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March 2012

Underground Reading: Darksword Adventures by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Darksword AdventuresGiven this week's theme of conspiracy theories, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Darksword Adventures (1988), may seem like an off the wall pick. First and foremost, Darksword Adventures isn't even a real book. It is fundamentally an RPG gamebook, and a weird one at that.

The Darksword Trilogy (published earlier in 1988) takes place on Thimhallan, a world where everyone has magical powers. A bit like Xanth, except without the kiddie porn or bad puns. Magic springs from "Life" (one's personal energy and a transferable substance) and everyone is born with the capacity to channel one of the magical mysteries (Air, Fire, Shadow, etc). Those rare individuals without the capacity to use magic are deemed "Dead" and systematically ostracised. The trilogy follows the adventures of Joram, the heir to the throne of Merilon, one of Thimhallan's larger city-states. Joram is also Dead, a deception that, when uncovered, leads to his exile.

The series is a black sheep in the stable of Weis/Hickman worlds (metaphor mixed!) and certainly never achieved the popularity of Dragonlance or the Death Gate Cycle. There are a few obvious reasons for this. Joram, the series' putative hero, is an asshole. He's a moaning, emo, whinging jackass. Granted, he's been shafted by the system, but his bitterness makes him a poor guide for a series largely based around immersive world-building.

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A Disaster of Apocalypses

I'm still not sure what the collective noun is for the Apocalypse, but here are two recent events that most definitely were not disasters:

The Event is a two part event (little "e") organised by writer Leila Johnston composed of lectures and panels on aspects of the Apocalypse. Billed a "2012 preparation sessions", it was more like the extremely erudite love-child of SyFy and sketch comedy.

Speakers included author Naomi Alderman (who proposed an eloquent and disturbing thesis connecting the rise of zombies with social attitudes towards the Holocaust), scientist and historian Dr. Ralph Harrington (who spoke compelling about volcanoes and got a very enthusiastic round of applause for his use of bar charts) and a host of others, including a brilliant panel of local government "representatives" discussing the zombie apocalypse.

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New Releases: The Shepherd by Ethan Cross

H.P. Lovecraft wrote that the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind was fear. He went on to explain that the oldest and strongest type of fear was that of the unknown. (To HPL, this was some combination of women, foreigners and tentacle-beasts.)

The ShepherdLovecraft's stories didn't crystallise the "unknown" into a single slumbering entity, buried underneath the oceans or on a far off planet - his terror was surrounding and omnipresent. Cthulhu worshippers are slavishly devoted to their gelatinous Godzilla, but, more pertinently, they're everywhere. The most disconcerting part of "The Call of Cthulhu" is the way that the investigators keep dropping dead in the street - evidence of a global conspiracy with its own tentacles in every possible pie. Cthulhu may be sleeping, but his minions are very, very attentive. 

In that cheerful spirit, this week we'll be going through a few books that try (with varying degrees of success) to tap into that same fear - everyone is out to get you

First up, Ethan Cross' The Shepherd (2012).

The Shepherd got stonking reviews in the US, which, to be up front about it, baffles me. The novel, a debut, features a hard-boiled drifter named Marcus, who gets tangled up with a twisted serial killer. In the background, a national conspiracy does some convoluted plotting. All these elements (mostly) coalesce into a (not so) shocking conclusion and a shameless bid for sequels.

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BSFA Awards Finalists

We're on the BSFA Awards shortlist for non-fiction! Thanks to everyone that voted for us. It is surprising and amazing and 100% wonderful.

It is also immensely flattering to be listed alongside science fiction luminaries like Abigail Nussbaum, Mike Ashley, Ian Sales, the SF Encyclopedia team and the SF Foundation. These are all people that we see as role models in the speculative fiction field. Undoubtedly we will need years of therapy after trouncing them in the final vote. 

BSFA members can vote through the mail or online until 2 April. Any EasterCon attendee can vote during the convention, up to noon on the day of the award. 

Doctor Who vs the SFE vs the British Library vs Feminism vs Pornokitsch. Bring it on.

The full list of finalists in all categories follows below. We've added links to our reviews (where applicable). 

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Gothic Evening x S.D. Crockett

After the SnowWe're delighted to announce that S.D. Crockett, author of the extraordinary debut, After the Snow, will be attending the upcoming Gothic Evening. Ms. Crockett's highly-acclaimed young adult adventure showcases some of the classic Gothic themes of place, identity, darkness and connection - but incorporated into the ultra-contemporary theme of the post-Apocalyptic landscape.

Ms. Crockett joins Christopher Fowler, Tanith Lee,  Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Marcus Hearn, Suzanne McLeod, John Kaiine, Emma Vieceli, James Pearson and Jonathan Rigby as one of the evening's darkly delicious buffet of featured guests. The event takes place on 8 March (6 pm - 8 pm) at Blackwell's Charing Cross.

More information about the evening can be found on The Kitschies site, as well as a long list of contemporary and classic Gothic titles. RSVPs are welcome but not mandatory. You can keep track of the event on Facebook and Lanyrd.

The Weeks that Were

So, The Kitschies happened.

That was pretty awesome. Here on Pornokitsch, we reviewed all fifteen finalists. (We won't list them below, but you can get to them in all the normal ways - through our index or via The Kitschies' site.) Photos from the event are up on Facebook and the various acceptance speeches are also on the award's site. 

What else? 

A few non-Kitschies reviews:

  • Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf (2011) (and ennui in the alpha)
  • Alison Moon's Lunatic Fringe (2011) (and how to click with your werewolf clique)
  • Gaie Sebold's Babylon Steel (2011) (Lizzie Barrett on female-centric fantasy and lizard phalluses)
  • Benedict Smith's The Pack (2011) (and hormones and hairballs)

And a couple features:

What's up next?

Looming (darkly) on the horizon is the Gothic Evening on 8 March. Loads of guests (Jon Courtenay Grimwood! Tanith Lee! Christopher Fowler! Suzanne McLeod! Emma Vieceli! Too many to list!), loads of rum, loads of books.

We'll also be taking over the Blackwell's Blog again with guest posts from all sorts of properly horrific experts like Steve Resnic Tem, Louis Greenberg, Esther Saxey and more... More about this here.

We also started taking orders for our next Pandemonium volume, Stories of the Smoke. The book will be out in April (both as an eBook and a limited edition hardcover). More on this here.

Next week - many, many more reviews. We've got a lot of 2011 to talk about and, good lord, is it 2012 already?

Review Round-up: The Werewolves of Genre

Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf, Allison Moon's Lunatic Fringe and Benedict Smith's The Pack - three 2011 werewolf releases. Are werewolves the new vampire?

The Last WerewolfIf Glen Duncan is to believed: absolutely not.

In The Last Werewolf, Jacob Marlowe, werewolf, is as thoroughly un-vampiric as possible (both in the classic and modern interpretations of the monster). Marlowe is a visceral, passionate, animal - filled with a  pungent predatory aggression that permeates his every action. The problem is, he's all musked up with nowhere to go. Marlowe's the last of his kind, and has spent the last two hundred years coming to terms with this morbid fact.

Mr. Duncan's book focuses on Marlowe as the animal-man - both superhuman and subhuman, a sort of walking Id. That alone would fill the pages of a dozen books. (Marlowe, in fact, keeps a fairly detailed journal. I'm surprised it hasn't been optioned by Starz.) He fucks and eats and smokes and fucks and fucks a bit more (there's a lot of fucking - not lovely passionate sparkle sex, but panting, sweaty mounting).

But, after two centuries, now what? Marlowe's tried indulging himself and reforming himself, and all variations in-between. But even the lustiest animal eventually tires and he's become a very old dog indeed.

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Gaie Sebold's Babylon Steel by Lizzie Barrett

Babylon SteelReading Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold (2011) is like having a refreshing chat with that hot, tall, slightly intimidating girl that always looks like she has a lot of fun in her life.

Babylon is the Madam of the Red Lantern in the city of Scalentine, a tall attractive woman with no head for figures but a good arm for fighting – and a strong judge of character. When she’s asked to hunt down a missing girl, Enthemerlee , she ends up tussling with religious sects who see her as a sinner, helping to create the myths of an alien race and facing up to the past she ran away from over a decade ago – all in the space of a week or so.

The key to the enjoyment of this book is Babylon herself. It’s not that you haven’t seen this character in other fantasy novels before, but she’s always been a bit too perfect or ends up becoming the victim in some way. Smart but not a genius, attractive but not beautiful, strong but still vulnerable, Babylon is very, very human – nicely rounded out with complex motives and emotions and never unbelievable. Her voice is open, dry, self-aware and pulls you into to her inner thoughts and life without an obstacle.

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'It was all her idea.' - Lawrence Block and Getting Off

Getting OffLawrence Block is a Grand Master.

Officially, this happened when the Mystery Writers of America declared it so in 1993, but unofficially, this was obvious the first time he picked up a pen. The author of over sixty novels, hundreds of short stories and at least five notable series, Mr. Block is one of the greatest writers in his field. He confesses that he's made a "dog's dinner of his own retirement" with six new books out in 2011, as well as the (long overdue) eBook release of his backlist.

One of his 2011 releases, the sexy-sinister Getting Off, was with Hard Case Crime, who have been diligently bringing some of the best of Mr. Block's books (new and old) to readers.

We had the opportunity to ask Mr. Block a few quick questions.

Continue reading "'It was all her idea.' - Lawrence Block and Getting Off" »

10 Tips for Moderating a Panel

The SFX Weekender saw me moderating an SF convention panel for the first time. With that in mind, this list is presented not as my own attempts at sage wisdom, but as good advice belatedly gathered from the real experts (most of which I didn't learn in time, dernit).

Please add your own tips & tricks in the comments below. 

Joe Abercrombie explains where the final parantheses went. (Picture courtesy of Jon Green.)

1. The audience is not there to listen to you. The key part of being the moderator is that you moderate - you stand outside the panel, not on it. Granted, sometimes this is a crying shame: the moderator generally may be (and often is) an acknowledged expert in the subject area. It still doesn't matter. Your role is to make it all about the other members of the panel: they're the guests. 

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