I was one of the backers for Goodman Games most recent Kickstarter for Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and as a result, received my copy a bit earlier than most. What follows is a (mostly) spoiler free review. Some of the writers were familiar to me, either from previous issues of Tales, but it was nice to see a couple of Broadswords and Blasters vets mentioned as well (D.J. Tyrer and Cynthia Ward).

Now how’s that for a cover?

The Demon Rats by C.L. Warner – a samurai is tasked with ridding a temple of a plague of demonic rats. The story starts straight forward enough, but the Warner weaves in additional complications as the story progresses. First, there is a questionable ally in a kitsune who has her own ambitions… as well as the origin of the demonic rats in the first place. The action is fast paced in this one, and Warner does a good job of evoking feudal Japan. If there is any real complaint it is that the main character, Shintaro Oba, never seems to the reader to be in any sort of mortal peril. If anything, the real danger seems to come from the complication of dealing with the inhuman kitsune, Mika. This isn’t Warner’s first Shintaro story, and I’d be interested to know if Mika would end up as a recurring character. She provides an excellent foil to Shintaro’s stoic warrior, what with her devious nature.

The Eye of Kaleet by Jeffery Sergent – a stranger in a strange land… Jade is an adventurer and a thief in a land where strangers aren’t trusted, and if a woman is caught wearing a sword, it could mean her life. After purchasing a strange gem from a nervous merchant, she is beset by a strange set of circumstances… and has to deal with a persistent Captain of the City Guard. Heist stories are always fun, and heists where the goal is to replace an item as opposed to purloin one are always welcome. The relationship between Jade and the Captain is not much developed here save for a sense of mutual respect… and a mutual desire to see more of the world. It would be interesting to see how that relationship develops in a longer story, and I can only hope to read more of Jade and her adventures.

Green Face, Purple Haze by Marc DeSantis – An American Soldier from the Vietnam war is transported to a fantasy world and a different kind of war. I will be honest that I wasn’t much impressed with the piece. I found the prose excessively utilitarian and missing some of the prosaic flair of the other stories. The concept is also one I’ve seen elsewhere (Doomfarers of Coramonde by Brian Daley comes to mind, albeit in novel format), so that might be well coloring by view. Admittedly, as the story is told exclusively from the perspective of the soldier, I can understand the direct nature of the prose. I was just hoping for something more than what was offered.

The Sorcerer’s Mask by Jason Ray Carney an unnamed Rogue enters the city of Chel and falls afoul of the sorcerer Lech who rules from the shadows. The magic of this piece is evocative and creative, a woman who weaves magic with paints and canvas; a sorcerer having lived long past his appointed time. The story weaves and bobs, reading as if it was a more an oral tale than a written one, a story told by a fire late at night after a few cups of wine. The ending was a surprising twist, and not one that this reader expected.

The Black Pearl of the Sunken Lands by Cynthia Ward Perhaps the most outlandish and fanciful tale in this volume, “The Black Pearl” follows the exploits of Bruko, a nereus, and his companion Dolphin, wanderer. Most of the exploits occur under the surface of the sea, as Bruko and Wanderer explore a long sunken temple and the dangers it contains… all in search of a bauble so Bruko can impress his lover. There are elements of real danger throughout from bloodletting kelp to self-repairing undead… as well as a giant serpent to make any fantasy lover proud. An absolute fantastic piece of fiction, and one that could easily springboard to more adventures within the aquatic world.

A Simple Errand by Matthew John – Lachmannon is a barbarian warrior… who finds himself imprisoned for behaving like a barbarian in a civilized city. Finding himself chained and in a dungeon, he has little to look forward to save for his punishment of being flayed alive. That changes when a strange wizard offers him freedom… and maybe a bit of treasure, all for a simple errand. What follows is a high stakes adventure on an alien word, far from what Lachmannon is accustomed to. Matthew John depicts an alien landscape filled with strange denizens, with challenges a plenty for an iron muscled warrior. At times Lachmannon comes across as a bit of a pastiche of other barbarian heroes of sword and sorcery, but at times such comparisons must seem inevitable.

Nzara by D.J. Tyrer a bit of soul and sorcery from Tyrer, as the hero Ini-ndoga and his companion, the archer and tracker Mbeva, arrive at a village in sore need of assistance. The chieftain and his first wife have been killed by a lion… but the lion is sacred to the village and so they cannot act against it. Ignoring the plea from one of the former chieftain’s other wives, Ini-ndoga agrees to investigate and sees what can be done. Suffice to say, not all threats are straightforward, and even a triumph can taste like ashes when complications arise.

The Silent Mound by Charles D. Shell – A Native American warrior is ambushed by three white men in the ne colonial New World. The white men are in search of gold, and they’ve heard rumors of a burial mound hiding what they seek. They strive to get Nihonka to act as their guide. Betrayal and terror follow as they find and unearth the mound, only to unleash the horror within. A bit of a delve into cosmic horror (never unwelcome) as well a change in venue from your typical sword and sorcery tale. There is a strong sense of adventure here, and of terror lurking just out of sight.

Dakagna and the Blood Scourge by W. J. Lewis – the cursed-to-wander-the-earth Dakagna returns in this sword and sorcery tale. She had been hired to track down the mercenary captain Begaram, leader of the ruthless mercenary company, the Blood Scourge. But not all is as it seems, and when the hunter becomes the hunted, it is all Dakagna can do to keep her wits (and her head). Bloody and full-blooded, this is a story to whet the appetites of any who appreciate sword play in their stories, as well as surmounting what might at first appear to be impossible odds.

You can grab your own copy of issue #10 here!

This week (honestly, it has predated this week, but this week is when it bubbled to the surface of The Discourse, so here we are) has seen a few people calling for the return of the Hays’ Code. For those not in the know, the Hays’ Code was a (somewhat) voluntary self-imposed guideline that predated the current MPAA Rating System, and that prohibited certain things from showing up in movies. What things? Well, any explicit reference to sex, no miscegenation, no queers, and so on and so forth. Seriously, kisses couldn’t last more than three seconds. Can’t cast a Chinese actress if her male lead is a white guy in yellow face. Can’t have the youth of America be corrupted, now can we?

Anyway, the Code died a much needed death at the end of the ‘60s, but its presence still casts a long shadow in US (and by extension global) cinema. Why do people want to go back to it? It’s slightly complicated – but it amounts to certain people feeling uncomfortable with fictional(!) displays of sex and violence and using the cover of “but the Code meant people had to be more creative than they are today” as a way of forcing their puritanical views on the general public.

You can read more about why the code was bad and why a return to it is A Very Bad Idea here.

Anyway, this ties into something I’ve been thinking about in other contexts, namely guidelines I keep seeing in genre magazines (fantasy/sci-fi/spec fic in particular). Frequently you will see guidelines that stories that have sexual content are out (okay – so is a kiss okay, but missionary out? Is the main character stripping down to fight the bad guy sexual or does that depend on the gender of the mc? Do I trust the editor to understand that if I include a queer character, that it doesn’t make it explicitly sexual or not?) , or explicit language is verboten, but hey, throw in all the violence you want.

I’ve had stories of mine where I needed to edit out an f-bomb or it wouldn’t be published (something something about not wanting to get flagged on the ‘zon for explicit content). I tend not to include sexual contact in my stories anyway but if it made sense in the context of the story, why wouldn’t it be included? Look, some of my characters would sooner stab a body than look at them, and you want to tell me they’d be concerned about their language being uncouth? I’m not saying that every story need to sound like a bad rip off of a Tarantino script, but maybe, just maybe, the self-censorship isn’t needed and might be holding the genre back some.

And I know this is at least somewhat predicated on the genre and audience you are writing for, but every time I see another call for fantasy fiction that then deliberately cuts off part of the human experience I have to sit there and scratch my head and wonder “Why?”

So this is awkward.

I wrote a novella. I decided to self-publish it. But it really does feel like I told very few people about it, and, let’s face it – the greatest book in the world isn’t going to get much traction if you don’t actually tell me that it is out there.

This started off as a NaNoWriMo project a couple of years back that didn’t quite make it to the full 50k. But I was okay with that. The story ended up being as long as the story needed to me, and that worked for me. What I ended up with was a nitro boosted urban fantasy tale with a heart and soul of pulp action (no surprise there, really). Anyway, the working title was “That Old Black Magic” which I was never sold on for a title, and those people (un)lucky enough to read early drafts liked the story well enough… just not the title. Anyway, titles were never my strong suit anyway (with possibly the exception of BROADSWORDS and BLASTERS), so I went with two things that featured prominently in this particular story.


BULLETS AND BLACK MAGIC features a thief-for-hire, Blake, who has more than a little magicial mojo backing up his plays. He steals a book for a client, the client ends up dead… and well, the plot doesn’t let up from there. It also features cultists, vampires, a blind tattooist, and Angelic magic. I more or less stuffed it all into a blender and hit puree. Interested yet? You should be. You can grab a copy of it here:

Seems every few years or so, sword and sorcery goes and tries to reinvent itself, rebrand itself, see if it can’t get a new generation of readers and writers. As someone who has spent more than a little time reading, writing, and publishing sword-and-sorcery – I get it. There can be a sense of toiling in the shadows of giants (while also fighting against a general disposition to view swords-and-and-sorcery as some lesser version of fantasy fiction – more thud and blunder than literary, and maybe not offering much in the way of cognitive nutrition. Okay – but dammit, sometimes a body just wants to be entertained, and that’s okay as well.

Evidently – this concept of a New Edge grew out of a discord discourse about what could be done to help revitalize the genre, maybe shed some of the old tired tropes and predilections of the past, and help the genre move forward into the 21st century. They are hardly the only ones, but kudos to the editors for bringing more voices to the table. Part of the result is this, the inaugural issue of New Edge Sword and Sorcery Magazine. It is a decent sized volume, featuring six new pieces of fiction as well as seven non-fiction articles that any aficionado would do well to sink their teeth into. Some spoilers follow as to the fiction pieces.

Read more: Magazine Review: New Edge Sword and Sorcery #0

The Curse of the Horsetail Banner by Daniel R.A. Quirogue – A khan betrayed by his blood brother discovers that an ancient tomb has been desecrated, a banner stolen, and a curse unleashed on the land. What follows is a tale of curses and sorcerers and dark magic… and the persistence and stamina of the main character which may be his greatest virtue.

What makes this story unique (other than the departure from your typical Euro-centric Western fantasy) is the central character’s moral dilemma when it comes to the object of the quest. Does he take the banner for himself and assemble a host such has only been seen once before? Or does he return the banner to its rightful resting place and lift the curse from the land? It is this central moral quandry that helps elevate this particular story, and leaves the reader wondering what choice they would make in that situation.

The Ember Inside by Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams – Ymke, a writer, or at least a storyteller of one kind or another, is invited to meet with a like-minded individual- a one Sigismond, evidently because he misses the company of other “literary minded individuals.” However, Sigismond is less interested in sharing craft tips as he is to plunge Ymke into a dreamscape and plunder her dreams. What follows is an exploration of a life-not-lived, the alternative branch of choices not taken or maybe simply what happens when a coin lands on heads and not tails. How different would Ymke become as a result? While it made for an interesting tale, by the end I found the tale somewhat lacking. the way the dream scape worked, the way the story resolved at the end – it left me wondering “What are the stakes here? What is the danger? What does Ymke stand to gain? What might she lose?” While the ending, and Sigismond’s fate, did bring a smile to my face, the fact that at the end most of the story was little more than a dream left me feeling unfilled as a reader, and wanting more. I want to see Ymke in her native element, the way she is now, and felt like I received little more than a taste of that within the story.

Old Moon Over Irukad by David C. Smith – a pair of adventurers – Virissa and Edrion – agree to take on a commission. A simple enough job to escort a man to a tomb and stand guard while he retrieves a certain scroll from within. There is a twist to the plan, but it isn’t one that comes as any great surprise. There is a good sense of the weight of history within the story, of old secrets and older evil buried just under the surface. Virissa and Edrion make for a decent pair of rogues, and it would be interesting to see where else their adventures take them.

The Beast of the Shadow Gum Trees by T.K. Rex – An ecological allegory wrapped in a fantasy story, of how the only constant in life is change. Moth is an engaging character, as I am always intrigued by how writers handle characters who have prolonged lifespans, and who they end up seeing the world around them. It might be too bold to state this acts as a meditation on love and loss and the process of letting go… but there is a bit of that as well. The action, however, is muted, but it provides a different take on a guardian of wild places than what one usually sees.

Vapors of Zinai by J.M. Clarke – A tale of an itinerant wanderer, dark magic, old gods and foul demons – so you know this one is like catnip for me. Set in an analogous Africa, it follows Kyembe of Sengezi and how he comes to be employed by the Priestess Takhat to slay a demon. Clarke does a masterful job of setting up competing interests and factions through the course of the story and manages to give enough of a taste of the world (objects of power, gods and demons, named warriors out for hire) to leave the reader wanting to delve deeper into the lore behind the story. The final battle with the demon Kyembe is pitted against is appropriately danger wrought, and the resolution does not merely rely on Kyembe’s strength of arm, but also his wits.

The Grief-Note of Vultures by Bryn Hammond – What happens when a caravan is forced to take shelter from monstrous vultures? How do you battle something that refuses to die? If it is a curse, is it one that can be lifted? A great story where the main character, Angaj-Duzmat, gets by on her wits and her knowledge, and is able to carry the day, and where what seems like a just and fit punishment ripples through the years to create new atrocities. Again, there is a strong sense of a broader world and a consistent set of rules applied that hints to some deep world building by Hammond. However, she does a fantastic job of using it to inform the story, rather than hitting the reader with it.

The non-fiction pieces also deserve a special mention, with my two favorites being Cora Buhlert’s profile of C.L. Moore and Nicole Emmelhaniz’s deep dive into Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes.

This issue, as I understand it, was a bit of experiment to see if there was enough interest to support the idea. As a result, you can pick up the issue for free at payhip – link is below. The layout is well done, with plenty of illustrations to break up the text as well advertisements for other like-minded publications.

You can grab a free copy here.

You can also grab a dead tree version (paperback or hardback) at Amazon:

Out Now: The Tripper

Posted: June 30, 2022 in Uncategorized

I got share a TOC with some heavy weights in this anthology. My story is “The Demon of the Blade” which is what happens when Liam the Black is suckered into finding out what happened to an expedition to recover a lost treasure. If you do pick it up, be sure to leave a review, all right? Word of mouth and all.

New story dropped today in Savage Realms. And if you pick it up and think “Wow, I really hope there is more Reynauld forthcoming!” I have already drafted the second part of his travails, and well, I’ve at least started a word document for Part III. Anyway, “A Gentleman of Blades” started because I was watching DEADWOOD and was thinking what a fantasy Al Swearengen would be like. Only somehow he ended up taking on traits of John Wick, all with a fantasy twist.

You can find it here: https://www.schlock.co.uk/pb/wp_938b3718/wp_938b3718.html and kinda sorta ties into the BULLETS AND BLACK MAGIC short novel I’ll be putting out later this year.

Did you check it out? Let me know what you think!

(Wrote this back in 2003 for the now defunct DARK FUTURES website, where it came in 1st for their HOT DAYS CAN MAKE A HOT LIFE HOTTER contest).

I’ve heard some say winters are the worst around here. The way the cold freezes your blood, the way people are found flash frozen where they lay down the night before, how food is scarce and everyone scrabbles for what little there is. Those of us that have been around though, us scavenger types, the jackals, we know the truth. Summers’ll kill you faster than winter.

