Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ghoul's Night Out

The first copy of Brian McNaughton's The Throne of Bones I got in the mail from Amazon was damaged. Whomever had opened the box from Terminal Fright Publications had been a little too zealous with their box cutter and delivered a nice vertical slash to nearly the entire length of the cover. They sent me a replacement but the image of that disfigured dust jacket lingers. 

There's a lot to this book that will remain with me for a very long time; McNaughton's exquisite writing and the marvelously collapsing world of Seelura. I'll also remember the depths of depravity it explores. There are several graphic rapes, necrophilia, necrophagy, necromancy, and lots and lots of blood splattered across the landscape. For all its beauty, the book is laced with poison. 

I think even the most avid defenders of the violence and whatnot in books like A Game of Thrones might have trouble with the worst bits in The Throne of Bones. But then McNaughton never claims he's just showing us how corrupt and sadistic the world really is. ToB is part of a great tradition of dark and brooding art, fascinated by corruption (physical) and death. It's not looking to be defended, just to exist as a piece of art that just happens to be about a black and gruesome world.

I'm not interested in reading porn, be it erotic or torture. The thing is, ToB isn't either one. I appreciate the tremendous artistry involved in even the creepiest moments but it's still thoroughly unpleasant at times. There's an almost gleefulness to McNaughton's creepy inventiveness to what he does to and with many of his characters, but it never becomes sadistic. It's just I felt a little tainted after reading some of the book.

In the end, I think every fan of dark fantasy should try the book. That McNaughton's dead and never going to write more of these stories saddens me. But I also want to warn everyone picking it up that parts will leave them queasy. I guess that's what makes it such a powerful work of art.

This week's music was a bunch of heavy stuff interwoven by all the acoustic tracks from the classic Sabbath albums from the seventies. Very good mix for writing the review.

"Laguna Sunrise" by Black Sabbath

"Future Days" by Nebula (live)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brian Lumley and Anyone Who Ever Tells You Seventies Music Stunk Is Ignorant

My review of Brian Lumley's nifty s&s collection The House of Cthulhu went up over at Black Gate the other day. What a cool find at this point in the blogging game. Figure I'll pick up the other two collections soon.

When I was a kid I read some of Lumley's early Mythos stories. I read "The Sister City" and "Cement Surroundings" in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos Vol. 2 (in the Ballantine edition with the nutzoid John Holmes cover) and did not like them and it was enough to put me off him for years. They were too derivative and not very suspenseful. Even today, as a fan of his, I greatly prefer his non-Mythos horror. I have a tremendous fear of heights and I could literally not read much of his story "The Viaduct." He is one of the best.

Three things changed that. First, I read his "Spaghetti" in Singer of Strange Songs and really enjoyed it. Second, my friend strongly recommended The House of Doors and loved it. Third, the same friend also recommended Necroscope and I really dug that. After those encounters I was sold. 

Phil Lynott said Thin Lizzy was like a gang and I've read they caroused and fought their way around the world together for years. Whatever the reality, Lynott was clearly one of the coolest rockers to ever stalk a stage.

If you're interested in these guys, the easiest place to start is with "The Boys Are Back in Town" including Jailbreak. If you like it go to Fighting or Bad Reputation which I think are even better.

Blue Öyster Cult cut some amazing, proggy bits of rock back in the seventies. Their first three albums, Blue Öyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation and Secret Treaties haven't dated to my ears.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Short Story Reviews and Mail Bag

My monthly survey of new short fiction is over at Black Gate as of today. As always, go read the magazines, drive up their traffic and let them know what you think. Got to keep whatever markets for short stories pumping.

Damn, all you bloggers, reviewers, and Amazon recommenders out there! I just keep buying stuff that I have no idea when I'll get around to actually reading. At least some of these are short story collections so I can dip into them for a tale or two before and move on to something else.

This one I bought because of Sue Granquist's article on Black Gate about the 2013 Stoker nominees. I read about each book and thought this sounded good. I've actually read it already and I liked its bloody, pulpy creepiness.

Another horror book. Keith's West review of the new novel in the series intrigued me, so I bought the original novel (with bonus stories attached).

For $2.99 apiece, Subterranean's made a whole bunch of Brian Lumley short fiction available in e-book form. I was only hooked on him when I picked up Singer of Strange Songs, the Lumley-inspired volume in the Chaosium Mythos Fiction series. Later I picked up the his great anthology, The Horror at Oakdeene and Others. I think simply because he's written so many huge books he gets short shrift sometimes from a critical perspective, but I stand by him and especially his short stories as being real solid spook stories.

One of the problems with going on a Brian Lumley binge is you will never run out of books to buy. How many Necroscope books are there actually? I've read a few of these S&S stories and figured, why not?

Finally, in the wake of reading the excellent Echoes of the Goddess and a solid recommendation from John Fultz, I got this one. Still astonished at my lack of significant contact with his work until last year. Got to love that cover just reeking of peyote and psilocybin.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When the Divine Voice Fades Like an Echo

My review of Darrell Schweitzer's Echoes of the Goddess just went up at Black Gate. How have I missed him all these years? I mean, I saw his name around and read a great story he co-authored in Cthulhu's Heirs (have I mentioned that the Chaosium Cthulhu Fiction series is awesome?), but I had no sense of how good a writer he is.

When I read and reviewed The White Isle last year, I was almost shocked by the misery of the book's underlying conceit. It's an early work (I think he was 23 when wrote it) that was more affecting by the mature works of lots of authors I like. I knew he was someone I needed to read more by.

Echoes of the Goddess is a collection of eleven stories, some connected, all set in the time following the death of Earth's Goddess. This is not heroic fantasy, but it's definitely not your standard issue fantasy either. It's a just what the subtitle says: tales of terror and wonder. When you're ready to burn the next book starring an elven ranger or a dwarven tunnel-rat or the secret heir to the grand poobah, pick this book up. It'll clean your palate and show you how good fantasy can be. Not every story is great, but I guarantee you'll remember the ones that are for a long time.

The reviews I read compared it to works by Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith which very generally fits. Schweitzer, though, is much more concerned with his characters than simply creating and telling ornate myths of his own making. Go read my review to get a taste of the actual writing in the book and my further thoughts on the book.

After some baroque music this past week, Schweitzer's book propelled me back toward the very heavy, spacey sounds of bands like Nebula and Orange Goblin. Maybe not the most appropriate tunes for Echoes of the Goddess but they worked and propelled me through the writing of most of my review.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Books From My Dad - Douglas C. Jones

My dad was tremendous reader, the sort of person who usually had three or four books going at a given time. His tastes included sci-fi and fantasy, crime and mystery, history and westerns. Half the books I read as as a kid I got from him. For whatever reason, I just never took to the westerns. I've said before I love western movies, but I never developed a taste for the books.

He suggested I read The Shotgun Man by Frank O'Rourke. I did and remember absolutely nothing about it. On my own, many years later, I read Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove series. As much as I love McMurty's books it didn't make me pick up any other westerns.

My dad had several boxes of westerns up in the attic. I looked through them but nothing held my eye. I remember some of the authors and covers to this day; Ernest Haycox, Frank O'Rourke, Louis L'amour, being those that come to mind first.

An author he only discovered later in life was Douglas C. Jones. My boss was going to throw away a box of books but I rescued them. I took them home, showed them to my dad, and Winding Stair by Jones caught his eye. As soon as he finished it he asked me to keep my eyes open for anything else by him. Within a year or so he had amassed a stack of Jones' books.

Jones was born in Arkansas and spent almost thirty years in the army. When he retired from the service he started writing. His first published novel was alternate-history The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer (which was made into a tv-movie). He was fascinated with the Arkansas-Indian Territory frontier that still existed barely a generation before he was born in 1924. Many of his books are set there or feature protagonists raised there. 

When my dad got sick  (cancer, terminal, miserable) he took the boxes of westerns and gave them to the used book store he had been going to for over twenty years. He figured I wouldn't read them and wanted a little less clutter in the attic for my mom to deal with after he was gone (my dad's family is about as Wasp as can be so even in the face of death there's a need to be practical). While he was talking to the owner a little old man came in and took the lot. While part of me was annoyed for giving any books away, I knew there couldn't be a better end for a bunch of books than that.

But he didn't include the Douglas C. Jones books in those boxes and I don't know why. I don't know if he read all of them, though I suspect he did. After he died the books have sat in a box in the attic for the past dozen years.

Recent posts by Howard Andrew Jones and comments by several people have turned my eyes to western fiction again. Remembering the box of Jones books I retreived them and figure I'll start where my dad did; with Winding Stair.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

RIP DAT - Then blah, blah, blah, yackety smack

The other day Black Gate posted a sad bit of news; one of the greatest talents of the early days of TSR, David Trampier, had passed away. While he had fled the industry decades ago, his art remained a strong component of my mental gaming landscape. 
Have I ever said I'm not a fan of the present day state of fantasy art? Well, I'm not. DAT's work was beautiful and clean. None of the annoyingly busy art like the WOTC D&D stuff or the soulless photo-realism of book covers. 

Then there's his great, unfinished comic masterwork, Wormy. There were plenty of comics in the old Dragon Magazine, but the only one I liked was Wormy.  It's a marvelous spoof of fantasy and gaming while still being a great adventure, depicted in gorgeous, detailed panels. Try to track it down. Even without an end, you won't be disappointed. Thank you, DAT and rest in peace.

No Black Gate review today as I've got too much stuff in my real life going on that took away valuable reading, writing and editing time. For those who care, my reviewing/writing process is pretty painstaking. If you have read this site for any length of time you know I stink when it comes to editing my own work. In order to make my Black Gate posts presentable I convinced my wife (the luminous Mrs. V.) to edit them. She's brutal but the results have been very satisfying. The thing is, it takes a lot of time, so now review this week.

So next you'll have to wait till next week for my review of Darrell Schweitzer's dream saturated Echoes of the Goddess. The only other stories of his I've read are The White Isle (reviewed here last year ) and his Mythos story, "Those of the Air" in Cthulhu's Heirs.

After the psychotic landscapes and kinetic writing of Adrian Cole's Oblivion Hand last week, Schweitzer's is a very different sort of writing. While he's as untethered from the tropes of Fantasyland® as Cole is, his creations are closer to the dreamy, often nightmarish, tales of Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith. If you haven't read anything by him and those two authors appeal to you I'd say spend the three bucks and get either Echoes or The White Isle.  

I listened to a whole bunch of music this past week. For the past year or two I've been slowly ripping our CD collection to a external drive. After a hiatus of a couple of months (or six), I started up again this past weekend with soundtracks before moving on to orchestral music.

As usual I was struck by how little  I really know about orchestral music even though I grew up hearing it all the time. The only time my dad turned off the old New York Times station, WQXR, was during the short lived eighties heyday of WNCN. My knowledge is moderately broad but very shallow. I know a piece or two by a lot of composers but that's about it.

When I started listening to the stuff on my own I what caught my ears was baroque music. It still is. My dad preferred the classical composers, Haydn being his favorite. He liked Bach well enough, but couldn't understand why I would ever want to listen to his cello concertos. All I could say to him was "Whatever."