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Monday 29 March 2010

VALLEY THIEVES by Max Brand - review

I’ve got two editions of this book – recent gifts from Swedish friend Iwan. An American edition, 1933 plus the first UK edition, 1949, and the dust jacket is from the latter. While I’ve read a number of Max Brand books, I haven’t read any of his Silvertip stories, so this is a first for me.

Narrated in the first person by Bill Avon, it relates Jim Silver’s continuing battle of wills and wits with his arch-enemy Barry Christian, in the process of which Silver’s wolf Frosty and his powerful horse Parade are abducted. We also meet the enigmatic Harry Clonmel, another bigger-than-life character.

There’s no indication when the story takes place, though a few references may suggest the mid-1890s. Silvertip’s pal Taxi seems to have a penchant for modern inventions; he owns an automatic pistol (1893) and carries an electric pocket torch (the first 2-candlepower lantern, weighing in at 2lb would make his pocket very heavy; invented 1892; the tubular torch, 1898). The evil Barry Christian has a concealed derringer up his sleeve, operated by elastic; elastic braid or knicker elastic came out about 1887 while elastic bands were around post-1845.

The writing style isn’t particularly great, but Brand delivers on storytelling. Here, he writes about a West where there are good men and true, where even villains seem to possess some humanity. Old Man Cary is the patriarch of a family of bad blood; he’s well drawn and multi-faceted: he reeks evil yet has a sneaking regard for Silvertip.

Silvertip – so called because of the ‘tufts of grey hair over his temples, like the beginning of little horns’ – is not an anti-hero but a mythopoeic hero. As Avon says, ‘… a hero is a property of every ordinary man and because of such men as Jim Silver the rest of us stand straighter. He was a man who had never been found in a cruel, mean, or cowardly action.’ These heroes are necessary, even in this day and age. Too often, so-called heroes espoused by the media have feet of clay. Perhaps there’s a need for more honest and true sportsmen, movie stars and politicians around to set examples to the young. Maybe loss of faith has something to do with it, now our world is overwhelmingly secular and acquisitive. Bill Avon said of Silvertip, ‘His faith in me made me strong. Another man’s faith always multiplies one’s own, I think.’ Self-belief and self-worth grow from the influences of others.

I came away from a relatively simple western tale with these thoughts, which surprised me a little. Brand doesn’t openly preach, but his tales clearly have a moral tone, which may appear quaint these days, and yet perhaps many of his readers dearly wish to go back to those simpler times.

Friday 26 March 2010


Today, I got a pleasant surprise when I learned that my story ‘A Gigantic Leap’ featured in Midnight Street #13 (Editor: Trevor Denyer)is on the rather long long list of short stories nominated for the 2010 British Fantasy Society’s awards. Those listed are all nominations from BFS members.

Review from Gareth d Jones,
"Nik Morton takes us on 'A Gigantic Leap' as he re-imagines a piece of Soviet history and wonders what might happen if the American paranoia about space-born germs had been justified. It's a gently told story, narrated by an old man who has seen too much in his hard life. Then in the last few paragraphs, the stress and alarm build up nicely. All of the international panic and national security issues occur in the background, though, so as not to spoil the calm flow of the story. It's nicely done."

This tale is a particular favourite of mine, so fingers crossed, though it’s up against very stiff competition and several big names. Still, nice to be included.

Pictured is the first page of the story from the magazine, with an excellent relevant illustration from Surabhi Wade.

