In an Empire beset by internal rebellion and ferocious yaomo, the elite Shenwujun stand ready to defend human civilization. Among the Shenwujun there is none finer than Ensign Zhang Tianyou, who earned the nickname Zhang the Invincible. During a mission to quash a nascent rebellion, a Shenwujun detachment discovers evidence that the Grand Union is supporting the rebels. Zhang is tasked to investigate and destroy this new threat.

But will Zhang the Invincible meet his match at the hands of the rebel called Han the Demon Sword?

With this summary, Kit Sun Cheah (an alias of Castalia House author Kai Wai Cheah) introduced Invincible, his serialized novella that won an Honorable Mention at the Q1 2017 Writers of the Future contest. Through its seven chapters, he brings the fantasy genre of xianxia to English-speaking audiences, mixing generous portions of pulp action and military fantasy into the Chinese setting.

Most xianxia fantasies feature magicians who cultivate their internal energy to perform a dazzling array of magical and martial feats as they ascend a near infinite ladder of power levels, most far beyond the reaches of mere mortal cultivators. The primary drive for these characters is to gain more power, through such means as making contracts with magical beings, raiding treasure houses, or clashing with bandits and rivals. This leads to proud and selfish protagonists taking what they want because no one can stop them. Invincible‘s Zhang uses some of the same techniques, as he draws on the purifying methods of cultivation to remove fatigue, enjoys the blessings of his contract with the celestial phoenix Hong Er, and has earned his reputation as a skilled magical warrior on the battlefield. But Cheah upends the usual wish-fulfillment fantasies of xianxia by placing Zhang under military discipline. Duty, not power, becomes the driving force for Zhang, who must fulfill the duties to his country, his regiment, and his celestial partner as he pursues monsters and men who might as well be monsters. For each duty may grant privileges, but also demand obligations in turn. And, as Zhang finds out, sometimes these obligations conflict with each other. Read More

I never read the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. The movies were good but I didn’t read the books until early this year. And after reading them all I wish was still a kid.

Okay, a lot of people know the story so I’ll make it quick. It’s World War 2, the Nazi Germans are bombing Britain, and bunch of kids take refuge in the countryside. One of the kids goes inside a wardrobe and finds a portal to another world called Narnia, a world of mythical creatures, talking animals, magic and Christian symbolism. The sequels continue the children’s adventures alongside their friends, relatives and some schmuck and his talking horse.

“So what exactly is so great about these books,” I asked myself while reading. I think it’s because one, it’s a fantasy. Not the popular Tolkien fantasy of elves, dragons, wizards and dark lords, it’s a fantasy that explores the imagination and the unknown – specifically the fantasy that amazes a child: magic, Greek mythology, talking animals and colorful worlds. All of it is in the Chronicles of Narnia and they bring a great scent of childish charm and innocence to them and I think that’s why the books are great for kids. Second is how surprisingly mature the Chronicles are. It’s not just the symbolism, there are some strong themes of responsibility, redemption, loss and some pretty dark moments. Narnia does a good job at making a bridge between kids and adults.

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The latest issue of Astounding Frontiers is here! Check it out and you’ll find an all new retrospective by yours truly. If you got to the end of Appendix N and just wanted more, then this (along with Cirsova issues 1 and 3) is the place to go!

One of the things I did as I worked my way through Appendix N was scour the internet for any and every review or blog post about the books I was opining on. I used this as a “check” on my work. Sometimes I would find confirmation for my speculations. Sometimes I would find out about things I missed. And sometimes I’d find out that I was the only person saying something that had until then seemed completely self-evident to me.

Now that I’ve covered the first issue of Planet Stories for Astounding Frontiers, I can now do something similar: compare my assessment to the original science fiction fandom of 1940! Let’s see what they had to say:

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Fear ripples through human galactic society in the third volume of Peter Bostrom’s The Last War series.

Another ship travels from humanity’s bleak future, targets a populated planet … and lays it waste in a fiery apocalypse. Nothing survives, and the ship disappears. In the midst of the recovery, Admiral Jack Mattis finds more questions than answers as he tracks down the dreadfully powerful enemy ship.

But the most pressing question: why are these mutated humans from the future relentlessly attacking us? What do they want? And at what cost?

And are these the same creatures created by the genetic research corporation exposed by Mattis on the planet Chrysalis?

