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Thursday, October 31, 2013

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day XIII

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the Cradle of Filth, a band who've consistently utilized the narration of Pinhead himself, and who could have taken all 13 spots on this list, but who win top billing for their 2006 cover.

That's right, it's their remixed Samhain cover from the Underworld: Evolution soundtrack . . . Halloween II!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Joseph D'Lacey Gets Disturbing With Meat (#bookreview)

Once again we're bringing some horror to the ruins, with another entry in our Halloween Read-tacular. Lock the doors, close the curtains, turn on all the lights . . . and enjoy.

There are some books you devour, consuming page after page after page in a race to the end. Then there are others that you savor . . . that you take your time to digest . . . that linger on the literary palate long after the past page is turned.

Joseph D'Lacey debut novel, Meat, is definitely the latter - and after being off the menu for years it's now back for a second helping.

With Black Feathers being my only experience with D'Lacey, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had a good idea of the concept, but really expected more of a Twilight Zone type novel with the true nature of the meat reserved for a big, final chapter reveal. Instead, the cannibalism is front and center right from the start, with the altered livestock as blatant as it is chilling.

Imagine a future dystopia where all that's left of the world is the people in it, and whatever they can grow. It's a world divided by class, with the people living under the corporate choke-hold of the Magnus Meat Processing, and guided by the religious tyranny of the Parsons of the Welfare. The most fortunate live in white-picket homes, enjoying their daily ration of meat, with just a touch of vegetables to provide a little color. The less fortunate have their vocal cords cut, their fingers and toes removed, and their freedom stripped away, leaving them - literally and figuratively - nothing more than cattle to be milked, bred, and butchered.

It's a really disturbing world that D'Lacey presents here, but one that gets worse the more you think about it. When I first put the book down, I came away appreciating it, but not enjoying is as much as I did Black Feathers. While the WTF nature of Meat was fascinating, and the central conflict an interesting one, I didn't find the characters nearly as engaging or sympathetic. Richard Shanti is an interesting lead, but too bland and cold to really rouse the reader's emotions. When I started thinking about it a few days later, though, with an eye towards writing a review, I realized just how deep, how profound, and how seriously messed up the story is.

It's the way D'Lacey contrasts the horror with the humanity that makes the story so effective. He takes us from scenes of human cattle being endlessly processed through a slaughterhouse, to scenes of cows and bulls enjoying a sliver of intimacy. He shows us a pair of young men cruelly torturing a human dairy cow with a high presssure hose, to a man tenderly worshiping the same dairy cow with a hose of his own. We watch a mother prostitute herself to a company man to get a little meat for her children, and then see those very same children slicing up a Barbie doll to serve, in pieces, to the toys at their tea party. Chilling stuff indeed.

Like a great steak, this is not a book that can really be described. Instead, it has to be experienced to be understood. If you have an appetite for something unique, a clever mind, and a strong stomach, then give it a shot. Meat shares many of the same themes as Black Feathers, including the social conscience, but it lacks the narrative subtlety. Be prepared to think about what you're reading, and to come away from it with a newfound appreciation for life . . . and death.


ebook, 351 pages
Published February 1st 2008 by Beautiful Books (first published 2008)

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day XII

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the Wednesday 13, the dark prince of horror punk, and his side project Murderdolls, who debuted in 2002 with the perfect Halloween track.

That's right, in case there was ever any doubt, he's . . . Dead in Hollywood!


Waiting on Wednesday - The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:


The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick
Pyr (December 10, 2013)

The time is April, 1885. Doc Holliday lies in bed in a sanitarium in Leadville, Colorado, expecting never to leave his room again. But the medicine man and great chief Geronimo needs him for one last adventure. Renegade Comanche medicine men object to the newly-signed treaty with Theodore Roosevelt. They are venting their displeasure on two white men who are desecrating tribal territory in Wyoming. Geronimo must protect the men or renege on his agreement with Roosevelt. He offers Doc one year of restored health in exchange for taking on this mission.

Welcome to the birth of American paleontology, spearheaded by two brilliant men, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, two men whose genius is only exceeded by their hatred for each other's guts. 

Now, with the aid of Theodore Roosevelt, Cole Younger, and Buffalo Bill Cody, Doc Holliday must save Cope and Marsh not only from the Comanches, not only from living, breathing dinosaurs, but from each other. And that won't be easy.


A Steampunk wild west, Doc Holliday, with zombies, robots, cowboys, and dinosaurs? Oh, you can so count me in for that. Awesome.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day XI

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the power metal awesomeness of Iced Earth, who said goodbye to lead singer Matt Barlow with a 2001 horror-themed release.

That's right, I could have gone with Damien, Jack, Jekyll & Hyde, or Frankenstein, but the season belongs to . . . Dracula!


Monday, October 28, 2013

Gail Z. Martin Talks Deadly Curiosities (#interview)

Good morning, all.

Today we have the very great pleasure of hosting Gail Z. Martin, who has stopped by to chat about all things fantasy, and to tease her upcoming urban fantasy release, Deadly Curiosities.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Gail. For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet had a chance to give you a read, please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m the author of Ice Forged in the The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga and the upcoming Reign of Ash (Orbit Books, April 2014), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn  and The Dread) from Orbit Books.  In 2014, I’ll have a new urban fantasy series, Deadly Curiosities, coming out from Solaris Books. I’m also the author of two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

It’s going to be a busy year.  I’ll also have short stories in four new anthologies in 2014: Clockwork Universe Steampunk vs. Aliens, Athena’s Daughters, the British Fantasy Society’s anthology Unexpected Journeys and With Great Power, a superhero anthology. Other US and UK anthologies that I've been in previously include Rum and Runestones, Spells and Swashbucklers, the Magic anthology (Solaris Books), The Bitten Word (New Con Press) and The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women (Running Press).

Q: You’ve already put your mark on the epic fantasy genre with The Fallen Kings Cycle, Chronicles of the Necromancer, and first book of The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. What made you decide to make the jump into a novel-length urban fantasy with Deadly Curiosities?