In alphabetical order, here is the short story long list

A GIGANTIC LEAP, Nik Morton, Midnight Street #13
ANOTHER END OF THE EMPIRE, Tim Pratt, in Strange Horizons, June 22
AT FIRST SIGHT, John Llewellyn Probert, in The Catacombs of Fear (Gray Friar)
BRYSON FEEDS FAMILIES, T.F. Davenport, Black Static #12
CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, Justin Carroll, in Dragontales: Short Stories of Flame, Tooth and Scale, ed. Holly Stacey (Wyvern)
CAT AND MOUSE, Marie O’Regan, in NVF #4 and Deadly Dolls (NVF)
CERTAIN DEATH FOR A KNOWN PERSON, Steve Duffy, in Apparitions, ed. Michael Kelly (Undertow)
CHARMS, Shweta Narayan, Strange Horizons, August 24
CLOCKATRICE, Tanith Lee, Fantasy Magazine, October 5 post
DEADHOUSE STEPS, Mark Chadbourn, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
EDISON’S FRANKENSTEIN, Chris Roberson, in Edison’s Frankenstein (Postscripts #20/21), ed. Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers (PS)
FINISTERRE, Maria Deira, Strange Horizons, August 10th
FISHERMEN, Al Robertson, Interzone #221 (TTA)
FUTURE CITIES, Allen Ashley, from Once And Future Cities (Eibonvale)
GEORGE CLOONEY’S MOUSTACHE, Rob Shearman, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
GOLDEN LILIES, Aliette de Bodard, Fantasy Magazine, August 10 post
GRANNY’S GRINNING, Robert Shearman, in The Dead That Walk, ed. Stephen Jones (Ulysses)
GROWING PAINS, Ian Whates, Hub #101
HERE WE ARE FALLING THROUGH SHADOWS, Jason Sanford, Interzone #225
IF WISHES WERE HORSES, Tiffani Angus-Bodie, Strange Horizons, May 25
IMAGES OF ANNA, Nancy Kress, Fantasy Magazine, September 14 post
IN THE GARDEN, Rosalie Parker, in The Fifth Black Book of Horror, ed. Charles Black (Mortbury)
IN THE PORCHES OF MY EARS, Norman Prentiss, from This Is the Summer of Love (Postscripts #18), ed, Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers (PS)
JOLLY ROGER, Robert Shearman, from Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (Big Finish)
LIFE AFTER DEATH, Mark Butler, New Horizons #4 (BFS)
LIFE-O-MATIC, Paul Kane, Estronomicon, May 2009 (Screaming Dreams)
LILY GLASS, Veronica Schanoes, Strange Horizons, April 27
LOVE AMONG THE LOBELIAS, Robert Shearman, from Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (Big Finish)
MARLEY’S HAUNTING, Simon Kurt Unsworth (Ghostwriter)
MASQUES, Paul Kane, in Return of the Raven, ed. Maria Grazia Cavicchioli (HorrorBound)
MICROCOSMOS, Nina Allan, Interzone #222
MOTHER SPONGE, Mur Lafferty, Hub #83
MY BROTHER’S KEEPER, Nina Allan, Black Static #12
MY SECRET CHILDREN, James Cooper, Black Static #13
NINJA RATS ON HARLEYS, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, in Zombie Raccoons & Killer Bunnies, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (DAW)
NON-ZERO PROBABILITIES, N.K. Jemisin, Clarkesworld #36
NOTES TOWARD A COMPARATIVE MYTHOLOGY, Nicole Kornher-Stace, Fantasy Magazine, August 5th post
OF MELEI, OF ULTHAR, Gord Sellar, Clarkesworld #37
OFFERINGS, Stephanie Burgis, Fantasy Magazine, August 24 post
ON CONSIDERATION OF THE MUSES, Eric Stener Carlson, in Cinnabar’s Gnosis, ed. Dan Ghetu (Ex Occidente)
ONE LAST LOVE SONG, Rob Shearman, from Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (Big Finish)
PELICAN BAR, Karen Joy Fowler, Eclipse Three, ed. Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade)
PLAYING WITH SPADES, Mari Ness, Fantasy Magazine, August 3 post
PROOF, Gary McMahon, in Apparitions, ed. Michael Kelly (Undertow)
RED CHRISTMAS, Jim Steel, Supernatural Tales #16
SALT’S FATHER, Eric Gregory, Strange Horizons, August 3
SANCTUARY RUN, Daniel Mills, in Strange Tales III, ed. Rosalie Parker (Tartarus)
SERVITOR, Paul Kane, DeathRay #21 (Blackfish)
SHUCKED, Adrian Joyce, Interzone #225
SILENCE AND ROSES, Suzanne Palmer, Interzone #223
SURVIVOR’S GUILT, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Black Static #14
THE BELOVED TIME OF THEIR LIVES, Ian Watson & Roberto Quaglia, from The Beloved of My Beloved (NewCon)
THE BLACK FLOWERS OF SEVAN, James Lecky, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #1
THE CHYMICAL WEDDING OF DES ESSEINTES, Brendan Connell, from Cinnabar’s Gnosis ed. Dan Ghetu (Ex Occidente)
THE CONFESSOR’S TALE, Sarah Pinborough, in Hellbound Hearts, ed. Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane (Pocket)
THE CONVENT AT BAZZANO, Allyson Bird, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
THE DEVONSHIRE ARMS, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Clarkesworld #32
THE ELEVENTH DAY, Christopher Fowler, Black Static #14
THE GHOST OF ONIONS, Marcie Lynn Tentchoff, Strange Horizons, July 20
THE KILLING STREETS, Colin Harvey, Interzone #226
THE LAST GALLERY, Joel Lane, Midnight Street #12
THE MYSTERY, Peter Atkins, in Spook City (PS)
THE PICTURE, Rosalie Parker, Supernatural Tales #15
THE RULEBOOK, Christopher Fowler, in The Dead That Walk (Ulysses)
THE STRETCH, Christopher Fowler, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
THE TRUE VINTAGE OF ERZINE THALE, Robert Silverberg, from Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honour of Jack Vance, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (HarperVoyager)
THE WAGER, Daniel McGachey, in They That Dwell in Dark Places (Dark Regions)
THE WHITE BULL OF TARA, Fiona Patton, in Zombie Raccoons & Killer Bunnies, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (DAW)
THE WORLD ENTIRE, Ron Weighell, in Cinnabar’s Gnosis, ed. Dan Ghetu (Ex Occidente)
TWAIN, James Barclay, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
VENETIAN PAPERWEIGHT, from Mostly Monochrome, John Travis (Exaggerated)
VIC, Maura McHugh, Black Static #10
WALKING WITH A GHOST, Nick Mamatas, Clarkesworld #33
WELCOME TO THE HOTEL MARIANAS, Mike Chinn, from The Bitter End: Tales of Nautical Terror, ed. Jessy Marie Roberts (Pill Hill)
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE NIGHT, Michael Marshall Smith (Nightjar)
WHITE CHARLES, Sarah Monette, Clarkesworld #36
WORLD WITHOUT END, Marie O’Regan, The Thinking Man’s Crumpet #2

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Mention by the Western Writers of America

Congratulations to Matthew P Mayo for getting his short story 'Half a Pig' (from A Fistful of Legends - Express Westerns) mentioned as a finalist in this year's prestigious Spur Awards. Well done, Matt!

Monday 8 March 2010

Write and write some more

Interesting agent’s blog.
which is currently featuring an excellent short interview of Ray Bradbury about his writing schedule. He is an inspiration to all writers - if they half a wit to notice.

Write, write and write some more is the way to go. I should know, I've been doing that for 40 years or more!

His books are on my shelf and I can still remember so many of his tales, which is he measure of the man and the writer.

As Stephen Vincent Benet said, 'A short story is something that can be read in an hour and remembered for a lifetime.' That's Ray Bradbury.