Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Rest of the Year

Happy Halloween.  I’d hoped to post a few more mini-reviews of Cemetery Dance’s 13 Days of Halloween, but you know what they say about the best laid plans.

And speaking of plans, I thought I’d lay out my plans for the rest of the year.  I’m in the middle of David Tallerman’s Crown Thief, having passed the halfway point last night.  After that it will probably be Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III.  I’ve got several Angry Robot eARCs I’d downloaded in the summer before I realized I’d be moving.  I’m going to try to get to them, but not before I’ve read The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins.  I’ve got several anthologies and a Pathfinder novel an agent sent me, plus a handful of other books I’ve agreed to review.  More than enough to keep me busy.  I’ll be traveling for work in a couple of weeks, just a quick trip to Houston and back, so I should be able to get plenty of reading done on the plane and during my layover in Dallas.

That’s on top of the things I’ve bought just because they’re what I want to read, not because someone asked me to.  Or to put it another way, I’m not going to be accepting any new books to review until after the first of next year, with one or two exceptions.  If I’ve promised to review your book, I will.  I won’t guarantee a date the review will go up, but I will get to it as soon as I can.

Also, I’ve decided not to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.  I want to ramp up my own fiction writing, and things are starting to settle into a enough of a routine that I think I can.  I doubt I can hit the 50k mark for NaNoWriMo and still meet some other obligations, but I am trying to get some things finished. 

The deciding factor for not doing NaNoWriMo was a Seekret Project I’ve become involved with.  I’m not at liberty to discuss it yet, but I can say it will involve a number of other people and be fairly high profile.  I’ll post an announcement when I get the green light.  That should be within the next few weeks.

Anyway, that’s how things are shaping up for the rest of the year and probably into next year.

Another Halloween Treat

A Little Halloween Talk
Joe R. Lansdale
Cemetery Dance
ebook, $0.99

Here’s another little treat from Cemetery Dance’s 13 Days of Halloween.  It’s not one you want to share with the kiddies.

This one concerns a tryst in a graveyard that goes horribly wrong with the lady’s man interrupts her with his best friend.

I won’t give any more details away.  If you’ve ever read Lansdale, you know he can write in some of the most compelling voices in modern fiction.  This story is no exception.  The narrator tells his story in a laid back style that you know from the first page isn’t going to end well.  The reader is pulled in by his down home drawl.  Even though I was reading, not listening to an audiobook, I could still hear the guy’s voice as I read.

The plot is something out of EC Comics, something that should come as no surprise if you’ve read Lansdale.  This is a good thing, in case you were wondering.  I’ve read four or five of these Halloween shorts, and this one is easily my favorite so far.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

A Halloween Treat

Bill Pronizini
Cemetery Dance
various ebpub editions , $0.99

Cemetery Dance has been publishing Halloween themed short stories on weekdays for the last couple of weeks and will continue to do so until Halloween.  It’s part of a promotion called 13 Days of Halloween. I’ll be taking a look at some of them, randomly selected.

These are all short stories, so I won’t go into too much detail.  In this one, Amanda Sutter and her husband run a pumpkin farm in California.  One day one of the field hands discovers that there’s something wrong with one of the pumpkins…

Pronzini is one of my favorites.  While he’s never to my knowledge written any heroic fantasy, he does occasionally venture from the mystery/crime fields to dip his toes in the waters of dark fantasy and horror.  I wish he would more often.  Although I have to admit that Pronzini is one of those writers whose work I would read regardless of genre.  In my opinion he’s that good.

This story isn’t his most gripping, but it’s still worth a read, especially the last page or two.  Pronzini isn’t one to go for the gross-out.  Instead, he prefers the quiet buildup.  And he’s good with the twist at the end.  This story fits that bill quite well.

It’s short, only about 10 pages long, but worth the price.  If you’re in the mood for a Halloween treat with a little trick at the end, check it out.

