An Interview with KAMERON HURLEY

HurleyK-AuthorPic2019Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Kameron Hurley?

Honestly, I just got back from a book tour and am severely jetlagged, so I couldn’t really tell you. James S.A. Corey says I’m “one of the most important voices in the field”, though! That’s something. Always listen to the Coreys.

Your new book, Meet Me in the Future, will be published by Tachyon. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?  

Meet Me in the Future is a collection of my best short fiction to date. It’s got everything: a body-hopping mercenary who avenge his pet elephant, an orphan who falls in love with a sentient starship, fighters who power a reality-bending engine, and a swamp-dwelling introvert who tries to save the world from her plague-casting former wife. And that’s just off the top of my head. I wrote many of these stories with the support of my Patreon backers, and these are the best gems of the lot. Continue reading

Quick Review: AHRIMAN – EXODUS by John French (Black Library)

FrenchJ-AhrimanExodusA collection of short stories set in French’s Ahriman series

Ahriman, exiled sorcerer lord of the Thousand Sons, has many servants who do his bidding. Each has a tale to tell, but few as compelling as that of Ctesias the twice-dead, summoner of daemons. From an encounter with the mysterious Dead Oracle to the perils of the Hounds and Wrath and navigating the Gates of Ruin, Ctesias is a vital link in Ahriman’s grand plan. This is Ctesias’ tale, in his own words, of his trials and the great and terrible deeds he has performed in his master’s name. This is the chronicle of his path to damnation as he leads Ahriman to his exodus from the Eye of Terror.

Each of the short stories contained within this collection are told from the perspective of Ctesias, a member of the fallen Thousand Sons Traitor Legion. A sorcerer particularly gifted at summoning and binding daemons, he has been adopted into Ahriman’s war band, for a particular reason that his new master is keeping hidden. I had already read a few of the short stories contained herein, but the anthology was a nice way to have them all collected in one volume. As I expected, I enjoyed the collection. Continue reading

Review: THIRD WAR OF ARMAGGEDON (Black Library)

Various-Armageddon-ThirdWarSome connected WH40k short stories

Armageddon is a world engulfed by war. As the Third War for the planet rages on, the Imperial defenders sell their lives dearly to hold back the near-endless green tide of orks. On this world of battle, legends are forged and heroes made – but against the might of the greatest ork invasion in history, even the Imperium’s greatest warriors may not be enough to triumph.

This is a series of short stories that Black Library released over a single week (one a day) not so long ago. They are all connected to the “Third War of Armageddon”, a major conflict and world in the Warhammer 40,000 sci-fi setting. Black Library have a history of releasing great short fiction, and there were certainly a couple of very good stories in this collection. Continue reading

“Legion of the Damned” Digital Anthology (Black Library)

Various-BL-LegionOfTheDamnedCollection

A collection of short stories all focused on that enigmatic Space Marines legion, the Legion of the Damned, from some of Black Library’s best up-and-comers and a couple of not-quite-old-hands. The Legion are a peculiar addition to the WH40k lore. I remember when they first made models for them (they were a custom job by one of their professional modellers, if I remember correctly). Since then, there’s no doubt that they’ve fleshed out the background and the story of who and what the Legion is. Sadly, I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with more than the fiction set in Games Workshop’s science fiction and fantasy systems for well over a decade. As a result, these six stories contained some interesting new detail. I still don’t have a full picture of how the Legion ‘works’, but by no means does this bother me. These authors have done a great job of writing tales that tap into the horror and menace of the Legion of the Damned, and their mysterious appearances on the battlefields of the 41st millennium. I’ll deal with each of the stories individually, below…

I read the stories as individual short stories on my Kindle, so I have no idea if I read them in the order that the collection is compiled. I’ve listed them in the order I read them.

David Annandale, THE DARK HOLLOWS OF MEMORY

The sinister limbo of winter is falling on the Imperial archive world of Mnemosyne. A great fog rolls in, one that will not dissipate for months. With it comes unimaginable hell for the planet’s citizens as the Chaos Space Marines of the Company of Misery stage a brutal invasion. But as the defenders of Mnemosyne fall before the Traitors, something moves in the mist. There are phantoms abroad, warriors of darkness and flame. The Company of Misery is now confronted by the Legion of the Damned, and the terrified scribes of the Librarium find themselves caught in a war between the armies of horror and terror.

This was a really good story. It’s peculiar, atmospheric, well-paced and very well-written. I also liked the battle in the library-feel to it. Just right for a short story, I think. A tricky story to write about without ruining the ending. Needless to say, the Legion of the Damned and their aesthetic and tactics are perfectly suited to Annandale’s skills and style of writing – he does a great job of evoking the sinister-spookiness of the Legion. The author continues to impress, with each new piece of fiction. I’ll have to bump his latest Space Marine Battles novella, Stormseer, up the TBR (e-)mountain.

*

Josh Reynolds, REMORSELESS

After a gruelling siege, the Iron Warriors scent victory over their eternal enemies the Imperial Fists. Alongside their grand battalions is a host of Traitor Guardsmen – Skaranx is unique amongst their number, a killer of Angels. As he stalks his singular prey, he encounters Space Marines the likes of which he has never seen before. Remorseless, these warriors are beyond life and death. They are damned and so, he realises chillingly, is he…

This story didn’t start as slickly as I’ve come to expect from Reynolds. It certainly improved tremendously and quickly as the story unfolded, though. The antagonist, who is also the narrator, is sufficiently brutal and twisted. The near-claustrophobic urban battlefield setting is well-written and presented, and adds to the frantic combat and atmosphere of chaos. I imagined this could be filmed with close-focus handicam, all shaky and intense (like a baroque, military sci-fi version of the Jason Bourne movies). By the end of the story, this has turned into a very good, engaging cat-and-mouse battle. If the mouse was a genhanced killing machine, and the cat was just a creepier, more efficient killing machine…

*

L.J. Goulding, ANIMUS MALORUM

Fighting against ork invasion, Fourth Captain Erices and his few surviving warriors are prepared to sell their own lives dearly in the name of the Imperium. However, when dark legionnaires led by the mysterious Brother-Sergeant Centurius emerge from the catacombs to aid in the defence of the city, it becomes worryingly unclear what exactly they might expect in return…

This story takes on a very interesting aspect of the Legion of the Damned’s presence in the WH40k universe. Specifically, what happens after the battle? It’s a nice alternative approach to the Legion: after all, they are only usually presented on the field of battle. I had never read any fiction or background text that discussed what happens next. Animus Malorum is a well-written tale, with a superb, sinister twist at the very end. I didn’t see that coming. Very cool indeed.

*

Graeme Lyons, FROM THE FLAMES

Battle-brother Seoc of the Invaders is alone. With his brothers dead around him, killed by the avatar of an alien war god, he prepares to sell his life dearly and join the Emperor in eternity. Until something emerges from the flames… Spectral Space Marines, their black armour adorned with symbols of fire and death, move to engage the enemy, but can Seoc survive the battle between the bloody-handed horror and the terrible revenants?

This was more a micro-story, really, but it is nevertheless a pretty good one. It’s a very quickly-paced battle scene, which offers an interesting and inspired way to deal with a burning enemy (Eldar Avatar) and what that means for burning saviours (the Legion of the Damned squad that does the battlefield equivalent of a drive-by). It was a very good decision to keep this short, as it gave the story more punch.

*

C.Z. Dunn, SHIP OF THE DAMNED

Far from home, Sister Agentha travels aboard an ancient pilgrim vessel, providing a sacred light in the vast darkness of the void. However, on answering a mysterious distress signal, she soon finds herself with far more to contend with than the ignorance of children as plague zombies flood the decks and wreak bloody havoc on the faithful. Trapped in the belly of the ship with death on all sides, Agentha’s only hope is a mysterious black object taken from a group of refugees… but will it send help, and what will be left of them when it does?

I really liked that this story was focused on a female non-combatant: Sister Agentha, who is effectively a teacher (although, one with considerable faculty for violence, seeing as everyone from her order is still trained to battle the foes of the Emperor). She confiscated a shiny metallic ball from one of her students, something he picked up after the shuttle he was originally on was left adrift, dropped by space marines in black armour. The pilgrim vessel the characters inhabit answers a distress signal that proves to contain… plague zombies! It’s been a while since I read anything about those gribbly beasties. The story is atmospheric and tense. Good stuff.

*

Nick Kyme, VOTUM INFERNUS

Fleeing in the aftermath of a terrible defeat, troopers of the Vostroyan Firstborn are being hunted by dark eldar. A pair of wyches, a brother and sister, plan to make brutal sport of the mon’keigh. But as the mists thicken a strange figure appears on the battlefield, one clad in armour of blackest night. Who are “the Damned” and what do they want with this world and the souls upon it…?

What happens when warriors who employ and embody fear are faced with an enemy more terrifying? This is a pretty interesting story. Sometimes, the description went a bit further than necessary, creating tautologies, but it’s still a solid addition to the collection. It’s perhaps not Kyme’s best, but does the trick. In addition, the twist at the end was unexpected and pretty cool.

*

General Thoughts…

There is a slight feeling of repetition, if you read all of these stories together. This is neither the fault of the authors, nor me saying that the stories are all the same (just see what I’ve written, above). Rather, the nature of the Legion of the Damned and how they “work” in the WH40k setting means there are only a limited number of ways to describe (particulars aside) their appearance on a battlefield and also their physical aspect (for example, from Lyons’s piece, “Hulking black shadows wreathed in witchfire, they are of sinister aspect, ebon armour decorated with arcane sigils made of what looks like bone” – this tells you everything you need to know, and is a variation on what’s to be found in all these stories – and probably the Space Marine Battles: Legion of the Damned novel, too…). Overall, though, I enjoyed reading these stories. If you’re looking for short stories set in the WH40k universe, with a slightly more dark, horror-feel to them, then this collection should suit perfectly.

Guest Post: “Confessions of a Four-Color, Benday-Dot, Super-Deformed, Ultra-Compressed Science Fiction Writer” by Paul di Filippo

DiFilippo-WikiWorld

Paul Di Filippo is the author of Wikiworld, a great science fiction short story collection, which was recently published by (now award-winning) ChiZine. To celebrate the release of his new book, he has written the following piece about comics and their relationship with literature, and his own experiences as a reader and writer…

***

My first reading, beyond the typical picture books of my era, such as Harry the Dirty Dog and Hop on Pop, consisted of comic books. Lots and lots of comics. I recall the very first comic I ever read, in 1961, in the summer between first and second grades. It was Mighty Mouse in Outer Space, and it blew my primitive juvenile brain to flinders. (I recently tracked down a copy on eBay, and had lots of fun revisiting it.) I’ve never been the same since. You might very well say that this comic was my first introduction to the literature of fantastika, and set me on the course to becoming a writer of same.

DiFilippo-EarlyComics

After this soon came the hard stuff. Batman, Superman, and the strange new antiheroes from Marvel. Alas, though I read them fresh off the drugstore stands, I retain no issues of Fantastic Four #1 or Amazing Fantasy #15, or similar lucrative titles. I concentrated on buying DC, while my pal Stephen covered the Marvel stuff, and we shared issues for mutual reading pleasure. Stephen, wherever he may be these days, got rich, and I got Lois Lane #53.

This phase of my readerly life lasted until about 1965, when I discovered hardcore adult science fiction, in the form of Raymond Jones’s The Year When Stardust Fell. To my retrospective amazement, I dropped comics almost entirely then, like a fickle lover, in favor of this new, more complex, more satisfying medium. Part of it had to do with my limited allowance. A dollar per week bought seven or eight comics, or two paperbacks. I couldn’t do both.

Well, I’m not going to recap my entire life as a reader from that point on. (To dispel one mystery: I returned to reading comics about thirty years later, with a vengeance.) But I tell the tale only to illustrate a very common path for my generation and the next couple after it. Right up into, oh, the late 1980s, this route — comics first, then books — was totally archetypical. Young fanboys and fangirls imprinted first on comics, then matured into readers of “chapter books.”

But we all know what happened next: the greying of the comics audience, the vanishing of comics from drugstores and supermarkets, the lack of innocent entry-level comics titles, the peer popularity of YA books, etc., etc. — all these factors and more have caused comics no longer to be really a gateway drug. And in fact, comics fandom and book fandom, while overlapping to some small Venn-diagram degree, often are utterly ignorant of each other. (This of course was not always the case, as modern comics fandom arose almost entirely from within SF fandom.)

One important thing which I think this change in reading patterns has caused to go missing from modern SF/F/H writing is a certain comic book sensibility: in plotting, character development, scene-setting, theme presentation, and all the other typical aspects of fiction construction. Because, you see, comics have their own tools of storytelling, and a writer does not fully internalize them unless he or she encounters them at a young, receptive age.

Let me clarify that I’m not talking about a dearth of novels about superheroes. Those are actually kind of trendy right now.

I’m talking about bringing the unique toolkit of comic book storytelling to any kind of writing at all. It could be a mainstream humorous novel, or a historical novel, or, in my case, an SF novel. Not many people are doing that these days.

Maybe you’re old enough to recall when writers such as Thomas Pynchon or Robert Sheckley or Kurt Vonnegut got labeled as “too comic-booky.” It was a fair cop! They were, I am certain, all readers of comics in their youth, and were incorporating the methods they had internalized into their adult prose.

I can’t conduct a seminar in this limited space about all the techniques I discern as originating among comic book writers and artists. I can only give a couple of examples.

Take the matter of switching scenery. Everyone knows how quickly and radically a comic book story can jump from one panel to another. We’ll call this the “then… Korea!” trick, from a recent blog post by the comics savant Mike Sterling. I don’t see this enough in novels. Oh, yeah, we’ll have a jump, an ellipsis of time and space, but usually to a different character, or as a predictable linear progression of the protagonist’s actions. “The next day dawned…” Nothing wild-eyed or unexpected, like catapulting the hero instantly from one venue to another in the blink of an eye.

Or take the matter of shifting the focus of the story in unexpected ways. The Simpsons TV show is the master of this. (Animated cartoons of course being the sibling to comics.) Three minutes into an episode, you think you knew where it’s headed, then, whammo, a total one-eighty. How often have you seen that maneuver in a book?

Or consider serial plotting within a single book. We start with one crisis which is resolved partway through the book, but contains the seeds of the next crisis, and so on as long as desired, until by novel’s end you’re utterly removed from the concerns at the beginning. I can’t even summon up a prose example of this common comics scenario.

If I had to adduce other writers than those named above who follow a comic book esthetic, I’d nominate A.E. van Vogt, Philip K. Dick, and Ron Goulart. Maybe you can start to get a feel now for the type of fiction I’m advocating. Jonathan Lethem, famously a comic book kid, in his early novels manifested some of these chops and riffs. Perhaps the purest and most satisfying writer of such stuff today is my pal Rudy Rucker. His novels are comic books without the artwork. And that certainly doesn’t preclude him tackling serious and important subjects in sophisticated ways.

In my own fiction, I can point to several stories deliberately constructed along these lines. “Fractal Paisleys”; “The Double Felix”; “Flying the Flannel.” And so forth.

DiFilippo-WikiWorld

My newest collection, Wikiworld, holds a few. My all-robot story “Providence” is a homage to the great SF comics from EC. You can picture Wally Wood or Al Williamson art to go with it. “Return to the 20th Century” is more out of DC’s goofy Silver Age Mystery in Space or Strange Adventures line. But even other stories of mine that are not so heavily influenced have benefitted, I believe, by little salient comic book touches.

I said I returned to reading comics with high intensity about twenty years ago. The superhero stuff I enjoy these days is entertaining, but can’t really teach me anything new. But knockout creators like Richard Sala, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Ben Katchor, Cathy Malkasian and Bill Griffith continue to stimulate me to try to incorporate their specialist pencil-and-ink and word-balloon techniques into my prose fiction.

If you’re exclusively a prose writer, you should delve into the comics scene. Once you go lowbrow, you never go back!