Wednesday, February 23, 2022

B.J. Swann Reviews Helen's Daimones

Author B.J. Swann Reviews Helen's Daimones (link from Goodreads)

BJ Swann writes splendid bizarre adventure (Aeon of Chaos series, featured on Black Gate), so it is an honor he delved into Dyscrasia Fiction. He also reviewed Lord of Dyscrasia and Spawn of Dyscrasia, and the set offers a comprehensive review of the series (which sill evolves).

Here's his review:

"A worthy sequel to a work of epic weirdness.

It’s hard to articulate what it feels like to visit the world of Dyscrasia fiction. It’s weird in the extreme but also eerily familiar. The visuals are especially striking. Here we have grotesque and apocalyptic images interwoven with visions of ethereal beauty. The constant gothic themes of decadence and fathomless antiquity serve only to enhance the reader’s sensations of awe. The world of Dyscrasia fiction also has it’s own peculiar laws, its own sorcerous rules, which possess the irresistible emotional logic of folklore and fairy tale.

There were a lot of vivid moments in this book that felt intensely cinematic and really stuck in my head. The two young heroines, Helen and Sharon, wandering through an apocalyptic wasteland, coming face to face with a hideous dyscrasia-ridden mutant building a nest of dead bodies and filth...the tragic Lady Sabina, preserved in a state of hideous and beautiful undeath, her womb a honeycomb of horrors...and of course, the vision of fiery sprites coming alive from a pyre of children’s dreams and nightmares. Lindberg’s intensely visual style creates a hallucinatory reading experience.

There are some notable differences between HELEN’S DAIMONES and LORDS OF DYSCRASIA, the first book in the series. LORDS was epic in scope, detailing the course of an apocalyptic conflict. HELEN’S has a more intimate focus, dealing with the foundation of a settlement now that the Ill Age has ostensibly ended. The two new central characters, Helen and Sharon, are sympathetic and relatable, and their simple humanity provides an excellent anchor point amongst all the weirdness of their world. My only real criticism of LORDS was that its weirdness sometimes made it alienating, but HELEN’S has the human touch throughout, and is always grounded in the emotions and needs of its protagonists. On a similar note, there also seems to be a superior balance in place between the wealth of visuals on offer and the internal realities of the characters. Because of this, HELEN’S feels more grounded and less abstract, whilst still being as relentlessly weird as the original. This feels like an impressive achievement. Structurally the book is somewhat meandering and episodic, which is by no means a bad thing. Perhaps the only downside is that HELEN’S lacks the epic, apocalyptic conclusion of its older sibling. Indeed there is no real conclusion, only the setup for the third book in the series, which I will naturally be reading very soon."

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Tales From The Magician's Skull - Issue #7 Round-Up


Tales From the Magician's Skull Blog Early Feb 2022 Round-Up

PRE-ORDER #7. What's in it? Seven tales, and all have previews on the TFTMS blog! here are the quick links:

JAN 31 A preview of John C. Hocking’s “The Gift of a Poison Necklace”

Benhus returns once again to the pages of Tales From the Magician’s Skull to confront the mystery of a necklace that kills. When his patron, the Lady Thale, survives both an assassination attempt and the follow-up robbery to recover the deadly jewelry sent by her enemy, Benhus must investigate a twisty trail of murder and intrigue in “The Gift of a Poison Necklace.”

Fans of John C. Hocking’s long-running series will know that this is the seventh King’s Blade tale to appear in our magazine—one in every issue! Once again the young swordsman Benhus is in over his head and beset on all sides—good thing he knows a thing or two about swordwork . . .

Let Stefan Poag’s double-page, tavern-smashing illustration further whet your appetitive for sword-and-sorcery action while you await the full story in our soon-to-be-released next issue!


FEB 5 A Preview of D.J. Tyrer’s “Death Stalks the Night”

Horror-powerhouse D.J. Tyrer marks his first appearance in Tales From the Magician’s Skull with an eerie tale of bone-stealing nightwalkers and sinister magic. All is not well on the night-shrouded veldt, and only the warrior Ini-ndoga and his diminutive companion Mbeva can thwart a potent evil in “Death Stalks the Night.”

Chris Arneson’s mistily mysterious double-page illustration sets the stage for this tale of dark forces and heroic deeds — and our downloadable preview is sure to whet your appetite for the full story in our soon-to-be-released next issue!

FEB 8 A preview of C.L. Werner’s “The Snake in the Fold”

Fans of Tales From the Magician’s Skull and Warhammer Fantasy alike need no introduction to C.L. Werner, who returns once again to the pages of our magazine with a tale of his wandering samurai, Shintaro Oba. On a mission to free the soul of his late master from a demon’s clutches, Oba’s encounters with spirits, monsters, and foul magic are fast-becoming the stuff of legend — join him as he once again braves damnation in “The Snake in the Fold.”

Randy Broecker’s iconic double page illustration of samurai versus snake demon embodies eastern style and pulp power, the perfect match for Werner’s Oba! Our downloadable preview is sure to whet your appetite for the full story in our soon-to-be-released next issue!

FEB 11 A preview of Mark Rigney’s “Dara’s Tale” 

Mark Rigney’s story of a remote village beset by scurriers — and perhaps fouler things besides — is his first foray in the pages of Tales From the Magician’s Skull. Young Dahnica, her head full of stories and a knife in her hand, may be all that stands between her people and a dark evil in “Dara’s Tale.”

Peter Mullen’s creepy-crawly illustration will surely have you scurrying after TFTMS#7 — and our downloadable preview is guaranteed to whet your appetite for the full story in our soon-to-be-released next issue!


FEB 15 A preview of Scott J. Couturier’s “Interred With the Worm”

Scott J. Couturier hits the pages of Tales From the Magician’s Skull for the first time with this tale of a powerful amulet and a forbidden tomb narrated by . . . well, let’s just call him a “tomb-robber of old.” Marvel as he brushes the cobwebs from his ancient story in “Interred With the Worm.”

And just in case you were thinking the title referred to a garden-variety ‘worm,’ let William McAusland’s hyper-detailed rendering of Couturier’s unquiet tomb dissuade you of the notion — just as our downloadable preview is sure to whet your appetite for the full story in our soon-to-be-released next issue!

FEB 19 A preview of Nathan Meyer’s “Beneath a Scarlet Moon”

Hardboilded wordslinger Nathan Meyer explodes onto the pages of Tales From the Magician’s Skull with Issue#7’s cover story: “Beneath a Scarlet Moon.” Join the grim warrior Auric and some unlikely companions as they journey across a poisonous landscape beneath a bloody glaring moon in this doom-laden tale of pain and sacrifice.

Chris Arneson frames the horror of a thousand-legged attack in his incredible interior illustration — and our downloadable preview is sure to whet your appetite for the full story in our soon-to-be-released next issue!


FEB 22 A Preview of James Enge’s “Beasts of the Bluestone Hills”

Fan-favorite Morlock Ambrosius stumps up that crooked way once again and into the pages of Tales From the Magician’s Skull for the seventh time! But lucky number seven may not prove to be so boonful as Morlock and his fiery avian companion travel across bizarre lands confronting chimeric creatures in “Beasts of the Bluestone Hills.”

Samuel Dillon’s brooding art captures the look of the seasoned adventurer and hints at the oddities in this, Morlock’s latest tale — and our downloadable preview is sure to whet your appetite for the full story in our soon-to-be-released next issue!

Monday, February 21, 2022

Mar-Apr 2022 Group Reads: Tierney Memorial and Obscure Books

Goodread's Sword & Sorcery Group

March-April 2022 Group Read Topics:

Topic 1) Richard L. Tierney memorial group read (link to folder)

Richard L. Tierney passed away this month. Let's read some Weird Detective occur or Red Sonja in his honor!  

Topic 2) Obscure Books group read (link to folder)

Dig through your bookshelves and unearth some arcana.  Or seek out an underappreciated classic and shed some light on it!

Banner Artist Credits

  • Boris Vallejo 1981 "The Ring of Ikribu"
  • Zach McCain 2021 "the Drums of Chaos"
  • Steven Gilberts 2021 "Sorcery Against Caeser"

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Tales From the Magician's Skull - Blog Round-Up Early Feb 2022


Tales From the Magician's Skull Blog Early Feb 2022 Round-Up

JAN 28 My Favorite Solomon Kane Tale: “Wings in the Night” by Robert E. Howard by Fletcher Vredenburgh

“Wings in the Night” (1932), is one of Solomon Kane’s, Robert E. Howard’s swashbuckling Puritan, African adventures. In the face of darkness, he sees himself as Satan’s implacable foe.  Kane’s a dour man, dedicated wholly to defeating evil and meting out justice. In two separate stories, he spends years hunting for the killers of innocents. A skilled swordsman, he has freebooted in the New World, suffered at the hand of the Inquisition, and fought vampires and cannibals in Africa. In this story, he battles great bat-winged, razor-taloned monsters.

This story is one of REH’s most visceral, and blood is spilled on every other page. Also, it’s one of my favorites. As it opens, Kane is fleeing from a band of cannibals when he discovers a devastated village and within it, a mutilated, yet still living man, tied to a stake. The village appears to have been attacked from above. One body hangs high up in a tree, impaled upon a branch. Continuing to evade his pursuers, he finds himself set upon by a winged creature with a manlike face.

FEB 4 Archiving the King’s Blade Champion: An interview with John C.Hocking by S.E. Lindberg  

John C. Hocking is a nigh-obsessed reader and writer of lurid pulp fictin, the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, “Black Starlight” serial, and their time-lost companion, Conan and the Living Plague, as well as an obedient thrall of Tales From the Magician’s Skull. Recently Black Gate reviewed John C. Hocking’s Conan Pastiche; then they cornered him to learn more about his pastiche and weird fiction muses in an interview. That post is a companion with this interview and we hope you’ll brave the Black Gate and check it out. Here we focus on Hocking’s original Archivist and King’s Blade series — now to the interview!

FEB 17 Adventures in Fiction: Andre Norton by Jim Wampler

Famed fantasy and science fiction author Andre Norton was born on February 17, 1912. Join us, as we celebrate her birthday by taking a look at her works and their influences on both adventure gaming and genre fiction. Born as Alice Mary Norton in 1912, Norton started writing while she was still in high school in Cleveland, Ohio. In fact, she completed her first novel while still attending high school, though it was not published until later in 1938. Wishing to pursue writing as a career, in 1934 she had her name legally changed to Andre Alice Norton, and adopted several male-sounding pen names so as to prevent her gender from becoming an obstacle to sales in the first market she wrote for: young boys literature.


FEB 17 Adventures in Fiction: Margaret St. Clair by Michael Curtis

Margaret St. Clair was born on February 17, 1911. Her work appears in Gary Gygax’s Appendix N, and is important for lending a crucial concept to the D&D game: the idea of dungeon levels. Here is Michael Curtis with more information on this important writer…

The titles and authors appearing on the Appendix N list are varied. Some are fantasy, others science fiction, and they range in time period from works contemporary to when Gygax was designing D&D to much earlier stories. While some of the Appendix N authors’ contribution to fantasy role-playing are obvious, not all lend themselves to easy discovery.

FEB 18 Ballantine Adult Fantasy: E.R. Eddison

The success of The Lord of the Rings in paperback lead to a fantasy boom in publishing — and in particular a boom at Ballantine. In the wake of Tolkien’s success they turned to fellow English fantasist E.R. Eddison for more fiction in a similar vein, re-publishing both his landmark 1922 novel The Worm Ouroboros, but also the three books in his 1930s Zimiamvian Trilogy.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Spawn of Dyscrasia review by BJ Swann

This review made my week. Like bizarre, horrific fantasy? The Dyscrasia series may be for you. Thanks to B.J. Swann for the kind words!

BTW, the series is continuing, currently in the form of short stories being published across various eZines and anthologies.

Here's a blurb:

"Lords of Dyscrasia offered an epic tale of apocalyptic dimensions steeped in extreme strangeness. Helen’s Daimones dialled back the scope, providing a more intimate story with more relatable characters. Spawn of Dyscrasia balances these two extremes, alternating between the earth-shattering battles of inhuman sorcerers and the earthier perspectives of mortal protagonists. The result feels perfectly balanced, as does the cast of characters. We get to see Lord Lysis, the transcendent undead demi-god, unleash his freakish might against a new eldritch enemy. At the same time, we also get to witness the trials of the very human Helen as she struggles to find a place for herself in a diseased world ruled by weird magic and plagued by monsters. We also get to see a lot more of Echo, one of the more mysterious but weirdly compelling characters in the series. The result is a tightly-woven tale offering a compelling mix of intrigue, horror, weirdness, and genuine human drama.
The weirdness, as usual, is pretty much off the scale. We get to see diseased orchards where the hearts of golems grow from fleshy trees. The psychic mating rituals of regal insectoid hybrid monsters. Skulls blown apart by animate blood known as Lapis Elixir. And just wait till you see what a Behemal Centimani is! The weirdness here is so intense it makes most books I’ve read in the Bizarro genre feel like realist lit fic in comparison."

Friday, February 4, 2022

Tour Guide of John C. Hocking's Archivist Series

Originally posted on the Tales of the Magician's Skull Blog: Archiving the King’s Blade Champion: An interview with John C. Hocking

Saved here for redundant archiving!

John C. Hocking is a nigh-obsessed reader and writer of lurid pulp fiction, the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, “Black Starlight” serial, and their time-lost companion, Conan and the Living Plague, as well as an obedient thrall of Tales From the Magician’s Skull. Recently Black Gate reviewed John C. Hocking’s Conan Pastiche; then they cornered him to learn more about his pastiche and weird fiction muses in an interview. That post is a companion with this interview and we hope you’ll brave the Black Gate and check it out.