Everything Old is Still Old

My head is still reeling from the announcement that Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to revise his role as Conan.  Al Harron has covered this more eloquently than I can, so I’ll defer you to his remarks

Instead, I want to take a slightly different approach and say this:  Really, Hollywood?  Really?  This is the best you can do?  Trot out an actor who is too old for the role, to play a character who was never anywhere near that old in any of the stories Howard wrote.

What you have here, ladies and gentlemen, aliens and Old Ones, is a perfect case of why box office reciets in general are dropping.  Hollywood can’t do anything but recycle itself.  A more appropriate metaphor would probably be breed with itself.  We all know what sort of thing results from that, which is a good description of what Hollywood tends to churn out rather than coming up with something original.

At least take a fresh script (preferably written by someone who will be faithful to more than the “spirit” of Howard’s most famous creation) and keep Jason Mamoa.  He fits the description of Conan much better than the Governator does.

I suppose that’s too much to hope for, as is this being a sick (and scary, very scary) Halloween joke.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go burn incense to the gods of Development Hell.  Much incense.

The Next Big Thing Blog Chain

I was chained to this by David J. West, author of Heroes of the Fallen and numerous short stories, including one in the forthcoming Space Eldritch.

What is the working title of your book?

I’m not actively working on any novels at the moment, although I have a couple in different degrees of completion I hope to finish/polish after the first of the year.  In addition to some stand-alone short stories (science fiction and fantasy), there are two series I’m working on, both fantasy.  The epic fantasy series doesn’t have a working title at the moment.  The sword and sorcery series is The Chronicles of Roderik and Prince Balthar.  That’s the one getting most of my attention right now.

Where did the idea come from for the book series?

I don’t recall what gave me the initial idea for the characters.  There was a comment on the Black Gate blog a couple of years ago in a post about a fantasy magazine that shall remain unnamed.  The magazine had folded, and in one of the comments, someone said this particular publication didn’t have enough tomb robbing heroes.  Now I really enjoy a good tomb robbing.  Somehow I came up with the idea of a prince and his squire who were into a little cemetery burglary.  The only reason they would do this (that I could think of) was the prince is under a curse to murder his father, something he desperately wants to avoid doing.  So he and his squire are voluntarily exiled from their home until curse can be broken.  The court sorcerer is trying to find a way to break the curse, and it often involves having our heroes liberate certain items from their eternal resting places, usually at great risk to themselves.  The stories are written from the squire Rodrik’s point of view, and all of the ones I’ve worked on so far start with the words “The Chronicle of” in the title.  Rogue Blades Entertainment was accepting some submissions about this time, and I wrote the first story in the series.  Jason Waltz liked it enough to buy it for the Assassins anthology.  I’ve placed a second story in the series with him, and I’ve got four more I need to finish, plus a two more to plot and write.

What genre does the series fall under?

Sword and sorcery, definitely.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

 I have no idea.  I see so few movies these days, I’m not familiar with many of the younger actors.  The characters are both young men, so most of the actors I’m familiar with are too old for those roles.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your series?

An exiled prince and his faithful squire travel their world seeking to break a family curse while there’s still time.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published.  I’m not convinced agents bring enough value to the table in the current publishing climate to justify 15% of the earnings for the number of years they want to receive commissions.  Since everything I’ve written in this series so far is either short story or novelette length, I will try to place them in top markets.  If I’m not able to, I’ll put them up myself.  And of course, I’ll collect them and publish them in bundles.

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first story took a couple of weeks working in the evenings when I didn’t have other commitments.  The others have been stop and go, except for the second I finished.  It’s been accepted, although I have no idea when it will see print.  That one had a deadline and took a week or two once I got past a couple of false starts.  The others are longer, so they’ve been start and stop affairs.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Who or what inspired you to write this series?

