Monthly Archives: January 2014

Turning Down the Lights

Turn Down the LightsTurn Down the Lights
Richard Chizmar, ed.
Cemetery Dance
trade hardcover $35
slipcased artist edition $75
traycased limited edition $750

Cemetery Dance has long been one of the major players in the horror and dark suspense fields. That’s true for the magazine and the publishing house. The first issue of the magazine Cemetery Dance was published just over 35 years ago.

To celebrate, Richard Chizmar has put together this little volume. It’s a great introduction to the type of thing you’ll find in the magazine as well as among the titles in their catalog.

In addition to an introduction by Chizmar and an afterward by Thomas Monteleone, there are stories by Stephen King, Norman Partridge, Jack Ketchum, Brian James Freeman, Bentley Little, Ed Gorman, Ronald Kelly, Steve Rasnic Tem, Clive Barker, and Peter Straub.

Some of the top names in the field. May favorite stories were by King, Freeman, Little, and Gorman. All of them were well-written. Not all of the stories are supernatural. The Gorman and Freeman entries especially dealt with more mundane terrors. In fact these two were some of the best short fiction I’ve read in the horror field.

There’s not a bad story in the book, and there’s something here for every taste.  This is the type of book Cemetery Dance excels at.  With Turn Down the Lights they’ve met and surpassed their own standards.

Adventures Fantastic would like to congratulate Cemetery Dance on 35 years of publishing some of the best dark fiction to be had and wish them another 35 years. If you haven’t read them, check them out.

Answer the Call to Battle

SIX Call to Battle_Cover_0Called to Battle, vol. 1
No editor credited
Privateer Press
Skull Island Expeditions
electronic $4.99

The Iron Kingdoms is fast becoming one of my favorite fantasy worlds. Eschewing the traditional medieval milieu for a steam-powered industrial setting, The Iron Kingdoms is a fresh take on military fantasy. This collection of four novellas is a good example why that is. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, C. L. Moore

C L Moore chin on handWhile it’s not quite January 24 where I am just yet, it is a few times zones east of here, and that’s good enough for me.  Especially since tomorrow is going to be a pretty full day.

Fantasy and science fiction author C. L. Moore was born this day in 1911.  After her marriage, her writing was overshadowed by that of her husband Henry Kuttner.  This was in part because Kuttner’s byline got a higher word rate that hers.

Even so, Moore had a major impact on the field.  Her Jirel of Joiry was one of the first women fighters in the field of sword and sorcery, a direct forerunner of Red Sonja.  And Northwest Smith was clearly one of the models for Han Solo.

I started a series of posts last year taking an in-depth look at the Northwest Smith stories.  I stopped when I got to “Nymph of Darkness”.  This was co-written with Forrest J. Ackerman.  I have a book in which Ackerman discusses the story.  Unfortunately, it was not on  the shelf.  I finally found the book in a box that hadn’t been unpacked from when we moved in 2012.  Look for more Northwest Smith posts soon.

Decades Years ago, when I was in college, I saw an autograph book that contained pictures of science fiction and fantasy writers, one per page.  The page for C. L. Moore had a picture of her sitting on what appeared to be the back steps of a house.  I’ve not seen that picture since.  It doesn’t appear to be online anywhere.  If anyone has a copy of that picture, I would appreciate your sending it to me.

For those who are interested, as well as the morbidly curious, here are the Northwest Smith posts I’ve done so far:

“Black Thirst”
“Scarlet Dream”
“Dust of Gods”


Happy Birthday, Robert E. Howard

220px-Robert_E_Howard_suitToday is the birthday of one of my literary heroes, and one of only a handful of authors who has his own shelf in my library.  In fact, he’s the only one who has two full shelves devoted to his works.  I’m talking of course about Robert E. Howard.  You may think there’s not much still to be learned about Howard.  If you read the Two Gun Raconteur blog (and if you don’t, shame on you), then you know productive research into Howard’s life is still going on.

I said in my reading goals post a few weeks ago that I want to read more Howard this year.  His birthday is a perfect time to start.

The Next Few Days, Plus a Kickstarter of Interest

Classes start today; I’ve got one from11:00 – 1:50.  On top of that, my wife is having shoulder surgery tomorrow morning.  Nothing big, i.e., not a rotator cuff, but I’ll be tied up with that and won’t be at work.  Depending on how long her parents stay and if her painkillers are working, I may or may not be at work on Friday.  (It hey are here and the drugs aren’t working, I’m coming in to work.)  Anyway, I might not be very active online until next week.

Farewell-200x300In the meantime, there’s a new Kickstarter readers of this blog might be interested in.  It’s called, Farewell, Something Lovely.  The title is a play on Raymond Chandler’s novel, Farewell, My Lovely.  It’s a collection of hardboiled sword and sorcery tales by Fraser Ronald.  Since S&S and hardboiled/noir are two of my three favorite subgenres, I’m looking forward to this one.

And if you haven’t been following the discussion at Howard Andrew Jones’ blog on the relationship between hardboiled and sword and sorcery, start here.

RIP Neal Barrett, Jr.

Neal-Barrett-JrBlack Gate is reporting that Neal Barrett, Jr. has passed away.  Barrett was born on November 3, 1929 and died Sunday, January 12, 2014 at the age of 84.

Neal had a unique voice and was one of the most under appreciated writers in the field.  While I never knew him well, I had the privilege of meeting him at a number of Texas conventions, such as Armadillocon and AggieCon.  I can still remember his GoH speech from Armadillocon 14 (1992).  Neal’s sense of humor was on full display.

While not prolific, Neal Barrett never stopped writing.  He was always willing to share a kind word and a signature whenever I asked for one.  Subterranean Press recently published the massive retrospective Other Seasons.  It’s still available and contains Barrett’s most acclaimed short fiction.  I’ll be spending some time in that volume tonight to honor his memory.  I also want to track down the rest of his Aldair series.  I’ve got the first and last volumes, but I haven’t read them because they’re signed.  I’m going to look for the complete set online.Other_Seasons_by_Neal_Barrett_Jr_200_296

Another series that I thought was great was the Finn the Lizard Master series, consisting of The Prophecy Machine and The Treachery of Kings.  Great fantasy that’s not really like anything else.

It’s unfortunate that we’ve lost another unique voice in the field.  Jack Vance passed last year.  It seems everything on the shelves these days looks pretty much like everything else.  I’m grateful to small presses such as Subterranean and Haffner, which have kept these authors in print.  Hopefully Barrett will be discovered by new readers through their efforts.

I know first hand that Neal was loved and respected in the Texas sff community.  Several of his friends spoke of him often and always fondly.  He will be missed.  Scott, Willie, Chuck, Bill, James, Joe, I’m sorry for your loss.

An Atomic Love Story

Apocalyptic MontessaApocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu
Mercedes M. Yardley
Ragnarok Publications
trade paper $7.99
ebook $2.99 Kindle Nook

This isn’t your typical romance. Actually, according to every romance writer I’ve heard or read, the story must have a happy ending, one in which the hero and heroine come together against all obstacles. I don’t think the ending of this one is really very happy. Only inevitable.

But then most heroines aren’t capable of reading minds, nor are they telekinetic. And most heroes aren’t pyrotic, nor do they lead the heroine into a life of serial killing.

On the other hand, they do come together against all obstacles. I mean, if the hero kidnaps the heroine for the purpose of killing her, probably in some brutal fashion, that would qualify as an obstacle, wouldn’t it? I would think such a thing would make it hard for the couple realize they’re soul mates. Wouldn’t you?

But they do come together, and they do turn out to be soul mates. Of course, given the things that form the foundations of their relationship, abused as children, alone or worse as adults, serial killing, the conclusion of such a relationship probably wouldn’t fit a romance writer’s definition of true romance.

Yardley is not an author whose work I’d read previously, but she’s definitely an author to watch. While I found this novel disturbing, I also found it powerful. Here’s an example of what I mean. Montessa has been working as a stripper and living with her boyfriend, the poster child for dirtbags, except to say that is to insult dirtbags everywhere. She is kidnapped by Lu, and she’s reflecting on her life in the face of what she believes will be certain death: “Because it was easier to be with a man who wanted to murder her, and would appreciate it, than be with a man who would only beat her to death.”

That’s powerful stuff, and it’s powerful not only because it’s disturbing, but there’s a good chance that at some point in your life, you’ve probably known someone whom that sentence describes. They may not have verbalized it, and in fact would probably have denied it, but you could tell from the choices they made that the sentence I quoted pretty much summed up their life.

Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu won’t be for everyone. But if you can handle the dark subject matter, you might be surprised at how sympathetic both characters turn out to be and how powerful the novel is.

I’d like to thank Nick Sharps at Ragnarok Books for the review copy. I read the epub version. There was no problem with any of the formatting. This was a professional job, and Ragnarok is a small press to watch.

Happy Birthday, J. R. R. Tolkien

TolkienJ. R. R. Tolkien was born this day in 1892.  He needs no introduction to the readers of this blog.  As Charles Rutledge says in his tribute, the world of fantasy today would be a smaller and poorer place with him and his works.  He’s correct.

I read somewhere years ago that most, if not all, fantasy written after the 1960s (I’m paraphrasing quite a bit here since I don’t recall the source) was either an imitation of or a reaction against The Lord of the Rings.  While that the extent to which that statement is true might be arguable, what can’t be argued is that Tolkien’s shadow still looms large over the field today, and not just fantasy but literature in general.

I saw The Desolation of Smaug over the Christmas holidays.  I”ll save my comments on the film for another time, save for this.  Watching the movie reminded me why I began to read fantasy in earnest.  I’d been reading science fiction for a few years when I read The Lord of the Rings in high school.  My mind was blown, and I haven’t been the same since.

I last read Tolkien when the LotR films came out.  It’s time to plan a rereading sometime this year.  My life has been richer because of Professor Tolkien’s works.  It’s time revisit them.

Here’s a little something from last year honoring Tolkien I couldn’t resist adding:

Tolkein birthday

Reading Plans for 2014

This post is a continuation of the thoughts expressed in the previous one.  If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to just to understand the context.  Here I’m going to discuss my reading plans for the year.  They’re going to be a bit different than they’ve been.

I don’t make resolutions, but I do believe in setting goals, whether I reach any of them or not.  I know from experience if I don’t set some sort of a goal, then I won’t get anything accomplished.  Think of this post as a series of goals, goals that are flexible and highly subject to change. Continue reading

Plans for 2014

New YearHappy New Year!

Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize some of you were still hung over. Is this better?

No, now those of you in the cheap seats in the back can’t hear. Geez, there’s just no pleasing some people.

(I was going to write the preceding in different font sizes, but it seems I can only do that if I edit the HTML code. More of a learning curve than I’m interested in today. So much for being creative and clever.)

Anyway, Happy New Year. And to everyone who sent me a tweet thanking me for including them in my list of the best books of 2013, you’re quite welcome.

In this post, I thought I’d outline some goals for the coming year. Continue reading