Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

NOTE: The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

What do you get when you want to take something known for its rather pathetic nature (fairies/faeries) and turn that ideology on its head? The anthology series Bad-Ass Faeries is the first thing that comes to my mind. Now at three volumes (Bad-Ass Faeries, Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad, and Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory), the series is reinventing the modern conceptions of just what a fairy is and what one is capable of. One of the key workers at this renovation is Danielle Ackley-McPhail. In the series, each volume contains a tale of the ongoing saga of the Wild Hunt, and in The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale Ackley-McPhail has turned her first two stories, “At the Crossroads” and “Within the Guardian Bell,” into a short novel, with lovely illustrations by Linda Saboe, who did the illustrating work on Bernie Mojzes’ The Evil Gazebo.

So what are you getting into in Ackley-McPhail’s novel? Motorcycle riding, leather clad Lance Cosain, leader of the Wild Hunt motorcycle group, and faerie. However, his people come under attack from the dreaded Dair na Scath, and it is up to Lance to prove himself worthy of his role.

After a number of anthologies containing her work, I have become quite a fan of Ackley-McPhail’s science fiction, but I had yet to explore her fantasy side, nor had I come across any of her work set as far into the humorous vein as this one, so I had no idea what to expect. And what I got was a fast-paced adventure that was a lot of fun to read. At times the absurdity of the situation (I admit it, I saw “bad-ass faeries” as an oxymoron) got to me in a way I didn’t want it to, but overall Ackley-McPhail ran with this one and it was a blast. The handling of the story, as an adventure with humor, rather than necessarily a straight comedic fantasy, reminded me a bit of A. Lee Martinez’s work. This one is short, fast, and fun, and worth a read for anyone who is looking for a light tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The Best of Talebones edited by Patrick Swenson

NOTE: The Best of Talebones was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

In this field, there are a lot of magazines that come and go. Some leave a mark, and some pass on with little acclaim or notice. And sometimes some of them really take a hold and manage to pull together some great fiction before their eventual decline. One of these magazines is Talebones, headed by Patrick Swenson, who also happens to be head of Fairwood Press. And now, Fairwood has set out to collect some of the best stories to find homes in Talebones in their newest volume, The Best of Talebones.

The Best of Talebones is a generously-sized collection, topping out at 42 stories. Some big names and award-winning stories make it in here, as do a number of stories I had never encountered, but was glad to have fallen across.

With strong stories from names such as James Van Pelt, Paul Melko, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jack Skillingstead, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Ray Vukcevich, Jay Lake, Devon Monk, William F. Nolan, Aliette de Bodard, Tom Piccirilli, and Ken Scholes, along with a host of others, The Best of Talebones is a huge collection of strong authors, both established and up-and-coming. The volume proves to be a very nice sampler, as well, of authors to check out that you may not have come across before. Off the top of my head, I know Van Pelt, Melko, Skillingstead, Vukcevich, Lake, Mark Rich, Monk, Nolan, and Scholes all have at least one book out from Fairwood Press, if not more, and you will be sure to look them up after seeing what they can do here.

The Best of Talebones chronicles the highlights of a strong genre magazine, and gives a nice look at the start of some careers that deserve to really take off. Fans of genre fiction won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dead to Rights by Patrick Thomas

NOTE: Dead to Rights was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Padwolf Publishing.

I have been coming across more and more Patrick Thomas lately, it seems. I’ve been loving his short stories, and once you read some of them, you can’t help but want to dive into some of his series more, and return to the characters over and over (I’m looking at you Startenders; can anyone tell me if there are more than just the one story out there?).

I first encountered Agent Karver of the D.M.A. in Mystic Investigators, a collection of urban fantasy/paranormal mystery tales from Thomas. He featured in “Cardiac Arrest,” which I thoroughly enjoyed, so when a book collecting his tales arrived in my mailbox, I knew I needed to dive in soon.

Dead to Rights contains all of the agent Karver stories, seven of which have been previously published elsewhere, and four that are new to this collection. C. J. Henderson co-authors two of the stories, one of which is also co-authored by John L. French. Henderson’s Lai Wan and French’s Bianca Jones both make appearances.

So does Dead to Rights live up to the standard set by “Cardiac Arrest”? You better believe it. These stories of dark urban paranormal mystery are rich throughout. The settings are fleshed out nicely, Agent Karver gets a lot of depth, with his struggle to escape his own demons (literally and figuratively), and the plots whip along, each twist fitting perfectly into the narrative.

