Greg Mele recently paid tribute to Richard L. Tierney at Black Gate. That memorial post covers the author’s life and bibliography very well, so check that out; Tierney co-authored books with David C. Smith will be echoed here. The Goodreads S&S group is hosting a two-month group read of his work presently (March-April 2022), which spurred me to read Scroll of Thoth; Simon Magus and the Great Old Ones.
That book lingered way too long on my shelf. It was packaged as horror influenced by history, with a mage protagonist; however, having read it now, I argue that it is more Fantasy than Horror or Historical Fiction. If assigning genre categories floats your boat, then Sword & Sorcery is more accurate.
As the post title indicates with “Sica and Sorcery,” Simon often fights with a Thracian long-dagger/short-sword called a sica, and evil sorcery abounds. With cover art by H. E. Fassel (below), Scroll of Thoth has all twelve Tierney-written, short stories tracking Simon of Gitta with comprehensive essays from Robert M Price for each; he covers both the actual history drawn from, as well as the Lovecraftian and Howardian (REH) mythos call-outs. The collection was published by Chaosium in 1997 and inspired (or augmented) their Call of Cthulhu role-playing game; in 2009, the Cthulhu Invictus campaign (6th ed) released, and that, in turn, spawned a 2015 collection of similar “Sica and Sorcery” (Tierney did not contribute, but Robert M. Price did).
With Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories (cover art above by Steven Gilberts, Pickman’s Press 2020), readers are treated to all 12 stories and essays in Scroll of Thoth (with an abridged version of the introduction), plus 4 more tales that are pastiche or co-authored tales (also with contextual essays). Pickman’s Press also released a novel-length Simon of Gitta adventure penned by Tierney called Drums of Chaos (originally published in 2008, available now with cover art by Zach McCain, published 2021), which would have been too big to include with the short stories. In short, both Sorcery Against Caesar and Drums of Chaos are available in print and electronic form. This review covers the short stories, but Drums of Chaos is included in the tour guide below. According to the essays by Price, even more Simon of Gitta stories were planned but, unfortunately, are left in limbo.
Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories, official blurb:
A REBEL AGAINST ROME.
Simon of Gitta, an escaped slave turned magician, roves the Roman Empire battling dark magic and demons, all the while pursued by Caesar’s soldiers. Join Simon as he flees across the ancient world evading cultists and Legionaries, outwitting sorcerers and Centurions, and fighting gladiators and gods, even the deities of the Cthulhu Mythos. Yet all these foes cannot prepare him for his greatest challenge: the pursuit of his lost soul-mate Helen, a love so deep even death can’t stand in its way for long.
Who is Simon of Gitta?
For the non-history and non-religious folk, Simon is actually a biblical character. The Christian Bible’s Acts of the Apostle presents him as a Samaritan magus. Tierney presents Simon similarly, a mage hailing from Tyre (modern-day Lebanon), but has his heroic origins emerge from being an enslaved gladiator. Essentially, Tierney rebranded Simon as genuinely as Karl Edward Wagner did the biblical Cain (with his Kane tales); in fact, Tierney emphasized this by having the characters meet in the “The Blade of the Slayer” story.
Having excelled at fighting, Tierney’s Simon is skilled at the sica and hand-to-hand combat. The first tale “The Sword of Spartacus” has him escaping the pits and starting his studies as a mage. Frankly, he casts few spells himself. He does ally with many other active mages (his mentors), and he applies his knowledge of the arts frequently (low-level actions like casting illusions and enhancing disguises, letting his companions do the heavy spellcasting). Even though a mage describes his character well, he is much more of a rogue gladiator/fighter. Simon’s companions are more sorcery-focused and include the mages Dositheus and Menophar, and even a raven named Carbo.
“…I studied the arts of the mages at Persepolis, but before that I was trained as a gladiator — sold into the profession by the Romans, who slew my parents in Samaria because they could not pay the taxes imposed on them by a corrupt regime. I escaped, after two years of fighting for my life — of spilling blood for the Roman mob —!” The character Simon explains
Simon is completely fascinated with two goals: (1) seeking revenge against Rome, and (2) seeking out his love named Helen. The villains are usually Roman Emperors like Tiberius, Claudius, and Gaius (aka Caligula), or they are subordinates or Senators seeking more power. The antagonists are constantly summoning eldritch gods with grand rituals that are completely over the top, and wonderful (we are talking’ coliseums full of sacrifices’ and ‘mating rituals with Star Gods’!). As Simon ventures, he learns his True Spirit has existed beyond/before his current life and that he is always paired with the same female companion who also pervades time; this approach reminded me of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion with a love interest. Even though each short story is stand-alone, these two themes persist across all.
Sorcery Against Caesar really is a splendid mashup of history from Ancient Roman times, with lore from Judaism, Zoroastrianism, polytheistic Etruscan & Egyptian religions, and more… all equally weighted with Lovecraftian Mythos, Robert E, Howard’s Hyborian Age history, and even lore from David C. Smith’s Attluma cycle. For most readers, there will be instances in which determining which gods are based on historical deities or fictional ones will be difficult (for me it started right away with the summoning of Tuchulcha in the first story; that daemon is based on Etruscan myths, not a Lovecraftian Elder). Like Lovecraft, Tierney reinforces a pseudo-real mythos by referencing faux books like the Necronomicon with reverence; here we have the Sapientia Magorum written by Ostanes, the titular Scroll of Thoth, and the Tomb Texts of Ani.
For the Howard fans, you will enjoy entire stories that build on Conan’s first story “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Both the Ring of Set mentioned therein as well as the Phoenix on the Sword get full stories; also for the Kull of Atlantis fans, delight in the “The Dragons of Mons Fractus” tale that features Pontius Pilate exhibiting Vlad the Impaler vibes along with Valusian serpent people. “The Scroll of Thoth” reinforces the Pain Lords from the Red Sonja Books (co-authored by Tierney and David C. Smith).
Even though there is a ton of sorcery, most of it is redirected toward evil Emperors, Simon usually is not the sorcerer. He is a fighter who hangs out with friendly sorcerers while taking down the evil ones. The fight scenes and action reminded me of Howard’s action-packed Sword & Sorcery. Anyway, don’t expect dry history or old-style, meandering pre-pulp gothic horror. Expect (a) bloody melee, (b) fantastical sorcery, and (c) links to Howardian and other fictional mythos. Excerpts below the Tour Guide reinforce these.
Table of Contents (and Chronological Tour Guide of Simon’s Tales)
* content in Sorcery Against Ceaser (i.e., not in Scroll of Thoth). All stories by Richard L. Tierney unless noted.
- “Sword of the Avatar” Introduction (by Robert M. Price); the unabridged version is in The Scroll of Thoth.
- “The Sword of Spartacus” first published in Swords Against Darkness #3 (Zebra Books, 1978).
- “The Fire of Mazda” first published in Orion’s Child #1 (May-June 1984).
- “The Seed of the Star-God” first published in Crypt of Cthulhu #24 (Lammas 1984).
- “The Blade of the Slayer first published in Pulse-Pounding Adventure Stories #1 (December 1986).
- * “The Throne of Achamoth” by Richard L. Tierney & Robert M. Price, first published in Weirdbook #21 (Autumn 1985).
Drums of Chaos is a separate novel-length, Simon of Gitta adventure by Tierney (originally published in 2008, available now via Pickman’s Press 2021, 415pages) that occurs chronologically after “The Throne of Achamoth.” Here’s the blurb (cover below):
CAN A HANDFUL OF HEROES STOP AN APOCALYPSE CENTURIES IN THE MAKING?
Escaped gladiator-slave Simon of Gitta returns to Judea — during the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth — on a mission to avenge the deaths of his parents, seeking revenge in blood against the Roman officials who committed the murders and sold Simon into slavery. But as Simon travels the Holy Lands with his mentor Dositheus and their students Menander and llione, they gradually become entangled in a complex occult plot designed to call down a monstrous alien entity to herald a new aeon on Earth. The mysterious time traveler John Taggart (from Tierney’s The Winds of Zarr) also becomes involved with Simon as their separate quests converge toward a common goal of saving all life on Earth from extinction.
But can a handful of travelers really thwart a covert scheme backed by the power of the Roman Empire? As the apocalyptic supernatural events slowly unfold, Simon and his allies are in a race against time to prevent the devastation of the world. Using mystery cults and early Christian Gnosticism as his vehicle, with meticulously researched Roman history and Biblical scholarship, this is author Richard Tierney’s magnum opus: an epic Lovecraftian alternate history dark fantasy novel that features Tierney’s most famous characters, Simon of Gitta and John Taggart. This novel will appeal to fans of historical fantasy and sword & sorcery fiction in the vein of Robert E. Howard, and the elements of cosmic horror and the Cthulhu Mythos will satisfy many fans of H.P. Lovecraft.
- * “The Emerald Tablet” by Robert M. Price; first published in Strange Sorcery #24, Rainfall Books (August 2017).
- “The Soul of Kephri” first published in Space & Time #66 (Summer 1984).
- “The Ring of Set” first published in Swords Against Darkness #1 (Zebra Books, 1977).
- “The Worm of Urakhu” first published in Weirdbook #23 (December 1988).
- “The Curse of the Crocodile” first published in Crypt of Cthulhu #47 (Roodmas 1987).
- “The Treasure of Horemkhu” first published in Pulse-Pounding Adventure Stories #2 (December 1987).
- * “The Secret of Nephren-Ka” by Robert Price, published first in The Mighty Warriors (Ulthar Press, 2018).
- “The Scroll of Thoth” first published in Swords Against Darkness #2 (Zebra Books, 1977).
- “The Dragons of Mons Fractus” first published in Weirdbook #19 (Spring 1984).
- * “The Wedding of Sheila-Na-Gog” by Richard L. Tierney & Glenn Rahman, first published in Crypt of Cthulhu #29 (Candlemas 1985).
- “The Pillars of Melkarth Vengeance Quest” first published in Space & Time #78 (Summer 1990).
- * “Vengeance Quest” poem, originally published in The Cimmerian #7 (October 2004).
More Simon of Gitta from Tierney?
Robert M. Price writes in the essay for “The Pillars of Melkarth” this context hinting at an unpublished, but already written, novel, and several other tales that likely were never finished:
Readers may notice a large time lapse between the events of “The Pillars of Melkarth” (spring equinox, A.D. 50) and those of the previous story set in A.D. 42. This is because those years were taken up with the events of the novels Path of the Dragon (forthcoming from Pickman’s Press) in A.D. 42 and The Gardens of Lucullus (Sidecar Preservation Society, 2001) in A.D. 48. Other stories were planned during this time period as well. Richard Tierney intended some German adventures in A.D. 46 – 47, as well as entertaining another collaboration with Glenn Rahman on a pair of novels set on the western Roman frontier, one centered on the Claudian invasion of Britain, the other involving the Picts in Scotland. Sadly, none of these stories were ever written — yet.
A) Lots of “Sick” Sica Melee
Simon roared and struck out; his fist cracked sharply against the face of the nearest guard, who flopped to the cobbles without a cry. Quick as a panther he crouched and whirled, barely in time to avoid a murderous blow from a second guard’s staff; his sharp-bladed sica, already in hand, shore through the guard’s neck as Simon completed his whirl, and the man went down with a dying gurgle.
The door was only large enough for two abreast and Simon met the first two with steel, expertly parrying, slashing, stabbing. One collapsed mortally wounded from a sword-thrust in the guts; the other leaped back, suddenly fearful, but was pushed forward again by the surging mob — to die instantly on the point of the sica. Simon howled with mad rage, swinging and thrusting; a bludgeon glanced heavily off his left shoulder and a knife-point nicked his flank, but three more of his enemies went down with blood gushing. A pike ripped his tunic and gashed the side of his ribcage; he roared and smote in return, cleaving a snarling face with his sword. Fierce exultation suddenly filled him; if he must die, this was how he preferred it, fighting and slaying Romans to the very end —
B) Unraveling Emperor Plans to Meddle with Cosmic Sorcery
“I think I know what you learned. Tiberius’ purge of his enemies is no secret, and Carbo recently brought me another message from Senator Junius, who has been recalled from exile in Lesbos to house arrest in Rome. The senator told me about Prodikos and his daughters, and I have learned much more here in Ephesos.”
Simon stopped eating. “What have you learned of Prodikos?”
“Much, Simon, but mainly that in this city renowned for its sorcerers, he is the most powerful and feared of them all.”
A serving-girl entered with an amphora of wine, and Dositheus ceased speaking. When she had gone Simon filled his goblet. “Go on,” he said.
“Prodikos had several children by various slave women, but all were sons save Helen and Ilione. These sons he long ago sold into slavery, but his daughters he kept — for an evil purpose, as it turns out. Simon, it is no mere incestuous lust that drives Prodikos. He means to force Ilione to join with him in a monstrous ritual that shall release forces this world has not seen since it emerged from the last great darkness of the All-Night.”…
… “The rite of the Impregnation and the Slaying — an act of sympathetic magic that shall cause the seed of the Star-god to unite with the Great Mother, thereby generating a horrendous spawn that will overwhelm this world.”
Simon gripped his goblet tensely. His scalp tingled as he recalled reading of just such a black ritual in the Sapientia Magorum of the ancient Persian magus Ostanes. “Gods of Hades! How could the girl’s own father even think of such perverse madness —?”
Dositheus drew a deep breath. ‘‘He may no longer be her true father, Simon. Have you not read of Sakkuth, King of Night, and his evil Master?”
Simon felt the tingling extend down his spine. Sakkuth the King, servitor of Kaiwan the Star-god — both evil beings cursed by the ancient prophets yet still furtively worshipped by sorcerers in his own native Samaria…
“The wizards of Acheron and Stygia and even older civilization cycles knew them by other names,” Dositheus went on. “To the nations of primal Attluma they were Kossuth and Assatur. It is said that every thousand years Sakkuth attempts to destroy civilization, and that he succeeds unless powerful magic is used to stop him. It was he who plunged the world into the All-Night after the Atlantean and Hyborian cataclysms. And to initiate such times, his master Kaiwan, who dwells amid the stars near the Eye of Taurus, sends to earth his seed to unite with the Great Mother, thereby enabling her to spawn the Thousand Abominations that will overwhelm the world.”
C) An Abundance of R.E. Howard Hyborian Age References
Instantly the sword hilt in his hands shrilled with a supernatural energy, and a blade of golden light sprang forth — a blade that must, Simon somehow knew, be equal in length to the sword blade when it was first wielded ages ago by the Aquilonian King!
“The Phoenix!” gasped Nephere, falling to his knees. “The soul of civilization — the hope of mankind…”
The great bird — if bird it was — had wheeled about and was now settling down, flapping its wide and glittering pinions, coming to rest atop the ancient pyramidal stone behind the flaming altar. It perched there and folded its wings, gazing down upon the flames where — so Nephere had said — its parent had just been cremated.
Simon could only stare in awe. He suddenly realized that he had never known true beauty before. He had seen vast mountain landscapes that had taken his breath away, and many fire-emblazoned sunsets, and had known a number of beautiful women — even one that had shared with him and the fallen gods his own soul-nature. But never, until now, had he felt the presence of the very Soul of Beauty.
Yet, despite the mood that was upon him, despite the lingering chords of celestial music in his heart, he could still see actual, objective features of the being. It was about the size and shape of a large eagle, and this fact had doubtless formed the basis of the legends that had surrounded it. But it was no bird, Simon knew — nor any creature of earth or its environs. Those scales or feathers, gleaming like a thousand luminous gems, only slightly resembled the scales or feathers of earthly creatures; that gently curved bill, glowing like translucent pearl, only resembled something between the beaks of ibis and eagle; the golden spray of filaments about its head and throat only resembled the inferior crowns and gorgets of earthly kings and queens. And the great eyes, round and limpid and swirling with obscure colors, bright with transcendent life and supermundane intelligence — these resembled nothing he had ever seen…
Richard L. Tierney
Richard L. Tierney (1936 – 2022) was a poet, author, and editor of adventure fiction, mainly in the realm of dark fantasy. Since his mid-teens, he had been both a fan and scholar of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and other great names from the pulp fiction era. In 2010, he was nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Grandmaster Award. In 1961, Tierney earned a degree in Entomology (Iowa State College) and served for many years with the U.S. Forest Service in several of the western states and Alaska. A haunter of archaeological ruins by instinct, he had traveled widely, especially in Mexico, Central, and South America. Many of the ideas and images that he employed in his stories were inspired by his extensive travels. His major works include Collected Poems (1981, Arkham House), The House of the Toad (1993, Fedogan and Bremer), Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories (Pickman’s Press, 2020), The Drums of Chaos (2008, Mythos Books, 2021 Pickman’s Press), and Savage Menace and Other Poems of Horror (2010, reprint 2021, P’rea Press).
S.E. Lindberg is a Managing Editor at Black Gate, regularly reviewing books and interviewing authors on the topic of “Beauty & Art in Weird-Fantasy Fiction.” He is also the lead moderator of the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group and an intern for Tales from the Magician’s Skull magazine. As for crafting stories, he has contributed five entries across Perseid Press’s Heroes in Hell and Heroika series and has an entry in Weirdbook Annual #3: Zombies. He independently publishes novels under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction; short stories of Dyscrasia Fiction have appeared in Whetstone and Swords & Sorcery online magazines.