Goth Chick News: Fantasticland Is Well… Fantastic

Thursday, November 7th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Fantasticland-smallA couple months back, before the insanity of “the season” got into full swing, my Amazon account hit on an incredibly spot-on recommendation. Under the “ you might like” section was a book I had not come across previously; Fantasticland by Mike Bockoven. I opted for the audio book, as the description made it seem like a fine way to spend my daily hellacious commute in Chi-town traffic.

Since the 1970s, FantasticLand has been the theme park where “Fun is Guaranteed!” But when a hurricane ravages the Florida coast and isolates the park, the employees find it anything but fun. Five weeks later, the authorities who rescue the survivors encounter a scene of horror. Photos soon emerge online of heads on spikes outside of rides and viscera and human bones littering the gift shops, breaking records for hits, views, likes, clicks, and shares. How could a group of survivors, mostly teenagers, commit such terrible acts?

Presented as a fact-finding investigation and a series of first-person interviews, FantasticLand pieces together the grisly series of events. Park policy was that the mostly college-aged employees surrender their electronic devices to preserve the authenticity of the FantasticLand experience. Cut off from the world and left on their own, the teenagers soon form rival tribes who viciously compete for food, medicine, social dominance, and even human flesh. This new social network divides the ravaged dreamland into territories ruled by the Pirates, the ShopGirls, the Freaks, and the Mole People. If meticulously curated online personas can replace private identities, what takes over when those constructs are lost?

FantasticLand is a modern take on Lord of the Flies meets Battle Royale that probes the consequences of a social civilization built online.

Fantasticland might end up at the top of my 2019 reading list. As a frequent visitor to Disney World in Florida, the parallels are entirely obvious, though Disney is presented as a competitor to Fantasticland.

The story is biting social commentary which explores themes we have all thought about – what would happen if our technology-rich environment was suddenly gone? It probes the prejudices, harassment and bullying that is all too frequent in today’s headlines, but pushes each to its most horrifying extreme. For me, it was all the more terrible taking place, as it was, against a backdrop that was the antithesis of all things negative; “where fun is guaranteed.”

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A Four-Way Road to Darkness: The Pale Illuminations, edited by Robert Morgan

Thursday, November 7th, 2019 | Posted by Mario Guslandi

The Pale Illuminations-small

Dust Jacket Art by Paul Lowe

The Pale Illuminations
Edited by Robert Morgan
Sarob Press (145 pages, £35/$60 for a limited edition hardcover, September 2019)
Cover by Paul Lowe

Following up its long lasting tradition of providing elegantly produced volumes collecting old and new dark and supernatural stories, the excellent small imprint Sarob Press ( formerly based in the UK, then relocated in France) has just published a new anthology entitled The Pale Illuminations.

The book assembles four new stories ( one actually a novella) by four well respected authors of dark fiction, exploring the supernatural side of different geographical environments, where eerie mysteries are still lurking.

Peter Bell, a renowned author of refined modern ghostly tales, contributes “Labyrinth,” a complex, atmospheric novella set in the wilderness of the Peak District, where ancient worship, Roman old secrets and modern romance blend in a very disturbing, fascinating tableau.

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Future Treasures: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Killing of Kings-small Upon the Flight of the Queen-small

In his Black Gate review of For the Killing of Kings, the opening novel in Howard Andrew Jones’ new epic fantasy Ring-Sworn Trilogy, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

For the Killing of Kings is proof that great, modern heroic fantasy is being written. Like Doc Smith’s Lensmen or DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps, the Altenerai are an elite band of warriors endued with magical talents and dedicated to protecting the land and ensuring justice… Heroes are a too often forgotten commodity in fantasy these days, but not here.

I think Fletcher nailed what I loved so much about this book: it’s packed with heroes you can root for. More than that, it pits those heroes against truly overwhelming odds. The courageous men and women of the Altenerai aren’t just up against a nearly-unbeatable army of their ancient enemy; they also face betrayal from within, mysterious and sinister magic, and a conspiracy whose roots run to the very highest levels of government. To win, they’ll have to emulate the Altenerai legends of old: use bravery, guile, and magic of their own, and — especially — rely on each other. For the Killing of Kings is filled with powerful moments in which untested men and women faced breathtaking odds, and somehow find the strength to become genuine heroes.

But I think the best thing about Howard’s new Ring-Sword Trilogy may be that we don’t have to wait long for the sequel. For the Killing of Kings was released in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press earlier this year; the sequel, Upon the Flight of the Queen, will be in stores in less than two weeks. It’s already getting rave reviews — Publishers Weekly calls it “a heart-racing, action-packed thrill.” Here’s the back covers for both books, and a snippet from the PW review.

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I Admit, I’m Intrigued

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

The Witcher USA

Good morning, Readers!

