Sunday, July 3, 2016

Mansfield Reformatory - Silent Hill Ohio

Pain is caused by pleasure! Visit OSR

With the recent cancellation of “Silent Hills” many of us are feeling the urge to immerse ourselves in the Silent Hill ambience. Short of dangerously, visiting Centralia PA or the DeJarnette Sanatarium (Staunton VA), where is one to go? I highly recommend the Mansfield Ohio, Ohio State Reformatory (OSR).Ohio has lots of abandoned places, though most cannot be toured officially: 

But there is an easy-to-tour, must-see that is safe and cool: Mansfield Ohio, Ohio State Reformatory. It will satiate the need to experience the Tocula Prison, Nightmare realm, Chapel, and even a bit of Midwich School! OSR is huge, affordable, and has official tours (including night ghost hunting). So it is safe and cool. It is known for the filming location of movies like Shawshank Redemption, Tango and Cash, Air Force One, and even music videos for Godsmack and rapper Lil Wayne.

Some interesting perspectives with images below:
  • Built in 1886, not long after the fictionalized 1866 Tocula Prison of the Silent Hill world
  • It was originally a reformatory, so it’s design included a huge chapel and school.
  • It was converted to a prison sometime (less reformation focus), and then eventually shut down in the 1990's
  • The architect ensured the inmates could see the outside to have more hope; cells were put in the interior-center facing out. 
  • Since it was shutdown, many broken windows allow the weather to deteriorate the building--> especially the lead paint which peels off the walls. 
  • The warden lived in a beautiful central area. The wood was engineered due to fire codes the railings were made in steel, but look like wood.
  • The East cell block is the largest fee standing steel cell block; very loud too; this side had more grates to ensure inmates could not fling material at guards. The West cell block was quieter at night. 
  • The Chapel is fitted with iron bars lockable chambers inside the sanctuary
  • "Pain is caused by pleasure" - Godsmack Awake video graffiti (a call out to Moon Baby lyrics)








Thursday, June 23, 2016

Groupreads: Hour of the Dragon AND First Law


The Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads will be discussing the only REH Conan novel, "The Hour of the Dragon" AND Joe Abercrombie's First Law series.  Please join us.


July Aug 2016 Groupreads:


Banner Credits:
Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes, Coverart by Raymond Swanland 2013 

The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard; Cover art by Ken Kelly 1977

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard

Monday, June 20, 2016

Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish is a must read

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #1)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish is a must read for sword-and-sorcery aficionados.
• The Last Wish and most of the series were published in the 1990’s
• They spawned from Poland, not the United States of United Kingdom
• Inspired the Witcher game series a decade later (2007-ongoing)
• More to come, the author and series continue

Andrzej Sapkowski’s Geralt of Rivia is a “Witcher,” a superhuman trained to defeat monsters. After hundreds of years killing creatures, there are fewer threats and witchers. Actually there is less hunting monsters than Geralt sleuthing mysterious altercations. Sapkowski’s stories have conflicts that are not lone-Witcher-in-the-wild vs. monster conflict; they are more humans/vs strange forces in which Geralt referees (and usually kills). His investigative methods are a bit rougher than Sherlock Holmes. Each story was as if Conan was dumped into the Grimm's Fairy tales. But all is not grim. Lots of humor present is reminiscent of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series. Humans tend to persecute or shun the weird witchers; sustaining future witchers is addressed as the seeds of an apprenticeship are sown.

Geralt has dialogue with antagonists often. Lengthy interrogation stand offs are common. This approach allows for funny banter, philosophizing, and entertaining information-dumps. This makes for a fast, entertaining read. Sapkowski stands out as a leading non-English writer. No map, table of contents (TOC), or glossary were featured in the paperback translation. I provide the TOC below. The structure reveals the over-arching narrative of “the Voice of Reason” which attempts to connect all the others. This works pretty well, but is not always smooth. This was designed as an introduction to the series. I was impressed enough to order the Sword of Destiny when I was only half way through. It is not until the third book does a dedicated novel emerge. The series and the games continue to this day with books 7 and 8 awaiting English translation (as of 2016).

The Last Wish Table of Contents
1- Voice of Reason #1
2- The Witcher
3 - Voice of Reason #2
4- A Grain of Truth
5- Voice of Reason #3
6-The Lesser Evil
7-Voice of Reason #4
8-A Question of Price
9-Voice of Reason #5
10-The Edge of The World
11- Voice of Reason #6
12- The Last Wish
11- Voice of Reason #7

Andrzej Sapkowski Blood of Elves saga:
1. The Last Wish; Short Stories 1992 , translated from Polish to English 2007 when the first Witcher Video Game was released
2. Sword of Destiny Short Stories 1992 translated 2015
3. Blood of Elves 1994 Novel translated 2014
4. The Time of Contempt 1995 Novel translated 2015
5. Baptism of Fire 1996 Novel translated 2016
6. The Tower of Swallows 1997  Novel translated 2016
7. Lady of the Lake (1999…Novel being translated for a 2017 release in US)
8. Season of Storms (Sezon burz) Novel written 2013, set between the short stories in the first book in the series, The Last Wish. English edition TBD

Games
2007 Witcher PC
2011 Witcher 2 (Assassins of Kings) PC, Xbox, Mac OS
2015 Witcher 3 (Wild Hunt), PC, PS4, Xbox


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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Fall of Undal - Sisowath's Mythdark delivers enjoyable cataclysm

The Fall of UndalThe Fall of Undal by Katrina Sisowath
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

(See also Doom-S.E. review and Sisowath Interview).

Sisowath’s Mythdark: The Fall of Undal is the second half of a duology (its initial half being The Doom of Undal). For obvious reason, readers should read Doom prior reading Fall. As many epic fantasy novels, there are many characters. In “Doom,” four characters emerged as our primary guides, three of which are sisters (Rhea, Hathor, and Sobekh) and the last is a male from a different royal family (Cronous). Sisowath’s ancient Kings and Queens (Dragon Court) have dragon blood within their veins, but their alien nature is suppressed as they rule over humans. Their curse/blessing manifests in various abilities which have associated temples to nurture/worship. “Fall” is all about the war between [Rhea and Cronous] versus [Hathor and Sobekh], and alien natures are unleashed in grim warfare. This dark fiction is mashup of mythical characters, cataclysms, and global war from a variety of ancient texts and rites.

The milieu is very rich and the Dragon Court family full of intrigue—a testament to the author’s study of history and world building. The style is mostly narrative, which is fitting for a myth-based story. That said, the complex story would have been more engaging with more “showing” versus “telling” (less narrative, more demonstrating). The author has indicated on Goodreads that lengthening her books is what motivated this duology to exist (i.e. stretched from one book); actually, “Fall” itself could easily have been developed into several books on its own accord. I hope Sisowath continues the trend, perhaps focusing on a subset of the epic and highlighting a single character’s perspective; something like that would make this rich world even more accessible.

Dragon Court and Anunnaki Deities: Katrina Sisowath’s Dragon Court series fictionalizes the plight of the royal Anunnaki. Note, the Anunnaki were actual ancient Mesopotamian deities of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian cultures. Katrina Sisowath regularly publishes on Ancient_Origins.Net and drew upon her expertise to construct a deep, believable world including: (a) blood-letting rituals of mystery cults, (b) alchemy-based magic, poisons and drugs, and (c) grand architecture expected of ancient times. The world is very immersive and believable. Alien references are relegated to subtle steampunk details; on the continuum of sci-fi to fantasy, this leans heavily toward epic-historical-fantasy.

Katrina Sisowath’s Dragon Court series is definitely recommended for epic fantasy readers who enjoy mythology.
1: Serpent Priestess of the Annunaki
2a: The Doom of Undal
2b: The Fall of Undal
…more to come…

Serpent Priestess of the Annunaki (Dragon Court Book 1) by Katrina Sisowath The Doom of Undal (Dragon Court #2) by Katrina Sisowath The Fall of Undal by Katrina Sisowath


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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dissection Theater Dyscrasia Victims - Dey's Diary


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Weird Fiction Journal Skelos - Ready for Backing

I just backed Skelos - Journal of Weird Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major Arcana = Violence and the Numinous

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












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