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Conventions (Ken Lizzi): I have just returned from a long weekend spent in a hotel near the Dallas/Fort Worth airport where I joined 500 or so like-minded individuals playing games. The North Texas RPG Con was my first gaming convention. I’m minded to return next year. I had fun. I ran into some old friends from various states, made some new friends, shared stories, and played games. I even managed to sell a book or two. (A reminder: you too could purchase a book or two, should you be in the mood for two-fisted fabulism.)

History (Special Ops): The Vietnam War era is known for producing numerous heroes, and among them, Charles Mawhinney, commonly known as Chuck, stands out as one of the most lethal snipers of that time. With an impressive record of 103 confirmed kills, Mawhinney’s exceptional marksmanship and courage in the face of danger have made him a legendary figure.

New (DMR Books): This summer the campaign to reprint Arthur D. Howden Smith’s excellent Saga of Swain the Viking will conclude with the fourth volume: Swain’s Justice. In this collection, Swain Olaf’s son finally crosses swords with the one man who ever defied him and escaped with his life: The murderer Olvir Rosta. For decades Olvir has evaded Swain, but now his pursuer has finally caught up with him. The bitterest blood-feud the North has ever seen will come to an end—but who will survive? Read More

I wrote an entry “Whither Weird Tales?” back in November 2015. At the time it had been a year and a half since the last issue of the magazine had appeared. The magazine was reanimated in 2019 with Jonathan Maberry as editor. Five issues of Weird Tales have been published since then.

Issue #366 came out in November 2022. It is a sword & sorcery issue. Format is 8.5 x 11 inches, 128 pages, slick paper, perfect bound, color cover by Bob Eggleton, color back cover by Arther H. Anlow, and color interior illustrations. Read More

Every week, the Castalia House Blog spotlights some of the many new releases in independent, pulp, and web novel-influenced science fiction and fantasy.

Dragon Form (Blood of the Ancients #13) – Dan Michaelson and D. K. Holmberg

An impossible power is coming. None are prepared.

The power the heralds serve has begun to move, swallowing everything in its wake.

As Rob races to save his realm, he realizes the key to stopping it won’t be found in his realm at all.

But how can he use unity—and link realms—in places this power has already consumed?

Progression may no longer be possible. And if it’s not, how can he save everything he cares for?

Mephisto’s Game (Galaxy’s Edge: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations #4) – Jason Anspach and Nick Cole

The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

The fearsome bounty hunter Tyrus Rechs has laid a careful trap to kill an elusive and powerful criminal known as Mister Zauro for crimes orchestrated on the planet Detron. But unbeknownst to the bounty hunter, another trap has been laid just as carefully… a trap for Tyrus Rechs himself.

For Zauro is a Lizzaar, and Lizzaar crime lords are not without their defenses.

Rechs is mere moments away from finishing his termination when the counter-trap is triggered. In an instant the tables are turned, the hunter becomes the hunted, and it is Rechs who is on the run as he is battered by an army of mercenaries, assassins, and war bots led by a mysterious and ruthless killer named Mephisto.

Now Tyrus Rechs, the perpetual loner, must rely on a growing group of unlikely allies if he hopes to survive to see the end of… Mephisto’s Game!

The Province of Danger (The Transhuman War #2) – C. S. Ferguson

In the aftermath of the disasters at Denham’s Folly and Victoria, both Biofate—the cybernetics and genetic engineering criminal syndicate—and CARD—the ultra-secret special operations group tasked with raiding and destroying cybernetics and genetic engineering labs—are convinced they are losing the war.

From the shadows, Anna Capo, the Executor of Biofate, continues to manipulate military units, the government bureaucracy, and interplanetary corporations like a master puppeteer, working to get the upper hand.

Meanwhile, CARD, looking for a win, brings in the big guns for their next assault. When the results are less than they’d hoped for, they are forced to find different ways to get the information they need on the labs… and why they are suddenly so hard to shut down.

