Adventures in Supernatural Dystopia: The Edinburgh Nights Novels by T. L. Huchu

Adventures in Supernatural Dystopia: The Edinburgh Nights Novels by T. L. Huchu


The Library of the Dead and Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments (Tor Books, June 2021 and April 2022)

Tor Books seems to have a hit on its hands with the Edinburgh Nights novels by Zimbabwe author T. L. Huchu (who writes non-genre novels under the name Tendai Huchu). The opening book The Library of the Dead hit the bestseller lists in the US, and expectations were high for the second, Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments, which arrived in April.

The international press raved about the first book. The Times called it “A fast-paced, future-set Edinburgh thriller… mixes magical mysteries with a streetwise style of writing,” and SFX labeled it “One of the strangest and most compelling fantasy worlds you’ll see all year.” But my favorite coverage was Stuart Kelly’s thoughtful review in The Scotsman, which said, “Contemporary fantasy, at its best, is both escapist and urgent: this does both admirably.” Here’s a longer snippet.

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Random Reviews: “Sweeping the Hearthstones” by Betsy James

Random Reviews: “Sweeping the Hearthstones” by Betsy James

Cover by Ruth Sanderson
Cover by Ruth Sanderson

Betsy James published the Seeker Chronicles trilogy of YA novels between 1989 and 2006, but didn’t publish her first short story until 2008. Three years later, in October 2011, her second short story, “Sweeping the Heathstone,” appeared as the penultimate story in the final issue of the late, lamented Realms of Fantasy.

Corrie is a sixteen year old orphan who was raised by the Roadsouls and turned over to Neely Sheeker, who needed help running her roadhouse near Carmony. For Corrie, the change comes at the perfect time, as she is entering womanhood and she views it as a reflection of that change in status.  Neely is a reasonable boss, concerned about Corrie’s well-being as well as her ability to do the job for which she was hired. Her biggest concern is that Corrie is discovering her own sexuality and appears to be a bit boy-crazy in a setting which gives her the opportunity to experiment in ways that Neely doesn’t consider appropriate.

Neely also gives Corrie her own room, one of the main features of which is an enormous hearthstone which appears to have been in place since time immemorial. The presence of the hearthstone fills Corries with a sense that there is something strange about it and she takes Neely’s warning that “you’d let the man under that stone feel you up” seriously, despite Neely pointing out that if there is a man under the hearthstone, he has lain there for over a millennium.

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: More o’ Zorro

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: More o’ Zorro

Zorro, like the Batman, who borrowed more than a little from the adventures of the masked hero, is a perennial; Hollywood always has another reboot percolating in pre-production somewhere, and occasionally one of these makes it to the screen and the black-clad outlaw rides again. Disney’s Zorro was the definitive version from the late Fifties until the Seventies, when alternative takes on the evergreen character began to appear once more. The legend of Zorro is sturdy, iconic, and can stand a lot of revision and still work quite well. This week let’s look at Guy Williams’ version for Disney, and then a couple of variations on the theme once the character began to emerge from Williams’ long shadow.

(Reminder: Zorro’s first appearance, by the hero’s creator, Johnston McCulley, is included in Your Editor’s Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure anthology.)

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Exploring the Darkness That Surrounds Us: Lies of Tenderness by Stephen Volk

Exploring the Darkness That Surrounds Us: Lies of Tenderness by Stephen Volk

Lies of Tenderness (PS Publishing, May 2022). Cover by Pedro Marques

Lies of Tenderness
Stephen Volk
PS Publishing (482 pages, £25.00 in hardcover, May 1, 2022)
Cover art by Pedro Marques

Horror fiction comes in many shades. There’s graphic horror; splatterpunk (or whatever it’s called nowadays) full of gore, blood and other amenities; and there is a type of quiet horror, of higher literary quality, exploring with a more elegant touch the darkness that surrounds us.

Charles L. Grant, Robert Aickman, and more recently Reggie Oliver and Steve Duffy are just a few examples of that latter sub-genre. And Stephen Volk. Author of a couple of collections, playwright and TV author, Volk returns with a new collection featuring seventeen pieces, both stories and novellas, some previously unpublished, some reprinted from anthologies or magazines.

