All posts by Haralambi Markov

Haralambi Markov is a writer and reviewer with a taste for weird, dangerous fiction, coffee and spreadsheets. You can him mouthing off on Twitter at @HaralambiMarkov or on his blog The Alternative Typewriter.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bitterwood Bible & Other Recountings by Angela Slatter

REVIEW SUMMARY: A brilliant short story collection, which deserves a spot right next to your volume of fairy tales and I’m not talking about the child-friendly variety here.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Interconnected stories of dangerous books, witches and wise women, fey folk from a different realm and girls trained to be assassins, professional poisoners and healers. This collection introduces the sisterhood of Little Sisters of St Florian and is set in the world of Slatter’s Sourdough and Other Stories, acting as an origin story for the events in the previous collection.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Exquisite prose; a shared world where the stories bleed into each other to establish a vibrant and sprawling mythology; complex portrayal of women as protagonists and antagonists; the breathtaking pen-and-ink illustrations by artist Kathleen Jennings.
CONS: The collection ended. Honestly, I could read at least three more volumes with tales in this world.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s among the strongest short story collections on the market and it will fill your heart with darkest wonders.

With The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings Angela Slatter proves why she’s one of the most important voices in fantasy. Fairy tales have seen a strong resurgence in recent years, but only Slatter understands them well enough to distill the essence that made them influential and prevalent and create her own mythos. She succeeds in her task and her short stories rival Grimm’s fairy tales in their darkness, danger and viciousness.

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An Interview with Jonathan Wood, Author of NO HERO and YESTERDAY’S HERO

Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. There’s a story in there involving falling in love and flunking out of med school, but in the end it all worked out all right, and, quite frankly, the medical community is far better off without him, so we won’t go into it here. His debut novel, No Hero was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a funny, dark, rip-roaring adventure with a lot of heart, highly recommended for urban fantasy and light science fiction readers alike.” Barnesandnoble.com listed it has one of the 20 best paranormal fantasies of the past decade, and Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels described it as, “so funny I laughed out loud.” His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Chizine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, as well as anthologies such as The Book of Cthulhu 2 and The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year One.


Haralambi Markov: Hello, Jonathan. Welcome! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Let’s get right to it. Your sophomore novel – Yesterday’s Hero – is hitting the shelves soon. I’ll pretend I’ve no clue what it’s about. How would you sell it to me in as few words as possible?

Jonathan Wood: A team of misfit secret agents from England attempt to thwart the diabolical plans of a team of time-travelling Russian wizards. Hijinks and a zombie T-Rex ensue. How’s that?

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BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful Sorrows by Mercedes M. Yardley

REVIEW SUMMARY: A debut collection that effortlessly plays with the finer nuances of sorrow and whimsy, though not without some wandering.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Beautiful Sorrows has no theme other than to showcase the range and skill of Mercedes M. Yardley. Her debut collection presents a rich assortment of short stories, flash fiction and micro fiction set in worlds that both resemble our own and remind of forgotten fairy tales left to their own devices.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Beautiful language that pairs with imaginative storylines; surreal, dream-like events; a general sense of unconventionality that works in favor of the narratives; emotionally charged scenes and strong characterization.
CONS: The flash and micro fiction pieces pale in comparison to the longer offerings, which make for an uneven reading experience
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a great debut. Beautiful Sorrows is subtle in some places, heartbreaking in others. Both surreal and painfully relatable in its familiarity. Mercedes M. Yardley sounds like no writer I’ve read until now and there’s a high chance she sounds like no one other than herself. That’s something to look forward to experiencing.

Beautiful Sorrows is a peculiar collection by a peculiar author with a peculiar voice and even more peculiar stories. That’s the best introduction I can manage and be concise as to what you can expect reading. This debut collection falls on the slimmer side, peppered with micro and flash fiction pieces serving as punctuation to the greater emotional narrative within Beautiful Sorrows. In his introduction, P. Gardner Goldsmith compares Yardley to a siren and rightfully so, but instead songs that fuel lust, Yardley sings songs to make hearts break.

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BOOK REVIEW: Talus and the Frozen King by Graham Edwards

REVIEW SUMMARY: A murder mystery with big aspirations that tries its very best, but is tripped by a detective-bard that’s the antithesis of a bard.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The travelling bard Talus and his companion Bran find themselves with a murder on their hands as they pass through the island of Creyak. The victim? The king. Who could commit such a crime? At first, it appears there is no clear motive and no suspect daring enough to kill the king and anger the spirits in the afterlife. But Talus and Bran soon find that the peaceful and isolated Creyak holds its share of secrets.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: The juxtaposition of a detective narrative and investigation that reminds you of many police procedural dramas against an unlikely setting; the murder mystery and reveal are decent and satisfactory; the interpersonal relationships between the island natives, especially the sons of the king, are genuine and interesting to see unwind; the novel diversifies the cast with the inclusion of a gay character.
CONS: The writing tries to evoke a film noir feel, but most sentences turn into telegrams and at times it feels like you have a woodpecker in your head; Talus is supposed to read as a smart and cunning character who has everything under control, but remains a condescending grouch throughout the novel; Bran reads like a plot device that prompts Talus to explain every detail and break in the case to the reader.
BOTTOM LINE: I’ve had a maddening experience with Talus and the Frozen King because when Edwards nails it, this book is a page turner. I had no idea who the murderer was and all the suspects had the motivation to commit the crime. I loved the concept and how the investigative process translates into the Neolithic era. But when Edwards misses the mark, the novel makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I fluctuated between adoration and pure rage every thirty or so pages.

Talus and the Frozen King is at its core a whodunit murder mystery, so any discussion of plot holds little to no merit. I’m going to provide key points with as few spoilers as possible, but some minor spoilers may slip in. Beware, reader!
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INTERVIEW: A Chat with Don Pizarro, Editor of BIBLIOTHECA FANTASTICA

Don Pizarro has been subsisting on red-eyes and gallows humor for forty years. His writing has appeared at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Crossed Genres, Reflection’s Edge, the anthologies Rigor Amortis and Cthulhurotica, and other places. He lives in upstate New York where he pushes paper, plays with knives and Filipino fighting sticks, and is a non-skating official for the local roller derby league. You can find him on his website Warm Fuzzy Freudian Slippers and on Twitter @DonP.

Don is the editor of the excellent Bibliotheca Fantastica. (See our review.)

Now, Don sits down for a light chat about the project.


Haralambi Markov: In order to discuss Bibliotheca Fantastica, it’s necessary for the readers to learn more about the project in question. Please explain to us in your own words what Bibliotheca Fantastica is and what does Bibliotheca Fantastica as a title hold?

Don Pizarro: Bibliotheca Fantastica is an anthology of stories about the nature and the power of this construct we call “the book.” Each story explores these issues by using elements of the fantastic. In that sense, the title is descriptive of itself as an artifact, and of the contents within.
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BOOK REVIEW: Bibliotheca Fantastica Edited by Don Pizarro

REVIEW SUMMARY: Eclectic, passionate and layered. Don Pizarro has an excellent eye for fascinating short fiction, which fully appreciates the magic imbued in books and the manners in which it shapes our lives, both directly and indirectly.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Twenty tales launch to create their own personal mythos centered around the notion books carry power, which can change people, the world and the characters’ personal reality. Bibliotheca Fantastica serves as a haven to nurture diverse concepts, plots and tropes in support of its central theme. There’s something for everyone as the saying goes.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Each story offers its own interpretation of the central theme; subtle work as well as more head-on approaches are represented; imagination and creative freedom are king.
CONS: An absence of harmony and cohesion between the individual pieces contribute to a more chaotic reading experience.
BOTTOM LINE: A guaranteed treat for the readers who are infatuated with books as physical objects as the stories help you rediscover why you fell in love with the written word and the act of reading in the first place.

Historically and culturally, books have always possessed power. Whether they denote high birth as literacy often did in the past, serve as vessels for the word of gods or preserve mystical rituals and incantations for the next generation of witches, books are the first, long-lasting imprint upon history. Encyclopedias catalogue human knowledge, journals document human lives and ledgers reveal the development of human logic. Now that the paperback has infiltrated just about every household and become, in a way, ubiquitous, the luster has worn off to a point, but books remain an object of power to those who, since early childhood, understand the potential for a good book to alter their reality.
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BOOK REVIEW: Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? by Andrez Bergen

REVIEW SUMMARY: A conceptually intriguing exploration of superheroes in an artificial playground where social outcasts can don capes and have a shot at happiness.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Jacob Curtiss, 15-year-old orphan in a futuristic Melbourne (the last city on Earth), finds his way to the virtual world of Heropa. There he becomes Southern Cross, a Cape ready to live out his fantasies, but instead finds himself in a just-as-harsh world, where he has to track down the people responsible for the string of superhero murders.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Campy fun; over-the-top banter and superhero identities; a highly stylized retro-futuristic world; clever subversion of the heroic narrative; pop culture references galore
CONS: Pacing suffers throughout the book, resulting in initial disorientation; a heavy emphasis on bickering, which steals away the opportunity of deeper characterization and developing of the conceptual aspects in the world.
BOTTOM LINE: A light adventure with a bit of KAPOW and a heavy dose of sardonic sarcasm guaranteed to give you a case of the nostalgia for the good, old innocent days of comic books where things were neat, clean and proper.

With comic book icons jumping across the multiplex cinema screens, it’s hard not to be involved in the superhero hype, which has been successfully crossing over from colourful panels to novels and short fiction. With Adam Christopher’s Empire State, Seven Wonders and The Age Atomic as well as Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories edited by Claude Lalumière & Camille Alexa as most recent examples, it’s no wonder more people would examine the superhero narrative and myth, which leads us to Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, a novel by Australian author Andrez Bergen.
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[GUEST POST] Harry Markov Asks “Where Are the Women in Genre?”


Harry Markov writes speculative fiction – fantastical stories that decompose reality, sensual stories with a dark touch, superhero fiction, though mainly it’s weird things happening to weird people – and lives with the weird in the coastal city of Varna, Bulgaria. He’s bilingual, a hoarder and has cultural ADHD. he has tweets in his head and facebook likes in his blood. In the land of publishing, he’s sold fiction, read slush, edited anthologies, served as a submissions editor for the horror podcast Tales to Terrify and worked as an assistant to Jason Sizemore for Zombie Feed.

Where Are the Women in Genre?

Chill, dear reader.

The women in genre are alive and well. They’re here actually, everywhere in fact. You can find them writing genre, editing genre, representing genre, reading and reviewing genre. If they are here and have been here for quite some time, then why are we still unable to see them?

For as long as I’ve been interested in genre fiction, it’s been the women in SFF who have shaped my taste, aesthetic and my craft as a storyteller. From my experience, if a genre, sub-genre, trope or movement is rich with potential stories, women will be there among the men to tell them.

So, it perplexes me to no end to encounter online discussions with the following questions asked:

  • “Are there any women writing X?”
  • “Can we trust women writing Y?”
  • “Is it just me or are there no women writing Z?”

All these questions lead me to believe women in genre are a concept, rather than anything real or tangible, but that’s not true. As I said, women in genre are here and they kick ass. Always have, always will. However, somehow genre fans haven’t learned to see them, so they’re invisible and underrepresented as well as questioned, underappreciated and sometimes discounted.
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