Showing posts with label Reviews - by S.E.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews - by S.E.. Show all posts

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Blood of Roses Vol-1, by Tanith Lee: Review by SE

 

The Blood of Roses Volume 1: Mechail, Anillia by Tanith Lee

SE rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tanith Lee (1947-2015) acclaimed Fantasy & Horror writer known for her poetic weirdness and mature content (i.e. sexual situations). The Blood of Roses Volume 1: Mechail, Anillia sequence follows suit; originally available only in the UK, a more-global audience can now access her take on a milieu featuring the conflict between a Christian religion and naturalistic pagans. The Back Cover Blurb below from Immanion Press summarizes the contents and the re-publishing of the single book into two volumes (each ~300pages with sub-books focused on key characters; Volume 1 Contents: “Mechail” and “Anilla”; Volume 2 Contents, “Jun”, “Eujasia”, “Mechailus”).


Read this is as part of a Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group Read [The Blood of Roses is not classic S&S, but Lee has written in that genre and this is focused on a dark fantasy environment that is tangential; it falls into the “dark epic fantasy” category instead]. The key thing to note for candidate readers is that Lee adores presenting mysterious worlds, blurring the lines between myth, reality, and dreams. So, reading becomes more like deciphering a puzzle, and reading less easy.

Here, she does the following:
• Presents a fantasy world in which magic truly exists
• Presents many mysteries (i.e., riddles) that are unexplainable to the characters...such that even their understanding of their world is insufficient, so the reader’s will be too
• Changes perspectives at chapter & scene breaks
• Changes time too between chapter & scene breaks (going forward or backward days or decades between chapters)
• Use pronouns at the beginning of scenes, avoiding explicitly identifying who “She” or “He” are for several paragraphs.
• No map is provided; reading each chapter reveals the land more, so it is like a fog-of-war approach in video games; its all a mystery until you unveil it
• The conflict is complex: it is not simple “single protagonist vs single enemy”, nor is it the more intangible "protagonist vs world-nature." Here are many characters here and each struggles against a variety of forces
• Writes at a high Reading Level using an intellectual vocabulary and archaic & dreamy descriptions (metaphor similes). She literally mixes dreams in with "reality."

Anyway, The Blood of Roses Volume 1: Mechail, Anillia is expertly written and enjoyable. If you are looking for digestible, guilty-pleasure reading, this won’t be for you. Lee demands her reader to be immersed and attentive. Like Celtic fantasy, but want something more deep? Then you will adore this.

Back Cover Blurb

In a rich, complex epic set in a grim fantasy world, Tanith Lee explores in her distinctive style the excesses of religion as well as the dark pagan roots of earlier times. There are disturbing similarities between the rites of apparently conflicting beliefs – the blood and body of Christ and the divine blood of the World Tree.

While the Christerium might believe it wields the greater power and keeps the people under control through brutality and oppression, the older cunning ways lie hidden in every forest glade and in the hearts of those who worship the Great Tree, nourished by the blood of willing sacrifice. But then the Tree is destroyed, in the midst of a sacred rite, unleashing a potent and vengeful magic.
From the ruin of this atrocity, the enigmatic dark priest Anjelen arises. He deftly works his way into the heart of the Christerium, bewitching its most powerful administrators. He is like an angel, beautiful and charismatic – yet to be feared. People are drawn to follow him into any darkness he claims to be the Light of God. The rites he introduces to the inner cabal of the Christerium change all who take part in them, not least invoking a thirst for blood.

Characters with mysterious origins, damaged in body and mind, assemble to enact a world-changing drama. Anillia wakes within an old abbey, knowing she is 15 years old, but with no idea who she is or how she got there. She feels safe with the ageing nuns until sons of a local forest clan arrive at her sanctuary, claiming she is their sister, lost long ago in the woods. She is married off to a local clan leader, thereby becoming part of Anjelen’s plan. Mechail, the crippled son of a powerful forest lord is murdered yet rises from death to follow an unknown destiny. It seems he was never quite human to begin with. Jasha, a wild woods girl, more animal than human is drawn into
Anjelen’s entourage, witness to strange and terrifying events, knowing she too has a part to play in the savage rites of blind belief and raw desire.

This vivid, macabre epic was only ever published in the UK in a hardback edition – to most readers it will be a completely new title, which Immanion Press is proud to present in two paperback volumes, with illustrations by Danielle Lainton and cover art by John Kaiine.

Excerpts: Anthropomorphized Nature, Similes, &Metaphors Abound

[1] "Warm, deceiving and sad, the light of Autumn lit the courtyard and chapel building. But the berries were thick as red drops of blood all over the bushes at the door. It would be a wicked winter. The forest, standing behind and about like an army of bears, its darkness still green, would change rapidly to a place of snows. Marika feared the winter. Her uncomfortable joints turned painful…"p185

[2] "She led him to the hearth and sat down there on the slave’s stool. He looked up, at her eyes, and away again. Time was like the snow. It had no enduring substance and might thaw to mud in one spring day." p246

[3] "...she offered her whispering cry to the soldier, the captain of her husband’s garrison, twenty-nine years of age, Carg Vrost, strayed broken-handed and partly mad, from terrifying night to chaos night…He looked young, the captain, and old. Agony – the broken hand – had pulled his face against its bones." p253

[4] "That evening, sunset was not red but angrily overcast, with leaden clouds that promised boiling summer rain. Veins beat in the grey forehead of the sky." p292

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Hunter (by Richard Stark, aka Donald E. Westlake) - Review by SE

During a Writing Class I took last year via the Muse Writing Center (The Craft of Heroic Fantasy Fiction) author Howard Andrew Jones suggested I read Donald E. Westlake (aka Richard Stark)'s Parker series to (1) to add variety to my steady dose of Sword & Sorcery [this is a dark, noir crime thriller .... not fantasy adventure] and (2) experience reading economical writing and optimal information flow (ie "reveals").


This was a blast. Granted, some of the misogynistic 1960 perspectives did not age (nor should it actually...in this case it reinforces the protagonist Parker's culture). I can see why this expanded in 1 24 book series. Parker is our protagonist, but he's a tough criminal. His exploits are James Bond-like, in that he is a lone rogue constantly thinking on the fly; otherwise, his intentions are entirely self-serving.

As HAJ indicated, this was not only fun to read, but it is a fine example of an entertaining book that also demonstrates highly-efficient prose; each sentence delivers only what it has to, and Stark/Westlake perfected when to add detail (i.e. Brand names or key adjectives). Also perfected, chapter-to-chapter information reveals; the reader only receives what they need, but five chapters in you'll realize that each section unravels key context from all the prior ones.

Splendid. I'm not sure if I want to read all 24! However, I heard the first three comprise a story arc, so I plan to read the next two.

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.

 

TERRA INCOGNITA:

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."

Insect-Humans:

"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.          


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

RAINBRINGER: ZORA NEALE HURSTON AGAINST THE LOVECRAFTIAN MYTHOS - Review by SE

As featured on Black Gate May 10th 2022:

 NEW TREASURES: RAINBRINGER: ZORA NEALE HURSTON AGAINST THE LOVECRAFTIAN MYTHOS BY EDWARD M. ERDELAC


Rainbringer: The Symphonic Heavy Metal of Weird Fiction

Edward M. Erdelac has been writing entertaining weird fiction for over a decade. He pushes boundaries. One of his first spotlights on Black Gate was in 2014 regarding his Merkabah Rider (concerning the 19th-century Hasidic Jewish mystic turned gunslinger).  Erdelac also wrote an entry in Tales of Cthulhu Invictus mentioned in my recent 2022 review of Richard L. Tierney’s Simon of Gitta tales (this connection resonates since both Tierney and Erdelac extended the mythos of Robert E. Howard’s magical Ring of Set… more on that below). The author clearly has a knack for extending the landscapes (dreamscapes?) of modern fiction.

With Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against The Lovecraftian Mythos, Erdelac invites us to follow a fictionalized version of Zora Neale Hurston throughout the North American Twentieth Century. On the face of that description, you may not be hooked. Like most people, I presume, I had no idea of who she was…. or why she may present a wonderful lens into cosmic horrors. Read on! She’s a strong, witty survivor who is uniquely qualified.

Rainbringer reminds me of splendid, symphonic (or operatic) Heavy Metal music. It combines the literary foundation of solid historic fiction (arguably Classical music) with the wild experiences of intense adventure (“\m/”…. that’s the emoticon for “rock on” BTW). Cozy mystery readers may be lured into reading Rainbringer for its historic influences, but they will have their minds blown when cosmic demons are revealed to be meddling with humankind. Likewise, readers of classic weird fiction (i.e., Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Robert Howard, etc.) will be treated to an extremely fresh take: a heroine in charge, and African American woman to boot! This review covers the Contents, Zora, Excerpts, and more.

Back Cover Blurb

“The oaths of secrecy she [Zora Neale Hurston] swore, and the terrifying physical and emotional ordeals she endured…left their mark on her, and there were certain parts of her material which she never dared to reveal, even in scientific publications.” – Alan Lomax

ZORA! She traveled the 1930’s south alone with a loaded forty four and an unmatched desire to see and to know. She was at home in the supper clubs of New York City, back road juke joints, under ropes of Spanish moss, and dancing around the Vodoun peristyle. Her experiences brought us Their Eyes Were Watching God, Mules And Men, Tell My Horse, and Jonah’s Gourd Vine. But between the lines she wrote lie the words unwritten, truths too fantastic to divulge….until now.

LEAVES FLOATING IN A DREAM’S WAKE, BEYOND THE BLACK ARCADE. EKWENSU’S LULLABY. KING YELLER. GODS OF THE GRIM NATION. THE SHADOW IN THE CHAPEL OF EASE. BLACK WOMAN, WHITE CITY. THE DEATHLESS SNAKE. Eight weird and fantastic stories spanning the breadth of her amazing life. Eight times when she faced the nameless alien denizens of the outer darkness and didn’t blink.

ZORA! Celebrated writer, groundbreaking anthropologist, Hoodoo initiate, footloose queen of the Harlem Renaissance, Mythos detective.

So, Who Was Zora?

Paraphrasing from the author’s introduction best explains:

The Zora Neale Hurston depicted in this book is not the real person, of course. The real Zora Neale Hurston was born in Eatonville, Florida on January 15th, in (according to her, at various times in her life) either 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, and 1910.

Except she wasn’t. She was actually born in Notasulga, Alabama on January 7, 1891. Her birth year changed as it suited her purposes. She needed to apply for school, wanted to impress a younger man, whatever. She was somehow always vivacious and gregarious enough to sell her claims.

As to her hometown, you can’t blame Zora for claiming Eatonville. It was among the first all-black incorporated towns in the United States, and her father was once elected its mayor, helped write its laws, and was pastor of its largest Baptist church. Combined, these elements surely instilled in her a fierce sense of independence and pride that caught a number of her contemporaries later in life, black and white, by complete surprise…

In New Orleans, gathering material on Hoodoo for a book, she was inducted into the mysteries of the magical folk practice by Luke Turner following a grueling three day ritual. She wrote Langston Hughes; “I am getting in with the top of the profession. I know 18 tasks, including how to crown the spirit of death, and kill.”

Zora was many things in the course of her life; anthropologist, author, teacher…she was probably never a Mythos detective.

Historic & Weird Ingredients

Rainbringer‘s realistic milieu hosts characters such as Zora Neale Hurston, her white benefactress Charlotte Osgood Mason, the musician Asadata Dafora, and even Orson Welles. They roam New Orleans, Harlem during its Renaissance, and even a trip to Honduras’s famed Monkey Temple. Both Voodoo (the religion) and Hoodoo (the associated spiritual practices) are prominent, in addition to the timely governmental program Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Voodoo Macbeth focus in the “King Yeller” chapter was outstanding as it fictionalized the 1936 production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth led by Orson Welles. Plenty of references to slavery abound, as well as classic literature references (i.e., Lysistrata, the story of a woman who led a movement to deny men sex to end the Peloponnesian War) ground us in reality.

Fantasy is firmly rooted in weird fiction (which also flourished in the 1930’s).  Author Robert W. Chambers’s The King in Yellow (1895) mythos is integrated firmly here, especially interwoven with the Voo Macbeth production. From Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan), the Serpent Ring of Set is treated with an extended mythos (originally appearing in the 1932 “The Phoenix on the Sword”); Akaan creatures (echoing those from Solomon Kane’s battles in “Wings in the Night” published in 1932); also from REH, we experience elements from his King Kull (i.e., the serpent men from Valusia). And then there are the ever-present Howard Phillips Lovecraft cosmic deities, such as Yig, Nyarlathotep, Tsathoggua; Erdelac almost made me believe that the Dreamland of Kadath was reachable via Zora’s touring.

Chronicles of Zora’s life in Chapters

A concise introduction reveals the protagonist’s history. Then the chapters chronicle her bizarre experiences from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. The last chapter “The Deathless Snake” is unexpectedly emotive and wild.

  • Zora: A Brief, Inadequate, and Likely Inaccurate Summation of A Life
  • 1925: Leaves Floating In A Dream’s Wake
  • 1928: Beyond The Black Arcade (published first in Heroes Of Red Hook, Golden Goblin Press, 2016.)
  • 1935: Ekwensu’s Lullaby (published first in Beyond Red Hook, Golden Goblin Press, 2016)
  • 1936: King Yeller
  • 1937: Gods of The Grim Nation (published first in Dread Shadows In Paradise, Golden Goblin Press, 2016)
  • 1940: The Shadow In The Chapel of Ease
  • 1947: Black Woman, White City
  • 1960-1975: The Deathless Snake
  • Afterword

Crazy Melee Excerpt

This woman anthropologist could give Indiana Jones a run for his money.  She handles a 0.44 Magnum just fine.  And wrestles with elder gods!

There was a flood of light then, and silhouettes peered down at me in the hold. The shrill cacophony of that indescribable call flooded my numb limbs with nervous strength, and I sprang from the stinking bowels of that boat like something vomited up. I latched onto one of those peering figures, digging my nails into the flesh beneath the long, greasy hair, stifling the shriek of surprise with my own mouth, locking onto the face of my oppressor in a ravenous kiss, biting, chewing through the hairy lips, tearing the tongue from between the desperately locking teeth, driving that white man to the wet deck and pushing my thumbs through his neck so blood bubbled and coursed up over my hands like the birth of a virgin spring. I was not alone. All around me my people tore through our captors, twisting their heads off with the chains that bound them, seizing hatchets and knives and returning them to their hated owners edge first, going over the side with them into the marsh and resurfacing alone if at all.

Trippy Dreamscapes Excerpt

Twentieth Century history is breached by dreams and violent entities.

I was standing in some colorless, gray place, in a field of dead grass on which the gray, heavy clouds seemed to roll, slowly dying, pierced now and again by bare, twisted trees and broken stones. There was no sound of wind or rustle of beast, but there was an incessant lapping, as of water, which my dream-self then navigated by.

Far across that water, which seemed to be a vast lake, the suns slipped from sight, and I saw the strange yellow limned spires of a gray, quiet city, the architecture unknown to me. I knew somehow that these tall, alien skyscrapers were the tombstones I had been expecting all along, markers of a population long dead if it had ever been at all. No watercraft moved to or from its unseen harbor. No bleat of traffic or noise of any passersby came to me across the water, only the incessant, dull lap of the black lake on the gray shore. But then I heard a flapping sound, as of many banners streaming, and I saw the first flash of color; mustard yellow streams of ribbons tied to every inch of a nearby dead tree. They fluttered madly in every direction, flaring like stagecraft fire, though no wind blew and they had not been there before…

Rocking from the topmost skeletal branch, pierced through its eyelet, there hung a queer, inexpressive, whey-faced mask, the appearance of which filled me with such loathing I retched.

Inspirations Revealed

Paraphrasing from the Afterward, we learn the context for Erdelac’s muse and genuine passion.

Zora was one of a kind, and as I worked my way through her other folklore book Mules and Men, her short stories, her essays, through Moses, Man Of The Mountain and her personal letters, I came to love her ardently. I was enraptured by her biographies, knocked silly by her quotations and the bold and brassy way she came at life.

Well, the how came with Oscar Rios’ Golden Goblin Press putting out a call for Caribbean-themed Lovecraftian horror.

I flipped through Wade Davis and my Tell My Horse, and found a quote by Zora that kicked it all in motion; “Research….is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.” Writers of Lovecraftiana hone in on the word ‘cosmic’ like bees to pollen…

So I started thinking of Zora as the type of woman who wouldn’t flinch at the Old Ones; an occult scholar more in the Robert E. Howard mode, and one who could be honor bound to keep secrets…

What made me, a white man, think I could write one of the most beloved and important African American women of the Harlem Renaissance? I’m afraid any drawn out, carefully mulled-over answer I can concoct will end up sounding like a stereotypical display of white privilege at best, so I’ll just keep it to this; Simply and truthfully, I love Zora Neale Hurston.

 


Edward M. Erdelac

Edward M. Erdelac is the author of the acclaimed Judeocentic/Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah RiderConquerRainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against The Lovecraftian MythosAndersonville, Monstrumfuhrer, The Knight With Two Swords, and the compiler of Abraham Van Helsing’s papers (in Terovolas).

In addition to short story appearances in dozens of anthologies and periodicals, he is an independent filmmaker, an award-winning screenwriter, and sometime Star Wars contributor.

Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he now lives in the Los Angeles area with his family.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Sorcery Against Ceaser (and Scroll of Thoth byt Ricjard L. Tierney ; Review by S.E.

RICHARD L. TIERNEY’S SORCERY AGAINST CAESER; REVIEW AND TOUR GUIDE OF SIMON OF GITTA’S SICA & SORCERY!

 Original Post: Sunday, April 10, 2022  SELindberg on Black Gate


Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories
 (cover art by Steven Gilberts) Pickman’s Press, 2020, 405pages.

Greg Mele recently paid tribute to Richard L. Tierney at Black Gate. That memorial post covers the author’s life and bibliography very well, so check that out; Tierney co-authored books with David C. Smith will be echoed here. The Goodreads S&S group is hosting a two-month group read of his work presently (March-April 2022), which spurred me to read Scroll of Thoth; Simon Magus and the Great Old Ones.

That book lingered way too long on my shelf. It was packaged as horror influenced by history, with a mage protagonist; however, having read it now, I argue that it is more Fantasy than Horror or Historical Fiction. If assigning genre categories floats your boat, then Sword & Sorcery is more accurate.

As the post title indicates with “Sica and Sorcery,” Simon often fights with a Thracian long-dagger/short-sword called a sica, and evil sorcery abounds. With cover art by H. E. Fassel (below), Scroll of Thoth has all twelve Tierney-written, short stories tracking Simon of Gitta with comprehensive essays from Robert M Price for each; he covers both the actual history drawn from, as well as the Lovecraftian and Howardian (REH) mythos call-outs. The collection was published by Chaosium in 1997 and inspired (or augmented) their Call of Cthulhu role-playing game; in 2009, the Cthulhu Invictus campaign (6th ed) released, and that, in turn, spawned a 2015 collection of similar “Sica and Sorcery” (Tierney did not contribute, but Robert M. Price did).

With Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories (cover art above by Steven Gilberts, Pickman’s Press 2020), readers are treated to all 12 stories and essays in Scroll of Thoth (with an abridged version of the introduction), plus 4 more tales that are pastiche or co-authored tales (also with contextual essays). Pickman’s Press also released a novel-length Simon of Gitta adventure penned by Tierney called Drums of Chaos (originally published in 2008, available now with cover art by Zach McCain, published 2021), which would have been too big to include with the short stories. In short, both Sorcery Against Caesar and Drums of Chaos are available in print and electronic form. This review covers the short stories, but Drums of Chaos is included in the tour guide below.  According to the essays by Price, even more Simon of Gitta stories were planned but, unfortunately, are left in limbo.

Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories, official blurb:

A REBEL AGAINST ROME.

Simon of Gitta, an escaped slave turned magician, roves the Roman Empire battling dark magic and demons, all the while pursued by Caesar’s soldiers. Join Simon as he flees across the ancient world evading cultists and Legionaries, outwitting sorcerers and Centurions, and fighting gladiators and gods, even the deities of the Cthulhu Mythos. Yet all these foes cannot prepare him for his greatest challenge: the pursuit of his lost soul-mate Helen, a love so deep even death can’t stand in its way for long.

Who is Simon of Gitta?

For the non-history and non-religious folk, Simon is actually a biblical character. The Christian Bible’s Acts of the Apostle presents him as a Samaritan magus. Tierney presents Simon similarly, a mage hailing from Tyre (modern-day Lebanon), but has his heroic origins emerge from being an enslaved gladiator. Essentially, Tierney rebranded Simon as genuinely as Karl Edward Wagner did the biblical Cain (with his Kane tales); in fact, Tierney emphasized this by having the characters meet in the “The Blade of the Slayer” story.

Having excelled at fighting, Tierney’s Simon is skilled at the sica and hand-to-hand combat. The first tale “The Sword of Spartacus” has him escaping the pits and starting his studies as a mage. Frankly, he casts few spells himself.  He does ally with many other active mages (his mentors), and he applies his knowledge of the arts frequently (low-level actions like casting illusions and enhancing disguises, letting his companions do the heavy spellcasting). Even though a mage describes his character well, he is much more of a rogue gladiator/fighter. Simon’s companions are more sorcery-focused and include the mages Dositheus and Menophar, and even a raven named Carbo.

“…I studied the arts of the mages at Persepolis, but before that I was trained as a gladiator — sold into the profession by the Romans, who slew my parents in Samaria because they could not pay the taxes imposed on them by a corrupt regime. I escaped, after two years of fighting for my life — of spilling blood for the Roman mob —!”  The character Simon explains

Simon is completely fascinated with two goals: (1) seeking revenge against Rome, and (2) seeking out his love named Helen. The villains are usually Roman Emperors like Tiberius, Claudius, and Gaius (aka Caligula), or they are subordinates or Senators seeking more power. The antagonists are constantly summoning eldritch gods with grand rituals that are completely over the top, and wonderful (we are talking’ coliseums full of sacrifices’ and ‘mating rituals with Star Gods’!). As Simon ventures, he learns his True Spirit has existed beyond/before his current life and that he is always paired with the same female companion who also pervades time; this approach reminded me of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion with a love interest. Even though each short story is stand-alone, these two themes persist across all.

Style

Sorcery Against Caesar really is a splendid mashup of history from Ancient Roman times, with lore from Judaism, Zoroastrianism, polytheistic Etruscan & Egyptian religions, and more… all equally weighted with Lovecraftian Mythos, Robert E, Howard’s Hyborian Age history, and even lore from David C. Smith’s Attluma cycle. For most readers, there will be instances in which determining which gods are based on historical deities or fictional ones will be difficult (for me it started right away with the summoning of Tuchulcha in the first story; that daemon is based on Etruscan myths, not a Lovecraftian Elder). Like Lovecraft, Tierney reinforces a pseudo-real mythos by referencing faux books like the Necronomicon with reverence; here we have the Sapientia Magorum written by Ostanes, the titular Scroll of Thoth, and the Tomb Texts of Ani.

For the Howard fans, you will enjoy entire stories that build on Conan’s first story “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Both the Ring of Set mentioned therein as well as the Phoenix on the Sword get full stories; also for the Kull of Atlantis fans, delight in the “The Dragons of Mons Fractus” tale that features Pontius Pilate exhibiting Vlad the Impaler vibes along with Valusian serpent people. “The Scroll of Thoth” reinforces the Pain Lords from the Red Sonja Books (co-authored by Tierney and David C. Smith).

Even though there is a ton of sorcery, most of it is redirected toward evil Emperors, Simon usually is not the sorcerer. He is a fighter who hangs out with friendly sorcerers while taking down the evil ones. The fight scenes and action reminded me of Howard’s action-packed Sword & Sorcery. Anyway, don’t expect dry history or old-style, meandering pre-pulp gothic horror. Expect (a) bloody melee, (b) fantastical sorcery, and (c) links to Howardian and other fictional mythos. Excerpts below the Tour Guide reinforce these.

Roman-inspired adventure by Chaosium and related Call of Cthulhu content

 


Table of Contents (and Chronological Tour Guide of Simon’s Tales)

* content in Sorcery Against Ceaser (i.e., not in Scroll of Thoth). All stories by Richard L. Tierney unless noted.

  1. “Sword of the Avatar” Introduction (by Robert M. Price); the unabridged version is in The Scroll of Thoth.
  2. “The Sword of Spartacus” first published in Swords Against Darkness #3 (Zebra Books, 1978).
  3. “The Fire of Mazda” first published in Orion’s Child #1 (May-June 1984).
  4. “The Seed of the Star-God” first published in Crypt of Cthulhu #24 (Lammas 1984).
  5. “The Blade of the Slayer first published in Pulse-Pounding Adventure Stories #1 (December 1986).
  6. * “The Throne of Achamoth” by Richard L. Tierney & Robert M. Price, first published in Weirdbook #21 (Autumn 1985).

Drums of Chaos is a separate novel-length, Simon of Gitta adventure by Tierney (originally published in 2008, available now via Pickman’s Press 2021, 415pages) that occurs chronologically after “The Throne of Achamoth.” Here’s the blurb (cover below):

CAN A HANDFUL OF HEROES STOP AN APOCALYPSE CENTURIES IN THE MAKING?

Escaped gladiator-slave Simon of Gitta returns to Judea — during the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth — on a mission to avenge the deaths of his parents, seeking revenge in blood against the Roman officials who committed the murders and sold Simon into slavery.  But as Simon travels the Holy Lands with his mentor Dositheus and their students Menander and llione, they gradually become entangled in a complex occult plot designed to call down a monstrous alien entity to herald a new aeon on Earth. The mysterious time traveler John Taggart (from Tierney’s The Winds of Zarr) also becomes involved with Simon as their separate quests converge toward a common goal of saving all life on Earth from extinction.

But can a handful of travelers really thwart a covert scheme backed by the power of the Roman Empire? As the apocalyptic supernatural events slowly unfold, Simon and his allies are in a race against time to prevent the devastation of the world. Using mystery cults and early Christian Gnosticism as his vehicle, with meticulously researched Roman history and Biblical scholarship, this is author Richard Tierney’s magnum opus: an epic Lovecraftian alternate history dark fantasy novel that features Tierney’s most famous characters, Simon of Gitta and John Taggart. This novel will appeal to fans of historical fantasy and sword & sorcery fiction in the vein of Robert E. Howard, and the elements of cosmic horror and the Cthulhu Mythos will satisfy many fans of H.P. Lovecraft.

  1. * “The Emerald Tablet” by Robert M. Price; first published in Strange Sorcery #24, Rainfall Books (August 2017).
  2. “The Soul of Kephri” first published in Space & Time #66 (Summer 1984).
  3. “The Ring of Set” first published in Swords Against Darkness #1 (Zebra Books, 1977).
  4. “The Worm of Urakhu” first published in Weirdbook #23 (December 1988).
  5. “The Curse of the Crocodile” first published in Crypt of Cthulhu #47 (Roodmas 1987).
  6. “The Treasure of Horemkhu” first published in Pulse-Pounding Adventure Stories #2 (December 1987).
  7. * “The Secret of Nephren-Ka” by Robert Price, published first in The Mighty Warriors (Ulthar Press, 2018).
  8. “The Scroll of Thoth” first published in Swords Against Darkness #2 (Zebra Books, 1977).
  9. “The Dragons of Mons Fractus” first published in Weirdbook #19 (Spring 1984).
  10. * “The Wedding of Sheila-Na-Gog” by Richard L. Tierney & Glenn Rahman, first published in Crypt of Cthulhu #29 (Candlemas 1985).
  11.  “The Pillars of Melkarth Vengeance Quest” first published in Space & Time #78 (Summer 1990).
  12. * “Vengeance Quest” poem, originally published in The Cimmerian #7 (October 2004).

More Simon of Gitta from Tierney?

Robert M. Price writes in the essay for “The Pillars of Melkarth” this context hinting at an unpublished, but already written, novel, and several other tales that likely were never finished:

Readers may notice a large time lapse between the events of “The Pillars of Melkarth” (spring equinox, A.D. 50) and those of the previous story set in A.D. 42. This is because those years were taken up with the events of the novels Path of the Dragon (forthcoming from Pickman’s Press) in A.D. 42 and The Gardens of Lucullus (Sidecar Preservation Society, 2001) in A.D. 48. Other stories were planned during this time period as well. Richard Tierney intended some German adventures in A.D. 46 – 47, as well as entertaining another collaboration with Glenn Rahman on a pair of novels set on the western Roman frontier, one centered on the Claudian invasion of Britain, the other involving the Picts in Scotland. Sadly, none of these stories were ever written — yet.

Drums of Chaos (cover art by Zach McCain) Pickman’s Press, 2021

 


Excerpts. Expect:

A) Lots of “Sick” Sica Melee

Simon roared and struck out; his fist cracked sharply against the face of the nearest guard, who flopped to the cobbles without a cry. Quick as a panther he crouched and whirled, barely in time to avoid a murderous blow from a second guard’s staff; his sharp-bladed sica, already in hand, shore through the guard’s neck as Simon completed his whirl, and the man went down with a dying gurgle.

and…

The door was only large enough for two abreast and Simon met the first two with steel, expertly parrying, slashing, stabbing. One collapsed mortally wounded from a sword-thrust in the guts; the other leaped back, suddenly fearful, but was pushed forward again by the surging mob — to die instantly on the point of the sica. Simon howled with mad rage, swinging and thrusting; a bludgeon glanced heavily off his left shoulder and a knife-point nicked his flank, but three more of his enemies went down with blood gushing. A pike ripped his tunic and gashed the side of his ribcage; he roared and smote in return, cleaving a snarling face with his sword. Fierce exultation suddenly filled him; if he must die, this was how he preferred it, fighting and slaying Romans to the very end —

 

B) Unraveling Emperor Plans to Meddle with Cosmic Sorcery

“I think I know what you learned. Tiberius’ purge of his enemies is no secret, and Carbo recently brought me another message from Senator Junius, who has been recalled from exile in Lesbos to house arrest in Rome. The senator told me about Prodikos and his daughters, and I have learned much more here in Ephesos.”

Simon stopped eating. “What have you learned of Prodikos?”

“Much, Simon, but mainly that in this city renowned for its sorcerers, he is the most powerful and feared of them all.”

A serving-girl entered with an amphora of wine, and Dositheus ceased speaking. When she had gone Simon filled his goblet. “Go on,” he said.

“Prodikos had several children by various slave women, but all were sons save Helen and Ilione. These sons he long ago sold into slavery, but his daughters he kept — for an evil purpose, as it turns out. Simon, it is no mere incestuous lust that drives Prodikos. He means to force Ilione to join with him in a monstrous ritual that shall release forces this world has not seen since it emerged from the last great darkness of the All-Night.”…

… “The rite of the Impregnation and the Slaying — an act of sympathetic magic that shall cause the seed of the Star-god to unite with the Great Mother, thereby generating a horrendous spawn that will overwhelm this world.”

Simon gripped his goblet tensely. His scalp tingled as he recalled reading of just such a black ritual in the Sapientia Magorum of the ancient Persian magus Ostanes. “Gods of Hades! How could the girl’s own father even think of such perverse madness —?”

Dositheus drew a deep breath. ‘‘He may no longer be her true father, Simon. Have you not read of Sakkuth, King of Night, and his evil Master?”

Simon felt the tingling extend down his spine. Sakkuth the King, servitor of Kaiwan the Star-god — both evil beings cursed by the ancient prophets yet still furtively worshipped by sorcerers in his own native Samaria…

“The wizards of Acheron and Stygia and even older civilization cycles knew them by other names,” Dositheus went on. “To the nations of primal Attluma they were Kossuth and Assatur. It is said that every thousand years Sakkuth attempts to destroy civilization, and that he succeeds unless powerful magic is used to stop him. It was he who plunged the world into the All-Night after the Atlantean and Hyborian cataclysms. And to initiate such times, his master Kaiwan, who dwells amid the stars near the Eye of Taurus, sends to earth his seed to unite with the Great Mother, thereby enabling her to spawn the Thousand Abominations that will overwhelm the world.”

 

C) An Abundance of R.E. Howard Hyborian Age References

Instantly the sword hilt in his hands shrilled with a supernatural energy, and a blade of golden light sprang forth — a blade that must, Simon somehow knew, be equal in length to the sword blade when it was first wielded ages ago by the Aquilonian King!

“The Phoenix!” gasped Nephere, falling to his knees. “The soul of civilization — the hope of mankind…”

The great bird — if bird it was — had wheeled about and was now settling down, flapping its wide and glittering pinions, coming to rest atop the ancient pyramidal stone behind the flaming altar. It perched there and folded its wings, gazing down upon the flames where — so Nephere had said — its parent had just been cremated.

Simon could only stare in awe. He suddenly realized that he had never known true beauty before. He had seen vast mountain landscapes that had taken his breath away, and many fire-emblazoned sunsets, and had known a number of beautiful women — even one that had shared with him and the fallen gods his own soul-nature. But never, until now, had he felt the presence of the very Soul of Beauty.

Yet, despite the mood that was upon him, despite the lingering chords of celestial music in his heart, he could still see actual, objective features of the being. It was about the size and shape of a large eagle, and this fact had doubtless formed the basis of the legends that had surrounded it. But it was no bird, Simon knew — nor any creature of earth or its environs. Those scales or feathers, gleaming like a thousand luminous gems, only slightly resembled the scales or feathers of earthly creatures; that gently curved bill, glowing like translucent pearl, only resembled something between the beaks of ibis and eagle; the golden spray of filaments about its head and throat only resembled the inferior crowns and gorgets of earthly kings and queens. And the great eyes, round and limpid and swirling with obscure colors, bright with transcendent life and supermundane intelligence — these resembled nothing he had ever seen…

 

 

Richard L. Tierney

Richard L. Tierney (1936 – 2022) was a poet, author, and editor of adventure fiction, mainly in the realm of dark fantasy. Since his mid-teens, he had been both a fan and scholar of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and other great names from the pulp fiction era. In 2010, he was nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Grandmaster Award. In 1961, Tierney earned a degree in Entomology (Iowa State College) and served for many years with the U.S. Forest Service in several of the western states and Alaska. A haunter of archaeological ruins by instinct, he had traveled widely, especially in Mexico, Central, and South America. Many of the ideas and images that he employed in his stories were inspired by his extensive travels. His major works include Collected Poems (1981, Arkham House), The House of the Toad (1993, Fedogan and Bremer), Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories (Pickman’s Press, 2020), The Drums of Chaos (2008, Mythos Books, 2021 Pickman’s Press), and Savage Menace and Other Poems of Horror (2010, reprint 2021, P’rea Press).

 

Thursday, March 31, 2022

FROLIC ON THE AMARANTHYN BY CHASE A. FOLMAR

 Posted on Black Gate : 

NEW TREASURES: FROLIC ON THE AMARANTHYN BY CHASE A. FOLMAR

 Monday, March 28, 2022  SELindberg 



Frolic on the Amaranthyn (Sable Star Press,4/6/2022). Cover art by Goran Gligović

Frolic on the Amaranthyn will be published by Sable Star Press on April 6th, 2022. It is 130 pages, priced at$7.99 paperback and $2.99 in digital formats (available soon from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others).  Cover art by Goran Gligović. This post announces the release and previews excerpts.

Chase A. Folmar has been demonstrating his command of Weird Fiction, Sword & Sorcery (S&S), and the English language in various short fiction entries (primarily via Whetstone: Amateur Magazine of Sword & Sorcery Witchhouse: Amateur Magazine of Cosmic Horror online magazines). This novella, Frolic on the Amaranthyn, seems to be his print debut. If you are not familiar with his previous work, you may misconstrue the contents from the title as being a fantasy romance (which it is not; and, you can check out his stories in Whetstone #1 #2 #4 or Witchhouse #1).

If you are familiar with his works there, you will need to read Frolic on the Amaranthyn. Chase A. Folmar (CAF) style is very reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS). Clark Ashton Smith was a contemporary of the Father of S&S, Robert E. Howard, and Father of Cosmic Horror, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (most of CAS’s fiction is online, as well as his nonfiction like his essay on Atmosphere in Weird Fiction). In short, do not expect fantasy romance; expect an engaging, literary adventure.

Official Book Summary:

Channeling the artistic stylings of weird fantasists such as Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance, Chase A. Folmar utilizes lush prose and archaic vernacular to craft a wholly otherworldly setting for readers to explore in this, his debut novella. We follow within the duo Uralant and Emrasarie, brigands who employ their respective talents of swordsmanship and seduction in the pursuit of precious coin. After the spoils of an orchestrated heist are lost to them just as success seemed assured, the pair’s misfortune only increases when, stranded in a strange city neither are familiar with, it is revealed that their target had also been pursued by a sorcerer of the worst and most dreaded kind, and that all his attention has now been directed towards them. In order to escape the severity of his vengeance, they are forced to comply with his fanatic whims and take part in a theft that will hopefully strike clear the debt he has placed upon them. But that same theft will lead them towards a dark secret behind the city’s beautiful façade, a secret tied to a mysterious ark that travels down the waters of the Amaranthyn River on certain nights, and upon which takes place what is known only as the Frolic.

Style & Excerpts

“My own conscious ideal has been to delude the reader into accepting an impossibility, or series of impossibilities, by means of a sort of verbal black magic, in the achievement of which I make use of prose-rhythm, metaphor, simile, tone-color, counter-point, and other stylistic resources, like a sort of incantation. You attain a black magic, perhaps unconsciously, in your pursuit of corroborative detail and verisimilitude.” — 1930 letter to Lovecraft, by Clark Ashton Smith

Within Frolic on the Amaranthyn dialogue is sparse and the narrative is filled with obscure, abundant vocabulary. It is surprisingly easy to read. As per the teaser quote above, CAF follows CAS’s approach by stringing together words & feelings as if casting a strange spell, a cadence, that will enthrall you. So, he’s sort of a thaumaturgist. He’s on the radar now to corner about his thoughts on Beauty in Weird Fiction (that’s a series of interviews we run here on Black Gate (link to interviews).

Frankly, the title and blurb do not convey the intentional weirdness you will experience. The literary prose-poetry will appeal to weird fiction fans, and the vivid melee will appeal to Sword & Sorcery readers. Check out these excerpts:

Poetic Prose

…and soon did Emrasarie find herself surrounded by a flock of revelers similar to those she had earlier left. They had paraded up the same hill as she, and now fell playfully to the grass about her, as if flower petals cast aside by an infatuate pondering the affection carried their way by the one whom they so ardently desired.

Emrasarie had not the strength, nor indeed the will, to retreat this time. She simply watched as arms fumbled lazily through the air, legs entwined with one another, and faces alight with the unearthly fire overhead coalesced like streams of wax dripping from a weary candle. The other face, so prevalent in her mind’s eye only a moment ago, had completely disappeared. With it went the name it carried, and the affection she had felt towards it. Nothing remained in the void of its absence. Nothing but beauty seeking to smother her in its embrace. Beauty so much more preferable to all that was ugly, coarse, and unforgiving in the world beyond…

Weird Melee

…Uralant spied several that had veered aside and were instead making towards Emrasarie. Leaping with furious bounds, he hurled himself across the distance separating them, and thrust like a battering ram his sword at the nearest threat. Its length plunged clear through the enemy’s torso, releasing a heavy spume of embers from its back as it crumpled from the blow and collapsed.

Quickly pulling his weapon free, Uralant noted a thick, glistening fluid of purest black now coated its tapered edges, bearing a gaseous stench that lingered even as he leapt clear from a subsequent attack. More talons cut through the air in a whirlwind of steel, and as Uralant dodged about and kept the slashing monstrosity at bay, he realized no other sounds came from any of these approaching demons. No roars or shrieks of fury, no grunted breaths from exertion, no muttered curses or vows of vengeance for its fallen companion; just the tearing of its hands through empty space, and red eyes glaring at him, bright as the blood they were so desperate to spill.

Spying an opening, Uralant took the chance and swung high. He felt the shattering of steel beneath steel, and the subsequent tear as a rigid neck was severed through. When the head finally fell and crashed near his feet, the eye set within it dimmed to a vacant black, and did not ignite again…

 


Expect More Folmar

Without spoiling, it is clear that Uralant and Emrasarie will have more adventures to chronicle. The epilogue works in a mysterious, angelic sorceress that begs for more attention as do the fates of some rare, papyrus magic scrolls.


Chase A. Folmar Bio:

Chase A. Folmar is a writer of speculative fiction, especially in the vein of weird fantasy and horror. He is one of the associate editors of Witch House: Amateur Magazine of Cosmic Horror, and a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Hampton Roads writing group. A graduate of English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Chase has pursued his writing ambitions ever since, having been published in several online magazines and amateur zines. Inspiration for his writing comes from all across the literary spectrum, as well as the music he listens to and art he invariably stumbles upon. He currently lives in Virginia with his wife and their ever-growing horde of rescued pets.

www.chaseafolmar.com; Twitter: @stranger_landsCAF on Instagram

Thursday, December 23, 2021

HOCKING's CONAN PASTICHE: Emerald Lotus AND "Black Starlight"; Review by SE

Simulcast on Black Gate


Ken Kelly cover art for Conan and the Emerald Lotus

John C. Hocking's Conan PasticheConan and the Emerald Lotus by John C. Hocking emerged from Tor in 1995 (Ciruelo Cabral cover artist) and reprinted in 1999 (Ken Kelly cover); paperbacks are insanely expensive now (i.e. >$500 on Amazon). Fast forward to 2019, and Hocking released a 12-part serialized novella "Black Starlight" that spanned the recent Conan the Barbarian comic (Jason Aaron)--a direct sequel to "Emerald Lotus" that tracks Conan's adventures as he returns from Stygia.


An indirect sequel novel by Hocking called Conan and the Living Plague was pulled from a 2019 publication at the last minute. Its future is unknown (by certain graces, the author did provide me a copy of the manuscript...and we plan to discuss/share some in an interview planned for 2022).

Setting the Stage with the cover blurb:
(BTW, an astute Goodreads S&S Group member pointed out that there are actually 3 wizards, and this official blurb blends the identity of "Shakar the Keshanian" and "Ethram-Fal")
One wizard is bad. Two are a disaster...And a deadly disaster, too. For Conan, after refusing to help the evil wizard Ethram-Fal, has been cursed with a spell that is slowly, inexorably squeezing the life from his mighty frame. The only person who can banish the spell--besides Ethram-Fal, of course--is the sorceress Zelandra: a raven-haired beauty who practices only white magic...or so she says.

Zelandra has offered to lift the spell from the Cimmerian, if only he will do her one small service: steal the deadly Emerald Lotus from the clutches of Ethram-Fal in his impregnable desert fortress. No good can come of this, Conan thinks to himself. Once sorcery gets mixed up in it, the whole job goes to hell Unfortunately, he's right.

The Prologue: This catalyzes the adventure, defines the conflict, and sets the expectation for substantial horror elements (which the reader gets!). In fact, the titular lotus is both (a) a resource for casting sorcery and (b) a living inhuman-floral creature. Drugs and sorcery are equated, and they are also connected to a vegetable-entity-demon, so the conflict(s) feel very rich, fun, & unique. Sorcerers are addicts!

A moist crackling filled the still air. The corpse jerked and trembled as though endowed with tormented life. Ethram-Fal caught his breath as fist-sized swellings erupted all but instantaneously from the dead flesh of his ap-prentice. The body was grotesquely distorted in a score of places, with such swift violence that the limbs convulsed and the yellow robes ripped open.

Green blossoms the size of a man's open hand burst from the corpse, leaping forth in such profusion that the body was almost hidden from view. Iridescent and six-petaled, the blooms pushed free of enclosing flesh, bobbing and shaking as if in a strong wind. In a moment they were still, and a sharp, musky odor, redolent of both nectar and corruption, rose slowly to fill the chamber.

The Style/Scope: Hocking certainly captured the spirit of REH's fast-paced adventure, and presented the Hyperborean canon/landscape well. Conan's remarkable travel and experiences set him apart from other mercenaries. As he gets embroiled in an adventure, he'll travel across Shem, the river Styx, and into Stygia. There are some greater conflicts teased with Shamtare and King Sumuabi that are introduced but not fleshed out (more on that later).

REH's Conan was essentially all short stories, but novels require longer relationships and here Conan finds himself allied with a team. Conan and the mute Khitan Heng Shih are the two men, and each is loosely paired with a strong-willed woman. The lady on the Ken Kelly cover seems a hybrid of Zelandra (the sorceress with raven hair) with her dagger-wielding attendant Neesa. Conan's warrior skills and knowledge of Stygia are needed to guide them to the ruins of Cetriss. Conan's scouting powers are great with preternatural, and predatorial, eyesight, sense of smell, and instincts:

S&S in Style:
….Where the stream of bubbles had emerged from the pool's floor, a thick shaft of shining green, like the trunk of a tree, now thrust itself into view. It shook, jerked, and stretched itself taller than a man, lashing the water to froth. A cluster of pale, bloated, petal-like growths covered the thing's crown. Its body was a densely wrinkled green cylinder, crisscrossed with pulsing veins. A pair of ridged tentacles burst from each side of its midsection, lashing the air. A thick mass of roiling roots formed its base, heaving at the pool's floor, lifting the grotesque thing up out of the water, moving it toward the shore and the stunned human intruders.

A whiplike tentacle whistled toward Conan, snapping itself around his right calf. It pulled forward with incredible strength, jerking his leg up, upending the barbarian's body, so that for a moment he was suspended head down. The Cimmerian's sword leapt into his hands, making a flashing arc that slashed through the hard, ridged arm and dropped him to the sand.

Heng Shih's hands caught Zelandra's waist and tossed her forcefully back. She stumbled out of range even as a tentacle curled around her bodyguard's torso. The emerald arm constricted, sinking sharply into Heng Shih's abdomen, drawing him in toward the hideous thing.

Conan sprang cat-like up off the ground, ducking beneath one flailing tentacle as another struck him across neck and chest like a slavemaster's whip. He twisted away, stumbling in the sand, a line of dripping crimson bright on his bronzed throat.

The unnatural plant proceeded to pull itself out of the pool on its tangled carpet of roots while bone-white thorns began sprouting from the net of wrinkles on its swaying trunk. Wicked, needle-sharp spikes pushed into view, jutting the length of a man's hand. The unladen tentacles lengthened, whipping wildly about- as the one gripping Heng Shih pulled steadily, tirelessly at him.

The Cimmerian lunged to his friend's aid. A questing tentacle writhed about the barbarian's left arm, biting into muscle and spoiling a stroke meant to free Heng Shih. The tentacle he had severed snaked clumsily between Conan's legs, seeking an ankle.

The Khitan's boots plowed twin furrows in the sandy soil as he was drawn irresistibly toward the thing….
Some of the initial setting begged to be addressed again (i.e., the fate of Conan's mercenary buddy Shamtare and King Sumuabi's need for raising armies), but these are minor threads and happen to be seeds developed in The Living Plague. Although the climax was consistent and action-packed, Conan could have played an even larger role in the resolution.

2019 Conan the Barbarian Comics



"Black Starlight" is the serialized extension of Emerald Lotus. The 12-part episodes published across the 2019 Conan the Barbarian comics picks up directly after the conflict; to clarify, the comics are separate, disconnected story penned by Jason Aaron. With precious little lotus surviving, Stygian liches are desperately trying to steal what little Zelandra has procured. As the party makes its way back to Shem, a fight over it leads the party to an abandoned manor, and a demonic battle. Expect more Hocking pastiche, which always involves a bit of weird-horror:
"No matter." Nubar shrugged the white robes off his shoulders. The barbarian almost lunged, but the hooked blade was back at Zelandra's throat in an instant, and the thing that wore the form of Lord Nubar favored him with a slow and mocking smile. He let the robe fall to his belted waist. His upper body was pale, and the hair on his breast was shot with gray, but he stood straight and there was strength in his shoulders.

With a faint sigh he lifted his arms for a moment, giving Conan a glimpse of long, crimson openings high along his ribs on either side, as open as wounds but not bleeding. Conan saw two horizontal slashes like wide, red-lipped mouths, and each was full of fitfully moving slugs, tiny facsimiles of the winged leeches he and his comrades had faced again and again this hellish night.
Living Plague: Expect coverage on this in an upcoming interview. In short, having read the manuscript, it was designed as an indirect sequel to Emerald. As per the title and blurb, there is a new creature/villain to battle, but Conan's compatriot Shamtare and the location of Akkharia are explored in very satisfying ways.
The long-awaited follow-up to 'Conan And The Emerald Lotus', Hocking once again proves to be amongst the best of the Conan pastiche writers.

Sent to recover treasure from a plague-wracked city, not only must Conan avoid its deranged survivors, but battle a deadly disease given humanoid shape. To save himself - and perhaps the world - he allies with a scheming sorcerer to traverse a demon-haunted abyss in a desperate bid to destroy the Living Plague.

More Hocking
 BTW, Hocking has been cranking out "King's Blade" stories featuring his hero Benhus; these appear in Tales from the Magician's Skull. Highly recommended.

He also had a series of short stories on Brand the Viking. The first “Vali’s Wound” in Daniel Blackston’s anthology Lords of Swords (Pitch-Black, 2004), the second “The Face in the Sea” appeared in Black Gate (2009), and the third “The Bonestealer’s Mirror” in Black Gate (2010).

He also has a few essays out, including "Conan: REH, Conan and Me" in Jason M. Waltz's (Rogue Blade Foundation champion) Robert E. Howard Changed My Life. Here's an excerpt of his 2019 essay that reflects on pastiche:

...I wrote Conan and the Emerald Lotus (1995) for a number of reasons, but foremost among them was a desire to produce my own tribute to Robert E. Howard, Conan, and the Cimmerian’s saga, canonical and otherwise. Naïvely, it never occurred to me the book might be seen as anything but a tribute. It was an attempt, for better or worse, to reflect and celebrate the aspects of the original tales I had most enjoyed and, more often than not, found absent or muted in much modern fantasy adventure.

The book received a mixed response, of course. It appears impossible to find a Conan pastiche that is uniformly appreciated or uniformly scorned. Looking back on Conan and the Emerald Lotus now, 25 years after it was written, I can neither be satisfied with nor dismissive of the book. It is, naturally, down to the individual reader to determine any degree of success the book might have as a novel, a pastiche or just the provider of a few hours of entertainment. However, I do like to think its status as a tribute, as a sincere effort to frame and broadcast my admiration of Robert E. Howard and his immortal Cimmerian, would be apparent to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the prose originals. The book is so saturated with references, connections, tributes and call-outs to REH, the Conan pastiche I most admired, and Howard’s fellow Weird Tales authors that were they to be stripped out of the novel the book would be half its size and nearly incomprehensible. In this way the book is not simply a reaction to Howard and Conan but an expression, decades in the making, of the reaction I initially felt upon encountering “The People of the Black Circle” and the world of reading it threw open for my exploration...