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2 March 2014

Simon Hawke (born September 30, 1951) is a USA author of mainly SF/F novels. He was born Nicholas Valentin Yermakov, but began writing as Simon Hawke in 1984 and later changed his legal name to Hawke. He has also written near future adventure novels under the penname “J. D. Masters” and a series of humorous mystery novels along with many novelizations, many of his other works are under his original name so if you wnat to see everything, look for all three names.

Hawke’s first book,s 1981-1984, under his original name were rather heavy, more philosophical, and without major sales. But in 1984 he changed his bamne and began writing lighter work which took off with the dozen books of The Timewars series, (1984-1991) followed by the two Psychodrome books – Psychodrome and Psychodrome 2 in 1987 and 1988. And in 1987 he started an urban fantasy series. ten books based on the idea that after our civilization collapsed, magic came back and became the new technology. That series was good work. I ran into Simon Hawke’s work when in 1992 I purchased a book entitled The Nine Lives of Catseye Gomez. It was the nineth in the Wizard series, I read it in a gulp one night, cracked up, and went out looking for more of the same.

The fact was, that sadly, I didn’t find them. 9 Lives seems to have been a one-off. It was a riot, a parody of Mickey Spillane set in the world of the Wizards series, and it wasn’t only as funny as hell, it also made some very good points on a variety of subjects. I treasure my copy of it, re-read it regularly, and recommend it to anyone likely to enjoy that sort of theme. I can also recommend the TimeWars series and the others of the Wizard series too, but after them, Hawke went first into a mystery series which you’ll either love or dislike, and then into years worth of novelizations – everything from Battlestar Galactica to Star Trek, Batman, Predator, and Friday the 13th. There was a three book-foray in there of The Reluctant Sorcerer (1992)The Inadequate Adept (1993)The Ambivalent Magician (1997) which are very readable, but from then on it was novelizations and mysteries. So far as I can discover he had no more published books after 2003 with the fourth and final book in his Shakespeare and Smythe mystery series, and he seems to have given up writing short stories before that.

I find it a real pity that he never used Catseye Gomez as the start of a new spin-off series. The book was clever, funny, made a number of very good points on religion, animals, cops, personal freedoms and the Mean Streets, and would have been worth buying at twice the price. I’ve had it for more than 20 years, read it maybe five or six times and love it all over again each time. If you want to buy only one book that this author wrote, buy that one. If you want to buy an SF series then buy the Timewars books which are good reading. For Urban fantasy buy the Wizard series, or  for plain fantasy buy The Reluctant Sorcerer, The Inadequate Adept,  and The Ambivalent Magician. And while the author may not be selling any new work, his older work – including Catseye Gomez –  remains available on amazon and other sites.

And an update to that. While at Conclave 2, I purchased an older anthology entitled Mob Magic, which contains an excellend Catseye Gomez short story – My Claw is Quick. And again it reminded me what a pity it is that he didn’t write more of this character.

8 December 2013

I have seen these books described as fantasy now and again over the years, and as such they fit into this article series. But whether they are genuine fantasy or only borderline, I love them so much they’re here anyhow.

Peter O’Donnell (born 11th April 1920, died 3rd May 2010) was a writer of mysteries and of comic strips who – under his own name – is best known as the creator of Modesty Blaise. In an odd combination he was also an award-winning Gothic historical romance novelist who wrote under the female pseudonym of Madeleine Brent, and in 1978, his novel Merlin’s Keep won the Romantic Novel of the Year, presented by the Romantic Novelists Assn. (“Brent” was noted for her use of strong dynamic female lead characters and “her’ books remain popular.) O’Donnell was born in London and began to write professionally at the age of 16. From 1938 and during the war he served as an NCO. After the war O’Donnell began to script comic strips, including Garth and Romeo Brown, but in 1963 his created his most famous comic strip character – Modesty Blaise (With long time artist collaborator Jim Holdaway.) Two years later the strip sold for a movie, but in a reversal of the usual time line, O’Donnell wrote the book of the movie from his own original script and that was published in 1965, a year before the movie appeared. This was where I came in. I saw the book in my usual bookshop, thought it looked fascinating, bought a copy of it and read it – to become instantly hooked. The blurb that caught me said in part –

A twelve-year-old girl tramping across war-ravaged Europe, through refugee camps, across the Middle East, knowing hunger, rape, despair – this was the making of Modesty Blaise. She wanted the security of money and got it. In every worthwhile place she organised The Network, a crime organisation, efficient, deadly. She took Willie Garvin from the gutter and turned him into her right-hand man – a man as deadly and professional as herself. They made their money and retired. But where was the excitement? Now on the right side of the law for once they pit themselves against a vicious schemer who plays for very high stakes ruthlessly…”

I bought the book, loved it, waited for the movie – and I didn’t have that on my own either – but when that finally made it to New Zealand and I went to a showing I was stunned at the truly awful quality of the work. As the movie progressed one by one many of those attending (presumably fans of the book and of the characters) walked out, some demanding their money back. I followed suit about two thirds of the way thorough – yes, I did get repaid – and a number of us stood around talking about how the movie had been a caricature and who on earth had decided to cast a blonde busty Italian starlet – who couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag or at least was totally unable to depict the character– as Modesty? We were not impressed by Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin either, he didn’t fit the book’s (or the comic strip’s) description and the whole tone of the movie had been high camp, and not in the clever and amusing way of many early TV series but in a clumsy crassness that had turned all of us off totally. (Not to mention that the movie actually included a romance between Modesty and Willie which disgusted all fans since the original book made it crystal clear that this not only didn’t exist, it never would!) At the time the comic strip hadn’t (to my knowledge) reached New Zealand, and whether many of us continued to read the books, since the movie had been so unrelentingly lousy, was up in the air. It was fortunate that the second in the book series came out around then with Sabretooth, followed quickly by I, Lucifer, so that the taste of the movie was washed out of our mouths and we could settle to read happily – while mentally deciding never to go to another movie that purported to be about the characters. (I note that the O’Donnell script for the movie was rewritten and rewritten until it bore no relation to the ultimate result which was so abysmal – and I’d have loved to hear O’Donnell’s own unvarnished opinion of the film, because I’d bet it was unprintable…) 

Over 1965 to 1996 O’Donnell would write eleven full-length books and two short story collections, I have all of them, most in hardcover, having purchased them at the time and I regularly re-read them – all but the last book, Cobra Trap, which I received as a gift only recently. O’Donnell once said that with the kind of people Modesty and Willie were, it was unlikely that they’d survive into old age, and that was true. What we wanted was for them not to grow old, just to continue as they were, Modesty in her late twenties, Willie eight years older, and always a new adventure. But it may be that O’Donnell now knowing that he had Parkinson’s and might not be able to continue writing Modesty and Willie forever, did his final book, Cobra Trap, (which appeared after a gap of eleven years since the previous one) and which was a collection of five short stories, with the final one of the title telling of his characters’ deaths. It was a brilliant short story, embodying everything that they were and relating the final three paragraphs with a poignant lyricism that brings tears to my eyes, but it was still their deaths, and to this day many fans of the characters refuse to read that final story. I refused to buy the book or read the story for 17 years but finally yielded on that. And find that it’s okay, the story is so well-done that it isn’t going to spoil my enjoyment of re-reading the books still – for which I am deeply grateful. I only wish O’Donnell was still alive so that I could write and tell him so.

Films or TV attempts continue however – In 1982, a one-hour pilot (also titled Modesty Blaise) was made for a proposed television series. This aired on the ABC Network to positive reviews, (I have no idea from whom because no one that I know who loves the books would have been at all positive) but no series resulted, (thank heavens) because although the pilot was less crass and treated the characters more seriously, in this attempt the setting was moved from London to Hollywood, and both Willie and Tarrant were portrayed as Americans. (Agghhhh!) In 2001 O’Donnell retired from writing the comic strip but between 2004 and 2009 he wrote the introductions for a series of Modesty Blaise comic strip reprint volumes published by Titan Books. He was also interviewed for a special feature included on the DVD release of the straigh-to-video 2002 film, My Name Is Modesty (telling of earlier times in her life before Willie and The Network,) This movie to my knowledge has not played in New Zealand but I have heard from overseas fans who have seen it and say that it is a reasonably good depiction of the character but still fails to capture her essence.

The writer Kingsley Amis was also a fan of the characters and once said that Blaise and Garvin were “one of the great partnerships in fiction, bearing comparison with that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.”

There is an official web site – Modesty Blaise, Ltd.

O’Donnell’s stated wish was that “no one else should write any future Modesty Blaise stories.” And considering that he wrote her for thirty-eight years, and that every word on all of the strips and books was his and never delegated or collaborated, I can only say that I agree. I don’t think anyone could ever write the characters so “right” again.

The book series is –

  1. Modesty Blaise (1965)
  2. Sabre-Tooth (1966)
  3. I, Lucifer (1967)
  4. A Taste for Death (1969)
  5. The Impossible Virgin (1971)
  6. Pieces of Modesty (1972) (short stories)
  7. The Silver Mistress (1973)
  8. Last Day in Limbo (1976)
  9. Dragon’s Claw (1978)
  10. The Xanadu Talisman (1981)
  11. The Night of Morningstar (1982)
  12. Dead Man’s Handle (1985)
  13. Cobra Trap (1996) (short stories)

However while those were the actual written books, Titan Books (UK) published eight volumes of reprints of strips featuring art by Holdaway and Romero, covering the period 1963 to 1974. These appeared between 1984 and 1988, and starting in March 2004 Titan have also  launched a new series of reprint comic strip volumes. I am told that these new versions use larger images and come from better source material than the earlier editions. As well as an introduction to each story by Peter O’Donnell for books 1 to 16, and by Lawrence Blackmore for books 17 onwards, most books include articles about the series. These appear to be currently available via The Book Depository UK that I know of, (because I looked them up and plan to buy one to evaluate it – and buy the remainder, if the evaluation is favourable) and probably from Amazon as well and other possible outlets as well.

I read the first Modesty book in 1965, and the last in December of 2013. I have currently been a fan for forty-seven years and expect that enthusiasm to continue. If you liked Emma Peel in The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and others of that ilk, you will probably love Modesty, Willie, Sir Gerald, and the works in which they appear. Run, do not walk, to the nearest place you can buy, or let your fingers do the running, and start buying on line. I can only say – recommended.

6 November 2013

This author hasn’t written a huge list of books. What she has written, which is why she is on my ‘Overlooked’ list, is a terrific trilogy; The Compass Rose in 2005, The Barbed Rose in 2006, and The Eternal Rose in 2007. These are often classified as romance, but I find them much more inclined to the fantasy side, (take the fantasy out, and no book, take the romance out, and you still have a good book) and certainly very readable by someone like me who dislikes the usual slush and gush of a standard romance. Most of her other published books are genuine romances, but this trio was excellent in the creation of the world of the One Rose books and they are now sitting on my ‘permanent’ shelves as I expect to re-read them a number of times before I die – unless that’s sooner than I expect….

Listen, this trilogy is seriously good. I bought the first as ‘light-damaged’ and half-price, liked the characters so much that I went out and bought the other two full-price and find that I’m not the only one who thought they were very well written. Book two won the 2007 Prism Award for Best Fantasy, then The Eternal Rose won the same award the year after. That says something. There’s almost no personal information about the author to be found except on her One Rose trilogy where she notes that she’s recently moved to Galveston and says that she began writing early in her life. Never mind, read the books and that’ll tell you most of what you want to know – that she writes a darn good fantasy. I note that she is now a couple of books into a new trilogy/series described as steampunk fantasy for all you steampunk enthusiasts out there and that should be worth a second look. I’m not a huge steampunk fan although now and again I have written steampunk stories for fun, (one is in Steampunk Trails 1, September 2013) but if the new books are as good as the One Rose trilogy, then just as soon as I can afford them I’ll be buying.

Note on that last: the author tells me that “The steampunk books are more romance than the others…I think there would still be a story without the romance, but a lot of the magic rests on that foundation…” so they still sound interesting to me.


9 October 2013

Victor Kelleher (born 1939) is a often classified as an Australian author but was in fact born in London and moved to Africa with his parents, at fifteen. He spent the next twenty years in Africa, before moving to New Zealand. Kelleher received a teaching degree in Africa and has taught in Africa, New Zealand and Australia. While in New Zealand, he began writing part-time, but moved on to Australia in 1976, and taught at a NSW University before moving to Sydney to write full-time. Since the majority of his writing was done in Australia is may be that this is why they classify him as ‘an Australian writer’ although at least one of his books – Taronga – was set in NZ He’s had four Ditmar nominations and one win, and won the Australian Childrens Book Award.

His work falls mainly into the older children/YA SF/F category by library classification but I have found when reading his work that it reads very well on an adult level as well (and the one I have is well up to word count with some 70,000+.) The book of Kelleher’s that has been retained for many years now in my permanent library is The Hunting of Shadroth. This is typical of the books of the period (1981) for older children/YA in that it falls into the pre-history sub-genre as did many others for this age group – where they didn’t fall into the retelling/rewriting of classic legends.

Tal and his clan have lived so long as their memories run on the Slopes that overlook the Greenlands below. Until a strange and dangerous evil threatens them and if they are not to fall beneath its power Tal has to travel down to the Greenlands to find assistance before he and his clan are destroyed. How Tal finds aid for his people and more then he expected for himself makes a neat package. I loved the Feln, Tal, and the background and while many reviews I’ve seen on the book seem to think that it’s best suited to boys around 10-12, I’d disagree. This old lady still enjoys it. Kelleher is a darn good writer and if you like this sub-genre (and cats) take a look at The Hunting of Shadroth at least.

Novels. a partial list.

Forbidden Paths Of Thual (1979)

Voices from the River (1979)

The Hunting Of Shadroth (1981)

Master Of The Grove (1982)

Papio (1984)

The Green Piper (1984)

The Beast Of Heaven (1984)

Taronga (1986)

The Makers (1987)

Baily’s Bones (1988)

Ern’s Story (1988)

The Red King (1989)

Wintering (1990)

Brother Night (1990)

To The Dark Tower (1992)

Micky Darlin’ (1992)

Red Heart (1996)

Storyman (1996)

Slow Burn (1997)

Into The Dark (1999)

Born of the Sea (2003)

Dogboy (2006)


I have omited the work for younger children from this list, but the author is on Wiki should you want to look up his series and other books.

24 July 2013

Alan Nourse was born August 11, 1928 to Benjamin and Grace (Ogg) Nourse in Iowa. He attended high school in New York, and served in the US navy after the war. He earned a Bachelor of Science in 1951 and married Ann Morton the following year. In 1955 he received a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1955 and served his one year internship in Seattle. He practiced medicine in North Bend (Washington) from 1958 to 1963 and also pursued his writing career. Alan Nourse died on July 1992 in Thorp, Washington.

     Nourse wrote books that were mainly classified as Young Adult. I have four which I purchased around ten years after the time they appeared and find that they are still very readable. Star Surgeon in particular which remains one of my favourite books. It deals with bigotry, and the need for someone who is different from their people to find a place for themself. Some aspects of it strongly reflect the MedShip tales of Leinster but it’s no clone, rather a different take on a theme arrived at independently. Note against this book in the list below that it’s available in an audio version under Public Domain.


Short stories:

“Brightside Crossing” (published January 1956 issue of Galaxy magazine)

“Mirror, Mirror” (1967)


High Threshold (March 1951 issue of Astounding)

The Universe Between (September 1951 issue of Astounding)


  1. Trouble on Titan (1954)
  2. A Man Obsessed (1955)
  3. Rocket to Limbo (1957)
  4. Scavengers in Space (1958)
  5. The Invaders are Coming! (1959, co-authored)
  6. Star Surgeon (1959) In my opinion the best of all his novels –

    has been recorded as a public domain audio book at LibriVox

  7. Raiders from the Rings (1962)
  8. “The Universe Between” (1965, a mash-up of “High Threshold” and “The Universe Between” )
  9. The Mercy Men (1968, revised version of A Man Obsessed
  10. The Bladerunner (1974)
  11. The Practice (1978)
  12. The Fourth Horseman (1983)


  1. Tiger by the Tail and Other Science Fiction Stories (1961)
  2. The Counterfeit Man (1963)
  3. Psi-High and Others (1967)
  4. Rx for Tomorrow (1971)
  5. Short Works of Alan Edward Nourse (2008, reprint of seven of the stories from The Counterfeit Man)

also 17 non-fiction books

22 June 2013

Narrelle M. Harris is a Melbourne-based writer of considerable versatility in many creative areas. Narrelle’s earliest writing was through science fiction fandom, including work based in Star Trek, Blake’s Seven and V universes. Her genzine, Inconsequential Parallax (co-written with husband, Tim Richards,) was nominated for a Ditmar Award in 1992. She wrote the award winning short play “Stalemate” in 2003, while in 2006 she appeared as ‘Ginny’ in the short film “Outland”.

Last year I attended the Australian Natcon and spent time in the huxters room selling some of my own books and buying those of other authors. I was attracted to the Clan Destine Press table and amongst other works ended up buying the two vampire books by this author. I arrived home, read them on arrival, grinned and added them to my ‘permanent collection.’ This week I sat down and reread them to see if they held up and if I should do Narrelle as one of my Overlooked Authors. They do and I have – herewith. I like a good Vampire book, not the teenage angst of Twilight, but the sort of work that looks deeper. Several authors have done excellent work on this sub-genre, authors such as Barbara Hambly, Misty Lackey, and Lee Killough, and I can honestly say that I found Narrelle’s work was right up there with those. The books are The Opposite of Life, and Walking Shadows and I’m hoping the promised third book doesn’t take too long to appear.

Lissa Wilson is the librarian daughter of a tranquillizer-addicted mother, and an alcoholic tennis professional father. Hauled out by a friend for a night on the town (Melbourne) after Lissa’s breakup with her boyfriend, she walks into the toilets at the nightclub and finds a very dead woman. As if that isn’t traumatic enough on another night out to a club a local dealer is found in similar condition, and Daniel the nice guy Lissa is starting to fall for has vanished. He subsequently turns up dead, with two puncture wounds in his neck and bloodless. It goes on full-tilt from there. Her creation of Gary has to be a high point. He’s very unlike the sort of vampire commonly appearing in that genre, yet you can see what he was like before he became a vampire and he’s so realistic as a character, his interaction with Lissa is priceless, and is part of what makes the best and most amusing parts of the book. These books are funny, sweet, and clever, with well-written plots, and characters and I throughly enjoyed them. So much so that I’m hoping to lay hands on more of her work. Recommended.

Bibliography (so far as I know it) :

Fly By Night (2004, Homosapien Books) two novellas about a gay musical duo who solve crimes,

Witch Honour (2006, Five Star Speculative Fiction) Fantasy with some SF as is the sequel.

Witch Faith (2007, Five Star Speculative Fiction) I understand a third book is intended.

The Opposite Of Life (2007, Pulp Fiction Press).

Walking Shadows (2012, Clan Destine Press.) And again, I believe there is to be a third in this series.

Showtime, (2012, Twelfth Planet Press.) a collection of short stories (including one featuring Gary and Lissa from The Opposite of Life and Walking Shadows)

The Witches of Tyne (2012, digital omnibus edition of Witch Honour and Witch Faith, including several bonus short stories and a song. Available currently on

Also published under N.M. Harris – spy-thriller-erotica story, Double Edged, with the second in that series, Expendable, due out soon.


