Saturday, July 23, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Clive, Hellraiser and Me guest post by Paul Kane

Waiting On Wednesday: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley


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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.

Nothing new on the review front, but this week's used bookstore haul included:
  • Prophecy by Elizabeth Haydon (the arrival of the final book in her series put her back on my radar)
  • Gates of Dawn by Robert Newcomb (which fills my craving for the kind of fantasy I grew up on)
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (he's always a great read, and I somehow missed this one).


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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.

Once again, my reading list is all over the place, balancing the review pile with some titles I want to read for myself. Having been on vacation for most of this week, I do have some books read and reviews coming up, but here's what I'm still enjoying.

 

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Clive, Hellraiser and Me by Paul Kane

Today we have the great pleasure of hosting Paul Kane - author, editor, journalist, and Hellraiser scholar extraordinaire. If you haven't already picked up a copy of Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, then I urge you to do so at your earliest convenience.


Clive, Hellraiser and Me

I first came across the fiction of Clive Barker, like a lot of people, back in the 1980s. I’d already been introduced to horror at a ridiculously early age, when a mate handed me a copy of James Herbert’s The Rats in the school yard and told me I’d like it; he wasn’t wrong. From that moment on, I lapped up anything by the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Graham Masterton, Richard Laymon and so many others, as well as seeking out as many of the video nasties of that era I could get my hands on – usually lent to me by older relatives of my friends. It was little wonder then, that when I saw a copy of Books of Blood on the shelves in my local bookstore I grinned from ear to ear and just knew I had to have it. This was the omnibus edition – we lived in quite an out of the way place, so the individual ones probably wouldn’t have made it up to us – with the Barker artwork on the cover, though I didn’t know at the time Clive drew and painted as well. Didn’t know he wrote for the theatre and acted, nor that he’d made short films either by then. All I knew was the book looked awesome and all that stood between me and it was putting the pocket money I’d saved down on the counter.

I ran off with it and started reading even before I got home… to be honest, I’d started reading it in the shop so I was just continuing on with it. After the glowing introduction by Clive’s fellow Liverpudlian Ramsey Campbell came the first part of the framing titular story, about a man who pretends to talk to the dead, to tell their tales, and suffers the ultimate price for it: they begin to write their stories on his skin; a human Book of Blood! Wow… Such a cool device, but there was also something that transcended the horror here – and I found this time and time again as I read those tales. ‘Midnight Meat Train’, for instance, doesn’t just present us with a psychopathic serial killer – which would have been enough for most horror writers of that time – it gives us the totally mind-blowing reason for the murders.

The same was true of story after story, and even without the recommendation from King saying that Clive was the future of horror, I could see that these collections were going to be a game-changer. No two tales were the same, ranging from comedy horror in ‘The Yattering and Jack’ to rampaging monster horror in ‘Rawhead Rex’, to horror that contemplated what it was to be us, in the aptly-named ‘Human Remains’ (one of the best short stories of all time, in any genre). As you can imagine, I sat and waited patiently for more stories and books – re-reading the one I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon in the meantime. Volumes 4-6 followed, and Clive’s first novel, the utterly brilliant Damnation Game, and then…something else. Something which captured my imagination like nothing before or since has ever done. That something was The Hellbound Heart in an anthology called Night Visions, edited by George R.R. Martin – and I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that my life would never be the same again.

Immediately I fell in love with this tale of an obsessive man called Frank, who’s seeking the ultimate pleasure by opening a puzzle box, only to discover that the demons he summons – the Order of the Gash, more commonly known as Cenobites – have a very different idea of pleasure to him. At the same time, his former lover Julia has married his brother and they’ve moved into the house where Frank vanished – and where a spilt drop of blood brings him back…sort of. There was just so much to admire here, from Clive’s writing again of course, to the simple yet overwhelmingly complex story; the idea that a doorway to another world could be opened up in a house that might be down the street from you was utterly terrifying. And that’s even before you realise what the Cenobites can do to you! It was a story that made me smile as much as it sent shivers down my spine.

Oddly, when I first saw Hellraiser – or maybe that should be when I first saw the video cover, because I hadn’t been old enough to see it at the cinema and still wasn’t 18 so I couldn’t rent it from out local video store – I didn’t make the connection with its source material. Perhaps it was because I was so blown away by the cover image of the guy with nails banged into his skull, or the picture on the reverse of a skinless man. However, when I finally got to see it properly, borrowing it from a friend’s brother and waiting until my folks were out shopping, I put two and two together…once I’d stopped shaking, that was. Not many horror movies frightened me back then – they still don’t – I was too desensitised; but that first encounter with the film scared the crap out of me, when I wasn’t grinning like a loon at discovering such a gem. Again, it was the thought that all this could be happening not a stone’s throw away – although I didn’t really know it back then, it was an example of British New Wave, or Kitchen Sink drama…it just happened to have sadomasochistic demons in it. From that moment on, my fate was sealed and my life would be forever linked with both Clive and Hellraiser.

As the years passed, and I watched more and more of the sequels, collected the comics and everything else, I also found out more about what a creative force Clive is and kept up with his books – which still contained elements of horror, but were moving more and more towards dark fantasy. In fact, they were becoming unclassifiable in some cases, as his writing happily transcended genre categories to become – quite rightly – a genre in itself. I went to art college, then university and then broke into freelance journalism, with a specialism in genre writing. I reviewed films for my local paper and started a Film Studies MA course, with an eye to maybe writing a few books on film myself. It was a no-brainer that at some point I’d write about Hellraiser – my aim being initially to do a kind of BFI style book about the first movie, like Mark Kermode’s one on The Exorcist. I couldn’t get much interest in that sadly, but after I sent some samples in to a publisher called McFarland they suggested I should write about the whole movie series – eight by that time – plus relevant comics and short films. I ummed and ahhed about doing it, because I knew it would be so much work, but my best friend Marie O’Regan – now my wife of ten years – convinced me that if I didn’t do it, I’d always regret it. She was absolutely right, I would have.

The book might have taken years to research and write, but it filled a much needed gap in the market and has become a sort of bible for fans of the series – even ending up being the illustration for the Hellraiser Wiki page. Around the same time I’d been writing it, I became Special Publications Editor of the British Fantasy Society – an organisation Clive had been a huge part of twenty years beforehand, before his move to the States. My first project was to put together a calendar based on the Gawain and the Green Knight legend, involving some of the biggest names in SF, Fantasy and Horror. And the person we approached to do the introduction was Clive. As busy as he was, he said yes… It would take a week for the smile to fade from my face.

This and the publication of Legacy were the things that put me on Clive’s radar. The things that led to our inviting him over to be a Guest of Honour at the 2006 FantasyCon – where I finally met him in person, found out that he was lovely and interviewed him live in front of an audience of about 600 fans, my grin of delight plain for everyone to see – that led to many interviews and chats on the phone, the suggestion of a Hellraiser anthology called Hellbound Hearts which I would co-edit with Marie… All of it. And, believe me when I say I still pinch myself on a daily basis.

It’s not often you get to meet your heroes, let alone become friends with them, but amazingly that’s what happened here. One of my fondest memories is of being on post production of the film version of Book of Blood with Clive, and spotting a ghost-zombie walking past with one arm. “Well,” said Clive, “you don’t see that every day.” I remember smiling, then chuckling, then laughing until I cried…

It’s one of the reasons I felt so comfortable sounding him out about my idea to do a Sherlock Holmes/Hellraiser crossover. I’d discovered the Conan Doyle stories around the same time as Clive’s fiction, and had watched Jeremy Brett bring the character to life in the Granada TV show at the same time I saw Hellraiser – so in my mind there was that link. The same kind of link there was now between Clive, Hellraiser and me. Thankfully he loved the sound of the novel that would become Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, loved the detailed outlines for it and sample chapter, and loved it when we found a supportive publisher in the form of Solaris. At the time of writing this, the book came out last week and seems to be doing very well. People are reading it, people are enjoying it. One kind reviewer even called it a ‘masterwork’, which is another one of those pinch yourself moments for an author.

Which brings us pretty much up to date. I’m not sure what the future will hold, not for myself, not for Hellraiser nor for Clive – but I am sure that all three of us will be always be linked now. I think we always were, really, even though none of us realised it.

It’s something that, when I think about it, always makes me smile.

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About the Author

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over sixty books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), Hellbound Hearts and Monsters. His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network television, plus his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequel to RED – Blood RED – and Sherlock Holmes and The Servants of Hell from Solaris. He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan, his family and a black cat called Mina. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

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About the Book

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell
by Paul Kane 

Sherlock Holmes faces his greatest challenge yet when he meets the Cenobites, the infamous servants of hell.

Late 1895, and Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion Dr John Watson are called upon to investigate a missing persons case. On the face of it, this seems like a mystery that Holmes might relish – as the person in question vanished from a locked room – and something to occupy him other than testing the limits of his mind and body.

But this is just the start of an investigation that will draw the pair into contact with a shadowy organisation talked about in whispers and known only as ‘The Order of the Gash’. As more and more people go missing in a similar fashion, the clues point to a sinister asylum in France and to the underworld of London. However, it is an altogether different underworld that Holmes will soon discover – as he finds himself face to face not only with those followers who do the Order’s bidding on Earth, but those who serve it in Hell: the Cenobites...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

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

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley 
Expected publication: April 25th 2017 by Tor Books

Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer--she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including "the one you love / who will not come again."

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love...and ending it on the edge of her sword.


New Staveley? A standalone tale in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe? The God of Death? What isn't there to look forward to here? :)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


WTF Friday: Berzerkoids by M.P. Johnson

Waiting on Wednesday: The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

Fantasy Review: The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan


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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.


  

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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.

You can tell summer is upon us, because my reading list is all over the place. I'm trying to balance the review pile with some titles I want to read for myself, but really I'm just going with whatever I'm in the mood for at time and allowing myself the pleasure of enjoying the reads.

  

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 15, 2016

WTF Friday: Berzerkoids by M.P. Johnson

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't always get a lot of press, and which rarely benefit from any prominent retail shelf space.



They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

Imagine if you will, a bicep-bulging, long-haired, spandex-clad wrestler leaping into frame at the end of an 80s toy commercial. Now, before we get to the catchphrase, put him in drag (most 80s wrestlers weren't far away as it is), stick an alien on top of his head, wrap a monster caterpillar around his leg, and stick a sentient zombie-bashing board in his perfectly manicured hand. Now, as he leaps into frame, get ready to scream along with the sound of his explosive landing.

"Berzerkoids! Gotta catch read 'em all!"

M.P. Johnson's first short story collection embodies that sense of cheesy nostalgia, and wraps it up in contemporary bizarro horror. These are strange little slices of fiction, ranging from the merely surreal to the truly bizarre, that entertain from beginning to end. Honestly, there wasn't a single story that didn't get at least an appreciative nod or chuckle, and more than a few that had me grinning from ear-to-ear.

BERZERKOIDS ARE HERE and RISE OF THE BERZERKOIDS book-end the collection, giving us two very different takes on our childish obsessions. The first seems incredibly dark and unnecessarily cruel, until you get to the final twist, while the last is a tad predictable, but an amusing twist on the theme.

LOVING ARMS was a definite favorite, as a long-neglected stuffed bear finds himself caught between a desire for revenge against the boy who tortured him, and twisted desire for the drag queen that boy has become. HEARTS AND CATERPILLARS takes an unorthodox look at love and obsession, complete with monstrous caterpillars, horny old men, cheating girlfriends, and kinky cartoon mascots. KILLER NAILS, on the other hand (pun intended), taunts you and teases you with threats of the bizarre, before exploding in a grotesque fury.

I THINK I’LL DONATE THIS SEVERED HEAD TO THE SALVATION ARMY may be the best titles I've ever come across, capturing the essence of a story that's deceptively simple. THROUGH TIME, KNUCKLES FIRST was another favorite, with a man dragged through time by a half-rotten alien head in search of a drag queen who just may be the daughter he doesn't yet have. THE FINAL FAILURE OF A PROFESSIONAL SMALL ANIMAL INSIDE-OUTER is probably the second best title I've come across, leading off another story that's simple, straightforward, and somewhat sadistic.

As much as I enjoyed the teddy bears, time travel, and drag queens, STORY OF A BOARD was the highlight of the collection for me. Zombie apocalypse stories may be a dime a dozen nowadays, but how many of them are told from the perspective of the wooden board that, between instances of being tossed to the curb, is used to bash their skulls in (and save the world)?

Bizarro stories often work best on a small scale, in stories that can explore the twisted concepts without overstaying their welcome, and that makes Berzerkoids the perfect read. Yes, it's often disgustingly amusing, and sometimes even horrifyingly arousing, but it's always original, and consistently entertaining.

Paperback, 160 pages
Published April 11th 2016 by Bizarro Pulp Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

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

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
Expected publication: October 4th 2016 by Simon & Schuster

In the much-anticipated sequel to the “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR) Grace of Kings, Emperor Kuni Garu is faced with the invasion of an invincible army in his kingdom and must quickly find a way to defeat the intruders.

Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, runs the archipelago kingdom of Dara, but struggles to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people and his vision. Then an unexpected invading force from the Lyucu empire in the far distant west comes to the shores of Dara—and chaos results.

But Emperor Kuni cannot go and lead his kingdom against the threat himself with his recently healed empire fraying at the seams, so he sends the only people he trusts to be Dara’s savvy and cunning hopes against the invincible invaders: his children, now grown and ready to make their mark on history.


The first book was one of my favorite reads of last year, so I've been anxiously awaiting this. No sign of an ARC yet, but my fingers are crossed.