Monday, September 25, 2017

recent read; The Mines of Behemoth



THE MINES OF BEHEMOTH by Michael Shea

This is the second book concerning Nifft the Lean and is a full novel, unlike the first collection of novellas.

Nifft the Lean and Barnar Hammer-Hand are thieves fallen on hard times. They sail to earn money working a "sap mine." This is no ordinary venture - the "sap" comes from draining gigantic grubs - the offspring of even more gargantuan behemoths. These creatures nest in our world and burrow far into the demon sub-world to sustain their ravenous appetites. On their way to the task, Nifft and Barnar are offered a more lucrative enterprise. Despite growing dangers, their work yields more and more opportunities for wealth, which the two thieves cannot resist to exploit.

Shea seemed to love giant monsters. The creatures throughout the Nifft tales are mostly of giant proportions. It's an interesting take for fantasy novels, where - aside from dragons or frost giants - heroes often face things their own size or somewhat larger.

Shea's use of language in these tales borders on purple and flowery but it does convey and bring Nifft's world to life in vivid detail.

The Nifft stories are heroic fantasy but somewhat removed from classic sword-&-sorcery. The combat is negligible, often tossed off in a few words as monstrous limbs are hacked. No hard or long fought duels or grand armies in battle. There is more an exploration of the fantasy world and Nifft's character journey.

Speaking of which, Nifft does get greedy along the arc of this tale. To the point where I was afraid I wouldn't like him at the end. But Shea, thankfully, includes redemption in the conclusion of the story.

I enjoyed Nifft's journey through the behemoth mines. I'll be returning for THE A'RAK in the near future.

(p.s. - Technically, this was a "recent listen" not a "recent read" as THE MINES OF BEHEMOTH is out-of-print but available through Audible.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

recent read; A Conversation in Blood


A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD by Paul S. Kemp

Egil and Nix are back.

The story started off a little slow this time. Egil spends too much time in his cups and Nix tries to pull his friend out of the downward spiral while feeling caged and edgy himself. Finally, Egil and Nix and their friends agree that Egil and Nix need to get busy with an adventure.

Spring-boarding from the previous story, Nix decides to investigate a mysterious treasure they secured on the their last adventure. As their luck would have it, the simple task of investigation blows up in their faces and they are soon on the run from wizards, unkillable creatures, and seeking sanctuary in the last place they want to go; the thieves' guild house - which they had assaulted in the previous novel.

Egil and Nix are their bantering selves and this time they are joined by a third adventurer, Jyme, who returns from their first story, THE HAMMER AND THE BLADE.

Kemp peels away a few more layers of the onion that is the history their world, too. Tantalizing tidbits.

Though the story is still very much (what I would call) sword-&-sorcery/heroic fantasy milieu, the stakes do get very high and large in scope by the climatic end of the tale.

Though events in A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD are initiated by events of the previous novel, the book can be read standalone.

A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD is another satisfying romp with Egil and Nix.

==
One complaint that has nothing to do with the story or the writing - the font of the mass market paperback. I am very disappointed with Del Rey. The font on this is just ridiculously small. Yes, I have glasses but I hate taxing my eyes as I get older. I find the use of tiny fonts with small presses, sometimes, and I assume they are cutting page count and cost. I still don't like it and I see no reason why a larger press like Del Rey needs to do such a thing.

Pay for the extra print pages!

Luckily, for my old eyes, I listened the audiobook.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

recent read; THE BONE EATER KING


THE BONE EATER KING by Steve Van Samson

When an author states that one of Robert E. Howard's stories was a direct influence and inspiration to his novel, my ears perk up. When the author then notes "Hills of the Dead," rather than the expected Conan nod, you have my rapt attention.

"Hills of the Dead," of course, features REH's hero, the God-driven Solomon Kane, striding through vampires in an Africa of the 1500s.

Though inspired by Robert E. Howard's "The Hills of the Dead," this story is no re-tread. Van Samson chooses Africa as his setting but he wisely uses current (near-future) Africa rather than a past, pulp styling of the Dark Continent. Van Samson's Africa, while a post apocalyptic wasteland, touches on modern Africa - poverty and success, wealth and knowledge, game reserves, poachers, industrial complexes and modern cities.
Once there were no more plant eaters, carnivores had to turn on each other for food. Lion preyed upon the jackal and the hyena upon the leopard, but all cowered before the new apex, the matsatsaku maza.

Welcome to Predator World.
The matsatsaku maza are monstrous vampires and Van Samson plays with traditional tropes and African myth to create his own unique breed of vampires.

The story tells of the red man, who we learn is in some form of vampire transformation. He is befriended by a hard warrior woman, with her own secrets and emotional baggage. They make their way through the deadly terrain, heading for sanctuary - of which there is little to be found.

Van Samson handles the narrative very well. Confusion and fear are palatable. The non-linear unfolding keeps the reader interested and engaged. The African setting is stellar - another intriguing facet of the story.

THE BONE EATER KING is a startlingly original horror action novel that grabs you tooth and claw and does not let go.

I'm already excited to read its sequel, MARROW DUST.

recent read; SCAVENGERS


 SCAVENGERS by David J. West

David J. West continues to challenge his story writing abilities and we're all the better for it. After walking, running, and haranguing Porter Rockwell through various adventures of the Weird West, West now brings us a novel length work which - for the most part - is a straight-up Western featuring the stalwart hero.

