Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A Song of I.C.E. and Fire

As the last vestige of the men's adventure genre, paramilitary monster-hunting stories have fallen on hard times. Popularized most recently by Monster Hunter International, and fanned into an indie craze by Seal Team 666, the genre, like Navy SEAL fiction and other men's adventure genres, has been rendered safe for editor's tastes and politics through series like Joe Ledger until what was once a vibrant genre is now forgotten among a slew of monster girl harems and monster evolution fantasies.

Enter the Corona-Chan anthology.

In "A Song of I.C.E. and Fire", renegade author Jon del Arroz uses monster-hunting on the border to take a pot-shot at the idea that "all X must Y". In this case, it's that all Hispanics must be for illegal immigration. However, what should have been eye-rolling politics is kept to a mere scene as Gabriel Hernadez and his fellow I.C.E. agents hunt down a Mexican vampire clan preying on children trying to cross the border.

I am not a fan of politics in science fiction--real-world, fresh off the headlines screeds age horribly in a matter of weeks as the headlines change, but to deny that some of the best science fiction explores timeless social issues would be foolish. As in all things, Harlan Ellison's advice should be followed. Before one can educate, one must first entertain. And the admittedly real-world, straight from 2019 headlines immigration protests take a back seat to a simple tale of a man doing his duty by fighting monsters.

That's the key. The action comes first. And the action holds its own against the monster-hunting books of the early 2010s and the Dick Marcinko-clones they are patterned after. Honestly, Latino I.C.E. should have been as cringe-inducing as the standard fare from del Arroz's political opponents. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would have been. But del Arroz gets the banter right, gets the action right, gets the focus on the job right. While others would dwell on the politics (or even the ten thousand varieties of firearms and ammunition on the market), del Arroz writes Gabriel to focus on the task at hand.

If anything, "A Song of I.C.E. and Fire" is too short, reading as the introduction to what might be a classic monster hunter novel stripped of the normal excesses. But I'm not sure we can tear Jon del Arroz away from his beloved comics and steampunk to write it.

Check it out for yourself in the free pulp anthology, Corona-Chan: Spreading the Love.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Pendulum

In 1939, while science fiction was on the cusp of its first successful bid for recognition, a small fanzine, Futuria Fantasia, presented the first story by the legendary Ray Bradbury. Titled "The Pendulum", this story hinted at Bradbury's future works, which Leigh Brackett declared as not science fiction, but too wonderful not to be included. More Gothic Weird Tales than Campbelline Astounding, this atmospheric tale of a scientist's punishment and vicarious retribution against his tormentors is just a hair out of step with the fashions of its time, but a worthy bit of science fictional horror that holds up to this day.

Bradbury riffs on the old misunderstood scientist theme and succeeds in making a haunting tale of a man essentially trapped on a giant swing. But what he captures is the shocking arrogance that is too common in the scientist fiction of that day. (See Jack Williamson's "The Iron God" for one example.) Compare the scientists in many of the stories in the 1930s and 1940s, slipshod, power-mad, and quick to experiment on humanity, and quicker to take offense when any sort of accountability is required of them, to the obligation of the engineer:

This obligation, written by Rudyard Kipling in 1925, is still repeated by new engineers today. But engineering is a profession, while science fictional scientists are mavericks.

As a result of Layeville's own errors, thirty men were killed by his invention. Rather than show remorse, he is outraged by the condemnation of the crowd. After all, he was only doing it for the betterment of humanity. However, Bradbury never puts to bed the nagging suspicion that this man whose errors caused so much death deserves every second of his later treatment, cruel and unusual it may be.

While other authors would attempt to make heroes out of these inferior men who lack conscience social grace, and any semblance of charity, Bradbury instead gives the tormented Layeville the cold comfort of a front seat to the extermination of his tormentors. Although what comfort could such give the mad? But Bradbury is playing with irony, not seeking to elevate broken men into romantic heroes as other writers in the genre attempted to.

Like many of the moodier stories of its time, "The Pendulum" benefits from being read out loud. Think of it as a kind of science fictional campfire tale. And a warning. Not to be cruel, not to be merciless, and not to forget to doublecheck your work.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Mongoose and Meerkat Kickstarter

