Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: An Apt Description of the Heroine in Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

Monday, August 31st, 2015 | Posted by Kelly Swails

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai-smallTwelve Kings in Sharakhai: The Song of Shattered Sands: Book One
By Bradley P. Beaulieu
DAW Books (592 pages, $24.95 in hardcover, $9.99 digital, September 1, 2015)
Cover by Adam Paquette

Eleven years ago, Çedamihn Ahyanesh’ala’s mother was killed by the immortal Twelve Kings that rule the desert city of Sharakhai. Çeda — as she’s known to a few close friends — doesn’t know why her mother was killed. She only has three clues: the Kings carved strange symbols into her mother’s skin before they killed her; a book of poems that belonged to her mother; and the fact that she can never reveal she was her mother’s daughter.

Along with her friend Emre — one of only a handful of people who know her true identity — Çeda earns money on the streets of Sharakhai by delivering messages and cutting the occasional purse. By the time she is a young adult, she earns money with a new identity: the White Wolf, one of the most feared and respected hand warriors in the fighting pits.

Only Emre knows the secret deep within her heart: she means to avenge her mother’s death by killing the immortal Kings that rule the city. But in order to do so, she has to face her fears, make allies out of enemies, and risk losing everything she cherishes.

The world building here is robust yet deft. There are several elements in play, such as the mythology that governs the Kings, the magic of the forbidden forest on the outskirts of the city, and the creatures called the asirim that roam Sharakhai every six weeks to prey upon the city’s inhabitants.

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Locus Online on C.S.E. Cooney’s Bone Swans

Saturday, August 29th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Bone Swans CSE Cooney-smallBone Swans, the long awaited first collection from C.S.E. Cooney, has been loudly acclaimed since its release last month. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and a rave review from Tor.com — especially for “Life on the Sun,” which was originally published here at Black Gate. And Library Journal called it “Five beautifully crafted stories… full of flying carpets, fairy-tale characters, and children confronted with a postapocalyptic Earth… [a] gorgeous new collection.” Now Locus Online‘s Paul Di Filippo weighs in, saying:

This is a strong and enduring debut collection… As might be predicated based on its name, the genre dubbed the “New Weird” has its roots in the Old Weird, and one tendril of those roots extends back to the Weird Tales crew. Thus it’s not too surprising that Cooney’s state-of-the-art New Weird tale “Life on the Sun” at times reads like something from the Robert E. Howard canon, with strange tribes, bizarre magics, desert-circled cities, and other nifty pulp tropes. But of course, since Cooney’s poetic, evocative prose is of a higher order of sophistication than Howard’s, the resulting tale is a thing apart. The city of Rok Moris is undergoing a simultaneous assault from without and rebellion from within. At the heart of both movements, it eventuates, is a young woman named Kantu. Her denied birthright contends with her chosen mature allegiances, and she must somehow reconcile them for the survival of her city and all its citizens… Overall, if the byline had been stripped from this tale, one would not be surprised to hear it came from the pen of Tanith Lee…

In his beguiling and affectionate introduction, Gene Wolfe nominates Cooney as a fully formed savant of fantastika at age eighteen. Having matured and honed her skills since then, as seen in this collection, she surely is embarked on a literary odyssey as rewarding and thrilling as any undergone by her bevy of unforgettable heroes and heroines.

Bone Swans was published by Mythic Delirium Books on July 1, 2015. It is 224 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback and $5.99 for the digital version. The cover art is by Kay Nielsen. See the Mythic Delirium website for more details, and the complete Table of Contents here.

The Three Phases of Adam Warlock: Return from the Dead

Saturday, August 29th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Infinity_Gauntlet_Vol_1_1_001I’ve been taking a look at Adam Warlock, one of my favorite comic characters. In previous posts, I’ve written about his early period as a failed messiah figure on Counter-Earth in the early- and mid-1970s, and then his Jim-Starlin-written tragic middle period as the cosmic champion of life, which led to his heroic death in 1977.

Today, I want to take up the thread of the Adam Warlock saga fourteen years later, when both he and the Champion of Death, Thanos, were resurrected as the core of a massive cross-over event called The Infinity Gauntlet.

This may be timely for some folk who had never read the original or reprinted Warlock runs, because Marvel movies have already teased us with a hero-sized cocoon in a Thor movie and have announced an Infinity War movie for 2018.

So, since the Infinity Gauntlet series is now 24 years old, I’m not going to issue spoiler alerts; I’ll likely just berate you for not having read this already (you can, incidentally, stop reading this post, go pick up the Infinity Gauntlet at comixology.com, and then come back when you’re done; I don’t own Marvel stock or anything, it’s just that much fun).

To remind readers where we left off, in 1977, Adam Warlock, the lonely, tragic Champion of Life, killed Thanos, the nihilistic, insane cosmic Champion of Death. Fast forward to 1991 to Infinity Gauntlet #1, and we find that quite a bit has happened. Death has been chaffing at the imbalance between Life and Death and has pulled out her greatest admirer and lover, Thanos to rectify things.

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Adventures In Benign Cults: Parable Of the Talents

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Parable Of the Talents-smallIf a book vaults from mere printed text to a work of serious literature by virtue of posing a question, and then exploring it through the course of the story, then Octavia Butler’s The Parable Of the Talents fits the bill very neatly indeed.

Its primary question seems to be discovering meaning in what is for Butler a necessarily godless world, but it takes on secondary questions galore. Among these: what is the difference, if any, between a religion and a cult? How fine is the line between healthy determination and destructive obsession? And just how often do we reject others simply on the grounds that they challenge those (shaky) convictions on which we’ve built our lives? In other words, we blame and hold accountable people who represent our own failings.

Butler has a field day with all of these and more in charting the life of Lauren Oya Olamina, founder of Earthseed, a cult that locates God in change — the concept of change — and sets its sights on the stars when life on earth (or at least in the Disunited States of the 2030s) is nothing but chaos.

Formally, Butler’s Parable Of the Talents (the sequel to Parable Of the Sower) is epistolary work. The story is related through select journal entries, mostly Olamina’s, with other voices interspersed. These include her husband, her lost daughter, and her estranged younger brother.

First published in 1998, Parable Of the Talents won the Nebula Award in 1999. Like a good many other Nebula winners (such as The Speed Of Dark, which I wrote about here recently), this is not hard science. If you’re looking for the nuts and bolts engineering or chemistry found in Kim Stanley Robinson or Andy Weir, look elsewhere. Butler’s near-future tale focuses on social disintegration, and its rebirth via the benign (?) cult of Earthseed.

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Getting Closer to Home: A Review of Milton J. Davis’ Saga Changa’s Safari

Monday, August 24th, 2015 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Changa's Safari-small Changa's Safari 2-small Changa's Safari 3-small

I have been a fan of Milton J. Davis’ saga of Changa Diop ever since I read the first volume, Changa’s Safari, back in 2010. All three volumes are published by MVmedia, LLC. They are:

Changa’s Safari: A Sword and Soul Epic (2010)
Changa’s Safari, Volume Two (2012)
Changa’s Safari, Volume Three (2014)

[Click on any of the images in this article for bigger versions.]

It’s no secret that Davis has been influenced by the father of the Sword and Soul brand of Heroic Fantasy, introduced to the world in the 1970s by the eminent author, Charles R. Saunders, creator of the Imaro novels, the first black, Sword and Sorcery hero and star of his own series.

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Fantastic, June 1965: A Retro-Review

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

fantastic June 1965-smallAt last I return to an issue of Fantastic from the Cele Lalli era. Indeed, this is the very last issue of the Cele Lalli era.

The June issues of Amazing and Fantastic were the last published by Ziff-Davis. They were sold to Sol Cohen’s Ultimate Publishing, and resumed appearing as bimonthlies with the August Amazing and then the September Fantastic.

At this time they began publishing mostly reprints, drawing on the huge library of stories published originally in Amazing and Fantastic, for which they had, legally, unlimited reprint rights. (Eventually Cohen was forced or shamed into paying a small fee.)

Perhaps because this is the last issue before the transfer to new ownership, there are no features: no interior art, no book review, no editorial, nothing. The cover is by Gray Morrow, never a favorite of mine, illustrating Roger Zelazny’s “Thelinde’s Song.”

Click the image at left for a bigger version.

I don’t like it much – the color is a muddy red, and the menaced virgin on the altar isn’t very attractive. (Shallow of me, I know, but there you are!)

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July Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Between Heroic Fantasy QuarterlySwords and Sorcery Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, July was rich with fiction (nine stories, two poems, and a video treat), and some of it is pretty darn good. So let’s get started.

oie_105135GlDNN9g6Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #25, with beautiful banner art by Dana Martin, has the usual complement of stories and poetry, and, this month, a special bonus from editor Adrian Simmons.

Beast Hunter’s Song” by Michael A. Liguori, is about Sedrick the monster hunter’s second chance in life. Dragon hunters get all the glory, but the really dangerous and dirty work is done by the men bold and crazy enough to stalk the caverns of the Underlands for beasts that can swallow a dragon whole. Since the High Lord of Hunters decided there aren’t enough monsters left underground to hunt anymore, men like Sedrick have been reduced to guard duty.

When a Trogon, a beast “twice the size of a dragon, with two or three heads and terrible claws that could cleave an ox in half with a single swipe” ravages a city, the High Lord has no choice but to call Sedrick back to duty. While the plot is nothing out of the ordinary, there’s a wild inventiveness to Liguori’s underground world and its denizens. The end felt a little abrupt, but it could easily serve as an introduction to more adventures for Sedrick, which I would like to read.

In Linda Donahue’sWhite Elephants” Darius, sent to guard an Indian princess betrothed to the Persian emperor, becomes infatuated with his charge. When she and the priceless white elephant accompanying her are snatched by a roc, Darius is determined to rescue her. The thing is, neither the emperor nor the Indian king’s emissary care much about the princess; they just want the elephant rescued. There’s magic and mystery behind everything, and Darius is forced to make some dangerous choices along the road to save the princess. This is a solid adventure tale with a setting not used often enough in fantasy.

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Atlantis, Vikings, and the Hordes of Kublai Khan: Merlin’s Ring by H. Warner Munn: Part I

Monday, August 17th, 2015 | Posted by Tony Den

Merlin2-smallMerlin1-smallA few months ago I wrote an article about H Warner Munn’s excellent books The King at the World’s Edge and The Ship From Atlantis. Munn wrote both in the 1930’s, although the latter was only published later. By all accounts he took a hiatus from professional writing to concentrate on raising a family and providing the financial security that entails.

His passion for writing had not totally subsided, and as his “day job” career wound down, Munn embarked upon what many consider to be his magnum opus: Merlin’s Ring. Please note that this article does contain a few spoilers, which are necessary to explain certain concepts.

The volume sat on my shelf for years, like so many under the “one day I’ll read it” tag, but having undertaken the previous two books in what is now considered the Merlin’s Godson Cycle, I felt obliged to start Merlin’s Ring.

Merlin’s Ring continues the tail of Gwalchmai, whom we last encountered in The Ship From Atlantis. The book was published by Ballantine in 1974 with a cover by Gervasio Gallardo. It appears to have been republished a few times under the same imprint and later by Del Rey, with the same cover, until 1981. (Click on the images at left and right for more detailed versions.)

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Cloud Sculptors, Dragon Riders, and an Unearthly Craps Game: Nebula Award Stories 3, edited by Roger Zelazny

Sunday, August 16th, 2015 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

Nebula Award Stories Number Three-smallNebula Award Stories Three
Edited by Roger Zelazny
Pocket Books (193 pages, $0.75, February 1970)

It looks like there were 16 works of shorter fiction nominated for the 1968 Nebula awards. Seven of them appear in this collection. Although the Ballard story included doesn’t appear on the ballots I found listed at various reference sites.

In any event, there are some holes in my reading history represented here. I’ve read lots of Ellison over the years and a fair amount of Ballard. As for Leiber, Moorcock, McCaffrey and Delany, not so much. But there’s some great stuff here, by my reckoning, and a few good ones and one that was not so much.


“The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D,” by J. G. Ballard

As the title suggests, actual cloud sculptors are sculpting clouds in this one. At first they do it for small change and later for a wealthy and not-so-nice woman. Things fall apart at this point, in rather spectacular fashion.

“Gonna Roll the Bones,” by Fritz Leiber

Last things first. Leiber’s story has one of the best last lines I’ve read for a long time. And the story that precedes it isn’t half bad either. It’s actually quite good and deserving of an award. You could go wrong in so many ways when writing a story that’s just a play-by-play rendition of an unearthly craps game. But Leiber carries it off well.

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The Golden Age of Horror Seems to be Progressing Well: The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Seven

Friday, August 14th, 2015 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven-smallLast year when I reviewed The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Six, I said that volume gave confirmation that we are currently living in a golden age of horror fiction, especially in short stories. This year’s The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Seven shows that this age is thankfully not ending for the foreseeable future.

As with the former editions, the seemingly inexhaustible Ellen Datlow had edited this volume. Among her many, many awards includes a very recent Bram Stoker for her horror anthology Fearful Symmetries, released last year. If you’re not familiar with any of Datlow’s anthologies they are (in my humble opinion) the gold standard of horror fiction. Datlow knows a good story!

As with previous editions, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Seven showcases a plurality of different kinds of horror stories and styles, from old-fashioned supernatural yarns and psychological horror to Crypt-Keeper-style revenge tales. As I usually say in my review of anthologies, I’m not a fan of every story within, but each story here is without a doubt superbly written and executed.

This volume includes the usual horror “superstars” along with some very talented new blood. What I’m calling horror “superstars” are those few horror writers who unsurprisingly make regular reappearances in many of horror’s year’s best anthologies. In this volume this includes Nathan Ballingrud with his creepy tale “The Atlas of Hell,” about a mob boss seeking to track down a supposedly occultic book in the swamps of Louisiana, a “book” that turns out to be much more than bargained for. Ballingrud always has a very unique take on horror and this horrific story is no disappointment.

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