Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Neal Barrett Jr. and Other Stuff

I blather on a lot about what I've read by the late Neal Barrett Jr. over on Black Gate in my review of his very excellent The Prophecy Machine today. But really, I absolutely love everything I've read by him. I think Through Darkest America and Dawn's Uncertain Light are the best post-apocalyptic books I've ever read. Brutally written and well written. Not fun reads by any stretch but ones that will sear your brain and never leave
   I'm still working my way through Max Allan Collin's first Nolan book, Bait Money. I've had to fit it in-between The Prophecy Machine and few other reading projects I've got going on. Decent enough so far and I'll definitely read the sequel, Blood Money.

Next week for Black Gate I'm going to review Glen Cook's Dread Empire short story collection An Empire Unacquainted With Defeat. Regular readers here know I'm huge fan of Cook's story "Filed Teeth" (which is in this book). I'm not sure if I've ever said what a big fan of his I am in general. 
I think the Black Company books (except for maybe the last one or two of the second series) are the apex of tough, military fantasy. Unlike Steven Erikson's laudable Malazan series, they aren't too long and overstuffed with stuff. 
Cook's novels are short and sharp, something I can't praise enough. He loses the thread a little in the later books but even they give the satisfaction of bringing the story and the characters home as it were.

This week's music was an extension of my Detroit kick from last time. I went to the original Alice Cooper band, especially music from the live Good to See You Again. The performances are from Texas shows in 1973 during their Billion Dollar Babies tour.
If you only know Alice from his later metal period this is the reason he's still a star (albeit a smaller one) today. At their height AC was one of the biggest bands in America. The musicianship is killer and the shock of the performance is actually shocking. This isn't the goofball who capered on the Muppet Show a few years later.
Their run of albums from Love it to Death, Killer, School's Out, and Billion Dollar Babies is one of the best of any band I know (and their final album Muscle of Love is no slouch either, just not as stellar). They caught grief from a lot of the professional rock critics because they didn't worship at the altar of traditional blues based rock instead looking to Broadway and horror movies. The kids knew better and made them stars.

Who can resist muppet ghosts?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

And Now for Something Different - Cold in July

Because I don't read Variety, because I don't have cable, I don't know, but I didn't know this - Joe Lansdale's brutal 1989 book Cold in July has been filmed. Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson as Jim Bob Luke (for those familiar with this book and Lansdale's Hap & Leonard series). I'm about as excited about a movie coming out as I can possibly be anymore. You can have all the Smaug you want but I'll take Jim Bob Luke and his red Cadillac instead any day of the week.

   Among my friends I discovered Hap & Leonard first with Mucho Mojo. They immediately more than one-upped me by finding Cold in July and the first Hap & Leonard book, Savage Season before me. 
Cold in July is an unrelenting and tough story of survival, revenge, and ultimately, justice. There are several twists that barely give you time to catch your breath as the story careens off down some unexpected trail hidden behind the thorn bushes. If the movie does any amount of justice to Lansdale's story it should be more than worth it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Detroit Rock City

I've got a lengthy review of T. C. Rypel's Gonji trilogy coming up on Black Gate this Tuesday. I usually don't say what I'm reviewing next ('cause I often don't know till sort of the last minute), but the cat's already out of the facebook bag on this one.

I wrote the review in one pretty great burst of creative energy. Then I went to preview it and found out I'd become signed out on Wordpress and no revisions had been saved. 1200 words down the crapper.
After I avoided breaking anything (mostly because I'm an old wuss and was afraid of hurting my hand), I put on some music and rewrote for another three hours. I think I got most of it. Tell me how you like it when it posts.

While it's cheap to use a Kiss title for, well, anything, I've been listening to a bunch of stuff from what was the greatest incubator of heavy rock bands ever. Maybe it was the factory sounds that inspired such powerful heaviness, at least that's the luminous Mrs. V's theory. Whatever, this is some of the bands that never fail to pick me up and get my heart pumping.

Still fairly disturbing - best moment - :01 with that first note

You can steel feel the adrenaline oozing from these guys - best moment - 2:00 when Wayne Kramer starts dancing across the stage

You can still feel the testosterone wafting off of Mark Farner - best moment 5:56 and the multiple screams

When he was on he could craft a killer riff - best moment :51 when the bass kicks in

UPDATE: Gonji:Deathwind Trilogy review is live

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Griots: Sisters of the Spear and Stuff

In a marathon reading session, necessitated by a week of illness, I finished the Milton Davis and Charles Saunders edited Griots: Sisters of the Spear. My review over at Black Gate just went up. The book's a sequel to their excellent 2011 sword & soul anthology Griots. As you can tell from this one's subtitle it focuses on women, be they warriors, sorcereresses, queens or wanderers. There's some very good writing and storytelling in G: SotS. Like in the previous book, the standouts include Carole McDonnell and Milton Davis. Other notables this time around are Joe Bonadonna and P. Djeli Clark. I really need to read Dossouye: The Dancers of Mulukau to get a better understanding of Saunders' story "Kpendu." Interesting as it is, I felt like I was coming in on the end of something larger and I assume it's because of events set up in the novel. I don't think SotS is a better collection than Griots, but it is more consistent. Every writer I like in the first volume is at least as good this time around and several of the new (to me) writers are nearly as good.

