Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Roots of the Genre...

If no other knowledge deserves to be called useful but that which helps to enlarge our possessions or to raise our station in society, then Mythology has no claim to the appellation. But if that which tends to make us happier and better can be called useful, then we claim that epithet for our subject. For Mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness.
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review: Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders
Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders by Richard Ellis Preston Jr.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Usually I don't go for steampunk, but having been on something of a pulp rush the last few weeks, I figured what the heck...

Steampunk is a big thing at the moment, it seems that wherever you go there is another novel set in a pseudo-Victorian world with parasols, goggles and broken valves. A post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure adds a new variation on he trope, and to his credit Richard Ellis Prestons pulls it off, though not without some issues along the way.

The place: California, several centuries into the future, after an alien invasion has turned the world into a poisonous wasteland overrun by strange alien creatures. Civilization has regressed back to the age of steam, with zeppelins being the primary mode of transport. The story doesn't go into a whole lot of detail about how this happened, but the setting itself is fully realized enough that the reader doesn't really care. It's a bit of a hoot as well, seeing Los Angeles, perhaps the most superficial place in the world, regarded in this tale as a place of legends, with the Hollywood sign as a remnant of the old world. If you familiar with the geography of Southern California, it gives the story a bit of of an extra kick. Romulus Buckle is a zeppelin captain in this world, on a mission to rescue...well, that bit doesn't really matter, since its all really an excuse to swashbuckle and so on.

The story does have a major drawback though the way it is organized. Most oft e chapters are really short and bounce around between a number of different characters, slowing the story and making it difficult to follow, as well as identify with the characters themselves. It can make for a complicated and frustrating read. All in all though, a solid effort, in need of some polish.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Too damn depressing

One of the reasons I stopped watching Game of Thrones.

To me, fantasy is about wonderment, fantasy should be fantastical. But GoT, and the books it is based on do away with both. That's the problem I have with those kinds of deconstructions (never mind the political BS that motivates most if it...) By deconstructing something down to it basic components in order to address whatever part if it is deemed objectionable, all too often one ends up destroying the very things that made it work in the first place. What's left is a dark and angst-sodden piece that is not very wonderful and has little in the way of the fantastical, and is just depressing to watch or read.

Good rule of thumb: when something is lauded by the critics as being a "brilliant subversion of" of its subject matter, avoid it as the post-modernist POS it likely is.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Quick pick me up...

Just the thing to brighten a bad day...

Anvil of Crom

From NPR - "Republic of Thieves"

From NPR (when did they start reading fantasy?)

Either you want to be dashing thief Locke Lamora, or you wish he loved you the way he loves his boon companions Jean and Sabetha. It's the delightfully tangled relationship between the three of them that takes center stage (sometimes literally) in Scott Lynch's latest Gentleman Bastard book, The Republic of Thieves.
If you're new to the series, it began back in 2006 with The Lies of Locke Lamora, a swashbuckling fantasy saga set in a multilayered world with a vague resemblance to Renaissance Europe. Locke, Jean and Sabetha are all orphans, raised in the criminal underworld of their Venice-like city of Camorr, and trained to be the creme de la creme of thieves. Mysterious redhead Sabetha is largely absent in the first two volumes; away on training missions or just missing. We mostly hear about her through Locke, who's desperately in love with her. Jean, the stalwart muscle man, mostly puts up with the drama. Mostly....
 Took him long enough to put it out...

Saturday, May 25, 2013


STORM OVER OLYSI, the second book of The Nine Suns is now avail for purchase at Amazon and Smashwords!

It was supposed to be an easy job. Deliver a crate to the city of Iremnik, on Kuthir. Try not to get killed in the process. 

But for Gaebrel Harrn and the crew of the Sparrow, things are never that simple. For inside that crate was a sleeping princess at the heart of a plot to use dark magic and twisted technology to overthrow a kingdom and ignite a war that would leave a world in flames.

Now they are on the run, chased across the Olysi system by their old enemy Ulzarad the Neverborn, who desires nothing more than to consume their souls. To restore a Princess to her rightful throne - and save their own necks - Gaebrel and his companions will do battle against a mighty warlord who has never known defeat, face certain death in the arena against creatures unknown even to legend and escape the soulless clutches of the Neverborn. They will infiltrate the homeworld of the lizard-like dzur, an secretive race known for their skill in creating magical artifacts...and their absolute hatred of outsiders. Those who enter their underground cities uninvited are never seen again.

Yet Gaebrel and his companions have never let the threat of utter annihilation stand in their way. With swords and gunpowder and reckless courage they will bring a storm over the worlds of Olysi...and the Suns and Spirits help those who get in their way!

Buy it at Amazon and Smashwords!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The problem with epic fantasy and indie writers

Reposted from Kindleboards:

Romance. I can't really see it losing its crown. The Queen has been ruling for a while now.

More women read than men (I feel so anyway, no research done Tongue), and a lot of women like romance,
so romance should always be dominant, no matter what spice is flavouring it (historical/vamps/etc.).

Epic fantasy does well, but its dominated by a few big names. Indie authors don't really try to write
fantasy on the same scope and size as the trade published authors (Dalglish's books are half the size).
I am going to self publish a 250k novel at the end of this year, the first of a long series, I think I may be
one of the first doing this as an indie. Self publishing this book will cost me over 3000 bucks (the price is
why I don't think many indies bother with epic fantasy).

The problem with epic fantasy from an indie standpoint (and I speak from considerable experience) is the sheer amount of work involved. Writing a 250K word epic is very much a labor of love that can consume years of your life. From what I can ell about the indie writing business model, there is a premium on speed of production. Writers who can churn out multiple short novels (or even novellas) over a year or two (or who have an extensive backlist built before they publish) have an advantage over someone slaving away on a massive 1000 page monster - from Amazon or Smashword's point of view one writer has more titles up than another, which is more for the algorithms to work with, more opportunity for prospective buyers to stumble across their names.

The downside of this is quality - we end up with a lot of boilerplate stories featuring the same stock characters and plots. I think that's a reason why so many PNR stories feature broody vampires and all the rest, or why so many indie fantasies are variations of the standard coming-of-age stories that come across as rehashed Dungeons and Dragons sessions turned to fiction. They're easy to write, there's a template to follow.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Greenwich Reflections

It's a cold, windy Saturday. I had nothing better to do, so I signed up for a rather interesting pub crawl in Greenwich Village. I and about thirty other literary aficianados were going to spend three freezing hours visiting three bars in lower Manhattan known for their association with great writers of the past century. We started off at the White Horse tavern (famous for being the last place Dylan Thomas drank before dying) proceeded onwards to the Kettle of Fish and ended the day at Marie's Crisis Cafe. all great places, (though the last was something of a meat locker in terms of temperature...) and I drank back some bottles of fine hard cider (not much of a beer drinker...)

But a few days later, reflecting on our perambulations through New York literary past, I realized something. All of the writers associated in these places have been dead for decades...or of they are still among the living are not likely to remain so for very much longer due to advanced age. For over a century, the Village was a Bohemain paradise, a literary mecca, an artists haven, Today it's a museum, a place for outsiders like yours truly to dip a toe in the metaphorical fairy dust of the past. hoping that some of it will stick (while conveniently ignoring the grinding poverty, personal conflicts, substance abuse and wrecked marriages along the way...those who said art comes from suffering knew all well of what they spoke...) The neighborhood itself is a cleaned up, prettied up version of its old grungy self, the street kid poet turned tenured professor. Those in the area hoo still have creative drive likleyy have trust funds or day jobs on Wall Street. Or rent control.

None of this is surprising to anyone, least of all myself. Everyone knows the Village has been a yuppie enclave for over a generation. Go to other places in this city with a history of artistic endeavor and its all the same. Williamsburg was once a working class district afflicted with high levels of street crime, now it's hipster central. Astoria, Long Island City...all headed down the same path. None of this is shocking or surprising.

Which leads me to wonder about the conflict between art and wealth. Specifically, can true artistic communities co-exist with wealthy neighbors? Artists hope to sell their paintings, poets and writers to sell their scribblings...their presence in any given place gives it that pizzazz that inevitably draws the monied crowd...forcing the artists to move on. The great neighborhoods around the world that we associate with Bohemian lifestyle around the world are an eclectic group of places, but they all share one thing in common - once upon a time they were dirt poor places that sensible citizens did their best to avoid. My father lived and worked in NYC during the Seventies, back when the gritty city so beloved by by the nostalgic today was a very real thing (gritty enough to choke on...), and he makes it quite clear that it was not a nice place to be. The Village, the Bowery and all the rest were crime-ridden sinks most did their best to leave. Which is why the creative types moved in. It was the only around they could afford to live. The Village was the home base for generations of writers because the rents were cheap. Dylan Thomas was staying at the Hotel Chelsea because it rented at flophouse rates. Chelsea became a gay haven because it was cheap enough even for societal outcasts. An amazing period of creativity began, which in turn caught he eye of people who did have money and desire to be near exciting things, slowly but surely the rents go up...the Course of Empire in the inverse.