So, the main trailer and release date for Netflix’s new nerd acquisition, The Witcher, dropped a fortnight or so ago. Knowing that I streamed the lengthy final game (and its DLCs) in the trilogy not all that long ago and had a good time with it, a number of my friends directed me towards the trailer when it dropped. I may have also had and voiced opinions about the news that Netflix acquired the rites to The Witcher, and then had more opinions when Henry Cavill was announced in the titular role.

A few things to note about me and my opinions. They’re horribly ill-informed. My experience with The Witcher is the third game (The Wild Hunt). That’s it. If you’re curious about how I felt about the game, you can check out my review on Chalgyrs here. I’ve not read the books on which the game was based, though I do plan to (should I make it a thing to do, and then share my thoughts here, do you think?). I don’t have as strong an emotional attachment to the world, the characters or the story as I might have had I read (presuming I enjoyed them) the books, or even had followed the games from the first.

But about the Netflix series….

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New Treasures: The Monsters Know What They’re Doing by Keith Ammann

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Monsters Know What They're Doing-small The Monsters Know What They're Doing-back-small

Cover by Lily Pressland

I’m enjoying watching role-playing seep into popular culture. It’s happening in casual and insidious ways. Like with self-help books for Dungeon Masters, a section in the bookstore that I couldn’t even imagine when I was gaming in the basement with my friends 30 years ago. Every time I see a book like Keith Ammann’s The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, I grin a little. Okay, more than a little.

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing makes for some light and entertaining reading.It’s essentially an alphabetical listing of over a hundred different giants, undead, humanoids, NPCs, and other monster types, with a 2-4 pages essay on combat tactics and “villainous battle plans” for each. Much of it is drawn from Ammann’s popular blog The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, and it’s an insightful and lively read throughout.

Personally I might have liked more in-depth pieces on fewer monsters. These essays are useful, but not in the ways I found the Third Edition Savage Species book useful. That one looked at how monsters could level up, acquire spells, familiars and special weapons and spells, and was a fantastic resource for creating that unique Orc shaman or kitted-out Kobold prince. To be honest, I don’t know how much I’d actually use The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, but it sure made fun reading. Here’s the description.

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Ralph Arnote: In the Middle of Interesting Stories

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Pierce Watters

Fallen Idol Ralph Arnote-small False Promises Ralph Arnote-small Evil's Fancy Ralph Arnote-small

Paperback editions of Ralph’s Willy Hanson novels: Fallen Idols (Tor, 1992), False Promises (Forge, 1995), and Evil’s Fancy (Forge, 1996)

Note: Most of this comes straight out of my wee tiny brain. So, dates may be off, but I’m telling these stories as best as my memory allows. I also have a few people from the industry vetting some of my stories.

Ralph Arnote was in the middle of many interesting book and magazine stories. Ralph was manager of sales for Ace (where I worked for him), for Ballantine, and Beagle Books, and, he finished his sales career heading up sales for Tom Doherty and Tor Books.

After retiring, Ralph wrote several novels for Tor. We lost Ralph in 1998 after a heart attack. Harry Hills called and let me know Ralph had passed.

During a brilliant career, Ralph was known and welcome everywhere. He always wanted to build a ship, sail to Singapore, and drink a Singapore Sling at Raffles. I’m certain Ralph had his share of Singapore Slings, but he never got around to building that boat.

One of my favorite stories, Ralph was working for Capital Distribution. Capital was a small magazine and book distributor. Ralph had just lost his book line, so he had a sales force but nothing to sell.

That year, the ABA (American Booksellers Association) met in Washington DC. One afternoon, Ralph was dining al fresco, when an older gentleman asked to share Ralph’s table. This man was Ian Ballantine, founder of many successful publishing companies, one of the people, if not “the” person who brought paperback books into their greatest glory (Several Ian Ballantine stories will appear here at a later date.).

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Ronald Keller

Cover by Ronald Keller

Cover by James Marsh

Cover by James Marsh

Cover by Carl Lundgren

Cover by Carl Lundgren

The National Book Awards were established in 1936 by the American Booksellers Association. Although the Awards were not given out between 1942 and 1949 because of World War II and its aftermath, the awards were reestablished in 1950 and given out annually since then. Since 1950, only US authors are eligible for the award, which is designed to celebrate the best of American literature, expand its audience, and enhance the value of good writing in America. From 1980 through 1983, the American Book Awards were announced as a variation of the National Book Awards, run by the Academy of the American Book Awards. While the National Book Awards were selected by a jury of writers, the TABA program relied on entry fees, committees, and voters made up of groups of publishers, booksellers, librarians, and authors and critics. The change was controversial and a group of authors including Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, and Susan Sontag, among others, called for a boycott of the award. The American Book Award included genre categories, presenting awards for mysteries, science fiction, and westerns. Two awards were presented in the science fiction category, one for hardcover, one for paperback. The genre awards were abandoned after a single year. The only winner of the National Book Award for Paperback Science Fiction was Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s The Book of the Dun Cow, which had originally been published in hardcover in 1978 and reprinted in paperback in 1979. The Awards were presented in New York on May 1, 1980 at a ceremony hosted by William F. Buckley and John Chancellor. Isaac Asimov presented the science fiction awards.

