Posted in Reviews

Storyhack 0: The Monster Without by Julie Frost

I struggled with this one. I’m not a fan of Urban Fantasy, werewolves and vampires do nothing for me at all. When said werewolves are depressed war veterans my enjoyment level dips even further.
Spoilers ahead!

Right then. Julie Frost can write. I got a real Kelley Armstrong vibe off the story, a thought confirmed by my daughter who also read the story. She LOVED it btw, it hit all her buttons and is planning on buying Frosts book as soon as she’s finished with her current crop. She’s a massive Armstrong fan and so the comparison is a badge of honor.

So, what’s it all about?
The hero is a Private Detective, just coming off a particularly nasty case. It’s left him depressed. It’s triggered memories of Afghanistan leading to deeper depression. Enter a femme fatale with a tale of woe. Reluctant to get involved he’s nevertheless drawn in against his will.
*sigh*
I had the whole thing figured out far earlier than I should have, and maybe that’s down to a minor addiction to noir detective fiction or maybe its that Frost telegraphed the ending by sticking so hard to the genre conventions. Daughter got it pretty quickly too, though a couple of clues later than I did.
If there’s one thing that’s annoyed me about Storyhack is the number of stories that feel like introductions to series. It’s bloated many of the stories as essential backstory is peddled. Frost gives us the works. A devoted wife who wants to be an actress, the mother-in-law that’s like a mother to the hero. The cop who’s part buddy part counselor. It didn’t kill the stories flow but you could sure feel those beats getting hit. Daughter’s already looking forward to reading more about them.

Me, not so much.

Look, there’s no way with the best will in the world that I was ever going to like every story in the collection, it’s never happened yet. Daughter did, quite a lot as it happens so there is that. There’s nothing wrong with the Frosts craft, she’s a decent writer without a doubt.

Depressed werewolves just aren’t my thing.

Thanks for reading guys

Take care

Dean

Posted in Reviews

Storyhack 0: Hal Turk and the Lost City of the Maya by David Boop

Admission time; I’ve had a really hard time concentrating on anything frivolous this week. The terrorist attack in Manchester has obviously been at the front and back of my mind.  Still, life goes on, doesn’t it?

I read David Boop this morning as Lil Buddy was playing with her favorite aunt and I had a moment to myself. While they did whatever it is that young ladies do I settled in with a coke a couple of jaffa cakes and my Kindle.

Spoilers ahead.

Bryce has a good eye for story and I can see why he choose this one for his premier issue. It’s well written, the characters are well drawn and the tale moves along quickly, the various scenes transitioning nicely one into another. Be in no doubt, David Boop has clearly got writing chops. It’s just that I honestly believe that this story could have been so much better.

Okay, I liked this one, but I didn’t love it. It hit all the marks from the likable and quick-witted hero to the well-written action scenes but it didn’t set my skull cinema on fire. Instead, I kept seeing similar bits from one of my favorite animated films Eldorado while hearing Indiana Jones theme music. Is that a bad thing? Probably not, but it didn’t really inspire me to search out anything else that Boop has written.

It’s not a dud, I’m sure that others won’t have the seem feelings about it, purely because of the afore mentioned writing chops. It’s enjoyable, just not at the same level as the first three I read. If I’d have read this one first I’d have gone on to read others, it certainly wouldn’t have put me off. Also, as I said at the outset I fully accept that my judgment might be…compromised.

Read, enjoy and take care

Until next time

Dean

 

Posted in Reviews

Storyhack 0: Dead Last by Jay Barnson

Okay, this is getting embarrassing. Three stories so far and all have been great. It’s not like I’m looking for something to hate, or even dislike but you’d think there would be at least one out of the first three that would annoy me.

Nope.

Warning: SPOILERS!!!

We have a secret agency.
We have mystical tomes.
We have a necromancer.
We have zombies.
We have objects of power.
We have special abilities.
Annnnnd we have guns. Yay for action!

