Fantasy Fiction (Forbes): The fantasy genre has exploded in recent years with the popularity of hit series like Harry Potter and A Song Of Ice And FireFantasy first hit its stride in popular culture with old, pulp sword-and-sorcery stories like Conan the Barbarian and sword-and-planet fare like The Princess Of Mars.

Later, J.R.R. Tolkien sparked the modern era of fantasy fiction with The Hobbitand The Lord Of The Ringswhich in turn inspired countless other authors to pen myriad tales of magic and adventure, and even led to the advent of Dungeons & Dragons and hundreds of other tabletop games.

 

Pop-Culture (Brain Leakage): I just wonder if before he asked it, he’d heard the news that scriptwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge is shaking up the iconic—and inarguably masculine—James Bond franchise by replacing 007 with a new female agent.

Quoting the article:

Bond, of course, is sexually attracted to the new female 007 and tries his usual seduction tricks, but is baffled when they don’t work on a brilliant, young black woman who basically rolls her eyes at him and has no interest in jumping into his bed. Well, certainly not at the beginning.”

 

Anime (Walker’s Retreat): While Kyoto Animation didn’t produce much anime that’s in my wheelhouse–just Full Metal Panic–that doesn’t mean they haven’t put out good work, either in the past or present. (e.g. Violet Evergarden) Neither does it diminish the people who worked there or the respect for the work done. Now, because one man decided to torch the building they were in, 34 people are dead and–as quoted above–all of it is gone. Read More

The sword and sorcery genre has not been well served on film. Some movies get close at times but all too often you get low budget, bad script, bad acting fare to end up on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

One movie that is a guilty pleasure for some is The Sword and the Sorcerer from 1982. It was part of the brief flurry of sword and sorcery movies that started with Hawk the Slayer in 1980 and pretty much died with Red Sonja in 1985.

About a year ago, the novelization for the movie was a topic on a social media sword and sorcery group. I know I have seen my share of copies of the books in the past. A search of local used book stories turned up nothing. A friend of mine in England sent me over the Sphere paperback version. I have to say the novel was a fun romp!

The Sword and the Sorcerer was not an over ambitious movie. It used T.V. actors including Lee Horsley, Richard Lynch, Richard Moll (Bull on Night Court). Marshall Harvey’s Trailers from Hell said the producer who distributed soft-core Euro-trash flicks wanted a hard R movie. Hence lots of gratuitous nudity. It was the most profitable independent movie of 1982. Read More

Dungeon core factories, ghost machines, and vampire councils feature in this week’s fantasy new releases.


The Depth of Deceit (Elder Stones #5) – D. K. Holmberg

With the threat of another attack, Haern must use his new abilities to make a dangerous gambit. Doing so requires he trust someone who has betrayed him once before, and count on others who still don’t fully understand the nature of their abilities. If they succeed, they might finally be able to stop Olander Fahr before he manages to acquire another of the Elder Stones.

Daniel struggles to understand his connection to the shadows along with what it means that he can sit at the Council of Elders. When a new threat appears, his unique understanding of the shadows might be the key to survival.

Lucy continues her search to discover the longer game. With the Architect now imprisoned, she has access to someone who can guide her to where Olander Fahr might attack next, but they remain a step behind. A growing fear that someone has deceived her leads her in a new direction, but it’s one that will require her to make a dangerous choice.

Isolated within the city of Lexa, Ryn must continue to serve the Great One, but a new challenge to her authority forces her to look for power in a different way.

Plans unfold, but for the first time, all begin to wonder if the one behind them is different than who they had believed. And if not Olander Fahr, who is the real threat?


Factory Core – Jared Mandani

Who could have predicted that a simple mining mission would end up jeopardizing the entire known world?

When a couple of dwarves keep pushing deeper and deeper into the earth to find new veins of mithril to extract, what they unearth, however, is the doom of their race. Bursting out of the breach they created is a horde of powerful demons that only know one thing: to destroy.

Fast-forward a few months and the war rages on. Unfortunately for them, despite their bravery, the dwarves are no match for the sheer numbers and ferocity of their adversary.

In a last-hope attempt to save their kind, they decide to activate a secret project their engineers had been working on: a mobile factory made of bricks, brass, magical runes and soul gems. That sentient machine is not only capable of observing and learning from its foes, it can also produce the required weapons necessary to strike back.

This Factory Core—as they call it—will need to build units and defensive mechanisms to repel the demon army and prevent it from razing the city. But this will prove to be an almost impossible task as the invaders, led by a vicious commander, have more than one trick up their own sleeve…


The Forging of Dawn – Jacob Peppers

No armies march. No generals marshal their troops on some distant battlefield. Yet the people of Entarna are at war.

And they are losing.

The nightwalkers have returned, creatures that roam the darkness searching for anyone foolish or unfortunate enough to find themselves without light to protect them. And the people of Entarna carry lanterns and torches, wielding them as shields against the night’s creatures.

But sooner or later all lights fade. All flames go out.

Torrik and his wife were once soldiers in the war against the Dark. But when their son Alesh was born, they left that life behind them in the hopes of keeping him safe. But Alesh is no normal child, and Torrik will be forced to learn a hard truth.

Mortals plan. Mortals hope. And the gods laugh.

Finding themselves in the center of a conspiracy threatening the entire realm, Torrik and his wife must try to become the people they once were, people they’d thought they’d left behind long ago.

For when all lights go out…darkness reigns. Read More

It’s not often you come across a novel for which the descriptive tags “gonzo” and “hard sci-fi” equally apply.  Travis J. I. Corcoran’s Powers of the Earth somehow manages the feat in his tale of a rebel moon’s bid for independence.  The results are a hot, glorious mess that never stops throwing new wrenches into the machinery of the plot, and yet somehow never manages to lose its focus on the main thrust of the action.  Most readers liken Powers of the Earth to Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and that’s certainly appropriate, but for audacity and scope and breadth of subjects hammered between the covers, I found myself reminded of David Brin’s Earth: A Novel.

With that admittedly clickbait-ish introductory paragraph out of the way, we need to walk back both descriptive terms just a bit.  While it’s true that Powers of the Earth can be described as hard science-fiction, it violates the rule of thumb that dictates a limit of one unexplained bit of magic-tech.  In addition to the vague anti-gravity device that allows travel between the earth and her rebel moon, the book also includes fully sentient AI (or AIs, depending on how you count it), uplifted dogs, and a fully functioning and generally healthy anarcho-capitalistic economy.  That much handwavium strains the definition of hard sci-fi, but Corcoran juggles it all without losing the feel of a hard sci-fi story by clearly stating the rules and limitations of each piece of magic-tech up front and sticking to it.  With that much going on in the tech front, one could still object to the term gonzo – except that Corcoran also doesn’t shy away from the kitchen-sink attitude when it comes to point-of-view characters or political viewpoints.

Read More

Lit-Crit/Culture Wars (Brain Leakage): They always featured their alpha male heroes in exotic locations, getting into fist fights, knife fights, and gun fights. The women were always fast and dangerous. The bad guys were always powerful and ruthless. The covers usually depicted some hard case with a gun, striking a tough guy pose with a scantily clad woman nearby. Maybe she had a gun of her own, watching his six. Maybe she was just clutched onto the hero, begging his protection. Politically incorrect? Maybe. But so what?

 

Magazines (Goodman Games): Tales From the Magician’s Skull is a printed fantasy magazine dedicated to presenting all-new sword-and-sorcery fiction by the finest modern crafters in the genre. These stories are the real thing, crammed with sword-swinging action, dark sorceries, dread, and ferocious monsters — and they hurtle forward at a headlong pace.  Last year, we published issues #1 and #2 to great acclaim. The stories were well-received, and the fans demanded – more! MORE! We hear you, fans, and the Skull is prepared to grant your desire!

