The thrill is back as Dean Koontz returns once again to the fast-paced protagonist-on-the-run roots that made his early novels so exciting and appealing. The Jane Hawk novels seamlessly cross genres, effortlessly moving from science fiction territory into that of James Bond’s espionage and modern techno-thrillers, from noir into pure psychological horror.
None of the characters in The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz (Random House, May 8, 2018) learned to play nice as children, and they certainly make reprehensible adults. Jane’s piano virtuoso father killed her mother and made life hell for the young girl, Booth Hendrickson’s mother made life hell for Booth and his half-brother, and the crooked staircase leads Jane and Booth straight down into a real-life hell from which only one may emerge alive.
Alternating short chapters between Jane Hawk’s POV and other viewpoint characters, including those hunting her, Koontz paints a horrifying picture of the worst abuses of government authority imaginable. Carter Jergen and Dubose are NSA employees who also work for the FBI, CIA, DHS, and IRS. They’re covert agents of the Techno Arcadians, a secret cabal of government and business elite who seek to control the world. They’re already in control of many world leaders, politicians and businessmen, implanted with nanotechnology that turns them into mindless slaves like modern-day Manchurian Candidates.
Dean pays tribute to Robert A. Heinlein, one of his mentors and idols, throughout this novel. Characters become strangers in a strange land, mannequins controlled by puppet-masters, Waldoes manipulated by monsters. Another of his idols, Charles Dickens, receives honorable mentions. And, of course, there’s always a faithful canine companion or two in a Dean Koontz novel.
We first met Jane Hawk in The Silent Corner (Bantam, June 2017) and continued her exciting adventures in The Whispering Room (Bantam, November 2017). In this third novel, The Crooked Staircase, former FBI Special Agent Jane is on the run from the Techno Arcadians while seeking revenge against those who killed her husband Nick. With son Travis safely hidden, Jane pursues Booth Hendrickson even as Hendrickson pursues her.
But bad guys Jergen and Dubose, two of the nastiest villains you never want to meet in a dark alley, are hot on Travis’ trail.
Will Jane survive descending the crooked staircase? Will Jergen and Dubose capture or kill Travis? You need to read the latest installment of the never-ending Jane Hawk saga to learn what happens next.
Time Shards By Dana Fredsti and David Fitzgerald (Titan Books, February 2018) is the fast-paced kind of rip-roaring sf adventure Doctor Who fans will love. It’s set in England and includes a time-traveling doctor of astrophysics called Merlin capable of regeneration when killed and whose companions this episode are a present-day American college-age girl named Amber, an American journalist from the 1890s who calls herself Nellie Bly, a British WWII-era SAS commando named Blake, a bumbling Oxford professor who’s both a coward and a fraud, and a displaced Celtic Druid named Cam who speaks only archaic Welsh or Gaelic, plus a smattering of imperial Latin.
Amber, attending a cosplay convention in England, is ill-prepared to survive the cataclysmic event that first shatters earth’s time-line and then jams broken pieces back together in random order. Now dinosaurs roam the English countryside, Cromwell’s roundheads burn witches at the stake, and giant scorpions prowl the woods.
Amber stumbles from one horror into another, only to be saved at the last possible moment by Blake or Nellie or Cam or Merlin.
Cam thinks Amber’s a faery queen when they first meet because of her cosplay costume. Although he’s technically two thousand years older than her, they appear to be the same age and he becomes enamored of her charms. Stearne, a 17th-century roundhead witch-finder, believes her a witch because of her costume. He spends half the book trying to torture her or pursuing Amber and her companions to tie them all to stakes and burn them as witches.
The story is a wonderful blend of adventure and history lesson that’s a joy to read. My only disappointment came during the final pages when it was evident I would need to buy at least one more book in the series to learn all the answers and find resolution. Can Doctor Merlin restore the time-line? Will technology be the savior of mankind or its destroyer? Inquiring minds want to know, and I will buy the next book because I love the characters and care about what happens next.
“Paul Dale Anders…son,” the women sang. They broke my name up into two stanzas of two syllables each, placing the emphasis on the second syllable.
“Paul Dale,” they sang. “Anders Son. Paul Dale. Anders son. Paul Dale. Anders son.”
It became a magical chant. So rhythmic. So hypnotic. So simple.
Louisa and Virginia were my two partners in crime on the Faking it in Fandom panel at Windycon, the Chicago-area science fiction and fantasy convention November 10-12 in Lombard, Illinois.
It turns out they were also heads of the programming committee who made panel assignments. When they came across my name, they didn’t know what to do with it.
It was much too long to fit on name placards.
So they shortened it to Paul Anderson.
And it became simply P. Anderson in places on the printed program.
Anyway, they sang my name. They claimed my name was musical, and they really made it sound like music.
Paul Dale. Anders Son. Paul Dale. Anders Son.
One of the reasons I used to use pen names was the unwieldy length of my full name. I also needed to include Dale to differentiate myself from authors like Poul Anderson and Paul Michael Anderson. That made my name too long to fit easily on book covers or spines and on convention badges and placards.
And one of the reasons I’m not better known in the sf community is because my name often gets truncated on programs, name badges and placards.
“You’re who?” people ask.
“Paul Dale Anderson.”
“Never heard of you.”
“Try singing it. Break it down into syllables so you’ll remember.”
Paul Dale. Anders Son.
My father was Paul Anders Anderson, and I really am Paul Anders’ son.
I lived the first twelve years of my life as Dale Anderson. My parents, relatives, and friends all called me Dale to differentiate me from my dad. Some of my friends still call me Dale.
Because editors found it difficult to include my full name on book and magazine covers, you can find some of my novels with only Paul Anderson on the spine. I used Dale Anders as a pen name for a while. It proved useful for contemporary romances and erotica. My first story in The Horror Show bore the Dale Anderson by-line.
But I prefer to use my full birth name for fantasy and horror.
Maybe Paul Dale Anderson doesn’t sound as scary as Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Try punctuating it. Paul Dale. Anders Son. Yeah.
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 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.
I signed books at WisCon’s SignOut in the second floor ballroom of the Concourse Hotel in Madison, WI on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017, from Noon until 1:30 PM. I do so every year, although few people at WisCon ask for my autograph (I do, always, have at least one; and one is all I need).
I attend WisCon as a learning experience. Not only do I learn about authors and books I would not hear about otherwise, rubbing shoulders with diverse writers and readers takes me out of my normally complacent comfort zone, therefore allowing me to grow both as a person and as a writer and reader of science fiction and fantasy.
Each year I come away from WisCon filled with fury. I — a privileged white straight male – am seen there as the hated enemy, the quintessential dirty old man, the has-been, the exploiter of the marginalized and vulnerable downtrodden. I am, at WisCon, The Invisible Man, not H. G. Wells’ fictional character but James Ellison’s. And that makes me angry.
WisCon is filled with angry people of all ages, races, gender identities, political persuasions, and disabilities. People like me have always been in the minority at a gender-bending feminist celebration. It doesn’t matter if I support feminist ideals or love the works of Russ, Tiptree, Nisi Shawl, and Nora Jemisin. I am, nevertheless, an outsider at WisCon.
Outsiders, in my biased opinion, make the best writers. We’re able to observe, not necessarily more objectively but more intensely, events and relationships.
One of the cherished events I always look forward to at WisCon is the gathering of mid-career sf and fantasy authors who meet to share survival secrets. We have all been published by major NY houses sometime in the past, but we’ve been affected by changes in the book industry and changes in our own lives that have adversely affected our careers. At one time, we may have been the darlings of the book trade, winners of awards and inspirations for wannabe writers who have since replaced us on bestseller lists. We may or may not still look like our photos on book jackets or that decades ago appeared in Locus. Living up to our reputations has made writing more difficult for many of us. We often become our own worst critics. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my self-doubt.
Maybe I’m not as much of an outsider as I think I am.
WisCon teaches me that we all fear being left out or left behind or simply ignored. We all want to matter, to be important, to make a difference.
That’s a good lesson for a privileged white straight male to remember.
What more can aliens throw at the humans of planet earth than they already have? First came the Cray with their power-destroying EMP; then came the mind-controlling infestations; finally, the earth itself is being Terra-formed to become a breeding ground for aliens. This is truly the end times.
The world as we knew it is no more; The United States no longer exists as a political entity, although Russia apparently still does (and China, too). NUSNA (the New United States of North America) has formed an alliance with the Cray and their masters. So Mason and Team OMBRA must reluctantly ally with other aliens who call themselves Khron. If you thought author Ochse threw in everything including the kitchen sink in the first two novels, this third novel includes Aliens from captured UFOs who’ve been held hostage at Area 51 for more than 70 years. The fast-paced storyline doesn’t stop, and people close to him continue to die on Lieutenant Mason’s watch just as they did when he was a simple grunt. But true heroes — even reluctant heroes like Mason — don’t let the dead and dying slow them down. They forge ahead because it’s all they know to do.
Although we learn the war between the human-like Khron and the more alien Umi has been going on almost forever, the battle for earth is almost over. The warring parties will have to continue the fight elsewhere.
What the world needs now — perhaps more than ever before — is a hero. But who is left to step up to the plate and pinch-hit for humanity? The author has already polished off most of hero squad. Fort Irwin and everyone still there was flattened by an asteroid. Are there no grunts left to be canon fodder?
This third volume in the Grunt-series raises as many questions as it answers. It’s action-packed like the first two books, and it’s a fast and fun read. I recommend Grunt Hero to all lovers of military sf.
And don’t be surprised if a sequel appears with Mason visiting other worlds to continue battling the Cray and their masters.