Sunday, January 7, 2018

Death at the Blue Elephant - Review by SE

Death at the Blue ElephantDeath at the Blue Elephant by Janeen Webb
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

My favorite unscripted moment from the 2016 Word Fantasy Convention occurred as Janeen Webb recited on a panel, from memory, the beginning to E R Eddison's Mistress of Mistresses. Her voice and tenor were beautiful and it sounded like a blend of poetry and song. Her point being that many of these works are more easily understood, and enjoyed, if read aloud. I knew then that I had to track down more of her work, leading me here.

Death at the Blue Elephant is her 2014 collection of eighteen, fantasy-adventure stories: thirteen published previously in various publications and the remaining five are new. Table of Contents listed below; the notes indicate the tales span most every type of tale imaginable: from Lewis Carroll-like fairytales, to contemporary horror (the titular story), to Lovecraftian Mythos, Arthurian legends, historical fantasy, Faustain deals, and Phillip-Dick-like Sci-Fi.

She writes for mature readers, usually sprinkling in a dose of eroticism. Tales often take turns that are darker or happier than expected, so readers will always be on edge. My favorites were the Lovecraftian, contemporary mystery of “Lady of the Swamp,” the sci-fi thriller-romance “Niagara Falling” which blurred reality and fantasy like a Phillip Dick story, the weird fiction "Fire-Eater's Tale" that is emotionally charged with revenge-fear-and-performance anxiety, and the weirdly-inspiring-yet-sad “Blake’s Angel” which appealed to the artist in me (for the record, I would never cage an Angel).

As her bio below details, Janeen Webb is an accomplished writer and editor (once winner of World Fantasy award among others). Death at the Blue Elephant shows that she can spin a good tale from about just about anything.

1. “Velvet Green.” *new* -- Lewis Carroll-like with call-outs to Dunsany's Queen of Elfland

2. “Manifest Destiny.” First published in Baggage (Eneit Press, NSW, 2010) -- A pioneering adventure horror, not like Howard’s Conan in substance, but the barbarian-may-be-more-civil-than-settler theme abounds

3. “Death at the Blue Elephant” First published in Enter… , (HarperCollins Flamingo, Sydney, 1997) and HQ Magazine, November/December, 1997 -- Contemporary Erotic Horror

4. “Red City.” First published in Synergy SF: New Science Fiction (Five Star Press, Maine, USA, 2004) -- Sci-Fi Mystery Historical fantasy– Elizabeth Peters like?

5. “Paradise Design’d” First published in Dreaming Again (HarperCollins, Sydney, 2008, and Harper EOS, New York, 2008) -- Angels playing design in the Garden of Eden

6. “The Lion Hunt.” First published in Conqueror Fantastic (DAW Books, New York, 2004) -- Greco-Roman Historical Fantasy

7. “Incident On Woolfe Street”. First published in HQ Magazine #68, Jan/Feb 2000 (HarperCollins, Sydney, 2000) -- Horrific retelling of little red riding hood.

8. “The Lady of the Swamp” *new* Forthcoming reprint in Cthulhu Deep Down Under, edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequiera and Bryce Stevens -- Splendid, contemporary Lovecraftian Mythos.

9. “A Faust Films Production”. First published in Little Red Riding Hood in New York (DAW Books, USA, 2004) -- Contemporary Faustian tale, obviously

10. “Gawain and the Selkie’s Daughter.” First published in The Road to Camelot (Random House, Sydney, 2002) -- Classic Arthurian legend

11. “Niagara Falling” with Jack Dann, First published Black Mist and Other Japanese Futures (DAW Books, New York, 1997) -- Phillip Dick -ish

12. “The Fire-Eater’s Tale” with Jack Dann. First published in Strange Attractions (Shadowlands Press, USA, 2000.) -- Weird fiction ; very good.

13. “Skull Beach” *new* -- another original tale with Faustian undertones

14. “Tigershow” First published in Agog: Terrific Tales (Agog Press, Wollongong, 2003). -- PTSD tragic horror

15. “Hell Is Where the Heart Is” First published in Next (CSFG Publishing, Canberra, 2014). --Horror–Romance following transplanted organs

16. “Full Moon in Virgo”. *new* -- Ghost-Romance story

17. “Blake’s Angel” First published in Gathering the Bones (HarperCollins, Sydney and London, 2003 and Tor Books, New York, 2003) -- Weird Artistic Horror

18. “The Sculptor’s Wife” *new* -- Modern Arthurian Legend

About Janeen Webb
Janeen Webb is a multiple award-winning author, editor, and critic who has written or edited ten books and over a hundred essays and stories. She is a recipient of the World Fantasy Award, the Peter MacNamara SF Achievement Award, the Australian Aurealis Award, and is a three-time winner of the Ditmar Award. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, as well as a number of Best of the Year collections. Her longer fiction includes a series of novels for young adult readers, The Sinbad Chronicles, (HarperCollins, Australia). She is also co-editor, with Jack Dann, of the influential Australian anthology Dreaming Down-Under. Janeen has also co-authored several non-fiction works with Andrew Enstice. These include Aliens and Savages; The Fantastic Self; and an annotated new edition of Mackay’s 1895 scientific romance, The Yellow Wave. Janeen is internationally recognised for her critical work in speculative fiction. Her criticism has appeared in most of major journals and standard reference works, as well as in several collections of scholarly articles published in Australia, the USA, and Europe. She was co-editor of Australian Science Fiction Review, and reviews editor for Eidolon. She holds a PhD in literature from the University of Newcastle. Janeen divides her time between Melbourne and a small farm overlooking the sea near Wilson’s Promontory, Australia.

View all my reviews

Friday, January 5, 2018

Cover Art Design - Helen's Daimones with Daniel Landerman -3

1) CONCEPT (LINK) : Goal & required elements
2) COVER ARTIST (LINK)  : Finding a designer
3) COVER DESIGN(YOU ARE HERE): Evolution of compositions to arrive at the final cover

This wraps up a series of posts discussing the design of the Helen's Daimones cover. Part One covered the design concepts, Part Two  revealed details about connecting with Daniel Landerman, and this last post will be the meatiest of all since it will show the progression from sketch to final illustration. All sketches are copyright Landerman 2016.

First, Daniel took several storyboards and design concepts (akin to those shred in the first post) and provided several compositions. I chose "D" since showed Helen's face while keeping her vulnerable...and having the sword away from Lysis made it easier to visualize.

Deciding on poses
Then Landerman continued his magic ability to show details without cluttering the image.  From curious in Helen's hair, insect traits in the armor, and decorations in the clown-dolls, he loaded up the image with subtle elements.
Composition D selected, Details Added
What followed was a series of monochrome compositions that explored how light could be sourced from the magical sword, the eyes of the undead dolls, and moon.
Planning the Lighting 

Lastly, Landerman colorized the work. He was inspired by iridescent beetle carcasses for the armor.
To match the magic in the book, the dolls and wasp needed to be blue-ish, and Lysis needed to be variegated (and distinguished from the blue aura).
Basic Colors

Final with added dolls, wasp, and proper eye colors

The details are amazing!

So the journey was complete.  The covers represent Lysis's and Helen's progression accurately and reinforce the characterization in Dyscrasia Fiction.  Book four is in the works...and the principles discussed here will continue to drive the design.

Character Progression & Story Arcs in Illustration

Book Covers of Dyscrasia Fiction

Cover Art Design - Helen's Daimones with Daniel Landerman -2

1) CONCEPT (LINK) : Goal & required elements
2) COVER ARTIST (YOU ARE HERE): Finding a designer
3) COVER DESIGN (LINK): Evolution of compositions to arrive at the final cover

ImagineFX magazine is a fantastic resource for graphic artists using digital media. As mentioned in Part #1, I was inspired by Daniel Landerman's sketches in a 2011 ImagineFX article. I decided to learn more about him, eventually contacting him to explore commission options.

