Saturday, August 20, 2016

Gonji and Egypt-Stygia 2016 Sept Oct Groupread Topics

2016 Sept Oct Group Read Topics:

Please join the Sword & Sorcery group on goodreads the next few months as we read:

(a) Gonji - Link to Discussion 

(b) Egypt/Stygia - Link to Discussion

Masthead Banner Credits:

Egypt/Stygia Scope

Any Sword & Sorcery that has inspirations from Egypt or fantasy versions of it (i.e. REH's Stygia) are fair game. Lot's of good possibilities here, as supporting discussion revealed (thanks to Stan, Joseph, and Jack for guiding that). 

Servant of the Jackal God The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis by Keith Taylor The Mask of the Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer Sekenre The Book of the Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer The Scroll of Thoth Simon Magus and the Great Old Ones Twelve Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos by Richard L. Tierney The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard Conan, Vol. 8 Black Colossus by Timothy Truman Nagash the Sorcerer by Mike Lee

T.C. Rypel's Gonji series: 

The initial Zebra books of the 1980’s essential split one long novel into a trilogy (I suspect the split was arbitrary). T.C. Rypel’s 1980 series has been released in a more complete forms (more books, eBooks, audiobooks). The newer releases from Borgo Press seem to have maintained this split.
Books 1-3 are the original trilogy:
1) Gonji: Red Blade from the East: The Deathwind Trilogy, Book One
2) Gonji: The Soul Within the Steel
3) Gonji: Deathwind of Vedun: The Deathwind Triology, Book Three
4) Gonji: Fortress of Lost Worlds
5) Gonji: A Hungering of Wolves
Gonji Red Blade from the East The Deathwind Trilogy, Book One by T.C. Rypel Gonji The Soul Within the Steel by T.C. Rypel Gonji Deathwind of Vedun The Deathwind Triology, Book Three by T.C. Rypel Gonji Fortress of Lost Worlds by T.C. Rypel Gonji A Hungering of Wolves by T.C. Rypel
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Friday, August 19, 2016

Awakening Evarun - Dark Poetic Adventure like Clark Ashton Smith

Awakening Evarun (Part I of VI)Awakening Evarun by Tom Barczak
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thaumaturgy is associated with deep incantation of magic, and Tom Barczak is an expert at such language-delivered-necromancy. I had the pleasure of interviewing him on the topic of Beauty in Weird fiction.

Weird fiction pioneer Clark Ashton Smith once wrote: "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."

Tom Barczak's poetic style is as mesmerizing like Clark Ashton Smith's style, but produces fiction laced with both (a) total grimness and (b) hopeful redemption. His work is compact Sword & Sorcery for the serious reader, with undertones of spirituality. This is not like C.S. Lewis's approach to Young Adult fantasy fiction; Barczak writes for a mature reader who wants to explore ruins filled with ghosts and meet evil face-to-face. Here is an excerpt:

"A little boy stared back at him with living eyes. Dark, deep, and soul filled eyes, eyes that hadn’t begun to carry the scars of the loss of everything around them, eyes that didn’t hide behind a veil, behind a promise made to be broken. His eyes were familiar. The boy’s eyes weren’t afraid. They were hungry.

Talus threw himself backwards, fumbling with his cloak. He thrust the small blade of his trembling knife towards the boy. The new light of day settled upon it like blood.

The boy scrambled away, but his dark eyes held like ice. He raised his hand to a growing red scar just let upon his cheek. A supplicant’s smile stretched his lips. He placed the back of his hand against his face."

There are six short stories in the Awakening, a set that is a prequel to Veil of the Dragon (which I enjoyed of course). They are very short... but the amount of impact per word is very high. This type of work is best served in limited doses (i.e. like espresso). Unpolished illustrations from the author are a nice touch; they are fitting since the author is an artists/architect, but they are bonus material to complement the experience.

The Awakening Evarun is highly recommended.

Awakening Evarun (Part I of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part II of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part IV of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part III of VI) by Tom Barczak

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Hour of the Dragon - Howard's only Conan Novel review by S.E.

The Hour of the DragonThe Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars
"From death to death [The Heart of Ahriman] came, riding on a river of human blood. Blood feeds it, blood draws it. Its power is greatest when there is blood on the hands that grasp it, when it is wrested by slaughter from its holder. Wherever it gleams, blood is spilt and kingdoms totter, and the forces of nature are put in turmoil." -- Thutothmes of Khemi (The Hour of The Dragon, by REH)

The Hour of the Dragon (1934-1936), is Robert E. Howard''s only full length novel of Conan, the barbarian he popularized in short story form. The text is available on-line for free via the Gutenberg project, but there are reason's to track down a paperback. I read the Berkley Putnam 1977 edition, which has splendid additions to the story: comprehensive foreword and afterwords by Karl Wagner explain how the novel formed prior being serialized in Weird Tales; a map of the Hyborian Age (inspired by REH's own drawings) is essential for the Hyborian ambiances; interior illustrations are bonuses; and cover art by Ken Kelly is stellar. 

