Worlds Beyond Worlds by John R. Fultz
DMR Books (182 pages, $12.99 in trade paperback, April 3, 2021)
Cover by Brian LeBlanc
Volume I: Transcending the Illusions of Modernity and Reason.: The first thing you must understand is that the One True World is not a figment of your imagination, and it does not lie in some faraway dimension. To help you understand the relationship between the True World and the False, you must envision the True World lying beneath the False, as a man can lay hidden beneath a blanket, or a woman’s true face can be hidden by an exquisite mask.(Fultz, “The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” )
You Want A Piece of Me?
The Brian LeBlanc cover of Worlds Beyond Worlds: The Short Fiction of John R. Fultz shows the revenant Chivaine displaying the trophy head of his enemy. As a reader, do you want to accept his challenge? You are invited to explore the beautiful darkness. The tile and cover set up expectations well, so get ready to explore planetary landscapes, witches, twisted creatures, and villainous heroes. Worlds Beyond Worlds is exactly what it says, a collection that takes the reader/protagonists into other worlds which are beyond even stranger ones.
The mere fact Fultz can publish eleven tales across ten markets in just a few years is a testament to his skill. BTW, John R. Fultz is equally skilled in the novel form as he is in short stories; looking for a dose of weird adventure? Then consider The Shaper Trilogy or Tall Eagle series (listed below). He has a knack for blending genres/settings which reflects his desire to take the reader to new places, really weird new places full of disturbing surroundings and high-stakes adventure. Heck, there is even a Sword & Sorcery tale that harmonizes dragon killing with the ambiance of Kung Fu (dedicated to David Carradine’s iconic role in the TV show). Anyway, if you crave unique fiction that conveys a wild experience, and are excited to immerse yourself in the cover’s world, then the answer is: Yes, you do want this!
Learn more about John R. Fultz by perusing the author’s website and by reading the 2017 interview where I cornered him on the topic “Beauty in Weird Fiction” (that was done the year before the interview series was ported in Black Gate). You’ll learn about the author’s muses and illustration skills that inform his visual writing style; it also serves as a tour guide to his dark comic Skulls published in serial format on Black Gate (Chapter One Link).
Worlds Beyond Worlds Table of Contents:
“Chivaine” (Weirdbook #31, 2015)
“Yael of the Strings” (Shattered Shields (2014)
“Ten Thousand Drops of Holy Blood” (Skelos #3, 2017)
“Strange Days in Old Yandrissa” (Orbit Short Fiction, 2013)
“The Gnomes of Carrick County” (Space & Time #116, 2010)
“The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” (Way of the Wizard, 2010)
“Daughter of the Elk Goddess” (Hyperborea, August 2014)
“The Penitence of the Blade” (The Audient Void #2, 2016)
“Where the White Lotus Grows” (Monk Punk, 2011)
“Oorg” (The Audient Void #5, 2018)
“Tears of the Elohim” (Forbidden Futures #3, 2018)
Wild Characters & Setting
The protagonists are as varied as the milieus. “Chivaine” opens with an undead knight. “Yael” offers a reluctant bard turned hero on a battlefield with mega-insects; later stories feature the perspectives of a sentient sword (“Ten Thousand Drops of Holy Blood”), and we even get a bibliophile (“Thirteen Texts”) and a moon-born elder god (“Oorg”)! And there is more. You will travel the Land of the Scorpions, Valley of Sacred Bones, Eiglophian Mountains, the doomed city of Yandrissa, and through the underworld of the New World. Here is a taste:
“In the Land of Scorpions the warlock Vallicus kept a fortress of volcanic stone. Its ramparts rose above a realm of poisoned waters and crumbling ruins. Vallicus, like his citadel, was a relic of the elder ages. He had ruled a decadent kingdom in the time before the Hundred Gods tamed the world. How he longed for those ancient days of blood and slaughter. I was born into flames, falling out of the void. A womb of stone hurtling ever downward, until the thunder of impact fractured my shell. I lay among the glittering shards, formless and thoughtless, until Vallicus came for me. Weaving spells against the heat and flame, he carried me from the steaming crater. A silvery seed he would nurture and grow with sorcery. A nameless mineral to which he gave a form, a name, and a purpose.”(“Ten Thousand Drops of Holy Blood”)
“There came a day when the rusted moon cracked open like an egg, and the giant Oorg fell screaming to earth. A pale and fetal meteor, his body slammed into the green ocean. Tidal waves and tsunamis swept the shattered continents, drowning empires and flooding the world. The world had flooded before, but there had never been a burden like Oorg for the earth to endure. He rose up from the steaming mud of the drained seabed, gleaming like a mountain white as snow. The light of his eyes was the glow of double suns, scouring the air with heat, scorching the low-hanging clouds to ash. The world roiled with cataclysms about his gargantuan feet, and he roared like an uncaged beast.
On the other side of the world Oorg explored the nature of his surroundings, howling at the red sky with his great maw, possessing no language to express whatever mundane or alien thoughts might be swimming in his vast brain. He knew hunger, and confusion, and cold. Inside the moon’s womb he had been warm and oblivious, dreaming of unguessed realities. Here he was titanic, pain-struck, and alone. He howled his pain like a hungry wolf and stomped across the ruined lands, his great arms tearing up islands and hurling them at nothing. “(“Oorg”)
Fultz’s approach is reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith’s weirdness blended with Robert E. Howard’s action. Expect bloody, weird bloody melee:
The men of Sharoc marched toward the overwhelming ranks of Ghothians. Diving griffons harried the rows of colossal arachnids. Knights drove their lances into the bulbous monsters. The spider-beasts squirted silvery ropes of webbing into the sky, bringing knights and griffons tumbling to earth. The Ghothian pikemen closed about the fallen ones, stabbing them to death in seconds.
The marching armies grew closer and closer. They would meet in the valley’s exact center. The spider-banners of Ghoth rippled in the autumn wind, and the yellow banners of Lion and Hawk streamed forth to meet them. At a certain distance the archers on either side took to ground. Volleys flew into the sky, each a black rain of barbed death. The footmen paused, sank to their knees, and raised their shields for shelter. When the arrows had fallen, the footmen rose and marched again. Another volley shot into the sky, and the footmen paused again and raised their shields. A soldier next to Yael took an arrow in the eye and died instantly.
Again and again the arrows fell, until the two armies came together in a rush of shouting, charging pikemen. Then all sense of ranks and order was lost, and the slaughter truly began. The wicked pikes of the Ghothians impaled their foes, ripped sideways to spill guts from bellies. Others hooked men into immobile positions of lasting pain. In such cases the Ghothians pulled forth their scimitars and took the heads of wounded men.
Yael might have dropped his pike and ran from the fray like a coward, but the press of men behind him made this impossible. So he marched into the forest of barbed and glittering blades aimed at his gut and face. The Ghothian pikes were grotesquely made, barbed and hooked to inflict maximum carnage. The screams grew louder. Dying men wailed and clutched at their spilled intestines on the ground as others trampled them into the mud.(“Yael of the Strings” )
Time had slowed so that each moment was an eternity. The roar of battle was like the roar of the ocean in Yael’s ears. Droplets of red blood spilled through the air like tiny jewels, splattered across the muddy ground. Dead boys lay all about him, their skulls and hearts and bellies split open, spilling the red secrets of existence into the black dirt. The whiteness of an ancient bone poked through the mud, a remnant of some historic battle. How many bones, how many skulls, filled the earth beneath this valley? The soil was rich with decayed humanity.
Novels by John R. Fultz
About John R. Fultz
John R. Fultz was born in a crossfire hurricane about 51 years ago. His fantasy novels include Seven Princes (2012), Seven Kings, and Seven Sorcerers (2013), as well as The Testament of Tall Eagle (2015) and Son of Tall Eagle (2017). His short stories have appeared in Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Weird Tales, Black Gate, Weirdbook, That is Not Dead, Shattered Shields, Lightspeed, Way of the Wizard, Cthulhu’s Reign, Forbidden Futures, and plenty of other places both wonderful and strange.
S.E. Lindberg is a Managing Editor at Black Gate, regularly interviews authors on the topic of “Beauty & Art in Weird-Fantasy Fiction,” and is the lead moderator of the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group. He contributes short stories for Perseid Press’s Heroes in Hell and Heroika series, and independently publishes novels under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction.