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Review: Gizzard Stones by Garth Upshaw

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult

Publisher: Ragnarok Publications

Writing young adult fiction is a balancing act. It is treading a fine line between what is appropriate and what is not. Since the age span is quite large, and that the definition of young adult is quite fickle it must be daunting for an author to decide what to add in a story. Writers like John Green have been able to find the balance, but with the help of the subject material as a guide to readers what may fit them. That is all well and good for literary fiction, genres like fantasy have a more difficult time, almost always being a beacon for younger readers. Garth Upshaw is one author who manages to write young adult grimdark.

Grimdark, or dystopian fantasy as one might categorize it, is a subgenre that is growing. Authors like Martin and Abercrombie have made the call for a more realistic variant of fantasy. A style where the future of the protagonists are uncertain and the secondary world is a dark place, and might even stay so, no matter how many farm boys find magic swords and magical aides. It is not surprising that genre literature aimed at younger readers would also follow that trend.

The world that Garth Upshaw paints for the reader has a somber color pallet. It is a world that starts out being familiar to an avid fantasy reader. A world united under an oppressive Queen, Maeve, who uses her magic to not only stay young, but also terrorize the citizens. She rules them all with an iron fist through the violent Lord Zorahn, in a style reminiscent of the dictatorships of Chile or Argentina. Queen Maeve has a deep dark secret. The source of her magic comes from certain stones. Stones that most people believe come from her mines. Mines where goblins work themselves to death. The truth is something far more sinister.

Nail is a goblin on the lam. He is trying to escape the clutches of the Queen’s men and when his sister is mortally wounded, he seeks the help of a human. Alas it is too late. They recover her body in order for Nail to recover the stones from within her body, traditionally  in goblin society the family members eat the stones. The human reveals that the stones have magical powers and they are worth quite a lot. Not only does Nail learn the secrets of how the stones work, but also that there are no mines. Maeve has been using the goblins like cattle, making them eat the plant veya that their bodies have then converted to stones. Then slaughtering the goblins to harvest the precious commodity. With the power of magic Nail decides that it is time for a change.

At the same time a fairy named Lianne and her rat like friend Feldsken are pulled into a revolutionary group trying to overthrow the Queen, by accident.Gizzard Stones is a tangled web of various story lines that quickly intertwine. Upshaw keeps the reader on their toes all throughout the book without there ever being a dull moment. It is helped by each character walking a fine line between being bad and good, like all good characters should. Even Maeve has a positive agenda, believing she is what is best for the world. Saving them from warring city-states and bringing in expensive goods. So what if the citizens are oppressed and the goblins are used as cattle.

The world that Upshaw has created might just as well have been made by Jim Henson. It is one part Dark Crystal and one part Labyrinth. A place filled with mutated humans, fairies, goblins and other mystical things. It is a place that is so familiar that one can easily escape to it, but dark and horrific enough to make one feel for the creatures who dwell there.In the end Gizzard Stones is able to blend the familiar in fantasy and that which is new and disturbing, our reality.

 

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The Guild Podcast 4: Robert J. Duperre interview

Robert J Duperre is the authour of Soultaker from Ragnarok Publishing. He stopped in and talked to us about writing, self-publishing, Terry Pratchett and David Gemell.


Review: Bodacious Creed by Jonathan Fesmire

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Steampunk/Western

It is always interesting to discuss literature that pushes the envelope when it comes to what can be done. The very essence of the novel as an art form is that it is an amalgam of various genres. On this site, we often praise the books that do just that. A friend of The Guild, Jonathan Fesmire, sets out to meld worlds and genres in his latest release; Bodacious Creed.

It takes place in Santa Cruz, in the days of the Wild West, American Frontier days. Complete with cowboys, marshals, prostitutes, gunfire, and outlaws, it is all there, but with a twist. Steampunk, maybe the ultimate blending of genres, is at its very core an alternative to our world. Anything can and undoubtedly will happen to the characters who inhabit the pages. In this case, we are talking about the walking dead and automatons mixed in with a world we are all some way familiar with.

