The Seal Maiden, by Victor Rousseau Emanuel originally appeared in the Nov 13, 1913 issue of ”The Cavalier”. It was reprinted in the February 1950 issue of A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Okay, one of the more knowledgeable old-timers here at Castalia needs to help me out. There has to be some sort of encapsulating descriptor for “Story that uses a fairytale/old wives’ tale/local legend as a framing context for a story that parallels those tales in certain significant thematic ways while the truth of those tales is never confirmed nor is the magical element presented in greater magnitude than ‘mysterious’ and ‘elfin’ attributes of places, events, and people within said story.” Because that’s what we have here in The Seal Maiden.

The story is prefaced with a brief explanation of the local legend on Grand Miquelon that seals had once been human, and if a seal woman can win a mortal’s love she can regain a soul. Seal hunters try to avoid killing young seals before killing the mothers; if they do have to kill a mother after they’ve killed the babies, they avoid looking in the mother’s eyes so as not to become bewitched.

The tale begins in earnest when one seal hunter, Pierre, fails to kill a mother seal after dispatching her young—its sad cries and the mournful look in its eyes cause him to stay his hand. On the hunters’ return, they come across a small boat with a lone, castaway woman in it. Much to the dismay of Pierre’s wife (to whom he’d only been married a few days before the expedition), the hunter brings the strange woman into their home—where she gives birth to a daughter, Marie, then expires. Pierre dies of illness around the time of the next seal mating season, leaving his wife to raise little girl alone , until she too dies, at which point little Marie gets handed off to the cruel mother of Pierre’s hunting partner, Jean, with whom he’d found the strange woman.

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We continue reading Robert E Howard’s Conan yarns in publication order, and noting how they have improved with age. Often dismissed as a mere boyish adventure tales, adult eyes rereading these alleged boy’s stories will see depth to them.

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Two thousand years ago, aliens destroyed Earth. Our fleets shattered. Billions died. The last humans fled a burning planet, heading to the stars.

Today we are still refugees. Hungry. Afraid. Our enemies hunt us everywhere.

So we hide. On distant asteroids. In rundown space stations. In deep caves on frozen worlds. And we dream.

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With the Heirs of Earth, Daniel Arenson starts a heart-rending sequel series to his surprise hit Earthrise. The Diaspora from ruined Earth has not been kind to the human race. Without a home planet, they are treated not as refuges, but vermin that infest space stations and planets, protected by a ragtag set of “terrorists” known as the Heirs of Earth. But the ancient scorpion enemy that cracked their bones and their planet has designs on the galaxy once more–to dominate and inflict a final solution to the human problem. Now the demoralized Heirs of Earth are the thin line preserving humanity from pogrom and extinction.

This is a dark, brutal book that makes the grimdark universe of Warhammer 40,000 into a vacation resort. Every human character has watched friends, family, and children violently and bloodily ripped away and apart by scorpion raiding parties. The strain of survival and the trauma of death wear down the psyches of the Heirs of Earth. And those humans captured by aliens are rendered slowly into sport, meat, and decor. This could have easily devolved into farce like most attempts to create a dark, gritty, and grim story, but Arenson aims for tears instead of shock. Some of the descriptions outright hurt to read, but Heirs of Earth never devolves into the bleakness and despair, the nihilism of grimdark. Amid this darkness shines the light of hope.

For the Heirs of Earth discover Rowan Emery, the only survivor of a splinter faction, and the guardian of the Earthstone, the repository of the sum of human knowledge and accomplishment. That means Aristotle, Shakespeare, and da Vinci. It also means Lord of the Rings, Frozen, and the Hunger Games. Rowan’s fascination with 2000s American fan culture favorites does date the story, even today. But hidden within is the way back to Earth, the way home, and a reason to rally hunted humanity to their banners. This hope adds a dignity to the tooth-and-claw struggle that prevents The Heirs of Earth from falling into the easy traps of gimdark and endless brutality. For hope is a treasure and not a mere illusion to be dashed at every opportunity.

The Heirs of Earth is a moving struggle against extinction and despair, although dependent upon a reader’s tolerance of dark, bloody situations and 2000s geek culture. Since your mileage might vary, I recommend reading the sample first. But if this tale of darkness and hope strikes your fancy, sequels are on the way.

Only $15 for a hard copy of the rules, and well worth it.

The multi-dimensional balancing act of wargame design has led to a proliferation of titles. The huge number of variables that have to be juggled in even the simplest of wargames presents a huge number of opportunities for wargame designers to seek out the “sweet spot” in everything from level of detail to movement schemes to combat mechanics and even and especially morale. Far from a bug, this is a feature of the hobby, as it allows ample opportunity for every wargamer to seek out the one ruleset that hits all of his preferred sweet spots – the thrill of the hunt can provide interest even if the perfect ruleset has not yet been found. And this hunt needs must be undertaken for each genre and period – what works great in one setting might not work well in another.

A great example of such a ruleset is the base mechanics that underlie the “Song of” series by Andrea Sfiligoi. Originally a fantasy skirmish ruleset called, “A Song of Blades and Heroes”, these rules have official adaptations for just about every setting a wargamer could hope for, including post-apocalyptic wastelands (“Mutants and Death Ray Guns”) to modern conflict (“Flying Lead”) to Napoleonics (“Song of Drums and Shakos”). The “Song of” engine works great for low-tech settings where melee is the most effective means of putting your opponent’s forces in the ground, but not so well for more modern settings where combat boils down to two groups hunkered down and shooting at each other across a distance.

Understanding why this should be so requires an understanding of how the original version of the game hits so many sweet spots in fantasy skirmishing. The “Song of” engine also provides an excellent example of how to add uncertainty into a wargame while still handing the players sufficient control over their forces to allow for meaningful strategic and tactical choices. Read More

Play 4 | Allies – Dad/Axis – Me | Outcome – Overwhelming Axis Victory (Allies concede Antwerp Victory as inevitable)

This playthrough we used the following:

  • No roll for Paratroopers
  • No roll for 150 Commando
  • 2x SS Panzer Divisions can participate in morning Blitz

In some ways this was very similar to my strategy in Play 3, but in other ways, I tried doing things very differently. I also had a very lucky opening turn.

First turn, the Sixth Pz scored several overrun victories, achieving massive odds by concentrating attacks on a single point along the road, which would open the board for me on turn two. The Seventh Army did its thing, basically keeping the early van of Patton’s forces off the map. Fifth Pz lucked out with some really good rolls. Over half of the attacks turn one were exchanges, meaning I could sacrifice one 3-3 wehr inf for a 4-4 light tank or 5-4 infantry. At a point in the game where the Allies are hurting for numbers, an exchange is a huge blow. The best outcome for Allies turn one is getting a retreat result that will put them in a city where they can dig in. That will delay the Germans for at least one more turn. With an exchange result, there’s just nothing between the German tanks and the Meuse for several turns and they get to run to the tables on the Allies. Read More

Castalia House is pleased to announce that we’ll be introducing two comics imprints in 2018, Arkhaven and Dark Legion. Arkhaven will be the comics and graphic novels that we produce ourselves, while Dark Legion will be our vehicle for publishing comics and graphic novels produced by others.

We’re continuing to make steady progress on Alt★Hero. We expect to have two 24-page comics out in digital and print in late February, plus two other Arkhaven 24-pagers, Quantum Mortis #1 and Right Ho #1, as I’ve been informed that inking is complete on both Avalon #1 and Alt★Hero #1. We also anticipate publishing print editions of one or two Dark Legion graphic novels in that time frame.

The digital editions will be delivered to all the relevant backers via download codes, the print editions will not, but the pages from them will be included in the 150-page printed graphic novels that will be delivered to all of the relevant backers later this year. We will make the 24-page print editions available via our Castalia Direct store; they will also be available on Amazon, in traditional bookstores, and the comic stores that sign up to carry Arkhaven comics.

We haven’t spoken much about the third line of the Alt★Hero universe, the military one, but we do have an interesting storyline there that involves KA-FOR engaging an elite team of Chinese superhero assassins known as The Gods of Peaceful Sleep. Being assassins, the Gods seldom go around wearing their uniforms, but they do wear body armor beneath their civilian clothing, as can be seen below.

What, you might ask, is KA-FOR? The clue is in the name.

 

Games (Save Versus All Wands): “Every week I google “zylarthen” to see if anyone has written a new review or whatever of Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, my OD&D neo-clone. After I gave the game it’s somewhat distinctive name, I quickly discovered that one of the benefits is that it’s pretty easy to google using just the last part. With “zylarthen” you generally find the game and only the game – the small exception being various characters in obscure fantasy or science-fiction stories (I think there might be at least three) named “Zylar” who occasionally then do something.”

Games (Elfmaid and Octopi): “I’ve considered using a whole bunch of medieval races believed to exist by scholars from late roman times into the renaissance. Elves and dwarves are fine and all but these might ad some colour. Not really developed yet but I’m tempted to do most using my beastman class (which I use for orcs and barbarians too). The multi fingered men would be exception, I might use elves as a template instead as I like idea they are magical and skillful. Just a teaser for now.”

Games (Cirsova): “While I love my homegame (Gutters, Guilds & Grimoires in the Strigistadt setting) , I still have a hankering to play some jen-you-wine B/X D&D, so I was pretty stoked someone was running a Moldvay Basic game at RPG Guild Day.  Turns out it was a friendly acquaintance I’d met at NTRPGCon who was running it, too.  He had the red and blue boxes there and everything!

A lot of one-shot old school games tend to be either 1st level adventures or funnels for 0-levels, so I was extra stoked that we were running 3rd level characters. I jumped on the chance to play a Magic-User, because when would I ever get the chance to play a 3rd level Magic-User again?!” Read More

Yumiko Moth has discovered her name, but she still does not know who, or what, she is. What she has learned is that her mother is dead, her master has disowned her, and her beloved has vanished. And she also knows that the Day world is a very dangerous place for a Twilight girl, especially when the dark forces of Night are hunting her.

To discover the truth she seeks, she must infiltrate the enemy’s citadel. In New York City, that is The Cobbler’s Club, home to the world-famous Peach Cobbler Girls. But how can a girl who stalks the shadows hide herself in the bright lights of the stage? CITY OF CORPSES is the fifth book of MOTH & COBWEB, the astonishing series about magical worlds of Day, Night, and Twilight by John C. Wright. 

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.

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Wilcolac spoke in a soft voice, but made each word heavy with emphasis. “We have gathered certain scattered fragments of lore from the one place whence elfin lords never sought to remove it. In the Night World, which is their own, they can find and quell all who might know or guess their secret weakness. We of the Twilight World all vow when we come of age unbreakable oaths, intertwined with runes and curses, never to rebel. But among men, aha! In the Daylit World, the King of Shadows would never suspect the humans retain in rituals and rhymes, in old toasts or old place names, the clues of hidden things the men themselves no longer know!”

Gilberec moved restlessly. Matthias yet again raised his hand, but now Wilcolac spoke. “Your friend, my dear young man of the cloth, seems to be bursting to say something you don’t want him to say. Let us hear it.”

Gilberec said, “We come in Arthur’s name. In whose name do you speak?”

Wilcolac said, “There are those among the Cobwebs who are dissatisfied with the sneers and jeers of elfin lords and the sly looks of their ladies. The elfin blood is pure, their lives are long, and their magic is by nature what we half-breeds can only learn by art or by the crafting of bad bargains with dreadful entities. Their overthrow would please us. Do you support their reign?”

Matthias said wearily, “No one is going to give you a straight answer, Gil, not anyone who knows you are a living lie detector. You are wasting time.”

Gilberec said to him, “I would rather know for sure that he will not be straight with us than to suppose he won’t, without giving him a chance.”

Wilcolac raised both eyebrows. “Giving me a chance…? Your cross-examination is allegedly for my benefit…? I am not willing to say who my principals are. They are not sure whom to trust. That is why they come through me: the Cobbler’s Club is a bit like Switzerland. I have to be careful. If I even appeared to take sides, I would be ruined.”

Gilberec said, “There could be a simpler reason why you know how to break an elfish spell than all this talk of scattered books and Eskimo wizards.”

“And what might that reason be?” asked Wilcolac, assuming an innocent stare.

“You are an Anarchist. Do you deny it?” Read More

Manuel Sanjulian (b. 1941) is the most successful artist of the Spanish invasion of the 1970s. His first American work was for Creepy #42 (November 1971). From December 1972 to April 1974, he produced all the covers for Creepy except two montage covers for July and August 1973. Ken Kelly then produced most covers through November 1975. Sanjulian returned in 1976 for four covers. He had a couple of covers after that.

Sanjulians’ first cover for Eerie was for #40, June 1972. The covers for Eerie in the middle 1970s rotated between Sanjulian, Enrich, and Ken Kelly. The cover for Eerie #41 was reused for a reprint one shot, Ring of the Warlords, which capitalized on the animated Lord of the Rings movie in 1978. Sword & Sorcery Comix was another reprint one shot from October 1981. Heavy Metal had just come out and there was building anticipation for the Conan movie. That cover was previously used for Frank S. Robinson’s Children of the Dragon (Avon, 1978). Read More

Strangely enough, this is close to what I picture “Adventure” as.

