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:

Nov-Dec S&S Groupreads


Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads

Join us for our Nov-Dec Group-read Topics (Folder/Discussion links below)

Cover Art Credits [Stephen E. Fabian (Far AWay & Never), Ken Kelly (Conan and the Emerald Lotus) and Lauren St. Onge (When the Goddess Wakes)].

Campbell's Ryre in Far Away & Never
Far Away & Never by Ramsey Campbell Far Away and Never by Ramsey Campbell

Conan Pastiche
Conan and the Emerald Lotus by John C. Hocking Conan the Rebel by Poul Anderson The Mists of Doom (Cormac Mac Art, #1) by Andrew J. Offutt Solomon Kane by Ramsey Campbell

Howard Andrew Jones' Ring Sworn Trilogy
When the Goddess Wakes (The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, #3) by Howard Andrew Jones For the Killing of Kings (The Ring-Sworn Trilogy #1) by Howard Andrew Jones Upon the Flight of the Queen (The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, #2) by Howard Andrew Jones

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Special Tales from the Magician's Skull issue AND Sat. Oct 23rd is The Day of Might


Special Issue, Available only through the October 2021 Kickstarter

With intern#331, I scried the future by reading the bones in the Skull’s scat (recall, we clean out his chamber pot). Noting the arrangement of osseous matter, extended ligaments, and larvae-ridden marrow, it seems likely that 

(1) the remains are from intern#127 and ....

(2) The KS will offer a special issue not available in print through any other channel. (It will be available in PDF elsewhere, but the print version will only be available through this KS.)

People who have already subscribed can extend their subscriptions via the KS. Click here to be notified of the ~Oct 24th Kickstarter:

Click here to be notified!

Also, the day prior to the launch, Sat. Oct 23rd, expect some video extravaganza.  See here an excerpt clipping from Tales from the Magician's Skull #6:

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Tales From the Magician's Skull Welcomes Grave Lindberg, Jr. as Publicity Thrall

Tales From the Magician's Skull Welcomes Grave Lindberg, Jr. as Publicity Thrall

Goodman Games announces Publicity Intern

Content reposted from the Goodman Games site:

It pleases the Skull to announce the hiring of Intern #331 to the position of Publicity Thrall, tasked with the propagation of news and announcements concerning Tales From the Magician’s Skull in the realmspace of the interwebs. Furthermore, the Skull anticipates a job opening along very similar lines to materialize in around 4-6 months, and will be accepting applications for Intern #322 at that time.

A surviving participant of the Skull’s recent Open Call, Intern #331’s initial task at Skull HQ was the preparation and serving of coffee, a task he performed poorly. Therefore he was enrolled in the Skull’s continuing education program and imbarred in a kennel, forcibly separated from his Teddy Bear “Rufus,” the suspected source of a degree of retrograde emotionalism on his part, and commanded to ‘seriously contemplate’ his career aspirations. In a move that greatly impressed management, he was utterly forgotten about for several weeks, and #331’s ability to both not overburden his superiors with ephemera and not lose his mind in the oubliette of horrors wherein he was confined recommended him for promotion. When it was realized he was one of the few survivors of the Open Call by dint of his misplacement, this ‘interred intern’s’ upward trajectory was all but assured.

As one of the select survivors, #331 earned the much-coveted Intern-of-the-Year Award, which he is permitted to gawp at in the vault on the first Tuesday of every odd-numbered month. But far grander than this, Intern #331 has been allowed to remain at the Skull’s side for even more TFTMS publishing-world experience, and he will even hereafter be known by his mortal name outside official documentation (though he is forbidden the removal of his numerical tattoo). And, while the Skull cannot currently recall his actual name . . . he is certain it rhymes with Hindenburg.

(Upon further review of both the thaumaturgical archives and the kennel sign in sheet, it has been determined that Intern #331’s name is in fact Grave Lindberg, Jr.)

This Fall, #331’s role primarily involves the ritual cleansing of the Skull’s chamber pot, but he will also be expected to broadcast public announcements while manning the pillory. We have little hope he will last, but please join us in welcoming another pair of hands in service of the Skull!

Friday, October 8, 2021

Weirdbook Zombies - Released with "Queen of Hearts" by SE Lindberg


Weirdbook's Annual Anthology edited by Doug Draa is available now!  

US Amazon Link

Proud to have contributed the caboose story in this one with my story "Queen of Hearts" that pits Man vs. Nature.

"Queen of Hearts" is Horror-Noir, a humorous, bloody take on a New Orleans steeped in coffee, rather than alcohol; when criminals weaponize coffee beans, Nature wins. "Queen of Hearts"  illustrates that Man can only try to manage other naive Men; Nature is not ours to control.

The story was inspired years ago when I visited New Orleans and met fellow Perseid Press/Heroika authors Charles Gramlich​ and Beth Paxton​.  

Official Anthology Blurb: 

Every year, WEIRDBOOK Magazine publishes a collection of short stories to thrill and delight readers worldwide. This year, we challenged authors to come up with memorable takes on the zombies, and the result is this fantastic collection of 34 new stories. Included are:

  • The Meddler, by Matthew John
  • Tiger Girls vs. the Zombies, by Lucy A. Snyder
  • Dead Between the Eyes, by Adrian Cole
  • Alive Again, by Franklyn Searight
  • The Night Hans Kroeger Came Back, by Kenneth Bykerk
  • The Marching Dead, by Andrew Darlington
  • I Wished for Zombies, by D.C. Lozar
  • O Mary Don’t You Mourn, by Mike Chinn
  • To Die, To Sleep, No More, by Erica Ruppert
  • Run, Monster, Run, by Teasha Seitz
  • Another Night in Bayou Sauvage, by Chad Hensley
  • Kifaro, by Dilman Dila
  • But I Love Him, by Scott Wheelock
  • Who Wants to Live Forever? by Angela Yuriko Smith
  • The Dead Are Always Hungry, by Christopher Alex Ray
  • Zen Zombies, by R. A. Smith
  • Cassius Max, by KT Morley
  • A Nanotech Samsara, by J.N. Cameron
  • Pine in the Soul, by John Linwood Grant
  • “Welcome Home”, by Craig E. Sawyer
  • Papa Hanco, by Ed Reyes
  • They Shall Eat Dust, by Josh Reynolds
  • In Shadow Valley, by Nick Swain
  • Devil’s Bargain, by J.F. Le Roux
  • Right for You Now, by Andrew Jennings
  • E’Zunguth, the Zombie God, by Maxwell I. Gold
  • Lazy River, by Kelly Piner
  • The New Human, by Shayne K. Keen
  • This Little Piggy, by EV Knight
  • Life Unworthy of Life, by Stephanie Ellis
  • More Blood, by Carson Ray
  • This Creeping Cold, by Kevin Rees
  • The Body I Used to Be, by Scott Edelman
  • Queen of Hearts, by S.E. Lindberg

Plus poetry by Ashley Dioses, Avra Margariti, Josh Maybrook, Darrell Schweitzer, Lori R. Lopez, Allan Rozinski, K.A. Opperman, Gregg Chamberlain, Robert Borski, David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Colleen Anderson, and David C. Kopaska-Merkel.