Which makes one wonder if eventual self-destruction is inherent in these sorts of communities. A place abandoned becomes a home for those of creative mind with low capital. It becomes the focus of attention. Money moves in. Eventually the creatives must move on. They find another place, and the process starts anew.

Which goes to show the only place Bohemia can be eternal is inside your own head.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Review of Darkslayer: Wrath of the Royals

The Darkslayer: Wrath of the Royals - Book 1The Darkslayer: Wrath of the Royals - Book 1 by Craig Halloran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There isn't a lot that distinguishes this book, the first on a series, from any of a number of stories based in the legacy of Howard or Leiber. Darkslayer: Wrath of the Royals fits firmly into this.

The setting is the world of Bish, a standard fantasy world with all that implies, to the point that it feels almost like a Dungeons and Dragons session put to paper. The hero is Venir, a ranger turned mighty-thewed warrior (sorry, couldn't resist...) and his thief companion Melegal, essentially Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser under slightly different names. When they make the mistake of crossing the wrong set of nobles in the city of Bone, they have are forced to flee, setting forth onto a life of adventure and combat and so on...

In other words, there's nothing here that anyone with a background in fantasy RPG's will find unusual, which is both good and bad.

The Good:
The Standard Fantasy Setting means that the story is easy to get into. without having to explain too much about how the world works, the reader can get into the story fairly quickly, The illustrations that accompany the book are very well done, and the heroes face off against a truly demonic enemy that rises above the standard sword-bait orc's. The cosmology of the universe is also interesting - basically the world is an amusement created by a supremely bored godlike being. And to the writers credit, the story doesn't take itself too seriously.

The Bad:
Its a very generic story, almost to the point of ticking off various boxes on the fantasy checklist. The layout of the story is also problematic, often jumping back and forth between characters. It is also burdened with a rather long prologue that basically functions as an info dump. The dialogue is a somewhat stilted and the prose baffling.

In short, not terribly original as fantasy stories go, but again, that's not a bad thing. If you're looking for an amusing read, this would be a good place to start.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013


City of Rogues (The Kobalos Trilogy, #1)City of Rogues by Ty Johnston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

- A decent read that hits most of the expected marks -

amazon tends to abound with fantasy novels of various sub-genres prices between $2.99 to $0.00 nowadays. Many of them are crap, some of them are brilliant, while the rest fall where in the middle. City of Rogues is definitely amongst the third, though certainly towards the higher end.

The setting is a typical fantasy city, and like Conan and other sword and sorcery tales to which it is obviously inspired by, focuses mainly on the lower end of the social ladder, amongst the thieves, gangsters and others who fight out their days in the narrow alleyways at sword pint and edge of spell. Though the book description lists Kron Darkbow as the main character, an anti-hero bent of revenge (are there any other kinds?) the story spends even more time on its various other characters - a former mercenary turned political boss/gangster, a healer mage trying to escape his past, a former soldier and guard from a prison colony trying to make a fresh start in life, a world-weary city guards captain...and so on.

The central focus of the story is about the character Kron and his quest for revenge against Belgas, the preeminent gangster in the city, and how it draws in, affects and in some cases ends the lives of the characters. when it is over, a new quest has begun to liberate a far-off lands in the north from its insane wizard ruler.

The good points - well-rounded characters and a plot that, while no different from a hundred other fantasy novels, was well-written enough to hold my attention. I've always enjoyed fantasy tales with a gritty edge, and this had enough to make it a fun read.

The bad points - the setting isn't adequately explained. Various other realms are mentioned, but with little explanation as to how they relate to the characters in question. Religion plays a strong role in this society and the characters actions, but almost no background material is provided, causing some confusion. Also, the ending of the book comes across as awkward. Having defeated the bid baddie, Kron and two of the characters suddenly decide to hare off to another land to overthrow its king, almost out of the blue. it felt shoehorned in, giving the book the feeling of being almost an extended prologue.

Still, a decent read, worth three stars at least, worth an afternoons enjoyment.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

There has never been a better version...

Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet...forty years later, and it has yet to be topped...