Comic Book Review – Crawling Sky by Joe R. & Keith Lansdale and Brian Denham (2013)

Crawling Sky
by Joe R. & Keith Lansdale & Brian Denham
Release Date: 2013
Publisher: Antarctic Press

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As I mentioned in the last comic book review I did, I have recently gotten back into collecting; and, as a result, I am constantly on the lookout for new titles. CRAWLING SKY is a new title that jumped out at me with an original and interesting plot. The fine folks at Antarctic Press were kind enough to send me the first issue of this series, and I’m happy to report that it exceeded my expectations.

If you are not familiar with CRAWLING SKY, here is the synopsis courtesy of Antarctic Press:

Horror novel legends Joe R. Lansdale and Keith Lansdale team up with Brian Denham (X-Files, Zombie Kid Diaries) and Antarctic Press to bring you a tale o’ terror set in the wild, weird West! When their dad accidentally commits murder, plug-ugly Norville and his sister Sissy have to flee with him to Texas to start a new life. Near the town of Wood Tick, they find a homestead, good as new, but abandoned. The only problem is the well, which is blocked by big, white stones. One by one, they unblock the well, unaware they’re slowly setting free something old and dark and evil.

This is an exciting new series and I cannot wait to see what happens next. I decided early into the first issue that I was going to be a longtime reader of this title, and now I’m looking forward to seeing more.

The artwork in CRAWLING SKY is tight, and I find the fact that the comic is black & white interesting. For some reason, the lack of color almost lends more intensity to the action as it plays out in each panel. The characterization is a bit limited in this first issue, but it obviously takes more than one edition to flesh out a character.

The enigmatic main character is reason enough alone to read this series. It is difficult to ascertain his true intent after one issue, but I am eager to see his true motives. I also like the town near which the plot takes place; Wood Tick is one of those hole-in-the-wall places on which Westerns seem to thrive.

CRAWLING SKY is a definite win for me and I highly recommend it. The series is already on shelves, so snatch it up soon.

MSB

Want to win a FREE copy of Myke Cole’s ‘Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier?’

Earlier this month, I reviewed the second book in Myke Cole’s phenomenal SHADOW OPS series, titled FORTRESS FRONTIER (click here to read the review). If you recall from the review, I loved the second book as much as the first. It’s inventive, original, and fast-paced…a book that fans of science-fiction and/or urban fantasy will enjoy.

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The book is releasing today, and in honor of the release, we are giving away FIVE (5) copies of the book to five lucky winners!! How awesome is that? That means you don’t have one chance to win…you have FIVE!

Entering this giveaway is easy; the rules and instructions for entering are below: [Contest ends on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at midnight CST]

1. If you are not already, become a FOLLOWER of this blog on Facebook! To do so, simply Like our FB page by clicking on this link: Shattered Ravings on FB

2. After Liking the FB page, leave a comment on this post with your NAME and EMAIL ADDRESS so I can contact you for your shipping info if you are the winner (if valid email address is not given, I will post the winner’s name on the site and the winner will have one week to contact me with their shipping info. If prize is not claimed within one week, prize will be forfeited). For an extra entry, share the link to this contest on your Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google+, etc. account. Put in the comment below where you shared the link and post a link to it.

3. Only one comment (entry) per person (unless you are sharing the contest link, as mentioned above). Multiple comments will result in removal of all your comments therefore removing all your chances of winning!

4. Contest is scheduled to end in ONE WEEK, on Tuesday, February 5, 2013. Comments must be left by the end of the day on the 5th in order to count towards the contest.

5. Contest winner will be chosen by random.org and must agree to let me post their name in a separate post stating who won the prize.

6. Due to shipping costs, contest is open to U.S. Residents only. Thank you for your understanding.

GOOD LUCK!!!

Book Review – Tides of Shadow by Rob Gilchrist (2012)

Tides of Shadow
by Rob Gilchrist
Release Date: December 3, 2012
Publisher: TigerEye Publications

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It’s always interesting to check out a local author’s work. As a writer myself, I know the trials and tribulations of publication; word of mouth becomes an essential tool for spreading the word about your book, so I try to jump on local works when they are available. A friend of mine suggested I check out TIDES OF SHADOW, which is written by fellow Northwest Arkansan Rob Gilchrist. While this book is not perfect, it is an entertaining hybrid of old myth and post-apocalyptic terror.

If you are not familiar with TIDES OF SHADOW, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the author’s website:

Mankind lays scattered after the Greek gods return to earth, fighting a war that has been brewing for centuries. The oceans are poison, and the world is dying, but touched by the gods, Eric Stowe follows the directions of a voice in his head in search of a key to the future. Accompanied by a lone wolf and the saber on his hip, Eric moves along the east coast in search of the Dead City. He is not alone in his search, and the only currency in this wasteland is death and blood.

I feel the need to start this review by stating up front that I enjoyed this book, but it is a bit difficult to read in places. I will go into detail below, for the both the pros and cons, but overall I do think Gilchrist has a pretty solid piece of work here.

TIDES OF SHADOW has an excellent premise and I can definitely envision it on the big screen in movie form. The combination of mythological elements and a world set after a cataclysmic event create a unique atmosphere in which the story unfolds. I can honestly say that Gilchrist has broken new ground in this aspect. If there’s a similar book or premise out there, I have never heard of it.

The story moves quickly and the pacing is ideal. I particularly enjoy how Gilchrist is able to jump back and forth, from the past to the ‘present’ (which is technically in the future, but you get what I mean); some authors try this and fail, but Gilchrist pulls it off with ease. My sole complaint about the story is that sometimes, although there are new chapter numbers, it is difficult to ascertain in which time period he’s writing; I had to read a sentence or paragraph to discover. I might suggest chapter headings that indicate a timeframe for each.

Unfortunately, the grammar structure is where I have issues. TIDES OF SHADOW has some of the longest paragraphs I’ve ever seen in a book. This in itself is not necessarily bad, however long paragraphs can be daunting for readers and overload them with information. Paragraph breaks give readers’ brains a rest of sorts and allow them a quick breath before the story continues. For me, I don’t enjoy long paragraphs as they eventually tire me out; my eye needs to shift when it’s staring at a page and lengthy descriptions can make me feel like I’ve run a marathon.

Some of the sentence structures are clunky, however this does not overtly detract from the flow of the book. What does distract me, however, are editing errors; I found several and each one caused me to stop reading momentarily. A couple of missing words, misuses of a few (for example, ‘to’ instead of ‘too’), and some missing punctuation…again, this is not necessarily a reason to avoid this book, however I do feel it necessary to mention.

Overall, though, TIDES OF SHADOW is a fun read and the story itself is definitely a reason to buy the book. If you can look past the grammatical errors and the editing, you will find an enjoyable trek into originality. And be sure and keep an eye out for future works from Gilchrist; every author has to start somewhere, and I would assume this just his beginning. I expect we will see bigger and better things from him in the future.

MSB

Graphic Novel Review – Where’s My Shoggoth? by Ian Thomas & Adam Bolton (2012)

Where’s my Shoggoth?
by Ian Thomas & Adam Bolton
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment

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I mentioned a while back that I have recently (within the past year or so) gotten deeply into H.P. Lovecraft’s work. I have read many of his short stories and I have to admit: the man was a dark genius. The mythoi he created are staggering, even today. So when I saw that Archaia Entertainment had a book titled WHERE’S MY SHOGGOTH?, I knew I had to get a copy. I am so glad I did because this book is excellent, a fun and entertaining look into Lovecraft’s worlds.

If you’re not familiar with WHERE’S MY SHOGGOTH?, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Archaia Entertainment website:

Your tentacled friend has gone missing. What can you do? Go looking for him, of course!

Travel from the deepest cellars to the highest spires of a sprawling mansion. Search the grounds from the forest to the lake. On the way you’ll meet monsters and demigods, aliens and Old Ones, and all manner of creatures from the Cthulhu mythos. Surely something, somewhere, has seen your shoggoth?

An affectionate homage to the works of H P Lovecraft, beautifully illustrated by Adam Bolton, with rhymes by Ian Thomas. For mythos dabblers and shoggoth owners of all ages.

If you’re not familiar with a shoggoth, they are creatures mentioned in Lovecraft’s novella, AT THE MOUNTAIN OF MADNESS. Lovecraft describes them as massive amoeba-like creatures that look like they are made out of tar. They have multiple eyes “floating” on the surface and are described as “protoplasmic”, lacking any default body shape and instead being able to form limbs and organs at will. An average shoggoth measures fifteen feet across when in sphere-mode, though the story mentions several that are even bigger.

Regardless of whether or not you have children, EVERYBODY needs to own a copy of this book. I mention the children aspect because this book is rated ‘E’ for Everyone, which means its safe for people of all ages. But it’s not actually a children’s book; though it is safe for kids to read, the illustrated depictions of Lovecraft’s creatures and beings are vivid and amazing to behold. Kids will like them for their colors and detail, but every horror fan will be pleased as well for the same reasons!

The story of WHERE’S MY SHOGGOTH? is cute, which slightly contrasts nicely with the some of the horrendous creatures encountered in the story. This is a major part of the book’s appeal. I love how this cute little kid so innocently looks for his shoggoth…only to run into some of the most powerful and mighty creatures in the universe.

WHERE’S MY SHOGGOTH? is written very well and the illustrations are beautiful. I highly recommend this book to everyone: parents, kids, and even horror fans. As an added treat, I’m including the book’s official trailer below (if you didn’t know that books have trailers, where have you been for the past several years?). Definitely give this book a look for sure.

MSB

Book Review – Prometheus: The Art of the Film by Mark Salisbury (2012)

Prometheus: The Art of the Film
by Mark Salisbury
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Titan Books

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To say I am a fan of Ridley Scott is like saying that I am a fan of breathing or being alive; it’s just sorta a given. As a filmmaker, he’s one of my idols; as a storyteller, he’s one of the masters. In short, the man can do almost no wrong in my eyes. So when the fine folks at Titan Books released PROMETHEUS: THE ART OF THE FILM, I knew it was going to be a must-have for me. And the book does not disappoint in the least. It is an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the concept art that inspired and helped shape Scott’s recent reentry into science-fiction.

If you’re not familiar with PROMETHEUS: THE ART OF THE FILM, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Titan Books:

Ridley Scott, director of ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, returns to the genre he helped define. With PROMETHEUS, he creates a groundbreaking mythology in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. On a distant world, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race…

Revealing the secrets of this epic production, PROMETHEUS: THE ART OF THE FILM showcases a wealth of breathtaking design art — including a selection of Scott’s own hand-drawn storyboards — along with fascinating behind the scenes photos.

If you’ve seen the film, then you already know how rife the imagery is with astute precision and detail. Scott is very meticulous with how his sets and props look, and this is always evident onscreen. This book takes you beyond the film, and shows you the detail that was put into every little piece of what you see in the movie.

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The photos in PROMETHEUS: THE ART OF THE FILM are breathtaking and the concept art is staggeringly good. It is always amazing to see how close the finished onscreen product can resemble the concept art, and this book gives you plenty of examples. From hand-drawn images to full-fleshed computer animation, there’s something for every science-fiction and/or art fan here.

One aspect of the book that I thoroughly enjoy is the written descriptions of what each picture is and why it is important. We get to learn many things about the film, including the reasoning behind certain events and even the functionality of some of the set pieces. This gives an air of intrigue to several items that I completely missed when I watched the film itself.

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The book itself is a very nice hardback edition with large pages and beautiful graphics. Collector’s of film memorabilia will want to snatch this one up as soon as possible, as well fans of the film and just science-fiction fans in general. This book will make a welcome addition to your library and even be a great conversation-started on your coffee table. Give it a look today.

MSB

Movie Review – All Superheroes Must Die (2013)

All Superheroes Must Die
(a.k.a. VS.)
Directed by Jason Trost
Courtesy of Image Entertainment
Release Date: January 29, 2013

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With the recent blockbuster success of THE AVENGERS, as well as the individual achievements of the titular characters, it’s no surprise that new superhero films are coming out nowadays. The movies that truly stand out, however, are those that bring something new to the table. ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE is a low-budget flick that entertains on the highest levels with a dark and gritty premise.

If you are not familiar with ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Image Entertainment:

Four masked avengers find themselves stripped of their powers by a cruel arch-nemesis they defeated years earlier…or so they thought. When the sinister mastermind puts the heroes through a series of brutal challenges that are virtually impossible to overcome, they must battle the clock – and even each other – in a race to stop a deadly countdown that could mean total destruction.

I’ve said this before about a few films, and I’ll say it again for this one: you have to go into this film with the right mindset, otherwise you’re not going to like it. As mentioned, this IS a low-budget film, so you cannot expect mind-blowing special effects or a multi-million dollar production budget. But the production team on ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE does an excellent job of utilizing the money they do have.

The film is shot well for the most part (there are a couple of over-shaky shots that could have been done better) and the set locations look great. What really surprises me about this film is the quality of the acting; it’s superb. Screen legend James Remar gives an outstanding performance as the villain Rickshaw, while Jason Trost, Lucas Till, and Sophie Merkley bring their heroes to vibrant life in their own roles. I especially enjoy seeing Lucas Till onscreen; he is a talented actor who I believe will go far in Hollywood.

The story that ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE presents is entertaining as well. There’s no flash and dazzle of superhero imagery here; instead, we get to see heroes that are on the other side of winning…the villain truly has the upper hand, and this time there’s no last-minute secret power or anything that can save them. I thoroughly enjoyed this take on the superhero genre and would love to see it explored further.

ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE is an absolute win for me and I recommend checking it out. Just make sure your expectations are in the proper place; if they are, you’re in for a heck of a ride. The film hits shelves next week, so give it a look.

MSB

Movie Review – Kill ‘Em All (2012)

Kill ‘Em All
Directed by Raimund Huber
Courtesy of Well Go USA
Release Date: December 11, 2012

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Say what you will about martial-arts movies, but I find most of them quite fun. KILL ‘EM ALL is one of those fun films, although you can’t look too deeply into it. What the film lacks in narrative, it makes up for in style and entertainment. The fighting is swift and tense, and the concept is somewhat reminiscent of Bruce Lee’s ENTER THE DRAGON.

If you are not familiar with KILL ‘EM ALL, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Well Go USA press release:

Welcome to the Killing Chamber — A high-tech bunker where captured international assassins are ready to do what they do best, just to survive. If they’re going to break out of this concrete hell, they must duel each other, fight deadly ninjas, and battle against gangs of masked maniacs. If they manage to survive that, they will have to confront Snakehead, the lethal, deranged top dog who will stop at nothing to KILL ‘EM ALL!

To enjoy this film, you cannot go into it expecting an in-depth storyline or detailed character studies. This film is about fighting, plain and simple. Granted, there are some character and plot details that are revealed later in the film, however you don’t have to pay much attention to them to be entertained.

The action in KILL ‘EM ALL is intense and the fight scenes are well done. The film stars several high profile martial-arts stars, including Gordon Liu, who most fans will remember as the cruel Pai Mei in KILL BILL. While Liu is not onscreen that long, he still leaves a big impression as a relentless villain.

I cannot write this review, however, without mentioning Ammara Siripong, who plays (basically) the main character Som. Siripong gives a powerful performance as the sole female assassin. According to IMDB.com, her only previous role was that of Zin in CHOCOLATE; I have never seen the film but am going to put it on my To Watch list, specifically for Siripong herself.

KILL ‘EM ALL is not your standard martial-arts action movie, but it doesn’t bring much new to the table. Still, it is a fun film and fans of action flicks should enjoy the fighting. I recommend it, as it is an entertaining romp. The film is available now, so give it a look.

MSB

*Special* Author Myke Cole talks to us about Shadow Ops and its creation

I have a special treat for you today. A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER, the second book in Myke Cole’s SHADOW OPS series (click here to read the review of that excellent book). In honor of its release next week, Myke was kind enough to pay us a visit.

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But instead of the typical interview, Myke is giving us a special treat by letting us see one of his first drafts of the first SHADOW OPS books! How cool is that? How often do you get to see an author’s first attempt? Not very, I would wager. I had initially asked Myke to discuss the magic in his books, but he had a better idea. From Myke:

You wanted to know more about how I conceived the magic system in the SHADOW OPS universe. I thought it would be fun to show you a snippet of my path to conceptualizing it.

I am attaching a 4,200 word snippet of the very first draft of CONTROL POINT, back when it was called LATENT. Instead of Oscar Britton, the protagonist was a Mississippi corporal named James Jolly. In this piece, I was trying to figure out how the SOC would determine magical schools for Novices in SAOLCC (sort of like the sorting hat from Harry Potter), and I came up with a device called the Tair.

In the end, it turned out to be . . . well . . . silly, so I abandoned it, but I thought it might be nice to revisit it here.

Anyway, it’s attached. Feel free to post it on your blog with this email, but remind your readers to take it easy on me! This is the VERY first attempt I ever made at a novel, so it’s a bit rough.

Hope you enjoy!

The piece is below; it’s really interesting to note the huge difference between it and the final piece that is actually SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT. We give a special thanks to Myke for sharing this, and urge you to check out the SHADOW OPS series if you have not already.

\\\===========================///

The Tair was housed in what looked like a grain silo. The tower must have been about twenty feet high, and completely smooth. It was capped by a smooth dome with no apparent windows. In the morning light, it was hard for Jolly to determine if the surface was some kind of darkened glass or metal painted reflective black. Either way, the building seemed to shimmer and was hard to look at. Several other Covens were gathered around, shading their eyes and talking nervously.

“School circle!” Called Griswold, and urged the Coven to gather around him.

“Okay. This is going to take a while, this is the Tair for Covens two, four, six, eight and ten. So you’re going to have to wait a little before they get to you. It could be a few hours, so you need to be patient.”

Jolly looked up and saw Coven Two lining up to enter the tower through a small, simple door that blended invisibly into the building when closed. A PSSOPS Psionic, head-shaven with a bizarre atomic symbol tattooed on his forehead, stood outside, ushering the Novices in, and noting their names on a clipboard as they entered. Each Novice was inside for around fifteen minutes, some longer, but none less. As they started to emerge, the crowd gathered more closely and tried to spot the cards they waved over their heads. All bore rubber stamps of various colors. Some depicted a single blue wave, others an orange lizard, Jolly saw one that looked like the silhouette of a human head with a star inside. Most of these were greeted with joyous shouts. One Novice held up his card, stamped with a an old man’s face blowing a gale out of his mouth. “Air, baby! I got Air!”

But not all of the emerging Novices had looks of joy on their faces. A few emerged in tears, and at one was laughing, hugging himself and shivering. His coven leader glanced briefly at his card and began to lead him away, speaking soothingly to him. Still others waved cards over their heads reading: “RETURN FOR ESTIMATION”, looking either relieved or very disappointed.

“What does that mean?” Del Aqua asked Griswold.

“Well, it means one of two things. Either the Tair couldn’t determine them at the time, or they were misread. They’re either not latent enough to use their abilities effectively or they don’t have any abilities at all. Some of them might be mentally unstable. It’s subtle like that, but the Tair always finds the truth.”

“What happens to them?”

“Most go back and get properly determined the second time. A few get discharged and wind up with NIH. . . Oh shit. This is rare.”

Jolly’s attention was so absorbed by Griswold that he barely noticed a small window open up in the upper reaches of the tower and emit a thin tendril of black smoke. The whole crowd fell into silence and watched it dissipate, blowing apart on the wind. Shortly afterward, the door clanged open and two soldiers emerged bearing a stretcher. On it lay the remains of a man, charred beyond recognition and smoking horribly. The stink was almost unbearable.

“Oh Jesus.” Said Griswold, taking off his cap and rubbing his head. Britton unconsciously imitated the motion. “Oh shit. I wish you guys didn’t have to see this.”

Brown’s eyes were wide. “What the hell happened?”

“It happens once in a blue moon, and I mean that, so don’t go AWOL on me here. He just lost it. Strong latency, no control, maybe just a little unstable, something serious in his past. It can build up until you pop in rare instances. I’ve only seen it twice before, but it spooks me every time. Don’t worry.” He responded to the obvious nervous reaction of the Coven. “You have nothing to worry about. It’s not going to happen to you.”

The faces of his Coven didn’t look reassured in the least. The crowd began to shift agitatedly as their respective Coven leaders began to offer their explanations of what was being witnessed. Jolly’s stomach turned a somersault. He looked over at Britton, seeking some sort of reassurance, but the Novice’s face was stone, set and focussed. Del Aqua looked positively ill. Truelove began to make nervous, stumbling jokes, but only succeeded in irritating everyone, until Brown quietly told him to shut up.

It’s not going to happen to you. But what if it did? Even if there was a one percent chance, there was still a chance. Jolly glanced at Britton again, but there was nothing more to see.

“There was a block fire, back home.” Del Aqua murmured, her eyes distant. “This department store was burning and the top of it. . . sort of fell off and landed on this guys car. When they pulled him out. . . he looked like that.”

“Jesus” Ramierez muttered and crossed himself, eyes still fixed on the stretcher.

Jolly looked up at Del Aqua, and was almost gratified to find her eyes on him for the first time since breakfast. There was no accusation in them, no mockery, only the familiarity of shared experience. I see this too, they said. The looked defied sex appeal. She was simply beautiful, and Jolly was stunned.

“Where are you from, Del Aqua?” Jolly finally managed. He half expected Britton to try to cut him off, but the Novice only looked at her, clearly interested in the exchange.

“L.A.” She replied. “You?”

“Gulf Port. It’s in Mississippi.”

“You don’t have an accent.” Britton noted.

“I do when I get angry, you should hear me on the phone to my folks.”

“Hah. That would be. . . “

“Coven Six!” The Psionic outside the tower entrance bellowed. “In alphabetical order now. Britton! Brown! Del Aqua! Jolly! Levine! Ramierez! Takehashi! Truelove! Washington!”

The Novices lined up as their names were called, and Griswold stood alongside the line, tapping them on the shoulder and offering reassuring nods. Surprisingly, apart from the usual butterflies, the real fear engendered by the sight of the burned man did not return, and Jolly found himself instead, joyously expectant, dying to know what was going to happen next, to him, to all of them.

The door swung inward of invisible hinges, not even making so much as a rasping. The surface of it seemed to almost melt away, and while Jolly was aware of the depth of it swinging inward, it still left him with the queer feeling that it had not so much moved as disappeared, simply sinking into that pooling, reflective black surface until it was gone, leaving an open portal to face him.

“Britton, Oscar!” The Psionic called. Britton stood forward, his face set and betraying no emotion whatsoever.

“Card?”

Britton handed his card to the man and stepped inside. The door rose to a seamless join with the rest of the surface and the black tower swallowed him. Fifteen minutes ticked away as the Coven stood a nervous watch outside. At fifteen on the minute, almost exactly, the door dissolved away and Britton stepped back outside, his face much as it had been when he entered. The Psionic handed him his card with a smile and Britton headed back to the line. They held their curiosity as long as they could manage, but after Britton stood staring at them for a moment, it was clear that he was drawing the moment out for the maximum dramatic effect.

“Dude!” Chided Brown, “Tell us what you got!”

Britton held up his card, stamped with a green tree with its roots delving down into rich loam. “Earth.” He smiled. “Apparently, I’m a patient guy.”

This broke much of the ice and resulted in clapping and handshakes from the Coven. Griswold smiled and gave the Novice a quick hug. “You and me are going to be doing some work together.” He grinned.

“Yes, sir.” Replied Britton, clearly pleased. Del Aqua gave him a hug too, and Jolly was proud of his ability to suppress at least any outward signs of envy.

“Brown, David!” Brown stepped forward with dramatic clam, handing his card to the Psionic and mock jerking it away at the last minute. The taller man set his teeth and closed his eyes, the tattoo on his forehead glowed briefly as some invisible hand pushed, no, swatted Brown through the open door, which heaved to with a silent clang. In fifteen minutes the Novice emerged with all smartass pretensions completely erased from him. He looked badly frightened, but otherwise unharmed. His card was stamped with the orange lizard. Fire school. He’d gotten his wish.

“Del Aqua, Theresa!” Jolly realized with a start that this was the first time he had heard her first name. Theresa. He liked the sound of it, it suited her beauty and bearing somehow. Del Aqua hesitated, her eyes still locked on Brown, assessing his fear, trying to determine a good reason for it. She looked as if she was about to ask a question, when the Psionic called her name again, this time with a more urgent edge. She cast a last pleading look at Jolly and walked through the portal. Jolly was stunned by the look, he glanced at Britton to see if he had noticed but the taller man was busy chatting with Griswold about his experiences as an Earth sorcerer. He savored that look, he treasured it. This time, she had looked at him for help. For help. What was she so frightened of? Jolly felt a sudden urge to rush after her, to rescue her from the depths of that dark tower. He stood tight though, and waited. He waited a long, long time. fifteen minutes turned to twenty and twenty to a half-hour. The Coven became restless and even Griswold and Britton stopped chatting and began to watch the tower. Only the Psionic seemed calm, silently awaiting the opening of the portal with closed eyes.

After a full forty-five minutes the portal opened and Del Aqua emerged. Her hair was tousled and her face tear-stained, but her uniform was crisp and Jolly could discern no marks on her. She looked exhausted, but still retained an ample beauty that was inspiring to look at. Griswold stepped forward, and she collapsed into his arms, throwing her arms around his neck and sobbing loudly. Griswold plucked the card from her hand and held it up over his head. It depicted a red heart with a white cross in the center. The rarest and most valued school of all. Healer.

Griswold stroked Del Aqua’s hair and looked over her shoulder at the rest of Coven, grinning. He indicated the card with a wave. This is good, he mouthed. He allowed her another fifteen seconds or so of comfort before he pushed her away roughly and admonished her to sharpen up and get a hold of herself, loudly enough to attract the attention of the other Novices and show them that he meant business. Del Aqua seemed calmed, but still shaken. Jolly wondered what in the world went on inside that tower.

“Jolly, James!” He was up. Jolly swallowed hard and stepped forward, determined to put on a brave face for his compatriots. The Psionic observed him, his thin face nodding, and the portal opened. Jolly handed him his card and stepped inside.

The first thing he noticed as the portal sealed behind him was the utter lack of sound. The wind in the trees, the soft whispering of dry leaves brushing against one another, bird calls and chirping insects, all gone. The liquid black walls of the tower seemed to suck up sound. It was nearly pitch black and Jolly could barely see the way before him. The floor beneath him was firm, but felt soft, almost as if it was covered in thick carpet. He was standing in a brief foyer that let out into a large circular room. The only source of light was a small cube, seemingly made of brass but glowing with a rich, yellow luminescence. The light emanating from the cube had a rippling effect, like the reflections of light off the surface of a moving body of water. But the ripples did not reflect off the walls, the shimmering ebony surface seemed hungry for light, and devoured the rays as traveled away from the square. The room was warm, and though Jolly guessed it was probably quite expansive, the shadows seemed to hang around him, thick and clinging, making him claustrophobic. The tight, womb-like ambiance of the chamber reinforced Jolly’s feeling of smallness, and of awakening fear. The air felt stale and empty.

The cube seemed to hang in the air, floating above a small dais, also of the same frictionless black material as the walls. Seated on wooden stools around it were three men, all in uniforms and almost utterly lacking the flamboyance of the run-of-the-mill PSSOPS officer. Jolly could see from their rank insignia that one was a Major, and two were Chief Warrant Officers. A fourth simple-folding metal folding chair, empty, sat before the dais, and standing beside it was another Psionic, who could easily have been the door-warden’s twin, right down to the eddying tattoo on his forehead. He surveyed Jolly with a grim, serious look that made the Novice all the more nervous.

“Jolly. Have a seat.” The close air of the tower made his voice sound arid. Jolly felt an urge to break and run. Here again he was walking into a situation that was dangerous, maybe even deadly, and bound by the rules of his little world to stand and take his chances. The thought made his fingers curl in irritation.

Jolly stepped forward and dropped down into the chair, feeling the warm, metal surface against his back and buttocks.

“Sit back,” urged the man behind him. Jolly felt his head cool abruptly as his hat was removed, and the man placed his hands on his head gently but firmly, his fingertips almost seeming to dig into the scalp. Jolly attempted to turn to look at him but the man’s hands were strong and they held him fast, head forward, facing into the cube. The other man sat still and upright, eyes closed, concentrating.

“Focus your attention on the Tair.” The Major said in a dead voice. “Don’t try to inhibit your feelings, if you’re afraid, be afraid, if you’re sad be sad. It’ll all get sorted out anyway. You may close your eyes if you wish.”

Jolly didn’t want to close his eyes. Seeing what was happening was the one thing left he could control in this situation. The cube, still hanging in the midst of empty space, began to slowly rotate, the light drawing wavy patterns on the faces of the men gathered around it. Jolly first expected to be blinded, but found that the rich, soft quality of the light didn’t trouble his eyes at all. It seemed thick, rather then bright. First, he was tense beyond imagining horrified of what might come next and not daring to guess what it might be. Then, as nothing spectacular occurred, he began to relax. It was then that he felt the push.

With the cube spinning faster, Jolly felt himself being pushed towards it. At first he thought it was a physical pushing, driven by the hands of the man standing behind him, still firmly planted on his head. But soon he realized that he was not getting any closer to the cube, rather, his vision seemed to be pushing out towards it, his thoughts floating out to swept up in the spinning, brass surface. It was a mental push.

Jolly instantly recoiled. Not moving his body at all, he marshaled his thoughts and pushed back, desperately retreating from the metallic surface of the cube. He felt the man’s fingers tighten on his scalp and the push came harder. Again he resisted, but this time there was such force that his mind was flung forward until it was nigh kissing the cube, which had now begun to spin so fast that it was a whirling blur of light.

The light encompassed his vision, shutting out the dais, the other occupants of the room, and even the shadows themselves. It stretched to the limits of his sight until Jolly felt as if he passed the boundaries of the shining surface and now rested inside of it. Then the light grew brighter, seemed to break apart somehow, and reformed into an image. It was an image of his past.

When Jolly was sixteen he had first ridden a motorcycle, an old dirt bike owned by the son of a neighbor. Jolly had tried for hours to learn the gentle art of timing the clutch release without stalling the bike. It was a tall machine, and when he stalled it, he inevitably went over on his side. After hours of work and nothing but scratches on his knees to show for it, he had finally mastered the beast, and boy if it wasn’t worth every second. He positively flew along the suburban street where he’d grown up, oblivious to any danger posed by car or pedestrian, evoking his fair share of angry horn blasts and shaken fists. He was only aware of the way the wind felt in his hair and the flying sensation of the intense speed. He felt like a god, he felt immortal.

Jolly felt a grin spread across his face as he recalled that feeling, but it was replaced by an expression of disappointment as the Tair dismissed the image, apparently not finding what it was looking for.

The light fragmented once more, this time coalescing into one of the few experiences that Jolly had remembered spending with his father. They had been lying on the beach together, watching the Gulf of Mexico slowly lay siege to the sandcastle they had been diligently working on. It was a slow, arduous task, but the Gulf was making headway, and Jolly didn’t mind at all. He could see his father’s tan skin, with its thin matting of hair, and smell the coconut oil Jolly had rubbed into his back only moments before. Neither of them spoke, content with the sound of the waves and seagulls. As was quiet and restful, slowly ebbing and flowing in time with the motion of the sea. Jolly had never felt more relaxed in his life. Which was why he was more then a little irritated when the Tair dismissed this scene two and moved on.

The next scene was one that Jolly didn’t recognize at first. He was twelve, walking home from school and cutting through his neighbors yard to get home more quickly. This was far from a devious act, the Sinou’s were old friends whose son would later teach Jolly to ride a motorcycle, and they had no objection to the neighbor kid cutting some corners through their yard. But there had been a Rottwieler. Jolly had no idea where it had come from, maybe it was a stray, maybe a loose neighbor dog that was usually locked up in the yard. Jolly had been playing with a plastic whiffle bat, striking poses and imagining himself to be a great swordsman, mightier even then Conan of Cimmeria. If the neighbors had no objections to Jolly passing across their land, the dog certainly did. It approached him slowly, growling with throaty menace. Jolly had instantly burst into tears, all pretensions of bravery gone. He had backed away slowly mewling at the dog not to hurt him, to go away, to play nice. He realized instantly the shame he was casting on the idea of Conan, and felt as if he was somehow failing a test. The thought had made him weep all the more. Before he knew it, he was running full tilt, shrieking at the top of his lungs, the dog barking and nipping at his heels. His mother had run to the end of the driveway and swept him into her arms where he bawled against her shoulder weeping with relief. The dog had not seemed so very big then, and it shooed away as soon as his mother had given it a brief but sharp kick.

The scene irritated Jolly. It was embarrassing. He had been in no real danger and he could have at least thrown a rock at the dog, or hit it with the bat, or kicked it. But fear had overpowered him instantly and rendered him useless. Truth be told, though it was a ridiculous incident long in his past, he had never really forgiven himself. He frowned and the light flickered excitedly as if the Tair’s interest was finally piqued. The scene broke apart and reformed again.

This time Jolly was eighteen and sitting in the school cafeteria. A young boy, much taller, but a bit thinner was leaning over his shoulder and mouthing threats. There was still no sound, but Jolly could tell that he was being bullied. He remembered the bully’s name, Ryan Vaughn, but for the life of him he could not remember why Ryan had singled him out on that particular day, though he remembered the event well enough. Jolly had been to old to be bullied, he was pumped full of the vigor and idealism of burgeoning manhood and had felt certain that if he put this man to the test, he would be victorious. Never mind that Ryan was taller, stronger and the veteran of countless brawls in high school hallways and parking lots. Jolly was _right_, and damn it, when you were right, you won.

But Jolly hadn’t won, his punches had connected poorly when they landed at all. Ryan had toyed with him first, slapping him lightly and ducking under Jolly’s clumsy blows only to pop up again to give him another light tap. Jolly became instantly and horribly aware of two facts. One. He was going to lose this fight, probably badly. Two. He was going to lose it in front of the entire cafeteria, who was now watching in earnest. When Jolly landed a lucky punch on Ryan’s forehead, the beating began in earnest. Ryan had literally beaten the shit out of him, and Jolly had had to leave school early that day to go home and change his soiled underwear. As he slowly sank below the withering barrage of punches he had almost exploded with frustrated rage. How could he possibly lose? He was right damn it. This guy was a jerk and everyone knew it, Jolly was the good guy, the innocent, the protagonist. How could this be happening?

Watching the scene, Jolly’s brow tightened. He had done his best to put embarrassing moments like this out of his mind, and being reminded of them only made him more mad. He didn’t need to be seeing this. The room felt to close, the lights were swirling to fast, drawing his attention in a thousand directions. He began to feel a faint humming in his ears, low at first but gradually growing louder and more engaging until he could not ignore it. He felt the blood pulsing in his temples and wanted nothing more then to leave this tower, to get back outside with his Coven, to feel the fresh cool air on his face. The room was getting very hot.

The Tair danced with greater agitation and unfolded yet another scene. This one Jolly recognized instantly, for it had only happened a few hours earlier. He sat in the mess at breakfast with the rest of the Coven, stupidly trying to swallow his food as the others stared at him with laughter on their faces. Ramierez finally leaned forward and said something, and Jolly uttered a reply that made the whole table react with surprise and disgust. Watching the scene, Jolly felt his cheeks flush with shame and rage. How could he have been so stupid? He tightened his hands reflexively. The fingers on his scalp were annoying the hell out of him.

But the Tair seemed to have hit on a theme that suited it, and it began to positively dance, flashing from scene to scene with growing speed, taunting him with image after image of humiliations and defeats from his past, each one making him more uncomfortable, more agitated more enraged.

The Tair spun faster and faster, scenes and light finally merging into an waving display of dazzling colors that leapt across Jolly’s vision and burned into his face. They were appropriate colors to match his present state.

They were red, yellow, white, orange and gold.

They were the colors of rage.

