Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Grants Pass" trailer

With the new swine flu spreading throughout the world what will make an interesting and disturbing reading if not a post-apocalyptic fiction? And one of the titles that appeal to me and one that I am looking forward to read is the upcoming anthology published by Morrigan Books, “Grants Pass”, edited by Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar. “Grants Pass” will be released in August, but until then Morrigan Books teases us with a catchy trailer for their new anthology. Luckily we are not only teased, besides the book trailer we can find two stories set in the Grants Pass universe on-line for a sneak peek into the atmosphere of the anthology. “Snake Oil” by David Priebe and “Warlord of Rhode Island” by Rick Silva can be read in the last issue of the Morrigan Books E-Zine, Three Crow Press.
“Grants Pass” is also available for pre-order and if you would like to reserve your copy already you can do it following this link to Morrigan Books pre-order page.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fantasy Art - Nicolas "Sparth" Bouvier

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Nicolas “Sparth” Bouvier was born in France, but in 2003 he left Paris for Montreal joining the team of Ubisoft and working on their projects, “Prince of Persia Warrior Within” and “Assassin’s Creed”. In 2005 he moved to Dallas, Texas spending there three years working for IDSoftware and from January 2009 he lives in Seattle, Washington and joined the team of Microsoft for the project HALO. Sparth’s works were published in many art books and catalogues and also were gathered in a personal art book, “Structura – The Art of Sparth”, which was published in 2008. Sparth also illustrated many book covers published in USA, France, Germany and Romania, especially Science Fiction novels.

Interview - Nicolas "Sparth" Bouvier

Dark Wolf: Nicolas, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
Can you trace your love for art? What is your first recollection about art?
Sparth: I guess there’s something within myself that has always been there. Even though I’m not really liking the idea of having empirical talent or being predestined. When I was about six, I was often putting small texts with images, drawing animal stories about birds and little pigs. I suppose that I already needed to convey things in a graphic way. I can clearly remember I was creative during my youth. And you know how it goes at this age. The more you’re encouraged by adults who think you’re doing a great job, the more you’re pushing your own boundaries, conscious, in a way or another, that you’re doing a much better job in that field, than your little comrades.When I was living in Singapore around 82, I also remember how I had spent days trying to create a large battlestar galactica spaceship with cardboard and glue. Not to forget I really was a Star Wars addict. Singapore was a very safe city to the point where I could hail a taxi to go in downtown with my brother who was eleven at the time, to go see Return of the Jedi at the theater. The cinema was always having these huge painted giant poster scenes from the movie on the façade, instead of the conventional known posters like in the US. It was having a big impact on the people I believe. It was so big, all hand painted. I went back three others times to the same cinema to see it again and again. Of course, I can also remember all these times where I went to art museums with my parents. It also played a big role but in a different way.

Dark Wolf: Why do you call yourself Sparth and where did this nickname come from?
Sparth: Sparth was a name that I thought described me well, as during years, I’ve been pretty much a workaholic, pushing my own limits to the point where I needed to slow down to avoid health issues. When I was young I had that book about ancient Greece, and about these Spartan kids who were forced to rub snow on their body to clean themselves during winter time. It struck me as a kid. It was so extreme. I guess it described me well even though there’s no way I’d go naked in the snow to clean myself!

Dark Wolf: How did your travels influence your works?
Sparth: I think that any times you give your brain new horizons to discover and visit, you’ll do him a big favor and he’ll grow bigger, storing all these details that you will be able to retranslate in your art years later. It is even more important at an early age. I can see my kids being fluent in English and French. They’ll keep this within themselves, and it will be useful one day in a way or another. Seeing the world expands our minds. It’s a fact. Let me give you an example. At the beginning of the eighties I remember having participated to an art contest organized by the French school of Singapore. A famous French military boat called “Jeanne d’Arc” was going to come during several days to the island, and the students had to paint it the best way they could. I won the contest and as a result, met with several people in uniforms, without knowing at all how important they were. I won several books and objects.
Today, whenever I think of a military boat, I have the “Jeanne d’Arc” in mind. Its shape and colors are clearly engraved in my mind. It’s following me through the years. Life is about this succession of events that are memorable only to you. And it’s even more the case when you travel a lot. That’s when things happen.

DW: From all the places visited and the cultures met which one had a more impact on your art? Has one in particular influenced your works more?
S: As a Sci-Fi fan, I’d say the biggest impact for me still comes from the US. There are so many people here that know and “breath” science fiction and fantasy, as something totally natural and logical. It’s here that you get things done.
When it comes to the wonders of the world I’ve seen, there would be too many things to mention… walls of giant butterflies in the Malaysian jungle, black volcanic sand on a Bali beach, giant stingrays in the Everglades. It’s all stored in my mind, and I suppose all these details are shaping my own art.

DW: One of your greatest passions is clearly seen on your works and I refer here to architecture. What attracted you in the first place toward architecture? What possibilities are offering the architectural forms to work with and how are they different than a character creation for example?
S: My dad was actually taking care of that big French construction company, the same one that had built the Eiffel tower in 1889. He was himself in contact with many renowned architects. As a result, architecture related books and materials where sometimes around the house. It must have been having an influence on me for sure. Architecture is all about the interaction between man and a created environment. It is very connected to concept design as both try to improve, extrapolate and amplify the world we live in.

DW: How did you become involved in the game industry? Was working in this domain a personal goal or it was just a work offer at first?
S: It started in Paris around 96 or 97. At that time I was a freelance artist, graduating from the ENSAD in Paris. I was mainly doing works for the book industry, as well as doing images for scientific institutes. My friend Mathieu Lauffray told me one day that I should meet some friends of his who had created a design company, which I did. That company, called LCD Multimedia at that time, changed its name to Verity Inc for about a year. And then switched its name again, for good this time: Darkworks Studio. It became one of the biggest French video game studios. I stayed there about 6 years. Left in 2003 to go back abroad.
It was not a personal goal at first. I was convinced I was going to end up in the comic industry, or doing children’s book. But the video game industry was growing bigger and bigger every year. Seeing all these art positions popping up one after the other was pretty logical when you retrospectively look back. We all took the train as it rushed forward into the unknown. That’s the way I see it.

DW: What brought new in your art the experience from the gaming industry? Did your art or the style of work changed after this experience?
S: Well, it became more professional in many ways. At that time, freelancing was all about meeting clients around Paris, and work for them from your apartment, then go back to their company or publisher in order to give them your images, from your hands to theirs. Working for a studio was so different. Even though we were inventing all these jobs and positions, I could respond to a specific task, and do my best for it. Even more important, I could also work with a team. You work and learn faster when outsides eyes can help you grow.

DW: Many of your artworks are focused on Sci-Fi genre. Is this genre your main source of inspiration and what attracted you toward it?
S: Well once again I really do think I belong to the Star Wars generation. There’s nothing more exciting than doing your own visual projection into the future.
Not to forget about something I find extremely important. When you do your best to imagine the future, it’s a way to conjure or transcend death. Several months ago, my 5 year old kid told me something I’ll never forget. He explained to me with his own words that there were two ways to think about a specific situation, 1) being into that situation and living it for real 2) dreaming it. I’m condensing his own explanation, but as simple as it seems, I was struck at how deep that thought was, especially at his age. Science fiction is all about dreaming what could become the future, and if there hadn’t been a Jules Verne for example, maybe submarines or even planes, would not have seen the day before several centuries. Who knows?

