Two weeks from now is PulpFest. PulpFest is a convention geared around pulp magazines. Pulp magazines were a form of magazine printed on cheap paper made from wood pulp, which is how the magazines got their name. The magazines lasted from the 1890s to the 1950s though one title (Ranch Romances) lasted into the early 1970s as a pulp and another lasted to 1978 in different incarnations (Argosy).

Pulp magazines is where we first had characters including Tarzan, Zorro, Conan, Sam Spade, The Shadow, Doc Savage. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dashiell Hammett, H. P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert E. Howard, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick all got their start in pulp magazines.

The legacy of the pulp magazines continues to have an impact on popular culture. Superheroes have one foot in the pulps as influence. Star Wars is another franchise heavily indebted to pulp fiction. Read More

Gamers trapped in their favorite game worlds, xianxia cultivation adepts, freed Janissaries, and sellsword relic hunters feature in this week’s fantasy new releases.


Raze (The Completionist Chronicles #4) – Dakota Krout

Humanity on the run. Desperate base building. Dark deeds done during daylight.

Joe has started to draw attention to himself and his abilities. While some of the attention is good and allows for personal growth, most of it is from various organizations that feel threatened by the sudden upswing of power that Joe’s guild—The Wanderers—are attaining.

As the threat to earth begins to reach its peak, all of humanity has a choice: flee to Eternium, or stay for an uncertain future. Some stay, some go, some don’t make the choice quickly enough. In Ardania, the human Kingdom is seeing an unprecedented influx of people. Supply and demand is an issue no matter where you go, as a civilization of a few million can’t prepare to accept an eighth of earth’s inhabitants at once.

Joe sets out to solve problems where he can, but he can’t be there for everyone… especially when a group of smiling enforcers are working to bring him down.


Sky Realms Online: Grayhold – Troy Osgood

Sky Realms Online is the largest and most popular Virtual Reality MMORPG ever made. Set amongst the mystical, floating islands of Hankarth, it’s played and enjoyed by millions every hour. Until something goes wrong.

Unable to log out, players find themselves reduced to level one, and in the starting zones. They receive a cryptic message from the developers stating that for unknown reasons, they are trapped in the game and may have to live out their lives within the virtual world.

Hall is one of the those trapped in the game. He’s been playing Sky Realms Online as a spear-wielding Skirmisher ever since the beta. And instead of panicking as many do, he decides to make the most of it; to play the game and live his new life, all while quietly hoping the developers will find a fix.

It doesn’t take Hall long to find out that, while some aspects of the game are the same, the difficulty level is beyond anything he’s ever experienced.

Together, with a new party of trapped players and NPCs with canned answers, Hall will find out just how different Sky Realms Online has become, and how playing a game is different from living the game…


Sundered Soul – Rick Scott

Not all fates are created equal…

Kenji’s only dream in life is to become a great rebirther like his father. But with no talent for the mystic arts, the age-old tradition of cultivating essence by returning things to their newborn state, to grow a second and third time, is far beyond his grasp.

Worse still, he is yet to be rebirthed himself and stands a dullard of a giant among his diminutive peers. Relegated to working the orchards as a common laborer, Kenji settles into a life of lowered expectations; with no chance for advancement and no chance of pursuing the woman he loves.

But when a mystic warrior from a distant land enters his village, pursued by a powerful demon, Kenji discovers a truth about himself that will not only question who he is, but perhaps everything he can become.

With a chance to make his dreams come true, Kenji must choose between following the fate laid out before him…or defying the heavens to forge his own path.

Doing so will mean finding a way to cultivate and fighting powerful enemies to protect the ones he loves, but failure could mean the very fall of the heavens themselves.

Join Kenji as he uncovers the fate of the Sundered Soul…


The Sword – Isaac Hooke

Kaeden is a nomad who lives life on his own terms. He prefers the unbounded steppe over a cramped city, and allegiance to the sword over fealty to a king. When he does make the occasional foray into civilization, it is to procure cold mead, a hot bath, and a good woman. The latter preferably for an hour or less.

Life is great, until his wanderings bring him to a forest inhabited by nightmares. There, trapped beneath those lightless eaves, he is forced to ally with a mysterious woman whose cunning and beauty could prove to be his downfall.

Either way, one thing is certain: if he is to die, then he will do so covered in the blood of his enemies. Read More

For these particular suspects, their case history spans almost the entire record of life on Earth.

 

The Spring of Life

 

Like a camera lens, the further we try to look back in time the fainter the picture becomes, a hazy, distant mountain. As we turn closer to our time, the story comes into better focus. The camera we have to use is the record in the stone. The lower the layer sits, the older it should be.

None of the ancient dates are reliable; they all rely on untestable hypotheses- assumptions outside the purview of our science. No one can know if radioactive decay rates have been steady for billions of years past, or even if the Earth’s history stretches back many billions of years. There is plenty of evidence that the decay rates aren’t even steady today. No one has a calibrated “molecular clock” that can date genetic changes far into the past. No one was watching when the sedimentary rocks were laid down, tracking the actual rates of sedimentation, or even seeing quite how they were laid down. For present purposes these dating details are not important. For ease of reference, I’ll hew to the various published, though often in dispute, timelines as closely as possible. It is the sequence, the order of events, which matters, not the precise dating of each development. These developments follow in a logical order, the order found in the layers of rock, one more or less on top of the next, that seal the fossil remains. One thing led to the next, the next could not have happened otherwise, and some of it was written in stone, in a broken and cryptic language we have partially learned to read.

Four billion peer-reviewed years ago, the stone tells  Read More

“We solved every case we worked on. It’s just that the solutions weren’t always pretty. An explosion here, an inferno there, and in the end, we’re left with a mountain of corpses, and, incidentally, a solution.”–Kei, “The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair”


When science fiction writer A. Bertram Chandler visited Japan in the late 1970s, he had no idea that a stray comment would spark a multimedia science fiction franchise. When his hosts, including Haruka Takachiho of Crusher Joe fame, took Chandler to see a joshi (women’s) wrestling match, the antics of Takachiho’s assistants prompted Chandler to say, “”the two women in the ring may be the Beauty Pair, but those two with you ought to be called ‘the Dirty Pair’.” That stray comment sparked a novella that mixed Western pulp science fiction, Japanese joshi wrestling and idol singing, and a double-helping of chaos into what would be a classic raygun romance–if the Dirty Pair’s infamy didn’t keep scaring off potential suitors.

The Lovely Angels (don’t ever call them the Dirty Pair to their faces) is the code name for a pair of young trouble consultants. Kei, the narrator for the stories, is a brash, boastful, and lively hothead lifted from the covers of the pulps. Her partner, Yuri, is a demure Japanese beauty that acts as the brake to Kei’s recklessness–and the occasional focus of Kei’s jealousy as well. Together, Kei and Yuri form a set of complementary opposites–and a psionic duo straight out of John W. Campbell’s dreams. The resulting property damage, however, is straight out of a nightmare. In the best tradition of wrestling heels, the ensuing chaos is never quite their fault.

Like many Japanese stories, The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair wears its inspirations on its sleeve. From wrestling, the series gets the outfits, names such as Lucha and the WWWA ( World Welfare Works Association from the World Women’s Wrestling Association), Kei and Yuri’s larger than life personalities, and their heelish yet sincere protests that the disasters in their wake are never their fault. The names Kei and Yuri are taken from the same assistants who entertained Chandler. From American science fiction pulps, the Dirty Pair steal liberally. Rayguns, heatguns, flying saucers, and Campbelline psionics feature prominently in the stories. Kei’s hair and build is classic pulp cover-girl, while the interior art is a mix of 1940s Weird Tales interior art and manga. Their adventures are the sort of trigger happy-detective story that filled the hero pulps. And, yes, that is a coeurl Kei and Yuri are riding on the cover, complete with the nickname “Black Destroyer”–and the special diet and property damage required by a hyper-intelligent alien cat. The result is a strange East-meets-West version of Northwest Smith, if Northwest Smith and Yarol were replaced by sorority girls.

While the two novellas in The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair are standard futuristic versions of crime tales, complete with the requisite twists and betrayals, Kei’s narrative voice is the star of the show. Her larger-than-life exuberance practically drips from each word, even after translation into English. Some of this is due to Kei’s constant wrestling-style self-promotion, but Dark Horse did a masterful job in translation. Few English-language science fiction stories–and almost no light novels translated since–have such a vivid, unrestrained, and selfish voice animating their words, much less one trying to style herself as a heartbreaker and a lifetaker to potential partners and rivals alike.

At the end, when the villains are arrested, all the worlds are wrecked, and the refugees resettled, the Dirty Pair novel always preserves its.pulpy sincerity, complete with the foreboding that the Lovely Angels will soon wreak their accidental havoc on a new world.

Cinema (1000 Misspent Hours): Albert Pyun is another one of my great cinematic nemeses; if you watch anywhere near as many low-budget movies as I do, he’s probably one of yours, too. Pyun’s big claim to fame is his nearly sure-fire touch with what ought to be a categorically impossible subgenre, the action-less action movie. No filmmaker I know of, living or dead, can match Pyun’s ability to drag out a fight scene until the audience loses all interest, or to craft a maddeningly convoluted story that never develops even the faintest hint of forward momentum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pulp Science Fiction (SF Magazines): I suspect that this was a fragment that Moore started and abandoned, and which Kuttner largely or entirely completed (compare the amount of description versus incident in the first quarter against that in the remainder, and you will see what I mean). Whatever, it is the worst thing of theirs I’ve read, and certainly not up to the quality of their other 1943 work. To that latter point—how on Earth did this become a Hugo finalist when Moore’s Judgement Night was overlooked? What on Earth were the Retro Hugo nominators thinking?

 

Paperback Science Fiction (Rich Horton): On to Beyond Earth’s Gates. This is bylined “Lewis Padgett and C. L. Moore”, which is curious because “Lewis Padgett” is generally regarded as a collaborative pseudonym for Moore and her husband Henry Kuttner. I do suspect, though, that the Padgett pseudonym was probably more often used for stories in which Kuttner was the primary author (while I suspect “Lawrence O’Donnell” stories were more often primarily by Moore.)

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There has been round of blog posts in the wake of an interview I had at Jared Trueheart’s Legends of Men blog. That interview spurred a response by Jason Ray Carney who disputes that sword and sorcery is man’s fiction. Daniel Davis joined in at his Brain Leakage blog. Jason Ray responded to that. Go read these posts. Jason said that Jared, Daniel, and I were hysterical. You are not objective when you are the subject of comment. So I need others to look over the posts and comment if you find where any of us were “hysterical.”

Jason Ray Carney’s stance is that sword and sorcery is “gender neutral.”

Gender neutrality: Are we talking androgyny, hermaphrodites, eunuchs, or neuters?

Sword and sorcery got its start in Weird Tales magazine with a few stories in its competitors Strange Tales and Strange Stories. I have already written on female readers of Weird Tales push back against Robert E. Howard once the Conan series got rolling. E. Hoffmann Price wrote later in Amra that Conan saved Weird Tales more than once.

Farnsworth Wright knew his readers.

Let us look at some random issues of Weird Tales. September 1932– twelve stories and one poem. Two stories by women and one poem. October 1935– nine stories, three poems; one story by a woman. March 1938– 10 stories, two poems; one story by a woman. So, the average female percentage as writer is around 10%.

Now to the letters section, “The Eyrie,” to get an idea of female readership. August 1932– 12 letters, all from men. March 1934– 3 out of 19 letters by women. September 1938– 3 out of 23 letters by women. So, female readership of Weird Tales hovered somewhere around 12-15%. This is probably a higher percentage than the science fiction magazines of the period.

Weird Tales used Margaret Brundage as the almost exclusive cover artist from 1933-1936. Most of her paintings have nubile, beautiful young women in various stages of undress. Editor Farnsworth Wright was notoriously nervous about not alienating readers. He had no problem with art that would be considered offensive today. He must have had an idea of gender breakdown of readers. Read More

Alien abductions, miscalculated jumps to hyperspace, and the forge of the Terran Armor Corps feature in this week’s science fiction new releases.


Beast Mode (A Cauldron of Stars #3) – Felix R. Savage

A new breed of immortal villains threatens the Cluster…

…and only one man can stop them.

Racing against spooks and space pirates, freighter captain Mike Starrunner embarks on a do-or-die mission to prevent interstellar war.

After the failure of the Fleet’s containment operations, the disruptive gene-mod known as the Transcendence is about to fall into the hands of criminals who’ll use it to conquer the Cluster. Mike and his crew are the only ones with a chance of catching them in time. Out on their own without backup, they chase the Travelers to a dead planet where a shocking discovery awaits.

When they’re betrayed and left for dead, Mike and the crew have only one option left. They must strike at the Travelers’ stronghold. Can they overcome the impossible odds and save the Cluster, or will their failure doom human civilization?


Borrowed Time: The Force Majeure (Temporal Protection Corps #2) – E. W. Barnes

In a moment the Temporal Protection Corps changed. Martial law. Curfews. Security officers everywhere. And brutal detention for those who step out of line.

Agent-in-training Sharon Gorse and her friends are alone in this alien world, the only ones who know the timeline has been altered.

Their one chance to put things right is to commit a crime – to go back in time and change the past, violating temporal ethics and breaking world law.

Every shift into history increases their risk of capture, and they don’t know who to trust – even each other. Failure means more than living in a terrifying timeline; it means termination from the TPC and permanent erasure of their memories.

Can they succeed in restoring the future before Temporal Protection Corps agents track them down in the past? Or will betrayal from within destroy them first?


Crossfire (Star Kingdom #4) – Lindsay Buroker

For the first time in his life, roboticist Casmir Dabrowski is headed to another star system as an advisor for the Kingdom space fleet. He’s being given a chance to prove himself to King Jager by helping find the ancient artifact he inadvertently lost. It’s best not to think about what might happen if he fails…

But with technologically advanced astroshamans after the artifact, not to mention the deadly mercenary captain Tenebris Rache, it’s not long before the mission collides with disaster.

Soon, Casmir and his friends are caught between warring factions, and he must choose between what the king would want and what he knows is right.


Into the Unknown – Jasper T. Scott

Their cruise ship jumped to the wrong star system.

Criminal attorney, Liam Price, can’t believe his luck. He scored a deal for a suite aboard the Starlit Dream to the exotic world of Aquaria in the Kepler star system. He surprises his wife, Aria, with the trip for her 40th birthday, and the Price family gets ready for the trip of a lifetime.

Soon after the voyage starts, they learn that they’ve somehow jumped to the wrong star system. Liam consults the ship’s computer to determine their location, but he can’t access the navigational data. The captain claims that there’s nothing to worry about, but Liam wonders: if there’s nothing to worry about, why restrict access to the ship’s nav data? He fears that pirates may have detoured them to rob and ransom the wealthy passengers.

Before they can learn more, the ship plunges into darkness, and suddenly the cruise of a lifetime turns into a trip to hell. As the crisis unfolds, Liam and his family are thrust into the middle of a deadly conspiracy and a desperate struggle for survival. Read More

Science is a collection of stories we like to tell each other about how the world works. This one is a detective story- a murder mystery- with some unwitting miscreants, their multiple victims, and quiet heroes. The tale has been told before, with us-es, the human races, as the offender. We, the usual suspects, are framed as the Scapegoat in those fables. Other legends retell the coming of the Sky Monsters, different kinds of beings that go by different names. “Comet” is one of those names.

Hundreds of animal species famously died out during the last Ice Age. The reasons behind the Ice Age, Pleistocene, or Quaternary, megafaunal extinctions have been puzzled over for more than a century without any clear resolution. The problem has been called the ’Fermat’s Last Theorem of paleobiology’. These extinctions took place over thousands of years and around the world, but there was a strange specificity about which animals could stay and which had to go. There are two accredited narratives about what caused this, the human-hunting narrative and the climate-change narrative. Both, in curious ways, are wrong.

In a durable science story all the known pieces fit and work together. No part conflicts with any other part; no actor acts out of character. Nothing should have to be cut from whole cloth and entered into evidence without proof. This has been the problem with the stories of the passing of the giants on the earth in those days. All of these wonderful animals had sailed through the previous Ice Ages unscathed. What was different this time? If hominid hunters killed off this one species then why didn’t they kill off that other one, too? How could they possibly have exterminated any of them for that matter? Why did a colder climate kill animals that were better adapted for it than other animals that weren’t as well adapted, yet survived? The biggest animals should have had the best chance of surviving the cold, not the worst. If the sabertooth cat got sabertooth-cat disease, then why didn’t the mountain lion get mountain-lion disease? If the gardener crept in through the window, why didn’t the dog bark? Read More

James Warren kicked off the Warren Publishing empire in 1957 with a pair of monster magazines edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, the man widely considered, for better or worse, to have kicked off the culture of sci-fi fandomVampirella has proven to be the longest-lasting and perhaps most famous creation of the company, although it did publish a brief run of original adventures of The Spirit, and its anthology titles such as Creepy and Eerie often come up when discussing nostalgia titles.  In the late-60s, Warren did an end-run around the Hayes Code by upping the size of his titles to match the magazine on the stands and declaring that, as magazine, the Hayes Code did not apply.

Many of his “magazines and totally not comic books” can still be found in long boxes at most comic book shops with asking prices in the five to ten dollar range.  Given the typical 70-80 pages of content packed between covers, that puts the price per page on comparable footing with brand new titles from Marvel or a DC.  If you can set aside the sometimes dated fashions and the rounded and somewhat caricature-esque art style of the Spanish studio work, they make for a fine comic fix to feed your addiction between releases of Arkhaven Comic titles.

As one example, take the fix-up first issue of “The Rook”.

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Fantasy Fiction (Forbes): The fantasy genre has exploded in recent years with the popularity of hit series like Harry Potter and A Song Of Ice And FireFantasy first hit its stride in popular culture with old, pulp sword-and-sorcery stories like Conan the Barbarian and sword-and-planet fare like The Princess Of Mars.

Later, J.R.R. Tolkien sparked the modern era of fantasy fiction with The Hobbitand The Lord Of The Ringswhich in turn inspired countless other authors to pen myriad tales of magic and adventure, and even led to the advent of Dungeons & Dragons and hundreds of other tabletop games.

 

Pop-Culture (Brain Leakage): I just wonder if before he asked it, he’d heard the news that scriptwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge is shaking up the iconic—and inarguably masculine—James Bond franchise by replacing 007 with a new female agent.

Quoting the article:

Bond, of course, is sexually attracted to the new female 007 and tries his usual seduction tricks, but is baffled when they don’t work on a brilliant, young black woman who basically rolls her eyes at him and has no interest in jumping into his bed. Well, certainly not at the beginning.”

 

Anime (Walker’s Retreat): While Kyoto Animation didn’t produce much anime that’s in my wheelhouse–just Full Metal Panic–that doesn’t mean they haven’t put out good work, either in the past or present. (e.g. Violet Evergarden) Neither does it diminish the people who worked there or the respect for the work done. Now, because one man decided to torch the building they were in, 34 people are dead and–as quoted above–all of it is gone. Read More

The sword and sorcery genre has not been well served on film. Some movies get close at times but all too often you get low budget, bad script, bad acting fare to end up on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

One movie that is a guilty pleasure for some is The Sword and the Sorcerer from 1982. It was part of the brief flurry of sword and sorcery movies that started with Hawk the Slayer in 1980 and pretty much died with Red Sonja in 1985.

About a year ago, the novelization for the movie was a topic on a social media sword and sorcery group. I know I have seen my share of copies of the books in the past. A search of local used book stories turned up nothing. A friend of mine in England sent me over the Sphere paperback version. I have to say the novel was a fun romp!

The Sword and the Sorcerer was not an over ambitious movie. It used T.V. actors including Lee Horsley, Richard Lynch, Richard Moll (Bull on Night Court). Marshall Harvey’s Trailers from Hell said the producer who distributed soft-core Euro-trash flicks wanted a hard R movie. Hence lots of gratuitous nudity. It was the most profitable independent movie of 1982. Read More

Dungeon core factories, ghost machines, and vampire councils feature in this week’s fantasy new releases.


The Depth of Deceit (Elder Stones #5) – D. K. Holmberg

With the threat of another attack, Haern must use his new abilities to make a dangerous gambit. Doing so requires he trust someone who has betrayed him once before, and count on others who still don’t fully understand the nature of their abilities. If they succeed, they might finally be able to stop Olander Fahr before he manages to acquire another of the Elder Stones.

Daniel struggles to understand his connection to the shadows along with what it means that he can sit at the Council of Elders. When a new threat appears, his unique understanding of the shadows might be the key to survival.

Lucy continues her search to discover the longer game. With the Architect now imprisoned, she has access to someone who can guide her to where Olander Fahr might attack next, but they remain a step behind. A growing fear that someone has deceived her leads her in a new direction, but it’s one that will require her to make a dangerous choice.

Isolated within the city of Lexa, Ryn must continue to serve the Great One, but a new challenge to her authority forces her to look for power in a different way.

Plans unfold, but for the first time, all begin to wonder if the one behind them is different than who they had believed. And if not Olander Fahr, who is the real threat?


Factory Core – Jared Mandani

Who could have predicted that a simple mining mission would end up jeopardizing the entire known world?

When a couple of dwarves keep pushing deeper and deeper into the earth to find new veins of mithril to extract, what they unearth, however, is the doom of their race. Bursting out of the breach they created is a horde of powerful demons that only know one thing: to destroy.

Fast-forward a few months and the war rages on. Unfortunately for them, despite their bravery, the dwarves are no match for the sheer numbers and ferocity of their adversary.

In a last-hope attempt to save their kind, they decide to activate a secret project their engineers had been working on: a mobile factory made of bricks, brass, magical runes and soul gems. That sentient machine is not only capable of observing and learning from its foes, it can also produce the required weapons necessary to strike back.

This Factory Core—as they call it—will need to build units and defensive mechanisms to repel the demon army and prevent it from razing the city. But this will prove to be an almost impossible task as the invaders, led by a vicious commander, have more than one trick up their own sleeve…


The Forging of Dawn – Jacob Peppers

No armies march. No generals marshal their troops on some distant battlefield. Yet the people of Entarna are at war.

And they are losing.

The nightwalkers have returned, creatures that roam the darkness searching for anyone foolish or unfortunate enough to find themselves without light to protect them. And the people of Entarna carry lanterns and torches, wielding them as shields against the night’s creatures.

But sooner or later all lights fade. All flames go out.

Torrik and his wife were once soldiers in the war against the Dark. But when their son Alesh was born, they left that life behind them in the hopes of keeping him safe. But Alesh is no normal child, and Torrik will be forced to learn a hard truth.

Mortals plan. Mortals hope. And the gods laugh.

Finding themselves in the center of a conspiracy threatening the entire realm, Torrik and his wife must try to become the people they once were, people they’d thought they’d left behind long ago.

For when all lights go out…darkness reigns. Read More