Swords and Sorceries Vol 6 - Review

Review of Swords and Sorceries, Volume 6 

I won't rate this review, since I'm in it. But I will say, as a fan of the genre, I would not be disappointed if I'd bought this collection instead of getting a contributor copy. Here's my take, then, on Swords and Sorceries – Tales of Heroic Fantasy, Volume 6 (Amazon associate link) from Parallel Universe Publications, edited by David A. Riley (340 pages, paperback, published May, 2023).

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction by David A. Riley
  • 'Land of the Dead' by Dev Agarwal
  • 'The House of Bones' by Carson Ray
  • 'Threnody of Ghosts' by Phil Emery
  • 'Wardark and the Siren Queen' by Craig Herbertson
  • 'Otrim' by Lyndon Perry
  • 'Gods, Men, and Nephilim' by David Dubrow
  • 'Golden Witch of Adzelgar' by Scott McCloskey
  • 'Raiding the Graveyard of Lost Ships' by Tais Teng
  • 'A Place of Ghosts' by Andrew Darlington
  • 'Those Who Wear Their White Hair Proudly' by Lauren C. Teffeau
  • 'Trails for Treasure' by Harry Elliott
  • 'God of the Dreaming Isles' by Adrian Cole

As part of the ToC, I'll mostly talk about what I liked in each tale and highlight a few adventures that I really enjoyed. But my quick take is that this collection of 12 stories is a veritable feast of sword and sorcery – featuring an exciting variety of plots and tropes and offering something different for every kind of S&S fan. I think you'll enjoy diving into this sixth volume from PUP. I know I did.

Opening the collection is the editor's introduction of each of the authors. Most of the biographies, I assume, were provided by the contributors, but Riley adds a bit of commentary and ties the notes together in a comprehensive preface. I'm used to searching the appendices for author bios, so this was a nice change of pace, to be introduced to the writers ahead of reading their stories.

The first tale, “Land of the Dead,” is by Dev Agarwal whose hero, Baron Simeon (the Stone Snake), is captured, travels to the land of the dead, only to awaken in a stupor, finding himself facing a powerful opponent in a gladiator style fight to the death. This is the first Stone Snake tale I've read and it does feel like an episode in his and Princess Irene's ongoing quest to return home. Which is not a bad thing, per se. A lot of S&S tales are serial adventures within an overarching quest. It was easy to deduce that, in a previous tale, the Princess was abducted; and Agarwal's series evidently recounts the main characters' travels and plans to be reunited with the Emperor. A solid stand-alone installment in the author's fantasy universe, and one that will likely prompt a reader unfamiliar with Baron Simeon to track down more of his escapades.

Next up, “The House of Bones” by Carson Ray, features the swordsman Knox as he tracks down a Doctor Grim, an evil practitioner of the dark (and gruesome) arts of torture. This is a chilling tale well told – from Knox's clever entrance into the dungeon in order to complete his mission to his horrifying exit. This hero is one I'd like to get to know more about, and while I enjoyed this story, I wasn't completely sure what to think of him. Perhaps this is the slight downside to writing stories in a series – fans of the hero know the backstory, but new readers might be missing a bit of characterization. Still, a solid telling and a pretty gripping one at that.

I have to admit, I didn't quite get Phil Emery's “Threnody of Ghosts.” First, I had to look up the word threnody. This tells you more about me than the author, obviously. Also 'about me' – I'm not that well-versed in poetry; and this story certainly has a literary and lyrical quality to it that was, unfortunately, lost on me. I'm more of a traditionally-told tale type of reader – and I did enjoy the stand-off between Zain and the Banshees – but I was uncertain as to the story's conclusion and just what it all meant.

“Wardark and the Siren Queen” by Craig Herbertson is a novelet and well-placed in this volume. I was a bit confused at the beginning as to the parallel story lines and their times and settings, but eventually figured it out. As Riley mentions in the introduction, Wardark is a reiver, “doomed by the sorcerer Xianthus on a perilous quest where he must face the Siren Queen and the knights of the evil King Smaragd.” This is a battle heavy tale, full of action and derring-do as our hero leads his men to overcome their enemies. It climaxes with a shocking but satisfying ending, albeit with an expected 'there's more adventures to come' epilogue foreshadowing an eventual showdown between Wardark and Xianthus.

“Otrim” is my contribution to the anthology. It's a coming of age story featuring a young boy of the jungle, taken captive by raiders, who nevertheless survives the test of manhood. It's the origin story of my hero, the man Otrim who has left his traumatic past behind and risen in status to become Queen Philipa of Idessa's trusted paladin. That story is related in my short novel, The Sword of Otrim (Amazon associate link) by Lyndon Perry.

David Dubrow's “Gods, Men, and Nephilim” has a Celtic setting with a Pax Romana flavor. The premise is intriguing and the storytelling delivers – our heroes are Palaemon, an ex-Legionnaire, and his sister Abelia, a conduit and priestess for the water god, Tiberinus. They are (again from the intro by Riley) “tasked with killing a necromancer who just happens to be the son of a god!” Along the way they meet a Naphil who has a quest of his own to fulfill. It's a complicated plot that resolves in a surprising way, and points to a larger spiritual reality behind the gods and goddesses of the Roman pantheon. Very creative and one of my favorites, though the ending is not what one might expect from what purports to be a 'simple' quest tale. (At 40 pages this novelet is the longest in the book, I believe.)

In “Golden Witch of Adzelgar” by Scott McCloskey we have a first-person tale of a long-dead champion of the Ysir, the horsemaidens and sword wielders of an ancient people. An overconfident witch named Cyrilia, along with a bumbling lackey named Bartho, resurrects the revenant, invoking a rite that is supposed to bind the warrior to Cyrilia's purposes, to defend her people. As another reviewer put it, the champion's appellation of 'Blood of Ten Thousand' and 'End of Days' “should have been taken as a hint” as to what kind of help this dead-now-alive woman of the Ysir would provide. An exciting, action-packed story with some otherworldly twists, intriguing characters, and thought-provoking ending. Another favorite.

A second story in this volume I didn't quite understand was Tais Teng's “Raiding the Graveyard of Lost Ships.” It's set in Clark Ashton Smith's far-future world of Zothique, the Earth's final continent. Queen Desmei and her assassin accomplice, Avende, meet up with a sorcerer named Hamarid who is to assist them in plundering the Graveyard of Lost Ships. Some trickery and double-crossing ensue, but I wasn't able to grasp who the real villain was. In the end, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to admire or despise Desmei. When I read such stories, I never blame the author, I just assume I missed some important, though subtle, clues the writer has woven into the story which other readers, I'm sure, will get.

Another story that features a hero (well, in this case, an assassin) with previously published adventures is “A Place of Ghosts” by Andrew Darlington. I'd not read any of the author's other 'Eternal Assassin' stories so I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought this one pretty good. When I found out the backstory (by contacting Andrew directly), I liked the premise even more. Not all of his stories that feature this character are sword and sorcery. Since the assassin is a supernatural/immortal being, he moves from one host body to the next, living through the centuries, experiencing tales from every age and epoch. I'll have to track down more Darlington's Eternal Assassin stories.

The only reprint in this volume, I think, is Lauren C. Teffeau's “Those Who Wear Their White Hair Proudly.” Intriguing premise, though I didn't particularly warm to the idea that young girls are basically kidnapped to form the next generation of guardians. I would think being chosen for the task of fighting dragons would be an honor and the village would celebrate young Sidika's new path. Plus, I wish I understood the background mythos a bit more in order to cheer for the young warrior in training. Yet for this 'coming of age' story, the author chose this narrative path. (As a fellow writer, it's frustrating to hear others say something like: “If I were writing this story, I would do such and such...” but I'm not the writer, Lauren Teffeau is. So I'm not telling the author to do such and such, lol. All I can say is that it didn't quite work for me as a reader, but others will have different opinions, I'm sure.) Still, the ending turned out to be pretty satisfying and the storytelling was solid.

A good 'band of brothers' tale is “Trails for Treasure” by Harry Elliott, though one of the band is a female warrior who befriends a young woman runaway who is determined to return to her village to set things right. With the prospect of silver, one of the team, Gul by name, reluctantly agrees. With a bit of humor, great character chemistry, an adventurous plot, a tense fight scene or two, and an encounter with a giant, Elliott has provided us a strong story traditionally told. A good tale placed in a good spot in the anthology.

This volume concludes with “God of the Dreaming Isles” by Adrian Cole as well it should. The story is mythic in nature, set in the days of Atlantis, the Druids, and the gods. It's a high seas adventure as well, with our heroes captured by the Dreaming Isles for a purpose only the gods know. It's a creative tale with some tension, of course, with pathos and uncertainty but ultimately uplifting and satisfying. A nice finish to the collection. 

Conclusion: I'd definitely recommend Swords and Sorceries, Volume 6 for fans of the genre.

P.S. I had the privilege of editing my own sword and sorcery anthology in 2023 titled, Swords & Heroes (Amazon associate link). This collection contains tales by two writers appearing in PUP's Volume 6: Adrian Cole and  editor David A. Riley. Here's my blurb.

Swords & Heroes – A Sword and Sorcery Anthology – features 12 exciting tales of heroic adventure from some of the best writers in the genre today. Included are stories by Charles Gramlich, Gustavo Bondoni, Michael T. Burke, Teel James Glenn, Tom Doolan, Nancy Hansen, Tim Hanlon, Frank Sawielijew, Cliff Hamrick, J. Thomas Howard, David A. Riley, and Adrian Cole; along with a foreword by Jason M Waltz as well as a roundtable discussion of the current state of sword and sorcery.


Review & Promo - ResAliens Zine Returns!

The Return of ResAliens Zine

Back in 2007, I started an online speculative fiction magazine called Residential Aliens, or ResAliens for short. (See the premier issue right here on this blog!) For about three years I published a number of short stories online while offering authors a stupidly low token rate for the privilege. Evidently, there was a demand and desired space for "spiritually infused speculative fiction" which my humble venue provided - a platform for short tales of the ethereal.

In 2010, I tried my hand at a print zine and featured a few stories from previous online issues but tried to offer new stories as well. That experiement lasted for 5 issues when life got in the way and I had to find a real job. (grin) Fastforward to 2022 and the age of Kickstarter. I'm now semi-retired with a bit more time on my hands and I got to thinking it might be fun to relaunch the print version.

I'm now 2 issues into this new experiment and my goal is simply to release a new issue every two months through 2023. We'll see what happens after that. For now, it's been a blast reconnecting with authors I met about 15 years ago, and meeting new writers and publishing their stories.

For the ToC and to purchase your own copy (e-book or paperback or both!) visit these affiliate Amazon links. Both issues are about 80 print pages in lentgh (Amazon says more for e-book #7, weird.)
Since I'm both editor and publisher, I won't put a star rating to my Goodreads reviews (#6 and #7), but of course, I do think both of these new issues are 5 Star collections of short speculative fiction. 

In Issue #6, the blurb reads: "From sword and sorcery to space opera, cosmic fantasy to psychological thriller, supernatural horror, and a sprinkle of steampunk, Issue #6 (Jan/Feb 2023) features stories by Adrian Cole, Mike Chinn, Cliff Hamrick, T. M. Hunter, Stoney M. Setzer, Mike Lynch, and H. A. Titus."

And from Issue #7 (March/April 2023): "Welcome to a new issue of ResAliens where you'll once again find a wide array of speculative stories - from an ethereal and ghostly tale by Gustavo Bondoni, to Mike Chinn's swashbuckling and sorcerous adventure. We also have cats in castles, a Lincolnian alt history, a rocket ship romance, and the beginning of an S&S serial from Dustin Reade. Plus a review of one of Moorcock's lesser known fantasies. Residential Aliens - Spiritually Infused Speculative Fiction."

By the way, in Issue #7, the cats in castles story is by Mark Szasz; the alt-history Lincoln themed flash fiction is by James K Bowers; the rocket ship romance is by yours truly; and the book review is by Anthony Perconti. I should have just put those names in the blurb, lol.

Anyway, that's what's new. I hope you enjoy my latest venture in publishing. And send me a story! I'd love to read it. Guidelines are here


Review of Laws and Prophecies by LS King

Laws and Prophecies by LS King

Laws and Prophecies is the fourth book (Book 3, actually, plus a prequel) in L.S. King's Sword's Edge Chronicles. I had the privilege of beta reading her first sword & planet novel, Sword's Edge, about ten years ago or more and very much enjoyed her world-building. “Sword & Planet” is kind of like science fiction in a fantasy setting – a medieval world but manipulated by aliens with superior technology.

The series follows a clan of Rangers charged with keeping order in their home world. They were colonized there by the Enaisi, an advanced civilization that gave them a charter on how to live simply and peaceably. Of course, life on this new planet is not paradise and thus the adventures in this series.

Here's the blurb to Sword's Edge Chronicles Book Three, Laws and Prophecies:

Thane Alcandhor is assailed from all sides: treason within his clan, conspiracies from kin, and turmoil due to the return of the aliens known as the Enaisi. When hit by a final onslaught—rebellion by provincial lords threatening to set up their own despotic princedoms, Alcandhor is forced to choose between upholding their laws and fulfilling ancient, haunting prophecies.

So yes, there are prophecies but they aren't the typically annoying fantasy world prophecies that populate so many YA sagas. Sword's Edge involves an expansive plot, is broad in scope yet tightly told, and features characters you'll care about.

My only complaint about this 'final' book is that it's not the final installment. I felt the story could have ended without a cliff-hanger about 100 pages prior to the cliff-hanger ending and would have been more satisfying as a stand-alone story. But heh, it means there's another novel coming some day!

Recommended for those who enjoy relatively clean adventure stories (no real cussing, although there is some violence) along with a space and fantasy setting. Here's the Goodreads series page.


Review of The Viking Gael by J.T.T. Ryder

The Viking Gael Saga by J.T.T. Ryder 

The Viking Gael Saga by J.T.T. Ryder (Amazon associate link. Released March 14, 2023. About 156 pages.) 

This novel (the first in a proposed series) chronicles the coming of age adventures of a young Norse man named Asgeir. Tragedy befalls the teen, and he is conscripted into the service of a Viking raider named Ulf to pay off his father’s debts. When they reach Ireland and meet up with Asgeir’s father, he’ll be given back the family sword, Gael-Kisser.

In Book 1, however, we remain in Norway where Asgeir must learn to fight like a true Viking. Since his mother is Irish, we’re promised by the series’ title that, one day, he’ll become The Viking Gael. Until then, the young man longs for the day he can take out his revenge against the ruthless and conniving Ulf.

This is a historical novel set, as the blurb indicates, in AD 870. This era and setting is the author’s wheelhouse as Mr. Ryder (soon to earn his PhD) is an expert in Viking and Iron Age archaeology. So the references to daily life, local titles, customs, and swordplay all ring true. (There is also a short appendix giving more context and details about life back then which was very interesting.)

The story itself is fairly well told, but the narrative is interwoven with a number of first person thoughts so that we ‘hear’ Asgeir’s inner commentary about the events he’s experiencing. This was distracting for me at first, but I got used to it. However, it did not warm me to the young man. In fact, he came off as a young, naïve brat at times.

But, this is a coming-of-age story of sorts and so there is room for Asgeir to grow. And I hope he does become that noble figure foreshadowed by the novel’s title. I look forward to reading further adventures in this series and see just what type of hero he turns out to be.

Overall, a solid 4.5 Stars with a language warning. Recommended to those interested in sword and sorcery (although there is no sorcery, per se, simply references to Pagan rituals and beliefs); and, as another reviewer has stated, fans of The Last Kingdom and Vikings television series will likely enjoy this book. (Note: I received an ARC of this novel from the author, and first reviewed on Goodreads.)

More: Visit J.T.T. Ryder's website, Old World Heroism, for more information on his books.

Also: Read DMR's interview with Mr. Ryder at their Independent Author Spotlight.


Review of Valengetrix by J R Cason

Valengetrix: Ghost of Aratania

Self-published by J.R. Cason, August, 2022 (about 140 pages)

Reviewed by Lyndon Perry

Valengetrix: Ghost of Aratania (Amazon affiliate link) by J R Cason is a collection of 5 short stories (or novelets, introduced by an opening epic poem called “The Lay of Auropia”) that form a loose story arc, giving the individual adventures context as Valengetrix makes his way back to his homeland. He was exiled at some point prior to these tales and seeks vengeance against his enemies. Assumed dead, his return is like that of a ghost as he prepares to enter his home city and confront the emperor who has driven out the more noble families of the realm.

Assisting Val in his quest is a ‘soul’ (ancestral spirit) that lives in the jeweled hilt of the sword he carries. This spirit being, Ashren by name, needs to ‘feed’ in battle, and when it strikes it sucks out the life source of those it defeats, turning the dead opponent into a pile of ashes. This makes for some great action and exciting situations. These are buddy tales, after a fashion, and the dialog between Val and Ashren is sly, witty, and humorous. Some great chemistry between the two.

As for the stories themselves, there’s a nice variety of sword and sorcerous encounters in this short volume – from stealing back a precious medallion from a cannibal chief who worships a snake god to confronting an arctic giant while accompanying a shape-shifter unawares, then on to a pirate fight on the high seas while facing monsters from the deep, before finally arriving back to his homeland in Aratania.

Here’s a quick summary from the book’s blurb, which is quite descriptive and enticing:

In the savage realm of Auropia, lurks a ghost in the form of a man. Valengetrix, exiled from his mysterious homeland, seeks redemption in the eyes of his people as he sets out to retrieve lost relics of the once renowned empire of Aratania. Accompanied by a sentient blade, forged from the soul of an ancient warrior of his race, Valengetrix begins to understand that the price for returning home must be paid in blood and treasure.

…With the aid of his ancestral blade, and the various peoples of this world he encounters along the way, the name of Valengetrix becomes a name widely revered by his allies, and feared by his many adversaries. (According to the author’s notes on Amazon, “this short story series [is] set nearly two millennia before the events in the Legends of Atlameria: Harbinger of World's End.”)

Overall, I enjoyed these serial tales (kind of like an ‘episodic novel’), especially “Blood in the Snow” and “Caught in the Undertow.” The action was strong, the characters well-drawn, the individual plots and monsters and crises were exciting and intriguing. A few of the stories began with a lot of world-building and descriptive set-up, so I had to adjust my expectations a bit and ‘get into’ the setting before being rewarded with the action I was looking for. So I might say some parts were a little slow for me. But again, in general, the collection was a fun and fulfilling find.

Plus, as mentioned, the rest of the characters are well-described. Although the storytelling is a bit ‘pulpy’ at times, the players aren’t cardboard characters, especially some of the females that make an appearance. As one reviewer on Goodreads notes: “The leading ladies aren't particularly awed by our barbarian hero and have agency other than being love interests. Yes, [this collection has] its share of friendly tavern maids…and gleaming manly thews….” But, it is sword & sorcery after all.

“Ghost of Aratania” ends with Val and Ashren at the city gates of his homeland, and I assume book 2 in this series, “Valengetrix: Lion of Auropia”, will provide continued adventures and wrap up the storyline of vengeance and redemption. 

I look forward to reading the second series of stories. And I recommend this collection to other S&S fans – or really any fantasy pulp readers who like discovering new worlds and heroes and diving into the high adventures they provide.


My Review of Feast of Fools and Other Tales

Anthology Review by Lyndon Perry

Feast of Fools and Other Tales, edited by Robert Poyton; an Innsmouth Gold Book (Nov 2022, 250 pages, available on Amazon and other platforms). Includes 11 stories of sword and sorcery. 

Start with a disclaimer: I’m in this antho (my story is “To Tame a Demon”) so I won’t review it as I would a collection that I have no connection with, but I will share a few thoughts below on the stories and authors in the ToC.

Quick take: I enjoyed the 11 tales (including mine!) and would recommend the collection to fantasy fans in general and sword and sorcery fans in particular. Though I liked all of them, I had a few favorites, including: “The Horn of Tur” by H. R. Laurence; “The Rotting Goddess” by B. Harlan Crawford; “The Lucky Thief” by Tim Mendees; and “Wind” by Russell Smeaton.

1) In “The Horn of Tur,” Laurence offers an exciting escape and attempted rescue tale featuring our hero Heodric, who is to be sacrificed to the bull-god Tur. There’s a good fight scene, a monster that actually occasions some sympathy, and a nice turn of events at the end.

2) The second story is mine, “To Tame a Demon.” It involves an ambitious and devious wizard who bargains with a few devils in his quest to become the most powerful mage of the Seven Manors. I actually wrote this a few years ago and it never quite worked. When I found out about Feast of Fools, I tweaked and edited it and evidently the story finally worked well enough to be included in this volume.

3) This titular tale by Poyton features Llorc, who is the hero of six novels (check out the author’s The Wolf Who Would BeKing saga) and a collection of stories, including this antho’s “The Feast of Fools.” Feast is a solid quest and revenge tale where our thief – facing sorcery and powerful spells – meets up with an unlikely accomplice, each aiding the other in their separate goals. Nicely told. I hope to read the first novel in Poyton’s Wolf saga soon.

4) The heroine of “The Rotting Goddess” by Crawford is Seanai who takes on a mercenary task for a grieving couple. All is not as it seems, however, and the gruesome sacrifice to the slug-god Lugloth goes awry – thanks to Seanai, of course. This fantasy is a good example of the author’s penchant for writing sorcerous horror. Check out some of his other tales featuring our heroine in the free Whetstone: Amateur Magazine of Pulp Sword andSorcery.

5) “The Colour of Decay” by Ashley Dioses is an intriguing blend of the senses and sorcery and creative magic. The heroine Adara meets the spider-god, Atlach-Nacha, and comes to a surprising end. This one fits nicely with the rest in this volume because of its different feel.

6) Tim Mendees tells a rollicking tale about “The Lucky Thief” – although we wonder throughout the telling if our hero, Rivvens, is all that lucky. Mendees is a good writer, adding humor to the grotesque and alternating between a tavern setting where the story is being told and the flashback sequences that unfold the adventure. I’ll definitely be looking up more of his stories. Tim also has a YouTube Channel where he hosts an excellent podcast. Check it out this show where he hosts the Feast of FoolsLaunch Party

7) In “Wind” by Russell Smeaton we have another quest tale – this time set in the frozen north – with an unexpected series of unfolding disasters. The chill, the wind, the eerie and horrible atmosphere – along with the utter carnage the monster beast of a god wreaks – just wow! Good storytelling and an author I need to look up.

8) Gavin Chappell’s “The Haunter of the Catacombs” describes his anti-hero perfectly as a thief and a liar – and Talon’s character flaws and misadventures get him into some pretty dire circumstances. This is a darkly humorous quest with two storylines (the other featuring Elenara) that converge, the story ending with a perfect set up to introduce more tales featuring an adventuring male/female duo. I had the privilege of reading another Talon and Elenara story and Chappell assures me more adventures are on their way.

9) “Skyfall” by Glynn Owen Barrass is a fun and fascinating blend of SF, fantasy horror, and future (i.e., lost technology) magic. A short, charming, and thoughtful tale with just the right amount of tension and danger, along with a bit of humor at the end. It was well done.

10) Shelly de Cruz, who also created the cover art and interior illos for this volume, offers a solid showdown adventure in “The Guide, the General, and the Priest.” After a long and dangerous trek, Tehmjin, our mercenary guide, engages in an exciting and climactic encounter with a rogue priest-turned-sorcerer, finally retrieving the object of the group’s quest. Of course, he ultimately says farewell to his traveling companions to head off toward his home country leaving me wanting to follow along and watch him get in and out of more scrapes. Very enjoyable.

11) The final entry is by Lee Clarke Zumpe and is titled, “One Sword Against the Gluttonous Gods.” The story features another rogue priest, but this time the protagonist is the one and fifty year old Emperor Tumen. Zumpe’s is a rich fantasy world with a lot to explore and caps off the collection with an epic tale of mayhem, magic, and sorcery.

Overall impression: editor Robert Poyton pulls together an enjoyable collection of heroic adventures that will likely appeal to fans of the wider genre of fantasy fiction. Not all the entries are tales of sword and sorcery, strictly speaking (mine certainly wasn’t), but the storytelling is fairly solid throughout and most authors wrap up their tales in a satisfying manner.

Quite a few of these adventures showcase an endearing anti-hero mercenary who deigns to guide his charges on some dangerous quest. And while there are similarities in trope, each tale has its own unique take on the plot’s direction and conclusion. While I won’t rate this antho, I will say I’m proud to be a part of it!

(Note: Amazon affiliate links throughout.)


Future Bristol from Colin Harvey

Future Bristol, edited by Colin Harvey, is an anthology of short fiction by nine British writers connected to a city they love, respect, and want to see flourish. And rightly so, for Bristol, England, is a city worthy of both real and fictional exploration, and this volume is a perfect travel guide to get us started. 

Each story propels the reader into both the near and distant future of the United Kingdom’s famous industrial city of Bristol. While the significance and historical import of this port city in South West England is probably unfamiliar to many American readers, these speculative pieces immediately bring life and color to its past and present, while painting surprisingly vivid and imaginative scenarios of its future. 

In a sense, this volume represents not only a future look at what might be in store for Bristol, but a hopeful looking forward to what the city may become. Through a wonderfully accessible selection of stories and genres — from steampunk to biotech suspense to superhero fiction — this anthology is entertaining, compelling, and thought-provoking. As for the writing itself, the craftsmanship of each story is superb. 

Editor Colin Harvey did a fine job of compiling a diverse yet complimentary collection of short fiction that celebrates, in his words, “the city that we moan about but also love. A city that, like British SF, believes in itself again.” Well, if the authors of Future Bristol continue to write at this high a level, then the future of British speculative fiction — and Bristol itself — is secure. 

This volume is a delight for science fiction fans of all stripes. Liz Williams begins this anthology with “Isambard’s Kingdom,” a first-person tale that alternates between two narrators: Olaudah Jea, the future’s “Welcomer” and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous 19th-century engineer. The story flips between past and possible as well, nicely blending a bit of steampunk with future history and social commentary. 

The plot centers on whether Isambard will be able to complete (in either age) the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a distinctive area landmark and architectural triumph. The engineer faces a choice—to act on the utopian vision he’s received from Olaudah or simply accept the status quo. What underlies the story is the theme of cultural repentance for the role Bristol played in expanding the slave trade from Africa to the Americas. Brunel stands in for Everyman; Olaudah represents an offer of redemption. Tackling the concept of “collective sin” is a challenging feat, but Williams handles the issue deftly and avoids turning this into a moralistic tale by focusing on an original plotline that brings two intriguing protagonists together. 

The title of John Hawkes-Reed’s offering,”The Guerilla Infrastructure HOWTO,” was a little off-putting, but his fast-paced and action-packed opening sequence dispelled any hesitation to put the story down. Hawkes-Reed quickly introduces an interesting concept (what’s the reverse of bio-terrorism, bio-aid?) through witty dialog and believably modern characters. While certainly a science fiction piece, “HOWTO” combines suspense and conspiracy with an antiestablishment message that doesn’t overwhelm the story. The disruptive biotechnology that the guerillas introduce will transform public transportation—to the delight of the masses—but Corporate Britain will fight to prevent it or control it. I’m not doing justice to the plot; it’s much more subtle and complex than that. The author, however, maintains intrigue and interest throughout; and what’s more, who wins is a mystery until the end. An enjoyable read. 

 “After the Change” by Stephanie Burgis is a modern-day superhero story with old-fashioned beat-the-bad-guy morals and a feel-good ending. I admit I’m partial to this traditional storyline, but the challenge is finding quality storytellers who handle it without resorting to cliché. Burgis is one such writer. She includes the right mix of relational conflict, love triangle romance, kidnap suspense, and internal moral crisis which, when set in a speculative context, makes for good fantasy reading. Andrew encourages his girlfriend, Neve, to discover the reason behind her angel-wing mutation. But like any transformation, the partner who hasn’t changed is often left behind. As Neve warms up to her new role as crime-fighter and city protector, Andrew feels disconnected and hurt. What he does with that hurt is what makes “After the Change” worth reading. 

Genetic manipulation is at the core of Christina Lake’s “A Tale of Two Cities.” The title, of course, evokes a Dickensian relationship between France and England, which the author skillfully weaves throughout this first person flashback narrative. Another anti-corporate tale, this story involves a French pharmaceutical company owned by Valèry Evrémonde, competently cast as the manipulating mogul who is frantically searching for his rogue niece Charley—and her cloned daughter. The reader slowly unwinds the connection between Syd (our storyteller who works in Bristol) and Charley, as well as Syd’s sister, Lucie (the clone), and Valèry Evrémonde (the owner of their “parent” company, hint hint). While a bit confusing at times due to the number of characters and the flashback structure, the plot resolves nicely, and the purposeful complexity simply showcases the competence of Lake’s skill at handling such an intricate story. 

The weakest link in this collection, although still somewhat charming in its own way, is “Trespassers” by Nick Walters. It’s a predictable and campy over-the-top time-warp specimen-hunting human-meets-alien yarn that works reasonable well if you enjoy those type of cult classic, Doctor Who-style stories. In fact, Walters is the author of a number of Doctor Who novels, so I’m not disparaging the writing; it’s full of pithy dialog (though it has a bit too much vulgarity for my taste) and four fanciful characters. Two human “urbex” gamers are exploring an ancient underground train station and encounter two strange creatures who seem to be doing the same thing…imagine! Of course, the reader knows what will happen (it has something to do with a zoo)—once Matt and Simon convince themselves they aren’t dreaming (oh, what a tiresome device). The pulp-inspired plot makes up for the lack of suspense, so if that works for you, then the story works as well. 

My favorite story was “Pirates of the Cumberland Basin” by Joanne Hall. As mentioned earlier, the variety of sub-genres represented in this collection is refreshing—and this swashbuckling SF mystery on the high seas (an ocean-covered England the result of global warming) is a nice change of pace. Each story in the anthology alludes to something Bristolian, and the famous ship, the SS Great Britain, is referenced here. None of the historical or cultural icons steal the show, however; they simply add place and context for well-developed plots and characters—especially in “Pirates,” which features detective Harry Muller, a dead socialite, a missing baby, a crime boss, child slavery, artifact smuggling, and, of course, pirates. Hall maintains interest as the reader sleuths along with Muller and, by story’s end, ties up all the loose strings in typical British fashion. Entertaining, but with an underlying message that gives one something to chew on after the caper concludes. 

Colin Harvey offers an expansive telling (in the unique first-person present voice) titled, “Thermoclines.” Although this is another mutant story, the setting is far future with winged humans scavenging for food in a postapocalyptic world that is sliding back toward barbarism. Young Garyn, our protagonist, is the most agile hunter among his small village among the trees. He returns from a foraging expedition to find a pair of rare visitors, who turn out to be a father/daughter team traveling and tricking gullible hosts out of their scarce resources. Despite the con, Garyn falls for Kazia and chases after her upon their midnight escape. The dangerous flight forces them to pass through dangerous thermoclines that threaten to push them into “the Grey”—the vast ocean of atomic and chemical waste that covers the Earth and which long ago forced mutant humanity to the skies. Yet this lethal ooze has another role to play—the transformation of humanity yet again, as Garyn finds out when Kazia is exposed to the poison. Themes of death and resurrection, love and forgiveness, and danger and hope undergird this narrative. Harvey has a powerful story here and one worthy of expansion into novella form. I hope he considers this or writes a sequel since the conclusion was a bit compressed and left me feeling that the word count played a factor in wrapping up the story prematurely. Still, one of the best offerings in this collection. 

The title, “What Would Nicolas Cage Have Done?” by Gareth L. Powell, is a humorous nod to the movie, It Could Happen to You, where Cage’s character, dining at a coffee shop, promises to split his possible lottery winnings with the waitress in lieu of a tip. In Powell’s story, John, fresh from a breakup, meets Bobbie at a café, and they strike up a friendship. In a fit of whimsy, Bobbie makes John promise that if he wins the lottery, he’ll split the earnings with her. Well, lightning strikes, and a choice appears—in this case the world comes to an end and John is reconstituted in a utopian future. He’s allowed to resurrect one other person…Indeed, what would Cage have done? The story is short enough (and surreal enough) to allow the reader some patience in order to endure the inevitable predictability of the plot. But overall, this is a well-told story strong on relational dynamics. 

The final story in Future Bristol is by Jim Mortimore, “The Sun in the Bone House.” This is a weird and operatic feature that somehow manages to cap the collection off in a complete and satisfying manner. I like to read anthologies straight through, for I assume the editor is creating an overarching narrative or thematic arc for the reader’s benefit. I sensed that was the case in this volume as each of the stories flowed nicely together, with “Bone House” wrapping up the various genres, themes, and ideas and transporting them into the vast and distant future of not only Bristol, but of humanity itself. The story takes us on a journey from the early days of Bristol (Briggstowe in Anglo-Saxon times) through recent history (alluding to famous area landmarks and discoveries) to the far future via the mind (the “sun” in the bone skull) of a child-turned-timeless woman. The pace picks up as the ages pass, characters come and go like actors on a stage, and still the sun offers wisdom, guidance, and direction to the town she loves. It’s an inventive tale that has many layers and, as mentioned, nicely rounds out this anthology of a city the authors “moan about but also love.” 

 My Personal Rating: 8 out of 10. Published by Swimming Kangaroo Books (April 2009) (Reviewed back in 2009.)


Review of Lost Wolf by Stacy Claflin

Lost Wolf by Stacy Claflin

This is Book 1 of 6 in the author’s Curse of the Moon series (all published 2016/2017). It has a 4.3/5 star rating with over 1,100 ratings. At this time of this review, it’s around #700 in the free kindle store. These are self-published and Claflin has a 5-book spin-off series called Valhalla's Curse featuring one of the characters in the Moon series. The cover art seems appropriate for the genre.

I think I came across a free copy of this e-book via a Bookfunnel promo where you get a freebie in exchange for signing up for the author’s mailing list. It’s a ‘shifter’ paranormal romance novel of about 300 pages and relatively clean and chaste. So a sweet YA werewolf story (though a bit violent at times) and not a ‘New Adult’ novel where the subject matter is supposedly more spicy. (I wouldn’t know!)

With freebies, I usually give the e-book about 10 percent to grab my interest. Some e-books I abandon right away; definitely by 20 percent it’s off to the DNF pile if I’m not hooked. Lost Wolf almost lost me at the beginning. It starts with a female protag (Victoria) who wakes up and has no memory of her past. Not my favorite trope or literary device. The other 1st person POV is Toby, supposedly her former love.

The writing is generally fair and the set-up interesting enough, so I kept going little by little. Plus, I’m thinking about writing a PNR novel and this was part of my research. (grin) While I wouldn’t say this story was all that gripping (I read it off and on over about 6 months as a bedtime read – a few pages before I nodded off to sleep), the plot wasn’t quite as predictable as I first reckoned. So I eventually finished it, more out of curiosity than excitement.

Overall, then, I’d give Lost Wolf a 3’ish out of 5 stars. It’s a ‘book one’ structured story so not all the plot threads are tied up at the end. In fact, as I read other reviews this was the biggest complaint. It’s overly long (at 300 pages) and doesn’t really satisfy the mystery of Victoria’s memory loss or her tragic background. Too many implausible situations as well. Plus, a lot of daily life description that just wasn’t very interesting and didn’t advance the plot.

Maybe for KU readers, the length and loose strings are good things. They can binge the series ‘for free’ (monthly fee to read all the e-books you want) and they can automatically move to book 2 to find out the answers. For me, I likely will not continue the series. But at 1000-plus ratings, Claflin must have a nice sized following, so more power to her.


Review of Tarzan of the Apes by ERB

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Complete novel originally published 1914 (serialized starting Oct, 1912 in The All-Story Magazine). I read The Townsend Library edition from 2003, edited and with an afterward by Jonathan Kelley. 303 pages.

I'm almost at retirement age and I finally got around to reading Tarzan of the Apes by ERB. Better late than never. What a great tale - or rather, a series of tales (since this novel was first released in serial installments). As I read in the afterward: "It's hard to find a page of the story that isn't concerned with planning, experiencing, or recovering from an adventure." (Kelly, p 309)

And for 90 percent of the journey, the adventures were a fast-paced thrill-ride. Very enjoyable. Took me back to the days of my youth when I read other adventure books like the Tom Swift series. The last few chapters of Tarzan, however, were a bit of a disappointment. They felt rushed as it seemed Burroughs realized the novel was getting overly long and he had to wrap it up. Still, an unparalleled yarn.

As mentioned, I read the Townsend Press edition which was edited for high school reading, smoothing out some of the dated language, I imagine. Right now I'm reading the original Book 2, The Return of Tarzan, and the wording isn't all that difficult, so I don't think I missed much by reading an edited version. I don't think it was abridged in any way. Plus, like everyone else, I grew up knowing the story, immersed in the Tarzan mythos. Saw plenty of TV episodes and movies featuring our ape-man hero. (I think I recall enjoying the film Greystoke from 1984 starring Christopher Lambert.)

ERB went on to write a total of 24 adventure novels. That itself speaks to the popularity and longevity of this original concept (though I hear some of the later books are a little derivative and repeat basic plot points). As for this initial classic, I'll give it 4.5 Stars despite finding the last 10 percent of the book a bit unbelievable. Yes, yes, I know. A baby raised by an ape and learning to read on his own demands some credulity. But that fantasy was well-staged and developed. When it came to Tarzan learning sophisticated French in a matter of weeks and able to drive a car and adjust to modern life in a period of months, I found my suspension of disbelief stretched a bit thin.

Then there is the surprisingly tragic ending. Maybe not tragic in the Shakespearean sense, but definitely not the happily ever after with Jane I was expecting. Of course, there's more to Tarzan's story to explore, not least of which is his relationship to his English background. And I suppose that will all come out as the series progresses - as well as an eventual renewed relationship with his true love. So I don't fault Burroughs for his ending - it worked in that it brought an emotional response in this reader, at least, that kept me pondering this classic novel for quite a few days.

Conclusion: Recommended reading. Should even be required reading for junior highers or early high schoolers. Don't wait until retirement to enjoy this novel, in other words.




Review of Jarek the Scholar by Cliff Hamrick

Jarek the Scholar: Adventures in Ebesu

by Cliff Hamrick (Amazon author page)
Fiery Blade Publishing (September, 2022)
Sword & Sorcery Fantasy, 165 pages

This short collection of fast-paced, high adventures features Hamrick's cerebral-leaning hero, Jarek the Scholar, as he travels a foreign land, adrift after a significant personal loss as well as being cast out of his family. His wits and sword are all that he has left.

Although we never quite discover his full backstory, we're along for a thrilling ride as Jarek makes his own way in the world - to prove himself, to gain wealth, reputation...and a little self-respect. He's good in a fight, but better with his wits, and the mysteries he solves are dark, dangerous, and intriguing.

Hamrick sets up a number of fascinating scenarios in a classic sword and sorcery setting full of strange and horrific monsters and cosmic powers. I first stumbled upon this series when the author posted a freebie in a Facebook group I'm in, Poison in the Dark. Here's my Goodreads review of that short tale:

Enjoyed this clever fantasy thieving adventure novelet featuring Jarek (my first exposure to this character and first story I've read by Cliff Hamrick). I thought I'd stumbled upon sword and sorcery erotica the way the story opens (so reader beware!) but the tale quickly unfolds into a fun and plot twisty romp. Very well done and a series I may want to get into.

S&S erotica? Sign you, up, you say? Simmer down, dear reader. Most of Hamrick's stories don't go there. Some are dark, others a bit lighter, but almost all of them I've read have been quite enjoyable. Here's the Table of Contents of Adventures in Ebesu...

The Silent Ship, Desert Nightshade, The Grand Theater, Star of Uskuk, City of the Dead, The Crystal Flame, and The Blue Butterfly. This last one appears only in this collection - the others can be found as stand-alones. If you are in Kindle Unlimited, find them there.

I've also read The Secret in the Library and The Cure for the Sleeping Woman; currently reading Battle for the Blood Oak. I believe the only Jarek adventure I haven't read is The Priestess of Callata and that's because there's a naked woman on the cover. Perhaps another S&S erotica tale? You'll have to let me know! ;-)

If you enjoy sword and sorcery adventure fantasy with a different take on the genre's typical anti-hero, then check out Cliff Hamrick's Jarek the Scholar stories. Recommended for mature readers. 4.5 Stars.


E-Zine Review - Worlds of Adventure Issue 1

This is an interesting experiment - and I wish the publisher, Allison Tebo, well. She's introducing a quarterly e-zine called Worlds of Adventure, where she and her two sisters (all writing under pseudonyms) can share their unique worlds of, well, adventure.

Tebo is a Christian writer of magical stories full of excitement, grit, and a few laughs as well. She seems to gravitate toward romantic comedy retellings of popular fairy tales; and Issue 1 is a nice sampling of this genre.

Her indie publishing venture is T Spec Fiction and this quarterly e-zine contains clean, speculative fiction for YA and MG readers (though adults will enjoy the stories as I did, I'm sure).

I was given a free copy of the zine so that I might share a review here and on Goodreads and Amazon. Here are my thoughts on each of the 7 stories in this issue.

