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Weekly Book Buzz: Songs of the Dying Earth Anthology

Review Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950’s

By Tim Janson     December 07, 2010

 

Lots of great stuff out this week including the Tribute to Jack Vance Anthology “Songs of the Dying Earth” edited by George R.R. Martin and including stories by some of the industry’s top writers: Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, Elizabeth Moon, Tanith Lee, Tad Williams, Kage Baker, and Robert Silverberg, 
 
Also out are several new fantasies from Wizards of the Coast and the latest from Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. 
 
Winter Witch (Pathfinder Tales) Elaine Cunningham[Paizo]
 
In a village of the frozen north, a child is born possessed by a strange and alien spirit, only to be cast out by her tribe and taken in by the mysterious winter witches of Irrisen, a land locked in permanent magical winter. Farther south, a young mapmaker with a penchant for forgery discovers that his sham treasure maps have begun striking gold. This is the story of Ellasif, a barbarian shield maiden who will stop at nothing to recover her missing sister, and Decclan, the ne'er-do-well young spellcaster-turned-forger who wants only to prove himself to the woman he loves. Together they'll face monsters, magic, and the fury of Ellasif's own cold-hearted warriors in their quest to rescue the lost child. Yet when they finally reach the ice-walled city of Whitethrone, where trolls hold court and wolves roam the streets as men, will it be too late to save the girl from the forces of darkness?
 
Seer of Sevenwaters Juliet Marillier [Roc Hardcover]
 
Get swept away in the romantic fantasy of this national bestselling author's world of Sevenwaters. The young seer Sibeal is visiting an island of elite warriors, prior to making her final pledge as a druid. It's there she finds Felix, a survivor of a Viking shipwreck, who's lost his memory. The scholarly Felix and Sibeal form a natural bond. He could even be her soul mate, but Sibeal's vocation is her true calling, and her heart must answer.
 
As Felix fully regains his memory, Sibeal has a runic divination showing her that Felix must go on a perilous mission-and that she will join him. The rough waters and the sea creatures they will face are no match for Sibeal's own inner turmoil. She must choose between the two things that tug at her soul-her spirituality and a chance at love...
 
The Seal of Karga Kul: A Dungeons & Dragons Novel Alex Irvine [Wizards of the Coast]
 
A tale of heroism and exploit in the tradition of Robert E. Howard...Enter Remy, a quick-witted courier whose dangerous freight leads him into the vanguard of an ancient war between forces of light and the rising tide of shadows that threatens to overwhelm the burgeoning civilizations of the Two Rivers Gulf.
 
The story opens with Remy alone and near death after an encounter with several stormclaw scorpions. His horse dead and poison sapping his strength, Remy collapses with his package at his side, undelivered. When he awakes, he is in the company of a band of adventurers who found him by the side of the road and nursed him back to health. Among them is a grim dragonborn paladin named Biri-Daar, whose wariness of the magical seals on Remy’s freight is outweighed by an overwhelming sense of duty to those in need.
 
As they journey on, the nature of Remy’s package becomes a greater and greater curiosity. Soon the party, which has come to comprise some six-strong adventurers, finds itself to be the lynchpin that holds an army of netherworld forces at bay.
 
Right Hand Magic: A Novel of Golgotham Nancy A. Collins [Roc]
 
Like most Manhattanites, aspiring artist Tate can't resist a good rental deal-even if it's in the city's strangest neighborhood, Golgotham, where for centuries werewolves, centaurs, and countless other creatures have roamed the streets.
 
Her new landlord is a sorcerer name Hexe, who is determined to build his reputation without using dark, left-hand magic. As Tate is drawn into Hexe's fascinating world, they both find that the right hand does not always know what the left hand is doing-and avoiding darkness is no easy trick...
 
Hand of the Hunter: Chosen of Nendawen, Book II Mark Sehestedt [Wizards of the Coast]
 
Nendawen the Hunter has accepted Hweilan’s sacrifice and claimed her as one of his. Now she must learn to truly become a hunter so that she may take on the powers of Nendawen and avenge her family. But while Nendawen’s faithful forge the young woman into a brutal killer, the undead forces of Jagen Ghen have found a way into Nendawen’s sanctuary in the Feywild. Following in the footsteps of such masterworks of setting as The Wheel of Time and Shannara, the Chosen of Nendawen series is a deftly detailed fantasy that sucks readers in and leaves them eager for more.
 
Dragons Deal (Dragon Series) Robert Asprin [Ace TPB]
 
As head dragon and owner of a successful gambling operation in New Orleans, Griffen McCandles has a lot on his plate. Especially since the Krewe of Fafnir-a society of dragons-has asked him to be the king of their Mardi Gras parade. Being the king is a huge honor, and despite the extra responsibilities, Griffen can't resist the Krewe's offer to lead the biggest party of the year.
 
But not everyone is happy with Griffen's new leadership status. A group of powerful dragons is out to bankrupt his business, from the inside out. And when a young dragon in Griffen's employ is murdered, it becomes clear that certain dragons will stop at nothing to dethrone the new king...
 
Demon Underground S.L. Wright [Roc]
 
Half-human and half-demon, Allay has finally warmed up to her new life feeding off the customers at her downtown bar whens he finds herself brokering a truce between New York City's most powerful demons. But when she senses assassins around every corner, Allay hides out of sight and underground-until combatants in the growing war tempt her back above the surface...
 
The Bards of Bone Plain Patricia A. McKillip [Ace Hardcover]
 
With "her exquisite grasp of the fantasist's craft"* (Publishers Weekly) Patricia A. McKillip now invites readers to discover a place that may only exist in the mystical wisdom of poetry and music.
 
Scholar Phelan Cle is researching Bone Plain-which has been studied for the last 500 years, though no one has been able to locate it as a real place. Archaeologist Jonah Cle, Phelan's father, is also hunting through time, piecing history together from forgotten trinkets. His most eager disciple is Princess Beatrice, the king's youngest daughter. When they unearth a disk marked with ancient runes, Beatrice pursues the secrets of a lost language that she suddenly notices all around her, hidden in plain sight.
 
New In Sci-Fi
 
Songs of the Dying Earth George R.R. Martin [Tor Hardcover]
 
 
To honor the magnificent career of Jack Vance, one unparalleled in achievement and impact, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, with the full cooperation of Vance, his family, and his agents, have created a Jack Vance tribute anthology:Songs of the Dying Earth. The best of today's fantasy writers to return to the unique and evocative milieu of The Dying Earth, from which they and so many others have drawn so much inspiration, to create their own brand-new adventures in the world of Jack Vance’s greatest novel.
 
Half a century ago, Jack Vance created the world of the Dying Earth, and fantasy has never been the same. Now, for the first time ever, Jack has agreed to open this bizarre and darkly beautiful world to other fantasists, to play in as their very own. To say that other fantasy writers are excited by this prospect is a gross understatement; one has told us that he'd crawl through broken glass for the chance to write for the anthology, another that he'd gladly give up his right arm for the privilege. That's the kind of regard in which Jack Vance and The Dying Earth are held by generations of his peers.
 
This book contains original stories from George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, Elizabeth Moon, Tanith Lee, Tad Williams, Kage Baker, and Robert Silverberg, along with fifteen others--as well as an introduction by Dean Koontz.
 
The Emperor's Finest (Ciaphas Cain) Sandy Mitchell [Games Workshop Hardcover]
 
The search for the source of the alien threat leads Ciaphas Cain to a drifting space hulk. But when the Reclamator Space Marines suffer terrible losses, Cain and his trusty aide Jurgen must go it alone. With the tyranids waking and a group of stowaway orks on the loose, Cain must use all his ingenuity and cunning to escape the space hulk alive.
 
Catacombs: A Tale of the Barque Cats Anne McCaffrey [Del Rey Hardcover]
 
Behind the seeming miracle is a mysterious cat named Pshaw-Ra, who possesses knowledge and technology far beyond anything the Barque Cats—or their humans—have ever seen. When fear of a virulent plague leads the government first to quarantine and then to kill all animals suspected of infection, Pshaw-Ra—with the help of Chester, Jubal, and the crew of the starship Ranzo—activates a “mousehole” in space that carries the refugees to a place of safety: Pshaw-Ra’s home planet of Mau, where godlike cats are worshiped by human slaves. 
 
But Pshaw-Ra’s actions are less noble than they appear. The scheming cat plans to mate the Barque Cats with his own feline stock, creating a hybrid race of superior cats—a race destined to conquer the universe. Yet right from the start, his plans go awry.
For one thing, there’s a new queen on Mau: Pshaw-Ra’s daughter Nefure, a spoiled brat—er, cat—with a temper as short as her attention span. Pshaw-Ra’s other daughter, the rightful queen Renpet, is exiled, running for her life in the only direction available to her—down into the vast catacombs beneath the Mauan desert. Far from receiving the hero’s welcome he expected, Pshaw-Ra must use every bit of his considerable cleverness just to survive.
 
Meanwhile, as usual, Chester and Jubal stumble right into the middle of things, in the process uncovering the lost secrets of the Mauan civilization. But that’s not all they uncover. In the forgotten catacombs deep below the Mauan capital, something has awakened. Something as old as the universe. Something that hungers to devour all light and life—and that bears an undying hatred for cats.
 
Alien Tango Gini Koch [DAW]
 
It's been five months since marketing manager Katherine "Kitty" Katt started working with the aliens from Alpha Centauri, and she and Jeff Martini are getting closer. But when an experimental spacecraft is mysteriously returned to the Kennedy Space Center, Kitty and the rest of her team are called in to investigate. Now the team must survive murderous attacks, remove a space entity from a group of astronauts, and avoid an unhinged woman with a serious crush on Kitty's high school boyfriend. And that's all before evil masterminds decide Kitty's extermination is vital.
 
New In Horror
 
The Ones That Got Away Stephen Graham Jones [Prime Books Hardcover]
 
These thirteen stories are our own lives, inside out. A boy's summer romance doesn't end in that good kind of heartbreak, but in blood. A girl on a fishing trip makes a friend in the woods who's exactly what she needs, except then that friend follows her back to the city. A father hears a voice through his baby monitor that shouldn't be possible, but now he can't stop listening. A woman finds out that the shipwreck wasn't the disaster, but who she's shipwrecked with. A big brother learns just what he will, and won't, trade for one night of sleep. From prison guards making unholy alliances to snake-oil men in the Old West doling out justice, these stories carve down into the body of the mind, into our most base fears and certainties, and there's no anesthetic. Turn the light on if you want, but that just makes for more shadows.
 
The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse! Stephen Jones [Running Press]
 
A collection of stories on a single theme: worldwide calamity has lead to an outbreak of zombies! Disaster and chaos reign, and over the course of a year from initial outbreak, the stories recount planes full of zombies, travel restrictions too late to save Europe, and zombies come to LA. Written to appear as factual accounts, these zombie stories will have your blood running cold!
 
Reviews
 
Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950’s (FantaGraphics)
 
 
When people think about horror comics of the 1950s they immediately think about EC Comics and with good reason…EC was the gold standard of horror comics not only of that era but any era. They had a stable of creators that was unmatched. But, EC was not the only company putting out good horror comics in the 1950s. Fantagraphics’ Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s shines the spotlight on some of the other comic publishers who were putting out great horror comics back then.
 
As John Benson points out in his introduction to the 320 page volume, EC’s horror output only amounted to 7 percent of the total horror comics being published in the 1950s. Eerie Publications was also one of the top producers of horror comics with titles such as “Witches Tales”; other publishers like Fiction House, Avon, Quality, Farrell, Ziff Davis, St. John, and many more were also putting out great horror comics, often with covers that were more ghastly and lurid than even EC. A magnificent color cover gallery is included in the center of the book.
 
An index of each story with artist credit is included at the start of the book. Many of these names have been lost to history but there were still many legendary names that worked for these companies including Basil Wolverton, Jack Cole, Reed Crandall, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Joe Kubert, and George Evans.
 
In Crandall’s “The Corpse who Came to Dinner” the rotting corpse of a couple’s best friend returns from the grave to be their annoying houseguest. A fantastic EC-style twist ending.
 
“Custodian of the Dead” produced by the Iger Studio is about the town undertaker, who has made a nice little side business for himself by stealing all the valuables that were left with the bodies in his care…but soon the dead come to reclaim their property!
 
As expected some of the best art comes from the great Al Williamson in his story, “The Flapping Head.” A silly name but a fine story of a deadly creature who haunts an ancient castle.
 
As great as the stories are perhaps the best feature is the 20 page note section that provides details behind each of the 40 stories in the book with fantastic anecdotes. There is also an index to all the companies publishing horror comics with a listing of titles and issue numbers making this a fantastic resource. Grade A+

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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Walker 12/8/2010 10:25:27 AM

The Dying Earth is the Tor printing of the limited-release Subterranean Press version last summer.  

It is very good, though the Dan Simmons story (the longest one) is somewhat controversial.  Simmons writes in Jack Vance's world, but not in his style.  Personally, I think this is to his credit, as some of the other stories can read like "trying to out-Hemingway Hemingway".  And I liked the Simmons story a lot.  But some people were not as much of a fan.

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