Rockwell finds himself caught up in the hunt for lost treasure. He makes a few friends along the way but mostly he is beset by enemies - hostile Natives, criminal gangs, a bandito army, a U.S. cavalry unit lead by an unscrupulous officer, and a manic German reverend with brainwashed followers.

Rockwell needs his guns, wits, strength and fortitude to blaze his way through adventure, enemies and traps. There are some great mental images I had while reading. West provides terrain descriptions that come to life, too. Porter is often out of the frying pan and into the fire as the cliffhanger action keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace.

The only touch of 'weird' here is the Reverend's mushroom-tainted communion drink and lost Spanish treasure. The rest is a Western, with a healthy dose of spaghetti-Western, at that.

If you like action-driven Westerns, you should give SCAVENGERS a read!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

recent reads; Porter Rockwell 2-fer


COLD SLITHER

David J. West has created his own Weird Western niche by crafting tales of the historic figure, Porter Rockwell. West weaves Native American myths, monsters, legends, tall tales, and touches of cryptozoology and lost civilizations into a fun and original tapestry. Rockwell strides through this collection of stories. Not to be missed if you're a fan of Weird West tales, action, wry humor, and monsters.


SIX-GUN SERENADE

Two tales of West's Weird West take on Porter Rockwell, the Mormon gunslinger. The first tale extends a story that originally appeared in shorter form. Second story is a previously unreleased bonus. Also, a teaser chapter from his first novel length Porter tale, SCAVENGERS.

Very enjoyable westerns with just the right amount of weird. West has developed his version of Porter into a fun 'cowboy' character. I look forward to reading the novels.

Monday, August 21, 2017

recent read: A Discourse in Steel



A DISCOURSE IN STEEL by Paul S. Kemp

It took me too long to return to Egil and Nix. Kemp has created a great sword-&-sorcery duo. And yes, even I who prefer novella length as tops for sword-&-sorcery, still consider this novel as sword-&-sorcery. Don't let the length fool you. While it has touches of "high fantasy" and some Dungeons & Dragons magical items and dungeon crawls, Egil & Nix comes right out of the Nifft the Lean and Fafhrd & Gray Mouser tradition.

A psychic friend of the duo learns a little too much about the city's thieves guild. The guild tries assassination and Egil & Nix know they won't let up. So the duo goes for the throat of the guild.

They're not out to save the world - they are out to save their friends .. and their whorehouse.

Along the way we get cosmic horrors of a black alley that appears at random in the city, magical "gewgaws," lost civilizations, a whole lot of action and combat, and even deeper reflections on what makes a person a person, friendship and loyalty.

The banter between Egil and Nix comes to life in the audiobook. It might work well on the page, too, but there were moments when I laughed out loud while listening.

Angry Robot originally published the first two Egil & Nix novels. They were dropped after Angry Robot were bought and went through some restructuring.
Original Angry Robot cover
Fortunately, Del Rey picked them up and republished the first two novels and they have released a third, A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD.

I enjoyed A DISCOURSE IN STEEL a whole lot. I won't wait so long between books this time.

And I want a t-shirt;

In a world of slubbers and fakkers, be an Egil (or a Nix.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

recent read; Hammer of Darkness


Hammer of Darkness by Rowan Casey

Hammer of Darkness is the eighth book in the urban fantasy Veil Knights series. The Veil between worlds is thin, and Knights are sworn to protect our world. Each novel deals with a different knight and a different task they must perform. The titles are released direct to ebook.

The series is a throwback using a house-name author to produce short, quick adventure novels. The house-name angle is not a secret, it's mentioned in the series' summary.

In Hammer of Darkness, Hautdesert, a tough Knight who has battle fatigue stretching back through time, provides a noir first-person narrative. Hautdesert is called upon to recover a mystical hamper of power. (yes, "hamper" - not to be confused with the title. See #2 on this list)

Hautdesert navigates his way through the seedier and supernatural dangerous parts of San Francisco. He must battle natural men and supernatural creatures - from witches enhanced by magic to the point of superpowers to succubi vampires and other dangerous elements of black magick and the dark left-hand path.

Along the way, Hautdesert goes through a series of uncomfortable reunions with ex-girlfriends. (Imagine if James Bond revisited paramours from his past movies.) Many of the femme fatales harbor resentment and/or their own motivations when dealing with the hapless knight.

The action pistons along. There is a level of grit, gore and violence keeping the story away from a comfortable polish found in other contemporary urban fantasy stories.

Hammer of Darkness is a solid, quick read if you want a taste of gritty noir urban fantasy.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

recent read; WITCHY EYE


WITCHY EYE by D. J. Butler
Sarah Calhoun is the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Elector Andrew Calhoun, one of Appalachee’s military heroes and one of the electors who gets to decide who will next ascend as the Emperor of the New World. None of that matters to Sarah. She has a natural talent for hexing and one bad eye, and all she wants is to be left alone—especially by outsiders.
But Sarah’s world gets turned on its head at the Nashville Tobacco Fair when a Yankee wizard-priest tries to kidnap her. Sarah fights back with the aid of a mysterious monk named Thalanes, who is one of the not-quite-human Firstborn, the Moundbuilders of the Ohio. It is Thalanes who reveals to Sarah a secret heritage she never dreamed could be hers.
Now on a desperate quest with Thalanes to claim this heritage, she is hunted by the Emperor’s bodyguard of elite dragoons, as well as by darker things—shapeshifting Mockers and undead Lazars, and behind them a power more sinister still. If Sarah cannot claim her heritage, it may mean the end to her, her family—and to the world where she is just beginning to find her place.
Dave Butler has weaved the ornate tapestry of a fantasy epic from the history of early America and it is simply wonderful. WITCHY EYE is a great read. Full of detail, historical veracity, and charm. The characters - protagonists and villains alike - spring from the page.