Anna is an entrepreneur and inventor, but only one of those professions is common knowledge. As the proprietor of the House of Amber Doves, a classy house of ill repute, she is well known in Santa Cruz. As the creator of several inventions within the field of automatic machines, she is less known. Her unmatched skills at machine technology have made her wealthy, and allowed her to purchase the brothel she once worked in herself. It has even helped her restore her once doomed assistant, and sometimes lover Jonny. What it hasn’t accomplished is bring her and her estranged father, the infamous James Creed together. That is about to change though, as “Bodacious” Creed, U.S. Marshal comes riding into town one day.

He has arrived to bring in the outlaw Corwin Blake, a vicious criminal without scruples. Anna manages to convince Creed to meet with her in order to reveal the secret of their kinship, but fate intervenes. In a shootout with Blake Creed is mortally wounded and dies. Beside herself, with grief, Anna decides that death most certainly is not the end and sets about digging up the body and then altering it with her technological skills. Creed’s body, already in a state of decay, needs several repairs and the success is in question until the lawman finally rises from the slab. With great confusion, but with supernatural strength and ability Creed becomes a sort of vigilante on the streets of Santa Cruz and the news of his rising from the dead soon spreads all over the city. This, though, is only the beginning.

Fesmire’s opus, Bodacious Creed, is quite the undertaking of genre fiction. It borrows heavily from several styles and stories to bring together a tale that is filled with humanity, as well as action. The parallels with Shelly’s Frankenstein are obvious, not only because Jonny reads it constantly, but because of the subject matter. Anna creates something that she does not completely take responsibility for. This can, of course, be said of several storylines in the book, not only in the way Creed abandons his daughter. There is a clear Victorian age science fiction feel to this story, but set in the Wild West, which is a novel idea in itself. Bodacious Creed is billed as a Zombie Steampunk Western, but two out of three categories are more peripheral than the third one. The steampunk aspect really only serves as a literary tool to bring the essence of the story forward, zombie aspect hints at a deeper meaning, just like Shelly managed to do in her tale of resurrection. It is the story that takes president here, which can be difficult to do in this type of fiction. It is clear that Fesmire’s story is an important project and that he has chosen to delve deeper than maybe he intended.

One would definitely pick up Bodacious Creed for its odd combination of genre styles, but one stays for the well-told story of human interest. Lonely souls in a world that is harsh and unforgiving.

Enter this giveaway to win your own hardcover copy of Bodacious Creed

 

 


Review: Soultaker by Robert J. Duperre

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Science-Fiction

Publisher: Ragnarok

The first book in the series The Knights Eternal we are introduced to a world of monsters, magic and religious fervor, how do they all blend in Robert J. Duperre’s Soultaker?

The main figures in Soultaker are Abe, Meesh and Shade, three of the Knights Eternal, so named because they are immortal. In truth, the vessels of the three nights are immortal, whenever one of them dies a new soul occupies the body. Abe is the oldest of the three, tries to decode the riddles of his religion, while Shade is haunted by visions of his dead wife Vera. The knights are tasked with keeping order in the land, a mission that seems to be getting more and more difficult lately. From the fact that the scourgers come down from their homes in the mountains, to open portals and rumors of walking dead. On their way to exact vengeance on the religious figure gone bad Ronan Cooper, and the chase for crystals, they come to the deserted city of Breighton. A single survivor relates a tale of the dead rising and attacking the city. A tangled web of mystery, horror and violence begins to unfold before the three Knights Eternal.

Soultaker is a perfect blend of a variety of genre fiction or at least sub genres of Science Fiction. The setting is overtly post apocalyptic, complete with religious fundamentalists and desert landscapes, it has a techno fantasy aspect with the ostentatious guns and magical weaponry, but also the adventurous nature of a fantasy book. That coupled with a good portion of horror. The tale keeps the readers on their toes at all time and would clearly be categorized as a page turner. Duperre manages to perfectly blend the wild west style of storytelling with the science fiction backdrop. The Knights Eternal believe in a religion called Pentmatarianism, an apparent off shoot of older religions in the world. They also encounter the scourgers’ faith in Yehoshua, which causes them some confusion. There is a lot of depth in Soultaker and it takes some unexpected turns. It is a great example of what genre fiction can do.


