Monday, November 22, 2021

More Tales from the Magician's Skull has funded!

More Tales From The Magician's Skull

The Kickstarter campaign ritual ended successfully, with 640 backers that unlocked an 8th story in the 2022 Special Issue! Expected years more of S&S printed on high-quality paper, fully illustrated, with statistics for RPG for each story, and engaging covers.... expect greatness!

The Skull Expresses His Gratitude (which doesn't happen often)

More Tales From The Magician's Skull -- Kicktraq Mini

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Immortal Muse - Review, Stephen Leigh Interview, and Prelude to a Deleted Chapter Reveal


Left, Paperback cover (artist unknown); Right cover art by Tim O'Brien.

Stephen Leigh is a Cincinnati-based, award-winning writer of science fiction and fantasy, with thirty novels and nearly sixty short stories published. He has also published fantasy under the pseudonym S.L. Farrell. He has been a frequent contributor to the Hugo-nominated shared-world series Wild Cards, edited by George R.R. Martin. Stephen taught creative writing for twenty years at Northern Kentucky University, and has recently retired (but not from writing). His most recent novels have been Amid The Crowd Of Stars, the SunPath duology of A Fading Sun and A Rising MoonThe Crow of Connemara, and Immortal Muse. His latest novel, Bound To A Single Sun, will be published by DAW Books next year. Stephen is married to Denise Parsley Leigh; they are the parents of a daughter and a son; he is a musician and vocalist too, active in several Cincinnati bands.

In 2014, Stephen Leigh published his Immortal Muse novel (check out the 2014 Black Gate release), an alternative-history, fantasy fictionalizing alchemy's role in artistic muses. Wow! Of course, Leigh had to be interviewed as part of the "Beauty in Weird Fiction" interview series. Indeed he was interviewed in 2016 before the interview series merged into Black Gate. If you are interested in the aesthetics of horror and weird fantasy, check out the thoughts of our recent guests like Darrell SchweitzerSebastian JonesCharles GramlichAnna Smith Spark, Carol Berg, & Jason Ray Carney (full list of interviews at the end of this post).

This post wraps up (1) a review of Immortal Muse, (2) the interview with the author on Leigh's muses, and (3) teases readers within an announcement. Okay, we'll cover that last one first. There is a missing/deleted chapter from Immortal Muse that Stephen Leigh will be posting on Black Gate soon, over 11K words with annotations on (a) why it was left out of the final book and (b) how facts were woven into this fantastical alternative-history. It serves as both a stand-alone short story and an engaging behind-the-scenes look at writing. The article with the missing chapter is posted here.

Let this review and interview stoke your creative fires (link)

BTW, interviewing is rewarding in itself, but receiving kind feedback from the interviewees and readers really hits home. 
“Seth, I honestly think that's one of the best interviews anyone's ever done with me: great questions that forced me to answer in depth. If anyone wants a glimpse into "how I write", your interview would be an excellent choice! Thanks for reminding me of it, and for giving everyone the link!” - Stephen Leigh

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Spine of Night - Movie Review

The Spine of the Night

5.0 out of 5 stars - A magical blend of nostalgic S&S and Heavy Metal with fresh takes on adventure.
"Do not mistake ritual for truth.
Do not mistake the desire for power with the desire for knowledge"
--so says Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless)

Many of us old folk will adore the formatting and production: rotoscoped classics like Bakshi's Lord of the RIngs and Bakshi/Frazetta's Fire and Ice movie paved the way for this. Classic barbarism vs civilization themes are explored but expanded from historical Sword & Sorcery limits. Violence and nudity are shown in gritty detail. Lucy Lawless voices Tzod, who leads the presentation as a sorceress heroine. Unlike Tegra from Fire and Ice, her body is less young/model-like more mature/motherly; her courage and strength rival that of Conan. So we get treated to S&S but with a strong, older woman with sorcery skills as our protagonist. The story and setting are epic and span centuries. This is well done, intellectually warfare and art. Try it out, the Bloom is contagious. Here are some thoughts on it:

  • The Bloom is knowledge and power.
  • Should the Bloom empower nature, or mankind?
  • Who owns it, really?
  • Should anyone guard it against humanity? Disperse it, via scholar or the ruling hierarchy of sorcerers?
  • What would you do with the Bloom?

Watch it now online, from many venues .... including Amazon Prime (own the HD version for $10)

Oh, get the Spine of Night merchandise too. I am thinking each family member will get an eye-shirt for the Holidays!

"Spine of Night" with Creators Morgan King and Phil Gelatt, Rogues in the House (link) 

First off, it is amazing that the roto-scoped masterpiece Spine of Night was made, and then cooler yet that a bunch of rogues cornered the creators to discuss all sorts of story & movie elements (from barbarism to the role of fertility gods and the bodily shapes of heroines). Check out the link above, or find the 11-12-2021 Rogues in the House Podcast episode on your favorite podcasting venue.

2021 Dec Update!  Family Xmas T-shirts!

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

More Tales from the Magician's Skull - Kickstarter is live!

It's live! Pledge to the Skull! The Kickstarter is live! Extend your subscription or get just a few issues...up to 9 more! The Special issue depends on our involvement. Every 200 backers yields another story in that. 

Link to Kickstarter: "More Tales From The Magician's Skull"

Link to 40min Overview on Twitch

A magazine of all-new swords & sorcery fiction in the classic pulp style! Now pursuing issue #7 and beyond!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Tales from the Magician's Skull #6 - Review by SE

Tales from the Magician's Skull #6 by Howard Andrew Jones

S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tales from the Magician's Skull #6 (Cover Illustration: Doug Kovacs) ramps up an already impressive line-up. Editor and author Howard Andrew Jones and publisher Joseph Goodman must be possessed by this Skull character, which is fine by me. 

BTW, there is a Kickstarter ready to launch this week to fund issues #7 and beyond. Sign up here to be notified.

Listen here to what the Skull has them creating:

Like the first five issues, the print copy of #6 is an ~8.5x11 inch masterpiece printed on high-quality, textured paper. Fully illustrated again, of course. PDFs have always been available too, but this issue is also available in ePub from the publisher (Amazon and DriveThruRPG also offer versions). Also, this issue continues the great tradition of enabling readers to play RPG versions of the stories with statistics for items/characters provided by Terry Olsen.

And rise from your chair, mortal dogs (that's Skull speak), #6 has an officially licensed pastiche of Fritz Leiber's Fafhred and the Gray Mouser tales, brought to you by veteran writer Nathan Long. His story has the famous duo attempting to steal books from a secretive clan of sorcerers; honestly, it felt just like "Leiber," with an entertaining, weird adventure that works in humor to break the tension.

Hocking, Enge, and Malan continue to extend their series that have been anchors to the magazine to date. All the contributions are episodic (i.e. stand-alone). However, Hocking has a knack to impart more character progression with his Benhus than traditional, episodic action heroes of the pulps. His style is to ramp up slowly over a few pages, and then roll it into epic madness. Hocking delivers again as he had before. And Enge Morlock's character is a wonderful, troubled man; I feel empathetic and attached to him as he struggles with inner and real demons--great stuff. And Malan's Parno and Dhulyn make an entertaining pair of mercenaries.

Mele offers up his "Azatlan" milieu, which is akin to Robert E. Howard's Hyborian World (a harmonized blending of anachronistic European/North-African/West-Asian cultures), but with a focus on South/Meso-American flare. Necromantic rituals feel fresh here. This complements Howard's champion Hanuvar who goes undercover in the Dervan Empire (which radiates a Romanesque feel). Varied stories, characters, and lands make this a splendid issue.

TABLE OF CONTENTS with official snippets.
1) CALICASK'S WOMAN by John Hocking (A TALE OF THE KING’S BLADE): “I can’t hold them back for long,” gasped the apprentice. His face had gone pallid and sweat dripped from his chin. “Stand by the opening and try to take them one at a time. Perhaps we can… where are you going?!”

The water behind the soldier erupted, and Hanuvar lunged past him to jam the pitchfork at a shovel-shaped reptilian head. The tines bit deep, and the dark water reddened.

"In the circle, Mouser stared cross-eyed at the tip of Kalphin’s blade, knowing death was coming to him at last."

"I’ve seen a maiden’s veins opened as she is led through the fields, watering the new crops with her life’s blood in honor of Majawl, Our Lady of Maize, and lit my own father’s funeral pyre. But what manner of man owned books made of human flesh?"

"She moved with a lithe, muscular dancer’s grace as she walked around him to enter the room. Her hair was a waterfall of starless night. Her eyes were the stars, shining with tears. Morlock had seen a more beautiful woman, but not recently."

"Dhulyn judged from the way his mouth moved now that he was screaming. That was easy to fix, she thought, as she brought her sword up and sent the head bouncing and rolling across the tiled floor."

Leiber replied, “I feel more certain than ever [that this field] should be called the sword-and-sorcery story.” And thus a sub-genre, while not quite newly born, received a name for the first time…

THE MONSTER PIT by Terry Olson
Enter the monster pit! Down here in the pit, we provide tabletop RPG fans with playable DCC RPG game statistics for the creatures in this issue of Tales From The Magician’s Skull.

THE SKULL SPEAKS by the Skull Himself
He asks us to prepare to celebrate Sword & Sorcery on October 23rd, 2021, a day slated to begin an annual Day of Might celebration. 

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Heroes of Echo Gate (Mad Shadows Book Three) - Review by SE


Mad Shadows III: The Heroes of Echo Gate (Pulp Hero Press, February 2021). Cover artist uncredited

Joe Bonadonna’s third installment of his Mad Shadows, Dorgo the Dowser series, The Heroes of Echo Gate, was announced this Feb 2021 at Black Gate. We covered Dorgo’s world and Bonadonnoa’s cinematic narrative, which we’ll touch upon again during this review. Also on Black Gate, the author of the internationally acclaimed IX Series, Andrew Paul Weston, reviewed all three books of the Mad Shadow series. This post reinforces those articles and highlights this fresh fantasy adventure’s (a) Epic Scope, (b) Cinematic Style, and (c) Faith theme.

The Heroes of Echo Gate is fun, fresh fantasy. Dorgo and his fellowship of Harryhausen-like creatures defend a magical portal from a horde of demons. Epic!

As the cover implies, we have our beloved weird-fiction investigator & mercenary Dorgo (the guy front and center on the cover with the dowsing rod and sword) defending the titular portal with a band of friends (most of whom could have stared in a Ray Harryhausen movie. For the young readers take note that Harryhausen was the “Frank Frazetta” of cinema who gave life to the fantastical creatures before computer graphics were invented. There are three acts that follow the classic purposes: setup, rising tension, and an epic battle. The climax consumes a full third of the book and resonates with all the grandeur of defending Tolkien’s Helm’s Deep. The city of Soolaflan, on the island of Thavarar, is the fortress and it is situated around Echo Gate. Demons from across time want access to it. The portals across the world of Tanyime (and even across time and space) echo those from C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine Cycle and even Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga.

(a) Epic Scope

Read the first two books to appreciate the players and the role of the Wandering Swords group: Book One: Mad Shadows by Joe Bonadonna and Book Two: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent. The first two are episodic weird-mystery with Dorgo taking the spotlight. The adventures are more “Crime & Sorcery” than “Sword & Sorcery.” Dorgo is not an official constable or justice keeper, but he is a hired layman with investigative skills and a magical dowsing rod. Bonadonna brands his Dorgo tales “Gothic Noir” which is fitting. Despite the weirdness of Valdar city and the threatening necromancy that abounds, we know Dorgo will survive and resolve any case as surely as Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser did.

Heroes of Echo Gate is simply more epic than the first two. First, the structure abandons the episodic set of stories for one epic tale. Secondly, the point of view (although maintaining a focus on Dorgo) pans back to feature a party of 6-8 heroes.  Also, at 318pages, it is larger than the first two (at 270 and 233 pages). With these changes, combined with the prevalence of non-human creatures and some engagement of royalty, Heroes of Echo Gate fits a high-fantasy mold.

(b) Cinematic Style & A Fellowship of Harryhausen Creatures

Joe Bonadonna weaves in Easter Eggs to his many relationships/bibliography. Two obvious ones I caught were: (1) the “Rogue Blades” mercenary group, a call out to Jason M. Waltz’s Rogue Blades Foundation publishing (Bonadonna has a contribution with David C. Smith in RBF’s Scott Oden Presents: The Lost Empire of Sol); (2), a description of weird terrain that contained Waters of Darkness (the title of a book Bonadonna co-wrote with David C. Smith).

Bonadonna has written articles for Black Gate wherein he describes how cinema informed his style.  Prior/in-addition-to writing, he was a rock guitarist, songwriter, and even a board member of the Chicago Screenwriter’s Network. So he composes as if he is writing for the camera, and his mind has been influenced by the masters. This reads like a homage to classic fantasy films. Dorgo’s group comprises creatures right out of the 1958 7th Voyage of Sinbad and the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts. This time, many of the Harryhausen-like beings are heroes rather than villainous monsters; for instance, the cyclops Quedemas (with his hilariously named warhammer “Daisy”) and his compatriot Saburo the minotaur serve as warriors with Dorgo. Incidentally, those two are like brothers and their comradery is emotionally engaging. Plenty of animated skeletons, evil harpies, and some Talos-like automatons are also present.

The Heroes of Echo Gate begs to be put into stop-motion, cinematic form.

Screen shots from Ray Harryhausen films

(c) Conflict: Faith

Like lots of fantasy, there are themes of spirituality or faith being explored. There is nothing heavy-handed here. Expect just the right amount of thought-provoking tidbits one may expect when protagonists are battling angelic/demonic powers. As much as the monsters are drawn from Mount Olympus and cinema, the angels reflect various Christian manifestations (i.e., nuns). Everyone, good or evil, seems to play with Odyllic power, the same magic that empowers Dorgo and his dowsing rod.  At root of the conflict is the corruptibility of those without faith in gods versus those who are faithful.  Also at play is the faith in companionship/brotherhood (outside of religion).

The Heroes of Echo Gate expands the scope and influence of Dorgo the Dowser. Check out his adventures in the Mad Shadows series:

Joe Bonadonna

Joe Bonadonna is the author of the heroic fantasies Mad Shadows-Book 1: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser (winner of the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Choice Award for Fantasy); Mad Shadows-Book 2: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent; Mad Shadows-Book 3: The Heroes of Echo Gate; the space operas Three Against The Stars and The MechMen of Canis-9; and the sword & sorcery adventure, Waters of Darkness (in collaboration with David C. Smith.) With co-writer Erika M Szabo, he wrote Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin (winner of the 2017 Golden Books Judge’s Choice Award for Children’s Fantasy), and The Power of the Sapphire Wand. He also has stories appearing in: Azieran—Artifacts and Relics; GRIOTS 2: Sisters of the Spear; Heroika: Dragon Eaters; Poets in Hell; Doctors in Hell; Pirates in Hell; Lovers in Hell; Mystics in Hell; Sinbad: The New Voyages, Volume 4; Unbreakable Ink; Sha’Daa Toys (in collaboration with Shebat Legion), and The Lost Empire of Sol (with David C. Smith.) In addition to his fiction, he has written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.

Visit his Amazon Author’s page or his Facebook author’s page, called Bonadonna’s Bookshelf.


Saturday, October 23, 2021

Day of Might - Oct 23rd marks a S&S Holiday

Grab a candle, gong, and S&S magazine/book now, and prepare to celebrate!

As notified via the Tales from the Magician's Skull blog, the Skull commands you to celebrate Sword & Sorcery today. Listen to his video transmission.

Check out Liam Lyceum's Video, as he explains how to celebrate:

But Liam is one of the few. What are you doing to celebrate S&S?

The Skull suggests you click here to be notified of a future publication!

But wait, there is more. Listen to Joseph Goodman and Howard Andrew Jones celebrate the Day of Might: