Sunday, July 31, 2022

Tales From the Magician's Skull Blog Round-Up: Jul 12 to 29th 2022

Skull Minion of the Thirteenth Order, Bill Ward, casts more spells upon us weary, mortal dogs (via the Tales From the Magician's Skull Blog, link).

JUL 29   In The Land of Dreams: Lord Dunsany’s At the Edge of the World by Fletcher Vredenburgh

I didn’t read any of Dunsany’s stories until long after I had encountered several of his direct literary descendants. I discovered H.P. Lovecraft on the Stapleton Library shelves, Clark Ashton Smith on the foxed pages of old anthologies, and Jack Vance in dad’s boxes of books in the attic. I didn’t know their style had been presaged by Dunsany’s stories of mysteriously abandoned cities, phantasmagorical river journeys, and strange, forgotten gods. I knew some of Lovecraft’s earlier stories, especially his short novel, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1927), were called “Dunsanian,” but it is only in more recent times I’ve read Dunsany’s own words.


JUL 26   Ballantine Adult Fantasy: William Hope Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson, godfather to cosmic horror and ghost detectives alike, had two books reprinted in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, The Boats of the Glen Carrig and The Night LandThe Night Land was published in two volumes because of its length — more controversially it received heavy editing from series editor Lin Carter to render Hodgson’s deliberately difficult prose more accessible.


JUL 24   Adventures in Fiction: Lord Dunsany (also known as Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany) by Michael Curtis

Some Appendix N authors directly influenced the creation of fantasy role-playing. We see concrete inspiration in the trolls borrowed from Poul Anderson or the “Vancian” magic system of D&D. Other Appendix N writers exerted a less obvious influence, providing more a sense of tone and wonder than any specific element. It can be argued, however, that one Appendix N author wielded the greatest influence on fantasy role-playing not because his works were borrowed wholesale or served to color Gygax and Arneson’s campaigns, but because he inspired numerous other Appendix N writers, impelling them to create the stories from which RPGs derive their origins. Few would recognize the name Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, but many more know him by his title, Lord Dunsany (pronounced Dun-SAY-ny), whose birthday we honor today.


JUL 22  Ballantine Adult Fantasy: Lord Dunsany

Among the most reprinted authors in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line was Lord Dunsany, the Anglo-Irish peer who was also a tremendously prolific short story writer and playwright. Dunsany’s sweeping elegies of imagined worlds were both reminiscent of classical myth and the dreaming aesthetic of the visionary fantasists and tellers of Weird Tales going back to Poe. Dunsany is cited as an influence by almost every major writer of the fantastic to emerge over the course of the twentieth century.


JUL 19  Fantasy in the Time of Lord Dunsany by Brian Murphy

When Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany (July 1878-October 1957) set pen to paper, he was wrestling tigers and dragons from the air and committing them to paper. None before or since have done it quite like the man known as Lord Dunsany. He was sui generis, writing in an age where there was no fantasy genre as we know it today. Dunsany was influenced by the bible and Greek mythology, old fairy tales, and to a lesser degree by a few peers including Rudyard Kipling and William Morris. But crucially, not a body of fantasy literature. Coupled with his one-of-a-kind elevated writing style, Dunsany’s early fantasy material feels ethereal and wondrous, as fresh as when it was written more than 100 years ago.


JUL 12   A Look at Savage Scrolls

New from Pulp Hero Press is Jason Ray Carney’s Savage Scrolls (2020), an anthology of contemporary sword-and-sorcery fiction. And make no mistake, this is actual sword-and-sorcery, not sword-and-sorcery used as a vague descriptor, a marketing buzz word, or a broad umbrella term for dark fantasy or fantastic darkness or pseudo-fabulist progwave interstitial slip-hop ironically-referencing-a-loincloth wannabe litfic masquerading as sword-and-sorcery. No, Savage Scrolls is refreshingly exactly what it purports to be, and it does what it says on the cover – providing a collection of contemporary sword-and-sorcery from some of the best modern practitioners in the game.



