Friday, February 27, 2015

recent read; "Damned Ranker"

Lately, I've taken to reading short stories for a week between novel reads. I have many collections and anthologies in the bookcases and on my Kindle.

The other night, I turned to The Mammoth Book of Sword and Honor.

Some background; I work in software. Yes, my company outsources. We have a team in Kiev, Ukraine. As you might imagine, the current turmoil in the Crimea is very real to us. Although the nastiness in Kiev itself calmed down, and the Crimean fighting isn't directly affecting the Kiev office, it's still a jumpy situation. (One of our guys is from the Crimea, though I don't know where his politics lie and I certainly am not going to ask.)

One saying my father drummed into my head and which I still abide, "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

So, I went with one of the Crimean War stories in the book, "Damned Ranker" by Paul Finch.

I really enjoyed it. It pulled me in, kept me reading longer than I meant to. It's hard-hitting, and gory with a good twist.

As for history repeating - between the story and now; I'd say no. But I did find it interesting how the Russians were described undisciplined rabble - racing forward, no concern for lines or formations, cavalry and infantry intermixed, smooth bore muskets and improvised weapons. I was strongly reminded of the opening of the movie, Enemy at the Gates, where the Soviet officers pushed the men into the carnage as so much cannon fodder. Advances in weaponry and tactics didn't seem to change that attitude much between Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.

If you enjoy Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe, you'd most likely enjoy this one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

recent read; Congregations of the Dead

Congregations of the Dead is the second novel by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge featuring the duo of sheriff Carl Price and private investigator Wade Griffin.

Price and Griffin are investigating real world issues – missing girls, forced prostitution and other dark, unsavory elements of humanity. Tangentially, they clip the world of the supernatural and find themselves facing a vampire and his congregation, as well as real world criminal organizations.

Oh, and those Moon-eyes' in-bred Blackbournes from the first novel (which you don't need to read first, but should anyway; Blind Shadows) are keeping tabs on Price, too. Add to that an ex-wife (for Price) and the smothering heat & humidity of a Georgia summer, and our heroes are quite piled upon by the time we reach the crescendo of this tale.

Occultist Carter DeCamp and his protege Charon return here, as well - offering occult advice, assistance and weaponry.

I really like the vampires in this story. I really enjoyed the twist of Reverend Lazarus Cotton as a Holy Roller, fire & brimstone revival preacher who earnestly believes his vampirism is a gift from God. Fry, his human servant foil, was a great sociopath character (and, I love the tribute to Dwight Frye/Renfield in his name.)

Classic vampire tropes are used to solid effect. The “native soil” angle was very well played, and the rats...- oh, those rats. I don't want to say anything else for fear of spoilers.

Not unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer t.v. series, real world issues were not directly related to the supernatural. Real world problems still exist, and supernatural issues do not change any of that. A problem is a problem, and the heroes must deal with each in its own way.

If you enjoyed Blind Shadows, you'll enjoy Congregations of the Dead, too.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Narragansett's Lovecraft Beers

Long time since I posted about beer.

Narragansett Beer - they of the infamous JAWS can crushing scene - are undergoing a renaissance. In addition to their regional staple of fisherman/working-class brew, they have been doing some interesting craft brews. (which are actually brewed in Rochester, NY, but whatever.)

Being a fixture of Rhode Island, they finally got around to H. P. Lovecraft.  This honey ale is their first offering to the Old Ones.

I bought a six-pack last week. It's okay. There is a touch of extra hops and a higher alcohol content so it's a bit on the bitter side. And that makes for an odd mix with the slight sweetness from the honey malt. It might be an ale better consumed with a meal than to drink stand-alone.

Later in the year (May, I think) they will rollout out an offering to the Deep Ones, an Innsmouth Ale, which will be some kind of dark variety (Porter? Stout? They haven't said yet.)

p.s. - speaking of dark, their Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout was fantastic. But, it was also seasonal. I think it's all done for this year.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

latest consumptions; The Quatermass Xperiment & Wolf in Shadow

I finally got around to watching the movie version of The Quatermass Xperiment. I was disappointed that it is rather ordinary. I don't know that casting an American as Quatermass was necessarily a problem, but the character was extremely stiff. Brian Donlevy didn't play with any nuance, and seemed barely there except when he needed to butt heads. It felt flat, like a simple B alien monster movie rather than something deeper.

The story involves a rocket experiment that goes wrong. Three astronauts go up, only one comes back, and his behavior is unhealthy and strange. I will say my favorite thing about this adaptation was Richard Wordsworth's portrayal of the afflicted astronaut. He goes full "Frankenstein's Monster," with no dialog. But he conveys a lot with body language and physical acting. There is even an homage (in my mind) to the infamous monster and girl at the pond scene from Frankenstein.

On the BluRay, there is an interesting interview with John Carpenter, and he does make some good points about the film's impact - particularly on him.

It had been a while since my last Gemmell read. I grabbed this one. Originally entitled The Jerusalem Man (a title I still prefer,) it serves as both the opening to one trilogy (tales of Jon Shannow, the Jerusalem Man,) and the third entry in a longer series about the Stones of Power.

Wolf in Shadow is an apocalyptic Western. The nature of the disaster that ended the world is revealed as the story progresses. Jon Shannow is a wandering hero. A man in search of the fabled city of Jerusalem. Along the way, he fights the good fight. But now he faces his biggest challenge - an organized army of satanists, spreading across the land. No mere brigand bands, this army attacks the very core of what Shannow holds true and dear.