The atmospheres here are dark and sinister, but the narrative style is consistently elegant, sensitive and totally captivating, so much so than even readers exclusively devoted to mainstream fiction would fully enjoy Lies of Tenderness.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Weird Menace from Robert E. Howard

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Weird Menace from Robert E. Howard

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

My area of expertise is the hardboiled/Pi genre. But today, we’ll jump over to the ‘shudder pulps.’ In 1933, Popular Publications (Harry Steeger) switched the ailing Dime Mystery over to a new, weird menace format. This started a short fun of success for that pulp sub-genre. Popular jumped in with both feet, shortly after launching Terror Tales, and then Horror Stories. As the tone shifted from weird, eerie, menacing elements to torture, depravity and sadism, a public outcry arose against these shudder pulps and the sub-genre died in the early forties.

Robert E. Howard, always looking for new markets, succeeded in placing “Black Talons” in the December, 1933 issue of Strange Detective Stories. “Fangs of Gold” (a Steve Harrison tale) followed there in February of 1934. Another Harrison story, “The Tomb’s Secret, was in that same February issue, under the pseudonym, Patrick Ervin.

Assuming he was actually getting paid (something that happened with irregularity from Weird Tales), this was a good market for Howard. “Dead Man’s Doom,” the next Harrison story, was slated for the March, 1934 issue. And then, the magazine folded. The story wouldn’t see print until 1978 as “Lord of the Dead” in the Sukll-Face paperback.

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Vintage Treasures: The Budayeen Trilogy by George Alec Effinger

Vintage Treasures: The Budayeen Trilogy by George Alec Effinger


The Budayeen Trilogy: When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss
(Bantam Spectra, 1988, 1990, and 1992). Covers by Jim Burns (When Gravity Fails), and Paul Youll & Steve Youll

George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen trilogy, sometimes called the Marîd Audran trilogy, is one of the enduring early classics of cyberpunk.

It had its birth in his short story “The City on the Sand,” originally published in the April 1973 issue The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was his first story set in the futuristic walled city of Budayeen, the city in the sand, a place of dark shadows and even darker inhabitants. Eventually Effinger set nine tales in Budayeen, including his most famous story, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winner “Schrödinger’s Kitten,” and all three of his most popular novels: When Gravity Fails (1987), A Fire in the Sun (1989), and The Exile Kiss (1991), featuring the street-smart detective Marîd Audran.

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A Lush Visual History of Science Fiction: Futures Past by Jim Emerson

A Lush Visual History of Science Fiction: Futures Past by Jim Emerson


The first two issues of Futures Past, a Visual History of Science Fiction, edited and published by Jim Emerson

Way back in the 90s, before most of you young whippersnappers were born, Jim Emerson had a very fine fanzine called Futures Past, covering the birth of modern science fiction. He published four issues, each covering one year of SF history, from 1926-29.

In 2014 Jim resurrected his fondly-remembered zine as a 64-page digital magazine, with gorgeous full-color pages. The first issue covered 1926, the year Hugo Gernsback founded Amazing Stories. Futures Past Vol. 1 illuminated the Birth of Modern Science Fiction, covering all the highlights of science fiction publishing in magazines and books.

A Kickstarter intended to fund full-color print versions of the new version in 2014 wasn’t successful. Undaunted, Jim funded the project himself, and earlier this year I was surprised and very pleased to receive a print copy of Futures Past, Volume 2 in the mail. Covering the year 1927 and the Dawn of the SF Blockbuster, this 144-page publication is a love letter to a forgotten era, when a brand new literary genre was being born in the pages of pulp magazines, books, and on the silver screen.

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New Treasures: The Best of David Brin

New Treasures: The Best of David Brin


The Best of David Brin (Subterranean Press, July 31, 2021). Cover by Patrick Farley

Subterranean Press has done a flat-out fabulous job of producing memorable single-author collections over the last decade.

