The Dream Lords by Adrian Cole

Awhile back, I picked up The Dream Lords: Lord of Nightmare by Adrian Cole.  I was intrigued by the cover that proclaimed it to be “Fantasy and Horror in the Tradition of Tolkien and Lovecraft”, particularly because neither of those really jibed with the image of barbarians fighting a dinosaur dragon with a single eye-stalk.  When I found out that it was the middle book of a trilogy, I had an “Aha!” moment and put it down, at least until I got the other books.  I was a bit wary at first, as the chapter I’d read was a muddled mess to someone who hadn’t read the previous book, but starting where one was supposed to start quickly rectified any of my initial negative impressions.

Now that I’ve started it from the beginning, I’ve been enjoying the Dream Lords series tremendously. But yeah, Tolkien and Lovecraft?  I’m not really seeing it.  There’s a city named Melkor in the first book, but Dream Lords is more Gardner F. Fox, John Jakes or Jack Vance than either Tolkien or Lovecraft.

Lord of Nightmares

In a nutshell, a young heir to the Dream Lords, the rulers of mankind who can wield powerful suggestions and illusions through sci-magic (psy-magic), learns that not all is as it seems, and he becomes the chosen one champion of those who are under the thumb of the human elites.

Though it has a lot of the tropes and trappings of the New Wave, I actually find Galad Sarian far more likable and, well, heroic, than many of the well-known and iconic heroes of the New Wave.  Unlike Elric of Melnibone, he isn’t morally crippled by his decadent culture, and unlike Corwin of Amber, he’s not some ubermensch narcissist (though he comes from a culture that would like him to see himself as such) who sacrifices his allies by the million with no regard.  Galad sees the wrong in his people’s way of life and wants to change it; when his allies (even the faceless ones) die to advance his cause, it genuinely grieves him.  Where many 70s SFF stories feature cynical heroes in crapsack worlds, Dream Lords has an affable idealistic hero who’d like to make his crapsack world better.

This series suffered from a number of cover-related errors.  The first printing of book 2 had no indication that it was a sequel while the second printing of book 2 indicates that it’s book 3.  Also, the “Fantasy and Horror in the Tradition of Tolkien and Lovecraft” may be a bit of false advertising.  It’s a shame, too, because while it’s certainly not high fantasy or cosmic horror, it’s excellent for what it is.  To be fair, by the third book, the series is described much more accurately as “Heroic fantasy in the tradition of Robert E. Howard.”

The name-dropping of Tolkien in particular raises an eyebrow, especially in the context of the rise of “Tolkienian” fantasy just a few years later in the late 70s.  Largely thanks to Terry Brooks, one sees “Tradition of Tolkien” and thinks high fantasy LotR knock-off.  In a post-Shannanananana literary world, Tolkien-dropping comes with particular implications; I wonder what the implications would’ve been in 1975, however.  Would someone picking this up think “Ah, a story with elves and a Dark Lord and maybe some Cthululz”?  I mean, I looked at it and thought “There’s no way this is what it says it is, but I’m curious anyway”, but was it actually saying something different back then?

Rather than needlessly speculate, I thought “Why not ask Adrian Cole himself?”  Here is what Cole had to say about the covers of his debut trilogy:

Firstly, I never had any say at all on the Zebra paperback covers. Originally volumes 1 and 2 were put out with pretty awful covers. A Plague of Nightmares was taken from a movie poster, I think. Lord of Nightmares was done by sf cover artist, Jack Gaughan, who had done a lot of good stuff, but the one he did for Lord was really poor, or so I thought. I think Zebra must have capitulated, because they reprinted the 2 books with covers by Tom Barber – Plague was a beautiful wraparound depicting the four horsemen (see my website at and Lord was a bit Frazetta/Jeff Jones in style. The third volume, Bane of Nightmares, was issued at the same time as the reprints and also had a Tom Barber cover, and it was very much a Frazetta clone, but very nice.

As for the cover blurbs, well, they’re just as interesting! When I wrote the books (started them at least 5 years before they got published) I had not read any REH, Fox, Jakes or Vance at all. Those great pleasures were to come. The books that influenced the series were: ERB, DUNE (Herbert), LOTR and Dennis Wheatley’s black magic books.

By the time the 3rd volume came out, Zebra were doing very well with their own line of REH books (including several follow-ons by Offutt, Wagner, Smith etc) so they put mine on the REH bandwagon, too.

I was surprised to see the original cover blurb “in the tradition of LOTR and HPL” but I suppose there are bits in the books somewhere. (I was a big HPL fan from years before.) What did amuse me (as I pointed out at a Fantasycon in the UK at the time) was that one of the newer covers said “Adrian Cole’s great adventure”, which made it sound autobiographical!

In 1975 the Tolkien revival was well under way (as was the ERB revival) and the REH one was just about getting going – so I think that’s why they moved over to the REH blurb with the reprints.

You may also notice that they got the volume no. wrong on volume 2 (the reprint) and put volume 3! Couldn’t have helped sales.

I have to admit, I did read the first SHANNARA book and thought it was an appalling rip-off of Tolkien. I was amazed that the author got away with it. Ironically, last night, here in England, we had the first tv episode of the Shannara Chronicles. I watched out of curiosity. Low grade stuff – won’t be watching any more!

For one thing, this is more anecdotal confirmation that many Sci-fi writers had little to no control over their covers.  I suspect that Zebra included the bit about Tolkien and Lovecraft to capitalize on the booms in popularity both authors were enjoying.  Ultimately, I think this did The Dream Lords a disservice, though perhaps not so much as omitting then misprinting the volume number on Lord of Nightmares.

I do find it interesting that while I’d compared Dream Lords in my mind to Fox or Jakes, Cole hadn’t yet read those himself; what that says to me is that the Burroughsian branch of SFF produces similar leaves such that even outside the influence of other writers in the tradition of Burroughs there is a sense of unity and both stylistic and thematic harmony among his acolytes.  While I’m a fan of both Tolkien and Lovecraft, their styles don’t lend themselves well to imitation, but Burroughs… Man, Burroughs!

Also this addresses in part why Galad is much more likable than many New Wave fantasy heroes; while heroes from the New Wave were deconstructing established tropes of heroic fantasy, Galad feels very much like an homage to the ‘good guy’ heroes of pulp fantasy that writers like Moorcock and Zelazny sought to undermine.  I can certainly see the influence that Dune would’ve had on the setting and culture, particularly the characterizations of the Dream Lords and the villains, as well as the Wheatley for the occult symbolism in places, but it really is the Burroughsian heroic archetype and the themes which accompany it that dominate what I’ve read.

What am I trying to say with all of this?  More than anything, I want to say “If you find the Dream Lords books, get them and read them”, “If you find Lord of Nightmares, don’t try to read it first; it may not say volume/book 2, but it is totally volume/book 2”, “Tolkienian and Lovecraftian are maybe not the best descriptors for this series, but that is not a bad thing”, and lastly “If you find the Dream Lords books, get them and read them”.

More recently, Cole actually HAS been writing some Lovecraftian tales in his award winning Nick Nightmare series.  Misha Burnette’s upcoming novelette A Hill of Stars in Cirsova Issue #1 has led me to rethink my embargo on contemporary Lovecraft tales, so I might stick Nick on my reading list.  In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Cole’s Sword & Sorcery stuff.

Music – Candidate, Joy Division

Four days til Super Tuesday.  Bleh.

I watched this week’s Metocast yesterday.  If Jeb Bush weren’t a real live politician who had seriously sought the nomination for president and wasted over $100 million, I think I would cry for him.  Poor guy should’ve been born to a family of herpetologists instead of a political aristocracy.

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Here’s a turtle, Jeb.  Don’t be an hero.

More Hugo Recommendations: Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form

Star Wars: Tie Fighter – Paul Johnson

Modern Educayshun – Neel Kolhatkar

I haven’t decided on an episode yet, but I’d also recommend iZombie.  It’s kind of like a cutesy gender-flipped Forever Knight that has been dipped in Crossing Jordan, and that appeals to me in ways I can’t quite articulate.  It is also one of the first things I’ve seen that has managed to make zombies interesting.

Stuff a’Brewin!

It’s been a slowish week here, I know, but I’ve got lots of pots on the stove, and a few of them have almost reached a simmer.

Literally all that is keeping me from starting to fulfill the pre-orders for Cirsova #1 is waiting for Kickstarter to process the money.

Hugo Dramatic Short Form Recommendations is something I might do.

I have something about a great series from the New Wave era I’ve been reading, but I have a few questions for the author I’d like answered before posting.

I need to give some shout outs next week, particular to Schuyler Hernstrom, who has a new collection out.

I got to try out a DM-less player generated version of D&D that was pretty awesome, but it’s not quite mine to talk about; I’ll see if my DM would like to give some particulars on it, maybe as a guest post.

I’ve been meaning to talk Castles of Mad King Ludwig for ages.

I finished Ocarina of Time. The TL;DR of the post I’ll eventually write about it: it was terrible.

Lesser Gnome sent me a digital review copy of Death & Taxes that I can’t wait to take a look at. Hopefully I’ll get to experience this as a player if it’s something that my DM can work into his game. I may or may not have a chance to run it myself with all I have going on, but man, I want those minis, so I’ll probably end up buying it.

Finally, I’ve got a little over 5000 words on Magelords; first draft feels about 1/3 of the way in.  That’s not the best thing, maybe, since that means it’ll be in novella territory. Even if I finish it in time for issue 2, I’ll probably hold onto it until spring so it doesn’t crowd out any shorter pieces.  Once it’s done, I’ll look at writing a conclusion piece, maybe also an intro, and publish the whole thing as a “fix-up”.



Questions For People Reading my Blog

Did I ever give a shout-out or shill for Alastair Reynolds that I forgot about?

Or is my WordPress inserted advert that I don’t see an advert for Slow Bullets?

My stats indicate I’m giving it some Amazon traffic.  Is it worth checking out?  Let me know! (Reviews seem… mixed.)51DA6aYTieL

Alastair Reynolds, if you’re reading this, has anyone from my site bought your book?

Update: Mystery Solved!  There were links to this and a few other SF books in a post I reshared and for whatever reason, searching one’s own WordPress posts doesn’t return results for shared/reblogged content.

SyFy Has Done a Thing

Suey Park riding that ruin to her own TV special!


Nice job, SyFy, on bringing the Navy Seal sniper copypasta to life.

At no point does Suey realize that the sort of thing that happened to her is what happens to the people she and those like her have targeted (Matt Taylor and Richard Dawkins both spring to mind).  Lots of people get brigaded for wrong think or being un-PC, and Suey and people like her are often leading the charge.  Online death threats and harassment are wrong and terrible and in no way condonable, but man, the lack of self-awareness just makes me face-palm.  I would’ve liked to hear her say “As an online activist with nearly 20 thousand followers, this made me stop and think ‘have I been responsible for sending hate mobs after people when I call them out?'”

With a 20-1 downvote ratio and SyFy delisting the vid, I’ll bet the chances are slim we’ll be seeing much more of this unless the people at the network who greenlit this really want it to be the cross they martyr themselves on.

I think I found some deleted scenes

Open for Business

Cirsova is now open for business.  Well, I’ve been open for business, but now Cirsova is registered as officially and legally open for business.  I wonder if I can start writing off my pulp purchases as “research”…

Cirsova will have a booth at River City Comic Expo this summer; I’m serious about trying to get this out there and in the public eye.  Good for me and better for contributors.  Unfortunately, I’ll probably have to miss the North Texas RPG con for this one, so I won’t be able to use the new printing of DCC I’ll have by then to collect autographs.  Oh, well.

I’m counting down the days until I can start shipping out backer rewards.  Issue 1 is so close to going out, I can taste it.  Most of the surveys are in.  All I really need now is for Kickstarter to fork over the money.  Issue 1 ought to be live on Amazon by early-mid March.

I intend to begin accepting submissions for issue 2 as soon as all backer rewards are fulfilled.  Consider this your notice; if you want in on Cirsova Issue 2, get writing!  I’ll have more details available as soon as I am ready to officially begin accepting stories.  The second issue will have a target release of sometime in September.

Thanks again to everyone who supported the Kickstarter and helped get the word out.

