Averting War: It’s Not as Simple as Pacifism

Sunday, May 31st, 2015 | Posted by Peter Orullian

Trial-of-Intentions-small2This is Part Two of a two-part article, wherein I explore two fundamental responses a people or nation might have to the threat of war. In Part One, I talked about the “Escalation to Fight.” This time, I want to discuss averting war in the first place.

Folks who read part one will remember that I started out with the phrase, “War. What is it good for?” — a reference to Edwin Starr’s version of the song by the same name. We’ll see if the song snippet is relevant by the time I’m finished.

First, let me say, that I don’t pretend these are the only two responses to the threat of war. In fact, nations can and do engage in war as a perennial part of their industry. Or, it’s a response on religious grounds. (Thanks to those who’ve commented on Part One of this article for drawing attention to these things.) And I’m sure there are more. I’m having to be overly reductive due to spatial constraints. So, please bear with me.

So, then, if a nation or kingdom elects not to escalate to violence, another response is to try and avert war before it begins. They might engage in peace talks. They might surrender. They might try to buy their way out of the conflict. Etc. In essence, they work to find resolution to the alternative, which would eventuate in massive casualties.

To avoid the deaths of so many countrymen, a nation may prefer to be conquered. Or to cede any number of things: land, wealth. You get the idea.

And I can see how in a fantasy novel, the writer could take any of these approaches and make them work. I’m not of the opinion that it must always be an Armageddon-level battle to be interesting.

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Gothic Urban Fantasy: Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride

Sunday, May 31st, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Ghost BrideYangsze Choo’s 2013 book The Ghost Bride starts out very much like a gothic novel. Li Lan, the beautiful young daughter of an impoverished scholar in the Chinese community of Malacca in the year 1893, draws a sinister marriage proposal from the rich and powerful Lim family: a ceremonial spirit marriage to Lim Tian Ching, the recently-deceased heir to the Lim wealth. But Li Lan finds herself drawn to Tian Ching’s cousin, Lim Tian Bai — and then Tian Ching begins to appear in her dreams, eager for their upcoming nuptials. She tries to exorcise him, and then what started as a gothic becomes broader and stranger. Li Lan enters a world of ghosts where she uncovers hints of corruption among the judges of hell, and then must undertake a quest into a further and yet more fantastical world, a Campbellian hero(ine)’s journey of dangers and guardian allies and magic items.

The Ghost Bride is a highly entertaining book, wonderful in the most literal sense. It’s the first novel by Choo, a Malaysian writer of Chinese descent living — at least as of 2013 — in California. She builds a remarkable setting, selecting the right details to create a sense of Malacca as a place without (at least to me, who knows nothing of Malaysia) over-exoticising her subject. It’s a tricky balance for a fantasy story. Choo’s highly conscious of the multiple cultures and overlapping histories of her city, and the way religions and magical beliefs accrete. But there’s always a sense of human reality behind the magic, a complex and living reality.

Choo adroitly describes the beliefs and ghosts at play without slowing her story down. Just as everyday things like food and clothing are described as needed, so holidays and folk practices are explained swiftly, naturally, and evocatively. Plot’s thus foreshadowed without being obvious, and the fantasy aspects of the book are set up, but in such a way that character’s deepened at the same time: the vivid setting informs the people in the book, and their choices, and their desires. And we see how different beliefs interact and come to inform each other.

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Vintage Treasures: Hôtel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Sunday, May 31st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Hotel Transylvania Signet-small Hotel Transylvania Tor Hotel Transylvania Yarbro-small

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has written over 70 novels, and has received many of the highest honors the field can bestow. She was named a Grand Master at the World Horror Convention in 2003, and the International Horror Guild named her a “Living Legend” in 2005. In 2009 the Horror Writers’ Association presented her with the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2014 she was honored with the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.

But she is most widely known for her long-running historical horror series featuring the vampire Count of Saint-Germain. The gentleman vampire Saint-Germain has featured in 26 novels and two collections, detailing his adventures down through the centuries, from the reign of emperor Heliogabalus in 3rd century Rome (Roman Dusk) to his escape from Genghis Khan in Tibet and India (Path of the Eclipse), 6th Century China (Dark of the Sun), France during the Reign of Terror (Commedia della Morte), and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany (Tempting Fate).

The Count first appeared in Hôtel Transylvania in 1978, set in Paris in 1744. The novel was an immediate success, and he returned in The Palace the same year. The Palace was nominated for a World Fantasy Award (and was voted #11 for the Locus Award for Best Novel of the Year), and thus began one of the most successful horror series in the English language.

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Fantasy Clichés Done Right

Sunday, May 31st, 2015 | Posted by Garrett Calcaterra

James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock

Like all genres of fiction, fantasy has a growing list of clichés and played-out tropes: the orphaned farm boy who’s actually the chosen one, the quest for a magical artifact to save the world, the generic medieval European setting, the Tolkien-lite denizenry of humans and elves versus orcs, goblins, and trolls…. On one hand, it’s surprising to see these tropes crop up over and over again. Authors are supposed to be imaginative. Is it really that hard to come up with original ideas? On the other hand, it makes a good bit of sense to see certain recurring tropes. Fantasy is, after all, rooted in mythology, and one can make a strong case that fantasy taps into symbols and archetypes coded into the human psyche, whether we’re talking about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey or the simple Jungian archetype of the shadow representing the basest of human instincts.

In practice, of course, the truth lays somewhere in the middle. Mediocre writers reuse certain tropes and make them cliché because they do nothing new with them. Expert writers create new tropes or take old ones and make them new in the context of unique characters and original words.

This holds true not only for the classics, but also for new fantasy fiction, as author James P. Blaylock discovered when he was a judge for the World Fantasy Awards in 2012. “I was certain that zombies and vampires had been so overworked that I’d have no interest in any of them,” he recalls, “but then I ended up putting one of each on my shortlist: ‘From the Teeth of Strange Children’ by Lisa Hannett and ‘Younger Women’ by Karen Joy Fowler.”

With this idea in mind, here are a dozen or so books that transcend the tired fantasy clichés they utilize, as recommended by an assortment of writers in the genre. (The list is hardly comprehensive, mind you, so make sure to add your recommendations in the comments.)

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May 2015 Nightmare Magazine Now on Sale

Saturday, May 30th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Nightmare Magazine May 2015-smallThe May issue of the online magazine Nightmare is now available.

Fiction this month includes original short stories from Kealan Patrick Burke and Sandra McDonald, and reprints from Kaaron Warren and Stephen Graham Jones:

Original Stories

The Red Light is Blinking” by Kealan Patrick Burke
Rules for Ordinary Heroes” by Sandra McDonald


Mountain” by Kaaron Warren (from Through Splintered Walls, 2012)
Raphael” by Stephen Graham Jones (from Cemetery Dance #55, 2006)

The non-fiction this issue includes the latest installment in their long-running horror column, “The H Word,” plus author spotlights, a showcase on cover artist Vitaly Alexius, and a feature interview with Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement winner William F. Nolan.

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Future Treasures: The Chart of Tomorrows by Chris Willrich

Saturday, May 30th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Chart of Tomorrows-smallChris Willrich is one of the shining stars of modern sword & sorcery. His story “The Lions of Karthagar,” set in the world of Gaunt and Bone, appeared in the last issue of Black Gate. Forrest Aguirre, author of Heraclix and Pomp, reviewed the story on his blog:

I was also impressed by “The Lions of Karthagar,” by Chris Willrich. The main characters in this tale, the Weatherworkers Blim the Damp and Miy Who Sing Storms, whose friendship develops against the background of an invasion of an incredibly rich country by their armies, each of which seeks to take possession of the golden land. Poetic and even touching, this story tugged at my emotions like most Sword and Sorcery does not.

Chris’s heroes Gaunt and Bone have appeared in five stories published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Beneath Ceaseless Skies (including the novelette “The Sword of Loving Kindness,” which you can read for free at BCS here).

But they have gained serious attention recently with the publication of two novels, The Scroll of Years (2013) and The Silk Map (2014), both from Pyr. Of the former, BiblioSanctum said, “I cannot remember the last time I came across a book like this. Highly recommended for readers of fantasy who love a good action-adventure tale.”

Now the third novel featuring Gaunt and Bone is set to be published in early July by Pyr. In The Chart of Tomorrows, the two find their plans to retire interrupted when their son becomes the chosen vessel of a powerful spirit…

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The Novels of Tanith Lee: Tales From the Flat Earth

Saturday, May 30th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Night's Master 1986-small Death's Master 1986-small Delusion's Master 1987-small

We’re continuing with our look at the monumental 40-year career of Tanith Lee, who died last week. We started with The Wars of Vis trilogy, and today we continue with her most acclaimed fantasy series, Tales From the Flat Earth.

I say “most acclaimed” because — in addition to the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Balrog award nominations these books have accumulated over the years — in the Comments section of her obituary, this series was called “the towering pinnacle” (by Joe Hoopman), “towering legend” (by John R. Fultz), “my faves” (by Arin Komins), and “engrossing” (by rrm). It’s a small sample of fandom, but a compelling one. In my experience, Black Gate readers know what they’re talking about.

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Fantasy Literature: Caine Black Knife

Saturday, May 30th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

Caine Black Knife Warning StickerWe continue through Matthew Stover’s Caine novels (following our look at Blade of Tyshalle last week), not by reviewing them, but by calling certain aspects to the attention of readers. Spoilers afoot.

Blade of Tyshalle represented a big shift in scope and narrative approach from Heroes Die. Stover broke the mold, did not continue the series with a fast-punching short novel but instead drafted a much longer and ultimately more introspective novel. Where in Heroes Die Caine saves his wife and defeats his (several) enemies, and seriously inconveniences a god along the way, Blade of Tyshalle follows Caine as he saves Overworld from earth’s colonial clutches via the convenient outlet of saving his daughter from sundry baddies. He ends Heroes Die with limited mobility on earth thanks to a spinal injury, and finishes Blade of Tyshalle with magic-assisted mobility on Overworld.

Blade ends with Overworld shutting the door on earth and its greedy fingers. Some of those fingers remain on Overworld, and those fingers, naturally, want to go home. In the years between Blade and Caine Black Knife Caine serves Ma’elkoth as an enforcer, suffering the god’s personal presence in his head. For the convenience of the plot and narrative, the god’s presence is much reduced. The super-powers Caine uses in the epilogue of Blade vanish, too.

Ma’elkoth still makes his presence felt, and the novel opens with a vision of Caine’s adopted brother, an Ogrilloi (think: Ogre), getting into a bit of trouble, right at the scene of Caine’s breakout success as an actor. The novel runs on parallel tracks, following Caine’s adventure “RETREAT FROM THE BOEDECKEN.” Stover playfully includes a warning “sticker” regarding this material (above left).

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Short Speculative Fiction: A May Roundup

Friday, May 29th, 2015 | Posted by Learned Foote

Lightspeed May 2015-small2 Clarkesworld-104-small2 Black-Star-Black-Sun-small2 Fantasy and Science Fiction May June 2015-small2

So much short fiction to recommend! As with my debut column, this one will focus on speculative stories, novellas and novelettes, with a sci-fi emphasis, and dabbling into fantasy and horror. This column covers the month of May, and a novella published in February. Sources for this month’s list of awesome stories include Lightspeed (Issue 60, May 2015), Clarkesworld (Issue 104, May 2015), and Fantasy and Science Fiction (May/June 2015), as well as a novella published by April Moon Books. The magazines can be purchased for between $1 – $7.95, and the novella’s available for $3 in electronic format.

I only managed to review a brief selection of the many wonderful stories that appeared in May 2015, and I’m eager to know what other readers enjoyed: what they liked from this list, and what’s missing.

Onward to the stories:

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New Treasures: Michael Moorcock’s The Chronicles of Corum from Titan Books

Friday, May 29th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Chronicles of Corum Titan Books-small

I was talking about The Chronicles of Corum, which Fletcher Vredenburgh calls “the most intense and beautiful books” in Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series, in a Vintage Treasures post recently. I was unaware at the time that Titan Books was planning to reprint the entire series in high quality trade paperback editions. If I was, I wouldn’t have spent all that time and money tracking down the 1987 Grafton paperback.

The first, The Knight of the Swords, was published on May 5th. The other five will be released over the next five months, as follows.

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