Sunday, November 29, 2020

Shattered Seas Review AND Deep Madness Tour Guide - Review by S.E.

This post was simulcast on Black on Nov-28-2020

Cover art by Christopher Shy / Cover design by Byron Leavitt.

Shattered Seas is a toxic dose of Lovecraftian mythos, psychedelic team-exploration (reminiscent of Stark Trek voyages), and survival-horror melee (mutant creatures replacing zombies). It’s a maelstrom of fun if you enjoy horror adventure, losing your mind, and drowning.

Ever want to crack open the gateway into an Otherworld with a few friends? Perhaps you are ambitious and naively want to gain dominion of cosmic powers. Will you be comfortable with mutating forces transforming you into a tentacled mass? Start the madness by searching for the mystical Sphere buried in the ocean near the submerged Kadath Mining facility. Lucas Kane, a marine biologist, is one of your tour guides. Here he observes Kadath, a mining facility with organic qualities (excerpt):

Kadath lit up below them drew his attention and caught his breath. The facility sprawled across the seabed like a sunken metropolis from another world, its illuminated structures pushing defiantly upward into the inky abyss. The station’s domes and towers seemed like the last bastions of light and reason still standing in an endless Stygian wasteland. It was hypnotic, dreamlike, and yet somehow inexplicably solid. Lucas could make out the shuttle tubes running between the three main domes, as well as to the smaller, squarer outposts and middle structures. He could even see the primary enclosed drilling site not far off from the main facility, connected to Dome Three by long, spacious tubes.

This novel was inspired by Diemension Games' Deep Madness, a cooperative sci-fi/horror board game. The novel serves as a stand-alone book as much as it does a gateway into the game narrative. Non-gamers will enjoy it all the same since the key protagonists (Lucas Kane and Connor Durham) are freshly introduced, plus the story is a prequel to the story presented in the game. At the end of this article, there is an embedded movie overviewing the board game. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Quest For Cush by Charles Saunders - Review by SE

The Quest for Cush by Charles R. Saunders

S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Who am I? Who is my father? Where is my mother? Why do death and demons follow me wherever I go?” – Imaro in The Quest for Cush

Charles R. Saunders, the originator of Sword & Soul, passed away May this year (2020). He is most known for his Imaro tales chronicling an African-inspired “Conan the Barbarian” on the fictional continent of Nyumbani. Saunders also wrote of a heroine named Dossouye (separate series). The Goodreads Sword and Sorcery group honored his memory with a groupread, catalyzing this review and tour guide into the series:
1) Imaro DAW 1981 (Nightshade reprinted 2006 )
2) Imaro 2: The Quest for Cush DAW 1984 (Nightshade reprinted 2006). reviewed previously)
3) The Trail of Bohu DAW 1985 & 2009
4) Imaro: The Naama War 2010
- Nyumbani Tales 2018, a collection of tales of characters in Imaro’s world
- The Warrior’s Way (mentioned in the 2017 intro. to Nyumbani Tales by Saunders; the current 2020 status is “complicated” according to the esteemed Milton J. Davis, Sword & Soul author & owner of MVmedia, LLC. So, stay tuned.

So where were we?: In the first volume, Imaro evolved from being a fatherless, abandoned child from the Ilyassai tribe… into a vengeful, tribeless Hercules-like figure set on destroying evil sorcery. We learned that his mother, Katisa had been force-married to a shaman named Chitendu. Chitendu was a servant to the Mashataan Demon Gods and was removed from power thanks to Katisa; Chitendu is confronted by Imaro in Book#1 “The Place of Stones”. Katisa was also exiled for her being tainted. Imaro’s biological father is a mystery, who may have been someone other than Chitendu. Katisa is a fascinating figure who deserves more attention (in fact, she is featured in the first story in the Nyumbani Tales collection). What is clear, is that Imaro is very special, akin to the child of a god. His destiny is to confront the Mashataan gods/sorcery run through the Namaa.

#2 The Quest for Cush, i.e., the Fellowship of the Sacred Warrior: Imaro may be the primary hero, but Saunders gifted him a fellowship with two others. First in the party was his love-interest, Tanisha, who grants companionship (she was rescued in Book#1, Chapter 3: Slaves Of The Giant Kings, a story reimagined & replaced with “The Afua” in Nightshade’s edition). Secondly, is the pygmy sage called Pomphis, who is introduced either in DAW’s Imaro Book #1, chapter 5: The City of Madness, or in the introduction of the Nightshade 2006 edition (the same story of “City of Madness” renamed “Mji Ya Wzimu”). Depending on which edition of Imaro #1 and #2 you read, you may miss a key transition. Why move of the “City of Madness”?

Arc & Conflict: Well… the second edition of Imaro#2 captures the full story arc of Pomphis (1) finding Imaro and (2) delivering him to Cush. Imaro 2 : The Quest for Cush retraces Pomphis’s journey backwards toward Cush with the object of his quest found: a sacred outcast warrior. Underscoring every conflict is an epic battle of forces between evil, Mashataan forces (streaming through the land and people of Naama) and their mchawi magic (cast in green auras, which involves tentacles, serpentine mutations reminiscent of Lovecraftian mythos) versus the “good” sorcery (cast in red auras, fueled by the power of tawa from the Cloud Striders, streaming though the people of Cush).

Imaro 2 : The Quest for Cush Contents:
0) “Mji Ya Wzimu” is the first chapter in Nightshade’s 2006 reprint, which is merely a renamed version of ”The City of Madness”, the final chapter from DAW’s Imaro #1. This has Imaro, with Tanisha, meeting Pomphis.

1) “In Mwenni” 100pages: The first seventy pages have the group searching for a ship and a secret artifact containing tawa that Pomphis knows about. Cultural conflict. Frankly, I expected more ties to the death of Pomphis’s mentor (Khabatekh) who was murdered as Pomphis traveled with him through this seaport Kundwa (located in Mwenni). Instead, we get introduced to the Heart of Shihazz, but slowly. Firstly, we have battles in an arena and the coming of an Asian-inspired martial artist named Chang Li. Li’s presence interrupted the “Sword & Soul” vibe but his role reinforced the concept of chi/balance in the universe (ie the struggle between Mashataan and Cloud striders). The last thirty pages kick into high gear, with weird sorcery, a focus on Imaro’s past, and strange creatures:
“The left side was human, although the sin was the marbled gray hue of a corpse left to rot in the sun…The right side was horror. Pale, pitted stone tinged green…Only mchawai, the unimaginable evil power of the Mashataan could have created such a composite monstrosity… Their arms were spread to forestall Imaro from fleeing…Hatred burned hot within him…Shortening the slack of his chain, Imaro swung the weapon overhand, catching the half-man full in the face. The flesh of the human side was torn by the blow, but no blood leaked from the wound…”

2) “In Bana-Gui” 60pages: The trio pass through the remote village of Rendille, stumbling through horrific echoes of the past wars against Mashataan sorcery. Mutated, cursed folk remain, and the chapter reveals their history:
“Against her will, Tanisha’s gaze left that single, sadly beautiful face and slid downward once again. And the gorge rose hot and sick from her stomach, blocking the cry of revulsion that leaped into her throat as she stared at the woman’s body. // Her long neck flowed smoothly into slender shoulders. Her bare breasts were small, cone-shaped, perfect. Beneath those breasts—horror! // A bulbous mass of tissue clothed in dark skin protruded from the woman’s abdomen. Its shape seemed a distorted replica of the buttocks of young child. Jutting from the asymmetrical mass were a pair of legs and a single arm ending in clenched, clawlike fingers…”

3) “On the Bahari Mashiriki” 20pages. Finally, the trio finds a ship for hire. But the storm season approaches and evil forces hunt them. Captain Rabir takes them through storms while the piscine hibi attack:
“Yet for all their sea-spawned strength, ferocity, and swiftness, the hibi could not reach Imaro. Like a leopard ravening among dogs, the warrior carried the battle to the hibi. His arm rose and fell in a dark blur, raining steel on the horde of sea-dwellers. Showers of blood spurted to mingle with the rain of the dhoruba … Shark teeth snapping madly at air, the sea-dwellers leaped and fell, their bodies piling in a grim harvest at Imaro’s feet.”

4)  “In Cush”  23pages: The end answers some questions while preparing us for books #3 and #4 that escalate the conflict. Imaro will go to war with the Mashataan-loving Naamans!

Availability: Click here to go to Saunders’ website to locate books: Where to purchase new Saunders books. Although the first two Imaro books from DAW were reprinted in ~2006 by Nightshade, they are sometimes difficult to track down. Used bookstores are your best bet. still distributes his books, but note: books appear under two different versions of his name:
A) With the "R" ... at Charles R Saunders Lulu
Imaro by Charles R. SaundersThe Trail of Bohu (Imaro, #3) by Charles R. Saunders
B) Without the "R" ... at Charles Saunders Lulu

Saunder’s Passion: An excerpt from Saunders’s Into to Milton Davis’s Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology best reveals the author’s motivation:
“Robert E. Howard and his contemporaries were products of their time. Racism, in the form of white supremacy, was an integral part of the popular culture of the early decades of the twentieth century, and as such it pervaded pulp fiction. As a product of a later time during which the tenets of racism came under vigorous challenge, my enjoyment of fiction from past decades was often compromised by the racial attitudes I encountered in my reading. On some occasions, I simply let it slide. On others, I wrestled with resentment. Then I discovered a way to resolve my dilemma.

Interest in African history and culture surged during the 1960s, and at the same time I was reading sword-and-sorcery and fantasy fiction, I was also absorbing heretofore-unknown information about a continent that was not “dark” as its detractors made it out to be. I realized that this non-stereotypical Africa of history and legend was just as valid a setting for fantasy stories as was the ancient and medieval Europe that served as the common default setting for everything from Conan to Lord of the Rings. A character came into my head then: Imaro, a black man who could stand alongside mythical warrior-heroes like Beowulf and Hercules, as well as fictional creations such as Conan and Kull.” – Charles Saunders

View all my reviews