Friday, April 29, 2011

Something Dark Awaits...2011 World Horror Convention


The weekend of March 28 2010, the sleepy town on the Sussex coast awoke to the hustle and bustle of a stinging chill. Every day life progressed as usual: students coming and going, trains leaving and arriving bearing passengers traversing the further reaches of experience, bleary eyed but excited, toting luggage and writing pads, waving at the eyeless ghost on Main Street and tipping our hats to long dead sailors, downing vodka infusions in the North Laines...wait, eyeless ghosts? Long dead sailors? Writing pads? Aaaaaaaahhhh yessssss....

Brian Lumley reading his short story "The Thief Immortal"
The Brighton Shock: 2010 World Horror Convention kicked off its annual meeting at the Royal Albion Hotel in historic Brighton, England. According to convention leaders, it was the only World Horror Convention to date that had sold all of its available tickets. Rumor had it there was not enough alcohol on the premises to keep all of the Albion's patrons in drink, perhaps the most frightening thought all weekend. The Brighton Shock featured publishers and writers from across England and the United States. Hosted by Stephen Jones, editor of the Mammoth Books of vampires, ghosts and other short fiction, the convention's convenient geographical position allowed many authors to attend who would normally have let Horror Conn go grudgingly on its way. The 2010 World Horror Association's Life Time Achievement Award winner Brian Lumley had not attended a Horror Conn in years, and in 2009, Lumley and his wife were happy to immediately announce their intentions to attend, perhaps unwittingly setting the stage for the future wedding of a certain Nerd and her beloved... Great female vampire writer Nancy Kilpatrick held two hour writing workshops on Friday and Saturday. The dealer's room sold hard backs at ten pounds a piece depending on their worth and special guest Robert Jordan read from his latest novel while getting an even more important impromptu interview from unexpected special guest, Neil Gaiman. The unimaginable time of their lives was had by all who attended, especially Ingrid Pitt.

"With love and other Fragile Things"--Neil Gaiman
Now, in 2011, The Squealing Nerd is proud to announce that the World Horror Convention opened its doors yesterday at the Doubletree Hotel in historic Austin, Texas. The event began with opening ceremonies yesterday afternoon, though the Nerd is sad to say she will be unable to attend until tomorrow. Guests of honor this year include Vincent Chong, Brett Savory, Sandra Katsuri and Joe Lansdale with others along with Steve Niles, Joe Hill, and Sarah Langan. Panels will be held today and Saturday discussing topics related to the horror genre, publishing, and the future of the genre, generally speaking. The author's mass signing will take place at 7:00 pm and the dealer's room is open to all members. Weekend passes are $150 for Thursday-Sunday. For those wishing to attend on Saturday it will only cost $75, but for the dealer's room, I recommend bringing your ATM card, as it is a fabulous way to get dirt cheap hard backs to take to the mass signing tomorrow night. Don't forget to check out the Art Room for great, once-in-a-lifetime signed prints. Last year I acquired two Bob Eggelton prints from Necroscope and The Taint.

This year's event list is already huge. Lets make it bigger shall we? Remember, no one will be allowed in without purchasing membership, but after that you make come and go as you please. I didn't see his name on the list, but I'm brining my copy of Drood for Dan Simmons to sign, you know, just in case. Once again, Neil Gaiman has made no mention of attending the convention. The Horror Convention is a publisher's convention designed by horror fans for horror fans for the specific purpose of getting together and celebrating our craft.
To learn more about The World Horror Convention, visit their website at http://whc2011.org/

The Squealing Nerd will be back Saturday night with all the latest convention news. Look for the girl with the giant Final Fantasy VII tattoo.

Something Dark Awaits in the Lonestar State! Can't wait to get there!

Want to help The Squealing Nerd bring you more nerdy news? Donate to the Doctor Who Campaign. All funds received will go toward providing the Nerd with cable television with which to watch and review Doctor Who. Watch the second episode of season six tomorrow night at 7:00 pm Central time on BBC America.





Wednesday, April 27, 2011

To Aid Vol'Jin--The Rise of the Zandalari

Battle.net
Many of you have already downloaded the WoW: Cataclysm 4.1 patch and are already playing through the new Stranglethorn quests and the new dungeon content for Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman. Unfortunately, according to Battle.net, these are available only for level 85 characters with a gear score of 346 or higher. For those of us struggling to level almost three characters at once (if you count a level 80 night elf Death Knight and a level 51 worgen Priest in addition to two other slightly higher level characters), the new patch is a chance to resurrect characters that we have been neglecting because of their low level or mediocre gear score. That is why I present to you, guys, gals and geeks...

*Enormous fanfare followed by diffused applause*
From my Facebook feed.

Mozenrath! Level 76 blood elf warlock!

Do not let his meager gear score or comparatively low level deceive you. He is in fact quite powerful, not to mention that he has the awe-inspiring companion that is a fel guard to watch his back. Topping the charts in nearly all pvp encounters (except Warsong Gulch, where he spends a great deal of time dead), Mozenrath is a force for the Alliance to reckon with. Up until the recent faction transfer of my  husband's level 72 warrior, Augar, Mozenrath has trod the lonely path of "The Grind" entirely on his own, with neither guild assistance or party members. This is rare for me because many of my characters have been through The Grind paired with one of my husband's characters. Even the mighty level 80 Cthullhu, bearer of so much pride, cannot say that he leveled alone. Of all my characters, low or high level, I am the most proud of Mozenrath. He travels only in the company of his demon summons and answers to no one. He is often guildless and usually doesn't care. And just look at that hair!

