Friday, September 4, 2015

Reckless Traveler - South American - Magical Mystery Tour - Review by S.E.

Reckless TravelerReckless Traveler by Walter Rhein
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

A South American - Magical Mystery Tour
"Travel helps separate what is real from what is not. Travel is education without agenda."- Walter Rhein 

Walter Rhein’s introductory chapter to Reckless Traveler, available online and in the eBook preview, trapped me as quick as I glanced at it. I did not set out to read a travel biography, but a chance crossing of a Facebook post had me ensnared. Equally concerned for Walter’s health and excited about what he experienced, I had no choice but to neglect my to-read pile dominated by dark fantasy. My reading mirrored that of the author’s experience. Spending a decade in Peru, initially as short-time tourist one who did not speak the local language, Walter recaps his own entrapment: his muse anchored him in a foreign land.

The author’s style is welcoming; the story is adventurous and peppered with philosophical depth. He accurately portrays the consequences of traveling without a plan, which is fraught with fun and danger. Visa issues and adventure take him to Venezuela and Chile—so he was not bound to Peru. Read this and you encounter: giant cockroaches, being robbed, Machu Picchu, AK47’s, Chilean jails, medical crises, peanut butter, transient friendships, bribery, murder, a race through the mountains, being robbed again…He does not advocate that everyone should actually travel recklessly; the best alternative is to let Walter do the walking and talking…and just follow him via the comfort of this book.

Recommend for all readers. The best way I can communicate Walter Rhein’s voice and the scope of the book is to offer a random array of quotes:

Random Adventurous Snippet (curious-reader traps):

My dreamy recollections came to an abrupt halt when once again I found myself in Ecuador, regarding the ominous line of stern-faced mercenaries with AK-47s.

A kiss is a nice greeting. Getting through the day becomes much easier when dotted with kisses from women you meet.

I woke to find myself staring into the eyes of the world’s largest cockroach.

I rounded the corner and came upon the carnage. The taxi sat by the side of the road, its windshield spattered with orange-red droplets. I looked at the droplets for some time before I realized they were blood.

After thirty seconds, I threw up the tea. “Can we please go to the hospital now?”

My left wrist was scratched. In the place where my watch normally rested was now only a patch of untanned white skin. The guy had stolen my Timex Ironman!

“His name is Ivan. He’s the son of the Yugoslavian ambassador to Perú, and he doesn’t like Americans.”

Its trunk light came on to reveal a crumpled sheet of thick plastic. The driver pushed this aside, to expose, much to my surprise, piles and piles of money.

I paged through my passport and found an entry stamp to Chile. I shook my head. There was something slightly creepy about entering a foreign country without even talking to a border official, but I shrugged it off.

Last to emerge was Alan Garcia, the President of Perú himself.

I received a call from Roberto Carcelen. Roberto is a cross-country skier who became Perú’s first winter Olympian after representing the country at Vancouver and then again at Sochi.

The trick to crossing an Indiana Jones-style suspension bridge is to never look down. Of course, this is impossible, because you must ensure that your feet connect with planks not rotten to the core.

Philosophical Excerpts :
I was suddenly glad for the increased ability to dampen out sensory intrusions. You don’t read words you can’t understand, or eavesdrop on conversations you can’t comprehend.

Therein lay the rub. “They hate it,” I said. “Everybody hates it. When I meet American tourists on the street here, taking ‘appropriate’ two-week vacations, they flash me disapproving stares as they pass by… “Maybe their scorn is only in my imagination,” I admitted. “But in the US these days, or at least where I lived, there are those who will label you as ‘unpatriotic’ for even aspiring to learn a foreign language.”

Living in Perú took the pressure off me financially, and created the freedom to think about things other than how I was going to cover monthly expenses. I felt I had stumbled into a closeout sale on time, and I wanted to purchase as much as I could. But Perú had a dark side too: it was important to keep on your toes.

The funny thing about learning foreign languages is that whenever you make an error in word choice or pronunciation you invariably say something totally inappropriate and probably sexual in nature.

The fact is, altitude can really mess with you, and you must consciously remember not to overexert yourself. Even a slow walking pace is enough to jack your heart rate up to near its maximum capacity. However, you don’t feel as if you are going too hard, which is why you can get yourself into trouble.
The only way to get a true experience is to be your own guide.

It’s liberating to come home and know there won’t be a stack of bills waiting for you. This freedom came with certain inconveniences, but overall the trade worked for me. I liked that I needed to go for a twenty minute walk if I wanted to use the internet; it meant I wouldn’t go online unless I had a true task pending that needed to be taken care of.

I could see how a bilingual readership would make it more challenging for any single entity to control a narrative.

Personally, I’d rather strive for error-riddled greatness than be limited to perfect mediocrity.

On that pinnacle, I realized that, when discussing decision-making, people tend to leave out significant points, the most important being this: Every choice has a consequence; some are good; some are bad; some are positive, but yet represent missed opportunities.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Birthgrave – An Adult ‘Coming of Age’ Novel – Dark, Haunting Adventure

The Birthgrave (Birthgrave, #1)The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee
S.E. Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 stars

Haunting Release: The Birthgrave is a coming of age novel of (and by) a female goddess. Tanith Lee’s debut novel is adult oriented, dark fantasy. This one is epic, dosed with poetic horror and battle, and features lots of risky writing (entertaining). The 2015 reprint comes with a haunting introduction written in January, just months before her May death coinciding with the paperback release in the US.

The female narrator quests to free her body/soul from a curse; although suffering from amnesia as she awakens from an active volcano, she learns that she is a goddess among humans… and she knows her ancestors are all mysteriously gone. She is alone, powerful, and yet ignorant and weak. There is plenty of rough sexual encounters, not gratuitous but written more dispassionately than romantically – and seems to toy with the stereotypes of the genre. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s introduction is short yet insightful and touches on this interplay:
Most women in science fiction write from a man’s viewpoint. In most human societies, adventures have been structured for men. Women who wish to write of adventure have had to accept, willy-nilly, this limitation. There seems an unspoken assumption in science fiction that science fiction is usually read by men, or, if it is read by women, it is read by those women who are bored with feminine concerns and wish to escape into the world of fantasy where they can change their internal viewpoint and gender and share the adventurous world of men…

…Here is a woman writer whose protagonist is a woman—yet from the very first she takes her destiny in her own hands, neither slave nor chattel. Her adventures are her own. She is not dragged into them by the men in her life, nor served up to the victor as a sexual reward after the battle. For the first time since C. L. Moore’s warrior-woman, Jirel of Joiry, we see the woman-adventurer in her own right. But this book is not an enormous allegory of women’s liberation, nor an elaborate piece of special pleading. It’s just a big delightful feast of excitement and adventure—Introduction by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Expect Ambitious, Risky Writing that Works Most of the Time: This is a first-person-perspective for 450pages! The content is full of adult psychology and complex mystery, written by a 22yr old! And it is her debut novel! How is that for pioneering? Most of the time, the risk taking pays off. The perspective works as it should, and it was easy to forget (even 400 pages in) that I still did not know “her” proper name---but by then I knew “her” so well a name was not needed. She unfolds a mystery with perfect pacing with periodic ghostly encounters and déjà vu moments. There is plenty of commentary about gender roles across barbaric and civilized cultures, though it steered away from being political commentary thankfully. Tanith Lee’s gift for poetic language is stunning. The book is saturated with efficient characterizations, like the two below:
If I broke into a run to escape them, would they too run to keep up? My eyes grew strange, and everywhere I looked, I seemed to see the glitter of the Knife of Easy Dying. Die, and let them follow me to death if they would. But I was still too new to life to let it go.

…Darak had called them to some council then, on the low hill beyond the houses. Yes, that would be it. A little king on a little throne, lording it because his subjects were smaller than even his smallness.
Avoiding spoilers, I must still note that there is a sudden encounter very late in the novel that seems to shift the genre out of its dark-fantasy-epic mold. Given the 1975 wording and delivery, it would be easy to over emphasize this section. Diehard genre readers feeling sucker-punched may have to sigh or trust my review that ultimately the milieu is consistent. In short order, the story rights its trajectory in a consistent manner.

I really enjoyed reading this experiential novel and am saddened to learn of Tanith Lee’s death. Thankfully, she was a prolific writer and wrote a large library of weird, dark fantasy… which I look forward to delving into. The Birthgrave begins a trilogy; the sequel is Vazkor, Son of Vazkor, and the finale is Quest for the White Witch. The releases come with new covers from artist Bastien Lecouffe Deharme.

