Review: Escape from Hell! by Hal Duncan

Escape From Hell! by Hal DuncanEscape from Hell!
Hal Duncun
Monkey Brain, 2008

-You hear that? she says. What the fuck is that sound?
A siren waver so faint only the peaks of pitch and volume are audible over the drip of pipes. Then, too clear and close to mistake, an answer or echo, ragged as a cat’s yowl or a baby’s wail.
-Fuck me, says Seven. I’d say that’s exactly the sort of creepy shit you don’t want to hear in an abandoned lunatic asylum.
-I’m not sure it’s abandoned, says Matthew. It’s just that all the doors are open.
– That’s really not comforting.

Hal Duncan’s Vellum is a challenging and thought provoking piece of fiction that bounces back and forth between familiarity and originality never settling on one side of the fence for too long. By the time its sequel Ink came along I was too busy and bit too far removed from my reading of Vellum to finish out the series. Thus when Monkey Brain Books published his novella Escape from Hell! back in December (oddly enough, two months prior to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Escape from Hell) I was excited to give Duncan another try. While it has take me a while to finally get around to reading the novella I am most definitely glad I did.
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Lovecraftian Props

that book
I discovered a new blog the other day, appropriately called Propnomicon.   I was actually trying to track down a Lovecraftesque short-film a co-worker had mentioned to me some time ago about an arctic expedition that slowly goes mad and, as the people slowly slip towards insanity, the film stock degrades as well until it essentially disintegrates completely.

Or something along those lines.

It was a conversation from years ago and every once and a while it pops up into my mind to take a look on the interwebs. Still haven’t found anything yet though. This time I was looking to see if any short film interpretations of “At the Mountains of Madness” were made; since that story was the genesis of the aforementioned ancient conversation. Anyhoo, Propnomicon is a really cool blog with some absolutely stunning work on it and you should definatley go check it out.

Review: Plague of Spells by Bruce R. Cordell

A Plague of Spells by Bruce R. CordellPlague of Spells: Abolethic Sovereignty Book 1
Bruce R. Cordell
Wizards of the Coast, 2009

Plague of Spells is not a work without flaws and, for me at least, oscillated between frustrating and genuinely enthralling. The novel opens with the monk Raidon Kane as he returns home to his adopted daughter. The reader gets a brief introduction to the character, with the aid of his mother’s amulet he hunts abberant creatures; those things that D&D pilfered from the mind of H. P. Lovecraft. It isn’t long before disaster strikes as the Spellplague rips through Faerun destroying everything in its path. Well, almost anything since Raidon somehow manages to be saved, thanks in some part to his mystical amulet of the Cerulean Sign. Unfortunately it is while before we see Raidon again and we bounce back and forth between several other characters before the monk makes his appearance. The monk is drafted, almost press-ganged, into a war against a greater threat of an elder evil while at the same time he must shift through the ashes of his own past while trying to come to grips with the vastly changed face of Faerun.
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Review: Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie Priest

Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie PriestThose Who Went Remain There Still
Cherie Priest
Subbteranean, 2008

I’ve been waiting quite a while to read Those Who Went Remain There Still which I ordered for the library earlier in 2008. It was on backorder with B&T for a while and we only received our copy a week or so ago. I’m glad we finally did as the story (novella?) was a brisk entertaining read that cast a straightforward monster story in a fascinating light. In a sparse 175 pages Priest manages to craft not only a cast of believable characters, including the historical Daniel Boone, but a surprisingly detailed setting drenched in a kind of wilderness gothic. Despite the paucity of words Priest manages to tell a tale that few writers could match with twice the word count.
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Review: Blood of Ambrose by James Enge

Blood of Ambrose by James Enge
Blood of Ambrose
James Enge

I believe that Blood of Ambrose is James Enge’s debut novel; though he was an established body of short fiction. As such about the first quarter of the book was a bit of a rocky start, at least for me, but I stuck with it and I’m very glad I did. Blood of Ambrose opens as King Lathmar flees his own palace to avoid his so-called Protector from there it follow his exploits as he attempts to regain his throne and then consolidate his power over the city of Ontil. It is a bit more than that since, as is revealed early on, Lathmar’s “grandmother” is the ancient sorceress Ambrosia; daughter of Merlin whose brother Morlock is the Master of all Makers and wielder of a cursed magic sword (that curse’s nature is never fully revealed). Pyr is a little better at the “basic” description than I am:

Behind the king’s life stands the menacing Protector, and beyond him lies the Protector’s Shadow…

Centuries after the death of Uthar the Great, the throne of the Ontilian Empire lies vacant. The late emperor’s brother-in-law and murderer, Lord Urdhven, appoints himself Protector to his nephew, young King Lathmar VII and sets out to kill anyone who stands between himself and mastery of the empire, including (if he can manage it) the king himself and his ancient but still formidable ancestress, Ambrosia Viviana.

When Ambrosia is accused of witchcraft and put to trial by combat, she is forced to play her trump card and call on her brother, Morlock Ambrosius—stateless person, master of all magical makers, deadly swordsman, and hopeless drunk.

As ministers of the king, they carry on the battle, magical and mundane, against the Protector and his shadowy patron. But all their struggles will be wasted unless the young king finds the strength to rule in his own right and his own name.

That last paragraph is the most important one and, in truth, is a more accurate reflection of the majority of the novel. While its basic plot, Lathmar’s rise to power, remains intact Blood of Ambrose takes on a much larger scope involving a major magical threat without ever managing to grow too complex. Flying horses, mechanical spiders and zombies Blood of Ambrose has them all and is one crazy, highly entertaining, wild ride. It isn’t without it’s problems but they pale in comparison to the amount of pure fun that this novel provided. Read on for details…
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Review: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Turn Coat
Jim Butcher
Roc, 2009

Harry Dresden is back for his 11th adventure on the mean streets of Chicago. This time Harry’s part-time nemesis, the Warden Morgan, has been accused of murder and treason against the Council and it’s up to Harry to uncover the the true murderer. Familiar faces make appearances: Murphy the tough and feisty cop, Billy and his werewolf pack, Thomas, Toot Toot the fairy, and more all show up to get in on the action to aid, or in some cases, frustrate Harry as he races against the clock. Publisher’s Weekly brilliantly claims “Despite the sprawling plot, both fans and newcomers will get into the fast-paced action.” Which is something I can agree with but with a veritable who’s who of Harry’s past companions showing up I’m not quite sure who would really recommend Turn Coat as a starting point for any newcomer.
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Review: Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan NewtonNights of Villjamur
Mark Charan Newton
Tor UK, 2009 (U.K. June 5th, no U.S. date as far as I know)

This was by and large one of the best titles I’ve read this year. Had Tor U.K. not sent me an ARC for review I’d be converting my dollars into pounds and not regretting that fact for a single moment. Nights of Villjamur is the debut novel (technically the second novel) by Mark Charan Newton. It is a novel colored by shades of gray that reveal a startling depth and breathtaking landscape that is a much a character as a setting. The ancient city of Villjamur, seat of the Jamur Empire, is more or less under lock down as both its rulers and general population prepare themselves for the coming ice age heralded by the world’s cooling red sun. Amongst the halls of the imperial palace politicians jockey for power while on the quickly freezing streets an aging Investigator struggles to hold his marriage together while trying to solve the murder of a prominent politician. Elsewhere the cultist of two power sects clash over the fate of the world, and what may lay beyond, while an albino military commander is sent to uncover the truth behind possible genocides occurring to the north of the empire.
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Review: Monster by A. Lee Martinez

Monster by A. Lee Martinez Monster
A. Lee Martinez
Orbit, 2009 (5/19)


Martinez’ The Automatic Detective was on of my favorite reads of 2008 for its clever combination of humor and tropes from both the hard-boiled and science fiction genres. While I wouldn’t rank Monster as quite as entertaining I still found it a wholly enjoyable read full of Martinez’s clever and frequently humorous ideas. Our main character, Monster, works for the Cyptobiological Containment and Rescue Services division of Animal Control. A routine call from Supermarket employee Judy turns into a not-so routine mission and Monster, with his paper gnome partner (actually the paper gnome is an interface device for a highly evolved entity from the 6th dimension) Chester, is plunged from their day-to-day job into events far bigger than they’re used.

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Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-SmithPride and Prejudice and Zombies
Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Quirk Books, 2009

“I survived the 36 chambers.” -Miss Elizabeth Bennet

I’ll be honest, I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice.  19th century Britich romances are really my thing though I do recall enjoying Northanger Abbey though it is somewhat of a satire of the gothic romance genre that was so popular during the 19th century.  However, I am of the firm opinion that zombies are to literature what bacon is to food.  That is, they make everything better.  So when I first heard that Seth Grahame-Smith was adding “all new scenes of zombie mayhem” to Jane Austen’s classic story I was totally on board.  While the final product is hardly a modern masterpiece of horror fiction it does make for an absolutely entertaining twist on a classic story.

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Something Not Quite Resembling a Review of The Force Unleashed

Looking back at the games I’ve completed (or even played) over the last two months and I come up with a list that I can count on one hand.  Maybe it’s me.  I don’t know.  I’ve certainly had fun playing games but it has been some time since I’ve truly played something that has really gripped me.  The number of A-list games that have crossed my path and left me wanting is rather impressive.  I can’t help but feel it isn’t just me though.  Looking at lists of upcoming titles there seems to be a growing identity crisis in the video game industry and perhaps among the community as well.  I’m not talking about the whole bullshit casual versus hardcore discussion.  It seems to me that both the industry and the gaming public are torn over how they view the definition of what a game should be.

I recently finished playing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and I think that game is the perfect example of that confusion.  If you’ve played a Star Wars game I’m guessing the reason you picked it up was because it presented an opportunity to immerse yourself in a world that you were familiar with, and on some level, a world you cared about.  The draw of a Star Wars game (or any licensed game) wasn’t so much the draw of a discrete experience but the idea that you would be contributing something bigger that single disc you slipped into your platform of choice.  The best games in the Star Wars universe managed to provide both an exciting and entertaining discrete experience that managed to engender a sense of contribution and discovery in an imaginary world.

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