Monday, March 16, 2020

Witness the Birth of Alchemical Warfare

Heroika: Skirmishers – Witness the Birth of Alchemical Warfare

With the release of Heroika: Skirmishers, each contributor ... and one of their characters... is being interviewed by the Library of Erana. Hear directly from the Apollonius of Tyana, read “The Naked Daemon” by S.E. Lindberg, and experience alchemical warfare. Click on the link for the full interview. Below are teasers for "The Naked Daemon"

With SE Lindberg:
  • How would you define a Skirmisher? Any soldier roaming ahead of the core army, usually shield-less and including heroic civilians caught behind enemy lines.
  • What about your story?: "The Naked Daemon" pits the mystic Apollonius of Tyana (deceased ~100 CE) against zealots who destroy what remains of the Alexandria Library. In life, his principles had been aligned with those of the pacifist gymnosophists (a.k.a. naked philosophers); hundreds of years past his death, Apollonius finds himself reborn as a daemon empowered with Hermes’s Emerald Tablet. He observes the Roman oppression over pagan scholars and is challenged with an urgent need to defend knowledge. Will Apollonius rationalize war by unleashing the power of alchemy to do harm? Will he become an angel or demon? How will alchemy transform?

Apollonius
 With Apollonius:
  • Tell us a bit about yourself. Many claim you are a miracle worker, rivaling your contemporary Jesus: “No need to compare one man, or woman, to any other. Misunderstood powers, used for good or ill, flow through we hierophants. In this respect, I am merely a conduit. A magos.”
  • You look at your hands. How do you view yourself? “As a bloody daemon, for certain.”
  • Are you an angel or devil? “In my life, I was angelic. Judgment awaits for what came next.”

 
Alexandria Library

More Interviews From Skirmishers!

This follows Sean Poage's interview. His story engaging, tragic war story in his "A Handful of Salt". Below is his forward... click on the link to learn more about him and the story through the eyes of Gocha, an elder warrior of the Zurah tribe of Taochi region:
"At the dawn of the fourth century, BC, Cyrus the Younger hired an army of ten thousand Greek mercenaries to challenge his brother for the throne of the Persian Empire. His Greeks were victorious, but he was slain and the Greeks were stranded deep inside the Persian Empire without supplies. Their only way home was to fight their way north through the mountains of eastern Turkey to the Black Sea, as described through the eyes of one of their leaders, Xenophon.
It is considered one of the greatest feats of military history and has often been recounted and reimagined, but never through the eyes of their adversaries, the Persians, or the ancestral tribes of eastern Turkey. One event, in particular, is haunting and tragic. Today we struggle to understand the mind-set of ancient cultures, often making the mistake of seeing their world through the filter of our own values. This story is an attempt to understand a heroic perspective alien to our own."

Thanks to Alex Butcher for the interview hosting, editing, and skirmishing.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Heroika: Skirmishers

HEROIKA: SKIRMISHERS

by Janet E. Morris (Creator), Alex Butcher (Editor)

Perseid Press


Conflict is a constant. When force on force is inevitable only the intrepid need come forth. Summon the Skirmishers to their eternal purpose, to face a foe who must be opposed at all cost. Gird yourself and join the brotherhood of 'do or die.' Created by Janet Morris and edited by Alexandra Butcher, HEROIKA: SKIRMISHERS is an anthology of desperate struggles in far flung time-scapes, the age old smell of battle and death. SKIRMISHERS --Tales for the bold among you!


CONTENTS:

HABIRU by Michael H. Hanson
A HANDFUL OF SALT by Sean Poage
THE NAKED DAEMON by S.E. Lindberg
SOULS OF A LION by Tom Barczak
NITHING by Travis Ludvigson
IN THE SEASON OF RUST by Charles Gramlich
BLACK QUILL by Cas Peace
OLD GOLD by A.L. Butcher
A LION IN KAMERUN By Ken Kiser
THE PATROL by William Hiles
LA PORTE EN ARRIERE by Beth W. Patterson
DURENDAL by Bruce Durham





Monday, March 2, 2020

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories - Review by S.E.

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery group for bringing Clifford Ball's The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories, with vintage cover art by Virgil Finley, to my attention; also, thanks to DMR Dave Ritlzin for compiling great collections like this one (and others like The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis).

As the introduction reviews, these tales emerged in the wake of the death of S&S "father" Robert E. Howard in 1936. Clifford Ball was one author stepping up to try and fill the void in pulp magazine collections (Weird Tales). He is relatively obscure, but I speculate that these tales may have been very influential to others (like Leiber and Wagner). There are six in this collection. Conan the Barbarian Marvel Issue #264 (1993, Roy Thomas and John Watkiss) reintroduce Karlk, the evil sorcerer, as an enemy of Conan in a tribute to Clifford Ball (along with Throll, and the white apes of Sorjoon).

The Sword & Sorcery Tales (stories 1-3): These occur in kingdoms adjacent to Ygoth, called Forthe and Livia. There are explicit call-outs to Burrough's white apes from Barsoom. In all three, the protagonist(s) are held captive or in jail and escape.

(1) “Duar the Accursed” May 1937 Weird Tales. 5-star
The mysterious barbarian king Duar battles Lovecraftian horror while searching for the powerful Rose of Gaon. This was dark, fun adventure that set the stage for lots more Duar...but that never seems to have materialized. As an immortal, intelligent barbarian, Duar seems to be a precursor to Karl Edward Wagner's Kane. Duar's companion is a female spirit, Shar, who monitors him via the ether and counsels him on demons.Unlike the following stories, Duar's capture is more intense and his escape more interesting.

(2)“The Thief of Forthe” July 1937 Weird Tales3-star ...and...
(3)“The Goddess Awakes” Feb. 1938 Weird Tales.3-star
The "Thief of Forthe" introduces us to the thief Rald. Rald is contracted by Karlk, an evil wizard, since a mission requires some sort of corporeal brawn, which is simply to lift a bar from a door. The melodramatic interactions with the King and Queen are full of incongruity; they seem to like Rald despite his criminal nature. The wizard and Rald are eventually caught and tied up, and then left alone to escape!

"The Goddess Awakes" continues with Rald, this time gaining a partner. Most S&S prior had a lead protagonist (ie Conan) and a semi-serious delivery, but here we have a humorous duo featuring a barbarian thief (Rald) and a sly, philosophical mercenary (Thwaine). This screamed of a Fritz Leiber's "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" influence (ie The Swords of Lankhmar. However, Leiber's first story of his own duo was published the following year (1939, "Two Sought Adventure" in Unknown). The end-boss had a Sphinx quality to it, but was too easily dispatched. In any event, this was slightly better than the second tale, but still too shallow for my tastes.

(4)“The Swine of Ææa” Mar. 1939 Weird Tales.5-star
Having sought out this collection for the first three, these others were just unexpected fun. This one has a slow setup, but the characters are engaging. They include an author documenting a wild story from a drunk sailor. There are echoes of statuesque end-bosses (Buddha and the Sphinx) that began in "The Goddess Awakes". The story is delivered with care and the descriptions are cool too:

The mystery island
“That’s queer shrubbery for these parts, isn’t it?” It was. I never saw such strangely shaped trees, with limbs that twisted like writhing snakes, or such oddly formed, three-cornered leaves as those growing on this island. Now that we were closer, things did not appear to be entirely green; there was a red network through some of the leaves, a patter of tiny lurid veins running wild at strange angles. No two of them seemed alike. The influence of jungle odors which we now encountered must have affected me; for the thought came into my mind that the colors of the brush were continually changing, like some lizards I had seen that were readily able to merge their outlines and coloration with their surroundings. It gave me the creeps, I tell you."


Beautiful Goddess:
"It was her eyes. They burned with a submerged fire that might have been stolen from Vulcan after he pilfered it from Olympus. I can’t tell you what color they were; they must have taken on all the tints of the rainbow, for one minute I thought them to be blue and the next I decided they were either gray or green. Another look, and I was prepared to swear her eyes were as yellow as a panther’s. You can’t describe the color of flame-tips; they keep changing too rapidly. The next best thing is to discover the source and look at the fuel. It was her eyes, not her features, that registered the “here-I-am” invitations, yet the woman, or girl, owned an aura of virginal sweetness..."


Ruins:
The whole floor of the inner courtyard was strewn with projecting rock formations which might once have been statues, but were now worn so smooth by the hands of Time and changing climates that they had lost all bold outlines a sculptor may have executed upon them. Chunks of shapeless stone, some formed groups oddly suggestive of women gossiping in the market place, or leaned toward one another as men engaged in desperate struggle. I selected one piece, in particular, which resembled a crucified man with his head thrown backward as he stared in hopeless pleading toward a silent sky. All were so worn that any carven facial contours some ancient artist may once have been proud of had been erased forever, and perhaps my impression of lines defining corded muscles and rounded limbs was a fantasy of the brain alone.

