Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: Twice Upon an Apocalypse

The Cthulhu Mythos is like chocolate; it can be added to nearly anything to make a good thing even better.

Twice Upon an Apocalypse, the latest release by Crystal Lake Publishing re-imagines the traditional tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson through the lens of Lovecraftian horror to create a dark and sweet confection that is sure to excite the palate of any gourmand of weird fiction.

This anthology collects twenty one classic tales with a horrifying new twist, including The Pied Piper of Providence; The Fishman and His Wife; Cinderella and Her Outer Godfather; Sweet Dreams in the Witch-House; and Fee Fi Old One, and when I first saw the list of story titles I knew that this book was one I had to have.

One might consider it a risky move to release a book of re-imagined fairy tales upon a public already suffering shell-schlock from the interminable barrage of revisionist tales that Hollywood has bombarded us with in recent years.  But Twice Upon an Apocalypse proves that there is room for fresh ideas in over-saturated markets if they are done right.  Indeed, the multitude of banal fairy tale remakes sets this book apart, like a glittering gem sitting atop a heap of dross.

This being an anthology of stories contributed by various authors, not all of the tales were to my taste, which is only to be expected.  However, the ones I liked, I liked a lot, and my favourite story in the collection, Little Maiden of the Sea, deftly married The Little Mermaid to The Dunwich Horror in an unholy union that was worth the price of admission on its own.

If dark and twisted re-tellings of old classics seasoned with a dash of wry wit is something you would enjoy, then I definitely recommend this collection.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Weirder Side of Pluto

It's pretty hard not to get excited about the recent images of Pluto and Charon captured by NASA's New Horizons space craft.  Even more so if you happen to be an aficionado of weird fiction.

Pluto, one of three dwarf planets within the Kuiper Belt at the edge of our solar system, is better known to fans of H.P. Lovecraft as Yuggoth, the far off outpost of the alien fungoid monstrosities, the Mi-go.  Lovecraft first mentioned the inscrutable fungi from Yuggoth in his story, "The Whisperer in the Darkness":

"Yuggoth... is a strange dark orb at the very rim of our solar system... There are mighty cities on Yuggoth—great tiers of terraced towers built of black stone... The sun shines there no brighter than a star, but the beings need no light. They have other subtler senses, and put no windows in their great houses and temples... The black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopean bridges—things built by some elder race extinct and forgotten before the beings came to Yuggoth from the ultimate voids—ought to be enough to make any man a Dante or Poe if he can keep sane long enough to tell what he has seen..."

"The Whisperer in the Darkness" was written in September, 1930, just seven months after Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh the previous February.  The discovery of what was believed to be a ninth planet in our solar system had to have appealed strongly to Lovecraft's imagination.  He was well read in scientific developments of his day and many of his stories reflect the cutting edge of contemporary science.  Einstein's work, most notably his 1915 paper on general relativity, influenced many of Lovecraft's ideas about the nature of reality, and the notion of non-Euclidean geometry was a recurring theme in many of his stories. Indeed, the existential horror of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos is no less than a reflection of society's fear of the philosophical ramifications of the theory of Natural Selection, which shattered the notion of mankind's ordained supremacy in the universe.

Lovecraft grew up in a golden age of science.  Born in 1890 at the tail end of the Victorian era, he was witness to many of the ground-breaking discoveries that fundamentally reshaped our perception of the universe and our place in it.  While many of his contemporaries basked in the optimistic potential that future discoveries would deliver, Lovecraft speculated upon the risks that unfettered knowledge might bring, and the opening paragraph of his 1926 story, "The Call of Cthulhu" reflects these misgivings:

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.  We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of the black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.  The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

While it's doubtful that the New Horizons craft's voyage upon the black seas of infinity will reveal any terrifying vistas of reality, lets hope that the next images of Pluto don't feature any cyclopean black monoliths...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eating Crow and Reading E-books

I'm an unapologetic technophobe.  I don't own a cellphone and my computer is more than ten years old.  I'm also a bibliophile, and by this I don't just mean that I like to read.  I love books.  I love the smell of them, the feel of them, the weight of them, and I consider a well-bound book to be a treasured possession, not just to be read but to be displayed on a bookshelf, like a painting in a gallery.  Such was my disdain for e-books that it was only reluctantly that I decided to publish the Libram Mysterium anthology series in digital as well as print formats.

These things considered, you'd think I'd be the last person to buy an e-reader.  I certainly thought so.  Turns out I was wrong.  My unwholesome dalliance with digital books was initiated by the alarming groans of my overladen bookshelves and the realization that I was quickly running out of places to install more.  My bedside table has become the permanent repository for a stack of books I'm no longer reading for lack of anywhere better to put them, and leaning towers of literature are stacked precariously about the house just waiting to topple over and crush the cat.

Simultaneously, about a year ago I started experiencing chronic eye pain every evening, which made reading a grueling ordeal instead of a relaxing escape.  I went to the optometrist for a check up and he assured me that my date of birth was to blame.  To put it simply: reading bring pain.  Great; yet another reason to pine for the '80's, as if rugby pants and ZZ Top weren't reasons enough.

So week by week, month by month, the idea of an e-reader festered in my brain like a cancerous tumour.  E-readers use e-ink technology that makes the screen look just like a printed page, which can be read even in direct sunlight, and you can adjust font size.  Also, with gigabites of memory I could store an entire library on one device without any threat to the cat.  The tumour reached critical mass last week when a coupon for $40 off the Kobo Aura arrived in my in-box, and I decided to take the plunge.

So here's my take on the Kobo reader for anyone who, like I was, is on the fence and/or deeply suspicious of new technologies like horseless carriages and such:

After a few days to get used to it, I am completely enamoured with my Kobo; it is the single solution to all of my problems.  It has 4 GB of memory - enough to store a very large library, and if that's still not enough, there is an SD card slot for extra storage.  I was initially concerned that a mishap might destroy my entire library, but there are several levels of redundancy to keep your collection safe.  Any books bought from Kobo can be permanently archived on their cloud and accessed at any time - you can even move books off your reader and onto their cloud if you need to free up space.  Furthermore, you can store books on your computer, using Adobe Digital Editions to manage your collection.  Also, most sellers of e-books, such as Smashwords, will allow unlimited downloads of previously purchased books so if you do drop your reader in the toilet you can easily replace your library.

Reading with the Aura is a real pleasure.  I find it easier on the eyes than a printed book, and I can read for much longer without needing to take a break.  One of the great features of this model is the adjustable back-lit screen, which allows you to read comfortably at any lighting level so I can keep reading in bed long after my wife has turned off the lights and gone to sleep - something I've been wanting to do for twenty years.

Another neat feature of the Kobo readers is their compatibility with Pocket, a browser add-on that allows you to save web pages to your reader.  I like reading blogs, but reading at the computer makes me bleed out of my eyes until my head explodes.  Now I can save blog posts to my reader and peruse them in comfort and ease, which will make for a much pleasanter experience.

Kindle vs. Kobo?
These are the two main readers in Canada (Nook isn't available here), aside from third party readers like Sony.  You can get equivalent models of each, but the difference lies in their supported formats.  Kindles only read Amazon's proprietary Kindle format, which means you can only use their reader to read books purchased from Amazon.  They are supposed to be able to read PDFs, but most users report difficulty doing so.  Because Kindles only read their proprietary format they cannot be used to read library books, which are in epub format.  Kobo, on the other hand supports epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, etc so you can borrow books from the library, and buy books from anywhere except Amazon.  The only real disadvantage of the Kobo is that you cannot buy books from Amazon, which cuts you off from a pretty large seller.  Nonetheless, being able to borrow books from the library without ever leaving the house or worrying about late fees (the books automatically delete themselves from your reader after the loan period) offsets any possible advantage the Kindle might offer.

E-reader vs. Tablet?
Tablets are another popular device for reading electronic documents and both Amazon and Kobo make tablets as well as e-readers.  Tablets have the advantage of a colour display, which is better for reading magazines and newspapers.  But they do not have the e-ink technology used by readers, so reading for long periods of time on a tablet will be just like reading on a computer (ocular hemorrhaging  and wall splattered with grey-matter) and glare makes them difficult to read outdoors.  So if you plan to read books, then the e-reader is the device of choice.

So there we have it: I love my Kobo reader and I've taken my first tentative steps into the digital age.  But I'm still not buying a cellphone.

Monday, September 22, 2014

It's Coming!

I've just finished designing the cover for Libram Mysterium Volume 2, an all-horror issue that should be out in time for Halloween (but, really, isn't any time a good time for horror?).  This volume features stories by Libram alumni Garnett Elliot, Josh Graboff, Alasdair Cunningham, Alex Christy, and Matthew Bottiglieri as well as stories by authors new to the fold: Lisa Buckley, Mary Quijano, and S.M. Okeyb.

It's been a lot of work, but I think this anthology will rival or even exceed Volume 1, and I can't wait to get it out the door.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Read The Tomb Robber's Tale in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

I just wanted to let everyone know that my recent short story, The Tomb Robber's Tale, is published in the current (August 2014) issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (follow the link above to read it for free).  If you aren't familiar with HFQ, it's a fantastic online magazine that features the best in weird fantasy fiction and anyone interested in the genre should definitely be following it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: The Whitechapel Demon

Readers of Libram Mysterium will undoubtedly recognize Josh Reynolds as the author of the excellent short story, Mordiggian's Due.  Josh is an incredibly prolific writer who, in addition to numerous Warhammer and Warhammer 40K tie-in novels for Black Library, has written a huge number of short stories, many of them featuring the exploits of Charles St. Cyprian, the Royal Occultist.

