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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Elric of Melniboné part 3: The Black Sword

In his dedication at the beginning of Elric of Melniboné, Michael Moorcock acknowledges thanks to Poul Anderson for his Three Hearts and Three Lions. As we saw in our look at that book, Anderson used the theme of Law vs. Chaos, which Moorcock echoed in his Eternal Champion stories; but it seems to me that there is another thematic link. Anderson also liked to use the theme of a hero compelled to act against his deepest desires because of honor and duty; and Elric has found himself in just such a position.

Betrayed by his cousin, Prince Yyrkoom, Elric has escaped certain death through the aid of the powerful water elementals who once served his father. But Elric’s triumph is short-lived as Yyrkoom escapes, taking his sister, Elric’s lover Cymoril, with him.

In desperation, Elric turns to his family’s ancient lorebooks and summons Aricoh, the Lord of Chaos, one of the Higher Gods his ancestors once served – a feat of sorcery which even Yyrkoom has been unable to perform. (Then again, Yyrkoom doesn’t really come off as bright enough to remember how many consonants are in his own name),

In exchange for Elric’s vow of fealty, Aricoh tells Elric where Yyrkoom may be found and how to reach him. Elric doesn’t like submitting himself to the will of Chaos; Arioch represents his people’s dark past which he has been trying to reform. But what choice does he have?

His choices are going to get even worse.

Yyrkoom has holed up in a grubby little city straddling a river between two backwater little kingdoms. It’s out of the way, and no one pays much attention to it. This latter fact is helped by the Mirror of Memory, a magical artifact Yyrkoom has acquired. It’s a huge mirror which steals the memories of any being, man or beast, who gazes into it. He has had the mirror mounted on tall pillars so that anyone sailing into the city’s harbor has to look at it. In this way Yyrkoom has kept his location a secret and has also been accumulating a navy comprised of seized merchant ships and their amnesiac crews, retrained to serve him; which he intends to sail against the Dragon Isle of Melniboné. And since Elric’s fleets are scattered all over the world searching for him, the city of Imrryr, Melniboné’s capitol, will be defenseless. Insert maniacal laugh.

And why shouldn’t he laugh? Just this morning he has succeeded in raising a demon who showed him how to reach the dimensional plane where lies his greatest prize: Sormbringer and Mournblade, the twin Black Swords of Chaos once wielded by the Lords of Melniboné in millennia past. With those two swords, no one will be able to stop him! Mwah hah ha!

Yes, he’s a bit unhinged by this point. Hanging around demons will do that to a guy. His sister tells him he’s mad, but what does a girl know. She also tells him that Elric will come to rescue her.

Cymoril strikes me as something of a disappointing character. She’s Elric’s love, but we see precious little of her; and most of her time on-stage is spent passively moping and waiting to be rescued. Now granted, this is the Pulp Fantasy genre, but Dejah Thoris had a lot more gumption than this girl.

But she is right about Elric; he is outside the city gates at this moment with an army. Arioch has warned him about the Magic Mirror, and so instead of approaching the city by sea, he sailed his ship across the land. (It’s a magic ship, okay?) Now Elric has summoned Flame Elementals to set fire to the city.

Yyrkoom orders the Mirror to be turned to face the attackers. This will affect his own forces as well, but he doesn’t care; they’re expendable anyway. Elric is prepared for this possibility as well. He has had the helms of his soldiers outfitted with opaque shields to protect them from the Mirror’s effects, and he has brought along a special group of auxiliaries, veteran soldiers who had been disabled in battle. These were mentioned earlier, but Moorcock was coy about the nature of their disability. The astute reader has probably guessed it, though; these men are blind. As soon as Elric sees the Mirror beginning to rotate in their direction, he orders his men to pull down their visors and fall back to let the sightless troops do the fighting.

Yyrkoom has one last trick up his sleeve. He sends a minion up to the Magic Mirror to destroy it. As the Mirror breaks, it releases all the stored up memories, overwhelming everyone in the immediate vicinity. Only Elric’s tremendous strength of will enables him to keep his own sanity. Most of the men of both armies die from the psychic shock, and most of the remainder are driven mad.

Elric’s friend, Dyvin Tvar is among the handful of survivors, and together they proceed to Yyrkoon’s dwelling. They find Cymoril, but she is in a bad state. Yyrkoom has placed an enchantment of eternal sleep upon her. Through strength of will she has stayed awake long enough to warn Elric that her brother has fled through the Shade Gate to the otherworldly plane in which the Swords of Chaos have been secreted. Then she klunks out.

This puts Elirc in a worse position than ever. Only Yyrkoon can release Cymoril from the spell. But how can he follow the traitorous creep? Arioch again insinuates himself into the picture to give Elric more advice. The Lord of Chaos has kept the Shade Gate open so that Elric can also access the other plane; and he tells Elric that he must find the two rune swords of his ancestors before his cousin does. If Yyrkoom acquires the swords, he will truly be invincible and Melniboné will fall before him.

Once again, Elric has no choice. He tells Dyvin Tvar to take Cymoril back home. He will follow Yyrkoon, and return when and if he can.

The world beyond the Shade Gate is a darksome, lifeless place, demolished long ago by a titanic battle between the Lords of Order and the Lords of Chaos. Elric wonders if this place is underground in an enormous cavern -- for he can see no sky, only darkness – or if he has actually gone far into the future after the stars have gone cold. It doesn’t really matter which.

The plane is not uninhabited, though. Elric meets a bowman clad in red calling himself Rackhir. He is one of the Warrior Priests of the distant land of Phum and until fairly recently he served the Lords of Chaos. But when he turned against them, they exiled him to this dreary place. The two men hit it off, (Elric being careful not to mention his current patron), and Elric promises to bring Rackhir back to their own world with him if he gets the chance.

It’s kind of late in the story for Moorcock to be introducing a new sidekick, but that’s essentially what Rackhir becomes; he accompanies Elric in many of the later Elric stories. And I have to say, he makes a better sidekick than Dyvin Tvar. Sorry, Tvar, you’re just too somber and Elric is a gloom twinkie to begin with.

There is a city nearby, inhabited by people who, for some reason or other, have like Rackhir been exiled to this plane, along with various demons who come and go. The two are attacked by several such demons, sent by Yyrkoom. Elric and his new friend defeat them with the aid of an old man named Nuin Who Knew All.
Nuin is another one of those almost throwaway bits of invention that makes Moorcock’s world so rich. Once he had been a foolish sage who wished to know everything. He made a pact with Orland of the Staff, evidently a god of some sort, and gained his wish. And ever since, he’s been trying to forget. He remembers very little of what he once knew, and every time he uses a bit of information it seems to fade from his mind; so he has hopes that someday he will know nothing and be free to leave this plane. But he still knows enough to recognize Elric’s name and to give him directions to find the Two Swords.

Elric and Rackhir make a perilous journey through and underneath a sinister swamp, eventually ending up at the entrance to the Pulsing Cavern, a weird chamber that seems to be composed of living flesh and which can only be entered through a sphincter-like opening; (thank you very much for that imagery, Michael Moorcock). Yyrkoon has preceded Elric here, but the two swords are suspended over his head and he hasn’t yet figured out how to get them down.

It’s because the swords were waiting for Elric to show up. Well, maybe not Elric specifically; just an opponent. The swords are sentient; and they’ve been waiting millennia for a chance to fight. As soon as Elric enters the fleshly chamber, one of the swords appears in his hand, and the other in Yyrkoon’s.
The swords were singing. Their voices were faint but could be heard quite plainly. Elric lifted the huge blade easily and turned it this way and that, admiring its alien beauty. 
‘Stormbringer,’ he said. 
Then he felt afraid. 
It was suddenly as if he had been born again and that this runesword was born with him. It was as if they had never been separate. 
And the sword moaned sweetly and settled even more smoothly into his grasp. 
‘Stormbringer!’ yelled Elric and he leapt at his cousin.
The battle which follows is fierce, because Elric deeply desires to kill his cousin, and Yyrkoon fights back with no less fervor. But as the fight goes on, Elric realizes that the sword wants to kill his opponent even more. The Black Swords of Chaos feed off the souls of those they slay, and both Strombringer and Mournblade are long overdue for a snack.

Elric realizes that he is not wielding the sword as much as he is following the sword as it guides his arm. This kind of freaks him out, and he tries to wrest control of the situation. He still wants to kill Yyrkoon, but not for the sport of some demonic ironmongery.

But the sword has something to offer him as well. It feeds energy into Elric’s arm, magical strength. All his life Elric has been dependent on drugs to mitigate his feeble health and keep him alive. With Strombringer, he need never be weak again. The only price would be that Elric would have to let it feed.

This is not a price Elric likes; but he needs Stormbringer right now or else it’s brother Mournblade will feed on his own soul and pass the energy on to his enemy. He must accept the runeblade’s bargain.

‘You shall not be my master,’ Elric insists, and the sword seems to acquiesce. Elric disarms his cousin, but refuses to slay him.
Elric said: ‘We are victims, cousin, of a conspiracy – a game played by gods, demons and sentient swords. They wish one of us dead. I suspect they wish you dead more than they wish me dead. And that is the reason why I shall not slay you here.’
Now that the adrenaline has worn off, and the sword lies quiet in his scabbard, Elric can feel some sympathy, even pity for the pathetic wretch his cousin has become. But now both he and Yyrkoon, joined now by Rackhir, who has promised to share Elric’s fate for good or ill, are trapped in the Pulsing Cave.

Elric once more calls upon Aricoch. The Chaos Lord congratulates him on winning the sword, but asks why he spared his cousin’s life.

‘Let us say he must remain alive in order to wake Cymoril,’ Elric replies. Arioch smiles, and Elric realizes that the Chaos Lord was expecting him to forget that little point. Elric goes on to request that his patron take him, Yyrkoon and Rackhir back to Melniboné. Aricoch at first refuses; Rackhir is a traitor as far as the Lords of Chaos are concerned, and has been exiled to this realm as punishment. Elric insists: ‘He comes back with me… Or I do not take the sword with me.’

This is a calculated gamble. Elric guesses that Aricoh wants the runeblade returned to the mortal plane and that this can only be accomplished by a mortal champion; that is why Elric has been manipulated into this situation.

‘You are clever, Elric of Melniboné… And you are a fitting servant of Chaos.” Aricoch decides that punishing the Priest of Phum is not all that important after all. He takes Elric and his companions back to Melniboné.

And what then? Elric has defeated the usurper, regained his throne and rescued his love. Yyrkoon fulfills his agreement and releases his sister from her enchantment. Elric has tamed the Black Sword of Chaos. He should live happily ever after, right?

Yet Elric is still restless. He is not ready to sit back on the Ruby Throne. He still wants to reform his country, and to that end he wants to spend a year travelling to see the other nations and how they govern themselves. After a year, he promises Cymoril, he will return and settle down. Is that his only reason? Perhaps not, but if not he won’t admit it to himself. He asks if she will accompany him and Rackhir on this new adventure, but she refuses. Melniboné is her home.

But who will rule Melniboné in Elric’s absence? He suggests that Cymoril rule as empress until he returns to marry her, but she refuses. Dyvin Tvar has no desire for that kind of power. The most suitable candidate for regent, ironically, is Yyrkoom. Elric believes that his cousin has learned humility, and can be trusted with the position.

It will end badly; this the chronicle assures us. The actions Elric has taken, even those with the best intentions, will lead irrevocably to doom, for himself and for Melniboné. He still owes a debt to the Lord of Chaos; and the sword he has gained isn’t nearly as tame as he thinks it is.

For the time being, however, he is ready to set out on a new adventure.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Jamie Delano Interview: Small Press, Creative writing, and Poker

I met Jamie Delano online in 2002.  He was gracious and kind to a newbie interviewer, and gave me two great interviews since.  Also, I've often felt that he was a mentor, giving me help with creative ideas, and direction, when almost no one else cared or gave one single damn.  So I definitely am biased here.  I think Jamie is a great writer, and a better person.   He writes dark stories, and the common thought about writers of darkness, is that they themselves are dark.  But I can honestly say, Jamie is a source of light.  He isn't superhero or god, just, a very good person in my estimation.  This is an e-mail interview done over the span of a month, May 2014.

What recent/current cultural and world events have most influenced your creative work?

