Mur Lafferty on Reading the Classics

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

Mur Lafferty, author of The Afterlife Series and Playing For Keeps, has kicked off an interesting discussion on reading classic SF and Fantasy on her blog:

earth-abidesI’m not quite sure how to read classic SF. You know the stuff that was groundbreaking with its expanse of ideas that hadn’t even been considered yet? But it was also the stuff that was very likely sexist, had cardboard characters, was completely lacking women or POC, used what we consider now to be hack tools (eg “looking in a mirror to describe the protag”), and may have protags that are total jerks.

I couldn’t finish The Stars My DestinationThe Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever or the Book of the New Sun. I can’t root for a rapist protagonist. And I really wanted to read Stars and New Sun.

Recently I couldn’t finish Earth Abides (despite the wonderful intro by one of my favorite authors of all time, Connie Willis.) I got bored and annoyed with the elitist, “It’s the end of the world, but I’m CERTAINLY not going to hang out with whores and drunks,” attitude of the protagonist. And WTF is up with mentioning that a woman is “young enough” in her description, and leaving it at that? …how can I appreciate the classics when I run into such painful roadblocks like this? It’s hard to read things I’m not enjoying, even for academic purposes.

Speaking as someone with an unnatural fondness for pulp fiction, this is a problem I’m intimately familiar with. My last attempt to re-read Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy ended in utter failure. And I dearly loved that book in my early teens. But I didn’t pay much attention to girls then, and I suppose a book that also pretended women didn’t exist just didn’t seem very unusual.

Comments are now closed on Lafferty’s blog (she notes they had “gone into unhelpful areas“), but you can read the original post and comments here.

Art of the Genre: Maztica Memories

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Fred Field's wife?  Only he can tell us...

Fred Field's wife? Only he can tell us...

After taking a moment to pull down the Dragon Mountain Boxed Set, I thought it might be fun to do the same with other lesser known boxes that came out of TSR around 1990. That period was actually the beginning of the end for the role-playing giant, Gygax ousted, sales flagging, and the need for fresh ideas and worlds seemingly all that the company could see as its savior.

As we are well aware, the next wave in the gaming industry wouldn’t come from the RPG table, but instead from cards, ala Magic the Gathering, but still TSR struggled to not only survive but come up with something fresh enough to gather new players.

It was here that we find various new titles rolling hot off their press, but many of the games in that period simply turned into boxed campaign settings along the lines of Maztica, which in itself is set in The Forgotten Realms.

This campaign was written by TSR staff author Douglas Niles, and although not as famed in novel fiction as Weis and Hickman, by 1990 Niles was pleasantly entrenched in the Forgotten Realms with his Darkwalker on Moonshae Trilogy. He also penned the Maztica Trilogy, including Ironhelm, Viperhand, and Feathered Dragon, but I’ve never read these three books so I can’t speak as to their worth for the purpose of supporting this setting.

Niles was challenged in this project to create a Mesoamerican world that mingles with the fantasy setting of the Forgotten Realms. In my opinion, after several so-so attempts at reading this set, he fails to deliver on what would make such a setting uniquely cool, ala demi-humans! The work tends to bog down in a kind of repetition of real-world conquistadors waging a campaign against indigenous peoples of the far south continents where the only change in the story line is that the priests actually had working magic.

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Hal Duncan’s The Book of All Hours, or Vellum and Ink

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

VellumHal Duncan’s The Book of All Hours is a dazzling, fascinating, frustrating work. A duology consisting of 2005’s Vellum and 2007’s Ink, it plays with structure and story in powerful ways, while also seeming to fall back too easily into black-and-white absolutes and traditional forms. The oddity of the book is that although in some ways it appears radically new, in other ways, as one reads further into it, it comes to feel more and more familiar.

The basic idea might have come from a Marvel comic book: hidden among mortal humans are individuals who, when they undergo certain traumas, develop great powers to shape the world — they become gods, angels, demons. Archetypes. Unkin. Their powers extend not only across time and space, but through the array of alternate worlds called the Vellum; and, as well, into worlds deeper and more profound than our own and its cognates.

A long time ago one of these Unkin created the Book of All Hours, which is, among other things, a map of the Vellum, and a text describing everything, defining everything, holding all stories and worlds within itself. Various Unkin factions want to get their hands on the Book, to rewrite it to suit themselves. The Covenant, a primal patriarchy ruled by archangels, represent one major faction. Another loose grouping is formed by seven individual Unkin, seven archetypes we trace through a range of alternate selves. These seven are (to use only one version of their various names, and a reductive description of their identities) Jack Flash, eternal rebel; Joey Pechorin, eternal traitor; Guy Fox, mastermind; Seamus Finnan, a tortured Prometheus; Don MacChuill, the old soldier; Phreedom Messenger, warrior queen; and her brother, Thomas Messenger, the eternal sacrifice.

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Aesthetically Speaking interviews C.S.E. Cooney

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

cseLisa Findley at Aesthetically Speaking has interviewed Black Gate website editor C.S.E. Cooney on writing, art, blogging, the role of collaboration, her artistic influences — and the power of road trips to conventions.

Road trips — especially with other writer friends — to these sorts of things are where character, plot and story are all born.

There’s something about movement, the freedom of the road, really late nights in highway darkness, that get all the good weird stuff of the soul stirred up. There’s also a great deal of history moving outside your window. The good, the bad, the pretty and the ugly all buried in that landscape with the bones. Horizons you’ve never seen. Roads you’ve never traveled. Music on your friend’s iPod you’d never listen to on your own. Really vulgar jokes. Weird roadside pranks. All of it full of story.

There’s a reason there’s a whole genre of novels called “picaresque.”

Speaking as someone who’s roadtripped with her to a convention or two, I can confirm that all that is true — especially that bit about late nights, and weird stuff of the soul. Everyone should take a road trip with C.S.E. Cooney at least once in their life. And bring a notebook.

Check out the complete interview here.

Cosmic Crimes Stories #2

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

cosmic-crime-2Okay, I don’t really know anything about Cosmic Crimes Stories. I’d never even heard about it until today.

But I know it’s cool. And let’s be honest — that should be good enough for you.

What is Cosmic Crimes Stories? I’m operating a little on faith here, since I’ve never actually seen a copy. But according to the website, it’s “a biannual digest of science fiction and fantasy crimes and criminals.”

Um, what?

A little more digging reveals that it’s a magazine of science fiction mysteries, tales of crime on far off planets and in strange dimensions. That alone makes it totally unique in the history of the genre, far as I know.

And it’s published two issues in 2011, which already makes it one of the most reliable small press magazines in the genre.

Here’s the blurb for the second issue, dated July 2011:

Crime will always be with us, and as laws evolve, so will the techniques of violating them. Will slavery exist when we encounter other intelligences, and if so, will the relationship be parasitic or symbiotic? What complications can arise when a detective pursues a criminal across dimensions? How does a perfect society react to an axe murderer in its midst?

Perhaps I just have a weakness for unusual magazines. But I’m intrigued. Maybe I’ll ask David Soyka to review the latest issue. That guy covers everything.

Cosmic Crimes Stories is published in January and July, and edited by Karen L. Newman. Individual issues are $9 plus $2.50 shipping and handling, and a one-year subscription is $16 plus $4 S&H.  You can order online here.

Dabir and Asim return in The Waters of Eternity

Monday, November 28th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

waters-of-eternityDabir and Asim, the heroes of The Desert of Souls, return in a new collection from Black Gate Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones.

The Waters of Eternity includes six short stories of Arabian fantasy, including “Sight of Vengeance” (BG 10), which brings our heroes face to face with a supernatural horror while searching for a killer in the heart of ancient Baghdad.

Venture into the time of the Arabian Nights with stalwart Captain Asim and the brilliant Dabir as they hunt an unseen killer that craves only the eyes of his victims, and pursue a dark entity haunting the halls of an opulent mansion. Ride with them on a desperate journey to preserve a terrible weapon from Byzantine agents, and seek the waters of eternity to save a dying girl’s life. In six tales brimming with mystery and sword-slinging action Dabir and Asim stride forward into adventure. With nothing to shield them but Asim’s sword arm and Dabir’s wit, the two heroes must unravel sinister puzzles, confront dark wizards, rescue fair maidens, and battle the terrifying monsters of legend.

The Waters of Eternity was published by Macmillan in a Kindle Edition on November 22. It is available for $2.99 from, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble. The cover art is by Ervin Serrano.

This is excellent stuff… mysteries surrounded by magic… in the grand tradition of high adventure, Arabian Nights, and Sherlock Holmes. These are unique, clever and well-written little gems.

Joe Bonadonna, author of Mad Shadows

If you’re a fan of adventure fantasy, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Pathfinder Tales: Death’s Heretic by James L. Sutter

Monday, November 28th, 2011 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Death's Heretic-smallIf there’s one potential flaw in reading stories set in roleplaying game settings, it’s that the emphasis is more on the mechanics of the system and magical setting than on the development of the characters. The best stories, of course, are able to avoid this and create complex, dynamic characters that resonate among some of the most memorable in all of fantasy. Raistlin Majere, Elminster, and Drizzt Do’Urden all come to mind as iconic characters born in roleplaying tie-in novels.

Into this esteemed category steps Salim Ghadafar, the protagonist of James L. Sutter’s Death’s Heretic (Amazon, B&N), an upcoming addition to the Pathfinder Tales fantasy novel series from Paizo Publishing. Salim serves the goddess Pharasma, the Lady of Graves, goddess of birth, death, and prophecy, but he does so only grudgingly. This unusual tension, together with a compelling plotline, draws the reader deeply into the world of the story.

Salim is called upon by Pharasma to investigate a man who died shortly after obtaining one of the greatest treasures available to mortals: the sun orchid elixir, which grants near immortality. The details of his death are of secondary concern, though, compared to the events that followed. Pharasma is far more concerned with why her priests are unable to resurrect him. His soul has gone missing … seemingly stolen from the goddess’s very realm of the dead, the Boneyard itself. Salim’s investigation takes him – and the victim’s orphaned daughter, who is bankrolling the investigation – from local rivals for the elixir, including a crimelord and a gorgeous half-elven brothel madame, to the outer planes and Pharasma’s Boneyard. The investigation brings him face to face with creatures who predate the creation of the world itself, with the power to thwart the natural laws of life and death.

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On Polemic and Prosaic License

Sunday, November 27th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

colour-of-magicI have long felt that Terry Pratchett is badly underrated as an author.

Despite his massive success, the manner in which his book are marketed – a fabulous romp – tend to significantly underplay both the intelligence and the sensitivity of his Discworld novels. His books are simultaneously less superficially funny than they are supposed to be and more intellectually entertaining.

Whereas the humor in the earlier novels tended to revolve around slapstick gags, obvious subversions of genre tropes, and puns, it gradually gravitated towards an amusing form of social commentary wherein he addressed everything from Hollywood film-making, women in the military, and the theory of fiat currency to the precarious nature of technology investment.

While his conventional and fundamentally decent form of humanism has always been the foundation of his commentary, (usually shown from the perspective of his most fully developed character, Sam Vimes), he has seldom permitted it to override either the plot of the story or the ojbective of entertaining the reader.

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THE ART OF RICHARD ANDERSON: Princes, Kings, and Sorcerers

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 | Posted by John R. Fultz

Rich Anderson's fantastic cover for SEVEN PRINCES. The book hits stores on January 3rd.

Rich Anderson's cover for SEVEN PRINCES. The book hits stores on January 3rd.

Rich Anderson grew up in Montana, moved to Seattle in 2000, and went on to revolutionize the field of fantasy art by incorporating classic concepts with digital virtuosity. He’s been an illustrator for Wizards of the Coast, Guild Wars, Tor, Random House, and this year Orbit Books tapped him to do the cover for SEVEN PRINCES.

Praise for the book’s striking cover has been both loud and frequent. Rich’s “golden sunset” silhouette approach provides an iconic image that is perfect for the novel. I’ve also seen his advance sketch for the cover to SEVEN KINGS–it’s going to be another masterful vision. He will also be doing the cover for SEVEN SORCERERS, the Third Book of the Shaper.

Rich’s art is turning heads everywhere, so I thought I’d probe the mind of the Artist Himself in a brief yet enlightening interview. More of his work can be found at his web site and blog:

JRF: Who are your biggest artistic influences?

RA: I would have to say John Singer Sergent. Love the way you can almost see his decision-making in his paintings. Frank Frazetta is another one of course, so much style and knowledge. There really is so many.  I find so many people around me inspiring me probably the most [and] I’ve been very lucky to work with some amazingly talented people.


Rich Anderson piece from Guild Wars 2 -

JRF: What is your typical day like? How often do you create pieces of art?

RA: I recently worked at The Moving Picture Company in London, doing concept work for visual effects and film work. In the beginning of January I’ll be starting at Framestore, working on pre-production concepts for film. Concept work is a lot different than my illustration work. It’s a lot more functional. My illustration work, like your cover, is where I get to play a lot more and just get into the “art mode” if you know what I mean. I love it.

JRF: Your art is such a terrific blend of classic fantasy imagery and modern digital style. How in the world do you achieve this unique and eye-popping blend of techniques? (Do you do part of the work by hand, or is every step done on the computer?)

RA: Ha! Thanks. Yeah, everything is drawn right in Photoshop. I love playing with textures and blending things and trying to get stuff closer to what I love seeing in traditional pieces.

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Black Static #25

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 | Posted by Soyka

393The November Black Static features new horror fiction from Alison Littlewood (“About the Dark”), Christopher Fowler (“The Curtain Parts), Ray Cluley (“The Travellers Stay”). Nathaniel Tapley (“Best. Summer. Ever.”) and Barbara A. Barnet (“The Holy Spear”).  Nonfiction by the usual suspects, Peter Tennant, Tony Lee, and D.F. Lewis. The editor is Any Cox.

Black Static alternates monthly publication with sister SF and fantasy focused Interzone.

You can subscribe to the print version here, or the electronic edition here; there’s also a special discounted rate for a joint subscription to both Interzone and Black Static. Lifetime subscriptions are also available. What you’re buying, in essence, is a 10-year subscription at the current rate.  If you think you’re going to live for at least another decade, and you think Black Static will also be around for as long, this could be a bargain for whatever time you and the magazine have after that. If that weren’t enough, you can also opt for joint lifetime sub that gets you sister publication Interzone for a slightly reduced rate.  Sign your life away here.

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