Originally, this article was meant to be different.  I was going to examine two approaches to science fiction.  One focusing more on action, adventure, and an exciting story, and the other on ideas about society, technology, and the future.  Most stories feature both elements, but have a very clear focus preference.  And yet, the more I considered it, the more I realized all the worthwhile Big Idea tales are also good Adventure stories.  And most tellingly, even a profound, highly intellectual science fiction writer is capable of spinning a fine yarn that would hold its own in any early pulp magazine.

On the flip side, bad science fiction writers, whether they go for Big Ideas or not, are incapable of writing such “mere” entertainment.  Thus, we can consider simple, honest adventure to be the very heart of what makes quality science fiction.  You might well be unconvinced by this, so let’s look at some examples.

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This week’s roundup of the newest releases in fantasy and adventure features an American Civil War fought with sword and sorcery, a sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Moon Maid, and the return of the Shadow to audiobook in one of his most celebrated adventures of all time.

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America Asunder (American Mage War #2) – Robert Edward

The war everyone expected is finally here, as the hydromancers of the North and the pyromancers of the South clash across America. The Union counterattack into Kentucky has the Confederacy back on its heels, but the nation’s western frontier is dangerously unprotected. The United States needs all the silver it can get for the Union Army to press the fight against the southern war wizards. Barely recovered from their last battle, Jared Gilsom and his friends are sent west to help foster a treaty with the Pawnee tribe that will hopefully provide some security for America’s western flank.

But a sinister power is rising in the South. As the war in Europe takes a sudden turn for the worse, the Union finds itself facing a new and uncertain threat. With alliances shifting and breaking across the continent, Jared and his companions continue their quest for answers in the struggle against the unseen plan that seems to be unfolding around them.

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Conflicted Home (The Survivalist #9) – A. American

The only possible thing that could make Morgan’s world even more difficult happened. The Japanese fleet off the coast of California was wiped out. An even that Morgan and friends and family only knew about because of the radio broadcasts from the Radio Free Redoubt. So far removed from them it barely warranted notice. That is until the Chinese retaliated by launching a nuclear counter-strike against Mac Dill Air Force base. This, did warrant their attention and had the potential to profoundly impact their lives.

As bad as the fear of nuclear fallout was, it wasn’t the only threat still haunting northern Lake county. With proof the Russians had pathfinder units on the ground, at a minimum, in the state and discovery of Cuban forces cooperating with them, something had to be done. After encountering armored units and realizing they were ill equipped to deal with the threat, the old man called for help. The call was answered, but would require a near impossible trip by truck to Eglin Air Force base. America was certainly on the ropes, but she wasn’t down yet.

All Morgan wants to do is protect his family and friends. To restore a normal sense of life. To see to it Mel and his girls are safe and protected. He doesn’t want to get involved in these military actions. He’s more focused on trying to restore power to town. But his desires are, to use a military term, overtaken by circumstances, and, once again, Morgan and his friends are compelled to get involved. And this time, it will cost them.

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Fort Covenant (Tales of the Seventh #2) – Marc Edelheit

In this military fantasy, Ben Stiger is given a simple mission: march his understrength company to the Cora’Tol garrison far to the southeast. Once there, he is to take a fellow officer into custody and promptly return. But when Stiger arrives, he finds the Rivan have destroyed the garrison and slaughtered the inhabitants of the valley. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a quick and easy task turns into something far more dangerous.

With a Rivan army now moving to flank the imperial army to the west, Stiger makes a desperate decision. Short on rations, and hopelessly outnumbered, he must find a way to delay the enemy so Third Legion can react to this dire threat before it is too late. The solution lies in Fort Covenant, a forgotten place with a history important not only to his people, but the elven nations as well.

Set amidst the backdrop of an epic war, there are greater forces at work than the young Stiger can begin to imagine.

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Our Survival (Grid Down #1) – Nick Williams

Roy and Josie are a survivalist couple and parents to ten year old daughter, Alex, when the EMP knocks down the entire power grid and sends America back to the Stone Ages in an instant.

Well stockpiled and supplied on their homestead in the countryside, the family seems ready and well-prepared to outlast the aftermath of the EMP attack.

But things change during a home invasion that results in Roy shooting one of the intruders, the brother to the leader of an armed and dangerous ex-prison gang scavenging for supplies and preying on the innocent.

Vowing revenge and in desperate need of the family’s stockpile, the gang prepares to launch a coordinated attack on the homestead.

Suddenly, Roy, Josie, and Alex are faced with a critical decision: do they leave their home and abandon their stockpile with it, or do they stay as a family and defend what’s theirs?

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Soldier Scarred (The Teralin Sword #5) – D. K. Holmberg

The Conclave calls to Endric and threatens to pull him from the Denraen again.

While the merahl are restored, the price was high. The Conclave asks Endric to bring Tresten to his final resting place, leading him to the island of Salvat and the headquarters of the Conclave, but forcing him to bring an old enemy with him.

When the mission takes a dramatic turn, Endric wants only to save Senda, but doing so brings him into a conflict that his Denraen training has not prepared him for. Can he trust Urik while saving Senda and still discover the secrets of the Conclave, or will he be the reason that Salvat falls?

“I am really enjoying seeing the evolution of Endric into the person he becomes in earlier books. He is an amazing hero and I am enjoying this series very much. The only trouble I have with it is it never enough. I am really looking forward to the next one.” – Amazon Reader Review

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Swords Against the Moon Men (Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs #6) – Christopher Paul Carey

In 2076 AD, Earth has been conquered and humanity brutally enslaved under the cruel tyranny of the Kalkar invaders whose evil was spawned from Va-nah, the Moon’s hollow interior. Julian 7thdescendant of the great hero who led the first expedition to Va-nah and nearly defeated the Kalkars—receives a mysterious transmission from the planet Barsoom.

The desperate plea from the Red Planet swiftly hurls Julian upon a lonely quest into the heart of Va-nah where he teams up with an U-ga princess and a fierce alien quadruped, and launches a daring rescue to save a lost Barsoomian ambassadorial mission. The success of this mission depends on an unlikely alliance with the Warlord of Mars to assail the enemy’s impregnable stronghold.

If Julian fails in this quest, humanity—and the entire solar system—will never escape the iron grip of the Moon Men.

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Vigil – Russell Newquist

There’s a dragon in the church.

After modern day paladin Peter Bishop and his friend Michael defeated the dragon over the skies of Athens, Georgia, it fled to Europe – with Peter’s girlfriend Faith in tow. Well, she’s a girl. And she’s his friend. And her stunning beauty doesn’t hurt.

Now Peter and his friends have tracked the dragon to France, where it’s living under a church and terrorizing the village. Can they slay the dragon, save the village, and rescue the girl before dawn?

Or will a wayward priest destroy everything they’ve fought for?

“how do you top spec ops, demons, car chases, a warlock, and a dragon vs helicopter fight?” – Amazon Reader Review

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The Voodoo Master (The Shadow #97) – Audiobook by Audible Studios

The Shadow matches wits against Dr. Rodil Mocquino, the so-called Voodoo Master. Dr. Mocquino possesses a strange hypnotic power over men that causes them to do his bidding like mindless zombies. When the evil Voodoo Doctor creates an army of walking dead drones to carry out his latest vile plan, it’s up to The Shadow to put an end to the black magic and the doctor himself.

“Our heretofore undauntable hero meets a voodoo cult that not only manages to halt the Shadow’s plan, but actually injure and take the Shadow out of the picture. The following day, the Shadow awakens to hear his physician being kidnapped by the Voodoo Master’s thugs. Wounded and weak, what can even the Shadow do against the criminal who can create zombies from living men?” – Amazon Reader Review

 

The Science of Time-Travel by Ray Cummings originally appeared as the The Science of Time Travelling in the June 1944 issue of Super Science Stories and was reprinted in the February 1950 issue of A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Ray Cummings was something of a legend in the sci-fi pulps, and was very prolific in the 20s through the 40s. I’ve read and reviewed at least one of his stories in the past, and it was excellent.

By 1950, Ray Cummings was still a big name, though his star was descending (the general feel I’ve gathered from fan letters in Planet was that a lot of readers felt he was getting worn out despite the editor’s continued enthusiasm for him). The inclusion of this essay, a reprint from 1944, feels more like an excuse to include a legendary name in science fiction in the issue at a bargain bin prince.

More than anything, Cummings’ essay feels phoned in, a cheap bit of fluff to fill some pages with pseudo-philosophical ramblings with little actual substance or depth to the piece. While it’s disappointing, it does lend an interesting contrast to Isaac Asimov, a writer whom I have mixed feelings about.

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