The Adventure Stories We’ve Needed: Crossbones & Crosses: An Anthology of Heroic Swashbuckling Adventure, edited by Jason M. Waltz

Thursday, June 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Crossbones & Crosses-small

Art by Dieder Normand

There’s been no shortage of publishing events in 2019, but one of the most exciting for me personally has been the return of Rogue Blades Entertainment.

In its heyday about a decade ago, RBE was well on the way to becoming the most important adventure fantasy publisher in the US. With a back catalog that included Writing Fantasy Heroes (which included contributions from luminaries such as Steven Erikson, Brandon Sanderson, Orson Scott Card, Glen Cook, and Howard Andrew Jones), and hit anthologies like Rage of the Behemoth (2009) and Demons (2010), it had built a loyal customer base and a stellar reputation. Then the creative mastermind behind Rogue Blades, Jason M. Waltz, scaled back operations to make certain they could reliably deliver on their long-term commitments.

It was a strategy that paid off. The contest anthology Challenge! Discovery, RBE’s first new book in four years, appeared in 2017, and Crazy Town, a brand new anthology of hard boiled tales, arrived to wide acclaim in November. And the book I’ve really been waiting for, Crossbones & Crosses, an anthology of Heroic Swashbuckling Adventure, was published just last month with a stellar cover by artist Dieder Normand.

Crossbones & Crosses is a collection of new and reprint tales of swashbuckling historical adventure featuring pirates and crusaders. Contributors include Howard Andrew Jones, Keith Taylor, C.L. Werner, and many others. Here’s a snippet from Keith West’s review at Adventures Fantastic.

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IMHO: A Personal Look at Dystopian Fiction — Part Two: J.G. Ballard

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Empire of the Sun-small Crash Ballard-small The Wind from Nowhere Ballard-small

For the sake of this article, and not wanting to rely on memory alone, I’ve used a brief synopsis of each novel mentioned here, courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you read Part 1 of this article you’ll know about some of the older novels of dystopian fiction upon which I grew up, novels that surely inspired many other writers… novels I’d hate to see get tossed in a pile or in a corner to collect dust with all the other forgotten novels. Today I’m going to talk about one writer in particular: J. G. Ballard.

Ballard’s memoirs of being a kid during WWII were made into a fairly good film by Steven Spielberg, starring Christian Bale when he was just a kid: Empire of the Sun. Film director David Cronenberg turned Ballard’s strange, erotic and haunting novel Crash into a strange, erotic and haunting film. I’ve read most of Ballard’s short stories, and a number of his other novels, but my personal favorites are his Quartet of Elemental Apocalypse, as one critic dubbed the series. To me, they truly depict dystopian futures. Ballard had a great talent for creating interesting, believable characters, making his stories more character-driven than plot- or action-driven. He excelled at pitting ordinary people against extraordinary odds, and his plots contained many an unexpected twist and turn.

The Wind from Nowhere is Ballard’s debut novel published in 1961; he had previously published only short stories, which I also highly recommend. This is the novel that launched his apocalyptic quartet — his “series” dealing with scenarios of natural disasters. In this novel, civilization is reduced to ruins by prolonged worldwide hurricane force winds. As an added dimension, Ballard explores how disaster and tragedy can bond people together in ways that no normal experiences ever could.

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A Whole World of Metal Men?

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

1937-10-17 San Francisco Examiner [American Weekly 3] A Whole World of Metal Men, The Last Robot

“Creaking painfully, its joints rusty, the last robot to survive the civilization which man is making to replace the dwindling crop of babies, would crawl along to a heap of scrap-iron, the cemetery for defunct robots.

“Rain, ceaseless torrents of rain, would bring the germs of the only disease which could possibly affect a mechanical man: Rust.”

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Night Shift, by Stephen King

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Fred Marcellino

Cover by Fred Marcellino

Outer cover by Don Brautigam

Outer cover by Don Brautigam

Inner cover by Don Brautigam

Inner cover by Don Brautigam

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won the award. The final awards were presented in 1985. The Balrog Award for Collection/Anthology was presented each year that the awards were active.

The stories in Night Shift cover a period from the late 1960s through 1976, a time when King was maturing as an author and finding his own voice as well as becoming a best selling author. Many of the stones in Night Shift would form the basis of novels and films, notably “Jerusalem’s Lot,” “Lawnmower Man,” “children of the corn,” and “Graveyard Shift.”

King opens The collection with “Jerusalem’s Lot,” which was a previously unpublished version of his novel Salem’s Lot. Although King comments that the story has a basis in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it’s even more obvious antecedents are the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Even as King tries to emulate Lovecraft’s style, he never quite captures it, making the story of The Boone family in  Maine feel overwritten rather than chilling. By the time King gets to “The Man Who Loves Flowers,” he has discovered that a more naturalistic world provides the opportunity for much more chilling horror. The fantastic creatures of “Jerusalem’s Lot” could only happen in fiction or dreams, but the sociopathic horror of kings’ protagonist in he later story could be anyone the reader meets on the street.

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New Treasures: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter-small The Affair of the Mysterious Letter-back-small

Have you ever picked up a book in a bookstore and known instantly it was coming home with you? That’s exactly what happened with The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall when I plucked it off the shelf on Saturday. Glancing over the top-rated Amazon reviews (kimbacaffeinate sums it up as a “Sherlockian based tale set off planet and filled with magic, vampires, gods and limitless worlds,” and Sherry M. calls it “Clever and very funny queer mashup of Holmes/weird fantasy”) when I got home reassured me I’d definitely made a wise purchase.

But it was this blurb from Ruthanna Emrys, author of Winter Tide and Deep Roots, that convinced me I’d found my reading project for the week.

This book is so far up my alley that I discovered new, non-euclidean corners of the alley that I didn’t previously know existed. The world has heretofore suffered from a sad lack of queer consulting sorceresses, prudish-yet-romantic Azathoth cultists, existentially surreal urban planning, and post-colonial Carcosan politics.

Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new — very new — twist on some of the most famous characters in literature, in a book that’s equal parts homage to Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is not the kind of book I expect to see from Ace Books these days, but that’s their logo right there on the spine. It was published by Ace on June 18, 2019. It is 340 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Adam Auerbach. Read the first six chapters (29 pages) here.


Reflecting The World

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

Diverse Rome

Yes, there were black people in Europe, dating as far back as the Bronze Age. Kindly get over it.

Good morning, Readers!

It’s pride month, so I’m going to talk about representation.

As much as speculative fiction can be an escape from the world, it is also a reflection of the world in which we live. It reflects to us our failings, fears and hopes in fantastical settings. Often times, these are set in worlds which are supposed to closely reflect our own world, or its history. But there’s a problem.

They don’t. Not really. Or rather, not often.

In fact, so pervasive is this psuedo-representation that now there is outrage when something closer to reality is portrayed in speculative fiction, be it book or film.

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Vengeful Gods, Deadly Monsters, and Secrets: God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston

Monday, June 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Traitor-God-medium God of Broken Things-small

Cameron Johnston’s The Traitor God was one of the big fantasy debuts of last year, so I was delighted to find the sequel on the shelves during my regular trek to Barnes & Noble this weekend. In his weekly roundup of the best new SF & fantasy at The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog last Tuesday, Joel Cunningham waxed enthusiastic:

Outcast mage Edrin Walker has saved the world, but at great cost: he’s defeated the monster unleashed by his enemies, but it has already infected the leaders of his city with mind-controlling parasites…. and an [army] of invaders in marching on the city. Edrin gathers a band of anti-heroes to head them off in the mountains, but there also lie difficult trials: vengeful gods, deadly monsters, and secrets Edrin would rather stay buried. A wicked sense of humor and a cast of flawed but striving-for-good characters keeps this mid-series entry from getting too grimdark.

I never got around to reading The Traitor God last year, but the addition of God of Broken Things to the series makes it a lot more irresistible. They look damn good in my TBR pile, anyway. Here’s the publisher’s description for the sequel.

Tyrant magus Edrin Walker destroyed the monster sent by the Skallgrim, but not before it laid waste to Setharis, and infested their magical elite with mind-controlling parasites. Edrin’s own Gift to seize the minds of others was cracked by the strain of battle, and he barely survives the interrogation of a captured magus. There’s no time for recovery though: a Skallgrim army is marching on the mountain passes of the Clanhold. Edrin and a coterie of villains race to stop them, but the mountains are filled with gods, daemons, magic, and his hideous past. Walker must stop at nothing to win, even if that means losing his mind. Or worse…

God of Broken Things was published by Angry Robot on June 11, 2019. It is 432 pages, priced at $12.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Jan Weßbecher. Read an excerpt at the Angry Robot website.


Hither Came Conan: Jeffrey Shanks on “A Witch Shall Be Born”

Monday, June 17th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_WitchTreeofWoeEDITEDThree stories to go! This week, Robert E Howard Foundation multiple time award winner, Jeffrey Shanks, takes on “A Witch Shall Be Born.” That ain’t exactly an easy task. See what he’s got to say about this one.

Thou Shalt Not Suffer “A Witch Shall Be Born” — Or Maybe You Should?

“A Witch Shall Be Born” is not usually on anyone’s list of the top tier Conan stories – despite containing what could arguably be the most powerful and iconic scene in the entire series. The tepid reception to “Witch” is not entirely unfounded – the novella-length yarn is heavy on exposition, awkwardly constructed, poorly paced at times, and somewhat anticlimactic in its dénouement. And yet it has moments in which Howard’s powerful vision shines through the flaws. Howard Jones and Bill Ward noted in their recent REH Re-Read series  that it feels a bit like a draft, and I tend to agree. The story was written hastily in just a few days as Patrice Louinet has noted, and feels a little like a piece of choice meat that is a bit undercooked – It could have used another minute on the grill, but it’s still pretty damn tasty.

