Tuesday, January 11, 2022

TFMS bi-weekly Blog Roundup


Tales from the Magician's Skull Blog Roundup, end-Dec-2021 to min-Jan 2022
Skull Champion of the Fifth Order, Bill Ward, continues to marshal his army of articles! Here are the latest headlines (linked) with blurbs:

Dec 27: Appendix N Archaeology: Clark Ashton Smith by Michael Curtis

Gamers often point to Appendix N and decry the absence of a particular author (or three, or seven, or…), declaring Gygax’s omission of them to be a literary crime of some sort. Putting aside the unbelievable idea that gamers may complain about things for the moment, we must realize that Appendix N is not a list one can argue with. It is a catalog of all the literary influences Gygax chose to recognize as wellsprings from which Dungeons & Dragons flowed. Since it is representative of one man’s work, we can’t claim he made the error of excluding a particular author, even if we believe we can see their influence in the final product. Game design, like art, is a subjective process and one tends to see what one is inclined to see.

Dec 28: The Self-Made Mind: The Art of Clark Ashton Smith

Clark Ashton Smith, an untutored genius self-educated in both poetry and pulp, also turned his restless mind to art. In everything from his simple line sketches and watercolor landscapes, to his carving and sculpture, Smith demonstrates the same characteristics of baroque intricacy, imaginative grotesquery, and dark humor that are a hallmark of his writing.

Dec 29: New In The Online Store: Tales From The Magician’s Skull #0

This may be #0, but it’s certainly far more than zero.

Back by popular demand, resurrected from the dim corridors of lost time, it’s TFTMS #0! This special issue of Tales From the Magician’s Skull was only available to Kickstarter backers — but now it’s back and available as a PDF! It’s filled with stories and articles about sword-and-sorcery fiction, and features a spectacular cover by legendary artist Ian Miller! Let’s take a look!

Jan 3: Classic Covers: J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was the book that launched a thousand trilogies, and made Tolkien’s name synonymous not just with modern fantasy fiction, but publishing mega-success. With more copies, in more languages, in more editions, than anything else in its category, and with an entire sub-industry spun out of publishing various notes, unpublished drafts, and side-excursions of its author, The Lord of the Rings remains the gold standard by which all other secondary worlds, and all other fantasy blockbusters, are judged. With covers ranging from the iconic to the iconographic, the literal to the surreal, many even featuring the art of the good Professor himself, and with editions spanning leather-bound limited-run collectibles to utterly ubiquitous mass-market paperbacks, copies of Tolkien are as ever-present and universal in the physical world of books and book collections as the tales they tell are ingrained in the imaginations of modern readers.

Jan 7: A Kind of Elvish Craft: Quotations from The Lord of the Rings

“To make a Secondary World . . . commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labor and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal lecture/essay “On Fairy-Stories” is nothing short of a manifesto of his art, and a spiritedly reasoned elaboration of his Theory of Story — specifically Fairy-Stories, or tales of the Land of FaĆ«rie.

Jan 11: Reading About Robert E. Howard

It’s safe to say Robert E. Howard has passionate fans. And this passion goes beyond buying stacks of books and old comics and limited edition resin sculptures, beyond pilgrimages to Cross Plains or Valeria cosplay, beyond, even, mimeographing ‘zines in their basement or writing fiction inspired by Howard’s example. For you see, Howard’s fans have dared to set their sandalled feet upon the tumbled jeweled thrones of literary criticism, and they’ve been trampling such thrones for decades. Here’s a look at just some of what they’ve been saying.


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Rogues in the House Podcast

As posted on Black Gate:


Rogues in the House

In 1934, Weird Tales magazine published Robert E. Howard's Conan story "Rogues in the House." Bob Byrne covered the story on Black Gate as part of his "Hither Came Conan" series.

Just a few years ago, in late 2018, Sword & Sorcery enthusiasts and content creators forged Rogues in the House - the Ultimate S&S Podcast (the link is a portal page to multiple listening Apps). This post spotlights it because it is more than just a source of perspectives. The crew genuinely wants to support a growing community. Their roundtable discussions always start with the "Bazaar of the Bizarre" round table, in which the cast shares recent events or learning opportunities (the session a call out to Fritz Leiber's 1963 Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story of the same name.

Beyond luring in S&S authors like Howard Andrew Jones, Scott OdenJohn R. Fultz, and  Jason Ray Carney, they've got guests covering Movies, Video/Board Games, and Art. We embed three selections here:

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Blood on the Blade - Review by SE

Blood on the Blade by Cliff Biggers

S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overview: Blood on the Blade (Edited by Jim Beard, John C. Bruening) offers 10 varied S&S tales, several that stick to the tropes (super-charged male heroes takes on evil sorcerers), and several that showcase non-standard milieus (such as Polynesian and Meso-American settings). The subgenre/tones range too, from violent-Grimdark, to light-adventure, YA-fantasy, to humor. I star the ones that I most enjoyed.