Busy busy busy!

I will be sticking ads in the magazine next week as I get them.

I have a review up for The Red Witch of Mercury, and just got finished working on a super exciting project that I’ll probably tell you about next week when I get a minute.

Started playing SPI’s Musket & Pike with Dad last night.  Man, now there is a great game!  Look for some analysis on that at Castalia House sometime next month.

Also, on Tuesday, some friends and I took another look at The Challenge, this time with a serious look at ways to tweak and improve the game for a potential updated 2nd edition.  Dunno if I’ll be blathering our design ideas here, but it’s a project we’re toying with.  Our conclusion: it’s actually a pretty good, fun game that simply needs clarification on existing rules more than anything else to make it potentially a go-to party game.

Lastly, here’s some belated gaming cheese, an in-game ballad in tribute to the fighter who thought it would be good to split the party and got torn apart by half a dozen ghouls while everyone else scrambled:

In a fort hid by the trees

‘long the coast of the seas

Ended the life of Blax Jax


There were bandits and paynim

But the warrior had slain them

The brave and cunning Blax Jax


The pirates died by his hand

and ‘pon his command

the warriors took to their post

No more trouble were they

For Jax’d won the day

Leading the victorious host


But down below in the stones

Was a murmuring groan

That called the attention of Blax Jax


With his friends by his side

He the darkness defied,

The strong and puissant Blax Jax


“You to the right,

and I to the left,”

He said to his friends at his back

“If trouble there be

‘neath this fort by the sea,

I will hold off their attack”


The dead rose from the tomb

meant surely the doom

of all of the friends of Blax Jax


An hundred he’d slain

Yet an hundred remained

To end the life of Blax Jax


“Get out while you can,

Am I not a man

‘pon whom you can count your life?”

Said he the brave knight

and his allies took flight,

Leaving him like a faithless young wife.


Oh, Hero – your name,

All others mere shame,

Blax Jax we must never forget

Your deeds with your fists

For Zyg in his pits

And the friends you’d not live to regret.

Adventure Time and Portrayal of Female Friendship in Fiction

I’m now regretting giving up on Adventure Time for so long after season 4.  It really did rebound a good bit with season 5, even though some of ‘morals’ struck me as strange and inappropriate (such as children not needing their father).  It’s still fairly clear that it has given up on being a kids’ show, but the storytelling was a good bit better, and, going into it as an underground comics style gonzo horror fantasy instead of a weird wacky kids show, it’s pretty good for what it is.

What miffs me, though – and this position is one that may court controversy (shocking, I know!) – is the direction that the comics have taken with Princess Bubblegum and Marceline.  There’s always been fanon and shippers who see these characters as OTP, but I found the heavy implication that they get together as a couple somewhat annoying.  No, I don’t hate gays or lesbians, real or fictional; what I hate is the tendency for whenever you see a deep friendship between two female characters people want to make them a couple. There’s always the Peter Griffin slowly popping up from behind the bush going “C’mon… start makin’ out… that’s it…”

Throwing Flame Princess into the mix along with repeatedly showing that PB is a romantic dead end for Finn and flash-forwards showing Finn and FP married pretty much leaves both PB and Marceline single and without suitor.  There’s a desire in fandoms that all characters be paired off romantically; unfortunately that leaves characters like PB and Marcie, who’ve been shown to have a complex friendship with ups and downs, to have their friendship turned into “oh, they’re an item”.

So, I guess what I’m getting at is when nuanced portrayals of female friendships are uncommon in works with as wide a demographic an appeal as Adventure Time, it seems kind of obnoxiously reductive to say ‘it’s cuz they’re a couple and they’re in love’.  It’s like girls in fiction can’t have best friends without people wanting them to get it on, and the Adventure Time comics seem to want to cater to those who fantasize about best girlfriends doing it, cuz that’s secretly what they do, right?

I will note that the implication is significantly less in the show than in the comics; the implication itself smacks of retroactive continuity, as it was something not present at all in earlier seasons.  As it is, the whole thing comes off as being shaped by a fandom that wants to see Peebs xxx Marcie.  Also, yeah, I know I’m like a year and a half late on this controversy.  Whateves.