Winters cold keeps most of the diseases at bay, keeps them sleeping, see? You don’t get as much type two cholera, or  rampant dysentery, or whatever that new bug the speakers on the police drones are blasting on about. Take today, for instance. The speakers are warning that Mandarin Monkey-pox has been documented in quadrant B. Sure. That’s fine and all. That just means that one of the hospitals in Quadrant B has documented it. Know what that means for us down here, where there aren’t hospitals and you might get lucky and get into the clinic once a year? Yeah, it means that Monkey-Pox is in Quadrants B, C, D, F and probably all the way through Z. And they don’t bother telling you how not to get it. Some of them you get by eating the wrong thing, or fucking the wrong person, or breathing in the wrong air. Speaking of eating, its early, so I better go get my grub on.

Yeah, picking through the garbage is a before the sun is up kind of job. In the winter, it don’t matter so much. It stays cold enough, dry enough, the rot takes a while to set in. This time of year though, you better be up and out quick if you’re picking through the rich folks garbage for a hint of fresh veg, maybe a bit of gristle that’s gone unnoticed. Wait too long, and you’ll be battling bloated flies big as your head, and those rats the size of a two year old that have been popping up more and more. Then you’ve got to worry about what the garbage might have been sprayed with. I’ve heard the rich have started dousing their scraps. Maybe with something to keep us jackals sterile, maybe to spread the Monkey-pox. Maybe Monkey-Pox doesn’t come from Mandara after all, wherever that is, but its another form of control.

Here’s the other thing about summers down here on the ass end of the city. It gets hot, and it stays hot. Sure, we might not have to worry about getting burned directly by that big yellow bitch in the sky, but she heats up the air down here, makes it like an oven. All that concrete and steel up top, it traps it down here with us. Cooking us. Roasting us. Making the air so thick you’ve got to cut it with a knife.

So welcome to the slums. Welcome to the Oven. Pray that you make it to winter, because at least then you might get some peace.

Captain Gaveston sat in his cabin, slumped forward in his chair, his bloodshot eyes fixed on the chart spread across the stained and scarred table. His right hand was planted on a rune inscribed skull, his left on crystal globe, the interior swirling with a purple cloud. His greying black locks fell to his shoulders, and his eyes had the wide manic stare of the fanatic. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept or the last time he’d set foot on land that wasn’t surrounded by water.

Artwork created using Wombo.

The cabin door crashed open and First Mate Ningle lurched into the cabin, dragging the wreck of his leg behind him.

“Captain, we’ve nearly caught them.”

He slurred his words, the result of the right side of his face being a melted ruin, the eye clouded over and unseeing. His left leg was nothing more than bone and a few dangling scraps of sinew. How long ago had he died? How long since Gaveston had bound his departing soul to the remains of his corpse? He felt like if he could remember he could solve the puzzle to his own continued existence. Ningle had been the first he had dragged back beyond the Black Veil. He had not been the last.

“Caught who, Ningle?”

Ningle dragged one ragged finger against his cheek. A bit of rotting flesh hit the floor with a wet slap. “Our… prey, Captain. The one you set us on the trail of.”

“Did I?” Gaveston stared down at the chart, stared at the small ships moving across it, the storm bank approaching from the east. If they put all the sails out, if they had a bit of luck, they’d catch their pursuers as the storm hit. Gaveston frowned. Something about that should bother him more than it did, a memory gnawing away like a mouse in the hardtack. “Yes. I did.” He felt a pull, like a steady hand on the rudder of his soul.

“More sail, Ningle. We’ll need to fly like the dead to catch them but catch them we shall.”

“Do I tell the crew to beat to quarters?”

“No need yet,” Gaveston replied. He looked up and stared at Ningle. He could see moonlight streaming through the hole in his chest where his heart should have been. “Wait until we’re within sight of the ship.”

How long had they pursued this particular vessel? How many days and months and years? Wind whipped through the cracked and warped planks of the vessel, as dead as the men that crewed her and as seemingly oblivious to the fact, still slicing through waves and weathering storms, still bending to the will of its master.

He stared down at the chart, watched as the gap between the ships grew ever closer. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but he could hear the crack of thunder echoing across the water when Ningle opened the door to the cabin once more.

“We’re in sight of them Captain.”

“Beat to arms, Ningle. Ready the guns.”

“Are we taking prisoners?”

Gaveston locked his feverish gaze on Ningle’s one good eye. “Bring me the captain. I don’t care about the rest.”

“Aye Captain.”

Gaveston stared down at the map, heard the thunder grow closer, heard the calls for sails to be furled. The long guns boomed. The other ship returned fire, one shot crashing through the rotted wood of his cabin and revealing the storm-tossed sky outside. Gaveston kept both hands fixed on skull and globe, his will holding ship and crew steady. The wall knit itself back together, an ugly scar running along the hull, another scar to mark their damned passage.

There was a sudden crash as the ships came together, and he could hear the shouts from the crew they pursued. His own band of cutthroats didn’t utter a sound. No need to talk when you were dead. He wasn’t sure how Ningle communicated to the rest of the crew, and he realized that such a triviality didn’t interest him. The sound of steel clashing on steel rang out, muffled only by the sound of thunder and the piteous groaning of the ship’s timber.

Then all fell silent.  

Ningle reentered the cabin, pushing the enemy captain in front of him. The captain’s coat was torn, and he bled from a gash in his forehead.

“Casualties, Mr. Ningle?” Gaveston asked.

“Six of ours are no longer fit to fight sir, but we were able to take sixteen of theirs in turn. Figure half will be fit to fight again, Captain. The others will suit as supplies.”

“Good,” Gaveston replied, though he made the word sound anything but.

“Gaveston?” the enemy captain looked up, his eyes having trouble focusing. “Captain Gaveston? I know you… it’s me, Bentinck. We served together six years on The Scourge. Don’t you remember me? What happened to you?”

“Bentinck?” Gaveston blinked at the man before him, something vaguely familiar about the shape of his face, the sound of his voice, but he couldn’t quite place it. A baleful green light shone in Ningle’s ruined eye. “I… I don’t remember.”

“We thought you dead, lost at sea five years ago. Is this… is this The Golden Storm?”

Ningle cuffed Bentinck across the back of the head, sending him sprawling to the floor. “This isn’t The Golden Storm, it’s The Blood Abandoned. You understand?”

“Mr. Ningle.”

“Apologies, Captain,” Ningle replied, tipping an imaginary cap. “I overstepped my bounds.”

“Yes, well, make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“What do you want done with him, sir?”

Gaveston looked down at Bentinck, but all he saw was a pile of squirming, bleeding meat. And there was other prey to catch.

“Dispose of it,” he replied. Staring down at the chart, his eyes fixed on another small moving dot. Another ship. He felt his soul called to pursue.

“Cut ties to the other ship, Mr. Ningle. We have prey to catch.”

(A bit of flash fiction I drafted for an open call. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut, so I decided to put it here instead for you to enjoy. Artwork created via wombo.art where you feed an AI words and it generates art.- MXG)

Anthony Perconti drops a review of my Fahrenzine “Limitless.”

Punk Noir Magazine

In the mid 1990’s, I worked my way through the foundational works of the cyberpunk genre. Neal Stephenson’s highly satiricalSnow Crash(and the follow up,The Diamond Age), Bruce Sterling’sIslands in the Net, RichardKadrey’sMetrophageand the works of William Gibson. It was the works of Gibson in particular that resonated with me. He was able to strike the perfect balance between hard-boiled crime fiction andcutting-edgetech (at least of the time). His fiction seemed set in our world, but to borrow a phrase,”20 minutes into the future.” Take the opening lines of “Johnny Mnemonic” for instance. “I put the shotgun in an Adidas bag and padded it out with four pairs of tennis socks, not my style at all, but that was what I was aiming for: If they think you’re crude, go technical; if they think you’re technical, go crude.” Gibson’sgenerous use of inserting name brands into his fiction, added an extra layer…

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