The answers lie at the root of a deep conspiracy that goes beyond governments, beyond corporations. A conspiracy that will stop at nothing to succeed, and achieve ultimate power over humanity.

And as the deadly ship prepares for its final catastrophic strike, Admiral Jack Mattis and the crew of the Midway are the last defense between us, and our last dawn.

*     *     *      *      *

Reader Praise for The Last War series:

“From beginning to end this novel is a thriller with mature, well written characters engaged in complicated and bloody conflict.”

“This is a fun read for anyone who loves space battles. Nice background political mystery.”

“Cold War intrigues, politics, aliens, and almost non-stop action! It doesn’t get much better than this!”

*     *     *      *      *

Follow Admiral Mattis’s adventures with the first two volumes of The Last War series:


This is genuinely exciting. It means that Chuck Dixon, the author of the Alt★Hero series Avalon, will be constructing a detailed city map of Avalon in cooperation with a highly skilled cartographer, bringing the fictional city to life in more ways than one. Later today, we will add a reward with various poster options, one of which is a full-color city map of Avalon. If you haven’t done so yet, you can join the campaign here.

And in case you’re interested, this is a concept illustration of one of our new heroes, Ryu no Seishin, also known as Spirit of the Dragon. She is another of our backer-designed heroes, and was designed by the very woman who will be cosplaying her.

E. E. Doc Smith’s Galactic Patrol opens up with a tremendous brain dump. But what a brain dump! If you want to know what science fiction was like before it became ashamed of the superlative, this is it. Note the nature of this patrol and how it differs from practically every science fiction series since:

“You know that every year one million eighteen-year-old boys of Earth are chosen as cadets by competitive examinations. You know that during the first year, before any of them see Wentworth Hall, that number shrinks to less than fifty thousand. You know that by Graduation Day there are only approximately one hundred left in the class. Now I am allowed to tell you that you graduates are those who have come with flying colors through the most fiendishly thorough process of elimination that it has been possible to develop.

And I guess that’s not such a crazy premise. It was notoriously difficult to make it through the military training in Starship Troopers. Star Trek: The Next Generation has a crew that’s supposed to be the best and the brightest. When I first read this, I didn’t even notice that the Patrol is unabashedly an all-male institution, but yes… that’s something you just don’t see anymore. Original Star Trek’s first pilot famously had a female first officer, of course. More recently, the Netflix original anime series depicts an old lady as the admiral of an entire space navy. Between those two series, there have been an uncountably infinite number of Honor Harrington books that have repeatedly hammered home the point that space navies are chock full of women.

In 1937, that wasn’t an inevitable thing yet.

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Image result for harry potter and the sorcerer's stone

The Mary GrandPre covers are deserved classics

With Harry Potter having so saturated popular culture, to the point where it has become the main cultural touchstone among millennials, I’ve heard some people wonder this. They’re good books with some great moments, but heavily flawed. So why them? What did Harry Potter tap into? How did it turn into the juggernaut that it did?

Truthfully, I can’t really answer that. I can only tell you what happened with me.

I was – stop me if you’ve heard this one – a voracious reader when I was younger, except everything I read was crap. I read and enjoyed “The Chronicles of Narnia”, but it was only in later years that I was able to grasp the astonishing philosophical and theological depth of the books, and never fully appreciated them. “A Wrinkle in Time” was a rare exception, Otherwise, for people my age…well, there wasn’t much. Captain Underpants? Are you kidding me? Read More

It’s Halloween, which means it’s the season for unpopular opinions: The Ghost in the Shell live action was better than the anime.

(Yeah, I said it. COME AT ME, BRO!)

I saw GitS way back in 1996, shortly after it was released in the States (remember Blockbuster?), and again Saturday, for this post. My reaction, both times, was that it had some cool action scenes, but was overly talky in way too many places. Spectacular animation, terrible pacing. The plot was opaque, and the ending… murky to say the least. (Basically no real resolution to the central conflict, and no answer to the one question the audience most wanted answered: Did they merge?)

The 2017 live action version, starring Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi, was faster paced and had different, and shorter, talky bits. The CGI and cinematography were gorgeous and the action nicely choreographed and shot. More, the plot was far more comprehensible and had a definite (and satisfying) climax. In most ways, it was simply a better movie.

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Pulp Revolution (Jon Mollison) Energizing Inspiration — “The constant string of successful ventures and growing army of content producers on the side of truth, justice, and the American way provides real sustenance and inspiration to those of us who enjoy laboring in the trenches. Watching guys like Jon del Arroz and Brian Niemeier and Nick Cole and so many others hit great selling home run after home run serves as a constant reminder that a vastly underserved market exists and that the self-proclaimed arbiters of quality and decency are paper tigers.”

Pulp Revolution (Grandmother’s Floor) Thank You, A Hundred Times Over — “I will tell stories of regular folks, men or women, in extraordinary situations. I will tell them in the style of either books, comics, and movies, from the eighties and nineties, because for me, that is when story telling was at it’s best. I will not be one of these authors who does not appreciate his own audience, because I would not be in such a position without you. I will not be one of these authors who bitches that he cannot write because of a current political climate etc, because quite frankly, that is just stupid. I want to be an author who entertains people, to hopefully one day to earn a reputation that has readers looking forward to my next release. The coming days, weeks, months, and years, will see how that goes.”

Pulp Revolution (Kairos) Resistance Is Nonexistent — “It’s up to us to help each other sharpen our skills, strengthen our brands, and build audiences. The #PulpRev and the Superversive literary movements are good examples of fledgling mutual support networks of allied artists. With or without support, continuing to create original, entertaining content is indispensable to salvaging something of Western culture”

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A number of people have asked for a way to buy Alt★Hero Novel #2, so we have created two new ways to do so as part of the Alt★Hero campaign. We have also found two of the three cosplay models for the promised photo shoot.

Novel Ebook #2
This is to receive a copy of Alt★Hero novel #2, by Vox Day and Jon Del Arroz, in DRM-free EPUB and MOBI formats.

Add-On: Digital Starter Kit
This is to receive the nine volumes of comics, the two ebooks, the cosplay photos, and, if the Stretch Goal is achieved, the city map of Avalon, all in digital format.

We have also added a new stretch goal which promises to be very cool. I have already selected the cartographer and he is excellent. My objective is to provide a beautiful map that will be more detailed than any of the maps of Gotham that are out there, in order to create a world that feels more real than anything in the DC or Marvel universes.

Map of Avalon
Castalia House will produce a detailed map of Avalon, the fictional city central to the Alt★Hero universe. The map will be created by Chuck Dixon in cooperation with an accomplished cartographer.

So an Emissary of the Last Tribe of Man has left Yamtown taking 15 pure strain humans with him. He’s promised to send back 15 pallets of Venusian delicacies. Meanwhile a group of very angry Badders have declared that they will be back soon in order to demand tribute again– and if Yamtown doesn’t pay up, it will be burned to the ground!

Now… I had a very loose plot in mind when I set up the few situations I had dropped into the game at the start. The players have (graciously) departed from it at every turn. But this session managed to absolutely smash whatever it was that I had in mind.

The players talked everything over and decided they would send Sonic (played by Rawle Nyanzi) to go make sure that everything was okay with Gordo (ie, Jon Mollison) and the rest of their folks that were going to be reunited with the remnants of pre-blowup civilization. Maybe they could score some equipment or something that would help them against the Badders.

Using his Increased Speed, he zipped across the desert twice as fast as the party would. He blitzed through a group of burrowing sand creatures, avoiding provoking them. But he could not find the place were Zed was going. Looking around, he did see a reflection in the distance which turned out to be a group of buildings sticking up out of the sand along with some sort of Space Needle looking building. It was surrounded by a wall patrolled by silvery colored figures.

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Virgil Finlay (1914-1971) was one of the first artists of sword and sorcery fiction. Hugh Rankin and Vincent Napoli are almost the only ones who proceed Finlay in the genre.

Finlay started in the pages of Weird Tales in 1935. He illustrated Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. Finlay illustrated early sword and sorcery for Clifford Ball and Henry Kuttner.

He produced illustrations for A. Merritt’s “The Dwellers in the Mirage” for Fantastic Novels (1941). Finlay did a stint in the U.S. Army in the engineers serving in the Pacific in WWII.

Virgil Finlay produced covers and interior illustrations for pulp magazines and digest magazines after WW2 up through the 1960s. His career appeared to peter out some in the early 60s. Robert Lowndes re-used a lot of his interior art for pulp magazines for cover art for Magazine of Horror and Startling Mystery Stories in the 1960s. Read More