Butler's "America" is never referred to as such and there are no states - united or otherwise. There are territories and empires and the wild untamed wooded frontier.


In this world, magic is real - from simple hedge-witch hexing to dread necromancers.

So, how does one classify WITCHY EYE? It's not only fantasy. It is not only alternate history. It's a rich novel of heroics in an Americana Flintlock Fantasy, and I for one, am glad it has arrived.

I enjoyed it a lot and I eagerly await its sequel.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

WICKED HAUNTED - "East Boston Relief Station"


I am proud and pleased that my short story, "East Boston Relief Station," was accepted for inclusion in the anthology WICKED HAUNTED. The book is edited by Scott Goudsward, David Price & Dan Keohane, who read and chose the entries from members of the New England Horror Writers.

The theme of the anthology is ghost stories.

Amazing table of contents! I'm honored to be included with all these authors!

Bracken MacLeod - "Lost Boy"
James A. Moore - "Pulped"
Remy Flagg - "Murmur"
Doungjai Gam Bepko - "We're All Haunted Here"
Emma Jane Shaw Gibbon - "Ghost Maker"
Kenneth Vaughan - "And They Too Want to be Remembered"
Peter Dudar - "The Thing With No Face"
GD Dearborn - "Triumph of the Spirit"
Nick Manzolillo - "My Work is Not Yet Completed"
Paul McNamee - "East Boston Relief Station"
Trisha Wooldridge - "Ghosts In Their Eyes"
Curtis M. Lawson - "Everything Smells like Smoke Again"
Renee Mulhare - "Stranding Off Schroodic Point"
Tom Deady - "Turn Up the Old Victrola"
Dan Szczesny - "Boy on the Red Tricycle"
Dan Foley - "They Come With the Storm"
Barry Lee Dejasu - "Tripping the Ghost"
Rob Smales - "Road to Gallway"
Paul McMahon - "The Pick Apart"
Morgan Sylvia - "The Thin Place"
Matt Bechtel - "The Walking Man"
Larissa Glasser - "The Mouse"
Patricia Gomes - "Scrying Through Torn Screens"

Without giving anything away, I will say my story was inspired by some personal experiences and some family history I discovered.

Thanks to my alpha reader, Charles Rutledge.

The editors are still deciding the cover art. They plan to have the book published and ready for Halloween this year.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The TRUE GRIT experiment

I'd never seen the movie, TRUE GRIT. Neither the first version with John Wayne (1969) nor the newer version from the Coen brothers (2010.)  And I had never read the novel.

During my vacation, I decided to consume and compare all three. I listened to the audiobook and then watched both films.

I loved the novel. Straightforward and harrowing at the same time. The audio narration by Donna Tartt is stellar.

1969
First thing that hit me was the score. It is dated and unflattering. The sweeping strings just seem out-of-place in a post-spaghetti Western. On top of that, it starts with a theme song with embarrassingly bad lyrics.

Until the end, the movie followed the novel plot points almost exactly. The dialog was nearly exact from the novel, too. The denouement ending was invented around a point at the ending of the novel and was not in the novel.

It's still a grand, fun Western and a Wayne classic for a reason.


2010
The first thing that hit me was how much better the soundtrack was.

This version had a fair number of minor changes in the plot that kept me guessing. Ironically though, I think the tone and characters were closer to the novel. The ending adheres to the novel, too.

I think I prefer the 2010 version.

It was fun experiment. Fortunately, each movie and the novel all had more highlights than lowlights.

I want to do more of this. I've seen both versions of 3:10 TO YUMA but I still need to read the story. And I've seen SHANE but I still need to read the novel.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

recent read; Amazon Nights


Amazon Nights by Arthur O. Friel

Ever since I read THE PATHLESS TRAIL, I've wanted to read some of the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço, who made a cameo in that novel.

All the stories in this collection appeared in Adventure magazine in the early 1920s. They sweat with the steam of the South American jungle, full of intrigue, menace, jungle danger, south of the border hot-bloods, passion, murder, revenge, savages & cannibals, and betrayal.

Pedro and Lourenço are seringueiros - workers on a rubber plantation. Most of their adventures are set off the plantation during the rainy season. When there is no work and the waters flood to make passage through the jungle, the duo yield to wanderlust and find themselves in various scrapes. Lourenço narrates all the stories from first person p.o.v.

One story does dip a little into fantasy when the duo discovers a lost race of monkey men. All the other stories, though, play it straight though there are some humans who act like animals (but aren't) or are named after animals.

Friel spent time in the jungles of South America and the veracity bleeds through the atmosphere of these stories.

