Sunday, May 22, 2022

Terra Incognita: Lost Worlds of Fantasy and Adventure - Overview by S.E.

This expands on a press release for Terra Ingognita posted on Black Gate this May. NEW TREASURES: DMR PRESENTS TERRA INCOGNITA: LOST WORLDS OF FANTASY AND ADVENTURE

Since I am a contributing author, I will bypass any rating and just provide a perspective that readers may appreciate.

Readers of Black Gate will be familiar with D.M. Ritzlin (champion of DMR books) and Doug Draa (editor of Weirdbook Magazine and Startling Stories).. For this they gathered seven authors, including many Black Gate veterans (contributors or featured in the articles): David C. SmithAdrian ColeS.E. Lindberg, J. Thomas Howard, Milton DavisJohn C. Hocking, & Howard Andrew Jones.  Expect trips into lost worlds…but expect them with a fantasy, Sword & Sorcery bias. Each story presents different storytelling styles in varied milieus, from Cosmic Horror, Irish and African mythologies, to complete fantasy worlds on land and sea.



Unknown territory: An unexplored country or field of knowledge — Merriam Webster

“Does that sound exciting and dangerous? I hope so. We never know what’s over the hill or ahead of us up around the bend. It might be something exciting and dangerous. Or simply wondrous and surprising. Perhaps even a mixture of all these. We never know though, until we take that final step into the unknown. The blank areas on old maps were labeled hic sunt dracones, here there be dragons. As frightening and as daunting as that sounds, it’s also a siren’s call to the adventurous among us.

… Looking back now, it’s clear to see that a large portion of genre literature dealt directly with this theme. Writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and Abraham Merritt devoted a large portion of their work to stories about exploring the unknown.

… For this collection we are sticking to the realms of fantasy in order to see what is out there, lost and lurking. I envy every one of you. I do. Truly! You are getting to read these marvelous tales of adventure for the very first time. And this is one of those things in life that you can only experience once.” – snippets from Doug Draa’s introduction

Terra Incognita: Lost Worlds of Fantasy and Adventure

You are holding a ticket in your hands. A ticket for a voyage of thrills, wonder, and discovery as seven of today’s top fantasists, each one a master of Heroic Fantasy, transport you to lands beyond your imagination. Lands of fantasy and adventure. And the only passport needed is your imagination.

Cover Art

The cover by Laura Gornik is splendidly appropriate for lost world travel/adventure. I adore the apparent phase-inversion of the space (i.e., dark objects dispersed in white fog …that get flipped into white bubbles in dark tentacles/beams).  It calls to mind M.C. Escher’s famous tiling (i.e. Sky and Water) and it represents the travel the reader will experience going from reality into seamless other-worlds.


Table of Contents with Personal Notes


  1. "Shadow of the Serpent" - David C. Smith’s courageous rebels under the leadership of the undying warrior Akram must form an alliance with an ancient race to overthrow murderous usurpers, along with their necromantic masters, who are hellbent on destroying their kingdom in an insane attempt to conquer the world.

Akram is a cursed immortal who is featured in the novel The Sorcerer’s Shadow: 1982 (original title: The Shadow of Sorcery).  It is part of the author’s ongoing stories of Attluma, which is Atlantean-inspired, horror S&S,; Akram can be considered a character akin to Karl Wagner’s Kane. This reads like a legend and might be most appreciated by readers already familiar with the cursed protagonist. I highly recommend Tales of Attluma and checking out this tour guide:  TALES OF ATTLUMA BY DAVID C. SMITH: A REVIEW AND ORON SERIES TOUR GUIDEIt is an honor to share a TOC with David, and bring Dr. Grave and Akram one more step closer to rubbing shoulders.


  1. "The Place of Unutterable Names" - Adrian Cole transports a group of explorers to a Lovecraftian netherworld of no return. Or is there, if one is courageous enough?

This is one of my favorites of the collection since it wholeheartedly embraces the lost-world theme. It is a superbly executed homage to Howard Phillip’s Lovecraft work (arguably easier to read than most of HPL actually).  Cole invites the reader to leave reality in HPL style: from the framing of the story to the call-outs to the elder god Nyarlathotep, the landscapes of Kadath like the Plateau of Leng, and the exploratory expedition akin to At the Mountains of Madness.  The pacing and wonder are spot-on.  Its placement before my story is fortuitous. This builds the Eldritch culture vs human civilization, and has strong does of fungal body horror & Insect-men (that echo my One Hive. Two Queens.)

Fungus Excerpt

 "When we reached the cavern, we rested. What a place that was! Gouged out of the naked rock, certainly by prediluvian hands, it reared up to an invisible ceiling and spread out on all sides, unfathomable without stronger light. There were countless rocks and heaps of stone debris, but it was clear even in the murk that some of these blocks and monoliths had been deliberately cut and shaped. Intelligent beings had once lived here, though how long ago that had been was impossible to calculate….The fungi seemed to be burying into the rock, as though feeding from it. It seemed to be in varying degrees of development: there were grouped globules of sickly white, criss-crossed with purple veins, while stacked above these were layer upon layer of broad mushrooms, some of which had opened up to release, I assumed, countless spores. Their colours varied from livid yellow to soiled brown, and higher still up the cavern walls, the thread-like mycelia spread like a colossal spider’s web, ever probing for cracks and crevices, anchoring further colonization."


"I saw, too, insectoid, human-sized beings with exoskeletons, living in fantastically complex nest networks, protected by their warrior armies, always striving to expand their empire, adding to the wars and tribulations of a world in turmoil. It was no surprise to me to see the extent to which dinosaurs roamed, some wild and terrible, feared and avoided by lesser creatures, man included, others living in a kind of harmony with man, used as cavalry in his armies, a formidable fighting force."

  1. "One Hive Two Queens" - S.E. Lindberg gives us a distant world where two alien sisters, who were created in the image of man, wage a war against each other to determine the future of their world.

This presents a “weird fiction” take on the civilization-vs-barbarism trope. Here, the colonization of a lost land pits civilized humanity vs. eldritch natives. Spearheading the conflict are two sisters, humanoid golem maidens, who vie for control over an abandoned, eldritch hive (their birthplace). These golems are hybrids by nature, humans shaped from the earth. Melanie leans toward her earthy constitution; deemed a child-eating, bog-loving lamia by occupying humans, she aims to protect nature and the land’s past, going so far as to nurture neglected nests of larvalwyrmen. Her sister, Ember, embraces human proclivities; she leads the colonialization of the hive and aims to erase all eldritch history. One hive cannot accommodate multiple queens. Witness the battle that will decide nature’s owner.

This tale features two golem daughters of Dr. Grave, who is prominent in my Dyscrasia Fiction; a few other short stories about Gave’s golem family have appeared online and can be read now for free: 

All my writing is based on alchemy and is designed to feel bizarrely unique (i.e. “weird). BTW a key scene was catalyzed by Peter Jackson’s 2001 adaptation of Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, the Flight to the Ford scene specificallyOf course, one must replace [the angelic Arwen and the ailing Frodo] with a dark goddess saving giant larvae, to better envision the inspiration.

  1. "The Siege of Eire" - J. Thomas Howard reveals the harsh realities of ancient Eire, Samhain, and the war between the Fomorians and Tuatha Dé Danann.
This is another favorite of mine since it resonates the theme of lost worlds, an escape from modernity and civilization with glorious battle in the Irish-inspired underworld. Stylistically, it feels lyrical like Dunsany, but it is so action-heavy that REH fans will devour the melee. Here’s an excerpt:
"He drew his runic blade. The combatants circled. The Dullahan’s range gave him advantage, and Reglin knew it and was eager to close the distance. Thrice the whip kept him at bay, but at last he gained an opening. He dove in, driving his sword towards the armored chest. The markings on the blade became luminous. But the Dullahan brought round his other weapon, his very head, and it crashed into the lunging Fomorian’s face. The boney jaws clenched, tearing into the blue skin and red flesh. Blood ran down the ivory teeth. Reglin faltered and the whip came roaring round. But even blinded by his pain the admiral caught the skeletal weapon with his sword. Viridian flames erupted where the two artifacts met, but Reglin’s free hand still clutched his bleeding face, and the Dullahan struck once more with his head, and his jaws latched onto Reglin’s throat. They tore, and blood erupted high into the air. The Fomorian slumped down to the beach, his sanguine ruin profaning the white shore."
  1. "Warriors of Mogai"- Milton Davis introduces us to a young man, barely past boyhood, who has to brave great dangers on his own to seek the help of ancient allies who may no longer exist.
Ostensibly the conflict is against desert people invading, but this story highlights the prelude to battle. The hero Koboye seeks out help from the lost city of Mogai. It felt more like a chapter than it did a stand-alone tale. Slower-paced than the preceding stories, this African-inspired fantasy is a welcome shift in variety. Milton is known for being a champion of Sword & Soul, writing his own characters (i.e., Changa, Omari) and spearheading MLVmedia (publishers of frofuturism, Sword and Soul, Steamfunk and more!).

  1. "Necropolis Gemstone" John C. Hocking regales with the plight of a young archivist who is forced at swordpoint to travel into a parallel world full of horrors from a time long forgotten
Many will know Hocking from his Conan pastiche. Of course, he also has his Archivist series (check out that tour guide here: Archiving the King’s Blade Champion: An interview with John C. Hocking). Including an archivist character in Terra Incognita to document the otherworld makes complete sense! As with Hocking’s short stories that have appeared in many venues, including a bunch on Tales from the Magician’s Skull, he lays out a plot that ramps up continuously and delivers with some wild creative creature. Classic Hocking here.

  1. "From the Darkness Beneath" Howard Andrew Jones sets sail into adventure with a group of sea-going merchants and their passengers. Many of them are not who they seem to be and only reveal their true selves once a sunken kingdom from the bottom of the sea launches an attack against the travelers.

Fantasy readers will likely recognize Howard Andrew Jones who recently finished his Oathsworn Trilogy and has been a long-time contributor to Pathfinder novels; he also is the editor for Tales From the Magician's Skull Magazine and his interns carefully obey his every command lest they be immolated. HAJ has several sets of characters he likes to write about, like his Asim and Dabir Sword & Sandal stories; without spoiling much, this story occurs in Howard’s Hanuvar universe (inspired by Hannibal the Carthaginian). This episode occurs on the high seas and has long-dead sorcerers crawling back to life.