Thursday, December 31, 2015

rearview mirror 2015

I hadn't planned on a recap post for the year, but why not?

My year was, thankfully, status quo. I continue my employment where I have been and marked 12 years with the company. Not bad for starting on a temp 3 month contract. :) My kids are growing, learning and making me smile.

On the valley side of the peaks & valleys - the 1st anniversary of my father's death and the 1st anniversary of the death of my wife's best friend came at the end of the year. There were a few tears but life moves on. Also, we sold the house I grew up in. That was emotional, too.

I read a lot this year and that felt good. I think I reached 35 books if you count a few collected graphic novel trades. Outside of that list, I read many single comic issues and short stories (which I did not track.)

Writing was a fair year. For me it was good but I need to kickstart out of my glacial pace. I technically sold three stories, but only one appeared in print this year. Another should be showing up online next year. Another depends on if the project goes forward. (I keep nudging the editor.) And, I have one in a slush pile that I had hoped to hear about by year end, but they are delayed a month, at least - so I won't know either way until early 2016.

I have a huge list of story ideas. I am not sure how many will come to fruition in 2016 but I will be whittling away the list. I really hope to write some longer pieces, so I know I probably won't execute on all of the ideas in 2016.

It was a great year for connecting with writers and online friends. I attended NECON and spread out more since 2014, meeting and chatting with lots of writers, editors, fans. Thanks to my locality to Christopher Golden and James A. Moore, I got to attend book launches and a writers coffeehouse, too. And there was NecronomiCON-Providence, where I got to meet fellow Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft fans (and editors, and writers.)

As usual, I am abysmally behind on t.v. series and movies, but I did get through the first two seasons of VIKINGS, stayed with DOCTOR WHO and enjoyed SUPERGIRL.

Happy New Year 2016!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

recent read; The Clock of Dreams & Spawn of the Winds (Titus Crow omnibus, volume 2)

Whereas Lumley's hero Titus Crow features in what I would classify as horror short stories, when Lumley brought Crow into novels, the tone shifted quickly from horror to pulp adventure fantasy with occult touches. That trend continues strongly in this volume.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Lumley uses more of the Derleth Mythos model than Lovecraft's. In this Mythos, Cthulhu is "evil," not just ambivalent. And opposing the Old Ones are "good" Elder Gods.

The Clock of Dreams takes place largely in the "Dreamland" realms. The first half of the novel features Crow's longtime friend, deMarigny, as the protagonist. Crow comes into play later, after deMarigny rescues him. Utilizing the grandfather clock that can fly anywhere in time & space (and between dimensions,) Crow & deMarigny battle Cthulhu entities across the Dreamlands in various feats of derring do, capture and rescue.

Spawn of the Winds is an unexpected entry in this volume - Crow isn't in this novel at all. Not even a cameo or a mention. I did notice on Lumley's webpage that he classifies the omnibuses as "Mythos" not "Titus Crow." Only one character from the previous Crow novels is here, a professor from Miskatonic.

Anyway, it still a fairly rousing adventure tale. This time around, Ithaqua, the Walker of the Winds, steals an airplane & its crew and deposits them on the alien, arctic waste world, Borea. What follows has a strong "lost world" vibe of lost races, intermingled races and skirmishes and building battles, stakes & tension.

So, if you're looking for horror, you need to look elsewhere. But it you want to read some fantasy action pulp adventure, then The Clock of Dreams and Spawn of the Winds fit the bill.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

recent reads; Skaar


I got both of these in collected trade paperback, on the cheap, at sales. I'm glad I didn't spend much. I guess I'm just not the target audience for this.

I was hoping for a sword-&-planet vibe. What I got was lots of planet heaving and lava flowing. Lots of people trying to kill Skaar. Lots of resurrected characters from PLANET HULK. Some mystic "old power" of the planet. Come to think of it, wasn't the planet destroyed at the end of PLANET HULK? Well, I might be misremembering, or they retconned the planetary destruction into local destruction.

Confusing facets of various players & races. Silver Surfer shows up, then we're on Earth with the Fantastic Four, Hulk and other crossovering. Not what I was looking for.

(There is a crossover with Ka-zar and the Savage Land but I don't think I'll bother - unless maybe if I get it cheap like the others.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

recent read; The Wolf Sea

The Wolf Sea by Robert Low

The Oathsworn are at it again.

Orm has inherited the mantle of jarl of the Oathsworn, and has promised them treasure. Unfortunately, the treasure is the silver hoard of Attila, which Orm touched and lost in the previous novel. He has also lost his runesword, etched with instructions how to re-find the treasure. Actually, the sword is not lost, it has been stolen.

Pursuit of the sword takes the Oathsworn from Constantinople to Jerusalem, with various intrigues and adventures as the Vikings ply their mercenary trade marching through the seas of grasslands and deserts.

It was more of the same in a good way. The story plot and subplots keep it fresh from its predecessor. The Viking world view stays strong, "young" Orm struggles with his wyrd of leading the Oathsworn. History drips from the page, illuminating what a tumultuous fractured world the old Middle East was prior to the Crusades.

Lots of goodness here for historical fiction fans, action fans, and Viking fans.

It turns out that my town library and the consortium it belongs to do not have the next volumes in the series. I see yet more book purchases in my future. I need to continue following the Oathsworn.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

recent read; Tales From The Otherverse

Tales From The Otherverse edited by James Reasoner

Other times, other places, other stories than the ones we know...These are the Tales From the Otherverse, where anything is possible and things never work out quite the way you'd expect. Some of today's top talents in popular fiction turn their hands to tales of alternate history. Featuring new stories by bestselling, award-winning authors Bill Crider, Lou Antonelli, Scott A. Cupp, Robert E. Vardeman, James Reasoner, and more. Explore the Otherverse and see what might have been!=====

James Reasoner has assembled a set of alternate history tales not limited to any era or place. That gives this anthology a lot of variety. A few of these have unexpected twists, so I don't want to give away too much in the synopses. But here's what you get;

“The Battle of the Bands” by Scott A. Cupp
The heyday of 1960s rock...- or is it 1860s rock? Custer and his boys against a band of Native American musicians in a battle of the bands - with strange echoes of otherworlds and death.

“Port Radium” by Lou Antonelli
What if Douglas MacArthur had been a German general during WWII?

“Mrs. Lincoln’s Dinner Party” by Cheryl Pierson
Mary Todd Lincoln takes matters into her own hands, inviting Jefferson Davis's wife and other members of the Confederacy to a dinner party in Washington D.C., to broker peace. But different guests have different motivations.

“The Assassination of President Broussard” by Keith West
An alternate tale of the South, where Woodrow Wilson shunted to the vice presidency by the election of Robert F. Broussard. Bonus points for weaving in a reality where the American hippo meat market happened. In fact, the hippo meat issue is the inciting incident of the tale, as they start to rival the steer beef market. The feud between Duquesne and Burnham (enemies in the Boer War, now both working together) is also pivotal to this unique story.

“Books Burning Brightly in the Night” by Robert E. Vardeman
Air pirates and zeppelins populate this derring-do tale of an FBI agent going against his bosses and going with his hunches to foil a gang of air pirates.

“A Wisp of Memory” by John Hegenberger
A private detective is hired by Rod Serling and finds himself in his own Twilight Zone-esque situation.

“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by Bill Crider
Another music tale, in which Buddy Holly lived and Waylon Jennings died on that fateful plane crash. An anniversary concert ten years after gives Elvis a shot at a comeback.

“The Great Steamer Riot of 1936” by Scott Dennis Parker
Great story about a swing jazz band with a trumpeter who is a little too perfect. Steam androids and insular intolerance clash. The Depression is more an era for "diesel punk" than "steam punk," so this one was a poignant surprise.

“The Alexandria County Library Book Sale” by Richard Prosch
 A fun story of Greek culture and the library of Alexandria lasting into the modern age.

“The Hero of Deadwood” by James Reasoner
What if Bill Hickok road into the Presidency on the back of his fame? And is history as malleable as it might seem, or does it self-correct regardless of the players?

Tales From The Otherverse is an engaging read of alternate histories. The stories are short, so no need to bog down in large novels or novel series to get your alternate history fix.

Monday, December 7, 2015

recent read; Perchance To Dream

Perchance to Dream (Selected Stories) by Charles Beaumont

Beaumont wrote many episodes of The Twilight Zone, in some cases adapting his own earlier published short stories. Sadly, he died of a premature aging disease (Alzheimer's? - it's not really clear.) Like Bradbury - (who appears here via a recycled posthumous forward) - Beaumont was a machine who turned out story after story with original flare and sometimes wry twists.

His collections had gone out of print. Fortunately, in October, Penguin Classics released a new, solid collection of Beaumont's short stories. The book appears thin, yet it contains 23 stories. Beaumont was prolific. He knew how to strip and present a story at its bare essentials. Only a few of these stories are lengthy.

I won't analyze every story but they're all very enjoyable. Some of my favorites in this set were "Perchance To Dream," a tale of dreams within dreams that became a Twilight Zone episode, "You Can't Have Them All," a humorous story about a man determined to bed every woman who appeals to his personal taste in women, "The Howling Man," a story of the Devil (another tale later adapted to The Twilight Zone,) and "Place Of Meeting," which concerns certain survivors of nuclear war destruction.

Beaumont's talents outside of the weird and supernatural come through near the end of the collection with "A Death in The Country," about a desperate, washed-up race car driver and what he will do to stay in the game. And "The Music of the Yellow Brass" is a straight up story about a young, down-on-his-luck matador. It's a story that would seamlessly fit into Borderland Noir.

If you like the 1960s era golden age of genre-mixing-bending writers of weird like Bradbury, Matheson, et al, and you are not familiar with Beaumont, you definitely need to read this collection. I am very glad I did.

Friday, December 4, 2015

recent read; The Whale Road

The Whale Road by Robert Low

I took my son to the town library two weeks ago. He borrowed a DVD, and he suggested I should get a book. Despite having overflowing bookcases and Kindle at home, I agreed. I was pleasantly surprised to find The Whale Road sitting on the shelf. It had been on my reading list since it came out, and I haven't yet bought a copy in any medium, so I borrowed it.

Glad I did. Wish I hadn't waited. I want more.

Orm Ruriksson, young Bear Slayer, joins the Oathsworn mercenary band of Vikings, led by Einar the Black. They are on the hunt for the fabled silver hoard of Attila the Hun. Orm's wyrd is tied to Einar, and the Oathsworn, and Hild, a witchy woman who claims to know the treasure's hiding place. Others have also gotten word of the woman and the treasure. Chase and intrigue follow. Bloody combat, narrow escapes, untrustworthy men add up to rousing adventure.

Over the course of the novel, Orm grows from a young man to a seasoned veteran of the Oathsworn.

While the novel is historical fiction, not fantasy, there is enough magic and supernatural in the Norse worldview that you can say this tale involves magical realism. The consistency of the medieval Viking worldview is a strong point of the novel. It raises it above a mere treasure hunt with Vikings.

The Whale Road is in the vein of adventure historical fiction that rings with veracity of its characters. If you like Robert E. Howard's Cormac Mac Art, I'm sure you'd enjoy this, too.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.