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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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Ankh, Scarab

On this date in 2006 . . .

Posted on 2014.08.24 at 17:44
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dark god dwarfed
by human hubris
alas, Pluto

                   -- Ann K. Schwader

As promised yesterday, editor Ross Lockhart’s The Book of Cthulhu website is celebrating the Bard of Providence’s 124th birthday with a brand new round-robin tale of eldritch terror.

Entitled “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad,” it features six segments by Rand Burgess, Brian Evenson, Alistair Rennie, Kyle Muntz, Amanda Downum . . . and me.

As I type this, segment #3 – mine – has just gone live. All segments are available on the site throughout the day (and afterwards, I suspect), so check in whenever you can.

As for me, I don’t know how this puppy ends, either – so I’ll definitely be checking back as things progress!

H.P. Lovecraft turns 124 tomorrow. (I know, he doesn’t seem a day over 120 . . . gotta love that Innsmouth look.)

Got any plans to celebrate?

If you’re still in the planning stages, why not check out editor Ross Lockhart’s The Book of Cthulhu site? Rumor has it that a brand new round-robin inspired by the Old Gent himself will be posted tomorrow, at the rate of one section per hour.

And, yes, one of those sections is by Yours Truly.

Join in the serial celebration!

I missed the chance to post this yesterday, but The Book of Cthulhu (Night Shade Books 2011) is still on sale today for $1.99 on Kindle!

Over 500 virtual pages of tentacular goodness, edited by Ross Lockhart.

And some of those pages contain the Egyptian-flavored Mythos tale "Lost Stars" -- featuring Ammutseba, my own addition to Lovecraft's strange pantheon.

Get all the details -- and possibly your own copy -- here.

The Rhesus Chart (Laundry Files, #5)The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re a Laundry loyalist – and I am – you’ll want to read this one no matter what. The Rhesus Chart is absolutely essential to the ongoing eldritch history of Bob Howard and the approach of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (aka When the Stars Turn Right), & the ending is heartbreaking. The arcane history of the Laundry (who knew it went back to Elizabethan times?) is also fleshed out in some detail, as is the very complicated relationship between Bob & his boss Angleton. Full points for world-building here.

That said, however, this was far from my favorite Laundry File. No matter how well-justified in Lovecraftian terms, vampires – sorry, PHANGS – just do not fit well into this dark SF universe. Or at least, they didn’t for me. I have no problem whatsoever with urban fantasy, & regard it as a favorite guilty pleasure – but I wasn’t prepared for elder vampire duels in Laundry London.

I’m really sorry not to be able to rate this one higher. Stross’s style is as darkly witty as ever, and Bob’s relationship with his wife Mo (and her sanguinary violin) gets some much-needed attention. PHANGS or no PHANGS, I’ll be preordering the next File.

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