This Kickstarter launches issues #3 and #4, as well as subscriptions to future issues!

 

Robert E. Howard (Black Gate): I have been mulling this problem for a while now, and of course, I had the answer all along: “Queen of the Black Coast” is the best Conan tale to read if you have never read any before. In other words, it is the perfect story to discover the character, the Hyborian setting, and of course Howard’s talent.

One of the numerous problems that have plagued the perception of the Cimmerian by the general public is this idea that the tales represent as many steps in Conan’s so-called “biography,” though nothing in the series supports that notion. Read More

One of the stalwarts of the men’s adventure paperback genre from the 1960s through the early 1990s was Lou Cameron. Cameron (1924-2010) started out as an artist. For whatever reason, he turned to writing cranking out dozens of paperbacks in genres including westerns, crime/detective, and war. He won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for his novel The Spirit Horses.

The First Blood is my first Cameron novel. Magnum Books 1971, 160 pages. Set in December 1942 in North Africa, the Tall General sends a platoon of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne on a suicide mission. Their job is to take a fortress held by the French Foreign Legion with allegiance to Vichy before the Germans can get there.

Cameron has an ADHD writing style that moves along to say the least. Things go wrong when the platoon is dropped right on top of an Italian motorized battalion. A few do manage to fight their way out.

Action does not stop with getting the French to come over to the Allies. The leader, Lt. Sean Fitzgerald is a psychopath hopped up on speedballs. Read More

Spend enough time reading science fiction, and readers will come across the idea of the Big Three of classic science fiction. Always a controversial selection, as the list of worthy grandmasters of the genre exceeds the places available in any Big Three, the current consensus is that Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein represent the Big Three of science fiction. Except for those who prefer the acrostic list of Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Clarke as the ABCs of science fiction. In either form, the Big Three are held up as the leading lights of the past era, referred to as the Golden Age or the Campbelline Age. But this view is from the safety of fifty years’ reflection. Did the readers of the Golden Age share this modern conceit?

First, let’s narrow down what is meant by the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Depending on the critic or the fan, this could be as short as from 1939 to 1943 or as long as from 1939 to the early 1970s. And this vast range is further compounded by the fact that many of the same authors and editors who opened the age were still active at the close. John W. Campbell, who opened the Golden Age as the editor of Astounding Magazine with A. E. van Vogt’s “Black Destroyer”, continued to edit Astounding until his death in 1971. Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein, who wrote highly-regarded short stories in the 1940s, released just-as-influential novels and collections in the 1960s and beyond, even into the 2010s in the case of Bradbury’s A Pleasure to Burn. However, lost in the glow of longevity are the turbulent 1950s, when science fiction was yet too small for writers to specialize in the genre, and many of the cherished writers of the 1940s left science fiction for Hollywood and other, more lucrative writing pursuits. Even Asimov seemingly left science fiction in the mid-1950s, only to return with 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, when the market could finally  support dedicated science fiction writers. Therefore, for the sake of this article, the Golden Age instead will refer to the time when the first generation of Astounding writers–Henry Kuttner, van Vogt, Asimov, and Heinlein–were initially active, from 1939-1955.

Sources close to that time, such a 1959’s Fancyclopedia 2, offer different views of the term. The Big Three, as a consensus of the leading authors of the genre, starts to take a familiar shape as early as 1949. Fancylcopedia 3 describes the Big Three as:

Later, the Big Three was more likely to refer to towering figures among pros during the Golden Age. Two were indisputable: Robert A. Heinlein and A. E. van Vogt who almost defined the new SF of 1938-1948. (The third of the Big Three was usually whoever among Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke the speaker liked best.)

