Thursday, July 23, 2009
The wood is in Kent that, from the outside, seems more like a copse. But it is a magical place that is home to magical beings: mythagoes. Between then and Avilion Holdstock wrote and published other books using the same tropes -- but this new novel is the direct sequel. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I am delighted that Robert, whom I count as a friend (and fellow ex-immunologist), has a new book out. It's sure to be a gem.
Madame Xanadu is a tour de force of magic and history – from the time of Merlin, when Nimue is cursed by the old codger until mid-20th Century USA. Nimue is a nymph, a creature of good, in contrast to her sister of Morgana, mother of Arthur’s son. We know the story of Camelot – and it isn’t important if you don’t because there are so many interpretations. Arthur’s kingdom is destroyed. Merlin releases a demon into the world. And Nimue, as said, is cursed.
Time moves on and Nimue, now Madame Xanadu, is in Xanadu, the court of the Kublai Khan. There’s palace intrigue and Marco Polo. And Madame Xanadu flees for her life. And again, time passes and at the court of Marie Antoinette and King Louis she is once more at the centre of events. In Victorian London she is powerless to stop Jack the Ripper. And so on to 1940s USA, the time just before the age of superheros…
All her long life Madame Xanadu struggles to do what is right. Yet she is also fixated on a figure that appears at important junctures in her history: the mysterious Phantom Stranger. She thinks him callous and uncaring. In the end she entraps him, to force him to act for good. But Xanadu blunders in ignorance.
Interspersed in the book are references to other DC characters: the Green Lantern; the Spectre; Zatara… Maybe others. But it doesn’t matter if you know nothing of these.
Madame Xanadu is a DC character who’s been around for a long time. She was/is a mystic, someone with magical abilities. I don’t know anything of her earlier incarnation and adventures. And it just doesn’t matter. This is because Matt Wagner (writer) and Amy Reeder Hadley and Richard Friend (artists) have created a story that is self contained, that works within its own context. The writing is intelligent and passionate. Wagner makes you believe in Madame Xanadu. Couple with the beautiful artwork, which has an air of innocence about it, it is so easy to feel sympathy and empathy for our heroine. The stories are engrossing and at times edgy – especially the Ripper chapters. This collection is highly recommended, and I’m sure will appeal to fans of Fables, Books of Magic, Lucifer…
© Peter Coleborn, July 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
"I suspect Chris Beckett winning the Edge Hill Prize will be seen as a surprise in the world of books. In fact, though, it was also a bit of surprise to the judges, none of whom knew they were science fiction fans beforehand. Yet, once the judging process started, it soon became clear that The Turing Test was the book that we'd all been impressed by, and enjoyed, the most - and one by one we admitted it. This was a very strong shortlist, including one Booker Prize winner in Anne Enright, and two authors who've been Booker shortlisted in Ali Smith and Shena Mackay. Even so, it was Beckett who seemed to us to have written the most imaginative and endlessly inventive stories, fizzing with ideas and complete with strong characters and big contemporary themes. We also appreciated the sheer zest of his story-telling and the obvious pleasure he had taken in creating his fiction."
Andrew Hook (publisher of Elastic Press, and editor of the BFS's New Horizons) said: "Naturally, we're very pleased about this." Obviously he is overwhelmed!
Copies of the book are still available from Elastic Press. More on the Edge Hill Prize here.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The evening, although in formal attire, was very relaxed. Debbie Miller and Stan Nicholls were excellent at co-hosting the awards, even better than Judy and Richard could ever be. (Although things must've been fraught by the end: Debbie and Stan were are swords drawn!)
James Barclay did an ace job as auctioneer (bet he could even sell Dell's Reliant for a tenner!).
The Magic Circle is an amazing place and I regret that I didn't have time to examine all the exhibits. It is a small venue, however, and if the DGLA does grow it will quickly have to find a larger arena.
Jan and I stayed in a hotel about five minutes' walk away -- too close to take a taxi. Jan had to walk back in stocking feet -- women and their heels!
But the whole evening was great and it went ... just like that!
Saturday, May 23, 2009
If the batteries aren't flat, the eyes flash red. And it speaks, too!
The original piece of artwork is a stoneware (pottery) statue of you-know-who, created by yours truly.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Information for advertising in the FantasyCon 2009 Souvenir Programme book is now available. If you wish to advertise your wares to a targetted audience, email email@example.com for details.
There have been some chair shifting on the Fantasycon committe. Due to changes in the BFS committee, Guy has stepped down as FCon co-chair to concentrate on the BFS. That means I take over the FantasyCon chair -- but Guy remains on the committee, and I will greatly value his input.
And this year sees the return of the Art Show, long missed by the artists who wish to diplay their work. If you are interested, send an email to the above e-address.
However, in some cases, even the graphic novel format proves to be less than satisfactory. Take Jack of Fables, for instance. Volume 5 has just appeared, which collects six of the monthly format (issues 22 to 27). Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges wrote the story; Russ Braun and Tony Akins provided the pencil work.
The first three ‘chapters’ in this compilation can be read in isolation. They have little to do with the ongoing Revise saga. These chapters detail a period in Jack’s history, when he ran a gang of outlaws in the Wild West of the 1880s. His murderous spree is only brought to a halt by the intervention of a sheriff from back East, one Bigby Wolf. There is practically no explanation of Bigby’s and Jack’s previous relationship; you really do need to read volumes 1 to 4 of Jack of Fables, plus the parent series Fables, to understand just what is going on, and what this particular story means in the big scheme.
When we get to the final three chapters, ‘Turning Pages’ (which is a delicious pun, by the way), ignorance of the Fable characters (beings derived from the realms of myth and legend), why they exist in the real world, who is Jack, etc, etc, is likely to detract seriously from your enjoyment. (A hint regarding Jack: think trickster gods!)
Several volumes ago, Jack was imprisoned by Mr Revise, a person seeking to eliminate all magical beings. Jack escaped; and Jack being Jack he seduced (or attempted to) Revise’s right hand assistants, the Page sisters. In volume 5 Jack's attempts at seduction continue and hence the title of this section. And as ever, Jack is scheming away with get-rich-quick plans. ‘Turning Pages’ is an amusing tale – I very much enjoyed it. But on its own, I suspect it is all but meaningless. If you want to read Jack of Fables – and I earnestly recommend that you do – buy volume 1 and start there. I also suggest that you read the Fables graphic novels.
As for Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges: their story telling over all these volumes is finely honed, mixing fairy tale and mythological characters in with us ordinary humans, in the same way that some people mix their metaphors -- seamlessly. The artwork has a charming simplicity to it which is, I think, absolutely appropriate for this tale of dark deeds and comical capers.
(c) Peter Coleborn
Monday, April 20, 2009
Copies of this book remain available -- but only a few. This book was designed by Michael Marshall Smith, has an introduction by Neil Gaiman, and is illustrated by Les Edwards and Seamus A Ryan -- and all of these, as well as Jo -- have signed copies of this limited edition hardcover.
If you would like a copy, at the special price of £10 inclusive of p&p in the UK, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I accept payment by PayPal, if that helps. And the WHC website is here.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
For the past eight years PS Publishing has won the BFS Best Small Press award every year bar one (2005, when Elastic Press saw their hard work commended). Now, as the company reaches its tenth anniversary, Pete Crowther, PS founder and editor-in-chief has come to a decision: the company will no longer be eligible in the category.
“It wasn’t a decision made lightly,” he explains, “nor would I want anyone to think it represents an attitude of complacency on our part. When we started we published four books in a year; now that number is closer to forty. With the best will in the world, that’s not so small anymore! The support of the BFS membership has meant a great deal to us over those ten years but the time has come to stand to one side and instead help to acknowledge the great work being done by other imprints.”
With that in mind the BFS is joining forces with PS to rework the award. The PS Best Small Press Award will, as before, be voted on by the membership of the BFS and FantasyCon with the winner receiving not only their award but also a prize of £250 donated by PS.
“Running a small press can be a thankless and expensive task,” Pete comments. “Indeed, there have been many times for us when an extra £250 towards ever-increasing bills would have been a godsend. If our contribution helps in some albeit small way to maintain and promote the valuable work done by independent presses, then it will be money well-spent.”
Friday, March 27, 2009
Jenny Blackford, Peter Heck, Ellen Klages, Chris Roberson and Delia Sherman
Vist the WFA for addresses, if you wish to submit material
Go to the Beeb for details.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The judges soon agreed on a score-keeper, to whom we were to send comments and scorings. It sounds harsh, but it came down to marking a book or story or collection out of ten (plus a comment or two); there was no other way. I also kept my own notes -- a notebook full of them -- in order to keep track of everything. My dining room became a library, with publications stacked all over the place. And then all the books and magazines needed reading.
As far as I was concerned, I wasn't simply looking for stories, novellas and novels I liked and enjoyed -- I was looking for books (and stories and novellas) that stunned me. I believed that an award winner should be outstanding. Thus the daunting task wasn't quite as bad as I was able to pass on from one title to the next. Of course, the more I enjoyed a book the more of it I read -- all of the it -- which takes time (I am not the fastest of readers). Many books were put into 'I must read this book next year' heap -- interesting and intriguing titles, but not quite there.
I was impressed by the quality of the novellas. This is a story length that suits fantasy, I feel, and those I read demonstrated this perfectly. Novels that formed part of a series were more difficult to judge. It took a lot more work to get into the story, especially if a knowledge of the previous title was a prerequisite. I felt that this put series books at a disadvantage, but ultimately each volume had to be judged on its own, not as part of a trilogy (or whatever). Some publishers seemed to have sent everything they produced in 2007, some were more selective, and some didn't bother sending anything without a reminder. I was especially pleased with the overall quality of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so much so that I've now subscribed to it (but to be fair, I used to read it when Andromeda Bookshop sold it ... when Andromeda Bookshop still existed, actually).
In due course, we judges completed our tasks and following many, many emails bouncing between us we came to our shortlists and winners. I am more than happy with the finalists, even if my own favourite didn't get the prize. talking to judges from previous years, my experience pretty well matches theirs, so I felt I did a good job. Alas, I didn't get to convention in Calgary for the Awards presentation last Autumn; I suspect the winners all had a good time.
A couple of issues from this process. One is that the judges were criticised for being all white men. The complaints suggested that the Administrators were lazy and didn't search hard enough for a 'balanced' jury. Before I saw these comments it never occurred to me that a World Fantasy Award judge would be swayed by a writers' gender or colour or, perhaps, sexual orientation or religion. Yes, these moans did annoy me. I was told by one of the Award Administrators that securing the services of a 'balanced' jury was proving to be more and more difficult because more and more of those approached decline due to the heavy workload demanded of a judge.
The other thing is this: early on in the process, Jo Fletcher warned me that several judges in the past had found it difficult to retain the reading habit. She was right. Since I no longer have to read books, I find myself starting an awlful lot of them, but finishing few. I seem to be picking up more non-fiction -- such as a book on quantum mechanics recently (and no, I still don't understand it).
But, at the end of the day, when all is done, when the fat lady had sung, etcetera, etcetera, it was an experience well worth ... experiencing.
To remind you, here are the winners:
Life Achievement: Leo & Diane Dillon and Patricia McKillip
Novel: Ysabel Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada/Penguin Roc)
Novella: Illyria Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)
Short Story: "Singing of Mount Abora" Theodora Goss (Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra)
Anthology: Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural Ellen Datlow, Editor (Tor)
Collection: Tiny Deaths Robert Shearman (Comma Press)
Artist: Edward Miller
Special Award—Professional: Peter Crowther for PS Publishing
Special Award—Non-professional: Midori Snyder and Terri Windling for Endicott Studios Website
For more information, visit the WFA website.
COFFIN COUNTY by Gary Braunbeck (Leisure Books)
THE REACH by Nate Kenyon (Leisure Books)
DUMA KEY by Stephen King (Scribner)
JOHNNY GRUESOME by Gregory Lamberson (Bad Moon Books/Medallion Press)
The Stokers will be announced in Burbank, California, over 12-14 June. Visit the Stokers website for full details.
I was in Glendale and Burbank last November -- wish I could return this summer (although it may be just a tad too warm for this Brit).
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
No doubt about it: Alan Moore was fundamental in the revamping and updating of the comics industry. His importance is highlighted in Garth Ellis’s introduction, and far be it from me to argue against him. Except… I don’t think that Alan Moore’s The Courtyard (that’s the full title of this comic) is all that cutting edge – and we come to expect material at the vanguard of the genre from the wonderful Mr Moore. Don’t get me wrong: this is an enjoyable comic story, nicely embellished with Jacen Burrow’s artwork, which presents the story mainly in portrait-style panels, two per page. And I guess that $7.99 isn’t too bad for 50 or so pages. Anyway, this is a Cthulhu tale (which they spell as ‘Cthulu’ in the introduction), so that should make many of you sit up. It tells of an FBI undercover agent investigating a series of bizarre murders with seemingly no links. But there is one: Club Zothique. The agent discovers a ‘drug’ but in an attempt to obtain it he is exposed and succumbs, with bloody consequences. I thought the story was a bit predictable, but then I’ve read some of this Mythos stuff for decades. I’m sure that younger comics fans will not spot the route so easily.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Les Edwards and a younger Dave Carson
Photos (c) Peter Coleborn
Monday, March 23, 2009
NSB are also publishing five volumes of the collected fantasies of Clarke Ashton Smith. Volume 4 is due in April, and like the Hodgson this is a hardcover edition. The Red World of Polaris by Smith is another NSB hardcover -- a reprint of a difficult-to-find book.
And in a similar vein -- NSB also have Manly Wade Wellman's short stories collected into five volumes, plus some other of his titles.
All these volumes would be excellent and welcome additions to my book shelves. Maybe Sir Fred could pass onto me some of his millions...
And just in case you are wondering, Night Shade Books are not paying me for this publicity.
Well, with such bumf, it's got to be a book worth a look ... I imagine! Check out further details on the NSB website.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn
This graphic novel brings together issues 1 to 5 of Vertigo’s amazing fantasy series. There are two houses: the House of Secrets and the House of Mystery – and readers of Gaiman’s Sandman saga (and other astute folk) – will know where this is heading. The Sturges/Rossi collection focuses on the second house, but of course.
A mystery is always more exciting, and perhaps a lot more dangerous, than a mere secret. And mysteries are part of all good stories. Stories may have messages, for sure. They also provide an escape. The House of Mystery isn’t so obliging, especially for the five main protagonists of this series.
Fig is a young woman who dreamt of being an architect and dreams of a house, thinking it’s just part of her imagination. She runs from a spooky couple (their drawing reminding me of Buffy’s gentlemen). She enters a building, through a door, and into the House of Mystery, specifically into the bar part of it. There she encounters Harry the barkeep, Ann the pirate, Cress the waitress (and drama queen according to the blurb), and the Poet – all long-term residents. The house will not allow them to leave, and Fig soon finds herself in the same predicament.
But the bar is also full of itinerants, folk who pass through the watering hole – and payment for their drinks and food (there is always plenty of that, the house ensures) is through their stories. So in this volume, besides the overall arc by Sturges and Rossi, we have mini-tales by Bill Willingham, Jill Thompson and others. They work remarkably well. After all, story telling inside an inn isn’t that unusual.
The story boils down to this: Fig arrives and attempts to escape, and fails (it’s OK, I’m not really giving way the dénouement). The important aspect is the developing relationships between these five people and Fig’s coming to appreciate her situation. You’ll need to read volume two of House of Mystery, whenever that becomes available, in order to follow the tale further. I have, in fact, been reading this series the monthly magazine format and I must confess that the story – with its subtle sub-plots – works better as a bound volume rather than waiting a month between reading each chapter; this is no simple superhero comic.
Rossi’s artwork is tremendous. It is nice and angular and tastefully coloured. The characterisation is expertly captured and the faces are quite distinctive; and the three ladies do look rather sensual in some panels. It’s this kind of graphic novel that answers the common ascertain that comics are simply for young children. House of Mystery is definitely aimed at the mature-of-mind reader. Recommended.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
As this picture shows, parts of Staffordshire suffered a dusting of snow this past week or two. Fortunately, the roads were not badly affected, and getting to work was never a problem. Pity.