Thursday, December 27, 2012

recent read; Atomic Robo Volume 3

In the introductions, the creators of Atomic Robo mention they weren't crazy about Atomic Robo being described as "Hellboy Lite."  I agree, and still stand by my claim that if you like Hellboy, you will enjoy Atomic Robo.  But, they approach things differently.  Hellboy is about folklore, myth and horror with action.  Atomic Robo is a about pulp science action adventure.

But if Robo ever did tackle a horror from beyond time and space...

We get to witness four phases of Robo's life as he battles a nameless monster across time and space;  the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s and 2009.  It all begins when Charles Fort and a nearly insane, gibbering H. P. Lovecraft pay Robo a visit.  In 1971, Robo calls on Carl Sagan for help with the science defying monster.

The story is fun, as usual. Clever with the timeline setup.  Plenty of humorous moments.  Robo reads The Savage Sword of Conan.  Four Robos meet in a nether-space to dispatch the monster once and for all.  They hope.

This is a short blurb of a review, I know, but you really must experience Atomic Robo for yourself.  It's one of the best comics I've stumbled on.  Definitely an amazing, high quality independent production.

I can't wait for next year's volume 8 - Atomic Robo and the Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

recent read; Doctor Who - Daleks' Masterplan

The Daleks' Masterplan I - Mission to the Unknown by John Peel

Daleks' Masterplan was an epic, 12 episode arc during the early years of Doctor Who.  The script was co-written by Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner.  In 1989, the story was novelized by John Peel, and given the general sizes of Target Doctor Who books, it needed to be spit in half.

For those who don't know Doctor Who history, this is a "lost" story.  Not foreseeing the syndication or later home video markets, in the early 1970s the BBC purged videotapes for reuse - destroying many original episodes of Doctor Who in the process.  Only 2 complete episodes of The Daleks Masterplan are known to exist.  The only way to experience the story is to read these novelizations, or find a telesnap recreation synched to the audio (such things do exist.)

This is the last classic Dalek story I had not yet experienced.  I got an "old school" whim and decided to read this, finally.  We have a classic Doctor, classic Daleks, and a near mythic lost story.  So, how does it hold up to its reputation?

Well, the first half, Mission to the Unknown, holds up quite well.

The Doctor and his companions stumble on a Dalek plot to invade the Solar System from an outlying galaxy (just go with it, it was 1960s t.v. scifi.)  The Doctor fouls their plan by stealing the rare core element from their ultimate weapon, the Time Destructor.  With the Daleks in pursuit, the heroes desperately try to keep the core out of the Daleks' sucker arms while they try to reach Earth to warn them of the impending invasion.  Their plans are hindered not only by Daleks, but also by Mavic Chen - Guardian of the Solar System and grand traitor - who is in league with the Daleks.

It's a good romp, excitingly told with some dark moments.  Dangerous planets, spaceships, crashes and pursuits.  I enjoyed it a lot.

The Daleks' Masterplan II - The Mutation of Time by John Peel

Since the 2005 revamp of Doctor Who, Christmas specials have been the norm.  They are typical Doctor Who adventures, but with Christmas themes.  The Daleks' Masterplan is famous, or infamous, for having a Christmas episode embedded in the middle of the story.  Not only is it a theme change, the tone is one of total humor.  Historically, William Hartnell even turned to the camera, broke the fourth wall, and wished the audience a merry Christmas.

The tone change is huge.  Peel does his best with the humorous material, but the drag on the momentum cannot be helped.

We are slowly eased back into the plot of the dreaded Daleks by way of a return of the Meddling Monk.  He was the first "Time Lord" (though, no one had really created that mythology early on) to face off against the Doctor.  He returns on this story, seeking revenge on the Doctor and becoming tangled in the standoff between the Daleks, Mavic Chen, and the Doctor (quite literally, with mummy bandages at one point!)

Unlike the Doctor's arch foe, the Master, the Monk is more of a galactic childish prankster than truly evil.  He's mostly played for laughs, so he bridges the story back to the Daleks' Masterplan.  It's almost too bad Peel wasn't allowed to skip the very nonsensical stuff, though avoiding the Meddling Monk bits really wouldn't have been an option.  And, we do get a record of the complete story even with the humorous material, albeit novelized.

The ending did finish much stronger, with the final showdown, Chen's comeuppance and a companion's sacrifice.

So, strong start, solid finish.  Padding in the middle, which isn't at all unusual for Doctor Who stories of the time.  They often stretched out stories over many episodes to fill gaps if they didn't have other stories ready.  The difference here was the change of tone, which made the padding more obvious and far less enjoyable.

Definitely a classic and I enjoyed it overall.

Monday, December 10, 2012

recent read; Star Wars - Heir to the Empire

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars) by Timothy Zahn

I was in the mood for some space opera.  This was my first foray into a Star Wars novel.

I'll preface by saying that Star Wars was the blockbuster of my generation.  I enjoyed it at the time.  But by the time the novels were rolling out, I just wasn't enraptured of a wider Star Wars universe.   I had (and have) other fandoms - nothing against Star Wars at all.

This was written before the prequel movies arrived - it was the first novel after the Return of the Jedi movie.  So, even though sanctioned by Lucasfilm, some of the canonicity is shaky.  I've seen some readers complain, but that's not being fair to Zahn.  Like many of my generation, I don't care for the prequels, anyway.

Enough prefacing.

The story takes place five years after Return of the Jedi.  The New Republic is shakily holding its own, attempting to bring more worlds into the fold while battling their own internal political struggles.  Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Thrawn, a blue-skinned, red-eyed alien attempts to turn around the fading Empire's misfortunes.  In the middle of it all are the heroes of Star Wars - Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Lando and the droids.

I didn't think this novel was bad, but neither did it excite me or rekindle any Star Wars flame.  While there are some decent action scenes, there was also a lot of talking and setup.  Early on in the story, it felt like Zahn wasn't sure what to do with the internal thoughts of these iconic characters.  He was feeling his way without violating any Star Wars rules but it also felt like he had to use his imagination without distinct rules and myths of Jedi being laid down for him.  And there was a ridiculous amount of squeezing - shoulders, hands, lightsaber hilts.  Reassurance, assuagement, frustration - everything was calmed with a squeeze.

