaughn Heppner,  Howard Andrew Jones, David Evan Harris, John C. Hocking, Michael Shea, Aaron Bradford Starr, Martha Wells, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, C.S.E. Cooney, and many others, is here.

The Testament of Tall Eagle will be published by Ragnarok Publications on June 8, 2015. It is 400 pages and available in digital format for $4.99. Learn more at Ragnarok Publications.

Read the complete first chapter of The Testament of Tall Eagle here.

Future Treasures: Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Knight's Shadow-smallThe highly-anticipated second book in Sebastien de Castell’s The Greatcoats series is due next month, and I’m really looking forward to it. Sarah Avery’s rave review of the first volume, Traitor’s Blade, should help you understand why.

Not only did I love this book, I trusted it. Somehow, de Castell managed in his debut novel to win my trust so completely and quickly that he could tell nearly half of his story in flashback, often for a chapter at a stretch, and never once did he throw me out of the waking dream of fiction to wonder whether he could pull it off…

As the story opens, our three Greatcoat heroes need to get out of town fast, so they take a job guarding a mysterious lady’s caravan, hoping her freedom to travel will protect them. And it does, sort of, until she leads them to Rijou, the most lawless, most ruthless, most corrupt city in all of Tristia.

It’s not difficult to imagine Traitor’s Blade as a western about circuit-riding judges in the boomtown days of Deadwood. There is something of the noir detective tale, too, about the bloody case Falcio vows to solve in Rijou. The flashbacks to the fall of King Paelis are intimately tragic, genuinely moving, and crucial to solving the puzzle that forms the novel’s overarching plot.

Knight’s Shadow will be published on June 2 by Quercus and Jo Fletcher Books. It is 580 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover, and $12.99 for the digital edition.

How To Write a Good Fight Scene

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Marshall Versus the Assassins-small

…my fight scenes trigger your mirror neurons (apparently).

You can’t. Not a generically good fight scene. Just like a good love scene, “good” for a fight scene depends on the literary purpose and the audience.

Let’s assume, though, that you are writing some kind of action adventure yarn — I’m qualified to advise on this because this is what I write professionally, and my fight scenes trigger your mirror neurons (apparently) – here’s what I’d tell you over a beer.

Have a Model of How the Relevant Martial Art Works

By “model” I mean that you can describe to yourself how this kind of fighting works. E.g. is it all “cut parry cut”, or about crossing blades then working on the blade, or wrestling or what?

It helps if your model is based on reality or at least experimental reconstructions — if you’re using any European weapons, check out Youtube using the search term “HEMA”. You can of course make everything up, however more and more people are becoming HEMA-literate, so there is a good chance your book will date horribly.

The model should account for all the equipment used by your combatants, e.g. What is a shield for? What weapons break the armour? This ties the combat scene into the rest of the world story and brings to life the military culture and technology. For example, if combat requires a shield, then losing a shield can drive part of the plot. Oh, and, whatever you do, don’t treat armour as set dressing or costume. If it doesn’t stop weapons, nobody would wear it.

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Ancient Worlds: Caenis, Caeneus, and the Aftermath of Rape

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

Poseidon_Penteskouphia_Louvre_CA452Sometimes a planned topic and the news intersect in unexpected ways. I had planned for some time to cover this particular episode in Ovid, but this week’s decision by The Mary Sue to discontinue active promotion of Game of Thrones gives it a relevance that we in the Classics don’t usually get to experience. I’ll link to The Mary Sue’s explanation of their decision here, but the short version is that they were no longer interested in promoting a show that made such regular use of rape as a storytelling device. A heated debate has ensued in several quarters, over The Mary Sue’s decision, the show in question, and over the portrayal of sexual assault in fiction.

This is by no means a new debate. Rape has been, sadly, part of human experience for as long as we have had storytelling. Its presence in the earliest works we have in the canon attests this fact. What has varied is how it is portrayed, both in terms of the act itself and its lasting effect on both its victims and society at large. The myth of the Rape of Persephone is used to explain the seasons; the Roman Historian Livy tells us that the expulsion of the kings of Rome was triggered by the devastating aftermath of the rape of Lucretia.

But no artist spent as much time investigating the lingering effects of rape like Ovid. The Metamorphoses is filled with stories of rape and familial sexual abuse, and the author doesn’t shy away from any of it. But that doesn’t mean he lingers over it, either: he depictions of assaults are vivid but never graphic. And unlike many modern depictions he doesn’t spend much time on the assaults themselves. What Ovid chooses to focus on is the long term ramifications of sexual violence, the way it shapes lives, families, destinies, and the landscape itself (remember Apollo and the Laurel tree?).

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Fletcher Vredenburgh’s Simakpalooza!

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

SimakpaloozaI don’t have time to read many other blogs. I barely have time to read this one, what with all the time I spend reading, and writing, and telling my wife how awesome Mad Max: Fury Road is. Seriously honey, sooo awesome. I wish I got to ride  in the desert, and take a giant chain elevator to work every day. Is there a word for when you envy the baddass folks who live in an apocalyptic dystopia? There should be such a word. And I bet that word would be awesome.

Anyway, I appreciate those moments when I get to read blogs written by other folks. Especially when they’re folks like Fletcher Vredenburgh, and especially especially when they look at one of my favorite writers, as Fletcher did this week with his Simakpalooza! (Is there a word for when you envy a writer who makes up a word? There should be such a word.) Here’s a sample:

I’m not sure what the first story I read by Clifford Simak was, but the first I remember is “Desertion.” It’s part of the book he’s probably most famous for, City. The novel is a mournful farewell to humanity and Earth and stars robot butlers and talking dogs… There’s a tremendous sense of wonder in the tale as the nature of what’s going on is revealed. I think of it as the story that showed me the true potential of sci-fi…

Sadly, Clifford Simak seems to have slipped into the ranks of the unjustly forgotten sci-fi writers of the past. Growing up, he was just part of the general fabric of sci-fi [for me], and most fellow sci-fi fans I knew had read at least something by him…

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Simak. John O’Neill’s post about The Goblin Reservation and the comments reminded me how much I loved his work. There’s a warmth and comfortableness to his stories that I love.

Fletcher created an impressive tapestry of images from 17 Simak paperbacks to accompany his article (a tiny snippet is at right). Read the whole thing here.

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