Monday, January 23, 2023

New Edge Sword & Sorcery

New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine, Volume 1, #0. Edited by Oliver Brackenbury, Cover by Gilead.

This is issue 0 of a new sword & sorcery magazine, distributed in eformat and PDF for free, or sold for a little over 3 dollars in print format on Amazon. I picked up the print version. As a magazine rather than an anthology, it contains nonfiction articles as well as short stories. The stories are clustered up front, with the nonfiction more toward the back, and I found myself liking that format.

New Edge Sword & Sorcery is a term still undergoing a “shakedown.” In other words, it’s still finding its ultimate definition. According to Brackenbury, who has an essay on the concept at the end of the magazine, New Edge continues the older traditions of the “outsider protagonist,” “thrilling energy,” and “weirdness” while adding “inclusivity” and a strong support for “new works” in the field. This includes a greater inclusion of women authors and authors of color, as well as those who do not fit neatly into standard gender and lifestyle dichotomies. What I’m most concerned with here, however, are the stories and the information. Did I enjoy them as stories and essays? Below are my thoughts.

First up is a story by Dariel R. A. Quiogue, a Philippines based writer. “The Curse of the Horsetail Banner”  was an excellent choice to start the anthology because this is a very strong tale—both well written and exciting. As the name of the protagonist suggests—Orhan Timur—this tale is set in a pseudo Mongolian/Tibetan milieu. The writing really puts you into the cold, snowy climate as Timur flees from pursuers who want him dead, and finds a potential way to regain his lost position as Khagan, khan of khans. I’ve bought a book by Quiogue featuring this character, which I hope to get to soon.

Story 2 is “The Ember Inside” by Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams. Very interesting story in that it features a “storyteller” as the primary hero. There’s a twist as to how the stories get told, however, and I won’t reveal the surprise. The main character, Ymke, is not, to my mind, a completely sympathetic character, although her life has certainly given her some tough choices. She is certainly a complex character. There are elements of Ymke that remind me of Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes.

“Old Moon over Irukad” is next and is a real treat. The tale features Edrion and Virissa, sword companions who are hired for a questionable job that pays good gold, but are then betrayed. Not a good idea to betray this pair. The story is by David C. Smith, an old hand at sword & sorcery who became known in the late 1970s and early 1980s for his tales of Oron. I’ve been a fan of his since those days. This is a fun story written by a master.

“The Beast of the Shadow Gum Trees” by T. K. Rex, is definitely the weirdest story here. It’s certainly fantasy but only on the fringes of sword & sorcery. But it’s an enjoyable tale and the prose is extraordinary. I would have enjoyed reading this just for the prose, but the tale itself is quite good. An old being named “Moth,” who is not human but some type of minor nature god it seems, mourns the loss of his love and plans to let himself die. Turns out, he has one more task to perform, in a land far away. There’s a lot of feeling in this one and I was touched by the ending.

“Vapors of Zinai” is by J. M. Clarke. I’m not all that familiar with the “sword & soul” subgenre of S&S but I believe this one might fit there. It features a warrior/sorcerer as the protagonist, a man named Kyembe. Despite the setting in a sort of Alternate Egypt, this is—in many ways—one of the most traditional stories in the magazine. Kyembe is warrior in the Conan, Kane, Imaro tradition. I really enjoyed the character and have picked up another anthology with a Kyembe tale in it. I got a big kick out of the ending to this one. That last line is pure entertainment.

“The Grief-Note of Vultures” is next, by Bryn Hammond. Excellent title, but I have to admit I didn’t quite understand this story. It’s written in a very unusual style, a unique style certainly, and one that might take some familiarity with to become fully comfortable in the tale. (I had the same issue with Glen Cook’s Black Company books at first and came to love those.) I think it was probably the style that kept me from becoming fully immersed in this story.

After “Grief-Note,” there’s a short essay by Howard Andrew Jones on the “Origin of the New Edge.” This was interesting to me since I had very little knowledge of how it came about. (I’ve mostly been writing westerns and modern westerns for the last 3 years.)

Immediately after comes “C. L. Moore and Jirel of Joiry: The First lady of Sword & Sorcery” by Cora Buhlert. I’m a huge fan of Moore’s work, especially the Jirel and Northwest Smith tales, which have all the adventure you could want but also seem to have a little something more written into their characterizations. I’ve also written an essay talking about Moore’s work, so I didn’t learn a lot of new information from this essay, but it was fun to revisit some of this information. I did learn more about Moore’s post-Jirel work and appreciated that. A good essay.

We have an interview with Milton Davis up next, conducted by Brackenbury. I learned a lot of new information here. Davis’s name pops up frequently in recent conversations about new fantasy. He is firmly associated with the sword & soul moniker and was influenced to some extent by the 1970s and 1980s work of Charles Saunders, one of the first African Americans to put his unique stamp on sword & sorcery. I learned some things about Saunders, who I much admire.

Another article, “The Outsider in Sword & Sorcery,” is up next, by Brian Murphy. A short treatise on the role of the outsider in S&S. Interesting and enjoyable.

Nicole Emmelhainz produces the next essay, which is “Gender Performativity in Howard’s ‘Sword Woman.’” This piece examines Howard’s Dark Agnes stories at some length, focusing on gender issues.  Emmelhainz is a professor and this work certainly has an academic feel to it. As an academic myself, I quite appreciated it. This is something we might have run in The Dark Man, which I’ve been occasionally an assistant editor for. I thought the ending here, which talks about how modern authors can still learn some things from writers such as Robert E. Howard, was even handed, open minded, and powerful. It was also appreciated.

Magazines often have reviews and toward the end here we have a review of “The Obanaax and Other Tales of Heroes and Horrors” by Kirk Johnson. The review is written by Robin Marx. Not having read this book, there’s not much I can say. Marx seemed to enjoy it.

Finally, we have Brackenbury’s essay on “What is New Edge Sword & Sorcery,” which I’ve already mentioned earlier. I thought this was a really entertaining first issue for this new magazine. I was happy to see it since I would really love to see a sword & sorcery revival, given that I’ve written quite a bit of the stuff myself. I recommend it. For more information, check out their Facebook page under the same name, and I also understand there’s a Kickstarter launching on February 2, with a surprise on February 1. Here’s the link. First day backers will get an exclusive gift. A lot of effort is going into making the first issues dynamite, and there are some big ideas coming down the pipe. I’ll support the Kickstarter, and  I hope the quality of the work shown in this opening issue continues.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, Volume 5.

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, Volume 5. Edited by David A. Riley. 328 pages. Published by Parallel Universe Publications. Cover and interior art by Jim Pitts.


This is the fifth volume in the acclaimed Swords & Sorceries series from Parallel Universe Publications. It’s the largest of the series so far and contains eleven stories, several of which are fairly long. The TOC consists of:

Introduction by David A. Riley

THE ROTTED LAND by  Charles Gramlich

SKULLS FOR SILVER by Harry Elliott

FOR THE LIGHT by Gustavo Bondoni

PEOPLE OF THE LAKE by Lorenzo D. Lopez

FREE DIVING FOR LEVIATHAN EGGS by Tais Teng

THE BLACK WELL by Darin Hlavaz

DEGG AND THE UNDEAD by Susan Murrie Macdonald

THE MISTRESS OF THE MARSH by David Dubrow

SILVER AND GOLD by Earl W. Parrish

BRIDGE OF SORROWS by Dev Agarwal

PRISONERS OF DEVIL DOG CITY by Adrian Cole

Here are my thoughts.

The Rotted Land: The first story is mine and is third in a series about a character named Krieg, who combines certain elements of REH’s Kull and Karl Wagner’s Kane. It’s a traditional story doing something along the lines of the “Northern Thing.” Another Krieg story is written and submitted and I’m working on a fifth.

Skulls for Silver is a great title. I don’t believe I’ve read anything by Harry Elliott previously. He’s a British author. This is a fairly long story, also doing the northern thing. Hel and Gul and Mann are the characters. Hel is a female fighter and Gul a big, brawny warrior, while Mann is a swordsman. Interesting. You don’t often see three characters in Sword & Sorcery settings. One or two seems to be the rule.

For the Light is also the first story I’ve read by Gustavo Bondoni, although I’ve been facebook friends with him a long time and he is a very prolific author. Bondoni is from Argentina and is the only SF/Fantasy author I know from that area of the world. This story leaps into action. We have a chariot race to save the world and the main character is Semni. This was an early favorite for me in the collection and has one of those great endings that is surprising, although it seems inevitable in hindsight.

People of the Lake starts in a swamp, sort of like “The Rotted Land.”  Lorenzo D. Lopez was another new writer to me, until I found in the Introduction that it’s a pseudonym for someone I have heard of before. Quite a lot of action in this one and some gory battles.

Free Diving for Leviathan Eggs. This tale has a bit of a high fantasy feel to it, and also reminds me of the work of Clark Ashton Smith. It quickly became another favorite for me, just because it is so beautifully written. I really loved the language and the whole tone of the tale. Great ending, too. Tais Teng is Dutch, which really makes this collection an international one. I’ll be seeking out more of Teng’s work.

The Black Well sounds like a Robert E. Howard title and Darin Hlavaz is certainly familiar with Howard, as well as Lovecraft, Leiber and Moorcock. This tale features a vast cyclopean city buried in a pit in the earth, very Lovecraftian in feel. This is one of the longer stories, very descriptive.

Degg and the Undead. Susan Murrie Macdonald is another facebook friend. She’s a relatively new writer but this tale shows plenty of polish. Degg is a relatively simple fellow who finds a cave and appropriates a fine sword that he discovers there. Unfortunately for Degg, the dead sorcerer who owned the sword does not take kindly to being stolen from. I really liked the ending, which surprised me.

The Mistress of the Marsh. Another marshy, swampy tale. A Roman legion marches into the wetlands to take it from the savage owners, and they get more than the bargained for. The locals, called Thucers, evoke images of Howard’s Picts, and indeed the tale has elements of Howard’s Conan tale of “Beyond the Black River.” David Dubrow is a Florida writer, also new to me.

Silver and Gold is by Earl W. Parrish, which is also a pseudonym. A post Roman tale about a hero named Pierre, a religious warrior who finds himself in love with a witch. How can he reconcile his spiritual duties and his love? Pierre and Jeannette, the witch, are particularly well-done characters.

Bridge of Sorrows is another great title. Dev Agarwal is also a British author, I believe, as well as editor for Focus Magazine. I remember reading a tale of the same characters, Simeon and Irene, from an early volume of this series. There’s a Howardian and Lovecraftian feel to this tale as well, with the enemy being a race known as the “Dagonists.” They’re not human, in case you couldn’t guess. This is a fairly long story as well, with quite a lot of action.

Prisoners of Devil Dog City is by Adrian Cole, who is certainly the best known writer in the collection. He is also British, and I’ve been a fan of his work since his Dream Lords trilogy in the 1970s. Here we have humans caught up in a battle of the gods, which is a theme that Cole frequently revisits. The gods and monsters are beautifully described here and this was definitely a fun story to end the collection with.

All in all, I can recommend this collection to everyone. Enjoyment to be had.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Two Poetry collections:

I've been remiss in blogging a few recent reviews I've done of poetry collections. Thought I'd put two of them together here for this blog:  

First up, we have Life-Limbs from Eliana Vanessa. An excellent first poetry collection from this New Orleans area author. It's not easy to categorize this collection. Most of the poems are dark, skirting the edge of horror and sometimes crossing over, but I wouldn't classify them as horror. They are primarily about relationships and longings--universal issues. Here's a couple of small tastes to give you the flavor:

"blood from the neck of a delicate crow sutures tomorrow's wings back together again," (from earth angel), and "to light up my smoke with a black candle skull," (from red hot death).

A nice element in many of the poems is a very delicate internal resonance. I hesitate to say "rhyming" because it's extremely subtle, but it slips wonderfully off the tongue. Many of these pieces should be read aloud.

Although this is the author's first collection, I'm aware that she's been widely published in magazines and anthologies and her poetical skills are well developed. Highly recommended.  

***

Next we have a very neat little item. Published in a limited edition of 300. My copy is #12, signed by both authors, Marge Simon and Bruce Boston, who happen also to be husband and wife. Boston is a widely known poet/author with numerous awards behind his name. Simon is both an excellent poet and editor, and is also an illustrator of note. This collection of their collaborative poetry also contains numerous neat illustrations by Simon. They two are talented poets full of strange and lovely words which they have spilled onto the pages of Night Smoke. I much enjoyed this read. I'm not sure if this collection is easily available commercially but you might be able to get a copy from either Bruce or Marge, who are present on Facebook, which is where I heard of this collection. I recommend it for all.


Thursday, September 01, 2022

Milking the Beast Within, By Ben Douglass

 

Milking the Beast Within, Selected Poems By Ben Douglass. Atomic Mountain Press, LLC, Edited by Rowena White. 63 pages, 2021. Cover by Albert Birkle.

Milking the Beast Within contains thirty-seven poems spanning from 1971 to 2012. This is apparently only a small subset of the poems written by Douglass, who is a poet I’ve not previously read. While each poem seems intensely personal, all are also universal in theme, with the author addressing primarily the issues of relationships and love. The poems are free verse and written in everyday language. As a result, they come off as exceedingly honest.

I’m not widely read in poetry and have mostly read speculative poetry, which normally has SF, Fantasy, or horror elements. I did immediately recognize a certain kinship between Douglass’s work and that of Charles Bukowski. The plain language is similar, as are many of the themes. It was no surprise then to find that one poem in the collection is called, “On Reading Bukowski for the First Time.” However, the collection contains a number of poems written before Douglass discovered Bukowski and the same kind of language and content is found there as well. So, it seems less of a direct influence by Bukowski and more of a certain, common viewpoint on life. Still, I believe I found more hopefulness and peacefulness in Douglass’s work than I have previously in Bukowski.

The cover, called “The Acrobat,” was…intriguing. It’s quite an ugly image of a man, almost a caricature, but it does catch the viewer’s attention. I was surprised to find that it had been done in 1921. It certainly seemed contemporary to me on first look.

All in all, this is a very nice package and the poems are insightful and make one think. I enjoyed them and will likely reread them over time, as well as seeking out more of Douglass’s work.  

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Drowning are the Dead

 Drowning are the Dead, Brent Towns. Rough Edges Press, 2022. 285 pages.

This is an excellent mystery story wrapped in a very attractive package from Rough Edges Press. The title is catchy; the cover is a knockout. A perk for American readers is that it’s set in Australia, offering a slice of exotica to many of us.

 Mark Hayes is a private detective, an ex-cop as many of them actually are. He’s hired to track down another PI who went missing while in the small town of Friar’s Lake deep in Australia’s Outback. The missing man was investigating a dead girl who may or may not have been the victim of a notorious serial killer named Ten Cent. Only, Ten Cent has been inactive for a long time and is presumed by the authorities to be either dead or incarcerated.

 That’s the set-up and I’m not going to give away any spoilers. As you might expect, Mark gets more than he bargained for as he finds a small town full of big secrets. This is the first adventure for the character Mark Hayes. It shouldn’t be the last. He’s an engaging character with streaks of both stubbornness and compassion in his makeup. His ex-wife is still a cop and they have a complex relationship that provides (for story purposes) a way for Mark to occasionally get information a typical PI wouldn’t have access to.

 As for the writing, this may be the character’s first outing but Brent Towns has written a lot of books and it shows here. The prose is smooth, transitions are handled quickly and professionally, description is enough but not too much. The style has just enough quirks to make it interesting but not enough to make you aware that you’re reading a story.

 I had a good time with this tale, staying up later than normal over several nights to finish it. I’d read a few pages and slip fully into the story, and then the page turns would come fast and furiously. Highly recommended.

 

Friday, May 27, 2022

Spacers Snarled in the hair of Comets

SPACERS SNARLED IN THE HAIR OF COMETS: By Bruce Boston. Mind’s Eye Publications, 2022, 39 pages. (Introduction by Andrew Darlington).

This latest collection from Bruce Boston contains twenty-two poems, all of which—I believe—have been previously published separately in magazines. Who is Bruce Boston, you ask? Well, he’s my favorite living poet, but perhaps that doesn’t mean much to you. He is also a Bram Stoker Award Winner, a multiple-time Rhysling Award Winner (the highest award given for speculative poetry in the US), and a helluva nice guy. But maybe none of those things mean anything to you.

But do you love language? Specifically, the English language? Do you enjoy science fiction?  If you do, then you owe it to yourself to sample Bruce Boston’s work, and this book is a good place to start. Let me give you a little taste:

Burning green to metagreen,

a rush of colors in between.

Mandalic moons, sidereal seas.

A spacer’s life is ice and fire,

graced by iridescent dreams.

Besides the beauty of the language, Boston’s poems also tell stories. In fact, he’s basically a storyteller and has also written many poetic short stories, as well as a wonderfully complex dystopian novel called The Guardener's Tale. It’s both the language and the storytelling aspects that draw me to Boston’s work. As a writer myself, I find inspiration in his language and the germs of many ideas in his stories and imagery. I jotted down half a dozen ideas for tales just from this collection. I recommend him for writers and readers alike.  

You can find out more about the book at Mind’s Eye Publications here: 

Or you can order the book from Amazon here:

Or from Lulu here: 

For more information about Bruce Boston and his work, you can also check out his website