Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doomed Sword and Sorcery Heroes – A Reading List

This list is limited to Sword & Sorcery books featuring protagonists who fight despite having no chance of winning (i.e. living, saving their people, freeing themselves from a curse, etc.).  Not everyone gets excited about reading about "doom," but some of us relish watching a hero resisting death's embrace.  A happy ending is not what all readers want; some of us just prefer wild journeys (the struggle is the focus, not the end).

Bran Mak Morn- by R. E. Howard
R.E. Howard's Bran is less famous than his Conan, but Bran is arguably more doomed: he leads a devolving people and culture (the Picts), is embattled by the forces of Rome and must work with dark magic to survive.
Elric of Melnibon√© - by  Michael Moorcock

The abject albino prince Elric shares his doom with his dying civilization. Action packed Sword & Sorcery at its finest. (Wiki link)
Kane in Gods in Darkness - by Karl Wagner

Loosely based on the biblical Cain cursed not to die, Kane is an immortal warrior and general.  The series has an ambiguous sci-fi foundation that hints at alien technology, but despite these undercurrents the Kane series are decidedly fantasy masterworks.  Want a doomed hero who has military prowess?  Read Kane.   
Julian the Apostate in We are all Legends - by  Darrell Schweitzer

We Are All Legends is a must-read for fans of doomed protagonists. It is Sword and Sorcery for the adult crowd. Darrell Schweitzer tapped into his extensive weird fiction expertise to craft this great string of tales. It mixes the horrific atmosphere of H.P. Lovecraft, with the story telling action of R. E. Howard, with the emotive style of C.A. Smith. (Review Link)
Druss the Legend – by David Gemmell

More “Sword” than “Sword & Sorcery”, Gemmell imbued his aging hero Druss with qualities quintessentially legendary.  Druss returns from his retreat to protect a mountain fortress from an encroaching barbarian horde.  Epic battles abound, and Druss transitions to an respected ghostly status fueling a series of books.
Dilvish, the Damned by Roger Zelazny

Zelznay is better known for his The Amber Chronicles series which blended swashbuckling fantasy and a trippy sci-fi world.  Zelzany (a native Ohioan) also wrote yarns of a hero returned from the dead which are as satisfying. 

Brian Rouwen in The Accursed by Robert Vardeman
In 2010, Vardeman recently wrote a novel adaption for the God of War video game series.  Turns out he has been writing for decades, and in 1994 he published a series regarding a cursed warrior (I just added this to my to-read queue).  This serves as a placeholder for all the other doomed heroes I have yet to discover.
Lord Endenken Lysis in Lords of Dyscrasia- by S. E. Lindberg

Looking for a unique dark adventure?  Follow Lord Lysis, a doomed protagonist who battles otherworldy evil in the Underworld! (Link to About)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sword & Sorcery Film Queue 2012

Fantasy Movies Coming Soon

MAR Wrath of Titans:
Can they make-up for the poorly made 2010 Clash of the Titans 3D with a sequel?
MAR John Carter of Mars: How will Disney treat Edgar Rice Burrough’s (Tarzan author) sci-fi fantasy?
MAY Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage: Patrick Stewart’s narration may give this some street cred.
JUNE

Snow White and the Huntsman:
Thor actor Chris Hemsworth teams up with the Vampire Diaries chick (Kristen Stewart) for some epic action.  Should be an interesting comparison versus Julia Roberts’ rendition of Snow White in Mirror Mirror due out this year as well.
JUNE Pixar and Disney's Brave (2012) - Disney tries out Heroic Fantasy!
AUG Silent Hill Revelation (sequel): Okay, not 100% Sword and Sorcery, but it is a mix of Horror-Fantasy and Pyramid Head does have a large sword and Michael Basset (who just delivered Solomon Kane) is leading the effort.
DEC The Hobbit (2012); stymied by a writer's strike and a legal tangle with the Tolkien estate, the prequel(s) to the Lord of the Rings trilogy promises to be great.

