Barbarian Book Club: 11 May 2017

April was a slow month for reading. I turned 34 in the middle of another beautiful Japanese Spring. When your whole world explodes with beautiful cherry blossoms, light rains, amazing greenery, the last thing you do is sit around and read all day.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. I discovered Mark Lawrence throughRedSister one of his short stories in Grimdark #1. It was a raw, brutal tale about a farmer who avenges himself on a band of thugs that murdered his family. On the strength of that story, I bought his entire Broken Empire trilogy and continued to read all the way through the Red Queen’s War series. So when Red Sister, a brand new standalone was announced, I was excited and preordered. Sadly it was a total let down; stupid, silly, filled with cliche, and downright boring. Lawrence stuffed everything I hate about modern fantasy into one book. It was such a boring chore to get through that I would make excuses to myself and ended up taking over two weeks to read a novel that I would usually finish in a day or two.

The Green Pearl by Jack Vance. To get the bad taste out of my mouth and break my reading slump that started to overtake me I went back to a master. The Green Pearl is the second book in the Lyonesse Trilogy. Wow… I loved Suldrun’s Garden but this one solidifies Lyonesse as one of my favorite fantasy TheGreenPearlseries ever. This novel is pure fantasy,  beauty, and magic mixed with sorrow and darkness. The story continues where the last one left off and it is full of battles, truly magical magicians, multiple worlds, sinister creatures, and everything that is missing from modern fantasy. Vance is a master and this trilogy has to be one of the most underappreciated pieces of fantasy written in the last thirty years.  Do yourself a favor and pick this up.

Soto recap, a disappointing attempt at reading modern Fantasy left me dejected so I turned to a classic master to rejuvenate me. I enjoyed The Green Pearl so much that I jumped right into the final book in the series, Maudoc and looking forward to finishing it as soon as I publish this post.

 

Read: 9 April 2017

I read moderately these past few weeks, a bit less than I usually do, but that’s mostly because of vacations and long work days. I also focused on short story collections and magazines, which take up a lot of time.

9 April 2017

Neuromancer by William Gibson. This is one of my favorite books so when I came across the $1.99 Kindle price I grabbed the digital version for a reread. Written in 1983, Neuromancer.jpgNeuromancer and I are the same age and I wanted to see if it still held up now that I have gotten a bit older. Aside from some edgylordy descriptions and 80’s style fatalism, the novel reads like something written today. Crisp, well written, and full of great scenery and action. It’s even more impressive once you take into account that half of the crap in the book that seems cliche was actually first created by Gibson. Cyberpunk is one of my favorite sub-genres and this novel was the original cyberpunk piece.

Suldrun’s Garden (Lyonesse #1) by Jack Vance. Another novel from 1983, Jack Vance’s first part of the Lyonesse trilogy is fantastic. A melancholy and remorseful fantasy novel, unlike anything popular today, reminiscent of pre-Tolkien fantasy with magic and fairies suldrunsgardenboth marvelous and sinister. This novel was so good I read the whole thing in one sitting, and now I’m waiting for a good day to do the same for the sequel. If you want to read fantasy different than the gritty hyper-realistic stuff out right now or the overwrought high fantasy of the 80s and 90s, give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It by John Ferling. A fantastic overview of the American WhirlwindRevolution in the context of the times. This book puts a lot of focus on the cultural aspect of the Revolution and the events that led up to hostilities. It goes into significant detail, covering the major battles and even a few of the lesser known engagements. A fantastic read about a historical period that gets burdened with romanticized accounts due to it being covered mostly in the early years of one’s education.  I have a new found love for 17th and 18th-century history, specifically focused on the Colonies so this scratched that itch. I have a history of the French and Indian War and one focused on Colonial Spies waiting on my Kindle right now.

That’s about it for the past few weeks. I’m about to start Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister and then go through some histories. Then I think I might return to Robin Hobb for Liveship Traders.

Cirsova #5 More Than Just a Magazine

Cirsova #5 finally came out this weekend and I devoured this fantastic issue. If you follow me at all you have no doubt read about my enthusiastic discovery of Cirsova which led to me taking up the banner of the Pulp Revolution and rekindling my faltering love for Fantasy. I enjoyed issue #3 of Cirsova so much I bought the back issues and Kickstarted  #5 and #6. Cirsova

Cirsova isn’t just another SFF magazine. It’s a herald of a movement that will change Science Fiction and Fantasy, a romantic revolution that will bring back the magic, wonder, and adventure drained by the cancerous ghouls of litfic-fantasy.

Cirsova is part magazine, part mission statement. It’s an artistic collaboration akin to a digital Montparnasse in the 1920s, where the outcast artists and writers built and borrowed from each other, constantly innovating without a care for the giants of the industry.

The format of Issue #5 collaborates my thesis by being a themed issue. Almost every story is centered on the shared Misha Burnett created Eldritch Earth setting, with a goal of “telling Burroughsian stories in a Lovecraftian setting.”

All six of the collaborations succeed, giving a glimpse of a unique alien world and it’s inhabitants. Misha Burnette’s piece, In the Gloaming O My Darling, is one of the standouts. A grotesquely chilling piece that mixed Lovecraftian pulp horror with a modern grimdark style that really worked for me.

The highlight of the issue and a story I think illustrates the absolute badassery and potential of the Pulp Revolution writers, is Schuyler Hernstrom’s* novella, The Fist American. A piece of dark science-fantasy filled with savage barbarians, time-traveling astronauts, lizardmen, genetic mutations, flying saucers, and dinosaur riding. Schuyler crammed so much fucking awesome into one story that it should require a trigger warning for readers who haven’t been awakened to the Pulp Revolution, their poor litfic-fantasy weakened minds might shatter from exposure to so much action and excitement.

But of course not everything is perfect, and I think the magazine still has a lot of room for growth and improvement. For example, compared to past issues I don’t really dig the cover art. It doesn’t really capture the theme and mood of the pieces within. I much prefer the art found in past issues, which was a unique painterly fantasy style that stood out from the other hyperrealistic covered magazines. I also thought that the issues would have been tighter if it didn’t include the non-themed pieces, for example, The Bears of 1812, was a good historical-fantasy, but it felt out of place compared to everything else.

What Cirsova lacks in polish it makes up for with clear editorial purpose and passion. Reading these stories you can’t help but notice that the authors have an undisputed love for adventurous and heroic fantasy. It’s clear Cirsova isn’t one of those award chasing magazines filled with pseudo-lit stories that hit every current trendy sociopolitical theme yet fail to tell anything that resembles a compelling story. No, Cirsova is rough and raw, but unceasingly real.

Pick up issue #5, join the revolution, you won’t be disappointed.

*Schuyler Hernstrom has a great short story collection called Thune’s Vision.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

coverRobert E. Howard is the master of 1930s pulp action. One of my favorite writers. It was Conan that got me into Fantasy, and it was getting back into reading Conan that brought me back and excited about the Pulp Revolution happening right now.

But, I have to admit that I have not read very much of Howard’s non-Conan stories. So when I came across this beast for 4.99 in the Kindle store I picked it up. Holy shit it was awesome. When I get big ass short story collections I usually read a few in between novels, or I read one or two stories during my lunch breaks. Not this time. I read this collection all the way through.

This collection is massive, with 30 or so stories and a bunch of assorted poems. The stories span Howard’s entire career and are chock full of his usual badass action. You get everything from ghost haunted sailors, voodoo zombies, cursed rings, desert explorers, and weird western.

Howard’s characters are not your usual pansies that populate modern horror. No, these guys are tough motherfuckers that when presented with tentacled horrors from the stygian depths they go a killing with sword and pistol. In one of my favorite stories, The Horror from the Mound, when our cowboy protagonist accidentally digs up a 17th-century Spanish Vampire buried by Conquistadores who begins murdering the local Mexicans, he doesn’t run away. Hell no, he breaks its spine and sets the moldy motherfucker on fire.

One thing I want to mention that some of you readers might find sacrilegious. I think Howard writes Lovecraftian fiction better than Lovecraft. I like the idea of Lovecraftian more than I actually like Lovecraft’s writing. I find all his crap boring as all shit, filled with idiotic purple prose. Lovecraft’s characters are boring, unmemorable, wimps(I think Lovecraft was some loser recluse himself, either way he looked like Pongos owner in 101 Dalmatians,) who are usually professors or tourists. The whole “ohh muh god I saw something that made me go insanee.. soo horrible, much tentacle,” nonsense bores me to tears. Howard’s characters respond to the Lovecraftian shit by going “da fuck is that, ok deep breath, I have to kill it.”

cthulluwater

My favorite stories in the collection are pieces well worth reading: Pigeons From Hell, a scary haunted house story featuring voodoo, slaves, and southern plantations, Black Cannan about a bunch of racists and a black revolt involving some terrifying swamp creatures, The Fire of Asshurbanipal where two treasure hunters end up in a haunted desert city, and one that really did it for me, Out of the Deep, where the washed ashore body of a sailor is really a fucked up sea creature.

Of course, like in all huge collections, some of the stories aren’t my kind of beer. There were a few stories, and this is a theme both Howard and Lovecraft share, focusing on some de-evolved proto-humans living beneath the earth. Not a huge fan of the whole racial memory, obsession with miscegenation these guys had, and the stories were mostly dudes going down into holes where indescribable shit was going on. Worth reading but not my favorite. Give me the voodoo zombie vampires.

So yeah, drop the 5 bucks and pick this collection up. If you like short stories, pulp fiction, and Conan, this one will not disappoint. I think my next Howard read will focus on Solomon Kane.

Addendum to the post: I hope much more knowledgeable pulp readers correct me if I am wrong. It seems that Howard is not only the father of Sword and Sorcery but also the Weird Western. The story I mention above, The Horror from the Mound, about a cowboy digging up a vampire on the Texas frontier, was written in 1932. My google-fu indicates that this is the first story mixing a realistic wild west setting with the supernatural in a modern fashion.

Support Independent Fantasy

Eric is one of my favorite guys blogging and writing Fantasy right now. He’s a starting author with a lot of the same tastes as me and going for the same Indy aesthetic that I am going for. He put out a 99 cent short story that I picked up and enjoyed. Go ahead and pick it up yourself, read it, enjoy, and continue to support independent writers.

 

“If you’re a fan of short fiction, be it fantasy short stories or episodic fiction, I am excited to say that my new story Forsaken is available today on Amazon. Forsaken is the first tale in The Exiled Crown series, a short fiction series I have several future stories planned for. I hope you’ll give Forsaken a try and I […]

via Forsaken (The Exiled Crown #1) — Eric S. Fomley

Cirsova, supporting indy publishing.

cover-in-progress-2-jabari-weathers-art-png-for-pdfI’m a huge fan of short stories, huge fan of short story magazines, and a huge fan of pulp fantasy. So out of all the awesome things I came across last year Cirsova magazine was towards the top of my list. Hands down my favorite short story magazine out there.

So, when given the chance I backed the 2017 edition on Kickstarter for ONE freeking dollar. One dollar gets you two digital issues and helps the indy magazine fund next year. So if you support indy writing, pulp fiction support the kickstarter by throwing at least one dollar and also go grab yourself a back issue on amazon. You won’t be dissapointed.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1161542777/cirsova-2017-s-5-and-6-lovecraft-swords-and-space?ref=card

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

I am in this old school D&D, Sword and Sorcery, adventure, and horror kind of mood. So far this collection is fantastic, some stories even eclipse his Conan pieces. 
Check out this book on Goodreads: The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8151962-the-horror-stories-of-robert-e-howard

Appendix N

My love of fantasy didn’t start with the venerable pipe smoking Hobbit so loved by many. No, my love was forged in the dankest dungeons. Tested by hideous beasts and malevolent creatures; Mind Flayers, Beholders, and Displacer Beasts. The adventure of Sword and Sorcery was where my imagination flourished. Barbarians, Sorceresses, Thieves, and Assassins, adventuring through hostile jungles and exotic cities excited me.

Returning to Fantasy as an adult I found it lacking, a barren wasteland of boring faux literary pretentiousness. Magazines filled with story after story of pointless naval gazing or countless re-imaging of fairy tale classics. I almost gave up on the whole genre, dwelling in the world of mystery and thrillers for entertainment.
Then I came across several blogs discussing The Pulp Revolution and Appendix N. I wasn’t alone in my dislike of modern Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Not only did I find others that felt the same, I found a new movement to break away from the stale pseudo-lit cancer that has gripped Fantasy and Science Fiction with its Lich-like hands.

So, I am excited to read this book. Use it as a starting point to re-read some old classics and find stuff from the past. I hope that going back to the origins of the type of Fantasy I love will help me focus my own writing and allow me to contribute towards an adventurous revival in the 21st century.

 

APPENDIX N: A LITERARY HISTORY OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the various works of science fiction and fantasy that game designer Gary Gygax declared to be the primary influences on his seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. It is a deep intellectual dive into the literature of science fiction’s […]

via JUST RELEASED: Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson — Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog

Grimdark Magazine(Issue #4)

I continue my reviews of Grimdark Magazine. This issue had some good stuff in it.

Grimdark Alliance

We continue our ongoing review retrospective of Grimdark Magazine with Issue #4 published in the summer of 2015. Like previous issues, this one has four short stories, two novel excerpts, two interviews, one book review, and one short article. grimdarkmagazine4

The standout non-fiction piece is the article by John R. Fultz. Its main thesis is that modern Grimdark fiction is the direct descendent of pulp era Sword & Sorcery. A thesis I fully agree with. Grimdark, at least how I see it has more in common with Conan the Barbarian than Frodo Baggins. This article is the perfect example of what I want from Grimdark Magazine. Intelligent pieces that help develop the intellectual foundation of the subgenre.

The Short Stories:

In Brazen Dreams by Matthew Ward. Outstanding, easily one tied for the top of the hill with Lawrence’s issue one piece. This story has betrayal, murder, isolation, loss of control…

View original post 200 more words

Some December reading.

Last week I told everybody about my long flight to San Diego and back. A total of 23 hours worth of travel. Not including customs, waiting to board, shuttle, and driving. The good thing about having long flights is that I get to sit back, relax, and catch up on my reading. I managed to finish three novels on just the flights alone.

My first read was One Eyed Jacks by J.D. Brink. A great pulp noir piece involving casinos, gunfights, exotic women, islands in the Pacific, and a dash of magic reminiscent of Big Trouble in Little China. I devoured this one real quick because it was sooneeyedjacks.jpg fun. Right up there with what I am looking for from the pulp revival style. Fun, exciting fiction that reads like my favorite movies from the 80s. I came across J.D. Brink in issue #3 of Cirsova magazine and look forward to reading more of his stuff.

The second read happens to leave me with a bit of apprehension. John C. Wrights The Iron Chamber of Memory. Wright is one of the writers that gets lauded in certain circles, specifically the Sad Puppy blogosphere. For the most part, I agree with the SP crowd in principle but not in practice(that debate is for another post). But, I am definitely on board with the Pulp Revolution/Revival that branched off from a lot of the SP stuff. Both camps recommend Wright so I decided to finally give him a try outside short stories, having previously only read his Parliament of Beasts and Birds and enjoying it.

Wrights prose is great. I enjoy his Erudite style with multiple references to biblical themes, antiquity, and medieval literature. Writing above the usual level of SFF, up there with Dan Simmons and GGK while lacking the purple prose of hironchamberofmemory.jpgacks like Rothfuss. Sadly this book lacked the proper plot for me to find enjoyment in it.

The plot started well and interesting. An aging estate on the Isle of Sark, a young man, and his best friends fiancee. Mysterious happenings, strange history, a struggle with friendship and love. Unfortunately, without giving away the plot twists the book devolves into a Harry Dresden-ish urban fantasy with some of the most obnoxiously preachy moralizings I have ever read. A cool mysterious setting was ruined by what basically came down to an infodump ending where characters talked to each other.

I am going to have to give Wright one more try because I have a feeling I picked up the wrong book.

Finally the third book I finished on my return flight ended up being my favorite. Of course, it is written by my favorite writer, Peter Hamilton. I read his first published novel, Mindstar Rising. A near future post global warming cyberpunk novel. Greg Mendel is a mindstar-risingprivate investigator, but he is special because he has been modified by the British military with a gland that allows him to discern emotions. Gregs England is one of post global warming and coming down from a decade of totalitarian socialist rule. He is hired to assist an ultra powerful corporation in ferreting out a mole that is sabotaging their production lines. Lots of cool cyberpunk hacking, mind reading, fighting bioengineered war panthers, and all the awesome stuff I tend to love about Hamilton’s novels. Most of all its part one of three so I have plenty to read for the rest of the month.

Well, as I write this it 3 pm on Christmas Eve. Soon I will be getting ready to go out and enjoy a nice dinner and some drinks with the wife. I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas.