Friday, June 29, 2012

"Rose of Fire", a short story by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

For a very long time I was not instantly mesmerized by one novel as I was by Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “The Shadow of the Wind”. It was the spark that turned Carlos Ruiz Zafón in one of my top favorite writers in the blink of an eye. Since then I enjoyed with great delight all of his other novels, the three of “The Trilogy of the Mist”, “The Angel’s Game” and the sensible “Marina”. There is no secret anymore that Carlos Ruiz Zafón released a new novel, “The Prisoner of Heaven” (El Prisionero del Cielo), on November last year. And that his latest novel featuring the lovely characters of Daniel Sempere and Fermín Romero de Torres and the mysterious Cemetery of the Forgotten Books found its way quickly to the English market, the UK edition already released on 21st of June by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and the US edition due to be published on 10th of July by Harper Collins. To celebrate the release of “The Prisoner of Heaven” Harper Collins also published an e-short story by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, “Rose of Fire”.

Set at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century, "Rose of Fire" tells the story of the origins of the mysterious labyrinthine library, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which lies at the heart of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novels The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel's Game, and now The Prisoner of Heaven.

“Rose of Fire” can be read for free in any electronic format.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Title spotlight - "Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing" edited by Sandra Kasturi & Halli Villegas

I am fervent reader of Ellen Datlow and Stephen Jones’ annual collections of best horror stories, but lately two more such annual anthologies gain a special place in my preferences, Paula Guran’s “The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror”, at its third edition this year, and Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene’s “The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror”, which will see its second edition released soon. These proved to be excellent sources of quality fiction and always gave me a chance to discover one or two voices that were a mystery to me until that point. Chizine Publications together with Tightrope Books propose a new such annual collection, but not only with the sole chance of reading very good speculative fiction, but also to explore a year’s best from the Canadian point of view. I said that I enjoy Ellen Datlow, Stephen Jones and Paula Guran’s collection, but one feature that brought Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene’s anthology together with those three collections was the chance to make an annual journey in the Australian speculative fiction. The opportunity to do a similar journey in the Canadian speculative fiction brought Sandra Kasturi and Halli Villegas“Imaginarium 2012” to my attention. “Imaginarium” gives me a great chance to make Canada an annual destination of my fiction travels, to meet some of the authors I enjoy, such as Amal El-Mohtar, Gemma Files, Lisa L. Hannett and David Nickle, and to discover new ones. And since it seems that “Imaginarium” already promises a few very interesting things I hope this is the first journey of many.

Edited by Sandra Kasturi and Halli Villegas, Tightrope Books and ChiZine Publications have united in a joint venture to produce a yearly anthology of speculative short fiction and poetry (science fiction, fantasy, horror, and magic realism).
Canadian speculative fiction has been increasingly recognized internationally for the calibre of its authors and their insight into the nature of social and religious identities, the implications of new technologies, and the relationship between humankind and its environments.
At their best, these stories disrupt habits, overcome barriers of cultural perception to make the familiar strange through the use of speculative elements such as magic and technology. They provide glimpses of alternate realities and possible futures and pasts that provoke an ethical, social, political, environmental and biological inquiry into what it means to be human.

“Introduction” by Steven Erikson
“Looker” by David Nickle
“The List” by Kelley Armstrong
“Biting Tongues” by Amal El-Mohtar
“Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot” by Claire Humphrey
“Split Decision” by Robert Runté
“The Cinder Girl” by Peter Chiykowski
“The Candle” by Ian Rogers
“Through the Door” by Susan Ioannu
“Signal to Noise” by Gemma Files
“The Ones Outside Your Door” by Neile Graham
“Down Where the Best Lilies Grow” by Camille Alexa
“Hide” by Rebecca M. Senese
“What We Found” by Geoff Ryman
“Lie-Father” by Gemma Files
“Centipede Girl” by Ada Hoffmann
“Clockwork Fagin” by Cory Doctorow
“Selected Haiku” by George Swede
“Pure” by Rio Youers
“10 things to know about staplers” by Carolyn Clink
“Laikas I” by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
“On the Many Uses of Cedar” by Geoffrey W. Cole
“Obscured” by Rhonda Parrish
“Hawkwood’s Folly” by Timothy Reynolds
“Razor Voices” by Kelly Rose Pflug-Back
“The Bean-Sidhe Calls in Owl-Light” by Neile Graham
“Fur and Feathers” by Lisa L. Hannett
“Breathing Bones” by Peter Chiykowski
“The Education of Junior Number 12” by Madeline Ashby
“One Quarter Gorgon” by Helen Marshall
“A Puddle of Blood” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“Nothing but sky overhead” by David Livingstone Clink
“The Kiss of the Blood-Red Pomegranate” by Kristin Janz
“Charm” by Anna Mioduchowska
“Final Girl Theory” by A.C. Wise
“To Live and Die in Gibbontown” by Derek Künsken
“Beautiful Monster” by Helen Marshall
“Malak” by Peter Watts

On Chizine Publications’ website we can also find the list of honourable mentions for this edition.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

“The Godless World” by Brian Ruckley optioned for film/TV

Brian Ruckley is one of the modern writers who became one of my favorites and the main blame for this situation can be put on his fantasy series “The Godless World”. Not only that, but with the passing of time the three novels of his debut trilogy are closer to my heart and each time I open them for a very short reminder of the story I re-discover plenty of wonderful things and the series becomes better. I had the pleasant opportunity to make an interview with Brian Ruckley after the release of the first two novels of “The Godless World”, “Winterbirth” and “Bloodheir”, and among other things we talked about a potential movie adaptation of his trilogy. Well, it seems that things moved a bit closer for that likely event to become reality because “The Godless World” got optioned for film/TV. This doesn’t mean necessarily that we will see a movie based on Brian Ruckley’s series, but it is a progress towards this possibility. I personally am afraid when it comes to movie adaptations of the books I love, in plenty of occasions the results were unsatisfying to say the least. But I would be curious to see how the movie, or movies, based on “The Godless World” would look like. Who would play the characters I liked (I see Kanin played by Christian Bale, but that is an entirely subjective opinion), who would direct, would the movie setting match my imagination? Questions that would receive answers in case of “The Godless World” becoming a movie. Until then, I’ll rely again on the imagination and picture such images in the light of my interview of Brian Ruckley:

That said, there are individual scenes in the books that I think would be good on a big screen (I’d like to see the big battle in a snowstorm in ‘Bloodheir’, as directed by Ridley Scott, for example). I had never really thought about actors to play my characters until very recently: I was sitting watching Quantum of Solace, and it suddenly occurred to me that Daniel Craig would be quite good to play Taim Narran. He might need to be a few years older, but other than that he would fit rather well.

Friday, June 22, 2012

"Scenes from the Second Storey" edited by Amanda Pillar & Pete Kempshall

“Scenes from the Second Storey”
Publisher: Morrigan Books
Review copy received through the courtesy of one of the editors, Amanda Pillar

I like music, but I cannot say that is one of my passions. I guess I like it as much as any other person, I enjoy listening and buying the albums of the bands and singers I like, but I tend to be pretty conservative and inconsistent on the matter. But when I heard about Amanda Pillar and Pete Kempshall’s anthology based on a music album, The God Machine’s “Scenes from the Second Storey”, the concept I was immediately intrigued and my curiosity picked. I was very interested to see how the wheels of imagination were spun by The God Machine’s songs.

“Dream Machine” by David Conyers – After seventy-six years in Hell Barry Adamson is reassembled at the Hell’s Overload order for an assassination mission. David Conyers spawns with frightening ability scenes that could fuel the most terrifying of nightmares. The hell’s torments traded for a world of endless corridors full of strange paintings and whispers, the painful reconstruction of Barry Adamson’s body and an operation held in the hallucinatory surgical tent together with the deviant methods of training are meticulously shaped into an amazing story. The reason for Barry Adamson’s punishments in Hell is revealed too, but I found it lacking a bit of motivation. I understand from the author’s afterword, however, that “Dream Machine” is part of a series of interconnected short stories, so maybe these aspects have a connection with the other tales. Nonetheless, David Conyers’ “Dream Machine” is the perfect start for the anthology.

“She Said” by Kirstyn McDermott – It is the story of an artist, Josh, and of his girlfriend and muse, Mallory. A beautiful and melancholically story, but with very dark elements. The inspirations and creation of art works tightly hand in hand with life in general and love in particular here. There is a parallel between Josh creating his art pieces and his romantic relationships with his lovers and muses. The touch of life on the artwork gets a new meaning on “She Said” though, but despite this new distinction Josh doesn’t seem to be able to feel fully accomplished neither in art or life.

“The Blind Man” by Felicity Dowker – After the savage beating of a school colleague Greg is condemned to a suspended twelve-month juvenile detention and one hundred hours of community service. While serving his community service hours at The Willows aged care facility Greg meets the mysterious Mr. Salioso. There is a twist in the presence of Mr. Salioso, but the true horror of the story is not found there. The story is told in a strong and bitter voice of Greg, a character with an internal turmoil, but with whom the reader cannot feel sympathetic. Moments of tenderness are turned into brutality and innocence is twisted by violence in a story that is uncomfortable in many ways, but very difficult to forget at the same time.

“I’ve Seen the Man” by Paul Haines – The story of an addictiveness. Paul Haines plays his addicted character to perfection, revealing his dependency late into the story for a greater impact on the reader. The end of the story adds a heavier accent on this aspect, but also a sadder tone. Paul Haines’ recent and unfortunate departure from our world gives “I’ve Seen the Man” new depth and meaning.

“The Desert Song” by Andrew J. McKiernan – When people start disappearing in an outback town Josh the undertaker goes out into the desert for coffinwood trees to use for his coffins while Reverend Garland Wallace sees the situation as an opportunity to gain new followers and redeem their souls. The post-apocalyptic setting is the scene where religion and science clash again. Since neither ideology is willing to make concessions the conflict will rapidly escalade. The solitude of the desert is highlighted by a new world emerged after a world-conflict. The respective conflict is barely hinted by Andrew J. McKiernan, but enough to give the setting shape and representation. The zombie/vampire tropes take a scientific form in “The Desert Song” and that is a very welcomed changed for two sub-genres that tend to become very stereotypical.

“Home” by Martin Livings – The soldier Jack tries to makes sense of his surreal present situation. “Home” is a haunting short story, with elements that not only send Jack, the main character, in an uncertain position, but makes it feel like a perpetual nightmare. Or an endless punishment in Hell. Martin Livings’ story has an undertone that hints at the horrors of war, be they physical or mental.

“It’s All Over” by L.J. Hayward – James goes to an isolated old lighthouse reported to be haunted by a ghost in search of material for his psychology thesis, but also in need to make peace with his past and present. L.J. Hayward creates a very nice ghost story mixing atmosphere with mystery while steadily building the climax amplified by an excellent twist. The journeys James takes down his memory lanes into the past leads the reader to what seems to be a certain outcome, but the story’s finale makes this deceiving one of the main qualities of “It’s All Over”.

“Temptation” by Trent Jamieson – Bolland and Smirker are attempting to cross Victoria Bridge. This is the base idea of Trent Jamieson’s story, but the imagined world of “Temptation” is definitely wider. Crossing a bridge seems to have become a profession in this story and the task is not as simple and carefree as we know it. The bridges are a world on their own, labyrinthine and dangerous as the setting that encompass them is very dark. But Trent Jamieson’s story is very confusing, raising more question than offering answers. It has an intriguing universe and I did not ask how this world came into existence, but I had a few unanswered inquires, important to the development of the story in my opinion, that don’t seem to have an answer. Unfortunately, I have to say that I was unsatisfied by the general feeling left by “Temptation”.

“Out” by Stephen Dedman – Suri was born and raised on zero gravity, but the perspective of landing on a new planet is not as welcomed for her as it is for the rest of the space crew. A wonderful story, which comes with a twist that is another excellent addition to this particular turns encountered in the anthology. The story is told through the voice of a tech and offers the tale of a misfit from the perspective of another misfit. A very solid tale, with a wonderful tone and a clever spin.

“Ego” by Robert Hood – Stefan Clemens and Merrin reached a breaking point in their relationship, but when Merrin’s younger sister, Alice, shows up at Stefan’s door things take a new turn. “Ego” is a short story that keeps the reader almost clueless of what it is actually taking place and what is going to happen. If I can make a comparison it is like walking along a dark corridor with a closed door at the end outlined at the edges by the light behind it. I was never certain what awaited me behind the door, but curiosity push me forward and rewarded me at the end. Better still, I recommend a return to the opening paragraph of “Ego” after finishing Robert Hood’s story, because in the light of the story’s conclusion that particular start recompenses the reader further more. I was not sure about the significance of the main character’s cancer, but after reflecting on this matter a bit more I believe that this is another great approach from the part of Robert Hood, because I do think that in the case of “Ego” cancer doesn’t refer literally to the disease, but rather to a more subtle psychological affection, as dark and dangerous as this terrible illness is.

“Seven” by Stephanie Campisi – Elizaveta tries to cope with the disappearance of her beloved Mikhail and recollects the relationship with him. The story exhales a melancholy infused atmosphere. The main character suffering is almost palpable, the bitter memories of her past lover and their not always easy relationship are enforced by the feeling of solitude induced by her move from home country and the isolation she feels in the new home. Most of the story conflict is implied, nothing is stated clear in the face of the reader. The same goes for the speculative element of the story, only barely seen, but efficient nonetheless. With an excellent technique Stephanie Campisi might not line up “Seven” is the same category as the rest of the stories when it comes to the force with which the subject is delivered, but it is a very sensible tale.

“Purity” by Kaaron Warren – Unsatisfied by her personal life and the medium she lives in Therese joins Calum and Daniel, an unusual preacher and his grandson. It is a story that touches firmly the bizarre, but with an adequate effect. Kaaron Warren is proficient in creating the atmosphere of religious hypnosis and the image of a strange cult leader and his followers. The end is unsettling and amplifies the impression of grotesque and strangeness.

“The Piano Song” by Cat Sparks – Charise fights against a system and tries to find her unique way in the middle of an imposed behavior and hierarchy. Cat Sparks creates a world, a vision of Earth’s possible future, in which the music stars are created by a certain pattern, each role is clearly defined and where uniqueness is not easily accepted. Charise’s struggle against the all defining current ends in a shift of her perceivable reality, inducing a dreamlike state with cheerful tones, but with an unclear border between the two.

I am not sure about The God Machine’s “Scenes from the Second Storey”, it doesn’t seem to fit any of my musical preferences, but Amanda Pillar and Pete Kempshall’s anthology is impressive. I’ve rarely seen such an exceptional collection, with such powerful voices, strong narratives and outstanding stories. I might seem overly excited by it, but I assure you that Amanda Pillar and Pete Kempshall’s “Scenes from the Second Storey” is nothing but top quality. It is an anthology to be held dear, a collection to be read and re-read.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Title spotlight - "Tales of the Emerald Serpent" edited by Scott Taylor

I stumbled over this project a while back and for a couple of reasons it set my interest on fire. I love fantasy literature with passion and I enjoy reading as much of the genre as possible. That is without neglecting the other genres, but nonetheless, fantasy gets the lion’s share of my readings. “Tales of the Emerald Serpent” picked my interest instantly because it is a reminiscent of the fantasy old days, it is an anthology sharing the same setting but seen from the different perspectives of multiple authors. I like this idea quite a lot and since I don’t get many chances to read such projects lately “Tales of the Emerald Serpent” went to my wish list immediately (sadly I was not able to secure a paperback copy through the project’s fund raising page at Kickstarter due to an unfortunate event with the bank where I had my account). “Tales of the Emerald Serpent” invites us to journey in the Free City of Taux, a fantasy port of cursed stones, dark plots, and a core of rich characters who share space inside the infamous Black Gate District, a metropolis in the wider universe of The Nameless Realms. By the looks of it, the editor of the anthology and creator of this universe, Scott Taylor, promises a dark setting, another feature that attracted me towards this project. Fantasy with dark tinges tends to be high on my preferences for the moment and when the synopsis sounds like this Taux, city of cursed stone and home to a growing population of the displaced. Deep within its walls rests the old Ullamaliztli Stadium, and it’s fabled Black Gate, where life treads a fine line between law and chaos. Tales of the Emerald Serpent allows readers a glimpse into this shadow world as nine authors tell a shared world mosaic that sets this fantasy anthology apart from any on the shelves today” I am certain that I can find something for my taste between the pages of the anthology. The list of authors comes with some familiar names, Lynn Flewelling, Juliet McKenna, Martha Wells, Julie Czerneda and Harry Connolly, but the main temptation from the list for me is Todd Lockwood. Todd Lockwood is one of my favorite fantasy artists and his talent is undeniable, as we can easily see on the cover of this project too. But seeing Todd Lockwood crossing the border towards the written fiction for the first time my curiosity for the result reaches new heights. Especially when we have a face for the main character, Torrent, of Todd Lockwood’s story on the cover, the girl in the middle. With all these in mind I already secured an electronic copy of Scott Taylor’s “Tales of the Emerald Serpent” and I am only waiting to start reading the adventures of this anthology.

