Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rypel's Gonji Sabatake returns in "Dark Ventures"

GONJI DARK VENTURES is now available as 

eBook/Kindle & Paperback!

Rypel's Gonji Sabatake is back on stage with new tales!  The original 1980's Gonji Trilogy is great fun, a mashup of Sword & Sorcery and Godzilla-like monster movies. They were released recently, but there has been no published new Gonji for decades... until now.  And this one promises even more!

Contents of Dark Ventures 

(paraphrased from the book blurb):

Hear the rallying cry for fans of the popular 1980s heroic-fantasy series. Here are two new tales of GONJI SABATAKE, the itinerant samurai-Viking warrior.. and an excerpt of another forthcoming novel! An ideal entry point for new readers.

1) The novelette "Reflections in Ice" -- picking up a mature Gonji, already well into his ca. 1600 A.D. European adventures, ensnared in a desperate crossfire between monstrous oppressors: the undead assassins of the Dark Company; and mysterious horrors residing in remote caves of the snowbound Pyrenees…

2) The novella "Dark Venture" -- the most intense, action-packed and classic-pulp-worthy Gonji tale in the canon. The first-ever story of "young Gonji," in dishonored exile from his native land. Now facing deadly peril during a bizarre and ghastly sea voyage; caught in the clutches of a hell where corrupted spells of evil magic go to die…

3) A generous preview of the coming new forthcoming Gonji novel "Born of Flame and Steel": the audacious origin tale of Gonji’s world.

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. 

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
6) ... and now in 2017... Gonji: Dark Ventures
7) ... and soon to follow ... Gonji: Born of Flame and Steel

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mouth of the Dragon - Review by SE

Mouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the EvarunMouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the Evarun by Tom Barczak
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the Evarun is surreal, angelic warfare

Enjoy walking in cemeteries? This book is for you. If Edgar Allen Poe or Clark Ashton Smith were to rewrite Tolkien, they would produce something like Tom Barczak’s Evarun series. There are no elves here, but there are angels who have abandoned a land to susceptible humans. Disembodied forces and corporeal possession abound. The author’s dark, poetic style keeps bringing me back to his portfolio.

Mouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the Evarun continues the royal Chaelus’s journey from Veil of the Dragon, which readers will want to read first. His body has become a puppet in war between good and evil. He is currently possessed by good-natured angel(s) tasked to confront the demonic, disembodied evil that was mastered him. The major conflict is between Chaelus (and the spirit Talus within him) versus the titular Dragon that has corrupted land of the Theocracy and his betrothed Faerowyn. The war escalates to epic, apocalypse. It closes well but sets up for another book.

Deep and Poetic: As revealed in many interviews, Barczak is an architect by day and writer/painter by night; he also experienced the death of a 2yr old daughter named Olivia. His artistic flare shows through with wonderful architectural descriptions including “clerestory lights” and “dark pools of cenotaphs.” He paid homage to Olivia with a character of the same name who first appeared in the Awakening Evarun set. Olivia appears in Mouth of the Dragon as Revered Mother over the Servian Order, centuries old. This echoes other instances of children saving adults. From the prelude book Veil of the Dragon, “Al-Aaron,” a child priest-warrior, saved and mentored Chaelus. Barczak continually explores the role of children saving or superseding adults: in Mouth the main duo for this interplay is Login and Maedelous.

Style: Barczak style defines his writing. He writes with entertaining paradox. In one sense, the conflict could not be more stark: good angels vs. evil demons; yet both are presented as reflections, or veiled versions of the other. The author is fascinated with sensing strange/beautiful things, such as the ailment synesthesia which refers to a secondary stimulus of senses. For instance, a subset is called chromesthesia, in which hearing certain sounds will trigger recoloring of whatever is being viewed by eye: one could be looking at a white wall and it would change to red or blue as certain music is played. Such dissonance is similar to one making sense of Rene Magritte’s Ceci n'est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe). Barczak intentionally provides beautiful synesthetic observations. Here are example excerpts:
There was nothing to see here but a sullen whisper.

Darkness seared her vision. It bled down her cheeks like oil. It drained from her mouth, like every soul she had ever taken it from.

The gray morning light, sullen, settled in full over the golden city of Paleos, the glimmer of its domes struck mute by its haze.
Everything is veiled and unsettled: A surreal milieu pervades the book. The best example is of the gossomar covered blades of Servian knights who vowed to kill only non-blooded humans (i.e. wraith like Remnants). The cover of Veil of the Dragon drawn by the author displayed this. It highlights the paradox of a military legion representing a benevolent religious organization. Again, Barczak intentionally blurs what is superficially clear. The Servian Order plays a large role again in Mouth, of course. However the cloth “veil” over the blade resonates with myraid other veils: ghostly phantoms, smokey tendrils obscuring vision, memories bleeding into dreams and reality. There are two contrarian, prophetic forces running in parallel: two sets of Servian knights, two sets of prophets, two armies…etc. It is like both good and evil are personified and stare through a window at each other; the reader is watching too, trying to figure out which one is real… or are they reflections of the reader in a mirror?

Poetic Style: There is an obvious rhythm. This is done in part with oft repeated words (azure, veil, Happas…which is an archaic word for a Roman highway), and with repeated phrasing such as:
The man’s eyes stared up at her from somewhere beyond, where he cradled himself at her feet. The stain of blood and darker things colored his chin, his face, his chest. Black tendrils had begun to lace across his pale skin. Soon, the Dragon’s Sleep would take him. Soon, the Dragon’s Sleep would take them all. Even the one she had just let go. Even her lover who was coming for her, for she knew it was the only way he could save her.

He could still see them, all of them. He could still see the knights’ faces staring back at him with their dead eyes, staring back at him from the edge of the encampment; seven of them, each of them with arms and legs flayed out upon a prostrate cross, staring back at him, staring through him long after they had passed from his sight.

Evarun series: Evarun’s audience and backing is deservedly growing. The serial Awakening series was an independent endeavor, but not Barczak now has the backing of Perserid Press who provided the book with a Roy Mauritsen designed cover (elegantly embedding the author’s sketch).

Awakening Evarun (Part I of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part II of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part III of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part IV of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part V of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part VI of VI) by Tom Barczak
Veil of the Dragon (Prophecy of the Evarun) by Tom Barczak
Mouth of the Dragon Prophecy of the Evarun by Tom Barczak

Judging by the author’s blog, the next installment is to be called “Hands of the Dragon,” which would refer to several wizards serving all-things-dragon: Vas Ore and Vas Kael. The author has drawn them too.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saunders and Gemmell - Mar-Apr 2017 Groupreads

Everyone is welcome to participate in the next two-month, two-topic groupreads. The polling was tight, but we have our Mar-Apr Topics selected:

(The third topic was very close: Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates or Forge of Darkness; those voters are encourages to read those too...perhaps try out the Buddy Read Section.

Banner credits for cover art of books by : Charles R. Saunders and David Gemmell; Cover Artists:
The Quest for Cush (no. 2) 2007 Vince Evans 
Legends of the Drenai Ken Kelly 1990
Sword in the Storm (The Rigante Series, Book 1) 2001, Artist Doug Beekman
The King Beyond the Gate 1995, Louis Royo
Imaro 2006 Vince Evans

Any David Gemmell is fair game! Newcomers will likely want to grab hold of Legend. His work is easy to find.

And it's Sword & Soul time! This is for anything Charles R. Saunders wrote. Some of his books are difficult to track down, but they are worth it...and... he has been writing many short stories (those count too for if you can't find the books, look into the anthologies he contributed for....list below).

We had a related group read in 2013 Imaro Groupread (link to that discussion)

Finding Books
There is at least one eBook version of Imaro available via Lulu...and ~$20USD version of most of his library; there are two pages.
1) The spotlight page for Charles R Saunders has most (link)
2) The page for Charles Saunders (no "R") has Dossouye available (link)

The Quest for Cush
The Trail of Bohu
The Naama War

Dossouye: the Dancers of Mulukau
Short stories: From his website we have a list of Charles R. Saunders's short stories and the collection they appeared in (link). 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Jerome Stueart Interview - Author of Angels of Our Better Beasts

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses. These interviews engage contemporary authors & artists on the theme of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction." This one features Jerome Stueart, author of many books including The Angels of Our Better Beasts S E Review (Link)Let's learn about his muses...and his Better Beasts!

Jerome Stueart
The Angels of Our Better Beasts
Jerome Stueart is a writer and illustrator whose work has appeared in Lightspeed's Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Fantasy,, Geist, Joyland, Icarus, Tessaracts anthologies, and other journals and magazines. He is a Clarion 2007 grad, a Lambda Literary fellow, a Milton Fellow and a Fulbright fellow--meaning he's a queer science fiction/fantasy writer of faith who has dual citizenship in Canada.  He co-edited Wrestling with Gods and Imaginarium 4.  His next book is a novel, One Nation Under Gods, from ChiZine Publications in June of 2018.  His Patreon with loaded extras (illustrations and scenes) can be found under JeromeWStueart.  He most recently moved from the Yukon Territory, and now lives in Dayton, OH.   

SEL: The Angels of Our Better Beasts invites readers to reconsider what it means to be a human (angel or beast). Most are weird, fantasy and sci-fi tales, and the relationships span the gamut from lemming-to-researcher, to husband-to husband, and wife-to-husband, etc. The variety is great and writing evocative. Please identify/discuss your own angels and beasts. Are these your muses?

JS: Thanks, Seth.  I think animals are the muses of many people---they seem so wise (because they can't talk) and so we give them the words we think they should say.  I've often believed that writers who include animals in their works usually make them wiser than the people.  I was also one of those kids that went and made friends with your dog before I made friends with your kids or you... I felt very comfortable with a pet.  As for beasts, yeah, growing up mine was a werewolf.  I used to think of him as a mentor---if I could just find him, or he find me.  I think I still feel compelled to explore the relationship we have to beasts--both animal and monster--in stories.  Are these our way of trying to reach a higher plane of wisdom or morality?  Or our way of trying to escape civilization and become more wild?  Certainly our pets give us a bridge to the animal kingdom--and many stories that have animals as a focus try to make us better people through those animals.  Maybe our monsters are trying to help us too.
Select Better Beasts by Jerome Stueart 

SEL: You illustrated the whole book too! How does your drawing and writing work processes interplay?

JS: I usually do the illustrations after I do the story.  In fact, I mapped out the illustrations on a sheet to see if I could do something interesting with them when they are together.  Kind of evoke different themes.  I tried that!  LOL.  I had the first column focus on inanimate objects: the box of ashes, the bottle of wine, the heart on the table, the gold; the second column do a close up of people in relationship; the third was to show movement; the fourth got all messed up--it was supposed to be about body parts: hand, foot, and well, a canyon and large gorilla got in there [see inset image].  So that failed.  But I still think they work in harmony somehow. 

Whenever I do illustrations I try to capture the essence of the story:  wonder for "For a Look At New Worlds" and disembodied horror for "The Moon Over Tokyo" and the weird juxtaposition of a werewolf playing the banjo, not necessarily a scene from the story (as the werewolf doesn't play the banjo in his werewolf form).  I also had fun with imitating famous works of art or poems.  My box of ashes tries to echo Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn" and the illustration for Bondsmen is "James Bond descending a staircase" --- hey, I try to keep it fun.

I had the most trouble trying to illustrate "You Will Draw..."  because I wanted to emphasize the relationship--but once I had the figures, I didn't want to muddy the background.  So I settled on a sort of blank canvas, or window behind them.  The story might be better served, but I didn't want to give away any surprises. And doing the art of the main character--who is a famous artist--felt daunting.  To pretend to be one of his illustrations, my art needed to be amazing, and I wasn't at his caliber--so I settled for a portrait of him.     

Illustration Map - Jerome Stueart

SEL: Are you secretly a changeling or hybrid/chimera?

JS: Well, technically, I'm a changeling because I'm adopted (if you're referring to the babies switched by fairies idea), but I think of myself probably more as a chimera--a mixture of things and ideas.  I'm not one kind of writer, and I don't have one kind of theme or style.  This collection is me trying to show all sorts of ways to tell a story.  I'm going to be hell for an agent someday, but I love trying new things and seeing what kinds of stories and styles I can do.  

SEL: Okay this one will make more sense for those who already read the book, but here goes a question posed by yourself: “Young painters might be asking if there is a place for art in politics… What do you say to them about the nature of true art and its neutral place outside the quagmire of human rivalry?”

Auguste Renault - by Jerome Stueart
JS: The interviewer in the story is trying to ask the question: should artists be political?  Should art try to influence society?  And my character, Auguste Renault, just laughs and you never hear his answer.  The story, though, is his answer.  He truly believes that one should use fame to help others out.  Much of art is political.  Is ALL art political?  Well, Renault was doing portrait painting and paintings of cities for most of his career.  I made him like the Sargent of his era, and Sargent did a lot of portraits of the wealthy and of his friends, and some of it was scandalous.  He painted actors!  At a time when having one of his exquisite portraits meant you had "made it" into the wealthy class, he deemed to give them away to authors, friends, actors and actresses--he used his talent to give equal status to rich and poor.  Renault turns his art to the miners of Ganymede--and at first this is seen as it is with most artists: that their subjects are the poor, and they are making a statement to remind the rich of the poor.  But in Renault's case, his subjects got their paintings for free, and the rich are upset that they can't see Renault's work--or that his work starts becoming the only source of news when the strike is not covered by the media.  

In my own opinion, art is an excellent way of speaking truth---sometimes the perfect illustration encapsulates a change that is needed, a flaw that is nearly hidden, or even model a way of being.  It is the purpose of art to bring truth and beauty and yes, controversy, and wisdom to society.  There is a place for beautiful flowers and landscapes to bring peace to a troubled world--but isn't that influencing society too?  

SEL: At World Con 2016 in Columbus OH (Writer-Artist Panel coverage link) you shared the history of Angels Of Our Better Beasts. Can you recap that here? Did the drawings come before the tales?

JS: I wrote the stories over the last ten years or so.  I found the stories I loved best--the ones that seemed to work--had a beast in them, or a monster, or something someone might think was a monster.  Something that made us afraid, or made us wonder, or connected us to animals in the sense that we wanted to listen to them.  So I put the collection together--most of it and proposed it to ChiZIne and they liked it.  I then wrote a couple of stories for it, and decided to illustrate it too.  So definitely the illustrations came afterwards--and that process is something I spell out above.  

Jerome Stueart's Better Beasts - for fans!

SEL: You have been known to draw personalized “beasts” for fans. Is that like doing a tarot card reading?

JS: HAHA.  No.  But it was enlightening to me what they wanted as a beast.  And I think it was enlightening to them too.  Many just wanted to see their beasts "come to life" and so they had crazy wonderful requests.  It was a good way to build a rapport with my readers--or with people who just fellow beast-lovers!  Here are a few of those beasts people wanted.  

SEL: Do you find your own art “weird” or “beautiful”?   
JS: I think my work is weird, but I strive for beauty.  I strive for harmony and balance in composition.  Even as it is weird.  I do not always love my own art, but I do find I work hard at creating something that will be nice to look at.  Or a good illustration of the story.  In many ways my stories are trying to make the weird beautiful.  I want to move a reader to care about a beast, or to consider that the beasts are beautiful.  My vampires in "How Magnificent" are beautiful in their perfect takeover of the medical profession, their efficiency, their marketing.  My werewolf hopes that the beauty and power of his Christian music can overcome the horror of his mistakes, his primal nature.  He does not see anything redeeming about being the werewolf--only that it must be contained.  There is beauty in the mandalas of "For a Look at New Worlds" and in their fragility.  There's a lot of art in this book--- whether it's the young king who will be a better king because he is artistic, or the artist who tries to use his fame to help others, or the writers who try to make sense of their lives... so many of these stories are a statement on the place of art in the world.  

SEL: Any future endeavors to share?
JS: Well, I'm finishing up a story about sisters and their rival gods, and another one about a chef on a starship.  I'm also writing One Nation Under Gods--my alternate American history with religious nationalism--and two kids trying to escape to Canada.  You can see more about that on my Patreon page (  For a couple of bucks you can see the illustrations I'm working on for this novel.  It comes out from ChiZine in June of 2018.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Pirates are coming to Hell!

Image may contain: textPirates in Hell

Coming Spring 2017 from Perseid Press, the next installment in the long running Heroes in Hell series. Cover design by Roy Mauritsen.

When is a good time to go to Hell?  Well it always is. But don't believe me, review the minutes from the 2015 death panel!

Pirates in Hell Contents:
1.) Bitter Business, Janet Morris & Chris Morris
2.) Pieces of Hate, Andrew P. Weston
3.) Evil Angel, Chris Morris
4.) Who's a Pirate Now? Nancy Asire
5.) Curse of the Pharaohs, Seth Lindberg
6.) Lir's Children, Paul Freeman
7.) Unholiest Grail, Larry Atchley Jr.
8.) Bitter Taste of Hell's Injustice, Jack William Finley
9.) Serial Recall and Beautiful Tortures, Michael H. Hanson
10.) Drink and the Devil, Rob Hinkle
11.) The Pirates of Penance, Joe Bonadonna
12.) Muse of Fire, Janet Morris

Bonus Excerpt from Hell Hounds, a Heroes in Hell novel by Andrew P. Weston.

Image may contain: text

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Angels of Our Better Beasts - review by S. E.

Angels of Our Better BeastsAngels of Our Better Beasts by Jerome Stueart
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Angels of Our Better Beasts is fantastic, evocative fiction that will make you laugh while you think.

Jerome Stueart’s The Angels of Our Better Beasts invites you to role-play as humans, lemmings, werewolves, & vampires, in a splendid 15 tale collection. With each entry you’ll find new perspectives on what it means to be a human (angel or beast). Most are weird, fantasy and sci-fi, and the relationship span the gamut from lemming-to-researcher, to husband-to husband, and wife-to-husband, etc. The variety is great, but Stueart’s keen sense of humanity, and the role art plays in our relationships, is the key strength. Few times have weird fiction actually evoked real emotions. Fittingly there is a bonus too, since the author provides his own illustrations throughout.

The best way to convey the voice/tone is with excerpts. For selected tales, I include those below. My favorites were (1) a bold, pseudo-2nd person story in a sci-fi setting in which an artist strives to save humanity “You Will Draw This Life Out To Its End” and (2) a haunting futuristic setting in which one must choose between leaving home (a place) or leaving family; the theme of impermanence is truly evocative ( “For a Look at New Worlds”). Lastly, I’ll call out an example of the creative milieus by highlighting the names of wine from one story that, if drank, will literally evoke memories such as The First Time We Made Love at My Apartment in Yokoshima, Absence of Tourists During the Rain at Inokashira Koen, and The Moon Over Tokyo Through Fall Leaves (from “The Moon Over Tokyo Through Fall Leaves”).

“If animals talk, then they can’t just be eaten as food anymore. They aren’t any more a part of the food chain than humans are. If everything talks, where do you draw the line on feeling for them as individuals?” -Lemmings in the Third Year

“I remember my wife and kid left me. I’d find myself standing in the music section just scanning the tapes, asking myself which song would save me from all this pain. I’d bring home the Charlie Daniels Band, Alabama, Dolly. Sometime the names would blur and I’d look up and find out I’d been there an hour, trying to find something to soothe the ache….Mostly I just see them using carts as walkers, slowly moving down the aisles, overwhelmed by all the possibilities they have to make that need disappear. Yeah, I guess, in a way, a lot of people came to Walmart to pray.” - Heartbreak, Gospel, Shotgun, Fiddler, Werewolf, Chorus: Bluegrass

“We cause emotions without product directive, emotions without prescription. People read our writing and feel something, and they don’t know what to do with that emotion. In the city, all those pretty pieces of writing you see—most of them done by us when we absolutely have to earn money—have a directive: but this tooth cream, explore this underground chasm, invest in this high-rolling casino. So if we make you feel sad or happy, you can find resolution in a purchase. But literature, on the other hand, doesn’t let you off the hook that easy, and that’s why there was a time when we were blamed for a lot of murders and mayhem that went on.” - Why the Poets Were Banned from the City

“Young painters might be asking if there is a place for art in politics, if you are sullying your reputation,” a renowned art magazine says to you in an interview being recorded for later broadcast. “What do you say to them about the nature of true art and its neutral place outside the quagmire of human rivalry?” -You Will Draw This Life Out To Its End

“Many walked up, and with a hundred fingers they carved swaths of themselves across the sand, ruining the beautiful design. The destruction of such beauty was supposed to bring home the price of violence, the pledge for peace. Today, though, it felt as if those fingers had pushed into her heart.” -For a Look at New Worlds

Table of Contents
[*Published before in print or award recipient, ranging from 2005 through 2015]

* “Sam McGee Argues with His Box of Authentic Ashes” (Beast = Sam McGee)
* “Lemmings in the Third Year” (Beast = lemmings or man)
“Heartbreak, Gospel, Shotgun, Fiddler, Werewolf, Chorus: Bluegrass” (Beast = man or werewolf)
* “Old Lions” (Beast = man or lion)
* “The Moon Over Tokyo Through Fall Leaves” (Beast = man and the past)
* “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” (Beast = Vampires)
* “Bondsmen” (Beast = 007 agents?)
* “Et Tu Bruté” (Beast = Ape)
* Why the Poets Were Banned from the City (Beast = man or art)
“You Will Draw This Life Out To Its End” (Beast = man or art)
* “For a Look at New Worlds” (Beast = memories/holograms)
* “Brazos” (Beast = God)
“Awake, Gryphon!” (Beast = man and gryphon)
* “Bear With Me” (Beast = man or bear)
* “The Song of Sasquatch” (Beast is either Nature or man)

View all my reviews