The “Scroll of Scribes & Artisans” Afterword offers nice biographies of all the contributors. It’s a great way to amplify a key purpose of anthologies: explore a variety of authors, discover a new one; let it guide you to more of their work.

I learned of this book by following DMR’s blog and publications (https://dmrbooks.com/); he has a nice contribution here. Also, the cover art by Mark Wheatley resonates with the title (and I believe the “GodKiller” opening story).

Some spoilers are below, but I attempt to obscure them

“Godkiller” by Cliff Biggers
Hero vs. sorcerer mayhem. Fast-paced to the point I would have enjoyed the story being longer (i.e., when certain enslaved warriors re-awaken). It’s solid S&S fare with a few memorable writing moments: (1) the hero butchering a priest and (2) learning that the body can be fashioned into weapons.

“The Unlidded Eye” by James R. Tuck
Reads like a Conan pastiche with all its Hyborian Age references. Threok the barbarian is our hero, and the slow-start has a drawn-out, weird-romance with a Prince. Suddenly, the story ramps up so fast it almost stumbles. Uneven pacing, but a satisfying conflict with the god Set. Apparently, Tuck has a book out on this dude: Theok the Indomitable: A Spill of Sorcerer's Blood.

* “The Island of Shadows” by Paul R. McNamee
Starts in media res with two protagonists on a boat (an outrigger actually) so the conflict is not clear. A magical storm get forces them onto a haunted island, so the conflict is not clear at first. The Polynesian milieu was great to be immersed in (ka magic and patu clubs, tiki statues, and puipui skirts). Fun stuff.

* "More Blood" by D.M. Ritzlin
An extended gladiator battle with an overpowered hero (without memory of who is) almost feels like a juvenile attempt at writing fiction, but then the setting clarifies, and the denouement rocked. A fun read brought to you by the champion of DMR books.

"Hounds of Morhullem" by James A. Moore
I’ve had James A Moore’s Seven Forges/Godless books in my TBR for too long. Here we have another duo of protagnists. Valen and the mercenary Berek make a fine pair as they experience an extended battle with undead hounds. It’s fun, but the setup appeared for a goal outside the story; the initial goal is discarded for a battle. Fun, but a sucker-punch for expectations. This must serve as a chapter for a larger series (or the Worthy of King book mentioned in the Afterward).

"The Sorceress Maiz" by Anne Marie Lutz
Vinton and his mother are spellcasters (with royal ties) out to save brother prince from the evil dad-king-sorcerer. There is a ton of sorcery here (paralysis, invisibility, body-switching). The pacing and delivery felt YA-fantasy-ish; the variety complements the other stories. Wish more female writers were out there!

"The Bloody Crooked One" by Charles R. Rutledge
The next overpowered hero is Kharrn. He’s got a big ax and is nigh-indestructible. He teams up with some stray Roman getting slaughtered by a dark-druid, a druid he had dealings with. The plot was supported by ample exposition.

* “Knock the Hell Out of You” by Steven L. Shrewsbury
I tend to roll my eyes anytime heroes enter a tavern, and I tend to like my heroes challenged a lot. In this case, despite the tavern scene and lack of a challenge, it felt fun because it was an over-the-top gorefest. The body-hopping demon fights our protagonists Gorias La Gaul and his daughter, Roan. They make for an interesting pair (there are a bunch of Gorias La Gaul stories elsewhere according to the Afterward). I'm leaning toward tracking these down.

"Dishonor Among Thieves" by Adrian Cole
I’ve enjoyed Adrian Coles's works (i.e. the Dream Lords, and his Elak of Atlantis pastiche), but this was my first exposure to Elfloq, the batrachian familiar. He’s seeking to connect with a bad-arse Voidal sorcerer. Cole already has two short stories about Elfloq in Parallel Universe Publication’s S&S anthologies). This was not classic S&S; it featured our fairy-like familiar Elfloq messing with idiotic mages and barbarians. The humor and tone were a pleasant variation from the others.

"Blood Games in the Temple of the Toad" by Frank Schildiner
The setting shines here, being a Meso-American backdrop. Obsidian Jaguar, a way-overpowered hero, kicks tons of arse. His primary enemies are Caiman (reptile) tribal folk who also have lots of societal issues, including an authoritarian theocracy with a penchant for gladiator fights. I enjoyed the potential here, especially with Clawed Butterfly, a sorceress frenemy. Overall, this felt longer than it had to be, and the plot felt a bit forced.

View all my reviews