Voices in Fantasy Literature, Part II

Sunday, January 26th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Apex Magazine August 2013-smallI sometimes give writing workshops in the Ottawa area and mentor local writers. One piece of advice that I feel comes off as a broken record is that there is *so much* good short fiction out there, for readers to taste and for writers to learn from.

Not everyone is into short fiction. My formative reading experiences were novels and comic books, two media that lend themselves to very long arcs with exploratory digressions. Only after largely failing at two novels (consuming ten years of writing time), did I finally take the old science fiction advice: work my writing career up to novels through short fiction.

Although I didn’t appreciate it then, short stories really are their own medium, with conventions and beat structures that take a lot of time to internalize. I forced myself to read a lot of short fiction, from Year’s Best collections to Hemingway and other Nobel winners. I didn’t enjoy the form for about two years, until I stumbled upon an editorial taste that worked for me, and that happened to be Escapepod, and then Podcastle.

Consistently listening to several stories a week gave me such a broad view of the kinds of writing out there and what I liked and how the different forms connected to each other and what rules each played in, or broke, as the case may be. So, I’m a late convert to short fiction and I feel the missionary need at times to show people just how much range and quality is out there. I picked three stories I wanted to recommend to the world.

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Sony Shuts Down Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and Three Other MMOs

Sunday, January 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Free Realms-smallSony Online Entertainment announced on Friday that it is cleaning house by shutting down four underperforming online games: the long-running Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, the free-to-play Free Realms, the Star Wars game Clone Wars Adventures, and the dungeon crawler Wizardry Online.

Vanguard is the most well-known of the lot. Despite high expectations — it was created by key developers of the popular EverQuest — it had a disastrous launch in January 2007, winning Gamespy‘s “Biggest Disappointment” award (and winning “Least Fun”, “Most Desolate,” and “Lamest Launch” in the 2007 MMOWTF Awards). The launch destroyed developer Sigil Games, who reportedly gathered all 150 employees in the parking lot on May 14, 2007, where Director Andy Platter told them, “You’re all fired.” Vanguard was acquired that month by SOE, who have nurtured it for the past seven years. It will shut down on July 31.

The family-friendly Free Realms, developed in-house by SOE and released on April 29, 2009, was generally well reviewed, but never really found an audience. It will shut down permanently on March 31, 2014. The free-to-play Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures launched on September 15, 2010, but has recently been hemorrhaging players; it will shut down on March 31 as well.

I wasn’t even aware there was a Wizardry Online until I read heard Sony was shutting it down. Based on SirTech’s RPG classic, the free-to-play title was developed in Japan by Gamepot and released in the US and the EU less than a year ago, on January 30, 2013. Like the original game, death was permanent — highly unusual these days — and players weren’t thrilled by the old-school graphics, and it never really caught on outside Japan. It will shut down on July 31. Of all the games on the list, I’m most intrigued by this one (see the YouTube First Look produced by MMOHuts last year to see why) and may try it out before it’s gone.

Sony says it is shutting down these games “to refocus resources in other areas,” including PlanetSide 2, Magic: The Gathering – Tactics and DC Universe Online.

Magic, and Miracles: An Interview with Bruce McAllister

Saturday, January 25th, 2014 | Posted by Garrett Calcaterra

Bruce McAllister-smallBruce McAllister lives in idyllic old town Orange, California. Outside his 1914 craftsman-style home, wild parrots squawk as they fly overhead from sweet gum tree to palm tree to an aged church bell tower in the distance. Inside, the home is neat and sparsely furnished. The only semblance of clutter is in McAllister’s writing office, where the desk is smattered with a few sheets of loose-leaf paper, and where along the sidewall, piled on top of a fold-out table and in plastic bins beneath it, he keeps his cobble collection. These fossil-riddled rocks are from the Santiago Creek riverbed where he routinely walks with his dog Madge. Like the seashell collection he had as a boy — and which plays a prominent role in his newest novel, The Village Sang to the Sea: a Memoir of Magic — these cobbles are a reminder of the wonder in the world around us, “rationale mysticism,” as he calls it.

Similar to Brad Latimer, the protagonist in The Village Sang to the Sea, McAllister grew up in a military family and lived in Italy for a time. Like Brad, his hunchback teacher caught him writing a story one day and, rather than punish him, the teacher encouraged him.

When he was sixteen, McAllister became nettled with another teacher, this one back in the United States, who was overemphasizing the importance of symbolism in literature. In an act of annoyed defiance, McAllister wrote a now famous letter, which he sent to 150 authors, including the likes of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Fritz Leiber, wherein he asked their thoughts on symbolism in their work and whether it was ever purposeful. To his surprise, the vast majority of the authors wrote back. “It was a miracle they responded,” he says.

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Vintage Treasures: Gaslight Tales of Terror, edited by R. Chetwynd-Hayes

Saturday, January 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gaslight Tales of Terror-smallI don’t know much about British ghost story writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes. According to his entry at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, he produced ten novels and two dozen short story collections between 1959 and 2001, the year he died. That’s a heck of a lot of ghost stories.

I did know he was a prolific and important anthologist. He took over The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories from editor Robert Aickman with number nine in 1973, bringing the series to 20 volumes before it ended in 1984, and he edited six volumes of the Armada Monster Book between 1975 and 1981. He also produced five standalone horror anthologies with Fontana, including Cornish Tales of Terror (1970), Scottish Tales of Terror (1972), Welsh Tales of Terror (1973), and Tales of Terror from Outer Space (1975).

The last in the series was Gaslight Tales of Terror (1976), a marvelous mix of original and classic spooky tales. Here’s R., from his introduction:

Here are fourteen Gaslight Tales of Terror, including one or two oil lamps and a few guttering candles. With one exception all the stories have either a Victorian or Edwardian background… But although — if newspaper reports are to be believed — ghosts and other horrors have not been exorcised by the advent of space travel and colour television, one feels they were more at home during the reign of Queen Victoria. And I do mean at home: in pea-souper fogs, on gloomy streets where the lamp-lighter with his long pole trudged wearily from post to post, and a potential Jack the Ripper lurked in dark alleyways.

Eight tales are original to this volume, including contributions from J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Roger Malisson, Dorothy K. Haynes, Rosemary Timperley, and a vampire tale from Chetwynd-Hayes himself.

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The Series Series: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Friday, January 24th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Bone Season-smallRead this book. Just read it. Ignore the reviews that call Samantha Shannon the next J.K. Rowling, or call the series that opens with The Bone Season the next Hunger Games. Most importantly, ignore the jacket copy, which spoils a big reveal that is best appreciated in a state of shocked astonishment alongside the protagonist’s own. For that matter, I give you leave to ignore everything about this review I am writing right now except the first sentence, which I am not abashed about reiterating: Read this book.

You’re still here? Okay, that’s cool, too.

If all the comparisons in the mainstream reviews are off the mark — and the ones I find bandied about online all are — then what is The Bone Season?

It’s the book you would get if Philip K. Dick decided to write about the wild Victorian occult scene that flourished under Madame Blavatsky, blossomed again in the time of W.B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley, lingering until it faded with its evenstar, Dion Fortune. That is, if Philip K. Dick decided to take all that supernatural grandiosity, and steampunk adaptations of Victoriana,  and turn them on their heads by transposing them into a dystopian near-future historical moment that feels intermittently like  hard SF with its what-ifs scrambled.

It’s Minority Report meets Oliver Twist in the secret séance parlor of Martha Wells’s The Death of the Necromancer. Sez me. But the readers of Cosmopolitan don’t speak geek, so instead Cosmo conjures the ghost of J.K. Rowling, because hey, the blasted ruins of Oxford being repurposed as a prison camp for deliberately starved clairvoyants is a setting so reminiscent of Hogwarts. Oh, well. I’m sure someday I’ll write a review that far off the mark, too. (But not this day.)

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New Treasures: The Vampire Archives, edited by Otto Penzler

Friday, January 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Vampire Archive-smallLast week I wrote a brief piece on Otto Penzler’s marvelous The Big Book of Adventure Stories, and I’ve been having so much fun with it that I decided to look at some of his other door-stopper genre anthologies. So here we are this week with The Vampire Archives, one of the best collections of vampire stories I’ve ever encountered.

What makes it so great? It’s over 1,000 pages of the finest vampire fiction ever written, old and new, in a beautiful and inexpensive package. This is the only volume you need to bring yourself up to speed on vampire lit of the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries — no small claim.

It includes the classics you’d expect, like John Keats’ 1820 poem “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” Guy de Maupassant’s “The Horla,” and “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” by Fritz Leiber — as well as many that you might not, like Ambrose Bierce’s 1891 tale “The Death of Halpin Frayser,” an excerpt from Lord Byron’s poem “The Giaour,” “Ligeia” by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Lovely Lady” by D. H. Lawrence, and even a Sherlock Holmes tale, “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” by Arthur Conan Doyle.