The standout stories for me were; "The Peccaries" "The Jararaca" "The Firefly" "The Bouto" and "The Trumpeter."

Darrel Schweitzer provides an informative, though brief, introduction to this collection.

Robert E. Howard read Friel and named him a favorite author. "The Peccaries" features someone being crucified on a tree. "The Jararaca" contains this wonderful bit, which could come right from the mouth of Solomon Kane;
"I am not one of those who think there is no God. And I do believe that whenever Deus Padre allows an evil thing to come into the world He also creates a good thing to destroy it. And whether this be so or not, I know that as our jungle harbors the venomous jararaca, so also it protests the good mussurana, which slays the jararaca."
Like THE PATHLESS TRAIL, I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these stories. AMAZON NIGHTS is a great encapsulation of the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço - and I still might seek out more of their tales.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Valley Forge National Historical Park

George Washington awaits.
 My nephew got married this weekend. The wedding was in Pennsylvania and we had time to kill, so my wife & I visited Valley Forge National Historical Park.

George and me.
SPOILER ALERT - (There was no battle at Valley Forge, it was a temporary winter encampment.)

Valley Forge was set on high ground in the rolling farm country of southeastern PA. It's a lovely spot. From there, Washington could monitor British movements around Philadelphia, which the British had captured and occupied.

Beautiful rolling farm country.
Although there was no battle at the site, no cease-fire had been declared and the Continental Army had to drill, picket, and perform all the myriad soldiering duties throughout the winter, remaining vigilant. (There were a few skirmishes in the countryside - usually as the Americans were foraging wider and wider for supplies and food.)

We watched the introductory movie at the visitor center. It was a hot day and we opted for the trolley tour. Highly recommended. It was a wise move to let someone else do the driving and the narrating. Our guide really knew her stuff. Not just about the encampment but all kinds of history leading up to and after the encampment of winter 1777-78.

Costumed Park Ranger and replica huts.
The huts and redoubts are all recreations. The originals fell to rot, or more likely, were knocked down by the farmers who owned the land, once the the army had marched on.

Washington's headquarters was a proper house and that still stands today with recreated kitchen, office, and bedrooms.
Washington's headquarters
The theme driven home more than once is that Valley Forge is unique in being a monument not to soldiers in battle but a monument to the rest of a soldier's life - the 90% of time they are not on the battlefield. The 90% of time surviving, dying of diseases and dearth, drilling, and keeping busy to stay sane.

Absolutely worth your time to visit if you are in the area.

I'm a sucker for a good, concise, arms & equipment reference book.

Ya, I know  - I'm a sucker for a good, concise, arms & equipment reference book. "Fixed that for ya."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

recent read; Jungle Stories #56, Spring 1953

Jungle Stories #56, Spring 1953

I wanted to read some pulp outside the usual zone. I went for jungles stories. Ki-Gor is a Tarzan pastiche written under a house name. I checked with Charles Rutledge who advised me of some of the better stories. "The Silver Witch" was the only recommendation  available in ebook (at present.)

"The Silver Witch" surprised me. Not only is it a good tale, but the juju sorcery is real in the story. I would have expected a Scooby-Doo unveiling. An immortal sorceress, her silver ghostly army, a lost city in the swamp. An atmosphere of horror, too. "The Silver Witch" isn't far removed from a decent Conan pastiche. As such, it could be cross-classified as sword-&-sorcery (spear-&-sorcery) as well as a jungle story.

Four other tales round out this issue.

"Ndembo!" relates a somewhat humorous tale of a 'dead' tribesman who must endure 'death' to gain fortune among his tribe. Trickery meets trickery.

"Gorilla! Gorilla!" is a story of the leader of a troop of gorillas, under challenge from a young bull, and trying to protect his group from men. It is told from the point-of-view of the gorilla.

"Angel in the Jungle" isn't the best title for the tale it relates. The story involves the usual conflict of two colonials infighting as they deal with closing a pass with dynamite while dealing with a local tribe of elephant hunters.

"Spears of Fire" rounds out the issue. Again the setup is two white men in conflict against the backdrop of wild Africa. This story involves harvesting mahogany wood and floating it down river before the flood season leaves the wood high and dry. A few good twists in this one. I think it could use a better title, too, though. Not really many "spears." I thought this was the best story besides "The Silver Witch."

For $4 on Kindle, this issue contains a surprisingly enjoyable set of stories. Worth the read if you're interested in this sort of thing.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

recent read; Vampires Overhead

Vampires Overhead by Alan Hyder

In 1983, Karl Edward Wagner created three lists of what he considered to be the best horror novels. The lists - Supernatural Horror, SciFi Horror, and Non-supernatural Horror - appeared in Twilight Zone magazine.

Vampires Overhead is an apocalyptic scifi horror novel. Set in post-World-War-I London and the English countryside, it relates the story of "Garry" Garrington. Garrington and his wartime soldier pal, Bingen, are spared the initial horrors after they pass out in the safety of a tunnel under a brewery. They awaken to find a world burning, stalked by strange vampiric alien creatures.

They fight and flee from the vampires through London, and find only one other survivor - a young woman named Janet. The trio then set off for the countryside in search of supplies, a safe base, and other survivors.

As with many apocalypse stories, as the vampires dwindle, the monstrous nature of mankind comes to the surface.

