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Ankh, Scarab

Cthulhu: A Puppet Play?

Posted on 2014.11.20 at 17:08
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Mike Davis’s excellent Lovecraft EZine blog remains a must-read for Lovecraftians in search of the newest & weirdest in the Mythos world -- and today’s post is definitely a case in point.

Imagine, if you will, Cthulhu as a puppet play. (Or don’t, & save your sanity.) The Texas A&M-Commerce University Playhouse has, & will be presenting it this weekend!

Unable to attend? It’s already available for free on YouTube, accessible right from Mike’s post. I haven’t yet watched this 43 minute video myself, so YMMV – but the concept is so delightfully bizarre, I felt compelled to post about it anyhow.

Thank you, Lovecraft EZine!

The 2014 Rhysling AnthologyThe 2014 Rhysling Anthology edited by Elizabeth R. McClellan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Originally meant as a voting tool for the Science Fiction Poetry Association's annual Rhysling Awards, this year’s Rhysling Anthology is once again an attractively produced, perfect-bound reader's guide to the previous year in speculative poetry. All poems were nominated by the members of SFPA.

This year’s anthology offers 103 pages -- in my voting copy, anyhow -- of short and long-form verse, in a wide variety of styles. (Formal verse, however, is not extensively represented.) Many of the field’s most familiar names appear, along with a promising slate of newcomers.

I noticed somewhat less emphasis on fairy tale & myth this year, and a few more “slipstream” poems which seemed only marginally speculative. SF, fantasy, and straight-up dark verse continue to receive their share of attention. The quality of the poetry itself is high, though the wide spectrum of topics and approaches makes it unlikely that any one reader will appreciate every offering. I’d recommend taking it as a multidimensional box of cosmic chocolates, selecting a few at a time for maximum enjoyment.

A full listing of this year’s poets and poems appears here:

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Kindness Goes Unpunished (Walt Longmire, #3)Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Disclaimer: I am a Wyoming native with relatives in the vicinity of “Absaroka County.” Even though this particular Longmire novel is set elsewhere, I’m sure that being from Wyoming improves my taste for this excellent series. YMMV, though I doubt it will by much.)

This third installment of Craig Johnson’s Longmire mysteries finds Walt traveling far from Absaroka County – all the way to Philadelphia, with his friend Henry Standing Bear and Henry’s collection of valuable photographs for display at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He’s also hoping for a visit with lawyer daughter Cady. When Cady winds up in a coma after an “accident,” however, the plot expands to involve not only Walt and Henry – and Dog! -- but also Deputy Victoria Moretti’s incredibly extended family of (mostly) police officers.

Aside from the fun of watching Philly’s seamy side get a dose of Western justice, the mystery itself this time around didn’t interest me quite as much as the first two Longmires did. Stripping away the incidentals, this a story of corrupt officials, bent cops, and political cover-ups. It’s all well-crafted, but a little mundane. What makes this novel shine are the side stories and personal relationships, narrated with Johnson’s usual bone-dry Wyoming wit -- and a surprising but effective amount of sentiment.

If anything, Kindness Goes Unpunished is even more character-driven than the first two novels in this series, The Cold Dish and Death Without Company. Johnson makes some effort to get new readers up to speed, but I’d strongly advise taking these in order to avoid spoilers later.

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The Little StrangerThe Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a slow-burn Gothic experience for readers who appreciate a Turn of the Screw approach. Set in postwar (WW II) rural England, The Little Stranger focuses as much on character and class as it does on telling a very unusual haunted-house story . . . if, indeed, that’s what’s going on at Hundreds Hall, the declining great house in question.

When Dr. Faraday, an upwardly-aspiring country physician, is called to treat a servant of the resident Ayres family, his life and theirs quickly become entangled – and a creeping, possibly otherworldly malaise sets in. It’s nearly impossible to summarize this one further without spoilers. The pace is less deliberate than inevitable, the atmosphere effectively grim, & the conclusion far more complex than most horror novels provide.

One caution: if violence to either children or dogs is a deal-breaker for you as a reader, you might want to pass. The violence is integral to the plot, but disturbing.

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I am very, very happy to announce that I’ve had recent sales to two exciting dark lit projects.

Editor Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. just accepted my short story “Dancing the Mask” for his all-women’s King in Yellow anthology, Cassilda’s Song. This is due out in 2015 from Chaosium. Joe is pretty much the go-to guy for Robert W. Chambers projects, so I can’t wait to see how the TOC for this one shapes up.

In the weird verse department, editor S.T. Joshi has taken two poems of mine for the second issue of Spectral Realms. This elegant perfect-bound journal appears twice yearly from Hippocampus Press. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of poems in the premiere issue as well, and found myself in amazing company.

Fans of Robert Bloch, Egyptology, & / or H.P. Lovecraft will not want to miss this recent article on the Lovecraft eZine site. Entitled “The Egyptian Tales of Robert Bloch,” and penned by none other than Robert M. Price, it offers a comprehensive look at Bloch’s 1936-1938 Weird Tales offerings in this department, plus much interesting background material. Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of Tut’s tomb? Karloff’s 1932 classic horror film The Mummy? It’s all there – along with Dr. Price’s evaluation of what Bloch may have altered in the standard mythological canon, and what he borrowed from Lovecraft himself.

This article is a generous serving of the sort of literary analysis only a critic of Price’s stature can bring to so-called pulp fiction – and, like everything offered on editor Mike Davis’s eZine, it’s free for all to read. Find it here.

In the LightIn the Light by S.P. Miskowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

This novella winds up Miskowski’s Skillute Cycle, which began with her debut novel Knock Knock (a Shirley Jackson Award finalist) and continued through the novellas Delphine Dodd (also a Shirley Jackson Award finalist) and Astoria. Like all these works, it succeeds through its focus on the internal lives of its characters – primarily women, though one very sympathetic male arises in this one! – and its dead-on portrayal of claustrophobic life in a backwoods small town.

Without going into spoilers, the plot of this one confronts the supernatural threat unleashed by three young girls way back in Knock Knock. When another bullied child stumbles across a metal box containing burnt bones, her desperation opens a door back to this world . . .
one that several people have already given their lives trying to close.

This story unfolds through three characters, with a section devoted to each. The viewpoint shifts carry the plot along remarkably well, allowing the reader a full view of each life -- including vital bits of family history – without slowing the creepy flow of events.

Miskowski does a fine job of weaving together the loose generational ends from her previous tales to achieve a satisfying conclusion, though without much recap for readers who may have forgotten some crucial detail. Fortunately, these details are usually vivid enough to pop back into memory after a page or two! That said, I can’t stress enough that this is a concluding “chapter, ” not a standalone item. Please begin with Knock Knock to achieve the full effect.

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The Bull from the Sea (Thesus, #2)The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This immediate sequel to The King Must Die is another full-immersion experience of heroic Greece, with a lyrical first-person narrative to match. In retelling the rest of Theseus’s life (i.e., his post-bull-dancing days), Renault again tackles the problem of making her protagonist sympathetic while keeping him true to his time.

For the most part, she succeeds brilliantly. Reading the latter part of Theseus’s life is like attending a Greek tragedy: you know what’s going to happen, you know on some level that the character deserves it, but you can’t help but feel pity. And you can’t look away. Theseus’s years with the Amazon Hippolyta produce some of the novel’s loveliest prose, though readers familiar with the story know that it’s all downhill from here. All the way down, with a few plot twists that work just as well in the 21st century A.D. as they ever have.

My occasional frustrations as a reader came from some of Theseus’s career decisions post-Hippolyta -- and his inevitable “excuses” involving the gods. It took me a while to remember that tragic flaws are an integral part of a Classical hero’s makeup, and Renault gives her protagonist a full helping. She also nails the difficult task of making the gods fully real in her world without producing a full-blown fantasy.

Readers curious about her sources (circa 1962) and plotting choices are again given a generous Author’s Note. She is very clear about where what elements came from, and what she crafted on her own – which I appreciated. A concise version of the legend is also included.

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Ankh, Scarab

My Goodreads review: The Elder Ice

Posted on 2014.10.01 at 16:02
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The Elder IceThe Elder Ice by David Hambling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.

Did Ernest Shackleton visit the Mountains of Madness? That’s the premise (worked out in delicious detail) behind The Elder Ice, a Lovecraftian novella with a fast-moving blend of action, Weird Tales-style intrigue, & secret history.

When Harry Stubbs, a retired boxer turned collections agent, tries to recover a mysterious treasure from Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, he quickly finds himself out of his depth. Armed only with his fists and his wits, Stubbs is an unusual protagonist for such an adventure – but the character works well, and Lovecraft fans who appreciate a British tale will find this one hard to put down.

The real fun here, however, is in the details. Hambling is obviously familiar with the history of early Antarctic exploration and the intricacies of HPL’s short novel – and uses both to good effect. Recommended for those in search of a “ripping yarn” with some thought behind it.

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The King Must Die (Theseus, #1)The King Must Die by Mary Renault

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This lyrical retelling of the legend of Theseus manages to add a sense of realism (circa 1958 archaeological evidence) without sacrificing the essential magic of ancient Greece. The gods may or may not manifest themselves; but they are fully real to the characters, and they behave as such, often with far-reaching consequences.

Renault does not give the reader modern sensibilities in ancient clothing, but truly ancient ways of thinking -- which can be disturbing at times. Theseus’s perception of women is the most notable case of this, though Medea and the pre-Classic Goddess cults are also active in his world. For archaeology and ancient history enthusiasts, Renault includes an Author’s Note explaining her approach to Theseus’s story, a short but useful bibliography, and a solid version of the legend itself.

I took far too long getting through this book, because there is so much to savor – and the prose, though sparely elegant, is very rich. Renault does know how to keep the pages turning during a bull-dance or a battle, however! I’ve already got The Bull From the Sea (this book’s immediate sequel) loaded on my Kindle.

One side note: Hunger Games fans who haven’t read this book yet should treat themselves as soon as possible. Theseus and his Athenian companions were the original Tributes, and their adventures in Crete are some of the most entertaining in the novel.

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