Both CARD and Biofate have stepped up their efforts to take the initiative, and both groups have laid traps for the other—each believing they are luring the other into the same battle—and when the dust settles, neither side will be unaffected. This is war, not for territory, or resources, or industry. It’s a war to determine who decides the fate of the human race. Read More

Star Trek (The Companion): If you make Kirk a sea captain and turn the snow-caked planet of Exo III into the Antarctic then the hunt for a lost expedition feared dead, but in fact, transformed by their findings subterranean city of a long-forgotten alien race, then it’s basically a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (1931). The striking visual twist of the turntable that transforms an eerie husk of stunted limbs into a perfect android duplicate likewise echoes the reveal at the climax of Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness

Cinema (CBR): 1982’s Conan the Barbarian was a surprise hit for Universal Pictures, putting star Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map and launching a wave of swords-and-sorcery movies throughout the 1980s. Even more impressive, it’s gone on to become a fantasy classic, with Schwarzenegger periodically lobbying director John Milius to make another sequel with him. The same can’t be said for most of the swords-and-sorcery movies that followed it. The sub-genre was a shabby one, to begin with, with quality taking a sharp dip in the wake of Conan the Barbarian’s success.

Cinema (Startefacts): This horror subgenre is notoriously difficult to adapt to the screen, but some filmmakers manage to do it flawlessly. “Lovecraftian” horror got its name from the works of H. P. Lovecraft, a famous American writer known for his unique approach to the genre, which relied more on the psychological aspect and the viscous, sticky atmosphere of horror. Read More

The rotating reading of genres is never ending. If I read a western, it is generally about the U.S. Army on the frontier. I will deviate to read about ranchers or gunfighters if by favorites like Gordon D. Shirreffs or T. V. Olsen. On the other hand I will read a western by an unknown author (to me) if about the U.S. Army.

Louis L’Amour’s Kilrone is a novel by a writer I know and about my preferred area. I have been hard on L’Amour in the past on his novel The Walking Drum. Still, I totally get why L’Amour was so popular. He generally delivered. Kilrone was first published in 1966. The edition I read is fairly recent with cover art by Greg Manchess who I like. Read More

Every week, the Castalia House Blog spotlights some of the many new releases in independent, pulp, and web novel-influenced science fiction and fantasy.

Dragon Lands (The Shadow’s Dragon #2) – Dustin Porta and D. K. Holmberg

Treylen never thought he’d be hunting his own people. Least of all, family.

In the mines of Wetherdin, a foul plot is unfolding. Someone’s stealing dragon eggs for the Jaul, and it’s up to Treylen, Aaron, and their dragons to infiltrate and root out the traitor.

This time he’s ready. His spycraft is stronger, his bond with Rime is better than ever, and his mentor has come along for the mission. Under the guise of visiting nobility, they’ll have all the comforts of a cozy mountain lodge while untangling the mystery at their leisure.

But when Marziel disappears on the night of a murder, and his own family gets caught up in the intrigue, a dire deadline is set. Treylen is faced with a choice that the abbey never prepared him for. And the solution will take him deeper into the caves of the Dragon Lands than he’d ever imagined.

The Redemption of Alness (Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat #3) – Jim Breyfogle

Two years have passed since the fall of Alness. And two years have passed since the brash young sellsword Mangos teamed up with Kat, the mysterious Alnessi rogue. Together, they have made a name for themselves as the Mongoose and Meerkat!

The northlands still smolder as Rhygir holds Alness in an iron grip. Rumors swirl that an Alnessi royal may have survived, but Rhygir is intent on hunting down any resistance that might rally to a rogue prince who escaped the slaughter.

Though Rhygir has been consolidating power in Alness, the Mongoose and Meerkat have been hard at work, gathering resources and making alliances in Alomar and abroad. But can the new allies and old friends overcome the army of Rhygir before it can be bolstered by elite mercenaries?

All of the pieces of the King’s Game are in place!

Vein Pursuits (Black Badge #2) – Rhett C. Bruno and Jaime Castle

The path to Heaven runs through miles of icy Hell …

James Crowley has ridden the road to Crescent City before, but never with companions like these. Never with a woman whose very presence jeopardizes everything he’s fought for over the past two decades.

The swamps are a brutal, nasty place filled with creatures most people think only exist in nightmares and fever dreams. When Crowley, along with Rosa, Bram Stoker, Harker, and Irish stumble upon such a creature, and one of their party finds themselves mortally wounded, they must find help in the most unlikely of places.

But that wasn’t James Crowley’s mission. As a Black Badge, a Hand of God, he’s been tasked with hunting down the worst Hell has to offer, and at Shargrafein’s beckoning, he must suss out the Betrayer—a mysterious being about whom no information is given.

What he finds is something he never could have guessed. The city is overrun with vampires, werewolves, and worse, including an old acquaintance with nothing good in mind.

Meanwhile, Rosa has continued her pursuit to reconnect with her dead husband, Willy Massey. With the help of a Voodoo Queen, she must do the unthinkable. Only Crowley stands between her and a choice that would forever scar her soul. But will he be able to escape the clutches of Hell in order to keep her from destroying everything and everyone in her path?

We Dare: Old Age and Treachery – Jamie Ibson

Fifteen outstanding authors. Fifteen stories about people who have been there before!

Never underestimate an old man in a business where men die young.

War is a young man’s game, and one where failure usually leads to your death. There’s a reason some people survive when others don’t—they’re faster, stronger, smarter, and usually luckier than everybody else—and you antagonize them at your own peril!

From knowing how to judge the intelligence data to understanding how to play “the long game,” or just having the experience from past operations to be able to tell when things are about to go wrong, these old men and women know what they’re doing… and woe betide the new recruits who don’t listen. Be careful, because that old timer sitting next to you—the one who doesn’t say much—may have a skill or maybe even a robot that’s going to kick your butt!

For, as the old-timers know, an ounce of experience is worth a pound of youthful exuberance!

Read More

Conventions (PC Gamer): Carmack heads the list of “guests” at the upcoming event that bill itself as a sci-fi convention for people “tired of woke propaganda.” Id Software co-founder and former Oculus VR CTO John Carmack is facing criticism for his recent announcement that he will be attending BasedCon, a sci-fi and fantasy convention for fans who are “tired of woke propaganda.”

Knives (Ballistic Magazine): Fighting blades take many shapes and forms, dictated by individual need and mission. Below is an assorted list of production battle blades of various sizes, designs, and price point that proves this point—pun intended.

Robert E. Howard (Sprague de Camp Fan): Time travel and crossover characters. All the things purists hated about Marvel Comics. All right here in one of Robert E. Howard’s most popular stories! “Kings of the Night” first appeared in Weird Tales, November 1930. Read More

To my surprise, Rough Edges Press announced a new Sgt. Hawk book by Patrick Clay. I was very happy when the series was reprinted last year and the lost 5th novel was published. Sgt. Hawk and the Lost Temple is a brand new novel.

The novel starts with Sgt. Hawk and Cpl. Conlon pulled off the line. They are sent to a rear base in New Guinea for a new assignment. There is trouble on the way with a unarmed transplort plane full of psych patients attacked by Japanese Betty bombers. They barely make it in one piece at the airfield.

They are briefed on a mission to be sent to the island of Basah in the Netherlands East Indies. The OSS has a base and training natives on fighting the Japanes. Basah is actually Borneo and an anagram for Sabah which is a part of Borneo. Read More

Every week, the Castalia House Blog spotlights some of the many new releases in independent, pulp, and web novel-influenced science fiction and fantasy.

Combat Frame Ƶ XSeed (Combat Frame XSeed: S #3) – Brian Niemeier

The Epic Mech Saga’s World-Rending Conclusion

Betrayed by their makers …

… their sole hope is vengeance.

Humanity reels from the disastrous Battle of Earth. Blamed for the crushing defeat, the Guardian Angels are branded as traitors.

Jehu, Dex, and Kaiser must make a daring escape to save their families from a resurgent terror.

To clear their names, they must lead the rebel ExSols they once fought.

But against the combined might of the UCP and the Ynzu, do even Angels have a prayer of victory?

Companion to Darkness (Four Horsemen Universe: The Phoenix Initiative #5) – Casey Moores

I don’t give a d**n about negotiation!”

Khatash has been retaken, but the price was steep, and Okeo, Dama of Clan Shadow Fury, and Zatohachi, her blind swordsman companion, are working to rebuild it. But when the father of Okeo’s kits goes missing on a mission to track down information on the illicit Malluma Songo trade on a pleasure planet, Okeo and Zato head out to investigate.