By the time the action was finally holding my interest, the novel ended on a very minor key complete with "To Be Continued..."

I guess I am looking for a bit more blood & thunder.  Or at least, the derring-do Flash Gordon excitement of the first movie.  Sometime I will return to the trilogy because I own the other two books, too, and I'm slightly curious.  But I am more likely to read some classic Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner, or Edmond Hamilton space opera tales before I get back to the Thrawn trilogy.

Friday, December 7, 2012

December sales

I don't mean to be a pitch-man for Amazon so much, but there are some deals this month I think a lot of readers here would be interested in.  Some have already been reviewed on other blogs in my circle (Keith West,) so I thought I would note them.

I have loads of running Amazon wishlists and keep going over them constantly.  This month's deals aren't quite as stunning as last year (when Amazon dropped prices on 1,000 MP3 albums to coincide with their Kindle Fire launch) but still worth digging around.

Kindle specials;

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell $1.99

The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell  $3.79

Cradle of Solitude (Rogue Angel) $1.24  (see Keith's review of another Rogue Angel title)

Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman $3.99 (good reference for fantasy & historical, I would imagine)

The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells $1.99 (see Keith's review)

God's War by Kameron Hurley $1.99 (I don't know of a review in particular, but it's a Night Shade Books title, so it's probably just fine)

Seven Princes by John R. Fultz, his debut novel $2.99

Did you know that Amazon also has Bargain Books (just like the front of the B&N brick'n'mortar store?)

It's almost a wash, but you can get the Kindle edition of LeGuin's Tales from Earthsea for $1.43 - or pony up a few more cents and get the mass market paperback for only $1.51.  The same applies for The Other Wind.  I haven't read them myself, but coming that cheap, and I enjoyed the original trilogy, I had to grab these - I went for the paperback to complete my print Earthsea collection.

Similarly, the above mentioned Cradle of Solitude, is almost as cheap in mmp.  And, The Dragon's Mark, is available cheaper as mmp than e'book right now, too.

Howard A. Jones' Desert of Souls hardcover is down to $10, and it has better cover art than the more expensive paperback.

Bargains include graphic novels, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

recent reads; The Taint and Atomic Robo

Well, despite the fact that I seemed exponentially to gain e'books (and a few print books) over the course of November, I haven't got a lot of reading done.

First up, Brian Lumley's The Taint and Other Novellas.  I started this in October, and decided to finish it off.

This book contains seven Cthulhu mythos novellas - mostly from Lumley's early work.  As such, a lot of the flavor is Lovecraft pastiching, but Lumley does manage to bring his own voice, and a couple of the stories stand out on their own.

"The Horror at Oakdeene" -  A writer who moonlights at a sanatorium finds himself drawn into the madness of a patient who dealt a little too closely with the occult.

"Born of the Winds" - This tale, though having a very convenient setup, was a good blend of the Wendigo legend with other Lovecraftian elements.  One of the standouts, and one of Lumley's own favorites.

"The Fairground Horror" - Two carny brothers dabble in the occult until one brother takes things too far.  Fun story, but one of those Lovecraftian pastiches that make it hard to suspend disbelief.  I wouldn't imagine carnies as the types to delve deeply, seriously into occult lore, idols and tomes.

"The Taint" - This tale is the most strongly restrictive.  Lumley was not only writing a mythos story, but one specifically for an Innsmouth anthology.  Yet, he manages to touch on Innsmouth tangentially while providing an original story with the best kind of ending - one I should have seen coming all along, but missed.  The clues were all there.

"Rising with Surtsey" - Again, two brothers dabble in the occult.  Touching on "The Call of Cthulhu" and some good underwater dream scenes.

"Lord of the Worms" -  My first introduction to Titus Crow.  Not surprisingly, I enjoyed this one the most.  It was the most original, with only the lightest Lovecraftian touches.  (though, the villain's machinations do owe something to Lovercraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep.")  It serves as a partial origin tale for Crow.  At least, he finally faces the occult and takes action on all his previously gained knowledge, and the adventure spurs him into becoming an occult investigator of the later stories.  I figured from the linked Black Gate article that I would enjoy Crow, and I did.  I will be hunting down the novels and stories over time.

"The House of the Temple" -  Enjoyable tale of a haunted Scot mansion and the nephew who inherits the estate.

All in all, this is a good mythos collection, though expectedly the early efforts feel somewhat pastiche.  I am not sure I'd want to pay the price of a Subterranean Press hardcover, but as an inexpensive e'book, it's certainly worth having.

Atomic Robo; Volume 2, Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War

Yes, Robo is my newest favorite thing!  This volume focuses on Robo's time during World War II.  It's great romp as he makes new friends with covert Allied agents and new enemies among the Third Reich.  He battles robotic style walker tanks, Wolfenstein style zombie super-soldiers and the like.  This comic is absolutely worth your time and money.

It's FUN!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Call of Cthulhu; the (silent) movie

I finally bought and watched 2005's The Call of Cthulhu silent movie.

H. P. Lovecraft's stories' phantasmagoric aspects have always made them hard to capture on film.  After years of producers trying with modern filmmaking, Sean Branney and Andrew Leman decided to go retro.  Why not make the movie as it would have been adapted when it was written - in the 1920s?  Silent movie, stop motion effects, models, etc.

It's a fun idea.  So, does it work?

Yes & no.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day; The Diary of Peter Kenny

Today is Veterans Day, and I'm late with this post.  But, I am squeezing it, and the official holiday observance is tomorrow.

This is the day to honor all veterans, of course.  But it has its root in Armistice Day of World War I, so I tend to think of my maternal grandfather on this day.

Peter Kenny was a Irish immigrant who became of a citizen of the United States in 1915.

In 1917, Uncle Sam drafted him into service.

It's funny that sometimes family stories are like onions - layers come out after many tellings and discussions.

I knew he died of cancer in the 1940s.  What I didn't know - until recently talking with my mother - is that in the end, he was at the V.A. hospital - and the wounded soldiers coming back from the WW II theaters were admiring him for what he had done.

No higher tribute I can think of.

When he was in France, he kept a "diary."  It is really a rough itinerary - a jotting of places he went, nothing deep or revealing.  It was just a pencilled pocket notebook, fading fast - I transcribed it years ago.

I get the feeling he wrote out some of the names phonetically.  And, some names might be hamlet names you wouldn't find on a map.  But someday I want to trace his route on a map - and maybe someday beyond that get to France and follow the journey.

It also includes names - I assume of comrades.  Whether he kept in touch with any of them after the war, I don't know.

If you want to read it, follow the "Read more >>" link...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Atomic Robo treasure chest

Not too long ago I discovered and posted about Atomic Robo.

Over the past few days, I made discoveries that are of interest.

First, here is a cache of free Atomic Robo comics, mostly the digital editions of the Free Comic Book Day issues from the last few years, and some others sprinkled in.

I especially enjoyed "Why Atomic Robo Hates Dr. Dinosaur" and "When Science Attacks"

Dr. Dinosaur is hilarious!

Secondly, I would have put money into this, but now I don't need to.  There was a Kickstarter campaign earlier in the year.  They are funded, and will be creating a short movie, Last Stop, which will be free on the Web when they are done.

You can view the Last Stop trailer here.

Exciting time to be discovering something new and vibrant!

Monday, October 29, 2012

recent read(s); Wrapping up the Halloween reads

To round out my 31 reads for October, I turned to my Kindle while flying cross-country.  The plane ride gave me time for some novellas.

I've been curious about Brian Lumley, especially after learning he's written some sword-&-mythos tales.  As he describes it, he writes Lovecraftian tales, but his protagonists fight back (rather than faint.) Recently, some of his Cthulhu Mythos collection e'books went on sale.

I read two novellas, found in the collection, The Taint and Other Novellas.

"The Horror at Oakdeene" - early effort in a strong Lovecraft mold, but with enough original touches to  have its own voice.  A writer who moonlights at a sanatorium finds himself drawn into the madness of a patient who dealt a little too closely with the occult.

"Born of the Winds" - this tale, though having a very convenient setup, was a good blend of the Wendigo legend with other Lovecraftian elements.

A few tales from Wildside Press e'book, The Cthulhu Mythos Megapack.

"The Graveyard Rats" by Henry Kuttner - I have read this before, but I want to get more Kuttner in my diet.  An unscrupulous Salem grave digger meets his fate at the hand of body-thieving rats - big rats.

"Envy, the Gardens of Ynath, and the Sin of Cain" by Darrell Schweitzer - this one surprised me, it is very good.  A lyrical tale of a domineering friendship gone bad.  A "black stone" even makes an appearance.

"Toadface" by Mark McLaughlin - somewhat humorous take on what happens when you displease the locals of Innsmouth.

That makes 31.

(For those interested, the megapack also includes "The Events at Poroth Farm" by T. E. D. Klein.)


I finally watched the THRILLER episode of "Pigeons from Hell."  Currently, you won't find a more faithful Robert E. Howard adaptation.  My only dislike (and it is a small one) is that their twist ending was somewhat different, telegraphed a bit too early, and wasn't delivered with the same punch as the original story.

I read Karl Edward Wagner's "The River of Night's Dreaming", and then watched the episode of the old cable erotica series THE HUNGER, which adapted it.  I enjoyed the story which had a lot going on, and is one of those surreal stories where you can connect some of the threads, but nothing is spelled out.  It seems a lot of readers focus on the kinkier elements and miss the strong element of The King in Yellow being involved.  Predictably, the t.v. episode has no mention of The King in Yellow and is only tangentially related to the source material - and it is bland.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Friday, October 26, 2012

recent read; American Supernatural Tales

I bought this anthology a while ago, mostly because it contains "The Events at Poroth Farm" by T. E. D. Klein.  I read The Ceremonies years ago, and it is one of my favorite horror novels.  I have always wanted to read the original novella he rewrote into the novel.  This anthology also has a skewed selection - in a good way.  The stories here aren't the typical classics that you find in any given anthology, and I appreciate that.  Though, some selections did leave me a bit mystified.

Anyone who has read around Robert E. Howard circles, or H. P. Lovecraft circles, knows that Joshi doesn't have a lot positive to say about Howard (especially over Lovecraft.)  It's clear from the introduction and some of the story notes that some other authors are also worthy of his sneer.  Frankly, Joshi should leave his editorializing for critical writings.

While I didn't feel he maligned Howard too much this time around, he certainly has no love for Dean Koontz, and almost begrudgingly includes Stephen King (without reading more Joshi, though, I must admit his introduction to the King story is ambivalent at best.)

Anyway, taking Joshi comments with a grain of salt, I can appreciate this anthology he put together on the strength of its contents.

For those curious, here are the stories with dates of original publication; (I am including the list for those curious about my October reading goal.)

"The Adventure of the German Student" (1824) by Washington Irving
"Edward Randolph's Portrait" (1838) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe
"What Was It?" (1859) by Fitz-James O'Brien
"The Death of Halpin Frayser" (1891) by Ambrose Bierce
"The Yellow Sign" (1895) by Robert W. Chambers
"The Real Right Thing" (1899) by Henry James
"The Call of Cthulhu" (1928) by H. P. Lovecraft
"The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" (1932) by Clark Ashton Smith
"Old Garfield's Heart" (1933) by Robert E. Howard
"Black Bargain" (1943) by Robert Bloch
"The Lonesome Place" (1948) by August Derleth
"The Girl With the Hungry Eyes" (1949) by Fritz Leiber
"The Fog Horn" (1951) by Ray Bradbury
"A Visit" (1952) by Shirley Jackson
"Long Distance Call" (1953) by Richard Matheson
"The Vanishing American" (1955) by Charles Beaumont
"The Events at Poroth Farm" (1972) by T. E. D. Klein
"Night Surf" (1974) by Stephen King
"The Late Shift" (1980) by Dennis Etchison
"Vastarien" (1987) by Thomas Ligotti
"Endless Night" (1987) by Karl Edward Wagner
"The Hollow Man" (1991) by Norman Partridge
"Last Call for the Sons of Shock" (1994) by David J. Schow
"Demon" (1996) by Joyce Carol Oates
"In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)" (2000) by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Rather than review them all, I'll just drop some thoughts here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Next Big Thing Chain

Currently, I have novel ideas but need to get them rolling past their rough outlines.  (maybe I should do that NaNoWriMo thing next month to get some traction.)

I do have a story that has a deadline, though, so that is probably my next project.  We'll go with that.  It will be novelette length.

What is the working title of your story/book?

"The Bronze Sultana"

What genre does it fall under?


Saturday, October 20, 2012

31 Days hath October

I have two Halloween "bucket list" items.  The first is to watch a horror movie per day for the month of October.  I have not managed that one yet.  With no "man cave" and young children, I probably won't get to it anytime soon.  Though, I do try to watch at least one horror movie in October - sometimes I even manage to watch one on Halloween.

The second item on the list is to read one horror short story per day for the month of October.  I've been meaning to do that for a few years now.  I hadn't really planned on it happening this year, but I jumped in at the beginning of the month, almost on a whim.

I have been averaging reading one horror story per day.  I say "average" because my wife's birthday comes at the beginning of the month and I tend to get focused on that, forgetting that the Halloween season has started.  Also, I spent the past week away on a rare business trip.  But, I was able to catch up and front load my reading on the plane flights.

It is October 20th, and I have read twenty-one short stories and novellas so far.  Most of my selection is coming from a single anthology, American Supernatural Tales, edited by S. T. Joshi.  When I finish it, I'll put up a fuller review, but generally it's a really good selection of titles that usually don't make the standard classic horror anthologies.

I pulled some other stories from Kindle collections & anthologies while I was traveling - all Cthulhu mythos tales.  I've been in the mood for that lately for some reason or other.

I hope you're having a fun Halloween season, too!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

recent read; Atomic Robo, Volume 1

This was more fun than a comic should legally be allowed.

The setup here is straightforward.  In 1923, Tesla created Atomic Robo. Ever since, Robo has been battling the bad guys - Nazi super-scientists, giant ants, other robots and cyborgs - and even helping out NASA by getting the Viking explorer down to Mars (where we learn, Robo doesn't have a fondness for Stephen Hawking.)  Then there were those incidents with Edison summoning the ghost of Rasputin to assassinate Tesla and Jack Parsons' rocket.

While this has echoes of Hellboy, I think it stands on its own.  Certainly, if you enjoy Hellboy, I see no reason why you wouldn't enjoy this one.  Robo is a great, fun character - nearly indestructible with Spider-Man's fondness for quipping.  One blurb quote stated he was Iron Man with Indiana Jones inside the suit.  Robo is somewhere in the middle of all those comparisons.

I'll be buying the rest of the available volumes, for certain.  And most likely checking out some of other titles from Red 5 Comics.

Friday, October 5, 2012

recent read; Ravenor Returned

Dan Abnett is rapidly becoming a favorite author of mine.  He first impressed me with the Eisenhorn trilogy.  While not an Eisenhorn sequel, the Ravenor trilogy ties into Eisenhorn because the lead character, Gideon Ravenor, was an underling of Inquisitor Eisenhorn at one time.  A terrible accident left Ravenor disfigured and bound to a mechanized chair.  But Ravenor has tremendous psychic abilities, and he still carries on as an inquisitor.

Ravenor Returned is the second novel of the Ravenor trilogy.  I had read Ravenor a while ago.

Ravenor and his team continue to track Chaos-tainted artifacts that are finding their way into the higher echelons of Imperial hierarchy.  Unable to trust anyone but his own staff, Ravenor has gone rogue - an Inquisitor beyond resource or assistance from anyone officially.  Further complicating his dangerous mission, is the prophecy that one of his own team might bring about a world-shattering manifestation from the warp of chaotic sub-space.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

recent read; Queen Sonja, Volume 1

I read this one while on vacation in August.

The plot is a bit pedestrian fantasy, but not bad.  Sonja seeks a special sword and along way gets involved with bandits who are really royalty in exile from a conquered land.  The stakes keep rising, until Sonja becomes involved in a battle that leaves her with the crown of Sogoria.  To keep her crown she must battle against wizardry and political machinations.

I suppose if it's not the usurper tale (Conan, Kull) it would the be "farm girl learns she is the real queen and must kill her evil aunt" story.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Solomon Kane; the movie

I watched Solomon Kane on-demand last night. *sigh* I really had a hard time divorcing myself from the source material. Because of that, honestly, I spent most of the movie saying "WTF?" Maybe if you've never read the original Robert E. Howard stories, you'd enjoy it more than I did.

Like Conan the Barbarian (1982), in and of itself it is a passable adventure movie, but the Kane has no more relation to the literary Solomon Kane than Conan did to Howard's Conan.

Even on its own, though, there were things going on that didn't make much sense or were disappointing.

Here be spoilers, ye have beene warned.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Autumn 2012 is nearly here

Just a placeholder post, really.  I haven't posted much because I've been busy with stuff that doesn't relate to my typical content.  Autumn is still a few weeks away, but tonight is the end of Labor Day weekend, and the end of my having ten days off from the day job.

We had a nice time at the beach, though it appears while my daughter is a beach girl, my son could care less for the sand and oppressive sunlight.  Five minutes of splashing in the waves and he was done for the day.

One morning I took him for a stroll to a used book place and scored two John Jakes sword-&sorcery, non-Brak titles; Master of the Dark Gate and Witch of the Dark Gate.  Maybe they're sword-&-planet,  I'm not really sure.  Later that same day, I drove out to a further used book store and stumbled on a hard cover of Manly Wade Wellman's The Old Gods Waken.

