Sunday, May 31, 2009

Long Walks, Last Flights & Other Strange Journeys by Ken Scholes

Following the short story trend, I moved on to Long Walks, Last Flights & Other Strange Journeys, a collection of short fiction by Ken Scholes. After reading the preface by Patrick Swenson (head of Fairwood Press) and the introduction by James Van Pelt (whose novel Summer of the Apocalypse was one of the best novels to come out so far this decade), I dove into this collection with a large amount of excitement, ready to be thrilled and awed. Below is a story by story review, followed by a review of the whole collection.

“The Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes”: In this enthralling tale, the secret task given to Meriwether Lewis before the famous trek of Lewis & Clark is revealed. Before the expedition, Lewis meets with President Jefferson, who has a very mysterious piece of money from 1971. With very few clues, Lewis sets out to meet the original owner of the bill. This story flows by without the reader even noticing, so smooth is the prose. Scholes treats us to vivid dream sequences, plenty of twists, and a tormented character whose actions and words ring true throughout.

“Action Team-Ups Number Thirty-Seven”: This tale of superheroes past their prime was truly heartwarming. Our aged heroes and villains learn the power of forgiveness and the joy of life. I poignant story, and touching enough to illicit far more than a smile from the reader.

“Soon We Shall All Be Saunders”: A weird tale, with sections that are almost lyrical or prose poem-ish, in which one man’s sarcastic “If only we could all be like Saunders” gets treated to the “Be careful what you wish for” trope, with interesting results. Another winner from Scholes, this one more for atmospherics than for story.

“A Good Hair Day in Anarchy”: This western on another planet was a very entertaining tale, one without a real villain. Ed the Barber interacts with a hunter who is searching for the dread Slope Dobbins. A really fun, light piece.

“Into the Blank Where Life is Hurled”: This tale of William Hope Hodgson, Harry Houdini, and Hell is another deep, original experience provided by Scholes. Throughout, we learn of Scholes’ vision of Hell, and the power of good and hope. This was yet another powerful tale.

“The Satnaman Cycle”: Santa the messiah? In this tale, yes! An odd short piece, that was a little less powerful than some of the others in this book, we are treated to the myth of a Santa that appears as a messiah to a people in search of a new world. While yes, this one wasn’t my favorite, the lowest quality story so far in this anthology is still a very decent tale.

“Hibakusha Dreaming in the Shadowy Land of Death”: This touching tale of life after World War II in Japan packs a powerful emotional punch. We are introduced to a group of friends who meet for group psychotherapy sessions with an American therapist. We learn of their past lives, and their hopes for the future. This story hurts in all the right places, and shines everywhere. A beautiful story.

“One Small Step”: This odd tale of chimpanzees taking over a moon laboratory is packed full of suspense and this interesting working to make you sympathize with both the human and chimpanzee characters. The human-like chimps really show the development they made while being experimented, and how they gained some unexpected traits. A story that was impossible to put down.

“Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise”: In what apparently will be expanded upon for a five book series from Tor, Scholes creates a very intriguing tale that draws you in with the wonderful language and style. While it does feel like the beginning of something, and not the entirety of a tale (it ends right in the middle of things), it creates a couple characters that are very memorable. I must pick up a copy of his first novel when it comes out in paperback.

“So Sang the Girl Who Had No Name”: In this tale of redemption found in Hell, Scholes treats us to a beautifully sweet vision of Hope. Once again, Scholes excels at presenting very human characters that never once fall out of character.

“Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk”: Winnie-the-Pooh and an epic journey just don’t seem to go together, right? Well, turns out we’re both wrong. Edward Bear goes on a fun, intriguing, and eventually bittersweet journey to save the lives of countless people who are depending on him. While this one moved a tad slower at times, it still had an ending to pull the heartstrings.

“That Old-Time Religion”: A strange modernization of the fall of man into idolatry, and how God saves the few who stayed faithful. This tale depicts a view of God that some may be uncomfortable with, but as a fantasy tale, I thought it was entertaining.

“East of Eden and Just a Bit South”: Another “religious” story, this time Scholes tells us the “true” tale of Cain and Able, from Cain’s point of view. This was a fun, light tale if not taken too seriously, and there are hints throughout (the tale is as true as aliens cloning JFK!) that one shouldn’t. Not the most powerful of tales, but still fun.

“Fearsome Jones’ Discarded Love Collection”: I like this story, in large part because I don’t. This tale of a down on his luck man named Fearsome who finds a baby to care for was at turns touching and suspenseful, but the ending (or lack thereof) was horrible. Like life, not all of the questions are answered, in fact most aren’t. The non-ending in which, all of a sudden, is just over, drove me nuts, but I’m not entirely sure that that wasn’t the point. Beautiful writing throughout.

“The Doom of Love in Small Places”: A tale of love at the bottom of the world. This is another story in which a lot isn’t fully explained, but we are given an intriguing plot, characters that you would bleed for, and even a tie in to a previous story (See “The Santaman Cycle”). A wonderful piece of fiction that explores love, loneliness, and hope. One of the best stories in a stellar collection.

“Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky”: A powerful tale of three men in France in 1941: Chuck Chaplin, Ernie Hemingway, and the future savior of the Jews, Adolf Hitler. This alternate history tale shows how things could have been different, as Hitler has a good childhood, and falls in love with a beautiful woman in France, who happens to be Polish, Jewish, and black. This story is truly powerful stuff, with a beautiful ending.

“Last Flight of the Goddess”: People in love frequently try to write love stories, tender collections of beautiful prose packed with emotion. I know I’ve tried my hand at more than a few dozen. When these sorts of tales work, they achieve a state that surpasses most anything when it comes to joy and hope and, of course, love. In the story of Andro Giantslayer we are treated to an incredible example of the power of a love story, as Andro learns to live after the loss of his beloved wife. The perfection summation to a powerful collection. Enough good cannot be said about “Last Flight of the Goddess.”

While short stories have made up the majority of my most recent readings, it is rare anymore to read short stories in a quantity even near novels. This is a truly sad thing, as short stories are capable of so much power. One would be hard pressed to find a better example of this in modern science fiction and fantasy than this incredible collection by Ken Scholes. I am awe-struck by the sheer story telling abilities displayed here. By far the best new short story collection to come out in the past year, if not far longer.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Vampyre, The Werewolf and Other Gothic Tales of Horror edited by Rochelle Kronzek

Gothic fiction brings to mind many great novels, from Wuthering Heights to Frankenstein, The Castle of Otranto to The Mysteries of Udolpho, but this period also brought about many great pieces of short fiction, which this short anthology focuses on. While this book strays a little away from the super light reading previously featured on here and leans toward the literary tendencies of my major, this book contains the roots of modern horror, and the stories are just as readable today as they were when they were first published. They have lost none of their punch. Below are reviews for each of the seven stories, and then a full anthology review.

"The Vampyre" by John Polidori: In this moody, atmospheric tale, Polidori introduces us to the first vampire story written in English. Lord Ruthven, suave aristocrat, travels with Aubrey across Europe. As Ruthven's immoral use of women becomes apparent, Aubrey departs from his companion and heads to Greece, where he falls in love right as he falls into the grasp of the "vampyre." Polidori writes a tale of inescapable horror that etches each pain felt by Aubrey deeply into the reader. This tale is a classic for good reason.

"The Werewolf" by Clemence Housman: This tale of two brother's relationship falling apart over the wiles of a woman was incredible. Completely, utterly excellent. Housman writes with a beautiful prose, and wraps convincing dialogue from full characters around a plot of intense suspense and dread. This is one of the most engaging, enthralling, and wonderful stories I have read in a very long time. No other werewolf story I have read comes even close to this masterpiece.

