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

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

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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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Analyzing the Comics Story-Telling Process with Panel x Panel

Saturday, September 15th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Panel x Panel 5

I enjoy analyzing the craft of comic books quite a bit. I’ve interviewed comic book editors like Heather Antos, Xander Jarowey, Daniel Ketchum, and creators like Plaid Klaus of Image’s Void Trip, or I’ve looked a specific genres, like horror, old and not so old and new.

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The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories is a Master’s Course in Classic Horror

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories Volume Three-small The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories Volume Three-back-small

I’m a huge fan of Valancourt Books, ever since I stumbled on their eye-popping booth at the 2014 World Fantasy Convention. They’re an independent small press specializing in rare, neglected, and out-of-print Gothic, Romantic and Horror fiction, and two years ago they had a brilliant idea: why not assemble an annual anthology showcasing stories by some of their authors, modern and otherwise? The Editor’s Forward to the first volume gives you the idea:

The idea behind this anthology was, “What if we distilled the best of each part of our catalogue into a single volume? What would a horror anthology spanning two centuries, and featuring only Valancourt authors, look like?”

Pretty darn good, it turns out. These are substantial and attractive volumes, with terrific covers by M. S. Corley. The series has proven very successful, and the third volume arrives next month, with brand new fiction by Steve Rasnic Tem, Eric C. Higgs, and Hugh Fleetwood, and thirteen blood-curdling reprints from R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Helen Mathers, Charles Beaumont, J. B. Priestley, Robert Westall, and many more.

The series is edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle. Here’s the details on all three books.

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New Treasures: Halls of Law, Book 2 of Faraman Prophecy by V.M. Escalada

Saturday, September 8th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Halls of Law, the first book in the Faraman Prophecy series, introduced a world of military might and magical Talents on the brink of destruction. It’s especially interesting to me because “V.M. Escalada” is also Black Gate‘s long-time Friday blogger Violette Malan, who took on a pen name for this switch to epic fantasy. Rob H. Bedford at SFFWorld had some fine things to say about the novel.

In Halls of Law, V.M. Escalada brings together familiar fantasy elements of a nation being invaded, a rigid military, people with supernatural mental abilities, a race of lost creatures returning, and of course, prophecy. Familiar elements when handled well, make for an entertaining, enjoyable story… Escalada is no stranger to fantasy, she’s published several enjoyable Sword and Sorcery novels as Violette Malan. This novel and series is a slight switch to a more large scale story of Epic Fantasy from those intimate Sword and Sorcery tales and launches a promising series…

There’s a sense of fun to the novel… There’s a lot of myth in the background of the worldbuilding, as well as just wanting to know what happens next for Kerida, that I’m greatly looking forward to the second book in the series. Sometimes a book lands in your lap at exactly the right time, and Halls of Law was precisely the kind of book I didn’t realize I needed when I opened the first few pages. I was drawn in by the comforting prose and stayed fully invested because of the characters and world. Halls of Law is a fun, optimistic Epic Fantasy that proved a welcome change of pace from some of the more grimdark fantasy I’d been reading.

The second novel, Gift of Griffins, was released in hardcover by DAW last month. Here’s the description.

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The Devil’s Left Hand in the Weird West: The Devil’s West Trilogy by Laura Anne Gilman

Friday, September 7th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Silver on the Road Gilman-small The Cold Eye Gilman-small Red Waters Rising-small

Laura Anne Gilman’s The Devil’s West trilogy is a Weird Western that follows Isobel, a sixteenth year-old who chooses to work for the devil in his territory west of the Mississippi. The opening novel Silver on the Road was a Locus hardcover bestseller and a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Pick for Fall 2015, and SF Signal said it “marks a major landmark in the burgeoning subgenre of Weird West Fantasy.” In his NPR review Jason Sheehan wrote:

Gilman… [has] chosen a fertile place to begin her new series (the broad plains, red rock and looming mountains of the American West), and amped up the oddity of it all by planting the Devil there as a card dealer, fancy-pants and owner of a saloon in a town called Flood.

And the Devil, he runs the Territory. Owns it in a way. Wards it against things meaner than he is, because Gilman’s Devil isn’t exactly the church-y version. He’s dapper in a fine suit and starched shirt. He’s power incarnate — a man (no horns, no forked tail, just a hint of brimstone now and then) who gets things done; who offers bargains to any who come asking and always keeps to the terms because, as everyone in the territory knows, “The Devil runs an honest house.” He never asks for anything you’re not prepared to give, never gives anything that doesn’t have a price.