Jolly began to scream as the colors and whirling sound enveloped him. He felt the pressure build within him as it had in his dream, until his fury erupted through every pore in his body, striking out at the Tair, at the men, at the dais, at the room. There was a wild sound of whooshing air and then darkness overtook the chamber.
When Jolly came to, the chamber was filled with smoke. Daylight streamed into the room from a small window at the top of the tower, opened to let the smoke escape. I’m dead thought Jolly. I’ve burned myself to a crisp like that other guy. I lost it. A quick look down at himself proved him instantly wrong. He realized that the man behind him no longer had his hands on his head and stood up immediately. The man had come around front, wailing in pain at his hands, badly burned and smoking horribly, the other men in the room ran to his assistance.

In the center of the room, the cube no longer spun, but burned vigorously, sending tongues of orange flame up into the sky.

Book Review – Star Corpsman: Bloodstar by Ian Douglas (2012)

Star Corpsman: Bloodstar
by Ian Douglas
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Harper Voyager

Bloodstar-Star-Corpsman

If you really know me, then you know that the second book I wrote a few years ago a was military science-fiction novel. If you didn’t know that already, well, there you go. Anyway, I’m a big fan of military sci-fi and always jump on the opportunity to check out new titles within the genre. STAR CORPSMAN: BLOODSTAR is a hearty addition to the field.

If you are not familiar with STAR CORPSMAN: BLOODSTAR, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Harper Voyager press release:

In the 23rd century, war is still hell…
Navy Corpsman Elliot Carlyle joined up to save lives and see the universe. Now he and Bravo Company’s Black Wizards of the interstellar Fleet Marine Force are en route to Bloodworld–a hellish, volatile rock colonized by the fanatical Salvationists who desired an inhospitable world where they could suffer for humanity’s sins. Their penance could prove fatal–for the Qesh, a strange alien race detected by still mysterious for six decades, have made violent first contact.

Suddenly countless lives depend upon Bravo Company–perhaps even the fate of homeworld Earth itself–as the Marines prepare to confront a vast force of powerful, inscrutable enemies. And one dedicated medic, singled out by an extraordinary act of valor, will find himself with an astounding opportunity to alter the universe forever…

Ian Douglas is one of the many pen-names of American author William H. Keith, Jr. This gentleman is a power-house of an author and has written scads of books over the years. As a result, he has an amazing canon under his belt and is destined for the annals of science-fiction greatness.

STAR CORPSMAN: BLOODSTAR is a fairly fast-paced adventure that is written well with fluid prose and pulse-pounding intensity. The book is both historical and war record, detailing the history of the Fleet Marine Force as well the current deployment specifics. There’s plenty to captivate any reader here.

Douglas does an impressive job of world building, putting the reader in both familiar and uncharted territory. The landscapes are both hellish and intriguing, a dangerous combination for the characters involved. And the Qesh raced is deftly constructed, an enigmatic force to be reckoned with.

My sole complaint about STAR CORPSMAN: BLOODSTAR is that some of the more technical descriptions Douglas employs can sometimes bog the storyline down a bit; not to mention, they can sometimes make the reader (or at least this one) feel dumb at points. Still, there’s not enough of this to detract much from the book and it still offers more entertainment than not.

STAR CORPSMAN: BLOODSTAR is a buffet of wholesome military science-fiction at its purest. I recommend this book and offer it to anyone looking for a rousing, battle-filled excursion into intensity. The book was released a couple of months ago, so check it out now.

MSB

Movie Review – The Millennium Bug (2011)

The Millennium Bug
Directed by Kenneth Cran
Courtesy of Green Apple Entertainment
Original Release Date: 2011
Release Date: December 18, 2013

The Millennium Bug

If you like creature features, go pick up THE MILLENNIUM BUG right now. This taut little amazing film will knock your socks right off…and leave you writhing for more. It has garnered several awards from a variety of film festivals and every single one is rightfully earned. I daresay that even the most hardest to please of horror fans should find something to like about this one.

If you are not familiar with THE MILLENNIUM BUG, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Green Apple Entertainment press release:

The Haskin family seeks refuge from Y2K hysteria in the isolated forests of the Sierra Diablos Mountains. Soon, however, the threat of technological shutdown is the least of their worries. Abducted by a vicious hillbilly clan, the family battles for their lives…but neither they nor their captors could imagine the monstrous nightmare about to erupt from the bowels of the earth. Now they must all join together if anyone is to survive!

What strikes me first and foremost about THE MILLENNIUM BUG is how much it looks (visually) like Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD film. This is not a dig, but yet a compliment of the highest magnitude. Although the two films have nothing to do with each other, in story or premise, filmmaker Kenneth Cran still manages to capture the dark and foreboding chemistry from Raimi’s masterpiece.

THE MILLENNIUM BUG is shot very well and the acting is very high caliber. But what truly steals the show are the special effects. There are no CG effects whatsoever in this film and the result is stunning. The creatures look astonishingly real, the deaths are gruesome, and the gore is absolutely phenomenal. There are some (literally) eye-popping death scenes that will make you want to stand up and applaud.

If I were forced to find a flaw with THE MILLENNIUM BUG, I could not. The story is tight, the production value is high, and the movie just looks great overall. I highly recommend this film to anyone that wants an intense, over-the-top evening of gore and frights. The film is available now, so be sure and check it out for sure.

MSB