“Witch” was published in Weird Tales in the December1934 issue. As with “Black Colossus, it is a Hyborian version of one of Howard’s blood and thunder, Harold Lamb-style “Oriental” tales, in the same vein as the Crusades yarns he had been writing a few years earlier. The small kingdom of Khauran in which much of the story is set is something of analog to the historical Crusader kingdom of Outremer, a Western (Hyborian) polity precariously set on the fringes of the Eastern steppes.

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Vintage Treasures: Out of the Deeps by John Wyndham

Sunday, June 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Out of the Deeps John Wyndham-small Out of the Deeps John Wyndham-back-small

Del Rey / Ballantine edition, 1977. Art by Vincent Di Fate

John Wyndham is best remembered these days for his classic SF horror novels The Day of the Triffids (1951), The Chrysalids (1955), and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) (filmed twice as Village of the Damned, the second time by John Carpenter). But he had a lengthy career in the pulps, publishing dozens of stories in Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, and other places under the name John Beynon Harris and John Beynon. Much of his early pulp fiction was collected in Sleepers of Mars (Coronet Books, 1973) and two volumes of The Best of John Wyndham (Sphere Books, 1973).

He published seven novels under the name John Wyndham between 1951 – 1968, starting with The Day of the Triffids, and these are the books that made his reputation. The second was The Kraken Wakes (1953), published in the US as Out of the Deeps. Like most of his Wyndham material, it has been continuously in print for most of the past six decades. In a 2009 review at Tor.com, Jo Walton wrote:

I’d remembered it as being a cosy catastrophe where the world is destroyed by sea monsters, and rather second-tier Wyndham, but I’d done it an injustice. The Kraken Wakes is quite an unusual cosy catastrophe, and really much more interesting than I’d remembered it.

To start with, it’s an alien invasion. The first things are “red dots,” fiery meteors landing in the deep sea, which are actually alien craft. It’s speculated that they might come from Jupiter or Neptune and like living at high pressure under water, and it’s speculated that humanity could share the planet with them, since they need different things. The rest of the book is a series of attacks by the aliens, never called krakens in the book, culminating in the scene that starts the novel where rising sea water and icebergs in the Channel have entirely changed the climate and landscape of Britain and the protagonists are trying to escape. This is essentially the story of how some very unusual aliens conquer the world in 1953, and it’s much closer to The War of the Worlds than it is to Wyndham’s other novels.

I never managed to acquire a copy until two weeks ago, when I tracked down the handsome Del Rey reprint above, with the fine Di Fate cover (Del Rey reprinted several Wyndham paperbacks at the same time, including The Midwich Cuckoos, which I discussed here). The Del Rey edition is a nice slender book (182 pages), and looks like a perfect summer read. It’s been too long since I’ve read Wyndham, and I’m very much looking forward to it.


New Spec-Fic of a Cold, Hard Type

Sunday, June 16th, 2019 | Posted by Frederic S. Durbin

Paradigm Shifts Typewritten Tales of Digital Collapse-small Escapements Typewritten Tales from Post-Digital Worlds-small

In the 21st century we were connected, interconnected. We had efficiency, convenience, escapist entertainment as real as life. We soared through a glowing cosmos of information, faster and faster. We knew it all, saw it all; we were everywhere at once, and nothing seemed beyond reach.

And then it all went away.

A deafening silence followed like a sleep, a seed gone into the ground. A death and rebirth. In the stillness, the isolation, we learned to see and hear again, to think and feel as if for the first time. The way forward was the way back. In the strange new world, our fingers found the old keys; the typeslugs found ribbons newly inked, and words formed again.

Cold Hard Type, a two-volume fiction anthology just released from Loose Dog Press, depicts a changing season for humankind. Volume 1, Paradigm Shifts: Typewritten Tales of Digital Collapse, imagines the end of the internet, the demise of smartphones, and the impact of this new reality on those determined to survive. Volume 2, Escapements: Typewritten Tales from Post-Digital Worlds, continues to follow the inhabitants of the new analog age in their struggles and triumphs.

The twist: all the stories and poems in these books are typewritten — on typewriters — by contributors from coast to coast and from around the world. Each manuscript page was scanned, so that the pages themselves are works of art — each a personalized and nostalgic window into the past of the printed word. Even the page headings and cover lettering were mechanically typed. Stark grayscale photos and artwork illustrate this imaginative portrait of a future that may be arriving even now. Format underscores content, for the unifying element in the stories is typewriters — typewriters clacking again in the post-apocalypse.

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