Friday, October 22, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Storm Guardians by Stephen Zimmer

TITLE: The Storm Guardians
AUTHOR: Stephen Zimmer
PUBLISHER: Seventh Star Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-9825656-3-6 (553 pages, including Appendix)

Forces set in motion in the first book of the Rising Dawn series, The Exodus Gate, move forward with a vengeance in The Storm Guardians.

We find the familiar and the fantastic once again inextricably linked as Benedict Darwin and his troupe try to deal with the frightening reality of a world changed to its very core. The survivors of the Great Flood, both the noble An-Ki and the demonic Erkorenen, find themselves pawns in a greater power struggle, whose manifestations extend into the ethereal world of Purgatarion, where the hordes from the Abyss commanded by the leader of the Ten-Fold Kingdom are launching an assault, aiming for the very walls of the White City itself.

In the normal world, Night Hunters prowl the forests, pursuing the now-divided An-Ki clans. A group of high schools students decide they are going to find out if the rumors of giant wolves in the woods are true, and fall afoul of a force whose true nature they do not suspect. Watchers, their ranks thinned because of the conflicts in the Middle Lands, struggle desperately to protect humanity against the growing threat of the Nephilim and their allies, while a lone Avatar stands against many enemies.

In the Middle Lands, mighty Avatars clash, great forces Light and Dark and neither meet on the battlefield of Purgatarion in a clash that boggles the minds of even those denizens of the stricken area which forms a buffer between the Abyss and the White City.

The scope of The Storm Guardians is massive, opening up and expanding on the conflict only hinted at in The Exodus Gate. The intrigue and action promised in the first book is fully developed and mercilessly exhibited. The Storm Guardians is a non-stop thriller that lives up to the promise of The Exodus Gate and points at an even more amazing denouement in the final book of the series. Once again, Zimmer has used his command of cinematic imagery to give us a spectacular vision of war both heavenly and hellish.

Two thumbs up on this one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Catching up again

Okay, so I missed the September post altogether. Hopefully, I can make up for that by posting more than one this month, including a couple of book reviews.

On September 25, I went to Frankfort, KY, to the shooting of the climactic scene of Swordbearer, the independent film based on scenes from Ascendant. The cast and crew got there before dawn, and it was a very cold start to a very long, but productive, day. I traveled with my friend Chris Prince, who good-naturedly stood by and watched me make a fool of myself as I yelled and screamed my head off with the rest of the extras during the fight scene. It was loads of fun. Someday, I may regret it, but not today.

The gist of the scene was this: the two warring Houses (Thran and Suum) have agreed to a single combat between their champions to determine who will have pre-eminence. The winner takes all in this combat, the losing House ceding all claim to any political influence, forfeiting its holdings, and losing its position in the ruling Council. It is a true final conflict, designed to decide once and for all the outcome of a blood-feud more than four centuries old. The combat comes down to the champions Hennock (Al Snow) of House Thran, and Tchek (Benjamin Wood) of House Suum. The fight scene might only run a few minutes in the final film, the shooting itself took hours.

The actors, both professional wrestlers in real life, performed using actual weapons - live steel that spelled real danger. My old friend Allan Gilbreath, who is well versed in martial arts and weapons, served as fight choreographer, and even he was uneasy about the use of real hand-and-a-half swords. As it turned out, except for a couple of minor scratches, the combat went extremely well.

I cannot praise the cast and crew highly enough for their professionalism and enthusiasm for this project. In the end, this film will be for me the once-in-a-lifetime event that few people get to experience: the manifestation of a dream.

But enough of that. There will be much more on the film as time goes by.

I have several stories out for consideration and now in print. He Who Hesitates is out for consideration for Elder Signs Press' High Seas Cthulhu 2. Sparks and The Real Magic went to Kerlak Publications for upcoming anthologies. Person-to-Person has been accepted by Midnight Screaming Magazine and will appear soon. End Game is now appearing in Sam's Dot Publishing's Infradead anthology. I shortly intent to inflict No More Running and a couple others on unsuspecting periodicals. I'll keep you advised as that goes along.

Many people have asked me if I am enjoying my retirement. For those of us who are "retired", we know there really is no such thing. My writing career continues to expand, from short stories to novels and now into screenplay. What new adventure is around the corner? With the ever-increasing technological advances in the west, the growing political movements in the east, and the inevitable conflict or marriage of the two, who can say?

BOOK REVIEW: Setting Suns by Elizabeth Donald

TITLE: Setting Suns
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Donald
PUBLISHER: New Babel Books, 2006
ISBN 0-9720197-6-6 (196 pgs)

Setting Suns is a compilation of stories from the delightfully bizarre imagination of Elizabeth Donald. After each of the 15 tales included, Ms. Donald gives the reader a little insight into the thought processes that tormented her into producing the story.

The favorite of all is, of course, Jesus Loves Me. This account of a singing, winged teddy bear, a gift for a three-year-old boy, whose terrifying rendition of the old hymn portends something much darker, is made all the more haunting by the revelation made at the end of the story in Ms. Donald's afterword.

The rest of the stories run the gamut from the inherent tragedy in resisting the finality of death (Sisyphus, Memoir), the mutability of mind versus time (Silent), and a brilliant monster story (Deep Breathing), to a fantastically well-written and nastily cutting commentary on men and their treatment of women (Memory Lane), a welcome story about Ms. Donald's foul-mouthed but strong-willed heroine Aurora Crawford (Gauntlet), and a disturbing suicide deliberation (The River). There are weak points in the book. Vertigo, The Puzzle, and Symphony of the Woods are obviously emotional venting of deeply felt feelings and beliefs that probably would have been better placed elsewhere. I Live With It Every Day (co-written with Jason R. Tippitt) is, IMHO, unworthy of the collection altogether. The re-visiting of the old "computers can be monsters" theme of Wonderland is well-handled and differently structured, worth the read only for its novel approach to a trite subject. Prisoner's Dilemma left me wondering.

Elizabeth Donald is one of the strongest writers it is my privilege to know. This book has a broad range of her fiction, showing her ability to write for any and all tastes, and showing her readers her human side through her notes and explanations. I came away from Setting Suns with a greater appreciation for her work, and a greater respect for the author herself.

Highly recommended.