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Underground Reading: A Touch of Death by Charles Williams

A Touch of DeathThis is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime publication, one every week. You can follow along here.

A Touch of Death (2006) was first published in 1954. Like many of Charles Williams' other books, it first appeared as a Gold Medal paperback. Although commercially and critically successful during his lifetime, Williams is now almost entirely out of print - both Joe Lansdale and John D. MacDonald have referred to him as one of the most "neglected" writers of his era. (Happily, it now looks like Mysterious Press have released many of his works for the Kindle, although with covers that make them look like cheap porn.)

Lee Scarborough is a former football player in need of some fast cash. He swings by an apartment complex, hoping to sell a car, but the lead dries up. Fortunately, another opportunity awaits - Diana James (sunbathing, attractive, utterly amoral) spots a fellow spirit in Lee. A bit of fencing results (Lee thinks she's propositioning him, which, she is, but not in that way), and Diana lets Lee in on the chance of stealing $120,000. Apparently a chap named Butler got himself killed after robbing a bank. No one knows where the money is, but Diana's pretty sure that it is still in Finley's house. Diana will play driver/scout/etc. if Lee breaks in, searches the place, and steals the stolen money. Sort of a meta-crime: no one can possibly complain.

Lee needs money and it doesn't take much convincing for him to take this first step down the slippery slope of eeeeeevil. Yet - perhaps Lee doesn't go evil enough. He breaks into the Butler house (as planned) but then finds that the dead man's widow, Madelon, is still there. Lee's considering his hasty exit when someone else breaks in - someone with a gun and a grudge. Rather against his best interests, Lee winds up tackling the gunman and saving Madelon's life. She's too drunk to realise what's happening, so, Lee kidnaps her - half for her own protection, half out of blind panic. When Madelon sobers up, she and Lee are in a remote cabin... and she's pretty pissed off.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: A Touch of Death by Charles Williams" »

We're gonna need a bigger boat...

LootI'm going to combine the 'post-script' (book purchasing) and 'everywhere but here' (stuff that's happening) updates from now on. They're both sort of... bloggy, self-indulgent entries. We'll see how it works out. Bear with me as I figure out how best to talk about myself.

First up, latest purchases/new cause for groaning floorboards & concern from the downstairs neighbours:

Lee Hoffman's The Legend of Blackjack Sam. Dunno. Ace Western. It is a thing. I read a lot of Westerns ahead of A Town Called Pandemonium - with the expectation that after that book was done, I'd never return to the genre. Who knew I'd actually enjoy it so much? (Any Amount of Books)

Alice Thompson's Burnt Island. A reminder of the house rules - I don't list review copies. But if I buy a proof for a few quid, then woohoo! Anyway, the back cover sounded intriguing. The reviews I've read since then make it sound a bit... not my thing, but it is a teeny little book. Worth a shot. (Any Amount of Books)

Arthur C. Clarke's The Sands of Mars. First edition, first novel (second book), with dust jacket... and weirdly cheap on abebooks. Anyone know the story with this? I would've thought this was a proper 'jump for joy' rarity, but the average internet price is unspectacular. (Any Amount of Books)

Continue reading "We're gonna need a bigger boat..." »

"Essential" Epic Fantasies: Wrap-up

639px-Scriptorium-monk-at-workThis week's listing activities have been a lot of fun - and goes to show that the internet loves a list.

Between the four of us, Liz, Justin, Tansy and I selected 165 different "essential" epic fantasies with 201 picks (Liz took a bonus pick). I figured that, before I put the whip down and let the dead horse be, it was worth doing a bit of poking around in the numbers. 

Download all four lists as a CSV file here. 

Here's how the math works out:

Books with multiple selections:

Chosen by all four of us:
  • George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (1996)
  • J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954)
Chosen by three of four (rebel in brackets):
  • Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel Trilogy (2001) [Jared]
  • David Eddings' Belgariad (1982) [Liz]
  • Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth (1994) [Tansy]
  • Homer's Odyssey (8th century BC) [Justin - who was perverse, and chose the Iliad]
  • The Dragonlance Chronicles (1984) [Liz]
  • Joe Abercrombie's The First Law (2006) [Tansy]

18 were chosen by two people. 

Below the jump... selections by gender, authors with multiple selections, how the bloggers overlapped and a few personal thunks about all the stuff I got wrong.

Continue reading ""Essential" Epic Fantasies: Wrap-up" »

The Lowest Heaven - Launch Day!

Cover - the lowest heavenThe Lowest Heaven is out today!

Our latest anthology is published to coincide with the Visions of the Universe exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, and the book is officially released this evening at the Museum's late night event.

Tonight's shindig features readings from several of the contributors, telescope workshops, comics from The Phoenix, music, comedy, poetry, alcoholic wizardry from Bompas and Parr and, of course, one of the most amazing exhibitions of astrophotography ever assembled. (Tickets are free, but booking is necessary.)

