I recently enjoyed listening to a talk by Scott Berkun, where he talked about how the use and revitalization of historically proven concepts are the building blocks of “new” ideas, and that got me thinking about Wargames and their generally poor reflection of tactics while on the tabletop.

In so many historical scenes that are played out in Wargames, unit-level tactics were generally the deciding factor because technology and command-level tactics–often force organization too–were extremely similar. Sure, you have your instances of trickery and clever command-level flash that won battles, like Napoleon’s ploy of taking the drummers from his troops to move around behind the enemy to cause a panicked presentation of their rear to his troops’ assault, or Hannibal planning his front line’s collapse at the battle of Cannae; these highlights are amazing because of their standout against the norm. Even computer games like the Total War series try to model unit-level tactics but it is a difficulty to manage just as on the tabletop where positioning your minis or tokens so as to make them less vulnerable to templates occupies long, pedantic minutes.

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L. Jagi Lamplighter brings you the fourth Book of Unexpected Enlightenment, following the adventures of Rachel Griffin at the magical Roanoke Academy.

Winter brings its own magic to the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts.

Petite Rachel Griffin should be having an amazing freshman year. She has the Princess of Magical Australia and crazy, orphan Sigfried the Dragonslayer for friends, and a handsome sorcerer boyfriend romancing her with charms magical and otherwise. But otherworldly forces keep conspiring against the people and world she loves.

What she knows, she dare not tell.

Rachel’s perfect memory is a blessing…and a curse. While everyone around her can be made to forget the truth, Rachel cannot. When she runs afoul of the true force responsible for hiding these terrible secrets, Rachel must face her most desperate hour yet.

This on top of winter fairies, missing friends, Yule gifts, flying practice, and a rampaging ogre…oh, and schoolwork. Then there is the matter of the state of her heart and a certain undeniably attractive older boy…

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Praise for Rachel Griffin and the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment:

“Lovecraft meets Narnia at Hogwarts.”

“The characters are great, the piled up mysteries pull you along, and while the story arc for this book comes to a satisfying conclusion, you’ll want more and more is hinted at.”

“If you need a series that is fun, engaging, suitable for adult fantasy lovers while appropriate for younger teenagers but does not shy away from some real but delicate issues such teenagers will face, The Raven, the Elf and Rachel and the whole Books of Unexpected Enlightenment series are for you.”

“I am so drawn into the work that I can connect with these characters and worry for them. When that happens, you know you have found something special, something to hold onto and read again and again. I look forward to the next installment of the series, knowing that danger looms in the world, and those who can see it will battle it, will stand for Good, even if they are young.”

Nestled amidst the beauty of New York’s Hudson Highlands and hidden from the eyes of the Unwary, Roanoke Academy is a place of magic and wonder. Explore it from the very start, with The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin:

Image result for the punisherThere’s a saying I’ve heard used before that I think applies here: This drink would be great if they didn’t pour sewage in the water.

Unlike our friend the Warpig, I had no issues with the pacing of “The Punisher” (and incidentally I will argue until the day I die that he is wrong, wrong, WRONG about season one of “Daredevil”, which is AWESOME. Mediocre. Pah). Interestingly, I think some of the so-called “filler” episodes were pretty good! In fact, part of what made it good was that it was willing to do these little bits of “filler” whenever the story was in danger of slowing down. And Joe Bernthal was absolutely fantastic, a tour de force in the role who should, but won’t, get some Emmy love for his work. Micro was also a fine and entertaining character, supposedly set up as comic relief but with an extra level of depth and pathos that made him very likable.

…But it virtue signaled, sometimes less, sometimes more – but it virtue signaled. And its issues tended to be the same issues endemic to most non-indie entertainment coming out these days.

So take a guess who the villain of the “The Punisher” is. Go on. Guess. Read More

Here’s the good news: The Punisher Netflix series isn’t as bad as the rest of the Netflix-Marvel series have been. Here’s the bad news: that still doesn’t mean it’s very good.

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Fiction (Tellers of Weird Tales): “In “The City on the Edge of Forever,” a man travels through a time-portal (located in the ruins of a city on a faraway planet) and unwittingly alters the past, thus altering the future: nothing that he knew came to be and his fellow space-travelers are stranded in time and space. Two other men follow him in an attempt to undo what he has done. One of those men, Captain Kirk, falls in love with a woman from the past, Edith Keeler. Like the love interest in 11/22/63, Edith is a social activist or reformer. Like Stephen King’s female lead, she remains unmarried and turns her efforts at making a better world outward towards that world rather than inward towards a family.”

