Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fantasy & Science Fiction: May/June

This is the fourth issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction that I've read. My review of the prior issue, March/April, is here. Like most of the issues I've read so far, the May/June issue is generally quite successful, filled with well written tales that occasionally manage to prove themselves exceptional. Which is not, of course, to say that there aren't a few weaklings among the bunch.

Chet Williamson's The Final Verse is the first of two stories about music. The tale centers around a hunt for the fabled lost verse of "Mother Come Quickly," a break out classic folk song. The best part of the story is the way Williamson manages to weave Mother Come Quickly into the music scene and history. By the time you're done hearing the first printed verses, don't be surprised if you're searching youtube for a live performance. The supernatural aspect isn't particularly surprising, but it's well done, and the conclusion is a good creepy closer.

Next we get the first of Robert Reed's two pieces, Stock Photos. To be honest, I'm not sure what to think of this story. A man and a woman come up to the protagonist and ask to take his picture a few times. That's about all that happens, and any deeper significance was, even after two readings, totally lost on me. That being said, Reed's writing is strong enough that the dialogue flows naturally and that there's an unmistakable undercurrent of malice throughout. Reed's second story (a hundred or two pages later) gives us the behind the scenes footage of Stock Photo. Though the big questions still aren't answered, everything makes far more sense afterwards. Still, while the second story's the one that brings the clarity, it's the first that's truly memorable. I'm not sure if the two story gimmick is particularly fair play (they read more as part one and two), but Reed pulls it off too well for me to really complain.

Albert E. Cowdrey's The Black Mountain pits a preservationist against a developer when the latter decides to renovate a cult's old cathedral. Like most of the Cowdrey tales I've read, The Black Mountain is enjoyable without being incredible. The supernatural aspect is pleasantly subtle, and the two main characters do have an engaging and natural rapport, but there's no moment that elevates the tale to greatness.

Steven Popkes's Agent of Change is the first of two stories that are about A. climate change, and B. lizards. The mighty Pacific Leviathan has emerged, and it's wreaking havoc. Or something like that. The story is told through articles and transcribed board room meetings, and there are numerous places where Popkes's straight faced characters manage to become laugh out loud funny, such as Toho, LTD.'s statement: Toho has copyright on the look and feel of the Godzilla franchise. […] If this creature is real, it is the property of Toho and a natural resource of Japan (p. 84-5).

Fine Green Dust – by Don Webb, one of the authors involved in last issue's collaboration – focuses on an apocalypse of rising temperatures. Our straight man, math teacher protagonist notices that the people around him are disappearing as it gets hotter and hotter, and lizards are everywhere he looks. He notices one of his students in the yard next door mutating, mainly (p. 100) into a lizard in the family Gekkonidae, I think (p. 100). Unfortunately, the reader's likely to figure everything out long before the protagonist does, and any surprises are few and far between.

Alexandra Duncan's Rampion is the longest story in the issue. It is also fantastic, one of the best tales I've read in F&SF. Scenes alternate between the present, with our protagonist disfigured and blinded, and his past as a prince. The story takes place in a Spain divided between Christians and Muslims, and, though the actual events and characters of the story feel too vibrant to possibly have existed, their every thought and action evokes that time period. The main character's secret love for a Christian woman feels at first like a small story well told, but the rumors and glimpsed conversations of the opening and other sections serve to broaden the story's focus and show the ramifications of seemingly minor acts. To be fair, this is a fantasy story by only the most tenuous of threads – a character is rumored to be a witch – but the quest and characters are as well done as you're ever likely to find.

Carter Scholz's Signs of Life deals with a group of scientists manipulating the seemingly empty information surrounding the meaningful part of DNA, and Scholz manages to make a compelling metaphor for our lives while creating several fascinating lines such as: We want nature to speak our soul's language. When we can no longer bear its silence, we speak for it. tell a story where no story is (p. 159). Or: Mind lays traps for itself, it's capable of anything. Traps simple as habit, devastating as psychosis, elaborate as epistemology, seductive as science. (p. 162) But while the writing and thematic portions of the tale are strong, I found the actual story and characters unsatisfying. This feels more like a story about modern day science than a Science Fiction story. The eventual revelation falls well short of earth shattering – at least to my layman's perspective – and, worse, the main character remains grumblingly but not compellingly unlikable throughout. Signs of Life is, in some ways, an accomplished tale, but it's not one I can say I enjoyed.

Scott Bradfield's Starship Dazzle is evidently one of many tales about Dazzle the talking dog, but no knowledge of the other stories is required. Dazzle manages to get himself sent into space, and, once there, finds himself broadcasting advertisements across the stars. Dazzle's quarrel with his corporate superiors is a bit obvious, but the story is saved by its fantastic and humorous voice. A prime example's Dazzle's initial launch speech:

"I know I haven't been the best company you could wish for on this stupid planet. […] And I'm sure you'll be perfectly happy to see my hairy butt vanish into the Pleiades. But at the same time, I'm not bitter about our past dealings, and I hope you're not bitter about me either. So good luck, try to clean up the mess you've made of this planet, and think about me every so often. By the way, my name is Dazzle, and while you probably can't tell from this crazy space suit I'm wearing, I'm a dog... (p. 179)

S.L. Giblow's contribution, The Old Terrologist's Tale, opens with a conversation between a terrologist, the man he plans to sell his newly-created planet to, a few other elite members of Giblow's futuristic society, and an "old terrologist." (p. 194) The heart of the story-within-a-story is the story told by that last character, the old terrogolist. The man's conclusions about beauty aren't particularly surprising, but both the frame and the narrative are well told and fascinating, and Giblow manages to fill his scenes with both a homely, conversational atmosphere and a futuristic sense of wonder.

In the March/April issue, Ken Liu contributed The Paper Menagerie, a quiet but powerful story about a family and its quiet magic. His story here, Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer, also has a family at its heart. Liu presents a dichotomy between an artificial reality resplendent with freedom and intricacies far beyond our own and, on the other hand, reality. Our viewpoint is the child of a father who – like most of the society – stays immersed in the virtual, but the protagonist's mother is one of the strange folk who seems to prefer the real. Liu imbues his future with enough strangeness – both in style and in concept – and depth to make it seem a compelling place, but the story never took off for me. The ultimate conclusions about the physical world feel obvious, and, where The Paper Menagerie felt quiet and unassuming, Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer feels empty.

Kate Wilhelm's Music Makers closes the magazine and is the second of its two music-focused pieces. Unfortunately, it's also the weakest story here. While Chet Williamson's story that opened the magazine focused on a quest with music as the object, Wilhem focuses on the emotional and familial sides of music. But the performers never come to life, and, without coming to believe in their sound and success, the adoration of the other characters and the tragedy of their deaths just comes off as effusive and saccharine.

Standouts: Rampion, The Old Terrologist's Tale, Stock Photos

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Game Published by Cuento Magazine

My micro-fiction piece Game went up with Cuento Magazine yesterday. You can read it here; it's the tweet (what a strange word...) posted on the 24th above my tweeted biography.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dashiell Hammett - Red Harvest

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shroit. I didn't think anything of what he'd done to the city's name. later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn't see anything in it but the  meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves' word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better. (p. 3)

Dashiell Hammett's ground breaking Red Harvest is the first book by one of the grandmasters of Noir, and it might surprise you to learn that the iconic opening paragraph quoted above is probably the book's wordiest section. Hammett writes chaos and crime with all surplus and emotion excised, and the power that slips in through the spaces is awe inspiring. The book may have come out in 1929, but its every sentence hits with incredible strength today, and the picture it paints is no less relevant and no less terrifying than it ever was.

Our opening is a rather standard crime beginning: our detective – the unnamed Continental Op – goes to the home of the man who hired him. The man's not home, so the wife greets out protagonist, but she's called out. When she returns, her lift slipper is dark and damp with something that could be blood. (p. 8) Unfazed, she tells the Continental Op that her husband "won't be home tonight." (p. 8) Within only a few pages, that initial murder is almost lost in an explosion of corruption and violence. Personville is not plagued by a single problem but is, rather, an entire town of avarice, a cesspit incapable of viewing order as anything but oppression from a new source.

The Continental Op strides into this urban hell and burns it to the ground. Well, okay, no – the town's still standing at the end of the book. But you'd be forgiven for doubting that at more than a few of the book's apocalyptic gunfights and revelations. Much of noir seems to focus on understatement and small scale conflict. David Goodis's The Wounded and the Slain, for instance, shows the inherent corruption and malleability of humanity through a single nobody's accidental misadventure in the backstreets of Jamaica, an episode unlikely to so much as make the local paper. Hammett approaches the same thematic stomping ground from the opposite direction. Red Harvest is larger than life and archetypical, a tale of amoral justice writ in blood across the streets of a city boasting "some forty thousand inhabitants." (p. 70)

In terms of stark brutality, Red Harvest is on par with modern classics like Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Reading the book, it's not hard to see how French existentialists and others view the novel as an allegory for order first coming to mankind. Such biblical aspirations, amusingly enough, fit perfectly with Hammett's terseness, and comparisons abound: the Continental Op is bringing law to the citizens of Personville at the behest of the far off but all powerful "Old Man" while the citizens desperately cling to their decadent lawlessness.

That being said, such black and white readings have trouble in the face of the humanity and ambiguity of Hammett's characters. Though Hammett's narration never leaves the Continental Op's perspective, we're never allowed inside his head, and the characters actions are as much a mystery to us as they are to the townspeople until he chooses to explain himself. The benefits of this – competently executed – on a mechanical level are obvious, allowing the Continental Op to surprise the reader as much as his adversaries with his deductions and actions. On a thematic level, however, things get even more interesting.

Corruption in Personville is not something that can be fought with law or morals. As the Continental Op says to a fellow operative: Anybody that brings any ethics to Poisonville is going to get them all rusty (p. 117). But death becomes seductive, and the Continental Op soon seems to pursue chaos for its own sake, preferring the grace of a bullet to the difficulties of the courtroom. The crux of Personville's corruption of him, however, comes near the end of the book.

[Note: skip to the next paragraph to aovid SPOILERS] After a series of traumatizing and horrific dreams, the Continental Op finds himself abed with a murdered woman, and it's his hand upon the ice pick. Did he kill her? Even the Continental Op cannot answer that question, but he's forced to proceed under the assumption – one that the world around him wholly believes – that he was, in fact, the murderer. In the end, it turns out that one of the book's many villains was the true culprit, but the message is still clear. We're all skirting corruption; we've all got our hands on the handle of the ice pick. And the only thing that decides who shoves it in deep is mere happenstance.

Red Harvest functions as a laconic fever dream. Short chapters and shorter sentences, an absence of description and inner monologues, and characters forced to survive day after day on fortifying alcohol instead of sleep all contribute to a book and a life impossible to escape. Amidst all the grimness, the Continental Op's sense of humor is so bald faced you might not notice the joke until a second glance. As he says to one foe: Be still while I get up or I'll make an opening in your head for brains to leak in. (p. 97)

Detective fiction is an inherently goal oriented genre, and Hammett makes use of small story arcs to build his big picture. Having the Continental Op battle all of Personville at once would be impossible from the perspective of the reader's comprehension as well as narrative coherence, so Hammett breaks the Continental Op's war down into increasingly large scale chunks as the operative goes after one or two of the city's villains at a time amidst a network of shifting alliances.

Hammett's tautness can, at times, cause problems. The central characters are never deep in the traditional sense, but they each grow fascinating as the novel progresses. Those in the periphery, however, aren't given this chance, which leaves Lew Yard and Pete the Finn, among others, as nothing but names and vague outlines. There is also the occasional passage where the prose misses vividness and instead falls into uninvolving summary. At one point, for instance, a climactic fight scene is described as:

Noise and fire came out under a window sill.

The gray mustached detective fell down, hiding the axe under his corpse.

The rest of us ran away. (p. 121)

Red Harvest is a Crime classic that roars from the first page to the last. I started the book in an idle five minutes and finished it in the early morning hours of the next day – horrified, disgusted, and too charged with energy to sleep for hours yet. If you're a Noir devotee or have yet to read so much as a page of the genre, Red Harvest is an absolutely essential novel.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Historical Lovecraft Reviewed

It seems that the first review of Historical Lovecraft has come in here. The twist? It's in Italian. Thanks to google translate, however, I can pretend to know what's going on. What's even cooler than the idea of a book I'm in getting a review is if it's a good review - and this one is. David says:

The entire selection is a seriously good average - and is basically on what you assess the anthologies: the number of stories above the average level.

(The oddities in grammar are, obviously, the result of the translation, not David's prose.)

No stories besides William Meikle's get an individual shout out, but I can live with that because Meikle's tale was, indeed, fantastic, and because - without any contradictory evidence - I'll just go and assume that my story was in the group "above the average level." 'Cause why not, eh?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Daniel Kraus - Rotters

My review of Rotters is up at Innsmouth Free Press. If you need a reason to click over, know that: 1. Rotters was a great read, and 2. that there may or may not be candy at the end of the review.

Sunday, May 15, 2011



Beyond the Shrinking, published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Deus Ex Machina, published in Historical Lovecraft.

The Dream Journal of a Would-Be Insomniac, published in Horror D'oeuvres

The Dummy,published in the January 2012 issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly

A Game of Distance, published in Plasma Frequency Magazine's third issue

Hope Immortal, published in Dark Stars: The Year's Best Science Fiction Short Stories

Legwork, published in the first issue of Fantastic Frontiers Magazine

The Metamorphosis of Jane Doe, originally published by Linger Fiction (now, alas defunct). Reposted on the Rack as a sample.

Painting Nothing, in The Gloaming

Solo, published by Interstellar Fiction

Strings, published by Eschatology Journal

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Iain M. Banks - Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas was the first published Science Fiction novel of Iain M. Banks. The massive scale and thematically-conscious plotlines that mark Banks's style are both present here, but the novel is still a far less mature work than next year's Player of Games, and it is littered with structural and pacing problems.

The plot focuses on a war between the Culture and the militant and theocratic Idirans. Our viewpoint is actually an enemy of the Culture, a shifter agent named Bora Horza Gobuchul. He's sent to retrieve a Culture mind that was forced to crash land, but the Culture, too, is coming. And yet none of that takes up even close to a majority of the novel's page count. I've said before that Banks is more about the journey than the destination, but Consider Phlebas takes that to new, digressive levels. In his later novels, Banks is a master of structure – which is why it's so surprising to see the structural mess that this book is. The main plot is forgotten about for chapters on end while Horza falls in and out with mercenaries and gallivants around an unrelated Orbital.

Consider Phlebas tries to hold itself together with theme – Horza being exposed to various elements of both the Culture and the universe and their implications – but the themes aren't carried through. The text is built on the ideological struggle between the Culture's arrogant utopia and the rest of the world living as is, but the resolution is an inherently human one. The thematic elements aren't wrapped up, because there's no real way to handily do so and the side that Banks favors is obvious throughout. A character-focused resolution after so much attention to theme leaves the reader feeling like huge tracts of the book were bloat, simply getting between the opening and the ending so that Banks could play tour guide for a while longer. The book's ultimate conclusion is the difficulty of one man in making a difference, in the titanic, inevitable and perhaps irrelevant nature of war and grand change, but those elements are diluted by the book's other explorations and vica versa.

Shortly after joining Kraiklyn's "free company," Horza and the other mercenaries raid a temple to try and take the treasure. The firefight is tense, the twist unpredictable, and Banks builds the entire confrontation into an interesting metaphor for the war by the end of the subplot. But the whole thing is ultimately and utterly unnecessary. The raid has no effect on the book's overall plot. It's an inventive whim embarked upon and concluded without altering the book's main arc in any way shape or form. One or two such diversions are, of course, fine, but Consider Phlebas is practically constructed from them.

Some of the individual sections, too, are not as thematically persuasive as Banks no doubt intended them to be. There is a lengthy section where Horza is captive on a desert island staffed with religiously fervent cannibals, forcing Horza to confront the brutality that the Culture opposes. It's not a convincing section, however, because the cannibals are simply silly. They're pushed to such an extreme that they feel more like something that should be found in Gulliver's Travels, and comparing them to the brutality of some of the books other sections is beyond jarring.

When it comes to high octane, super sized plot, Banks still displays skill, though his abilities are, again, more scattershot here. There are several gripping action sequences in which Horza and other characters defy expectation again and again, but there are also several drawn out set pieces that don't feel nearly as exciting as one would hope, more ponderous than monolithic.

The characters are expected to give us continuity throughout the whole affair, but they, too, aren't a complete success. Horza is a sympathetic narrator, and credit must be given to Banks for allowing his views to feel just as convincing as the other sides. Horza's main opponent, Culture agent Perosteck Balveda, is also well done. She's not a particularly deep character, but her beliefs and travails humanize her. The rest of the cast is a far weaker. Horza's love interest matters to the reader because she matters to Horza, but she's never developed, and the rest of the crew is a list of names, some of which are given a characteristic to help us distinguish them, some not.

Banks' prose has never been flashy, but his writing in his later books is assured and descriptive, humorous and evocative. It's obvious here that he tries for some of the same heights, but for the most part his writing is simply there, neither a positive or negative. The main missing element is the humor that comes to so characterizes much of Banks' style later. Consider Phlebas isn't a dry book, but it does go for an unrelenting seriousness that leaves what levity there is muted and often hard to spot till it's dropping out of sight.

Consider Phlebas is an interesting book, but it's far from Banks' best and is plagued with odd decisions, lacks the stylistic and structural flair that defines much of Banks' catalog, and has several sections that simply do not work. Once you know something about the Culture, this book will give further depth to those ideas, but I'd not recommend starting here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Caitlin R. Kiernan - The Ammonite Violin & Others

In the dream, I'm standing alone on the little stone bridge, standing there stark naked, and the park is washed in the light of a moon that is either full or very near to full. I have no recollection of getting out of bed, or of having left the house, or of the short walk down to the bridge. I'm cold, and I wonder why I didn't at least think to wear my robe and slippers. I'm holding the bridle from the trunk, which is always much heavier than I remember it being. Something's moving in the water, and I want to turn away. Always, I want to turn away, and when I look down I see that the drowned boy floating in the water smiles up at me and laughs. Then he sinks below the surface, or something unseen pulls him down, and that's when I see the girl, standing up for out near the center of the pool, bathing in one of the fountains. (p. 33)

The Ammonite Violin & Others is a collection of crystallized longing. Caitlin R. Kiernan’s characters are people filled with desires and loneliness and lust, and their dreams are as decadent as they are magnificent. These are stories so emotional that they are often agonizing to read, tales made of as much desperate hope as tortured despair.

Kiernan’s writing is not easily digestible. Hers are tales woven of tightly knotted imagery and internal monologues, dense tales either utterly unaware that they are being told or obsessed with the obfuscation of their own creation. Easy dialogue is almost nonexistent, here. When conversation does play a major role, it’s often through shifting viewpoints and timelines, through second person tales told to both a lover and a demon while tenses shift.

The title story – my favorite of the collection – exemplifies every one of Kiernan’s elements, even if no part of it is directly supernatural. A collector of ammonites and strangled women melds his two passions – the beautiful and the horrific – into a single perfect instrument and invites a struggling virtuoso to come to his secluded seaside home and play it for him. The music created is spellbinding – a typhoon gale flaying rocky shores to gravel and sand, and the violinist lets it spin and rage… (p. 101) – and the tale’s mixture of the beautiful and the grotesque is nothing short of devastating.

It’s the two Metamorphosis tales – A and B – that are probably the collection’s heart laid bare. Metamorphosis A shows us two distant lovers. One watches, unable to take the next step, while the other reaches out and transforms into something either far greater or far lesser than what they were. The transformation is revolting, and yet it is voluntary. It’s something lusted after, something desired, something needed. It fills a primal and erotic need, and it’s the only thing that can bring the two lovers together.

Metamorphosis B, on the other hand, happens after a character has been changed, after a mermaid has been taken from the sea by a sailor’s lust. In many ways, Metamorphosis B shows the long after consequences of Metamorphosis A, even if the transformations and characters of the two tales are, on the surface, unrelated. B brings forth the darkness inherent in such relationships, the resentment and hatred built up by the imposed change of interaction, the after effects of a love so dark and twisted, so – perhaps – necessary.

The Lovesong of Lady Ratteanrufer brings us to the edge of society. A woman lives at the edge of the river, forgotten and abandoned by the world. Her only companion is the rats, the rats that waited huddled together in the void, the endless nowhere place where there were not yet stars or planets or gods or angels, but only the nothingness before creation and only the rats. (p. 103) Alone with herself and the rats, she becomes their greatest ally, and yet she can do nothing as men destroy them. For One Who Has Lost Herself follows a similar path despite its different circumstances and tone. The narrator is a seal who has lost her skin. Her skin, the core of her being, waits for her at a shop across the street, but she can do nothing but watch it from the other side while, day after day, people jostle by oblivious. When she finally does cross, when she finally does enter the store to reclaim her soul, she learns that the center of her world is irrelevant to those around her. Her most precious position is detritus at the core of a donated chest, unimportant. Amidst such civilized surroundings, her quest for herself seems bizarre and, perhaps, even dangerous.

Many of Kiernan’s stories bring to mind another writer I’ve mentioned often enough on here, Thomas Ligotti. The dense imagery of the two writers is similar at times, and the despair rampant in many of Kiernan’s conclusions is certainly another similarity. That being said, Kiernan reaches those depressive depths (when she chooses to) through very different means.

Ligotti shows us a world where connecting to one’s fellow beings is impossible. Kiernan, on the other hand, is all about those connections and their costs, all about humanity distorted due to its need for companionship. The similarities are perhaps most prevalent in The Dreamtime of Lady Resurrection, a tale of someone journeying beyond and the costs and ramifications of doing so. The Voyeur in the House of Glass, too, is an interesting counterpoint to Ligotti’s work. In the story, a man desperate to plumb the depths of interaction leaps from vision after vision of humanity without truly connecting with any of them. The man’s quest is a carnival exhibit, and his dreams are exploited by showmen even as we experience them. It’s a testament to Kiernan’s skill that a story with almost no plot or character change can be so engrossing, and it does so through some of the most potent imagery and vivid scenes in a collection resplendent with potent imagery and vivid scenes:

The girl lies at the edge of the sea. She is not a mermaid, not yet, but this very morning she has come upon the oily carcass of a tiger shark, nine feet snout to tail, stranded in the seaweed and sand and shell litter. All she has ever wanted, this girl, a strong heterocercal tail, pectoral and anal and pelvic fins to carry her down into abyssal gloom that she might finally take her place in Neptune's lightless halls. She's hacked away the head and jaws a few inches above the gill slits and buries it in the dunes. Then she returns to the shark and slips herself inside, wriggling unwanted legs deep into the slimy, decaying gullet of the monster fish, burying herself to the hips. And with an upholstery needle and fine silk thread she begins to stitch herself to the dead shark, sewing her own pale, insufficient flesh to its sturdy predator's trunk. (p. 143)

You’ve no doubt noticed many similarities in my summaries of these stories. That’s not (or at least, not wholly) from my own stunted ability to summarize. Images and motifs reappear in tale after tale, reinforcing the collection’s dreamlike feel. Many of these stories seem like prior tales glimpsed from a different angle, and yet those often feel wildly disparate while seemingly unrelated tales course through the same emotional channels. Characters across the collection have needle-filed teeth or perfect ivory triangles of feldspathic porcelain, saw-toothed carinae (p. 159) bestowed by dental students and others, and circles and enveloping seas crop up again and again, recurring to permeate our imaginations with their power.

Unfortunately, the same repetition that strengthens the collection’s most remarkable stories can make the weaker tales blend together. There’s no story here that can be considered a failure, or anything even approaching a sane definition of a failure, but some don’t succeed in leaving nearly as much of a mark upon the reader as others. This is, perhaps, a result of the format. Everything in the collection was written to appear, two stories at a time, in Kiernan’s monthly fiction journal, the Sirenia Digest. When compiled, the similarities can, at times, impair an individual tale’s chance to stand on its own.

The Ammonite Violin & Others is a collection to be savored and examined, not quickly devoured. These stories are almost never easy to digest, but they are almost always worthwhile. Caitlin R. Kiernan has the ability to take her readers into the darkest of places, and, when the last page is turned, the reader gets to discover that leaving those places is far more sorrowful than entering them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Me, Reynolds, and an Interview

I've been interviewed over at Joshua Reynolds's blog, Hunting Monsters. Like his interview with me yesterday, it's a totally serious affair with absolutely no wise cracks or levity. We talk about my writing process, Historical Lovecraft, baboons, and necromancers. Check it out.

 (This week's review – delayed by the sheer snaziness of the Katz/Reynolds interview bonanza – will be up on Friday)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Interview: Joshua Reynolds

The Facebook face of Joshua Reynolds...
is he man or beast?
Joshua Reynolds is the author of The Far Deep from Historical Lovecraft. His story can best be summed up as a mixture of John of Austria dancing, a knight and his man-at-arms fighting Turks and undersea monstrosities, and witty dialogue. If your first thought upon reading that was that you should go read the story, you'd be correct. If your second thought was that Joshua Reynolds would give a completely dry and serious interview, you would, alas, be wrong.

1. What should readers think when they hear Joshua Reynolds? Why should they sprint to the nearest bookstore/online bookseller/ezine and read everything you've written?

Ideally they should think ‘Hey, I ought to buy that!’, but since that’s not likely I’ll simply say that I write stories about steampunk cyborgs fighting werewolves on the moon in between blatant Lovecraft pastiches and the occasional heartwarming story about Aztec detectives and Italian spies fighting midget assassins dressed as chimney sweeps.  If any of that sounds good, you’ll enjoy my stuff.  If not, well…buy it anyway.

2. What about Historical Lovecraft intrigued you?

Well, the title for starters…it’s got two words I love to hear attached to anthologies-‘Historical’ and ‘Lovecraft’. And it’s a good fit…Lovecraft was all about the weight of history and ancient evils and centuries old secrets.

Also, people with additional melanin content in their epidermal composition being on his lawn and/or looking at him funny. But let’s just concentrate on the former, shall we?

3.  What's your favorite story in the collection (that is not, to avoid awe inspiring amounts of narcissism and/or nepotism, written by someone in this email conversation)?

It's a toss-up between Nelly Geraldine Garcia-Rosas' "Ahuizotl" and Aaron Polson's "Ngiri's Catch". 

4.. How did you choose the Battle of Lepanto? Is it something you've always known about, or did you research it for the story?

Both, actually! I’m a sucker for history, especially as it relates to the Mediterranean, and Lepanto was a focal point of several books I was reading at the time. It was one of the largest naval battles in history with a cast of characters that would make Joe Abercrombie and George R. R. Martin weep with envy. It had pirates, zealots, knights, pirates, cannons, pirates and pirates. 

Did I mention the pirates?

5. How important was historical accuracy to you when writing?

It ranges from ‘Very’ to ‘Historical what now?’ depending on the story. Honestly, I’ve come to believe that the concept of historical accuracy is, at best, wishful thinking. Every time we learn something new about the past, it changes what is considered ‘accurate’. Basically, as long as you’ve got the big generalities right, there’s little reason to sweat the small stuff.

6. What're your general writing process?

First, I turn on the computer. Then I stare at it blankly for ten minutes or so. Then I start writing. That’s it really…it’d be nice to have a process, but really, I just write until the story is finished. Then I move on to the next story.

7. Do you have anything coming up to keep an eye out for?

Well, if you really want to know…besides a number of short stories appearing in various anthologies and magazines, I’ve got two books coming out later this year. The first, from Airship 27/Cornerstone Books is called THE MARK OF TERROR and features Jim Anthony, Super-Detective, an old public domain pulp character, going up against a cult of killers who worship the ancient Greek god of terror. The second, from Pulpwork Press, is called DRACULA UNBOUND!-it’s a sequel to my novel DRACULA LIVES!, released in October of last year.

Oh, and in 2012, the Black Library will release KNIGHTS OF THE BLAZING SUN, my first (and hopefully not the last) tie-in novel for that company. 

8. What's your dream publication?

My dreams are crass, mercenary things so I’m going to say one that pays me more money than is entirely ethical in today’s economy.

Seriously, I want to roll naked in a pile of cash. Any publisher that can make that happen is the corporate entity of my small, sad dreams.

9. What's your advice to someone trying to publish short stories?

Ha! First, find someone both smarter and more successful to ask that question of. Second, it’s dead easy to get published…just write and submit. Repeat ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Third, when an editor asks for changes, don’t argue, especially if there’s a paycheck in it.

Really, just write. And write. And write. Keep writing until you sell something, and then write some more. Write what you want to read, and what you hate to read and what editors ask for and what seems to be the current ‘thing’. It all works, as long as you write and submit.

10. Favorite Lovecraft tales?

“Pickman’s Model” is the big one. I also like “The Dunwich Horror” and “At the Mountains of Madness”. Oh, and “The Hound”. Flying bat-dog-zombie-sorcerers are awesome!

11. Let’s say you meet someone who’s never read horror, but is curious about the genre. If you had three books to try and convert them, what would you give them?

Ooh, tough one. Lessee…THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, by Shirley Jackson. THE GRIN OF THE DARK, by Ramsey Campbell.  Aaaaand THE RED TREE, by Caitlin Kiernan. If I had four I’d toss in something by Guy N. Smith just for contrast.

12. Any final words?

I was once bitten by a camel. It’s an experience that still haunts me to this day.