Birthday Reviews: Keith R.A. DeCandido’s “A Vampire and a Vampire Hunter Walk into a Bar”

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Amazing Stories

Amazing Stories

Keith R.A. DeCandido was born on April 18, 1969.

DeCandido has written the Precinct series as well as works in a number of licenses series, including Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, StarGate SG-1, and Dungeons and Dragons  In 2005, he published the official novelization of the film Serenity. DeCandido has also written numerous comics and blogs for Tor.com. In 2009, he was inducted as a Grand Master by the Scribe Awards for his work on media tie-in publications.

“A Vampire and a Vampire Hunter Walk Into a Bar” was published in the final print issue of Amazing Stories from Paizo Publishing, cover dated February 2005. The story has not been reprinted since.

The very clichés which DeCandido skewers in “A Vampire and a Vampire Hunter Walk Into a Bar” are what cause the story to work. On its surface, it’s the tale of the two title characters sitting in a bar complaining about the expectations the public has about them, particularly the vampire, based on the films Nosferatu, Dracula, and the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

However, the very sense of camaraderie the characters show is based on the idea that during the Victorian period, when Dracula was first published, gentlemen antagonists would have a level of respect for each other’s abilities.

The story is a lighthearted look at two individuals whose (incredibly long) lives are linked together. The humor of the piece comes from how pedestrian their interaction is under the most extraordinary of circumstances. The story also serves to deconstruct the vampire story by questioning all of the things people “know” about vampires.

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In Hell — We Reap What You Sow: Hell Hounds by Andrew P. Weston

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Hell Houds Andrew P Weston-small Hell Houds Andrew P Weston-back-small

Hell Hounds by Andrew P. Weston
Perseid Press (508 pages, $23.85 in hardcover/$8.90 in digital formats, October 25, 2017)
Cover art and cover design by Roy Mauritsen

I inhaled deeply, my phantom nostrils flaring in pleasure as a pungent blend of brimstone and exhaust fumes filled my nonexistent lungs. Home — the perfect place for me, Daemon Grim, the Reaper, Satan’s personal enforcer. This was my kind of place, and I loved it here. But I suppose that was understandable, as I was top of the food chain.

According to Wikipedia, “Bangsian fantasy is a fantasy genre which concerns the use of famous literary or historical individuals and their interactions in the afterlife. It is named for John Kendrick Bangs who often wrote it.” And that is what the Heroes in Hell series is all about.  Now, while the identity of Andrew Weston’s character, Daemon Grim, remains a mystery, that’s all part of the fun: who was Grim in life? What famous or infamous person from earth’s history was he, and how did he become Satan’s personal enforcer?

Hell is, as Weston states in his dedication, “the best playground — ever!” And that’s true indeed, for writers, and for us readers. This is Weston’s second novel in Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell Universe, following closely on the heels of his Hell Bound, published in 2015, which I also reviewed for Black Gate. This second novel from this best-selling author is a real mind-blowing trip through the dark, dangerous and various levels of the infernal Afterlife.

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New Treasures: Spectral Evidence by Gemma Files

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Spectral Evidence Gemma Files-small Spectral Evidence Gemma Files-back-small

There’s no pleasure quite like a top-notch collection of horror stories, and I’m always on the lookout for one. Gemma Files’ latest collection Spectral Evidence, released in February from Trepidatio, sounds like a great candidate. Just check out these story descriptions.

An embittered blood-servant plots revenge against the vampires who own him; a little girl’s best friend seeks to draw her into an ancient, forbidden realm; two monster-hunting sisters cross paths with an amoral holler-witch again and again, battling both mortal authorities and immortal predators. From the forgotten angels who built the cosmos to the reckless geniuses whose party drug unleashes a plague, madness, monsters and murder await at every turn.

Monster-hunting sisters? Ancient, forbidden realms? Reckless geniuses and holler-witches? Why don’t I have this book already?

Spectral Evidence gathers nine stories from major anthologies of the past few years, including Ellen Datlow’s Fearful Symmetries, Hauntings, October Dreams II from Cemetery Dance, and many others. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Sorcery and Science: The Broken Lands by Fred Saberhagen

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

The Broken Lands Saberhagan-smallI wonder if Fred Saberhagen suspected that his short 1968 novel, The Broken Lands, was laying the groundwork for a series that would ultimately run 15 volumes. The initial three books, The Broken Lands, The Black Mountains (1971), and Changeling Earth (1973) — collected together as The Empire of the East — take place in America a long time after some yet-undefined catastrophe. While bits and pieces of technology — one giant piece in particular — survive, there is also magic. Wizards, familiars, demons, elementals, even love charms, they’re all there in a very unfamiliar landscape.

The setup for The Broken Lands is one only the slackest of readers haven’t encountered a hundred times or more: young boy faces off against evil empire, discovering and drawing on heretofore unknown skills and abilities. Along the way he encounters unrequited love, a wise mentor, and a villain with honor (and more style than everyone else). The primary narrative concerns the search for a secret thing with which to fight the empire. Did I mention the empire was evil?

I like this book way more than I should. Stock as the characters are, routine as the setup feels, at some point we start getting hints that something bigger and better is going on. In fact, that it feels like what’s coming next is going to be familiar, and then it isn’t, is a big part of the book’s success for me. In the meantime Saberhagen’s writing is clean and the story’s pacing is brisk. There’s little poetry in The Broken Lands, but there is an economy that keeps the undertakings lively and enjoyable.

Only recently has the much-feared Empire of the East expanded its grasping hands into the West. The people of the region, mostly farmers, have been easily conquered and cowed into submission. In addition to bronze-helmeted soldiers, the forces under the local Satrap, Ekuman, include intelligent flying reptiles and a pair of wizards. It is with his wizards the Satrap is conferring as the book begins.

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Birthday Reviews: Lloyd Biggle, Jr.’s “Gypped”

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Galaxy Science Ficiton July 1956-small Galaxy Science Ficiton July 1956-back-small

Cover by Jack Coggins

Lloyd Biggle, Jr. was born on April 17, 1923 and he died on September 12, 2002.

Biggle was nominated for the Hugo Award for his short story “Monument” and for the William Atheling, Jr. Award for Criticism or Review for his essay “The Morasses of Academe Revisited.” He was a musician and oral historian and helped found and run the Science Fiction Oral History Association. He was also the founding treasurer of the Science Fiction Writers of America.

His first published short story was “Gypped,” which was bought by H.L. Gold and published in the July 1956 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. It was translated into French for an appearance in the French edition of the magazine the following year. Its only other appearance was in the anthology Science Fiction for the Throne: One-Sitting Reads, edited by Tom Easton and Judith K. Dial.

“Gypped” is the story of a bureaucrat assigned a desk in a distant backwater. Occasionally he has to deal with strange cultural requests and in order to make his life easier, he sends people on wild goose chases covering many light years, figuring that if they ever returned, he could deal with the situation then. In the meantime, he continues his work reasonably uninterrupted and amuses himself by thinking of the places he’s sent people.

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Roleplaying the Possibility Wars: Torg Eternity (Part One)

Monday, April 16th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Torg EternityLater today, early tomorrow, sometime next week, the world began to end.

Imagine the Earth wreathed in storms spitting red and blue lightning. Imagine invaders from beyond reality turning the world piece by piece into something other than what we know. Imagine a cyberpunk theocracy in France, dinosaurs overruning the great cities of the United States, colonial gothic horrors in India, a post-apocalyptic wasteland in Russia haunted by decadent technodemons, zombies in East Asia, a mad pulp super-villain and would-be Pharaoh building a fascist empire among the pyramids of Egypt, and elves and wizards and dungeons and dragons in the British Isles and Scandinavia.

The storm has a name …

Torg is a tabletop role-playing game first published in 1990 by West End Games. I started running a campaign in 1991 that lasted for over a decade, off and on. Last year game publisher Ulisses Spiele launched a successful kickstarter to fund an updated edition of the game, Torg Eternity; they’re currently running another kickstarter for the rebooted game’s first sourcebook, The Living Land. The original Torg was the most explosively imaginative game I’ve ever played. The new is an intelligent update, refining the first version’s rules and concepts while respecting what made it work. Preparing to run the first session of a Torg Eternity campaign, I was shocked to realise how much power the original game had for me; and how well the new game not only maintained that imaginative power but added to it.

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Temporal Surges and Shapeshifting Invaders: Rich Horton on Threshold of Eternity by John Brunner and The War of Two Worlds by Poul Anderson

Monday, April 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Threshold of Eternity John Brunner-small The War of Two Worlds Poul Anderson-small

One of the reasons I collect Ace Doubles — aside from the great cover art, and their historical significance — is that they frequently featured early work by some of my favorite authors. That’s definitely the case with Double D-335, which paired very early novels from two of the greatest SF writers of the late 20th Century, John Brunner’s Threshold of Eternity and Poul Anderson’s The War of Two Worlds.

Neither volume was reprinted in a standandalone edition after their original back-to-back appearance in 1959, so you can be forgiven if you’re unfamiliar with them. At his website Strange at Ecbatan, interplanetary paperback expert Rich Horton admits he was unaware of them until recently as well. Why review yet another obscure Ace Double?

I realized that it comprised two novels by writers I always enjoy that I was completely unaware of… I figured Anderson and Brunner are always worth a try, and anyway I have a certain quasi-completist attitude towards both of them.

Fair enough. Rich usually does his homework on the background for each book, often digging up some fascinating tidbits, and as usual he doesn’t disappoint.

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Birthday Reviews: Kingsley Amis’s “Mason’s Life”

Monday, April 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Young Oxford Book of Nightmares-small

Cover by George Smith

Kingsley Amis was born on April 16, 1922 and died on October 22, 1995.

Amis won the 1977 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for his alternate history novel The Alteration. In 1990 he was knighted and made a Commander of the British Empire for his services to literature. Some of his major works included the novel Lucky Jim and the essay collection New Maps of Hell. He edited the five volume anthology series Spectrum with Robert Conquest. Amis’s son, Martin, also became a novelist and has written within the speculative fiction genre.

Amis originally published “Mason’s Life” in The Sunday Times in 1972. Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss included it in their Best SF: 1973. Helen Hoke included the story in Ghostly, Grim and Gruesome. The story reappeared in Amis’s collection Collected Short Stories. Peter Haining used it in Ghost Tour and Sebastian Wolfe included it in The Little Book of Horrors: Tiny Tales of Terror. When James E. Gunn expanded his The Road to Science Fiction, he included the story in volume 5, The British Way, and in 2000 it was included in The Young Oxford Book of Nightmares, edited by Dennis Pepper. “Mason’s Life” was translated into French in 1979 and 1984.

“Mason’s Life” is an existential piece of fiction that describes an encounter between Daniel Pettigrew and George Herbert Mason. In their encounter, Pettigrew seems exceedingly pushy, demanding personal information of Mason moments after the two meet. Although Mason balks, he does provide Pettigrew with the requested details. Pettigrew eventually explains that he needs them so he can discover if Mason is part of Pettigrew’s dream or one of the few real people in the world.

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Future Treasures: Dragon Road, Book II of Drifting Lands by Joseph Brassey

Sunday, April 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Skyfarer Joseph Brassey-small Dragon Road Joseph Brassey-small

Last August John DeNardo tipped me off to an exciting new series from Joseph Brassey. Editor Michael R. Underwood had this to say about Skyfarer, the first volume of The Drifting Lands and the first book he’d acquired & edited for Angry Robot Books.

I am of course very biased, but this book is *amazingly* fun, and fans of Star Wars, Firefly, and Final Fantasy will be very likely to have a great time with the book. It’s got heroic sorcerers, badass evil knights, skyships, A+ sword fights (the author is a HEMA instructor), a family-of-choice airship crew, and all the fantasy adventure you could want in a compact package.

Right on schedule comes the second book in the series, Dragon Road, arriving in paperback on May 1st.

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Birthday Reviews: Jim C. Hines’s “Spell of the Sparrow”

Sunday, April 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Sword and Sorceress XXI-small Sword and Sorceress XXI-back-small

Cover by Arthur Rackham, 1910

Jim C. Hines was born on April 15, 1974.

Hines took first place in the Writers of the Future first quarter contest in 1999 for his story “Blade of the Bunny.” His novel Red Hood’s Revenge was nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. In 2012, he won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer.

“Spell of the Sparrow” first appeared in Sword and Sorceress XXI, edited by Diana L. Paxson. An audio version was included in PodCastle 13, edited by Rachel Swirsky. Hines included it in his e-book collection Kitemaster and Other Stories and it was also reprinted in his collection The Goblin Master’s Grimoire.

While there are many tales of changelings and children who are abducted by fairies, Hines goes for a different story in “Spell of the Sparrow.” Alycia and James are two happily married former thieves with a daughter who, against her mother’s wishes, sneaks off to practice magic. Their lives are thrown into turmoil when Basi, a Cloudling, turns up, having cast a love spell on James. Although Hines explains that Cloudlings use bird magic, and Basi has a sparrow as a familiar, he never fully explains what she is, nor why she chose to cast a spell on James.

“Spell of the Sparrow” is a puzzle story, with James in love with both Alycia and Basi, unable and unwilling to betray either one. Alycia and their daughter, Mel, must try to figure out a way to break the spell, although Basi, and Hines, set enough strictures on the way Cloudling magic works and Mel’s abilities that breaking the spell becomes nearly impossible.

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