Friday, February 17, 2012

A small interruption

Due to an unexpected last minute change in my working schedule I have to leave in a business trip this afternoon until 27th of February. I do have two reviews finished already, of Cate Gardner’s “Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits and other curious things” and the second issue of Phantasmagorium, edited by Laird Barron, but I am unable to post them before I leave on my trip. I will have my laptop with me, but I can’t make any promises since last time the Internet mobile connection was very poor to say the least. However, I will have these reviews posted at my return and hopefully a couple more. See you soon!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

IDW Publishing comic book adaptation of Stephen King & Joe Hill's "Throttle"

Today, IDW Publishing will release “Road Rage”, a four issue comic book that adapts Richard Matheson’s “Duel” and Stephen King and Joe Hill’s “Throttle” stories to the comic format, under the same title as the audiobook that collects these two stories. I am a fan of Stephen King and Joe Hill, no secret there, and I loved their first collaboration and the story born from it, the excellent “Throttle”. I cannot say the same about “Duel”, because I am not familiar with the story, but “I Am Legend” is among my top favorite books and a true classic. There is no wonder then that I am thrilled to see this comic book adaptation coming up.

“Throttle”, the first of the two stories unfolding in “Road Rage” comic book, is adapted by Chris Ryall and the artist Nelson Dániel. “Road Rage: Throttle” #1 is released today on both print and digital editions, accompanied by variant covers and a temporary Tribe tattoo, with the second issue due to be released in March, followed by “Road Rage: Duel” in April and May. On Stephen King’s website you can find some more information about the comic book adaptation as well as production assets and a black and white preview of “Road Rage: Throttle”, while on Nelson Dániel’s DeviantArt account you can see two pages in color and plenty of other works of the artist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2011 Vladimir Colin Awards

Since I’ve posted about the 2012 Galileo Awards I am thinking of the Romanian speculative fiction scene and the encouragement such awards bring to the local Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writers. Last year the Galileo Award for the best volume has been won by the least likely candidate in my opinion, Oliviu Crâznic’s “…and at the end remained the nightmare”. So I thought about this issue for quite a while now. Especially after Horia Ursu asked me an interesting question in the post about the 2012 Galileo Awards nominees, “So we have 100+ people voting on 16 books (that's the number of original publications + anthologies) and about 200 stories. Other awards are voted by a jury of 3, 4, 5 or 6 people, and have to consider the same amount of books and stories. With these comparative numbers in mind, please, tell me which awards are more representative of the Romanian SF&F scene's tastes?” Well, with such numbers thrown into play and in the light of Galileo Awards first year winners I am wondering if quantity means quality? Not necessarily. It speaks of popularity, but it also needs a further back-up for quality. I am not expert and I will not pose as one. I will speak as one voice of Romanian fandom, but for me there were three volumes last year that surpassed the winner by far in most of its aspects, Michael Haulică’s “Fantastic Stories”, Mircea Opriță’s “Sunday Stories” and Liviu Radu’s “The Modifiers”. I see the same thing happening this year too. Therefore I cannot think that if not another opinion on the matter is needed. As I said in my previous post, that of a jury from the Romanian speculative fiction publishing.

Coincidently I stumbled upon a piece of news these days that helped me get some peace of mind on this matter. It seems that the Vladimir Colin Awards are resurrected once again. After the first four editions, held in 2000, 2001, 2006 & 2008, the fifth edition will be held this year, for the works published between January 2008 and December 2010. A jury presided by Mircea Opriță and formed by Liviu Radu, Lucian Vasile-Szabo, Cătălin Badea-Gheracostea and George Ceaușu decided the winners (you will find them at the end of this post) and will held the award ceremony in Bucharest, at 24th of February. I am happy to see this initiative too, because it is very good to see that there is demand for speculative fiction in Romania. It is also very good to see that everyone involved in the speculative fiction market, from fans to editors and authors, encourage through initiatives such as Galileo Awards and Vladimir Colin Awards the local talent to write and publish. We still have a long way to go though. We need publishing houses, such as Millennium Books, to consider more the Romanian speculative fiction authors, we need to be more united and stop the constant bickering and grumbling and we need to give these awards more significance. Galileo Awards to become a true voice of the Romanian fandom and Vladimir Colin Awards to be more transparent and not the exclusive judgment of a closed jury circle. But the start for making the Romanian speculative fiction stronger is looking good already.

2011 Vladimir Colin Awards winners

Best Novel: “Vindecătorul” (The Healer) by Sebastian A. Corn (Cartea Românească, 2008)

Best SF Short Prose: “Rock Me, Adolf, Adolf, Adolf” by Silviu Genescu (Bastion, 2009)

Best Fantastic Short Prose: “Între Bariere” (Between Boundaries) by Doru Stoica (Millennium Press, 2009)

Best Non-Fiction: “Istoria Benzii Desenate Românești 1891-2010” (The History of Romanian Comics 1891-2010” by Dodo Niță & Alexandru Ciubotariu (Vellant, 2010)

Congratulations to all the winners!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cover art - "Winter's Dreams" by Glen Cook

One artist who speaks directly to my heart is Raymond Swanland. He is not the only one, but at this moment his works make the fastest way directly to my soul. I talked about Raymond Swanland in plenty of occasions and I will do it again, because it gives me great pleasure to feature his wonderful works. Now is such an opportunity, because once again Raymond Swanland is the first to welcome the readers to one of Glen Cook’s works with another beautifully crafted cover artwork. Following the beautiful covers made for Glen Cook’s “Darkwar”, “Instrumentalities of the Night”, “Black Company” and “Dread Empire” series Raymond Swanland illustrated the cover of the upcoming “Winter’s Dreams”, a collection of fourteen stories released by Subterranean Press. I really like that Subterranean Press opted also for Raymond Swanland as the cover artist, keeping the line set by the artist for Glen Cook’s works and especially since he again produced a lovely artwork. Not necessarily the character and the hooded cliché we saw lately on the fantasy book covers, but the details, the atmosphere and the personal and easily recognizable mark of the artist. A very luring cover indeed. As for Glen Cook’s volume of stories, the description provided by Subterranean Press sounds very tempting too, although I was never thrilled with the spicy prices of this publisher.

Glen Cook is, of course, best known for his enormously popular series fiction, which includes the Garrett P.I. and Dread Empire sequences, as well as the internationally acclaimed Chronicles of the Black Company. Readers familiar only with this aspect of Cook’s career will find a great many pleasures—and an equal number of surprises—in his vibrant new collection, Winter’s Dreams.
The fourteen standalone stories in Winter’s Dreams range in length from vignettes (“Appointment in Samarkand”) to novellas (“In the Wind”). Together, they encompass an astonishing variety of themes, tones, styles, and settings. Not one of these stories bears the slightest resemblance to the others. Each one manages to enchant, illuminate, and entertain in its own distinctive fashion.

- In the near future America of “Song from a Forgotten Hill,” the nations’ tragic racial history replays itself in an all too familiar form.
- “The Seventh Fool” recounts the comic misadventures of a charming con man who outsmarts both his gullible target—and himself.
- “The Waiting Sea” encapsulates the entire life history of a navy veteran haunted by the sea and by the faceless voices only he can hear.
- In “Ponce,” a poverty stricken St. Louis family encounters a mysterious blue-eyed dog—a dog that serves as a conduit to the undisclosed secrets of the universe.
- “The Recruiter” presents a powerfully disturbing portrait of an ultra-violent future and asks the question: How far will a man go in order to survive?

Equally suitable both for newcomers and for long-time Glen Cook fans, Winter’s Dreams is something special, a consistently enthralling volume that claims new imaginative territory at every turn.

