September Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_265816EcRH9xZLAnother month, another roundup. While I’m still dubious of any sort of serious swords & sorcery revival, there is most definitely a renewed interest in the older roots of fantasy and science fiction going on. Howard Andrew Jones is editing a new magazine, Tales from the Magician’s Skull, that is inspired by Gary Gygax’s fabled Appendix N. The folks at Castalia House have built up a serious following based on their love of pulp and Appendix N. One of the most serious proponents of some sort of pulp restoration is P. Alexander, editor of Cirsova magazine.

The latest issue of Cirsova, #6, is 126 pages long and contains seven stories and an installment in an ongoing epic poem about John Carter of Mars. There’s more of a science fiction emphasis in this issue than suits my tastes at present, but that doesn’t detract from its general high quality.

The magazine kicks off with “The Last Job on Harz,” by Tyler Young. When a party of miners is wiped out in horrible fashion on the planet Harz, two government agents are sent out from Earth to investigate and protect the interests of the Company. The Company, properly known as Universal Resources, is one of those monolithic businesses found across science fiction. The agents quickly discover that some heretofore unknown entity, in fact a whole herd of entities, is at large on Harz.

Aside from the overly familiar basic plot of the story and its too-obvious conclusion, “The Last Job on Harz” skips out on most of the action. Maybe it’s just me, but in a story featuring creatures described as a cross between a praying mantis and a kangaroo and with “an armored, segmented body, long arms ending in curved claws, and a narrow insect-like head,” I want more of them. Too much of the tale is given over to not very exciting detective work, and the most interesting of that takes place off camera.

“Death on the Moon” by Spencer H. Hart, flips the setup of the previous tale. Bert Henderson is an agent from one of those sci-fi monopolies, in this case, Phillips Atomics. He’s sent to the Moon to investigate a murder and soon finds himself swept up in a plot involving gangsters, a scientist, and his (of course) lovely daughter. Set in a mythical post-WWII world where space travel and lunar colonies came to pass, it has a good hardboiled atmosphere, and plenty of whiz-bang chrome-plated-rocketship details.

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The Dead Ride Fast

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 | Posted by Jackson Kuhl

The Dead Ride FastHey nerds! My latest collection, The Dead Ride Fast, is available at Amazon and Kobo.

It certainly feels like there’s been a recent abundance of weird Western fiction. Just this past summer alone several anthologies appeared on shelves, and even straitlaced historical magazines like True West have published listicles celebrating the genre.

Yet oddly we seem to have hit peak weird West way back in 2014, with searches today chugging along at 50 percent of that frequency. Still, the fact that searches haven’t dropped precipitously suggests a steady and abiding interest in cowpokes and aliens and zombies.

The Dead Ride Fast bundles together five previously published short stories of mine that appeared in Black Static and anthologies such as Eric Guignard’s Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations (nominated for a Stoker!). Also included is an original story involving a spoopy haunted house.

A gang of bank robbers arrives in a town where everyone knows the future. A prospector discovers the cost of gold is the loss of himself. An abandoned ranch house conceals a dark history. An ailing sailor is initiated into a secret world after consuming an unusual medicine. A businessman reopens a silver mine that should have been left sealed. Two young girls confront a string of unnoticed disappearances.

Just in time for Halloween! Makes a great gift!

If you’re interested in the collection’s provenance — how the book came together and the stories behind the stories — I’ve been blabbering about it at my blog.

Modular: Starfinder Under the Hood – Character Creation

Monday, September 25th, 2017 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

256 Starfinder CoreWhen playing Dungeons & Dragons or other fantasy RPGs, have you ever wanted to play a space wizard? A gnome with a jet pack? Or a fighter with a flaming laser sword and a force field?

These options are all available to you in the new Starfinder RPG (Paizo, Amazon). Paizo has built the new science fantasy game to explore the distant future of their Pathfinder universe. Though I’ve been excited about it for over a year, since it was first announced, I’ve only just gotten the opportunity to play a full game of it.

So now that the game is more than an abstraction … now that I’ve actually rolled the dice and taken some damage … does it still hold up like I was hoping? Honestly: Even better.

But rather than just singing the praises of the game (which I’ve and others have already done here and here and elsewhere), I’m going to dive a bit deeper into how the game is similar – and different – from the Pathfinder game that we know and love.

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Future Treasures: The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

Monday, September 25th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Tiger's Daughter bookmark-small

Check out the cool bookmark that came with my review copy of The Tiger’s Daughter, the debut novel by K Arsenault Rivera!

It’s instructing me to “Plant flower seed paper under 1/8″ of soil. Water thoroughly.” Okay, but…. what does it GROW? A geranium? Violets? An alien seed pod like that horrifying episode of Johnny Sokko?

I guess there’s only one way to find out. And it involves sticking this super-cool book collectible in a bunch of dirt. Marketing departments, man. They thrive on cruelty.

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Modular: Successful Adventuring — Or, Staying Alive & Getting the Gold

Monday, September 25th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Adventuring1_GloamholdCreighton Broadhurst is the founder and head honcho of Raging Swan Press, one of Pathfinder‘s leading third party publishers. His Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands is the spiritual successor to the old moat house in The Village of Hommlet. Creighton plays Pathfinder, but he approaches the rules-heavy game with an old school style, which is something I’ve been trying to figure out for myself.

His blog features lots of lists: GM advice, player tips, favorite modules, etc.. I broke his 25 Dungeon Delving tips into Parts One and Two and added my own comments (nothing like letting somebody else do the heavy lifting for a good post!). It seemed to work and Creighton didn’t mind, so I’m going to write some more Modular posts along those lines, like this one.

The Principles and bolded text below are Creighton’s, followed by my comments. Please share your thoughts on these principles and definitely go check out Creighton’s blog: it’s got a lot of great stuff for both players and GMs. And if you’re looking for some products to help out with your game, head on over to Raging Swan Press.

Selection and Maintenance of the Goal

A single, unambiguous goal is the keystone of a successful foray. Selection and maintenance of the goal is the master principle of adventuring. Do not get sidetracked or distracted; that way, disaster lies.

This is the opposite of the “Ooh, shiny object” approach. It’s so easy to get off track and chase after the ‘thing of the moment.’ Rumor of a dragon in the mountains, let’s go get him! Treasure in a cave outside of town? We’re on it! Heard a sound down that tunnel, turn left.

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Kit Reed, June 7, 1932 — September 24, 2017

Sunday, September 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Tiger Rag Kit Reed-small The Baby Merchant-small Where Kit Reed-small

Reports are pouring in that author Kit Reed has died.

BG author Jeffrey Ford writes:

Saw today online that my friend, Kit Reed, passed away. A professional author from 1957 to just this year, and her work was exceptional. I especially loved her stories. Kit was one of a kind. Did not stand on ceremony and would not shy away from telling it like it was. Perhaps that’s why she was never lauded for having been a leading female voice in those earlier completely male centric years… She was also wonderfully generous with young writers and helped to start many careers. I’m gonna miss her honesty and her insights… One of the greats.

Reed was the author of 16 novels and 10 collections, including the Campbell nominee Where (2016), Tiptree Award nominee Little Sisters of the Apocalypse (1994), and Shirley Jackson Award nominee The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories (2013).

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Vintage Treasures: Ghosts and Grisly Things by Ramsey Campbell

Sunday, September 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Weird Tales Summer 1991-small Dark Love-small Dark Terrors 2 The Gollancz Book of Horror-small
Fantasy Tales Summer 1985-small Night Visions 3-small Narrow Houses-small

We’re on the cusp of October, and you know what that means. Goth Chick will decorate the entire office with candles, pumpkins, and shrunken heads, and we’re about to get deluged with a fresh crop of horror books. It’s pretty exciting actually, and many of us look forward to this time of year (in addition to Goth Chick and her band of terrified interns, I mean). So to help kick off the season, I thought I’d showcase a classic horror collection as my latest Vintage Treasure.

Have a look at the assortment of magazines and anthologies above, and see if you notice a recurring theme. It’s not too hard to spot… the name Ramsey Campbell was ubiquitous in the market throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, and for good reason. He’s one of the most accomplished horror writers in the business, and his name has graced many a magazine cover and Table of Contents. Campbell produced some 18 collections between 1964 and 2015, and the 80s and 90s were his most productive decades. The stories which appeared in the above volumes, and nearly a dozen more, were reprinted in Ghosts and Grisly Things, a collection from Pumpkin Books (UK, 1998) and Tor Books (US, 2000).

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Operation Arcana, edited by John Joseph Adams

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Steve Case

Operation-Arcana John Joseph Adams-smallOperation Arcana
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Baen(320 pages, $15 trade/$7.99 paperback/$6.99 digital, March 3, 2015)
Cover by Dominic Harman

Operation Arcana is another collection by prolific editor John Joseph Adams, built of stories crafted around a theme that gives it a fairly unique flavor among recent speculative fiction anthologies. That theme is basically something like “soldiers and magic.”

On first blush, especially considering the cover image of modern soldiers using assault rifles against a rearing dragon, that might seem a bit of a cheesy juxtaposition. But it actually works quite well, and Adams has crafted an anthology of consistently compelling stories. There’s a wide spectrum of tales here, from alternate histories in which historical wars are fought with magical aid, to realistic slipstream in which modern soldiers encounter mythical creatures, to high fantasy focused on the gritty lives of campaigners.

More than just compelling stories though, there’s something about the juxtaposition of magic and warfare that seems to just really work. Why? I think the authors have stumbled onto something profound in their disparate tales, and I think it involves this fact: that magic is defined by rules. Even if the rules are strange or mysterious, stories involving magic are almost always faithful to the orderly structure of the magic that undergirds their imaginary universes. By contrast warfare — or at least battle — in the real world is inherently chaotic. At times the violence appears meaningless and the carnage random. So there’s something very appealing and attractive about stories that play with this sense of chaos on a backdrop of rule-structured magical systems.

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The September Fantasy Magazine Rack

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Beneath Ceaseless Skies 234-rack Cirsova 6-small Knights of the Diner Table 245-rack Clarkesworld September 2017-rack
Galaxy's Edge September 2017-rack Locus September 2017-rack The Dark September 2017-rack Nightmare Magazine September 2017-rack

Plenty of great fiction to distract us in September! Here are the magazines that grabbed my attention this month (links will bring you to magazine websites).

Beneath Ceaseless Skies — new fiction from Michael J. DeLuca and William Broom
Cirsova #6 — stories by Adrian Cole, Harold R. Thompson, and others
Knights of the Dinner Table 245 — with a great Jack Kirby tribute cover!
Clarkesworld — new fiction from Suzanne Palmer, A. Brym, and others
Galaxy’s Edge — John DeChancie, Barry N. Malzberg, Joan Slonczewski, and others
Locus — report on the Hugo Winners, an obit for Brian Aldiss, and forthcoming books for the US and UK
The Dark — new fiction from Erica L. Satifka and Lora Gray.
Nightmare — new stuff from Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Ashok K. Banker

That’s not all, of course. Earlier this month we reported on the latest issues of Asimov’s SF and Fantasy & Science Fiction; Adrian Simmons reviewed the July/August F&SF and Rich Horton covered the December 1964 Amazing Stories.

Click any of the thumbnail images above for bigger images. Our August Fantasy Magazine Rack is here.

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Peplum Populist: Howard Hawks Goes to the Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

land-pharaohs-1955-posterI didn’t think of putting Land of the Pharaohs under my “Peplum Populist” banner at first, even though peplum (sword-and-sandal) can be used as a broad description for any historical epic set in the ancient world. Ben-Hur is peplum. Quo Vadis is peplum. Spartacus is peplum. 300 is peplum. But for the purposes of this occasional feature, I was sticking to the specific historical definition, which is the Italian-made movies produced between 1958 and 1965. However, 1955’s Land of the Pharaohs is a genuine sword-and-sandal film, and there’s no rule except my own against expanding the umbrella of the genre to discuss a movie from one of the greatest of all Hollywood filmmakers — a movie that also happens to be his oddest foray outside of his usual style.

Howard Hawks is a name so colossal in the history of American movies that he feels like a stone monument of pharaonic Egypt, carved against a rock hill in the Valley of Kings. But Hawks only made one trip to ancient history and the historical epic with a film that has never achieved major recognition. Even with Hawks’s name on it and the continuing popularity of classic Hollywood ancient epics — especially with the technology of HD TVs making them look better at home than ever before — Land of the Pharaohs is little discussed. It’s never received anything more than standard-def DVD releases (one of which packaged it as a “Camp Classic,” which it definitely isn’t). The $3 million film was a box-office failure on its premiere, but this has never stopped a film from later gaining appreciation and a dedicated following. If it did, I wouldn’t be running a John Carpenter career retrospective series right now.

There has been some low-level buzz about Land of the Pharaohs. Martin Scorsese has called it his favorite movie as a child and a guilty pleasure as an adult. But this isn’t enough, so I’ll add a bit love (well, “like” would be a better word) for this unusual chapter in the career of a master filmmaker. It’s not essential Howard Hawks, but it’s Howard Hawks taking a whack at crafting a Cecil B. De Mille-style flick, and that’s worth something. Besides, I’m a sucker for this genre, and Land of the Pharaohs is a fascinating oddity among the ‘50s and ‘60s epics. Its strange, dispassionate approach makes it feels unlike anything else made at the time.

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