Hyborian Age: As Wagner details, this book was REH's attempt to break into the UK market that demanded novels (and were not agreeable to his proposals for a collection of his own stories). REH presents Conan as King of Aquilonia. Sorcery and treachery dethrone him, and Conan trots about much of Hyboria, either pursing or being challenged by those who have the magical Heart of Ahriman (which we learn in the opening chapter). This touring of the pre-drowned Euro-Afro-Asia continent begs for a map. The traveling adventure amplifies the Hyborian Age concept; REH's Conan lived in rich pseudo historical land that enabled real ancient cultures to interact with mythical ones. Each chapter has Conan (and his enemies) traversing Aquilonia, Nemeda, Argos, Stygia, and more (these roughly translates to central Europe and Northern Africa). 

Marvel Comics Map of Hyborian Age

Missing Chapter Mystery: A deal was accepted but the UK publisher went belly up, so REH worked with Weird Tales to publish the chapters in serial form. As Wagner explains, there is a possibility that one chapter went missing (#20). Wagner left the numbering of the chapters consistent with the numbering as printed in Weird Tales (#20 is skipped); the original manuscript sent to Denis Archer has 4,000 more words (Pawling & Ness imprint) has 75,000 words. That edition never made it to press, but Weird Tales published the novel in serial form...and it had only 71,000 words. Regardless, the story seems consistent, so there is no obvious loss in plot. 

Style: REH did not change his writing style, so each chapter maintains a very pulpy feel. Chapters are over saturated with conflicts to maintain a frenetic pace. An over reliance on chance encounters detracts from the enjoyment, but it remains a fun read on the whole. Written in the 1930's, the tone has some racial and misogynistic aspects of the time.  Despite the use of the word "negro," Conan appears as a champion/friend to many and even freed many slaves. Woman on the other hand were represented terribly; the few featured are concubines who are cheer leaders of Conan requiring rescue. Here are some examples:
Example 1: Concubine saves Conan and is glad to have him put a knife to her     "Walk beside me," [Conan] instructed her softly, passing his massive arm about her lithe waist. "You've played me fair so far, and I'm inclined to believe in you; but I've lived this long only because I've trusted no one too far, man or woman. So! Now if you play me false you won't live to enjoy the jest."     She did not flinch at sight of the reddened poniard or the contact of his hard muscles about her supple body.
     "Cut me down without mercy if I play you false," she answered. "The very feel of your arm about me, even in menace, is as the fulfillment of a dream." 
Example 2: Conan relishes in his obvious manliness     "All right," [Conan] muttered. "I'll trust you; though, by Crom, the habits of a lifetime are not easily put aside. Yet I wouldn't harm you now, if you brought all the swordsmen in Nemedia upon me. But for you Tarascus's cursed ape would have come upon me in chains and unarmed. Do as you wish, girl."     Kissing his hands, she sprang lithely up and ran down the corridor, to vanish through a heavy double door.
     He glanced after her, wondering if he was a fool to trust her; then he shrugged his mighty shoulders and pulled the satin hangings together, masking his refuge. It was not strange that a passionate young beauty should be risking her life to aid him; such things had happened often enough in his life. Many women had looked on him with favor, in the days of his wanderings, and in the time of his kingship.

Example 3: Conan thanks the concubine who saves him by taking his sexual due     "A horse is hidden for you in a thicket beside the road that runs westward, a few hundred paces to the south of the fountain of Thrallos. You know where it is?"
     "Aye! But what of you? I had meant to take you with me."
     A flood of joy lighted her beautiful face.
     "Then my cup of happiness is brimming! But I will not hamper your escape. Burdened with me you would fail. Nay, do not fear for me. They will never suspect that I aided you willingly. Go! What you have just said will glorify my life throughout the long years."
     He caught her up in his iron arms, crushed her slim, vibrant figure to him and kissed her fiercely on eyes, cheeks, throat and lips, until she lay panting in his embrace; gusty and tempestuous as a storm-wind, even his love- making was violent.