That’s a hell of a lot to squeeze into a short but it all gets shoehorned in, and if it’s a little bit clunky in parts that’s just part of its charm. The writer is clearly enthusiastic about the genre and that really comes through which makes it very easy to get carried away with the story. As a whole, the story works very well indeed.

I do have a niggle and it’s not with the writer though. There is a small problem with the copy editing as every story so far has had mistakes. It’s not much of a problem, but they do tend to dump me straight out of the story when I come across them. Like Flemming rather than Fleming. What can I say, if I wasn’t enjoying this so much I probably wouldn’t have such high expectations.

Back to the story. Barnson handles both the plot and the action well, has created an easy to like hero in the mould of Correia’s Owen Z. Pitt or Butchers Harry Dresden. He’s not perfect, he’s flawed but not so much that he’s a douche. I like that. The worldbuilding seems solid enough and is fun! Another author to add to my rapidly growing list.

That’s pretty much it guys, lil buddy is demanding I do play d’oh with her and there are cakes to be baked.

Until next time take care

Dean

Posted in Reviews

Storyhack 0: Desert Hunt by Jon Mollison

If you like X then there’s a very good chance that you’ll like Y.

Said every librarian ever.

Something else that I’m guilty of. I can’t help it you see, I just have this need to categorise stories with other stories. In this instance, I’d happily place Mollisons’ Karl Barber story ‘Desert Hunt’ with any of the stories containing F. Paul Wilsons wonderful creation Repairman Jack. Believe me when I say that I really cannot give any higher praise, Wilson is in my top five writers and Jack is, without a doubt, my favourite hero.

You know there might be spoilers ahead, read on at your own peril!

In Desert Hunt, you get people traffickers, a stolen Yazidi girl and a guy that’s out to stop them. Seriously, what’s not to like in that setup? The locations interesting, Cairo is described well and from the actual point of view of the character. Speaking of…

Karl Barber is no Gary Stu, or Marty Stu or whatever the male equivalent of a Mary Sue is. He quite clearly has flaws as well as skills and when he’s put under duress there is a real fear that he might not make it out alive. His enemy, the big bad of this particular story is worthy of him and not some cobbled together central casting goon that’s been set up to fall down. I like that, I like that a lot.

I like that, I like that a lot.

Barber is a recurring character in a set of stories and so reading a story that he’s in is going to feel like watching an episode of a TV show. You know, one that you like and not just something you’re watching because if you don’t the other half is going to be annoyed at you for. That’s not a bad thing, just me thinking out loud I guess.

So, as far as things stand StoryHack is two for two and passes the minimum value test. For .99p you get at least two stories that are worth buying it for alone. That I got to read them while the other half was watching what she wanted was a definite Brucie bonus.

That’s all for now, take care

Dean

Posted in Reviews

Storyhack Issue 0: King of Spades by David J. West

Confession time. I love a good short story, but they have to be very, very good to pass muster. Thirty odd years ago I discovered Stephen King and I thought he was good, and for years thought he was the best. Now the guys not even in my top ten. The best, for me, is the guy that I can read and reread over and over again because anyone of his stories is just that damned good.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Montague Rhodes James.

It’s a pretty high bar. Lovecraft made a decent fist of it, Howard was almost there, Le Fanu and Saki close by. James is just that bit better. Each story is so polished, so perfectly crafted that they leave me with a feeling of awe and admiration. That’s what I look for in any short story that I read.

So I picked up StoryHack hoping for a little bit of that. I headed straight for David J. Wests tale because I’ve read one of his yarns featuring Porter Anderson and thoroughly enjoyed it. The guy already had coin with me, and so I came to the table expecting to like it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Okay, some spoilers may lie ahead, but I’ll do my best to avoid them.

King of Spades has a rock-solid concept. Take zombies and put them in biblical times. What is there not to love about that? Throw in Lilith, King David, the Witch of Endor and an enemy that keeps coming back for more and you have a serious contender. Add a loyal general, some self-doubt, and great battles and you have a solid gold story. The pace is great, dialogue is good and the characters likable where they should be and it’s a genuine pleasure to read. Be in no doubt, I enjoyed this.

I…have an issue though.

I don’t think that this should have been a short story. There’s just so much that I would have liked to have seen explored that you could have got a full novel out of. I would have liked to have seen West’s depiction of King David developed. More of Lilith, more battles, more stakes and greater tension. The concept is certainly strong enough to handle it, and West is a good enough author to pull it off. I’m telling you now that I would pre-order this book on day one of pre-sale.

You never get that feeling with James, his stories leave no room to be anything more than what they are. Everything is told and nothing is left out which is where their power lies. Kudos though to David for a cracking story.

Posted in Blog

Sharing is caring: Oghmas’ Giveaway!

Well, schedules are like a box of chocolates. I will burn through all my free time on frivolous things and get to stuff later than intended. Without further ado. GIVEAWAYS First Prize: 3 full sized Poster Maps of Aihdre 3 1/2 x 2 1/2 feet Sealed Pack of Castles and Crusades Character Record Sheets 2 […]

via Giveaway! — Temple of Iron

I was originally going to do part two of my take on The Moon Pool but I’m just enjoying it too much to rush! So instead allow me to present to you a giveaway from the awesome Oghma. Come back Monday for the second part of my review, unless I get it done earlier.

Good Luck and take care!

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challange: The Moon Pool (Part One) by A Merritt.

Sometimes there are points in your life when you want to relax into the known and comforting. Then there are the times when you’re keen to try something new and exciting. When my life is more challenging I prefer the first option while the second is perfect for when everything is calmer. Rarely do the two overlap; that is until I started reading Merritt.

I fancied a quick read back on Saturday as the Boss and I headed to the seaside to visit her Dad and so I settled back to read ‘Through the Dragon Glass’. By the time we’d gotten halfway there I’d finished it and gone on to ‘The People of the Pit’ just because it’s the second story in my Collected Works. I finished it just as we pulled into the Old Mans driveway, feeling more relaxed and satisfied than I had in quite a while. I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about these stories while The Boss and Boss Daughter chatted to their family. Luckily I’m known for being a tad quiet so no-one really noticed any difference.

On the way back I fired up the old Kindle and began ‘The Moon Pool’ and found a story that seems to be an amalgam of the previous two, in the best possible way. I’ve only managed to read the first part so far, which has been excellent. It makes sense, therefore, to look at all three parts separately, giving my thoughts accordingly.

You are hereby warned that spoilers follow!

What motivates a hero? For Merritt the answers easy; loyalty and curiosity. In ‘Dragon Glass’ Herdon is motivated by curiosity to enter the mirror. The narrator stands guard due to loyalty. The focal character in The people of the Pit was motivated by curiosity. Then we come to The Moon Pool. We start off with Throckmorton and party, motivated by curiosity. Then along comes Goodwin and we have loyalty to a friend as well as a very natural curiosity. Both of these virtues are worthy motivators and both are getting rarer.

Before I go any further, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed the framing device at the start. I’ve always been a sucker for a well-framed narrative and the gentle but intriguing one used by Merritt pulled me right in. So much information was put into that first couple of pages in a clear manner, a complete info-dump but perfectly done. Before the story had even got underway I knew everything that I needed to.

The story moves along at a fair old clip as I’ve come to expect. Before too long Throckmorton has laid the entire situation out to Goodwin and described the entity to us, shown the reader some strong, and very competent female characters and drawn us into the mystery. When Throckmorton disappears Goodwin investigates out of loyalty.

It’s pure narrative genius.

The description is just about perfect. I can see the entity, the slabs that protect its habitat, the markings on the stones. I can see the islands and the men that assist them, it’s all in there for the skull cinema to enjoy. What really stands out though is the structure. Information is doled out as the story needs it and not just because the writer wants to sell us his story. Things happen when they need to and after you’ve mulled it over you realize that it couldn’t have happened in any other way. There are callbacks aplenty, Merritt never shows us something without it having a purpose.

And he does all that with a brevity that others purveyors of fantasy could do well from copying.

I’m a third of the way in and I’m loving the story. I’ll be continuing my thoughts on the Moon Pool in Part Two on Thursday.

Until then take care

Dean

 

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challange: The People of the Crater by Andre Norton.

Wow, busy week here. Lil Buddy got to check out the school she’ll be going to come September and if you think a four-year-old couldn’t get stressed I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. In between putting gemstones on sponges to make a pirate treasure, two trips to the library for more books and getting my ass handed to me on Dark Souls I managed to get the above read.

As well as Quag Keep.

I was planning on looking at Quag Keep for this post but decided against it. I enjoyed it, quite a lot as it happens, but decided at the last moment that it wasn’t the one I wanted to write about. My problem was that over the last twenty years I’ve read a lot of Gaming novelisations. Dragonlance, Shadowrun hell I’ve even read Warcraft. Oh, and Warhammer, so much Warhammer! I know that Norton did it first with Quag Keep, but all those books queered that particular pitch. It didn’t feel as fresh as I hoped it would, and that’s without a doubt due to those that came after.

So I decided to check out the earliest piece I could find which lead me The People of the Crater. This, this was what I was looking for. Once again I picked up elements that had been used by others which was quite thrilling if I’m honest. It’s a great feeling when you make that connection and realize that your education is progressing apace.

The first thing that hits you after you put the book down is just how tightly it’s plotted. You’d have to be an idiot to claim that the pulp writers bloated their works, the reality is just the opposite. There isn’t a wasted word paragraph or scene in the whole story and it clips along. It read like a blend of Merritt and Burroughs but with enough of an individual voice that it never felt like a pastiche or homage.

Then there was the romance. Obvious from the start how it would end up and even what the problem was, but no worse for that. The story needed that romance to give the story some real meaning and the hero some serious motivation. Again, some serious shades of The Ship of Ishtar, but more as a guiding hand than a glaring light. I know I intend to use it to guide an element of my latest WIP.

Lastly, there’s the hero. Have I ever mentioned that I hate the term ‘protagonist’? There’s just no need for it and it dilutes what I as a reader want from the character who’s front and centre. Norton gives us a hero, a proper one who does the right thing even though all he wants to do is wrong. He rises above it and by doing so is justly rewarded. Ah, that’s the way you want a story to end, no false notes, just a well earned reward. The sad thing is the first time we see the hero he’s essentially a down and out, despite being a veteran. It’s sad because 70 years on you could still start a story the same way and it would be equally as believable.

You can, if you so desire, read it for free here.

That’s all for now, take care guys

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challange: A Martian Odyssey by Stanley Weinbaum.

Okay, it’s been a busy weekend here at Chez Dean, what with Lil Buddies birthday, Dark Souls 3 and finally getting around to playing the latest MTG release Amonkehet. The birthday went well, Dark Souls is ridiculously hard and I’m quite liking the graveyard recursion in Amonkehet. Which brings me around quite nicely to the above tale. Weinbaum is yet another writer that I’d never heard of. He was apparently Quite A Big Deal© back when he was working that has since disappeared into obscurity. It shouldn’t feel like I’m resurrecting the dead when you read a writer as good as he is.

Everything about A Martian Odyssey is good. A solid plot, a likeable hero with an interesting companion. Clear motivations and vivid descriptions. The dialogue clips along and although Weinbaum indulges a penchant for accents it’s not so frequent that it’s annoying. Where Weinbaum stands out is in the pure imagination stakes. There are aliens on Mars and they are exactly that. Alien. They do not think like us, they do not act like us and they are not motivated as we are. They can be described, but they cannot be understood.

It wasn’t until I was in bed last night, mulling the story over in my minds-eye that I realised just how groundbreaking this must have been. Hell, let’s be honest here, still is. I watched and enjoyed Star Trek Beyond not too long ago. Great entertainment, but the aliens are us with funny coloured skin. Same goes for Star Wars Rogue One. They could rock up tomorrow and the only problem politicians would have is how to tax them. They could all be easily understood.

You can’t say that about Weinbaums’ aliens. They are different because they think differently, are made differently and see the universe differently. His creations are solid and consistent but not us. It’s been preying on my mind all day, wondering where I’d come across anything like that before.

Cthulhu anyone?

So why is a writer, able to bring us such an amazing concept and write so fluently, on the Misplaced list? If his writing sucked I’d get it, but it doesn’t. If his ideas stunk I’d get that too. Maybe it’s because:

Think not what you can do for Mars, think only what Mars can do for you. (Sigh!) Yes, this is colonialist, imperialist and racist in equal measure, yet it’s probably not fair to condemn it for that since it was Written in 1934 and is of its time.

or

oh, my God. This story was disgusting. And I don’t mean gross. I mean an abomination of a tale. I know, I know…it was written in the 1930s. But I don’t feel inclined to give Weinbaum any slack for that. This story wasn’t only poorly written, cocky, highly- and offensively-racist, it was an imperial and colonial orgasm in the worst pornographic way.

Where to begin with all this stupid. Well, firstly if you insist on reading everything through the lens of the idiots teaching Cultural Studies you’re never going to enjoy another damned book in your life. You’re also unqualified to pass judgement on the writing quality as you’re not judging it on the ability to write a decent sentence, paragraph, scene or story but on how true to some idiotic concepts the same teachers had.

Want to broaden your mind? Then read Weinbaum, allow yourself to be immersed in an imagination that was truly groundbreaking. We all should be talking about this mans’ work, and it shouldn’t feel like we’re bringing him back from the dead.

Thanks for reading this guys.

Take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

Back in the day when I’d spend my hard earned wages on Spheres Conan reprints there would be the occasional week when I was out of luck and had to choose something else to read. On one such week, we’d read a short story in class by Leiber that I’d enjoyed and so I picked up Swords and Deviltry expecting more of the same.

Instead, I got a collection of short stories that acted as an introduction to his characters Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser. Well, that taught me to at least open a book before parting with my money. I read it though and enjoyed it well enough but it didn’t grab me enough to search out the rest of his work. Bear in mind that I can’t have been more than 14 at the time and just beginning to get into RPGs.

Coming back to the stories as a much older and I hope slightly more discerning reader I can see now what I missed then.

Rich language. Okay dialogue. Fantastic ideas. That’s how I’d sum up Leiber briefly. It’s a pleasure to read him as the words slide down but it does seem a tad dated now, not as much as Anderson, but certainly getting there. Compared to the last book I read, The Sign of the Labrys, it certainly seems to be stuck a little too far in the past.

But…

He really knows how to tell a story. His descriptive powers are amazing and if you give them the time they need transfer you to the destination he intended. The imagery is clear and beautifully drawn, whether it’s the snow covered land you encounter in the first of the stories, the dungeons of the Duke in the second or the foully intoxicating city of Lankhmar in the last. It pulls you in and fills your mind and before too long you’re ignoring the tin-eared dialogue and revelling in the clarity of Leibers’ imagination. You feel what he wants you to feel because of the clarity of his prose, no word is wasted.

Unless it’s in the dialogue.

Right at the core of the stories is the heartbeat that I think drives these tales. It’s loyalty; to each other, to the women they love and the life they’ve chosen. It’s a concept that seems to have fallen out of favour in a lot of fiction recently and yet the best stories demand it. Without it, well I reckon the story has to fail. Without a sense of loyalty you can’t have heroes, a tad simplistic view I’ll grant you, but it’s one I’m happy with. I missed the loyalty aspect as a kid, but the older me, the one that’s a little more thoughtful and introspective latched onto it and embraced it.

That’s all for now, it’s Lil buddies bathtime and I’ve got to wash her hair. The Snow womens’ snowballs have nothing on the toys she’s going to be throwing at me when she realises that.

Thanks for reading guys

take care

Dean