It’s extraordinarily difficult to write an effective work of horror or suspense, especially one that will be appreciated for generations to come.  Most of the audience has seen dozens of slasher films featuring killings and dismemberment in gruesome detail.  One can hardly shock them with that.  Moreover, write a work with fantastical elements and a cynical reader will dismiss your work as childish and silly.  Write a true crime work and a jaded reader will consider it droll and unimaginative.

And yet, HP Lovecraft succeeded at doing just that.  Writing in an era where the main horror films were such somnolent affairs as Nosferatu (1922), he wrote weird fiction tales that delight and surprise readers almost a century later.  I don’t normally care for either horror or suspense in literature, but I’m a big admirer of his works, several of which I consider downright brilliant.  Lovecraft achieved a rare feat.

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This week’s roundup of the newest releases in fantasy and adventure features a pair of online litRPGs, a renegade angel trying to redeem himself, a magical academy torn apart by magical war, and the return of America’s foremost pulp spy, Secret Agent “X”.

Adventure Rising (Jack Dashing #2) – Jon Mollison

In just a few short weeks, the Planetary Romantic travels to a world not entirely unlike our own. A curious twist of fate strands him in a nightmarish version of New York City…or perhaps that should be a more nightmarish version of New York City. Pursued by wild beasts and sinister agents, Jack once again finds himself in a race to find the one man that can send him to his own version of home. But once Jack finds him, the brilliant Dr. Abduraxus reveals that the multi-verse doesn’t work quite the way anyone thought. And can this Jack even recognize his one true love, let alone win her heart? Find out in Adventure Rising.

“This book is outstanding, unbelievable fun, and feels like an older book, but one that is a slight bit self aware.” –The Injustice Gamer

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Bushido Online: Friends and Foes (Bushido Online #2) – Nikita Thorn

Now a Level 10 ronin, Seiki is slowly coming to terms with the death of Master Tsujihara and his new life in Shinshioka.

Spending his days in the Wilderness, he’s venting his remaining frustration while staying away from the city drama and those griefers, like the Rogami Clan, who had made his in-game experience so challenging thus far. He has even taken up a trade skill.

But when he’s presented with an offer he can’t refuse and accepts a simple mission to deliver a message to Kano Castle, he will quickly find his troubles are only just beginning. Caught in an imbroglio that will only get worse the more he tries to do well, Seiki will set off a series of events that will lead to chaos, death, and the eventual destruction of an entire territory.

Surrounded by betrayal, hidden agendas and people looking to take advantage of him, who can Seiki really trust?

When everything is not what it seems, it can be impossible to differentiate between friends and foes.

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Clockwork Planet #3 – Yuu Kamiya and Tsubaki Himana, illustrated by Sino

–I know this is sudden, but the world had already collapsed long ago. Earth had died, but the entire planet was reconstructed and reproduced using clockwork – “The Clockwork Planet.”

In the wake of rescuing the mind-controlled AnchoR, moments later, Naoto and Marie come to a rude awakening over a crucial element of the behemoth’s design: its natural ability to disrupt clockwork technology! Caught between a desperate Tokyo Military and a doomsday weapon stronger than even they anticipated, the two geniuses are facing their greatest crisis yet! The third volume of the gear fantasy by Yuu Kamiya x Tsubaki Himana x Sino!!

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Fire Storm (Zulu Virus Chronicles #3) – Steven Konkoly

Having narrowly survived the KILL BOX, HOT ZONE’s hardened survivors and their KILL BOX allies separate to pursue different objectives–outside of the Indianapolis quarantine zone.

For David Olson, that means bringing his son south, to the safe haven of his parents’ home–far away from the infected cities. Eric Larsen takes him up on the offer to rest and heal at the house, before departing on the long journey to find his family in Colorado.

For Rich and his secretive black ops team, that means transporting Dr. Chang and Dr. Hale to a secure facility out east, where they will join the nation’s few surviving bioweapons researchers–with the hopes of pinpointing the source of the virus and possibly developing a vaccine.

Neither group will get very far, before the true face of the evil controlling the Zulu Virus arrives–tempting them with irresistible opportunities. Read More

Featuring a foreword by the brilliant Israeli military theorist Martin van Creveld, On War is a fascinating book that is a must-listen for every military professional, wargamer, and amateur student of the art of war.

On War is a seven-year collection of columns written by the father of 4th Generation War theory while observing the US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. It is an intriguing account of a war in progress, as seen through the eyes of a military theorist able to anticipate events with an almost prophetic degree of accuracy. Throughout the book, 4GW theory is defined, described, and refined as events in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places demonstrate the theory’s utility in making sense of current events and predicting future ones. The inevitable failure of the New Iraqi Army and the US-installed al-Maliki government is explained years in advance, as is the rise of the Islamic State and other 4th Generation forces presently battling for power in post-occupation Iraq.

Lind also makes an ominous, but compelling case for the gradual spread of 4th Generation chaos and the decline of the state throughout the world, including in the United States of America. In one of the key passages of the book, Lind writes: “4th Generation war is the greatest change since the Peace of Westphalia, because it marks the end of the state’s monopoly on war. All over the world, state militaries are fighting non-state opponents, and almost always, the state is losing.”

William S. Lind is one of the most significant and influential military theorists on the planet. The author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook and a founder of 4th Generation War theory, Mr. Lind is known and respected by military personnel around the world.

On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009 is narrated by Bob Allen and is 26 hours and 42 minutes long.

The Mouser did not find his watch a pleasant one. In place of his former trust in this rocky nook, he now scented danger in every direction and peered as often at the steamy pit as at the black entrance beyond the glowing coals, entertaining himself with vivid visions of a cooked priest somehow writhing his way up. Meanwhile the more logical part of his mind dwelled on an unpleasantly consistent theory that the hot inner layer of Nehwon was indeed jealous of man and that the green hill was one of those spots where inner Nehwon was seeking to escape its rocky jacket and form itself into all-conquering man-shaped giants of living stone. The black Kleshite priests would be Nehwon-worshippers eager for the destruction of all other men. And the diamond eye, far from being a bit of valuable and harmless loot, was somehow alive and seeking to enchant Fafhrd with its glittering gaze, and lead him to an obscure doom.

Leiber, Fritz. “The Seven Black Priests”, Swords Against Death (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Book 2) 

Shortly after the skatefish of sunken Simorgya supped on Lavas Laerk and his Northmen crew, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser trek through the snowy wastes even further north than the Cold Waste. They encounter a tropical priest who tries to kill them. After dispatching the speed bump, they find a green oasis in the snowy desert, six more black priests, and a diamond eye in a cliff face that ensorcels Fafhrd…

The seven priests ambush one at a time, and although they used jungle weapons such as blowgun darts, I never thought of their furs and hats as something as primitive as Fafhrd’s barbarian kin, but something more Cossack in nature.

With the exception of “The Circle Curse”, the Nehwon stories prior to “The Seven Black Priests” all originally appear in John Campbell’s Unknown, at the end of the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction. And although Campbell was trying to turn fantasy into something less Gothic and gloomy, Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales were originally pitched to Weird Tales. These early tales, despite appearing in Unknown, reflect the mood and setting of the traditional sword and sorcery pioneered by The Unique Magazine. “The Seven Black Priests,” however, was written at the end of the Campbelline Era, appearing in Other Worlds Science Stories. The change in storytelling in the ten year gap between Unknown and Other Worlds shows the signs of Campbell’s influence. “The Seven Black Priests” is less moody, more humorous, and less personal than the Weird Tales-inspired stories in this volume. The seven black priests meet their fate, one by one, in almost a slapstick manner, never posing a greater threat than a speed bump to Fafhrd and the Mouser. These priests were just doing their jobs protecting the world from the diamond eye. As such, there was no personal malice towards Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, as there was with Lavas Laerk and Lord Rannarsh in the previous stories of Swords Against Death. As the Campbelline influence gave way, some of the missing moodiness and personal stakes will return in future stories. Perhaps this might be due to Leiber’s later friendship with Michael Moorcock.

The core formula, however, remains unchanged. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are out on a different adventure when they get swept up into something grander. In this case, a chance encounter as they trek across the frozen wastes entangles them with a shrine protecting the bones and magma blood of the earth. Whether it is “just” a titanic earth elemental or the world itself is unclear. Not that it matters, as whatever power that warms the green oasis is powerful enough to charm Fafhrd (again). The Mouser saves Fafhrd from the enchantment and the monster causing it, and the two adventurers walk away with less than what they had before their adventure. They contemplate a brief moment of sobriety, and then it’s off to the next adrenaline rush. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and Fafhrd and the Mouser still delivers fun.

The eighth book in the best-selling Lost Starship series by Vaughn Heppner.

Star Watch defeated the Swarm Invasion Fleet, but at a terrible cost in destroyed star systems, smashed battleships and billions of dead. In the aftermath of the costly victory, chaos threatens as worlds leave the Commonwealth of Planets, face mass starvation or succumb to increased piracy.

The war against the Swarm Imperium has just begun. Humanity needs unity or each planet will fall alone.

Brigadier O’Hara of Star Watch Intelligence stumbles onto a secret conspiracy. Someone is trying to destroy the Commonwealth from within, and they have an alien artifact of incredible power.

O’Hara summons Captain Maddox. Although she fears to lose him, she knows that Maddox and his crew have the best chance of finding the hidden enemy. If the captain fails, the Commonwealth will be powerless to stop its destruction. What O’Hara doesn’t know—it would probably break her heart if she did—is that she has just sent Maddox into the most harrowing battle of his career.

In Mage Tome, Rod Walker turns his pen towards fantasy with the first of a series of adventures featuring master thief Rowan of Kalderon. While his The Thousand Worlds series follows in the footsteps of Heinlein’s juveniles, here Walker casts an eye towards the thieves of sword and sorcery pulps and dungeon crawl games for inspiration. Mage Tome thrusts a dying elf woman at Rowan, who now must guard a magical book sought after by a necromancer, a state wizard, and a lich. All Rowan has to master these challenges are his wits, his cunning, and his boldness.

But sometimes that is not enough.

Rowan is an amiable enough thief, at home among the high and low classes, competent with a blade, and educated enough to speak several non-human languages, including orcish and goblinese. He is proud of his status as a master thief, even as he grows a little too old for the more demanding heists. A charming storyteller, Rowan’s tales are the “good parts” version, lacking digression and diversion from the caper in hand, always with an eye towards the goal. Don’t expect detailed descriptions of heist plans or fiddling with locks here; Rowan is too busy lying his way to victory to tarry over describing devices. Speaking of lies, it is not uncommon for a master thief to boast of his success with the ladies, but Rowan’s bragging verges on the unbelievable at times. Unlike with his lockpicking skills, there’s a lot of tell and not much show concerning his ease with the fairer sex. But then, who expects a thief to be a reliable narrator?

Rowan’s capers reflect those of a gentleman thief. Don’t be mistaken; Rowan knows his way with the rakes and picks as well as with a sword, but his greatest strength is his wit and sincerity. His often improvised schemes rely on convincing multiple parties to act as he wishes. In Mage Tome, the quickest way to remove a person in Rowan’s way is to send them on a collision course with another party. Rowan’s success depends on managing a delicate balance between factions while lying to each to bring them to a final confrontation. So far, Rowan has managed to avoid catastrophe, but Walker throws in enough secrets and unknowns to keep Rowan scrambling for control of his circumstances, often with twists worthy of Lester Dent’s Master Plot. This approach differentiates Rowan’s adventures from the eerie dungeon crawls of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as well as the grand heists—and the wanton cruelty—of Locke Lamora. Read More

In the 1940s, Edmond Hamilton earned the title of “World Wrecker” for his galaxy-smashing space operas. Now, seventy years later, John C. Wright sets out to inherit Hamilton’s coveted mantle with the masterpiece of pulp madness, SUPERLUMINARY: The Lords of Creation. And to whet the appetite for this ambitious spectacle of science, fantasy, and adventure, Castalia House offers this excerpt from the first chapter.

Aeneas Tell of House of Tell, the youngest of the Lords of Creation, was twenty-one when he was assassinated for the first time.

His secondary brain came awake while his primary brain was still foggy with strange dreams. Alert to danger, the secondary brain stopped the nerve pulses from the primary brain which otherwise would have let him groan and open his eyes, which would have precipitated the nervous killer’s attack.

But his primary brain had been in the delta brainwave stage of sleep, a deep and dreamless slumber. There was no sound, no light, no disturbance. What had broken his sleep? A memory, like an echo, of terrible multiple toothaches left a metallic taste in his mouth.

He had been dreaming about his insane grandfather, the Emperor. The old man had been telling him about the secrets of the universe… then a stinging pain in his teeth had jarred him awake. But how could Aeneas remember a dream when he had not been in the desynchronous brainwave state in which dreaming was possible?

Aeneas, eyes still closed, not daring to move, increased the firing rate of his auditory nerves. He was laying on the nongravity cushion of his opulent four-poster bed. The neverending whisper of the high-altitude winds of Mount Everest beyond the bubble of weather-controlled air was now loud to him.

On these upper peaks his family had erected the proud imperial palace-city of Ultrapolis, whose towers and domes were impregnable behind concentric force-shells and thought-screens. None of the artificial or bio-modified races of the nine worlds, fifty worldlets, and one hundred eighty moons of the Solar System could bring any realistic threat to bear on these defenses, not while the twelve ranking members of the House of Tell, the so-called Lords of Creation, retained control of the stratonic supertechnology known only to them.

But betrayal from within was another matter. Read More

Hat tip (and maybe eventual blame) to commentator Terry from my Avalon Hill Battle of Waterloo post.  He recommend La Bataille de la Moscowa and I recently bought three Clash of Arms games from the same series: La Bataille de les Quatre Bras, La Bataille de Ligney and La Bataille de Mont Saint Jean, which is the expansion for Ligny and Quatre Bras.

The price was right but I hesitated as these games require a significant investment in time and finding an opponent will be problematic. A look at the maps and the ability to link all three games into a massive Waterloo campaign gave me no choice but to buy and start diving into the rules. This game was first published in 1991 so one day I hope to follow up and let you know if this game system has stood the test of time. A 2013 edition of Quatre Bras is available and I may investigate that later.

The Clash of Arms team were Napoleonic wargame fanatics. Check out this link to see they have most of the major battles of the period covered and have been producing these games since the 70’s.

Currently, I’m slogging through the Quatre Bras rules, divided into the Standard Rules (27 pages with an additional 8 pages providing examples of play) to be followed by the Exclusive Rules of almost 3 pages which refines the differences between the different nationalities (e.g. French horse batteries limber on a roll (1D6) of 2-6 as opposed to horse batteries of the King’s German Legion who can limber after rolling a 3-6 or the less proficient Brunswick Horse battery which required a roll of 4-6) and terrain modifiers. The scale of the games and complexity of the rules are mitigated by a rule governing regular movement (Manoeuvre Exploiter) under the title: Errors in Judgement.  Each player only gets 10 minutes, then must stop moving his units and the rule book suggests use of “…a chess clock, stop watch or egg timer”.

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Image result for fullmetal alchemist live action

On the bottom – Hughes, Winry, Ed, Mustang, and Hawkeye

I’m going to start by telling you why I’m not reviewing “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”. I absolutely loved it, as I said previously, so why not?

Honestly…I can’t. It’s impossible for me to review.

I love it too much.

There are certain books, movies, and shows that I love so much, was so swept up in when I first experienced them, that I quite simply cannot give an objective review. “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is one of those shows. How useful is a review that goes “You should watch this show because every aspect of it is pretty much perfect?” I loved all of it…every last second, down to the final frame of the final episode. Every plot twist, every character, I loved. The dialogue. The animation. The dub cast. I loved it all!

So I occasionally will see people nitpicking it with what are probably legitimate criticisms…any my response is to just kind of shrug. There are, I am sure, legitimate critiques of the show that I can’t be objective enough to judge because I was too caught up in the story to NOTICE, and that if I rewatch it I am STILL too caught up to notice. I should know – I just rewatched it with someone else. The show is that good.

So that’s why this isn’t a review of FMAB but instead of the live action movie, which dropped onto Netflix Monday.

THIS I can review. My thoughts: Read More

Jack Dashing returns in the sequel to 2017’s tale of an alternate-earth, Adventure Constant.

In just a few short weeks, the Planetary Romantic travels to a world not entirely unlike our own. A curious twist of fate strands him in a nightmarish version of New York City…or perhaps that should be a more nightmarish version of New York City. Pursued by wild beasts and sinister agents, Jack once again finds himself in a race to find the one man that can send him to his own version of home. But once Jack finds him, the brilliant Dr. Abduraxus reveals that the multi-verse doesn’t work quite the way anyone thought. And can this Jack even recognize his one true love, let alone win her heart? Find out in Adventure Rising.

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Praise for the adventures of Jack Dashing:

“This book is outstanding, unbelievable fun, and feels like an older book, but one that is a slight bit self aware.” –The Injustice Gamer

“But this book is more about action and adventure and the panoramic setting of Mollison’s parallel Earth… The world’s history resembles our own just enough to be vaguely familiar, but as if it had been conceived by a Martian counterpart of Edgar Rice Burroughs creating a setting for tales of exotic derring-do on the Blue Planet.  ADVENTURE CONSTANT only begins to sample the possibilities of this world, and while it wraps up the story by the book’s end, it still leaves enough characters with mysteries unrevealed that I’m eager for a sequel.”–Justin Tarquin

Don’t miss out on the first adventure of Jack Dashing, the Planetary Romantic:

One assassination may be an accident. Two assassinations is enemy action.

Aeneas Tell of the House of Tell is one of the youngest Lords of Creation. His family rules the Nine Worlds through its control of the ultra-advanced technology that has permitted the colonization of the entire solar System. More gods than men, the Lords of Creation have cheated Death itself.

But even a quasi-immortal god will take exception to being assassinated. Twice. Especially when the assassin turns out to be a someone he thought was a friend.

SUPERLUMINARY is the latest and most outrageous creation of science fiction grandmaster John C. Wright, the Dragon-award winning author of THE UNWITHERING REALM, THE GOLDEN AGE, MOTH & COBWEB, and AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND. THE LORDS OF CREATION is the first book in the series.

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“One part action, one part intrigue, and one part cosmic horror, this story captures the attention and holds it from the first pages to the last. I once read a description of over-the-top action as: “It’s not enough that the hero must expertly pilot his aircraft in a desperate escape from pursuing fighters. No, he must do so while conducting a fistfight with the enemy agent who has slipped on board and assaulted him. And then something in the cargo compartment bursts into flame.” This story is like that, only with super-science, family politics, and Eldritch Things from Beyond the Stars.”–Amazon Reader Review

The face of madness.

Blame Netflix. Oh, sure, I’ve had vast numbers of people DEMAND that I review this cinematic catastrophe, but since I wasn’t ever going to spend any money on seeing it, I could plausibly wave off. “Nope, sorry. I’m too busy, it’s too expensive, and my astrologer says ‘no can do’.” Then Netflix went and put it up on their streaming service, apparently paying Sony money for the privilege (WHY FOR THE LOVE OF PETE WHY?), and all my excuses evaporated.

I had to watch it. And a little part of me died inside, just knowing that.

So I watched it. And now I must review it.


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