I also made the mistake over the past month of getting sucked into three books at once, not counting comics and graphic novels.  Given my current reading time per day,  I haven't finished any of them.  I did complete one graphic novel at the beach, so I hope to review that soon.

Work is going to be very busy and I'm behind on numerous personal goals at home, so I might have a quiet Fall around the "social media" circles.  We'll see.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Weekend Scores at the Comic Shops

Last month, a local comic store (a mini-chain with three locations) had a sale at their warehouse, and I made quite the splash, picking up a pile of Dynamite's Savage Tales and some trade paperbacks.

This weekend, a different local comic shop had a sale on collected trade hardcovers and paperbacks.   The 'buy 1, get 2 free' sale was limited to a recently acquired collection only.  However, it was a large collection.  Mostly Marvel books, which I wasn't really looking for.  But I did end up with Skaar, Son of Hulk, and Hulk: Planet Skaar.  I am hoping for some flavor of sword-&-planet with those two.

Confession; the third book I acquired was Spider-Man/Red Sonja.  A silly team-up, to be sure.  But, I had my youngest toddler in tow.  I needed to flip through and make quick grabs.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Return of Brak

Well, they might not be the best stories in the sword-&-sorcery canon, but John Jakes' Brak the Barbarian saga is back as ebooks. Jason Waltz, of (unfortunately defunct) Rogue Blades Entertainment somehow found this video.

Jakes gives a thumbnail description of how Brak came about, and also mentions that the final Brak tale is outlined and in his office safe.

It took a little link hunting from the video, but I found the two e'collections links on the third page of thumbnails.

Brak the Barbarian/Mark of the Demons

Witch of the Four Winds/When the Idols Walked

Follow the "buy the ebook" links.  $3.99 each.  Not bad at all.

Seems that Witch of the Four Winds is Brak vs. The Sorceress renamed.

Both descriptions mention the collections include additional stories.  I don't know which ones and if they cover The Fortunes of Brak or not.  And I don't know whether these complete all the published Brak tales or not.

Also, there is a link to a free Brak estory,

"The Girl in the Gem"

All good stuff.  I'll be taking a look at other authors and ebooks from Open Road Media.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Recent read; Doctor Omega

Doctor Omega is a bit of a novelty, especially for Doctor Who fans. A lost French scifi novel from 1906, it has some vague similarities to the later television show. Mostly due to some editions' illustrations that look a lot like the (First) Doctor (William Hartnell.)  The novel has been resurrected by Black Coat Press - a small press devoted to publishing English-language translations of classics of French popular literature, in the science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres.

The story is a fun, light, quick read. Typical turn-of-the-last-century style with a first-person narrative of Mars exploration - various weird flora and fauna along the way, and a few perils and escapes.

This novel was "adapted and retold" which means the translators (who are also Doctor Who fans) took liberties to add additional ties to Doctor Who - making it seem that perhaps Doctor Omega is an alternate or perhaps the Doctor himself in some form of exile. While that is enjoyable, I would still like to read a straight translation (I can't read French) so I could see the original similarities for myself.

I did enjoy it, and look forward to Doctor Omega and the Shadowmen - a modern anthology of Doctor Omega tales, also from Black Coat Press.

For a bit of fun, Black Coat Press commissioned the first cover (non-illustrated edition) to match the classic Target novelization cover of Doctor Who and the Daleks.  I'd be tempted to get it, but I don't have that edition of Doctor Who and the Daleks, anyway. (though, that was re-issued recently with a forward by Neil Gaiman.  Oh, the temptations of a collector.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Heading into July

Nothing major to write about, this time around.  Looking forward to the 4th of July holiday and long weekend coming.  Those who know me on Facebook know my wife just went through a hysterectomy - so most of my time right now is wrangling our two toddlers even more than usual (even with other helping hands on-board at our house.)

I did make a big splash at a comic store sale last week.  I also finished reading an interesting, if quirky, lost French scifi novel, which I'll be posting about on my next reading wrap-up.

For a little bit I am going to stay off novels, finish reading the Paizo collection, Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman and alternate those stories with a stockpile of comics I have built-up.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Recent Reads

The Gods Return by David Drake

The Gods Return marks the end of Drake's Isles series, and the third act of the closing trilogy of novels.  I've enjoyed the series, and revisiting the main characters every year or so since I started reading it.

The Isles have become a single continent, the land mass upheaved from time & space through sorcery.  This makes for interesting challenges for seafaring city-states that find themselves landlocked.

The old gods - if they ever existed - have fled from the new continent, and malefic gods from other dimensions are ready to invade, aided by marching armies of conquerors who wish to take advantage of the chaos in the wake of the upheaval.

Drake delivers a good novel, with the usual beats that have been happening all along in the series.  The ending surprised me, though it was setup and can be seen in hindsight.  The surprise was a good thing.

I did feel that this novel took a while to get going.  There is a lot of setup before the action gets cooking, but in the end, The Gods Return is a solid wrap to the Isles series.

p.s. - The classical style of the Donato covers on this series have been fantastic.  The Gods Return was no exception, which is why I went for the full wraparound here.

Ironwolf - Fires of the Revolution by Howard Chaykin (writer,) John Francis Moore(writer,) Mike Mignola (penciller,) & P. Craig Russel (inker)

This graphic novel was mentioned on The Swords & Planet League on Facebook. I spotted it at a comic store not long after. Mike Mignola's involvement piqued my interest, so I grabbed it.

The story is more along the lines of steampunk swashbuckler in a space opera setting, rather than sword-&-planet. (to me, anyway. I suppose the genre doesn't really matter – I am just trying to give you an idea of the flavor.)

Ironwolf is a nobleman from a decrepit and decadent empire, ruled by heartless vampires and their drug-addled sycophants. Disgusted by what he sees and experiences, he joins the rebellion, only to be betrayed by allies and family alike. After a multi-year coma, Ironwolf returns for revenge. But, his side lost the war, so navigating the Empire is fraught with peril.

