Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Robots of Gotham - Review by S.E.


Wearing aluminum hats won't help us anymore. Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Google's assistant likely conspire against humanity, and no doubt will copulate and have gendered, machine children.  It's one vision of the future. 



The Robots of Gotham novel will at least make our journey toward machine domination more fun. Todd McAulty's first-person style is profoundly easy to consume. Highly recommended for everyone who has a smartphone! 

Todd McAulty's The Robots of Gotham has already received great praise from Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, the Toronto Star, Kirkus Reviews, and numerous authors. Here is another. 

What is the best way to deal with being constantly surveilled by devices? Being controlled by them? Wearing aluminum hats won't help us (put that smartphone down!), but reading well-crafted fiction allows the journey toward robot domination to be more fun... less scary.

Artificial Intelligence: I am by no means an expert in artificial intelligence, which makes my perspective even more alarming (exciting?); many readers likely share this history, and it is why you'll enjoy Todd McAulty's The Robots of Gotham.

As a teenager (1980's), I had the experience of interacting with Apple IIe and TI94 computers (when data was never stored on disk or was saved to tape) which had users game with a computer that served as a dungeon master. Digitized, text-based adventures like Zork from Infocom/Activision provided a surreal version of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. As a chemist for decades who chills with engineers, I've witnessed computers grow from being calculators to devices that measure, store, analyze and report data with limited human intervention.

Currently (2019) there are powerful, open-sourced codes for Deep Learning and Neural Network tasks & decision making--the accessibility and power of enabling AI is skyrocketing. Couple that with the proliferation of smartphones & the-internet-of-things and the once "speculative" concept of Batman using phones to echolocate & virtually surveil a city is near reality (from the 2008 movie The Dark Knight). I confess that in 2008 I thought echolocation was a silly concept, but not anymore.   
Batman’s machine that operated on Fox’s concept of SONAR. (Photo Credit: The Dark Knight (film) / Warner Bros. Pictures (scienceabc.com)

Can you imagine life with machines in 2083?

Fast forward another six decades, and there is a strong likelihood we humans will be dialoguing with robots as if they are independent, sentient things (cheers to any offspring of Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Google's Assitant). Robots will serve many functions beyond soldier or policeman (Terminator or Robocop) including politics.

Todd McAulty, himself an expert in machine learning whose roots came from managing at the start-up that created Internet Explorer, provides us with a compelling vision. For over a decade he created this wonderful thriller, employing protagonist Barry Simcoe to narrate his exploits as a businessman wrapped up in a dystopic war between humans & robots (and robots vs. robots, and humans vs. humans, etc.). Robots have evolved into many classes, many are very "human." Listen in now to Barry as he summarizes his lunch date with the robot Black Winter:
"I really enjoyed our lunch. Yeah, it was a bit awkward at first. Machines don't actually eat lunch, for one thing. But before long we were chatting like old friends. 
It's tough to explain why I find Black Winter so fascinating. It's not just the novelty of talking casually to a high-end machine. I've met plenty of machines, although admittedly few of them socially. Black Winter is different. He jokes that it's because he was trained in human diplomancy, but it goes deeper than that. There is something about him. There's a sincerity to him that makes him profoundly easy to talk to."
Profoundly easy to read: Actually, McAulty's writing style is similar to talking to Black Winter. McAulty's first-person chapters are blog posts that are profoundly easy to consume.  This 670page novel was easier to read than most 200page, third-person narratives. Each chapter/post is sponsored by hilarious entrepreneurs too, but these details are easy to overlook since you will jump right into the text. 
"CanadaNET1 Encrypted, Sponsored by Hot Pupil.
Are they checking you out?  Hot Pupil monitors nearby skin temperature and pupil contraction for signs of lust. Don't be the last to know.... 100% Accurate" - The Robots of Gotham, chapter XXVI 
The first chapter starts with a literal blast and each successive post propels the thrill ride. Why are Venezuelan military forces occupying Chicago? Is Barry being followed? What the hell happened to America? Well, no spoilers here, but we can quote from the one other blog poster beside Barry, a machine journalist called Paul the Pirate, who puts all the madness into context: 
"Will any of these three [various sentient entities] -- or their shadowy allies around the world -- be brought to justice for what they've done? 
Don't hold your breath. Ain't nothing changed, my friend. Civilization on this planet has been one continuous 30,000-year saga of the rich shitting on the poor, and the new era of the Machine Gods is no different. It's not personal. It's simply about power. You got it, they'll take it from you. Period."
Title and cover: At first glance, the cover and title offer some dissonance. Gotham refers to New  York, where most robots are manufactured. However, the illustration features the Chicago skyline; this is presentative of the story's primary setting. So why are robots from the East Coast invading the Midwest? You'll have to read the book to figure that out.   

Is Bary Simcoe a virtual avatar of Todd McAulty? Barry Simcoe is Canadian, works in Chicago, works in the machine learning field, and is an expert blogger. So is Todd McAulty. But who is he really? Well, it is a fun mystery to unravel, one which author Howard Andrew Jones tackles (check out his blog).

More McAulty: The Robots of Gotham is a debut novel and is entirely self-contained. However, the history and characters presented are so fleshed out, that it screams for more. Thankfully there is. According to an interview on The Qwillery (June 20th, 2018), a sequel is in the works called: The Ghosts of Navy Pier.


Mark Robinson - cover art

Friday, August 23, 2019

Sept-Oct Group-reads - Sword and Sorcery group on Goodreads

The Sword and Sorcery Group on Goodreads...

... invites you to join them, as the Sept Oct group read topics have been elected: 

Discussion A: Lin Carter books, i.e., Thongor (link) 
Discussion B: Sapkowski's Witcher Series (link)
Image Banner Credits-Lin Carter's Thongor Against the Gods, 1979, artist Kevin Eugene JohnsonSapkowski, Andrzej's The Tower of Swallows, 2016 (artists: Paweł Mielmiczuk, Bartłomiej Gaweł, Marcin Błaszczak, Arkadiusz)

  


The Tower of Swallows (The Witcher, #4) by Andrzej SapkowskiThongor Against the Gods (Thongor, #3) by Lin Carter


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Tales from the Magician's Skull #2 - Review by SE

S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Heed me, mortal dogs!" (so sayeth the Skull) Tales from the Magician's Skull is a must-read, must subscribe, periodical aimed at fantasy adventure and role-playing fans.

Tales from the Magician's Skull #1 and Tales From the Magician's Skull #2 emerged out of a 2017 Kickstarter. Tales #1 exceeded expectations with high-quality printing, stories, and scope (the Appendix seals the deal!). A successful 2019 Kickstarter indicates subscriptions are planned up to #6.

Editor (author and Sword & Sorcery fanatic) Howard Andrew Jones teamed up with Goodman Games to bring us another eight tales with an Appendix that draws items, spells, and creatures to life (i.e., RPG descriptions to enable readers to role-play with story elements).

Cover Illustration: artist Diesel LaForce created a cartoony Lovecraftian scene that resonates with a nostalgic vibe of Margaret Brundage (Weird Tales cover illustrator ~1930’s). Inside, we are promised high-quality pulp fiction.

Interior Illustrations: monochrome decorations from many artists line the pages: Samuel Dillon, Jennell Jaquays, Cliff Kurowski, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Russ Nicholson, Stefan Poag, and Chuck Whelon

Contents of Tales #2: These are all excellent. I star the ones that resonated with my preferences for horror. For me, I was not familiar with Setsu Uzume or Dave Gross, and now want to seek out their work. That is one true pleasure of reading anthologies: reading authors you adore and finding new ones.

1) John C. Hocking's "Trial by Scarab": Showcases the rapid rise of Benhus from being the King’s Hand dexterous student of the military arts … into something better. That is if he can overcome betrayal, a challenge to deliver a message to shady frienemies, and a battle with an eldritch creature! John C. Hocking is on a hot streak here, with his Conan and the Emerald Lotus due to be reprinted soon along with his Conan and the Living Plague pastiche (and his novella serialized within Marvel's Conan comics).

2) James Stoddard's "Day of the Shark": A refreshing tale of adventure of mermen (and women) battling the Dread One in the depths of the ocean. This breathtaking underwater rescue has the heroes fighting a hostile tribe and a Lovecraftian leviathan.

* 3) James Enge's "Stolen Witness": This is a Morlock Ambrosius tale, a sorcerer investigator who must always overcome his father's legacy. I've read other Morlock tales that emanate noir comedy and have always enjoyed them. I recall reading my first in Rogue Blade Entertainment's Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure ("Red Worm's Way"). Here the investigator has a compelling (pun intended) mystery on his hands with a stone--a device of sorts that reminded me of Robert E Howards's "The Black Stone" (1931).

4) Nathan Long "Blood of the Forest": Whereas the above had male protagonists, this one shifted gears with a female duo. Lanci and Anla are lower class thieves, and they crash a party of the elite. The first few pages are a slow burn, then the action ramps up, and then it ramps up more (almost too fast for me).

* 5) Setsu Uzume "Break them on the Drowning Stones": Wow, this was intense. Gatja, a female sorceress aligned with water, confronts her magic-linked, elemental brother Riad (stone) in an epic, dark battle. This leans heavily on Sorcery (no Swords) and is remarkably deep. Beautiful stuff. There are a few lines that really impacted me, in particular:
"They’ll chain you and call it compassion." 

6) Viloette Malan' "A Soul’s Second Skin": A duo of mercenaries with telepathic skills unravel a mystery, and accidentally cage themselves in another plane with an antagonist magician.

* 7) Dave Gross "Shuhalla’s Sword": Wow, this was a blast. Another mystery is presented, this time the katana-wielding Imperial Investigator Shullala with her sword Sindel. She finds the boy Denkar surviving in a corrupted outpost. Was he responsible for the demise of the village?

* 8) Stefan Poag illustrated a version of Abraham Grace Merritt's 1918 "The People of the Pit": This was fun to devour. The drawings and selected snippets allow us to re-experience a classic horror adventure.

Appendix: Terry Olsen again takes one key feature from each story and fleshes out descriptions to enable readers to role-play with magic items, spells, and monsters. I love this. It explicitly ties the stories together and encourages readers to enjoy the stories more fully. The statistics are geared toward the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game.


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Sept-Oct Poll - Goodreads Sword and Sorcery group

Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads

We are polling for our Sept-Oct groupreads.
Thanks to moderator "Jack" mak-morn for setting up this poll. All are welcome to vote and to participate in any way.


Poll
Make a selection for our Sept-Oct Group Read. Top two usually win. Thank you for all of the good suggestions in the discussion thread. Richard nominated The Witcher books to coincide with the upcoming Netflix TV adaptation of The Witcher. The Fultz selection narrowly missed out as a Group Read last time, so I added it this month to see if it could make it to the top.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Here Be Magic (Myth, Monsters and Mayhem Book 9)

13 wild tales of MAGIC for just $4.99


Thanks to A. L. Butcher for luring me into my first bundled anthology. She writes for Perseid Press and has her own milieu regarding Magic-Elf-Eroticism with her land of Erana. Her Tales of Erana is in this collection (check out my review of her Light Beyond The Storm, in which the subgenre of Sex & Sorcery may have been coined).

My Lords of Dyscrasia is included here, which is neck-deep in necromancy (it's okay, the necromancers are the good guys).


Love magic? Want to explore a bunch of authors and types of sorcery with convenience?
Check out:

Here Be Magic (Myth Monsters Mayhem series) eBook link



Table of Contents

1. "Good Scrying Gone Bad" by Dayle A. Dermatis
2. "Troll-magic" by J.M. Ney-Grimm
3. "Shakespeare's Curse" by Karen C. Klein
4. "Lords of Dyscrasia" by S.E. Lindberg
5. "Chronicles of the Varian Empire - The Spell" by Barbara G.Tarn
6. "Hunting Wild" by J.M. Ney-Grimm
7. "Tales of Erana: The Warrior's Curse" by A. L. Butcher
8. "Legacy of Mist and Shadow" by Diana L. Wicker
9. "A Sudden Outbreak of Magic" by Michael Jasper
10. "Words of Rain and Shadows" by Linda Maye Adams
11. "Tales of Erana" by A. L. Butcher
12. "Mage of Merigor" by Alison Naomi Holt
13. "Drinking and Conjuring Don't Mix" by Stefon Mears

Monday, August 12, 2019

GenCon 2019 - Bloodborne and Dawn-of-Madness

Dawn of Madness Preview - Byron Leavitt game writer

I got sucked into Diemension Game's cooperative dungeon crawler Deep Madness.  Their follow up prequel promises to be as weird (hopefully less difficult), and a very different experience. Hints of this game 's art were shown on the Deep-Madness Kickstarter. Dawn of Madness will be Kickstarted in a few months (Fall 2019): check out the preview Kickstarter page.

Byron Leavitt, the lead writer for the game, demonstrated the prototype game via the storybook  "Emily's Realm".  I learned that this game plays more like a choose-your-own-adventure book on steroids than it does a dungeon crawler. It is a co-operative nightmare in which each player has their nightmares meshed with the others. The party is guaranteed a story ending based on decision and encounters, but the ending depends on which character is affected the most during gameplay. 

Instead of using lots of tiles to make a gameboard(like in Deep Madness) a single spider-web board with blank identifiers is reused; areas are identified/assigned locations based on the story (i.e., Emily's house). Time and actions are tracked with a ladder-like system (see Roman numeral track in below image with character chits).

Most appealing, is the way characters "level up"/devolve as they experience their mental issues. These even have various miniatures, so as Emily explores her past she may transform into some demon-like thing. There are several currencies that each represent mental parameters--I forget the specifics but recall one color being akin to anxiety, for instance.    


Image credits: Deep Madness Kickstarter update Aug 2019
Image credits: Deep Madness Facebook Photos



Check out our preview Kickstarter page at http://bit.ly/DoMPreview! It may be a late Dawn of Madness Friday, but we're coming back with a doozy! Here is our first video in a new series diving deep into Dawn of Madness before the Kickstarter launches in mid- to late-September, describing why Dawn of Madness is not just another board game: it is, instead, a horror experience in a board game. (Sorry for the choppy editing and the questionable quality, guys: I really wanted to get this out today, so I put it together over the course of a few hours.) More to come! #Kickstarter #boardgames #horror #survivalhorror #crowdfunding #miniatures #dawnofmadness
Posted by Diemension Games on Friday, August 9, 2019


Bloodborne CMON – Michael Shinall

As fans of the Bloodborne video game (and huge fans CMON's Zombicide games), my son and I went all-in on the Bloodborne Board Game Kickstarter. 

At GenCon we listened to co-designer Michael Shinall walk through the game.  

Keen-eyed readers may spot my son,







Sunday, August 11, 2019

Q&A with Anna Smith Spark - GenCon2019 Writer's Symposium


This May, 2019 I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Spark Smith for BlackGate.com: Disgust and Desire: An Interview with Anna Smith Spark. Among the dark fantasy crowd, she is known as the Queen of Grimdark. The David Gemmell Awards shortlisted her The Court of Broken Knives. The sequel The Tower of Living and Dying continued the Empires of Dust trilogy (Harper Voyager US/ Orbit US/Can). The last installment called The House of Sacrifice is available Aug 13th! That's now.

Fortuitously, she was invited to the GenCon Writer's Symposium; GenCon is the world's largest tabletop gaming convention, this year luring >70,000 guests to Indianapolis, IN. I volunteer for that symposium and was granted a panel slot to extend the interview live. Thanks to Melanie Meadors and Kelly Swails for working the program and running a splendid symposium.

Despite well attend sessions throughout the convention, by the time 5pm rolled around Friday, our Q&A drew an intimate crowd (~10). We opened with a reading of her famous introductory chapter to The Court of Broken Knives. The notion of doing a reading was a bit impromptu, so we hadn't a tripod, a professional video recorder, or ability to tune-out the other sessions (thanks to audience member Dirk for stepping up to film). Anna Smith Spark graced us with reading the entire chapter (~10min), which left the room wanting her to just read for the full hour. See insert video. Her reading of the same chapter at a Goth City Festival 2018 is also on You Tube and is breathtaking.

Before I could even finish this post, new fan Michael Farrell found the YouTube recording and posted in the commentary: "this was the highlight of my Gen Con." Mine too. Also in the audience was John O'Neill, founder and editor of Blackgate.com (and Gotham Robot enthusiast). It was surreal to have him present along with Anna Smith Spark; we continued discussions over dinner. 

BTW, Anna Smith Spark is known for outrageous footwear, and she did not disappoint. Friday, she blessed us with the dragon shoes. 

More video snippets of the session may emerge as I decompress from an intense convention, but for now please listen in... read our interview Disgust and Desire: An Interview with Anna Smith Spark., and check out her series!




Saturday, August 10, 2019

GenCon - Dyscrasia Merchandise revealed - T Shirts & Mugs

Dyscrasia Fiction Merchandise now available via Zazzle

Check for discounts at Zazzle, they are always running so deal between 15-50% off!


Modeled by true friends and family at GenCon #52
Note: only the Helen's Daimones T-Shirt is available for the public


GenCon 2019 Writer's Symposium Behind the Scenes - Volunteering

This serves a snapshot scrapbook for the Writer's Symposium at Gen Con #52, 2019.  Every year in Indianapolis, it's a guaranteed blast of fun with authors, readers, editors, and gamers! Volunteering is a lot of work, but those who do get to hang out with a bunch of like-minded folk. Looking forward to seeing everyone next year. 







Trade Day - GenCon 2019 - Learning Financial Literacy Through Games

 "Is That The Best You Can Do?"



Free Market Kids' "Is That The Best You Can Do?" game is inspired to teach basics of financial literacy and negotiating skills, but it's fun whether or not you care about learning. It is as easy as Uno... but totally different. The games works with three people, but works best with four or more for the negotiations to get exciting. It is excellent for family gatherings, home schooling, or class settings. A match runs about 30-45min, but a single ~5min round can be fun and full of teachable moments.

Wed July 31st at Trade Day GenCon 2019, Free Market Kids demonstrated the game with ~17 librarians, game developers, and teachers. 




This post shows short clips of mini-rounds. In short, these demonstrate how easy the game is to pick up.  Negotiating can be fun... but it is most fun with abstract "Alternate Identities" and "Flying Cars" on the market.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Savage Sword of Conan #5 and #6


Savage Sword of Conan #5 - 2019
Savage Sword of Conan #6 - 2019

4 stars for each; reviews by SE

Well #5 was satisfying. Was just getting into Koga Thun as a villain... and that may be unwise. Trying to avoid spoilers, but even from the cover blurbs (below), it is clear that Koga Thun's story arc runs dry. Cripes, there was enough material there to stretch it out, but Marvel seems to insist on a lack of focus.

As before, Scott Oden's "Sword of Vengeance" continues at a nice pace throughout. Octavia is in a real pinch now.

I am confused about where #7 will go, since #6 is pitched as a stand alone tale.  I'll be disappointed if #7 ignores the trajectory of prior #6 issue: As per my other reviews of this series, Marvel already has three separate and simultaneously released Conan comics in 2019... and each of those have separate stories/novellas. The last thing any of these is reboot of a story after 5 episodes. 


Official Blurbs
#5: SHOWDOWN WITH KOGA THUN! The mystery of the magical treasure finally revealed! It’s now or never, and CONAN must make a choice that will determine the fate of Stygia! Either way, KOGA THUN will not let the Barbarian go without a fight! Plus: The next chapter in the all-new CONAN novella, “The Shadow of Vengeance”!

#6 :THORFEL’S REVENGE FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE! Brought to you by the creative team of Meredith Finch and Luke Ross, this all-new self-contained story springs from classic Conan mythology as Conan is led to death by the son of a man he had wronged in the past. But stripped of his weapons, his strength, and even his wits, Conan will have to dig deep if he wants to live to see the dawn! Plus: Continuing the all-new Conan novella “THE SHADOW OF VENGEANCE”

Savage Sword of Conan #4

Savage Sword #3 - Review by SE

SE Review of #2
SE Review of #1 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Reign of Wizardry - review by SE

Frazetta's Reign of Wizardry cover
The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson
S.E.: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the Sword and Sorcery Group on Goodreads continuing to sponsor group-reads, I re-discovered Jack Williamson who wrote fantasy from ~1930-2001. I tracked down The Reign of Wizardry (with the Frank Frazetta cover) and Golden Blood to read. This review covers the first.

This ~142 page novel, first published in 1940, reads as a solid pulpy adventure. It could easily have been a Howard Conan novella. Jack Williamson presents the classic Theseus (i.e., Minotaur slayer of Greek mythology, and founder of Athens) as a heroic avenger out to remove the evil, Minoan sorcerers of Crete.

In fact, Theseus conceals his identity, going as "Captain Firebrand." There is an over abundance of going undercover; Firebrands even assumes the role of "Gothrung the wandering Northman" (a third identity, and very Conan like). It reads real fast, and in a few hours you join Firebrand on a dozen daunting missions. Betrayals and disguised impostor-ing abound. It fits most requirements of Sword & Sorcery:

  1. Magic abounds, and it is usually evil black-robed wizards dishing it out
  2. Our hero has a magic sword with special powers, called "Falling Star"
  3. Melee - lots of battles
  4. Fast pacing, focus on action more than character (though the characters had just the right amount of depth
  5. Lots of early pulp adventure were steeped in historical fiction; Robert E Howard's fascination with pioneer-like adventure and the history-infused Hyborian Age, this one retells classic Greek mythology with pulpy flare
  6. Predicaments - Theseus is constantly challenged by overwhelming odds, and manages to survive somehow.

Highly recommended for fans of pulp adventure and Sword & Sorcery

The Reign of WizardryCover Blurb:
Before the Glory of Greece, Crete ruled the known world - and kept it enslaved by black magic! The evil of Minos held sway, protected by three unconquerable walls. First is the fleet that they call the wooden wall. Then there is a giant of living brass - he is the second wall. Then there is another barrier about the power of Minos, the Wall of Wizardry. Theseus, the tall Achean, the man they called Captain Firebrand, vowed to scale and destroy all three, and to rid the world of the evil yoke of Crete.

But Minos had other defences besides the walls, and many ways to attack as well...









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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Gen Con - Q&A with Anna Smith Spark


The GenCon Writer's Symposium is fast approaching!

Coinciding with this is Anna Smith Spark's released of the third installment in the Empires of Dust: HOUSE of SACRIFICE!

Earlier this year I interviewed the Queen of Grimdark over on BlackGate.com  (May 2019):Disgust and Desire: An Interview with Anna Smith Spark

And in ~2weeks, I'll be moderating her Q&A session at Gen Con! Please join us, and bring your questions.


The whole Writer's Symposium is a blast. Check out the events: 



Monday, July 8, 2019

Hell Gate by Andrew P. Weston review by SE

Hell Gate by Andrew P. Weston
S..E rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who “was” the Grim Reaper before becoming Satan’s strongest champion? This series chronicles the exploits of Satan’s right-hand warrior, Daemon Grim (the reaper). It began with Hell Bound and Hell Hounds … and continues with Hell Gate. In addition to my reviews of those, I capture some key
takeaways:

  • The series is all about Daemon Grim
  • Hell Gate is all about revealing the mystery Daemon Grim’s past, which we’ve been teased about for two books, and here it is!
  • The crazy milieu of Hell persists, so start with Hell Bound to get grounded; more on WTH is Hell below.
  • The cat and mouse hunt after Frederic Chopin and Nikola Tesla reaches a climatic milestone; the duo’s evil plotting that began in book #1 is finally revealed too.
  • Grim takes readers in realms of the Quran (Jahannam)
  • The inclusion of mystics (namely from ~1500, Saint Teresa of Ávila and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim) was a pleasant addition


Hell Noir Style: The milieu and conflict are so epic in scope, and weird in substance, that the story lends itself more for narrative storytelling over dramatic showing. As before, Mr. Weston doles out exposition-through-dialogue; as I read this, I just envisioned a Noir film in which the protagonist provided a snarky voiceover. I felt like I was called into Grim's police office and sat in a room full of smoke as he coached me through a mysterious case.

What is Hell’s Milieu? Grim was introduced to the Heroes in Hell series in the anthology Doctors in Hell. Heroes in Hell is a fantastical place built from myths and religions—so do not expect Tolkienesque elves or dwarves. The primary realm explored is called Juxtapose, which is a satirical mirror of our earth’s cityscapes (the Seine river featured as “Inseine”, Paris called Perish, the Eiffel Tower represented as the Awful Tower, Facebook is called Hatebook). Since time has little meaning in Hell, beings from past and present meet and scheme (i.e., Tesla and Chopin). There are other realms beyond Juxtapose connected with ethereal gateways. All are populated by beings being tormented and try to outwit Satan or their comrades. Even Erra, the Akkadian plague god, has visited Hell to torment Satan. No one is safe! It is a splendid, wacky place that works well.

Where to Start on your trip to Hell: Hell Gate is wacky and fun, but is not the beginning. The Heroes in Hell is primarily a series of anthologies; this novel focuses on Grim but has story arcs connected to HIH. Given the breadth of abstract interactions, I recommend initial readers begin with either:

  1. Doctors in Hell (HIH #18): Daemon Grim is introduced in this collection, and even though it is #18 in the series, it is a perfect entryway for HIH newcomers.
  2. Or…. Hell Bound (Grim novel #1): Daemon Grim’s first novel, occurring chronologically after Doctors, but before Hell Hounds.
  3. Or for those who’ve done that, note Grim also appears in Pirates in Hell and Lovers in Hell



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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Sword and SorceryGroupreads: Jack Williamson AND Lumely's Primal Land 2019 July Aug

Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy" 


July Aug 2019 Groupreads topics have been chosen. Please join in the discussion or groupreads!

A) Jack Williamson group discussion-read-LINK 
Classic Jack Williamson, ie The Reign of Wizardry or Golden Blood (~1933 Weird Tales)

B) Lumely's Primal Land group discussion-read-LINK 
Brian Lumley's Primal Land (Shad) series, The House of Cthulhu: Tales of the Primal Land Vol. 1 and Tarra Khash: Hrossak!: Tales of the Primal Land

Banner/Masthead Credits
Frazetta's 1964 cover to Jack Williamson's "The Reign of Wizardry"
Melvyn Grant's cover to Brian Lumely's Tarra Khash: Hrossak (Primal Lands #2) 1991
The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson Tarra Khash Hrossak! by Brian Lumley 

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Eternal Champion - Erekose - Review By SE

The Eternal Champion: Book 1 of Erekosë Trilogy by Michael Moorcock
S.E. rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael Moorcock has been dishing out pulpy fantasy since the 1960's. Perhaps his most famous brand is his skein of adventures from "The" Eternal Champion--which actually refers to many heroes (Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon, Erekose, etc.) not just this book; the anti-Conan hero called Elric is arguably the most recognizable. The champion mashup is huge, although many are short stories or collections of them, the bibliography has >100 entries. Despite the huge popularity of these, there is a dearth of film/movie adaptions (however the BBC is taking on a TV version of the Runestaff/Hawkmoon stories this yr (2019).

Moorcock's books read at the same blistering pace he writes. He blends metaphysical ideas (time travel, coexisting multiverses...) with epic adventure. In just ~180pages, you'll be whisked across continents and decades of history. This can be fun, but there always seems to be a loss of realized potential and strings of inconsistency.

Cover: My paperback of The Eternal Champion from 1970 has a splendid Frank Frazetta depiction of a heavily armored knight on horse wielding an ax...under the title "Eternal Champion." The art is awesome, but Erekose has a sword (and occasionally a lance).

The Eternal Champion (Eternal Champion, #1) by Michael Moorcock

Sword Kanajana: Speaking of that sword, it is magical and can only be wielded by Erekose; however, it doesn't play a huge role in the book beyond that; and, late in the book when awesome weaponry of ancient days are needed, this sword is not used.... but an unnecessary/genre bending sci-fi element is introduced from out of nowhere. The climax of the book would have been awesome if Moorcock stuck to his sword (rather than his figurative "guns).

Multiverse weirdness: This serves as John Daker's initial awakening as "the Eternal Champion." Our protagonist doesn't seem to care that he is/was married. His mental struggles to come to terms with his predicament do not resonate since we get near zero information of his real life.

Love?: Several romantic relations are introduced, but are seeping with shallow masculine perspectives. I was reminded of Moorcock's stunningly misogynistic entry into the Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric's Fifth Born Son (which soured the whole collection for me).

Pacing and consistency: The first 60 out of 180 pages are a drag; for a warrior called from another world to do battle, there is surprisingly no action for the initial third. This is a strange setup for an ambitious take on war... and that theme I found enjoyable to explore (depressing to read).

Supposedly, the Humans are threatened so much that their king calls upon Erekose via sorcery to help them against the evil (sorcerer) Eldren. However, we are not shown any instance of threat or attack. This approach reinforces the idea that the threatened Humans may actually be the aggressors in the war; that's okay, but we are not shown any indication that the Eldren are even in contact with the Humans. Why would the king stoop so low to use sorcery (which he loathed)?

In short, the first third of the book really needed to show some Eldren vs Human conflict, even it was to be misinterpreted by readers, the Humans, and Erekose.

Not Cliche: Despite the execution, I do admire the idea of an Eternal Champion and the approach to blurring the lines of good-vs-evil, especially in war. Trope fantasy usually has evil wraiths/orcs vs. good human knights. I suppose the current Grimdark genre would like this tone.

In summary, fans of the Eternal Champion will think this is ok. New to the Eternal Champion? I would not start here. Starting with Corum, Elric, or Hawkmoon may be better.

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Saturday, June 8, 2019

Transformation - Review by SE


Transformation by Carol Berg
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Transformation has been on my to-read list for almost two decades, and I'm glad to have finally focused on it. It is one of Carol Berg first novels, and she is still cooking up new fantasy (pen name Cate Glass, An Illusion of Thieves).

Transformation is epic, but feels fresh, and is very engrossing. It is highly recommended for fantasy readers. Here's why:

- Perspective: It is written in first-person perspective, and at 450 pages it's a decent size. Yet it reads fast. Most fantasy epics are omniscient third person. Inherently, first-person indicates the narrator will always survive, but Seyonne and his friends, family, etc. are always in peril.

- Complex, fun story: There are tons of plot twists, betrayals... so it is tough to share a summary without spoiling (the official Book Blurb is a good overview). Somehow every story arc is concluded in a satisfying way, but that doesn't mean you'll stop at this first installment.

- Atypical, angelic warfare: The overriding conflict is essentially "~angels/humans vs. ~demons" but none of those categories match religious cliches or fantasy tropes. There are several humanoid cultures, but not the trope elves, dwarves etc.. The sorcerers are the "angelic" ones, but are far from perfect.

- Exorcism/magic: A key magic system has several types of sorcerers/sorceresses that need to work together as team: i.e., one can find possessed victims, another can open doors into mental-battlegrounds, and another can enter and fight/exorcise demons. Other fantasy may have different flavors of mages (druids, illusionists, etc.) but they aren't dependent on each other--here we have Searchers, Aifes, Wardens that truly rely on one another.

- The Books of the Rai-kirah trilogy: Transformation starts the series, then Revelation, then Restoration


- The Author's website has excerpts, reviews, glossaries, maps, and more.

- Official Book Blurb:
"Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden's power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne's uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place..."


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