In the sixty years of (more or less) sentience that I have (more or less) enjoyed, the primary influence on my creativity has been in observing the heroic resistance of human individuals to the madness collectively wrought by their fellows.  Wars, political ideologies, religious and cultural icons have all provoked reaction from time to time – sometimes inspiring, more often appalling – but it is some sick intrinsic need to comprehend the curse of life, to make sense of the senseless and celebrate the futility of our existence that keeps me writing.

As an established writer, what led to you going the route of self or small publishing?

Most likely it is early-onset dementia at the helm there.  Never a natural fit for me, I found myself increasingly awkward in the world of comics writing.  I had a generally good time and made some good friends there, and count myself fortunate to have been able to make a moderate living as a writer in that (or any) medium for a number of years.  But nothing lasts forever; my audience was increasingly ‘niche’ and the time available to write the novels I’d always planned to seemed suddenly to be shrinking fast.  So I arsed around for a few more lazy years playing poker and growing peyote, just to increase the pressure, and then someone put a gun to my head and forced me to sit down in my loathed study and write BOOK THIRTEEN.  I was a bit shy about it when it was finished, and it didn’t feel like a ‘Jamie Delano’ story, and I liked the idea of designing the cover myself, editing myself batshit, and spending considerable sums of my ill-gotten Hellblazer royalties to make it available to a discerning few via my own imprint under a pen name.  In fact I liked it so much that – despite the fact that sales have barely covered printing costs, let alone reimbursed me for the time spent writing it – I decided to do it again with LEEPUS: DIZZY.  I enjoy writing prose and wish I had done more sooner; spending a year on a manuscript, and then editing the text, making the cover and producing a work which is all your own (and whose faults you can consequently blame on no one but yourself) is very satisfying to me.  It’s gratifying too when a few people buy it and say that they like it, but – just as well – the main pleasure for me is in the achievement, having a well-made artifact to hold.

Where do you see publishing in general, now that you've taken this step?

It’s all a bit confusing and I don’t pay all that much attention.  The self-publishing industry seems to have burgeoned exponentially; no one now need feel precluded by anything but time and inclination from writing and publishing their book.  And that is a great and liberating advancement.  But the writers are rarely the ones being rewarded on any financial level.  The money is made in the servicing of this technological opportunity; by the online ‘retail platforms’; the ‘Ten Things You Absolutely Must Do to Sell Your Self-published Novel’ merchants, etc., etc..  It feels a bit exploitative – putative ‘literary lions’ exploited as ‘content providers’ scrabbling for self-promotion.  All those 99 cent eBooks, giveaways, arbitrary price-reductions and sock-puppet scandals -- I’m personally less and less inclined to go there.  I made eBook editions of BOOK THIRTEEN available via Amazon, etc., while handling print editions direct, but if people want the new one – digital or print – they’ll need to buy it from me personally, or a bricks-and-mortar independent store that cares about the product.  And it’s likely BOOK THIRTEEN will be brought back in house in the next month or so.  Commercially suicidal?  Maybe – but I’m happier trying to write and produce books that offer satisfaction to the few readers that may find their way to them than desperately blogging from dawn till dusk to ‘sell myself’ and creep my title up the Amazon charts by a hundred-thousand places.  I guess I’m a writer who publishes his own books, rather than a salesman who makes his own product.  Call me precious, I don’t care.  That said, I do enjoy engaging directly with readers and others via social media, in the same way that I enjoy packaging a book when they buy it and taking it to the mail myself.

As a creative writer myself I'd like to ask, what makes you write.  Do you write for the reward of money, or do you think, if you were to be a very wealthy man otherwise you'd write nonetheless? I have to write.  I get antsy and bad dreams if I don't, but I know not everyone is the same.

The Word is a virulent infection communicated by those closest to us and, although well-meaning, already hopelessly corrupted.  The act of writing is torment and the outcome invariably disappointing – all those monster babies, but we still keep going at it hoping the next one will be perfect. To anyone who wants to make money out of writing I’d suggest practicing blackmail letters as likely the most profitable option.  I write to scratch a personal psychic itch; I was lucky for a number of years to be able to earn my living by that scratching via the medium of comics – but I started writing poems and stories around the age of twelve, and it wasn’t until I was twenty-seven that a friend suggested comics might provide a financially rewarding outlet for my compulsion.  Whatever I write, I do it primarily to please myself.  I’m easily bored, and writing allows me to pass the time exploring my imagination and trying to wrangle some kind of sense from the madness I find there.  When others also find my work pleasing and are willing to pay to read it, I’m grateful.  When they don’t, I’m disappointed, but I rarely regret my approach, or wish I’d gone a different route with a story.  A thing goes how it goes; once I’m embarked on my one-word-after-the-next journey the game is out of my control.

Is there a model for self publishing or small publishing that you are able to follow, or, have we reach a place in the landscape of publishing that due to the collapse of normal markets and big publishing, everything we do is new?

If there is a model for successful self-publishing I’m not aware of it.  My only plan is to write as well as I’m able, and make books with as much care and attention as I can muster in order to offer value and provide a pleasing artifact and a satisfactory return to a reader on the investment of their intelligence, time and money.  I do my best to tell people they are available, but not to the point of butting in on every public conversation shouting ‘Look at me, look at me – I wrote a book, so I’m amazing and clever and you’re a fool if you don’t see that and want to buy it.’  (Although all that is undoubtedly true)

Do you foresee a better reward for writers in the future due to self publishing, or did the financial world and collapse of most print strip mine the reward aspect of writing for most people?

A few may get wealthy, if that is their aim, but the vast majority will not.  It was ever thus.  The only good reason to write stuff is to get better at doing it.  Writing is largely a legacy activity.  Do it to leave something worthwhile behind.  That said, as Leepus (the lead in my latest novel) opines from time to time: “Even idiots sometimes get lucky.”  – so never abandon hope of a random payday.

How do you balance the need for financial profit with releasing your creative energy for others to enjoy?  If you were so wealthy you could do anything including lounge about the patio or play poker, would you bother to write?

There’d be no point to being wealthy if it did not offer the liberty to write – other, of course, than funding the buy-ins to higher-stakes poker tourneys than I’m at present able to risk.

Currently I’m in the fortunate position of enjoying an inexpensive lifestyle, with the years ahead that will need financing diminishing with reassuring speed.  I have no expensive lovers, or outlandish drug-habits to maintain; my house is paid for and my children are generally self-sufficient; I receive the odd royalty payment in recognition of past labours; and the recent increase in the age at which UK females may claim their state pension means that my partner, Sue, will earn a regular wage for the next six years at least.  So I can indulge my word addiction for a while undistracted by the threat of bailiffs.  I plan to exploit the situation while it lasts.

What market beasts are the hardest for a self publisher or small publisher to face?  What are the best weapons for them to strike down said beasts?

The need to find readers constantly conflicts with the need to write stuff with which to feed them.  My only weapon is a desire to write as well as I can and a naive faith that the effort will be serendipiditously rewarded. So I’m doubtless doomed to die unknown and a pauper.  Oh well – c’est la guerre, as the fighting French say.

If your small press does well, will you publish others?  If so, how will you choose from the myriad of choices, and friends with scripts that are deserving?

It was my initial intention that Lepus Books would be no more than a platform to give an identity to my own prose fiction, however I have started to adjust that model, publishing Kiss My ASBO by Alistair Fruish in the autumn of last year.  I vaguely see a future role as publisher of last resort for work that I find intriguing by people who I like.  Sometime in 2014 we will also offer a memoir of a woman growing up lesbian in 1970s/80s middle England – so we’re not restricting ourselves to fiction, although that will probably provide the bulk of future content.  Lepus Books has a minimal bankroll, and does not seek to make profit from publishing the work of writers other than myself.  We act solely as a resource by which to ease getting a book into print and a platform through which potential readers can interact direct with an author, whose sole responsibility it is to manage and honour orders. Lack of time, energy and finance dictates that, at this time, unsolicited manuscripts cannot be considered and new works will, for the foreseeable future, be adopted only by invitation and at my dictatorial whim. I vaguely fantasise about expanding this model into a network of similar author/publisher independents who might coalesce into a cooperative network of writers and potential readers divorced from the churning madness of Amazon, etc.  But I’m not a natural entrepreneur, so anyone with the skill and inclination should feel free to take over the lead.

Do you have sequential story telling left to do?  What kind of comic stories are left to tell?

Yes, I’m pretty sure I still have sequential scripts in me. Despite its stagnant backwaters the medium remains vital and there are millions of stories to tell – everybody breathing lives at least one.  It’s summoning the energy to keep dipping into that seething pot of tragedy, pathos and humour that’s the problem.  And a novel is an easier (and more self-absorbing) prospect when one is flying solo, without any artistic talent, or either the funds or sheer brass neck to lure an artist into collaboration on no more than a promise.  I’ve no idea what type of story I might produce, though; but it seems likely it won’t feature superheroes or suit the mainstream.

Do you believe that the world populace reads less, or do you think the transition from print has made it hard to measure how much anyone reads?

The global population is increasing exponentially, so, even if a smaller percentage of humans are regular readers, it stands to reason there’ll still be plenty.  Question is what will they be reading, and where. It seems likely more is done onscreen now, via the Internet or devices, than by way of the printed page.  And I sometimes wonder if  –  as with the net mitigating an individual’s need to actually know stuff, rather than merely knowing how to access required information –  the easy availability of vast tracts of media generally means that more people collect it than actually read it.  Assembling resources can get to be a compulsion, become an end in its own right.  You can have the Library of Alexandria on an eReader in your pocket but, unless those volumes are actually accessed and their texts considered, a few well-thumbed books on a kid’s bedroom shelf is a lot more significant.  What the literary world needs is much more general boredom.  When I was a child I read the clock round because, as a suburban kid in dreary 1950s/60s England, with only one crappy TV channel, who wasn’t big on sport, vandalising public amenities, or raking the dead leaves from the garden at the insistence of a Philistine father, I was left with only bike-riding, fishing or books to pass the endless fucking black and white hours.  The bike was handy to get to the river (out of earshot of the irritating father), and fishing was okay in allowing space for the imagination to wander – a catch was fortunately a rare distraction – but books were where the cool and intriguing shit really happened.  If I’d had an Xbox or YouTube handy, though, things might have been somewhat different.

When in the midst of writing a story is it mostly written just needing to be typed, or, do you write the story as much during the typing out as before starting?

I usually have nothing much more than a vague idea of character and scenario when I force myself to boot up the PC and confront that blank-screen terror.  My ‘thinking’ is largely done on the keyboard, as I make stuff up as I plod along, one word after another, trying to follow an elusive scent into an indistinct future. The story is hidden in the journey; I usually don’t see it until I get to the end.  For the first third at least of a comic script or a book, I invariably go back to the beginning each day, editing text and adjusting rhythm, shifting punctuation minutely and looking for missed clues to the trail ahead.  Eventually I’m content enough to revisit only the preceeding day’s chapter until I reach a conclusion.  And then the real writing work begins.

Re-write, re-write, re-write until you’re sick of the sound of your own fucking voice, then rewrite again and once more.  Only when there is no time or sanity left in which to procrastinate further should one publish and be damned.  It’s a misunderstanding shared by many non-writers, to assume that writing is no more than blurting a plot out onto a page, an act of endurance only.  Guy’s, what you have there is a first draft, sometimes hardly more than a synopsis, a rough-hewn chunk of rock; you need chip away at it for half-a-fuckin’-lifetime more before you appreciate its perfect form and hear its music.  Writing is hell and a mug’s game.  You run the risk of going stone crazy convincing yourself it’s important; you may just vanish up your own arse.  It’s a dangerous sport you’re flirting with, worse than taking drugs, or parkour; so don’t join if you can’t take a joke.

You'd likely wish to punch me in the ovaries if I didn't ask a question or two about the books that your small press has sprung up to share.  Tell us about Leepus, where it can be bought, and what part of your dark dark soul did it spring from.  Fear?  Anger?  GWBush?

My first novel, BOOK THIRTEEN by A. William James aka Jamie Delano, was published in 2012. While in no way autobiographical, it arises from the travails of an aging and superstitious pulp fiction writer struggling to overcome a long-term block and the distractions of a large and ramshackle family to complete the final work in a series of fictions featuring a character called Leepus.

LEEPUS: DIZZY (2014) – which I occasionally think of as a graphic novel for which the reader must provide their own pictures – is set in the near-future alternate reality of Inglund. The ‘Leepus’ featured therein is likely not the fictional character created by The Old Writer of BOOK THIRTEEN, but the suspicion that the two are connected by some contorted skein of madness in the depths of imaginary space should not be disregarded. Who knows where this shit comes from, or why I feel moved to write it down; but the words of my old mum are often present in my head saying: “Better out than in, son.’  DIZZY is fast-paced, dark, funny, a bit trippy, occasionally violent, and has some libertarian fun with language.  I’m pleased enough by how it turned out to seriously consider calling it the first of an ongoing series.

I won’t bore readers here with lengthy exposition; suffice it to say that those interested can download sample chapters of both BOOK THIRTEEN and LEEPUS: DIZZY via the Lepus Books website, , by which means they can also purchase print and digital editions direct from the author/publisher, thus making him very grateful and incrementally enhancing his lifestyle.

The third title currently offered by Lepus Books is Kiss MY ASBO by Alistair Fruish, a debut novel recommended by many who know shit from Shinola, and which I personally endorse through being its publisher of last resort.

As I've asked many people, in interview, what do you find horrifying, and how do you translate your own fears into books that scare other people?  Is there a catharsis of fear release?

Fear is the constant companion of any halfway intelligent organism abroad and vulnerable to tooth and claw aboard our planetary spaceship as it spins dizzy through the icy vastness of godless infinity.  Tangling that human terror in fiction has always seemed to me some small, if futile, mitigation of the dire threat to health and wellbeing of those I love posed by careless Fate.  Naming the monster offers a slightly improved chance of magically defending against its assault.

Tell the readers of this how to find you, where to find your press, and what you hope happens with your company in the next five years?

My vague intention is that Lepus Books will continue to publish works by myself and others whose work appeals to my idiosyncratic taste  but which may not fill a conventional publisher with confidence of profit.  But please note – our resources are currently tiny and I am thus unable to consider unsolicited manuscripts.

Thank you sir, I adore your work and you.

Thank you, Alex, and your readers, for your interest.

Jamie Delano – 2014

Find Jamie on Twitter and upon Facebook

(All images are trademark and copyright protected via their respective holders.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Elric of Melneboné part 2: The Desperate Bargain

Michael Moorcock intended Elric to be sort of like the Anti-Conan; where most traditional Heroic Fantasy featured Beefy Barbarians slaying Evil Wizards, Elric was a nerdy wizard who got to kick the snot out of the barbarians.

At first, Elric does seem to be something of a wimp. Weak and sickly as a child, and dependent on exotic drugs to maintain his spark of life, the albino with bone-white skin grew into a bookish lad. His years of study have caused him to question the Traditional Values of cruelty and hedonism practiced by his ancestors, the Dragon Lords of Melniboné.

It is for these reasons that his cousin, Prince Yyrkoon, thinks that Elric's a poor ruler and wants to replace him; and it is for these reasons that, as Elric lies exhausted and weak after a sea-battle against barbarian raiders and when no one is looking, Yyrkoon chucks his cousin overboard.

As he sinks beneath the waves, weighted down by his armor and too weak to struggle to the surface, it occurs to Elric that Yyrkoon might have a point; that Melniboné might be better off with back-stabbing thug sitting on the kingdom’s Ruby Throne than with a conscience-ridden scholar; someone who would better embody the ethos which has governed Melniboné for over ten thousand years. For that matter, the troubled, tortured Elric might be better off dead as well. The only ones who would mourn his passing, would be his friend Dyvin Tvar, Keeper of the Dragon Caves, and of course the woman he loves, Yyrkoon’s sister Cymoril.

As the cold darkness engulfs him, another thought comes to him; an old, old spell which his ancestors had once used to invoke Straasha, the Lord of the Water Elementals, flits through his mind. Elric has eschewed sorcery, but magic is an ancient tradition among the Dragon Lords, mostly involving the summoning of spirits, demons and other supernatural creatures; the incantation, like an old nursery rhyme he might have heard as a child, flits through his mind.

The last thing he expects is to get a reply.
Straasha answers thy summons, mortal. Our destinies are bound together. How may I aid thee, and, in aiding thee, aid myself?
Elric thinks he’s dreaming. He protests that he is resigned to his fate and wants nothing more than to die; but Straasha tells him if that were the case then the invocation would not have called him. Some small part of Elric’s consciousness must have desired life with an intensity strong enough to overcome death. Again he asks Elric what boon he would seek.

Still certain he is hallucinating, Elric says that the only aid he would ask for is to be returned to Melniboné so that he can deal with Yyrkoon and save Cymoril form the torments her brother is sure to inflict upon her. But he doesn’t really believe it will happen. He knows he is as good as dead.

You cannot die. Not yet. Straasha assures him, and takes Elric to a place where he can rest. The world is on the verge of a new age, Strassha tells him, and the Lords of the Higher Realms are again taking an interest in the mortal world. He advises Elric that he will be happier if he gives himself up to his destiny, once he understands it; and that he should not hesitate to call upon the other elemental spirits at need, nor upon the beasts. But beware of gods, Elric. Beware the Lords of the Higher Worlds and remember that their aid and their gifts must always be paid for.

Yyrkoon, meanwhile, is having a really good day. He triumphantly announces that, Elric having died in battle, he is the new emperor. His sister, Cymoril, guesses the truth, and commands her escort of palace guards to kill Yyrkoon for his treason. One of her guards tries to obey, but he is cut down by the captain of the guard, who knows upon which side his bread is buttered. “My loyalty is to the Ruby Throne,” the captain tells the new emperor. That’s fine with Yyrkoon.

Yyrkoon continues on to the imperial palace, but when he enters the throne room, he sees someone sitting in his chair.

“You are dead, Elric! I know that you are dead!” But no, Elric is quite alive; and Yyrkoon finds himself surrounded by Dyvin Tvar’s men, who are more than happy to take him into custody.

In the past, Yyrkoon has criticized Elric for being far to clement and for disdaining the Melnibonéan tradition of gratuitous cruelty. With grim pleasure, Elric tells him that has decided to take Yyrkoom's advice; he thinks of something both humiliating and sadistically appropriate for his treasonous cousin.

Cymoril urges Elric to just kill the creep; she’s afraid that given time, her brother will regroup and cook up some counter-intrigue; but Elric is confident that he has pulled Yyrkoom’s fangs. He plans on exiling his cousin to some distant barbarian kingdom.