I like the character of Shannow a lot. He's smart and resourceful but not without flaws. He is a "Christian" and a "Bible man."  There is an honesty to his faith. He sees the same conflicts between Bible passages as anyone else - and he has no priest or mentor to help him understand. He stands up for the oppressed and gives evil no excuses.

I was less interested as the book reached its crescendo. Lots of side characters were getting focused on, and I am far more interested in Shannow's story. Even though the setups were valid, I felt too much Deus ex Machina, too.

And I kept having a specific disconnect.;

In nearly every gunfight, Gemmell referred to "shells" whizzing around instead of "slugs" or "bullets." It threw me out of the story. I kept thinking someone called in artillery!

It's a surprising inaccuracy because there is more than a bit of cap & ball, cartridge, repeating weapon, flintlock, musket delineation throughout the story. I'm surprised this one detail was inaccurate.

All in all though, it is a good post-apocalypse tale with an interesting central hero. I will be finishing out the trilogy, for certain. And I will probably read the other books in the Stones of Power series.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

recent loot; Innsmouth & Dark Detectives

My Cthulhu Mythos tangent continues - along with a bonus. I learned about a deal on the hardcover edition of Stephen Jones' Dark Detectives, which I've had my eye on for a while now.  I was able to bundle in the three Jones' Innsmouth anthologies with the deal.

I hemmed and hawed. I really do want to curb the book acquisitions this year. It's not just money - bookcase space is at a premium in my house.

But these were just too good to pass up.  Still pricey, but I'd say I bought them at 2/3 their price, and they are new.

If you are more interested in the stories and aren't willing to pony up the hardcover prices, all four books are (or will be by March) available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

recent short read; Fangs of the Dragon

So, you want to read a "weird Western" tale? How about something with a lake monster and more? How about including some interesting history of schism in the Mormon church woven into the tale with a real life gunslinger?

David J. West takes the historical Porter Rockwell and makes him his own semi-fictional character. Taking the basis of Porter's modern-day Samson blessing - so long as he did not cut his hair, he would be impervious to blade and bullet - it is not an unreasonable step into the weird and supernatural.

West asks the simplest author question. He asks, "what if?"

What if Porter came up against tooth and claw? How would he survive that?

I thoroughly enjoy the character of Porter as presented by West. Porter is rough and tumble, but true to those who are true to him. He's not above a touch a medicinal alcohol - he particularly favors a tincture infused with raspberry when he needs it. But, he doesn't swear - which is great fun, because his go-to cuss word is "Wheat!"

This story is not straight forward, either, which is a good thing. There is more than a simple lake monster, and Porter needs to put together all the pieces between monster chasing and gunslinging action.

You can read "Fangs of the Dragon" in West's collection, Weird Tales of Horror (which contains other Porter Rockwell tales, too, btw) or stand-alone for the price of a cup of coffee (or less.) So, grab that cuppa (or some raspberry tincture) and enjoy a rousing tale of the weird West.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

recent read; Hard Magic

Jake Sullivan is a war hero, a private eye-and an ex-con. He's free because he has a magical talent, being able to alter the force of gravity in himself and objects in his vicinity, and the Bureau of Investigation calls on him when they need his help in apprehending criminals with their own magical talents. But...

Jake found out that the Feds had lied to him...he was too valuable for them to let him go. And things were even worse than Jake imagined. There was a secret war being waged by opposing forces of magic-users, and Jake had no idea that he had just attracted the attention of one side, whose ruthless leaders were of the opinion that Jake was far too dangerous to be permitted to live...

There is so much going on in this book, that I really don't want to spoil it much beyond that provided blurb. The story just kept getting bigger and better. In fact, I don't think that blurb does it justice. Not counting the magic glossary and other stuff at the back, the mass market paperback length is 573 pages and they are absolutely bulging at the seams.

Correia does a lot in this novel. He establishes his magic and its rules. He creates secret societies. He reworks early 20th century history into an alternate history narrative tainted with magic that still makes sense. He gives us varied heroes and villains. He brings in all kinds of historical characters and fits them right into their new world. And airships. Gotta have the airships. ;) He does it all with rollicking, moving action worthy of any pulp story.

I watched a talk Correia gave once, early in his writing career, where he described his plotting as blowing something up every 7-10 pages. It's not as silly as it sounds. That really is the right pacing for an action-driven story. (Or an action movie screenplay.) He makes his setups and pays them off. If this novel is any indication of the rest of his work, he naturally knows when to hit his beats, that's for sure.

Correia is a gun enthusiast. It shows throughout the story. If there was a gun in the 1930s, someone in this novel is using it. (OK, I'm sure there were more and Correia will probably pull out even more as the trilogy expands.) The trend of authors specifically describing firearms is somewhat new, I'd say. In the old days, they had "guns, pistols and rifles." I have seen other authors fail to keep this new trend interesting. I've read stories that I thought were weapons catalogs. But, Correia keeps the variety flowing as the story moves along, so I never felt that way about this tale.

The last 75 pages really kick into pulp action, breakneck speed, and pull out all the stops.

Frankly, I enjoyed the hell outta this one.

I think most of my friends (and blog visitors) who share my tastes (you know who you are and what we enjoy) will enjoy this one. I definitely plan to finish reading the entire trilogy.