Sunday, April 26, 2015

My review of the Coming of Crow by Joel Jenkins. An excellent read!

 The Coming of Crow is a 308 page collection of short stories, written by Joel Jenkins, and published in October of 2014 by PulpWork Press. The collection features Jenkins' character, Lone Crow, in a series of interconnected short stories. Set in the Old (and, I might add, very weird) West, Crow is a Native American bounty hunter, and is the last of his tribe. As he travels across the land, Crow comes across a number of famous faces, including both Wyatt Earp and Bass Reeves.

While Crow's skill as a manhunter is known both far and wide, his knack for solving problems of a supernatural nature tend to set him apart from others in his profession, and subsequently brings him to the attention of the secretive Miskatonic University. Working both on his own, and on the behalf of his erstwhile employers, Crow faces down a great number of unnatural creatures. Whether it be demons, werewolves, immortals, or things from another plane of existence, Crow and his blessed Colt Peacemaker have encountered them all, and sent them packing. Throughout these encounters, Crow remains unflappable, and manages to overcome every obstacle set in his path, no matter how otherworldly it may be.

The author relates Crow's adventures in a classic adventure style, with realistic Western settings, charismatic characters, and more supernatural bogles than you can shake a stick at. He includes a number of secretive cults that are working to unleash their blasphemous gods on the universe, a nod to HPL (via REH's contributions to the Mythos), along with a number of equally secretive ancient societies that are attempting to stop the madmen (and women) from letting loose Hell on Earth. Miskatonic University is but one of these societies, and the author's portrayal of the university, and its faculty, is a bit different than other fictional versions of the institution. As a whole, the university's representatives seem much more mercenary in their dealings than usual, and the characters, quite frequently, have just enough knowledge about a situation to assure their own doom. That is, until Crow steps in, and manages to pull their collective fat out of the fire. Despite his heroism, Crow is still looked down upon, seen as a 'witless savage' by many of the characters he encounters, including a number of his employers. He usually ignores such stupidity with stoic resolve, but it was a great pleasure to watch many of these bigots get their just desserts, and come to a much deserved bad end.

I mentioned REH (Robert Ervin Howard, the creator of Conan and sundry other characters, and a fellow Texan) a little earlier, and the author's writing raises the ghost of that esteemed fellow, with Crow's travels reminding me very much of my favorite REH character... Solomon Kane. I'm not saying that the collection is derivative, in any way, I'm saying that the two characters share a similar soul, and a similar raison d'etre. Plus, I'm trying to give the author one of the highest compliments I can bestow, the best way I know how, being that I cut my teeth on REH's characters, and he remains one of my go-to authors when I want to experience pure adventure storytelling. Jenkins manages to create a character and universe that evoke the same feeling that I had as a young man when first discovering adventure fiction, and for that, I owe him my wholehearted thanks. With a quick moving and to-the-point style, plenty of blood-and-fire, and weirdness galore, The Coming of Crow is an absolute page-turner. I was shocked to realize that it was a 308 page release, as the various adventures flew by so quickly, that I was done in almost no time at all. Very enjoyable reading, and highly recommended...

Here's where you can pick up the release. Here's Joel's author page on Amazon. Here's the publisher's site. Finally, here's an interview with the author that was conducted by Derrick Ferguson. And on that note, I suppose I'll be signing off. As usual, happy reading!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My review of Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede by Chuck Miller. A unique and rewarding tale of adventure.

 Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede is a 196 page novel, written by Chuck Miller, and published by Pro Se Press. The story details the origin and early adventures of a pulp style vigilante, known as the Black Centipede, and is set forth in the form of a memoir written by the titular character. The memoir has been written by the Black Centipede in an effort to cut through the decades of propaganda that has surrounded his adventures, and reveals the truth behind his origin and early adventures.

The tale begins in the 1920's, when the character is still a young boy, and details his fateful encounter with Lizzie Borden in the town of Fall River, describing the strange friendship that grows between the two of them. The secret behind the murders of Lizzie's family is ultimately revealed, and young William Lee Williams' feet are set on a new path, one which will see him become the masked vigilante known as the Black Centipede. The bloody night that begins his journey also introduces him to his greatest nemesis, lover, and friend, Bloody Mary Jane Gallows. Avowed enemies when they are apart, their relationship changes drastically when they are in close proximity, as they are inexorably drawn to each other in an almost mystical fashion.

After the events at Fall River, young William cuts all ties with his family, except for his corrupt Grandfather who is a backroom power broker residing in the metropolis of Zenith. Inserting himself into the old man's circles, he quickly becomes one of his Grandfather's most trusted agents, all the while building up his own network of contacts and sources of monetary funding. Eventually, having trained himself in any number of both esoteric and martial regimens (and having robbed his Grandfather of all his resources, along the way), William feels ready to finally complete his transformation into the Black Centipede. The time has come to wage war both more commonplace criminals, along with the ever-growing ranks of supervillains that are appearing in Zenith. Along the way, he might even be able to further piece together (and understand) the events that brought the Black Centipede, along with Bloody Mary, into being...

While the framework of the story is pure pulp, Miller takes the tale in a much stranger (and ultimately, more rewarding) direction, allowing his characters to move beyond the usual borders of the pulp style. Much of the overall narrative is hard-charging action, but the author combines interludes of humor, esoteric events, and off-the-wall character development to swing the entire story decidedly off-kilter. And that's a good thing. Certainly lacking a cut-and-dried sense of good versus evil, the story has much more to offer, with many of the characters being capable of actions that are both good and bad. The main character admits that he is drawn to the inherent violence that comes part-and-parcel with his occupation as a masked vigilante, and that many of the hoi polloi are absolutely beyond his comprehension, while still working towards their benefit. His nemesis/friend/lover, Bloody Mary Jane Gallows was birthed as a mindless construct of horrible vengeance, but still had the willpower to attempt to live as a normal human being for a number of years, and chooses to come to the rescue of her greatest enemy (and only friend and equal, their relationship is very complex) despite knowing that he is the only one capable of ending her existence. Allies and enemies are static, at best, and all of them seem to move through an ever-shifting world of shadows... Much like the one that we all exist in.

The author has a knack for blending in both authentic historical events, and actual characters from these time periods into the narrative, which work to reinforce and ground the story into pseudo-reality, adding a sheen of believability to the fictional narrative. Couple this with some of the character's more inexplicable actions, when faced with an utterly logical course of action, and you get a novel that explores the human condition, disguised as a retread of old pre-war pulp vigilante stylings. Make no mistake, I love the New Pulp genre to no end, but seeing an author take it in an inventive new direction is a decided pleasure, and an absolute revelation of where the genre can go from this point on. One last note, I love the way the author can allude to a number of no-doubt epic adventures, in a single aside from the main character. If Miller was held to filling in the backstory of his character, in an absolute sense, readers would be entertained for a number of decades, at the very least. All told, this is highly recommended reading.

With both fast-paced action sequences, esoteric interludes, and a realistic portrayal of human nature, this is a story that is a bit off-center, and all the better for it. Chuck Miller takes a tried-and-true genre in a totally unexpected direction, and stamps his name all over the genre of New Pulp fiction. A total mind-trip, this is a story that must be experienced firsthand. Highest compliments and best wishes for a vital, and truly unique, ongoing series!

Here's where you can pick up a copy of the release. Here's the publisher's site. Pop by and take a look around! Finally, here's a link to an interview that my friend Derrick Ferguson did with the author. It's a couple of years old, but check it out, nonetheless! With that, I'll be signing off... Zero-signal... Happy reading, all!

Friday, April 10, 2015

My review of Milton Davis' novel From Here To Timbuktu. A really impressive tale!

 From Here To Timbuktu is a 217 page steam-funk novel by Milton Davis, which is set in an alternate timeline, and was released as a e-novel in March of 2015. Steam-funk is a variation of the steam-punk genre, with many of the same trappings that one would expect, told mainly from an African and African-American point of view. Here's a short interview with the author, over at YouTube, where he explains the genre more fully. As someone who has been reading (and enjoying the hell out of) the steam-punk genre, along with adventure fiction and pulp/New Pulp fiction for quite some time, the one thing lacking in my enjoyment of these genres has been a lack of strong, well-written heroes/heroines of color (with some notable exceptions). Milton Davis' novel admirably fills this gap, with a burst of full-on action, detailed/engaging characters and settings, along with an organic and fluid style of narrative that invariably draws the reader deep into his fictional universe.

