Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bookend Chronicles: Lords Of Dyscrasia review

Bookend Chronicles consistently weaves thoughtful context with excerpts to provide helpful reviews.  It just posted its comprehensive review of Bookend Chronicles: Lords Of Dyscrasia (Link).  I copy/paste the text below since it should help potential readers decide if they want to tour the Underworld: 
For years, the movie industry has inundated us with some of the most graphic, disturbing, horror-laden tales of terror on the silver screen. It would be quite a rare occasion for a story to cause a deep stir in a desensitized mind. But once in a while, a story is constructed that motivates the mind and gets the wheels once again turning in anticipation.
Such is the Lords Of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg.
Lindberg depicts an intensely savage and volatile world within the pages of Dyscrasia. It is a persistent plague that invades the blood and changes the human genome forever. Doctor Grave desperately seeks to save the long bloodline of his sick queen.
"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."
The disease has sunken into every crevice of daily life. It is no longer an aberrant anomaly, it has become an accepted form of life. Yet there is an unspoken hope that still exists.
"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…"
Endenken, the leader of a dying culture, wrestles with his own personal demons. Expected to abide by the traditional rules of his people, he must make difficult decisions in a world strife with the disease. His decision will mark the beginning of an end.
"Their blood was sacred. They had few left to carry it. And it was Endenken’s turn to inherit the burden... And the masked grotesqueries swarmed him now, their human frames transfigured by ornate markings and hollow eldritch skeletons."
The gruesome tale continues and illuminates the struggle within the bonds of humanity. An edict of the soul resounds throughout the pages of this nightmarish other-world with spots of dark humor. Lindberg has created an alternate reality that forces the reader to expand the limitations of their imagination.
We must further open our own minds and perhaps even edify our own traditional definitions of religion, belief, and faith.
The illustrations contained are morbid works of art, continuing to tell an epic that is both compelling and fascinating. Even the cover provides a sense of expectancy.
S.E. Lindberg lives near Cincinnati, Ohio. He works as a microscopist, and has spent two decades practicing chemistry.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sword and Sorcery Movie Trends - Quantity and Quality

Movie Queue: The last few years I have been capturing lists of forthcoming Sword & Sorcery movies (Link to IMDB :Sword and Sorcery: Past and Future Listings).  Moving beyond that, in an attempt to capture a list of  past Sword and Sorcery movies, I assembled a Pinterest Board.    

This exercise made me realize that I had missed seeing Roger Corman's 1980's Cult Classics movies: DeathStalker I,II,II, IV, the Barbarian Queen I,II, and the Warrior and the Sorceress (there are even more, most merely recycle footage). Amazon has a collection deal, in which I can get 4 of those.  Would it be worth my time/money (6hrs/$18USD) to complete this gaping hole in my life? How essential are these B-movies toward developing a well-rounded S&S groupie? I have since ordered the movies...and will be watching them soon...more on that below.

Therapy: I had turned to the Sword and Sorcery group on Goodreads for some biased advice.  There author Bruce Durham directed me toward a great website that details what elements Sword & Sorcery movies are expected to have, and has a great list of movies listed by release date.  To see the trends over time I graphed a histogram:

Quantity - Movies per Year


Quality

Trends: The trickle of movies in 1960's and 1970's was notably composed of Ray Harryhausen's classic clay-mation masterpieces (Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad movies). The trends show clearly how John Milius's 1982 "Conan The Barbarian" movie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, inspired a lot of others; it had followed closely on the heels of "Clash of the Titans," Ray Harryhausen's last animated masterpiece.  Some featured new perspectives, like Excalibur, Fire and Ice, and Legend...and were good enough to enhance, not dilute, the genre (another blogger tackled the 1980's category thoroughly-link).

Unfortunately many "Conan clones" generally lacked in quality.  Well actually, even Arnold's next Conan film, "the Destroyer" was more cheese than it was entertainment...and the 2011 Conan reboot with Jason Momoa (which, despite a good performance from Momoa) had a blatant disregard for basic story-telling.  The 2010 reboot of Clash of the Titans and its sequel 2012 Wrath of Titans were lackluster (a third film is in development, for what that is worth).  So with all this, should we have hope that quality fantasy will return?

Future of Hope: Yes, fans should be hopeful.  Peter Jackson's excellent treatment of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in 2001 seems to have sparked another surge.  With the excellent translation of George Martins Game of Thrones on HBO (being a series and not a movie, that is not captured in the graph), Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy in progress, a live action version of Fire and Ice in the works, and even a sequel to Solomon Kane brewing...we have reason to beleive that the portfolio of Sword & Sorcery movies will grow in quantity and quality.  In fact Dealine.com reports that "Legend of Conan ~2014" intends to redeem Conan's credibility:
"There are no plans for Momoa to return. Morgan said that in his mind,The Legend Of Conan not only skips over that film, but also the 1984 sequel that Schwarzenegger starred in. The direct link is to the original, which was directed by John Milius from a script he wrote with Oliver Stone."
Deathstalker: Anyway, as we await new flicks, I find myself checking out the old ones I had missed.  I do not expect much. There is a stunningly hilarious and through review of the Deathstalker series on cinemassacre.com from 2010 (embedded video below). It dissects the absurdity of the series, even going as far as to quantify the ratio of fight scenes to women's breasts shown per movie.  Of course, I have not seen the movies yet, but have just received them by mail and I am mentally prepared now.  What is sad is that many of these had great covers by artist Boris Vallejo, which promised to deliver serious Sword & Sorcery.  Great marketing I suppose.
Boris Vallejo covers for the Deathstalker Series

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tarra Khash: Hrossak!: Tales of the Primal Land - Review by S.E.Lindberg

The Compleat Khash: Volume One: Never a Backward GlanceThe Compleat Khash: Volume One: Never a Backward Glance by Brian Lumley
S.E.'s rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sword and Mythos - too Entertaining to be Horrific: Vintage dark fantasy spawned in the early 1900’s from the work of pen-pals R.E.Howard and H.P.Lovecraft; though it seems rare to find quality Conan-Mythos mash-ups. If they exist, they are usually in singular short stories, not represented by a series of books or a continuing character. That’s where this book comes into play. A group-read on “Sword and Mythos” themes sponsored by the Sword and Sorcery group on Goodreads.com led me to Brian Lumley’s take on this weird fantasy niche.

Lumley dumps a barbarian (Tarra Khash) into mythos milieu (world of Theem’hdra) in a set of three books (~28 tales total). The series has been printed at least twice, most recently under the brand “Tales of the Primal Land” from TOR books. The first in the series is a prequel that sets the stage for Tarra Khash’s adventures (the last two volumes). The second, the subject of this review, is the first about Khash (aka “The Compleat Khash: Volume One: Never a Backward Glance” …or “Tarra Khash: Hrossak!: Tales of the Primal Land” by TOR in Kindle and paperback…more on book versions below).

Tarra Khash has a go-with-the-flow attitude; generally has conflict with evil sorcerers and is indirectly aided by a third party god. Lumely's World of Theem'hdra is full of gods (celestial entities, collosal insects, vampyric shapeshifters). Most of these tend to like Tarra, and aid him on his quests. His goal is often to regain possession over his sword. He also finds himself constantly incarcerated (in caves, gibbets, pits). It has all the hallmarks of good fantasy: weird creatures, bloody battles, divine intervention, and tales worthy for bards to sing about. My favorite chapter was “Ch 4: Curse of the Golden Guardians” when Tarra Khash ventures into a subterranean shrine of Cthulthu, and the eldritch god is not just mentioned in passing…but assumes an integral part of the adventure. Contrived coincidences keep these stories very entertaining, but reduces the horror element expected of Lovecraftian Mythos fiction (keeps this from a 5 star rating). This is highly recommended for fans of Michael Shea's Nifft character: Nifft the Lean.

Availability: Unlike most Sword & Sorcery this yarn of short stories continue developing linearly (one tale directly flows to the next). They could be read out of order, but work well as chapters. This volume was good enough for me to track down the other two.

The TOR books (~2006) “Tales of the Primal Land” series all have maps, which are nice; also available in Kindle format. Die-hard bibliophiles will want to consider tracking down the earlier editions (~1994) illustrated by Jim Pitts and published by Ganley (Ganley ebay storefront..or try Abebooks.com). The Jim Pitt illustrations are nice and reminscient of 1990 Olde World Warhammer-Trademark of Games Workshop, but strangely the Ganley Books (at least the Compleat Khash Vols 1 a& 2) do not include a map (I even had a "Deluxe" version #214/300 signed but author and illustrator… but this awesome edition still was mapless).

The Series
#0 (Prequel): House of Cthulhu ; The House of Cthulhu and Other Tales from the Primal Land
House of Cthulhu The House of Cthulhu and Other Tales from the Primal Land (Tales Prim Land)

#1 (Tarra Khash Adventures-1): The Compleat Khash: Volume One: Never a Backward Glance…or …Tarra Khash: Hrossak!: Tales of the Primal Land
The Compleat Khash  Volume One  Never a Backward Glance Tarra Khash  Hrossak!  Tales of the Primal Land

#2 (Tarra Khash Adventures-2): The Compleat Khash: Volume Two: Sorcery In Shad… or …Sorcery in Shad: Tales of the Primal Land
The Compleat Khash  Volume Two  Sorcery In Shad Sorcery in Shad  Tales of the Primal Land

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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/clich├ęs, 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 Smashwords.com 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 Goodreads.com 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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