Derrick Ferguson Gets Et By BARRACUDA

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There’s a wonderful story told about the filming of the classic 1946 Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall murder mystery “The Big Sleep.” The plot of the book was so convoluted that in translating it from print to screen, director Howard Hawks and his screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman discovered that not only were they not entirely clear as to who the killer of Sean Reagan was, they also had a dead chauffeur on their hands and they couldn’t figure out who killed him. In desperation they contacted the writer of the book, Raymond Chandler to ask him who killed Sean Regan and the chauffeur and Chandler had to admit that he himself didn’t know.

Indeed, there’s a terrific bit of business right in the middle of “The Big Sleep” where Bogart’s Philip Marlowe is called into the Los Angeles D.A.’s office to explain the case to him and by extension to the us, the audience. Because by the time we’ve reached that point of the movie the filmmakers felt that there needed to be some kind of summary of what happened so that audiences back then could take a breath and feel they were up to speed on what the hell this movie was all about.

I feel kinda the same way about Raymond Embrack’s impressively deranged BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA. Halfway through it needs somebody to hold up both hands, yell “Hold everything, please!” and summarize the plot. And trust me, I mean that in a good way. Because in the same way that “The Big Sleep” is now regarded as a classic of the private eye genre, I think that BARRACUDA in its own way is going to become a classic. And Raymond Embrack is a writer to watch.

Peter Surf is a private eye living and working in Blonde City, a California city that seems to be entirely made up of linked beaches each with their own distinctive personality. Blonde City itself is one of the best characters in the story, inhabited by gangs such as The Schoolgirl Mafia who commit thrill killings while hopped up on Hentai-14 and The Beach Mafia whose members worship The Beach Boys to the extent that all of them have the last name of “Smile” in honor of Brian Wilson’s epic project. It’s a city that seems made up out of equal parts of 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s pop culture with a healthy heaping dose of whatever the hell Raymond Embrack felt like throwing in and believe me, he makes it works. And for me watching him make it work was one of the fun things about reading this story.

Peter Surf himself is…well, the best way to describe him is if you imagined Mike Hammer created by Quentin Tarantino instead of Mickey Spillane. He lives and works out of a converted, arsenal filled service station and he doesn’t so much as do straight up detective work as wreak havoc among his enemies until somebody yells “uncle” and tells him what he wants to know.

And the havoc is profane, sexy and violent and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The story begins with Surf investigating a terrorist group called T-Unit. They’re terrorizing the private eyes of Blonde City. They’re running some out of town and outright killing others. They make the mistake of terrorizing Surf instead of killing him. From then on, Peter Surf becomes a one man wrecking crew on the warpath of T-Unit.

How this is all tied with the DEA, a particularly dangerous man named Gronsky and Blue Mermaid, a type of maryjane so mythical it’s supposed to be able to heal people I would not dream of telling you. Just be advised that by the time you reach the halfway point of BARRACUDA you may be tempted to say, “Hold everything, please!” go back to the beginning and start reading all over again just to make sure you know exactly what is going on.

That’s because Mr. Embrack writes like this was the only book he was ever going to write in his life. There’s an astounding amount of vibrantly alive characters, situations and concepts that other writers would have spread out over a trilogy. BARRACUDA is never boring and never lags due to the constant and unending stream of sheer delightfully WTF plot twists Mr. Embrack throws at us with glee.

The dialog is pure classic P.I. genre porn where everybody talks like a dame or a smartass or a tough guy. And Mr. Embrack allows himself to have fun with his concepts, his prose and the dialog. I like to think that I can tell when a writer had fun writing a story because that fun can’t help but translate into the prose. And if Raymond Embrack has half as much fun writing BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA as I did reading it then he had a big ol’ barrel of fun indeed. Highly recommended reading.

I do gotta point out that this is not for those of you who are PC minded or who object to graphic language, violence and/or sex. But if you want to read a really good crime/P.I. story that reminded me a lot of “Sin City” on crack you can’t do better than BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA. 

Want to read BARRACUDA and more Raymond Embrack novels? Of course you do. Bounce on over to Raymond’s Amazon Page 

Raymond like to review movies as well. Be sure to check out “I’M SERIOUS HOW, LIKE I’M A FILM CRITIC?”

Derrick Ferguson Has A Martini At EL MOROCCO

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Having read four of his books now and one of them twice I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a fan of Raymond Embrack. It’s always such a pleasant surprise to discover a writer who really makes me sit up and pay attention to what he’s doing and Raymond Embrack certainly does that. Why do I like his writing so much? I think it’s because he has that Swing For The Fences quality I always enjoy reading. Each and every one of his books I’ve read so far reads as if he’s afraid he’ll never write another one again and so they’re stuffed with off the wall characters, wild ideas and wilder concepts.  Add to that playful dialog married to descriptive passages and labyrinthine plot twists that I do think he gets carried away with at times.  But we’ll get into that later on. Right now let’s get into the plot of EL MOROCCO.

It’s the swingin’ hepcat 1960’s and Guy Roman is a hot up-and-coming comic working Atlantic City. He’s not quite big time yet but he’s on his way. Until he gets derailed by New Jersey wiseguy wannabe Jackie Rockafero who blatantly hijacks Guy’s comedy routine as he thinks it would be fun to trade leg-breaking and loan sharking to be a stand-up comic. Naturally Guy takes exception to this. Jackie offers Guy gold or lead. Guy takes lead and winds up left for dead in a filthy A.C. alley alongside the ridiculously gorgeous showgirl Tess Revere who has also pissed off Jackie in a way I would not dare dream of revealing here.

Once he recovers, Guy, along with the brain damaged but still recovering Tess heads to Los Angeles where Jackie has become a comedic megastar. Guy’s intention is to not only take back his act but to make Jackie Rockafero sorry he was ever born. The conflict between them escalates into a major war that before it’s over involves the Hollywood film industry, celebrity gangster Mickey Cohen, crooked gossip columnists, high powered agents who are little more than scam artists and the West Coast Mafia a.k.a. The L.A. Set.

One of the things that makes EL MOROCCO so much fun to read is Raymond Embrack’s affinity for the language, attitudes and feel for the 1960’s. His characters all have a wonderfully smart-ass way of talking and yet he manages to not have them all sound the same. Everybody’s a smart-ass in their own way, if you know what I mean. And the characters and tone of the book are totally authentic to the time period. So those of you who are actively PC should be warned. The people in EL MOROCCO talk, act and think like people who lived in the 1960’s talked, acted and thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m actually more comfortable with that than with books that are supposed to be set in the 1930’s, 40’s, ‘50’s or ‘60’s but are peopled with characters from the ‘00’s.

What else can I say to recommend the book? Raymond’s way of writing is one where he’s clearly having fun with language and with words. He obviously enjoys the way he’s telling the story in the language and style and rhythm of the dialog and description. It’s really enjoyable to read his prose as it sings and swings with the patois of 1960’s hipster jive talk.

What’s my only quibble with the book? Remember earlier when I mentioned that Raymond gets carried away with plot twists? The plot twists at the conclusion of EL MOROCCO come so fast and there are so many of them that I felt he was pushing it and I was wondering if he was deliberately trying to see how many plot twists he could throw in there before they collapsed under their own weight. But that’s okay. Above all, I like and admire Raymond Embrack for his sheer audacity and willingness to take the chance of going too far with his bizarre plots and outrageous characters. It’s always more fun to read a writer who isn’t afraid to Go There instead of one that offers up easily digestible prose that is no more exciting to read than recycled oatmeal is fun to eat. He’s an extremely entertaining writer and if you’re going to start reading him, EL MOROCCO is a great place to start.

Raymond Embrack’s Amazon Page

Want To Check Out Raymond’s Unique Take On Movies? Then Go On Over To: “I’m Serious How? Like I’m A Film Critic?”

The Secret Origin of “Voodah of Thunder Mountain”

If you’re a fan of New Pulp and active on social media then you’ve no doubt heard about LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION and how it came into literary life. It would be damn near impossible for anybody interested in New Pulp to have escaped or avoided seeing the news about it. After all, at the time of its publication in 2015 it was a totally unprecedented event in the New Pulp Community. And an event that I believe once and for all establishes that the new Pulp Community is a Community in every sense of the word.

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But for those of you who don’t know the story, here’s what happened. Tommy Hancock (and if I have to tell you who he is then you’re in the wrong place) had to be hospitalized due to congestive heart failure. This was a source of horrendously bad news to everyone in New Pulp. You know that game; “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? It’s based on the Six Degrees of Separation concept which puts forth the notion that any two people on Earth are six or fewer steps apart. Well, Tommy Hancock is kinda like that. Just about everybody and anybody in the New Pulp Community can be connected to Tommy in one way or another. Just follow the steps and I guarantee that somehow, someway, whoever you name can be hooked up with Tommy Hancock.

It was Jaime E. Ramos and Ron Fortier that came up with the brilliant idea of a benefit anthology to assist in defraying the medical costs Tommy’s treatment would incur and sent out the call for writers and artists to submit stories and artwork. Sixty writers and thirty-six artists answered the call, including Yours Truly.

So now that I was in, what exactly was I going to write? I didn’t want to contribute a Dillon or Fortune McCall story. That would have been too easy. And in keeping with the title of the book I wanted to write a story about a pulp legend/archetype. One that has fascinated me for a very long time: The King of The Jungle.

The best known one is Tarzan, of course. Everybody knows him. Marvel Comics had Ka-Zar, Lord of The Savage Land who himself was based on a Classic Pulp hero, Ka-Zar The Great. There was Bomba the Jungle Boy, Polaris of The Snows who basically is Tarzan raised in the Arctic (the stories are actually pretty good and well worth looking up) Ki-Gor and comedic versions of Tarzan; the best known and most beloved being George of The Jungle. There were even female versions of Tarzan: Sheena, Queen of The Jungle, Jana of The Jungle, Rima and Shana The She-Devil.

But no matter how high or low I looked, I couldn’t find a black King of The Jungle with a pack of bloodhounds and a search warrant. As a kid discovering Classic Pulp during what I refer to as The Big Pulp Boom of The 1970s, I had gotten used to not finding any black pulp heroes so I didn’t hold out any hope I would find a black King of The Jungle. Even though that would seem to be a natural, wouldn’t it? I mean, in Africa you expect to trip over black Kings of The Jungle every ten feet or so.

The best advice my father gave me when I started out writing came about during one of our conversations about James Bond where I asked him why wasn’t there a black James Bond. My father replied; “Well, when you become a writer I guess you’ll have to make one up.” And in the spirit of that simply yet brilliantly profound wisdom I decided that my story for Legends of New Pulp Fiction would feature a black King of The Jungle.

Here’s where Lou Mougin enters the picture. He’s written for number of prominent comic book companies including Marvel where he wrote what stood for many years as the definite origin of The Swordsman in Avengers Spotlight #22. But that’s far from his only professional credits. Observe: View a chronological list of Lou’s work

Lou and I bonded over our mutual love of fan fiction years ago. He’s written plenty of it and I read as much of it as I could find. I didn’t know he was Lou Mougin then. I knew him under the name he used to write fan fiction and its probably a good thing I didn’t as talking to professional writers makes me nervous as hell. By the time I knew who Lou was, we’d become good online friends and nervousness didn’t even enter into our conversations. Lou is also an astounding historian and is always steering me to fascinating characters and creators that I have never heard of and I’ll always be thankful to him for pointing me in the direction of Matt Baker and Voodah.

Matt Baker (1921-1959) is generally acknowledged as being the first successful African-American comic book artist here in America. The majority of his work was done during the 1940s and 50s where he took over the Phantom Lady, redesigned her into the incarnation we best know her for and drew her for about until a dozen issues until it was cancelled. Matt Baker was the foremost artist of what was then known as “Good Girl Art”: artwork depicting gorgeous women in sexy, skimpy outfits and often in provocative poses and situations. Much of his Good Girl Art is highly sought after today as collector items, particularly his Phantom Lady work. He also drew a significant amount of romance stories and the adventures of Sky Girl, an aviation heroine.

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But it’s his King of The Jungle character Voodah that interests us. Lou asked me if I’d ever heard of Voodah and I replied that I had not. As he is wont to do, Lou obligingly sent me links so that I could download copies of Crown Comics, which is where Voodah appeared. The truly fascinating thing is that while Voodah was depicted as being a black man in the stories themselves, on the covers he was portrayed as being white. Indeed, after a few issues, in the actual stories Voodah suddenly switched from being a black man to a white man.

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After reading the stories and letting the character marinate around in my brain cells for a few days, I got the notion of re-imagining Voodah for a modern day audience (as he’s a public domain character now) and perhaps in that way honoring the memory of Mr. Baker’s original character. It would also fall in line with my idea of presenting a Classic Pulp archetype in the Legends of New Pulp Fiction anthology.

And that’s the long and short of how “Voodah of Thunder Mountain” came to be. On so many levels it’s one of the most satisfying stories I’ve ever written and it’s such a pleasant surprise that to date I’ve had at least half a dozen readers contact me to tell me how much they enjoyed the story and Ron Fortier has asked me if I’m going to be writing more Voodah stories. At this point I don’t think I have a choice in the matter. Am I right?

Kickin’ The Willy Bobo With…TRELINA GONZALEZ ANDERSON

Derrick Ferguson: Who is Trelina Gonzalez Anderson?

Trelina Gonzalez Anderson: Goodness! What a big question! I guess I could summarize myself with: Wife, mother, photographer, dancer, nerd, coffee addict, pie enthusiast, and weight gain expert, in no particular order.

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DF: Where do you live and what do you do?

TGA: I live in the Baltimore area of Maryland in a tiny townhouse that we don’t really fit in anymore. As for what I do, I do lots of stuff. My two most important jobs, and the two that bring me the greatest amount of joy, are wife and mother. I am also a portrait photographer, and sometimes I get up on stage as a belly dancer.

DF: Tell us about your background. What’s your origin story?

TGA: (I really wish I could say that my origin begins with me falling into a vat of some mysterious, glowing, purple liquid, but alas, I’m just a regular girl.)

I was born in Arizona into a military family, so we moved around a lot. I attended 8 different schools, which was difficult, but ultimately gave me a rather wide view of the world around me. I lived in a town with a population under 50, I lived on two different islands in two different oceans, I lived in a huge, sprawling city, I lived in a rural, farming community, I lived on military bases and on the economy, I lived outside of the U.S., and in many regions of the U.S. I don’t consider myself to be super well-traveled, but enough to be open to many different perspectives, and I love hearing people talk about themselves!

DF: You’ve displayed an amazing talent for photography. Have you always been interested in photography?

TGA: Yes, I have! My father was a (hobbyist) photographer, and I think it started there.

DF: What do you love most about being a photographer?

TGA: Oh wow, that’s a tough question because I really love everything about it! There’s math and science to it, which can sometimes be a challenge, there’s art to it, which is fun and exciting, and sometimes so frustrating. I love learning new techniques, new skills, and I LOVE trying new styles!

DF: Do you plan on turning pro?

TGA: Well, I do charge for my services, so I guess I’m already pro. At this point, I’m only working at it part-time, though.

For examples of Trelina’s stunning photography, bounce on over to Photography By Trelina

DF: How did you get involved with belly dancing?

TGA: So, my very best friend, Misha (https://www.facebook.com/makeupbymishac/), has been belly dancing since she was a little girl. Years ago, maybe 20 years or so, she tried to get me to take classes with her, but I was super intimidated by it, so I never did. She would bring it up off and on over the years, but I always declined. Later, a different friend wanted to try belly dance as a way of getting some exercise in a more fun way than just going to the gym. So, I asked Misha and she recommended a teacher that was near where I worked, and somehow, I allowed myself to get talked into attending that class. And then I fell in love. Now Misha and I get to dance together, and my dance sisters are my family.

DF: Much like your husband Russ you’re something of a geek yourself. What are some of your favorite comics? Movies? TV shows?

TGA: HAHA! You know, Russ always tells people that he got me hooked on comics so that he could continue to collect after we were married. (Like I would EVER ask him to stop doing something he loved!) He started me on Wonder Woman, and George Perez, both of whom will always be my very, very favorite.

My favorite movie is “The Princess Bride”, but I enjoy so many movies, especially movies that are now considered to be “classics.” “The Magnificent Seven”, “The Great Escape”, pretty much any Humphrey Bogart (with or without Lauren Bacall), and embarrassingly, I have a soft spot for musicals. (I know, I know.)  I REALLY like cheesy, silly “monster” movies like “Mega Python vs. Gatoroid” and “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus”. Don’t judge me!

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As for TV shows, those are far too numerous to list here.  As long as there is a good story with not too much whining, I probably can find some joy in it.

DF: Speaking of Russ, what’s it like being married to a writer?

