Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Destroyer: Dr. Quake

There is a secret passed down from one sitting President to his successor. Whenever the fight against crime or foreign meddling endangers the very Constitution itself, each new President is instructed to dial a secret number and ask for the services of a special man. Then hang up the phone and know that the threat will be dispatched. But never ask the voice on the other end about the man who makes crime lords and foreign agents disappear.

His name is Remo, and he was a former cop sent to Death Row for a crime he did not commit. Instead of execution, Remo Williams was given the chance to serve his country in a new manner.  Under the tutelage of Chuin, master of the sun source of all martial arts known as Sinanju, Remo has become America's greatest assassin: The Destroyer.

For more than 45 years and 150 novels, Remo Williams and Chuin have irreverently faced the nation's foes, foreign and domestic, in the men's adventure series The Destroyer. Along the way, the Master of Sinanju and his apprentice have faced power mad business tycoons, Russian agents, gangs of street thugs, Mafia hitmen, African slavers, neo-Nazis and Black Panthers, Mayan gods, and even the odd alien or two, reaping a terrible harvest along the way. If a group has shouted "Death to America" or smashed a window in protest, Remo has been set upon a thinly veiled version in the books. But in Dr. Quake, Remo is sent to investigate that old standard of pulp and men's adventure, the mad scientist. Someone in California has demonstrated the ability to control earthquakes, and is blackmailing a small town. When this master of science's ambitions for extortion grow more audacious ("Hello, Mr. President"), Remo and Chuin must race the Mafia to find and destroy the earthquake machine.

The fifth book is admittedly an odd place for an introduction to a series. But it took time for Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir to develop the key relationship in The Destroyer. The first book, Created, the Destroyer, was originally written in the early 1960s, with Remo studying the then exotic art of karate. But as martial arts grew more widespread in America, Remo's martial arts needed to grow more exotic. Thus Chuin and the House and martial art of Sinanju was created, intended to be one of many instructors that would hone Remo's killing skills. It wasn't until the third book, The Chinese Puzzle, that the cantankerous scenery-chewing old coot from Best Korea took his place as Remo's only instructor and assistant on his missions. Over time, Remo's grudging respect for his little father grows, and Chuin is forced to admit that Remo isn't that bad for a white devil. By Slave Safari (book 12), Chuin is kvetching like the Jewish grandmothers he watches soap operas with, both to Remo and to anyone around who would listen to a wizened old master. In Dr. Quake, Murphy and Sapir are still putting the polish on Remo and Chuin's relationship. The begrudging respect on both parties is present, but the bickering that the two are known for has yet to fully appear. The satirical elements, however, are more developed.

Like many men's adventure series, The Destroyer takes inspiration from the headlines of its day. Murphy and Sapir mix the mad scientist's plot with the growing fears surrounding California's San Andreas Fault, with a dash of the mob and a swipe at women's liberation protesters. Police corruption and the concerns of migrant workers (back in the days before illegal immigration concerns) round out the evils afflicting the California town that Remo conducts his investigation. With a mix like this, it is impossible to avoid a political slant. While Murphy and Sapir take on all parties, there is a distinct rightward tilt to Remo's adventures. This series was politically incorrect before the term existed, and it is no surprise that The Destroyer is published independently these days. Chuin's raging case of Korean chauvinism is reason enough to keep it from an established publisher, and a lot of sacred cows get gored when the logical conclusions of the beliefs of certain groups are revealed to be ridiculous. (The most recent novel tackles Black Lives Matter and gun control.) And there is enough criminal stupidity taken from headlines and video clip shows to contrast with the masterminds.

With all the mayhem in action, satire, and wordplay, The Destroyer never loses its moral compass. The innocent victims of the various criminal schemes are always treated with compassion by the story, evil is always an action instead of a vague impersonal force of history or identity, criminals who have yet to kill are shown mercy, greed and evil are always shown to be corrosive to the wrongdoer, and evil is always avenged. Finally, Murphy and Sapir decided not to glamorize the violence in fighting. Remo and Chuin often kill with a single blow. Depictions of violence are unavoidable in a martial-arts based story. But The Destroyer refuses to revel in the inevitable gore. Descriptions of killing are quick and to the point, with more care to the description of how Remo approached the criminal instead of the effects of the blow. Little effort is spent on depicting technique either. This decision forced the authors to focus instead on satire, characterization, and wordplay, which created hooks that allowed readers to continue to enjoy the adventures of Remo and Chuin long after the duo proved to be unstoppable.

Dr. Quake is a decent but average adventure, overshadowed by The Chinese Puzzle and the excellent run of the second dozen novels. However, it is a brisk and enjoyable read, filling the vacuum of adventures caused by the decline of the pulps. It's escapist adventure done right, a perfect beach or airplane read. And Dr. Quake has one of the most memorable opening lines I've read since Monster Hunter International:

"Every man owes God a life. California owes Him a disaster, payable about twice a century."

For that alone, Dr. Quake earns a reread.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Quick Reviews: Valley of Loss, Hidden Depths, and Phoenix

"Valley of Loss" is the second volume of Jim Cartwright at Large, a serialized novel bridging The Four Horsemen's Revelation Cycle series and The Omega War. In Cartwright's Cavaliers, responsibility and senior NCOs forged Jim from loser to a leader fighting on the battlefield in his own relic of a giant Gundam-style robot. Previosly in Jim Cartwright at Large, he discovered more of the coveted war machines in an abandoned space station. Now Jim continues his search for information, technology, and tactics that will allow him to create more of the giant mecha. This leads him to the the Valley of Loss, the last battleground where the mecha fought. Can Jim trust the scavengers littering the battlefield like locusts? Will he find the information and machines he seeks? And will his XO ever let Jim outside his sights ever again?

The pacing in "Valley of Loss" certainly reflects the serialized novel approach taken in Jim Cartwright at Large. Instead of the taut immediacy demanded by the short story format, half the chapter is a relaxed collection of exposition and flashback, and the other, plot. Certainly the glimpse into setting and character will pay off in future chapters. The flashbacks with Jim's father explain why, even at his lowest, Jim never gave up on his dream to be a mercenary. However, action junkies will be craving more from his visit to the Valley of Loss. I look forward to reading the collected chapters of Jim Cartwright at Large to see how all the pieces fit together, but the serialized approach needs more self-contained stories that build upon each other than one single story split into multiple parts. That said, "Valley of Loss" certainly left me wanting to read more.

Jim Cartwright's story is one of the few positive examples in recent science fiction of how a geeky and overweight boy can turn himself into a man through hard work and responsibility. And his stories are not preachy, but fun reads that inspire readers to meet challenges head-on in an adult manner without lingering in the juvenile fascinations of many "Young Adult" stories. Perhaps this gateway drug into the Four Horsemen universe might also be a gateway into manhood for many a teen reader.

Monday, May 21, 2018

All In on Earnestness

If you've missed the recent Thundercats series reveal, consider yourself fortunate. It's the latest trash fire in fandom, as hipster creators keep on trying to subvert old stories that the audiences love. But while many will take the art to task, some critics instead focus on the attitudes. From a thread by @Banned Ali on Twitter (with the entire thread collected here):
I haven't see the usual suspects this mad since the term "SJW" was coined. "Calarts" looks like it's going to be a surprisingly devastating label and meme. Which is odd, because at first glance the term "calarts" seems to criticise an art style.
However, most of the people using this art style seem to share certain ideological tenets as well as tastes. A common theme is social justice. Another is self-aware post-meta irony instead of earnestness.
I haven't seen many people raise this last point but IMO it is absolutely fundamental to understanding culture wars in the current year. First, let me explain what I mean by "self-aware post-meta irony".
In recent years, films have become increasingly aware of their genre and the cliches that predominate it. Some avoid these cliches, but others embrace them by pointing them out and having fun with them. In small doses, this can be fun(ny) if done well, but if you saturate...
.. the entire film with this stuff it undercuts the plot. The first clear example of this trend, IMO, is Scream, a horror film which lampooned other slashers while at the same time trying to be a "real" slasher flick in its own right.
While IMO Scream was well done and hit the right balance between ironic comedy and earnest horror fairly well, its sequels didn't do quite so well. Worse, the series spawned the ungodly Scary Movie franchise.
I would argue that Scary Movie and all its sequels and spin-offs are (sadly) some of the most important cultural artefacts in understanding contemporary pop-culture. The combination of genre-awareness& endless pop-culture references as comedy is a defining feature of our time
Soooo, back to "calarts" as a meme. One of the defining features of these new shows is irreverent self/genre-awareness. The entire premise of a show like Adventure Time is to appeal to D&D nerds by poking fun at all the cliches and stereotypes in tabletop gaming.
This sort of thing can work if it is done with enough love and respect for the subject material, but when it's done poorly, the result is angry fans of the original.
What the Calartists defending the new #ThunderCatsRoar show don't seem to grasp is that for most people, self-aware ironic mockery of the old show, slapstick and pop-culture references are no substitute for a story with heart. 
On a related note, this conflict between self-aware deconstruction and earnest storytelling also explains why most fans of the original Star wars trilogy loathed The Last Jedi, whereas postmodern hipster pop-culture enthusiasts loved it. 
I realise that I probably should have elaborated what I meant by "earnestness" as opposed to "self-aware post-meta irony". 
Most stories have surreal elements and cliches. Many genres are inherently goofy. Fantasy: goofy. Superheroes: goofy. Sci-fi: goofy. etc. 
Now one can studiously avoid being corny and using cliches, and sometimes that works. But more often than not, a film has to embrace its inner corniness, believe in itself if you will, in order to work. 
An early Bond movie 'works' because they play it straight despite the incredibly cheesy premise of a man in a volcano lair plotting world domination. Now sure, it was less of a cliche at the time, but these films wouldn't hold up if Bond was constantly winking at the audience...And this last bit is where Calartists and most of Hollywood go off the rails. In their urge to show their own maturity and maturity, they can't help but tell the audience that they know the film is cheesy. Over and over again...This deflates all the tension in the plot and forcefully reminds the viewer that he is watching a work of fiction.
For a story to be gripping, it has to believe in itself in order to convince the audience.
The emphasis here is mine. There have been a number of ways I've seen and used to describe an element to pulp that's missing today. Sincerity, love, earnestness, playing the story straight. Embracing the tenets of your story. And we're seeing more and more how a refusal to do so undermines story and audience interest. And while it is rampant in the visual arts, this disconnect occurs in print as well. In comic book confessionals, in magic system fantasy, in the crunchiness of hard science fiction, and the quotas of social science fiction. Wherever the author is selling themselves instead of a story.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Gotrek and Felix

Arch Warhammer spends time explaining why you should read the Gotrek and Felix novels, Warhammer Fantasy's answer to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and, at least at the start, some excellent pulp sword and sorcery. (My own take on the series is in the works.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Dark Imperium

In the far-flung grimdark future, the Emperor of Mankind sought to unite the fractured and isolated colonies of humanity under his rule. To help in his plans, he created twenty sons, the Primarchs, genetically-engineered demigods who would serve as enlightened governors and inspired generals. To each, he gave a legion of space marines, medically augmented supersoldier monks bearing the best arms and armors the Emperor of Mankind could craft. Two of these sons, the Emperor erased from history. Nine more fell sway to the Ruinous Powers of Chaos. The battles where brother fought against brother and father against son, known as the Horus Heresy, tore the universe apart. At the end of that war, the traitors were chased out of the galaxy, the loyalist sons lay dead or in hiding, and the Emperor of Mankind was entombed in the Golden Throne, his mind still living within a rotting shell. Bereft of the guidance of God-Emperor and Primarch,  mankind slipped into millennia of stagnancy, superstition, and decay, besieged on all sides by aliens and the servants of Chaos.
Then, at the end of the 41st Millennium, the unthinkable happened. A loyalist Son of the Emperor came home.
For years, gamers and readers of the Warhammer 40k universe have grown frustrated as the story remained stuck at the year 999 of the 41st Millennium. Now, with the release of the 8th Edition rules on the 17th of June, the setting has leapt a century forward into the 42nd Millennium, with Guy Haley’s Dark Imperium as the first of the novels exploring the new setting. Primarch Roboute Guilliman might have returned, but instead of heralding a new age of renewed progress, he fights to reunite his father’s empire after a giant rift in space has cut off half of the empire from all contact with Earth. To impede his efforts, the Plague God Nurgle unleashes his demons against Guilliman’s home sector of Ultramar–including the traitor primarch Mortarion and his legion of fallen space marines. As plague and invasion ravage the 500 worlds of Ultramar, Guilliman marshals his forces to drive out the forces of Chaos and reclaim the worlds for Man.
Tie-in novels have one goal: move merchandise. In the case of Star Trek and pre-Disney Star Wars, this merchandise might be the books themselves. Dark Imperium is designed instead to get the reader to buy the Warhammer 40k miniature game, specifically the boxed set of the same name. To do so, it had to introduce the new line of models, a group of even more super supersoldiers known as Primaris Marines, and set them against the plague-spreading marines of Nurgle and Mortarion. With the players set to decide the fate of Ultramar in a worldwide gaming campaign this summer, Dark Imperium could only set the stage as the roll of dice on tabletops will drive the ongoing plot, and it suffers for it. More time is spent on exploring the setting than moving towards the inevitable clash between brother primarchs. Alas, that fight between superheavyweights is reserved for a planned sixth sequel.
To better explore the changes, Dark Imperium follows three characters. Roboute Guilliman’s struggle to organize his sector and his forces gives a high-level view of the politics and strategy of the Imperium of Man. Guilliman is an Enlightenment philosopher in a time of static religion, and is unaware that many of the fault lines emerging in the Imperium are of his own creation. At the operational level, Captain Felix leads the Primaris Marines in a clash of elite formations against Mortarion’s marines, attempting to root out the plague engines sickening entire worlds. And down in the mud and the blood, where mortal men drop like flies, Guardsman Varens suffers the diseases and the strangeness of Chaos warping the world around him, not realizing that he is slowly changing into one of Nurgle’s plague-bearing monstrosities. Of these three, only Varens’ story has any emotional weight. Not only is it the only story to find a conclusion, Haley’s sentence-smithing gives a haunting beauty to the guardsman’s descent into demonhood. Felix and Guilliman’s stories instead rely on the novelty of a changed setting, but once that’s worn away, the politics and combat lack the tension and urgency of Starship TroopersArmorA Hymn Before Battle, or even Old Man’s War. Once the fluff and story fans have spoiled the setting details online and the new rulebooks develop the setting even further, only the war remains. And, for a grimdark future where there is only war, no conflict can afford to be this dull.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium

“Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war.”
With that tagline, the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game sets the tone to an eternal conflict where the forces of humanity fight constantly to preserve their empire from the ravages of the alien, the mutant, and the heretic. Man flies through space in giant cathedral ships to fight in World War One-style battles of attrition against alien horrors and the forces of Chaos, all in the name of the dying Emperor of Mankind. Whether it is the ubiquitous space marines or the cry of metal boxesWarhammer 40k‘s influence throughout science fiction gaming and literature is ever present. And while Harry Potter memes flooded the political discourse of the past presidential election, so too did memes of the Emperor of Mankind
The ever-present war in the galaxy of Warhammer 40k lends itself well towards the tales of last stands and human perseverance in the face of impossible odds and military disaster. Unfortunately, many of the Black Library’s authors have mistaken the darker and edgier mandate of the setting for license to indulge in the excesses of horror and atrocity. (“Blood for the blood god,” indeed.) Occasionally, the wanton murder is interrupted by some of the worst military blunders a general could make, just to increase the suffering. From this immature confusion of darkness with profundity is born the genre of grimderp, where the excesses of darkness and grime become parody. At the other end of the spectrum is Commissar Ciaphas Cain, Hero of the Imperium, and Warhammer 40k‘s answer to Harry Flashman. Like his literary inspiration, the true story of this celebrated hero instead reveals the plans of a malingering rogue.
But where George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman is a proud coward who recalls his rakish deeds fondly and his bedroom conquests fondle-ly, Ciaphas Cain is driven by pragmatism, as he wants to retire at the end of a long career with the Imperial Guard. He picks his assignments and duties based upon what will most likely keep him alive. The perverse angel of serendipity, however, typically has other plans for him, as more than one of his “advances to the rear” have been interrupted by ravenous Tyranids or marauding Ork hordes. Cain also feels the burden of wearing the Hero of the Imperium mantle, as his motives never truly match the virtue of his reputation. As for Cain’s roguishness and womanizing, most are regulated to mere boasting. One might suspect this is because Cain’s lover, secret agent Amberley Vail, is editing his papers. Vail’s footnotes add context and charm to Cain’s adventures, even if she grows outright catty whenever Cain’s narration tarries too long on another woman. However, the truth of the matter is that, compared to the famed rakes and rogues of literature, Cain is rather tame in his exploits. This is Warhammer 40k, after all, so the battlefield takes precedence over the politics. Cain is an admirable fighter, skilled with laser pistol and chainsaw sword, and unlike Flashman, you don’t have to corner him to get him to fight.
Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium is an omnibus, collecting three short stories and three novels into one volume. Of note are “Fight or Flight,” Commissar Cain’s first mission and introduction to his aide Jurgen; For the Emperor, which unites Cain with both the regiment he would spend much of his career with, the Vahallan 597th, and the lovely Amberley Vail; and Caves of Ice, where the survival of the 597th depends on Cain restarting a mine before Orks overrun them. “Echoes of the Tomb,” “The Beguiling,” and The Traitor’s Hand round out the collection. Each of the six stories follows the same pattern. Commissar Cain and his attached unit are drawn into conflict with one alien race, only to find out that a second alien race is involved as well. As Cain tries to stack the deck in favor of his survival, he instead is thrust into the hottest schwerpunkt pivot point of the battle by the serendipitous hand of Fate. (Remember, the military definition of serendipity is “I screwed up, but things turned out better than if I hadn’t.”) It is to Sandy Mitchell’s credit that he mines the vast setting of the Warhammer 40kuniverse to make each story unique, keeping the stories fresh as Cain moves from one galactic crisis to the next. And while most media tie-in novels assume familiarity with the universe, a newbie to Warhammer 40k could Cain’s adventures fighting Tyranids, Orks, and Chaos without resorting to internet searches to understand what was happening. It serves well as an introduction to the universe, even if it focuses on the Imperial Guard instead of the more iconic space marines.
Whether Cain matches chainsaws in a duel against a demonically empowered space marine, hunts xenomorph-inspired Genestealers through derelict spacecraft, or flees from the Tyranid eating machines in a Jurassic Park-inspired car chase, Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium delivers on the adventure expected from a tie-in novel. But by making Cain a coward (or extremely pragmatic when it comes to survival), the collection not only puts a fresh spin on the military adventure, it blunts the excesses of Warhammer 40k’s grim darkness. A slippery soul like Cain cannot exist in a setting where every battle is either Stalingrad or the Charge of the Light Brigade. There must be some hope of survival (or food, drink, and women) to drive a coward towards the next misadventure, even if the light at the end of the tunnel is coming from the business end of a Necron’s energy rifle. The fun is in watching Cain bluff, fight, or run out of each new predicament, and then seeing how his superiors misinterpret the facts in his favor. And at a time where remakes are rampant, it is a breath of fresh air to see an adaptation of a story to a new set of characters and a new setting instead. Of all the Flashman clones in print, perhaps the best one is in space.
Recommended for a beach read or a long plane ride.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Quick Cuts

I've been reading Clark Ashton Smith's works lately, hosted at Eldritch Dark. Prior to this, I was only familiar with the prose poem "Chinoiserie", which had excellent imagery, a hallmark of Smith's work. So far, I've only read a handful of stories.

