Monday, November 24, 2014

Cook's "The Black Company" - Review by S.E.

The Black Company: The First Novel of 'The Chronicles of The Black Company'The Black Company: The First Novel of 'The Chronicles of The Black Company' by Glen Cook
S.E rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gritty, Mysterious Adventure: Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company starts off a lengthy series with a large following (which I have finally joined). Thanks to a Sword & Sorcery group read on Goodreads I did not entirely miss a series born in 1984, which I had naively figured was just another fantasy series. I mistakenly thought it was just tales about silly comrades, with more brawn than brain, going from one job to another. The Company is not just some band of brutes going from one mission/employer to the next; it is a professional army for hire that has a history longer than most States/Kingdoms. Expect lots of intricate gritty warfare infused with warrior magicians dolling out spells that liquefy mountains and topple the sky. By reading these chronicles, you are (more or less) reading the Annals; well, you almost become part of the Company.

This first-person narrative is compelling: Our narrator, Croaker, is a physician and warrior, but he has the singular duty of recording the Annals of the Company. Below are a number of quotes to convey his voice. His succinct observations add an unexpected, very satisfying, level of intelligence. The Annals (as physical books) are rarely mentioned/accounted for; however, the storytelling was so engaging I often overlooked the notion that Croaker appears bookless.

Pleasantly mysteries adventure: Cook throws the reader into the deep-end from the start. Strangely even this reprint has no map (which would have been welcome to orient readers). The scale of adventure ranges from skirmishes, to grand battles, to sorties with selected members. The Company seems to range in size from one hundred men to a few thousand. Their employees and their enemies are many and complex.It becomes clear that the conflicts are many and intertwined, but thankfully consistent. Without spoiling anything, I can reveal that it will take 50% of the book to communicate that the Lady is the primary employer of the Company, and her secondary commanders are the Taken (usually undead/possessed sorcerers) which also battle one another. All these are in battle with another army led by the Rebel (and his Circle of eighteen). Somehow Cook manages to dose out just the right amount of information to keep you hooked.

Characters are interesting and a strength They have concise names whether they be the narrator (Croaker), an enemy (Rebel, or Dominator), a Company member (Captain, Lieutenant), or sorcerer (One-Eye, Catcher, Lady, etc.). We learn about everyone via Croaker’s narration which is often profound. One-Eye and Goblin are two of the Company’s few sorcerers (Silent being another Key one); they continually have contests of antagonistic sorcery, like brothers. Then there is a new addition who joins early on named Raven who has a truly mysterious backstory. Croaker voted to enlist him saying, “I voted aye. I smelled a mystery and did not want it to get away.” Which is what I feel now about these book. There are many mysterious left in the series of the Black Company … and I do not want them to get away!

Cover Confusion/Caution TOR used the beautiful Raymond Swanland cover for both (a) a release of Book #1 Black Company and (b) and Omnibus edition of Books 1-3 of the series. I recommend just buying the omnibus from the start (same cover, almost same price, more books).
Raymond Swanland Black Company

Croaker’s Voice (Various, disconnected quotes)

We all have our pasts. I suspect we keep them nebulous not because we are hiding from our yesterdays but because we think we will cut more romantic figures if we roll our eyes and dispense delicate hints about beautiful women forever beyond our reach.

When I reflect on my companion’s inner nature I usually wish I controlled one small talent. I wish I could look inside them and unmask the darks and brights that move them. Then I take a quick look into the jungle of my own soul and realize that I cannot. Any man who barely sustains an armistice with himself has no business picking around in an alien soul.

One-Eye is at least a hundred years old. The Annals mention the wizened little black man’s tempers throughout the last century. There is no telling when he joined. Seventy years’ worth of Annals were lost when the Company’s positions were overrun at the Battle of Urban. One-Eye refuses to illuminate the missing years. He says he does not believe in history.

One-Eye cheats. But never when Raven is playing.

Silent smiled, shrugged, stalked over to the stone pile and seated himself. He was done with the question game. Of all the Company he is the least concerned about the image he portrayed in the Annals. He does not care whether people like or hate him, does not care where he has been or where he is going. Sometimes I wonder if he cares whether he lives or dies, wonder what makes him stay.

I am a haunted man. I am haunted by the Limper’s screams. I am haunted by the Lady’s laughter. I am haunted by my suspicion that we were furthering the cause of something that deserves to be scrubbed from the face of the earth. I am haunted by the conviction that those bent upon the Lady’s eradication are little better than she…I am haunted by the clear knowledge that, in the end, evil always triumphs.

My last glimpse of Catcher was of a weary person slumped in unhappiness. I guess it is hard for them to live up to their reputations. We all want people to like us.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Soap, Disease, and Dragons - Visiting Norman OK

Talking art, books, and synesthesia with illustrator and artist of Viel of the Dragon 
  1. SOAP: 

  2. This month I visited Norman OK, with the primary goal of attending a consortia on surfactants run by chemical engineering professors at Oklahoma University (IASR).  I am not the only scientist attending who has an artistic side; in fact Professor John Scamehorn has ventured into producing film (he is leading a steampunk web series no less, due out in late 2015).
  3. DISEASE: 

  4. Before the consortia began, I managed to connect with writer/illustrator Tom Barczak who resides in Norman. I had interviewed Tom Barczak early this year (July 2014)
    Over some Starbuck's coffee we discussed art, writing, and disease. Of course, my own series fictionalizes the alchemical humors, posing them as a source of necromancy; an imbalance of humors was called a Dyscrasia (a word popular in 1880). 

  5. Tom, ever fascinated with sensing strange/beautiful things, discussed Synesthezia.  This ailment is a modern one, and refers to a secondary stimulus of senses.  For instance, a subset is called Chromesthesia, in which listening to sounds will trigger recoloring of whatever is being viewed by eye: one could be looking at a white wall and it would change to red or blue as certain music is played.  Great material for magic/fantasy! I can't wait to see how Tom translates his insights.


Tom has a wonderful illustrated, poetic series that begins with 
Veil of the Dragon (reviewed May 2014). He is just now releasing an audio book voiced by Neil Hellegers. Check out the below video trailer.  If you like dark, poetic fantasy, you'll enjoy this.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Beauty in Ruins reviews Spawn of Dyscrasia

"In a post-apocalyptic sort of fantasy world where the 'good' guys are undead necromancers and hybrid monsters, the remaining humans must make difficult choices to ensure that there's a future for any of them... It's all very well-constructed, with an interesting system of magic to drive the plot forward, but it's hardly what one would call your typical heroic, uplifting fantasy. In fact, it's as much a horror novel as it is a fantasy novel, but it's in that clash of genres that Lindberg distinguishes himself."
Beauty in Ruins provides comprehensive book reviews on speculative fiction, and just dissected Spawn of Dyscrasia. I highly recommend following the Beauty in Ruins website.  Below is copy of most of the review:

"I didn't think it was possible, but this is an even darker fantasy than the novel that opened the saga. It's a story full of death and decay, of pain and pressure. In a post-apocalyptic sort of fantasy world where the 'good' guys are undead necromancers and hybrid monsters, the remaining humans must make difficult choices to ensure that there's a future for any of them.

Just to give you an idea of what you're getting into here, the story opens with a dying young woman, her body and soul slowly being consumed by the necromancer she serves. Her own ghost picks a replacement from out of the crowd, damning one of her oldest friends to the same sort of helpless, hopeless, inevitable doom. That friend, Helen, dutifully accepts the charge laid upon her and prepares to embark upon a future of sacrificing herself to save Lord Echo, the necromancer, in an effort to preserve her people.

Like the first volume, this is a very dark, very bleak, very sort of hopeless future, one in which the monsters have already won. It's all very well-constructed, with an interesting system of magic to drive the plot forward, but it's hardly what one would call your typical heroic, uplifting fantasy. In fact, it's as much a horror novel as it is a fantasy novel, but it's in that clash of genres that Lindberg distinguishes himself. This reads very much like an epic fantasy novel in terms of language and imagery, but one dealing with a dark, gruesome, horrific sort of subject matter. It's a gorgeous, textured, intricately layered story where every word counts, and where no phrase is wasted. Make no mistake, it makes for heavy reading, but you feel the weight of every word.

While I would have liked to see Helen play more of a heroic role, rather than serve as damsel in distress or sidekick, this is not really a world where humans have a significant role to play. It is a world filled with hybrid monsters and ruled by god-like beings, a world in which power is infected by an insidious sort of disease. Having said that, she's an admirable character, for all the flaws of her situation, and she does have her moments, especially as we approach the climax.

Overall, I found the pacing and flow much stronger, compared to Lords of Dyscrasia. It's a clearer, more consistent tale, one with those narrative bridges that I felt were lacking in the first book. As sequels or follow-ups go, Spawn of Dyscrasia is one of those rare novels that tops its predecessor in almost every way, which definitely bodes well for future installments. If you're open to something new, and have the patience to really pay attention to the narrative as much as the plot, then by all means pay Lindberg's world a visit - you'll be impressed at what he's able to accomplish in so few carefully chosen words, and you'll certainly appreciate the visit."
- Bob Milne 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Chronicles of Hate - Adrian Smith Graphic Novel Review by S.E.

Chronicles of HateChronicles of Hate by Adrian Smith
S.E. Lindbergrating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a daring, impressive work of art: 100pages of monochrome, gritty fantasy. Besides the introduction (a page of beautiful, epic text), those pages average ~one word /page. Adrian Smith relies on his graphic skills to tell the story and does admirably.

In short, Mother Earth is defiled and is bound beneath the ground; humanity falls from any grace it may have had. Men enslave other men, and a brutal Tyrant rules over many. Mother Earth’s spirit engages Worm, the protagonist, who is tasked to free her [or bring back her power somehow]. Her magic has seeped into vegetation since her demise, so sentient fungi and roots play a role. She transforms or communicates to Worm as a white butterfly too.

Adrian Smith's illustrations are generally splendid. If you ever looked into any Warhammer/Games Workshop art (which Adrian has made many) and wished you could immerse yourself in a similar world (this is not part of Warhammer’s TM Olde World), this is your chance.

Enjoying/understanding this took some concentration and rereading of the prologue, which may turn off some but I found enjoyable.  If I understood this correctly, Worm is out to find a key to unlock Mother Earth's chains/cage. Regardless of the low-text approach, I expected to have a better understanding of what to expect in the second volume by the time I reached the end. The number and motivations of the different, conflicting factions is still unclear. Vol. #2 promises to develop this more, which will prompt a reread of this. I plan to purchase the next as soon as it is available.

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