The over arching plot is engaging, as is Conan's adventures as he meets up with past friends/foes/allies of his pre-King days. The titular Dragon refers to the antagonist's standard (there are many other bad guys, often associated with serpents); Conan and his allies have Lion icons. Conan is dethroned in the very beginning, and it is nigh impossible not to read on to see how he can win it back. That said, the constant, intense adventure indicative of pulp fiction doesn't work well in a novel form. There is a chaotic, accumulating silliness: our "wilderness-bred", panther-stalking hero trips in a curtain while attacking his major foe; he routinely stumbles across key foes in random places, encounters that push any bounds of coincidence; he is saved too often by random characters/events; there are too many evil-dude-explains-his-ways scenes; every few pages he comes across new, crazy conflicts that would work well in short story form (ghouls, vampires, etc.). The in-your-face misogyny and high-frequency-chance-encounters/saves is distracting.

The Hour of The Dragon is good adventure and represents Conan and REH's Hyboria well.  The story is best when it focuses on the grand battles and weird descriptions of necromancy. A map and context (i.e. from Wagner's essays) make it more enjoyable.

2016/2017 Movie? : Seems like this may be the basis for the next Arnold movie of Conan (to be called Conan the Conqueror ...or King Conan). I could see that going really well.... or really poorly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dyscrasia Fiction ® - registered trademark

Dyscrasia Fiction ® 
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted registration of "Dyscrasia Fiction" to IGNIS Publishing LLC. This is a foundational move to enable long term growth of the series.

Daimones, the third installment of the series is due out late-2016/early-2017. This #1.5 book will bridge the the end of the Ill Age that chronicles Lord Lysis's rise to power as an undead champion (#1 Lords of Dyscrasia) with the maturing of Helen from curator to Seer (#2 Spawn of Dyscrasia). 

Dyscrasia literally means “a bad mixture of liquids.”  Historically, dyscrasia referred to any imbalance of the four medicinal humors professed by the ancient Greeks to sustain life (phlegm, blood, black and yellow bile). Artisans, anatomists, and chemists of the Renaissance expressed shared interest in the humors; accordingly, the scope of humorism evolved to include aspects of the four alchemical elements (water, air, earth and fire) and psychological temperaments (phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholic and choleric). In short, the humors are mystical media of color, energy, and emotion; Dyscrasia Fiction presents them as spiritual muses for artisans, sources of magical power, and contagions of a deadly disease.  The books explore the choices humans and their gods make as this disease corrupts their souls, shared blood and creative energies.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Aona Series - Interview with Simon Williams

Simon Williams is the author of the Aona dark fantasy series, which is attracting growing acclaim for its fusion of different genres and atmospheric, character-driven narrative. He has also written "Summer's Dark Waters", a sci-fi / fantasy /supernatural novel aimed at young adults. The interview series of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction" engage contemporary authors & artists to reveal their muses, so let us learn more about the Aona series which was just concluded.

SEL #1) What is Aona?

SW: Picture a distant world, probably in the distant future, where most technology is no longer even a memory. A world which for a number of reasons is like no other. A world where two great powers will struggle for control. One of them has crossed great swathes of the known Existence to find this world, the other has controlled, nurtured and dominated it in one form or another since the dawn of known time. 
Thus two opposing, universal forces are preparing to destroy each other. One is an implacable, faceless destroyer of worlds- the other is the ancient master of all the races that live on this world- Aona. Caught in the midst of all this are the races of this world, human and non-human. Both supreme powers, in the simple terms of the Younger Races, are evil beyond comprehension. 
The story of Aona is not a fable of good versus evil. It's a tale of incomprehensible forces, survival, corruption, greed, betrayal, and above all else, the gradual realisation amongst the main characters that this war is not simply a struggle for one world but something far, far greater.

SEL #2) With Aona being dark fantasy; do you see any excerpt or book as "beautiful"? If so please give an example and explain.

SW: My work often seeks to combine striking beauty with stark horror. I don't actually think the two are that different at all sometimes. In my youth I often sought to describe in great detail and provide explanations for everything- but over time I've found that a sparse turn of phrase will often work far better if the reader has imagination and intelligence.

In terms of other authors' works that I would term "beautiful" some of the most achingly gorgeous and emotive prose I've ever read appears in Celia Dart Thornton's  Bitterbynde Trilogy and Crowthistle Chronicles.

SEL #3) I see from a previous interview that you have listed Clive Barker as an influence; he is known for being a graphic artist as well as a horror author.  Do you create art in other mediums than writing? If so, can we share a piece (illustrated/photo, or audio of music, etc.).

