Rogue Blades author: Kosru’s Road

Friday, August 7th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeThe following is an an excerpt from Howard Andrew Jones’ essay for the upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life.

I kept missing Conan. He was all over the place in the 1970s as I was growing up. I couldn’t help but be drawn to the covers of the Marvel comic books that featured him, but I was a little kid and embarrassed to be seen reading anything with such scantily clad beauties in it.

Maybe if I’d been a little less shy I’d have read those comics anyway, but I simply didn’t dare. I stayed mostly with prose, devouring the Heinlein juvenile science fiction adventures, Ray Bradbury collections, the Prydain Chronicles, The Dark is Rising sequence, and anything that was Star Trek or remotely like it.

By the mid- to late-’70s, when I had discovered Dungeons & Dragons and its now famous recommended reading list, Appendix N, I hit the library, the bookstore, and the used bookstore in search of everything on it and, unfortunately, came up woefully short. This time, pure bad luck kept me from reading Robert E. Howard. When it came to Appendix N, the library held only the last few Amber books. I didn’t want to read them out of order, and I couldn’t find much of anything from the list at the bookstore.

By chance, the used bookstore had not a single Conan paperback. Instead it stocked the best of the Lankhmar books, the first three Corum books by Michael Moorcock, and a friend had the Amber novels the library lacked. Mostly because of these books I was transformed from a devoted science fiction fan who occasionally tried fantasy into a dedicated reader of fantasy, but the glories of Howard’s writings were still undiscovered territory.

In the years that followed, I saw the rows of Conan pastiche and was rightfully dubious.

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In 500 Words or Less: Dominion: An Anthology, edited by Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald

Friday, August 7th, 2020 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Dominion An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora-smallDominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and and the African Diaspora (Volume 1)
Edited By Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald
Aurelia Leo (270 pages, $18.99 paperback, $8.99 eBook, August 17, 2020)
Cover by Henrique DLD

Dominion is a tough one to accurately summarize. During the Kickstarter way back, the editors said they were looking for speculative fiction about “the legacy and future of Africa and the African diaspora.” As I read, I had to remind myself how complicated that legacy is – which is reflected in these myriad and complicated stories.

I should warn you that some of its stories are rough. I choose that word carefully, and for multiple reasons. There’s a lot of dark fantasy and horror in here, some of it graphic and hard to read. But it reflects horror and darkness that’s real, making for some powerful stories.

“The Unclean” by Nuzo Onoh, for example, doesn’t pull its punches examining oppression of women, specifically through a problematic arranged marriage that can’t be easily escaped, even through supernatural means. Neither does Michael Boatman with “Thresher of Men” – a story that felt viscerally angry to me, channeled through a goddess of vengeance set upon an American town with a deep history of racist violence.

As a reviewer, it was interesting to find a balance of lighter stories, too – or at least stories where the issues the characters face are more microscopic and focused. Nicole Givens Kurtz ‘s “Trickin’” is still bloody but also kind of delightful, following a half-forgotten trickster looking for tributes on Halloween night. (Also love the mystery of the post-downturn city where it’s set – what happened there, Nicole?) “Sleep Pap, Sleep” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa is fabulous Africanjujuism (I believe “The Unclean” fits that genre, too), in this case weaving the understanding that you shouldn’t grave-robbing a blood relative with a young man’s guilt about his father’s death and how he treats his closest friend.

On the science fiction side, one of my favorites is Marian Denise Moore’s “A Mastery of German” about a young up-and-comer at a research firm, assigned to evaluate a project on transferring learned memories. There’s a neat implication discussed about ancestral memory and slavery, told through Candace’s relationship with her history-hunting father (which is an adorable sidebar, by the way). But the focus is mostly on ethics: is it all right to pay someone to take their memory of learning German (for example) and then do whatever you want with it? No easy answer there.

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Goth Chick News: Let’s Get ‘The Season’ Started with The Devil All the Time

Thursday, August 6th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Devil All the Time

Before I tell you about this, I need to make a couple of pre-emptive statements:

Yes, I know it’s only August.

You’re right. Halloween isn’t for weeks and weeks.

Yes, I’ve actually left the house when the sun is up / it’s warm / it’s summer, etc, etc.

Now that we have those items out of the way, I can gleefully report Netflix is definitely with me when it comes to launching their fall lineup, the moment there is a whiff of 70-degree temps in the air. And their first offering of the scare season is a doozy.

Premiering on September 16th, The Devil All the Time is based on a book by the same name, by author Donald Ray Pollack. Telling the story of a religious community who takes their faith to often horrific extremes in rural Ohio, it was actually shot in Alabama over a short, but apparently very intense 10 days. Filmmaker Antonio Campos (Simon Killer, 2016’s Christine) is a little secretive about the nature of the film’s plot, but there is no hiding the star-studded nature of the cast. The film is brimming with big names including Spider-Man‘s Tom Holland, It Chapter One and Two‘s Bill Skarsgård, The Lodge‘s Riley Keough, and Pet Sematary‘s Jason Clarke with Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse, The Batman) and Mia Wasikowska (Stoker, Crimson Peak).

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A Report on Modiphius’s Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of — Part One

Thursday, August 6th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Conan-Adventures-in-an-Age-Undreamed-Of RPG-small

That title is probably the last time, in this article, that I’m going to refer to this game with all those words. It was important to get it right, the first time, but usually I just call it Conan 2d20.

Because that’s what it is: it is playing a Conan game by using Jay Little’s 2d20 engine or mechanic, which he designed for Modiphius. There are other Conan RPGs out there, all of them, of course, out of print: an “original” TSR Conan RPG (I’ve never had the experience), a GURPS version (I only just learned about this one, and I’ve never played GURPS — the Hero System was my game of choice during the “universal system” era), and Mongoose’s d20 version (which I did play, at GaryCon one year, and it was a delight!). Outside of RPGs designed — or modified — specifically to accommodate a Conan vibe and setting, there are a number of options ranging from d20 derivations from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea to Low Fantasy Gaming to Crypts & Things to Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells to “other system” derivations such as Savage Worlds to RuneQuest to Barbarians of Lemuria to many others that I’m either forgetting or about which I simply don’t know. Of these other games, when I make an argument that Conan 2d20 is my most favorite system for accurately emulating Conan pulp fiction, I should make clear that I have not played all of them, though I have read (and even played) most of those listed above.

Getting into Conan 2d20, for the casual gamer, or for the merely curious, demands a fair amount of cognitive load. This is because, I believe, the system is so innovative — and those innovations are precisely what makes this a Conan game. I have encountered many anecdotes of gamers and consumers gleefully obtaining this gorgeous hardcover tome (or PDF), riffling through it, saying, “Huh?” then setting it aside with a “Sorry, not for me, but the art is pretty, and this still makes a good resource.” This describes my own initial reception, as I was losing my mind to higher Levels of play in Pathfinder and, with immense relief, was going “old school” by picking up Swords & Wizardry. But I kept sneaking glances at Conan 2d20 and thinking “what if?” Bob Byrne and I tried to do something via Play by Post. In my home group, a year or so later, I got a 1e enthusiast to start running for my casual players so that I could give 2d20 a go with two seasoned players. But then, after I had successfully run two adventures, the pandemic hit, and these two players weren’t interested in online play.

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New Treasures: Savage Legion by Matt Wallace

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Savage Legion Matt Wallace-small Savage Legion Matt Wallace-back-small

Cover by Chris McGrath

Matt Wallace is the author of the 7-volume Sin du Jour series from Tor.com, which began with Envy of Angels. I first heard whispers of his ambitious new fantasy trilogy Savage Rebellion back in 2018, when the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog announced “a Trope-Smashing New Epic Fantasy Trilogy from Matt Wallace,” saying (in part)

You probably know [Matt] for the Sin du Jour novellas. It’s a brilliantly subversive, totally wackadoo contemporary fantasy series about a NYC catering company that services the supernatural communities of the world, from goblin kings to the lord of Hell, and for fantasy fans or foodies, it’s a full meal… A few years from now, however, Matt will likely be best known for something else: today, we’re pleased to announce that he’s signed a deal with Simon & Schuster’s Saga Press to publish his first novel — or rather, his first trilogy. It’s a fantasy epic that promises to be just as daring as his novellas. The first book is called Savage Legion, and it sounds primed to grind genre tropes into a fine paste.

What’s so different about Savage Legion? It has a very different take on fantasy action. I think the Publishers Weekly starred review encapsulates it nicely.

Cunning plotting and brisk action elevate this impressive tale of swords and super-science, the first in the Savage Rebellion series from Hugo Award winner Wallace (Sin du Jour). At first glance, Evie is a belligerent drunk. That’s why the Empire of Crache dragoons her into the Savage Legion, a hapless mob of suicide commandos culled from the downtrodden masses of the empire and forced to fight and die on its behalf. But Evie is secretly a warrior on a mission, infiltrating the Legion to rescue her former lover who was kidnapped after discovering government corruption… Wallace masterfully subverts readers’ expectations. As the plot spins through convincing battlefield combat and personal confrontations, Evie rallies the Savage Legion to turn against the empire that exploits them. Readers will be left thoroughly satisfied and eager to know what’s to come.

Savage Legion was published by Saga Press on July 21, 2020. It is 498 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $7.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Chris McGrath. Listen to an audio excerpt at the Simon & Schuster website.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.


Weird Tales Deep Read: June, 1923

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales June 1923

Cover by Heitman for “Murders in the Rue Morgue”

June 1923 was the magazine’s fourth issue, and it was still clearly a magazine in search of itself.

There are very few authors who had a major impact on the magazine appeared in this issue. The most notable name, of course, is Edgar Allen Poe with a reprint of one of his most famous tales (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”) and, secondarily, Otis Adelbert Kline, with a story largely forgotten today, but which I found to be a cut above many of his others, though ultimately somewhat slight. That’s about it. Two of the best stories were by authors totally forgotten today, Paul Ellsworth Triem and Loual B. Sugarman, with only the later tale having fantastic elements. In fact, only seven of the 18 stories in this issue had fantastic elements (39%), all were set in contemporaneous times (of course, the Poe story was written in the 1840s), and most (13 or 72%) were set in the United States.

On the whole, many of the stories were no better than mediocre, but really poor efforts were largely avoided (four 4’s and one 5). Also largely avoided were the overtly racist tropes too readily present in many early WT’s, with the Birch effort going all in on the Yellow Peril theme.  Overall, this issue rated out to 3.00, which notably lags behind the classic early 1930s issues previously covered.

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Tales of Attluma by David C. Smith: A Review and Oron Series Tour Guide

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020 | Posted by SELindberg

Tales of Attluma-small Tales of Attluma-back-small

David C. Smith was the 2019 Guest of Honor at Howard Days 2019 for good reason, having written the acclaimed Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography in 2018 to complement his decades of writing Sword & Sorcery (he has 26 novels written or co-written, including the Red Sonja series with Richard L. Tierney, the Oron and The Fall of the First World series, and more). He crafts his own flavor of adventure-horror with his Tales of Attluma (teased earlier at  Black Gate), heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard (REH) and Clark Ashton Smith (CAS). Attluma is an island continent inspired by the mysterious Atlantis. These sixteen tales cover its cursed history and doomed end. Many entries were written in the 1970’s and are gathered now in one place for the first time.

The collection fits the Sword & Sorcery label, with an emphasis on Sorcery, specifically necromancy and demon summoning. These are fantastically dark and exciting stories, a true blend of REH’s action and CAS’s dreaded atmosphere. On Attluma, ancient gods live in mountain temples and underground. Humans struggle to survive on the surface and intrude on land made for, and by, demons. Excerpts are the best way to share the poetic, dark conflict readers should expect:

“Dressed in scarlet wounds and running with blood, here was my mother, her face beseeching mercy, gashes across her face and body. There came my father, hobbling on a split foot and one arm gone, strings of meat and tendon trembling from the open shoulder. Here was my brother, once a strong and handsome man, now in death a broken thing with no legs, pulling himself forward with his arms, his wife beside him, on her belly and kicking her feet as her head rolled beside her.” — from “The Last Words of Imatus Istum”

 

“And there was Yadis, The All Mother, the hag with one eye and triple teats whose spittle had made the stars and whose defecation made the earth. Her mad singing had awakened humans to life; we crawled from the muck and ever since wondered about the dark heart of life.”  — from “Dark Goddess”

Interestingly, there are no Oron tales, Oron being the warrior protagonist (i.e., the heroic “Conan” of Attluma) that the original Zebra series was named after. Yet he is not needed here. Attluma is saturated with lore and conflict, armies of ghosts, lost loves seeking retribution, and hungry demons just looking for some attention. The last several stories ramp up the demonic uprising (or retaking) of the island continent. “The End of Days” finale is epic in scope, a sprawling battle with loads of mayhem and militant sorcery.
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After Action Report: Gen Con Online

Monday, August 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

gencononline

Gen Con is a major — the major — tabletop gaming convention of the year. 60,000 gaming enthusiasts arrive in Indianapolis (where the con has been held since 2003) to participate in thousands of board games, card games, miniature games, role-playing games (including live action), seminars, reveals, auctions, and cosplay. And more. Spread across the Indianapolis Convention Center, multiple hotels, and Lucas Oil Stadium, the scale of Gen Con is unmatched.

However, with COVID-19 disrupting major sports, shuttering millions at home (who are fortunate enough to work from home), and sparking debates about masks, conventions big and small canceled in-person events months ago. San Diego Comic Con. GaryCon. Origins. Who’s Yer Con. TravellerCon. Gen Con. Many have attempted some sort of online alternative, a path Gen Con 2020 followed.

Gen Con undertook the challenging task of offering an extensive virtual convention, featuring many tabletop gaming sessions and the sprawling, chaotic, glorious Dealer Hall of gaming companies, artists, dice creators, and many others hawking and showing off their goods. In past Gen Cons I have run games, participated in seminars, and spent hours roaming the Dealer Hall. From Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon, my weekend would be little else but gaming, shopping, and some sleep along with visiting a food truck to scarf down a meal between. This year would be different.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ Don’t You Cry for Me’

Monday, August 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Davis_Don'tCry“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

On my Hardboiled Mount Rushmore, it’s Dashiell Hammett, Frederick Nebel, and then Norbert Davis. The fourth spot is a bit fluid, though the Jo Gar series often has Raoul Whitfield in that fourth spot. But today, we’re going to look at a Davis short story.

Davis was in law school at Stanford when he wrote his first story and sent it to Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, the legendary editor of Black Mask. It was accepted, and by the time he graduated law school, he was successfully writing for the pulps. In fact, he was doing so well, he never sat for the bar, and spent the rest of his life as a writer, moving from the pulps to the higher-paying slicks. Sadly, took his own life at only the age of 40.

I’ve already written an essay on his Ben Shaley stories, which constituted two of the five Davis tales Shaw printed in Black Mask under his watch. After Shaw left, Davis appeared in Black Mask eight more times. I’m working on what I hope will be THE definitive essay on his Max Latin stories. I absolutely love that five-story series. They’re fantastic.

Between May 1942 and May 1943, Black Mask ran three stories featuring John Collins. Collins was a piano player who had done some investigation work on the side in Europe before World War II. “Don’t You Cry for Me” was the first of the three stories.
Picking Iron (trivia) – In May, 1942, Give the Devil His Due” ran in Dime Detective.

Of course, America was drawn into World War II on December 7, 1941.The story blurb for this one reads, “The brawny piano-player had had his run-ins with the ghoulish Gestapo in the beer halls of Europe, but when he promised Myra Martin’s mother to find the girl in the Mecca of the movie-struck, he ran foul of a plot as fantastic as any Hitler pipe-dream.” Pulp magazines used bombast long before Donald Trump did.

“John Collins was playing the Beale Street Blues and playing it soft and sad because that was the way he felt. The notes dripped through the dimness of the room like molasses and provided an appropriate accompaniment to his thoughts. He had a hangover.”

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Future Treasures: Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Star Daughter-smallShveta Thakrar’s short fiction has appeared in the anthologies A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, Toil & Trouble, The Underwater Ballroom Society, and Clockwork Phoenix 5, and magazines such as Uncanny, Enchanted Living, Faerie Magazine, Mothership Zeta, Mythic Delirium, and Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. Her debut novel Star Daughter mixes Hindu mythology and contemporary fantasy into something quite original.

It arrives from HarperTeen next week. Here’s the description.

The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago.

Sheetal’s quest to save her father will take her to a celestial court of shining wonders and dark shadows, where she must take the stage as her family’s champion in a competition to decide the next ruling house of the heavens — and win, or risk never returning to Earth at all.

Star Daughter has been warmly reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Nerd Daily, and other sites. But I think my favorite critique comes from the Utopia State of Mind blog. Here’s an excerpt.

Star Daughter is a gorgeous fantasy debut about love, family, and humanity. You’ll be enchanted by the blending of Stardust elements meets Hindu mythology. Then the gorgeous writing will captivate you until you fall into the story of family and humanity…. Torn in two, Sheetal must grapple with her love for her father, her feelings of abandonment towards her mother, and her new family’s past in the celestial court. She so desperately wants to feel like she belongs… I loved the added element of this talent competition meets political upheavals and family secrets. Star Daughter asks what we will do for family, the desperation and agony and love and resentment.

Star Daughter will be published by HarperTeen on August 11, 2020. It is 448 pages, priced at $17.99 in hardcover and $9.99 in digital formats. The beautiful cover is by Charlie Bowater. Read an excerpt at Enchanted Living.

See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming SF and Fantasy here.


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