This may be cheating, but I’m going to combine the answers to the two previous questions since the works to which I would compare these stories are also some of the main inspirations.  First, I’m a huge fan of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborean Age.  I love how he mixed and matched different historical periods in an imaginary fantasy setting.  I also love how the stories are mostly episodic in nature and for the most part can be read in any order.  The setting of The Chronicles draws a lot on that template, although the world isn’t a carbon copy of the Hyborean Age.  On the other hand, there have been so many imitations that I didn’t want to create another Clonan.  I wanted a civilized hero or heroes who were forced to act at times in, if not uncivilized ways, at least ways that wouldn’t meet with civilization’s approval.  There’s probably a little Fafherd and the Grey Mouser in the inspiration somewhere, although I’ve not read that series in years, and there are more F&GM stories I haven’t read yet than there are ones I have.  I also try to read across multiple genres, so you can see the influence of Arthur Conan Doyle in the structure.  Roderik is Watson to Balthar’s Holmes, in that Balthar is supposedly the hero whose exploits are detailed by his faithful companion.

What else about your book series might pique your readers’ interest?

This series is intended to be fun.  I’ve griped at times about how many authors seem to be writing with a political or social agenda, at least judging by their blogs and tweets.  While I certainly don’t begrudge these authors their right to say whatever they like in their works, I maintain that the primary purpose of fiction is to tell an entertaining story, not convert me to your way of thinking.  With that in mind, I want to write some things that people will enjoy reading, hopefully to the point they want to read more. 

I’m also using this series as an opportunity to challenge and stretch myself as a fiction writer.  It would be very easy to get stuck in a rut and write formula stories, so I’m trying to do something different with each installment or to work on some technique.  For instance, the story I’m trying to finish in time to submit to a market by the end of the year focuses entirely on Roderik.  He and Balthar are in serious trouble, and Balthar has been taken out of commission.  Getting them out alive is all on Rodrik’s shoulders.  He doesn’t have much to work with or much time, either.  There’s also a market coming open after the first of the year  The story I’ve got in mind for it isn’t told by Roderik (or Balthar), although he and Balthar are central to everything that happens.

Now I have to chain people to this thing, so…I’m going to I’m going to list several authors whose work I enjoy and want to read more of:

Joshua P. Simon
Ty Johnston
J. M Martin
Mark Finn

Haunted by the Bone Tree

The Bone Tree
Christopher Fulbright
Bad Moon Books
trade paper, 99 p, $17.95
ebook, $3.99 Kindle Nook 

This novella, short though it is, is one of the best ghost stories I’ve read in quite a while.  It’s also a good coming of age story.   Set in a small town south of Dallas in 1978, it’s the story of two friends, one white, one black, who discover that there are worse things hunting in the night than the difficulties they face by day.

Kevin, the narrator, is best friends with Bobby.  This is a good thing, although it’s not always easy.  Bobby’s skin is the wrong color in this small town, and to make matters worse, his father died a few years ago.  Bobby’s mother struggles to make ends meet.

The boys find solace in their tree house, which looks down on a creek.  One afternoon, while sharing comics, they see a younger boy, Tommy, being chased down the creek.  What’s chasing him is something out of a nightmare.  At least that’s what Tommy claims.  They decide to walk Tommy home, past the old cemetery and around a white, dead tree they call the bone tree.  On the way home, they discover that Tommy was not only telling the truth, but that he didn’t know the whole truth.

Kevin and Bobby learn that no good deed goes unpunished, but Kevin grows to realize that just because that’s true doesn’t mean you should back down in the face of evil, whether that evil is a racist bully or something far worse from the other side of the grave.

Fulbright has been steadily building a body of work in the horror and dark fantasy fields for a number of years now.  I should also mention in the interests of full disclosure that he and his wife Angeline Hawkes (author of Out of the Garden, reviewed here) have been friends of mine for a number of years. I’m not giving him a good review because he’s my friend, however.  This book is that good.

In addition to having some genuinely creepy chills, such as when Bobby hears a tapping at his window and his dead father’s voice calls to him, there are moments that are truly moving, like when Kevin’s father tells him he did the right thing by standing up and fighting a bully.

