Sunday, October 31, 2010

Swords and Dark Magic: Book Review

Swords and Dark Magic, edited by Lou Anders & Jonathan Strahan
Subtitled the New Sword And Sorcery, this collection was closer in my opinion to a wide collection of fantasy types across the board.
Seventeen new stories by some old masters and relative newcomers (in comparison) to fantasy. I'm split in which stories I liked best, the old hands versus the new.
Likely my favorite was also probably the shortest-Bill Willingham's Thieves of Daring, it made me very irritated that it ended so soon. On the strength of that short piece I will absolutely pick up his other works.

Opening with epic writer Steven Erikson, I was at first a little worried, Goats of Glory started just a tad slow (I didn't feel like it really got going until page 20). Erikson's writing and characters are top notch but I was pondering for several pages if this was really going somewhere considering this was a short story collection and not one of his massive tomes. But once it did-excellent, truly entertaining.

I have only read a little of Glen Cook's Black Company series, but what I have I have enjoyed so I was looking forward to Tides Elba. I liked it, but wondered if it could have been the opening to another novel rather than a short story.

Gene Wolfe's Bloodsport was a tad confusing for me. Beautiful prose (as Wolfe always delivers) but I have to admit I was lost at times and never really got what was happening.

The Singing Spear by James Enge is great, the twists and surprises of Morlock Ambrosius truly had me on edge. He is quite the character. I'll be reading more of Enge's work very soon.

I could not get past C.J. Cherryh's prose in A Wizard of Wiscezan too jarring for my taste and the beginning sounded a little too Global Warming/Pollution whatevers to me. Both threw me out of the story.

K.J. Parker's A Rich Full Week one of the more interesting conversations with a dead man in fiction I have read.

A Suitable Present for A Sorcerous Puppet by Garth Nix, held my attention, forced me to reread paragraphs and then ended too soon.

Red Pearls by Michael Moorcock is the first Elric story by his creator I have ever read. I know, I know,-he is credited on the first page here as a grandfather of Sword & Sorcery and yet this is the first time I have read him-GRANTED I OWN ALL THE ELRIC books, I just haven't read them yet. Something always gets in the way. Well, I will get to them, no worries. Moorcock has luxurious purple prose (which is not an insult to me) and incredible world-building. While I enjoyed Red Pearls it did seem to have a Deus ex Machina ending.

Tim Lebbon's The Deification of Dal Bamore left me feeling torn. On one hand it has fantastic prose and great storytelling BUT I thought I sensed a not-so subtle dig from an atheist and that's where the story floundered for me. NOT because I am a Christian but because the dig seemed like a straw man argument. Having Dal Bamore argue with the priestess on the futility of faith just came off like a weak argument. (Maybe this reveals more about my psyche than anything-but that's what I got out of it) I still want to read more by Lebbon though.

Dark Times at the Midnight Market by Robert Silverberg had its moments but also stumbled for me. The names all sounded like he was trying too hard to be bizarre and some character issues seemed reaching. Is an octopus-man really going to have a beauty ratio on a human female? I found it weak. It also marked where I stopped enjoying the antho so much.

The Undefiled by Greg Keyes, falls into a category I always have problems with-liking a story when I don't like anyone in it-it just doesn't happen.

Hew the Tintmaster, by Michael Shea. This was another of the longer shorts that took too long for me to get into, 20 pages before I realized it was a Cugel the Clever tale. Having never read Cugel before, I am still not sure I will read anymore.

I am still midway in Scott Lynch's first book so I was excited for In The Stacks. Lynch did not disappoint, great reversals, monsters and ending.

Tanith Lee's Two Lions, A Witch and the War-Robe and Caitlin Keirnan's The Sea Troll's Daughter did nothing for me.

I already mentioned Willingham's short piece and I sincerely hope he does more.

Lastly a favorite author of mine, Joe Abercrombie's The Fool Jobs ends the collection. Its a good tale, introducing characters we will meet again in his upcoming The Heroes, and even while I am singing his praises, it is probably the weakest, most predictable thing of Joe's I have ever read. Am I still dying to get the Heroes when it is released? Yes I am.

