Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Forest of the Hanged (Thurvok, Book 4) by Richard Blakemore and Cora Buhlert

Release date: March 6, 2019
Subgenre: Sword and Sorcery

About The Forest of the Hanged:

 

According to the laws of the Rhadur, whenever one of their own is killed in one of the cities they have conquered, twelve citizens chosen at random must die in turn. Now the Rhadur governor of Greyvault has been murdered and in retaliation, his successor plans to hang twelve innocent maidens.

One of the women to be hanged is Lysha, the childhood sweetheart of Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin. When Meldom learns of Lysha's fate, he immediately sets out to rescue her, accompanied by his friends Thurvok, the sellsword, and the sorceress Sharenna…

This is a short story of 6500 words or 24 print pages in the Thurvok sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

 

Excerpt:

 

The trouble started, as it sometimes did, with a message. It was delivered to Meldom, cutpurse, thief and occasional assassin, at the breakfast table at the Long Drop Tavern, though Thurvok the sellsword had no idea how the messenger had even found his friend and companion here. After all, very few people were supposed to know where they were staying. It was simply safer that way.
While Thurvok nibbled on a joint of ham, Meldom broke the wax seal — plain candle wax and not proper sealing wax — with his dagger and read. His expression darkened.
“Business?” Thurvok asked between two bites.
Meldom shook his head. “No, private.” The dagger was still in his hand, clutched so hard that Meldom’s already pale skin become even paler.
At this moment, Thurvok’s other travelling companion, Sharenna, the flame-haired sorceress, appeared, carrying a jug of milk, a basket of fresh bread and a chunk of cheese. She set down her burden on the table, flashed Thurvok a private smile and settled down on the chair opposite the two men.
Sharenna filled up her cup with milk and helped herself to some bread and cheese. It was only now that she noticed that the normally chatty Meldom was uncharacteristically quiet. For once, he wasn’t plotting grandiose plans for making ridiculous amounts of money. Nor was he making pointed remarks about sleeping arrangements.
Of course, eating normally shut Meldom up, but then he wasn’t eating either. He was just staring at that letter and clutching his dagger, clutching it so hard Thurvok briefly worried that the hilt would shatter.
“What’s wrong?” Sharenna asked.
Meldom looked up, his grey eyes troubled. “Nothing. Just a message from an old friend. I’ll have to leave for a while, though. I have business in Greyvault.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t go back to Greyvault, because you’re wanted for something or other there,” Thurvok pointed out, still gnawing on his joint of ham.
“Well, in theory I can’t go back,” Meldom snapped, “But in practice, I’ll just have to risk it and hope that the constabulary doesn’t catch me.”
In response, Thurvok laid down the joint of ham or rather what was left of it. “We’ll come with you then.”
“It’s private business,” Meldom replied.
“We’ll still come with you,” Sharenna said, her voice softer than usual, “After all, we’re friends. And friends help each other when they’re in trouble.”
“How do you even know I’m in trouble?” Meldom snapped, “Are you using your magic to read my mind or what?”
Sharenna sighed. “For the last time, I can’t read minds. Not that I need to, considering you’re making a face like soured milk.”
Meldom finally put the letter down, though he still clutched the dagger in his hand. “Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“Bad news?” Thurvok suggested.
Meldom nodded. “Very bad. An old… friend of mine is in trouble. The sort of trouble that tends to leave you swinging on the end of a rope.”
Thurvok patted his friend on the shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
“You want to help your friend, don’t you?” Sharenna asked.
“If I can.” Meldom replied. “I have to try, at any rate. I owe her my life, after all.”
Across the table, Thurvok and Sharenna exchanged a look. For though Meldom talked a lot, he rarely spoke about his life before he became a wandering mercenary, selling his skills to whoever was willing to pay him. Still, whatever was behind this message had left Meldom rattled, more rattled than Thurvok had ever seen him.
“Then it’s settled.” Thurvok rose to his feet. “We’ll go to Greyvault and save this friend of yours.”
Meldom shot him a warning look. “It’s going to be dangerous.”
Thurvok sighed. “Isn’t it always?”

 

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About Richard Blakemore:

Richard Blakemore (1900 – 1994) was a prolific writer of pulp fiction. Nowadays, he is best remembered for creating the Silencer, a masked vigilante in the vein of the Shadow or the Spider, during the hero pulp boom of the 1930s. But Richard Blakemore also wrote in many other genres, including an early sword and sorcery series about the adventures of a sellsword named Thurvok and his companions.
Richard Blakemore's private life was almost as exciting as his fiction. He was a veteran of World War I and II as well as a skilled sportsman and adventurer who travelled the world during the 1920s. He may also have been the person behind the mask of the real life Silencer who prowled New York City between 1933 and 1942, fighting crime, protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty, though nothing has ever been proven.
Richard Blakemore was married for more than fifty years to Constance Allen Blakemore and the couple had four children.

 

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About Cora Buhlert:

Cora Buhlert was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today – after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. 

Cora has been writing, since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. She is the author of the Silencer series of pulp style thrillers, the Shattered Empire space opera series, the In Love and War science fiction romance series, the Helen Shepherd Mysteries and plenty of standalone stories in multiple genres.

When Cora is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher. She also runs the Speculative Fiction Showcase and the Indie Crime Scene and contributes to the Hugo-nominated fanzine Galactic Journey.

 

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Interview with Carole McDonnell, author of The Constant Tower



Today on the Speculative Fiction Showcase it gives us great pleasure to interview Carole McDonnell, author of The Constant Tower. 

You are a prolific writer in several genres - fiction, non-fiction and poetry, to name but a few. Do you have a favourite genre, and is it helpful to write about different things at different times?
My favorite genre is probably time travel. That encompasses so much, doesn’t it? Speculation, science fiction (if the time travel was done by scientific means), fantasy if the mechanics of the time travel is unexplainable or merely caused by some spiritual power or human wishing. It is often a puzzle too and I like puzzles. It is the genre of regret, a woulda-shoulda-might-ve genre. And the time disorientation, time loops, and puzzling out the exact key to a better outcome of life is fun to watch. That’s the genre I love to watch. I’ve written some time-travel stories. Those are in my anthology, Turn Back O Time. The genres I love to read are non-fiction and poetry. I avoid science fiction because I don’t know enough about any particular hard science to write convincingly or intelligently about them. I like writing fantasy, however, because of the worldbuilding, the folklore and the culture of those worlds. I can create these worlds and live in them and not have to worry about science.

Tell us about your writing process, and your writing day. Do you prefer to work on one project at a time, or to move between books?
I work on several books at the same time. Sometimes one feels like editing, sometimes one feels like writing, sometimes one is blocked on a particular book, and sometimes one wakes up with the scenes of a particular work-in-progress in one’s mind.

Does your interest in poetry infuse your writing to a certain extent?
Oh yes, definitely! I was a poetry nut as a kid and still am. Mostly English and Irish poetry from all eras, and Chinese poetry.

You have contributed to a number of anthologies. How does that experience  differ from writing a novel or series of your own?
Writing to a theme is either very easy if you know what the editor wants , but it is also very challenging because if you don’t usually write steamfunk or dieselfunk, for instance, then you have to really think about it. Also, they are short stories, at the most novellas. When I create worlds, I tend to really get into everything about that world so the readers have an idea of that world. But this can lead to stories that are really novels or to stories that are too complicated and confusing and which feel incomplete. So I have to learn how to measure the story.




Tell us about your stand-alone novels. Two of them, Wind Follower and The Constant Tower, are fantasy novels. The most recent stand-alone, My Life as an Onion, described as African-American Christian Fiction, is closer to literary fiction. Can you talk about the differences between the books, and what prompted you to write about such a different theme?
Yes, I generally write about other worlds and other cultures. Wind Follower is about imperialism and is very infused with Christianity. The Constant Tower doesn’t seem religious at all but if someone knows the Bible she will see that the book is full of Bible verses. With My Life as an Onion, I wanted to write a story about real life as I have experienced it. Real life is full of the surreal, especially for a little Christian kid raised in Jamaica. I’ve always loved magical realism and, having experienced some odd events in life, I wanted to put them in a kind of fictional memoir. I also love Korean dramas and I wanted to write a reverse harem new adult for dark-skinned women. When I say “reverse harem,” I’m talking about the Asian variety where a girl has several men around her who may like her but she has to choose one. Not the American version which is often overtly sexual. I was raised by my Methodist Minister grandfather and his sister who was a former Catholic nun. To the best of my ability, I wanted to write a story about a Pentecostal Black girl who has to discover what part of her Christian culture she will keep and what part she will toss.  Most Christian fiction often feel unreal and preachy and there is a kind of distance between it and non-Christian readers. And most Christian romance avoid interracial relationships and supernatural events.