Review: Lucifer’s Star by C.T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Crossroad Press

 

Cassius Mass was known as the Fire Count, the Butcher of Kolthas a true heel in the eyes of his enemies. That was when he was a noble of Crius, part of the Archduchy, a big deal. That was also before the war with the Commonwealth that the arrogance of his class forced the nation into, before they lost it all and the Archduchy was no more. He managed to come out of it in one piece and for years he has been hiding on a freighter, under an assumed name, happy enough to while away his existence as a functioning member of his one time enemy; The Commonwealth.

When his identity becomes revealed to all aboard the ship he decides to leave, to save his own neck from those around him, as well as those who care for him. A small revolutionary group calling themselves the Freedom Army makes this difficult for him. Especially when he realizes that there is a clone among them, posing as him. That is not the only problem; his dead wife is there as well. With a newfound calling in life Cassius is soon enlisted to bring down the Freedom Army, or at least fight against his doppelganger. Things only become more complicated when a version of his sister shows up.

Lucifer’s Star is easy to dispel as your run of the mill space opera. A pompous and flamboyant story in the same vein as G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, but told in space. The kind of science fiction that was abundant during the eighties and was almost always written by Kevin J. Anderson et al. This is not that kind of story. It may appear so at first glance. We are propelled into the tale by virtue of a space battle and then most of it is told at quite an elevated speed. Lucifer’s Star does not suffer from the overabundance  of pages that similar works do, and where other authors would struggle to keep things short and sweet, Phipps & Suttkus manage to say much with just a few words. It appears as if a lot of work has been put into the backdrop, a tapestry of intrigue and personal conflict. The conflict between the Archduchy and the Commonwealth is one that takes some more information, for there is an interesting to be told. Cassius May is the epitome of an antihero. A villain of gigantic proportions in the past he tries to redeem himself by doing what he thinks is right, in this case, what others want him to do. He is loyal to his family and the image he has carved out for himself under the guise of a new persona. This makes him one of the most dimensional characters within science fiction. Lucifer’s Star has something for everyone to enjoy. Political and relationship intrigue, great world building, clones and robots. It sets things up perfectly for sequels and rivals the work of James S.A. Corey.

Lucifer’s Star is a healthy mixture of genre fiction. On the the surface a science fiction tale, but at its heart it has all the properties of noir. It is gritty and dark, that does not wholly rely on action, but a great narrative to ensnare the reader. It would make Philip K. Dick very proud.

 


Rear View: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

 

 

 

 

 

 

In some cases the movies or television shows become more iconic than the book they are based on. Often times the original piece falls into obscurity and is not given the treatment as its adaptations. For a long time that was the case of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, where the first silent movie was based on a play. The play, released shortly after the book was published, omitted the science fiction aspect of Mrs. Shelly’s story, and therefore also its greatness. In this edition of Rear View we discuss the classic science fiction novel Planet of the Apes, the victim of just such a thing.

In 1963 Pierre Boulle published his work La Planète des Singes in France and was that same year translated to English. In 1968 it was made adapted for the big screen and was then indelibly made part of our shared cultural heritage. The book and the movies, both the one from ’68 and the remake in 2001, do have some similarities, but Boulle’s overall idea has subsequently become lost. One might want to argue that it has been brought back thanks to the later franchise; Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), both hinting at similar backstories.

Planet of the Apes is more of a philosophical work, like Frankenstein or Handmaid’s Tale than an adventure Sci-Fi novel. Boulle discusses man’s use of animals for experiments and supposed superiority over races perceived as lesser. Like Frankenstein the story is told through another person’s voice. The couple Jinn and Phyllis are on a retreat in space, all alone in their little space ship, when they come across a document in a container. A message in a bottle as it were. The document is found to be the tale of the French journalist Ulysse Mérou, who is detailing his journey, together with a professor and his disciple, to the star Betelgeuse. They land on a planet similar to Earth and quickly come in contact with humans of that world. Naked and incapable of speech the wild men destroy their ship and Mérou and his companions are forced to stay in their village. The following morning the village is attacked by a hunting party, described very much like the British fox hunting groups, and those who are not killed are rounded up and placed in cages. Mérou is forced to observe, from his captivity, how the bodies of men are displayed like the game of his home world, photographed and taken as trophies.

He is subjected to experiments by other apes, chiefly orangutans, conditioning ones that he quickly recognizes from his time at school. He befriends the chimpanzee Zira, and convinces her that he has some intelligence, and he learns to speak her language, as she begins speaking his. Most of the book is a description of how the apes view humans, who they see as lower on the evolutionary chain. Man can’t speak or use the same facial expressions as Mérou is accustomed to and all attempts at teaching them is met with failure. Mérou learns that the apes are divided into classes. The orangutans who are the main authority on science, the chimpanzees who are the true innovators and the gorillas who enjoy hunting, but also steal the chimps’ ideas and use it for their own gain.

The apes live in a conservative society, where the orangutans keep any form of scientific progress contained. This has also caused their world to remain stagnant. Cornelius, Zira’s fiance, claims that the ape race sprung up from nothing several thousand years earlier, but has not evolved since. This makes him ponder whether they might just have mimicked something else. Mérou’s abilities are revealed to the scientific community and is released. He spends his days assisting Zira and Cornelius in their research, until the archaeological ruins of a city is found that might just reveal the origins of ape.

There is so much to be enjoyed by reading Planet of the Apes, and especially today. The world was different in ’63 and many of the ideas and points that Boulle tried to make were probably seen as odd and dystopian.  As with any good science fiction novels he expertly took the science of his time and pondered its implications for our future. But there is more to it than that. The story is an intimate reflection on how we as a society have developed and how we chose to treat those we perceive as beneath us. It is only through the eyes of a man like Ulysse Mérou that this can be made clear. What must it be like to sit in a cage and watch ones family and friends be displayed as a prize, or try to communicate in your language when all that the listener hears is gibberish.

The book Planet of the Apes deserves to take a more prominent place in the world of literature. It does make the reader think and it is still relevant today.


Win a copy of Jonathan Fesmire’s Bodacious Creed

Our good friend Jonathan Fesmire has now finished his novel Bodacious Creed; A Steampunk Western. Here is your chance to win an exclusive harcover edition of that book. Just click on the image and enter the giveaway.

 


Wrestling Guild Episode 21: Slammiversary XV

In this episode Nick and Chris review Slammiversary, a show fifteen years in the making. They give their thoughts on all the matches and grade them.


The Wrestling Guild Episode 19: India- Night III

 

In this episode Nick and Chris talk about night three in India. Was the show a yay or nay? Who was the MVP? Which was the match of the night? Are the commentators better or worse than those of ROH?


Review: Pestilence #1 by Aftershock Comics

 

 

 

 

Story: Frank Tieri

Art: Oleg Okunev

Publisher: Aftershock Comics

 

What if the black plague wasn’t what the history books would like us to think it was? What if it was a cover up for something more sinister? This is what Pestilence from Aftershock comics tries to explore.

The years is 1347 and the group Fiat Lux is called by the church to deal with a renegade band of crusaders. Once they have dealt with the nasty business, they come in contact with a courier. A courier who seems to be ill and ends up biting one of them. After putting the man down, with great difficulty, they find a note addressed to Roderick Helms, the de facto leader of Fiat Lux. It’s a summons from the Vatican, to deal with a far greater problem than wayward crusaders.

Pestilence #1 is beautifully told through Roderick Helms himself. Through a confessional letter he has sent to is wife, he details the events from a few weeks prior. His band of warriors consists of the regular eclectic group; the joker, the brute, the clever one, the killer and the quiet one. It a standard troupe and at first glance a straight adventure narrative. The characters are familiar and it is expected that as the story continues that there will be more familiar tropes. There has definitely been an influx of zombie stories over the past years, and in order for these to become competitive the writers have to be inventive. It can be immersing zombies in literary fiction as in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, set it in history like Exit Humanity or the middle ages like Pestilence. Max Brooks hinted in his Zombie Survival Guide, that the world was no stranger to zombie attacks, and that most of them had been hidden under the guise of other plagues, and what could be more wide spread than the Black Death. It’s an interesting concept and it makes for an intriguing plot.

All in all Pestilence #1 hints at a delightful and exiting tale, with fun artwork, all the things that Aftershock Comics has proven to be experts at. They just keep on bringing awesome comics with great art, brilliant!