21 May 2013

Grant David Callin was born in 1941. Callin graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1963, and retired from the service in 1984. He holds a bachelor’s degree in basic sciences, and advanced degrees in space physics, physiology and biophysics. From 1986, he worked for Boeing as a research analyst, and was also involved with work on the NASA Space Station programme. He is currently in retirement in Washington. And in 1986 and 1987 while doing that, he also had two excellent books published. I discovered A Lion on Tharthee in 1987, bought it, read it, and added it to my permanent library, since which time it’s been read half a dozen times, with enjoyment each time. This however, is (sigh) a case of an author who wrote very well, but who for some reason, produced a miniscule amount of work over a short period, and then ceased writing. Callin had two books and four short stories out between 1982 and 1992 and that was it. His two books were listed as \The First and Second books in the Saturnalia series, which to me implied there were intended to be more, but maybe Baen Books decided against that, or perhaps the author lost interest. But it’s a real pity as his characters, plots, and dialogue were great. (I’m still hoping to lay hands on a copy of Saturnalia some time if anyone out there can offer one free or for moderate price?) Of course it isn’t too late for Mr callin to write more, he’s only in his early ’70s and SF authors have a long tradition of producing books much later than that.

A Lion on Tharthee tells how it was discovered that a space ship was waiting to be found once Terrans ventured far out from Earth. Then it offered a ride to another planet where they might find friendly allies. The offer is taken, and the book details who was chosen and how, and then tells of the trip to Tharthee. The Lion of the story is the captain, the oddly named Kurious Whitedimple. The race they find when they arrive are called Hexies by the Terrrans, who find that the two races have both a lot in common and some interesting differences.The depiction of the Hexies is great, sufficiently alien to be believable, and sufficiently ‘people’ to be fascinating. The crew of the High Boy are a mixed bunch, all highly intelligent and educated, but they have their own personalities, and the minor frictions and the ultimate trouble on their return are very well depicted. Callin clearly used all his technical and scientific knowledge in writing his work and it shows, there is such an air of solid believability about this book. Recommended.



Saturnalia (1986)

A Lion on Tharthee (1987)

Short fiction:

The Turtle and O’Hare (1982)

Deborah’s Children (1983)

Saturn Alia (1984) – the short story upon which the novel was based.

The Carhart Shale (1993)

also The Didactics of Mystique (Part 2 of 4) (1984) [as byFlash Richardson a pseudonym of Callins. This title suggests that it is one of a series, in fact it was a one-off parody and the other three sections never existed.]


28 April 2013

H(elen) M(ary) Hoover was born on April 5th 1935. Both of her parents were teachers and she says that they instilled in her a love of books, a respect for nature, and a fear for the future of our planet. Themes that show in her writing. She held a number of jobs until deciding that what she really wanted to do was write books, and gave herself four years in which to accomplish this and sell a book. She only just made it but her first book was accepted and appeared in 1973. Unfortunately – so far as I am aware – she wrote no further books after 1995, although a short story collectionThe Whole Truth – And Other Myths: Retelling Ancient Tales, appeared in 1996.

My connection with her work began at the same time as she was published. I ran across an excellent book that appeared to be classified as YA solely on the grounds that the two main characters were children. I read it, liked it, and it was added to the ‘keeper’ section of my library. I subsequently found four more books by this author and still have the five which I re-read regularly. All feature children as at least one of the main characters but the themes are anything but childish. Children of Morrow is set in a world long after civilization was strangled by polution. Telepathy has become a growing factor, but where Tia and Rabbit live on what was originally an army base, they are ruled by The Major in a society that has become severely and unpleasantly patriarchial. Elsewhere a different group has retained a higher and more equitable level of civilization and now they are searching for Tia and Rabbit. If they find them before The Major does, the children may survive and much of the book concerns the children’s efforts to escape and reach safety with those who want to be their friends.

In The Delikon, an alien race came to earth generations ago to bring a unified civilization and have long been under the impression that they succeeded. However a number of Terrans don’t want the form of civilization that’s been imposed upon them and an alien child and two Terran children are caught up in the subsequent rebellion. Nor is this all talk, there is savagery, retaliation, the death of friends, and a loss of innocense. While in The Rains of Eridan, (my favourite) scientists at several bases which are conducting experiments and investigations on that planet, mutiny and the twelve-year-old girl who is the main character is dumped in mountains by night while her parents are murdered in front of her. She is found by a scientist working alone and together they discover what is causing most of the madness, but Karen’s parents are no less dead for all her subsequent discoveries. The Lost Star is a study of how people tend to make assumptions and how even scientists can be corrupted by the possibility of great wealth to be found on an alien world, this seen through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Lian Webster. While Return to Earth, mostly set on Earth of 3307 looks at how corporations have become the new governments, and equally how dangeous manufactured religions and those who use them for power can prove to both ordinary citizens and rulers alike. All five of the H.M.Hoover books I own are excellent work, and perfectly suitable as adult reading. I just wish that at the time I’d known this author had written 10 other books I’d never seen so I could have acquired them then.  Below is her bibliography. At least two of the titles listed are historical rather than genre.

Children of Morrow (1973)

Treasures of Morrow (1976)

The Delikon (1977)

The Rains of Eridan (1977)

The Lost Star (1979)

This Time of Darkness (1980)\

Return to Earth (1980)\

Another Heaven, Another Earth (1981)

The Bell Tree (1982)

The Shepherd Moon (1984)

Orvis (1987)

The Dawn Palace: The Story of Medea (1988)

Away Is a Strange Place to Be (1990)

Only Child (1992)

The Winds of Mars (1995)

18 March 2013

John Levitt’s first book Dog Days came out from Ace in November of 2007. And yes, usually the books/authors in this Overlooked series come from a lot further back in time. In this case I made an exception because it looks possible that the four books the author had out between 2007 and 2011 could possibly be it. Why, I have no idea because to my mind they stack up as fully equal to any others in this type of sub-genre. Which is, before you ask, paranormal mystery. Mystery I said, not paranormal romance. The sub-genre into which you can also fit The Dresden Files, the Mercy Thompson series, The Nightside, and and C.E.Murphy’s The Walker Papers. In a couple of those series (Mercy Thompson in particular) while there may be romance, the mystery is the important thing, and while the books can sell in both categories, I feel that if you had to say flatly that they were one or the other, I’d plump for mystery. I picked up copies of the second and fourth books in this series almost by accident – actually recommended to me by a bookshop owner – and having read them I went looking for the missing duo, which, happily, I discovered.

The author has led a hugely varied life, which is great because it allows him to use his own life and work as the background. It gives verisimilitude to the books’ milieu because he knows what he’s talking about, and it allows him to drop little esoteric items that he knows from his own experiences and that give this series a real vibe. Mr. Levitt’s main character, Mason, is a part-time enforcer against the misuse of magical abilities in San Francisco – which the author isn’t quite, although he was a Salt Lake City patrol officer and later investigator. Mason is also however, a musician, which the author is. (You can buy CDs of his work with The Procrastinistas on the site ) And Lou, the iffrit sort-of dog that lives with him, is, I suspect, a mix of the real dogs that share Mr. Levitt’s home. The author has worked as a cop, a roadie, worked in a mountain ski lodge, and now is a writer. Can’t say that he’s in a rut. (My own career swerved from stallion groom to bank teller, from government executive to pony-trekking leader to farmer and cafe worker and that too has always been useful.)

So, Dog Days starts with Mason being savagely attacked one night as he leaves the club where he’s been playing jazz guitar. Lou comes to the rescue and it’s all on. And on, and… someone has it in for Mason in a big way and unless he finds out what’s going on and why, he won’t be playing anything ever again the moment he gets careless. The magic system in Levitt’s series is well developed, understandable, and interesting, as are the characters. Mason is a genuine human, a bit inclined to laziness, casual gear, and screwing up relationships, which makes him believable. He’s also a good friend, loves Lou, cares about people not being abused, and tries to do something about it if he walks into that happening. The end of Dog Days was solidly satisfying with the villain vanquished, but Mason’s relationship has gone down the drain, a good friend has been lost, and a number of those who’d been in the villain’s hands won’t recover. This is not one of those books that end in sweetness and light, it’s realistic within the parameters of its background, and damaged or dead people mostly remain damaged or dead, as happens in real life.

The other three books are New Tricks, an Ace paperback out in December 2008, Unleashed, a paperback published by Ace in December 2008, and Play Dead, from Ace in paperback in February 2011. And there the series stopped. As I understand it, either Ace isn’t publishing more of this series, or for some reason, they’re holding off on the next one. Maybe this darn recession is getting to them as I know it is to a lot of other publishers including a couple of mine. Or it may be that without much romance in the series, they are unable to market the books to both sides (as paranormal mystery and paranormal romance) and feel that this makes for a lower reader base. Whatever the reason, I’m sorry that we may not see more of Mason and Lou, and their friends, enemies, musicians, street people, and others who may be most or none of those. I’ve just read the four books for the second time and find that they hold up very well to that, as I expect will continue. Put simply, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, backgrounds, and plots, and if there are no more I’ll regret that. A lover of this sub-genre could do a lot worse than to buy the four books while they’re still in print. Maybe an upturn in sales will encourage the publisher to accept more in the series. I hope so, because I thought that four books weren’t nearly enough. Recommended to dog-lovers, paranormal mystery lovers, and rock/jazz music-lovers.

16 February 2013

One of the things that I can say that may not be generally known about this author, was that Ardath was a friend of Andre Norton’s, and Andre admired her writing.

Ardath (Frances Hurst) Mayhar was born in February 1930 and died February 2012, three weeks short of her 82nd birthday. She started writing SF in 1979 and also for many years (with her husband Joe) owned and operated a Texas bookstore (The View From Orbit). She wrote a solid number of SF books as well as horror, young adult, historical and westerns; and with some work under pseudonyms Frank Cannon, Frances Hurst, and John Killdeer.

I own the two Tyrnos books, (as well as Golden Dreams: A Fuzzy Oddessy.) The Tynros books while ostensibly SF were what Andre always called Science fantasy. That is, while there are very minor SF elements if those were removed the work would stand simply as a fantasy story. That sort of book often being written to gain publisher acceptance because they wanted and bought SF and so long as the author could point to some SF element, the work was acceptable – and accepted. Both Runes of the Lyre, and Soul-Singer of Tyrnos are excellent fantasy, they are, as books from the early ’80s usually were, some 60-65,000 words, but that only makes them more readable in my opinion. They have none of the padding that became more prevalent with publisher demand in the 90s for longer work. The author has a strong sense of people and place and all of her work that I have read has been of excellent quality and I recommend it, the Tyrnos duo in particular.

Ardath Mayhar Fiction Series and books – partial list only

Battletech Universe


The Sword and the Dagger (1987)

Exiles of Damaria

1 Riddles & Dreams (2003)

The Exiles of Damaria (2009) Terro-Human

Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey (1982)

Lost Tribes

1 People of the Mesa (1992)

Tales of the Triple Moons

1 How the Gods Wove in Kyrannon (1979)

2 The Seekers of Shar-Nuhn (1980)

3 Warlock’s Gift (1982)

4 Lords of the Triple Moons (1983)


1 Soul-Singer of Tyrnos (1981)

2 Runes of the Lyre (1982)


Khi to Freedom (1983)

Exile on Vlahil (1984)

The Saga of Grittel Sundotha (1985)

Towers of the Earth (1985)

Makra Choria (1987)

The Wall (1987)

Two Moons and the Black Tower (1988)

A Place of Silver Silence (1988)

Hunters of the Plains (1995)

Witchfire (2007) with Ron Fortier

The Tulpa: A Novel of Fantasy (2009)

The Door in the Hill: A Tale of the Turnipins (2009)

A Planet Called Heaven: A Science Fiction Novel (2009)

Messengers in White (2009)

A Road of Stars: A Fantasy of Life, Death, Love, and Art (2009)

The Fugitives: A Tale of Prehistoric Times (2009)

Closely Knit in Scarlatt: A Novel of Suspense (2009)

The Clarrington Heritage: A Gothic Tale of Terror (2009)

Shock Treatment: An Account of Granary’s War: A Science Fiction Novel (2009

Ardath also wrote some very fine poetry over the years between 1952 and her death.

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