Vintage Treasures: Talking Man by Terry Bisson

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Talking Man (Avon, 1987). Cover by Jill Bauman

Terry Bisson is a brilliant short story writer. He’s published five collections, including Bears Discover Fire and Other Stories (1993), which contains one of my all-time favorite SF tales, “They’re Made out of Meat.” You can read the whole thing online here. Go ahead, it’s short. I’ll wait. Wasn’t that amazing? That killer last line!

Bisson has also written over a dozen SF novels. A fair number, but not so many that you can, you know, lose track of them. Presumably. So imagine my surprise last month when I’m minding my own business, surfing paperback collections on eBay (as one does), when I glimpse the slender spine of something that looks like “Talking Man” by Terry Bisson.

What the heck was Talking Man? I’d never heard of it. To add insult to injury, a simple internet search revealed that this was a highly regarded novel — and a major oversight for a self-described Bisson fan such as myself. It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and Publishers Weekly gave it a warm review back in 1986, saying  (in part):

Having dreamt this world into being, the wizard called “Talking Man” falls in love with what he has made and retires there. He lives in a house trailer on a Kentucky hillside close by his junkyard, and he only uses magic on the rare occasions he can’t fix a car the other way. He’d be there still if his jealous codreamer Dgene hadn’t decided to undo his creation and return this world to nothingness. Talking Man lights out to stop her… The geography shimmers and melts, catfish big as boats are pulled from the Mississippi, the moon crumbles into luminous rings and refugees from burning cities choke the highways… fantastic and gothic… very entertaining.

Even Jo Walton raved about this book, at some length, over at Damn it, does the whole world know about this novel but me? Apparently.

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The Doom of “Oden”: Twilight of the Gods (Grimnir #2)

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 | Posted by SELindberg


With Grimnir #2 Twilight of the Gods (TotG), Scott Oden presents a novel take on Ragnarök, the apocalypse in Norse mythology. He masterfully integrates his historical fiction expertise (i.e., from Memnon, Men of Bronze) with gritty battles reminiscent of Robert E. Howard (i.e., the creator of Conan the Barbarian; Oden recently published a serialized, pastiche novella across the Savage Sword of Conan Marvel Comic series). Few can merge the intensity of low-fantasy Sword & Sorcery with high-fantasy Epics, but Oden does here.

TotG is second in this series; Fletcher Vredenburgh reviewed Griminr #1 A Gathering of Ravens (AGoR) in 2017, and reported: “Oden tells a story that feels lifted straight from the sagas and Eddas.” This February, John O’Neill posted a Future Treasures to reveal the Jimmy Iacobelli cover art to Twilight of the Gods.

This article is a review of the story, the style, and the lore. Read on to learn about the series’ namesake, the apocalypse in this second volume, and get teasers for the third book, The Doom of Odin.

“Mark this, little bird: you can judge how high you stand in your enemy’s esteem by the weapon he draws against you.” – Grimnir

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Future Treasures: Creatures of Charm and Hunger by Molly Tanzer

Monday, April 6th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Creatures of Will and Temper (2017 cover by Eduardo Recife), Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018, Eduardo Recife),
and Creatures of Charm and Hunger (2020, artist unknown)

When I sold The Robots of Gotham to John Joseph Adams, I learned a lot about the publishing biz, and some of it was weird. For example John taught me that, for various reasons, the acquisition announcement released by the publisher, which includes the title, release date, rights acquired, and a detailed description of the forthcoming book, was traditionally a single sentence. As you can imagine, that results in some pretty tortured sentences. Ever since then I’ve enjoyed dropping by John’s blog at John Joseph Adams Books to read the acquisition announcements, and I was delighted to see this artfully crafted sentence a year ago:

Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Charm and Hunger, the third book in her series that began with Creatures of Will and Temper, WWII-era fantasy set in England where two teenage girls seek to become full members of an international society of diabolists, a quest that will nearly ruin their friendship and take them down dark paths when one girl learns her parents were taken to a concentration camp and the other summons a powerful and mysterious demon, to John Joseph Adams Books, for publication in Spring 2020…

The first novel in Molly’s series, Creatures of Will and Temper, was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and Jeff VanderMeer called it “A delightful, dark, and entertaining romp.” The follow up, Creatures of Want & Ruin, was selected as a Barnes & Noble Best Science Fiction Fantasy Book of November 2018,” and the B&N Sci-Fi Blog said “Molly Tanzer does it all; from her debut novel, named best book of 2015 by i09, to the “thoughtful erotica” she edits at her magazine, Congress, she’s proven to be one of the most distinct voices in contemporary SFF.”

Creatures of Charm and Hunger rounds out the Diabolist’s Library trilogy, one of the most acclaimed fantasy series of recent memory. It arrives from John Joseph Adam Books on April 21. Here’s an excerpt from the starred review at Publishers Weekly.

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An Admiration for the Novels of Tim Powers

Sunday, April 5th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

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Alternate Routes (2018) and Forced Perspectives (2020). Baen Books; covers by Todd Lockwood and Adam Burn

Tim Powers is my most favorite living novelist.

He has a strange sort of fame. The most obvious cause for his celebrity is that twice he has won the World Fantasy Award for best novel (Last Call, 1992, and Declare, 2000). He also has been credited with inventing, with The Anubis Gates (1983), the steampunk genre — though Powers’s friend James Blaylock shares some of this regard, for his The Digging Leviathan (1984). Finally, for whatever reasons, Disney Studios optioned his 1987 novel On Stranger Tides for its Pirates of the Caribbean movie of the same name — I guess the studio simply wanted the title, for, though I have not seen it myself, the rumor is that it (predictably) has nothing to do with the book.

My own introduction to Powers’s work was in 2000, with Declare, and that novel shook my sensibilities and attitudes regarding the fantasy genre down to their foundations. Years ago I explained how this came to be in a (fairly embarrassing — I had just begun to practice the form) sonnet to Powers in an email fan group. To my pleasure, Powers responded in kind, and then many members of the group likewise wrote sonnets.

Since I have thankfully lost that sonnet, I must explain again what Powers showed me, and I think it’s best to get my readers into my mindset at the time wherein I creased the spine of Declare. In those years, Nick Ozment and I were publishing Mooreeffoc Magazine, we were looking for a certain fiction for it, and we had entered into correspondence with Sherwood Smith, who (no better exemplified than in “Mom and Dad at the Home Front,” first published in Realms of Fantasy, Aug, 2000, and reprinted in many Best Ofs since) did exactly that.

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New Treasures: The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

Sunday, April 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Jacket design by Laywan Kwan

You gotta wonder about the pitch for this novel. “I got this idea, you know, for a book about a highly contagious virus. The country is unprepared, people die by the thousands, the president says it will be cured soon, but then there’s mass layoffs, the borders are closed and California is quarantined.” I can see the editorial team exchanging glances, shrugging and saying, “It’s far-fetched and crazy, but I like that bit about California under quarantine. Does it affect surfers?”

Katie M. Flynn’s debut The Companions was published March 3, perfect timing for a viral-apocalypse novel. It got all the press you’d expect. The New York Times included it in “Your Quarantine Reader” (alongside Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and Stephen King’s The Stand), and it was listed in Bustle’s “16 Novels About Viral Outbreaks To Make You Feel Less Alone,” and The Hollywood Reporter’s “8 Pandemic-Themed Books to Read Amid Coronavirus,” among similar lists. I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing that opens wallets these days, but you know what they say. No such thing as bad publicity.

Lumping The Companions in with other viral-outbreak entertainment probably does this book a disservice, however. Yes, it opens with a plague, but the novel also addresses questions about identity in a world of machines, and wraps it all up in a compelling story of a 16-year old trying to solve her own murder.

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Lovecraft in China: The Flock of Ba-Hui by Oobmab

Saturday, April 4th, 2020 | Posted by David Neil Lee

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Cover by Roger Betka

The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories
Oobmab (translated by Arthur Meursault and Akira)
Camphor Press (254 pages, $24.99 hardcover/$14.99 paperback/$6.99 digital, February 2020)

Beyond the protective barrier of Europe’s vast libraries, Latinate languages, aristocratic bloodlines, and imperial armies, there lurks a malign chaos of ancient knowledge and alien science. To our Western eyes, this chaos is a universe of black magic and monsters but there is, alas, much more to it than that, when one considers the full span of inhuman evil that extends from ancient creatures long outcast, brooding and breeding sinister vengeance in the Earth’s depths, to the latest incursions by loathsome entities whose blasphemous technologies have carried them to this green and innocent planet from the mist-shrouded globes circling the farthest stars.

This is essentially Lovecraft country: a universe that has become known as the “Cthulhu Mythos.” Ever-fearful of dark forces from the outside, in daily life the American author H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an enthusiastic exponent of modernity – the expansion of northern European cultures throughout the world to the disadvantage, even appropriation, even erasure, of indigenous and non-European cultures. As America itself blossomed into an imperial power, Lovecraft’s United Empire loyalism (which to be fair, was greatly mitigated in his later years) envisioned a USA that “must ever remain an integral and important part [as he wrote at age 24] of the great universal empire of British thought and literature.”

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft treasured his native New England not only for its green fields, stone churches, and stately mansions, but for the ways these things embodied the culture of an even-more-native England, a just and civilized seat of a white, English-speaking empire, an island across the sea that he felt linked to in spirit, although he never saw it in person.

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The Story Bright Should Have Been: The Carter Archives by Dan Stout

Saturday, April 4th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Chris McGrath

Dan Stout’s novel Titanshade was one of the breakout hits of 2019. W. Michael Gear called it “A masterpiece of a first novel,” John DeNardo picked it as one of the Best Books of March, and Black Gate columnist Brandon Crilly selected it as one of his Top Five of the year, saying:

Titanshade is the story Bright should have been. Stout provides this fascinating, pseudo-dieselpunk world populated by unique creatures instead of orcs and elves. It has everything I loved about Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys without the problematic bits, centered on truly engaging and dynamic characters. And I just found out we’ll be getting a sequel in April 2020!

Brandon was right about the sequel. Titan’s Day arrives in hardcover next week, returning us to the gritty town of Titanshade, where danger lurks around every corner. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The city of Titanshade pulses with nervous energy. The discovery of new riches beneath its snowfields has given residents hope for prosperity, but it also means the arrival of federal troops, along with assurances that they are only there to “stabilize the situation.”

Newcomers flood the streets, dreaming of finding their fortunes, while in the backrooms and beer halls of the city, a populist resistance gains support, its leaders’ true motives hidden behind nativist slogans. And in an alley, a gruesome discovery: the mutilated body of a young woman, a recent immigrant so little-regarded that not even her lovers bothered to learn her name. But in death, she’s found a champion.

Detective Carter single-mindedly pursues the killer as he navigates political pressures and resists becoming a pawn in the struggles tipping the city toward anarchy. But when more innocent lives are lost and time runs short, he’s forced to decide if justice is worth sparking all-out war in the streets during the biggest celebration of the year: Titan’s Day.

Titan’s Day will be published by DAW on April 7, 2020. It is 432 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Chris McGrath. Read an excerpt from the first novel Titanshade here, and get all the details on the series at Dan Stout’s website here. See all our recent cover of the best new fantasy series here.

Rogue Blades Presents: It’s a Time for Heroes

Friday, April 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

the-lost-empire-of-sol-front-cover-smallIn a matter of weeks, months, it has become a different world. Even within the confines of speculative literature and what’s oft referred to as nerd or geek culture, there have been big changes. For instance, disappointing to those of us who had planned to attend this year, Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, has been canceled, as have hundreds of conventions and gatherings across the globe. Closer to home for me, a board member of Rogue Blades Foundation, a nonprofit publisher focusing on all things heroic, we have had to push back to 2021 publication of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (though The Lost Empire of Sol is still expected to be published next month).

Now don’t think this is grousing, complaining. I’m merely pointing out how some of the world has changed of late. For that matter, some of the changes aren’t all bad.

As a writer and editor, I normally work from home, so all this isolation most of us are having to contend with of late isn’t new to me. What is new for me is that everybody else is home. Including all my online gaming buddies. And most of them don’t seem to be working at home. Which means they have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. Which means I have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. And other games. Which means I’m getting less work done than usual.

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Vintage Treasures: Imaginary Lands edited by Robin McKinley

Friday, April 3rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Imaginary Lands (Ace Books, 1985). Cover by Thomas Canty

By 1985 Robin McKinley was already a star. Her breakout novel The Blue Sword (1982) was a nominee for both the Mythopoeic Award and the Newbery Medal, and two years later The Hero and the Crown (1984) won the Newbery Medal, one of the most coveted accolades in children’s literature. If there was a hotter new writer in the field at the time, I can’t think of her.

In 1982 Ace Books had published her successful collection The Door in the Hedge, and in 1985 McKinley approached them with a different idea: an original anthology of secondary world fantasy tales, with contributions primarily from newer writers. Patricia A. McKillip, whose Riddle-Master trilogy had been a significant hit in the 70s; Joan D. Vinge, whose 1980 novel The Snow Queen had won a Hugo; P. C. Hodgell, whose 1982 debut novel God Stalk became a cult classic; modern master James P. Blaylock, whose career was just getting started with The Elfin Ship (1982) and The Disappearing Dwarf (1983); popular YA author Robert Westall; and McKinley’s husband Peter Dickinson, author of The Changes Trilogy, among others.

Imaginary Lands was a doozy, winning the World Fantasy Award and helping cement McKinley’s reputation. It contained some of the year’s best fantasy, including Blaylock’s famous story “Paper Dragons” (a Nebula nominee and winner of the World Fantasy Award), and “Flight,” by Peter Dickinson, a World Fantasy Award nominee for Best Novella. Imaginary Lands was a paperback original, and was successful enough to be re-released in hardcover in 1986 for the library market by Greenwillow. It had a UK release from Orbit in 1987, but that was the end of its short literary life. It’s a classic volume of fantasy that’s been out of print for over three decades, and never had a digital release.

I think that’s a shame. There are a lot of things I like about modern publishing, but the slow death of the mass market anthology isn’t one of them. It’s just not economical to bring books like this back into print, and certainly not as cheap paperbacks, and that means modern readers will probably never learn about this book. Unless folks like me champion it, and point out that you find buy copies online at criminally low prices — like the one above, a virtually new copy which I bought on eBay for less than two bucks back in January.

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Stories That Work: Short Story Collections

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 | Posted by James Van Pelt

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Normally I look at a couple short stories that have caught my eye since my last article, and then dive into them for a closer look. But in these stay-at-home times I realized how important short stories are in my reading life, and how short story collections are often my favorite pastime.

Like many of you, I became a recreational reader early on. My school desk always had science fiction tucked inside that I would sneak peeks at every chance I could. Some teachers just let me read. They must have decided that a book kept me still and quiet. It’s illuminating to consider my introductions to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Madeleine L’Engle happened during math or social studies lessons at East Elementary.

As much as I loved books, though, the idea of writing stories didn’t come to me until I read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. There was no way I could write a book! A two-page essay on Abraham Lincoln took an entire weekend (and I didn’t choose the topic), but those short stories that Bradbury wrote, the ones that made me cry and laugh and tied my heart with emotions I didn’t even knew existed, might just be possible to finish. Heck, “Rocket Summer” was only 228 words long. I could write a story that short.

More than that, Bradbury turned me onto enjoying short stories. From The Martian Chronicles, I went to The Illustrated Man, R is for Rocket, S is for Space,  and I Sing the Body Electric. I’m glad I didn’t discover The Small Assassin at that time. The trajectory of my writing career might have careened differently.

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