Thursday, November 01, 2018

Hallowe'en 2018 Recap

Looky here, another post on the old 'o Stuff.

October is obviously a great month for Horror and dark stories and this past October, I had a pretty good fill of darkness. The month started with Seanan McGuire’s enormously fun, Boneyard, a weird western/horror novel set in the world of the Dead Lands RPG. I reviewed that for SFFWorld so you can head over there for my full thoughts, but bottom line: engaging, harrowing, and entertaining.

But backtracking a little, September ended and October began with a vampire novel, but not an ordinary vampire novel. The late Octavia Butler’s contribution to the vampire mythos, Fledgling is more science fiction than horror, although there are of course some dark elements to the novel. Butler is never one to shy away from uncomfortable elements in her fiction and making her vampire appear to be a young girl leaves a great deal of room for many uncomfortable scenes. I love her Lilith’s Brood / Xenogenesis series and this one is pretty good, too. I really like her concept for the Vampire and how even the “vampires” themselves are unsure of their own history at times. This was an audio read.



Right about the time I was juggling those two books, I watched You Might be the Killer the movie based on the entertaining twitter conversation between Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig. The film was at Fantastic Fest in late September and premiered on the SyFy network on the first Saturday in October, which also happened to be the Saturday of New York Comic Con. The movie was a lot of fun and works as sort of a mash up of Scream and Cabin in the Woods. The film stars Fran Kranz (who also starred in Cabin in the Woods, which happened to air just before You Might be the Killer premiered on SyFy) as an out of breath, on the run camp counselor named Sam who calls his friend Chuck, a video store clerk portrayed by Alyson Hannigan. The movie doesn’t waste time with revealing the obvious – that Sam is the killer. From there, it is a fun 90 minutes or so. I’ll be making this a re-watch come every October. The film worked for me on a few different levels, I like horror, I like humor, and I like both Chuck Wendig and Sam Sykes. Beyond that, the film is a fun send up of the Slasher subgenre of horror movies.

I finally started and finished a Clive Barker novel - Damnation Game, his first novel, in fact. The novel was a bit slow, but a very nuanced novel I thought. More subtle, at least in some parts and through some plot movements, than I would have expected from the man who gave us Hellraiser. Simon Vance is a renowned narrator and he did bring a nice level of class to the performance. The story tells the tale of an ancient man who is in debt to an even older creature. This is very much in the vein of the classic Faust tale and mixes in some pretty gruesome imagery.

Another solid page turner for the moth was Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground. This is a horrific post-apocalyptic tale of women randomly giving birth to spider like creatures. Some great character stuff throughout against gorrific imagery. I would have liked a clearer explanation of the how and why of everything, if I’m being honest. Nonetheless, a good page turner.



The Witch is a movie that’s been on my radar since it hit theaters in 2015 and I finally watched it in the middle October. In the early 1600s of New England, a family of 6 (Mother, Father, baby, young twins, and eldest daughter) is banished from their church. They are left to make a home at the edge of a forest that holds dark secrets. Immediately, the baby of the family disappears and because eldest daughter Tomasin is last seen with the baby, she is blamed for the disappearance and even called a witch by the twins of the family. The film is extremely tense, has a wonderful atmosphere which lends such an immersive feel to the film, and leaves much of the terror to build on the raw emotions of the family. It was a fairly slow-moving film, but that pace was a deliberate effect that worked to reward patience. A modern classic, one might say about The Witch.



As the month changes to November, I’m in the middle of the audiobook of Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn narrated by R.C. Bray. I am thoroughly enjoying this novel which tells the story of a down on his luck true crime writer who is given a golden ticket to interview an infamous mass murderer. Think Charles Manson, except this killer never talks to the press. The catch – protagonist Lucas Graham has to live in the house where the murderer committed his heinous acts. As of this post, I'm about a third to halfway through the book. The novel is filled with negative emotions and anger, but that combination makes for an extremely compelling read especially from the great performance by R.C. Bray.

Cover design by Doogie Horner

The absolute standout Hallowe’en thing for me, and book/novel that is on my top 10 of the year and one of my instant classic favorite horror novels of all time was We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix. In a brief amount of time, Grady’s become a leading voice in the horror genre and although I’ve only read one other novel (the outstanding My Best Friend's Exorcism) by him, it is clear to me he’s a writer with great skill and honesty in his fiction. I also adore his Paperbacks from Hell book, an appreciation of Horror fiction of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s as well as his Great Stephen King Re-Read at Tor.com.

In We Sold Our Souls Grady managed to combine two of my favorite things in the world with this novel: heavy metal music and horror fiction. To that combo, he added a phenomenal protagonist in Kris Pulaski, the lone woman in the band Dürt Würk and our primary P.O.V. character. Kris is at the bottom of her rope despite having a once moderately successful gig as the guitarist for 1980s Metal band Dürt Würk. That all changed when her one-time best friend and lead singer of Dürt Würk Terry Hunt broke away from the band on “Contract Night.” This was a night few can remember, but changed the fate of the band forever. Grady does a masterful job immersing the reader in the heavy metal world and playing with some dark elements like Black Iron Mountain, the driving force behind Terry’s new band Koffin.

Grady takes readers on a cross-country journey that never falters, never takes a guitar solo of a break and is a relentless novel. Highly, highly recommended.

So there you have it, a recap of Hallowe'en fictional adventures for 2018.  

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Book Review - KINGS of the WYLD by Nicholas Eames

Your favorite band has broken up, maybe they changed lead singers. For me that was Iron Maiden when Bruce Dickinson stepped away is front man for Maiden 1993. When news broke in 1999 that he would be returning, I was excited, and a little nervous. What emerged was a great album (Brave New World) and a tour to support it that would be great. Enough about me and my favorite band, on to Nicholas Eames’s rocking and thrashing debut novel, Kings of the Wyld. That is essentially what Nicholas Eames seems to be attempting to capture with his debut novel Kings of the Wyld, the first installment of the series he’s calling The Band.

Cover Art by Richard Anderson


Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best -- the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk - or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay's door with a plea for help. 
His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It's time to get the band back together for one last tour across the Wyld.

Clay Cooper is living a harmonious life with his wife and daughter, his violent past as a member of Saga behind him. Of course, when his former bandmate Gabriel the Golden comes asking – begging – for help in finding his own lost daughter, Clay realizes he can’t say no.

What follows is a rip-roaring tour of the land as Clay and Gabriel get the band back together: wizard Moog afflicted with Rot; warrior-born Ganelorn who was turned to stone; and Matrick; the overweight and somewhat emasculated/henpecked king. Moog is the most willing and easiest former band member to get “back on stage and tour,” while Ganelorn and Matrick prove rather difficult for their own reasons. Once that business is over, you’d think it would be simple to find Gabriel’s daughter Rose.

Well, you’d be wrong.

On the way to freeing Ganelorn from his year’s-long stone prison, they piss off the man responsible. In re-recruiting Matrick, Saga pissed off his unreasonable wife to the point where the only way to get him out of his castle was to fake his death. Matty’s wife sends a bounty-hunter, Larkspur, to reclaim the “fallen” king, which makes the quest to save Gabe’s daughter even They also clash with Lastleaf, the last ‘druin’ who is looking to reclaim Castia for his near-extinct people. The druin are the elder race who are long-lived, pointy-eared and powerful. Think elves with attitude.

The leader of the Band is considered “the Frontman,” the big man wields an Axe and “bands” of mercenaries are hired for gigs either to vanquish a problem or perform/compete in arenas. The bard of the band has a tendency to die, much like the drummer of Spinal Tap and the way around that by novel's end is quite ingenious. A large region is called Coverdale. If “Golden Gabriel” doesn’t bring to mind a lead singer, then you haven’t seen Almost Famous. Moog’s deceased husband is named Fredrick, in homage to Freddy Mercury of Queen. Mattrick Skulldrummer’s weapons of choice are a pair of knives which he furiously wields in battle, not unlike a drummer furiously bashing drums with his drumstick. Hell, the tagline “The Boys are Back In Town” is the title of a rock classic from the 1970s by Thin Lizzy. I think I’ve only touched the surface of the many allusions and references throughout the novel.

Owlbear art by Scott McCauley

Briefly, then, we’ve got a break-neck adventure novel that reads like the most well-crafted RPG session turned into novel form with unassuming and assured skill. Kings of the Wyld is deeper than that, though. Clay is our point man for the novel and the range of emotions Eames shows through his mind is genuine and bordering on profound. Sure, this is a rollicking fantasy novel with awesome monsters, zombies…er rather an “unkillable” character, owlbears (!), fantasy races, and wizards, but Eames has Some Things to Say. Through Clay - whose “weapon of choice”, a shield, says a lot about his character - there’s an intriguing internal struggle about overcoming baser instincts. appreciating what is front of you, revisiting the past, and the bonds of friendship that can strengthen into bonds of family. One of Saga’s members, Moog the wizard is gay, and it just is. No big deal over it and all the bandmates accept it. What little they say about it, and many other characters, is more powerful than making an overtly big deal about it.

Heavy Metal/Hard Rock and Fantasy have long been intertwined, just look at some album covers from the 1970s and 1980s from bands like Iron Maiden, Manowar, or Ronnie James Dio (whose first band was called Elf) to more recent bands like Blind Guardian or Rhapsody. You’d think there’d be a novel like Kings of the Wyld years ago. You’d be wrong and sure a band of mercenaries and a world described in Rock/Heavy Metal metaphors is a neat hook, Eames has such great humor and storytelling chops that the novel rises above even that great idea.

This book slipped down Mount ToBeRead a bit last year, but I saw quite a few folks talking about it on twitter over the past few months which pushed me to pick it up and read it, I am extremely glad I did and can’t wait to get my hands on the second in the series The Bloody Rose later this summer.

Nicholas Eame’s Web site is well worth a visit especially the page featuring the fantastic artwork depicting characters and creatures of the world.


The book has struck a chord over the last year since it published, having already inspired its own TVTropes page.

Bottom line, you want to get a floor-seat to the Kings of the Wyld so you can experience Clay, Gabe, Ganelorn, Matty, and Moog (and new addition, Kit), perform in all their Rock Glory.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Announcing: The Tap Takeover

Because one blog isn't enough for me, I've started a new Beer Blog:


If you are so inclined, please go peruse. Please and thank you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Beer Review: Flying Dog Nice (2016) Holiday Milk Stout

NameNice (2016) Holiday Milk Stout

StyleMilk Stout

Brewing Company: Flying Dog

Location: Frederick, MD

ABV: 7.2%

IBU: 20


The beer’s page on Flying Dog’s Web site

This Holiday Milk Stout is a game changer. Leave this out with plate of cookies and Santa will hook your ass up.



And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.

Milk Stouts are one of my favorite types of stouts, the sweetness balances out some of the bitterness inherit in a traditional stout.  The sweetness comes from the lactose sugars, which lends the name Milk Stout, probably because it sounds better than “Lactose Stout.”

750th unique check-in to Untappd,
thus the 7 and 50 on the D10s
On to this beer…I’ve been hit or miss with much of Flying Dog’s output, but more hits lately than misses I have to say.  Like many good milk stouts, this one starts very sweet and smooth with a balanced feel as it settles really nicely into the belly.

Like most stouts, it gets better as it sits and settles closer to room temperature, but I wouldn’t want to drink this too warm.  Some stouts you want to just linger over and sip over the course of a half hour, but this one is smooth enough that having a couple would be nice.

Despite the relatively high ABV for a Milk Stout at 7.2%, I didn’t feel it too much.  I was able to have 2 of these plus another lower ABV beer and not really feel it. However, I imagine after 3 or 4 of these the ABV might catch up with you.

I also appreciated the lack of bitter aftertaste that accompanies some stouts.

All of that said, I’m not sure what makes this one a Holiday Milk Stout. There aren’t any spices like nutmeg or cinnamon most often associated with Holiday/Christmas beers, so I could see this becoming a year round Milk Stout along the lines of a Lancaster Milk Stout.

Overall, a very drinkable Milk Stout and one I can conceivably see myself enjoying multiple bottles over the course of a holiday celebration. Well, I did enjoy two (as well as one other beer) during a Dungeons and Dragons gaming session.




Monday, December 12, 2016

An Update and Maybe a New Direction

Sure has been a while since I posted here at the old O' stuff.  I'm still posting reviews over at SFFWorld as most folks probably know. I suspect more people know me through twitter now than through this blog. 

For quite a while now, I've debated if I want to keep this blog active, officially close it, or try something new.  One of those "new" things I've been pondering is reviewing beer. I've always enjoyed beer, but over the past couple of years I've been really enjoying craft beer. In fact, for my birthday last month, my wife took me on a mini tour of some NJ Micro/Nanobreweries including Twin Elephant Brewing, Conclave Brewing, Kane Brewing, Beach Haus Brewery, and Carton Brewing

So tomorrow (or later today depending on when you read this) I'll be reviewing beers here at the O' Stuff. Depending on how it feels and what people have to say, I may continue it here or start a whole new blog dedicated just to my beer reviews. 

Friday, May 06, 2016

So Long and a Big Thank You to SF Signal

Since it is public now, I can post my thoughts about John DeNardo and JP Franz closing the doors of the Hugo Award Winning SF Signal.



I’ve been engaged in the online genre community since I joined the SFFWorld forums in 2000, even more so when I began writing for SFFWorld in 2003. Around that time, SF Signal launched and grew into one of the three or four mainstays of the SFF intarwebs, attracting great contributors, fostering relationships with writers and fans, and helping to promote a true sense community within the genre and winning 3 Hugo Awards, 2 for best Fanzine (2012 & 2013) and one for best Fancast in 2014.


Writing for SF Signal helped me to engage in the community, I came to know more people and become friends with many of them, including peers from other genre websites, SF publishing professionals, as well as writers. To name a few I’ve hung out with in “real life,” John Anealio, Fred Kiesche, Shecky, and Ed Lazellari. I’ve made some really good online friendships as a result of SF Signal as well, not the least of which include Paul WeimerJeff PattersonSarah ChornKristin Centorcelli (aka My Bookish Ways)Patrick HesterDavid AnnadaleAndrea Johnson,  Michael R. UnderwoodMike MartinezShana DuBoisDjango WexlerAndrew LiptakJohn H. Stevens among others.

Thanks must to also go Patrick Hester for throwing out the (albeit mass) email invite to be on the SF Signal podcast and allowing me on the podcast not once (Episode 228: Upcoming 2014 Books We Need To Read And Why) but twice (Episode 273: The Best SFF Book, TV Show, Movie, Comic Book, Game or other thing you consumed in 2014). This led to appearances on other Podcasts (Functional Nerds run by John Anealio and Patrick and Rocket Talk with Justin Landon). 

John was a great editor, as was Kristin Centorcelli during her tenure as Associate Editor. allowing me to bounce ideas off of them for my contributions and providing smart suggestions when I was having a tough time with a book review or article I wanted to post to SF Signal. If, rather hopefully when, I meet them in “real life” I can buy them each an adult beverage of their choice, because they more than deserve it.

I completely understand John and JP’s reasons for closing SF Signal. To run a webzine that has new posts nearly every hour nearly every day can be (and is in the case of places like Tor.com) a full time job. Yet these two generous, passionate fans did this not only of their own free time, but their own money for server/hosting costs. Granted, they do run advertisements, but much of that income (HA! Income from websites) went back into making it possible for SF Signal to be the active, robust web site – COMMUNITY – into which it so wonderfully grew over the years.

Bottom line, everybody involved in SF Signal had enthusiasm for SFF, the community, and sharing this enthusiasm with each other. John and JP helped to make the genre and online community a great place, were big contributors to the friendly atmosphere of not only the online genre community, but the current genre community as a whole. As such, the genre community as a whole is a little lesser without SF Signal as an active part of it.

Where does this leave me? Well, like I said, I completely understand their reasons. I’ll still be contributing quite a bit over at SFFWorld and whenever Tor.com will have me, I’ll be there, too. My blog is going through some changes. As regular readers may have noticed, I didn’t post a Books in the Mail this past Sunday, I’ll no longer be posting those. Other than that, the future is still open and I may touch upon that in a later post.

But again, a big thank you to John, JP, Patrick and all the other great folks behind the scenes at SF Signal. It was a great run for them and I couldn’t be more proud and honored to be part of it for the past few years.



For a really great summation of the situation from an outsider of SF Signal, but a great fan (and Hugo winner in his own right), Aidan Moher did a nice little twitter “rant” which he Storified:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Books in the Mail (W/E 2016-04-23)

I legitimately want to read every one of these books, I hope time permits and other reading priorities allows for that at some point.

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray (Star Wars Books / Del Rey, Hardcover 05/03/2016) – Gray wrote the very well received Star Wars: Lost Stars and likely because of that, got the crack at writing the Leia novel set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.


From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Lost Stars comes a thrilling novel set in the years before the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

WITNESS THE BIRTH OF THE RESISTANCE

When the Rebellion defeated the Empire in the skies above Endor, Leia Organa believed it was the beginning to a lasting peace. But after decades of vicious infighting and partisan gridlock in the New Republic Senate, that hope seems like a distant memory.

Now a respected senator, Leia must grapple with the dangers that threaten to cripple the fledgling democracy—from both within and without. Underworld kingpins, treacherous politicians, and Imperial loyalists are sowing chaos in the galaxy. Desperate to take action, senators are calling for the election of a First Senator. It is their hope that this influential post will bring strong leadership to a divided galaxy.

As the daughter of Darth Vader, Leia faces with distrust the prospect of any one person holding such a powerful position—even when supporters suggest Leia herself for the job. But a new enemy may make this path Leia’s only option. For at the edges of the galaxy, a mysterious threat is growing. . . .



The Summer Dragon (The First Book of The Evertide) by Todd Lockwood (DAW Hardcover 05/03/2016) – Most fantasy readers know Todd Lockwood because of his amazing covers, but he’s also a writer. Todd is known for painting some incredible dragons, so of course he’s going to write about them, too. Really looking forward to this one. 



The debut novel from the acclaimed illustrator–a high fantasy adventure featuring dragons and deadly politics.


Maia and her family raise dragons for the political war machine. As she comes of age, she hopes for a dragon of her own to add to the stable of breeding parents. But the war goes badly, and the needs of the Dragonry dash her hopes. Her peaceful life is shattered when the Summer Dragon—one of the rare and mythical High Dragons—makes an appearance in her quiet valley. The Summer Dragon is an omen of change, but no one knows for certain what kind of change he augurs. Political factions vie to control the implied message, each to further their own agendas.

 
 And so Maia is swept into an adventure that pits her against the deathless Horrors—thralls of the enemy—and a faceless creature drawn from her fears. In her fight to preserve everything she knows and loves, she uncovers secrets that challenge her understanding of her world and of herself.


The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW Trade Paperback 05/03/2016) – This is set in the same world of Okorafor’s Who Fears Death and looks awesome.

A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….

The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.


Threading the Needle (Erenthal #2) by Joshua Palmatier (DAW, Hardcover 07/05/2016) – Second in Palmatier’s Erenthal series. I still have the first on Mount Toberead. I’ve enjoyed his writing in the past so with the second book arriving, I may finally dive into the first one Shattering the Ley. This one has another gorgeous cover from Stephan Martiniere.


The Nexus—the hub created by the Prime Wielders to harness the magical power of the ley lines for the city of Erenthrall, the Baronial Plains, and the world beyond—has Shattered, the resultant pulse cascading through the system and leaving Erenthrall decimated, partially encased in a massive distortion.

The world has fared no better: auroral storms plague the land, transforming people into creatures beyond nightmare; silver-white lights hover over all of the major cities, the harbinger of distortions that could quicken at any moment; and quakes brought on by the unstable ley network threaten to tear the earth apart. The survivors of this apocalypse have banded together in desperate groups, both in the remains of Erenthall and in small enclaves beyond the city, scrounging for food and resources in an ever more dangerous world.

Having survived the initial Shattering, Wielder Kara Tremain and ex-Dog Allan Garrett have led their small group of refugees to the Hollow, a safe haven in the hills on the edge of the plains. But the ley system is not healing itself. Their only option is to repair the distortion that engulfs Erenthrall and to fix the damaged ley lines themselves. To do that, they’ll have to enter a city controlled by vicious bands of humans and non-humans alike, intent on keeping what little they’ve managed to scavenge together.

But as soon as they enter the streets of Erenthrall, they find themselves caught up in the maelstrom of violence, deception, and betrayal that the city has descended into—including the emergence of a mysterious and powerful cult calling themselves the White Cloaks, whose leader is known as Father....

He is the same man who once led the terrorist group called the Kormanley and brought about the Shattering that destroyed the world!


The Waking Fire (Book One of Draconis Memoria) by Anthony Ryan (Ace Hardcover 07/05/2016) – This the launch of a new series from Ryan, whose Blood Song blew me away when Ace published it in 2013. The sequel, not quite as much. But I am looking forward to diving into this because Ryan has some good storytelling chops and the premise is interesting.


Throughout the vast lands controlled by the Ironship Trading Syndicate, nothing is more prized than the blood of drakes. Harvested from captive or hunted Reds, Greens, Blues and Blacks, it can be distilled into elixirs that bestow fearsome powers on the rare men and women known as the Blood-blessed.

But not many know the truth: that the lines of drakes are weakening. If they fail, war with the neighbouring Corvantine Empire will follow swiftly. The Syndicate’s last hope resides in whispers of the existence of another breed of drake, far more powerful than the rest, and the few who have been chosen by fate to seek it.

Claydon Torcreek is a petty thief and an unregistered Blood-blessed who finds himself pressed into service by the Protectorate and sent to wild, uncharted lands in search of a creature he believes is little more than legend. Lizanne Lethridge is a formidable spy and assassin facing gravest danger on an espionage mission deep into the heart of enemy territory. And Corrick Hilemore is the second lieutenant of an Ironship cruiser whose pursuit of ruthless brigands leads him to a far greater threat at the edge of the world.

As lives and empires clash and intertwine, as the unknown and the known collide, all three must fight to turn the tide of a coming war, or drown in its wake.