Dark Screams Volume Eight (Hydra, October 31, 2017), edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar comes out just in time for Halloween. Cemetery Dance’s editors include five original tales and one reprint from CD in 2015. “Walpuski’s Typewriter” by Frank Darabont is the reprint.
“The Boy” by Bentley Little stinks. Not the story. The story’s great! The boy stinks. Christine, new to the suburb where the boy lives, smells him walk past each day on his way to school. How can anyone possibly smell so bad? You’ll be surprised when you read this story by a true master of surprises.
“Tumor” by Benjamin Percy is filled with rich imagery.
“Twisted and Gnarled” by Billie Sue Mosiman is superbly written, a tale of psychological suspense with supernatural elements.
“The Palaver” by Kealan Patrick Burke is a bit too hairy for my tastes. “India Blue” by Glen Hirschberg is about the start and end of Professional Cricket in America.
My favorite story is “The Boy”. It really got me thinking. “Twisted and Gnarled” runs a close second.
Halloween Carnival Volume Four (Hydra, October, 2017) edited by Brian James Freeman includes four new stories and one reprint. Kealan Patrick Burke’s “The Mannequin Challenge” is a nasty little tale that’ll stab you in the eyeballs. “Across the Tracks” by Ray Garton is truly frightening, and it’s so well-written it deserves a Stoker nomination. Three middle-school boys are bullied by Ed Mortimer and his minions on Halloween, and you expect something really bad will happen. But what does happen, is beyond your expectations. “The Halloween Tree” by Bev Vincent has some intense moments each time the boys pass the tree and the Corrigan house. “Pumpkin Eater” by C. A. Suleiman is about pies and pumpkins and a marriage made in hell. “When the Leaves Fall” by Paul Melniczek is the longest story in the book, and one of the best. More than just a tale of a boy and his dog, it’s downright creepy. Halloween Carnival Volume Four is definitely worth a read.
Arcana 47 was held at Bandana Square in St. Paul, MN, September 29-October 1, 2017. This may be the last time I attend.
It’s impossible to return to the real world after spending three days and two nights in the realm of the imagination.
After nearly 50 years of Arcanas and Minncons, attendance has shrunk to a handful of surviving writers, editors, artists, booksellers, filmmakers, and fans. The annual pilgrimage to the former home of Poul Anderson, Gordy Dickson, Jon Arfstrom, Kirby McCauley, Donald Wandrei, and so many other great fantasists may be about to end.
Stalwarts like Jack Koblas, Eric Carlson, Jon Arfstrom, Bob Weinberg, and Gretta M. Anderson have passed away, and the rest of us are no longer young. Dwayne Olson, Eric Heideman, Dennis Weiler, and Greg Ketter have done the heavy lifting and held the con together. My hat’s off to them for making Arcana 47 one of the best cons I’ve ever attended.
Guests of Honor this year included William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, and Sunni Brock. Bill Nolan, still going strong at 89, shared his fascinating memories of Bradbury, Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, and William Shatner, as well as reading a new sf story. Guests were always available and approachable, and I came home with personally-autographed books from Nolan, Brock, Roger Dale Trexler, Wayne Allen Sallee, and Rodger Gerberding.
But all good things must come to an end, and Arcana 47 is now history. Will there be an Arcana 48? Only time will tell.
This weekend was like returning home for me. I attended Arcana in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Arcana Con, for those in the know, is the Midwest equivalent of NECon. Currently located at the Bandana Square Best Western Plus in St. Paul, MN, Arcana 46 was held October 21-23, 2016. It’s a fantasy convention that appeals to collectors and lovers of dark fantasy and horror.
Bandana Square once housed the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Steam Locomotive repair shops. The hotel abuts where the locomotives were painted. The building has rails embedded in the floor and the doors look big enough to admit a steam locomotive. Freight trains still pass by within a half-block of the hotel.
Minneapolis/St. Paul was once home to some of the biggest names in pulp fiction. William Fawcett started Fawcett Publications there with Capt. Billy’s Whiz-bang. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei started Arkham House within a stone’s throw of the Twin Cities. Science Fiction greats like Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson came from Minneapolis. Weird Tales cover artist Jon Arfstrom made his life-long home in St. Paul. Fedogan and Bremer was founded in Minneapolis. Literary agent extraordinaire Kirby McCauley got his start in Minneapolis after graduating from the University of Minnesota. John Sandford still lives and works there.
Jon Arfstrom’s painting on the cover of The Strange Company’s edition of The Devil Made Me Do It, 1985.
Jon Arfstrom’s portrait of me, 1986.
I began attending gatherings of Lovecraftians in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 1982 after meeting Jack Koblas and Eric Carlson at a World Fantasy Convention. Jack and Eric were editors of Etchings and Odysseys, a professionally printed small press fanzine devoted to Weird Tales-style pulp fiction. I, of course, had read most of HPL and Henry Kuttner by that time, and after Jack, Eric, and I carried on long knowledgeable conversations during the WFC, we became life-long friends (both Jack and Eric passed away much too soon, and I miss them a lot).
Jack and Eric invited me to submit an article for the special Henry Kuttner tribute issue of E&O, and they also invited me to attend MinnCon (the forerunner of ArcanaCon) the following October. I agreed to write the Kuttner article and to appear on panels at MinnCon. I also received an invitation from The Strange Company publisher R. Alain (Randy) Everts to attend MadCon in Madison, Wisconsin the following May when E&O #4 would be released with my Kuttner article in it. Randy invited me to submit original fiction to The Arkham Sampler, and he bought several of my stories (he actually paid me cash money and bought me meals at expensive restaurants). He (The Strange Company) also published The Devil Made Me do It, a collection of 20 of my early stories, and a chapbook of Love Till the End of Time. I also sold him a couple of my early down-and-dirty novels that other packagers didn’t want. Randy supposedly published them under pseudonyms. I cranked out two 65,000 word novels on a manual typewriter every month for four years, and some of them were pretty bad (downright, god-awful bad) but they helped me learn my craft.
Then I married Gretta, took a regular 9 to 5 job with a medical publisher and later with Mutual Fund Sourcebook publisher Morningstar, and my fiction output dwindled.
Gretta and I attended MadCons and MinnCons every year from 1983 until 1990. I appeared on Lovecraft and Horror panels, and Gretta appeared with other small press editors on editing and publishing panels at several of the first ArcanaCons after MadCons and MinnCons ceased and Arcana became a full-fledged annual convention instead of just a gathering of friends and Lovecraft scholars.
We stopped attending sf and fantasy conventions entirely in favor of attending professional psychology educational conferences (APA, APS, Illinois Counseling Society, NGH, and alternative healing and wellness conferences).
This year I returned to Bandana Square for ArcanaCon 46.
Most of the people I knew from MinnCon and earlier AracanaCons have passed away or moved out of state. Koblas and Carlson died. Jon Arfstrom died just last year. Bob Weinberg died just last month. Randy Everts is reputed to be living in Hawaii. R. Dixon Smith is now in California. David Pudelwitz was last seen in New Mexico. Roger Gerberding no longer lives in the twin cities, but he is still alive and still painting. Audrey Parente is busy with PulpAdventureCon in New Jersey and Florida. Roger Dale Trexler was unable to make this con but promises to make next year’s ArcanaCon when the GOH will be William F. Nolan. I did spend quality time in conversation with Scott Wyatt, Eric Heideman, Dwayne Olson, and Greg Ketter of DreamHaven Books. I also got to meet the delightful Kathe Koja, this year’s ArcanaCon GOH.
What I like about ArcanaCon is the attendees are all readers and book collectors. The con is small and intimate enough to get to know everyone and talk with everyone.
Once upon a time, attendance at MinnCon was by invitation only. When it became ArcanaCon, it was opened to the public but never widely advertised. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in fandom.
The Road to Paradise by Max Allan Collins (Brash Books, November 2017) is the second sequel to The Road to Perdition, which was an award-winning graphic novel and a superb motion picture starring Tom Hanks. Collins is an MWA Grand Master and a multiple Shamus-award winning author.
When I began reading The Road to Paradise, I only knew that the author had co-authored mysteries with Mickey Spillane and had written the Dick Tracy daily and Sunday comics for the Chicago Tribune. I also knew he had written the Ms. Tree comic books and was a fellow member of MWA Midwest. I hadn’t yet read The Road to Perdition nor seen the film.
I lived I Oak Park, Illinois, in the mid-1970s when a mob hit man murdered crime-boss Sam Giancana in his Fillmore Street home, less than six blocks from me, so I was instantly intrigued by this novel’s opening scene where the Outfit similarly slays Mad Sam DeStefano. Not only did I regularly hang out at the Big Top restaurant in Berwyn (at the corner where the cities of Cicero, Chicago, Oak Park, and Berwyn intersect) with lots of people associated with Mad Sam, but I also met two of Momo Giancana’s three daughters when I managed O’Hare convention hotels. Unfortunately, Collins momentarily lost me when we left that familiar road to focus on Michael Satariano, formerly Michael O‘Sullivan, at the Cal-Neva in Tahoe. If I had read the previous Road books (both Perdition and Purgatory) before reading The Road to Paradise, I wouldn’t have confused Connor Looney with Mooney Giancana. Nevertheless, Collins kept me reading until I could piece together who was who and who did what to whom and where and when and why.
The Looneys were Irish bootleggers in Moline in the 1920s. Michael O’Sullivan, Sr., Michael Satariano’s father, went to work for them as their “Angel of Death” enforcer after serving during WWI. He considered himself still a soldier. Soldiers killed enemies. It was easy for him to emerge from one war to fight in another.
When Connor Looney murdered his wife and youngest son, Michael Senior declared war on the Looneys and the Chicago mob. He took his surviving boy along to drive the getaway car while he robbed banks and sought revenge for the death of his wife and his other son.
After Michael Senior’s death in Perdition, Kansas, Michael is adopted by the Satarianos. He grows up in DeKalb, Illinois, and falls in love with Patsy Ann O’Hara. He enlists in the Army and is a sniper on Bataan when war is declared, He’s already a trained killer, and he kills more than fifty enemy Japs. He becomes the first medal of honor recipient of the second world war when he loses an eye saving the lives of his captain and General Wainwright. He’s sent home to make speeches and act like a hero during War Bond tours.
If you want the whole story, read The Road to Perdition and The Road to Purgatory before you read The Road to Paradise. I bought all three books but read them in reverse order, beginning with Paradise. They do work as stand-alones, if you pay attention to the back-fill and can keep it straight. I love all three novels so much I’m now attempting to get my hands on everything Max Allan Collins has written.
It’s easy for me to identify with Michael because I once lived in Chicago and Oak Park and Berwyn and Cicero. I received my masters in educational psychology from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, and still live nearby. I was a hotel and resort manager in Chicago and Atlanta and Florida during the seventies, and I personally encountered some of the real-life mob figures featured in these novels.
And, like Michael Senior, I believe in revenge, an eye for an eye. I do not believe in turning the other cheek.
Is the son of the Angel of Death a saint or a sinner? Can even a merciful God forgive him for killing so many?
I highly recommend The Road to Paradise to anyone who loves a good mystery, a great story, or who simply wants to learn more about history. It’s a wonderful tale of revenge, redemption, and family (no pun intended) values.
The Fae don’t play nice. October Daye should know that by now, being half-human and half Faerie. But where her mother’s concerned, Toby can’t think logically. In The Brightest Fell (DAW, September 7, 2017), Book 11 of the October Daye series, Hugo-Award-Winning Author Seanan McGuire sends October in search of a long-lost half-sister. When mother politely asks Toby to put her PI skills to work to find August, she refuses.
Amandine, one of the Full-Blood Fae and Daoine Sidhe, isn’t used to being refused and won’t take no for an answer. To force her younger daughter to obey, she imprisons Toby’s fiance, Tybalt, plus another of Toby’s friends and takes them both hostage. Many of the characters from previous novels in this series, both friends and former enemies (including Simon Torquill from Rosemary and Rue), aid October’s quest into deep faerie to retrieve sister August.
Readers of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files will love McGuire’s Daye tales as much as, if not more than, Dresden, because Harry is currently missing, burnt out, or presumed dead while Daye becomes more and more immortal—and memorable—with every new novel.
Both urban fantasies have first-person narratives riddled with self-deprecating humor as well as suspense. Both heroes are PIs (private paranormal investigators). Harry’s entry to Faerie is Chicago; Toby’s is San Francisco. Both have half-siblings as antagonists who become occasional allies. Both frequent a restaurant where preternatural folk gather: Harry’s is a local bar; Toby’s is Borderlands Cafe and Bookstore. But the two heroes are actually as different as Knight and Daye, because Dresden’s story is told from a male viewpoint while Daye’s is decidedly feminine.
Ever since Spenser reinvented the sword and sorcery genre with the publication of the Faerie Queene in 1590, English-language writers have been embellishing on his themes and characters. Although the fairy tales most Americans are familiar with originated as Irish, Scottish, Welsh, or Germanic folk tales as retold by Victorian writers like J. M. Barrie, Spenser’s heroes are not entirely forgotten. The heroic quest of Britomart—the heroine’s journey—accompanied by her faithful squire, becomes Toby’s journey-quest on faerie’s Babylon Road (much like Dorothy and her companions following the yellow brick road into the Land of Oz to find a wizard), accompanied by Simon and Quentin.
What is it that attracts us to Faerie Tales? Is it a memory, embedded deep within human DNA, inside our very blood, of a long-ago time when magic was real and women ruled the world? Magic is a Ma word, you realize, because the first true practitioners were women. Magic flows from the Mother to her children through her blood, her breast-milk, and her songs. Men have no magic of their own except what they inherit from their mothers.
Magic lives in the blood. True magic is blood magic, and true enchantment is lyrical.
Magic is never free. There’s always a painful fee to be paid when employing magic to acquire what you desire. In fact, the Fae are sometimes called The Fee. They are sometimes also known as The Fates or as The Furies, but that’s another story.
Fae Magic always smells like it’s composed of a mixture of the alchemical essence of a living plant combined with something else, like rosemary and rue, and it also has a shape one can touch, a thread to ravel or unravel.
Toby’s unique gift, inherited from her mother, is her ability to smell or taste magic. She can differentiate odors like artists differentiate shapes and colors. She can track scents like a bloodhound or a Cu Sidhe (a Faerie dog). She can also retrieve memories from the blood of others, even the dead.
The October Daye novels may seem confusing unless you understand the familial connections of characters. McGuire includes a helpful prologue in this novel to help you understand. Faerie is not unlike medieval Europe where all the royals are related by blood and bastards of kings and queens abound. Bloodlines become important for more reasons than one. There are Firstbloods and Purebloods and mixed bloods (part fae and part human) known as Changelings. October is a Changeling (daughter of Amandine and a human), while August is a Pureblood (daughter of Amandine and Simon Torquill). Descendancy shouldn’t matter in modern-day America, but it sure did in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland during the late Elizabethan period (and in George R.R. Martin’s Westeros of Game of Thrones fame). McGuire boldly explores the meaning of family—blood families, marital families and extended families of choice—in her Daye novels.
The Brightest Fell is very highly recommended, as is the entire October Daye series.
Blessed Mayhem by Sue Coletta (Crossroad Press, August 9, 2017) is the second book in this author’s Mayhem series, featuring cat-burglar/computer hacker Shawnee Daniels.
I’ve been watching Coletta develop her unique style of storytelling and complicated characters during the past several years, and I’ve become a devoted fan of her fiction. Like any experienced crime writer she begins with a murder. Then she places her protagonist in jeopardy and heaps on the complications. Shawnee is caught, again and again, between a rock and a hard place. Although she’s incredibly resourceful, you just know one of these days she’ll get into trouble she can’t talk or fight her way out of.
Or the people closest to her will be killed, and it will be her fault for placing them in jeopardy.
Nadine, Shawnee’s BFF and roommate, tries to be helpful but usually manages to make things worse. I’ve never known a real librarian to be so clueless. She’s like a cross between Lou Costello and Stan Laurel. If Coletta wants to highlight the differences between the two friends, she’s certainly succeeded. Shawnee has a wisecracking mouth on her that won’t quit. She swears like a sailor and kicks ass. Nadine, on the other hand, won’t even say “shit.” She’ll say “ship” instead. They’re as different as night and day.
Coletta also gives Shawnee Daniels a unique first-person voice while using third-person POV to define Levaughn and Mr. Mayhem. Nadine is such a nay-sayer, she doesn’t deserve a voice.
As in her previous novels, Coletta obviously does lots of research and passes along what she’s learned. Blessed Mayhem includes factual information about crows, crime scene procedures, and the meaning of BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion), plus a few choice tidbits about computer hacking.
And kudos to Coletta for heightening the suspense. Just when Shawnee is hip-deep in alligators, she tosses a poison snake—maybe not literally, but close enough for government work—into the pond.
I look forward to the next book in the Mayhem series.
The Other Girl by Erica Spindler (St. Martin’s Press, August 22, 2017) is a great mystery story, expertly crafted.
Miranda “Randi” Rader and Jake Billings, police detectives in rural Louisiana, investigate the murder and mutilation of a college professor. Before Miranda became a cop, she’d been a victim herself of kidnapping and attempted sexual assault. Evidence found at the murder scene leads her to believe the professor, who is also the college president’s son, was the man who abducted her and another girl fourteen years ago.
Spindler builds suspense by piling up more and more evidence that points fingers at the wrong people, including Randi. Is someone trying to frame her for murder? Who? Why?
No one seems to believe Randi (Miranda), except her partner Jake and her best-friend Summer. She’s removed from the case and suspended from the department. She has to hire an attorney because she’s about to be arrested for murder.
Things go from bad to worse. Miranda learns Summer has an inoperable brain tumor and is going to die. Randi’s brother informs her their estranged mother is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack.
And when she and Jake fall in love, it only complicates things even more.
There’s an old saying among suspense writers that when your protagonist is hip-deep in alligators, you should throw a back-biting poisonous snake into the mix to add excitement. Spindler does that in The Other Girl, only she throws in more than one. Miranda doesn’t know (nor does the reader) she’s about to be bit in the butt until the snake strikes.
Great mystery, superb suspense. The Other Girl is a page-turner you won’t be able to put down until the very end.