TGA: Well, he disappears into his writing cave at regular intervals, and he’ll be gone for hours, but then, just as we’ve forgotten about him, he’ll magically reappear and devote himself completely to us. So, you know, the usual. He bounces ideas off of me regularly, which is a lot of fun and I love that he shares his art with me.

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DF: Do you have any ambitions of being a writer yourself?

TGA: No, but both of our daughters have written stories and books. Daddy is very proud!

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DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Trelina Gonzalez Anderson like?

TGA: My alarm goes off at 7 a.m. and I immediately hit the snooze button. Assuming that my kids don’t come stampeding into my bedroom, I get up with the next alarm and get my kids up for school. For the next hour, there is organized chaos and frenzy while I get lunches packed, backpacks packed, small breakfast for the girls, make sure everyone is dressed appropriately, teeth and hair brushed, winter wear is all donned, and they are out the door in time to meet the bus.

While the girls are at school, I clean and run errands, work my photography business, practice photography techniques, practice dance, practice guitar (a new endeavor!), and work on my Spanish – something I wasn’t lucky enough to learn while growing up. Occasionally I will have a daytime photo shoot, or if I’m really lucky, I get to meet a friend for lunch or coffee.

Once the girls get home from school, it’s back to organized chaos and noise until bedtime, unless I have an evening photo shoot. I know that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but truthfully, I love our life.

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know about you?

Trelina Gonzalez Anderson: I typed all this out with raw, bloody fingers. Beauty is pain, though, right? 🙂

35 Writers Who Have Influenced Me

1: Piers Anthony

2: Steven Barnes

3: Leigh Brackett

4: Ray Bradbury

5: Edgar Rice Burroughs

6: Stephen J. Cannell

7: George C. Chesbro

8: Clive Cussler

9: Samuel R. Delaney

10: Lester Dent

11: Alexandre Dumas

12: Will Eisner

13: Harlan Ellison

14: Ian Fleming

15: Dashiell Hammett

16: Chester Himes

17: Robert E. Howard

18: Langston Hughes

19: Joel Jenkins

20: Joe R. Landsdale

21: Stan Lee

22: Robert R. McCammon

23: Walter Mosley

24: Larry McMurtry

25: Michael Moorcock

26: John Ostrander

27: Ishmael Reed

28: Mike Resnick

29: Joshua Reynolds

30: Charles Saunders

31: Jim Steranko

32: Andrew Vachss

33: Jules Verne

34: Cornell Woolrich

35: Roger Zelazny

Mystery 170

Lines I Wish I’d Written

#1: “Those motherfuckers had a Gatling gun and more bullets than China had rice.”

#2: “Peace! Freedom! And a few less fat bastards eating all the pie!”

#3: “Would it be all right if I show the children the whoring bed?”

#4: “Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We’re going to teach you soldiering. The world’s noblest profession. When we’re done with you, you’ll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men.”

#5: “You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send them off to die on some God-forsaken rock, but for some reason, you can’t slap them. Now apologize to that boy immediately.”

#6: “She wasn’t just tall. She was great big. She was honey blonde with the mark of The Valkyrie and her mouth was curved in a moist, lush grin because my eyes swept over her so fast. Her body seemed to want to explode and only the tailored suit kept it confined.”

#7: “You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life even if you had an electrified fooling machine.”

#8: “You’re a funny guy Sully, I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”

#9: “I don’t think I’d like to be God. Not that I’m turning down any offers, mind you. But there are six billion people on this planet and I still feel alone. Imagine being One God.”

#10: “Even if he does have a little bacon on the side, that doesn’t make him Eggs Benedict Arnold.”

#11: “You can blow the seminal prisoner class infrastructure out your ass! I’m not knockin’ down my goddamn distribution charges!”

#12: “Ackroyd had the look of a man hang-gliding over Hell.”

#13: “A good love scene should be about something else besides love. For instance, this one. Me fixing grapefruit. You sitting over there, dopey, half-asleep. Anyone looking at us could tell we’re in love.”

#14: “JASMINE! FIX MY JAMMIES! FIX. MY. JAMMIES!”

#15: “My friend, Thomas Jefferson is an American saint because he wrote the words ‘All men are created equal’, words he clearly didn’t believe since he allowed his own children to live in slavery. He’s a rich white snob who’s sick of paying taxes to the Brits. So, yeah, he writes some lovely words and aroused the rabble and they went and died for those words while he sat back and drank his wine and fucked his slave girl. This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now fuckin’ pay me.”

#16: “Less noise, you daft bitch! And that goes for you as well, dog!”

#17: “How’s your mother?”

“Oh…I’m afraid she’s on her way out”

“We all are. Act accordingly.”

#18: “Back then Times Square was part of the real NYC. Musk remembered peep shows and porno theatres, the rotting orifice of a decaying city. NYC had never been more NYC than in the ’70s when the sunlight was a category of polymers, when the snow fell on the Crown Vics staking out Italian social clubs, when 39th Street teemed with garment districts trucks, the sidewalks with rack pushers back when America made garments, when the city was a playground for lowlifes in Pierre Cardin suits.”

#19: “First thing we’re going to do is we’re gonna acknowledge that this guy’s awesome. I mean, he shoots Theo Tonin, fakes his own death in a spectacular fashion, pushes a guy out of an airplane while he’s flying it, parachutes into Harlan County with enough coke and cash to jump-start the economy of a small country, and then he has the balls to get a job in law enforcement, not once but two times! He spends a couple of days riding around with you while you’re looking for him, and now he’s run off with a hooker that’s half his age. That’s some bad-ass shit.”

#20: “When you raid a cathouse, you take the piano player too.”

#21: “What always gets me in trouble,” Mr. Monster says, keeping his eyes forward, “is that I go and say something like that, and there’s a part of me that just has to know if it’s possible to literally knock someone’s nose down through their asshole.”

#22: “We live in a terrible place and time. Everything that’s not you wants to kill you.”

#23: “In all wars, whether marked by luck or by The Lord there were the saved and the unsaved and nothing else.”

#24: “Well, we hit a little snag when the universe sort of collapsed on itself. But Dad seemed cautiously optimistic.”

#25: “What is the face of a coward? The back of his head as he runs from the battle.”

#26: “Imagination is its own form of courage.”

#27: “A million bucks has changed stupider minds than yours.”

#28: “All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

#29: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

#30: “As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.”

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Derrick Ferguson Listens To The Tales of The GRIOTS

GRIOTS

Before we get into the meat-n-potatoes of this review, it’s necessary that Sherman set the Wayback Machine for the 1970’s so we can indulge in a brief history lesson for context: Charles R. Saunders is a writer who like most of you reading this review fell in love with the work of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, King Kull and Solomon Kane.  REH is credited with being the creator of “sword and sorcery” a sub-genre of epic fantasy.  Sword and sorcery concerns itself with stories driven by action, healthy doses of sex and violence and strong supernatural/magical elements.

So in love with sword and sorcery is he that Mr. Saunders sets about writing his own stories.  And in doing so he determines to expand the genre by creating a black heroic fantasy character and set his adventures in a mythical Africa just as fabulous and dangerous as Howard’s Hyborian Age. And with his stories of Imaro, Charles Saunders gives birth to what is now known as “sword and soul” which are fantasy stories with an African connection or featuring African characters

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Saunders and his work ever since I was a high school student back in the 70’s and devouring heroic fiction at an appalling rate.  And as the Wayback Machine brings us back to the present we can begin this review proper with the good news that sword-and-soul is not only thriving here and now, it is giving voice to a new generation of African American fantasy writers eager to explore the genre and continue to nourish it with their talents.

GRIOTS is an anthology of sword and soul stories co-edited by Mr. Saunders and Milton J. Davis who himself has long carved out his own territory in the genre.  The fourteen stories in the book are:

“Captured Beauty” by Milton Davis.  It’s a great action story to lead off the book with.  It’s a simple plot having to do with rescuing a beautiful damsel in distress from the clutches of a vile villain.  But what made this story stand out for me were the characterizations of the protagonist Changa and his employer, the merchant Belay and their relationship.

“Awakening” by Valjeanne Jeffers.  It starts out with a little girl who has no desire to spend her adult days sitting around being ladylike and raising squalling brats while the men have all the fun being warriors and having adventures. The girl, Nandi, grows up and finds out that there’s a supernatural force in her life who also thinks that yeah, her being a warrior is a pretty good idea.

“Lost Son” by Maurice Broaddus is a story I wanted to like a lot more than I do as I like Mr. Broaddus’ style of writing.  But the story just seemed to end without resolution or even much of a point.

“In The Wake of Mist” by Kirk A. Johnson is another story I didn’t get.  Although I liked the imagery the writer evokes, that’s all the impression the story made on me.  A series of wonderfully described images that really didn’t seem to go anywhere or evoke any sort of feeling in me.

“Skin Magic” by Djeli A. Clark kicks the anthology back into action mode with a story that has a healthy heap of horror.  The main character is a thief on the run who has living tattoos on his skin that are portals to a nightmarish limbo through which Cthulhuian creatures can emerge into our world.  The thief, barely able to control this horrible ability is pursued by the fearsome minions of a consortium of dark magicians who desire this power for their own purposes.  As soon as I finished this story, I wanted to read a sequel right away.

“The Demon In The Wall” by Stafford L. Battle is one of my favorite stories in this anthology.  Equal parts high adventure and comedy, it’s an entertaining near parody of the genre.  The sorceress Makhulu and her grandson, the warrior Zende are characters I’d love to see more of.  The banter between them alone is worth reading the story for.

“The Belly of The Crocodile” by Minister Faust is a tale of sibling rivalry.  And that’s all I’ll say about it because it’s not a long story and its emotional punch is best served by reading it yourself.

“Changeling” by Carole McDonnell is a story that works just the way it is but if it were twice as long I wouldn’t kick.  This is about three sisters destined to marry and become queens of their own kingdoms.  But the real prize is their native kingdom only one of them will inherit when their mother dies.  It’s got that ‘Once Upon A Time” feeling as it unfolds it’s ultimately sorrowful tale.  It’s a story of Shakespearean tragedy that has a lot to say about human nature and the ugly power of jealousy.

“The General’s Daughter” by Anthony Nana Kwamu is a good choice to follow “Changeling” as they have something in common.  Both of them have more than their share of action but they also dig deeper into the emotional core of their characters to reveal who these people really are and why we should care about what happens to them.  I really liked the emotional resonance I felt in both these stories after I finished them.

“Sekadi’s Koan” by Geoffrey Thorne is another story I immediately wanted a sequel to as soon as I finished reading it.  I got a very strong Roger Zelazny vibe in this tale of a gifted martial artist studying her deadly art at a school located…well, I’m not sure where it’s located but I was so entertained I didn’t care.  And unlike some other stories where I got the impression that the writers themselves weren’t sure of where their stories were happening, I didn’t get that impression from Mr. Thorne.  I got the feeling he knew exactly where and when his story was taking place but is saving that for what I hope will be future stories about Sekadi.

“The Queen, The Demon and The Mercenary” is by Ronald T. Jones and like “The Demon In The Wall” is a story that seems designed for nothing but the reader to have as much fun reading it as I’m sure the writer had writing it.  The swaggering warrior Toulou sets out to rescue a suffering kingdom from the demon-wizard terrorizing the people and does it in style.  Highly recommended.

“Icewitch” by Rebecca McFarland Kyle proves that you don’t necessarily have to set a sword and soul story in an African setting.  This story takes place in a frigid realm where a dark-skinned youth struggles to find acceptance among his mother’s people who are lighter-skinned.

The only real problem I have with Melvin Carter’s “The Leopard Walks Alone” is the ugliness of the names in the story.  I tried saying them aloud and I swear I bruised my tongue.  I realize it’s a somewhat petty quibble but naming is important in fantasy stories.  Difficult and harsh sounding names should be used sparingly.

And The Master himself, Charles Saunders finishes up the anthology with a tale of Imaro: “The Three Faced One” If you’ve never read an Imaro story or anything by Charles Saunders, this is an excellent introduction to both.

GRIOTS also boasts fourteen interior black and white illustrations by fourteen separate artists as well as biographical information about the writers and artists and introductory essays by the editors.  The cover by Natiq Jalil is simply wonderful to look at.

So should you read GRIOTS?  Absolutely.  True, a few of the stories didn’t turn my crank but most of them did.  If you’re a sword and sorcery fan looking for some heroic fantasy that takes place in realms other than the Medieval or ancient settings most sword-and-sorcery stories take place in then you most certainly should check this anthology out.

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Want a copy of GRIOTS? You know you do. Okay, go HERE and get yourself one.