The best damn fantasy novelist working today

Yeah, it’s that simple.

Joe Abercrombie has created a number of interlocking series set in a world of barbarian nations, very difficult magic, war and intrigue and — most recently — an industrial revolution. I could go on and on about the quality of the action, the wonderfully drawn characters, and the phenomenal consistency of his books. But I don’t have to. All I have to do is point you towards the most recent trilogy he’s just completed, or send you back in time to his first series, The First Law trilogy starting with The Blade Itself, and just let you enjoy.

(and by the way, if you’re an audiobook fan, the performance of Steven Pacey, in all of Abercrombie’s books, is indescribably good. I listened to the last two of the trilogy through Audible, and no kidding, terrific work.

Take a look. Or a listen. And you’re welcome. Just click here.


Monster Hunter is far better than anybody expected

Until quite recently, movies based in worlds created first in video games have been … well, iffy at best. ‘Lousy’ would be more accurate. Prior to Detective Pikachu, in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to name a movie that was even half good, and some so bad you want to hide your head. It’ll take a lifetime to forget M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Yeah, yeah: Resident Evil. The first one was … good? .. but Milla Jovovich notwithstanding, the endless staggering sequels were pretty awful. And Doom didn’t make you want to puke on your shoes, but even with an early version of The Rock right up front, it really wasn’t much to write home about. Or spend money on. The list, quite sadly, goes on and on.

The whole evolution of this moviesque subgenre isn’t all that far from what happened with superheroes. A whole lot of people at a whole lot of studios would make the occasional, often terrible, attempt at a costumed hero, but even the ones that lifelong lovers of the superior subgenre could tolerate – Superman 1978, the first Tim Burton Batman – were tolerable almost in spite of themselves, and often teetered on the edge of TV Batman parody. But when a few smart folks finally recruited some writers and directors who understood and even loved comics storytelling and superheroes, whether it was Sam Raimi or James Gunn or so many since then, things got better.

Maybe that’s finally happening with game-based movies. I know virtually nothing about the game world that birth it, but as a fantasy/adventure series, there’s basically nothing wrong and everything right with Arcane. And now the newest Millia Jovovich movie, Monster Hunter, can be enjoyed in all its headlong, violent bang-bang glory, whether you know its video game roots or not.

I truly appreciated the opening hour or so, and not just the expert CGI or the new, fresh imagery in environment and monsters. I was just happy to see it roar right into the action without scrolling narrative or ominous voiceovers. The second half, once we get to the larger community of survivors, bogs down a bit, I admit, and sure enough we do get some ominous voiceover backstory .. .but hey, at least writer/direct Paul W.S. Anderson had the good sense to bring a bizarrely coifed Ron Perlman, ol’ Hellboy himself, to do it. It could have been far worse.

All in all: like a few of the better superhero movies (again), notably Shang Chi and Into the Spiderverse, the folks that made it clearly love the genre, know their stuff, and have built stories that casual viewers can enjoy without knowing any details of the world that birthed the film, or even that there’s an “origin” world at all. It’s just a good movie, and I’m hoping we can get past the “there are no good movies based on video games” prejudgments that killed superheroes for, oh, I don’t know, half a century or so.

The joy of terrors of flash fiction (by my standards, anyway)

horror anthology,

I do a fair amount of blurb-writing and marketing consultation for Monique Happy, over at A few years back, before I got involved, she put together a couple of “themed” anthologies of her clients and colleagues, some from the late and often reviled Winlock Press experiment with Permuted Press (and yeah, I was part of that, too).

Recently she’s decided to bring those anthologies back and add a new one and I, like a fool, offered to help. I wrote a cute little wraparound sequence, fully fleshing out the Creepshow-like “host” of the anthology, Kilarty the Clown, making him a tour guide through eighteen different attractions (i.e., stories and such), and even gave him a beginning and — I hope — creepy ending. And then, feeling particularly foolish I offered to kick in a short story of my own to fill the Evil Carnival out just a little bit more.

I wrote “Bumble’s Last Performance” in a flash — a single sitting, with a single second-draft polish. Then I sent it off. Not much different than the “Amusia” story I wrote recently with Bruce McAllister, and that we (i.e., HE) sold to Mystery Weekly. (You can read that one here. Didn’t I tell you about that?)

I … like it. It’s a little odd, it’s probably exactly as long as it should be at bare 7,000 words, and there’s a nice dig in there, an inside joke for me only about a sort-of conjoined twin who’s really awful. But I find I really enjoy just jumping in and writing a quick little story like this, fast and furious and then moving on. “Amusia” came, quite literally from a half-waking dream after I edited a long piece on rare after-effects of stroke for a neurology publication. This one is a bounce-back-spin-around off another, completely different idea I may never write a novel I plan on calling Clown Prince if I ever get around to actually writing it.

Anyway … it was fun. Here’s the cover of the anthology; it’ll be out in a few weeks, and I’ll let y’all now.

Now back to the real work.

Revisiting Mike Flanagan’s Absentia

Absentia Mike Flanagan horror moie

Sometimes it’s worth looking back.

I’ve been so impressed by Midnight Mass, and basically be everything Mike Flanagan has done so far, that I took a couple of hours on a quiet Friday afternoon and re-watched Absentia, his first (available) feature film made more than 10 years ago. It was absolutely worth the re-visit.

It’s amazing how “Flanagan” it is, how many of the themes, and his strengths, are clearly visible even in this ultra-low-budget slow-burn film. Among them: strongly drawn, believable characters … a focus on addiction and obsession (especially the 12 Steps and the religious implications) … monstrous images in the corner of the eye or the deep background.

Equally amazing: it was made for $75,000, partly crowdfunded. And yep, you’ll see actors like Katie Parker and Mike’s brother James who continue to work with him today. James is actually a producer on this film, and a co-writer of some of the Midnight Mass episodes. But the biggest mystery of all: how did he get Doug Jones to sign on? He was already a big-time character actor/monster maker at this point; he’d just finished Hellboy and then went of to do … this?
Amazing. And he’s great. Of course.
There’s a good piece about Absentia, though not nearly enough, on SlashFilm, right here. And these days, probably because of Flanagan’s fully deserved notoriety, it’s available to watch somewhere or other (right now, Fall ’21, it’s on Amazon Prime and Shudder).
Do yourself a big damn favor and watch it.

Half satire, half nostalgia, all inappropriate

I’m not a huge Facebook fan (who is anymore?), though I still use Messenger with clients and the occasional friend. Still, there is one group — a strange little corner of the Intertubes called Rehabilitated Sleaze” where a number of talented artistic assassins create completely inappropriate books covers — kid’s books, teen detective novels, sf and fantasy novels — that almost never fail to make me laugh. And this one, which showed up recently, is a particular favorite.

If you’re still tethered to FB, go check the group out. You don’t have to contribute; you can lurk just like I do and enjoy the wreckage.

A long-forgotten zombie (ish) post-apoc (sort of) movie from Clive Barker is actually … well, good

I have no idea how I stumbled on this, but I recently found myself slightly stunned at just how interesting – far from perfect, but damned interesting – I found a forgotten TV movie from 2006 – yeah, fifteen years ago – unfortunately called The Plague, or alternatively Clive Barker’s The Plague (though in fairness, Barker seems to have been the producer only, while the film, co-written and directed by Hal Masonberg, doesn’t seem to be based on any of Barker’s published stories).

The premise: All of a sudden, for no discernable reason, every child in the world under the age of nine suddenly and simultaneously drops into a coma. Everywhere. Cut to ten years later, and all those kids, most of them housed in huge institutions, just as suddenly wake up. But they’re not the same. They travel in packs. They kill all adults. And the world, after a decade of waiting, is rapidly falling apart.

It’s a film with a fair amount of problems in terms of story and character, but it’s a damn sight more interesting even if unsuccessful than yet another retread of Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later. And the biggest miracle of all is that James Van Der Beek — yeah, Dawson himself — plays the badly damaged dad of one of those kids, and turns in very effective performance.

I have no idea how it got made or how it was so completely lost, but for the big-time zombie aficionados amongst ya … give it a try. It’s available on Amazon Prime, if you’re a member, right here.