Friday, September 19, 2014

Horror Review: The Dreaming Demon by Alex Avrio

Through a series of stories nested within stories, the memories of an old man, and the revelations of an ancient manuscript, Alex Avrio introduces us to the tale of The Dreaming Demon.

It's a relatively short tale, at under 50 pages, but Avrio packs a lot of story and atmosphere into it. His narrative pulls you in right away, hooks you with the promise of old fashioned adventure, and then sinks its fangs into you with some surprisingly effective supernatural horror.

This is a story that crosses several generations, following the siren song of the Dreaming Demon, the Aztec temple that serves as her final resting place, and the tribes who ensure nothing shall ever escape to threaten the world once again. The settings are fantastic and well-detailed, and the atmosphere is perfect for each nested narrative.

If you're looking for some old-fashioned chills in the vein of Poe or Doyle, then The Dreaming Demon is well worth a read.

ebook, 44 pages
Published June 21st 2014 by

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fantasy Review: A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda

Somehow, it seems I missed reviewing A Turn of Light when it first came out. I could have sworn that I did – I have a very clear memory or writing the review - but somehow it never got posted. With the release of A Play of Shadow on the horizon, I figured it was time to reread the first book, reacquaint myself with the magnificent world that Julie E. Czerneda has created, and finally get that review posted.

With the fantasy genre having shifted more towards darker, grimmer fantasy in recent years, with a greater focus on the heroic or militaristic elements, the Night’s Edge series really stands out as something bright and vibrant. It’s a far lighter fantasy than we've become used it, not in terms of heft or significance, but in terms of optimism and hope. On the surface, it’s a happier sort of story, filled with some exciting twists on its more traditional fantasy elements, but it’s also a series with a very deep mythology and an epic sort of world-building that’s there from the start, but which we really only begin to truly appreciate in the second half of the book.

At first glance, it’s the kind of book I’d almost be tempted to describe as a pastoral sort of fantasy. The entire story is set in a small, secluded village, comprised of little more than a few homes and farms, some beehives, a mill, a magical meadow, and forest-covered ruins of a far earlier civilization. While characters reminisce or reflect on life in the larger cities, and Jenn Nalynn dreams of seeing the larger world, we never step foot outside the valley of Marrowdell. As Czerneda reveals in her afterword, however, this is really a pioneer sort of fantasy, inspired by the efforts of those who sailed from the cities of England to settle in the wilds of Canada.

That pioneer element allows for a fantasy setting that is unique, but will still be familiar to fans of the genre. It’s the magical aspects, however, that really draw the reader into the world. Marrowdell is a home for the unwanted, for those exiled from the larger world. It welcomes those who have the potential to contribute to the community, but drives others away with nightmares that banish all attempts at sleep. The valley itself lies along the Verge, a wound in the world that allows for the worlds of human and faery to bleed into one another, which allows for things that seem quite miraculous.

The three characters who drive the story are Jenn Nalynn, Wisp/Wyll, and Bannan Larmensu. Jenn is turnborn, a young woman ‘cursed’ to never leave the valley of Marrowdell, and possessed of an incredible magical power. Wisp is a wounded dragon, condemned to watch over Jenn as punishment for his role in a war between magical races, an invisible creature of wind and air whom Jenn wishes into the human form of Wyll. As for Bannan, he is a soldier just recently exiled to Marrowdell, a truthseer with the power to glimpse what lies behind outward appearances, able to see the magical creatures and environments that bleed from the Verge. As for those magical creatures, they include fanged toads that guard the homes of Marrowdell, messenger moths, demonic-looking beasts that masquerade as horses, and much, much more.

There is a love-triangle at work here, with romance in general a key element of the story, but it’s most definitely not a typical romance. It’s less about love and passion than it is about the human relationships that drive us. The characters here are well-rounded, fascinating, and endearing. They are far deeper than they originally appear, with their backstories and pasts slowly emerging over the course of the story. Czerneda uses the characters to explore the world, to ground us in the story, and to ensure we remain engaged throughout. That engagement is important, because this is a novel that’s evenly (almost leisurely) paced, with everything leading up to the resolution of the mystery that is Jenn Nalynn. It’s also a book of layers, with each revelation drawing us even deeper into the mysteries of the world. There is a definite building of tension in the final arc, with a climax upon which the fate of the world rests, but it’s done without the kind of aggressive conflict readers might expect.

Make no mistake, this is not a book that immediately wows you, or which demands that you keep turning pages late into the night. A Turn of Light is more something to be savored and enjoyed, a book that can only be described as wondrous and magical. Instead of grabbing you and dragging you into the world of Marrowdell, it invites you in, establishes a friendship, and seduces you into staying just a little longer every time you sit down to give it a read.

Paperback, 896 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by DAW Trade

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Expected publication: October 28th 2014 by DAW

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows....

In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world.

It's not quite the third book we've so anxiously been waiting for, but it's still awesome to have a new Rothfuss story set in the same world. What's really interesting about this novella is that Rothfuss has narrated the audio edition of the book, and he's already revealed a teaser clip over at his blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sci-Fi Review: Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett

The first Gideon Smith adventure was one of my top 3 reads for 2013. Exciting, adventurous, and exceptionally well-told, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl was part steampunk science fiction, part old-fashioned horror story, and part penny dreadful romp around the world. I enjoyed every aspect of it, from the concept to the characters, and came away wanting more. Fortunately, not only was there room for a sequel, but the cliffhanger ending absolutely that demanded it.

Here we are, just over a year later, and David Barnett has delivered admirably on those sequel demands with Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon. This installment swaps out the old-fashioned horror for old west adventure, but adds even more steampunk science fiction to the mix. It's a book that surprised me several times with the direction it took, avoiding the genre clichés towards which it seemed to be teasing us, and (of course) setting up several plot threads for a third book.

The story opens with a mechanically augmented Charles Darwin, marooned in the lost world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, slowly succumbing to rust and ruin. He and Stanford Rubicon are the last survivors of the HMS Beagle II, with the rest of the crew having either fallen to their deaths or been eaten by dinosaurs. Just when all seems lost, they are rescued by Mr. Gideon Smith, "Hero of the effing Empire," and Aloysius Bent, his chronicler for World Marvels & Wonders. From there, we briefly follow the heroes home to England, only to dispatched just hours later to the shores of America, where the brass dragon (and, presumably, Maria) have been spotted.

It's in the alternate history of America that Barnett's second adventure really shines. The Mason–Dixon isn't just a line here, it's a solid wall to rival that of China's great one. The America to the north is one of skyscrapers and dirigibles, still loyal to the Queen; while Texas, Louisiana, and the Confederate states to the south are lawless, old west towns full of slavery, prostitution, and black magic. As for California, it was ceded to the Japanese long ago, with the remnants of Spanish occupation still putting up a good fight around them. It only takes a few small twists in the history of the American Revolution to create this world, with at least one forgotten hero making a surprise return later in the story.

The fact that Gideon does find Maria and the brass dragon should come as no surprise, but the ways in which she has changed certainly do. At the risk of spoiling the story, I won't say much about her role, except to say the Japanese provide a worthy foe . . . and there is an escaped Tyrannosaurus Rex to be dealt with. Rowena Fanshawe once again gets to play heroine of the airways, while Louis Cockayne's story is brought full circle with a very satisfactory revolution. Bent doesn't have as much to do this time around, but he's an effing marvelous for sarcasm and comic relief.

While I didn't enjoy Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon quite as much as the first book (it's pacing is slower, and America is a distant second to Egypt in terms of setting), it's still a great read that has left me hungry for a third helping. What further surprises or settings Barnett may have in mind, I have no idea, but I'll hazard a guess that the oft-referenced Jack the Ripper may finally pit himself against Smith and team.

Paperback, 336 pages
Expected publication: September 16th 2014 by Tor Books

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Just the one new review arrival this week, but it's an exciting one - a paperback ARC of Brian Staveley's second installment in his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, The Providence of Fire. This will likely be the next big, thick tome I relax with, taking the opportunity to lose myself in his world once again.

On the new purchases front, just one new title there as well, but it's an exciting one. Julie E. Czerneda's Species Imperative omnibus edition is out, complete with the dedication to her loyal biogeeks . . .  including yours truly!


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett
The first Gideon Smith tale was a Victoriana / steampunk mash-up, an old-fashioned horror story, a penny dreadful romp, and an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones. Can't wait for the sequel!

Consumed: A Novel by David Cronenberg
Probably my most anticipated read of the Fall, I'm anxious to dig in and see if he can capture his screen magic on the page. Early reviews are mixed, but I like what I'm hearing.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, September 12, 2014

David Blalock's Top Ten Late Summer Reading Recommendations (Guest Post)

To recommend just ten books seems a bit restrictive. I think it would be more appropriate to give recommendations for ten authors and give you the choice to pick what looks interesting of their works. Few of my recommendations will sound familiar to today's readership, that's because I find the mainstream literature of today boring and uninteresting. Even the speculative fiction writers of today have little to offer me that hasn't been done better long ago. Maybe I'm too old to be impressed. Maybe I just know what I like. Whatever the case, here are my recommendations, in ascending order:

10. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?). Not well known today, Bierce was a pioneering writer of what came to be called the horror genre. His best known work is “An Occurrence at Owl Creek” which set the stage for quite a few copycat stories in the 1920s and 1930s. He disappeared without a trace after joining Pancho Villa's revolutionaries in 1913.

9. Robert E. Howard (1906-1936). Best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Howard's work included westerns, poetry, and historical fiction. My favorite character of his is Solomon Kane. He never earned more than $4000 a year for his writing, was always in financial trouble, and had a weak heart. The stress of this and being advised of his mother's impending death drove him to suicide.

8. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Raised by an overbearing mother when his father was committed to a mental institution, Lovecraft began writing horror fiction at 8 years of age. Never very skilled at any craft, he had difficulty supporting himself all his life. When “Weird Tales” magazine offered him an editorship, he turned it down and it was given to a writer he had criticized. This doomed his own writing, as the new editor refused to accept his stories until after his death.

7. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). A lover of speculative fiction from his youth, Bradbury spent his entire life learning how to write and write well. His stories and books are pure joy to the science fiction and fantasy fan. It doesn't matter what you choose that has his byline. You will enjoy it.

6. Jack Vance (1916-2013). In his “The Dying Earth” series, which first appeared in the 1950s, he set the stage for many of the mechanics gamers will recognize are used for mages in games like “Dungeons and Dragons”. His world with a population resigned to its inevitable fate is a harrowing statement on the apathy of not only his time but of ours. Technology to him was not something to admire.

5. A. E. Van Vogt (1912-2000). Cited as one of the main influences on men like Philip K. Dick, Van Vogt's work is considered the fundamental basis of science fiction today. SFWA founder Damon Knight hated his work so much he slandered the man at every turn. It took Harlan Ellison to reveal that Knight wouldn't allow Van Vogt to be recognized as a Grand Master before he was. Van Vogt's structure entertains and confuses equally, a chaotic but fascinating and thematically mature manner of story-telling. If you start reading “The Weapon Shops of Isher”, be ready.

4. Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985). “Ninety percent of science fiction is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.” Sturgeon's Law. That certainly can't be said of this man's work. He wrote for television as well as print. He is credited with two Star Trek episodes and many Star Trek innovations: pon-farr (the Vulcan mating ritual) and the Prime Directive among them. He influenced several other well-known writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, and Samuel Delany.

3. John Brunner (1934-1995). Incredibly prolific and published under numerous pen names, Brunner's work was prophetic masterpiece after masterpiece. His “The Traveler in Black” is my favorite, with its precautionary theme of be careful what you wish for. Brunner was always on the cutting edge of writing about technology and warned of over-dependence and the dangers of alienating humanity from itself.

2. Philip K. Dick (1928-1982). Political and social commentary in science fiction reached its peak in Dick's work. His stinging criticism of modern values helped shape changes that today seem axiomatic. If you read nothing else by him, read “Ubik”. It heavily influenced my own fantasy work.

1. Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988). What can I say about Heinlein that hasn't already been said? He's been lauded and vilified, praised and slandered. If you don't love his work, you probably hate it. He's been called a misogynist and a pervert by the feminists, a visionary and a prophet by others. His most entertaining works center around Lazarus Long. I cannot recommend him highly enough.


About the Author

Born in San Antonio, Texas, David Blalock spent the majority of his formative years in Jacksonville, Florida. At the age of 16, his family moved to the Panama Canal Zone where David finished school and entered employment with the Department of Defense as a Powerhouse Electrician.

Hiring into the FAA, he returned with his wife and two daughters to the States and settled briefly in Gulfport, MS. A few years later, he moved to Memphis, TN, as an Air Traffic Controller for the Memphis ARTCC. There he remained until his retirement.

David’s writing has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, webzines, and writer’s sites. His work continues to appear on a regular basis through multiple publishing houses.

Twitter: @Hdavidblalock


About the Book

The Angelkiller Triad
by David Blalock

Why do bad things happen to good people? Simple. In the ancient war between the Angels of Light and Darkness, the Dark won. Now it is the job of an undercover force simply known as The Army to rectify that.

Using every tool available, The Army has worked to liberate our world from The Enemy for thousands of years, slowly and painfully lifting Mankind out of the dark. On the front of the great Conflict are the Angelkillers, veterans of the fight with centuries of experience.

Jonah Mason is an Angelkiller, and his cell is targeted as part of plot to unseat a very powerful Minion of The Enemy. Mason and his troop are drawn into a battle that stretches from real-time to virtual reality and back. The Conflict is about to expand into cyberspace, and if Mason is unable to stop it, The Enemy will have gained dominion over yet another realm.