The first in a new trilogy by Rob Kroese, the author of Starship Grifters.

It is the year 2207. After a decades-long war with an alien race known as the Cho-ta’an, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable and the human race has been driven to the brink of extinction. Humanity survives in a handful of colonies scattered across the galaxy, connected by hyperspace gates. Things look dim for the human race when the crew of a scientific survey ship comes into possession of an incredibly destructive “planet-killer” bomb left behind by a long-extinct alien race. With this weapon, the human alliance could threaten to destroy the Cho-ta’an homeworld, changing the balance of the conflict.

But as the ship travels through a hyperspace gate to deliver the bomb to the alliance command, a fluke warping of spacetime send them 1300 years into the past. Stuck in 885 A.D., its engines damaged, the vessel is powerless to deliver the bomb to the human alliance. While the rest of the ship’s crew remains in stasis, a small landing craft, led by an engineer named Carolyn Reyes, is sent to Earth to fabricate a part needed to repair their ship‘s engines. But the craft is intercepted by the Cho-ta’an ship and shot down. It crash lands in a snowy, mountainous region and the crew is beset by a band of people wearing primitive clothing and wielding weapons made from iron and wood.

Reyes’s crew barely escapes, and their landing craft is torn apart. The newcomers finds themselves embroiled in the local politics, and soon join a group of locals fleeing the tyrannical rule of a king named Harald Fairhair. But Reyes is not content merely to survive. Knowing that humanity’s future depends on repairing their ship, she determines to complete their mission. Thus begins a decades-long effort to build a craft capable of returning to space—a ship that will come to be known as the Iron Dragon.

Richard Fox, the Dragon Award-winning author of the bestselling science fiction series THE EMBER WAR SAGA, has an announcement.

Exciting news! The Ember War will come to a comic store near you! The contract with the comic imprint (either Dark Legion or Arkhaven, publisher’s choice) and fellow writer Jon Del Arroz (who’ll do the prose to script work) are signed.

We’re excited about this, as we’ve wanted to work with Richard for some time now. The first series will be five issues that cover the events of the initial book; there are currently 9 books in the series. We’ll also have another announcement soon about a collaboration for Castalia House that is definitely going to be of serious interest to fans of a certain science fiction series that has already seen graphic adaptation.

Click to embiggen.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is one of those titles that you can either hang with, or it’ll drive you nuts. Unless you don’t care one way or the other. (THANKS FOR THE JOKE MITCH!)

Debuting in 1983, it told the stories about an elite team of counter-terrorism soldiers—drawn from every branch of the military—and their arch enemies, the terrorist cabal Cobra (as related on the iconic cover of the very first issue, right).

Based on the Hasbro toy line, it featured characters and equipment that could be called “somewhat unrealistic” at times, but could also be called “balls out insane and awesome”. Read More

Writers (DMR Books): “This date marks the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of the birth of Clark Ashton Smith. Readers of this site should require no introduction, as Smith was one of the “big three” writers for Weird Tales, along with Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. It only seems appropriate that we should honor this master of exotic, bejeweled prose today by reading and discussing one of his many magnificent stories. I have selected ‘The Maze of Maal Dweb’.”

Pulp Magazines (On an Underwood No. 5): “In 1930, Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright struck out with a new pulp: Oriental Stories, tales of historical adventure and Orientalist fancy, set in an “Exotic East” of the imagination—of the sort popularized by the likes of Harold Lamb and Sax Rohmer, shades of Yellow Peril and the Crusades. This was a risky venture in many respects, due to the state of the Popular Fiction Company’s finances and the Great Depression, and the decision was made for Weird Tales and Oriental Stories to shift to quarterly publication for a period—to the dismay of many Weird Tales regulars. (For more on which, see Scott Connor’s “Weird Tales and the Great Depression” in The Robert E. Howard Reader). Wright had considerable talent to draw on, including Weird Tales regulars and enthusiasts of the Orient like Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffmann Price.” Read More

The dumpster fire rages on…

Those considering a read of the Galaxy’s Edge series from Jason Anspach and Nick Cole can read the following review with no fear of spoilers.  Due to the complex nature of the narrative, and the way the authors have woven together the books, this will probably be the last time that holds true.  Enjoy it while you can, because this series contains a lot to unpack, and we’re going to delve deep into the mysteries and secrets of this modern day sci-fi masterwork.

