27 December 2011

Book Review: The Natural History of Unicorns

The Natural History of Unicorns (2009)
By Chris Lavers

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Some book titles can grab you across a room and demand your money. Such was the case with The Natural History of Unicorns, which I discovered not in a bookstore, but in a curio shop in San Francisco specializing in . . . actually, I have no idea what the store was really selling, except that it was next to the Pirate Supply Store (no joke, this exists, although principally to fund a writing workshop in the back) and the excellent science-fiction and fantasy bookstore Borderlands. A bit of both stores rubbed off onto this one, and so in the midst of taxidermy snakes was this book promising to tell me the Natural History of a fantasy animal. Immediate sell.

Well, almost immediate. I did check to see that the book was not crazy pseudo-science making the claim that the fantasy version of the unicorn was real and scientists were refusing to admit the truth. But the book appeared to be exactly what I wanted: a multi-discipline exploration of the development and evolution of the unicorn legend.

21 December 2011

“Farewell to Tyrn” Coming January 15th

Update: “Farewell to Tyrn” is now available for Kindle at Amazon.com, and for other formats at Smashwords.com.

And now, an official announcement regarding my first publication of 2012:

My novelette “Farewell to Tyrn” will be available as a 99¢ ebook in all e-reader formats on January 16. You will be able to purchase it from Amazon for the Kindle, and from Smashwords for all other e-readers.

Feast your eyes on the cover art, from the magnificently talented Fred Jordan, who also illustrated my story “An Acolyte of Black Spires” for Writers of the Future Vol. XXVII.
“Farewell to Tyrn” is a new science-fantasy story set in the continent of Ahn-Tarqa, and is linked to “An Acolyte of Black Spires,” although not a direct sequel to it. It also serves as the prologue to my upcoming novel Turn over the Moon.

This tale of city-set adventure pits twelve-year-old Belde, a girl who makes a startling discovery about her life, and her dinosaur companion Rint against the soldiers and creations of the vile Shapers, the masked sorcerers of Ahn-Tarqa. “Farewell to Tyrn” combines tragedy, action, weird science, and dinosaurs in a thrilling story that further explores the mystery of Ahn-Tarqa and prepares Belde for an even greater adventure.

Here’s a sample from the opening pages:
My last summer in Tyrn, when the Shapers came for me, was the hottest I could remember. Father often told me stories about a summer when he was a boy that was so boiling fishermen could fill a pot from the Glosser River and use it to brew tea without a fire. I used to think Father was teasing me, but that Month of the Sun taught me the truth.

But I didn’t mind the scorching weather. The Month of the Sun was my favorite time of the year because I could play outside with Rint and my friends as much as I wanted, and my parents never remembered what time it was to call me in for supper. When the sun is always in the sky, people don’t think about “dinnertime” or “bedtime.”

I never imagined anything horrible could happen on bright days like that. . . .

19 December 2011

Wrath of the Titans Trailer Gives Me a Chimera, But Little Hope

Cross posted to Black Gate.

If you were talking about movie trailers yesterday or over the weekend, chances are the subject was The Dark Knight Rises. The most anticipated film of 2012 revealed its first full-length trailer (after a teaser during the summer) on selected theater screens with Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. The IMAX six-minute prologue to the film also appeared before 70 mm screenings of Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. I saw the prologue yesterday in the glorious IMAX presentation, and yes, The Dark Knight Rises is going to be something amazing. (By the way, Ghost Protocol is the best of the “Mission: Impossible” films, and delivers everything you want from a big-budget action movie. Here’s to Brad Bird having a great career in live-action films.)

In the middle of mad speculation and analysis from the new Bat-info Warner Bros. and Legendary Films poured on us, the studio and production company also sneake out the trailer for another of their 2012 releases: Wrath of the Titans, the sequel to the 2010 re-make of Ray Harryhusen’s Clash of the Titans.

13 December 2011

Ryan Harryhausen’s Mysterious Island on Blu-Ray

Mysterious Island (1961)
Directed by Cy Enfield. Starring Michael Craig, Herbert Lom, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Percy Herbert, Dan Jackson, Beth Rogan.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I have no qualms admitting that I enjoyed the 2007 Walden Media adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth. It surprised me how much of Verne’s novel made it onto the screen in a contemporary setting. However, the prospect of a sequel, riffing slightly (at least from what I can detect from the first trailer) on Verne’s 1874 classic The Mysterious Island, does nothing for me other than as a reminder to read that recent translation of the novel from the Modern Library that has stared at me from my “to read” stack for over a year. The new film is called Journey 2: Mysterious Island, which explains exactly what the filmmakers intend: the same thing as the last film. Maybe some younger viewers will go find the book after watching the movie, although the novel is less child-appealing than some of Verne’s other works, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, which children should read first anyway because Mysterious Island is a sequel to it. Will Captain Nemo show up in the new film? Who cares.

However, the marketing for Journey 2 coincides with the Blu-ray release of an earlier adaptation, the Ray Harryhausen-Charles H. Schneer Mysterious Island released in 1961. A number of Harryhausen’s classics have reached Blu-ray already, but Mysterious Island makes its high definition debut in a limited edition from a small direct distributor, Twilight Time, that specializes in film soundtrack albums. This concerns me for the release of other of Harryhausen titles. Mysterious Island is a Columbia film, and Sony Home Video released The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts on Blu-ray. Apparently they preferred to farm out Mysterious Island to an independent—and on the film’s fiftieth anniversary! I may never have learned about the Mysterious Island Blu-ray if I wasn’t a soundtrack collector on mailing lists for small labels. (If you want to buy the Mysterious Island Blu-ray, go here. It’s limited to 3,000 unit, and I have no idea how fast they will sell.)

06 December 2011

Destroy All Monsters on Blu-ray

Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Directed by Ishiro Honda. Starring Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yukiko Kobayahsi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kyoko Ai, Kenji Sahara, Yoshifumi Tajima, Andrew Hughes, Haruo Nakajima.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Last month, the second Godzilla film to reach Blu-ray in North America made its thundering, skyline-flattening debut, courtesy of Media Blasters: the 1968 science-fiction suitmation mash Destroy All Monsters (Japanese title: Kaiju Soshingeki, “Charge of the Monsters” or “Monster Invasion”). The only Godzilla movie to beat it onto Blu-ray is the 1954 original, which will get a re-release as part of the Criterion Collection in January 2012. (The Criterion Collection! Godzilla has gained a well-deserved highbrow victory and sits on the same shelf with Kubrick and Bergman!) Also scheduled for Hi-Def release is 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon. This is arguably the worst movie of the long series, but I welcome it onto Blu-ray nonetheless: three cheers for glittering mediocrity!

But Destroy All Monsters is anything but mediocre: like Universal’s House of Frankenstein over twenty years before, it pulls together all the science-fiction Kandy Korn goodness available to give audiences a mad monster party for the ages. The plot is simplistic, the characters even more so, but the movie pops with color and spectacle of a bygone age of entertainment without irony. It isn’t the best of the Godzilla series, but until 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, no monster movie could boast a larger monster cast. Eleven of Toho Studio’s stable of big beasts crowd into its hundred minutes, and the result is a giddy confection no ten-year-old or ten-year-old at heart can resist. If geekdom has a defining film, here it is.

