George RR Martin gets top billing — as an editor

Lowball (Wild Cards, #22)Lowball by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not sure what number this is in the Wild Cards series … 22? 23? Over twenty anyhow. I’ve read most of them. They seem to come out in trilogies so I suspect this is the start of another threesome featuring the same group of central characters. Which isn’t to say it’s altogether free of prehistory.

I certainly remember DB (Drummer Boy), Curveball, Earth Witch, Rustbelt, Ghost and a couple of others from the unfortunate sequence based on Survivor or some such. Almost turned me off Wild Cards. Do seriously get tired of giggly, yet somehow ever so sensitive (melodramatic?, sanctimonious?) millennials giving each other hugs and kisses, spouting OMG every third sentence and basically being indistinguishable from one another, nor any of their other equally shallow, hollowed-out “friends”.

Fortunately that doesn’t happen as often as it did in the last threesome. Indeed, it mostly sticks to Carrie Vaughn’s bottom of the foot contribution.

Yes. it’s another ensemble piece in the form of a mosaic novel. Has contributions from at least six different writers, none of them named George RR Martin despite his top billing on the cover. Second billing goes to his longtime co-editor Melina Snodgrass, who does contribute a sequence that’s copyright by Lumina Enterprises LLC.

Presumably they get together, draw up story ark then bring in Wild Card writers to flesh it out according to preset parameters. I’m guessing that it falls to Snodgrass to oversee the project, tying it together and filling in the inevitable gaps with her contribution to the whole enterprise, the ten-part “Galahad in Blue”.

There’s a great deal of yawn-inducing soap opera in this book. That may pass as character development these days but most of it just seems perfunctory, uninspired and not particularly relevant to the storyline. The Ghost character, for example, hardly does anything but what she does do, well …

It’s a shame about Ghost really. She only appears in one sequence, and then only as a secondary character, but she has lots of potential. How can you not be intrigued with a psychopathic preteen with nifty abilities and a thing for sharp blades.

Hers is arguably the best story in a not bad batch. One hopes Ian Tregillis, a writer I’ve appreciated previously, is holding out for a great whack of an upcoming installment featuring her. Too bad Rustbucket isn’t the best lead, though he did good work in an earlier Wild Cards book, set in Africa, where-in he met and ending adopting Ghost.

Overall a bit of a police procedural set in Jokertown. Typically, in addition to incompent copes and their idiotic supervisors, that means guns, lots of them. Some of the writers come up with a few nicely grotesque Jokers with some decent ancillary talents. The pacing is lively and variations of a couple of the chase sequences will probably appear in the next Captain America or Batman movie.

Seems to me the Aces are mostly recycled, though. We’ve seen teleporters before, almost everywhere we go in the grim-dark, fantasy sub-genre these days. Plus, the shape-shifting, paranoiac Sleeper, Croyd Crenson, does a couple of cameos as a presumed tribute to Jack Kirby’s Thing from Marvel’s Fantastic Four. (Which for many started the whole superhero/supervillain bandwagon  that my own Phantacea Mythos jumped on in 1977.)

Have to say I’m looking forward to what I assume will be two more books in this threesome. There’s something very familiar about one of the unnamed characters who survives Lowball and if it’s who I think it is I may have to go to the library for some some early Wild Card books as my collection has suffered from two many moves and trade-ins at the secondhand bookstore.

Three out five stars but nevertheless recommended if only for its promise of what’s to come.

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Hacienda Morelos does its best to keep town a secret

Psst .. Jim McPherson, the creator/writer of the Phantacea Mythos, put the finishing touches on both 2013’s “Nuclear Dragons” and 2014’s “Helios on the Moon” in Puerto Morelos, Mexico.

He’d didn’t bruit this about on any of the Phantacea websites because he mistakenly thought he was keeping the town a private delight. Guess what? It didn’t work. So much so that by the time he decided to return there this year it was packed.

He ended up staying — index fingers crossed in a warding gesture of just that, a cross — at the Hacienda Morelos. Here’s his report, as first published on the booking.com website earlier this week:

Business card used by Jim McPherson when in Phantacea mode

Business card used by Jim McPherson when in Phantacea mode; the Pharaoh’s head is actually a parking shot on Giza Plateau as shot by Egyptian air force circa 1929/30; Sedon’s Head by Jim McPherson and Tim Hammell, ca 1978

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“Gorgeous setting about only good thing about Hacienda Morelos”

Situated right on a ledge above a nearly endless, soft sand, Caribbean beach that’s kept fairly clean. (Trash cans could do with more frequent dumping and the sargassum sea weed, while not as bad as last year, needs more aggressive attention.) Gorgeous view of diving and fishing boats and tenders, with the port, hence Puerto Morelos, in distance.

View from the terrace of the Hacienda Morelos after a rain storm, photo by Jim McPherson, 2016

View from the terrace of the Hacienda Morelos after a rain storm

A short walk to town square (zocala), a selection of good restaurants and a decent coffee house. One place even serves Austro-Hungarian goulash while a couple have outrageously pricey lamb. Lots of music in the bars and restaurants, though nothing at hotel, fortunately, which was quiet at night. I say fortunately because much of my stay was unfortunate.

Had to ask for towels as none were supplied at first. When I complained about the lack of hot water in shower, the desk clerk suggested I didn’t get up early enough; that everyone showers between 7 and 9 a.m., and that water containers can only heat so much.

Beach shot of Hacienda Morelos, taken by Jim McPherson, 2016

Looking up at the Hacienda Morelos as shot from the beach in February 2016 by Jim McPherson

Besides, she added, it’s usually hot, so guests don’t mind tepid shower water. (It did rain a few times and the wind was nearly constant, so not the best weather. But I was there to write and the town was down the street, so didn’t mind too much.)

Kitchen ran out of black tea after two days and never replaced stock for remaining five days. (Couldn’t find any in the local store but never checked Oxxo, the omnipresent Mexican equivalent of 7-Eleven.) The continental breakfast consisted of stale white toast, dubious pineapple marmalade, juice and either coffee or tea, read Nescafe and caffeine-free Manzanilla Chamomile. Everything else is extra.

I asked for plain yogurt and granola but they never had any granola, so they didn’t charge me. Once they substituted pink lemonade for juice and another time powdered Tang or some such. So don’t jump at offer of a free breakfast likr . Or the advertised notion that WiFi is available throughout hotel. It isn’t.

Rainbow taken at Hacienda Morelos by Jim McPherson, 2016

Shot of a rainbow taken from Hacienda Morelos terrace, image flipped horizontally.

In fact, it’s only available in the lobby or on the terrace and even then you need two separate sign-ins. Fortunately (again) I was assigned a terrace room, which was actually on the pool deck. Scuba lessons started at 8 a.m. but were usually done by 10. The doors had no screens and the room had no overhead fans. The air conditioning was so loud I shut it off. Something of a blessing, the windows that opened did have screens.

Perhaps worst of all were the pillows. They were so stuffed with foam they had no give. Instead of cushioning your head they more like bruised it. I asked for down pillows but they didn’t have any. Gave me a couple of pillows with some of the foam removed, which was better. Except one of them hadn’t been sewn up properly and I ended up with foam all over the bed, floor and me, until I noticed it. Rather than replacing it they doubled up the pillow casing.

Won’t be returning to Hacienda Morelos anytime soon. Even without the to me shocking add-on of 19% tax, it’s an overpriced shell of what once, twenty or thirty years ago, might have been a fabulous place to stay.

Phantacea Publications logo utilizing a Sun-Moon wooden Carving spotted and shot by Jim McPherson, 2014

Phantacea Publications logo utilizing a Sun-Moon wood carving spotted and shot by Jim McPherson, 2014; taken to represent the Dual Entities during happy times

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A good review, considering McPherson didn’t write the book

The Apocalypse Codex (Laundry Files, #4)The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I’ve now read all of the Laundry Files novels. They all have their quirks, including a few excellent lines, but I think this one works best, though I’m still a tad shaky on the whole notion of an Eater of Souls and the True Religion. It does have one of those annoying splits, however: partially written in first person and partially in third. Stross has done this before but seems to have a better grasp on how to handle mixed POVs now than he did before. It’s actually conceivable that he (his first person narrator) could have known enough about what the third person characters are thinking and doing to have written about them with a large degree of, um, believability if that’s a word, credibility if it isn’t. Harkens back to the first book in the series in a few respects, though some of the grotty bits strike me as more David Cronenberg than HP Lovecraft. Don’t want to give anything away but here’s a Brit writing about American evangelists as if they’re evil incarnate. Take that for what it’s worth.

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pHantaBlog pHilches phrom pHacebook

Well, it isn’t exactly filching when it’s your own; rather, when it belongs to Phantacea Publications (James H McPherson, Publisher). So have a bunch of shots previously displayed on pHantacea on pHacebook as well as google+phantacea.

Card prepared by Jim McPherson, 2013

Anheroic Fantasy Illustrated since 1978

Text is by Jim McPherson, the creator/writer of the Phantacea Mythos. He took the pictures in Mexico City while he was there in January 2016.

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Dyana the Huntress, shot by Jim McPherson in Mexico City, January 2016

This fountain is right on the Paseo del Reforma, one of the main thoroughfares in Mexico City. Suggestive of Wilderwitch, except she usually wears clothes

‘Wilderwitch’s Babies’ will probably turn out to be two or three mini-novels long, with “Tsishah’s Twilight” either the last installment or, if expanded upon, as I’m currently leaning, a standalone novel.

Here are some Mexico City shots along with a bit of a plot summary for the first book. I’d call it ‘Decimation Damnation’ except for one thing. It gives away the whole story.

Statue of a faun groping a nymph, shot in Soumaya Museum by Jim McPherson, January 2016

Not sure who this is by but its in the Rodin area of the free Soumaya Museum in Mexico City; subtitled ‘Everyone know what fauns are good at’ by Jim McPherson, it’s a reminder that Wildman Devish Furie appears to be turning into a faun or satyr after D-Brig 4’s escape from Hadd in December 1980 (Tantalar 5980)

First of all, the titular Witch (#1) did not fare very well in “The War of the Apocalyptics“. Won’t be akin to Dyana the Huntress again for months, if ever. She’s still alive at the outset of new series, though. Has already had one child, Fey Woman, who was mentioned in that novel.

The series title is plural, not singular. Dervish Furie is infertile so that rules him out as father. He also seems to be transforming into a faun and we all know what fauns are good at. That’s #2, though that wouldn’t be the Witch pictured.

Mayan god called the Tulum Diver, photo taken in Mexico City's superb National Museum of Archaeology by JIm McPherson, January 2016

Spotted and shot in Mexico’ City superb Archaeological Museum, this statue is called the Diver. It’s originally from Tulum on the Mexican Caribbean where the deity is also known as the Descending God

She spends virtually all of the opening book either on her back being operated on in order to save her leg or in a wheelchair. Not saying if the operation’s successful, who performs it or where it’s done.

Statue of Mnemosyne, the Mother of the Muses, shot outside and up at the Palacio del Bellas Artes in Mexico City by Jim McPherson, 2016

Figure spotted and shot on the veranda out the Bellas Artes Palace in Mexico City; taken to represent Miracle Memory, the Female Entity, in the Phantacea Mythos

As recorded in “Helios on the Moon“, the Untouchable Diver disappeared during the final battle for Diminished Dustmound. #3 is actually called the Diver, though I’ve seen the same or a similar Mayan deity referred to as the Descending God.

Besides it being kind of neat, I scanned it in because he disappeared in Hadd/Iraxas and that’s where Native Americans go when they die according to one theory. Not saying if he’s back, please note.

Siqueiros Nueva Democracia, shot inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City by JIm McPherson, January 2016

Mural spotted and shot inside Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes. It’s by Siqueiros and taken to represent Freespirit Nihila

Right side of Camarena's Humanity Freeing Itself spotted and shot inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes by Jim McPherson, January 2016

Right side of Camarena’s Humanity Freeing Itself spotted and shot inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes; taken to represent Pyrame Silverstar with a human head and only two eyes

We already know that Wilderwitch had a mother, Miracle Memory (#4), and that she needs to be possessed in order to become human. Wilderwitch is supposed to a reincarnation of Harmony, who’s now Freespirit Nihila (#5). Guess who’s vying for Memory, along with Pyrame Silverstar (#6). Harmony and Pyrame appeared together most notably in “The Death’s Head Hellion“.

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BTW, all of these places Google, as do the murals found in the Palacio de Bella Artes. pHanta-pHans may already be familiar with some of them from the Afterword for “Feeling Theocidal“, Book One of The Thrice-Cursed Godly Glories epic fantasy.

It concluded in 2012 with “Goddess Gambit“, though there was a perhaps unexpected addendum incorporated within 2014’s “Helios on the Moon“, which concluded the follow up trilogy, Launch 1980.

Didn’t conclude Jim McPherson’s Phantacea Mythos obviously.

Three collages prepared by Jim McPherson using images taken from the Phantacea comic books and Mythos covers

Three collages prepared by Jim McPherson using images taken from the Phantacea comic books and Mythos covers

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Did Camarena show Granny becoming a Phoenix in 1964/5

Not saying she does, but Sorciere’s quest to find a way to get Granny Garuda to phoenix leads directly to events recounted during ‘The Vampire Variations‘ web-serial that appeared on pH-Webworld in the Twenty Noughts (early Two Thousands).

It’s a storyline that Jim McPherson, the creator/writer of the Phantacea Mythos, keeps threatening to revisit when he finally gets around to completing, as in completely revising, “Tsishah’s Twilight“. (Current reckoning has it as the third and final entry in the saga of “Wilderwtch’s Babies”.)

In this regard, he has discovered …

Jorge Gonzalez Camarena's Presence of Latin America, 1964–65, property of the University of Concepcion in Chile as taken from the Web

Jorge Gonzalez Camarena’s Presence of Latin America,1964–65, property of the University of Concepcion in Chile. One of its web-presences is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jorge_Gonzalez_Camarena#/media/File:Mural_panoramico.JPG

Have a boo at the upper right hand corner of this mural (“Presence of Latin America”). Could that be Tsishah Twilight, who wears Sorciere’s daughter, the Shah Demon, as a way to keep them both semi sort of alive in 5980/1?

Could it be Sorciere herself, some fifteen years before her horrendous murder in June 1953? More importantly, is that really Granny Garuda phoenixing (to coin a word) at her side?

Of course not. Yet … it has to be, doesn’t it. Have a closer look and make up your own mind. Already have mine.

Camarena's non-commissioned rendition of Granny Garuda phoenixing in 1938

Jorge Gonzales Camarena did not receive a commission from Phantacea Publications for painting Granny Garuda phoenixing in 1965

As for what got McPherson researching Camarena, when he was in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Castle in January 2016 he not only spotted Camarena’s “Clash of Two Worlds”, he was allowed to take a picture of it.

Having already snapped impressive Camarenas in the opera house and the Archaeological Museum he decided to look online for some more, hence this serendipitous entry.

Camarena's Clash of Two Cultures, shot by Jim McPherson 2016

Camarena’s Clash of Two Cultures as shot by Jim McPherson in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Castle, 2016; web shots of same have been used on pH-Webworld for many years

BTW, the last time he was in the castle, fifteen years earlier or thereabouts, he was actually asked to leave for trying to take pictures inside it. Then again it might not have been a bonafide history museum then.

All of which explains why he had to appropriate a shot of it from the web to use on pH-Webworld here and here.

Business card used by Jim McPherson when in Phantacea mode

Business card used by Jim McPherson when in Phantacea mode; the Pharaoh’s head is actually a parking shot on Giza Plateau as shot by Egyptian air force circa 1929/30; Sedon’s Head by Jim McPherson and Tim Hammell, ca 1978

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