The Smoking Land by Frederick Faust as George Challis was originally published in Argosy; the version reviewed was reprinted in the February 1950 issue of A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine. It can be read here at

Even during the Pulp-era there were Pulp Revivals going on. One such effort to keep classics of the pulp SFF canon in print and fresh in people’s minds was the short-lived “A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine”. Launched in late 1949, a few years after Merritt’s death in 1943, AMFM’s intention was to spotlight classic stories by Merritt and other contemporary pulp greats they did not want to go forgotten.

The feature of AMFM’s second issue was the complete text of Frederick Faust’s “The Smoking Land”, which had been serialized in six parts in Argosy in 1937. The issue begins with a short biography of Faust, highlighting some of the many names he’d published stories under, and lamenting his tragic death in Italy in 1944 while traveling as a war correspondent.

It’s hard to say how original “The Smoking Land” is, but it’s well-told and incredibly exciting. Honestly, the first half was the best, as the hero pursues the mystery of the titular “Smoking Land” in a high-suspense, slow-burn trek through the Alaskan wilds; the eventual reveal was predictable and rather rote Lost World science-fiction, but the road to get there was excellent. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. To get the full effect of the mystery-half, you might go ahead and read it yourself, rather than reading the summary below.

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The Disney revival of Star Wars has been riven with controversy and growing discontent. For every Rebels, there has been an Aftermath or three–and host of blogs, podcasts, and videos from fans searching for that lost feeling of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Fortunately, in the frontiers of independent science fiction, a small band of authors have taken upon themselves the challenge of reviving the laser sword and droid adventures of the original trilogy in all new stories, new settings, and new innovations on the familiar formula. On the eve of the release of The Last Jedi, let’s take a look at two of the most recent novels to recapture a bit of that old Mos Eisley magic.

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Fans looking for a mystical sword and planet adventure in the mold of A New Hope should try Isaac Hooke’s STAR WARRIOR. Like many indie/frontier science fiction stories, Star Warrior is a genre-blender, combining a roaring sword and planet adventure with elements of the litRPG genre and a even a dash of cyberpunk. Tane, a hydroponics farmer from a backwater planet, goes into town for nanotech augmentation. While there, he attracts the attention of an ancient extra-dimensional foe as well as the Volur, an order gifted with the ability to wield the Essence. Per the cover:

“Soon Tane finds himself on a frenzied flight across the galaxy with a woman who can warp the very fabric of spacetime, her bodyguard–who’d just as soon kill Tane than protect him–and a starship that calls him snarky pet names. He’s on the run not simply from the aliens but the whole damn human space navy.

“He only wished he knew why.”

LitRPGs mean character sheets, and Star Warrior‘s nanotech system has them in spades. Like many an RPG, the more Tane uses a skill, the more it levels up. Buying nanotech allows him to increase these skills, although Tane suspects the leveling system is a scam by the companies to make people buy more nanotech. After all, the first hit is free…The crawl of characters sheets during these segments is admittedly not to my taste, but the explosion of the litRPG genre over the past couple years shows that there is a market willing to embrace them. Fortunately, Isaac Hooke makes the crunch make sense in terms of the setting and the story, preventing the occasional digression into the stat sheets from grinding the plot to a halt.

Star Warrior also seamlessly melds Luke Skywalker’s Jedi journey with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Tane steps into the journey of Rand al’Thor, complete with analogues to Aes Sedai, Warders, saidar/saidin, the Forsaken, and the Prophecies of the Dragon. Seamless is not an exaggeration, as the cosmology behind the two parts of the One Power conveniently map to the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. Furthermore, Tane’s journey takes him from a farm attacked by near-mythical aliens to an Essence reservoir of immense power that will reveal his destiny.  It’s Eye of the World dressed in the pulp/movie-serials space adventure of Star Wars, stripped of the bramble of viewpoint characters and the battle of the sexes that hampered the Wheel of Time. It helps that Thane’s personality is closer to the pulp mold than Rand al’Thor. And there are enough starfighters, droids, and aliens to please readers thirsty for more Star Wars.

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For those who prefer a more militaristic take on the Star Wars formula, there’s Galaxy’s Edge, the breakout series of 2017 by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. Released on a monthly basis, this saga of a spreading galactic civil war starts with GALAXY’S EDGE: LEGIONNAIRE and the Battle of Kublar. And in the words of Sergeant Chhun:

The galaxy is a dumpster fire. A hot, stinking, dumpster fire. And most days I don’t know if the legionnaires are putting out the flames, or fanning them into an inferno.

At Kublar, Sergeant Chhun gets his answer. As a member of the Legion, an elite fighting regiment that the Empire’s stormtroopers should have been, he is thrust into the mire of a peacekeeping mission alongside Victory Company. But when their cruiser Chiasm explodes overhead, what should have been an annoying milk run turns into a debacle of the likes of Black Hawk Down. Now, fighting every step of the way towards their eventual extraction, the skills of Sergeant Chhun and Victory Company are put to the test as an entire planet tries to wipe them out, spurred on by the meddling of rebels. And it is this spark that will soon blaze into civil war.

If Star Warrior patterns itself on A New Hope, Legionnaire is pure Clone Wars. Like the animated series, the troopers are a mix of numbers and nicknames, fighting for each other with all the grit and professionalism demanded from contemporary mil-sf portrayals. Meanwhile, the machinations of a corrupt and decadent government threaten to erase what the Legion has purchased with blood. If this is a familiar story to vets and history buffs, it is one played out on the headlines of the last fifteen years. When recounting the genesis of the series, Jason Anspach said, “Legionnaire was an idea I had after reading a soldier’s memoir recounting his time fighting house-to-house in Fallujah. I thought, what if I wrote a book like this, only put in a Star Wars-like future? And so, Legionnaire was born.” The result, as one reader put it, is “a work of military science fiction so detailed you can feel the equipment and choke on the dust.”

The fires of the Battle of Kublar forge iron bonds between the survivors that get tested time and again as, each in their own way, they fight to prevent the slide into disillusionment and chaos. And when the Legion splits in the civil war, those siding with the usurping forces do so in an attempt to force the Legion to return to the ways that once brought it glory. This adds a welcome touch of moral complexity to the ensuing war that Star Wars lacks..

Later books will expand into smugglers vs. bounty hunters and intrigue, but the heart of Galaxy’s Edge is the remnant of Victory Company and the Legion.

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Star Warrior and Galaxy’s Edge: Legionnaire are only two of the current wave of homages in the spirit of Star Wars. If you enjoyed–or have written–others, feel free to leave a note in the comments.

When diagnosing the illness that pervades modern mainstream entertainment in the US, most armchair oncologists point to symptoms of the disease.  Consumers recognize the wealth of titles that present all the shine and appearance of timeless classics, but have all the weight and import of ephemeral bits of fluff.  Somehow, the increased volume of offerings has not translated into an increased number of profoundly appealing and thought-provoking stories.  Why is it that a feeling of loss predominates whenever one sits down in a dark theater or browses the stacks at the book store or switches on network television?

After all, the Hollywood that gave us Ghostbusters (1984) is the same Hollywood that gave us Ghostbusters 2016)The Hollywood that gave us Ben-Hur (1959) also gave us Ben-Hur (2016).  The same publishing industry that gave us the genius of a Tolkein gave us the degeneracy of a Steven King.  The same network that gave us The Simpsons (1989-1994) also gave us The Simpsons (pretty much every year since).  Even the world of comic book publishing has not escaped the strange subtraction by addition that afflicts its big brothers.  This is not to say that quality entertainment cannot be found today, even within the mainstream, nor that everything was so much better “back in my day”.  This new millennium has seen its moments of transcendence, to be sure, but even those not dialed in as tight as those who regularly read the blog posts at successful independent publishing houses have started to notice the rising tide of sentiment in the public that something is missing.

The source of that feeling feels just out of reach, because like all lies of omission, there isn’t any one thing that the cultural sleuth can point to and say, “Ah ha!”  It leaves no blank space in the dust or footprint in the sand, because the missing ingredient has no substance in and of itself, it merely informs the process of creation, and finds expression in the actors and characters and situations represented.  To make matters worse, this missing ingredient can be papered over like a hole the dry-wall or – more appropriately – over a missing structural support column.  And while the building may stand with that critical node missing for a while, the stress load placed on the rest of the building will eventually bring the whole thing collapsing down.

Enough with the metaphors, you want answers.

The missing ingredient… Read More

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

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From the Foreword by editor Vox Day:

And then, of course, there was the historical Breendoggle, a fifty-year-old debate among science-fiction fandom concerning whether a child molester, Walter Breen, should have been permitted to attend the science-fiction convention known as Pacificon II or not. Believe it or not, the greater part of fandom at the time was outraged by the committee’s sensible decision to deny Breen permission to attend the 1964 convention; science-fiction fandom continued to cover for the notorious pedophile even after his death in 1993. In “Conspiracy of silence: fandom and Marion Zimmer Bradley”, Martin Wisse wrote:

Why indeed did it take until MZB was dead for her covering for convicted abuser Walter Breen to become public knowledge and not just whispered amongst in the know fans. Why in fact was Breen allowed to remain in fandom, being able to groom new victims? Breen after all was first convicted in 1954, yet could carry out his grooming almost unhindered at sf cons until the late nineties. And when the 1964 Worldcon did ban him, a large part of fandom got very upset at them for doing so.

The fact that fandom had been covering for pedophiles for decades was deeply troubling. And yet, we would soon learn that this wrongness in science fiction ran even deeper than the most cynical critics suspected.

On June 3, 2014, a writer named Deirdre Saorse Moen put up a post protesting the decision of Tor Books to posthumously honor Tor author and World Fantasy Award-winner Marion Zimmer Bradley, on the basis of Bradley’s 1998 testimony given in a legal deposition about her late husband. When Moen was called out by Bradley fans for supposedly misrepresenting Bradley, she reached out to someone she correctly felt would know the truth about the feminist icon: Moira Greyland, the daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen.

Little did Moen know how dark the truth about the famous award-winning feminist was. For when Moira responded a few days later, she confirmed Moen’s statement about Marion Zimmer Bradley knowing all about her pedophile husband’s behavior. However, Moira also added that her famous mother had been a child molester as well, and that in fact, Bradley had been far more violently abusive to both her and her brother than Breen!

I will not say more about the harrowing subject of this book because it is the author’s story to tell, not mine. But I will take this opportunity to say something about the author, whom I have come to admire for her courage, for her faith, and most of all, for her ability to survive an unthinkably brutal upbringing with both her sanity and her sense of humor intact.

Play 1 | Allies – Me/Axis – Dad | Outcome – Overwhelming Allied Victory (Axis forfeit)

This play-through we used the advanced game with the following variations and special rules:

  • No roll required for Paratroopers to drop.
  • No roll required for 150 Commando armor to make 1st turn movement.
  • 2 x Day 1 SS Panzer Divisions held in reserve until afternoon of the first day.
  • Forgotten/unobserved rules
  • Die-roll shift for forts
  • Planes cannot offset

The Germans had a weak turn one start and failed to make significant progress, due to an inability to make a break-out on the first turn. Allies managed to hold key strategic and tactical positions long enough to seriously bog down German progress along Elsenborn, delaying key reinforcements. Read More

Just in time for Christmas, it is now possible to order print editions directly from Castalia House through our partnership with Aerbook. At least, it is if you happen to live in the USA. So, those of you who have indicated that you’d like an alternative to ordering from Amazon can now do so, and will even, in most circumstances, get a discount from $1 to $3 dollars, depending upon the book in question.

For example, the trade paperback of A THRONE OF BONES is $25.99 instead of the usual $27.99. You will also be able to purchase books from both my Reading List and my Recommended Books List, although that will take a little time to put together. The shipping costs are based on your location, but they are reasonable. In a very few cases, such as The Ames Archives by Peter Grant, the price is actually a little higher than the retail price because we set a lower than usual retail price and discount structure.

Not all of our books are in the system yet, but we’re working getting them in there. Castalia authors who are interested in selling their print editions from their own sites should get in touch, as we can put together widgets for your site that will pull the listings directly from the Castalia Direct Bookstore, including your books that we don’t publish. And, of course, this will be another way to buy the 24-page comics that we’ll be putting on the market next year.