Table of Contents:
“Song from a Forgotten Hill”
“And Dragons in the Sky”
“Appointment in Samarkand”
“The Devil’s Tooth”
“In the Wind”
“The Recruiter”
“The Seventh Fool”
“Quiet Sea”
“Enemy Territory”
“The Waiting Sea”
“Winter’s Dreams”

Friday, February 10, 2012

"King's Dragon" by Kate Elliott

"King's Dragon"
Publisher: DAW Books
The review is based on a bought copy of the book

The Kingdom of Wendar is in turmoil. King Henry still holds the crown, but his reign has long been contested by his sister Sabella, and there are many eager to flock to her banner. Internal conflict weakens Wendar's defences, drawing raiders, human and inhuman, across its borders. Terrifying portents abound and dark spirits walk the land in broad daylight. Suddenly two innocents are thrust into the midst of the conflict. Alain, a young man granted a vision by the Lady of Battles, and Liath, a young woman with the power to change the course of history. Both must discover the truth about themselves before they can accept their fates. For in a war where sorcery, not swords, may determine the final outcome, the price of failure may be more than their own lives.

These days a reader is assaulted almost daily by new books and authors enough to be easily overwhelmed if one keeps track of every single release. I remark this thing in genre niche, without expanding the affirmation to the entire book industry. In that case, keeping pace with every single new release that holds one’s interest in one way or another is nigh-on-impossible. Another downside of watching exclusively for new releases is losing track of previously published books and that would be a mistake. One of the authors who constantly appeared on the list of new book releases in the past 5 years is Kate Elliott. I never went near any of Kate Elliott’s titles released in the recent years, but since my intention was to give this author a chance I thought why not pick one of her earlier books rather than the new ones. And my choice was Kate Elliott’s first novel in “Crown of Stars” series, “King’s Dragon”.

Even from the start of the novel it is perfectly clear that the story gravitates around two characters, Alain, a fostered young man promised to the church and Liath, a young woman who is on a constant run together with her father. These are the starting points however and from here Alain and Liath begin their transformation and development as characters. Needless to say that their initial situation is dramatically changed in the first two chapters dedicated to Alain and Liath. I will go a bit ahead of myself and say that the good thing about these two characters is that although they match some familiar tropes of fantasy novels they do not end up fulfilling those clichés by the end of the novel. They do surpass their initial condition and become something else, but not following a too beaten road. Alain and Liath are two very well developed characters, but for half of the novel they occupy the center stage without leaving space for anyone else. More so, as much as credible these two characters are they did not manage to gain my sympathy at any point in the story. Alain and Liath suffer of too much self-consciousness, they tend to over think the matters at hand, to be almost completely aware of oneself. And that is their downfall for me. In the second part the stage is opened for more characters, but already the room left to maneuver them is small and therefore their evolution cut short.

Kate Elliott sets the story of “King’s Dragon” in a world similar with the medieval Europe. Conflicts roam the land, personal political interests prevail, religion interferes with politics too much for its own good. However, Kate Elliott’s world is a matriarchy, the central political, economical and religious roles are occupied by women or influenced through mother descent. Most of all, the key religious positions in Wendar and Varre are reserved exclusively for females. This, I believe, is the result of the religious concept in “King’s Dragon”, one that reverses the catholic doctrine of holy mother and child, with the mother playing the most important role. “King’s Dragon” brings a welcomed change in this aspect, because I’ve read too many novels where male figures tied and cut everything and female figures were only small appearances or missed entirely. Since the religion of Wendar and Varre has at it’s a core a dualist theory so this element of the novel has a clear downside for its upside. And that is the omnipresence of the theological doctrine in the pages of “King’s Dragon”. It hardly passes a page or two without a reference, a gesture or an idea related to the religion to make its presence felt. There is no character, be it major, minor or figurant who is an atheist or has other religious conviction. I felt assaulted by it.

You might think that there is only religion in “King’s Dragon”, but that is hardly the case. There are politics which lead to conflicts both internal and external. There is magic, mythical creatures and mystery surrounding the past of the world. And if the first half of the novel is focused on the development of the two main characters, the second half is the stage for the conflict and intrigue to play their roles. But what it is true for the minor characters can be applied to conflict and intrigue as well. The stage is too short for their performance. The pace falters and stumbles constantly while the rhythm is obscured very often, in the first half due to character development, in the second due to world-building. I was thrown away from the story in many occasions because the plot is interrupted by long passages in which magic, religion or history of this fictional world is presented, breaking the flow I managed to set for my reading until the respective point. Towards the end of the novel Kate Elliott concentrates more on the story and capture fully my attention with a series of very interesting scenes, especially battle scenes where the pace is uninterrupted by unnecessary details. Unfortunately, they come too late and as too little a compensation for the rest.

As much as I respect Kate Elliott’s effort I have to admit that “King’s Dragon” was a constant struggle. It happened more than once to be on the point of stop reading the novel, but there were a few good elements that helped me bring the process to an end. I also feel a certain uncertainty in continuing the “Crown of Stars” series, there are too many conditions to be met for this, but I would not neglect Kate Elliott’s works entirely and I would give her other novels a chance in the future.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More Marc Simonetti magic - A Song of Ice and Fire 2013 Calendar

As I started this week with the wonderful art of Marc Simonetti it is only fitting to continue it in the same note. Especially since almost immediately after seeing the new cover art bearing Marc Simonetti’s trademark I discovered that this summer Marc and George R.R. Martin unite their efforts for A Song of Ice and Fire 2013 Calendar. I saw the 2011 and 2012 editions of these calendars, illustrated by Ted Nasmith and John Picacio, but I am looking forward to this edition in particular because I am familiar with what Marc Simonetti did for the A Song of Ice and Fire before. A series of covers for the new integral French editions of George R.R. Martin’s series released by J’ai Lu two years ago and plenty of illustrations that can be found on his website or on his deviantART account. But nothing compares with the feeling such art gives to the viewer when it is properly displayed, that is why I am eagerly waiting for A Song of Ice and Fire 2013 Calendar to be released so I can finally display Marc Simonetti’s amazing work to a place of honor in my office.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cover art - "The Crown Conspiracy" by Michael J. Sullivan (French edition)

I am certain that Michael J. Sullivan lives a dream, he turned from a self-published writer into a contracted author and now he steps even farther. Farther because Michael J. Sullivan became a translated writer as well, with the first novel in The Riyria Revelations, “The Crown Conspiracy”, being published in France this month, by Milady, a Bragelonne imprint. I really like Michael J. Sullivan’s series, despite that I still need to catch up with the last two novels in The Riyria Revelations, “Wintertide” and “Percepliquis”. It is a fantasy story in the old style, adventurous and fun, that becomes stronger with each novel. I felt it myself, especially since the last novel of the series I read, “The Emerald Storm”, was my favorite so far. Although I still need to sit at my table and write its review.

Back to the French fantasy market, as tiresome as it might seem, once again the French readers are spoiled with an excellent cover artwork. I am not a fan of the covers Orbit Books chose for their three omnibus editions of Michael J. Sullivan’s “The Riyria Revelations”. No fan at all. Still, if you opted for highlighted characters on the book cover why not go with the choice made by Milady’s art department. Especially since they did not go with only the characters, but also set a scene and atmosphere for their cover. It is also very true that I’ve seen this type of art on a book cover before and it is quite typical for the fantasy genre, but same as with Michael J. Sullivan’s novels, what you see is what you get. A catchy and very enjoyable fantasy adventure in this case. And as I like “The Riyria Revelations” I also like what the magical touch of the very talented Marc Simonetti (responsible for plenty of other awesome French book covers we’ve seen in the past) did with the cover for “La Conspiration de la Couronne” (The Crown Conspiracy).

Later edit: A small negligence on my behalf made the French edition the first translation of Michael J. Sullivan’s work. However, as Michael points out in the comments, his works were first published outside the English market on Czech Republic, Poland and Spain, with contracts signed for Russian, Portuguese (Brazil), Japanese and German editions.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Ishtar" edited by Amanda Pillar & K.V. Taylor

Publisher: Gilgamesh Press
The review is based on a bought copy of the book

In time I developed an interest towards mythology and although I do not feed this interest as often and constant as I do with my other passions it was never neglected. This is the first thing that advertised Amanda Pillar and K.V. Taylor’s novella collection “Ishtar” to me. The other ones worked better and made me cross the line between the contemplative curiosity and the concise and definitive reading process. The respective elements, were the sister publishing houseof Gilgamesh Press, Morrigan Books, which offered me a couple of very good books in the past years, the more than satisfying experience I had with Amanda Pillar’s anthologies before and last, but not least, the quality of the authors line-up for this collection, two of whom I previously read and enjoyed, Kaaron Warren and Deborah Biancotti. So with the balance inclined by a single scale the choice was obvious. It remained to be seen if it is worthy too.

“The Five Loves of Ishtar” by Kaaron Warren – As the name of the novella suggests, the debut story of the “Ishtar” anthology is concentrated on the five great loves of the goddess. It is told through the voices of Ishtar’s washerwomen and this is one of the interesting elements of the story, because Kaaron Warren manages to balance the five voices, to give each one an identity, but also each reported to the personal relationship with Ishtar. I came to believe that the five washerwomen also represent a different report of the humankind to religion, a reflection of the degrees of believing in a godlike figure, Ishtar in this instance. A similar reflection can be seen in the five love relationships of Ishtar, each one of them mirroring a certain stage of life, of the journey from birth until death. There is the innocence and hope of childhood, the dreams and boldness of youth, the ambition and tumult of the prime adulthood, the wisdom and serenity of maturity and the bitterness and resignation of the elder age. All these can be seen in Ishtar’s lovers, but also in Ishtar herself and in the human devotion in the goddess. Kaaron Warren’s refers to two myths of Ishtar, her descent into the underworld and the Epic of Gilgamesh, encompassing them and building together with these myths a story that feels very much like a legend. The language used by Kaaron Warren entraps the reader within her story and with talent creates scenes that submit the reader under their power

“It was so dry in the year before the rain that people arrived to beg with their eyelids open, too dry to close them.”

or haunts him for long after the reading is finished.

“Initially, children played in it as it rose, laughing at the idea of water where it shouldn’t be, in the school rooms, the tents. But as it rose higher and higher, more were lost. They were lost laughing.”

However, as much as “The Five Loves of Ishtar” cannot be easily discarded I have to fully admit that it is not a story for me. I am perfectly aware that Ishtar is the Assyrian goddess of love and war and above all is associated with sexuality, but the story contains too much reference to the physical act of love for my liking and the erotic side of fiction is something I am not searching in my readings. Still, it is a personal opinion and it should not take anything away from Kaaron Warren’s merits.

“And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living” by Deborah Biancotti – Detective Adrienne Garner has to investigate a series of strange murders, all the victims are male and their bones are turned to paste without a significant damaged done to the body. With the second novella of “Ishtar” we move to the present day and change the registry. “And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living” is a crime investigation with plenty of supernatural elements. It is hard to say that the entire procedure of finding the responsible for the crimes has a surprising result, the murderer is predictable from the anthology’s theme and made almost clear when two cults are put in the balance of responsibility for the murders. However, the outcome is totally surprising. The investigation follows a steady and logical course and although the responsibility for the murders was obvious from an early stage, nothing prepared me for the actual end. Even more, the police investigator turns that particular shortcoming of the story into a minor nuisance, barely felt. Another excellent contributor for the remodeling of this imperfection is the climax of “And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living”, very well executed and with a sense of growing panic never lost until it reaches the boiling point.

I am always amazed and attracted by the ability of a writer to create powerful, believable characters. Especially when dealing with the small space offered by the short forms of fiction. Deborah Biancotti not only manages to build a strong main character, but gives birth from her pen to a lively supporting cast of characters too. The actual space of movement doesn’t allow them to grow as big as Adrienne Garner, the main character, but they are not only straw-made props either and from my reading experience this not something easily achieved.

“The Sleeping and the Dead” by Cat Sparks – After the world as it is known came to an end Dr. Anna continues her life in a desert outpost. But after three travelers stumble into her retreat Dr. Anna’s existence is suddenly changed. This anthology of novellas ends in a post-apocalyptic setting, masterfully created and described by Cat Sparks. The world described by the author is in a standstill situation, the atmosphere is desolating and the sense of hopelessness is omnipresent. The perspectives are grim and Dr. Anna’s thoughts are grimmer. Many post-apocalyptic settings inflict the same feelings in a reader, but Cat Sparks makes her novella unforgettable not only through setting, but also through a very personal touch and additions brought to the post-apocalyptic setting.

“A wall of turbulence obscures the horizon, broiling acid clouds spitting phlegm upon the silicon sea.”

I never read a post-apocalyptic story that is developed, or at least a part of it, around a fertility clinic, as it is Dr. Anna’s outpost. But the process of artificial insemination doesn’t bring hope in “The Sleeping and the Dead”, but fuels the feeling of despair infused by the atmosphere of the story. The originality of the setting is completed by a very strange religious cult that involves skulls, ossuaries, weird incantations and ceremonies. The respective cult is also a reflection of our modern society since elements of consumerism survived the apocalyptic event and found their way into the new existence. But even flimsy and hollow things born from consumerism can be missed in such a desolate place and situation, as Dr. Anna will see for herself. In the second part of the story Dr. Anna leaves her hell only to discover another different one, but Cat Sparks’ writing isn’t diminish by the change. On the contrary, it becomes more powerful and creates an even more oppressive atmosphere. I think that the story is an interpretation of Ishtar’s mythical descent to the Underworld, but with plenty of original elements.

“Spread bellow, the vista of Hell is just as it ought to be: a belching, bleeding catastrophe of pain”.

The story ends with a small blink of hope, one that I believe that was better without. But then again, in that case the sense of gloom would have been total and irreversible. For me, the “Ishtar” collection could not have ended in a better way than it does with Cat Sparks’ memorable “The Sleeping and the Dead”.

With “Ishtar”, the Assyrian goddess of love is given a new opportunity to express herself, through the voices of three very talented writers, Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti and Cat Sparks, to mesmerize and fascinate once again. The three novellas of Amanda Pillar and K.V. Taylor’s story collection span through time, as it is intended to, taking the reader from past to future with a stop in the present. There is the common element of the goddess Ishtar that is guide in this journey, but also the three stories are bridged each other through small and common elements, met at some point in all the three novellas. It is a nice way to link the anthology’s theme tighter still. For me, the collection grew gradually with each of the three stories, reaching the summit with the last novella, the best possible way. There is only one answer to the question I asked myself at the start of this review, if the choice of reading the collection edited by Amanda Pillar and K.V. Taylor, “Ishtar”, is worthy. It definitely is.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wish list - “A Season in Carcosa” & “The Grimscribe’s Puppets” edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

I love when my daily Internet wanderings bring forth new little gems. My constantly groaning book shelves do not. The reason for this conflict can be easily seen in my latest discoveries. Two anthologies that not only are looking exceptionally tasty, but I don’t imagine myself not having a copy of each of them when they will be released. Which are these anthologies that sent me tumbling to my very long wish list? “A Season in Carcosa” and “The Grimscribe’s Puppets” edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. and due to be released in the summer and fall of 2012 by Miskatonic River Press. As the editor Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. says on his blog, in a post a year old but that is still news to me, “A Season in Carcosa” features tributes to Robert W. Chambers“The King in Yellow” with a similar direction as Ellen Datlow’s “Lovecraft Unbound”, while “The Grimscribe’s Puppets” (what an attractive title) features tributes to the master of weird fiction, Thomas Ligotti. For now, there is little more information to be found, but that doesn’t mean I can’t already eagerly wait for these two anthologies to be released. Even more, since the current list of acceptances includes three of my favorite modern writers, Gary McMahon, Cate Gardner (who’s “Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits and Other Curious Things” proves to be a delight so far) and Joel Lane, and the book covers are made by the unequalled Daniele Serra, it seems that I don’t need any more reasons to follow the news about the upcoming “A Season in Carcosa” and “The Grimscribe’s Puppets”.