Fiction (Ken Lizzi): I think a brief reminder is all that is needed here: Lin Carter was a gifted and prolific editor. One of the volumes he put together for The Adult Fantasy series was a book titled Golden Cities, Far. The introduction is one of his better efforts, and seems to have been exhaustively researched. In fact, the book benefits from Carter’s notes, commentary, and humor throughout. This is the second of his collections of old myths, legends, and tales that are the roots from which the tree of heroic fantasy sprang.

Tolkien (Amatopia): Beloved franchises and intellectual properties are all the Hollywood machine wants, because they’re lazy. They can expend minimal effort in drumming up interest in their projects. A known quantity, a beloved franchise, a name they can trade on, becomes the skinsuit that these weirdos can wear while twisting and subverting the works of better men and women into their own bizarre image.

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Last week, I began to examine The Philip K. Dick Reader. I had quoted Algis Budrys who observed Dick’s short fiction in the 1950s was all over the place. Here are the next five stories:

“The Last of the Masters” (Orbit No. 5, November-December 1954). Post-apocalypse is a recurring item in Dick’s fiction. This starts with a robot coming out of hibernation. The robot is turned on periodically to guide an isolated community in old technology. The story switches to three members of the Anarchist League. Their job is to root out old technology. Mobs took down all the governments and destroyed the robot managers a few generations past. They are sent to investigate reports of holdouts in the mountains of Virginia. Given a car ride, they are in a crash and then attacked by guards from the settlement. One injured in the crash is taken prisoner. One escapes and makes his way into the central hub with Bors the robot destroyed at the end. The story ends with spools with the robot’s memory saved “Just in case the times change.” Read More

No, John DiFool, you understand nothing! I am not a computer. I am alive, just like you! And destiny has brought us together to restore justice to the universe. – The Incal

The 1980s saw the pages of Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal filled the strange allegorical journey that is The Incal. Writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud mixed together Dune, dystopia, and Californian pop spirituality to create a cosmic opera. From the first moment when readers plunged into the tale alongside John DiFool’s first fall into Suicide Alley, The Incal has influenced literature, comics, and the silver screen, even influencing the visuals of Star Wars.

The Incal is divided into six issues. The first, The Black Incal, starts with mystery and peril. Who threw John DiFool over the Suicide Alley railing and why? John is rescued mid-fall, not because of any intrinsic worth, but because he has utility to the police. Through a series of flashbacks through the seedy future-noir City Shaft, John reveals he has made petty enemies. What he doesn’t tell the police is that an alien gave him the crystal entity known as the Incal. After John returns to his home to find his pet bird suddenly giving messianic sermons to crowds, the Incal charges John with a mission:

Confront the Black Incal. Read More

Mysterious starships, alien invaders, magical queens, and betrayed dragons fill this week’s new releases.

Ashes Fall (Ember War: The Ibarra Crusade #1) – Richard Fox

Earth suffers under a brutal alien occupation. But one young man from beyond the galaxy’s edge brings hope.

Ely Hale returns to the Earth with a desperate plea from his father: Take his son to Stacy Ibarra and remove the Qa’resh technology embedded in his skull before it kills him. Ely awakens to a world turned prison planet, and the Geist invaders have their own designs on the device he carries.

Only the Ibarra Crusade stands against the darkness, and they are losing the war. When the Crusade’s few remaining agents learn of Ely’s return, they launch a final, desperate attempt to steal him off world and out of the Geist’s clutches.

Ely isn’t a warrior, but the Hale name comes with high expectations…and carries hope for all of humanity.

The Betrayed Dragon (Cycle of Dragons #2) – Dan Michaelson and D. K. Holmberg

A chance encounter leads Ashan deeper into the mysteries of the dragons.

As a new student in the Dragon Academy, Ashan wants nothing more than to understand his connection to the dragons and to harness their power, but he might have come to learn of his power too late for him to use it. Attempts to harness the magic that burns within him haven’t succeeded, and he’s consoled knowing that if nothing else, he can learn to be a dragon rider.

Dragons begin to go missing, the Djarn move toward the kingdom, and Ashan gets caught in a plot he’s not trained to handle. When the king’s chief dragon mage falls under suspicion, Ashan discovers the key to unraveling the plot against the throne. All Ashan wants is to learn enough to become a dragon mage, but if the Djarn take the dragons, more than that goal will fail. The entire kingdom will fall.

Freefall (Earth’s Last Gambit #1) – Felix R. Savage

A mysterious alien ship is orbiting Europa.

A handful of astronauts must voyage to Jupiter to face the threat, alone.

During a classified mission to the ISS, astronaut Jack Kildare picks up an eerie signal. An alien spaceship is orbiting distant, icy Europa. It looks derelict… but is it? As fear sweeps across Earth, NASA spearheads a frenzied effort to build a ship capable of traveling to Jupiter to confront the alien menace.

Technology intertwines with espionage and sabotage in a race against the clock. Fighting for his rightful place in the mission, Jack finds himself submerged in a world of secrets, international power games, and cold-blooded murder.

Earth needs a man like Jack… but someone doesn’t want him going back to space, ever.

Can Jack defeat the saboteurs in time to save humanity? Or will the alien threat triumph?

Galen’s Way – Richard Paolinelli

The Princess Rhiannon of Salacia has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom on the fortress planet Nammu. Galen Dwyn, the most feared mercenary in the Andromeda Galaxy has been hired to rescue her and bring her home.

But even as his rescue mission succeeds, Galen will soon find himself on the run with the Princess. Caught in the middle of a web of political intrigue, even as he begins to fall for the Princess, he will have to use every ounce of his skill and cunning to keep them both alive as forces from several planets seek them out.

For her love, he will stand alone against the forces looking to establish a new, and very evil, empire.

Galen will look to keep her safe and bring the budding empire to a halt before it can gain a foothold in the galaxy. He will choose to do so the only way he knows how.

Galen’s Way. Read More

Fiction (Ken Lizzi): Swords & Sorcery is L. Sprague de Camp’s first entry in his four-volume series that spanned seven years. His introduction — an early sample of the short essay he’d return to with variations on the theme often enough — is a decent explication concerning what heroic fantasy consists of. (I found myself nodding in agreement at a portion of his opinion of William Morris.) With a promising introduction and a list of authors printed on the cover, I”m ready to dive in. But let me first make note of the gorgeous Virgil Finlay illustrations.

Conventions (Monster Hunter Nation): Dear WorldCon, You are cowards. Several years ago, because some of you were angry at me for getting a bunch of people you don’t like award nominations, us lowly deplorable outsiders with the incorrect kind of politics, you treated my publisher, Toni Weisskopf, like garbage. Years later, after you thought the controversy had safely died off, you felt bad about how you acted and tried to make amends. You invited her to be the Guest of Honor. Only you have no concept of honor. And you screwed her over again.

Fiction (Walker’s Retreat): If you ever had cause to ask “What would the Fake Right version of John Scalzi look like?” then come see your answer: Ben Shapiru (sic) did it. I hope that Benny-boy wrote this himself, rather than use a ghost-writer, because this is some cringy shit that throws off Gamma Male flags like they’re in a Category 5 hurricane. Read More

If you go to the Internet Movie Database and type in Philip K. Dick, there are 38 credits listed. I can’t think of any other American science fiction writer from the classic era of magazine and mass-market paperbacks with this many media adaptations.

Philip K. Dick was a prolific writer of science fiction stories during the 1950s. His shorter fiction output dwindled in the 1960s as he put his main effort into novels. I can remember Algis Budrys writing this in the October 1983 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction:

“Dick’s is the classic case we want to look at. Prior to 1955 and 1956, when Wollheim brought out his first two novels, Solar Lottery and The World Jones Made, Dick had been perceived as a clever if bitter short-story writer. It wasn’t a bad career, but it wasn’t clearly going anywhere. And it certainly didn’t look as if Dick were anything particularly special. He wasn’t as funny as Sheckley when commenting on human foibles; he was, truth to tell, rather tiresomely hortatory. And when he tried to be funny, he approached humor with the heavy hand of someone who’s made a careful study of the mode. When he set out to tell a plain tale plainly, he wasn’t as easy to read as Michael Shaara or J. T. M’intosh or two or three other contemporaries. Most of all, he didn’t seem to carrying out his own niche, and there were plenty of people – Poul Anderson, James Blish, Theodore Sturgeon, and Isaac Asimov among them, with Pohl and Kornbluth coming u fast – who were working the territory he seemed to prefer. Read More

The sequel to Alexander Hellene’s The Last Ancestor, entitled The Second Sojourn, has been recently released in ebook and paperback. With a forthcoming review in the works, let’s take a look back at the first of The Swordbringer series.

Alexander Hellene’s The Last Ancestor follows the last remnant of Christianity in the galaxy, now on the alien planet of Yxakh. Refugees from persecution on Earth, the survivors of the long flight across the stars. But they are not alone on their new home. A lizard-like race nicknamed the Growlers shares the planet, and  their rulers have found Christianity as much of a threat as the rulers of Earth did. Only human technology and bravery keep an uneasy peace.

But while proximity breeds conflict, it also fosters curiosity. Garrett has forged a friendship with a Growler youth named Ghryxa over countless dives into caves and crash sites. What they encounter below the surface of Yxakh will carry Garrett into the Growlers’ Forbidden City and into the presence of the High Lord. A single world may doom humanity to extermination–or save it.

Action is the heart of The Last Ancestor, as ravenous lizardmen, Growler bullies, thrashing mega-predators, and even human police stand in the way of Garrett’s fateful appointment before the High Lord. Bravery takes many guises along the way: trickery, bluff, gunfire, grappling, and even escape. Although there is a philosophical question at the heart of the clash of cultures, it is not debate, but courageous and even rash action which settles the matter. It is one matter to profess faith, and another to wed it to deeds. And the action in The Last Ancestor is swift and perilous enough to bear the momentousness needed to perhaps sway the enraged and powerful. And, even more tellingly, The Last Ancestor does not shy away from the costs–both to Garrett and to the human settlement on Yxakh.

For The Last Ancestor was written out of frustration with Christian fiction steeped in weak protagonists, heavy-handed messages, surrenders to passivity, and unearned happy endings. And the response, like those of Vaughn Heppner and John C. Wright, is to marry decisive action and honest belief with coming-of-age stories. Alexander Hellene is but the first in a sudden wave of authors to move a masculine and deeds-based Christianity into science fiction, and he does so without falling into the clichés of either genre. For one, it is a relief to read of a clash of civilizations written without resorting to First Contact tropes.

The Last Ancestor calls to mind Jack Vance’s The Last Castle, both in the threat to humanity and in the ever-present mysteries that are but an arm’s reach away. The viewpoint, however is from the threatened oppressed, instead of the threatened oppressor, and the result draws more from the accounts of the lives of saints than the thin triumphalisms of previous Christian fiction and the faith in rational science.

But all that makes for pleasant ruminations in the hours after reading the very real story of a young man diving headfirst into mighty deeds as he tries to do right by his family, his friends, his people, and his God.

Dueling dungeon lords, FTL space races, and a deadly Green-goo nanite swarm transform this week’s new releases.

Corruption (The Necromancer’s Key #2) – Mitchell Hogan

When a depraved rot is exposed at the heart of the Order, Anskar is forced to confront the growing power of the dusk- and dark-tides within himself, and find a balance that won’t see him damned in the eyes of his god.

But can a lowly knight-sorcerer resist his instincts to obey his superiors’ in the Order, and fight the pull of Queen Talia’s corrupted influence from beyond the grave?

The true danger is greater than even the Order realizes, and soon Anskar must decide who he can trust, and what he is willing to risk in order to carve out his own destiny, protect the world, and perhaps the fate of all Niyandrians.

Dungeon Duel (The Rogue Dungeon #5) – James A. Hunter and eden Hudson

Welcome to a whole new kind of Boss Battle…

Roark von Graf fought his way up from the bottom to become not only the Dungeon Lord of the Cruel Citadel, but the leader of the Troll Nation, making underhanded alliances with other dungeons and players along the way.

Until now, he’s only had to worry about his enemies attacking from inside the game. But Lowen, the Tyrant King’s right-hand man, has found a way to attack the players in league with Roark IRL, laying siege to the company that keeps Hearthworld’s servers running and capturing the very Devs who can take Roark apart byte by byte.

To stop Lowen and his Divine armies once and for all, Roark will have to drag the magics of the game into the real world, harness deadly new technologies, and build dungeons in places no Dungeon Lord has ever gone before.

The fate of Earth hangs in the balance. The duel between Dungeon Lords has begun. And one of them isn’t leaving Hearthworld alive…

Earth, Our Home (Earthrise #15) – Daniel Arenson

They call themselves the next step in human evolution. But we call them “scummers.” They are hybrids. Humans with alien DNA.

They attacked us. They butchered us. Now we fight back.

Under the leadership of Einav Ben-Ari, our brave soldiers fly to the scummer planet. To war.

But we face a terrifying foe. The scummers are stronger than us. Faster. Fiercer. And their queen is none other than Lailani de la Rosa . . . Ben-Ari’s oldest and best friend.

The two forces clash. The final battle is here. A battle between the old and new. Between humans and those who vow to supplant us.

This is a war between old friends . . . and a war for humanity’s soul.

Eden Descending – Tony Peak

They hoped to create a paradise. Instead, they created hell.

Phoa was terraformed by nanite swarms for Earth’s colonists to create a beautiful, habitable world. But the swarms evolved, overran the planet, and two centuries later, threaten every living thing remaining on it.

Reyes, a scientist from Phoa’s last colonial enclave, and Thanata, a bioengineered hunter from a rival tribe, must work together to halt the Green: the massive swarm that absorbs plants, animals—even entire cities. But if the unlikely pair hopes to survive the mutated wilds and the deadly Green, they’ll have to learn to understand each other. Read More

Robert E. Howard (Adventures Fantastic): Robert E. Howard’s final Conan story, “Red Nails”, relates how Conan and his fellow adventurer Valeria come upon a giant, totally enclosed city, Xuchotl, where the inhabitants have divided up into two factions and are in a deadly war to wipe each other out. As is well known, Howard used a lot of real life historical incidents and places as inspiration to write many of his stories. Howard’s two trips to New Mexico in 1934 and 1935 with his good friend Truett Vinson provided ideas for his stories.

Writing (Monster Hunter Nation): So far most of the reviews for my latest book have been good. However, there’s a couple that made me laugh because of how goofy and off base they are. This one in particular for the audiobook is going to peg the Brandollini meter, but it illustrates a few things about how the writing process/reviewing works, that I thought might be professionally helpful for the writers who read this blog to understand how my collaborations work.

Cinema (Arkhaven Comics): Triumph. Victory. Success. Conquest. There is no better feeling in the world.  I get the guy who really wants to win. And Ford Versus Ferrari really speaks to me.  It was a fantastic film.  They did everything right, and everyone did their level best to bring their A-Game.  For those who have never watched Top Gear or who just don’t like cars. Ford versus Ferrari is about the legendary grudge match between the David and Goliath of 1960s motor racing. Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II (grandson of Henry Ford).

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Racial memory/ancestral memory/genetic memory– a concept used in fiction for fantastic effects for 140 years. H. Rider Haggard used the idea in The Ancient Allan, Jack London in The Star Rover, Edwin Lester Arnold’s Phra the Phoenician, and Robert E. Howard’s “James Allison” stories. Someone in the present remembering a past life of an ancestor.

                Ancestral memory is in Nevil Shute’s An Old Captivity. Shute (1899-1960) is probably best remembered for the apocalyptic On the Beach and A Town Called Alice. An Old Captivity is my first novel by him to read. He was a popular writer of mainstream adventure tinged novels. He had a background in aeronautical engineering (like L. Sprague de Camp) and it most definitely shows in An Old Captivity. Read More

They told me they needed me to go to Samaris, as the rumors had been going on too long…

…and the only way to put a stop to them was to send someone there to see what was really happening.

On a counter-Earth 180 degrees removed from our own, a young officer in service to the city of Xhystos, Franz Bauer, is given a mission of vital importance. He volunteers to go to the mysterious city of Samaris, thought by Xhystos to be the foreign source of the malaise affecting its culture. Many have been sent to the fabled Walls of Samaris, yet none have returned. Driven by ambition, Franz ignores the objections of his friends and sets out for Samaris.

Perhaps he should have listened.

Thus begins the first of the tales of Les Cités obscures, known now in English as The Obscure Cities, a multi-decade fantasy written by Benoît Peeters and drawn by François Schuiten. Sadly, most of the series of this classic French bande dessinee remains untranslated in English, and many of the translated volumes fall readily out of print. Scarcity has driven up the esteem of this series, both in English and in French, yet the quality matches its reputation through mixing gorgeous architecture in the backgrounds and philosophical storytelling. As Julian Darius wrote in his overview for the Sequart Organization:

But The Obscure Cities? It’s pretty much what Americans want French comics to be. Intoxicatingly beautiful. Elegant, even. Willing to experiment. And smart in a way that it’s easy to lose yourself in the rich resonance.

There is a bit of subtle wordplay hidden by translation to the title of The Obscure Cities. Like Franz Bauer, we see through to the meaning dimly, knowing and perceiving in part. While these regions are not well known, the original French has connotations of darkness, menace, and hiding. It’s a proper title for a story driven by one central, even paranoid, concern: what mystery lays in the heart of Samaris’s walls with its carnivorous plant heraldry?

Franz arrives to the wonder of Samaris, a walled city that can be seen on the horizon nearly two weeks before arriving. The city combines a vast sprawling footprint with a bizarre mix of architectural styles from different civilizations and eras. However, the high society is confined to a narrow, even homely, section of the city. Franz soon falls into a comfortable rut of socials and soirees, but little details keep worrying him.

Why were there never any children in Samaris? Why were so many doors blocked off? Why wasn’t there anything behind the shutters that I pried open? Read More

Ancient dungeon administrators, hidden Terran rebels, and rival military services lead this week’s new release list.

Anima (Artorian’s Archives #6) – Dennis Vanderkerken and Dakota Krout

New world. Old problems. Even gods must die.

Artorian has been given the lovely opportunity to run a realm and sort out all of its inherent issues. Not only does he get to chase around people with world-shattering abilities and force them into hibernation, he gets to break up his days by living through the worst portions of his life all over again. Nothing like trauma to fuel personal growth!

Nasty creatures Artorian thought were gone forever have begun appearing in the dark corners of the world, smiling at him with too many teeth. Between constant battles, Cal’s newfound love for math and pylons, the early stages of a world-spanning game system, and grumpy supervisors who refuse their bedtime…the sunny administrator has his now-tiny hands full.

Exactly how he likes it.

Crusade of Vengeance (Crimson Worlds Refugees #6) – Jay Allan

Earth Two is a world almost consumed by dangers, on the brink of civil war between the cloned “Tanks,” the “Natural Borns” and the hybrid “Mules.” The only thing that has prevented actual fighting, a conflict that may destroy the young planet, is the existence of an even worse enemy, one that sees the three groupings as part of the same infection. The Regent and the deadly threat of the First Imperium’s robot warriors has provided sufficient fear and incentive to force the human groupings together, to hold off their own contest.

For more than thirty years, President Max Harmon and his inner circle have struggled to find the enemy’s location, all while keeping their own planet a secret. But as with all such things, an end must come. Sooner or later, the enemy will discover them…or they it.

Or both.

Curse Quest (Godchosen #3) – T. S. Snow

Riven kan Ingan may have married his beloved Barbara. He may have become a noble by the margrave’s grace but the gods aren’t finished with him.

Not yet.

Though Riven admits married life makes him a lovestruck fool, he refuses to be the cuckold when he returns from battle to find his wife pregnant with a child he couldn’t have sired. In a fury at her supposed infidelity, he dares the gods’ wrath and abandons her, only to become the scapegoat when a blood curse strikes his people.

Haunted by Barbara’s memory, Riven begins a quest to find the one who cursed him. He’ll return to the land of his birth, unearth long-hidden family secrets, and suffer more loss and grief.

Only when his pride is ground to dust and he’s dependent upon an old enemy’s mercy will he be free to rid himself of the blood curse.

The Fall of Rho-Torkis (Chimera Company #1) – Tim C. Taylor

When your worst enemy has your back, you know the mission is doomed from the start.

Sergeant Osu Sybutu of the Legion had a simple mission. Take five men and travel unobserved to a location in the capital where he would deliver a coded phrase to a contact. Simple, that is, except for the fact that there was a war going on, and all the different factions he had to pass by on the way would cheerfully shoot him on sight. And that was only if the planet didn’t kill him first.

Militia Sergeant Vetch Arunsen’s task, however, was far more complex. Shepherd a group of hated rivals across the frozen wastes, keeping them safe from everyone who wanted to kill them, which was pretty much everyone. Including the oddball troopers under Arunsen’s own command, who would happily shoot the Legion soldiers if given the slightest opportunity.

Legion versus Militia. Joint defenders of the Federation. In theory. Their mutual loathing, however, could burn the armor plate off a battleship. For rival sergeants Sybutu and Arunsen, there’s only one way their squads could survive trekking across the iceworld of Rho-Torkis.

Legion and Militia. Read More