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Films of High Adventure: The 13th Warrior (1999)

The Film: The 13th Warrior (1999)

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Dedicated to the Memory of Omar Sharif.

Responsibility Roundup: Directed by John “Die Hard is actually my adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream” McTiernan. Based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, who supposedly came on as director to reshoot some scenes after McTiernan’s initial cut bummed out test audiences. Scripted by William Wisher Jr. (Terminator 2, Judge Dredd) and Warren Lewis (remember Ridley Scott’s Yakuza movie Black Rain? With Michael Douglas? Don’t worry, nobody else does, either). Original soundtrack by Graeme Revell (The Crow, The Craft, the Riddick movies) and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, before Michael Crichton insisted on trashing the entire thing and having it rescored by his Congo buddy Jerry Goldsmith (always a good sign, amirite?).

Hackting by Antonio Banderas (lots of stuff), Maria Bonnevie (lots of Swedish stuff), Suzanne Bertish (The Hunger, Eleni on Rome), Diane Venora (Heat, Wolfen), and a whole Crossfit box’s worth of beefcake, including Vladimir Kulich (that Vikings show, the voice of Ulfric Stormcloak in Skyrim), Dennis Storhøi (Two Lives), Clive Russell (Ripper Street, Brynden Tully on Game of Thrones), Richard Bremmer (Control), Tony Curran (LXG). Also a very embarrassed Omar Sharif (RIP) (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Top Secret), who hated the movie so much he took a leave of absence from acting afterward.

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Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of RadianceI'm reading and reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can follow along here. Voting has ended, but the winners aren't announced until August, so I'm pressing on...

Words of Radiance (2014) is the second volume in the Stormlight Archive, a projected ten volume series. Its predecessor, The Way of Kings (2012) was a previous DGLA winner, and, although I had some reservations, it was certainly a worthy one. As I noted at the time, it is "as good as a book can be without being exceptional" - and I bandied around words like "entertaining" and "hugely dramatic". Faint praise, but praise.

I've reviewed Sanderson a lot, thanks to his DGLA dominance. And those reviews have more or less gone from 'not so great' (The Alloy of Law) to 'good for what it is' (A Memory of Light) to 'pretty good' (The Way of Kings, The Final Empire). I don't seek his work out, but I've never needed to, as his annual fantasy book always winds up on the DGLA list.  It is fair to say that I've grown accustomed to a certain standard of decency.

I say all this to establish a baseline. I'm not a Sanderson fan, but I daresay I've got a proven track record of not being a hater. So please don't immediately disregard my opinion when I say Words of Radiance is a very bad book.

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The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Emperors bladesI'm reviewing all ten of the finalists for this year's David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the list and my approach here, and vote in the Awards here.

The Emperor's Blades (2014), by Brian Staveley, is perhaps the least surprising entrant on any of this year's shortlists. To pat myself on the back, I called this in February - but then, anyone could've.

Which, of course, begs the question - why? Other than its immense popularity1, what is it about The Emperor's Blades that says 'I AM LEGEND' (or, in this case, Morningstar)? The answer to that is pretty simple. The Emperor's Blades is the most 'core fantasy' fantasy of the year, and in that lies both its strength. 'Core fantasy' is actually a rubbishy marketing term, but works well here - basically, this is a really fantasy fantasy. "Formulaic" is a slightly prejudicial way of putting it. "Classic" may be more accurate. Pick your term of choice.

The Emperor of Annur is dead, presumably assassinated through arcane means. His three children, our protagonists, are stationed at different parts of the empire, finding themselves. Kaden, the oldest son and heir to the throne, is having his mojo tested at an isolated monastery - learning that being a man involves emptying his mind, avoiding the Dark Side, and spending a lot of time buried up to his neck in the ground. Valyn, the second son, is sublimating his spare heir angst training with the Kettral - the big-bird-based sky ranger elite. While Kaden contemplates nothingness, Valyn does epic fantasy boot camp - push-ups and war games. Finally, Adare, the Emperor's daughter, and the only one left in the capitol city. As the newly-minted Minister of Finance, she's in a position not only to keep the empire ticking along, but also to snoop around into the cause of her father's death.

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When Red Sonja met her match(ish)

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Look, it's a comic with a Robert E Howard fantasy character in it - surely the perfect storm of Pornokitsch interests. Red Sonja #10 is the specific issue that the One Comic team decided to check out, at Jared's suggestion, and an interesting read it turned out to be.

To everyone's surprise, despite some of the covers and the character's reputation, this isn't the exploitative boobs'n'swordplay production it could have been. How did it achieve that? Listen and find out.

You'll also hear Bex's take on the best and worst examples of comics' treatment of mental illness - the 'crazy' is strong in this medium after all. 


Immodest Proposals for the David Gemmell Legend Awards

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I'm reading and reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can follow along here.  And don't forget to vote.

I'm taking a brief break at the halfway point to stop talking about the books and talk about the Awards themselves. Please join in below.

There are two definitions of modest - "humble" and "small" - and generally when someone has a "modest proposal" they actually mean neither. So let's not beat around the bush here: this is about big changes, proposed arrogantly. 

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Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half-a-king-uk-mmpbI'm reviewing all ten of the finalists for this year's David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the list and my approach here, and vote in the Awards here.

Half a King (2014) is the first entry in a new series from Joe Abercrombie, one of the most well-established modern fantasy authors. It is hard to believe that it was only nine years ago that The Blade Itself hit the shelves or, that after six volumes in that series, the author has moved on to test his mettle in a new world. But, here we are - away from Logan Ninefingers and into the quasi-European world of Prince Yarvi and the Shattered Sea.

Yarvi is, as noted, a prince - the younger son of the King of Gettland. Born with only 'half a hand', Yarvi's ill-suited for combat, and doesn't fit in with the macho Viking culture of Gettland. Fortunately, a scholarly path is available to him, and Yarvi's happily studying to become a minister - a keeper of knowledge, an advisor to royalty, and an innocuous, forgettable nobody that will never have to lift a shield or lead soldiers.

Alas, fate intervenes. Yarvi's father and brother are killed in by the rival pseudo-Nordic Vanstermen. Not only is Yarvi suddenly elevated to the throne but also he's now a king at war. Despite an edict from the High King - the distant figure that owns all their fealty - Yarvi launches a raid on the Vanstermen. 

It doesn't go well.

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The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The-mirror-empire-by-kameron-hurley-cover-artI'm reviewing all ten of the finalists for this year's David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the list and my approach here, and vote in the Awards here.

The Mirror Empire (2014) is the new novel from many-award-winning novelist and essayist Kameron Hurley. The first in a series, The Mirror Empire is an epic that spans - quite literally - worlds.*

On a world rich with predatory vegetation, magic comes from the stars themselves. Each heavenly body comes complete with a package of powers. People born with a connection to a star (or, more rarely, stars), can be trained in their magic. But now a new - or very old - star is ascendent. Oma arrives every few thousand years, and with it, destruction. Every ascension of Oma is timed to coincide with the descent of the other stars, and, historically, a cataclysmic invasion.

As Oma rises, a handful of plots - some in place for centuries - come to fruition. Lilia is a young girl, born in a remote village. When invaders destroy her home, Lilia is cast through a portal to a different land, to be raised in a temple - a simple, innocuous kitchen drudge (as if). The Kai - the ruler of her people - dies under mysterious circumstances, and her brother, an untrained and ill-suited teacher named Ahkio, is called upon to take her place. Meanwhile, Roh, a student at Lilia's temple, is determined to be more than his destiny. He desperately throws himself into one scheme after another, keen to become a hero of some sort. The new Kai attaches him to a curious diplomatic mission, taken to a far-off - and not entirely friendly - kingdom. 

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The Godless by Ben Peek

The GodlessThis is part of a series of of ten reviews, walking through the shortlists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the complete list here, as well as a bit about the awards, the books and the criteria I'm using. Voting concludes on 17 July.

Ben Peek's The Godless (2014) is the second of our five Morningstar* finalists, and, as you might expect from a fantasy debut, the first in a  new series. It is a very dense book, in an intriguing new world, with several full and rich themes.

In fact, here's a little game. Here's a book 'blurb' for The Godless:

The gods are dead. The moon is one god's corpse; a mountain range, another. The God-War's cataclysmic conclusion condemned the world as well; the lingering necrosis from the bodies of the divine permeating the soil, the water and the air. Humanity tries to rebuild and move forward, but the world itself has turned against them. Cannibals ravage the hills, settlements are disappearing, entire kingdoms have gone silent... Three outcasts unite in a doomed attempt to defend their home, the last spark of civilisation.

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PK Interview: David J Howe and Stephen James Walker of Telos Books

Death-of-the-Day-380x0The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints - and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication - we've quizzed a number of editors about the nuts & bolts of their submissions process. This week, our guests are David J Howe and Stephen James Walker, from Telos Publishing.

Pornokitsch: Thanks for taking part! Could you tell us a bit about Telos, and the books that you publish?

David J Howe and Stephen James Walker: We are Telos Publishing Ltd, a small independent press run by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker.

We have two imprint areas: the main press, which specialises in non-fiction, particularly guides to film and television; and Telos Moonrise, edited by Sam Stone, which presents fiction in a number of different genres - horror/fantasy/science fiction/crime/romance/erotica - mainly for the e-book market, but also in paperback editions.

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Valour by John Gwynne

ValorI'm reviewing all ten of the finalists for this year's David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the list and my approach here, and vote in the Awards here.

The cauldron was a hulking mass of black iron, tall and wide, squatting upon a dais in the centre of a cavernous room. Torches of blue flame hung on the walls of the chamber, pockets of light punctuating the darkness. In the shadows, circling its edges, long and sinuous shapes moved.... It was utterly black, appearing to suck the torchlight into it, consuming it, reflecting nothing back.

There's a Black Cauldron, and it is really, really black. Very black. Very, very black indeed. Utterly black. 

There are possibly two key traits to Valour (2014), and they are both on display here: it doesn't shy away from tropes and it is more than a little repetitive.

Valour takes place in a sort of vaguely Western European mish-mash of a setting. The land was once ruled by giants, but now they're huddled away in a tiny corner, resenting the human occupiers. The human lands are a mess. They were a series of vaguely interdependent kingdoms with a nominal High King, but the events of Malice, the previous book, have upset the status quo. Now the kingdoms are collapsing into war.

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