The Kickstarter for Jim Breyfogle's Mongoose and Meerkat as now live.
He's a bit of a bravo, ready to knock a few heads for some coin. She's a mysterious wanderer with more than her share of street-smarts and a head for ancient history. Together, the Mongoose and the Meerkat are a pair of rogues looking for coin to keep their bellies and wine skins filled and are sure to appeal to fans of classic Sword & Sorcery.
This volume collects Kat and Mangos' first five adventures with illustrations by the incredibly talented DarkFilly and is available in four formats.
This volume features...
The Battlefield of Keres - An ill-conceived bet brings Mangos and his new companion Kat to a vast no man's land full of relics and magical anomalies in search of a fabled helm! 
Brandy and Dye - High atop rock spires, above the breeze from the Devil's Arse, men toil to collect the valuable guano of the Minix bird for Royal Dye, but when the production is threatened by distillers at dizzying heights, the dyers hire Mangos & Kat to bust a few heads! 
The Sword of the Mongoose - When a shady merchant loses a bet with Mangos, he has nothing to pay with but the story of where a masterwork blade may be found! Can Mangos reach his prize before other treasure hunters? 
The Valley of Terzol - Kat and Mangos are hired to accompany an adventurer to the ruins of Terzol in search of a lost delivery: a thousand-year-old receipt offers a clue to either fabulous rewards or certain death! 
The Burning Fish - Seeking out the fabled Burning Fish for a client, Mangos and Kat instead find a strange cult devoted to keeping a simple life and protecting the secret of the fish at any cost!
As a bonus, this collection will feature Deathwater, a never before published original novelette!
Ebooks start at $3, with pocketbooks, paperbacks, and hardcovers also available. Cameos and original art are available as well.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Golden Pearl

After a harrowing experience in their search for Burning Fish, Kat and Mangos are determined to never be poisoned again–could a Golden Pearl be the answer?!
The latest adventure of Mongoose and Meerkat, “The Golden Pearl”, by Jim Breyfogle, graces the cover of Cirsova’s Spring 2020 issue. Mangos is the Mongoose, a skilled, boastful, and hotheaded swordsman, while Kat is the Meerkat, a beautiful yet mysterious woman who favors the oblique approach to her well-chosen blade. Together, the Mongoose and the Meerkat have made a host of enemies great and small, including those who would settle their grudges with a little drop of poison. This sends the pair of adventurers on a four-week voyage to a tropical shore in search of Golden Pearls, a universal antidote.
The secret to the Golden Pearl is held by the mysterious Killanei, who in turn is guarded by a mountain of a man known as Marumbi. For Killanei knows how to grow the Elibibi fruit, which can grant a year’s worth of life. The Golden Pearls are the key to Killanei’s favor, and no man but Marumbi has eaten the Elibibi fruit for years. Those who dare to challenge this arrangement, even to heal their kith and kin, end up killed by hidden assailants.
As long as they find a Golden Pearl, the local struggle means little to the Mongoose and Meerkat. And then they find that the lonely girl who has helped them in the village since their arrival is the key to the mysteries of Killanei, the Elibibi fruit, and the Golden Pearls.
With this aquatic adventure, Mangos and Kat cement themselves as Cirsova’s answer to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Instead of tackling issues of barbarism and civilization, the duo brush up against questions of friendship and community. “The Golden Pearl” illustrates how the actions of one person may have profound effects and change, but without the preachiness expected in such a tale. And while Mongoose and Meerkat follow in the grand tradition of pulp sword adventures by throwing in a trial of endurance, those hoping for the flash of blades will not be disappointed.
While the ending comes suddenly compared to the more leisurely stroll through setting and intrigue, I would love to see what Jim Breyfogle could do with a novelette or longer format to give the Mongoose and Meerkat more space for their adventures.
Cirsova Publishing will be launching a Kickstarter for the illustrated first volume of Jim Breyfogle’s Adventures of Mongoose & Meerkat soon. Be sure to click “Notify me on launch” so you don’t miss when it goes live.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Battlefield of Keres

An ill-conceived bet brings Mangos and his new companion Kat to a vast no man's land full of relics and magical anomalies in search of a fabled helm! Can Mangos and Kat retrieve Gorman's helm or will they perish in the haunted wilds of Keres?

Mangos is the Mongoose, a skilled, boastful, and hotheaded swordsman, while Kat is the Meerkat, a beautiful yet mysterious woman who favors the oblique approach to her well-chosen blade. Together, these two adventurers made a host of enemies great and small. Inside Cirsvoa #6, Jim Breyfogle tells the story of how the Mongoose and the Meerkat met, in "The Battlefield of Keres." And, like so many adventures in print and on the tabletop, it all starts with a little alcohol in an inn.

After a night of carousing, Mangos is left with a headache and an impossibly unwise bet--to find the helm of Gorman. His rival, Thierry, is quick to savage Mangos's pride over that bit of foolishness. But before Mangos has to pay for the previous night's drinks, help comes in the form of Kat, who knows where the helm rests--in the fifty-mile wasteland that was once the battlefield of Kerres. And, years after the final battle, this scar of a wolf-lair still claims victims from the treasure seekers unwise enough to enter. But Mangos and Kat aren't the only souls seeking the helm of Gorman among the lethal secrets of Kerres.

