Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dissection Theater Dyscrasia Victims - Dey's Diary


Anyone who could conquer this disease, which is rooted in the fabric of the Land, must be likewise terrible. Perhaps there will be a hero, a warrior who will vanquish dyscrasia, only to usher unforeseen horrors into this world—horrors that will make us all suffer so much we will wish dyscrasia to return…
Lords of Dyscrasia - S E Lindberg
Diary, I tallied the Dissection Theater’s subjects again. Three and ninety female corpses. One and eighty pregnant. Forty embryos not quite human— plagued with dyscrasia. Doctor Grave has brought the fresh batch, magically collecting the victims from afar, and now his minion barbers labor to render the flesh, blood, and bone.

Dyscrasia has affected the Land for decades. All clans contribute victims: Clan Qual, the tailors and dyers of the central gorge; Clan Tonn, the metal workers, jewelers, and stone cutters of the northeastern ridge; and Clan Lysis, the painters and craftsmen of the western highlands. Even the godless folk of the Cromlechon cave colony, under which this Theater rests, donate lives. The scene before me represents the Land’s dire health. Dead mothers piled in heaps. Their orphaned, lost children seeking refuge here. Victims of dyscrasia: a disease of blood and spirit.

The lifeless embryos exhibit the disease explicitly. The stillborn mutants present eldritch traits, all unique and terrible. Beaks and downy feathers adorn the avian ones. Translucent, soft-shell exoskeletons wrap the invertebrate insectan type, which are always infected with worms. They are actually larvae, as Doctor Grave often corrects me. Larvalwyrmen, he calls them. They get much larger as they age, as testified by a mummified example suspended in the Theater by five iron rods—it is nigh a fathom long. When he sees these embryonic larvae Grave becomes emotional, stroking their skins as if to comfort them. He would nurse them to maturity if he could. I know not the extent of his necromantic powers, but it is clear he is motivated by some fascination for the insects.

Doctor Grave is an ageless figure who reeks of smoke and is armored with distressed leather made of human flesh. I have never seen his face owing to the fact it is forever concealed behind his hood of oiled skin. The cloaked barbers ofhis guild dissect and prepare the bodies. It has never been clear where the bodies are eventually buried. Before they leave the Theater, I sketch as many as I can. For example, consider the sketch of the woman before me now. Inside this dead mother’s womb, I discovered three eggs. Two of them were cracked, filled with misshapen embryos. These specimens had transmuted to stone, petrified into fossils. One intact egg, more fragile and not yet calcified, concealed a developed, tusked nymph, itself infected with larvalwyrmen.

I see my mother’s reflection in this lady. Perhaps I will see her again, brought here to the Theater as one dead. That possibility terrifies me. It would be fitting, however, for her to find me here to judge me for leaving her to battle my drunken father alone. I ran away from him, not her. She probably has been searching for me for years. But I cannot go back. My fear of him is more than my love for her. This dissection theater within the Cromlechon colony is my home now. Doctor Grave had welcomed me here years ago, and there seems no better place for me in this desolate Land. I am safe here. I seem to be immune for I have often contacted contagious fluids without consequence. Grave says there must be something in my blood that protects me. For some reason, he laughs when he says that.

Doctor Grave says the tribal Picti are responsible for the disease. He promises to take me to one of their mysterious rites soon. I can hardly wait to see a ritual. A ritual promised to demonstrate the intangible link between the humans and elders, and perhaps reveal mysteries like how their worshipping propagated the disease. Now the avian and insectan elders are nearly extinct. Those living are mutated. And their symbiotic Picti die with them. These humans persist only in pockets, primarily within the Lysis clan.

Grave says that the insectan elders were once large enough that people could ride them like horses. Now only the miniature variety survives, and these appear as common insects. Grave pats me on the back, laughs, and says, “Be wary of the ones that glow in the night. The fireflies. The lightning bugs. They bite!” I never understood if he was warning me or ridiculing me.

The avian type is all but extinct. There is at least one survivor, a female harpy who haunts the Land preying solely on men. Sometimes Grave gathers the few victims she leaves to decompose in nature. Their injuries suggest having fallen in a battle before being raped and eaten. She is a vampire, a succubus, and a predator. Grave has been tracking her for a long time, but she evades him. He is not skilled enough as a hunter. I hesitate to predict the outcome of their confrontation if ever he caught her.

