Monday, August 2, 2021

The Green Knight Movie - review by SE

I just saw The Green Knight movie. The trailer was awesome. The reviews were promising..... but it was terrible. Beyond cinematics, it was not engaging, it was slow and incoherent. Sigh ..... stick with Excalibur (1980s), Clive Owen's "King Arthur", or even Guy Ritchie's Legend of the Sword. Well...there is always Monty Python's Holy Grail too.

Before I jump in, you may want to check out author Sean Poage's take. He is much more knowledgable than I am about the Gwain legends, having written one of his own too (The Retreat to Avalon, more on that below). Interestingly, he and his wife hit the movies as I did with mine (i.e., a post covid, first-time-back-to-movie-post-covid-wave-1 date). Here's his review of Gawain's legends and movie (link).

We are not treated to many Sword & Sorcery movies, let alone ones that promise some sense of intellectual content. So I was looking forward to this. As part of my grieving process.... I will go on a small rant.


Promises to be Broken

The intro sets up very clear "rules of engagement" (as revealed in the trailer). The Green Knight challenges a knight to strike him, and a year later he will return the wound to the challenger. Gawain cuts off the Green Knight's head...and a year later must confront the Knight again (who survived).

Bait and Switch Conflict

Although I am cool with a man-vs-self conflict..... the trailer, title, and beginning all promise a man-vs-man/creature (Gawain vs. Green Knight) conflict (which is not at the forefront). But let's say you get past that as you begin witnessing multiple, slow side-quests.

Incongruent Rules of the Game & Meaningless Fluff

The visuals were awesome. The pace couldn't have been slower....which I would have been okay with if the "rules of the game" were followed. Remember the super clear rules of the beginning? To Heck with clear rules going forward. One could literally cut the entire middle ~1.5hrs out (anything between the initial and final Green Knight interactions) and not change the impact of the climax. Actually, I think I would have loved this movie if were only 30min long.

Source Material?

Many claim that you can look beyond the "mysterious" presentation of the journey, and delight in a portrayal of the source material. Well, the movie should stand alone of course. Also, two of the best vignettes were not based on existing Gawain legends (the Saint Winifred tale is arguable a UK-thing, but it was never Gawain specific...and the cool, naked giants were just a throw in for fun and not tied to the story or myths....if you want to see a visionary story in which the giants are tied to the story, watch the anime or movie versions of Attack on Titan).


(below explains more with some obtuse/minor spoilers)

Gawain has several important items (sash, ax, jingle-bell, and fox) to take on a journey to reach the Green Knight's location. He loses sight of said items, and they reappear and disappear in ways that are incongruent across ~3-4 side quests/challenges/tests. Did he earn them back? Just stumble across them? How/why did they come back to him? You should care. Gawain doesn't.

The handling of the "rules" didn't feel intentionally done to be mysterious or engaging. It felt like the producers stitched together a few different historical legends of Gawain's journey/tests, and they did not harmonize the meaning/rules across them.

Frankly, if the conflict is indeed "man-vs-self" then Gawain strangely doesn't really seem affected/changed....nor does he seem surprised that his key items come back to him for no clear purpose... and he doesn't even seem to be in denial or fretting about his impending duel. What seemed clear is that the ~3-4 side quests (~1.5hrs of the 2hr movie) were actually pointless (they did not build-up to the climax or develop the character) and they were also full of non-sequitur events.


The Retreat to Avalon

So what should we do about scratching the Arthurian Legen itch? Monty Python's Holy Grail would have us "Run Away, Run Away!" Well, I recommend retreating..... ie to read Sean Poage's "The Retreat to Avalon" which will likely leave you excited about Gawain and Arthurian legends! Sean Poage is an accomplished author with a knack for storytelling.


Book Blurb:

Fifteen hundred years have turned history into legend…

After three generations of struggle against ruthless invaders, Britain has finally clawed its way back within reach of peace and prosperity. Across the sea, Rome is crumbling under an onslaught of barbarian attacks, internal corruption and civil war. Desperate for allies, Rome’s last great emperor looks to Britain and the rising fame of her High King, Arthur.

Arthur believes the coming war is inevitable, but many are opposed. Dissent, intrigue and betrayal threaten to tear the fragile British alliance apart from within, while the enemies of Britain wait for the first sign of weakness.

Meanwhile, Gawain, a young warrior craving fame, is swept up in Arthur’s wake as the king raises an army. While Gawain’s wife and kin face their own struggles at home, the young warrior finds himself taking on more than he bargained for, and heading into the greatest battle his people have faced in generations.

The Retreat to Avalon is the exciting beginning of the historical fiction trilogy The Arthuian Age, introducing readers to the origins of King Arthur and the world he lived and fought for.



Sunday, August 1, 2021

Worlds Beyond Worlds - Review by SE

 Also on EXPLORE THE BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS: WORLDS BEYOND WORLDS BY JOHNR. FULTZ (Aug 2021 Black Gate)


Worlds Beyond Worlds: The Short Fiction of John R. Fultz by John R. Fultz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Volume I: Transcending the Illusions of Modernity and Reason.: The first thing you must understand is that the One True World is not a figment of your imagination, and it does not lie in some faraway dimension. To help you understand the relationship between the True World and the False, you must envision the True World lying beneath the False, as a man can lay hidden beneath a blanket, or a woman’s true face can be hidden by an exquisite mask. (Fultz, “The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” )

YOU WANT SOME OF THIS? The Brian LeBlanc cover of Worlds Beyond Worlds: The Short Fiction of John R. Fultz shows the revenant Chivaine displaying the trophy head of his enemy. As a reader, do you want to follow him? Challenge him? The tile and cover set up expectations well, so you can expect planetary landscapes, witches, twisted creatures, and villainous heroes. Worlds Beyond Worlds is exactly what it says, a collection that takes the reader/protagonists into other worlds which are beyond even stranger ones. You are invited to explore the beautiful darkness.

The mere fact Fultz can publish eleven tales across ten markets in just a few years is a testament to his skill. BTW, John R. Fultz is equally skilled in the novel form as he is in short stories; looking for a dose of weird adventure? Then consider The Shaper Trilogy or Tall Eagle series (listed below). He has a knack for blending genres/settings which reflects his desire to take the reader to new places, really weird new places full of disturbing surroundings and high-stakes adventure.  Heck, there is even a Sword & Sorcery tale that harmonizes dragon killing with the ambiance of Kung Fu (dedicated to David Carradine's iconic role in the TV show). Anyway, if you crave unique fiction that conveys a wild experience, and are excited to immerse yourself in the cover's world, then the answer is: YES, YOU DO WANT THIS.

Learn more about John R. Fultz by perusing the author's website and by reading the 2017 interview where I cornered him on the topic "Beauty in Weird Fiction". You'll learn about the author's muses and illustration skills (which inform his visual style).

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. “Chivaine” originally appeared in Weirdbook #31 (2015).
2. “Yael of the Strings” originally appeared in Shattered Shields (2014).
3. “Ten Thousand Drops of Holy Blood” originally appeared in Skelos #3 (2017).
4. “Strange Days in Old Yandrissa” originally appeared in Orbit Short Fiction (2013).
5. “The Gnomes of Carrick County” originally appeared in Space & Time #116 (2010).
6. “The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” originally appeared in Way of the Wizard (2010).
7. “Daughter of the Elk Goddess” originally appeared in Hyperborea (August 2014).
8. “The Penitence of the Blade” originally appeared in The Audient Void #2 (2016).
9. “Where the White Lotus Grows” originally appeared in Monk Punk (2011).
10. “Oorg” originally appeared in The Audient Void #5 (2018).
11. “Tears of the Elohim” originally appeared in Forbidden Futures #3 (2018).

WILD CHARACTERS: The protagonists are as varied as the milieus. “Chivaine” opens with an undead knight. “Yael” offers a reluctant bard turned hero on a battlefield with mega-insects; later stories feature the perspectives of a sentient sword (“Ten Thousand Drops of Holy Blood”), and we even get a bibliophile (“Thirteen Texts”) and a moon-born elder god (“Oorg”)! And there is more. You will travel the Land of the Scorpions, Valley of Sacred Bones, Eiglophian Mountains, the doomed city of Yandrissa, and through the underworld of the New World. Here is a taste:

"In the Land of Scorpions the warlock Vallicus kept a fortress of volcanic stone. Its ramparts rose above a realm of poisoned waters and crumbling ruins. Vallicus, like his citadel, was a relic of the elder ages. He had ruled a decadent kingdom in the time before the Hundred Gods tamed the world. How he longed for those ancient days of blood and slaughter. I was born into flames, falling out of the void. A womb of stone hurtling ever downward, until the thunder of impact fractured my shell. I lay among the glittering shards, formless and thoughtless, until Vallicus came for me. Weaving spells against the heat and flame, he carried me from the steaming crater. A silvery seed he would nurture and grow with sorcery. A nameless mineral to which he gave a form, a name, and a purpose." (“Ten Thousand Drops of Holy Blood”)

"There came a day when the rusted moon cracked open like an egg, and the giant Oorg fell screaming to earth. A pale and fetal meteor, his body slammed into the green ocean. Tidal waves and tsunamis swept the shattered continents, drowning empires and flooding the world. The world had flooded before, but there had never been a burden like Oorg for the earth to endure. He rose up from the steaming mud of the drained seabed, gleaming like a mountain white as snow. The light of his eyes was the glow of double suns, scouring the air with heat, scorching the low-hanging clouds to ash. The world roiled with cataclysms about his gargantuan feet, and he roared like an uncaged beast.

On the other side of the world Oorg explored the nature of his surroundings, howling at the red sky with his great maw, possessing no language to express whatever mundane or alien thoughts might be swimming in his vast brain. He knew hunger, and confusion, and cold. Inside the moon’s womb he had been warm and oblivious, dreaming of unguessed realities. Here he was titanic, pain-struck, and alone. He howled his pain like a hungry wolf and stomped across the ruined lands, his great arms tearing up islands and hurling them at nothing. " ("Oorg")


STYLE: Fultz's approach is reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith's weirdness blended with Robert E. Howard's action. Expect bloody, weird bloody melee:
The men of Sharoc marched toward the overwhelming ranks of Ghothians. Diving griffons harried the rows of colossal arachnids. Knights drove their lances into the bulbous monsters. The spider-beasts squirted silvery ropes of webbing into the sky, bringing knights and griffons tumbling to earth. The Ghothian pikemen closed about the fallen ones, stabbing them to death in seconds.

The marching armies grew closer and closer. They would meet in the valley’s exact center. The spider-banners of Ghoth rippled in the autumn wind, and the yellow banners of Lion and Hawk streamed forth to meet them. At a certain distance the archers on either side took to ground. Volleys flew into the sky, each a black rain of barbed death. The footmen paused, sank to their knees, and raised their shields for shelter. When the arrows had fallen, the footmen rose and marched again. Another volley shot into the sky, and the footmen paused again and raised their shields. A soldier next to Yael took an arrow in the eye and died instantly.

Again and again the arrows fell, until the two armies came together in a rush of shouting, charging pikemen. Then all sense of ranks and order was lost, and the slaughter truly began. The wicked pikes of the Ghothians impaled their foes, ripped sideways to spill guts from bellies. Others hooked men into immobile positions of lasting pain. In such cases the Ghothians pulled forth their scimitars and took the heads of wounded men.

Yael might have dropped his pike and ran from the fray like a coward, but the press of men behind him made this impossible. So he marched into the forest of barbed and glittering blades aimed at his gut and face. The Ghothian pikes were grotesquely made, barbed and hooked to inflict maximum carnage. The screams grew louder. Dying men wailed and clutched at their spilled intestines on the ground as others trampled them into the mud.

Time had slowed so that each moment was an eternity. The roar of battle was like the roar of the ocean in Yael’s ears. Droplets of red blood spilled through the air like tiny jewels, splattered across the muddy ground. Dead boys lay all about him, their skulls and hearts and bellies split open, spilling the red secrets of existence into the black dirt. The whiteness of an ancient bone poked through the mud, a remnant of some historic battle. How many bones, how many skulls, filled the earth beneath this valley? The soil was rich with decayed humanity. (“Yael of the Strings” )


NOVELS by John R. Fultz/b>

The Shaper Trilogy
Seven Sorcerers
Seven Princes
Seven Kings
Seven Sorcerers (Book of the Shapers 3) by John R. FultzSeven Princes (Books of the Shaper) by John R. FultzSeven Kings (Books of the Shaper, #2) by John R. Fultz

Tall Eagle Series
The Son of Tall Eagle
The Testament of Tall Eagle
The Son of Tall Eagle by John R. FultzThe Testament of Tall Eagle by John R. Fultz


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Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Aesthetics of Sword & Sorcery: An Interview with Philip Emery

First published on Black Gate July 17th, 2021

This continues our interviews on "Beauty in Weird Fiction" with previous topics being:

Are you haunted, perhaps obsessed, with Sword & Sorcery?

Heroic fiction is infectious. Sometimes vicariously “being the hero” via reading is not enough to satisfy the call. Being compelled to write manifests next. Ghosts may be to blame. Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) is credited with originating the genre with his characters: Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn; in a 1933 correspondence to his friend and contemporary author, Clark Ashton Smith, Howard explained his interaction with the muse that inspired his Conan yarns.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Forging Independence

  

Another Dyscrasia Fiction short story has been published, this time in Swords & Sorcery Magazine's July 2021 edition. "Forging Independence" focuses on Doctor Grave's struggle to raise daughters in the Underworld. Have a look. It's free to read online.


This story follows "Raising Daughters" published late last year in Whetstone:

More stories are to come via various outlets, I hope.

Sept-Oct Groupread Topic Poll is up

 Join the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads in selecting the Sept-Oct topics:

Belgian Coke Oven and Vinton Furnace 2021 - Ohio Ruins

While our kids were young, my wife and I toured many of the Native American ("aka Indian") mounds across Ohio (Serpent Mound, Mound City, Seip Mound...many more) we stumbled upon ruins of the past industry (~Civil War era) such as the Hope Furnace. This led to the desire to seek out other lost edifices and has inspired some of my writing (ie Clan Tonn in the Dyscrasia Fiction universe). For more on the history of iron furnaces in OH, I recommend:

 So I learned about this gem of a site called Vinton Furnance, which is accessible but off the beaten track. There are two key features at this location: one, the Belgian Coke Furnaces used to turn coal into coke fuel used for the blast furnace, and two, the huge Vinton blast furnace used to extract iron from ore.

Vinton Furnace operated from 1854 to 1883. In 1875 the charcoal-fired Vinton Furnace was converted to use coke for fuel. The unique feature of the Vinton Furnace is the set of 24 Belgian coke ovens. The battery of ovens was used to process coal into the coke, which was then was used to fire the furnaces.   Due to the local coal's high-sulfur content, efforts to produce coke capable of firing the iron furnace failed.  Coal had to be brought in by railroad to produce satisfactory coke. (from https://ohiodnr.gov/wps/portal/gov/odnr/go-and-do/plan-a-visit/find-a-property/belgian-coke-oven-ruins)

1) Belgian Coke Furnace (used to turn coal in coke fuel needed for the blast furnace)

(from http://www.oldeforester.com/Vinton.htm#Belgian ) The following is a copy of a newspaper report dated 11/25/1875 which Lawrence McWhorter, Hamden, OH, found in the Democratic Inquirer archives.  He recognized its historical importance in the Iron Industry of The Hanging Rock Iron Region.....The article was written at the opening of the coke plant and at the time the new process was thought to be successful. Unfortunately, the local coal proved to be too high in sulphur content and couldn't be used....The article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette and was written by a technical writer.

"The coal is ordinary hill coal of this region, and found from eighteen to twenty feet below the limestone ore.  This is taken first to the crusher, where it is broken up into small pieces of a size to permit them passing through a screen of about five-eights mesh.  It is then elevated and passed through the screen, from which it passes to the ‘Separator.’  This is simply a sieve working up and down in water, and by this process the whole of the slate and sulfur in the coal (being of greater specific gravity than the coal) sinks to the bottom of the sieve, and passes out there, while the clean coal flows out over the top and is carried to bins where it is left to drain off its water and dry sufficiently to go into the ovens.  From these bins it is taken in iron cars right out  upon the top of the ovens and drops into them through holes made for that purpose.  When coked for thirty-six to forty-eight hours it is pushed from the ovens in a solid mass or plug and extinguished by a stream of water poured upon it and it is then ready for use.  These ovens are of the Belgian type, and twenty four in number, standing side by side in a row or battery.  On one side is the coke floor, upon which the coke is discharged when coked sufficiently.  Upon the other side stands a pushing engine, which runs upon a track the whole length of the ovens, and from which when the ovens are opened there issues a huge plunger, which passes entirely through the ovens and shoves the m ass of coke out upon the other side, thus dispensing with the use of men and rakes to empty them, and discharging and filling an oven in about three minutes.  The ovens themselves are simply rectangular tubes of fire brick, twenty-two feet long, three feet wide and six feet high, with cast iron doors at each end.  Above, below and around each however, runs a system of flues through which are carried the gases evolved in coking, and which are thus utilized in creating greater heat for this purpose."



2) The Vinton Blast Furnace (used to melt iron ore and produce pig iron)

 Quote about its history and image below from Olde Forester.com:

Vinton furnace was placed in blast in 1854. Mr. Culbertson of the original company soon retired for in 1859 the firm was Means, Clark and Company. At this time Cyrus Newkirk was manager of the works. The original stack was 11 feet across the boshes, 32 1/2 feet in height and in forty-seven weeks of 1857 made about 3,100 tons of foundry iron from the local ores.

About 1868 or 1869 this firm sank a shaft west of the furnace and about 130 feet in depth to the Quakertown or No. 2 coal with the intention of using it as fuel. In 1872 Thomas B. Bancroft and his partner, Charles I. Rader, leased the property from the Philadelphia owners and undertook the smelting of the local ores with the shaft coal. This fuel, however, was unsuited for this purpose as the bed was very faulty and the coal high in sulphur and ash. The firm was now known as the Vinton Coal and Iron Company as both pig metal and coal were offered to the trade. The old charcoal stack, Vinton furnace, ceased operation in about 1883. Soon after this a coal furnace, 50 by 11 feet, was built on the site....

" For that time the new Vinton furnace, under the name of Vinton Coal and Iron Company, was modern in every respect. It had a steel jacket, was water cooled, had special devices for charging and casting, and had efficient hot blast stoves. This stack was 50 feet in height by 11 feet in diameter at the boshes. The rated capacity was 20 tons of metal per day or 6,000 tons per year."

How to get there

Vinton Furnace is near Hocking Hills Ohio (an outstanding park). However, it is not part of the normal park trails. It is located within the "experimental forest" which is run by the USDA and the State of Ohio (I think). They do experiments such as clear-cutting and monitoring regrowth.  Anyway, the public is welcome, especially on foot.


Do not expect great phone-cellular service, though the nearby town of Mcarthur seems to have some. Always good to bring a trusty old map just in case. Getting to the forest isn't too bad.

 Ohio Dept of Nature Resources (PDF Map): Map of Vinton 

Hiking the trail is easy no, especially with Apps like All Trails (download the Pine Run Trailmmap for Vinton....then even without cell service or wifi....the App can track your position over the map using basic GPS (as long as you downloaded prior).  Works splendidly.

Other hikers have documented how to get there and their step-by-step experiences:

Hocking Hills too!

Hocking Hills park is so close, you'll need to reserve time to walk part of its many curated pathways. Old Man's Cave, the Rock House, and Cedar Falls are favorites of ours.








Sunday, July 4, 2021

Beyond Barlow by Jason R. Koivu - Review. by S.E.

S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book blurb attracted me to Jason R. Koivu's Beyond Barlow since I am a fan of Heraclix & Pomp. Turns out his summary is spot on.
"Somewhere between Huck Finn and Locke Lamora" -- Forrest Aguirre, author of Heraclix and Pomp


Beyond Barlow is Intellectual Grimdark: Readers typically differentiate stereotypical High Fantasy (elves, dwarves, wizards with pointy hats with a slant toward happy adventuring) vs Low Fantasy (more "realism" & "earthier" milieu, with a focus on humans defending trenches at the battlefront or crawling through crypts to save a maiden or rob a god). The latter encompasses sub-genres like Sword & Sorcery and the contemporary-named Grimdark.

Beyond Barlow has no explicit sorcery, and lies somewhere between medieval fiction and today's Grimdark. Yet it feels different, and this difference can be a plus or a detraction for readers. It all boils down to the conflict. Most adventures of Dark Fantasy tap into simple conflicts of Hero(ine) protagonists vs evil villains/creatures. Beyond Barlow works the more obtuse Hero vs. Self (or arguable Hero vs. Nature) conflict; this development can be slower to develop than the former.

The book follows Ford Barlow who is an impulsive, violent teenager who struggles to fit in with his family in a comfortable way. The story tracks his coming of age as he learns to kill in battle; he causes several brutal accidents leading to his departure from Barlow (his family's hamlet). He joins the Wayward Boys, and his teambuilding with the gang has all the hallmarks of Golding's Lord of the Flies.

Themes of "family matters" persist across every chapter; i.e., what does it means to belong to one? What is your role as a member? The opening chapter, for instance, has Ford going to battle with his dad, step-brother, and dog Stinky. At first, I thought this was a foundation for a Ford-vs-other-clan narrative, but subsequent chapters amplified Ford's feelings of mis-belonging.

Ford is continually haunted by visions of his father, a woodcutter. The following chapters focus on his bonding with a band of thieves. Plenty of drama unfolds as the wanderlust boys survive by thieving food, braving cold winters, and looting crypts. The characters Runt and Ham echo Ford's relationship with his step-brother Leo; they were my favorite of the bunch.

Its uniqueness may also make this less accessible. Ford isn't really honorable (though he does mature a bit)... the situations he experiences are very grim, and without a clear villain, it leans toward intellectual fiction. The series continues with the sequel The Rue of Hope, which interestingly calls out magic. So we can speculate that the tone shifts towards dark Sword & Sorcery in the next installment.

Blurb for The Rue of Hope:
Murder in the streets. Murder in the houses of the holy. The violent deaths of prominent figures have the populous on edge. Now, amid fire and flood, the revolt is on. The castle is taken, the lord is on the run, and the city is crumbling. With society on the verge of collapse, impulsive street-fighter Ford Barlow finds himself in just as much turmoil. Not only is he juggling his own problems, but his slippery rogue friend is embroiled in a string of high-profile assassinations. Mercenary work for a mage meant to distance him from his troubles only highlights his selfish ways and drives him back into a crumbling world of scandal and betrayal. Magic, adventure and murder combine in this fantasy-mystery!


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