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.

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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.

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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.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Perry Rhodan: Ark of the Stars

At over 3000 novellas and nearly 1500 novels and spin-offs, the Perry Rhodan series is the longest-running science-fiction serial. For fifty-nine years, these adventures have followed the eponymous American astronaut to the moon and beyond. With amazing adaptability, quick wit, and dry humor, Perry Rhodan united Earth and led humanity across the stars. Despite its international popularity, precious few of Rhodan’s adventures have been translated into English. (For a quick overview of the publishing history of Perry Rhodan, please check out both Kevyn Winkless’s introduction to the series and the comments). However, in 2015, the complete six novel Lemuria series was released in English as ebooks, representing the first new English Perry Rhodan adventures in almost twenty years.
As always, there is an asterisk to such a sweeping statement, as 2015 was the second publication of books in the Lemuria series. Ark of the Stars, by Frank Borsch, was first published in English in 2006, but those few lucky readers to purchase it would have to wait until 2015 for the rest of the story.
Published in German in 2004, Ark of the Stars leads the third set of self-contained Perry Rhodan novels published by Heyne-Verlag. While the adventure would fit snugly in between volumes #2200 and #2364, the Lemuria novels would also shed light on the ancient galactic civilization of Lemur, founded on the mythical Pacific continent of the same name. For Perry Rhodan’s Terrans are not the first wave of human settlers from Earth in the galaxy, and many of the star nations in the Milky Way trace their ancestry to the upheaval and fracturing of Lemur’s empire. Of these, the Akons and their allies have clashed repeatedly with the upstart Terrans and their claims to succeed Lemur. This fierce rivalry would define the galactic history of the “Perryverse” for over 2200 years–and beyond.
Ark of the Stars takes place in one of the lulls in the clashes between Terrans and Akons, where the main competition in the galaxy is no longer war, but exploration of the few remaining frontiers in space. Perry Rhodan hitches a ride on the mining ship Palenque as a cover for a diplomatic mission to Akon. But his mission is disrupted when one of Palenque’s shuttles suddenly vanishes, smashed into dust by the relativistic wreckage of a shuttle matching no known design and with markings written in ancient Lemurian. After tracking the trajectory, Rhodan and the Palenque discover a 50,000-year-old generation ship from ancient Lemuria fleeing from a race known as the Beasts. Rhodan also finds an Akonian cruiser who is willing to enforce Akonian claims on the relic spaceship.
Meanwhile, aboard the failing generation ship Nethack Achton, Denetree is a fugitive. Her star-mad brother pirated a shuttle in defiance of the generation ship’s laws. This act of rebellion led to the death of 43 peace officers and the loss of irreplaceable air and resources (as well as the later death of a Terran mining shuttle’s crew). The Net demands justice for the traitor’s actions, which means death for all of his friends and family. The Net’s search tightens slowly around Denetree, until strangers appear without warning aboard the Nethack Achton. Will these strangers rescue Denetree or are they Beasts come to destroy the last known Lemurians in the galaxy?
And, unknown to all, the chance meeting between Terra, Lemuria, and Akon will awaken dangerous threats and an ancient foe.
For a novel bearing his name, Perry Rhodan avoids the stage in Ark of the Stars. Denetree and various Palenque and Akonian personnel are the viewpoint characters throughout the novel. Their various expertises provide the basis for the exposition needed to fill 50,000 years of history. Rhodan provided the right input at the right time to cut through the various impasses, thanks to his ability to think just a little faster than most. His legendary status as one of the few Immortals in the galaxy also makes him a measuring stick against which the captain of the Palenque consistently measures herself against. His dry humor is often the only bridge across the remove he keeps between himself and the crew.
Denetree serves as the reader’s eyes into a slowship that has yet to devolve into the generation ship horrors explored in Galaxy’s Edge: Imperator and Gods and Legionnaires. Although such suffering is around the corner as machinery breaks, resources become increasingly scarce, and genetic damage accumulates. Her flight is not her choice, neither is her protection, as she is adrift on the winds of other peoples’ whims. There’s not much to her character except a shocked woman caught up in grief and terror. Yet, without her viewpoint, Ark of the Stars would lack the human drama to what is essentially an archaeological mystery.
The English translation of Ark of the Stars is well-done, reading like contemporary American science fiction novels in style and vocabulary except in one vital way. Ark of the Stars is optimistic space opera written at a time when much of science fiction was turning grim. Like in Valerian and Laureline, there is a belief that through reason, understanding, and negotiation, a better outcome can be made–although blasters are ready if needed. So far, the soft power approach has worked for the Terrans of Palenque, even if the magic of friendship might occasionally require unorthodox methods such as booze, blunts, and air guitar. (Battlestar Galactica was not the first science fiction series to use “All Along the Watchtower” as a story device.) But as ancient Beasts reawaken, will the Terrans continue to rely on such methods or will they meet force with force?
The self-contained format helps make the sudden plunge into the Perry Rhodan universe navigable. Hundreds of stories separate the Lemuria series from where Wendayne Ackerman last translated the series. In that time, Terran rose to a superpower and declined to one among many. Ark of the Stars does grow a bit exposition-heavy as it explains the important twists in galactic history, but it never overwhelms the reader nor grows tangential. While my appreciation might be greater if I had read any of the preceding 2200 issues, I never felt lost in Ark of the Stars for jumping straight into the Lemuria series without any prior Perry Rhodan readings. 
At the end, there are enough hints at the mysteries surrounding the launch of the Lemurian generation ships to keep my interest in a series that bears many similarities so far to Doc Savage in Space or a pulpier Count to the Eschaton. Thankfully, there are five more books in the Lemuria series for these strands of mystery to grow and bear fruit.