Monday, March 30, 2020

Beachcombing in South Africa by Rudy van der Elst

One of my earliest memories involves going for walks on the beach with my family. We often found such magical items such as mermaid's purses, cuttlefish shells and sometimes, if we were lucky (or early) even paper nautilus shells. We once even found a boomerang! So it was with a fair amount of nostalgia that I picked up Beachcombing in South Africa by Rudy van der Elst.

This light, easy-to-read guide gives a very basic overview of what one can expect to find while on the beach, be it items that are from the sea, such as shells, jellyfish or fish, to items that have floated on the tide such as seeds from trees or manmade flotsam and jetsam. In case you were interested, yes, there is a difference between flotsam and jetsam, and you'll find out what that is.

Due to the scope of the book, there isn't space for Van der Elst to go into any great detail about any of the topics, but he does provide a good jumping off point for those wishing to dig deeper (the references and further reading section right at the end will provide loads of content to seek out).

Each section is amply illustrated with informative photos and info panels, that offers a taste of information that will at least lend seekers with some authority when explaining what they've found – especially useful I reckon to parents embarking on a seaside holiday with kiddos. There is some indication of the legalities and protocol to keep in mind when finding certain objects, and what to do when encountering sea mammals and birds in distress. The useful contacts and numbers right at the end is also a nice touch.

All in all, this is a useful book, and if you're one of the lucky sods who has a beach house, get yourself a copy to leave there for those seaside holidays.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Raft by Fred Strydom

I'm going to be straight-up honest. I don't think The Raft by Fred Strydom quite worked for me. I've heard so much about the book, that it's amazing, and all that, but my feeling upon finishing the novel was that it could probably have had about a quarter of its content dropped on the cutting room floor and been a stronger novel for it.

If you're looking for a post-apocalyptic quest in a similar vein as kind of world you'd expect in The Last of Us, or The Walking Dead, sans the zombies, this is not that book, although there is an inner and outer journey–just not in any strict linear fashion. What we do have is a nested narrative filled with seemingly unconnected vignettes and a fair amount of existential dread.

So if something a bit more reflective and ambiguous in tale-telling is your thing, go for this book. This story will most likely speak to you then. I personally found it a little too loose, and taking just a little bit too long to reach a point. Reality is fluid, and it's difficult telling dream sequence apart from the actual happenings, to the point near the end that I was almost too afraid to trust anything the author laid down in the story. And who knows, maybe that was his intention. There's even a space where Strydom shifts to second person, instead of first, which just jarred me out of the story.

There were times where things got a little Event Horizon for me, so I suppose this is sufficiently SF, but even so, I do feel that the navel gazing Mr Kayle engages in kinda rubs the edges off the impact of the ending. The twist in the ending, when it came, wasn't wholly unexpected, and it had a pleasant sting. I just feel that we could have fewer twists and turns before we got there. Strydom can write, though, and he makes some great observations. I feel if The Raft is viewed in a more literary light, it stands a little straighter. But right now, lit-fic just isn't my jam.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Immortals' Requiem by Vincent Bobbe

I'll start by saying this much, Immortals' Requiem by Vincent Bobbe is not for the squeamish. Blending slashes of horror with dark fantasy, the story follows the points of view of multiple characters as they begin their descent into the catastrophic events that play out when an ancient evil awakens in Manchester. The apocalypse has arrived, and it's very hungry.

Cu Roi, otherwise known as The Miracle Child, is out of control, and after thousands of years asleep, intends to make his mark on a world ill equipped to deal with the being and his monstrous children, the barghests. In the time that he has been out of circulation, magic has faded even more, and those who would oppose him face a seemingly insurmountable challenge to fight a monster and its spawn.

If you, like me, don't have huge piles of time, this story is perfect – each section is short, and filled with non-stop action, so it's the kind of novel you can read bits of when you're on the go. At times I did feel that I had a little whiplash from all the shifting points of view, but overall Bobbe does a decent job of giving each character some screen time.

Briefly we dip into the world of the elves and their ilk, where a great cataclysm has all but destroyed the way of life of the two towers where the fair folk live. My favourite character out of the entire story was Cam, who's lived among humans for most of his life, having spurned his elven heritage, and who has fallen into a nihilistic pit of despair thanks to the fact that his people's magic is dying. The smart-mouthed elf is merely marking time, from bottle to bottle, and the fact that he doesn't want to be a hero, makes the fact that he's dragged, kicking and screaming into misadventure, all the more entertaining to watch.

Immortals' Requiem is a blood-drenched, ultra-violent quest that features a veritable bestiary of supernatural creatures. There's not much time for navel-gazing, and I'll hazard to say, don't pick too many favourites, as the body count is high. Be warned: this novel has its Army of Darkness moments. That should give you more than enough idea of what to expect.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

eSnakes of Southern Africa, PDA Solutions

I can pretty much guarantee that every time I've encountered a snake in my garden or while on a hike out in the veld, I haven't had a chance to quickly run into the house to grab a field guide. So to have an app handy on my phone is absolutely brilliant. eSnakes of Southern Africa is based on A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa by Johan Marais, and is an absolute must for anyone who's passionate about identifying the scaly critters. And who knows, perhaps recognising a snake might even be a life-or-death situation.

The app is easy to use, its primary drop-down menu giving your a list option with all species, adders or vipers, back-fanged and so on, as well as a useful smart search function where you can fill in fields to identify a snake you're not sure of. There's also a handy spot where you can list which snakes you've seen according to species, location and date, and then also handy extras that give you basics about snake biology, behaviour and more. Each section also has ample photos and illustrations. You have a choice between English and Afrikaans as well.

Now on to the individual species. What makes this app far more useful in practice than a book, is that you're not going to waste time paging. If like me, you already have a basic understanding of the different snakes and species of the region, you'll already know the difference, at a glance, between an adder and a house snake – you'll be able to fine tune your search quite quickly.

Each species profile gives you a good selection of photos to aid identification, diagrams illustrating length, head shape, as well as basic information about length, scale count, colour, preferred habitat, habits, distribution maps and more. Even better, there is a tab for emergency contacts – dog forbid you'll ever need that.

If you're often out and about in the region, this app is invaluable, especially for natural lovers, and is well worth the investment, especially if you don't want to lug books around with you when you're travelling.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Introducing Kevin E Green, narrator for the Inkarna audiobook

I am *so* excited to introduce Kevin E Green, a UK-based actor who'll be narrating the audiobook version of my revised edition of Inkarna. The novel's been out of print for a number of years now, but I'm currently working hard to bring out the sequel, and for that to happen, it's meant that I've had to roll up my sleeves and spruce up book one too. I'll be welcoming a whole host of new readers to the world of Those Who Return.

But first, a little about Kevin...

"I started narrating in earnest when I took early retirement some years ago. I have since narrated over 70 books covering all genres from steamy romance to psychological thrillers, plus a number of non fiction. I have over 30 years acting experience which helps in voicing and characterisation. I think my favourite genres are murder mysteries and thrillers.  My background before retiring was in science and engineering, so I have no problems narrating technical non-fiction! I live in Lancashire, England with my wife Dianne and our dog Rupert. See kevthegreen.co.uk"

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Ventifact Colossus (The Heroes of Spira #1) by Dorian Hart

With fantasy in general being rather grim and dark these days, it's quite refreshing to encounter The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart. This is the kind of book that reads like your typical D&D campaign, but with a slight Disney-esque flavour to keep things from getting too heavy. Magical McGuffins, check; wizards, check; weird beasties, check; a flying carpet, check. Dorian also does what so many authors struggle to do – balancing a story where there are multiple viewpoint characters, and giving each a unique voice. I'm team Morningstar all the way, just so you know.

The gist of the story is that a ragtag of eight random characters who seemingly have nothing that makes them remarkable, are drawn together by a wizard's spell for the purpose of saving the world. All are, to a degree, rejects or your average joe, thrown together to do the extraordinary, heading off on quest after quest while hoping to find all they need to stop the Big Bad. It feels a little like a lower-deck story, but I suspect in subsequent novels in the series, that the characters will really come into their own.

I can't say much more other than this was a fresh-faced, fun story that although I struggled to suspend disbelief with certain events near the end, I was overall entertained. And I'd say that this is also a novel that you can happily pass on to even your teen readers. This feel-good adventure has a sincerity to it that I've been missing in fantasy of late. It may be too light for some tastes, but it's just right if you're in the need of reminding that the world is not all doom and gloom.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Mythumbra by Storm Constantine

What I love about Storm Constantine's writing is not so much the story, but rather the mood and the environment that she evokes with each piece. And if you're looking for plot-driven narrative structures with wicked twists, then perhaps this collection of short fiction is not for you. Mythumbra: A Collection of Stories sees Storm collecting stories that have appeared in a number of different publications, and offers a mixed bag in terms of what you might encounter, ranging from secondary world fantasy and sci-fi, to gothic fantasy with Lovecraftian notes. Storm very much pays homage to the rich weirdness of Tanith Lee's writing.

"The Drake Lords of Kyla" is perhaps one of my favourites, with a traveller encountering a dragon-like people known as Lighurds. There's the narrator's fascination with the exotic, and the thrill as she sees a slice of a culture entirely different from her own. This story is more reflective mood piece and travelogue.

"Long Indeed do We Live" was not a story that I really gelled with. It examines how mankind might not flourish as intended in a controlled environment, even though every need is catered for when the environment beyond the protected domes has been destroyed. And yet there is an element of horror, of the supernatural hinted at. Whether this is the imagination of the people in the tale, is a matter of conjecture.

"A Winter Bereavement" brings us into the world of the countess Areta, and her younger companion Mimosa, as the former embarks on a seduction. This is a very mannered, almost Victorian tale, that focuses on mood and gesture, and yet heads off into unexpected, uncharted territory at the end.

Okay, so I loved "The Saint's Well" which pitted a man of the church against the miracles perceived by a small town in the country. It delves into the magic of subjectivity, and now an event may not need to be objectively true for it to still maintain some profound, private truth for those who experienced it. Storm's evocations of the countryside are vivid, and make me feel as if I am right there, walking with the protagonist.

"At the Sign of the Weeping Angel" is filled strangeness, of how when one is plunged into an unfamiliar environment – especially if it is a party of someone you don't know – the act of entering a strange space can put you in contact with nameless mysteries. Storm doesn't explain much here, and I feel this is the kind of story that will give you something different with the next read.

"Master of None" was dark. Horribly and wonderfully dark, and takes a stab at the consequences of someone addicted to New Age courses – and how the plethora of qualifications offered are at the end of the day, rather quite absurd. And yet the hapless protagonist, in her obsession with finding yet another certificate for her wall, stumbles onto something that is a little more than what she expected.

"In the Earth" was another that I adored. At its heart it's the story of childhood reminisces, and how our opinions of events in the past may be coloured over time. Once again, Storm effortless evokes the sense of old houses, the countryside, oppressive weather, and awkward interactions.

"From the Cold Dark Sea" brings a classic touch of Lovecraft, but with a more feminine angle. This is a journey, about an outsider offered a glimpse into a world that she may never be part of. And that is all I'll say. Once again, wonderful imagery, deeply evocative, involving the ocean and the life teeming beneath the surface and washed up on the shore.

"In Exile" is a story that offers a slice of life, yet another where an outsider is offered the opportunity to glimpse into a world that is not her own. Mabelise and her sister have been sent to live in a villa, where they are strangers on the island, and not privy to the true meaning of the rituals the locals enact. Mabelise's sister is there to recover from a serious illness, yet Mabelise has no real hope for her sister's healing. The women who are caring for them may have an unconventional approach, however.

"The Serpent Gallery" is a peculiar piece. It feels as if it has a contemporary setting, and yet there's a strangeness to it that pitches the story into oddness. I loved the unsettling descriptions of the mysterious paintings. I won't say more, for to do so would ruin the experience.

The last story, "The Foretelling" is, in Storm's own words, a Pre-Cataclysm tale of of Azeroth. She makes no secrets of her love of the World of Warcraft setting, and while it's not a setting I know all that well, I still enjoyed dipping into the world.