Like Asimov, van Vogt would take a hiatus from writing science fiction in the 1950s, with L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics claiming his imagination and fandom’s politics claiming his reputation. Although he returned in the mid 1960s, he never reclaimed his earlier place in the imagination of readers. But the earliest version of the Big Three referred not to authors but to the three highest regarded magazines of the time. This usage lasted from 1939 to shortly after 1959, and the listing of the best magazines shifted with prestige, circulation, and, most important to a readership eager to try its hand at writing, acceptance rate.

To the surprise of no one, Astounding was the permanent fixture of this Big Three. Campbell’s term as editor raised the magazine’s prestige to the point that it became the sole survivor of Street & Smith’s various pulp purges. However, from its founding, Astounding provided two important requirements not found in other science fiction pulps of the day–it paid well and, most significantly, it paid on time. Its companions included Amazing and Wonder Stories, then Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Unknown, with Unknown soon to be replaced by the “Standard Twins” of Thrilling Wonder  Stories and Startling Stories, until, in 1949, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Galaxy joined Astounding as the bedrock magazines of the 1950s. Weird Tales did not make this list for a trio of reasons: a boycott of writers when Farnsworth Wright was let go as editor, the subsequent move away from science fiction, and an noncompetitive rate per word compared to Astounding and others.

It may be that in the future, the Big Three of Science Fiction may take on another shape. However, the proliferation of science fiction titles and the fragmentation of readership into finely-graded niches might lead one to believe that the current trio of Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein might remain definitive for a good while.

Colonizing slowships, multidimensional hideaways, decaying alien empires, and a breakaway Mars feature in this week’s newest science fiction releases.


Black Phoenix – B V. Larson and Wayne Wightman

Earth’s first colony ship finally reaches the target world. The excitement of planetfall is indescribable, but quickly transforms into sick disappointment when they find the atmosphere is a roiling mass of hydrochloric acid, carbon dioxide and other deadly poisons.

They fly onward, seeking better planets. They find them, but none are ideal. The search goes on for a century, then longer still. As they move farther from Earth, aliens discover the intruding ship, and they begin to investigate humanity. They find our species unacceptable.

The years and the light-years go by without relief. The colony begins to splinter. Some accept that their voyage is eternal, while others seek to end it any way they can. The colony’s culture grows darker, and a war begins, both inside and outside the vast ship.

What lives among the stars we see at night? Can we reach out to them and survive?


The Callisto Gambit (Sol System Renegades #7)  – Felix R. Savage

Amid Earth’s all-out war against Mars, the asteroid belt spirals into chaos. Kiyoshi Yonezawa—smuggler and occasional pirate—struggles to find a new home for his people. But all his plans change when Earth’s dreaded secret police, the ISA, capture his brother Jun, a rogue AI.

Kiyoshi will stop at nothing to free his brother.

A lethal confrontation on Callisto gives Kiyoshi a temporary advantage. As the rule of law crumbles, he strikes a deal with the biggest crook in the asteroid belt.

This victory will be paid for in blood …

Running from the ISA, Kiyoshi, Elfrida Goto, John Mendoza, and their allies formulate a desperate attack on Pallas, the ISA’s secret prison asteroid. But their fight to free Jun may unleash a worse evil than any seen in the solar system before.

The PLAN is dead … long live the PLAN?!


The Fifth Column: The Solaris Initiative – J.N. Chaney and Molly Lerma

The Rebellion has begun.

Two framed soldiers turned liberators, an unhinged Vice-Admiral with mass murder on his mind, and a new rebellion.

After deserting the Sarkonian Empire and stealing one of their best stealth ships, Alyss Cortez and Farah Shahi knew it would be like this.

Always looking over their shoulder for a far-reaching enemy.

But they aren’t running or hiding.

Instead, the pair are accepting search and rescue jobs and planning to take down Vice-Admiral-Kaska, antimission by antimission.

Until their plans go completely off the rails.

When a terrorist attack takes out a train on Solaris, the rebellion rises – with Alyss and Farah deeply entrenched in its message.