"Phoenix" - A rare science fiction story that mixes Weird Tales' atmosphere, Campbell's despair and atomics, and the Golden Age's Men with Screwdrivers with a scientific version of a Dying Earth. The result speaks more to the human condition than to science. However, it tends to be easily cast aside by fans since it is not hard science fiction, and its fantastic depiction of the surface of the Sun fits no theory of the stars.

"A Vintage from Atlantis" - Mixed pirates, ghost stories, and a Pied Piper tale into a horror story worthy of Weird Tales. The atmosphere is suitably dark, and sometimes a character exists only to be a warning to others.

"Mother of Toads" - This one's a walk on the spicy side of Weird Tales, dealing with seduction, sex, and rejection. Off-screen, of course, since the spiciest of pulps could barely compete with the tamest of lewds on Twitter. But the highlight is in the character introduction, where Smith's wordcraft steadily beats the descriptive drum of "toad".
"Why must you always hurry away, my little one?" 
The voice of Mere Antoinette, the witch, was an amorous croaking. She ogled Pierre, the apothecary's young apprentice, with eyes full-orbed and unblinking as those of a toad. The folds beneath her chin swelled like the throat of some great batrachian. Her huge breasts, pale as frog-bellies, bulged from her torn gown as she leaned toward him. 
He gave no answer; and she came closer, till he saw in the hollow of those breasts a moisture glistening like the dew of marshes... like the slime of some amphibian... a moisture that seemed always to linger there. 
Her voice, raucously coaxing, persisted. "Stay awhile tonight, my pretty orphan. No one will miss you in the village. And your master will not mind." She pressed against him with shuddering folds of fat. With her short flat fingers, which gave almost the appearance of being webbed, she seized his hand and drew it to her bosom.
I'll be reading more in the near future.


I bounced off of Sax Rohmer's "Lord of the Jackals". Too much explaining about what the story was about to tell, not enough about the story itself. And there's a bit of archaic form to the prose that turned me off as well.


I don't think I've recently seen anything so classically Golden Age anime as Batman Ninja. Swordsplay, transformation sequences, speed lines, called attacks, giant robots, if this was made by a Western studio, people would scream cultural appropriation, or worse, parody. Actual mature stories with mature concerns of personal identity, justice, and mercy. It's a loving tribute to 80s and 90s anime as much as it is a reimagination of Batman into a Japanese context. And there are references for the eagle-eyed. Catwoman might as well be the sister of Lupin III's Fujiko Mine, as both as designed to move plastic figures, and both cat burglars always end up winning. And it's reassuring to see that Japan can actually draw attractive adult women. But it's the plot and the experience that harkens to the past heights of the medium.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Slime Killer's Dragon Maid

Stop me if you've heard this one before, isekai and light novel fans. A salaryman burnout works themselves to death at their desk. As they enter the afterlife, a kind deity takes pity on them, and offers a chance to have a second life in an MMO-inspired world--

This time, it's different, I swear. This time the burnout's a woman. And, believe it or not, that makes all the difference. For, in I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, Azusa, our immortal main character, doesn't set out to change the world or right wrongs. Instead, she embraces the leisurely life of a mountain witch, only working when needed or if the mood takes her, an immense departure from her workaholic to please everyone life in Japan. Problem is, 300 years of killing slimes for spell components and medicines builds quite the experience pool. Without realizing it, Azusa's become as strong as an end-game raid boss. And, as word gets out, adventurers rush to her, eager to test themselves against her. Meanwhile, all Azusa wants to do is enjoy her idyllic life and care for her village...

I'll be honest, I bought this on accident and only kept it to see what a feminine take on the familiar and well-worn modern isekai tale (such as KonoSuba). After all, the typical tale focuses on adventuring, getting stronger, and munchkining through battles, typically from a male's perspective as he grows from a new player into John Carter of Mars. No one takes the time to dwell on the experiences of a homebody witch. Instead, I've Been Killing Slimes follows a different track, widening the one made by Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid and similar stories.

It's no accident that Azusa's a witch in this new world. Witches in Japanese media are removed from their more sinister connotations in Europe, and are instead cute magical girls. These cute witches dress up in fancy costumes even as they explore adult roles and responsibilities. And, as a 27-year-old burnout, Azusa sacrificed much of life and what it means to be an adult to work. As the adventurers and adventures come to Azusa, she learns to be a guardian, a mentor, a friend, and a mother. Everything that the cares of work choked out of her life.

Well, except being a wife. And, just like Miss Kobayashi, it's lilies not roses for Azusa.

And yes, Azusa gets a dragon maid, too.

I'm a little confused as to the target audience of this anti-workaholic idyllic fantasy. The hints of yuri romance suggest a male audience, but the artwork lacks the preening fanservice common to male-oriented works. But there's no real romance for the ladies, and the artwork lacks the fashions and fashionability of teen girl comics. But it reads quickly enough and is convincing in its characterization. I've known more than a handful of gamer girls who, like Azusa, embraced crafting and harvesting instead of raiding the Lich King, for instance. And Yen Press continues their excellent translation work.

Storywise, I've Been Killing Slimes follows the kishotenketsu structure, creating an episodic story. A new threat intrudes upon Azusa's tiny village which complicates her relationships, Azusa confronts the intruder, who usually isn't as she first appears. Azusa then helps her new guest through some trial, and the web of relationships around the witch grow richer and more complex. It's cute, peaceful, and utterly formulaic with a side order of power creep.

Ultimately, I've Been Killing Slimes is a pleasant diversion, but little else. This one is for slice-of-life fans and jaded tropemasters to enjoy. Those looking for excellent female isekai should instead watch Magic Knight Rayearth, Fushigi Yugi, or Vision of Escaflowne.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


When browsing through's excellent collection of public domain works, I discovered two important aspects to Weird Tales that I had previously glossed over. First, the magazines featured a startling amount of poetry compared to these more prose-bound days. Second, much of it was written by women, and a significant fraction more than the pulp prose works. As poetry slowly vanished from popular literature, many of these women fantasists disappeared from the collective memory of readers and fandom.

I was drawn to "Teotihuacan" by Alice I'Anson (pronounced "ianson") by the subject material. Weird Tales loved the exotic but gravitated towards chinoiserie, no doubt influenced by E. Hoffmann Price and other Asiatic scholars writing for and editing the Unique Magazine. Finding a poet fascinated by the Aztecs, and writing in the shadow of their pyramids, ran counter to the normal trend.
Deep is the womb of Time in which I see
The drama of a dead Idolatry!--
I hear old voices chanting now in me
--The mystic Song of Teotihuacan
The poem, written in stanzas of three rhyming lines and refrain of "the song of Teotihuacan" focuses on the human sacrifices conducted in the Aztec capital. The poet revels in the barbarism of such an act and song of Teotihuacan has an almost ecstatic cultic glee in its description of the acts. Blood for the Blood God, indeed. But the barbarism and imagery drew R. E. Howard's appreciation. To me, it's more an acquired taste, but I also find most written poetry flat compared to the same poem performed out loud. The air of dread and melancholy that lingers in the best of Weird Tales' fantasies is present, even in still text.

"Teotihuacan" was the first of Alice I'Anson's poems to appear in Weird Tales. She would pass away within a year, but not before writing five more, many of which were published posthumously, including "Shadows of Chapultepec".