Wednesday, September 30, 2015

**Emily J. McNeely's Peragua was published on the Microstory A Week site

Emily J McNeely's entertaining nautical story, Peragua, graced the Microstory A Week site today.
 Peragua, as she describes it, is a "an excerpt from a longer story, about a pirate crew in the Caribbean in the 18th century and the tensions between the captain and his first mate, who is looking to leave his service."

This is a great read, one you should check out -- and don't forget to check out next Wednesday's tale, Kurt Newton's dark and cryptic Black Dog.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock

(hb; 1989: seventh book in the Elric series) 

From the inside flap:

"[Fortress] is set early in the warrior's career, opening as the Lord Gho Fhaazi seeks the principal seat on the ruling Council of Seven of the city of Quarzhasaat. He lures Elric into seeking the Pearl at the Heart of the World -- the price of admission to the council -- by addicting him to a slow-acting poison to which he, the Lord Gho, has the only antidote. Moorcock leads Elric over a course of monstrous and horrifying obstacles, pits him against the Sorcerer Adventurers, servants of Quarzhasaat's jaded rich, and then thrusts him into a dreamworld within the mind of an adolescent girl. Trapped in a comatose state by the Sorcerer Adventurers, she is undergoing her own rite of passage into adulthood. Through the vast and turbulent landscape of the Dream Realm, guided by the Dreamthief Lady Oone, Elric seeks the Pearl."


Note: Fortress -- written and published as the seventh Elric book -- is a prequel, which chronologically happens in a period of time between Elric of Melniboné and The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (the first and second book in the series).

This word-spare, surrealistic and metaphor-deft prequel shows Elric not only trying to save himself from a poisonous death, but also a Quarzhasaatim boy (Anigh) and a Bauradiam "Holy Girl" (Varadia, a citizen of the Silver Flower Oasis) from equally horrible, if different, fates.

In order to do so, he must travel down the deadly Red Road (where bizarre, armed attacks can take place at any moment), as well as the expansive Sighing Desert to the Silver Flower Oasis, where the wise folk of Bauradim hold vigil over Varadia, a "Holy Girl" whose dream-coma fragility and inevitable disintegration threatens all of existence. This compels Elric and Oone (an experienced Dreamthief, who may be more than a traveling companion) to astrally traverse the seven, surrealistic lands of the Dream Realm to not only find the Pearl, which will save Elric's life and end Anigh's captivity, but shatter the paralyzing hold of whatever layers Varadia in life-draining slumber.

What sets Fortress apart from most of the previous Elric books is that it is a whole novel: it is not broken up into a series of tightly linked novellas, like Books two through six. Elric, in this seventh work, also possesses a hope that he lost early on in the series (Cymoril -- his fiancée -- is still alive and Melniboné has not yet fallen), which lends a different side-tale feel to these new adventures -- adventures whose events further shape and deepen readers' understandings of what was previously shown in Books two through six.

This, like previous Elric works, is excellent, word-efficient and otherwise masterful, a book worth owning.

Followed by The Revenge of the Rose.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

(hb; 1977: sixth book in the Elric series) 


The first story, "Dead God's Homecoming," pits Elric, his cousin Dyvim Slorm, and Jharkorian Queen Yishana and her many White Leopard guards against the combined armies of Kings Sarosto (of Dharijor) and Jagreen Lern (of Pan Tang). These savage regents, also allied with a planet-decimating "Dead God" (Darnizhaan), threaten the balance of the known world. Elric's situation is further exacerbated by the fact that Darnizhaan has kidnapped his wife, Zarozinia.

"Dead" not only brings together the Melnibéan's past-tale companions, but serves as a major turning point in the series: Elric, an Eternal Champion (as revealed in The Vanishing Tower), gets his first real understanding of his destiny -- this comprehension comes courtesy of Sepiriz, an ancient Nihranian, one of the "Ten who sleep in the mountain of fire," an ally whom Elric has not seen the last of.

In "Black Sword's Brothers," Jagreen Lern's Chaos-bodied (and ever-growing) army of darkness is running roughshod over the worldwide Young Kingdom, possessing -- incorporating -- those fallen soldiers into its black, murderous mass.

Fighting against this world-ravaging tide is Elric, Moonglum, Dyvim Slorm (who bears Stormbringer's brother blade, Mournblade), Rackhir the Red, Kargan Sharpeyes (spokesmen for the Eastern Sealords) and their forces, whose men stand little chance of holding back Lern's monsters. While Elric is guided by Sepiriz's seer-like visions, Lern is guided by enfleshed gods of Chaos.