It’s a long, terrible road ahead, but every victory requires sacrifice, and every war has its costs.

How far would you go to be free?

Fracture (First Colony #8) – Ken Lozito

Colonel Sean Quinn is stranded in another universe, along with two thousand people under his command. They’ve been hiding from the enemy long enough, now it’s time to return home. Outnumbered against a superior foe, Sean must risk everything in a daring operation, but the mysterious enemy has a few surprises of their own.

Meanwhile, a division threatens to tear the colony apart and Connor Gates is caught in the middle. Their best chance to prepare for a formidable multidimensional aggressor is to form an alliance with one of their victims, but the more they learn about New Earth’s inhabitants, the more resistant to an alliance the colonial government becomes.

When a shadow group seeks to undermine the alliance, Connor must do what he swore he would never do in order to protect the colony. For Connor, the stakes have never been so high or so personal. The price will be paid by everyone if he fails. Read More

Philip K. Dick (Salon): Once considered a cult figure, the science fiction author Philip K. Dick is now recognized as one of the most prescient and powerful writers of the 20th century. His work not only foreshadowed many of the technological anxieties and possibilities of our era, but shaped the sensibility of the sixties and seventies in ways that continue to mark us today. His tumultuous personal and psychic life not only fed his art, but led him to pursue a quirky mysticism that took a myriad of forms.

 

Lit-Crit (Brain Leakage): When someone says antihero, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the tough, morally grey outsider. A character like Deadpool, the Punisher, or the Man with No Name. By any reasonable metric, these aren’t people to be admired. They’re criminals, outlaws, and mercenaries. They don’t reflect the values of society. Under other circumstances, they’d be considered villains. Yet we admire them anyway. Despite their moral failings, we’re drawn to their strength and courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

 

Adventure Fiction (Hi Lo Brow): Seventy-five years ago, the following 10 adventures — selected from my Best Forties (1944–1953) Adventure list — were first serialized or published in book form. They’re my favorite adventures published that year.

Please let me know if I’ve missed any adventures from this year that you particularly admire. Enjoy! Read More

Mike Resnick is a writer with a career spanning five decades. I read The Goddess of Ganymede thirty years ago when I found it in a used book store.  I have read a few other things by him over the years – Santiago, Ivory, The Soul Eater. I enjoyed the two Ganymede sword and planet novels. He really captured the feel of Edgar Rice Burroughs in those. Ivory was somewhat depressing. The Soul Eater was a good early 1980s space opera.

I was looking through his bibliography at isfdb.org a few months back and noticed the book Adventures. I remember vaguely seeing the paperback new on the shelves in 1985. I remember the stories appearing in issues of Pulphouse in the early 1990s, or rather mentioned in descriptions of issues when used to get Bob Weinberg’s monthly catalog.

Serendipity happens. While going through the general fiction paperbacks at the library book sale last month, I spotted Mike Resnick’s Adventures. So, into the bag it went.

Adventures, October 1985, Signet Books, $2.95, 239 pages. The novel is a series of episodes featuring the anti-hero Right Reverend Dr. Lucifer Jones, an American clergyman who has fallen afoul of the law and searches for more hospitable climes in Africa right after World War 1.

The first story, “The White Goddess” has him in jail in Johannesburg where he meets up with an Irish physician. They become partners selling bogus maps to King Solomon’s Mines. When things get hot, they set inland and are surrounded by natives. Jones starts preaching hellfire and damnation to them:

“Do you want that to happen to you, you damned ignorant barbarians?”

They are led to the natives’ kraal, where a very obese white goddess is venerated. Poor Rourke is picked as her mate and Jones makes an escape.

There are a series of non-entertaining and a few mildly entertaining episodes where Jones goes from one misfortune to another. Resnick attempts to lampoon various African adventure tropes: the elephant’s graveyard, jungle lords, lost race etc.

