New Treasures: Wrath-Bearing Tree by James Enge

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Wrath Bearing TreeAs we reported just last month, James Enge’s latest Morlock novel, Wrath-Bearing Tree, the second volume of A Tournament of Shadows, arrives this week.

I received my copy a few days ago and the final version is gorgeous. A Tournament of Shadows is Morlock’s origin story, and it began in A Guile of Dragons — which Grasping for the Wind described as “What Tolkien might have written, had he lived in this postmodern age.”

The masked powers of Fate and Chaos are killing gods in Kaen. The Graith of Guardians sends the vocates Morlock Ambrosius and Aloe Oaij to determine precisely what is behind the threat. However, Morlock is secretly in love with Aloe, and this complicates their mission in unexpected ways. In his own sneaky way, Enge has described Wrath-Bearing Tree as “a love story with sword and sorcery interruptions.”

Exactly what is a wrath-bearing tree, you ask? It has to do with the tricky and deceptive power of history, as described by poet T.S. Eliot, in his poem “Gerontion” in 1920:

History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities…
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

And that’s all the clues we’re going to give you.

Wrath-Bearing Tree was published on August 20 by Pyr. It is 377 pages, priced at $18 for the trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. For a limited time, print copies are only $6.29 at Amazon.com — that’s 65% off one of the most anticipated fantasy novels of the year. Act quickly so you’re not disappointed.


Goth Chick News: Surviving the Dying Light

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image002I absolutely love shooting dead things.

Nothing takes the edge off a stressful day like arming up to the teeth on my PS3 and blasting the snot out of rampaging zombies or other marauding creatures of darkness.

Not that I have anything against creatures of darkness – no siree. I mean, at this point, some three years into writing Goth Chick News, the reanimated dead are not only some of my most prolific subjects, but often constitute the bulk of my party guests.

It’s just that “real” violence, or in this case realistic violence (i.e. Saints Row and Hitman), makes me queasy in a way that offing the undead does not. So I was as giddy as Rick Grimes at a Home Depot axe sale when I found out about Dying Light.

Dying Light is a first-person, action survival horror game set in a vast and dangerous open world. During the day, players traverse an expansive urban environment overrun by a vicious outbreak, scavenging the world for supplies and crafting weapons to defend against the growing infected population. At night, the hunter becomes the hunted, as the infected become aggressive and more dangerous. Most frightening are the predators which only appear after sundown. Players must use everything in their power to survive until the morning’s first light.

Developed by Techland for Warner Brothers Entertainment (the geniuses who brought you Dead Island), Dying Light will be available in PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC formats, which is part of what I love about these guys. Development of solid games for the PC is dwindling, but until the PlayStation can fit with me in a coach airline seat, I appreciate anyone who creates this sort of fun for my lap top.

Now, join me in relishing the 12-minute gameplay walk through. It rocks utterly.

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Amazing, March 1961: A Retro-Review

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories March 1961-smallThis is a pretty strong issue of Amazing, overall. Really strong list of authors. The cover is interesting – not so much the illustration, a decent and quite accurate Leo Summers painting illustrating James Blish’s “A Dusk of Idols.” What intrigued me were the words.

Sure enough, “A Dusk of Idols,” by James Blish, adorns the cover. Makes sense. But atop the title, we read “Playboy and the Slime God.” That’s an Isaac Asimov story. Wouldn’t you think they’d have promoted Asimov’s name? But no. I can’t figure that one out.

Interiors are by Summers, Ivie, Morey, and the great Virgil Finlay. The editorial is by Norman Lobsenz as usual, and it promotes the next issue – which is to be a special All-Reprint issue, consisting of classic Amazing stories selected by Sam Moskowitz. (Sigh … I know people defend his research, and I have no dispute with that, but I do dispute his taste.)

Anyway, the issue does seem to feature some significant stories – an early Bradbury, Eando Binder’s “I, Robot,” an ERB reprint, Nowlan’s Armageddon – 2419, and pieces by Starzl, Hamilton, and Keller. Lester Del Rey’s Fact Article, “Operation Lunacy,” essentially addresses the Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine, a little presciently, it seems to me.

S. E. Cotts’s book review column, The Spectroscope, is rather harsh on balance towards two anthologies, Judith Merril’s The Year’s Best S-F, Fifth Annual Edition and Robert P. Mill’s Decade of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Cotts opens by complaining that “there are more kinds of anthologies than you can shake a stick at… of one particular author’s output, or from one particular magazine, or on one particular subject… year’s best, year’s worst, or the year’s zaniest.”

Of Merril’s book Cotts begins kindly enough: “As far as the stories are concerned, it is the best yet.” And particular praise goes to newer writers, Daniel Keyes for “Flowers for Algernon,” Carol Emshwiller for “Day on the Beach,” and “an English author, J. G. Ballard” for “The Sound Sweep.”

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Gen Con 2013 Post-Convention Recap – Part 2: D&D Party Time!

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Drizzt Do'Urden, wielding his codpiece of holding, awaits the birthday festivities at Gen Con 2013

Drizzt Do’Urden, wielding his codpiece of holding, awaits the birthday festivities at Gen Con 2013

After a pretty full first day at Gen Con 2013, things were really just getting started for me.

At about 5:00 pm, I headed a couple of blocks over to the Indiana Repertory Theater for a Dungeons & Dragons press conference I’d been invited to. Following the press conference was to be the big Dungeons & Dragons party, which was celebrating not only the launch of The Sundering … but also the 25th anniversary of Drizzt Do’urden. (We even had cake!)

So, let’s lay it out here: Dungeons & Dragons is going through some massive shake-ups. Last year, I liveblogged from their keynote address, where the Powers-That-Be formally announced their intention to tie the D&D Next transformation of the rules in with a Forgotten Realms storyline called The Sundering.

This year, we got a lot more information about exactly what this will look like on the implementation. Plus … there was an open bar and a murder! But first, the gaming news.

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Kirkus Looks at Donald A. Wollheim and the Ace Double

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Secret of the Lost Race-smallBack in June, I wrote a short blog entry about one of my favorite Ace Doubles, Tales of Outer Space and Adventures in the Far Future. I took the excuse to talk about one of the field’s true renaissance men, Donald A. Wollheim, who edited both books and launched several of the most enduring SF and fantasy publishing imprints in history.

Wollheim doesn’t get much credit for his amazing accomplishments these days. Which is why I was pleased to see Andrew Liptak at Kirkus dedicate his latest column to Wollheim and one of his greatest creations: the Ace Double. These compact and beautiful treasures occupy a very special place in my library. Here’s a snippet:

In 1952, editor Donald A. Wollheim of Ace Books introduced a format that would prove to be immensely popular, and cemented science-fiction literature’s role in bookstores afterwards…

Ace’s Double Novels were a distinctive part of the science-fiction community throughout the two decades in which they were published. The line helped to launch the novel careers of a number of authors, from Philip K. Dick to Ursula K. Le Guin to Samuel R. Delany, in addition to a number of other popular authors in the field, such as A.E. van Vogt, Margaret St. Clair and Leigh Brackett… the books were an innovative entry in a brand-new publishing world, one that found both considerable staying power and a platform for publishing a high volume of science fiction. The huge number of stories published allowed for something great to happen: Talented authors with interesting stories to tell broke into the field, allowing for their own voices to shape the genre as they continued to find success.

Read the complete article here. We last reported on Liptak when he looked at Astounding Science Fiction in February.

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Vintage Treasures: The Best of Fritz Leiber

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of Fritz Leiber-smallAnd so we come to Fritz Leiber, in our continuing exploration of Lester del Rey’s Classic Library of Science Fiction series.

The Best of Fritz Leiber, published in 1974, was the second in the line, following The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum. Unlike Weinbaum and many of the authors who would follow him, Leiber was well known — even a star — to contemporary SF readers in 1974, thanks chiefly to his popular Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books.

Which brings us conveniently to the book’s first problem. Those stories were being published by Ace Books, who had five volumes of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in print by 1970, and the Classic Library of Science Fiction line was owned by Ballantine, which meant The Best of Fritz Leiber couldn’t include any of them. This is sort of like assembling a Best of Robert E. Howard collection that ignores Conan (which Del Rey books did in 2007, with considerable success, now that I think about it.)

Poul Anderson acknowledges this painful lack in his introduction, taking a moment to badmouth sword & sorcery while he’s at it:

It’s too bad that we have no tale of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser here. Not only did that charming pair of rogues… launch the author’s career, they are still going strong, to the joy of everyone who appreciates a rattling good fantasy adventure. But by no means are these stories conventional “sword and sorcery.” The world of Nehwon is made real in wondrously imagined detail… Here Leiber in his way — like the late J.R.R. Tolkien in his, and not vastly different — has done, and is doing, for the heroic fantasy what Robert Louis Stevenson did for the pirate yarn: by originality and sheer writing genius, he revived an ossified genre and started it off on a fresh path.

I could likewise wish that this book held a sample or two of Leiber’s horror stories. In my opinion, which Fritz modestly does not share, Lovecraft and Poe himself never dealt out comparable chills.

In other words, Leiber’s stories (and Tolkien’s) are good, so they can’t really be sword and sorcery… despite the fact that Fritz Leiber is often credited with coining the phrase “sword & sorcery” to describe his most popular work. Poul Anderson. What a doofus.

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L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Gardner Fox and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Compleat Enchanter-smallOver at Tor.com, the intrepid Mordicai Knode and Tim Callahan have been conducting dangerous psychoreality experiments, just like William Hurt in Altered States.

I don’t expect you to get that reference, because Altered States came out, like, a billion years ago. But trust me, it was wild. William Hurt locks himself in a sensory deprivation tank until he turns into some kind of glowing protoplasm. And Blair Brown got naked. A lot. Drew Barrymore played their 4-year old daughter, if that helps you understand how old this movie is.

Anyway, Mordicai and Tim have convinced the brain trust at Tor.com to let them attempt the same thing, in the name of science. Tor doesn’t have the budget for an awesome sensory deprivation tank (or to pay anyone to get naked), but they’ve got the essentials down. For the last month or so, Mordicai and Tim have been refusing all outside stimulus except the work of those authors listed in Appendix N of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

They’re consuming nothing but Mountain Dew and Doritos Locos Tacos from Taco Bell, and electrodes attached to their brains will capture the exact moment they transform into Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. Hasn’t happened yet but, believe me, the stars are right and the time grows nigh.

In the meantime, teams of diligent scribes have been scribbling down every word Mordicai and Tim speak as they grow closer and closer to ultimate enlightenment. We’re here to share some of the best with you. Take them in small doses, this is potent stuff.

They start with L. Sprague de Camp, author of the early alternate history novel Lest Darkness Fall (1939), The Wheels of If (1948), Rogue Queen (1951), and, with Robert E. Howard, Tales of Conan (1955), one of the very first Conan collections.

Here’s Tim on L. Sprague de Camp, who left him underwhelmed.

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New Treasures: Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Kiss of Steel-smallYou know what’s missing from my recent book diet? Romance. Especially romance involving mystery, the supernatural, clockwork creatures, and black fishnet stockings.

I’m serious (especially about the fishnet stockings). I’m a sucker for a good romance. I think most readers are, regardless of gender, but a lot of male readers are suspicious of anything packaged as paranormal romance or romantic SF. I think it stems not from any true dislike of romance, but more a mistrust of the trappings of the genre. A lot of fantasy readers avoid anything packaged as romance because they’re unfamiliar with it, assume most of it is poor quality, and can’t be bothered to take the time to learn differently.

Fools. The finest novels in the English language are romances. If I were stranded on a desert island with a single book, I’d to be plenty annoyed if it weren’t a waterproof copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (although I could make do with Emma in a pinch.)

Science fiction, epic fantasy, sword & sorcery… these speak to the nobler aspects of our nature, our need to explore and seek new experiences. But great romance strikes at the very core of the human spirit, our desire to truly connect. And especially to connect with someone who looks really great in fishnet stockings.

Which is why tonight I’ll be curling up with Bec McMaster’s debut novel Kiss of Steel, in which vampires, werewolves, and clockwork creatures roam the mist–shrouded streets of London…

Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it’s the last safe haven. But at what price?

Blade is known as the master of the rookeries — no one dares cross him. It’s been said he faced down the Echelon’s army single-handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood-craving he’s been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal. When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She’s so… innocent. He doesn’t see her backbone of steel — or that she could be the very salvation he’s been seeking.

Kiss of Steel was published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 1, 2012. It is 439 pages, priced at $6.99 for both the digital and print versions. The sequel Heart of Iron, book 2 in what’s now being called The London Steampunk series, was released on May 7th. Learn more at Bec McMaster’s website.


So You’re a Horror Fan and You’ve Never Read…

Monday, August 19th, 2013 | Posted by Nick Ozment

H.P. LOVECRAFT?

lovecraftI sit here typing this while wearing a pirate hat and wig of long, black dreadlocks. Why this should be I feel inadequate to formulate into words, lest my attempt to do so come across as the disjointed jargon of a dullard. I will say this, though: I have seen the gibbous moon in lonely places; I have crossed putrid moats under dark mute trees to survey strange runes left by long-lost races, runes undoubtedly concealing eldritch secrets long buried in the muck inhabited by fat mottled sea-worms, secrets that would drive one insane, insane I tell you. So I thought I’d launch this week the first installment of an occasional series called “So You’re a Horror Fan and You Haven’t Read…[author]?”.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was almost lost to the crumbling pages of pulp magazines. Even after a book-publishing imprint (Arkham House) was created for the sole purpose (initially) of preserving his work, he remained pretty obscure outside of a small cult following for decades.

Lovecraft would undoubtedly appreciate the irony of himself having a following called a “cult,” and it did not hurt his cred that many among that cult would go on to be among the most influential creators of pop culture in the twentieth century, especially in horror cinema (Lovecraft’s influence really became well-known to a mainstream audience first through film, via folks like H.R. Giger [designer of the eponymous Alien in the Alien films] and director Sam Raimi [Evil Dead et al]. You may have never even heard his name, but if you grew up in the latter half of the twentieth century, Lovecraft’s influence pervaded the horror and science fiction you experienced).

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Vintage Scares: The Most Terrifying Short Stories Ever?

Monday, August 19th, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

In my fourth grade year, my teacher, for reasons still unknown to me, decided to read F. Marion 3852814493_5637bb50a9_o Crawford’s “The Upper Berth” aloud to our class.

The story is not so well known these days, but back in the late seventies, it had gained a certain notoriety by virtue of its inclusion in Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery, an omnibus to which I have (with trepidation) returned to many times since. If Hitch was the source from which my teacher made her choice, perhaps she was gulled by the book’s subtitle, which read, “Eleven spooky stories for young people.”

Let me reiterate the salient feature of that rash, dangerous subtitle: FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.

Ha!

To be sure, “Miss Emmeline Takes Off” (Walter Brooks) and “The Haunted Trailer” (Robert Arthur) are easy on the soul, but how to explain the inclusion of “The Waxwork” (A.M. Burrage) or “In a Dim Room” (Lord Dunsany)?

As for “The Upper Berth,” suffice it to say that just as my teacher reached the climactic moment, our rapt, wide-eyed class erupted into chaos. One child whimpered; another screamed. Poor Alicia literally leaped to her feet and fled the room, running for dear life for the imagined safety of any spot on earth where she could no longer hear the teacher’s voice.

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