Thursday, April 25, 2013

May-June 2013 Group Read: Vintage Sword and Sorcery - Lankhmar

May-June 2013 GroupRead Theme, Vintage-Lankhmar:

The May-June 2013 Group read; which will be any:
1) Vintage Sword and Sorcery (any S&S related work published between 1910 and 1970)...
...with an emphasis (default topic) of... 
2)Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series ...i.e.The First Book of Lankhmar; most of which was published before the arbitrary 1970 timing (note the Wiki Publication History.) 

Please join us on Goodreads (click here)! 

Masthead Banner:

It is becoming a tradition to create an inspirational montage for each Group Read.  This one is composed of coverart for books authored by (or inspired by) Fritz Leiber. Credits go to the original cover artists:

Background: artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones covers to the 1970 editions of...
Swords and DeviltrySwords Against WizardrySwords against Death
Swords and Deviltry Swords Against Wizardry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #4) Swords against Death

Foreground: Fafred and Gray Mouser depictions from Left to Right: 
1- Mike Mignola: Farewell to Lankhmar 
2- Clyde Caldwell: Tales of Lankhmar
3- Michael Whelan: Swords and Ice Magic
4- MIke Mignola:Lean Times in Lankhmar
Farewell to Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #7) Tales of Lankhmar (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Module LNR2) Swords and Ice Magic (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #6) Lean Times in Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #3-4)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Writing Fantasy Heroes: Powerful Advice from the Pros - Review by SE

Writing Fantasy HeroesWriting Fantasy Heroes by Jason M. Waltz
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writing Fantasy HeroesEnvision this as a transcript of 14 enthusiastic panelists at a Convention as they tackle the topic "Fantasy Heroes." Would it be worth the price of a book (~$10) to get the transcript of this panel of authors (Orson Scott Card, Brian Sanderson, Steve Erikson, Glen Cook, Janet & Chris Morris, Ian Esslemont, Paul Kearney, Howard Andrew Jones...etc.) ? Heck, yes!

This is Rogue Blade Entertainment's first nonfiction, extending its well-respected, thematic library of heroic fantasy (Rage of the Behemoth, Return of the Sword, Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology). Fantasy genre readers will want to read this to learn how their favorite authors approach writing; aspiring authors will want to read this to better their craft.

All key elements are tackled within, from the origins of heroes, their motivations, reader expectations, presentation strategies for fight scenes, handling armies, crafting monsters, and amplifying the "epic-ness" via side characters; there is even a chapter on how to balance tropes/clichés, and an entertaining reminder to keep the pressure on the heroes by drowning them in a sea of scat/stool/egestion. Only one contribution of the 14 was disappointing, it reading more of an advertisement rather than providing advice (>75% of that chapter's words was an excerpt). The majority were excellent, concise reads that deliver on what it promises: advice from the pro's.

As the authors dissect their own writing in their case studies, you will find it easier to dissect your own writing. Is your hero too powerful to ever struggle? Are your fight scenes too abstract to engage the reader? Would your hero appear more like a legend if you described him/her via "distant" perspectives (from third party villagers)?

Read this. Get inspired. Craft a better hero.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Phil Emery's Necromantra - Book Review by S.E.

NecromantraNecromantra by Philip Emery
S.E. Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steampunk Necromancy With Noir Milieu, Necromantra is weird fiction for the literary horror reader.
“There is a story here...That every sound we ever make in the world is part of a pattern, part of an immense mantra begun at the beginning of time. That when the pattern is complete, all the dead will rise.”

Summary - From Smashwords: In the Hundred, the working folk are kept in order by the masters who administrate the various mills, pits and manufactories. Strict records are kept in town halls, every death certified despite a crushing mortality. However, the old grim certainties face a new threat with the arrival of the necromancers - dark-skinned pilgrims who, by the chant of a strange mantra, are able to raise the recently dead, thus throwing the immaculate records of the town halls into chaos. In retaliation, the masters appoint a number of rectifiers to each town. Reviled and feared by most of the Hundred, their job is to 're-decease' the 'discrepancies', as the risen are labelled.

Ambience and Style: Phil Emery’s Necromantra is reminiscent of Brian McNaughton’s infamous book The Throne of Bones (just replace McNaughton’s focus on “ghoul erotica” with “thaumaturgic conjuring”). Mature content. Ghosts and animated corpses aplenty. Poetic, literary style. The economy of chapters can be disruptive yet compelling: many mysterious gaps in time/scenery between them propel the story at a brisk pace, engaging serious readers while alienating those looking for a light-read. The Hundred Towns, if you dare adventure there, is knee deep in smog, dissection theaters, industrial steam-driven foundries, and haunted mine shafts. The conflict is intimately linked to this dreary cityscape:

Conflict: This is no simple adventure ( i.e. in which the conflict is "hero vs. bad guy"). There is a distant war fought between the Hundred Towns and some exterior force which is not the real focus. The real battle is within the Hundred Towns, and the control over the mysterious (mineable) Powers. These Powers are intimately connected with communication (song, speech, ink, newspapers, storytelling, words); there is a pervasive, turbulent undercurrent in every scene as these Powers struggle to reveal themselves, or be controlled:
“Every resurrection makes an entry in one of these [ledgers] a lie that can be seen by the citizens of the Hundred. And every time it happens it drags these records into doubt. And when folk start doubting these, what’s next?”

Where to buy?: Paperbacks are out-of-print treasures (expensive, scarce) but electronic versions are available via for just 6USD (as of 2013).

P. Emery’s Sword & Sorcery short stories: Reading Sword & Sorcery anthologies led me to track down Necromantra. 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.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Far Away & Never by Ramsey Campbell - Book Review

Far Away & NeverFar Away & Never by Ramsey Campbell
S.E.Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 stars

Far Away & Never: Pulp Fantasy for the Horror Fan. This is Dark heroic fantasy--stuff that Clark Ashton Smith and Lovecraft, Howard Phillips fans will devour.

Almost a “Tond Cycle” Anthology: Far Away & Never only has 7 tales (not 8 like the backcover claims). The first 4 all star the warrior Ryre, which were all published first in Andrew Offutt's Sword Against Darkness series. Numbers 5-6 are also in Ryre's world Tond (without him) and were weird and dark, akin to Clark Ashton Smith’s style. Number-7 is similar in tone and style, but is not part of Tond. The introduction by Campbell mentions another Tond tale called "A Madness From the Vaults" which debuted the "Tond" world...but this reference is not in this collection.

Table of Contents (and first-published list): Here are the tales from Far Away & Never (copied from the inside cover credits):
1- The Sustenance of Hoak: first published 1977 in Swords Against Darkness
2- The Changer of Names: first published in 1977 Swords Against Darkness II
3- The Pit of Wings: first published in 1978 Swords Against Darkness III
4- The Mouths of Light: first published in 1979 Swords Against Darkness V
5- The Stages of the God: 1974, Vol 2 No 1 of Whispers
6- The Song at the Hub of the Garden: 1975 Savage Heroes
7- The Ways of Chaos: 1996 the only original tale for this series at the time of printing, but is a non-Ryre tale that ended up in another Necropress collection called Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric's Fifth Born Son.

Identity Crisis/Theft: "The Sustenance of Hoak" and "Changer of Names" both underscored the notion of losing one's identity (either through enslavement or the stealing of a name). For short stories, this theme is very impactful. It makes us inherently wonder: Who is Ryre? It seems Ryre was poised to evolve in to a continuing character. I was left hungry for more, but only 4 exist. At least two more occur in the land of Tond (sans Ryre): #5- The Stages of the God and #6- The Song at the Hub of the Garden are more weird than action packed; the latter really developed Campbell’s bizarre sense of magic/identity with the use of language/words. He essentially poses that one can steal another’s identity/history merely by declaration. I wish there were more tales to flesh that out, but it is clear that language and identity are magically linked in Tond.

#7 features the famous Hounds of Tindalos, the creatures having been introduced to the world in Frank Belknap Long’s famous weird work (Hounds of Tindalos). Campbell ties them to Conan creator, RE Howard’s warrior Ghor. This is fitting since Ghor was raised by canines (wolves) and Frank Belknap Long wrote in a preceding section of the collection from which this tale was taken. The publisher of Far Away and Never (Necropress) also published the collection Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric's Fifth Born Son, a round-robin sequence posthumously finishing REHoward’s Ghor story. Far Away & Never has Campbell’s contribution which stands alone well enough (if only it were in Tond, then it would be even more fitting!)

Groupread Motivation: Our 2013 Mar-April groupread for the Sword and Sorcery group on was on Campbell's Ryre character. This led many of us on a book hunt. The Ryre tales are found in Far Away & Never, but also in four of the Swords Against Darkness anthologies.

Availability: This book is only being sold “new” from the publisher (as of 2013). Listings on Amazon are used books. Necropress has the best deal on its own collection on its website (<$10), but the response has been slow (for today’s instant gratification consumer anyway…expect a few week turnaround. Necropress is undergoing some transition but is still functioning and has managed to get books to Canada and the UK upon request).

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Mushinkan Aikido Dojo - Website and Logo Design

An earlier post mentioned how my artistic understanding of human anatomy was being augmented by my learning of Aikido. Aikido focuses on throwing/rolling rather than hitting/kicking, and helps one learn self-defense as well as how to fall correctly.  My family and I have been attending Domaschko Sensei's Mushinkan Aikido dojo for a few years now (Liberty Township, Ohio; classes held at Martin Martial Arts).  

This posts highlights how my wife Heidi and I helped with Mushinkan's new logo and website design.  Firstly, Heidi designed a logo that roughly represents Domashko Sensei's face as a Samurai-like mask; she employed Adobe Illustrator to realize her vision (note her blog: DESIGNlab link) and Domaschko Sensei approved. Armed with Sensei's brochures and photos..and Heidi's Logo...I designed a blog-site for the Dojo

Looking to learn self-defense with an aim to subdue/control an attacker rather than inflict harm? Live near Cincinnati? This is the place.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric's Fifth Born Son - Review

Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric's Fifth Born SonGhor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric's Fifth Born Son by Robert E. Howard
S.E Lindberg rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ghor Kinslayer – A Weird Sampling of Legendary Authors: The author line-up for this series is beyond incredible (see below recopied book description), and the idea for developing one of R.E.Howard's unfinished tales ... just awesome! But the delivery was just so-so. Actually, the first few tales had me hooked. Then I came upon Michael Moorcock's contribution and couldn't get over his over-the-top, misogynistic introduction of the female Shanara. I was really disappointed in this, since it poisoned the tone of the subsequent chapters…and I had expected more professionalism and better style from the creator of Elric (in which he better balanced violence/weirdness/machismo). But the collection serves as a great sampling of legendary authors. Get it for historical interest if nothing else.

Availability: Amazon has used hardcopies. It is still available “new” from the publisher, directly for ~$8USD. Here is the description:
Robert E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner, Joseph Payne Brennan, Richard L. Tierney, Michael Moorcock, Charles R. Saunders, andrew j. offutt, Manly Wade Wellman, Darrell Schweitzer, A. E. Van Vogt, Brian Lumley, Frank Belknap Long, Adrian Cole, Ramsey Campbell, H. Warner Munn, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Richard A. Lupoff: Ghor, Kin-Slayer: The Saga of Genseric's Fifth-Born Son, A Necronomicon Press Trade Paperback, 176 pp., $8.95

Seventeen leading fantasy authors ...

One epic novel of heroic fantasy ...

Only Robert E. Howard could have begun it ... left by his parents to die, and subsequently raised by wolves, Ghor becomes the mightiest warrior of his time, driven by a boundless desire to revenge his abandonment.
Decades later, this unfinished tale by the creator of Conan sees completion by sixteen of the top fantasy authors of our time, each bringing with them their own unique style and vision to the adventures of Ghor, Kin-Slayer. The reader will not only be guided through a rousing adventure of heroic fantasy, but discover intriguing elements of weird fiction, with even a touch of H. P. Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos" thrown in for good measure.
Available [at] for the first time in its complete form, Ghor, Kin-Slayer is the rare opportunity to read a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Robert E. Howard and the finest fantasy authors of the past several decade.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Tim Lebbon's Dusk - Book Review by S.E.

DuskDusk by Tim Lebbon
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

The cover blurb from author Paul Kearney promised that Dusk Is Fantasy For Grown-Ups… An Excellent Book.” I agree and cannot think of a better topline summary.

For Grown-Ups? Yes. Dusk is chock-full of: explicit gore, adult sexual situations, profane language, alluring drug trips, etc. This book is not for young adults. It is also not for adults looking for a light read.

Is it Fantasy? Yes. A brief summary (minus the “adults-only warning”) would even seem to describe a typical young adult fantasy book:
-Naïve Farm Boy: Rafe is a central character, an orphaned farm boy who singularly holds the keys to bringing hope to Noreela (read “world”). There is a loose prophecy associated with his existence.
-Fellowship: Also, there is a band (a.k.a. obligatory fellowship) of unlikely individuals with unique skill sets that resemble the expected motifs (thanks to Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons): 1) vulnerable, naive farm boy; 2) a human thief; 3) a Shantasi warrior (read “Elf”); 4) a human witch; 5) a drug-addicted, miner (read “Dwarf”); and lastly another empathetic girl, a human scholar.
-Series Worthy: Lastly, this is the first in a series of Novels (the others: “#2 Dawn” “#3After the War: Two Tales of Noreela” “#4 Fallen” “#5 Island” )

Cliché or not Cliché: But this is not a coming of age novel, nor is it common fantasy fare. It is the first in a series for the horror-fantasy sub-genre that stereotypically works best in short stories, novellas, or single novels. But Dusk works well as a series opener, perhaps because it employs the framework of common fantasy series.

Clarifying “Magic”: Lebbon presents a strange world, Noreela, that has lost its “magic”; but he defines magic differently than what you may expect. This is a problem for some readers since there are many arguably magical things present in this magic-devoid world. This could undermine the conflict in the book (i.e. who cares if Rafe can bring magic back to Noreela if it is still a fantastical place?). The success of the book hinges on a satisfying demonstration of what magical means. So let me clarify to set future readers’ expectations:

In Noreela, the baseline magicless assertion still allows for:
-Out-of-body mind trips, telepathy, and mind reading (if you take the drug called fledge, or are a Mage)
-Seeing/sensing wraiths (souls disembodied from their corpses)
-Communing speaking with animals (ravens) is doable with alchemy and practice
-Swords that hunger for blood (these are nearly sentient swords that cannot be sheathed until sated)
-Being butchered alive without being hindered, well beyond the limits of biology and physics (Red Monk capability)
-Living hundreds of years (for some humanoids, Shantasi, Red Monks, and a select undead Krote warrior)
-Creatures like giant-hawks and metallic-tumbleweeds exist

So what does “magic” encompass? What is missing that is so valuable? Magic is akin to the Star War's Force, it being a limitless potential of energy. Here, it is inextricably connected to the land’s health. Without it, humans have turned toward apathetic lifestyles, dependent on drugs, without hope of regaining civility. With magic present, select individuals can horde the power and become a god (a Mage): a mage can heal people, raise the dead for sure…but more impressively a mage can control the flow of rivers, animate stone/metal/vegetation to raise armies of golem-like machines, control the weather and even time (well probably).

Lebbon delivers on his strange promises: For every strange perspective presented, for every conflict of importance, he closes the loop. He does so with bizarre, horrific style, but the motivations and workings of Noreela remain consistent. Read this, and even if you consider yourself a veteran fantasy reader, you will be taken to appealing strange worlds. Below are several excerpts that serve as taste-testers. If you enjoy these terrifying and dreadful appetizers, then you will enjoy Dusk!:

Crazy creatures constantly harass our heroes:
“The tumbler left an intermittent bloody track across the cleaned stone square as it rolled. Crushed into its plant-like hide was a second man, dead, pierced by the thing’s many natural spikes and hooks. One arm flipped free as the tumbler rolled, thumping the stone in a rhythm that gave that silent place a grotesque heartbeat.”

“A shape burst from the opening, a Red Monk, its decidedly feminine mouth wide open in a frozen grimace of agony and shock…its hood was snagged back by a spear of wood, and Kosar could see its bald head, veins standing out like worm-trail, red, leaking where they split the skin. Its eyes were wide and surely sightless, such was the rate of their expansion and the scarlet pooling of blood in their whites…”

Despair permeates the land of Noreela:
"Few in Noreela had any inclination to even come in [the library] and read a book, let alone await the opportunity to slink in and steal one when her back was turned. Sometimes she wondered whether there was any intellect left in the world where famine also starved the mind, and dust and fading gods ate away at the tenacity of the people… nobody would notice, and if they did they wouldn’t say anything. And if they did it would not matter.”

“[The machines] were all incorporated in some way, chopped and changed and altered as if those that had used them were frustrated at their lack of animation. The channels were there within these machines, the empty reservoirs and sacs and current routes that had given them the strange life they once lived, but they were dead. Dead as the sand beneath the dweller’s feet, dead as the air they exhaled, dead as the corpse Rafe saw in the gutter in one or two places. There was a fledger, his or her body twisted and ripped from whatever had killed it. There was something else, something that once could have been fodder because of its size, exposed ribs torn back and knotted by the accelerated growth, slabs of flesh and muscle ripped from its wet corpse…"

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