Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
November 2010

Title: Warrior Wisewoman 3
Editor: Roby James
EAN: 9781607620617

I'll admit, when I first received this book and looked at the title, I was slightly concerned that I was getting into part three of a Conan-style fantasy that I hadn't dived into before . . . but it was recommended by a friend, so in doing my friendly duty I had to give it a shot. And then I looked a little closer at the cover (and remembered that my friends are pretty intelligent people). Vera Nazarian's classic busts of women against a star-filled backdrop, with some sort of satellites in the foreground, hinted at a bit more than She-Ra and the Power of Grayskull.

The enclosed tip sheet (thank goodness for advance readers and marketing copy) and Roby James's introduction explained the purpose of the book a lot better: the Warrior Wisewoman books are meant to be the sci-fi sisters to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress fantasy anthology series. Both feature stories with strong women in prominent speculative roles, but on opposite ends of the spectrum. James comments in her introduction that over the years she has been impressed with the increasing number of male authors who "make the cut" to get into the final WW table of contents. This, the third installment, has the largest percentage of male authors by far.

True as that may be, who-wrote-what was not my first priority when I opened the cover and dove in -- I just wanted to be impressed by good stories. I have to say, I wasn't disappointed.

The first hurdle any reader of sci-fi encounters is the world-building. In novels, it sometimes takes entire chapters to explain the world, the climate, the politics, and the foreign races. Only after these is the reader allowed to get to the point. A short story does not afford that luxury. I was curious as to whether or not 1) the authors would be able to pull it off, and 2) I would be able to read more than one story in a sitting without being confused as to which world I was in at the time.

My hat's off to James and her stable of authors -- I read the book from cover to cover in only a few sittings, and each story still stands out in my memory. There were nineteen stories spread across roughly three-hundred pages, and while maybe one or two of them felt too short, none of them struck me as too long. The stories were set in suitably complex sci-fi worlds, but they were all strong, emotional, character-driven stories. The female theme carried throughout, dealing with every aspect from nurturing and empathy to war.

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Stand-out stories for me -- though ask me tomorrow and my mind might have changed -- included "The Truth One Sees" by Kathy Hurley, which involves a tarot deck and a fortune teller whose abilities let her see beyond the veil to the phase-shifted aliens with which her fellow humans unknowingly share their planet. "Natural Law" by Alfred D. Byrd concerns the dilemma of a compassionate woman who exercises her power to preserve the natural order of humans by genetically manipulating the populace. My favorite by far, however was Paul Abbamondi's "Sustain Nothing," where the world wide information database has evolved into the biological computer-minds of walking, talking humans. He had me in the first paragraph, at ". . . and there were 5026 registered wishes on last night's falling star." I'm a longtime fan of Paul's artistic endeavors, but I look forward to reading more of his fiction in the future.

All in all I finished Warrior Wisewoman 3 a very satisfied reader, wishing only that I had heard about this series before.

Title: Archvillain
Author: Barry Lyga
EAN: 9780546196499

The coolest thing about hunting down authors you really like at conventions is that sometimes they give you free books. The tough thing about hunting those authors down is that you need someone who's met them before to point them out in the crowd while wandering through Baltimore Comiccon. Otherwise, you'll pass them three or four times and never even know it. Luckily, this year I had a friend with me to point out Barry Lyga, who gave me a copy of his new YA book, Archvillain.

From his history writing such classics as The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Goth Girl Rising, Lyga is no stranger to the underdog. The trials and tribulations of twelve-year-old Kyle Camden (for I can only assume there will be future installments in this series) call upon everything in Barry's arsenal as a long-time comics geek (and employee) himself. In prose only, he creates the quintessential story of the anti-hero. Our archvillain.

No bad guy (barring a few of the characters in the Warhammer universe) honestly feels he is a bad guy. He usually thinks that his actions will in some way make the world a better place. A perfect example would be Alan Moore's Ozymandias, whose plan was to decimate the world's population and unite humanity against a common enemy -- the survivors would be in no short supply of, well, anything, and they would care about each other instead of wandering lonely in cities populated by millions. Unfortunately, that whole "decimate the world's population" aspect really put a damper on things.

Much like Ozymandias, Kyle means well. He was already an arrogant genius before his encounter with the plasma curtain that bestowed upon him supernatural abilities. It's not his fault that his parents won't watch the brain-enhancing DVDs he made them so that his mother will finally know how to cook and his father will lose weight. It's not his fault that no one can see past the new kid Mighty Mike's superhero exterior and realize that he's an alien from another planet. And he chose to be called The Azure Avenger, not "The Blue Freak." Why can't the papers get it right? Who is the real nemesis here?

Lyga does a phenomenal job of keeping us sympathetic to Kyle's plight. We root for him to make better decisions, for someone to notice all the good he's doing, for something to go in his favor for once -- it just never happens. And when everything goes pear-shaped, we pinch the bridge of our noses and hang our heads and feel embarrassed for Kyle because we were in a situation just like that once, and it's exactly how we felt. Nobody means to be the bad guy. Especially us.

While this slender volume is meant for the younger crowd, I encourage anyone who was a fan of The Watchmen -- or for the true geeks, James Maxey's cult classic Nobody Gets the Girl -- to pick up this book. It's a quick read you will be happy to pass off to your children, just like I'm about to pass this one along. I had Barry sign it to them, of course. But I called "dibs" and got to read it first.

Read more by Alethea Kontis


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