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