reviews
Charles Phipps

Charles Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) 20, Oct

4.5/5

THE LAST WISH by Andrzej Sapkowski is a short story collection featuring the adventures of witch hunter (a.k.a Witcher) Geralt of Rivia. It is the beginning of a series of one more short story collection and several novels which became the basis for the much better known video game series. Indeed, the video games were written as "fix fic" fanfic which attempted to provide the series with a different ending. For those only familiar with the video games, it should be noted this is the beginning of the series and where most of the characters found in them originated.

The primary draw of the books is Geralt himself, who remains one of the better written protagonists of fantasy I've read over the years. He is a cold-blooded but surprisingly decent mutant created by a secretive order of killers called the Witchers. Long ago, they were necessary to protect the human race from monsters but they've mostly been killed off and the immortal mutants no longer have a purpose in life.

"The Voice of Reason" is the framing device of Geralt having been injured (in the second story) but is recovering in a Temple of Melitele. The head priestess Nenneke makes him recount several of his adventures. It's not a bad framing device but could have been left behind without losing anything.

"The Witcher" introduces Geralt as a Man with No Name-esque badass who is hated on sight. However, the King of Temeria has his incestuous daughter has been cursed to become a monster. Geralt knows the only way the curse can be broken is if he can capture it and stay beside it until morning. It is a heavily action-based story and extremely entertaining.

"A Grain of Truth" is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast where the Prince actually was a monster before his curse but has had his disposition improved by it. We also discover Beauty isn't the best sort of person for it either. Geralt is surprisingly pleasant to this Beast as well, despite the man's many many crimes.

"The Lesser Evil" is another fractured fairy tale with Geralt falling in love with Snow White the Bandit. She has seven dwarves and they murder people for money. They also murder people because Snow White is wanted for her part in a prophecy which may be, even in a world of magic, complete nonsense. I think this is easily my favorite of the stories in the novel.

"A Question of Price" is the origin of Ciri, the deuteragonist of the Witcher Saga, though she's not yet born by the end of the story. Basically, Geralt is called in as part of a complicated marriage compact which has already completely gone to hell by the time he arrives. We also meet Pavata, an impressive character who is able to stand toe-to-toe with Geralt. The fact Geralt isn't trying to be anything but respectful just makes it all the funnier.

"The Edge of the World" is my least favorite of the books as it involves Geralt and his friend Dandelion getting captured by some elves with too high of an opinion of themselves. The peasants are shown to be complete idiots too.

"The Last Wish" is the titular story of the collection and extremely entertaining. It introduces Yennefer, Geralt's love interest as well as partner, who is one of the better written female characters in fantasy. The fact she's someone who utterly steamrolls Geralt as well as those around him only to get back plenty in return makes her a constant source of amusement.

In short, this is a great bunch of fantasy stories even if I was a bit nonplussed by their fractured fairy-tale nature. They do, however, have an incredible main character as well as a well-developed supporting cast and mythology. I recommend fans of the game and fantasy fans in general all check out this work because it's one of the better buys you'll probably get out of a translated work.

Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher 20, Oct

5/5

Michael R. Fletcher remains one of the most underrated authors of fantasy today and I am continually impressed by his amazing achievements in terms of making stories which are both rich, well-characterized, and pardon my French but fucked up. He is one of the voices of independent grimdark and we are all the better for his work. Interestingly, my favorite of his works isn't dark fantasy but something much more modern in the stylized hyper-violent GHOSTS OF TOMORROW. It is a cyberpunk shoot-em-up crime thriller with a samurai cowboy cyborg, a sentient tank, and an autistic girl goddess A.I.

The books premise is the future is now dependent on Scans. Scans are a process where a human being's consciousness is copied from their organic brains but, in the process, said brain is destroyed. Rather than result in countless humans wanting immortality, though it appeals to some, it's created a trade in copied humans necessary to keep the hyper-technological future running. Scans are used for assassin-robots, running massive businesses, and more with there never being enough Scans to go around. The solution is at once both believable and horrific with cartels forming to supply the need with children bought or stolen from their parents.

This is mostly a metaphor for human trafficking in the real world with the demand having created a monstrous need which plenty of people will do their best to fulfill as long as its profitable. The fact our villains are the scum of the Earth doesn't keep them from being humanized. Their evil is a function of their being human rather than a divergence from it. The boss of the cartels, for instance, treats his Scan child-soldiers with warmth as well as affection despite the fact they're all people he's murdered as well as would send to their deaths again.

The heroes are also, in proper grimdark fashion, just this side of psychotic themselves as they can't see the horrors they've witnessed without being affected themselves. Griffin, the protagonist, loses a bit of his soul when his attempt to make a bust "properly" gets a bunch of children executed so their kidnappers can get away clean. He then becomes the kind of cowboy cop which exists in movies willing to do whatever it takes from torture or murder to stop the cartels--and really, who can blame him. His companion, Nadia, a reporter finds herself also affected as it's clear the horror she wants to expose is at the base of the society she lives in.

I'm actually really fond of the child-characters in this book as well, which I never thought I would say about any of them in fiction. 88 is a girl who desperately wants to find her mother but may not even have ever had one. Archaeidae is a cyborg assassin who only a person who was raised by ultra-violent video games could take seriously--except for the fact he really is a man with a body count in three to four figures that is all but unstoppable yet possesses a child's ethics. The most fascinating character for me, though is Abdul who is a soldier who had the chance to "survive" by being scanned and now copes with phantom everything syndrome.

It's a violent book but the violence is stylized and overthetop so you get the sense of both how dangerous this new world has become while enjoying it from a reader's persective. It also gives a sense of just how ruthless every party is becoming in order to combat each other. While it's not a metaphor for anything, the story has applicability for discussing things like the War on Drugs as well as War on Terror. It also can simply be appreciated as a science fiction story.

This book reads like a big budget sci-fi action movie and is one of the most entertaining reads I've had in 2017. The fact some of the elements which I loved about it turned up in Metal Gear: Revengeance just goes to show you that geniuses think alike. I actually hope Michael R. Fletcher does a sequel to this novel but I can't really see how he'd improve on an already self-contained masterpiece. It has the same psychedelic crazy appeal of Snow Crash or Neuromancer.

Interview with M.L. Spencer 12, Oct

An interview with M.L. Spencer about her wonderful dark fantasy series The Rhenwars Saga. Its novels follow a centuries long saga struggle between mages and demon worshipers were the good and evil aren't quite as clear cut as you might think.

1. So, can you describe The Rhenwars Saga for new readers?

I just won a “Shortest Pitch” award for this...what was it? Oh, yes:  “Two opposing orders of mages and a gateway to hell.”

2. What is the premise of Darklands?

In Darklands, Darien, the protagonist from the last novel who gave his life to seal the Well of Tears and rescue his lover from the Netherworld is back, only on this time he has sworn his soul to the God of Chaos.  He is tasked with delivering the people he has only ever known as the Enemy from the curse of darkness that has plagued them for a thousand years: a mission which puts him at odds with his former allies.

3. Who are the protagonists of the book?

The main protagonist is Darien Lauchlin, former Sentinel of the Rhen, now a Servant of Xerys.  There is also Quin, another servant of the who pledged his soul to Chaos, and Meiran, Darien’s former lover, who is now the leader of the Rhen’s decimated mages.

4. What separates The Rhenwars Saga from other fantasy novels?

The Rhenwars Saga takes all the familiar tropes you would normally expect to find in a typical fantasy series, blends it all up at high speed, and then sprays the resulting concoction all over the kitchen.

5. Darklands is a story which reverses a lot of the good vs. evil we expected from previous books. Was this planned from the beginning? Why go this direction?

This was definitely planned from the beginning. The Rhenwars Saga is about setting up assumptions and then challenging those assumptions by switching perspectives. So this sudden “redirect” in plot direction gave me the chance to shift the camera and see the world through the eyes of the Enemy. In fact, that is exactly why they are called the “Enemy” in the first place: the name typifies the kind of lack of understanding and disregard the people of the Rhen had for their neighbors to the north.

6. The romance elements of your books are always tragic. Is that your style or a deliberate choice to contrast your book against other books?

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for tragedy.  But that’s not the real reason why so many of the romances in my books end tragically. The Quin-Amani-Braden romance tragedy has echoing consequences that shook an entire world for a thousand years.  The Darien-Meiran romance isn’t necessarily over, so I’m not going to say how it’s going to ultimately end. But I will say this: it will be logical and realistic outcome that could end no other way considering the personalities of the characters involved and the situations they face.

So...I think the overarching theme here is I enjoy realistic outcomes that might defy the typical – but utterly unrealistic--fantasy romance.

7. What were the influences on the cultures in the setting?

 The cultures I drew most heavily on were pre-Islamic Bedouin culture and Ottoman-era Turk.

8. Do you have a favorite character among your leads?

I’m torn between Quin and Darien.  If you make me pick, I’ll have to say Darien, because he literally has been in my head for over 20 years.  Quin is a relatively recent addition to my cast.

9. What books would you recommend as being like yours?

Definitely "Wraith Knight” by C.T. Phipps! It’s the only book I’ve yet read that really turns the tropes around like Rhenwars does.  I get compared to Jordan and GRRM a lot, but I don’t see it.  OK -- I kind of see it with Jordan, but it would be a really MESSED UP Jordan. Kind of like if Rand had joined the Dark One and started fighting against Egwene et al. I guess another one I could see a parallel would be Stoker’s Dracula.

10.  Did you have any authors that influenced your world?

Plenty!  Jordan, of course. Raymond E. Feist, Stephen King, and C.S. Friedman are probably the big ones.

11. What can we expect from the next novel in the series?

The proverbial excrement is going to hit the wind-generating device. War is coming to the Rhen, and it will not be pretty as former friends are realigned as foes. I can promise tons of trickery, treachery, and tragedy! Plenty of hearts will rupture and bleed.