So when Isobel, who has worked since childhood as an indenture in the Devil’s house, comes of age and has the chance to cut her own deal with Old Scratch, she gives the only thing she owns — herself — into the employ of the Boss and becomes the Devil’s Left Hand.

The sequel The Cold Eye arrived last year to similar acclaim; Library Journal called it “a fabulous coming-of-age tale of magic and power, set in a conflict-ridden alternative Wild West,” and NPR said “It’s like the Oregon Trail of magical voodoo western novels.”

The third and final volume, Red Waters Rising, finally arrived in June, and our friend John DeNardo at Kirkus Reviews called it “a gripping conclusion.” It’s been too long since I’ve had a great Weird Western to dig into, and finally having all three books on my shelf has proven irresistible. They will be my pleasure reading this weekend.

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In 500 Words or Less: Tales of the Captain Duke by Rebecca Diem

Friday, September 7th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_71323z2d6LGpYTales of the Captain Duke
By Rebecca Diem
Woolf Like Me (paperback/ebook editions, price varies, Aug 2014 – May 2018)

For anyone who reads this column even semi-regularly, this next review is probably gonna seem out of place. But indulge me for a few minutes to talk about Tales of the Captain Duke, a four-part series of indie novellas by Toronto author Rebecca Diem.

First thing to make clear: these novellas are equal parts steampunk adventure and romance, which is obviously not my usual cup of tea, so the fact that I’m reviewing it here should tell you something. Because honestly, I got swept up in this series. Why? Besides the fact that airships and pirates and steampunky technology are really cool, these novellas focus on character, which is always the number one thing I look for in a series.

Though the title is Tales of the Captain Duke, the focus is really on Clara, a debutante who leaves her life of wealth by sneaking away on an airship and falls in with “pirates” standing up to economic tyranny and corruption, under the leadership of the legendary Captain Duke. Okay, maybe that sounds like an obvious romantic setup – especially as the attraction between Clara and her new Captain is made clear – but Clara is far from your stereotypical female character.

She’s a badass, and quickly becomes an important part of the Captain Duke’s crew, joining a group of nuanced characters who go through a series of arcs from the first novella to the last. For example, you have first mate Trick, who becomes a vehicle for exploring physical disability when he relearns how to make music with a prosthetic arm, and youths Cat and Mouse, who desperately want to be adults and contribute more to their captain’s operations but have a lot to learn before they can.

This character work is tied into detailed, thought-out worldbuilding beyond the usual Victorian steampunk. Remember that this is an adventure story, too, complete with plenty of action and danger. Admittedly, this isn’t a story about elaborate twists and turns or huge surprises; when things from Clara’s past get mentioned off hand, you know they’re going to play a greater role later on, and when the Captain Duke’s people get betrayed, the culprit is pretty clear. That isn’t a bad thing, by any means. I love what Patrick Rothfuss calls “big fat fantasy books,” but sometimes I need a story that’s straightforward and fun, too, which Diem delivers in this series.

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Future Treasures: Vengeful, Book 2 of Villains by V. E. Schwab

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Vicious V E Schwab-small Vicious V E Schwab-back-small Vengeful V E Schwab-small

V. E. Schwab (who also writes YA fantasy under the name Victoria Schwab) is one of the few — indeed, perhaps the only — author with a bestselling superhero fiction saga that doesn’t belong to Disney or Warner Bros. Her Shades of Magic trilogy, the epic tale of an ambassador and smuggler who travels between parallel Londons, was a New York Times bestseller, and This Savage Song, the opening volume of her Monsters of Verity series, set in a divided city overrun with monsters, was both a #1 New York Times bestseller and an Amazon Best Book of the Year.

Matthew Surridge was the first person to bring her to my attention, with his 2014 Black Gate review of Vicious, the opening novel inVillains. Here’s Matthew:

Ten years ago, Victor Vale and Eli Cardale (later Eli Ever) are brilliant pre-med students who discover that near-death experiences can, under certain circumstances, grant survivors strange powers. They experiment, things go wrong, and while they both get powers, they end up as enemies. Now, in the present, Victor’s gotten out of prison, recruited some assistants, and is seeking out Eli — who himself has been up to some surprising things in the previous years, having come to hate the extraordinary people (or EOs) gifted with powers…

I think Vicious is interesting precisely because it straddles genres. It attenuates some of the signifiers of the super-hero genre (costumes, code-names, and so on) while maintaining others. And the result, I feel, moves the story in the direction of another genre. It moves it toward the gothic… It comes to feel a little like some of the early Vertigo comics, the Morrison and Pollack Doom Patrol, perhaps Nocenti’s Kid Eternity or Peter Milligan’s Shade: clear super-heroic elements mixed with a greyer world and some elements of horror. It’s not as complex as the best of the Vertigo books, but has a narrative drive many of them lacked… It’s fascinating to see the gothic emerging from under the skin of the super-hero genre. And as a character study, it succeeds, integrating flashbacks while maintaining narrative momentum. It reads smoothly, swiftly, and well.

