Wednesday, August 29, 2018

How Not to Write a Novel

Warren Murphy, the creator of The Destroyer, shows the pitfalls awaiting many would-be writers in the first lesson of his Writing Class:


You cannot allow this to happen to you. It already happens to too many people.

First, we declare ourselves to be "working on" a novel.

What's this great work of art about?

The old joke is that "it's about 200 pages," but this is serious stuff, so no jokes. Remember, we have decided to become literary lions so this is a book, a magnum opus if you will, and what it's about is easy. It's about us, 'cause all first novels are autobiographies. It'll talk about our trials, our triumphs and how we survived it all and became a beacon of hope for the world, or at least our personal corner of it.

Obviously, we've got to think a little bit about what's in the book but that's no problem, and while we're thinking about it, we'll talk about it. A lot. Cocktail parties are a good place to start.

Another thing we've got to think about is the title. The title's really important and we have to spend a lot of time on that. So we try different titles on our friends. Which one do you like best? "Innocence Reborn?" Or "Winning in the Day of Despair?" Eventually, we pick one and then -- at last, thank God, we get a chance to get down to writing.

And we write a page. That's what we writers do.

And the next day we write another page. Now we've got two pages. Who would have thought this would all be so easy?

But then the car starts leaking oil and, darn, wouldn't you know it, it takes a couple of days to get it fixed. And let's face it, we can't work when cars and doctors and bill collectors keep intruding on our muse. But that'll straighten out soon.

In the meantime, we tell everybody we meet how well the novel is going but then we sit down and read the two pages we wrote and it's not quite what we wanted.

So we put it aside for awhile and work on the dedication to the book. This is real important and it will be even more important if we do it in Latin. That'll show everybody that we are serious authors, not purveyors of some cheap commercial crap that anybody can write.

For a while we were going to settle on a dedication we stole from Jonathan Swift but that's kind of cheesy. Instead, we take a line or two from the Latin Mass. "Introibo ad altare dei. And there I will find my new life."

Okay, back to work. We've got a title now and a dedication and two pages, so let's rewrite those pages to make them perfect. While we're doing that we will continue to read them at cocktail parties....through every change and transmogrification, we'll read them. Over and over again.

Naturally we will get a wonderful reaction. Family and friends know they are listening now to the voice of anguished truth telling not just our story but theirs also. And they always cover their mouths when they yawn.

But no matter how much we rewrite, those pages are still missing something. Maybe it's time to work on our Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

That ought to be worth a couple of weeks and as soon as we're done with it, then we'll get back to that novel and really, really finish it up. We've got two pages already so the book is so close to being done.

* * *

If that sounds like you, please go away now. You will not be happy here; these blogs are for novelists, not wannabes, not fakers.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Story-Writing Hints, by Clark Ashton Smith

Reading Clark Ashton Smith's non-fiction and correspondence can be just as illuminating as his fiction. There's much for the historian to mull over, from the consequences of fandom to the origins of the great divorce of weird fiction into science fiction and fantasy. But for the storyteller, Smith offers quick, poignant lessons. Here's Clark Ashton Smith's Story-Writing Hints:


The main objective of the short story is to stir the reader's emotions. How you stir them or what emotion you stir is not so important as the fact that to hold the reader's interest you must stir his emotions. You must be able to create various emotional effects thru your characters, action, description, setting, etc.

Constant practice is the key to success. You cannot learn music without practicing it, neither can you learn to write without writing. I suggest that, for your own benefit, you write a few hundred words depicting an emotional experience. Write up one of your own experiences or invent one. But remember that you are writing it with the purpose of stirring an emotion in the person who reads it. The sketch is not to be a story but merely an incident-no opening explanations are necessary.

When you are reading a story watch for the passages in which the author is relating an emotional experience and inducing the emotional feeling in you. By studying how that particular author is doing it you will be better able to do it in your own work.

I believe that the following partial quotation from "The Double Shadow" will serve to illustrate the building up of emotional feeling:
... a second day has gone by like a sluggish ooze of horror . . . I have seen the . . . identification of the shadow with the flesh of Avyctes ... I have seen the slow encroachment of the . . . umbrage, mingling . . . with the lank shadow and . . . bituminous body of Oigos, and turning them to ... the thing which Avyctes has become. And I have heard the mummy cry out like a living man in great pain and fear . . . And verily I know not if the thing that has come to us be one or several . . .
But these things ... I shall soon know; for now, in turn, there is a shadow that follows mine, drawing ever closer. The air congeals and curdles with an unseen fear . . . and the great marble women seem to tremble where they stand along the walls. But the horror that was Avyctes, and the second horror that was Oigos, have left me not . . . And their stillness is more terrible than if they had rended me limb from limb. And there are strange voices in the wind, and alien roarings upon the sea; and the walls quiver like a thin veil in the black breath of remote abysses.

Monday, August 20, 2018

"Atmosphere in Weird Fiction" by Clark Ashton Smith

The term atmosphere, in application to fiction, is often used in a somewhat vague or restricted sense. I believe that it can be most profitably defined as the collective impression created by the entire mass of descriptive, directly evocative details in any given story (what is sometimes known as "local color") together with all that is adumbrated, suggested or connoted through or behind these details. It can be divided roughly into two elements: the kinetic and the potential; the former comprising all the effects of overt surface imagery, and the latter all the implications, hints, undertones, shadows, nuances, and the verbal associations, and various effects of rhythm, onomatopoeia and phonetic pattern which form a more consistent and essential feature of good prose-writing than is commonly realized. Many people would apply the word atmosphere only to the elements defined here-above as potential; but I prefer the broader definition; since, after all, the most intangible atmospheric effects depend more or less upon the kinetic ones and are often difficult to dissociate wholly from them through analysis. An attempt to achieve purely potential writing might result, I suspect, in something not altogether dissimilar to the effusions of Gertrude Stein! Or, at least, it would lead to an obscurity such as was practiced by the French Symboliat poet, Mallarme, who is said to have revised his poems with an eye to the elimination of kinetic statement whenever- possible.

A few examples of the use of atmospheric elements, taken from the work of recognized masters, should prove more illuminative than any amount of generalization. Take, for instance, this paragraph from Ambrose Bierce's tale, The Death of Halpin Frayser, one of the most overwhelmingly terrific horror, tales ever written:
He thought that he was walking along a dusty road that showed white in the gathering darkness of the summer night. Whence and whither it led, and why he traveled it, he did not know, though all seemed simple and natural, as is the way in dreams; for in the Land Beyond the Bed surprises cease from troubling and the Judgement is at rest. Soon he came to the parting of the ways; leading from the highway was a road less traveled, having the appearance, indeed, of having been long abandoned, because, he thought, it led to something evil; yet he turned into it without hesitation, impelled by some mysterious necessity.
Note here the potential value of the italicized clauses. The element of dream-mystery is heightened by the unknown reason for traveling the road, by the "something evil" which has no form or name, and the unparticularized necessity for taking the abandoned way. The ambiguity, the lack of precise definition, stimulate the reader's imagination and evoke shadowy meanings beyond the actual words.

In the paragraph immediately following this, the potential elements are even more predominant:
As he pressed forward he became conscious that his way was haunted by malevolent existences, invisible, and whom he could not definitely figure to his mind. From among the trees on either side he caught broken whispers in a strange tongue which yet he partly understood. They seemed to him fragmentary utterances of a monstrous conspiracy against his body and his soul.
Here, through the generalized character of malevolence imputed to things unseen and half-heard, images of almost illimitable spectral menace arc conjured up. It should not be inferred, however, that precise statements and sharply outlined images are necessarily lacking in potential quality. On the contrary, they may possess implications no less frightful or mysterious than the wildly distorted shadow cast by some monster seen in glaring light. To illustrate this point, let me quote again from The Death of Halpin Frayser:

A shallow pool in the guttered depression of an old wheel rut, as from a recent rain, met his eye with a crimson gleam. He stooped and plunged his hands into it. It stained his fingers; it was blood. Blood, he then observed, was about him everywhere. The weeds growing rankly by the roadside showed it in blots and splashes on their big broad leaves. Patches of dry dust between the wheelways were pitted and sputtered as with a red ruin. Defiling the trunks of the trees were broad maculations of crimson, and blood dripped like dew from their foliage.
This, it would seem, is a prime example of kinetic atmospheric description, owing its power to a visual definitude and exactness rarely equaled. Consider a moment, however, and you will realize the added potential element which lies in the unexplained mystery of the bloody dew, and the abnormally strange position of many of the sanguine maculations. Things infinitely more dreadful and more horrible than the blood itself are somehow intimated.
In much of Poe's best work, the atmospheric elements are so subtly blended, unified and pervasive as to make analysis rather difficult. Something beyond and above the mere words and images seems to well from the entire fabric of the work, like the "pestilent and mystic vapor" which, to the narrator's fancy, appeared to emanate from the melancholy House of Usher and its inexplicably dismal surroundings. The profuse but always significant details evoke dimly heard echoes and remote correspondences. Suggestion is less easily separable from statement, and becomes a vague dark irridescence communicated from word to word, from sentence to sentence, from paragraph to page, like the play of lurid gleams along somber jewels cunningly chosen and set. To this suggestive element the rhythms, cadences and phonetic sequences of the prose contribute materially but more or less indeterminably. As an illustration of well-nigh perfect atmospheric writing, embodying the qualities I have indicated, I quote from The Fall of the House of Usher the description of the room in which Roderick Usher receives his guest;
The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsonod light made their way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eyes, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to lend any vitality to the scene. I felt I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.
Note here the carefully built impression of spaciousness combined with gloom and confinement, of lifeless and uncomforting luxury. Through the choice and emphasis of material details, an air of spiritual oppression is created, and the idea of a mysterious and monstrous unity between the building and its hypochondriacal owner is cautiously foreshadowed. I have italicized two sentences in which I seem to find a very subtle congruity between the actual sound of the words and their sense. In the first, the frequent repetition of the consonants r, s, fs and t somehow emphasizes the image of "profuse" furniture; and the sharp dentals and sibilants add to the impression of things time- eaten and "comfortless." In the last sentence, the repeated letters, n, r, d, l, m, and v, are all of a heavy or deep-sounding character, giving, with the long, close and sonorous vowels, a hollow and funeral clang that echoes the meaning. Here, too, the very movement of the sentence is like the dropping of a pall.

From certain of Poe's tales and prose-poems, such as The Masque of the Red Death, Silence and Shadow, one can select even more obvious and overt effects of atmospheric color supplemented by sound and rhythm. For illustration, I shall quote a single sentence from the prose-poem, Silence, and leave its analysis to the reader: "And overhead, with a rustling and loud noise, the grey clouds rush westwardly forever, until they roll, a cataract, over the fiery wall of the horizon."

From such instances as these, it will be seen how large a portion of the atmospheric elements in writing can sometimes be contributed by the mere sound of words apart from their meaning. The values implied are vaguely akin to those of music; and it should be obvious that really fine prose cannot be written without an ear for pitch, tone, movement and cadence.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Pre-Tolkien Challenge: The Abominations of Yondo

I selected Clark Ashton Smith as part of my Challenge readings, not only because he was one of the three pillars of Weird Tales, but also since he was one of the writers in the American tradition of fantasy that brought forth H.P. Lovecraft. Thanks to Campbell's Unknown and the explosion of Tolkien copycats, this American tradition of weird fantasy has been relegated to pastiche and parody. Smith's "The Abominations of Yondo", his first short story, shows what's been lost along the way.

An unnamed narrator recounts his journey into the desolated deserts of Yondo, a region at the edge of the world-rin ruined by exposure to the Great Beyond:
I will not detail the indiscretions which had led me, a careless stranger from far-off lands, into the power of those dreadful magicians and mysteriarchs who serve the lion-headed Ong. These indiscretions, and the particulars of my arrest, are painful to remember; and least of all do I like to remember the racks of dragon-gut strewn with powdered adamant, on which men are stretched naked; or that unlit room with six-inch windows near the sill, where bloated corpse worms crawled in by hundreds from a neighboring catacomb. Sufficient to say that, after expending the resources of their frightful fantasy, my inquisitors had borne me blindfolded on camel-back for incomputable hours, to leave me at morning twilight in that sinister forest. I was free, they told me, to go whither I would; and in token of the clemency of Ong, they gave me a loaf of coarse bread and a leathern bottle of rank water by way of provision. It was at noon of the same day that I came to the desert of Yondo. 
So far, I had not thought of turning back, for all the horror of those rotting cacti, or the evil things that dwelt among them. Now, I paused knowing the abominable legend of the land to which I had come; for Yondo is a place where few have ventured wittingly and of their own accord. Fewer still have returned - babbling of unknown horrors and strange treasure; and the life-long palsy which shakes their withered limbs, together with the mad gleam in their starting eyes beneath whitened brows and lashes, is not an incentive for others to follow. So it was that I hesitated on the verge of those ashen sands, and felt the tremor of a new fear in my wrenched vitals. It was dreadful to go on, and dreadful to go back, for I felt sure that the priests had made provision against the latter contingency. So after a little I went forward, singing at each step in loathly softness, and followed by certain long-legged insects that I had met among the cacti. These insects were the color of a week-old corpse and were as large as tarantulas; but when I turned and trod upon the foremost, a mephitic stench arose that was more nauseous even than their color. So, for the nonce, I ignored them as much as possible.
The story is simple, but like all simple things, the quality is in the execution. Smith writes a dense prose equivalent to a tone poem, where each paragraph evokes new horrors through multiple senses. The careless would call this prose purple, but Smith is painting revulsion with words. The current fashion of one sensory word a page is not enough to create the dread required. Like with John Wright, a dictionary is a must with Clark Ashton Smith, and just as rewarding.

Smith is as profligate with description as modern fantasists with history and back-story. By focusing on sensation and mood, he immerses readers within paragraphs, where present-day writers require chapters. And thus Yondo is more memorable than the Three Rivers, Elantris, or Camorr, despite the chapters' worth of words spent on each.

Writers should study Smith's descriptions, while readers can enjoy an eerie tale of an unknown that should rightly be feared, with shivers that grow stronger when read aloud.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Pre-Tolkien Short Story Challenge

One of the often repeated refrains from the vile Cult of Resentment is that so much Fantasy is just rehashed, Tolkien fanfiction. Unfortunately, there is some truth in this, a lot of modern multi-volume fantasy is quite derivative of Middle Earth. Pale imitators lacking the poetic and moral compass of JRRT. Due to the popularity of the imitators, and the almost systematic erasure of most pre-Tolkien fantasy from the public sphere, a new reader often thinks of Middle Earth as ground zero for fantasy, myself included. 
But that is starting to change, big thanks to Jeffro’s Appendix N for one, and also a revival of the pulp aesthetic by indie magazines like Cirsova and Storyhack and the many new writers affiliated with the PulpRev movement.
In order to educate, and also hopefully find some great reading material for myself, I propose a challenge to all my blogger friends. 
Pre-Tolkien Short Story Challenge
  • Identify 3 Fantasy stories written before Lord of the Rings was published. 3 stories written before 1954.
  • Review all three on your blog, focusing on pre-Tolkien differences of similarities, and making sure you let us know where we can find them for ourselves.
  • Share the challenge. I think this will be an interesting exercise. I hope a lot of people join me so I can compile a great collection of reviews that hopefully will inspire others to read older Fantasy.
I floated reading ideas with friends and received enough suggestions to volunteer twice. And the best part, is, with the exception of the occasional short story, these authors will be new to me.

For the first three, I will be reading:
  • "At the Mountains of Madness" - H. P. Lovecraft
  • "The Abominations of Yondo" - Clark Ashton Smith
  • "The Death of Halpin Frayser" - Ambrose Bierce
For the second three, I will be reading works from Lord Dunsany, John Buchan, and Lafcadio Hearn. Availability will determine which stories I will read.

For not reading these six earlier, I offer repentance.  And reviews to come.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Mortu and Kyrus: The Conversation Begins

With the floodgates now breached by The Frisky Pagan, the conversation about Schuyler Hernstrom's "Mortu and Kyrus in the White City" has been unleashed.

Jon Mollison had been holding his tongue for a week, but now no longer. The moratorium on spoilers is lifted, so beware.
If you’ve read Mortu and Kyrus, then you know that the classic pair of big burly barbarian and nimble little thief still has a lot of mileage left in it.  Especially when the barbarian is a hog riding, gene-enhanced warbeast whose people revolted against those who enslaved humanity, and the thief is actually a wise priest trapped in the body of a “harmless” little monkey.  You also know that, at its heart, it’s an answer to Le Guin’s Hugo Award winning short, er, story? called The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas. 
It’s been three decades since Le Guin’s revolt against decency revolted me, so take with a grain of salt that my memory is hazy.  If it serves, Le Guin’s story isn’t really a story at all.  It’s more of a travelogue where nothing happens except Le Guin painting the picture of a utopia maintained by the misery of a child.  I won’t reread the story to confirm it – I’ve better thing to do than wallow in the mud of the 60s and 70s world of sf/f.  Too many pedophiles running rampant there, you see… 
Speaking of which, just as a brief aside, has it ever occurred to you that Omelas is not just an example of the postmodern love of encouraging utilitarian thought through the use of narrow and impossible train/lever stories dressed up in sf/f clothing?  Consider for a moment what we now know of the scene in which Le Guin worked. 
Omelas may not be a hypothetical story – it’s Le Guin justifying her decision to live within the real world Omelas of science-fiction and fantasy. Published a decade after the Breendoggle, in which the big names of the sf/f world came together to defend the child raping predilections of Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley, here was an author who had been living in Omelas for years.  It’s no surprise that she should write a story about her decision, nor that the Hugo voters would issue an award to a story that so succinctly…well, it either captured their own experiences, or justified their choice to live in Omelas, depending on who and how the modern reader wants to look at it form the comfy perch of forty-five years down the road.
Jon's opinion is not hyperbole. Even as recently as five years ago, the story was used as a parable in SFF. John Ringo used the story of Omelas to explain the flight of many from convention fandom. Omelas became the approved moral response to many kinds of unpleasantness found at the heart of the SFF scene. That Sky Hernstrom offers an alternative to acquiescence and self-exile represents a rejection of those values. It might be polite accident, but it is telling that the characters to fling this rebuke at the empathy trap of Omelas are a pagan and a Christian. But more on that tomorrow.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Emperor Ponders: Mortu and Kyrus

This month, Schuyler Hernstrom has graced us with two excellent fantasy stories. "The Law of Wolves" is a dark fairy tale, a morality play that plays against the current zeitgeist. But it is "Mortu and Kyrus in the White City" that has many of us abuzz. Quietly, though, for while Mortu and Kyrus is an excellent axe and sorcery in a Dying Earth future, it is also a bloody rebuttal to one of the "classics" of science fiction. Many commenters are holding their tongues, lest they spoil the surprise.

But for those who have read Mortu and Kyrus, The Frisky Pagan from the old Puppy of the Month Club has posted his review at his personal blog. There be spoilers beyond the link:
Now, to the second book, Mortu and Kyrus in the White City. The people I follow who have read it have been quite enthusiastic about the book, and they have also hinted or mentioned that this book “answers” or attacks a classic sf&f short story. I did not know that at first, but it’s relevant as I will explain later if you read the spoilerific part. 
In its outermost layer or reading, Mortu and Kyrus, follows the tradition of sword & sorcery (although not much of the latter being shown explicitly) but set in a world (our world, by the way) following the post-apoc tropes of the Mad Max-inspired settings, with the usual elements: sprawling deserts, ruins of the past civilizations, and so forth. I say tropes because the postapoc elements are aesthetic or background and there isn’t a traditional “apocalypse” either. It’s not a story set just after the global destruction in our era but many epochs later, and the damage to the planet and humanity is not really self-inflicted (nuclear weapons, virus, etc.) as much as a result of an external invasion by immortal and highly-advanced aliens.
Now that the waters have been broken, expect more reviews from critics soon. Both of Hernstrom's stories are just that good. So, if you haven't read them yet, now's your chance. Because the whirlwind is on its way.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Cirsova Kickstarter

Cirsova Magazine is in the last days of its Kickstarter, and it needs $500 or so in pledges prior to Friday to fund the first issues of its second volume. For those interested in excellent short fiction, including that by Schuyler Hernstrom and others, you can get the closing issues of volume 1, featuring:

Issue 9:
  • All that Glitters, by Paul Lucas
  • The Orb of Xarkax, by Xavier Lastra
Short Stories
  • The Faerie Pool, by Edward McDermott
  • Our Lords, the Swine, by N.A. Roberts
  • The Bejeweled Chest, by S.K. Inkslinger
  • Antares, by PC Bushi
  • Cirque des Etoiles, by Bo Balder
  • Hot Water in Wormtown, by Robert Lang
  • Littermates (Part 2 of 2), by J.D. Brink
  • Jack's Basement, by Michael Tierney
Issue 10:
  • Crying in the Salt House, by B. Morris Allen
Short Stories
  • A Song in Deepest Darkness, by Jason Carney
  • Amsel the Immortal, by Lauren Goff
  • An Interrupted Scandal, by Misha Burnett
  • The Sword of the Mangoose, by Jim Breyfogle
  • When Gods Fall in Fire, by Brian K. Lowe
  • The Best Workout, by Frederick Gero Heimbach
  • Jeopardy off Jupiter IV, by Spencer E. Hart
To help sweeten the deal and bring Cirsova across the finish line, several authors have contributed their own works to the pledge levels. If you pledge at the $20 full vol 1 digital, $20 ($12 + $8 S&H) physical subscription, or higher, you will also receive Grey Cat Blues by JD Cowan, and The Hymn of the Pearl by Brian Niemeier.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The 2018 Dragon Awards Nominee List

The ballot for the 2018 Dragon Awards has finally been released. It has been satisfying to see the joy overflowing from the nominees as they made their announcements over the past week, and, along with the variety of nominees in each category, it bodes well for the future of the award. Congrats to all the nominees.

My picks for the voting are underlined.

Best Science Fiction Novel
  • It Takes Death to Reach a Star by Gareth Worthington and Stu Jones
  • Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
  • The Mutineer’s Daughter by Chris Kennedy and Thomas A. Mays
  • Win by Vera Nazarian
  • Sins of Her Father by Mike Kupari
  • Artemis by Andy Weir
Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)
  • Shoot the Messenger by Pippa DaCosta
  • War Hammer by Shayne Silvers
  • Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Land: Predators by Aleron Kong
  • The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston
  • A Tempered Warrior by Jon R. Osborne
Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel
  • Cold Bath Street by A.J. Hartley
  • A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
  • When Tinker Met Bell by Alethea Kontis
  • Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
  • Warcross by Marie Lu
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel
  • Communications Failure by Joe Zieja
  • Points of Impact by Marko Kloos
  • Ghost Marines: Integration by Jonathan P. Brazee
  • Price of Freedom by Craig Martelle and Michael Anderle
  • Legend by Christopher Woods
  • A Call to Vengeance by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope
Best Alternate History Novel
  • Dark State by Charles Stross
  • The Sea Peoples by S.M. Stirling
  • Witchy Winter by D.J. Butler
  • Uncharted by Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt
  • Dream of the Iron Dragon by Robert Kroese
  • Minds of Men by Kacey Ezell
Best Media Tie-In Novel
  • Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray
  • Before the Storm by Christie Golden
  • Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson
  • Fear Itself by James Swallow
  • Legacy of Onyx by Matt Forbeck
  • Desperate Hours by David Mack
Best Horror Novel
  • Beneath the Lighthouse by Julieanne Lynch
  • Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
  • A Time to Run by Mark Wandrey
  • The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
  • Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
  • Glimpse by Jonathan Maberry
Best Comic Book
  • Mighty Thor by Jason Aaron and James Harren, Marvel Comics
  • Doomsday Clock by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, DC Comics
  • Aliens: Dead Orbit by James Stokoe, Dark Horse Comics
  • Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, DC Comics
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples, Image Comics
  • Star Wars: Darth Vader by Charles D. Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli, Marvel Comics
Best Graphic Novel
  • Chicago Typewriter: The Red Ribbon by Brandon Fiadino, Djibril Morissette-Phan, and James Greatorex, Dark Legion Comics
  • Brandon Sanderson’s White Sand Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin, and Julius M. Gopez, Dynamite Entertainment
  • Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
  • Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood by Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda, Image Comics
  • Vision (The Vision) by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Marvel Comics
  • Paper Girls Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang, Image Comics
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
  • The Expanse, Syfy
  • Game of Thrones, HBO
  • Lucifer, Fox
  • Supernatural, CW
  • Star Trek: Discovery, CBS All Access
  • Altered Carbon, Netflix
  • Stranger Things, Netflix
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
  • Incredibles 2 directed by Brad Bird
  • Thor: Ragnorok directed by Taika Waititi
  • Blade Runner 2049 directed by Denis Villeneuve
  • Avengers: Infinity War directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
  • Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler
  • Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg
  • Deadpool 2 directed by Dave Leitch
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game
  • Fortnite by Epic Games
  • Cuphead by Studio MDHR
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of War by Monolith Productions
  • Destiny 2 by Bungie
  • Battletech by Harebrained Schemes
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus by MachineGames
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game
  • Planescape: Torment by Black Isle Studios
  • Nocked! by Andrew Schneider
  • Lineage 2: Revolution by Netmarble
  • Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition by Square Enix
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery by Jam City
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game
  • Rising Sun by CMON Games
  • When I Dream by Asmodee
  • Mysterium: Secrets and Lies Expansion by Asmodee
  • Azul by Plan B Games
  • Red Dragon Inn 6: Villains by Slugfest Games
  • Photosynthesis by Blue Orange
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game
  • Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition by Games Workshop
  • Force and Destiny Role-playing Game: Knights of Fate by Fantasy Flight Games
  • Bubblegumshoe – RPG by Evil Hat
  • Cooking with Dice: The Acid Test by Oddfish Games
  • D100 Dungeon by Martin Knight
  • Magic: The Gathering Unstable by Wizards of the Coast

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Tales from The Book of the Dead: Son of Texas

Not all of E Hoffman Price's visit to Texas was filled with bad news. Here, he recalls his introduction to Robert E. Howard in person, leaving no doubt that Howard was indeed a son of Texas:
Soon after tucking home a farm style-breakfast, I met Bob: tall, broad, towering--squarish face, tanned to swarthiness--deep chest, short, solid neck--a lot of man. His expression was stolid, phlegmatic until he thrust out a big hand, smiled, and spoke. The quite friendliness of his voice came as a surprise. I'd expected the rumble of a bull, with a bit of lion-mutter. H. P. L., who had never met Howard, had fancifully characterized him in letters to the "Circle," in terms which suggested what I'd expected. 
He was utterly unlike the grim fellows he presented in W. T.  His manner and voice were gracious, winning as his "presence." Presence is that which, if a shipwrecked sailor has it, enables him to preach to the cannibal natives instead of joining his shipmates as part of the long-pig banquet. 
Our meeting, after five or six years of amiable correspondence, was as heart warming as the hospitality of his parents. 
Bob had two idiosyncrasies of pronunciation: W-O-U-N-D, which Conan inflicted whenever possible, was vocalized as in saying, I wound the clock. In S-W-O-R-D, he gave W its full force as a consonant. This was mildly interesting. The first of the several utterances which left me blinking and groping was delivered as he and I strolled down the un-notable main street of Cross Plains. 
"Ed. I am God-damn proud to have you come and see me." 
Like that. Blunt, forthright, and without any relation whatsoever to the context of anything we'd said during our short walk from home. 
"What the hell have you to be proud of? It's the other way around. As I was telling your Dad, you're the only one of the Weird Tales crowd that's breaking into everything but confessions and love pulps!. I'm sweating peach seeds, trying to follow your example. If there's any being proud, it's my turn, being your guest." 
Bob grimaced, shook his head. "Nobody in Cross Plains thinks I amount to much. So I am proud to show these sons of bitches that a successful writer drove a thousand miles to hell and gone out of his way to see me." 
This left me gaping and puzzled. Considering the readership he reached, acceptance in what was just another of many nondescript Texas towns was no great matter. Furthermore, the man rated more than he seemed to realize. There was friendly greetings all along the way to the barber shop where I'd have my first hair-cut in a long while. 
On our way home, I learned that Bob neither smoked nor drank hard liquor. He explained, "The lowest bastard I know in a number of fairy sized counties goes for whiskey and tobacco, so to show my contempt for him and all his breed of stinkers, I turn down drinking and smoking." The dark, stern face brightened in a grin and a chuckle. Then, "See, I know I am inconsistent. That low down skunk breathes, and so do I. Sometimes you've got to compromise in matters of principle."

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Recipe for Clay-Roasted Suckling Damn-Beast, by John Ringo

Posted (without permission) because this little recipe from John Ringo is getting hard to find these days:

A Recipe for Clay-Roasted Suckling Damn-Beast
by John Ringo
Short Story published in March 2001 (scifidimensions)
[This story may contain language objectionable to some readers.]

The following is a recipe for "Clay-Roasted Suckling Damn-Beast", a delicacy of the planet Marduk.
We would like to thank Sergeant Adib Julian for his helpful suggestions and tips on preparing this appetizing dish.

And this is just one of the hundreds of useful recipes in Interplanetary Fanny's New Book: "Intergalactic Cooking for the Mom on the Go!" (Elease March 3428 AD, JB5Clone Publishing Enterprises).

Follow these steps for a delightful meal!

Step One:

Since these are fiercely guarded by one or the other of the mated pair of damn-beasts, this is, naturally, the hardest part. The second hardest part is finding a damn-beast den. The dens are commonly found in rocky upland areas, but are occasionally found in holes beneath mature faux-teak trees. Whether they are beneath faux-teak or in rocky outcroppings, mature dens will only be found on or near hilltops that are out of reach of Marduk's notorious floods. The openings are relatively small for such a large carnivore, but the damn-beast can flatten itself oblately - and so must the damn-beast hunter.

Placing a group of guards outside the den, a single person, after removing his or her battle armor, can normally worm his or her way into the entrance. It requires a person who is not overlarge or heavyset and fundamentally unafraid of confined spaces.

Remember that the damn-beast is heavily armored in the frontal quarters. Since this is the only part our intrepid hunter is going to see, it is imperative that a high quality weapon be toted into the burrow. Although one might prefer a plasma rifle, there are countervailing arguments (you can't fit it in the burrow, it will kill and torch the kits you're planning on eating, the blast will probably bring down the roof and even if it doesn't the back-blast in that confined space will surely kill you).It is recommended that you use a bead pistol with armor piercing rounds. If such a weapon or ammunition is unavailable, the traditional Mardukan weapon of choice is an assegai, a short spear. However, uhmmm, Mardukans generally don't fit in the burrows so it's not so much traditional as what they would use - if they were stupid enough to try it and could fit in the burrow.

Burrow tunnels are normally 20-30 meters in length, about a meter and a half wide and a half meter high. They will have two to three twists in them and at least one "gooseneck" to catch runoff from Marduk's notorious rains. Note that the gooseneck will often contain standing water, but the intrepid hunter should be able to duck through it and get to air on the other side.

These burrows exist because the damn-beast is a natural prey of the HOLY-SHIT! beast. All items relating to preparation of Roast Suckling Damn-Beast can be used for Roast Suckling HOLY-SHIT! beast. However, the hunter is reminded that the HOLY-SHIT! beast is seven times the size of the damn-beast. Dress appropriately

Passing through these obstacles our hunter should shortly thereafter encounter the defending parent damn-beast. Remember, the damn-beast has no vulnerabilities on the front end. If using an automatic weapon, long, wildly uncontrolled bursts are the way to go. You won't have much time, so putting as many armor piercing rounds as possible on target is the only way to be around to write your own article. Care and decorum are not keynote words for the few seconds between "What's that smell?" and "Oh, THANK GOD that's over!"

If you're using an assegai...drop me a note afterwards, will you? Not before, though. I'm required by Imperial Law to report suicide attempts.

Having dispatched the defending parent you will have to make your way past the carcass. Since it will more or less block the opening to the den, I leave the method up to the discretion of the hunter. (In my case, let me say two words: Big. Knife.).

After this you will have reached the horrible little bastards you are after. By this time they will be feeding on their deceased parent, snapping at you and generally making a real pain-in-the-ass of themselves. You can't kill the little bastards, (though if you ever try this, and succeed, you will understand my lack of kindness towards these horrible little snapping-turtle m*&^%$#@$%^&g bastards) because the cook wants them "as fresh as possible". (The stupid m*&^%$#@%^&r. See him trying this?)

Proceed to pick them up and put them in the sack you brought... Look, if you just brought these instructions with you and didn't read it in advance it's not my fault you didn't bring a sack! Proceed to...oh, I already said that. And I suppose you forgot really thick, leather or synth-armor gloves, right? Well, if you did, you're in trouble. These little c*&^%$#@%rs can BITE.

Once you have them in the sack, you are more or less done. Well, except for turning around (I did mention this requires a small person, right? Right?) and crawling back through the, you know, the debris. Dragging a sack. Full of screaming, clawing little m*&^%$#@cking demons. But you're more or less done. With step one.

Step two: Kill the little c*&^%$#@%rs.
The cook will probably want to do this him (or her) self until he (or she) tries it with one. And he (or she) will go on and on about not disturbing them and proper bleeding, etc.
Grab your gloves. Take a big cleaver...

Step Three:
Let the cook skin them. The scum gets all over your hands and stinks to high heaven. You already took a couple of showers and a bath to get momma off of you and you don't need to take a couple of more.

Step Four:
Stuff with barley rice and Mardukan taters. If the barley rice is seasoned with jcsauce, it adds piquancy. (Piquancy here refers to the fact that jcsauce is slightly hotter than pure capsicum.)

Step Five:
Wrap in leaves (fire-tree leaves if available) and cover with a thick coating of wet clay. Cook in hot fire and maintain fire while cooking. Serve whole on a bed of barley rice surrounded by sliced kangoes.

Tastes like frog-legs.

Sgt. Adib Julian
Bronze Battalion (Prince Roger's Elite)
Empress Own
Empire of Man

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Rats Spread...

Earlier, I recalled how Hugo the Rat ripped off his writers. Unfortunately, I have to share the same about the far more beloved Weird Tales.

E. Hoffman Price, in his The Book of the Dead, shared a conversation between Price and Robert Howard's father, Dr. I. M. Howard, in April 1934:
"[Farnsworth Wright] and [William Sprenger] and the rest of those sons of bitches are no dealing rightly with Robert. How are they treating you?" 
"Doctor, we are all getting screwed. No one is discriminating against Bob. Business really is bad, damn bad. Well...yes sir, Wright and Sprenger are getting their pay checks regularly." 
"Then why don't those bastards see that you and Robert get paid regularly," he demanded. 
Dr. I. M. Howard's bedside manner was superb: a patient would be afraid not to recover.
"Editors and business managers walk out if they're not paid. Writer who don't do likewise aren't showing good judgement. Bob has a lot of good markets. All I have is crime stuff. When I get into a few other fields, I am through with Weird Tales.
A good many year after this dialog, I learned from an employee of the bank which had handled W. T. funds from the beginning and on until another outfit bought the magazine, that the publisher had money by the ream. The outfit had always pleaded poverty, and had found "The Great Depression" a handy device to exploit writers who could not, or fancied that they could not write salable yarns for any other than W.T. I learned from another source that when R.E.H. died, the "Unique Magazine" owed him $1300. It is only fair to add that the most W.T. owned me at any time was never in excess of $300. This peak was achieved only because of a two-parter, and a short. They were not favoring me. When their indebtedness reached a certain point, they got no more scripts from me. My production went to cash customers. Belatedly, Howard, on his own initiative, adopted the same approach.
While Weird Tales' chiseling did not reach to the same six-figure extent as Hugo Gernsback, Wright and Sprenger stiffed a close friend and occasional editor for the magazine in Price. No wonder many writers tried to break through into the more lucrative slicks.