24 November 2011

Small LOSCON 38 Panel Change

A last minute change to the panels I will be sitting on at LOSCON 38: the “Urban Fantasy’s Celtic Origins” panel is shifting forward from 1:30 pm to 12:00 pm tomorrow. I don’t know which room it will be in; please check with programming tomorrow if you are coming.

Here’s the schedule again.

Hope to see blog and Twitter friends tomorrow!

22 November 2011

My Three-Year, 150th Post Black Gate Anniversary

Cross-posted to Black Gate. (Obviously)

Three years ago this week I posted my fist official article on the new Black Gate blog. I was one the original seven bloggers who answered John O’Neill’s call to make Black Gate online a place people wanted to visit again and again.

Yes, seriously: there were only seven bloggers at the start, one for each day. At one point, we may have dipped down to three. Those were strange days.

And I’m still here after all those years, at the Tuesday spot. And not only is it my three-year anniversary this week, but this post is my one hundred and fiftieth. No, I didn’t plan these two anniversaries to coincide. In fact, if you do the math, this means that over the past three years I failed to meet the weekly Tuesday post five times. I’m sorry, but some things just happen—like giant monster attacks. (Well, I wish; I tried that as an excuse at my old day job, but it didn’t work.)

I wasn’t a newcomer to Black Gate’s website when I started the weekly spot. Before the site became a blog with a rotating team, I wrote a few articles on request for John O’Neill. I finished a series on Clark Ashton Smith that I started on another website, and those articles still get good hits: (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.) I also penned a long analysis of the two version of Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, a piece I’m still proud of.

But it was my 25 November 2008 review of Conan the Raider that marked that marked my first “Tuesday Blog Post.” This apparently unambitious start was actually a tip of the hat to the series that got me noticed as a blogger in the first place: reviews of Conan pastiches.

16 November 2011

My Schedule for LOSCON 38

My schedule for LOSCON 38, the yearly convention of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, is all set. I will appear on four panels over the three days at the LAX Marriott. If you’re attending the con, please drop by and say “hello.” I will be the guy in the hat who talks too much.

Friday, November 25
Urban Fantasy’s Celtic Origins 12:00 pm–1:00 pm in the Boston Room. [Note: This is a last-minute change from 1:30 pm–2:30 pm]. Also on the panel: Michelle Pincus (moderator), Valerie Frankel, Nick Smith. I’m not sure why I was selected for this panel, but considering the book I’m writing now, I shall have plenty to contribute.

Middles and Endings: How to Generate Story Ideas 3:00–4:00 pm in the Houston Room. Also on the panel: Laurie Tom, Brennan Harvey, Robin “Graves” Walton, Leslie Anne Moore (moderator).

Saturday, November 26
The Writers and Illustrators of the Future Experience 4:00–5:00 pm in the Chicago Room. Also on the panel: Tim Powers, Laura Brodian Freas (moderator), Laurie Tom, Brennan Harvey, Cliff Neilson, and James Glass.

Sunday, November 27
Talking to an Agent 10:00–11:00 am in the Houston Room. Also on the panel: Denise Dumars, James Glass, Will Morton, Dean Wells. (No one is yet listed as moderator.)

15 November 2011

Movie Review: Immortals

Immortals (2011)
Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Isabel Lucas, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Relativity Media and Rogue Pictures should be thankful that they released Immortals the same week as Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill, which has turned into the One-Stop Shopping place for hilariously negative reviews. The Adam Sandler beat-up took the attention away from Immortals’s poor reviews, and likely helped push the film to its #1 spot at the box office for the weekend. I can imagine the scene at the multiplexes:

“So, honey, what do you want to see?”

“Anything but Jack and Jill.”

“Okay, how about that thing that looks like Clash of the Titans?”

But even though watching Immortals meant that I wasn’t watching Jack and Jill and therefore helping the betterment of global society, I ain’t letting Immortals off the hook for a moment. Except to praise the wacky headgear.

In a development so startling it may upset the balance between Law and Chaos, Immortals manages to be a worse fantasy movie than the recent Conan the Barbarian. If you understand how much I loathe the Marcus Nispel Conan fiasco, you know that I do not make that statement lightly.

08 November 2011

National Novel Writing Month—Whether You Like It or Not

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I’ve discussed National Novel Writing Month many times before, and if you want the lowdown on this annual global community creative writing project to kick people to a 50,000-word novel in thirty days, you can read about it here. Today I come to you as a scarred old warrior observing the changes that can happen after a few consecutive years of participation. Not changes to me, but changes to the world that NaNoWriMo has created.

I have now been on the battlefront of NaNoWriMo for four years, which makes me a “veteran.” I’ve also “won” three years running, and with a current total of 22,000 words as of Day 7, it looks like I’ll rack up another victory this year, walking away with a PNG badge. And a finished manuscript, the best reward possible.

After the third year of participation, I discovered something, and that in turn has brought me a realization this year: the actual “rules” of NaNoWriMo are irrelevant. You no longer need to try to “write a new novel, starting from zero words, and reach 50,000 before the end of the month.” Since National Novel Writing Month isn’t a contest offering a prize, you can’t “do it wrong.” You can “cheat” on your word count on the official site—many do, I’m sure, since I’ve seen some impossible word counts—but that achieves nothing. There are other, creative ways to break the rules. You can choose to start writing a screenplay instead, or tackle short stories one after the other (as I did last year), or use the time to finish a novel you’ve already started (as I am doing this year). NaNoWriMo’s official term for anyone who does this is “Rebel.” It isn’t a pejorative term, but the welcome umbrella for anyone who wants to use November to kick their writing machines’ engine back to sputtering life. Every year, I find more people joining the ranks of the Rebel Alliance; it’s usually folks who have succeeded writing new novels in the previous years.

01 November 2011

NaNoWriMo '11 Begins—What Am I Doing?

Hello everyone. It is now November. This is normally a sad statement because it means that it is no longer October, the most joyful month of the year. However, for a writer, it means that National Novel Writing Month has officially started, and it’s time to start pounding the brass keys. (In my case, the plastic-covered keys. If you don’t have a plastic cover for your desktop or laptop computer keyboard, invest in one now. Not only have I saved myself from buying three new keyboards due to evil coffee spills, but all the grime and grit and the thousands natural shocks that keyboards are heir to get transferred to this plastic shield wall.)

I write every day, so the idea of NaNoWriMo should not seem like much of a change for me. Yet, every year, it makes me crank up my ambitions, even when I am a “rebel,” someone who isn’t trying to write 50,000 words of a new novel starting on November 1st. The first two years I did the standard NaNo practice and wrote new books, one of which is my personal favorite of all the books I have written. Last year, I rebelled and decided to write 50,000 words of different short stories instead. This was much harder to achieve, but I wanted practice with the short form.

This year, it’s back to novels—and I feel at this point I may drop doing short fiction for a stretch. However, I’m still a NaNo rebel. I planned to do something unusual. This morning, as I started to work, a bizarre event occurred, and my rebellion got weirder.

Short version: I am writing two novels at once. I have never tried this before, and I thought it impossible. It may still be; the first day isn’t even over yet.

Book Review: The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories

The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (1906)
By Algernon Blackwood

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I’d say “Happy Halloween,” but by the time you read this it is probably already All-Saints Day, also known as “The Start of National Novel Writing Month.” Ah, whatever: Happy Halloween!

In celebration, I’ll turn to my favorite author of the “weird tale”: Algernon Blackwood. I’ve written about Mr. Blackwood before. Actually, I’ve written a lot about him: I gave him his his own blog label. That shows commitment.

I’ll now turn the clock back to one of his earliest original collections, a volume that is a bit more on the ordinary side but still contains fine treasures within.

Blackwood first emerged into supernatural fiction with The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories in 1906. Although the term “ghost story” would literally haunt Blackwood all of his career, much of his finest supernatural work has little to do with specters and the unquiet dead. The Empty House is the exception that proves the rule: at this early stage of fiction writing, Blackwood was interested in standard ghost tales, but showed signs he wanted to go a different direction from the style of M. R. James that was popular at the time. The classics “The Wendigo” and the “Willows” were only another bend around the river.

29 October 2011

Anonymous: FAIL

My feelings about the anti-Stratfordian position that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare can be summed up in this note that Anonymous director Roland Emmerich’s teacher wrote on his report: (Click to see it larger)
Oh, Godzilla fans give you an “F” as well, but you knew that. Sorry, you’ll have to repeat eighth grade—again.

28 October 2011

A Defense of the Red Skull and HYDRA in Captain America: The First Avenger

The package arrived in my mail yesterday, one day earlier than expected: the Blu-ray of my favorite movie of the summer, Captain America: The First Avenger. Since I had a Halloween party to go to that night where I was dressing up as Captain America’s nemesis, the Red Skull, I immediately fired up the film on my player and watched it again, soaking in all its comic-book goodness.

I’ve gushed about this film plenty already, and its hero has a major place on this website. You know my bias on this topic, and I won’t pretend that everyone will get the same thrill from the movie that a Cap-fan like me does. As a long-time nut about the character, the film delivers everything that I want. There are flaws, but the more I watch the film the less I care about them. Captain America: The First Avenger is the perfect old-fashioned comic book movie, with grandiose thrills and colorful heroes and villains, archetypal Good vs. Evil, and the right amount of pathos mixed with heroic optimism.

But I wish to address the villains now—the Red Skull and HYDRA—because some of the higher criticism aimed at the film has taken it to task for “whitewashing” World War II by reducing the role of the Nazis. Hitler and his gang of murderers are in the background (Hitler does appear as a character in a USO show). Johann Schmidt, alias the Red Skull, leads Hitler’s science division, HYRDA, but early on in the story he starts to separate from the Nazi ranks. He breaks completely from them around forty-five minutes into the running time when he disintegrates the generals sent to shut down his organization for “lack of results.” HYDRA wages its own war against the Allies, using its super-technology so that the Red Skull can conquer the world for himself.

Another Halloween Top 13: My Favorite “Devils and Demons” Movie

Another year, another Halloween, and that means another of The Lightning Bugg’s Lair Halloween Top 13 lists. T. L. Bugg has annually run a movie countdown in the thirteen days leading to the most glorious of holidays, and I have been privileged to have contributed a guest list to each one.

This year’s theme is “The Devil Made Me Do It,” a countdown of films featuring devils and demons. My list is up today, accompanying Bugg’s review of Prince of Darkness, one of the films that also made my list.

Without further ado, here are my top thirteen devils n’ demons flicks: (Links to my full reviews if I got ‘em.)

25 October 2011

Yes, I Am on Twitter

I believe that I created a Twitter profile over a year ago. I then put up a few tweets . . . and dropped it entirely and stayed with Facebook. I was under the delusion that a person needs to use only one social networking tool, and that was it. After all, once Facebook emerged, MySpace accounts started dying in heaps like victims of the Black Death and nobody’s social connections suffered for it.

I was an ill man.

So as of this week, I am back to posting regular Tweets on my profile, @RHarveyWriter. I am moving into ebook publishing in the next few months (I’ll post more about that later), so follow me for more short breaking news about that, plus writing links and tips on movie reviews and other goodies.

[End shameless social network promotion.]

24 October 2011

Movie Review: The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World (1951)
Directed by Christian Nyby and (uncredited) Howard Hawks. Starring Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Young, Dewey Martin, Robert Nichols, William Self, James Arness.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?” has now produced three film adaptations: two classics and a footnote. After recovering from reviewing the footnote, it occurred to me that The Thing 2011 has two positives I failed to mention: it makes viewers appreciate how great John Carpenter’s 1982 version is, and how great Howard Hawks’s 1951 version is.

More than enough ink and bandwidth has covered The Thing ’82, and as much as I adore that movie, I have nothing new to contribute to the discussion of it beyond the comparisons I made in last week’s review. However, the 1951 film, The Thing from Another World, hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves in the current collective bashing of the new movie. If I’m going to point out how poor The Thing ’11 is, it’s only fair that I smash it with the Howard Hawks film as well. Why should John Carpenter have all the fun?

18 October 2011

“Foolish Mortals” Now Up at Every Day Fiction

My flash fiction fantasy tale, “Foolish Mortals,” is now online at Every Day Fiction.

It’s a short piece, so head on over to read it, and please leave a rating when you are done. Feel free to recommend it on Facebook and Tweet it. Link it to infinity!

Read my previous post where I discussed the origin of this story.

17 October 2011

Movie Review: The Thing (2011)

The Thing (2011)
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

A dialogue that occurs in the 1982 John Carpenter movie The Thing, as scientist Blair (Wilford Brimley) explains the nature of the twisted dog-mass corpse on his operating table:
BLAIR: See what were talking about here is an organism that imitates other life-forms, and imitates them perfectly. When this thing attacked our dogs it tried to digest them, absorb them, and in the process shape its own cells to imitate them. This, for instance . . . [points to bone] That’s not dog. It’s imitation. We got to it before it had time to finish.

NORRIS: Finish what?

BLAIR: Finish imitating these dogs.
Now imagine this conversation repurposed slightly:
BLAIR: See what were talking about here is a movie that imitates a popular movie with enormous name-recognition, and imitates it outwardly perfectly, while inwardly lacking its essential qualities. When it attacked John Carpenter’s The Thing it tried to digest it, and in the process shape its screenplay to imitate it while masquerading as a prequel. This, for instance . . . [points to film on screen] That’s not The Thing or a prequel to it. It’s a cosmetic imitation. We didn’t get to it before it finished.

NORRIS: Finished what?

BLAIR: Finished re-making The Thing while pretending that it wasn’t.
And so my review is finished.

But, if you want some further details, there is a bit more after the jump.

11 October 2011

An Interview about “The Shredded Tapestry”

Innsmouth Free Press, the publishers of Candle in the Attic Window (have you bought your copy?) have posted an interview with me regarding my contribution to the collection, “The Shredded Tapestry.” I talk a bit about the Regensburg connection and the influence of Algernon Blackwood on the piece, as well as what “Gothic” means to me when it comes to literature.

Once more, here’s a picture of that amazing Bavarian bridge that started me thinking about using it in a Gothic tale of terror. More about my trip to Regensburg here.

Movie Review: TrollHunter

TrollHunter (2011)
Directed by André Øvredal. Starring Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Urmilla Berg Domaas.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I love any review that gives me an excuse to use “ø.” Next I will have to find an Icelandic movie so I can write a review using “þ” and “ð.”

In the recent glut of “found footage” films that followed the successes of Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, the Norwegian film TrollHunter (Trolljegeren) is a true gleaming piece of uncovered dwarf’s gold. It ditches the gloom that hangs over the other movies in this subgenre and lets the audience have a good time along with its light scares. And while most found footage films are horror movies, this one is a fantasy. A fantasy with dark thrills, but nonetheless a fantasy.

04 October 2011

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Venus, Part 5: “The Wizard of Venus”

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

The Venus series ends not with a novel, but a novella. Consequently, this will be the shortest entry in my survey of Burroughs’s last series, but I have appended a wrap-up with my final thoughts on the Venus books as a whole.

Our Saga: The adventures of one Mr. Carson Napier, former stuntman and amateur rocketeer, who tries to get to Mars and ends up on Venus, a.k.a Amtor, instead. There he discovers a lush jungle planet of bizarre creatures and humanoids who have uncovered the secret of longevity. The planet is caught in a battle between the country of Vepaja and the tyrannical Thorists. Carson finds time during his adventuring to fall for Duare, forbidden daughter of a Vepajan king. Carson’s story covers three novels, a volume of connected novellas, and an orphaned novella.

Previous Installments: Pirates of Venus (1932), Lost on Venus (1933), Carson of Venus (1938), Escape on Venus (1941).

Today’s Installment: “The Wizard of Venus” (1964)

01 October 2011

“Foolish Mortals” Publication Date: October 19

I woke up this morning to the alarm sound of “Danse Macabre,” the National Anthem of the Month of October. It is now officially The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. (Songwriters Eddie Pola and George Wyle got confused while writing the lyrics for their October celebration song for Andy Williams and referred to December for some reason. December? Do they know how cold it is in December? Andy Williams should have caught that and made them re-write the song.)

I will also have my first October-released work of fiction, since Every Day Fiction has slated my story “Foolish Mortals” to appear on the site on October 19. Nineteen days from purchase to publication . . . I like that sort of speed.

Happy October, everyone. May all your pumpkins turn out ghoulish, and may your Universal Horror Movie parties all be drunken successes with as few young girls tossed in the lake as possible. (At least one is acceptable, however.)

30 September 2011

“Foolish Mortals” to appear at Every Day Fiction

Some good news this morning: the popular and influential flash fiction site Every Day Fiction has purchased my story “Foolish Mortals.” The date that it will go up on the site hasn’t been announced yet, but it will either be in October or November. (The monthly Table of Contents are usually put up on the last day of the month, so if “Foolish Mortals” is going to appear in October, I should know by today.)

Update: It is now slated for October 19.

Every Day Fiction is run by Jordan Lapp, a Writers of the Future winner whom I got to know at this year’s workshop, where he helped out the new winners feel more at home around a pack of famous writers. Jordan is a great guy, and was very helpful in getting me to overcome the shyness I felt toward approaching legendary authors (some of whom I was reading in junior high school!) while at the workshop. I even mentioned him in my acceptance speech. So it’s a great privilege to be selected to appear in the online magazine that he founded and which has become one the top spots for flash fiction.

27 September 2011

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Venus, Part 4: Escape on Venus

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I love Edgar Rice Burroughs. His novels have had an enormous influence on me as a writer and as a pulp fan. But, I must admit, sometimes he wrote . . . this kind of thing. . . .

Oh, let’s just leap into this and get it over with.

Our Saga: The adventures of one Mr. Carson Napier, former stuntman and amateur rocketeer, who tries to get to Mars and ends up on Venus, a.k.a. Amtor, instead. There he discovers a lush jungle planet of bizarre creatures and humanoids who have uncovered the secret of longevity. The planet is caught in a battle between the country of Vepaja and the tyrannical Thorists. Carson finds time during his adventuring to fall for Duare, forbidden daughter of a Vepajan king. Carson’s story covers three novels, a volume of connected novellas, and an orphaned novella.

Previous Installments: Pirates of Venus (1932), Lost on Venus (1933), Carson of Venus (1938).

Today’s Installment: Escape on Venus (1942)

20 September 2011

Candle in the Attic Window is here!

My newest published short story, Gothic horror tale “The Shredded Tapestry,” is now on sale in the anthology Candle in the Attic Window. It’s available in print and in a Kindle edition from Amazon.

“The Shredded Tapestry” takes place in early nineteenth-century Bavaria, and pays homage to the great weird tale author Algernon Blackwood with its story of a cursed monastery, a lone English traveler and seeker of curiosities, a dark secret in the catacombs, and a stalking supernatural feline.

Here is a sample from the story:

Today’s Post Brought to You by Every Letter Except “E”

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

The English alphabet contains twenty-six letters. They all have their uses. Some more than others. The letter “E” gets the most use: how could we live without it?

Not easily. But it can be done.

The French Oulipo group advocates experiments that purposely limit the tools in a writer’s toolkits. Most famous of these experiments is the “lipogram,” which excludes some letters of the alphabet. Of all lipogram experiments, the excision of the letter “E” has caught the most attention. Georges Parec’s 1969 novel La Disparition contains no letter “E” outside of its author’s name. Perhaps more astonishing is that the English translation of the novel, A Void by Gilbert Adair, also contains no occurrence of the letter “E.” Another example, predating the Oulipo group by twenty years, is Ernest Vincent Wright’s novel Gadsby (1939).

So it can be done. But why do it? Shouldn’t writers make use of every object available in their arsenal to tell a story, make a point, or convey information?

I think so. That’s one reason I’ve defended the semicolon from detractors who want it exiled from fiction. It’s also why I think “e-prime,” writing without the verb “to be,” should not be pushed as a replacement for writing with the verb.

However… I love writing exercises. I write every day, and since I’m not always in the middle of a novel or a short story, exercises fill in the gaps. They keep the writing muscles of the brain tones, inspire new ideas, and show writers different paths to expressing themselves.

This weekend, I tackled writing sans the letter “E” for the first time, thinking I would never get far with it. However, I managed to write a 1700-word story—one with a comprehensible plot—in the space of two hours. I present the complete text of “A Ghost’s Claim” below.

12 September 2011

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Venus, Part 3: Carson of Venus

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Five years have passed since Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote Lost on Venus, and the world has undergone a startling and disturbing metamorphosis. Something sinister and confusing is taking place in Europe, and across the Atlantic waters the people of the United States are growing concerned at the saber-rattling of Nazi Germany. The poverty-crippled period in which ERB wrote the previous Venus books has given way to a time of escalating fear of a second great war.

Does this have anything to do with the next novel of the Venus saga, 1938’s Carson of Venus? Of course not. That the villains of the book are called “the Zanis,” and that they rule through a tyrannical personality-cult dictatorship complete with ritualized salutes, concentration camps, and rampant murder of political undesirables is mere coincidence.

Our Saga: The adventures of one Mr. Carson Napier, former stuntman and amateur rocketeer, who tries to get to Mars and ends up on Venus, a.k.a. Amtor, instead. There he discovers a lush jungle planet of bizarre creatures and humanoids who have uncovered the secret of longevity. Carson finds time during his adventuring in the various warring countries of the planet to fall for Duare, forbidden daughter of a king. Carson’s story covers three novels, a volume of connected novellas, and a final orphaned novella.

Previous Installments: Pirates of Venus (1932), Lost on Venus (1933)

Today’s Installment: Carson of Venus (1938)

07 September 2011

Candle in the Attic Window Pre-Order Sale

Candle in the Attic Window, the Gothic horror anthology that features my short story “The Shredded Tapestry,” has an official release date: September 20th.

Innsmouth Free Press is offering a 20% discount on the volume for orders placed before the 20th, so grab one early. You’ll like my story: it has a killer ghost cat and a Bavarian monastery.

And if you’re reading this after the 20th, go purchase a copy here.

06 September 2011

Remembering The Rocketeer

The Rocketeer (1991)
Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, Alan Arkin, Paul Sorvino.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Update: The Rocketeer is out on Blu-ray! Nix my complaints about the old DVD. But—no special features. Sigh.

The summer is over, and it was a good one at the movies. It was certainly better than 2010, known as the year that Inception made everyone else look like idiots. This year the movies gave us more variety, more base hits, and a few home runs. Unfortunately, it also gave us the tremendous flop of Conan the Barbarian, but in a summer that took one of my beloved heroes and put him in a great movie (Captain America: The First Avenger) and also refreshed one of my favorite film series with a stunning new kick-off (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), I have plenty to feel thankful for. Other films I enjoyed: X-Men: First Class, Hobo with a Shotgun, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (and I’m not even much of a Potter fan), Attack the Block, Midnight in Paris, and Thor. I didn’t hate Green Lantern either!

30 August 2011

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Venus, Part 2: Lost on Venus

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

The parade on the second planet continues in Lost on Venus. This one of the most controversial works that Edgar Rice Burroughs ever published, although it surprises me that enough readers managed to get through the lackluster first book, Pirates of Venus, to want to pick up the sequel and be able to argue about it. But here it is, so get out your anti-tharban gear and be ready to test your genetic purity!

Our Saga: The adventures of one Mr. Carson Napier, former stuntman and amateur rocketeer, who tries to get to Mars and ends up on Venus, a.k.a. Amtor, instead. There he discovers a lush jungle planet of bizarre creatures and humanoids who have uncovered the secret of longevity. The planet is caught in a battle between the country of Vepaja and the tyrannical Thorists. Carson finds time during his adventuring to fall for Duare, forbidden daughter of a Vepajan king. Carson’s story covers three novels, a volume of connected novelettes, and an orphaned novella.

Previous Installments: Pirates of Venus (1932).

Today’s Installment: Lost on Venus (1933)

Secret Origin

Burroughs completed Lost on Venus in early 1932, before Pirates of Venus made its first appearance as a serial in the pulp elder-statesmen magazine, Argosy. Since the first novel hardly “ended” at all, Lost on Venus picks up the story moments later, and with only a short gap between the two serials in Argosy.

The cliffhanger had Carson Napier on the continent of Noobol in the clutches of the Venusan version of communists: the Thorists. The Thorists didn’t do much in Pirates of Venus; will they make up for it here? Oh, someone is apparently going to get lost. Burroughs was superb at getting his characters lost, so this has promise.

By the way, Edgar Rice Burroughs held some controversial views. Just giving you the heads-up on that.

26 August 2011

A (Pleasant) Open Letter to Jason Momoa Regarding Conan the Barbarian (2011)

I thought about doing a full review of the new Conan the Barbarian movie on Black Gate. However, John Fultz put his well-done review out first. Honestly, I was relieved. The movie was not showing at my local theater—which is strange since the AMC Century City 15 gets all the big new releases—and I didn’t feel like driving out to see it that opening weekend. I was still recovering from a bad cold, so I would wait. Perhaps I would put a review on my blog instead once I got out to the theater.

I saw the film this morning (mysteriously, it moved into the AMC 15 the week after it opened and flopped), and again debated writing a complete review. I was penning it in my head as the movie ran before my eyes. But, no. I have other things to do. Instead of a review, I would like to offer this letter to Jason Momoa, who plays Conan in the new film.

23 August 2011

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Venus, Part 1: Pirates of Venus

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Next year brings the hundredth anniversary of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first two published novels: A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, as well as a big-budget film version of A Princess of Mars from Disney. (The film is saddled with the unfortunately bland title of John Carter. Fear of a Red Planet?) The effect these novels had on popular cultural was immense: they created a whole medium, they altered the nature of reading for pleasure. Pulp magazines already existed before Edgar Rice Burroughs had the idea he could write better than the tripe found in the publications where he was working to place ads. But it was the success of first Under the Moons of Mars (the serial title for A Princess of Mars) and then Tarzan of the Apes that made the pulps into the artillery of the Reader Revolution. The pulps turned the U.S. into a nation of readers, and ERB fired the first two shots in the revolution.

Then, twenty years into the revolution, he fired off the few rounds of the “Venus” series.

I have planned some festivities for the upcoming centenary of the Burroughs Upheaval. One is an ambitious project I have wanted to try on Black Gate for the last two years. But as a prologue to my 2012 ERB projects here in 2011, I present a look at Burroughs’s least popular series, the last one he started before his death.

These posts will have a different structure from my usual free-form analysis style. Inspired by columns I’ve seen on the movie review sites I frequent, I’ve laid out a template for tackling each of the five installments of the Edgar Rice Burroughs “Venus Saga.” An experiment? Or an admission that trying to go academic on this series feels like the wrong approach? I’m not sure myself, but here it goes. . . .

15 August 2011

The Daily Mail Interviews Me about Clark Ashton Smith

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Sunday was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Clark Ashton Smith. We morbid fans of a writer with a delectable taste for morbidity love to celebrate death anniversaries as much as birth ones, and the seduction of the half-century mark is too great to dismiss.

My own celebration ended up in the hands of others, however. Two weeks ago, Jim Planck, an editor for The Daily Mail, a New York State newspaper, contacted me about doing an interview to commemorate Clark Ashton Smith’s death for a Sunday feature. He had come across my articles on Smith on Black Gate (here, here, here, and here) as well as on my website, and thought I could contribute to the article.

It’s flattering to realize that others have started to view you as an expert on one of your favorite authors. I dream that one day a publisher will ask me to edit and/or write an introduction to a collection of the works of either Clark Ashton Smith or Cornell Woolrich.

The Daily Mail Sunday edition does appear on-line, but the C-1 section of the paper doesn’t. (And unless you live in the Catskills and have access to the Daily Mail or its sister paper out of Hudson, NY, The Register-Star, you won’t be able to see it in print.) I’ve brought the full text of the interview over to Black Gate and here so you can hear me heap more praise on CAS.

09 August 2011

Book Review: Two Sixes

Two Sixes (1999)
By Frederick Faust writing as Max Brand

The career of the pen name “Max Brand” experienced a resurgence in the mid-1990s. The growth of Popular Culture Studies during the decade meant that many authors dismissed before because they wrote genre novels for the masses now emerged as writers of major value. The “Max Brand” disguise came off—partially, as the name still exists as a trademark and on the book covers—and critics began to look at the man beneath, Frederick Faust, and his remarkable—and gargantuan—body of popular literature.

A consequence of the renewed interest in Faust was that many of his novellas started to get into print. Most of the work published before under the Max Brand name was from his book-length serials. But Faust wrote a voluminous number of novellas between 20,000 and 40,000 words. In 1923, the year of Dan Barry’s Daughter and the two of the stories collected in the 1999 anthology Two Sixes, he published sixteen novellas, or “short novels” as the pulps advertised them.

The new line of Max Brand books that appeared in the mid-1990s gathered many of these novellas into collections. A volume usually contains three, and the hardcover editions from the Circle V subtitled them “A Western Trilogy.” The majority of these novellas have never been printed before in book form, meaning that forty years after his death, Frederick Faust was putting out never-before published books at a steady rate of about three a year.

08 August 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Starring Andy Serkis, James Franco, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Freida Pinko.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

This one may take me a while to process.

At the moment, I know that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a good movie. Dramatic, exciting, technically marvelous, intelligent. But I need more time to figure out if it is a great movie. I don’t mean over a couple of weeks, or even months. This film may require years before I can grasp how it stands in the science-fiction world. It feels possible that Rise of the Planet of the Apes will achieve the status of a movie that people watch over and over again on whatever the top home video device of the day will be, and which will sell perennially in each new “Special Edition” released. Or, it might become a modest good memory, a film people return to occasionally but don’t think about much beyond saying, “That ‘Apes reboot thingy’ was a sort of cool flick. Hey, let’s watch Inception again!”

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a movie that is either good or great, and I won’t feel comfortable placing a ten-dollar chip on either square at the moment. I only know that I enjoyed it more than anything else this summer, fannish Captain America love excepted.

05 August 2011

Nerd Central: Paul Williams Sings in His Battle for the Planet of the Apes Make-up

The collision of Paul Williams, the Planet of the Apes franchise, Johnny Carson, and a jazz classic is too much love for me to take. With this week’s release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I expected some “Apes Ephemera” to appear—and this clip from The Tonight Show from 1973, an official release, not some old VCR copy—is an unexpected joy.

Paul Williams, already a famous songwriter but before his three great film scores—Phantom of the Paradise, Bugsy Malone, and The Muppet Movie—is one of the best aspects of the otherwise worst of the original “Apes” series, 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Williams has the right stature, carriage, and voice to convincingly play the orangutang character Virgil. Cementing everything I’ve heard about Williams—that he’s a totally cool guy—he wanders onto Carson’s stage in full Virgil make-up and croons “Here’s That Rainy Day.” I can’t express to you how much this makes me smile.

An extra twist on this: “Here’s That Rainy Day,” written in 1953, was Johnny Carson’s favorite ballad, and he sung it with Bette Midler on his second-to-last night hosting The Tonight Show. It was also performed in tribute to him after his death. Good song choice, Paul!

By the way, when this was first broadcast, I was less than three weeks old. My mom probably caught it on the TV when she was trying to get me to go to sleep.

01 August 2011

Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Directed by John Favreau. Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olvia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Thunderation, aliens. We was havin’ ourselves a fine little Western show here in this town of Absolution. Then you come riding in, a-blastin’ and burnin’ everything like it was a Saturday night after the cowpokes got paid and the whiskey gone dry. You turned our durned movie into about as interesting a place as a salt flat. Hell, we had almost made this Ford fella entertaining again, and it ain’t been since the War of the Southern Rebellion that folks enjoyed anything that city slicker’s done.

So thanks fer nuttin’, alien varmints. Ain’t you got plenty a’ other moving pictures this year that you’re blowing your cannons in? Now stay on yer side of the barb-wire fence, and if we catch you branding one of our cattle again with those laser doohickies, we’re pulling leather on you and leavin’ you for the buzzards and worms who ain’t particular about what their chow is.

26 July 2011

Re-Cap, Part 15: The Night Fever People

Greetings, fans of the Star-Spangled Avenger! Quite a span has past since the last episode of “Re-Cap.” Part 14 was back in May of 2010, over a year ago. Since that, something has happened in the world of Captain America, something important . . .

Like a terrific live-action film! But I’ve gushed about that already.

With the excitement of the movie pulsing in my veins, I’ve returned to the to comics. But here’s a painful truth: even though Cap is my favorite superhero, I can only read so much concentrated comic book material at a time before I burn out. Over the last year I have kept up on the trade paperbacks of the current run with Ed Brubaker, which continues its amazing quality; it is now one of the definite eras of Cap’s history. But in the back-issues, I stalled once reaching issue #200 (July 1976). The ‘70s Jack Kirby artist/writer run—it doesn’t work for me. It pains me to say this about one of the greatest artists in the medium, and a former judge of the Illustrators of the Future Contest, but I am not enjoying these comics. The art is great, because Jack Kirby is rarely less than stellar. But his stories are silly and/or weird, the dialogue melodramatic, and so many of the interesting subplots and supporting cast that developed during Steve Englehart’s great run have vanished. Worst of all, although Jack Kirby can still draw Captain America like nobody else, the stories Kirby puts him in don’t suit him at all.

Once I got through the eight-issue slog of the “Madbomb” story, I didn’t feel like charging on to the rest of it yet.

But I’m back. The movie has infected me with fresh Cap-mania, so I’m going to power through the rest of Kirby’s run. Then I will go read his Devil Dinosaur comics and feel better about him. (I did promise at one point to review all those issues, right? Eventually, eventually, True Believers.)

25 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger Is Marvel’s Best Film Yet

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Sebastian Stan.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

How much a geek am I? After my first screening of Captain America, I stood up and thrust both my hands in the air with balled fists and screamed “Hail HYDRA!” Yeah, they may be the bad guys, but they have a great rallying cry.

I have waited since I was twelve years old for a big theatrical Captain America movie. (That 1990s straight-to-vid quickie directed by Albert Pyun does not count.) Ever since I was old enough to read comics on my own, Cap was my favorite superhero. I have spent an enormous amount of time on this blog with my series “Re-Cap,” following the chronological history of the Captain America comic book. All that Captain America: The First Avenger needed to do was not mess up Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s star-spangled hero and I would be happy.

Now I’m ecstatic. I unabashedly love this movie. It is the finest product yet to come from Marvel Studios and one of the best superhero movies ever made. I’m going back to see it a second time the moment I can. (In fact, by the time you read this, I probably will already have seen it a second time; I watched the first show on Friday morning.)

21 July 2011

Book Review: Dan Barry’s Daughter

Dan Barry’s Daughter (1923)
By Frederick Faust writing as Max Brand

Spoiler Surgeon General’s Warning: Since this novel is a sequel to The Seventh Man, which I reviewed earlier this week, any discussion of its plot will hint at the conclusion of that novel. Although I will try to avoid direct references, indirect inferences are impossible to stop.

Dan Barry’s Daughter was serialized in six parts in Argosy/All-Story (June–August 1923) and published in hardcover from Putnam the next year. Argosy/All-Story serialized the three previous “Whistling Dan Barry” novels, The Untamed (1918), The Night Horseman (1920), and The Seventh Man (1921). That last novel appeared to bring the saga to a definitive close, but a flood of letters from readers demanded more. Faust found a way to continue the story: he moved time forward sixteen years to make Joan, Dan’s tiny daughter and the hinge of the conflict of The Seventh Man, into the main character.

Dan Barry’s Daughter shows the author’s fatigue with the series; he felt he was finished with it, and in places the novel struggles to get its chase-suspense plot moving. When centering on Joan Barry, the novel excels, but when mapping out the adventures of its more standard “man-on-the-run” half of the plot, the novel feels scatter-shot and overly dependent on convenience and coincidence.

18 July 2011

Masterpiece: The Seventh Man

The Seventh Man (1921)
By Frederick Faust writing as Max Brand

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Prelim: The Seventh Man is in the public domain and available for free from Project Gutenberg in a variety of e-book formats. If you want a hard copy, there is a paperback print-on-demand edition available from Phoenix Rider; I do not know what the text quality is on it, but it’s only $5.99. Bottom line: no excuse not to give the novel a try.

Last year, I posted three articles about Frederick Faust, a staggeringly prolific author of Western fiction and other genres for the pulp magazines. Writing under the pseudonym “Max Brand” and eighteen others pen names, Faust was a one-man writing army that dominated the Western fiction field from the end of World War I until his death as a journalist on the Italian front in World War II. Readers responded positively to the three articles, the first covering Brand’s general career, the next analyzing a collection of his early Western short fiction, and the third examining his rare foray into science fiction, The Smoking Land.

But the response that interested me the most was my own. Those are among my favorite posts I’ve put up on Black Gate in the three years I’ve held this Tuesday spot. It isn’t that I feel proud of the writing and research on them. It’s that they made me realize what an anchor Frederick Faust is in my own writing, and how much I learn from him every time I read one of works. Reading Faust and researching his life and his letters is like coming home to a place that I don’t realize is “home” when I’m away from it.

So I’ve returned to the topic, and I’ve brought one of Faust’s great novels with me, The Seventh Man (1921). So far, I’ve only examined the Western through his short stories, but Faust’s major impact on the genre is in his novels.

13 July 2011

The “Acolyte of Black Spires” dance—with optional soundtrack!

I should have posted this a bit earlier, but Author Services did a break-down of the complete Writers of the Future 2011 Ceremony into individual videos, so you no longer have to speed through to a specific point to view my segment of the evening.

Click play, and you’ll go directly to the interpretive dance for “An Acolyte of Black Spires,̦” followed by me blubbering on stage.

Now here’s some geek fun. I like to play the track “Final Dream” from the Dune score by Toto over the dance. It fits perfectly to the dance’s movements, and it’s also a piece of music on my “Ahn-Tarqa” mix that I use as inspiration when writing about the continent. I’ve always associated the theme with the Shapers. If you want to synch up the two, start playing the video below of “Final Dream,” and at the 0:10 mark, begin the video for the dance above (with its sound turned off).

12 July 2011

Masterpiece: The Sword of Rhiannon

The Sword of Rhiannon (1949)
By Leigh Brackett

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I committed a major heresy, in public and on record, against the sword-and-sorcery community when I stated on the audio of a podcast that, in the realm of “sword-and-sorcery” fiction, I prefer Leigh Brackett over Robert E. Howard. I understand why most sword-and-sorcery readers cannot go with me on this. Howard is, after all, the Enthroned God of the genre. And, strictly speaking, Brackett did not write fantasy or historicals. Her specialty was action-oriented science fiction with heavy fantasy influences, the sub-genre of science-fantasy known as “planetary romance.” (Sometimes called “sword-and-planet.” I hate that term.)

I love Robert E. Howard’s work; it’s foundational for me. But, it’s “not that I love Howard less, but that I love Brackett more.” To that extent, I want to promote the sheer awesomeness that is Leigh Brackett whenever I can. And in her 1949 novel The Sword of Rhiannon, she reached what I believe is her apex: a planetary romance set across an ancient version of Mars, crammed with sword-swinging action, pirate-style swashbuckling, alien super-science, a hero as flinty as granite, an alluring and surprising femme fatale warrior, and an overarching theme of redemption, loss, and futility that ends up pushing what sounds like a standard adventure into a work of intricacy and overwhelming emotion.

27 June 2011

You Don’t Need to See Cars 2 to See the Brave Trailer

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Pixar has maintained such an amazing line of success with their mixture of intelligent adult themes and child-pleasing action and characters in their CGI films, that the studio’s turn toward sequels hit me in the face with the great massive gauntlet of disappointment. I did enjoy Toy Story 3, but it was nowhere near the level of brilliance of my trifecta of Pixar favorites: The Incredibles, WALL·E, and Up. And when I found out that the follow-up for Toy Story 3 would be a sequel to Cars, easily my least favorite Pixar film so far, the massive gauntlet of disappointed almost pounded me head-first down into the soil.

Cars 2 is the first Pixar film ever to have critics turn against it. The Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator has given the movie a “Rotten” rating, currently holding at a sad 33% positive, a sad first in Pixar’s history. It seems the best I’ve heard about the movie from viewers is, “Eh, my kids liked it.” Considering the steep prices for the 3D screenings — which are the only screenings available at my local theater — this may end up being the first Pixar movie I skip in theaters, and wait for the Blu-ray.

There is one temptation, the trailer for Pixar’s next films, a non-sequel heroic fantasy set in Scotland: Brave.

20 June 2011

Murray Leinster’s “Runaway Skyscraper”

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I’m a nut about the trivia of dates, so the moment I heard about the birth of my second nephew, A. Dean Martin (yes, really), I had to look up the famous people who share his birthday of June 16. The list includes philosopher Adam Smith, legendary film comedian Stan Laurel, and Apache leader Geronimo. Oh, and some fellow named Murray Leinster.

It was that last name that struck me the most. Murray Leinster is one of those science-fiction masters who has managed to find a place in general public obscurity. Despite a writing career lasting over half a century, Leinster’s name probably means nothing to most casual readers of contemporary science fiction, unless they pick up anthologies of Golden Age stories.

16 June 2011

Welcome Axel Dean Martin

Every once in a while, you will have to encounter a personal life post on this website. They are reserved for very special occasions. Like the birth of my new nephew.

Early this morning (German time), 16 June 2011, my sister Colleen Martin gave birth to her second child, Axel Dean Martin, in a hospital in Munich.

Here’s the first photo I’ve received of Axel:
About the name: No doubt you’ve noticed the “Dean Martin” part. This isn’t completely out of nowhere, because my father’s name is “Dean,” my middle name is “Dean,” and my sister’s middle name is “Deana.” When my sister married a man with the last name “Martin,” I certainly wasn’t the only one who thought, “Wow, I hope they continue the tradition and name their boy ‘Dean’! It’s too perfect.” However, they named their first child “Diego Kai Martin.” But for this child, they finally gave into the double pressure of “Dean,” but not far enough to make it the first name. Nonetheless, there it is: the child’s name is partially “Dean Martin.” (I’m glad nobody in the family is named “Steve.”)

What about the first name, “Axel”? In the U.S., we associate that name either with the lead singer of Guns and Roses (not one of my favorite people) or the main character in Beverly Hills Cop and the connected Harold Faltemeyer hit instrumental. However, “Axel” is currently a very popular name in Germany. It is related to two other German names, “Apsel” and “Aksel,” which, according to my invaluable Character Naming Sourcebook, all mean “father of peace.” A translation that certainly doesn’t match the two famous “Axel”s of the U.S.

Nonetheless, “Dean Martin” sort of overwhelms everything else, so I am declaring my nickname for him as “Dino.” I hope he grows to love Martinis.

Interesting fact: Dino missed by one day being born on his parents’ wedding anniversary.

People with whom Dino shares a birthday, in no particular order: Adam Smith, John Cho, Tupac Shakur, Arnold Voosloo, Murray Leinster (yeah!), Sultan Murad IV, Stan Laurel, Enoch Powell, Faith Domergue, Vilmos Zsigmond (cool, huh?), Jim Dine, Joyce Carol Oates, Gino Vanelli, and Geronimo—An American Legend.™

14 June 2011

Writers of the Future: The 24-hour Story Experiment

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Numerous memorable exchanges occurred during the week I attended the Writers and Illustrators of the Future workshop as one of the winning authors. Many of the more outrageous I can’t quote here (the Workshop is a “safe” environment for people to express opinions they wouldn’t in public, such as conventions), but here’s one my favorites that I feel is quite safe out in the open:
Me: [To Eric Flint] I’m interested to know the sources you used to research the Thirty Years’ War. Because, I’m also a Thirty Years’ War buff—

Eric Flint: For God’s sake, why?
Yes, being a scholar of the Thirty Years’ War does cause people to look at you askance, even another person who has done extensive research into this most anarchic of Early Modern wars. Suffice it to say, I simply cannot help my attraction to the madness of that long, gory, indecisive war. Magnificent madness.

At his acceptance speech during the awards ceremony, writer Brennan Harvey (who is no relation to me except now as a good friend) stated that “K. D. Wentworth and Tim Powers filled my head up to here,” making a motion far above his forehead. “I don’t even know what I learned yet.” That’s the best way to put it. In that week, the experience of listening to advice from a who’s-who of the best in speculative fiction made it sometimes feel as if I were getting machine-gunned with data. I wrote as fast as my hand could go over my notepad, and eventually I’ll sort it all out and see what sticks the most. However, the sheer mass of it made me realize that I can’t do a single blog post to cover what happened during the week. So I will focus on one item at a time.
The most instructive exercise we writers underwent during the week was the “twenty-four-hour Story.” The short version: write a story in twenty-four hours. No upper or lower word-count limit, as long as it is a complete story.

13 June 2011

Full color “An Acolyte of Black Spires”

Fred Jordan kindly sent me a scan of the full-color rendition of his illustration for “An Acolyte of Black Spires” from Writers of the Future Vol. XXVII. Here is the beautifully reproduced version:

30 May 2011

Why Do You Write? The story of Janelle

 Cross-posted to Black Gate.

“Why did you become a writer?” or “Why do you like to write?” These are variants of the same question—one that most writers, whether career authors, part-timers, or hobbyists, encounter many times. The simplest questions are the trickiest to answer, as the Tao Te Ching points out: “Straightforward words sometimes seem paradoxical.”

Here are my straightforward words to answer both these questions: I enjoy telling stories by using words in interesting ways.

Now, to confuse the issue and make it paradoxical, allow me to tell you about a girl named Janelle.

Writers of the Future Vol. XXVII pre-order on Amazon

Writers of the Future Volume XXVII, featuring “An Acolyte of Black Spires” and twelve other amazing science-fiction and fantasy stories, is now available for pre-order from Amazon. (It will be available June 20, although the site doesn’t currently indicate that.)

28 May 2011

TOC for Candle in the Attic Window

Innsmouth Free Press has posted the complete contents for their upcoming shivery volume, Candle in the Attic Window, a collection of new Gothic fiction and poetry. I don’t normally think of myself as a “horror” writer, more of a “weird story” writer. But Gothic horror is definitely something I get excited about, and the moment I heard about this anthology I was on fire to pay homage to my favorite of the “weird fictioners,” Algernon Blackwood. My resulting story, “The Shredded Tapestry,” emerged as something a touch different from Mr. Blackwood’s work, but his fingerprints are still there. Two of the John Silence stories, “Ancient Sorceries” and “Secret Worship,” influenced me. I was thrilled to find out the story was accepted for the anthology, and I look forward to reading the other poems and stories when Candle in the Attic Window comes out in print and ebook in September.

Here is the complete TOC, including both prose and poetry. (At 7,300 words, my story is probably one of the lengthier ones.)

  • “Dark Epistle,” Jim Blackstone
  • “Obsessions,” Colleen Anderson
  • “Stone Dogs,” Paul Jessup
  • “The Victorians,” James S. Dorr
  • “Liminal Medicine,” Jesse Bullington
  • “Nightmare,” Wenona Napolitano
  • “The Shredded Tapestry,” Ryan Harvey
  • “Desideratum,” Gina Flores
  • “The Seventh Picture,” Orrin Grey
  • “Housebound,” Don D’Ammassa
  • “Elizabeth on the Island,” Josh Reynolds
  • “At the Doorstep,” Leanna Renee Hieber
  • “The Ba-Curse,” Ann K. Schwader
  • “Broken Notes,” Maria Mitchell
  • “I Tarocchi dei d’Este,” Martha Hubbard
  • “The Malcontents,” Mary E. Choo
  • “Frozen Souls,” Sarah Hans
  • “New Archangel,” Desmond Warzel
  • “The Ascent,” Berit K. N. Ellingsen
  • “Nine Nights,” Theresa Sanchez Bazelli
  • “Vodka Attack,” Meddy Ligner
  • “The Forgotten Ones,” Mary Cook
  • “The City of Melted Iron,” Bobby Cranestone
  • “A Fixer-Upper,” Amanda C. Davis
  • “The Snow Man,” E. Catherine Tobler
  • “In His Arms in the Attic,” Alexis Brooks de Vita
  • “Hitomi,” Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas