This week’s roundup of the newest releases in fantasy and adventure features unlikely dark lords, casteless rebels armies, a collector of magic swords, and an assassin collective waging war against the powerful.
The Dark Lord Bert – Chris Fox
How does a 1-hit-point goblin become the Dark Lord?
By accident. Bert is a tiny goblin with big dreams. He follows adventurers, and loots the copper they leave behind when they take the real loot. One day, Bert hopes, he’ll have enough copper to buy a warg, and finally promote from a 1-HP critter to a Warg Rider.
Kit is a typical gamer hoping to enjoy a good story, but her friends are more interested in rules, loot and experience. Kit’s friends Crotchshot, Brakestuff, and the White Necromancer rampage their way across the land desperately seeking the Dark Lord trope, which gives the wielder the power to reshape the world.
When Bert accidentally steals the trope, Kit is forced to make a choice. Should she help her friends, or help a new Dark Lord rise to power?
The world will never be the same. Get ready for The Dark Lord Bert.
Duel Visions – Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen
Is Death a dog or a cat? Would it be worse to be turned into a pig or a fish? After we die do we become characters in a movie, or parts for an old truck?
Weird fictioneers Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen explore the dark depths of the human psyche across ten spine-tingling tales of terror and macabre.
The haunted visions these dueling tale-tellers have conjured find all the horrors that go bump in the night and make them dance for your delight… before drawing you down into the depths to join them.
We cordially invite you to share in our Duel Visions!
Heart of the Forest – Michael DeAngelo
Kelvin has left his country behind. His mentor, the elf Icarus Callatuil, has prepared him for a journey to Draconis, where old allies will be able to better train him for the hardships he is sure to endure in his life. But when he arrives on those distant shores, he discovers that the elves of Cefen’adiel may need him as much as he needs them.
A darkness arises in the forest in southern Daltain, and Tarenda, queen of the elves, decides that a stranger to the lands such as Kelvin can better serve their purposes as an investigator.
What will Kelvin do when he must trade his training exercises for real dangers?
House of Assassins (Saga of the Forgotten Warrior #2) – Larry Correia
Ashok Vadal was once a member of the highest caste in all of Lok. As a Protector, he devoted his life to upholding the Law, rooting out those who still practiced the old ways and delivering swift justice with his ancestor blade Angruvadal. None was more merciless than he in stamping out the lingering belief in gods and demons among the casteless. His brutality was legendary and celebrated.
But soon Ashok learned that his life to that point had been a lie. He himself, senior member of the Protector Order, was casteless. He had been nothing more than an unwitting pawn in a political game. His world turned upside down and finding himself on the wrong side of the Law, he began a campaign of rebellion, war, and destruction unlike any Lok had ever seen.
Thera had been first daughter of Vane. A member of the Warrior Order, she had spent her life training for combat. Until a strange sight in the heavens appeared one day. Thera was struck by lighting and from that day forward she heard the Voice. A reluctant prophet with the power to see into the future, she fought alongside Ashok Vadal and his company of men known as the Sons of the Black Sword until a shapeshifting wizard with designs on her powers of precognition spirited her away. He holds her prisoner in the House of Assassins.
Ashok Vadal and the Sons of the Black Sword march to rescue Thera. But there is much more at risk in the continent of Lok. Strange forces are working behind the scenes. Ashok Vadal and the Sons of the Black Sword are caught up in a game they do not fully understand, with powerful forces allied against them.
Ashok no longer knows what to believe. He is beginning to think perhaps the gods really do exist.
If so, he’s warned them to stay out of his way.
They would do well to listen. Read More
Tooth or Consequences, by Robert Bloch appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.
Well, not quite an oof, even though maybe it should have been an oof.
In Tooth or Consequences, Master of Horror Robert Bloch tells the story of a struggle between a vampire and his dentist that by all rights should’ve been terrible but is dragged kicking and screaming across the threshold of “Okay, that was entertaining enough,” by his excellent writing that successfully merged humor and horror without one too badly stepping on the other.
It’s really not so bad as the name or the art would imply.
A dentist gets a new patient with deformed teeth.
The patient is a vampire.
Naturally, this freaks the dentist out.
While the vampire is visiting the hospital for dental work, he’s also stopping in on the medical supplies to swipe some blood.
The dentist tries to figure out some way to stop the vampire. The vampire’s all “Look, man, it’s not like I want to be a vampire–I’m just stealing blood from the hospital, don’t make me bite your neck.”
The dentist decides to treat him like any other patient. Kills him with a silver filling. Laugh-line. Applause.
Again, this should’ve been awful, but somehow it works. It’s also one of the shorter stories in the issue, so it helps that it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
You just can’t go wrong with Glen Cook. Best known for his “Black Company” series of novels which are widely considered the fathers of modern grimdark fantasy, Glen Cook also has produced a string of solid sci-fi works that get a lot less press. His “The Dragon Never Sleeps” presents a convoluted space opera full of betrayals, big battles, and alien oddities, while “Darkwar” starts off with a dark-age setting populated by tiger-people who are actually being groomed for space wizardry. Both of these novels are enjoyable one-off reads perfect those of us who have little interest in multi-volume epics that follow a familiar path. Cook’s “Passage at Arms” provides another example of the short but sweet aesthetic, and this time gives the reader one of the best examples of submarine warfare – but in space! – that I’ve ever encountered.
The technical aspects of the story involve a war of attrition between equally matched forces. The antagonists have a larger and stronger fleet with instantaneous communications. The protagonists have the advantage of near-perfect cloaking devices. These cloaking devices allow ships to “climb” up into a hyper-reality and move about nearly undetected. Unfortunately, the “climber ships” are basically massive cloaking devices and fuel tanks with a bit of room left over for anti-ship missiles and maybe less important details like defensive weapons, crew quarters, and food. I guess. If the fleet really has to.
The result is a hard sci-fi universe where the plucky heroes serve as the doomed crewmembers of a space submarine tasked with hunting the shipping and patrol lanes of a larger, stronger, and better organized enemy. To add another layer of complexity to the situation, strong hints are provided that the enemy might actually be the good guys in this conflict. Read More
Castalia House is pleased to announce that the first book in Vox Day’s Arts of Dark and Light epic fantasy series, A THRONE OF BONES, is now available in audiobook+.
Manfully narrated by the indefatigable Jeremy Daw, A THRONE OF BONES is more than 30 hours of high-quality DRM-free MP4 format and retails for $29.99. The audiobook+ also includes the 934-page ebook in EPUB and Kindle formats.
Per Vox Day, “We waited literally years to find the right narrator for Selenoth, which was considerably more important than is the case with most audiobooks due to the sheer volume of content involved. In my opinion, Jeremy’s elegant English accent is ideal for both high fantasy and epic fantasy, and I prefer his voice to those belonging to both of the narrators who have voiced George Martin’s bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series.”
And yes, Jeremy will be narrating A SEA OF SKULLS once he is finished narrating SUMMA ELVETICA and the stories that did not make it into THE LAST WITCHKING & OTHER STORIES. This is the third Selenoth audiobook, which means that there is now 40 hours and 20 minutes of Selenoth-related audio content.
To whet your appetite for epic fantasy, Castalia House provides an extended audio sample of A THRONE OF BONES. It is a one-hour, 44-minute recording that covers the entire battle between the Chalonu, Vakhuyu, and Insobru tribes and Legio XVII, commanded by Sextus Valerius Corvus.
If you enjoy it, you might want to consider picking up all 31 hours and 22 minutes of the audiobook+.
No WW post today but there are a couple new ones over at my blog:
For Battle of the Bulge fans, there is a new post on the fighting in Bleialf. Immediately after the artillery bombardment in the early morning hours of 16 December, Bleialf faced a concentrated assault by a Volks-Grenadier regiment. It was a bad day for the U.S. Army but the defenders of Bleialf had nothing to be ashamed of.
I’ve started a small series on the current situation in Venezuela. Not as in depth as the Bulge but the summaries provides some insight. I’d say the 11 FEB update is the most interesting because of the link to a report from a Russian journalist on the ground in Venezuela.
Science Fiction (Wired): Conventional wisdom holds that science fiction was written almost exclusively by men until the advent of feminism in the 1960s and ’70s. But when Lisa Yaszek, who teaches science fiction studies at Georgia Tech, went digging through old magazines, she discovered a very different story.
Tolkien (Daily Mail): In a 1937 letter to an Oxford colleague, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien confessed that he didn’t much care for The Hobbit, one of his already popular works that was about to go into its second printing.
He wrote: ‘I don’t much approve of The Hobbit myself, prefering my own mythology (which is just touched on) with its consistent nomenclature … and organized history, to this rabble of Eddaic-named dwarves out of Voluspa, newfangled hobbits and gollums (invented in an idle hour) and Anglo-Saxon runes.’
Authors (Davy Crockett’s Almanac): If you really want to know Robert E. Howard, you’re out of luck. But the closest you’ll ever get (barring the invention of a time machine) is this lengthy memoir by his almost-girlfriend Novalyne Price.
The two became friends when she took a teaching job at the high school in Cross Plains, Texas in August 1934, and spent a lot of time together until July of the next year, when he found out she was dating his friend Truett Vinson. But their friendship continued, albeit less frequently, until he shot himself in June 1936.
Although he’s probably best remembered today as the author of the Travis McGee series of men’s adventure thrillers, MacDonald learned his chops in the pulps, albeit during the tail end of the pulp era.
Games (Follow Me and Die): As an RPG content producer, I’ve spent a lot of money on fancy tools, some that require more money when versions are updated, etc. Check out episode 77 of my podcast where I discuss this topic*.
Several years ago, I was very big into Linux and free and open source software. I’m still a proponent of free and open source software, I just had issues in the past finding Linux based solutions for some of my Read More
A couple weeks back, I was at the main library for the county and happened to notice a weird western anthology that I knew of but had not read was on the shelves. Dead Man’s Hand is a trade paperback edited by John Joseph Adams. Published by Titan Books in May 2014. A total of 397 pages plus a section on the contributors in the back.
In the introduction, John Joseph Adams distinguishes that that steampunk can be anywhere and often has an urban setting. The weird western “is typically a darker, grittier take on a similar notion.” He mentions The Wild Wild West, The Dark Tower, The Phantom Empire. Brief mention of Robert E. Howard and Joe Lansdale’s novel Dead in the West.
I had to get a new set of tires on my car and took the book with me while I waited.
The first story is Joe Lansdale’s “The Red Headed Dead.” It is dedicated to Robert E. Howard. Reverend Mercer, protagonist of Dead in the West, fights a Progeny of Judas, a form of vampire. A story very pulp in execution with plenty of action. Very much an homage to Robert E. Howard and I would also throw in Manly Wade Wellman who wrote more weird westerns in the 1930s than Howard. A good start to the book.
Ben H. Winters, “The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space.” Alien from Neptune approaches a duo of prospectors in early 1850’s California with a proposition. He will use a gun to find gold on their claim in return for 50% of the cut.
David Farland, “Hellfire on the High Frontier” Morgan Gray sent to fight a Clockwork gunfighter. This story has several different things going on with a Cheyenne skin walker, a cloud land with dirty angels, and a psychopathic steampunk robot who likes to kill people.
Mike Resnick’s “The Hell-Bound Stagecoach” has group of dead people on the way to Hell. They get off the stage along the way and set up a way station. A little cliched but well done.
I have not liked anything Seanan McGuire I have read in a few anthologies. “Stingers and Strangers” set in Colorado in 1931. Jonathan Healy and Frances Brown fight an Apraxis hive of big intelligent wasps. I liked this one I think mainly it got to the point and was short. A check at isfdb shows it is part of the “InCryptid” series. Read More
Jay Allan’s Blood on the Stars series, of which The Grand Alliance is the eleventh book, is the heir to David Weber’s epic Honor Harrington series.
