Monday, July 26, 2021

Forging Independence

  

Another Dyscrasia Fiction short story has been published, this time in Swords & Sorcery Magazine's July 2021 edition. "Forging Independence" focuses on Doctor Grave's struggle to raise daughters in the Underworld. Have a look. It's free to read online.


This story follows "Raising Daughters" published late last year in Whetstone:

More stories are to come via various outlets, I hope.

Sept-Oct Groupread Topic Poll is up

 Join the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads in selecting the Sept-Oct topics:

Belgian Coke Oven and Vinton Furnace 2021 - Ohio Ruins

While our kids were young, my wife and I toured many of the Native American ("aka Indian") mounds across Ohio (Serpent Mound, Mound City, Seip Mound...many more) we stumbled upon ruins of the past industry (~Civil War era) such as the Hope Furnace. This led to the desire to seek out other lost edifices and has inspired some of my writing (ie Clan Tonn in the Dyscrasia Fiction universe). For more on the history of iron furnaces in OH, I recommend:

 So I learned about this gem of a site called Vinton Furnance, which is accessible but off the beaten track. There are two key features at this location: one, the Belgian Coke Furnaces used to turn coal into coke fuel used for the blast furnace, and two, the huge Vinton blast furnace used to extract iron from ore.

Vinton Furnace operated from 1854 to 1883. In 1875 the charcoal-fired Vinton Furnace was converted to use coke for fuel. The unique feature of the Vinton Furnace is the set of 24 Belgian coke ovens. The battery of ovens was used to process coal into the coke, which was then was used to fire the furnaces.   Due to the local coal's high-sulfur content, efforts to produce coke capable of firing the iron furnace failed.  Coal had to be brought in by railroad to produce satisfactory coke. (from https://ohiodnr.gov/wps/portal/gov/odnr/go-and-do/plan-a-visit/find-a-property/belgian-coke-oven-ruins)

1) Belgian Coke Furnace (used to turn coal in coke fuel needed for the blast furnace)

(from http://www.oldeforester.com/Vinton.htm#Belgian ) The following is a copy of a newspaper report dated 11/25/1875 which Lawrence McWhorter, Hamden, OH, found in the Democratic Inquirer archives.  He recognized its historical importance in the Iron Industry of The Hanging Rock Iron Region.....The article was written at the opening of the coke plant and at the time the new process was thought to be successful. Unfortunately, the local coal proved to be too high in sulphur content and couldn't be used....The article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette and was written by a technical writer.

"The coal is ordinary hill coal of this region, and found from eighteen to twenty feet below the limestone ore.  This is taken first to the crusher, where it is broken up into small pieces of a size to permit them passing through a screen of about five-eights mesh.  It is then elevated and passed through the screen, from which it passes to the ‘Separator.’  This is simply a sieve working up and down in water, and by this process the whole of the slate and sulfur in the coal (being of greater specific gravity than the coal) sinks to the bottom of the sieve, and passes out there, while the clean coal flows out over the top and is carried to bins where it is left to drain off its water and dry sufficiently to go into the ovens.  From these bins it is taken in iron cars right out  upon the top of the ovens and drops into them through holes made for that purpose.  When coked for thirty-six to forty-eight hours it is pushed from the ovens in a solid mass or plug and extinguished by a stream of water poured upon it and it is then ready for use.  These ovens are of the Belgian type, and twenty four in number, standing side by side in a row or battery.  On one side is the coke floor, upon which the coke is discharged when coked sufficiently.  Upon the other side stands a pushing engine, which runs upon a track the whole length of the ovens, and from which when the ovens are opened there issues a huge plunger, which passes entirely through the ovens and shoves the m ass of coke out upon the other side, thus dispensing with the use of men and rakes to empty them, and discharging and filling an oven in about three minutes.  The ovens themselves are simply rectangular tubes of fire brick, twenty-two feet long, three feet wide and six feet high, with cast iron doors at each end.  Above, below and around each however, runs a system of flues through which are carried the gases evolved in coking, and which are thus utilized in creating greater heat for this purpose."



