Sunday, April 26, 2015

New Release: The Psychic (Immortal Whispers Book One)


From the distant past, echoing across generations, come...

IMMORTAL WHISPERS


In Ireland, stories are never just stories. The Banshee cries for the dead, the fairy mounds drip with magic, and something dark stalks the woods, seeking another victim. They speak of the great black beast in hushed whispers around the campfire, and only the foolish dare step foot into the forest.


For centuries, Madame Zerga has served as a psychic. The Oracle at Delphi, a seer for the French aristocracy. All she wants now is time to herself, and the house by the woods seems like the perfect place. When a young man comes to her door, troubled by a fearsome stalker, the impossible happens. Madame Zerga's second sight fails her.

Now, forced to fight blind against the beast, Madame Zerga not only has to fight for her survival, she has to fight her own worst fear. And she's not sure which is the worse enemy.

Free on Amazon through the end of April!





Saturday, April 25, 2015

Subgenre Saturday: Magical Realism

The first installment of Subgenre Saturdays was all about bizarro fiction which, as the name suggests, is bizarre. But it's bizarre in a very in-depth way. The plot, the characters, the writing style, even the formatting of the books can sometimes be very strange.

Today, we're going for a different sort of bizarre. Everything seems all right, everything's familiar, either as modern day or something historical (normally modern day). Except your neighbor drinks blood, your boss is a psychic, and there's a dragon that lives in the alley down the road. And nowhere will anyone even give the slightest suggestion that anything might be out of the ordinary. Not even the narrator.

Welcome to magical realism. People react normally to outside stimuli, such as being attacked by the dragon who lives in the alley. You're still going to be pissed that he caught your skirt on fire, but that doesn't mean you question him being there.

The most well-known example of magical realism is probably Big Fish (I've only seen the movie, so I can't say for certain if the book is magical realism as well.). Everything's just fine and normal… but a fish turns into a woman, heaven is a hidden village in the middle of the woods, and you can see death in the eye of the witch in swamp. It's all absolutely real. It's not really dismissed (except by the son, but that's central to the plot), but it's not really explained, either. It just is. That's magical realism in as much of a nutshell as possible.

My favorite example is a short story by the grandfather of magical realism: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges. A short story, it still took me an hour to read, and a couple hours after to roll it all out in my head. Which should give you an idea just how trippy it is. Essentially, a secret world order is trying to create a new world and make it real by writing the history and culture of it and letting it pervade the world. And eventually? It does. And it comes into being. Not just something 'so real you can almost touch it,' but something that can't be real, even though you're pretty sure at this point it is. Modern magical realism, on the other hand, is dominated by a single man, the same way Borges dominated it in his day. Bruce Taylor, Mr.Magic Realism himself. He also dabbles in bizarro fiction and other more conventional styles, but he's most known for his work in this strange little subgenre.

In the realm of TV, you have Twin Peaks (or almost anything by David Lynch) and, perhaps most familiar to a modern audience, Lost. A bunch of people getting to know each other that just happens to be set on a time-traveling island. And when you get back into film, you have Pan'sLabyrinth (here's a war, and here's some weird stuff that may or may not be magic) and Stranger than Fiction, the story of a man who also happens to be a character in a famous novelists work. Once it's established that he's actually hearing the voice of the author, nobody ever questions the strange things that happen. It becomes a morality tale about the nature of death and life and suicide.

I realize that wasn't much of anything, but really, magical realism is like a bird flying by. You can observe things about it, but capturing the bird is almost impossible. If you have a better grasp on it, I really hope you'll comment. I feel confident in what I've said, but it's a tough nut to crack, so I always welcome a new viewpoint. And make sure to subscribe up above if you want to stay up to date on everything to come.


Voss

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Subgenre Saturday: Gaslamp Fantasy

So, we were talking about steampunk last week, and I mentioned gaslamp fantasy in passing, but that's all. I figured now is as good a time as any to go ahead and cover it. So here we are. Steampunk and gaslamp fantasy are intensely tied together, and could almost be considered the same genre. Lord knows that they play into each other an awful lot. But where steampunk is a divergence of Victorian era technology, gaslamp fantasy is a divergence of the basic laws of nature. Just one. There's magic of some sort. Pretty obvious, yeah, but that's the main thing. There are more subtle differences, of course. Gaslamp fantasy doesn't rely as much on the subversive 'punk' nature of the main character(s), although it can be included. You're less likely to touch on how the tech works, for that matter.


Compared to other breeds of fantasy, gaslamp tends to be a lot heavier on the setting. It creates more of an ambience than a lot of its kinfolk. Take Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, considered by many to be the prime example of gaslamp fantasy in literature (it's also a bit of a slog to get through, if you're wanting to read it. Fair warning.). There are pages of time spent just setting the scene and the history of the gaslamp fantasy world being created.

You see the same thing in His Dark Materials, which does jump in on the 'punk' part of things. A lot of time being put into setting the scene (though admittedly not as much as in Strange and Norrell). I guess you could say the same thing about contemporary (urban) fantasy, as well. The world is normally shown in a very descriptive vivid manner. In a way, gaslamp fantasy is the intersection between steampunk and contemporary fantasy.

I'd say that's the most obvious in the work that named the genre, Girl Genius. You have steampunk technology that can be used to create magic, but also unexplained things (a magic river, a strangely living castle, etc) that aren't specifically called magic. But they're magic in all but name. I'm not far in the comic, but I highly recommend it.

If you don't have time for that (it's not just Strange and Norrell: most gaslamp fantasy works tend to have some good heft to them, more than you would usually see in either steampunk or contemporary fantasy), but you're still interested, then look to Van Helsing. Much less technology-based than some gaslamp fantasy, it's very much Victorian era mixed with magic. Vampires and demons and holy power and werewolves. It straddles the line a bit, leaning heavily toward gothic horror, but it'll do for gaslamp fantasy in a pinch.

What other subgenres do you want to see? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe if you want to get the latest updates.


Voss

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Subgenre Saturday: Steampunk

So last week, we talked about bizarro fiction, the new kid on the block, kind of weird. You're pretty sure he worships some kind of god he made up, but you don't ever want to call him on it just in case he snaps.

This week, we're going mainstream… or as mainstream as it really ever gets with SF/F: steampunk. Steampunk isn't just literature anymore. It's a whole movement, and it makes for some very polarized opinions. I know people who hate it and say that it's all full of fun vampires who obsess over the historical accuracy of buttons on a jacket. And I know people who do, in fact, obsess over the historical accuracy of the buttons on a jacket… they most certainly are fun vampires.

On the flipside of the steampunk coin, you have people who think that like gears and so they throw them on their outfit and think: Boom. Steampunk. In a way, they're not wrong. It might take a little more care, but if you're using brass and gears and goggles and corsets and top hats, you're probably going to hit close enough to the visual aesthetic that people will say, "Hey look, steampunk."

Steampunk literature sure didn't suffer from the popularity of the movement, either. The word steampunk, like all of the other punk genres, came about from the big bad granddaddy that, unfortunately, most people aren't as familiar with: cyberpunk (more on that another week). They do have some similarities, the most obvious being the technology. Steampunk is, of course, tech from the steam-powered Victorian era, and the works are often set in an alternate history version of the Victorian world, though by no means is that always the case. My favorite steampunk books, the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, focuses on the first world war. Still not exactly modern, of course, but certainly not Victorian.

One of the other defining factors is the subversion. It's where the 'punk' comes into all of the many X-punk subgenres. It's not ubiquitous—beyond the tech, nothing is ubiquitous in steampunk literature—but it's extremely common to see something or someone railing against social convention for one reason or another. Hence why the steampunk skies are full of female mechanics and air captains, in a world where it simply wouldn't have happened, and Ada Lovelace is raised onto her (deservedly) high pedestal. It's why a chimney sweep who also repairs complex machines on the side would work just fine. But moving outside of the Victorian era, subversion is still very much present. Rebels exist throughout steampunk, people working outside the rest of society (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comes to mind, there, although that's still Victorian.). Even in my very limited steampunk offerings, subversion is everywhere. Two mad scientists bonding over conquering the world, or an automaton going against government rule to provide water for the boilers of the poor.
 
I've mentioned a couple of my favorite works already: Leviathan, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comics and the movie). But there are many more, and many of them are considered some of the greatest in (and about) the genre. The Difference Engine, Boneshaker, and a fair number of the offerings of Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, most notably the Steampunk Bible.

There's also a fantasy side to steampunk called gaslamp fantasy, but that's also for another week. But while we're talking about things that aren't quite steampunk, I'd like to touch on the Victorian sci-fi out there. This is personal opinion, so feel free to ign
ore it, but I think it needs saying:

Jules Verne did not write steampunk. Neither did H.G. Wells. Steampunk is retrofuturistc, meaning that it deals with the past, but with advanced science and technology. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were writing contemporary sci-fi. I will wholeheartedly agree that their work should go among the big influences for steampunk, but they were not writing steampunk. Sorry… but not really.

Now, if I haven't horribly offended you with that last little tirade and you want more Subgenre Saturdays, make sure to subscribe to the blog, an if you have any speculative fiction subgenres you'd like to see on future Subgenre Saturdays, leave a comment below. Always happy to hear from you.


Voss

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Subgenre Saturday: Bizarro Fiction

People know what they like, for the most part. It hardly needs stating, it's such a well-accepted fact. But what people don't always have are the words for what they like, the names that they can actually use to communicate it. That's not exactly a problem I can tackle, but I'm going to take a little nibble off of it with this new set of posts.

So welcome to Subgenre Saturday, a look at the myriad subgenres tucked under the speculative fiction umbrella… and maybe a handful that hang around just outside the umbrella, too. And believe me, when you start digging deep into it, there are a lot of them out there.

But today, we'll start with one very near and dear to my heart, one of my great loves, as a reader. Bizarro fiction. Sort of a new kid on the block, sort of a Frankenstein compiled from other 'cult' genres, bizarro is described by the writers and publishers involved in it as 'literature's equivalent to the cult section at the video store.' It's the B-movie of the literary world (although there are bizarro movies and other such media, as we'll see).
 
Bizarro fiction didn't officially become a thing until 2005, when houses like Eraserhead Press (easily the biggest bizarro publisher out there) adopted it to describe the books they were working with. From a literary standpoint, you could say bizarro is a bit of magical realism mixed with a bit of splatterpunk horror and stirred up with some sex and nudity. But even that's not a good definition. I think the best definition I've found was from a blog about writing bizarro. It's taking an idea that sounds absolutely worthless, then making it not suck.

Let's take a look at my favorite bizarro novel (novelette, really), just to maybe explain it a little better: Ultra Fuckers, by Carlton Mellick III is dystopian sci-fi… but not. But maybe. Here's what the 'worthless idea' part of this book would be (spoilers ahead): a sentient gated community that takes over the world. Yeah. Sure. But it ends up as such an unnerving book. A husband and wife head to a diner party in a new housing development. But they can't seem to find their way. The streets are to confusing, and it just seems so huge. Eventually, they get directions from one of the stations scattered throughout the community (they also serve fast food, and just about anything else you need). But the directions, of course, lead them nowhere. The wife leaves to find it on foot, and the husband continues to drive.

For days.

Eventually, we learn that the whole community is continually replicating, processing everything from the world, filling in holes, covering the planet in the same set of houses and streets again… and a
gain… and again. Eventually, it circles back through the whole world and starts again, reprocessing what it already made. An endless cycle that leaves the world a barren suburbia.

That. That is bizarro, and that's pretty tame, compared to a lot of the other books. Dead Bitch Army. Shatnerquake. Razor Wire Pubic Hair. Just to name a handful of them.

When it comes to movies, there are a few that definitely fall in the bizarro category. Probably the most famous is Eraserhead, which is where the press got its name. It's an excellent movie (it's pretty hard to go wrong with David Lynch and space sperm), but it's not my favorite bizarro flick. If I was going to personally recommend just one bizarro movie to someone, it would be The Saddest Music in the World. The story of a legless Canadian beer baroness (who uses glass prosthetics filled with beer) who hatches a plot during the Great Depression to find the saddest music in the world, because sad people will drink more and buy her beer. It's a good intro to the sort of off-kilter vibe that pervades bizarro works, and it's fairly humorous, so it doesn't get as heavy as some of the darkest works.

So, if you like things that are pretty out there, I'd give bizarro a try. It's one of my favorite genres. But as fair warning, I should point out that a lot of the works have some pretty adult content. Lots of blood and gore, sex and nudity, violence and language. NC-17 books, here… of course, if you're like me, that just makes you want to read them more, right?


Voss