Grimdark Magazine (Issue #2)

The second issue of Grimdark Magazine features some stellar short fiction, reviews and compelling interviews. My favorite pieces of short fiction were The Knife of Many Hands by R. Scott Bakker and The Line by T.R. Napper.

The Knife of Many Hands is a Second Apocalypse story set in Carythusal, the stronghold of the feared Scarlet Spires school of sorcery. R. Scott Bakker’s brilliant prose shines here:

They would stand leaning out against
the hemp ropes, row after row, forming a sleeve of
dendritic gills, and it would seem the Pit was some
kind of obscenity from the deepest sea, a cold
encrustation about tissue hot and living, filtering
whatever nourishment provided by his murderous
deeds.

But thoughts were like rivers: the more they forked, the more they made swamps of what was sensible ground. Wisdom was naught but cunning made
grand, a weapon forged to win empty battles.

The main protagonist is a pit fighter, a barbarian who is so much more than just a barbarian. Second Apocalypse readers will love this story, but it can be enjoyed by those who haven’t read any of R. Scott Bakker’s books and give a good glimpse of what to expect.

The Line by T.R. Napper is a futuristic sci-fi dystopian story featuring a pit fighter, just like The Knife of Many Hands, but in a whole different setting. It vaguely reminded me of the Neuromancer by William Gibson, which is my all time favorite sci-fi novel. Gritty realism of this story comes quite close to our own.

The Dark Defiles excerpt by Richard Morgan is another nice piece of short fiction in this issue. Egar, a barbarian Majak warrior, uses his street cred to stop the thuggish behavior of his compatriots who invaded a foreign town, and it was a delight to read the witty dialogues and great fighting scenes.

Interview with Richard K. Morgan is about the grimdark subgenre and brings up good points of discussion.

The review for The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller got me intrigued to buy the book and start reading the series. I think Asoiaf fans need to check it out, the series sounds very promising and as a huge fan of Asoiaf, I am excited to learn about it. I think the fantasy readers who are into historical fiction would appreciate it as well.

Another nice review is for The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes, which sounds like the fix for my The First Law hangover.

The interview with Kameron Hurley discusses grimdark, grey characters, short fiction, genre bending and and decnstructing gender concepts in grimdark fiction. It gives good insights and a good idea of what to expect from reading Kameron Hurley’s works. After this interview, I moved The Mirror Empire to the top of my TBR and looking forward to reading it.

The further content in this issue is a short story, Drone Strikes for Fun and Profit by Aaron Fox-Lerner, Grimdark: Onscreen by Layla Cummins and Kyle Massa discussing the grimdark elements in TV and movies.

I am quite impressed with the quality of the content and the short fiction in this issue, especially the crown jewel which is the R. Scott Bakker story. I highly recommend Grimdark magazine, Adrian Collins gathers some of the best talent and delivers high quality content.

Purchase Grimdark Magazine (Issue #2) on Amazon.

The Best Grimdark of 2016

Best Novels

1. Dancer’s Lament by Ian C. Esslemont

25480364

Dancer’s Lament was easily my favorite read of 2016. Esslemont really steps out of Erikson’s shadow and the newest trilogy in the Malazan world demonstrates the very best of Esslemont’s contribution to the Malazan universe.

2. Chains of the Heretic by Jeff Salyards

25159315

The Bloodsounder’s Arc is one of the most unsung fantasy trilogies I know of. Chains of the Heretic captured everything I could have wanted in an ending. This series remains one of my favorite trilogies in all of fantasy fiction and Jeff Salyards, though unsung now, is one of the masters of the genre.

3. The Mirror’s Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

31303801

The Mirror’s Truth is the sequel to Beyond Redemption, one of the grittiest fantasy stories I’d read. I enjoyed getting my hands on an early copy of The Mirror’s Truth  and was thrilled with the ever dark but compelling characters and story at play here.

Honorable Mention: The Immortal Throne by Stella Gemmell

23346341

I’d never read The City, the first book in the series. But when I received an ARC of Stella Gemmell’s The Immortal Throne, I was blown away but the brilliant writing and story-telling skills. She wasn’t on my radar before, but after tearing through this novel I am eager to go back and devour The City.

Best Novellas

1. The Builders by Daniel Polanski

25667920

Picking up The Builders was a little bit of a stretch for me. The main characters are animals which is a POV choice I’m normally turned off by. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the swashbuckling and bloody tale of vengeance and depth of character that Polansky presents in such a limited form.

2. A Song for No Man’s Land by Andy Remic

26883559

A Song for No Man’s Land is perhaps the first time I’d heard of WW1 fantasy. The trippy nightmarish adventures of Jones, a soldier in the trench warfare battle of the Somme, were some of the most interesting takes on psychological horror I’ve read.

3. The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley

26883552

A tale of a knight fighting the undead to escort a mother and son to safe harbor presented in a post-apocalyptic United States. An odd and interesting premise that lent itself to a gritty story about the morals of man when pressed to their limits.

Honorable Mention: Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan

30199311

Though it could have been longer, Cold-Forged Flame stuck a chord with me due to its immense similarities to Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion sequence, one of my all-time favorite fantasy series.

Best Short Stories

1. Islands of Light in a Sea of Darkness by Mike Jansen in The Singularity Issue #3

30061293

2. Walls of Nigeria by Jeremy Szal in Nature: Futures

536244a-i1

3. Fire and Flesh by Michael R. Fletcher

32779700

Honorable Mention: For The Glory Set Before Them by Matt Karlov

31343049

Best Novels of 2015 I read in 2016

1. The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

22852698

I wasn’t big on Jalan in Prince of Fools but I did enjoy his relationship with Snorri. Watching Jalan develop in book two has me changing my opinion on him and I’m eager to get to book 3. This book really poured a lot into the relationship between Jalan and Snorri and I thoroughly enjoyed this romp.

2. Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan

18405221

The Raven’s Shadow trilogy will go down as one of the best series of all time. The conclusion was everything I could have hoped for. Though some dislike the series past Blood Song, I liked the shift in POV and enjoyed the struggle between the last free men and the Volarian slavers across the sea.

3. Sword of the North by Luke Scull

18114110

Sword of the North stepped out of the shadow of Glen Cook’s The Black Company that The Grim Company struggled with. The story really spends time investing in its characters backstory and I am very pleased with the way this series is shaping up.

Biggest Novels I Missed in 2016

1. The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan

25972177

2. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

27154427

3. The Burning Isle by Will Panzo

27417510

 

 

The Phoenix on the Sword by Robert E. Howard

2b13755ddaf6b5a4c2a00e7f1e3de100The Phoenix on the Sword was the first published short story for Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian character.In the timeline of Conan’s life, the tale takes place towards the end, but I chose to begin reading the tales of Conan in publication order. I will continue to read and review all of Robert E. Howard’s works in publication order.

The first pages of this tale are political. Cloaked figures introduce a plot to supplant Conan as King of Aquilonia. The masses are displeased with their barbarian overlord and the scheming for his demise has begun. Yet even among those whom would kill the king of Aquilonia, there are parallel forces working at odds with one another.

Conan himself is melancholy. Taking the throne of Aquilonia was a life-long goal, but though he planned to take the throne, he had not planned how to hold it. The masses are angry and he yearns for the call of battle, the feel of a horse, and the freedom to roam. Ruling a nation is not as relaxing and wondrous as it seemed and it is hard for the barbarian to be tamed within the walls of the palace.

Partway into the story, Conan is warned in a vision of the dangers that approach, and some of the dangers are of the demonic variety. The being in his vision blesses his sword and Conan prepares for one of fiercest and bloodiest fights I’ve read in a short fiction story.

This was my first Conan story. The writing was brilliant, the characters thoughtful, and the fighting was fierce and politically motivated. There isn’t much more I could ask for in this short fiction tale. I was thoroughly impressed and I look forward to a full read of all of Howard’s Conan saga.

-ESF

Purchase Conan: The Definitive Collection on Amazon

About the Author: Robert Ervin Howard was an American pulp writer of fantasy,66700 horror, historical adventure, boxing, western, and detective fiction. Howard wrote “over three-hundred stories and seven-hundred poems of raw power and unbridled emotion” and is especially noted for his memorable depictions of “a sombre universe of swashbuckling adventure and darkling horror.”

He is well known for having created — in the pages of the legendary Depression-era pulp magazine Weird Tales — the character Conan the Cimmerian, a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian, a literary icon whose pop-culture imprint can only be compared to such icons as Tarzan of the Apes, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond.

The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley

26883552The Emperor’s Railroad is the first in a series of novellas by Guy Haley and Tor.com. The novella is the story of Quinn, a knight in the post-apocalyptic United States (specifically the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia region) after war and disease destroyed much of the living, turning them into bloodthirsty undead.

The tale is told through the eyes of an aged man named Abney who is recounting the short time he spent with Quinn in his childhood. Quinn encounters Abney and his mother after their wagon breaks down along the road. Abney’s mother pays Quinn to escort them safely to her cousin’s house many miles away. The journey poses many dangers, and along the way, the threat of the undead, sinister men and a dragon will stand in the way of their refuge.

Quinn is not a knight in the tradition you or I usually attribute that word to. He carries two swords and a gun and specializes in fighting the undead. He wears no sigil, but originally was a creation of the Angels, the mysterious forces that supposedly began the apocalypse with their warring and who continue to be the primary force of malcontent in the novella. Quinn is also somewhat of a mystery, and much of his past is shrouded for much of the story and looks to be a major thread through the series.

Religion plays a primary role in this novel. The people of this novella believe that these beings called Angels have come and destroyed the world and continue to do so because of the Lord’s judgment. The consensus from most people in this setting is that everyone who dies is deserving of it and no one is worthy of living. Everyone obeys these Angels and shout blasphemy to those who would speak against them. This made the story interesting as Abney, the storyteller, has very strong beliefs about the Angels and Quinn, who serves them, has his different opinions. I haven’t read a fantasy story where religion is so intertwined with the setting, and I found it to be absorbing once I grasped all the moving parts.

My only drawback to this novel is the choice the author made with the POV character. Abney says somewhere towards the beginning that he is not very well educated. His narrative reflects this. The wording of his sentences and the way he describes things at a few moments detracted from the story for me. A few times I had to remind myself that he was uneducated and that the novella’s editor didn’t simply miss a spot. The POV from Abney’s perspective was a fine way to tell the story. However, it was just the POV’s wording that sometimes distracted me.

The novellas of the new Tor.com imprint continue to impress me. Even though I’m normally not into reading about the undead, Guy Haley presented a horrifying look at a United States fantasy future. The story was well spun in the limited spaces of the novella format, and I was highly satisfied by the end. My grievance about the POV character was slight when considering the overall picture. This will go down as one of my favorite reads of the year.

-ESF

Purchase The Emperor’s Railroad on Amazon.

About the Author: A writer of science fiction and fantasy, 4423928Guy Haley is the author of Crash, Champion of Mars, the Richards and Klein series and others. He is also a prolific contributor to Games Workshop’s Black Library imprint.

Previously a science fiction journalist and editor, Guy finds making his own strange worlds up even more fun than writing about those created by other people.

You can find hundreds of reviews, interviews, opinion pieces, free pieces of fiction and more on Guy’s blog.

Grimdark Magazine (Issue #1)

51ysjrwlv2blWhen Grimdark Magazine released in 2014, it was the recognition of a need for a short fiction forum in the niche subgenre of Grimdark, which has been steadily growing in popularity over the last decade. The mission of the magazine is to promote “the darker, grittier side of fantasy and science fiction.” So how does that mission hold up? Well, we hope to answer that here on Grimdark Alliance via a continuing review series starting with issue one and extending into the far future. I am joined by Alexandru and Leona and we will take turns to bring you our thoughts on all released issues.

There’s a lot of content in the pages of the first issue so let me first talk about the short fiction. There are five short stories in the issue. My favorite two are Bad Seed by Mark Lawrence and The Neutral by Mike Gelprin, Translated by Anatoly Belilovsky. Bad Seed, for those that may be familiar with Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire trilogy, is the backstory of brother Red Kent, how he ran from his past life, and how he met brother Jorg and joined the road brothers. It was well done and helped to satisfy a rather constant urge I have for more stories in the Broken Empire. The story can be read and enjoyed by those who have not yet read Mark’s trilogy. The Neutral is a rather different tale, much more sci-fi, and is the story of a person whom is protected by an organization called ‘The Brotherhood’ to be a neutral mediator in hostile situations like kidnappings and ransom exchanges. It was really a facinating and creative story and a real strength to this issue.

The further stories in the issue are Shadow Hunter by Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Woman I Used to Be by Gerri Leen, and The Red Wraith by Nicholas Wisseman. Shadow Hunter is a short story in the world of Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series and features Gaved, a freelance Wasp-kinden, in an interesting fantasy setting where people have thier nature shaped based on the totem of Insect-kinden they are. I am not familiar with the Shadows of the Apt series so I was rather lost with the explaination behind both the setting and the source of the main character’s power. The story was well writen however and I’m sure fans of that series would enjoy what the story adds to that world, it just didn’t fit well with me personally. The Woman I Used to Be was a good and very trippy science fiction short story. The story is about a woman whom has memory loss due to a tramatic event. As she attempts to recover, a satisfying and, of course, grimdark-esque twist put an interesting backspin on the story. The Red Wraith was actually a flash fiction piece. I was rather pleased to find flash included as that is a personal short fiction preferance of mine. The piece was mysterious and had both strong word economy and choice. A short but quality addition to the issue.

