Full disclosure at the outset: this volume was another free review copy given to me by the author, who's a Goodreads friend (and an Internet friend frFull disclosure at the outset: this volume was another free review copy given to me by the author, who's a Goodreads friend (and an Internet friend from long before Goodreads), with no strings attached. My high estimate of his work doesn't come from the friendship (I've read things written by friends that I didn't like!). I'd also beta read all ten of the stories here, years ago when they were first being written (and Andrew was gracious enough to mention me for that in the acknowledgements!) But I felt I needed to reread the book in order to do them full justice in this review.
All of Andrew's excellent SF novels and stories fall into a sweeping chronology of future human exploration and colonization of the galaxy: Red Planet Rising, for instance, is set at the very early stage, where Mars is still the frontier, while Iron Scepter is set much later, in the days of the vicious Terran Hegemony. This collection, like the stories in Ring of Time, is set still later, after the fall of the Hegemony. A medical doctor by profession, Seddon writes in the "hard" SF tradition that grounds its speculation in actual science accurately depicted; and his background gives him a serious knowledge of the life sciences. But he avoids the besetting fault of some writers of this school; his science is a tool that enables him to tell stories about characters, who are the focus here (rather than focusing on info-dumps about the physical aspects of the science itself!). And the characters here are thoroughly likable (whether they're two-legged or four-legged).
Our main character here, of course, is space-faring veterinarian Doc Hughes, founder of W.O.L.F. (Wellness for Other Life Forms). Like time-traveling historian Robert Cragg in the Ring of Time stories, Hughes is a forty-ish Roman Catholic intellectual, wise, kind-hearted, and possessed of a quiet courage. (Seddon's own Roman Catholic faith informs his writing, in the tradition of Anthony Boucher before him, but rarely takes center stage.) A reader who knows the author through e-mail as well as I do, however, can recognize that in important ways, Hughes even more than Cragg is modeled on Andrew himself, which accounts for his being so life-like. For instance, the author's real-life love of dogs, and German Shepherds in particular, comes through in Doc Hughes' relationship with Victrix and Rex --of course, Rex isn't exactly a dog, but that's another story.... Though I've never corresponded with her directly, I also feel that I know Andrew's wife Olivia (who actually is a real-life veterinarian) well enough to recognize a lot of her in continuing character Madeleine Dickson; but no spoilers about where the character's relationship with Doc may go!
All the strengths of Andrew's writing that his fans have come to appreciate are here: deft writing, exciting storytelling with a point, literary craftsmanship, understanding of human nature (unchanged in any century), moral sensibility and clarity, high-order literary craftsmanship, and good character development. Women appear as much as men in strong roles and positions of authority. The author's characteristic thematic concerns, the importance of compassion and the dangers of a hubris-fueled science that recognizes no moral limits to its experimentation on the helpless, are evident in several of the stories.
This volume collects all of the Doc Hughes stories to date. But I, for one, hope the author still has more adventures for Doc and his friends!...more
Note, Sept. 30,2016 --I edited this review just now to correct a minor typo.
This short collection of 11 original spooky stories (editor Neilsen contriNote, Sept. 30,2016 --I edited this review just now to correct a minor typo.
This short collection of 11 original spooky stories (editor Neilsen contributes one, along with ten other authors) is unified around the geographical setting of New York's lower Hudson Valley, principally in and around Sleepy Hollow, the locale made famous by Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." (One story reaches up as far north as Kinderhook, where Irving penned much of the original tale.) Andrew M. Seddon, my Goodreads friend who kindly provided me with a free review copy, is the only one of the contributors I'd ever heard of or read before. That, and the short, tongue-in-cheek introduction supposedly by Irving himself, with its mixture of faux Early Republic prose style and modern slang, had me unsure of what to expect from the book, and of how seriously to take it. But I needn't have worried. All of the stories are serious in both tone and craftsmanship, and deliver a consistently high standard of literary quality.
That isn't to say that they all deliver happy endings. In fact, several of the stories are dark indeed, with evil (at least for the moment) triumphant at the end. Or they may be tales of the grim comeuppance visited on nasty characters (or both themes together); or the resolution may be a bittersweet one. Normally, I'm not a fan of tragic stories, or a triumph-of-evil motif. But every one of these stories are extremely well-written, and most of them are gripping page-turners that keep you totally involved, engrossed and guessing up to the very end. There are surprises in several of these that I did not see coming, but that grow completely naturally out of the story (rather than being tacked on in defiance of its internal logic, as R. L. Stine's "surprise endings" too often are). Even despite the number of dark reads, I couldn't give the collection less than five stars.
There's no explicit sex in any of the stories (Robert Stava's "The Dying Dream of Major Andre" has a PG-13-rated sexual situation, of sorts). Most selections have no bad language at all, or very little. Some of these are very much in the tradition of classic supernatural horror, in the direct continuum from the 19th and early 20th-century masters. Andrew's "Dead Men Rise" (one of this writer's best) is an excellent example of these, a traditional ghost story with more psychological depth and bite than most. A few others have some profane use of Christ's name, and the f-word shows up in two stories (only once in one of them); in the story with the worst language, "Hell to Pay" by Amy Bruan, most of it is spoken by a "potty-mouthed" demon from Hell, who's not presented as a sympathetic role model. Only two or three stories have directly described gory parts; but none of them are schlock.
Though he used the Headless Horseman legend, Irving didn't create it; it's actually a part of the area's folklore, and there's plenty more where that came from. Some of the contributors are oral folk storytellers, and Jonathan Kruk's "The White Lady of Raven Rock" and B. B. Stucco's "A Local Superstition" are re-tellings of local legends, the former especially with a folkloric flavor. (Irving, who was a pretty serious folklorist himself, would have heartily approved.) Several of the writers draw on this basic vein of material, with its folk magic and hauntings. Others range farther afield, with a visit from Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature, a hint of the Lovecraftian, and a vision out of the depths of horrific B-movie sci-fi. The tales are about equally divided between those set in olden times and in the present day; and several of them clearly benefit from an actual authorial knowledge of Sleepy Hollow and its physical and human geography.
Besides Andrew's story, my personal favorite is Christine Morgan's "By This Candle's Light." But the stories by Bruan and Stava have some real positives, too. Michael Nayak's "The Secret of Pendlewood Court" is probably the most intense of the eleven.
Short blocs of personal information on the contributors, arranged in the order that they appear in the book, are given in an appendix, "Those Responsible." The quality of the information is uneven (B. B. Stucco's is the least illuminating), suggesting that it was supplied by the authors themselves individually, not by the editor.
Most fans of supernatural short fiction, I believe, would like some or all of these stories. The collection is a little gem, and an excellent read for the upcoming Halloween season. (It's not currently for sale on Amazon, however, or at least doesn't appear in an Amazon title search; so it's best ordered directly from the publisher.)...more
Originally, I hadn't planned to write this review until tomorrow night. But I expect to need to fit in the writing of several reviews in the next weekOriginally, I hadn't planned to write this review until tomorrow night. But I expect to need to fit in the writing of several reviews in the next week or so; so, having a window of opportunity to write this one now, I decided to grab it!
Fungi is an irregularly published periodical, founded (in 1984) and still edited by Pierre Comtois, who also contributes two stories and a nonfiction piece to this issue (as well as an editorial, "Musings"). Its subtitle, A Magazine of Fantasy and Weird Fiction, indicates its niche: it's concerned with the speculative, strange, macabre and fantastic. (It covers, indeed, much the same ground as the old pulp era Weird Tales --and the editor and many of the contributors are obviously fans of some of the leading authors of the Weird Tales circle.) Selections include short stories, poetry, and some nonfiction, and are often illustrated by black-and-white drawings (the artists are credited below the table of contents, and their work in this issue is consistently good). Most are newly written; a very few are reprints. (The writers' guidelines prohibit obscenity, excessive bad language, and grisly-gory detailed descriptions of violence.) It should be noted that my rating takes into account the format (like my ratings of short stories, which have different criteria than those I use for novels). Five stars here doesn't mean it has similar literary quality to, say, The Scarlet Letter; but it IS pretty amazing for a magazine issue!
Besides Comtois, 13 authors contribute a dozen short stories. (One of the reprints, "The Tree on the Hill," was one of H. P. Lovecraft's many collaborations, this one with Duane Rimel; HPL's characteristic style and premise/plotting is very evident, with felicitous results!) Two more authors, Lars Walker and Henry J. Vester III are singled out for "Spotlights," which involve more than one selection from their corpus.
The vivid cover art on the front and back is supplied by Italian-born British artist Aldo Galli, and consists of two illustrations from the many he did for the recently released special edition of Richard Adams' Watership Down. The originals of these illustrations are a series of large-scale paintings --a monumental achievement of contemporary representational art. Comtois' nonfiction contribution is an informative write-up on the artist and his work, done with Galli's cooperation. The other nonfiction selection, "Bruce Pennington: Days of Future Past," by veteran British illustrator Steve Lines, also focuses on an artist; Pennington was, from the late 60s through the 90s, one of the publishing industry's most successful and admired cover artists, producing iconic covers for many of science fiction's literary giants. (Lines credits Justin Marriott, whose earlier interview with Pennington he used a source, as a co-author.) My interest is more in literature than in art, but the writers here made their subjects truly interesting.
Of the contributors here, the only three I'd previously heard of, and read work by, are Lovecraft, my friend Andrew M. Seddon, and Roman Catholic speculative fiction writer Colleen Drippe.' Therefore, it's especially helpful that the issue includes a section with bio-critical paragraphs on most of them. Two authors of short, evocative poems, however, Wade German ("Hex House") and D. J. Tyrer ("Curtail not Your Yearnings") are ignored there, and not credited in the table of contents. Vester is primarily a poet, so he's represented by half a dozen of his poems, following an informative appreciation by Fungi editorial team member Gregorio Montejo, and along with his haunting flash-fiction, "Of Ancient Glory." (Lars Walker also contributes a poem, "The Grumpy Dwarf.") All of the poetry here is traditional rhymed poetry or accessible free verse, mostly the former. My favorite among the poems included is probably Vester's "An Old Gentleman Seeks Professional Help" (the author's day job is as a professional counselor), with its subtle message beneath the whimsy.
Of the fiction selections, Comtois' "Feeding Time" is a "zombie apocalypse" yarn, which isn't my cup of tea, and Skadi Meic Beorh's "The Nascent Scream," though it has some vivid imagery, ultimately is as incoherent as a bad acid trip (which it probably resembles). And one or two are darker than I prefer (but still very well written). But all of the other stories are eminently satisfactory, and often excellent. Many, though not all, have Lovecraftian elements. Glynn Barrass' "Black Stars in Opposition," draws on Robert Chambers' "The King in Yellow" (but can be appreciated even if you haven't read the latter work), and Lin Carter's literary executor Robert M. Price presents a pastiche starring Carter's Conan-like Thongor of Lemuria. Walker is a writer I was delighted to discover (and I now have two of his novels on my to-read shelf!). My favorite story here is John R. Fultz' far-future SF tale, "The Rude Mechanicals and the HIghwayman." But other stand-out stories include Comtois' "No Time for Regrets," Seddon's "Sonata for Piano, Four Hands" (which I previously beta read), Drippe's marvelous "The Old Man and the Grail," and Dale Nelson's foray into Russian folklore and history, "Rusalka."
If you read magazines, and you appreciate the literature of the weird and fantastic, you owe it to yourself to discover Fungi! I got my free review copy as a gift from Andrew Seddon (with no strings attached); and I'm grateful to him for the introduction to this quality publication....more
This is the long-awaited sequel to the author's God's Daughter, and brings her Saga of the Vikings of the New World to a conclusion. My five-star reviThis is the long-awaited sequel to the author's God's Daughter, and brings her Saga of the Vikings of the New World to a conclusion. My five-star review of the earlier book is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ; the background information and many of the evaluative comments in that review would apply here as well, though IMO this book, if anything, is even better than the first. I would strongly advise reading the books in order; they have many of the same characters, and it will help you as a reader to come to this book with the better and deeper understanding of the relationships, personalities and general situation that the first book will give you. Where the first book focused on Gudrid, former pagan priestess (now a Christian) and healer, however, this one focuses on her half-sister-in-law by a previous marriage, Freydis, out-of-wedlock daughter of Eirik the Red.
The fictional element in historical fiction about real-life people (which both these women, and a number of the other characters here, were) uses imagination to reconstruct the details history leaves out, and especially the inner personalities and motivations that history may record imperfectly or not at all. As I already knew from reading some faithful modern re-tellings, our sole historical source for the Viking voyages to Greenland, the Icelandic sagas, don't remember Freydis kindly: she's depicted as a vicious, treacherous psychopath who becomes the New World's first mass murderer. BUT.... 1.) No historians, medieval or modern, are wholly free from biases that shape their reaction to their material. Gender relations in early Scandinavian/Germanic and Celtic society, as reflected in these books, were comparatively more equalitarian and meritocratic than those of the "civilized" states of southern Europe. By the 13th century, though, when the oral sagas were being committed to writing, the more patriarchal and stratified attitudes of the latter were re-shaping thought and practice in the northern lands. To these historiographers, a woman who clearly didn't fit their picture of proper gender roles may well have been seen as an obviously deviant villainess by definition, whose actions called for censorious treatment. 2.) Even some of the details recorded by the saga compilers themselves, if one reads between the lines, cast doubt on the supposedly innocent and pacific intentions of Freydis' adversaries. And 3.), the two key conversations in the sagas that cast Freydis in the worst light, taken at face value, were totally private conversations that none of the original tellers of the material could actually have been privy to. They're imaginative reconstructions, just as much as Gilbert's dialogue is --and they're reconstructions created by writers with an ideological agenda of their own.
Gilbert follows the factual account of events in the sagas faithfully (even including the two conversations I find suspect). But she fleshes out the picture with a more sympathetic vision, and a broader reconstruction of a plausible context, that gives us a very different picture of what (may have) actually happened on the Vineland coast a thousand years ago. The Freydis who emerges here isn't an evil harridan, and isn't psychotic. What she is is a tough-as-nails young woman who's the product of a society that puts a premium on physical courage and fighting ability, who's had to fight tooth and nail for anything she's ever gotten, who didn't feel loved as a child, never knew her birth mother, and doesn't show love or give trust very easily, a female warrior (in her culture, that wasn't a contradiction in terms) who killed men in combat while she was still in her teens, who doesn't readily take orders from any man, woman, or deity, and who isn't a total stranger to the effects of the special kind of dried mushrooms imbibed by Viking "berserkers" --which are as potent as modern-day "angel dust," and just as dangerous. She's also a smart, competent woman (it says something that she's the expedition leader here, not her husband) with principles as strong as steel, and deep reserves of love and loyalty. And like all of us, she's a woman on a spiritual journey ... which might not end where it began. In real life, the Vikings of succeeding generations never forgot her. Modern readers probably won't, either.
Gilbert brings Freydis' world vividly to life here, without employing info-dumps or cluttering the narrative with excessive details. (She includes a family tree for Freydis and a short list of other characters in the back, along with a short glossary of Viking terms used in the text; but I personally didn't need the former, and with my Scandinavian background, the latter only included a couple of words I didn't know --and I'd roughly deduced the meanings of those from the context already. Even readers who haven't read much about Vikings, I think, could guess the definitions of all these terms the same way.) This is a very taut, gripping read, with a lot of suspense in the first part even when you know the general outline of the history, and the plot continues to hold dangers and surprises up to the denouement and beyond. It's written in first-person, present-tense, which puts us inside Freydis' head and bonds us to her quickly. As in the first book, the characterizations are believable and vivid. All told, this is historical fiction at its finest! I give it my highest recommendation, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Gilbert's work.
As a quick footnote, I was gifted with a free copy of this work by the author, just because she knew I wanted to read it, and because she's got a generous heart. (A lot of authors give out e-books, which are relatively cheap --she gave me a signed trade paperback copy!) I wasn't asked to give a favorable review (or, really, any review at all) --that had to be earned, and it was earned in abundance....more