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INTERVIEWS

Peter Higgins, author of Wolfhound Century

Myke Cole, author of Shadow Ops Series

John Brown John, translator of the Zamonia Novels

Jim C. Hines author of Libriomancer

Nick Harkaway author of Angelmaker (review here)

Martha Wells author of The Cloud Roads

David Tallerman author of Giant Thief

Mazarkis Williams author of The Emperor's Knife

Rob Ziegler author of Seed

Steven Gould author of 7th Sigma

Douglas Hulick author of Among Thieves (review here)

Mark Charan Newton author of Nights of Villjamur (review here)

Kameron Hurley author of God's War (review here)

Brent Weeks author of The Black Prism (review here)

Anthony Huso author of The Last Page (review here)

Brandon Sanderson author of The Way of Kings (review here)

Lou Anders Editor of Pyr Books

Ian Tregillis author of Bitter Seeds (review here)

Sam Sykes author of Tome of the Undergates (review here)

Benjamin Parzybok author of Couch (review here)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch author of Diving Into the Wreck (review here)

Ken Scholes author of Lamentation

Cherie Priest author of Boneshaker (review here)

Lev Grossman author of The Magicians (review here)

Character Interviews

Alexia and Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Eva Forge from Tim Akers's The Horns of Ruin

Atticus from Kevin Hearne's Hounded

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My BlogCatalog BlogRank Wikio - Top Blogs - Literature

New Procurements with bonus holiday haul

Ah, December you wild and crazy month. I feel like I've barely had time to breathe with the running around and all the Christmas prep. But that hasn't stopped books from showing up at my door. First up are the purchased and gifts I've gotten recently.


That little gold book sitting atop is none other than Neil Gaiman's A Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff, which is a very small but well put together collection of some of Neil's more obscure fiction, poems, reviews, and some speeches. Borderlands is still selling the unsigned edition if you're interested. Next is the signed limited edition of Brent Weeks' Perfect Shadow, which I read in e-form earlier this year. Then we have a Christmas present with 1493 by Charles C. Mann, his follow-up to 1491 which still stands as one of my favorite history books for the last 10 years. The huge book at the bottom was another Christmas gift and if you somehow can't make out the title is an M.C. Escher Pop-Up Book. So yeah, it is pretty dang cool. I also got a bunch of gift certificates that will most likely be spent on books quite soon.


On the review copy front I've been quite lucky. First up is Adam Christopher's debut Empire State, which will be read in short order. Did someone say Noir and bubble universe? Next is Theodora Goss' latest novella, The Thorn and the Blossom, which is actually a pair of novellas telling the same story for two points of view. And get this: it is an accordion binding with no spine. If you don't know what I mean go visit Goss' site for some pics. It also comes in a nice slipcase and I predict big things for the book come its January release.  I was very happy to win a signed copy of Martha Wells' The Serpent Sea and that's another that will be read in short order. The Mirage is Matt Ruff's latest novel that definitely seems PKD inspired. Ruff's Fool on the Hill is still one of my all-time favorite novels. Winning Mars is technically Jason Stoddard's debut despite the book originally being a short story and then a longer version released for free via his site. Massive changes were undertaken for the Prime Books release that mergers Mars and reality TV in the future. From Prime is also Lightspeed: Year One edited by John Joseph Adams comprised of all the fiction the magazine published during its first year. Wide Open is Deborah Coates's ghostly debut though she has developed a good reputation in the short story market. That one just peeking out is Alex J. Cavanaugh's CassaFire his next action Sci-Fi.  Brian Evenson's April release Immobility caught me immediately with its short blurb:
You open your eyes for what you know is not the first time and you remember nothing. You find out that a catastrophic event known as the Kollaps has destroyed life as we know it.

Suddenly someone claiming to be your friend tells you you're needed. Something crucial has been stolen — but under no circumstances can you know what or why. You've got to get it back or something bad is going to happen. And you've got to get it back fast, so they can freeze you again before your own time runs out.
Paralyzed from the waist down, you're being carried around on the backs of two men who don't seem anything like you at all. Who inject you regularly and tell you its for your own good... to stop the disease, or
The yellow number near the bottom is Stephen Blackmoore's debut City of the Lost, the first in an Urban Fantasy series and given its brief page count and some nice accolades I may dip in soon since it officially comes out next week. Lastly, is Rod Rees' much touted debut The Demi-Monde: Winter, the first in a series about a virtual world inspired by Steampunk and Cyberpunk.

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Cover Unveiled for Empire State by Adam Christopher
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Best of 2011 - The Long List Edition

In no particular order at all here are the books I'm considering for my year end review of books published in 2011. Note I read quite a few books published prior to 2011 not included here.

  1. Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
  2. Ganymede by Cherie Priest
  3. All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen
  4. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
  5. Seed by Rob Ziegler
  6. The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams
  7. God's War by Kameron Hurley
  8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  9. The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu
  10. Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine
  11. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
  12. Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan
  13. The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
  14. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
  15. Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe
  16. The Rift Walker by Clay & Susan Griffith
  17. Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey
  18. The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell
  19. Machine Man by Max Barry
  20. Spellbound by Blake Charlton
  21. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
  22. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
  23. Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh
  24. The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi
  25. The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones
  26. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  27. Brave New Worlds edited by John Joseph Adams
  28. Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson
  29. Hounded by Kevin Hearne
  30. The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
I've also just started on The Magician King by Lev Grossman, which may end up in the final list as well given how much I liked Grossman's previous effort.  Some brief observations:
  • *  None are considered Horror, but a couple have elements. Seems I didn't gravitate to much in the way of Horror in general this year, which might mean a reading goal for 2012.
  • *   Just one is an anthology despite reading a few this year.
  • *   5 are Steampunky.
  • *   8ish are Sci-Fi.
  • *   About half are debuts. This may be due to my predilection towards new authors.
So what did I leave off the list? Any other observations?

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Happy Holidays!







The Christmas card I wish I were capable of making. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays!!! I wish you many books in your stockings this year!


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Merry Christmas everyone!!!
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NEWS | Third Magician book from Lev Grossman


In most interviews around the release of The Magician King, Grossman said he didn't know what he was going to write next and that he would be taking a little time off from writing.  But it appears inspiration has struck and we'll be treated to at least one more Magician's book featuring some past characters.  Here is what from Grossman said in his Brakebills Alumni Newsletter:
I also started writing the third Magicians novel. I’m not sure what to tell you about it.

