Sunday, May 6, 2012

Horseclans 1-4 by Robert Adams - Book Reviews

The Coming of the HorseclansThe Coming of the Horseclans by Franklin Robert Adams
S.E.Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 starsView all his reviews

Fans of military fantasy with Sword & Sorcery traits will enjoy this (David Gemmell and Karl Wagner were better writers, but fans of theirs would enjoy this opener of the Horseclans series). The premise is ostensibly apocalyptic sci-fi, but really it appears as a gritty epic fantasy (i.e. no bullets or lasers or machines, just barbarian hordes, swords and some mutant-telepathy and immortality mixed in).

Cover artist Ken Kelly did a superb job, and arguably was more successful than the author in presenting/creating the world. Truthfully, it is worth tracking these out of print books down just for the cover art.  It is an interesting opening book, and since I am compelled to read the next book (Swords of the Horesclans) I rate it 4/5.

Swords of the HorseclansSwords of the Horseclans by Franklin Robert Adams
S.E.Lindberg rating: 3 of 5 stars ; View all his reviews

Epic in scope. A little less gritty than the the first in the series (Coming of the Horseclans), which featured gore, rape, and torture. Instead, the comical plight of Demetrios offers some levity. The logistics of battle are articulated nicely. The dialogue style is unnatural, however; essentially the dialogue is just more narrative from the author rather than genuine conversation. The primary battle is largely anticlimactic since we are constantly made aware that the antagonist army is uninspired and ill-prepared.

I admit to being enthralled by Ken Kelly's cover art. Compared to the text, the cover art disproportionally brings to life the post-apocalyptic North America "Horseclan" world. I am compelled to read the next in the series, though I am expecting less than after reading the first book.


Revenge of the Horseclans (Horseclans, #3)Revenge of the Horseclans by Robert Martin Adams
S.E.Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 starsView all his reviews

Inappropriately named “Revenge” (this nice read had little to do with Horseclans seeking revenge) this introduces the Kindred leader Bili as he assumes power of his clan after his ruling father’s death (the “Bili the Ax” title was reserved for installment#10 but would have made more sense here); again Ken Kelly’s covers seem to represent the book disproportionally… since at least it focuses on Bili and his Axe. This epic fantasy is plagued with some cheesy dialogue, but it is forgivable since the story develops nicely.

This installment continues to develop the Horseclan world at a nice pace while reinforcing the role of telepathy, Kindred Law, and the conflict between: (a) barbarian hordes, vs. (b) sensationalized-greek-religiosity vs. (c) lurking science-derived-warlocks. Bili is set up to have key roles under the Undying god Milo’s leadership.

A Cat of Silvery Hue (Horseclans, #4)A Cat of Silvery Hue by Robert Adams
S.E. Lindberg rating: 3 of 5 stars

This fourth installment continues Robert Adams' dense narrative. The antagonists are portrayed as "Christians turned crazed homosexuals bent on human sacrifice." Bili and Milo continue the quenching of the rebellion (which is still left unresolved...in mid-battle no less).

Disappointingly, the main characters consume the spotlight but do not perform much with their powers other than mindspeak (telepathy). A Cat of Silvery Hue really is about the average Geros, who rises to the occasion to perform heroic deeds that hundreds of nearby veteran warriors fail to address. Geros exhibits more "character" than any of the main characters, and the title is named in honor of his exploits. However, he is a marginal character whose presence is sparse.

I am left with the same feeling I get when I order a greasy hamburger to-go from a fast food joint, leave the drive though, and discover that I was given a chicken sandwich by mistake. I'll curse the restaurant, claim I will never come back, but will anyway after some time.

+ Geros is developed nicely
+ The fight scenes deliver as expected.
+ The Horseclans is very much like fast food.

- The main characters did not develop or perform exciting roles
- All the bad guys are blundering idiots with the exception of Drehkos
- Occasional erotica scenes are out-of-place and laughable
- The Horseclans is very much like fast food.


View all my reviews

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bloody Sorrel and Flowering Woad

Growing and Harvesting
I have entered Phase 3 of my series on making natural paints (Prior posts: Dyers Garden and Motivation to Make Paint and Making Natural Dye Workshop): growing and harvesting my own materials.  The unnatural warm weather in Ohio has been beneficial for this.  These images were taken ~April 2nd!  We'll see if they survive a possible hot summer.

Bloody Sorrel: 
My daughter demonstrates the red inking of her hand by plucking a leaf and scrawling with the stem:

Woad:  
My second year's growth of woad is doing well.  I had no idea how nice they smelled (being olfactory challenged, I was glad to register the scents of these blooms).  Despite Woad's reputation for being evil and invasive, I was still surprised it grew okay in our hostile clay soil.  My aim for these are to make both pigments and dyes; for the dye process, I'll need to either gather some urine (medieval processing required this)... or collect and use madder to change the pH of the dye precursors (I'll be trying the madder route/root :) ).  

