Writing (Wasteland & Sky): The strangest aspect of entertainment today is how absolutely slow it has gotten. This isn’t a new problem, but an old error that always returns during times of decadence and bloated egos seizing control of the arts. On Cannon Cruisers we constantly use the term “1970s pacing” to refer to movies with needless padding that take far too long for the ball to get rolling, and there is a reason for that.

Anime (Pulprev): he sub-genre of the harem anime is well-known to anime fans. Most people recognize it for what it is: a wish-fulfillment fantasy for males. But what is less obvious, and much more interesting, is what these and other anime say about the creators’ attitudes towards male social hierarchies. In a primitive society, the duty of childrearing is the domain of the womenfolk.

Review (Benespen): Yes, Forgotten Ruin book 1 has only been out for two days, but thanks to my internet friends at the Blasters and Blades podcast, I know that more books set in the Ruin are coming in hot! Nick Cole was a guest on last night’s episode of Blasters and Blades, and he said that the Rangers are going to f**k things up all over the world they find themselves in. Read More

The movie Blade Runner (1982) was the first cinema adaptation of Philip K. Dick based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Last month, I picked up the novel out of town at a Half Price Books. The store had a few copies of a U.K. Orion Books trade paperback edition.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was published in 1968 by Doubleday in hardback. It got a Hugo nomination. Signet reprinted the book as a mass-market paperback in 1969. There was a 2nd printing in 1971 and then the book was not in print until the movie in 1982. Read More

“If you can survive Reaper Platoon in the Strange, then Ghost or Dog Platoons will get you for their own. Best to steer clear of the freaks in Voodoo, kid.”


Out on the far away world known as Crash, a civil war brews. One side desperately wants to throw off the yoke of the Monarchs of Earth. The other just wants to preserve its power. Both sides know that it is just a matter of time before the Monarchs and their Ultra Marines show up to take direct control and strip mine Crash into a glassy wasteland. But while the farce of control continues to play out, there are plenty of opportunities for mercenaries like Strange Company to fight, die, make money, and commit war crimes before that last panicked evacuation off world. But nothing is ever as it seems in the Strange.

Just ask Sergeant Orion, the record keeper for Strange Company. His impassioned recounting of the fall of Crash and the near destruction of Strange Company lives up to the name. And that fateful last mission, part Fall of Saigon, part Planet of the Apes, and completely under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic chemical weapons, certainly counts as Strange.

In Strange Company, Nick Cole creates a seedier counterpart to his Galaxy’s Edge series. After all, science fiction has long been obsessed with why men fight. But most of these explorations, from Heinlein to Ringo, fall in the realm of those who would defend their own lands as professional soldiers. Even Cole’s recent and riveting account of Rangers in Middle-Earth, Forgotten Ruin, examines the motivations of the elite soldier. But what of those men who fight and kill for pay? Turns out they have stories, too. Each and every one of them.

But the soldiers of the Strange Company only tell those stories when they sense death coming, and only to Sergeant Orion. Cole uses Orion as the central character of the novel, and, if there is one thing Cole does best, it is creating a singular and unmistakable voice. Orion is no exception, so the novel reads almost as an interview, like one of those rambling war stories your grandfather or uncle suddenly tells you one night over drinks while the women are out. And now that you’re old enough, none of the warts are spared. And there are plenty of warts to this motley collection of thrill-seekers, misfits, psychopaths, and not-quite human lab experiments. So Strange Company reads like the best of John Ringo’s war stories, just without Ringo’s hang ups and logistics obsessions.

As usual, Cole’s exquisite command of voice and action cover a thinner setting. But then all of his settings boil down to the same one: a futuristic reflection of a dystopic California run by the same so-called elites that gave the world Silicon Valley, Laurel Canyon, Jonestown, and the Biden Administration. As such, Strange Company is one of the first science fiction works to deal with the COVID and election fallout of 2020, through the eyes of the Monarchs. The psychedelic haze that lingers on the battlefield is fitting for a universe that’s all living in California, and gives a different flavor to the grimdark genre than the typical British influences. After all, American writers gave the world Catch-22 and MASH. But Strange Company offers no solutions to the grimdark present save one: accelerationism. And the wisdom of burning down an already burning wreck even faster has yet to be proven.

Come for the gripping action, stay for the gut-wrenching personal stories and utterly surprising secret history behind the Monarchs’ history. Strange Company may not be perfect, but with it, Nick Cole has usurped the title of Bard of the Fighting Man from his predecessors.

The Mongoose and the Meerkat, the mercenaries of Strange Company, and the Black Harrier’s sidekick grace this week’s new releases.


Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense Spring 2021 – edited by P. Alexander

“The Artomique Paradigm” – Michael Tierney

Earth is now in contact with their intergalactic cousins! But during recent conflicts with aliens and pirates, the Artomiques, fascist refugees from an alternate timeline, have become Terra’s dominant faction using stolen Wild Stars technology!

“The Grain Merchant of Alomar” – Jim Breyfogle

The Mongoose & Meerkat have set up in the city of Alomar—in spare rooms of a wealthy merchant who has no idea they’re living there, even after he’s hired them!

“The Book of Dark Sighs” – Robert Zoltan

Dareon and Blue, the Rogues of Merth, find themselves in the crosshairs of an old foe! They must find for him a powerful tome, or Blue’s love will perish at his hand!

….and more!


Empire Reborn (Taran Empire Saga #1) – A. K. DuBoff

Jason Sietinen lives in the shadow of greatness. He’s worked hard to become a TSS officer in his own right, but having war heroes for parents is hard to top.

When Jason is assigned to investigate a mysterious attack, he finds evidence of powerful transdimensional beings never before seen. Or so he thought.

Jason soon learns that critical information was lost through the millennia: Tarans had an ancient treaty with the aliens. Unfortunately, rogue actions by a shadow faction within the Empire just broke the peace.

With the future of the Empire hanging in the balance, Jason must find a way to unite the Taran worlds, including the lost colony of Earth, against the mounting threat. There’s just one problem: how do you fight an enemy you can’t see or touch?


Lifeboat (Earth’s Last Gambit #2) – Felix R. Savage

Bearing Earth’s hopes for deliverance from the alien threat, Jack Kildare and his fellow astronauts successfully complete the long journey to Jupiter. But someone on board is trying to sabotage the mission. As they approach the mysterious alien spaceship orbiting Europa, the crew fractures into rival factions.

Without warning, a long-range attack cripples the human ship.

Now the broken crew is the least of Jack’s worries.

The alien spaceship isn’t a wreck, after all.

And whoever is on board wants the humans dead.

As the mission unravels into a desperate fight for survival, Jack struggles to decode the enemy plot. If he fails, the astronauts will all perish… and so will Earth.


The Lost Dragon (Cycle of Dragons #3) – Dan Michaelson and D. K. Holmberg 

The cycle of dragons has changed Ashan. Now he must use it to save the kingdom.

After stopping two attacks on the kingdom, Ashan yearns to master his connection to the dragons and finally serve as a dragon mage. He has connected to a cycle of dragons, but he’s still only a student and doesn’t understand what it truly means to be a dragon mage.

When word spreads about Vard movement near his homeland, Ashan learns a terrifying truth about the Vard and the devastating steps the king will take to stop them. Worse, he’s the only one who believes that more than the Vard are involved. He needs to find proof, but this time his cycle of dragons might not be enough.

If he can’t stop the attack, not only will his family and friends suffer, but he’ll lose the dragons and the kingdom will be destroyed. Read More

Weapons & Science Fiction (Dirk Bruere): We have all seen it — soldiers in the scifi future carrying their phasers, lasers, disruptors, blasters and so on, yet failing to hit their targets as the hero does cartwheels and back-flips to dodge the fire. The stormtroopers in Star Wars are notoriously bad shots, for example. In many ways scifi hand weapons are already outdated by the latest in contemporary guns, and the reasons why are quite simple.

 

Fiction (Beyond the Star Reefs): The abiding pity is that two such sterling and scintillating characters could not be found a place in one of Rider Haggard’s better books. First published in 1910 by the firm of Eveleigh Nash [significantly not one of Haggard’s usual publishers] QUEEN SHEBA’S RING dates to the middle years of Rider Haggard’s career which few would advocate as being his best. The masterpieces he had regularly produced during the 1880s and 90s were long behind him, whilst the remorseless exploitation of Allan Quatermain, which would commence with the publication of MARIE in 1912, was still to come.

Genre (Dark Worlds Quarterly): The history of Belmont and Tower Books (and later Belmont Tower Books) is convoluted. Belmont Books was created by the same company that owned Archie Comics. The firm had published Pulps like Science Fiction, Future Fiction, Science Fiction Quarterly, and Dynamic Science Fiction back in the 1950s. With the Pulps dead, the company planned to publish Westerns, SF, Horror and Romance in paperback form in 1962. (Rumor has it the Belmont name came from the horse racing track.) Their SF anthologies would reprint materials from their dead Pulp titles.

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We now come to the last four stories in The Philip K. Dick Reader. These are also stories all made into movies.

“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (F&SF April 1966): The story that became the movie Total Recall. Douglas Quail is an office worker with an obsession of going to Mars. The wife is not enthused. He decides to have the memories of fake vacation implanted by a company called Rekal. Things go wrong during the procedure where Quail recovers his memory that he is a secret agent who has returned from Mars. Sent home, he is not sure what is going on. The wife leaves him and then two uniformed men enter with guns drawn. His memories return that he assassinated a political agitator on Mars. There is a thought transmitter inside Quail’s brain that allows his former commander to contact him. Quail gives up and accedes to psychiatric evaluation. There is another ripple as a childhood fantasy that he prevented an alien invasion is true. Wheels within wheels. Total Recall deviates using the first part of the story as a futuristic action spectacle for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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After a hundred years as a mercenary and bounty hunter, dwarf Jari Rockjaw has his eye on a quiet life of retirement on a homestead far away. But before he can buy the farm, he needs one last bounty: the head of the most infamous dwarven reiver in Labrys. But to cut through his target’s armies, Jari needs a company of fighters, not just the help of a few battle-weary friends. As the number of vengeance seekers, rogues, and castaways grow around him, Jari’s vision of retirement soon gives way to the demands of leadership. Can this reluctant mercenary captain lead his troop of Loners to riches, revenge, and retirement?

Loners, by D. B. Bray and Wahida Clark, may be touted as “a humorous action adventure”, but, make no mistake, the humor comes straight from the gallows. Jari’s tale swings far away from the humor of a Discworld, choosing instead the grim of a grim dark fantasy. But Loners is grim-dark with heart, focusing on the nobility of comradeship as the bonds between Jari and his mercenaries are tested and grow stronger. Hard fighting and harder perils are punctuated by soldiery banter, and the revolving door of hirings and deaths never reduces the characters to faceless names. Bray and Clark might be too fond of the rogue and hidden prince trope, but the main weakness is that Jari and the Loners are swept along by the tide of subquests from set piece to set piece, instead of active participants in their story. But the grim adventures with gold under the grime do not fall into excess, and provide a satisfying tour of an embattled yet hopeful perseverance.


E-rank hunter Jinwoo Sung may be the unluckiest hunter in all of Korea. Certainly, he is the weakest and most pitied. But when a group hunt through a rare and lethal dungeon leaves Jinwoo bleeding out, a strange voice gives him a choice and a second chance. Jinwoo now finds himself revived, with a host of new and daily quests, a stat sheet, and a sudden boost of power as he gains levels. But what will this once weak hunter do with his new-found strength? Find riches? Settle scores? Get the girl? And what new rivals might emerge from the shadows?

When released in English, Chugong’s Solo Leveling arrived with fanfare in light novel circles. Honestly, it’s hard to see why. Solo Leveling is an average litRPG in an oversaturated light novel and litRPG market. And average just is not good enough. Solo Leveling does balance the interruptions caused by stat sheets quite well, as, unlike most litRPG heroes, Jinwoo is more concerned with what power can get him instead of exploring the intricacies of the ruleset thrust upon him. As such, Solo Leveling serves as an illustration of the difference between power fantasies and progression fantasies. In some ways, the use of power for an end instead of as a means humanizes Jinwoo more than his Western counterparts, who are caught up in munchkinning their way through their stories. But the naked thirst for power and what it can seize can be cause for a shower, even if Jinwoo does not take his pursuit into the hedonistic excess so common in power fantasy.

Dragon songs, alien artifacts, and intergalactic secret societies are hidden in this week’s new releases.


Alien Artifacts (Cade Korbin Chronicles #2) – Jasper T. Scott

On his last job, Cade Korbin lost his ship, lost his credits, and barely escaped with his life, but it’s not over. His enemy is still out there, nursing a decades-old vendetta, and now his guild is coming after him for breaking their rules.

Cade desperately needs credits and somewhere to lie low for a while. To that end, he takes a job on an uncharted world, code-named Nexus, to rescue a team of missing researchers and to recover the alien artifacts that they went searching for.

Yet unknown to Cade, there is a danger on Nexus that goes far beyond the alien monsters which prowl its surface: a terrifying menace has been waiting for untold eons to emerge.

And Cade Korbin is just about to wake it up.


Blood Song (Godchosen #4) – T. S. Snow

LIFE IS GOOD FOR A MIDDLE-AGED COUNTRY NOBLE…

At least Riven kan Ingan thinks so. A few things could be better, of course, such as his volatile relationship with eldest son, Val, but his estate is prospering, his other children are still obedient, and his beloved Barbara is as feisty as ever.

Even the barbaric Ghermians have settled peacefully within Francovia’s borders.

Too soon, the bubble of contentment bursts.

When a new margrave comes to power, civil war looms, turning native Francovians against its foreign-born citizens. Morling Ledeval demands an oath of loyalty from his subjects, and Riven is forced to make a choice.

Will he risk home and family to follow a madman or become a traitor to the country he loves?


Hard Luck Hank: Garm – Steven Campbell

Garm trained her whole life as a member of the secretive Quadrad organization. Her planet is famous for its assassins and governmental manipulators. It’s whispered that behind every mysterious death lurks a Quadrad.

But when Garm enters the wide galaxy, she finds her prestigious training entirely insufficient. Most Quadrad are abysmal failures, unable to cope in an advanced technological empire. The Quadrad are nothing but a very clever marketing campaign that has been going on for 20,000 years.

But Garm is different. She is determined to be the most successful, most lethal, and richest “agent of change” in history.

To that end she assembles the best spaceship crew she can afford. Unfortunately, she is extremely poor. Her ship is a former pleasure cruise vessel, the Summer Dream Adventure. And her crew is made up of ancient relics, war criminals, incomprehensible aliens, nymphomaniacs, and creatures so dangerous just being near them can prove fatal.

To make matters worse, Garm is personally being hunted by the government, which seeks to forcibly put an end to the Quadrad myth forever.


Hostile Spike (Battlegroup Z #2) – Daniel Gibbs

Protracted war is inevitable.

Six weeks ago, Lieutenant Justin Spencer was just another reservist in the Coalition Defense Force. Becoming a lifer wasn’t in the cards—until the League of Sol brutally attacked the Terran Coalition. With several pivotal battles now under his belt, friends and strangers alike call Justin a hero. But he finds the accolades difficult to swallow when the night only intensifies images from his first taste of combat.

Then he’s faced with an active duty extension.

The League is hitting supply convoys on their long journeys between the mining colonies. Without the rare minerals, Coalition shipyards can’t produce the needed firepower to fight off losses sustained from the enemy’s overwhelming forces.

An enemy that appears to anticipate the CDF’s every play.

When the CSV Zvika Greengold is tapped for a black ops action, Justin volunteers to pilot a captured enemy aircraft on what he discovers too late is a suicide mission. For any chance of survival, he’ll need to rely on more than sheer skill and dumb luck.

He’ll need a miracle. Read More

Fiction (Classic Horror): For centuries Ireland has fostered a culture swarming in mystery, magic, and the macabre: it gave us Samhain and jack-o-lanterns, Dracula and Carmilla, headless horsemen and banshees, and a rambling host of masterful literary minds whose supernatural fiction is still celebrated for being wildly imaginative and unsettling. Ireland has arguably contributed more to the Gothic sensibility than almost any other culture.

Weapons (Pekiti): Here is an article I wrote for the July 1999 issue of Inside Kung Fu magazine on the subject of knives for self defense use. I was specifically writing about a pet peeve of mine in the 1990s. Some instructors back then were teaching techniques developed in the Philippines and designed for use with a large blade, but were teaching the same techniques to their students in the West, who are carrying much smaller knives. My problem with this was expecting the small knife to be able to do the work of a much larger blade. Like much else in life: SIZE DOES MATTER (and I explain why in this article).

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This is the fourth installment in a series wherein I examine a batch of stories from The Philip K. Dick Reader. So far, the stories show the Cold War with the potential for WWIII weighed heavily on Philip K. Dick’s mind. Robots were also a favorite topic.

“Upon the Dull Earth” (Beyond Fantasy Fiction #9, 1954): There is what I call the Curse of Unknown. Periodically you have some critic turned editor who decides to publish a magazine in imitation of the magazine Unknown. The problem is a few critics may have liked Unknown, not enough readers did. Unknown fiction was generally a smart-ass modernist fantasy. Think of the T.V. show Bewitched. Beyond was a short-lived fantasy companion to Galaxy in the early 1950s with predictable results. The magazine did not last long, just like all the other attempts to do an Unknown type magazine. Dick’s “Upon the Dull Earth” is not smart-ass fantasy but something good. Silvia attracts a flock of winged supernatural entities with offerings of livestock blood. Silvia thinks one transitions at death and she can’t wait. Things go wrong when she summons them one too many times and gets burned to a crisp. Her fiancée, Rick attempts to first communicate with her and then bring her back. That is easier said than done. I am surprised that story has not been anthologized more. This is very out of character from what little 1950s fantasy fiction was published. This story has a darkness to it without any fake gothic trappings. It has shown up a fair amount of times in PKD collections. Read More

March’s quick reviews cast a critical eye on Dungeon Duel, by eden Hudson and James Hunter, and Conquest: Icelandia, by Jean-Luc Isitin and Zivorad Radivojevic.


Roark van Graf’s struggles have taken him from a deposed noble fighting against a tyrant to the basest cannon-fodder in an MMO to lord of a mighty alliance of dungeons. But the tyrant’s forces have followed him through the portal into the game world. As players and NPCs line up on either side of Graf’s rebellion, the struggle spills out into our world. The tyrant has found a way to coerce the developers into nerfing Roark and his allies. Now Roark must move to save his followers across three worlds, before the tyrant–and the developers–end them all.

eden Hudson and James Hunter continue their genre-blending Rogue Dungeon series in Dungeon Duel. Here, they combine isekai portal fantasy, litRPG progression fantasy, dungeon maker fantasy, and a heavy dollop of epic fantasy into a whirlwind of trolls and angels fighting across fantastical, virtual, and present-day worlds. In that, Hudson and Hunter have solved the problem facing most dungeon makers: what to do when the hero conquers everything around him. The clever melding of the three worlds gives MMO gamers the ultimate fantasy: the ability to access their characters’ skills in real life. But even that fantasy has a price. With the stakes ramping up, the series’ goofy humor takes a back seat, and what first appeared to be the final volume spills out into more lands, pages, and books to come. As the final clash between Roark and the tyrant approaches, there are hopes that the Rogue Dungeon series can do what few have done–deliver a satisfying ending.


After a cataclysm has reduced humanity to five resettlement fleets, the first fleet comes across the habitable planet of Icelandia. After thawing to a disturbing number of new medical treatments, Oberleutnant Kirsten Konig leads the first contact expedition to the native tribes. But strange visions plague her, visions Konig believes are tied to the planet. As the resettlement plans fall victim to strange sabotages and alien raids, Konig finds herself in the middle of the winds of conspiracy, winds that tie the fate of the first fleet to fate of Konig’s daughter.

Written by Jean-Luc Isitin and drawn by Zivorad Radivojevic, Conquest: Icelandia is the first tale of the doomed resettlement fleets. It opens with an intriguing take on suspended animation and the recovery from it before diving into conspiracies and secret histories that show that humanity has yet to leave its destructive tendencies behind. Konig might be a glamorous fanservice fatale of a strong female character, but she avoids the waifish schoolgirl clichés. Her motivation is grounded in the most understandable and dangerous of desires, one noticeably absent from most practitioners of pixie-fu: the protection of her child. Radivojevic’s depiction of the resettlement fleet might be grounded in the same influence as Avatar, filled with powerful and boxy machine suits instead of sleek mecha. And Konig’s troop are drawn in a muscular, larger-than-life fashion. But the overall tone is melancholy, and the sequels defeatist and punishing.  At least Icelandia has the brief glimpse of hope amidst its setbacks, which elevates its moody warnings beyond crushing defeat.

Chain breakers, peacemakers, and emberfolk warriors stalk across this week’s new releases.


The Age of Men (The Nightfall Wars #6) – Jacob Peppers

Darkness reaches forth its taloned hands, and the shadows dance and caper in anticipation of the long night to come. A night that, should it have its way, will destroy the light and those who serve it, will leave nothing but the cold, empty darkness in which the nightlings roam and feast.

It is close now, that night, that darkness. It creeps over the horizon toward the city of Valeria. Toward the world. It is carried in the claws of the nightlings who serve it, in the blades and the hearts of those men and women who, twisted by grief or pain, have come to call it master. They bear that darkness, these mortals, these creatures of the night, toward the city of Valeria and its people, a cruel message borne by cruel couriers and one that can mean only one thing: death.

But Alesh and his companions, all those brave defenders of Valeria, will not stand by and allow the world to slip into the shadows without a fight. They will stand against the nightlings, against the Darkness, against even the gods themselves.

For what comes, should Alesh and the others be victorious, is not an age of darkness or shadows or even gods.

What comes, then, is the Age of Men.


The Black Fleet (The Crimson Deathbringer #3) – Sean Robins

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any deadlier, a massive fleet arrives from the future!

Thanks to Jim and his allies’ efforts, there’s finally peace in the galaxy … but all good things must come to an end.

The Black Fleet, hellbent on revenge, will indiscriminately ravage every planet on its way to Earth. This is the very definition of an extinction-level event, and nobody seems to able to stop the enemy ships in their tracks. To make matters worse, the Akakies are willing to sacrifice Earth to save their own species.

Having defied the odds a few times already, it again falls onto Jim and his friends to save the day, but can he counter such a universe-ending threat? And if he does, at what cost?


Cry Victory (Starcaster #6) – J. N. Chaney and Terry Maggert

Thorn Stellers and his daughter are a problem, and not just for the Nyctus. With their power taking shape in directions like no one has ever seen, the Orbital Navy is faced with an unwelcome reality—

The Starcasters are beyond control.

Kira and Damien are assigned diplomatic roles in the growing sphere of galactic relations, leading them to a stunning discovery—humans are not alone in their fight against the Nyctus. Worlds are being destroyed by an unseen foe, with no defense against their attacks. Reaching out to new allies, the Orbital Navy finds a vast network of trading partners who lend technology that makes the navy into a fierce new weapon, but with this change comes a critical question.

Can the Nyctus be allowed to live?


Curse Breaker: Hidden – Melissa Kucsera

To defeat the ancient monster destroying his home, Sarn must regain the rest of his magic. But unlocking that power won’t be easy with a concussion and an evil entity on the prowl. The Devil wants his soul, and he’ll cheat to get it.

Even if Sarn beats the devil and gets his earth magic back, the rocks in the monster’s lair could kill him and his son unless he stops them from stealing their life force. He’s never needed allies this badly or a healer.

But his friends are fighting their own battles. Help might not arrive in time to make a difference. All their efforts won’t matter if a priestess destroys their queen and the enchanted forest that protects their home.

A country can’t stand without its queen. Can it survive if its last mage falls? Read More