Despite the daunting task of getting Mozenrath to 85, I feel confident about Mozenrath's role in the coming months in the battle against the Zandalari. As many of you know, the return of the Zandalari brings a new threat to Azeroth in the months following the Cataclysm in the form of the rise of the ancient troll empires that spanned great swaths of the Azeroth landscape. They are broken now in to three factions: the Amani, the Gurbashi and the Darkspear. The Amani and the Gurubashi remain a threat to those whose work lies predominately in the 35-45 area of Northern Stranglethorn Vale (now split between north and south). The Darkspear trolls remain solidly aligned with the Horde. After years of battling The Scourge out of their ancient temples and keeping the mad Amani and Gurubashi trolls in line, the Zandalari return to right wrongs done to them in the past.

This is where it gets interesting. The pull of the Zandalari is strong enough to unite the Gurubashi and Amani tribes, but not strong enough to break the will of loyal Vol'Jin, leader of the Darkspear trolls of the Horde. The Horde have been his people for centuries. Why should he fight the Horde in the name of dead gods for the honor of ancestors unheeded for thousands of years? Vol'Jin flat out refuses and tells his ancient brethren that if they bring war to Azeroth, he will stand against them. Vol'Jin will go as far as aiding the Alliance in making sure the ancient, all but extinct troll empire stays buried.

I for one give massive respect to Vol'Jin for setting his tusks and not betraying Garosh Hellscream and the other members of the Horde faction. I have long held the Horde in higher esteem than the Alliance (high and mighty and incredibly racist). I have designed Mozenrath's character around his devotion to the Horde. Silvermoon City lies forgotten in his past. His hearth has been set to Orgrimar since the first day he set foot in her earthen walls. The bonds he forges know no race. For him, no service is higher. Mozenrath has Exalted reputation with the Darkspear trolls, and should he take it into his head to have a strictly RP moment, one might find him clenching his fist, his eyes to the ground, his jaw set in a vicious stare. Should war come to Azeroth, Mozenrath will be there to fight along side the Darkspear trolls, alongside the Alliance if necessary.
But always, first and foremost, Mozenrath's loyalties lie with is his brothers among the trolls and orcs.

I look forward to The Grind in the coming months to get Mozenrath to 85, when we can begin the fight for Azeroth's chosen warriors.

For the Horde!

A Werd From the Nerd

Hello again, Guys, Gals and Geeks.

In light of last week's Doctor Who dilemma, I've decided to take a pro-active stance against professional bit torrenting. As many of you are aware, it is illegal in the United States to torrent files, even if those files are from an off-shore source. (Also I think the art of torrenting should be taken back and given to those who first began it. It would certainly cut back on the viruses...). In light of my clean permanent record, I come to you, the Nerds, to ask for help.

I'm asking for donations to help pay for cable television. I've been without cable t.v. for the last thirteen months, as it is too expensive for my husband and me on our current income. I want to continue bringing Doctor Who reviews to The Squealing Nerd, as well as other awesome television phenomena. Only you, my readers, can help me accomplish this.

Donating is not obligatory, but anyone who does donate can expect my personal thanks.

Thanks for reading,
Ashley
The Nerd  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Doctor? Doctor Who? Ep.1 Season 6: The Impossible Astronaut

Matt Smith (IMDB.com)
(Reader be warned: some spoilers ahead)

-"I've been running. Faster than I've ever run, and I've been running my whole life. Now its time to stop."
--The Doctor, "The Impossible Astronaut"

The much anticipated, long-awaited moment finally arrived last night for those of us in the United States lucky enough to have BBC-America (or for those of us nerds not lucky enough to have quality cable television, someone was nice enough to make a torrent). The new season of Dr. Who aired with "The Impossible Astronaut". Tor.com and other Who fan sites have been touting the return of The Doctor and his friends for the last few months. Our wait was not in vain. The first episode of season six is a shocker to say the least.

(suite101.com)
As a lately returning Dr. Who fan, there is little for me to relate regarding season five. This latest installment features the current incarnation of The Doctor (Matt Smith).  Amemlia--Amy--Pond (Karen Gillian) and her newly wed husband Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) return alongside The Doctor's past and future lover, Dr. River Song (Alex Kingston, ER, Law and Order: SVU), a fellow time-traveler travelling in the opposite direction. The trio and The Doctor are out to solve an incomprehensible puzzle: how to save The Doctor from an inescapable death in 2011 while uncovering an even uglier truth in 1969. The outcome is astonishing and heart breaking.

"The Impossible Astronaut" starts out in classic Who style, featuring a very smarmy, naked Doctor under the skirts of some dame in Victorian England. The show ends in utter panic. As usual, the show had me asking more questions than providing me with answers, and my surprised and disgusted screams probably woke up my neighbors. The trio encounters former FBI Agent Canton Everette Delaware III and President Richard Nixon, who are trying to discover the whereabouts of a young child making strange, direct phone calls to the Oval Office about spacemen. The spacemen in question, appear (unsurprisingly, at least to me) in FBI uniforms. The spacemen possess an uncanny ability that will leave the viewer wanting to both start firing point blank into its disfigured head with a large caliber weapon, and run screaming in the opposite direction.

The appearance of the aliens and the involvement of an FBI agent can only further attract this squealing nerd. Those not interested in drawing X:File parallels will want to stay away, but even if well dressed aliens make your stomach turn, an unspeakable truth is revealed to The Doctor, and sets poor Amy on a path that she can neither comprehend, nor prevent. Such oddities as planetary underground tunnels will leave the viewer on their seat's edge, eagerly awaiting the moment when Amy must reveal what The Doctor cannot know...

As the episode progresses towards an unsavory end, "The Impossible Astronaut" can only confirm what this nerd already knows: They are here; They have been here for a long time.

The Doctor is a time lord of Gallifrey. He travels space and time with his loyal friends and his string of lovers, but can all of his cleverness stop the future?

Research into the subject shows that there is no legal way to view Dr. Who over traditional proxies. BBCA features the series on Dish Network Saturday night at 8:00 pm central time.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Vincent Price's Contributions to Easter

IMDB.com
Easter. For my family, it is a time for coloring eggs, eating our candy and pining for the Easter Beagle. My family does not neglect even an ounce of Easter fun, nor do we lack tradition, traditions such as watching our favorite Easter themed movies. However, one figure of Easter tradition seems to have such a small place in our hearts. Though this day be devoted to films in which he adds the richness of his character, he is often forgotten, passed over, swept to the wayside as we chow down on chocolate bunnies and eat way too many jelly beans. The time has come, at last, to put this grave injustice right, and atone for past indiscretions in his name. The time has come for the Nerd to rise up and give Vincent Price a place of honor at Easter.

That's right. Vincent Price.

Known for his frightening voice and looming stage presence, Vincent Leonard Price Jr. has contributed to at least two major Easter past times, for which he receives little praise. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, educated at Yale, discovered in 1938 and dead in 1993 from smoking too much, Vincent Price did everything from acting, writing, speaking, and teaching the art of fine gourmet from around the world. Of all of his major film contributions (such as House of Wax, The Fly, House on Haunted Hill), two stand out as lasting contributions to the Easter Holiday.


The Ten Commandments (1956)


(Right to Left) Lillian, Baka, Dathon.
In honor of the Passover weekend on the Jewish calendar that coincides with the unrelated resurrection of Christ that, in other sects, is the Easter holiday, San Antonio's KMOL Channel 4 runs a syndicated version of Cecil B. DeMille's three hour classic The Ten Commandments. Chronicling the life and times of Moses, leader of Exodus, DeMille's film features a wide range of characters and generous amount of romantic subplot. The names most likely to stand out are the film's leading male roles: Charlton Heston (Moses) and Yul Brenner--the first love of a young Nerd's life (Rameses). This Easter, however, we will try to look past Heston's amazing acting and Rameses petty chauvinism and gaze upon the worthy part of a minor character: Baka, the Master Builder, played aptly, though briefly, by a young Vincent Price. Baka's role is short, but by no means small. In an attempt to free a water girl and her lover, Moses enters Baka's house, dressed as a Hebrew slave. Moses confronts Baka, who threatens to kill him. Moses counters with, "Kill me? Master Butcher?" Baka instantly recognizes the insult and Moses for who he truly is. His cover blown, Moses has no choice but to ruthlessly strangle Baka. Killing Baka does no good, though, for another rat eavesdrops on the entire encounter and reports it to Rameses. With Baka's body as proof of Moses' deed, Rameses has Moses imprisoned and later exiled.

Vincent Price plays Baka as insidiously as his character demands. Lecherous and excessive, the role of Baka was perfect for Price. Despite the film's Academy Award, very few of my generation who bother with such classics are actually aware that Price was even in it. Vincent Price deserves credit for his short life and death in The Ten Commandments, and his contribution to a non-secular Easter tradition.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)


A Bass/Rankin (Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Christmas in July) clay-mation special, Peter Cottontail is a family favorite around this time of the year. It tells the tale of a young Easter Bunny in training, Peter Cottontail, who must defeat a rival bunny, January Q. Irontail, in delivering the most Easter eggs. Irontail is a rotten, mean bunny whose name is derived from a clanking, horrific, top-of-the-line iron replacement prosthetic tail. Irontail's motivation is that in defeating Peter, he will be made the official Easter Bunny, after which he will effectively dismantle the holiday and turn it into some disgusting villain's clichéd anti-holiday. Of course, Irontail cheats, and succeeds in delivering the most eggs (just one). Peter has go back in time with his French caterpillar friend and try to give them to people throughout the year. To make matters worse, Irontail uses magic to turn all of Peter's eggs green, making his task virtually impossible. Of course, Peter prevails against his adversary and takes back Easter for the secular middle class.

The Mystery of Foulard @Blogspot.com
...He even looks like Vincent Price
Irontail is an example of Vincent Price's incredible voice acting. Even without his true face, his stage presence is enormous. His voiced characters are as heinous and insidious as his live roles, especially since he is notoriously cast as the villain. Price's Irontail gives this Nerd chills. How many bunnies ride around on pet bats? Not many. Irontail is truly evil. His magic is malign and impractical; his motivation is selfish; he is bent on vengeance. If Voldemort had been born a rabbit, that would be his criminal profile at MI: 5. January Q. Irontail is Vincent Price's contribution to my family's--and many others--secular Easter tradition.

Even as a child, I was a huge Price fan. His death in 1993, though vaguely remembered, came as something of a shock to my small  mind. This year, while the secular and non-secular alike keep Easter their own ways, I will keep Easter the Nerd way, by poking my nose down a rabbit hole for a green Easter egg and toasting Pharaoh's new treasure city with a handful of Jelly-Belly's. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Candy Shop--A Review and Analysis

(Spoiler Alert!)


GeekTyrant.com


"If there wasn't such a need, there wouldn't be so much business, now would there?"
                                                                                   --Doug Jones, Candy Shop Owner, The Candy Shop


Many of my friends and family may remember back in November when I first came upon the trailer for a disturbing short film entitled The Candy Shop: A Fairy Tale about the Sexual Exploitation of Children. According to the Whitestone Motion Picture's Vimeo account description, The Doorpost Film Project, in conjunction with StreetGrace and 12Stone Church, commissioned the film as an initiative to call attention to the statistics surrounding the "epidemic" of the trafficking of child sex slaves through Atlanta, Georgia. Having seen the film, I feel my old anger incensed, and ask that my readers bear in mind that this tale reflects numbers that have not changed much in the last one hundred years

The Candy Shop is a short film, only thirty minutes long, and in those thirty minutes director Brandon McCormick (Fear Itself, Blood on My Name) has crammed the frightening tale of young Jimmy, a boy who works multiple jobs to pay for his sick mother's care. He notices a candy shop across from the produce stand he works for that is frequented only by men, whose discreet purchases include gorgeously wrapped pieces of candy. Despite the fact that Jimmy is aware that the business conducted in the shop is odd, even disgusting, this does not stop him from almost falling into the shop keeper's hands. His desire for money leads him down into the basement of the shop, where the old shop keeper, disguised cleverly in clown make-up, shows him the machine that makes the candy.
Picture of Freak and Child courtesy of zombiecatproductions.com

"Girls go in, and candy comes out," the shop keeper trills.

Jimmy promises to think on it, and the shop keeper sweetens the deal by handing him a ten dollar bill (no small amount in those days). Fully intending to take the job, Jimmy notices a friend of his disappear into the shop. He follows her, and the shop keeper, who remains nameless, tells him to throw the switch sending his friend, Nancy, through the candy maker. Unable to destroy his friend, Jimmy balks and tries to sabotage the machine. After an intense fight, the shop keeper succumbs to his own invention. Jimmy is able to restore Nancy along with several others. However, not all of the girls can be saved, and as the public becomes aware of the atrocities, frantic parents come forward to claim children they had given up for dead. The film closes on Jimmy and Nancy defacing an advertisement for a confectioner selling prize candy.

The Candy Shop is not just a horror story; the film is an extended metaphor for the way children seemingly disappear into the system. Doug Jones--famous for his role(s) in Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth--plays the Candy Shop owner, a decrepit, lecherous old man who sells "candy" to the lecherous older men of early twentieth century Atlanta. Barely recognizable, again, in aging prosthetics disguised under grease-paint, his gnarled hands covered by harmless white gloves, this is perhaps his most frightening role since the Hand-Eye guy from Pan's Labyrinth. He has no name, but like the human trafficking racket, has many faces, all of them disguised by niceties and protected by powerful figures with sordid intentions. Mattie Liptak plays Jimmy, the unassuming boy swept up in the game who must rise above his material pursuits and make the right choice to save his friend.

The film illustrates the major arguments made by activists: that the human sex trade is as alive today as it was in our country's past, that it has many faces, and that as soon as one king pin is eliminated another one will take his place. Like the heinous villains of Law&Order: SVU, the purveyors of flesh often hide behind masks of corporate professionalism, using their wealth or connections (both legal and illegal) to hide their licentious acts. They are hard to take down, but when they do fall, the crash is heard throughout the entire racket. Other king pins will lay low until the heat dies down before re-emerging to resume their activities, as is illustrated by the exposure of The Candy Shop being negated by the rise of The Confectionist at the end of the film.

It is a never ending cycle, daunting to those who consider it their personal crusade the end it, but that does not hinder those devoted to stopping the sexual exploitation of children. Despite the hopelessness of the cause, Nancy pointedly says to Jimmy, "We have to try." According to Whitestone's Vimeo account and the statistics quoted at the end of the film, over 500 under-aged girls are trafficked through Atlanta every month. Add that to University of Texas San Antonio's own InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's standing statistic that 20 percent of human trafficking from Latin American countries takes place along the I-35 Corridor, taking a percentage of half of the victims sold into domestic slavery under the age of 18 through good old San Antonio (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship "Price of Life" Campaign). As a native San Antonian, this knowledge is both angering and sobering.

The Candy Shop has received criticism ranging anywhere from avid praise to blatant disgust. Despite a general outcry against the film's negative portrayal of Atlanta, the initiative seems to have opened a lot of hearts and wallets to the subject. One argument made in the film's favor is that the film medium is often more adhered to than documentary film and bland statistics, which can be inflated or made up. Instead of hitting us with disturbing images of police raids and meaningless numbers, McCormick's film dramatizes the parable in a short film with dark insinuations and obvious statements made by the characters. While not providing much in the way of solid entertainment, it suits the purpose of the film. This has the affect of irritating viewers not wholly educated on the initiative.

I encourage anyone interested to watch the film and take part, at least in spirit, in the initiative to stop child sex trafficking. Those willing to do more will find listening ears at Street Grace, 12Stone Church, Whitestone Motion Pictures, and local advocacies devoted to "stopping the Candy Shop". Like the girls forever trapped as pieces of candy in Nancy's gentle hands, not everyone can be saved, but the future for those trapped in the racket will be less bleak for our efforts.

A full version of the film can be found on Whitestone's Vimeo page at www.vimeo.com, key word "The Candy Shop". Watch the full version and get Doug Jones' take on the film initiative at http://www.thedougjonesexperience.com/.

The road to breaking the cycle ends before it begins when the good people of the world do nothing.
dreadcentral.com

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Prince of Ruins: Upon Finishing Elric

(Disclaimer: this one is pretty long, but includes the inkling of a short story)

"I used to rule the world,
Seas would rise when I gave the word.
Now in the morning I sleep alone,
Sweep the streets I used to own…"
--Coldplay "When I Ruled the World"

            I do a great deal of reading before my shifts at my part time job. The Muzak channel most often played at the restaurant I work for is Family Favorites, whose scant selection of bottom forty eighties songs and Justin Bieber can be heard before Alex or Mike changes it to the Greek channel. At the end of my final semester of my BA, when the reward for finishing Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos was more reading, I finally began the first Ballentine Books (yeah, no relation) version of Elric: Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné. The series starts off with The Stealer of Souls. I sat shivering in a chair as the A/C returns pumped cold air by the front door with my book before me when an effeminate voice came over the Muzak. My head snapped up. I could hardly believe my ears.
            I had just finished "The Dreaming City", where the Prince of Ruins gains the title itself, sacking his homeland to rescue his beloved cousin and betrothed. How the mighty do fall. Proud, shining Imryrr, brought down by the very man trying to save her, a tall, effeminate man with pale skin and milk-white hair, lean and sick looking with strange red eyes. The albino lay on the deck of a reaver ship, clutching a black sword to him, hanging on for dear life, and wishing he would just die.
            The song was about Elric.
            Well, I very much doubt Coldplay would agree or even know what I was talking about. But as I sat there, really listening to the song for the first time, though I'd probably heard it a thousand times before, I realized that the song immortalized an elegiac motif in popular culture much the same way Michael Moorcock has done with Elric, sealing the genre and the character forever in subjugated popular culture genre whose denizens probably spend more time in front of a computer than anywhere else and favor thick framed glasses and Final Fantasy VII tattoos.
            "When I Ruled the World" is about a figure whose own power is his undoing. The fictional reality of the song involves a country whose love for their new king is blinding and the king himself is unaware of his fallibility, "The minute I held the key, next the walls had closed on me. And I discovered that my castle stands on pillars of salt and pillars of sand." Throughout the fictional reality of Elric and the Young Kingdoms, empires rise and empires fall, none so great as Melniboné, the Dragon Empire with her sorcerer kings. She ruled the face of Primal Earth for ten thousand years, doubtless warring with and eventually conquering Brian Lumley's Theemedra, adding her and her pantheon of Gods to the multiverse. Melniboné had grown vain and decadent, comfortable in her cruelty and complacent in her stability. Then rises this prince, this sickly prince whose vitality and sanity are both in question and who may yet doom Melniboné with his ideas. But it is not his ideas which threaten the Dragon Empire. It is Elric's own selfishness that drives him from Melniboné to seek knowledge of the world, and it is his selfishness that brings him back to claim the Ruby Throne and save his fiancé and cousin. Only he does not come in peace. Self preservation is the name of the game for the last emperor of Melniboné. Many fall to the Black Sword, Stormbringer, and ever had Stormbringer served itself. Elric's betrothed and beloved cousin, Cymoril, dies on the Black Sword. Elric consumes the very thing he is trying to save, and when escape is impossible, he sacrifices the lives of those who helped him sack his homeland. Elric escapes with his life. Like the novels and short stories that comprise the Chronicle of the Black Sword and Elric's legacy, despair riddles the song and there is little hope to be redeemed for past mistakes.
            "When I Ruled the World" symbolizes little else for me outside of Elric. To me the song is about Elric himself and the elegiac atmosphere of the stories. Throughout the song there is something like harmonized moaning that, taken away from the tempo and rhythm of the song, would make quite a choir of sufferers. Listening only to the tune one might think it was a love song. The lyrics are not dark, but they present the listener with little reason to hope and very much to grieve.  
            Elric carries the death of Cymoril and the fall of his empire with him for the rest of his life. As Elric tries to get back to the person he was before the sacking of Imryrr in The Revenge of the Rose, the last novel in the Ballentine Books collection, the song shifts its meaning a little for me. I have heard it many times over the past year and two months with relish, knowing that it reminds me of the "thin white duke" (David Bowie, I hope, will forgive our appropriation of the title), and I tend to remember him with fondness.
            The end of "When I Ruled the World" finds the despot contemplating his after life with no small amount of apprehension, "For some reason I can't explain, I know Saint Peter won't call my name." Elric fears neither death nor Hell, as we see in his contempt for his patron diety, Arioch, in Revenge of the Rose. However, his present life holds no meaning for him either. He is a despot, a prince of ruins. Moonglum, one of my favorite characters who seems to get stuck in Tanelorn a lot, often recalls that Elric is frivolous with wealth and resources and links it to his insouciance, born of a soul with very little interest in material things. What is the point? Knowing the fragility of all wealth and the meaninglessness of the acquisition of wealth, we can expect little else from the albino, whose own wealth and empire he helped to destroy. The irony is that Elric came to realize that the foundations of all empires are built of salt and sand and are at their centers fundamentally decadent, as are "all empires who gloried in gold or conquest or those other ambitions which can never be satisfied but must forever be fed," (Moorcock 9).
            Elric looks back on his life with increasing regret. He misses his homeland and his kinsmen, though each time Elric encounters an old acquaintance or a cast off revenant or refugee, he regrets it, especially when he meets a cousin of his in "Black Petals" (2007). The Revenge of the Rose in particular emulates the atmosphere of "When I Ruled the World". Moorcock repeatedly narrates Elric elegiacally, often in italics, "There were times when Elric left his friend Moonglum in Tanelorn and ranged the whole world to find a land which seemed enough like his own that he might wish to settle there, but no such land as Melniboné could be a tenth its rival in any place the new mortals might dwell," (Moorcock Swords and Roses 8). Elric, like the despot of Coldplay's only good song, has nowhere to go where he will be comfortable. Likewise, his own empire once controlled the factions now called the Young Kingdoms. Elric is considered a legend but also a betrayer. No one, with the exception of Moonglum, can trust him for long. Since the Black Sword must be sated, many of those who ally themselves with the albino find themselves betrayed if not by Elric then certainly by Stormbringer itself, such as the adventurer captain in "The Jade Man's Eyes".
            As I sit here, listening to the song again, remembering the exact lyrics for posterity, I find myself imagining Elric, perpetually with his back to me while Imryrr smokes and smolders in the back drop. Elric is master of it all: despair, regret, dependence and dark fate. Coldplay may not have meant the song for Elric, but his legacy is such that whether or not it was intended, "When I Ruled the World" is the eulogy for the Prince of Ruins.

He used to rule the world. Seas would rise when he gave the word. Now in the morning he sleeps alone, sweeps the streets he used to own…

Upon Finishing Elric: Revisited

            At the time of my completion of The Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné volume five, I had thought the series finished. Elric turned his back on myself and Neil Gaiman at the end of Elric: In the Dream Realms. I felt like he was truly gone. "The Portrait in Ivory"  left such a definitive close upon my mind, and Neil Gaiman honored the Prince of Ruins with "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock" (read originally in Smoke and Mirrors). So, the eulogy was read. Now to get on with the business of wondering what the world would be like without the albino.
            Today I finished Swords and Roses, released at the very close of 2010. Today I do not feel any sense of closure. Where once I could see no light in the future silhouetting a tall figure in snappy armor, now I know that there was no reason for my depression anyway. Elric will never really go away. His destiny, so cruelly revealed at the end of Stormbringer, will continue to haunt him as Moorcock invents more adventures for him and his short, if somewhat neglected, friend, Moonglum. He, aspect of the Eternal Champion, shall never rest. For the Prince of Ruins, it is the worst possible fate. For readers, it is a dream come true.
            Readers will always return to familiar ground, searching for that feeling they found so comforting their first time reading through a certain setting, just as our champion will always search for his homeland in far-away places. As long as there are readers, there will be Elric. Is this a bad thing? Is this a destructive desire for both author and genre? As a writer, I imagine the pressure must surely be on. As a reader, I could not imagine a more perfect future. Even if Michael Moorcock leaves Elric to his fate, others will rise to the task. Elric will never be reincarnated by another author, but his legacy will be revived again and again. So many tortured souls owe their existance to the albino. Every outcast, every wayward warrior, every character who has ever been forced to live a life they'd rather be rid of: Drizzt Do'Urden; Alfred of the Sartan (The Death Gate Cycle); Jonmarc Vahanian (Chronicles of the Necromancer); Titus Crow of Brian Lumley's invention; my beloved Vlad Dracula; my own characters, Zennith Shadowblast--my Elric tribute; No Heart, borrowed Lord of the Shadow Realm; Victor Malace of Ramsgate's Black Guard. For many years I searched for the roots of these characters and their common pain, the father of all literature's suffering. At last, after twelve years of writing and twenty years of reading, I found him, staring up at me through the glass case at the UT San Antonio library. He said, "I have always been here."
            I believed him, and though I always detected a hint of unwillingness, Elric has been a steady companion of mine these last fourteen months. I am not sure he enjoyed being shoved into a backpack or oversized purse to be called upon for my amusement. I am not certain he was comfortable bearing forth all his secrets and being forced to relive all of his mistakes. But I needed him, and like the selfish act that brought him to destroy his own city, I drag him along anyway. If Moorcock should chose to give him life again, I would gladly walk beside him, for better or worse.
            I was depressed to say the least at the end of In the Dream Realms. I was reminded of what I was losing as Gaiman's Elric left his young self to his future: that the fictional reality is brief and only gives the illusion of substance, but like Elric's own necessary herbs and drugs, it is vital to my existence. I feared that he had turned his back for good. At the close of "The Black Petals" as Elric looks into the jungle as if seeing a familiar sight, I know now that he was never destined to leave for long. Always will he lift his crimson eyes, offering his message of stoic determination with a hint of insouciance.
            Elric, though a destructive force of his own, stands as a testament to inner strength. His moments of weakness, when even his friends cannot guess his next move, are loaded with suspense and as a reader I am left wondering if even I should trust him. We watch him closely, his friends and I, but when he is needed, called upon, his Melnibonéan instincts will play out in uncanny ways. He is the first onto the field, and the last to leave it. He is our greatest fear and our only salvation. The paradoxes are what make him real. In life we are given few choices that we can make with absolute certainty. Bound by Chaos, we are always simultaneously creating and destroying with our decisions, leaving our realities changed forever. Elric, in many ways, has helped me make peace with that.
            As always, one book must end before another can begin. As I move into the midst of the wild Empire of Granbretan and join forces with Hawkmoon, I walk beside Elric for what must be the last time for a long while, if ever again...
           

            He was riding horseback when I came upon him, dressed in the light armor of the Dragon Riders and clothed in green and jet and gold, stooped slightly in the saddle as if under some unseen weight. Moonglum, ever at his side unless whiling away the hours in peaceful Tanelorn, rode beside him. On Elric's right hip, plainly visible, sat Stormbringer, the Black Sword, sheathed in a scabbard lined with red velvet. It seemed to sense me and I heard a lilting titter in the back of my mind. The albino seemed to brighten a little as he approached, his milk-white hair fluttering in the breeze, his cheeks barely flushed in the sun. Moonglum kicked his pony up and cantered to where I stood, thumb stuck out.
            "I'll give you a ride, lady," the short, red headed man of Elwher said, dismounting in the grass. We embraced as only close friends do, quickly and eagerly. I then held him at arm's length, smiling into eyes only just above my own. The field we stood in was lush from the spring rains. The sky shone a clear, cloudless blue with touches of pink and yellow, the sun beginning to droop in the west.
            "My thanks," I said, "It is good to see you, friend Moonglum. I feared you had stayed behind."
            "Not this time, lady," Moonglum replied.  I pushed my black broad-brimmed hat back to gaze at Elric, the last prince of Melniboné. The albino's lips seemed to curl in the semblance of a smile.
            "The distance I need to travel is short. We should arrive at my destination ere long. Perhaps my lords would walk with me a ways?"
            Elric said nothing, but he dismounted and took up a position on my left, Moonglum on my right, leading their horses by their reins It was some minutes of awkward walking before he spoke.
            "You travel a hard road, lady, with no mount. There are brigands roaming the country side," he said reproachfully.
            "I have no fear of brigands."
            He smiled slightly wider, "Of course not. You will be here only a short time. The rest of us must dwell here and undertake all of life's perils."
            "I undertake perils as well, only they are more conventional perils," I said defensively, "Such as paying my bills."
            "Such perils I hope to avoid," Moonglum said, patting his hip pocket, "I find that accruing such weighty responsibilities gives me all the more reason to travel. I'll keep my coin in my purse if nobody minds."
            "Agreed," I laughed. We lapsed back into silence. I felt a slight weight on my shoulders. Elric, his smile now genuine and friendly, pulled me roughly to his side and as quickly let me go. I put one arm around his waist and the other on Moonglum's shoulder.
            "So boys," I said, "Another adventure is upon you?"
            "Aye," Elric said, "As one ends, another begins."
            "For me as well," I said, noticing the weight of my two trusty blades strapped to either hip, "I go to join the army of Kamarg. I heard there is quite a story to be told there."
            "Perhaps, though I have never heard of that country," Elric said flatly.
            Ever were thou encouraging, my lord.
            I played it off. His arm still draped across my shoulders, I could tell he was avoiding my gaze. I knew he brooded, and often his world-weary eyes seemed to search for something in the distance that only he could see. But this was different. This time it seemed purposeful.
            "Something troubling you, my lord?" I asked.
            "Nothing," he said without pause, his eyes never leaving the horizon. The sun was dropping, and it seemed at our present pace we would not reach our destination by evening. I could see in the distance, seemingly just over the next rise, the spires of a small city, shining in white. Though I did not know the name, it seemed vital that all of us should arrive on schedule. I glanced at Moonglum, and the short man of Elwher was just as lost in his thoughts as the tall albino. I gave him a squeeze, and the poor guy went so far as to lean his head upon my shoulder. I sensed his pain, both of theirs, and knew not the cause.
            "You are not sad to be going?" Moonglum asked.
            "Sad to be--of course I'm sad," I said in some incredulity, "I'm always sad when I leave you two."
            "Especially Moonglum," the short one said. It was really more of a statement than a question. Elric raised an eyebrow.
            Oh really, sir?
            "Especially Moonglum,"     
            I winked at Elric. His expression softened somewhat, and a wry smile touched the corners of his mouth. We lapsed back into uncomfortable silence. I glanced repeatedly at their two stoic expressions, wondering what I had done wrong. I opened my mouth to speak, but the albino's words stopped me.
            "Will you come back?" he asked.
            "Of course," I said, trying to keep the emotion from my voice, "I always come back. But you have to promise that you'll  be here when I return."
            "I cannot promise that," Elric said, "The future is a devious thing, as you are so fond of reminding me. I do not know where my fate leads me. It could be that we part for the last time."
            "You always say that," I retorted, "And you are always here when I come looking for you. I daresay I do not force you into an unkeepable promise."
            Elric turned a slight smile to me and unflinchingly crushed me in a short hug. I could not help but laugh at him. He was so serious and remote. He always seemed hundreds of miles away. Yet when I needed him, he was always there, always waiting for me patiently beside a dry river bed or on a deserted plane, immaculately dressed and seated on horseback.
            "Well, and you are here at last. Come, our adventures begin anew," he would say with a bow, before heading off in a direction seemingly chosen at random. I would follow unquestioningly. If we got separated, we always met again, as we were now, before I took  my leave of him.
            Now a small town came into our sights. I sighed.
            "I guess this is good-bye, boys," I said.
            "Are you sure you won't come with us?" Moonglum asked, "Is their situation in Kamarg so ill that they must call you away again?"
            "From what I understand, its desperate," I said, stopping. Elric's arm slipped from my shoulder and he turned away. I could no longer hold any glimmer of bravado. His turned back did not strengthen my resolve, but only heightened my desire to stay.
            "We must go where Fate commands us," I said, laying my palms out to him placatingly.
            "Now that I do not believe," he said, spinning around and grabbing me by the shoulders. His grip was not hard, but neither was it relenting, "We are not the toys of Fate. We are masters of our own will, and no power is higher."
            I stared up at him in surprise and sudden fear. His eyes blazed under a tangle of white hair. His mouth was set in a firm frown, much the way my father's looks when there is a singular point that he wishes to make. I said nothing and nodded vigorously that I suddenly and without question agreed with him.
            He released his grip on my arms but did not let me go. Again I was crushed to the light plate armor he wore, a symbol of his heritage, like his fine features and the ugly sword that murmured from his slight waist. His sudden displays of emotion always made me anxious after watching him go through our adventures as the picture of insouciance. Aware that I was not breathing, Elric relaxed and knelt before me in the grass.
            "Good-bye then, my lady," he said softly, "Time and space mean very little to adventurers such as ourselves. So long as you live, I will be here."
            I stared at him for a long moment, unhappy but not crying. I could not cry. There is no crying in Melniboné, I knew, and there was no reason to cry. I smiled and bent to kiss the Prince of Ruins on his bony cheek. I received something like one in return.
            I turned to Moonglum and embraced him again, "And you, sir?"
            "And I? I shall always be here," he said. He returned my hug with vigor, and when we parted, Elric had already mounted his horse.
            "Farewell, Prince Elric," I said, waving.
            "Fare thee well, my lady," Elric said.
            Moonglum put his heels to his horse's flanks and charged off across the plain. Elric, the Prince of Ruins, lingered only a second, but no more. Howling a Melnibonéan battle cry, his horse leapt after Moonglum, and suddenly they were gone again, a splash of Elwher Red in the sunset and a screaming outcast, his white hair streaming behind him in the wind...
                        

They're Feasting. That Means They're Safe Right? Right?

(Disclaimer: To get an idea of how old this post is, my tattoo has no colors in it yet. This was written in February 2011)

SPOILER ALERT!

            'Tris led the way out of the crowded tent to where the entire camp stood staring at the sky gone crimson, as if a glistening curtain of blood shimmered across the dome of the night, blotting out the stars and darkening the moon.
            'Around him, Tris could hear commanders barking orders. Senne, Rallan, Soterius, and Trefor ran for their troops. Soldiers rushed to mobilize, and Tris caught a glimpse of  vayash moru taking to the sky.
            'Only the ghosts remained with Tris. Estan raised his face to stare at the glittering, blood-red light. Then he turned to meet Tris's eye. '"It begins."'

            The end of The Sworn comes as a cruel and unusual shock to one of Gail Z. Martin's most loyal readers--myself. Her previous books, The Chronicles of the Necromancer, beginning with The Summoner and ending with The Dark Lady's Chosen, concluded with occassions marking the end of trial and hardships unknown to some of the youngest and freshest heirs to the thrones of the Winter Kingdoms.

            The close of Martin's latest novel does not end this way. The novel builds up to the unresolved climax with omens and prophesies, from the darkness predicted by the mages of Vistimar to the predictions of the Lady made at the disastorous coronation of Queen Berwyn of Principality. Martin's lack of safe haven, of feasting, portends even greater danger for her next novel, The Dread, already in publication, and also derails from a somewhat predictable trend in her novels.

            Feasting has always been an important aspect of Martin's novels (and has set my stomach to rumbling more than once). A feast is often held in honor of one of her characters--such as Jonmarc Vahanian's welcome feast as he takes over Dark Haven and the feast held for the adventurers at the end of The Summoner. The humor at the end of The Summoner is so light that hope is obviously not out of the question. Feasting is how the reader knows the characters are in a safe place. When the trenchers of beef stew are brought out, we can all sleep a little easier. The aweful portents of doom at the end of The Sworn cast it in stark contrast to the rest of the series.

            The Sworn is unique, as Martin pointed out in a release-day blog (www.ascendantkingdoms.com), in that it is useful as an introductory novel to the setting and characters as well as a continuation of the events in The Chronicles of the Necromancer. This novel introduces The Sworn, a nomadic tribe loyal only to those they guard, The Dread, a frightening group of ancient chaotic beings who, in turn, guard an even greater form of chaos, the Nachale. Despite the novel's title, The Sworn are only part of the bigger picture Martin paints for the Winter Kingdoms. The Sworn are vital to the reader's understanding of the unfolding events: the threat of a War of Unmaking by the Durim, whose ultimate goal is to ressurect the cult of Shanthadura. In doing so, the Nachale will be released and used as a weapon of the northern kingdoms who have, until this time, remained a mystery.

            The Sworn contains all of the usual for Martin: adventure, dark magic, ghosts, a cast of powerful, debonare characters whose obvious talents are tempered by wisdom and caution and, of course, feasts. While Martin is truly a gifted writer, her plots are often predictable, especially concerning the feasting, her obviously powerful central characters and the catch-alls designed to keep readers from throwing themselves in traffic at the thought of more harm coming to such nice people. The Sworn are just such a catch-all. One of the Sworn is Tris Drayke's cousin, Jair, prince of Dhasson. His wife, Talwyn, is the next in line for chieftan and heiress to the shamanistic powers of her people. Instrumental in discovering the truth about the Durim, their goal is to warn Tris. "Communication" with all allied Kingdoms keeps the novel from spiraling out of control but has the feeling of a catch-all. Fortunately the Winter Kingdoms are run by personal friends of the Summoner King of Margolan, Tris (Tris' wife, Kiara, is heir to the throne of Isencroft. Berry, or Berwyn, is princess of Principality until the sudden death of her father. Jonmarc Vahanian is her personal champion. King Kalcen of Eastmark is Kiara's uncle on her  mother's side. Now keep all of that straigth for five novels.). However, as each faction learns of the Durim's goals, the bigger picture is slowly brought into focus, allowing Martin two advantages: complete control of events and an unprecedented ammount of suspense.

             Tris and Kiara play a much smaller roll in this novel, which is disappointing at best, given Orbit Book's synopsis that leads the reader to believe Tris will be the center of the novel's events, as he has been for the entire series. To cast a heretofore unkown character as the central figure of an introductory novel is a bit pretensious (but Orbit seems to have been more confident about the readership than Martin, also providing no Map of the World. Common to most fantasy novels, a Map of the World would most certainly have been nice for anyone new to the story). The figure of Aidanne, new to the cast, is brought much closer to the fore. She is a "Serroquete", a ghost whore who carries a message vital to Principality's survival. However, her perspective as a central character shifts at the end of the novel to the role of a spirit pawn. Jonmarc is also very important. His fight against the Durim seems to parallel The Sworn's. However, Jonmarc has been a pawn of the Dark Lady before, and he continues to be so. Characters who have always been in the foreground, such as Carina and Carroway (central characters for the previous novels) have been pushed all the way to the peripheral, cruel treatment for a character like Carroway, who sacrificed his livlihood to save Queen Kiara and her unborn child in The Dark Lady's Chosen. Also, the word 'vampire' emerges almost as a slip of the tongue at the end of the novel. Vayash moru is the term used for vampire in the series, and so far the two are not interchangeable.

            Martin continues to show improvements as her writing evolves. The end of the novel is refreshing, though understandably disturbing. There is no hope at the end of The Sworn. Graphic description continues to be fundamental but is not overpowering. After all, Martin writes fantasy, not horror. Setting and character continues to dominate Martin's perspective, and she does not degenerate into the flaw that those without magic are inferior to those with magic. Martin possesses skill in making her readers emotionally invested in her characters. At the end of The Sworn, Martin's characters face a cataclysmic war. I defy a reader to declair themselves apathetic to that fact.

            Sitting on the floor, stomach dropping with the turn of every page, this reader was hit with the realization that the world is on the brink of disaster with no end to the suffering in sight. For one of Gail Z. Martin's most avid readers, the need for more has become urgent. Martin's writing is sometimes flawed, but her greatest achievements speak for themselves in her imaginative setting and honest-to-goodness characters. The Dread is slated for release in the fall of 2011. For this writer, that is a long way off indeed. 

            For more information about Gail Z. Martin and her novels, visit her website at http://www.chroncilesofthenecromancer.com.