Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Howard Days 2015 panels

As a public service, I am posting a thread from the REH Forums that contain videos of panels from Howard Days this year.

Great stuff, and I've only watched 2 so far.

Friday, June 26, 2015

TIN MEN marching

Believe it or not, this is not a review. On Tuesday, Christopher Golden's latest novel, TIN MEN, a scifi military thriller set in the near future, was released.

Chris setup a launch event split over two nights. I attended last night's event at the Haverhill Public Library in Massachusetts. To make it fun and informal, Chris brought co-guests. John McIlveen, Toni Kelner and James A. Moore.

Chris read a small excerpt, and the panel held court on writing questions and stories. It was pleasant and fun.

There were plenty of other writers in the audience, too. Chatted with other NECONers and even spent some time talking with director Izzy Lee about an upcoming short film she did with a Innsmouth flair. (It will be part of an international anthology movie called Danse Macabre.)

In addition to buying TIN MEN, they held a robot trivia contest and I came away with extra loot. Extra special as all three of these books were on my wishlist. I love the cartoony take on pulp cover art on Wicked Tales. If you look close enough, you'll see that it is H. P. Lovecraft's gravestone. (really, that is what it looks like, the artist did his homework.)

Great night out!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

recent read; Virgin Zombie

Virgin Zombie by Charles R. Rutledge

Armand Brule, aka 'Houngan', is a meth cook on the run from a murder charge in Chicago. When he turns up in the small town of Wellman Georgia, Chicago homicide Lieutenant Jacqueline 'Jack' Daniels is dispatched to apprehend him.

Jack ends up teamed with Wade Griffin, a mercenary turned private investigator. Their search will bring them into conflict with a biker gang and something far more sinister. For Houngan is another name for a voodoo priest and Brule may be cooking up something worse than crystal meth. And then there's the dead guy with a hatchet.

This story is a fast-paced crime/mystery with plenty of action. I enjoyed it. I have read previous Griffin & Price novels, but I have not read Jack Daniels stories. That in no way limited my enjoyment. Reading Griffin in action – and bumping into some other characters of Wellman, GA – was like a quick, satisfying visit with old friends.

If you're a fan of either Jack Daniels or Griffin & Price, I would give it a read. Or try it anyway, even if you aren't familiar with either series. It is a solid story that stands on its own. Charles writes good, fun stuff!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

recent read; Bless the Child

Bless the Child by David J. West

Impelled by a quest for redemption, the man known only as The Spartan finds unholy work in The Holy Land. And work is good, there is no end of service amongst kings and robber barons for a man who sells his sword so well. But blood won’t wash away blood and The Spartan finds himself compelled toward something greater than himself. Bless The Child is a romance of redemption and glory. Numerous historical personages cross paths with The Spartan, including Solon, Nebuchadnezzar, the prophets Lehi, Jeremiah and Daniel, King Zedekiah and the poetess Sappho. Come back to 586 B.C. when Jerusalem burned and the life of a prince rested in the hands of the exiled Spartan. Can a mercenary trained only for war become an instrument of peace?

David J. West again (see Heroes of the Fallen) dives into a historical Mormon framework to weave a solid historical fiction tale.

The Spartan narrator of this story is a great character. A warrior by nature, and exile by honorable choice, the mercenary life is all he knows or wants. We follow his journey to find purpose, from the depths of working for men he despises to finding reasons to fight that have greater meaning. Along the way we see some solid combat and action, learn a haunting, tragic backstory, and meet historical characters.

As a story structure, allowing time gaps between the acts of the novel worked, but it did create some moments of telling rather than showing. Certain characters appeared and disappeared off-stage, as it were.

I particularly enjoyed the third act of the novel as the tension heightened and the action kept coming. It is written in present tense, but it is one of those rare cases where the verb tense shift worked. It definitely gave the tale a sudden immediacy.

Overall Bless the Child is a good read, And I think David's ability to write a novel length tale improved over Heroes of the Fallen.

And hey - all proceeds on this one go to charity, so if you're considering it, you should go ahead and buy it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

three short reads; novellas and a short novel

The Dunfield Terror by William Meikle

In this short novel, a deadly interdimensional fog bank attacks an isolated Newfoundland town at the height of a disastrous blizzard. This book is a quick read with nifty backstory simultaneously explored as the "now" story rages on. There are even flashbacks to the 1800s, establishing that the phenomena genesis in the 1950s caused a rift in time, too.

The only negative was some repetitive incidental action - drink coffee, drink rum, smoke a cigarette. Then again, at the height of a Newfie blizzard, what else can you do?

Good feel of winter storms and isolation, and interesting scifi/horror monster(s.)