It was entertaining enough for what it is, but I don't know if I'd return to the setting for another story.

The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrimur Helgason

When the e'book edition of this title popped up as the Kindle Daily Deal, the blurb intrigued me;
With some 66 hits under his belt, Tomislav Bokšić, or Toxic, has a flawless record as hitman for the Croatian mafia in New York. That is, until he kills the wrong guy and is forced to flee the States, leaving behind the life he knows and loves. Suddenly, he finds himself on a plane hurtling toward Reykjavik, Iceland, borrowing the identity of an American televangelist named Father Friendly. With no means of escape from this island devoid of gun shops and contract killing, tragicomic hilarity ensues as he is forced to come to terms with his bloody past and reevaluate his future.
I expected something along the lines of a British gangster movie – violence and grim humor. It turns out, this novel is straight ahead black comedy; though it does slip into drama along the way. There isn't a central crime caper like a gangster movie. The story is about Toxic's exile, and being on the lam, surviving day-to-day, eventually making a genuine effort to live straight and narrow.

Helgason has the sharp ability elicit laughter and then just as equally generate horror and sympathy for Toxic in regards to his past of warfare and violence. But the laughs subtly return again a few pages later. It that respect, I felt echoes of Joseph Heller.

A murderous hitman could be difficult to present as a sympathetic hero, but Helgason pulls the reader in. Given Toxic's mad world of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, his violent life as a hitman, and the crazy characters and situations Toxic experiences every day, Helgason manages to make the gun-free, idyllic life of Icelanders seem to be the absurdity.
What is with these Icelanders? No army. No guns. No nothing. Only gorgeous women driving luxury jeeps...
I really enjoyed this novel. It's dark and twisted, but it was such a change of pace, I couldn't help smiling most of the way through.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Planet of the Apes (television series)

Maybe this is coming from rosy-lensed glasses of my youth and long being an Ape-Head. But, I re-watched the first episode of the 1970s Planet of the Apes television series last night, and thought it was very strong. Some very suspenseful moments, a good setup. Very good classic scifi with hints of a much larger backstory.

Alas, the ratings failed early. Attracting only younger viewers, suit execs ordered the show dumbed down for kids. Ape menace and scifi threads were dropped in favor of action where buffoonish gorillas were constantly being whacked over the head with logs. As one actor noted, it became The Fugitive with apes. Who gets captured and who escapes this week?

The tactic didn't work, anyway, and the show continued to dwindle.

Too bad they didn't even get the old standard 24 episode season, and only managed 14 episodes. It would have been great if they could have explored more lost technology and possible mysteries of the gaps between their time and the future of the Apes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Superman in the New 52

I finished up reading the initial arcs for the revamped Superman (and, everyone else in the DC Universe - see "New 52") in Action Comics and Superman.

Superman meets the new Brainiac, Action Comics #8.
I wasn't all that taken with the Superman opening story.  It was tied to the Action Comics tale, but I didn't feel a strong connection.  There was just something about the tone and timbre of Action Comics that I preferred.  It probably didn't hurt that they had Grant Morrison writing the opening story of the Action Comics revamp.

The Action Comics story involves Superman as a newly emerging superhero, trying to find his footing. He is very much a crusader for the little people, his cause augmented by liberal, investigative reporter Clark Kent.  Superman begins on the wrong side of the law, but with the arrival of a dangerous alien entity, Brainiac, people learn to value Superman's presence.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The immortality of fathers

"Well, I just bundled your father off to the hospital in an ambulance."

 On this past Saturday morning, that was not what I was expecting to hear my mother say on the phone.

The good news is he is home again, and what he experienced, though frightening, was mild by any yardstick.

He had a very, very small stroke.  It affected his left big toe, and the sole of his left foot.  He is expected to have a full recovery.  He still has some atrial fibrillation and I don't know if that will mean anything drastic later (pacemaker?) but for now the doctors think that will calm down.  The a-fib causes blood clots, so he is transitioning onto a blood thinner.  He sounds tired, says the drugs are giving him "weird" in his head.  Probably a combination of the long weekend and the drug acclimation.  I hope his body adjusts and the fatigue isn't a permanent side-effect.  I know I had some weird dreams for a week when I went on high blood pressure medicine (and the drug label did warn of such.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

End of a (retro) era


This was announced in February, but I missed it.

Paizo's Planet Stories line is on hiatus.

If there are any of their great titles you were considering buying, you might want to do it soon before the supplies dry up.  I ordered the three Robert Silverberg titles (that finished out the line) last night from Amazon.

I didn't get a subscription and I didn't get every single title, but I bought a whole lot of them.  I'm glad they are on my shelf.

I hope they can still put out a few per year.  I was just commenting over at Grognardia that a collection of Gardner Fox's Niall of the Far Travels tales might have potential as a Planet Stories project.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Orc Trifecta

Apologies on being late with this post.  Busy month, lazy month, etc.
Most of you know about these stories, and with the slim number of followers I have, I suppose this is late and preaching to the choir.
But, I need to keep this blog afloat so, here goes.

Recently, three writers have self-published e-tales involving Orcs.  The only common thread, aside from the Orcs, is that the stories were salvaged from a canceled anthology.  Each runs for $.99, or sometimes free if you catch them at the right time.  For $.99, they are cheaper than a cup of gourmet coffee, and each is satisfying in its own way.

Amarante: A Tale of Old Tharduin by Scott Oden.
Of the three tales, this felt the most "epic" fantasy, though Oden delivers hard-hitting scenes that put this tale more into the "sword-&-sorcery" sub-genre.  Two Orcs, barely escaping some powerful (and well described) sorcery, seek vengeance against the humans who refuse to bow to their Orc overlords.  Oden creates a well-crafted viewpoint between the Orcs, with good interplay between the reluctant allies.  The Orcs are right bastards, and the "bad guys" - you don't exactly want them to win,  but there is enough tension that you want to follow them through to the end.