The emotional force of a hundred corpses suffocates me now. My only home—my very life as an artist of anatomy—cannot be sustained. It is all I have, but it is rotten. In order to have some protection from the elements, the orphaned children don themselves in the bloody aprons of the barbers. Whereas once I was saddened by such desperate measures, now I find them strangely familiar. I am not the only one in need of salvation. The entire Land needs a healer. I am no healer. Nor does Doctor Grave seem to be a candidate. He claims to want to cure the disease, but seems more concerned about resurrecting dead insects than saving humans. Grave seems to welcome the loss of life, as if he needs to harvest blood for his own mysterious rite. He is a bit like the raven that feeds on
carrion, tending to death but not preventing it. One day I will leave the Theater. I will look for a savior that will resurrect the vitality of the Land.

Anyone who could conquer this disease, which is rooted in the fabric of the Land, must be likewise terrible. Perhaps there will be a hero, a warrior who will vanquish dyscrasia, only to usher unforeseen horrors into this world—horrors that will make us all suffer so much we will wish dyscrasia to return…

Friday, May 13, 2016

Weird Fiction Journal Skelos - Ready for Backing

I just backed Skelos - Journal of Weird Fiction

You can too!
Skelos Press is proud to announce the launch of its new flagship journal with a Kickstarter campaign that will begin on Tuesday May 10th. The first issue of SKELOS: THE JOURNAL OF WEIRD FICTION AND DARK FANTASY will feature a never-before-published fantasy piece by Robert E. Howard (Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane) illustrated by the legendary Mark Schultz (Xenozoic Tales, Coming of Conan, Prince Valiant). Also featured is a new sword and sorcery novelette by Keith Taylor (Bard series, Cormac Mac Art), a long-awaited sequel to his classic tale "Men from the Plain of Lir" originally published in WEIRD TALES. This story will be illustrated by the fantastic Tomás Giorello (Dark Horse King Conan). Another highlight of the issue will be a tale of dark fantasy from World Fantasy Award nominee and John W. Campbell Award nominee Scott A. Cupp,

SKELOS is edited by Mark Finn, author of the World Fantasy Award-nominated BLOOD AND THUNDER; Chris Gruber, editor of Robert E. Howard's BOXING STORIES from the University of Nebraska Press; and Jeffrey Shanks, co-editor of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated UNIQUE LEGACY OF WEIRD TALES.
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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Emery's Shadow Cycle - Weird Sword-and-Sorcery Review by SE

The Shadow CyclesThe Shadow Cycles by Philip Emery
S.E. rating: 3 of 5 stars

"To write sword-&-sorcery in the twenty-first century, it seemed to me, required a redefinition of the form. ‘The Shadow Cycles’ is my attempt at that redefinition – in effect, the formulation and deployment of a tarot." – Philip Emery

Emery’s Sword & Sorcery and Weird Works : I first learned of his work via the Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology, in which his "Fifteen Breaths" appealed to me; it had a poetic, dreamy-weird style to it. Crossed his work again in Return of the Sword and was completely taken with his "The Last Scream of Carnage" (notably the editor's pick). It was again poetic, and pushed the bounds of the genre. His gothic, steampunk novel Necromantra was very enjoyable. His experimental The Shadow Cycles continues to push the weird/S&S genre, and I am glad to have read it. The book features an essay which details the history of the Sword & Sorcery genre and the author’s motivations to expand it in new ways.

The Shadow Cycles draws more upon Clark Ashton Smith’s poetic style than it does Robert E. Howard’s clear cut action. The pacing and scope match Michael Moorcock’s eternal champion series. In short, The Shadow Cycles is weird, dense narrarative. Reading takes focus since scarce dialogue, obtuse descriptions, a completely foreign fantasy world, and repeated stanzas make this disorienting.

