Griots (edited by Milton J Davis and Charles R Saunders)

51ZVI7hynML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Griots (2011) is a 'sword and soul' anthology, edited by Milton Davis and Charles Saunders. The origins of the anthology - and the genre - are explained in the introductions penned by both authors. In a nutshell, both gentlemen are fans of sword and sorcery fiction, Robert E. Howard and the like, but grew increasingly exhausted with the racism and Western essentialism engrained in the stories. Saunders grants that Robert E. Howard and his contemporaries were 'products of their time', but also notes that 'racism... was an integral part of the popular culture of the early decades of the twentieth century, and as such it pervaded pulp fiction'.

At times, Saunders writes, he could 'let it slide'. But he was also motivated to show that the 'non-stereotypical Africa of history and legend was just as valid a setting for fantasy stories as was the ancient and medieval Europe that served as the common default'.

The editors of Griots describe how they went about, not just creating their own stories, but also finding those by other authors. "There must be more", Davis writes - with these four words kept propelling him both to seek out other authors and also to write his own adventures.

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Review Round-up: Vanishing Ladies, The Big Guy, Along Came a Spider

Three thrillers from the late 1950s and early 1960s - featuring Ed McBain, Wade Miller and Maude Parker.

Vanishing LadiesVanishing Ladies (1957) is a stand-alone mystery from Ed McBain, originally written under the pen name Richard Marsten. I have a vague theory that the Marsten books are a little 'grittier' than the McBains, but there's a small sample size, and frankly, Vanishing Ladies disproves it - it could very easily pass as one of the more slapstick entries in the 87th Precinct. Detective Philip Colby takes his girlfriend, Ann, on a road trip.

Circumstances force the pair into a seedy, secluded motel, and, in the middle of the night, Colby realises Ann's gone missing. It gets even more odd from there - the motel is revealed to be a high-end brothel, and, in an act of Kafkaesque proportions, the local community all band together to convince Colby that Ann never existed. Frustrated, Colby calls for backup, and the middle part of the book is told from the perspective of Tony Mitchell, one of his colleagues.

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Friday Five: 5 Best Airport Snacks

Airline food

Hey. Flying sucks. I mean, sure, the whole concept of flying is pretty cool: you're boarding a giant iron dragon and hurtling through the air at unmentionable speeds, in the hopes that your rocket fuel gets you to Otherlandia before gravity catches on.

But the actual process of flying is less glamorous: stress, paperwork, more paperwork, unnecessary expense, forgetting things, broken headphones, hurry-up-and-wait, screaming children, and airline food. I mean, airline food. Yeah.

Anyway, here's how we cope... with the airline food, at least. Not much we can do about the headphones, sorry.

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A Knee-Jerk Reaction to Prince's HITnRUN Phase One


Prince’s latest album was released via Jay Z’s music streaming site Tidal, because Prince has changed his mind about the internet just being a fad that was about to die. Prince changes his mind often enough, so there are no surprises there. The fact that he’s once again let his latest producer on to share credit isn’t surprising either, given that Joshua Welton worked on last year’s double album Art Office Age/Plectrum Electrum. HitnRun is very different from last year’s offerings though, and sounds a whole lot more confused - at least, at the initial few times it’s heard. Clocking in at under 40 minutes, it’s a strange beast - not great, but with enough in it to stop me from saying it’s bad.

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Weirdness Rodeo: Goodreads

GoodreadsI'd love to see some proper data on Goodreads usage. Or, more specifically speaking, how many people use it, how frequently they use it, and how closely it approximates the actual reading population. Generally speaking, a platform of this size probably reflects 'real readers' better than most others. But, again, who knows? 

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Extended Memory: Crosscountry Canada

Crosscountry Canada

Game: Crosscountry Canada (1991)
Developer: Didatech Software Ltd.
Original platform: DOS

I’ve never been farther north in the Americas than Seattle, but I’ve long wanted to visit Canada.  I have friends who make their homes there. I like trees. Vancouver sounds like it might be my jam. Every so often, my other half and I look at each other and say something to the effect of “we should make a Canada trip happen.”

But no more. I have spent an evening driving the roads of the Great White North, and I no longer care about Canada. Or video games. Or anything, really. All that’s left of me are ground-down teeth and an extreme aversion to maple syrup.

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The Man of Gold by M.A.R. Barker

The Man of GoldIn 1975, Gary Gygax, wrote lavish praise in the foreword to M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne, calling it the 'most beautifully done fantasy game ever created' and saying Barker's world, Tékumel, was - except for Tolkien - completely without peer. Gygax concludes that the primary difference between the two (Tolkien and Barker) is that the latter "has neither had the opportunity to introduce and familiarise his Tékumel by means of popular works of fiction".1

In 1984, that opportunity came, as Barker's The Man of Gold was published by DAW, the first of five novels set in the universe. Harsan is a young novice in the temple of Thumis, the Lord of Wisdom. His speciality is linguistics, and at the start of the book, he's just about the wrap up his thesis - a study into one of Tékumel's long-dead languages (there are a lot of them - it is an old, old world, built on the ruins of a long of old, old cultures). His bucolic - if dull - monastic existence is interrupted by a messenger sent from the Tsolyani empire.

The Tsolyani are at war with the Kingdom of Yan Kor, and the latter are equipped with an ancient artifact, the tautly-named 'Weapon Without Answer'. Rumor has it, there may be an answer - at least, a crumbling manuscripts says so. But the Tsolyani need someone proficient in the Llyani language to work out the details. For example: Harsan.

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Week of Ones


This week was widely noted by the comic news sites and many comic stores as an especially big one as far as volume of new publications is concerned, and also, given that this was the week Marvel began rolling out its new post-Secret Wars series, a week when a particularly large number of the titles published were first issues.

In the grand tradition of "I read them so you don't have to", following are my pick of the best of the bunch.

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Review Round-up: Knitters, Pirates, Cops, Princesses and Priests

TheBig SinA quick-fire round-up of eight recent holiday reads - including some vintage mysteries, a brand new fantasy, a YA that'll have you in stitches (fnar) and a saucy pirate romance. Most of these were recommendations via Twitter, so thank you all for sending them my way!

Prologue Books are one of my go-to publishers - whomever is putting together this list of out-of-print fiction is doing a cracking job. (Also, they use Amazon well, so I can find their books by searching Prologue Crime or Prologue Western, which is really helpful.) Anyway, that baseline of praise established... Jack Webb's The Big Sin (1952) might be one of my favourites so far. Webb's story ticks all the right narrative boxes: a cop versus a Big City machine, a man framed for murder, criminals being forced to choose between doing 'bad' and doing 'evil', the works. And, beneath it all, he underpins everything with a discussion of faith.

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Radio Drama: "Subject 428A" (1964)

Subject 428A"Subject 428A"

Original air date: October 2, 1964, from the series Theatre Five.

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Thoughts Before Listening

I’m thinking this will be about a prisoner or a patient or an experiment or a prisoner patient experiment. Also thinking that it would be really neat if this was about zombie unicorns. It probably isn’t. It might be though.

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