Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tanith Lee

a shout-out to Tanith Lee! now this is one of those authors who holds a special place in many fantasy-lovers minds. some love her for all of the boundaries she seemed comfortable in ignoring, the ruthlessness, the vivid imagination, the perversity, the srange sexual situations, the often-lush prose, her chameleonic ability to write in many different genres. others loathe her for her often self-annhiliatingly passive heroines and her despicable heroes, prose that moves beyond purple into Ultra-Purple, a cold-blooded disdain in providing happiness for either her characters or her readers, etc. i understand the divisiveness, but i fall squarely into the former camp - at least when i was much younger. Tanith Lee & Jack Vance & Michael Moorcock & Roger Zelazny were my go-to fantasy and scifi authors for a long while, until i gave up on fantasy for a shameful period of at least 10 years or so. but i'm back to my favorite genre and plan on catching up with all of my old favorites, to see if the magic is still there.



this is a tale of an insanely self-absorbed little twit of a pianist who returns to his recently re-acquired ancestral chateau. he's apparently dying and all he wants is a place to run to and hide, one where he can do his slow dance with death while moodily contemplating his sad life with all of the poisonous self-loathing typical to a Tanith Lee "hero". fortunately for him, he gets a new lease on life due to a pair of threatening yet strangely life-affirming were-cousins. unfortunately, some predictably ignorant peasants decide to get inbetween our sexy goth trio and their Lifelong Happiness At Last. damn, peasants are a real drag! especially if you are self-absorbed twit/pianist.

the above description does a profound disservice to this intriguing and rather gorgeously written bit of fantasia set in semi-modern times. but i couldn't restrain myself from the snark - it was almsot like i wanted to have some petty revenge on the confounding and infuriating hero. i'll try to do better later in the review.

i'm glad i started off my Tanith Lee rediscovery by reading Lycanthia. this is a slim story and i read it all in one evening. it is a bewitching one as well. i was entranced from beginning to end because it has literally everything my blackened little un-heart wants in my fantasy... Weird Ambiguity, a ton of it. Characterization that does not attempt to pull the reader's heartstrings and protagonists that are often stunningly unsympathetic and capable of doing terribly wrong things. Luscious, almost overripe prose, with frequent bits of dry gallows humor and sardonic self-awareness. Monstrous things that are not eye-rolling or corny. Cruelty & Tragedy & Despair that is not facile or there to check off boxes on the Gothic List of Necessary Things, but is carefully layered within the narrative and the characterization. a winding but not confusing plotline. a gothic atmosphere of mystery and potential violence.

"Atmosphere"... my gosh, Lee knows how to create it! her descriptions of the sinister forest, the eerie little village, the off-kilter and enigmatic supporting characters, and especially the chateau itself... wonderfully baroque detail-porn that i totally ate up. the whole rich stew is swooningly romantic - not so much because of romance between the characters (although there is a feverish yet childlike version of that), but rather because of the swooningly romantic atmosphere. a classic kind of "Romantic" - of the Byron, Shelley, and Shelley school.

the central theme of the novel is fascinating: the idea of Self-Aborption and its impact, how it ruins any attempt to truly understand one's surroundings, the people in those surroundings, the context of an entire place. Lycanthia's aristocratic asshole of a hero, and what befalls him and his lovers, is a perfect encapsulation of the deleterious effect of such a trait. some may howl at the moon and live only to consume life, like beasts - and those around them can tremble with fear or anger or even lust; others may howl and rage only at themselves and their lot in life - and those around them will find themselves betrayed by that all-consuming narcissism, destroyed by that terminal inability to connect with anything outside of themselves.



Elephantasmoh the beguiling wonders of the Exotic East, the Ancient Orient, of heat and spice and jungle, of India!

oh the enchanting lures of Gold and Status!

oh the captivating charm of Power Over Women, to bend them to your will, to make of them your puppets!

oh the bewitching promise of Revenge, bold & bloody!

there is a family in Victorian England. the patriarch made his wealth in questionable ways, in India, at the cost of many lives. the matriarch is from the stage, now trapped in her body as she is trapped in her country estate. one son is piggish and priggish; the other son a self-pitying sadomasochist. the daughter is mad, stark raving mad - but the quiet kind of mad, the kind that has the bones of tiny animals sewn within her petticoats, shhh, no one need know. there is a fallen child, fallen from upper to lower, now from the slums, her sister a murdered murderess. she joins this family as a kitchen maid, and then more, a victim and a victimizer, an instrument of unearthly revenge.

Tanith Lee weaves a strange and brilliant tale out of disparate parts. colonial India, made dark and eerie and threatening, the stereotypical wonders of the Exotic East turned inside out, made into an Other that no mere englishman can hope to understand. victorian life in a country manor, all the upstairs-downstairs melodrama tarnished and not-so-charming, made malevolent, turned brittle until ready to crumble into pieces. sexual sadism, stripped of its romantic veneer, made ugly and sickening - there is no victim embracing her victimhood here, there is just a girl trying to survive. phantasmagoria, slowly creeping, lurking in the shadows of the narrative, longing to take over the tale, and finally doing so in the end, destroying that narrative and transforming its characters.

i appreciated much about this novel. its refusal to make a particular sexual scenario 'sexy', its anger at exploitation in all of its forms, and its disinterest in explaining its magic. but i especially appreciated the level of its writing. the author writes like a dream, a dark and gorgeous dream. such beautiful prose! Tanith Lee, you cruel and perfect lady.

there is a scene with trained monkeys at a formal dinner. they are dressed and are able to act just like their upper class dining companions. a brilliant scene, hallucinatory and full of malice. and, happily, full of compassion for those clever monkeys.

death follies on the foxhunt: sweet justice!

there is an elephant, of sorts. it is from the past. it is coming to get you, upper class, it will rear and roar and trumpet and destroy. there will be a massacre in the manor. huzzah!

Exhibit A - Wounded Prey

Wounded Prey: Introducing Detectives Farrell and KearnsWounded Prey: Introducing Detectives Farrell and Kearns by Sean Lynch
Dan's rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Exhibit A/Angry Robot
Available: May 28th
Price: 14.99

Rookie cop Kevin Kearns witnesses a child abduction and gets his ass handed to him by the perp, one Vernon Slocum. The girl winds up dead a short time later and Kearns finds himself the scapegoat. When a retired cop with a history of his own with Slocum, Bob Farrell, shows up offering him a chance at redemption, Kearns jumps at the chance. But will even two lawmen be enough to bring in a remorseless killing machine like Slocum?

First off, the official stuff: I got this ARC from Exhibit A in exchange for reviewing it. I'm a huge Angry Robot fan so when I heard they were launching a crime line, I sprung into action and nabbed print ARCs of their first two books.

Wounded Prey is the tale of a deranged psychopathic ex-marine and the two men bent on stopping his killing spree... permanently!

Sean Lynch's debut effort is quite something. This is one brutal book. The good guys don't walk out smelling like roses and the bad guy winds up smelling like something else altogether. Damn near every member of the cast goes through the meat grinder, some multiple times.

The two protagonists, rookie cop Kevin Kearns, and retired cop Bob Farrell are at opposite ends of their respective careers and complement one another nicely. I thought Kearns was a little light on personality but Farrell won me over after only a couple pages. Farrell was part mentor, part bad influence, making for an enjoyable read whenever the two were on stage at the same time.

And the villain, oh, the villain. Vern Slocum was one scary bastard and the idea of someone like him freely wandering around instead of being locked up was pretty chilling. He was rotten to the core but, given his background, didn't have much of a chance to be otherwise. On my all time list of deranged killing machines, he has to be near the top. It's pretty easy to hate a guy that's tougher than the heroes, a better shot, and a child rapist/killer to boot.

The FBI are caught in the middle. Scanlon's an asshole but he's trying to do his job. I was kind of hoping he'd join Kearns and Farrell in putting down Slocum but it wasn't in the cards.

The writing was pretty good, especially when Lynch was writing Farrell. Can you tell Farrell was my favorite character? I'll be interested in further books about Farrell and Kearns.

I do have a minor gripe. If A Farrell and Kearns thriller wasn't displayed above the title, there would have been a lot more suspense. Since Wounded Prey is the first book in a series, I knew neither of the leads would be taking the dirt nap. Other than that, not a gripe to be had. Four stars!

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Let this be a lesson to you: Go to confession often!

Penance: A Chicago ThrillerPenance: A Chicago Thriller by Dan O'Shea
Dan's rating: 3 of 5 stars
Publisher: Angry Robot/Exhibit A
Available: Now
Price: 14.99

When an old woman is shot by a sniper just after leaving confession at Sacred Heart church, Chicago cop John Lynch is on the case. But what does the case have to do with one in 1971 that saw his father murdered? And what will the shadowy government organization that has also been tapped to bring in the sniper do if Lynch gets in the way?

First off, the official stuff: I got this ARC from Exhibit A in exchange for reviewing it. I'm a huge Angry Robot fan so when I heard they were launching a crime line, I sprung into action and nabbed print ARCs of their first two books.

Penance is a hard animal to classify, kind of like a dinosaur. In this case, it's not bird vs. reptile but hard-boiled detective vs. police procedural vs. espionage thriller. It's an exciting chimera to behold.

The protagonist, John Lynch, was the biggest selling point for me. A second generation cop, Lynch has been living in the shadow of his father, murdered when he was a kid, most of his life. He doggedly pursues the sniper despite being shot at, stonewalled, and eventually blackballed. He's no superhero, either, getting wounded over the course of the book and not being comfortable with taking a life. His relationship with Liz was a little abrupt but not outside the realm of believability once it got going.

When the book first jumped to Weaver and his black ops crew, I rolled my eyes a bit, military fiction not being one of my favorite genres. While Weaver's segments had a few too many tactics and weapons descriptions for my taste, it managed to steer clear from gun porn territory and actually meshed pretty well with the more detective-y sections featuring Lynch. It also didn't give me Brad Thor flashbacks, something else I am thankful for. Weaver, Ferguson, and the rest were believable antagonists, adhering to the rule that the best villains are the ones that think their actions are right and justified.

The sniper, while not getting a lot of solo time, was pretty believable and made a chilling threat. I found myself avoiding windows when walking to the bathroom to keep from getting shot by an unseen assailant a few times. I also really liked his reasoning behind shooting people just after they left confession.

The two plot threads, the one in the past with Lynch's father and Lynch's tale in the present day, intersected where I thought they would. There were some twists near the end that brought this above the level of most thrillers.

One thing that I thought was really odd was this bit from Lynch's point of view:

Colleen Lynch-Ketteridge stepped out of the car in a Hillary Clinton-type pant suit, except Hillary didn't have Collie's ass.

The phrasing is a little creepy to me but I don't have a sister. Maybe if they have nice asses you say things like this?

3.5 stars. I'll read another Dan O'Shea (or Exibit A) book after this.

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An Interview with Wounded Prey's Sean Lynch

Today's guest is Sean Lynch, author of Exhibit A's Wounded Prey.

How long was Wounded Prey gestating in your head before you put pen to paper?
I conceived WOUNDED PREY on Halloween night in 1987.  I was finishing a pre-shift workout and running on a jogging path along the eastern waterline of the San Francisco Bay.  I saw a group of small children trick-or-treating.  They were being herded by a harried mom, and as I jogged past I couldn’t help but imagine, “What if I were a bad guy?  What if I weren’t an off-duty cop, but instead a monster? Who would stop me, if I decided to snatch a child?”

The extension of that chilling thought got my creative juices flowing.  Though I’d only been a cop a couple of years, I’d already been exposed to a few people who shared some of the qualities embodied in Vernon Slocum.

How did you hook up with Angry Robot/Exhibit A?
I was lucky enough to have my work taken on by the top thriller agent on the planet, Scott Miller, of Trident Media Group.  Scott recognized my stuff as a little ‘harder-edged’ than your average crime-thriller, and connected me with Exhibit A Books, and its helmsman, bestselling author Emlyn Rees.  Exhibit A is a division of Angry Robot Books, the crew which turned the Sci-Fi world end-up with their gonzo, go-for-broke style and stable of rock-star authors. I was honored Exhibit A gave me an opportunity to be a part of their posse.

Which of the leads most resembles you, Farrell or Kearns?
There’s doubtless a bit of me in both Farrell and Kearns.  But I would have to say, since I was such a green cop when I wrote WOUNDED Prey, that Kearns more closely reflects me at the time of the book’s writing.

Where did Vernon Slocum come from?  He was one scary bastard.
Vernon Slocum is a mish-mash of a number of people I knew, from my upbringing in Iowa, military service, and my early days as a cop.  I cobbled him together like the Frankenstein monster, from a menu of evil qualities I’d seen or experienced.  I added a heavy dose of historical fact in his backstory, especially the stuff about the mental health funds being cut by the Reagan administration during the 80’s.  That event created the Petri dish for a being like Vernon to gestate in. Vernon Slocum is definitely a man of his times.

What can we expect in the future from Farrell and Kearns?
I’m currently sketching out a Farrell and Kearns sequel where the duo goes to the Arizona desert and tries to snare a flightless bird with an elaborate collection of ACME products. 

Kidding aside, I’m brewing a sequel, and don’t have anything definitive I can describe yet.

Who would you cast in a Farrell and Kearns TV series?
In a perfect world, I would cast Ed Harris as Farrell, Ryan Gosling as Kearns, and Vin Diesel as Vernon Slocum.  I envision Vin with a crew-cut, gnarly teeth, and his body covered in Vietnam-era military tattoos in much the way Robert DeNiro’s Max Cady was covered in biblical ink. 

What are you reading now?
I’m re-reading an AMERICAN GUNFIGHT, by Stephen Hunter; he’s worth the second perusal.  My next reads are en route; I’m waiting anxiously for my copy of Richard Parker’s SCARE ME and Dan O’Shea’s PENANCE, which are on order. 

What is your favorite book of all time?
Tough call.  Pushed hard, it would have to be Anthony Hope’s A PRISONER OF ZENDA.  Hope was truly a thriller pioneer.

Is there a particular book that made you want to be a writer?
There are a lot of works which influenced my writing, but if I were to point to one, it would be Robert Parker’s LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE.  It is such a smooth, efficient work.  Parker made it seem effortless.

What is your favorite dirty joke of all time?
Q:  What’s the hardest part of having sex with an underage girl?
A:  Getting the blood out of the clown suit afterwards.  (Old Sex Crimes detective joke.)

Any non-Farrell and Kearns books in the works?
I’m working on a stand-alone, as well as a character-based series.  With any luck, you’ll be hearing more from me in the future.  I hope.  Really I do.  Cross my heart.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Do it.  Write. Quit making excuses.  You’ve done enough damned research.  Put your boogersticks on the keyboard and throw down.  You can always edit later.  The crappiest finished work ever written trumps, “It was a dark and stormy night…” at the top of a blank page.