Along the way, the duo discovers that they work well together. Mongos might be a proud hothead, but he is clever enough to keep up with and build upon Kat's lessons on history and magic. Meanwhile, Kat falls outside the twin cliches awaiting an adventuress, that of being a prize or overcompensating action girl. However, she can keep up with Mangos's expert blade in a fight. Somewhere in the battlefield's desolation, the two make the easy choice to team up for more than just convenience. In Mangos's words,
"Then let us pursue without asking what we chase, and when we catch it, let us chase again."
After reading a number of new fantasy genres that tend to spiral into apocalypses, it is refreshing to see adventurers strive against the more intimate and immediate concerns of rivalry, pride, and ambition. Fortunately, Jim Breyfogle navigates the urgency of such small stakes without devolving into soap opera.

The prose is contemporary transparent, which takes some of the impact away from the grandeur of the desolate setting and the traps within. However, the dialogue is natural, and fairly elevated above the current tin-eared fantasy snarkfest standard.

"The Battlefield of Keres" is an excellent start to a series that has proven itself to be Cirsova's answer to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. May there be many more tales of their adventures.

* * * * *

Cirsova Publishing will be launching a Kickstarter for the illustrated first volume of Jim Breyfogle's Adventures of Mongoose & Meerkat soon. Be sure to click "Notify me on launch" so you don't miss when it goes live.

Also, for a limited time before the Kickstarter, Cirsova Publishing will be offering "The Battlefield of Keres" and the rest of Cirsova's 6th issue for free on Amazon.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Spreading the Love

While the walls of social distancing may be closing in, many authors have offered free books to their readers, whether through their mailing lists or by slashing prices on Amazon. And the pulpier genres are no exception. Author David V. Stewart has gathered stories by a number of today's pulp and PulpRev authors to offer adventure, mystery, and more than a little black humor. This free anthology is available through Book Funnel and can be downloaded here.

* * * * *

Corona-Chan: Spreading the Love is here to rescue you from the existential horror of indoor life, by offering you a glimpse into other worlds of wonder, whimsy, and warped humor.

Tales of high adventure, escapist fantasies, and thrilling stories of suspense await within, from some of the keenest and most rebellious minds in pulp fiction, with a foreword by the infamous Daddy Warpig.

With 200,000 words of exciting fiction, most never before published, including two full books and two full novellas, Corona-Chan is serious about spreading the disease LOVE!

Read it today!

The complete catalog of collected chronicles:

“Quarantine” by artist Jesse White

Anacyclosis by Brian Niemeier

“A Song of I.C.E. and Fire” by Jon Del Arroz

In the Forest of Wast by Alexander Hellene

“Exiled in the Desert” by John Daker

“Iron and Steel” by KP Kalvaitis

“Someone is Aiming for You” by JD Cowan

Immortal Thunder by Matt Wellman

“Bringing down the Mountain” by Nathan Dabney

“At the Feet of Neptune’s Queen” by Abraham Strongjohn

“Going Native” and “Warrior Soul” by Manfred Weichsel

The Battle of the Turasa Nebula by Yakov Merkin

“An Eye for Eligos” by Alexandru Constantin

Adventure Constant (full novel) by Jon Mollison

“Star Support” by Val Hull

“The Age of Petty States” by Rawle Nyanzi


The Crown of Sight by David V. Stewart

Monday, March 16, 2020

Coming Soon: The Black Mask Library

As part of the 100th anniversary of Black Mask, Steeger Books recently announced that they will be premiering the first six titles of a new pulp reprint line, The Black Mask Library, at the as-of-yet uncanceled Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. Like the blog-favorite Argosy Library, each title will feature a rare or out-of-print series from the pages of Black Mask, accompanied by cover art from the magazine.

The titles will include:

Dead and Done For: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Cellini Smith, by Robert Reeves

Murder Costs Money: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Rex Sackler, by D. L. Champion

Let the Dead Alone: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Luther McGavock, by Merle Constiner

Dead Evidence: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Harrigan, by Ed Lybeck

Boomerang Dice: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Johnny Hi Gear, by Stewart Sterling

Blood on the Curb, by Joseph T. Shaw, editor of Black Mask

While it is uncertain as to how the current unpleasantness may delay these plans, I intend to review at least one of these titles as soon as they are available. Black Mask gave the world the hardboiled detective and, later, film noir, and rightly has its place among the most important pulp magazines. Hopefully, Steeger Books will take a chance and publish stories in some of the other genres Black Mask dabbled in, such as science fiction.