The Galaxy’s Edge series takes a hard turn away from mil-SF and plunges right over the cliff into full blown space opera in Galactic Outlaws, the second book in the series.  Where Legionnaire begins and ends with the straightforward premise of one military unit cut off well behind the front lines struggling to last until rescue arrives, Galactic Outlaws introduces a much more complicated plot woven together from the threads of multiple storylines that only slowly intersect in some surprising ways.

The subtle distinctions between the lejes of Legionnaire now gives way to a broad cast of characters.  As with all good space operas, this one includes a weary and greedy smuggler with a heart of gold and an AI co-pilot who is far more than his projectors make him seem.  Along the way he adds a space princess whose title doesn’t do her any favors and a hotshot hacker out of his depth.  An old war campaigner serves as the dark mirror to the hot-shot pilot – a man for whom money means nothing, but who cannot turn his back on a young orphaned girl with a pet warbot/butler and her quest for revenge for a murdered father.  Nor can he refuse the help of a fuzzy co-pilot with limited verbal skills and an overdeveloped sense of loyalty. Read More

I had heard about the anthology The Book of Swords sometime last year before its publication. The cover looked good but I was not filled with any great enthusiasm. I have read anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin starting with Warriors (Tor Books, 2010). I wrote a review of the anthology three years ago where I had this to say:

“A gripe of mine about this book, the overall tone of this book was depressing punctuated with episodes of the nihilistic. A theme of nastiness pervaded it. The sense of adventure that you got reading Poul Anderson, Heinlein, Robert E. Howard, or even Lin Carter was lacking overall here.”

I dutifully read Rogues (2013) and Dangerous Women (2014), and reviewed them. Even though George R. R. Martin was not present as editor for The Book of Swords, I had a good idea of what was coming.

The local library has been procuring these volumes as they come out so I did not have to spend any money on a book I had a feeling I would be reading once. The release date was October 10, 2017 and the library had it a few weeks later.  I was the first to sign it out. Read More

This week’s roundup of the newest releases in fantasy and adventure follows a wandering gnome into the depths of an abandoned mine, the heir of the Minamoto Clan as he tries to prevent war, and a Marine Corps pilot as he crashes into Greek myths come back to life.


The Monster of Mordwin (The School of Spells & War #5) – Morgon Newquist

Alis was a quiet librarian at the campus library of the School of Spells & Magic – that is, until the sword wielding buffoon Cahan had the audacity to battle a dragon in her library! Now she’s following him off on some foolhardy adventure. As they try to save the university from the mysterious Formless, she fights an equally important battle – to maintain her self respect!

Now, as something ancient threatens Mordwin College, the headmistress summons the legendary duo Alis and Cahan to deal with a strange magical threat to her students. But what they find surprises them all!

The School of Spells & War is an ongoing collection of old fashioned sword-and-sorcery adventure stories following a wizard and warrior duo as they galavant across the continent of Thillon. Good-humored, powerful warrior Cahan and intelligent, skilled wizard Alis work together to serve their university, the school of spells and war, by battling dragons, investigating plots against the king, hunting witches, and dealing with the ongoing threat of the ancient and mysterious Formless.

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Moon and Star: The Complete First Saga – Mike Bergonzi

Kaito is the son of the Shogun, heir to the Minamoto clan, and future leader of Jakai. Or, at least, that’s what he’s been lead to believe. In truth, he’s the byproduct of his times.

War is coming.

A Feudal Lord is dead. The Minamoto clan can no longer standby while their enemies build alliances and craft weapons for a single purpose. Kaito must exchange comfort for the ability to stay alive after a bounty for his death forces him to leave home.

Accompanied by no one but his father’s childhood friend, Kaito ventures to his birthplace to try and prevent a war between the two parts of his life.

Past and present collide, morph into one.

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A Pius Legacy (The Pius Trilogy #2) – Declan Finn

The Pope Has Been Kidnapped!

Giovanni Figlia, head of Vatican security, doesn’t have an easy job cleaning up the mess that Sean A.P. Ryan left after stopping an international plot to bring down the Vatican. He’s got to deal with the remnants of old Soviet spy rings, a beautiful defector, and foreign agents of all stripes.

Then someone kidnapped the Pope.

Mercenaries, spies, beautiful women, international intrigue and ancient secrets – The Pius Trilogy has it all!

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Necromancer (Seven Fold Sword #4) – Jonathan Moeller

The quest of the Seven Swords has put terrible power in the hands of madmen.

Ridmark Arban is the Shield Knight, but he is the only Swordbearer in the realm of Owyllain.

That means he is the only warrior capable of defending Owyllain from the forces of dark magic.

The Necromancer of Trojas wields the Sword of Death, and with it he has summoned a vast host of the undead. Unless Ridmark Arban can stop him, the undead horde will conquer all the realm of Owyllain.

But the city of Trojas holds other secrets.

And one of those secrets might kill Ridmark and destroy Owyllain…

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War God’s Mantle: Ascension (War God Saga #1) – James Hunter and Aaron Crash

When Marine Corps pilot Jacob Merely crashes during a routine mission off the coast of Cyprus, he was sure it was game over.

After surviving the crash and pulling himself onto the sandy shores of a long-abandoned island, however, Jacob unwittingly stumbles headfirst into the ancient ruins of a dead city. Unfortunately, he also stumbles into an age-old battle between good and evil—and he is now its newest recruit.

The island once belonged to the Amazons, daughters of Ares, the God of War, and stood as the final bastion between the human world and the monstrosities of the Great Below. But Jacob’s arrival has awakened the old gods and disturbed the seal holding the ravaging darkness at bay.

Now, with the help of a sacred gem containing Ares’ power, Jacob must recreate the Amazonian defenders of humanity and fortify the island stronghold. And if he fails, Hades will unleash his army of the damned and the world of men will fall, giving rise to an age of walking nightmares.

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Wasting (The Book of Maladies #1) – D. K. Holmberg

In the city of Verdholm, canals separate the highborns in the center sections of the city from the lowborns along the outer sections. The city is isolated, surrounded by a deadly swamp and steam fields which should protect the people of the city from the dangerous outside world. Until it doesn’t.

For Sam, an orphaned thief who wants only to protect her brother, protection means stealing enough so she can one day buy her way into a better section. She’s a skilled thief, and when she’s offered a job that can change everything for her, what choice does she have but to take it?

Alec is an apothecary who longed to join the prestigious university and become a physicker, but they rarely accept students from the merchant class, and he’s now too old to enroll. The surprising discovery of strange magic can change his fortunes, but only if he can fully understand it.

When the natural protection of the city fails and her brother is thrown into danger, Sam must become more than a thief to save him, but she can’t do so by herself. Somehow, she and Alec are linked through an ancient magic and together they might be the only ones able to stop an attack that threatens to disrupt the balance within the city and bring the dangers of the outside world to them.

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When It Falls (The Valens Legacy #5) – Jan Stryvant

After having their success against the Ascendants used by the Vestibulum as a cover for the mass murder of their old enemies, Sean has discovered that the Vesti’s are far more ruthless and dangerous than the previous two councils he’s fought. After two hundred years of holding on to the leadership position among all of the councils, obviously the Vestibulum isn’t going to give up anything to anyone.

While Sean promised not to start a war, it’s looking more and more like that choice isn’t going to be his to make. Especially when the other Ascendant chapters come calling to avenge their dead. Thankfully for Sean, he has witnesses to just what happened, witnesses that will hopefully keep all the other councils from rallying against him. But now will they instead rally against the Vestibulum instead? That could be just as bad for him.

Then there are the people that Sean saved from the Ascendants during the raid, all of whom he’s responsible for, and for now has to provide with a place to live as well as protections from the magic of their former masters. Then there are the four dark elves that were freed during the raid, two of which are now very interested in Sean and one of which isn’t at all afraid to let him know, constantly.

And just how do you go about introducing your mother to your (several) wives when she shows up in a few days?

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The Journal and The Stone – Matthew Taylor

Curiosity killed the cat. Or so the saying goes … all Klane can hope is that curiosity doesn’t also kill gnomes.

Klane is an uncharacteristically adventurous gnome, who’s been smitten with the urge to explore places of the world few people–let alone hill gnomes–would dare to go. Since he was able, he has sailed down the Amethyst River and her many tributaries to satisfy his wanderlust. When Klane finds himself in the bowels of an abandoned mine holding a valuable stone and a dead miner’s journal, he knows his days of lighthearted adventure are over.

A Binge at Brinkley is the first issue in the RIGHT HO, JEEVES series, which tells of the travails of the inimitable Bertie Wooster, who is summoned from the comforts of #3A Berkley Mansions, London to Brinkley Manor by his imperious Aunt Dahlia. Love is in the air and Wodehousian shenanigans are afoot, as Wooster is not the sole guest at the manor, which is also playing host to the fairy-gazing Madeline Basset as well as the famous newt-fancier Augustus Fink-Nottle.

Adapted from the classic Wodehouse novel by comics legend Chuck Dixon and drawn by SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN illustrator Gary Kwapisz, A Binge at Brinkley is issue #1 of 6 in the RIGHT HO, JEEVES series. 24 pages. $2.99.

Now available for preorder. RIGHT HO, JEEVES #1: A Binge at Brinkley will be released on January 29. The series is currently on schedule to release issues on a monthly basis. Please note that because Right Ho, Jeeves is only in the public domain in the United States, this comic is only available from Amazon.com for US customers. We have presently have an offer in to the Wodehouse estate to acquire the necessary permissions to produce comics and graphic novels for the works that are not in the public domain.

The Man the Sun Gods Made, by Gardner F. Fox appeared in the Winter 1946 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

I don’t really need to go into what a legend Gardner F. Fox is, but I will remark that the man has shown impressive range in the few stories I’ve read.

Unlike Vassals of the Lodestar, which was a spectacular gonzo mess whose beauty lay in the audacious degree of non-sense it shrouded itself in, The Man the Sun Gods Made was a solidly written super-hero science fiction story. Many of this stories faults can easily be forgiven for genre reasons just as Vassals can be forgiven for the reason of its unblinking blitzkrieg into all-out absurdism.

The “Super-hero” part is important, I think, in understanding and approaching this story. Yes, it’s science fiction, in that it takes place on an alien world and involves an interstellar invasion, but the protagonist, Tyr, is superhero. He is a mutant who “evolved” (instantly, within a single generation) into an optimally efficient human whose entire physiology exists to metabolize and store sunlight and convert heat directly into cell-energy. He’s strong, he’s smart, he’s handsome, and the locals of his planet revere him as a god. As a character, he’s not far off from the scientists, soldiers and athletes who were granted similar powers by accidents of super-science—if you can avoid the nudnikery that makes one point out that the Hulk would’ve been killed by the atomic blast that turned him into the Hulk, you can swallow that this guy is able to get smarter and stronger when he absorbs sunlight through a process entirely unrelated to photosynthesis.

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2017. It was the year where the wild west of indie science fiction, building on the momentum of previous years, surpassed the traditional publishers. It was the year when Marvel Comics collapsed, shuttering comics shops in its fall. It was the year when Disney divided Star Wars enthusiasts. When passion project games scored big and loot boxes tumbled Electronic Arts’ stocks. And amid these highs, lows, and controversies, a host of writers and artists brought forth a cornucopia of excellent stories, games, movies, and more. Come join the Castalia House bloggers as we discuss the standouts of 2017.


Fiction

Jon Mollison: Every year selecting a “Best Short Story” gets harder and harder. Multiple modern-style short magazines coming out on a regular basis like Cirsova and StoryHack and Astounding Frontiers, to say nothing of the host of great collections such as MAGA 2020, Tales of the Once and Future King, and (to toot my horn, but it includes some stellar works by other authors,) Paragons. And yet, the best author working in the medium today remains Schuyler Hernstrom. His “The Last American”, featured in the fifth issue of Cirsova, hit all the right notes. By turns brash and touching, it is a kitchen-sink adventure complete with astronauts, wild-haired barbarians, lizard men, and oh, so much more. Despite his over-the-top setting and anything-goes style, Hernstrom manages those all-important character touches that breathe real life into far flung futures populated by wild-haired barbarian. It’s a standout, even in such crowded company.

Rawle Nyanzi: Morningwood: Everybody Loves Large Chests Vol. 1. I’ll be honest — I bought this book because of the title and the babe on the cover. I was expecting a romantic comedy of some sort, but what I got was one of the most original takes on fantasy I have ever seen. It was my first introduction to the LitRPG genre, and the video-gamey aspects actually mesh well with the story since all the numbers are shown to have real-world effects. It should be noted that the setting is not treated as a fictional video game in-story, so the game-like aspects truly create a sense of the alien and fantastic.