I’d been writing stories set in the Deadly Curiosities universe for a while now for anthologies.  Solaris asked me to do a story for their Magic anthology, and I did a Deadly Curiosities story set in modern-day Charleston, SC.  The Deadly Curiosities universe really spans about 500 years, from 16th century Belgium to today.  And then Solaris asked if I would be interested in doing a book, and of course, I said yes!

Q: Like you said, you’ve already visited the Deadly Curiosities universe before (‘Buttons’ was actually my favourite pick from the Magic anthology) - was a novel always in the cards for you, or did the success of the short stories open a door you hadn’t expected?

I’ve really enjoyed working with the characters in the Deadly Curiosities universe, but I hadn’t really given a novel much thought until Solaris proposed it, and then it just seemed like a natural next step.  I’m going to also be revisiting the universe in a couple of the anthologies I’m doing for 2014, and also with original new stories direct to e-book on Kindle, Kobo and Nook in the Deadly Curiosities Adventures series.

Q: Urban fantasy has always been around, but has certainly experienced something of an explosion over the last few years. What do you think it is about the genre that draws readers from across the spectrum?

I think urban fantasy is accessible for people who may not be into the whole medieval-epic thing, so I think it may be a gateway for people who haven’t been fantasy readers before.  Because urban fantasy is often set in the modern world, in cities that readers may have visited, there’s a different sense of wonder, a “what if” that goes on when the familiar becomes suddenly magical, and I think that really attracts people.

Q: I like the idea of UF as a sort of literary gateway drug. Since the release of The Summoner six years ago, you've had the opportunity to achieve success with several different publishers. How much does a publisher influence or impact our writing, and what was it that brought you back to Solaris?

I've been very fortunate to work with some fantastic publishers and editors, so I think the biggest impact is that both my publishers have enabled me to do what I love to do and to get the tales I tell out into the world in a big way.  My relationship with Solaris has always remained very warm despite my other projects, and we stayed in ongoing contact since my first four books remained with them, so we've never fallen out of touch.  The opportunity arose for me to do something new and different with them, and it was just a very natural step. And I am very pleased to continue my relationship with Orbit Books with several additional books in the Ascendant Kingdoms series.

Q: To keep with the how-to of writing for a moment, what is it that comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

Believe it or not, cover blurbs are harder, in a way, than writing the other 600 pages.  That’s because in the book itself, you have time to have the story unfold, but in the blurb you get two paragraphs, sometimes less than that, and it seems like such a small amount of words to try to capture the whole grand sweep of the book.

Q: As somebody currently wrestling with a synopsis, I get that! Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

If I’m editing or doing work other than composing, I can have music with lyrics, or something on TV that doesn't require real thought, like a home improvement show or cartoons like Looney Toons.  But if I’m really creating/composing, then I go for instrumental music like soft jazz, light classical or New Age, or sometimes real mood music like Midnight Syndicate.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

I've had one or two people confuse necromancy with necrophilia, which are entirely different!  I hastened to assure them that I write about a necromancer, but not the other stuff!

Q: Wow . . . that's a whole other genre there. To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who continues to influence and inspire you, or someone who just refreshes your literary batteries?

I have so many favorites, it wouldn't be fair to name names!  I go in phases of what I read—epic, urban, paranormal mystery, etc.  If I’m writing in a genre I tend not to read in that genre while I’m doing the writing because I don’t want to be influenced.  Lately, I've been reading a lot of paranormal mystery, largely because those books tend to be fun and bite-sized! (To see what I've read lately, please join me on Goodreads or Shelfari!)

Q:  It’s a tough question, especially if you’re wary of putting faces before your readers so early in the game, but if Deadly Curiosities were to make the transition to the small screen as a weekly series, who would your ‘dream’ cast for the leading roles include?

It’s funny because I’m a word person, not so much a visual person.  (I've been known to actually dream in text, reading my dream—yeah, strange but true.)  So I always struggle with this.  And then if you name an actor or actress, and someone didn't like that person’s last movie, then you've got to say, “No, think of the face, the build, the mannerisms, not the last movie or the dumb thing he/she said on a talk show.”  But having said that, I would say that Cassidy looks a bit like a twenty-something Nicole Kidman—the general bone structure, strawberry-blonde hair, build.  Teag has more of a young Keanu Reeves look, more in his skater-boy phase.  And Sorren has a Ryan Gosling vibe going, especially in his young, lean period.  But if you don’t care for those celebrities, feel free to cast the parts as you want!  The story is taking place in your head.

Q: I'm very okay with Nicole Kidman. Before we let you go, what can we look forward to once Deadly Curiosities hits the shelves? Will it be the second in that series, a sequel to Ice Forged, or something else entirely new?

There will be a sequel to Ice ForgedReign of Ash coming in April 2014, and I’m under contract for at least two more books in that series, possibly with more to come. I also bring out a new short story direct to Kindle, Kobo and Nook each month, in two different series. One is the Deadly Curiosities Adventures series, where readers can get backstory before modern times as well as some short adventures that take place before the upcoming novel.  The other is my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures series, which takes place before The Summoner and answers the questions readers have always asked about what made Jonmarc the man he was when he first met Tris Drayke.

I’m also very excited about the anthologies I’ll be part of in 2014.  All tremendous fun!

I love keeping the connection going with readers, so please find me on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook (as The Winter Kingdoms) and at www.AscendantKingdoms.com.

Thanks again for stopping by, Gail. I don't know where you find the time, but we definitely appreciate it!

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About the Book

Deadly Curiosities will be published in the UK, Ireland, and North America in July 2014. Set in Charleston, South Carolina, this new series is Martin’s first book for the Solaris imprint since Dark Lady’s Chosen in 2009.

Deadly Curiosities will take readers in an entirely new direction from her previous classic fantasies: Cassidy Kincaide is the proprietor of Trifles and Folly, an antique shop with a difference that continues a family tradition begun in 1670 – acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500 year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market.