Not a single one of these stories will let you down, and more than a couple will stick with you for a while. Fans of evocative fantasy that rips across the page dare not miss this one.

So It Begins edited by Mike McPhail

NOTE: So It Begins was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

In my quest to discover another side of military science fiction, I stumbled upon Breach the Hull edited by Mike McPhail, the first volume of the Defending the Future series from Dark Quest Books. When I received the second volume, I made sure to dive into the contents ASAP.

This second volume turned out to be even better than the first. Stories such as James Chambers’ “War Movies” ratchet up the emotion, while others, like “Junked” by Andy Remic (whose Kell’s Legend got a strong review here, and has the sequel out soon) play to the all-out, non-stop action. What the two stories share is a well-developed set of characters, and a plot that shows military science fiction is about far more than making ever bigger explosions.

Other great additions to this collection include Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “First Line,” set in the Alliance Archives universe, which contains her usual mix of action and strong storytelling, with an emotional tug, and “Grendel” by military science fiction genius Jack Campbell (aka John G. Hemry), the story set in his acclaimed Lost Fleet series, the first book of which got a rave review here at the site. Campbell’s deft touch with military science fiction and the space engagements of fleets of ships are the best I have ever seen, and “Grendel” won’t let down his fans.

Also of interest is a piece by David Sherman, co-author of the Starfist and Starfist: Force Recon series, set in his Demontech universe. The piece, “Surrender of Die,” was to be the beginning of the unpublished fourth book, and is a fitting tribute to the series, as well as a nice capstone to a very well rounded anthology.

If you are looking for a diverse collection of stories that will show you all that military science fiction can do, look no further.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mythic Memories by Alex Ness & Trent Westbrook

NOTE: Mythic Memories was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Rogue Blades Entertainment.

Much of modern fantasy is deeply rooted in the mythic traditions of the past (The Lord of the Rings takes a lot of stories from Celtic and Anglo-Saxon tradition in particular, and retells them). However, many modern readers aren’t familiar with the long tradition of heroic literature in the myths of the past. Thus, I was really excited to see this book of Ness’ poetry coming out, which promised to address these Mythic Traditions.

The book is broken down into four sections, focusing on the myths of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Celts, and the Norsemen. Mixing history and myth, Ness weaves tales of a number of heroes and battles. I thought that the Egyptian and Greek poems were good, but what really won it for me were the second two sections. Having just finished studying Celtic literature, it was neat to see what Ness did with it. And the Norse seem far too often overlooked by general mythology texts, so it was great to see this, especially “Storm of the Tupilak,” a long poem of a crashed ship and the spirit haunting the survivors of a violent crime.

One thing worth noting: not all of these poems would be easy for someone with no background knowledge to pick up on. Most people know the Greek myths, and the Egyptian myths aren’t too obscure, but I know I got a lot more out of the Celtic section from having recently studied it. Not being as well known, these may be a little more obscure to the reader who hasn’t explored them before. However, they are well worth exploring. One would be well off reading the Mabinogion, which has a number of tropes found in modern fantasy (including a certain ring that turns the wearer invisible). Also of import, although Anglo-Saxon instead of Celtic, is Beowulf, which is a true heroic epic regardless (and the Seamus Heaney translation is very readable), but it too carries over much into modern fantasy, including (again) The Lord of the Rings.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the art by Trent Westbrook. Every poem is lavishly illustrated, both from pre-established art, and from Westbrook’s own hand, and all of it is very well done. His art adds a lot to the book.

For the reader willing to wax lyrical for a bit on the tales that enraptured nations, of heroism and courage, duplicity and danger, check out Mythic Memories. And don’t be too concerned if you don’t know much myth, Ness’ verse is sweet reading, regardless.

Now if I could only knock out a modern version of “The Battle of Maldon” before Ness beats me to it…

Boarding Instructions by Ray Vukcevich

NOTE: Boarding Instructions was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

One thing I really like about Fairwood Press is that they put together some top notch collections by both authors I have heard of before, and authors that I’m glad I’ve found out about through their collections. I discovered the work of James Van Pelt through them, as well as Ken Scholes, and a number of others. And now it was time to decide if I was going to be adding Ray Vukcevich to the list of authors I was proud to own collections from.

As things turned out, I am very glad I was introduced to Vukcevich. His wonderful stories take the ridiculous, and while it disarms you with the funny, it works in a deep point that hits you out of the clear blue. It was there the whole time, and you never noticed.

In the 33 stories collected in Boarding Instructions, most of them only a few pages, you get tales from all over the gamut of speculative fiction, but each one retains a style very much Vukcevich. Clear prose with a smooth deliver makes these stories easy to read, and the impact behind them keeps them rattling in your head for a while.

Particular favorites include “The Library of Pi,” “Human Subjects,” and “Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Boy.” However, none of these will let you down.

Fans of good short stories need to take note of this collection. Go out there and get it.

Bad Cop, No Donut edited by John L. French

NOTE: Bad Cop, No Donut was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

I read some mystery and crime fiction on occasion, but not often, and not nearly as much as I would like. Especially rare are original crime anthologies. So, when I received Bad Cop, No Donut, I dove at the chance to explore some new crime stories from the darker side of the genre.

What I found in Bad Cop, No Donut was a buffet of stories that were even better than expected. Editor John L. French’s “The Last Convention” was exciting from first word to last. C. J. Henderson’s “A Fine Officer” is up to his usual high standards as well.

However, there were two that really took the cake. Patrick Thomas’ “Dysmayed” took the “bad cop” theme straight to Hell, literally, with the return of his series character of Hell’s Detective.

The best of the batch, though, was the volume opener, James Chambers’ “Henkin’s Last Lies.” His characters felt perfectly real, the motivations true, and the plot twists were as believable as they were effective.

Not to say that there was a truly bad story in the bunch. You would be hard-pressed to find a new anthology out there that has as high a level of quality as this one. So if you are a fan of the rough side of crime fiction, of cops gone wrong, and noir fiction, give Bad Cop, No Donut a shot.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 3: The Saturn Game

Note: The Collected Short Work of Poul Anderson, Volume 3: The Saturn Game was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

As I discovered when reading a previous volume of Poul Anderson’s short works, I was really missing out having not read much from this accomplished author. I got the chance to dive into more of his work with the brand new collection out from NESFA Press, The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 3: The Saturn Game.

The third volume of this series contains a number of classic works from Anderson, including “The Saturn Game,” a wonderful stand alone story, “No Truce with Kings,” and a personal favorite of mine, “Operation Salamander,” a follow up to “Operation Afreet,” found in the previous volume. Anderson’s characters, along with his scientific-feeling magic system, make for a wonderful story. Series characters Manse Everard, David Falkyn, and Nicholas van Rijn all make appearances.

Added to the stories, filling out the volume, are a string of limericks and songs that are quite fun, especially the last, which explains the problems an astronomer runs into while driving.

Anderson’s sense of Sherlockian mystery, consideration of all points of view, sympathy for antagonists, and broad imagination make this volume yet another worth diving into. Anderson is a true gem of the genre, and any fan should consider this a required course in their history of the genre.

Skein of Shadows by The Wandering Men

NOTE: Skein of Shadows was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

Tie-in fiction for roleplaying games is a subgenre that is really taking off. The RPG Crown: City of the Fallen has gained a following, and has recently joined the ranks of branching out into fiction markets. What is also intriguing is that it takes a method similar to that in George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series, that of a mosaic novel. In short, it takes a series of almost standalone stories and weaves its tale in and out of them, creating an overall picture and plot that is more than the sum of its parts.

Authors Nathan Ellsworth, Davis Riddle, Brannon Hall, Corey Blankenship, and Brannon Hollingsworth teamed up to give us a picture of Crown, a city of the edge of the sea, teeming with treachery, violence, and magic. The quintet of authors do a good job of mixing the elements of an RPG into a non-interactive story, minimizing the elements that feel too much like a transcript of an RPG adventure. The story flows together well, each of the stories moving in and out from one another in a way that works wonderfully.

I had no previous knowledge of Crown: City of the Fallen, and I found myself catching onto the world pretty quickly. The magic system seemed a little too oblique to me at first, but it began to make much more sense as the story went on. Different authors seemed to handle it better or worse, some of them making it feel more natural and less charts and numbers than others.

All-in-all, however, Skein of Shadows takes a very interesting approach to the media tie-in, and hits a homerun. The interwoven stories work well, and the overall plot is definitely one worth reading about. This is strongly recommended to fans of Crown: City of the Fallen, as well as those looking for a mash-up of a number of different subgenres, from more action-based fantasy to assassin stories, etc, and who are looking for a tale that shows you the city, not just one person’s view of it.