Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gonji: Deathwind of Vedun - Review by SE

Gonji: Deathwind of Vedun: The Deathwind Triology, Book ThreeGonji: Deathwind of Vedun: The Deathwind Triology, Book Three by T.C. Rypel
S.E> rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Gonji Deathwind trilogy was really one book cut into three parts. Take home message: if you decide to follow Gonji, just plan on reading the whole trilogy. This review combines my first two reviews with additional commentary.

Gongi Is A Unique, Entertaining Mashup: Gongi is a wandering, displaced warrior--a Ronin (master-less samurai) roaming 16th century Europe. This is not historical fiction, however. This is Sword & Sorcery in vein of R.E. Howard’s Conan…but it is a solidly unique take on the genre. Firstly, Gonji is a cross-breed of a Japanese warlord and Viking sword-maiden; rather than the Hyperborean continent of REH, Gonji explores a realistic version of Europe’s geography (Ottoman–Habsburg times). Plenty of creatures and magic infuse compelling fight scenes. I half expected Godzilla to emerge on multiple occasions!

Gonji is a mysterious, intelligent character. familiar with many languages (Japanese, Spanish, Italian, German, English, more?) sufficiently to converse with anyone. He is a bit moody too, which is ostensibly related to his mixed heritage (disciplined father, wild mother). His allegiances are difficult to predict, sometimes joining mercenary bands, sometimes rescuing weak townspeople. Generally, the blend of cultures and Gonji’s mysterious motivations are engaging.

By the end of this first installment, we know only that he is seeking the “Deathwind,” and we know he gets closer to this goal when he reached the city of Vedun, but otherwise the core of his quest is unclear. There is parallel conflict with some apparently evil occupiers of Vedun; but their motives are not clear by the end either, at times brutally dominating folk and at times letting them live in peace. I would have enjoyed a bit more clarification; the demarcation between the first and second book may just be due to the publication history.

I enjoyed Part-1 (Red Blade From the East) but was left wondering about character motivations; also my mind struggled to contain a geographic scope that seemed to only grow. The second installment pleasantly explored all the characters and mysteries posited in the first; geographically, it focused on one location essentially (Vedun city and the adjacent Castle Lenska). It delivered on every aspect I hoped, and the conflict/story leapt forward every chapter; it unveiled truths behind several key secrets & motivations behind the characters, and ramped up the adventure (which was at a high level anyway). Great adventure fantasy that is more dark & pulpy than it is historical. I like the content in #1 more after reading #2, and I can’t see how any reader could not stop without tackling #3.

Gonji: Deathwind of Vedun: The Deathwind Triology, Book Three concludes the original trilogy. The first half focuses on Vedun city’s plight (which has lots of battle but is less interesting since it deals with secondary characters; select vignettes like Hildegarde's story amplify Gonji's character); the latter half focuses on the primary characters battling in Castle Lenska--which was exhilarating. The milieu allows for subtle steampunk warfare (i.e., with Paille’s coffin-cupolas, and a measured level of gunpowder mayhem); it also allows for demons, giants, and werewolves. I would like to have learned more about Akryllon's history and Gonji's motivation for seeking the "Deathwind"; enough was revealed to tell a good story while luring me into the future installments (see below list). Rypel excels with his description of demons and monsters like the Hell-Hounds and the unveiling of the mysterious multi-personality disorder of King Klann (that's not a spoiler as much as a teaser comment); here is an example:
"It looked like a gaping hole in the space above the ward, yet shaped like something reptilian. And its eyes—that horrible yellowish glare that suggested eyes—seemed to see everywhere at once, to burn into the soul of the watcher with ghastly promise of lost eternity. In its wake it carried...dancing things, whirling and lashing about in tormented rhythm. Lost souls, grasping for a new purchase in the world of men that always seemed close, yet ever out of their reach."

Series: The initial Zebra books of the 1980’s essential split one long novel into a trilogy (I suspect the split was arbitrary). T.C. Rypel’s 1980 series has been released in a more complete forms (more books, eBooks, audiobooks). The newer releases from Borgo Press seem to have maintained this split. I’ll need to read the second and third books to confirm that, and I plan to do that. Actually, Rypel has a lot more Gonji in mind, and has books 4 and 5 available now. Books 1-3 are the original trilogy:
1) Gonji: Red Blade from the East: The Deathwind Trilogy, Book One
2) Gonji: The Soul Within the Steel
3) Gonji: Deathwind of Vedun: The Deathwind Triology, Book Three
4) Gonji: Fortress of Lost Worlds
5) Gonji: A Hungering of Wolves
6)... (7) ....(8)
2016 and beyond UPDATE: DARK VENTURES, from Wildside Press due out late 2016, and according to the author, "It comprises two new novellas, my essay on the series' creation/production history, and a generous excerpt from the coming Gonji origin novel, BORN OF FLAME AND STEEL." And [Rypel] just agreed to a commission to write a NEW Gonji short story for an anthology scheduled for next summer (2017).

Gonji Red Blade from the East The Deathwind Trilogy, Book One by T.C. Rypel Gonji The Soul Within the Steel by T.C. Rypel Gonji Deathwind of Vedun The Deathwind Triology, Book Three by T.C. Rypel Gonji Fortress of Lost Worlds by T.C. Rypel Gonji A Hungering of Wolves by T.C. Rypel

Social Media, Cover Art, and Maps: T.C. Rypel is very accessible via Facebook(Gonji Page) and the Goodreads Sword and Sorcery Group. If you check those websites you can (a) communicate with him and (b) just read/learn fascinating tidbits. For instance, from these I learned the artwork of Serbian illustrator Dusan Kostic graces most of the new releases, which seem more appropriate than the 1980’s covers that seem to mirror the James Clavell books (contemporary for 1980’s works, but of different genre). Also, The Kindle editions of the Deathwind Trilogy books do not include artist Joseph Rutt's Maps that appear in the front of the print editions.

Ohio Rocks: Incidentally, T.C. Rypel has Ohio roots, as do many Sword and Sorcery authors; in fact, 20% of the original Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA, 1960-80s) came from my home state OH. The unassuming state of OH has ties to many relevant authors including including: David C. Smith, Andre Norton, Stephen Donaldson, John Jakes, Richard Lee Byers, Roger Zelazny, Dennis L. McKiernan, Steve Goble, and more.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rhiannon and Conan Pastiche - Groupreads for Nov-Dec 2016

Nov Dec 2016 Groupreads (Links to Discussions)
(a) Brackett's Sword of Rhiannon (aka Sea Kings of Mars) 
(b) CONAN Pastiche 

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Leigh Brackett's sword & planet adventure is a short novel but a favorite among aficionado's. Let's read: The Sword of Rhiannon...first published as Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories in "Thrilling Wonder" Magazine in 1949 (banner image from cover artist Earle Bergey).

Conan Pastiche, from 100% pastiche to posthumously finished tales, lets read how non-Robert E. Howard authors continued the barbarian's adventures! Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp's 1967 Conan (banner image and cover art by Frazetta)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Tales of Kamose - Review by S.E.

Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of AnubisServant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis by Keith Taylor
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis by Keith Taylor is highly recommended for the Weird Fiction / Sword & Sorcery reader.

Skelos is a magazine of Weird Fiction (launched via Kickstarter Summer 2016); inside is great Viking-horror Novelette by Keith Taylor called The Drowned Dead Shape. It is great to know that he is still active! I hope he revisits Kamose. Taylor is also known for Cormac Mac Art (Pastiche of REH) with Andrew Offutt. A Sword & Sorcery Group Read made me aware that Taylor wrote nine tales of Kamose, sorcerer priest of Anubis, for Weird Tales in the 1990’s. Interesting is that editor of Weird Tales at the time was Darrell Schweitzer who likewise had an interest in sorcerers in Egypt with his The Mask of the Sorcerer and Sekenre: The Book of the Sorcerer—which are great books appealing to the same readership.

The Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis by Keith Taylor is a compilation of 11 weird tales (2 short stories made for the anthology, the others published in Weird Tales; contents detailed below). Kamose functions like a mix between Sherlock Holmes and the Grim Reaper, solving cases and judging supernatural crimes in ancient Eypt. He employs minions who serve him under stressful pretenses; these include the human thief “Si-hotep”, the serpent-human hybrid”Lamia, and demons (“Bone Breaker” and “Green Flame”). He also disguises himself to go undercover. All the while, he is plagued by rival sects, especially from Thoth who unwillingly sourced Kamose’s power (backstory revealed in the book in Chapter 3 “Haunted Shadows”). In a later story, Taylor recaps Kamose’s power:
"Kamose could enchant the sea, the sky, and the earth if desired. He understood the speech of beasts and birds, so far as they had language, and could command them also. He knew the secrets of various potions that gave one the power to walk through walls, breathe beneath water or move with a celerity beyond nature—though the first had its dangers and the last exacted a price from the body. He could even change his own face and body if he chose, though the feat called for careful preparation, and required time both to effect and to reverse.”

Kamose (and his minions) encounter all sorts of nightmarish magic and creatures; my favorites include (a) an antagonist from “Corpse’s Wrath” that proves the persistence of the undead and (b) a potion that enables people to walk thru walls…but also allows imbibers to see Cthulhu-esque creatures and see through human skin . Expect lots of tomb raiding, thaumaturgy, betrayals, and awesome magic. The milieu is infused with Egyptian (Khem) mythology and history, from animated shabti dolls, ghostly ka bodies, and alchemy, and haunts/deities from Kush and Libya. Chapter one sets the stage by introducing us to a real Pharaoh Setekh-Nekht, whose future is fictionalized as is the transition to Ramses III’s reign.

Although published in serial form, Taylor clearly had a novel-like vision with entwined story arcs spanning across and through all the chapters. The adventure is great stuff, but this set doesn’t close all the story arcs completely; you’ll be left desiring more adventures of Kamose. In fact, there are several obscure points (not really spoilers) that are presented as if there will be a sequel: (1) Ramses III relationship with Kamose is just beginning to brew by the end of this and reeks of untapped potential; (2) the mysterious injury Kamose gets in the opening chapter remains pleasantly obscure; the healing process consumes the remaining ~10 chapters (few years) but there is more to that epic battle yet unexplained; (3) lastly, the opening of the last chapter indicates that the Kush-magician/murder in Chapter 1 may have encountered a different fate than Kamose expected.

Daggers and a Serpent - 1999 Weird Tales
Emissaries of Doom - 1999 Weird Tales
Haunted Shadows - 2000 Weird Tales
The Emerald Scarab - 2001 Weird Tales
Lamia - 2001 Weird Tales
What Are You When the Moon Shall Rise? - 2002 Weird Tales
The Company of the Gods -2003 Weird Tales
The Archpriest's Potion - 2003 Weird Tales
Corpse's Wrath - 2006 Weird Tales
Return of Ganesh - 2012 – new material for this book
The Shabti Assassin - 2012 – new material for this book

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Gonji and Egypt-Stygia 2016 Sept Oct Groupread Topics

2016 Sept Oct Group Read Topics:

Please join the Sword & Sorcery group on goodreads the next few months as we read:

(a) Gonji - Link to Discussion 

(b) Egypt/Stygia - Link to Discussion

Masthead Banner Credits:

Egypt/Stygia Scope

Any Sword & Sorcery that has inspirations from Egypt or fantasy versions of it (i.e. REH's Stygia) are fair game. Lot's of good possibilities here, as supporting discussion revealed (thanks to Stan, Joseph, and Jack for guiding that). 

Servant of the Jackal God The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis by Keith Taylor The Mask of the Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer Sekenre The Book of the Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer The Scroll of Thoth Simon Magus and the Great Old Ones Twelve Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos by Richard L. Tierney The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard Conan, Vol. 8 Black Colossus by Timothy Truman Nagash the Sorcerer by Mike Lee

T.C. Rypel's Gonji series: 

The initial Zebra books of the 1980’s essential split one long novel into a trilogy (I suspect the split was arbitrary). T.C. Rypel’s 1980 series has been released in a more complete forms (more books, eBooks, audiobooks). The newer releases from Borgo Press seem to have maintained this split.
Books 1-3 are the original trilogy:
1) Gonji: Red Blade from the East: The Deathwind Trilogy, Book One
2) Gonji: The Soul Within the Steel
3) Gonji: Deathwind of Vedun: The Deathwind Triology, Book Three
4) Gonji: Fortress of Lost Worlds
5) Gonji: A Hungering of Wolves
Gonji Red Blade from the East The Deathwind Trilogy, Book One by T.C. Rypel Gonji The Soul Within the Steel by T.C. Rypel Gonji Deathwind of Vedun The Deathwind Triology, Book Three by T.C. Rypel Gonji Fortress of Lost Worlds by T.C. Rypel Gonji A Hungering of Wolves by T.C. Rypel
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Friday, August 19, 2016

Awakening Evarun - Dark Poetic Adventure like Clark Ashton Smith

Awakening Evarun (Part I of VI)Awakening Evarun by Tom Barczak
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thaumaturgy is associated with deep incantation of magic, and Tom Barczak is an expert at such language-delivered-necromancy. I had the pleasure of interviewing him on the topic of Beauty in Weird fiction.

Weird fiction pioneer Clark Ashton Smith once wrote: "My own conscious ideal has been to delude the reader into accepting an impossibility, or series of impossibilities, by means of a sort of verbal black magic, in the achievement of which I make use of prose-rhythm, metaphor, simile, tone-color, counter-point, and other stylistic resources, like a sort of incantation."

Tom Barczak's poetic style is as mesmerizing like Clark Ashton Smith's style, but produces fiction laced with both (a) total grimness and (b) hopeful redemption. His work is compact Sword & Sorcery for the serious reader, with undertones of spirituality. This is not like C.S. Lewis's approach to Young Adult fantasy fiction; Barczak writes for a mature reader who wants to explore ruins filled with ghosts and meet evil face-to-face. Here is an excerpt:

"A little boy stared back at him with living eyes. Dark, deep, and soul filled eyes, eyes that hadn’t begun to carry the scars of the loss of everything around them, eyes that didn’t hide behind a veil, behind a promise made to be broken. His eyes were familiar. The boy’s eyes weren’t afraid. They were hungry.

Talus threw himself backwards, fumbling with his cloak. He thrust the small blade of his trembling knife towards the boy. The new light of day settled upon it like blood.

The boy scrambled away, but his dark eyes held like ice. He raised his hand to a growing red scar just let upon his cheek. A supplicant’s smile stretched his lips. He placed the back of his hand against his face."

There are six short stories in the Awakening, a set that is a prequel to Veil of the Dragon (which I enjoyed of course). They are very short... but the amount of impact per word is very high. This type of work is best served in limited doses (i.e. like espresso). Unpolished illustrations from the author are a nice touch; they are fitting since the author is an artists/architect, but they are bonus material to complement the experience.

The Awakening Evarun is highly recommended.

Awakening Evarun (Part I of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part II of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part IV of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part III of VI) by Tom Barczak

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Hour of the Dragon - Howard's only Conan Novel review by S.E.

The Hour of the DragonThe Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars
"From death to death [The Heart of Ahriman] came, riding on a river of human blood. Blood feeds it, blood draws it. Its power is greatest when there is blood on the hands that grasp it, when it is wrested by slaughter from its holder. Wherever it gleams, blood is spilt and kingdoms totter, and the forces of nature are put in turmoil." -- Thutothmes of Khemi (The Hour of The Dragon, by REH)

The Hour of the Dragon (1934-1936), is Robert E. Howard''s only full length novel of Conan, the barbarian he popularized in short story form. The text is available on-line for free via the Gutenberg project, but there are reason's to track down a paperback. I read the Berkley Putnam 1977 edition, which has splendid additions to the story: comprehensive foreword and afterwords by Karl Wagner explain how the novel formed prior being serialized in Weird Tales; a map of the Hyborian Age (inspired by REH's own drawings) is essential for the Hyborian ambiances; interior illustrations are bonuses; and cover art by Ken Kelly is stellar. 

Hyborian Age: As Wagner details, this book was REH's attempt to break into the UK market that demanded novels (and were not agreeable to his proposals for a collection of his own stories). REH presents Conan as King of Aquilonia. Sorcery and treachery dethrone him, and Conan trots about much of Hyboria, either pursing or being challenged by those who have the magical Heart of Ahriman (which we learn in the opening chapter). This touring of the pre-drowned Euro-Afro-Asia continent begs for a map. The traveling adventure amplifies the Hyborian Age concept; REH's Conan lived in rich pseudo historical land that enabled real ancient cultures to interact with mythical ones. Each chapter has Conan (and his enemies) traversing Aquilonia, Nemeda, Argos, Stygia, and more (these roughly translates to central Europe and Northern Africa). 

Marvel Comics Map of Hyborian Age

Missing Chapter Mystery: A deal was accepted but the UK publisher went belly up, so REH worked with Weird Tales to publish the chapters in serial form. As Wagner explains, there is a possibility that one chapter went missing (#20). Wagner left the numbering of the chapters consistent with the numbering as printed in Weird Tales (#20 is skipped); the original manuscript sent to Denis Archer has 4,000 more words (Pawling & Ness imprint) has 75,000 words. That edition never made it to press, but Weird Tales published the novel in serial form...and it had only 71,000 words. Regardless, the story seems consistent, so there is no obvious loss in plot. 

