Long Time Gone [it burns! it burns!, writing]

PersonalLAST TIME ON GARY’S BLOG: Our hero, the looming yet strangely beguiling Writer Lad, was hip deep in writing a first draft of an urban fantasy with talking raptors and flying sharks and things like that, unaware that he was moments from being captured by Amphi-dodecahedron, the Avatar of Fish-Based Geometry, to be used as an oblique angle in his decidedly fussy war against Cartanga, Finder of Small Pebbles, whose underhanded tactics and undercooked pasta were the subject of thousands of savage Yelp reviews, all written by Professor Ivan Sharpski, ex-KGB tap dancer and girl friday to Gummo Lemmingsnort, noted New York Times Bestselling Author of “That’s Not Chicken, and Probably Not a Taco, Either” and several not-so-bestselling horror novels featuring occult detective and part-time spatula Bacon McGee, a concept derived from a 1923 article on Bootlegging Badgers and the Flappers who Love Them, as mis-transcribed by Randall Everwood, a.k.a. the Shadow Over the Breakfast Nook, aided by a ratty English-Klingon dictionary, a vole paid off by Joe Don Baker, and Dr. Leslie Ann Cartier, inventor of the least joyful whoopee cushion ever documented.

We join Gary, already in progress.

Hmmm, guess it’s been a while since I last wrote a non-repost blog-entry. See, what happened was I broke free from the chains that bound me to the black pit and roamed the moors, slaking my thirst for blood just got busy with a lot of stuff, both writing and non-writing, and something had to give. Also, an anniversary trip to Niagara Falls, some car crash and replacement car buying drama, work stress, and so on. I’ve moved on, why can’t you?

Ha! Seriously, though, you don’t want to hear my lame, lame excuses. You want to know what’s going on now. And that is… writing. I’ve got a steampunk horror story I’m trying to wrestle into shape, and another short that may or may not get written after that. Redscale is on hold until the new year. Possibly longer, if I go and rewrite/polish/finish off/ship out The Morpheist, the biopunk novella I first-drafted more than a year ago. I’m putting together another short, Fabulous Beasts, for self-publicational glory later this month. My next non-self-publication is coming in January, with a story in Angelic Knight Press’s Fairly Wicked Tales.

Plus, December is eating my head, and we’ve barely started the month. So there’s that.

Reading-wise, there’s a lot of good stuff out there that I’m gonna take this opportunity to push at you. If you’re an urban fantasy fan, you’ve gotta check out Manifesto: UF edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann. It’s got twenty-three envelope-pushing urban fantasy tales by the likes of Lincoln Crisler, Jake Elliot, Teresa Frohock, and many more. If ghost stories are more your speed, check out Bryan Hall’s The Girl. It’s an evocative and compelling story heavy on atmospheric dread that I enjoyed a lot.

My friend Eric Burns-White has been putting out entries in his Mythology of the Modern World series on Amazon and Smashwords. They’re short, sharp, sometimes satirical, sometimes haunting mythological stories composed as answers to reader questions posed to him. The Sky of L.A. is Yellow/Gray is my favorite of these so far, but all of them are highly entertaining.

Another friend, Angi Shearstone, put out the second issue of her BloodDreams comic not too long ago. It’s a sharp tale of a conflict between vampires and hunters that ensnares a troubled punk rock singer and his friends, with gorgeous fully-painted artwork. Absolutely no sparkling going on, I promise. (I reviewed issue 1 a long while ago.)

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, meanwhile, has two anthologies out, both of which began life as Kickstarter projects. Beyond the Sun, which features science ficton tales of colonization of new worlds, has a number of outstanding stories (by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Cat Rambo, and Maurice Broaddus, among others). Raygun Chronicles, an anthology of golden-age-style space opera stories, just recently came out, and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Speaking of books I’m really looking forward to reading, Emmy Jackson’s second novel, Empty Cradle: Shiloh in the Circle (set in the world of his previous novel, Empty Cradle: the Untimely Death of Corey Sanderson, which I reviewed a long time ago). The first one was damn good, and I’m expecting this one will be as well. Plus there’s Greg Chapman’s new horror novella, The Last Night in October… holy crap I have a lot of reading to catch up on!

(Note: there are a lot of Amazon links above. I’m not participating in any affiliate thing here, I promise–it’s just convenient for me to link there, to show you I didn’t just come up with these things in a caffeine-and-pork-rind-fueled fever dream. Because I know that’s what you’re thinking.)

That’s all for now. I’m signing off and heading for the tub. Don’t forget to tip your server!


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthology Fading Light. His blog originates here. Photo: Elena Ray/Bigstock.com.

These Books Made Me Weird(er) [Brutal Light]

Brutal Light

I originally wrote this in December 2011 as part of my Brutal Light blog promo tour. As the blog it originally appeared on no longer exists, I’m reposting it here. Yay?

One of the things I’m frequently asked about are my influences. As someone who’s read a lot, in a lot of genres, that’s a topic I can go on about for quite a while–the list of authors range from Stephen King to Terry Pratchett to Michael Connelly to Clive Barker to… well, you get the idea. But even within this list, there are certain books I can pick out that exerted great influence on both my reading choices and my storytelling style. I can’t rightly say how much any particular one of these examples influenced me when it came to writing my debut dark fantasy novel Brutal Light, but collectively, I think it’s safe to say they left their mark. Here are seven books that made me, and my writing, weird(er):

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

This was not my first introduction to Lovecraft–that had been the wonderfully-titled Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, a collection of some of his short fiction–but it was the one that left the deepest impression on me. The deliberate, atmospheric pacing of this journey into the ruins of a lost civilization had me on edge the first time I read it, and it excited my mind around the details of what would later become the Mythos the way it had not quite been before.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson

This one took a while to win me over–at first I didn’t know what to think of the careening strangeness of the narrative and the hyperbolic mix of what I assume is every conspiracy theory out there up to the point of the novel’s publication. Then at some point, maybe a hundred pages in, it started gelling, and from that point I was hooked. It’s lost a little of its lustre over the years–the conspiracy stuff is a bit dated, and some passages seem more juvenile than provocative–but overall it’s still a hell of a trip.

Valis by Philip K. Dick

Valis was my introduction to Philip K. Dick’s strange and addictive works. Probably it wasn’t the best one to start with; it came at a point late in his career and life where he was evidently not too concerned with being ‘accessible.’ It’s a bizarre story to begin with, with its main character, Horselover Fat, contacted directly by God via a mysterious pink laser. Then it gets stranger, as Horselover seeks to understand his experience, with esoteric theories and crackpot paranoia continually throwing the events of his life into newer and weirder lights. I just recently re-read this one, and its as baffling and entertaining as I remember.

Dead Boys, Dead Girls, Dead Things by Richard Calder

By the time I got to this book, I’d read my share of cyberpunk science fiction, and had my head spun around by the likes of Philip K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson. I thought I was ready. But I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the convoluted, paranoid, utterly perverse, high-voltage trip that is the Dead trilogy. The first book, Dead Boys, makes at least a passing attempt at a standardized story structure, but the next two sail off into rampaging, obsessive apocalyptic madness. This one left my head spinning for weeks. I really wish Calder’s publisher would get his books into e-format; I’d buy them all in a heartbeat.

God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

Now, I’d taken the first three books in the Dune series in stride. They were fine, weird beasts in and of themselves, full of complex ideas and strange events. But this one trumped them all. It took me a long time to really come to terms with Leto’s merger with a sandworm and his transformation into a near-immortal, unstable tyrant, and to appreciate the paradoxical depths of the philosophical discussions within. It’s a flawed book, certainly, but unlike anything I had read to that point (the mid-eighties, when I was an impressionable lad). One of these days I’ll have to read it again, just to see if it stands up to my memories of it.

Zod Wallop by William Browning Spencer

While the idea of a book as a doorway into another world is hardly new, I was unprepared for how this book would affect me. The action takes place both in the ‘real’ world, where ex-children’s book author Harry Gainesborough has escaped the institution where he was being treated for depression following the death of his daughter, and the world of Zod Wallop, the fantasy world of the books he wrote with said daughter as the central character. The transitions between worlds are seamless, and the climax is as emotionally stunning as I’ve ever read. It’s a strange and amazing journey.

Imajica by Clive Barker

This was my introduction to Clive Barker. You might as well have dropped a bus on me. Barker’s framework of a hidden world behind the superficial façade of this one completely drew me in with the depth of its obsessive detailing, the complicated story threads, and the sheer power of its metaphysical invention. It’s a beautiful, perverse, and terrifying work–still my favorite of Barker’s, and one that undoubtedly left its mark on my writing since.


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthology Fading Light. His blog originates here. Brutal Light cover art: Dawne Dominique.

Short Reviews: August 2012 [reviews]

Short ReviewsThe Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

What happens after the ‘happily ever after’? In the case of the Princess Danielle (aka Cinderella), it involves learning to live with getting what she thought she wanted… and rescuing her prince when he ends up being the one in jeopardy. Hines’ take on the fairy tale worlds of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty mixes the darker nuances of the early versions of the tales with humor–not the ‘wokka wokka’ kind, but the more trenchant and wise kind that relies on fully-realized and nuanced characters and their observations and decisions. I enjoyed this first book in the ‘Princess Series,’ and look forward to the next.

Afterlife by Naomi Clark

Yasmin Stoker, a ghost tour guide who also happens to be a 600-year old wraith who feeds on the souls of revenants, sees a man get pulled into the netherworld by a ghost. Soon, she’s both investigating the incident and trying to deflect someone else in their investigation, while the complications pile up. Afterlife serves up a potent urban fantasy story that weaves plots and subplots without ever getting tangled up. P.I. Ethan Banning, a secondary character in this one, steals just about every scene he’s in. Shoregrave, the fictional setting of the novel, had a subtly dangerous feel that crept in and lingered.

Four in the Morning by Malon Edwards, Edward M. Erdelac, Lincoln Crisler, and Tim Marquitz

Four in the Morning is an unusual anthology, in that instead of collecting a lot of short stories, it is made up of four novellas, loosely based on different stages of life (youth, early adulthood, middle age, and old age). The genres and styles of these dark tales vary as well, from steampunk (“Half Dark” by Malon Edwards) to urban fantasy (“Gully Gods” by Edward M. Erdelac) to science fiction (“Queen” by Lincoln Crisler) to horror (“Cenotaph” by Tim Marquitz). I enjoyed all four offerings, though it took me a bit to warm up to “Gully Gods”. Malon Edwards’ “Half Dark” was my favorite of the quartet, though, by turns dark, strange, charming, and memorable–qualities I only sometimes find in steampunk stories.

The Noctuary by Greg Chapman

In The Noctuary, a dark fiction writer is given a tempting offer–the ability to make his words become reality, if he becomes a scribe for underworld creatures known as the Dark Muses. He can write things out of existence, and rewrite the tragic elements of his past… but at a price. This novella is the kind of horror that appeals to me most–the slippery, chaotic kind where the fear comes from seeing how thin and easily torn reality could be, and being forced to face what is left–if anything–when all that defines us to ourselves is stripped away. Which isn’t to say it’s not gruesome and bloody–it certainly is. It’s also a lot more than that, and worth a look for supernatural horror fans.


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthology Fading Light. His blog originates here. Photo: silver-john/Bigstock.com.

Short Reviews: June 2012

Short ReviewsFeed (Book 1 of the Newsflesh Trilogy) by Mira Grant

In the year 2039, twenty-five years after a virus caused humans and animals to become flesh-craving zombies, a team of bloggers is recruited to cover the campaign of a U.S. Presidential candidate. They are soon drawn into a tense situation in which virus outbreaks seem to dog the campaign, and what they learn could cost them more than their lives.

This first book in the Feed trilogy offers solid suspense and action against a well-extrapolated science fiction backdrop. One of the most refreshing things about it is that it doesn’t see zombie hordes as a sign of the end of all things–life goes on, even though it’s a life transformed in ways large and small by the possibility of becoming a zombie at any time (not just following death). Suspenseful, thrilling, compelling, and ultimately moving, it’s well worth checking out, even if zombies aren’t ordinarly ‘your thing.’

Corrupts, Absolutely? edited by Lincoln Crisler

Corrupts Absolutely? is a collection of 21 short tales on the very dark side of having metahuman abilities, with stories ranging from a wounded man who brings his explosive rage to bear on those he blames for the deaths of his wife and daughter-to-be (“Retribution” by Tim Marquitz) to a world where metahumans live under more restrictions than sex offenders and being a hero is a crime (“Pride” by Wayne Ligon) to a woman whose concerns over the ultimate use of the robo-suit she lead development of are trumped by pragmatic realities (“Fixed” by Trisha J. Wooldridge). The metahuman abilities and settings vary widely, as do the contributing authors’ styles, making for an entertaining selection of tales.

As is often the case, a story collection has its high and low points. Not all of the tales here worked for me, but my enjoyment level overall was high. In addition to the previously mentioned stories, my favorites included “Ozymandias Revisited” by A.S. Fox (where having godlike powers leads to having godlike problems), and “Illusion” by Karina Fabian (exploring the toll taken by telepathic abilities on a young telepath). Its a compelling collection of dark fiction where the ‘heroes’ are often not at all heroic, and well worth checking out.

Sings with Stars by Bethany Grenier

Gigi Storme’s life has turned upside down in the blink of an eye. On society’s margins in our world, she discovers that she has come from another–a world of clockwork and magic–one in which she is destined to play a central role, whether she’s ready to or not. Her survival, and the survival of those around her, depends on not only learning her new abilities, but upon learning how to love, and even forgive.

The steampunk elements in this YA novel seem to me to be mainly in the fashion and visible technology of the otherdimensional world Gigi came from. The overall story is one that will not be unfamiliar to fantasy readers–a young woman discovers her destiny and magical powers and must contend against an implacable foe, while dealing with uncertainty and betrayal on all sides. Bethany Grenier does a good job of bringing this plot to life, and investing the characters with depth and complexity, and ends up delivering a world that readers can easily and happily lose themselves in for a while.

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story by Christian Saunders

Jerry, newly arrived in China as an English teacher, settles in to his lonely new apartment, unaware that he will soon be drawn into the mystery of what happened to the apartment’s previous tenant. What he learns frightens him, but even this knowledge may not be enough to drive him away… or to save him.

This story manages to do a lot within its very brief span. It creates an atmosphere of lingering dread, not only of the ghost itself, but of its loneliness and need. It’s an effective and slightly surreal tale of alienation and terror, easily read in a single sitting.


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light. His blog originates here. Photo: silver-john/Bigstock.com.

Short Reviews: Angi Shearstone’s BloodDreams #1 / Tim Marquitz’s Resurrection

BloodDreams #1 by Angi Shearstone

Jonny, the lead singer of a punk rock band, seems to have pulled his life back together after years of struggling with his addictions. His band has a chance to make it big, and he has a chance to marry the love of his life. But fate, and a vampire, have other plans. As Jonny struggles with his new addiction, his friends wonder if he has simply abandoned them again, while a group of vampire hunters set their sights on him.

The first issue of BloodDreams, written and painted by Angi Shearstone, plunges headlong into a world where vampires have been hunted to the brink of extinction. The art is gorgeous and macabre, and the story flies out of the gate, revealing just enough to let readers keep up while hinting at many more juicy revelations to come. There are a lot of layers of bloody intrigue to be peeled back, and I’m looking forward to more.

Resurrection (Book 2 of the Demon Squad series) by Tim Marquitz

Some guys get all the hell. Frank ‘Triggaltheron’ Trigg, having barely averted armageddon two months before in the previous Demon Squad book, is back in the soup when he’s beset by several near-simultaneous crises–a zombie-resurrecting necromancer, a called-in favor that means killing a being that already killed a powerful demon’s top enforcers, and the rumored resurrection of the Antichrist. He’s got to deal with hidden agendas, long odds, dire consequences, apocalyptic endgames, and worst of all, blue balls.

All this is delivered fast and hot, and is a hell of a lot of fun. Trigg is an entertaining, dirty-minded and snarky narrator, sort of like that uncle you never see anymore because of the restraining order. The action and the twists in this tale are well-paced and superbly delivered, running all the way to the surprise at the end that sets up book three. I enjoyed this one a lot, and am looking forward to the next.

Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.

Short Reviews: Su Halfwerk’s Intricate Entanglement / Simon Haynes’ Hal Spacejock

Intricate Entanglement by Su Halfwerk

An abused maid who sought revenge on her employer and got much more than she bargained for. A doctor who discovered his appetite for flesh was more than a metaphor. A woman who found being a certain artist’s model drained her of life. These are just three of the patients being kept in a remote psychiatric institution where reporter Doug Pinkham has gone to investigate a murder. During the course of his investigation, he will hear their stories and others, and will find there is more going on at the institution than meets the eye… and possibly more than he can escape.

Intricate Entanglement is a collection of seven short stories linked by the story of Pinkham’s investigation. The stories are creepy and effective, and the framing story is also developed in depth, avoiding the trap of just being a device to present the stories. Su Halfwerk has a marked talent for creating an unsettling atmosphere and tales that become more sinister as they progress. If you like creepy tales and a sense of growing dread, this collection is well worth checking out.

Hal Spacejock by Simon Haynes

Hal Spacejock is a down-on-his-luck starship pilot given a last chance to make enough money to pay off his creditors and keep his head attached to his shoulders. All he has to do is transport some cargo to another world (avoiding pesky things like customs agents). Which should be simple… but between dealing with cargo thieves, rogue robots, a snarky ship’s computer, and his own less-than-stellar level of piloting competence, things get pretty complicated… and funny.

Simon Haynes’ style is fast, breezy, and funny, and at its best when the characters are talking to, and often past, one another. True, there are bits that go on for too long, or seem like one convolution too far, but how much plausibility do you really want in a sci-fi space opera comedy? I enjoyed much about this book, and am looking forward to the sequels.

Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.