Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2018 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
Any reproduction of this material is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Being Joe

          I just read the creepiest little short that I've seen in quite a while, Being Joe, by Erin Lee.  This is only available as part of a collection, Carnival of Fear, which collects a sweet thirteen shorts and novellas that bring horror set in carnivals and circuses, places where behind the scenes horror is almost a given, right?  Fitting, since the very word carnival has its origins in the Old Italian carnelevare: taking meat away.  This one doesn't disappoint!
          I can't say much about a short story without ruining the whole thing, but let me try to set the mood.  Being Joe is told by the dominant member of a set of conjoined twins.  The subordinate twin, Moe, is little more than a head that has very little control or feeling of any part of the shared body; all he does is complain, and who can blame him for being bitter?  A one-armed baton-twirling dwarf named Cat is in love with Moe, and Joe can't stand her, not least because she may or may not have killed her last husband and fed him to the circus's big cats.
          And that's as far as I dare go without spoilers.  It is a ride worthy of a much longer work, bringing the horror and suspense advertised along with a healthy dose of sarcastic humor.  Reader of my other blog, Riding the Blimp, were recently treated to a rant about the rising price of e-booksCarnival of Fear, 13 complete stories with a print length of 537 pages, is available on Kindle for 99c, which is what I call a great price!  Erin Lee is a prolific author, and her work can be explored further at  Come on...  Take a walk on the creepy side!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Third Daughter

          I've just finished a book so incredible that I don't know where to start, so I'll just put the wedge in somewhere and start prying.  I recently purchased one of those Kindle bundles where you get a dozen or so books for 99c.  This one was Gears & Goggles: A Steampunk Collection.  Right up my alley, so to speak.
          The Third Daughter was the first book in the collection, and one I never would have reached for had it been alone on its sales page; I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere.  Its author, Susan Kaye Quinn promotes it as a Bollywood-style romance, and it may be.  I know very little about the romance genre beyond the fact that it doesn't interest me a jot, but I think the author may have done herself a grave disservice by placing it in this category.
          The story takes place on one of those not-Earth fantasy worlds so common in the genre, and it is centered around the Kingdom, or more accurately, Queendom of Dharia.  Everything in the land works on steampunk/clockpunk tropes, and fits beautifully into the genre we all know and love.  The land is ruled by a widowed queen who has three daughters.  The elder two have been forced into arranged marriages to seal alliances, and the third daughter, Aniri, is nearing her 18th birthday.  She is a tomboy, more interested in climbing and fencing than jewelry and silks, and has been stealing away unobserved (so she thinks) to meet a lover, a courtesan from a foreign embassy.  Their relationship has remained non-sexual up to this point, and Aniri believes, rightly or wrongly, that they will wed, and enter into a life of travel and adventure that only the independently wealthy can imagine.  She has no courtly duties beyond looking pretty during state functions, and very few cares.  Life extends before her like a huge blank canvas.
          Until the fateful evening when her mother's personal guard, Janak, interrupts her supposedly secret dalliance to summon her before the queen without delay.  Her mother informs her that she will be introduced to a barbarian prince from the northern provinces in the morning, and it is hoped that her wedding to him will avert a war that would kill thousands.
          Aniri, as you might imagine, is devastated, then confused when, instead of an ape in bearskins, she is introduced to a charming and handsome young man who seems to sincerely want peace, and needs this wedding to solidify his hold on the throne before his warmongering generals usurp power.  What's a princess to do?
          At the first opportunity to get her alone, her mother explains that the foreign custom is for the prospective queen to live in the prince's palace for a month of courtship where they get to know each other, and establish how their arranged marriage will function.  The queen is in possession of troubling rumors of a flying ship that can wreak destruction on Dharia in the hands of the prince's kingdom, and her real mission is to confirm or dispell these rumors, and if true, discover some weak point that can be exploited to defend the kingdom.
          Aniri journeys to Prince Malik's palace to face hostile factions, assassins, and creep around behind this seemingly sincere man's back to try to ferret out the truth behind the rumors.  None of this is aided by a message from her lover, telling her that everything the prince says is a lie, and the dreaded war will be triggered by their wedding.
          There is indeed a classic love triangle in play here, but that isn't the book.  If you like court intrigue, political maneuvering, and steampunk gear aplenty, this could be the book for you.  It was certainly a pleasant surprise for me, and I am certain that this will join the Drizzt Do'Urden and Tarl Cabot of Gor series as Books I'll Never Forget.  I've been active in the world of steampunk for a good many years now, and I haven't come across Ms. Quinn's name as one of the giants of the genre.  It should be.  The Third Daughter stands head and shoulders above much of the material I've read.  Romance?  Yeah, it's there, and it's handled in an effective and satisfying manner, but don't be fooled.  This is the steampunk book for every reader, and the best thing is, it's the first book of a trilogy.
          Available on Amazon right here.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Den of Antiquity

          November of 2016 saw the release of the steampunk anthology Den of Antiquity, a project it gives me great pride to be associated with.  The brainchild of Bryce Raffle, a Canadian author of thrilling tales, it was meant as the joyous celebration of a group of good friends linked by our participation in Scribblers’ Den, a writers’ group in The Steampunk Empire.  This was the Den’s second anthology, an event which was becoming a traditional anniversary celebration for the group.  Bryce announced an open call for stories, I don’t remember, almost six months ahead of publication, a time frame that even I could meet.  The theme was to be a den.  Fitting somehow, eh?  Well, according to my trusty Funk & Wagnalls, a den can be a private room for relaxation or study, the cave or retreat of a wild animal, or a term for a place, such as a den of thieves.  As long as the story worked a den into the narrative, it was a go.  There were twelve stories collected for inclusion, and there were happy discussions of what next year’s theme would be.  And then four months later, we woke up, and The Steampunk Empire was gone.  Not a word of warning, not a hint of trouble, just a click on the shortcut to bring up the screen, and what appeared was not that beautiful Victorian wallpaper, but the dreaded “404” message:  “There’s no such thing as what you’re looking for.”
          The Steampunk Empire had been a stable home for punks of every stripe for at least a decade, for far longer than I was associated with it, and one day, poof, gone.  Twenty thousand members, including some big names in the genre, lost everything, photos, blogs, stories, how-to materials, contact information, everything.  I myself lost all but about a dozen of over a hundred contacts, and two sandboxes I had posted for other writers to play in, Port Reprieve and Cape Grief.  Cape Grief was just launching, but writers in the world of Port Reprieve lost a score or more of stories.
          Okay, that’s my rant for this issue.  It’s good to get it off my chest yet again and make my position clear, especially to myself.  With that done, let’s take a look at this book I’ve been raving about.

DenOfAntiquityCover          The link above will take you to its Amazon page, and it’s a purchase to consider for a multitude of reasons.  First, it’s cheap, only $2.99 for the Kindle edition.  Second, it’s a collection of shorts by some of steampunk’s up-and-coming lights, bite-size reads ideal for a lunch break or commute.  Third, it’s also ideal if you aren’t a steampunk aficionado, but would like to dip your toe in the proverbial water.  There are stories here of every ilk, and none of them too outlandish for the new reader.  And here’s the little cherry on top:  None of the writers are accepting a dime in royalties.  Instead, every penny earned is being donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.  So for any of those reasons, or one I didn’t think of, take the plunge.  You, too, can be a punk.  A glance at the table of contents may whet your appetite:

Brass and Coal by Jack Tyler
An Evening at the Marlon Club by Kate Philbrick
Dragon’s Breath by E. C. Jarvis
The Reluctant Vampire by Neale Green
The Complications of Avery Vane by Bryce Raffle
Hark!  Hark! by N.O.A. Rawle
The Jackalope Bandit by David Lee Summers
After the Catastrophe: The Lady of Castle Rock by Steve Moore
When the Tomb Breaks by William J. Jackson
All that Glitters by Karen J. Carlisle
Yggdrasil’s Triumphant Return by Alice E. Keyes
After the Crash by B.A. Sinclair

          Links to all the authors websites can be found at the end of their stories, so a few mouse clicks will open up a wealth of information on a group of fine independent authors who offer tales from the cutting edge, with no publishing house prodding them to recapture the Last Big Thing.  If you are a steampunk die-hard looking for some voices that you might not yet be familiar with, or a curious newbie wanting to try out the genre, thrilling adventures await at

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Astronomer's Crypt (2016)

Supernatural horror by David Lee Summers

[Review of purchased Kindle edition] Rating: 4½ stars.

     I'm first going to tell you everything that's wrong with this book: The author uses too many commas.

     Mr. Summers' bio states that he is a working astronomer, and as the bulk of this novel is set in an observatory, I must assume that he got the atmosphere right. I live near Palomar, and can tell you that even in a daytime tour group, these domes are big, windy, cold, echoing cathedrals where every sound bounces around until direction and content are lost in transition, so high marks for setting.

     The book is unabashedly supernatural horror, so let's see what he offers.
          DRUG CARTEL THUGS: Check
          HUGE STORM: Check
          LOSS OF POWER: Check
          MONSTER OF MYTH: Check
          SHADOWY VILLAIN: Check
          VENGEFUL GHOST: Check

     All are present in a single story, and all are tied together by as compelling a plot and as riveting wordcraft as it has been my pleasure to read in a good long time. If you're a horror fan, and you haven't read The Astronomer's Crypt, then there is a gaping hole in your cloak of fandom. Don't waste time arguing. Just get the book, ignore the extra commas, and enjoy the delightfully horrible thrill of your reading life!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Dark City (1998)

ADVENTITIOUS:  Associated with something by chance rather than as an integral part; extrinsic.

          Okay, so I'm a fan of noir.  Movies like The Maltese Falcon, Strangers on a Train, and Sunset Boulevard just blow me away.  As a body of work, there aren't a huge number of them, so I make it a point not binge-watch them; I don't want to use them all up in a week, and never have any more to look forward to.  After all, they stopped making these things back in the 1950s.

          Or did they?  A little while back I was in the mood to add a noir to my playlist, so I did a little research and discovered that a 1950 movie called Dark City starring a young Charleton Heston (his first starring role, actually) had some points to recommend it, not the least being the young Charleton Heston.  Also in the cast were Dean Jagger, Jack Webb, Ed Begley, and Harry Morgan.  The leading lady was Lizbeth Scott.

          Deciding that this might be worth a look, I brought up Amazon, plugged Dark City into the search engine, performed my one-click purchase, and settled back to await its arrival.  When it arrived, I took it out of the shipping container and put it in the queue without paying much attention to it.  It's been working its way toward the top of the pile for a few weeks now, and this evening it came up.  Imagine my surprise when, far from being a Charleton Heston black-and-white film from the Golden Age, this was a full-color production from the Recent Age starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt.

          Adventitious.  I couldn't find the exact word I wanted to describe what happened here.  I'm sure there is a word for the situation that occurs when you make a real dunce mistake, and it turns out better than you could ever have imagined.  The 1998 film checks all the boxes:  A man wakes up in a hotel bathtub.  He can't remember who he is or what he's doing there.  He gets out of the tub, gets dressed, and goes into the living room to discover a dead woman, and the bloody knife that killed her.  The phone rings, and a stranger's voice tells him to get out of there, that even now, some men are coming for him.

          He takes the stranger's advice and high-tails it, being narrowly missed by a hard-boiled police detective, and another group of men from a secret society with shadowy motives.  There ensues an hour-and-forty minute chase through one of the grittiest, darkest urban areas you'll ever see in a movie.  I'm serious, this place makes Gotham City look like Itchycoo Park.

          Rufus Sewell plays the amnesiac, and the man who called him, Kiefer Sutherland, claims to be his doctor.  He is later revealed to be a psychiatrist who is working his own agenda.  Jennifer Connelly plays the wife he doesn't remember, a torch singer in a two-bit nightclub, and William Hurt is the hard-boiled cop who's after him for murdering the woman in the hotel room, and five more besides.  I refuse to spoil any of this, so I won't even hint at what the secret society's aims are, but let me make a statement you may find...  intriguing.

          As I said, this film checks all the boxes.  Dark, gritty hero: check.  Hard-boiled cop:  check.  Femme fatale:  check.  Grimy backdrop:  check.  But this one adds a new box, and one I've never encountered in a noir of any era before now.  Science-fiction:  check.  As I said, there will be no spoilers here.  Suffice to say that this one is a stunner.  It's about the mystery, it's about the chase, it's about the convoluted, interweaving plot lines, but this one has another facet.  It's about what it means to be human.

          See this film, at least if you have a love of noir and a love of sci-fi.  You won't see them together that often, and don't say Blade Runner; Decker's character is a cop, which removes him from the being a suspect aspect of the richly layered noir that really brings the grit.  I found this film to challenge me as a viewer to keep up, and to try to get ahead of our victim in the quest to learn the secret, but it has given me a level of pleasure beyond that, as now I know there is neo-noir out there that is every bit as good as the original classics.  You can bet I'll be on the lookout for more!

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          Just a reminder to new visitors:  I am primarily an author, and the vast majority of my blogging is done on my author's page at - Pay me a visit when you have a spare moment.  I love to meet new people, and you never know what you might find there.  Maybe a thought-provoking discussion...  Maybe a new friend.  Meanwhile, get out there and live life like you mean it!