Style: REH did not change his writing style, so each chapter maintains a very pulpy feel. Chapters are over saturated with conflicts to maintain a frenetic pace. An over reliance on chance encounters detracts from the enjoyment, but it remains a fun read on the whole. Written in the 1930's, the tone has some racial and misogynistic aspects of the time.  Despite the use of the word "negro," Conan appears as a champion/friend to many and even freed many slaves. Woman on the other hand were represented terribly; the few featured are concubines who are cheer leaders of Conan requiring rescue. Here are some examples:
Example 1: Concubine saves Conan and is glad to have him put a knife to her     "Walk beside me," [Conan] instructed her softly, passing his massive arm about her lithe waist. "You've played me fair so far, and I'm inclined to believe in you; but I've lived this long only because I've trusted no one too far, man or woman. So! Now if you play me false you won't live to enjoy the jest."     She did not flinch at sight of the reddened poniard or the contact of his hard muscles about her supple body.
     "Cut me down without mercy if I play you false," she answered. "The very feel of your arm about me, even in menace, is as the fulfillment of a dream." 
Example 2: Conan relishes in his obvious manliness     "All right," [Conan] muttered. "I'll trust you; though, by Crom, the habits of a lifetime are not easily put aside. Yet I wouldn't harm you now, if you brought all the swordsmen in Nemedia upon me. But for you Tarascus's cursed ape would have come upon me in chains and unarmed. Do as you wish, girl."     Kissing his hands, she sprang lithely up and ran down the corridor, to vanish through a heavy double door.
     He glanced after her, wondering if he was a fool to trust her; then he shrugged his mighty shoulders and pulled the satin hangings together, masking his refuge. It was not strange that a passionate young beauty should be risking her life to aid him; such things had happened often enough in his life. Many women had looked on him with favor, in the days of his wanderings, and in the time of his kingship.

Example 3: Conan thanks the concubine who saves him by taking his sexual due     "A horse is hidden for you in a thicket beside the road that runs westward, a few hundred paces to the south of the fountain of Thrallos. You know where it is?"
     "Aye! But what of you? I had meant to take you with me."
     A flood of joy lighted her beautiful face.
     "Then my cup of happiness is brimming! But I will not hamper your escape. Burdened with me you would fail. Nay, do not fear for me. They will never suspect that I aided you willingly. Go! What you have just said will glorify my life throughout the long years."
     He caught her up in his iron arms, crushed her slim, vibrant figure to him and kissed her fiercely on eyes, cheeks, throat and lips, until she lay panting in his embrace; gusty and tempestuous as a storm-wind, even his love- making was violent.

The over arching plot is engaging, as is Conan's adventures as he meets up with past friends/foes/allies of his pre-King days. The titular Dragon refers to the antagonist's standard (there are many other bad guys, often associated with serpents); Conan and his allies have Lion icons. Conan is dethroned in the very beginning, and it is nigh impossible not to read on to see how he can win it back. That said, the constant, intense adventure indicative of pulp fiction doesn't work well in a novel form. There is a chaotic, accumulating silliness: our "wilderness-bred", panther-stalking hero trips in a curtain while attacking his major foe; he routinely stumbles across key foes in random places, encounters that push any bounds of coincidence; he is saved too often by random characters/events; there are too many evil-dude-explains-his-ways scenes; every few pages he comes across new, crazy conflicts that would work well in short story form (ghouls, vampires, etc.). The in-your-face misogyny and high-frequency-chance-encounters/saves is distracting.

The Hour of The Dragon is good adventure and represents Conan and REH's Hyboria well.  The story is best when it focuses on the grand battles and weird descriptions of necromancy. A map and context (i.e. from Wagner's essays) make it more enjoyable.

2016/2017 Movie? : Seems like this may be the basis for the next Arnold movie of Conan (to be called Conan the Conqueror ...or King Conan). I could see that going really well.... or really poorly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dyscrasia Fiction ® - registered trademark

Dyscrasia Fiction ® 
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted registration of "Dyscrasia Fiction" to IGNIS Publishing LLC. This is a foundational move to enable long term growth of the series.

Daimones, the third installment of the series is due out late-2016/early-2017. This #1.5 book will bridge the the end of the Ill Age that chronicles Lord Lysis's rise to power as an undead champion (#1 Lords of Dyscrasia) with the maturing of Helen from curator to Seer (#2 Spawn of Dyscrasia). 

Dyscrasia literally means “a bad mixture of liquids.”  Historically, dyscrasia referred to any imbalance of the four medicinal humors professed by the ancient Greeks to sustain life (phlegm, blood, black and yellow bile). Artisans, anatomists, and chemists of the Renaissance expressed shared interest in the humors; accordingly, the scope of humorism evolved to include aspects of the four alchemical elements (water, air, earth and fire) and psychological temperaments (phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholic and choleric). In short, the humors are mystical media of color, energy, and emotion; Dyscrasia Fiction presents them as spiritual muses for artisans, sources of magical power, and contagions of a deadly disease.  The books explore the choices humans and their gods make as this disease corrupts their souls, shared blood and creative energies.