I am trying to explore genres and read some tales from NECON attendees before this July's next con. Bracken MacLeod and Chris Irvin both had crime novellas out last year.

White Knight by Bracken MacLeod

Tight, quick read that hits hard and fast. An idealistic prosecutor tries to help outside the boundaries and gets caught in a noir-ish trap. Things only get worse and darker from there.

I like that MacLeod's stage was quick and small, befitting the story and novella length. The tale happens quickly, over a few days, and the setting is a smaller city of Massachusetts. When we say "Lynn, Lynn, city of sin," we aren't kidding. It works far better than trying to stage this noir-ish tale in New York City or Los Angeles. It works.

(also, see review by Charles Rutledge)

Federales by Christopher Irvin

In Mexico, law enforcement comes in shades of grey, never black & white. An idealistic Federale, Marcos Camarena, finally gives in under pressure (and threat to his life) and leaves law enforcement. He can't keep from trying to help, though. He is hired as a bodyguard to an anti-drug crusader who has already had brushes with death and assassination attempts.

On the plus side, this tale has very evocative characters and tone. I felt the heat, the sweat, the hopelessness. On the negative side, the narrative sputtered and gave out at the end, I thought. It felt like a setup for a longer work, a shift into the second act, but then it hurriedly ended.

Rather bleak stuff, but the war on drugs is a bleak subject, especially over the border in Mexico.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

movie; River Queen

I've been doing research on the Maori wars of the mid-1800s. These were the battles fought between Maori New Zealand natives and the British colonizing forces. It all sounds far too familiar - forcing people off their lands to appease settlers, miners and other greedy people. Maori fought Maori, too, as some tribes considered allying with the British as their best option.

Thanks to Jim Cornelius' review of River Queen, I thought it would be a good way to get some feel for the era.

You should read Jim's review, it's short and to the point.

As with many such movies, it is not about the war specifically, but about the people caught in the middle. But there are combat and battle scenes, and those alone are worth a viewing if you are a military history buff and you don't know much about these conflicts.

My take away; it had great visuals, and excellent battle scenes. It especially highlights the rugged NZ forests that made the fighting a hard slog.

On the other hand, the main narrative was all over the place and got worse near the end of the movie. It felt like scenes were strung one after another without a polish to pull them all together. I felt like some scenes were almost out of order, and quickly reworked to fit the new order. More and more characters started vying for the story's attention, too.

There was too much use of voice over. Never a good sign. On top of that, the sound was muddy. I finally turned on captions, though I am usually all right discerning accented dialog.

River Queen is a decent historical drama with some nice visuals and battles, but it's a bit of a jumble. It's one of those movies I wish I could like a bit more than I did.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

movie; Northwest Passage

Growing up, more than once my mother mentioned the classic movie, Northwest Passage. At some point I finally did see it via broadcast television. I had it on VHS tape at one point. It was one of the movies I waited forever to come to DVD. It was finally released via the Warner Archive. The Archive features no-frills transfers of older, less-than-big-hits. The films aren't cleaned up, feature no or very little bonus material.

The movie follows the exploits of Rogers' Rangers during the French & Indian War. Specifically, it focuses on the Saint Francis Raid - an expedition deep into hostile French and Abenaki territory to destroy a base of operations the Abenakis used for raids deep into English colonial territory.

I finally sat down and gave it a re-watch this week.

As with many things through rosy glasses, it's not nearly as good the second time around.

Not surprisingly for 1940s Hollywood, the "Indian" portrayals are weak. The first indian we meet is drunk. The Abenaki village Roberts' Rangers assault and destroy just happens to be overpopulated by males. There is a token appearance of kids & women to be spared. And, if they don't look Mohawk, then they look Apache. There is much told of "innocent" settler folks being butchered by Natives, and nothing said of things from the Natives' viewpoint.

Speaking of the Abenaki village, that's the only combat action in the entire movie. The rest of the action centers around the Rangers arduous journey to make the attack in surprise. Boats hauled over hills, swamps, rain, creating a human chain across a fast running river, discord among the troops and their Native allies.

The screenplay was adapted from a 1930s popular novel by Kenneth Roberts. It's out-of-print, and I'm surprised it hasn't been given the ebook treatment. Part of me still wants to read it. But if the movie followed it closely, it might not be my cup of tea. It does appear to have had a longer story than the movie, going beyond the Saint Francis Raid.

If you like old Hollywood frontier movies, you should probably watch this one at least once. I don't know about repeated viewings, though.

Historical note; while Rogers and his Rangers were heroes of the French & Indian War, in the end, Rogers washed out and sold out.