Here we focus on Hocking’s original Archivist and King’s Blade series — now to the interview!

You’ve had six [now seven! — ed.] Benhus tales (The King’s Blade series) that appeared in each of the Tales From the Magician Skull magazines. The first one appeared in 2019, and is called “The Crystal Sickle’s Harvest: From the World of the Archivist.”. Tell us more about the Archivist series and how it informs the King’s Blade.

John C. Hocking: The Archivist stories take place in the same world, the same city, as those about Benhus. They just occur 12 or 15 years later. The Archivist sprang from my desire to keep writing sword and sorcery but step away from using a mythic warrior character like Conan.

Hocking’s King’s Blade Series in Tales From the Magician’s Skull by issue number:

  • I. “The Crystal Sickle’s Harvest”
  • II. “Trial by Scarab”
  • III. Tyrant’s Bane”
  • IV. “Guardian of the Broken Gem”
  • V. “In the Corridors of the Crow” *read the preview*
  • VI. “Calicask’s Woman”
  • VII. “The Gift of a Poison Necklace” *read the preview*

The Archivist series seem difficult to track down. Any comment about readers with OCD/completionism that desire to read these?

JCH: Right now, there are 8 stories about the Archivist and his friend Lucella:

  1. ‘A Night in the Archives’ appeared in the Flashing Swords ezine Vol1-#2. available online
  2. ‘Web of Pale Venom’ appeared in Flashing Swords #3 and was recently reprinted in Goodman Games ‘Cubicles of the Skull’. available online
  3. ‘The Lost Path Between the Worlds’ appeared in the Flashing Swords ezine #4 . available online
  4. ‘A River Through Darkness & Light’ appeared in Black Gate #15 (last print issue of BG).
  5. ‘Vestments of Pestilence’ was featured, and available for reading on Black Gate.
  6. ‘Pawns in a House of Ghosts’ appeared in Skelos #3.
  7. ‘With a Poet’s Eyes’ appeared in Weirdbook #38.
  8. “From a Prison of Blackened Bone’ is awaiting publication by Weirdbook.

I imagine I’ll eventually try to assemble a collection of all the Archivist yarns. I’d like to add a few more entries before then, though. I outlined a novel about the character but can’t say if I’ll ever write it.

Can you compare/contrast the Archivist with Lucella & Benhus?

JCH: The Archivist is an unlikely hero, a more cerebral and self-absorbed character than most you’d see in Sword & Sorcery. His ability to fill a heroic role in the dangerous environment of a S&S tale is boosted by his connection to the lady soldier, Lucella. Although the Archivist is unselfconsciously brave when the occasion calls for it and can throw a mean dagger, Lucella is the real fighter of the two. Odd as it may sound, Lucella’s attitude toward violence, and how fighting affects her, are as realistic as anything in my work, as I patterned it after the only people I’ve known who really, truly loved a serious fight. The Archivist is wry and often pre-occupied, but a thoroughly decent fellow with a strong sense of justice. Lucella is more pragmatic but tends to follow his lead. I find the relationship between the Archivist and Lucella more satisfying than much of my work. The two basically combine to form one functional hero.

The Benhus character is an attempt to create a Sword & Sorcery character in the mold of hardboiled crime fiction. He lacks the experience, knowledge, skill set and sense of justice that the Archivist and Lucella bring to the table. Benhus is very young, but tough, determined and possessed of few scruples, especially when it comes to self-preservation. His occasionally callous behavior can be alienating to readers not expecting it. The fact that the guy is in so far over his head, is so isolated from any substantial assistance or understanding, that he is surrounded by people vastly more powerful and better informed than he is, that he must watch his every step to avoid losing his position or his life—I hope all this leads readers to identify with the guy, even if they might find him a less than delightful dinner companion.

Juxtaposing the Archivist and Lucella with Benhus was great fun. For anyone who might care to know, the Archivist encounters an older and more seasoned Benhus in ‘Pawns in a House of Ghosts’.

Let’s focus on Benhus now. In the TFTMS 2021 Kickstarter updates & interviews, you revealed that his name was a tribute to Ben Haas. He was a writer who wrote westerns under several pseudonyms [(1926 – 1977) aka John Benteen, Thorne Douglas, Richard Meade)]. Please expand on Ben Haas, and how Benhus may embody some aspect of his writing/characters?

JCH: I admire the work of Benjamin Leopold Haas as one of the most polished and seemingly effortless pulp writers of the 1970’s. He spun formula men’s adventure fiction into gold over and over and over again. If I’ve tried to adopt anything from his writing style it would be a ceaseless forward movement and a steady, zero-padding approach to storytelling. But one of the things I admire most about his work is the one I will never even be able to approach—his remarkable coupling of prolificity and solid, satisfying storytelling.

Each of the TFTMS issues come with illustrations. Can you comment on these depictions?

  • I. Jennel Jaquays: I wrote a whole essay for the first Tales from the Magician’s Skull Kickstarter about how happy I was to have Jaquays illustrate one of my stories. That is one elegant image.
  • II. Russ Nicholson: This one explodes off the page. One of the most spectacular single page monster images I’ve seen, and I was delighted to have it attached to my story.
  • III. Matthew Ray: I loved the tight depiction of the three main characters (four if you include their undead foe). That’s a particularly good King Numar Flavius right there.
  • IV. Samuel Dillon: Lushly detailed, almost pointillist, illustration captures a good likeness of Benhus.
  • V. Doug Kovacs: This one startled me because it’s such a serious attempt to illustrate a specific scene from the story and do so with as much accurate detail as possible. The artist even gets Zehra’s tattered hand restraints.
  • VI. Jennel Jaquays: Lucky me—a second Jaquays illustration. I worked hard to make the creatures in the Wall of Demons as nasty as I could. The artist made them nastier than I imagined. That white eel/serpent horror is ingeniously disgusting.

And each story, true to TFTMS form, comes with DCC stats (thanks to Terry Olson). What are your thoughts on gamifying your world? Have you had the pleasure of reenacting a story?

  • I. Crystal Sickle Wraith (creature) & Nobleman’s Comfort (wand)
  • II. Great mud scarab…knockout powder, message vial= (magic item)
  • III. Blind sight (spell), nobleman’s comfort (more wand abilities), Silver risen (a spell?), Tyrantsbane dagger (weapon)
  • IV. Nobleman’s Comfort (wand, even more abilities) and Scimitar Nemesis (creature weapon)
  • V. Carapaced Mauler (creature)
  • VI. Gray Umbra Guardian (creature)

JCH: I haven’t been in a real RPG in 20 years, so I’m not really qualified to comment intelligently on the stats. But I’m delighted with the idea that fragments of the stories appearing in The Skull might find their way into gamers’ adventures. I wish the Skull had a space where anyone who saw any of our statted creations showing up in a game could tell us how it went.

Generally, S&S spawned in the short story form, and characters did not necessarily develop (i.e., as much as they may in a novel). The Benhus short stories are stand-alone episodes, but there is definite progression of character (especially with the titular “king” of the King’s Blade branding, issues #3 and #5 ramped up the relationship). Do you have a long-term vision for a collection/novel?

JCH: Yes and no. I want to keep telling an unspooling, chronological series of stories about Benhus. I have plenty of ideas for what happens to the character and how it affects him and those around him. In his near future I’ve plotted a story that could probably be presented as a novel but will more likely be broken into shorter narratives that I’ll submit piecemeal to Tales From the Magician’s Skull. Writing a novel is such a difficult, sustained and uncertain effort that I’m more comfortable wrestling with short fiction these days.

Be sure to check out the companion interview on Black Gate to learn more about Hocking’s Conan pastiche and weird fiction influences. And for the the latest story in the King’s Blade series, be sure to pre-order a copy of (the soon to be released) Tales From the Magician’s Skull Issue 7!


John C. Hocking Interview

 BEAUTIFUL PLAGUES: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN C. HOCKING - originally posted on Black Gate Feb 4, 2022

To help reveal the muses that inspire weird fiction and horror writers, this interview series engages contemporary authors on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate broaching this topic have included Darrell SchweitzerSebastian JonesCharles GramlichAnna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg, Stephen Leigh, Jason Ray Carney. See the full list of interviews at the end of this post.

Today we corner John C. Hocking whose Conan pastiche we reviewed a few months ago.

John C. Hocking is an American fantasy writer who is the author of two well-acclaimed Conan novels and has also won the 2009 Harper’s Pen Award for Sword and Sorcery fiction for his story, “The Face In The Sea”. He lives in Michigan with his wife, son, and an alarming quantity of books. He is a nigh-obsessed reader and writer of lurid pulp fiction, the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, the "Black Starlight" Conan serial, and their time-lost companion, Conan and the Living Plague, and an obedient thrall of Tales From the Magician’s Skull.

For clarity, we'll actually corner him twice. Firstly, here on Black Gate, we'll cover his weird, pulpy muses & Conan pastiche; secondly, in a companion interview, we'll cover his King's Blade and Archivist series on the Tale from the Magician's Skull Blog.