When Sepiriz tells Elric that his cursed sword, Stormbringer, has spirit brothers in an alternate realm that might help them cast out the Dukes of Hell from this largely-toxic planet, the pale ex-emperor does what he must to summon the spirit-blades.

"Sad Giant's Shield" and "Doomed Lord's Passing" details the fallout from the events of the preceding tales. Elric, once again aided by Straasha (King of the Water Elementals)**, seeks the shield of a battle-inclined giant, Mordaga (whose castle lies in -- of course -- in a far-away realm). This shield, Sepiriz has claimed, is resistant to the evil magick of Chaos, as practiced by Jagreen Lern ("the Theocrat") and his ally, the powerful Lord Pyaray, who have taken Elric's wife, Zarozinia.

Elric, Rackhir, Moonglum and Sepiriz, in order to continue combatting Lern and Pyaray, also seek aid from the White Lords of Law (the deities who oppose -- provide counterbalance to -- the Lords of Chaos).

Stormbringer is an excellent, satisfying closer volume to the first cycle of the Elric saga. The pacing, structuring and other story-telling elements of the stories are inventive, the writing is crisp, exciting and succinct and the characters are reader-familiar and worth rooting for (or hissing at). Not only that, Moorcock keeps the albino ex-regent's adventures fresh by foreshadowing and increasing the stakes of Elric's quests: in this final (timeline-wise) tale, if Elric and his allies don't win, everyone -- literally everyone -- will likely die.

This is worth owning, just like the preceding Elric books. Followed by the first of several prequels, The Fortress of the Pearl.

(**previously seen in Elric of Melniboné)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Creepy Comics, Volume 1 by various writers and artists

(pb; 2011: graphic novel, collecting issues #1 - 4 of the Creepy comic book series)

From the back cover:

"What's that huge, terrifying thing clawing its way onto your bookshelf? It's the biggest, bloodiest, most creepy collection of new terror tales you'll find this year! Creepy Comics Volume 1 gathers all of the new material from the first two years of Dark Horse's celebrated new Creepy series and collects it into one gargantuan book.

"This 184-page monstrosity features a spellbinding assortment of gory stories about all your favorite terror-inducing topics including: cannibals, lurking demons, werewolves, zombies, psychic trauma, and psychotic murderers, illustrated in glorious black and white, following the great tradition of classic Creepy. If that's not enough to make you scream with delight, we're also adding a special color section featuring the two Creepy stories that helped re-launch Dark Horse Presents on Myspace. You'll get all of this tantalizing terror for under twenty bucks - it's a killer deal."


If you are a fan of the old EC Creepy comic book-magazines, with their twisted, clever and (often) icky morality plays, there is a good chance you will appreciate the spirit, writing and the mixed/updated artwork of this resurrected and welcome series. I am thrilled that Dark Horse Comics brought this back.

This is a collection worth owning, one that lives up to its back cover description.

Followed by Creepy Comics, Volume 2.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

X by Sue Grafton

(hb; 2015: twenty-fourth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"X:  The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.
"X:  The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.
"X:  The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

"Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim."


X is a sometimes chatty, entertaining entry in the Kinsey Millhone novels, with a few effective but not earth-shattering twists thrown into its triply-mysterious tale. It lacks any white-knuckle moments (for this reader, anyway). (Note that this is not a criticism, merely an observation.)

One of the things I enjoyed about X  was that Grafton, in this book, has abandoned the multiple point-of-view chapters. It was all Kinsey, this time out.

Another thing I liked is how Grafton allowed the "bad guys" -- some of whom were not entirely "bad" -- to talk like regular people, making them more interesting and relatable and making X more realistic. Grafton has done this before, of course, but it is still an effective writing choice. (On the flip side of that, Ned Lowe is an especially slimy character, and that characterization is effective, too.)

X  is a good read, worth checking you are a Grafton fan who is not on the "why doesn't Grafton write shorter, terser novels?" bandwagon. (Again, this is not a criticism of those readers. It is a friendly caveat to those who fit that description. Cheers.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Bane of the Black Sword by Michael Moorcock

(hb;1977: fifth book in the Elric series)


Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

Like The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, The Weird of the White Wolf and The Vanishing Tower, Bane is divided into a series of connected stories -- this time, a quadrilogy, not a trilogy.

The first tale, "The Stealer of Souls," takes place three years after the events of The Vanishing Tower; it has been five years since Elric led his fellow Imrryrians as their emperor.

"Stealer" begins in Bakshaan, a city "rich enough to make all other cities in the North East seem poor." Four merchants hire Elric to kill a rival merchant (Nikorn of Ilmar), whose dirty tactics have outraged them -- it seems that Nikorn has employed a private army, as well as Theleb K'aarna, a treacherous wizard, to do his bidding.

K'aarna, as Elric-familiar readers know, is one of Elric's most elusive and bitterest enemies, since his first appearance in Weird.

Elric, with help from his fellow Melnibéans (led by Dyvim Tvar) and Moonglum (Elric's companion since Weird), battle the slippery, treacherous K'aarna by attacking Nikorn's castle. Also aiding the ex-emperor are "Misha and Graoll, [elemental] Kings of the Wind," also called "Wind Giants," who deal with K'aarna's elemental, "Kakatal, the Fire Lord."

Queen Yishana (another character sprung from Weird) further livens up this story.

"Kings in Darkness," the second tale, begins in the Forest of Troo, a dark and deadly forest. Elric and Moonglum agree to escort Zarozinia Voashoon, a rich "daughter of the Senior Senator of Karlaak," through this forest.

The threesome find themselves at odds with the forest-familiar Orgs, a crude people led by the  especially-imperious King Gutheran. Thrown into this unpleasant mix are the Doomed Folk, the ghoulish undead citizens who live beneath the "looming Burial Hill," near Gutheran's citadel.

"The Flamebringers" takes place three months after the happenings of "Kings". Elric and Zarozinia (now Elric's wife) are living in her home city of Karlaak, a trading city ("not a warrior's fortress"). The physically weak ex-emperor is content and strong, his soul-thirsty black sword replaced with natural healing drugs he got from the forest of Troo.

Elric and Zarozinia's peace is broken when Moonglum, disheveled from his desperate ride across the nearby Weeping Wastes, bursts into their castle to inform them that Kaarlak is under threat. The source of this threat is the cruel barbarian Terarn Gashtek (a.k.a. "the Flame Bringer") whose massive, brutal army is augmented by the sorcerous magick of a kidnapped wizard (Drinij Bara), who has been prevented from using his knowledge against Gashtek and his men.

Because of this, Elric is forced to wield Stormbringer anew, to confront Gashtek. Dyvim Slorn, a Melnibéan and Dragon Master like his dead father (Dyvim Tvar), commits himself and his dragon-riding army to help the ex-regent and Moonglum (whose homeland has been ravaged by Gashtek, two years prior).

"To Rescue Tanelorn. . ." revolves around Rackhir the Red Archer (from Elric of Melniboné and The Vanishing Tower) and his further adventures, sans Elric.

Like the other books in this series, Bane is an intense, lean-prosed and hard-to-put down read -- one worth owning.

Followed by Stormbringer.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Cops: Their Lives in Their Own Words by Mark Baker

(hb; 1985: nonfiction)

From the inside flap

"What they can't say on television, what they won't write in novels, cops have now told Mark Baker. From the idealistic rookie to the burnt-out veteran, here are the unforgettable voices of over 100 police men and women across the country... cops who shoot and are shot at, who pick up the pieces of shattered bodies and shattered lives, who face the danger, the fear, and the depravity... who live every day in the frightening, hard world of Cops."


Cops is an interesting read, one that I picked up as a research tool. Some of the cops (all of whom are anonymously quoted) are clearly homophobic, racist and sexist pieces of dreck; other cops' tales are more believable and less self-serving, but it is generally a good -- if sometimes disturbing and morally icky -- book that is an enlightening and worthwhile read if you, as a reader, are willing to dredge through the muck of some of these officers' printed PTSD pathologies.

Baker has compiled a well-balanced collection of "real life" recollections, one that shows why we need to not only be wary of cops, but respect -- from an non-emotional distance -- (most of) these officers and the often-thankless job they do: trying to maintain the flow of society's sewers, sewers that (for the most part) are impossible to fully clean, for a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.

It might be interesting to read an updated version of this book, given the technological "advances" that have been marketed, current societal issues and our current legal codes.

I would check this out from the library, but I would not own it. This is not a slam on Baker's solid work, but, rather, a result of me being picky about what I own. If you are less selective about what you own and are interested in the subject, it is worth purchasing.