Sunday, September 10, 2017

Berserker - 1977 Grimdark with a dose of testosterone

Shadow Of The Wolf (Berserker #1)Shadow Of The Wolf by Chris Carlsen
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Viking Age: The Sword and Sorcery group on Goodreads had a Viking Age theme, for fans of books like The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson or Scott Oden's newly released A Gathering of Ravens ...or C. Dean Andersson's Bloodsong! — Hel X 3. I went after 1970’s Berserker series.

Availability: The Berserker series was originally published in 1977-79 under pseudonym Chris Carlsen (real name Robert Holdstock). Since 2014, it has been available as an omnibus paperback edition under Holdstock: Berserker SF Gateway Omnibus: The Shadow of the Wolf, The Bull Chief, The Horned Warrior. Melvyn Grant was the cover artist for the originals, which represent the books well with Sword and Sorcery flare ala Frazetta..

  1. Shadow Of The Wolf 1977
  2. The Bull Chief 1977
  3. The Horned Warrior 1979


1977 Grimdark!: This reads fast and drips testosterone. Monstrous possession ala lycanthropy is prominent, but here it is Odin’s ursine Berserker spirit in the spotlight. Like Jeckyl-n-hide, Harald Swiftax is cursed to relent his body to a bear-entity that is less chivalrous than himself. The Berserker in him is bestial, without empathy, and blood thirsty. This is Harald’s story, from being cursed to struggling to break it. The book is geared toward all the good and bad of stereotypical masculinity. It features mostly men (save for one screaming-hot witch who bares all); it has plenty of gore-rich melee, one overtly gratuitous, drawn-out sex scene, and a few lesser rape scenes.

The milieu is filled with supernatural forces from Nordic gods, Celtic witches, and even Lovecraftian Old Ones. Overall, entertaining. It’s like riding a wolf or bear at a rodeo (animal choices intentional). Pacing alternates from easy-going/trope-filled village pillaging to high octane savagery and horror. Several story lines had the potential to be over-the-top epic, but were left hanging or deflated. One or two moments seemed either contrived [(i.e., Harald’s tense-confrontation with other Berserker’s in Urlsgarde, followed instantly with him not caring and getting drunk)] or inconsistent [ [ (Harald and Diedre’s “relationship” seemed to diminish Elena’s impact…and given that Diedre needed an immortal… then she should have mated with a Berserker form)].

That said, there is still some great story telling employed. Most of the mysteries are resolved. The title “Shadow of the wolf” eventually makes sense. It is part of a trilogy; some mysteries remain (i.e., exactly why was Swiftax or his family targeted by Odin’s curse?)

Death Dealer Sigurd Gotthelm is a great secondary character who wears a cursed horned helmet and is reminiscent of Frazetta's Death Dealer (though arguably more interesting than the James Silke's presentation of the Death Dealer in Prisoner of the Horned Helmet 1998’s Gath of Baal). Frazetta painted the original in 1973, so perhaps that was in inspiration for Gotthelm. I hope there is more of him in the subsequent books. I have no idea where the next two installments will take me, but I own the next one and am jumping in.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

More Than Human - Bundle Promo



"More Than Human- eBook Bundle"



A. L. Butcher, fellow Heroika: Dragon Eater author and Light Beyond the Storm Author (Sex & Sorcery novel reviewed by S.E.) is in a real jam.... or bundle. She has has two novels in this set of 11 eBooks.
Currently just $6 for the whole set. It's like buying an anthology. A great way to discover new authors.
11 Books (currently for under ~$6) 

To save. To guard. To heal.
Beloved people, precious things, and sacred spaces move our hearts and inspire us to defend them.
In these tales of redemption and rescue, more-than-human heroes stand forth as champions to protect all that is worthy of protection.
Walk with these elves, imps, wizards, dryads, gods, and guardians as they subdue demons, free the enslaved, preserve the world, comfort the exiled, and cross swords with the dark. Read and revel in their triumphs and tribulations.


The Shining Citadel – A. L. Butcher
Technological Angel – Barbara G. Tarn
Needle-Green – Debbie Mumford
The Cartographer's Daughter – Karen L. Abrahamson
Serpent’s Foe – J.M. Ney-Grimm
The Crystal Courtesan – Karen L. Abrahamson
The Guardians - Book 1 – Don Viecelli
Love Apidae (A Recumon Story) – Michael R. E. Adams
The Flat Above the Wynd – Alexandra Brandt

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Gathering of Ravens - Review by SE

A Gathering of RavensA Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Gathering of Ravens delivers an Orc with serious depth, and he carries a bloody seax too.
“Since young adulthood, I’ve wanted to write a book about Orcs—those foot soldiers of evil first revealed to us in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. I wanted to write it from the Orcs’ point of view. And I wanted to redeem them.”Scott Oden, Author’s Note from A Gathering of Ravens

Scott Oden did not want to “write about a redeeming orc,” or the “redemption of an orc.” Rather, the author set out to present an orc that was not shallow, zombie-like drone (ala Tolkien, and most of high fantasy novels stereotype).

The milieu in A Gathering of Ravens is reminiscent of Poul Anderson’s Viking Age The Broken Sword, being full of Dane’s and Celtic faeries and Norse myths. The style is more readable than that classic, but is still saturated with just the right amount of call-outs to geographies and history to blur the lines between fantasy and history. This is no historical fantasy, but the foundation of history is so well played the fantasy feels “real.”

Equally balanced are the sorceries of Celtic witches, Norse deities, and Christian beliefs. All supernatural “sides” of faiths conflict here. All are presented as real, though some are being superseded.

So who is the orc protagonist employed by Scott Oden to redeem the Orc culture? He is Grendel’s brother, as named by some. The lady Étaín, a servant of the Christian God, the Nailed One, and unlikely companion of him describes him:
“He is called Grimnir… the last of his kind, one of the kaunar—known to your people as fomóraig, to mine as orcnéas, and to the Northmen as skrælingar. In the time I’ve known him, he has been ever a fomenter of trouble, a murderer, and as cruel a bastard… I can vouch neither for his honesty nor his morals, as he is bereft of both. And while he did kidnap me, threaten me with death, mock my faith, and expose me to the hates of a forgotten world, he also saved my life …”

Grimnir is a brutal bastard. His name suits him, since he might as well be carrying a flagstaff with the contemporary “Grimdark subgenre” splayed upon it. Yet his predicament and motivations are compelling as any vigilante hero. Way to deliver on your muse, Scott Oden!

A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden


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Sunday, August 20, 2017

GenCon-50yr Anniversary - SEL's First Impressions

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Summarizing my first GenCon, and I picked a good one. It was the 50th Anniversary! >80,000 attendees over ~5days (though I only had Saturday to explore). In short, I'll be back next year and will spend more time. Three posts cover my experience:

  1. SEL's First Impressions  <<< You are Here
  2. Tabletop Gaming
  3. Writer's Symposium


Some  First Impressions


  • 80,000 fellow "nerds" congregate to play game
  • Somehow several hotels, an entire convention center, and an entire stadium are filled with events... and it is all family friendly. Strollers and kids abound.
  • Lots of cosplay
  • The Exhibit Hall is incredible.  
  • Play Areas: people are playing board games everywhere! Miniatures, Magic, Catan, you name it.  Crazy.
  • I got to fist-bump a Dark Souls statue
  • Lot's of big game designers and authors here. Cripes...is that Margaret Weis chilling in front of me?  
  • If you Kickstart games like I do, you'll want to come here. 
  • Never had a chance to even visit the authors/artist alley, the stadium event, etc.
  • One day is not enough
  • Next year, I'll stay longer








GenCon-50yr Anniversary - SEL's Tabletop Gaming

GCMS Login Image

Summarizing my first GenCon, and I picked a good one. It was the 50th Anniversary! >80,000 attendees over ~5days (though I only had Saturday to explore). In short, I'll be back next year and will spend more time. Three posts cover my experience:

  1.  First Impressions
  2. Tabletop Gaming <<< You are Here
  3. Writer's Symposium

TableTop Gaming

  • Ritual - Playtesting: I started the day with 2hrs of play-testing  Ritual, a card game for 3+ players in which each person is a necromancer trying to build their villages (of people to harvest for sorcery) while sabotaging the other players' villages. to be Kickstarted soon. The goal was to fine tune the rule book.  The game is fun and easy to play, and can "ruin friendships!" 
  • Deep Madness: A fan of CMON's Zombicide, I was lured into backing Diemension Game's cooperative dungeon crawler (not CMON, but is reminiscent, this game being a cooperative crawl with Mythos culture/creatures). Got to meet designer Roger Ho in person. Diemension plan to kickstart Dawn of Madness (aka Celestial?) within a year, which will be another horror miniature game....this time with a progression of character transformation.
  • STOP THIEF: A fan of the ~1979 original, I had to back this renewed version on Kickstarter. It is due in the mail any time, and stopping by Restoration games enabled me to pick up an extra thief (apparently made in Garay Gygax's honor). Rob Daviau & Justin Jacobson of Restoration Games had a presentation/seminar (conflicting with the Writer's Symposium), but my brother filled in the audience.











GenCon-50yr Anniversary - SEL at Writer Symposium

GCMS Login Image

Summarizing my first GenCon, and I picked a good one. It was the 50th Anniversary! >80,000 attendees over ~5days (though I only had Saturday to explore). In short, I'll be back next year and will spend more time. Three posts cover my experience:

  1.  First Impressions 
  2.  Tabletop Gaming
  3.  Writer's Symposium  <<< You are Here

Writers Symposium

  1. SEM17121201 Business of Writing: Hybrid Publishing—Covering All the Bases: From self-pub to large press, they discussed building sustainable writing careers. With Steve DrewGail Z. Martin, Linda Robertson, Matt Forbeck.  
  2. SEM17121231 Writer's Craft: Drawing from Mythology:  Great topic including an author/editor I follow, Howard Andrew Jones. He introduced me to Black Gate in 2010, so I was thrilled to get him to sign the 2011 Spring edition in which he is featured. He was most passionate about clarifying the loss of character synergy in Star Trek renewals. Cripes, I just saw that artist Donato Giancola was at Gencon (he did the coverart for Black Gate Magazine's last print issue (#15 2011 spring)..ie the one in this image). Gen Con was so big, I never got to the Artist alley; Long live Black Gate! 
  3. SEM17121205 Writer's Craft: The Art of Adding DetailsHow do you add details that enrich your story without going too far and overwhelming the reader? Featuring Steve Drew, Leigh Perry, Mary Robinette Kowal, Kelly McCullough & Richard Lee Byers.