First and Short: Horn by Peter M. Ball

“First and Short” is a new Ecstatic Days feature that reviews first books that happen to be novellas. Since books fitting this definition are usually published by indie presses, this feature serves the dual purpose of highlighting new authors and unique publishers. It in effect replaces the “Conversations with the Bookless” interviews that have now migrated to BookSpotCentral. Please send materials for consideration to POB 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315 USA, marked “for First and Short”. Thanks–and please feel to spread this link to those who might be interested.

HORN by Peter M. Ball
Twelfth Planet Press / Paperback • 96pp • RRP AUS$10
ISBN 978-0-9804841-4-4

Recombinations of the mystery genre with fantasy have been getting stranger and stranger. In a way–inadvertently–the innocuous Harry Potter series started this trend, with the first three books fusing wizards with tea cosy plots, complete with lengthy explanations in the study to end it all. We’ve also seen the often cerebral and perhaps a spot too organized mix of fantasy and police procedural. But lately also a more dangerous and rowdy sort of hybrid has been making an appearance: fantasy mixed with hardboiled noir (undiluted by the romance of “urban fantasy”).

Peter M. Ball’s debut, Horn, takes elements of faery and places them within a hardboiled context, and by doing so renders the fantastical as sordid, tactile, and often gruesome. The story is relatively straightforward but contains rather delicious details: Miriam Aster is an ex-detective turned PI who still gets called in some cases, usually to the morgue, due to her past as both the lover of the exiled Queen of the Fairies and having once been brought back from the dead. In Horn, she’s brought in on a death related to a rampant unicorn.

At times, the effect of this fusion reminded me of Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, because Horn de-romanticizes and de-mystifies its fantasy element. In a sense, it makes faery mundane, but in interesting ways. A casual throw-away line like “Somewhere in the bowels of the building, he was feeding the corpse of Sally Crown into the morgue incinerator and hundreds of newborn fairies were dying” lends a kind of rough legitimacy to the milieu that’s lacking in more whimsical treatments.

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Moomin: Building a Steampunk Maker Time Machine in Ten Easy Steps

(If you’re unfamiliar with Moomin, check out the official site and the wiki)

Drawn & Quarterly has just released the fourth reprint volume of the Moomin cartoon series by the amazing Tove Jansson–and it starts out with a classic step-by-step introduction to the Steampunk Maker process. Note that Moomin papa is even wearing a Steampunk-appropriate hat. Truly, Jansson was ahead of her time…

#1 – Assemble your parts from the guts of other, broken machines.

#2 – Allow yourself a discovery phase based on what you’ve assembled.

#3 – Understand that a vital element of chance will enter your process.

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Booklife/Finch Fall Book Tour Update

In the ongoing seek-and-acquire that is the book tour for Finch/Booklife in the fall, it’s now looking both more manageable and more specific. Because of Booklife, some events may be workshops or presentations. I’m flexible.

West Coast

Oct. 28-Nov. 2 – World Fantasy con events (including a book release party after the opening ceremonies that Thursday).

Nov. 4-15 (Seattle down to San Fran/possibly LA) – Since most or all of this will be by car, and include Portland among others, I’m open to suggestions of lit. festivals, writer groups, bookstores, etc. Chances are I’ll wind up in San Fran doing a reading the weekend of Nov. 14th.


Nov. 16-27 (some combo of Toronto, NYC, Boston, Dartmouth NH, including a break for Thanksgiving) – We’re still working out the details of city order, venue, etc. Again, suggestions always welcome as we hash this out.

Mid Atlantic

Nov. 28-? (Philly, DC, Carolinas) – The least defined part of the tour thus far, but with one gig each more or less certain in Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and lots of strong possibilities in the Carolinas.

Should be fun.

Elevation: Raise Yer Game, Internets, for I Am Giving Away Hooks

Dear Intertubes:

I was scrolling through yer bountiful pleasures the other day and came across things that made me want to write a blog post, because I’m totally reactive that way.

First off, ———-, stop posting this on twitter over and over again because it’s f-cking with my ability to find real information about myself, and we all know how important that is: “My books have been blurbed by writers such as Piers Anthony, Jack Ketchum, Jeff Strand, Jeff VanderMeer, John Skipp, Gary Braunbeck.” Stop it! Or mix it up: “My books have not been blurbed by Junot Diaz, Stephen King, Fatty Warbucks, and Irmalinda Pitkaginkel.” (Besides, you are beginning to sound like you have some kind of disease. I am worried about you. Love, Flaming Disaster.)

Secondly, I completely agree with Larry that there aren’t enough give-aways on various blogs. As Larry says, quoting John Ford, “‘Tis a Pity You’re a Whore, You Bastards.” Wait. Whut? Er, never mind. Doesn’t scan. I has no opinion.

Where was I?

So I will begin with the give-aways here, since I’m not doing my fair share. Still, it’s going to be a little different than on other blogs.

Let me explain. I do features, interviews, and book reviews across a spectrum of different publications. Do I love everything I profile? No, I do not, but there are plenty of books that deserve coverage that will never fall into my personal love-it category–books and authors I still respect, and that readers want to hear about. (Mind you, book reviews fall into another category entirely–that of complete disclosure of the reviewer’s opinion.)

All by way of saying I like to be both more relaxed and less relaxed here on my blog. I don’t do book give-aways on my blog except rarely, and I’ll only give away a book I truly deeply love. Otherwise, there’s a kind of contamination going on–something junking up my relationship with my blog readers. And I don’t want book publishers leveraging up on me in my personal space.

So, all that out of the way, here’s my give-away contest: Write me a 10,000-word essay on why you think give-aways helped create or destroy the fantasy genre as we know it (deadline: Jan. 1, 2010) and you will receive one of the following prizes:

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Let Me, Jeff VanderMeer, Harvest Your Brain (please? with sugar on top?)

(Me, dignified, somewhat somber, wearing the Brain Harvest hand-made moustache they sent me. I requested a Dali moustache to cover my own prodigious lip hair, and, in yarn, this is a very close approximation.)

Brain Harvest is having a micro fiction contest, and I am the final decisioning-maker on it. What do you win?

The winning entry will receive $100, publication in Brain Harvest, a hand-knitted mustache, 1 Fresh Eyes crit (up to 10,000 words) to be used on the piece of their choice, and the accolades of their peers, friends, and family. The second place winner will receive $25, publication in Brain Harvest, and a hand-knitted mustache.

Go check out their rules and regulations!

On one final note–I must protest at the use of photo on their contest page. It’s clearly not me. I do not prance around my house in a bathrobe, for example. Nor wear Romanian medals. Nor is my hair ever in that particular, erm, style. Imposter! say I. Imposter!

Are You Meandering Around a Castle for 200 Pages? Well, Stop That, Suckah!

I find this Brandon Sanderson quote from Shaken and Stirred’s Thursday Hangovers somewhat fascinating, about “how SFF YA might have influenced epic or high fantasy”:

“I think it made the genre better. I think we’ve had to look at our sluggish beginnings in epic, and realize that two hundred pages of wandering around a castle before conflict appears may not be the best way to begin a story. We’ve had to become more creative in our worldbuilding, partially (I think) to compete with the elegance of YA competition. Probably, most epic authors don’t even think about this, though I bet many of them have read Potter and the others. You can’t help but react to, incorporate, and learn from what you read.”

Just a few thoughts based on this quote that I’d like to throw out there for comment. I’m not wedded to them, but they’re a starting point for further discussion, I think….

(1) The bloated qualities of Harry Potter starting around book four shouldn’t be a blueprint for anyone. The good qualities of the first three have as much to do with following classic tropes of traditional Agatha Christie mysteries as any fantasy element, YA or otherwise.

(2) “Two hundred pages of wandering around a castle before conflict appears” would be a damn good description of a fantasy masterpiece: the first book of the Gormenghast trilogy. It could also describe the best parts of Stephenson’s Anathem–sections in which not much happens in a conventional plot sense but those sections are still fascinating, alive, and interesting. You want to read more.

(3) Epic fantasy has cast off its echoes of Tolkien and its wholesale commercialization by getting grimmer and more adult and complex. Which has, paradoxically, worked just fine in the marketplace. (See: Joe Abercrombie and a host of others.) Although YA can be grim and deal with adult themes, I don’t see much influence of specific YA authors on the best epic fantasy.

(4) I don’t buy that there is a separate “elegance” to YA world-building. As always, there are individual authors in every genre or publisher category who do things well, including world-building (should we need to separate out this element at all). This monolithic approach to ascribing influence or derivation doesn’t truly identify source.

(5) He’s more useful when he cites Pullman and His Dark Materials later in the blog entry. That’s a legitimate, brilliant example of a good source for influence. However, the qualities of that book when it comes to world-building–good but not amazing–are not, for me, the highlights. The importance of His Dark Materials is primarily that it features an extraordinary female lead character. Without that, none of the rest (except my fondness for the bears) really works in the sense of being classic. This is perhaps the hazard of talking about worldbuilding separate from other elements. In other words, the main character in HDM makes the “worldbuilding” come alive.

(6) I’d argue there’s no real “progress” in literature–i.e., we are not making better machines now. We are making different machines. Some of which will stand the test of time and some of which won’t, just like in any era. So the idea of something being made better seems odd to me. An infusion of new ideas creates different kinds of hybrids, some of which survive and thrive through this cross-pollination. But this doesn’t necessarily make them better than what went before, in the context of what becomes classic. (Acknowledging that some classics do over time become unreadable.)

Agree? Disagree? Why?

Sunday Videos: Civilization and Buffy Kicks Twilight

Civilization by Marco Brambilla from CRUSH on Vimeo.

Via Hal Duncan who got it from SF Signal. Pretty darn wild.Heh. I thought Twilight was a big ole heaping plate of gross and the unintentionally funny. A friend sent me the link to this remix of Buffy with Twilight that shows just how creepy Edward is…

Three Dreams and a Fabrication

(Derek Ford’s amazing piece for the interior of the Last Drink Bird Head anthology)


I dreamt of a falling apart hotel in some tropical location. It was on the side of a mountain and it swayed on stilts like something alive trying to break free of its restraints. Ann and I were staying there on holiday. The help staff had all been former members of the government in that country, but deposed during a coup. They had established their own form of Marxism within the hotel, which meant that the guests had to do the cleaning up along with the maids, help cook the food, etc. At night, the staff became hideous animals that roamed the halls, their cries indistinguishable from the gusts of wind. So you had to barricade your door. For some reason, perhaps because we had no choice, we would pretend we didn’t know that they became animals, even when their mouths were blood-smeared in the morning. We would relax by the pool when we weren’t helping with chores and talk like nothing odd was happening. Some of the other guests couldn’t keep their cool and went mad, so dinners became a strange mix of amazing food, curt staff, and people who could not control their nervous tics and their stammering from the stress of it all. Meanwhile, we could tell that the hotel was losing its bearings–that it was coming closer and closer to just breaking apart and falling down the side of the mountain. There came a day when we knew the end was near. The staff had begun to go feral during the mornings, too, so we couldn’t have breakfast until noon. The varnished wood of the floors had begun to snap and crack. We stood on the edge of our hotel room, now with the whole outer wall having slid down the mountain. Behind us the insane guests and the staff stuck in transformations between animal and human. I asked Ann what we were going to do. She laughed and said, “we’ll just fly away.” I said, “how are we going to do that?” She just cawed back at me, flapped her wings, and then we did indeed fly away, never to return.

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Housekeeping–Secret Lives, BAF2, etc.

Just a quick note to say that all Secret Lives copies and BAF2 copies promised are going out Monday. This would’ve been taken care of much earlier if not for the sudden onslaught of deadlines coupled with losing Ann’s car to the crash over Memorial Day weekend. Which basically meant being house-bound since Ann needs a car more than I do. My apologies for the delays, but you will all have your orders shortly. Thanks for your patience; these kinds of delays are not usual around here.

Also, next week we’ll announce the contents of BAF3 along with other exciting news about the series. And I will be getting back to the 60 in 60, albeit at a slow pace.

I hope you enjoyed the welter of surreal/fantastical material from the last week. It was just a good time to piggyback some stuff off of China’s guestblogging stint on Amazon.