Friday, August 31, 2012

Read Just Lately

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

A fantasy set almost entirely in a great city, we meet the dregs and witness their rise to greatness, as well as a number of spine-tingling  twists. The back-cover calls it a Robin Hood meets Oceans 11, but I couldn't help but see the Oliver Twist comparisons done with all the brutal wonder of a Guy Ritchie film (that is high praise from me if anyone wonders). Likeable rascals and tense action make this one of my favorite books I finished so far this year (yes, I have been savoring for awhile now).

This has to be the book I have been savoring the longest. I've been reading it in snatches here and there for a very long time not because it was slow or boring but because I was letting it seep into me. The finale of the last 100 pages or so was the fastest I went with the entire book. Sometimes I reread a chapter here and there.

Part of it is I can't be sure if I really liked the interludes and flashbacks or if they annoyed me-don't get me wrong there were still fascinating and filling out more of the story worldview-unlike a few other massive tome fantasy series, nothing here was just for window dressing and showing off-everything is vital. Still its not a form I think I would want to follow because of the stopping short in the narrative.

So it wasn't bad form, but I'm not sure I would want to ever try to do the same.

I'll have to grab the sequel soon, Lynch's style promises a lot of great things to come.

B.P.R.D. Killing Ground, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis

Mignola doesn't let up in the action and horror with this continuation of the B.P.R.D.'s trials. Captain Daimo finally releases his inner demons and Johann Kraus is busy abusing his new human form and Liz is still haunted.

This may be a bad place to pick up if you haven't been following the series thus far, I'm realizing as I try to explain my review.

But who can't love a wendigo running wild in a super secret base?

King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel, by Robert E. Howard, adapted by Timothy Truman, Tomas Giorello, Jose Villarubia

I love Giorello's art, so much better than the current continuum who shall go nameless.

It's been a long, long time since I read the short story the Scarlet Citadel, and I recall a number of folks saying that Hour of the Dragon was derivative but eh? So what, its good at simply being what it is. The duel of opposing wizards is awesome, the dungeon and creatures therein are absolute revolutionary-nobody was doing that when REH wrote it. Being first of course makes it seem derivative when you look back so long ago.

Again with it being so long since I read the original I don't recall any significant changes from REH text. But I enjoyed it, SC has some great Conan imagery and twists.

The Fifth Column, by Ernest Hemingway

I reread this quick in part because of recently viewing Hemingway and Gellhorn, as well as always trying to retain some variety in my monthly readings. While Hemingway does have some adventure in these shorts its more about the human condition and emotion generating what people do in tough situations for good and bad.
The stories touch on humor which even in war is always present and I hope to be able to capture some of that in my own work, we are never too good to learn more from a master or amatuer-each for its own reasons.

How to Build Your Own Spaceship, by Piers Bizony

This is part historical and part present and part conjecture. How many of us read/heard you will work on the moon in bases in the future?
Its ridiculous of course, and Bizony spends quite a bit of time discussing the feasibility of the space race and future endeavors. To build your own space company you will have to bring in money and currently its all about tourism, though there is the thought of one day mining resources from asteroids and the moon - but then you get the legal mumbo jumbo of who owns the moon? There was an Outer Space Treaty in 1967 that actually states that no one nation can claim ownership of a celestial body-but when private companies start to have the ability to go up and get them-who is going to really be able to enforce such a ridiculous law? Aliens?

Overall this was a great book, a quick read with a wonderful rundown on a good variety of material, I learned a lot which is why I read it - research for the upcoming Lovecraftian Space opera collection

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Bloody White Baron

Though I now live in a fairly small town in Montana, I thankfully have a good little book store nearby where I can order books I want (to support them instead of the internet) and this is important, browse for books I never knew existed. One of my recent most excellent acquisitions is...

The Bloody White Baron, by James Palmer

Baron Romanov Ungern von Sternberg was essentially the last warlord of Mongolia and this was still less than a hundred years ago-we are talking serious The Man Who Would Be King kinda stuff.

Palmer goes out of his way to make sure you understand what an awful bastard the Baron is-and I would hope nothing I say in the next couple paragraphs is taken out of context, but damn you have to admire the man that can go assimilate himself into another country and become a Mongol warlord!

Born in the border kingdoms of Russia, Sternberg had a semi-privileged youth, only excelling in school at militaristic recreations. Once old enough he went to war in the Trans-Baikal regions and soon enough became associated (and I am sure grew to love) the Mongolian nomad way of life.
A regular "What is best in life?" scenario.

I realized earlier just today that I had read a small review about the Baron on the old Cimmerian website (may Crom grant it peace) a couple years ago, and while Jim Cornelius goes on about what a great pulp villain the Baron would be (and I believe was in a couple novels) I couldn't help but feel that Palmer's presentation was overly harsh and that in so many ways, the Baron could be looked at in some respects (only some-I'm not going completely crazy here) as a barbaric hero, or at least anti-hero.

By no means am I excusing any of the horrible things the man did (and there were many) but I must admit that in numerous respects I saw Conan riding at the head of the Kozaki more than I saw Thulsa Doom. Dedicated to a militant Buddhism and the overthrowing of the Soviets, Baron Sternberg was a godlike figure to Mongolians. Fearless and brave, myths grew about him like clutching ivy. From the land of Genghis Khan, the Baron waged war on the Soviets and Chinese.

While I would say Palmer has written one of the best historical books I have read in a long time, I did feel like it was slightly tainted by his insistence to show contempt for the Baron and his accomplishments. Again I am not excusing nor condoning the Baron's behaviors. But I found it ridiculous to assert that while the Baron was venomously anti-Semitic, in 1920 he was not having a Mongolian horde carry banners with a swastika in support or even acknowledgment of the rising Nazi movement. People forget that the Nazi's took an ancient worldwide symbol and twisted it for their own. While the Baron was merciless to the Jews in Urga, I just don't believe it was as a Nazi confederate - it was as a militant Buddhist. NOW how many of you were even aware of such a thing? I wasn't.

There were a number of documented tales of the Baron's bravery and military prowess and all too often I thought Palmer was willing to say those were just propaganda and stories to pump up the Baron's image, while all the bad things must be true. Granted, I don't believe I would invite the Baron over for tea but a lot of the wilder stories must be true- you don't become a Warlord on rumor, not of the Mongols.

Believing everything he did was guided by fate, Sternberg eventually consulted a soothsayer that proclaimed him to only have 130 days remaining of life. Fully accepting of his fate, he is said to have proclaimed, "I shall die, I shall die, but no matter the world has never seen such a terror and such a sea of blood as it shall now see..."

He accepted his fate. Captured by Soviets he was executed by firing squad exactly 130 days after the soothsayer said he would die!

This was a fascinating book full of loads of great material I'll be using in my own stories.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hemingway & Gellhorn: The Good and the Bad

I may be a trifle late with this. I DVR'ed "Hemingway and Gellhorn" back when it first aired and only just got around to watching it.

Overall I liked it, especially Clive Owen's performance when Hemingway starts to talk about writing. I enjoyed the use of his actual advice about the craft.

And while I did not/do not personally find Martha Gellhorn a sympathetic person, (I'm never gonna "get" leftist atheist's) Nicole Kidman's portrayal was excellent - she was charismatic and charming and you have to respect her drive and ambition, but likeable for me?
No. But Hell, we don't have to like people to appreciate them.
She struck me as very bitter, especially in the sense that for the rest of her life she did not want Hemingway mentioned in interviews. I wanted to shout at her to get over herself, because when you were/are married to an icon, people will want to talk about it.

The makeup on Nicole Kidman to look elderly was fantastic, they even gave her slightly bloodshot eyes. Its awful when makeup does bad elderly. (Guy Pierce/Waylon in Prometheus for example) The cast, sets, costumes, cinematography were all wonderful...
I thought the last ten minutes could have/should have been left on the cutting room floor.

I understand why the movie played out like it did (for the dramatic effect) but that's also why I was sore with the ending.

I didn't like that the film played Hemingway off as the only cheater - Gellhorn had an affair while they were married too. I didn't like the final focus on Hemingway to be his suicide simply because is that really the ending of he and Gellhorn?
No, that was back in 1945.
And if we are gonna play that game, why not have Gellhorn committing suicide as well? She did. Instead of having her heroically marching out the door, off to another battle to report on.

To me, you can't tell a story of two people and leave it so lopsided. I would sooner believe he haunted her than the other way around.

The remembrance angle could have been used without having Hemingway being annoyed with Mary Welsh (Parker Posey) and the dig with the Italian song at how Hemingway and Gelhorn met- as if in his final moments he was pinning for Gellhorn - I honestly do not believe he was.
He wasn't that kind of man to be pinning away for only one.

After I finished watching I had to go and reread some of Hemingway's short stories about the Spanish Civil War. Under the Ridge is hilarious and deadly serious at the same time, brilliant.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rogues in Hell

Rogues in Hell created by Janet Morris, edited by Janet and Chris Morris, with the diabolical assistance of their damnedest writers

Into the rich shared world milieu of Morris's  In Hell series we are given glimpses into a number of adventures and cruel double-crosses.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the varied and wild assortment in this rogues gallery, there were quite a few individuals I guess I never expected to see in Hell, among them Mary Shelley, Ben Franklin, Solomon, Wyatt Earp, Frank Hopkins, Bat Masterson, and T.E. Lawrence. Some others I have to admit to not being too surprised about as residents of the netherworld.

Ragnarok and Roll by Larry Atchley, Jr. for example had Anton LaVey (who I don't think is even dead yet) paired with the Red Baron and a pack of Vikings on a hunt for the Spear of Longinus.

Colony by Bruce Durham is among my favorite of the collection and made me smile in that he reminds us a goodly number of friendly Canadians are lingering (see tortured) in Hell as well. They are looking for a mysterious island and led by a very mad Samuel de Champlain (that killed me). Durham joins us with General James Wolfe and things never go as planned. Great tale.

The Miraculous Roadside Attraction by Jack William Finley is another favorite. Elliot Ness finds out why he is in Hell.

Hell Road Truckers by Michael H. Hanson has Odysseus (who I had never before pictured as belong in Hades) taking the dangerous Tartarosian road with Hell's frieght. Meanwhile Achilles and Hektor continue to duel. I never would have guessed Hektor deserved to be there. Very entertaining.

If Necessary by Bradley H. Sinor is an excellent ride with one my of my favorite writers Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Burton (the magnificent explorer [neither of whom I think deserve this fate]) and Lillian Hellman of whom I am rather neutral on and Caligula who definitely deserves it all along in a maddening road trip.

Overall a great eclectic collection sure to please the reader looking for new vistas on the damned.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Flexing Those Writing Muscles

Amidst a sea of backlogged projects, current deadlines and things I simply have to get out of my head and onto paper, I'm still doing a few shorts.

My logic (or obtuse flakiness) is to keep flexing and working those writing muscles.

I figure, I like what I like, which is why I find myself rereading old favorites again and again ~ BUT I also believe that to improve my own craft, skill and general output you have to do what you have not done before...

So, I've been experimenting with writing shorts a little outside of my comfort zone and taking on topics that while still bordering on my own thoughts and concerns aren't what I might otherwise write.

I'm thinking these exercises will expand my overall abilities and reach. At least that's the plan.

I would like to hear if anybody else came to these same conclusions, even if like me you prefer genre material overall.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"99 Deaths" Gets a Second Life

My short S&S tale "Ninety Nine Deaths of the Monkey God" is up in the current issue #7 of Swords and Sorcery Magazine

What happens when the hunters become the hunted and assassins drop like flies? (I just made up that tagline)  This is the story of a mercenary on a mission to disrupt an evil cult pressing for war. My story “Hel Awaits” also appeared in the March issue of Swords & Sorcery.

Set far outside geographically of a work in progress Gods & Robbers yet still within that worlds realm 99DotMG follows Kold ~ a thug, reaver, assassin, etc who will eventually be a contender (that is likely the best choice of words at the moment) in that forthcoming novel.

A large part of my inspiration for the piece beyond Rogue Blades Entertainments call for an Assassin's anthology (it didn't make the cut) was to get into the shoes of one of my characters for the sake of knowing him better later on.

I don't know yet if that worked, but it was an experiment. Its all for the ultimate good and experience, I actually wrote this tale around two year ago.

And to my writer friends who enjoy that kind of thing, they are looking for more S&S tales.

* Though it has nothing really to do with anything, I had to add the fantastic artwork by Daren Bader

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Limp and an Eyepatch

I like the idea of distinguishing tags for certain characters. Whether the character has a limp, drawl, compulsive habit and very common these days a catchphrase, these tags help us know who is who and what to expect. I think there is always a certain amount that readers expect/anticipate from a certain symbols i.e. tags.
A prominent one that comes to mind is the eye-patch. While my visual examples today will be from film, it illustrates the very idea of archetypal character for the sake of story resonance.

You pretty much know when you see these guys-he's tough!

 Whether filthy buccaneer or grizzled gunslinger, someone who lost an eye is a bad ass.

I pondered while driving yesterday (where I do a lot of my best thinking) that the root of this could be Odin chief of the Norse gods and for whom Wednesday is named = Woden. He traded an eye for wisdom and he slew a lot of frost giants. This collective archetype could be the reason we think eye-patch = tough guy.

What are some of your favorite tags?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ten Years...

I met my wife ten years ago tonight because the Morrissey concert was canceled at the last minute.

I had been going into that coffeeshop/restaraunt all summer long (to write, yes people still do that) and had not spoken to her yet. So it was finally time.

She asked me out.