Friday, 20 May 2016

Review - American Nocturne by Hank Schwaeble

One of the greatest pleasures I have as a reader and reviewer is when I discover someone new. Someone whose work not only whittles its way into my head, but also lays eggs and starts to take over my brain. 

You don't often come across writers like that. But, after finishing American Nocturne, I can safely say this. Schwaeble is the real deal... and American Nocturne is one of the most impressive collections of dark fiction I've read in years. 

I have to admit that I was initially hesitant to read this collection. My hectic reading schedule aside, I had never come across Schwaeble's work before, and I wasn't sure if it was going to be for me. How very wrong I was. After five pages I was intrigued. After ten pages I was hooked. The opening story "American Nocturne" floored me with its dark and smokey tones, and left me yearning for more immediately. 

Yes... yearning. 

What followed was a hell of an adventure that took me to a myriad of dark and weird places that I never imagined could be tapped by a storyteller. But damn, Schwaeble taps them. From a high class call girl talked into a very unusual liaison ("Bone Daddy") through to an underworld figure utilising a very effective way of making his enemies disappear without a trace ("Mugwumps"), Schwaeble stunned and enthralled me with his unique exploration of dark ideas and tones in this collection. My mouth literally hit the floor when I got my head around some of the concepts and themes that Schwaeble was playing with in his stories. Within American Nocturne you will find reinterpretations of old legends ("Gomorrah"), a new take on a serial killer ("Midnight Bogey Blues"), academic rivalry over the nature versus nurture debate taken to extreme lengths ("Nurture"), and a blistering take down of the trope of pure hearted characters beating evil ("Phantom Hill"). 

However, what is even more impressive is what Schwaeble is actually able to achieve within the short story format. Each tale in this collection is written with an expert hand, and each unfolds wonderfully  well with all the thrills and spills you'd expect from someone who clearly delights at writing short form fiction. The depth that Schwaeble is also able to convey with each story is astounding. The characters are all layered, sympathetic, and fascinating in each and every tale, and the pacing and execution unencumbered no matter what the genre or time period. 

And fuck me... the twists! 

I could literally write an entire doctoral thesis on Schwaeble's ability to turn a story on its head with just one line. "Cold Service" epitomises this. Starting out with a young woman on the trail of a serial killer, Schwaeble flips the story towards the end and unleashes mind numbing insanity that still has me completely baffled (and also delighted). I re-read this particular story a few times... and it still fries my circuitry when I mull on just what Schwaeble did with it. 

Some readers may find the 'open' nature of Schwaeble's storytelling frustrating (most of the stories in this collection don't have definitive endings), but for me it wasn't an issue. In fact I think that's the point Schwaeble is trying to make. There are no anchor points to latch onto in the worlds of Schwaeble... no certainty in the darkness... just stories that terrify and stay with you for a long time afterwards. 

American Nocturne left me reeling like an overweight amateur boxer taking on Joe Frazier in his prime... and to this day I still find myself staring off into nothingness as my mind ponders the brilliance of Schwaeble's writing and dark storytelling. 

American Nocturne is one of the most impressive collections I have ever read. Exciting, thrilling, and completely enthralling... this collection will claw its way into your soul and refuse to budge.

Highly recommended. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

You can find out more (including purchase details) about American Nocturne here

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Review - Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J. McKiernan

I have read some amazing collections this year.

Works by Laird Barron, Hank Schwaeble, and Clive Barker... to name just a few. 

So when I say that McKiernan's collection Last Year, When We Were Young ranks alongside those previous books I don't say it lightly. Last Year, When We Were Young was one of my favourite reads of the year so far, and its stories are still haunting me weeks after I finished it. 

Collecting all of McKiernan's previous short work, Last Year, When We Were Young is one of the most impressive collections I have ever read. 


From the opening story (The Memory of Water) through to the last (Last Year, When We Were Young) McKiernan draws you into a series of tales that not only deal with the absurd and the horrific, but also the notions of deep loss and grief. And it works. It works so well in fact that it's still haunting me weeks later. 

So what did I love about this collection? Where do I even start? 

One of the things that floored me reading through this collection was McKiernan's width and breadth as a writer. He is never limited or bound by convention in this book, and he openly explores paths that I would never have considered possible with his story telling. Take, for example, his tale "All the Clowns in Clowntown". Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would read a story about the last surviving resistance members of a clown counter revolution. And never did I imagine that such a story would work. But fuck me, it does. McKiernan also embraces old school horror, weird survivalism, the grotesque, and tragedy throughout this book, and seamlessly shifts from locations such as urban cities right through to the hot and dusty desert. And his use of prose is, to put it bluntly, magical. 

McKiernan has a vivid and haunting way with words that is very reminiscent of writers such as King (in his early days) and McCarthy. He never overplays his hand, but as you read you are slowly drawn into his dark visions so deeply that they resonates with you for a long time afterwards. The title story (Last Year, When We Were Young) highlights this by starting out as a seemingly innocent tale about teenagers and moving quickly to a world dying due to a mysterious virus that ages their bodies rapidly. 

McKiernan's characterisation is also impressive. Every protagonist is believable, fascinating, and darkly layered. You cannot help but relate to them from the get go, and as each tale unfolds you find yourself moving through a wide range of emotions (joy, grief, anger, and hopelessness to name just a few). This is yet another reason why this book is masterful. No two stories are the same, but all are intrinsically linked to each other by an exploration of defining human emotions. Whether he is telling a gothic tale, or exploring a meteorite that is not all that it appears to be, McKiernan's words send you on a cathartic exploration of yourself and all those around you. 

The pacing is seamless, and every story strong and worthy of inclusion in this collection. Last Year, When We Were Young never stumbles, and kept me enthralled (and emotionally drained) from start to finish. I cannot find any faults with it. I literally adored this collection, and find it criminal that McKiernan's work is not as well known as it should be outside of Australia. 

If you want to read a riveting collection of stories that cover a wide range of topics and styles. Buy this book. 

If you want to be taken on a journey that will be cathartic to your soul. Buy this book. 

If you want to see a wordsmith delight, horrify, and grip you in ways you never thought possible. Buy this book. 

Actually... just buy this book. 

Original, entertaining, and stirring, Last Year, When We Were Young is one of the most powerful collection of stories I've ever read. McKiernan mines the dark veins of the human soul on every single page, leaving you both moved and disturbed at the same time. 

Highly recommended for all readers. 

5 out of 5 stars.

You can find out more information, and purchase Last Year, When We Were Young, at the following link

Interview - Andrew J. McKiernan

Andrew J. McKiernan, welcome to Smash Dragons!

First up, tell us a little about yourself and your collection Last Year, When We Were Young

I’m an author and illustrator, living on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia, with my wife, two teenage boys, and two cats. I’ve been a bank teller and a warehouse storeman, a purchasing and logistics officer, a production manager, a graphic designer, a web developer, a typesetter and an Art Director. I’ve played in bands, was a member of a secret occult organisation, and my wife and I were ordained priest and priestess of a Gnostic Church for almost ten years. I currently work part time at one of those weird/creepy self-storage facilities.

Last Year, When We Were Young is a collection of every story I'd ever written up to 2014, which is incidentally, every story I've ever had published! I've been lucky that way, but all those stories were scattered far and wide across magazines and anthologies, many of which are already out of print. It was a great opportunity for me to collect everything together and make them more available. I know lots of readers had maybe only read a story or two of mine before, which might lead them to believe I was a certain type of writer. I wanted the collection to be a kind of showcase, to try and show that I couldn't really be pigeon-holed as just a Horror author, and maybe not even just a genre author. I wanted to challenge the expectations of those readers. Surprise them with each new story. Hopefully, the collection succeeds at that.

Why did you start writing? Was it something you always envisaged yourself doing? 

Wrote my first short story (Calliope: A Steam Romance) back in late 2006 and it was published in 2007 in the Shadow Plays anthology. I've always loved books and reading. I thought for a while that illustration was what I was meant to do be doing, but it wasn't until my wife told me that I should be writing some of my ideas down and trying to get published that I actually sat down to write. It took me a while to realise how right she was… but then, she's always right.

Your collection, which we love here at Smash Dragons, covers a wide breadth of styles and topics. Do you have any particular niche or do you like to cover a wide ranging area with your writing?

Like my love of music, my love of the written word is far reaching. I'll listen to near anything, and I'll read near anything. Genre has no real meaning for me. Basically, I'll have an idea for a story and I'll write it. I'd never dismiss an idea because it wasn't Horror or SF or Fantasy. Same with voice and style; I let the story dictate that. Whatever is best to get the get the story across.

One of the most interesting pleasures I had whilst reading Last Year, When We Were Young was that each and every story was a unique experience. No two were the same, yet they all shared a common exploration of themes such as love, death, and loss. What is it about those themes in particular that fascinate you and help shape your writing? 

To be honest, I don't know. I don't think about it too much. I guess I'm just a morbid romantic. All the reviews that point out those unifying themes – love, death, loss – come as sort of a surprise to me. I rarely, if ever, consider any of those things when I'm writing. I just have an idea and try to do that idea justice. Any themes that emerge are normally subconscious to me. I guess that says a lot about my own state of mind, I guess.

Do you have a favourite story within the collection? Why?

All the Clowns in Clowntown is probably my favourite story, because it was so much fun to write. I had a great time researching that one. Immersed myself in circus and clown lore, taught myself to juggle, listened to circus marches, and almost drove my family mad with all that stuff. They even bought me a clown wig and nose which I occasionally wore while I was writing… yeah, I'm a bit eccentric like that.

The title story for your collection is a fascinating tale about survival amidst a strange and very disturbing apocalypse. I’m curious, how did this particular story come about? Where did you draw your inspiration from? 

Like pretty much every story I write, it starts with a title. That's where I thought Last Year, When We Were Young came from. Just a title that popped into my head that I ran with and a story emerged from it. It is always my wife who points out the real life inspirations for my stories, when here I am thinking they're just stories, fictions. In this case, my father-in-law had just been diagnosed with a brain tumour and the operation to remove it didn't go too spectacularly for him. At the same time, my own father had a heart attack and I'd just entered my 40s and my eldest son had turned 18. So, the title story is me trying to deal with the fact that we all age, and that it happens so goddamn quickly. We get older, and yet a lot of the time we still feel like we're kids and teenagers. The first 20 years of our life seem so long and so important and our mind dwells on those times. I'm 45 now, and yet a part of me still feels like I'm 18 and should be out there playing in a band and getting drunk and enjoying myself. Age creeps up on us so quickly. We're adults before we know it. Mid-life crisis, I guess, the realisation that I had aged and that I really would die one day, and this story was my subconscious way of examining that.

You wrote in the afterword to your collection that you are more of an explorer rather than a planner when it comes to writing. I’m curious, how does a day of writing unfold for you without any plotting or planning? 

Using All the Clowns in Clowntown as an example… My youngest son gave me a home-made birthday card that said "All the clowns in clown town wish you barrels of fun on your Birthday." Like most my stories, I liked the sound of that first bit and I wanted it as a title. I knew it would be about clowns, and probably circuses, so I just researched those things. Immersed myself in research. So much more than I'd ever need for a story. But then, I never know exactly what I'll need. Next, came the opening line. It just popped into my head and I wrote it and kept writing. Each day, I re-read and edit what I wrote the day before, and just take it from there. Eventually, day after day, the story emerges. Most times, I'm just as surprised as the reader as to where things lead. For me, that's probably the most exciting part. That I'm discovering the story and these character as I go. I never know what's going to happen next or how things are heading. If I plotted or planned, if I knew how things were going to end, I'd probably never write the story at all. It just wouldn't be fun for me. The joy is in giving the initial idea and the characters free reign to go where they need to go.

Your story Love Death deals with loss and death in an intriguing way, and has haunted me weeks after I read it. I’m curious, do any of your stories have a particular hold over your thoughts after you have finished writing them? 

No, I don't think so. They obsess my thoughts while I'm researching or writing, but getting to the end is a sort of catharsis. Writing a story gets it out of my system, and leaves my mind free to move on to the next obsessive idea.

The cover for Last Year, When We Were Young is wonderful. Who designed it? Did you have much say in the overall conception and execution of it?

The cover photograph is by the wonderful Australian author and amateur photographer, Anna Tambour. Really, more people should read her stuff, it is amazing, and she has a great eye for nature photography. I saw the photo when she posted it on Facebook and knew I just had to have it. It matched the themes of the title story so well, and it was such a warm and beautiful and intriguing image. I was so happy when she gave me permission to use it.

I was also very lucky in that Satalyte Publishing gave me full say in the conception and execution of the cover. Probably helped that I'd been an illustrator and graphic designer much longer than I've been a writer. I did all the cover layout and typography myself. Everything about that cover is mine and Anna's. Having been Art Director for Aurealis and also having illustrated so many covers for other authors, I still think this cover is the best thing I've ever produced as a designer. I'm so proud of it.

Last Year, When We Were Young also won (deservedly) an Australian Shadows Award for best collection in 2014. How did it feel to get recognition from your peers in the industry? 

Ah, that was an awesome moment. I'd received a number of nominations over the years for individual short stories (5 nominations, I think), but I'd always just missed out on a win. Winning that Australian Shadows Award was probably the personal pinnacle of my writing career so far.

Tell me one random fact about yourself.

The very day the band I played in broke up was also the day Triple J first played one of our singles on the radio. I almost turned around right there and then to 'get the band back together', but I didn't. For the rest of the week, two of the songs were on fairly high rotation, and it was both surreal and painful to hear it every time. But, I think we made the right move. None of us really had the chops to be professional musos. Strange to think, though, what might have been. Maybe somewhere in an alternate universe we're still gigging around and making a fortune? If so, well done other-me :)

Do you have any particular literary influences?  

My influences have changed a lot over the years. Initially, it was authors like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. These days, I'm more likely to be influenced by the works of more literary or mainstream authors such as Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner and Tim Winton. I like to bring their styles and sensibilities into genre fiction.

If you could sit down for one day and get tips from another author who would it be? Why? 

I've never been a big fan of writing tips. I'm an arrogant and stubborn bastard and I like to go my own way as best I can. I think the best writing advice comes purely through osmosis; reading as widely and in as many different genres as I can. Soak it all up, and hope some of it trickles back into my own writing. But, if I could sit down with another writer and just chat with them – more about life, and less about writing – it would be Cormac McCarthy.

Cormac McCarthy is a favourite of mine too I must admit. Do you have a favourite work of his? What is it about McCarthy that you find fascinating?

I guess my favourite McCarthy novel depends on my state of mind. There is such an evolution from his earliest novels ('The Orchard Keeper', 'Outer Dark') in which his prose is almost Biblical and Faulknerian, to his later novels ('No Country for Old Men', 'The Road') in which all of that verbosity has been stripped back to only the barest essentials. Personally, I think both 'Suttree' and 'Blood Meridian' are a sweet spot between these two extremes. On most days though, I'd say 'Blood Meridian' is possibly the greatest novel ever written in the English language.

What most fascinates me, regardless of the period in his writing, is his focus on cadence; the way that, if you find the right rhythm of his words, everything becomes this hypnotic fever dream of poetry. If you can't find that rhythm, some sentences can seem near impenetrable, even nonsensical. The one thing McCarthy has taught me is that sentences and paragraphs can to be more than just a collection of words that show a scene or an action or a thought. They should also have a 'beat' and, like with all good music, that beat can impart so much more meaning than words alone.

Best writing habit? Worst? 

Ha! I don't think I have any good writing habits. I'm habitually lazy when it comes to the discipline of writing. I only write when I feel like writing. I can't see the point in writing for the sake of it, or the thought that it doesn't matter how bad the first draft is because you can fix it later. It works for me, but many consider this a horrible writing habit… I obsess about every word and sentence. I can't move on to the next paragraph until I have everything as perfect as I think I can get it. I edit as I go. It means I do first, second and third draft all in the process of writing. It takes longer, but by the time I reach THE END, I know I can put a story aside because it is already as good as it can be.

What is the most valued book (apart from your own of course!) in your library? Why?

This is probably the toughest question of the entire interview! I have a library of over 3,500 books. When we bought our house, we had to make sure it had space for a separate library just for all the books. Every one of those books means something to me. They've all had an influence in some way. Really, it is impossible for me to choose.

People always say that you should never judge a book by its cover. How do you feel about that particular saying?

As an illustrator, I guess I'm fairly biased on this one. I suppose it matters less in this day and age of digital downloads and thumbnail sized cover images, but in the days of print when we didn't have as much social media to tell us what was up-and-coming, the only way we'd find out about new books was to browse the shelves. Unless it was an author we already knew and were looking out for, the cover meant everything... or at least I know it did for me. I discovered so many new authors merely because I liked the cover illustration or the way the fonts were laid out. I suppose I missed a few great authors because they had shitty covers too, which certainly speaks to me of the importance of a great cover.

What’s your take on the current condition of speculative fiction here in Australia? Do you think we can avoid the sorts of drama that seem to have enveloped the scene in America in recent years? 

Okay, I take that last comment about 'toughest question' back. THIS is the toughest question, because honest answers can get me in trouble. I do think the Australian scene has its own unique problems. I think the community is either a) largely blind to these problems, or b) in denial. There are factions and fractions and I've seen people (myself included) abused and brought low by trying to point them out. Problem is, we're such a small pond over here, and everybody knows everybody else. The Australian Spec-fic scene is not perfect by any means. We might be able to avoid the problems the US (and also the UK) are going through, if we're all prepared to open up a little more. I hope that can happen. But, due to social media, I think the scene has opened up a lot too. We don't have to be that small pond any more. Australian authors are making big inroads into the international scene. I think that will help to break down those barriers a little.

There seems to be a lot of instability with small presses at the moment. Just recently, for example, Satalyte (the publisher of your collection) announced they were going on an extended hiatus. From an authors perspective what do you think publishers need to do better in this day and age in order to survive and thrive?

I don't know if I have a good answer for that. I'm a writer and an illustrator, and I really don't know the problems and frustrations that publishers face behind the scenes. I know that now is almost certainly the toughest era in centuries for publisher of fiction. The Digital Age has brought such a shake-up to every aspect of publishing. The old models don't seem to be working the way they did, and I don't think anyone really knows what the new models will be. It's a time of experimentation, and unfortunately that means some experiments (and some publishers) will fail. But for every small press that falls by the wayside, there will be another (like Cohesion Press) who finds their perfect niche and runs with it.

Best convention experience?

Probably my first ever convention, Conflux 2006. It was my introduction to the 'writer' side of Speculative Fiction, a scene I'd only ever been part of as a reader. I met so many wonderful people there, people who have become friends and mentors and helped shape me into the writer I am 

What was the motivation behind establishing (alongside Alan Baxter and Felicity Dowker) the website Thirteen O’Clock? How is it all going for the site? 

Way back, I was one of founders of the website HorrorScope, with Shane Jiraiya Cummings and Angela Challis. It was really the first site of its kind in Australia, focussing on the Australian Horror and Spec-fic scene. After that shut down, there was quite a hole in the industry. It was very hard to get work by Australian genre authors – especially dark fiction and horror authors – to get their work reviewed. As authors, Alan, Felicity and I, really felt that with our own work. It was Alan Baxter's idea to start something up, and he broached the idea to Felicity and I. Basically, we just wanted to fill that hole. Give Australian genre authors somewhere that their work could be reviewed and showcased. I think that's been quite successful.

I've stepped back from that over the past year or so to focus on my own writing. Alan is, rather admirably, taking most of that on himself at the moment. I'm sure he could do with some help! I'd love to see Thirteen O'Clock continue. I hope it does.

What are you working on right now? 

I have been mainly focussing on my Australian crime novel, A Quiet Place. Writing a novel length work is much harder for me than I thought, but I'm getting there, and I'm still very happy with the way it is heading.

Can you tell us some more about it? What's it about?

'A Quiet Place' is an Australian crime novel. Big City crims meet the desperation of a dying rural town. It starts in the city with a shooting, and a drug deal gone wrong, and a young man who takes a bag of stolen cash and flees. He hopes to find anonymity and safety in a small town -- the 'Quiet Place' of the title -- but finds the town is just as harsh and unforgiving as the city. When the city criminals track him down, that's when things start getting really nasty for everyone involved. The one idea I've always kept in my mind (a tag-line for the novel, I guess) is "No Country for Old Men meets Wake In Fright". Fingers crossed, I can do that idea justice.

What was the last line in a book that you read that floored you?

“He wanted her the rest of his life, and failing that, he wanted permission to walk beside her while she lived it.” ― William Gay, Provinces of Night

Can we expect to see you on the convention circuit this year? 

Fingers crossed! I can't say for sure, but I haven't been to Conflux (my favourite Writer Con) in a couple of years now and I really miss it, and I'd love to get back there this year. It all depends on funds, and getting time off work, and also me overcoming my own introversion problems. My wife, reading just now over my shoulder, has told me I will be going (apparently) even if she has to drag me there. So, I guess I'll be at Conflux at the very least.

Best tip for people looking to get into writing? 

Read. Read as much as you can, and as widely as you can. Soak it all up. Don't confine yourself to a genre. Learn from those who have gone before. Also, write the sort of stories that you want to read. Don't try and write to any particular market or style because you think it will sell. By the time you finish, the market for that type of story might be dead or oversaturated. You can never anticipate what will be popular in the future. But, if you just write the best story you can, you might just find you have something unique. You might be the one to start that next trend, but you'll never know if you're always trying to imitate someone of something else.

And finally, for readers out there what are the best ways to support you and your work?

Buy two copies of every book you purchase. One for each eye. Read in stereo and double your favourite author's income! Use social media to tell your friends, or better yet, make your posts PUBLIC and tell the world. But most of all, leave a 4 or 5 star review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Even if it's as simple as "I really liked this", reviews and word of mouth mean everything in this day and age.

Andrew, thanks for stopping by! 

Monday, 9 May 2016

Review - Dark Rite by David Wood and Alan Baxter

I've been on a bit of a horror kick lately. Splatterpunk, cosmic horror, military horror, dark fantasy and creature horror... you name it, I've probably delved into it. So when Dark Rite popped up onto my eReader as a recommended purchase two things immediately sprang to mind. Firstly, how the fuck did I miss this? Baxter and Wood are among my favourite authors in the game right now... I should be all over their work! And secondly, a couple of bucks for an impressive sounding horror novella? Bargain! 

So after purchasing Dark Rite I decided to drop into it for a couple of chapters (just to get a feel for it). Three hours later and I was still hooked. 

Dark Rite tells the story of a town with a dark and mysterious past. When the protagonist comes to town to sort out the affairs of his recently deceased father he stumbles across more than he bargained for. The town harbours a terrifying secret, and within that secret a dark power is rising. 

Sound familiar? It should. It has has been done plenty of times before. But where Dark Rite succeeds  whilst others fail is in the way it is told. 

This novella has so many great things going for it. The prose is tight and free flowing, and every character fleshed out and interesting. I adored the mood of the story, and the creepy undertones that Wood and Baxter explore throughout the novella left me with chills at the best of times. The fight scenes were all realistic and accurate (this is a norm writers like Wood and Baxter), and the 'hammer horror' tropes included a perfect combination of fun, weird, and the mundane. The story chugs along at a rapid pace, and builds wonderfully to a climax that genuinely had me gripped by what was unfolding before my eyes. And holy shit... there was a moment at the end where I roared with laughter and grinned like an evil Cheshire cat... trust me you know what I'm talking about when you read the book. 

However, what impressed me the most with Dark Rite was its seamless nature. Collaborations, by their very nature, are usually hard to get right. Each author has their own particular style and voice which can make collaborative works jarring and hard to read at times. Not so with Dark Rite. I genuinely struggled to work out who was writing at times. It was the smoothest collaboration I've ever read, and I can understand why both authors have now written another novel together. 

Was Dark Rite perfect? No. There were a couple of typos and inconsistencies that could have been addressed before it was published, and I would have loved to have seen a much deeper exploration of the history of the town and its magical and supernatural heritage. All in all though Dark Rite is a wonderful little package that left me considerably chilled and richly entertained.

Small town horror and black magic told in a seamless and terrifying way, Dark Rite is a tale that will leave you both shaken and delighted.

4 out of 5 stars. 

For more information and purchase details, go here

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Review - SNAFU: Future Warfare by Mike Resnick, Weston Ochse, Alan Baxter and more.

Have you ever found yourself staring manically at your eReader waiting for a book to download? To the point where you wanted snap it in half, and hurl it across the room in frustration and whilst screaming abuse at the sky? Yes?

Well that was the predicament I found myself in last weekend as I waited for Amazon to get its shit together and send me my pre-ordered copy of SNAFU: Future Warfare. 

Why the rage? It's a fair question. And the answer is simple. 

I wanted to read SNAFU: Future Warfare so badly that a six minute wait after its time of release was deemed incredibly unacceptable to me! 

I was that pumped up for it that as the seconds ticked by I found myself starting to turn green and wanting to smash things whenever my eReader found nothing new to sync with.  

So when it finally arrived I breathed a sigh of relief, settled into my chair, and let myself be taken by the unicorns and rainbows..... if you actually think SNAFU: Future Warfare has unicorns and rainbows stop reading this review right now and leave my site. You don't belong here. 

So did SNAFU: Future Warfare live up to my incredibly high expectations of it? 


And then some. 

SNAFU: Future Warfare is the epitome of a good military horror anthology. It arrives with the subtlety of a freight train loaded with speakers blaring Iron Maiden, and then refuses to leave as it tears shit up with power armour, alien horrors, and future worlds that have been broken by invasion and bloodshed.

And goddamn, it is fucking glorious and relentless! 

From exo-mechs defending farming homesteads (SUITS) and a brilliant homage to Aliens and Predator (Under Calliope's Skin) through to rescue missions within downed supply ships (Outpost) and a special insertion mission to a floating space hulk (Invasive Manoeuvres), SNAFU: Future Warfare has it all. 

No joke. It really does. 

Love chaotic mayhem? Future Warfare has it. 

Dig horror that will make your blood go cold? Future Warfare is right up your alley. 

Get a rush from high grade military action? Future Warfare will jack you up even more. 

They are all cosy bedfellows in this scintillating anthology that kicks ass and takes names over and over again. 

SNAFU: Future Warfare latched onto my brain from the opening page and steadfastly refused to let go. And just when I hoped I would be able to finally relax after an insanely riveting story... BAM... I was kicked in the nuts and dropped over the precipice to deal with yet another nightmare inducing scenario. 

Alien horrors stalking a squad of power armoured soldiers. BAM... you got it. 

Genetically enhanced female soldiers fighting a drone army? BAM... you asked for it! 

A gigantic alien monster chasing your APC as you try and get a vital asset to an airfield to escape... BAM... YOU WILL NEVER ESCAPE MEATBAG!!! 

But it's not all guns and explosions (although you have to admit, that shit is pretty cool). There are pop references to ponder and munch on (Arnie, the killer robot!), subtle nods and salutes to geek culture and military science fiction, and laugh out loud moments (although perhaps I have a dark mind?) that add body to what is already a brilliant collection of tales. 

And every story stands on its own two feet! One of the common pitfalls of anthologies is that they are usually a mixed bag of tales. SNAFU: Future Warfare avoids this by changing things up nicely as the anthology unfolds. Every story is wonderfully constructed, and none of them take the easy way out by succumbing to generic tropes or cliched endings. That is a sign of great editing, story selection, and great writing.  

Cohesion Press has done yet another magnificent job with this instalment of their much loved SNAFU series. If you love military horror, science fiction, aliens, power armour, apocalyptic scenarios, and blistering action then you will adore this anthology. Fuck, if you love fairy bread and nothing else you will probably still adore this anthology. It is THAT good.  

I cannot recommend this anthology highly enough. It sucks you in, enthrals and entertains you, and spits you out leaving you wanting more and more. 

5 out of 5 stars... and I can't wait for the next instalment of SNAFU! 

*Starts to turn green*

For more information on the SNAFU series go here. And to buy SNAFU: Future Warfare click here. For that price, it's an absolute steal! 

Monday, 2 May 2016

Interview - Levi Black (James R. Tuck)

Whassup peeps? 

I am delighted to bring you another instalment in our ongoing interview series here at the lair. This week I had the pleasure to chat to Levi Black (pseudonym of James R. Tuck), whose upcoming book Red Right Hand has me extremely excited. Levi kindly took time out of his very hectic schedule to talk about this book and other things, such as tattooing. 


Levi Black, welcome to Smash Dragons!

First up, tell us a little about yourself and your upcoming book Red Right Hand?

Well, I've written a few books, tattooed a few folks, and bounced a few more out of bars. Now I'm pretty sedate and just chill at home with the dog and the Missus. The book Red Right Hand is my first with Tor and my first as Levi Black and I love it. It's the best thing I've written. 

It's a Lovecraftian horror novel masquerading as an urban fantasy. It's dark and scary and has a great main character in Charlie. She has a depth to her that makes her fascinating to read about.

What was your motivation behind writing Red Right Hand? What inspired it? 

I had an image in my head of the first scene of the book.  Often that's how I start a new story is with a scene that pops into my brain. I saw it all, Charlie, the skinhounds, and the Man In Black with his red right hand and his long sword of destruction.

From there I really wanted to get into the concept of humanity versus completely alien gods. How they may veiw us, especially someone who has suffered the type of trauma that Charlie did when she was younger, and how they may be completely wrong in how they see us.  I also wanted to explore the resilancy of the human spirit. Charlie is a survivor. I wrote a lot of warriors and hardasses, but Charlie isn't that. 

She is a broken girl who has struggled her way to healing and now has been thrust into a new world where she is the weakest thing there. But she may well be the toughest character I have ever written.

The cover for Red Right Hand is amazing! Did you have much input in that design process? 

I gave them the description of Charlie and told them I definitely wanted to see a version of the Man In Black's red right hand, since that is the title. Otherwise my list was of things they could not do. Charlie is a slim girl and dresses a certain way. No deep cleavage, no bare midriff, no dresses, no skirts, short hair, no suggestive poses. She is tough and the concept of any kind of seduction or “her sex is her power” crap would never fly.

Cover artists don't have time to read the book so you have to be clear in what you don't want more than what you do want.

Favourite character to write in Red Right Hand? Why?

I loved Charlie and the Man In Black was fun but I have a soft spot for Ashteroth, the fallen whore goddess. Shes just so sad. Shes not in the book much, but you will see her again. I also loved Cthulhu. He's the old standby but for me I made him the cool god and mixed him a little with Starro the Conqueror.

You have a background as a tattoo artist. I’m curious, what led you down the path to writing? 

I'm arrogant lol. You have to have a certain level of arrogance to decide you are going to make a living by permanantly altering someone's appearance.

So I read a book I was vastly disappointed in and said: “I can write better shit than that.” I then googled “how do you write a novel” and found Lilith Saintcrow's blog where she gave real world advice on writing a book.  I read it and applied it and wrote my first novel. That first book sold to Kensington in a 3 book deal without an agent, so my arrogance paid off. 

What particular style do you like to do as a tattoo artist?

I'm a bold line and bright color guy. From new school cartoons to old school traditional. I dabble in almost everything though. It keeps me sane.

How did it feel to get a blurb from Jonathan Maberry on the front cover? 

Jonathan is great. We get on really well whenever we wind up at conventions together. However, Jonathan is such an awesome individual that if you can't get along with him then you are a true asshole. 

He was nice enough to blurb this. I got a lot of great blurbs from great authors. It was nice.

Red Right Hand isn’t your first book. Can you tell us a little more about your previous work? 

It ranges from urban fantasy to crime fiction to sci fi and horror. You can tell I wrote the book, no matter what it is. I definitely have a voice.

I’m very curious about the Man in Black. Is he your typical antagonist? Or will he wander that grey zone between evil and good more? 

He is a chaos god so he's not truly evil, he just seems that way to us. He is immensely powerful and has his own agenda that may not factor in the survival of humanity as part of it.  He's also very mercurial and capricious for an elder god. I really enjoy writing him.

As he says : “I am never the lesser of two evils.”

Famous swords are a big part of fantasy fiction. Can you tell us a little more about the black-bladed sword wielded by the Man in Black? 

I'm actually writing book two of the series now (Bloodthirsty Gods) and have delved a bit into what the sword actually is. Just like the Man In Black's coat isn't a simple coat, the sword is not a simple sword. They are called Oathbreaker and they are an entity all their own. 

I love black-bladed katanas and cursed swords and all you can do with them.

Horrible creatures and monsters are an important part of Lovecraftian fiction. Can you give us a sneak peak at some of the eldritch horrors that we might see in Red Right Hand? 

Well, there are the skinhounds which are a creation of mine. They hunt Charlie and are hellhounds who have been flayed so they are raw muscle and tendon over skeleton. They are pretty creepy.

You also get Yog Shogura the Cancer God. He's super creepy. Just imagine a malevolent elder god who takes the form of tumorous cancer. 

Of course the Man In Black is Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos himself. He isn't like anything you've seen before.

I always like to ask a question about writers and their process. Are you a planner or a pantser (architect or gardener) when writing? Do you write every day? Or just when you feel like it? 

I do not write every day. I write mostly 3 days a week and spend the other days on life stuff and doing the work of being an author that doesnt include writing. The busy work will kill your productivity.

I am an outliner. A loose outliner but I need some plan to get from the beginning to the end of the book, and I do write from beginning to end. No jumping around, a straight line through.

There has been a recent resurgence in cosmic horror and Lovecraftian storytelling in recent years. What do you think it is about this particular subgenre that readers and writers find so alluring?

I think its a response to the over abundance of classic monsters we had in genre over the last several years. The vampire and werewolf in particular. Those got done a lot and people want something darker and wilder. The Mythos provides that.

I noticed that you have a short story coming up (written under your real name) in the Mech: Age of Steel anthology being put out by Ragnarok Publications. Can you tell us a little about it? 

Odin-Mech versus Frost Giants in icebound Oslo. There's some weird shit in this one. Dark norse magick, blood sacrifice, and other weirdness.

Tell me about your three favourite books. What are they? And why do you love them? 

The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

The language that McCarthy uses is absolutely gorgeous, so teeth-achingly beautiful it makes my heart sing.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

This book is real. It lays bare how men think in relationships. I recommend everyone read it.

New York City Tattoo by Michael McCabe.

I love the history of American tattooing and this book is an oral history of some of the founders of it from NYC. This book is full of characters. It's got great photos and artwork. If you don't find this one interesting then I am not sure we can be friends.

I bet those might be a bit surprising to some readers.

If you could meet one author (dead or alive) to talk about the craft with who would it be? Why? 

I would sit down with Mickey Spillane. He seemed like a good, take-no-shit kinda guy. I like his work and I bet his advice would be salty and true. I love straight shooters and have no time for bullshit or people who want to discuss the loftier, wispy, nature of writing. I want down in the muscle and the bone of it. We can get metaphysical if you want, I'm in for that, but I want substance with it.

Will there be an opportunity to buy a signed copy of Red Right Hand online once it’s released?

You should be able to go to Foxtale Books online. They will carry signed copies you can order online. Or you can track me down when I am in your area at a convention or an appearance!

And finally... best writing tip? 

Write the fucking book. No matter what you have to do, write that book. Nothing else matters.

Levi Black, thanks so much for stopping by! 

Thanks for having me. 

Red Right Hand is available to pre-order now at all good book outlets. Check it out people, it sounds like it's going to kick ass!