All posts by stevestatham

Writer, editor and photographer. Automotive and outdoor markets, and a little fiction on the side.

Instalanche!

Major thanks to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit for shining the godsandthecity-1spotlight on Gods and The City today. His mention definitely jolted sales, although Amazon has been slow in updating the rankings today. I’ll follow up with an update when I find out how high it rises. And if you haven’t checked out Instapundit, well, prepare to bookmark a site you’ll want to visit daily. Or hourly. Glenn is a posting machine.

Long Lost Paperbacks No. 7

Firelord, 1982 Bantam edition, mass market paperback.
Firelord, 1982 Bantam edition, mass market paperback.

On the long list of books that should never be forgotten, Firelord by Parke Godwin rates a spot near the top. Godwin (1929-2013) was one of the best fantasy writers of the final decades of the 20th Century, yet sadly, nearly all of his books are out of print. If you want to read Godwin, you are relegated to the secondary market or a well-stocked library. None of his novels have been released as e-books that can be purchased through the usual retail channels (although if you search you can find e-versions available through Open Library).

That’s a terrible shame. Godwin was a great writer. He was a master at taking the epic legends of Western Civilization and breathing fresh life into them. Firelord (1980) is the best of his books, the finest take on the King Arthur legend I’ve ever read. It’s one of those rare novels I return to every few years and it gets better with every reading. I happily rank it as one of my top ten favorite books. As Godwin himself said, “It should have happened this way, it could have, and perhaps it did.”

Firelord begins at the and of Arthur’s life as he looks back at the events that placed him on the throne. There’s a maturity to the voice, a weariness, yet also a joyful embrace of both the pain and pleasures of life. This Arthur is a very real man, not a sterile and glorified archetype:

“I want to write of us the way we were before some pedant petrifies us in an epic and substitutes his current ideal for ours. As for poets and bards, let one of them redecorate your life and you’ll never be able to find any of it again.”

Godwin also does a masterful job of incorporating fantasy elements in a realistic and believable way.  Firelord was said to be a major influence on John Boorman’s movie Excaliber (1981), which was itself a break from the way the King Arthur legend had traditionally been told.

The follow-up, Beloved Exile, carries on the legend from Guenevere’s point of view after Arthur’s death. It, too, is an excellent read. But of Godwin’s other novels, The Tower of Beowulf is a particular favorite of mine. Seek any of these out through resellers on the internet or your local second-hand bookstore and you won’t be disappointed.

Something New For Summer’s End

AlienTexasSo, August is blazing away and you’re looking over at those big, fat unread novels and thinking, “It’s too hot. Big books make me sweat. Can’t anyone write crisp, refreshing short stories that I can read quickly, before sunburn and heat stroke set in? Preferably with space aliens? And Texas?”

I hear this all the time. Therefore, in order to cater to an underserved market, I have a solution right here. Alien Texas is a 10,000-word e-book that includes three short stories centered around what happens when invaders from space try to take on the residents of the Lone Star State. Alien Texas is just the right size for late-summer reading. Settle in with your e-reader, ignore the heat and let the invasions begin!

Long Lost Paperbacks No. 6

Let me just get this out of the way immediately: nothing by Robert E. Jones1Howard can truly be classified as “long lost.” His stories and novels have been constantly in print since the Lancer paperbacks revived Conan the Barbarian in the 1960s. Howard’s pulp-era stories have been recycled in so many volumes over the last 40 years that they practically rate an encyclopedia by themselves.

But some of these stand out from the crowd. The Book of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1, is one such. This Zebra paperback original from 1976 was edited by Glenn Lord and contained stories that had not been seen since their original publication in the 1920s and 1930s. The brooding poem Cimmeria was a particular favorite of mine.

Yet there’s something else that sets this book apart — the cover and interior artwork by Jeff Jones (1944-2011). Jones was one of the best fantasy illustrators of his day, but the man lived a… complicated life. More on that later.

When I first spied this paperback on the shelves in ’76, I immediately recognized Jones’ artwork. Along with Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, I considered Jones among my favorites, the kind of artist who spurred me to buy books on the strength of his artwork alone. He had painted the covers for Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser sagas, a series of books that I enjoyed immensely in the mid-1970s. In high school art class I had even tried my best to reproduce the awesome Jones2Jeff Jones cover of The Swords of Lankhmar, (shown at left). Jones also had a cartoon strip called Idyl in the National Lampoon, a magazine that was at its outrageous peak in the 1970s.

Jones’ paintings were atmospheric and dream-like, but the subject was always finely rendered, with excellent detailing. On this book in particular, the artwork stood out. There were interior illustrations as well, plus blue colored page edges, which probably contributed to the fact that The Book of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1 was more expensive than most paperbacks of the time at $1.95. A second volume appeared later that same year, also with artwork by Jones.

Despite his success (at least to my young eyes) Jeff Jones wasn’t the most contented soul. He married young and had a daughter, but Jones was never comfortable in his skin as a man. In 1998 Jones began hormone replacement therapy, changed his name to Jeffrey Catherine Jones, and lived the rest of his life as a woman. By most accounts that didn’t bring the peace he sought.

Robert E. Howard’s place in history has long-since been secured. It would make me happy if the artwork of Jeff Jones was similarly remembered.

Free Signed Copy

Rules of Force, book 1 in the Connor Rix Chronicles

I’m in a rare generous mood. A grateful mood, even. I have bulk copies of the paperback edition of Gods and The City on their way to me, and to get the celebration under way, I’m giving away a free signed copy of Rules of Force, the first book in my Connor Rix science-fiction thriller series. Later this week I’ll draw a name from my e-mail newsletter subscriber list to receive this prize, so make sure you’re signed up. The sign-up form is at the top of the sidebar to your left. See it? I’ve also got a sign-up widget on the home page of my website.

This won’t be the only book I’ll be giving away over the next couple of months, so make sure you sign up and have a chance to win. I don’t pester people with excessive e-mails, but newsletter subscribers will be the first to hear news about new releases, book signings, special sales and such. Don’t miss out!

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

GOTG_wps_teaserAh. There we go. A wide-open galaxy full of hyper-fast spaceships, exotic alien species and swashbuckling adventure. That’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Hollywood, was that really so hard?

Apparently it was. So much of what passes for science-fiction these days is small and cramped, inward-looking and cynical. Especially on the print side. It’s almost as if many current practitioners of the genre don’t actually like science-fiction very much, or are embarrassed by the whole “spaceships and aliens” thing.

The creators of GOTG apparently remembered why generations of young fans stayed up all night reading dog-eared sci-fi paperback novels. They understood why all those kids stood in line 10 times in a single week to see Star Wars in the summer of 1977. Guardians of the Galaxy is space opera on a grand scale, with painful conflicts for the protagonists to overcome, but a joyful feeling woven into the background. It conveys the sense of a galaxy unbound, of endless possibilities. In the course of the film we fly to astonishing worlds and civilizations. Every scene featuring space in the background is churning with glowing nebulas and roiling clouds of gas. This is not space as a cold vacuum, but a living environment that’s almost a character in its own right.

And make no mistake—this is a science-fiction adventure movie first and foremost. It may come from Marvel, home of those superheroes you’ve probably heard about, but this is no costumed crime caper, at least in the traditional sense. The Guardians have heroic feats to perform, but they don’t fall into the standard superhero mold. Each of the five have different powers and abilities and very clearly-defined personalities. They are thrown together as they seek, for varying reasons, a mysterious orb of great power. Their predicament and character development reminded me a little bit of a certain Firefly crew—smugglers, mercenaries and haunted souls forced to work as a team for a higher purpose.

If there’s one weakness of the film that goes right to the precipice of being annoying, it’s the reliance on Baby Boomer (or even Gen-X) pop culture references for laughs. What saves it from dragging down the whole enterprise is a nicely-crafted and touching backstory for “Star Lord” Peter Quill that gives him good reason to hang onto the cassette-tape songs from his past. It doesn’t hurt that the 1970s-era tunes selected for the soundtrack are so appealingly catchy.

Fans of nuts-and-bolts hard science-fiction may also feel the temptation to roll their eyes at the ease with which these techno-miracles appear on screen. I understand that temptation. All too often the “science” part of science-fiction gets tossed out the airlock if it gets in the way of a good yarn. Guardians of the Galaxy is probably guilty of this. The movie doesn’t slow down long enough to explain how these starships are zipping from planet to planet so quickly and easily. Faster-than-light travel is just baked into the Guardians universe, as are all the other feats of questionable physics.

Just go with it. We get little enough fun space opera as it is. If I have to choose between another round of zombie apocalypses, YA dystopias, environmental disasters, and mutating viruses, or the joy of a swashbuckling space opera, I’ll take the cool starships and exotic aliens any day.