Also, for those who might be interested, we’ve added a Japanese literature section which includes many of the books our chief editor has read in the last three years. And no, Vox Day has no idea why six different editions of Kokoro were available but not a single one of Sanshiro.

I suspect that’s probably more than a little bit uncomfortable. I bet he can toast marshmallows like nobody’s business, though.

The Evil Within 2 video game is NOT a ripoff of the “Resident Evil” series. People may say so, but they’re idiots who know nothing about games or game design, and their opinions should be summarily discarded. (As should their right to have any opinions at all.)

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Fiction (Tolkien and Fantasy): “Fantasiae was, according to its initial subtitle, the “monthly newsletter of the Fantasy Association,” based out of Los Angeles. The first issue was dated April 1973, and the final issue was no. 103 (volume 9 no. 10) from October 1981. The editor for the entire run was Ian M. Slater, who also contributed many articles and book reviews.

In the fourth issue, July 1973, Cory Panshin had a letter which noted:

“From what I’ve observed, the recent spate of children’s quality paperbacks hasn’t been very heavy on fantasy. I wonder if the Fantasy Association includes anyone with publishing connections to do a reprint program of children’s fantasy similar to what Lin Carter has done for Adult Fantasy with Ballantine?” Read More

In the post-Civil War West, the railroads are expanding, the big money men are moving in, and the politicians they are buying make it difficult for a man to stand alone on his own. So, Walt Ames moves his wife, his home and his business from Denver to Pueblo. The railroads are bringing new opportunities to Colorado Territory, and he’s going to take full advantage of them.

Ambushed on their way south, Walt and his men uncover a web of corruption and crime to rival anything in the big city. And rough justice, Western-style, sparks a private war between Walt and some of the most dangerous killers he’s ever encountered, a deadly war in which neither friends nor family are spared.

Across the mountains and valleys of the southern Rocky Mountains, Walt and his men hunt for the ruthless man at the center of the web. Retribution won’t be long delayed… and it cannot be denied.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN RETRIBUTION is the second book in The Ames Archives, the Classic Western series that began with BRINGS THE LIGHTNING. Author Peter Grant is a military veteran, a retired pastor, and the author of The Maxwell Saga and The Laredo Trilogy.

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Walt woke from an exhausted stupor to find Isom shaking him relentlessly. “Lewis and Sandy are headin’ back, boss. They must have seen them coming.”

He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs from his brain as he sat up. “Thanks.”

They splashed water on their faces, then made sure the spare horses were still securely picketed. When Lewis and Sandy arrived, they formed a line inside the trees on the west side of the creek, their guns ready in their hands. Walt favored his Winchester rifle and Isom his shotgun, while the other two relied on revolvers.

“What did you see?” Walt asked.

Lewis handed him his spyglass. “Thanks for lettin’ us use that, boss. There’s four of them, drivin’ our seven hosses an’ a pack horse.”

“Four? Not five?”

“We only saw four, boss.”

“I hope the other one hasn’t turned off somewhere. You sure those horses are ours?”

“No doubt about it. I recognized at least four of ’em through that spyglass. I’ve ridden most of ’em before. Will’s hoss is still carryin’ his saddle.”

“That’s good enough for me.”

They tensed as the riders and horses appeared at the top of the gentle rise, heading down to the ford. Walt said softly, “Wait until they’re all in the water. Lewis, you and I will be on this side of the road. Isom, you and Sandy cross to the other side and cover them from there. Let me do the talking. If any of them show fight or try to run, shoot them down. Remember, they killed Will, so they don’t deserve any mercy.”

“Got it.” “Sure, boss.” “Yes, suh.” The replies came in ragged unison.

“All right. Let me make the first move.” Read More

The mid-1970s was a golden age for new artists coming on the scene: Tom Barber, Carl Lundgren, Doug Beekman, Richard Hescox, Steve Fabian etc. One of those whose career weathered the changes in book cover art is Stephen Hickman (b. 1949).

His website has this to say:

“Hickman’s work has earned him critical acclaim, including a World Science Fiction Convention’s Hugo Award, 6 Chesley Awards from the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists and 2 Spectrum Gold Awards.