Written in 1935, some of the descriptions of London ablaze eerily foreshadow the incendiary bombs of the Blitz only five years later. I don't know how widely known the novel was in later years. But I bet in had an influence on any number of British apocalypse tales. The Doctor Who serial, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," came to my mind more than once while listening.

Vampires Overhead is a cracking tale; tense and fast-moving. If you've not read it, put it on your shortlist.

A note on the audio book;

I listened to the audiobook from Radio Archives. It was a serviceable reading and I would give it higher regards except - the reader is American. The novel is British. It would not be much of an issue except the point-of-view is first person. Again, not an issue if it were read straight through. But, the American narrator slips into British accents for the dialog. The in-&-out accenting is a distraction - especially when he holds over some British pronunciations in the narration, or when he occasionally slips accent into Irish or Australian accents.

Friday, June 2, 2017

recent read; Nifft the Lean


Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea

I'd been wanting to read this sword-&-sorcery classic for a long time. All the Nifft books are out-of-print. I finally procured a copy last year.

I recently discovered Audible has made them available as audiobooks. So, I finally listened to NIFFT THE LEAN.

Amazing stuff. Every sword-&-sorcery fan should read. Or, as in my case, listen to the excellent audiobook.

Four tales of Nifft's thieving exploits are told. A story of traversing the underworld - sort of an ode to Dante's INFERNO, a tale of larceny involving black pearls and a vampire queen, the longest of the tales is another journey/quest through the sub-world of the demon seas and finally an odd tale of a kingdom that once was visited by aliens.

My only slight dissatisfaction is with the final story, because Nifft really isn't the protagonist - he is just a witness to events.

I could see where these stories had a large influence on Dungeons & Dragons and the "thief" character class.

Stellar storytelling.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lovecraftian Tales, Volume One

Lovecraftian Tales, Volume One

A while ago, I submitted a story to Lovecraft eZine. It was accepted but reserved for a future issue. Since that time, Mike Davis (editor and creator of Lovecraft eZine) decided to place the story in a new project/title, Lovecraftian Tales.

I am not sure of Mike's plans on this new title versus the Lovecraft eZine. I'm just happy the story has come out.

My story is "The Innsmouth Run," where a pair of bootleggers take refuge from the law in the ruins of Innsmouth. The story is set a few months after the events of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."

It is available via Amazon for Kindle or also in a print edition.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

recent read; StoryHack Issue #0

StoryHack Issue #0

Bryce Beattie is launching a new "pulp" magazine, StoryHack, joining a growing field of magazines/eZines returning to pulp storytelling.

Issue #1 is Kickstarting now. As a proof of concept, Issue #0 was produced and is available for free (follow the link above.)

So, what do you get with StoryHack, issue #0?

A mystery adventure in a gunpowder fantasy setting, a werewolf private eye, a bounty hunter in a lost city adventure, a sword-&-sorcery tale of Biblical times, a world-traveling vigilante, a sword-& sorcery tale from a prince's bodyguard, a Victorian spy team, cosmic horror on a galactic, apocalyptic scale, and an urban fantasy with gun-play, zombies, and magical artifacts.

As with any anthology (be it magazine or book,) not everything is probably going to jive with personal tastes - especially when StoryHack is welcoming all genres so long as the story focuses on action & adventure. This held true for me but the quality throughout the magazine was fine, even when a story wasn't appealing to me.

I enjoyed this issue. There are fun tales in here.

If your reading tastes align with mine - you know who you are - then you want to add StoryHack to your reading pile, for certain. I'm looking forward to issue #1!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

recent read; The Iron Company

The Iron Company by Chris Wraight

I like to knock off a Warhammer novel now and then. This was a good one, focusing on the engineers. Ironblood, an alcoholic washout, is granted forced into a commission to command an artillery company. The army is going to war with local rebels. The rebels have holed up in a near impregnable fortress. Ironblood convinces an old comrade to join the effort. And a dwarf with his own agenda joins in, as well.

Trials and tribulations await. Bloodshed, too. Cannons, and machines, and madmen who consider engineering no better than sorcery. Lots of elements in the story that Wraight blends well.

I enjoyed it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

recent read; Siege at Jadotville


Siege at Jadotville by Declan Power

Jim Cornelius brought this to my attention when this story was adapted to film last year.  In 1961, Katanga in the Congo was a dangerous place. The Irish A Company were sent into the Congo as part of UN peacekeeping forces. They found themselves surrounded in a remote outpost without the necessary tools to affect a win or even a lengthy holdout.

For many years, public perception did not view A Company fairly, feeling they had surrendered too easily and put a black mark on Ireland's army on the world stage. After many years, survivors of A Company and Power's book have set the record straight.

I have yet to see the movie, I don't know how much background is included, but Power's book does a fine job of laying out all the chaos of the region and the UN's flawed bullshit approach to the situation.

A Company were under-equipped, under-informed and it's a wonder they weren't rolled over on day one. The Irish were a largely green force (no pun intended)--even the officers hadn't had much combat experience, if any--and they held out against a much larger force of battle-hardened Belgian and French mercenaries intermingled in the Katangan forces. A Company were hamstrung (to put it lightly) by poor equipment, poor supplies, and poor "planning" from their superiors and the UN. Also, of course, was their charter as peacekeepers while the enemy played by rules they could not.

