Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reviewer Time: Mark Chitty from "Walker of Worlds"

Sunday has arrived and while last week has been still in the feature department [Liz and Mark have been rather busy, but I am waiting on them for a special off-schedule post] I am back to the regular posting schedule with another dear blogger on my Google Reader list Mark Chitty, the mind behind “Walker of Worlds”.

What separated “Walker of Worlds” from most blogs is that it is solely sci-fi oriented rather than the mixed approach towards genre most review bloggers I read have, including my own blog, which doesn’t show a predisposition to a certain genre or format. It’s not because sci-fi is less covered, because as we all know sci-fi has been hitting television and the movie screen hard with Star Wars and Star Trek and Battlestar Gallactica and so much more and then there are the scandals and debates about connected with the genre. I am sure that there are several pure science fiction review blogs out in the great space that is the Internet, but so far Mark Chitty is the one of the few to stick only to one genre.

Apart from the genre difference everything else that builds a review blog as such applies with full force with “Walker of Worlds”. For starters he usually reviews books that I’ve no clue, thus enriches my reading list, although science fiction is not exactly my passion. I am more of a spell casting dude rather than a Storm Trooper, but when it comes down to a well written novel I am usually on board. As far as Marks’ reviews go I can’t complain at all and I think he does a respectable job in the field with entertaining and informative review and according length.

Apart from that Mark Chitty supplies his readers with news from around the block and in that regard allows posting to cross over into the fantasy scene or simply post some odd tid bits from around the Internet. Complete with the awesome blog name and interior to boot, I can say, although in a more compressed version, that “Walker of Worlds” should make an entry on your Google Reader list.


HM: Hey Mark, thanks for stopping by my little feature. Now can you tell us who you are, when you shut down the browser and are not running “Walker of Worlds”?

My day to day life is pretty uninteresting, although I live in such a beautiful part of Wales with my ever-tolerant wife, Jane, and hyperactive cocker spaniel, Snoop. I wish I could say my job is exciting and thrilling, but it isn’t - I work for Bangor University in admin where I get the great enjoyment of dealing with students on a day to day basis.

Other than that I enjoy gaming, basketball, walking the dog and any endlessly searching for a form of relaxation that doesn’t involve me having constantly make my wife cups of tea. Oh, and reading :)

HM: The basic duo questions here are once more applied. What sparked your passion for reading and what brought you to science fiction?

MC: I’ve always enjoyed reading – I remember the craze while I was at school were all the Point Horror books, most of which I devoured. After that my reading was fairly sporadic until I picked up Pandora’s Star by Peter F Hamilton in 2004. That was the book that got me back into reading in a big way and since then I just can’t seem to get enough.

As for choosing science fiction over the more popular fantasy, I just enjoy it more. The idea of authors extrapolating technology and events and showing us what could actually happen in our future and what we could find out in the stars when we finally make it appeals to me in a big way.

HM: What’s the origin story behind “Walker of Worlds”?

Basically, I wanted to share my thoughts on the books I read with others. Not only that, but while surfing the net and browsing many of the blogs I read at the time I found that nearly all of them were fantasy orientated, I just decided to start reviewing what I read to get more sci-fi out there.

HM: Science fiction has a variety of subgenres in the same manner fantasy varies, but since I am not as knowledgeable as to what is what, which is your favorite subgenre or theme in Sci- Fi that you always come back to as a form of comfort zone?

MC: There are so many sub-genres that I enjoy: military sf, near future, far future, techno-thrillers, detective stories, action sf – the list goes on and on. However, my favourite has to be space opera for no other reason than its sheer scope. It can also combines a lot of the sub genres into one story format and, when done right, allows the reader to see just how much science fiction has to offer.

HM: While we are at the genre topic I have recently read some futuristic novels, which can be considered science fiction with interplanetary battles, aliens and farfetched technology, but also incorporate tropes like vampires and more romance, which I haven’t yet seen as used in the genre. Can you call those sci-fi or just hybrids with sci-fi elements?

MC: I see them merely as science fiction, regardless of the tropes they contain. To me, as long as a fairly plausible explanation can be given as to why, for example, vampires are in a science fiction story then I see no reason to try and tag a novel in that way – it’s all speculative fiction at the end of the day!

HM: I am also on an organizational buzz and while I am figuring how to create a schedule to accommodate responsibilities and my interest, I want to know how other people cope with time deficiency. How do you find your reading time?

MC: With difficulty! I usually try and get a half hour or so reading time during my lunch break, but this is nowhere near consistent. My normal reading time is before bed at night, although I also have time here and there throughout the week that I grab when I can. However, if a book has really pulled me in I will quite happily suffer the wrath of the better half by spending every waking minute reading it.

HM: Let’s hit the nostalgia button and transport you back to the very first review you’ve ever written. What was the book that prompted you to review it and what drove you to take up review blogging in the first place?

MC: The first review I wrote was The Dreaming Void by Peter F Hamilton. After he got me hooked on reading again with Pandora’s Star I started up a fan site,, that covers much of his work. It was because of this site that I managed to get hold of a review copy of The Dreaming Void – the rest, as they say, is history. I enjoyed taking the time to read a book and put my thoughts down and because of it I started up the blog to look at more sci-fi books I loved reading.

HM: What do you like best about reviewing and what is the worst aspect from being a review blogger?

MC: I enjoy the fact that as a blogger I tend to look more into the genre and what is going on than I did as a regular reader. Finding books that I wouldn’t normally have picked up is great, as is having the platform to share my thoughts on them. I don’t really see there being any negatives, although the feeling of guilt when the books are piling up, and because of this some inevitably don’t get read, is the closest it comes.

HM: What is the essential method for you to create a review? Do you finish it up all at once or do you write it in segments, how often do you revise, etc.?

MC: I used to write a review as soon as I finished a book, but these days I tend to give it a few days, perhaps even a week or two, to let my thoughts of the book fully form. When I do come to write it I usually spread it out over a few days and then go back to it so I can read it again before posting.

HM: Have you ever felt like abandoning it whole, because the world pressed you on reading and blogging time?

MC: Occasionally I have, but that’s more a reflection on being busy at home and work during certain times rather than wanting to stop blogging. I love doing it and whether I post something once a day or once a week I’ll always blog :)

HM: Is it important for you to finish every novel handed to you as a part of the review oath or do you have a trial period, after which you can drop a book, if it proves too boring?

MC: I do feel it’s important to try and read what I get through for review, but in reality it’s pretty much impossible. There is only a finite amount of time in the day and I do make the call to prioritise the books I want to read and talk about, but if I ever request a book or am asked specifically to review one I make sure I get around to them. Whether I finish a book or not is an entirely different thing – I won’t read something that is doing nothing for me, but equally I will give a book more than enough time before I decide to drop it unfinished.

HM: Mark, do you share the writer fever other bloggers have stated over the course of this feature?

MC: Yes and no. As much as I would love to sit down and write a story, I know that I don’t have the time or discipline to do so, at least at present. I respect anyone who writes for a living and I’m in awe of them, someone who sits down and churns out stories and novels has my respect. Plus if I started writing my reading and blogging time would vanish – I couldn’t do something as intensive as creating a story in half measures – and I love reading and blogging too much!

HM: As social networks grow, countless new sites that measure ranks pop up and more of us show at the blogging party have you officially entered the web hits war? I know there is one, even if it is silent, since we all want to be taken seriously and counted as reliable sources for information and critique and numbers prove that. Where do you stand on this subject matter?

MC: It’s great to see people visit my blog and when the numbers continue to grow it’s brilliant, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. I started blogging to share my thoughts and regardless of whether 10 people or 1,000 people visit my blog it won’t change why I’m blogging, but it does give me that happy feeling to see that people are actually reading my opinions.

HM: Publishing is evolving and changing. Conventional publication makes a few inches space for new forms to arise and one of them is self-publishing. Do you estimate that it will evolve into a reputable form with well regarded titles in the future and what is your opinion of it now?

MC: I’ve only ever read (or tried to read) a couple of self published books, one I put down because it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea and the other because the editing was terrible. Personally I think self-publishing is fine for factual books that have a small audience, but not very good for genre writers who can more often than not do themselves harm for putting a self published story out there. Will it ever get better? In all honesty, probably not.

HM: Speaking of changes in the industry, you must have heard about the Harlequin fiasco with the launch of their own vanity press and the strategy behind utilizing it to make profits. This has got to be a very interesting situation to watch unwind since so many organizations are rapidly reacting like RAW removing Harlequin from its list eligible publishers to the MWA and SFWA, who are taking similar actions. What do you feel about the whole situation?

MC: If a publisher can openly do this they should be shot, surely it can’t do anything but harm to both themselves and any writers that decide to go with them? Just because it’s backed by a publishing house doesn’t make it right or trustworthy – in fact it makes it more wrong.

HM: And as technology creeps in and the physical book is fought for dominance by the electronic copies, what do you think of the new e-book phenomenon?

MC: I like ebooks, but I’ll never change from paper books, at least not until the industry makes ebooks and the required hardware more affordable. I also like having books on my shelves so others can see what I like at a glance – ebooks don’t offer that.

HM: Also I have been drowning in genres that keeping sprouting everywhere and all definitions cause my brain to melt down. Truth is that to me the lines between genres are blurring into obscurity. Could this mean a possible post-genre future?

MC: As I mentioned earlier – it’s all speculative fiction at the end of the day. However, I can’t see the labeling of genres and sub-genres disappearing yet, there is too much reliance by marketing and publicity departments on putting a label on what they’re publishing. I think the readers are also guilty of this – they want to know what they’re picking up by a simple glance at a pre-defined genre label.

HM: Please finish with your own words.

MC: Just thanks for the having me :)

The Link Report: 29-11-09

Okay, I am getting back to the link posts of love since they are great filler posts and also now that I have a strategy to them I think will be awesomely easy to assemble. Plus I hope that people finally get the idea and return the linky love. Seriously now, fellow bloggers, stroke my ego one post a month.


Robert Thompson makes a return on FBC to review Scalzi's "God Engines", which reminds me that I want to own that novella. Donations are welcome.

Carl V. has decided to return from whence he had disappeared to and presents the following noteworthy review: Eclipse Three edited Jonathan Strahan and Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

We make a return stop at FBC to read Liviu's review of "Imager's Challenge" by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., which left me positively charmed.

Then we are off to the Book Smugglers, where Ana disses "Magicians" by Lev Grossman and I had to laugh all the way through, because she is quite passionate about why it didn't work for her. And at the same time we have Aiden at "A Dribble of Ink" to enjoy the novel.

From the Book Smugglers I have included two more reviews that piqued my radar: "The Mermaid Madness" by Jim C. Hines and "Madame Xanadu". From Thea, because so far everything has been Ana's reading, we have "Tainted" by Julie Kenner.

Adele over at UN:BOUND has an excellent review of "Silver" by Steve Savile, which according to talk with her is like Dan Brown minus the shitty writing.

Graeme reviews "The Infernal City" by Greg Keyes. I wouldn't mind reading it, but the exclusive quality puts a damper on my addiction.

NEWS and Tid Bits:

I am not surprised that I am returning back to the Book Smugglers, who are staging a circus and well I am going to participate, so it's worth to mention the Smugglivus opening doors December. The Book Smugglers are also welcomed into the family of, which makes me extremely happy and extremely envious yet again. But given the amount of work they do, it's only natural they get recruited. It is also only a matter of time, until the Unholy Trinity unites again.

Carl V. is officially in his forties and the bastard has received too many good presents to make me envious as hell.

Tor.Com has Irene Gallo over to talk about "The covers that got away"

Graeme has a copy of "Small Miracles" by Edward Lerner to give to some lucky American or Canadian winner.

Umberto Eco will be returning with a new book and Larry from "OF Blog of the Fallen" has a bookgasm.

Tia Nevitt over at Debuts & Reviews has a post about the Authors who are Great Bloggers.

SMD has a stab at the Harlequin Situation and while I have read so many other posts on the subject this is as good as breakdown as any. I am not seeing Harlequin ever living after this one.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Bleach": A Window to Japan's culture

[Note:] I am sorry the images are so small. It is either that or monstrocities that jump over the post, which is not pretty. Also this contains spoilers as to later developments, so those that are already reading the series, best be careful for I will reveal some of the world building details and images that appear later on. However the spoilers are inclusive and if you haven't picked up the series and would want to the concepts will be vague enough to not spoil the fun.
While the “Japanese Reading Challenge” yet has to reach the finish line and I am yet to pick the books I have included in my reading list I decided to take a stab on Japanese culture with a critical overview slash essay slash review on the second longest running manga series Japan’s produced “Bleach”. What I am about to do here is using "Bleach" as a large enough basis to try and paint a cultural picture of Japan.

But first some statistics to illustrate why a conventional review with blurb and plot nitpicking here wouldn’t be functional. “Bleach” published its first issue back in 2004 and since then it has amassed more than 40 volumes, which translates to 383 issues and when we do the math we arrive at the staggering total number of 8’043 from its first to latest issue. Do I need to say that the series is in no way nearing its end? These pages mean that there several major story arcs that propel the series and numerous minor story arcs, which enrich story and world. I’m quite certain that if one would start to count the number would pass the one hundred mark.

Here I would begin with my exploration in Japanese waters. Even from production you can spot the obvious differences with the West. Japan is built upon productivity, perseverance and consistency. Tite Kubo is both writer and chief artist and has been on this project from issue one, which is something unthinkable to happen in the US for instance, where all major comic book series change several artists and writers, which also reflects on the series’ tone and the arcs. With “Bleach” everything is intricately spun together, each detail put with care and with meaning and the consistency with world, characters and background is faultless. To me this is a highly evolved plotting that surpasses most of what I have read in novels.

“Bleach” begins small scale in order to introduce the reader to the setting and what we have is a Good vs. Evil world inhabited by Hollows and Shinigami. The equation is quite simple. The Shinigami [typically spirits in Japan mythology which are death personified] are the spiritual enforcers, which give human souls spiritual burial and send them off to Soul Society, but also have the task to locate and exterminate all Hollows. Being the primary threat in the series the Hollows are corrupted spirits bound to Earth, suffering from hunger for human souls.

Images below portray how the typical Hollow looks like. Although they vary in size and form the most common elements in the Hollow appearance are the mask that conceals the spirit’s identity, the skeletal exoskeleton and no human resemblance.

The Shinigami can be recognized for the samurai uniform and the sword [Zanpakuto] they carry, which is the manifestation of their souls and thus has unique capabilities. I also need to point out that each sword has a name and knowing the sword’s name is the key to access the rather awesome super powers stored within.

Enter Ichigo, a loud mouthed teenager with a Melinda Gordon thing going on for him, who is forced into a battle for his family’s safety with a Hollow and becomes a Shinigami, when the one assigned to kill the Hollow [the obnoxious and equally loudmouthed Rukia] fails and has to bestow Ichigo her Shinigami powers.

A bit long winded, but understandable in the manga. From this moment on Ichigo has learn the ins and outs that come with bearing a big magical sword and the lessons occur through a mixture of drama and slapstick, both over the top grave and hilarious. Which leads me to the second point about Japanese culture. Emotions and personality traits are never subtle and are intense, over the top and punch through the reader. Something mildly sad is taken with the emotional response one would show when someone has died and actual death is met with some kind of detonation inside the character’s heart. An extrovert is a hyperactive bouncing ball that spurts verbal diarrhea at high decibels. A promise is an actual almost physical bond, which must be kept at the cost of everything. The list goes on and on.

However if one wants to learn about Japan mentality and emotional culture, it would be best to focus on the Shinigami, which as stereotypical good guys embody every virtue that can be found in Japanese society. Honor, loyalty and friendship are the persistent elements here and are proven to be sacred through each battle, conversation and flashback. Hierarchy is met with respect and is not oppressive, shown through character dynamics and the general devotion the lieutenants express towards their captains without following orders blindly, but being partners to the captains. It may be a bit farfetched, but “Bleach” preaches the virtues of obedience in the perfect hierarchical society, also not unlike the social reality in the country. Not only this, but is also not random that the Shinigami are modeled after the samurai, who are famous for their bushido codex, which binds the individual to live and show frugality, chivalry, mercy. In that sense the good guys in this story are the concentrated essence of the virtues the Japanese believe in.

Pictured: Shinigami attacking the traitor Aizen

Ichigo is not quite a Shinigami, but as the plot thickens he’s grown to be accepted and shown respect, which is yet another model, which reflects Japan’s mentality and reality. In Japan the focus heavily falls on education, since Japan is highly modernized and it can offer much to those with the intellect for it, hence why so many geniuses seem to spring there and why a fixation with high school stories in manga and anime exists. The youth is treated to rigorous mental preparation to enter the best schools, universities and later on land the best positions. And this is not achieved by playing video games, but by hard work. This is what Ichigo as a character represents. With perseverance, hard work and focus one can achieve anything in the world. If you can steel your will, believe that a task is in your power to perform and do it because you have to, then no obstacle in life can stay in your way for too long. Of course withstanding the high tides has to be done with honor, fair play and respect towards who is your enemy.

Pictured: Ichigo with his sword in Bankai mode.

As the story steams on and the world complicates the reader is introduced to another face that is Japan and this is the dark side so to say. Enter the Arrancar, which are a Hollow breed with Shinigami powers and become the main antagonists in the series. Unlike the original Hollows what we have here are humanoid beings with enough intellect to reason and are not led by a blind hunger for souls. The Arrancar are not animalistic in that sense. They have a sense of self and know what they are doing, which makes them cruel murderous bastards, each of the deadliest top ten incorporating a certain negative trait that can be found in humanity. There is no loyalty between them. They like to quarrel and when one falls it is welcomed as wonderful show and is usually staged by fellow Arrancar. Their function beyond the story is to act as a contrast and underline and emphasize on how abiding the moral code and holding sacred the virtues the Shinigami embody. Plus the fact that Shinigami always have the upper hand and do prevail most of the time show that Good is always going to win over Evil.

Pictured: Arrancar

I think I did a good job at deciphering the moral blueprints, but let’s move on to imagination and intellect. First, Japanese people are all for symmetry, which is shown through the thesis and antithesis principle in the world building department. The Shinigami and the Hollows are on polar ends. Both fight, but the latter do it because it is in their instinct to do so, while the former do it because of necessity to preserve peace. It’s the usual order vs. chaos. Civilization versus savagery. On an idea level we have Arrancar and Vizard. As I have stated the Arrancar are Hollows, which managed to develop Shinigami characteristics. The Vizard have once been Shinigami, who have cultivated Hollow masks and so augment their original powers. It is this genius juxtaposition, which has me entirely enthralled within the series and once again proves that the Japanese know no boundaries, when it comes to creativity.

Pictured: The Vizard

Last point I would like to illustrate here would be the massive scale, on which “Bleach” is functioning. This is a whole theme for Japan, which for a land so small is actually a country fascinated with HUGE [yes, I do believe they are overcompensating for something]. It has humongous buildings, big robots and their culture has spawned Godzilla and the mechas, so it’s no wonder that “Bleach” has 384 chapters, that the cast features more than 50 characters, that the swords’ capabilities can outrank a nuclear bomb in devastation and battles are bigger and flashier and more apocalyptic with each chapter. This story is swallowing steroids and engorging itself into Biblical proportions, which is why I love it. It climbs a mountain top, blows my mind completely and then I wait in anticipation how it will top that and for the run I have had here I know that it is capable of being bigger.

Pictured: Bad Ass Bankai [the final level of power a sword can manifest]

This concludes my exploration of “Bleach” as a dense guide book to Japan as culture and country. Thank you for bearing with me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Super EMO Friends

Super Emo Friends is just adorable 6 x 11.5 prints with your favorite and most popular super hero characters in their emo angst moments, where their personal tragedies are reduced to a mumble that is un-tragic and more cute and funny given their background. You can find them at ETSY.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Talk the Time Table

Posted from my other blog dedicated to writing "Through a Forest of Ideas"

The twenty first century won’t be the twenty first century unless you have too much on your plate, figure out insane ways to juggle with your priorities and interests, grind something hard inside the small snippets of time you have free and doing this without having to knock a few more hours sleep from your schedule.

I imagine the average closed minded person without a great myriad of interests [for whatever a reason], whose life fits exactly into reality, have a hard time do what life has written on that person’s chore list. So what’s left for the rest of us, who can’t survive the 9 to 5 hell [though in my country it usually extends to 10-12 work hours a day] and need to have hobbies to feel at least partially sane? I am one of the latter sort with zest to undertake new things, but a big fat lazy ass to actually exert control over the situation. Here is what I need to juggle with:

~ Academic life [lectures, studying, exercises, homework, exams]
~ Writing [novels, short stories]
~ Reading [for pleasure, for review, for research on projects]
~ Blogging [reviews, interviews, guest posts, for TLR and my writing blog]
~ Socializing [mail, twitter, blog hopping via Google Reader, actual people (yes, I occasionally do interact with actual human beings in the flesh)]

Due to financial circumstances that have affected the whole family, I shall have to become BREAD EARNER the 2nd and become once more employed, which let me tell you is not as easy in this economic situation, in my country, where part time jobs do not exist and for a student still in university. In time it will happen, which means that I will eventually find myself in a mutated time crunch. I do not foresee a happy ending here and the only resort to my aid will be time management skills. If life was a D&D session I would die to throw a twenty in that category, but since it’s not I will have to talk the time table. My schedule book is actually a folder and still a WIP, but looks promising.

I start from the big picture and move down to the day-by-day chaos. The first six sheets show the outlined goals in each category mentioned above with quota breakdown distributed in an even as possible manner. Writing and Reading are more or less on a calendar month basis, while the rest are on week dynamics. With these initial six sheets I will know what kind of productivity I aim to achieve. Pictures below.




Blogging about Writing:

Next follow the sheets that will house my notes on different topics connected to the six sheets, but have no immediate effect on my time table. Usually tasks I need to do in regards to project I am currently working on or notes on the book I am about to review. It saves me time, when I forget a detail I want to mention in reviews and is more helpful, while reading anthologies.

The last and largest sheet group contains the daily agenda for each day, where I will need to fit all the quotas in such a manner so that I can achieve the weekly and monthly goals. Since I am not that far in to be honest I didn’t get to doing these yet and I am not sure how effective this system will be, but it will certainly help me with my memory issues.

PS: Excuse my crappy photography skills.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Dark Stranger" by Susan Sizemore

Title: "Dark Stranger"
Author: Susan Sizemore
Pages: 384
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series/Standalone: Book 8, Prime Series
Publisher: Pocket Books

I received “Dark Stranger” from the publisher Pocket Books as an official promotional book tour participant and it turned out to be a great random pick, although I didn’t ooze particular interest, because of the rather generic cover that did nothing but reveal flesh, which given the genre [paranormal romance] fits the purpose. After all the bigger the bicep the more interest the cover gauges.

Readers are introduced to volume eight in Susan Sizemore’s Prime series, which startled me upon learning this, since it reads as a standalone, but then again her series are not unified by any great arc and introduce new characters with each book from what I understand. Romance readers with infatuation with vampires and an overlapping interest in science fiction elements will get a kick out this novel, which mixes vampires with aliens.

This is the second book ever I read, where aliens mix with vampires, something that seemed impossible and yet is done. Sizemore is no newbie, so there are mostly strengths from the tie between these incompatible elements to world building, setting, plot, pacing to characters and the dynamics involved. The drawback I found was the ending, which resembled a Hollywood scene with a kiss in public and a happy wedding.

But first the blurb:

A twist of fate made Zoe Pappas heir to the Byzant throne. Bound by duty and devotion to keep the Empire safe, Zoe is captured while on a secret diplomatic mission and sent to an underground prisoner-of-war camp. In this strange, shadowy place, residents are governed by fellow inmate General Matthias "Doc" Raven, whose powerful magnetism rouses an urgent desire in Zoe. But the intensity of her attraction is matched by her surprise at discovering that Doc has a secret of his own: he is a vampire.

Zoe's presence puts everyone in the camp in danger. Doc knows it, and knows too that Zoe's royal status makes it impossible for her to bond with a vampire. The only way to save her is to help her escape, and lose her forever. But some fires are impossible to quench, even when following your heart is the ultimate taboo....

Honesty laid out I hate prisons and POW camps as a theme and their inclusion into literature and the entertainment industry has irritated me for a long time, but then again I never read a sci-fi paranormal romance with vampires set it a POW camp on a desolate planet and that my friends is what intrigued. I wanted to see how these pieces could be combined into a story. I wanted to see how the romance will develop into a closed system and when both characters are on the same side and not the set in stone enemy status quo. The result according to “Dark Stranger” is satisfying and although the novel itself doesn’t raise and discuss any deep concepts, it quenches the adventure lust and is an excellent book to read in summer, when it’s hot, your blood is boiling and you want a buzz for your own adventure.

Zoe Pappas makes an interesting protagonist to read as we see her as Zoe the woman and lover, when she is with Doc, lieutenant Pappas the diplomat and soldier in the negotiations with the alien residents in the POW camp and Theodora the heir to the Byzant throne. I was impressed with the effort invested in her character, who springs to life on the pages and although is tough as nails and ready to sacrifice her life for the better of the empire can be vulnerable to the loneliness and darkness, believably so at that. Reading her narrative I felt transported in this dreary place, where tension escalates, boredom can drive you to a dark place and sex is just about the only means of entertainment and aid for the mounting insanity.

On the other hand we have Matthias Raven otherwise known as Doc, who is dedicated to the people in this camp and their needs. The issue I have with military figures in literature is that they are never real enough for me. I imagine that even while a grunt falls in love he would be rough around the edges and not so romantic or buttery in his thoughts. Sizemore has created a man both respected, authoritarian, with a sharp strategic mind and passionate in that rough and possessive alpha male manner without the uncharacteristic gentleness.

When the telepathic vampire meets the enigmatic empathy heiress, not only do sparks fly, but they bond literally. The building to this culmination in their relationship is accomplished in a step by step manner with satisfactory revelations on both characters’ behalves. The darkness and captivity add to the intense and electrified atmosphere in the camp, but the remaining cast also contributes to the richness of the relationship and the plot. From the ever interrupting Arco to the manic and unstable Barb to the geeky Siler and Mischa to the friendly Maria and the ever arguing Adams, there is always something interesting to read about whether be it the alien species, the war and the history of the Byzant empire.

What I didn't like as I have stated was the happy Hollywood ending resulting in a merry and improvised ceremony, where Zoe marries Doc in front of a considerable amount of witnesses according to the vampire traditions, while they fly from the prison camp into safety. It is the happy ending I expected, but I imagine that after a riot and dangerous combat the last thing on a person's mind would be weddings instead of the need to rest, since POW camps keep you underfed and prisoners would be running low on energy. This is my only nit pick with the book.

All in all, Sizemore is experienced enough to know the ins and outs of paranormal romance to deliver a smoking tale with enough action and arousal to her readers. With a great attention to detail and knowledge how to please her audience, “Dark Stranger” is a great book to uplift your spirits.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Magazine Review: Survival by Storytelling #1

I have to admit that there is something special about a first magazine issue. It is a new name, which awakens curiosity, a promise made to the reader and a venue for writers. Most of all it’s a new beginning, which hints towards the full potential of an idea, while remaining open to ideas and generally flexible.

“Survival by Storytelling” has the task to represent the younger generation of writers, who with given time will break through in their chosen genres and take the vacated spots in the fiction world. I have to admit that this is an interesting concept and will certainly arouse curiosity, but there is still a long way to go until the magic formula is found. As with every beginning there is an amount of uncertainty involved and it shows in the direction and focus of the issue itself.


Amidst the 114 pages the reader finds twelve stories and since the focus of the magazine is on the writers’ age rather than genre the genre myriad strays from literary to weird to dystopian and fantasy with topics ranging from personal tragedy and drama to the comical. Basically there are morsels for every taste.

“Chrysalis” by Josh Roberts opens the issue and has left a standing impression. Roberts has set out to explore what can happen when high school love goes wrong and when the scars the first break up never heal. Beautifully written and smartly engineered the story pushes into the spotlight people I believe do live and breathe, emotionally handicapped, because someone has swallowed their hearts early on.

Other strong stories in this issue include “Memoirs of a Torn Page” by Divya Mohan, which employs a rather complex plot built upon well handled flashbacks. The emotional integrity and the tragic bitterness linger, although slightly overkilled with the winded prose. Then there is “Honor Roll Bound” by Emerald Du, which I resonated completely, since the pressure on students at any academic level is crushing.

As far as literature in general goes I am drawn towards the serious, tragic and dramatic hence these stories resonated more with me, since they made me feel the most. However there’s much fun to be had with “The Birth of ‘Sweet Fish’” by Chris Chapman, which is weird and yet funny in a caricaturesque undertones. “Invisibility” by Kelsey Ray adds more gravity to the popular vampires.

However there are certainly entries I didn’t enjoy such as “Row 7”, which confused me and I managed not to finish. The same fate followed “The Bus Stop”, which failed to engage me and took too long to go anywhere. “One Last Look” went about a topic in the most obvious manner, which rendered it uninviting and the short one page entries left me wondering what had transpired.

Everything Else
For starters the cover art rocked me and is sure to be noticeable, though I am not sure it did anything to reflect anything that I encountered inside the issue. I expected an emphasis on the genre fiction reading, but got more contemporary. The interior is barren, but then again SBS is still in its early stages, so as issues progress more will be improved upon.

I enjoyed the non-fiction content, especially “Economies of Scale” by T.M. Hunter, which is a really informative and useful information for anybody with the inkling of establishing a web zine on their own. “Six Tips for Writing Memorable Characters” is more controversial for me since I do have a different character building strategy, but then again I agree on several on at most the half of the advice given. It’s both useful for new writers and insightful to readers, who have wondered how writers do what they do.

Although I dabble with free verse I can’t say that I enjoy poetry, so the amount included here didn’t exactly work with me in style or thematic, but certainly can cater to those, who enjoy experimental verse work. The interview with author Paul Genesse, although informative I felt was too concentrated on the author’s work, which although the purpose after a certain degree and number of questions aimed at a series becomes tedious, especially for the people, who have no idea what the author’s work is still about.

At the end of the day:

“Survival by Storytelling” is certainly fresh. It has youthful imperfection and energy. More importantly these are the walking steps into the industry of what might be successful short story writers, novelists, editors or any other sort of person connected with the industry. Yes, it is rough around the edges, raw and adjusting its skin, but I think that if the magazine prevails, it will gain momentum.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Check out: "A Mage of None Magic"

This Monday I am reviewing at "Fantasy and SciFi Lovin' News and Reviews" with my review of "A Mage of None Magic" by A. Christopher Drown.

Folklore tells how magic came to be when evil gods shattered the fabled gem known as the Heart of the Sisters. Those same stories speak of the Heart being healed and unleashing a power that will bring the end of humankind.

While travelling to begin his magical studies , young apprentice Niel suddenly finds himself at the center of the Heart’s terrifying legend. Caught in a whirlwind of events that fractures the foundation of everything he’s believed, Niel learns his role in the world may be far more important than he ever could have imagined, or ever would have wished.

A Mage of None Magic begins an extraordinary adventure into a perilous land where autocratic magicians manipulate an idle aristocracy, where common academia struggles for validation, and where after ages of disregard the mythical refuses to be ignored any longer.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reviewer Time: Ben from "Speculative Fiction Junkie"

Another Sunday has come and gone and I’m posting in between time zone the latest Reviewer Time feature with this week’s reviewer Ben from “Speculative Fiction Junkie”. I am not quite sure how much I will be able to cover in the commentary since Ben is a busy guy in the realm of offline affairs, thus making him a more in the shades kind of blogger, who slips under the radar too often.

It’s actually inspiring to see such a dedication to the passion of reading and reviewing, despite maintaining an impossible schedule, which results in sporadic posts in between ten days and even longer periods of time. It’s a given that due to the low activity on his blog readers might lose patience, leave and possibly not return, because readers like to be entertained all the time and are lead by whims and needs that often morph 24/7. And yet this is the reality that some if not all of us face on a steady basis; life butting in on our fun to the point where we would have to set priorities straight and make the needed sacrifices. To have persistence and proceed with the time-consuming and laborious commitment to run a book blog is invaluable to have in your character and Ben has that, which shows just how dedicated he is despite problems in the activity department.

Being done with the psychological profile of the blogger [if I dare label the above paragraph as such] let’s proceed to the blog itself. “Speculative Fiction Junkie” is based on the principle what you see is what you get in sense that Ben is a junkie in love with spec fic and the sole material covered on his blog is book reviews. His reviews are damn good: long, structured, clever and well phrased with personal revelations as well as excerpts to illustrate his points. But there is nothing beside that, which I am not completely sure it is negative since review blogs should have an emphasis on the reviews and by dictionary definition all is well, but then again book review blogs function beyond and construct over reviews. The filler material, be it essays, polls, interviews, in-the-mail box posts, giveaways, news from the web gives each blog the individual vibe that separates one blog from the other. In Ben’s case it is a decision based on time issues and personal choice to neglect the other tools used by book bloggers [probably being his own personal signature that makes him recognizable], but it certainly has me thinking about it.

So to summarize Ben is a friendly overworked guy, who produces attention worthy material and usually is fast enough to respond to any commenter, which for me is always a plus, since I like striking dialogue whenever possible with people with same interests as me. And on the bright side, if your Google Reader is overpopulated like mine the slow paced posting schedule here will work for you benefit.

HM: I bet you have kept up with this feature so you know that the first few questions are always personal, so let’s get straight to work. Who is Ben, when he is not in charge of the awesome “Speculative Fiction Junkie”? ?

Ben: I'm not that interesting really. I'm a twenty-nine year old living in the Southeastern United States who works in State government. A lawyer by training, I write state laws for a living. I am engaged to a wonderful and mercifully patient woman and am the father of two cats. In addition to reading I also love hockey, music, and Linux.

HM: I am a big fan of lists, so I want you to list me three fun facts that your readers probably would never ever guess about you.

(1) I used to blog for a magazine devoted to mobile computing and mobile phones.

(2) One of our cats is named "Bean" and the other is named "Fluffer" on account of her fluffiness. Unfortunately, after we named Fluffer, we learned that a "fluffer" is a member of the crew on porno film sets who performs services that are rather too embarrassing to write about (those of you who are interested can look it up on Wikipedia if you're interested).

(3) If I could visit one place in the world that place would be Iceland. If you think that sounds odd, do a Google image search for pictures of the place. It looks absolutely beautiful. Plus, any country that produced the world's first parliamentary democracy and the band Sigur Rós must be worth seeing.

HM: When and how was your passion for reading sparked and what was your path to discovering the pretty rad world that is speculative fiction?

My love for reading is a part of my earliest memories. My parents used to read to me every night when I was a child and I always had my own bookshelf stocked full with books. Even when money was tight, my mother somehow always managed to find enough for me to buy a book. There was also a beautiful Carnegie library in my neighborhood. Additionally, when I was young my family used to attend church regularly, which firmly convinced me of the power and magic of the written word. While I no longer go to church and am not religious, church was very formative with respect to my love for both books and music. My passion for reading, in other words, has always been a part of who I am.

Similarly, I've always loved speculative fiction even when I didn't know what it was called. The most salient memory I have of a moment in which I consciously realized that I liked this sort of fiction a lot more than I liked other fiction came after I purchased a copy of Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring" from a grocery store when I was twelve. While grocery store fiction is often appropriately the subject of jokes, in this case it came through for me.

HM: What was the inspiration behind the conception of “Speculative Fiction Junkie” and how did you decide on this form of blogging in the first place?

For me, blogging is a means of extending my hobbies and interests. With one exception, no one around me reads speculative fiction. Creating Speculative Fiction Junkie allowed me to engage in conversations with people who share this interest wherever they are in the world. This was the reason I created Speculative Fiction Junkie.

If you're asking where I came up with the name for the site, there really isn't too much to it. when I was first toying with the idea of creating a blog about fiction I knew that the sort of fiction that interested me most could be broadly referred to as speculative fiction. Knowing this, I just asked myself what one would call a person who enjoys this sort of writing and immediately came up with the term "speculative fiction junkie."

HM: What’s the part of review blogging that liberates you from the mundane troubles and makes it worth the time and effort and what part frustrates you the most?

As alluded to in my answer to the previous question, the best and most liberating part about running Speculative Fiction Junkie is that it allows me to talk with others who are as interested in speculative fiction as I am. I have forged some great friendships with other bloggers, authors, and publishers through the site. As far as my fellow bloggers go, I'm thinking in particular of guys like Colin from Highlander's Book Reviews and Mihai from Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews.

HM: Have you ever felt like abandoning it whole, because the world pressed you on reading and blogging time?

Definitely. Every few months I think about abandoning the whole endeavor. Several things lead me to toy with this idea periodically but the main one is the self-imposed time pressure. I try to post a review every ten days. Most of the time, this is no problem but the workload at my job is subject to extreme fluctuations that can require me to work nights and weekends which sometimes make this schedule unrealistic. During these moments I remember fondly what it was like to read without time pressures and consider whether or not it's truly worthwhile to continue with the blog. At the end of the day, however, the reality is that I just love talking about books too much to seriously consider such a move.

Another thing that can make blogging burdensome is the time pressure that comes along with accepting review copies. Some bloggers receive so many review copies that the publisher of a given book simply hopes that the blogger will select that book from among the dozen or so other books that the blogger likely received that week. I am not one of these. In roughly 80% of the cases in which I receive a review copy I've corresponded directly with the publisher, publicist, or author about the book and have created an impression that I will likely read and review the book within a reasonable period of time. While I always reserve the right to decline to review a book, in most cases I do my best to read review copies in a timely fashion, which can create an additional layer of unwelcome time pressure. In fact, I've recently been considering ceasing the practice of accepting review copies altogether. For this very reason.

HM: This is a fairly new question I plan on keeping in the general template for awhile so here goes. As a reviewer do you go through all lengths to finish a novel or do you drop it after it feels too much to read?

I do my best to finish every book I start reading but I'm not dogmatic about it. If the book is just unbearable or if there are other more worthy tomes I'm itching to read then I will reluctantly put a book down without finishing it. Some people have a rule that if the author hasn't won them over by page 100, then they stop reading the book. I don't have such a rule and just stop reading when my gut tells me the book isn't working for me. When I do so, however, I try to provide a brief reason for my failure to finish in the section of SFJ labeled "couldn't finish."

HM: I am hooked on these cover art battles and am totally a believer that the cover is essential for the novel as the story, since it can spark the initial chemistry between a reader and a novel. And I basically enjoy novels harder, when their cover art is not to my liking. It’s prejudiced and I am trying to overcome it, but what about you?

Cover art is not as important to me as it is to some. I think it's most important in the sense that a good cover can prompt me to pick up a book that I might have otherwise passed by. In other words, a good cover is important to me only insofar as it helps me discover good books. Beyond this, a nice cover is nice, but that's about it. A bad cover on the other hand can be very annoying.

HM: Have you ever wished to be one of the authors reviewed on blogs and have a long career with novel after novel?

When I was five years old, Garrison Keillor visited the neighborhood library to promote his book "Lake Wobegon Days." My parents bought me a copy so that I could get it signed and when it was my turn in line I proudly told him that I was a writer too. As a result, my copy of the book now bears the inscription: "To Ben, who is a writer too." Despite this, while I like the idea of being a writer I have never taken serious steps towards becoming one and don't think I would be very good at it.

HM: What’s the story archetype or trope that will always keep you entertained no matter how many times it is done and on the polar end what is the one trope or story that will bug you out no matter how many twists are presented?

Honestly, there isn't any archetypal story or trope that I especially love or hate. A good writer can bring something new and worthwhile to even the most overused tropes. I do, however, have preferences just like anyone else. For example, while I enjoy post-apocalyptic tales and weird fiction, I do not share or understand the current love of vampire fiction.

HM: As social networks grow, countless new sites that measure ranks pop up and more of us show at the blogging party have you officially entered the web hits war? I know there is one, even if it is silent, since we all want to be taken seriously and counted as reliable sources for information and critique and numbers prove that. Where do you stand on this subject matter?

I have not entered the web hits war and have no plans to do so. The reason for this is that my goals don't have much to do with popularity as measured by numbers. Of course, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't want people to read SFJ but I'm confident that those with similar tastes who are looking for reviews of works we're both interested in will eventually find the site, and if they don't, it's because they found what they were looking for elsewhere.

With a few exceptions, SFJ contains only reviews. No giveaways, no news items, no book trailers, no release announcements, etc. (although I am considering doing some interviews). It's not that I mind these things and I sometimes read them on other peoples' sites but the truth is that most of the time I just skip over them because these things aren't what I'm looking for when I read book blogs. I find myself gravitating towards those blogs whose content mostly consists of reviews and as a consequence that's what I try to make SFJ. I know for a fact that it costs me hits but I'm completely okay with that.

That's how I choose to run SFJ but it definitely doesn't mean that others have to do the same thing. I think the variety of focus and content on speculative fiction blogs is one of the things that makes the scene so vibrant. I do, however, completely disagree with the notion that numbers prove how seriously one is taken or how reliable a source of information one is, anymore than, say, bestseller lists prove what good books are.

HM: Publishing is evolving and changing. Conventional publication makes a few inches space for new forms to arise and one of them is self-publishing. Do you estimate that it will evolve into a reputable form with well regarded titles in the future and what is your opinion of it now?

Self-publishing is a tricky subject. While there's nothing that prevents self-published works from attaining the highest quality, the fact remains that they rarely do so, or at least don't do so as often as their more conventionally published counterparts. While the conventional route to getting published undoubtedly has flaws, there is a lot to be said for the fact that works that are produced in this manner have to meet certain minimum quality standards in the form of approval by various individuals. There is no similar guarantee of quality assurance for self-published work and this will, I think, continue to mean that self-publishing leads to a lot of bad books. For this reason, despite the occasional outlier, I suspect that the reputation of self-publishing will not improve in the years to come. My current opinion of self-publishing reflects this view. I approach such works skeptically. But the fact that a book is self-published, standing alone, would never lead me to decline to review a book.

HM: And as technology creeps in and the physical book is fought for dominance by the electronic copies, what do you think of the new e-book phenomenon?

It sounds tacky to say, but I believe that getting people to read is the paramount issue and that it doesn't really matter if they're reading eBooks, traditional books, or scratchings in the dirt.

As a matter of personal preference I will always prefer a traditional book over any other form of reading medium. This is partially because that's just what I'm used to and partially because I'm a book collector. Fortunately, I think there are a lot of people all over the world who feel the same way about physical books as I do. As such, I absolutely do not fear that the eBook will lead to the demise of the traditional book as some do. Furthermore, even if the traditional book were to fall out of favor with the general reading public somewhat, I believe that countless small presses would proliferate to counteract fill the void, something we've already seen a bit of recently and a development that I hardily welcome.

HM: Still connected with the shift in the publishing landscape, I have a question regarding the books from publishing houses. Big houses bet on the money and what sells and at a certain point some titles in some genres begin to echo each other, while small houses have published some uncharacteristic titles that don’t draw too much attention, but to me offer a bit of refreshing air. Are you sated with big houses or are you willing to stick with what you know?

In terms of quality, I think that the big publishers do a decent job of making sure that what they publish is of sufficiently high quality, writing wise. While a lot of what they publish may not be to my own liking, that doesn't mean that they aren't doing a decent job in this respect.

The main problem I have with the big publishers is that they don't do a very good job of maintaining variety within genres. For example, go into a bookstore and look in the horror section. You're likely to find a shelf full of Stephen King and not much else. Some of the best branches of the genre, like supernatural horror and weird fiction, are seldom represented to any meaningful degree. For this reason, I could not live without the output of the many smaller presses who do publish in these neglected subgenres.

Similarly, while the big publishers seldom publish the work of authors who can't write, they do sometimes decline to publish the work of able authors who deserve to be published. The example that immediately comes to mind is the work of Michael J. Sullivan. It blows my mind that a major publisher hasn't picked him up yet and without the existence of small presses, I wouldn't have had access to his work at all. So, to answer your question, I need the output of both the big publishers and the small presses in order to satisfy my tastes.

HM: Also I have been drowning in genres that keeping sprouting everywhere and all definitions cause my brain to melt down. Truth is that to me the lines between genres are blurring into obscurity. Could this mean a possible post-genre future?

I agree with you that the lines between genres are increasingly blurred, but I don't think this necessarily reflects any major substantive changes to the sort of books people are writing. I don't think we're looking at a post-genre future. People will always use genre labels.

HM: Please finish with your own words.

I'm proud to be a member of the speculative fiction blogging community but I do think there is one thing we need to work on as a community. Periodically, when disagreements break out among us, a few of us become very nasty, very quickly. I'm not really sure why this is the case but I think it's really destructive and needs to stop. There's nothing wrong with different opinions but when these disagreements digress into name calling and mockery things have gone too far.

Lastly, I really want to thank you Harry for this opportunity. I love reading your Reviewer Time interviews and I know that a lot of others do as well. Keep up the great work!

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Bitter Night" by Diana Pharaoh Francis

Title: "Bitter Night"
Author: Diana Pharaoh Francis
Pages: 400
Genre: Horror
Standalone/Series: Book 1 in the “Horngate Witches” series
Publisher: Pocket Books

“Bitter Night” came from Pocket Books in order for me to participate in the book’s promo tour, which started three days ago on November the 13th. Since it came a bit too late I have had limited time to read it and thus the delay, but the postal service is for a strange reason delivering closer to my needs.

What we have here is an urban fantasy series debut as well as genre debut for the traditional fantasy writer Diana Pharaoh Francis. As such it is introductory to the world and characters and as urban fantasy offers action, a new version of the hidden world lurking in our realm as well as diversified array of enemies and magic. Surprisingly we have no vampires, which for me is a great strength, but the prose didn’t quite capture me and the alpha-alpha romance felt contrived.

Once, Max dreamed of a career, a home, a loving family. Now all she wants is freedom…and revenge. A witch named Giselle transformed Max into a warrior with extraordinary strength, speed, and endurance. Bound by spellcraft, Max has no choice but to fight as Giselle’s personal magic weapon — a Shadowblade — and she’s lethally good at it. But her skills are about to be put to the test as they never have before….

The ancient Guardians of the earth are preparing to unleash widespread destruction on the mortal world, and they want the witches to help them. If the witches refuse, their covens will be destroyed, including Horngate, the place Max has grudgingly come to think of as home. Max thinks she can find a way to help Horngate stand against the Guardians, but doing so will mean forging dangerous alliances — including one with a rival witch’s Shadowblade, who is as drawn to Max as she is to him — and standing with the witch she despises. Max will have to choose between the old life she still dreams of and the warrior she has become, and take her place on the side of right — if she survives long enough to figure out which side that is….

I will start with the pluses and how Francis breaks from the typical urban fantasy mode. As I have already mentioned vampires and werewolves don’t resurface and even more unorthodox is the narration, which happens in third person point of view and is split between Max and Alexander, the former Prime Shadowblade for the rival witch Selange. The balance between action and romance has been shifted and a lot more focus has been given on collaboration rather than conflict, which has been at the centre of urban fantasy relationships. Max and Alex are partners and not mortal enemies and the friendship rings true. However the chemistry is what I had problems with. For starters Max and Alex felt to me better as partners rather than lovers and whatever intimacy they had didn’t felt all that natural.

Apart from that Francis has accomplished to craft the interconnecting web of relationships between the main protags and the secondary cast in order for “Bitter Night” to function as a fast-paced and exclusively character-driven story. Max stands on a crossroad that is not as easy to decide upon. On one end there is her freedom, which will wash away the violation she Giselle inflicted on her body and soul, but gaining freedom would mean losing her home and the people that made her care again. The Horngate coven conveys unity and a warrior family based on loyalty. It’s a vivid and electrified environment.

Outside the coven however is a grim and gritty world, which is a must-have in any urban fantasy series. The clashing territorial battles are lead by immortal witches, who range in their source to gather power and their personal bodyguards, the Shadowblades, warriors that fight and kill during the night and the Sunspears, warriors who fight during the day, but night is fatal to them. However the witches here are not the benevolent Wicca witches, but the rather wicked bed time story witches that although look like Desperate Housewives editions are quite handy with torture and back stabbing scheming plots. The magic system is broad and yet consistent and all of this offers multiple refreshing surprises for readers and the desired action.

However there are downers to this novel. For starters this is highly personal, so I don’t expect people to second that, but the prose didn’t do anything for me. It was ordinary leaning over to be bland at places, especially when the repetitions came. Max raising her mental shields for I don’t know which time annoyed me near the end. The concept helped me get through, but that didn’t last long as well. After the middle Francis disrupted all concern in me for her characters and I just didn’t get as excited as I should be when the big guns blasted off announcing the climax. Max and Alex had been on the brink of dying for far too many times and even at their lowest they still manage to avoid death, so after awhile you stop worrying and just know that their strong will and fortitude will help them pull through the day. Ultimately it made me lose the needed suspense to be blown away from the last fight and the master plan hatched or the crucial decision Max had to make.

I am conflicted about this one. On one side I have a new world that is vampire free and magic loaded, which fits perfectly with my tastes, but at the same time there are elements that don’t appeal to me. It certainly is worth the shot, because I cheer for diversity and given time maybe the problems I had would be resolved with the upcoming volumes.

Hellbound Hearts: Closing Post

The end has been reached. What can be said about “Hellbound Hearts”? The stories speak for themselves, but I feel compelled to summarize the experience for me. As a child the Hellraiser movies stroke unimaginable fear in my heart and I didn’t rekindle with the franchise until a later date, when I thought that the first two movies were in fact brilliant as in being something entirely else and bold and pretty damn good, even if they were dated.

As a writer and an idea person I am drawn to concepts. A world with these demonic beings and their hellish puzzles, chains and torture vomits bile and viscera, standing in stark contrast to other horror titles. This was the original torture porn horror, which now has found solid soil with series like Saw and Hostel. Hell has never looked crueler and at first glance the formula seems rather limiting to explore by others. Humans solve puzzles and sign their damnation, but what I didn’t count on was that a puzzle has many shapes, damnation has many masks and so do the executioners of that death sentence. Given that the authors assembled here had to work with the intellectual material of someone else to me presented a great challenge and the result is more than pleasing.

Horror itself as a genre is vast and so are the techniques to achieve the desired sense of fear, which on its own has many nuances. From blood stopping cold in the veins to the hopeless desperation to the stomach twisting revulsion fear, a person can experience a myriad of frights and the twenty one authors explore this wide range. At any rate this is not a book that people with weak psyches or bowels can stomach easily. It’s an anthology for the fans that love the gore, love the twisted stories and have had a long run with the genre.


Foreword: Clive Barker
Introduction: Raising Hell, Again by Stephen Jones

Prisoners of the Inferno by Peter Atkins
The Cold by Conrad Williams
The Confessor’s Tale by Sarah Pinborough


Hellbound Hollywood by Mick Garris
Mechanisms by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola (illustrated by Mike Mignola)
Every Wrong Turn by Tim Lebbon

The Collector by Kelley Armstrong
Bulimia by Richard Christian Matheson
Orfeo the Damned by Nancy Holder
Our Lord of Quarters by Simon Clark
Wordsworth by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
A Little Piece of Hell by Steve Niles
The Dark Materials Project by Sarah Langan
Demon’s Design by Nicholas Vince

Only The Blind Survive by Yvonne Navarro
Mother’s Ruin by Mark Morris
Sister Cilice by Barbie Wilde
Santos del Infierno by Jeffrey J. Mariotte
The Promise by Nancy Kilpatrick
However... by Gary A. Braunbeck and Lucy A. Snyder
‘Tis Pity He’s Ashore by Chaz Brenchley

Afterword by Doug Bradley
Special Bonus Material: Wordsworth Graphic short story Original Script by Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hellbound Hearts: Part IV

Here we are after a lengthy intermission, the final strip of short stories from the “Hellbound Hearts” anthology, which get better and better. Although these are the final stories and thus my reading concludes I will provide a roundup with links, which I failed to do with the initial post.

“Only the Blind Survive” by Yvonne Navarro, Pages 15: For all the Native American mythos fans this story will be a delightful one as it reads as an oral legend that has been passed from generation to generation in a tribe. As open as I am to the world mythologies and legends I am not hooked on the Native American vibe. Navarro has in my opinion done a formidable job into translating the Cenobite monster and the puzzle as a gateway into this setting and cultural background with a monster that is quite unexpected, who unlike the Cenobites encountered now has weaknesses and is defeated by Wikvaya and his brothers and brothers, who are spirit warriors. Although interesting, clever and well engineered I didn’t quite enjoy it since it strayed a bit too much from the concept for me.

“Mother’s Ruin” by Mark Morris, Pages 17: Our protagonist is Elliott, a rather unpleasant and disgusting individual, who as all BDSM freaks abides the perverted union of pain and sex. His life is rather putrid and pathetic. His head filled with disgusting sexual thoughts and it’s no coincidence that he is led by a trail of scattered clues to a warehouse, where all his perversion can be let loose. That happens, but so does something soul damning as he meets the Mother and learns rather frightening details about his parents, who left him for adoption, and are at the bottom of his temptation. I can’t say that I felt scared by this story or had my guts coil at the descriptions and yet this one has vividly stuck in my head. And in the end this is what counts.

“Sister Cilice” by Barbie Wilde, Pages 10: I am a sucker for transformation stories, which is particularly why I enjoyed “The Confessor’s Tale” so early on in the anthology and why I am rooting for this one. We have Sister Nikoletta, a nun and the female embodiment of morale, who seems to be haunted by unsavory dreams and while she tries to purge her desires through mortification of the flesh and a trusty whip, she unearths new dark desires. In satisfying her desires she discovers information documented by the church about the Order of the Gash aka the Cenobites and invokes them to become a member of their exclusive club. This one was a pleasure to read, because nothing is better than willing damnation of the soul in order to gain power.

“Santos del Inferno” by Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Pages 16: The roads to damnation vary in shapes and sizes and this is what this story explores. In the exploration of cultures and the search for new deadly puzzle-traps that summon the Cenobites Mariotte presents the traditional santo [religious art objects] in a rather twisted light. The protagonist here is Ron Marks, who after losing his family due to traffic accident has become an alcoholic shut in. His life changes for the worse when Leonardo, the man responsible for the accident, pops into his life and promises to make it up to him for the death of Ron’s wife and daughter. But good intentions in this anthology are not entirely pure. The events that unfold after Leonardo collects all the perverted santo statuettes are most intriguing. There is even some justice in the mix.

“The Promise” by Nancy Kilpatrick, Pages 13: There is the gore fest and torture porn horror, which relies on the physical to scare and there is the cold, seething and billowing stories that freeze your breath entirely, when you realize that hope has been strangled in cold blood. I am always open for stories from both calibers and Kilpatrick delivers. The story revolves around a group of Goth friends, who are bound by promise to the Cenobites to return on a given date and sacrifice one of their own. There is a twist, when the new rendezvous time is set and this is where the chill comes from. The protagonist is mathematic-savvy Karen, who figures out the grizzly change in rules and the applications. And she is also of special interest to the Cenobites. The one thing I didn’t like was the voice, which was written in second person point of view and read rather alien to me.

“However” by Gary A. Braunbeck and Lucy A. Snyder, Pages 13: The reader is introduced to the kidnapped and used as torture victims trio Lewis, Penny and Carl. Kept in a basement and starved, tortured and humiliated by the Cold Ones, a couple with sadistic tendencies and the urge to summon the Cenobites to grant them wishes and harness their power. However as Penny escaped to bring the guys food and the mysterious puzzle box that is said to summon these monsters, things change from grim to grizzly and hopeless after the Cenobites enter the scene. Naturally there is a rather delicious twist and an element I had yet to encounter in the anthology. Rather devious.

“’Tis Pity He’s Ashore” by Doug Bradley, Pages 16: As far as I am unwilling to say I found a story in this anthology, which I didn’t enjoy. It’s also unfortunate that it happened to be the closing story. As with the beginning we have a story devout of Cenobites’ active presence, but here I am not so sure how it closes the anthology, because I couldn’t get much sense of it, even when I re-read it. Because of this I refrain from handing out an actual opinion of it, but it certainly is tamer.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Flesh and Fire" by Laura Anne Gilman

Title: "Flesh and Fire"
Author: Laura Anne Gilman
Pages: 384
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Standalone/Series: First novel in the "Vineart War" series
Publisher: Pocket Books

My copy came courtesy of Pocket Books and I should have posted my review a week or so ago to be in synchrony with the promotional book tour. To think that I wanted to drop this as pick from Pocket, because I felt overworked. It seems surreal, now that I have read this novel and consider not reading it a great intellectual robbery.

Fourteen centuries ago, all power was held by the prince-mages, who alone could craft the spell-wines. But the people revolted against harsh rule, and were saved by a demigod called Sin-Washer, who broke the First Vine, shattering the hold of the prince-mages.

In 1378 ASW, princes still rule, but Vinearts now make spellwines, less powerful than in days of old. Jerzy, a young slave, has just begun his studies to become a Vineart when his master uncovers the first stirrings of a plot to finish the work Sin-Washer began, and shatter the remains of the Vine forever. Only his master believes the magnitude and danger of this plot. And only Jerzy has the ability to stop it…before there are no more Vinearts left at all.

Cover art and book blurb have hinted that this will be the beginning of yet another medieval fantasy series, which will explore yet again the coming of age theme. What can be so different from all the other books under the same lid? Oh, everything. From the magic system, which has cemented my conviction that fantasy knows no bounds, to the unorthodox handling of the coming of age trope this novel is as refined as any French vintage year. I couldn’t find a fault anywhere within this story and I usually refrain from being too emotional about a book, but I can’t help myself with “Flesh and Fire”.

This idea could have flopped in so many aspects, if it was handled by an emerging author, so I am thankful for Gilman for pursuing it after being so successful with her urban fantasy series. With that out of the system, let’s look at the characters. For starters the cast is abundant and I can safely say that each human being that appears on the pages at any given time is a living, breathing person. This is rare. This is the magic. Even when nothing of interest happened the figures entertained me with their personalities.

And Gilman has brought to life intelligent and prone to get into verbal battles characters. Conversation, this back and forth connection between Master Malech and his student and formal slave Jerzy, is the primal tool for setting the rules of the world, the magic and the mythology. Malech is a strict, fair and generous teacher and Jerzy is a cautious, willing to learn and taking responsibility student, who wants to excel and prove his master right by picking him as a student. Then the reader is offered the color that is the secondary cast from the respect inducing housekeeper Detta, Jerzy’s fighting teacher Cai, the odd and eccentric Vineart Giordan, the honorable mistress Mahault, the sly mouthed trader Ao and many more.

The characters set in this exotic and yet familiar world embark on a journey, which starts as a relaxed stroll on a cobbled path amidst a garden and then winds, widens, hardens and crosses streets and roads until the reader finds that from a rather placid beginning his breath is stolen by the suspense at the near end. For the sake of experiencing this story I will not mention any concrete details, but I just enjoyed how the level of difficulty for these people went up by a notch with the transition from each part. In part one, “Slave” the reader is introduced to world and cast. Horizons are restricted solely to the Malech House. Part two, “Student” broadens the borders, shows what happens outside, continues supplying new information about the magic of this land. Rumors about bad omens are just a whisper. Part three “Spy”, has the reader know that something is wrong and Jerzy is wading into dangerous waters with unwritten rules with an ending, which is by no means a cliff hanger, but has made the reader physically crave the next installment.

There are a few books that truly sweep me off my feet. There are even fewer that re-spark the flame and makes me remember, why I want to be a writer. And there is tiny percentage that has truly changed my inner world completely. “Flesh and Fire” did this for me. It’s individual for everybody, but I highly doubt anybody not liking this novel.
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