"Monos and Daimonos" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton: Much shorter than the previous two stories, this short work was chilling. While the first two were good, especially the second, none of them sent shivers down the spine like this one did. The ending to this short tale was perfect, and the presence found in this story of a man seeking solitude was truly creepy. A real chiller, this tale was wonderful fun.

"The Vindictive Monk; or The Fatal Ring" by Isaac Crookenden: A very light, quick read, Crookenden's tale of love, jealousy, and confused ancestry in Italy is a lot of fun. There is action, excitement, and good versus evil for the love of fair Alexa. Entertaining, to say the least.

"The Curse" by Anonymous: In this dark tale of family curses, we are introduced to a tragic protagonist who plays upon our sympathies. This tale also works as a frame for the short "The Story of John Craig and Isobel Ross," an extended religious allegory that sets up the conclusion. All in all, this murky tale pulls off a sufficient amount of emotional pain to make you wince, even if the final stitch to the ending, while likely less used then, seems cliche today.

"The Victim" by Anonymous: Another story that was probably far more surprising in its day but has now become rather old hat, this tale of two students and a cadaver still rang with haunting lament. Parts of the tale were telegraphed a bit, but it was still a fun piece.

"The Astrologer's Prediction; or The Maniac's Fate" by Anonymous: In the final tale of this collection, a man's fate falls into the hands of a devious astrologer, who divines the poor man's future. After years pass, and the astrologer dies, the man is almost possessed, as he fulfills his dark fate. This was a short, entertaining tale, and moody to the extreme.

After the disappointing anthology that preceded this one, The Vampyre, The Werewolf and Other Gothic Tales was infinitely better. This very short collection contained stories that were exquisitely atmospheric, holding that dark, brooding mood throughout, while at the same time creating such disturbing suspense that one couldn't put the tales down. This is one of the best anthologies of any sort I have read in quite some time.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monstrous edited by Ryan C. Thomas

Giant monsters! From King Kong to Godzilla to Cloverfield, they have pervaded our world and our fiction. No, the stories are rarely even remotely plausible in basis, but they can sure be fun! With no small sense of excitement, not dampened by Steve Alten's okay-but-not-great introduction, I dove into this anthology. What follows is a story by story breakdown, and then a full anthology review.

"Present Tense, Future Imperfect" by D. L. Snell: Right out of the gate, we are given Snell's story of a man who bounces back and forth between present and future. In the present, Cole struggles with "blackouts" that are in fact moments of time travel, and his family is growing apart from him. In the future, Cole, in the body of a man named Frank, struggles to save his community against Nayk, a giant spider, as well as a host of giant insects, in a world falling apart. The two stories intertwine well, as they become very tied together, and the story even manages to pack in emotional resonance. Snell did an incredible job.

"Crabs" by Guy N. Smith: Far shorter than the previous story, Smith's tale of crabs the size of cows assaulting beach-goers still maintained a high level of intensity and power. The characters were deeply human, and could have been explored a little more, but all in all, this was another solid piece.

"A Plague From the Mud" by Aaron A. Polson: In this tale, Polson presents us with a slowly evolving tale of dread, as the clues are all there, and we all know what will happen, but we can't turn and look away. This dark piece works that dread well, playing on suspense and short bits of story with lots of breaks, nailing the suspense of the dying town of Monument, Oregon.

"Lost in Time" by Steve Alten: I like generally like Alten's work. I have read all of the Meg books. However, I have never felt like he has written a novel that was truly horror. His Meg books just felt like thrillers to me. They were good, just not horror. I haven't read his latest, The Loch, so maybe that is more horror-oriented. This story, with its many references to his favorite Megalodon, felt like just another of his underwater thrillers. It was a Poe-esque revenge tale, with the secret giant creature was hardly a secret based on the anthology it was included in, and just didn't match with the previous tales. Also odd to note is Alten's use of present tense. This was an okay story, but at this point in the book, by far the weakest.

"Scales" by J. C. Towler: Much better than the story that proceeded it, Towler's tale still wasn't quite as good as the starting trio. While the story was certainly well written, with solid dialogue and believable characters, it just didn't feel like that original of an idea. There have been movies in abundance about people trapped in a cave with creatures that want to eat them (The Descent and The Cave come to mind), and even, to a lesser extent, written fiction. I just would have liked a little more originality. With that said, the story still wasn't bad.

"The Enemy of My Enemy" by Patrick Rutigliano: A highly original story, Rutigliano's World War I tale of biological warfare was one of the most inventive uses of the "monstrous creature" trope found in this book thus far. Short and to the point, Rutigliano delivers a truly effective piece.

"Savage" by E. Anderson: This short story about a woman on a colony on an alien world, who is destined to kill the giant feline predator Jessari, was not the best of the bunch in this book. The story's idea can't be faulted, as it really was intriguing, but the execution just didn't seem to match it. I felt no horror, no dread, no terror. Mainly, it felt like a far more literary bit that had a pinch of action thrown in, and a tacked up ending that just didn't do anything for me.

"Attack of the 500-Foot Porn Star" by Steven L. Shrewsbury: This story tried to be a pastiche of the corny B-movies of giant people wrecking cities, with the hint of sexuality and the over the top situation that is funny into itself. Instead, the story was a vehicle to let a male porn star drop dumb sexual and drug-related comments, and wasn't very funny at all. This was the worst story in this otherwise good anthology. One should consider just giving this story a pass as they read through the rest.

"Keeping Watch" by Nate Kenyon: In this dark tale of New England terror, Kenyon packs a true sense of dread. Up there with the other story in this anthology, Polson's "A Plague From the Mud," the dread factor is raised to a higher level, and rests its malevolent presence on your mind as you flip through the pages. This tale of childhood innocence lost at a lake in the woods of Maine is excellent.

"Nirvana" by James Thomas Jeans: This story of a future world overrun by zombies barely qualifies for the common thread of the anthology, that of "giant creature terror." The tale was good without being great, but just didn't do it for me for some reason. It felt slow at times, or rather anti-climactic perhaps.

"The Long Dark Submission" by Paul Stuart: A strange tale of two very different types of fisherman, this story was rather dull in its attempt at mixing Buddhism and giant creatures. It just didn't work that well. The story had a neat premise, with fisherman at the bottom of the ocean, but beyond that it just fell flat.

"Whatever Became of Randy" by James A. Moore: With four of the previous five tales being less than stellar, I was looking for a story that reminded me of what absolutely blew me away at the beginning of this anthology: an original, intriguing idea, well-wrought characters that acted and spoke in convincing fashion, and a sense of horror and dread, written down by a solid wordsmith who knew how to put the phrases together. Moore does exactly this with his story of losing a friend to cancer. This was one of the best stories in this collection.

"Cooties" by Randy Chandler: This story about the cost of infidelity was quick, rough, and violent. Chandler creates characters that I found hard to sympathize with, but the story still was entertaining, the brevity helping this story achieve its goal. Still a step up from many of the other stories in the middle of this volume.

"Extinction" by Evan Dicken: This anthology is subtitled "20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror." Is Dicken's story terrifying, horrifying, or scary in any way? No. Is it the best story in the anthology? Quite possibly. Can we forgive its lack of horror due to the incredible level this story flies by on? Oh yes. This tale of an alternate form of war was by turns intriguing, action-packed, and poignant. Dicken portrays wonderful characters, a tough situation, and the devotion of two dear friends. This story was incredible.

"The Cove" by Gregory L. Norris: This story of a secret military project had its moments. While at times it was slow, and expressed some views of the army in particular that I did not appreciate, all in all the story was entertaining enough. Middle of the line in regards to the average quality of this anthology.

"The Locusts Have a King" by R. Thomas Riley: Another tale involving the military, this tale follows an Air Force mission to recover data from a downed Predator, and the evil of biblical proportions that they found there. This was a gripping story, and while not the best of the bunch, it really worked well.

"The Big Bite" by Jeff Strand: While the first humor piece in this anthology, Shrewsbury's "Attack of the 500-Foot Porn Star," fell flat, this tale of a giant vampire worked far better, combining humor with a decent plot, as the citizens try to stop a giant vampire from destroying their city.

"Gone Fishin'" by John R. Platt: Another solid story, as the anthology seems to be recovering from a weak middle to achieve the level of excellence found at the beginning. In Platt's tale of a farmer who pays the price for his vengeful actions, we are treated to a very well written piece that creates a very solid character that we can believe and see change over the course of events. An excellent contribution.

"Six-Legged Shadows" by David Conyers & Brian M. Sammons: Conyer and Sammons create an interesting tale here, as scouts in the far future return to Earth and don't quite find what they expected. While the story was well-written, I must admit that almost right as the story started I knew what the big secret was, which killed the reveal at the end for me. Other than this fact, the story was fun, and ti kept me going even though I felt the surprise wasn't original enough to be a surprise. It is certainly worth a read.

"The Island of Dr. Otaku" by Cody Goodfellow: The longest story in this anthology, Goodfellow's story of giant kaiju being used for the government was rather confusing. It is the sequel to another short story that appeared in another anthology, and maybe reading the other story first would have helped, but I found the beginning of this tale very confusing as I tried to figure out what was going on, and in the end, I'm still not sure that I had a great grip of the point of it all. I like to have an idea of what happened when I'm reading a story for fun.

Overall, this anthology had some pretty wonderful highs and a few more lows than I would have liked. The stories "Present Tense, Future Imperfect," "A Plague From the Mud," "Whatever Became of Randy," and "Extinction" were the best of the collection by far, and they really buoyed this book along. If you are a fan of this type of fiction, or of old B-horror movies, give this a go, and you will like most of it. Otherwise, lay off, as it probably won't appeal to you. And, after having read through the whole thing, if a story isn't working for you, just skip it, because they don't get much better after the story starts. I hope that other books from Permuted Press capture the glimpses of brilliance that we are treated to in the rest of their books, and loses the slack.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Slights Free Sample by Kaaron Warren

Up on Angry Robot Books' website they now have a free sample of Kaaron Warren's new novel, Slights. If you would like the .pdf file, as well as ePub or MobiPocket formats, follow the link.

The excerpt, short of a better word: brilliant. I know that writing a review on a ten page excerpt isn't the norm, but based on that short amount, I must buy this book. The writing is very well crafted, and the story is intriguing. The creepy factor is there, but much more strongly are a cast of characters that make you curious to know more about them, and a plot that begins on such a down note that you wonder just where this story will take you. The dialogue is sharp, and the writing is minimalistic in just the right way. Do yourself a favor and check out the excerpt. It is more than worth it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Star Wars Trilogy by Alan Dean Foster, Donald F. Glut, and James Kahn

While I reviewed each of the three novels contained in the omnibus volume The Star Wars Trilogy, I wanted to sum it up as a whole as well. Each novel had its strengths and weaknesses, but as a whole, the stories were fun, filled with action, and a bit nostalgic. The Characters, from Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, to Darth Vader, Jabba the Hutt, Emperor Palpatine, you are given a host of characters that matter to you, whether you love them or hate them. The enduring fame of Star Wars must be due to that, if nothing else. But past well-developed characters, you have an epic, mythic story that flies along. You just can't help but smile at parts.

George Lucas, who created the overall storyline, obviously draws from a vast number of sources, among them mythology, science fiction serials, and foreign films, and he manages to create a cohesive plot that these authors flesh out with incredible ability. This story is so divorced from our modern times, yet still manages to find moments of relevancy.

This book is more than the sum of its parts, as the three stories mesh and give you a huge story, with plenty of canvas left to fill by other authors, and draws you into the story and the franchise. After this, I can guarantee I will be stopping back in the Star Wars universe again. For fun adventure, you certainly can do far worse than Star Wars, and The Star Wars Trilogy.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi by James Kahn

In the beginning, a young man defeated the evil Empire's forces in an important battle. Then, he took a serious blow and his friends payed the price. Now, the Jedi returns.

After the ending to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, with many strings not tied up, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi jumps off not too far after the ending of the second book of the trilogy. The first few chapters detail the rescue of Han Solo from the clutches of Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine. From there, Luke returns to see an old friend (Kahn's pun, not mine!), and then the Rebels and the Imperial forces clash for the battle to decide the war.

The early chapters with focusing on Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo are entertaining, but feel like an accessory to the rest of the story. As presented, the end of the last chapter of the Jabba the Hutt section feels like the end of one story, and the next chapter like the start of another. This section just didn't intrigue me like the rest of the novel did. However, after this section, things really took off.

Kahn seemed to hit his stride after our heroic group left Tatooine. From the epic space battles above the moon Endor as the Rebels fought the Impirial fleet and tried to destroy the new Death Star to the fight on Endor itself, as the Rebels, and their Ewok friends, try to bring down the shields protecting the Death Star, the action was gripping, the characters lively, and the story really flew along. The Ewok scenes were excellent, as Kahn played the teddy bear factor up for both humor and irony, and their loyalty and fanatical devotion to a cause was wonderful. Their interplay was spot on. The space battle above Endor was incredible as well, and I found myself flying through the pages.

While we all know the good guys win, I felt real suspense, hoping despite my foreknowledge that it would work out for the best, as Kahn really revved up the tension. His scenes with Luke, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine were also very well done, and Darth Vader's role reversal was well played out, not feeling sudden or awkward.

While this is obviously not going to be the deepest story you will ever read, Kahn created believable (within the construct of the story) scenes, with characters you can care about, and a reason to plow through the book and not put it down. If it weren't for the first two chapters, this would have been by far the best book of the trilogy. Even with them, it is right up there. This was a great conclusion to the trilogy.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Black Library Accepting Submissions for New Anthology

Check out their page on the submission process, and get writing! Good luck to you all, hopefully I'll meet you at the other side with a published story!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut

Having had such fun with the first novel contained in this omnibus volume, I swiftly ran straight into the second. After the events of the first novel, we shift to three years later, and meet back up with our characters. Now on the ice planet of Hoth, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, See Threepio, and Artoo Detoo are living in a Rebel ice cave until they are discovered by an Empire droid.

Darth Vader and company arrive at Hoth, and thus begins an epic land battle, as the Rebel troops and their snowspeeders take on the might of the Empire's devastating walkers. The clash leads off planet, with multiple hijinks on the Millennium Falcon, and the introduction of famous characters such as Boba Fett and Yoda.

While the first book is very much a self contained story, with a distinct plot line, beginning, and ending, the second book does not boast this. This makes sense, as the first book, based on the first movie, did not know if there would be a great reaction to the film or not, and on this basis, it had to be a full movie, as well as able to have a high budget or low budget movie. Interestingly enough, Alan Dean Foster's Star Wars novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye was to be the basis of the low budget sequel, in case Star Wars didn't take off.

The second book builds on the first, and is a far more open plot, with characters going in very different directions, as Luke trains to be a Jedi, the Rebel forces go to an unstated rendezvous point, and the rest of our crew run into an old friend on a floating city. The end is definitely a cliff hanger, and the whole novel feels like the first half of a story. This isn't inherently bad, just a difference in feel between the two books. This did lead to a slightly slower pace at times, however. The beginning of the novel was extraordinary, it was fast paced and exciting, and I couldn't put it down. Parts of the latter half lagged at times, but over all it still was fun.

One odd note: Darth Vader floats out into space at the end of Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, yet he is right back in the thick of things in this novel. While it wasn't a surprise to see him back after he floated away, but didn't directly die, it would have been nice to have some explanation as to what happened. I'm guessing that a couple of the novels that take place between these two novelizations may explain it, but a short hint would be nice for those of us new to Star Wars and starting with the omnibus.

While this novel wasn't quite as high quality as the first, it had moments that were truly exceptional, and it still wasn't terrible. If the pace of the first third of the novel had kept up the rest of the book, it would have topped the first. Regardless, I am looking forward to diving into the third novel in the trilogy.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker by Alan Dean Foster

When it comes to famous science fiction movies, they don't come more famous than Star Wars. Not having seen the films since I was a very young kid, and not having access to them now, I felt that a fun way to re-enter into the saga would be through the trilogy of novelizations based on the first three films. As each is a separate novel, each will get its own review.

Eventually known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and originally released in theaters simply as Star Wars, the first released movie was novelized as Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. Credited as written by George Lucas, the tie-in novel was in face ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, famed both for his original fiction as well as his huge number of media tie-in books. Having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) both Foster's tie-in and original works, I looked forward to this one.

In the far future, all of known space is ruled by a powerful Empire. Over the years, the Empire became corrupt, and its totalitarian grip over every planet lead to hideous crimes perpetrated by the ruling bodies. Trying to escape this fate, the Rebel Army arose, attempting to overthrow this evil government.

As the book opens, the ship of Senator Leia Organa is attacked by Imperial forces, and she is captured. However, two 'droids escape her ship, See Threepio and Artoo Detoo, and crash on Tatooine, eventually winding up in the hands of Luke Skywalker, who works for his uncle as a mechanical repairman. Artoo carries with him an important secret, a message from a princess, and he escapes to deliver this message to a man named Obi-wan Kenobi. Thus starts a galactic adventure of action and intrigue, as Luke, joined by Obi-wan and the two 'droids, as well as meeting up with a couple famous smugglers, try to reach Leia and join the Rebels.

Last I saw the movies, I was far too young to remember them, and so most of this book, minus a couple main characters that have entered popular culture, was like a new story to me. The action never flagged, and the pace was wonderful, introducing new characters and events at just the right pace. This wonderful book is just brilliantly fun.

There was very little to complain about. Foster handles the store deftly, and doesn't make many mistakes. This is one of the best novelizations that I have read. From a relative newcomers perspective in regards to the story, it was wonderful. Yes, at times some of the dialogue was rather stilted, and, for lack of a better word, dumb, most was just fine, and it certainly didn't detract harshly from the story. A fun adventure well worth reading, especially for those without much experience of the movies, pick up a copy of the book, especially in the very reasonably price volume out now that has all three novels.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Warrior Brood by C. S. Goto

It has been a little while since I have reviewed a Black Library book, and the time has finally come to return to them. While the two reviewed earlier (see Horus Rising and Assault on Black Reach: The Novel) received both very positive and not-so-positive reviews respectively, the universe itself really drew me in, and I couldn't wait to give it another try.

Warrior Brood by C. S. Goto is the first in what is currently a two book series by Goto about the Deathwatch Space Marines. This group of marines is pulled from all of the other chapters to form a special force for the use of the Inquisition branch of the Imperium.

When the world of Herodian IV is swarmed by tyanids, the Mantis Warrior Marines are there to try and hold them off, but the aliens prove too strong. After retreating off-planet, they call for help, and the Deathwatch crew arrives, along with Inquisitor Kalypsia to lead them. Their mission: to land on the planet and stop the hive tyrant, knowing that killing the leader will at least slow down the horde.

However, there is much going on behind the action. This mission seems fraught with faulty logic, and the alien tyranids seem far stronger and more intelligent than they have ever been before. On top of all that, the leaders are obviously not telling their marines everything. And it seems like their is some double dealing in very high places.

Goto creates a novel with huge amounts of action, both on planet with the Deathwatch Marines, and in space, as the ships surrounding Herodian IV fight the tyranid ships, yet at the same time one full of intrigue as Inquisitor Lord Agustius is snooping around trying to discover what it is about this planet that is making Inquisitor Lord Parthon so willing to sacrifice a monstrous number of lives. Everything wraps up in the end, and it certainly isn't quite the way you expect it to.

Goto does an excellent job handling his narrative, and really pulls off a lot of great things. While sometimes the narrative seemed to slow a tiny bit, and the first chapter required some patience before it all started to make sense, his depictions of the insanity of fighting a huge horde seemed very real, and his characters were very well rounded. This was a very fun read, and I can't wait to pick up the sequel.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Y: The Last Man, Volume 1: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan

As things have gotten a tad crazy lately, here's another graphic novel review (I am a fan of good graphic novels) while I finish up the current novel.

I had taken a break from reading graphic novels of any kind for years, and I was looking for a few to pick up. I ended up selecting the first books in a few series. One of these was Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man, illustrated by Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan, Jr. The premise of this book is simple: on July 17, 2002, all male mammals die. Well, almost. Yorick Brown, and his pet monkey Ampersand (named after the symbol &) both survive. Beyond that, not a lot of information is given. No one knows the true cause, and there are many conflicting theories.

Yorick, later with the help of Agent 355, seek out top geneticist Dr. Allison Mann. However, a group of extreme feminists, the Daughters of the Amazon, don't make this trip easy. At the same time, we are introduced to Alter Tse'elon, head of the Israeli military, and Yorick's girlfriend Beth, stuck in Australia.

Vaugan could have gone a lot of different ways with this world of women, and many of these ways could have been cheesy, but he really nails it with this one. He takes this topic and addresses it maturely, with female characters both glad there are no more men, and who miss them and mourn them. He doesn't take the immature route and fill the book with dumb, gratuitous all-female sex, but approaches all of the relationships with a great deal of talent and characterization almost unheard of in graphic fiction of this sort.

By treating this topic with such deftness and incredible talent, Vaughan creates a classic depiction of a world in great tragedy, and how the survivors deal with it. Filled with excellent characters and very believable dialogue, this book hits every note. Even non-graphic novel readers will enjoy this one. Pick this up, and look for more reviews of this series to come. You'll regret missing out.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Genesis Code by Christopher Forrest

When it comes to secret history thrillers, for some reason I am pretty easy to please. I particularly like the ones that try to find a reason for all of the commonalities found in early civilizations. So, this book seemed right up my alley.

Christian Madison is the former protege of Joshua Ambergris, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist. Ambergris has discovered a code written into our DNA from a much older, advanced human civilization. Yet, right before he can share this discovery, he is murdered. Thus sets up a trail of clues for Madison, along with associate Grace Nguyen, to follow, to learn the secret of the Genesis Code.

While this book had some potential, it failed in some spots. First, a glaring error from the writers of the back cover blurb: upon mentioning that the code is from a much earlier civilization of humans, they effectively kill one of the major revelations from later in the book. While the back makes it seem like it should be obvious, this information, while hinted at, isn't officially revealed until page 214 of this very short 246 page book. That is 87% of the way through the book. Seems like a bad idea to put on the back cover, but then again, it was the main reason I picked up the book. A painful catch-22.

Beyond that, there were a couple of factual errors. First, Tutankhamun's named is spelled four different ways int he novel. While one is a simple typo, the other three are all variants that are technically correct, yet were a little irritating. It would be nice to stick to one version of the name, or explain why you are calling him Tut-ankh-Amen, Tutankhamun, and Tutankhamen. Yes, they all are close, but for whatever reason I found the wanton switching distracting. Also, while it is a common error, Shakespeare in fact wrote in Middle English. If he had written in Old English (think untranslated Beowulf) it would have been truly undecipherable to all of us reading it in high school. Old English, when spoken aloud, sounds more German than English, with its Germanic origins showing strongly.

Also odd was the very awkward way that the author avoided giving the dimensions of the Great Pyramid. One of the character's key arguments, which we are supposed to believe, hinges on these dimensions, yet Forrest does not provide them. However, earlier in the chapter, he gave number after number, all far more meaningless than these dimensions. The simple number game that is played to always reach similar numbers is also a bit trite and outdated now, at least among cutting edge thrillers, and expounded non-stop with four full pages of nothing but numerical coincidences really slowed down the tale without doing much for me.

On top of all of that, the writing just wasn't excellent. The super short chapters really cut into the flow of the story more than they sped the pace, chopping things up far too much. Character development was rather weak as well, most of it being summed up with a passage repeated verbatim repeatedly through the book about the lead character's son. Also of note: I have never read a book that used the word "facade" so much. It popped up more than I ever could have imagined. I was actually starting to look for it as the book dwindled down.

I really wanted this book to be good, and the DNA angle was certainly a new and original one. It is too bad that after that, it fell back on overdone 2012 predictions and trite numerology. After one new idea, the rest became horrifically cliched, and the story just wasn't the excitement-filled punch it could have been. If the author extended the chapter length, not devoted the first half of the novel to nothing having to do directly with discovering the truth of the code, and developed the characters more, this could have been a lot of fun.

With a little more experience, Forrest could become a much better author, and I see a lot of potential here. However, this one had potential, but not much else. The original idea (to me at least) of DNA encoded by a past common society of man (to explain commonalities in ancient cultures) was what got me through this book, as well as a real pick up in action scenes, that showed some of Forrest's writing talent at its best, near the end, are what got me through this. If the quality of the end had pervaded the rest, this would have been an entirely different review.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Interview with Charles Ardai

Having just finished the first book in the Adventures of Gabriel Hunt series, Hunt at the Well of Eternity (see review), I wanted to get some more information on this wonderful new series, and turned to the man behind the project, Charles Ardai. He was gracious enough to answer all of my questions. Take a look:

Charles, thank you for the interview!

You have recently started up a new series of books, The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt, which focuses on pulp adventure stories. What pulp adventure stories were your favorites? Which of them were strong influences in how you developed the series and the character?

When I was a kid, I read a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs -- he had a particular knack for describing action in a way that made your heart race. My mother also had a complete set of Dumas novels that I plowed through, plus some old issues of Argosy. I was at least equally influenced by movies, though -- old Zorro and Buster Crabbe serials, for instance, and the Three Musketeers films, and then of course RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Indiana Jones crystallized for me what an adventure hero should be. Gabriel Hunt owes a lot to Indiana Jones, not so much because they're similar characters as because our books are intended to evoke the same response from readers that I remember having the first time I saw RAIDERS at age 11.

Your other major series of books, Hard Case Crime, includes reprints as well as original stories. Why did you decide to only do new novels for Gabriel Hunt, and for that matter, why stick with only one major character instead of stand-alone novels like with Hard Case Crime?

Strangely, there aren't very many adventure novels in the Indiana Jones vein that are both great and out of print. The classics are all still in print (and are in the public domain, so anyone can bring out new editions any time), and there just aren't too many from after 1925 or so that I really liked. Additionally, old adventure stories more than old crime stories are peppered with some really ugly depictions of minorities -- the cost, basically, of stories set in the jungles of Africa and South America rather than on the streets of New York and Chicago. For both these reasons, reprinting old books wasn't as attractive in this genre as it was in the crime genre.

Apart from that, I liked the idea of creating a brand new character and telling a continuing story about his adventures. It's something I hadn't done before, and I always enjoy new challenges.

There are currently six books listed on Gabriel Hunts official site ( Will we see more novels, or will the series come to a conclusion after those six?

Gabriel's story definitely won't end in the sixth book. But whether we ever publish more or not depends on readers -- if people like the books and buy them in sufficient numbers, I imagine we'll do more. If they don't, we may stop at six.

How did you select which authors you wanted to write Gabriel Hunt novels? Was there a submission process, or did you just select the authors who seemed to have written in this style before to acclaim?

If the line continues after the first six books, I'll be open to submissions -- but for the first six I mostly chose authors I knew well and that I knew would enjoy the project. Of course I wanted to write one myself, so that took care of one slot; I knew Christa Faust and David Schow from working with them on their Hard Case Crime books; and though we hadn't done books with James Reasoner and Raymond Benson, I'd gotten to know them through Hard Case and had read their work, so I knew they'd be a good fit for this project. The only wild card was first novelist Nicholas Kaufmann, and he came highly recommended by someone I trust, so I took a look at his work and it was first rate.

The first novel was very much a stand alone story. Will we see any over-arching tales or subplots, or will each story remain pretty independent? Will reading the books in order be important, or can the Gabriel Hunt novels be picked up in any order?

Each of the first six books will be largely independent, though each will also reveal little bits about Gabriel's past and the back story about his parents' disappearance at sea nine years earlier. If the series continues we might develop some multi-book arcs or perhaps tell the story of what happened to his parents -- but for now we're sticking with separate stories that can be read in any order.

You write the second novel in the series, Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Sure. We had a great Glen Orbik painting that seemed to take place in a an Egyptian tomb, and something about it put me in mind of the Great Sphinx. This led me to wonder whether Ancient Egypt was the only culture in the world that had legends about sphinxes, and of course I immediately realized the answer was no -- the Greeks had a sphinx as well, the one with the famous riddle. That in turn led me to research what other cultures had sphinxes, and I found them in India and Sri Lanka...and that was enough inspiration to lead me to write a book in which Gabriel goes around the world tracing the the secret of all these sphinxes. It was great fun to weave real-world sites and history into the book, so that if you go online you can actually find photos of all the places Gabriel visits.

How does writing for a multi-author series compare to writing your other works? Does it feel more constraining to have to fit into the web created by other authors?
I'm in the fortunate position of being the person who dreamed up the character and my job is to cause all the books to be consistent with one another -- so I'm having a blast. My guess is that the other authors may feel somewhat constrained when they write about this character rather than one they created -- but no more so than if they decided to write a book about famous character they loved, such as Sherlock Holmes or Odysseus or Indiana Jones.

Finally, what can we expect in the future from Gabriel Hunt and Charles Ardai?

Well, after my book Gabriel visits Borneo and the Kalahari Desert in Book 3 and then heads off to Antarctica in Book 4. No such ambitious travels for me -- though I did just get back from a trip to Australia and New Zealand...

Hunt at the Well of Eternity by James Reasoner

Pulp action heroes. Great stuff. Doc Savage. The Spider. The Shadow. Even the early James Bond, when he was written by Ian Fleming. Classic heroes. Yet, the pulp heroes we know and love are dying. Their greatest authors have moved on or passed away, they have shifted to the movies and left books behind. What we needed was a little heavy-hitting action to bring back the days of the pulp era. Enter Gabriel Hunt.

Gabriel Hunt is a man of action. He loves discovery, and he shifts through ancient finds to discover the secrets of the past. This affluence for the past leaves him with a fondness for the less modern, less high tech gadgetry, and instead he chooses a Colt .45, and regular phones over cells. He gets things done.

What he gets done normally doesn't include fancy parties. So, when Gabriel is at a party in New York, he doesn't expect much to happen, let alone to have a beautiful woman kidnapped after trying to talk with his brother, and fellow member of the Hunt Foundation, Michael. From there, Gabriel follows the trail to Florida, Mexico City, and beyond, hoping to track down the kidnappers and discover what they were after. The only clues he has are a broken whiskey bottle and an old Confederate flag.

Ostensibly written by Gabriel Hunt himself, the title page credits the ghost writer behind this novel, James Reasoner, prolific author of crime, mystery, and westerns, both original stories and media tie-ins. What he has crafted here is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, and the start of what I hope is a very long series.

While there is little push towards literary excellence, there is an undeniably good story, well told, that is a lot of fun. It may not have had quite the x-factor I hope to find to give something a full 10/10 score, but believe me, it teetered right on the edge. I don't give partial points on my grade scale, but if I did, this would be as close to a ten as it could get without being one. I hope that the next volumes have just a little bit stronger of a beginning, as I felt this one started just a touch slow before everything really ramped up. If this had a slightly faster beginning, it would have earned a perfect score.

This book was a truly fun step back towards the pulp heroes of yesteryear, and it was a blast to read. This book brings back the cliffhangers as well, and you just can't find good place to put it down, so you carry on, relishing each moment as you race to the conclusion. This is a light, very fun, very exciting read, and one not to be missed.

Welcome, Gabriel Hunt, to the hall of immortal pulp action heroes.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

House of Mystery, Volume 1: Room and Boredom by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham

From 1951 until 1983, DC Comics put out a horror anthology comic called House of Mystery. The series was one of many that felt the assault of the Comic Code Authority, and ended up being turned over to super hero stories for a while, before EC Comics veteran Joe Orlando came on board and took the series to its height. However, the sad fact of things is that comic anthologies just don't sell well, and so for over twenty years House of Mystery was not published.

All of this changed when Bill Willingham (of Fables fame, see my reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2) and Matthew Sturges restarted the series. This time around, a regular cast of characters inhabits the House of Mystery, and, being enterprising people, opened a bar. Some of them are trapped, and can't leave the House, and it is these people who run the bar. With money being of no value when you can't leave, the guests to the House pay with stories.

This concept works wonders. The characters in the frame story are intriguing and there is a lot of mystery surrounding who they are and why they are trapped. On top of that, each of the stories told gives a vast array of artists a chance to run wild, and some of the stories told are genuinely creepy (the first story told, "The Hollows," illustrated by Ross Campbell, was a very disturbing little tale indeed). A brief prologue with Cain and Abel alludes to the former series, and leaves the reader wondering if they will be tied into this new one.

All in all, this was a truly wonderful and gripping start to what I hope will be a long, long series. Look out for the second book, which will hit shelves this summer.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Fables, Volume 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham

In the first volume, we met the denizens of Fabletown, and solved a mystery. The second volume, much like its namesake by George Orwell, is more political in nature. However, the politics of the book are not overpowering or condenscending, and the story is just as fun as the first volume, as the series continues to be an example of what the graphic novel form can be at its best.

The three little pigs, who aren't so little anymore, have taken over "The Farm," the place for the fables who can't fit in New York City, generally due to not looking even remotely human. On a routine visit to check on the Farm, Snow White falls prey to this plot, and must figure out what is going on while trying not to be killed by the revolutionaries.

As with the first volume, this one uses characters of fairy tales to tell a story pertinant to today. The title of the series, Fables, leads me to wonder if the double entendre was intentional. Not only does the series use characters from fables, but the stories themselves are acting as fables and parables for the modern day.

Just as much fun as the first book, this is a series that fans of the graphic novel format need to pick up, and for those looking to give graphic fiction a try, there are far worse places to start than with Bill Willingham's Fables.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fables, Volume 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Things are a touch hectic around here as I am in the middle of moving out of one place and into another, so the focus the next couple of days will be on graphic novels, as they are far quicker reads than normal novels, yet they can have just as much story telling power. Among this bunch is Bill Willingham's Fables. In this series, famed fairy tale and fable characters are living amongst the real world, in a place called Fabletown that is located right in New York City. While this may seem unoriginal or not that exciting, it is incredibly well done. Willingham is very adept at creating believable characters with realistic interactions.

Another intriguing aspect to this series is that each book appears to be a slightly different genre. Every one obviously has strong fantasy elements, but there are also other strong genre ties. In the first volume, Legends in Exile, we are treated a mystery reminiscent of Sam Spade.

Rose Red, Snow White's sister, has disappeared, and left behind is a blood-soaked apartment. The only immediate suspect is her boyfriend, Jack (of beanstalk fame), is apprehended by Bigby (formerly the Big Bad Wolf). The book has a lightning-paced plot, as you follow Bigby in his search for clues as to the whereabouts and condition of Rose Red.

The tale reaches a well done conclusion, and leaves you wanting to jump straight to the second book. I must admit, I was hesitant about this one, as I just couldn't get past the concept of fairy tale characters, thinking that this would be childish. To my utter delight and surprise, it was a wonderfully wrought story, and the beginning of what I hope is a great series. Keep an eye out for this book; it is definitely worth picking up.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers

The action-packed stories of the golden age are a wonderful place to go when you seek sheer escapism and lots of fun. They may not have been scientifically correct, and they may have had very little actual literary merit, but there is just something about them that makes them undeniably worth reading. Space Vulture was labelled as exactly that, a trip into a genre of the past, that is fun and exciting. The authors are rather out of the ordinary as well, Gary K. Wolf being the creator of Roger Rabbit, while Archbishop John J. Myers is the archbishop of New Jersey. The author combination was intriguing in itself, and the promise of action and adventure like in days past was even more icing on the cake. If only it had been as good as i had hoped.

Gil Terry is a thief, plain and simple. While he is out harvesting his next stolen find, he is caught by Galactic Marshal Victor Corsaire, known as a hero the universe over. Corsaire proceeds to be a touch dumb with his prisoner, and while they are in town, the entire place is attacked by dreaded interstellar pirate Space Vulture. He knocks out everyone on the planet and gathers them up for the slave trade. However, he decides to let Gil go (under the pretense of him spreading word of the Space Vultures newest conquest). Gil bumps into two kids who were left behind, and together they set off to find the children's parents.

I read about a third of it and finally just had to give up. The book is sadly not that exciting or adventuresome, and it certainly doesn't have the feel of the old stories. The dialogue has plenty of awkward moments that remind one of movies that are on TV and use replacement words for all of the swearing. I have not seen the word "crap" used as often in a fictional piece in quite some time. While gratuitous swearing is not my goal by any means, the awkward contortions that were done to avoid swearing strained parts of the book. However, with few books that have PG levels of swearing, this stilted dialogue may be worth it to you.

More jarring is the insertion in numerous cases of the ideological theories of the authors. This also is not a bad thing in concept, but hearing about the evils of action video games, rock music, and books that reminded me in plot of Indiana Jones is not going to draw me in much. I had thought that the condemnation of rock music was behind us, but apparently I was wrong. At the opposite end, the good children like classical music. Not that is wrong, but the stereotype is rough. The evils of alcohol, pride, and vanity are also asserted. While I don't inherently disagree with everything the authors state, it is the heavy handed assertions of rightness and wrongness that really pull the book away from my interest.

There is also an attempted seduction scene that is almost laughable for how much is skirted around. I don't believe I have ever seen one person try to seduce another without even flirting. Also convenient is that, while the woman in question allows herself to be seduced to save her kids, the villain doesn't do anything as he felt it was too easy. This just felt like a cop out of even implying sex. Again, I'm not calling for a sex scene by any means. I just want human interactions to feel like human interactions.

On top of those few examples, the writing just fell flat for me. It did not draw me in, and the action is almost non-existent. I was very much looking forward to a trip back into the literary timeline, but I was not to be rewarded. If Wolf and Myers try their hand at a science fiction novel again, I wish them the best of luck, but that is one trip I will not be joining them on.

Due to stopping 120 pages in, it is unfair to grade the whole book, but based on the parts I managed to get through:


The Beast House by Richard Laymon

Richard Laymon's Beast House Chronicles are truly a classic set of books, even if they fly under the radar a bit. Each one brings more tension, more suspense, more horror, and more genuinely human characters than almost every other horror novel on the shelf. Each one is worthy of the word "classic."

The second novel in the Chronicles is The Beast House. Janice lives in Malcasa Point, right down the street from the Beast House, famous tourist attraction and the site of a hideous series of murders (detailed in the first book, however reading these books in order is not pivotal). She discovers the journal of the original victims of the beasts that are said to live in the Beast House, and this find attracts Gorman Hardy, famed author of books on other terrifying locations.

At the same time, two friends, Tyler and Nora, are heading to Malcasa Point in search of Tyler's former boyfriend. They meet up with two ex-Marines, Jack and Abe, who travel with them. In the search for Dan, Tyler's old flame, they are lead to the Beast House, the same time that Gorman goes.

The first part of the book is low on horror but high on character development, giving each character a solid identity that you can relate with. From there, a no turning back point is reached, and all of the character development takes a back seat to frenetic action and suspense, with plenty of twists. The solid characters are a staple of Richard Laymon's work, as is the intense, violent second half.

Compared to The Midnight Tour (the third Beast House book), the story isn't quite as developed or as complex, but at one third the length, this is to be expected. However, as a short novel with a real does of horror accentuated due to it all happening to people you care about, it is hard to do better than The Beast House.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Castaways by Brian Keene

Brain Keene seems to be a gradually rising big name in horror fiction, with good words about his work appearing left and right, yet I had never read a single one of his works. I saw this one at the bookstore, and it looked like fun, especially with it being a Richard Laymon tribute of sorts, so I picked it up. I certainly am glad I did, and I know it won't be the last one by Keene that reaches my bookshelf.

Becka is a contestant on a Survivor-like reality TV show. She and the other castaways have been left on a tropical island, and it seems like everything that could go wrong does. Just as the book is beginning, we discover that the island is in the path of a massive storm, that there is something in the forest parts of the island that doesn't like having the people there, and that one of the castaways is a little more than he seems.

The storm works perfectly to cut off the castaways from help that would be provided by crew members on a boat off the island. Isolated, Becka and the others must fight off all of the trials the island holds and survive long enough for the storm to break and rescue to arrive. The novel is intense. Our characters get no time to breath between the multitude of assaults from all fronts, and the whole time a metagame is being played by the people who still feel that they need to play the game they were sent to the island for in the first place.

The book is very violent, and certainly not for the faint of heart, however none of the violence was particularly gratuitous, all of it adding to the level of intensity or furthering the plot. This book had a powerful hold over me, and I tore through it in a day. This book is highly recommended, as are the novels, in particular the Beast House series, by Richard Laymon that inspired this book.


If I Were You by L. Ron Hubbard

While L. Ron Hubbard's name has lost some of its luster with the general populace, there is no doubt that he was certainly a capable story-teller. While bloated books such as his novel Mission Earth (ten volumes long) add far more quantity than quality to his canon, Hubbard's early pulp work still holds some power. With Galaxy Press' massive release of Hubbard's golden age works in their Stories From the Golden Age series, much of Hubbard's most engaging and, for lack of a better word, truly fun works are appearing in print once again.

My first dip into this vast reissue of tales was with this volume, If I Were You. The title story is about a circus dwarf named Tom Little, who desires nothing more than to be big, like the feared ringmaster. Tom gets his wish, and far more than he bargained for in the process. Very much the cautionary story, this tale epitomizes "be careful what you wish for," yet it also lets Tom grow in spirit, and realize what is truly important to him.

As an extra bonus, this book also contains the short story "The Last Drop," co-written with L. Sprague de Camp, who is sadly uncredited anywhere except on the copyright page. This story is also about growth, although in a slightly different manner. In this quick tale, one man grows and grows while another shrinks down to miniature size, all while combating gangsters. While not as deep as the title story, it too is a fun romp.

This book makes no claims to be great literature, and in all honesty it isn't. It is not the next great literary epic, and it won't be studied in school (unless there is a class on pulp era literature, which would be an amazing thing of itself). However, that isn't the point of this. It is to have fun. To read a story (or two) and have a really neat, intriguing yarn laid out for your enjoyment. And in that, If I Were You succeeds brilliantly.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Angry Robot Books

Angry Robot Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, is going to be a big deal. This new publisher of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror is just in its fledgling stages, yet already it has signed many big names, including Chris Roberson, J. Robert King, and Dan Abnett. The first few books they release will hit shelves in the UK in July, but for those of us in America, they arrive in September. However, eventually the release dates will even out, giving everyone access to the new books at the same time. A complete list of the books currently on the slab to be published is up on their website, but as a low down for the first four books they plan to release, simply keep reading!

In July, Lauren Beukes' novel Moxyland arrives. Early reviews are comparing it to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and if it is half as influential as that novel, it will certainly not be a book to miss. Also out will be Slights by Kaaron Warren. A horror novel about what comes after death. It is time for a little retribution. This one looks intense; I can't wait for the September US release date.

In August two other books are released. Chris Roberson tells what appears to be the next secret history thriller, in the likes of the Da Vinci Code, but with a F/SF twist. I haven't had the opportunity to read any of Roberson's novels, but based on his short stories, especially his latest in Asimov's Science Fiction, Book of Secrets will be a novel I will search the shelves for. Finally, the book I am most looking forward to (and of course through a fluke must wait the longest to be published in the US) is Tim Waggoner's Nekropolis. A horror/urban fantasy/mystery novel, we follow Matt Richter, private eye of the undead. I can't wait to find out how all of this works out.

Anyways, for those of you on the prowl for new, fresh genre fiction, look no further. I think we can all expect great things from Angry Robot.

Reissue of Wild Cards Novels

After just having reviewed the eighteenth Wild Cards book, exciting news: Tor is planning a reissue of the first three books in the Wild Cards series, with possibly more on the way. Not only are the books being re-released, they will be "director's cut" versions, according to Martin, that will include new stories. While Inside Straight was created as a great jumping-on point for new readers, we jump on at the very beginning again, thanks to Tor.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Inside Straight edited by George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin's famous take on the superhero genre has become the longest running shared universe series of all time. After the series bounced around between publishers, and then entered a dry spell while at Baen, it was picked up by Tor. The eighteenth volume (Inside Straight) is currently in paperback, with the ninteenth (Busted Flush) still in hardcover. The conclusion to this new trilogy of Wild Cards books will be out in print soon as well.

For those, like me, who have never read a Wild Cards series book before, this was hailed as a good starting point, as there has been a generation shift, with a new cast of characters (and some old favorites) and new story lines. This book is a mosaic novel, written by Daniel Abraham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn, Michael Cassutt, Caroline Spector, John Jos. Miller, George R. R. Martin, Ian Tregillis, and S. L. Farrell.

Six decades ago, an alien plague tore through the planet. Called the Wild Cards virus, it killed 90% of the population, leaving in its wake revolting, deformed people known as jokers, and those with special abilities and powers, called aces. Inside Straight follows a new generation of aces as they compete on a television show called American Hero, seemingly an American Idol knock off, complete with vicious judges, while in Egypt the murder of a caliph and the rise of a new leader lead to a clash between the government and those people that believe in the rise of the gods from Egyptian mythology, who are in fact jokers with animal heads.

Initially, the connection between the crisis in Egypt and the reality TV show seems vague at best, but the two stories come flying together, and the ending leaves much left to tell in the next two volumes. There are a multitude of viewpoint characters, each of which you get to know very well, making each sacrifice very real and powerful.

The most shocking part of this novel is that nine authors can come together and make a very well written story that does not feel choppy in the least. All of their tales mesh together without jarring interruptions. Each author focuses on different viewpoint characters, and make them very believable and complex. At the same time, there is plenty of action, and the book still holds that superhero fun that the genre is famous for. Never before have superheroes been as accessible to the adult audience.

This was one of the best, most fun books that I have read in quite a while, and is certainly worthy of all the good reviews it is getting.


People of the Dark: The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, Volume 2

While characters such as Conan pervade popular culture to a great extent, the reading of Robert E. Howard's actual work seems to be a far less common thing. Luckily, with Cosmos Books publishing the Weird Works of Robert E. Howard in a 5 volume set, Howard's work is as accessible and affordable as ever. After the enjoyment I had working through the first volume, I couldn't wait to get into the second.

People of the Dark: The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, Volume Two contains 13 pieces of fiction, mostly stories with a couple of poems thrown in. This is the first collection from Cosmos to contain Conan stories. Stories from this collection of particular note are "People of the Dark," a story featuring Conan of the Reavers, the literary forefather to Conan the Cimmerian, "Queen of the Black Coast," which features Conan and his pirate queen, "The Haunter of the Ring," a thoroughly entertaining horror story, and the longest story of the collection, "The People of the Black Circle," one of the best Howard stories, following Conan as he fights an evil empire, other marauders, and dark wizards. Pulp fiction at its best.

The stories in this (as well as the other four volumes) are laid out in the order of publication, which is an interesting thing to notice, as it shows the development of Howard's writing not just as it progressed through his many ongoing series, but with his weird fiction as a whole. Howard's tales gradually become more complex, and his heroes become far more than sword swinging brutes, but are torn individuals who are not only strong, but also intellectual in their own way. Many think that characters such as Conan were a mirror for Howard's own literary psyche, and that Conan's thought process is a neat parallel to Howard's.

The only downside to this series is that it doesn't include a great number of tales. As samplings go, this five volume series is wonderful, but it is lacking a great number of famous stories. This volume also has a very solid focus on Conan, with a large portion of stories being devoted to him, unlike the very open spread of series and non-series tales from the first volume. This is only an issue to those who want variety; the Conan fanatics will eat it up.

Overall, this was a very fun book, going back to the days of the pulp era, and other authors, such as H. P. Lovecraft, Henry Kuttner, etc. It was a lot of fun.


At the Earth's Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs holds a very hallowed place in the genre's of fantasy and science fiction, and one of his true classics is At the Earth's Core, the first book in his Pellucidar series. Working on a writing project, this seemed like a good inspiration for my story, and well worth a re-read. Deodand Publishing had a copy that was cheaper than most, and an empty wallet looks past the rather ridiculous cover.

Starting off with a narrator telling us the following fantastical account is true, we soon fly into the story. David Innes finances a trip into the center of the world with his friend Abner Perry. Upon reaching the earth's core, all is not as expected. This "hollow earth" story is one full of excitement and adventure, as David and Abner fight to survive in Pellucidar. The pair proceeds to be captured very quickly, heading to a life of slavery, and along the way David meets Dian the Beautiful. During a trek through a cave, David and Dian are separated, and all looks bleak.

Burroughs certainly does not include much depth in his tales of adventuring men and endangered damsels that need rescuing, but the stories are sheer fun. Full of nostalgic turns of phrase and high adventure that throws scientific facts to the winds, one can't enter a Burroughs novel with hopes of high literary aspirations. Burroughs novels are all about having fun. While simple to the extreme and full of factual errors, Burroughs' At the Earth's Core is a wonderful classic of the genre, and certainly worth a (re)reading.


Assault on Black Reach: The Novel by Nick Kyme

After reading Dan Abnett's Horus Rising, I was very excited to try a new novel from Black Library's series of Warhammer 40,000 novels. Instead of continuing directly on in the Horus Heresy series (I find that I stick with series better if I spread them out; plunging into them gets me through three or four and then no more) I moved to the Warhammer 40,000 universe proper. Assault on Black Reach: The Novel by Nick Kyme fit the college student budget at an even $5.00, so I jumped on this opportunity to re-enter the universe, this time through a stand alone novel.

However, this book has a deceptive feature. While labeled a novel, it is barely one, if it is one at all. At roughly 125 pages, this feels more like a novella. This is not a bad thing necessarily, as many novels could be shortened to novella length to great benefit. In a truly odd juxtaposition, I couldn't help but feel this book would have been better off at twice the length. I'll explain why momentarily.

Assault on Black Reach: The Novel is a novelization of a boxed set from Games Workshops Warhammer 40,000 miniatures game, thus the subtitle to differentiate the two. The novel follows a group of Ultramarines as they arrive on Black Reach, hoping to save the people on the planet from invading orks. The ratio of marines to orks is astronomical, and the set up is for an all out slaughter. The captain of the company seems very much interested in his own personal glory, and drops into the very middle of the battlefield, surrounded by friendly fire, endangering his troops. Some among the company take grief with this, and this animosity is something to explore as the story progresses.

After an initial assault, the space marines head off to find the leader of the ork horde, hoping that by killing the leader the horde will fall into disarray. This search and ensuing series of battles makes up the bulk of this short novel.

Assault on Black Reach: The Novel succeeds in writing a story to fit well into the contents of a new set for their game, but beyond that not much else is of note. The book reads like nothing more than a battle report given some fictional trappings. If the book had been longer, there could have been far more character development, but as it is, there is little. Each character is pretty stock and forgettable, but the potential for personality conflict was certainly there.

This could have been an interesting foray into the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and a very good jumping on place for new readers, but it fell short of that mark for me. There just didn't feel like there was much to it. The seeds of a great story were present, and I wish that they had been acted upon. The book picked up towards the end, but it simply left me unsatisfied. As a follow up read to Dan Abnett's novel, it left me wondering why it wasn't as good as it could have been.


Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

Horus Rising is the first book of the Horus Heresy series published by Black Library. The series chronicles what is potentially the most important event in the history of Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 universe. Having never read a Warhammer 40,000 novel before, this was an interesting start. Many of the readers who pick up this book will be familiar with the universe, and will know the events of this series. However, as a first timer, the book was full of tension and excitement. While the series title gives away a bit of what might happen to the character Horus, the rest was certainly interesting.

In the 31st millennium, the universe is full of war as the Imperium seeks to reunite all of the worlds and all of the disparate groups of man together once again, be choice or by force. When these planets choose not to join willingly, the space marines are sent in to change their minds.

The novel follows Loken, a superhuman space marine who fights to unify the universe. He gradually builds a closer relationship to Horus, named Warmaster by the Emperor, and leader of all of the Imperium's might military arm. Loken shows early success, and, after the loss of an officer in the first couple of pages, is given a "promotion" of sorts, moved up into Horus' advisor board. As the novel progresses, the innocent flamboyance of Horus is revealed to hide a very calculating and deeply intelligent man who is slowly moving away from the side of good.

The only setback (and it is minor) is a very sudden scene and character jump midway through the novel, that was a little off-putting at first, but worked well when tied back into the lead story of Loken. I very much look forward to seeing the rest of his story.

Ostensibly part of an unofficial trilogy (the other two books being False Gods by Graham McNeill and Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter), making up the first three books of the Horus Heresy and all following the character of Loken, this novel does a very effective job of pulling you in and making you relate to Loken. As the voice of reason, Loken can be a very reassuring lead character. Abnett certainly mixes in high levels of action, but the book is framed with an enthralling story that is about far more than just fighting.

I was pleasantly surprised at the sheer depth and maturity of this tie-in novel shows a vast universe in which a host of powerful stories could be written. I went in unsure as to the story-telling ability of an author and a work set in a universe based upon a table top miniatures game, but it flew past all of my preconceived notions. This book was a wonderful start to what I hope is a long relationship with the fictional works of Warhammer 40,000.