I definitely recommend this book if you want to understand how the whole siege came to be and played out for the men of A Company.

RCW: Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels seminar


River City Writers strike again!

This weekend I attended a seminar on Writing for Comics by Christopher Golden.

I learned a whole lot. I didn't know the nuts & bolts and now I feel like I do. It's surprising to recognize what has been on the page in front of you but you hadn't noticed as a reader.

Chris covered a lot in three hours; less is more, trust & know your artist, scene breakdown, page breakdown, panel breakdown, story arcs, and much more. Augmented with a vignette script and comic from his own BALTIMORE series for tangible examples of everything discussed.

If you're interesting in writing comics this seminar is a surefire way to ramp up quickly.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

recent read; Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective, Vol. 1


Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective, Vol. 1 by Nikki Nelson-Hicks

This book collects three tales featuring Jake Istenhegyi, a post-Prohibition, Hungarian immigrant to New Orleans who finds himself pulled into the world of pulp occult detective work (hence, the "accidental.")

"A Chick, A Dick, and a Witch Walk Into a Barn..." starts of the volume with a pulp occult detective bang. When Jake's private detective roommate goes missing, Jake picks up the investigation and finds himself knee-deep in vicious chickens, a loa possessed rooster monster, and a voodoo queen.

In "Golems, Goons, and Stone Cold Bitches," Jake gets caught between two sisters and the artifact they most desire. Along the way, Jake finds a ghost and learns disturbing family history concerning his uncle, from whom Jake inherited his bookstore. An uncle whose large illegal debt Jake is now expected to carry. By the end of the tale, Jake experiences magic that forever changes his life.

The volume closes with "Boo Daddies, Bogs, and A Dead Man's Body." This is the longest story and the most ambitious, with a large cast of characters, sub-plots, intriguing mysteries, and good twists. Laugh-out-loud moments, too.

Each story, while readable stand-alone, builds on the previous entries adding new elements to the world-building as well as revelations. They all flow naturally, nothing felt forced.

Bottom line; these stories are pulp fun. If you want some rollicking pulp occult detective tales, look up Jake Istenhegyi!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Much nothing ado

Quiet month here at the blog. Sorry about that.

I've undertaken recently not to post negative reviews. Unfortunately, my last couple of reads haven't really wowed me enough to post about them.

I am happy to report my current read (audiobook) is a lot of fun. I hope to finish it up this week and review soon.

I've been reading various short stories and comics, too.

The month is almost over so I guess I can add the "writing roundup" report for March. Eh. Too many zeroes. But, on the writing days I had good output. I also spent a good number of days editing. I submitted two stories (one by invite, one to a slush pile.) The current horror novel progresses, albeit slower than I would like.

I have a half-dozen submissions out there now. I hope to hear back on some of them during early April.

Cheers!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

recent re-read; Prince Raynor


In the 1930s, pulp writer extraordinaire, Henry Kuttner, tried his hand at sword-&-sorcery. Elak (of Atlantis) is the better known series but Kuttner also contributed to the genre with a different set of tales, featuring a character named Prince Raynor.

Raynor only lasted two stories, each appearing in STRANGE STORIES - another pulp that tried to go to the mat with WEIRD TALES. Lasting thirteen issues, STRANGE STORIES lasted slightly longer than STRANGE TALES, which only managed seven issues.


"Cursed Be The City" appeared in the April 1939 issue. The city of Sardopolis is under siege. A prophet within the city declares the city's doom. But he also declares the conquering King Cyaxares shall also be cursed. The doom that once dwelt in Sardopolis shall return.

Cyaxares conquers, kills the king, and places the king's son, Raynor in the torture chambers. Raynor escapes with the aid of his faithful Nubian servant, Eblik. They save a dying priest, and Raynor's path is set. He must free the great god Pan, whose altar once stood in the wild place that became Sardopolis.

I won't give away any more.


"The Citadel of Darkness" appeared in the August 1939 issue. In aftermath of Sardopolis's doom, Raynor, Eblik, and their female companion, Delphia, are wanderers. Grouping together some of the city survivors, they are beset by brigands and Delphia is kidnapped. A wizard named Ghiar aids Raynor, but pulls a sorcerous double-cross. Raynor finds himself in a battle with the brigands and the wizard and mighty powers of darkness beyond the ken of men.

The Raynor tales are darker than Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis stories. There is a feeling of direness and darkness akin to Robert E. Howard. While Kuttner was no stranger to employing the Cthulhu Mythos in his stories - indeed, one of the Elak stories is titled "Spawn of Dagon" - the crushing inhumanity of cosmic forces are conveyed more effectively in the timbre of the Raynor stories.

In "Cursed be the City," Raynor's willingness to unleash preternatural powers in his vengeance bring to mind Bran Mak Morn and "Worms of the Earth." Karl Edward Wagner pointed out there is a tragic/dark feel like Moorcock's Elric. Raynor is the last royal remnant of a destroyed empire, after all.

Reading the two stories in succession does highlight a formula. Both end with the hero employing a talisman to bring about the destruction of his foes. Kuttner sets the stage so that the resolution does not smack too heavily of Deus Ex Machina. Reading the two stories back-to-back, the technique feels a little heavier handed than it probably is.

As others do, I wish Kuttner had cranked out a few more Raynor adventures. It would have been interesting to see where he went. I wonder if he would have continued to formula or changed some plotting to be different, or it if would have been enough to crank them out easier with a set format and get his pay.

I first encountered Raynor in the excellent, three volume series ECHOES OF VALOR. Published by TOR, Karl Edward Wagner presented various selections from classic pulps, and Wagner knew his stuff.

The two Raynor stories were also tagged onto the end of Paizo's ELAK OF ATLANTIS book as part of their PLANET STORIES line.

Both print books are, unfortunately, out of print.

Griasol produced some STRANGE STORIES replicas but it doesn't appear that they replicated the issues featuring Raynor.

Luckily for us, the two stories have been collected for ebook (at least, for Kindle.)

If you are a sword-&-sorcery fan and have not read Prince Raynor, I encourage you to do so.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

recent read; Two tales of Elak



Yesterday I made mention of the old anthology, THE MIGHTY BARBARIANS. In that book, Henry Kuttner's story "Dragon Moon" appears. The story is the last of his tales concerning his sword-&-sorcery hero, Elak of Atlantis. The tale originally appeared in WEIRD TALES in 1941.

I recently learned (stumbled upon the fact) that Adrian Cole had written an Elak pastiche for STRANGE TALES in 2007, when the magazine was briefly revived by Robert M. Price.

I wanted to read Cole's story and today was a good day for it. I read Kuttner's tale first, too.

"Dragon Moon" tells the story of Elak giving up his adventurous ways to accept his destiny as king of Cyrena, one of the Atlantean kingdoms. Of course, his destiny is not so easily embraced or achieved. He must battle villains and monsters and armies along the way.

It's a fun episodic tale. Elak somewhat parallels Conan as far as a man who would prefer adventure over kingship.

Rather than a "between the tales" story, Cole's "Blood of the Moon God" takes place a year after the events of "Dragon Moon" (which worked out for me!) Elak is given to forest expeditions to relieve his royal boredom. Though he is a legitimate king by blood, enemies still abound, including unscrupulous cousins. Trapped by an ambush, Elak and his companions find themselves underground, fighting for their lives against worse foes.

I won't give too much away. I will say that we all know another s-&-s hero from Atlantis, and there are nearly as many Robert E. Howard elements to Cole's story as there are nods to Kuttner.

I was pleased with the story and believe it worthy of Elak and Kuttner.

If you are interested in Cole's story, copies of STRANGE TALES #10 are still available through Wildside Press. (disclaimer; I haven't read the rest of the issue yet.)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lono and Makani return



I am extremely pleased to announce: My story, "Lono and the Pit of Punhaki" will be a part of Robert M. Price's forthcoming, THE MIGHTY WARRIORS. THE MIGHTY WARRIORS is a sword-&-sorcery anthology, a spiritual descendant of THE MIGHTY BARBARIANS and THE MIGHTY SWORDSMEN from back in the day.

Very proud to share the t.o.c. with great writers and very proud my heroic duo, Lono and Makani, get to mingle with other great s-&-s heroes!

(Thanks again to Robert for the opportunity and to Sam Gafford - Ulthar Press stepped up and will be publishing this one!)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Writing accountability post - February

February writing efforts were a mixed bag. Still too many goose egg red zeros on my weekend daily wordcounts.

I had a even split of time spent with new wordage and time spent editing. I continued to put words on the novel while also producing short stories.


The good news is that I polished and submitted three stories to slush piles this month.

That brings my current total to six stories out in the ether right now. One I suspect fell through cracks, one is awaiting publication, one is submitted by invite and these three on the slush piles.

In addition, I did complete the rough of a sword-&-sorcery story but fell short of getting the polish completed before month-end. I'll complete and submit this week but that will count for March, not February.

I'm always slower than I want but at least there is forward motion.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

River City Writers 2017 offerings

River City Writers are expanding their offerings!

I attended the WRITE BETTER FICTION workshop last November, as you might recall.

For the first half of 2017, they are offering the workshop again. They have added three seminars, too. One deals with the business side of publishing. The other covers writing for comics. And, building your novel from the ground up. I will be attending the WRITING FOR COMICS seminar. At some point, I will also attend BUSINESS OF PUBLISHING but I'll need to catch the next one.

If you're in the area, give this consideration. If not, perhaps they'll be able to expand to webinars in the near future.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

recent read; Planet of the Apes: Tales From The Forbidden Zone


Planet of the Apes: Tales From The Forbidden Zone

This is the book apocalyptic apes dream of.

It's hard to be unbiased about this book because I am an ApeHead since childhood. Anything new in the Planet of the Apes realm is like a nostalgia life preserver. I discussed that recently.

Tales from the Forbidden Zone gives us sixteen tales set across the various Planet of the Apes classic universes. Meaning - the original five movies, television series and Saturday morning cartoon. It does not include the 2001 movie or the recent movies.

The stories are enjoyable. I preferred some more than others but that is the nature of anthologies. Rather than delineate all sixteen, I will mention a few of my favorites. Your mileage may vary.

"Unfired" by Dan Abnett starts off the book with a bang, focusing on a group of underground mutants (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) making a daring pilgrimage across the open wilderness.

"The Unknown Ape" by Andrew E.C. Gaska starts in the cartoon universe (Return to the Planet of the Apes,) but we soon learn that Planet of the Apes time travel also creates the ability to cross dimensions into the other Apes realities. This is a fun crossover.

"Message in a Bottle" by Dayton Ward is an intriguing story in the television series setting. It almost serves as the first step in a 'season two' arc, bringing the astronauts' story back to its science fiction roots and away from "The Fugitive with Apes" rut the show quickly fell into. As a fan who wished for exactly that in regards to the show, this story really stood out.

"Milo's Tale" by Ty Templeton explains how Cornelius and Zira met Milo and came to be on the spaceship (Escape from the Planet of the Apes.) It also delivers a convincing backstory for Milo, explaining how he was such a knowledgeable ape given the primitiveness of the society presented in the original Planet of the Apes.

Finally, Jonathan Maberry closes out the tome with "Banana Republic," exploring the political machinations and alliances of ape society, coupled with the discovery of an ancient place of evil.

Tales from the Forbidden Zone is a welcome addition to the Planet of the Apes universe. If you enjoy that universe, you'll enjoy this book. Perhaps if it performs well, there could be another volume. So, buy yours today and go ape!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

recent read; Wild Fell



Wild Fell by Michael Rowe

Jamie Browning wants to get away from it all - a divorce, an accident and a father suffering from Alzheimer's disease. An insurance windfall allows him to purchase Blackmore Island and its Victorian Gothic residence, Wild Fell. The property is a dream come true or a nightmare come true. Vengeful ghosts await. They have always waited.

I enjoyed this ghost story. There is a strong weave of sense of place, time, and character throughout the novel.

The prologue alone paints images like a prose version of a Tragically Hip song. The small summer lake town Alvina, Ontario, Canada pops off the pages, complete with tragedy and haunting.

The heart of the story centers on Jamie, who relates his childhood experiences with an imaginary friend named Amanda who inhabits a mirror in his room. But, perhaps, Amanda is not all that imaginary, as she seems to have a evil influence beyond the confines of her mirror.

As Jamie relates his adult life, Amanda is forgotten and real life trials intervene, until Jamie finds that he is inexorably drawn to Wild Fell.

The climax ratchets to a fever pitch as the revelations are exposed, furiously propelling the story to its conclusion.

Wild Fell does its job as a ghost and haunted house story. It drips with mood, atmosphere, chills, and a few surprises and twists along the way. Recommended.

Friday, February 3, 2017

recent read; Occult Detective Quarterly, Issue #1


OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY #1 delivers on its premise and promise of .. well .. occult detectives. If you don't know what classifies an "occult detective" - they're those heroes of fiction who investigate, expose and battle the occult - whether that be ghosts or monsters, other strange happenings, strange people, stranger creatures and things beyond the ken of men. Think Carnacki, Kolchak, and a host of others.

This debut issue has a wonderful mix of haunts and fun and whimsy. How about a tough guy PI who is a talking gorilla? A vengeful ghost? Men who walk in other dimensions and faerie realms? (And, don't think we're talking about cute faeries - we mean the dark fey of old times.) Voodoo and black dogs. You will find all that and more in these pages.

Plus reviews, a history of comic occult detective Dr. Spektor, and an interview with Spektor's creator, Donald Glut.

I enjoyed all the material and strongly recommend grabbing a copy if you enjoy the wide range of the occult detective milieu.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

It's a mad house! Go ape!

"Weaponized nostalgia." - Chuck Wendig

The world has gone ape. Yes, in more ways than one. I'll stick with the non-political one.

My childhood crossed the 1970s-80s. I was a child in the 70s, teenager in the early 80s.

In hindsight, my first fandom was PLANET OF THE APES. I was an ApeHead.

What also surprised me, in hindsight, is how much of the fandom marketing machine I missed. It's also a bit of a shock to remember how much merchandise was available. It really was the first franchise merchandise blitz out of Hollywood. Sure other movies and shows had toys and a few coloring books, but POTA really went ape.

I watched the movies, the short-lived television show, and the short-lived cartoon. I had the action figures. I had activity books. I had the Topps trading cards of the t.v. series.

But I never knew about the novelizations. I spotted one in the library during junior-high years later. I never knew a thing about the comics, either, surprisingly enough.

Now, Titan Books are allowing me to relive my childhood and then some.

First, they've released an anthology of new stories set in all three universes - movies, t.v., cartoon.
 But wait! There's more!

Two omnibuses collecting the original movie novelizations are coming, too.

 
Wait. Not done. They are also publishing an omnibus of the original television episode novelizations.

Nope. Still not done. Not yet available but listed in Tales from the Forbidden Zone (and personally confirmed for me) a fourth omnibus with the original novelizations of the cartoon series.

Stop the presses.

Nope, can't.

Also rumored - perhaps a collection of the comics.

Tangent to Titan Books - The Topps Trading Cards book.


I knew the t.v. cards, I had those. I didn't know there had been cards from the original movie, too.

Last night, I picked up the new #1 of the PLANET OF THE APES / GREEN LANTERN cross-over comic.

Yeah. Combining the Apes with Green Lantern with the old Mego action figures packaging for the artwork.

Talk about weaponized nostalgia!

If nothing else, it will be a great year to be an ApeHead!