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Review Round-up: Narabedla, Cold Silver and A Colder Sun

Three fantasy titles of all shapes and sizes - Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Falcons of Narabedla, Greg James' Under A Colder Sun and Alex Marshall's A Crown for Cold Silver

200px-Falcons_of_narabedlaMarion Zimmer Bradley's The Falcons of Narabedla (1957)

Mike does radio things in a Government Lab. Electricity happens, and, ker-wham, he's mind-ported to Narabedla, Last of the Rainbow Cities. Mike's consciousness rests in the body of Adric, one of Naradebla's arrogant ruling class. Adric's mind isn't totally gone, but sort of repressed, helping Mike/Adric get dressed and occasionally resurfacing in a plot-pushing kind of way.

Mike/Adric is thrown in at the deep end. Fortunately, there are a lot of people around who are happy to elaborate on Narabedla's history, culture and current events. M'Adric learns that the rulers of Narabedla all have a captive Dreamer under their thrall - a powerful, wish-granting psychic - more djinn than mortal. Adric, in his pre-Mike days, seems to have done something naughty and loosed one of the Dreamers. Now the entire system is under threat. Will there be a revolution? Should there be a revolution? Plots within plots, betrayals within betrayals - including Mike and Adric scheming against one another. From within the same body!

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Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off! [Updated]

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[Updated with the list of 30, plus links!]

Head's up! Pornokitsch is one of the ten blogs participating in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. Mark Lawrence started this quasi-award last year, and I'm very glad to be one of the bloggers for its second iteration. 

You can read more about SPFBO here, and even snag a Storybundle of last year's finalists.

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Taher Shah's "Angel"

 

In a conservative country no stranger to the Taliban and ISIS and all sorts of extremist behaviour, a country not known for its great liberal, progressive, humanist ways, a country where homosexuality is very much illegal, where anything outside of heteronormative cliches is considered a ‘deviancy’ and isn't really tolerated by most of the population, where transpeople are treated terribly and where being subversive or transgressive in even the smallest of ways can be an act of major rebellion... here is a man who is throwing this all out of the window. Taherstory_647_041216012218

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Review Round-up: Dead Dolls, Discoveries, Tides and Thieves

Some recent reads, old and new, fantasy and crime. Including Lin Carter's Discoveries in Fantasy, Day Keene's Dead Dolls Don't Talk, Brooke Magnanti's The Turning Tide, David Benioff's City of Thieves and the first two volumes of Thieves' World.

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Lin Carter's Discoveries in Fantasy (1974)

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series - edited by Carter - is a pretty amazing body of work. Easily the closest thing I've seen to a 'Penguin Classics for fantasy'. The complete list is here, including the 'pre-cursors' and 'leftovers', and it includes an impressive combination of books now recognised as classic-classics as well as some curious unknowns. Carter clearly had delightfully far-reaching taste, and it is delightful to see authors like Cabell rubbing shoulders with the Deryni books and even Lovecraftian pastiche. 

That said, Discoveries is a pretty weak entry into the 'canon' (although one with an AMAZING cover, I mean, wow). It reads more like a sampler or a sales brochure than a holistic collection in its own right.

Carter's gathered short stories by Ernest Bramah, Donald Corley, Richard Garnett and Eden Phillpotts, and loosely united them with the twin themes of 'these guys should be more popular' and 'I'm going to be publishing them before long!'. Carter's introductions are similarly cursory, possibly because he was expecting to write more when he published the authors properly. Sadly, only Bramah made it into print before the series was canned.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark

From Photoplay (September 1981):

At last. At long last. A movie that brings back all those so-called old-fashioned values that made the cinema what it was but somehow got lost in the deluge of depressing pretentious rubbish that helped to close down cinemas. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark, for me, at least, brings back a Lost Art. The art of fun, escapism and pure hokum.

I never thought I'd see a film like this one again....

The Verdict:

If you enjoy your movies with lavish doses of terrifying thrills then this is what you've been waiting for. Raiders is a marvellous adventure romp reminiscent of those wonderful cliff-hanging serials served up as Saturday  morning pictures for kids. There's also plenty of action for the mums and dads to enjoy as well. Harrison Ford and Karen Allen will have you constantly on the edge of your seats, almost gasping for breath at the speed with which they have to cope with constant dangers. 

The effects, the sets, everything is stunningly put together. Ford emerges as a movie matinee of old, with a touch of the Errol Flynn's as he swaggers around complete with a bullwhip as his only weapon.

From the film's incredible exciting start set in an unbelievably trap-infested South American jungle - a sort of cheat death hurdle race - to its startling and quite horrifying climax, Raiders is an absolute cinematic joy.

The team of director Steven Spielberg (Jaws; Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and producer George Lucas (Star Wars; The Empire Strikes Back) pack their movie with a mighty punch. John Williams' music score underlines the action quite superbly.

Never a dull moment...


Daniel Polansky and Howard Hardiman's The Builders

Barley by Howard Hardiman

[via Jurassic London]

 The special edition of The Builders, written by Daniel Polansky and illustrated by Howard Hardiman, is now available for pre-order. 

This hardcover edition is limited to 75 copies, signed by both author and artist. It comes complete with coloured endpapers, ribbon bookmark and 14 original black and white illustrations. 

 You can order your copy here.

More details here.


What is Sword & Sorcery?

Flashing_SwordsFrom the introduction to Flashing Swords! (1973) an anthology of original Swords & Sorcery novelettes, edited by Carter:

We call a story Sword & Sorcery when it is an action tale, derived from the traditions of the pulp magazine adventure story, set in a land, age or world of the author's invention - a milieu in which magic actually works and the gods are real - a story, moreover, which pits a stalwart warrior in direct conflict with the forces of supernatural evil.

Carter goes on to say that, although the term was coined by Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard should get credit for founding the genre.

As with all genre generalisations, it is easier to think of exceptions than rules. But given this is from Carter, one of the editors/authors/canonisers at the heart of the movement, it is fair to take this at face value. This is the 'institutional' definition. That is, for what 'Sword & Sorcery' meant at the time. My challenge would be - does this still apply? And, even looking back, can we still apply this definition now to stories written then?

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Review Round-up: Detectives, Aliens and a Succubus

The Yellow PhantomDid you know the goodie bag at the Oscars is worth something like $200,000?!

This goodie bag of belated reviews isn't. But it does feature detective stories by Margaret Sutton and Elliott Hall, as well as Richelle Mead's Georgina Kincaid and Raymond Jones' The Alien. So that's something!

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Margaret Sutton's The Yellow Phantom (1932)

Sutton's Judy Bolton was a 'girl detective' with the misfortune to be published at the same time as Nancy Drew. That said, Bolton's adventures ran for 38 volumes and have accumulated a certain fandom of their own. One critical difference is a sense of growth (and canonicity, I suppose). Unlike the freewheeling but ageless Drew, Bolton grows up, falls in love, gets married and tackles more of 'life'. 

Still, The Yellow Phantom is still - well - very much an artefact of its time. Judy and her friends travel to New York City where they meet a mysterious and handsome writer of handsome and mysterious books.

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The Siren and the Sword by Cecilia Tan

The Siren and the SwordThe Siren and the Sword (2014) is about Kyle.

Hi, Kyle!

Kyle is an orphan, living with a distant family member who hates him. Through a series of seemingly miraculous events, he learns he's actually a wizard - from a highly respected magical family. He's accepted into a magical university that's divided into four houses. He learns he's (probably) the Chosen One of an ancient prophesy. He makes friends. He fights evil. Etc.

So, yes, this is rather blatantly inspired by Harry Potter, and one of the (genuinely) best parts of The Siren and the Sword is the afterword in which Cecilia Tan discusses her influences, and how she deliberately set out to adapt them in ways that interested her. 

And, in a way, Siren - the first of the 'Magic University' series - is a distinct refinement of its, uh, predecessor. Siren is, as the series title might suggest, wholly about being a magic student. The overall plot is, accordingly, completely tangential; this is a book about late night pizza, course selection, cramming for finals and hooking up. It is a very niche area of world-building, but given the timeless appeal of wizarding school stories, a popular one. And it is fun - school stories give a method of infodumping that's inherently empathetic, much more so than, say, your typical 'wise old man exposits' format. 

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Fiction: "I Decided That Things Had Become Too Complicated" by William Curnow

I decided things had become too complicated - art by Jade Klara
I decided that things had become too complicated.

Understand, I did not want anything that followed from that. Like everyone else, I wanted only to be left alone, to get on with things. I was not someone who would push themselves forward. I was happy to stay in the background, to live a simple life, but I couldn't ignore facts.

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