Monthly Archives: September 2012

I Found A Guile of Dragons Most Beguiling

A Guile of Dragons
James Enge
Pyr Books
trade paper, 279 p., $17.95

I apologize for the horrible pun in the title of this post, but some things, well, they just have to be done. 

I  eargerly anticipated this book for most of the summer and was thrilled when the review copy showed up.  (Thanks to the good folks at Pyr.)  The chaos of moving kept me from getting to it as soon as I’d have liked.  But it was worth the wait. 

This is the thinnest of the Morlock books so far, but that doesn’t mean it’s thin on story.  It takes us back to the earliest days of Morlock’s life and then some.  The book opens with Morlock’s mother Nimue betraying his father Merlin to his old enemy Earno.  She’s pregnant with Morlock at the time.

The main part of the action takes place years later, when Morlock, raised by the Dwarves after his parents are exiled, has joined the Graith of Guardians.  He’s a thain, the lowest possible rank. Morlock has a major problem, one he isn’t aware of.  He’s come to the notice of the gods, and they’re messing with him.  In case it isn’t obvious, let me say that this is never a good thing.  Ever.

Morlock finds himself in the middle of a war between the Dwarves and the Dragons, ancient enemies who have fought before.  This is also never a good thing.  Before it’s over, Morlock with have to come to grips with his heritage and the history of his family, both his biological family of Ambrose and his adopted family of Dwarves.  In many ways this is a coming of age story.

The action is good, the dialogue crackles, and Enge doesn’t broadcast where he’s going with the story.  He also shows how certain aspects of Dwarvish culture originated, and he does so in a logical manner.  Enge is a classicist by profession, and it shows in his prose, which I found quite readable and much more enjoyable than the flat prose that packs so many doorstop sized novels.  With his tales of Morlock the Maker, Enge is establishing himself as one of the major writers of the decade.

One thing that I did have trouble with was keeping up with the many members of the supporting cast.  Names aren’t my strong suit, and there’s a lot of them in this book.  Some of them seem to be there not because they’re particularly essential for this story, but they need to be introduced now in order to play role in the larger story arc.  At least that seems to be the case from some foreshadowing in a couple of places. 

The characters are unique individuals, and Enge does a good job getting in their heads.  Almost everyone has motivations that are complex and at times contradictory.  Just like real people.  I found the character of Merlin the most interesting and hope we’ll see more of him in future volumes.  I suspect we will.

The subtitle of this novel is A Tournament of Shadows Book 1, implying there’s much more to this story to come.  For one thing, we know the gods haven’t finished messing with Morlock. 

A Guile of Dragons is a featured book at Adventures Fantastic Books

A Tall Tale Involving the Ghost of Davy Crockett

Evan Lewis writes mysteries and historical fiction, as well as running the blog Davy Crockett’s Almanac.  His most recent work is a little something that should appeal to fans of Robert E. Howard’s Breckenridge Elkins. 

One of his series characters is Dave Crockett, grandson of a man with a similar name you might have heard of.  It seems Dave is haunted by the ghost of his grandfather, and they don’t see eye to eye.  Evan’s latest installment is up for free at Beat to a Pulp.  I found the tale to be fun and clever with just the right amount of humor and exaggeration.  It wasn’t too serious and was a pleasant diversion from some of the things I’ve been reading lately.

Check it out.  It’s not long, so can read it while waiting in the doctor’s office or in line at the DMV.  If you like what you read, Evan will be putting out an ebook with five Dave and Davy stories plus an additional bonus story involving other characters.

I’m Helping to Harm Literature? Cool!

There is an article today The Guardian that is too good not to poke with a sharp stick.  It quotes the head judge of this year’s Man Booker prize, one Peter Stothard, as saying “If the mass of unargued opinion chokes off literary critics…then literature will be the poorer for it.”  He went on to say, “There is a great deal of opinion online, and it’s probably reasonable opinion, but there is much less reasoned opinion.”

Now, aside from the fact that the previous sentence doesn’t make any sense when examined closely, Stothard’s views smack of elitism.

As further evidence they do, here’s another quote:

If we make the main criteria good page-turning stories – if we prioritise unargued opinion over criticism – then I think literature will be harmed.