He never gets the chance. Yyrkoom still has followers loyal to him, and he’s been practicing sorcery of his own. Elric is aware of the prince’s experiments in magic; Yyrkoom has been trying to summon the Lords of Chaos in order to gain the legendary two Black Swords of Chaos. But he has been unsuccessful in that endeavor, and Elric has discounted Yyrkoom’s sorcerous abilities. Yyrkoom creates a groaning mist, a weird miasma that carries ghostly voices which play mind games on its victims and disorients them. Under the cover of the groaning mist, Yyrkoom is able to abduct Cymoril and flee the city with a group of supporters.

Elric attempts to locate Yyrkoom, but the wily prince has covered his tracks too well. Elric sends ships out in all directions, searching all the nearby islands, to no avail. As he waits, brooding in his palace, Elric buries himself in his father’s library, trying to find lore which might help him recover his love. For several months, his ships search, but return home empty; no report has been found of Yyrkoom. Elric decides to take drastic measures.

He has studied the oldest and most obscure books of magic in his father’s library; he has carefully considered every contingency; he has prepared as well as humanly possible; and now he is ready to attempt his only hope. He is going to try what Yyrkoom could never achieve; to summon Arioch, the Lord of Chaos. Did he remember Straasha’s warnings about the Lords of the Higher Worlds? Maybe; but Elric is out of options.

Arioch does appear, first in the form of a small, buzzing fly, and then as a tall, handsome youth.
The youth was taller, now, than Elric. He looked down at the Emperor of Melniboné and he smiled the smile that the fly had smiled. “You alone are fit to serve Arioch. It is long since I was invited to this plane, but now that I am here I shall aid you, Elric. I shall be your patron. I shall protect you and give you strength and the source of strength, though master I be and slave you be.”
This has “Bad Deal” written all over it, and Elric hesitates; but Arioch tells him he cannot help Elric find Yyrkoom and save Cymoril unless Elric first swears to serve him. Elric swears, and finds himself filled with ecstatic fire and a strength he’s never known.

Arioch tells him where his cousin can be found: in a barbarian land to the south where he has conquered two neighboring countries called Oin and Yu. Yyrkoon has also gained possession of the Mirror of Memory, a magical device which drains the memories of any who look in into it. That is how he has managed to obliterate all traces of himself. Arioch also advises Elric on the best way to reach his cousin: with the Ship Which Sails Over Both Land and Sea.

Elric again summons the Lord of the Water Elementals. It’s harder this time, because he does not have the benefit of a near-death experience to concentrate his attention. Straasha is not terribly happy about Elric’s summoning the Lords of Chaos back to this plane, but understands that he was fated to do so. As it happens, the Ship Arioch spoke of belongs to Straasha. Well, it used to belong to him and his brother King Glome of the Earth Elementals, but the two of them quarreled eons ago. Straasha got the Ship, but Glome was never happy about it. With reluctance, Straasha grants Elric use of the Ship.

Elric and his friend Dyvin Tvar prepare an expeditionary force including several war veterans with a “special disability”, which the narration does not at first specify, but which the astute reader can probably guess. They board the magical ship and damned if the blessed thing doesn’t sail over land just as smoothly as if it were sailing over water. But before they get too far, the land begins to quake and rock as if it were an ocean in a storm. The elementals of the earth are taking umbrage. Elric makes for the sea by the shortest route to avoid more trouble.

Sailing south, they reach the city of Dhoz-Kam, capitol of the lands of Oin and Yu, and find that the Mirror is waiting for them. It’s huge and has been set on two enormous pillars at the entrance to the harbor so that no ship can enter without its crew looking upon its baneful surface. No ocean-going ship, that is. Since Elric’s ship can sail over Land as well as Sea, he can circle around and approach the city from the rear.

But hardly do they strike the coast than the earth begins rebelling against the ship again, rocking and buffeting it like waves in a hurricane. Three of Elric’s men are killed by the pitching of the ship. Finally Elric realizes he must speak directly to Glome to try and placate him.

King Glome is not in a conciliatory mood. As far as he’s concerned, the Ship Which Sails Over Both Land And Sea rightfully belongs to him. After much pleading, Glome finally consents to let them pass, requesting only the bodies of the men already slain to be buried in the earth as tribute. But the Ship may nevermore travel over his domains; henceforth it may only travel over the water. Glome allows Elric to pilot the ship to a nearby lake. There it will stay.

Without the ship, Elric will have to attack Yyrkoon’s city on foot. He will need more help.

NEXT: Siege of Dhoz-Kam; the Mirror of Memory; Yyrkoom’s Desperate Flight and the Two Black Swords!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chuck Dixon and the new Ongoing series WinterWorld from IDW

WINTERWORLD is about to hit us with an all new ongoing comic from IDW.

Readers can read my previous interview with author Chuck Dixon about the Winterworld collected edition here.

Chuck, how did you decide the concept of the original story because at the moment we are all being torrentially flooded by Global WARMING fears?

Is this simply a story, or is it a metaphor?

This story is escapist fare and nothing else. Though I certainly have a bit of fun with 'climate change' as we are told to call it now. At the time Winterworld was conceived, the consensus among professional alarmist was that we were looking forward to a new ice age.

All other considerations aside, when I saw Jorge Zaffino's work I knew I wanted to write for him. A post-apocalyptic thing was the first idea that leapt to mind. Some kind of desperate characters struggling in a hostile world. Jorge's art determined that in my mind. A world of violent weather and bitter cold intrigued me and so...

Returning to the sequel in WW the collection, and now this, how do you view the world you are developing, does it have endless story lines to develop, or, with it being a frozen world with limited human life, do you risk retelling the same story, over and over?

There's always that risk. But this is really Scully and Wynn's story. I think their relationship is unusual enough that readers want to see what happens to them next, to see if they make it. And it's not really about the brutal environment they live in as much as the other survivors they meet. The freezing temperatures and scant resources provide a background tension to cast the drama against.

The artist on this new story/series is Butch Guice.  Yet, he manages to brilliantly capture the best of Jorge Zaffino.  Was that a requirement going forward, or was that simply an artistic decision he made?

Butch isn't aping Jorge (aside from some clever homages). The two guys are in the same wheelhouse. They even have similar personalities. Butch shares Jorge's ability to draw believable natural environments as well as REALLY nasty people. He throws in the background details that make it seem real and isn't afraid to pull the "camera" way back to show us the awesome scale of this world. As Butch said to me when I invited to join us for this first arc, "You had me at 'lots of negative space.'"

Is the book a limited series?  How far out have you written the stories for it?

It's an ongoing monthly and I've already scripted the entire first year.

Why IDW?  Do they have an inheritance of style or interest that is similar to Eclipse the original publisher?

On the nose. IDW is like the child of Eclipse Comics in a lot of ways. Ted Adams was an intern at Eclipse when I met him years ago. I see IDW applying Dean Mullaney's marketing ideas all the time. Their approach to creators is the same; hands off and encouraging and always a fair deal. We're also partners in this venture as we move along with the arrangement we've made with X-Box to make Winterworld a live-action television event.

A television event?  Tell us more about that?

At this point I don't have much I can or am allowed to say. It will be an eight episode live action event with a high per-episode budget. IDW will be acting as creative partner.

Were there books that stimulated your interest in telling a winter tale?  Maybe HP Lovecraft's Mountains of Madness or John Christopher's The Long Winter... or any number of military stories set on the Eastern Front WWII or The Winter War between Soviets and Finland?

All great things to reference. But I think a few endless Pennsylvania winters were enough. I lived very remote for a few years in PA. Did my share of chopping and hauling firewood in knee-deep snow.

Who would you choose to play Scully, who would you choose to play Wynn in an unlimited budget film, and you can raise any actor or actress from the dead if you need to...?

I hate the casting game. But...a younger Nick Nolte for Scully. I put his age around forty. And there's rafts of young actresses who could play Wynn.

What is the coldest you've ever been?  How can you express that kind of pain, discomfort, in sequential form?

I was camping on a mountainside in Pennsylvania. Most mountains in PA are sheltered, covered with forest. This one was totally denuded by a forest fire a few years before. It was July and I'd only brought a blanket to sleep under. That night the temperature dropped dramatically and the cold thermals whipped up the mountain from the river valley below. What I found out then was it's not so much HOW cold you get it's for how LONG you stay that way. I thought I'd never get warm again. I stress in Winterworld that the cold is ALWAYS there.

I've been known to bitch about Minnesota's weather, a lot even. But then I was thinking about moving even further N to avoid, well, people. That cold and isolation wears upon a soul, and expeditions to the poles dealt with mental as well as physical harm.  How do the survivors of the Ice age keep hope being so isolated and having so little to give them warmth, food, or anything comforting.  Would your Winterworld be comprised entirely of victims, or as in many cases during social chaos, are there some who thrive upon the suffering?

You? Bitch about the cold? Scully and Wynn stay on the move. They are, ostensibly, looking for Wynn's parents. Scully is trying to take her home. The suspense comes from the hostile environment where everything can kill you and the deadliest aspect is want. And there are certainly those who prey, some literally, on the helpless.

Have you plotted the story out in general to have an idea where you want to end? Or do you let the stories tell you when they are done?

I have an end in mind but I'm hoping it's a long way off.

As well as the main story, do you have any short stories and different or new characters to build the layers of the world.  Do you perhaps even show glimpses of the world prior to the freeze, and who did what to whom?

We will NEVER show the world before the event that froze it over. In fact, no one in these stories was alive when this happened. And HOW it happened is all supposition though we will be exploring some possible explanations. After all, man is always driven to try and explain his world.

I have to think the Russians have a buttload of winter weather prepared warriors, Finns and Norwegians, Swedes and Canucks too. Did some small remnants of order in those countries survive, are they the promised land?  Or does order in such a world automatically mean a bunch of instant Hitlers?

Toward the end of the year's continuity we will glimpse evidence of a more ordered effort to maintain a civilization. It doesn't take the form you suggest. It's far more insidious.

Damn.  I can't wait til then to learn the answer.

How much of this is fantasy/sci fi, and how much is based upon the reality that when humans outgrow outstretch their resources, they become far closer to bestial?

There's no fantasy elements whatsoever. There are touches of SF as it's set somewhat in the future. For the most part it's a survival tale where the odds are always life and death.

And taking a turn from Lord of the Flies, given human nature, why is Scully good? Why does he keep trying in a world where might makes things right?

Scully is an interesting character. He's always done what he had to do to make it to the next day no matter what the cost. When he runs into Wynn that all changes. Now he has someone besides himself to worry about. She's given him a purpose in life beyond the grind of existence.

Entropy will be the end of us, eventually, but who would survive, the scientists? The warriors?  People with true faith in some movement or belief?

Well, my stories might lead you believe that mankind will take a giant leap backwards in order to make it through.

(Click image to make it larger)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Elric of Melneboné part 1: The Melancholy King

Unlike many of my fannish friends in college, I was never into Elric. Most of my exposure to science fiction in my youth came from my Dad’s collection of paperbacks in the basement, and he had very little Michael Moorcock. As a result, what I knew about Moorcock’s Elric saga was second-hand until I finally read him many years later.

During the 1960s, Michael Moorcock was editor of New Worlds, a controversial British science fiction magazine and one of the vanguards of the “New Wave” in SF, reacting against the traditional, technological focus of the Campbellian school of Hard Science Fiction.

Many of his stories involved what he called the Eternal Champion, a heroic protagonist who fights for Balance between Order and Chaos in many different incarnations in many different times and worlds. Of these champions, the most famous has to be Elric of Melniboné.

To begin with, Elric is doomed.

This is not a spoiler. The text tells us this from the very beginning.
On the island kingdom of Melniboné all the old rituals are still observed, though the nation’s power has waned for five hundred years, and now her way of life is maintained only by her trade with the Young Kingdoms and the fact that the city of Imrryr has become the meeting place of merchants. Are those rituals no longer useful; can the rituals be denied and doom avoided? One who would rule in Emperor Elric’s stead prefers to think not. He says that Elric will bring destruction to Melniboné by his refusal to honour all the rituals (Elric honours many). And now opens the tragedy which will close many years from now and precipitate the destruction of this world.
Melniboné is a very old kingdom. For about ten thousand years it commanded the oceans surrounding . It was an island of sorcery and to a great extent owed its preeminence to the patronage of the Gods of Chaos. The Melnibonéans are renowned for their cruelty and their decadence. They are not quite human, or at least do not acknowledge themselves as such. But the Gods of Chaos withdrew from the world many centuries ago, and the Kingdom of Melniboné has gone into a decline.

The theme of ancient, decedent kingdoms is one that recurs in Moorcocks works. His Dancers at the End of Time stories are set during the last age of the Universe when the stars are slowly going out. It’s tempting to guess that Moorcock is drawing a parallel with the British Empire, which at the time he was writing had long past its peak and was losing its former colonies. Or perhaps the decadent Melnibonéans are the Old School Hard SF writers trying to stay relevant in the face of the New Wave represented by Moorcock’s generation.

Melniboné is still great and still powerful, but it is not as great as it once was, and the far-sighted can tell that the end must come someday; maybe not within this generation, maybe not within this millennium, but eventually.

Elric the frail albino with bone-white skin and slanted eyes, realizes this. It’s one of the reasons why he takes no delight in the revels of his court and why he spends his days in lassitude and melancholy. By all rights, Elric should not even be alive. His father, going against ancient Melnibonéan tradition, actually loved his wife, and when she died giving birth to their only son, a weak and sickly albino, he used all the spells and potions at his disposal to keep the child alive. Dependent on drugs to keep alive, Elric grew up to be a quiet, introspective young man. Reading the books of his father’s massive library exposed him to different philosophies and ideas and gave him something no other Melnibonéan ever had: a conscience.

This conscience is the reason why he does not follow the sadistic and bloodthirsty rituals handed down from the days when the Melnibonéans served the Gods of Chaos – not all of them anyway. His cousin, Prince Yyrkoon thinks this makes him weak and a threat to the nation. Yyrkoon thinks that he would make a better Emperor of Melniboné, and isn’t shy about making that opinion known.

Yyrkoon tries to provoke Elric at a court function into making a scene that he might use to his advantage, but cagey Elric twits him back with a display of verbal fencing and mock courtesy that embarrasses and infuriates the ambitious prince.

Elric’s closest friend, the Lord of the Dragon Caves Dyvim Tvar, thinks that Elric would do well to have Yyrkoon executed, but he doesn’t for several reasons. For one, Elric is in love with Yyrkoon’s sister, Cymoril. (Not that this is a big reason; Cymoril knows her brother is a creep and also urges Elric to kill him). More important is Elric’s conscience. Killing Yyrkoon would be the solution in accordance with the Melnibonéam tradition; but Elric is trying to break with that tradition. That tradition is leading his kingdom to decline and stagnation; he hopes to forge a better way for his people. He’s going against ten thousand years of inertia.

Cymoril and Elric spend a pleasant morning together out riding, away from the court. They deeply love each other, and to her he can express some of his deepest doubts and apprehensions. Perhaps Melniboné would be better off with her brother on the throne. Yyrkoon would certainly take a more aggressive policy towards Melniboné’s enemies and perhaps, for a short time, reclaim some of its past glories.

“You see doom in all things,” she teases him. “Can you not accept the good gifts granted you? They are few enough, my lord.”

This brief idyll is one of the good gifts Elric has. It does not last. Soldiers come to inform him that a group of spies have been captured, and under the traditions of Melniboné, the Emperor is required to be present during their questioning.

Elric finds this particular duty extremely tiresome, but it is one of the cruel traditions he has not abolished. He has a conscience, but it is a pragmatic one; and spies are spies. One of the spies is a woman, and another a child. When the inquisitor, ironically named Doctor Jest, has finished the procedure – the Melnibonéans have had millennia to refine the practice of torture – the mutilated victims hardly look human any more; but he has the information the spies carried. A barbarian fleet is going to attack the capitol city Imrryr soon.

In previous centuries, the Emperor could have swept out with his fleet and crushed the invaders. Even in these latter days, Melniboné commands flights of dragons to rain destruction on their foes from above; but Dyvin Tvar informs Elric that the dragons are resting after their last battle and won’t come out of hibernation for a while. That was Yyrkoon’s fault; Dyvin Tvar hadn’t wanted to use the dragons against a group of pirates, but Prince Macho-pants insisted.

No matter. Elric devised a plan to draw the invaders into a trap in the city’s harbor. Long ago, the Emperors of Melniboné constructed a huge maze within the city’s vast harbor. The Imperial battle barges, artificial floating mountains armoured in gold, will lie in wait for the enemy fleet.

Yyrkoon suggests that it would be safer for the Emperor to remain in his palace, but Elric knows that to do so would be to appear weak. Elric takes personal command of the flagship His trap succeeds, and Melnibonéam fleet crushes the unwary invaders.

At one point, Elirc fights in close combat with the captain of one of the enemy galleys. He asks the captain why they have been so rash as to attack; after all, Melniboné has not sailed against the Young Kingdoms in many years.
“You harm us by your very presence, Whiteface. There is your sorcery. There are your customs. And there is your arrogance. …you creatures are not human. Worse – you are not gods, though you behave as if you were. Your day is over and you must be wiped out, your city destroyed, your sorceries forgotten.”
Elric is not certain that the man is wrong.. The captain goes on to predict that the Chaos Lords whom the Melnibonéans serve will themselves bring about their downfall. In that, Elric is certain he is wrong; the Gods of Chaos lost interest in the affairs of men long ago.. He kills the barbarian captain.

A remnant of the enemy fleet has escaped. Elric is strongly inclined to let them go. He is feeling weak from the battle, and will soon require another dose of the mystic drugs he uses to stay alive. But Yyrkoon insists on hunting down every last ship, and Elric cannot back down without seeming weak – precisely what Yyrkoon wants. So he orders his barge out into the open sea and gives chase.

The pursuit is a long one, and the fugitive ships do not go down without a fight And it is during this last skirmish with the desperate barbarians, that Elric feels his limbs lose their strength and his body fail him. He loses consciousness.

When he regains it, the battle is over, and Yyrkoon is preparing to head back to Imrryr; but first the Prince has one other piece of business to attend to. He’s going to chuck Elric overboard.
“Farewell, Elric. Now a true Melnibonéan shall sit upon the Ruby Throne. And, who knows, might even make Cymoril his queen? It has not been unheard of…”
Tumbling over the edge of the barge, Elric plunges into the dark waters and sinks beneath the waves. This would seem to be his end.

It’s not.

Elric’s not that lucky. Remember? He's doomed.

NEXT:  Friends in Deep Places; The Emperor Yyrkoon Begins His Reign, but who’s that on the Ruby Throne? And the Lord of Chaos Descends!