Unknown Release Dates



A Fire and Ice live action movie being produced in 2012 (and a possible Death Dealer after that?!~).  IGN reports this remake of the rotoscoped classic in which Frank Frazetta and Ralph Bakshi teamed up.  Bill Frazetta confirms the film's progress in this video from Comic Con 2011:
Release overseas in 2011.
Not available in US yet.
Solomon Kane
, a well received depiction of R.E.Howard's doomed, religious hero. Click here to request it to come state-side by "Demanding" it.
Red Nails (Since 2006) this endeavor has struggled; based on REH's only full length Conan novel...see some pre-production animations that surfaced.
Elric movie: Check out Michael Moorcock's blog for details.
Castlevania: Based on Konami's popular vampire games; this movie has been bounced around since before 2009.
The Power of the Dark Crystal (2011??) Announced in 2005, this sequel to the Dark Crystal (1982) has stumbled, always making some forward progress.
Red Sonja: Let's hope it is better than the 1985 version... if it is made at all.  The lead role was to be played by Rose McGowan, but she switched assignments to play Marique in the 2011 Conan the Barbarian movie
Bran Mak Morn
At the Mountains of Madness: More weird horror/fantasy than Sword and Sorcery, but it is Lovecraft...and Guillermo del Toro was involved.
Narnia 4 Movie Narnia IV: The Magician's Nephew
2014? maybe?…

And after that… Narnia V: The Silver Chair is planned.
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Throne of Bones - Review of Brian McNaughton's Novel

 The Throne of Bones  by Brian McNaughton


S.E. Lindberg rated it: 4 of 5 stars

Fresh, Disturbing Escapism 


I am biased toward enjoying provocative fantasy/horror, and Throne of Bones delivers a pleasantly disturbing escape that is too shocking for young adults.  The first tale, Ringard and Dendra, admittedly should prove digestible to many.  Less so are the next six stories, which are a connected set (the titular Throne of Bones sequence) and should prove weird and jarring even to mature dark fantasy readers (can you say "ghoul erotica"?).  Here, the timid and disoriented may want to leave the book unfinished.  But hang in there.  With each successive story, the connection between characters clarifies as does the "rules" of being a ghoul.   All is consistent.  And Bizzare.  Excellent.  The book won a 1997 World Fantasy Award and remains fresh and daring, even now (2012).

Oddly-placed, but well-done, is a stylistic humor reminiscent of that presented in Cohen Brother's movies (i.e. Fargo 1996, Burn After Reading 2008); the situations are so dire and characters so pathetic, that you cannot help but laugh at their choices and predicaments. 


I was originally hooked by Alan Rogers introductory comments:
“You hold in your hands a book of stories that forced Brian McNaughton to write. Make no mistake: I don’t exaggerate. There’s a reason this book won the World Fantasy Award. The stories inside it are rich, fascinating stuff—creepy and unsettling and phantasmic. Imagine what Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings would have been like if Tolkien had tried to tell that story sympathetically from the point of view of the human denizens of Mordor and you’ll have the slightest sense of what you’re about to wade into—but only just a sense. These stories will make the same demands on you that they made on Brian: they will command and compel you, and fill you full of terrible wonder. And when you’ve finished them you’ll find yourself wanting more.” —Alan Rodgers

I disagree with the Tolkien call-out since it raises the expectation that the book would resemble Sword & Sorcery or Epic Fantasy (this book fits neither sub-genre).   The world is medieval, but there is little military or melee action (however, it is decidedly "dark fantasy").  Otherwise, Rodgers' note is accurate.