Fulbright captures the time and place perfectly.  I was about the same age as Kevin in 1978, living in north Texas and attending a racially divided school, and there were places in the story where the writing took me back.  In fact there was only one fault I could find.  Kevin mentions watching Battlestar Galactica after having gone to school earlier in the day.  This threw me out of the story a bit because Battlestar Galactica aired on Sunday nights.  (Don’t ask how I remember this.)

The Bone Tree is a perfect Halloween story.  The price for the trade paperback is a little steep, but the ebook is a bargain.  It can be yours in seconds with just a few clicks.  This one I highly recommend.

A Visit to Orangefield on Hallow’s Eve

Hallow’s Eve
Al Sarrantonio
mass market paperback, Leisure, 2004
Kindle edition $3.99

Al Sarrantonio’s work had been favorably compared to that of Ray Bradbury.  I suspect part (but not all) of the reason is that like Bradbury, much of Sarrantonio’s work deals with October in general and Halloween in particular.

And a great deal of that work is set in the fictional town of Orangefield, self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World.  Hallow’s Eve is the second volume of a trilogy.  The first volume, Orangefield, was published as limited edition by a small press, and as far as I know, never had a mass market edition. 

You don’t need to have read that volume to enjoy this one, however.  I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the story, although I knew enough about the events in that novel and previous short stories to recognize some of the references. 

Frankly, there wasn’t that much to keep track of.  The plot is pretty simple, and some of the subplots obviously carry over from what came before.  Corrie Phaeder has returned home to Orangefield after a dozen years away.  As a boy, his dreams invaded his waking world, and things would change without warning.  When he left, his mother had recently been murdered, and he had been the prime suspect, at least in the eyes of police detective Grant.  Before everything is over, Grant, along with a neighbor girl, will become Phaeder’s ally in a battle against Samhain, the Lord of Death.

This isn’t the best horror novel I’ve ever read.  The events that brought Phaeder back to Orangefield are lightly sketched, so that his homecoming feels somewhat contrived.  I didn’t find much about it that was scary, although the scene towards the end where the pumpkin men attack Grant in a deserted farmhouse while he’s trying to protect Phaeder and the girl was great. 

What does work is the atmosphere.  Sarrantonio does an excellent job of setting the mood, and Orangefield sounds like a nice place to live if it weren’t for the Lord of Death constantly stirring things up.  The book was by turns creepy, pastoral, and mildly suspenseful, but never really scary.

This is the only novel of Sarrantonio’s I’ve read, and based on this reading, I would say his strength lies more at short lengths than with the novel.  There’s a final volume in this series, Halloweenland, in which a carnival arrives in Orangefield.  Frankly, that trope appeals more to me than the walking scarecrow and the pumpkin men from Hallow’s Eve, although I do enjoy a good ambulatory scarecrow.  I might read it before Halloween, but given the way the last few weeks have gone, I’ll probably save it for next year.

Hallow’s Eve isn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be.  Still, it was a pleasant way to pass a few hours and is quite appropriate to the season.

Steel and Sorrow Delivers

Steel and Sorrow:  Book Two of the Blood and Tears Trilogy
Joshua P. Simon
Trade Paper, $14.95
ebook $3.99 Kindle Nook Smashwords

Joshua P. Simon set himself a high standard with his premier novel, Rise and Fall (reviewed here).  He maintains that high standard in his second novel.

I’m going to avoid giving too many details about the story so that I don’t give away either of the twists at the end of the previous book.  (They were great twists, too.)  The story takes place the next year.  The civil war in Cadonia continues, with rebel nobles trying to wrest the throne from Queen Elyse.  The Hell Patrol and a few loyal nobles are all that stand between her and the traitors, but the mercenaries have their own wounds to deal with, not all of them physical.  On the continent of Hesh, Tobin continues his war of conquest, unaware that a beautiful snake shares his bed.

There’s plenty of intrigue and and betrayal.  The battle scenes, and there are several, are complex and exciting.  Simon has his soldiers do more than use their swords.  The Hell Patrol fights with their brains as much as they do with their bodies.  You can smell the blood, hear the screams, and taste the fear.

I appreciate the addition of maps.  It helped visualize the geography, which I had gotten wrong on a number of points.  The cover art continues to be stark and effective.

The characters grow more complex, and if you’ve read the first book, you know Simon won’t hesitate to kill off major characters, and not always on the battlefield.  This adds a level of suspense you don’t always find in this type of novel.  Their relationships avoid many of the cliches you find in some fantasy novels.  I don’t remember character names well, and I usually have to reacquaint myself with who’s who when I read the second volume of a series, and sometimes when I read the third and fourth.  The characters are individuals here, and I had to do very little of that.

Second volumes of trilogies have the reputation of often being filler between the setup in the first volume and the conclusion in the third.  That’s not the case here.  There is a definite story arc that spans the trilogy, but there are plot lines in this book that are wrapped up nicely.  There are still plenty of unanswered questions, though.  Such as where is Lord Illyan getting his information and why won’t he reveal his source to Elyse?  (I have no idea.)  What was Arine trying to tell Elyse about what was happening at home during the final battle?  (I suspect Gauge has staged a coup, but I could be wrong.  He is my favorite suspect for having sent…never mind.)  And I think Krytien will turn out to be the most powerful mage in years.  I better stop speculating.  Don’t want to give something away unintentionally.

I will say this.  I like this series.  I like it a lot.  Joshua Simon writes solid military fantasy.  If you like the Black Company, you should check it out.  Steel and Sorrow is a featured book at Adventures Fantastic Books.

A Couple of Halloween Themed Anthologies

Paula Guran, ed.
Prime Books
trade paper, 480 p., $14.95
ebook, $6.99 Kindle, Nook

This one came out last year, and I’ve only read a few of the stories in it.  Nor do I plan to read all of them, at least not this year.  I’ll take my time with this one and spread it out over several years.  In other words, this is more of an FYI post than a full-on review.  However, I’ve been impressed enough by the contents so far to feel I should bring this one to your attention.

First of all, this is a reprint anthology, and there is one difference between the print and electronic editions.  That’s the inclusion of Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Game”, which isn’t in the electronic edition.  Now if you recall, I have a very high regard for Bradbury, but I wish he hadn’t been so stubborn about electronic rights. “The Halloween Game” is a story that deserves to be in this book.

Even without Bradbury’s contribution, the table of contents is impressive.  The stories I’ve read include “Night Out” by Tina Rath and “On a Dark October” by Joe Lansdale.  Both are worth the read.  I”ll dip into this one again, at least to reread “Hornets” by Al Sarrantonio, which takes place in his fictional town of Orangefield.  I’ve just started reading one of the Orangefield novels, and it makes reference to the events in “Hornets”.

October Dreams
Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish, ed.
trade paper, 656 p., oop, various prices second hand

This one came out ten years ago (I think there was an earlier limited edition), and it’s been almost that long since I read it.  It contains a mix of memoir, reprint, and what at the time was new.  I don’t remember all of the stories well enough to try to do a full review, but this is one anthology I intend to revisit, something that doesn’t happen with much of what I read.  I probably won’t get to it this year since the library is still in a state of disarray since the move, but I recommend this book if you come across a copy or want to order it online.   It’s got some great stories in it.  Like Halloween, this is another anthology that’s perfect for dipping into on a evening when there’s a nip in the air and you’re not sure if the sound you hear is a branch scraping against the window in the wind or something else.

Burroughs’ Respone to Ackerman

I became aware of an interesting thing on the web today, although it’s been up for about a year and a half.  It came across my Twitter feed, and now I can’t find who sent it.  Apologies for lack of acknowledgement.  Anyway, this link is to a site showing correspondence between Edgar Rice Burroughs and a 14 year of fan named Forrest J. Ackerman.  (Yes, that Forrest J. Ackerman.)  I think Burroughs hits the nail on the head in his reply to Ackerman’s letter.  Especially when he says

No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature, of its kind. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature

There’s a reason Burroughs is still read after 100 years and so many bestsellers are forgotten.  Too many people, in academia or with agendas to promote, seem to have forgotten that.