The Color Out of Time: Michael Shea Takes a Dip Into Lovecraftian Horror

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

The Color out of TimeI’ll mention this first about Michael Shea’s 1984 novel The Color Out of Time: the protagonists consume copious amounts of Wild Turkey. They fortify their coffee with it; they carry hip flasks full of it. This is a fact the narrator always notes casually in passing. Never are the potentially debilitating effects of alcohol mentioned; it simply occurs to the reader that these people might well be past the point of tipsy into “whiskey-river-take-my-mind” territory through much of the central action of the adventure. Perhaps that’s how they maintain their sanity. And make no mistake: sanity is but one of the possessions at stake for our heroes, because they have waded head-deep into Lovecraft territory. If they do manage to survive with their sanity intact, though, they might want to consider rehab.

The second thing I’ll mention is that because some of my own fictional excursions overlap with Shea’s foray into Lovecraftian horror — we tread similar unhallowed ground, digging up the bones of past masters of weird horror and coating them with fresh slime, if you will — I find myself contemplating the book not just as a critic, but as a writer: appreciating moves he makes while noting missteps and potential pitfalls. Ultimately, Shea’s sequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space” is entertaining, but slightly off, a tad unsatisfying, and I’ll try to pinpoint why — to isolate the juncture at which it diverges from Lovecraft’s vision and to articulate how this impacts the effectiveness of the tale. (For a different take on the book, check out Douglas Draa’s review for Black Gate last year HERE.)

The premise is straightforward enough. Take the story that is generally regarded as Lovecraft’s first successful amalgam of science fiction and horror, a blend that became his unique trademark (“The Colour Out of Space” is one of Lovecraft’s most highly regarded and was always, according to Wikipedia, the author’s personal favorite. For the sake of full disclosure, it ranks high on my list of best horror stories and is one of my top two or three favorite works by Lovecraft). Start from the central event of that tale and then project its aftermath some sixty odd — very odd — years later.

Read More » Salutes Solaris Books

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Solaris Rising 3-smallA while back, I praised Solaris Books for their impressive line of top-notch original anthologies, including Ian Whates’s Solaris Rising, and Jonathan Strahan’s Reach for Infinity. And just a few hours ago (see below), I reported on their upcoming fantasy volume, Fearsome Magics.

Looks like I wasn’t the only one to notice. Last week at, Niall Alexander called out the publisher for their splendid recent record on original anthologies:

In recent years, no one publisher has done as much for the short form of speculative fiction in Britain as Solaris. Since the summer, they’ve released Reach for Infinity… the latest volume of Jonathan Strahan’s continuing chronicle of the future history of humanity — reviewed right here by yours truly— alongside the eighth edition of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year and the third in the superb Solaris Rising series.

And there’s much more to come in the coming months. Fearsome Magics, the follow-up to The New Solaris Book of Fantasy, is out in early October — on the same day, indeed, as Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets from Solaris’ sister imprint Abaddon, which proposes to showcase the great detective through a decidedly unlikely lens.

Just this week, readers of When Gravity Falls were treated to an early look at another of the plentiful collections Solaris has on the cards. Dangerous Games is due in December, and it looks to meet, or even exceed, the high standards set by Jonathan Oliver’s previous projects.

Solaris 3 was edited by Ian Whates and released on August 26, 2014. I bought a copy last week and it looks like the same great bargain as the other volumes — a thick 448 pages for just $7.99 in paperback — with stories from  Aliette de Bodard, Ken Liu, Julie E. Czerneda, Tony Ballantyne, Sean Williams, Ian Watson, Adam Roberts, George Zebrowski, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Rachel Swirsky, and many others. The cover is by Pye Parr (click the image at right for a high res version of the front and back cover.)

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Ancient Worlds: With a King Like This Who Needs Invading Hordes?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

4133583_origAs far as heroes go, Gilgamesh leaves a lot to be desired, at least by modern standards. Gilgamesh is not a good guy. Or a good man. Or a good king.

That is in fact how the story begins. Gilgamesh is an impressive specimen, it’s true.

“Supreme over other kings, lordly in appearance,
he is the hero, born of Uruk, the goring wild bull.
He walks out in front, the leader,
and walks at the rear, trusted by his companions.
Mighty net, protector of his people,
raging flood-wave who destroys even walls of stone!
Offspring of Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh is strong to perfection,
son of the august cow, Rimat-Ninsun;
… Gilgamesh is awesome to perfection.”

(Translation taken from the Ancient Texts library.)

Gilgamesh is two-thirds divine and one-third human. We’re not entirely certain how that math works out: we know his mother is the goddess Ninsun and if I had to guess I would say that they considered the mother’s contribution to a child’s makeup as more weighty than a father’s. (As opposed to the Greeks, who considered the mother to be merely a biological caretaker of an implanted seed.) He’s a powerful leader, he defends his people, so what’s the problem?

He’s also ancient Uruk’s biggest frat boy.

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Future Treasures: Fearsome Magics, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Fearsome Magics-smallSolaris Books continues to single-handedly fuel a renaissance in paperback anthologies, including two top notch science fiction anthology series: Ian Whates’s Solaris Rising, and  Jonathan Strahan’s  Reach for Infinity.

Next week sees the arrival of Jonathan Strahan’s Fearsome Magics, his second volume of original fantasy fiction from Solaris. Here’s what James McGlothlin said about the first, Fearsome Journeys:

Many of Fearsome Journeys’ stories fit squarely within the tradition of fantasy — which I love! For instance, many contain typical tropes such as magic, dragons, wizards, fighters, thieves, etc., as well as familiar plot angles like quests to recover treasure or kill some monster or dragon. However, as one would expect from this lineup, many are fairly experimental attempts to push the boundaries of what is, or should be, considered fantasy. Let me give a few highlights.

Glenn Cook provides another great tale of the Black Company, his popular fantasy military troop, with his story “Shaggy Dog Bridge.” Similar to Cook’s Black Company, Scott Lynch’s “The Effigy Engine” centers upon a group of (wizard) warriors called the Red Hats, who are battled-hardened cynics often attempting to just get by. This was a very interesting tale describing war contraptions that reminded me of medieval versions of the AT-AT Walkers from The Empire Strikes Back. Very cool!…

I can say — without any reservation — all of stories contained within Fearsome Journeys are extremely well-crafted… There’s no doubt that these are some of the best writers in the field today.

Here’s the book description.

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A Rogue’s Early Days: Yendi by Steven Brust

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_28150EMzOHUFYSteven Brust has written that Yendi (1984), second in his ongoing series about gangster Vlad Taltosis his least favorite book. As it’s only the second of his novels I’ve read, I can’t tell you where it falls on a greater continuum of his work, but I can tell you it’s a pretty good book. Sure, the book is flawed, but the good bits far outweigh the bad. If this is the low point in the series, then I’m REALLY looking forward to the later volumes.

The first book in the series, Jhereg (read my review here), introduces Vlad Taltos, a human assassin in a magic-heavy world ruled by the Dragaerans (who are pretty much elves). In that book, Vlad finds himself forced into carrying out a complex assassination. Aided by his mini-dragon familiar, Loiosh, and several powerful and clever friends, he succeeds beyond his own expectations. It’s a blast and I’m grateful to Bill Ward for getting me to check it out.

Instead of taking the story forward, Brust goes back in time with Yendi. Here we learn how Vlad rose in the ranks of the mafia-like House Jhereg. By a combination of smarts, daring, and just enough violence, he secures a position in the gangland ecology of the Dragaeran Empire’s capital city, Adrilankha. By book’s end, he’s well on his way to becoming the successful racketeer we meet in the first book. Unfortunately for him, things happen between the beginning and end of Yendi that make for a lousy time for Vlad, but a fast-paced story for us.

The book begins with Vlad learning that another low-level boss, a Dragaeran named Laris, has opened a gaming parlor in his territory. When confronted, Laris is apologetic and presents a series of nearly believable excuses. After the meeting, Vlad informs his lieutenant, Kragar, that they have probably no more than two days to get ready for an all-out war. His intuition proves correct.

The war between Vlad and Laris is so violent that one of the five rulers of House Jhereg summons Vlad and tells him to handle his war with more subtlety, or else. Unfortunately, it’s too late to avoid the or else. Incensed by the steady string of fires and killings, the Dragaeran empress dispatches members of her Phoenix Guard to clamp down. There are curfews, restrictions on the size of gatherings, and all criminal operations are shut down.

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New D&D Monster Manual Unleashed on the World

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

D&D Monster Manual Fifth EditionA fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes. Though Dungeons & Dragons has always been driven primarily by the imagination of the Dungeon Master and the players, the fact is that you can usually get only so far with just the Player’s Handbook (Amazon). It has the basic rules mechanics for playing the game, but lacks the array of exotic monsters necessary to populate – and threaten – the fantasy world that the characters are exploring.

With the arrival of the new 5th edition D&D Monster Manual (Amazon), that gap has now been alleviated. This book contains a beautifully-illustrated 350 pages of monsters, adversaries, and maybe even a few allies to introduce flawlessly into 5th edition games. The name really says it all; it is a manual full of monsters. There’s an appendix of “Miscellaneous Creatures” and one of “Nonplayer Characters” which are also useful, but there is one stand-out mechanic introduced that is worth mentioning in its own right, for those who might be wondering if the book is worth picking up.

Legendary Creatures

The manual contains a class of “Legendary Creatures” which “can take special actions outside their turns, and a few can exert power over their environments, causing extraordinary magical effects to occur in their vicinity.” In addition to these “legendary actions,” legendary creatures also sometimes come along with a lair, which gives the legendary creature ability to take extra “lair actions” and may have ambient powers, representing how the legendary creature’s power has physically warped the terrain of the lair.

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“Shardik, Shardik the Power Of God!”

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Shardik-smallMidway through Richard Adams’s doorstop of a book, Shardik (1974), I decided I had stumbled into the world’s longest parable.

Biblical parables are typically quite brief, but Adams pulls toward the opposite shore, reasoning that in thoroughness lies salvation. And why shouldn’t he? That tactic worked like gangbusters in his astounding debut, Watership Down (1972).

Shardik could indeed function as a serviceable doorstop, but to dismiss it out of hand would be a disservice to literature in general, and to fantasy novels in particular. Shardik is a brave, uncompromising examination of how “mere” mortals encounter and deify the exceptional, thus giving rise to portents, omens, prophecies, and ultimately continent-conquering religions.

In the case of Shardik, the talismanic inciting event takes the form of a gigantic bear, a bear of monstrous, prehistoric proportions, and this bear first flees a forest fire and then crashes, half-burned and exhausted, into a far-flung outpost of human civilization, Ortelga. Unfortunately – or not, depending on one’s point of view – the Ortelgans entertain a fervid belief that God’s manifestation on Earth will come in the form of a massive bear.

While Watership Down stayed locked within the heads of its rabbit characters, Shardik spends only a few pages at the outset inside the eponymous bear’s mind, just long enough to convince any alert reader that while Shardik may be a divine instrument, he is very much a bear, no more, no less, and will behave accordingly. After that, the story turns to Kelderek-Plays-With-Children, a hunter of simple tastes who first stumbles upon the injured, recovering bear-god.

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New Treasures: Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Die And Stay Dead Nicholas Kaufmann-smallLast October, I talked about Nicholas Kaufmann’s dark fantasy novel Dying is My Business, which I called “the tale of a badass hero facing down the forces of darkness in modern-day Brooklyn.” I’m very pleased to see the sequel arrive this week — this looks like a gritty and appealing dark fantasy series I can really sink my teeth into.

In this pulse­pounding sequel to Dying Is My Business, Trent, a man who can’t stay dead or retain his memories, tries to uncover his connection to a deadly doomsday cult bent on destroying NYC.

A brutal murder in Greenwich Village puts Trent and the Five-Pointed Star on the trail of Erickson Arkwright, the last surviving member of a doomsday cult. Back in the day, the Aeternis Tenebris cult thought the world would end on New Year’s Eve of 2000. When it didn’t, they decided to end it themselves by summoning Nahash-Dred, a powerful, terrifying demon known as the Destroyer of Worlds. But something went wrong. The demon massacred the cult, leaving Arkwright the sole survivor.

Now, hiding somewhere in New York City with a new identity, Arkwright plans to summon the demon again and finish the job he started over a decade ago. As Trent rushes to locate a long-lost magical artifact that may be the only way to stop him, the clues begin to mount… Trent’s past and Arkwright’s might be linked somehow. And if they are, it means the truth of who Trent really is may lie buried in the twisted mind of a madman.

Die and Stay Dead will be published on Tuesday, September 30 by St. Martin’s Griffin. It is 388 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $10.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Chris McGrath.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: An Index (So Far)

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne


An awesome print by Tom Richmond of Holmes on screen over the years. I own print #7 of 450

Surprisingly, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes has now made it to thirty posts. While I’m sure the dedicated reader types ‘Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ in the search field to call up all the posts in the series, I said to myself (I talk to myself a lot),  “Bob, there’s got to be an easier way for someone to bask in the entirety of your writings so far.”

And there is! Below is an index with links to all the posts, followed by some topics likely to come.


Sherlock Holmes/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – Introduction to the column (rather unoriginal title, eh?)

Lord of Misrule – Christopher Lee as the great detective

The Case of the Short Lived Sherlock – One of my favorite Holmes’, Ian Richardson

Creation to Death and Back – A good intro to Holmes, focusing on Doyle’s love-hate (minus the love) relationship with his most famous creation

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Vintage Treasures: The Dance of Death by Algernon Blackwood

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dance of Death Blackwood-smallAlgernon Blackwood is one of the acknowledged masters of the ghost story — and also one of its most prolific practitioners. He wrote a dozen novels and published some 34 short story collections, including John Silence (1908), Incredible Adventures (1914), Ancient Sorceries and Other Tales (1927); and Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural (1949). He died in 1951.

In his review of Incredible Adventures, Ryan Harvey saluted Blackwood thusly:

Of all the practitioners of the classic “weird tale,” which flourished in the early twentieth century before morphing into the more easily discerned genres of fantasy and horror, none entrances me more than Algernon Blackwood. Looking at the stable of the foundational authors of horror — luminaries like Poe, James, le Fanu, Machen, Lovecraft — it is Blackwood who has the strongest effect on me. Of all his lofty company, he is the one who seems to achieve the most numinous “weird” of all…

In my view, Blackwood achieved his finest work in his earlier collections The Listener and Other Stories (1907), John Silence — Physician Extraordinary (1908), and The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910), where he combined his weird adventures with aspects of horror and fear. These earlier classics are supernatural horror, but are also superb works of mood.

Much of Blackwood’s impressive catalog is now out of print, but not all of it. S. T. Joshi, who called his work “more consistently meritorious than any weird writer’s except Dunsany’s,” and said Incredible Adventures “may be the premier weird collection of this or any other century,” has edited two contemporary short story collections: The Complete John Silence Stories (1997), and Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories (2002).

Of course, I’m most interested in the vintage paperback editions of Algernon Blackwood, and especially his 1963 Pan paperback The Dance of Death, which I recently acquired on eBay.

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