In the Editorial Review for My Life as an Onion, you mention your interest in Korean dramas. Can you tell us about these and what is particularly good about them?
Korean dramas use a different kind of storytelling than American dramas. The muism – Korean folk religion-- of Korean culture touches the dramas. Everything is interconnected, interwoven, and aims for harmony and redemption. For westerners, the coincidences might seem like easy plotting but for Koreans, those coincidences are the universe working out some issue to produce harmony. Also, Korean TV is concerned with stories with a beginning and an end (usually a happy or redemptive ending) but American TV is primarily character-based where there are the same characters in sit-coms for years. Korean TV trusts its viewers – mostly older women-- to have the patience and intelligence to enter any world the writer might create and to wait to see how the story goes. Each channel has stories and each story is about 16 episodes. This means a lot of stories throughout the year, stories that are truer to the meaning of “story” and purer to some extent than western TV where the characters, settings, themes are already established because the western shows are so long-standing.




What do you do when you are between writing projects, and how do you like to relax?
I go to my English Country Dance, I go for walks, I design fabrics, I listen to music.

You have written about several different fantasy universes. One series concerns Malku and the Faes. What is distinctive about this world, and the characters who inhabit it?
In all my stories, I am fascinated by culture, races, and how everyone works together. In the Malku universe, there are standard humans, merfolk, fae, and the children of such unions. In some regions everyone gets along, in others not so much.

The blurb to The Charcoal Bride, the first book in the series - a collection of three short novels - describes it as chronicling “the rise to power of Hanrisor’s King Skall and the family curse –called ‘The Hanrisor Legacy’--that troubled him and his descendants”. What is the importance of the curse, without giving too much away, and how does it affect Skall and his adventures?
It’s a vengeance curse. There is the old Biblical idea of a generational curse. Deuteronomy 27 and 28, and the ten commandments for instance are about curses. For instance, Abraham lied to Pharoah about his wife, Isaac lied to another king about his wife, Jacob lied to his father, Jacob gets lied to by his wife’s father, Jacob ends up being lied to by his son Reuben.  Or King David committed adultery and killed the husband of his co-adulterer, and ends up causing bloodshed in his own family where his son rapes his daughter, and another son ends up raping David’s concubines. It also occurs in Greek literature. Everyone in Laius’ family had some sexual issue – falling in love with a bull, marrying one’s mother, etc—because an ancestor raped a young boy. In my story, Hanrisor is a kingdom where the king’s family is under a curse. Prince Arvid’s biological father was murdered by a king who loved Arvid’s mother. Arvid makes a vow to the God of wrath to kill the king. However, he doesn’t kill the king because he loves his mother and half-brother.  He has broken the vow he made to a god. This curse of wrath between the son and father goes on through the generations until it works itself out.




The Fae themselves play an important role in this and other stories. They are not exactly benign as an influence - is that a fair summation?
The faes are indifferent to everything for the most part. They are otherworldly and powerful. They tend to live and let live unless they are bothered. Malku has encountered several disasters because humans dared to war against the fae. In The Charcoal Bride, we hear about such a war and we discover why Skall becomes king.

Tell us about the second book in the series, SeaWalker...
In The Charcoal Bride, we are mostly concerned with Skall. SeaWalker is about his best friend, a child who was once disabled whom the fae raised. Skall has arrived in Hanrisor as king now and he and the SeaWalker, who is named Nohay, go on a road trip throughout Hanrisor to learn about the culture and to see what damage the war with the fae has done. Of course there are resentments and would-be murderers.

The Nephilim Dystopia Series has two books to date: The Daughters of Men and The Chimeran Queen. What aspect of the stories is dystopian?
In this world, there are different kinds of humans. There are standard humans. There are chimeric humans who look more or less human who have had their genetics manipulated by scientists. There are the prototypes who cannot die but who continually age. There are the Nephilim. The Chimeran Queen is Medusa. She is quite hideous and worms continually come from under her flesh. She has been raised and trained by the Nephilim and in book two has now been given the rule of Otaura. The Chimerans have different categories which include equine chimera, bovine chimera, avian chimera, etc.  Some are ashamed of their genetics, others proud. They are supposed to be living on a terraformed planet but some hide their genetics and continue to live on earth. Most of these groups hate, envy, or curse others in other groups.




What is the significance of the Nephilim in this world?
The Nephilim are beautiful, powerful, telepathic. Some are more human than others because of continued intermarriage. Others, like Prince Woden and Duke Siddhart, have had only one human female ancestor. Nephilim who are human-demon hybrids who rule the world because of some great disaster because their spirit fathers revolted against God.

The protagonist, Ellie, who is human, finds herself torn between two different men, and also the subject of a prophecy. How does this conflict affect her and her world?
Some humans want to be free from the power of the Nephilim, others are fine with it. The Nephilim think they are doing good in the world because they helped earth recover from the great disaster. But although the Nephilim love women, they disdain human evil and there is that nasty pesky human sacrifice every year so one could question how much they truly like humans. The Nephilim are also looking for a savior. As in the supposed Book of Enoch, they are constantly seeking God’s forgiveness. After all, they may be monsters in God’s eyes but they didn’t ask to be born.  

What are you working on at the moment? And what are your plans?
I’m writing the first draft of Chimeran Queen, editing SeaWalker, and working on a nonfiction Christian book.

The influence of the Bible is inescapable, whether one is Christian, Jewish, or simply English-speaking. It informs so much of our discourse, and writers who disagree with it, like Phillip Pullman, are nonetheless deeply influenced by its language. What are your thoughts about this?
I’m not sure if one can really say that writers disagree with the entire Bible. There are many books in it. There is Ecclesiastes, for instance. I really can’t see any atheist writer disagreeing with it. The thing is many cultures have a holy book. It is part of human folkloric culture to speak of a lost book and a need for a sacrificed savior. Job, the oldest book in the Bible, speaks of desiring a book and looking for a savior who could put one hand on God and the other hand on a human. So culturally the Bible is the western version. Ashok Banker is an Indian writer who acknowledges and honors his culture’s religious stories, and Bryan Thao Worra is a Laotian poet who honors his culture’s mythos. Whether one is religious or not, cultural landmarks should be acknowledged and honored during our time. I’ll just say that for me, the language of the Bible and all those tragic princes one finds in it has affected my writing, and its philosophy and concept of the nature of man has definitely been the lens through which I see the world. And thank you so much for interviewing me.


About Carole McDonnell:


Carole McDonnell is a writer of Christian, supernatural, and ethnic stories. She writes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and reviews. Her writings appear in various anthologies, including Griots, edited by Milton Davis and published by MV Media, Steamfunk, edited by Milton Davis and published by MV Media,  So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonialism in Science Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and published by Arsenal Pulp Press; Jigsaw Nation, published by Spyre Books; and Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs: Writings by Mature Women of Color among others.
Her reviews appear at various online sites.
Her story collections are Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction by Carole McDonnell and Turn Back O Time and other stories of the fae of Malku.
There are also stand-alone novels: Wind Follower, My Life as an Onion, The Constant Tower
Her novels also include books in the following series:

The Nephilim Dystopia Series: The Daughters of Men, The Chimeran Queen
And Novels of the Malku Universe: The Charcoal Bride, SeaWalker

She lives in New York with her husband, two sons, and their pets. When not writing, she teaches English as a Second Language to refugees and migrants or can be found dancing English Country Dances.



Friday, March 22, 2019

Speculative Fiction Links of the Week for March 22, 2019


It's time for the weekly round-up of interesting links about speculative fiction from around the web, this week with Star Trek Discovery, Captain Marvel, Love, Death + Robots, season 2 of American Gods, Captive State, Us and much more. 

Speculative fiction in general:

Film and TV:

Comments on Star Trek Discovery and Star Trek in general (spoilers):

Comments on Captain Marvel (potential spoilers): 

Comments on season 2 of American Gods

Comments on Love, Death + Robots:

Comments on Captive State:

Comments on Us:

Awards:

Writing, publishing and promotion:

Interviews:

Reviews:

Classics reviews:

Crowdfunding:

Con and event reports:

Science and technology:

Free online fiction:

Odds and ends:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

SYNTH #1, an anthology of Dark SF edited by CM Muller

Release date: March 5, 2019
Sub-genre: Cyberpunk, Dystopian SF

About SYNTH #1:


SYNTH is a new anthology series of dark SF published quarterly, with each issue containing eight thought-provoking visions of the future . . . tales of utopia and dystopia, of inner and outer space; tales that are bleak, tales that are bold . . .

Issue #1 features the dark visions of Dan Stintzi, Steve Toase, Virginie Sélavy, Charles Wilkinson, Farah Rose Smith, Jeffrey Thomas, Christopher K. Miller, and Joanna Koch.

If you are a fan of Black Mirror, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Alphaville, and the like, then SYNTH may well be your next literary fix

Excerpt from Surrogate by Dan Stintzi:


Out in the city, the snow was so thick Emmons was practically swimming. He followed back roads between the rubble of the old hospital, beside toppled smokestacks, weaving past homes reduced to steel and foundation. The route through the outskirts was impassable. The river had not frozen fully and the bridge was out again. That left the path through the city. He would have to pass the settlement, and possibly engage with and possibly maim or murder at least some of its inhabitants. He brought with him a hunting rifle he believed could still fire and a revolver he was sure could not. He had not seen the locals in years. He had heard the noises they made, but he had not seen them. The noises were difficult to classify. They came to him at night, in half-dreams, bounced off the city’s ruins, carried over the empty fields, over the snow. The sound was human—labored and sundry—rising up in unison like a chorus, but it was rigid too, mechanical, the noise an engine might make if it had a mouth and the desire to sing.
Emmons saw the settlement in the distance. The walls were made of wood; sharpened spears, aimed out at the road, jutted from the stockades. The settlement was built in the carcass of some ruined structure. Smoke rose in black plumes from the settlement’s center. The afternoon sky looked flat and hollow. It was a gray piece of paper that could be torn through. The smoke had a flavor that made Emmons’s stomach bubble. 
He followed the old road through the ruins, through the snow, until he came along a cleared path. He followed the path, climbing over concrete and metal, winding through the burnt out car frames, the piles of frozen garbage. He saw a purple hand in one of the piles, an unblinking eye in another. The ice never melted so the bodies never broke down. He sent his mind searching for memories of the days when bodies were piled up on street corners, when cars were left to rust on highways and sidewalks, but he came back empty. His brain had been strip-mined long ago, those old nightmares replaced with white space. 
He arrived outside the settlement where a man in a camouflage jacket sat hunched on a metal folding chair beside the settlement’s gate. Across from the gate was a series of wooden sawhorses placed in a line blocking the path forward. The man looked up and gripped the shotgun in his lap. Metal rivers ran in crisscross stitches across his face skin. The rivers were mercury colored, they flowed and rippled as if windblown. The man’s eyes were black orbs. His left leg was made of metal. 
Emmons wondered if this was a normal way for people to look. He could not remember. He stuck the rifle in the crook of his shoulder and took shuffling steps, walking parallel to the settlement’s gate, moving toward the barricade.

Excerpt from The Object of Your Desire Comes Closer by Joanna Koch:


Fay-Lin swathed my body with black hair and nervous energy. Barely sated by the last half hour, she spun a thread of hair around her index finger, a spider considering her mate. Happily trapped, sexually inexpert, I waited for the spider to strike. Instead of feeding me poison, she fought to keep me by her side.
I said, “You’re the most fearless person I’ve ever met.”
The forerunner of a wrinkle marked her brow. “What you did for us, alone for thirty years, that’s true courage, real strength.”
I smoothed Fay-Lin’s impatient frown with my rough hands, clumsy worship. “Send someone else. You’ve proved yourself before.” Around us, the evidence hummed. Our ill-equipped vessel sailed through the vacuum, eating up space. The unlikely survival of our ship was the last miracle I still believed in: the miracle of Fay-Lin.
“This is different. Damage, some sort of external growth. I don’t know what I’m dealing with until I get out on the hull and sample it. Too many unknowns. I need to make decisions in the moment, not manage from a distance.”
“Don’t go. For me.”
Fay-Lin twirled a black lock around her finger. I’d first witnessed this gesture of steeping ire when she was eight. It was our practice as teachers to let the children experience the full consequences of their actions. We stopped short of irreversible damage, but many suffered injuries. They had to learn there were no second chances on an orphaned vessel. At twenty-three, I was an old man to Fay-Lin and a double father figure, both teacher and chaplain. I didn’t intervene when her team failed the exercise. She spun a black lock and glared at me as she marched to her simulated death.
My stasis rotation came up soon after. I didn’t see Fay-Lin again until we were the same age. I missed watching her grow up. Age twenty-one, ascended to the rank of commander, Fay-Lin woke me to render aid as Minister of the Earth. We were adrift. Food supply ran low. The horror of waking from stasis made me useless to her at first. Some vital part of my soul seemed lost in that long void.
Fay-Lin roused me with her bold touch. How was I to resist? She was my first and only earthly love, though she wasn’t born on the earth. Let me say she was my first and only fleshly love.
Our love grew with the crops in the greenhouse. When she revived me, she bade me build a farm from nothing in space. For Fay-Lin, my answer is always yes.
Equal in passion, younger than I am now, I was immune to the mortifications of time. After months of mutual labor and love, I begged her not to send me back to stasis.
“The ship needs me. We can have a life together.”



About CM Muller:




CM Muller lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the editor and publisher of the award-winning anthology series Nightscript, and his own stories have appeared in venues such as Shadows & Tall Trees, Supernatural Tales, Vastarien, and Weirdbook. His debut story collection, Hidden Folk, was released in late 2018.