He thinks literary criticism exists to tell us (that would presumably be the unwashed masses of genre readers, as opposed to readers of litfic) what is good and why it’s good.  He says that.  I’m just too lazy to quote him again.

Excuse me, Mr. Stothard, but are you aware that “good” is a subjective term?  That what two educated, intelligent people regard as good can differ widely?  I don’t need you, or anyone else for that matter, to tell me what is good.  There are critics and bloggers whose opinions I value and seek out because I understand their tastes and how those tastes compare with mine.  I have a pretty good idea if I’m going to like a book or story based on what they think of it.  And no, I don’t have the same tastes and likes as they do.  Just the opposite in some cases.  But because I know their tastes, I can make an informed decision regarding whether I want to read (or watch or listen to) a particular work.

And I really don’t understand why “good page-turning stories” aren’t the main criteria.  Most people read for pleasure, at least as far as fiction is concerned.  (The reasons for reading nonfiction can be complex, so I’ll restrict my comments to fiction.)  That means their primary goal is mostly likely to be enjoying  a good page-turning story.

The majority of adults, at least those who bother to read more than texts on their phones or the National Enquirer, do not have as their primary reason for reading to be improved, enlightened, made socially aware, or because it’s good for them.  The people who read for those reasons are in school.  Come to think of it, people in school don’t read for those reasons either.  They read because it’s required.

We read to be entertained, Mr. Stothard.  We read because we want page-turning stories, as you so arrogantly put it.  Any improvement, enlightenment, or social awareness is secondary to that goal.

I blog because I want to share the page-turning stories I’ve found.  If blogging harms literature, or rather a narrow view of what literature is, as defined by an exclusive and elitist club, then fine.  I’m guilty as charged.

And completely unrepentant. 

Report on Fencon IX

Fencon IX was held in Dallas over the weekend (Sept. 21-23).  I thought it was a great success.  Of course my definition of success is pretty simple.  I had a good time.  In spite of some friends and/or regular attendees not being able to make it this year.

I arrived at the hotel on Friday afternoon after a long drive.  The first two panels I attended were slideshows by the artist guest of honor, Donato Giancola.   In the first slideshow, he discussed how he became interested in art in general and how he came to do paperback covers.  The second slideshow was more about how the Old Masters and some of the modern 20th century artists influenced him.  There was some overlap between the two programs, but both were worth attending.  Some of the paintings he showed were from a series he jokingly called Dead Things on the Beach.  Many of these haven’t been published, and they were some of my favorites.  One that has been published is the cover of The Golden Rose, by Kathleen Bryan.  That’s it on the right.  You can see what the original painting looks like here.

Toastmaster Peter David did a great job on the opening ceremonies, throwing toast into the audience.  At least until a piece landed inside one of the large bowl light fixtures.

I made a run to Half Price Books later that night with a box of items, mostly duplicates from small presses that I’d gotten in some grab bag sales, but a few things my wife wanted to get rid of.  They offered me $30.  It was to laugh.  I thanked them, kept the books, and got considerably more (much more) than that in trade credit in the dealer’s room for about half of what I had in the box.  (Thanks Willie and Zane.)

When I got back to the hotel, I hung out in the hall outside the con suite and listened to astronaut Stanley G. Love tell what all he went through to get into the astronaut program.  There were some room parties that night which I visited, then went to bed. 

Finn and Simmons, Barbarians Brunching

I bounced around several panels Saturday morning, then at noon attended Brunch with Barbarians, a joint reading between Mark Finn and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly editor Adrian Simmons.  The pieces they read were good, and so was the spread. 

More panels and signing that afternoon, along with a nap and dinner with Finn and Simmons.  The panel on the future of space exploration was packed, with folks (including me) standing at the back.  Special guest Karl Schroeder moderated a great panel on what science will look like in the far future.  I missed a great deal of GoH C. J. Cherryh‘s address, but what I caught was fascinating.  She was speaking on how climate change has affected empires over the historical record.  I missed most of the events with the other guests.  I usually spend some time listening to the musical guests, but this year I was pretty much otherwise occupied.  (That’s one of the things I love most about Fencon, the music track.)

The maintenance people were working in the room across the hall from me and set off the fire alarms.  The entire convention evacuated long enough to get outside and come back in.

At 5:00 that afternoon, there were a launch party for a benefit CD in the con suite.  The CD is Cath, and the proceeds go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  It’s Celtic music, probably my favorite genre, and some of my favorite artists perform on it.  You can hear samples by clicking the above link.  Melissa Tatum did a great job of putting this one together.

That evening I mostly hung at parties and visited with friends.  I’m getting way too old to be staying up past midnight, I’m discovering.

(Large) mammals of action: me and Todd Caldwell

Sunday had another full slate.  Donato was supposed to do a live portraiture demonstration, but he had to leave early.  The two highlights of the day were the Phineas and Ferb panel (yes, yes I did attend) and the panel celebrating 80 years of Conan.  If you aren’t familiar with Phineas and Ferb, you’re missing out on some of the most intelligent and creative science fiction cartoons around, one that not only gets geek culture, but treats it respectfully.  If you don’t believe me, just watch the episode set in a science fiction convention.  Members of the panel and audience displayed great taste in fashion, as you can see in the picture.

The Conan panel was the last one I attended, with good and thought provoking discussion.  Mark Finn maintained that Conan was something of an anomaly in Howard’s work in that Conan was created for a specific market, namely Weird Tales.  He says that the way women were portrayed in most of the Conan stories (Belit and Valeria being exceptions) was intended to appeal to editor Farnsworth Wright and get on the cover (and thus get paid more).  As a counter-example of Howard portraying strong women, he and some of the other panelists pointed out “Sword Woman”.  That was a good way to end the convention.  Not wanting to leave, I reluctantly drove home.

It was a great convention.  I’m looking forward to next year, although I’m not sure how big the convention will be.  Worldcon will be held less than a month prior, and it will be in San Antonio. 

A Review of We Can Be Heroes by Scott Fitzgerald Gray

We Can Be Heroes
Scott Fitzgerald Gray
trade paper 306 p., $13.95
ebook $6.99 Kindle  Smashwords

I got an email a few months ago from a gentleman of whom I was not familiar, one Scott Fitzgerald Gray, who asked if I would mind reviewing his new YA novel.  He also requested a guest blog post.  His credentials were good (more on those in a moment), and I agreed.  Unfortunately Scott had some things come up and had to postpone the blog tour.  Hopefully that will happen soon.  He’d be welcome to write a guest post here anytime he likes.

Scott is a member of the Monumental Works Group, a collective of sf/fantasy writers that includes Ty Johnston.  (reviewed here, guest post here).  I’m familiar with Ty and his work, so I agreed to his request. After reading We Can Be Heroes, all I can say is, if Johnston and Gray are representative of the Monumental Works Group, I’m going to have to check the work of other members.  These guys can write.

I had a bazillion things going on while I read this book and wasn’t able to read it every day.  In fact, it took me two weeks to finish it, which is a looong time for me to finish a book of this length.  The fact that I didn’t get bored and move on to something else speaks to how compelling I found the writing. This review would probably fit better at Futures Past and Present, but this blog gets more traffic, so I’m going to post it here.

I was expecting a good book, but this one exceeded my expectations.  Here’s why:

The setup concerns a group of five high school students in Canada.  They live in an isolated little town in British Columbia, and they’re about a month away from graduating.  The previous year, the five of them won a national gaming competition.  Things haven’t gone well for all of them since then.  Gray reveals the backstory gradually, so I’ll not spoil anything for you.

The story is told by Scott, a flawed and not necessarily reliable narrator.  Gray gives him a unique voice, which was part of the appeal of book.  Scott writes essays for conspiracy theory websites.  He’s something of an amateur philosopher.  This is a good thing, because there are some pretty serious themes in the book.  The discussions Scott has within himself and with his friends add a level of gravitas to the book that’s usually found only in works for more mature readers. 

One of the members of the group gets an email invitation to beta test a new game, with a substantial cash prize to the first team to successfully complete the objectives and win the game.  The group signs on, Scott reluctantly.  Of course, the first thing they need to do is bring Molly back into the group.  She’s Scott’s estranged girlfriend.

Lest you think this is going to be one of those angst filled novels of unrequited teenage love, relax.  While there is some of that, Gray handles it well, never allowing it to overshadow the main story.  Instead he uses the relationships among the teens to develop their characters to a depth not always seen in YA novels and to strengthen the plot.

The plot of the game involves the group capturing an advanced mobile weapons platform, essentially a flying tank, from a secured facility without having any weapons, at least not initially.  Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there’s a lot more going on here than they realize.  By the time they finish the game they will be over their heads in a covert operation.

The pace is renlentless, the suspense intense at times, and the plot complex and twisting.  From a small town to s secret bunker to the streets of Vancouver, the reader is swept along a roller coaster ride, in more than one sense.

I mentioned earlier that the characterization shows a depth not often seen in YA novels.  Here’s a quote from near the end of the book as Scott reflects on what’s happened:

Sometimes there are no villains.  There are no heroes.  There are just people doing whatever people need to do to deal with the things life throws at them.

That’s a good description of almost everyone in the book.  Even the “villains” are (mostly) good.  They just have different ideas about the best way to deal with the situation.  Gray does an outstanding job of making his characters seem real.  Maybe it’s a side effect of not being able to finish the book in a couple of days as I usually can, but I hated to finish it.  I really liked these people.  The author made them seem real. 

This was a highly satisfying novel.  If you’ve ever been a gamer, enjoyed a thriller, or been in love, there will be something in this book for you. 

We Can Be Heroes is a featured book at Adventures Fantastic Books

Giveaway – James Enge’s This Crooked Way

Things appear as though they will settle down in the next day or so, and I can get a report on Fencon and a review posted.  In the meantime, I’ve started reading James Enge’s A Guile of Dragons.  This novel is being promoted as the origin story of Morlock Ambrosius and will be the next novel I review (after the one I need to write).  To tie in with my review, I’ll be giving away a copy of This Crooked Way, one of the earlier volumes in the Morlock series and a good introduction to the character. 

Here’s how things will work.  I thought about doing a simple random drawing from among the entrants, but where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I’m going to select the winner based on creativity.  Paul Cornell has called Enge’s work “Conan as written by Raymond Chandler”.  The giveaway takes off from that.

What fantasy author/famous nonfantasy or literary author mashup would you like to see?  (For this contest, William Shakespeare counts as a fantasy author.)  Specifically, what famous fantasy character would you like to see written by another author?

Got that?  Name a fantasy character you would like to see written by a nonfantasy or famous author and why.  The “why” is essential if you want to win.  I’m judging the entries on originality and creativity.  Your reasoning is where your creativity can really shine.

Place your answer in the comments.  You can enter up to three times, but each character must be entered separately.  Comments containing more than one entry will be disqualified.  Entries will be judged on creativity.  Contest closes at 11:59 p.m., CDT, Sunday, October 30.  Winner will be announced later that week in a blog post and asked to send me a private email with a shipping address.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.  Good luck and have fun!

Update:  More than one person who already has a copy of This Crooked Way has submitted an entry just for fun.  That’s great!  The more, the merrier.  Thanks, guys.

Beneath Ceasesless Skies is Having a Subscription Drive

One of the best online magazines of any genre, period, and a great source for adventure fantasy is Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  Right now they’re having a subscription drive.  A one-year subscription (26 issues, one every other week) is only $13.99.  The formats available are mobi, epub, pdf, and prc.  To sweeten the pot, when you subscribe during the drive, you will get a free copy of The Best of BCS, Year One or The Best of BCS, Year Two.  Your choice. That’s hard to beat.  I renewed my subscription tonight.

If you’re not familiar with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, you can find reviews here, here, here, here, here, and here

What’s Next

I’ve got almost all of the stuff out of the old house we didn’t have time to pack before we moved.  One more night (~1.5 hrs) should get the rest of it.  Then maybe I can get back to reading, writing, and blogging.  I’ve been reading a novel by Scott Fitzgerald Gray for about a week and a half, which is a long time for this novel.  It’s good, and I’m really enjoying it.  It’s just that I haven’t had much time to read lately, and when I do, my aging body betrays me by going to sleep in spite of my best efforts to finish one more chapter. 

I’m hoping to make it to Fencon this weekend.  It was looking like a done deal, but some things have come up.  I think I’ll still make it.  I really need the break.

Afterwards, I’ve got a novel to read that’s been sitting in the queue for way too long , followed by A Guile of Dragons by James Enge.  This one will have a giveaway associated with it.  After that, although not necessarily this order will be Hard Times in Dragon City by Matt Forbeck, Steel and Sorrow by Joshua P. Simon, and The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III.  I’ll also be weaving some anthologies and periodicals in the mix as well as a small backlog of titles from Angry Robot that I wasn’t able to read when I intended because of the move. 

All of this is tentative of course, but that’s the general plan.

Lawsuit Over Carnival of Souls

This is nuts.  There’s this guy named Jazan Wild who’s a comic creator.  Among his creations is a comic by the title Carnival of Souls.  A title which he has trademarked.  There’s also a fantasy novel title Carnival of Souls by a lady named Melissa Marr.  Mr. Wild is suing her publisher, Harper Collins for trademark infringement.  That’s trademark, not copyright. 

The really nutty thing is that he’s sending cease and desist letters to book bloggers who review the book.  Seems someone might be a bit too full of himself.  You can read the details here

Meanwhile, I may have to bump Carnival of Souls Ms. Marr’s book to the head of the review queue.  Not that I’m trying to stir up trouble or anything.  I would never do that.  Honest.

A Review of Brad Sinor’s Where the Shadows Began

Where the Shadows Began
Bradley H. Sinor
Merry Blacksmith Press
tp, 182 p., $13.95

I’d intended to run this review in conjunction with an interview I conducted with Brad and his wife Sue.  Unfortunately, Brad suffered a stroke about the time I finished transcribing the interview, so he hasn’t had a chance to check it for accuracy (there were a couple of places where the recording isn’t clear).  I have no intention of rushing him.  I’d much rather he focus on getting back on his feet.

In the meantime, I will run this review, partly as a show of support for Brad and partly because I try to find things I think the readers of this blog will enjoy.  And there’s plenty here to enjoy.

Bradley H. Sinor is mainly a writer of short stories.  This volume contains 15 selections, plus an afterward telling a little about how each story came to be written.  There’s a wide variety here, from Lovecraftian horror, to alternate history, to Arthurian vampires.

Rather than give a synopsis, even a one line synopsis, of each story, I’ll highlight some of my favorites.

 “The Adventure of the Other Detective” was one of the best, although I did have some issues with it.  In this tale, John Watson, M.D., finds himself in a parallel universe in which the master criminal Sherlock Holmes is pursued by the great detective Professor James Moriarty.  This one involves Jack the Ripper.  At one point we’re given the information that the Ripper was captured in July of 1888.  I’ve read quite a bit about the Ripper, and this threw me out of the story.  The Ripper murders took place in the autumn of that year.  But then I remembered that this was an alternate timeline, so they very well could have been committed earlier than in our timeline.  And I was back in the story.  This was one of the longer entries in the collection, and Sinor does a great job of capturing the voice of Watson. 

“When the Wind Sang”, Oaths”, Central Park”, and “Final Score” all involve the famous vampire Lancelot du Lac.  What’s that you say?  You didn’t know Lancelot was a vampire?  Well, now you know.  On the surface, that might sound like a mashup you don’t need, but I assure you, you do.  These stories take place throughout history, from shortly after the fall of Camelot in the first tale to a ren faire in contemporary Norman, Oklahoma.  Lancelot is an interesting character who hasn’t managed to get Guinevere out of his system.  Not surprising since she’s the reason he’s a vampire.  We get enough of the back story through these tales to whet our appetites and make us want to know more.  In “When the Winds Sang”, Lancelot returns to Camelot not long after its fall to discover there’s another knight impersonating him.  In “Oaths” he meets a serving girl who is the spitting image of his lost love.  Merlin reminds Lance that even the smallest of deeds can carry on the principles of Camelot in “Central Park”.  Lastly, Lance hunts down a serial killer at a renaissance festival in “Final Score”. 

“John Doe #12” takes place contemporaneously with “Final Score”, although the characters and killer are completely different.  This one has series potential, and I’d like to see more of the characters.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  There are fairy tale mashups.  Several of the stories take place in theaters, both the live and the film kind.  There are ghosts and superheroes.

There is one thing all the tales in this book share.  They’re entertaining.  Make that two things.  They’re also fun.  If you haven’t read Sinor, Where the Shadows Began is a great place to start.