Mostly I’m just outlining it now, and taking a lot of notes. Inspiration is coming from a lot of different places, some new, some old. The Magician’s Nephew is a big part of it, as is The Last Battle. (It’s not a coincidence that those books tell the story, respectively, of the beginning of Narnia and the end of Narnia.) I’m rereading The Tempest and The Phantom Tollbooth and P.G. Wodehouse and the great Bond novel Casino Royale. I’m also rereading The Lord of the Rings, which oddly enough I’ve never really thought of as an influence before.

The new book’s working title – which I’ve never told anybody before -- is The Magician’s Land.

It’s not like anything I’ve ever written before. But it’s not completely new either. There are a lot of old friends to visit, and a lot of loose ends to tie up. We may never come back here again.
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Cover Unveiled for The Magician King by Lev Grossman (UK version)

Reviewing News and New Poll on Early 2012 Releases

As 2012 approaches I've come to conclusion that I am just not going to catch up on writing full reviews.  This year was just too hectic personally and professionally for me. The piles of books I've read that I've intended to do full reviews on just keeps growing and growing and the longer it has been since I've read the book the more difficult it is to review properly. So I'm basically calling those piles a wash except for a couple choice books I have extensive review notes on and also some I remember well at this point.

Sometimes you just have to hit refresh and this is one of those times. During the first week of January I intend to write reviews for those books or take them off the piles as well.  I hope my reading log, reviews, and other tidbits still encourages you to read these books. Some are sure to be mentioned in my year in review post coming in early January.

In the hopes of getting to some of the books my loyal readers want to hear more about I've added a poll  to the upper left of the site of debuts coming out from January through March.  I didn't list a couple titles I already know I'm starting soon such as Adam Christopher's Empire State, but I did try to vary things a bit. The choices are:


Seven Princes by John R. Fultz

It is an Age of Legends.

Under the watchful eye of the Giants, the kingdoms of Men rose to power. Now, the Giant-King has slain the last of the Serpents and ushered in an era of untold peace and prosperity. Where a fire-blackened desert once stood, golden cities flourish in verdant fields.

It is an Age of Heroes.

But the realms of Man face a new threat-- an ancient sorcerer slaughters the rightful King of Yaskatha before the unbelieving eyes of his son, young Prince D'zan. With the Giant-King lost to a mysterious doom, it seems that no one has the power to stop the coming storm.

It is an Age of War.

The fugitive Prince seeks allies across the realms of Men and Giants to liberate his father's stolen kingdom. Six foreign Princes are tied to his fate. Only one thing is certain: War is coming.

SEVEN PRINCES.

Some will seek glory. Some will seek vengeance. All will be legends.



The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Set in an amoral future where genetically engineered monstrosities fight each other to the death in an Olympic event, The Games envisions a harrowing world that may arrive sooner than you think.

Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.

The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic.

Now Silas races to understand what the computer has wrought, aided by a beautiful xenobiologist, Vidonia João. Yet as the fast-growing gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most disquietingly—intelligence, Silas and Vidonia find their scientific curiosity giving way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.



Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole
Army Officer. Fugitive. Sorcerer.

Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze. 


Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military's Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one.

The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down--and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he's ever known, and that his life isn't the only thing he's fighting for.



Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, "The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat," just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla's young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God's justice. But even as Raseed's sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man's title. She lives only to avenge her father's death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father's killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince's brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time--and struggle against their own misgivings--to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.



Faith by John Love

Moby Dick meets Duel in John Love''s debut novel of Space Opera and Military Science Fiction! Faith is the name humanity has given to the unknown, seemingly invincible alien ship that has begun to harass the newly emergent Commonwealth. 300 years earlier, the same ship destroyed the Sakhran Empire, allowing the Commonwealth to expand its sphere of influence. But now Faith has returned! The ship is as devastating as before, and its attacks leave some Commonwealth solar systems in chaos. Eventually it reaches Sakhra, now an important Commonwealth possession, and it seems like history is about to repeat itself. But this time, something is waiting: an Outsider, one of the Commonwealth''s ultimate warships. Slender silver ships, full of functionality and crewed by people of unusual abilities, often sociopaths or psychopaths, Outsiders were conceived in back alleys, built and launched in secret, and commissioned without ceremony. One system away from earth, the Outsider ship Charles Manson makes a stand. Commander Foord waits with his crew of miscreants and sociopath, hoping to accomplish what no other human has been able to do - to destroy Faith!


Songs of the Earth by Elsbeth Cooper

The Book of Eador, Abjurations 12:14, is very clear: Suffer ye not the life of a witch. For a thousand years, the Church Knights have obeyed that commandment, sending to the stake anyone who can hear the songs of the earth. There are no exceptions, not even for one of their own.

Novice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire—until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames.

With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

For the Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love.


Also, if there is something else in the first quarter you want to to take a look at be sure to comment away. I still have my eye on a lot of other books as well.

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Mad Hatter's Reading Log Vol. 11 (November)

November helped me break through to my 100th read this year. That is of course not counting the other plenitude of things I read such as short stories and even more graphic novels then I usually mention (I try to focus on graphic novels I think most highly of). A big help was my annual Thanksgiving break where 7 of these were finished. As we approach the end of the year I've been thinking about what other books to read for my year end list and I've definitely got a few thoughts. Anyway here are my brief thoughts on books read in November.


100.  Theft of Swords: Avempartha by Michael J. Sullivan - The 2nd half of the first omnibus in The Riyria Revelations series. I enjoyed one of the two major stories lines quite a bit, but the Princesses story didn't pull me in she comes off as more of a secondary character with little will of her own despite her strong showing in the first novel The Crown Conspiracy. Even with those problems I enjoyed everything else. See full review here.
101. Briarpatch by Tim Pratt - Pratt gets very dark on us and I half wonder if he was going through a depression during the writing. The story was beautifully told and explores what is typically known as the "Otherworld," but this isn't just some dimension with frolicking fairies filled with golden apples. No, Pratt's Otherworld is a mysterious, dark, and ever changing place filled with lost beings and some scary-ass monsters. Emotionally fueled, Briarpatch explores what it means to live and love. There were definitely some pacing issues, but the twisted characters were all so intriguing I couldn't turn away. This is Urban Fantasy as you've not seen it before. Recommended.
102.  The Emperor's Knife by Marzakis Williams - This is a Fantasy debut that deserves a wide audience. If you couldn't already tell by my interview with Williams I quite enjoyed the story of Sarmin who after witnessing the murder of nearly his entire family is locked away in a tower for nearly two decades. The setting is mostly a mix of Middle Eastern and Asian in a land besieged by a plague that turns people into zombie-like carriers bent on overthrowing the Empire. Politics and magic play well along with some nice action. Highly recommended.


