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Reviews

Review: Trials of Solomon Parker by Eric Scott Fischl

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural, Gothic Western

Publisher: Angry Robot Books

After his well-received debut novel, Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show Fischl has returned to the world he created. Set in Butte Montana in the early part of the 20th century the reader is introduced to Solomon Parker, a miner. Parker is a wreck of a man. Deep in debt to the vicious Sean Harrity and plagued by memories of dead mining comrades he moves through life as if in a daze. Every decision that he makes in order to better his status in life ends up doing the opposite, and those around him inevitably pay the price. But there is something waiting for Parker around the corner. Something that he did not expect and it might just change the trajectory of his miserable life.

Similar to his debut novel Eric Scott Fischl invites the reader to follow the lives of some very broken people. It was what endeared that book to the public. It is the strength of the follow up as well. Solomon Parker is the perennial down on his luck character. Like so many others in the book he mostly has himself to blame. Part the victim of circumstance, but also his own vices. The other figures the reader is introduced to suffer in most the same way, only that they react in different fashion. Fischl is a master at weaved a tangled web of misery and alienation in a cold and unforgiving world. It feels as colorless and gray as the cover of the book. Like Dr. Potter this story comes with a dose of the supernatural, this time represented by gods and their servant Marked Face.The tale is told from multiple perspectives, not only Parker’s own. The reader gets to hear the voice of several cast members and that is nice. Fischl moves effortlessly between them, giving each of them a distinct voice and worldview. It adds to the already monochrome and bleak world that they are placed in. Happiness seems to be just out of reach for them.

With The Trials of Solomon Parker Fischl firmly cements himself as the premier writer of the Gothic Western, equal parts Lovecraft and Cooper.

-C. Marry Hultman

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Review: The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Fantasy/Mythical Fiction

Publisher: Tachyon

 

In his latest release Peter S. Beagle returns to short story writing. The Overneath is a collection of stories that he has been working on for some time. They are more or less independent of each other, apart from the fact they all deal with something supernatural. Every story is first presented by Beagle himself where he explains the background to that particular tale. It almost becomes a form of greatest hits collection from one of the most prominent writers in the genre. The collection opens strong with an old familiar face making a comeback, Schmendrick the Magician from The Last Unicorn, and then continues with stories from around the globe. Beagle moves from culture to culture and relates stories involving a variety of mythical creatures. He even spins a yarn about the Asian variety of unicorn, the one version he has not written about before.
Fantasy can be quite homogenic in most of its incarnations, leaving little to no room for cultures beyond the European middle ages, but Beagle does not shy away from it. Feeling that it is the direction the genre must go into for it to develop and it is clear that this is what he is doing. There is more to it than that. Every story has a great deal of humanity in it. The supernatural or the fantastical seldom takes center stage, which isn’t uncommon for Beagle’s storytelling. The imaginative and speculative is insteadused to reflect the trials and tribulations of those who experience it. In that sense it is a great follow up to In Calabria that did much the same. The story of a man who was changed by the appearance of a unicorn on his land.
So who is The Overneath for? What reader might enjoy it? The answer to that is not always simple. For those who are familiar with Beagle’s way of spinning a yarn, such as Lila the Werewolf or A Fine and Private Place will recognize the magic between the pages. Those who know him from The Last Unicorn may find a new dimension to him. The stories are not brutal per se; they are not high octane or action packed. They are simple. Simple yet wonderful and they are for those who wish to read stories about regular people, experiencing supernatural things.

C. Marry Hultman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.

 


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.

 


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!


Review: Herokillers

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Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

Writer: Ryan Browne

Artist: Pete Woods

In 2008 Dynamite released Alex Ross and Jim Kreuger’s Project Superpowers. To all who love the superheroes of the so called Golden Age it was a treat. For many years people waited for more, and eventually the spin offs came, not the way readers expected it though.

Apart from the natural continuation of Project Superpowers; Black Terror, Death-Defying Devil, Masquerade and The Owl, it wasn’t until 2015 that a new series saw the light. Project Superpowers: Blackcross, written by Warren Ellis, was unlike the series it came from, and to most the only similarities were names of heroes and the title. More of a murder mystery with supernatural overtones, it most likely was a disappointment to those who expected something like the traditional storytelling. Now Dynamite have once again delved into the Golden Age pool, releasing Herokillers by Ryan Browne and Pete Woods. It too hailed as being from the pages of Project Superpowers.

Like Blackcross, the story has little to do with the original book. It takes place in Libertyville, a place dubbed as Murdertown U.S.A. The mayor, an interesting fellow called Smooth Willie Williams JR., offers a crap ton of money to superheroes who might come and clean the city up. The heroes are given tax breaks, annual salaries and bonuses based on performances. The end result is a safe city where heroes outnumber criminals. As is true with bored teenagers, the heroes soon lash out and become self destructive, none more so than Black Terror, who turns to alcohol and women of loose morals.

While Herokillers isn’t Project Superpowers, or Blackcross, it has its own charm. There is a warmth and humor to it that the other books lacked. It takes the superhero genre and twists it, making the heroes look more pathetic and sad. Maybe this is because they do not have a purpose in life, or maybe because they’ve always been a-holes. In the end it doesn’t really matter. Sure some readers might be disappointed again, because it makes fun of the genre and these characters, but it’s all very intertaining. A constant commenting from the editor Matt makes the series more meta, and the style of Woods brings it all together.

It will be interesting to see where this series goes and how these serious characters react when being thrown into absurdity.


Review: In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Tachyon

 

For the avid reader of fantasy Peter Beagle has a special place in the pantheon. His book, The Last Unicorn, is canon in the genre and one could even claim that it is held in high regard among those who are only casual fantasy fans as well. The story was made into a feature film, touring American movie theatres, as well as a recent comic book. Unfortunately Beagle is often remembered by this one book. He has continued to release books since then, mostly without making too many ripples. That does not mean that his later production is not worth reading, on the contrary, his most recent release, In Calabria, proves the opposite.

Claudio Bianchi is a cantankerous Italian who lives in Calabria. Alone on a small farm with his goat Cherubino, the cat Mezzanotte and pigs. He lives a quiet life and has minor interaction with the postman Romano. One night he spies a unicorn on his property and it changes his life completely. It returns several times and begins to nest, and that is when Bianchi realizes that it is pregnant and that he might have to aid it in giving birth. The arrival of the mystical creature softens the old man and he spends his days writing poetry and even starts up a relationship with Romano’s sister Giovanna. The existence of the unicorn and, later, the black colt that she gives birth too, becomes common knowledge in the area and once again Bianchi’s world changes again. Reporters and scientists flood his farm, and soon a local criminal organization comes calling, looking to annex the farm for their own purposes.

In Calabria is a short work of fiction, a contrast to the tomes of fantasy that readers become used to. That being said, Beagle is able to pack quite a bit of human emotion into the pages. The unicorn, not at all the main character in the story, becomes more a symbol of what could be. Initially its presence is a sort of blessing that enriches Bianchi’s life. When the creatures becomes known to the rest of the world he is challenged. Does he want to protect his new found world or does he take the easy way out so that he can go back to his earlier life of loneliness.

Beagle has an impressive ability to create intriguing characters and through them the world in which they dwell. He avoids long descriptions of nature and the calabrese surroundings, instead Bianchi and his friends are the canvas on which he paints. Through them we understand the beauty of their world and it is more than enough. The plot is simple and to the point. There are no answers to why the unicorn shows up, why no one is surprised at its existence and that is fine. It creates the magic of a fantasy story without being fantasy, and that has always been Beagle’s strength.

-C. Marry Hultman