Saturday, January 30, 2010

Review: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Issue 3

Here's my long-promised review of the latest issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, an online publication dedicated to bringing the world quality short fiction and occasional poetry in the heroic fantasy genre.

"The Last of His Kind" by Bill Ward features an aging but still powerful dragon hunter on a quest to find what may very well be the last dragon, the Glasswyrm.
The wyrm knew it was hunted, but not the nature of its hunter.
Though I have read many short stories of dragons and hunters, and written one myself, this is different from any of them — and yet I was reminded of Dune by the setting, and of Dragonheart by the reason behind the hunt, for reasons which will be obvious to readers who have also read Herbert's book or watched the fantasy film. I liked the notion of a desert-dwelling dragon turning the surrounding sand to glass; it's logical and fantastical at once. And the writing is excellent and engaging. Without giving anything away, here's a descriptive passage from near the end of the story:
The Glasswyrm. Dominating the cavern — glass-walled, beehive-shaped, a vast dome of sacred shape, a place for worship — were the coils of the dragon. In sinuous loops it soared above them, many storied, piled length upon length in colossal segments. Uncoiled, sliding over the sands, it would seem a great gleaming river of molten steel. Coiled, piled in massive profusion like the ramparts of a fortress, it out-dared the stones of the world and seemed itself a mountain, or the silver heart of some tremendous volcano, a vital organ of the earth itself.
An unexpected and well-written tale that does not reveal all its secrets until the end.

The second offering is by Josh Wolf: "Dead in the Water", a weird and not-so-glamorous view of Arthur's knights on a wild mission in a Fey-infested forest, told from the perspective of Gawain.
Why had he ever let Lancelot goad him into coming? He sighed and looked at Lamorak twitching next to him. The answer was right there. Lamorak and young Griflet, both of them newly knighted and stupid, had volunteered immediately, and someone had to keep them alive. Though he never spoke of it to anyone, he had sworn to himself that he would protect them all, even great Glachis, from Lancelot’s foolishness.
Although I laughed at Gawain's internal commentary and his dialogue with the talking fish, and appreciated the originality of the story, which reads like someone's bizarre dream, this is a story I will probably not read again. Another well-written tale, darkly humorous, but — and I wish it were not so — not enjoyable. I did like the introduction of Merlin's lodestone, a touch of science in an otherwise mythical tale.

The third and final piece in this issue is the lyric and mystical "Shadows From Firelight" by R. Michael Burns. It is not exaggerated praise to say this samurai tale reads in places like a piece of music, or like the bold but fluid lines of Japanese script:
For what seemed a very long time, he fell, swift as an arrow from the bowstring. Only when he emerged from the clouds, the trees below rising toward him like a thousand daggers, did his head clear enough for him to recognize what his fingers had snagged: two broad, flat feathers from the monster’s tail. A wild notion flashed through his mind and he acted on it knowing it was madness. He grasped the feathers with all his strength and spread them out across the wind in the mad hope they might bear him upon the gales like a great paper kite.
This story feels like it could have been told around a fire a thousand years ago. There is humor and pathos, suspense and revenge, and it makes for a rousing tale. Highly recommended.

So, fellas, what's up for Issue 4? Eh?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dracula, Part 1

'You are early to-night, my friend.' The man stammered in reply: --

'The English Herr was in a hurry,' to which the stranger replied: --

'That is why, I suppose, you wished him to go on to Bukovina. You cannot deceive me, my friend; I know too much, and my horses are swift.' As he spoke he smiled, the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger's 'Lenore': --

'Denn die Todten reiten schnell.' --

('For the dead travel fast.')

I picked up a copy of Bram Stoker's classic novel after I finished NaNoWriMo 2009 (during which I worked more on what's probably my darkest effort to date), and re-acquainted myself with one of the foundational vampire tales. Dracula is far removed from the modern re-imaginings of the mythology -- and, strange as this may seem, it was refreshing.

Anybody else tired of hearing about Bella and Edward and whoever else they hang with? Anybody else look with a canted eye at Buffy and Angel and other television series that have featured vampires?

But the suckers -- ahem -- critters have populated frightening tales for centuries, and I don't expect them to leave anytime soon.

In a little over a year, the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour has featured modern vampire novels: Shade by John Olson, and Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson. (My blog posts about each can be found here: Shade 1, 2, 3 and Jackals 1, 2, 3.) Both books are in series, and are different takes on the mythology. Shade presents more of a "psychic vampire" image without the traditional blood-letting, but Jackals is much more graphic and offers a twist on the ability of vampires to shape-shift.

I read those books, sampled some television series (those mentioned above, also Forever Knight and Moonlight), listened to teenagers -- and even adults -- rave about the Twilight books and films, and experienced the strange sensation of being lost, of being pressed under the weight of all those versions and the various leaps (or chasms) in logic that made me unable to suspend disbelief for long, if at all.

So I went back to what many might consider source material: Bram Stoker's Dracula. He was not the first to cover this ancient ground (other well-known stories include Polidori's The Vampyre, and Le Fanu's Carmilla), but he is very likely the most well-known and most-referenced author of vampire fiction. The copy I chose is the Simon & Schuster Enriched Classics edition, with notes and commentary by Joseph Valente, a Professor of English.

Though I enjoy books in which such additional information helps provide historical, social, political, or religious context, or discusses why something may have been important or overlooked by characters in the book, and so on, I sometimes wonder how much of the commentary is really just the commentator's twisting of the text to fit an opinion, and how much is straight-forward observation of the material. But I'll contain further remarks on the commentary vs. my reading of Dracula until the next post.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Old Stuff

Because I'm in the middle of a "real" blog post that will not be ready until this weekend, and because I feel compelled to post something, anything related to books or writing, here's a photo of the top shelves of one of my many bookcases:

I like old books. I don't collect them for their monetary value, but for their stories and for their good looks. (laugh) Even if those looks are a little battered.

But, to be honest, I haven't read all the books on the second shelf. The antique encyclopaedia set on the top shelf has actually proven quite useful. It's about eighty years old, and is great for revealing what was known in that era (helps prevent anachronisms).

Here's a photo of that same bookcase, seen from the top, taken by my brother:

Pretty awesome, in my opinion. I collect odds-n-ends: a roll of packing tape from a defunct store, a cast-iron car that used to have wheels when I was a kid, an old talcum cannister, my grandmother's mantel clock, and a few other items that can't be distinguished. In the fuzzy background is an inexpensive and almost perfect new tripod to go with the new camera that took these photos.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Still Here

This was going to be a formal, cogent post about my recent re-reading of Dracula by Bram Stoker.

However, that will wait till later. I'm just throwing up a flare to signal Yes, I'm alive. A few weeks have passed since my last post, but life and work have ways of sapping time and energy away from writing -- either my fiction or the blog -- and I'm in the middle of some editing projects.

The promised reviews will be coming. Promise!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Issues for a New Year: RGR and HFQ, and Writing Advice

The boys are back in town: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly starts 2010 with its third issue, and the editorial team expands by one. I haven't had a chance to read the stories yet, but will deliver a review as soon as I do. The past issues are excellent, so I expect this one will be no different.

And Ray Gun Revival delivers its 55th edition, the final in the current .PDF format, which I like well enough, but there are big things promised for the new version of the magazine. RGR is an homage to the pulpy goodness of old-fashioned science fiction, and offers a variety of story styles. Check out the review columns, too, and the artwork -- good stuff.

As with the last few reports of my progress on Thieves' Honor, the serial I write for RGR, Episode 11 remains unfinished. It has gone through a couple incarnations, and is facing a third. The dilemma lies in the need to balance dialogue with action -- there's too much of one, and not enough of the other. However, for the sake of clarity and characterization, a certain amount of dialogue is required.

Then again, maybe I'm just stressing over small stuff.


On her blog, friend Jade has posted a couple entries of interest to writers and movie buffs -- "Why reading 'bad movie' reviews is good for the writer" and "Amadeus and editing".

Over at The Writer's Handbook Blog, Philip Martin offers great advice to writers about composing blog posts (advice I can certainly use).

Another friend, writer and editor David Farney, in a recent post on his "Storm of the North" blog, pays tribute to author Robert E. Howard and soldier Robert L. Howard, and shows the durability of ancient heroic poetry.

Speaking of heroic poetry, HFQ could use some poetry submissions that fit the heroic fantasy theme of the magazine. It ain't easy to write, but if you're up for the challenge, check out the submission guidelines and give it a go.