The Whitechapel Demon is the first novel in The Adventures of The Royal Occultist series, and was my first introduction to Charles St. Cyprian, an occult sleuth who holds the office of Royal Occultist, which was established in the sixteenth century by Elizabeth I for John Dee.  Put simply, it is the duty of St. Cyprian and his apprentice, Ebbe Gallowglass, to counter supernatural menaces that are beyond the conventional scope of His Majesty's government; a duty that pushes them to their limits when cultists of the Whitechapel Society attempt to call up the spirit of Jack the Ripper and instead attract the attention of something far worse: a demonic entity that wriggles its way through non-Euclidian angles and into our world.

The Whitechapel Demon fires on all cylinders and has everything that I love in a story: mad cultists, sinister demons, compelling characters, and frequent dashes of humour.  Josh deftly balances setting and pace, firmly grounding the novel in 1920 London while carrying us from scene to scene maintaining dramatic tension along the way.  This is no easy thing to do, but the story is so eloquently written that it is easy to forget you're reading a book and not careening through the streets of Whitechapel in the rumble seat of St. Cyprian's car with the hounds of hell breathing down your neck.

The characters are equally well-written.  St. Cyprian is a suave and charming Oxford man, an occult scholar, and veteran of the Great War who has his own inner demons to battle in addition to those conjured up by malfeasant miscreants.  His counter-part, Ms. Gallowglass, plucked from the mean streets of Cairo, is quick on the draw with sarcastic remarks, vulgar gestures, or lethal volleys of gunfire as circumstances demand, and she is an excellent foil for her mentor: a pugnacious and irascible Watson to St. Cyprian's Holmes.

It occurred to me while reading this book, that The Whitechapel Demon might especially appeal to lovers of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.  While the book only dances on the fringes of Lovecraft's mythos, St. Cyprian and Gallowglass are archetypal mythos investigators, particularly in campaigns that are focused more on keeping the forces of darkness at bay than on nihilistic existentialism.  In any event there is enough common ground here that fans of Lovecraftian horror are likely to also enjoy the Adventures of the Royal Occultist.

Learn more about the Royal Occultist by visiting Charles St. Cyprian's blog.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Berni Wrightson: Master of the Macabre

One of  my many (too many?) hobbies is drawing.  In fact I had once considered pursuing art as a career, having studied it throughout high school and even in University.  While my life ultimately took a different path, I have maintained an interest and although it has been decades since I've done any painting or sculpting I do continue to draw.  Pen and ink is one of my favourite drawing mediums, although lately I've been rediscovering the pleasure of brush and ink as well.  I don't want to bore you or embarrass myself by posting my own amateurish drawings, but I would like to show off some of my favourite pieces by one of my greatest inspirations, Bernie Wrightson.

Wrightson is best known for his comic book illustrations and his career has spanned decades.  He gained a great deal of prominence illustrating Warren Publishing's Creepy and Eerie magazines in the 1970's and also worked for DC and Marvel comics as well.  I first became aware of Bernie Wrightson's work by way Swamp Thing, the character he created for DC comics back in the '70's.  I was only a child at the time, but I really dug the creepy and tragic story of Swamp Thing and while I didn't really appreciate Wrightson's art on the same level then as I did in later years, it definitely put him on my radar.

It probably wasn't until 1983, when I bought the Marvel illustrated edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, that I truly came to appreciate Bernie Wrightson's artistic genius.  I was seventeen when this edition was published and just the right age to be influenced by the meticulous detail of Wrightson's drawings and his macabre aesthetic.  The pen and ink drawings in this edition were completed over a seven year period and Wrightson wanted them to look like period pieces - to resemble wood cut or steel engraved prints instead of hand-drawn illustrations.

I recently purchased Dark Horse Books hardcover collection of Bernie Wrightson's stories from Creepy and Eerie magazines.  Among the many stories that Wrightson wrote and illustrated for Warren Publishing, this collection includes Wrightson's wonderful adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat from Creepy #62 (May, 1974) and H.P. Lovecraft's Cool Air from Eerie #62 (January, 1975).

The illustrations shown above are only a tiny representation of Bernie Wrightson's prolific career but they are some of my favourite drawings, the ones that both inspire me and remind me that I have no talent, whatsoever.  That's okay, because the world only needs one master of the macabre and that master is Bernie.