In 500 Words or Less: It’s Not the End and Other Lies by Matt Moore

Friday, September 21st, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_2002521f3K3WVh7It’s Not the End and Other Lies
by Matt Moore
ChiZine Publications (300 pages, $17.99 paperback, $10.99 eBook, July 2018)

When I was newly-arrived in Ottawa, starting my first year as a high school teacher and still struggling to “break in” as a writer, I subscribed to On Spec, Canada’s premier magazine for short speculative fiction. One of the first issues I received was On Spec #92 in spring 2013, containing an op-ed titled “Next Stop: Suburban Fantasy” that discussed the popularity of urban fantasy and how the subgenre might evolve. It’s sitting on my office bookshelf right now, and rereading it this week I’m just as impressed as I was over five years ago.

That first read was long before I became friends with Matt Moore, whose recent story collection It’s Not the End and Other Lies proves several of the points he made in his op-ed, including that the urban sprawl we find ourselves in today can be just as bizarre and terrifying as the wilderness humanity has left behind. What I’ve loved about Matt’s work for a long time is his ability to combine an everyday suburban setting and make it the perfect place for something uncanny. The core of “Only at the End Do You See What Follows,” for example, is really a widower struggling over what to do with his house – except that his dead wife somehow predicted every person who would come to see it. The supernatural element isn’t really the hook, though; instead, it’s the protagonist’s relationship with his wife, a malicious cheater who’s borderline emotionally abusive, and the question of whether he’s hearing her from beyond the grave at all.

Like the best science fiction or horror writers out there, Moore’s talent doesn’t stop at combining the everyday with the speculative – the real magic is his character work. The supernatural force killing townspeople in “The Leaving” is just the vehicle; the real intrigue is waitress Georgina, desperate to atone for sending an ex-lover out into the night to die. Whether “Of the Endangered” is alternate history, slipstream or far-future SF is a mystery right to the end, but so is Noah, the Gunslinger-esque hunter chasing a backwoods demon. The fallen sky in “Touch the Sky, They Say” is a beautiful concept, but only because of the people wanting to press their hands against the stratosphere. But my personal favorite (I think) is “Brief Candles,” focusing on a couple desperate to have children in a post-Vietnam suburb, but forced to wait until they get a candle holding a soul that can be given new life through reincarnation. Whether the Cycle in this world is fact or fiction is never established; the important thing is what these characters believe, and what they’re willing to do because of it.

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The Underwater Ballroom Society: A Review

Friday, September 21st, 2018 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

The-Underwater-Ballroom-Society

In The Underwater Ballroom Society, an anthology sprung what-if-ily from a Twitter discussion, Tiffany Trent and Stephanie Burgis have edited a book targeted most righteously to the naiads, nāgas, and merfolk among us. Eleven stories of splendiferous sub-lacunar spectacle await the invited… and we’re all invited! Put on your best fishing net dress, string yourself with drowned doubloons and deep-water pearls, and dive in!

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New Treasures: The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories edited by Stephen Jones

Thursday, September 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories-smallI love these Mammoth anthologies. Because they’re mammoth! You can curl up with them for an entire weekend. Or use them as a stepladder to get to those dishes in the top cupboard. They have countless uses around the house.

Stephen Jones’ latest, The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories, arrived earlier this month, and it looks like an essential fall purchase. It’s 528 pages of new and reprint stories from Ramsey Campbell, Steve Rasnic Tem, Joe R. Lansdale, Helen Marshall, Angela Slatter, Neil Gaiman, Storm Constantine, Alison Littlewood, Robert Silverberg, Michael Marshall Smith, Adrian Cole, Christopher Fowler, Scott Bradfield, Robert Shearman, and a dozen more — plus a spooky new poem by Jane Yolen.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

“Introduction: When Churchyards Yawn”
“October in the Chair” – Neil Gaiman (Conjunctions: 39, The New Wave Fabulists, 2002)
“Reflections in Black” – Steve Rasnic Tem
“The Halloween Monster” – Alison Littlewood
“The Phénakisticope of Decay” – James Ebersole
“Memories of Día de los Muertos” – Nancy Kilpatrick (Dead of Night #8, Fall/Winter 1993)
“Fragile Masks” – Richard Gavin
“Bone Fire” – Storm Constantine
“Queen of the Hunt” – Adrian Cole
“The October Widow” – Angela Slatter (The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, September 2014)
“Before the Parade Passes By” – Marie O’Regan

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Magical Tomes and Witch Hunting Manuals at the Ashmolean Museum

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Last week I looked at the new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft. It’s such a compelling collection of folk magic through the ages that I wanted to look a bit more in detail at a few of the magic books that were included in the exhibition, along with some of the art that belief in witchcraft inspired in pre-modern times.

Microcosmic man (c) Wellcome Library, London

The “microcosmic man” in a German manuscript, c. 1420. © Wellcome Library,
London. The idea that man is a smaller reflection of the greater universe
goes back to Plato and Aristotle, and in the Middle Ages was developed by
astrologers into a system in which certain parts of the body correspond
to signs of the Zodiac. Medical texts used these charts to know whether
or not to bleed a patient. If the moon was in the sign corresponding to
the body part, it was unhealthy to bleed them.

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The Origins of Zombies Need Brains

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018 | Posted by Joshua Palmatier

Zombes Need Brains Portal

There’s one particular question that I get asked a lot once people find out I created a small press called Zombies Need Brains. Mainly, where the name Zombies Need Brains comes from.

It began in 2007, when the World Fantasy Convention was held in Saratoga Springs, NY. That’s basically a few hours drive from where I live. At the time, Patricia Bray was also living in Binghamton and I had just been published by DAW Books. (The Skewed Throne came out in hardcover in January 2006 and The Cracked Throne followed in November 2006.) I was, of course, looking for ways to promote the books and so with WFC so close, Patricia and I came up with a plan to throw a party on Thursday night at the con. We invited S.C. Butler, Barbara Campbell, C.E. Murphy, and Jennifer Dunne to join us (mostly so we could split the costs and make it affordable for all of the authors involved). We planned out the alcohol, the snacks, getting a room at the convention, getting invites printed up to hand out at the con, etc., etc., etc.

But we needed a name for the party.

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When Philip K. Dick Reports You to the FBI: Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Camp Concentration-small Camp Concentration-back-small

Thomas M. Disch is a tragic figure. An enormously talented writer who won the enduring respect of his peers — with nine Nebula nominations and two Hugo nominations to his credit, plus a John W. Campbell Award and Rhysling Award, among many other accolades — his work was long ignored by the public. Success eluded him for virtually his entire career, and he gave up writing almost entirely near the end of his life. After the death of his partner in 2005 he lost his house, fought eviction from his apartment, and eventually killed himself in 2008. In the Science Fiction Encyclopedia John Clute wrote of Disch:

Because of his intellectual audacity, the chillingly distanced mannerism of his narrative art, the austerity of the pleasures he affords, and the fine cruelty of his wit, Disch was perhaps the most respected, least trusted, most envied and least read of all modern sf writers of the first rank.

Certainly his most commercially successful work was the novella “The Brave Little Toaster,” which appeared first in the August 1980 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and was nominated for both a Hugo and Nebula. Famed animation director John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life) recalls how he was fired from Disney ten minutes after making a pitch for a film version; Hyperion Pictures eventually produced animated versions of The Brave Little Toaster (1987) and Disch’s sequel, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (1998).

Perhaps his most successful adult novel was Camp Concentration, which has seen nearly a dozen editions in English since it first appeared in 1968. Alongside On Wings of Song (1979) it’s one of his most acclaimed novels, anyway, and I figure it makes a solid starting point to start reading Disch. It’s interesting for another reason as well — the novel figures prominently in one of the most infamous incidents involving Philip K. Dick, who was so alarmed by Camp Concentration that he wrote a letter to the FBI about it.

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VIVE LA COMPAGNIE! : In Conclusion, The Black Company Series by Glen Cook

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1471611MVbvsrEr

As soon as I opened The Black Company last May, I knew I was back home among a band of brothers I’d first met and come to love over thirty years ago.                                                                                                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                                                         – Fletcher Vredenburgh     

When my friend Carl lent me his copy of The Black Company back in 1984 I didn’t know what was about to hit me. I had read some gritty fantasy previously — Michael Moorcock and Karl Edward Wagner in particular had published some pretty dark stories in the 1960s and 70s — but it was all written in the old familiar fantasy style. Both Moorcock and Wagner were rooted in the foundations of swords & sorcery laid by Robert E. Howard, CL Moore, and Fritz Leiber. No matter how callous their heroes, they were ultimately still cut from recognizable heroic cloth.

Cook introduced something new. He set aside the archaic prose flourishes of all those authors, instead drawing on hardboiled fiction to give his stories a contemporary feel. There’s a rejection of the mythic, fairytale setting in the Black Company books, and a wholehearted embrace of a “realistic” world where the battlefield reeks of blood, excrement, and decay. Mercenaries pillage, rape, and slaughter, presented in some detail and matter-of-factly. Even seen through the primary narrator’s somewhat romantic eyes, there’s a businesslike miserableness in these books I hadn’t previously encountered in fantasy. As soon as I finished the book I passed it on to to my friend Jim, he passed it on to George, and on and on it went until all my fantasy-reading friends had read it.

For the uninitiated, the Black Company series tells the story of the Last Free Company of Khatovar. Led by the eponymous Captain and Lieutenant, the Company can fight with the best of them, but prefers to outwit its enemies and win its battles by means of subterfuge and sabotage. The narrator, Croaker, serves as company surgeon and Annalist. For four centuries the Company has taken one contract after another, slowly working its way north from long-forgotten Khatovar. As the first book opens, they are approached by a mysterious masked figure offering a new contract even further north, across the sea. Within the first chapter everything changes for the Company, and they are embroiled in a war like they’ve never fought before.

For readers unfamiliar with The Black Company, but up-to-date on Martin, Abercrombie, and Bakker, this might sound old hat. Trust me when I tell you that it wasn’t. At seventeen, that first book hit me like a hammer between the eyes. Here were characters who essentially went to work for Sauron’s ex-wife. Over the course of the first and second books they became the baddest, most-feared band of killers in her army. The ostensible good guys are as vicious and murdering as anybody on the bad guys’ side. There’s a bit of moral redemption in the third book, but what really drives the protagonists is a deep self-interest in survival. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, Cook took heroic fantasy out of the realm of faerie and put it into the bleak world where it belonged.

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Uncanny as a Ventriloquist’s Doll: Nothing is Everything by Simon Strantzas

Monday, September 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Nothing is Everything Simon Strantzas hc-small Nothing is Everything Simon Strantzas hc-back-small

Art by Aron Wiesenfeld

In 2014 I wasn’t familiar with the work of Simon Strantzas, but I bought his collection Burnt Black Suns mostly on the reputation of its lead story “On Ice,” a grim novella of arctic horror. By 2018, however, Simon is the one with the reputation, and it’s growing steadily with every story.

His new collection Nothing is Everything, on sale in hardcover and trade paperback from Michael Kelly’s Undertow Press next month, has already drawn a lot of attention. Kij Johnson says “Simon Strantzas is Shirley Jackson-grade eerie,” and Camilla Grudova, author of The Doll’s Alphabet, says:

Simon Strantzas captures the creepiness of small town Ontario; there is something of Seth, of Alice Munro in his work, wonderfully tangled with the likes of Aickman and Jackson. Uncanny as a ventriloquist’s doll, but with a real, beating heart.

Undertow is simultaneously releasing hardcover and trade paperback editions with different covers. Both are very fine, but the hardcover, with art by Aron Wiesenfeld (above), is particularly arresting. The trade paperback (below) features art by Tran Nguyen. Both were designed by Vince Haig.

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Birthday Reviews: Irene Radford’s “Little Red in the ‘Hood”

Monday, September 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City

Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City

Irene Radford was born on September 17, 1950. She has published works under a variety of pseudonyms, including Phyllis Ames, C.F. Bentley, P.R. Frost, Phyllis Irene Radford, and Julia Verne St. John.

Radford has published numerous series, many of them through DAW Books, including the Dragon Nimbus, Stargods, Tess Noncoiré, and Merlin’s Descendants. She is one of the founders of Book View Café, a cooperative publisher. She has also collaborated with Bob Brown and as an editor with Deborah J. Ross, Laura Ann Gilman, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, and Brenda Clough.

“Little Red in the ‘Hood” appeared in the anthology Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers in 2004. M.H. Bonham reprinted the story in 2011 in WolfSongs: Volume 2. When Radford and Deborah J. Ross edited the anthology Beyond Grimm in 2012, they selected the story to be reprinted again.

Radford’s “Little Red in the ‘Hood” is much more substantial than Linda D. Addison’s vignette of practically the same name, reviewed on September 8. In Radford’s story, Little Red is the nickname for a woman who is “volunteering” to help deliver food for Mobile Meals, a service to provide food for shut-ins, although her volunteer work is ordered by the courts after she was caught shop-lifting. The assignment she pulls has her taking food to a notorious lecher who has often been banned from food delivery due to his treatment of the women bringing his food. Although the coordinator offers to postpone the delivery until they can send an escort with Little Red, she refuses.

There are hints early on that Little Red is more than she seems, as she accepts the task of bringing food to Jason Hanstable, who has the reputation of a wolf. With Radford focusing on the lengthening of Red’s fingernails as much as her decision to only wear red, it seems clear that she is a different kind of wolf than Jason, but a wolf all the same. Despite telegraphing Red’s transformation, Radford includes a twist which only becomes clear when she introduces it, allowing the non-reveal that Red is a wolf to take second place and still subvert the reader’s expectations.

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Future Treasures: Strange Ink by Gary Kemble

Saturday, September 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Ink Gary Kemble-small

No surprise that as we slip into Fall, publisher schedules start to fill up with more horror volumes. What is surprising is the number of intriguing debuts I’m seeing, like Gary Kemble’s Strange Ink, arriving in trade paperback from Titan next month. Publishers Weekly thought very highly of the book; here’s a snippet from their review.

In Kemble’s taut, suspenseful debut set in Brisbane, Australia, local and international concerns combine with the supernatural. Small-time journalist Harry Hendrick wakes up after a stag party with a hangover and a new tattoo he has no memory of getting. When he starts having intense nightmares, he quickly realizes his new tattoo is far from ordinary. More inexplicable tattoos begin appearing, bringing more nightmares, which Harry suspects may actually be someone else’s disturbing memories. Those memories have strong political implications, and Harry must solve the mystery they present before a depraved villain becomes prime minister. The novel’s gritty realism viscerally and effectively conveys the discomfort of new ink, the oppressive heat of the Queensland summer, and the horrors of war and murder… This is a strong debut by a promising new voice.

Strange Ink will be published by Titan Books on October 9, 2018. It is 391 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $7.99 for the digital edition. The cover art is by Studio London.

See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy here.


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