...The worn images seemed to have recovered whatever original forms they had once enjoyed; they, too, were laughing and gesticulating with queer movements. The whole courtyard was a fantastic scene, such as may have been drawn by imaginative artists depicting lost souls in Hell.


(5)“The Little Man” Aug. 1939 Weird Tales.5-star
What's this? A noir mystery with a self-confessed serial killer walking the streets? Fast and very fun. Will you understand how a thin, lithe man murders bigger men? Well...to quote the story: "Men lack faith in a thing simply because they are not able to understand it."

(6) “The Werewolf Howls” Nov. 1941 Weird Tales. 4-star
Monsieur Etienne Delacroix has a secret, and a canine-cryptid to deal with. An obvious denouement ends a short story, but the delivery was enjoyable.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Tolkien and Oden Groupread - Mar-Apr2020 groupreads



The Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads

Please join us as we host the Mar-Apr 2020 Groupreads:

A) Scott Oden - Link to FolderLots of Scott Oden fans here, and his sequel to A Gathering of Ravens called Twilight of the Gods was just released! Men of Bronze, Memnon, The Lion of Cairo are all fair game! Even his Conan pastiche in the Marvel Comics.
B) Tolkien Memorial Read - link to FolderChristopher Tolkien passed away this year, so it is timely to delve into the many books he edited/extended on behalf of his father J.R.R. Tolkien. So the focus will be on books like the The Children of Húrin, but if you are inclined to discuss/read JRR's work, then do that too. It's all in the spirit of Tolkien.

Banner Credits:
Cover art by James Iacobelli for A Gathering of Ravens and Twilight of the Gods

Cover art by Alan Lee for The Children of Húrin (Interior art, the depiction of Hurin)

Morgoth seats the kidnapped Hurin on a throne in Angabad....

...taking Hurin back to Angabad [Morgoth] set him in a chair of stone upon a high place of Thangorodrm, from which he could see afar the land oh Hithlum in the west and the lands of Bereriand to the south. There he was bound by the power of Morgoth; and Morgoth standing beside him cursed him again and set his power upon him, so that he could not move from that place, nor die, until Morgoth should release him.

"Sit now there," said Morgoth, "and look out upon the lands where evil and despair shall come upon those whom you have delivered to me. For you have dared to mock me, and have questioned the power of Melkor, Master of the fates of Arda. Therefore with my eyes you shall see, and with my ears you shall hear, and nothing shall be hidden from you."


Hurin by Alan Lee

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Sleeping City - Review by SE

The Sleeping City by E.C. Tubb
S.E> rating: 3 of 5 stars

E.C. Tubb (1919 – 2010) was prolific, known mostly for his Sci-Fiction (i.e., his Space-1999 adaption and 33 volume Dumarest Saga. Thanks to the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group for having groupreads, I was able to learn about Tubbs’s two-volume heroic fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Malkar (both published in 1999):
1) Death God's Doom
2) The Sleeping City

I delved into The Sleeping City before I knew about the first volume, and there was no issue with that. This one starts with the mercenary Malkar assuming a throne for the city of Dashkit; he incidentally won the queen as a bride. Her name is Ishma, and, like the other few women in this book, are present only to offer their bosoms (excerpts below). The misogyny seems more suited to another era, but the book is unabashedly masculine. The men are at the forefront of all the characters of substance, and the few women exist as erotic decor or prizes. Two excerpts of many examples:
She stood at the rear of the ramparts dressed in a gown of flame, red silk flowing over the curves of her body, rubies adorning the waterfall of her hair. Her neck was bare, her shoulders, the upper swell of her breasts. On the naked flesh shone a jewel.

He felt the movement of her breasts, her hips, the enticing invitation of her thighs.
It reads much like Michael Moorcok’s style, or even Lin Carter’s Thongor. In fact, it goes so fast, the plot stumbles over itself. It propels the action regardless of consistency. One example (a minor spoiler but explains the title): eventually, Dashkit is held in a sleepless state under a storm-like spell; Malkar avoids the effects and goes on a random walkabout away from the city for magic to retaliate; when Malkar returns from being gone for ~1week, it is completely unclear who has been under suspension and who has not. Whereas his citizens and friends are frozen, his enemy Jalthar was free to roam around—but Jalthar did nothing to the city as it lay vulnerable, but instead waited for Malkar to return to battle for it.

Whatever. Malkar is always on the front-lines of danger, and always being saved by coincidence and luck, so never fear for his safety. In fact, he accidentally evokes a secret power three times at critical junctures, with no explanation or engagement for the reader to anticipate. In fact, his latent, convenient powers undermine the reasons & risks for his adventures. A shallow reason is offered at the end by a magician who explains that those powers (paraphrased) were fitting for a king, not a mercenary. As if Malkar was granted powers by usurping the throne… I guess? Or he earned them.

Malkar’s exposition is noteworthy, since he has “gut feels” that enables him to use scarce data to explain to his loin-clothed buddies (i.e., Hostig) what his enemies are thinking & doing, and thus allow him to lay traps and respond proactively. Likewise, the melodramatic dialogue is laughable at times. Many times I envisioned Adam West playing him (the ~1960’s Batman TV show may have inspired the drama).

Example Melodrama: call me a dog? I’ll kill you
“Dog?” The Benowinian stepped close and lashed Malkar across the face with his gemmed hand.

“You call me dog!” He grimaced, vile in his rage. “For that I shall feed you the agonies of hell! You will be staked on the sand with your eyelids removed so as to stare at the sun. You will be stripped and lashed with whips of wire so that the ants will come to drink your blood and eat your flesh. You will scream while being roasted over slow fires. I will burn out your eyes and sear your tongue! I will –”

The strengths lie in the fight scenes and poetic descriptions. I really did enjoy these.

Fight Scene example:
He chopped and mail burst, a severed head rolling from spouting shoulders, eyes wide in the amazement of death. He beat aside a swinging blade, beat again, sent the steel in a whining arc which ended on a shoulder and clove through bone and flesh to bare the naked lungs. Wrenching free the weapon he turned, smashed aside reaching steel, thrust at a snarling face. He felt irresistible, metal, flesh, bone all yielding to the fury of his attack. A machine of destruction cutting its way through a dozen men.

Poetic descriptions:
A passage led from the chamber to the Temple, the Hall of Kings where statues of previous rulers stood in double line in a wide passage of gleaming marble and malachite. The glow of votive candles touched them with dancing light, drifting glows that gave the dead eyes the semblance of watchful life, the dead lips the hint of sardonic smiles.

It was naked, hairless, the skin a sere yellow, the ears shrivelled against the creased flesh of the skull. A tall jar of black metal rose from the floor to clasp it around the scrawny throat. Ancient hieroglyphics intertwined with a serpent motive covered the surface of the jar and the head had the dried, desiccated appearance of a mummy, the mouth a thin crease, the eyes sunken beneath heavy lids.

So if you are looking for a guilty-pleasure adventure, some juvenile wish-fulfillment that can be consumed like fast food (tastes good, but isn’t really nutritious), then have a go at Malkar’s chronicles.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020

January 27th 2020 - International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020


Yesterday, I recalled the saddest and most beautiful book I ever read (thanks to my parents having a copy): I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942–1944 ....

 From the book synopsis: 
"A total of 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp between the years 1942-1944; less than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates of Terezin, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their courage and optimism, their hopes and fears."
This is the type of book which is great to peruse once, but then it may too powerful to read again.
Just having on the bookshelf is enough after that. A simple glance at the title on the binder is sufficient to become reflective.


Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Last Wish -- Being Helpful


Holy cow, every now and then there comes across a fun confluence of events.
In this case, the recent 2019 Netflix series The Witcher increased interest in the Sword & Sorcery series. Of course, I moderate the S&S group on Goodreads (all are welcome to join), and we do a lot of reviews to help future readers. Turns out my 2016 review of The Last Wish is the highest helpful rank, at >300 helpful clicks.  

Cool beans. It was ~2yrs ago when I captured a few rewarding feedback instances from my reviews (Good Feelings about HATE post). 




So... Toss a coin to your Witcher!

