Friday, February 21, 2020

Tolkien and Oden Groupread - Mar-Apr2020 groupreads



The Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads

Please join us as we host the Mar-Apr 2020 Groupreads:

A) Scott Oden - Link to FolderLots of Scott Oden fans here, and his sequel to A Gathering of Ravens called Twilight of the Gods was just released! Men of Bronze, Memnon, The Lion of Cairo are all fair game! Even his Conan pastiche in the Marvel Comics.
B) Tolkien Memorial Read - link to FolderChristopher Tolkien passed away this year, so it is timely to delve into the many books he edited/extended on behalf of his father J.R.R. Tolkien. So the focus will be on books like the The Children of Húrin, but if you are inclined to discuss/read JRR's work, then do that too. It's all in the spirit of Tolkien.

Banner Credits:
Cover art by James Iacobelli for A Gathering of Ravens and Twilight of the Gods

Cover art by Alan Lee for The Children of Húrin (Interior art, the depiction of Hurin)

Morgoth seats the kidnapped Hurin on a throne in Angabad....

...taking Hurin back to Angabad [Morgoth] set him in a chair of stone upon a high place of Thangorodrm, from which he could see afar the land oh Hithlum in the west and the lands of Bereriand to the south. There he was bound by the power of Morgoth; and Morgoth standing beside him cursed him again and set his power upon him, so that he could not move from that place, nor die, until Morgoth should release him.

"Sit now there," said Morgoth, "and look out upon the lands where evil and despair shall come upon those whom you have delivered to me. For you have dared to mock me, and have questioned the power of Melkor, Master of the fates of Arda. Therefore with my eyes you shall see, and with my ears you shall hear, and nothing shall be hidden from you."


Hurin by Alan Lee

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Sleeping City - Review by SE

The Sleeping City by E.C. Tubb
S.E> rating: 3 of 5 stars

E.C. Tubb (1919 – 2010) was prolific, known mostly for his Sci-Fiction (i.e., his Space-1999 adaption and 33 volume Dumarest Saga. Thanks to the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group for having groupreads, I was able to learn about Tubbs’s two-volume heroic fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Malkar (both published in 1999):
1) Death God's Doom
2) The Sleeping City

I delved into The Sleeping City before I knew about the first volume, and there was no issue with that. This one starts with the mercenary Malkar assuming a throne for the city of Dashkit; he incidentally won the queen as a bride. Her name is Ishma, and, like the other few women in this book, are present only to offer their bosoms (excerpts below). The misogyny seems more suited to another era, but the book is unabashedly masculine. The men are at the forefront of all the characters of substance, and the few women exist as erotic decor or prizes. Two excerpts of many examples:
She stood at the rear of the ramparts dressed in a gown of flame, red silk flowing over the curves of her body, rubies adorning the waterfall of her hair. Her neck was bare, her shoulders, the upper swell of her breasts. On the naked flesh shone a jewel.

He felt the movement of her breasts, her hips, the enticing invitation of her thighs.
It reads much like Michael Moorcok’s style, or even Lin Carter’s Thongor. In fact, it goes so fast, the plot stumbles over itself. It propels the action regardless of consistency. One example (a minor spoiler but explains the title): eventually, Dashkit is held in a sleepless state under a storm-like spell; Malkar avoids the effects and goes on a random walkabout away from the city for magic to retaliate; when Malkar returns from being gone for ~1week, it is completely unclear who has been under suspension and who has not. Whereas his citizens and friends are frozen, his enemy Jalthar was free to roam around—but Jalthar did nothing to the city as it lay vulnerable, but instead waited for Malkar to return to battle for it.

Whatever. Malkar is always on the front-lines of danger, and always being saved by coincidence and luck, so never fear for his safety. In fact, he accidentally evokes a secret power three times at critical junctures, with no explanation or engagement for the reader to anticipate. In fact, his latent, convenient powers undermine the reasons & risks for his adventures. A shallow reason is offered at the end by a magician who explains that those powers (paraphrased) were fitting for a king, not a mercenary. As if Malkar was granted powers by usurping the throne… I guess? Or he earned them.

Malkar’s exposition is noteworthy, since he has “gut feels” that enables him to use scarce data to explain to his loin-clothed buddies (i.e., Hostig) what his enemies are thinking & doing, and thus allow him to lay traps and respond proactively. Likewise, the melodramatic dialogue is laughable at times. Many times I envisioned Adam West playing him (the ~1960’s Batman TV show may have inspired the drama).

Example Melodrama: call me a dog? I’ll kill you
“Dog?” The Benowinian stepped close and lashed Malkar across the face with his gemmed hand.

“You call me dog!” He grimaced, vile in his rage. “For that I shall feed you the agonies of hell! You will be staked on the sand with your eyelids removed so as to stare at the sun. You will be stripped and lashed with whips of wire so that the ants will come to drink your blood and eat your flesh. You will scream while being roasted over slow fires. I will burn out your eyes and sear your tongue! I will –”

The strengths lie in the fight scenes and poetic descriptions. I really did enjoy these.

Fight Scene example:
He chopped and mail burst, a severed head rolling from spouting shoulders, eyes wide in the amazement of death. He beat aside a swinging blade, beat again, sent the steel in a whining arc which ended on a shoulder and clove through bone and flesh to bare the naked lungs. Wrenching free the weapon he turned, smashed aside reaching steel, thrust at a snarling face. He felt irresistible, metal, flesh, bone all yielding to the fury of his attack. A machine of destruction cutting its way through a dozen men.

Poetic descriptions:
A passage led from the chamber to the Temple, the Hall of Kings where statues of previous rulers stood in double line in a wide passage of gleaming marble and malachite. The glow of votive candles touched them with dancing light, drifting glows that gave the dead eyes the semblance of watchful life, the dead lips the hint of sardonic smiles.

It was naked, hairless, the skin a sere yellow, the ears shrivelled against the creased flesh of the skull. A tall jar of black metal rose from the floor to clasp it around the scrawny throat. Ancient hieroglyphics intertwined with a serpent motive covered the surface of the jar and the head had the dried, desiccated appearance of a mummy, the mouth a thin crease, the eyes sunken beneath heavy lids.

So if you are looking for a guilty-pleasure adventure, some juvenile wish-fulfillment that can be consumed like fast food (tastes good, but isn’t really nutritious), then have a go at Malkar’s chronicles.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020

January 27th 2020 - International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020


Yesterday, I recalled the saddest and most beautiful book I ever read (thanks to my parents having a copy): I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942–1944 ....

 From the book synopsis: 
"A total of 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp between the years 1942-1944; less than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates of Terezin, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their courage and optimism, their hopes and fears."
This is the type of book which is great to peruse once, but then it may too powerful to read again.
Just having on the bookshelf is enough after that. A simple glance at the title on the binder is sufficient to become reflective.


Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Last Wish -- Being Helpful


Holy cow, every now and then there comes across a fun confluence of events.
In this case, the recent 2019 Netflix series The Witcher increased interest in the Sword & Sorcery series. Of course, I moderate the S&S group on Goodreads (all are welcome to join), and we do a lot of reviews to help future readers. Turns out my 2016 review of The Last Wish is the highest helpful rank, at >300 helpful clicks.  

Cool beans. It was ~2yrs ago when I captured a few rewarding feedback instances from my reviews (Good Feelings about HATE post). 




So... Toss a coin to your Witcher!

Death Dealers & Diabolists - Review by SE

Death Dealers & Diabolists by D.M. Ritzlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading anthologies enables readers to discover new voices and authors, and since short stories launched the Sword & Sorcery genre in the ~1920's, the Goodread's S&S Group has a 2-month groupread every Jan-Feb for this purpose. This is my first DMR anthology and I am impressed. This bodes well for many others in my to-read list (like Swords of Steel Omnibus, Warlords, Warlocks & Witches, and the The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories). DMR also hosts an outstanding blog that fans of S&S adore.

I only knew of Keith Taylor from this set. Three of the four that stick with me are ones that had less forward-momentum than I normally expect, but they ended strong and surprised me. I star my favorites below. The genre may have started in the 1920's, but anthologies like this demonstrate that it still lives strong a century later.

“Q’a the Librarian” by Buzz Dixon
Many others on Goodreads enjoyed this the most. It is true to the theme of “Death Dealers and Diabolists”. You can root for the anti-heroine Q'a since the other characters are eviler than she. Involves plenty of sacrifices and murdering children, and Q’a could not care less. However, her immorality wore off on me, so I wasn't as engaged with any of her antagonists/plight. This opening entry consumes 28% of the book too, which wasn't necessary. Would definitely appeal to Grimdark readers.

“The Man With the Evil Eye” by Keith Taylor
I adore Keith Taylor's work (i.e., Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis ). This one was ok. Three crusader buddies (Palamides, Chiron, Michael) save an alleged murderer, a runaway woman, from a bunch of thugs hired by an evil magician/collector. Was hooked up to the point when the merry men met Harmatius. The ending battle/climax ended abruptly and with less reader-engagement than expected.

* “The Vault of Geigar Varakas” by Kenneth R. Gower
The tale of the thief Kral Mazan starts slow and meandering, but it ramps up nicely. He's good at cards and doesn't like cheating (stealing is alright though), and a card match with the wealthy, cheating Varakas gets him tossed into a street. There, a conniving woman, Firien, hires him to break into Varakas' treasure trove to retrieve an heirloom item for her--and seek revenge for himself. An eruption of Lovecraftian-like horror explodes on the scene which made the build-up satisfying.

* “Lord of the Wood” by Geoff Blackwell
This tells of the hunter Ville returning to a ravaged home. He tracks the death-dealers of his family considering revenge. Not much sorcery/diabolists in here. Very, very grim. Beautiful wording drew me in:
“Cold azure glitter replaced warm red glow. Skies lay naked, the moon and stars shone like pinpricks in tough fabric. Trails of teal and rich violet whipped across the firmament. He whistled into the shimmering aurora as though to beckon it closer. The sky fox danced tonight. A beautiful night to start Ville’s last hunt.”

“Ranorax, Son of Tiger” by Mark Taverna
Haukan of the Tiger Clan is a real ass and hopes to lead his clan soon. A pesky prophecy from their shaman indicates the leader will instead be a strange boy emerging from the woods. An okay entry. Not sure if Death Dealing or Diabolism motivated it.

* “Intrigue in the Unassailable City” by Carl Walmsley
Menias returns to his island city/home after sailing abroad as a mercenary for over a decade. He has a slim hope of reuniting with Carwynn, a lady of higher class who had a crush on him before he trekked off. But to find her he has to climb up the strata of the island from the poor docks. Having been sailing with a bunch of pirates hasn't helped his network. Old "friends" slow his mission to his love interest. This is the second of three tales that were a slow brew, that delivered in a satisfying way. Nice milieu and characterization.

“Three Coins of Doom” by Bryan Dyke
This has humor in it, which many like. But I am more of a curmudgeon, enjoying the humor only if there is a deeper story. Mau-Keefe is a pirate on a cryptic quest to track down an acquaintance (Naravian), while his compatriot wizard-buddy Lucrutius drinks more than he helps. Levity was nice to include to break up the grimness of the other stories, but the purple pummich's silliness overshadowed any story arc.

* “The Age of Crows—The Return of the Swarm” by Jed J. Del Rosario
A slow start sets up the epic premise of Angel vs Demon warfare. For the first third, I wasn't sure about its direction. Duryodan is the protagonist, but he is driven by a higher power (which chimes in via first-person narrative) and was summoned by a fellow angel, Vidur, to tackle a big job. Another angelic immortal, Nakula, also meddles as they battle a corrupt Emperor. Weird corpse-possessing flies/insects play a dominant role. I’m a sucker for necromancy and angelic battles like this one.

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