Monday, September 13, 2021

Books For Beverage Program

Buy a book that I published or have a short story in...then ping me to meet up... and then receive a complimentary beverage (coffee, tea, beer, etc.).  That's the Books-For-Beverage program.

Dick Ward has been the best at this. Always fun to meet up with friends and fans.  Appreciate his support over the years. 


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Sublime, Cruel Beauty, Interview with Jason Ray Carney

This interview appears in Black Gate (9/9/2021):

SUBLIME, CRUEL BEAUTY: AN INTERVIEW WITH JASON RAY CARNEY



 Jason Ray Carney (aka Ayolo)

Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses. To help reveal divine mysteries passed through artists, this interview series engages contemporary authors on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate have included Darrell SchweitzerSebastian JonesCharles GramlichAnna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg. See the full list of interviews at the end of this post. 

This one features Jason Ray Carney who is rapidly becoming everpresent across Weird Fiction and Sword & Sorcery communities (in fact you can probably corner him in the Whetstone S&S Tavern (hosted on Discord)). By day, he is a Lecturer in Popular Literature at Christopher Newport University. He is the author of the academic book, Weird Tales of Modernity (McFarland), and the fantasy anthology, Rakefire and Other Stories (Pulp Hero Press, reviewed on Black Gate). He recently edited Savage Scrolls: Thrilling Tales of Sword and Sorcery for Pulp Hero Press and is an editor at The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies, for Whetstone: Amateur Magazine of Sword and Sorcery and for Witch House Magazine: Amateur Magazine of Cosmic HorrorIncidentally, Jason Ray Carney has also contributed here at Black Gate with a post on Robert E. Howard's Bran Mak Morn character and musings on How Sword & Sorcery Brings Us Life.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Queen of the Martian Catacombs - Review by SE

Queen of the Martian Catacombs by Leigh Brackett

S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many Sword & Sorcery readers also adore Leigh Brackett. To date, I had only read The Sword of Rhiannon which I enjoyed. As part of a group read in the GR S&S group I'm reading more.

Brackett was a prolific writer, notable known for writing part of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V). In the Queen of the Martian Catacombs, written in 1949 (~30 yrs prior Star War) you can see some overtones. "Eric John Stark" is the hunky rogue, a mercenary for hire with a heart---clearly a Han Solo figure. Women adore him, in this case, a princess causing rebellion Berild (Leia?).

The romance is heavy-handed, but the action and scenery are expertly paced. There is a ton of information provided with just the right amount of words. Even though Stark is the awesome hero you'll still feel that he is in peril, and will even feel for the characters he forms relationships with.

At ~25K words, this is more of a novella than a novel. It is available online via the Gutenberg project, but I enjoyed the paperback; the edition I read was illustrated well.

To boot, there are splendid descriptions that are stunning (bold font is mine).

Excerpt 1:
But Berild had gone a few steps farther. With a hoarse cry, she bent over what had seemed merely a slab of stone fallen from the cliff, and Stark saw that it was a carven pillar, half buried. Now he was able to make out the mounded shape of a ruin, of which only the foundations and a few broken columns were left.

For a long while Berild stood by the pillar, her eyes closed. Stark got the uncanny feeling that she was visualizing the place as it had been, though the wall must have been dust a thousand years ago. Presently she moved. He followed her, and it was strange to see her, on the naked sand, treading the arbitrary patterns of vanished corridors.

Excerpt 2)
Stark saw it rising against the morning sky--a city of gold and marble, high on an island of rose-red coral laid bare by the vanished sea. Sinharat, the Ever-Living.

Yet it had died. As he came closer to it, plodding slowly through the sand, he saw that the place was no more than a beautiful corpse, the lovely towers broken, the roofless palaces open to the sky. Whatever life Kynon and his armies might have foisted upon Sinharat was no more than the fleeting passage of ants across the perfect bones of the dead.

This is great stuff! I'm on to Black Amazon of Mars next.

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Friday, September 3, 2021

 A Sorcerer of Atlantis by John Shirley

S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Entertaining Pulp Adventure by Veteran Author

A Sorcerer of Atlantis: with A Prince in the Kingdom of Ghosts has two key parts: (1) A three-chapter novel called "A Sorcerer in Atlantis" that has been released in doses over the years, and (b) the lost-world trip : "A Prince in the Kingdom of Ghosts", which despite its second billing, I enjoyed more.

