Monday, May 29, 2017

Fortress Of The Pearl - Review

Fortress Of The PearlFortress Of The Pearl by Michael Moorcock
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moorcock delivers souls for Arioch, and classic Elric for you, in The Fortress of the Pearl

Expect Michael Moorcock’s style/voice. It is “pulpy,” with tons of wild action. A breathtaking pace will drag you from your reading chair! It’s blistering. Literally, every few pages new conflict emerges, and is dealt with. Every 2-3 pages, Elric encounters mind-bending conflicts. This is awesome for the first 33%, then it becomes underwhelming/distracting since many of the threats are obtuse. Some sequences are spot-on awesome (fire beetles, tons of corpses blow apart via sorcery); and many are silly and wildly coincidental (a cameo from Whiskers the winged, fighting cat, really?).

Moorcock has a weird milieu in his Eternal Champion multiverse, and has dream-like worlds. In Fortress, this dreaminess is explicit, since Elric travels in dreams for >50% of the book [no spoilers there, the book flap reveals as much]. Fortress of the Pearl reads as if Elric quests for the Holy Grail in Dante’s Hell. In fact, Elric goes through ~6 levels of supernatural tours searching for a “Holy Girl” in the hidden/remote Fortress of the Pearl. Plenty of tour guides come and go through these levels:

  • Sadanor, Land of Dreams in Common
  • Marador, Land of Old Desires
  • Paranor, Land of Lost Beliefs
  • Celador, Land of Forgotton Love
  • Imador, Land of New Ambition
  • Faldor, Land of Madness

You’ll be treated to heavy doses of philosophy too, which usually add depth: life’s motivations, realization of dreams, moving past tragic pasts (avoid the City of Inventive Cowardice!), addressing conflict and political corruption, complacency on personal and social levels, etc.

Untapped Potential. The pacing and apparent random encounters, which are Moorcock Hallmarks, has limits. There still seems untapped potential here in Elric’s tale. Moorcock has started so many interesting threads that he’ll never be able to fill them in, but he hardly had to start new ones. Here, Oone the Dreamthief is introduced, for instance; her tale is clearly a setup for The Dreamthief's Daughter. Starting new tales is all well and good, but when word-count and pacing is designed to be dense/efficient, I would have enjoyed more explanation of Cymoril. She still lies in Imrryr (The Dreaming City), while he literally adventures in dreams. Melnibone’s past with Quarzhasaat is explained on a cursory level too. So, Moorcock delivered a decent, intermediate story. Yet he could have delivered much more.

On the whole, Fortress of the Pearl is a wondrous blend of Sword and Sorcery. It had me hooked. It developed Elric story and character well enough (note that it was published last in the sequence but is only #2 chronologically). Elric remains a must read for fantasy fans, especially Sword & Sorcery fans (Howard, Leiber, Wagner,…). If starting new, try reading in chronological sequence:

Story Chronology #: Title (publication year)
1: Elric of Melniboné (1972)
2: Fortress Of The Pearl (1989)
3: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (1976)
4: The Weird of the White Wolf (1961)
5: Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress (1970)
6: Revenge of the Rose (1991)
7: The Bane of the Black Sword (1962)
8: Stormbringer (1963)

Elric of Melniboné (Elric, #1) by Michael Moorcock Fortress Of The Pearl by Michael Moorcock The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (Elric, #2) by Michael Moorcock The Weird of the White Wolf (The Elric Saga, #3) by Michael Moorcock Revenge of the Rose by Michael Moorcock The Bane of the Black Sword (The Elric Saga, #5) by Michael Moorcock Stormbringer (Elric, #6) by Michael Moorcock

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Weston's The IX - Review by SE

The IX  (The IX #1)The IX by Andrew P. Weston
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fresh Alien/Military/YA Adventure

Andrew P. Weston’s The IX is fun and genre-spanning for sure, being a mashup of military sci-fi and fantasy. Think of mixing Star Trek, John Carter of Mars, and Alien/Predator into a blender. However, it actually reads more like a Young-Adult mystery. Give the proverbial Hardy Boys some assault rifles and space suits, join them on a distant planet, and save all life from alien corruption--be part of the IXth! Without spoiling, the premise revolves on the sudden gathering of the below groups across time:
1. The IXth Lost, Roman Legion (~120 CE)
2. Abraham Lincoln’s US Calvary (1800 CE)
3. An anti-terrorist special forces group (~2052 CE)

The challenge/promise presented is that all these groups are related somehow…and an alien Horde threatens them all. There are tons of characters embroiled in time-travel & a bizarre fight for survival, but the characters do not carry the story. The mystery of the situation does.
- What is the belligerent Horde?
- Why are three pairs of warring groups selected throughout time and space to play a role battling the Horde?
- How are these pairs of earthly enemies going to work together?

The IX is lighthearted too, so as you go from control-room reporting and war-room planning to the alien fields of Arden, you’ll be tossed onto the front line with dose of humor. Hold onto your drawers! There are dozens of characters, but Lieutenant McDonald and Ayria emerge as central protagonists. “Mac” is an intelligent, special-forces operative, a contemporary smart-aleck (wait…I may have just described the author; see his BIO below) and Ayria is a physician with a splendid, weird ancestry. I adored Ayria and her story & chapters the most. She is paired with Stained With Blood, a Native American dream walker, and their experiences were the most meaningful to me.

All threads of this militaristic mystery are resolved, but it also sets up a sequel: Exordium of Tears. The author’s voice shines through. From his BIO sheet, we learn that he is a Royal Marine and Police Veteran with studies in astronomy and law. It’s clear he is drawing from his experience. I was drawn to this book after reading Hell Bound, a Heroes in Hell novel featuring Daemon Grim (aka Satan’s Hitman, of course). Daemon Grim is also developed with mysterious elements, but his character is more developed than any provided in IX. I’ll be reading more of Weston for sure, though I am more attracted to Hell than Space so I may prioritize the Hell series.

The IX (The IX #1) by Andrew P. Weston Exordium of Tears by Andrew P. Weston
Hell Bound (Heroes in Hell) by Andrew P. Weston Doctors in Hell (Heroes in Hell #18) by Janet E. Morris Pirates in Hell (Heroes in Hell #20) by Janet E. Morris

Author’s BIO: Andrew P. Weston is Royal Marine and Police veteran from the UK who now lives on the beautiful Greek island of Kos with his wife, Annette, and their growing family of rescue cats. An astronomy and law graduate, he is the creator of the international number one bestselling IX Series and Hell Bound, (A novel forming part of Janet Morris’ critically acclaimed Heroes in Hell shared universe). Andrew also has the privilege of being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Fantasy Society, the British Science Fiction Association and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. When not writing, An drew devotes some of his spare time to assisting NASA with one of their remote research projects, and writes educational articles for and Amazing Stories.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hell Week 2017

Author Alexandria L. Butcher is hosting Hell Week 2017 on her blog. It's a series of inter

views with the characters from Pirates in Hell (just released fantasy/historical-fiction from Perseid Press).

There are a lot of damned characters pooled together across time, as shown in The Heroes of Hell 2017 class photo. Now you can hear from them directly.

Quasimodo just started to lead the pack! Each day I'll update the links here, but you may just follow Alex's blog.

"My name, it is Quasimodo. In life, I was once crowned Pope of Fools, for I was and still I am the most ugly and misshapen cathedral bell ringer of them all. The Hunchback of Notre Dame . . . that is who I was and what I am now and forever more..."

    "I am Ernest Haeckel, renowned evolutionist, artist, and philosopher. You heard of my contemporary Charles Darwin, no doubt? I coined the term ecology and am famous for my beautiful drawings of lifeforms. My embryological montages unexpectedly drew anger from my fellow scientists.  They deemed I embellished too much. Yet, I stand by my depictions of embryos and the notion that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. You look confused, no doubt because of your retarded ancestry..."

My name is Captain Charles—Allweather—Vane. Born in 1680, I was a pirate operating out of the notorious base at New Providence in the Bahamas known as the “Pirates’ republic”, after the British abandoned the colony during the War of the Spanish Succession. What is the WORST thing about being in Hell?  The rum. It tastes like urine distilled through sweaty socks…on a good day. And the grog? I’ve sampled vomit that possesses more body and refinement

"I am William Lauder (1680–1771) and while alive was a Scottish literary forger, the second son of Dr William Lauder, one of the original 21 Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, by his spouse Catherine Brown. My success was short-lived. Several scholars, who had independently studied the alleged sources of Milton’s inspiration, showed that I had not only garbled most of my quotations, but had inserted amongst them extracts from a Latin version of Paradise Lost."

"My name is Bartholomew Roberts, although in your time you would be more likely to know me as ‘Black Bart’, a name which, I should point out, was attributed to me after my death.  I was third mate on a slaver ship in 1719 when we were captured by pirates while anchored off the Gold Coast.  I and two others were pressed into pirate service, and once the Captain discovered my skill as a navigator I became quite useful to him.  At first I was reluctant to fall in with such a lot, but it took very little time for me to realize the advantages of such a life far outweighed the disadvantages of being a British sailor, and I took to it, deciding that a life of low wages and harsh treatment were far less preferable to a short life and a merry one."

"I am Medea, daughter of the king of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of Helios the sun god, priestess of Hekate, who rules Erebos and judges the damned who come there. More to the point, I am the oldest witch in hell.  I met Jason when he came to Colchis to claim his inheritance and swore to claim his throne by bringing home the Golden Fleece. Like a fool, I fell in love with him. I helped him secure the Fleece, pass every test, on the condition that he would marry me should we succeed. Sailing in the Argos with his Argonauts, we did all of those, and more. Why am I in Hell? Jason and I killed my brother, who came chasing after us to grab the Fleece once we secured it. Then, later, when he spurned me for a daughter of Creon’s, did I turn upon fickle Jason, and killed both our children. Although I had a right to my revenge, one of those or both brought me to hell."

"I am Orpheus, son of the Thracian king Oeagros or perhaps even of Apollo, but most certainly sprung from the belly of the Muse Calliope, forever to hear the strains of her harmonies in all things. The strings of the lyre thrill to my touch as I to them and men and birds and fishes to the tides of all that is....I am in hell, as in life, to be taken amiss in perpetuity, to poetize, sing and play upon my instruments in accord with each unfolding moment and sway all souls about me to respond according to their nature and be reviled for doing so, for their differences cast them at odds."


"I, Henry Morgan, was born in Wales around the year 1635 but the opportunities for a Welshman in those days for adventure and wealth were scarce, so I set out for the West Indies for some excitement, and to try to make my fortune as a privateer. The governor of Jamaica gave me a letter of marque so that I could legally attack Spanish ships and seize their cargo. I was even able to attack many cities under Spanish rule, including Panama City, Porto Bello, and Maracaibo raiding them for their riches... I became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica after retiring from privateering... After dying and ending up in hell, I suffered many lifetimes worth of years of drudgery and toil before I could acquire my own ship and begin plundering the riches of the ships on the seas of hell."

Pirates in Hell is now available!  Paperback  /  Kindle  / Nook

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Heroes in Hell - Class of 2017

Pirates in Hell is now available!  Paperback  /  Kindle  / Nook

See the Heroes in Hell, 2017 Class Picture? Imagine all those timeless characters stuck in Hell struggling with their pasts, presents, and futures. It's a crazy mashup of historical fiction and fantasy!

I'm officially aboard this ship. My first voyage is the 20th installment. Pirates in Hell has twelve tales spun by Janet Morris, Christopher Crosby Morris, Andrew Paul Weston, Nancy Asire, myself, Paul Freeman, Larry Atchley Jr, Jack William Finley, Michael H. Hanson, Rob Hinkle, and Joe Bonadonna. Honored to be apart of the crew.  Cool cover art by Roy Mauritsen too!

When should you jump in? 

Now! Perhaps you are a bit timid to jump into Hell so quickly; so why not have the tour guides explain your worries away?  Authors from the preceding Doctors in Hell anthology convened for a death panel to explain the series and why it's okay to  "go to Hell at any time! (link)"

Pirates in Hell Contents:

Bitter Business – Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Pieces of Hate – Andrew P. Weston
Evil Angel –  Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Who’s a Pirate Now? – Nancy Asire
Curse of the Pharaohs – S.E. Lindberg
Lir’s Children – Paul Freeman
Unholiest Grail – Larry Atchley, Jr.
The Bitter Taste of Hell’s Injustice – Jack William Finley
Serial Recall and Beautiful Tortures – Michael H. Hanson
Drink and the Devil – Rob Hinkle
The Pirates of Penance – Joe Bonadonna
Muse of Fire – Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Hell Hounds (excerpt) – Andrew P. Weston

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Dossouye by Charles R. Saunders - review by SE

Dossouye (Dossouye, #1)Dossouye by Charles R. Saunders
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dossouye, a female version of Imaro in many ways; just as entertaining. A solid entry in the Sword & Soul subgenre by the man who started it, Charles R. Saunders. Highly recommended for fantasy fiction readers.

Sword & Soul & Availability: Charles R. Saunders led the creation of the Sword & Soul sub-genre (under Fantasy). My previous review of Saunder’s more famous, male character Imaro details more about his writing history. In short, he was compelled to create myths stemming from Africa rather than the typical European-centric standard. He spins a good tale, and his perspective does feel fresh. Like Imaro, Dossouye is a essentially a lone warrior (she does have a trusty mount called Gbo, a war buffalo!). Do not expect elves or party/fellowships. Do expect to experience strong mix of sorcery/magic, creatures (supernatural and wild), and lots of fighting. Some of his books are difficult to track down, but they are worth it...and... he has been writing many short stories (those count too for if you can't find the books, look into the anthologies he contributed for....list below).

Dossouye Source Material:
This novel combines six tales originally published (in different form) are combined into chapters:
Original Publications
Amazons! 1979 (Jessica Amanda Salmonson)
Sword and Sorceress, 1984 (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Sword and Sorceress II, 1985 (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Sword and Sorceress III, 1986 (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Dark Matter, 2000 (Sheree Renée Thomas)
Dark Matter II: Reading the Bones 2004 (Sheree Renee Thomas)

Chapter List and some notes (not spoilers)
1 – “Agbewe’s Sword”: Two cultures, the Abanti and Abomea, battle with sorcery and buffalo mounts. Dossouye is introduced, chosen via a bokono dream, and eventually exiled in a unique way.
2 – “Gimmile’s Songs”: A chance encounter with cursed magician/musician and thieves that follow him.
3— “Shiminege’s Mask”: Someone draws the short straw to be sacrificed to a sichi (akin to a immortal vampire?)..who were destroyed mostly by Dossouye’s ancestors and war bulls
4— “Yahimba’s Choice”: Tarusi (realized forms of mens’ fear of girls not getting circumcised) take center stage. Best story in the set. With Saunders already infusing black history into dark fantasy, with this collection he strived to go further by taking on a woman’s character. From the outset, I had in mind doing some type of Bechdel-Test (one measure of how well women are portrayed in movie scripts in relation to male dominance). For this, I mentally noted how much Dossouye was just a “chick-in-chainmail”; ie how often did her gender really play a role in the story and not just be easily replaced/switched for a male stand-in. Although female issues are mentioned throughout, it wasn’t until this chapter did Saunder’s hit his stride across the board: African culture & myths, Dossouye’s gender, and classic Sword & Sorcery (battles with supernatural) all synchronize.
5 – “Marwe’s Forest:” A shapechanger confronts/seduces Dossouye
6 – “Obenga’s Drum:” Embiti (pygmy/dwarves) are saved by Dossouye, but then she is injured and traverses another bokono dream

The short stories flow as connected chapters, but the publication/creation history still affect the read. Saunders has a narrative voice that leans toward “telling” rather than “showing” but the plots are full of twists and milieu so unique that they read fast. Dossouye’s main motivation/choices stems from a culture around associating one’s three souls with feti trees. Without the trees living, one may turn into a zhumbi (a soulless Abomean). To achieve a 5-star, this critical relationship needed to be fleshed out earlier (or “shown” more). That said there is a sequel, and Dossouye evolved into a more realistic character with each story. The next one should be a great read too.

Finding Books
There is at least one eBook version of Imaro available via Lulu...and ~$20USD version of most of his library; there are two pages.
1) The spotlight page for Charles R Saunders has most (link)
2) The page for Charles Saunders (no "R") has Dossouye available (link)

Short stories: From his website Saunder’s author page we can get a list of Charles R. Saunders's short stories and the collection they appeared in.

2017 and beyond This April, Sword and Soul guru Milton J. Davis revealed that “A few years ago Charles Saunders shared with me an excellent story he wrote set in the world of Imaro titled 'The Return of Sundiata. Just recently he revealed to me that he has written a collection of such stories, tentatively titled 'Nyumbani Tales.' It is my honor and privilege to announce that I will be publishing this historic collection this year! Stay tuned for more details. Sword and Soul forever!"

Saunder's Sword & Soul portfolio
The Quest for Cush
The Trail of Bohu
The Naama War

Dossouye: the Dancers of Mulukau

Imaro by Charles R. Saunders The Quest for Cush (Imaro #2) by Charles R. Saunders The Trail of Bohu (Imaro, #3) by Charles R. Saunders The Naama War (Imaro, #4) by Charles R. Saunders
Dossouye the Dancers of Mulukau (Dossouye, #2) by Charles R. Saunders Dossouye (Dossouye, #1) by Charles R. Saunders

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Moorcock and Leiber - May-June 2017 Groupreads

All are welcome to join us for our May-June Groupreads:

(a) Moorcock - Elric, Corum, pick an eternal champion! Folder Link: 

(b) Leiber - Fafred and the Gray Mouser! - Folder Link

Banner Credits
1974 Michael Moorcock's The Sword and the Stallion Cover art by David McCall Johnston
1974 Michael Moorcock's The Oak and the Ram Cover art by David McCall Johnston
1976 Fritz Leiber's - Zwaarden tegen Magiërs Cover art by Bruce Pennington. (Swords against Wizardry)
1975 Fritz Leiber's Zwaarden in de mist Cover art by Bruce Pennington

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Children of Hurin - Tolkien's Grimdark Saga reviewed by SE

The Children of HúrinThe Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
S.E rating: 5 of 5 stars

In short, The Children of Húrin is very Tolkien... but much more dark/grim than most people have read. I own the Alan Lee illustrated version and the audiobook narrated by none other than Saruman-actor Christopher Lee. Extremely dark! A dense read made easier by the narration and tenor of Lee. Listening to C.Lee while looking at A.Lee's illustrations (who was concept artist for the movies too) is a great experience.

Audible Book Link - click to listen to sample

If anyone thinks JRR only wrote happy fairytales, then they will be surprised by this ultradark tale. On the other hand, Tolkien-tropes/style are still very much present:
1) A dragon, Glaurong, terrorizes Middle Earth (reminiscent of Smaug in the Hobbit)
2) Evil villain-god Glaurong is a servant of Morgoth, once named Melkor whose lieutenant Sauron appears in LOTR; Morgoth has a large role in this book.
3) Forbidden man and elf-woman relationships, in this case Turin has a few relationships with women, and elves, but one relationship echoes that of Aragorn & Arwen from LOTR ... which echoes that of Bereth and Luthien in and Tale of Tunuviel
4) Abandoned Dwarf place: in the Hobbit and LOTR we were treated to ruined Dwarf holds (Erebor and the Mines of Moria); here we have the petty-dwarf Mim and his abandoned hold Amon Rûdh.
5) Secretive Elf places: in the Hobbit and LTOR, we had Rivendell and Lothlórien... here we are graced with Doriath and Nargothrond)

These Tolkien-tropes reinforced my take on the Hobbit and LOTR's themes; if you've read those and are entertaining reading the Silmarillion, I suggest reading Hurin first. It is easier to read than The Silmarillion and expands the milieu well.

The Children of Húrin really extends the World of the Hobbit and Return of the King. Easier to read than the Similarion, but still pretty thick. From this I learned lots of nuances (like Elrond is half-human). Would make an awesome movie (which will not happen :( ). Highly recommended.

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