Jon: Nick Cole and Jason Anspach brought the hot new girl to the literary prom this year with Galaxy’s Edge. Everybody that reads this series becomes and enthusiastic fan of it. As I loved their earlier works, I was late to the party. The marketing strategy of “Star Wars, forked”, coming in the midst of a general desire to turn away from that IP was a turn off, as was the notion of starting a multi-volume epic. Man, was I wrong to wait. Galaxy’s Edge: Legionnaire was the best book produced in 2017, and 2017 was a great year for novels. It’s been a while since I’ve read a mil-SF novel with such engaging characters, such direct relevance to our own modern conflicts, and that left me wanting more of the same. The action moves at a ripping pace as the characters move from frying pan to fire and back again with just enough moments of quiet reflection to keep the reader from burning out on adrenaline. Legionnaire also manages to capture the fun of a Galaxy spanning Space Opera despite the fact that most of the action takes place on one backwaters planet on the fringes of civilization – a neat trick and one of just many that I’m not exactly sure how Anspach and Cole pulled off. All I know is that they did pull it off, and now I’m ready for the robe and bucket that is the standard garb of the Galaxy’s Edge cult, because the first book was so good, I’m one of THEM now. Read More

The sixth book of Jay Allan’s Blood on the Stars series flies into the heart of danger.

The pulsar…an ancient weapon of unimaginable power, one that threatens the Confederation with total destruction. The Union is preparing for the final invasion, one that cannot fail with the great artifact at the head of their fleet. The clock is ticking quickly toward midnight.

There is a chance to avoid annihilation, a small one. The Confederation has its own ancient device recovered from the Badlands, a stealth generator. It is not as powerful as the pulsar, but it just may be enough.

The generator can hide a single vessel, so Tyler Barron and the crew of Dauntless reunite to take their aging battleship once more into the breach. They will go to the Bottleneck, the system where the Union is preparing the final assault. They must sneak around the vast forces of the Union fleet, into the heart of the massively-defended system, and somehow destroy the pulsar.

The fleet will be with them, all the might the Confederation can muster, but success hinges almost entirely on Dauntless’s desperate attack. And, even if Barron and his people succeed in their mission, they will be trapped behind the enemy fleet, cut off and alone.

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Reader Praise for Blood on the Stars:

“Amazing story, believable and not a series that can be put down until you have read the last page, hoping that there is just one more chapter. Start this series from the beginning and you will not regret it.”

“Truly one of the better space opera series available today. Great adventure, epic battles, political intrigue, and last but not least, a love story! Thanks, Mr. Allan, for covering all the bases and delivering a great read”

“Jay Allan asserts yet again his keen touch for military science fiction.”

“The continuing characters are “real” people, and decisions/questions about tactics and strategy seem real. Shows how great leaders can suddenly arise and seize the moment, and poor ones fall by the roadside. Lots of individual heroes, and good guys also get killed as in real life. Great space opera in the old tradition.”

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Don’t miss out on all the battles of Tyler Barron and the crew of the Dauntless:

Conclusions

The Germans either win the Battle of the Bulge early, or they lose. Much of the midgame can easily be the Allies curb-stomping the krauts. This is because the Strategic Bombing that takes place as soon as the weather clears. Once the weather clears up, the Allies will get way more planes, and if the Allied player was able to demolish the supply dumps, the Germans lose all momentum (during SB, German movement is reduced to 2 if they cannot trace to a captured fuel dump).

The other option for the Germans would be an incredibly conservative play; if the Germans focus on capturing only a few cities while minimizing their losses, they might be able to win by turtling following the initial offensive.

The Blitz optional attack is broken; if it negated the ZOC of the defending unit for the attacking units, it would be great, but with the rules as written, there’s virtually no reason to make a Blitz attack.

The Airborne commandos are good for one thing – eliminating a retreating unit you attack the turn it lands. If you don’t time it just right, they’re pretty much wasted. But when it works out, it is Kronk-meme good. The 150’s special ability to move after combat and ignore Allied ZOC is virtually useless (an allied unit will almost always be blocking the main highway and with the ground mud, armored off-road movement is almost nil), but if you can use it to take (or help the LXVII take) Monschau on the first day, it’s not terrible, especially since that will unlock the first significant batch of German reinforcements. Read More