Set in an alternate timeline, in the year of 1870, the young country of Freedonia is preparing to celebrate its bicentennial. The Haitian Revolt of 1791-1804 has succeeded far beyond its participant's greatest hopes, and after spreading to America, Freedonia is founded in its wake. Deacon Ezekiel Culpepper is one of the residents of this young country, trying to settle down and lead a normal life, but he never seems to be able to escape the blood-and-fire of his past life as a soldier. While he attends church during the day, he surreptitiously works as a bounty-hunter to makes ends meet, lacking any real desire to operate the family farm that was left to him. The skills that he learned as a soldier serve him far better in his secondary profession, and he wholeheartedly admits to himself that he will never be able to run a fully functioning farm on his own, nor does he want to...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Famara Keita labors to complete his task. A horro (Soninke for Warrior) from the kingdom of Mali, Famara has been given the duty of recovering an ancient book that was stolen from the Elders of his people. The book contains technological secrets that are far beyond the current capabilities of the nations of the world, and it would be an absolute disaster if it fell into the wrong hands. After seeking the book for over two years, his quest is close to an end, if he can manage to overcome the forces of the greedy and murderous El Tellak, leader of the Ihaggaren people. El Tellak seeks to sell the book to the newly formed Prussian empire, adding another adversary to the list of those that the horro must overcome, but the most deadly one is still to come... El Tellak's sister, Menna, a deadly assassin and a bitter rival of her brother for the leadership of their people. The various factions are in place, the prize has been revealed, and all will soon come together in a thrilling, globe-trotting adventure, as our two heroes and their allies combine forces to preserve the world as they know it...

With this release, Milton Davis crafts a detailed, many-faceted world, and populates it with interesting and relatable characters, along with some truly loathsome villains that revel in their actions. A world which inexorably draws the reader into its mythos, and absolutely begs for an expansion of the setting and characters, with future entries in this setting being an absolute must have. The dialogue is natural and free-flowing, the core personalities of the characters well-defined, and the background settings are vividly rendered. The action sequences are equally sharp and detailed, never becoming muddled or confusing around the edges of the scene, and usually don't call for too much of a suspension of disbelief. After being introduced to the characters, and reading about their capabilities and individual skill-sets, you come to believe that they are fully capable of pulling off their various exploits. The story is streamlined and fast-moving, with the 217 page novel racing by, largely due to the author's accessible style of writing. Really good stuff...

I'll briefly respond to some of the negative points that I've seen online, regarding this release. Yes, it does have some typos that could have been cleaned up by a full-time editor, and no, it doesn't detract from the reading experience, at least as far as I go. I noticed them, here and there, and kept reading. They weren't egregious enough to affect my appreciation of the story, and I quickly moved past them. This is a small press, so just move on down the line, and appreciate a well-told story. There has also been some talk about the nature of the end-game, and how it plays out. While not being a confidante of the author, or aware of his mindset, I'll put forth a theory. One, the two warriors are absolutely death-on-wheels, so the final events take place as they should. Two, this is a classic setup for a sequel, as some things happen off-camera (if you'll allow me to mix metaphors), and other events only add to the apparent certainty of a sequel. So stop complaining, my friends, and keep your fingers crossed for a series set in this world, with these characters. If you won't, I will...

To sum up my thoughts on this release, Davis has crafted a wonderfully engaging tale of adventure, populated by characters that are fully-formed, lovingly rendered, and sadly missing from a large swath of published genre fiction. With an intricately-detailed setting, a history that is rife for future expansion, and a knack for creating characters that are both relatable, and easily assimilated into the reader's psyche, this is recommended reading. All told, it's one of my favorite stories that I've read in quite some time. Do yourself a favor and check it out...

Here's where you can get the Kindle edition of the story. Here's the publisher's FB page, where you can find more quality stories. And here's the publisher's website. With that said, I'll sign off... As usual, happy reading, all!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

My review of Jim Beard's GI Joe Adventure Team: Mystery of the Sunken Tomb. Really good stuff!

GI Joe Adventure Team: Mystery of the Sunken Tomb is a new e-novella by Jim Beard, published through Kindle Worlds, and available on The version of the toy line on which the novel is based was released after the original Joe line (the characters invariably being soldiers), and the modern Joe team, who are a specialized CT unit formed to fight the global terrorist organization known as Cobra. The Adventure Team was more focused on exploration, expanding global knowledge of humanity's history (while disregarding both borders and factionalism), and the development of new technologies for the benefit of the human race.

Led by GI Joe (hereafter referred to as Joe in this review), a former military man, the team consists of a number of experts in their respective fields, including archaeology, aeronautics, and mechanical design. New recruits are handpicked by Joe, and face a grueling training regimen that is uniquely designed to bring out the best in each potential team member, while also shoring-up any inherent weaknesses which they might possess. Each man operates independently of the group on a regular basis, but when the call comes in through their coded radio receiver, the Adventure Team unites, springing into action like a well-oiled machine!

The story starts with Joe in the middle of a black-bag job, searching for a missing missile payload containing ultra-secret spy technology, which has crashed somewhere in the ocean's depths. Working for unnamed government contacts, he finds what he is searching for, but in so doing also stumbles across a mind-blowing find... Sunken ruins off the coastline of California, which appear to be ancient Egyptian in nature, and may change the course of history as we know it! Sending out a call to his team, the men come together to research this seemingly impossible find, never realizing that they have stumbled upon something that is much more dangerous than they can ever imagine.

Jim Beard has an absolute talent for swift-paced action stories, and this one is no exception. That said, the pace is a bit slower in this release than in some of his other works, although this isn't a bad thing. It allows the characters and situations to be more fully realized, and the slow escalation of certain elements of the story adds a great deal of nuance to the tale, while working alongside the full-tilt action scenes to push the story to another level. A wicked element of mystery (what did you expect, it's in the title) shrouds the story, present in both the team itself, in their shocking archaeological find, and in the cultish adversaries that seek to keep them from their goal.

One of the best things about the story is the villains. Throughout the beginning of the story, the team's adversaries are natural things, including the sharks that surround the sunken ruins, and a tropical storm that is bearing down on their camp. This changes as the story moves along, with the men gradually becoming aware that a more sinister group has set their sights on the ruins, attempting to recover a powerful artifact that has lain hidden there for centuries. The mystery of this group is never fully explained, although there is a tantalizing hint about what they truly are towards the end of the story, which sets up a possible sequel. The leader of the villains is as ruthless as he is mysterious, caring not an iota for anything other than the power he will gain after completing his long-held goal, and is willing to go to extreme lengths to secure the artifact that is waiting within the ruins. Granted, many of these points apply to any well developed group of adversaries in a good story, but I really enjoyed the way the author gradually worked them into the narrative, and the hints about them towards the end of the story were very much appreciated, while still maintaining the aura of mystery around the group. To put it simply, well done!

To sum up, one might ask why you, as a potential new reader of this title, should pick this story up, especially if you have no formative experience with the characters that are depicted within the story. Well, here's my list of reasons... The story is well-written, dynamically told, with both flowing action-sequences and cliff-hanger endings, which are derived from the pulp style of storytelling. As mentioned in the above paragraphs, there is an aura of mystery that permeates the tale, quite deliciously so. The feeling of high adventure and the mysteries of the unknown are part and parcel to this release, and the journey is both loads of fun, and quite reminiscent of watching an old-time serial, although one set in a more recent time period. For a quick visual reference, think of the Jonny Quest series, without the boyish misadventures of Jonny and Hadji, instead being totally focused on a team of highly-trained experts investigating the mysteries of the unknown. For those that love adventure, mystery, and vanishing into a much more welcome head-space, this is recommended reading.

Here's a couple of primers to the characters involved in the story, starting with Jim Beard's blog post about the release. And here's some background about the Adventure Team, over at Wikipedia. Here's Jim's blog, where you can keep up with what he's currently working on, and here's his fan page on Facebook. Stop by and say hello! Finally, here's where you can pick up the release (Kindle edition), and here's his author page on Amazon, so swing by and take a look around! As usual, happy reading, and goodnight!