Daniel Landerman has freelanced in the entertainment industry since 2003 doing concept design and production art for film, TV, and video games. He has been working predominantly as a sketch artist in advertising since 2008 for folks like
BLT, Ignition, The Ayzenberg Group, Blizzard and Riot Games.Specialties: Sketching, illustration, story development, blue ocean thinking, character/concept design, storyboarding, storytelling.

Browsing Daniel Landerman's Instagram page to see if he drew the undead too, I stumbled across his Titan (Lysis is not a giant, but his head would look similar being a skull with twisted horns).
Totally psyched that I may have found an artist who seemed to already know what I needed, I reached out to him. Thankfully Landerman did do some freelancing and we struck a rapport. Below I share some links to his videos and stills on Instagram, but the real meat of our collaboration is shared in the final post:

Part 3: COVER DESIGN Final Cover

Cover Art Design - Helen's Daimones with Daniel Landerman -1

Just as we dissected the making of the cover to Spawn of Dyscrasia (with Ken Kelly), let's break down the process for making the cover to Helen's Daimones.

This is a three-post blog series:
1) CONCEPT (YOU ARE HERE): Goals & required elements
2) COVER ARTIST (LINK): Finding a designer
3) COVER DESIGN (LINK): Evolution of compositions to arrive at the final cover

(1) Concept Design:

The Dyscrasia Fiction covers have portraiture designs (as detailed on other guest posts):

Each book has a portrait-like cover reflecting the story arc of the primary characters within: i.e., Lords of Dyscrasia is focused on Lord Lysis's transition from human to demi-god, and Spawn of Dyscrasia has Helen and Lysis emerging as partners. Helen's Daimones is designed as entry way into this weird world, and serves as a coming-of-age story for Helen (and Lysis too as he becomes acquainted with his powers). Since Helen's Daimones is in between the other two books chronologically, it begged to have the below elements:
  1. Helen as vulnerable girl ~10yr old, with a cat pelt
  2. Skeletal Lysis as a protector, with horns for air & distinctive sword (Ferrus Eviscamir)
  3. Optional lighting from glowing wasps, sword, wasp-ridden dolls

Young Helen - Inspirational Art

Two illustrations inspired the "look" of Helen as I wrote Helen's Daimones: (1) spooky fairy-native sketches from Daniel Landerman (published in ImagineFX and discussed more in the second post of this series) and (2) the 1902 Mother's Crushed Oats print ad of a boy with a feline pelt, a framed version hung in my parent's house. I found that Landerman had a series of "natives" and many of them were eerily similar to the haunting girl who mingles with creepy dolls. Whomever would illustrate Helen would have to come up with a similar young girl who could evolve into the white-haired witch beside Lysis in the Spawn of Dyscrasia cover. 

Lysis's Sword, Armor, & Horns

Lysis would have to bridge the look of the Lords and Spawn covers. His magical sword Ferrus Eviscamir would have to be present, and ideally his armor would appear to be made from (a) giant insect hulls and (b) human leather. His hair would have to approximate horns.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, I reached out to directly to Daniel Landerman to explore commission options. Working with him is discussed in the next two posts, beginning with :

Part 2) COVER ARTIST (LINK): Finding a designer

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Everdings - Book For Beverage

A few weeks ago, Daryl purchased Helen's Daimones. Below he shows off the book with his Communications Director (image from Facebook). Thanks to the Everdings for supporting weird fiction!
As part of the Book-For-Beverage program, I bought him an Alaskan Amber!

Book-For-Beverage: Buy a Dyscrasia Fiction book (electronic or paperback), and I'll spot you a beverage: milkshake, tea, coffee, or beer!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Joe Bonadonna - Helen's Daimones review - A New Brand of Horror

"Just as HP Lovecraft created his own special brand of horror, Lindberg has conjured up a nightmare landscape that is truly unique. But Lindberg has gone far beyond the almost total narrative of a Lovecraft tale, because he populates his world with characters — with people who interact with each other, share moments of humor and drama and terror. Lindberg tells his story through the eyes and voices of his characters." - Joe Bonadonna

on December 13, 2017

“Literally, dyscrasia means “a bad mixture of liquids” (it is not a magical land.) Historically, dyscrasia referred to any imbalance of the four medicinal humors professed by the ancient Greeks to sustain life (phlegm, blood, black & yellow bile.)” — S.E. Lindberg

“Helen’s Daimones” is a novel director Tim Burton would have a field day turning into a film. The visuals alone would be amazing, and the story quite mind-blowing. This is a wonderful novel, written with vivid imagination and boundless creativity. I’ve heard it called “Grimdark fiction” by a number of people, but it goes far beyond that, and it’s certainly better than any Grimdark stories I’ve ever read. This is not a novel of swords, sorcery, demons, and wizards. This is not your typical epic fantasy, either. Sure, “Helen’s Daimones” contains elements of dark fantasy, as well as elements of science-fiction. But this is a horror story, all the way, where the main characters, a pair of orphaned girls named Helen and Sharon, are haunted and chased by numinous diseases. Lindberg’s world is populated by ghosts, mutants and hybrids (both human and insect), magically-animated rag dolls, necrophagous wasps, fetal gargoyles, and many other bizarre lifeforms. This is not a typical horror novel about vampires, werewolves and zombies. This is something new and original. Just as HP Lovecraft created his own special brand of horror, Lindberg has conjured up a nightmare landscape that is truly unique. But Lindberg has gone far beyond the almost total narrative of a Lovecraft tale, because he populates his world with characters — with people who interact with each other, share moments of humor and drama and terror. Lindberg tells his story through the eyes and voices of his characters.

While some characters are human, like Helen, Sharon and their parents, many characters are not quite human. Take Lord Endeken Lysis, for instance: he’s the Skeletal Warrior of Chromlechon. He communicates telepathically with the golem physician, Doctor Grave, and together they plan to repair humanity. Then there’s Echo, the Gray Foundling, a human-insectoid hybrid, a puppet master who entertains the hundreds of orphans under Lysis’ protection. The beauty of Lindberg’s world is that many of the grotesques possess noble souls, reminding me of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “The Man Who Laughs.” This is a surreal novel, a 21st century gothic novel brought to life by Lindberg’s elegant prose and colorful descriptions. It also brought to mind Mervyn Peak’s “Gormenghast Trilogy,” and the science fiction tales of featuring Cordwainer Smith’s Underpeople and the Instrumentality of Mankind. Lindberg has a totally original voice and a most unique concept, and I give “Helen’s Daimones” five stars because of what it is, how well it worked for me, and how it greatly differs from so many other dark fantasy and horror novels.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Annual Anthology Groupread read to go Jan-Feb 2018

Since Sword & Sorcery was largely born through the short-story format, collections are an appropriate way to learn the genre and discover authors. The Sword & Sorcery group is proud to host another two month event this Jan-Feb 2018: 

Join us, Jan 2018 (click here to go to Goodreads) 

Previous Annual Anthology Groupread links
2017 Discussion / 2016 Discussion / 2015 discussion / 2014 discussion /2013 discussion

Don’t know where to start? Ask the group for a recommendation, or check out the sampling of Anthologies, old and new, as shown in this group’s bookshelf. You are challenged (invited?) to track any one down and share your journey with the group. Feel welcome to add to the bookshelf if you know how, or ask for help to expand the list.

Poll will be left open" recall, that list is not a competition to select a choice for is a means to publicize the book you suggest OR the book you plan to read
Click to see poll

Web Anthologies Count too!:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

Me? I'll be digging into Challenge! Discovery 

Banner Credits: L-->R
Swords Against Darkness -cover art by 2013 Rodrigo Ramos "Cold Whisper"
Skelos I cover art by Gustave DorĂ©; "The Gnarled Monster" 
Challenge! Discovery cover art by V Shane "Deep Forest"