Death Dealers & Diabolists - Review by SE

Death Dealers & Diabolists by D.M. Ritzlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading anthologies enables readers to discover new voices and authors, and since short stories launched the Sword & Sorcery genre in the ~1920's, the Goodread's S&S Group has a 2-month groupread every Jan-Feb for this purpose. This is my first DMR anthology and I am impressed. This bodes well for many others in my to-read list (like Swords of Steel Omnibus, Warlords, Warlocks & Witches, and the The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories). DMR also hosts an outstanding blog that fans of S&S adore.

I only knew of Keith Taylor from this set. Three of the four that stick with me are ones that had less forward-momentum than I normally expect, but they ended strong and surprised me. I star my favorites below. The genre may have started in the 1920's, but anthologies like this demonstrate that it still lives strong a century later.

“Q’a the Librarian” by Buzz Dixon
Many others on Goodreads enjoyed this the most. It is true to the theme of “Death Dealers and Diabolists”. You can root for the anti-heroine Q'a since the other characters are eviler than she. Involves plenty of sacrifices and murdering children, and Q’a could not care less. However, her immorality wore off on me, so I wasn't as engaged with any of her antagonists/plight. This opening entry consumes 28% of the book too, which wasn't necessary. Would definitely appeal to Grimdark readers.

“The Man With the Evil Eye” by Keith Taylor
I adore Keith Taylor's work (i.e., Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis ). This one was ok. Three crusader buddies (Palamides, Chiron, Michael) save an alleged murderer, a runaway woman, from a bunch of thugs hired by an evil magician/collector. Was hooked up to the point when the merry men met Harmatius. The ending battle/climax ended abruptly and with less reader-engagement than expected.

* “The Vault of Geigar Varakas” by Kenneth R. Gower
The tale of the thief Kral Mazan starts slow and meandering, but it ramps up nicely. He's good at cards and doesn't like cheating (stealing is alright though), and a card match with the wealthy, cheating Varakas gets him tossed into a street. There, a conniving woman, Firien, hires him to break into Varakas' treasure trove to retrieve an heirloom item for her--and seek revenge for himself. An eruption of Lovecraftian-like horror explodes on the scene which made the build-up satisfying.

* “Lord of the Wood” by Geoff Blackwell
This tells of the hunter Ville returning to a ravaged home. He tracks the death-dealers of his family considering revenge. Not much sorcery/diabolists in here. Very, very grim. Beautiful wording drew me in:
“Cold azure glitter replaced warm red glow. Skies lay naked, the moon and stars shone like pinpricks in tough fabric. Trails of teal and rich violet whipped across the firmament. He whistled into the shimmering aurora as though to beckon it closer. The sky fox danced tonight. A beautiful night to start Ville’s last hunt.”

“Ranorax, Son of Tiger” by Mark Taverna
Haukan of the Tiger Clan is a real ass and hopes to lead his clan soon. A pesky prophecy from their shaman indicates the leader will instead be a strange boy emerging from the woods. An okay entry. Not sure if Death Dealing or Diabolism motivated it.

* “Intrigue in the Unassailable City” by Carl Walmsley
Menias returns to his island city/home after sailing abroad as a mercenary for over a decade. He has a slim hope of reuniting with Carwynn, a lady of higher class who had a crush on him before he trekked off. But to find her he has to climb up the strata of the island from the poor docks. Having been sailing with a bunch of pirates hasn't helped his network. Old "friends" slow his mission to his love interest. This is the second of three tales that were a slow brew, that delivered in a satisfying way. Nice milieu and characterization.

“Three Coins of Doom” by Bryan Dyke
This has humor in it, which many like. But I am more of a curmudgeon, enjoying the humor only if there is a deeper story. Mau-Keefe is a pirate on a cryptic quest to track down an acquaintance (Naravian), while his compatriot wizard-buddy Lucrutius drinks more than he helps. Levity was nice to include to break up the grimness of the other stories, but the purple pummich's silliness overshadowed any story arc.

* “The Age of Crows—The Return of the Swarm” by Jed J. Del Rosario
A slow start sets up the epic premise of Angel vs Demon warfare. For the first third, I wasn't sure about its direction. Duryodan is the protagonist, but he is driven by a higher power (which chimes in via first-person narrative) and was summoned by a fellow angel, Vidur, to tackle a big job. Another angelic immortal, Nakula, also meddles as they battle a corrupt Emperor. Weird corpse-possessing flies/insects play a dominant role. I’m a sucker for necromancy and angelic battles like this one.

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