DW: Speaking of Sci-Fi I’ve seen a number of book covers illustrated by you. How was the work in this field? Would you like to illustrate a particular novel or the works of a particular author?
S: I’ve illustrated more than 50 book covers since 2004, and I am honored having done so. It’s a real pleasure doing book covers, as that type of work differs a lot from the long gaming projects I’ve done, and that sometimes last several years. On the contrary, doing a book cover is a “one shot” event, very challenging on a short term. No matter the author, I’ve always considered an honor having my images on specific novels that I love.

DW: Remaining in the book covers field, your work, like yourself, travels around the world through the novels illustrations. And with the access to Internet now your work travels worldwide. How do you feel knowing that every day your work is admired in a different corner of the world?
S: I feel extremely honored, that is a sure fact. I don’t think I really grasp how great it is though. I mean by this that after all these years, I still spend a lot of time trying to outpass myself and finding new ways of expression via my art. And I often forget about the final published products and where they go to. It’s all about achieving a mission, and switching to the next one. I tend to forget looking back, and quantify all these productions I’ve been doing over the years. This is why I decided to publish my artbook STRUCTURA. It’s a way of putting a personal milestone on paper.

DW: In the future would you like to work with someone in particular? Would you like to work in a new domain?
S: If it’s art related, and if it allows me to be as creative as in the gaming industry for example, then yes. I’d be ready, one day, to try working in new domains. But to be honest, after nearly four years in Texas, I needed a big change. And Microsoft, as well as Seattle, where I live now, is clearly representing that change. It’s very exciting to work for the Halo franchise, and I plan to keep doing so for quite some time.

DW: What projects do you have in the near future?
S: Apart from doing my everyday concept job, I’d be interested to maybe work on a second artbook. I have plans for it, even though there’s no rush.
“Create less, but better” would probably describe me best and could be my actual motto.

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.
For an extended biography and for a massive gallery of Nicolas "Sparth" Bouvier's works please visit the artist website,

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Putting the Pieces in Place" by R.B. Russell

"Putting the Pieces in Place"
Format: Hardcover, 128 pages

R.B. Russell is one of the figures behind the small, independent publishing house recipient of three World Fantasy Awards, Tartarus Press. Now R.B Russell makes his debut with a collection of five stories “Putting the Pieces in Place”.

“Putting the Pieces in Place” – A collector is trying to gather items and recordings of a deceased violinist, Emily Butler. R.B. Russell is playing in the story that gives its name to the collection with the boundary between passion and obsession, a boundary that seems to disappear in some places. Making contributions to the obsessive but melancholic atmosphere are the music, the locations and the characters.

“There is Nothing I Wouldn’t Do” – A young woman pursuing her studies and trying to follow a known architect who inspires her goes in Ukraine. Here she lives a love story which will prove difficult to handle. Like the first story of the collection this one plays with the thin line between passion and obsession, but if the first story has a melancholic atmosphere in here the atmosphere is much more oppressive and disturbing. At the end of the story the author makes small hints of the outcome, but leaves much to the reader’s imagination, which will prove as powerful as if the images were fully descript.

“In Hiding” – David Barrett M.P. tries to escape a political scandal on a remote Greek island. A subtle piece, involving much of a human nature and our perception of the world surrounding us. Also what it looked like an obvious course of the story for me was turned in a surprising but pleasant way by the author in the end.

“Eleanor” – An author of a successful novel happens to meet the character of his novel. R.B. Russell creates a psychological piece with a subtle tangle between reality and fiction. The story is also an irony of our throwaway society, how can one thing be transformed from its initial point to an almost unrecognizable one.

“Dispossessed” – After taking care of an old lady a young woman sees herself in need to find a new place to live in. I find this story to be the darkest of the collection, with more descriptive images of violence and horror. Psychological aspects are caught in the story as well making their contribution in the creation of a strong story.

Many times I find myself more impressed by the psychological and subtle horror than the one involving excessive gore and violence and such is the case with this collection. In “Putting the Pieces in Place” R.B. Russell plays with human emotions without drawing a perceptible line between reality and fiction, passion and obsession, and creates an atmosphere of unease without pointing exactly the reason for it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

ASFA suggestions for 2009 Chesley Awards

The Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists established in 1985 The Chesley Awards (initially named ASFA Awards), an award that recognizes individual works and achievements in the SF and Fantasy art during the previous year. The Chesley Awards are very captivating and very interesting (since last year several categories of the Awards were decided by decimal point difference in the final raking). ASFA posted a list of suggestions for the 2009 Chesley Awards, which is awarded for the achievements in SF and Fantasy art in 2008. Note that this is not the final list of nominees, but just a suggestion gallery. The final day for the ASFA members to submit nominating ballots is 30th of May and the final list of nominees will be announced by ASFA later this summer. Still the gallery of suggestions is impressive and many of the heavy names of Fantasy art are find in each category. It looks like a close competition this year as well.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In the mailbox

Here are once again the latest arrivals in my mailbox:

- "How To Make Monsters" by Gary McMahon (through the courtesy of Morrigan Books);

Since the dawn of mankind, we have always made our own monsters: the terrors of capitalism and corruption, the things between the cracks, the ghosts of self…terrible beasts of desire, debt, regret, racism…of family ties, and the things that get in the way of our aspirations…the familiar monsters of our own faces, of tradition, rejection, and the darkness that lives deep inside our own hearts…
Can you identify the component parts of your own monster?
Can you afford to pay the dreadful price of its construction?

- "The Even" by T.A. Moore (through the courtesy of Morrigan Books);

In the Even — a city built in the intersection between the real and the not —ruled by the iron whim of the demon Yekum where treachery brewed amidst the ever-changing streets. Ancients dwell in the city who have out-lived their purpose and grown jaded with their immortality. They want only to die and they will take the whole world with them if they have to: suicide by Apocalypse.
Only Faceless Lenith, goddess, cynic and gambler, stands in their way. The fate of the world rests on her shoulders and mankind did not conceive her to be wise.

- "Fall of Thanes" by Brian Ruckley (through the courtesy of Orbit Books);

Tension between the clans of the Black Road and the True Bloods is mounting, as each side in the conflict becomes ever more riven by internal dissent and disunity. And Aeglyss the na’kyrim continues to spread chaos in the world, exerting a dangerous, insidious influence over events both near and far.
As events mount to a climax, the world will change and no side can anticipate the twisted pattern of what lies ahead.

