In 1950, towards the end of Weird Tales‘s run, yet just before his first John the Balladeer story, Manly Wade Wellman turned to the forest for inspiration for a ghost story, “The Pineys”. For amid the dense longleaf pines lives a strange folk known as the Pineys, and those who trespass into their lands vanish. The Indians who once lived around this particular pine grove say that the Pineys were there first. Some even say that the Pineys have been defending their groves since before the dinosaurs, and that their king walks among humanity, ever vigilant for those who would disturb his pine groves. What is clear, as many who live uneasily around the pines repeat, is that no one knows what the Pineys do to those who they capture.

Nothing but tall tales and campfire scares, right?

Beau Sawtelle believes so, and it is his job to survey the piney grove for logging. He’s brought his niece, some men, and a local named Mac to assist him. The local tales of strange and furred creatures don’t scare Sawtelle’s party, but rather provide a bit of amusement as they journey deep into the forest. But as the canopy darkens overhead and the shadows grow longer, the discussion takes a more fearful turn as they discuss the Pineys’ king while they make a campfire…

Some stories just ache to be told out loud, and this last gasp of a Gothic tale, stitched together from campfire recollections and short tales, sounds like the stories told late at night by a storyteller aiming for a little mischief. As mentioned, this is a ghost story, so the impact rests on the final revelation, heightened further by whom the narrator is.

All the hallmarks of a proper Wellman tale are present. Mac’s voice is reminiscent of John the Balladeer, who would first appear in “O Ugly Bird” a mere three months later. The Pineys themselves fit the inventive bestiary that fills Wellman’s tales, and he even draws a distinct parallel to the Shonokins, a race that filled several of his earlier Weird Tales. And finally, Sawtelle’s niece relies on the same European folk magic and grimoires that John the Balladeer would use to great effect in his short stories. It’s easy to see “The Pineys” as a sinister rehearsal for what would John’s adventures, even more so than the already acknowledged “Frogfather” or “Sin’s Doorway”.

You might call wandering Mac “John…” Just don’t call him a good man.

“The Pineys” may be a simpler scare than the heyday of Weird Tales under Farnsworth Wright, but atmosphere and voice can make even the simplest tales breathe with sinister life. Fortunately, the most affordable place to find “The Pineys” is in the new reprint of Worse Things Waiting, which is still available through Amazon.

This week’s science fiction and fantasy new releases feature alien chi cultivators, intergalactic skip tracers, dragon riders, the Legion, and the Four Horsemen.

Awakened (The Quintessence: Crucible #1) – C. M. Carney

Cultivation. Progression. Ascension.

On the world of Crucible, where humanity’s spiritual artists train to fight in a war of universal proportions, Aryc Tal Venn has the potential to be one of the gods.

But when he accidentally unleashes heretical powers during his Challenge, he is forced to flee his home or face the wrath of the Inquisition.

With his sister by his side, Aryc begins a quest to uncover the truth of his own existence.

Only to discover a terrible secret.

A secret with the power to destroy humanity.

Will Aryc master his unnatural powers in time to save the people of Crucible or will he be the harbinger of humanity’s destruction?

The Bonds of War (The Volatar Saga #3) – D. K. Holmberg

War breaks old bonds while new ones form.

The threat of the mysterious creatures that can drain different types of magic sends the Volatar and his friends on a mission to uncover answers from the tu’alan, but the last time he had visited them, they had refused to get involved. Finding answers poses a danger, and it involves him mastering his control over the great powers he possesses – or lose them altogether. With the coming threat, he begins to question if his new understanding of his magic will even be enough.

After an attack on the wagon caravan making its way north with the Jahor, Hevith chases an old foe for answers. What he uncovers will change the complexion of his purpose, but he must have the fortitude to make the difficult choices to protect his people. War with the Hith is coming, and he must be ready.

Colony Launch (Ixora Colony #1) – Jon Del Arroz

Humanity is at war…

…many citizens want no part of it.

Governor Antony Lemkin has done the unthinkable as a politician–voluntarily stepping down from his post in protest of Earth’s escalating war with the Aryshans.

With war drums beating and the machinery of government going full force, there’s little he can do to but voice his dissent, until mega-industrialist Fabio DePino presents him with a plan: build a new Earth, far away from humanity’s conflicts.

But will Earth’s government simply let colonists leave their control?

Defender of the Crown (Heir to the Crown #7) – Paul J. Bennett

The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy!

As peace settles across the land, two great kingdoms prepare for a royal wedding. With all eyes focused on the celebrations, the unexpected arrival of a Norland delegation throws everything into chaos.

For generations, they have laid claim to the throne of Merceria, yet now they want to negotiate?

With her own nobles council in constant conflict, Queen Anna is forced to question the motive of this visit. Is it a trap, or a genuine desire to end hostilities?

Against the wisdom of her advisors, she travels north, determined to forge a new future for her people.

Will her unwavering desire for peace lead to the destruction of all she holds dear?

Exodus (Forgotten Starship #1) – M. R. Forbes

In the year 2050, Earth makes first contact. By 2052, the war is over. We lose.

Our last hope for survival rests inside a massive hangar hidden within the Rocky Mountains. Pioneer is the largest starship ever constructed. A marvel of human ingenuity and the apex of our technological know-how, she’s ready to embark on a long journey across the final frontier in search of a new world to call home.

But space is full of danger.

And some problems are hard to leave behind…

The Eye of SounnuSchuyler Hernstrom

Once upon a time, short fiction was the mainstay of science fiction and fantasy readers. Titans like Robert E. Howard and Jack Vance worked their magic on magazine and pulp pages, delighting readers with strange visions and pulse pounding action. In 2016, editor P. Alexander dared to bring those days back with the launch of Cirsova, a magazine of science fiction and fantasy fiction.

DMR Books is proud to present a collection of one of Cirsova’s rising stars, Schuyler Hernstrom. These stories will take the reader across strange and sweeping landscapes of adventure. Life and death, blood and desire, greed and sacrifice, all and more are contained within. Classic barbarians and classic rogues are here, along with Dunsanian knights and witches, sentient computers and savage beasts. This collection includes all of Hernstrom’s stories from the first three years of Cirsova along with three tales that have never appeared in print before. Read More

Cthulhu Mythos (Innsmouth Free Press): August Derleth has been the whipping boy for HPL fans since 1939, when he created Arkham House with Donald Wandrei, a publishing concern specifically created to get the works of H.P. Lovecraft into hardcovers. Like many Mythos fans, I have read the “posthumous collaborations” and find them middling-to-dull. What I had not known at the time I read them was that August Derleth had written them largely as promotional devices for the Arkham House books, appearing in Weird Tales and other publications where HPL fans would be.

Gaming (Kairos): The gamer scene has been in an uproar over a story that broke over the weekend concerning The Last of Us II. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s the sequel to a game that gained some popularity during last decade’s zombie fad. Rumors had been swirling for years on 4chan that the Death Cultists in charge of the game studio would poz up the sequel. Newly substantiated leaks suggest that the Cultists have outdone themselves. Read More

The Sand Pebbles is a great movie. Before the movie was a great book. Richard McKenna, author of the novel had been in the U.S. Navy for 22 years.  Part of his service was on the Yangtze River Patrol. The U.S. Navy had been navigating the river since 1854. The patrol was organized in 1919 originally using six gunboats captured from the Spanish by Admiral Dewey in 1898. In 1925, there were six new gunboats along with the occasional destroyer sent partially upriver.

The Yangtze Patrol was part of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. The Fleet would spend fall and winter at Cavite in Manila Bay in the Philippines and summer cruising along the coast of China. The primary mission was to shield the Philippines in case of war with Japan.

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Several authors, including many former Castalia House blogger and guests, got together to provide a free anthology for those itching for adventure and the thrill of the unknown during this time of distancing and quarantine. Inside are a collection of short stories and even four novels filled with tales of high adventure, escapist fantasies, and thrilling stories of suspense, and, as the name Corona-chan: Spreading the Love implies, more than a little dark humor. Here are reviews of two of the eighteen stories inside.

As the last vestige of the men’s adventure genre, paramilitary monster-hunting stories have fallen on hard times. Popularized most recently by Monster Hunter International, and fanned into an indie craze by Seal Team 666, the genre, like Navy SEAL fiction and other men’s adventure genres, has been rendered safe for editor’s tastes and politics through series like Joe Ledger until what was once a vibrant genre is now forgotten among a slew of monster girl harems and monster evolution fantasies.

Enter the Corona-Chan anthology.

In “A Song of I.C.E. and Fire”, renegade author Jon del Arroz uses monster-hunting on the border to take a pot-shot at the idea that “all X must Y”. In this case, it’s that all Hispanics must be for illegal immigration. However, what should have been eye-rolling politics is kept to a mere scene as Gabriel Hernadez and his fellow I.C.E. agents hunt down a Mexican vampire clan preying on children trying to cross the border.

I am not a fan of politics in science fiction–real-world, fresh off the headlines screeds age horribly in a matter of weeks as the headlines change, but to deny that some of the best science fiction explores timeless social issues would be foolish. As in all things, Harlan Ellison’s advice should be followed. Before one can educate, one must first entertain. And the admittedly real-world, straight from 2019 headlines immigration protests take a back seat to a simple tale of a man doing his duty by fighting monsters.

That’s the key. The action comes first. And the action holds its own against the monster-hunting books of the early 2010s and the Dick Marcinko-clones they are patterned after. Read More

Comic Books (Paint Monk): Copyright. Public Domain. Cease & Desist. Not the words one would normally think to associate with a battle featuring Conan of Cimmeria and yet here we are. Now that the smoke has cleared, Ablaze is finally able to deliver translated versions of French Glénat’s Conan comics. Let me see if I can sum it up succinctly. In Europe, most of Robert E. Howard’s works are in the public domain. In the United States?

Publishing (Kairos):  There’s a shortage of paper, because it comes from China. The two largest printers of magazines and books in the U.S., Quad/Graphics and LSC Communications were going to merge last summer, but something got in the way. Now, LSC Communications has filed for bankruptcy. The second largest printer, Quad, has shut its book printing facilities entirely. In some regions, major distributors have shut down or disappeared, while although others, like Ingram, are still operating, although with reduced staff.

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The Old China Hands by Charles G. Finney. I picked up this paperback probably 5 or 6 years ago at Windy City Pulp & Paperback Show. Finney (1905-1984) is best known for writing The Circus of Dr. Lao (1935). You may have seen the 1963 movie with Tony Randall and Barbara Eden. The novel was a huge influence on Ray Bradbury.

Finney served in the U.S. Army with the 15th Regiment, which was stationed in Tientsin, China from 1912-1938. The 15th Infantry Regiment was sent to Tientsin during the Chinese Revolution. It’s job was keep the road open to Peking so there would be no repeat of the siege of the foreign legations as happened in the Boxer Rebellion. There were also British, French, Italian Marines, and Japanese military contingents in Tientsin. Read More

The yellow ribbon binding the eponymous collection by Robert W. Chambers together, the play known as The King in Yellow is infamous for causing madness among its readers, performers, and audiences. But what other horrible secrets lay in its pages, waiting for the unsuspecting student?

For that, we must go to Paris, to the time before the French confiscated the copies, to the story of “The Mask.” Boris, a renowned sculptor, reveals to his friend Alec the existence of a new chemical that can turn living flesh into exquisite marble stone. Suspicion sets in early, as an uneasy tie between the chemical’s effects and Boris’s sculptures can be made. But suspicion turns to dread as soon as Genevieve enters the conversation. No matter how many declarations by Boris that the formula will die with him, the idea that the next time that Genevieve may sit as a model for sculpture might be her last persists. Worse still, her doom might be accidental.

In truth, the excellent audio performance of “The Mask” by HorrorBabble, hammers this dread home harder than a perusal of the text. But there is no doubt that, from this innocent start, something more sinister shall grow. All from an obsession with the chemical processes of fossilization, mixed with a dash of the ancient and mysterious art of alchemy. But Boris is a sculptor, not a fussy chemist, and so leaves large quantities of his petrification formula out and open.

Enter The King in Yellow. Read More

This week’s fantasy new releases feature Appalachian witches, sellswords-turned-usurpers, and vampire hunters more dangerous than the vampires they pursue.

Blood Creek Phantom (Blood Creek Series #3) – Jay Barnson

An army of the living and an army of the dead converge on the Crossroads, and the fate of two worlds hangs in the balance.

Sean Williams can see the ghosts of the dead rising in Maple Bend. They can see him, too—including the vengeful spirit of a serial murderer hunting him. To save Maple Bend from the plans of the Man in the White Suit, Sean must put the dead to rest—but doing so may cost him the girl who haunts his dreams.

Beyond the Crossroads, a powerful army approaches, led by the evil daughter of the Man in the White Suit. Jenny Morgan, an inexperienced witch self-exiled to this magical parallel version of West Virginia, stands with the defenders to halt a vastly superior force. But is she truly part of the last line of defense against the darkness, or is she the key to its victory?

The Faerie Trader – J. R. Castle

From the World of The Alburnium Chronicles comes another enchanting tale.

Jael Azazel’s friends describe him as a stupid faun with a big heart, but Jael respectfully disagrees. Truth is, he’s simply not been able to catch a break. What he needs is a bit of luck to get back on his hooves.

Then along comes the deal of a lifetime. With the wealth acquired, Jael sees that he will be set for life, be able to hold his head high, and hopefully win Tila’s heart.

But it’s what he doesn’t see that could land him in a world of trouble and shatter all his hopes and dreams.

Flame (Awaken Online: Tarot #2) – Travis Bagwell

Deadly competition. Deep desert. A dying tyrant.

Finn Harris was declared the Mage Guild’s champion.

However, that was only the beginning of the Emir’s competition. The next stage will send Finn and his companions deep into the desert north of Lahab in search of a long-lost relic. The magical artifact is said to be held within the Abyss.

Except, this time, he’s not just facing novice mages. Everyone in the region seems to be arrayed against him, god and man alike. Racing against the other two champions, swept into the middle of a conflict between the Emir and those he’s wronged, and at the mercy of a manipulative fire goddess, Finn must battle his way through the Abyss and claim his prize.

Yet he will not stop, and he cannot afford to fail – not with Rachael’s life hanging in the balance.

He will need to embrace his gifts and overcome his past.

Finn will need to become a true prophet of the flame.

Operation Vampire (Murphy’s War #1) – Steven G. Johnson

Mick Murphy’s an Irish half-elf from Manhattan. His best buddy, Dave, is a dwarf from Brooklyn. Along with a company of misfits, screwballs and, well, trolls from the pit, they’ll take on anything Austro-Hungaro-Roumania, or even Hell, cares to throw at them.

Assigned to King Company—the reconnaissance company—of the 134th Infantry Regiment in November of 1944, they’re the regimental reserve, the Colonel’s bodyguard, the military police, and general rock-straighteners. But once in a while, when the gremlins stop hexing their Jeeps, they go out and poke around to find out where the Enemy is and what he’s up to.

They’re very good at finding and dealing with all the vampires, werewolves, and sky demons the Enemy can throw at them. Unfortunately, though, behind them are the Big Boys, deep down in a pit of their own, and the War won’t end until G.I.s plant their boots on the Devil’s throne and kick him out.

Working their way up to this biggest of D-Days—the assault on Hell, itself—is going to tax the United States Army to its utmost…but the dogfaces on the Line are one step ahead of the brass, because they’re already halfway to Hell. Read More

See the source imageSo the winter anime season was all right.

I liked a few shows, some I even liked quite a bit, but none of them were GREAT. None of them lived up to the best shows of winter 2019, “Kaguya-Sama: Love is War” and especially “The Promised Neverland”.

True, I didn’t see “Dorohedro” yet. But even so – its reputation is good, not great.

The spring season, however, is a different story. FINALLY, we have a great show: Trigger’s (Who else?) “Brand New Animal” is an absolute blast to watch! Read More

New Release (Amazon): By Crom! At long last the definitive history of Conan the Barbarian paperbacks that fans have clamoured for. 107 pages with detailed chapters devoted to each of the mighty Cimmerian’s publishers. Heavily illustrated with many rare images. Plus complete cover galleries of every US and UK Conan title ever issued. In full colour. An indispensable aid to Conan collectors and completists everywhere. Featuring a specially written foreword by Conan comics legend Roy Thomas!



Star Trek (Huffington Post): The LA Times recently ran a story about the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit, which contained a mind-boggling statistic: of the more than 100 offenders the unit has arrested over the last four years, “all but one” has been “a hard-core Trekkie.” Blogger Ernest Miller thought this claim was improbable. “I could go to a science fiction convention,” he explained “and be less likely to find that 99+ percent of the attendees were hard-core Trekkies.” While there may be quibbling about the exact numbers, the Toronto detectives claim that the connection is undeniable. Read More

I am always up for a good military history: John Keegan’s The First World War, Correlli Barnett’s Britain and Her Army, Ivan Musicant’s The Banana Wars, Douglas Porch’s The French Foreign Legion, Brian McAllister Linn’s Guardians of Empire, and D. J. Goodspeed’s The German Wars 1914-1945. John MacManus’ Fire and Fortitude: The U.S. Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1943 is a good addition.

A good volume on the Pacific war in World War 2 is Ronald H. Spector’s Eagle Against the Sun. That covers the whole war and all the military branches. MacManus’ volume focuses on the U.S. Army the first two years. Read More