Vengeful, the long-awaited second novel, arrives in hardcover from Tor on September 25. Here’s the description.

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New Treasures: Apart in the Dark by Ania Ahlborn

Thursday, August 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Apart in the Dark-small Apart in the Dark-back-small

It was Goth Chick who introduced me to the novels of Ania Ahlborn, with her advance review of The Neighbors (which she said “lies somewhere near the intersection of Blue Velvet and Basic Instinct due to its psychological suspense and ever-mounting terror”). Goth Chick interviewed Ania just a few months later, and teased a tale of childhood horror out of her involving a Ouija board and a couple of porcelain dolls (“These things, I swear… they’d change position in the night.”) When The Neighbors was released in November 2012, Ahlborn confided to us that “My fingers are crossed that I get at least a few dozen marriage proposals.” The bio on the back of her latest book says she’s married, so I hope that worked out for her.

It was Goth Chick who introduced me to Ania, but it was Andrew Liptak at The Verge who tipped me off to her new novella collection Apart in the Dark, in his report on the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy in January of this year. Here’s Andrew:

If you’re looking for a pair of shorter reads, Ania Ahlborn’s new book is a pair of supernatural novellas, “The Pretty Ones” and “I Call Upon Thee.” In the first, New York City is gripped with fear in the midst of the Son of Sam murders, and when her best friend is murdered, Nell Sullivan knows that there’s something else responsible. In the other, Maggie Olsen spent her childhood stalked by a shadow, and years later, she’s forced to return home to confront her past.

Both stories were previously published as digital novellas; this is their first appearance in print. Both are very nearly novel length — “The Pretty Ones” is 142 pages, and “I Call Upon Thee” is 210. I bought a copy a few weeks ago, and so far I’m enjoying it. Any book that opens with a Robert Bloch quote (“The man who smiles when things go wrong has thought of someone to blame it on”) is okay in my book.

Apart in the Dark was published by Gallery Books on January 16, 2018. It is 365 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback. There is no digital edition. The cover was designed by Anna Dorfman.

Today Only — Get Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham for Just $2.99

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Robots of Gotham cover wrap-small

Todd McAulty was one of the most popular writers in the print version of Black Gate. Free SF Reader said “McAulty appears to be world class,” and Locus declared “Todd McAulty is Black Gate‘s great discovery.” His debut novel, The Robots of Gotham, was published in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in June, and has been accumulating rave reviews ever since:

“Massive and impressive… McAulty maintains breathless momentum throughout.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The whole story is a thrilling action flick in book form… Read it while walking in slow-motion away from an explosion.” — RevolutionSF

“Beautifully combines a post-apocalyptic man-versus-machine conflict and a medical thriller… This is thrilling, epic SF.”— Booklist (starred review)

“A massive, fast-paced, action-packed epic… Every page has the fierce readability of early Neal Stephenson, which is as high praise as it gets.”— Toronto Star

“A fast-paced, engaging read… The book is a thrilling ride.”— The Verge

Amazon’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (So Far)

The Robots of Gotham is 688 pages, and priced at $26 in hardcover. But for today only, August 29th, the digital version of the book has been discounted to $2.99. Copies are available at Amazon, Kobo, and other fine online retailers.

A Cyberpunk Cinderella Story: Warcross by Marie Lu

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Warcross Marie Lu-small Wildcard Marie Lu-small

Emika Chen needs to raise $3,450 in the next 72 hours, or she’ll be evicted from her apartment. What with her wicked hacking skillz, she ought to be acing computer science classes in college, but she dropped out of school when her dad died. Saddled by his debts and her own criminal record, she can’t get a job with a corporation, so she works as a bounty hunter. Her specialty lies in capturing players in the world’s most famous video game, Warcross, who have large gambling debts. The prodigy who created the game, Hideo Tanaka, is her celebrity crush.

When the police announce a $5,000 bounty on a drug dealer, Emika’s determined to nab him. Sure enough, she tracks him downtown on her electric skateboard, alerts the cops to his location, chases him down, and stuns him. She’s got her knee pressed into his back while he cries into the ground when the police arrive.

But they don’t give her the bounty. On a technicality, it goes to someone who had messaged them sooner than she did.

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