What they don’t know is that her rebellious, sole remaining kit and the kit’s teenage companion are tagging along for the trip, and they have a much different approach to the search. While Okeo and Zato lay low and follow a more traditional path, her kit plans to step out of the shadows and broadcast the secrets of the Hunters to the galaxy.

And maybe become a star along the way.

A Corrupt Alliance (The Chain Breaker #11) – D. K. Holmberg

Can Gavin ever be more than the Chain Breaker?

Tenender has been stopped, but his plan is still in motion.

Gavin knows the key to what Tenender planned is tied to scholars of ancient magic, but Gavin is a fighter, not a thinker.

Impossible power is at stake, and if he fails, everything that he’s worked to save will fail with him.

With his fighting prowess neutralized, how can the Chain Breaker stop a plan that has been in motion for centuries before all is lost?

Dark World (The Travelers #3) – Nathan Hystad

When Elliot returns to Bell Island the summer of ‘84, he doesn’t expect to be thrust into the middle of an alien invasion. But he won’t let them win…

Another year passes, and the Spheres are restless. The Travelers have invaded.

It’s become impossible for the powers that be to ignore the fact that aliens are real, and Earth is under an imminent threat.

Buzz is ordered to create a team to save the world. For some reason, he elects Elliot and his friends to accompany him.

After the shocking revelation that someone close to Elliot has betrayed them, his loyalties are tested in the epic conclusion to The Travelers. Read More

Spider Man No Way Home trailer : Doc Ock, Green Goblin and Electro ...

The title says it all.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” was not a movie I saw on release. I saw it at home, months later. And in truth, it made me mad. It made me mad not because it was bad. It made me mad because it was really, really good. It was exactly as good as everyone said it was.

All of my issues with the previous two MCU Spider-Man films were just…gone. They weren’t there anymore. Did you absolutely despise this new look version of MJ who had absolutely nothing in common with the character she was named after? I did. I loathed her. She and Peter had no chemistry, she was boring, she was drab, she was unlikable.

So what did NWH do? Cut her?

No. Even better. They fixed her.

I still can’t quite believe how invested I was in MJ and Peter’s relationship in this film. And it was so simple! It didn’t require any massive character rewrites or major retcons.

All they had to do – literally, all they had to do – was have MJ be supportive.

That’s it. That’s all. Peter is struggling, MJ is there for him. Peter is grieving, MJ is a shoulder to cry on. Peter is in trouble, MJ does her best to help. She gets along with his friend and isn’t unpleasant. When Peter’s hero work gets in the way of their relationship she’s understanding.

That’s the only change they make to her character. And it works. It works brilliantly. At the end of the film, MJ, his girlfriend, and Ned, his friend, are the last people in the world he has any real connection to. They’re the last people he loves. And he has to give up his relationship with them. He has to make that sacrifice to put things right and to fix his mistakes.

And dammit, it meant something. The sacrifice was real, it mattered. I felt it, because by the end of the movie I was rooting for Peter and MJ.

Considering how I felt about this relationship after the second film, that’s a remarkable change.

And there was more. There was a very distinct feeling in the previous MCU Spider-Man films of pulled punches. I’m thinking particularly of the end of “Far From Home”. Peter’s mistakes have probably led to the deaths of hundreds or even thousands of people, and sure, it was the villain’s fault more than him, and sure, his identity is revealed, but ultimately this was barely acknowledged if at all in order to maintain the light tone. Peter never grapples with the enormity of his mistakes, instead chalking it up to being tricked by Mysterio.

And sure, he was, and sure, he was a kid, but the whole point of Spider-Man is that he has great power and that gives him great responsibility, kid or not, and it never really felt like Peter ever took on the full weight of that responsibility.

That isn’t the case by the end of NWH. Peter feels like he’s sacrificed as much and more than he deserves. He’s not only lost people in the film, he voluntarily gives up virtually everything he has left by the time it ends.

This is partially to atone for his mistakes, sure, but to even get to this point Peter had to be actively trying to do good throughout the film, to help these villains from the previous movies in ways that they previously couldn’t be helped.

