Friday, September 30, 2016

Announcing THE RAKSHASA'S BRIDE Paperback Edition + Giveaway!

Hello, friends! Today, I get to share with you one of the super-secret projects I've been working on this year.

So far, all my fairytale novellas have been published in ebook format only. My intention was always to do a paperback edition at some stage, possibly as an anthology, but more recently I decided that a series of brightly-coloured standalones would be much cuter. Like, really cute standalones. With illustrations.


Today, I'm thrilled to announce that I'll be releasing The Rakshasa's Bride, my first fairytale novella, as a paperback on October 7th, 2016 - just a week from today.

The paperback is super cute, and comes with three pencil illustrations by the very talented Abigail Rowntree, my sister (see her Etsy shop here).

In addition, I've given the text itself a bit of a wash and a brush, since I wanted to move into getting my work professionally edited--and there just seems something particularly permanent about a paperback. So this is a whole second edition, complete with line-editing courtesy of the wonderful Brandes Editorial Services. There are no significant changes, but I flatter myself the writing is just that bit shinier.

While you're waiting for the release date, some small festivities are occurring. Over at My Lady Bibliophile, I have an interview with my dear friend Schuyler, discussing fairytales and creativity. Be sure to pop over and enjoy that!

In addition, we're both hosting a giveaway (which you can enter either here at Vintage Novels, or at My Lady Bibliophile) for one copy of the shiny new Rakshasa's Bride paperback, as well as other sweet prizes. Enjoy!

The Rakshasa's Bride
2nd ed. ebook now available on Amazon
Paperback releases 7th October 2016
Preeti Kamla has the evil eye. It’s the only explanation for the tragedy and disgrace besetting her once wealthy family. But when a handsome stranger in the village square tells her he has broken her curse, Preeti almost believes him.

Until a twist of fate whisks her away from everything she knows, and the gruesome Demon Rajah claims her as his bride.

A rich and romantic retelling of Beauty and the Beast in the style of a Bollywood epic. Novella, approximately 18,000 words.

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

Woe! I don't have a vintage novel on hand to properly review this week, and the reason is that I've been a little short on reading time, which has left me inching through a number of longish novels--The Lord of the Rings, for instance, which I am taking in appreciative nibbles as I have the time for it.

So instead of posting a new review, I trawled through some of my recent Goodreads reviews, and am crossposting this review of Leigh Brackett's Black Amazon of Mars, from January--with apologies to those of you who've already seen it. Enjoy!

Black Amazon of MarsBlack Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And now for my latest highly philosophical read...a masterpiece of literary fiction, laying bare the soul of Woman as with a scalpel, we have...BLACK AMAZON OF MARS!!! by Leigh Brackett.


So, rewatching a favourite movie, The Empire Strikes Back, recently, reminded me just how little I'd read of the work of legendary scriptwriter and Queen of Space Opera Leigh Brackett. These days Brackett's most well-known for her first-draft work on the second (and only really good) Star Wars movie, and though apparently very little of her work remains in the finished film, her pioneering work as an author of pulp sci-fi well merited the film's being dedicated to her.

Turns out she also recently had a centenary: December 7th, 1915, was her birthday. I nipped off to Project Gutenberg and downloaded (*clears throat*) Black Amazon of Mars!!!

This is really only a novella in length, but it was oodles of fun. Brackett's two main influences here are quite clearly Burroughs's Barsoom/John Carter stories and Howard's Conan the Barbarian. And while the story makes no pretences to either psychological or scientific realism, or to philosophical heft, it was jolly good--better written, possibly, than any but the best of Burroughs's or Howard's work. Brackett tells her tale with a glorious, taut economy of words--and of everything else. This is a very lean, spare story, but the plot and the world-building are both good enough to keep it from feeling like a mere skeleton of a tale. Pulp fiction was all about the plot and the melodramatics; with everything else pared down to the minimum, Brackett's essential artistic talent shines all the more brightly.

From a worldview perspective, I was fascinated to compare Brackett's story with Edgar Rice Burroughs's. Brackett's hero, Eric John Stark, we are regularly told, has only the lightest veneer of civilisation over a caveman core, having been raised by animal tribes on Mercury. As a pulp hero, he is obviously intended to be the coolest, biggest, baddest warrior barbarian ever, and he's all about the primal urges, which is what makes him so cool. That puts him in rather stark (pun not intended) contrast with Burroughs's chivalrous Southern gentleman hero John Carter. What makes John Carter so cool is that as well as being the best swordsman on two worlds and an unstoppable one-man-army, he's also a thorough gentleman, a man of refinement and self-control. Everyone on Barsoom is a barbarian; it takes the Earthman to transcend that, to win the princess's hand through humble service, tame wild beasts through kindness, and become the Totally Awesome Warlord of Barsoom through winning the savage loyalty of his barbaric opponents.

Brackett's story was good. But when it comes to main characters, give me John Carter over Eric John Stark any day.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 16, 2016

Messiah the Prince by William Symington

Over the last year or so I've taken to reading some classic devotionals in small bite-sized pieces each day. The latest I finished was a reprint of the 1884 edition of William Symington's Messiah the Prince, Or, The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ.

Symington, the minister of a small Reformed Presbyterian church in Scotland, like many other members of that small denomination down to the present day, saw himself as an heir of the Covenanters whose war-banner read, "For Christ's Crown and Covenant." But what exactly does it mean to be for Christ's Crown? All Christians know that Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven, where he sits ruling and reigning at the right hand of God the Father, until all things are put under his feet. That much we can all agree on pretty clearly. But it's in the finer details that we tend to get lost. Exactly what does Christ's kingdom consist of? How is it ruled? And perhaps most importantly, what effect does it have on our lives?

The modern Reformed world is pretty strong on what it means for Christ to be Priest. He made atonement for our sins. He was our sacrificial lamb. And he intercedes for us. If not for Christ's priesthood, there's no way we could be cleansed of our sins.

We're less firm on what it means for Christ to be Prophet. Still, we tend to have a pretty good idea that this involves Christ's revelation of his will to us and all things necessary for our faith and edification, via his Word and assisted by his Spirit. If not for Christ's prophetic office, we would never hear, or understand, that Christ's sacrifice was for us.

But we're perhaps shakiest of all on what it means for Christ to be King. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, "Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies." According to Symington, if it wasn't for Christ's kingship, we would never accept salvation. It takes a king to conquer us, and not just us, but all our enemies too.

Symington's 350-page book is by far the most in-depth discussion of Christ's kingship that I've ever come across--and yet it's little more than a systematic unpacking of the above Shorter Catechism quotation. It answered questions I've had all my life. After all, when Jesus Christ came to earth, his message was the Kingdom of God. But what is the kingdom? When did it begin? Is it the church? Is it the whole world? Is it purely spiritual? Or does it take place on earth? Who are its citizens? How are they ruled? What benefits accrue to them? How does Christ's kingship affect the church? Does Christ's kingship affect the state, and if so, how? And will Christ's kingship ever end?

These are just some of the basic questions answered in this book. I did have my concerns with part of it, especially the parts where Symington argues for the establishment of religion by the state. While I disagree with him, he does make a fairly reasonable case, which gains strength because he's arguing for something a bit different than what we've seen so far in the establishment of religion. Thinking through his arguments pushed me to develop my own views a little further, so that was helpful.

On the other hand, most of this book was absolutely terrific. I particularly appreciated Symington's explanation of the how the kingdom embraces both the saved and the unsaved. Christ's dominion over believers is obviously the minimum requirement, but Symington goes further, showing that in order for Christ to subdue his (and our) enemies, he must also have dominion over unbelievers and indeed, the entire cosmos. The relevant verse explaining how these fit together is Ephesians 1:22, where it's explained that Christ has been made "head over all things to the church"--that is, for the church's good. The Kingdom is far wider than those who recognise its dominion.

But this is just the starting-point. Messiah the Prince goes far beyond an academic recognition of Christ's kingship, pushing the concept home in areas that go far beyond most Christians' comfort zone. But this is all to the good: if Christ is our king, then we can have hope for everything under his rule. This book was a daily shot in the arm, a daily reminder to be confident and have hope. It ought to be prescribed as a tonic. Read it.

Find Messiah the Prince at Amazon or the Book Depository.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Scattershot Updates

Let's have some updates!


For those just joining us, most evenings (Australian time) I'm on Twitter sharing my continuing thoughts on my long-awaited Tolkien re-read, hashtagged with #JRRTandMe. I worked my way through The Hobbit in July/August, and then started on The Lord of the Rings just three weeks ago. So far I've only made it to Book II of Fellowship, but I'm loving it more than ever this time around--the years have given me some new insights, especially as an author.

I considered writing a whole post containing my fresh thoughts on The Hobbit, but I wasn't sure that it would merit a complete post. So I'll just mention a few highlights here. This time around I was deeply impressed by how closely The Hobbit focuses on the whole concept of making and art. Almost every time a new character or culture is introduced, there's a little aside on their attitude to art, beauty, and wealth--in fact, it's notable that in The Hobbit, the concept of wealth is closely linked to that of beauty. Things are precious because they're beautiful. Some characters have more of an eye to beauty than they do to wealth, and vice versa, but the two things are inextricably linked, which is actually a quite decent economic point--part of the reason why gold, silver and precious stones are precious, even today, is because of their beauty.

This then, of course, parlays into the theme of lust for gold, and maker's jealousy. Tolkien was keenly aware as a sub-creator of the temptation to make oneself the lord and god of one's own creation. And this is a theme that runs through The Lord of the Rings too--just remember the temptation the Ring represents, for example, to Sam. I didn't expect to identify with this theme so much, but it's actually a really powerful point. And it seems that Tolkien's solution is for makers/owners to be generous with their made possessions: it is Dain and Bard's generosity that breaks the dragon-curse on the gold.


As part of the research for Death Be Not Proud, I dipped into some opera, and got hooked. Turns out our library has a whole collection of opera DVDs, which I've been working through steadily. So far, my favourites have been Turandot, Tosca, and Carmen
I can't imagine why it's taken me so long to look into opera. Years ago, I read Kobbe's Complete Opera Book cover to cover, and thereupon thought I knew opera. Of course, opera is a musical, dramatic medium, and you really have to watch it performed *shakes head*. 

Opera is an odd genre; it requires a lot more suspension of disbelief than we're used to, since opera characters tend to be sylph-like eighteen-year-olds, while the people playing them tend to be well-fed forty-five-year-olds. It also requires a longer attention-span than does, say, the latest Marvel movie; and I don't pretend to be highbrow enough to take it as patiently as it deserves. What keeps me coming back for more is the uncanny level of dramatic power opera is capable of. No matter how silly the costumes or unconvincing the performers, there's something incredibly powerful about the alliance of drama with great music. It's a whole different form of storytelling to what I'm used to, and I've been loving it.

(Truth: I have not yet written a story in which people do not burst into song.)


I guess you all know I'm a psalm addict--I never tire of listening to and singing settings of the psalms, and I usually have some psalm album or another in whatever mix I'm currently listening to. Well, recently I discovered My Soul Among Lions, an American folk group with the ambition of recording all-new folk settings of all 150 Psalms. Their first album, containing Psalms 1-10, was released last year, and they're currently running a Kickstarter to fund the next album.

I've been thoroughly impressed by their catchy tunes, poetic paraphrasing, and production values. I could listen to these guys all day. Their second album is already funded, but will still be open for funding for the next few days--which gives you the opportunity to get digital recordings of both their first two albums for just $20. 

It was the good folks at Reconstructionist Radio who put me onto the My Soul Among Lions project, and speaking of them, they also deserve a plug for their inspiring and encouraging podcast network. I particularly recommend this two-part interview with Stephen Perks, on building covenant community.


Since finishing the first draft of Outremer, I've been working on a few other projects. 
I'd like to confirm that Never Send to Know has now been re-titled to Death Be Not Proud. I applied a few more tweaks to that story, and it's currently out for more beta-reading--pretty soon I imagine I'll be able to move into the publication process. Meanwhile I've been lazily brainstorming and researching the next novella I want to write.

What has me tied up at the moment, however, is actually something I can't tell you too much about :). Two somethings, in fact. I'm really looking forward to sharing with you when I can--but for now suffice it to say that there are some exciting projects on the horizon!

The Sophie Nugent-Siegel Poetry Prize

Before I sign off, here's something that may be of interest to young Australian writers (under 30). Sophie Nugent-Siegel was briefly a pen friend of mine, during her final illness. Now, Macquarie University is awarding a $5,000 poetry prize in Sophie's memory. You can read about Sophie here and learn about the prize here.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Every so often, a book comes along and catches you completely by surprise. I'd heard the name Poul Anderson before, of course, and had a vague idea he was a classic science fiction author. I had no particular reason to look into his books further, though, until I stumbled upon the Goodreads page for his novel The High Crusade. Which came with a high concept so deliciously epic that I knew I had to read it:

Medieval knights versus starfaring aliens.

If that doesn't sound to you like the acme of awesome, I don't know what to do with you. It certainly sounded that way to me, so I tracked down a copy of this 1960 Hugo nominee, and settled down to see if it was as good as I hoped.

It. Was. Perfect.

Our story begins in a small village in 1345 England, as Sir Roger de Tourneville musters his men to join King Edward III in France. It is at this moment that a scouting party of Wersgorix, alien masters of countless planets, descend from the skies in their immense spaceship to put Earth under the Wersgor yoke.

Momentarily taken aback by the aliens' superior firepower, Sir Roger bravely rallies his men, slaughters the aliens, and takes command of the warship. Like any good medieval knight, he instantly determines to use the starship to travel to France and finish the Hundred Years' War in a matter of weeks. After that, they might keep going and liberate the Holy Land from the Saracens.

That's the plan, anyway. In reality, the Wersgor captive they command to fly them to France instead charts a course for his own home planet. Now, stranded hundreds of lightyears away from home, with no idea how to get back, Sir Roger and his men face the full might of a massive empire bent on first crushing their rebellion and then enslaving their home planet.

Something must be done. And fortunately, Sir Roger is just the man to do it...if he can only hold together his small band of knights, priests, and commoners long enough, not all of whom are pleased to be stranded in another arm of the galaxy.
One of the buildings beyond gaped open. A small spaceship — though big as any seagoing vessel on Earth — had been trundled forth. It stood on its tail, engine growling, ready to take off and flame us from above. Sir Roger directed his cavalry thither. The lancers hit it in a single line. Shafts splintered; men were hurled from the saddle. But consider: a charging cavalryman may bear his own weight of armor, and have fifteen hundred pounds of horse beneath him. The whole travels at several miles per hour. The impact is awesome.
The ship was bowled over. It fell on its side and lay crippled.
Obviously, this book was right up my alley to begin with. But as I read it, I became more and more impressed with Anderson's storycrafting and worldbuilding. It was so funny I spent half of it cackling like a lunatic, even in public. Yet its characters stole my heart, so that I spent the other half in nerve-wracking suspense over how it was going to end. It was shamelessly, unabashedly fun, yet its world-building, deft and unobtrusive, provided real speculative-fiction heft to the setting.

As you might expect, Anderson uses this novel to make a point. The High Crusade is all about pitting medievals--people whom generations of modernists have despised as backward and barbaric--against a highly advanced starfaring alien civilisation. Of course, Anderson constructs the rules of his storyworld in such a way as to give the medieval warriors a fighting chance against the aliens, since his interest here (as, apparently, in many of his other stories) has to do with warning readers not to underestimate so-called "primitive" societies. As a result, The High Crusade is an immensely entertaining and rather lighthearted look at how aspects of medieval life and technology might make these people effective against, well, alien bureaucracies.
Huruga: “For the sake of argument, what are your demands?”
Sir Roger: “Your empire must make submission to my most puissant lord of England, Ireland, Wales, and France.”
Huruga: “Let us be serious, now.”
Sir Roger: “I am serious to the point of solemnity. But in order to spare further bloodshed, I’ll meet any champion you name, with any weapons, to settle the issue by single combat. And may God defend the right!”
Huruga: “Are you all escaped from some mental hospital?”
This clash of cultures also, of course, provides a rich vein of humour. Anderson clearly has a preference (he was, after all, apparently involved in founding the Society for Creative Anachronism). His alien bureaucracy is a satire on the modernist egalitarian state which seems far more applicable now than it might have been in 1960 when the book was first written.

But it was his treatment of my babies, the medievals, that really got my respect. Not everything in Anderson's picture of the middle ages is absolutely correct--droit de seigneur was, of course, purely fictional. But he clearly got the medievals. There's one terrific scene where our heroes, stranded on an alien planet with days much longer than 24 hours, worry that they'll go to Hell because they no longer know when to celebrate Lent, Advent, and Sunday. This is exactly the kind of detail that most dilettante writers of speculative fiction, or of medieval historical fiction, would never think to include, but which, if you know anything at all about the history, rings utterly true.

That said, and though I love them to pieces, the medievals were definitely not fluffy kittens. I was further impressed by Anderson's ability to depict both sides of their sometimes contradictory characters. It's hard to express this to modern readers in a sympathetic way, but he did it handily by the use of lashings of rather black humour, like in the hilarious scene with One-Eyed Hubert the executioner.
“Well, sire, now this is another matter, ’tis like the good old days come back, ’tis, yes, yes, yes, Heaven bless my good kind master! Now o’ course I took little equipment with me, only a few thumbscrews and pincers and suchlike, but it won’t take me no time, sire, to knock together a rack. And maybe we can get a nice kettle of oil. I always says, sire, on a cold gray day there ain’t nothing so cozy as a glowing brazier and a nice hot kettle of oil."
So obviously, this book is any medievalist's dream, and was my cup of tea precisely. In addition to a pitch-perfect affectionate spoof of the medieval character, The High Crusade also contains everything else you never knew you wanted in a book: trebuchets, nuclear warheads, trebuchets flinging nuclear warheads... space battles, fish-out-of-water humour, a courtly-love triangle, and the outrageous Sir Roger de Tourneville, who is basically my own Sir Perceval IN SPACE!

These days it's easy to feel that we're also ruled by all-powerful alien bureaucracies. As I read The High Crusade, however, alien bureaucrats began to look a whole lot less scary. Of course this book is a rather self-indulgent medievalist daydream. But it is also a rare and refreshing book, a book that dares to imagine the alien bureaucracy crumbling in the face of determination, physical courage, and low cunning. As such, it was like a whiff of burnt marsh-wiggle: profoundly encouraging. Go and read it!

Find The High Crusade on Amazon, The Book Depository, or Open Library.


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