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April 2012

New Releases: The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe

Heir of NightThe Heir of Night (2011) is the debut novel from Helen Lowe, and the first book in a projected four book series (whatever happened to trilogies?). Although the story is set up in a familiar way, The Heir of Night brings a few twists to its telling: some of which are more successful than others.

The Keep of Winds is up on the far side of somewhere, a military bastion on the outskirts of civilisation. The Keep is the ancestral home of the family of Night, one of the many Houses of the Derai people. The Night, at least, from their perspective, are one of the most ancient and honorable of the houses: foremost in war, foremost in tradition and foremost in the eternal battle against the Derai's Darkswarm foe. 

Malian is the teenage heir to the House of Night. Although she's fine with the war stuff, the traditional lore bits are a bit grinding, and she'd rather spend her days exploring crumbling ruins than learning her endless lessons. Kalan, another teenager, is from the House of Blood. Raised as a warrior, he was eager to follow his family's own military tradition until he started busting out magical powers. As such, he got chucked out of the military and into the priesthood. Now he's doing his own book-learnin' at The Keep of Winds. 

Although the two teens are the focal point of the story, Ms. Lowe also scatters in another handful of characters - the head of the House's elite guards, an aging steward and a pair of magical rangers. (Of course they're magical, and mysterious and misunderstood and heirs to long and noble traditions. Tolkien has a lot to answer for.) One of the most successful points of distinction to The Heir of Night is that most of the characters - major or minor - are female. There's no self-conscious rationalisation to this (à la Anne McCaffrey), it just is. The Derai make no professional or social differentiation between the sexes, and both men and women are up for every task in the book - warrior, ruler, ranger, steward or mage. This applies throughout the book as well: women are both the heroes and the villains. Although the characters aren't always as fully developed as they could be, their motivations, good or evil, never have to do with men.

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Friday Five: 15 Terrific TV Themes

Theme songs, that is. In the '80s, even a kid such as I (that is, not allowed much television) knew how to sing the (incredibly annoying) Jeopardy! theme when waiting for the answer to a tough question. And people still sing the theme to The Twilight Zone to indicate that something's spooky. (They do, right?)

Joining us today is 2011 Inky Tentacle judge and all-around awesome person Catherine Hemelryk. Catherine is a curator and artist, with projects across Europe as well as spending part of her time programming the Fishmarket in Northampton. She is also a roller derby skater with the London Rockin’ Rollers and CoCaptain of the Voodoo Skull Krushers. She loves a good tune.

Spill: what themes get stuck in your head?


Catherine

I love a good theme tune. In less than a minute I am taken out of my world and whisked to this other place, where the characters live all of the time. I might not have seen them for a week but the music flicks a switch in my brain and I pick up from the second we left off. Choosing just five, ouch, impossible. So here are my favourites of British television and then a sneaky list of honourable mentions. I don’t care that these are obvious choices, they are magnificent!

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Underground Reading: Adultery in Suburbia by Matthew Bradley

Adultery in SuburbiaAdultury in Suburbia (1964) is a poisonous little tract, disguised as a pornographic one. And that's no bad thing. Matthew Bradley's scathing indictment of Midwestern suburban hypocrisy makes for a much better story than a conventional tale of saucy housewives.

The titular suburbia is the development on River Road, outside of Columbus Ohio. The four houses that make up the estate share both common swimming pool and sense of superiority. The group call themselves "The Cliffdwellers", ostensibly as a joke, but it very quickly becomes apparent that they're a clique of cut-throat bourgeoisie, keen to establish themselves as a new elite.

At the start of the book, three of the four homes are occupied, each with a childless couple. Tom Martin owns a taxicab company and plays in backroom politics. A good proportion of his income is tithed: to local cops, local unions and a national fraternity of mysterious Italian gentlemen. His sense of community spirit stops there, as Tom takes pains not to pay taxes. His wife, Nell, is a former stripper and a lesbian. (Tom knew about half of that when they got married.) They don't get along so well.

Next door live the Durants. George Durant is the "immigrant made good", a Greek man who owns a thriving nightclub. His wife, May, is squeaky clean - the perfectly submissive wife, who lives in a castle in the clouds. Their defining issue is their lack of children. George thinks May is infertile and uses it as an excuse to play around (a lot). May takes this upon herself, and adds a few more bricks to her wall of denial. (The author, interestingly, implies that George is probably impotent: one of the many daggers that Mr. Bradley twists into his characters' backs).

Continue reading "Underground Reading: Adultery in Suburbia by Matthew Bradley" »


New Releases: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Alloy of LawThe Alloy of Law (2011) is a stand-alone novel set in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn universe. Taking place centuries after the events of the original trilogy, The Alloy of Law depicts a semi-industrialised fantasy world, with a culture grown up around both rudimentary technology and refined magic. As with Mr. Sanderson's previous books, The Alloy of Law is excellently composed and great entertainment, but, sadly, nothing more.

Aesthetically, the story resembles a Western - with train robberies, blazing handguns and dusters flapping dramatically in the wind. There are some familiar Western themes as well. The hero, Wax Ladrian, is an aging (well, forties) gunman from a good family. After years of bringing law and order to the Roughs, Wax returns to the capital of Elendel to put his own house in order.

Wax's frontier justice clashes with the niceties of civilisation, prompting all sorts of wacky hijinks and mid-city gunplay. Wax's quest to restore his family honor and solve a series of train robberies brings out all the old chestnuts: he's too old for this, he's exactly the right man for the job, city folk don't understand how to get things done, the city is more dangerous than the wilderness, people speak plainer n' act straighter out in the Roughs, etc. etc. Time-honoured stuff, and The Alloy of Law does a solid job recycling these hoary old tropes into an offbeat new setting. If it feels familiar, it is because it is - but that's not to say that it isn't a lot of fun.

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Pandemonium: 1853 and Crossroads - Call for Submissions

Our next two anthology releases are Pandemonium: Lost Souls and A Town Called Pandemonium. Due to some structural intricacies, we aren't able to take submissions for either one.

However, each volume will be published with an electronic chapbook, much like Fire (which accompanied Stories of the Smoke). For these chapbooks, we're looking for great short stories, with a particular emphasis on bringing new voices into print. 

Crossroads is the companion to Pandemonium: Lost Souls. There's no more iconic musical legend than the great Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil in turn for the blues. What other deals have been made where two roads meet? What bargains have been struck and contracts signed? What about the fine print and the horrible surprises? Does the Devil always get his due? [Deadline: 1 June 2012]

1853 is a chance to build part of the world of Pandemonium. A Town Called Pandemonium involves ten authors writing about one tiny corner in the American West. But the world is a big, big place. We're looking for tales of danger, suspense and slightly alternate history that take place outside of North America. A touch of the supernatural is fine by us, but the weirdness shouldn't be the star of the story - these should have the grim and gritty atmosphere of a Western. And, of course, it needs to be set in 1853. [Deadline: 1 August 2012]

The fine print:

Both chapbooks will be eBooks only. Submissions should be in doc, docx or rtf format and under 1,200 words. We're paying a flat rate of £15 on acceptance of the final story (plus contributor copies). Our publications are all time-limited, and the books will be removed from sale one year after first publication. First anthology rights only. International submissions are very, very welcome, but stories must be in English.

Questions below or through email, please. More details can also be found on the Pandemonium site. And, as always, the best way to know the stuff we like is to read our previous anthologies!

(Psst. Folks on the Pandemonium mailing list get told about this sort of thing before everyone else.)


The Weeks that Were

...well, almost a month, actually. And boy, was it a doozy.

In some semblence of order: the reviews since our last roundup, some events (old & new), and finally a couple of announcements from the other tentacles of our empire - the Kitschies and Pandemonium.

First up, a few reviews (definitely not enough):

Our Friday Five guests have included Paul Cornell talking obscure TV with Magnus Anderson and Rebecca Levene, treasures in London's museums with Bex and Pandemonium's Esther Saxey and a selection of great tentacular book covers with Orbit's Lauren Panepinto.

As you might spot from the reviews above, we're currently working our way through the David Gemmell Legend Award shortlists. 6 down, 4 to go. We'll be covering The Heir of Night and The Alloy of Law this week. We've ordered the books by Mr. Orullian and Mr. King, but they haven't shown up yet - but we'll get there. 

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Friday Five: 5 Truly Tentacular Covers

In a Friday Five first, we're handing this week's list over to the talented Lauren Panepinto, the Creative Director for Orbit Books and Yen Press. Ms. Panepinto is responsible for overseeing and designing the astounding array of great covers that come from these imprints, including last year's Inky Tentacle-nominated Equations of Life

After some discussion (hint: never ask the Creative Director of Orbit Books something as vague as "five favorite SF/F covers"), we narrowed it down to the five best tentacle covers in SF/F.

We thought we were squidcore, but Ms. Panepinto takes the cake. [Editor's note: seriously, best Pinterest boards ever]. We know when we're beat, so, without futher ado, our first uncontested Friday Five - Lauren Panepinto and her tentacular cover selections...

Lauren

When Anne and Jared asked me to do a post on my five favorite SFF book covers, my brain immediately melted - there are just too many great, awful (and great-because-they’re-awful) scifi and fantasy covers, so I suggested we narrow the focus a bit. And we very easily agreed on a very special category, and one near to my heart (and my Pintrest)... tentacles!

So here, for your viewing pleasure, are five of my favorite-ever book covers designed with tentacles:

CallofCthulhu3D

Call Of Cthulhu 3D (Vintage): Design by Suzanne Dean, Illustration by Vladimir Zimakov. Not only tentacles, but 3D tentacles! Really, no more needs to be said.

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The Kitschies: Patrick Ness joins 2012 judging panel

The KitschiesWe are pleased to announce that award-winning author Patrick Ness will be a literary judge for The Kitschies in 2012.

The Kitschies reward “intelligent, progressive and entertaining” novels that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic. Winners receive an iconic Tentacle trophy, a cash prize and a bottle of rum, courtesy of the award’s sponsor, The Kraken Rum.

Last year, over 150 books were submitted from almost forty publishers, spanning both literary and genre imprints. The shortlists in all categories (Novel, Debut and Cover Art) are selected every January and, uniquely among juried awards, the finalists are reviewed publicly by members of the judging panel before the winner is decided.

Patrick Ness, whose A Monster Calls won the coveted (and squashy) Red Tentacle in 2011, will be replacing previous judge - and winner - Lauren Beukes. Ms. Beukes shared some helpful advice:

Patrick, this is a different award. It's not just the best book, but the perfect storytelling trifecta of progressive and smart and entertaining, but never wanky. The irreverence means you have to take it more seriously.

Move in to a bigger house. There is such a thing as too many books. Bring kevlar made of wit and gab to fight for your favourites. Judge books by covers. Steel yourself, not for the unreadable crap (there will be some), but for the genuinely astonishing ones that you will wish you'd written.

Mr. Ness was quick to respond:

'Never Wanky' could practically be the motto of The Kitschies, which possibly can't be said of every other big award. I can't wait to set out on a journey into almost certainly the most interesting and - as Lauren says - genuinely astonishing fiction of the year. I will not, however, be buying a bigger house.

Mr. Ness is joined as a literary judge by author and editor Rebecca Levene and the award’s co-founders, Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin. The four judges will select the Red Tentacle and Golden Tentacle, for the most deserving novel and debut. The judging panel for the Inky Tentacle, for cover art, will be announced in May.

The Kitschies open for submissions on Friday, 1 June, 2012. Submissions close on 1 December 2012, and the 2012 finalists will be announced in January 2013.

Details on eligibility and criteria can be found at www.thekitschies.com.


New Releases: The Pack by Jason Starr

The-pack-jason-starrJason Starr (with Ken Bruen) co-wrote the Max, Slide and Bust trilogy for Hard Case Crime, as well as a standalone, Fake ID. His noir books are all hard-hitting, ultra-contemporary stylised action thrillers - deliberately (and often self-consciously) edgy. My first impression of The Pack (2012) was that it would be an excuse for more of the same. To some degree, Mr. Starr was writing werewolf fiction already. He was just short on wolves.

The Pack doesn't have the high-speed wackiness of Mr. Starr's other work, at least, not at the beginning. Simon Burns is a New York advertising man, an easy-going, quasi-vegetarian man is a gray flannel suit. His wife, Alison, is in pharmaceutical sales and they have an adorable son, Jeremy (age 3). They're the picture of yuppie happiness. That is, until Simon's abruptly fired. After a bit of discussion, the couple decides that Simon will stay at home and take care of Jeremy. Their savings can afford it for a little while, plus, they were feeling guilty about leaving Jeremy with a nanny all day.

Simon takes to being a stay-at-home dad like a fish to Scrabble. Jeremy screams and cries and poops and Simon is utterly miserable. On top of that, there's the festering unfairness of it all. He didn't deserve to be fired. He's a nice guy, a team player. But he'd fallen behind in the alpha dog politics of the agency. No killer instinct, couldn't go for the throat (etc, etc). It stings. 

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New Releases: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of ThornsThis is part of a series of reviews, covering the finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Award (both best novel and best debut categories). I think it is fair to say that Prince of Thorns (2011) by Mark Lawrence was one of last year's most highly anticipated debuts. Part of it was the Voyager clout - they did their best to package Prince of Thorns with A Dance with Dragons (both mentally and promotionally) - "Marketing" takes a lot of abuse in publishing, but this was a good move that shouldn't be forgotten.

More than that, Mr. Lawrence's book, at least superficially, rides the wave of George R.R. Martin's fantasy legacy, painting secondary worlds with the grim tones of Middle Ages historicity. (As a thesis, that's pretty rubbish - GRRM wasn't the first to do this, nor was he even the first big seller to do this. But for our purposes, he'll do. It is worth watching the video of GRRM at EasterCon for his opinion of his own legacy.)

But Prince of Thorns takes "Martinian" moral ambiguity to a new extreme. Mr. Lawrence sets his adventure in a complex and well-crafted world, but features one of the most controversial and monstrous protagonists in fantasy fiction. 

The titular Prince of Thorns is Jorg Ancrath, a teenage boy (under 15) who has spent the last four years as an outlaw in his own kingdom. While his father sits atop his throne, Jorg has taken to the road and spent his adolescence becoming a monster. Under his leadership, his band of "brothers" plague the countryside. Not that they're the only problem: the world is a mess. Petty kingdoms and their leaders all grub about for the shattered remnants of a fallen empire. Dark magic lurks in the corners, and, all in all, it is a pretty unpleasant place. 

Continue reading "New Releases: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence" »