The Birthgrave (Birthgrave, #1) by Tanith Lee Vazkor, Son of Vazkor (Birthgrave, #2) by Tanith Lee Quest for the White Witch (Birthgrave, #3) by Tanith Lee
The Birthgrave (Birthgrave, #1) by Tanith Lee Shadowfire book #2 coming

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

New Releases and We Are All Legends - Sept-Oct 2015 Groupreads

All Swordsmen (women) and Sorcerers (Sorceresses), please join the Sword & Sorcery group read in September and October as we tackle: 

1) New Releases (for this genre, anything published after 2000 suffices) 

2) We Are All Legends  

New Release DISCUSSION link  /    We Are All Legends DISCUSSION link

Banner Credits (left to right):
We Are All Legends by Darrell Schweitzer, interior art by Stephen Fabian 1981
Seven Princes by John R. Fultz, cover art by Richard Anderson 2011
King of The Bastards by Brian Keene and Steven Shrewsbury, coverart by 2015 Daniel Kamarudin
Stealer of Flesh by William King, cover art by unknown (2013)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lord Lysis is fighting in GdM's Battle-Off; please support grimdark heroes!

Image modified with permission from Raymond Swanland for GdM.

"Lysis carved into their ranks with Ferrus Eviscamir, its blade slicing only their bones, invisible to metal and flesh and incapable of being parried or blocked...." 
Grimdark Magazine's Battle-Off competition has begun (Aug 2015), and excerpts are rolling in. Please support your fellow Grimdark authors!  Short (<1000 word) entries of epic grim fantasy await your feedback and voting! Please support me and other grimdark authors. The list of entries is just being populated now on Grimdark Magazine's website.

Lords of Dyscrasia's excerpt is battling...

Please support Lord Lysis! (Read & Vote)

Praise for Lords of Dyscrasia:
Black Gate Review of Lords of Dyscrasia - "Lindberg is the real deal, a gifted writer with a strong command of language, and a soaring talent that stretches beyond the verbal: he illustrates his novel with his own wild and weird and excellent drawings. If you like action-packed dark fantasy with bizarre settings, an original premise and clever twist, then add this one to your Must Read List." - Joe Bonadonna, Black Gate contributor and Author, 2015 

ForeWord Clarion Reviews, 5 Stars for Lords of Dyscrasia! "...Outside of the works of Poe and Lovecraft, there are few, if any, novels comparable to [Lords of Dyscrasia]... Beowulf comes to mind both for its epic quality and bloody action... The pace is nearly breathless... Lindberg, who also created more than 50 illustrations and the cover for this book, makes the majority of current popular fantasy fiction read like recipes by comparison. Lords of Dyscrasia is highly recommended, though not for the faint of heart., 2011

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chip Shop Horrors – a dose of entertaining, murderous gluttony

Chip Shop HorrorsChip Shop Horrors by Ian Whates
S.E rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chip Shop Horrors – a dose of entertaining, murderous gluttony. Like carry-out food, Chip Shop is quick, tasty, and unhealthy (antagonists and protagonists would agree if they remained in condition to provide feedback). The food fare matches the menu; you are promised horror related to eating and the food industry, and you’ll get it ready-to-go, rolled up in bloody wax paper.

For the US readers, let’s define a Chip Shop (aka Chippy): that’s UK lingo for a carry-out dinner (food truck perhaps) that sells fried fish, potatoes, and other foods. Jan Steward’s Foreword’s is bite-size and worth excerpting here to convey the scope:
“We have a strange relationship with food. There are carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, vegans, fruitarians and people who don’t eat carbs, not to mention those who only eat raw food or avoid dairy, sugar or fat completely. Of course, there are those who can’t afford to eat, can’t find food even if they could afford it or are forced to go without so others can survive. Did I just compare first world life style choices with starvation and the results of famine in other parts of the world? Maybe–but then I did say we have a strange relationship with food.

In many countries now we pay other people to do our cooking for us, with the emphasis on speed and variety, ease and value for money. Except behind that façade there are whole industries of unease, of turkeys kicked like footballs, of people working hand to mouth, of distaste and disgust. Occasionally that discomfort rises to the surface, the drive for profit and effortless combining to produce horrors we work hard to turn our eyes from. In this anthology we explore some of that unease, whether it’s food coming from other worlds or even galaxies, servings of people, sauces to die for or customers who we’d probably not want to think to hard about, these stories will uncover your disgust and your discomfort. But beware, some of these characters are artists, others are demented, yet all are at the heart of what we call fast food.
I hope you never look at a chip shop the same way again." (Jan Steward 2015)

Chip Shop Horrors - Menu
1. Whatsa Mata? by Ian Whates
2. Oi, Oi! Saveloy! by Matthew Sylvester
3. Maria Laxara by Chris Amies
4. The best tasting fish and chips in the county by Greg Smith
5. Discomfort food by Phil Sloman
6. Family secrets by E J Davies
7. Dinner and discontent by Paul Gleed
8. Shut In by David Thomas Moore
9. Salt insult by Shane Porteous
10. Fit for work by Stewart Hotston

The first three have sci-fi/otherworldy elements, with a tribute to the infamous “George Forman grill”, hungry aliens, and otherworldy Maria Laxara (phantom island). Three of the remaining seven plumb the lure of eating the homeless or abject; expect lots of meat pies served from street vendors, with queues (lines) of the hungry, poor, or evil salivating over secret recipes. The food industry has plenty of down-and-out employees and employers, and this collection explores all angles. Porteous kindly breaks the dreary trend with a humorous conflict, and the last adventure is criminal. My favorites were Solman’s Discomfort food and Thomas Moore’s Shut In, since they featured insane characters with splendid, weird styles: these both brought their food to life, so hamburgers and pizza took on character-status in their own right.

Chip Shop Horror is a solid collection recommended for horror fans…or those suspicious of fast-food

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Be Still My Beating Heart! I've Gone "Madder"

Be Still My Beating Heart! I've Gone "Madder"

washed madder roots from Seabury Court, Ohio
No, that's not a heart! It's just a bunch of red roots. This follows a slow churning quest to make my own natural paints (starting ~2011, see other links below),  In 2012, Heidi and I planted some madder, which required 3+ years to grow. 

Out patches' roots have grown quite thick, and the thicker the more red you can make them.  Our alkaline soil helps the color too.  In any event, it's 2015 already, so it was time to harvest some roots.  Doing so kills a portion of an invasive patch, so that's good for maintenance anyway.

What's next? 

Most folks use madder roots to dye fabric....and my mom may convince me to dye some of her alpaca wool, and Heidi will push me to dye some scarf.... but I planned to make red pigments.  To make pigments, I'll use a similar approach to dying: i.e. use the mordant called alum (Potassium Sulfate) as a base ... i.e. I'll dye the powder usually used to bind the dye to fabric (to make a lacca, or lake-pigment, which differs from pigments that have dispersed particles with their own natural color); alternatively, I can mince the roots into a fine powder, then disperse that into a liquid carrier.  

Luckily madder roots is not toxic (some dyes are) and can be dried for later use. There are plenty of fine resource/recipes available, as per my 2011 posts (though I have since become a fan of Jenny Dean too).     

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Doctors in Hell– A honed recipe of Human Habits and Myths (Review By S.E.)

Doctors in Hell (Heroes in Hell Book 18)Doctors in Hell by Janet Morris
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Doctors in Hell is the 18th in the long running Heroes in Hell series, each installment being a different theme. “Doctors” has 14 short stories plus an excerpt (a sequel of sorts to one entry, and a prelude to a novel). First-time hell readers can feel comfortable jumping into Doctors, since it works as a stand-alone book as well a series entry. Beware, hell is a seductive force and the book a gateway (this was my first full adventure but now I have committed myself to more since I have now bought five previous installments). Here are basic expectations of the series from my fresh perspective:

(1) Human Behavior persists: The dead do not need sustenance nor drink, and all the food tastes bad (i.e. like vomit), but inhabitants habitually eat/drink anyway despite the displeasure. “Real people” copy their initial lives in hell.

(2) Our gods and hell exist: Various gods from history battle to maintain some ideal flux/condition of souls; in “Doctors” the Akkadian plague god has descended from heaven to ensure hell is sufficiently undesirable, casting additional illnesses upon the dead … and messing with Satan’s control of hell.
Part of hell’s nature ensured that it metamorphosed to suit those it incarcerated. All societies created the hell they deserved, if left to their own devices. And the devil moderated the creation of the New Dead’s societies, so that no one group took power, intent on preserving the balance that made the underverse an equally uneasy resting place for history’s manifold modern damned. – from THE WAGER by J. Morris and C. Morris

(3) Unbounded Time: Time is nonlinear and infinite, so individuals from various centuries are often paired or pitted against one another. Where else can Attila the Hun and Napoleon Bonaparte join forces against armies of rats and Vietcong?

(4) Resurrections: If one dies again in hell, then an entity called the Undertaker will resurrect the individual and “reassign” it to another life – so “death” is not a way out, and the process is painful.
“He’s still there. What’s wrong with Reassignments? He should have disappeared by now.” “Maybe they’re overwhelmed,” Wellington offered. “So many deaths. Even the Undertaker must be up to his malformed eyebrows in bodies.” –from MEMORY by N. Asire

“I do not understand. These men are dead! They should be on the Undertaker’s slab waiting for recycling,” from HELL NOON by P.Freeman
(5) Titular theme: Each book has a theme as per the title that focuses each anthology and makes them stand alone; however story arcs and characters do carry from volume to volume, so the more one reads the more one enjoys.

(6) Varied content: Each author demonstrates freedom to explore the titular theme, with their own style and genre. This collection has classic myths, western shoot outs, zombie apocalypse, comedy, a military sortie, and police drama… and somehow all the mix feels very consistent.

Highlights: I enjoyed the whole set, but in particular five resonated with me, seemed more stand alone or tailored to a new-HIH reader, demonstrated hell’s operation explicitly, and fully embraced the “doctors” theme.

The Wager by Janet E. Morris and Christopher Morris (heroic myth): The initial story sets the stage for the book, economically capturing the tone of previous stories, the purpose of this tome, and the delivering an entertaining tale of Satan and the angel Altos. The Morris’s have a knack for writing heroic fantasy, and true to form, they deliver again. This made me feel guilty about being an armchair, video-game general.

What Price Oblivion by Rob Hinkle (horror) : Con-man Charles Braggs (known as Doc in life since he had a skill of ‘skinning suckers’ was as sharp as any surgeon’s) gets his murderous due. Without spoiling, I’ll highlight a line that I cannot get out of my head: “Why do you keep doing this to me?” This story showed the Undertaker’s role vividly.

Pavlovian Slip by Bill Snider (comedy): Utterly hilarious depiction of psychologists Ivan Pavlov and Sigmund Freud, struggling to reason why humans have habitual behavior and the consequences for that in hell. The philosophical undertones strengthen the commentary greatly. Saturated with dark humor.

Hell on a technicality by Joe Bonadonna (comedy): Ah, another hilarious blend: this time a death panel (inducing Aristotle and Da Vinci) convenes to discuss the nature of the soul and body in the preposterous case of Doctor Victor Frankenstein, who has had his brain switched with his creature Adam’s. So now Victor’s mind finds itself in his creation’s body… and vice versa. How else better to discuss the nature of a soul in hell then to work out this mess. The death panel erupts into an outrageous furor.

Convalescence by Michael H. Hanson (zombie horror) : This reads as a homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, one of my favorites. Here we have Calamity Jane as a nurse in one of hell’s retirement homes. A zombie horde surrounds the home while a “Strawberry Ball” masquerade event is held. The colored rooms, impending doom, and costumes are very Red Death-like; of course, Poe’s Mask of the Red Death involved a cureless plague and the inevitability of death to good measure, so echoing in “Doctors” is perfect.

Other Grim Stories: The other stories are all worthy in their own right, some catering to readers of previous books like Poets in Hell and Lawyers in Hell (Memory, In The Shadowlands, The Cure & Writer’s Block, and Let Us Kill The Spirit of Gravity), there are two western motifs (The Right Man for the Job, and Hell Noon), and a 1920’s pairing of Elliot Ness versus lobotomist Walter Jackson Freeman II (The Judas Book). Last of note, there is Grim who’s character is a genuine reaper allowed to leave hell on a sortie to retrieve an escapee early in the collection; the last entry A Moment of Clarity is an excerpt from the forthcoming Heroes in Hell novel called “Hell Bound” – this excerpt extends the initial story and prepares the reader for more in a dedicated novel.

Highly recommended for readers of dark, historic, or heroic fantasy.

THE WAGER - Janet E. Morris and Christopher Morris
THE CURE - Christopher Morris
GRIM - Andrew P Weston
MEMORY - Nancy Asire
IN THE SHADOWLANDS - Richard Groller
CONVALESCENCE - Michael H. Hanson
HELL NOON - Paul Freeman
THE JUDAS BOOK -Jack William Finley
WRITER’S BLOCK - Janet E. Morris and Christopher Morris
A MOMENT OF CLARITY Excerpt - Andrew P Weston

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