Monday, October 23, 2023

Old Moon Quarterly and Krieg

Old Moon Quarterly, Volume 5, 2023. 137 pages. Edited and arranged by Julian Barona. Cover by Derek Moore.

This is a collection of heroic fantasy short stories. Most of these tales would fall into the general Sword & Sorcery subgenre, but several of them stretch those boundaries to the breaking point. The Table of Contents consists of:

Introduction, by the editors of Old Moon. An interesting comparison between “Kull” type heroic fantasy and “Conan” type.

Together Under the Wing by Jonathan Olfert. One of the most unique heroic fantasy stories I’ve ever read. The hero is not a human or even human like. I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to give it away. But this was a powerfully memorable story.

Champions Against the Maggot King by K. H. Vaughn. A relatively traditional Sword & Sorcery tale but with tremendous world building behind it. Told in first person and present tense, but I didn’t find that either got in the way of the story. The ending haunts.

The King's Two Bodies by Joe Koch. A long poem. Very fine language.

The Origin of Boghounds by Amelia Gorman. A story of a woman and her boghound. Very nontraditional tale. Beautifully written. 

Well Met at the Gates of Hell by David K. Henrickson. Elements of this are traditional but it’s certainly presented in a unique way. A warrior dies and must face three old enemies at the gates of hell. As the battle progresses, we learn more and more about the warrior. I believe this is my favorite, although if you ask me tomorrow I might decide on another.

A Warning Agaynste Woldes by Zachary Bos. Another poem, and a most challenging one. Not written in standard English. This one bears rereading before you’ll begin to understand it.

The Skulls of Ghosts by Charles Gramlich. This is my story and is probably the most traditional Sword & Sorcery tale in the collection. It involves my series character, Krieg,  but that’s all I’ll say.

The Headsman's Melancholy by Joseph Andre Thomas. This is an out and out horror story set against a heroic fantasy backdrop. Ever since Robert E. Howard invented the Sword & Sorcery genre, there’s always been a strong element of horror in the best stories and this one doubles that quotient. I felt strongly for the main character.

Friday, October 06, 2023

A Book of Blades, Copyright 2022 by Rouges in the House Podcast: 226 pages.

A Book of Blades is subtitled “A Sword & Sorcery Anthology.” It contains 15 stories as well as a very brief introduction by Matthew John, and an Artist’s Portfolio. This is one of the most entertaining collections of S&S stories I’ve read in a long time. The quality is consistently high in every instance and I definitely give it 5 stars. Below is a listing of the stories with my brief comments about each.

“By the Sword,” by John C. Hocking: I only knew of Hocking from his Conan pastiche, Conan and the Emerald Lotus, but I’ve never read it. After reading this tale I’ll have to pick up more of Hocking’s work. A story full of blood and thunder, and with a poignant ending that strongly engaged me.

“Ghost Song,” Chuck Clark: Turkael is a young hunter of his tribe but it is he who must face a sorcerer shapeshifter. Something in this tale reminded me of the character Imaro as created by the late Charles Saunders, and that’s a fine compliment.

“Last of the Swamp Tribe,” by L.D. Whitney: There’s a bit of “Beastmaster” in this. Man and wolf face their enemies together. Greywind is the wolf and made an excellent character.

“Wanna Bet?,” by T.A. Markitan: A mage hires two warriors to help him rob a ruin, but there’s a hidden agenda. And secrets within secrets. The denouement turns on an interesting character reveal.

“The Serpent’s Heart,” by Howard Andrew Jones: A ship is wrecked by a sea monster and its crew set adrift. They are rescued by another ship, which is pursuing the monster. But of course there are secrets. The scenes aboard the “rescuing” ship are beautifully rendered and very creepy. Jones has recently had a couple of S&S books released and after this I’ll certainly pick them up.

“How They Fall,” by Angeline B. Adams and Remco van Straten: This is really a character study rather than a story, but it works because it’s very well written and also quite short. It creates a melancholy mood that grows stronger throughout.

“The Breath of Death,” by Jason M. Waltz: Starting this story was a little jarring stylistically compared to the previous tales, and that’s because it was written in present tense. Present tense can bring immediacy to a story, and it does so here. It can also be risky at longer lengths, but Waltz judged the length just right. I was engaged. 

“Embracing Ember,” by S.E. Lindberg: Lindberg is an excellent prose stylist, and maybe my favorite one working in the fantasy field today. This is a story from his Dyscrasia universe, a fully realized but quite bizarre world. The world building is incredible but Lindberg doesn’t stint on character development either. Fully realized, but most unusual. Very much of a treat.

“The Curse of Wine,” by J.M. Clarke: Kyembe wakes up from a drunk to find that he’s been robbed. Bad idea. A short tale but very engaging.

“The Gift of Gallah,” by Matthew John: I enjoy tales of aging warriors. When they’re well done. And this one is well done. Another poignant ending.