Since 1976 Hickman has illustrated over 425 covers for Ace, Baen, Ballantine, Bantam, Berkeley, Dell, Del Rey, Doubleday, Phage Press, Tor, Warren Publications and others.

In 1988 Hickman wrote The Lemurian Stone (Ace Books), which formed the basis for his Pharazar Mythos illustrations, The Lion Pavillion, is one example, and is also reproduced along with The Archers, in the 1994 edition of Spectrum.

In 1994 he was awarded a Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Convention for the United States Postal Service’s Space Fantasy Commemorative Booklet of stamps, the first official recognition by the government of the SF genre. “

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The Promethean is an amazingly funny novel exposing the utter insanity of modern academia and the world of technology. An extraordinary tale of ambition, social justice, and human folly, it combines the mordant wit of W. Somerset Maugham with a sense of humor reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse.

When American billionaire Henry Hockenheimer discovers that conquering the corporate world is no longer enough for him on the eve of his 40th birthday, he decides to leave his mark on the world by creating the first Superman, a robot as intellectually brilliant as it is physically capable. But his ideas are thwarted on every side by the most brilliant minds of the academic world, from the artificial intelligence researcher Dr. Vishnu Sharma to the wheelchair-bound head of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of Her Majesty’s Government’s Bio-Engineering Research Fund, Nkwandi Obolajuwan, and, of course, Dr. Sydney Prout, formerly of the United Nations, now Special Adviser on Human Rights to the European Union.

And when Hockenheimer succeeds, despite all of the incredible obstacles placed in his way, he discovers that success can be the cruelest failure of all.

Now in hardcover ($19.99) and paperback ($14.99).

From the reviews:

  • Anyone who has read Stanley’s previous book can imagine the kind of surreal humour that results. My favourite was the psychopathic Scots Professor of Extreme Celtic Studies…. Daes yer maither stitch, Asimov. If I have a complaint about the book, it’s that too much of it seems like real life these days.
  • Reading this you keep forgetting it is a novel and not an autobiography set in our current day. Aside from a bit of computing power and an improved battery what is described in the book as far as technology goes is possible today. On the political and satire side, the politics wouldn’t surprise you if they were to show up in tomorrow’s news, the satire is biting as the motives behind the politics are exposed to the light of day. The academic satire almost doesn’t qualify as satire given you can probably match it at any of our more liberal institutions today.
  • I liked this considerably more than Owen Stanley’s previous literary excursion. I imagine part of that is my own experience among academics, whom Mr. Stanley gives here a fine and well-deserved skewering indeed. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed The Missionaries. It even has the reappearance of a character or two.
  • Mr. Stanley has managed to outdo even his tremendous debut novel with this rollicking satirization of modern hyper-liberalism. A number of good philosophical questions get raised in a very subtle manner, and sacred cows are suitably self-gored. This was a very good, dark satirical story, which I’ll read again. First my sides have to cease hurting from the Gaelic Rules Philosophy played here.
  • No Sophomore slump here! If you have ever had the suspicion that the age we live in has gone mad, The Promethean will confirm that that you are not the only one that has noticed.

Humor is an often neglected aspect of science fiction and fantasy.  Not only does it significantly improve less serious works, but it can make deep, thoughtful stories more memorable and engaging.  However, if it were so simple, then every book in those genres would be a barrel of laughs, right?  Not only is there the tremendous difficulty of writing a funny joke, which must elicit laughter without a comedian’s timing or pantomime, but there are several other pitfalls we shall examine.

The Central Plot of the Story Should be Treated Seriously

This is vital.  I’ve praised Harry Harrison’s outstanding Stainless Steel Rat series before, which is constantly humorous.  And yet, the villains are as menacing and ruthless as they come, committing wanton murder and torture.  The stakes are high and the action scenes are as tense as any other work of action science fiction.  Even Douglas Adams, with his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, never treated the central plot as a joke.  Sure, the characters and situations might be humorous, but the central quest was serious and at times, even tragic.  This is also true of books in Pratchett’s Discworld series, where the villains are terrifying and the final act is classic high stakes adventure.

By contrast, the plots I’ve read in Scalzi’s work are silly and treated as childish nonsense.

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