I've caught up, actually gotten a little ahead, on my review reading for next week so I'm taking a little break from S&s and started the first Max Allan Collins' Nolan book last night. I'll try to read a few Laird Barron stories this week as well. Good times!

Music this week was a blast from my past. First I scoured youtube for some old West Coast hardcore from my high school/college days, particularly Agent Orange and Channel 3. Later I dug out my mid-nineties third wave ska CDs and listened to some Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish. I enjoyed all that immensely.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Being Sick, Blogging and Buying Books

   So pretty much the day after the luminous Mrs. V. started recovering from a week+ bout of flu-like symptoms, I woke up with a fever.  This is the second time I've been sick in the past few months which really stinks.
  Fortunately, I didn't feel crappy until after I got my weekly Black Gate post written.  It's the December short story roundup. Only three stories to review but I pretty much like all of them. Some clever ideas, particularly in Fraser Sherman's "I Think Therefore I Die" and decent writing in all three. Check 'em out.
   My writing music was an odd mix of Derek Trucks, Kiss, and seventies Kinks.

  I finished spending my Christmas gift certificates over at Amazon and picked up a nice batch of stuff.  Crime, horror, neo-pulp and swords & sorcery.  Oh, and I did get my copy of Pilgrim's Progress.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Beginning of the Year - Looking Back, Peering Forward

Since everybody else out there's writing some sort of year-end wrap, I figure I might as well do one too. It's been a pretty exciting year as far as blogging goes and I'd like to take some time and evaluate what's gone on with my writing and promotion of all things heroic fantasy.
   Obviously, the biggest thing to happen was John O'Neil's invitation to join the ranks of Black Gate's bloggers. Last June, after I mentioned my this blog in a comment on BG, he asked if I'd like to do guest blog post. After a few e-mails it to try and narrow down what I'd write about, I debuted with "The Best New Sword & Sorcery of the Last Twelve Months." Despite the slightly misleading title, I was happy with the results and a lot of people read the article.
   This led directly to my present Tuesday slot at Black Gate. If you've been following along (and if you haven't, why not?), you know I've been mostly sticking to reviews. With these it's been a mix of books I've read, loved and need to get other people to read and books I've always meant to read but haven't. With the latter it's been an expectedly mixed bag: The Magic Goes Away was meh, Deepest, Darkest Eden was alright, and Three Against the Witch World and Jhereg were both blasts.
   Most of my other posts have been of the short S&S fiction being published in the 'zines. If I get one new person to read Swords and Sorcery Magazine, HFQ or BCS my time has been well spent. The only way S&S will survive is if fresh blood is pumped into its too-often sclerotic limbs by new writers. Encouraging them with reviews and criticism is a task I'm starting to relish.

   Finally, I've started working on the whole bit about why I'm doing what I'm doing. I started over at BG with "Why I'm Here - Part One" (and got into a debate about Star Trek with Howard Andrew Jones). With future installments I plan to look at the state of modern S&S, particularly compared to the old school stuff, the defensiveness I sometimes feel in the face of attacks on the old school stuff, and why I feel defensive. It's all a little vague and I'm pulling on articles and comments by a lot of different people on these very same things right now but I hope to turn out several posts on those subjects this coming year.

   The best thing to come out of the BG gig is the editing relationship between me and the luminous Mrs. V. I'm sort of lazy and very sloppy when it comes to editing myself. Heck, I advertise that in my profile. She, on the other hand, is meticulous, a mistress of grammar and pretty unfamiliar with the genre. I'm only writing 1,500 word articles but we go through them line by line. Her hyper attention to detail and grammar powers ensure my writing is correct. That third element of hers is the most valuable. Since she doesn't know the universe of references I'm using she confronts the assumptions I make of my audience's knowledge and forces me to make myself clearer. It's gotten a little testy at times, by which I mean I get defensive, but overall it's been dynamite. My BG posts are way better written, more coherent and more fun to read than what I do unaided on this site. I'm very happy with the way my writing's progressing and hope to see it continue on an upward curve. The posts I've delivered to BG, particularly on Night Winds, God Stalk and The Great Captains, are some of the best things I've written. 

   This year I'm looking to keep doing the same types of posts but make them better. I want to widen my purview to include some new books that I've bought in the last year to my usual roster of "vintage treasures." I also want to step up my short story reviews, by which I mean I want to start reading outside the same three (excellent) magazines I've been reading for the past two years. In his latest post, Keith West writes short stories are where "the lifeblood of genre is" and I'm down with that assessment. 

   The other thing I want to do this year is read more. I used to read sixty to seventy books a year but I've slacked off the last few years. Since I've been getting back up to speed I'm hoping to hit those numbers again. I want to catch up with Howard Andrew Jones' and James Enge's books and finish Ted Rypel's Gonji trilogy.  I want to read hardboiled books, especially some of Max Allan CollinsQuarry and Nolan books, some horror, particularly Laird Barron, and more of the neo-pulp being cranked out by folks like Ron Fortier. And I'm getting the Norton Critical Edition of The Pilgrim's Progress. Add to that list all the "literary" books I'd love to get to this year like Barnaby Rudge and it's overwhelming. Still, my hopes are high.