- "Arthas: Rise of the Lich King" by Christie Golden (through the courtesy of Sneak Attack Media and Pocket Books);

It was caught in a hovering, jagged chunk of ice, the runes that ran the length of its blade glowing a cool blue. Below it was a dais of some sort, standing on a large gently raised mound that was covered in a dusting of snow. A soft light, coming from somewhere high above where the cavern was open to daylight, shone down on the runeblade. The icy prison hid some details of the sword's shape and form, exaggerated others. It was revealed and concealed at the same time, and all the more tempting, like a new lover imperfectly glimpsed through a gauzy curtain. Arthas knew the blade -- it was the selfsame sword he had seen in his dream when he first arrived. The sword that had not killed Invincible, but that had brought him back healed and healthy. He'd thought it a good omen then, but now he knew it was a true sign. This was what he had come to find. This sword would change everything. Arthas stared raptly at it, his hands almost physically aching to grasp it, his fingers to wrap themselves around the hilt, his arms to feel the weapon swinging smoothly in the blow that would end Mal'Ganis, end the torment he had visited upon the people of Lordaeron, end this lust for revenge. Drawn, he stepped forward.
The uncanny elemental spirit drew its icy sword. "Turn away, before it is too late," it intoned.
His evil is legend. Lord of the undead Scourge, wielder of the runeblade Frostmourne, and enemy of the free peoples of Azeroth. The Lich King is an entity of incalculable power and unparalleled malice -- his icy soul utterly consumed by his plans to destroy all life on the World of Warcraft.
But it was not always so. Long before his soul was fused with that of the orc shaman Ner'zhul, the Lich King was Arthas Menethil, crown prince of Lordaeron and faithful paladin of the Silver Hand.
When a plague of undeath threatened all that he loved, Arthas was driven to pursue an ill-fated quest for a runeblade powerful enough to save his homeland. Yet the object of his search would exact a heavy price from its new master, beginning a horrifying descent into damnation. Arthas's path would lead him through the arctic northern wastes toward the Frozen Throne, where he would face, at long last, the darkest of destinies.

- "The Exodus Gate" by Stephen Zimmer (through the courtesy of Stephen Zimmer).

Benedict Darwin, host of a popular late night radio show that deals with the paranormal, comes into possession of a virtual reality simulator that turns out to be something far greater and more powerful than he ever expected.
Supernatural powers from the Abyss and their human allies are working tirelessly to bring about a One World Government, bridging the boundaries of time and space to bring back the Nephilim, the offspring of Fallen Avatars and humans, who were destroyed in a Great Flood that occurred long ages ago.
On the verge of enslaving the entire world, the vast forces within the Abyss under their proud and defiant ruler Diabolos are more powerful than ever before, and they hunger to shake the foundations of Heaven itself.
A Convergence of unprecedented proportions is underway, as meticulously designed plans from malevolent otherworldly powers, set into motion at the foundation of the world, begin to unfold.
In the face of this rising storm, other powers begin to come together to resist. A most unlikely group begins to form, including high school student Seth Engel and his friends, who witness pony-sized wolves during a hike in a forest where wolves have not been seen in decades, to Benedict, his niece Arianna, and even souls existing within the afterworld. The Exodus Gate sets in motion many new forces and unexpected allies that are not going to allow their world and those beyond to fall without a fight.
An epic tale of courage and adventure, with fantastical realms and exotic creatures, The Exodus Gate is the first adventure in the Rising Dawn Saga.

Thank you all very much :)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cover Art - "Livres de Sang - l'Intégrale 1" ("Books of Blood") by Clive Barker

One of my favorite writers is Clive Barker and through my favorite readings are his collections of stories, “Books of Blood”. One of my favorite covers for this great collection of stories is for a Spanish edition, but now that one has a match, the upcoming French edition published by Bragelonne and which will be released on 30th of May. The artist of this cover art is Sarry Long.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Madder Mysteries" by Reggie Oliver

"Madder Mysteries"
Format: Hardcover, 256 pages

As I mentioned in a previous post last November I saw in the hands of an acquaintance the first title released by a new small press, Ex Occidente Press, specialized in limited editions of “weird, strange, decadent and fantastic” stories. Since then the information was stored in the back of my mind until I picked up and read the new collection of stories written by Reggie Oliver, “Madder Mysteries”.

“Madder Mysteries” is the Reggie Oliver’s fourth collection of stories and one that doesn’t gather only short fiction. Structured in three sections the collection contains short fiction (“Stories”), essays about other authors supernatural stories (“Diversions & Curiosities”) and snippets written in the style of a nineteenth century magazine of strange events (“The Cabinet of Curiosities”).

“Baskerville’s Midgets” – A landlady who hosts actors in her house receives a troupe of midget performers. But her connection and affection with the midgets will reach a new limit. Reggie Oliver builds in this short story a weird and uncomfortable atmosphere through a few palpable situations, with a supernatural twist and a feeling of strange that can only be guessed. The story is peppered with moments of humor and irony.

“The Wig: A Monologue for an Actor” – An actor relates a story from his youth of a rivalry between two fellow actors. As the title says this story is a monologue in which the author’s experience as an actor shows itself. Also like in a play the body language of the storyteller is set between brackets, element that adds to the unease of the story recounting as well.

“Tawny” – At a Christening party a recollection of a past love will be interrupted by a brutal and horrific act. The story is in fact a dialogue, beautifully developed, with tension gathering between the lines until a horror act unfolds, act which remains untold but even more disturbing because of this.

“The Head” – A young taxi driver develops a working relationship with one of his clients, an art critic. However, fulfilling the final request of his client will bring him a strange fortune instead of the promised one. A tale of haunting in which Reggie Oliver manages to express the uneasiness of the protagonist in way in which I could almost feel it. Also the character’s annoyance toward the end of the story was almost in my immediate reach.

“The Devil’s Funeral” – The storyteller finds a series of letters and journal entries depicting an unfortunate and weird event from his grandfather’s youth. This is my favorite story of this collection. I love how Reggie Oliver plays with the historical elements of the story’s setting, how he builds an unsettling climate and how he mingles the terrifying reality with powerful and strange visions.

“A Donkey at the Mysteries” – Before starting his studies at Oxford a young man travels to Greece, where he will encounter a forgotten religion. The story is unveiled in an atmosphere of solitude, which combined with a strange worshipping will end up into an oppressive and obsessive situation.

“The Game of Bear” – Mr. Purdue finds himself haunted by the presence of his cousin who doesn’t want to leave his property. After her death he finds through her belongings a book of rhymes which speaks of heavy punishments to the wrongful ones. Reggie Oliver attempts to finish the M.R. James’ story and in my opinion he manages to complete it successfully. He manages to keep the same voice as M.R. James and to bring an end in the same style.

“The Devil’s Number” – Working on a library our storyteller discovers a few hidden pages written by Casanova in which he recounts his meeting with a strange figure and which leads to one of his life’s regrets. The weird sensation is kept from the beginning to the end of the story despite the period of time or location of it, unsettling the reader through hinted events.

“Diversions & Curiosities” section contains Reggie Oliver’s essays regarding the supernatural tales of Stella Gibbons, Montague Summers, M.R. James, Henry James and Jules Charnier. I found these essays entertaining, putting a light on these authors’ works and their approach on supernatural tales, describing some of these works and sharing his opinions about them. I believe that the last author from the essay section, Jules Charnier, is actually invented, but with a same power in the essay and with an added amusing factor.

“The Cabinet of Curiosities” section is formed by little snippets, all of them hilarious, with real amusing situations and ideas. This section is offering the reader a relaxing exit from the strangeness and weird atmosphere of the first section, but keeping the same odd and fantastic line of the collection.

Reggie Oliver plays in his stories with the strange, supernatural and fantastic, but not all these elements will be present in front, many of them are just hinted the author playing with the reader’s imagination. All the tension and guessed terror will act in the favor of the stories, adding to the pleasure of the reading. “Madder Mysteries” is a collection which will appeal greatly to the passionate of weird and bizarre, but the other readers can equally enjoy this collection.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cover Art - "Dragon Keeper" by Robin Hobb

On the 25th of June, Harper Voyager will release a new novel by the well-known and much appreciated author, Robin Hobb. “Dragon Keeper” is the first novel in “The Rain Wild Chronicles”, Robin Hobb’s new duology, and it will be followed if I am not mistaken by “Dragon Haven” (as stated on the author’s MySpace blog).