Overall very enjoyable, though there will be about 6 tales I doubt I will reread-others I know I will. Wish it had a better cover-if I didn't know and want some of the authors, I may not have picked it up. Aside from that, a great collection overall.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mild Nights

I'm 37 and it seems like only yesterday, that 20 years ago, I was finishing the Drama class rehearsals for 'You Can't Take It With You' and then we, as a class, were off to raise some hell on a mild Halloween night.

We stuck together for the most part, egging and toilet papering various nemesis = cops who left their patrol cars unattended, freshmen, the 5th Street cowboys, as well as the cowboys from the next town over-Darby or Draby as we liked to call it.

The grocery stores in Hamilton, used to not sell eggs to teens on Halloween night, but we always knew to be prepared a few nights in advance. Our standard issue was two cartons of eggs and two four packs of TP per man (or girl-it was always cool to get girls to come along)
Thusly armed, we would prowl the night and do battle with the mulleted foe.

I recall at one point barley leaping into the back of Carli's Bronco before a herd of cowboys attempted physical retribution for the quick offering of breakfast upon their precious trucks.
Those heathens worshipped Taz, but don't worry the giant stuffed Tasmanian devil they had attached to their grills was offered the fruit of the chicken too.

I can't relate the full joy of hearing people complain all the next day of how bad them "Drama Kids" got them.
Good times.

Well, now I'm older and the wife doesn't want the kids to hear these stories and such, but its those good times that I fall back on that keep me from feeling too old.
There's that side of me that would be sorely tempted if someone were to pass a carton of eggs and say "Let's get em."

I probably wouldn't do it anymore.

Unless suggested victim really deserved it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some Favorite Halloween Themed Movies

Looking back at my favorite Halloween type movies I am noticing a theme-they weren't blockbusters, but they all carry a depth beyond the usual class of what goes for horror movies these days-a better term as mentioned by Stewart Sternberg would be simply 'shock and gore'. True Horror is a look into the dark side of humanity. These films have something to say, a story to tell.

I have mentioned my love of this film recently, but I still couldn't leave it out of the lineup. If I ever get one of my stories turned into a movie I would want it to be more like this (Action, characterization and wonderful soundtrack) than anything I can think of.

This is the reality of vampires. Not sparkly teens-give me a break. There is no 'Dark Lover' here for your daydreams.

This one is both horrifying and hilarious. Elvis and a black JFK in a rest home fighting a soul-sucking mummy. And as funny as it is, the commentary with Bruce Campbell as 'The King' doing a commentary of the film is EVEN funnier.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Politics for the Week

I don't normally want to discuss politics here, but it is good to laugh again.
Plus Jimmy has the best whiskers in politics since the 1860's.

And I am inclined to agree, Kristin Davis couldn't be any worse for New York than who they have had thus far.

Now if only my friend Kody would run for Utah state governor.

Yes, I am fiddling, while Rome is burning.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ghost Story from My Youth

Out in eastern Montana (where I grew up until age 12) and at about the halfway point of the Rosebud creek is what my friend, Reo and I called Volcano Hill. It is not volcanic basalt at but sandstone mingled with a powdery red earth similar in consistency to cinnamon. Naught but tumbleweeds, cactus and sage grow well in it. We called it Volcano Hill, because it is a cone shaped mesa, that looks like it has had the top sheared off. The most interesting things about the hill however is the strange aura that radiates off of it.

The Cheyenne (to whom I am partial over the Crow) considered it sacred and their petroglyphs cover numerous sections in sheltered overhangs. A handful of caves burrow back into the hill, and we as children ventured into them as far as we dared...a scant few feet because several dropped off into bottomless pits that we could see nor hear no end of-but what I really recall was that it seemed a presence lurked in those caves that we dared not abandon daylight for. I envisioned a scarecrow-like old Indian sitting cross-legged deep in the caves, a wicked shaman with little patience for curious white boys. My minds eye said he had gnarled hands, long teeth and penetrating eyes of obsidian that looked into my soul.
Reo and I talked many times about spending the night on the mesa, but we always found a better reason not too, when night fell.

I remember being told by the old-timers that back in the short days right before the Battle of the Little Big-Horn, (the quintessential last stand battle of my childhood) that the Warriors went to Volcano Hill and stood from sun-up to sun-down with their hands upon the sacred stone face, in a shamanic ritual to make themselves invulnerable in the coming battle.
Did it work?
They won didn't they?

Reo and I put our own hands upon the warm stone one afternoon, and though we, as 10 year old boys only lasted perhaps a few minutes, I remember a power emanating from the deep within and it was easy to believe there was something special about the place, something otherworldly. I can't help but think of John Carters gateway to Mars now, but back then it seemed it was my own portal to another realm and the possibilities were endless.

The last time Reo and I went back, looters had attempted to break off portions of the petroglyphs, they didn't succeed but they did damage the face of the most prominent glyphs, scoring a large rectangle about it as well as breaking chunks off of the weak sandstone. Some of their tools and clothes were left scattered behind on the ground. I know the looters must have attempted this at night, but what scared them off? The hill is off by its lonesome, it isn't like anyone would be happening by at night, its far too remote.
No, something else got rid of them. We never heard about looters out there ever again.

Pic by my friend Kris Cooper

Friday, October 15, 2010

Perilous: Book Review

I am very happy to announce that my good friend Tamara Hart-Heiner's debut novel PERILOUS just became available.

So refreshing to have a friends book that rocked your socks off and you don't have to pretend you liked it.
Que soft condescending voice, "Hey good job tiger, you'll do well."
Nope, she nails it.

Perilous is a YA thriller, and while not the usual thing I would pick up, this truly had me on the edge of my seat-I read the entire thing in 2 sittings (the later lasting the better part of an afternoon/evening) I had to know what happened next!

We begin with a murder and then a slight backtrack with the main characters, some teen girls in a smaller Idaho town, who witness something they shouldn't have. You might think you know where this is going but Heiner surprises us again and again with her twists throughout the book. SHE NEVER LETS UP. And it works. Mysteries are intensified, and just when you think you know what is going to happen, the conspiracy gets deeper and deeper.

I hate to giveaway too much when it comes to my book reviews, especially with a thriller that is so full of surprises, (I mostly like to talk about how they made me feel-cuz I'm a Cancer) but I will say, this is a novel that I think has near universal appeal. It will be in that narrow margin of books that both my wife and I read. (a very narrow margin) I don't like the cover at all, but my wife does. But that is my biggest criticism regarding Perilous-don't judge this book by its cover IMAO.

It is the first of a trilogy, but things wrap up pretty clean while still leaving us wondering about what comes next. A very satisfying and page turning read.

I turned in a back-cover blurb for Tamara awhile ago, whether it makes it on the book or not I have no idea, but here it is.

"Perilous, by Tamara Hart-Heiner is a pulse pounding thrill-ride with shocking revelations and enticing mysteries that you can’t get anywhere else -- short of being kidnapped and stolen half-way across a continent yourself. This is a story that will be passed around again and again with wicked anticipation, while we hunger for the next offering. Heiner delivers!"

The E-book is available now Here and the paperback pre-order link is here.

Tamara is also sponsoring a giveaway contest, this be the guidelines- Kindle giveaway: This contest is point-based and begins Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 15. Whoever has the most points wins the Kindle. There will only be one Kindle given away. Here are the points: 1 point: blog comment (can comment on all the blogs, multiple times, on the tour)1 point: follow my blog ( 1 point: retweet 2 points: blog about the blog tour 5 points: purchase the book (ebook or paperback, must email me the confirmation email) if they actually buy the book in the store (which is unlikely), they can mail me a copy of the receipt. Have them add up all their points as well as their proof (links, etc) and email it to me at the end of the blog tour (tamara at tamarahartheiner dotcom)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Read Just Lately

The Fourth Nephite, by Jeffrey S. Savage
This is a LDS YA novel (all set up for a sequel-though this is self-contained) I found it a very enjoyable read, even though I didn't really like the main character Kaleo Steele, an arrogant high school football star. Of course the story is about what humbles him-I just have a hard time with stories where I don't like the characters very quickly.
Caught in a tight-spot where he might be suspended before an important game, Kaleo is given (IMAO) a heavy handed guilt trip and sent to speak with a mysterious gentleman to avoid missing out on performing in front of college scouts. High strangeness ensues in the tunnels beneath Salt Lake and Kaleo finds himself back in 1827.
Savages writing has excellent pacing, characters, twists and resolution. Authentic historical material is scattered liberally throughout, since this is a time-travel yarn. A couple small things niggled at me, but given that this is YA, I don't think they will bother the intended audience at all.
The inclusion of the villain Alastair Blackburn was great, as well as Jennie Jagger who also has her own interesting twist in the story. I look forward to Savage's next installment, I just hope they don't title it The Fifth Nephite.

God Against the Gods, by Jonathan Kirsch
This is headlined, the history of monotheism versus polytheism.
I thought it would be a very interesting read, but Kirsch while entertaining, presents incredibly weak arguments. The book opens retelling all the atrocities that have been committed in the name of the ONE GOD, and then goes on about how the Pagan era was a time of peace, diversity and tolerance. He admits that there may have been some bloodletting but that it is nothing in comparison to the believers of the One True God = HOGWASH.
Whenever evidence is mentioned of such pagan bloodletting, Kirsch defends the idea that it was all symbolic-but anything from the Old testament is thrown out as evidence of the jealousy and bloodthirsty ways of Yahweh and his followers.
Take any side you want-I Don't Care-but you can't portray yourself as unbiased and whitewash your side and demonize the other using the same evidence.
Numerous examples of his facts don't add up either. He contends Akhenaton was the first monotheist while also deriding Abraham for the same thing-which is it Kirsch? They can't both be first.
I am more than willing to read books by people with views counter to my own, (I read the local City Weekly paper for crying out loud) but this was just sloppy.

Chronicles of Conan 17: The Creation Quest, by J.M. DeMatteis, Bruce Jones, Roy Thomas and Gil Kane
Since Roy Thomas put down the torch for the regular Conan series,(we're talking 1970's series) none of the other writers captured the same fire (even if it was borrowed from Howard first)
Roy's contribution here is the annual which again borrowed heavily from Howard. The rest of the collection isn't terrible but it isn't great either.
As seen on the cover, Conan gets a giant sword and grows giant himself to fight these huge green Barsoomian inspired monstrosities and I found myself yawning a big "So What?" the writing for these tales just isn't up to par. I love Gil Kane's art-and that was likely the best thing about the The Creation Quest.

A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The very first Sherlock Holmes tale, introducing Doctor Watson and the famous detective. Just going off of this novella, I would say Doyle is great at what he does know and terrible at what he doesn't.
The villains, Mormons like myself, were so garish and maudlin as to be absolutely absurd. Make a Mormon a villain-I don't care-I know they exist cough, cough-but like any good writing make them believable.
Granted Doyle is a dead master, his creations are magnificent-but this was a weakness that seriously tripped up the story for me just because I know the historical accuracy and I am not wearing rose colored glasses or living in denial as others may. I credit the villains in the tale to being of the same school as characters from the Yellow Menace pulps and the Red Scare of later years-perhaps not completely impossible but very unlikely. The premise and happenings suggested by Doyle's Utah were shattered by the next book I am reviewing.

Wayward Saints, by Ronald W. Walker
At roughly the same time Arthur Conan Doyle is having A Study In Scarlet take place, a dissident group known collectively as the Godbeites were waging a literary, media-led and theological war against Brigham Young. If anything was even remotely close to what Doyle ever suggested, the Godbeites would have all been murdered. Nothing worse ever happened beyond T.B.H. Stenhouse and wife being doused with fecal matter in likely an unrelated family revenge scenario.
Instead they were excommunicated and then founded the Utah Liberal Political party, the Salt Lake Tribune, and wrote incendiary Tell All's that perhaps provided the bulk of Doyle's research.
Walker presents an incredibly sympathetic view of the Mormon dissidents, detailing their beginnings and what factors led to their rejection of the LDS Church. I find it fascinating that primarily economics seems to have swayed their spiritual and theological worldview.
These dissidents never rejected spirituality-they embraced it, becoming ardent spiritualists and holding seances-but involve a man's money and he contends with the man he once called Prophet.
This is the best regional history book I have read in a very long time and I borrowed liberally from it for my Monsters and Mormon's submission. My tale ended up about 75% historically accurate and 25% fiction, though I did compress the timeline somewhat based on events recounted from Wayward Saints.

Friday, October 8, 2010

October: Time for Spooky Prose

Here it is October and looking back at everything I have been working on lately (with the exception of Blood of Our Fathers rewrites and even that sounds horrific and sanguine)-it all seems to have a horror element about as strong as a fantasy (or western) element. That wasn't intentional or planned, things just worked out in that direction.

A 11K piece I wrote titled "The Hands of Fate" has been put on the shortlist for acceptance at Pill Hill Press's upcoming anthology "Shadows and Light 2" It is a desert fantasy, but hey, Mongolian death worms are scary.

My 16.5K submission to Monsters and Mormons is replete with things that go bump in the night and I don't want to say much more than that because I really do hope to surprise readers with that one. It is a weird western featuring Porter Rockwell.

I am currently working on another short (under 5k) Porter piece for an unusual anthology titled "Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation".
It must contain malevolent tumble weeds.
I looked at it as a challenge to come up with something good-and I have. Granted I haven't even submitted it yet, but I am getting more confident in my writing and thus I believe "Garden of Legion" will be included.

Even my Assassins submission to Rogue Blades Entertainment "99 Deaths of the Monkey God" will have a bit of a horrific element along with heroic fantasy.

I haven't settled on a title yet, but I am letting ideas simmer for the "Historical Lovecraft" anthology that I really want to be a part of-thus more horror.

And I still have to find a home for my first straight up horror piece,"The Cry of Carrion Birds".

What are all of you working on this month?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Tips for Losers

I've talked about criticism before and writers absolutely need to have thick skins. I find the best way is to have a sense of humor about it AND take everything in context.
Life needs to be taken in context, it rarely is.

If someone criticises your writing, it doesn't necessarily mean they are criticizing you as a person, they absolutely are.

IF you're worried your writing is terrible-STOP! That means it is.
Quit, before you inflict any more ETHAN FROME damage on another human being.

If everyone doesn't love your writing, you are an absolute failure and waste of space who may as well turn in your pen, keyboard and little writer conference badge to the nearest public library.

Definitely don't pose in pictures with people who have published more books than you as osmosis doesn't work that way, you will only drag those more successful people down with you.

Bad writing is contagious. There are whole sub-genres I won't dare go near.

Nitpickers are to be treasured. Who else will help you see how awful you are, but the person who can point out a typo on twitter? Hopefully they can all become literary critics. (Because they can't write either)

There is also another side to this coin.

If you are writing in a similar vein to another author who is more successful than you-but you KNOW you are so much better than them-You are.

Problem is, no one else knows that yet, therefore you suck.

Quit writing, there is no other side of the coin, there is only one side, the one that you are terrible on. It's a paradoxical vortex.

Stop fooling yourself.


There, now I don't feel so bad about a lousy Goodreads review from someone who clearly wasn't the right demographic and had no business reading my majestic prose.

If you read Nicholas Sparks, Twilight, Spencer W. Kimball and Joel Osteen
BUT Conversely NOT
Robert E. Howard, A Song of Ice & Fire, Brigham Young and Miyamoto Musashi - I just won't expect a good review from ya.

Stay sharp my centurions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Viking & Volcano story in IRON BOUND Magazine

My Viking & Volcano short story Sailing to Valhalla is now available for your reading pleasure. Go check it out, in the very first issue of online fantasy magazine IRON BOUND.

The editor for IRON BOUND, Jesse Dedmon, had this to say about my tale~ "Sailing to Valhalla by David J. West is, I dare to say, probably the one story in this edition that echoes that of traditional folklore. Notions of respect, of fairness, and honor drawn by a race that quickly turns for the worse."
I truly appreciate that Jesse-thank you for the kind words.

Sailing to Valhalla was partly inspired by that unpronounceable volcano that messed up air travel in Europe so bad earlier this year. I remembered reading about the many volcanic islands ringed about Iceland that would chaotically rise and sink out of the deep, so I ran with that, using a character (Tyr) that will see print very soon from Rogue Blades Entertainment in Roar of the Crowd.

In addition, I greatly enjoyed Ty Johnston's Now Behold the Behemoth, a great speculative/religio piece- ya'll know I love those.
James Lecky's Cold Legions brings a frozen fire conclusion to the first issue. Great stuff, now I have to go and finish reading the rest.