Monthly Archives: October 2011

NaNoWriMo Starts in 2 Days

National Novel Writing Month, usually called NaNoWriMo, starts on Tuesday.  It’s a month long project in which aspiring writers attempt to write a novel in a month.  For the month of November, I’m going to be focusin on my personal writing.  That’s not going to leave a lot of time for blogging, reading, or much else.  From time  to time I’ll post about how the writing is going as well as provide an excerpt or two.  I’ll still be doing some blog posts on both Adventures Fantastic and Futures Past and Present, but they’ll mostly be devoted to short fiction or brief news or opinion pieces.  I’ll review the novel I’m currently reading, and that will probably be it as far as novels go for a few weeks.

In case you’re wondering what my novel is about, it’s a sword and planet adventure with a lot of hard science thrown in.  Think of a blend of Leigh Brackett, Robert E. Howard, and Larry Niven with a dash of Jack Vance.  At this point, I’ll be focusing on two or three different characters from the same space ship trying to survive at different places under very different circumstances on the same alien planet.  Of course, I could change my mind and give each character their separate novel.  I’ll just have to wait and see. 

Fifty thousand words is the minimum required to “win” NaNoWriMo.  I know I can write that much; the thing that will be hard will be writing that much in one month.  Thankfully the Thanksgiving holidays should allow me some time to catch up if I fall behind.

Congratulations to the World Fantasy Award Winners

Adventures Fantastic would like to congratulate all the nominees for this year’s World Fantasy Awards, and especially the following winners:

Best Novel:  Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death

Best Novella:  Elizabeth Hand, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Belerophon

Best Short Fiction:  Joyce Carol Oates, “Fossil-Figures”

Best Anthology:  My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, Kate Bernheimer, ed.

Best Collection:  What I Didn’t See and Other Stories, Karen Joy Fowler

Best Artist:  Kinuko Y. Craft

Special Award, Professional:  Marc Gasciogne, for Angry Robot

Special Award, Nonprofessional:  Alisa Krasnostein, for Twelfth Planet Press

Lifetime Achievement:  Peter S. Beagle and Angelica Gorodischer

A complete list of all nominees can be found here.

Adventures on Strange Worlds

Strange Worlds
Jeff Doten, ed. and illus.
189 p., $27

I grew up reading classic science fiction and science fantasy from the 1930s and 1940s, and the sword and planet story has a special place in my heart.  It’s a genre we don’t see very often any more, but hopefully that is changing.  If nothing else, the release of John Carter next year should cause a brief resurgence in the genre. 

But if you can’t wait that long, there’s a new anthology out to help whet your appetite. 

Artist Jeff Doten provided paintings to a number of writers and had them pitch story ideas.  He then provided interior illustrations for their stories.  As far as I know, this is one of the few, if not the only, illustrated sword and planet anthologies.  Each story has a color illustration as its frontispiece, designed to look like a vintage paperback, something I thought was a nice touch.  The whole tone of the book was nostalgic and took me back to some of the stories I read growing up.

Here’s what you get:  Charles A. Gramlich leads off with “God’s Dream”, the tale of a young boy orphaned and kidnapped on an alien world who has to earn his place among an alien tribe before he can come home.  This one had an unexpected twist, and there was enough backstory hinted at for other tales on this world.  In “When the World Changed” by Ken St. Andre, a pair of aliens rescue some human explorers and discover that nothing will ever be the same again.  Jennifer Rahn‘s “Metal Rat and the Brand New Jungle” tells the tale of a soldier in a war on a colony world in a military-sf-meets-sword-and-planet tale.  Terran explorers hire an alien guide with political troubles to help them search for Paul R. McNamee‘s “Pearls of Uraton.”  Another story that could justify more tales in this world.  Liz Coley tells of the descendents of the survivors of a crash and “The Final Gift” one of them receives.  In “The Beasts of the Abyss”, Lisa V. Tomecek shows us a far future solar system in which Earth is a dead planet and the other planets and moons have been inhabited long enough to have their on ethnic groups.  This one reminded me of Leigh Brackett’s solar system with echoes of C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau” in the opening scene.  Adrian Kleinbergen doesn’t so much give us a sword and planet tale as a mad scientist in “The Specimen”.  Charles R. Rutledge returns to the sword and planet roots with “Slavers of Trakor”.  Rounding out the volume, editor Jeff Doten gives us a comic book tale, a la Planet Comics, with “Martian Abductations.”

There were a number of things I liked about this anthology, and a couple I didn’t.  First, the negative, just to get it out of the way.  There were a couple of places where the level of the writing would have fit into the old pulps quite well, meaning it was a little rough.  Some of that may be personal taste, and some of that may be due to some of the authors still learning their craft.  For the most part, it wasn’t a major problem for me except for a couple of what were either typos or major grammar errors, I’m not sure which.  These threw me out of the story.

Also, this book is POD.  I ordered the book as soon as I heard about it, and I think it was one of the first ordered. Anyway, the printer had a glitch in the process.  Most of page 118 in my copy was blank.  The text ended in a complete sentence, and the text on the top of the next page began in the middle of a sentence.  I suspect an illustration got left off with the following text.  Hopefully this has been fixed.

Now for the positive things.  I loved the concept and hope there will be more, either a series of Strange Worlds anthologies or other illustrated anthologies of a similar theme.  The sword and planet tale is one that has sadly fallen into neglect as scientific progress has changed our view of the solar system.  Based on comments I’ve seen on other blogs and web pages, I suspect there’s a market for this type of thing out there.  It may be a niche market, but it’s still a market.

I was only familiar with a few of the authors, and some of them only by name.  I have no idea how Mr. Doten selected his authors, but I’m glad he’s giving some newcomers (or at least authors I’m not familiar with) an opportunity to be published.  In spite of my remarks above, there is some good writing in here.  The authors created some interesting worlds and scenarios.  If some of it seemed a bit familiar at times, that was fine with me.  Not everything needs to be new and cutting edge.  Comfort reading, like comfort food, is a necessity.  If I truly wanted to read something different every time I picked up a book, I’d never read more than once or twice in the same genre.  And that would suck.  There are only so many stories by Burroughs or Brackett or Hamilton.  When I’ve read all of their works (I haven’t but I’m making progress), then I want something similar when I’m in the mood for that type of thing.  The same holds true in detective fiction, or historical adventure, or any other genre.  We return to the types of writings we do because we enjoy them.  And that’s what I did with this one.  Returned to a genre I love and enjoyed the experience.

One final kudo to Jeff Doten.  He ends the book with two and a half pages of suggested reading.  I hate to admit there were one or two names I didn’t recognize among some of my favorites.  It seems I have more reading to do.  And that’s a good thing. 

Afterthought: I’ve been planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but until I started reading this anthology, I didn’t have a novel length story in mind.  I’ve come up with a sword and planet idea.  Of course being a physicist by training, it’s going to have hard science elements in it.  I’ll write more about it in another post in a day or two, but if I’m successful, or even if I’m not, it should be an interesting experiment in sub-genre cross-pollination.

Indie Books: A Tsunami of…?

You hear a lot of talk in the publishing world these days about indie published ebooks.  Some think they’re nothing short of the salvation of western civilization because they allow authors to connect directly to readers.  Others, to a large extent publishers, editors, and agents, insist that indie publishing will bury us all under a tsunami of crap.  And of course you every possible position in between those two extremes.

A couple of days ago, Passive Guy at The Passive Voice, posted something about a publisher reporting ebook sales.  In the comments section, Mick Griggs included a link to this essay.  (Thanks, PG and Mick.)

Mark Williams, the author of that essay insists, quite convincingly, that instead of  a tsunami of crap, we’re starting to see a tsunami of excellence.  If you have an ereader, are thinking about buying an ereader, or even interested in what effect ereaders and epublishing will have on your future book buying, you should check that essay out.

I decided to do a little commentary myself, based on some things I’ve posted lately.

I’ve looked at four indie ebooks in the last month.  Those books were Tisarian’s Treasure, Age of Giants:  Awakening, Dark Heroes, and Stones.  The links in the previous sentence are to the reviews.

Now, this analysis is completely unscientific; statistically speaking, my sample size is too small to be significant.

Still, as a snapshot, it is an informative look at what’s going on in the adventure and fantasy fields.  Two of the books, Tisarian’s Treasure and Dark Heroes, are available in print editions as well as electronic formats.  The question is, are these publications crap?

When dealing with electronic publishing, crap can be defined two ways.  One is the quality of the writing itself.  The other is the formatting.  I’ll address the latter first, since formatting is something that can be changed fairly easily after publication compared to print books.  With the partial exception of Dark Heroes, with which I had some issues in regard to no table of contents, all the books listed above were well formatted, had decent to great cover art that reflected the content, and were well laid out and organized.

The quality of the works varied a little, because Dark Heroes was an anthology and some of the stories didn’t resonate with me as well as others, but all were at the worst well written and highly readable.  The better written stories flowed, grabbed me, and made me want to read more.  Given that these books started at $0.99, and most major publishers’ electronic books start at $6.99 or $7.99, I’d say any one of the four I’ve looked at are a better buy than almost anything coming out of major New York houses. 

Like I said, I realize my sample size isn’t a representative cross-section of what’s out there.  But I want to argue that it doesn’t have to be.  I’m old enough to know what I like.  I’m going to pick up books that I think will appeal to my tastes and preferences.  That doesn’t mean everything I read will, but I load the odds in my favor.  I also like a lot of variety and am not afraid to try something new from time to time.  Indie publishing provides that at affordable prices.

When was the last time you saw something really new come out of New York publishing?  The majority of books from major publishers look fairly interchangeable to me.

Is there crap in the world of indie publishing?  Yes.  Sturgeon’s Law, remember?  But clearly there’s excellence out there, too.  New York publishing has gotten so afraid of taking risks that we’re being given a steady diet of the same old thing.  Indie writers are finding an audience that they haven’t been able to find through major houses.  More power to them.

Oh, and that tsunami of crap that New York publishers, editors, and agents say we’ll be drowning in?  I agree, we are drowning in a tsunami of crap.  I just don’t think it’s coming from indie publishing.

A Review of Stones by Gerald So, Yet Another Well-Done Ebook

Gerald So
various ebook formats, $0.99

Long ago, when the world was young, the Moon was new, dinosaurs ruled the land, and I was in high school, two of the three television networks decided to do what networks have always done.  (Yes, children, at one time there were only three television networks instead of half a million; if you didn’t like what was on, you read a book.  There was no internet.  I told you, the world was young.)  They decided to cash in on the popularity a little movie entitled Raiders of the Lost Ark by airing shows in a similar vein, namely adventures set in the Pacific in the 1930s.

I don’t remember which networks they were, and I’m too lazy to look it up.  One show was entitled Bring ‘Em Back Alive, the fictitious adventures of real life big game hunter Frank Buck, author of a book of the same title, and starring Bruce Boxleitner.  The other was Tales of the Gold Monkey.  It starred Stephen Collins and several of the characters were spies.

It’s Tales of the Gold Monkey that Stones most closely resembles.

This is not accidental.  So dedicated the book to Donald P. Bellisario, creator of the show.

How do the stories stack up?  They were a delight to read.  The central character, C. J. Stone, is a pilot in the Caribbean in the 1930s, and So does an excellent job of capturing the tone of the era.  The stories are short, almost vignettes in some cases.  But they work.  They were a lot of fun, and I’ll be tracking down the other stories about Stone that are mentioned in the author bio.

I also want to say a word about the formatting of the book.  This is another of several ebooks I’ve looked at lately (see here, here, and here), only this one has no print version.  I have to say I’m impressed.  There’s an interactive table of contents.  While not flashy, the cover art gives you an excellent idea of what you’re getting with the book.  The black and white illustration does more to match the tone of the time in which the book is set than a color cover would.

This is one worth picking up.  Hopefully, Mr. So will continue to write about this character.  I’d love to read more of his adventures.

RBE Challenge Continues

Jason M. Waltz posted a little while ago on the Rogue Blades Entertainment website that he is extending the Challenge! Stealth competition.  Due to issues related to a virus infecting the site, which have now been resolved, the 2011 Challenge will continue until 30 submissions have been accepted.

For more details, go here and here.  The artwork for this year’s competition can be found here.

Heroes Dark and Dangerous

Dark Heroes
Jessy Marie Roberts, ed.
Pill Hill Press
Paper $15.99, ebook $0.99

This anthology has an interesting premise.  The creatures we think of as monsters play the role of hero. 

Most of the authors in this anthology were not familiar to me, although a couple of them were.  I’ve always found anthologies in which I don’t know the work or at least the reputation of the contributors to be something of a crap-shoot.  Fortunately, the dice roll came up predominantly in my favor.

Here’s what the book contains:

J. Leigh Bailey draws on Mesopotamian mythology in “The Twelfth Monster of Chaos” in one of the more original takes on a dark hero.  The vampire Phil Wolters describes is “Just Waiting for the Sun to Set” but what comes out in the dark is something even he has trouble defeating.  Samhain fights for right in “Cat Got Your Tongue?” by Gary Buettner.  Scott M. Sandridge has the first of several werewolf/shafeshifter stories, but it’s “Nothing Personal”, in which a madame hunts down the murderer of one of her girls.  Jennifer L. Barnes continues werewolf theme in “It’s Medicine; Not Magic”.  Mel Obedoza turns the tables on convention with her “Monster Hunter.”  In “The Ease of Evil”, Aaron Renfroe gives us a tale from the point of view of a monster who doesn’t realize he’s a monster.

Anita Siraki doesn’t deal with a werewolf per se, but in the bleakest tale in the book, “La Bete”, her heroine experiences life as a wolf and discovers that revenge has a high price.  Those who deal with the undead, even those who hunt them down, take on their characteristics, something Christopher Heath demonstrates quite effectively in “Azieran:  The Crypt of Shaddis’zzam”.  His Azieran is always a fun place to visit.  Gorgon sisters battle in “Their Last Escape” by Alexis A. Hunter.  Revenge comes from beyond the grave in Chloe Stowe’s “The Widow and the Scythes”.  On the “Solstice”, Darin Kennedy’s heroine April Sullivan makes a return appearance to try to prevent another necromancer from raising Arlington National Cemetery.  J. M. Martin turns in the best were-animal story, and certainly the most emotionally complex one, in “Eaters of Meat and Hunters”.  Kat Hekenbach shows us that werewolves are just “Ordinary Folk”.  A half demon aids his former lover, now a nun, in protecting a young girl from “The Dream Easter”.

This isn’t the strongest anthology I’ve read from a small press this year, but then it’s been an exceptionally strong year for small press anthologies, as I’ve stated elsewhere. This is still a better anthology than most of those published by a certain New York imprint known for its anthologies.  I suspect many of these people will be well known in the field if they keep writing.  The stories are at a professional level, although some are stronger than others.  I guess that reaction on my part is to be expected with so many dealing with were-creatures.  That’s probably the one gripe I have about the stories as a whole.  I was expecting more variety; in fact, I’m somewhat surprised there weren’t more vampires, since they seem to be everywhere these days.  At least the vampire herein didn’t glitter but was properly loathsome (Thank you, Mr. Wolters).

If it seems I’m damning with faint praise, I don’t intend to.  I quite enjoyed the anthology.  It’s just that I enjoyed some stories more than others.  With the exception of J. M. Martin’s werewolf story (set in the same world as Tisarian’s Treasure, reviewed here), the stories I found the most interesting were the ones that stayed away from the tried and true and focused on monsters/creatures/beings that haven’t gotten as much exposure.  I also found that the stories in which the narrator had a distinguishable voice tended to stand out.  Overall, the contents were worth the investment.

What did annoy me, and I mean really annoy me, was the ebook version, at least the one for the Nook.  There was no table of contents, not even a listing, never mind anything interactive, and when I tried to use the Go To function, nothing came up on the Chapter option.  I had to put bookmarks in as I came to new stories.  As I’m not in the habit of having to to that, it was a little bit of a hassle.  I would have preferred to keep reading without having to stop and place a bookmark.  (I know it only took a couple of seconds; it was still a nuisance.)  Pill Hill Press has an extensive list of anthologies on their website, and not all of them are available in electronic formats, so my complaints may just be a function of where they are on the epublishing learning curve.

Regardless which version you prefer, print or electronic, check this one out.  There’s some good writing here, and I’d like to see some of these characters again.

Attack of the Haboob

Some of you may have seen this on the national news the other day, but I’m sure some of you, especially my friends in other countries, didn’t.  I didn’t, and I was here for it.  And have the pictures to prove it.

Lubbock got hit by a haboob on Monday.  For those of you who don’t know what a haboob is, and until Monday, I was one of them, a haboob is a meteorological term.  It derives from Arabic and basically means “dust cloud.”  Those of you who live in the desert have probably seen something like this before.

This was one of the worst in decades.  It was brought about by winds from a strong cold front in an area with extreme drought conditions.  Winds speeds were at least 74 miles per hour.

My son and I had gone to eat because my wife was still recovering from her bout with the stomach plague. I’d noticed dust off to the northwest, but the wind had been blowing strong all day and mild dust storms aren’t uncommon here.  I think the sky was brown in June almost as much as it was blue.  Anyway, I was more concerned with paying attention to traffic rather than the sky at that hour of the day.

When we got to the place we were going to eat, I got out of the car, looked to the northeast, and here’s what I saw: 

The view to the west a minute or so after I took that picture looked like this:

By this time, the wind was picking up (that’s a relative term, it was already blowing hard.)  When I turned back to the northeast, this is what it looked like:

Those are the same houses whose tops are visible at the bottom of the first picture.

Needless to say, we hurried inside.  Within a minute, it was dark.  I mean, streetlights are on, visibilities is on the order of meters, not tens of meters, meters. 

Here’s the last photo I took:

The shrubs are on the far side of a six lane street.  When visibility was at its worst, I couldn’t see shrubs.  The only lights visible on the far side of the street were the street lights along the road, and they were just dim glows.

This isn’t typical weather.  If these photos remind you of the Dust Bowl, they should.  Similar conditions existed then. 

To see more of the attack of the haboob, here’s a YouTube video:

Scott Oden Writes a Story on his Blog

Scott Oden started writing a historical short story on his blog this week.  He’s outlining the process he uses when he writes fiction, letting us in on his methods.  Plus it’s shaping up to be a really good story.

He’s four days into it.  Here are the links:  Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.

Scott Oden is the author of The Lion of Cairo.  It’s in the queue, and I hope to have a review of it posted by Christmas.