A latent psychic swears a vendetta against the aliens who invaded his home, a team of lawyers must prevent the ruin of two galaxies, and mecha mercenaries The Four Horsemen and Wardogs, Inc. both return to action in this week’s roundup of the newest releases in science fiction.


Battle Harem #1 – Isaac Hooke

Jason was a little short on creds so he decided to get his mind scanned. It seemed like a good idea at the time: get paid to license a copy of your mind for use in one of the numerous machines that run society. What could go wrong?

Turns out, a lot.

Jason wakes up in the middle of the radioactive wasteland that was created fifty years ago when aliens destroyed half the Earth. He has no idea why he’s here, or what the hell he’s supposed to do. Worst of all, he’s no longer human: his consciousness has been installed into the AI core of a state-of-the-art war machine, a mech with enough firepower to raze a small city.

Hunted by mutated alien bioweapons, Jason travels the wasteland in an attempt to piece together what happened. Along the way he encounters a few abandoned war machines that also have no memory of their mission, machines that can’t decide whether they want to join him or kill him. It doesn’t help that in VR they all look like super hot women.

Sometimes it’s tough being a machine.

When Jason and his new companions discover what they’re truly capable of, however, everything changes. And not necessarily for the better.


Dark Moon Arisen (The Four Horsemen Cycle: The Omega War #3) – Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey

The Omega War is in full swing. Earth has fallen to General Peepo’s army, and the surviving Human mercenaries have taken refuge at the hidden Winged Hussars’ base in New Warsaw.

On Earth, the defensive forces fight to keep the hearts and minds of their fellow Humans, but Peepo’s plans are slowly converting the people to her way of thinking, and the Mercenary Guild troops continue to root out the forces arrayed against them.

Outnumbered and on the run, the situation is bleak, but none of the Horsemen like being on the defensive. When they get intelligence that Peepo is massing resources at a secret base, they decide to launch a decisive counterattack that may open Earth up to recapture.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sato, the Hussar’s brilliant but unpredictable scientist, unwittingly reactivates a 20,000-year-old doomsday weapon with a mind of its own. If it can’t be stopped, all the Four Horsemen’s plans might become meaningless.

Forces are moving both in the shadows and in the light, but who will rise victorious? One thing is for sure…a Dark Moon has Arisen.


The Fall of Heaven – David S. Grunwell

In the wondrous megacity of Heavensport, robots do all the work allowing its three-quarters of a billion inhabitants free to pursue their passions.

Unfortunately for Rolland Newcastle, someone’s passion is to kill him. Stripped of his wealth, technology, and connections, is this the start of a worldwide purge?

Rolland inherited his troubles from his ancestors, the legal owners of the beautiful planet of New Jerusalem. After cryrosleeping for 223 years, they found that technological advances had allowed squatters’ ships to make the journey in just 3.5 years.

Arriving 200 years later, they found an established world that didn’t want them. The Fall of Heaven was just the start.


Forbidden Sanctuary (Star Lawyers #2) – Tom Shepherd

What terrible secrets will Tyler Matthews and his Star Lawyers discover within the Forbidden Sanctuary on the mysterious, sacred planet Adao-2?

Can the legal team from Matthews Interstellar Industries learn the truth in time to save M-double-I’s century-long quest to open Jump Gate Omega, bridge the 2.5 million light years to the Andromeda galaxy, and prevent economic ruin and war in the Milky Way?

While Tyler, J.B., Rosalie and Lucy (her shapeshifter cat) battle pirates and religious fanatics, Suzie and her holographic A.I. colleagues—former ladies of the night, re-purposed as legal assistants and starship crew– face an even deadlier foe. This unknown enemy threatens to delete all the starship Patrick Henry’s programs and terminate their existence forever.

To make matters worse, Cousin Esteban languishes in prison on Suryadivan Prime, where the former Catholic monk faces a death sentence for crimes he did not commit. Read More

John del Arroz introduces you to the Special Forces of Steampunk!

Airships, Guns, and Gadgets! The Knights of the Crystal Spire are more than ordinary fantasy knights.

Life as an apprentice knight hasn’t been easy on James Gentry. As a commoner and an outsider, he’s been ridiculed, picked on, and shunned by the other boys. But he’s determined to become one of the finest knights Rislandia has ever seen.

During his training, James stumbles upon a master knight selling information on Rislandian troop movements to a Wyranth spy. To keep Rislandia safe, he must root out the traitor and put a stop to the enemy’s schemes. Does he have what it takes?

“Knight Training” is a stand-alone sequel novella to the award-winning steampunk novel, For Steam And Country!

The first installment of Gulf, by Robert Heinlein, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding. It can be found here at Archive.org.

Gulf is a slow-burn sci-fi spy thriller. It’s very dark and atmospheric, and while the hook, some of the window dressing, and the MacGuffin are science-fiction, Gulf stands up as a fairly standard, if well-written, example of the spy-pulp genre. If the sci-fi elements weren’t there, it would still hold up as a spy story, as it doesn’t really rely on those tropes to make its narrative work.

An agent has three tubes of micro-film: two decoys, and one with top secret plans for something. He’s got to get them to the post office so they can be transferred with cold mechanical efficiency to the dead drop address. There’s a game of cat and mouse as those who want to get their hands on the film interfere with the agent as he tries to make the drop, and after he gets the tube off, he’s taken to a private jail on trumped up charges of passing a forged note to a waitress [his wallet had been stolen by a porter urchin and swapped with an almost identical fake].

His enemies try to no avail to discover the contents and destination of the tube, and the agent is “rescued” by an interested 3rd party [a fabulously wealthy helicopter salesman] who got himself captured to make contact and plan the break. The agent escapes only to find that he’s been burned by a double, the tube either went missing or never made it to the dead drop, and his agency thinks he’s the one who stole it.

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In case you’re interested, we’ve got THREE new print editions out this week in the Castalia Books Direct store that may be of interest.

First is CHUCK DIXON’S AVALON #1: THE STREET RULES, which is available in a gold logo edition for $2.99. We very nearly got it out as fast as the digital version thanks to our new production process, which cuts 4-5 days off the previous pre-print routine. This means that all of our new print editions will only be available on Castalia Books Direct for a week or two, before they eventually show up on Amazon.

Second is the brilliant SUPERLUMINARY trilogy by John C. Wright. It contains The Lords of CreationThe Space Vampires, and The World Armada and is a 482-page paperback. Although it retails for $27.99, we’re able to offer it at $19.99.

And third is Vol. II of Vox Day’s Collected Columns. Crisis & Conceit 2006-2009 is a 756-page hardcover that is available for 34.99.

In the late 1970s, the surging popularity of both J. R. R. Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons fueled an increased appetite in fantasy novels. Publishers scrambled to meet this demand, buying up a number of derivative stories that congealed into Tolkien and D&D pastiche. This increasingly self-referencing sub-genre of fantasy was derided as “extruded fantasy product,” or, more commonly, pink slime. During this time, the tabletop game replaced the magazine as the primary means of experiencing fantasy. Many a fantasy work since can trace its origins to a role-playing campaign that the writer either ran or played in years prior. In the forty years since that fantasy explosion, gamers have shifted from the tabletop to first the console, and then the online video game. This change in the medium of fantasy has brought about a change in the conventions and stories in fantasy, incorporating many of the gaming mechanics into literary adventures. In Japan, this new set of expectations, settings, and tropes can be called Blue Slime fantasy.

The pink vs. blue divide has been used before to indicate the audience of what sex a story is intended for. Here, Blue Slime is intended not just to contrast with the earlier term, but also to pay homage to to the mascot of Dragon Quest, one of the video games that inspires the genre. And slimes are everywhere in the bestiaries of Blue Slime fantasy. What sets Blue Slime fantasy apart from other fantasies is that a Blue Slime fantasy is a video game-inspired story taking place in a pseudo-European setting, centered around a party of heroes taking quests from a guild, using  the leveling, health, magic, class, combat, dungeon, and reward mechanics found in games such as Dragon Quest and .hack (pronounced “dot Hack”). While many of these stories, such as Sword Art Online and Overlord, can take place in a virtual game world set in the near future, these tropes have been extended to the non-video game fantasy worlds of the isekai genre, as can be seen in Arifureta, Konosuba, and In Another World with My Smartphone, where adventurers still carry cards displaying their level, class, combat stats, HP, and MP. While some of the adventures have a resemblance to cyberpunk such as Otherland and Snow Crash, the “punk” has been replaced by an often too-self-aware gamer and other more mundane concerns. But whether online, in another world, or in a galaxy far, far away, the video game influence pervades all Blue Slime fantasy.

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All war is murder for profit.

Some people are just more open about it.

WARDOGS INCORPORATED is one of the largest and most professional mercenary corporations operating in the Kantillon subsector. If you need a bodyguard, an assassination team, or an armored cavalry regiment complete with air support, Wardogs Inc. can provide it for you… for a very steep price.

The Stratocracy of Sfodria has ruled over its people with a very large steel fist for centuries. The giant mechs piloted by their nobles are all but invulnerable and have long served as the aristocratic shield against Sfodria’s enemies. But recently, their indestructible knights have been falling in battle at an unprecedented rate, and no one knows why. Desperate to reverse the fortunes of war before their nation falls to their hereditary enemy, the Stratocracy turns to Wardogs Inc. to train their ineffective and long-ignored militia.

Tommy Falkland and his fellow Wardogs aren’t on the job long before they begin to realize that they may be in well over their pay grade, as they are not dealing with a conventional human threat.


I’d been sitting in a cafe in the outer rim of the spaceport, about ten gates from where we were going to pick up our ship for the next leg of the trip. Our ultimate destination was the Dom Sevru system, but we had to go through Feymanus, then jump through to Rhysalan, then to Terentulus, over to Merovinge and up through Mosva. Like Park said, it was a pissant planet. Just look up the sector map—you’ll see what I mean.

Anyhow, I was sitting outside this cafe, eating a stale pastry and drinking a coffee that wasn’t quite as terrible as I expected, when this guy caught my eye in a bad way. You know how it is when you just feel that someone is off. It’s usually in the eyes, and you can sense it once you’ve dealt with enough bad guys. But I’ve learned to trust my gut over the years, and this thick guy with fleshy lips and a stubbly head was triggering my radar.

He was sitting there poking around on a little tablet, pretending not to be watching Cole and Waterose where they sat at a table inside the cafe. I keyed my com jack to Ward’s channel. “Ward, it’s Falkland. Come to the cafe in Sector 18,” I said, glancing up at the signage. “Be cool and ignore the guys inside. I’m at the outside table.”

“Roger,” he replied. “Be there in five.”

Before he arrived, the thick guy got up and walked past Cole and Waterose, glancing at them again as he passed. He stepped out into the concourse and started walking towards the rest rooms. Once I was sure of his destination, I relaxed. Ward showed up a moment later and I swigged my coffee and chucked the rest of the lackluster pastry into a chute. “Ward—I think we got a spook. He was eyeing the boys over there.”

“Where is he now?” Ward said, looking around.

“Restrooms. Let’s corner him.” Read More

Bounding Into Comics reviews Chuck Dixon’s Avalon #1: The Street Rules:

Chuck Dixon is responsible for some of the most memorable comic book stories and characters of the past few decades. Most notably, he’s revered as the creator of one of Batman’s most formidable villains, Bane. Dixon’s newest comic series, Avalon, comes courtesy of Arkhaven Comics and is set in Vox Day’s Alt-Hero universe. I’ve been a fan of the books that have populated that world thus far and Dixon’s inclusion in this particular story had me hopeful and VERY excited. I’m happy to say that I was not, in the least, disappointed.

The story itself is told within the framework of an interview given by a super-powered vigilante named Fazer to a reporter in a local diner. Right off the bat, it’s evident that heroes/vigilantes are well known and even expected in this universe as nobody seems to think it’s strange to see a costumed hero sitting and chatting with a reporter. The interview itself seems to be focusing on not so much the actions of fighting villains and saving people, but rather on the fundamental reasons why it’s done and the ideas of responsibility in managing your gifts. It’s a refreshing introduction to the characters and it’s the characters themselves that make what could have otherwise been a generic crime fighting story really worth reading.

Read the whole thing there. We’re very pleased to see the issue merited Arkhaven’s best rating yet!

Here’s the story of a little movie that could, a really-real urban legend made by a legitimate cinematic legend, a movie never released in movie theaters, a movie whose reels were supposedly burned to ash by the Hollywood producer who bought the rights to it, a movie that somehow leaked to the public and (like the Star Wars Holiday Special) found a second life on bootleg DVD’s and lately, on YouTube. This is the story of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four.

Roger Corman is an insanely prolific (and successful) low budget Hollywood mogul, specializing in horror, SF, and exploitation flicks. He has producer credits on 415 different movies on IMDB, including Death Race 2000, the original Piranha, and Battle Beyond the Stars.

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Pulps (The Pulp Net): When I was first involved in the pulp fandom world in the late ’90s, I saw ads for Keys to Other Doors. Subtitled “some lists for a pulp collector’s notebook,” it was put together by John DeWalt. There were at least two versions, a first version in 1995 with a revised version in 1998.  I believe the 1995 version has a blue cover and was done for Pulpcon.  I got the 1998 version which has a red cover.

I didn’t get it at the time and only recently got a copy. I wish I had gotten a copy back then, as I had to work to find some of the information, and thanks to the Internet and various websites, a lot of this information is now easy to find. But, there is information here I was not aware of despite that. So there still is value in getting it.

 

Publishing (Chaosium): Chaosium, Inc., publisher of the celebrated roleplaying games Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest, announces the relaunch of their fiction program.

The Chaosium fiction line originally launched in 1992 and was suspended in 2015 during a general company restructuring. Subsequently, Chaosium management brought on publishing and gaming industry veteran James Lowder as a consulting editor to help resolve any outstanding contract and payment issues with authors, editors, and artists.

Lowder then drafted new, creator-friendly contracts for the department, worked with SFWA to register the company as a qualifying professional market, and then commissioned a schedule of new, creator-owned fiction releases, in both print and e-book formats. Read More

From the mean streets of Moseley to the luxurious beach houses of Diamond Beach, crime affects everyone in Avalon. And the presence of the superhumans known around the city as “specials” hasn’t necessarily made life for the average citizen any better, since the local vigilantes are as apt to demand payment for their protection as they are to provide their services for free.

The crime-fighting duo of King Ace and Fazer are true heroes, not vigilantes, as Fazer explains the difference to a reporter interviewing him for the city paper. A hero doesn’t expect thanks or payment, he helps people because it is the right thing to do. And a hero doesn’t kill anyone, ever. All he and the big guy are trying to do is make everyday life better for everyone walking through their streets and living in their city.

But even heroes face temptation.

Chuck Dixon is the most prolific comic book writer in history. Set in the world of Alt★Hero, CHUCK DIXON’S AVALON #1: THE STREET RULES is the legend’s newest creation.

From the first reviews:

  • Chuck is off the leash. Dixon, writer of Conan, Punisher, creator of Bane, gritty as Sandpaper westerns(And PG Wodehouse!), gets to write his take on vigilantes and Superheros without corporate shackles. First issue is a brilliantly written world builder full of action and comedy. Fosco’s art is tailored to the tone.
  • Gritty raw and fun, this is a great issue with Chuck Dixon firing on all cylinders – the art is raw and fun. This is a MUST READ! I was reminded of Chuck Dixon’s early era Punisher stories – this was GREAT!
  • Saw this recommended for me in Kindle Unlimited and thought I’d give it a try. It was really fun, kind of a twist on what you think of as a superhero comic. And the art was awesome! 
  •  Chuck Dixon’s name convinced me to try it and I’m glad I did. It’s typical Dixon—expertly plotted and fast paced. A promising start to a new series.
  • This is classic Chuck Dixon. He lays the foundation of a fully-realized universe–complete with heroes, supporting characters, and heaps of action. Fosco’s work sets a perfect tone for the city of Avalon.

Philip Jose Farmer (1918-2009) is one of those authors that I like a few books of his. He liked to write about fictional characters that inspired him. He wrote more about Tarzan and his world than any other classic character.

For years, Time’s Last Gift was on the read one day list. It was also a book hard to find used in decent condition. I had read A Feast Unknown and Lord of the Trees. A Feast Unknown is memorable because it is so grotesque in spots. He dialed it back for Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin.

I am a big fan of Farmer’s two Opar books. Classic example how things improve when you get away from pastiche and into inspiration or homage.

Time’s Last Gift is referred to in the introduction to the Chronology of Khokarsa in Hadon of Ancient Opar. Famer mentions the time traveler Sahhindar and makes it plain without mentioning the name that it is Tarzan.

Time’s Last Gift was first published by Ballantine in 1972 with a typically bad cover that science fiction books generally had at the time.

The Del Rey imprint of Ballantine reprinted the novel with house artist Darrell K. Sweet in 1977. That cover fails to capture the feel of the novel also. In fact, all the covers for Time’s Last Gift are pretty lame.

The book is short by today’s standards, 185 pages which probably translates to around 70,000-75,000 words. I knocked this book off in one day.

Four time travelers go back to Europe at 12,000 B.C in a time machine. One of them, John Gribardsun is described as

“He was six-foot-three. He looked as if he were thirty. He had long, straight, very black hair, dark gray eyes, and a handsome, slightly hawkish face. The sheer single-piece tunic revealed a body like Apollo’s.”

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The Colonies throw off England’s shackles in a second American Revolution, two genetically engineered sharks battle sea monsters for the fate of the free world, and the Shield Knight quests to stop the rise of an evil new god in this week’s roundup of the newest releases in fantasy and adventure.


The Cessation of Karrak (The Ascension of Karrak #3) – Robert J. Marsters

Betrayal… something the companions would never have suspected of one of their own.

Sadly, they are oblivious to the twisted thoughts of revenge harboured by one of the younger wizards. His darkest secret, his true identity… an identity hidden from them, but recently revealed to the shadow lord. The alliance between the traitor and the dark sorcerer Karrak would undoubtedly prove to be more dangerous than any threat they had overcome previously.

Could they still succeed?

Now, the situation more precarious than ever and facing insurmountable odds, no decision made by Jared Dunbar can be easy if he and his companions are to survive the final confrontation. Even at the cost of his own life, he must bring about…

The Cessation of Karrak.


Countdown to Apocalypse (Superhuman #2) – Evan Currie

The first shots of war have been fired, now it’s a race against time to stop a headlong rush before someone fires the last shots.

The alien probe that created dozens of superhuman weapons and unleashed them on Houston has a new testing site, the city of Hong Kong, and Alexander Hale has been asked to intervene. With no idea who, or how, the experiments on people are being done he slips into the city to try and find out what ever he can, but beyond the skyline of Hong Kong trouble is brewing.

With China and The USA rushing headlong toward a nuclear exchange, there may only be hours to save the world from this countdown to apocalypse.

It’ll take a superhuman effort.

Good thing he has that going for him, because nothing else seems to be.


Dragon Blessed (The Dragonwalker #2) – D. K. Holmberg

The magic of the ancient dragons cannot be ignored.

Learning he’s descended from the ancient Deshazl, those once known as the Dragonwalkers, has changed nothing for Fes. He continues to serve Azithan and the empire, even after deceiving them. The ancient Deshazl magic lives within him, but Fes doesn’t know how to control it or even if he should try.

An old nemesis approaches him with a job he can’t refuse, and he’s forced to head toward Toulen. When betrayal separates him from from a friend in need, Fes must begin to understand how to use his Deshazl magic. If he can’t, not only will he lose his friend, but innocent people will suffer.

With a growing magic within him, Fes questions not only the nature of his power, he’s forced to make a choice between these new connections and the empire.


Empire Day (New England #1) – James Philip

It is nearly two hundred years since George Washington was killed and his Continental Army was destroyed in the Battle of Long Island and now New England, that most quintessentially loyal and ‘English’ imperial fiefdom – at least in the original, or ‘First Thirteen’ colonies – is about to celebrate its devotion to the Crown and the Old Country, of which it still views, in the main, as the ‘mother country’.

In Whitehall every British government in living memory has complacently based its ‘American Policy’ on the one immutable, unchanging fact of New England politics; that the First Thirteen colonies will never agree with each other about anything.

In past times a troubling question has been whispered in the corridors of power in London: what would happen to the Empire – and the Pax Britannica – if the British hold on New England was ever to be loosened?

If the New World ever discovers again a single voice supporting any kind of meaningful estrangement from the Old Country; it would surely be the end of the Empire… Read More