Friday, January 31, 2014

Well, I finished reading Darrell Pitt's excellent book "The Steampunk Detective", which definitely holds up after repeated reading. Very cool story... I'll be posting my review sometime in the next couple of days, 5 star, of course. I've got a number of things to take care of this weekend, but I'll post it before Monday.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Here's a link to Andrez Bergen's site. He's talking about the launch of the comic series "Tales to Admonish", with his collaborator Matt Kyme (artist extraordinaire). He also received something extra in the mail, which I thought was very cool. Head over there and check it out!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A few more thoughts as I am reading through Darrell Pitt's "Steampunk Detective"...

As much as I have enjoyed Darrell's "Steampunk Detective" the first few times I read through it, looking at the story with a critical eye has revealed a few things I had missed. Mainly that I really stand in awe of the way everything fits seamlessly together, and how the story moves from scene to scene without skipping a beat! Really, this is the definition of fluid storytelling. While having more than enough action to satisfy action/adventure junkies, Darrell really allows the story to grow organically. The characters learn and change with their new knowledge throughout, and react in ways that actual people would, as opposed to cardboard cutouts that are used to frame a story idea. The genuine world-building and attention to detail involving the setting's history is also superb. This is first and foremost a story that hinges on character development, and secondly on the many details that make a reader feel at home in the story's environs. Very well written, greatly appreciated, and I count myself lucky to have experienced this tale. Thankfully, I have it on good authority that sequels are in the works, and that this story is being rereleased as "The Firebird Mystery". With that, I'll get back to reading.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Here's one of my earliest reviews, on Richard Lee Byers' first entry in The Imposter series.

The latest entry by Richard Lee Byers, "The Imposter#1:Half a Hero" is just pure fun. The overall premise is that Earth is suddenly invaded by insect-like aliens, and our greatest superheroes go down en masse. Who's left to pick up the pieces? Ordinary humanity, and in particular one man who needs to reach down deep and find the hero inside himself. He finds himself a reluctant recipient to two of the late heroes items of power. The set up of superheroes vs. aliens is something I would happily read in my favorite pulp magazine, but the key is pulling away the security blanket at the outset. This gives the characters no choice but to try to work together to survive. Is Matt Brown (the main character) making all the right choices? Maybe, maybe not; but his transformation into a leader is enjoyable reading. His alter ego of Dr. Umbra is a very cool character, which reminds me of The Shadow, amongst others. I'm not saying this is derivative in any way, just that it hits all the right notes, and reminds me of classic characters. As the story progresses, superpowered villains are introduced. They, of course, have been keeping their heads down, and are now trying to figure out a way to turn the situation to their advantage. When, and how, will they turn on Matt? This is a very well written, well constructed, and engaging piece by Mr. Byers. Is it short? Yes, but that did not interfere with my enjoyment of the story. Instead, it left me eager for the further adventures of The Imposter. I mean, really, it's 99 cents. Take a chance, buy the book, and enjoy.

Here's a short rambling list of some favorite science fiction characters in literature; I must say though, that it is very incomplete.

Some more adventurers gone adventuring, sci-fi style... Gulliver Foyle, from Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination", a very reluctant adventurer, on a very dark road; Felix, from John Steakley's (An author who I miss very much. With only two full length novels published, the characters in Armor and Vampire$ call to me and haunt me to this day. He passed away at the age of 59. Rest in peace, John) "Armor", his pursuit of oblivion birthed the part of him that ensured he would survive; Donal Graeme, the Genetic General, who was so much more than his people knew, and became something even his brilliance couldn't predict; William Mandela, from Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War", not on an adventure at all, but thrown down a deep, twisting hole by his own people; Sam, from Roger Zelazny's "Lord of Light", a colonist on a distant planet, who eventually is made over into a god (through extreme amounts of time, and superior technology, which by this point the offspring of the original colonists have forgotten), and then decides to tear the entire establishment down; Gerswin from L.E. Modesitt, Jr's "The Forever Hero", who in some ways, reminds me of Donal Graeme. A primitive "devilkid" who is transported from Earth to the seat of the interstellar government, trained, and through a combination of virtual immortality and highest order thinking, unravels said government and restores Earth to it's primeval state; and Juan Rico, from Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers". This is one of the books that got me into the sci-fi genre. I've read some talk about various controversies perceived in this one... All I can say is that it tells of the journey of a soldier in the trenches, and his experiences throughout training, and during the war. If you read some of Heinlein's novels that follow this, I think they repute many of the claims of controversy about this work. Regardless, one of my favorites by him, and as I mentioned, a gateway novel into the realm of science fiction.

Another older review, this time of a good fantasy collection from Richard Lee Byers. I'm transferring over all my reviews to this blog, if anyone was wondering.

I'd like to start out by saying that "The Plague Knight and Other Stories" was a highly enjoyable page-turner. The stories are classic adventure tales, playing out within a fantasy setting. The character that opens up the collection is Martin Rivers, a knight adventurer, seeking riches, glory, and a patron. He stars in the first three tales, "The Plague Knight", "Kingsfire", and "Castle of Maidens". In the titular story, Martin has been participating in a tournament held by Count Ulrich. His fortunes have been good, and things seem to be looking up for our knight-errant; that is until a spectral plague descends upon the environs, and quickly begins infecting and killing off the populace. Martin quickly shows that he has morals that bely his outward interest in fame and fortune; despite the strenuous and highly level-headed objections from his retainer Geoffrey, he decides to stay on and try to rid the province of the cause of the plague. This is despite being informed that the plague is magical in nature, and that a demon from Hell is the most likely cause. At first trying to push his decision off on the fact that he is trying to find a rich patron, he soon admits that he feels duty-bound, as a knight, to stop the pestilence from spreading. Geoffrey, succinctly implies that Martin doesn't have the brains of a rabbit, but stays on despite his opinion. We are eventually shown the true character of the Count, the actions that brought about the cursing of the land, and Martin's rather outside the box effort to end the curse. A very good story to open the collection. "Kingsfire" is the second story, and opens with Martin questing for Richard Lionheart's lost sword, Kingsfire. He come across a group of brigands falling upon and "elf", and rushes to his aid. He finds that the supposed elf is not what he seems, but throws in with him to complete his quest. I'm not going to say much about this story, other than that I loved it. The inner fan boy almost swooned with joy after reading it, and I don't want to spoil that experience for anyone else. Suffice it to say, I sent a rather gushy message to Mr. Byers, which I should probably be ashamed of, but I stand by it. Why don't we move on, so I can maintain a shred of dignity. The last story featuring Martin is "Castle of Maidens", which is actually my favorite of the three, despite loving all of them. The overall feeling of intrigue and madness, coupled with some good old black sorcery are the main contributing factors for this. Martin and the Bishop of Padua are envoys dealing with the Sultan Ibrahim, negotiating for nothing less than the Holy Grail. All is not as it seems, and a rousing adventure commences, full of backstabbing, sorcery, and an entirely suitable end-game. A very fine tale to close out Martin's involvement in this collection. I must say that I would enjoy reading a collection of nothing but Martin Rivers. A very good character. Next we move on to the next person featured in this collection, Master Selden, a retired mercenary who has become a fencing-master in the city of Balathex. "The Salamander", begins in a rather confusing manner, as we are thrown quickly into the action, without knowing the names or the purpose of the players. However this is quickly rectified, as we are introduced to Selden and the various characters, and the problem driving the story not too long after the opening. Balathex is laboring under a war, both overt and subtle between various political factions. Selden, being both one of the most sought out fencing-masters, and being a very astute fellow when it comes to deducing all things mysterious, has been brought in by the Snow Lynx faction to solve a rather tough nut of a problem. The leader of the Snow Lynxes has been coming under attack through apparently magical means, but no one has been able to suss out the culprit. Despite rival factions within the Snow Lynx clan, several setbacks and dead-ends, Selden manages to finally discover the true enemy. As an opening salvo, this does nicely in introducing the reader to the characters and the environs in which they live. The next story, "Death in Keenspur House" continues the theme of Selden being the person to call when you have a particularly thorny problem. After the first tale, there has been a move towards compromise and the end of the feud between the political factions controlling Balathex is within sight. However, there has been a death, and theft, within one of the most prominent of the houses, prior to the wedding that will finally end the feud between the factions. Despite the suspicions of his clients, and his own failed guesses, he eventually comes upon the instigator of the plot, who is not what he expected at all. This is my second favorite of Selden's adventures. In "The Cheat", we see a story that hits closer to home, for Selden; there is a new maestro in Balathex, and somehow his students are winning at every turn, and the bodies are starting to pile up. Selden decides to expose this man as a cheat, and exact revenge for a dead student killed in a duel. This story introduces a particularly loathsome character named Olissimal, who takes his pleasure from watching duels to the death. Despite this, he is a expert upon fighting styles, and Selden is compelled to curry his favor to gain insight into his knowledge. This transaction is loathsome to Selden, and despite gaining very needed knowledge about his true enemy, does not in any way end well for our hero. After being stonewalled in many attempts, Selden finally discovers what he is looking for. Except, how can he win against it? This is a very satisfying tale. "Light and Dark" closes out Selden's participation in this collection, and is my favorite of his adventures. Selden arrives back in Balathex, after a long sojourn, to find his friend Tregan Keenspur in very dire straits. To help him he must cross into another dimension, and fight his way to an enemy that they had both thought dead. The malaise extends to not just Tregan, but to the entire ruling class of Balathex. If Selden doesn't succeed, everything he has worked for will come to nothing. His adventures in the other dimension are very thrilling, and his allies very odd. Plus, he must not harm anyone he comes in contact with, except the mastermind of the plot. An excellent way to end Selden's adventures in this collection. The second to the last story "Acorns" has Richard playing in another author's universe, and is spot on. I won't go into the characters involved, as I don't want to spoil the surprise, but this is really good stuff. Totally in keeping with the original author's vision, with a original twist from Mr. Byers. Wonderful, in my opinion. The last tale is "St. Paul's Churchyard, New Year's Day". A re-telling of what might have happened when Arthur became King Arthur, and first met Merlin. Not what you would expect, and a very good way to close the collection out. Very nice, despite being short, but this story definitely works. I would recommend this to anyone who loves a rousing adventure tale, and I really hope to see more of these characters in the future.

Here's an older review of a really good collection of New Pulp stories. It's from about a month ago.

Finished reading Brother Bones: The Undead Avenger by Ron Fortier last night. A very good example of pulp writing, with heavy use of the supernatural throughout, in my opinion. I picked it up randomly from Airship 27 Productions, because I had heard good things about them, and was intrigued by the character of Brother Bones; I'm extremely glad I did, because the collection of short stories was highly satisfying. The first, "The Bones Brothers" is the origin tale of the character. The story tells of two brothers who are enforcers for the mob in Cape Noir (the city where the stories are set.) Betrayal, death, a chance at redemption and the meting out of justice long deserved are all contained within this story. "Shield and Claw" tells of the police in Cape Noir, corruption, and the consequences of going after the "easy" money. Also featured are Brother Bones and... werewolves! Very nice story. "Scales of Terror" introduces Blackjack Bobby Crandall, a blackjack dealer in a local casino. While trying to console a certain female friend of his, they both stumble into something worse than the infidelity that the woman has been suspecting... something that comes from the outer regions of Hell! B.B. is drawn in to put paid to the thing from outside, but will everyone survive? Entertaining, to say the least, and melds pulp and Lovecraft together in the story, at least in my opinion. "See Spot Kill" mixes voodoo, a couple of hapless partiers that do a very bad thing, along with intrepid city reporter Sally Paige. It's up to B.B. to sort things out, along with an assist from Sally. I like the fact that this installment adds to the cast of characters in Cape Noir's locale, alongside the usual pulpy goodness of the story. "The Root of Evil" further adds to the cast, introducing an unholy group of behind the scenes men, who if nothing else, have the patience of ages and the resources to eventually get what they want. There is also an underlying, interwoven tale that ends in a second chance. Sally and Blackjack both return, and another force for good is introduced, simply called the Brunette... she seems very capable and professional, and is definitely an ace in the hole, take that as you will. This seems slightly longer, and weaves in some subplots and new characters, and I greatly appreciated the story. I kind of think those shadowy, behind the scenes type of guys might become a thorn in The Undead Avenger's side, or possibly a RPG in his side, lol. "Gorilla Dreams" has various subplots, bringing together familiar faces from B.B.'s past, a horrible vengeance on one of these faces from the old days, and something very bad happening during the normal operating procedures of the mob. This, of course, draws Brother Bones' attention which, really, these types of people should avoid... A new character is introduced, the debonair Temple Alan Knight, who I absolutely love... This rather suave fellow unfortunately runs afoul of B.B., a minx whose charms he can't deny, and a rather ape-ish gangster, who won't take no for an answer... His vacation in Cape Noir is rather chock full of interruptions... lol. That said, the woman who's charms he couldn't deny also looks like a very big player in Brother Bones' future... just saying. "The Ghost Train" is the last story in this collection, tells the tale of a horrible event perpetrated in the name of greed, the two minions for hire involved, and the ghostly vengeance that is inflicted upon them. Set in both Cape Noir, and the outlying wilderness, this is a very effective tale. All in all, I loved these stories, and I will be buying the sequel, and no doubt, enjoying it. I like the characters, writing, and themes. To address some of the criticisms I found on Amazon: A: There are too many typos, which totally impede my reading pleasure. This collection has some typos, which did not take away from my enjoyment of the stories in the least. I've seen worse in some releases by bestselling authors, from big name publishing houses. There are not many, and if your brain can not process the text, I feel very sorry for you. B: The quality of writing in general. I respond by saying, I don't know what version of this collection you are reading. Possibly, this is not the genre for you. I found it to be very entertaining, and a good example of the genre done the right way. C: Brother Bones does not appear early enough in his stories, he's basically a guest star in his own book. This is valid, depending on the reader's outlook. Do you like a good story, or do you just want your favorite character in every frame? In the main, something bad happens, the story is fleshed out, characters are introduced, then Brother Bones arrives to do what he does. He is the spirit of vengeance, after all! Something really bad has to happen before he can swoop into action... I would think that people would like to know the full reasons behind B.B.'s involvement, and let the story and characters grow naturally before he responds to the evil event. Just saying... 5 out of 5 stars

Currently rereading a favorite...

Reading Darrell Pitt's "The Steampunk Detective" and thoroughly enjoying it, as I did the first, second, and third time I read it. I'd really like to say how much I appreciate this man's talent for crafting such an enthralling adventure. A mix of Sherlock, steampunk, and good old-fashioned fun... and that doesn't describe the half of the it! The story makes me long for the days when I was a child, and things were a heck of a lot simpler to me. Adventures and explorations... Fun!

How the West was Weird: Campfire Tales 4 out of 5 Stars

How the West Was Weird: Campfire Tales is a very nice page-turner. It contains many elements from various genres that I love; westerns, pulp, adventure, and horror. Starting off with the rather excellent "Mr. Brass and the Crimson Skies of Kansas" proves to be a great choice; author Josh Reynolds absolutely knocks it out of the park with his highly entertaining story. With everything from cavorite powered airships ferrying President Teddy Roosevelt through the skies; to the acerbic verbal swordplay of one Samuel Clemens directed towards Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll), every note of this story is spot-on, and aims to entertain. Mr. Brass, who stars in the story, was once human; however, he was remade into a clockwork automaton, and is now one of the Pinkertons involved with protecting the President, along with his partner Jimmy Rast. We have a Martian War mentioned, the Martian's attempted reforming of the state of Kansas into a similar condition as their home planet, and also, the Starry Wisdom cult apparently killing off presidents. Throw that in with Hanoi Xan, former right hand man of the Devil Doctor himself, and a nefarious plot by Dr. Frankenstein, and you have an extremely good adventure. Being a short story, there is not much time for character development, but the hints of emotion and tantalizing tidbits of the characters' history are very much appreciated. Suffice it to say, there is enough action included, and all-around coolness, in general, to satisfy a lover of great adventure tales. I had been hearing good things about the Mr. Brass character, and this was my introduction to him. Josh, and Mr. Brass, certainly lived up to all of that praise. I will be seeking out more by this author as soon as I can. Moving on to the second story, we have "Hell's Own" by Russ Anderson. After all the different characters and allusions to different historic events in the first story, the plot in this one is rather stream-lined and compact. Set in the Old West, we start with something strange falling from the sky in Newton County. Sherriff Gavin witnesses the sky-fall, and really thinks it nothing untoward. A meteor, or such-like, he thinks. Before you know it, we have zombie hordes amassing and converging on the Sherriff's one-horse town, ravening for flesh. I need to get this out of the way, and upfront. I have become a little bit tired of the whole zombie apocalypse scenario, mainly because it's just EVERYWHERE these days. Also, there are so many hacks out there churning out their insipid variations on the concept, that sometimes I feel like screaming. That said, this is a very well written piece of fiction, and I recommend it to fans of the two genres that it encapsulates, or to people who just like to read a terse, bare-bones horror tale. Russ does what a really good writer can do; write about something that's not really your cup of tea, and still draw you in with his execution of the idea. Thanks for the great story! Next up we have "The Tale of the Baron's Tribute" by Derrick Ferguson. The star of the show is Sebastian Red, vaunted sword-slinger, pistolero, and bounty hunter. Searching for some real bad hombres, Sebastian heads south of the border, hot on their trail. Coming across a friendly village of Iahnian farmers, he decides to take a little break, and quickly becomes close with the people. Sebastian and the headman Hu exchange stories, and he learns of the fact that they are soon to pay off their land with one last installment to Baron Orwell, the landowner. After an offer to accompany Hu and his men on their journey to the Baron's manse (which is refused good-naturedly by Hu), Sebastian continues on his journey. Tragedy and bedlam ensue. It seems that someone from Sebastian's past has been tracking him, and has jumped at the chance to draw him into a fight to the death. Will he win out against this shadowy enemy, and bring about justice? Or will he fall, as his past finally catches up with him? With everything from elements of Jonah Hex, to some of the qualities of Solomon Kane, Sebastian Red is an excellent character, who's further adventures I hope to read about in the future. You should also check out Dillon and Fortune McCall, written by Mr. Ferguson. Very good characters, and rousing story-lines. Moving on to the last story in this collection, we have "Gunmen of the Hollow Earth" by Joel Jenkins. Containing such luminaries of the Old West as Doc Holliday, Morgan Earp, Butch and Sundance, we have a tale of double crosses, triple crosses, and so on. After Doc, Morgan, and the true star of the story Crow (a Native American fighter), ambush Butch, Sundance, and the Wild Bunch, everything goes to hell. The first group is working within the law trying to apprehend the lawless Wild Bunch and their leaders. A bunch of banditos and hell-raisers stick to their trail, trying to steal the silver that was recovered by Crow's posse. Attempting to shake them, Crow and company ride lesser and lesser known trails... ending up in Doyle's Hollow Earth setting! Complete with Amazon warriors, and more action than you can shake a stick at, you have a suitably adventurous ending to the collection. The one thing I disliked, is there is not enough development of the personalities of the characters, other than Crow. Being that this seems to be an entry in a possible serial tale of the characters, this can be overlooked. All in all, a very fine collection of stories, that I enjoyed very much. I will be looking forward to reading more from the contributing authors.

Necromancer and Self tear it up in Tom Piccirilli's "A Lower Deep".

Here's a review of "A Lower Deep" that I wrote a couple of months back. I picked up this book back in September; I had heard some good things about Tom Piccirilli's stories, and the cover art and synopsis intrigued me. I figured I could read a little at a time, and see how I liked it. After reading the opening sequence, I found I could not put it down! The novel concerns Necromancer, an adept in the magic arts, and his demonic familiar, simply called Self. After a catastrophic event involving his old coven, he chooses to wander the earth, seeking something that only he knows. This story, in my mind, is mainly about the journey, getting from the event that nearly killed him and took away the woman he loves; and towards a fated meeting with those who were there at the start. It's about how unfinished chapters in your life can come, uncalled, back into the present, and force a conclusion. The novel is highly detailed, and has a distinct surreal, dreamlike quality to it; broken up by very substantial episodes of supernatural violence. The character of Necromancer, in my mind, is a very moral type of person. That said, his code of ethics and those of the general populace are not always one and the same. He is not really a hero, villain, or anti-hero, per se... He is just a man, with unworldly powers, who has seen too much of the things that lurk behind the fa├žade of "reality". His motivation, once you grasp it, is easy to understand. The struggle to choose between what he desperately wants, and something that is larger than himself, is also something every human being goes through, to one extent or another. The characters populating this book are all well crafted, and very intriguing, in their own right. The supernatural aspects are very well done and detailed; they are definitely one of my favorite aspects of the book. The villain is suitably evil, but you can, in a way, sympathize with his motivations. Mainly, for me, experiencing the changes forced upon Necromancer by his unwanted journey is one of the strongest draws of this book. Reading of his interactions with past friends and foes, with truly unwished for new experiences, and watching him grow are some of the best parts. Slight flaws that I see in the novel; I would have liked more backstory, and a bit more room to flesh out this wonderful tale. In a few instances, some of the characters act against type, and choose an entirely baffling response to an event. That said, these are minor points, and the latter can be explained away as simple human nature. After all, we are a very wrong-headed collection of malcontents, in general. I know I am, at least. The only other problem I have with this... is that I want more! Much, much more with this character. Thankfully, I found a collection of short stories that were precursors to this novel, titled Pentacle, on kindle. I will be happily reading them, and have one last thing to say... More Necromancer and Self, Tom!

Thoughts on Andrez Bergen's "Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?"

Here's some thoughts on a really cool novel I just finished. I'd like to start out by saying that "Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?" and it's author, Andrez Bergen, were not even remotely on my radar when I picked up this book. It was really by pure chance that I ended up coming across the novel, and purchasing it. I was looking through my recommendations page on Amazon, and the striking cover design caught my eye. I went ahead and took a look at the synopsis and some of the reviews. The words dystopian, noir, and sci-fi stood out; and then I saw that it also was about superheroes. Now I love these genres, and was instantly intrigued; but I wasn't really sure what to expect, and if this would be a quality read. I purchased it anyway, and started reading about a week later. It turns out that this chance pick was a great one, as this is easily one of the most entertaining takes on the genres mentioned that I have read in recent memory. The novel adds up to much more than the sum of it's parts, and is a cracking good adventure/mystery, to boot. Although the beginning of the story can be a bit confusing, there is a perfectly simple reason for this; the protagonist has been thrust into a new environment, and being immersed in his narrative, we share in his confusion and his efforts to learn about Heropa as quickly as possible. All I can say is keep reading, because you definitely do not want to miss the rollercoaster ride that is coming! After the opening, we are slowly introduced to the players, and learn of the mystery that is happening within Heropa. Superheroes are dying, and this not at all as it should be. As the story moves inexorably along, we find that there are many things about Heropa that are not as they seem. The narrative flows seamlessly from revelation to revelation, and you will find that when you finish the story, it is not at all what you expected when you began. Experiencing this evolution is quite wonderful. Although there are many different themes explored within these pages, I'll say that the growth of the protagonist, Jack, makes for a very cool coming of age story. As I said it is just one of many themes explored, but watching Jack slowly learn to be a true hero is just pure fun. I could spend all day breaking down the different elements that exist within the story, and why I personally enjoy them; however, I don't want to spoil the fun for any new readers, so I'll cut this short. By the way, I would also recommend that you read through the glossary, acknowledgements, and afterword, once you are done reading the novel. They all contain some interesting thoughts and recommendations. All in all, this was a wonderful reading experience, and I highly recommend it.