2015 Planetary Awards Nominations: Torchship, by Karl Gallagher

Forget the Hugos, Nominations for the 2015 Planetary Awards are due February 14th!

In the Small Press / Self-published category, I’d like to nominate Karl Gallagher’s Torchship.

Torchship is a hard sci-fi adventure story in the vein of Firefly* about an interstellar freelance cargo-freighter and its crew.  Torchship is set in something of a post-empire future in which both Earth a sizable portion of the colonized worlds have fallen to a devastating AI rebellion, leaving a few highly advanced but paranoid cyber-isolationist worlds and a tough-as-nails frontier beyond.  As a fully analog spaceship, the Fives Full is one of the few interstellar craft permitted to travel between the “Disconnect” and “Fusion” worlds.  In the course of taking odd jobs to make ends meet, the Fives Full’s crew stumbles upon the opportunity to hunt for buried space treasure.  The catch?  It’s deep in the heart of the AI ravaged ruins of humanity’s former dominion!

Torchship is Karl Gallagher’s and Kelt Haven Press’s first book; Gallagher’s amazing and Kelt Haven Press has a real winner on their hands.  You should keep both of them on your radar.

My interview with Karl Gallagher can be found here.

I’d also like to plug Matthew D Ryan and his book Sceptre of Morgulan as something of a runner up.  Everything I’ve read by Ryan has been great, and I’ve also had the opportunity to interview him and have him do a guest post, and if the award were broken down into SF and Fantasy instead of story length and small press/indie vs. trad published, I’d be able to nominate them both.  Torchship breaks the tie by being the first book in a series; rather than nominate the third book in a series, I’ll just say “Go and buy Drasmyr; you can download it for free, but you should really buy it, too.”

* If Firefly were written by someone who actually knows a thing or two about spaceships and engineering.

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Guest Post: Matthew D. Ryan

Matthew D. Ryan, author of the Ashes of Ruin Series: Drasmyr, The Children of Lubrochius, and The Sceptre of Morgulan (out now!), drops by to talk Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons.  He can normally be found blogging at matthewdryan.com or on Twitter @MatthewDRyan1.

I’ve been involved in the fantasy genre for most of my life. One of the first book series I ever read was The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. That stands as a kind of monolith in the fantasy genre. It was probably the first series of books in the modern age that really put fantasy on the map as a serious genre. Prior to that what you had was mostly folk tales and epic poems like Beowulf and such. Good stuff, but The Lord of the Rings was a game-changer. Its influence was felt by virtually everything that followed it; this includes the entire fantasy gaming industry. I mean, where would Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, or what-have-you be without the blueprint of the classic fantasy quest so eloquently conveyed by Frodo’s journey into Mordor?

Nowadays, there is so much other fantasy on the market the influence of LOTR is fading (although it did spawn six highly successful movies). Harry Potter, I think, is taking over the reins. In my youth, though, the pinnacle of fantasy was LOTR. We even had to read The Fellowship of the Ring in high school English class. It was regarded as serious literature.

Anyway, LOTR was probably one of the strongest influences on my entire fantasy career. It affected my writing, my gaming, everything. I read the entire series at least a half dozen times in my teenage years. As far as my writing is concerned, I loved the eloquent way Tolkien used language—a kind of modern/old English fusion that no one else has ever come close to mastering like him. I loved the names of his characters, creatures, and nations. Laketown, Dale, Smaug … they all fit together in a symphony of sound. I appreciate the skill it takes to achieve that fluidity. There were other influences of course: Dragonlance, Pern, and more. But the lion’s share belongs to LOTR.

As a gamer, the influence was felt in every gaming session. What is a gaming career but a series of adventures not unlike the quest to destroy the Ring? I DM’ed a lot. Created my own worlds and campaign settings, always referring back to the gold standard itself: Middle-Earth. I named my own creatures and lands trying to capture the same flavor of language Tolkien used. Sometimes I did that well; other times, not so much. All of that—the designing of worlds and such—overlaps with fantasy fiction writing. The two go hand-in-hand.

One thing I’ve learned to appreciate from my gaming days was that the best adventures had more than hack and slash. I learned to appreciate the riddle. Something to challenge the intellect of the players in a way that dice-rolling simply won’t. Not just the mysterious cryptic rhymes like those found in The Hobbit but also more general problems that required out-of-the-box thinking by the players. A few years back, I DM’ed a thief campaign. Thief characters usually have very specialized skills which sometimes don’t translate well into the typical fantasy quest (even though Bilbo Baggins was hired as a burglar). In my experience, thieves are probably the weakest character class in AD&D 1st and 2nd editions; I don’t know how they match up in later editions; my player group never moved beyond 2nd. In 2nd, they don’t fight well; they don’t have magic; and the bulk of their skills are very situation dependent. So, I ran an adventure with low level thieves just starting out and joining their first Thieves Guild. It stretched both my skills as a DM and the skills of my players; but it was great fun. It invited a whole new host of problem-solving skills.

Another facet of writing I’ve come to enjoy and implement is the twist. This is found in most genre writing, not just fantasy. It relates to the riddle above, but is meant more to shock and surprise the reader/gamer rather than challenge. The best ones are those you don’t see coming. I’ve used them in games and in writing both. Again, influences in this regard are probably too numerous to name.

So, we have the quest, the riddle, and the twist; those are probably the three facets of my writing that have been shaped the most by the many other writers (like Tolkien) I have read and my many years of gaming both as a player and as a DM. They are critical elements of both the game and the book. They form the skeleton of any basic fantasy adventure. And when used properly, they can bring about untold hours of fun.

The Sceptre of Morgulan Out (Sometime) Today!

I’ll be hitting refresh on this Lulu page today until a purchase link for Sceptre of Morgulan goes live.*  I’ve been taking a brief break from fantasy & science fiction to read John D Billing’s Hard Tack and Coffee: the Unwritten Story of Army Life in preparation for Avalon Hill’s Bull Run, but I plan to jump back into the fray soon!

Now that I don’t have a backlog of magazine submissions to focus on, I’ll be doing Short Reviews again.  I’ve started on a 1945 issue of Planet Stories and just about finished with the opening “Novel”, the Juggernaut of Space.  But once Sceptre of Morgulan arrives, I’ll probably drop everything to read that.  I need to know how the roguish bounty hunters in the employ of the Drisdak mages guild are going to stop the black magic girl who’s building a death cult amidst the sundered thieves guild with the help of an enthralled vampire who’d once been general to the dark lord said black magic girl worships.  ::stops to catch breath::

Guest post by Matt D. Ryan tomorrow.

*The digital version is already out on smashwords and all the usual places.

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The Sceptre of Morgulan: New Drasmyr Book Pre-Order

As you guys may know, I’m a pretty big fan of Matthew D Ryan’s Drasmyr books. In fact, it’s my embarrassing shame to admit that he’s probably the ONLY contemporary writer whose stuff I’m actively following. I need to get better about that, but when I’ve got a mountain of 40s and 50s pulp mags and 60s & 70s mass-market pocket paperbacks to read, it’s hard drop that and look at something new instead. So you know I think it’s a big deal if I’m going to squeeze something from 2015 in between the Leiber, Vance, Brackett, Swann and Offutt that I still need to get through.

Pre-orders for the ebook of The Sceptre of Morgulan are available now through Smashwords. I don’t read eBooks, but I’ll feel just as good about plopping down $20-something for the hardback as I was for Children of Lubrochius. If you do read eBooks, you should have no problem dropping $1.99 on this.  The eBook of Drasmyr is still free, but I STRONGLY recommend you buy the hardback copy.

If you’re a gamer, like horror campaigns and Fritz Leiber-style fantasy settings, the Drasmyr books are worth checking out.  A little over a year ago, I had Ryan here to answer some questions at Cirsova in conjunction with the release of the previous book in the series.  With any luck, we can get him back to talk some more about gaming and fantasy!

(Disclosure: I won a free copy of Drasmyr.  I bought two copies of Children of Lubrochius because I screwed up my address information on Lulu; I do not regret paying for that book twice.)

Drasmyr Week Concludes! (Part 3: Interview with Matthew D. Ryan Cont.)

We conclude our weeklong spotlight on Drasmyr with the second part of our interview with Author Matthew D. Ryan.

Cirsova – The world, history and setting in Drasmyr seem pretty developed, with the first book just scratching the surface. How much more of the world are we going to be seeing as the ‘From the Ashes of Ruin’ series unfolds?
Matthew D. Ryan – Most of the action of the series is going to remain focused in Drisdak and its immediate surroundings. At least for the first two books. Then there will be a lot of action in a kind of pocket dimension, and in the last book everyone is going to Hell. As for the world of Athron, it is fairly well developed; I have far more material than I’ll ever actually use because it was originally intended as a setting for a gaming campaign. I may write a few books that take place in other parts of the world once I’m done with From the Ashes of Ruin, but for now, staying around Drisdak will likely suffice.

C – This may be an author’s secret, but how far along do you have your stories planned in advance?

I only have a vague idea on how the series ends and I’m writing toward that end. The original draft of Drasmyr was written (almost 20 years ago now) stream of consciousness. For The Children of Lubrochius I plotted things out in advance for the whole book, then wrote accordingly, though I did give myself permission to remain flexible. I’m working on The Sceptre of Morgulan now and I’m using an outline for that as well.

C – You mention that part of your inspiration comes from years of AD&D; were there any published modules or specific homebrew campaigns that were particularly influential on your work as a writer and game designer?

R – That’s a really tough question. I think they all had some influence to a certain extent. If I had to pick out a single one, I ran a vampire campaign for some friends back when I was in college. It was a female vampire with powers more similar to Drasmyr than the powers listed in AD&D (it actually had to bite to drain; claws wouldn’t do it). But that was so long ago, I’m not really sure which came first, the campaign or Drasmyr.

C – After your experience releasing and promoting Drasmyr and The Children of Lubrochius, which came out this week, what is some advice you might like to give any aspiring fantasy authors?

R – Write as much as you can. And don’t give up. With the way the Internet is now, it’s easy to get feedback on your writing and even self-publish on Smashwords or wherever when you’re ready. But make sure you are ready before you self-publish. I’ve read a number of less-than-stellar books that I’ve downloaded. I would advise seeing if you could at least get one short story published on an ezine as a kind of measure of your writing ability before you start cranking out self-published novels. Then, let your muses sing.

C – Any final thoughts?

R – The plan for the series, From the Ashes of Ruin, is for one prequel, plus four additional books. Just figured I’d throw that out there. Final thoughts, well I hope you and your readers enjoy my books and become steady fans. And I want to thank you for doing this interview and giving me an opportunity to connect with your readers. I think that about sums it up.

Thanks again to Mr. Ryan for taking the time to talk with us about his book here at Cirsova.  You can follow him over at his own blog, A Toast to Dragons (it’s over on my link list), and check out his books at all of those great online sellers I listed monday.

That is maybe the Mages Guild or Lucian's castle.

I imagined Korina wearing less revealing clothing given the Guild's dress code. Don't let stock-art dissuade you, gentle reader!

Drasmyr Week Continues! (Part 2: An Interview with Matthew D. Ryan)

I’m very excited to have Matthew D. Ryan, the author of Drasmyr, with us at Cirsova today to answer some questions about Drasmyr and it’s sequel, The Children of Lubrochius, which is being released today.

Cirsova -The market is undeniably glutted with Vampire books, but there are very few  like yours.  Tell us a little about how Drasmyr is different from all of those.

Matthew D. Ryan – The vampire of old has evolved considerably since Bram Stoker first entertained us with Dracula. Nowadays, the vampires in many vampire stories serve as love interests for mortals. Gone is any connection to the diabolical or nefarious. Most modern day vampires are kind of like superhumans who have an odd quirk that they survive on human blood. Drasmyr is quite different; it takes us back to vampire of yesteryear: an evil, cold-blooded killer who cares little for his victims and foes. It is a gothic Dracula-esque vampire set in a Middle-Earth-like world. My vampire is thoroughly evil with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Although the reader may enjoy his personality as a kind of alluring evil, the reader is not supposed to root for the vampire. He is a compelling character that drives the story, but he is most definitely in the role of antagonist.

C -What was the original idea or concept that you wanted to explore or put forward with Drasmyr?

R – I wrote the original draft a couple years before vampires became the big thing that they are. I’ve always been interested in vampires, both in literature and in gaming. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge a creature so powerful yet capable of blending into a human population provided. I wanted to write a fantasy story that kept true to the powers of the vampire as delineated in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As it turned out, I did tweak the vampire’s powers somewhat, but I used Dracula as a kind of a source book. So, I think the idea can best be summed up as Dracula in Middle-Earth, or perhaps, the Forgotten Realms.

C – What can you tell us about the city of Drisdak its environs?  Were there particular real world locations or architecture that provided inspiration for Drasmyr’s setting, particularly Lucian’s castle and the Mage’s Guild?

R – The city, the guild, and the castle are strictly the products of my own imagination. What inspiration there was came from many long hours spent playing AD&D. As such, it’s hard to pinpoint a particular gaming experience that influenced me the most. All gamers have, at one time or other, been sent on a dungeon crawl in an old abandoned castle and likewise have been hired by a mage’s guild at some point. So, Drisdak and its environs evolved from the gaming mush that is circulating within my brain.

C – Your characters have some pretty unusual names (Lucian and Korina are probably the most ‘normal’ sounding names in Drasmyr).  Can you tell us some about where the names for your characters come from?

R – Again, it is imagination stemming from many long years of AD&D experience. When you play those games long enough, you develop a certain feel for how a name in such a world should sound: Coragan, Galladrin, etc… They all seemed to flow and fit the story. Although I will relate that one minor character was renamed after a typo. The watch captain, Mathagarr, was originally named Mathagar. I mistyped it once and one of my beta-readers commented that that looked cooler with the extra ‘r.’ I agreed, so I changed it.

C – There’s a lot more here than meets the eye, especially for RPG fans looking for inspiration in the form of settings, NPCs and adventure hooks.  As the Ashes of Ruin setting gets more fleshed out, can we expect some maps and a more expanded glossary?

R – I would like to, but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to it. I might wind up putting the maps on my web-site instead of in one of the books, but that is a project for a later day. The maps are pretty much ready: They just have to be scanned in and uploaded. As for the glossary, I have a lot of information I could use (it was originally going to be an entire gaming setting, after all), but I’m just not sure what pieces of information are the most relevant. But I’ll keep it in mind. If inspiration should strike me at some time, perhaps I’ll set both things up. But as of yet, it’s still up in the air.

Matt will be back on Friday for the second part of our interview.  In the meantime, you can visit his site and check out the book blast he is doing today for the release of The Children of Lubrochius.

^^^^Out today!^^^^

Drasmyr Week Begins! (Part 1: A Review)

I’d followed Matt Ryan’s blog for some time, so it was really a shame that it took so long (and winning a contest) to get around to reading his novel, Drasmyr. So, as a partial disclaimer, while I read the book because I got a free copy for winning a contest, I’m featuring it here because it’s really good, not because I got a free copy. There will be some spoilers in this review, but you’ll probably have these spoilers and more after reading the back-of-book summary of the sequel, Children of Lubrochius.

Initially, I was slightly wary of Drasmyr. I’m not a huge fan of most modern vampire stories, which are overrun with long-toothed poofs or wangsty rebels with an attitude problem. I can assure you, neither are the sort to be found in Drasmyr.

I’ve written on occasion that the one place where vampires aren’t played out is in the realm of high fantasy. And you don’t get more high fantasy than a conflict between a mages guild and the greater undead.

Drasmyr begins like one of those police procedural dramas where you see who committed the crime and how before the opening credits runs. The audience knows the who and the what, and maybe some of the why, while the good guys play catch up until the remainder of the story involves catching the culpret. Drasmyr begins with the titular Lucial Val Drasmyr kicking off a string of brutal murders at the mages guild, starting with the Archmage who ‘vanishes’ after a ‘mysterious’ fire in his chamber that leaves two others dead. The guild calls in a team of intrepid-but-disillusioned bounty hunters, reluctant to work for nobility but also short on coin, to investigate the fire and disappearance of the archmage.

Originally, I felt that there may have been a lost opportunity here to have a straight-forward mystery with a shocking reveal, because Ryan is very good at writing the who-dunnit sifting through clues part. The readers know Lucian killed the Archmage and that the culprit is a vampire long before the heroes do, but Ryan keeps it an enjoyable enough ride. After finishing the book, I realize that the who-dunnit is to distract from the real mystery of what the heck that one girl is up to. I mean, she’s OBVIOUSLY evil and OBVIOUSLY up to something, but WHAT COULD IT BE!?

Drasmyr is very much a Dungeons & Dragons like vampire tale, more Ravenloft than Rice. I hope that you readers here take that to mean a positive thing, because (to me, at least) in terms of Vampire stories, this is a good thing. Ryan’s writing is also well above average, able to juggle a fairly large ensemble of characters and perspectives without ever sacrificing pacing. There are several minor critiques I could make, but this is far and away one of the most polished self/indie published fantasy titles I’ve read. There are no glaring typos or grammatical errors that are going to jar you out of your reading groove. I wouldn’t even bother to note this, but I know that many people (myself included) are always wary of self-published titles. This is me saying “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” (Well, be afraid of 1000 year old vampires, just not this book about them.)

One of the things I liked was the inclusion of a short glossary of a few of the various things in the world of Drasmyr that are mentioned briefly, such as a few of the non-human races who, while not present in the story, are mentioned in passing. My only complaint was that it was not more extensive. Additionally, I would’ve enjoyed having a map of Drisdak and the surrounding areas, but that’s a personal nit-picky thing; I love maps and love for my high-fantasy books to have them.

One of the main reasons I wanted to highlight Drasmyr was to bring it to the attention of folks in the rpg gaming blog community.  There’s a lot of really great stuff here for inspiration, whether it’s setting, systems of magic, or simply taking the Vampire from the monster manual and fleshing out its strengths and weaknesses  to make it an adversary in your game.  Drasmyr is a great model for how a short undead scenario could play out at your game table: mystery, journey to dungeon, dungeon crawl, retreat from dungeon, penultimate town encounter, final town encounter.  A lot of times, ‘mystery’ doesn’t work well in table-top rpgs, especially D&D.  Drasmyr really helps illustrate how to successfully setup a short vampire scenario that unfolds from a mystery where the breadcrumbs are in place.  How well your players piece together the clues could well determine how prepared they are for that first dreadful encounter with your recurring villain.

Drasmyr’s a fairly quick, easy, well-written and enjoyable read that I highly recommend for anyone who likes filling their games with high level undead.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of other folks would enjoy it too.

There are a lot of ways you can get Drasmyr to check out for yourself.

You can download it FOR FREE (so, seriously, there is NO REASON AT ALL why you can’t at least download this)
From Smashwords
From Barnes and Noble
From Amazon

or you can buy a really nice hardcover edition (which I highly recommend; it’s very shiny!)
From Lulu

That is maybe the Mages Guild or Lucian's castle.

Drasmyr’s sequel, the Children of Lubrochius, will be available on April 2nd in both e-book and dead tree format:
From Amazon
From Lulu
From Barnes & Noble
From Smashwords

I imagined Korina wearing less revealing clothing given the Guild's dress code.  Don't let stock-art dissuade you, gentle reader!

(Don’t let this cover fool you, these books are pretty PG, and would make for good YA reading.)

He also has a collection of short stories that I might be checking out soon that you can find here at Smashwords.

Drasmyr week will continue on Wednesday, when Author Matt D. Ryan will be joining us to talk about his book and answer questions.