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When the Berlin Wall Falls: The Cold War Magic Novels by W.L. Goodwater

Friday, November 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Breach-W-L-Goodwater-medium Revolution Goodwaters-small

I bought W.L. Goodwater’s debut Breach earlier this year, about five minutes after picking it up in the bookstore. The back cover blurb did it for me. I’m a sucker for an original premise, and a Cold War apocalypse fantasy hit all the right buttons. Here’s an excerpt from the review at BookPage.

In the waning hours of World War II, Soviet magicians conjured a wall of pure magic, dividing Berlin in two and protecting their hold on East Germany. While the world was aghast, there was little the West could do. The wall was impenetrable except at specific, predetermined crossing points like Checkpoint Charlie. Until now. The wall is failing, and to avoid World War III, the US needs to find out why — and try to reverse the process. The CIA calls on Karen, a young researcher from the American Office of Magical Research and Deployment. As she searches for a way to repair the wall, Karen quickly realizes that the truth is never straightforward in Berlin, especially when it comes to the story behind the Wall itself….

Goodwater’s debut novel is tightly wound in the way that only good suspense stories can be. At any moment it seems that the fragile peace built between the West and East could fall apart with disastrous consequences, which is a testament to Breach’s overall success with dramatic timing… Breach combines the magical world building of The City & the City with the suspense of Cold War thrillers like Bridge of Spies, resulting in a cinematic suspense story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.

The second book in the series, Revolution, arrives in two weeks, and I’m very much looking forward to it. In this installment, set some years after Breach, American magician Karen O’Neil travels to Cuba to find a missing girl intertwined with a new kind of magic that threatens to upend the global balance of power. Here’s the description.

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Vintage Treasures: Cats Have No Lord and The Tangled Lands by Will Shetterly

Thursday, October 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Cats Have No Lord-small The Tangled Lands-small

Covers by Janny Wurts and E. T. Steadman

Will Shetterly has a fine back-catalog of fantasy novels, most from the 80s and 90s. They include Witch Blood (1986), Elsewhere (1991), and his most famous book, Dogland (1997). With his wife Emma Bull he created and edited the popular Liavek shared universe anthologies.

He began his career as a novelist with the wonderfully-titled Cats Have No Lord, released back in April 1985. It came in sixth in the annual Locus Poll for Best First Novel (losing out to Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Swanwick, and Carl Sagan, but ahead of Geoff Ryman, Judith Tarr, Sheila Finch, and Dan Simmons — no shame placing 6th in a year like that!) Four years later he published a prequel, The Tangled Lands. In a 2012 post on his blog, Shetterly looked back fondly at Cats Have No Lord, while openly acknowledging its flaws.

Cats Have No Lord is my first novel. I had tried to write several more ambitious — meaning, more pretentious — books and gave up on them because they were awful, so I finally decided to learn how to write by writing something with everything I’d loved as a kid. If I missed any fantasy cliches of the ’70s, I don’t know what they were: this book has a spunky female thief, a mysterious swordsman, a magician, and a big barbarian. Oh, and a talking horse.

It sounds awful, but my love must’ve shown through, or maybe readers were more desperate or more kind in those days. Booklist said, “The first-rate world building, the unique cast of characters, and the author’s clever whimsey make it absorbing reading. Recommended.”

“Unique” must mean they thought I did good things with the characters, but every single one began with a trip through Central Casting to see who was available. Literally.

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A Wide Range of Stories: John DeNardo on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books in October

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey-small How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse-small Salvation Lost Peter F. Hamilton-small

In his intro to his book roundup for October over at Kirkus Reviews, John DeNardo says:

I’m constantly surprised at the wide range of stories offered within the science fiction and fantasy genres. Just take a look at this month’s top science fiction and fantasy picks and you’ll see what I mean.

He’s certainly got a point. SF and fantasy fans are constantly making up new sub-genres and sub-sub-genres to categorize just what the hell we read every month (Weird Western, Urban Fantasy, Sword-and-Planet, Space Opera, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Ghostpunk, Elfpunk…), and it still seems that half the new stuff is just flat-out uncategorizable.

October’s new SF & Fantasy is no different. Over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog Jeff Somers catalogs 29 October titles by Tade Thompson, Cixin Liu, Tim Pratt, Theodora Goss, and our very own Derek Künsken, but John takes a different tack, narrowing his focus to The 7 Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read This October. Here’s a few highlights from his suggestions.

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