Blurb: In a place where no stars appear in the night sky, a group of strangers whose ancestries reach back to an earlier apocalyptic disaster are brought together to track down a resurrected corpse that might hold the key to the End of the World. Described by science fiction legend Jack Dann as “one of the strangest and most interesting visions to come out of the modern horror/fantasy genres,” acclaimed author Robert Hood’s Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead is an epic tale of greed, dying magic, strange monsters, and a motley group of heroes, with a strange and breathless climax you won’t easily forget.
When I think of Fantasy as a genre, I don’t often get the modern Epic Fantasy image of Dwarves and Orcs and Elves questing through majestic forests in my mind. I’ve always been more drawn to the works of Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, William Hope Hodgson, Robert E Howard, Jack Vance, M. John Harrison and Michael Moorcock. Their fantasies were always so much more ‘otherworldly’ than the faux-Europes and other earth-analogues of modern Epic Fantasy. Their worlds were far-distant not only in ‘place’ from our own, but often also far-distant in ‘time’. Long past or far, far in the future, they were as foreign and exotic to the reader as if they really had just stepped into another country and culture.
Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, the debut adult-novel¹ from Robert Hood, has this Otherworldliness in spades. The ‘world’ of Tharenweyr is as strange and exotic a place as has ever existed in fantasy fiction. Indeed, it is not even a world but a solid firmament (or a ‘seed-like emanation’ as Hood puts it on his website) that exists separate from space and time as we know it. It has no sun or moon or stars. Not even the infinite void of space to stare into. Instead, Tharenweyr is locked within its firmament, a mysterious wave of energy that washes from the ‘Worldly Gods’ of the north to the ‘Dark Gods’ of the south and creating the semblance night and day.
The novel begins with Remis, a young and newly graduated spellbinder interested in starting her own magical artifacts business, who is being pressured (threatened, intimidated) into working for a powerful Merchant House. She’s also having horrible nightmares in which she finds herself trapped inside the body of a hideous corpse-like being. And then there’s Tashnark, the bastard son of a commercial slaver. He’s having dreams that he is the powerful warrior Bellaroth, questing across some strange otherworld that exists on the shoulders of a vast cosmic monster.
It is the chance meeting of Remis and Tashnark – their respective dreams unknown to each other – that sets the course of lifting Fragments of a Broken Land.. out of individual nightmares and into a fantasy who’s cosmic scope rivals anything by Lovecraft or William Hope Hodgson. Gods battling Gods. Ancient artifacts and the prophesised return of catalysmic events that will wipe Tharenweyr out of existence. And, as always, Gods using normal people as their pawns.
In the hands of Robert Hood Fragments of a Broken Land… becomes so much more than just a Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery adventure though. The philosophical and spiritual underpinnings Hood has evoked for the world and its people almost demand a denser tale. In this sense, Hood certainly delivers. At times Fragments of a Broken Land… can be a hard read. You need to concentrate a bit. Divest some of your attention in the book. But believe me, the effort is worth it; Fragments of a Broken Land… will have your brain spinning in Gnostically-induced circles.
One thing that really did stand out for me is Tharenweyr’s main city of Ko’erpel-Na. The characters of Fragments of a Broken Land… all have a wonderful depth — their sense of humour, of justice, the way they try and interpret their world and the way they react to it — but the city is just as much a character too. It reminded me of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar or M. John Harrison’s Viriconium. It’s dirty, it’s crowded and full of disease and poverty, but there is also a feel to Ko’erpel-Na that speaks of age and so many lives lived within its walls. The impression I got of the city and its people was quite vivid, quite ‘real’. It seems a place just begging for a million more tales to be told.
Overall, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead is a brilliant fantasy novel of the type we seldom get to read these days. Dense and exotic and full of ideas. It’s also full of sword & sorcery action too, and the type of cosmic horror that leaves you paranoid about your own reality. Really, what more could you ask for in a book?
Don’t believe me? Want to check it out for yourself? Mr Hood has three other Tharenweyr ‘Fragment’ stories to read for free on his website [http://fragmentsnovel.undeadbackbrain.com/]. Definitely worth checking out as a teaser and to get a feel for the world before tackling the very worthy Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead.
Oh, and the cover by Bob Eggleton? It is brilliant!
1. Robert Hood is the author of 5 previous Young Adult Novels, 15 Children’s books, published 3 collections of his own work, and edited a further 5 anthologies.
The new EVIL DEAD teaser trailer is out. I wasn’t too bothered about this film being made. I thought it was a bad idea, but hey, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are behind it. And the thought of a female Ash? If they can do the same as they did for Starbuck in BSG, it’ll work really well. But, it wouldn’t really be EVIL DEAD would it? Most remakes are pretty bad, and I guess I was expecting this to be the same.
Well, I just watched the teaser trailer and, ummm, well, just wow. Such a short clip;so much in there. It tells you; this is something you are familiar with, we’ve all been here before. Very quickly you realise though; same story, same setting, but this isn’t the cheap and cheesy gore of the original EVIL DEAD. This is, well … there were a couple of moments when I flinched, or felt a very strong urge to turn away. This is EVIL DEAD the ‘realistic’ version, I guess.
Frankly, it looked amazing. Totally disturbing, with the sort of imagery that tends to stick in your mind for years. And, you know, it looks so good that I don’t even know if I’ll actually be able to watch it (woos that I am).
Anyway, needless to say, this very short teaser trailer with so much packed in NOT SAFE FOR WORK. NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN. DO NOT SHOW IT TO YOUR GRANDMA!
Publisher: Dark Prints Press
“Vaudeville” by Greg Chapman is an e-novella published by Dark Prints Press. It’s the story of Anthony Moore, whose father committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree and no one really understands why. He was a great guy, loved by all, and the death is a mystery that has rocked the small town of Keaton and left Anthony and his mother broken and at odds with each other. Anthony’s mother drinks the pain away and Anthony is himself lost and friendless, searching for direction. Every day he goes into the woods, to stand and stare at the tree where his father hanged himself, and wonder why. And then, one day, four strange troubadours emerge from the trees, at once fascinating and frightening, and Anthony’s life takes a dramatic turn. “The All-American Travelling Troubadours” have a dark story to perform – all they need is an audience of four young souls.
The scene-setting, character development and story in this novella start well. We’re introduced to a situation that is both familiar enough to identify with and strange enough to keep us wondering what might be going on. Chapman often uses some choice turns of phrase and carries the story well, but for me there are places where the writing falls a bit flatter and has something of a first draft feel about it.
I was carried along well, however, and wanted to know what was behind the strange events. The Troubadours themselves are truly grim characters, quite nasty and well-conceived. As the story played out it was satisfying in places, but there some parts that left me a little confused. The connections between the Troubadours, Anthony’s father and the Civil War sargeant, for example, didn’t come too clear to me.
There are no great suprises in the story. As it unfolds you can see where it’s heading, but for the most part, Chapman does a good job in the telling. I think the whole thing could have used another one or two editorial passes to tighten it all up, trim some of the extraneous parts and smooth out some of the story. The ending was a bit trite and I really wish the story had stopped before the very final line. But of course, as with all reviewing, so much of this is subject to taste.
This is a straight-up horror story with some great supernatural Vaudevillian villains, and worth a look if that concept floats your boat. I’m also very glad to see publishers like Dark Prints Press embracing e-publication to bring us more novella-length fiction, so let’s see more of that, please!
Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Paperback: 332 pages
Publisher: Redrum Horror (June 30, 2012)
Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Black & Orange (2010), has a new tome – Bottled Abyss - that will no doubt earn him a second bronze haunted castle statue next year.
Bottled Abyss takes on the well-worn trope of exploring the meaning of life and death and binds it to classical myth, namely the legend of the Ferryman. But instead of focussing on the myth or blatantly trying to re-invent it (although he does twist it into fresher territory), Ethridge poses the question of “if you had the power of death, how would you wield it?”
Ethridge masterfully touches on themes of grief, loss and redemption through each of the main characters, but primarily via Herman and Janet Erikson, whose marriage is in turmoil after the tragic death of their daughter Melody when she was hit by a car driven by criminals.
Since her death, Janet has resorted to drinking heavily and distanced herself from the world. The tale enters supernatural territory when Herman goes looking for their missing dog and finds it near death. A strange man with an oar-like cane saves the dog by letting it drink from an equally strange bottle. The dog coughs up a coin and a price must be paid to a gargantuan beast from the depths of the River Styx.
And so begins the cycle of a “death-for-a-death”.
The beast, known as The Fury, is probably one of the most horrific monsters I’ve ever come across in horror fiction and it was fantastic to see a creature that wasn’t your oh-so-common shambling zombie!
Temptation also plays a big part in the plot as Janet and Herman come into possession of the bottle and realise its power. A single drop of the waters from the River Styx is enough to conjure a coin from anyone and summon the beast and Janet suddenly has eyes for the man who took her daughter’s life.
Without giving too much more of the plot away, the character viewpoints are constantly shifting from Janet and Herman and their friends, married couple Evan and Faye, and we even get to go inside the heads of the people who have the misfortune of coming into the contact with the waters and face-to-face with the Fury.
This may irk some readers, but I found it enthralling as I got to know more about each character through their interactions with the bottle.
