Saturday, November 22, 2014

GIDEON SMITH & THE BRASS DRAGON



 
GIDEON SMITH & THE BRASS DRAGON
By David Barnett
Tor Books
352 pgs.

Last year we discovered a truly marvelous steampunk title, “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl,” by David Barnett.  It was so audacious in its alternate-steam world presentation mixing original characters with figures from various literary classics.  It was such a joy to read, we nominated it for Best Pulp Novel of that year and, as with all fun reads, we fervently hoped that Barnett would grace us with a sequel.  That he has is a cause of much celebration and proving himself a genuine fantasy adventure master, he delivers a follow-up tale twice as grand as its predecessor.

It is months since the events chronicled in the first book a young Gideon Smith, the native of a small fishing village, has been named the Hero of the Empire by the Queen and has become an agent of the Foreign Service.  Accompanying him on his adventures is the corpulent journalist, Aloysius Bent, and the lovely airship captain, Ms Rowena Fanshawe.  After returning from an assignment in the South Pacific, they are ordered to British America to retrieve Apep; the mechanical dragon stolen by the Texas outlaw Louis Cockayne along with Maria, the clockwork girl.  This is a personal mission to Smith as he has fallen in love with Maria and is determined to rescue her from Cockayne.

But this America is primarily an untamed land with only its coastlines having been settled; the British in the east, the Japanese in the west and the Spanish to the south.  Upon their arrival in New York, they learn that Cockayne is hiding in the free Texas town of San Antonio now called Steamtown and run by Thaddeus Pinch; a cyborg gunfirghter named more machine than man.  Pinch is a sadistic fiend who operates the coal mines of Steamtown through the pain and suffering of hundreds of kidnapped slaves.

To save Maria and retrieve the Brass Dragon, Gideon and his friends have to battle a private army of cutthroat mercenaries and battle a prehistoric monster.  But as in their first adventure, they manage to recruit new allies among which are a genius Japanese inventor, an immortal freedom fighter known as Nameless and a beautiful Zorro-like senorita whose prowess with a rapier is deadly.  The action is non-stop, the locales both familiar and strange and all of it populated by some of the most colorful characters ever put down on paper.  “Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon” is a rollicking adventure and for David Barnett’s second winner in a row.  We can only wonder what he has up his imaginary sleeve for book number three.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

ADONIS MORGAN - Nobody Special




ADONIS MORGAN
(Nobody Special)
By Frank Byrns
115 pages
Pro Se Press

There are several respected writers in the New Pulp movement who specialize in tales of realistic superheroes.  One of the best is writer Frank Byrns as he amply demonstrates in this paperback collection starring his metahuman character, Adonis Morgan.

The five stories here detail the adventures of a man riding the unpredictable rollercoaster that comes with having super strength.  Early on we learn that Morgan went the traditional cape and mask route upon attaining his powers but the world being what it is, he gave up that romantic calling fast.  He then tries his hand at being a movie stuntman; being impervious to most kind of traumas does have advantages.  But when he’s framed for murder by a fellow metahuman with a long-held grudge, even that quickly sours.

Next he’s a nighttime taxi-driver and eventually a bodyguard for a campaigning senator assigned to protect the man’s younger, trophy wife.  When she’s kidnapped, Morgan is once again the public patsy.

As you can see, Byrns’ doesn’t offer up any rose-colored views; proving all too often that the fun stuff does indeed only happen in the comic books.  A world with real super powered people would, by the mere premise, be a complicated place.  One which he deftly portrays with ease.  From the first page, we dropped smoothly into this world and could easily empathize with Morgan.  Sometimes being a superhero just isn’t all it’s cracked up to me.  On the other hand, these stories are original and insightful and offer up a unique look into a little explored sci-fi pulp genre.  If you’ve never read superhero prose before, this is the place to start.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WAIT FOR SIGNS





WAIT FOR SIGNS
Twelve Longmire Stories
By Craig Johnson
Viking Penguin
183 pages

We reviewers are always trying to come up with fancy descriptions that will instantly cue the reader into exactly what kind of experience awaits them in the title we are reporting on.  It’s that tight-wire routine of giving away just enough of the idea without spoiling the actual contents.  With any Craig Johnson Longmire title, that’s not all that difficult.

Like the best fictional detective series ever put to pen, the joy in these mysteries is always the characters themselves with the actual who-dunnits really only an excuse to visit them time after time.  And the Longmire books are no exceptions.  Rather they excel at this process and every time a new one comes out, we can’t wait to spend more time with Sheriff Walt, Deputy Vic, George Standing Bear and all the marvelous characters who inhabit Johnson’s Absaroka County, Wyoming.

Over the past years, since beginning the series, Johnson has written a dozen short stories dealing with this series.  Some are poetic epilogues to certain novels while others are simply stand alone vignettes that do not require any real familiarity with the books.  What they all have in common is Johnson’s grasp of humanity with all its foibles and his unique homespun humor.  Here’s the bottom line, if Mark Twain had written mystery stories, they would have read a whole lot like the dozen between the covers of “Wait For Sign.”  That’s the best compliment this reviewer can offer.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

LEGION III : KINGS OF OBLIVION




LEGION III – KINGS OF OBLIVION
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
335 pages

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, this is the third and final volume of Van Plexico’s THE SHATTERING trilogy. It is a mind-blowing, action packed finale far greater than anything we could have imagined.  Which is no small feat as we’ve been fans of Plexico’s writing since he burst on the scene with his superhero series, SENTINELS.

With THE SHATTERING books, Plexico’s love 80s and 90s science fiction comes shining through so that we can actually feel the influences of such writers Roger Zelazny and Larry Niven resonating throughout these adventures. 

KINGS OF OBLIVION picks up where all the multi-cliffhangers from book two, SONS OF TERRA, left off.  There are three levels of existence, the Above where the gods dwell, the Middle, or our reality, if you will and the Below where dwell all manner of hellish demons.  One such evil entity has been attempting through various devious manipulations to extend his control to mankind’s level and thereby become the lord and master of the known galaxies.  To achieve this end, the Man in Black has recruited the aid of several alien species and begun an all out assault on the universe.  Gone are the subtle, Machiavellian ploys of the first two books.  This foul beast, having been constantly thwarted by a handful of brilliant and tenacious soldiers, is now determined to totally shatter what he cannot possess.

Standing in his way are Legion Generals Agrippa and Tamerlane who in turn have allied themselves with members of an alien warrior race, the Dyonari and several of the last remaining gods from the fabled Golden City.  Together, this small ragtag group has overcome overwhelming odds while at the same time avoid killing each other in the remnants of a political coup wherein one of their own, General Iapetus, attempted to usurp the royal throne.

If you like rousing space battles, desperate last stands and daring heroes, you are not going to do any better than LEGION III : KINGS OF OBLIVION.  We said it before and it bears repeating, Van Plexico is the Master of Space Operas.  This latest entry cements that beyond any doubt what-so-ever!


Saturday, October 04, 2014

SLOUCHING TOWARD CAMULODUNUM



SLOUCHING TOWARDS CAMULODUNUM
(And Other Stories)
By Micah S. Harris
Mino Profit Press
188 pages

Micah Harris is one of the finest adventure fantasy writers working today.  So we were thrilled when this little book popped up in the mail a few weeks ago.  It contains three new tales of the fantastic by Mr. Harris and each of them is a well-crafted gem.  One has to wonder, what with the lack of fiction magazines today, if any of these would have ever seen the light of day had it not been for the ease of self-publishing.  We are daily grateful we live in such an age when writers of this talent can follow this path and effectively make their efforts available we eager readers.

In the first tale, from which the book takes its title, a company of occultists hunt an inhuman villainess attempting to open a portal to our world so as to allow her demonic sire to enter.  Joining this stalwart group is the lovely Becky Sharp, a recurring character in Harris’ stories who has her own agenda.  The woman they are chasing kidnapped her baby girl and Becky is determined to rescue her no matter what the cost.  This story moves like a greyhound chasing a rabbit, from one marvelous scene to the next and even though many readers won’t recognize many of the classical references to these characters, it doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm in which Harris spins his story.  The climax is sheer over-the-top pulp genius.

In “The Anti-Pope of Avignon,” Harris channels Robert E. Howard the Puritan travels to Avignon to put an end to threat posed by the beautiful Fausta, the bastard love child of the late Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia.  He has been hired by a community of French Hugenots who see her as a mortal enemy to their way of life.  But the Puritan is captured and thrown in a dungeon where he uncovers the presence of an unholy spirit called the Horla.  It is this demonic being that is the real villain and only his sword, wielded in holy righteousness, may save the day.  Any fan of the Solomon Kane stories should feel right at home with this delightful yarn.

“May the Ground Not Consume Thee…” is the last of this triple treat.  None other than Alexander Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo comes to the aid of a tortured French maid whose vile and sadistic husband has made it impossible for her to see her own daughter. To resolve the woman’s plight, the Count plots an elaborate scheme which includes duping a cruel, ageless vampire into being his pawn.  Once again Harris demonstrates his insane plotting genius.

In the end, it would impossible to pick which of these three pieces we enjoyed the most. All are equally well written, captivating and sheer reading treasures.  For a little book, this one packs a wallop and we strongly urge you to seek it out.  This is what good pulp writing is all about.


Monday, September 29, 2014

DNA




DNA
By Raven Bourne
Self-Published
Available at Amazon.com
405 pages

Long ago, after Star Trek had become a huge media success, the book world jumped on the profit-bandwagon and we were suddenly flooded with new Trek novels written by multitudes of recognized sci-fi authors and eventually others by amateurs entering the field.  Always intrigued by how others viewed characters we enjoyed, we picked up lots of these and for the most part those by veteran sci-fi scribes were enjoyable while others were outright entertaining.  Then one day we picked up one particular paperback written by two ladies and within the first two chapters had to put it down as the tale was so steeped in juvenile romanticisms, it was as if someone had turned a classic space opera series into a Harlequin Romance.

Which was when we realized that there are writers, regardless of their skills or life experiences, unable to disguise their respective genders in telling a story.  We are not saying that is a bad thing, only that it is a recognizable facet among some writers.  Case in point, had we not known Raven Bourne’s gender before digging into her book, we would have easily identified it as having been penned by a woman within the first few chapters.  How so?  Because there is unavoidable romantic fantasy lens that shades every single aspect of this novel from plot to pacing and characterization.  This is clearly a female perspective and it is so pervasive, we doubt many of our pulp action-loving readers would be able to honestly appreciate it.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at what this DNA is all about.  Dr. Raen McNeil, a beautiful, sensitive genetic biologist, uncovers a secret relating to the evolution of mankind.  In fact this revelation argues against the accepted principles of known science and hints at alien manipulation.  What if mankind’s tendencies towards violence and all the baser, savage instincts were never suppose to be the norm?  What if a particular genetic code was purposely excluded from our ancestors locking us into a fate of perpetual destruction?

No sooner does Raen uncover this missing gene then she is abducted by a humanoid alien who believes she is his intended soulmate.  Meanwhile a major pharmaceutical company hires private eye, Jacob Fourth, to find her.  Jacob is a no-nonsense pragmatic character with an ego to match.  His search for Raen, although interesting in the locales it takes him, is the book’s weakest section and could easily have been shortened.  Once Jacob finds Raen and her alien-lover, both of them are whisked away way on a starship and sent on an amazing journey at the heart of which lies either the salvation of mankind or its demise.  Bourne’s aliens are fun as well as fascinating and it is their interaction with Raen and Jacob that is most rewarding. Whereas most space opera sagas are filled with ray-blasters, starship encounters and hostile environments, DNA is more a fantasy forum to explore religion and philosophy and their relevance to the human condition.  In the end, DNA puts forth some interesting theories and examines who we are as race while suggesting a peaceful future as a genuine alternate path…if we are wise enough to choose it.

We hope to see more from Ms. Bourne but humbly suggest her next project be leaner and less ambitious allowing her to improve her skills while trimming the extraneous fat.  The shorter lessons are usually the ones we remember best.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

STINKING RICH



STINKING RICH
By Rob Brunet
Down & Out Books
277 pages

Danny Grant is a young Canadian just out of high school with absolutely no talent or ambition to get ahead in life.  More content to be a pothead slacker, he survives pulling whatever scams will bring him quick, easy cash.  Then he lands a dream job, watching over a huge crop of marijuana for a biker gang.  But is he has no clue who hired him.  All contact is done via texting etc.  Danny’s job is to make sure the plants, growing in a big barn on the abandoned country farm are kept watered until harvested.

For this he’s paid several thousand dollars a week; money he quickly loses at a local Indian run casino.  All of which leads to him accidently clubbing another slacker in the head with a baseball bat and the poor guy.  He buries the corpse in the woods behind a trailer park.  As soon as the biker gang sells their crop, Danny plans to take his final paycheck and vamoose.

But his luck continues to run bad and during the night of the drug exchange, a police officer stumbles onto the scene.  Then someone torches the packed grass and the entire barn goes up in flames.  Bikers and their buyers scatter and in the confusion a duffel bag containing seventy-five thousand dollars disappears.  In truth, Danny has escaped with it.  He buries the loot under the outhouse of an old man who lives in the woods and then is promptly arrested and sent to prison on a manslaughter charge.

And that’s just the opening chapters of Rob Brunet’s hilarious crime comedy filled with some of the craziest, eccentric characters you’ll ever find packed together between two covers; both crooked and decent.  The plot goes into high gear when it skips ahead to Danny’s release from prison, an occurrence that has lots of people excited.  These include Perko Ratwick, the idiot biker who had hired Danny in the first place.  Since that night of the barn fire, the rest of his grungy gang blame him for the loss of their money and fully expect him to make amends by retrieving it.  Then there’s Officer Max Ainsley, the cop who accidently stumbled onto the drug buy and interrupted it  He is considered incompetent by his colleagues for not having called in back-up and having allowed the money to go missing.  Add to this cast the sexy Linette, Danny’s public defender who wants the money for herself and seduces Officer Ainsley into helping her find it.

Of course the only person who knows where the money is hidden is Danny.  Imagine his surprise when he digs up the outhouse to discover the duffel bag is gone!

Trying to properly describe “Stinking Rich” is like trying to catch grasshoppers.  You no sooner snatch up one then a dozen jump up all over the place.  There are lots of other great supporting characters that fill this wacky crime story and this reviewer was shaking his head and chuckling often before the entire madcap carousel finally spun down to an exhaustive finish.  Rob Brunet is a gifted writer who somehow manages to corral a dozen insane characters and through them tell a tale unlike any we’ve ever heard before.  He is a name you want to keep an eye on.  We certainly will.