SpecMusicMuse Review—Axe Giant, The Wrath of Paul Bunyan, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Midnight Syndicate
One of the problems with reviewing soundtracks is that it can be very difficult to determine how the songs fit the film if you haven’t seen the film. Although, trailers can be somewhat helpful in that regard:
As interesting as the film seems, I have to say I find the soundtrack to be more enjoyable. And the music, alone, is enough to make me want to watch the movie. In that sense Midnight Syndicate does the film justice with Axe Giant, The Wrath of Paul Bunyan, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
On their own merit, the songs are everything you come to expect from a Midnight Syndicate CD: dark, moody, and oh so spooky. If you’re easily scared, you might want to listen to this soundtrack with the lights on so as to avoid nasty little things like heart attacks. If you enjoy a little music while you read, then you definitely want to add this CD to your Midnight Syndicate collection then kick back with a good horror novel.
In short: get it. You won’t regret it.
Best to listen to while reading: any Horror that takes place in the suburbs or wilderness.
While Stephen Zimmer’s Rising Dawn Series contains some dark elements, Hellscapes Volume 1, a collection of short stories that all take place in Hell, is his first contribution to the Horror genre. There is variety to the stories, for Hell ends up being different for each main character, based upon that character’s psychology and the manner of deeds that led him or her to Hell. At the same time, they all share a similarity in that each character starts off not knowing he or she is in Hell. In that way, the stories reminded me a lot of The Twilight Zone TV series.
But of all the characters, Jared, in “Drowning in Tears,” was the only character I felt any real sympathy towards. All the characters in the other stories more than deserved their fates, and because of that, rather than feel any fear, I found myself rooting for the minions of Hell, instead. Despite the visceral elements and the horrific torment they go through, it really didn’t feel like Horror to me. More like Dark Fantasy.
There was, however, some good character development involved. Even the most despicable characters didn’t feel like cardboard cutouts, at least (however, if you’re aware of the New World Order, and those involved in it, some of these characters will be quite familiar to you despite the name changes). And it felt quite refreshing to see these evil bastards get their come-uppance.
So if you’re looking for something scary, as in Nightmare on Elmstreet scary, this collection might not be for you. But if you’re a big fan of The Twilight Zone, or would just enjoy reading about certain sociopathic power elites finally getting what they deserve, then Hellscapes is the collection for you.
Best to listen to while reading: anything from Midnight Syndicate, Slayer, Megadeth, or Helloween.
Having not read any of the novels, Chronicles of Ave, Volume 1, is my first introduction to Stephen Zimmer’s epic fantasy world. A collection of short stories, Chronicles of Ave provides a rich and diverse array of lands and cultures from the view of heroic characters as they partake in adventures and quests against the forces of darkness.
I greatly enjoyed the stories and loved the characters. The Trogen, Marragesh, in “Into Glory Ride,” was by far the most interesting. My only problem with “Lion Heart” was the main character’s name (Sigananda? Signanda? Siganda?) kept getting spelled differently, which almost threw me out of the story. Almost.
Of the stories, themselves, “Winter’s Embrace” bears a theme vitally important for current times as it delves into the very nature of faith, itself. It would be the best of the stories, but the Trogen in “Into Glory Ride” steal the whole show (so to speak).
Overall, Chronicales of Ave, Volume 1 is a mut-have for any fan of epic and heroic fantasy.
Best to read while listening to: Iron Maiden, Enya, and Loreena McKennitt.
Fans of Gorias La Gaul will love Blood and Steel, a collection of short stories by Steven L. Shrewbury featuring the orneriest, toughest warrior to ever tread foot in the antediluvian world. The stories are set in different periods of Gorias’s long 700+ year life, with the first story bringing you the gory tale of his birth.
In addition to learning more about Gorias, you also get to learn about his father and the tribe of Nordic barbarians his father had been the chieftain of. A look into the culture that raised him gives you great insight into why Gorias is the way he is. So not only does a reader get all the gory action and adventure common among S&S tales but also a lot of depth regarding the world Gorias lives in, the events that shaped his life, and the psychology of the old warrior, himself.
This collection is a must-have for any fan of Gorias La Gaul or for that matter any fan of Sword & Sorcery.
Best to read while listening to: the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian, any Iron Maiden song, and a dash of Iced Earth.
Sword & Sorcery is hard to get right, for it is a subgenre defined more by what it isn’t than what it is. While it shares some similarities to its cousins, Epic Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy, the scale is usually nowhere near as epic and the heroes are nowhere near as heroic. In fact, it’s the protagonists that make it so hard to write, for traditionally they tend to be very flawed but not so flawed as to be unlikeable. That’s a precarious balance to keep—a balance that every writer in Thunder on the Battlefield, Volume Two: Sorcery, the second volume in a two-volume anthology, nails with masterful skill.
While the trials and ordeals are well-plotted and challenging, and the settings are grim and gritty, it’s the characters, more than anything, that stand out. You’ll fall in love with the reckless determination of Hunter Mann, in Selah Janel’s “The Ruins of St. Louis.” Fans of D. A. Adams’s Brotherhood of Dwarves series will follow a beloved character’s struggle to escape slavery in “Across the Wilds.” “Black Ice” by S.H. Roddey introduces a warrior woman you’d want to keep on your good side and a Halfling who puts the hero into “sidekick.” And fans of Gorias La Gaul will love Steven L. Shrewsbury’s “The Whore of Jericho.”
But by far the most interesting character is the crusader, Valgard, in “The Two Fires” by Steven S. Long. Rarely in S&S do you encounter a protagonist who wields magic, and an incorrupt priest at that! Few S&S writers can break the classic tropes and get away with it, but Long manages to make it work with ease.
If the first volume is even half as good as this one, and I have no doubt that it is since both volumes share the same editor, then Thunder on the Battlefield is an addition to the subgenre that would make Robert E. Howard’s spirit proud.
Best to read while listening to: soundtracks to Conan the Barbarian and Heavy Metal. Also toss in a little Iron Maiden while you’re at it.
For the first ever Guest Post done in SpecMusicMuse history, I have the honor of introducing the great Stephen Zimmer, who is both a great author and certainly one of the hardest-working in the field. And if you haven’t heard about him by now, then you need to stop living in a cave.
So, without further ado, hhheeeeeeeerrrreeeeeee’s the Zimmster!
Chronicles of Ave, Volume 1, is a collection of stand-alone short stories that are set in the world featured in my Fires in Eden Series. Readers of the short stories do not need to know anything about the Fires in Eden novels to enjoy these tales.
However, readers of the Fires in Eden Series will find more depth and content relating in some way to the novels, whether it be the backstory on a figure referenced in the series, more about a place or culture that are not yet shown in the series, or a historical event that might be simply mentioned in one of the novels.
In developing the history of Ave, and writing the Fires in Eden novels such as Crown of Vengeance, Dream of Legends, and Spirit of Fire, I have created a trove of material for short stories. There are so many things about Ave that cannot be delved into during the novels, as to do so would take things on a sideways tangent from the course of the various story threads. The short stories afford me the opportunity to immerse into those references, whether they relate to a figure, land, or historical event.
In writing these kinds of short stories, I find myself gaining an even deeper foundation for my series and the elements within it. So, in a sense, it strengthens the process of writing for the novels too.
There are a few specific challenges involved in writing a short story related to a series.
For one thing, the nature of the short story itself presents its own challenges versus the writing of a large novel. In my novels, I work with multiple story threads, and I have the kind of range and depth in a multi-book structure to plant seeds, foreshadow, let things take shape and develop, and build towards big payoffs down the line.
In a short story, the structure employed is much more linear, following one character, sometimes two. With a much shorter structure, the plot, main character, and setting must unfold much faster. You do not have the range of space to include the kinds of foreshadowing, twists, and turns that an epic-scale novel can contain. You must connect with the reader fast, establishing a tone and pace that will carry you through that particular story.
As mentioned before, I also work to make sure that the stories do stand on their own, so that a brand new reader who has not read any of the novels can understand everything taking place. This sounds kind of obvious, at first, but after writing several novels it is possible to make assumptions on the things native to the world of Ave. I keep an eye out for that and feel that new readers will have no problems whatsoever discovering the world of Ave if their first encounter with it is through the short stories.
Also important to me is to select cultures, lands, historical events and characters that will provide further content and depth for the readers of the series. I want this to be their chance to explore some of the things that can only be mentioned or referenced briefly in the novels, and to gain more background on how Ave’s history developed.
With Chronicles of Ave I am confident that I have achieved that. Readers will get to visit a diverse array of settings, from a medieval China style atmosphere in “Touch of Serenity” to the wintry forests of an Eastern European-like vibe in “Winter’s Embrace”. “Into Glory Ride” is a story focused on the fully original Trogen race, and two non-human races that have not yet appeared in the novels are introduced in “Land of Shadow.” There is even a little romance, in “Moonlight’s Grace”, and a flare of the heroic in “Lion Heart”, which takes inspiration from the Zulu Nation.
Loaded with action, fully stand-alone in nature, and each distinctive in terms of plot and main characters, the Chronicles of Ave serve as a nice introduction to the world of Ave. I really hope both new readers and readers of my series find the adventures equally enjoyable!
Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author of speculative fiction, whose works include the Fires in Eden Series (Epic Fantasy), the Rising Dawn Saga (epic-scale Urban Fantasy), the Harvey and Solomon tales (Steampunk), the Hellscapes tales (Horror), and the Rayden Valkyrie tales (Sword and Sorcery). He is also a writer-director in moviemaking, with feature and short film credits such as Shadows Light, The Sirens, and Swordbearer.
I’ve been a fan of Michael West ever since I read Cinema of Shadows and have met and talked with him quite a few times at the conventions I usually attend. Of course, even at conventions, what amounts as “conversation” between two introverts is viewed by outsiders as long silent pauses followed by one or two short, terse sentences.
But if only those extroverts knew what we’re really plotting telepathically….
And without further ado, the awe-inspiring interview with the Maestro of Terror. Enjoy!
What got you into writing?
I’ve always been a storyteller. Before I could write, I would draw pictures to illustrate the tales that were spinning around inside my head. At age seven, after watching Star Wars for the first time, I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I would write screenplays and make movies in the back yard with my parents’ video camera. And, as the stories I wanted to tell outgrew my meager budgets, I eventually turned my attention to writing short stories and novels.
What fascinates you most about Horror?
There is just something so wonderful, so primal, about fear, and that release you get when something scares you and you scream or jump out of your seat. It’s the same rush you get when you ride a really great rollercoaster. And, like any really great rollercoaster, as soon as you get off that ride, you want to get right back on it again.
As a genre, what sets Horror apart from Dark Fantasy or Thriller?
Well, in my mind, Horror deals more with the supernatural, ghosts and demons, while Dark Fantasy is more monsters and mythology. Thrillers can happen to you or the person next door; there is generally nothing supernatural about a thriller.
What is The Wide Game about? And what is Skull Full of Kisses?
In The Wide Game, Paul Rice, on the advice of his wife, is making plans to attend his 10th year High School reunion. Returning to his boyhood home of Harmony, Indiana, he finds that he is still haunted by memories of that time–memories of Deidra, his first love, and memories of the Wide Game. It was ten years ago that Paul and his friends watched their day of fun become a race for their lives, a fight for their very souls.
Now, as he meets the survivors of that day once more, Paul makes a chilling discovery: the incomprehensible forces that toyed with them have yet to finish playing their own game.
Skull Full of Kisses is a collection of my short fiction. It is ten stories, each one different from the next. There is some Horror, some Dark Fantasy, even some horrific Sci-fi. I like to think of it as a really good season of The Twilight Zone.
What are the differences between long fiction and short fiction, other than size?
They are entirely different skill sets. You have a lot less real estate to work with in a short story, so you have to develop your characters quickly, you have to get the action rolling and build up speed to the climax as fast as you can, like a plane running out of runway. With a novel, you have much more room to explore character motivations and themes. That said, it is far easier to kill off all your characters in a short story, because the reader has so much less time invested in them. If you kill off the main character at the end of your three hundred page novel, you get hate mail. Lots of hate mail.
What is similar?
Both novels and short stories need good, interesting characters. For me, a good character has to be relatable. You need to feel like they are someone you might know in real life: the neighbour, the classmate, the guy at work who keeps to themselves and lives with his mother by the old motel off…wait… Anyway, they can’t be pure good or pure evil, because, in reality, nobody is like that. The hero will have their negative qualities, their quirks and foibles, and the villains will have their charming qualities, their charismatic traits. Everyone is the hero of their own story, even the most despicable villain.
What are the key things you feel aspiring writers need to know in order to “break in”?
You need to craft believable characters and dialogue. It’s always been difficult for me to craft believable dialogue. I can write what a character is thinking, feeling, or doing all day long with no problem, but once they open their mouths…my progress slows to a crawl. That’s become easier over time, but it’s still something I struggle with. My advice to beginning writers is to read your work out loud. If you can’t say it without tripping over your own tongue, something needs to change. Also, have people read your stuff who don’t even like the genre you right in. Fans of a particular genre can be forgiving of certain cliches, where as someone who doesn’t normally read or watch stories in your genre may point out ways in which you can make the characters and their motivations seem more real.
Does music help you in your writing, either through providing inspiration or by just helping to set the mood?
Oh yes. I can’t work when it’s totally quiet. I will usually put on some kind of music, either film scores or something dark, like Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, or good ol’ 80s Hair Metal.
And why do you think Horror and Metal work so well together?
I think it is very easy to convey horrific ideas and imagery with Metal, and likewise, I think good Metal can help inspire you to write a lot of Horrific imagery.
Last but not least: who do you think would win in a three-way fight? Dracula, the Wolf Man, or Tinkerbell?
Dracula, hands down.
Michael West is the critically-acclaimed author of The Wide Game, Cinema of Shadows, Spook House, Skull Full of Kisses, and the Legacy of the Gods series. A graduate of Indiana University, with a degree in Telecommunications and Film Theory, West has written a multitude of short stories, articles, and reviews for various on-line and print publications. He lives and works in the Indianapolis area with his wife, their two children, their bird, Rodan, their turtle, Gamera, and their dog, King Seesar.
His children are convinced that spirits move through the woods near their home.
The God Killers by John F. Allen brings Urban to Urban Fantasy. Set in both Chicago and New Orleans, Allen manages to breathe supernatural life to both cities in a believable manner without sacrificing the real world “feel” of the actual cities.
That being said, while the overall story was great; a good blend of action, character depth and complexity, and some pretty cool plot twists; it was a mixed bag for me in some specific parts. Some parts I loved. Other parts almost disrupted my suspension of disbelief.
Ivory Blaque, the main character, has a depth and complexity in her character that’s rarely found in the Urban Fantasy/Supernatural Romance subgenres. The only other character I’m aware of that can even compare, when it comes to character depth, would be Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville. But when it comes to sheer attitude and ass-kicking ability, Ivory has them all beat.
The absolute best scene in the novel is the Wild West style duel between Ivory and Johnny. In that scene Allen shows his ability to take a classic (and often clichéd) trope and give it a twist that would make Joss Whedon applaud.
But then there was those moments when POV got broken, like when the God Killers got referred to as the God Killers before Ivory would have known that’s what they were called. And then there was the nightclub scene when the short black woman was suddenly, a paragraph or two later, a tall black woman. Last but not least, it also felt as if Allen continued the story onward after this novel should have ended, and the last “cliffhanger” chapter would’ve been better off being the first chapter to the upcoming (I hope) second novel.
But in spite of the small, but glaring, nitpicks, I still enjoyed reading The God Killers and find Ivory Blaque to be a fascinating character who I would love to read more of.
Best to read while listening to: A little Midnight Syndicate (for all those vampires), some Metallica and Megadeth (for all those werewolves), with a little hip hip (preferably Ice T and some Ice Cube…actually, there’s only Ice T and Ice Cube, all the rest are Vanilla Ice-wannabee posers), and good old-fashioned Jazz. Oh yeah, definitely Jazz. And toss in a Detective Noir soundtrack and a dash of Aeon Flux theme songs for Ivory.
The first novel in The Golden Threads trilogy, Thread Slivers sets the overall story up well. Leeland Artra delivers fast-paced action, a complex and twisting plot, well-developed characters, and a vast world whose intriguing history gets hinted at throughout the book; leaving you wanting to know as much about Duianna’s history as you do about the fate of Ticca and Lebuin.
Even though he’s not the main character, The Duke steals the show. But what else would you expect from a horse-sized talking wolf that cusses like a sailor? And considering his background (which I won’t get into and thus spoil), I wouldn’t be surprised if this “Fantasy” trilogy turns out to be cleverly disguised Science Fiction.
I tend to hate cliffhangers, mostly because it pisses me off to have to wait six months to a year to find out what happens next. But that’s really the only peeve I have with the book, for it’s a cliffhanger that actually does its job because I want to know what happens next, now!!!! Now dammit!! NOW!!!!!
Best to read while listening to: Three Musketeers soundtrack, combined with the soundtrack to Patton.
Spooky music is one thing. Spooky music combined with equally scary sounds in the background is quite another. But a CD full of such music arranged in a manner that sounds like it could be the soundtrack to any Hammer horror film, and you have Monsters of Legend by Midnight Syndicate.
“Building the Monster” is an obvious tribute to Frankenstein. And other songs sound like they could be straight out of Dracula, among other films. By far the creepiest was “Cloistered Cemetery.” Every song creates the proper macabre atmosphere for its purpose, especially “Dark Tower.” And while “Ancient Portal” is all sound effects and no music, it fits right in as a bridge to the next song.
Midnight Syndicate has made a lot of excellent albums over the years, but this one is by far one of the best. Every fan of the old Horror films, or anyone who likes scary music, should add this CD to their collection.
Best to listen to while reading: any of the classics, like Dracula, Frankenstein, or Poe’s short stories.