Independent authors would do well to take a page from Darkest of Dreams, a collection of short stories written by four different authors.  The prospect of writing a 100,000 word novel, which provides around 300 pages of entertainment, requires a serious time commitment.  To say nothing of the costs associated with investing in editing, proofreading, and cover design.  Pooling resources with three other authors allows burgeoning writers to take the craft for a test spin.  It allows experienced authors to take even greater risks with their craft.  Instead of experimenting with unusual story structure or points-of-view or prose styles for weeks on end with nothing to show for the effort, an author can spin out a few short yarns and package them with other authors to see how the market reacts.

Collections like this also provide a service for the reader.  If the avante-garde nouveau-bohemian lit-crit experiment fails, the reader has only invested a few minutes in the attempt, and not all of his costs are sunk.  Three more authors remain in the package, at least one of which is likely to provide some entertainment value.   So it is with this collection, which appears on its face to be a horror collection, but which includes a few stories that owe more to fantasy or science-fiction than the blood-soaked monster horror suggested by the cover.

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Russell Newquist begins his Prodigal Son urban fantasy series with War Demons.

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When he came home, so did they…

Driven by vengeance, Michael Alexander enlisted in the Army the day after 9/11. Five years later, disillusioned and broken by the horrors he witnessed in Afghanistan, Michael returns home to Georgia seeking to begin a new life. But he didn’t come alone. Something evil followed him, and it’s leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

The police are powerless. The Army has written Michael off. Left to face down a malevolent creature first encountered in the mountains of Afghanistan, he’ll rely on his training, a homeless prophet, and estranged family members from a love lost…

But none of them expected the dragon.

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden collides with Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International in this supernatural thriller that goes straight to Hell!

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Reader Praise for War Demons:

“I genuinely enjoyed this story. Action went fast and was almost continuous, very little downtime. The main character struggles with PTSD and this comes through in a very genuine way. He’s never presented as reckless or monstrous for it, and it’s handled with compassion and a solid grasp of the condition. This is a story of good versus evil, which I enjoyed; I’m not about shades of gray and moral relativism. There is clear right and wrong here.”

“The novel begins as a tale of supernatural horror, and a sense of deepening dread and menace build up. Yet, it is also a heroic tale: a story about valor, faith and redemption in the face of overwhelming evil. This book combines horror, heroism and action in fashion not to be seen in other modern paranormal tales.”

“This was an incredibly fast read. The author slams the action pedal to the floor and duct tapes it there. Despite the frenetic pacing, the major characters all have a lot of color and life in them.”

Most people lack the capacity to comprehend anything Gary Gygax said about his influences in the development of the Dungeons & Dragons game. The reason for this is that most people’s concept of fantasy goes something like this:

In the beginning, there was The Lord of the Rings. From this great work sprang all that is great and wonderful and awe inspiring about fantasy: trilogies, to be sure. Books with maps in the front of the book. And most importantly, ponderous and sprawling world building that eclipses nearly everything else about a work. And out of Tolkien there came The Sword of Shannara and Lord Foul’s Bane. Then came D&D and Dragonlance and The Forgotten Realms. And all of these things together begat Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

For a good chunk of today’s fantasy fans, this is the only world they’ve ever known. And the world that Gary Gygax came up in…? It’s largely unimaginable to them. And so when Gygax writes about the stuff that defined fantasy for him and inspired his work in the early days of fantasy role-playing games, they can’t process it. He talks about an approach to fantasy that is not founded on Tolkien’s works. And this simply does not compute! If Tolkien defines the fantasy genre… if he is the only conceivable starting point, then everything Gygax says sounds completely bizarre. Whatever facts you provide and whatever context or date they emerged from, the only sensible explanation these sorts of people can come up with is that the architect of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game could only be lying in order to protect himself from lawsuits from the Tolkien estate.

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When did “fun” become a four-letter word? When did “excitement” become something to sneer at? When did pleasing the audience become despised as the font of all evil?

(Don’t answer. I don’t care. That’s not the point.)

Entertainment—now follow me here, because the argument gets a little labyrinthine—entertainment is meant to ENTERTAIN. It’s meant to whisk the audience away to another world in their minds, to take their attention off the very real problems that plague their lives, to give them respite from the burdens of this fallen world. That is a HOLY mission. It is an act of mercy, an act of charity. Like buying a poor kid an ice cream cone, it is an act of kindness that makes someone’s life a little bit better. Only with a book or comic, you can lift the spirits of THOUSANDS.

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Castalia House is pleased to announce that TITHE TO TARTARUS, the sixth volume of John C. Wright’s wonderful Moth & Cobweb dodecology, is now available for purchase.

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Inflicted with amnesia, Yumiko Ume Moth has managed to discover the identity of the lost love whom she cannot remember. And she has learned the truth of her mother’s murder. The party responsible for the absence of the one and the death of the other appears to be the same: the Supreme Council of Anarchists.

Now she hopes to rescue the brilliant young man who may or may not be her fiance while seeking vengeance for her mother, the Grail Queen. But her only allies are a scatter-brained fairy and the Last Crusade, which consists of a young knight and his dog. Nevertheless, the Foxmaiden will not turn from her path, though all the dark forces of Tartarus stand in her way.

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John C. Wright is one of the living grandmasters of science fiction and the author of THE GOLDEN AGE, AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND, and IRON CHAMBER OF MEMORY, to name just three of his exceptional books. He has been nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, and his novel SOMEWHITHER won the 2016 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction Novel at Dragon*Con. The first book in the Moth & Cobweb series, SWAN KNIGHT’S SON, was a finalist for the 2017 Dragon Award for Best Young Adult Novel.


Science Fiction (Not a Blog) A Sadness — “The Hugo voters knew what they were doing when they gave Pournelle that first Campbell; he went on to have an amazing career, both on his own and in collaboration with other writers, particularly Larry Niven. With INFERNO, LUCIFER’S HAMMER, FOOTFALL, and (especially) MOTE IN GOD’S EYE, the two of them helped transform the field in the 70s. They were among the very first SF writers ever to hit the big bestseller lists, and among the first to get six-figure advances at the time when most writers were still getting four figure advances… something that Jerry was never shy about mentioning. Though he was nominated for a number of Hugo Awards in the years that followed, he never won one… but if that bothered him, he did not show it. ‘Money will get you through times of no Hugos better than Hugos will get you through times of no money,’ he said famously.”

Books (Alexandru Constantin) Barbarian Book Club: August 2017 — “It’s amazing how a fantastic writer like Clavell can pack so much action, excitement, and romance into a single novel compared to 21st-century fantasy writers who write epic multi volume works where nothing worth reading happens for entire books.”

Pulp Revolution (Jon Mollison) Modern Sci-Fi, A House Build on Sand — “Worth noting is how the modern refusal to ground Star Trek in the fertile soil of actual, no-fooling morality characterized by stark contrasts between good and evil has drained the weight and import from the genre. If you refuse to accept the existence of objective good and evil, if the only thing that ever motivates your villains are ‘daddy issues’, if you bridle at the thought of judging people for their vices, then you cannot create compelling storylines that draw people in and inspire them to read more and be better people.”

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This was our first game so we were overwhelmed by the number of options at the beginning.

The sixth event to come out was a propaganda card, so those opening turns mostly involved us trading “Op + Special” moves with very little impact on the relative scores. In this phase, we behaved as if resources were effectively infinite. France lucked up by drawing Napalm for the second card; they chose to take the event on that and ended up with the benefit of a powerful capability for the entire game. (Their assaults in mountain regions were tremendously effective because of this. They could clean out guerrillas there with only half the usual number of troops.)

It wasn’t until the nineteenth card of the second round that the next propaganda card emerged. Both of us ran out out of resources during this round, so things picked up due to each of us playing Passes and Events more. The dilemmas of just what to do were as challenging as ever, however. The FLN used a Limited Op March followed by a Rally to move his fighters from Tunisia into Souk Aras. There was a great deal of back and forth there while French troops cleared out an FLN base in Tizi Ouzou. On the other side of the country, the FLN managed to subvert Algerian police units in the city of Oran and then Rally there until they could build a base and take complete control there.

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An excerpt from Mojo Mori’s debut novel:

A faint sound made the man freeze, his heart racing. Holding his breath, he listened intently. Utter silence prevailed for several moments. Then his ears detected furtive sounds—the soft, irregular noises of a living creature creeping through the grove nearby. The man rose to a crouch, laying his hand on his sword-hilt as he peered into the gloom.

Suddenly, the silhouette of a man glided stealthily between two trees not seven feet from where the traveler crouched! The fog provided a background against which a peasant’s wide straw hat appeared clearly. The fellow also bore a suspiciously long pole in his hands. A second and third, each carrying a similar pole, followed the first. A moment later, the traveler glimpsed the trio moving to his left, creeping methodically through the grove and thrusting the long poles into any place that might conceal a man. Hunters! But of men, not beasts.

The traveler immediately recognized his danger. The long poles were spears, and it was for him the men were almost certainly searching. He did not know if they were agents of his lord’s enemies, attempting to thwart his mission, or merely robbers alerted to potential prey by the innkeeper at the village.

Who they were mattered little at the moment. They would surely kill him if they found him. If he remained in the grove, they were certain to discover him soon. Though he was not unskilled with a sword, the traveler knew he stood little chance against three men at once, particularly men armed with spears.

The man climbed to his feet as quietly as he could, picking up his own straw hat from the forest floor. Easing himself through the trees slowly, and cautiously, the traveler moved away from the three men and in the direction of the road. He could no longer see or hear the hunters. His heart beat violently as he stole among the trunks, keeping one hand outstretched to feel any obstacles hidden in the murk before he stumbled noisily into them. His whole body was tense with the expectation of steel plunging into his flesh from the thrust of an unseen ambusher’s spear.

Soon he reached the far end of the grove. He would have liked to proceed more cautiously, but he knew that lingering even a moment too long might well prove fatal. Once clear of the pines and away from the hunters, speed would prove essential. A clump of small bushes stood between the road and the end of the grove, clinging precariously to a low bank. He clambered down through them carefully, trying not to tangle his legs with the thin branches and snap one loudly. Fortune remained with him, though, as he made his way through them without breaking any, and he was relieved to feel the road’s firm earth under his feet.

The man moved off along the road as swiftly as he dared, his straw sandals making little noise on the damp, hard-packed dirt. Crouching low to make his silhouette less visible, he glanced warily from side to side as he fled. In the pre-dawn light, the road seemed lined with dark, mysterious shapes watching him in brooding silence. He found himself keenly aware of how far away he was from safety, and how close he still was to the men trying to kill him. Read More

Jack Gaughan (1930 – 1985) was a ubiquitous illustrator for both science fiction paperbacks and magazine covers in the 1960 and 70s. He appears to have been Donald Wollheim’s main artist at Ace Books in the 1960s and a prominent artist for D.A.W. Books in the 1970s.

Gaughan was right up there alongside Frank Frazetta for producing paperback book covers in the 60s when fantasy suddenly became a major genre. Howard, Leiber, Tolkien, Norton, Moorcock– Gaughan did covers for all.

Donald Wollheim was a head of the curve reprinting Robert E. Howard’s sword & planet novel Almuric in 1964.

Andre Norton helped kick-start the fantasy movement of the 60s with her “Witch World” series that started in 1963. Disguised at sword & planet, the series took on an increasingly fantasy orientation with each book. Gaughan did the covers for them.

Wollheim discovered a copyright loophole with J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books when Tolkien showed no interest in paperback editions. Jack Gaughan did the covers for the infamous “pirate” editions from 1965.

  1. Warner Munn wrote a sword & sorcery novel, “King of the World’s Edge” for Weird Tales in 1939. Ace Books reprinted the book in 1967. Gaughan did the cover.

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Figures a comic version released in 1985 would model the main character after Hannibal from The A-Team

Contrary to the genre’s title, most authors writing science fiction know less about science than a curious twelve year-old. Even more surprisingly, one can still write good, even great SF with this impediment!  And I note this as a professional scientist who loves “hard science” works.  While this might seem like great news for the hoard of hacks out there, including those with philosophy degrees from the University of Chicago, this is indeed a severe handicap, and makes the writer’s task tougher, not easier.

Let’s start off with a particularly successful case, that of Harry Harrison.  Harrison didn’t have much of a technical education and never worked as a scientist or engineer.  Knowing this limitation, his stories rarely touch upon explanations for advanced technology or phenomena.  Thus, his lack of scientific knowledge was never a significant, noticeable weakness in his writings.

In the absence of science, Harrison needed to rely on other qualities for his stories.  In the Stainless Steel Rat series, which I have covered before, he relied upon his outstanding humor, and thrilling, ingenious action.  Thus, the Stainless Steel Rat is an excellent adventure series with some loose science fiction elements thrown in.

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Today’s guest post is the second of the Comics Revolution series written by David Lille about the gatekeeper of the comics market and solutions to the problems it causes. David & Liz Lillie create the Dreamkeepers graphic novel seriesYou can follow them on a variety of social media platforms including Gab.

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The previous Comics Revolution article sketched out the chaos barreling towards the comic retail market, and the corresponding possibilities available to cultural crusaders battling to reclaim the holy city.

All this opportunity in the comics Direct Market–for creators, retailers, readers, and subcultures–has one looming obstacle. Because it’s not enough to offer better content.

I elaborate more on Diamond Comics Distribution elsewhere, but for now it’s enough to know that Diamond is not a doorway. It is a wall fortifying the entrenched positions of Marvel and their cronies.

Anyone hoping to penetrate and claim territory in the comics retail market must find an alternate route.

And we can make one. Read More

The other day I was leafing through my Treasury of Fantasy (I love me some shortish SFF) and pondering what to read next. Phantastes, perhaps, or the King of Elfland’s Daughter? I was hungering for something a bit leaner, and given that it had been quite some time since I had partaken of anything Arthurian, I decided to have a taste of “the Quest of the Holy Graal,” by Mrs. Andrew Lang.

So far as I can tell, this is a piece from Andrew Lang’s Book of Romance (1902). I know his wife worked with him on some of his Fairy Books, so perhaps she had a hand in this one, as well, despite not being credited in the original volume. At any rate, the story tells a version of the famous quest of the Knights of the Round Table, and is broken up into several sections following a few of the more prominent heroes.

There are interesting differences in this manifestation when you think of some of the more popular and recent tellings of the Grail story. If you’ve seen the 1981 masterpiece Excalibur, you may as I did associate the quest for the Grail with the sickening of Arthur and the land and their restoration. Here, a vision of the Grail appears to the knights and they are temporarily stricken dumb. Then Gawaine swears a quest to seek it out, and many of the other knights declare likewise. Arthur is displeased, lamenting the fellowship of the Round Table to be broken and knowing that many of his knights would not return. Read More