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About the Author

Gail Z. Martin discovered her passion for science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories in elementary school. The first story she wroteat age fivewas about a vampire. Her favorite TV show as a preschooler was Dark Shadows. At age 14, she decided to become a writer. She enjoys attending science fiction/fantasy conventions, Renaissance fairs and living history sites. She is married and has three children, a Himalayan cat and a golden retriever.

Mailbox Monday

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month. This month's host is Gina @ Book Dragon’s Lair!

Here are the books that found a home on my shelves over the last week:

Propinquity by John Macgregor
John Macgregor (October 30, 1986)

Seventeen years before The Da Vinci Code, two years before Foucault's Pendulum - the award-winning novel that launched the conspiracy fiction genre

At the center of Propinquity is the secret tomb of a medieval French princess - carrier of the same gnostic illumination dispensed by Christ. A male doctor is shown the crypt - deep under Westminster Abbey - by a young, female medievalist, fluent in Old French. As a child she'd witnessed her father visiting the crypt - he being a high-ranking cleric set on keeping the secret secret.

2,000 years back, Joseph of Arimathea had brought the Holy Grail to England - and set up a gnostic monastery where Westminster Abbey now stands. When the Roman state later appropriated Christianity, and redesigned it in its own image, the Westminster monks acted as a secret society which kept the gnostic teaching alive. After twelve centuries, into their midst walked Berengaria, Richard the Lionheart's Queen - herself a gnostic.

Berengaria was presently done away with by the Church. For centuries it kept her tomb, and story, secret: if word got out, "Christianity would come down like Wall Street in the Great Crash". But now our heroic couple - the Church hierarchy and police on their tails - are in a race to reveal all.


The World Below by Mark Phillips
Damnation Books, LLC (March 1, 2013)

Chronicles of the Goblin King Book One.

In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the Earth. They lived on mountaintops, in the branches of trees, at the bottom of lakes and rivers.

That was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now, the enchanted peoples are all but gone. Those few who remain fear being stretched out on an examination table in some secret, governmental facility. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below.


The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard
St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (April 1, 2010)

The Despair has plagued the earth for five years. Most of the world’s population has inexplicably died by its own hand, and the few survivors struggle to remain alive. A mysterious, shadowy group called the Collectors has emerged, inevitably appearing to remove the bodies of the dead. But in the crumbling state of Florida, a man named Norman takes an unprecedented stand against the Collectors, propelling him on a journey across North America. It’s rumored a scientist in Seattle is working on a cure for the Despair, but in a world ruled by death, it won’t be easy to get there.


As for what we're reading, the team has reviews coming up over the next 2 weeks for:


What's topping your shelves this week?

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day X

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the horror punk fun of Rob Zombie, who broke away from the legacy of White Zombie once and for all with his 1999 mega-hit.

That's right, he's Rob Zombie, and she's . . . Living Dead Girl!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day IX

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the industrial aggression of Type O Negative, who used their 1993 breakout album, Bloody Kisses, to debut one of the greatest goth/industrial songs of all time.

That's right, she's Little Miss Scare-All, and this is . . . Black No 1!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day VIII

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the punk legacy of the Ramones, who (like AC DC) teamed up with Stephen King himself to provide the title track for his 1989 horror hit.

That's right, it's time get buried in a . . . Pet Semetary!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lose Your Own Adventure with John F. Kennedy? (#bookreview)

Who Killed John F. Kennedy? is the first Lose Your Own Adventure from Justin Sewell and the gang at Despair, Inc. If you have absolutely no idea what a Choose Your Own Adventure novel is, then you either grew up in the wrong decade, or the wrong kind of school. They were a staple for me back in elementary school. I remember one teacher who had a basket of them sitting at the back of the class, just waiting for somebody to brave the Journey to Stonehenge, face off against the Space Vampire, or risk their lives on the Planet of the Dragons.

They were incredibly fun, but it wasn't long before you learned to hold several places in the book, dog-ear others, and cheat your way through to the only 'successful' ending. It also became something of a challenge to find the fewest number of bad choices it took to finish a book, and a badge of honor to be the first to experience the 'worst' end.

That's brings us to Who Killed John F. Kennedy? . . . where there are no 'successful' choices, and a whole host of challengers for the 'worst' end. It's a fun concept, and one that I expected to wear thin as soon as the novelty wore off, but I have to admit this has kept me entertained. In fact, I've left it on the table behind the couch, and have dusted it off to play the game on a regular basis over the past couple of months.

Part of what makes it so fun is just how perfectly Justin and team have captured that sense of nostalgia. This looks, feels, and reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel of old. The language, the writing style, and the illustrations are bang-on. As for the characters, they're perfect parodies of the heroes and villains we remember, pushing things to the limit, and embodying our childhood opinions as to just how 'cool' we were and just how 'stupid' some adults could be. The other part of the fun is the wackiness of the various JFK conspiracy theories themselves, which hardly need to be parodied, but which still make for some great dead-ends.

It's not great literature, and it's not the next great American novel, but it is nostalgic fun. Give it a read, and if you have half as much fun as I did, consider supporting the kickstarter for book #2, The Glass Ceiling, next month.


Paperback, Retro-sized Edition, 190 pages
Published July 21st 2013 by Despair, Inc.

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day VII

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the power metal magic of Helloween, who crowned their 1987 masterpiece, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 1, with their own seasonal contribution.

That's right, it's time for . . . Halloween!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Agent Pendergast is Back in Fine Form in White Fire (#bookreview)

With Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's thirteenth Agent Pendergast adventure being a stand-alone tale, and one that begins with his protégée, Corrie Swanson, taking center stage, I wasn't sure quite what to expect. Fortunately, White Fire proved to be everything we've come to expect from the man in black . . . and then some.

As it turns out, having Corrie take the lead was a smart move. The events of the Diogenes Trilogy (dealing with his brother) and the Helen Trilogy (dealing with his wife) revealed a bit too much of our enigmatic detective, removing much of his mystery. Having seen him at his very darkest, confronted by the very human sort of concerns and conflicts from which he once seemed so far removed, it's nice to have him step back a bit and once again resemble the odd sort of hero we first came to know and admire. That's not to say Preston and Child have rolled back time or forgotten his suffering - there are some glimmers of emotion here that are quite powerful - but they've allowed him to regain his composure and rebuild the walls of his personality.

As for Corrie, she's a very different sort of protagonist, but likable despite her flaws. She's impetuous, headstrong, and rebellious . . . a typical college student. Her attitude gets her into a lot of trouble, and while some readers may accuse Preston and Child of exploiting that fiery defiance to create some of the novel's tension, there's nothing that is out of place for her character. We, as readers, may know it's never a good idea to ignore Agent Pendergast's advice, but when your education and your future career are on the line, in jeopardy of being overshadowed by a man of such legendary stature, you can't fault Corrie for her actions.

As for the plot, there are really three story lines here that slowly converge over the course of the novel, revealing the extent to which they're connected. The 19th century forensic mystery that forms the basis of Corrie's thesis is probably the most unsettling of the three, pointing as it does to some very grotesque criminal behavior among the miners of the time. The contemporary mystery of the murderous arsonist is far more sensational, with some incredibly horrifying scenes of callous torture that rival anything we've seen before, but it's tainted by the times. We've come to expect that kind of violence - we see it every day in the news, or on television at night. While the events of 150 years ago aren't quite as sensational, they must be considered in the context of the time . . . a time in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself could hardly believe the news.

That brings us to the third story line, that which pulls everything together. Having heard the true story of what happened from Oscar Wilde, Doyle wrote one last Sherlock Holmes story on the subject, but it was rejected as being far too horrific for Victorian sensibilities. It falls to Agent Pendergast to investigate the situation and track down that 'lost' story, which provides him with the clues to solve the case. Not only do Preston and Child incorporate Doyle as a character, but they set out to write that 'lost' tale, with the approval of Doyle's estate. It's a very Hound of the Baskervilles type story that they include here, serving as both an homage to the man who inspired Pendergast, and as a solid story all on its own.

As for how it all concludes, the final pages of White Fire contain the same kind of breakneck pacing, twists, turns, and betrayals we've come to expect from the series. There's one scene I thought was a bit of a cheat, with the big reveal something we couldn't have easily anticipated, but looking back I can see the clues that at least suggested the possibility. Corrie comes off as a legitimate heroine in her own right, with a terrifying flight through rattlesnake infested old mining tunnels that is Indiana Jones worthy. As for Pendergast, he is very much the hero of old, restored and rejuvenated, and passionate once again about a mystery for the sake of a mystery.

While I wouldn't count it in my top three Agent Pendergast adventures, it was still a great read, and one that deserves its place on the holiday bestseller lists. Yes, Agent Pendergast is back in fine form in White Fire. Fans will not be disappointed, and new readers will find this an easy entry point into the series.


ebook, 400 pages
Expected publication: November 12th 2013 by Grand Central Publishing

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day VI

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the hard rock melodrama of Dokken, who provided the music for the greatest horror flick of 1987.

That's right, they are Dokken, and we are the . . . Dream Warriors!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Freya Robertson Talks Heartwood and the Elemental Wars (#interview)

Good morning, all. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Freya Robertson, who has stopped by the ruins today to talk about her debut novel, Heartwood (Book #1 of the Elemental Wars), available next week from Angry Robot Books.


Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Freya. For those who haven't yet had a chance to read up on your upcoming release, Heartwood, please tell us a little about yourself.

A: Hi, and thank you so much for having me on your blog today! I’m Freya, I’m 44, married with a teenage son, and I’m passionate about F&SF, writing, gaming, and chocolate :-)

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you landed your deal with Angry Robot?

A: The saying “it takes twenty years to become an overnight success” is very true in my case! I’ve been writing since I was fifteen, and I had some success over the years with short stories and won a dozen competitions, but it wasn’t until I turned forty that I got published in novel form. That was in the digital romance field, which I turned to because although F&SF is my first love, romance is such a popular genre that you don’t need an agent, and although I didn’t feel particularly passionately about it, I was desperate to get published and thought I’d give it a go.

Ironically, it turned out that I was quite good at it and it was hugely fun to write! I ended up publishing 23 titles and learned a lot about the craft of writing through my editors before finally landing the contract with Angry Robot. I’m sure having that backlist was a factor in AR’s decision to take me on because publishers love nothing more than prolific authors, and it shows it’s important for writers to be flexible and try new things when certain avenues aren’t working out. I was ecstatic when AR finally offered me a two-book contract. It was a dream come true, and I will be forever thankful to them for giving me this opportunity.

Q: Wow! 23 titles . . . I had no idea! In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

A: Synopses are by far the piece of writing from hell, LOL! I enjoy coming up with titles, so that’s not a problem. The publisher usually writes the cover blurb, so that’s not so much of an issue. I find the first half of the book the most difficult, and usually have a point around 30,000 words where I think this is terrible and nobody’s ever going to want to read it! You just have to press on, though, and by the halfway point I’m usually in the flow and the rest is just a joy.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when indulging your imagination. Have there been any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

A: I usually have an outline, however broad, so being completely taken by surprise doesn’t happen often for me. However, with Sunstone, the sequel to Heartwood, I decided over halfway through to give one of the characters a dog—the reason for this became blindingly clear, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it at the beginning! I finished the book, then in the second draft went back and slotted the dog into the first half. That was an interesting task!

Q: Clearly, your love of history and archaeology have influenced your writing, but are there any other unusual influences, from outside the genre, that you’ve drawn on for The Elemental Wars?

A: I’m not particularly religious myself, but religion fascinates me, and there is a lot about religion in Heartwood  I studied Templars and monasticism at university, and that definitely played a huge role in the creation of Heartwood’s holy knights. As a child I loved the hymn “When a Knight Won His Spurs” and it definitely had sparked off my interest in medieval history and especially knights, battles and castles. The first verse is:

When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old,
He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold,
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand,
For God and for valour he rode through the land.

The hymn goes on to explain how to use your faith and youth to challenge “the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed”. It’s a lovely hymn (and you can listen to the tune here if you don’t already know it.)

Q: I know you’re a gamer as well – how much has that influenced your creative process, or is it something that provides a break, an escape?

A: A bit of both, really! Fantasy is very much an escape from the real world for me, whether I’m reading, writing or gaming. There’s been a lot of discussion about the so-called “grimdark” fantasy and its popularity at the moment. I love dark F&SF movies and books from time to time, but in terms of writing and gaming, I prefer my fantasy to be heroic, and ultimately for good to triumph over evil. When I play D&D, I don’t want to die every five minutes or be horrifically injured. I like my characters to be challenged, but ultimately I want to play the hero and save the day, and I feel the same way about the fantasy I write. That’s not to say that my work doesn't have dark moments—characters get tortured, fall into despair, and some will die. But after a long night, the sun will always rise to obliterate the darkness, and that’s definitely the way I like to write.

Q: Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

A: I remember reading that Jane Austen used to have to write in the living room amongst the noise from her family, and I've learned that if I want to wait for complete quiet, I’m never going to get anything done! I never used to be able to write listening to music, but nowadays I often put on my headphones because it drowns out the background noise. I like John Mayer and Jack Johnson, but have been known to turn up the Foo Fighters and bellow out to Everlong as I write!



Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

A: I’ve had one reviewer say he couldn’t read the book because he knows I also write romance and it put him off! LOL! What a shame. Heartwood is full of adventure, of battles and swords and armour, of epic journeys across four lands and to the bottom of the ocean, of terrifying Darkwater Lords who stage a magnificent attack on the temple, and of a wonderful last stand that I’m so proud of I could burst. Yes, relationships will always be important in my work because they are in real life, but if you read Heartwood for the kissing, you’re going to be disappointed! But hey, each to their own. His loss!

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

A: I've finished Sunstone. the sequel, and it’s currently with my editor. I thought this was going to be hard to write, because I wanted it to follow naturally from Heartwood while being different too, but in the end it flowed really easily. With Heartwood I was still inventing the world; in Sunstone I relaxed into it, and I think the story is better for it. Hopefully it will make a great sequel. I’d love to write more epic fantasy. I love the scope, the high stakes and the adventure. I adore world building. However, I also love science fiction, and I’m working on a story that would be a kind of Firefly-meets-Alien, set in an alternative Victorian England. And after that, who knows?!

Freya

Firefly-meets-Alien, set in an alternative Victorian England . . . count me in! Thanks for stopping by, Freya.

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About the Author

Freya is a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, as well as a dedicated gamer. She has a deep and abiding fascination for the history and archaeology of the middle ages and spent many hours as a teenager writing out notecards detailing the battles of the Wars of the Roses, or moping around museums looking at ancient skeletons, bits of rusted iron and broken pots.

She lives in the glorious country of New Zealand Aotearoa, where the countryside was made to inspire fantasy writers and filmmakers, and where they brew the best coffee in the world.

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About the Book

Heartwood (Elemental Wars #1) by Freya Robertson
Angry Robot (October 29, 2013)

A dying tree, a desperate quest, a love story, a last stand.

Chonrad, Lord of Barle, comes to the fortified temple of Heartwood for the Congressus peace talks, which Heartwood’s holy knights have called in an attempt to stave off war in Anguis. But the Arbor, Heartwood’s holy tree, is failing, and because the land and its people are one, it is imperative the nations try to make peace.

After the Veriditas, or annual Greening Ceremony, the Congressus takes place. The talks do not go well and tempers are rising when an army of warriors emerges from the river. After a fierce battle, the Heartwood knights discover that the water warriors have stolen the Arbor’s heart. For the first time in history, its leaves begin to fall...

The knights divide into seven groups and begin an epic quest to retrieve the Arbor, and save the land.

Waiting on Wednesday - Innocence by Dean Koontz

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Innocence by Dean Koontz
Bantam (December 10, 2013)

He lives in solitude beneath the city, an exile from society, which will destroy him if he is ever seen.

She dwells in seclusion, a fugitive from enemies who will do her harm if she is ever found.

But the bond between them runs deeper than the tragedies that have scarred their lives. Something more than chance—and nothing less than destiny—has brought them together in a world whose hour of reckoning is fast approaching.

In Innocence, #1 New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz blends mystery, suspense, and acute insight into the human soul in a masterfully told tale that will resonate with readers forever.


You can blame thank my wife for putting this one on my radar. She grabbed a copy of The Husband from the book exchange at work and is quite enjoying it. She never realized Koontz wrote (as she puts it) "normal, non-supernatural horror" and is eager for more. I immediately pegged about 20 of his titles for her, and came across this, his latest, in the process. Looks like it could be a great read for both of us.

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day V

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the hard rock magic of Fastway, who provided the music for the 1986 horror flick that features cameos from both Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne.

That's right, it's time to . . . Trick or Treat!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mike Phillips Talks Heroes & Villains in The World Below (Guest Post)

Hello everyone, and thank you for reading my guest post. My name is Mike Phillips and my new book is The World Below.

I have been asked to talk about a few of the characters in the novel.

Our hero is Mitch Hardy, just an average guy trying to work his way through college and make something out of himself. While working in a foundry, he suffers a terrible accident. A chain snaps on a crucible of iron and he is burned over half his body. He survives, but with no family and few friends, he struggles to put his life back together. On the advice of a friend, he decides to move to a new town to start his life over. That is where he meets Elizabeth.

She is more than she seems, and soon Mitch is pulled into a world of magic and mystery he never dreamed of. Lady Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. Finding him is somehow tied up with the Blade of Caro. She steals the Blade from its keeper, the despotic ruler of the World Below, and sets into motion a series of events that brings Mitch into a place where magical creatures still exist.

As for Baron Finbeiner, Dragon of Worms, and despotic ruler of the World Below, he is an ancient creature, very secretive about his abilities, hiding his true face from even the citizens of the World Below. The Blade of Caro is the only weapon known to be able to destroy him. Unable to recover the blade on his own, the Baron tricks a sorcerer, Jason Hume, into helping him get the Blade of Caro back.

Jason Hume is an interesting guy. He has magical talent, amongst which is the ability to cast lightning bolts. That makes him a formidable opponent, and he likes to throw his weight around. At the beginning of the novel, Baron Finkbeiner tricks Jason into helping him against Lady Elizabeth by kidnapping his sister. As they work together, Jason begins to see how good it is to have someone as powerful as the Baron by his side. Before long, Jason gives into temptation, and begins to see what spoils he can find for himself.

Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you enjoy The World Below. Please visit me at mikephillipsfantasy.com.

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About the Author

Mike Phillips grew up on a small farm in West Michigan, living much the way people did at the turn of the century. Whether it was growing fruits and vegetables or raising livestock, Mike learned the value of hard work and responsibility at a young age.

While his friends spent their summers watching reruns of bad sitcoms, Mike's father gave him a very special gift. He turned off the television. With what was affectionately referred to as "the idiot box" no longer a distraction, Mike was left to discover the fantastic worlds that only exist in books. When not tending sheep, gardening, building furniture, chopping wood, or just goofing off, Mike spent his time reading.

With all that hard work at home, Mike was always eager to go to school. He excelled as a student and went on to pursue a career in the sciences. Working as a Safety Engineer in the Insurance Industry, Mike soon became bored with the corporate grind. Writing engaged him like nothing else. After a few novels and numerous short stories, he thought getting published would be a pretty neat idea. And so, here it goes...

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About the Book

The World Below by Mike Phillips
Damnation Books, LLC (March 1, 2013)

In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the earth. They lived on mountaintops, in trees, at the bottom of lakes and rivers. But that was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now the enchanted peoples are all but gone. Those few that remain fear being stretched out on an examination table in some secret, governmental facility. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below.

Mitch Hardy is going through a hard time in his life. In his early twenties, he was working his way through college when he suffered an accident that left him flat broke and physically deformed. When Mitch decides to make a fresh start in a new town, things start looking up. He finds a place to live, a decent job, good friends. He even meets a nice girl. Unknown to Mitch, his new girlfriend is one of the Elder Race, what some call the Faerie Folk. Mitch doesn’t know that Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. The key to finding him is somehow tied up with the mysterious Blade of Caro. Desperate, she steals the Blade from its protector, the despotic ruler of the World Below, the Dragon of Worms, Baron Finkbeiner. When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Baron, Mitch is pulled into a world or magic and monsters he never imagined.

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day IV

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the shock rock spectacle of Alice Cooper, who rose to the challenge in 1986 and contributed one of the greatest slasher film title tracks of all time.

That's right, it's not Welcome to My Nightmare or even Halloween 365 . . .it's He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)!


Monday, October 21, 2013

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day III

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the hard rock staple of AC DC, who teamed up with none other than Stephen King for their 1986 track that absolutely defined the Halloween horror movie.

That's right, it's not Hell's Bells . . .it's Who Made Who!


Mailbox Monday

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month. This month's host is Gina @ Book Dragon’s Lair!

Here are the books that found a home on my shelves over the last week:

Innocent Blood by James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell
William Morrow (December 10, 2013)
Received via Edelweiss

A vicious attack at a ranch in California thrusts archaeologist Erin Granger back into the folds of the Sanguines, an immortal order founded on the blood of Christ and tasked with protecting the world from the beasts haunting its shadows and waiting to break free into the sunlight.  Following the prophetic words found in the Blood Gospel--a tome written by Christ and lost for centuries--Erin must join forces with Army Sergeant Jordan Stone and the dark mystery that is Father Rhun Korza to discover and protect a boy believed to be an angel given flesh.

But an enigmatic enemy of immense power and terrifying ambition seeks the same child--not to save the world, but to hasten its destruction.  For any hope of victory, Erin must discover the truth behind Christ's early years and understand His first true miracle, an event wrapped in sin and destruction, an act that yet remains unfulfilled and holds the only hope for the world.

The search for the truth will take Erin and the others across centuries and around the world, from the dusty plains of the Holy Land to the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, from the catacombs of Rome to an iron fortress in the Mediterranean Sea, and at last to the very gates of Hell itself, where their destiny--and the fate of mankind--awaits.


Mars, Inc.: The Billionaire's Club by Ben Bova
Baen (December 3, 2013)
Received via NetGalley

How do you get to the Red Planet?  Not via a benighted government program trapped in red tape and bound by budget constrictions, that’s for sure.  No, what it will take is a helping of adventure, science, corporate powerplays, a generous dollop of seduction—both in and out of the boardroom—and money, money, money!

Art Thrasher knows this.  He is a man with a driving vision: send humans to Mars.  The government has utterly failed, but Thrasher has got the plan to accomplish such a feat: form a “club” or billionaires to chip in one billion a year until the dream is accomplished.  But these are men and women who are tough cookies, addicted to a profitable bottom-line, and disdainful of pie-in-the-sky dreamers who want to use their cash to make somebody else’s dreams come true.

But Thrasher is different from the other dreamers in an important regard: he’s a billionaire himself, and the president of a successful company. But it’s going to take all his wiles as a captain of industry and master manipulator of business and capital to overcome setbacks and sabotage—and get a rocket full of scientist, engineers, visionaries, and dreamers on their way to the Red Planet.

The man for the job has arrived.  Art Thrasher is prepared to do whatever it takes to humans on Mars—or die trying!


Mister October, Volume I & Volume II edited by Christopher Golden
JournalStone (November 8, 2013)
Received via LibraryThing

On March 21st, 2013, I received a phone call from Holly Newstein telling me that her husband, Rick Hautala, had suffered a massive heart attack. That piece of information shocked me into a surreal sort of panic, so much so that at first I could not make the leap to the next thing she said…that he had died. It seemed impossible. Rick had been such a good friend, such a consistent and stable force in my life, that the idea of him being so suddenly removed from this world…I just couldn’t make sense of it.

I have no doubt that readers will treasure this two-volume set. It is my hope that as you read, you will ruminate a little bit about the man for whom we all have come together within these pages. And I hope you’ll urge others to pick up their own copies of MISTER OCTOBER as well.


The Forever Engine by Frank Chadwick
Baen; Original edition (January 7, 2014)
Received via NetGalley

London 1888. His Majesty’s airships troll the sky powered by antigrav liftwood as a cabal of Iron Lords tightens its hold on a Britain choked by the fumes of industry. Mars has been colonized, and clockwork assassins stalk the European corridors of power. And somewhere far to the east, the Old Man of the Mountains plots the end of the world with his Forever Engine.

Enter Jack Fargo. Scholar. Former special forces operator in Afghanistan. A man from our own near future thrust back in time—or to wherever it is that this Brave Victorian World actually exists. Aided only by an elderly Scottish physicist, a young British officer of questionable courage, and a beautiful but mysterious spy for the French Commune, Fargo is a man on a mission: save the future from irrevocable destruction when the Forever Engine is brought to full power and blows this universe, and our own, to smithereens.


White Fire by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing (November 12, 2013)
Received via NetGalley

Special Agent Pendergast arrives at an exclusive Colorado ski resort to rescue his protégée, Corrie Swanson, from serious trouble with the law. His sudden appearance coincides with the first attack of a murderous arsonist who--with brutal precision--begins burning down multimillion-dollar mansions with the families locked inside. After springing Corrie from jail, Pendergast learns she made a discovery while examining the bones of several miners who were killed 150 years earlier by a rogue grizzly bear. Her finding is so astonishing that it, even more than the arsonist, threatens the resort's very existence.

Drawn deeper into the investigation, Pendergast uncovers a mysterious connection between the dead miners and a fabled, long-lost Sherlock Holmes story--one that might just offer the key to the modern day killings as well.

Now, with the ski resort snowed in and under savage attack--and Corrie's life suddenly in grave danger--Pendergast must solve the enigma of the past before the town of the present goes up in flames.


Gauntlet: A Novel Of International Intrigue by Richard Aaron
Temple Publications International, Inc. (July 31, 2013)
Received via Publisher

A terrorist attack against the U.S., so great that it would dwarf any that preceded it is looming. The government knows it is coming. Six hundred and sixty tons of Semtex is detonated in a massive explosion in Libya, the last of a deadly stockpile. The operation seems to have gone smoothly, but within minutes of the explosion, Richard Lawrence discovers that one of the shipments of the explosive was hijacked en route to the explosion site. Days later, a glory seeking “Emir” broadcasts to the world that he is planning a massive attack against a major US landmark. He boldly gives a time line–one month. Hamilton Turbee, an autistic mathematician, at the secretive and newly created agency, called the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, or “TTIC”, discovers various methods to follow the route of the terrorists as they get ever closer to their destination. His flawed genius gives the nation its only chance at stopping the attack.

However, there is tension within TTIC, which is peopled primarily by individuals with a military background. Most have difficulty communicating with, or working with the highly eccentric Turbee. Now a desperate chase covers four continents, as the men bent on attacking the U.S. use every weapon at their disposal to evade the American authorities. Time and again the terrorists use every weapon at their disposal to evade the American authorities. Time and again they prove willing to destroy any thing, or any one, standing in their way. As the enemy approaches their destination, and the Emir gets ever more precise in his boasts as to where the attack will be, it is up to TTIC, without an effective leader, and flawed by personality differences, to find the target. As the world watches in horror, the President asks TTIC two questions: Where will the attack be? And can it be stopped?


As for what we're reading, the team has reviews coming up over the next 2 weeks for:


What's topping your shelves this week?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day II

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the industrial stylings of Al Jourgensen and Ministry, whose best-known track from 1984 is a Halloween staple.

That's right, it's true . . . Everyday is Halloween!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween - Day I

That's right, you heard me, it's time for the 13 Hard Rockin' Days of Halloween!

Assume the position - legs spread, devils horns raised high, and head ready to bang - and give a perfectly chilling Halloween welcome to the one-and-only Ozzy Osbourne, whose signature track from 1983 is one of my earliest musical horror-themed memories.

That's right, it's time to . . . Bark at the Moon!


Friday, October 18, 2013

Celebrating the Horror Spectacle of Andersen Prunty (#bookreview)

It's Donald's turn to once again we're bringing some horror to the ruins, with another entry in our Halloween Read-tacular. Lock the doors, close the curtains, turn on all the lights . . . and enjoy.

The Sorrow King 
by Andersen Prunty

Synopsis:
The papers call it "The Suicide Virus." The teenagers of Gethsemane, Ohio, are killing themselves at an alarming rate. Steven Wrigley is trying to survive his senior year of high school, still reeling from the death of his mother and adjusting to life with his father. Along the way, he meets a girl who becomes another kind of obsession: Elise Devon. 

Elise's secrets keep her distanced from everyone. She has a special place she calls the Obscura. She goes there when she is depressed or angry. The Obscura makes her feel like nothing she's ever felt before. When she loses herself to the Obscura, she fears she also gives herself to something much darker, something much more powerful. Something calling itself the Sorrow King. 

Who is the Sorrow King? He is carved from wood and bone. He smells like wax, dead leaves, and memories. He travels by moonlight and drinks the sorrow of others. 

Can love exact vengeance on a monster made from madness, depression, and misery? Or will the Sorrow King bleed the town dry before satiating himself and moving on?

Review:
Prunty has been quoted as saying, "I read Steven King's It in fifth grade."

Well, that payed off with this horror spectacular. Steven's mother passes away and now lives with his dad. His strange dreams end with writings in a notebook . . . that he has no memory of writing. Later we meet Elise, who runs to a place to hide from fighting parents, but the time she spends there she notices fellow students offing them selves.

Which they are calling the Suicide Virus.

Read this to find out what all the commotion is.


Jack and Mr. Grin 
by Andersen Prunty

Synopsis:
A surreal and horrifying thriller from Andersen Prunty.
Jack Orange is a twenty-something guy who works at a place called The Tent packing dirt in boxes and shipping them off to exotic, unheard of locales. He thinks about his girlfriend, Gina Black, and the ring he hopes to surprise her with. But when he returns home one day, Gina isn't there. He receives a strange call from a man who sounds like he is smiling- Mr. Grin. He says he has Gina. He gives Jack twenty-four hours to find her.

What follows is Jack's bizarre journey through an increasingly warped and surreal landscape where an otherworldly force burns brands into those he comes in contact with, trains appear out of thin air, rooms turn themselves inside out and computers are powered by birds. And if he does find Gina, how will he ever survive a grueling battle to the death with Mr. Grin?

Review:
Jack Orange returns home to find his girlfriend Gina Black is missing. A phone call reveals a thought of a man with a huge "Grin" on his face. Now the real game begins.

As Jack goes on a journey to find his girlfriend, a couple of twists brings us to a utility shed with what he least expected.

A bloody horror read for Halloween (or anytime of the year) of what a man will go through to bring his lover's soul back to him.

(as posted by Donald on Goodreads)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre - A Non-Traditional Anthology (#bookreview)

Once again we're bringing some horror to the ruins, with another entry in our Halloween Read-tacular. Lock the doors, close the curtains, turn on all the lights . . . and enjoy.

Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre wasn't a wholly successful anthology for me, with stories definitely heavy on the skip-it (as opposed to read-it) side, but still worth reading for the favorite author high-points. I think Paula Guran strayed a bit too far from the traditional exploration of Halloween for my tastes, but I can't fault her for trying to do something different.

The first four stories in the anthology did nothing for me - although The Mummy's Heart by Norman Partridge had its moments - and had me seriously considering whether to keep reading, or just skim ahead to the authors that interested me. Fortunately, Lesser Fires by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem was solid, and pretty much what I had hoped to see from them.

As for Long Way Home: A Pine Deep Story by Jonathan Maberry, it's been a while since I've read any Maberry - the last Pine Deep novel, in fact - so it was nice to reconnect with a story that perfectly captured the thrills and chills of that trilogy . . . and which convinced me to keep reading.

After another skip-it that had me doubting that decision, The Halloween Men by Maria V. Snyder turned out to be the only story in the collection that genuinely surprised me with its approach to the season. Having Halloween be the one day of the year were we don't wear masks was a neat idea, but it's Snyder's execution that makes the story work so well.

Pumpkin Head Escapes by Lawrence Connolly was a great follow-up, a surprisingly strong tale that didn't play out quite as I expected, but was followed by several more stories of the skip-it variety before getting to Quadruple Whammy by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, which was not at all what I expected from her, but thoroughly enjoyable and a story that convinced me, once again, to keep reading.

We, the Fortunate Bereaved by Brian Hodge and Trick or Treat by Nancy Kilpatrick were two stories I had high hopes for going into the anthology, and I'm glad to say they delivered, while All Souls Day by Barbara Roden was an interesting enough tale, but a little weak for the penultimate tale.

Fortunately, And When You Called Us We Came To You by John Shirley proved to be a fantastic end to the anthology. If it doesn't have you humming the Silver Shamrock song from Halloween III under your breath as the spirits of the ancestors wreak havoc upon a slave labor Halloween mask mask factory . . . well, you're just not my kind of trick-or-treat partner.

All-in-all, not nearly as creepy or as scary as I had hoped, with a few too many stories trying to be 'cute' or 'clever' in tying themselves to the holiday, but Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre still had its moments.


Paperback, 380 pages
Published September 11th 2013 by Prime Books

Old Mars - Brief Thoughts on The Anthology (#bookreview)

Short story anthologies are always hit-or-miss for me, with the quality of the first few stories pretty much determining whether or not I'll soldier on. Unless the theme of the anthology is really innovating or compelling, I'll sometimes just hit my favorite authors and bypass the rest. When I don't, I find that I'm far quicker to pass judgement on individual stories than with a novel, usually making a read-it-or-skip-it decision within the first 2 pages.

That, I guess, is a long-winded way of assuring you that my silence on a particular story is not a critique or a condemnation, but simply an acknowledgement that we chose not to waste one another's time.

Old Mars is a deliberately retro style pulp sci-fi anthology, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois. This is a collection that gleefully turns its back on things like Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and the rest of the Mars rovers to revisit a time when the canals of Mars were full of the promise of alien civilization.

The Ugly Duckling by Matthew Hughes was a fascinating story about a covert sort of archaeological expedition to Mars, complete with a little social commentary about obliterating the past in the pursuit of progress.

Sword of Zar-Tu-Kan by S. M. Stirling is one of those stories that barely slipped past the read-it-or-skip-it test, but despite being a bit too cute for my taste, still managed to entertain. Shoals by Mary Rosenblum, on the other hand, blew past the test with flying colors, but failed to sustain my enthusiasm.

Out of Scarlight by Liz Williams and A Man without Honor by James S. A. Corey were both solid stories that kept me reading through the crucial mid-point of the anthology, while The Last Canal was not at all what I expected from Michael Moorcock - less pulp heroism and more sci-fi adventure - but still tuned out to be a favorite of mine.

The Sunstone by Phyllis Eisenstein was another solid tale with an archaeological element, while King of the Cheap Romance by Joe R. Lansdale turned out to be the high point of the entire collection. Mariner by Chris Roberson executed a bit awkwardly on its religious commentary, and would have fared better had it not come after Lansdale, but The Queen of Night's Aria by Ian McDonald redeemed it with a story strong enough to anchor the end of the anthology.

Definitely heavier on the read-its than the skip-its, Old Mars wasn't quite the John Carter sort of homage I expected . . . but probably the better for it.


Hardcover, 512 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by Bantam