Yesterday I found the cover art for this upcoming novel on Jackie Morris’ journal, the artist who made the cover. Jackie Morris also designed the covers for the other Robin Hobb’s series published by Harper Voyager, “Farseer”, “Liveship Traders”, “Tawny Man” and “Soldier Son”. Although I like the more detailed covers of the author’s series I found equal pleasure in the covers designed by Jackie Morris. I like their simplicity a lot and I find the unique image on the covers to have the same power with the other cover artworks. I also think that this design have an air of mystery, showing just a hint of the treasure hidden between the book covers, but making me eager to dig for that treasure.

Here is also a synopsis I found:

Tintaglia the blue dragon has lost interest in the stunted dragons that emerged from the cocoons of Maulkin′s Serpent Tangle. Dragons are fiercely practical about survival of the fittest‚ and now that she has produced her own batch of healthy hatching serpents Tintaglia no longer provides for the weak creatures abandoned near Trehaug‚ the main city of the Rain Wilds.
The Rain Wild Council is as ruthless as Tintaglia: Deciding that the pack must be relocated they begin to recruit their least useful citizens to tend the beasts and escort them upriver to better hunting grounds.
Because of their proximity to the acid waters and vapours of the Rain Wild River‚ Rain Wilders are born with deformities that shorten their life expectancy and must wed young and reproduce early if their family lines are to survive.
Thymara is long past marriageable age. Having been born with too many abnormalities she should have been exposed as an infant‚ but her father chose to keep and raise her‚ against his wife′s wishes.
When Thymara′s mother hears that the council is seeking tenders she grasps the chance to be rid of her wild‚ ugly daughter. But Thymara shows just as much enthusiasm at the prospect of adventure and grabs the opportunity to travel with the dragons.
But the youngsters that will herd the dragons are as ignorant as the beasts themselves − both completely unaware that they are being sent into an exile rather than to a sanctuary.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Yellow Blue Tibia" by Adam Roberts

"Yellow Blue Tibia"
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Publisher: Gollancz

Russia, 1946, the Nazis recently defeated. Stalin gathers half a dozen of the top Soviet science fiction authors in a dacha in the countryside somewhere. Convinced that the defeat of America is only a few years away, and equally convinced that the Soviet Union needs a massive external threat to hold it together, to give it purpose and direction, he tells the writers: 'I want you to concoct a story about aliens poised to invade earth ... I want it to be massively detailed, and completely believable. If you need props and evidence to back it up, then we can create them. But when America is defeated, your story must be so convincing that the whole population of Soviet Russia believes in it--the population of the whole world!' The little group of writers gets down to the task and spends months working on it.
But then new orders come from Moscow: they are told to drop the project; Stalin has changed his mind; forget everything about it. So they do. They get on with their lives in their various ways; some of them survive the remainder of Stalin's rule, the changes of the 50s and 60s. And then, in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the survivors gather again, because something strange has started to happen. The story they invented in 1946 is starting to come true ...

I have to admit from the start that I am more familiar with the short fiction works of Adam Roberts and because many of his short stories were on my liking I was thinking for a while to start reading his longer fiction. This occasion arouse with his latest published novel, “Yellow Blue Tibia”.

I was very young when the Communism fell in my country, but I have my childhood memories and the stories of my parents regarding that period, so the first thing that struck me while I read Adam Roberts“Yellow Blue Tibia” is how realistic is described the Communism times of that period. Well, there are small differences with what happened in my country, but the general line is quite the same. Adam Roberts builds an atmosphere close to reality and often throughout the reading “Yellow Blue Tibia” feels like a historical fiction or an alternative history. Although the novel has strong Science Fiction elements and a Sci-Fi plot and it would seem that these are lost in the story they are lingering in the background until the second half of the novel when they’ll come forth in full.

I also absolutely loved the humor of “Yellow Blue Tibia”. Throughout the novel Adam Roberts creates amusing scenes, each one brightening my day and ripping a burst of laugh from me. Besides the amusing scenes there are dialogues that are delicious to read and savor and I find the dialogues between the main character, Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecki, and the taxi driver Saltykov to be the cherry on the cake. There is also one particular scene, the queue scene at the end of the novel, which is sad in its realism, but so funny when I come to think of the situation. And it is true that in that Communism period if two people were standing in line a queue was formed almost immediately.

Another thing that struck me hard at the “Yellow Blue Tibia” is its title. While I read I ask myself of the relationship between the titles and the novels and I also wonder of authors’ choices of titles. While I read “Yellow Blue Tibia” I was confused most of the time of the title provenience, until Adam Roberts cleared that thing up in one of the novel’s scenes. At that moment I closed the book and took another look at the title of the novel, the final realization giving me more pleasure in the reading of the “Yellow Blue Tibia”.

The novel of Adam Roberts is garnished with action scenes, a steady and quick pace, very good humor and a unique love story, but above all “Yellow Blue Tibia” is one novel I wished it didn’t end.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Guest post: Brian Ruckley

Brian Ruckley is the author of the “Godless World” trilogy, one that I really enjoyed reading. Earlier this month the last novel in the series “Fall of Thanes” was released by Orbit Books and in the footsteps of the recently conclusion of the trilogy I have the pleasure to have Brian Ruckley here with a guest post. Thank you very much Brian!


So, my third book – Fall of Thanes – came out at the start of May. My Godless World trilogy is all finished. I’ve had an agent for almost six years, a publisher for four, books in bookstores for two and a half or thereabouts. This, let me tell you, is stuff that still seems a little unreal sometimes, like some implausible dream from which I’m doomed to wake at any moment. But all available evidence points to the fact that it has actually happened, so it’s probably a good time to reflect a little on what the experience of producing three published fantasy novels has been like.

It’s been great, of course. For that segment of the population that falls into the category of ‘aspiring writers’ this is what it’s all about: seeing your name on a book that complete strangers are buying and reading. And that is indeed a pretty special experience. As are the e-mails sent by happy readers (those are precious, believe me, to an extent I never quite expected), the royalty payments (precious for their existence and what they symbolize rather than their size, on the whole!), and all the other stuff that goes with sending books out into the world.

It’s been frustrating. Writing is – for me, and I suspect most other writers – mostly a matter of partial success. The ideas, the visions, the images, the stories that swirl about inside our heads are glorious, perfect things. The books we write in our imaginations are masterful. But humans are fallible creatures, so when we try to translate those wonders into text, and capture their perfection on the page, as often as not we fail. But in a way, it’s that gap between the vision and its expression in text that keeps you motivated, I guess: there’s always the desire to improve, to take one step closer to getting it right. And every so often, in a chapter, or a scene, or even just a sentence or two, you can find the encouragement you need, reading it back and thinking: ‘Yes, that’s exactly what was in my head. That’s precisely what I was trying for.’ And then, of course, you think: ‘Now why isn’t it always that easy?’

It’s been an education. The learning’s hardly stopped, in fact: about the publishing business (it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of the inner workings of a business that’s haltingly trying to reinvent its traditional habits in order to adapt to a digital world), but maybe most importantly about my own writing. Like a great many things in this world, writing is something you learn by doing, and you have to do a whole lot of it before some of the lessons really start sinking in. A whole lot, as in hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words. I have a much clearer (but still incomplete, of course, for this is a never ending process!) understanding of what I’m good at as a writer and what counts as ‘room for improvement’, and some of that development has been aided by both happy and unhappy readers. One thing I’ve always been aware of, but now know for sure, is that you learn more by listening to those who find fault in your work than to those who adore it unreservedly. But I’ve also learned that you need to be cautious and selective when it comes to the critics: you can’t please everyone, and if you expend too much mental energy on those who don’t like what you’re doing, you’ll soon disappear under a pile of self-doubt – just as paying too much attention to those who think you are the new best thing since sliced bread will cause you to rise too high on the hot air of praise and turn you into someone nobody really wants to talk to at parties.

It’s been life-changing, but only in really quite small ways. Some aspiring writers seem to expect publication to work a kind of magic on them and their lives; for some people, no doubt that does happen, but in my case I can’t report any wondrous transformation. I am still the same person I was before I signed a publishing contract, and I still can’t afford that Aston Martin Vantage I’ve had my eye on for so long. But I’ve been able to spend a lot of time doing something I enjoy; I’ve created something that, for better or worse, I am happy to take responsibility for and have my name printed on; I’ve come into contact with new and interesting people; I have been given the opportunity to drink vastly more tea and coffee than ever before (because you’ve got to have something to do when that blank page is staring back at you and remaining resolutely blank).

And it’s been addictive. I could stop any time I wanted to (he says with trembling hands, as his eyes flick uncontrollably back towards the keyboard). Really I could. No problem. But … I don’t really want to. I look forward to doing more of it, putting more stuff out there for people to like or to loathe, to buy or not to buy. I look forward to trying – and still failing, in new but with any luck progressively smaller, ways – to achieve an unachievable perfection of voice and craft. And now I can at least say with confidence to all the aspiring writers I meet: Yes, it is worth it. All the patience and persistence and practice, all the dreaded rejections along the way, they can lead to something that’s a whole lot of fun. And even if it won’t completely change you life or make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice, it will be rewarding, and educational, and very probably addictive.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fantasy Art - Mariusz Kozik

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Mariusz Kozik was born in Lublin, Poland, in 1973. From 1989-1994 he studied fine art at the Artistic Lyceum in Lublin, then from 1995-2000 Academy Of Arts in Wroclaw, earning his diploma under Professor Jospeh Halas in 2000. Mariusz's work has been exhibited extensively in Poland. While he loves the traditional painting methods, he began experimenting with computer assisted artwork in 2006. His enthusiasm for military history began as a boy but blossomed with his career and to this day helps him to create some truly gorgeous and original artwork.

Interview - Mariusz Kozik

Dark Wolf: Mariusz, thank you very much for this interview.
How did you start drawing?
Mariusz Kozik: Very early. Firstly I was a Sculptor. When I was 3-4 years old I liked to make animals from plasticine. I was stealing soaps from my mother’s drawer and carved heads. I need to state that in those times there was Communism in Poland and soap was inaccessible to buy. It was a rarity. Then I’ve started to draw knights. It lasted for long time but in age of 13. I started to train athletics and shooting from sports gun. However after an injury I came back to art and graduated at art secondary school and made Master Thesis at The Academy of Fine Arts.

Dark Wolf: Who are your favorite classic or modern artists? Did any one of them influence your works?
Mariusz Kozik: I really like Caravaggio especially his theatre lights. Rogier van der Wayden taught me about block building. I’ve learned colour from Eugeniusz Eibisch. Important for me is also Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. From the modern artists I appreciate Anzelm Kiefer.

Dark Wolf: If I am not mistaken I’ve seen in your portfolio works made using the both techniques, traditional and digital. Which one is your favorite?
Mariusz Kozik: Digital technique is very clear- in many meanings of this word :) Although I prefer traditional. In a matter there’s a spirit. This will never be achieved digitally.

DW: Do you like to work in certain conditions? I mean do you prefer a certain location, illumination, listening music or other things like these.
MK: I like to listen to music while working. Claudio Monteverdi, Henry Percel, Joseph Haydn often accompany me. I listen also to historical movies soundtracks. They don’t absorb my mind so much. The best composer is Hans Zimmer. In my workshop I’m surrounded by antiques, I like old furniture. In the corner hangs chain armour and next to it stands helmet and sword. These are replica modeled on XIII century. All this is lighted by dark, mysterious light, but obviously on the big oak table there are 2 monitors and exude their presence :D

DW: Your portfolio is composed in majority of historical illustrations. Do you enjoy this kind of illustration more? Do you have an interest in the history outside art?
MK: Yes, history is my passion but the fact that most of my artwork in portfolio is about history is the effect of my employer’s needs. I fell good in fantasy and science fiction as well.

DW: Poland has a very interesting culture with captivating history, folklore and legends. Do you find inspiration only in the Polish culture or do you find it in other cultures as well?
MK: There are plenty of nations around the world. All of them are interesting and always have something unique to offer for whole humankind. It’s worth to look at each other and learn. Often the cultures are different but value the same aspects, the most important for human.

DW: Does the historical works require a deeper documentation for the details (I mean for clothing, weapons, etc.) or there is room for improvisation as well?
MK: In historical illustrations there is small field for improvisation. Authors are focusing on technical matters. Artistic effect doesn’t concern them much, but I try to make the good art.

DW: I’ve seen a number of Science Fiction pieces in your portfolio. Do you enjoy making illustrations on this genre as well? Which sources of inspiration do you have when it comes to Science Fiction?
MK: As I have mentioned before Earth is rich in cultures which can be discovered and studied. Inspirations are born on our planet. You can look at “Star Wars”. When I watch them I see plenty of traditions, myths, legends and cult behaviours. In fact we’re not able to discover anything new. All of this did our ancestors. We can only move our puzzles in this jigsaw.

DW: One of your Science Fiction works is on the cover of a novel published recently in Romania. Did you make that piece for that book specifically or did you already have it? How is it working for a client from a different country?
MK: This illustration was made especially for this book. I’ve even started to read it. Scene from the cover is one of the scenes written by author. Characters are “real” so I had to know them better. Cover was made in agreement with publisher. It was a long correspondence.

DW: Which job offer will be hard to refuse? What future projects we will see from Mariusz Kozik?
MK: I think, that if I received the offer of the illustration from the epoch of Empire Romanum, Byzantium, or Sparta, then would not throw aside her. In the future we will see the series "Raid" Osprey Publishing and many illustration of Legions Cesar.

Thank you for your time and answers.

For a more complete portfolio of Mariusz Kozik please visit his website,

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Monday, May 18, 2009

It's good to be home!

Hi everybody :) It is good to be home and it is even better after a pretty tiring travel, but with many good things too. Today the schedule is pretty tight as it always is after such a travel, but from tomorrow I can start working on my reviews (as I have 4 to write). Also tomorrow I believe I’ll be able to post the interview with my next guest of fantasy art posts. I’ve noticed that last week you had a lot of fun in the comments, with some links to erotic shops and Turkish car rentals. Well as much as I am pleased with my blog being seen as a source of publicity I don’t see how these links (or should I say spam?) are related with the content of my blog. Therefore, although I would like to make the access to comments easier I see myself in the position to add a new security measure. I’ll add the comment approval too, because I’ll try to limit these irrelevant comments. Nothing to worry for the usual comments, they will pass without a problem. I hope that this measure will not annoy you too much, please excuse me if it does.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the road again!