Many of The Lowest Heaven's contributors will be attending, including Sophia McDougall, Alastair Reynolds, Simon Morden, E.J. Swift, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Mark Charan Newton, Lavie Tidhar, Esther Saxey, David Bryher, James Smythe, Matt Jones, Marek Kukula and the (elated) editors.

Each story in The Lowest Heaven is themed around a body in the Solar System, from the Sun to Halley's Comet. The stories are illustrated with photographs and artwork selected from the archives of the Royal Observatory, while the book's cover and overall design are the work of award-winning South African illustrator Joey Hi-Fi.

Tonight we'll be selling the limited edition - 100 hardcover copies, exclusive to the Royal Observatory. These are individually numbered and will be signed by all of the attending contributors (see above for the star-studded list). The hardcover has full-colour, full-page art, with dust jacket and boards designed by Joey Hi-Fi. Joey also designed a special treat: a fold-out chart of the Solar System that is bound in to every copy of the limited edition. 

The paperback and ebook editions will both be released in July.

Early reviews of The Lowest Heaven:

"Visually beautiful with an incredibly high quality of fiction. Highly recommended." - The List

"The whimsical, the hard-core science stories and the outright strange; overall it is a well-crafted ensemble and the solar system theme never seems like a constraint... Starburst has no hesitation in recommending it to any serious reader of science fiction." - Starburst Magazine

"This back and forth between the actual and the fantastic underpins The Lowest Heaven's exploration of space, both as we know it and as we can only imagine it.... There can be no questioning the value of this artful anthology: it's as inspiring as it is inspired." -

50 Essential Epic Fantasies (Part 2: 1982 - 2013)

The latter half of my picks for "Essential" Epic Fantasies. You can find the first 25 - and a bit of explanation - here. 

A quick reminder that the the rules are as follows:

  • No more than one book or series from each author. For example, J.R. R. Tolkien could go in for The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings series, but not both.
  • No collections or anthologies.
  • You can only list books that you have read. 
  • Definitions of "essential", "epic" and "fantasy" are left open for interpretation.

Don't forget to check out the lists composed by Liz Bourke, Justin Landon and Tansy Rayner Roberts as well!

This half of my my "Essential" list are about the changes - or lack thereof - happening in the epic fantasy category. 

Let's get stuck in, starting with one of the greatest revisionist epic fantasies of all...

Continue reading "50 Essential Epic Fantasies (Part 2: 1982 - 2013)" »

When Dreams of Yith Went to The Swap Hole

XbedslaveRex Weldon was a pseudonym for Duane Weldon Rimel, a personal friend of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and other writers of the "Lovecraft Circle".

Mr. Rimel was the editor (with Francis Towner Laney) of The Acolyte, the first Lovecraft-related amateur magazine. He also contributed to some of the earliest fanzines, including Fantasy Fan.

Rimel's short story, "The Music of the Stars", considered one of the key contributions to the making of the Cthulhu Mythos.

His Mythos poetry, "The Dreams of Yith" was later revised by Lovecraft, with possible notes from Robert Barlow and Clark Ashton Smith as well. One of Rimel's original stanzas follows:

Amid dim hills that poison mosses blast,
     Far from the lands and seas of our clean earth,
Dread nightmare shadows dance - obscenely cast
     By twisted talons of archean birth
On rows of slimy pillars stretching past
     A daemon-fane that echoes with mad mirth.
And in that realm sane eyes may never see -
     For black light streams from skies of ebony.

Rimel's other titles include A Wife for the Taking, Limit for Laura, Party Wife, Neighborhood Swap, Sex Schedule, Bedroom Bingo, Swap Hole, Twin Stud Swap, Robyn and Her Sisters, Brothers and Sisters, Your Wife for Mine and Arouse Me!

50 Essential Epic Fantasies (Part 1: 8th Century BC - 1982)

Liz Bourke, Justin LandonTansy Rayner Roberts and I have challenged one another to write and compare our lists of "Essential" Epic Fantasies. The result is a multi-blogger liststravaganza! (For a previous challenge with SF, see here.)

The rules are as follows:

  • No more than one book or series from each author. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien could go in for The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings series, but not both.
  • No anthologies.
  • You can only list books that you have read
  • Definitions of "essential", "epic" and "fantasy" are left to personal interpretation.

Tthat third rule limits me to things that are in English, which means this is an extremely Anglo-American list. Sorry about that - as always, please leave feedback and suggested reading in the comments.

I've defined "essential" as "gives or informs a useful perspective on the category". I've also tried to cover as much of a range as possible with the fifty picks. So the "essential" list should be a holistic view of the category. Favouritism is unavoidable, but I've balanced out some of those picks with books I really dislike. Only fair.

Specifically, because I'm a nutball, I'm interested in how the epic fantasy category has progressed, or, in many cases - stayed fairly static. There are some strands of epic fantasy that seem, well, completely unchanged over two thousand years. There are other strands in which the category actively pulls in tropes and themes from other genres. This first part of the list - Homer to the early 1980s - focuses on establishing these strands. The second part of the list (coming Monday) is more about progression (and the lack thereof).

As with all lists, I look forward to the debate. Please share your own "essential" books in the comments, and don't forget to check out what the others have done: Liz, JustinTansy

Enough of that. Here's the first half of my personal list of "essential" epic fantasies:

Continue reading "50 Essential Epic Fantasies (Part 1: 8th Century BC - 1982)" »

The Lowest Heaven - One week to go...

The Lowest HeavenOnly one week until The Lowest Heaven comes out!

After a night of seriously weird dreams (the printer had interpreted "matt varnish" as "fuzzy"), the limited edition has shown up and is... well... lovely. Also? Huge. I'm not sure why our books keep growing. But at 350 pages and 100,000 words, The Lowest Heaven is the biggest yet.

The limited edition is launched next Thursday night, 13 June. (An appropriate verb, given that the book celebrates the amazing astrophotography of the Royal Observatory Greenwich.) The launch party is one part of the "Visions of the Universe" late night. The evening runs 6 pm - 9 pm, our readings and signings will kick off from 7.30, so there's plenty of time to get drinks, play with a telescope, listen to poetry, taunt the jellymakers and see the exhibition.

Quite a few of the contributors will be there, including Sophia McDougall, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Simon Morden, Mark Charan Newton, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Matt Jones, David Bryher, Esther Saxey, Lavie Tidhar and E.J. Swift. Plus the editors (hi!) and Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer for the Royal Observatory and author of the book's introduction. They'll all be signing, too.

Tickets (they're free), here. (Click the blue "Book Now" sticker.)

Facebook page for launch details.

The paperback and ebook versions are coming on 3 July - so the limited edition isn't just really damn attractive, it is also a three week head start. Given the size of the thing, you may need it.

Competition: Win exclusive JOYLAND art!

JoylandSo... Stephen King's carny-pulp noir, Joyland, is coming out this week. You may have heard. I, for one, haven't been talking about it at all. Nosiree.

Still, being a shameless fan has its perks, and here's today's: we're hosting a cool (and very easy) competition with an exclusive Joyland prize.

Unlike most carnival games, this one really is easy. Here's how it goes:

To be entered into today's drawing to win a canvas print of Glen Orbik's gorgeous cover art for Joyland, all you need to do is copy and paste the correct statement in a tweet to the nice people at @titanbooks.

  • Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine…I think. #JOYLAND @TitanBooks
  • Stephen King was born in Orlando, Florida…I think. #JOYLAND @TitanBooks

Not tricky. So go forth and tweetify, and if you're the lucky winner, think of me. For I have nobly chosen to host today's drawing, rather than compete. Sniffle. #woez #bloggermartyrcomplex

There are other chances to win stuff - copies of the book and other neat prizes. Check out Titan Books for details of the carnival tour. 

While you're here, why not check out our very own review of Joyland - and the ongoing project to review every Hard Case Crime?

New Releases: Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland - Orbik CoverThis is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime publication, one every week. You can follow along here. Last week, we fought Communists with Donald Hamilton. This week, we're returning to the (somewhat-) halcyon days of yore with Stephen King.

Joyland (2013) is Stephen King's second novel for Hard Case Crime. His first, The Colorado Kid, was... well, it was a thing. It is my great pleasure to say that Joyland is not only a vast improvement on The Colorado Kid, but it is an atmospheric thriller reminiscent of (if not quite equal to) some of King's very best work, such as "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" or "The Body".

It is 1973, and Devin Jones, college student and nice guy, is at loose ends. His girlfriend, Wendy, is off to Boston for the summer. When Devin sees a job ad for Joyland, an amusement park in North Carolina, he takes the plunge. A long bus ride and a short interview later, he's hired on the spot. In no time at all, he's got a job dressed as a dog, a cool boss and a nice little rented room all to himself. (The room is extremely important. Devin's very excited about finally Doing It with his beloved Wendy.) 

And things just keep getting better. He likes the work, and, better yet, he's good at it. Devin's not "carny from carny" (someone whose parents were carny folk), but he is a natural. Even when "wearing the fur" (dressing up as Howie the Happy Hound - no treat in the blistering summer sun), Devin's having a great time.

And then the Wendy-hammer falls - she's leaving him for someone else. Devin's shattered, and all the joy in Joyland can't put him back together again.

Continue reading "New Releases: Joyland by Stephen King" »