There’s a generous selection of fiction from the pulps, including “Stragella” by Hugh B. Cave, “Revelations in Black” by Carl Jacobi, “When It Was Moonlight” by Manly Wade Wellman, and Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne tale “The End of the Story.”

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The Return of Rick Steele

Friday, January 24th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Yesterday MenRickSteele-LostCityofAzgara-250Last year was my introduction to author Dick Enos and his Rick Steele adventure series. I suspect this year will be the one where both author and character make real headway among fans of New Pulp.

The fourth Rick Steele adventure, The Yesterday Men, was just published. If you’ve read the first three titles in the series, then you know Enos loves to confound reader expectations by delivering widely varying pulp adventures from alien invasion to the preternatural to lost civilization adventures. The Yesterday Men is both more of the same and something completely different. Rick Steele, for those unfamiliar with the character, is a hard-nosed Korean War veteran turned test pilot who somehow can’t avoid dragging himself and his supporting cast into adventures. Rick is a likable, but imperfect hero.

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Where are You When You Turn Out the Lights?

Friday, January 24th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Winter-Castle2-smallLast week I was talking about travelling, and the journey, in Fantasy, and SF. I noted that since most Fantasy uses a pre-industrial setting, journeys are generally undertaken on foot, via horses, or by (sailing) ship. However, there’s another aspect of pre-industrial living I’d like to address.

We recently had a bit of an ice storm in my area which left a lot of people  without power for several days – I say a bit of one because I lived through such a storm about 15 years ago which left quite a few more people without power for several weeks. I learned many things about living without electricity which possibly have no bearing on writing fantasy novels. For example: the Amish likely didn’t notice; it stops being an adventure after the third day; it’s considerably easier to deal with if you live in the country, in a house that predates the use of electricity; people always want to borrow our Lehman’s Non-Electric Catalogue after any prolonged power failure.

And I learned and several things which do.

For one thing, the lack of electricity or other reliable power sources has an impact on where people live, and therefore where you can set your story. You may have noticed that there aren’t a huge number of stories set in the winter, or that even northern barbarians don’t hang around their homelands very much. Bad weather of any kind is generally used as a plot device, but severe conditions take too long to deal with and use up too much story-telling time – unless, as I say, “always winter but never Christmas” is actually a point in the story.

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Goth Chick News Reviews: The Supernaturals: A Ghost Story

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image002The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is not only an American horror classic, but is one of my favorite scary tales of all time, largely due to the fact Ms. Jackson relies on the psychological scare rather than in-your-face gore.

Flying brain matter and buckets of blood can occasionally be well-constructed story elements — for instance, Charlaine Harris does a fine job with her Southern Vampire Mysteries series, though her stories are on the lighthearted side. However mixing hardcore horror with an over-the-top amount of visceral matter is like pairing fishnet stockings with a leather mini skirt.

One or the other alone is stylish; but put them together and they’ll get your attention for all the wrong, cheesy reasons.

Unfortunately, with CGI taking realism in film to a new, stomach-turning level, the horror genre in all its manifestations has upped the gross-out factor. Which is why I was rather excited when Amazon suggested David L. Golemon’s 2011 Halloween release The Supernaturals to me as a “you-might-also-like,” when I recently purchased a new hard-bound copy of Hill House.

Golemon is best known for his Event Group Thriller series — which admittedly I have shied away from as potentially too X-Files-esque (there’s just no copying some things). But The Supernaturals was a departure from Golemon’s usual fare, and the back story caught my attention.

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Death Knight Love Story: WMA meets WTF

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

Tauren Ninja

…ninja Minotaurs (my idea, apparently)

About ten years ago, I tried to stab this crazy Goth guy and he threw me through a pile of chairs.

Fortunately, we were doing WMA — Western Martial Arts and the daggers were blunt and we were wearing body armor. The chairs however, were real, but the impact fixed my shoulder, which had been painful for the previous month or so. I took this as a good omen and Hugh Hancock and I have been close friends ever since.


Hugh is an independent animator, think Ed Wood does Machinima but actually good.

Hugh is an independent animator, think Ed Wood does Machinima but actually good.

That’s how, years later, I ended up in a warehouse clad in skintight spandex and clutching a plastic sword.

Hugh had had this slightly bonkers idea. He would take the Death Knights from World of Warcraft and use them to make a love story.

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