It is time for me to hit the road once again for a business trip. Like the previous trips I had this year I’ll be away for a week and for this period I will not be able to make any posts. But I leave you in the company of Kekai Kotaki, my latest guest of fantasy art posts, and as always with my previous posts and the wonderful links from the left. I hope you’ll have a week as you wish to be and see you all next Monday.

Fantasy Art - Kekai Kotaki

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Kekai Kotaki is an American artist, born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii. In 2000 he moved to Seattle, Washington to pursue his talent on school and a career in art. He studied in the Art Institute of Seattle between 2000 and 2002 where he graduated with an Associates Degree in Animation, Art and Design. He did freelance snowboard graphics before joining ArenaNet in 2003 where he is working at the present. Kekai Kotaki worked as a concept artist for the Guild Wars series of games and recently his artwork was featured on the cover of a fantasy novel.

Interview - Kekai Kotaki

Dark Wolf: Kekai, thank you very much for this interview.
First of all, how did you become interested in art? What made you start drawing?
Kekai Kotaki: I have had an interest in art for as long as I can remember. I still recall me winning my first dinosaur picture book in a kindergarten coloring contest. I guess that set in motion the over active imagination and passion for art that I have today.

Dark Wolf: Did you always wanted to be an artist? When did you decide to pursue your talent in school and career?
Kekai Kotaki: I think I have always wanted to be an artist. It was a talent and a hobby for me most of my life. When you’re young you may or may not think about how you want to spend the rest of your life. It finally kicked in when I was graduating high school and I realized that art was my strong suit. It was then that I decided to go to art school and figure out a way to make an actually living doing art.

Dark Wolf: Which artists and art currents influenced your art? Who is the most influential figure in your career so far?
Kekai Kotaki: As an artist I am inspired by a huge number of different sources. You never quite know where inspiration comes from. But I always tend to look at the artists in the illustration and concept art fields. Icons like Frank Frazetta and Syd Mead. Also others like Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Justin Sweet, Yoshitaka Amano, and the list goes on. I also have a few personal modern day fine artists that I look at too. Jenny Saville and Alex Kanevsky to name a couple. I also love looking at art history too. John Singer Sargent, Andrew Wyeth, George Lambert, Alphonse Mucha, the list is way too big. The most influential figure has got to be my art director Daniel Dociu. He has helped and guided me throughout my career. I can say that I wouldn’t be even half the artist I am now if it weren’t for him.

DW: Which tools do you favor on your works, the traditional or the digital ones? Do you have a favorite place where you like to work?
KK: I am a digital artist. It’s not the speed of digital, but really, it is the ability to make changes to my art that makes it so valuable to my work. I am concept artist, so changes is an industry standard. My favorite place to work is… at work. I feel the most comfortable here and that means a lot to me.

DW: You’ve started to work for ArenaNet in 2003 and as a concept artist for the series of games Guild Wars. How did this job opportunity come along? How is working on a computer game?
KK: Well, I wasn’t hired onto ArenaNet as a Concept Artist at first. I was first hired to paint ground textures. Rocks, dirt, grass, you name it and I probably painted it into the ground. A few of my friends were hired before me. So that’s how my name came up. Making a video game is stressful and very rewarding at the same time. Games have a boundless potential for creativity and at the same time some mind numbing restrictions because you have to make a game.

DW: After starting your work with ArenaNet did your drawing technique change? Did you learn new things about art while working on computer games?
KK: My technique did change. Gradually, not in an instant. It’s tied into learning new things about art during my time here. I work with some of the best talent in the industry every day. We share ideas and critique each other’s work. It really is hard not to learn something here. This is one of the great things about working in this industry. You do not work in a vacuum. Everyone helps each other out and shares their thoughts. It helps you grow.

DW: I’ve noticed on your portfolio an attention on details when it comes to weapons or armor. Does this attention comes from the Guild Wars games and the work done for the series of games or do you have a personal interest in weapons or armor? Do these drawings need documentation or depend very much on your own inspiration?
KK: Haha, yeah you might be right about that. Sometimes there is documentation and sometimes there is not. It works both ways.

DW: Your portfolio is focused on the character creation and portraits. Do you prefer to work on characters and portraits more? Would you try to draw more landscapes or scenes in the future?
KK: I have always loved drawing and designing characters. It is a passion in art that I have. I do plan on doing more landscapes in the future. Actually, I have done a bunch of landscape concepts for Guild Wars 2. But I can’t show any of it right now.

DW: You made recently a book cover, how much different is working on a cover art than on concept art of games? Would you like to illustrate other book covers in the future too?
KK: It’s different… but at the same time it is the same. All the things that I try to do with my concepts I try to do the same in a cover illustration. The criteria are different, but in the end I am still trying to covey a story to the audience.

DW: Seeing that you worked on a series games based on a fantasy world and that you illustrated a cover for a fantasy novel, may I ask if you have a personal interest in the fantasy genre or it’s just a professional one? If yes, which fantasy works are your favorites?
KK: I am huge fan of fantasy novels. When I was younger my mom would borrow books from the library. She basically read two genres, romance novels and fantasy novels. I was obviously attracted more to the fantasy novels. Not only because they had some pretty cool art on the cover, but when I would read the back summaries they sounded awesome. Heroes and villains, gods and monsters. They have played a vital role in my development as an artist. Reading a good book is not only one of my favorite past times it is also a huge source of inspiration for me. So I like to say that it is both a personal and professional interest. Right now it is George R.R. Martin and R. Scott Bakker. Bakker is in the lead right now because he released The Judging Eye, while Martin is years into A Dance with Dragons. But both series are current favorites of mine.

DW: Which one do you consider to be the most rewarding moment of your career so far?
KK: Releasing the first Guild Wars is still a high point in my life. Being a part of that was amazing. Also, a very close second, is winning a Silver Medal in the Spectrum annual. It was a dream just being included.

DW: At what are you working right now? What other future projects do you have?
KK: I am currently very busy working on Guild Wars 2. In the future I hope to do more novel covers.

Thank you for your time and answers, it has been a pleasure.
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I had a great time.

For more information about Kekai Kotaki and for a wider portfolio please visit his website,

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Plague Year" by Jeff Carlson

"Plague Year"
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Publisher: Ace Books

The nanotechnology was designed to fight cancer. Instead, it evolved into the Machine Plague, killing nearly five billion people and changing life on Earth forever.
The nanotech has one weakness: it self-destructs at altitudes above ten thousand feet. Those few who've managed to escape the plague struggle to stay alive on the highest mountains, but time is running out-there is famine and war, and the environment is crashing worldwide. Humanity's last hope lies with a top nanotech researcher aboard the International Space Station-and with a small group of survivors in California who risk a daring journey below the death line...

Jeff Carlson makes his debut with a post-apocalyptic novel with heavy accents of a thriller, “Plague Year”.

I am a devourer of post-apocalyptic fiction and I enjoy reading the scenarios with which the authors imagine a dramatic future of our world. Such is the case with Jeff Carlson’s novel and what I especially liked at “Plague Year” is that this scenario is so close to reality of our society and with a high probability of coming to pass that it is pretty scary to imagine it. Also throughout the pages of the novel the author captures many essences of the human nature, from the apocalyptic event being born from the will to make good (but isn’t the road to hell paved with good intentions?), the willing to survive and the petty politics and interests. The politics play a major role in the story as well and points to another worrying but possible situation, for humans to ignore the greater damage and danger for the sake of personal interest. Jeff Carlson put me well on thoughts with the premises of his novel.