Abject People/Artists:  Many paint the entire book as being "about ghouls."  True the Throne of Bones sequence is ghoul focused, but that comprises only 6 of the 15 tales.  More generally, themes explore being an abject person, often with regard to being a misunderstood artist.  Many characters are artists and it seems very possible that Brian McNaughton was conveying his own ability to create and enjoy dark art (while not being appreciated by others).  Examples:


In the first tale, Ringard, a sculptor, and his painter wife Dendra, struggle to live in a world that shuns their union. The snipet below captures the protagonists ability to see hidden subjects and the ability of his father to not appreciate that skill: 
 "In every stick I [Ringard] saw hidden shapes, and I became obsessed with revealing them.  My father fretted that I meant to ruin him by turning his valuable firewood into whimsies.  I perversely maintained that my carvings had more worth than kindling, that they even justified the sacrifice of living trees.  Those captive owls and trout were really there.  Why would the gods let me see them, if not to set me the challenge of liberating them?"  Ringard and Dendra
Then there was Asterial Vendren, a misunderstood writer of horror fiction:
"I [Asteriel Vendren, writer] seldom give readings anymore.  I am sick of women who scream or faint, men who grumble, "Barbarous!" or "Obscene!", sick of the self-righteous show they make of stamping out before I finish.  And half of those who remain, of ocurse, will approach me to ask if I really skinned my mistress to preserve her exquisite tattoos, and might they not call on me to examine the artwork?"  The Vendren Worm
And ... the body painter Tiphytsorn Glocque (who continually strives to find unique, brilliant ways to decorate skin) laments as he is arrested and brought before a magistrate for being a lunatic:
 "How could anyone understand his Art when they couldn't even see it? " The Art of Tiphystorn Glocque 
Many more examples pervade the book.  Amplifying the artistic themes are a dozen grotesque, full-page paintings from the cover artist, Jamie Oberschlake.  Incidentally, he continues to produce disturbing paintings (Link).


No maps or  index? I was taken by the promise on the Dust Jacket by publisher Ken Abner (Terminal Fright) that promised that he had a genuine map and promised to published it with additional material at a later date.  Sadly, that was claimed in 1997, I cannot find any related sequels for sale, and Brian has passed away in 2004.  

Jeff Van Dermeer Interview did interview the author in 1999 (available online- Link) and revealed that Brian was not keen on sharing his map:
JVD: The dust jacket for the book includes an appreciation by the publisher, Ken Abner. He mentions you have a whole chronology and set of maps for Seelura. You didn't want these published with the collection. Abner mentions those items as "crutches." Could you elaborate on why you didn't want the chronology and maps published?


Brian McNaughton: None of that stuff is really finished -- and if it were, I would feel less inclined to write fiction about my imaginary world. A certain sense of discovery is necessary for me. Besides, I feel strongly that the stories should stand on their own. I have to know as much about the world as possible in order to convince the readers that I know what I'm writing about, and that my characters weren't found yesterday under a cabbage leaf. The late Lin Carter deserves our admiration and gratitude for all he did to bring dark fantasy to the attention of the public, but he's the last sort of person I would want messing around with my creations. Maps and chronologies only encourage such people.
Ultimately, a map was not critical to enjoy the book.  However, an index would have been much appreciated as the names of people and places proved disorienting.  When ghouls begin taking the pace of other people, an index would have helped keep me grounded.  


Brian McNaughton was a great artist.  Read this when you feel like everything in your book queue is derivative, shallow fluff.





Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sword and Sorcery...and Pugs?!

Do you belong to a strange community? I must...
Shorty
I confess an obligatory urge to share a picture of our family pug "Shorty" who has faithfully provided comic relief and therapy for over two years without being represented on this blog!

Why now?  Why display her on an author blog with a Sword and Sorcery focus?

Because I am not the only one who has loves pugs and Sword & Sorcery! In fact, Dark Horse Comics must think any entire market of us exists, and we are worthy of our own comic!  They just released an announcement (below).  But the comic won't be available until this Summer... so all you Pug/S&S fans you'll have to be content checking out the below links.

Check out the Battlepug.com website for excerpts!
...and here is the Dark Horse Comics Press Release! (copied below)


02/01/2012 11:49am 
The epic tale of blood and drool begins here! Keeping the tradition of its creator-owned mentality, Dark Horse Comics is pleased to announce its newest venture with Mike Norton—Battlepug!

 “I was really happy when people first reacted to the comic. It’s hard to predict if the public needs another ‘Giant Pug Epic Fantasy’ story. I mean, we all know those are a dime a dozen, right? Luckily, the story of a barbarian’s quest for revenge with the aid of our favorite four-legged freak seems to have legs,” said Norton. “When I first made the Battlepug T-shirt, people kept asking when the comic was coming out. So, I put out the webcomic and now everybody wants to know when the book is coming out! I guess now people will want to know when the movie is happening?”

 This volume collects the first year of Mike Norton’s Battlepug—the perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the fan-favorite webcomic by Mike Norton, Allen Passalaqua, and Crank!

 Join Moll and her dogs Mingo and Colfax, as she recounts the legend of “The Warrior and the Battlepug”—a tale of a fearless barbarian, his trusty and freakishly large pug, and evil baby harp seals.

“I’m a huge fan of Dark Horse and couldn’t be more excited to have Battlepug published by them. Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Buffy, Star Wars—they put out some of the best comics currently being made and it’s humbling to even be on the same shelf with that kind of product! I’m super excited for people to read it and look forward to much more in the future!” stated Norton.
 Mike Norton’s Battlepug Volume 1 is on sale July 4, 2012!


Monday, January 16, 2012

The Mask of the Sorcerer - Review of Darrell Schweitzer's Novel



The Mask of the SorcererThe Mask of the Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer

S.E. Lindberg rated it: 4 of 5 stars

This will appeal to weird fiction readers who are looking for Lovecraftian atmosphere in an adventure novel form. This is not Sword & Sorcery, but will appeal to that same crowd (it is very dark…all sorcery).

This will NOT appeal to readers looking for soap-opera fantasy, young-adult fantasy, or a light read.

The first three Chapters were amongst the most bizarre, inspiring fantasy bits I have ever read. The pace slows after, but by then I was emotional connected to Sekenre’s character. Note, it is difficult to string together a series of weird stories into a novel, since the pulp- style of writing is known to be highly dense with description. The genre works well with short stories. H.P. Lovecraft tried with a lengthy novella with “The Dream-Quest to Unknown Kadath,” which I have yet to complete after three valiant tries (despite my urge to see how the reappearance of the artist Robert Pickman fares). Schweitzer does better here, taking the readers to the ambiguous lands of dreams and death, making us feel as disoriented as his cursed protagonist; at the moment we are about to become totally lost in trippy language, he brings us back to firm footing.

The battle scenes are intermittent but very vivid; given the lack of traditional weaponry, readers will be surprised by the brutality.

From the book’s description I thought I would be immersed in traditional Egyptian mythology; not so. Egyptian setting/lore is clearly an inspiration for this, but as Christianity (the Crusades) served as a foundation for Schweitzer’s “We Are All Legends”, the author rapidly takes the reader beyond these influences. His work is anything but traditional or derivative.

The book is ~380pages; I would have given this 5 stars if it could have somehow been reduced to ~300.

Sequel: There is a standalone sequel called SEKENRE The Book of the Sorcerer, which I look forward to reading.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

We Are All Legends - Review of Darrell Schweitzer's Sword & Sorcery Novel

We are all legends (Starblaze editions)We are all legends by Darrell Schweitzer
S.E.Lindberg rated it: 5 of 5 stars

We Are All Legends is a must-read for fans of doomed protagonists (Karl Wagner’s Kane, Michael Moorcock’s Elric, David Gemmell’s Druss, etc.). It is Sword and Sorcery for the adult crowd. Darrell Schweitzer tapped into his extensive weird fiction expertise to craft this great string of tales. It is gritty, poetic, and intellectually rewarding. We Are All Legends mixes the horrific atmosphere of H.P. Lovecraft, with the story telling action of R. E. Howard, with the emotive style of C.A. Smith.

A quote best communicates the motivations of Julian, a warrior jaded by the crusades who is cursed by evil forces. An apostate, shunning the god who shunned him.  Julian is a selfish man, as the character reveals in the story Divers Hands : “I had many times longed for death. But then the familiar terror came… After death—damnation, the eternal torments I could escape only for a brief time while I lived. Like all men, I am ultimately selfish. I would sacrifice the whole world to escape Hell even for a short while. I could kill myself only on a sudden, saving impulse swifter than thought. If I reasoned what was right, just, and the moral thing to do, I would forget all about rightness, justice, and morality, and be paralyzed.”

What kind of atmosphere will readers experience? Haunting, yet beautiful.  Just read this dose from The Riddle of the Horn: “The trees of earth, those which were solid and not phantasms of the snow, thinned out as I left the forest and moved into open country once again. It was foolish for me to do so, but as soon as they were out of sight—and they were almost at once—all directions looked the same and the only real thing was the agony of cold and of further motion. The wind stung my face with renewed fury, sweeping long and far over rolling hills and fields, no longer broken or held back by ancient trunks. I was without destination, like a corpse bobbing on an endless sea.”

And what horrors will the reader face? Not your typical demons, but indescribable evil.  From the story The Unknown God Cried Out: “When the man came within the circle of the firelight, I could see that he had no face, and thus no mouth, and that was why he did not speak. In the place of a face there was a black oval, not a mask, not a burnt sore, but an absolute, limitless void sinking into his head in all defiance of perspective and dimensions. I feared if I looked at it too long I would be drawn into it, out of the universe altogether…”

In summary, We Are All Legends is a gateway to Hell and beyond. As I read it I felt that rewarding anxiety of "really" experiencing the unknown, running through meticulously constructed dioramas that only a sorcerer like Schweitzer could conjure. Great fun.


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Monday, December 26, 2011

Reader Reviews for Lords of Dyscrasia - 2011


Reader Reviews from 2011:
Reviews for Lords of Dyscrasia are popping up in various places (these are the initial reviews since  publication was this Fall), so I attempt to harvest them in one location (removing duplicates). The highlights are lines that I considered being particularly helpful as summary statements.  
4.0 out of 5 stars Creepy in a fantastic kind of way!October 31, 2011
The book revolves around the characters: Doctor Grave, Crypia, Endenken, and Dey. Endenken seeks revenge, Doctor Grave dreams of restoring what was lost, Crypia wants to live, and Dey is running away from his past. In a world of disease, monsters, and danger, will the passions and desires that drive them be enough to help them survive?

A very well done book by S.E. Lindberg! From the beginning, we are treated to vivid descriptions of the carnage and ruin created by the disease, dyscrasia. Don't expect this author to pull his punches, he's not afraid to make readers squirm! The plot is engaging and fast-paced, once you get through all the exposition. While I don't feel all that sympathetic to some of the characters, they stood out in their own way and are not strictly "good" or "evil".

I should point out that I wouldn't recommend this book to any young readers. Some of the scenes can be pretty brutal. Also, one thing I have an issue with is that the beginning can be a bit confusing, especially when coupled with the book's intricate language. Lindberg switches viewpoints a lot so it's easy to lose track of what's happening sometimes. However, once you get used to the author's style, the book becomes even more enjoyable and you'll finish it in no time!

Pro: flowery and vivid descriptions, complex characters, unique setting 
Con: Somewhat confusing in the beginning




5.0 out of 5 stars
 
5 STARS!!!November 12, 2011
This review is from: Lords of Dyscrasia (Paperback)
Lords of Dyscrasia is unlike anything I've read and is why it took some time to build an interest to read it being that content is rather foreign to me. The beginning was confusing but the more I read the more the story became clear. Once I reached chapter two I could not put the book down. The book is very graphic and the author paints a vivid image of many brutal fight scenes which are very gory to say the least. To my surprise I absolutely enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more from this author.

