Finn Fancy Necromancy-Randy Henderson

Finn-Fancy-Necromancy.jpg

Source: Review Copy from Publisher

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: January 1, 2015

 

Finn Gramaraye is a most unusual ex-con.  He’s a talented necromancer and one of a group of magically gifted humans known collectively as the Arcana, living surreptitiously among the “mundane” population.  His crime—assault on a creature of the fey—and his punishment is exile to the Other Realm, the place beyond the mists the fey call home.  There he’s forced to relive his most intimate memories for their amusement.  Those exiled to the Other Realm feel no sense of the passage of time and when his sentence is completed, 15 year old Finn is transferred into his now 40 year old body.

Normally, such a sentence wouldn’t constitute an insurmountable culture shock to an Arcana.  Finn’s body has been loaned out the past quarter century to a changeling who will catch him up on the life he’s missed.  His parole underway, the transfer ceremony runs smoothly right up to the moment someone interferes using dark magic.  Finn survives the attack but the transfer is incomplete, and he ends up without those crucial memories of his life since incarceration.  For someone stuck in an 80’s frame of mind, 2011 is going require some major adjustment.  As if that’s not enough for his still adolescent mind to deal with, he’s just been framed—again—this time for the murder of the same witch he was convicted of assaulting all those years ago.

Now he’s got 72 hours to not only exonerate himself but to unravel a conspiracy that threatens the uneasy peace between Arcana and Fey, a conspiracy that someone—or something—will do anything to keep him from solving.  Concurrently, Finn finds himself dealing with an older brother who just might want him dead, a younger brother who thinks he’s a waerwolf, a zealous enforcer who isn’t particularly interested in due process, and not one, but two romantic entanglements from his past.  For Finn Gramaraye, exile is not looking so bad any more.

Finn Fancy Necromancy is a novel that took several attempts to fully immerse myself in, perhaps owing to the present state of the genre.  Since J. K. Rowling exploded on the scene, a sort of “Harry Potter Effect” has manifested as publishers chase the phenomenon.  It’s an unavoidable side effect of Rowling’s success–a glut of knock offs and wannabe’s, all published by an industry desperate to replicate her success while the subject is hot.  Upon cursory reading, I feared Finn’s story was going to fall into the “wannabe” category and set it down in search of something else.  Revisiting the novel a few months later, I discovered the folly of my initial impression. Neither Randy Henderson nor Finn Fancy Necromancy deserve the “also ran” moniker. 

Randy Henderson’s novel has all those things you’ve come to expect in Urban Fantasy: Mundies (those regular folks, clueless to the magical world around them), Arcana (those gifted with magical abilities, living un-noticed by regular society), Fey (magical creatures such as Gnomes, Sasquatch, Witches and Waerwolves), all of them maintaining an uneasy truce while they pursue their own goals.  Of course, with all these competing factions, there’s need of a magical police force, the Enforcers, tasked with keeping the peace, or at least some version thereof.  All very standard fair in your typical Urban Fantasy, but it’s also got that certain something that makes a particularly good fantasy story stand out.  Whether it’s the interspersed humour, the compelling characters, or an intriguing mystery, Henderson has found the storyteller’s sweet spot.  Add to that plenty of action, whether in the form of Sasquatch fights, Warlock rumbles, or a mission impossible into the heart of an Arcana vault by Finn and company and you’ve got a winning combination.

There’s also action on the emotional front.  Finn’s tale is a coming of age story, as he tries to recapture both his lost youth and his estranged family and finding out neither may be possible.  Having no experience with the foibles of teen relationships, when he runs into his former girlfriend (now a mother with her own teenager), he’s ill equipped to recognize that though she may be the girl of his dreams, that’s possibly all she ever was.  Nor does it help that the mundie girl he used to pal around with has grown into a beautiful women who’s no longer shy in demonstrating her affection for this clueless boy in a man’s body.

Finn’s relationship with his family is also complicated, considering the eclectic nature of their personalities.  His older brother Mort is consumed by jealousy of Finn’s necromantic abilities and fears that Finn’s re-emergence may usurp his position within the family necrotorium.  Finn’s younger brother Pete adores him, unaware of Finn’s participation in a youthful prank that may or may not have turned him into a lycanthrope.  His father has lost his mind but not his ability to conjure, and his sister is literally allergic to magic, a decidedly unhealthy malady for someone from a family whose business revolves around the one thing she can’t be near. 

All in all, it’s a magical blend of Six Feet Under and the Addams Family upon which Randy Henderson has placed his personal stamp, and an excellent debut to a series which continues in Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, out this February.  Randy Henderson maintains at RandyHenderson.com.

First they came for the Satirists

 

 

CharlieHebdo

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” ~Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Freedom of Speech is not free.  Freedom of Speech is paid for in the blood of those who will stand for it in the face of those who think their right to not be offended is greater than your right to offend them.

Freedom of Speech is a corollary of Liberty and Liberty is non-negotiable if we are to have a society that is free from coercion at the hands of those who would persecute us in the name of an evil ideology, whether religious or secular. Martin Niemöller was right when he exhorted everyone to act in the face of such ideologies, lest there come a time when it’s no longer possible.

Freedom of Speech is not free, but its price is one we should all be willing to pay.

Christmas Fear and Christmas Cheer

So, it’s that time of year again, in which bloggers either do a post on their favourite novels/short stories of the past year or spend some time looking at seasonally topical reads.  The season being Christmas, I’ve been mulling over some suggestions for you this past week.  Unfortunately, mulling isn’t writing, and I’ve found myself feeling like Clark Kent must every time Lois Lane scoops him.

In my case, the character of Lois Lane is played by one Michaela Gray, a.k.a. “The Bookaneerover at GeekPlanetOnline .  Hop on over and check out her article before I give you my list of Christmas themed reads.  I’ll wait.

And…we’re back.  At the risk of being redundant, here’s my list of Christmas tales you should check out.

1.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas CarolThe obvious choice on any Christmas themed list, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his one night journey to redemption after a little rough handling by the spirits of Past, Present and Future.   Universally loved and a book that hasn’t really left the collective consciousness since its publication back in 1843. Now that’s a story with legs.

Beyond the cheery message that no one is beyond redemption, what I find kind of neat about Dickens’ work is that it’s totally a horror novel.  Think about it for a second.  Some poor (well, rich) old geezer tormented by a host of spirits in the dead of night in a drafty old English mansion.  That’s practically a Richard Matheson novel!. A Christmas Carol is truly a classic and deserves top billing on any Christmas themed list.

2.  I Am Scrooge (A Zombie Story for Christmas) by Adam Roberts

ZombieScroogeIt’s to my eternal shame (okay, maybe not eternal–how about transitory?) that Adam Roberts’ re-imagining of Dickens tale has sat on my shelf low this past year without being read.  It’s especially puzzling considering my continued interest in funny zombie novels.  The idea of the three ghosts teaming up with old Ebenezer to combat a hungry horde of shambling zombies and by happenstance save the world is definitely appealing to anyone with an interest in the walking dead.  I’m not sure it will have as happy an ending as the original, but I am sure there’ll be a meal somewhere along the way.  Although I doubt there’s a lot of meat on Tiny Tim, or Scrooge for that matter.

3.  Naughty:  Nine Tales of Christmas Crime by Steve Hockensmith

NaughtySteven Hockensmith is a wonderful mystery writer who’s turned his attention to Christmas themed mysteries on several (at least nine) occasions.  If you’re a fan of the genre and looking for something with a Christmas(y) feel to it, then Naughty is the book for you.  My favourite tale involves the kidnapping of a certain man in a red suit by members of the KGB and Mrs. Klaus efforts to effect his rescue.  Poisoned fruitcake, devious secret santas, and an introduction to Hannah Fox, a character I hope to meet some day in her own novel, all make this a novel that any mystery lover should invest in.  Do yourself a favour and pick it up as either an ebook or print version.  Steve is a master of both mystery and witty dialogue and I’ve had a long history of not being disappointed with his writing.

Speaking of short stories, Arthur Conan Doyle was known for writing a Christmas tale or two involving everyone’s favorite Victorian detective, Sherlock Holmes.  Honourable mention goes to The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle in which Sherlock shows considerable restraint with regards to a criminal whom he encounters at Christmas.  George Mann has also made an effort to write a series of Christmas themed stories with regards to his wonderful Newbury and Hobbes series of Steampunk detective novels, all of which can be obtained if you pick up a copy of The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes.  Try reading Christmas Spirits if you’d like a unique take on A Christmas Carol involving a detective on an opium bender during the holidays.

I’m sure there are many more Christmas themed tales that I’m omitting in the course of this holiday post.  If you’ve got a tale or novel to add to the mix, please feel free to enlighten me in the comments, and in the meantime, enjoy yourself a merry little Christmas.

 


Fly me to the Moon.

Apollomoonlanding

Between July 16, 1969 and December 7, 1972, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) managed to land six missions on the Moon.  Apollo 13 was, of course, famously aborted when an on-board explosion crippled the vehicle and the astronauts relied on the lunar module as a lifeboat for their return.  With the successful completion of the Apollo 17 mission, manned exploration of the Moon came to an end, but 41 years later authors are still chronicling the missions, speculating about the future of man’s conquest of the moon and writing alternate history based on speculation about lunar missions.

I was born just shortly before the last Apollo mission, so missed the excitement involved with lunar exploration.  As a child I witnessed the Space Shuttle program from inception to eventual retirement and have always held the exploration of space in great regard.  Lately, lunar missions (either real or speculative) have been on my mind, so today’s post is dedicated to three books regarding the Moon, one historical and two speculative.

Rocket Men-Craig NelsonRocketMen

Source: Bought copy

Publisher: Viking Press

Publication Date: June 30, 2009

First on the list is Rocket Men by Craig Nelson, a biography of the United States space program, culminating in a description of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon.  From the closing days of the Second World War, Nelson traces the history of manned space flight to NASA’s defining achievement of a man on the Moon.  It’s a fascinating look at the race between the United States and the Soviet Union, one in which the Soviet Union took an early lead and the United States focused their efforts to catch and surpass their cold war foes, eventually culminating in the Apollo program.  I’m only about half way through but find myself captivated by his account of the formation of NASA and their counterparts in the Soviet Union.  I feel confident in recommending Nelson’s biography of the program (after all, I already know how it ends) for anyone who has an interest  in the subject.  Looking around on the internet, Nelson has been criticized for a few technical errors in his account, but, like most of the populace, I’m not a rocket scientist and a few quibbles do not detract from a wonderful account of the early days of space-flight.

Back to the Moon-Travis S. Taylor and Les Johnson

Backtothemoon

Source: Bought copy

Publisher: Baen Books

Publication Date: December 27, 2011

Back to the Moon is a nice piece of speculative fiction by Les Johnson and Travis Taylor, who also wrote a neat novel (with John Ringo) about the invasion of Earth by a multitude of Von Neumann machines in the 2008 novel, Von Neumann’s War. Back to the Moon tells the a story of the near future in which the United States has finally refocused the mission of NASA on returning to the Moon.  Using a modified vision of the Constellation Program, the United States has once again embarked on a manned moon mission, but they have competition from the private sector in the form of a Virgin Galactic inspired space-plane/lunar orbiter by the name of Dreamscape.  Gary Childers, president of Space Excursions, is an entrepreneur in the mould of Richard Branson and also interested in bringing the experience of space flight and lunar excursions to the common man (well, those who can afford the fee).  Space Excursions is also interested in beating NASA to the Moon, although they aren’t prepared for a landing.  Meanwhile, China has become the successor of the defunct Soviet Union and is also striving to beat the Americans back to the Moon.

When Childer’s Dreamscape vehicle manages to orbit the Moon in advance of NASA’s efforts, the pilot and civilian crew are astonished to receive a distress signal from a crew of Chinese Taikonauts.  They’ve beaten the Americans to the Moon using stolen technology (ironically, from both NASA and Space Excursions) but flubbed the landing.  Once discovered, it becomes a race against time for NASA to launch a recovery mission before the Chinese succumb to their circumstances.

Now I suppose naysayers could nitpick this novel by calling it a “rah-rah” America first bit of fluff, but I found it a fun, pulpy read.  Taylor knows his stuff, after all, he is an actual rocket scientist, and while I would never describe his work as “literary” in the classical sense, he tells a compelling story in an accessible manner.

Adrift on the Sea of Rains-Ian Sales

Adriftontheseaofrains

Source: Bought copy (Kindle)

Publisher: Whippleshield Books

Publication Date: April, 2012

Adrift on the Sea of Rains, is the first in a quartet of proposed novels by U.K. novelist Ian Sales and can be characterized as both speculative fiction and alternate history.  It concerns a group of astronauts who become stranded on a lunar base after a nuclear exchange by the Soviet Union and United States.  Their only hope for rescue is a salvaged Nazi Wunderwaffe, a “torsion-field” generator that can allow them passage through alternate universes, in hope of finding one where the Earth has not been destroyed.  Complicating their situation is the problem of how to get home in the event they find an Earth to return to.

Now in all honesty, I haven’t read this book yet.  It’s on my intent to read list, but having perused the first chapter, I have little doubt that it’s going to be a compelling, although possibly dismal, novel.  Ian Sales appears to have taken a more literary road with regard to his writing style and it shows. His characters are maudlin (granted, you would be too if you’d witnessed the destruction of the Earth and faced a slow death on a desolate rock) and somewhat nihilistic. He’s also managed to win the 2012 BSFA (British Science Fiction Award) for short fiction.

I realize I’m not doing justice to his novella in this brief description, but want to inform you of a talent that has recently come upon my alternate history radar.  I hope to give you a more detailed report once able to spend some time with what appears to be an emerging talent.

 

Mogworld-Yahtzee Croshaw

mogworld

“Me, I’m just here for a nice clean death, and Dub said he can give me one.  I don’t care who ends up running the world.  I just want it to stop being my problem.” ~Jim Bottomroach.

Life was so much simpler for Jim Bottomroach when he was dead.  Being undead, now that was a trick.  Killed during a skirmish between St. Gordon’s Magical College and the warrior schools of Stragonoff over a mystical stone that doesn’t exist, Jim was quite satisfied to join the stone in its nonexistence.  His two years of magical college hadn’t amounted to much.  Learning just three spells, the most useful—and by extension most entertaining—being one that would turn a rival into a rabbit (momentarily).  Just that would be enough to turn anyone off the magic business.  Jim had begun to seriously regret his career choice in the moments before a training war hammer knocked his soul right out of his body.

And that’s where it should have ended, all bright light and life reflection and then nothing.

However, things never turn out how they should, as Jim quickly learns (well, okay, 60 years later is not all that quick) when he’s resurrected by the necromancer Dreadgrave, who seeks to create an undead army to pillage the land around his impenetrable “Doom Fortress”.  Jim is quickly impressed into this undead army of the unwilling and put in charge of the rat pit, a rather unsavory fate–or savory, from the rat’s point of view–for any adventurers caught raiding Dreadgrave’s (impenetrable?) compound.  Distraught at his fate, Jim promptly jumps from the first tower he can climb.

Imagine his surprise to find that yes, he can die again, but no, it just won’t take.  Sure, his body is in worse shape, an eyeball here, a lung over there, but his consciousness is as intact as his body isn’t.  From then on, Jim’s goal is to search for a permanent means of death.  In the meantime, unlife goes on, until that fateful day a horde of angels descend from the sky and delete the Doom Fortress, Dreadgrave and all, yet somehow missing Jim and two others.  Meryl is an overly earnest young woman (she’s been dead as long as Jim, but she died young) and Thaddeus is a religious zealot who considers himself and the others to be a blasphemy against God.

It’s no small irony that only when they’ve stopped running and have a moment to think, Jim realizes his missed opportunity to end it all.  During the course of their flight, Jim discovers that while he returns to his body in a slightly more damaged state, for the past fifteen years, anyone else who dies is resurrected in a new body, a phenomenon people have come to call “The Infusion.”  Nobody dies permanently, not people, not cows, not blades of grass.  However, no births occur either.  So life goes on, perpetually and death doesn’t have the cache it used to.  Especially when you’re not granted a new body, and technically aren’t alive.

But fate isn’t done kicking Jim and his cohorts around just yet.  There’s a new Vicar in town, name of Barry, and he’s been endowed with almost God-like powers by the great God Si-Mon.  He’s also got it in his mind that Jim and his fellow undead are an aberration that Si-Mon requires be deleted to make the world right again.  At this point, Jim realizes that he’s not just fleeing aimlessly; he’s on a quest.  Defeat Barry and the great God Si-Mon by restoring the laws of nature, and by extension, find a way to die permanently.

Jim is helped along the way by a rogue adventurer/dolt by the name of Slippery John, who suggests his best bet to correct the natural order lies with the Magic Resistance, a group of sorcerers whose motivations parallel his own.  Especially the necromancers, who are finding it hard to get good help when no one stays dead.  Slippery John has his own motivation for tagging along, namely to find a cure for his beloved Drylda, who’s suffering from a malady known as the “Syndrome.”  The Syndrome only seems to attack adventurers, causing them to strike heroic poses and become obsessed with completing quests, right up until they become catatonic.  However, some might say Drylda’s catatonic state explains Slippery John’s “date rapey” interest in her.  So, add finding a cure for the Syndrome to Jim’s to-do list.

As a final obstacle to their quest, the adventurer’s guild has sicced a pair of stone cold murderers on their trail to find the Magic Resistance and stop their efforts.  Questing is good business, after all. Summing it up, Jim simply has to find the Magical Resistance, enlist them to help him change the laws of nature while dodging the attentions of the Adventurer’s Guild and simultaneously find a cure for the Syndrome.  If he weren’t already dead, I’m sure Jim would wish he was.

One other thing—every time Jim dies, he sees words in the air, disturbing words that make him question existence, or what he thinks it is.  Once he finally realizes what’s going on, what existence really is, that’s when the book really pays off.  It’s also a spoiler I’m not willing to reveal.  You’ll figure it out, especially if you figure out what MOGWORLD really means.

Reading MOGWORLD, I’m reminded of Tom Holt, Christopher Moore, Robert Asprin or maybe A. Lee Martinez, all authors who’ve put their stamp on the genre of comedic fantasyMogworld has the same quirky sense of humour and horror I found while reading any of the above authors, but especially Tom Holt, an author for whom reality is usually just a mask disguising what’s really going on.  Both hilarious and touching, Jim’s exploits to become “just” dead reveal a character that’s not nearly as nihilistic as he’d like you to think.

Just look at how he interacts with his fellow travellers.  Jim’s outward disdain for Meryl cannot mask his concern for her well-being.  Given several chances to leave her to her fate, he never actually does.  Time and again he suggests Thaddeus lay off all the “smite this” and “aberration that” but never kicks the former minister out of the party. Drylda and Slippery John really aren’t his problem, nor is finding a solution to the Infusion when he can simply let Barry delete him, but his desire to die permanently is always put behind the welfare of the world.  Jim chooses time and again to dodge the death he claims to welcome in his quest to fix the world.

Yahtzee Croshaw’s debut novel is hilariously entertaining.  I went into it thinking it was just going to be an interesting take on the sword and sorcery genre, focusing on a character that generally doesn’t get the limelight, just like Star Trek’s redshirts, or any super villain’s henchmen. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you’re a fan of the underdog, or find yourself rooting for the zombies at the movies.  If you’ve ever spent hours down at the arcade playing Gauntlet or long nights of misspent youth at D & D sleepovers, then this novel is for you.  If not, well, it’s still for you, because it’s a delightful look at the henchmen whose job it is to make the heroes look good.

As Jim put it himself, he doesn’t want to be a hero, just a protagonist.

A++

Casino Royale–Ian Fleming

‘First of all, and he inhaled a thick lungful of Caporal,’you will be pleased with your Number Two.   She is very beautiful’-Bond frowned-‘very beautiful indeed.’  Satisfied with Bond’s reaction, Malthis continued: ‘ She has black hair, blue eyes, and splendid…er…protuberances.  Back and front,’ he added.~Rene Malthis.

Ian Fleming may not have written the first spy novel, but the genre has been dominated by his presence ever since the publication of Casino Royale in 1953.  James Bond has outlived his creator by 49 years so far, continuing to fight the enemies of Britain in the works of several “official” 007 authors such as John Gardner, Raymond Bensen, Sebastian Faulks and most recently, Jeffrey DeaverWith the advent of last year’s blockbuster Bond flick, Skyfall, it occurred to me that it was time to get back to basics, and with that in mind, re-read Casino Royale.

Reviewing a 60 year old novel about one of the world’s most recognizable pop culture icons might seem a bit redundant, but perhaps it’s time to take a look and remind everyone what originally drew people to the charming yet lethal “Mr. Bond,” and point out that the caricature he’s become (until the advent of Daniel Craig’s films) is not the man who originally endeared Fleming’s readers.

Casino Royale takes place in Royale-les-Eaux, a fictional resort town in France, home to the aforementioned casino.  LeChiffre, an agent of the Soviet Union (in the 2006 movie, his affiliation is updated to the Quantum network to account for the end of the Cold War) responsible for infiltrating the French labour unions to create a fifth column, has gotten himself in a bit of a mess.  As Union paymaster, he’s embezzled funds to buy a series of brothels, but after French authorities crack down on the prostitution industry, his venture falls apart.  His only hope to escape the clutches of SMERSH (essentially a Soviet assassination squad) is to replace the money, and quickly.  In a desperate bid to do just that, LeChiffre uses the last of his embezzled funds to enroll in a high stakes game of Baccarat at the Casino Royale.  If he wins, he can replace the funds.  If he loses, his life is forfeit, and the Soviet Union will have to eliminate an extremely influential (but thoroughly crooked) agent.

This is where a “00” agent by the name of James Bond factors into the equation.  Funded by the British Secret Service and utilizing both his talents and those of a local French agent by the name of Malthis, Bond is to pose as a playboy with too much money and not enough common sense, play against LeChiffre, and bankrupt him.  Assassination would be simpler and more appropriate (after all, 007 is licensed to kill), but the Brits want LeChiffre’s organization embarrassed, and thereby the Soviets.  Bond is also allotted an MI6 contact in the form of Vesper Lynd, a beautiful yet cold agent to assist in his venture.

Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and Bond finds LeChiffre to be a more formidable opponent than he first believed.  Between a failed bombing, being bankrupted at the tables (and thus enlisting the help of American CIA agent Felix Leiter to fund a second attempt), and later the kidnapping of Vesper and his own torture at the hands of LeChiffre, Bond proves himself to be a steely and resourceful character.

But–let’s not ruin the story for you.

Several things impressed themselves upon me during the course of reading Casino Royale, the first being a notable lack of traditionally Bond gadgets.  Bond is a more realistic character (at least in this first novel) than in the movies.  His tool bag consists mainly of his wits and a slim and easily concealed pistol.  No laser watches or jetpacks.  However, LeChiffre has several knives hidden on his person, and his car has a compartment that drops caltrops on the road at the push of a button.  His henchmen also employ hidden weapons in the form of camera bombs and a pistol cane, so the gadget precedent is set.

Nor is Bond the shallow character portrayed in the films.  Beneath a shallow exterior, Bond is revealed to be an introspective character, as evidenced in a conversation with Malthis during his convalescence.  Discussing his torture at the hands of LeChiffre, Bond confides that he sometimes wonders about the difference between himself and those he hunts.  Putting himself in LeChiffre’s shoes, he wonders if those he sees as evil see him in much the same manner.  Not quite moral relativism (Bond is notoriously patriotic and believes he is in the right), but a deep contemplation of whether the evil of the world know they are evil, and how his actions could be perceived much the same by the opposing side.

The same holds true of his attitudes and behavior towards women.  In film, Bond is reduced to a caricature of what Fleming created in Casino Royale, merely a male slut, bound and determined to bed any and every female that crosses his path.  However, Fleming sketches a much deeper character, explaining what appears to be misogynistic behavior in a more nuanced manner than you can get on the big screen:

With most women his manner was a mixture of taciturnity and passion.  The lengthy approaches to a seduction bored him almost as much as the subsequent mess of disentanglement.  He found something grisly in the inevitability of the pattern of each affair.  The conventional parabola – sentiment, the couch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the feel of the body, the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the final bitterness was to him shameful and hypocritical.  Even more he shunned the mise en scène for each of these acts in the play – the meeting at a party, the restaurant, the taxi, his flat, her flat, then the week-end by the sea, then the flats gain, then the furtive alibi’s and the final angry farewell on some doorstep in the rain.

Basically, Bond finds women a distraction in a game where distraction cannot be allowed.

Bond is an exercise in extremes, from his cool demeanor to the passion with which he greets life.  After all, it’s a business for hard men, the type that can compartmentalize their feelings and get on with the mission.  After Vesper’s suicide and his subsequent discovery that she was a double agent, how else could he say this of the woman he loved?

“This is 007 speaking.  It’s an emergency…3030 was a double agent…Yes, dammit, I said ‘was.’  The Bitch is dead now.”

Casino Royale is a splendid example of the genre and gives real insight to a character we’ve all been exposed to over the years—but never really known.

Quirk Books is looking for Bloggers!

Quirk Books wants You!

Quirk Books wants You!

Over the past few years, I’ve managed to enjoy and review several titles by Quirk Books.  From Night of the Living Trekkies (a delightfully morbid look at sci-fi conventions) to the adventures of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Quirk Books has always had, well–I guess the right word would be, “quirky”, take on whatever genre they tackle.  I have yet to be disappointed by a Quirk title.

They also maintain a blog on their site, and a couple of weeks ago it came to my attention that they’re looking for a few good bloggers.

Now there are a few conditions.  You must:

* Be passionate about books.

* Have a decent presence on major social media networks. Twitter, Facebook, etc.

* Be willing to promote your posts on those networks.

Doesn’t sound like an onerous list of requirements.  And–it’s a paying gig!

So, if you’ve got similar tastes in reading and a desire to both write and be read, why not drop them an email (see the above link) and see if you’re a good fit?

Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau–Guy Adams

“Science is a fluid thing, Doctor. Like mercury spilled on the laboratory table, it chases away with itself.  Often, it is quite beyond us to restrain or capture it.”~Sherlock Holmes

Within the first several pages, it becomes obvious that Guy Adams in going to have a little irreverent fun with the legend that is Sherlock Holmes. Whether it’s John Watson describing himself as “The Crime Doctor” (a wink to the 1988 movie, Without a Clue), his blending of H.G. Wells’ tale of Edward Pendrick’s visit to The Island of Doctor Moreau, or a nod to his own World House novels in the form of explorer and big game hunter Roger Carruthers, Adams has mashed together works by two literary greats of the 19th century and come out with a winner.

When citizens of London start turning up mauled by a variety of creatures that simply do not exist on her majesty’s island nation, Mycroft Holmes (he who is the government) turns to his brother Sherlock and offers him a chance  to serve Queen and country and solve a seemingly impossible crime. Mycroft knows the story of Edward Pendrick and Dr. Moreau (once in his employ) and fears that Moreau is either not as dead as was formerly believed, or that someone has resurrected his work as a vivisectionist, hoping to create a race of super beasts for their own nefarious purposes.  Sherlock finds himself intrigued, and before you know it, the game is afoot!

The Army of Dr. Moreau is a rollicking good ride, as Holmes and Watson take to the cities sewers, tracing the path of a local gang leader whose description sounds suspiciously canine.  They also meet with a group of Mycroft’s extraordinary gentlemen, from Professor George Edward Challenger (recently of Doyle’s The Lost World) to Professor Lindenbrook (of Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth) who have been tasked to assist in ways scientific and medical, and of course, Adams own creation, who will later become pivotal to the events of The World House and The World House: Restoration (two must read books if you decide you like Guy Adams). 

The novel does falter somewhat in the latter third, as Adams strays from the traditional Holmesian mystery to a straight up action novel, yet there is enough of Holmes’ and Watson essential nature to carry it to the finish.  What starts out as a charming change of viewpoint (Holmes takes the reins as narrator when Watson becomes unavailable) becomes somewhat frenetic late in the novel, as every chapter is told from a different point of view.  It does feel a bit rushed, and I wonder if his story could have benefitted from another fifty or so pages, perhaps expanding the role of Mycroft and his extraordinary gentlemen in the hunt for whomever has recreated Moreau’s madness in the slums of Victorian London.  However, it doesn’t distract significantly from what is a thoroughly fun, although pulpy, pastiche.

This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, don’t Touch It–The Book Trailer

It may have been published in 2009, but John Dies at the End was probably my favourite book of 2011.  I suspect that This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It! may prove to be my favourite book of 2012. Out October 2nd, 2012.

Thanks to IO9 for the nifty preview!

Home from the Range–An interview with Steve Hockensmith

A few weeks ago I learned that Steve Hockensmith, one of my favourite writers of both mysteries and zombie fiction (yes, odd combo, I know) had released his latest novel, Cadaver In Chief.  However, it hadn’t popped up on Amazon.ca yet, (one of the curses of being America’s neglected big sister), so he was kind enough to provide a copy for me to review.  During the course of our chat, I passive aggressively (yes, that is the Canadian way) suggested maybe–you know–if I was brave enough–I’d ask him for an interview.

Unlike that redhead at work I keep mentioning to co-workers in the hopes that she might notice, Steve took the hint and ran with it.  So, free book AND an interview!    No redhead of course, unless you count the Amlingmeyer brothers…

Okay, awkward introduction aside, I give you…an interview with Steve Hockensmith, writer of the Holmes on the Range series, numerous mystery anthologies and both the prequel and sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:

Every hero or villain has an origin story, whether it’s Peter Parker and his radioactive spider or James Moriarty and his superior mind. Or, perhaps the Amlingmeyer brothers and their unfortunate experience with a flash flood. What’s you’re origin story? How did you come to decide to be a writer?

I’d like to say I developed superhuman storytelling abilities after being bitten by a radioactive writer, but my origin’s not nearly so exciting. I’ve just always been into stories and escapism. As a kid, I loved DC Comics, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Avengers (the TV show), old movies, new movies, good movies, bad movies and books books books. I was geeky when geeky wasn’t cool, to misquote Barbara Mandrell. (Geeks love obscure pop culture references, y’know.) After college, I thought briefly about moving to L.A. to try to break into TV as a writer, but everything I’d heard about “the industry” made me think I’d hate it. Plus, I was chickenshit. So I decided to tell stories in the way that seemed right for me — in a quiet room, alone, following my instincts instead of notes from suits — and after a decade of that I managed to get a novel published. As origin stories go it’s no “Rocketed to Earth from the doomed planet Krypton…,” but what can I say? That’s how it happened.

Why mysteries?

Because I suck at science fiction. When I first got serious about writing, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write. My favorite novelist was (and is) Kurt Vonnegut, but I don’t think you can just say, “I love that guy. I’ll do what he did.” Ain’t gonna work. So I figured it’d be best to start small, with short stories, and slowly feel my way to whatever it is I wanted to say. I focused on science fiction because I’d read a lot of it as a kid and there were several paying markets — Asimov’s, Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in particular. After three or four years of effort, I managed to sell one story to Analog and bupkis to the others. And I couldn’t even get mad at anybody for overlooking my genius because I clearly didn’t have any genius…for science fiction. The stories simply weren’t that good, and I knew it. Then, just as I was about to give up, I was bitten by a radioactive writer, and everything changed. Really! I finally got around to reading The Big Sleep, and that opened up a whole new world for me. My strengths as a writer, I think, are voice and humor and attention to the seemingly mundane details of everyday life. And that’s not what SF’s all about, so it simply wasn’t a good fit for me. Mysteries, on the other hand….

Which brings us to the Holmes on the Range series. How does one come up with the idea of a couple of cowpokes travelling around the west emulating the deducifying style of a certain Sherlock Holmes?

Ten years ago, I decided to write a Sherlock Holmes story for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. (They have an annual Holmes tribute issue.) But I didn’t want to do a pastiche. (A) My ego’s too big for that, and (B) I know in my heart of hearts that I probably couldn’t pull one off anyway. So I had to come up with a way to tell a Holmes story that wasn’t about Holmes. Well, how do you do that? My solution: tell a story about someone who reads about Holmes and how that changes his or her life. And when I thought about the original Holmes tales and when they first appeared, I realized that America was still a pretty wild place at the time. The frontier days and Indian wars were barely behind us, and there were still cow towns and outlaws and bounty hunters and hanging judges and all that. And cowboys, of course. Say…what would they make of a guy like Holmes? Once I asked myself that, it all fell into place quickly, and I wrote the first Holmes on the Range story. Thank god Ellery Queen bought it, or who knows where I would’ve ended up?

Speaking of the Amlingmeyer brothers, I love the dynamic between Gustav and Otto.  Every great detective seems to need a sidekick, whether it’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin or Sherlock and Watson.  Yet Otto doesn’t necessarily seem so much a sidekick as a mutual partner.  Is Otto as much a sleuth as his brother?

Thanks for noticing that! I think because Otto’s such a goofball, some readers don’t pick up on the fact that he’s really a pretty smart, resourceful guy. He’s definitely not a sidekick in the way that S.S. Van Dine is Philo Vance’s sidekick or Capt. Hastings is Hercule Poirot’s sidekick. Van Dine and Hastings are utterly passive observers. They exist solely to provide a window onto the story. Otto isn’t just the narrator, he’s one of the heroes. He helps push the plot forward. Watson rarely did that, actually. Otto’s closer to someone else you mention: Archie Goodwin. I don’t think I’d read any Rex Stout before I wrote the first Holmes on the Range story, but Archie and Otto are definitely two of a kind. Nero Wolfe and Old Red might be the geniuses, but they’d never put any puzzles together if their right-hand guys weren’t out there gathering up all the pieces.

World’s Greatest Sleuth! takes place during the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 and features several walk throughs of the event during the course of their murder investigation.  The same novel features a pair of relatively obscure fictional detectives (King Brady and Eugene Valmont) whose heyday of popularity was the early twentieth century.  How much research goes into a Hockensmith novel?

Probably too much. Not that I do research-based info dumps the way some writers do. I think I’m pretty good at smoothly integrating the background material into the narrative. But sometimes with research I don’t know when to stop. I’m a geek, remember. Research is fun! So fun I’m always tempted to blow an extra week or two on it when it’s probably time to start writing. For four of my five Holmes on the Range novels and both my Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novels I spent at least a month on research before I started outlining the plot. I always began with the nugget of an idea — usually just a location and a general situation — then I’d let history guide me where it would. The exception is The Crack in the Lens. I went out of my way to make that one research-light. And it worked. Mostly. I probably spent two weeks on research instead of four or five. That’s one thing I’ll miss if I decide to continue the Holmes on the Range series as an indie thing. When I was getting nice advances, I could afford to spend the time on research. If I’m doing the books for myself, no dough until they start selling, it’s going to be harder to justify so many days at the library.

Personally, I think the Holmes on the Range series would be well suited to television, much as say, the Murdoch Mysteries.  Have you ever talked with anyone about adapting them?

Yeah, there was talk, once upon a time. And I suppose there’s still a remote chance it’ll happen. It’s pretty unlikely, though, which is too bad. I agree with you: It could be a really fun TV show. Maybe if I’d started writing the series in 1964, that would’ve happened. But anything Western-ish is a tough sell these days. The genre’s seen as old-fashioned and it’s expensive and it’s rarely done well anymore. But hey — keep hope alive. Longmire seems to be doing well, Hell on Wheels got picked up for a second season, and Sherlock Holmes and mystery shows have never been more popular. So lightning could strike. Pray for rain.

One thing I’ve noticed over the course of your career is that the hallmark of any Hockensmith novel isn’t so much the storyline (although they are great), but rather the witty dialogue, whether it’s banter between the brothers Amlingmeyer or that of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy as they fend off the affections of various undead dandies.  Does the banter come naturally?

Why thank you, sir! I do think dialogue is a strength of mine, and it’s one of the things I enjoy writing the most. Nothing stops me dead faster than trying to capture the look of someone’s house or clothes or face. Descriptive writing is torture for me. Maybe that’s because of all the hours and hours I spent as a kid watching old movies on TV. When I’m writing a book, it’s as though one of those films is playing in my head and I’m just trying to transcribe it. So the dialogue and action is relatively easy. Finding words to describe the heroine’s hairdo — that’s hard. It might also go back to the moment when I really embraced the mystery genre, though I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing at the time. A few years before I read The Big Sleep, when I was still in college, I was lucky enough to stumble across the Thin Man movies in the local library. Man, I watched those things over and over and over. I still pull them out every year or so and watch them again. Not all of them are great movies, yet I always get immense satisfaction from watching Nick and Nora do what they do. Ooo! I just remembered! I had the same reaction to the Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirot movies of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, too. So if you break down the DNA of the Holmes on the Range books, it’s less Western and Arthur Conan Doyle than you might assume at first glance. Those are in there, but the books wouldn’t be what they are without Shadow of the Thin Man and Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun, too. And to return (finally) to your original question: Those are all films with wonderful, witty dialogue. Coincidence? I think not!

Speaking of Dawn of the Dreadfuls and its counterpart, Dreadfully Ever After, how is it that you went from cowboy mysteries of the old West to Elizabethan debutants fighting undead hordes with crazy ninja skills? Did Quirk Books approach you regarding a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?  How did that relationship come about?

Long story short (or as short as I can make it): Word got out that Quirk Books needed someone to write another PPZ book and my editor at Minotaur gave my agent a heads up (god bless him) and she threw my hat in the ring and I managed to get the gig. I think what won over Jason Rekulak, my editor at Quirk, was that I’d written funny historicals that mashed unlikely genres together. He also seemed to appreciate that I made no attempt whatsoever to copy Jane Austen’s style. Who could pull that off? If you tried to fake the feel of a mashup book I think you’d end up with something like Shock Treatment — the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show no one watches or remembers anymore. You can’t set out to be a wacky cult favorite. You just have to tell your story in whatever style you think works best. So that’s what I did.

Since the release of Dreadfully Ever After and World’s Greatest Sleuth!, you seem to have gone the route of self-publishing and ebooks.  Is it an easier medium to work in?

Yes and no. The lull in books from traditional publishers wasn’t entirely of my choosing. To be honest, it’s been a crappy couple years. I’ve had several projects blow up on the launch pad. It’s been a combination of bad luck and lack of direction on my part. I’ve done waaaaaaaaay too much ping-ponging around trying to figure out what to do with myself. The ebooks have been gratifying in that they’re finished and they’re available and I think they’re great. Man alive, I love the print editions of Cadaver in Chief and Naughty! The designer I used, Rick Forgus, is a genius. Those books look beautiful. I’m very, very proud of them. On the other hand, marketing an indie book remains a chore and, frankly, a mystery to me. I was saying to my wife the other day, “I know how to write books. I just don’t know how to sell them.” Unfortunately, if you don’t have that second skill, there are going to be times when the first one doesn’t seem to mean much.

Anything you miss about working with a publisher?

Oh, sure. Free booze at conventions. Getting big boxes of beautifully printed books delivered to my door. Help with marketing and promotion. Insightful editorial input. (I’m lucky: I’ve worked with three editors and I liked and respected them all. That’s a track record some writers I know would envy.) I think it’s the free booze I’ll miss the most…and I’m only partially kidding about that. It’s extremely validating when a publisher buys you a gin and tonic. You feel like you’re in, you made it, you’re real. Of course, you’re a real writer without the free G&Ts, but that can be hard to remember sometimes.

I’ve had a book outline sitting in a drawer for what seems like forever due to both laziness and insecurity. Any advice for amateur authors hoping to break into the field?

I’ve got a standard line that always sounds flip, but believe me — it isn’t. Here it is: Keep writing bad stuff until you’re writing good stuff. That’s pretty brief as secrets to success go, but I can make it even briefer: Keep writing. Or in your case, start writing, then don’t stop. The number-one thing every writer needs in order to succeed is perseverance. After that, you need talent and skill (two different things) and luck. But without the perseverance, everything else is meaningless. The other advice I give is to start small, like I did, with short stories. That was how I turned raw talent into honed skills. It was how I established myself as a professional, too. The agent who ended up selling Holmes on the Range to Minotaur found me via a story in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She approached me! Imagine that! You never know what will lead to what. But it always starts at the same place. A keyboard. Write!

Fans of your blog always seem to be mentioning their affection for Hannah Fox, featured in several of your shorter works.  Any chance we’ll see more of this Nancy Drew with attitude?

Hannah actually pops up in my contribution to an upcoming anthology, so fans will get a chance to see what’s become of her. I have a whole book about her in a drawer — she was the star of the still-unpublished novel I wrote before Holmes on the Range. I keep thinking I’ll pull that book out again and rewrite it, since I still like the idea and I’ve gained (I hope) a lot more skill and smarts over the years. Hannah’s definitely alive in my mind. Whether she breaks out into the real world again (or at least the world of stories and books) remains to be seen.

I haven’t yet had a chance to read your latest work, Cadaver in Chief. Tell us how that came about.

I was waiting to hear back from an editor about a potential project and I thought to myself, “God, I hate sitting on my ass. I bet I could write and publish an ebook before I get an answer on this other thing.” So I set out to do it. And because I wanted to do it so fast, so now, I thought that should be reflected in the book. I wanted it to be a ripped-from-the-headlines kind of thing. Super-zeitgeisty. Which is why it ended up being about political manipulation and cultural disruption and the collapse of traditional media. Oh, and zombies! Can’t get more zeitgeisty than that, right? It was a ton of fun to write — it’s as much a mystery and a satire as it is horror — and I think it turned out really well. Plus, I won the race! I did finish before I got an answer, which is another reason to love indie publishing. You can react to trends really, really quickly. Of course, even if you do you’ve still got to figure out the goddamn marketing. Sigh.

I certainly couldn’t end the interview without asking about Gustav and Otto and the chance of further adventures.  When we last left them, they were looking at a bright future and I for one would like a glimpse into that.  After all, nobody fell off a cliff or anything….

I deliberately left the boys in a happy place at the end of World’s Greatest Sleuth! because I wasn’t sure we’d ever see them again. Things were obviously winding down with Minotaur — the series never took off the way they’d hoped — and I was feeling burned out and disappointed. Those books were really, really hard to write, all of them, yet at the end of the day what did I have to show for all that work? (Other than five books I was proud of and some nice cash I was grateful for, of course.) That’s still a question I wrestle with. As much as I’d like to see Big Red and Old Red ride again, I’m not going to write a book about them just for me and 100 other people. That would be too painful, and dammit — I simply can’t afford it. The thing that gives me hope is that the Holmes on the Range short story collection I put out, Dear Mr. Holmes, keeps selling and selling at a very satisfying clip. So we’ll see. At the moment, I’m leaning toward giving it a try. The movie’s already running in my head. I know what happens to the guys next. Maybe I’ll start transcribing soon.

Fingers crossed that the Amlingmeyer brothers ride again!  If you’re not familiar with Steve Hockensmith’s works, I’d suggest you start with Holmes on the Range. It’s a delightful mystery and a great introduction to what you can expect from a Hockensmith novel.  Of course, Cadaver in Chief is on sale now, so if you’re sick of the presidential race yet want some political intrigue (and maybe see a politician or two get their faces eaten off), maybe you should start there.

Steve maintains a blog at the aptly named Steve Hockensmith’s blog, a.k.a. Stevehockensmith.com where he ruminates on all things mystery and, well, whatever meets his fancy.  Check it out!