Monday, February 27, 2017

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

The Forgotten Beasts of EldAs I continue to catch up on my belated blog posts....

My most recent project was The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip, forthcoming in September from Tachyon Publications.

I'll admit that I had not read this book previously (it was originally published in 1974), and to my delight, the story had me intrigued from the very beginning. Which seems to be the overall consensus from the many reviews I have read since completing work on this project.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld has the honor of winning the very first World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, presented in 1975 at the first World Fantasy Convention, held in Providence, Rhode Island, the home of H. P. Lovecraft.

This is one project that I wanted to keep working on, and working on...not to be done with the project itself, but to find out what came next in the story. And as noted in one of the reviews I read, the prose is so seductive that I had to keep reminding myself that this is work!

Here are some mini excerpts from a few of those reviews I read, with links to the full reviews (and doing my best not to reveal too many spoilers):

I admit it: I have been seduced by Patricia A McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, ...the latest in my trawl through fantasy champions of days gone by. Gorgeous, lyrical prose, a story that is more than just a linear journey from one drama to another, and a three-dimensional female character: it feels a million miles away from my manful slogs through Michael Moorcock's Corum trilogy, and Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga.
I think I've fallen for this book because it's so different to what I was expecting: a cool drink of water in the midst of the overwrought, derivative, under-edited and overwritten tomes that dominate much of fantasy today – and, judging from my excursions into Corum and Kraki, did in the past as well.
—Alison Flood, The Guardian Books Blog

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a gorgeously told tale of love and the human cost of war and revenge. It has a love of riddles, inventive magical beasts, and a well-drawn cast of believable characters with a strong, engaging female protagonist. However what truly elevates the book is Patricia A. McKillip's poetic language. Her command of striking imagery and finely balanced phrases places The Forgotten Beasts of Eld in another category altogether, ...a high Fantasy that almost qualifies as a prose poem.
The complexity of the book's view of love, as something that ties the couple together but that can also be twisted and subverted into something damaging and ugly, is refreshing. In the end it is not just their love that pulls Coren and Sybel back from the brink, but knowledge, wisdom and self-awareness. Both Coren and Sybel, having looked into themselves, can see something of Drede in themselves, a man who let his feelings for his wife be twisted into something unpleasant and destructive by his fear and jealousy. Coren and Sybel first have to reject their own destructive, violent impulses, before they can return to each other purified....

There is a sense of antiquity about this book -- and by that I don't mean dusty obsolescence and a sliding into oblivion. On the contrary, this is one of those shining complex things that our ancestors seemed to find it easy to do and that we have somehow forgotten in the rush and spin of our modern days -- this has the feel to it of a tale that has come down from some ancient dawn, a day long gone, but it is bright with the ancient magic and it feels ageless, eternal...
There are fantasy tropes aplenty in this book -- animals that never were and that you wish could have been, cold sorcery, human drama involving inheritances and betrayals and wise enchantresses, lost prince-heirs, and much else besides. McKillip weaves them with the light touch of her own magic. It might all sound kind of recognisable, even familiar -- there are dozens and dozens of fantasy tales involving talking beasts and dragons and human wars and romances -- but somehow, here, you feel like you're drinking it from the source.
—Alma A. Hromic, SF Site

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld will be published in September and is now available for preorder directly from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, or from, or your friendly neighborhood bookseller.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

John Langan's The Fisherman: Bram Stoker Award Finalist

The FishermanWhen I first wrote of The Fisherman in my July 19, 2016, blog post, I said (and I quote): "...this new John Langan novel, which I am sure will be on award shortlists next year."

And here it is, next year, and the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards has just been announced by the Horror Writers Association -- and The Fisherman by John Langan is one of five finalists for the award for "Superior Achievement in a Novel."

I am not surprised that a story (actually, a story within a story) such as this has been recognized by the HWA members and awards jury.

Here's an excerpt from The New York Times Book Review by Terrence Rafferty on October 26, 2016:
In his superb new novel THE FISHERMAN (Word Horde, paper, $16.99), John Langan also manages to sustain the focused effect of a short story or a poem over the course of a long horror narrative, and it's an especially remarkable feat because this is a novel that goes back and forth in time, alternates lengthy stretches of calm with extended passages of vigorous and complex action, and features a very, very large monster. Like Robert Aickman, Langan is a short story writer by inclination; The Fisherman is only his second novel, and this one took him over a dozen years to finish.
The Fisherman is unusually dense with ideas and images, and, with the tale heard in the diner taking up the middle third of the book, it's oddly constructed. But there's a beauty in its ungainliness. Langan writes elegant prose, and the novel's rolling, unpredictable flow has a distinctive rhythm, the rise and fall of its characters' real grief. These fishermen are restless men, immobilized but never truly at peace. Again and again, they cast their lines in the hope of catching something, anything, that will restore them to who they were. Abe characterizes himself as "desperate for any chance to recover what I'd lost, no matter what I had to look past to do so," and you feel that sad urgency on every page of his strange and terrifying and impossible story.

Langan's novel wears its heart on its sleeve.

The Fisherman is available direct from publisher Word Horde, in a $16.99 bundle that includes a signed bookplate and the ebook in your choice of format, or from Amazon, or from your bookseller of choice.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Asylum of Dr. Caligari by James Morrow

[Added 02/05/2017: Expect to see this novella on many awards' short lists come 2018....]

I have been quite fortunate to have worked on not just one, not two, but three novellas by James Morrow that have been -- or will be -- published by Tachyon Publications. The first of these, Shambling Towards Hiroshima, was published in 2009.

The second, The Madonna and the Starship, published in 2014, was the focus of my blog post of November 24, 2013, in which I wrote of my work on this novella.

In that blog post I stated (and I quote): "James Morrow is an absolute master of the sardonic..." -- and with The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, his third novella from Tachyon, due to be published in June, James Morrow does not disappoint.

Here is the ad copy for the book:
The infamous Dr. Caligari: psychiatrist or psychopath? In this wry and satiric tour de force, award-winning author James Morrow offers a surprising and provocative take on a silent film classic.

In the summer of 1914, the world teeters on the brink of the Great War. An American painter, Francis Wyndham, is hired to provide art therapy at a renowned European asylum, working under the auspices of its mysterious director, Alessandro Caligari. Francis is soon beguiled by his most talented student, Ilona Wessels, whose genius with a brush is matched only by the erotic intensity of her madness.

Deep in his secret studio, Dr. Caligari, rumored to be a sorcerer, struggles to create Ecstatic Wisdom, an immense painting so hypnotic it can incite entire regiments to rush headlong into battle. Once Francis and Ilona grasp Caligari's scheme in all its supernatural audacity, they conspire to defeat him with a magical work of their own....

The story is all about a painting -- Ecstatic Wisdom (well, actually two paintings, but you'll have to read the story to learn about the other) -- and its effect on the viewer, or viewers, as they came in regimental numbers to view the painting(s).

Here's a brief excerpt from the story itself: Francis Wyndham is clandestinely observing Dr. Caligari at work on his painting:
Watching Caligari suffuse his canvas with whatever species of wizardry or variety of delusion possessed him, I decided his methods represented neither imagination abandoned by intellect, nor revelation tempered by logic, but a third phenomenon. He had beguiled both forces into a condition of mutual betrayal, reason convincing fantasy that violent monsters were desirable, fantasy coercing reason into abandoning its tedious allegiance to facts.

"Effundam spiritum meum in vobis, virtutibus! Perfectus es!"

Now he began spinning in circles—like a deranged dancer, or a whirling dervish, or a man inhabited by devils....

The Asylum of Dr. Caligari will be published in June and is now available for preorder directly from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, or from, or your friendly neighborhood bookseller.