The novel is told from two major points of view, Cam, a survivor of a plague, and Ruth, a nanotechnology expert. I find the first one, Cam, to be the most interesting character of the novel and one that gained my sympathy and with whom I could relate more easily. On the other hand Ruth and other characters didn’t pick my interest in any point of the novel. They seem a little too thinly built and on some places their interactions and dialogues sound just a bit unrealistic. They don’t seem to move in any particular way as characters and I have to honestly admit that I was rather indifferent to their destiny.

“Plague Year” benefits from a lot of action scenes and is a pretty fast moving novel. Jeff Carlson garnishes the story with many tensioned and fast paced action scenes. Conflicts emerge throughout the plot and draw the reader in their middle, with details that will add to the realism of these situations. However, on some places the author slows the pace down stepping too much on the brake of the story. In this case it seemed to me that the novel created a sinusoidal line, but luckily with just a few such ups and downs.

“Plague Year” is not the best or the strongest post-apocalyptic story I read, but the premises and the pace of the Jeff Carlson’s novel offered me a fast and relaxing read.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In the mailbox

Here are the latest arrivals in my mailbox:

- "The City & The City" by China Miéville (through the courtesy of Pan Macmillan);

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.
With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and
1984 , The City & The City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

- "Iron Angel" by Alan Campbell (through the courtesy of Pan Macmillan);

Order has collapsed in Deepgate. The chained city is now in ruins, and the Deadsands beyond are full of fleeing refugees. Meanwhile, the Spine militia is trying to halt the exodus of panicking citizens through brutal force. Rachel and the young angel Dill are dragged off to the Temple torture chambers . . . but strange things start to happen as a foul red mist rises from the abyss beneath the city. For the god Ulcis's death has left the gates to Hell unguarded, and certain forces in the fathomless darkness beneath Deepgate have noticed an opportunity.
Only the offspring of the dread goddess Ayen understand this new danger. Already, Cospinol, god of brine and fog, is coming to save his brother's temple -- and to hunt down Ulcis's murderers. His foul, fog-wreathed skyship has already reached Sandport, bringing along its own version of hell.
By now, Rachel just wants to keep her companion alive. Escaping their prison, and with enemies closing in on all sides, she is forced to undertake a perilous journey across the Deadsands towards the distant land of Pandemeria. But there the battlefield at Coreollis is fated to witness a clash of powers -- a contest between men and gods and archons and slaves, all forced into desperate alliances.

- "Kill Her Again" by Robert Gregory Browne (through the courtesy of Pan Macmillan);

FBI agent Anna McBride has reached a crisis point in her life. Disgraced and demoted after leading a disastrous operation in South San Francisco, she finds herself reassigned to one of the Bureau’s Southern California satellite offices, stuck with a partner who’s about as obnoxious as they come. But Anna is also battling demons of her own. Increasingly vivid and disturbing nightmares have begun to blur her judgement and interfere with her job. Nightmares of a little girl being kidnapped by a man who keeps appearing with a red cap. . .
When she seeks the help of hypnotherapist, Daniel Pope – a consultant on a case she’s currently investigating – a past life regression session suggests that Anna is the reincarnated victim of a notorious serial killer. Armed with this knowledge, and using clues found only in her nightmares, Anna circumvents Bureau rules and begins investigating a twenty-eight year-old case, hoping to find the killer of the girl who once harboured her soul . . .

- "The Third Sign" by Gregory A. Wilson (through the courtesy of Gregory A. Wilson).

Calen Gollnet lives in a tumultuous world. Surrounded by hostile forces bent on its destruction, his country Klune has been free for ten years, having thrown off the yoke of oppression thanks to a small group of heroes known as the Covenant; but the cost of this freedom was great, and the nation's liberty is becoming tenuous. The Covenant is broken, and Klune is now kept safe only because of a treaty struck between the human king and a race of honorable but xenophobic mercenaries known as arlics who have patrolled Klune's borders for the past decade. But the treaty is due to expire, and both the arlics and humans are restless, each claiming that they have been weakened by their dependence on the other.
As negotiations between the two sides break down and dark armies gather while politics bogs down the governors of city and country, Calen flees from the army attacking his home city, unaware that there is more to fear than mortal warriors; the appearance of the horrifying Soul Wall and other omens point to the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Return, in which it is said that three signs will signal the return of a great evil. The first two signs have come to pass, but the prophecy is obscure on its final prediction: the tide of the conflict may be changed by the third sign, but no one knows what that sign is, or whom it will favor.
The Third Sign is an epic fantasy, in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Jordan, whose unique combination of suspense, mystery, political intrigue and sword and sorcery will draw readers in as they search with the characters for the answer to the most important question: what is The Third Sign?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cover Art - "Tender Morsels" by Margo Lanagan

Last year when I read the blurb of Margo Lanagan’s “Tender Morsels” I was very curious about this novel.

TENDER MORSELS is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever - magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga's refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

My interest increased after I read the interview made by Jeff VanderMeer for Clarkesworld Magazine with Margo Lanagan, but for reasons that remain a mystery to me I didn’t bought the book yet. However, all the worse is for the better now, because David Fickling Books will release a new hardcover edition of “Tender Morsels” on July and which feature a cover artwork made by Caniglia. If I am totally honest I wasn’t fond of any of the covers made for this novel so far, but this one is a different thing. I like it quite a lot, as I like the art of Caniglia.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fantasy Art - Raymond Swanland

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Raymond Swanland is an American artist who currently lives in the state of California. He was attracted by art from his early age as he wonderfully states it on his bio:
"Ever since I can remember, I was one of those kids with some tool to draw with in my hands. Mythical creatures, robots and, of course, dinosaurs were strewn, in one form or another, all over my room... and marched across my walls. I never really thought I would be exploring that same world of symbolism and imagination as I grew into an adult. But as fate would have it, I've had the tremendous fortune to turn my passion into a living through creating artwork for novels, video games, and feature films."
Raymond Swanland is one of the main contributors of the Oddworld series of games. He also created artwork for Fantasy and Science Fiction books, magazines, comics and snowboards. Raymond Swanland uses a mix of digital and traditional media in his works.

Interview - Raymond Swanland

Dark Wolf: Raymond, thank you very much for your amiability and the opportunity of this interview.
On your biography it is said that you draw since you could remember, but may I ask how did you come in touch with art in first place? Who were the first artists that attracted you with their works?
Raymond Swanland: To be honest, I truly don’t remember my first experience of taking crayon to wallpaper and didn’t have a clear moment of realization that I was an artist. I really was drawing before I can clearly remember and my family always quietly acknowledged that I was the artist of the family. Therefore, at that age, it wasn’t individual artists that inspired my art, but rather illustrated books on ancient mythology like Homer’s Odyssey and books about Dinosaurs. My interest in picture books definitely predates my interest in the visual storytelling of film particularly because I had to fill in the blanks between book illustrations and study them at my leisure as oppose to the brief movement of a movie. Those particular books and artists are lost to time and nostalgia for me now, but I tap into that youthful sense of mental exploration as a perpetual part of my artistic process.

Dark Wolf: Your talent and skills developed mainly through self-teaching. My mother, who is a passionate painter, didn’t study art in school either and developed her talent through constant practice. Did your process of learning require constant practice and an imposed discipline? Was this process made easier by your great passion for art?
Raymond Swanland: Although I am eternally grateful to whatever power in the universe provided me with the gift of an early aptitude for art, I don’t really believe in the idea that people with talent of any type achieve success without a tremendous amount of hard work. In my case, a certain restlessness and desire to express myself through art gave me the motivation to keep working through countless hours of struggle on unsuccessful attempts at art in many mediums. Sometimes motivation came out of a need to escape the frustration of not being able to express myself clearly. Eventually, small victories turn into fully realized pieces of art, but it’s always the result of struggle and discipline for me to this day. I know this may remove some of the romance and mystique of being an artist, but in reality, it makes the successful expression through art that much sweeter.

Dark Wolf: You started to work immediately after high school with the video game company Oddworld Inhabitants. How did the company become interested in the artist Raymond Swanland? How did this experience change your career and your perception on art?
Raymond Swanland: My introduction to Oddworld Inhabitants came directly through a shared interest in comic books with many members of the creative team at the company. I was invited to take a tour of the company and bring along a portfolio and the rest is history. Oddworld became my personal art university as I learned from the many talented artists that worked there under the trial-by-fire environment of video game production. Looking back, my personal style is inextricably combined with that of the Oddworld universe. The distinctive visual style of Oddworld was a tremendous force in shaping my style at the same time that I had a considerable hand in guiding the look of many aspects of the world. The Oddworld universe lives on and I certainly hope I have the opportunity to continue my education at the University of Oddworld in the future.

DW: What is your preferred method of work? I mean do you like to draw in a specific location, a studio for example, do you prefer to be quiet, to have natural or artificial light?
RS: My perfect environment for working is a constantly evolving process. I currently enjoy working in my studio at home in an open space with sparse furniture and high ceilings. I find it important not to feel too physically confined in order to feel creatively open. Depending on my stage of the creative process, sometimes I work in absolute silence, while other times I have music or TV playing in the background. Sometimes a decent book on tape is a good way to distract the analytical part of my mind and allow me to be more intuitive with my art. I’m a huge believer in discipline and finding a comfort zone, but overbearing routines are a creativity killer for me. I try to keep as many tools in my potential working process as possible in order to constantly mix things up and avoid any chance of stagnation. This struggle to find balance in the process is just another aspect of the struggle of art.

DW: I’ve read that usually you start your works in pencil on paper and finish it on the digital medium. Does it happen for some of your works to remain in pencil? Or the process to go the other way around, from a digital piece to a traditional one?
RS: I do have the occasional personal piece that goes all the way to finish with traditional mediums, but all my professional work these days ends as digital. However, just as I mentioned that I try to avoid stagnation in my process, I do the same with the mediums I use. I’m currently reacquainting myself with acrylics and oils on canvas in order to get back in touch with the pleasure of texture and dirty hands. I’m also continuing to explore my great love for working with bronze sculpture as a completely different process than anything like painting. Coming full circle, I do tend to do color sketches in the computer that will lead to my finals in oils or even bronze. In the end, I don’t see clear distinctions between or carry strong purist loyalties for particular mediums. Any medium that leads me to express is a good medium.

DW: Wandering through libraries or surfing the Internet your illustrations capture the eye immediately and with ease I can say that “this is a Raymond Swanland work”. How long and how difficult it is to develop such a personal touch to your works? Does this personal touch develop and suffer changes further on?
RS: As a result of all the media we are bombarded with in our modern culture, as well as the wealth of artistic history we draw from, it seems difficult and rare to develop ones own artistic style completely independently. What this means for most modern artists is that we tend to attract to styles that really resonate with them and then go on to emulate that style as we gain confidence and technical skill. As we hone our craft, our unique voice begins to emerge, sometimes through subtle changes, sometimes through dramatic leaps. Although my style has emerged and defined itself as recognizable, I still have every intention and desire to allow it to keep expanding into new territory.

DW: Speaking of libraries, you illustrated many book covers, especially fantasy novels. How much do you enjoy this work? Are you interested in the fantasy genre outside the art field as well?
RS: I would say that I’ve never lost my love for fantasy and science fiction, but my interests have certainly expanded into other genres over time. Quite possibly as a result of my working in imaginary worlds during so much of my professional time, I tend to enjoy classic literature in my reading time. Perhaps out of a sense of balance or just a personal preference, I’ve grown to enjoy the stories that explore the inner-workings of the mind and soul as well as epic stories that explore the fates of civilizations and galaxies. History, politics and world culture have also grown to a fever pitch in my personal interests throughout my adult life. I’m sure all of these interests will be featured more and more in my art in the future.

DW: From the authors and novels of fantasy genre or other genres, with which author would you like to work or which book would you like to illustrate?
RS: With any novel, short story, or even magazine article I read, the art of words transforms directly into images in my mind’s eye. Although fantasy, sci-fi and ancient mythology lend themselves to amazing flights of the imagination, I think it would be truly exciting to illustrate a story that takes place predominantly in emotional and psychological territory. From Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis to Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, I would love to take on the challenge of depicting the transformations of the internal world of the mind rather than just the action and drama of the world outside ourselves.

DW: One of the greatest qualities of art is that it can bring forth a story in one image. Do you think that one image can do more than words? Can one image tell a wider story?
RS: I believe that visual art and written words are both capable of achieving the same reactions in an audience, just down different paths. What a single image can do that words can’t is to hit the audience in an instant, perhaps without even thinking about it. Telling a story in one image can sweep that audience away to another place in a single moment, and once there, the written word can continue the journey even deep. I believe this is one reason that illustration is such a perfect and important marriage with sci-fi and fantasy literature.

DW: You have created artwork for films as well. How much different is this work than that on video games or on book covers? What new satisfactions do you have working on films?
RS: The approach to creating art for books, films and video games all comes from a similar place. It almost always starts with a story that the art is wrapped around and embellishes. For me, the value of film is that it offers the space to truly flesh out an idea until it becomes tangible. Film, in its finished form, goes on to bombard many senses all at once and can convince the audience that the imaginary story they are seeing is truly real. The power of film to suspend a viewer’s sense of disbelief is tremendously satisfying both as a creator and a member of the audience.

DW: On your website I read that your future projects might include an illustrated novel. Is this project only an idea or is it a work in progress? Can you give me a few details, please?
RS: My illustrated novel is definitely a work in progress at this point. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m dead set on taking it to finish as soon as possible. The only thing I can say about it at this point is that it takes place in the future and that it follows many of the characteristics of ancient fable storytelling. We’ll see where it goes as it evolves to finish.

DW: At what are you working right now and what other future projects do you have?
RS: In addition to my many book cover projects, much of my work these days goes towards the expansive worlds of Magic: The Gathering and Worlds of Warcraft. In addition to that, I’m excited to be working on the covers for a new series of comics based on the Predator franchise for Dark Horse. As an old favorite of mine, it’s a great nostalgic project. Perhaps this new open door into comics will continue to open wider in the future.

Thank you for your time and answers. It has been an honor and a pleasure.
For more information about Raymond Swanland and for an extensive portfolio please visit the artist website, The Art of Raymond Swanland.

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.