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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Weekend Micro-Haul

The long weekend allowed me to make some headway in my reading and a harmonious convergence of a thrift-store half-off sale and a bored teenager not wanting to break my twenty meant I grabbed Otis Adelbert Kline’s Maza of the Moon and Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner for free this weekend.

I finished Sceptre of Morgulan.  The worst thing that can be said about it is that it’s book 2 of 4 (or 3 of 5, depending on how you want to count Drasmyr).  Even though the scope of the book in terms of characters and plot threads is a bit more new-school, the flavor is very retro.  While Children of Lubrochius shows the rise of the titular criminal/necromantic organization (Gimme Shelter playing in the background), Sceptre shows the turning point where the villain’s enterprises begin crumbling.  So, the organized crime venture is falling through with the thieves guild on the rebound, internal squabbles getting out of hand, a botched demon summoning, and the head of the Children coming in to shut Korina’s operation down because of the turf wars she’s started.  Still, the lady has demons, goblins, a couple mages, an ancient vampire and maybe even the Sceptre, if she can track Gaelen to Morgulan’s pocket dimension.

Because I had to drop everything and read Sceptre of Morgulan, I still had about 100 pages left in Hardtack and Coffee.  Overall, it was a great book and full of fun invaluable minutiae for Civil War buff regarding the day to day life of Union soldiers, but I wish that Billings had thought to put in an afterword to bring it all back around.  The book is a bit front-loaded, with most of the best stuff in the early to middle of the book (everything from what daily rations consist of to the various means soldiers would use to try to get out of doing work), and ends rather abruptly with the chapter on signal flagging.

Earth’s Last Citadel was a bit of a disappointment.  An American, a Scot and two American Nazis in Africa happen upon a spaceship that is the vanguard of an alien invasion. They get stuck in time stasis for a million years or something, so that when they come out, the aliens had come, conquered, built and declined so that all that was left on the planet was one lone alien citadel, Carcasilla, inhabited by a race of immortal humans and a crazy giant telepathic wizard face.  The 4 WW2 era humans are caught between the crazy wizard, the immortal quasi-humans in the fortress, the barbarian humans in the caves and the energy alien that will starve if it can’t feed on the remaining humans’ life force.  In something of a script-flip, the morlock-like cave dwellers are the descendants of the humans who fought against the alien overlords and team up with the humans to fight the eloi-like Carcasillians who had been engineered by the aliens as toys and vessels and can therefore be controlled by the alien.  Eventually, the past-humans defeat the wizard (a human controlling a robot face), the alien, get the source of Carcasilla’s power and the Carcasillian’s immortality, use it to power up the ship and restart humanity on Venus.  Sounds awesome, right?  Unfortunately, the weak descriptive language made it difficult to picture any scenes or action at play, leaving one with only a vague sense of what had happened or was going on.  It was like trying to watch something through murky water or a fog.  Or like that time when Elmer Fudd was unicycling down a highwire into a lion’s mouth while wearing dark glasses:

The Time Machine meets Wizard of Oz with hyper-intelligent parasitic alien energy beings should’ve been so much better!

Anyway, I’m reading Leigh Brackett’s Sword of Rhiannon to cleanse the palate a bit.  It is more than sufficiently awesome.

Weekend Haul + Updates (Appendix N Book and Wargame Wednesdays)

I’d been getting better about my book buying, but being in the same town as one of the best flea market book-stores in the state over the weekend meant another stack of paperbacks to add to my To-Read pile.  I’m being a bit more judicious about what I grab, simply because I have so much already, but I did not want to pass some of these up:  Sword of Rhiannon (Brackett), Hiero’s Journey (Lanier), Berserker (Saberhagen), a crumbly Incompleat Enchanter (deCamp) that was thrown in for free on account of being crumbly, as well as a book each by Norman Spinrad and Philip Jose Farmer (I don’t remember the titles offhand).  I passed up a pretty sweet looking Gardner F. Fox book in part because I’ve already got a huge stack of him in unread magazines (including the next story I have to read in the Fall 1945 Planet Stories!), but I may pick it up some other time if I make more headway in my stacks.

One guy at one of the place who has all sorts of cool toys and magazines and stuff (who I got some Astounding from before) continued to posture about how rare and expensive and hard to find Planet Stories was when I asked if he’d seen them (“Oh, some of them go for over a hundred bucks!” “most of the ones I’ve found, I’ve got for $8-$12, and I’ve got about a dozen of them” “Oh, well they must not’a known what they had!”), so if I’m going to keep collecting them, I’m probably going to need to turn to eBay (where they still mostly cost around $8-$12).  Then again, I really need to read all (or some) of what I have first.  These magazines have waited 70 years for me, they can wait until I’ve at least finished half of the stack I’ve got.

I’m about halfway through Sceptre of Morgulan, and I have so many thoughts about it, especially in light of Matthew Ryan’s guest post in which he cites Tolkien as one of his biggest influences.  His own tale is very un-Tolkienien, and while the D&D influence is obvious, the output is much more in line with pre-Shannara fantasy than it is with the sort of ‘pink-slime’ fantasy that normally comes out of D&D + Tolkien.  I am not kidding when I say it’s like “vampire-hunting in Lankhmar”.  Can the process be reversed?  Can Appendix N-like stories be extracted from D&D + Tolkien by someone who has paid careful enough attention to the implicit setting and mechanical minutia of demonology even without the benefit of directly having been influenced by those things literary forebears?  Am I giving Ryan too much or too little credit?  I don’t know, but his books are amazing and a breath of fresh air!

Jeffro’s at one of those stages of “done” with his Appendix N book that is somewhere between “completed” and “finished”, but when it is done done, you can bet I’ll be buying copies for my friends and try to bully local book clubs into reading it.  I’m hoping he will go for multiple formats, including a coffee-table edition with Doug Kovacs or Erol Otis dust jacket for myself and a student’s paperback edition I can snap up a few of for everyone else.

I was going to announce this earlier, but Wednesday came and went and a few hiccups resulted in delays, but everything’s good now.  I’ll be writing an occasional piece at Castalia House for Wargame Wednesdays.  I will not be moving my entire posting series over there, since there is a rotating weekly group of writers, but generally speaking, I’ll be featuring the first of whatever series I’m covering over there and the rest over here.  So, uh.  Avalon Hill’s Bull Run pt. 1 is up!  Part two will go up here tomorrow or Wednesday.

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.)