Category Archives: Charles Gramlich

2013: An Assessment – Individual Authors and Titles

This is the second part of my assessment of 2013.  The first looked at publishers.  Here I’ll feature some authors and/or individual titles that I thought were standouts.  Links for books will be to my reviews (the reviews will have links to buy if you’re interested.)  Since I’ve been doing a weekly post at Amazing Stories, with only one week missed, I’ll be including some of the titles I reviewed there in this list.

As with the publishers, these are in alphabetical order.  I’m probably overlooking someone or a particular book.  I apologize in advance.  This list consists of titles and authors I read in 2013 and isn’t intended to be inclusive.  Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.  Again, I’m including mystery, crime, and science fiction as well as fantasy. Continue reading

Spring is in the Air

The weather is turning warmer; the trees are starting to bud; the wind is beginning to blow and bringing lots of dust with it.  I just want to go outside and enjoy with weather.  And a good book, of course.

Unfortunately, it being the time of spring that it is, or rather the point in the semester it is, I’m buried under a mountain of exams, approximately 150 of them, give or take a few.  So I’m not going to be able to read, write, or blog much.  At least not until the end of the week.  To tide you over, head over to Amazing Stories (TM) and check out my review of Under the Ember Star by Charles Gramlich.  If you like Leigh Brackett, this book should appeal to you.

Spring Break starts at the end of the week, and I intend to do some catching up then.  Until then, back to grading.

And the Winner Is…

This one was tough.  There were some good  excellent entries in my Giveaway Contest for a copy of James Enge’s This Crooked Way.  I understand now why so many people do random selections to determine the winners in these types of things.  Everyone who entered is to be commended  for their imagination.

And the winner is…Charles Gramlich.  I wrestled with this for quite a while, but in the end, Charles won out on the basis of the detail of his entry. Charles please send me an email with a mailing address, and I’ll get the book to you right away.

All of the entries were outstanding, and this was a tough decision for me to make.  Which is as it should be.

Thank you, everyone, who entered.  And again, my apologies for the typo and confusion over the end date, especially to Martin Holm, who missed the deadline because he was traveling.  He knowingly put in a great entry after the contest closed, and I appreciate his taking part.

Long Looks at Short Fiction: "Amarante" by Scott Oden

Scott Oden
ebook $0.99 Kindle Nook

Scott Oden is an outstanding writer of historical adventure fiction and fantasy.  I’ll be looking at his novels over the coming months. For now, though, I want to take a look at this short piece, a tale of orcs.  I’ve reviewed several stories about orcs in the last few months, one by Charles Gramlich and three different stories by Tom Doolan

This latest is probably the darkest of the lot, which is by no means a bad thing.  It concerns a punitive raid on a temple.  The leader of the orcs is Kraibag, Captain of the 10th Zhrokari Brigade.  They’ve finished destroying the temple for spreading sedition.  Kraibag is about to kill the surviving priestess when he’s stopped by Muzgaash, a Witch Hound.  Witch Hounds can sense magic, and he warns Kraibag of sorcery. 

He’s right.  It’s only minutes later that everything erupts as the priestess uses herself as a blood sacrifice.  What ensues is an attempt by the surviving orcs (Kraibag and Muzgaash) to track down the priestess responsible for setting up the spell enabling the first priestess to sacrifice herself and to prevent a prophesied child messiah from arising to destroy them.

There’s plenty of action and excitement in this one, and the sorcery is good and creepy.  Oden writes conflict well, and the pacing carried me along.  This is more than just a story of good guys versus bad guys. It’s more like bad guys versus bad guys.  It’s hard to say who is more vile here, the orcs or the priestess Amarante.  One of the things that impressed me about this story was how Oden took traditional villains, the orcs, and without changing them or making them nice in any way, made them sympathetic.  Initially my sympathies were with the humans, but as I saw the lengths they were willing to which they were willing to go to defeat the orcs, that changed.  The end does not always justify the means.

Another thing I liked was that this story didn’t take place in a vacuum.  There’s a history that informs all the events.  Oden refrains from infodumping it all on you.  Instead, he lets you have enough information when you need it to understand the contexts of the things the characters say and do.  I especially liked Kraibag’s reaction to the ghosts when he passes through an old battleground.  This approach made me want to read more stories set in this world.

Scott Oden has had a tough year.  I’ll not go into any details because it’s not my place to do so.  If this sounds like a story you’d enjoy, show him your support by buying and reading “Aramante” and then telling a friend about it.  I’m hoping he’ll post something else soon.  Like maybe that historical piece featuring Richelieu he was working on last year.

Long Looks at Short Fiction: Harvest of War by Charles Allen Gramlich

“Harvest of War”
Charles Allen Gramlich
Razored Zen Press, 0.99

In the afterward to this story, the author mentions that it was written for an anthology about orcs Scott Oden was putting together which unfortunately didn’t work out.   That’s a shame, because if the other stories were as good as this one, we’ve missed out on some fine reading.

The point of the anthology was to present orcs as more three dimensional than what we see in Tolkien.  Gramlich succeeds.  This is a moving and intelligent tale.  Because it’s a short story, I’m not going to discuss the plot much, but I will tell you why I liked it. 

Khales is the sole survivor of a battle between orcs and humans.  Wounded and taken captive, he’s imprisoned in a cage.  It’s been said that there are only a small number of plots but an infinite number of ways to execute them.  Parts of what happens after Khales is taken captive are not hard to guess.  It’s how Gramlich handles the events that propel the story.  That, and the ecological role the orcs play.  This was something I’ve not seen other writers deal with, and as I read the story, I wondered why someone hadn’t thought of this before.  It was what made the story for me and lifted it above being just another fantasy story.

The character development was believable, and much of it arose naturally from the situation.  Nothing felt forced, either in the plot or the characters.  The action was well balanced with the character development.  The story is told in present tense, which added to the sense of urgency in the battle scenes.

The production values are professional.  There were no typos.  The cover art fit the piece well.  Overall, a quality product that was professionally done.

I’ve decided to try something new.  With the price of gas continuing to rise, I’m not going to be going home or out for lunch.  Instead I’m going to brown-bag it, and read some short fiction while I eat.  I’ll blog about what I read either during lunch or when I need a break for a couple of minutes.  This way the blog won’t be so dormant while I’m reading long novels.  My goal is to have at least one post a week result from this practice.  “Harvest of War” was the first of these posts.  The ones that follow will have a high standard to meet.

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.

Charles Gramlich at Home of Heroics

I was hoping to post a review tonight of the novel I’m currently reading.  Ain’t gonna happen.  Tomorrow don’t look promisin’ neither. 

Instead, please allow me to point you to Charles Gramlich’s post over at Home of Heroics.  It’s the first of two parts, discussing the various subgenres of fantasy.  Featured are sword and sorcery and sword and planet, two of my favorite categories.  If you haven’t read the post (and I know some of you have because you’ve commented), check it out.  I found the names of a couple of new authors I need to track down.