High praise, to be sure, and a statement that sets high expectations for readers. This feat is even more impressive as Allan is not writing Hornblower in Space, yet still conveys the heart of the naval tale: wooden ships and iron men. Denied the escalating technological arms race of Honor Harrington, Allan’s Tyler Barron must rely on leadership, motivation, diplomacy, and his damage control crews to outfight the numerically superior Union and the technologically superior Hegemony. In earlier books, Allan conveys the tension of a damage control race between opposing ships vying to bring their guns back online first without resorting to Star Trek physics-defying wizardry or Honor Harrington’s occasional forays into the accountant’s view of war.
In The Grand Alliance, now-Admiral Barron is gathering forces to retake the Confederation’s capital after the brutal battle that stopped the Hegemony’s invasion. He needs time to rebuilt his fleet, time that will only make the Hegemony invaders increasingly stronger than his forces can ever become. While the rump of the Confederation’s government seeks to negotiate with the invaders assimilating their citizens, Barron decides to risk it all in one last drive to the Capital. But first he must draw away enough Hegemony ships to give his strike a chance.
The resulting campaign, from first raid to the final and decisive throw of the dice, forces the fleet to endure hardship, attrition, and even setback. Allan humanizes these costs without grinding the reader down or diving into anti-war cliche. It is right, good, and necessary to fight for one’s homeland, but scars are unavoidable. This human focus means that when it comes time to determine if Barron’s gamble leads to victory or disaster, the action is riveting as Confederation fighters lash out at Hegemony escorts and the lines of battleships duel, uninterrupted by clinical descriptions of ordnance and volume. The result reads like a “good parts” abridgment of a Honor Harrington novel while still maintaining its own identity.
War of the Spheres, by B. V. Larson and James D. Millington, begins as a security operative staggers out of suspended animation. Plagued with gaps in his memory, Chief Gray is assigned to protect a military research and development program plagued by strange disappearances. But when Chief Gray finds the lead scientist gutted by a shadowy alien assassin, he learns the truth about the program. It is an attempt to create a new propulsion system to breach the force sphere around the solar system that imprisons humanity. Now Chef Gray must fight against alien spies, an entrenched military bureaucracy, the vices of supervisors and scientists, and even his own replacement to make sure this moonshot project succeeds.
Larson has sold over three million books by sticking to a simple formula. A military-minded man gets swept up into secretive events driven by contact with a previously unknown group of aliens, and only succeeds in finding the best course of action for Earth because he is unencumbered by the vices of lesser men–including many of the vices celebrated by more traditional science fiction writers. Larson’s heroes especially are plagued by arrogant and uncooperative scientists who are worthless in social settings, but must be endured for their occasional utility. The technology and nature of the threat change from series to series, keeping the formula fresh.
Here, the conflict is spy verses spy as Chief Gray tries to keep the new star drive out of the hands/claws/manipulators of an insectoid alien crew trying to steal it through commando raids. Compared to the galaxy-spanning conflicts in earlier Larson series, the smaller scope keeps Chief Gray’s involvement small–nowhere near the imperial heights that previous protagonists climbed. Gray’s other strength is his social skills. He might not be deferential, or polite, or even agreeable, but his approach is direct and convincing:
“You left Logan out there,” Whitman said bluntly.
“That’s better than having that thing in here with us, isn’t it?”
“You shoved him out.”
I looked Whitman in the eye. “Yes, I did.”
He thought about that, and he nodded his head. “You played it right. Logan was always impossible. He knew it all–you couldn’t tell him anything.”
For once, we get science fiction that refuses to glorify the secret king, choosing instead to stuff him in a locker at every chance. This isn’t out of cruelty, since the vices of lesser men, cowardice, gluttony, pride, jealousy, etc., actively threaten Chief Gray’s mission and get a space station of bystanders killed. But while countless warnings of what not to be abound in the Chief’s path, no aspirational examples exist. Chief Gray is the sole man of virtu in the world of vice, and I hope sequels will show how fellow men like the Chief interact and support each other’s missions. In the meantime, following the Chief as he stalks alien commandos across the solar system is an unabashed pleasure.