“Crawl,” by Scott Oden: Oden is well known for the bloody action of his stories, but in this one he stretches his wings a little more. There is action, but the tale turns primarily on character and on historical resonance. It’s a kind of retelling of European history against the backdrop of Christianity’s spread. One really feels for the underdogs here.

“The Spine of Virens Imber,” by Nathaniel Webb: Shar the Spearmen is an indomitable warrior, which is not unusual in sword and sorcery. But the character is very well done and the writing strong. A fine piece.

“The City of the Screaming Pillars,” by Cora Buhlert: We have an ensemble cast here, and they’re after treasure in an abandoned city of the desert. A cursed city. Robert E. Howard strengthened his fantasy worlds by bringing in horror elements, and Buhlert mines a similar ground here to very good effect.

“Two Silvers for a Song of Blood,” by Jason Ray Carney: Carney is a fellow academic and I’ve worked with him before on The Dark Man Journal. That’s nonfiction and I haven’t previously read his fiction. Not all academics can write blood and thunder but Carney masters it and gives his “Barbarian-like” character some intriguing extra layers. Best title goes to this one as well.

“The Blood of Old Shard,” by John R. Fultz: I’ll definitely want to read more by Fultz. This was a great story to end the anthology on because it’s certainly one of the strongest tales among a grouping of strong pieces. Gnori is a great hero and, again, we have a most poignant ending that left me wanting more. A good way to end a book.

So, to finish, I truly liked every story in this book, which is not a common experience for me actually. Nothing weak here, and I recommend them all. But, the three that hit me the hardest personally were the pieces by Lindberg, Carney, and Fultz.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Sword & Planet Fiction

Since Blogging doesn't seem as popular as it used to be, I've started posting a series of pieces on Sword & Planet fiction over on Facebook, in what is called The Swords & Planet League. S&P fiction is the kind of story that Edgar Rice Burroughs created when he wrote "A Princess of Mars" back in 1912. His stories of Earthman John Carter's adventures on Mars, called "Barsoom" by its inhabitants, have thrilled millions and influenced countless authors, including me. I wrote the five part Taleran saga because of that influence, and quite a few short stories as well.  

If you are on facebook, please check out my S&P page: The Swords & Planet League

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Arthur Machen's White Powder

Despite the title, this is a short story, and actually on the shorter side of short. It was originally published in 1895 along with two other interwoven stories in a work called "The Three Imposters." I have not read the collection but this piece stands on its own as a short tale. The story is simple. An Englishman from the upper class is studying for the law and begins suffering from what might be called "nervous exhaustion." He is prescribed a white powder by his doctor and at first he seems full of renewed energy and vigor. However, the powder begins to take an awful toll and the man becomes more and more reclusive until...well, you'll need to read to find out. The story is told by his concerned brother, and in the course of the tale we find that the medicine prescribed by the doctor is not what the pharmacist supplied. As the basis of the drug, the pharmacist used a container of powder that had been on his shelves for many years and had been chemically altered by that long exposure into another substance called Vinum Sabbati--a witch's brew.

The story is pretty simple but effective. Since it's told by the brother, we don't "see" or experience the man's transformations except second hand. This was a common storytelling technique in those days and is still used today, although not as commonly. However, the writing is very fine and we get a good sense of mounting dread from the story. One can see how this tale was likely a strong influence on H. P. Lovecraft and his nameless horrors. 

I suspect that Machen's influence here came at least partially from the writings of Sigmund Freud on Cocaine, which mostly appeared between the years 1884 and 1887. The drug was well known by the time Machen wrote this story, and quite a few doctors and researchers had extolled its virtues, although it's less desirable effects were also becoming known.  

Monday, August 14, 2023

Coach Charles Tadlock

Very sad to see that Coach Charles Tadlock has died. He was my first football coach, in seventh grade at Charleston, Arkansas Junior High. I remember that he was quite a large man, and as a kid who barely weighed 100 pounds in 7th grade he was intimidating. But over the next few years I came to admire him and…I liked him.  (Picture above borrowed from a facebook page. All rights to the photographer.)

Coach Tadlock could be tough but I always found him fair. The thing I remember most is that he wanted you to do your best, but if you tried your best and it wasn’t good enough, he recognized it and didn’t hold you accountable for not being able to do the miraculous. 

I remember one particular game. I was playing safety on defense and the opposing team had a wide receiver who was something like six feet, nine, a good foot taller than me, with arms to match. This guy caught three touchdown passes right over me that night. I was so upset, so angry. I remember coming off the field nearly in tears and sitting on the bench with my head in my hands. No one would talk to me, not out of meanness but because they were all just as young as I was and didn’t know what to say.

Coach Tadlock approached. He patted me on the shoulder pads and said, “just keep doing your best. That’s all you can do.” There was no anger or recrimination in his voice. I’ve remembered that moment for fifty years. 

I remember, too, a much funnier moment. We were playing a team from Oklahoma. Pacola, I think. They were driving toward a touchdown. I was playing safety. I intercepted a ball just before the endzone and gave us back the ball. This time, my teammates knew just what to do. They all cheered and pounded me on the back. 

After the celebration was over and I was sitting on the bench, Coach Tadlock came over to me. He was smiling and slapped me on the shoulder pads. Then he leaned in, and in a very quiet voice that no one else could hear, he said: “you know you were out of position, don’t you?”

Indeed, I had been. The receiver had beat me and their quarterback underthrew him and hit me right in the chest. It was a colossal piece of luck on my part. But the kindness of coach there, knowing what I’d done wrong and wanting to teach me, but not to correct me in front of all my peers and take away that moment of joy. 

I’m sorry for the loss of this good man, and for his family who will now have to bear his absence. He will be remembered by many. 


Friday, August 04, 2023

A Halloween Duology from K. A. Opperman

I'm a fan of Halloween, but not as big of a fan as K. A. Opperman. I'm not sure there is a bigger fan of All Hallows Eve than Opperman. His introduction to “Past the Glad and Sunlit Season,” his first collection of Halloween themed poems, illustrates it. I enjoyed the brief story of his Halloween journey. It's quite different from mine, and he is far more passionate in his love for the holiday.

Opperman has also produced a second collection of Halloween related poetry in “October Ghosts and Autumn Dreams.” I’ve reviewed them independently on Goodreads but decided to blog them together. The covers on the two books are the first thing you notice. Both are striking, and the interiors are fully illustrated. These are my photos here of the covers. The covers reflect—in my opinion—the contents of the books. The book 2 poems are generally darker, although not horrific. 

As for the poems? The first volume contains 54 of them. Most are short. All are rhyming. They are charming enough to be read to children but have enough ghoulish imagery to tantalize the adult. I read some to my wife, who is also a Celtiphile, and she found them delightful.

The second collection contains 46 poems, but several of them are longer so it’s about the same total length. These are also rhyming poems, although he varies the rhyming scheme a little more here. I personally find writing good rhyming poems difficult, but in these two books Opperman has done a wonderful job in making the rhymes work to his—and the reader’s—advantage. 

A very nice touch in both books was a section at the end about the poems, wherein Opperman discusses the origins and some of the meanings of the pieces. I keep this kind of information for my own stories and poems so it’s nice to see it from someone else. 

The second book also ends with a too brief essay on “Trick-or-Treat As Initiatory Rite and Attendant Symbolism.” Opperman laid out some very interesting concepts in this piece and I’d love to see an expansion of it. He clearly has thought a great deal about Halloween and that time of the year. Perhaps he is indeed the Pumpkin King and his human face only a summer disguise.

Overall, there's a touch here and there that remind me of Ray Bradbury's work, who was also a lover of Halloween. The titles, particularly, put me in mind of Ray. I will mention one specific poem that reminds me of Bradbury’s work, from book 2. It really connected with me. “Where Yet October Dwells.” To quote:

Against the bleak advances of November,

There is a hollow lost in hidden dells,

Where yet a pumpkin keeps October’s ember—

A place of dreams and spells. 

I was born in October, as was my wife. We are one day apart, although not in years. So this poem resonated with me for that reason in addition to others. When I finished reading it, I was expecting it to be the last one in the collection. Turns out there was one more but I think the position of these two might have been reversed to good effect. 

To sum up, these two volumes make a nice addition to my shelves. Perhaps I’ll have to put them up with a Halloween display this year. And I doubt we’ve heard the last about Halloween from the Pumpkin King. Not the “King in Yellow” but the King in Orange. With a carved smile. 

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Spectros #1: Silverado, by Logan Winters

Spectros #1: Silverado, by Logan Winters. Tower Books, 1981. 159 pages.

Logan Winters was one of several pseudonyms used by writer Paul Joseph Lederer (July 2, 1944 – January 30, 2016). Some others were Owen G. Irons, C. J. Sommers, Warren T. Longtree, and Paul Ledd. He also wrote books under his own name, particularly a series called the “Indian Heritage” series. I haven’t read anything other than Spectros #1 so far but I will likely pick up some of his other works.

So, to the review. The book was billed as a kind of weird western. I agree it fits that mold, although the primary influence here would be the pulps such as Doc Savage. Doctor Spectros, a master magician of unknown age, has a crew that work with him in the same vein as Doc Savage. These include gunslinger Ray Featherskill, brute/mute Montak, and an inscrutable foreign fighter named Inkada.

The gist of the story is that another sorcerer, Blackschuster, has kidnapped Spectros’ love, Kirstina, and has been keeping her alive through magical means. Alive but unconscious. Spectros is after him with his crew.

What I liked: The prose here is very good. Crisp, vivid, clean. There’s quite a lot of poetry in it, which always sets my little heart a flutter. This is the main reason why I’d read more by this writer. In addition, the characters are broadly drawn but interesting, and I liked the crew much better than Doc Savage’s crew. They weren’t played for laughs—for the most part—and given serious roles to fulfill.

What I didn’t like: Though this is the “first” in a series of four books, it seems clear the reader is expected to know a lot of backstory already. The characters aren’t really introduced. They are sprinkled in like a cook adding ingredients to a stew. Now, I’m a fan of action up front, but I also expect that characters with a long and complicated history get introduced fairly early in a book so the reader has some orientation to their story and why it is meaningful. There was almost none here. I got more orientation from the back cover blurb than the book itself.

In addition, the story jumps around between the characters somewhat willy-nilly, without much of a common thread to connect them. As I was reading about Lederer’s work, he made a comment in an interview that made me think this was his general approach to writing. I’m a pantser mostly myself but I work very hard to make the multiple characters and plotlines connect.

Another issue, which may not be Lederer’s fault, is that characters and scenes sometimes changed in the middle of a page without any break or asterisks, or anything to indicate said break. That makes for some difficult reading. And add to that quite a few typos and you’ve got some confusion.

Overall, I can only give this book two stars. The prose deserves four or five but all the other things dragged the work down to the point that I was glad to finish so I could move on to a better story. The story is the thing.

As for Lederer, he was born in California and died in his early seventies from a brain aneurysm. He served a term in the Air Force, in the Intelligence Arm, and was widely travelled in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He wrote over 100 novels, most of them westerns or with western connections. Sounds like he would have been an interesting fellow to meet.  

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Alvin Burstein (1931 – 2023)


A few days ago (on Tuesday, June 27th), I lost a friend—Alvin Burstein, who most people called “Al.” By the time I met Al, he was already retired from a long career as a clinical psychologist and educator. I met him in a different capacity when I joined a small, newly begun writing group on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, across the lake from New Orleans. Al and his wife Sandra were early members of that group, which underwent quite a few changes before a hardcore cadre of stalwarts coalesced. Al, who was very much a man of literature, suggested we call our group Louisiana Inklings, after a much more famous group of writers, most notably including C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Inklings met for many years, initially at a local library or occasionally a restaurant, and finally at Al and Sandra’s elegant home on the Northshore. (It continued in somewhat truncated form even after Covid hit.)

Al was a fan of sushi as well as literature, and he and I and Sandra met sometimes outside the group for raw fish, rice, and conversation. Al had written many academic and scholarly articles in his career (here is a link to his vita), but at this time in his life he’d stoked his fire for fiction. And he was a talented and precise wordsmith, but often a playful one, as witnessed by a story of his that I republished in an anthology I edited of the Inkling crew’s work—“The Crawfish Boil.”

Al was also astute at the critique work of the group. Although his often-blunt commentary occasionally left some hard feelings early on, his intent was never to cut but to clarify. His deeply analytical and probing mind, having been honed by years working as a clinical psychologist, sliced through the BS and centered on the heart of the matter—what was the story trying to say and was it successful at it.

Although Al and my writing styles could scarcely have been more different, we both appreciated and respected the other’s work. Al understood what I was trying to accomplish and why my characters were described as they were, and he often made inciteful comments that helped me clarify my thoughts. (He was also great at catching typos.)

Al had quite a long life. His energy seldom faltered; his commitment to quality in his own work and in that of others never did. Al was also a Francophile and the picture above, taken by Sandra, shows him at the Academie Francaise in Paris. Perhaps the best sample of his literary style can be found in "The Owl," which was published in 2012. A delightful novella.  

Al Burstein was a fine man, a fine writer, and a wonderful friend. I’ll miss him. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Splatter Punks II Review

Splatter Punks II Over the Edge: softcover, 416 pages. TOR 1995, edited by Paul M. Sammon.

This book came out in 1995, toward the end of the first generation of Splatterpunk. I wrote a few stories in that movement back in the day, Razor White (which appeared in Dark Voices 4 The Pan Book of Horror), Splatter of Black (which appeared in Dark Terrors), and Wall of Love (which appeared in Agony in Black). I haven’t done anything like those stories since, and I haven’t read a lot of this kind of material since then either. Even at age sixty-four, though, in 2023, I found myself wincing emotionally and viscerally at a few of these tales. There’s still power in these older stories. Below is the TOC, with a little description. My primary comments follow. 

Personal Acknowledgments, by Paul M. Sammon

Introduction, Essay by Paul M. Sammon

Accident d'Amour, story by Wildy Petoud, Translated from French

Impermanent Mercies, story by Kathe Koja

One Flesh: A Cautionary Tale, story by Robert Devereaux

Rant, story by Nancy A Collins

Lacunae, story by Karl Edward Wagner

Heels, story by Lucy Taylor

Brian De Palma: The Movie Brute, essay by Martin Amis

I Walk Alone, story by Roberta Lannes

Scape-Goats, story by Clive Barker

Cannibal Cats Come Out Tonight, story by Nancy Holder

All Flesh is Clay, story by John J Ordover

Imprint, story by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Twenty-two and Absolutely Free, story by John Piwarski

Hooked on Buzzer, story by Elizabeth Massie

Pig, story by Gorman Bechard

Rockin' the Midnight Hour, essay by Anya Martin 

Embers, story by Brian Hodge

Headturner, story by Kevin Andrew Murphy and Thomas S. Roche

Nothing But Enemies, story by Debbie Goad

Boxer, story by Steve Rasnic Tem

Xenophobia, story by Poppy Z. Brite

Dripping Crackers, story by Michael Ryan Zimmerman

Intimates, story by Melanie Tem

For You, the Living, long story by Wayne Allen Sallee

Calling Dr Satan, interview with Anton Szandor Lavey by Jim Goad

Red Shift, story by Shira Daemon

Within You, Without You, story by Paul M. Sammon

Epiphany, story by Christa Faust

Note on the Splat II Soundtrack, essay by Paul M. Sammon

This is a big book with a lot of material. I didn’t read it quickly but typically read a story or two each day, depending on length. Some of these tales are long enough to be called Novellettes. None of them are weak tales. All are professional, although some resonated with me more than others for various personal reasons. 

I bought the collection primarily for the works of certain authors whose careers I’ve followed. These would be Karl Edward Wagner, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite (here), and Wayne Allen Sallee. I’ve actually met all four of these authors at various cons, though could only consider Sallee to be a friend. Wagner, of course, is gone now, a great tragedy.  

I love the Kane stories by Karl Edward Wagner, most of which are set in a primitive Sword & Sorcery/Dark Gothic type of universe (ancient Earth). This is a rarity in that it’s set in the modern world. Not one of my favorite Kane stories but it still has that touch and I enjoyed it. 

Clive Barker wrote some of the best horror stories in history in his Books of Blood. This one, “Scape-Goats,” fits right into that legacy. Very compelling and one of the strongest stories in the collection.

Poppy Z. Brite’s entry here is Xenophobia. Brite definitely had a finger on the pulse of a generation with the excellent novel, “Lost Souls.” This tale has many of those same kinds of touches. 

Wayne Allen Sallee is in my top five favorite horror authors. He’s really created a unique and oftentimes grotesque body of work. I’d read this tale, “For You, The Living,” in another setting so it was no surprise for me. It still had the power to make me both viscerally and emotionally uncomfortable, and embodies (For me) a lot of what the Splatterpunk movement was about. Do yourself a favor if you like horror and give Sallee's work a read.

Like I said, I’m enjoyed all these tales. I’m only going to mention a couple more that hit me particularly hard. “Boxer,” by Steve Rasnic Tem was absolutely brutal. Nancy Holder’s “Cannibal Cats Come Out Tonight” was very well written. 

My favorite story in the collection was the last one, by Christa Faust, “Epiphany.” Beautiful prose and a distinctly discomfiting subject matter for me. This one inspired some ideas for tales of my own. 

As for the nonfiction, interesting material. I rather enjoyed the interview with Anton Lavey. I’ve not paid much attention to his philosophical thoughts previously but he had some interesting things to say, and not what one might typically expect. 

All in all, I’m happy to add this anthology to my burgeoning collection. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Woods are Dark

Not my favorite Laymon. His works are always readable, although I can generally find what seem like flaws to me. This is a quick paced novel in which some tourists make a "wrong turn" into a small community with a big secret. There's something in the woods. I might describe the work as The Last of the Mohicans means Heart of Darkness as channeled through Apocalypse Now.

It is a "restoration" version of a novel that was published originally in 1981. Apparently, from the opening notes by Richard Laymon's daughter, Kelly, this was the original submitted version of the novel, which had many changes forced upon it by the publisher before it was printed. As a result it certainly has some historical interest to folks interested in Laymon's career and development. 

This is not a flaw, but I didn't personally find it scary. I don't find most things that are described as horror to be frightening. I certainly found it gory and brutal. There is also, as is a signature with Laymon, a lot of sex and sexual descriptions of body parts. I'd say it reaches the level of pornography in that regard, although the sex is so mixed with gore that it is certainly not a turn-on. 

I also see where several reviewers refer to this as a "comic" horror novel. Some of the descriptions are so over the top as to evoke an eye-roll, but I don't really think of that as humor. Any humor you found here would be very dark indeed. 

My main critique of the book would be that the characters don't seem quite real to me in their reactions to the events, although never having (thank goodness) experienced anything like this I don't really know how I'd react either. 

So, as is my want, I've nitpicked some things here, which I typically do in reviews because I enjoy it. But I can certainly say I was entertained. As always, every reader has to decide for themselves how the story works or does not work for them. 

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Wyoming Thunder: A Larry & Streak Western


Wyoming Thunder: A Larry & Streak Western, by Marshall McCoy, Bantam, 86 pages, 1968.

So, Marshall McCoy is Marshall Grover is Leonard Meares. Leonard Meares (1921-1993) was an Australian writer who is listed as the author of 700 + novels, although—to be clear—most of these are generally of novella length. As you can see, Wyoming Thunder clocked in at 86 pages. In addition to McCoy and Grover, Meares also used the names Ward Brennan and Glenn Murrell, and occasionally Brett Waring and Shad Denver, as well as writing works under his own name. He apparently wrote over 400 in the Larry & Stretch series. It looks like many were written for a western magazine, thus explaining the shorter length. He also wrote about 60 in another series called Big Jim, although there could be more. He also did standalones. To add to the confusion, his books have been reprinted in other countries and languages, and sometimes with different author names and even character names.

So why is the title of this particular book called “Larry & Streak” instead of Larry and Stretch? Therein lies a short tale. In Australia, the original characters were Larry Valentine and Stretch Emerson. When some of these books were reprinted by Bantam in the United States, the names were changed to Larry Vance and Streak Everett. I don’t know why, although it might possibly have to do with different copyright laws and publishing house rules in the two countries. (In Sweden, the character names were Bill and Ben.)

Under any names, Larry and Stretch are a couple of charming rogues. They are variously referred to as the Texas Hellions and the Tornado Twins. They stumble into trouble despite their best intentions, which they then generally handle with aplomb. They make a good team.

How did I like the book? Well, I’m giving it 3 stars, which is not a bad rating. I enjoyed the book. It was leisurely paced by today’s standards, without a whole lot of action except at the beginning and end. Larry and Streak take on the job of finding a doctor for a woman about to have a baby, and they end up having to break said doctor out of jail where he’s being held on a murder charge. Definitely an interesting plot.

I’d previously read another book by Meares, one of his Big Jim books. I liked the Larry and Streak characters better and the overall package was more fun for me. I’ve also discovered that there are some very dedicated fans out there for Meares work and there’s a facebook page dedicated to his Larry and Stretch series. His books are not easy to find, and the copies of the ones I have are beaten up pretty badly from time and reading. I’m hearing that there aren’t any digital copies available. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

Overall, I can see the charm in this series and am glad I gave one a try.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Swords & Heroes


Swords & Heroes. Edited by Lyndon Perry. Tule Fog Press, 2023. 201 pages.

Tule Fog Press is a relative newcomer in the publishing field. A small press that is primarily the work of author and editor Lyndon Perry. Perry is a fan of heroic fantasy and has written a fair amount of it himself, most notably his The Sword of Otrim. Perry is positioned nicely for what currently seems to be a small renaissance in heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery publishing. This anthology brings together twelve short heroic fantasy stories and a couple of interesting nonfiction pieces. One of the stories is mine, but I’ll only briefly mention it and focus mainly on the other pieces in the book.

The foreword is by Jason M. Waltz, a publisher in his own right. He focuses primarily on  “sword and sorcery,” which is a subfield in the greater field of heroic fantasy. He offers a couple of surprising insights, including an evaluation of Batman as a sword & sorcery character.

Next up is a preface by Lyndon Perry, which I found interesting because it discussed the origins of the anthology. If you’re in it for the stories alone you can leap over this directly to the first tale. I like this sort of thing, though.

Next up is “Keeper of Souls” by me. As Perry points out, it’s a sort of a buddy tale, but with a twist that I thought was pretty unusual. I won’t say more about it here.

Story two is “The Path One Doesn’t Choose” by Gustavo Bondoni. Bondoni has been tearing it up recently. I’ve seen numerous short story publications by him in all kinds of genres. His character is Yella, who has to deal with a tribe of villains called the “Wanderers,” with some interesting traits. Enjoyable tale.

Story three is “Lord of the Blood” by Michael T. Burk. Ahanu is the hero here, and his opponent is a demon. But there’s a neat twist to this and it has a strong ending. I don’t believe I’ve read anything by Burk before but this was engrossingly written.

Story four is by Teel James Glenn, a name quite a few will likely recognize. I’m familiar with his work and I believe we’ve shared a TOC before. He is also a fellow member of the Horror Writers Association. Glenn’s story is “The Price of Rescue.” It’s a buddy story with Ada (warrior) and Donal (Bard). After helping to defend a traveling coach against attackers, they are the only survivors and are tasked with taking a young girl to a local government official. Things are not what they seem, however. The characters have some nice interactions here.

Story five is “The Vault of Bezalel” by Tom Doolan. I’m also familiar with Doolan’s work and we’ve shared a TOC before as well. I’ve reviewed several of his stories and always find them enjoyable. Here, a young but deposed king named Liam must now make his way in the world. He runs into a childhood friend who offers him a quick quest with a potentially large reward at the end. Doolan is an action writer and there’s quite a bit of action in this interesting story.

Story six is “On Neutral Ground” by Nancy Hansen.” Serilda is the hero here, a chieftain of her people who are at war with the “Ivari,” a race that strikes me as similar to the concept of Frost Giants. The human war with the Ivari is a battle to the death, with extinction the fate of the loser. There are elements here of the mythic human war in ancient times against the “fey,” which was mined so beautifully by Poul Anderson in his “Broken Sword.” Very well written.

Story seven is by Tim Hanlon, another name I recognize, although I don’t believe he’s been writing very long. The title here is “The Swordsman and the Sea Witch.” Harkan the Swordsman takes passage aboard a ship, which is soon attacked by pirates. The pirates win the battle but their ship is sunk, and now the wind dies way, leaving the survivors becalmed,  including Harkan. Death soon comes slithering from the waves. The Sea Witch of the story is not the monster, however, but the pirate captain, and she and Harkan must work together to find a way to survive. A very fine tale.

Frank Sawielijew is the author of story eight, which has the longish title of “The Necromancer and the Long-Dead King.” This is certainly a candidate for my favorite story in the collection. It features an unusual main character and pairs her with a combination hero/villain against a true evil. Well written and intriguing.

Story nine is “Lady in Stone” by Cliff Hamrick. I’ve known Cliff a while but this is the first story I’ve read by him. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Jarek is another unusual hero, and the story has touches of mystery to season the action and sorcerous horror. A well done piece.

Story ten is by J. Thomas Howard and is called “O Sapphire, O Kambria.” The setting here is pretty unique and I’m curious to learn more about this world, which seems to be a kind of future earth in which dinosaurs have been brought back and taken over. Shades of Jurassic World, perhaps. Great setting for plenty of interesting tales, I should think. Enjoyed this one.

Story eleven is by David A. Riley and is called “Welgar the Cursed.” Riley is a professional editor and publisher who has done much to revitalize heroic fantasy with his “Sword & Sorceries” series of anthologies. He has also produced plenty of good tales himself. Welgar is “god-ridden,” a trope that has been used to great effect by several writers, including Janet Morris with her Tempus tales. I’ll definitely be seeking out more Welgar tales.

Adrian Cole closes the anthology with his “Ride the Fire Steed.” I remember reading Cole’s awesome Dream Lord trilogy published in the 1970s so to share a TOC with him is a pleasure and an honor. (It’s the second time it’s happened.) And Cole is still knocking stories out of the park. This is an exciting and action filled piece to end the anthology on.

But wait, there’s more: There are some brief bios of the authors, and a really interesting round table discussion about Sword & Sorcery, moderated by Lyndon Perry and involving Adrian Cole, Cora Buhlert, Curtis Ellet, D. M. Ritzlin, an old pal from REHupa named Morgan Holmes, P. Alexander, Richard Fisher, and William Miller. Some fun discussion.

In closing, I much enjoyed this anthology and believe it makes an important contribution to the revival of the heroic fantasy genre that we’ve been experiencing of late. See if you don’t feel the same.







Friday, May 26, 2023

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades: John Corabi

Written by John Corabi, with Paul Miles. I imagine Miles did the heavy lifting with the prose and based it on Corabi's stories. Not completely sure. I really liked it. One of the better rock biographies I've read. Corabi comes across as a down to earth sort of fellow, a decent sort who is not afraid to tell the stories that make him look like a flawed human.

I'll admit I bought it primarily for the connection with Motley Crue, but I enjoyed the whole thing. Corabi was in Crue for five years and they did their self-titled album with him as the singer. That's a really good album, although not my favorite by the Crue. Corabi has also been in many, many other bands. I had no idea how many until I read this. He's mostly been a singer but also a guitar player.

One thing I particularly liked is there's a real focus on the music and his experiences on the road without dwelling on groupies and drugs. In fact, he says he never did hard drugs, although he apparently drank quite a lot. And he wasn't the kind of person to try to sleep with as many groupies as possible. Overall, a good book.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

#1: Donovan’s Devils

#1: Donovan’s Devils: The Assassination is Set for July 4…”, by Lee Parker. 1974. Award Books.

This is the first in a series that only went to three books. Book #2 is Blueprint for Execution, and #3 is The Guns of Mazatlan. The author is Lee Parker for all three books, although “Glorious Trash” suggests that the author is either Larry Powell or Robert H. Turner. It’s a “Dirty Dozen” kind of book in which a group of hardcases and misfits are put together for a mission that no one else wants—to rescue some hostages from a local strongman/rebel in Paraguay.

I actually liked the writing here. The book read smoothly. My main issue was that over three-quarters of the book is just putting the team together. We get to meet James Donovan first, an Army captain getting ready to leave the military, who is recruited by his former commander—Brigadier General Lucas Blaine—to take a very special assignment for the POTUS. Rescue an ambassador, a famous doctor, and the ambassador’s daughter from a Guatemalan strongman called El Tigre. The team he puts together, and with whom he has worked before in Vietnam, contains Oliver Bogan (tough black guy), Nathan Carey (sociopath who learns the meaning of friendship), Arthur "Houdini" Gibbs (good natured conman), Francis Quinn (deadly warrior), Irvin "The Bear" Randolph (muscle and dumb jock), and Joseph Teal (Mechanic and chick magnet).

Gibbs, Bogan, and Quinn get a full introduction of their back story and skill sets. I’m guessing book 2 might do the same for the other three. And by the time we get to Paraguay and the actual rescue, there’s only a little over 30 pages of this 154 page book to describe it. It really got the short shrift, and the death of El Tigre was pretty anticlimactic.

I liked the writing well enough that I might try book #2 if I can find it cheap, but I hope we get a little more story and action in that book and a little less background.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers

With a title like Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (SSGR), you might assume this book is space opera. It’s not. It’s a parody of space opera, which is horse of a different color. Specifically, it seemed to parody most the work of E.E. Doc Smith in his “Lensman” series, which, admittedly, is not the best space opera ever written.

To me, Space Opera and Sword & Planet fiction (like John Carter of Mars) are the purest forms of sheer entertainment out there. They do, however, contain certain tropes that invite some writers to lampoon them. That doesn’t mean the lampooning works.

Harry Harrison (born Henry Maxwell Dempsey, 1925-2012), who wrote SSGR, was a talented writer. He’s best known for his “Stainless Steel Rat” stories but I’ve generally preferred other works of his, including “Make Room, Make Room,” which became the basis for the movie Soylent Green, and the Deathworld stories.

However, humor is difficult to write for even the most talented author. In my opinion it’s the most difficult emotion to create in writing. And I, personally, am pretty difficult to please on the humor front. I like humor in my fiction. Just not all humor all the time. I prefer dark humor, and humor when it comes out of the circumstances and the characters. I don’t generally like it when it’s layered on with a spatula and drowns every line.

While I chuckled here and there through SSGR, I didn’t get any belly laughs and I pretty quickly became bored. I mostly sped-read the last 100 pages. Too often, humor turns characters into caricatures. It defuses tension in order to get in a zinger. It becomes predictable because you know the writer is going to choose the most ridiculous option in any situation. It also makes it difficult to maintain any suspension of disbelief in the actual story. And primarily, it is the “story” that I want when I read.  The story in SSGR was weighed down by so many stabs at humor that I just couldn’t get into it.

SSGR is a well written parody. If you like such pieces you’ll probably like this one. I didn’t care much for it and was rather happy when I was done so I could move on to a different book. Of course, please remember that these are my opinions and your own might differ.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Violet Rising

Violet Rising is the first in a new comic book series from the pen of Tony Petry. I’ve known Tony for a while on Facebook and we’ve carried on a voluminous correspondence. He’s been sending me an image here and there of the comic but now I’ve got the whole first issue. And I read it.

Most comics seem to make the “action packed” claim, but this one lives up to that. It’s crammed full of information and some backstory but doesn’t sacrifice the action to accomplish those goals. The story flows naturally and there are revelations about the character on every page. The end packs a wallop and sets up a big mystery for issue #2.

I believe that Jean-Etienne Nnabuchi and Ekes Momodu handle the drawing work here but the story is Tony’s. (He’s been telling me about it for quite a while.) I’m glad to see it come to fruition. If you’d like to pick up a copy, you can email Tony at: petry_tony (at) yahoo (dot) com

I heartily recommend it.


Friday, February 10, 2023

Alan E. Nourse

Alan E. Nourse was barely on my radar as a writer until fairly recently. I'd read one book by him, Raiders from the Rings, and liked it quite a lot. It was young adult SF, and so I picked up another YA SF book by him called Trouble on Titan. This one was even better. An exciting story and really well written. There's a fair amount of poetry in Nourse's work. 

After this book, I checked Nourse out. He was a medical doctor in addition to writing. He wrote fiction and nonfiction and had a medical column in Good Housekeeping apparently. He was born in the USA in 1928 and died in 1992. The two books I've read have a space operish feel to them and that's a good thing from my standpoint. Excitement and adventure. They are also YA mainly because his protagonists are on the youngish side, essentially teenagers. But the concepts are big. His science is a little dated--Trouble on Titan was published in 1954--but that scarcely detracts from the fun. 

If I'd known who Nourse was as a teenager he might have become one of my favorite SF writers, right up there with Anderson, Heinlein, Norton, and Silverberg (at that time). Now I'm going to check online for some more of his books. Maybe you should too.

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.