First let's cover the author. To do that, I'll borrow from Douglas Draa who edited the 2020 release of Weirdbook #42: Special John Shirley Issue (~11 stories, including bits of those in this collection). Here's how Draa introduced John Shirley (who has written with several pen names):
“Seriously, Mr. Shirley is the recipient of multiple Bram Stoker and Locus Awards. He has won the International Horror Guild Award twice (along with 6 nominations). He has written two albums for Blue Oyster Cult, the original draft for The Crow, and been nominated for an Emmy for his work on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Oh! And he’s also scripted for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!” – Douglass Draa Intro to WeirdBook #42

A Sorcerer of Atlantis

 Publication History. This three-chapter novel has been published piecemeal. If you are looking for more Snoori and Brimm stories, they will probably be coming, but understand that the previous incarnations are essentially duplicated.

1) Jul 4, 2017, Swords Against Darkness, edited by Paula Guran
    I. The Swords of Her Heart (by John Balestra)

1+2) Feb 26, 2020, Weirdbook #42: Special John Shirley Issue contains an entry called "Swords of Atlantis" which is really:
    I. The Swords of Her Heart
    II. Swords for the King

1+2+3) Jun 15, 2021, A Sorcerer of Atlantis: with A Prince in the Kingdom of Ghosts. With few changes, like the renaming of the Poseidon priest 'Mestor' to 'Nestor', we get a new chapter plus the previous two:
    I. The Swords of Her Heart
    II. Swords for the King
    III. The Destiny of Atlantis


Without spoiling, the ending hints at another adventure set in Latina, Roma. That makes sense, since that would build on the strengths of this light-hearted read (focused on Atlantis to this point). The core milieu builds on tensions between Greek and Roman myths/history, namely between the sea-god Poseidon and the fire-appreciating Vulcanus. The call-outs to Roman and Greek gods are usually interesting (minotaurs, necropolises, volcano tubes under Atlantis) but are sometimes heavy-handed (Romulus and Remus make an unnecessary cameo).

The key strength is the fun environments, battle, and varied creatures. My favorites were the "Uncertain" demon trapped inside the Cold Heart of Jupiter and the demon "Zirrish." Expect lots of crypt walking and speaking with ghosts. That said, A Sorcerer of Atlantis is more comedic than immersive. The protagonist is Brimm the Savant, who is not only a suave barbarian but a competent magician. He’s both warrior (with his piercer sword) and mage so he can summon demons to do his bidding (like kill his enemies) if he can remember the spells. There is plenty of grand fights, but you’ll never feel like Brimm is actually in danger. Snoori is his foil, a compatriot who has a knack for escalating trouble. Romance is over-the-top melodromatic, with two royal women Selinn and Maitha fawning over Brimm. The first chapter reads like Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series, with a fun duo fighting Lovecraftian horrors with swords & magic. The later chapters introduce a bunch of characters and enlarged the party such that it assumes more of an epic fantasy feel (classic S&S focuses on one hero).

Conflict? Brimm and Snoori are ostensibly after gold or honor (or something to pass the time). Thanks to Snoori's brilliant ideas, and Brimm going along with them, they are really causing troubles and then trying to fix them. Yep, most of their actions are damage control. Ultimately, Brimm's journey is really a coming-of-age story of a wanderlust dude who learns that he desires to protect others (Atlantis). It all starts with Cleito, and her presence and power extend through all three chapters.
And there, in an old palace [in Atlantis], awaits the beauteous Cleito, a princess who has offered ten bushels of gold to any ten men who will become the Swords of her Heart: the champions who will destroy a minor demon.” - Chapter 1

A Prince in the Kingdom of Ghosts:

This entry is not Sword & Sorcery, but it is pulpy adventure that likely will satisfy the same readers. The light-hearted tone of Shirley pervades this story too. The protagonist Kerrin lives in contemporary times as a gem cutter, but is suddenly drug to a different world, one that promises to reveal the mystery of his father's sudden death (which happened when Kerrin was a teen). Kerrin's plight is more interesting than Brimm, and the weird descriptions a tad weirder (and more impactful) than the Atlantis adventure (which had decent settings actually). Anyway, here's two excerpts of the experience:

1) Kerrin looked over his shoulder at the palace... The gardens encircling the palace were varicolored, with enormous purple blossoms and vines with butter yellow blooms; then came a stand of trees with jade-like foliage. Along the edges of the avenue were nodding, diaphanous growths, some fifty feet high; translucent and drooping, their branches subtly moved of their own volition like the arms of sleepy Hawaiian dancers, slowly shifting gigantic translucent leaves. Light from the sparkling moon refracted by the broad lens-like leaves shattered into primary colors that fluxed with secretive dynamism. It made Kerrin think of an effect from light striking an inclusion deep within a polished diamond. As the phaeton trundled along, the light from the growths served as streetlamps, illuminating the road and an exquisitely serene pond of orange night-blooming waterlilies and golden lotuses, coming up on their left. The bordering lilies were artfully counterbalanced by swans, now easing toward their nests in the reeds. A small herd of deer cropped grass along the farther shore of the pond. Kerrin felt called, summoned by the light softly pulsing in the limpid water; by the living serenity of the place. He wanted to leave the phaeton and go to the pond, to sit in contemplation of it.

2) Illuminated by shafts of red light coming through the translucent stone at the peak of Bald Mountain was a squirming aggregation of ghosts. Specters in various stages of incarnation struggled like hundreds of white moths caught in transparent glue. They were fixed in a kind aspic of decaying caro spiritus—the source of the rancid odor underlying the smell of dead bats. Nearly three hundred spirits seemed entombed at Kerrin’s feet, in a putrefied melding of souls. Their faces were contorted with anguish, lined with misery, pinched by fear; their mouths were open in endless outcry. There were spirit countenances that had been Caucasian, African, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, all united by a cruel compression, a crushing constraint within their bonds. Kerrin could make out rag-ends of arms and legs, but not a complete body in the lot. Most of the fragmented ghosts were groaning, wailing, calling out in various languages for assistance.


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Friday, August 27, 2021

Sept-Oct Groupreads - Brackett and Andersson

 

The Swords & Sorcery Group on Goodreads


This announces our next two month group reads. All are welcome to join us:

Sept-Oct Groupreads

A) Leigh Brackett - link to discussion, focus on the Skaith series
B) C. Dean Andersson - link to discussion, memorial tribute focus on Hel


Banner Credits
"The Reavers of Skaith" cover art by Chris Achilleos 1985 (Leigh Brackett)
"Hounds of Skaith" cover art by James Ryman 2008 (Leigh Brackett)
"Warrior Witch of Hel" cover art by Boris Vallejo 1985 (C.Dean Andersson writing as Asa Drake)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Exalted Blasphemies - Fan Made Expansion for Deep Madness Boardgame

This is a portal page to a variety of other posts, all regarding my immersion into the Depp Madness universe. Phil Blake, an (the?) uber fan of Deep Madness (Diemension Games), painter of miniatures, and game addict had a vision: make playable scenarios for all the epic monsters" from the Kickstarter Campaign who did not get a proper one. 

For those not familiar, Kickstarter enables Diemension Games to crowdfund a cosmic-horror dungeon crawler; extra monsters (i.e. bosses) were designed as miniatures as stretch goals (bonuses). However, so many Epic Monsters were funded, they were birthed without scenarios to play them. Of course, the bosses could be inserted into existing scenarios, but they did get specific scenarios designed for them!

Phil Blake championed the fan community to get a team together, and I played a small part: writing intro stories for two Epic Monsters scenarios to fill the gap. Many others helped Phil Blake, and he has been gracious in communicating thanks to all. This post reveals how to access the entire expansion. My stories can be read in the other two posts revealed today:


Deep Madness - Scenario Guide, Interview & Book Review

As it turns out, I have already worked with Phil Blake to create the Deep Madness scenario guide (Scenario Guides version 8, link): How many scenarios are there across all the official expansions? Where does one start? How does the story develop...and which ones feature your favorite epic monster? The guide has it all.

Alas, my OCD extended further in the past. I had already cornered Deep Madness writer Byron Leavitt for a Black Gate magazine interview.  This goes into his creative process, his cancer challenges, and his work with the Diemension Games team. Also, I reviewed his Deep Madness inspired novel Shattered Seas.


Here's how to access and print the entire Exalted Blasphemies Expansion

I'm simply reposting the instructions Phil Blake came up with. Generally, if you are a fan of the game (or plan to become one) you are invited to join the Deep Madness Fans on Facebook ... and secondarily the Board Game Geek community. In both places, you'll find all the scenario guides and expansions. 


Just want to print a PDF yourself at home? Grab the PDF here: 


Want to print a hardcover via Lulu?  Follow Phil's instructions :

Interior Art for Lulu Printing  /  Cover for Lulu Printing


This is the Interior content of Exalted Blasphemies, designed for use for professional printing in hardback. You will also require the separate cover file that can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DeepMadnessFans/permalink/4338224872867510
Instructions on how to get it professionally printed are found further below:
Exalted Blasphemies is a fan-made expansion for Deep Madness, focussed around granting specific scenarios for the Epic monsters that where available as paid add-ons during the KS campaigns. I hope people in turn get more life out of these epic monsters and enjoy the selection of diverse scenarios and stories contained within this free expansion, and the greatest reward would be seeing photos of people playing the scenarios or commenting on the stories.
Hardcover Printing Instructions for Lulu
Since this is a free, fan-made book, I am not morally or legally allowed to set up a print on demand distribution. Which means you will need to set up an account with a print on demand company and upload files for printing (for personal use only). The directions I list below are for the company Lulu, but you are free to use any print on demand company you choose.
Go to lulu.com and create an account.
2. Under the CREATE tab, click the PRINT BOOKS option.
3. Click the button START YOUR PRINT BOOK
4. Enter your login credentials
5. In the START YOUR PROJECT section, choose PRINT BOOK
6. In the SELECT YOUR GOAL section, choose PRINT YOUR BOOK. (Do NOT select Publish your book for sale on Amazon. You will get sued. 🙂 )
7. In the BOOK DETAILS section, enter a project title of your choice. I recommend Exalted Blasphemies. Enter a language and CATEGORY, which is required.
8.Click the DESIGN YOUR PROJECT button at the bottom of the page to proceed to the Design page
9. In the INTERIOR FILE UPLOAD section, upload the file named "Exalted Blasphemies Interior Final PDF"
10. Wait for the file to upload and normalize. This can take a few minutes. Be patient and get yourself a cold beverage.
11. When the upload finishes, you will see some warnings. Like most warnings in life, feel free to ignore these.
In the BOOK SPECIFICATIONS section, the BOOK SIZE AND PAGE COUNT should already be pre-filled at US letter and 34 pages, respectively.
12. In the INTERIOR COLOR section, choose COLOR PREMIUM for the best quality color.
13.In the PAPER TYPE section, choose 80# COATED WHITE for the best paper quality.
14. In the BOOK BINDING section, choose HARDCOVER. Feel free to choose a different binding if that floats your boat.
15. In the COVER FINISH section, choose GLOSSY or MATTE, your choice.
16. Wait a moment for the PRINT COST to load. For me it was almost £12. This is a printing fee for Lulu, and I do not receive a penny of this, nor does Diemension Games.
17.In the DESIGN YOUR COVER section, make sure the UPLOAD COVER FILE option is selected.
Upload the file named "Cover Exalted Blasphemies PDF"
After a minute, the PREVIEW will load. This preview will give you a basic idea of what the book will be like, but it is just a preview and not super-high quality. (note the final picture of Forsaken does not show on the preview but will still print.)
18.When you are ready, click the REVIEW BOOK link at the bottom.
19.This brings you to a page where you can review the final specifications. Click the checkbox next to CONFIRM BOOK SPECIFICATIONS AND FILES
20.Click the ADD TO CART button when it becomes enabled
21.Click the CART icon at the top of the page and make the purchase. The shipping for me was around £3.50, but of course that will vary depending where you are located. (Also keep an eye out for discount codes on the home page.)
22. Feel free to print a copy for yourself or your friends, but DO NOT PRINT COPIES FOR SALE.
Note: The hardback book you receive from Lulu will not be perfect. There might be alignment issues with the binding, scratches, the interior margins might be tight, and the endsheets will be a boring white. That being said, it will still kick ass!
A massive thanks goes to Fabio Faletti for his many, many hours (and so many edits) to make this document as graphically pleasing as possible. Just don't mention the Forsaken.
Seth Lindberg and Saamm Dean Dean for contributing their artistic talent to provide additional stories and share that burden as well as additional proof reading.
Oscar Bok and Mark Turner for their time in playtesting these horrific scenarios to make sure things played smoothly, made sense and asking all those great questions.
and also to Byron Leavitt and the rest of the DM team for generally providing support, sharing files and keeping the community engaged.
lastly credit to Ken Meyri whom paved the way in organising fan made content to be professionally printed, and whose instructions to achieve this I shamelessly stole.

Dimension Sickness by S.E. Lindberg

Another introductory story for the Exalted Blasphemies - Fan-Made Expansion for Diemension Game's Deep Madness board game; designed for the Epic Monster: Dimension Rift. Phil Blake championed the Expansion set, and there will be another post for how to access/download/print that.  For now, enjoy a short dose of horror by S.E..... get lured into Deep Madness.

Overview: Exalted Blasphemies Fan-Made Expansion for Deep Madness
Hunger Pains (for Omega Ravenous Epic Monster) Story
Dimension Sickness (for Dimension Rift Epic Monster) Story   <-- You  are here



Game Overview for "Dimension Sickness" (featuring Epic Monster Dimension Rift)


Pressure fluctuations triggered alarms from the Lower Mining deck. You go to inspect for fissures inside Shaft-1, the tube designed for transporting fluidized minerals from the ocean floor to Kadath Facility’s underbelly. With the tube evacuated, the pressure readings should have equilibrated, but they vary erratically. Perhaps sensors needed replacing. Having donned protective gear, you open the inspection hatch. Corrupt dampness wafts out, somehow infiltrating your suit. Frost spawns on your eyebrows and noise hairs. The threshold sparkles, coated with angular crystals. Inserting your head, you see the interior appear like a split geode.

Despite all this beauty, you feel nauseous. Nor do you trust what you see. Kadath’s lead engineer, Edgar Kayce, had warned you about Dimension Sickness that spawned from Dimension Rifts. All those working the Lower Levels succumbed to hallucinations eventually. Unearthing strange minerals from nature’s hidden depths threatened to uncover sentient earth. Edgar claimed to have repaired invasive rifts before and created traps to ensnare the octopian creatures responsible. You have yet to employ those. The cyclopean hoarfrost coating this umbilical tube has you considering Edgar’s words and traps. In any event, inspecting this channel would be treacherous. The sharp crystals may pierce your gear. The scents toxic. Perhaps you should retrieve a trap out of precaution.

Yet you are pulled inside before you do so, lured into the darkness by a mysterious attractor. You stumble into the tube. Crushing the crystals emits dissipating vapours. Your eyes dilate as the doses of gas snake through your sinuses. By design, this mine shaft should be linear and clear of fouling. It was twisted now, curled like an intestine, and the crystals seemed to grow before your eyes. Dizzy, but drawn downward, you begin crawling. Your light dims as your lighting frosts over. Your face-shield blurs with glistening fog. You struggle to discern the chaos in front of you.

Suddenly, the crisp vision of a tentacled mass jolts your senses. Adrenaline races through your veins. Your heart races. Frantically back-pedaling, constantly relying on the walls for support, you arrive back at the hatch. Someone extends a hand into Shaft-1 to tug you out. Curses, Edgar was right!

Slapping sounds compel you to look back. A whipping tentacle breaching the hatch gropes the chamber. Wherever it contacts, crystals nucleate. Some part of you wants to help it, to pull it into the chamber as someone helped you. You crave the comforting embrace of mystery. You long to be bejewelled in cosmic crystals. Then, your partner grabs your shoulder and drags you to safety, and shoves one of Edgar’s traps into your hands. Time to act.

A Dimension Rift has occurred, threatening to engulf the whole facility, as reality itself is torn asunder. Can you disrupt the rift long enough to slay the creature behind it or will you all be dragged into an eternal darkness of twisted worlds? Combat the mental sickness and utilize Edgar Kayce’s traps to repel the horror of the deep, combat and seal the Dimension Rift.