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Lou Anders

Five Books with Gods as Characters

What do you eat? Who do you pray to? How do you dispose of your dead? Looking back on the three books I’ve written so far in the Thrones & Bones series (Frostborn, Nightborn, and the just-finished third manuscript), I shouldn’t be surprised to see that I address these questions in each of the narratives. They appear to be staples of the way I world-build. But that second one—who do you pray to?—is really interesting. I put in a lot of work hammering out the pantheon of deities for each of my imaginary countries, but very little of it shows up in the finished product. A god of luck makes a minor intervention in Frostborn. A god is said to be responsible for a supernatural incident that is related to but not witnessed by the leads in Nightborn. In book three—well, no spoilers, but book three has a strong Grecian influence, and so divine beings may be a little more active than in the previous books.

When I look back at the books that I’ve loved over the years, I see that a lot of them deal with gods and goddesses as very large participants in their world, practically characters in their own right. Here are five books that have made a particularly strong impact on me and the way I think of the divine in fantasy fiction.

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Series: Five Books About…

We Always Knew Planets Didn’t Explode on Their Own

I heard somewhere recently that there have been fifty-two retellings of the Man of Steel’s origins. I can’t vouch for this exact number, but I can believe it. Superman: Earth One, written by J. Michael Straczynski and penciled by Shane Davis, is the latest, and—with the possible exception of the way John Byrne tossed out Krypton’s entire mythology in favor of the sterile ice planet of the Richard Donner film—the most radical. It’s also the first offering in DC’s new “Earth One” line.

Similar to Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line, DC: Earth One is a series of original graphic novels (OGNs) that take place in stories divorced from the regular DC continuity. Their publicity material cited 2008’s Brian Azzarello hardcover reinterpretation of Batman’s arch nemesis, Joker, as an inspiration for the new line, and Joker could easily have fit into this world in style and tone.DC: Earth One is intended in part, as Joker was, as an introduction to new readers, attracted by the success of recent comic related films, looking for modern, sophisticated retellings of the classic myths. (And indeed, both Richard Donner and David Goyer supply blurbs on the back cover.) But does the world even need another origin story for the ur-superhero?

[Up, up and away…]

Painting the Multiverse: An Interview with John Picacio

Texas-based illustrator John Picacio has been nominated for the past five consecutive years for the Hugo Award  in the Best Professional Artist category, and has won the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award, three Chesley Awards, and two International Horror Guild Awards. He is an icon in his own right, one of the most sought-after artists in our field. As such, he has created covers for some of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy, names like Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Hal Clement,  L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Dan Simmons, James Tiptree, Jr., and many more. But one sees when looking back on his career that he’s had a long association in particular with Michael Moorcock, having illustrated seven books for the Grand Master thus far. I caught up with John to talk about his various and varied work across the Multiverse.

Anders: I discovered Moorcock before I could drive. I’d come to him from out of a glut of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and his brand of sword-heavy fantasy was a natural transition from the lands of Barsoom, Amtor, and Pellucidar. But Moorcock’s work had a sharper edge, a more cynical and dangerous tone to it, and there were works like Behold the Man which were utterly outside the realm of anything I’d ever been exposed to as a kid growing up in the Deep South and attending a school affiliated with his church. He blew the doors of my perception wide open. Tell me about your first encounter with his writing.

Picacio: Behold the Man was my first Moorcock read. That was my first pro illustration gig actually—illustrating and designing the thirtieth anniversary edition of that book. Looking back, I’m appalled by my work on it, but that’s where my pro illustration career started. When I got the assignment, I naturally read the book in preparation for the work, it blew me away too. It changed my life – not only was it the first gig of my career, but because of it, I met Mike and his wife Linda. I remember how happy and consumed I was doing that job. I felt free, and I felt like it was what I most wanted to do in the whole world. The sheer pleasure of doing that job made me shift my career direction away from architecture and toward being a fulltime pro illustrator and artist. Growing up, I knew the name “Michael Moorcock” more as a mythological concept than as an author. He’s still mythological to me in a lot of ways, but he’s also a good friend, and he and Linda are amongst my very favorite people. I’d take a bullet for those folks.

[Continue traveling on the roads between the worlds…]

Series: Celebrating Michael Moorcock

Devouring Moorcock

I devoured Michael Moorcock as a kid. The Elric books were hands-down my favorite fantasy series, and I launched from them into tales of Erekosë, Corum, Jerry Cornelius, Karl Glogauer, but for some reason I never made it around to Hawkmoon. I’m sure I started them when I was about 15 or so, but my reading really dropped off when I got a driver’s license, and I didn’t come back to Moorcock for a long time (with the Dancers at the End of Time Omnibus, still one of my favorites). So although I have two other editions of the first Hawkmoon book—the yellow-edged 1977 DAW paperback with the cover by Richard Clifton-Dey and the 1995 White Wolf Omnibus with cover by John Zeleznik—the übercool Vance Kovacs artwork has induced me to pick up yet a third edition, and, having picked it up, I couldn’t resist dipping in, let alone justifying having three editions of a book I haven’t read.

Now, while I’ve read a lot of Moorcock in recent years (and been privileged to publish him four times now, twice at novel length), I’ve not dipped back into the early sword and sorcery work until now. And if I were worried how that particular era might hold up, my fears were quickly set aside. I’m enthralled.

It’s mind-boggling to me to experience the way that Moorcock creates such a complex and interesting future history with so few and simple pieces. It’s like watching an expert painter at work—where the application of just a few simple lines and a few deft strokes, a touch or two of color suddenly bring a painting of depth and subtlety to life before your eyes. And the way that Moorcock introduces the elements and characters of this world is masterful. Contemporary authors of fantasy could learn a lot from studying his set up.

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Series: Celebrating Michael Moorcock

Sci Fi Songs: Android Kisses and Summer Glau

I first became aware of John Anealio when he released the parody song, “Summer Glau.”  SF Signal editor John DeNardo had written the lyrics, set to the tune of Seals and Crofts’ 70s hit, “Summer Breeze.” John found the lyrics and set them to his own music. The results debuted on his blog, Sci Fi Songs, where he puts up music inspired by science fiction books and music, as well as by happenings in the science fiction community.

It wasn’t long after that that John released “The Return of Titus Quinn,” music inspired by Kay Kenyon’s novel Bright of the Sky (on which I served as editor). I’ve been a fan of John’s ever since, and earlier this month, we actually ran the sheet music and lyrics to his “The Ballad of Wilson Cole” in the appendix of Mike Resnick’s Starship: Flagship. Resnick’s five book Starship series has just published its completing volume, and the ballad is an overview of the events of all five books, written as if by someone in the future of the series, immortalizing its protagonist in song.

Now, John has come out with his first CD, the appropriately titled Sci Fi Songs. Here’s the playlist (explanations snagged from SF Signal):

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The Golden Age of Fantasy Illustration

In his foreword to The Future of Fantasy Art, from general editors Aly Fell and Duddlebug, the great William Stout says that it “takes hindsight to recognize a Golden Age, usually long after that specific era has become history. We may be in the beginning of a Golden Age of fantasy art…” If the point of the compendium is to make this case, editors Aly Fell and Duddlebug have gone a long way towards doing so. The book is a treasure trove of fantastic images, the kind of work you want to spend hours pouring over, which can serve as either a great collection for the art enthusiast or, in my particular case, another good resource for an art director.

[More below the fold…]

Sasha: Her Sword is Her Power

Joel Shepherd is one of the most interesting authors it’s ever been my privilege to publish at Pyr. His Cassandra Kresnov trilogy of Crossover, Breakaway, and Killswitch blew my socks off when I first read it in the way he was able to portray a fully-wired world, everyone chipped and running multiple levels of conversation and information-swapping constantly, that I’d only ever seen done before in works like Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. But on top of creating a brilliantly-realized, believable world, Joel also excelled in peopling that world with believable characters, most of them strong, confident women, and telling their tales in a politically-nuanced way that made a lot of his contemporaries efforts seem naive by comparison. Now, it’s my privilege to be bringing his fantasy quartet, A Trial of Blood & Steel, to US readers, beginning with the first book, Sasha (and continuing in book two, Petrodor, out in March 2010). So, as is my wont, I decided to interview Joel about his new series here.

[Read more about Sasha below the fold!]

The First Lady of Fantasy

Lately, I’ve been really interested in Sword and Sorcery fantasy, both in its contemporary and original expression. As regards the latter, I’ve just read—and been blown away by—C.L. Moore’s Black God’s Kiss, a collection from Planet Stories that gathers together all six of her Jirel of Joiry tales, which originally appeared (mostly) in the pages of Weird Tales magazine between 1934 and 1939. Now, I confess, I never finished The Lord of the Rings, and never read Brooks, Goodkind or Jordan. But growing up I devoured everything I could get by Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock. As well as the “sword and planet” stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. So it’s a glaring hole in my sword and sorcery education that I’ve never read C.L. Moore and the utterly seminal Black God’s Kiss before now.

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Calling Down the Storm

It’s a great privilege for me to be the US editor of Tom Lloyd’s impressive The Twilight Reign quintet, a massively epic fantasy series about a young man who is a “White-Eye,” humans blessed (or cursed) by the gods to be bigger, more charismatic, and just plain angrier than normal humans. White-Eyes are destined for leadership roles, with gods-ordained restrictions on their reproduction to prevent them assuming too much power as a class or sub-race inside humanity—they can only reproduce with their own kind, and females are rare. And due to their great size, they invariably kill their mother at their births, leading to some understandably conflicted feelings about and with family.

When The Stormcaller opens, we meet a young wagon brat named Isak, who travels with a band of gypsy-like travelers on the edges of the kingdom of the Farlan. It comes as quite a surprise when a messenger of the gods appears and announces that Isak is to report immediately to the Farlan’s White-Eye ruler, Lord Bahl, to be trained as his heir. It’s an even bigger surprise to Lord Bahl himself, given the long lifespans enjoyed by White-Eyes, who wonders why he needs an heir all of a sudden after several centuries of successful rule without one. From this rocky start, Isak is quickly thrust into a complex world teetering on the brink of war. I am endlessly fascinated by the scope and scale of Lloyd’s imagination, so I thought I would ask him a few questions about his work here.

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Cog Ex Machina

China Miéville has been talking here and there lately about a new subgenre category he calls “noird,” which he defines as a combination of crime-noir and weird fiction. With the usual caveats that I’m sure he’d make himself about the absurdity and impossibility of labeling anything, and recognizing that he’s offering noird up with as much tongue in cheek as he originally offered up “new weird,” I’m rather struck by this one. I’ve had my own explorations of the intersection of speculative fiction and mystery (see my somewhat recent anthology Sideways in Crime, for one example), and noir has always been a special interest anyway. I’ve yet to read The City & the City, though it’s screaming at me to do so from its place at the top of the pile of books in my office. In the meantime, Tim Akers’ uber-hyphenated urban fantasy, steampunk, noir mystery Heart of Veridon is about as close to this new “noird” as I imagine one can get.

[“How so?” you ask. Why, read on…]

Series: Steampunk Month

Move Over Hawkwind: Here Comes Age of Misrule!

Mark Chadbourn has a band. Or rather, a band has chosen to christen themselves “Age of Misrule” after his (just released in the US) contemporary dark fantasy trilogy of World’s End, Darkest Hour, and Always Forever.

Apparently, the band members were all fans of the books, which are about a contemporary Britain threatened by the return of the gods and demons of Celtic myth and the resulting return of magic that comes in their wake. The band had quite a large following, but didn’t have what they perceived to be a good enough name. So they got their fans to vote for a new name on their Facebook page. “Age of Misrule Band” was one of three options, and it got overwhelming support.

Mark has this to say, ” It’s very flattering, obviously, but I’m also a huge music fan, obviously, and music features heavily in the books—from Sinatra to modern times, so I get introduced to lots of new sounds. The books seem to have touched a chord (ha ha) with lots of musicians, as several have been in touch. A folk guy, Alex Roberts, has written a song called ‘Court of the Yearning Heart’—the home of the Tuatha de Danann in Darkest Hour, and there have been tracks written by death metal bands and rock bands in New Zealand and Australia too.”

Caz Sperko, lead singer of the Oxford-based band, describes Age of Misrule thusly: “Our style is classic rock with a modern twist, taking our sound from Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbeth, Led Zep, Foo’s, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Placebo.” You can listen to three tracks by Age of Misrule on their MySpace page. Meanwhile, maybe we’ll see Mark take the stage with them one day. Would be cool to see speculative fiction and rock’n’roll together again. Until them, we’ll always have those YouTube clips of Michael Moorcock & Hawkwind.


Lou Anders is the three-time Hugo-nominated editor of Pyr books, as well as the editor of seven critically-acclaimed anthologies, the latest being Fast Forward 2 and Sideways in Crime. He recently won a Chesley Award for Best Art Director, and is pretty chuffed about that too. Visit him online at his blog, Bowing to the Future.

Has Anybody Seen the Bridge? George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge

Steampunk used to be just a handful of books—William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, Paul Di Filippo’s Steampunk Trilogy, maybe Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates if you allow for some magic in amidst your cogs—and not much else. Things went along like this for some time. Then a funny thing happened. People began reconstructing their computers inside brass and wooden boxes. And dressing up in top hats and brass goggles. Once a literary movement, it returned as a fashion statement and a DIY trend. Steampunk’s explosion into the fashion and Maker communities has been well-documented, as has its effect on publishing. The brass and glass affectations having blown backwards, rekindling the subgenre it sprang from here at its literary source, and now cogs, gears, and brass fixtures are everywhere on our shelves these days. Fueled by comics like Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius, movies like Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime Steamboy, high-end collectibles like Dr Grordbort’s Infallible Aether Oscillators (wish I could “review” one of those), and art installations like Paul St. George’s Telectroscope, steampunk is permeating media. Certainly, there was a heavy steampunk contingency among the costumes at both the recent San Diego Comic Con and Dragon*Con. And fired like a spring-loaded flechette into the heart of all this exuberance is George Mann’s new novel, The Affinity Bridge.

And I love this novel.

[find out why]

Series: Steampunk Month

The Death of a Legend (Again)

DC Comics has released two beautiful hardcover editions as a pair, the recent Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? from Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, billed as the last Batman story, and Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s classic work from 1986, intended to be the end of the Silver Age Superman before the Superman and Action Comics titles were relaunched and renumbered from issue one. The two hardcovers are a beautiful compliment to each other, make a gorgeous pair, each contain more than just the title stories, and doubtless jointly form an essential part of any complete graphic novel library. I’m certainly glad I have them. But it’s a bit of a disservice to the one to pair it with the other.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (which I’ll talk about in a later review) is a complex, stand-alone narrative, that tells a story with a beginning, middle and end. One that would, in fact, make a hell of a movie, and would have been a much better film than the last one the Man of Steel got at the hands of Bryan Singer. But if I’m going to stick to cinematic metaphors, than Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is more of a clip show, something that would make a great season finale at the end of a Dark Knight television series, but which isn’t necessarily a “story” in the same way, and thus suffers by the pairing. In his introduction, Neil Gaiman says that in his head the story was called “Batman: The End,” but that DC’s people kept referring to it as Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? and the name stuck. And I am undecided if it should have.

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One Damn Bean: A Conversation with Mike Carey and Sebastian Fiumara

As a follow up to my review of Ender’s Shadow: Battle School, I got to talk to the writer an
d illustrator team behind the graphic novel. First up is author Mike Carey, the writer of such comics as Lucifer, X-Men: Legacy, and The Unwritten, as well as the Felix Castor novels.

Anders: How did it come about that you would be the one to adapt Ender’s Shadow? I assume you’d read Ender’s Game but don’t know if you’d read beyond it (though I heard you say elsewhere that Orbit sent you the complete series recently). What’s your history with the text?

Carey: Shadow was the book I was offered, and I was delighted to be in the frame. After Ender’s Game, it’s my favourite book in the sequence. For a long time that wasn’t true: Speaker for the Dead had that position: but Shadow is unique in that it passes through the events of Ender’s Game and illuminated them from a different angle. It’s a little bit like the Gus Van Sant movie, Elephant, where you pass through the events of a single day from many different characters’ point of view, seeing how their lives casually and invisibly intersect. It’s more like a jazz riff on the original novel than an actual sequel.

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Peeling Back the Secrets on the Battle School: A Conversation with Christopher Yost and Pasqual Ferry

As a follow-up to

my review

of


Ender’s Game: Battle School

, I got to talk to the brilliant writer and artist team behind the graphic novel. First up is Christopher Yost, writer of such works as Killer of Demons, X-Force, and Red Robin.

Anders: Ender’s Game is one of the most successful science fiction narratives of all time, a perennial best seller over a quarter century since its initial appearance. What do you think accounts for this success and how do you approach adapting something like that for a new medium?

Yost: Its character, first and foremost. We care about Ender Wiggin. He’s a good kid in a terrible situation, and we root for him. He’s incredibly easy to identify with… a mean older brother, bullies, etc… but above all, he’s a good kid.

In adapting the book, the goal was never to lose sight of Ender the character… obviously we want to see the Battle Room, the fights, the Formics… but if we don’t care about Ender, none of it matters.

Luckily, with comics, we get the best of both worlds. We can tells the story, and show it as well.

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