3.0 out of 5 stars IntriguingDecember 7, 2011
This review is from: Lords of Dyscrasia (Paperback)
This is an unusual book. It is a mixture of fantasy, horror, and adventure that defies true classification. Now, it is not for everyone, since it does have many grotesque images and scenes, but if that doesn't bother you, then it might be something for you to pick up. 
What I enjoyed most was the atmosphere. There is a really gritty, violent mood to the pages that had me really captivated. It is completely different from anything I've read. Yes, sometimes the violent images seem enhanced more for effect than for the actual plot, but still, there are some very visceral images that will stick with you long after you finish reading the book. 

I do wish we'd had a bit more character development, but, since it is a plot-driven novel, it doesn't really affect the story too much. The fantastical elements more than make up for any lack of characterization. The epilogue alone is worth the whole book. It is nicely done, bringing us, the reader, a bit closer to the story. 

As I said, this book is not for everyone, but for those of you that like a good dose of horror with your reading, this one might be a fun one to try. 
  • First off this story is dark fantasy not contemporary hide it from the kids dark but deeply planned out epic dark fantasy. The plot is intricate and once you get going you'll start to see the how intricate the connections between the characters and themes are woven together. The author manages to blend artistic theory, tools, & techniques with theology and family history to build one of the most unique fantasy worlds I have ever come across. The artwork peppered throughout the book really added to the epic feel and mood of the book for me as I read it. If you are a fan of Charles de Lint and the artist Brom then you will enjoy this book. I have to say if you want a unique read and fresh take on world building then this book is definitely worth reading.  
  • I really, really did not like this book at all. My apologies to the author, who obviously, worked very hard on it. He did create a world completely unlike anything you have ever read about and kudos to him for that. However, it was an extremely arduous read. Another review said it's very confusing in the beginning, but stated that it was much easier the farther you got into it. I have to respectfully disagree with that statement. The whole book, to me, was confusing and just felt rushed. Maybe the underlying themes didn't get fully fleshed out or he was trying to put too much in one book, or it was the way the story seemed to skip time without telling you, but I just couldn't get fully immersed in the story. Another problem I had was the underlying tone of the book. This is, without a doubt, the darkest book I've ever read. I don't have any problem with those sorts of things normally, but this was on a whole other level of twisted evilness. Murder, rape, cannabilism,  drinking blood, necrophilia, necrophagia, demonic possession, and things involving children that I wish I had never read. It also seemed irreverent on the subject of life and death and the character's  reactions seemed to match that. Someone dies, and then comes back, or is possessed, or sees their family killed and gets kind of upset about it, but they may come back to life, or half-life, or not, and they may have to kill them again, and that sucks but whatever. That kind of somes up the book. You can try to compare it to Poe, who is dark, but not holy crap this is seriously effed up psycho dark.  In summary, this is an amazingly intricate and unique story line which is totally psychotic and I will never read it again.  

  • I received this book free from the Goodreads First Reads. Thanks. This is not the kind of book I usually read. It reminded me of an H. P. Lovecraft alternate universe. It was not what I expected. The storey moves along like a lookey loo on the freeway the first 20 or so pages. Then after the basic storey line is started it moves back up to freeway speeds. This book is NOT for children. After the first 20 pages i began to accept the darkness of the storey and the world the characters live in. The parts I liked best were about Dey the artisan. His interior monologues were one of the things that kept me interested in the storey. Over all I enjoyed this book and will look forward to seeing what else this author has yet to write.  
  • A novel not designed for the faint of heart. A total disease of not only body fluids but of the soul.  For the author to enhance the novel S.E. Lindberg has added the most incredible art. Just in case your imagination is on vacation. 
    • 's review Nov 20, 11 , 4 of 5 stars
      Recommended for: adult horror si-fi