Sunday, November 22, 2015

High Cough of Silistra - Intense, Sex-Infused Fantasy for Thoughtful Readers

High Couch of Silistra (the silistra quartet book 1)High Couch of Silistra by Janet E. Morris
S. E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Janet E. Morris’s High Couch of Silistra is Intense, Sex-Infused Fantasy for Thoughtful Readers

In 1977, an intellectual female author wrote a debut, fantasy/sci-fi novel featuring a heroine in a dystopic, alien world striving to discover her mysterious past & god-like ancestry; in 2015, her debut novel was reprinted. Some may assume I am referring to Tanith Lee who passed away recently; her 1975 debut The Birthgrave was reprinted in 1977 and this year which I just read/enjoyed/reviewed. However, I am referring to Janet Morris’s 1977 High Couch of Silistra; this reviews her ‘author’s cut’ version, coincidentally released this year. Janet Morris’s style is quite different that Lee’s, though fans of the Birthgrave would certainly devour High Couch.

Intense Sex: One would wrongly assume that High Couch of Silistra is purely a 1970-feminist-movement book; the role of sex, rape, and fertility is posited to make the reader tense. The protagonist Estri is a woman of Silistran origin (alien with human form) and most Silistran’s are reliant on humans to become impregnated, which is a rare event. The culture and expectations of purchased sex, often brutal but sometimes passionate, are constantly present. Somehow, Janet Morris manages to write all this erotic-infused adventure in an intellectual, almost dispassionate voice. This is not shallow romance/soft-pornography. Nor is High Couch of Silistra gratuitous whoring. This is mature-rated, engaging fantasy.

Tension: Without spoiling, note that characters watch their parents have intercourse, men rape other men, and woman lust after men who abuse them. In real life, these situations would appall me. My test for rationalizing my comfort level and reading onward was: if Estri tolerated her predicaments, then so should I. The constant tension between the book’s acceptable behavior and today’s societal norms took me beyond reading the story. It made reading this more than adventure. It made me think. Janet Morris’s intent was to play with controversial sexual and societal themes; she delivered with Estri’s journey, full of codependent genders & races, an intricate alien world, and psychedelic magic.

Cover Art & Interview: In Janet Morris’s 2014 interview on Beauty in Weird Fiction she said that “Human extravagances and limitations are what, for me, Silistra is about, but it is not a series for the erotically-averse, or the intellectually timid.” As a reader/reviewer, I could not agree more with that self-assessment. In that interview she also noted her dislike of the 1977 cover art Boris Vallejo that depicted Estri with a brass bra and Gucci boots. For the author’s cut, she employed artist Roy Mauritsen who presented a more intellectual design for the Silsitra quartet by dividing the Dancing Maenad in (a Roman relief) over the four books (photo by Ana Belén Cantero Paz).
High Couch of Silistra (Silistra, #1) by Janet E. Morris High Couch of Silistra (the silistra quartet book 1) by Janet E. Morris

Genre & Theme: This futuristic, dystopian world has science-fiction elements (space/time travel, some technology), but leans toward fantasy (alien beasts with hybrid/mythological designs; sorcery like telepathy/mind reading; fighting that is melee/blade-focused). Ubiquitous themes of procreation, fertility, and “shaping” the world add depth.
The Silstra Quartet seriesThe series continues, the remaining three presumably to be released in the near future (since the covers are designed.)

Dancing Maenad a Roman relief over the four books

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Latte with Tom Barczak - Norman Oklahoma 2015

S E Lindberg and Tom Barczak - 2015 Norman - Heroikan's drink lattes
This month I visited Norman OK for the third year in a row as I participate in a consortium on surfactants run by chemical engineering professors at Oklahoma University (IASR). Last year I took the opportunity to track down Tom Barczak whom I interviewed in 2014 and happens to live there. He has a similar poetic/dark style. Apart from our own endeavors (his Evarun and my Dyscrasia Fiction), our short stories appeared together in Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters this year, an anthology which many are proud of; here is a snippet of Ricky L. Brown's review via Amazing Stories Magazine:


Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters is an anthology of well-crafted work with a wide range of entertaining perspectives. Spanning across cultures, centuries, and even the dimensions of time and space, each contribution has its own distinct charm. In essence, this book is a colorful bouquet of bold stories about one of the darkest primal forces in mythological lore...  Published by Perseid Press and edited by Janet Morris, this collection is due to be released on May 25, 2015. There are seventeen tales in all. Though breaking each one down with literary criticism would take multiple reviews to cover thoroughly, it is advised to just pick up a copy and dive right in because odds are pretty good you'll find plenty to enjoy...

In the Legacy of the Great Dragon by S.E. Lindberg, readers will discover another use for the dragons in getting one’s sight back, but here we cross the fine line between man and god, and see how the twisted significance of the word “legacy” can define both... 

Forged by Tom Barczak is a fairytale adventure with good versus evil, eventually allowing readers to discover the hidden magic of dragons that lies in the soul of a young girl and how “love” works its magic in unexpected ways..."

I highly recommend Tom's work. As I reviewed Veil of the Dragon, his style is poetic, and it is timely to note that this prose can now be heard thanks to the beautiful narration by Neil Hellegers. Check out the audible sample on Audible: 




Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hell Bound - Andrew Weston, Book Tour

The author of Hell Bound (released this Halloween), is on a blog tour! Thanks for guest blogging, Andrew Weston!

So who is he? What is Hell Bound?  Is Daemon Grim coming for us? Below are his own hellish answers, an excerpt, and a book giveaway link! 

First, who is Andrew P. Weston?

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 bestseller, The IX, and also has the privilege of being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Fantasy Society and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.  When not writing, Andrew devotes some of his spare time to assisting NASA with one of their remote research projects, and writes educational articles for Astronaut.com and Amazing Stories.   Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon Author

What is Hell Bound?
Hell Bound is part of the Heroes in Hell universe, which is a series of shared world fantasy books, within the genre Bangsian fantasy/horror, created and edited by Janet Morris and written by her, Chris Morris, C. J. Cherryh and others. The first 12 books in the series were published by Baen Books between 1986 and 1989, and stories from the series include both Hugo Award winners and Nebula nominees. Janet continued the series through her own publishing company – Perseid Press – from 2011 onward with, Lawyers in Hell, followed by five more anthologies and a novel since then.

The shared world premise of Heroes in Hell (also called The Damned Saga) is that all the dead wind up together in Hell, where they pick up where they left off when still alive. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy states "In the long series of shared world adventures begun with Heroes in Hell, Hell becomes an arena in which all the interesting people in history can come together to continue the relentless pursuit of their various ends.” Brian Stableford commented that the series "adapted the backcloth of Dantean fantasy as a stage for violent adventures with ironic echoes of infernal comedy.

Hell Bound is simply an extension – a continuation of an ever expanding theme. It follows the exploits of Satan’s chief bounty hunter, the Reaper, as he hunts down fugitives from injustice. Of course, with some of the most infamous souls in all history up to no good, you can only imagine the problems that can and do arise.


When devising the character of Daemon Grim, I thought one of the best ways of integrating him – and indeed his entire crew – into the already established universe, was to ensure their “solo’ adventures run in tandem with what’s happening in the anthologies. So, Grim was introduced to us in Doctors in Hell, where we found him on a special mission to recover something very precious to His Infernal Majesty. Hell Bound begins at the conclusion of that very same mission. The next anthology will pick up several months after Hell Bound. Hell Hounds – the next solo novel – commences where that anthology ends, and sets the scene for the next HIH adventure.

Hell Bound (Heroes in Hell) Blurb

In hell, none of the condemned believes they deserve to be there. And that’s fine, so long as they’re not foolish enough to try and do anything about it. For those that do, there’s always Satan’s Reaper–and chief bounty hunter–Daemon Grim.

Feared throughout the many layers of the underverse, no one in their right mind dares to cross him.

However, when Grim discovers that someone has attempted to evade injustice, and seems hell-bent on gaining access to ancient angelic artifacts proscribed since the time of the original rebellion in heaven, circumstances point to the fact they may be doing just that.

The question is...why?

Thus begins an investigation that leads Grim throughout the many contradictory and baffling levels of the underworld, where he unearths a conspiracy that is not only eating its way like a cancer through the highest echelons of Hellion society, but one which threatens the very stability of Satan’s rule.

As you can imagine, Grim’s response is bloody, brutal, and despicably wicked.

Hell Bound – In hell, everyone can hear you scream...



Excerpt


​​Order now via Amazon Hell Bound 
This is the US centric link, but many global Amazon's have it to

Or try this Rafflecopter giveaway (link)


Novel Book Tours

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Stealer of Flesh - Review by S.E.

Stealer of FleshStealer of Flesh by William King
S.E. rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stealer of Flesh by William King
This short set of tales introduces us to Kormak, a Guardian who is essentially an assassin of dark creatures. He is hunting a Ghul across four tales. This begins a series which extends to at least seven entries. This is Sword & Sorcery with a Warhammer feel. It has a lot of ingredients that I adore: mysterious undead creatures, intelligent banter, gritty warfare. It also had a knack for building up great potential only to not capitalize on it or to nullify it. I'll explain: in chapter one, a very silly quote from a dying character was a forced one-liner quote that was out of place; the second tale builds up a companion for Kormak and then puts her in jeopardy in a very interesting way...but chapter three mentions her in passing; chapter three also lets Kormak and Ghul share minds (I am being obtuse to not spoil) so a weird/interesting bond is formed between hunter and prey...and this is not tapped for the rest of the book; chapter four brings us into some ancient ruins with great history and a finale battle...which ends abruptly and without exploration of the ruins.

I enjoyed much of the plot twists and battles, but in the end I was not sure I really knew Kormak well enough to care about his future adventures. I am confident that William King can spin a great tale, and perhaps the remaining set fleshes out this potential.

1. Stealer of Flesh
2. Defiler of Tombs
3. Weaver of Shadow
4. City of Strife
5. Taker of Skulls
6. Ocean of Fear
7. Born of Darkness

Stealer of Flesh by William King Defiler of Tombs (Kormak Book Two) by William King Weaver of Shadow (Kormak Book Three) by William King City of Strife (Kormak Book Four) by William King Taker of Skulls (Kormak Book Five) by William King Ocean of Fear by William King Born of Darkness (Kormak Book Seven) by William King



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Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Broken Sword AND High Couch of Silistra - Groupreads for Nov-Dec 2015


Please join the Sword & Sorcery group this Nov-Dec to read:
2) High Couch of Silistra - 1997 and 2015 by Janet Morris

Of course, we always must have a custom banner made from the covers.  Here are the credits for the montage:

Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword:
1973 Patrick Woodroffe and 1977 Boris Vallejo 1977 (coincidentally)
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Janet E. Morris's High Couch of Silistra, covers by Boris Vallejo (1977) and Roy Mauritsen (2105; includes "Dancing Maenad in a Roman relief" photo by Ana Belén Cantero Paz)
High Couch of Silistra (Silistra, #1) by Janet E. Morris High Couch of Silistra (the silistra quartet book 1) by Janet E. Morris
The Author's Cut versions were just released this year. It is interesting to learn of Janet E. Morris's feelings toward the original cover by Boris Vallejo. I interviewed her in 2014 and she said:
"When I saw the Boris High Couch cover for the first time, I was insulted that anyone could have derived the brass bra and Gucci boots image from my work.- JEM 2014

For the 2015 authors' cut, designer/artist Roy Mauritsen took one photo and split it over the four covers ("Dancing Maenad in a Roman relief" photo by Ana Belén Cantero Paz)

Silistra Quartet Covers 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Seven Princes by John R. Fultz is Epic, Digestible Dark Fantasy.

Seven Princes (Books of the Shaper, #1)Seven Princes by John R. Fultz
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seven Princes by John R. Fultz is Epic, Digestible Dark Fantasy.

The Author Interview was a nice extra in which Fultz acknowledges the authors who inspired him, namely Clark Ashton Smith, Tanith Lee, and Darrell Schweitzer. I found Fultz’s writing to be more accessible than these authors, but less deep/intellectual (in this work); though poetic language is frequent. Seven Princes reads as a Young Adult version of dark fantasy and pays homage to Lovecraft and Howard in many ways. Most characters are archetypal “good” or “evil.” We learn about the land's history via ~7 princes and 1 princess who all come of age together in a tumultuous time. I found most princes to be indistinguishable (most are honorable warrior types). Gammir of Khyrei is not included in the core seven, but emerges the most developed character, and is arguably a prince too.

The scope is epic in time and geography, but it is not Tolkien like. Do not expect elves, dwarves, or orcs here. Just giants, and colossal serpents, and lots of magic. This is part of the series “Books of the Shaper” and Shaping is sorcery. There is “good” magic and “evil” magic, that involve “shaping” elements; only the “bad” magic is explained (it requires blood; let’s hear it for vampirism and necromancy!), but the good magic just requires thought apparently.

Despite not having a fully explained magic system, the “shaping” in the story was really how the land was shaped over time via cyclical good/evil struggles. The pacing did fluctuate as other reviewers have noted. The opening chapter is a worthy stand-alone short story and is an outstanding foundation for the rest of the book. The last 150pages would have been better if it was stretched out—lots of epic battles that deserved more pages! For a 500page novel, this read very fast. I am compelled to read the next two: Seven Sorcerers and Seven Kings. I recommend this to those sword and sorcery readers who normally read short fiction (avoiding series of thick books).

Seven Princes (Books of the Shaper, #1) by John R. Fultz Seven Kings (Books of the Shaper, #2) by John R. Fultz Seven Sorcerers (Books of the Shaper #3) by John R. Fultz

The seven princes:
1. Fangodrel of Udurum half-human scholar
2. Tadarus of Udurum half-giant warrior prince
3. Vireon of Udurum half-giant warrior prince
(Princess Sharadza of Udurum)... she’s a sorceress
4. Lyrilan of Uurz … a scholar
5. Tyro of Uurz … a human warrior prince
6. Andoses of Shar Dni … a human warrior prince
7. D’zan of Yaskatha … a young human warrior prince

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Anemogram – Engaging, Eerie Mystery

anemogram.anemogram. by Rebecca Gransden
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anemogram – Engaging, Eerie Mystery

All is mysterious in anemogram by Rebecca Gransden: the obscure/cryptic title (technically a graphical display of wind speed), the ghostlike protagonist, and the poetic writing and evolving story. Gransden employs Mystery to drag you into the protagonist’s journey. “She” is a roaming, young girl. Her history and motivations are unclear. Is she a human orphan? A sprite or spirit guide? Angel or devil? The wind itself? Whatever she is, it seems she is out to harvest stories from abject people, but it is equally possible she has chosen us the “reader” to engage.

It is a dark weird tale. The characterization is compelling; strangely, most of the revealing conversations occur during eating. There is a constant tension between innocence and impending darkness which is played expertly, and intellectual readers may consider this as a homage to the classic The Heavenly Christmas Tree by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1876, available online via the Gutenburg project). Keeping this from a 5-star rating, is the denouement. With all the mystery presented, I did not expect to have all things explained, but I did expect more. The climax brings the right characters to the right place… and I really craved about one more chapter’s worth of the journey. This is an ambitious, well done debut novel. I look forward to more from Rebecca Gransden, especially if there is a follow up to anemogram. This is an excellent tale that will appeal to several genre readers: fantasy, mystery, thrillers.

Excerpt:
“…she turned and headed across open wasteland, into the domain of the sun and its cherishing death. She bobbed up and down and held out her white dress, spinning and drawing in the warm air. Her legs were cherubim podgy and she moved like an electrified hamster. The wasteland contoured down a textured valley which in turn vaulted into the distance and away. She stood in its open magnificence, its blanched earth under the blue-white sky of God. Everything in the distance; she would play unseen. She left her giggles behind her as she took off running. The ground flattened like an ancient seabed and she took her little body over it. She forgot her feet as she chased her own arms down. The surrounding landscape stayed static and true as she fed her hunger for abandonment…”


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