Author JD Cowan examines Science Fiction: An Illustrated History, by Sam J. Lundwall in the first of many parts. Written in 1975, during the tumultuous years just after John Campbell’s death, Lundwall’s account offers an examination of science fiction history unclouded by the revisionism that accompanied the latest editorial handover in the mid-2000s. Lundwall, a Swedish member of SFWA and other SF organizations, set out to “prove that science fiction is a worldwide phenomenon that hadn’t blossomed in English speaking countries until post-World War I.”
While a European perspective is welcome, as it counteracts American science fiction’s continued provincial myopia concerning World science fiction, Lundwall does a disservice to Poe, Wells, and Burroughs in his claim. Furthermore, English language science fiction was thrust in the limelight after World War I because France, Germany, and other nations involved in both science fiction and World War I lost the spark of hope for the future needed to write science fiction and abandoned the field. American and English science fictions were the loudest voices in a much-diminished choir.
Lundwall and Cowan’s conversation on science fiction sparks many points of discussion, such as the earliest works in the form, how science fiction’s secularization killed its spirit of wonder, and more. Lundwall offers science fiction as the mythology of progress, while Cowan is quick to point out where the mythology diminishes itself:
Mr. Lundwell continues to pry a genre definition from half-formed ideas and made-up terms in order to put to paper what science fiction is. The fact is that it doesn’t have one, and that might be because it is not much in the way of a standalone genre.
Unlike, say, mystery which is about mystery, or romance which is about romance, or adventure which is about adventure, if your genre requires mental gymnastics to explain to a child then you should go back to the drawing board. One sentence should be enough. Genres aren’t aesthetics or themes. Genres are defined by what emotion and sense they are meant to invoke in the reader. This is why the average reader picks up a book. They choose one based on the experience it will give them.
What they are fumbling around to define in the above definitions is Wonder. Wonder is a trait from adventure fiction and its subgenres fantasy and horror. It is the adventure of exploring new lands, peoples, and possibilities. Pair that with the origins of those listed in the paragraph above and you will see where I am going with this, and why the battle for an original definition has been fruitless for well over a century. It’s never going to have one, and that is a point that should be discussed more than it is.
That science fiction might be closer to chinoiserie than mystery or horror is a point to ponder. But it is the following exchange which highlight Lundwall’s claim of science fiction as a global phenomenon–and gores a sacred cow of science fiction in the 2010s:
And to quash another canard, the author continues:
“When some critics argue that the English author Mary Shelley invented modern science fiction with the novel Frankenstein (1818), they forget that she was drawing upon more than fifty years of Marchen literature, most of it infinitely better and more modern than Frankenstein was.”
No, that wasn’t written by Jeffro Johnson. In fact you will soon see that the author is no friend of the pulps or the old stories at all. There is a larger point here. This is a man who stood at fandom’s heart, and here he is admitting what no one currently in that position will. If you accept Mary Shelley as science fiction (and horror, when it’s convenient to the argument) you have to accept many other works that came before hers. You do not get to pick and choose.
A.I. extermination fleets, shape shifting mecha, and desperate gambles feature in this week’s roundup of science fiction’s newest releases.
A.I. Void Ship (The A.I. Series #6) – Vaughn Heppner
Through desperate tactics and by deliberately keeping a low profile, we survived the machine assaults longer than any human or cybership thought possible. But now our luck has deserted us. The main A.I. brain-core has just given human extinction top priority. The robots are massing an armada to exterminate us.
We’ve done what we could in expectation of this grim day, grabbing enemy factory planets to mass produce warships. And we found an ally, the Star Lords of Roke. But it’s just not enough, damn it.
We need more…like the alien void ship Hawkins once saw. Or maybe we can make a deal with the treacherous Cog Primus. One thing’s sure. We’d better do it soon or we’ll join thousands of other extinct species obliterated by the hateful death machines.
Bringers of Hell (Tau Ceti Agenda #6) – Travis S. Taylor
HELL WILL BREAK LOOSE
Despite unprecedented victories on the part of humanity, the war with the alien Chiata Horde drags on. The Chiata may be temporarily hindered by the cunning tenacity of General Alexander Moore and the men and women who fight at his side, but they have no intention of beating a hasty retreat. In fact, intelligence suggests that the Chiata Invasion is at hand, and with numbers sure to overwhelm humankind. But hope has come from an unlikely source: the Thgreeth, long-dead inhabitants of a world ground under the heels of the Chiata millennia ago. In the crumbled ruins of their homeworld is a map—and it may lead to victory.
PHOENIX WILL RISE
Meanwhile, Alexander Moore’s daughter, Deanna Moore, now known by the callsign “Phoenix,” wages a personal war on the Chiata. Grievously wounded in the battle for Thgreeth and rebuilt with state-of-the-art cybernetics, she leads a group of mecha-suited Marines known as “The Bringers of Hell.” Once a tough-as-nails Marine, she has been reborn as an implacable scourge to the Chiata. And nothing will stand in the way of her mission: to take down the alien scourge.
HER ENEMIES WILL PAY
The Grand Alliance (Blood on the Stars #11) – Jay Alan
Hell is Unleashed
The Hegemony controls Megara, the Confederation’s capital. War has raged for five years. Millions are dead, vast fleets of ships have been destroyed. But in the stronghold where Tyler Barron and his comrades have gathered their allies and the last of their strength, a plan is being devised.
Barron and his people have fought bravely, stubbornly, relentlessly, but the Hegemony has been too strong. Now, Barron is relying on the one source of strength that remains to him.
He will not surrender, he will not yield. And he will not remain meekly on the defensive, waiting for the enemy to bring forward reinforcements to launch the final assault.
That leaves only one option. Attack. Take back what the enemy has captured. Bring the war to the invader, and send them reeling back into the Badlands from whence they came.
The fight will be difficult, the odds steep. But Barron is ready to take the final gamble, and as one, the thousands of spacers he leads are behind him, shouting a single rallying cry.
Back to Megara!
The Link (AI Empire #1) – Isaac Hooke
An impossible enemy. A fleet surrounded.
Jain and his fleet of elite AI warships hurry to Earth’s defense when an alien empire known as the Link stages an all-out attack. Though his fleet is equipped with the most powerful weapons tech ever developed, with enough firepower to raze an entire moon base, even Jain’s mighty vessels prove no match for the enemy.
When unexpected allies show up, the tide seems to turn in his favor. But will it be enough?
Perhaps. The aliens were expecting to find a race of organics barely out of the stone ages.
It must have come as quite a shock when they realized they faced a budding AI Empire.
Keep it Simple, by Frances M. Deegan appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.
I haven’t really read enough Spy-Fi from this period to accurately judge Frances M. Deegan’s Keep It Simple. While it wasn’t quite as high-tension thrilling as the first half of Heinlein’s Gulf, it didn’t wet itself with high-concept wankery at end, and managed to offer a consistently enjoyable, if not particularly groundbreaking, read.
You’ve got a no-nonsense, man-of-action agent who’s been burned, a cute Russo-Slavic dame with a thick accent who’s actually an alien princess or something, and a tidy little Men In Black-style “Aliens are living among us” story that gets the two of them together despite some Cold War-era diplomatic entanglements.
The tale begins with Mike Bannon being dressed down by his friend benefactor, the wealthy Washington tycoon JP Snell, over an incident in which Bannon drove off with Felice, the daughter of the Merovian minister, in the minister’s own private motor car. Papa was a spy, and the daughter wanted out; Bannon was hoping he could give it to her, but the incident puts him on the outs. Snell’s VP, Corboy, gets Bannon sent out to Mount Morgan on pretext to carry out a survey; effectively, the FBI dump him on a mountain to die—he can easily be “disappeared” here without notice: a mountaineering mishap perhaps?