* Rendezvous - a cute vignette (a slice of a larger story) featuring a defector's accidental escape from custody. The writing is wry and succinct. Not a bad bit of flash fiction. Has a steampunk feel to it.

* One Last Shot - also a short scene (not a full blown story), featuring another escape but this time done with ingenuity and bravery against a robot guard. Would like to know more about this space opera world; how the protag got involved with her new alien friend whom she helped break out of prison.

* The Queen’s Cure – a bit longish ‘fantasy world vs modern machines’ story, where the traitor to the kingdom advances his science against the realm’s reliance on the Fae. Quite tragic and thematic. The queen employs a long forgotten remedy to save her people, but at what cost?

* Treachery Aboard The Nautilus – probably my favorite story, a pastiche of what happens right after Nemo’s victory over the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Imaginative, well written, with a nice resolution. A new story in a familiar world is a risk for a writer, but this one works.

* Seven Strong – A fairytale reimagining of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a steam punk, robotic, business conglomerate world. Had a hard time getting into this one, but maybe because I never particularly cared for the original story and the re-told setting was just too unusual a mash-up for me.

* Night Raid On The Zone, Part 1 – I have to admit I skimmed this one knowing it was the initial installment of a serial novel and is to be continued in future episodes. I usually want to read a novel as is and not one chapter at a time over time. The premise looked interesting, though.

* The Trent-Featherstone Journals: Episode 1 – This, too, is a serial but this first episode is intriguing. “Victorian ladies fending off hungry dinosaurs on the planet Venus” is how another reviewer put it. I like it. Steam punk, sci-fi, fantastic adventure. If this ever develops into a full novel, I’d probably want to read the whole thing.

So, five stories and two continuing stories make up this first issue. Great concept, overall. Clean and mostly wholesome (PG’ish) with some tragedy, tension, and thought-provoking themes. If you want to support indie projects, this is a good one to look into.


Review of Variable Star by Heinlein and Robinson

Variable Star

by Robert A Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Listened to the audio, read by Spider Robinson himself. Fantastic narration. He wrote this novel based on an 8 page outline (and a bunch of character notecards) of a 1950s novel that Heinlein never got around to. 

Eight pagesof notes minus one! Heinlein either never penned an ending or the last page was lost. Spider Robinson did a heck of a job wrapping it up. In fact, it’s really a Robinson novel based on a Heinlein outline.

At the end of the audio, the author talks about how it all came about. This “last” novel by Heinlein was authorized by his estate, normally not a good idea, but the opening chapters are quite delightful. 

(Trigger warning for those who don't hold to 1950s traditional family values. If you can't handle a retro-style novel, then I don't know what to tell ya. I was pleasantly surprised at how pro-life, pro-family, and Creator-friendly - aka Intelligent Design - the novel turned out to be.)

However, at about 40% (chapter 10), the storyline went nowhere fast and I lost the direction of the plot. I slogged through some interminable physics (planetary gravity, relative mass, time travel theory, etc – actual SF stuff which I don’t particular care for being more of a space opera fan) and then skipped to chapter 19. 

Good choice, because the climax and denouement were pretty good and the main characters that were there in the beginning of the novel returned for a memorable showdown.

One other quibble. I enjoy humor, and this novel was full of it. Wit, sarcasm, funny cultural allusions. But the wittiness got so overwhelming that I sighed a lot as I listened to the story. Robinson is funny, no doubt, but the one liners were just too relentless. 

So I give the book 3.5 stars. If you’re a fan of either author, you’ll probably enjoy it. I did overall, but it was almost too much of a good thing, if you know what I mean.


Review of Forsaken Earth by Dalton Cortner

Forsaken Earth
by Dalton Cortner
Mil SF - 40 pages

Forsaken Earth is a prequel story (short novella) to Dalton Cortner's military sci-fi two-book series, The Athena Operation. It's a pretty good entry-point adventure focusing on two key characters in the author's main novels. This episode has Seraph, a human, and his alien soldier-at-arms, Sadhis, investigating a potential uprising on the long forsaken planet Earth. As the blurb states: "Earth is abandoned. Those left behind refuse to be silenced."

I thought the action, tension, and revenge motivation reflected the war-torn environment of a future devastated Earth pretty well. The two soldiers are not on the same page with regard to the ultimate mission (the capture of the rebel leader), which makes for a nice subplot to the story. It's gritty, fast-paced, and without a lot of techno-jargon, which I appreciate. Now it does have a few too many f-bombs for my taste, but those of you who follow my reviews know this is a common complaint of mine - but then I am reading mil/sf. Heh.

If you are looking for a new short series to jump into, grab this story and the two other books in The Athena Operation. I'll give it 3.5 stars, so not bad for a relatively new writer. The story telling is generally solid and gets the job done. You should know that the author contacted me and asked if I would review the story, but you can also get it free from his website by signing up for his newsletter at www.daltoncortner.com.

Here's the blurb for The Athena Operation series:

The entire universe is being purged.

Seraph Aydrian is the furthest thing from a model soldier. He's one reprimand away from a dishonorable discharge. Time off from the military didn't sound so bad. But when the seythra betray the universe and start killing everyone indiscriminately, Seraph knows he is going to have to fight for every second he continues breathing.

Forced to band together with soldiers, mercenaries, and civilians, Seraph is tasked with leading the fight against the seythra. He must uncover the sinister plot of why the most-trusted species in the universe turned on everyone at the height of their respect and accomplishments.

Can Seraph and his team put a stop to the chaos and destruction? Or will the seythra put them among the numbers of the dead they've amassed?

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Review of Lost Tribe of the Sith

The Lost Tribe of the Sith 
by John Jackson Miller
Star Wars Legends book published by Del Rey, 2012
Released in eight installments, 435 pages total.

This series of novellas (or novelets, really) form a pretty good overall story. I have to admit up front, though, that I've only read episodes 1 to 6, and still have to read numbers 7 and 8. 

Why, you ask, stop at 6? Because I downloaded these 6 ages ago from Amazon when they were free and never got around to reading them to realize that there were 2 more I was missing!

So here are my quick impressions as I finished each installment. I started the first novel in 2017 and finished #6 in 2019 or something. I guess it took awhile to get into! lol


Precipice and Skyborn are the first two novellas in a six part series [sic. which is what I thought at the time]. Very good writing, strong world building, really enjoying this story so far.

Paragon is the third novella, not a very satisfactory installment, but it does reveal the machinations of a main character. 

Lost Tribe of the Sith is an episodic novel. I downloaded them free from Amazon at one point awhile back. Working my way through each "chapter" (each book is less than 40 pages) in the story.

Found out this series is 8 episodes long, and Savior is the 4th installment. After the Sith are destroyed, this lost tribe survives a crash landing on a distant planet. Books 1 to 4 (each one a novelet in length) form a complete story arc, how the Sith using the dark side of the Force are taken as gods by the local inhabitants. Not a bad series.

Purgatory and Sentinel are books 5 and 6 (novelets really) in an 8 book series. But this story arc only lasts 2 episodes and takes place 1000 years after books 1 to 4. Well done.

So I guess that's why I haven't finished books 7 and 8 - two story arcs within the series are done and I'm sure the finale wraps it all up, so will eventually get to them. 

Definitely recommended for Star Wars fans. Miller is a solid writer and balances world building, charaterization, and interesting scenarios and tense plotting really well.

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Review of some Aston West Space Opera by T.M. Hunter

I'm a friend of Mr. Hunter's and I'm always excited when he releases more Aston West stories. Aston is my favorite space pirate and his adventures are always fun and exciting. 

What's cool is that Hunter has bundled his many Aston West space shinanigans into three story sets called "Triple Shots." He has five collections of such bundles and all are worth checking out. 

Here's my review of his latest:

Sweet Embrace and Other Adventures 

by T. M. Hunter 

Published by Crosshairs Press, 2015 (about 35 pages)

Three more Aston West adventures centering around the space pirate/smuggler's relationship with a relative newcomer to the smuggling game, knock-out beauty Diedra Cane. 

In tale number one, Conventional Wisdom, Aston gets in and out of a sticky situation...with a little help from Diedra. In the second story, Sweet Embrace, we see a more compassionate side to Aston, grace under fire, if you will. And finally, he wins the day in Ridealong, the third story where Cane's naivete once again gets our hero into a bit of trouble. 

If you like space opera, wild adventure, and a turnabout storyline, these triple shots are just the thing for a quick lunch break escape or bedtime reading.


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Review of How to Write Pulp Fiction by James Scott Bell

How to Write Pulp Fiction
by James Scott Bell
Compendium Press (October 2017)

Okay, maybe not a 5 star end-all beat-all, but for what it is - a quick handbook and overview of what goes into writing pulp fiction - it was really pretty good. Insightful and entertaining. 

I liked the fact it contained a lot of primary source advice from the original pulp writers; and some good resources and "where to look" links as well. Recommended for writers of all genres, I would think.

Another reviewer, Armand Rosamilia, a prolific writer of short stories of horror, zombies, contemporary fiction, thrillers, and more, described Bell's book positively as "a refresher course" for those who are fans of pulp fiction, concluding that he "took away a lot of new tricks to use." 

So did I. Now if only I could actually put them into practice by writing something! Are you a fan of pulp? Have you tried your hand at fast-paced adventures? Let me know!


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A Few Short Stories Reviewed

I went to a writer's workshop and made a number of new acquaintances. Among them, Stefon Mears and Michael Warren Lucas. They are both prolific writers and publish their projects regularly. I linked to their Amazon profiles - check them out!

Here is just a sampling of two or three short stories of theirs. 


The Final Survey of Andrei Kreutzmann by Stefon Mears

On a deep space prospecting trip, Andrei Kreutzmann finds a planet valuable enough to set him up for life. Buy a new ship. Maybe even win back his lost love.

Unfortunately, the imperial military recalls him to active duty. His old captain, now a marshal, orders him to scout a key strategic sector. Andrei can't refuse...and flies straight into a trap.

My take: This was a fun, short read, an enjoyable slice of life, space opera style.


Michael Warren Lucas writes SF as well, and one short story of his (among others!) grabbed my attention:

No More Lonesome Blue Rings by Michael Warren Lucas

My take: This short story was free on Amazon (but worth purchasing if it's for sale) and offers an intriguing SF off-world premise. 

Disease and disabilities figure prominantly into the plot and the main character's surpise decision at the end left me pondering her motivation and the upended theme of the story - as most good SF scenarios do.

Both authors are worth tracking down. Who have you discovered lately that you'd recommend? 


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Review of Becalmed by Kris Rusch


Becalmed by Kris Rusch
A Diving Universe Novella
From WMG Publishing, 2012

This is a straight up SF novella within Rusch's fairly expansive Diving Universe. I've read a few of her books in this series, including Diving into the Wreck (book 1) and Boneyards (book 3, see my review here). Somehow I missed book 2, City of Ruins, but will get to it eventually.

Rusch also writes short stories in this universe and has many of them published in mainstream magazines like Asimov's. In this novella, we have a ship stuck in deep space ('becalmed') after an inter-species conflict. The only person who can provide the key to the war's beginning is a survivor too traumatized to remember. 

As with most of her science fiction books, this has a solid premise, employs good writing, and has a unique voice. I wouldn't be surprised if these stories get picked up for some streaming series on Amazon or Netflix. Recommended for SF and space opera fans.


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Review of The Chase

The Chase 
by Clive Clussler and Justin Scott (Isaac Bell #1)
Hardcover, 404 pages, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Aptly titled, The Chase is a pretty good thriller until about half way through when the actual chase begins. And though it's meant to be a mile-a-minute daredevil of a ride up and down the California coast and then across the Sierra Nevada range by train, I found myself skimming quite a bit.

I mean, Detective Isaac Bell will get his man in the end, right? And yep, that's what happens. Sure, Cussler provides some fascinating historical detail along the way (but he's first and foremost a fiction writer, so don't press him on all the facts necessarily) featuring the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, there is only so much one can take when reading what probably looks better on the big screen.

Overall, though, I like this series (having read #3 first, so I'm a bit out of order) and will likely read more. Good stuff. 3 1/2 to 4 stars.

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Review of The Italian Secrerary

The Italian Secretary
by Caleb Carr

Blurb: At the invitation of the Conan Doyle Estate, Caleb Carr has created a new adventure for Holmes and Watson, set in the grandeur of Holyrood Palace in the twilight of Queen Victoria's reign. (Paperback, 288 pages, published 2015 by Sphere, first published 2005)

Reviewed by Lyndon Perry
4 Stars

The audio version of this novel is excellent. The voice characterization is amazing and submerges you into the golden age of Sherlock performance (for me, that means the television era of the 1980s/90s).

However, you're going to have to love that era and really enjoy Conan Doyle's writing style if you're going to like this book. It's not a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute story. It's historical, it's literary, it's, well, Sherlockian.

And Caleb Carr captures the essence of the original perfectly. The plot isn't that memorable but the fun is in experiencing the whole adventure. Recommended for die-hard Conan Doyle fans.

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A Few Philip Harris Stories

Philip Harris writes, blogs, and gives free books away at his website, Solitary Mindset. I enjoyed the three short stories available for free and his prequel novella to Serial Killer Z is definitely something different.

Here are super quick reactions to the three short stories I've read:

Bottled Lightning - Good short science fiction story - a first contact tale.

Curfew - Another short science fiction story, but this one is more military based. Ends as a horror tale.

Saviour - Not as good as two other short stories above but still intriguing. Harris is a very good story teller.

As to Serial Killer Z: Infection, the blurb says this series is Dexter meets the Walking Dead. Since I've not seen either nor do I want to, this zombie thrasher serial killer gore fest isn't for me.

Now I have to say, it's well written but it's pretty darn gruesome. I think this intro novella is still free, as a prequel to the author's new series. So if this is your thing, you might like it.

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