103.  Locke and Key: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez - This volume I felt was the most rushed, but this is still without a doubt one of the best comic series in many years.
104.  Locke and Key: Keys to the Kingdom by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez - This volume brings us closer to answers as the main villian's past is explored more in-depth and the Locke kids finally start connecting the dots. I'm this ->  <- close to going to issues on this series, which I never do.
105. Seed by Rob Ziegler - One of the strongest Sci-Fi debuts this year. Highly recommended. Review to come.
106. The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern - An incredibly beautiful novel. Definitely one of my favorites of the year and it is shockingly a debut. Two magicians battle on circus grounds to test one another's skills. But it is so much more and better then I can describe. It is the kind of novel that is so well done it will even get your cousin who never reads to fall in love with it. Highly recommend.


107.  Boneyards by Kristin Kathryn Rusch - The third Diving Universe book brings Boss and her crew closer to finding answers about the Dignity vessels and their crews. Like the last excellent book in the series City of Ruin we're left on a cliffhanger, which disappointed me after so much, but  it appears Rusch has no plans to stop. I truly hope Rusch gets to write more novels in this series as it is a golden age series that could have been written just as easily 40 years ago as today. She evokes the sense of exploration with each volume so well. Recommended.
108.  The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle - It has been more than 15 years since I last read Beagle's most beloved book. Age has definitely made it a deeper read for me. There are so many things I never noticed in the past, especially just how weird a story this is. What begins simply enough as a mission for a unicorn looking for other like her turns into something so much more. An unforgettable read just as much today as it was when it first came out in 1968. Highly recommended.
109.  All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen - In the fun read category of the month All Men of Genius wins hands down. This may be my Steampunk read of the year. Mixing in Steampunk ascetics, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and devilishly Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest this is as pleasing a novel as you're like to find. There are secret societies, mad inventors, and a crazy crossed love story that will keep you guessing at every one's reactions, which more then kept me rapt. Highly recommended.


110.  The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells -  An outstanding book. Very few authors can pull-off having no human characters so well. Most definitely one of the best second world Fantasies I've read in the last few years. Highly recommended.
111.  The Library of Forgotten Books by Rjurik Davidson - A nice collection of short stories most of which surround a city full of weird happenings and creatures. The titular story was obviously my favorite. Davidson definitely like to play with the way reality is perceived. Recommend for fans of New Weird.
112.  Harkwood and the Kings by Paul Kearney - I gave up after 4 chapters not because I thought it was bad, but because I wasn't in the mood for something so big right now and also the font size is super tiny, which didn't help anything out. I do plan on going back to it someday, but might look for a different edition. My eyes are getting old.
112.  Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe - Remember that awesome Playstation game from about a decade ago? No? Well even if you don't read this novel about a young boy born with horns who is destined to be sacrificed to a mysterious castle. Along the way he saves a girl and tries to save the world.  Miyabe is one of the best-selling Sci-Fi authors from Japan, but this is her first franchise related novel. It does differ from the game in some large ways so even if you're familiar with the game you'll get a lot out it. Recommended.
113.  The Shakespeare Thefts by Eric Rasmussan - This is a must for Shakespeare fans who have always dreamed of owning an original folio no matter how far out of grasp they are. Another big audience would be big collectors or those who like to real about true crimes. I fall somewhere in the middle being a bibliophile as well as having a fascination with most things Shakespeare. Nearly every chapter focuses on one particular copy of the first folio, its history, and current likely whereabouts. The family histories and shady behavior of descendants were particularly interesting. In a way I wish there was more of a payoff overall such as a big discovery or confirmation of a new or recovered folio, but much is left up to supposition as many people in the world simply won't let their copy be reviewed by Mr. Rasmussen and his team. In any event The Shakespeare Thefts does a good job of giving the first folios an air of mystery.

November reading treated me to a lot of first timers and brought me back to a classic. Out of this month The Cloud Roads and The Night Circus are destined to be remembered years from now.  Seed, The Emperor's Knife, and All Men of Genius were very strong debuts for their respective subgenres, each bringing something new to the table. But it is The Last Unicorn all of you should be reading, especially at this time of year.

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Cover Unveiled for The Bones of the Old Ones by Howard Andrew Jones


Coming this July 3rd will be Howard Andrew Jones' next Dabir and Asim adventure The Bones of the Old Ones following the exploits of The Desert of Souls. Jones' debut was one of the most enjoyable Swords & Sorcery novels in quite a few years.  The cover is in the same style as the paperback release coming next month. I'm still a fan of the original cover art style (seen below), but this is better then the pb design (also seen below) for The Desert of Souls. Although the new art is very reminiscent of Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher.  In any case I'll definitely be reading The Bones of the Old Ones. Here is the blurb:
Combining the masterful fantasy of Robert E . Howard with the high-speed action of Bernard Cornwell, Howard Andrew Jones breathes new life into the glittering tradition of sword-and-sorcery with the latest tale of Dabir and Assim’s adventures. Our heroes are living comfortably in Mosul under the patronage of the city’s governor. Despite the region’s rare frostbitten winter, things are going well until a desperate young woman named Najya is brought to them, claiming that she has escaped from a sorcerous cabal and that her memory has been altered in a dangerous magic ritual. Dabir fears much more is at stake, especially when someone claiming to be Najya’s father arrives and attacks them. Dabir and Asim stave off the wizard and flee with Najya to the governor’s palace, where they find the first of the hidden tools sought by the cabal: the Bones of the Old Ones. Dabir and Asim quickly realize that more than one group is after the girl and the Bones, and they must race against time to stop their enemies’ dark quest from plunging the world into a neverending winter.
Original HC Art
Paperback Art
Also, of note is that an ebook only short story collection focusing on the early adventures of Dabir and Asim by Jones called The Waters of Eternity is now available.

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Cover Unveiled for Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

INTERVIEW | Mazarkis Williams author of The Emperor's Knife

Earlier this year I started hearing a few whispers about a new book called The Emperor's Knife. Quickly using my google-fu I hardly found any information on the author. Mazarkis Williams it seemed was a ghost. Some months later I found Mr. Williams on twitter and lucked into a review copy of The Emperor's Knife, which I've devoured. It is bloody good time and I recommend it to you all, especially if you're tired of Western set Fantasy. After reading it I couldn't pass up a chance to put Mazarkis to question.

***

MH: Thanks for taking the time out. To start things off can you tell me a bit about yourself? Info online is quite scant. So scant that I'm not entirely sure you're a real person. You are using an image of the invisible man as your twitter icon after all.



MAZARKIS: Yes. That avatar was created by someone at Jo Fletcher Books who never met me and didn't know anything about me, but needed a picture. Still, I am not completely invisible. As far as I know the information that is out there is accurate. And I can say a few more things about myself: I am a night owl. I read very fast but write very slow. I listen to Radiohead too much. I’m an old-fashioned table top/face-to-face gamer and I think I’m addicted to zero-calorie Vitamin Water.


MH: What's your barroom description of The Emperor's Knife to people just hearing about the book for the first time?

MAZARKIS: Barroom? I think I would babble (because, clearly, I would be drunk) about how there are these damaged people who have to pull it together and fight off this creepy menace, and how they find hope in the process, or redemption, depending on which character it is. Or if I started on that tack and their eyes began to wander, I’d say something about Arabian Nights and assassins and sorcerers, which is less accurate but sounds more exciting.

MH: The Emperor's Knife is part of Jo Fletcher's inaugural launch in the UK and part of Night Shade Books New Voices program. How has the attention been? How are you adapting to becoming an author?

MAZARKIS: Well I’ve been writing a long time, always struggling for every word, and that hasn’t changed. I hoped it might get easier, that being a published author would give me a confidence and a glibness I don’t really possess.

The attention to the book is just fine with me. I want to share the book with as many people as possible because I like the themes and the characters. I think they have something to offer and I hope readers agree.

As far as my personal space—there is this layer between me and my agent, and then my agent and the publishers, so I have a lot of privacy. Not that anybody would be knocking at my door trying to meet me.

MH: What came first in The Emperor's Knife? A character? Setting?

MAZARKIS: The character of Sarmin. I had just been reading about an Ottoman prince who’d been imprisoned in his room a long time, and it got me thinking about what it must be like to be stuck in this cushy place, counting out your days. Many people would perceive him to be very privileged, and he was by most measures, but it was a sad life, and it drove him crazy. So I was wondering what it was like to be that person.

That’s usually how it starts with me. The characters who interest me as a writer are the ones on the side lines. The people who delivered the orders instead of giving them, or the women who waited as opposed to the men who left. And for me the characters always come first. Who they are, what obstacles they face, what happens to change their situations. Without the characters, there is no story.

After the character of Sarmin came the setting. He’s pacing in a room, so the room has to be in a palace, and the palace has to be in an empire, so I went from there.

MH: Sarmin is quite a conflicted character. He's been trapped in a room for more than a decade with nothing to accompany him, but 5 books, which just begs the question what are your 5 books to be locked away with for 2 decades?

MAZARKIS: Anybody who knows me well is familiar with my inability to choose favorites. Also, I’m going to cheat and include two series in my list.

First, I am always a champion for The Great Gatsby—somehow I keep talking about that book, either online or with my family—so I will include it. I actually haven’t read it in a long time, but it had an impact on me in terms of structure and symbolism. Assuming I get to write in my locked-up room, then Gatsby would help me do that better.

I would have to take a history book with me, one that’s long and has a large scope so there’s always something new to read. Probably a big fat university textbook.

Then a poetry book, let’s say The Poems of Dylan Thomas.

Now I arrive at SF/F. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun (actually a quadrilogy) would keep me occupied for a long time. There’s so many layers and so much symbolism that I would be happy to read it many times.

Finally I would have to bring along my well-worn copies of Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy, since it contains some of my favorite characters in fiction. It would be like bringing some friends along with me.

Of course this is my list for today. I may change my mind tomorrow.

MH: How did your degree in History influence The Emperor's Knife? There are certainly Eastern and Middle Eastern elements throughout.

MAZARKIS: It seems you’ve just answered your own question, but I can elaborate a little bit.

I read as much European history as was required to get my degree, which was not much. That doesn’t mean I haven’t read about Europe on my own time; as a gaming geek, I’m almost required to do so. It was just never a focus of my studies.

This question is proving harder to answer than I expected.

I split my schooling years between England and Michigan, but mainly I was a victim and beneficiary of the Michigan public schools. One benefit is that Michigan had and continues to have a large Arab population, and that was reflected in our diverse student body. Also my history teacher was Egyptian, and that had a big influence on me.

I focused on Islamic history at university. I also tried to take Arabic, but ended up with a C and no memory of how to speak it. So to answer your question: when they say ‘write what you know,’ I chose the middle east. Though I don’t know it so well, I know it better than I know some other things.

But I want to emphasize that Cerana is not supposed to be any of the great Islamic empires. I took only elements, as you wrote, and then built something else around them. You can see similarities to the Ottomans, and also the Romans, but mostly you can tell it’s just made up. The most important difference is that the Cerani are polytheistic. You can’t take Islam out of the Ottoman empire, for example. It was central to their existence. It’s impossible to do, so I didn’t.

MH: Settu is a game mention in The Emperor's Knife, which reminded me of chess quite a bit. Is this a game you've actually developed?? Are you a gamer?

MAZARKIS: Yes, I'm a gamer, mostly face-to-face (F2F) tabletop roleplaying. (Shout-out to my gaming group, The Dysfunctional Party!)

However we do own all manner of games, including Settlers of Cataan, Pandemic, Talisman, and my favorite, Illuminati. We've had some historic games over the years and there are some long-standing rivalries.

Settu is something like a mix of chess and dominoes. I haven't really developed the game so that I can play it in real life, but I have a good idea how.