Madder:
The madder patch is growing; note the black arrows that indicate new plants a foot away from the main plant that were the results from last year's rooting.  Given that the roots (not leaves) provide the nice red-pink color, harvesting requires decimating a portion of the patch.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review of C.S. Friedman's Dominion eBook


Dominion: A Coldfire Saga by C.S. Friedman
S.E. Lindberg Rates: 3 of 5 stars

C. S. Friedman fans will delightfully devour this Coldfire prequel. It takes place after the vivid prologue to the first Coldfire book but prior its first chapter. So it explains a bit of how Tarrant assumes control over the Canopy's Fae. It is engaging. And short. The length did not bother me since the eBook was well advertised as being a novelette (in fact, it is only available as an eBook).

However, from listening in on C S Friedman's Facebook page, I had assumed the prequel would occur even earlier in Tarrant's life and explain the events leading to the prologue. So, after reading Dominion, I was left hungry for more. In this light, this prequel did its job: I had a great time reading it and remembering the Coldfire series; I am even inspired to reread the trilogy now.

For newcomers to the series, start with Vol. One,  Black Sun Rising. Consider Dominion after that.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doomed Sword and Sorcery Heroes – A Reading List

This list is limited to Sword & Sorcery books featuring protagonists who fight despite having no chance of winning (i.e. living, saving their people, freeing themselves from a curse, etc.).  Not everyone gets excited about reading about "doom," but some of us relish watching a hero resisting death's embrace.  A happy ending is not what all readers want; some of us just prefer wild journeys (the struggle is the focus, not the end).

Bran Mak Morn- by R. E. Howard
R.E. Howard's Bran is less famous than his Conan, but Bran is arguably more doomed: he leads a devolving people and culture (the Picts), is embattled by the forces of Rome and must work with dark magic to survive.
Elric of Melnibon√© - by  Michael Moorcock

The abject albino prince Elric shares his doom with his dying civilization. Action packed Sword & Sorcery at its finest. (Wiki link)
Kane in Gods in Darkness - by Karl Wagner

Loosely based on the biblical Cain cursed not to die, Kane is an immortal warrior and general.  The series has an ambiguous sci-fi foundation that hints at alien technology, but despite these undercurrents the Kane series are decidedly fantasy masterworks.  Want a doomed hero who has military prowess?  Read Kane.   
Julian the Apostate in We are all Legends - by  Darrell Schweitzer

We Are All Legends is a must-read for fans of doomed protagonists. It is Sword and Sorcery for the adult crowd. Darrell Schweitzer tapped into his extensive weird fiction expertise to craft this great string of tales. It mixes the horrific atmosphere of H.P. Lovecraft, with the story telling action of R. E. Howard, with the emotive style of C.A. Smith. (Review Link)
Druss the Legend – by David Gemmell

More “Sword” than “Sword & Sorcery”, Gemmell imbued his aging hero Druss with qualities quintessentially legendary.  Druss returns from his retreat to protect a mountain fortress from an encroaching barbarian horde.  Epic battles abound, and Druss transitions to an respected ghostly status fueling a series of books.
Dilvish, the Damned by Roger Zelazny

Zelznay is better known for his The Amber Chronicles series which blended swashbuckling fantasy and a trippy sci-fi world.  Zelzany (a native Ohioan) also wrote yarns of a hero returned from the dead which are as satisfying. 

Brian Rouwen in The Accursed by Robert Vardeman
In 2010, Vardeman recently wrote a novel adaption for the God of War video game series.  Turns out he has been writing for decades, and in 1994 he published a series regarding a cursed warrior (I just added this to my to-read queue).  This serves as a placeholder for all the other doomed heroes I have yet to discover.
Lord Endenken Lysis in Lords of Dyscrasia- by S. E. Lindberg

Looking for a unique dark adventure?  Follow Lord Lysis, a doomed protagonist who battles otherworldy evil in the Underworld! (Link to About)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sword & Sorcery Film Queue 2012

Fantasy Movies Coming Soon

MAR Wrath of Titans:
Can they make-up for the poorly made 2010 Clash of the Titans 3D with a sequel?
MAR John Carter of Mars: How will Disney treat Edgar Rice Burrough’s (Tarzan author) sci-fi fantasy?
MAY Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage: Patrick Stewart’s narration may give this some street cred.
JUNE

Snow White and the Huntsman:
Thor actor Chris Hemsworth teams up with the Vampire Diaries chick (Kristen Stewart) for some epic action.  Should be an interesting comparison versus Julia Roberts’ rendition of Snow White in Mirror Mirror due out this year as well.
JUNE Pixar and Disney's Brave (2012) - Disney tries out Heroic Fantasy!
AUG Silent Hill Revelation (sequel): Okay, not 100% Sword and Sorcery, but it is a mix of Horror-Fantasy and Pyramid Head does have a large sword and Michael Basset (who just delivered Solomon Kane) is leading the effort.
DEC The Hobbit (2012); stymied by a writer's strike and a legal tangle with the Tolkien estate, the prequel(s) to the Lord of the Rings trilogy promises to be great.

Unknown Release Dates



A Fire and Ice live action movie being produced in 2012 (and a possible Death Dealer after that?!~).  IGN reports this remake of the rotoscoped classic in which Frank Frazetta and Ralph Bakshi teamed up.  Bill Frazetta confirms the film's progress in this video from Comic Con 2011:
Release overseas in 2011.
Not available in US yet.
Solomon Kane
, a well received depiction of R.E.Howard's doomed, religious hero. Click here to request it to come state-side by "Demanding" it.
Red Nails (Since 2006) this endeavor has struggled; based on REH's only full length Conan novel...see some pre-production animations that surfaced.
Elric movie: Check out Michael Moorcock's blog for details.
Castlevania: Based on Konami's popular vampire games; this movie has been bounced around since before 2009.
The Power of the Dark Crystal (2011??) Announced in 2005, this sequel to the Dark Crystal (1982) has stumbled, always making some forward progress.
Red Sonja: Let's hope it is better than the 1985 version... if it is made at all.  The lead role was to be played by Rose McGowan, but she switched assignments to play Marique in the 2011 Conan the Barbarian movie
Bran Mak Morn
At the Mountains of Madness: More weird horror/fantasy than Sword and Sorcery, but it is Lovecraft...and Guillermo del Toro was involved.
Narnia 4 Movie Narnia IV: The Magician's Nephew
2014? maybe?…

And after that… Narnia V: The Silver Chair is planned.
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Throne of Bones - Review of Brian McNaughton's Novel

 The Throne of Bones  by Brian McNaughton


S.E. Lindberg rated it: 4 of 5 stars

Fresh, Disturbing Escapism 


I am biased toward enjoying provocative fantasy/horror, and Throne of Bones delivers a pleasantly disturbing escape that is too shocking for young adults.  The first tale, Ringard and Dendra, admittedly should prove digestible to many.  Less so are the next six stories, which are a connected set (the titular Throne of Bones sequence) and should prove weird and jarring even to mature dark fantasy readers (can you say "ghoul erotica"?).  Here, the timid and disoriented may want to leave the book unfinished.  But hang in there.  With each successive story, the connection between characters clarifies as does the "rules" of being a ghoul.   All is consistent.  And Bizzare.  Excellent.  The book won a 1997 World Fantasy Award and remains fresh and daring, even now (2012).

Oddly-placed, but well-done, is a stylistic humor reminiscent of that presented in Cohen Brother's movies (i.e. Fargo 1996, Burn After Reading 2008); the situations are so dire and characters so pathetic, that you cannot help but laugh at their choices and predicaments. 


I was originally hooked by Alan Rogers introductory comments:
“You hold in your hands a book of stories that forced Brian McNaughton to write. Make no mistake: I don’t exaggerate. There’s a reason this book won the World Fantasy Award. The stories inside it are rich, fascinating stuff—creepy and unsettling and phantasmic. Imagine what Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings would have been like if Tolkien had tried to tell that story sympathetically from the point of view of the human denizens of Mordor and you’ll have the slightest sense of what you’re about to wade into—but only just a sense. These stories will make the same demands on you that they made on Brian: they will command and compel you, and fill you full of terrible wonder. And when you’ve finished them you’ll find yourself wanting more.” —Alan Rodgers

I disagree with the Tolkien call-out since it raises the expectation that the book would resemble Sword & Sorcery or Epic Fantasy (this book fits neither sub-genre).   The world is medieval, but there is little military or melee action (however, it is decidedly "dark fantasy").  Otherwise, Rodgers' note is accurate.


Abject People/Artists:  Many paint the entire book as being "about ghouls."  True the Throne of Bones sequence is ghoul focused, but that comprises only 6 of the 15 tales.  More generally, themes explore being an abject person, often with regard to being a misunderstood artist.  Many characters are artists and it seems very possible that Brian McNaughton was conveying his own ability to create and enjoy dark art (while not being appreciated by others).  Examples:


In the first tale, Ringard, a sculptor, and his painter wife Dendra, struggle to live in a world that shuns their union. The snipet below captures the protagonists ability to see hidden subjects and the ability of his father to not appreciate that skill: 
 "In every stick I [Ringard] saw hidden shapes, and I became obsessed with revealing them.  My father fretted that I meant to ruin him by turning his valuable firewood into whimsies.  I perversely maintained that my carvings had more worth than kindling, that they even justified the sacrifice of living trees.  Those captive owls and trout were really there.  Why would the gods let me see them, if not to set me the challenge of liberating them?"  Ringard and Dendra
Then there was Asterial Vendren, a misunderstood writer of horror fiction:
"I [Asteriel Vendren, writer] seldom give readings anymore.  I am sick of women who scream or faint, men who grumble, "Barbarous!" or "Obscene!", sick of the self-righteous show they make of stamping out before I finish.  And half of those who remain, of ocurse, will approach me to ask if I really skinned my mistress to preserve her exquisite tattoos, and might they not call on me to examine the artwork?"  The Vendren Worm
And ... the body painter Tiphytsorn Glocque (who continually strives to find unique, brilliant ways to decorate skin) laments as he is arrested and brought before a magistrate for being a lunatic:
 "How could anyone understand his Art when they couldn't even see it? " The Art of Tiphystorn Glocque 
Many more examples pervade the book.  Amplifying the artistic themes are a dozen grotesque, full-page paintings from the cover artist, Jamie Oberschlake.  Incidentally, he continues to produce disturbing paintings (Link).


No maps or  index? I was taken by the promise on the Dust Jacket by publisher Ken Abner (Terminal Fright) that promised that he had a genuine map and promised to published it with additional material at a later date.  Sadly, that was claimed in 1997, I cannot find any related sequels for sale, and Brian has passed away in 2004.  

Jeff Van Dermeer Interview did interview the author in 1999 (available online- Link) and revealed that Brian was not keen on sharing his map:
JVD: The dust jacket for the book includes an appreciation by the publisher, Ken Abner. He mentions you have a whole chronology and set of maps for Seelura. You didn't want these published with the collection. Abner mentions those items as "crutches." Could you elaborate on why you didn't want the chronology and maps published?


Brian McNaughton: None of that stuff is really finished -- and if it were, I would feel less inclined to write fiction about my imaginary world. A certain sense of discovery is necessary for me. Besides, I feel strongly that the stories should stand on their own. I have to know as much about the world as possible in order to convince the readers that I know what I'm writing about, and that my characters weren't found yesterday under a cabbage leaf. The late Lin Carter deserves our admiration and gratitude for all he did to bring dark fantasy to the attention of the public, but he's the last sort of person I would want messing around with my creations. Maps and chronologies only encourage such people.
Ultimately, a map was not critical to enjoy the book.  However, an index would have been much appreciated as the names of people and places proved disorienting.  When ghouls begin taking the pace of other people, an index would have helped keep me grounded.  


Brian McNaughton was a great artist.  Read this when you feel like everything in your book queue is derivative, shallow fluff.





Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sword and Sorcery...and Pugs?!

Do you belong to a strange community? I must...
Shorty
I confess an obligatory urge to share a picture of our family pug "Shorty" who has faithfully provided comic relief and therapy for over two years without being represented on this blog!

Why now?  Why display her on an author blog with a Sword and Sorcery focus?

Because I am not the only one who has loves pugs and Sword & Sorcery! In fact, Dark Horse Comics must think any entire market of us exists, and we are worthy of our own comic!  They just released an announcement (below).  But the comic won't be available until this Summer... so all you Pug/S&S fans you'll have to be content checking out the below links.

Check out the Battlepug.com website for excerpts!
...and here is the Dark Horse Comics Press Release! (copied below)


02/01/2012 11:49am 
The epic tale of blood and drool begins here! Keeping the tradition of its creator-owned mentality, Dark Horse Comics is pleased to announce its newest venture with Mike Norton—Battlepug!

 “I was really happy when people first reacted to the comic. It’s hard to predict if the public needs another ‘Giant Pug Epic Fantasy’ story. I mean, we all know those are a dime a dozen, right? Luckily, the story of a barbarian’s quest for revenge with the aid of our favorite four-legged freak seems to have legs,” said Norton. “When I first made the Battlepug T-shirt, people kept asking when the comic was coming out. So, I put out the webcomic and now everybody wants to know when the book is coming out! I guess now people will want to know when the movie is happening?”

 This volume collects the first year of Mike Norton’s Battlepug—the perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the fan-favorite webcomic by Mike Norton, Allen Passalaqua, and Crank!

 Join Moll and her dogs Mingo and Colfax, as she recounts the legend of “The Warrior and the Battlepug”—a tale of a fearless barbarian, his trusty and freakishly large pug, and evil baby harp seals.

“I’m a huge fan of Dark Horse and couldn’t be more excited to have Battlepug published by them. Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Buffy, Star Wars—they put out some of the best comics currently being made and it’s humbling to even be on the same shelf with that kind of product! I’m super excited for people to read it and look forward to much more in the future!” stated Norton.
 Mike Norton’s Battlepug Volume 1 is on sale July 4, 2012!