One funny line was in Chapter 10: “The Lord of the Jungle.” An American hunter says to Jones: Read More

Time-traveling Rangers, superheroes in love, living saints, dungeon-delving samurai, and the Black Tide of the undead feature in this week’s newest fantasy and adventure releases.


Armored Heart – J. M. Anjewirden

May returned home from the Second Augment War having left parts of herself behind, emotionally and literally. An inventor at heart, she built herself cybernetic legs to regain her mobility, and then a suit of powered armor to regain a purpose in her life as the superhero Escuda.

But can she balance being a superhero with a love life?

The country’s most celebrated superhero, Steel Patriot, has moved to her town. Sure, Escuda will be able to work with him easily enough, but can May get his attention, while also dealing with a new breed of supervillain on the rise?


Chronicle of Lightning #1 – Shadows Finger

Dai Lin was a mystery from birth, arising from a bolt of blue thunder that descended into a land of the unknown. In this land, there was a distant village, one which had been ravaged by his arrival, a place known as the Windtale Village. Taken in by a small but unusual family of two, he was later raised as one of their own, but while things would seem to be fine, there were changes occurring in their world’s underside, ones that would affect not only themselves but the lives of all beings who exist within this ever so fleeting, and mysterious domain…

This is a story of passion, obsession, and unrequited love, follow along as a child journeys to find his place in a land that rejects his very existence, this is his story, this is the tale of Dai Lin…


Crusader (Saint Tommy, NYPD #5) – Declan Finn

He might be on his last crusade

Still working abroad, Detective Tommy Nolan has a hot tip that leads him to Germany. Women and children are disappearing from Catholic Bavaria. The local police have their hands tied. Tommy is the last hope for answers.

Yet again, Tommy is in over his head. What starts as a sex trafficking ring turns into a terrorist conspiracy to unleash Hell on Europe. To stop it, Tommy must fight Nazi vampires, terrorists, and a swarm of succubi who want him as their next meal. Tommy has always crusaded for justice. But now he might be on his last crusade.


Dead God’s Due (Sins of the Fathers #1) – Matthew P. Gilbert

To stop the end of the world, they must defy a god.

Yazid Valerion is alone with the truth. The apocalypse is coming. But his warnings fall on deaf ears. His people are far more concerned about the wars of today and tomorrow than those of the past.

Eons ago, the Dead God promised a world of ash, and the time of that prophecy is now at hand. His only hope is to cross the sea with his few followers in search of ancient enemies, the Meites, and pray he can sway them to his cause. But the Meites are no mere mortals; they are powerful sorcerers prone to outbursts of destructive terror. Even if he can find them, there’s no guarantee they won’t slaughter him and his men upon first sight.

Perhaps there is no way to change the prophesy of a god. If not, then Yazid will die well. For a warrior knows, it is better to die fighting than trembling in fear of the final blow. Read More

Chuck Dixon’s Avalon #4: Hit Charade

The streets of Avalon are a hard place, even for superheroes. But while King Ace’s new employers at the SPC are busy trying to track down the mysterious female vigilante who is assassinating politicians in broad daylight, Fazer’s new friends are helping him escape from the high-tech security cells meant to hold even the strongest superhumans. Fazer is more than happy to get free of his electroshock collar and out of prison, until he learns to his dismay that his new friends may be even more cruel and ruthless than the SPC.

And to make matters worse, the very worst of them appears to harbor ambitions that have led him into the lair of the most powerful gang leader in Avalon.

Chuck Dixon is the most prolific comic book writer in history. Set in the world of Alt★Hero, CHUCK DIXON’S AVALON is the legend’s newest creation. Chuck Dixon’s Avalon #4: Hit Charade is now available in CBZ and Kindle formats at Arkhaven Comics. Kindle edition also available at Amazon should you care to Look Inside.

Speaking of Alt-Hero, we are very close to shipping out the Volume 1 omnibuses that collect AH 1-6.