Fantasy Feed

Simplified Fantasy Cover Art

It is Friday afternoon, and I'm playing with simplify.thatsh.it - a website that creates 'random modern art by simplifying images to their core elements'. Basically, we're one step from Skynet, people.

Anyway, I've taken the liberty of simplifying some of my favourite SF/F covers. They're pretty remarkable.

Have a play - tag us in your experiments on Twitter at @pornokitsch!

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SPFBO2017: The First 26 Reviews!

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I'm participating in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition - all the background, details and updates are here.

The first step is to filter through the buffet of 301 books that have been sent my way. Although I'll bring some fancy-shmancy grading criteria in later in the process, at this stage I'm being unabashedly subjective: do I want to keep reading it?

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Hamish Steel's Pantheon - 'Because gods are people too…'

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…terrible, terrible people.

The great civilizations of the past are most often portrayed with a great deal of dignity and respect, be they the martial-and-marble Romans, the philosopher Greeks, or the austere, death-obsessed Egyptians.  As well as being terribly inaccurate, this approach is highly reductive, preventing us from seeing these as cultures made up of real people; every bit as varied and three-dimensional as we are today.

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Four Fantasies: Fire Boy, The Brazen Gambit, The Never King and A Stranger at the Wedding

Fire BoyFantasy time! Not, like 'the Royals come back to win the division and the Series' fantasy, we're talking about the more realistic stuff - with jinn, dragons, and, er, weddings.

Four recent reads, showing the breadth, depth and wonderful weirdness that can be found on the fantasy shelves.

Sami Shah's Fire Boy (2017). An early - or not so early - book of the year pick. To slap some labels on it, Fire Boy is a YA, edgy American Gods, but then, none of that is particularly accurate. Wahid is a weird kid, growing up in Karachi. He was a sick child and now he's a gormless teenage. But he's got some fun friends, a loving family, and a future that's more or less bright.

Then things go horribly, terribly wrong. Wahid starts seeing things that aren't there. There's crazy assassin is after him. Oh, and he's in a horrible car wreck. Suddenly he's gone from secure and self-absorbed to a life on the run, with everything taken from him. His search for answers takes him to some very strange, and not entirely earthly, places. Fire Boy has all the classic elements of Chosen One-ness and Portal Fantasy: Wahid's a gawky, geeky everyman with a good heart and a lot of potential. But there's also a shockingly edgy overlay - this isn't a book that pulls its punches, and manages to be truly shocking and surprising as the one twist leads to another. Karachi itself comes to life, as Shah brings its sprawl and the splendour to the page, effortlessly weaving in the city's mythology.

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Review Round-up: A Queue, Two Devils, Some Magicians and an Empty City

9781612195162_custom-9dcd78cb1494554fe2ead2adb48ab8c65e917d12-s400-c85I'm way behind on writing reviews - a combination of life, SPFBO reading, sekrit projects and watching Ariana Grande and Chris Martin sing "Don't Look Back In Anger" on continuous loop. But whilst we all wait for me to get my act together, here's a quick catch-up on recent reading:

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (2016, first 2012). In an unnamed country, the people are ruled by a faceless bureaucracy. All paperwork challenging the state must be notarised by officials at the 'Gate', the accepted nomenclature of the 'powers that be' that work at entrance of the government building, but the Gate never opens...

Over time, a huge queue forms, and with it, a new society. People come and go, trade gossip, form a new, grey economy. The Gate seems to know everything and be everywhere, but its actions are nonsensical and baffling. Set against this... a mystery, of sorts. A man, shot in an uprising that never happened by soldiers that weren't there using guns that don't exist, is standing, wounded, in the queue. The maze of paperwork around him, if he exists, captures a handful of others, as they make extremely difficult choices in the face of overwhelming indifference. 

The Queue isn't quite as abstract as I'm making it sound. It is a good Orwellian thriller, with compelling, heart-breaking characters. Although inspired by Egypt, The Queue is one of the great fictional dystopias, with horrifying relevance to, well, everywhere. If you read one book on this list, make it this one.

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SPFBO2017 - The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off

Hello there

Pornokitsch will be participating the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off again this year, the third year of the competition.

You can learn more about SPFBO and its storied (if brief) history here

[The MASTER INDEX for Phase I - Mark Lawrence's blog]

[11/May: Intro post (this one!)]

[16/May: All our books are in hand, and reading has begun.]

[30/May: Finished the initial reading, and will be posting first round reviews from July. Killing the time by giving unwanted writing advice.]

[3/June: This is fun. My  favourite covers for the cover competition. FWIW, I read everything before I saw any covers. Any correlation - or lack there of - with my finalist pick(s) to be discussed.]

[3/July: The first 26 reviews.]

[7/July: ...make that 27 reviews. There was one (belatedly-spotted) invalid entry, so I read and reviewed one of the reservists to make up for it. Added to the link above.]

[13/July: A quick overview of the criteria I'll be using for the next four books.]

[25 - 28/ July: The final four reviews - Under Witch Moon, Irons in the Fire, Dead Letter, and The War of Undoing - including the grand reveal of my Official Finalist™.]

 

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The Hall of Video Game Art, Exhibit 32: The Empress' Cozy Corner

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I adore stealth games, and the Dishonored series is right at the top of my list. Aside from satisfying my need for sneaky stabs (or stabby sneaks, take your pick), both games are a treasure trove of background art. I often hear the setting described as steampunk, but that misses the mark. This, my friends, is straight-up whalepunk.

Staged in a magic-tinged analog of late-1800s London, Dishonored exists in a world of gilt and grime. Mechanical marvels clank past packs of plague rats. Street gangs clash with oppressive clergy. The excitement of scientific discovery shines alongside the shadow of grisly occultism. Everywhere you turn, there’s beautiful paintings, filthy beggars, brass gadgets, sticky-looking pubs, and tins of jellied eels. This is a place where everything is possible and nothing will ever be okay.

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Small Press Shakedown: Cherry Potts of Arachne Press

9781909208100The 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 asked a number of editors to share what they're working on - and what they're looking for. This week our featured publisher is Arachne Press.

Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you're doing?

Arachne Press was born out of frustration as a writer with my existing publisher, and an opportune redundancy, which meant the mortgage got paid off and possible poverty wasn’t going to mean homelessness, so I decided to take a risk and do what I had always wanted – yes, 1970’s careers advisor, I did it in spite of you – be a publisher.

It’s ended up being a much wider remit than that – I also run The Story Sessions an irregular live lit event in South London and an annual festival Solstice Shorts which mixes time-themed words and music, on the shortest day of the year on the Prime Meridian in Greenwich; I video as much of the live stuff as I can, and when we get funded, we have BSL interpreters as well to make our work as accessible as possible.

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Dolores Umbridge is the scariest villain in Harry Potter

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Yes, you read that right. In a world populated with Death Eaters, Dementors, and Dark Lords, where giant snakes possess the dead and werewolves thirst for the blood of children, the diminutive, frilly-frocked schoolmarm from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the absolute worst.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a moment to consider the competition. Sure, the Dark Lord is all dark and lordly, but he’s also pretty one-dimensional. His motivations aren’t particularly complex or original. He’s hateful to everyone and everything, so there’s no chance of us sympathizing with him. He’s even hideously ugly, just to hammer the point home. In short, he’s so thoroughly eeeeevil that there isn’t room for much else, and as I’ve argued before, eeeeevil is dull.

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