“Namesake” by Lynn Flewelling
“The One Thing You Can Never Trust” by Harry Connolly
“Between” by Todd Lockwood
“Venture” by Juliet McKenna
“Three Souls for Sale” by Mike Tousignant
“Revenants” by Martha Wells
“Water Remembers” by Julie Czerneda
“Charlatan” by Scott Taylor
“Footsteps of Blood” by Rob Mancebo

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Scourge of the Betrayer" by Jeff Salyards

“Scourge of the Betrayer”
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Review copy received through the courtesy of the author, Jeff Salyards

Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Some say that the Syldoon eat virgins and babies--or perhaps their own mothers. Arkamondos, a bookish young scribe, suspects that the Syldoon's dire reputation may have grown in the retelling, but he's about to find out for himself.
Hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of rugged Syldoon warriors, Arki finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the men's enigmatic leader, Captain Braylar Killcoin. A secretive, mercurial figure haunted by the memories of those he's killed with his deadly flail, Braylar has already disposed of at least one impertinent scribe . . . and Arki might be next.
Archiving the mundane doings of millers and merchants was tedious, but at least it was safe. As Arki heads off on a mysterious mission into parts unknown, in the company of the coarse, bloody-minded Syldoon, he is promised a chance to finally record an historic adventure well worth the telling, but first he must survive the experience! 

Today an increasing number of sources of information can lead a reader to plenty of new emerging writers and new books to be found, but the same sources of information might not facilitate a simple choice for the said reader when it comes to give the new authors a chance of reading their works. From my personal experience sometimes the choice depends heavily on the instinct. And it was my instinct that pushed me towards the debut novel of Jeff Salyards, “Scourge of the Betrayer”.

With the novel pretty much a mystery for me before I started to read it I found myself in the same spot after the first couple of chapters. Engulfed in unknown. But Jeff Salyards’ debut novel has enough elements in the beginning to encourage the further exploration of “Scourge of the Betrayer” that I was compelled to continue reading it despite the fact that no specific path or direction could be seen. This sounds very much like a negative observation, but in the end it is actually not because once the reader reaches the second part of the novel things get a contour and the events start to follow a certain line. As a matter of fact it becomes quite clear that “Scourge of the Betrayer” is an introduction to a series of novels and to a larger story and a wider branched plot. That is not to say that the novel has no purpose besides its precursory quality, a plot raises its head from it, but it also leaves an appealing tail hanging for the series to pick up and twist and resolve in the next installments.

That is not to say that “Scourge of the Betrayer” is a frontispiece with sole purpose of alluring readers to buy the next installments of Jeff Salyards’ series. It is a preamble for new events but with plenty of action and intrigue on its own. Three displays of smaller or larger size of vividly described action scenes throw the reader in the middle of the battle. Stories of past heroics and adventures shade a dark feeling over the novel. In fact, the entire “Scourge of the Betrayer” is charged with a dark atmosphere, a match for the ruthlessness of some of the characters and described through violent behavior and language, foul and messy settings and a misplaced etiquette. It is not a novel that favors easily offended sensibilities.

As much as I found myself in the middle of an enigma I discovered that I was not the only one. Arkamondos, one of the main characters of Jeff Salyards’ “Scourge of the Betrayer”, is in the same situation as the reader. He cannot get past the mystery surrounding his new employer, his company and their course of action. But for Arki, the short for Arkamondos, and the other characters of the novel this secrecy works in the fullest. Because Jeff Salyards not only that builds powerful characters, but also a stronger group. To a certain point the characters of “Scourge of the Betrayer” reminded me aplenty of Sven Hassel’s band of brutal and expendable soldiers. Arki cannot break into the Syldoon group of soldiers, but through his eyes we can see the level of camaraderie and the tight bond between the characters led by Captain Killcoin. Not even the end of the novel brings the full acceptance of Arki. Jeff Salyards built a very convincing group. But he also built distinct individuals. From all of the characters, however, Arki, Captain Braylar Killcoin and Lloi stand out and get the most of the attention of the author.

What it’s valid for the characters doesn’t extend to the world-building. Again, it is not necessarily a bad thing, because after all there is a sense of a world to the setting of the story. I believe that Jeff Salyards focused his efforts in the creation of the characters and the band of Syldoon soldiers more, but he did not neglect their surroundings entirely. It is true that sometimes the reader gets to see more details of inns rather of the cities in which these are found, but there is a placement for the events. The geopolitics of the setting is described in enough points of the novel to create a contour for this world. Also local hierarchies, religion, customs and behaviors are mentioned in plenty of occasions to create a stage for the events of “Scourge of the Betrayer”. Add to this a nasty piece of weaponry that involves a level of magic but which is yet another mystery that needs to find its answer in a sequel of Jeff Salyards’ debut novel and we have a full frame on which the setting to be further constructed.

Overall, I got the feeling that Jeff Salyards“Scourge of the Betrayer” is more than an appetizer, but not quite a main course. It is a story that oils the gear for the entire machinery to reach full speed in the upcoming installments of “Bloodsounder’s Arc” series. And I’ll make certain to be on board when it starts accelerating.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A new Romanian speculative fiction writer published in English

Following the footsteps of Marian Coman another young Romanian speculative fiction writer, Ioana Vișan, comes to the English publishing market. However, her novella, “Human Instincts”, an apocalyptic science fiction story, is not Ioana Vișan’s first presence on the English speculative market. That debut was made with a piece of flash fiction, “Unhinged Reality”, published on Every Day Fiction on September last year. I must admit that my first encounter with Ioana Vișan’s fiction was not memorable, Plimbarea de dimineață a domnișoarei Vu” (The Morning Walk of Miss Vu) published in the anthology “Steampunk: The Second Revolution” was a good for setting the mood of the collection, but not one of the best stories of the respective anthology. That doesn’t mean that I am not happy to see another Romanian speculative fiction writer published in English. It is true that self-published for the moment, but since it seems to be a tough market to break, it is only a first step hopefully. But no matter what the future will hold for the Romanian speculative fiction I am looking forward to read Ioana Vișan’s “Human Instincts” too, her apocalyptic novella that can be found on Smashwords or on various Amazon sites (UK, US, FR, DE, ES, IT). And for more information about Ioana Vișan or her fiction you can visit her website here.

Dr. Deanna Nichols is a geneticist searching for a cure to save the world. After the war nearly destroyed it by releasing an aggressive virus, it was the vaccine that killed the humanity’s chances for progress and survival. Deanna feels guilty because she has participated in creating the vaccine, and General Mackenzie never lets her forget that.
Their luck changes when they are contacted by the convicts held in a secret military prison hidden in the arctic desert. The C deviance criminals are willing to negotiate and provide unaffected DNA samples in exchange for supplies and a visit paid by the doctor herself. Suddenly there’s hope, so Deanna embarks on a dangerous journey to a grittier reality than she had expected.
Could a woman alone save the world?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Guest post - David Nickle

Chizine Publications will release on June 26th a new novel by David Nickle, “Rasputin’s Bastards”. As I said in my post about the book trailer “Rasputin’s Bastards” is one of the novels I am looking forward to read. Well, to be more precise I am already reading it and after the first quarter of David Nickle’s novel I only regret I cannot read faster. However, we do have the chance now to take a look behind the process of creation of “Rasputin’s Bastards” with the help of a guest post by David Nickle.

The Russians of “Rasputin’s Bastards”
by David Nickle

My novel Rasputin's Bastards” is big; the biggest book I've written thus far.  My editor, Sandra Kasturi, nicknamed it the Fat Bastard. I call it my Russian Novel—in part because of its Tolstoy-like girth, but also because it is, well, Russian. While I dip my toe in a lot of nationalities and ethnicities to tell this story of psychic spies before, during and after the Cold War—really, in my re-imagined history of the invisible Great Game, it's the Russians who get it right.

I was drawn to writing about Russians honestly; it's in my blood.

My grandmother and her sisters escaped the Russian Revolution, after her father had the misfortune to sit in one of the three Dumas (my mother thinks the first, I think the second), and faced some unpleasant questions, and a fierce beating, from the aristocracy after its dissolution. They came to Canada without much money, education, or hope.

My grandmother Olga was the looker of the family, and she also could sing—and none of that led to great wealth it gave her an exciting life in Depression-era Toronto. In the 1920s and 1930s, she tried singing (it didn't work out, mostly because her lack of formal education made it impossible for her to learn to read sheet music) and prior to that, acting in the movies.  There is a silent reel or two out there somewhere, in which she plays an Indian Princess, swept over Niagara Falls at the film's climax.

During a trip to California, I am told she went on a date with Boris Karloff, who was a perfect gentleman, and therefore an exception to the sorts of fellows she met there, who were mashers, one and all.

This was before my time, though, and the information was mostly delivered to me via my mother. My grandmother would not trouble children with stories of the Depression in Toronto or Hollywood debauchery; rather, she would spin fanciful tales of her childhood, wandering from village to village in the Ukraine in the early 1900s, where she would charm restless horses, solve problems that vexed the villagers and delight all who met her.

Her Russia was a dreamy place, and although even as a small child I suspected it was an unrealistically dreamy place, it struck me as being worth a visit. Some of the more colorful visions that emerge in “Rasputin's Bastards” probably have their genesis in my Babushka's tall tales.

As to other ethnicities that emerge in the novel. There are Romanians who generally are quiet and terrifying; I employed them mostly because of the reputation of the Romanian Securitat at the time, as being exceptionally dangerous. I gravitated to Turkey for similarly plot-driven reasons: I wanted antagonists and supporting characters who came from that part of the world but also a more secular tradition, and Turkey seemed to fit that bill.

The Americans are, well, Americans. And there are some members of the New York Italian mob, and a young woman from Hong Kong, and a pile of Canadians here and there. Those, I drew as best I could.

But ultimately, my heart was with the Russians in “Rasputin's Bastards”. Those folk, after all, are family.

David Nickle is the author of more than 30 short stories, 13 of which have been gathered in the collection “Monstrous Affections”. He is author of “Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism”, and co-author of “The Claus Effect”, with Karl Schroeder. Years ago, he and Karl won an Aurora Award for the short story that inspired that novel, “The Toy Mill”. Some years later, he won a Bram Stoker Award for short fiction, for a story called “Rat Food” - co-written with Edo Van Belkom. He lives in Toronto, Canada. His website, The Devil's Exercise Yard ( has stories on it for free.

More information about “Rasputin’s Bastards” can be found on Chizine Publications website, as well as on the novel’s dedicated site, What is City 512?.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cover art - "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R.R. Martin (Spanish editions)

Earlier this year I’ve talked about Marc Simonetti’s “A Song of Ice and Fire 2013 Calendar” and his cover artworks made for George R.R. Martin’s series. I recently discovered another very talented artist, Enrique Corominas, who also made some stunning cover artworks for the Spanish editions, published by Gigamesh, of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. Not only that, but Enrique Corominas has released in 2008 at Gigamesh a personal art book dedicated to his “A Song of Ice and Fire” artworks, “El Arte de Canción de hielo y fuego”, which features more than 100 illustrations. These covers in particular and Corominas’ artworks in general are very beautiful, with a wonderful atmosphere and an amazing companion for George R.R. Martin’s novels. An excellent choice by Gigamesh, the publisher of these Spanish editions. I highly recommend visiting Corominas’ website for more of his impressive artworks, including illustrations, graphic novels and book covers, and Gigamesh’s site for more beautiful Spanish book covers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 Ditmar Awards

The past week-end, at the 51st Australian National Science Fiction Convention, the winners of the 2012 Ditmar Awards, recognizing the achievements in the Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror, were announced:

Best Novel: The Courier's New Bicycle” by Kim Westwood (HarperCollins)

Best Novella or Novelette: “The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt” by Paul Haines (The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Brimstone Press)

Best Short Story: “The Patrician” by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Love and Romanpunk, Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Collected Work: The Last Days of Kali Yuga” by Paul Haines, edited by Angela Challis (Brimstone Press)

Best Artwork: “Finishing School” by Kathleen Jennings (Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, Candlewick Press)

Best Fan Writer: Robin Pen, for “The Ballad of the Unrequited Ditmar”

Best Fan Artist: Kathleen Jennings, for work in Errantry” ( including “The Dalek Game”

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium: The Writer and the Critic”, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Best New Talent: Joanne Anderton

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review: Alexandra Pierce and Tehani Wessely, for reviews of Vorkosigan Saga”, in Randomly Yours, Alex

The A Bertram Chandler Award: Richard Harland

The Norma K Hemming Award: AA Bell, for Hindsight”, and Sara Douglass, for “The Devil's Diadem”

The Peter McNamara Award: Bill Congreve

Congratulations to all the winners!