Movies (Walker’s Retreat): A handful of people who’s opinions I trust on films have seen Justice League and now offer their takes on it.” Read More

As Armando Catalano, a holy relic dealer, raids the underground tombs of 18th century Rome for the bones of martyred saints, a prince of the Church plots with a Gypsy poisoner to murder him. For Armando bears the mark of the scorpion on his shoulder, a devil’s mark identifying him as the son of a heretic who was burnt alive for seducing a priest from the church and Christian beliefs. While the poisoner toys with him, Armando sets out to learn the name of the cardinal who torments him, the reason for the enmity, and the truth behind his mother’s death. Along the way, he stumbles across an ancient conspiracy from the days of Rome and a plot to murder the Pope. Digging deeper, Armando, known to all as the Scorpion, discovers a stolen Vatican archive in Cardinal Trebaldi’s mansion. These papers deal with his mother’s trial and execution, leading Armando to believe that he is the illegitimate son of the Pope. Can the Scorpion save his presumed father from the assassin’s blade?

Written by Stephen Desberg and illustrated by Enrico Marini, The Scorpion follows Armando as he seeks to unravel the conspiracy, challenge the power of Cardinal Trebaldi, and discover why his mother’s execution lays at the center of both. Following in the footsteps of Zorro and Alexandre Dumas, this Scorpion is at home in high society and in the gutters, a dashing, cultured swordsman and scholar who will not rest until he brings down the men behind his mother’s death–no matter how powerful they might be. The first book offered in English, The Devil’s Mark, serves up the first two volumes of the Scorpion’s adventures, The Devil’s Mark and The Pope’s Secret, taking readers from the discovery to the end of the Papal conspiracy in one sitting. Read More

The following is an excerpt from one of the many hilarious stories in LawDog’s second straight bestseller, THE LAWDOG FILES: AFRICAN ADVENTURES.

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Many, MANY moons ago—and don’t even ask, ’cause I won’t tell you—when I was still a pup, the family lived in Nigeria. We had a bungalow at the Odibo Estates, out near the Biafran border. Every evening peddlers, called traders, used to walk up and down the main road, offering various knick-knacks and merchandise for sale or trade.

Ali Cheap-Cheap was one of the busier traders, and he spent a lot of time on our front porch haggling with Mom. Now, Ali Cheap-Cheap was very proud of his ability to acquire just about anything you might want or need.

One evening, Mom was visiting on the front porch with the visiting wife of one of the English engineers. Said wife had never been outside of London before, and as a consequence, she loathed Africa. She and Mom were chattering and griping when along came Ali Cheap-Cheap. Old Ali Cheap-Cheap didn’t have anything that Mom or the English lady wanted, so, before he wandered off, he asked if, “Madams want for anything?”

The English lady got a funny look in her eye, tapped her snake-hide purse and said, “I want one of these.” “Yes, madam,” replied Ali, and off he trotted.

About three weeks later, Mom and her new English friend were on the front porch again, when along came Ali Cheap-Cheap. With a friend. Ali and friend had a cane pole slung over their shoulders, and there was a burlap bag hanging from said pole.

Now, at this point I should mention that also on the front porch, in addition to the two ladies, was a Mongoose-a-minium, in which lived our pet kusimanse, or as it is known to science, Helogale parvula, the pygmy mongoose. This Mongoose-a-minium had a Plexiglas ceiling which Dad had assured us was unbreakable.

Riiiight. Read More

Michael Whelan (b. 1950) is probably the most successful artist I will cover in this series. If you bought science fiction or fantasy books in the 1980s or 90s, you have seen his work.

His website has this say about his story:

“A graduate of San Jose University with a BA in Painting and a President’s Scholar, Michael went on to attend the Art Center College of Design also in California, but he dropped out to accept his first book cover assignment. He soon became known for his dedication to bringing an author’s words to life and Whelan covers dominated the science fiction and fantasy field throughout the 1980s and 90s. He was largely responsible for the realistic style of genre covers of that era.”

His first cover was for the German publication in 1975 for a Henry Kuttner reprint. Whelan was yet again, one of those artists used by Donald Wollheim at D.A.W. Books. His first paperback for D.A.W. was The Enchantress of World’s End (1975) by Lin Carter. He also did the cover for The Year’s Best Horror II (1975), an association he would maintain throughout the series life. Read More

In a previous post, I mentioned why it’s so difficult to make good science fiction movies and why they’re rarer than studios not currently embroiled in a sex scandal.  However, there is a more effective approach which can significantly boost one’s chances of making a worthwhile and successful film in this genre.  Unsurprisingly, this is the exact opposite of what Hollywood is doing today.

I am talking about the science fiction exploitation movie.  In many ways, one can consider them the movie analogs of the pulp novel.  Free of pretension, they’re all about action and adventure.  They’re concerned with bizarre characters and scenarios, not with moralistic lessons or fancy-sounding mumbo-jumbo written by scientific illiterates who couldn’t solve a basic incline plane statics problem.  Some might deem them simple, but with movies, that’s a relative term.  Thematically, most science fiction classics are straightforward, whether it’s The Fifth Element or Blade Runner.

There is one exploitation movie most readers have seen, and it’s one they might not immediately consider as such.  Namely Mad Max and its sequel, The Road Warrior.

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This roundup of the newest releases in fantasy and adventure features a dragon hunt in a China inspired fantasy, a bishop seeking to save the souls of modern men, and, from Germany, an alternate history in the tradition of 1632 and the Destroyermen series, as a World War I cruiser arrives just before the fall of Rome.

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Army of God – Dennis Bailey

One of the most beloved and enduring stories of all time . . .

One of the most recognizable characters in history . . .

A plot by a rival to kill Noah and his family is thwarted by a beautiful young woman, who joins them as they flee the ancient Biblical city of Eden. A year later, the Lord reveals His plan to destroy the earth by flood and commands Noah to build an ark. Only the news is met with skepticism and opposition from members of his own family. Eventually, word of the ark reaches Eden, prompting the rival to send an army of five thousand men to destroy it.

However Noah has an army of his own.

Action, adventure, and suspense combine with the Biblical account of Noah’s Ark to create a heart-pounding page-turner that will stay with you long after the flood waters have receded.

“At heart, this is a story of faith in action – expressed in discipline, trust, obedience and commitment.”–Amazon Reader Review

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The Heretics of St. Possenti – Rolf Nelson

Bishop Thomas Cranberry finds himself at a loss when he is confronted by a thief and realizes some disturbing truths about himself. The experience sends him in search of the men who are increasingly absent from the Church, who find themselves at a loss in a world that has gone increasingly feral, and who feel that they have nowhere to go and no one to whom they can turn for support. In listening to them and attempting to understand their plight, he finds an unexpected mission.

THE HERETICS OF ST. POSSENTI is for readers who want the backstory of the story and for those who want to know how one inspired man can make a difference in a fallen world. It is a novel for those who need inspiration to get them though the day and those who look for unusual ways to accomplish the mission. It is for people who understand and respect the old ways but know that sometimes a seed cannot grow without splitting the pavement.

“The look into the human condition and motivations, looking at what is rather than what is said to be, resonates with truth like the deep tolling of the bell in a steeple.”–Amazon Reader Review

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In The Lair – presented by Fantasy Bridge

Fantasy Bridge is thrilled to present its first collection from bestselling authors and newly emerging writers. These stories transport you to new and wondrous worlds. Places where dragons roam free and where magic is as natural as blood. From epic battles to the temptations, the exciting stories in In the Lair will thrill, inspire, and keep you up all night wondering what will happen next.

“A couple of Indie writers decided to flex some muscles, figuratively speaking, showing in this compendium of fantasy novellas/short stories why they have already individually become so successful as writers. For readers, this compendium is like finding the font of inspiration”–Amazon Reader Review

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Minds of Men (The Psyche of War #1) – Kacey Ezell

Evelyn Adamsen grew up knowing she had to hide her psychic abilities, lest she be labeled a witch. However, when the U.S. Army Air Corps came calling in 1943, looking for psychic women to help their beleaguered bomber force, Evelyn answered, hoping to use her powers to integrate the bomber crews and save American lives.

She was extremely successful at it…until her aircraft got shot down.

Now, Evelyn is on the run in Occupied Europe, with a special unit of German Fallschirmjager and an enemy psychic on her heels. Worse, Evelyn learns that using her psychic powers functions as a strobe that highlights her to the enemy.

As the enemy psychic closes in, Evelyn is faced with a dilemma in her struggle to escape—how can she make it back to England when the only talent she has will expose her if she uses it?

“Gritty, dark and damp. Much like the war itself.”–Michael Z. Williamson, Author of “A Long Time Until Now”

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Orchestra of Treacheries (The Dragon Songs Saga #2) – JC Kang 

The mightiest dragon threatens the world, and only the power of a Dragon Song can vanquish him.

Two years have passed since Kaiya rediscovered the lost magic of Dragon Songs, yet the power of her voice is untrained. Potential suitors see her as a stepping stone. One ruthless cousin would rather step on her gravestone.

Not one to get walked over or buried, Kaiya is holding out for the exiled foreign prince who inspired her to sing. The only one who appreciates her abilities more is the world’s last dragon, Avarax, and it’s not because he enjoys a good song.

Raw and unproven, she finds mentors in unlikely places. An elf courtier. An ancient healer. A martial arts master. And an evil sorcerer. She’ll need their guidance to survive the final showdown between a girl finding her voice, and a dragon who has no intention of being fooled a second time.

“I am in awe of the worldbuilding behind this series. It’s one of the most finely detailed I have seen. Similar enough to Old China and India to be recognizable, yet each nation is distinctively itself.”–Amazon Reader Review

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Passage (The Emperor’s Men #3) – Dirk van der Boom

Shortly before the First World War, the German light cruiser Saarbrücken leaves the port of Wilhelmshaven to make its last big journey before being decommissioned. But near Portugal the old ship encounters a mysterious phenomenon, and the crew unexpectedly finds itself in the Mediterranean, 1500 years in the past, at a historical moment: It’s the year 378, the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire, the start of Völkerwanderung. The crew of the Saarbrücken decides that to survive they must make friends of the Romans. They had been the Kaiser’s men in the 20th century, and now, in the past, another emperor might need their services.

The victory over the Goths has only brought temporary peace to the Roman Empire. Unrest and intrigues threaten to jeopardize the achievements made. The time travelers from the Saarbrücken not only help to reform Empire but also have to take first steps against the threat posed by the Huns. An expedition is sent to Africa to spread new ideas in the Empire and begin the search for profitable commodities. But the opponents of the new order are not asleep and begin their preparations to restore the old ways – and this with the help of a man who was believed to be dead.

Starting with a space pirate raid of Hell, Brian Niemeier introduced us to the universe of the dead gods Thera and Zadok in the Dragon Award winning Soul Cycle as it wound down like clockwork towards its end. To cataclysm and rebirth, and to the Souldancers, wounded men and women with fractured souls and great power. Now, in THE OPHIAN RISING, the Soul Cycle weaves its way towards its conclusion.

The Zadokim healed the cosmos from the ravages of the Cataclysm, and the survivors made them kings. Now the Ophians, a ruthless insurgent movement, wage a vicious uprising against their immortal rulers’ two hundred year reign.

Xander and Astlin have transformed the desert world of Tharis into the hub of a flourishing trade empire. Their Nesshin subjects spread a new faith promising true freedom in another universe. But when Astlin seeks forbidden knowledge to resurrect her long-dead family, sinister forces exact a terrible price from those she loves.

With the Ophian threat engulfing the spheres and a primeval terror rising from its prison, Astlin must turn to a shiftless gambler, the outlaw squire of a fallen knight, and a mismatched pair of smugglers to escape the ghosts of her past and save all souls from eternal death. But can mortals succeed where even gods have failed?

In anticipation of its imminent release, CastaliaHouse.com is pleased to bring you a preview of THE OPHIAN RISING, the concluding volume of the Soul Cycle.

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“Which ether-runner should we go to for help?” Will asked.

“Not an ether-runner,” Astlin said the moment she set eyes on the angular black hull of Night Gen nexus-runner parked at the two o’clock position of the circular landing strip below.

They made their way down to the field and crossed to the obsidian ship. True to her word, Astlin let Will take her place propping up the stabilized but still weak Brell. The Night Gen ship’s general design reminded Astlin of her lost Kerioth, but it was of much newer construction with five knife-edged tines fanning out from the central hull instead of three.

Xander and I had that ship for over two hundred years, she thought bitterly. Another debt the Ophians owe me.

When she and her companions had approached to stand before the nexus-runner’s tapered spike of a nose, Astlin projected her thoughts to the ship’s telepathic comm system. We’re survivors of the recent Ophian attack. One of your people is with us. He needs a medic.

“Did you signal them?” Tallon asked when a minute passed with no sign of activity from the ship.

“Yes, I did,” said Astlin.

“Are you sure they heard you?”

Astlin didn’t respond, but Brell answered Tallon for her. “My people have reason to be cautious, especially after tonight. They are most likely attempting to determine if we pose a danger to their ship.”

“The only one they’re endangering is you,” said Will.

A floodlight cast a blinding white beam on the five supplicants. The familiar whirring of a descending nexus-runner boarding ramp sounded from the darkness behind the light. A wary female voice spoke in the Night Gen dialect. Read More

Vandals of the Void by Robert Wilson appeared in the Spring 1945 issue Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Vandals of the Void is an apocalyptic invasion tale with a lot going for it. Despite some over-reliance on expository dialogue, Wilson gives us something that would be perfect fodder for an invasion flick, classic or modern.

We’ve got multiple alien menaces, neutral/possibly ally extraterrestrials in the form of the Martians, a mad scientist traitor to the human race, and a power couple who are challenged with love in the face of annihilation. Really great stuff!

Scientists have discovered these strange worm-things; they seem semi-carbon-based, but they can’t quite figure out their metabolism. They’re not much more than a tube body and a mouth, and they’ll bore upward through just about anything. Sideways, down, notsomuch, but you put something above them, they’ll eat their way straight up and out. Cities all over earth begin to be destroyed and devoured by these critters as they eat their way upward through the crust.

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