the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Mike Allen’ Category

Black Fire smallThe Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen

published June 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the author

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On a filthy and horrifying Riverboat, young Erzelle has learned to stay hidden. So long as she plays her harp during dinner and stays small, there’s a chance she might stay alive.  Every night the guests arrive, and every night a mutated ghoul from the holds below becomes dinner. Erzelle will never forget her first night on the Riverboat, when it was her parents on that silver platter, their heads still alive.

One evening, a beautiful human woman is a dinner guest. Erzelle fears the woman will become dinner, but instead she joines Erzelle on stage to accompany her with a magical pipe that glows with runes. By dawn, the guests have been run off or slaughtered, Erzelle has been freed from bondage, and the beautiful woman, Olyssa, has realized her lost sister is nowhere to be found on the Riverboat.

Thus begins Mike Allen’s debut novel, The Black Fire Concerto. Exploding with magic, music, and violence, this short novel has the magical feel of an old school suspenseful fantasy adventure as filtered through the eyes of H.R. Giger.

Olyssa takes the orphaned Erzelle under her wing, and the two travel the wasted Earth searching for Olyssa’s sister. Along the way, she teaches Erzelle a concerto for harp and pipe and the child unwittingly becomes the sorcereress’s apprentice. Erzelle came to the Riverboat as a small child, she knows very little of the outside world, and all she saw on board were ghouls and horrors.  She and Olyssa escape a Temple of Grey Ones, befriend the vulpine Reneer, and through visions of an Antlered Man, Erzelle becomes dangerously involved in Olyssa’s family heritage.

Where did the Grey Ones come from? What’s their connection with the Vulpine community nearby? Who is the antlered man who Erzelle keeping seeing in her minds eye? She can’t possibly understand what he’s asking of her. The gift he gives her will save her life as it slowly kills her.

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Clockwork Phoenix 4, Edited by Mike Allen

Available July 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the editor (thanks Mike!!)

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What kind of stories will you find in Clockwork Phoenix 4? Only those are that are magical, imaginative, heartwrenching, just plain bizarre, forward-looking, backward-looking, biological, romantic, hopeful, darkly funny and openly frightening. All the words that describe the best speculative fiction you’ve ever read apply. In fact, if this isn’t the epitome of speculative fiction, I don’t know what is.

Mike recently did an interview with me over at BSBB, and I asked him about the job of an editor. Among other things, he described it as being similar to being the director of a play. Did you recently see a play or a movie that was more than the sum of its parts? How about a musical that was only 2 hours long, but seemed to have weeks of song in it? That’s what Clockwork Phoenix feels like, like time has been frozen, allowing Allen to cram far more beautiful strange things than the laws of physics should permit in less than 300 pages. Allen is a dude who really, really knows how to direct.

I used to always read anthologies in the order the stories were presented. I started liking anthologies much better after I decided I’d read the stories in any damn order I wanted (usually starting with the shortest). I know Mike Allen put these stories in this particular order, for a particular reason, and by reading them out of order it’s like I’m going through his carefully curated museum backwards. To be even more contrary, the order I’ve reviewed a handful of stories in isn’t the order they were presented in either.

I’ve not read much from most of the authors in this collection, so I greatly appreciated the “Pinions” section in the back, where each other offers a short bio, and more importantly a little snippet about how their story came to be. It was very nice to read that Corrine Duyvis is an arachnophobe.

Here are my thoughts on a handful of selected entries. This is just the smallest taste of what awaits you within these pages. Where available, click on the author’s name to visit their website.

The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – The Old Woman has hired someone to transcribe her story, but since he keeps getting things wrong she interrupts and tells him what he aught to be writing down. Their interaction is hilarious, but her story starts out sadly. The Old Woman is very lonely, and wants a family. She goes into the city to find orphans who might want to be adopted, and instead finds another population that is in more dire need of being wanted. It’s a little jarring how the story goes from a fantasy-feel to a matter-of-fact feel, but in the end it all works out.

Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – what happens when two story cliches meet each other? Beach Bum is the mysterious guy the female protagonist always meets in the story, maybe to fall in love with, maybe to learn something from, maybe to be hurt by, maybe just to watch. Drowned Girl is the dead girl the investigator always finds, the mystery to be solved, the child to be saved. And who knows? Maybe Beach Bum and Drowned Girl can help each other out and learn from each other. It couldn’t hurt to chat with another cliché, could it?

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Clockwork Phoenix (anthology) Volume 3, edited by Mike Allen

published in 2010

where I got it: gift from a friend (and she got it autographed for me!!)

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This is Mike Allen’s third volume of beautiful and strange short fiction. In previous volumes, he showcased new works by authors such as Mary Robinette Kowal, Saladin Ahmed, Catherynne M. Valente,  and Tanith Lee. And volume three continues in this vein, offering an intriguing collection of short fiction by well known authors such as John C. Wright, Cat Rambo, Gemma Files and Marie Brennan, along with works by lesser known folks that I am thrilled to have gotten to know a little better.  The theme to these anthologies is “tales of beauty and strangeness”, and Allen has certainly chosen works that match that description.  Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, we can look forward to a fourth volume of beauty and strangeness, the surreal and the fantastic.

Anthologies tend to run hot and cold for me. It’s like buying an album (did I just date myself?). You buy the album for one song, and hope the rest of it doesn’t suck. I’m the same way with anthologies. Out of the fifteen  short stories, maybe 3 of them were just okay for me. And the rest? The rest were pure winners.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on a handful of my favorite short stories in the collection:

Murder in Metachronopolis, by John C. Wright – one of the longer works, and purposely presented in an unusual way. Jake Frontino has been brought to the city outside of time, Metachronopolis, the city of the Masters of Time, to work for them as a Private Investigator. They’ve sent him through time on missions to stop terrible things before they happen – to kill the mothers of dictators, to foil marriages and stop meetings from taking place. The Masters of Time supposedly have no enemies, but Jake has met those enemies, been party to their plans for a coup. The story is written in numbered portions, so the reader immediately knows we are not getting the story in chronological order, we are not getting “the truth” in the right order. And you know what I did the moment I finished this story? I read it again, flipping the pages back and forth so that with the help of the section numbers I could read it in chronological order, in the order that things happened to Jake. And it was a completely different story. I love it when that happens, when I can experience the same story in a completely new light.
The Gospel of Nachash by Marie Brennan – This is a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden. I’m a sucker for any kind of old testament mythology, so this tale was right up my alley. Among its other twists, is the story of the Expulsion is told from the serpent’s point of view.  The serpent, Nachash, was also a creation of God, was also in the garden for a specific reason. Nachash and God’s Daughter watch Adam and Chava’s lives after the garden, and they witness the birth of Chava’s two sons. How will this tiny mortal family populate the earth, with no other women? God’s Daughter has a plan, and Nachash is at the center of it. But that’s not the twist, oh no, Brennan’s got an ever better trick up her sleeve.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.