2) The Vinton Blast Furnace (used to melt iron ore and produce pig iron)

 Quote about its history and image below from Olde Forester.com:

Vinton furnace was placed in blast in 1854. Mr. Culbertson of the original company soon retired for in 1859 the firm was Means, Clark and Company. At this time Cyrus Newkirk was manager of the works. The original stack was 11 feet across the boshes, 32 1/2 feet in height and in forty-seven weeks of 1857 made about 3,100 tons of foundry iron from the local ores.

About 1868 or 1869 this firm sank a shaft west of the furnace and about 130 feet in depth to the Quakertown or No. 2 coal with the intention of using it as fuel. In 1872 Thomas B. Bancroft and his partner, Charles I. Rader, leased the property from the Philadelphia owners and undertook the smelting of the local ores with the shaft coal. This fuel, however, was unsuited for this purpose as the bed was very faulty and the coal high in sulphur and ash. The firm was now known as the Vinton Coal and Iron Company as both pig metal and coal were offered to the trade. The old charcoal stack, Vinton furnace, ceased operation in about 1883. Soon after this a coal furnace, 50 by 11 feet, was built on the site....

" For that time the new Vinton furnace, under the name of Vinton Coal and Iron Company, was modern in every respect. It had a steel jacket, was water cooled, had special devices for charging and casting, and had efficient hot blast stoves. This stack was 50 feet in height by 11 feet in diameter at the boshes. The rated capacity was 20 tons of metal per day or 6,000 tons per year."

How to get there

Vinton Furnace is near Hocking Hills Ohio (an outstanding park). However, it is not part of the normal park trails. It is located within the "experimental forest" which is run by the USDA and the State of Ohio (I think). They do experiments such as clear-cutting and monitoring regrowth.  Anyway, the public is welcome, especially on foot.


Do not expect great phone-cellular service, though the nearby town of Mcarthur seems to have some. Always good to bring a trusty old map just in case. Getting to the forest isn't too bad.

 Ohio Dept of Nature Resources (PDF Map): Map of Vinton 

Hiking the trail is easy no, especially with Apps like All Trails (download the Pine Run Trailmmap for Vinton....then even without cell service or wifi....the App can track your position over the map using basic GPS (as long as you downloaded prior).  Works splendidly.

Other hikers have documented how to get there and their step-by-step experiences:

Hocking Hills too!

Hocking Hills park is so close, you'll need to reserve time to walk part of its many curated pathways. Old Man's Cave, the Rock House, and Cedar Falls are favorites of ours.








Sunday, July 4, 2021

Beyond Barlow by Jason R. Koivu - Review. by S.E.

S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book blurb attracted me to Jason R. Koivu's Beyond Barlow since I am a fan of Heraclix & Pomp. Turns out his summary is spot on.
"Somewhere between Huck Finn and Locke Lamora" -- Forrest Aguirre, author of Heraclix and Pomp


Beyond Barlow is Intellectual Grimdark: Readers typically differentiate stereotypical High Fantasy (elves, dwarves, wizards with pointy hats with a slant toward happy adventuring) vs Low Fantasy (more "realism" & "earthier" milieu, with a focus on humans defending trenches at the battlefront or crawling through crypts to save a maiden or rob a god). The latter encompasses sub-genres like Sword & Sorcery and the contemporary-named Grimdark.

Beyond Barlow has no explicit sorcery, and lies somewhere between medieval fiction and today's Grimdark. Yet it feels different, and this difference can be a plus or a detraction for readers. It all boils down to the conflict. Most adventures of Dark Fantasy tap into simple conflicts of Hero(ine) protagonists vs evil villains/creatures. Beyond Barlow works the more obtuse Hero vs. Self (or arguable Hero vs. Nature) conflict; this development can be slower to develop and more obtuse than the former.

The book follows Ford Barlow who is an impulsive, violent teenager who struggles to fit in with his family in a comfortable way. The story tracks his coming of age as he learns to kill in battle; he causes several brutal accidents leading to his departure from Barlow (his family's hamlet). He joins the Wayward Boys, and his teambuilding with the gang has all the hallmarks of Golding's Lord of the Flies.

Themes of "family matters" persist across every chapter; i.e., what does it means to belong to one? What is your role as a member? The opening chapter, for instance, has Ford going to battle with his dad, step-brother, and dog Stinky. At first, I thought this was a foundation for a Ford-vs-other-clan narrative, but subsequent chapters amplified Ford's feelings of mis-belonging.

Ford is continually haunted by visions of his father, a woodcutter. The following chapters focus on his bonding with a band of thieves. Plenty of drama unfolds as the wanderlust boys survive by thieving food, braving cold winters, and looting crypts. The characters Runt and Ham echo Ford's relationship with his step-brother Leo; they were my favorite of the bunch.

Its uniqueness may also make this less accessible. Ford isn't really honorable (though he does mature a bit)... the situations he experiences are very grim, and without a clear villain, it leans toward intellectual fiction. The series continues with the sequel The Rue of Hope, which interestingly calls out magic. So we can speculate that the tone shifts towards dark Sword & Sorcery in the next installment.

Blurb for The Rue of Hope:
Murder in the streets. Murder in the houses of the holy. The violent deaths of prominent figures have the populous on edge. Now, amid fire and flood, the revolt is on. The castle is taken, the lord is on the run, and the city is crumbling. With society on the verge of collapse, impulsive street-fighter Ford Barlow finds himself in just as much turmoil. Not only is he juggling his own problems, but his slippery rogue friend is embroiled in a string of high-profile assassinations. Mercenary work for a mage meant to distance him from his troubles only highlights his selfish ways and drives him back into a crumbling world of scandal and betrayal. Magic, adventure and murder combine in this fantasy-mystery!


View all my reviews

Friday, June 25, 2021

July-Aug Group reads: DMR and Bard

 

Join us this July and August as we read and discuss two topics over in the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads.

This July-Aug we have two 2-month Groupreads. Here are the Links:

A) DMR books - Discussion Link
B) Bard series - Discussion Link

Banner Credits:
-DMR publications represented by the cover from Worlds Beyond Worlds: The Short Fiction of John R. Fultz (author John R. Fultz, and core artist Brian LeBlanc) 2021
- Keith Taylors Bard series represented by 1986 cover to Bard IV: Ravens' Gathering,

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Eda Blessed II Released Today

Check out our Black Gate announcement for Eda Blessed II by Milton Davis.

That's me with a signed copy, thanks Milton!

I have the honor of contributing a testimonial blurb on the back cover:

"Omari Ket is a rogue warrior, not a spy, but he is as suave, cunning, and as lethal as any Secret Agent Man. ‘Agency’ is a term for the capacity of a character to act independently, and Omari is an Agency onto himself: he reports to no one. Omari is a ladies’ man in a dog-eat-dog world. If you like a cut-throat, libertine, action-oriented protagonist, then you are ‘Eda Blessed.’"

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Turn Over the Moon- review by SE



Sorrowless

Sorrowful and Sorrowless Fear neither Moon nor Sun,
Side by side, we flip the stones…
...Until both can claim we’ve won.
Last October, Black Gate alerted folks to the Turn Over the Moon’s Kickstarter campaign which brought Ryan Harvey’s world of Ahn-Tarqa into novel form. That journey began a decade prior and we’ll cover the ancillary tales leading up to that. Although a prequel and side stories exist, be assured that the novel feels designed to be the gateway into this Sorrow-laden world. Have no fear (or Sorrow) and enter here (with Turn Over the Moon).

The subtitle “Saga of the Sorrowless Book #1” had me gearing up for an epic fantasy in which (a) most mysteries would resolve in subsequent books and (b) the pace may be slower than the short stories I typically read. That would have been fine, of course, but Harvey (who already has proven himself a master of the short form) pleasantly delivers a cross-breed of short-story style with typical novel form: there are mysteries, but you get to learn them speedily, and the pace is super-charged. The opening chapters will have you wondering (no worries, no spoilers here): (1) who are the Shapers, (2) how the heck does the prevailing Sorrow connect to the heroine, world, and conflict, and (3) who is the mystery woman? I won’t tell you here but rejoice in knowing that the revelations are engaging and explained satisfyingly within the covers.
“The Shapers can reach me in my dreams. I escaped their clutches once, but in the blackness of sleep they tear open the walls of my head and slither inside. In each nightmare they glare down on me as they once glared down on all the land, from the edge of the eastern desert to the dwindling tip of the western peninsula. As they once glared down on my father, bound across his own workbench for their tortures. Even though their eyes are drowned within the dark slits of their masks, I can feel their stares. The robes hiding their bodies flutter around me in a barrier. There is nothing beyond.” — the teenage heroine Belde

Abandon all Sorrow, all ye who enter here!


This book will appeal to just about any fantasy enthusiast, from Epic Fantasy to Sword & Planet to Sci-Fi Opera fans. Given the primary protagonist is the teenaged girl Belde, this leans toward being a young-adult dystopian adventure; however, any stereotypical dystopian romance is minimized, the violence is beautifully brutal, and the pace advances like an action flick. Belde manages to escape predicaments no one should ‘realistically’ overcome, but this is all forgivable when the world and story are so engaging (like James Bond or Indiana Jones, it’s okay for them to succeed… cripes we have dinosaurs to ride, colossi to battle, and tubes to remove from our heads!).

Here’s Ryan Harvey’s recipe for entertaining adventure:
  • Endearing heroines and heroes
  • A land saturated with steampunk technology… and dinosaurs!
  • A magic Art tied to an melancholic element called “Sorrow” that is as ever-present as the weather
  • Tortured, fascinating villains
  • Action that won’t quit
  • Deep mysteries revealed pleasantly and frequently

I’m a big fan of books that provide titles and covers that set up correct expectations. This one works well. The title explicitly refers to a board game which is like Reversi (aka Othello) with a purpose mirroring our protagonist’s journey to change the world, i.e.., by turning away the Sorrow. At the center of the cover is Belde and her dinosaur-pet Rint, who are appropriately the focus. The background speaks to the conflict in the book: there is a war brewing between the nature-loving, oppressed folk (Sorrowless, represented by the mountains on the left) and the steampunk, mind-controlling elders (Sorrowful Shapers of the Black Spires on the right).

The Sorrow and the Sorrowless

Having a magic system rooted in emotion is outstanding. Yet the Sorrow is more than part of the Art. Its existence emerges from the world’s history, inspires the Shaper’s technology and goals, and (most importantly) informs all the conflict and heroine’s plight. The best way to describe it is to share the author’s own summary of the Sorrow’s creation, echoed below from the Kickstarter campaign:

"At the heart of Turn Over the Moon and the other stories set on the otherworldly continent of Ahn-Tarqa is “The Sorrow,” a mental burden almost all people suffer from. When I first hatched the idea of Ahn-Tarqa, it was as a playground where I could mix dinosaurs, ancient civilizations, and weird science. A place where I could write scenes of a Tyrannosaurus fighting a metal automaton made from archaic technology.

But the world was missing something that would make it more than a fun sandbox. I started to think of authors who have influenced me; the tone of melancholy lurking under the works Raymond Chandler, Leigh Brackett, Clark Ashton Smith, and Cornell Woolrich made me wonder what would a world where melancholy was the basis of existence might be like. A world where what we today call “depression” is as regular as breathing. I came up with “The Sorrow,” and then my fictional world was no longer a backdrop but something alive and rich.

But during the last few decades, something new has emerged. Across Ahn-Tarqa are a few who need no cure for the Sorrow. These “Sorrowless” are blessed with the vitality of life, but they can still know terror and sadness, and their condition sets them apart from others. Worse, they are the target of the Shapers, who want them as either slaves for their tests or dead. The Sorrowless won’t accept either

The Sorrow is a chronic depression that makes the world seem a terrifying place simply because it exists. For the people of Ahn-Tarqa, this futility has strangled the development of civilization. Humans live terrified in a strange world of great beasts and mysterious technology that burns their minds to even touch. Only the morbid, cruel race known as the Shapers, who cover their deformed faces behind masks even amongst themselves, have sought to find a cure for the Sorrow. But they seek the cure for their benefit only. All other people are disposable tools in their quest." Ryan Harvey


Past & Future Sorrowless

2011: “An Acolyte of Black Spires” short story by Ryan Harvey wins the Writers of the Future Contest. That work is available via Amazon and Dream Tower Media. Here’s the story summary:

In oppressive towers of walled cities, the scholars of a decrepit race search for answers to the mysterious ailment that has oppressed the land for ages: the disease known as “The Sorrow” that crushes the spirit with hopelessness.
In a room in one of these towers, the lonely historian Quarl sees his whole world challenged when he takes on a younger assistant: a woman who hides a secret that can shatter the world. But first it may have to shatter Quarl.

2013: “Sorrowless Thief” story: Ryan Harvey shared this on Black Gate (still available via this link,)!
Dyzan Ludd was the Sorrowless Thief, and the prize he had in mind proved he was insane — or a thief like none other in Ahn-Tarqa.

2020: Farewell to Tyrn, a prequel tale for Turn Over the Moon.

On the continent of Ahn-Tarqa, where science and magic are one, and humans share the land with great saurians, all races have in common a dreadful ailment: the disease known as “The Sorrow.” A lingering hopelessness with no cure. A fear of life itself. But for twelve-year-old Belde, her days in the city of Tyrn, playing in the streets with her whip-smart dinosaur pet Rint, seem far removed from the Sorrow she sees in others. Then, one burning summer day, cruel sorcerers from the masked race known as “The Shapers” slither from their black towers into Tyrn and knock on the door of the workshop of Belde’s father. Belde is about to drop into a nightmare that will carry her and Rint across the city, fleeing from the Shapers’ twisted killers, and into the glaring light of the truth about her life—a truth that echoes over all Ahn-Tarqa with the sound of the word “Sorrowless.”


2020: Turn Over the Moon, novel: this is where I entered the fray, and it works as a fine starting point. It’s the longest of the works so far, the first novel of several promised of the Saga of the Sorrowless. In short, it follows Belde from her escape from Tyrn to her charging full-throttle into a war of epic proportions. Blurb:

In a world of prehistoric savagery where barbarism and dark science sorcery vie for power over decadent cities, a brave young orphaned woman, Belde, and her miniature pet dinosaur, Rint, may hold the key to freeing a world oppressed by a psychic burden called the Sorrow and saving humanity from ultimate self-destruction!


2022: Look out for Novel #2 Saga of the Sorrowless (as per Ryan Harvey’s author’s blog).

 

Bio

Ryan Harvey is a science fiction and fantasy author who lives in Costa Mesa, California. He’s a recipient of the Writers of the Future Award, and his fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Beyond Centauri, Plasma Frequency, Tales From the Magician’s Skull, and the anthology Candle in the Attic Window. He has written extensive nonfiction articles for Black Gate and other magazines. Ryan graduated from Carleton College in Minnesota with a BA in history. He worked as a Hollywood story editor, speed-reading instructor, and copyeditor before becoming a professional writer. He writes marketing content by day, and during the nights and weekends creates works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. His ongoing science-fantasy series on the continent of Ahn-Tarqa explores the many different nooks of genre in a gumbo of dinosaurs, weird tech, and fantastic adventure. His influences include Leigh Brackett, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ian Fleming, Algernon Blackwood, and Michael Moorcock. He is a leading authority on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and loves movies, history, and numerous oddball topics. In the world outside his apartment fortress, he’s an improv comedian who performs as part of the Improv Collective in Costa Mesa. He lives with a sinister black cat, and his spirit animal is Godzilla.