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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Stark Holborn, James Smythe and Rebecca Levene Events!

Screenshot 2015-06-27 09.09.29

Three of our favourite authors - and completely coincidentally, three frequent Pornokitsch contributors - all have London events this week. 

Tuesday night, Nunslinger's Stark Holborn joins Snorri Kristjansson as the guests of honour at the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club. Proceedings kick off at 6.30 pm at the Grange Hotel. All details here, but pack your six shooter and some sippin' whisky. (Caveat: please do not actually bring a six shooter. And sippin' whisky is now longer allowed on public transportation.)  

On Thursday, Rebecca Levene celebrates the launch of Hunter's Kind at Forbidden Planet, starting at 6 pm. She's joined by frequent Pornokitsch contributor and grimmest-writer-alive James Smythe, whose Way Down Dark is also out this week! Details are here, but free entry and books a-plenty.

In case you can't make the events, you can order copies of the books here:

Hunter's Kind (via Forbidden Planet)

Hunter's Kind - limited, numbered edition (via Goldsboro Books)

Way Down Dark (via Forbidden Planet)

Nunslinger (via Amazon)


Covers: The Best of the Worst

Giorgio Moroder ft. Britney Spears - "Tom's Diner" (Craig Vanity / Dimitri Vegas / Martin Garrix Remix) (2015)

Recently, the editor of this website sent me a link to a strange thing - the Britney Spears cover version of Suzanne Vega’s "Tom’s Diner". It was so bad, it was good. Well, no - it wasn’t good but it was catchy. It sent me into a hopeless downward spiral of terrible covers that I hadn’t heard in years and so of course, I must now put you through the same pain.

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Pygmalia: Robocop (1987 & 2014)

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz 

Robocop 1987It’s a two-movie column this month at Pygmalia! In a fit of madness I watched the 2014 Robocop remake and realized it could sort of be considered a Pygmalion story, which led me to re-watch the original Robocop, which is much better… even if it’s less of a Pygmalion story. Let’s see if I can straighten out my thoughts into something coherent below…

Robocop (1987) and Robocop (2014)

Robocop is the story of… uh, if you haven’t seen it, probably you still know it’s about “Robocop,” who is part robot, part cop. (Or “part robot, part man, all cop,” according to the poster). Anyways, how much of Murphy is man or robot cop is debatable—and debated—in the original and the remake. In both, the eponymous Robocop, Alex Murphy (the cop part of Robocop), is injured in the line of duty, terribly, and then is reconstructed into a really scary machine man—ostensibly to better protect the city streets of Detroit, but really, there’s more going on than that. 

In Robocop 1987, Robocop is the pawn of Bob Morton, AKA Agent Rosenfeld of later Twin Peaks semi-fame (he was also the voice of the villain in Mulan. The more you know!). Morton works for OCP, a shady tech firm who develops weapons for the Army, which has also been signed to privately revitalize the overworked and underfunded Detroit P.D. When the movie begins, it doesn’t seem like OCP has really put any actual money (or weapons) into the hands of cops; instead, they developed genuinely scary robot monsters called ED-209s in the hopes that they’ll clean up the streets better than the cops.

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Fiction: "The Valley of the Sorcerer" by Bram Stoker

JewelOf_SevenStarsThe book was by one Nicholas van Huyn of Hoorn. In the preface he told how, attracted by the work of John Greaves of Merton College, Pyramidographia, he himself visited Egypt, where he became so interested in its wonders that he devoted some years of his life to visiting strange places, and exploring the ruins of many temples and tombs. He had come across many variants of the story of the building of the Pyramids as told by the Arabian historian, Ibn Abd Alhokin, some of which he set down. These I did not stop to read, but went on to the marked pages.

As soon as I began to read these, however, there grew on me some sense of a disturbing influence. Once or twice I looked to see if the Nurse had moved, for there was a feeling as though some one were near me. Nurse Kennedy sat in her place, as steady and alert as ever; and I came back to my book again.

The narrative went on to tell how, after passing for several days through the mountains to the east of Aswan, the explorer came to a certain place. Here I give his own words, simply putting the translation into modern English:

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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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Weirdness Rodeo

image from Andreas FeiningerSay hi to our newest contributor - Becky Chambers! Becky's Extended Memory column involves her reviewing all those wonderful (we hope) classic PC games, and she's kicked off by returning to her very first game - Beyond Dark Castle.

New short stories are coming from William Curnow, Jennifer Moore, David W Pomerico, Marie Vibbert, Michal Wojcik, Olivia Wood and JY Yang.

Meanwhile, on the rest of the internet...

A study out of the University of Colorado reports on an interesting trend:

The study examined in detail the yearly top 30 Billboard songs from 1960 to 2013 – a total of 1,583 – and found a steep increase in `advertainment’ or the use of product placement, branding and name dropping among the most popular music in the nation.

[The study] found a total of 1,544 product references in the five decades of songs he analyzed with more than half occurring between 2000 and 2010. The study also showed a direct link between product placement and brand awareness. For example, after the 2002 Busta Rhymes hit single `Pass the Courvoisier,’ sales of the cognac jumped 10 to 20 percent that year. 

Movies have already 'sold out' to product placement, music doesn't seem to be far behind... how long until some far-sighted marketer starts flogging products through literature? 

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Friday Five: 5 Jaunty Jolts of Joe R. Lansdale

Paradise Sky_A very specific Friday Five this week, to celebrate the release of Paradise Sky, the new Western from Joe Lansdale. Lansdale is the author of everything from the bizarro horror comedy Bubba Ho-Tep to the apocalyptic creepiness of The Drive-In to the steampunk hijinks of Zeppelins West to the rural noir of The Thicket to the long-running Hap and Leonard mysteries.

He is a personal favourite not only for his versatility, but for the incredible quality. Whatever Lansdale's writing, be it fun or somber, humorous or horrific, it is always a delight to read.

So... where to start? Or, if you've nibbled on a bit of Lansdale's writing, what to try next? Below, five of my favourites, all from different genres...

Savage Season (1990)

Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are one of the best detective duos in fiction, full stop. Imagine Sherlock and Watson, except without money, education, superhuman talents, a medical degree or any sense of Victorian dignity. So, really, don't imagine them at all. Hap and Leonard are both washed out West Texans ... general do-gooders, with day jobs that range from working at a deck chair factory to dubious 'security' gigs.

Hap thinks of himself as an ex-hippie pacifist (he's not, really) and Leonard is 100% pure hardness (except for his love of vanilla cookies) - as you'd need to be as a gay black man in rural Texas. Savage Season not only introduces the duo, but is an excellent example of one of their classic darkly comedic adventures, with betrayal, skulduggery, sleazebags and... a rather powerful emotional core.

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"What if digital came first?"

SLNSW_12850_Womens_formal_gownsThis is a rather stream-of-thought abuse of the 'spurious theories' tag, but I wanted to lump a lot of ideas together in one place.

The main cause of this? A great talk at Digital Shoreditch from Chris Bishop, who asked a simple, but heady, question. What if digital came first?

The talk - available online here - is largely from a consumer, retail, digital mindset. Bishop points out that a lot of ecommerce attention has been wasted trying to create physical experiences online, rather than embracing digital's strengths. And, similarly, the reverse is true: stores are now trying to imitate websites. His conclusion is that, eventually, the two channels will find their complementary ways, and physical stores will become an asset again. (Harsh, but not entirely fair.)

Anyway, this got me thinking. In publishing, we have two physical-first avenues: the books and the stores. And they're both taking a beating. So what if... digital came first?

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