Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thansgiving

Regardless of anything going on in the world anywhere - all the good, all the bad and all the ugly I still take tine everyday with the wife and kids to talk about what I am grateful for and encourage them to do the same. I think it gives perspective and helps us all feel better and more positive about life in general, so....

Happy Thanksgiving

and thank you all for being readers, visitors and friends, I'm grateful you're out there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review: The Barrow

The Barrow, by Mark Smylie

I'm torn on this one and perhaps that's a good thing because a good book should elicit strong emotion. I picked this up at Incredible Universe in LA earlier this year when I went on a big book buying binge. I had never heard of Mark Smylie before but right on the cover was a positive blurb by facebook friend John Fultz and that along with the back cover synopsis was enough to say "Yeah, I''l get this."

The synopsis, goes along the lines of a pack of scoundrels are going after a fabled sword that is supposed to be in the barrow of a long dead evil wizard but things never turn out like they are supposed to do they?

You had me at pack of scoundrels. Quick rant: I hate these new covers that tell you next to nothing about the book -loads of fantasy books are doing these now and its a damn shame - I suspect it has to do with grabbing a new audience but I think they lack imagination and I bought the book in spite of the cover but I digress...

The opening prologue packs quite a punch and Smylies writing  is witty, action packed and very visceral. The barrow blends epic fantasy and Sword & Sorcery very well and while I can see some of the long historical tangents throwing some of the S&S readers I'm sure epic fans will eat it up. I have to say Smylie has a truly intriguing and well thought out realm. His world building is absolutely fascinating and top notch.

Now my issues: The Barrow suffers from the cardinal sin of not giving me any character I actually like - I had problems with absolutely everyone. I'm very used to despicable characters in George RR Martins and Joe Abercrombie's works (these are the most similar type writers and I'm a big fan of both) but one way or another Smylie turned me off of every player here.
Erim, the woman sellsword pretending to be a man just isn't interesting, Harvald is interesting but far too morally reprehensible for me to get behind, his sister Annwyn just grated on me with her passivity and their brother Arduin is the pompous nobleman's son we have seen a million times before - not that people like that don't exist but nobody you enjoy and that's fine because we have other characters - BUT
Leigh, an exiled magus, he is such a crazed despicable man I couldn't enjoy his dark humor, Godewyn Red Hand a tough bandit leader doesn't make me root for him in any way and Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire had me despising him immediately,
And finally the main character that everything and everyone revolve around is Stjepan Black-Heart, a bisexual renegade royal cartographer. My issue with him is = too wise, too renowned, too smart, too everything - every single place they traveled in the book everyone knows him - give me a break! And yet Arduin didn't know him? Stjepan is his brothers best friend but Arduin has no idea who Stjepan is but every other person in no matter what out of the way backwater inn they go does?

And just too much graphic sex that doesn't move the story at all is all over the place, if I was going to give the book a nutshell Dungeons & Dragons name it would be Catacombs & Cocks - I'm not kidding, way too much detail for things that don't move the story. It really threw me out of the book every time. I probably could have enjoyed the characters a bit more if I didn't have graphic detail on their personal sexual deviations, but it permanently gave me opinions about them that I just couldn't get beyond.

Granted that's me and my taste, make of it what you will - I didn't even feel this extreme about Jaime and Cersei of Game of Thrones. The book is a standalone, while leaving things open for continuing adventures, there were some holes for me though. Some of Stjepans friends actions showed me very early in the book what kind of people they were and why they would betray him - if he was so wise why didn't he see it? Their actions early in the book  are exactly why I didn't like any of them - trying to watch my spoilers here. I also didn't care for the two epilogues.

So - story wise, its a pretty good book - can I recommend it? Probably not - you have to know what you are in for - if you want epic sword & sorcery and you're cool with fifty shades of grey - get it.
As for me, IF I had thumbed it open and read just the first paragraph of the opening Gilgywr chapter I wouldn't have bought it.

I believe the sequel Black Heart is coming next year and while Smylie is a talented fantasy writer I don't plan on reading it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sword & Sorcery Noir

I dig the concept of the hard-boiled hero surrounded by dark malevolent forces and trying to solve the mystery of some demonic artifact and not knowing whether the dame helping him is up to no good or not. I grew up watching movies like The Maltese Falcon and I love Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.

There are a lot of great S&S Noir stories out there by fantastic authors like Alex Bledsoe, Joe Bonadonna, Larry Correia, Scott Lynch and I've just started Mark Smylie - more reviews coming soon.

Anyhow, Utah Geek Media has released their second issue featuring a continuing fantasy noir serial by yours truly and I just realized that they have PDF's of the issues up for all those of you out of state. I am rather proud of the serial and I'm sure I'll be using this character and setting more in the future.

Enjoy my Sword & Sorcery Noir in Walking Through Walls, presented by U Geek Magazine.

Issue 1 Chapter 1 : Kiss of the Dread Whip

Issue 2 Chapter 2 : You Can't Please Everyone

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: Monster Hunter International

I'm still strapped for time and have turned to audio books as of late to keep up with reading (which my TBR pile is still horribly overdue) and the latest book I've listened to is Larry Correia's first Monster Hunter International.

It's a great pulp ridden read, full of witty dialogue and blood soaked ichor. Larry really knows how to tease out mysteries to keep you going and wondering about what happens next as well as compelling action scenes and enough monsters and creature references from beyond - to appeal to all of my faithful readers (YOU).

Like Hellboy it mixes all kinds of pulpy things I love and sets it in the modern era, and like Hellboy I'm kicking myself that I took so long to get around to reading it. I've personally known Larry for several years and he is a pretty cool dude. I'm really looking forward to catching up on the multiple books I've got to catch up on. 

We begin Owen Pitt discovering his boss is a werewolf and about to eat him - following the American Dream, he sends his boss out a fourteen story window killing him and getting a job offer with the worlds premier monster killing outfit = MHI.

I don't want to throw in any spoilers as Pitt along with the reader discovers this secret world kept from the public at large, but needless to say its a lot of action-packed fun. Loads of little monster references (and others) that I really got a kick out of = inside type jokes etc that you don't need to be friends with Larry to get by any means. Great stuff is set up for the sequels but its also a very well done self contained novel. Larry is a writer that I greatly admire from both his writing work ethic and the mantra he told me over dinner at Fantasycon = "First and foremost - please the reader." I may be paraphrasing that but it hit home and MHI does it in spades.

Highly recommended.

I had no end of Larry's fans commenting "Mini Me" jokes when I shared this on facebook.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy All Hallows Eve

I'm way behind in my reading pile, I meant to get some more book reviews up but its gotta wait for November now.

But here is a quick snippet of a tale (I'm still polishing) from my forthcoming The Mad Song and other tales of Sword & Sorcery...

Stygian Black

Miles into the trackless wastes of the Arabian Desert and just as the horned moon rose above the dunes in a darkening azure sky, the raiders fell upon the unholy caravan as wolves upon tainted sheep. Half of the hired swords fled when they guessed the identity of the laughing bandit chieftain and even the vexing fear of their master, the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, could not grant them sand enough to face the Lion of Palestine, Avi Ben-Kenaz.
The city-born sell-swords and cowardly veterans of decadent civilization were no match for the hard-bitten nomads, and with but a few strokes of steel all of Alhazred’s men fell before the raiders. These Judean raiders lived by their blades edge alone—not just the prospect and bravado of danger. Out here in the desolate wilderness, if you did not shed blood freely, your own would soon bleach upon the sands.
Alhazred dusted himself off after having been tossed from his seat by one of the raiders. He was lucky not to have been beheaded like so many others, but had been recognized as the caravan master early on and therefore perhaps worthy of sparing and of course, ransom.
One of the raiders shouted to his chieftain, “The wagons are empty!”
“All of them?”
The raider nodded to Avi and shoved Alhazred to the ground once again.
Avi, a pantherish man with a face of red-brown stubble and a reckless smile asked, “Who are you and what did you formerly carry within these wagons that needed such pathetic protection?”
“I am Abdul Alhazred, seeker of eldritch knowledge. I know of you Avi, and would ask that we make a sacred pact.”
Avi scrutinized the thin bearded man who was almost engulfed by both his dark turban and cloak. Alhazred’s sallow face, shrunken cheeks and baggy eyes belied a man who knew little sleep and even less toil.

“Speak Magi.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tree City Comic Con Recap

So the Space Balrog's and I were at Tree City Comic Con in Boise Idaho - Boise being the adjusted french name for LeBois = River of Tree's. We had a good time! I sold the most books out of all of us on Friday and the least on Saturday - go figure. Apparently Idahoan's wanted more horror on Friday = Weird Tales of Horror and Space Eldritch, and more fantasy on Saturday.

Here is a shot that Jason King took of me when for about 5 seconds I thought our panel had been cancelled and I was shouting "CON!" as in "Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!" until James Wymore said we were still on - I had no idea that Jason was capturing the moment = priceless.

There were a fair amount of celebs at the con considering it was pretty small - just a few thousand. Here is me with Angie Everhart. I put my foot in my mouth telling her I loved her as Red Sonja (Thinking she portrayed Red in the Conan the Adventurer TV show) WRONG! The pic was taken just before I said that and she visibly cooled as I said it with a sharp, "I was never Red Sonja!"

I did get to mingle with a few other cool celebs - sorry no pictures - I went to the VIP Green Room quite a bit for food and drink - oddly enough security never ever stopped me - I always just walked in like I owned the place while my fellow Balrogs were always turned away along with anyone else who wasn't a star. I got to speak to Nichelle Nicols - Uhura for a quick brunch on Saturday, and John Rhys Davies just as he arrived on Friday very cool cuz he talked to me first! He came in and exclaimed loud like Sallah, "I see one!" and we toasted each other. I never asked what he meant by that - was too thrilled that he was talking.

Breakfast at the hotel Saturday morning was surreal as most of the patroons were stars and support staff so I was a having breakfast with a third of the cast for The Addams Family- Lurch and Cousin It and Wednesday, Uhura, Mark Sheperd, Monster Quest's Dr. Meldrum (I did get a Bigfoot cast), Joanie Brooks - who you may remember was on the cover of the first issue of Utah Geek Magazine that I have a serial action fantasy story in, among others.

At one point I joked that a guy was cosplaying as fellow Balrog Dave Butler - he was wearing the same jeans, white shirt and black blazer, we asked the guy to come and talk to us and it turned out he was the director of the whole Con! So we're making friends with shakers!
Here are a few of the more interesting cosplayers I saw.

Two of America's greatest heroes together again, Batman and Ben Franklin


Sara Butler, hiding and James Wymore and Jason King

Two cool cats that I don't know what they're from.

A Daft Punk Jedi

And the most bizarre thing was set up right kiddie corner from our booth - the pole dancing Wonder Woman!

Guess what I did when she left her pole unattended.

Just a good time overall!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

City of the Saints

I just finished the City of the Saints audio book by my good friend D.J. Butler

War is coming and everyone wants to get their hands on the super weapons from the Kingdom of Deseret.

So many things appealed so strongly to me about this collection of four parts. The action, the humor and the steampunk element were just plain fun, I loved the admixture of known inventor genius's like Brunel, Hunley, Whitney, Maxim, and Browning as well as the fanciful Mad Man Orson Pratt contributing to this world's super science.

I'm also into history enough including the local variety here in Utah, that few if any of the characters needed introduction (local = Porter Rockwell, Brigham Young, Eliza R. Snow, Bill Hickman, John D. Lee) but for the sake of review I'll mention the big ones - Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) as a secret agent for the Union in the coming civil war as well as the not dead yet Edgar Allen Poe for the Confederacy - each has a colorful thug apprentice that you genuinely enjoy seeing also get their point of view. The English adventurer Richard Burton an envoy for Queen and country was also a favorite of mine.
The dialogue and action are crisp and hilarious, I truly laughed out loud at a number of scenes such as this between Richard Burton and Tamerlane O'Shaughessy (Clemens Irish thug)

"I'm not a weakling, " O'Shaughnessy protested, "I'm just a bit drunk."
"Keep your pistols aimed down the stairs, then." Burton urged him. "But you told me before you weren't drunk. Just Irish, you said."
"I'll let you in on a secret, Dick," the Irishman said. "it's the same fookin' thing."

I heartily recommend this if you enjoy smart, action, historical's that are so much fun.

D.J. Butler is also going to be hanging with me this weekend at the Tree City Comic con in Boise - come get some books!