Harvest of War by Charles Gramlich.
Gramlich flips our expected sympathies by showing the dark side of humanity, as a lone Orc is captured, tortured, and treated worse than a zoo exhibit.  Not that Khales the Orc, doesn't have blood on his hands, either.  The nice turn in this story is not only the examination of human brutality, but human shortsightedness.  The humans zealous extermination of the Orc race puts them at a disadvantage they are not even aware of.  A really well-executed tale.

Blackskull's Captive by Tom Doolan.
Doolan takes us into space opera territory, which might seem odd to some readers, but Black Library, for instance, have Orks in their futuristic universe of Warhammer 40,000.  Doolan's setting is also heavily influenced by the animated movie, Treasure Planet, (in turn based on Treasure Island,) so we also get an Age-of-Sail vibe.  A captive human, Jack Munro, becomes an unwitting aide to an Orc pirate captain.  Staying alive could be at the price of his soul, as the Orcs ply him to help plan attacks on more human ships.  Doolan could easily have skirted the issue with a tale just long enough to get Jack off the ship before the next raid, but instead he makes Jack deal with the issue, and this gives the story an extra emotional edge.

All these tales are worth your time, and worth your three dollars!

(p.s. - for now, I will ignore that Tom Doolan published another Orc tale this week, thus breaking the trifecta theme ;P  But, you can check that out, too.  More at his blog.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

recent read; The Jewel in the Skull

The Jewel in the Skull, the first novel of The History of the Runestaff omnibus, is another foray into an aspect of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion.  I've only read Elric tales and a few standalone novels (The Silver Warriors) from Moorcock, so I've been looking forward to trying something a bit different.

The setting is a fictional world, but is our own - a far, far future post-apocalyptic Earth with Granbretan (Great Britain) as the evil Empire, spreading its dark clutches and chaotic madness into the heart of Europe.  In southern France, the Kamarg, ruled by Count Brass, is the only area able to resist the Empire.  Hakwmoon, a Germanic prisoner of war of Granbretan, is offered a deal if he will infiltrate the Kamarg.  To seal his agreement, a black jewel is implanted in his head that allows the Granbretans to see everything he sees.  And, should they not trust Hawkmoon, they can kill him from a distance by the scientific sorcery of the black jewel (it is, perhaps, related to the black sword of Elric.)

I generally enjoyed it as a fun, quick read.  It could be one of those famous Moorcock "wrote it over a single weekend" tales, though.  I found it unbalanced.  The action is good, but it takes a long time to get going.  The entire first act doesn't even feature the central hero, Dorian Hawkmoon, but rather focuses on the man who later becomes his ally, Count Brass.  Quite a few coincidences pile on in the third act, too.  At least with Moorcock's Eternal Champion and Multiverse, it is a little easier to shrug off disbelief, as many things are fated to be such.

I will be continuing on with the omnibus, but I'll take a break to read some short stories this week before heading back into The History of the Runestaff.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Here's to health!

I've been rather quiet in 'netLand the past few weeks because I have been fighting one tenacious bug (upper respiratory virus that went into infection.) Finally reached fevers and antibiotics, and had to use official sick days for work (very rare for me.)

Just starting to get normal now, still have some rest and recovery ahead.

That, however, compared to very serious health crisis being faced by friends and colleagues just pales in comparison.  Charles's wife Lana, of course.  Tom's blood issue (hemochromatosis.)  Also, someone at my workplace has undergone brain surgery.

I haven't finished reading anything, but I have started on the History of the Runestaff omnibus.  Illness ate into my reading time.  I hate it when fevers bug my eyes so I can't even read while I'm sitting around doing nothing.  I *hate* that.

My kids, of course, caught various versions of coughs themselves, so I was on constant fever watch with them.  They got through this round okay.  (which is good, because my son had a rotten tonsil infection himself a few weeks ago with a scary fever.)

Mild winter is apparently more compromising on your health than a normal, cold one.

So, here's to your good health and to the good health of all those around you!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Recent read! The Spider!

This was my first foray into the manic styling of The Spider!  You would not believe the sheer number of exclamation points in the first story!  It must be exciting, right?  Right!

Um, actually, no.

This book was painful to slug through.  Frankly, this is the kind of shlock that give pulp a bad name.

This Baen collection features two Spider stories, "Satan's Murder Machines" and "Death Reign of the Vampire King."  The third tale, "The Octopus," isn't even a Spider story.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book cover pr0n!

These popped up on Amazon finally!

And, cover not on Amazon yet, but it is on display at Subterranean Press;

Monday, February 13, 2012

recent read; The Automatic Detective

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

From the blurb; Even in Empire City, a town where weird science is the hope for tomorrow, it’s hard for a robot to make his way. It’s even harder for a robot named Mack Megaton, a hulking machine designed to bring mankind to its knees. But Mack’s not interested in world domination. He’s just a bot trying to get by....and to earn his citizenship in the process....but some bots just can’t catch a break.

When Mack’s neighbors are kidnapped, Mack sets off on a journey through the dark alleys and gleaming skyscrapers of Empire City...What started out as one missing family becomes a battle for the future of Empire and every citizen that calls her home.

I have a friend whose lists this as one of his favorite novels.  I finally got around to reading it, and I'm glad I did.  This was a fun romp and a quirky story.

You might say it's Blade Runner meets The Iron Giant, or any other number of mash-up descriptions, but The Automatic Detective is very much its own style and story.

The blurb describes what you get.  Along the way Mack gains some humanity, makes friends, and earns the wrath of enemies.  Empire City is a quirky place of golden age scifi stories gone wrong, while its citizens try to do right (most of them, anyway.)  There is some light philosophizing on what makes a sentient machine a man, as it were.  Nothing heavy, it's just nicely sprinkled over a ripping yarn.

This one is worth the read, and I will be reading more of Martinez in the near future.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

recent read; Robots Have No Tails

Robots Have No Tails by Henry Kuttner

These stories were fun.  A breezy blend of whimsy and The Twilight Zone.  (I have to believe Rod Serling read one or two of these.)  This book collects the five tales of Gallegher, the drunken inventor whose brilliant work is created when he is blotto.  The sober, hungover Gallegher is formulaically stuck with problems, a hangover, creditors and mysteries left by his alcoholic alter ego.