Milieu & Style: The milieu containing the Uroboros event is featured over character development. There is a universe in which all the suns/planets were flooded/swallowed by a tangible shadow, and magical forces allow limited teleportation from other realms to steer the fate of two remaining serpents which serve as vessels for humanoids: one, a petrified, floating dragon; and two, a leviathan on life-support. The latter is a wondrous, horrific landscape in which humans live in arteries filled with “tallow warts” and resonating with “meat echoes.” Clive Barker fans would devour this stuff (excerpts below):

The interior:
“Again there is a different cold. Bleak. Vast. Filled with moans. The chamber stretches into the distance, and throughout that length, hanging from the vaulty ceiling, are the same fleshy stalactites that strew the labyrinths. Except these are longer. And from them hang bare bodies. Men. Women. Children. Moaning.

The tendril-things curl around their necks, holding them just above the floor. Others meander among them. Gazing up at them. Nudging them so that they turn slightly. Pinching them. Considering. Because these tendrils, unlike human umbilical cords, not only nourish but leach. They give life to the suspended ones but at the same time soften tissue, suck bone brittle – until the time is right.”

And the exterior Shrike Wall:
“Leviathan moves on through the wakeless sea and the dragonreme slips down its flank. Across its leagues of back a spine of bony spikes stab out. One each spike is impaled a torn, livid body, and oriflamme of skin and sinew. The spike bores through the small of the back and up through the belly, bowing the body. Arms and legs loll down but not their heads. There are no heads.”

Undeveloped Characters and Muddled Conflict: Despite the book blurb, the book is not about Rorn. Nor is it about the first hero introduced, Gemmored… first of the mysterious party of five called the Phoenix Prey. Here's the book description:
With four others, all of different realms, Rorn is transported to a new world. The last magician of a race of magicians; another possessing and possessed by a vampiric labrys; a towering swordsman whose blade sucks out the evil of those it slays; an assassin shape-shedder. All five are plunged into a strangely black sea which ships sail across like dreams across obsidian - a sea of shadow. They find themselves in the midst of an uncanny war fought over generations but approaching a final apocalyptic battle where victory is to be won not by strength or strategy but by something far stranger.

The Phoenix Prey are collected across a multiverse by an omnipotent force; this party comprises:
1. Gemmored of Darkling Realm, a warrior with his Doom Sword
2. Gel of Gnomon Realm, a warrior with his labrys ax Bloodbane
3. Zantalliz of Voyage Realm, a librarian wizard
4. Harnak of Aftermath Realm – a shapeshifter
5. Rorn of Nightwake Realm – a ranger

These are mired in a conflict between the two serpent city-states at war, led by Sstheness (Leviathan Leader) and Phariane (Archivist of Dragon Keep). The cultures of Dragon Keep and Leviathan are bizarre but compelling. The characters, who have loads of potential, remain emotionally distant and their story arcs half developed. Plenty of potential epic threads are left incomplete and conflict obscured. It was difficult to know if enemies really posed a threat as main characters walk thru battles untouched at times and were occasionally teleported to other realms for unclear purposes; there are many sorties that seemed to have an imbalance enemy resistance (sometimes too little, sometimes way-too-much). The fate of the Phoenix Prey remained unfinished. A climax that promised betrayal and tension between the Prey was unfulfilled. Ultimately the cosmic “world” was awesomely weird but still not developed clearly enough to emotionally engage the reader. Fans of soap-opera, high fantasy will likely be disengaged.

A Worthy Experiment: The experimental The Shadow Cycles was a compelling read written by a passionate author. It will be enjoyed by aficionados of weird fiction, but will be inaccessible for the common fantasy reader. I will jump at the chance to read more of Emery’s works since I enjoy being pushed passed boundaries and he excels at that. I end with a snipet from his essay:
"… I hope ‘The Shadow Cycles; is at least a new version of the Howardian tarot that redefines the combination of blood and darkness and fear at the heart of sword-&-sorcery. – Philip Emery"

Major Arcana = Violence and the Numinous

Motifs:
1. S&S is intense. All else is subjugated to this effect.
2. S&S is potentially amoral.
3. S&S is the combination of violence and the numinous
4. S&S eschews explicit development of milieu or character or concept
5. S&S is naturally a short story form.
6. S&S contains an element of deathwish in its sensibility
7. S&S has a Chthonic sensibility
8. S&S has a potential element of tragedy in its sensibility
9. S&S combines explicit and implicit horror
10. The S&S protagonist is a loner
11. S&S addresses the irrational 
12. S&S is about power
13. S&S is highly ‘visual’












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