MH: I'm a big Pandemic fan as well. Now on to the important stuff. What is your favorite type of hat?

MAZARKIS: On a woman or on a man? I think my daughter looks cute in a cloche. On a man I like the look of a fedora. My step-father-in-law maintained the tradition of wearing a fedora whenever he went outside, and I thought he looked very classy. Also, trilbies are cool.

My son looks cute in an ordinary woolen hat.

What I'm not crazy about: baseball caps.

MH: What can we expect from the sequel Knife-Sworn? Are you still in the midst of writing it?

MAZARKIS: Yes, still writing it. Knife-Sworn deals with the fallout from The Emperor's Knife. While the main story line wrapped up, some threads were left open. I don't want to give too much away, but very little comes out of the blue in the second book.

What people can expect is more great characters and more strife. Also a little bit of romance, hopefully.

MH: Thanks for all your time. Is there anything you'd like to add to close us out?

MAZARKIS: Sure. I have a blog at Sarmin's Corner which I update when I can, but there is also a blog set up by Courtney Shafer (The Whitefire Crossing) and currently being transferred to Night Shade Books, called The Night Bazaar. It will feature posts from many of Night Shade's debut authors. There will be some interesting articles up there--actually there are interesting articles right now.

Jo Fletcher Books is currently doing a lot of great giveaways. You can follow them on twitter @jofletcherbooks or check out Jo's blog.

Night Shade Books is also having a big December. They are doing a holiday countdown that includes lots of free excerpts from their books. Check them out on twitter at @nightshadebooks.

Thanks for your time!

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Cover Unveiled for new James Enge


I just had a chance to look over Pyr's Spring/Summer 2012 releases and quite a few caught my eye. I'm of course looking forward to Jon Sprunk's last book in the Shadow series, Shadow's Master to finish strongly, which will also get me to get to the second book, finally.  But it is James Enge's A Guile of Dragons that has captivated my attention.  Enge's character Morlock Ambrosius have already become fairly popular as a series of standalone books that are mostly strung together short stories, but with A Guile of Dragons we go back to Morlock's time as a young man when he was just learning about the kind of power he has. A Guile of Dragons is also the first in the A Tournament of Shadows series with a big overarching story. No official blurb as of yet, but here is what Enge said months ago when the deal was first announced:
This will actually be a trilogy, not three standalone books. Each book will have its own story (because I believe in plot resolution) but each book will depend on its predecessor(s) more than the three books of Morlock in exile did. It’s not a prequel trilogy, though. It’s an origin story.
In an interview Enge also added:
It’s very old school fantasy in some ways — dwarves, dragons, Merlin and Nimue. (No elves, though. Everyone has to draw the line somewhere.) And it also gives us a look at Morlock’s homeland, which is a sort of anarchy where community needs are addressed by voluntary associations. It’s a sort of utopia, really — with monsters. Most utopias don’t have monsters, of course, but that’s why they lack a certain plausibility.
I'm guess the art is by Steven Stone or possibly Gene Mollica. It definitely has a Malazan feel and I love all the detail in the outfit. Mark me down for reading this come August next year.

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Contest for Alien Contact edited by Marty Halpern


Yesterday Marty Halpern treated us to his thoughts on story order in an anthology.  Today he's given you lucky visitors two chances to win Alien Contact.  The first chance is for US residents only, one print copy of Alien Contact, signed and dated by the editor, and inscribed if the winner wishes.

The second part of the contest is for NON-US residents one of which will receive an ebook edition of the anthology: the winner gets to choose either MOBI or EPUB format. (Note: there is a difference between the print and the ebook editions: the Stephen King story is not included in the ebook due to rights issues.) Here is the blurb for Alien Contact:
Are we alone? From War of the Worlds to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, ET to Close Encounters, creators of science fiction have always eagerly speculated on just how the story of alien contact would play out. Editor Marty Halpern has gathered together some of the best stories of the last 30 years, by today's most exciting genre writers, weaving a tapestry that covers a broad range of scenarios: from the insidious, to the violent, to the transcendent.

Alien Contact include stories by Paul McAuley, Neil Gaiman, Karen Joy Fowler, Mike Resnick, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. Le Guin, Nancy Kress, and Charles Stross.
To enter the first part of the contest send an email to madhatterreview (AT) gmail (dot) com with your full name, physical address as the print book will ship via UPS, and "CONTACT" in the subject line. To enter the second part of the contest for the ebook edition still send an email to madhatterreview (AT) gmail (dot) com with your full name in the body and "CONTACT 2" in the subject line. The deadline is midnight December 31st. I'll announce the winners on the following day or as soon as I remember. One entry per part per person is allowable, but if more then one each will get you disqualified from the contest. The winners will be selected via random number generator per usual.

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FREE FICTION | The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells


Currently The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells is available free from Amazon in Kindle format.  I only recently read The Cloud Roads, but it swept me away into a second world fantasy like no other. If you're looking for something new in Fantasy look no further. Here is the blurb:
Moon has spent his life hiding what he is - a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself... someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn't tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power... that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony's survival... and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save himself... and his newfound kin.
The Cloud Roads is the first in the Books of the Raksura series with the second The Serpent Sea coming out in mid-January. While the first book stands well all on its own I can't wait to see what the future has in store for Moon. Beware reading the blurb for The Sea Serpent unless you want a spoiler. And Wells is already hard at work on the third volume.

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GUEST POST | Marty Halpern Gives Order to the Alien Other


Marty Halpern Gives Order to the Alien Other

Alien Contact was published on November 1, just a handful of weeks ago, but its history dates back to August 2008 when I first proposed this anthology to the publisher, Night Shade Books. You can read more about the anthology, including its genesis, on my blog, More Red Ink; just look for the "Alien Contact" tab in the header.

***

Once I had selected the 26 stories to be included in Alien Contact, my next task was to determine the story order. If you are a writer of short stories, and you've put together a collection of your fiction—or, if you are an anthologist—then you know how involved this task can be.

Some readers will pick up an anthology, skim through the table of contents or the book itself, select a story (often at random), and begin reading. With regards to story order, I can't be concerned with this type of reader; for them, story order is a non-issue. But the readers who begin at the beginning—the introduction—and then read the stories in the order they are presented, these are the readers I must be concerned with. For them, the story order—the overall experience of reading the book in its entirety—is what makes, or breaks, the anthology.

As soon as I selected Paul McAuley's story, "The Thought War," I knew immediately that it would be the story that opens the anthology. The first word—in fact, the only word on the first line of the story—is: Listen:

And the first two paragraphs of "The Thought War" read:
Listen:
Don't try to speak. Don't try to move. Listen to me. Listen to my story.


It was a no-brainer that, with this beginning, "The Thought War" would be the perfect fit as the first story in the anthology.

And then there was the last story. Once I had selected Stephen Baxter's "Last Contact," I also knew that this story would close the anthology. Not only because of its title, but also because "Last Contact" deals with the total destruction of the galaxy. Once the reader has experienced that, how could any other story follow?

And I just realized (honest, I had never thought of this before) that both Paul McAuley and Stephen Baxter are British. There was no intent on my part to place stories by British authors at the beginning and end of the anthology—it just happened. But it's also not the only coincidence that occurred regarding the contents list.

So that left 24 remaining stories for which I needed to determine the order. When working out a story order, I consider a number of attributes; in order of importance (at least to me):
1. word count
2. tone (e.g. dark vs. light, etc.)
3. male or female protagonist
4. plot (e.g. serious vs. humorous/sardonic; linear vs. nonlinear; science vs. non-science; etc.)
5. content of opening paragraph and closing paragraph

I list all the stories, and then I apply these 5 criteria to each of them. As a group, these criteria affect the flow of the anthology. Place a lot of dark, depressing, overly long stories together and quite possibly I'll lose a lot of my readers. Each story needs to encourage the reader to want to move on to the next story, and the next, and so on, until the reader reaches the end of the book.

I spent quite a number of hours working on the story order. A couple times I came up with what I thought was the perfect order—and then I realized one story just didn't fit right in its slot. So then I would swap a couple stories, which often led to another swap,and another, and before too long I was back at square one, having to start over again.

Once I felt comfortable with the "final" order, I let the contents list sit for a couple days and then went back to it, just to be sure. An anthology (or a short fiction collection) must first contain great stories; but the book's overall content is a pure balancing act. And, done properly, can yield a truly rewarding experience for the reader.

As to another coincidence: When I contacted many of the authors regarding their own alien contact stories, I also asked for suggestions for such stories by other authors. I received many suggestions; one in particular came from author Nancy Kress (whose story "Laws of Survival" is included in Alien Contact). Nancy suggested a story in the recent (at the time of her response) August 2008 issue of Asimov's SF: Jack Skillingstead's "What You Are About to See." She described it as a "very weird alien" story. I was already familiar with some of Jack's fiction, but not this particular story. And Nancy's comment—"very weird alien"—intrigued me. So I contacted his agent for a copy of the story. I went on to acquire this story for the anthology and, in finalizing the story order, I placed Nancy Kress's "Laws of Survival" at the number 19 slot, followed by Jack's "What You Are About to See." Then in March of this year I sent an email to all the contributing authors requesting a mini bio for use in the anthology. In their respective bios, Nancy and Jack each mentioned that they were married to the other, which I hadn't been aware of at the time. I obviously missed the announcement earlier in February. Consequently I felt somewhat self-conscious that I had placed their stories back to back; but that's how the story order criteria played out.

Was I successful with the story order in Alien Contact? I guess that's up to the individual readers to decide.

****

Marty Halpern is a two-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award–Professional for his work with Golden Gryphon Press. Marty now freelances as an acquiring editor, anthology editor, developmental editor, and proof reader and copy editor, working directly with authors to prepare their manuscripts for publication, and working with independent publishers such as Night Shade Books and Tachyon Publications, as well as Ace Books and others. He currently resides in San Jose, California, and occasionally emerges from his inner sanctum to attend conventions. To learn more about Marty visit his blog "More Red Ink" or check out his SF Editors wiki entry.

Look for a contest involving Alien Contact tomorrow!

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Awesome first line from a 2012 debut


"The sun was going down by the time they decided to hang me."
—David Tallerman, Giant Thief

This line did exactly what a first line should do: pull the reader in. I'm 80 pages into Tallerman's debut from Angry Robot, which has given me a perpetual grin so far. More about it as we get closer to the January publication date.

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New Procurements (Miami Book Haul)

This post kept getting longer and longer since I'm still behind with things. But lots of pretties have been sent to me and I've also been to a new indie store and had a nice stroll around the Miami Book fair a couple weeks past. The influx of 2012 releases has started as well and things are ramping up for January through March to be busy, busy.


Alien Contact is Marty Halpern's latest anthology after the very enjoyable Is Anybody Out There (reviewed here). As the title suggests this reprint anthology focuses on stories about contact with beings not of this earth with stories from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Ursula K LeGuin, Michael Swanwick, Jeffrey Ford, and Paul McAuley.  This one has certainly caught my attention and will be read quite soon. Next is Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Drowning Girl which will be out in March. I've enjoyed many of her shorts, but have never dipped into her novel length work despite hearing nothing but raves for her last effort The Red Tree. The beige number below is Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear by Javier Marías the first in a Spy trilogy that Larry from Of Blog challenged me to read and review. He picked this particular series since I'm a lover of Spanish translated fiction. I haven't read a straight Spy novel in I can't tell you how long so I'm very much looking forward to trying this out. Next I have the very pretty final copy of Ian McDonald's YA debut Planesrunner, which I've already read and enjoyed. More on it soon. Lastly, are the first two finished omnibuses for Michael Sullivan's The Riyria Revelations series that look very nice and epic together.


Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell is the start to a new series that is near-future Sci-Fi dealing with global warming as opposed to Buckell's previous far-future series Xenowealth.  Arctic Rising is due out at the end of February. The yellow number is the debut Seven Princes by John R. Fultz, which could be a strong Epic Fantasy debut come January. Next are a few books I received from Haikasoru who publishes translations of Japanese Sci-Fi and Fantasy that I've been eyeing for a longtime. First is the novelization of the Playstation game of the same name Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe, who is one of Japan's best-selling genre authors. I already read Ico as it showed up right as I was leaving for my Thanksgiving break. It is really well done and improves on the story from the game greatly. Next is Miyabe's The Book of Heroes that deals with a magical book. I'm a sucker for those sorts of stories and after reading Ico I'm eager to try something that is entirely from Miyabe's mind. Next is 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse that is considered a classic of Japanese Sci-Fi first being published more than 40 years ago and still in print after all that time and just now being published in English for the first time. Haikasoru also printed it with a glow in the dark starry cover, which I must say is super cool and worth having it on the shelf for that alone.

I picked up The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht, McSweeney's 24, and Nick Hornby's Housekeeping vs. the Dirt at the Miami Book Fair, which was a first for me. The Hornby is his second collection of book review columns from McSweeney's magazine and having enjoyed his first collection The Polysyllabic Spree I had to nab this. I eyed a lot of other books at the fair, but given my already heavy bag I didn't go further despite finding a vendor with loads of old Sci-Fi and another with lots of limited editions. If the prices  were slightly better on the limited front I probably would have gone for some of them.


And in the "this just in pile" is the debut The Games by Ted Kosmatka, which I mentioned earlier and is on track for a March publication. I'll definitely be getting to it in time for the release date. Territory by Emma Bull is a new edition of one of her most beloved novels. Bull is on my shame on me reading list as I've yet to read her work despite having War for the Oaks in my to-read pile for a number of years now. The next two books were purchased from the RJ Julia bookshop in Madison, Connecticut, which is a gorgeous store well worth visiting. Their genre section is very small, but the general fiction area certainly makes up for it. I first nabbed Eleven by Mark Watson since it was compared heavily to One Day, which my wife and I love. And I finally bought the YA dystopian hit The Maze Runner by James Dashner after much picking up and putting down over the last 2 years of seeing it in stores. Some Christmas goodies were also purchased, but mums the word on those.

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NEWS | Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe Optioned for Film


1492 pictures has smartly picked up the film rights for How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, which was one of my favorite Sci-Fi novels last year. Here is a bit from Hollywood Reporter:
Columbus and 1492 principals Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe will produce and Brendan Bellomo is set to direct.

Bellomo is a New York University film school graduate who wrote, produced and directed a cast and crew of 200 students and professionals for the live action sci-fi short Bohemibot, which won a bronze medal in the narrative category at the 2009 Student Academy Awards. He is represented by WME and Prolific Management.

1492’s production credits include The Help, Night at the Museum, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and the first three Harry Potter films, among others. In addition to producing those films, Columbus' credits include directing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Home Alone, and writing The Goonies and Gremlins.
It will definitely be interesting to see what choices the director and screen writer make for the film. Will they keep the humor? Pump up the action? Even more sexualize the AI in the story? Time will only tell, but the team behind the film has certainly got the chops to pull off the story well.

Yu's second book of short stories Sorry Please Thank You will be released in July and he is hard at work on his next novel Trilogy: A Novel, but that has no official release date yet.

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FREE FICTION | Jonathan Wood On the Beginnings of NO HERO

December marks the start to Night Shade Books' Holiday Countdown, which will see a wide swathe of articles by Night Shade authors, giveaways, and excerpts around the interwebs. This is only Day 2 of the Night Shade Holiday Countdown. To follow along for the whole month visit http://twitter.com/nightshadebooks for regular updates. Day 2 treats us to 4 pieces of flash fiction from Jonathan Wood which were the genesis for what would become his Cthulhu / Kurt Russell / Urban debut Fantasy No Hero. Enjoy!


In the beginning...

There's a question that I think has been quietly beaten out of fandom - “where do you get your ideas from?” Authors tend to turn up their noses at it. This is partly, I think, because the answer is “everywhere,” and partly because another interpretation of “everywhere” is “I totally ripped off these people...” and we don't want to get caught.

Still, every idea has it's starting point, and I thought folk might find it interesting to see where No Hero started. A few years back I was a part of a (now sadly defunct) web site called Daily Cabal. A lot of cool authors contributing one piece of flash fiction every weekday. I had a piece up every 2 weeks, which meant coming up with a new idea every 2 weeks. And somewhere among stories of beak-faced girls, and postmodern princesses, Arthur Wallace emerged.

There were four Arthur Wallace stories written in all. A lot of the basics are there – Arthur, set upon by governmental bureaucracy, defending the realm from supernatural threats. My love for Lovecraft emerges in one of the stories. My love of pulp is there too. But there are differences here as well. Arthur has more of a noir tone here than I ended up using in No Hero. He is more of a man alone (it's hard to fit co-workers into 400-word stories). He still had a lot of growing up to do. Still, this is where I got the idea for No Hero, or, more specifically, the ideas. This is where I mixed and matched scraps until they fit. And, maybe more important, these stories still make me smile. I hope they make you smile too.


The Changing of the Times

It used to be all about magical swords. Blessed steel wreathed in flame, all that. Truth be told, I have, in the past, opined of the increasingly mundane nature of the magical armament. So there is at least a small part of me that stands up and cheers when the tattooed bastard reaches to his scabbard and pulls out a shimmering blue blade that crackles with fire.

On the other hand, the larger part of me is tied to a chair and couldn’t stand up to cheer even if it wanted to. Which it doesn’t.

I’d been tracking the trail of bodies for about two weeks. He’d been picking of virgins as he goes-which can’t have been as easy as it was when he first walked the earth. I followed him from London to Paris, across Alps, then into Germany, which is where I’m pretty sure he became aware of me because right now I’m in the back room of a strip club in Berlin, with my hands bound by stockings, which is not half as pleasant as several magazines have led me to believe.

However, despite appearances I do have a few things going in my favor. For starters, apparently stockings were not a prevalent item in twelfth century Egypt, so my tattooed friend, Mahut As-Ghul, is not entirely familiar with their unsuitability as bindings.

I kick back in the chair at about the same time the nylon rips. Mahut lunges. I tuck my body in and roll, but not in time to stop the blade passing through my ankle. The flesh doesn’t break but the pain is agonizing. Mahut’s blade glows brighter. Bastard just chopped off part of my soul.

Which brings me to my other and much more significant advantage. You see the operative word in my opening salvo here was that it used to be all about magical swords.

Ignoring my ankle, I draw my Glock and fire. Nothing unusual about the Glock. Standard issue for my department. But the bullets, ah yes, there’s the rub Mahut, old buddy.

A portal to several rather unpleasant dimensions is abruptly punched into Mahut’s skull. He starts to fold in on it, which really doesn’t look pleasant. Still, I can’t quite resist picking up the sword and finishing off the job the old fashioned way.


Fish Food

Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of this Lovecraft shit.

It started with these marine biologists and their new species of octopus. Two weeks later all the staff at London zoo look like over-sized scampi and are sacrificing the tourists to elder gods.

My government-sanctioned holy bullets do bugger all. Apparently shrimp-scientists are secular. So I leg it and take refuge in a cleaning closet near the chimp enclosure, which I admit isn’t very James Bond of me. Still, I come across an aerosol can in there, and two seconds later I’m out of there with my lighter flambé-ing a couple of the bastards. Zookeepers dissolve into masses of thrashing tentacles. Enough to put me off shrimp cocktails for the rest of my life.

Lighter in hand I manage to torch a path to the aquarium, but when I get a look at the bugger residing there, I don’t think Pledge and a Zippo are going to cut it. It’s about the size of a double decker, all jelly-like flesh and claws reaching for me. The glass of the aquarium shatters and I’m swept out with the water.

When I catch my breath it’s tottering massively towards me through the ruins of the building. Gas tanks blow. Everything in the aviary squawking at once.

I leg it again.

See the trouble with Lovecraft is he only really gives you running gibbering into the night as an option, and I’ve got plans this Friday…

I smack into the wall of the polar bear enclosure and that’s when, along with the concrete, the idea hits me. The thing behind me is getting close as I blow the lock of the enclosure. We’re talking meters. I’m through the door and then it’s smashing down the wall. I’m roll clear and come up staring into eight white faces. Not happy either. You wake up polar bears, you better do it nicely.

After that I let nature take its course. The elder god is a big bugger, but its still just an overgrown fish to these guys. Some mundanes can take care of themselves. Still sushi’s gonna be off the menu for a while now too.


The Old Switcheroo

According to the pulps, when you want to raid a wizard’s tower you just strap on a broadsword and a loincloth and go at it. Truth is you need a permit with fifteen signatures. Still the government spooks give me enough talismans I make Mr T look restrained. Hopefully they’ll get me further than the permit, which only buys me a stunned doorman and a ride in the penthouse elevator.

Now a tower wouldn’t be complete without a damsel in distress–April Wilcox, heiress of the Wilcox sock empire. Vesu Telquist made all six feet five of her disappear at his show tonight and has yet to make her reappear.

Mundane security’s at the door. So I drop them with rubber bullets. The permit might have worked but this feels more satisfying. There’s so many talisman’s round my neck I don’t which one defeats locks, so in the end I just kick in the door.

I clear the living room and the kitchen, then I open the bedroom door and almost gag–blood and shit spread over the room. The body’s in the bed. What’s left of it. Head’s gone. Belly’s open and the guts lie in circles on crimson sheets. Sick bastard.

I’m right on top of it when I realize it’s too short. April Wilcox is an Amazon with a brunette dye job. This is a shrimp with excessive leg hair.

She comes out of the wardrobe with a knife and goes for the talisman’s at my throat. Apparently her scrying let her know what was being sent to get her back. Vesu didn’t see it coming. Neither did I. We tustle and break. Just in case I’m still thinking of rescuing her, she opens her mouth a breathes fire at me. Some joke about a hot date occurs to me and I’m so ashamed I almost let her roast me. As it is my jacket’s on fire before I find the right talisman. We go at it then, she flinging elemental forces at me, me getting pummeled and my hands caught in ancient chains.

Eventually she and I both get sick of it. She tries fire again and I take the hit. That gives me time to line up the shot, and her blood mixes with Vesu’s. I have the talisman ready in my pocket from the first attack but most of my clothes are ash by the time I summon the water to douse me.

I leave the mess for the spooks to clean up and ride down the elevator pulling off the remains of my shirt. I look at what’s left in the mirrored walls. And on top of it all it turns out a loin cloth isn’t a good look for me anyway.


Flames Burn Red

“Red tape! Red goddamn tape!” And with that, ribbons of red silk burst from Gorman’s fingers and wrap me up tighter than a pair of earrings on Christmas Eve.

See, the thing about battling occult threats to Britain’s shores is that, despite the getting-to-fight-tentacle-monsters-with-a-flaming-sword bits, and the using-knuckle-dusters-that-punch-holes-into-alternate-dimensions bits, it’s still just a job. There are still timesheets, emails about missing staplers, annoying co-workers. Gorman was always an annoying co-worker. And there is the red goddamn tape.

Honestly, half the time something’s eaten most of Essex before I’m even able to get all the signatures I need to get my hands on the flaming sword in the first place.

Must have been worse for Gorman being in accounting. And apparently he really wanted to touch the flaming sword. Got himself fired over it. Submitted everything right but they rejected him anyway. Course they did. He was an accountant. Still, Gorman looked at the form with the big, “rejected” stamp and a gear slipped. Tried to grab the sword out of the safe. Didn’t get far. Course he didn’t. He was an accountant. And they fired him.

Apparently Gorman’s made use of the spare time. Who knows where he found the grimoire. The cape is a little more obviously Halloween gear, but it’s hard to poke fun when a chap breaks into the office and takes you out in under ten seconds.

The air fills with red ribbons. More people are bundled up. I lose sight of him in the blizzard of it. We lie there. I hear crackling in the distance, can smell something burning.

And then I see him. He’s holding the sword in both hands, hacking a path through the jungle of red tape he himself has created. Tape curls back as the flame licks through them. And he smiles like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. The cape suddenly looks a little bit awesome.

Gorman gets to the door. Looks back at us, at the now limp strands of red tape, and the grin stretches wider. He buries the sword in the floor. And he walks away.

Eventually someone finds us, works us free. Someone, some civil servant, looks at me as I stand up and says, “Well, aren’t you going to go after him?” But, honestly, after that example, there’s no way I can be bothered to do the paperwork.

********

Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. He is the author of the No Hero--a Lovecraftian urban fantasy that dares to ask, what would Kurt Russell do?. The sequel Yesterday's Hero should be out sometime in 2012. He also writes odd little things that show up in odd little places, such as The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Chizine, and Weird Tales. Most of his short fiction is available for free on-line. Links can be found on the bibliography page.


This guest post is part of Night Shade Books' Holiday Count Down. For other future posts check out their twitter feed twitter.com/nightshadebooks.

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