Ultimately the story is about choice as well and its repercussions, with Janet and the others falling victim themselves to the bottle’s promise of salvation and like with any Hell of any mythology, the chance of escape is unlikely.
The suspense, characterisation and plot of Bottled Abyss will definitely grab you by the throat and hold you until the final page, dragging you deep into the cold waters of the River Styx. So get yourself a copy and dive in because you won’t forget this journey anytime soon!
The Author provided a copy for review.
Review by Greg Chapman
Editor: Lincoln Crisler
Publisher: Damnation Books
ISBN: 978-1-61572614–1 (eBook)
Published: 13th April, 2012
Corrupts Absolutely? collects twenty brand-new stories from veteran authors and newcomers, each with a unique perspective on what it might really be like to be superhuman in today’s day and age. In the center of such a roiling mass of uncertainty and excitement lies one important truth: the fight against good or evil is never as important as the fight for or against oneself.
Given I was raised on comic book superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, The Teen Titans and others, the meta-human fiction anthology Corrupts Absolutely? was always going to have instant appeal for me.
Edited by dark fiction author Lincoln Crisler, Corrupts Absolutely? Sets out to take comic book heroes beyond the confining rectangular borders of comic pages into a prose format and, when taken as a whole, the stories pack as much punch as The Incredible Hulk on a bad day.
Borrowing from some of the more adult comics and graphic novels of the 1980’s, like Watchmen and V for Vendetta, the heroes (and villains) in these 20 tales are as human as the rest of us, with troubled pasts, crises of conscience and revenge on the mind. The theme of the anthology centres on how power can corrupt and each story rides that theme like a speeding bullet into catastrophe (ok enough of the metaphors).
From the very first tale – Tim Marquitz’s “Retribution” about a nuclear-powered man who exacts explosive revenge on a Middle Eastern village on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks – you know immediately that the interpretation of what is a “hero” in this volume, will ride a very thin grey line indeed.
In my view, the strongest tales are in the first half of the book. Bram Stoker Award-winning author Weston Ochse’s piece “Hollywood Villains”, about a young man who can make anyone do anything not only forces you to sympathise with the villain as he psychically torments some of Hollywood’s more unsavoury characters, but makes you feel that his victims deserved it.
Jeff Strand’s “The Origin of Slashy” focuses on the victim of a rape who decides to become a vigilante and kill men with sex on their mind. The matter-of-factness of Strand’s writing adds considerable impact and there’s certainly no hero in sight in his story.
Edward M. Erdelac’s “Conviction” is a fantastic gangsta style tale about a young man trying to distance himself from the wrong people, only to be pulled back in. Erdelac captures the language and character of Abassi exceptionally well and provides imagery that lasts well after the final sentence.
Other standouts included the darkly atmospheric “Mental Man” by William Todd Rose, Joe McKinney’s “Hero”, “Crooked” by Lee Mather, “Acquainted with the Night” by Cat Rambo and “Max and Rose” by Andrew Bourelle. “Gone Rogue” by Wayne Helge, a humorous tale that reminded me of the film Mystery Men was a welcome addition to break up all the angst.
The only downside to the anthology was that there were possibly a few too many stories that reminded me of a certain rich billionaire with a mechanised suit.
All in all, Corrupts Absolutely? was a great escape, providing very interesting pastiches of heroes and villains. Hopefully Mr Crisler might consider putting together a second volume in the not too distant future?
- review by Greg Chapman
This op-ed is taken from one of many Australian SpecFic in Focus Snapshots that happened over the last two weeks leading up to the 51st Australian SF NatCon. The Snapshot tries to get mini-interviews from as many people involved in Australian Spec Fic as possible. This particular Snapshot was conducted by Jason Nahrung and the interviewee was writer, editor and musician, Talie Helene. Talie is co-editor of the Ticonderoga Publications series, Year’s Best Australian Fantasy And Horror. Talie was asked:
What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?
Her answer provides some fascinating insights not only into editing horror, but into the horror genre itself, and we’ve reposted her answer here. You can read the original, full Snapshot interview here and you can find Talie Helene online here: www.taliehelene.com/
What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?
One of the guiding principals I have is that the stories need to go to different emotional places, because horror is about hitting raw nerves. If you hit the same nerve too many times, you desensitise and the stories become emotionally monochrome. Horror is unique in that the genre is defined by emotion, rather than trope or context – you can have a completely supernatural story that is horror, and a totally realistic story that is also horror. So trying to keep the mix fresh and blow the readers away in different ways, keep the emotional impact – that is pure fun. Editing a Year’s Best is a bit like being a DJ. The works are already published and polished, so the job is to find that mix of hits and undiscovered gems and make the overall experience entertaining and powerful and surprising. It’s a kick!
Working with Liz and Russell at Ticonderoga is totally a pleasure. I was a dark horse choice for this editing job, and having them believe in my instincts is very humbling. They are also really understanding, and they’ve been very supportive throughout. Having a purpose that isn’t focused on my own headspace has probably been a saving grace for me. Just getting to associate with such fine writers is a buzz and an honour; meeting some of ‘my authors’ and having these instantly engaging conversations about narrative that I would never otherwise have is a delight.
The perils. Well, there should be perils in compiling horror, right?
I think probably the biggest peril is balancing literary horror and visceral horror; horror goes to places that connect with visceral responses, and it goes to places of deep trauma and danger and anger, and sex and death are so very tangled together. If the emotion overwhelms the form it can be incomprehensible, and if the form overwhelms the emotion you get cliche. The quality that lifts both aspects up is authenticity. I’m just one person, so I have to trust my own instincts as to which stories do which of those things excellently. Just entering that territory is perilous, because when people disagree they will disagree vehemently. Conversely, if I didn’t stick to my guns about my choices, I have no business editing horror.
I worship what I would call literary horror – writing that engages with top-shelf word craft and narrative constructs in the service of hitting those raw nerves. In the Capital L Literature world the idea of ‘literary horror’ is regarded as an oxymoron. The reality of any genre is you have to read through a truckload of mediocrity to find the amazing work. Go to a Capital L Literary spoken word night. You will have to endure an avalanche of bullshit to experience a few dazzling talents. But I think it’s harder for people to go the other way – from the literary world, to the horror world – because horror stories do contain exploded intestines! The bad ones have exploded intestines! The brilliant ones have exploded intestines! It takes a committed reader to learn to separate being repulsed by bad gory writing, and enthralled by brilliant gory writing – which is also repulsive! But repulsive in the service of some larger meaning.
Really great horror stories aren’t just about horror – there is always something else that makes you empathise. That’s the reason Stephen King writes so much about love and different kinds of relationships. If you write about death, you write about life. I think horror is the deepest genre because it speaks from that precipice of our mortality. But I’m not allowed to harpoon people who don’t share that view!
While I prize literary horror, I also feel very connected with visceral horror. There would be something really wrong if the horror selection in Year’s Best didn’t include some stories where things that are supposed to be inside people are splashed all over the page – maybe that is blood, or a terrible secret, or unbearable knowledge. I think there are people who read horror and appraise the shock value over the literary merit – that reader is going to roll their eyes at terror in sunlight stories or existential horror. For me, blood and the numinous are equally powerful. By making a broad selection, I’m demanding the reader be open to all of that.
Is that condescending? I don’t mean to be condescending to consider that a peril. My gut tells me horror writers feel that they put great demands on readers too, and that is one of the issues of commercialism (or lack of) for horror.
There is an amorphous danger zone of gender politics in the speculative fiction community in Australia, and in horror more than any other genre. It is in part due to a disparity in theorised feminism, because writers range from all walks of life – can I say thank fuck? That is something I can appreciate from both sides, because I’m not a theorised feminist myself. (I don’t have a degree, and while I do read feminist musicology with interest, I’m truant on Feminism 101.) I think the sticking point is that horror is often violent, and historically violence precedes from the patriarchy, so there has been confusion in separating confronting language from gendered language.
As horror editor of the Year’s Best, I’ve had to remain silent on feminist issues I might have otherwise been very vocal about, because I have conflict of interest – and I support people in their artistic practice who have completely contradictory views, including views that I don’t agree with. It doesn’t mean I’m not participating in the discourse, because I will recognise writers who are disrupting and interrogating those issues in their work, and that becomes an influence in my editorial process. I want the anthology to be a powder keg of awesome! My philosophy is stolen from an old 3RRR Radio Station ID: ‘Diversity in the face of adversity’.
A more personal peril is discovering if I don’t include a writer’s stories, I can hurt the feelings of a friend – and maybe give them the erroneous impression that they had ‘a bad year’. While the words ‘best’ and ‘horror’ are the stars by which I navigate in story selection, there are also other pressures on the selection process – and not every fine story on the shortlist makes it through. It does not always mean those stories aren’t as good – or that I am prejudiced against a certain flavour of horror and won’t ever include it. This is the arts. It is subjective. It has to be subjective. And the DJ part of the editorial process serves a mix, not just an evaluation.
The final peril is for me as an emerging writer. Donning the hat of gatekeeper threatens to crush my view of my own writing with 10,000 tonnes of neurosis. (And that’s what SuperNova [writing group] is for.)
You can find the Year’s Best Fantasy And Horror volumes through Ticonderoga Publications here.