SW: Sadly I'm no artist- I do enjoy drawing (or doodling, in my case) from time to time, but I have no illusions whatsoever about my ability in that area. I can't draw or paint or do anything like that. Sometimes I think that's a shame because I can vividly imagine a certain scene in great detail and keep that exact image in my mind for a very long time- which would be really useful if I could draw or paint.

I play piano / keyboards and I have various compositions recorded although they're not really good enough to be shared. I even have the beginnings of a classical symphony that I had begun to create to work in tandem with the Aona books. That may sound pretentious but again I have no great illusions about the quality of my musical works. I think they're ok, but if something is just "ok" that means it isn't good enough to be shared with the world. This perhaps ties into the reason why my output has been quite lean- I have a number of unseen works, some of which are complete and others which are at various stages, which I feel are just not "right" (that's why they're unseen).

Luckily I have been able to collaborate with an artist friend of mine (her website is on one of my books already (Summer's Dark Waters) and hope to on future works as well. Her vision matched mine so exactly for that book that it was astonishing.

SEL #4) Can you describe more about working with illustrator Ankolie? Any feedback about sharing the control of expressing "your world"?  

SW: It was a privilege and I certainly intend to work with her on future projects, particular those aimed at younger audiences which I feel benefit from more artwork. Ankolie managed to perfectly encapsulate the vision I had for my characters in Summer's Dark Waters, there was no need to adjust or change anything, which was remarkable.

SEL #5) Please discuss more about writing horror for various audiences: Young Adult vs Mature Readers (Summer's Dark Waters vs Aona).  Did you feel constrained with Dark Water's?

SW: I certainly didn't feel constrained with Summer's Dark Waters, I find it's perfectly possible to make something "scary" and exciting without resorting to overly graphic descriptions. It was a challenge initially to make my style a little less complex but I soon got into the swing of it, and as with my other others the characters ended up helping to carry the story. One of my new projects is actually a book for even younger readers which is actually a greater challenge still- we'll see if that works out.

I don't really feel that there needs to be much difference in style and content between Young Adult and Adult if the reading age of the reader is high enough. I'm not a big believer in censorship- there are far worse things in the news every day than in the books of 99.99% of authors!

SEL #6) Are any of your characters artists? Can you talk about their motivations?

SW: Alexia, member of a ruling family that met a very unpleasant end, is more a polymath but would include art amongst her skills. Nia is an assassin but would consider herself an artist (in the first few books anyway) based on the kind of work she does and her attention to detail, not to mention the sometimes unusual methods (see Oblivion's Forge for an example). Her motivation? Perhaps the intensity of her work helps her bury the past. Nia is one of the more complex characters in the series and I think her motivation in all things changes many times through the saga.

SEL #7) What are your muses? Are you trying to capture/contain/control particular horrors or fears?

SW: On the contrary, I'm tapping into the deepest recesses of my imagination in order to find things I perhaps didn't even know existed, and then let them go. In my experience, fear can't be contained forever; sooner or later it needs to fly free.


SEL #8) The runic covers have always caught my eye.  Are they Scandinavian/Futhark? Something else?  Please discuss the choice of coverart for the Aona series.

SW: I came up with the symbols and their meanings, and intend to explain them in detail in my Aona "guide" which I'm slowly compiling. They've proved popular and have certainly drawn people to my work. I consciously chose to avoid the usual fantasy tropes and cliches when I first thought about the covers, and decided a sparse, enigmatic motif would be ideal for the books. The Aona series bridges genres other than fantasy as well, so coming up with a common visual "standard" for the books might have been difficult with anything more involved. The books are fairly complex and so I also wanted to use something clean and stripped-down as a counterpoint.

SEL #9) Please share your own thoughts about the creative process. Anything peculiar about your methods? Suggestions for others?

SW: To be honest, I have no particular method. I write, I write some more, I keep writing, some of it's good and I keep it, some of it's bad and I scrap it, some of it's ok and I edit it. Sometimes it's a struggle to wade through the "creative mire" as I call it, and at other times I just sit down and it kind if happens without my really knowing about it. I like to have a title before I even start, and quite often I'll know how it all ends a long while before the middle bit and the bulk of the plot is in place. Basically it all starts with a vision, and I know that if I stick to that vision and the skeleton of the plot, in time everything will come together. That's the way it's always been.

That messy, chaotic way of working won't work for everyone, so I can't necessarily recommend it. It works for me though. 

Seek out more about Simon Williams and his dark fantasy:

Author Website Link /  Twitter: @SWilliamsAuthor / Amazon Author Page 

Summer’s Dark Waters: Amazon UK link     Amazon US: 
Oblivion’s Forge (Aona Book I): Amazon UK  Amazon US 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Weston's Hell Bound- Hell can be fun!

Hell BoundHell Bound by Andrew P. Weston
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Grim Reaper will lead your through a wacky, dark Hell
In Andrew P. Weston’s Hell Bound, our protagonist and tour guide into Hell is Daemon Grim: he’s a snarky bounty hunter, Satan’s right-hand man for reining in the damned. Grim is so impressed with himself that it takes a while to realize that he may, like everyone in Hell, may actually be subject to being played.

Grim was introduced to the Heroes in Hell series in the previous installment, Doctors in Hell. In short story form there, he was tasked to retrieve Dr. Thomas Neill Cream who had escaped topside. Doctors in Hell is an anthology, an enjoyable introduction to Hell which serves as a great entry point to the series. Heroes in Hell is a long, sustained series, but Doctors and Hell Bound confirm that anyone can hop along and enjoy the ride from any stop (it is always a good time to go to Hell). Reading Doctors will help the reader appreciate the full novel Hell Bound, but doing so is not necessary.

For new readers, I summarize the Heroes in Hell milieu. It is a fantastical place built from myths and religions—so do not expect Tolkienesque elves or dwarves. The primary realm explored is called Juxtapose, which is a satirical mirror of our earth’s cityscapes (the Seine river featured as “Inseine”, Paris called Perish, the Eiffel Tower represented as the Awful Tower, Facebook is called Hatebook… which sadly seems too appropriate…). Since time has little meaning in Hell, beings from past and present meet and scheme (i.e., Tesla and Chopin). There are other realms beyond Juxtapose connected with ethereal gateways. All are populated by beings being tormented and try to outwit Satan or their comrades. Even Erra, the Akkadian plague god, has visited Hell to torment Satan. No one is safe! It is a splendid, wacky place that works well.

Having recently read Doctors, I was intrigued with the Heroes In Hell world. I wanted to experience it more but needed a tour guide. Daemon Grim did so in entertaining fashion. I wanted to “see” how the Undertaker refreshed the damned as they underwent subsequent deaths; I wanted to experience more odd-ball pairings of historical figures struggling to complete their life’s missions; I wanted my tour guide to have some depth, even if he was unaware of it. The story is a bizarre cat-versus-mouse hunt, with Grim chasing Cream through very dark realms, upturning mystery after mystery. A scavenger hunt-like game ensues with beautiful, cryptic poetry that leads Grim further and further into a web of deceit. Antagonists are aplenty.

Hell Bound delivered. Andrew P. Weston did a superb job balancing the needs of a full length novel with the freedoms/constraints of a shared world usually expressed in short story form. Highly recommended for fantasy readers who enjoy a bit of dark adventure.

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Mansfield Reformatory - Silent Hill Ohio

Pain is caused by pleasure! Visit OSR

With the recent cancellation of “Silent Hills” many of us are feeling the urge to immerse ourselves in the Silent Hill ambience. Short of dangerously, visiting Centralia PA or the DeJarnette Sanatarium (Staunton VA), where is one to go? I highly recommend the Mansfield Ohio, Ohio State Reformatory (OSR).Ohio has lots of abandoned places, though most cannot be toured officially: 

But there is an easy-to-tour, must-see that is safe and cool: Mansfield Ohio, Ohio State Reformatory. It will satiate the need to experience the Tocula Prison, Nightmare realm, Chapel, and even a bit of Midwich School! OSR is huge, affordable, and has official tours (including night ghost hunting). So it is safe and cool. It is known for the filming location of movies like Shawshank Redemption, Tango and Cash, Air Force One, and even music videos for Godsmack and rapper Lil Wayne.

Some interesting perspectives with images below:
  • Built in 1886, not long after the fictionalized 1866 Tocula Prison of the Silent Hill world
  • It was originally a reformatory, so it’s design included a huge chapel and school.
  • It was converted to a prison sometime (less reformation focus), and then eventually shut down in the 1990's
  • The architect ensured the inmates could see the outside to have more hope; cells were put in the interior-center facing out. 
  • Since it was shutdown, many broken windows allow the weather to deteriorate the building--> especially the lead paint which peels off the walls. 
  • The warden lived in a beautiful central area. The wood was engineered due to fire codes the railings were made in steel, but look like wood.
  • The East cell block is the largest fee standing steel cell block; very loud too; this side had more grates to ensure inmates could not fling material at guards. The West cell block was quieter at night. 
  • The Chapel is fitted with iron bars lockable chambers inside the sanctuary
  • "Pain is caused by pleasure" - Godsmack Awake video graffiti (a call out to Moon Baby lyrics)