The short fiction in GdM #1 is complimented by one article, two interviews, and one review. The article Grimdark: It’s Here to Stay by Layla Cummins attempts to define the grimdark subgenre and why she personally believes the genre will become a staple rather than a passing fancy in the realm of speculative fiction. The magazine interviews Joe Abercrombie, author of the First Law trilogy, and Graham McNeill, whom is a regular contributor to the Warhammer universe at The Black Library. Both are high quality and popular grimdark authors. The magazine asks them thier thoughts on the grimdark sub-genre, some of the projects they are working on, and thier feelings towards short fiction and the future of the genre. The review is Kyle Massa’s thoughts on Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King, the first in a YA grimdark series set in a very different style and setting than Abercrombie fans are used to.

Overall, I was very pleased with Grimdark Magazine’s first issue. I felt that the short fiction was strong and I was happy with the decision to add in the other content. The interviews were compelling and the article and review were both well written. My only grievance with the issue was the way each item flowed from one thing to the next. The flow is fine if you intend to take a break in between each item, but if you intend on reading in one sitting you may find the feelings a story has left you may not blend well with the fact piece that comes next or even the next short story that gives a different feel. Its a small grievance, but again, this is the first issue so we will have to see if this is a thing in the issues to come. I have a lot of hope for this magazine. I am pleased to see so much talent come together under the grimdark banner and I hope that the magazine will continue to grow and develop. This first issue is very strong, I’m excited to see what comes next.

-ESF

Purchase Grimdark Magazine (Issue #1) on Amazon.

Interview with Rob Matheny of The Grim Tidings Podcast

12748137_957555537654336_2916415817175404344_oWelcome Rob, and thanks for being here!

Eric, thanks so much for having me over, I’ve been hearing great things about the blog and I’m delighted to be your guest.

For someone entirely new to The Grim Tidings Podcast, what is it and what sort of content does it produce?

By iTunes standards, we would be considered at “literary arts” podcast with a focus on dark fiction. When I tell people about it, I usually just say it’s a heavy metal version of Reading Rainbow. My cohost Philip Overby and I are big fans of “Grimdark”, of course readers of your blog will know all about it and what authors make up the core. But – we tend to major in Grimdark, while we minor in pretty much anything else you’ll find related to speculative fiction or other media like comics or video games. Generally the show focuses on interviewing one guest per episode, though we’ve hosted as many as three guests for special panel episodes. I think if you love fantasy, science fiction, horror, publishing, or writing, you’ll find plenty of great content on our show. But it comes with an edge – from the outset of the show we reserved the right to drop F bombs at whim. It was really never actually a question – but we’re all fucking adults. And I suppose it’s because of the intrinsic nature of Grimdark itself, which is known to utilize zesty language. So you’ll find an explicit rating on the show, so cover your ears, kiddies.

What caused/inspired you to create The Grim Tidings Podcast?

In 2014 I discovered Grimdark as a sub-genre thanks to a random podcast episode of Adventures in SciFi Publishing. Did a little research and found it really seemed to define the body of authors I was enjoying. I checked Facebook for a group that might be related to Grimdark, and found there was none such group, much to my dismay. So I stared one. Since then the group has grown to 2,000 plus members, by no means all active, but it really has become a friendly community of likeminded writers and creatives. In 2015 some of the group mods thought it wise to start a podcast, and being as I’m a full time radio producer by trade, it really just seemed like a great idea. We weren’t really sure how things would turn out, but if you look at the list of guests we’ve had the privilege to host, I think we’ve done okay. The community seems to like what we’ve got going on, and we’re happy to keep brining great shows.

What have been your favorite moments/opportunities thus far with the podcast?

Wow, when I think back, there’s really too many to list. I suppose our first big moment was when we were contacted by R.A. Salvatore’s publicity team with an interest to get Bob on the show. We were stoked “AF” as the kids say. R.A. Salvatore, though not Grimdark, is nearly a household name for any fantasy reader as far as we’re concerned. It really gave us the impression that maybe we had something here. We gleefully rolled out the red carpet, had a seven day promotion leading up to the release of the episode, arranged a giveaway, and it was just a surreal experience. He was an amazing guest and we realized we could interview high profile authors and not completely shit the bed. When we started out doing the show, we had a list of authors we would ideally like to get on. Joe Abercombie, Steven Erikson, and R. Scott Bakker were among those names. And we’ve be fortunate enough to host each one on the show. We’ve hosted Richard A. Knaak, Hugo winning editor Ellen Datlow – In addition to many others. We’ve managed to churn out over 80 episodes over the past year or so. It’s all available on our Podbean archive.

With the podcast having an emphasis on Grimdark fantasy fiction, what would you say is your all-time favorite Grimdark series?

I have to go with the series that started off my love for grim and dark fantasy fiction, and that would be George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. It was my utter love and devotion to that now household name fantasy series that urged me to seek out related works of fiction. Since then I’ve found some great series like Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy, The Prince of Nothing Series by R. Scott Bakker, and many more. I think the strength of George’s series though is the masterful storytelling. There’s a reason it’s HBO’s highest rated series in history. Though both the books and the TV show has its critics, I myself have been pleased with the content from both and look forward to future installments.

What’s the best way for people interested in The Grim Tidings podcast to follow you and it’s content?

I would say definitely follow us on iTunes. All you have to do is search for “Grim Tidings”, hit subscribe, and you’ll get notified once new episodes come out. Social media wise, definitely like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and be sure to bookmark TheGrimTidingsPodcast.com, as our site will be up and coming here very shortly – and we’ll be featuring blog posts and all new content. We’ll also be looking for blog and article contributors as well.

Thanks for joining us and sharing a little about The Grim Tidings Podcast!

14639618_1107412049343838_313574490314227692_nAbout Rob: Rob is a freelance media producer and social media consultant based out of Salem, Oregon. On Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Instagram at RobMatheny80.

 

 

Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps

31623984If you’re a video gamer and enjoy the likes of Bethesda’s Fallout, Rust, or movies like Mad Max, you’re going to want to step into C.T. Phipps’ world of Cthulhu Armageddon. Phipps creates a post-apocalyptic world where the United States has been destroyed by an event called the Rising when the “Great Old Ones” have returned to reclaim our world as their own. The world as we know it is thrown into chaos and the blasted wastelands are plagued by nasty creatures, sub-human species, and factions. The setting is diverse, well explored, and makes an excellent backdrop for any number of stories to take place.

Enter John Henry Booth. Booth is the leader of a ranger/extermination team called Gamma squad which protects the interests of New Arkham, a city-state in the former United States where some of the last remnants of humanity reside. Booth has a lot of familiarity fighting the monstrous creatures of the wasteland but is plagued by the loss of his previous team, Alpha squad. While struggling with these inner demons, Booth again loses his team, Gamma squad, by an unexpected ambush in a place called the Black Cathedral. When Booth awakes, he is surprised to find out that his torturer, Mercury, is disillusioned with New Arkham and requests Booth’s help to escape, traverse the wasteland, and go to a place called Kingsport. Booth agrees to help but is hell-bent on vengeance for the loss of his team. The cathedral calls to him, and Booth wants revenge.

C.T. Phipps does a good job developing an interesting backdrop for this revenge story. The elements of the world touch on enough familiar tropes that I was easily able to picture the broken world and horrifying creatures that Booth comes in contact with. Each character had a distinct feel from the stiff personality of Mercury, Booth’s sarcastic nature, and Booth’s old-world Hawaiian shirt-wearing ghoul friend Richard. Though there are a lot of horror elements, darkness, and internal struggle, the book felt like a fun almost pulp style story. I was thoroughly entertained.

The only negative point I have is the novel advertises itself as a post-apocalyptic western, and I never got that vibe. The technology level is futuristic; a science level only somewhat further advanced than ours though not enough to classify this as sci-fi by any means. The horror and supernatural elements ground this book in fantasy. The main character does wear a Stetson and duster, but that seems to be where the western element ends. Now Stephen King’s The Dark Tower can classify as a post-apocalyptic western because Roland uses an old-style revolver and the story lends itself to the themes of an old western flick. It’s a minor complaint, but if you’re going into this book looking for some Clint Eastwood film or even a Fantasy Western like The Dark Tower, you will not find this to be the same feel.

Overall, I highly recommend you give this book a shot. C.T. Phipps creates a world with realized characters and a good story with good pacing, tension, Lovecraftian elements, and a satisfying ending. If you like post-apocalyptic fantasy, Cthulhu mythos, or supernatural elements to your fantasy, Cthulhu Armageddon is a good choice.

-ESF

Purchase Cthulhu Armageddon on Amazon.com.

About the Author: C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, 13434447science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on “The United Federation of Charles” (http://unitedfederationofcharles.blog…).

He’s recently released the novels “The Rules of Supervillainy”, “The Games of Supervillainy”, and “Esoterrorism.” His third novel, “Wraith Knight” is expected to release in January of 2016.