When one world brushes another, asking the right question can be magic….
This short story was acquired for Tor.com by Tor Books editor Paul Stevens.
When one world brushes another, asking the right question can be magic….
This short story was acquired for Tor.com by Tor Books editor Paul Stevens.
Take a look at the sequel to Alex Bledsoe's The Hum and the Shiver—Wisp of a Thing, out on June 18:
Touched by a very public tragedy, musician Rob Quillen comes to Cloud County, Tennessee, in search of a song that might ease his aching heart. All he knows of the mysterious and reclusive Tufa is what he has read on the they are an enigmatic clan of swarthy, black-haired mountain people whose historical roots are lost in myth and controversy. Some people say that when the first white settlers came to the Appalachians centuries ago, they found the Tufa already there. Others hint that Tufa blood brings special gifts.
Rob finds both music and mystery in the mountains. Close-lipped locals guard their secrets, even as Rob gets caught up in a subtle power struggle he can’t begin to comprehend. A vacationing wife goes missing, raising suspicions of foul play, and a strange feral girl runs wild in the woods, howling in the night like a lost spirit.
Change is coming to Cloud County, and only the night wind knows what part Rob will play when the last leaf falls from the Widow’s Tree…and a timeless curse must be broken at last.
Whenever I describe my Tufa novels, The Hum and the Shiver and the upcoming Wisp of a Thing, to potential readers, they immediately mention two literary antecedents. One is the Silver John stories and novels by Manly Wade Wellman, which I discussed here. The other is Emma Bull’s 1987 novel War for the Oaks.
Kelly McCullough, author of the WebMage and Fallen Blade series, says, “my first (and forever trunked) novel is pretty much a mashup of Anne Rice and Emma Bull. Interview with the Oaks, or something like it.” Seanan McGuire calls it the first urban fantasy, and it’s easy to see the birth of many tropes now associated with that genre. Eddi McCandry, a young woman struggling to make it as a musician in Minneapolis, is chosen by the denizens of Faerie to help the Seelie Court in its battle against its nemesis, the Unseelies. Once she is initiated into Faerie, she finds that her music now bears a magic that can cause tangible results. She is also romantically torn between two male denizens of Faerie, bad boy Willy Silver and the shapeshifter known only as “phouka.” But Eddi also finds that she has the power to end the war, if her music is good enough.
When Tor released my first Tufa novel, The Hum and the Shiver, back in 2011, many people asked me if I’d been inspired by Manly Wade Wellman’s tales of Silver John. Although I knew of them by reputation, I’d never actually read them until last year, when Planet Stories published Who Fears the Devil? The Complete Tales of Silver John.
The resemblance, as is so often the case in comparisons like this, strikes me as mostly cosmetic. Yes, Wellman’s stories are set in a vague Appalachia, and yes, they involve magic and inhuman creatures. But they’re far more Lovecraftian than Tufan, with their invocation of things from other realities bleeding into ours and poking out around the fringes to snag the unwary. And John, who never gets a last name, is an enigmatic protagonist with a murky, nonspecific history. His magic is prosaic: the silver of his guitar strings is antithetical to evil because it’s silver, not because it carries any power he’s put into it or acquired, and most often the songs he plays are traditional hymns or folk tunes that function as spells.
I’ve written two books about music that has magical elements (The Hum and the Shiver and the forthcoming Wisp of a Thing), as well as featured music in my two Memphis Vampires novels. You could say that my last Eddie LaCrosse book, Wake of the Bloody Angel, starts where a famous song from the Seventies ends. But my love affair with genre music started a long time ago: I was once enamored with Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” for the simple reason that it mentioned starships.
One problem with being a middle-aged genre fan is that, when it comes to movies, you’ve probably caught up with all the classics. Sure, there are always new films to check out, but vintage stuff? It gets harder and harder to find something you haven’t already seen. Still, every year for Halloween, I try to seek out something from the past that I’ve never seen.
This year it was 1972’s Grave of the Vampire.
I’d read a description of this movie somewhere years ago, and it stuck in my head because the central plot twist was far ahead of its time, and the hero was played by William Smith. I finally found it on a DVD of five public-domain vampire films for $1.99; the print looks like it was a 16mm copy, probably once used by a TV station, with faded colors and lots of jarring spots where frames are missing. But none of that hides its originality.
Check out this excerpt from the latest Eddie LaCrosse novel, Wake of the Bloody Angel, out on July 3:
Twenty years ago, a barmaid in a harbor town fell for a young sailor who turned pirate to make his fortune. But what truly became of Black Edward Tew remains a mystery—one that has just fallen into the lap of freelance sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse.
For years, Eddie has kept his office above Angelina’s tavern, so when Angelina herself asks him to find out what happened to the dashing pirate who stole her heart, he can hardly say no—even though the trail is two decades old. Some say Black Edward and his ship, The Bloody Angel, went to bottom of the sea, taking with it a king’s fortune in treasure. Others say he rules a wealthy, secret pirate kingdom. And a few believe he still sails under a ghostly flag with a crew of the damned.
To find the truth, and earn his twenty-five gold pieces a day, Eddie must take to sea in the company of a former pirate queen in search of the infamous Black Edward Tew…and his even more legendary treasure.
For an isolated Southern kid growing up in the Seventies, David Bowie was terrifying.
My first memory of him is seeing the fold-out cover for Diamond Dogs that belonged to a friend’s older brother. Although we didn’t have the term back then, it was a total WTF moment. My universe did not include half man/half dogs who wore eye liner and displayed their genitalia, and I simply had no context for it.*
*Oddly enough, it turns out that original genital-displaying album cover was actually rather rare at the time. I wonder now how it ended up in my friend’s brother’s possession.
Sherlock Holmes initially meant Basil Rathbone to me, and that’s not a bad thing. I saw the movies on TV long before I read the stories, and when I finally did read them, Rathbone fit the role perfectly. Plus, he was a good enough actor to play the part well, and he did it so many times that he’s still the template in the public consciousness.
But the flip side to Rathbone as Holmes is Nigel Bruce as Watson, and there the whole thing falls apart. Because, thanks to this actor and the conception behind his performance, both Holmes and Watson were seriously diminished until very, very recently.
The detective novel is a very malleable form, capable of co-existing with most other genres. That’s because the detective figure, whether called by that name or not, is someone we enjoy spending time with. He does what we wish we could do: poke into holes, look behind curtains, tear off the mask to reveal that the monster was really just mean old Mr. Crump from down the road.
“Detective” is a job description, though. It’s like “bus driver” or “zumba instructor.” What draws us in is not the job, but the man who embodies it. That’s where Joe Nasisse’s novel Eyes to See really excels, because Jeremiah Hunt is a man with both a job and a mission.
When I began writing the book that ultimately became The Hum and the Shiver - read an extended excerpt here - I had a pile of unrelated influences I wanted to incorporate. (Like many writers, where I start with an idea and where it finishes are often very, very far apart.) One was the history of the Melungeons, which eventually morphed into the Tufa of my book. Another was the importance of music: not just listening, but also playing and singing for reasons that have nothing to do with fame and fortune. And one was the strangest painting I’ve ever run across: The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, painted by Richard Dadd and finished in 1864.
We all know artists can be a little crazy, but Dadd was certifiable. In fact, he was certified after murdering his father because he believed the man was secretly the devil. Subsequently he was confined to the Bethlem Memorial Hospital in London, a.k.a the notorious “Bedlam.” It was there that he began this work. The painting is now held in London’s Tate Gallery, not (alas) where I have it: in the fictional town of Cricket, TN.
From Alex Bledsoe, author of the Eddie LaCrosse series and the Rudolfo Zginski books, comes a brand new series. A distinctive variation on the elves-among-us theme, The Hum and the Shiver (out September 27) takes place on an Earth somewhat different from our own, where humanity lives side by side with another race of beings who have mysterious abilities.
No one knows where the Tufa came from, or how they ended up in the mountains of East Tennessee. When the first Europeans came to the Smoky Mountains, the Tufa were already there. Dark-haired and enigmatic, they live quietly in the hills and valleys of Cloud County, their origins lost to history. But there are clues in their music, hidden in the songs they have passed down for generations. . . .
Private Bronwyn Hyatt, a true daughter of the Tufa, has returned from Iraq, wounded in body and spirit, but her troubles are far from over. Cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, while a restless “haint” has followed her home from the war. Worse yet, Bronwyn has lost touch with herself and with the music that was once a part of her. With death stalking her family, will she ever again join in the song of her people, and let it lift her onto the night winds?
Soylent Green was the first science fiction movie I saw with a law enforcement officer as the hero. I’d seen scientists, square-jawed military men, even everyday folk driven to heroism by events. But if cops were present, they were either sacrificed to demonstrate the power of the villainous forces, or like the military — narrow-mindedly opposed to the heroes’ sensible ideas. In other words, even when monsters and aliens were involved, cops were still The Man.
And no one is more The Man than Charlton (a.k.a. Moses, Ben-Hur, Michelangelo, El Cid) Heston. This was the period when Heston, ending his era as a leading man and moving into character parts, cannily played against his epic hero status (nowhere done better than in the original Planet of the Apes). Here he’s Thorn, a cop on the edge (of boredom), part of an overworked and underfunded New York City force that essentially goes through the motions out of habit more than a desire to serve and protect. When a rich industrialist is murdered, Thorn’s investigation consists mostly of raiding the dead man’s apartment for goodies he can’t afford on his policeman’s salary. No one questions this; it’s become that kind of world.
There’s a point near the middle of 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly where the film changes from one of the grimmest, most brutal films noir you’ll ever see into a science fiction film. It doesn’t involve aliens or spaceships, but it does involve eerily prescient “futuristic” technology. (Full disclosure: this film was a major inspiration for my own novel Burn Me Deadly, as the similar titles acknowledge.)
Mickey Spillane’s original novel involved merely a missing cache of heroin. His thuggish protagonist Mike Hammer battered his way through good guys and bad in a quest for revenge against the people who killed a woman under his protection and left him for dead as well, all in pursuit of the drugs. From this rather pedestrian source, director Robert Aldrich and his screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides fashioned a film that deconstructs Spillane’s hero, showing him as the Neanderthal brute that he is by contrasting him with both the world around him and a hint of the world to come. (WARNING: spoilers to follow!)
Mention the combination of detective and science fiction film and one title instantly comes to mind: Blade Runner. But while Ridley Scott’s 1982 film may work as science fiction, it’s actually a terrible detective film, and Rick Deckard is one of the worst investigators ever.
Now that the final casting for The Dark Knight Rises has been announced, I’m reminded again of a personal conundrum that bugs me every time I think about Batman. To wit: why do I still prefer the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton films to the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale ones?
Conventional wisdom (including my own) says that both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are much better overall films than either Batman or Batman Returns. The Dark Knight, especially, is actually about something beneath its action and melodrama, a depth you seldom find in superhero films. So why is it that when the ol’ “Bat-urge” hits me, I pop in one of the Tim Burton films?
Everyone adores Doctor Who, even here in the colonies. We love its optimism, its adventurous spirit, the weird technology and the aliens that are often more human than the humans. We love the unabashedly positive hero and his succession of spunky companions. But we overlooked what could have been our own Who, a show that gave these same concepts a decidedly American spin: The Middleman.
Please enjoy this excerpt from Alex Bledsoe's Dark Jenny, the third book of the Eddie LaCrosse series, out on March 29th from Tor Books. If you are curious about the first two books in the series, you can find excerpts for them here and here.
Gary Bunson, Neceda’s slightly-honest-but-mostly-not magistrate, came into Angelina’s Tavern accompanied by a blast of winter air. Immediately an irate chorus erupted, some with language that implied Gary had carnal relations with livestock. Gary was used to that sort of response so he paid it no mind, and it stopped when he closed the door behind him. He shook snow from his long coat and looked around until he spotted me sitting with Liz at the bar.
“LaCrosse,” he said. “There’s somebody outside looking for you.”
“Me? Must be a mistake.”
Like a lot of people, I came to science fiction via Star Trek. But I also owe Trek for showing me how to write. Or rather, more specifically, I owe David Gerrold and his book The World of Star Trek for teaching me how to think about stories.
Gerrold’s book—I owned the original 1973 paperback until it fell apart, then upgraded to the 1984 revised edition shown above—was one of the few books available during the dead years between the end of the original series and the first movie in 1979. Along with Stephen Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry’s The Making of Star Trek, this was the definitive source—for a kid living in the swamps of Tennessee in the seventies—for all things about the making of the original Star Trek. The Making of... described in detail how the series was developed, while the World of... contained in-depth interviews with most of the cast and crew.
But it was Part Four of The World of Star Trek, subtitled “The Unfulfilled Potential,” that taught me how a story should work.