Mage: The Hero Denied #13

Friday, November 30th, 2018 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage The Hero Defined 13-small“Remember, Kevin, in the world of magic … things aren’t always as they seem!”

That’s a line from Mirth in this latest issue. This time, I’ll talk about what we see in this issue (spoilers), as well as what I think is really going on (double spoilers).

So, it opens with Mirth appearing before Kevin and Miranda, telling them that his power has been greatly reduced as Kevin’s power has grown. All he can do at this point is guide them to the Umbra Sprite’s lair and advise them along the way.

Meanwhile, Magda and Hugo are still wandering through the Umbra Sprite’s lair when they are approached by one of the Gracklethorns. This one is taken out rather easily with a can of magic hairspray. And by “taken out,” I mean killed, because Magda tells her son that they have to hide the body before they move on. They choose to hide in a closet and re-think their strategy, but the closet door that Magda opens leads into a vast cavern complex.

Back to Kevin and Mirth, with two pages of dialogue that I think gives away the game. Kevin mentions that Mirth’s hair has gone from white to black again, assuming that he has finally recovered from being trapped in a bank teller machine way back in the first series. Mirth mentions that the bandages that cover his legs (or specifically the spaces where his legs once were) are now also covering his arms, as he’s acquired new scars. He then ridicules Kevin for thinking that his one bat-strike against the Umbra Sprite in the second volume could have done anything more than annoy it.

Eventually, Mirth is able to dispel the illusion that hides the Umbra Sprite’s tower. Kevin manages to defeat a two-headed acid-spewing dragon and then Kevin, Mirth, and Miranda make their way into the cavern at the base of the tower. Of course, the caverns that they enter at the bottom of the tower look similar to the caverns that Magda and Hugo enter near the top of the tower, implying that they’ll meet each other somewhere in these caverns, probably next issue. It’s also significant that we see the imp hiding behind a rock, observing Kevin, Mirth, and Miranda.

The issue ends with Karol Gracklethorn, working in a rescue mission in her human guise, being approached by a one-legged hippie who announces that he is the Fisher King and that he knows she’s been looking for him. And that’s the issue.

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In 500 Words or Less: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

Friday, November 30th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Moon of the Crusted Snow-smallMoon of the Crusted Snow
by Waubgeshig Rice
ECW Press (224 pages, $14.95 paperback, $7.99 eBook, October 2, 2018)

At Can*Con this year, we held a panel titled “True or False: All Post-Apocalyptic Fiction is Derivative Crap.” Obviously, we chose the title to enflame diehard fans of the genre – but while I can’t speak for the rest of our programming team, I’ll freely admit that it takes a lot for a post-apocalyptic story to excite me these days. There are only so many stories you can tell in a world that’s collapsed without it feeling stale; even established properties like The Walking Dead are accused of being well past their prime. However, even as reviewers like me grumble about certain subgenres, authors manage to create something that’s fresh and exciting to show us up. Which means I have to say thanks(?) to Waubgeshig Rice, after binging his novel Moon of the Crusted Snow over the course of about three days.

Part of the appeal right away was the slow, gradual way that Rice builds tension in this story. We’re introduced to a focused cast of characters in an Ontario indigenous reserve, where people are already used to living minimally – so when the Internet and satellite TV go down, no one balks, since it happens all the time. When the phone and power lines follow, the reader is probably getting more nervous than the characters … until they figure out something has gone really wrong and have to decide how the community will cope.

But things are kept ambiguous right to the end, so much so that we never find out the cause of Moon’s apocalypse. Since the novel never leaves the reserve, we only hear about society’s collapse tangentially, from a handful of characters who escape the chaos. In fact, there’s a lot that gets unanswered by the end of the novel, including the fate of several key characters. But Rice doesn’t make it feel like we’re left hanging; instead, it’s part of the overall uncertainty of the novel, and a reflection of how life is rarely packed up neatly, even when things aren’t collapsing.

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Birthday Reviews: Shane Tourtellotte’s “A New Man”

Friday, November 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Dominic Harman

Cover by Dominic Harman

Shane Tourtellotte was born on November 30, 1968.

Tourtellotte was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2000 and his novelette “The Return of Spring” was nominated for a Hugo Award in 2002.

Tourtellotte has collaborated with Michael A. Burstein and edited an anthology in honor of Hal Clement.

“A New Man” was originally published in the October 2003 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, edited by Stanley Schmidt. It is part of Tourtellotte’s First Impressions series of short stories and has only been reprinted on Tourtellotte’s website.

The main focus of “A New Man” is Josh Muntz’s return home after thirteen years. Muntz attacked three women, killing one of them, but was deemed insane and has spent the last thirteen years in a mental institution. A new technique has allowed the grafting of someone else’s mind onto Josh’s in order to alleviate the violent tendencies that caused him to commit the attacks. Tourtellotte looks at the impact Josh’s crimes and his return have on him and his family.

Tourtellotte gives Josh every advantage he can. In addition to the procedure, he has follow-up visits with both a psychologist and a physician who want to see him succeed. They’ve arranged for him to have a job with a boss who is happy to overlook his past if he does his job, and he has a home to live in with his still-married parents. At the same time, Tourtellotte puts obstacles in his path. While his mother is supportive, his father has a hard time accepting what his son has done and remains distant. Josh himself feels the need to apologize to his victims and their families, despite the advice of his team.

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Goth Chick News: Before the Turkey There Was Days of the Dead

Thursday, November 29th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Days of the Dead 2018-small

For the last six years, Goth Chick News has concluded the haunt season with a final show which rolls through Chicago each November. Days of the Dead (DotD for you cool kids) has always been an interesting experience and the 2018 show which occurred last weekend was no exception.

In past years DotD has resulted in memorable encounters with the likes of Vampire Santa, Carrie Henn who played “Newt” in the movie Aliens, and my spiritual hubby, Brad Miska aka “Mr. Disgusting” owner of the premier horror website Bloody Disgusting. It has also been the source of quite a lot of under-the-breath commentary from Black Gate photog Chris Z such as his whispered “What the f***?” when Sleepy Hollow actress and former Tim Burton muse finally showed up to her press call (click here for why) and his speculation on the cause of Tara Reid’s extreme tardiness which likely wasn’t the “late lunch” her handler offered.

The 2018 event was a little thin on “celebrity” front with the biggest names being Clive Barker, who was quite a score since getting someone out of LA to Chicago in November is no small accomplishment, and the rapper Coolio who I guess was there for his appearance in the 2004 movie Dracula 3000 and not his web foodie show Cooking With Coolio. Nonetheless, there was still a lot of fun stuff to share.

So let’s dive in shall we?

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Cheat Endings As Bad As Deus Ex Machina

Thursday, November 29th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

Deus... Ex Machina...!

We still make like confused crusaders and cry “Deus Ex!” because it’s a cheat ending

Deus Ex Machina endings are so despised that people still use the Roman term from thousands of years ago, itself a translation from the older Greek, “God Out of the Machine”.

For those who’ve just tuned in to plot geekery and tropes: Imagine a Greek play, everybody in masks under a Mediterranean blue sky. The Furies are rejoicing, the hero is trapped by his enemies, the dilemmas are unsolvable and — WHOOSH! — a crane or a trapdoor-elevator — yes, a machine — literally plonks Apollo onto the stage and He — boringly — fixes everything.

These days, the Deus Ex Machin need not be a god — it can be the king, an airstrike, friendly aliens, whatever. We still make like confused crusaders and cry “Deus Ex!” because it’s a cheat ending: unearned victory or salvation is boring, and dodges the questions raised by the story.

However, Deus Ex Machina is not the only cheat ending. It has mutant cousins that often get a free pass because they ramp up the drama. Even so, they suck the life from stories by making them less rich.

Let’s call the first, “Boss out of the Box” and take Wonder Woman as an example (not because it’s a bad movie, but because we’ve all watched it). Spoilers after the cut.

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Future Treasures: King of the Road, Book 2 of Brotherhood of the Wheel by R. S. Belcher

Thursday, November 29th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Brotherhood of the Wheel-medium King of the Road-small

I’ve been waiting for the sequel to R.S. Belcher’s Brotherhood of the Wheel since the book first appeared in 2016, and next week my wait is finally over.

Expectations for King of the Road, the second book in the series, are high. In a starred review Publishers Weekly said,

Belcher’s masterful storytelling and worldbuilding make for a gripping and consistently surprising follow-up to Brotherhood of the Wheel. Long-haul trucker Jimmie Aussapile; his squire, Hector “Heck” Sinclair; and Louisiana State Police Officer Lovina Marcou, a road witch gradually coming into her powers, are members of a secret society descended from the Knights Templar, protecting the roads and travelers. While Lovina works a missing-person case involving a ghost clown and an alchemist who assembles a cult of disaffected souls, Jimmie and Heck battle a number of supernatural horrors, including animated corpses and living shadows… [a] fascinating series.

King of the Road will be published in hardcover by Tor on December 4. The first book was released in paperback last year. Here’s the book blurb.

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Birthday Reviews: John Helfers’s “The Final Battle”

Thursday, November 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Howe

Cover by John Howe

John Helfers was born on November 29, 1972.

Helfers has been nominated for the Hugo Award, both times in the Best Related Work category. In 2009 he and Lillian Stewart Carl were nominated for The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold and in 2013, he shared a nomination with Martin H. Greenberg for I Have an Idea for a Book…: The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg. While Helfers has written numerous short stories and novels, he is perhaps best known as an editor for Tekno Books and Five Star Press and he has worked on many anthologies which did not include his name on the cover. He has collaborated on fiction with Jean Rabe, Russell Davis, and his wife Kerrie L. Hughes. His editing collaborations are too numerous to mention. He has also published works under the house name James Axler.

“The Final Battle” was published in Martin H. Greenberg’s anthology Merlin in 1999. The story has never been reprinted.

In Helfers’s story, Merlin, recently escaped from his confinement by Nimue, is shown to be a tremendously powerful magic user. Rather than showing Merlin participating in rituals to call down lightning, the magic Merlin does is almost an afterthought. A wave of his hand conjures a massive castle and, once inside, he uses magic as readily as anyone else would use breathing. Difficulties occur when he grafts himself onto a familiar, a sparrow, who flies out and discovers that Arthur’s nemesis, Mordred, is approaching Merlin’s castle. Mordred’s casual destruction of the sparrow and Merlin’s bond to it warns the magician of Mordred’s intent and that Arthur’s bastard is more powerful than Merlin expects.

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Reworking A Classic: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

9781786073976The Arabic world has seen an upsurge in speculative fiction in recent years. Some attribute it to the disappointments of the Arab Spring and the disaster of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Others point to ready access to the Internet, allowing Arab writers to communicate more easily with genre fans in other parts of the world.

Of course this ignores the fact that Arabic literature has a long tradition of the fantastic. Arab writers are working from very deep roots. So it’s interesting that one of the most successful Arab speculative novels of the past decade takes its inspiration from a Western source.

Frankenstein in Baghdad retells Mary Shelley’s classic tale in American-occupied Baghdad in the early years of this decade. The book originally came out in Arabic in 2013. Baghdad is a nightmare of opposing factions shooting it out while a corrupt Iraqi government propped up by the clueless Americans tries to keep it all together.

***Spoilers follow. If you don’t like spoilers, just go out and buy the novel. You’ll be glad you did.***

Hadi is a junk dealer who drinks too much and works too little, living in an abandoned house and telling wild tales at the local cafe to anyone who listens. On his rounds he comes across the wreckage of countless car bombings. While the emergency crews try to clean up as much as possible, they often miss small body parts. Hadi decides to take these home and sew them together, making a complete body that would be suitable for burial.

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New Treasures: Terra Incognita: Three Novellas by Connie Willis

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Uncharted Territory-small Remake Connie Willis-small D.A. Connie Willis-small

I need to read more Connie Willis. She’s one of the most acclaimed modern SF writers, and what I’ve read of her so far has been fabulous.

I don’t even have the excuse that her books are all too long — she’s made it a habit to regularly publish short, digestible novels over the years, like the alien western Uncharted Territory (1994), Remake (1994), a tale of future Hollywood, and D.A. (2006), an SF conspiracy thriller. In fact, I’d read all three of those if they weren’t all long out of print and impossible to find.

Maybe that’s what was going through the mind of the editors at Del Rey when they decided to publish Terra Incognita, an affordable trade paperback collecting all three short novels. The reviews have been terrific, especially for a reprint collection: Kirkus Reviews said “A master of fantasy playfully combines science fiction with other genres in three antic novellas… Clever, funny, thought-provoking, and sweet, these stories are classic Willis,” and Shelf Awareness said:

Willis’s lively, funny forays into futuristic territory shine as brightly today as when originally released… In all three stories, the protagonists find their narrow concepts of life challenged and expanded by possibilities created through technology. As a collection, these smart, accessible shorts make for an entertaining initiation or reintroduction into the world of one of sci-fi’s greatest treasures.

Here’s all the details.

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Birthday Reviews: David Zindell’s “Caverns”

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Pete Lyon

Cover by Pete Lyon

David Zindell was born on November 28, 1952.

Zindell was a first place winner of the 1985 Writers of the Future Third Quarter contest with the story “Shanidar,” which Terry Carr subsequently selected for his Terry Carr’s Best SF of the Year #15. The next year, he was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His novels Neverness and The Broken God were both nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

“Caverns” was originally published in the Winter 1985/6 issue of Interzone, edited by Simon Ounsley and David Pringle. In 1987 it was translated into German for publication in Wolfgang Jeschke’s anthology L Wie Liquidator. It has never been reprinted in English.

“Caverns” is a tragic love story between the narrator and his wife, Mary. The narrator has decided to undergo an experimental process of introducing neurophages into his system in order to take the next evolutionary leap. Mary is unwilling to participate in the experiment with him and the two grow apart through the story, which is told in alternating sections, some of which details his divergence from humanity and others which show his relationship disintegrating.

It is important to note that even the earliest parts of his human relationship are not particularly strong. It is clear that the narrator never really listens to what his wife is saying, although she also doesn’t appear to be very good at communication. When she tells him she’s pregnant, for instance, he’s surprised at the news, but she seems to think he should have known without having to tell him. As the neurophages take hold, it becomes clear that even as he insists that he needs her, the two are leading parallel and only occasionally convergent lives. He loves not Mary, but his impression of who she is. Told from his point of view, Mary’s needs can only be conjectured as she strives to give him what she thinks he might need, often to her own detriment and without actually understanding what he is looking for.

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