And why?

Because he can. He has the power. Thus he has the responsibility.

And this is to say nothing of the absolutely masterful way that the characters from the previous Spider-Man films were used. The restraint is really what I appreciate. They really only show up in the final third of the movie, and they give very limited details about what they’ve been up to.

But man, what they do give us is gold. It’s exactly what we DIDN’T get with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in the Mouse Wars films. Tobey Maguire is a warm, comforting presence whose history informs his advice and his actions – and in one of the only tidbits we get about his life after the Raimi films we learn that he and MJ made it work.

Can you imagine? Presenting a beloved legacy character entirely positively, living a successful life?

Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) - Spider-Man Films Wiki

And how about Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, and in the film’s best scene, having him resolve his primary bit of trauma, but without telegraphing it, without using flashbacks or having him explain it – just a scene of Garfield’s Spider-Man rescuing MJ then nearly breaking down? It’s very difficult for people who know about the ending of Amazing Spider-Man 2 not to be moved by this, and it’s done with remarkably little dialogue.

Look, the film isn’t perfect. You can argue, and I’d probably agree, that turning all of the flaws of the previous Spider-Man villains into literally curable diseases weakens them significantly as characters. The spell that kicks off the plot then ends the story is ridiculously powerful and raises questions about the world that the movie is not equipped to solve. While Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May was a very strong character it was missing that background of Christianity that guided her morals in the Raimi films.

But these are all nitpicks, minor things. The truth is this was a fantastic movie, a classic of the genre, somehow the best live action Spider-Man even over the terrific Spider-Man 2 and I would argue better than Spider-Verse as well. It’s simply a great superhero movie, well-written, well-acted, great action scenes, real weight and stakes…it’s as good as everyone said it was.

And THIS is what makes me so angry. They knew! They knew how to make a great Spider-Man movie all along!

They knew that MJ was an unlikable harpy, but they kept her anyway. They knew how to make Peter really suffer and sacrifice, but they didn’t include it anyway. They knew exactly how to add legacy characters to a new story while still respecting those stories, but they – and by “they” I just mean Hollywood writers – still utterly humiliated Luke and Han and Leia.

In short, they knew exactly how to make a good movie, and they just…didn’t. They just…don’t. When push comes to shove and the shareholders say they have to care about profit over ideology, they are absolutely capable of doing it.

Remember that when you see what Hollywood is putting out. They know exactly what they’re doing. They can be better than this.

They just don’t want to be.

D&D (Gronardia): In the interests of narrowing the scope of potential candidates for this list, I established a few rules for myself. First and most importantly, I would only select from monsters unique to Dungeons & Dragons. That means, mythological or folkloric monsters, like minotaurs or goblins, were excluded from consideration, even in cases where D&D’s version of them is idiosyncratic (e.g. kobolds). Second, monsters of a singular type, such as named demons or devils, were likewise excluded.

Robert E. Howard (Sprague de Camp Fan): “Men of the Shadows” first appeared in Bran Mak Morn, Dell Books, 1969. It was submitted to Weird Tales and rejected. Editor Farnsworth Wright advised Robert E. Howard that “… I fear I cannot use it in Weird Tales. It is too little of a “story,” despite the vigorous action in the opening pages. It is rather a chronicle of a tribe, a picture of the evolution of a race …”

Fiction (Chimney Sweep Reader): I’ve been a fan of Jeff Guinn’s non-fiction work ever since I read Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, his informative and exceedingly readable account of the Barrow Gang. When I saw he had written a couple of western fiction tales I wanted to try them so now I have. If this first one is a true indicator of the rest of the series, I can emphatically say, I will be reading every book in the series, and any other fiction he decides to produce in the future. Read More

XLZABK001 by Jon Zaremba is a brand new collection of stories in different genres. Jon has a description of himself at the end of this book:

I retired as a musician with dozens of albums in my catalog, most of which were self-released. The majority of this collection’s contents was crafted as text interpretations of my musical works. With a sparse, at best, literary background, most of the imagery herein was inspired by music and film rather than the work of other authors. In art, including my own, I favor meaning over method, function over form, and substence over style.”

Contents: Read More