The book opens with a foreword from F. Paul Wilson reminding us to leave our political correctness at the door.  Not that there is anything racist or sexist, but the character of Gallegher is a drunk and his drinking problem is played for laughs. These stories were possibly influenced by the Nick & Nora Charles Thin Man movies, where the main characters - while not outright drunks - were hardly ever seen without a drink in hand.

Monday, January 30, 2012

recent read: Empire State

Empire State by Adam Christopher

Oddly enough, the first quote I thought of when pondering a review of this novel was from Ralph Nader's running mate a few elections past, Winona LaDuke.  There was some commentary between her and a reporter, and the reporter said, "But isn't this America?  The Melting Pot?" to which she replied, "Yes, but do you want a bland puree of everything, or a nice chunky stew with all the individual elements clearly defined and contributing to the whole?"  (I am paraphrasing, but that was the gist of what she said.)

Empire State is definitely a pulp stew.  From noir-ish tinges of Chandler & Hammett, to wild contraptions of stories of The Spider, with rocketeering super-heroes and racketeers along for the ride.  Although even the author refers to the work as science fiction - the scifi only plays into the setting and background of the creation of the Empire State.  All else feels, smells and tastes like pulp - and that is fine with me.

There is nothing bland or pureed about it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A little book shopping

I spent the week waiting on an Amazon book order to finish its tour of the East Coast.  No biggie, really, but the package passed by the town next door and went on the Maine on a shipping error, and came back through NJ before finally reaching me.  I received Glen Cook's final novel of the Dread Empire - recently rewritten after being lost/stolen - now out in hardback, A Path to Coldness of Heart.

I also threw in To The Stars - and Beyond (The Second Borgo Press Book of Science Fiction Stories), mainly because Charles Gramlich has a tale in it, and I loved the cover.

Today the wife gave me a hall pass and I went shopping.  In addition to shoes, music and comics, I picked up some books, too.  Arturo Perez-Reverte's latest (perhaps last) tale of Captain Alatriste, Pirates of the Levant.  The Ramsey Campbell novelization of the Solomon Kane movie (which I still haven't seen!)  Finally, I bought the Baen anthology, Mountain Magic.  I have Drake's Old Nathan collection (included,) but the book includes a set of Henry Kuttner tales, too.  I would have gone the e'route on that one, sometime, but for this little tidbit on the Baen E'books site;


Unfortunately the Kuttner estate does not allow publication of electronic versions of his works. So we had to remove all of the Kuttner stories from the WebScriptions version. In their place we've added Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer stories. Certainly they fit the books theme of Mountain Magic.

I guess that isn't a total surprise.  I noted Saberhagen's estate seem to be handling his e'books, outside of any given publisher.  Also, not surprising some Silver John tales were substituted, as I think Drake is in charge of the Wellman publishing estate, so it wouldn't be a tough sell.

(I've run into something similar with some of my vinyl blues LPs having different content on CD - not just augmented, but different...)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recently read: Southern Gods

From the NightShade blurb page;

"Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music--broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station--is said to make living men insane and dead men rise.

Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas..."

With a hook like that, I had to read this one.  I am a blues fan, a deep blues fan, and combining the ol' "bluesman sold his soul to the Devil" with Cthulhuian touches put this novel at the top of my to-be-read list for this year.

The story is not only about Bull Ingram, but also Sarah (Rheinhart) Williams.  Jacobs craftily puts down two separate sub-plots until they meet and entwine at the climax, just as they should.  Bull is on the hunt for a missing man, but also decides something needs to be done about Hastur.  Meanwhile, Sarah - with child in tow, fleeing an abusive husband - returns to her old Southern homestead to re-establish relationships with her mother and a childhood friend.  But, despite her newfound happiness there is a growing darkness around the Rheinhart plantation.

There are some great scenes along the way.  The first time Bull hears a recording of Hastur, the rage and murderous impulses.  Finding a dead DJ with a Hastur record still spinning on the turntable.  The live performance of Hastur that drives an entire crowd mad and murderous, turning a dive bar into a horrific orgy of death and carnage.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Masterworks

I'd been searching for a comprehensive list of all the titles that fall into these series.  The lists on Wikipedia are fine, but I was wondering about the covers. (Fantasy, SciFi)

Someone has already done the footwork.  Here are the Fantasy Masterworks and the SciFi Masterworks.
(though, they seem to be missing the hardcover-only SF editions, such as A Canticle for Leibowitz)

These are British editions.  I don't plan on collecting them all, that book monkey on my back is already the size of a Mighty Joe Young, but I have some of these and would like to cherry-pick some more.

With the ISBN numbers, I was able to find a bookdealer on AbeBooks who got me these books even cheaper than ordering (and shipping) from, so I might try that again.  Need to be sure though, with the ISBN, so I don't end up with a different imprint.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Zombies of Antiquity

I guess most of you who check-in here also follow historical author, Scott Oden.  But if anyone missed it, he's thinking about pulling together an anthology of zombie tales with ancient historical settings.

Personally, I'm not huge on the zombie thing, but much to my surprise, I had an idea come to me quickly. So, I'll be drafting up a tale.

Scott has plenty of Romans, apparently, so if you want to find some other niche in the given date range, I'm sure he'd be interested.

Details here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012, here we are

I squeezed in a read of Strange Worlds before 2011 ended.  That was a great way to end the year.  Yes, we authors didn't get to preview each others' tales until the book was out.

I'll refrain from a review because I'm one of the writers, but Charles Gramlich has a good review with thumbnail sketches of the tales. (and, a copy of the book to give away!)

I will say that I believe we're in good company and if you want to read a great and varied anthology of new sword-&-planet tales with great illustrations, please check it out.  I really dug the variety of the stories.  There are echoes and homages to the past with plenty of original things going on, too.

I started reading Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs (from Nightshade Books) and it is a doozy of a start.