For one thing, Subterranean mastermind William Schafer has terrific taste. He edited a delightful small press magazine (titled, appropriately enough, Subterranean) for many years, and demonstrated admirable skill at selecting and editing short fiction. For another, he’s been working at it tirelessly for decades, and it shows. He’s produced dozens of Best of retrospective collections from many of the top SF, fantasy and horror writers in biz, including Lucius Shepard (two volumes!), John Kessel, Walter Jon Williams, Elizabeth Hand, Elizabeth Bear, Michael Marshall Smith, Harry Turtledove, Greg Egan, Chaz Brenchley, Alastair Reynolds, Gregory Benford, Nancy Kress, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Joe Haldeman, Kage Baker, Neal Barrett, Jr., Robert Silverberg, Peter S. Beagle, Michael Swanwick, Larry Niven, and many others.

And thirdly — these are really gorgeous books. They’re generously sized hardcovers, published in both deluxe limited formats and very reasonable-priced trade hardcover editions, usually around 40 bucks retail. The one that grabbed my eye recently was The Best of David Brin, released just last year. It’s a feast of a book, just the thing I need to settle down with after a long and tiring week.

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Random Reviews: “The Case of the Somewhat Mythic Sword” by Garth Nix

Random Reviews: “The Case of the Somewhat Mythic Sword” by Garth Nix

Cover by Micah Epstein
Cover by Micah Epstein

The Case of the Somewhat Mythic Sword” is Garth Nix’s second story about Magnus Holmes, the less capable brother of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, a fact that Nix addresses almost immediately when Magnus notes that “Everyone wants Sherlock.” in response to a bar owner’s comment that he was hoping Sherlock had taken the case. However, Magnus and his partner, “Almost-Doctor” Susan Shrike have their own strengths which can be brought to bear in this particular case.

While the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle tend to rely on logic and deduction, Nix’s story about Magnus Holmes focuses more on the supernatural. Magnus, himself, is the subject of an amorphous curse that equates his being in darkness with the death and destruction of those around him. When the nature of this curse is revealed, it has a bigger impact on the reader who has not read Nix’s earlier Magnus Holmes story, “The Curious Case of the Moondawn Daffofils Murder as Experienced by Sir Magnus Holmes and Almost-Doctor Susan Shrike,” which appeared nine years before the current story.

Investigating the tavern’s cellar at the request of the publican, Magnus and Susan discover a medieval knight who has been enjoying the pub’s wine and paying with faery gold. The publican called for their assistance (or actually Sherlock’s) when a river appeared in his cellar around the knight. Discussion with the phantom reveals a link to the Arthurian legends and Magnus determines that he must help the knight achieve his goal in order to resolve his appearance in the cellar

When Mrs. Davies, a magical adept shows up and attacks Magnus, he determines that in order to defeat her, he must voluntarily unleash his curse and the rest of the story involves the battle between Magnus and his opponent and the destruction caused by both as Almost-Doctor Susan Shrike attempts to mitigate further disaster.

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Magic, Dinosaurs, and Mad Scientists: The Tensorate Series by Neon Yang

Magic, Dinosaurs, and Mad Scientists: The Tensorate Series by Neon Yang


The Tensorate Series (Tor.com, September 21, 2021). Cover by Yuko Shimizu

I love omnibus volumes. They’re the safety blanket of the fat fantasy market. Let’s face it, if your plane’s going down over a desert island and you can only grab one book, you’re gonna secure yourself a thick omnibus, right? Of course you are. Heaven knows how long it will take until that stately cruise liner arrives to rescue you. I plan all my book purchases with this in mind, and it’s worked out well so far.

It’s great to see Tor.com start to produce omnibus editions of their popular novellas. They did it with Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. The did it with Andy Remic’s An Impossible War novellas, and Sarah Gailey’s American Hippo stories. They did it with Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour. They did it with…. well, actually, I think that’s it. But what the hell, it’s a start.

Late last year Tor.com published a tidy omnibus volume of all four of Neon Yang’s Tensorate novellas, a series that has been nominated for the Hugo, World Fantasy, Nebula, and Locus awards, and it was such a great value I snatched it up immediately. I’m ready for the plane to go down, Captain.

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