Wednesday, July 27, 2022

“You Are A Grim Hero”; topical highlights of Grimdark’s history (Zothique, Fighting Fantasy)

 “You Are A Grim Hero”; topical highlights of Grimdark’s history (Zothique, Fighting Fantasy)

Spring 2015, guest post by S.E. Lindberg (author of Dyscrasia Fiction) for Hyperborea Blog – Francesco La Manno --> that link is defunct, so the article is now reposted here in 2022.


As “Grimdark” matures and gathers traction, readers seem interested in defining its scope.  Many blog posts already cover the topic of “What is Grimdark,” including posts from champion Mark Lawrence (author of Prince of Thorns): Mark Lawrence Post May 2013  - What is Grimdark?; and Mark Lawrence Post Feb 2015 - "Is Grimdark dead?"  (With guests: R Scott Bakker, Karen Miller, Joe Abercrombie, Teresa Frohock, Kameron Hurley, Richard Morgan). This post will not try to disambiguated the boundary between overlapping/similar genres, but it will highlight a few books/topics that aficionado’s and newcomers should enjoy:  

1) 1930’s Grimdark/Sword & Sorcery: the oft-overlooked Clark Ashton Smith

2) 1980’s Grimdark/Sword & Sorcery: the origins of Grimdark stem from Game’s Workshop’s Fighting Fantasy series


1930’s Grimdark: Smith’s Zothique

The pen pal mega-trio of Robert E. Howard (REH), H.P. Lovecraft (HPL), and Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) seemed to dominate pulp fiction ~1930.  At that time, today’s genres of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy (and hence Grimdark too) were just lumped into “weird fiction” (i.e., published in “Weird Tales” magazine). The form was almost entirely short story, though some poems and novelette’s emerged. REH wrote the most heroic adventure of the three, and became most known for his Conan yarns (earning the title of “Father of Sword & Sorcery”, though  the genre was not coined until 1961 by author Fritz Leiber); influenced by his pen pals, REH also wrote some good HPL-style horror too.  HPL was fascinated with nondescript/unknown horrors, and is widely known for his Cthulhu yarns.  Then there was CAS. He is least known of the trio, but he shouldn’t be to any Grimdark fan (CAS is also known for his Hyperborea cycle, which likely inspired this blog’s subtitle). CAS was fascinated with poetic horror; his style is denser than REH’s and more descriptive than HPLs.  Since “Grimdark” seems to be primarily novel length horror/fantasy, it is easily argued that it evolved from weird fiction; and of three mentioned here, CAS’s work was the most “Grimdark.” CAS’s Zothique tales are the most dystopian and if you are reading this post, you should also read them (bulleted arguments below). In his to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953, CAS described Zothique as:   


“… the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves…The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days. Oars and sails alone are used by mariners. There are no fire-arms—only the bows, arrows, swords, javelins, etc. of antiquity...” 


Why Read The Zothique Tales?

  • Aficionado’s duty – know the origins of Sword & Sorcery and Grimdark

  • Short Stories – won’t consume much time

  • The stories are awesomely Grimdark

  • Free – available online thanks to Eldritchdark, a fan website run with permission from CAS’s family. The Zothique tales are ordered as they appear in Necrocomicon’s Press 1995 printing of “Clark Ashton Smith’s Tales of Zothique” edited by Will Murray and Steve Behrends (i.e., chronological order of publication). A great review of these was shared by author Ryan Harvey on Blackgate:


  1. The Empire of the Necromancers - Jan 1932 

  2. The Isle of the Torturers July 1932

  3. The Charnel God - Nov 1932

  4. The Dark Eidolon - Dec 1932

  5. The Voyage of King Euvoran  - Jan 1933

  6. The Weaver In The Vault - Mar 1933

  7. The Tomb Spawn - July 1933

  8. The Witchcraft of Ulua - Aug 1933

  9. Xeethra  - Mar 1934

  10.  The Book of Vergama - Mar-May 1934 

  11. The Last Hieroglyph - Mar-May 1934

  12. Shapes of Adamant- fragment circa 1935 (fragment)

  13. Necromancy In Naat - Feb 1935 

  14. The Black Abbot of Puthuum - Spring 1935

  15. The Death of Ilalotha - Mar 1937

  16. The Garden of Adompha - July 1937

  17. Zothique - poem 

  18. The Master of The Crabs - Aug 1947

  19. Mandor's Enemy - fragment  (fragment)

  20. Morthylla - 1951-52


"In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” Warhammer 40,000 tagline

“The FF (Fighting Fantasy) books were the early thoughts about fantasy needing to be dark and grim that became more fully developed in the worlds of Warhammer” John Blanche, 2014


1980’s Grimdark: Fighting Fantasy  

Many cite Grimdark’s name as being evolved from the tagline of Game’s Workshop’s sci-fi brand of fiction/games: Warhammer 40,0000. The tagline follows: "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” Of course, GW also produces the fantasy Olde World line up too (medieval fantasy). Check out GW’s Black Library for their books. So before Warhammer 40,0000, what did GW produce?  What spawned this tagline of Grim Darkness?  The answer: Fighting Fantasy. Its development is chronicled in a new book, and the series has been revived in App/eBook form. 

My gateway into the Sword & Sorcery genre was most likely the Fighting Fantasy books (choose-your-own-adventures + dice) created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in the early 1980's (Games Workshop founders; these two would then co-found Warhammer). Before personal computers & smart phones could satiate the need for solo adventuring on the go, these books rocked. They were full of disturbing illustrations that still haunt me to this day (see blogpost on evolving Fighting Fantasy books). Interestingly, select ones (like Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Steve Jackson’s Sorcery) are now available on Kindle from Worldweaver and iTunes by Tinman games.  The tablet evolution has revitalized these game books, check them out!  Ostensibly marketed toward the young adult crowd, these are full of darkness. The artwork of the Games Workshop has always been top notch.  The corpse image from Section 122 of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain has haunted me for two decades! 

Jonathan Green, author of many novels including those under the Warhammer and Fighting Fantasy brands, recently led a Kickstarter campaign to create a history book detailing how these adventure books evolved.  This 2012 effort was successful, and the print and eBook copies are now available.  The resulting book You Are The Hero (YATH) is 272 pages of illustrated goodness, with insights from authors, publishers, and artists.  John Blanche, currently Games Workshop’s art director and “the man responsible for coming up with the look of the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000” (p45 YATH) explicitly addresses the evolution of Grimness:

The FF books were the early thoughts about fantasy needing to be dark and grim that became more fully developed in the worlds of Warhammer – and it is still happening today. The punk thing is a tribal street visual that pervades all history as far back as you wish – it’s a hint of shamanism, tribalism, barbarism, etc. People relate to that in a very enthusiastic manner. Fantasy is not about fairies and golden knights but about guys with shaved heads and zombies and a multitude of macabre horrific nastiness.” (p52, You Are The Hero, 2014)

Diehard Grimdark aficionados will hunt down The Zagor Chronicles, a series of four 1994 novels which FF fan Lin Liren found The Zagor Chronicles to be, “surprisingly grim, bleak and brutally violent for novels aimed at a 13-15 year-old audience, and the bittersweet ending is unforgettable.” These seem expensive and obscure--I’m hunting for these myself.




About S.E. Lindberg 

S.E. Lindberg resides near Cincinnati, Ohio working as a microscopist, employing his skills as a scientist and artist to understand the manufacturing of products analogous to medieval paints. Two decades of practicing chemistry, combined with a passion for the Sword and Sorcery genre, spurred him to write Lords of Dyscrasia, a graphic adventure fictionalizing the alchemical humors. Spawn of Dyscrasia continues the dark saga, featuring cover art by Ken Kelly (available now in audio book too).  Beyond Dyscrasia Fiction, his short story Legacy of the Great Dragon opens the new anthology from Perseid Press HEROIKA: Dragon Eaters (available for pre-order now, paperbacks available ~May/June 2015), in which the Father of Alchemy entombs his own source of magic.

S.E. Lindberg co-moderates a Goodreads group focused on Sword & Sorcery and invites you to participate (link).

Dyscrasia Fiction on Youtube

S E Lindberg Author Blog  

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Rogues in the House releases A Book of Blades

I am truly honored and excited to be amongst the rogues in this anthology. "Embracing Ember" is a Dyscrasia Fiction story that fills in Dr. Grave's struggles (as a single father and necromancer) to "raise" his three golem daughters. The chronology of short stories to date is below; a few more contributions are needed to span the epilogue of Spawn of Dyscrasia (in which Dr. Grave finally finds the ingredients to make his own family) to another novel in the works.

About A Book of Blades and Rogues in the House

This January Black Gate teased a second publication from the Rogues in the House Sword & Sorcery podcast while we covered the folks/rogues behind the show and highlighted episodes (Go Rogues! link). Beyond luring in S&S authors like Howard Andrew Jones, Scott Oden, John R. Fultz, and Jason Ray Carney, they’ve covered Morgan King & Phil Gelatt (creators of the movie The Spine of Night), Peter D. Adkison (founder and first CEO of Wizards of the Coast and owner of GenCon, the world’s largest board game convention), and Sara Frazetta (granddaughter of the fantasy master painter, an artist herself, and CEO of Frazetta Girls).

Now the anthology has been released into the wild. A Book of Blades hosts 15 short stories from established and emerging heroic authors! Check out the table of contents below. There are even illustrations from the aforementioned Morgan Galen King & Sara Frazetta, amongst other artists. All proceeds go toward making the show a stronger and more attractive platform for all. 

The anthology is available now in Paperback and Kindle.

Cover Blurb:

Within this tome are buried the blades of warriors, thieves, and wizards. Tales of their deeds, glories, and triumphs shall ring throughout the ages.
Rogues in the House Podcast has gathered the best tales of Sword & Sorcery from across the community.

Here, brave adventurers will find stories lovingly crafted from Heroic Fantasy greats such as Howard Andrew Jones, John R. Fultz, and John C. Hocking. At their side are up-and-coming genre authors Chuck Clark, T.A. Markitan, Cora Buhlert, and many more.

Includes artwork from various artists, including Morgan King, director of Spine of the Night, and Sara Frazetta, granddaughter of the Legend himself!

Short Stories Table of Contents:

  • “By the Sword” John C. Hocking
  • “Ghost Song” Chuck Clark
  • “Last of the Swamp Tribe” L.D. Whitney
  • “Wanna Bet?” T.A. Markitan
  • “The Serpent’s Heart” Howard Andrew Jones
  • “How They Fall” Angeline B. Adams and Remco van Straten
  • “The Breath of Death” Jason M. Waltz
  • “Embracing Ember” S.E. Lindberg  (A Dyscrasia Fiction entry)
  • “The Curse of Wine” J.M. Clarke
  • “The Gift of Gallah” Matthew John
  • “Crawl” Scott Oden
  • “The Spine of Virens Imber” Nathaniel Webb
  • “The City of the Screaming Pillars” Cora Buhlert
  • “Two Silvers for a Song of Blood” Jason Ray Carney
  • “The Blood of Old Shard” John R. Fultz

Illustrations/Art by:
  • Gilead
  • Ursa Doom
  • Sara Frazetta (legendary Frazetta Girl)
  • Lorelei Esther
  • Hardeep Aujla
  • Morgan King (director of The Spine of Night)
  • Jesus Garcia (front cover)

Go Rogue!

Join the critically acclaimed podcast focusing on Sword and Sorcery & Heroic Fantasy.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Tales From the Magician's Skull Blog Round-Up: July 10th 2022


Skull Minion of the Twelfth Order (recently promoted), Bill Ward, continues to guard the threshold between reality & fantasy (via the Tales From the Magician's Skull Blog, link).

Read on, Mortal Dogs!

JUN 21 Appendix N Archaeology: The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series by Michael Curtis

More than a decade before Gary Gygax assembled his list of influential fantasy authors and titles—the famed “Appendix N” which appeared in the Dungeon Masters Guide published in 1979—another author was hard at work compiling a list of fantasy stories to introduce to the reading public. Both catalogs would include some of the same authors on their rolls, and it is safe to say that without the first list, Gary Gygax may never have discovered some of the names that helped influence fantasy role-playing. In the spirit of Goodman Games’ ongoing efforts to return to the roots of the hobby, we now go one step further to explore the fertile landscape from which those roots drew nourishment. This earlier catalog was the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series. Edited by Lin Carter, an esteemed author of science fiction and fantasy in his own right, this literary series was comprised of more than sixty titles released between 1969 and 1974 by Ballantine Books.


JUN 24 Classic Covers: Ballantine Fantasy

The decade of fantasy publishing kicked off by the runaway success of the The Lord of the Rings produced not only a flurry of reprints of classic fantasy, but also an entire crop of creative, iconic, and visionary cover designs. Ballantine Books launched its iconic Ballantine Adult Fantasy line on the strength of the fantasy boom, featuring cover art as wonderous as the contents of the books themselves.  We’ve gathered together some of our favorite covers below to share with you. Enjoy!


JUN 28 A Hero Emerges: Young Thongor by Fletcher Vredenburgh

I have an extreme hate-love-hate relationship with the work of Lin Carter. He was the Chun the Unavoidable of sword-and-sorcery, his efforts still coloring the genre he loved so much, even nearly thirty-five years after his death. His work as an author and probably the greatest promoter of sword-and-sorcery are things most of us can only aspire to, knowing full well we can never achieve his level of fantastic devotion. The Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, the five volumes of Flashing Swords! and many of the assorted anthologies he edited are still books every fantasy fan should own.  That said, few will ever aspire to his accomplishments as a writer.


JUL 1 Charles R. Saunders’ Nyumbani Tales 

In Nyumbani Tales (MV Media 2017), sword-and-sorcery great Charles Saunders collects 13 short stories spanning his early career, work that had previously appeared in a variety of publications, from small press ‘zines like Weirdbook and Black Lite, to mass market anthologies such as Beyond the Fields We Know and Hecate’s Cauldron. Fans of Saunders’ Imaro series will already be somewhat familiar with his short fiction, since the earliest parts of that epic were built upon the classic early Imaro shorts that first won the character his reputation. And, while many of the stories within Nyumbani Tales aren’t strictly speaking sword-and-sorcery, there are not only familiar faces here for Imaro fans, but a great deal of familiar ground as well. That familiar ground, of course, is Nyumbani itself, Saunders’ fantastic African setting.



JUL 5 Where to Start Your Summer Reading

Whether you’ve got vacation from work or school, prefer to shelter-in-place with some strong air-conditioning, or have just recently defeated an interdimensional incursion of home-besieging swine-things and find yourself with a block of free time—it’s a fine occasion for some summer reading! Tales From the Magician’s Skull’s ongoing Where to Start series of articles are written specifically to introduce readers to new (old!) fiction, with particular care taken to untangle some of the more confusing or overwhelming aspects of convoluted publication histories and multiple editions. They are also written by folks who absolutely love the authors, characters, and series in question, and want to share that love with the world.


JUL 8 Congratulations to the 2022 Robert E. Howard Award Winners

Last month’s Robert E. Howard Awards, given by the Robert E. Howard Foundation during the annual celebration of REH’s life and work that is Howard Days, in Cross Plains, Texas, is a chance to honor all of those dedicated scholars, publishers, editors, and artists whose scholarship and passion ensure that REH’s work thrives nearly a century on. Dozens of talented and devoted creators were nominated for awards in various categories, but of course, only a few could win! Readers of Tales From the Magician’s Skull, both print and online, will recognize some of those names, such as frequent contributor Brian Murphy winning in the Emerging Scholar Category, and Jason Ray Carney scoring in the Literary Achievement Category for his helming of Whetstone: The Amateur Magazine of Pulp Sword and Sorcery. Outstanding Achievement in Anthology/Collection went to Jason M. Waltz’s Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, with a list of contributors that is a veritable who’s who in the field of Howard Studies but with four very important writers from our own TFTMS: Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones, and bedrock contributors Adrian Cole, John C. Hocking, and C.L. Werner. The full list of winners is below; to them, and to all the nominees for their extraordinary work, Tales From the Magician’s Skull salutes you!


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Spotlight on SE - DMR Books' Blog

 Independent Author Spotlight: S.E. Lindberg (link)

DMR Books recently honored me with an invitation to participate in the Terra incognita: Lost Worlds of Fantasy and Adventure anthology. This spotlights an interview with me on the publisher's awesome S&S blog.  
“My goal when writing is to take myself to places that are completely unique and unsettling; if I do not feel the sincere weirdness while composing, then readers won’t feel it either."

I tackle the below questions:

  • Please introduce yourself and tell us about your background as a writer.
  • What are the most prominent influences on your writing? How do you incorporate those influences without being derivative?
  • Many authors say marketing is one of their biggest challenges. What tactics have you found to be most effective for getting your name out there?
  • How much do your audience’s expectations factor in to what you write? Does this ever cause you to hold back from experimenting?
  • Have you had any new stories published recently? Are you currently working on any?
  • Name one newer and one older book you have read and enjoyed recently. (“Newer” meaning from the past year or so, and “older” meaning written before 1980.)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

July-Aug S&S Group Read Topic: NEW EDGE contemporary Sword & Sorcery

Born in 1920, the Sword & Sorcery genre continues to evolve.  Let us hone its "New Edge" (a term coined by Howard Andrew Jones). Discussion thread on Goodreads (click here to join in).

The July August "2-month spotlight/group read" will be New Edge (i.e. contemporary) S&S. Your mission for the next two months:
(1) Explore a new S&S author (and/or magazine).
(2) and, chime in/share
(3) stretch goal.... review the new content to enable new readers to find them!

Let us not get mired in "what is" or "what is not S&S" of the past.
Instead share where you think the genre is going, or can go!

Feel Welcome to keep adding-to or browse the poll/survey used to spur this discussion:

Banner Credits
Magazine on Left / Cover artist
Savage Realms Monthly: May 2022: cover artist unattributed
Tales from the Magician's Skull #7: Sanjulian
Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 4: Jim Pitts
WHETSTONE Amateur Magazine of Sword and Sorcery, Issue Five:Carlos Castilho

Savage Realms Monthly May 2022 by Remy Morgeson Tales from the Magician's Skull #7 by Howard Andrew Jones Swords & Sorceries Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 4 by David A. Riley WHETSTONE Amateur Magazine of Sword and Sorcery, Issue Five by Jason Ray Carney

Books on right / Cover artist
-The Night Eternal: Bruce Pennington
-Mathias Thulmann: Witch Hunter: Marta Dettlaff 2018
-Twilight of the Gods:James Iacobelli -2018
-Worlds Beyond Worlds: The Short Fiction of John R. Fultz: Brian LeBlanc
- The Night Eternal by Steve Lines Mathias Thulmann Witch Hunter (Warhammer Chronicles) by C.L. Werner Twilight of the Gods (Grimnir #2) by Scott Oden - Worlds Beyond Worlds The Short Fiction of John R. Fultz by John R. Fultz

New Edge S&S has been a hot topic lately... spurred on by Scott Oden and others like Oliver:

Putting a NEW EDGE on an Old Blade

New Edge S&S Guest Post: Oliver Brackenbury

Oooh...from the Whetstone discord, the original posts to Howard Andrew Jones' 
"New Edge" Manifesto were provided by "Riobard#6007" :

And another by HAJ ~2010: