Nov 112019

Once upon a time, there were two futures. Each possible future was a paradise, but these futures could never coexist with the other. Each future sends time-travelling agents up and down the time stream to make the changes need to bring about their future. Let me be clear, this is a war and the only way to succeed is to make sure the other side can never exist.

Once upon a time correction, an agent on one side leaves a taunting letter for an agent on the other side. Is it a trap? Is it simply a boast? Or is it pure curiosity? Whatever the reason, talking to the enemy is forbidden and yet these two continue to exchange letters. Over time, their relationship changes and they fall in love.

That’s a cool idea, but what elevates “This is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is the magnificent creativity and sweeping scale that is on every page. Some time travel stories impress you with their knowledge of historical details, hinging key plot points on what a specific historical figure had for breakfast on a certain day. This book treats time travel as something to be played with and used to awe and inspire. Characters visit Atlantis. They travel to bone yard temples of beings that predate human history. They witness fleets of starships crashing against one another. It is less Time Traveling History Lesson, and more like Time Space Opera.

And these two agents don’t send normal letters. No, one might write on the scales of a fish that will be eaten by a seal that they know the other agent will cut open. A letter might be written in the coded flashes of a lave burst. Each letter is an impossibility, which reinforces how special and creative this story is.

Half the book is the letters the two agents send to each other. The other half of the book is what amazing things the agents were doing when they come across a letter. It makes for a fast read and a rather breathless one. Their growing romance feels real and I was deeply invested in them.

This is a book I am looking forward to re-reading every year. I think you will too.

May 132019

I would argue that anything Caitlin Kiernan writes is the very best but I am biased that way. This edition collects some really fabulous stories and I enjoyed every one of them. These stories are not just horror and weird fiction. These stories will fucking haunt you.

It is hard to describe Kiernan’s fiction without referencing other genres and that is a disservice as I feel most of her work transcends the genres they are related to. Take Lovecraft for example. Kiernan writes about strange ancient horrible monsters that live under the ocean and will probably devour us all BUT, when she writes it with her paleontologist background, it feels much more vivid, real and possible than when Lovecraft does it with his purple prose. Keirnan taps into the wonder and mystery of the ocean in ways that remind me of Joseph Conrad. I am repulsed and enchanted at the same time.

It is the same with her weird fiction. The hallmark of Weird Fiction is to not explain shit about what is going on, and Kiernan does that, but she also spends a lot of time with characters trying desperately to explain the unexplainable. Her weird fiction feels like it has undergone a rigorous peer review and they still couldn’t figure that shit out. Again, it just makes her fiction feel far more vivid than others.

I can’t pick a favorite story out of this anthology. Is it the story about Unicorn dildo? The family that live at the edge of some terrible gate? Or is it the reporter trying to make sense of his lover leading a cult into a suicide walk into the ocean? I haven’t even mentioned the one that explores whatever happened to Ann Darrow and her sorrow over Kong. And how about the nightmarish story about what happens when you get caught by a Fairy Queen?

There are too many treasures here to elevate one above the other.

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Apr 012019
Honestly, the cat gets into more trouble

Anita is a collection of short stories by Keith Roberts. Published in 1970, these stories tell of Anita, a witch who may be a thousand years old but has the body of a young woman and the sex drive and recklessness to match. Anita lives with her Granny out in the woods but frequently comes to town to ride in the cars of handsome boys or make friends among the outcasts.

It is a lovely collection. The stories range from comedy like when Granny and Anita get a television, to really dark mood pieces like when Anita’s town friend commits suicide so Anita gets revenge on the town with a nasty curse. The stories were published in a magazine so they are self-contained with some continuity and one story is a direct sequel of another.

This book feels like a strange time capsule that shouldn’t exist. The stories remind me a lot of Vertigo comics in the 90’s and modern paranormal romances. Granny appears to be a distant relative of Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax. Anita’s encounter with a mermaid reads like someone describing a Charles Vess painting. I would not be surprised if Anita was an inspiration for any of these.

Although the original book cover suggests the book is a sex book, it really isn’t by today’s standards. Anita has a lot of casual sex but it is never explicit. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t a sensual delight at times, as the imagery is quite lush. I imagine when this book was published, the idea of a woman fucking whoever takes her fancy must have seemed like porn to mainstream audiences.

My only criticism is that sometimes the witchcraft strays into satire. Hell has a bureaucracy and there is an Infernal Controller who regulates the movement of supernatural creatures like an air traffic controller. It is a shame because mixed with these satirical elements are some really good creepy magic moments that would fit perfectly into a horror novel or a modern supernatural romance. There are quite a few bits I plan to steal for my own fiction.

My copy was published in 1970 but it was reprinted in a lovely hardcover in 1990. The hardcover has illustrations and I am tempted to get it. There is also a cheaper no-frills Kindle version available.

Feb 042019
The bats make a nice touch.

I have a backlog of books involving witches. I try to read books that share similar themes to whatever I am writing and when Fight in the Sex Arena went from taking six months to writing to thirteen, I ended up reading a lot of science fiction. Now I am am reading books that I barely remember buying, much less why I bought them.

The Passionate Witch by Thorne Smith is one of those books. It certainly looks salacious. I probably bought it thinking it was porn. Little did I know that it was written in 1942 by the guy best known for the Cary Grant Topper movies. Sadly, Thorne didn’t finish the book and someone else did. Like most posthumously finished books, it shows.

The story is about a putz, Mr. Wooly. He is a successful insurance and real estate mogul, a pillar of the community and an extremely dull man. Because this is the 40’s, that means he is a vegetarian, takes lots of vitamins, doesn’t drink and is completely obvious to how badly his secretary wants to marry him. His servants think he is a wimp and kind of despise him and quite frankly, I did too.

Through ridiculous circumstances, he rescues a naked woman from a burning hotel. The hotel is of a dubious reputation so when people see him coming out with a naked woman over his shoulder, every one snickers and thinks Mr. Wooly is a lot more interesting than he is.

Long story short, he ends up marrying the witch, regretting it and trying to get rid of her. The witch herself is the most interesting part of the book as she sleeps outside in the branches of a tree and curses the secretary to only be able to type backwards.

But Shon, I see it is described as “Ribald” on the cover. Is this a dirty book?

Uh, Maybe? The sex scenes happen during the asterisks in the story, which was a clever moment. There is a description of pomegranates that was a bit sexy once you understand it was talking about her breasts. A lot of people are sleeping around on their spouses. Almost every man is in a state of “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” over Mr. Wooly’s ordeal with no sympathy for him being married to a hot witch. It is certainly a comedy about adult relationships, but less explicit than an episode of Riverdale.

I do want to note that halfway through the book, the witch dies. I was pretty stunned. The last thing she did before dying was curse Wooly with the ability to hear thoughts. He finds the only way to stop the voices is by drinking. This means the last half of the book is about his drunken exploits and the hilarity that ensues until he realizes his witch’s spirit is inside his first wife’s old horse.

So, yeah. It is not what I expected, but it is a cute book if you enjoy 40’s style drinking comedy. It is also illustrated, which is a nice surprise. This book has been reprinted many times and there is in fact an ebook version on Amazon. I guess passionate witches are timeless.

Jan 142019

The Dictionary of Mu is a supplement for the Sorcerer role-playing game but it serves a more important function as a wonderful idea that should be in every bookshelf. I feel enriched by reading this book and I look forward to seeing what ideas it will generate for me in the future.

If you are not familiar with Sorcerer, all you need to know is that it is a rules-light game about people who summon demons. Instead of spells, equipment and resources, your character is defined by the demons they summon and the relationships they have with those demons.

Normally, Sorcerer takes place on Earth but the Dictionary of Mu takes place on Mars. It describes the blasted desert planet as a giant graveyard of races, cultures and ideas. There are tribes and countries still clinging to life but no one is really prospering, except for those bastards in Atlantis. This is a dying planet.

That is a key detail as this game defines Demons as the leftover psychic soul of the dead. A scientist dies and his soul becomes a demon, still obsessed with learning and still babbling mathematics. That would be interesting in itself but on Mars, EVERYTHING that dies becomes a demon, including races, cultures, oceans and ideas.

Picture it. An extinct animal has a demon form. You could summon the demon of the sabertooth shark, or you could summon the demon of the idea of a sabertooth shark, and then you are really in trouble. It is the difference between summoning a great white shark and summoning the concept of Jaws.

As cool as this idea is, what elevates Dictionary of Mu from cool idea to important tome is the writing. The book is an in-character artifact, written by a cursed hermit who is bound to the Demon of Words. The hermit adds his own commentary and paints a picture of what it is like to live in such a unique but dying world. It is just great writing and it makes the book a joy to read. The hermit’s scorn for oceans alone always brings a smile to my lips.

I would love to tell you about my favorite entries but I feel half the fun of the book is the discovery. You need to read about the witch-King and his Brides and Grooms for yourself. I don’t want to spoil the story of the Damsel Messiah. I leave it to you to hear the sad story of the Greys who build the pyramids of Mars.

In a place where ideas can become demons, a dictionary is a powerful tool to define and create. If you love fantasy worlds, you will get a kick out of this book. If you are looking for the coolest setting for your next rpg, this is your world. If you are fascinated by the relationship between people and words like I am, this book will give you a better understanding of why some ideas just never go away.

The Dictionary of Mu has been out of print for awhile, but is is available now for purchase again.

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Jan 092019

Commander Dirk Moorcock is hero to the galaxy. He stops mad scientists, seduces bad girls to become good and saves the universe on a regular basis. When the Empress gives him an experimental warp drive to go to a distant galaxy in pursuit of the pirate, Zoddom, Dirk doesn’t hesitate to save the universe again.

Okay, that is not true. He hesitates a lot but because he is a hero, he still does it. Along the way, he encounters triple-breasted warrior women, savage and lusty pirates and a heroic rebellion comprised of the old regime’s marching band. Wacky adventures and daring escapes abound!

This is an interesting book to read. On the one hand, names like Moorcock and Major Wilma Wonders suggest that this book is a silly parody. On the other hand, the plotting and excellent pace is a perfect recreation of the pulp sensibility. There is comedy all through the book but it never quite crosses over into wacky comedy like Spaceballs or a Naked Gun movie. The space opera theme helps as the most ridiculous elements feel completely normal in the outlandish setting.

You know, it reminds me of the movie, Ice Pirates. A little dirty, a little silly and always fun

The cover mentions adult adventures and sexual themes are certainly discussed but the book never gets explicit.

Passion Pirates of the Lost Galaxy is a fast read and was a lot of fun. If you want to read pulpy space opera with flirty adult fun, this book is perfect.

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Dec 172018

Twenty years ago, the super heroine known as Eight Wonder fought against the sinister forces of Blowjob. The battles quickly became pornographic as Blowjob seemed obsessed with stripping, arousing, binding and humiliating the heroine. Thanks to government intervention, no one ever knew how dirty these fights actually were. After a final battle, Eight Wonder disappeared, as well as her enemies.

But today in the present, Blowjob has returned to menace the world. Lucky for us, Eighth Wonder has also appeared and it looks like she hasn’t aged a day!

That’s because the modern Eighth Wonder, Clara, is the daughter of the original, Athena. Because this is a manga, Clara doesn’t know that her mom used to be a superhero. Clara has been recruited by the government to become Eighth Wonder, having no idea of the sexual tactics that Blowjob is bound to use.

Which brings Athena out of retirement. She wants to protect her daughter, but again, since this is a manga, she does it behind the scenes so her daughter will never know the sexual adventures that her mom went through.

If you couldn’t tell, “Don’t Meddle With My Daughter” is a comedy. A really weird comedy that revolves around secret identities, embarrassed nudity and villainous names that are double entendres. This story could quickly degenerate into something dark and traumatic, but the light-hearted manga style keeps the story from turning squicky.

I was pleasantly surprised by how non-misogynistic these books are.  The main villain is a woman, and the mother-daughter relationship is really strong and cute. It is a ridiculous premise designed to titillate, but it truly cares for the characters it harasses and embarrasses.  It reminds me of the series, Empowered, except with a much stronger protagonist.

I believe the series has a dozen books now, the first three are available in English and from most online book stores.

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Dec 152018

In 1980, the Flash Gordon movie by Dino De Laurentiis was released. It is a joyous, campy movie that is a visual delight. In a better universe, we would be anticipating the 14 movie in the franchise while some fans cling to a little known 70’s movie called “Star Wars”.

Back then, movie companies would make book adaptations of their movies. Before VCR’s and cable, this might be the only way you got to enjoy a movie once it left theaters. A lot of those books were written by established writers who polished and in some cases, even perfected the original screenplay. I still find the Alien novel by Alan Dean Foster to be superior to the movie.

The Flash Gordon novelization is a weird duck. Written by Arthur Byron Cover, (a pseudonym if I ever saw one), this book has the hallmarks of having been written with no supervision at all. Arthur spends the first 50 pages of a 220 page book writing background histories for Flash and Zarkov. Zarkov is wonderfully weird but Flash has been reinvented as a sort of Zen athlete who is beginning to suspect that sports is not the most fulfilling career one can pursue. Flash is a paladin of virtue, an amateur pilot, and very smart on his own. This is not the idiot jock from the movie.

Ming and his minions get explored as well. Ming’s primary trait is boredom; he has mastered the universe and has no one to challenge him. He engages in extraordinary cruelty in attempts to see if they amuse him. His libido is barely active, which is why he acts when pretty Earthling, Dale Arden excites him. I’m not saying Ming is sympathetic, but his evil has a motive as he desperately fights his cosmic indifference.

The other addition to the original screenplay is sex. There are no sex scenes, but man, we get a good long look into what everyone is into. Dale’s last boyfriend was a swinger, Zarkov’s 2nd wife and the sex they had is the strongest memory he has, Ming and his daughter are DEFINITELY doing it, and Barin loves Aura, but knows their marriage has to be open. It is not what I expected from a major movie studio novelization.

With the kink and the backstories, is a lot of comedy and social satire. The movie was funny, but the book takes it to the next level. Ming and Klytus have a discussion on earth morality that is scathing. Actually, anytime the humans discuss government, morality or sex with the people of Mongo is hilarious.

All in all, this was written by someone who loves the original Flash Gordon source material, and takes frequent opportunities to both praise it and mock it. The book is more adult than I was expecting but the humor is also more political. The book isn’t easy to find but it is worth the search.

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Dec 122018

Sunstone is a comic book by Stjepan Šejić. It is about two women who come together to play BDSM games and end up falling hopelessly in love with each other, but have the hardest time expressing their feelings. It is lesbian kinky romance with side trips into hetero kink, but at the core is the very real and very vulnerable people that populate the story.

You know, I am burned out on BDSM romance but holy shit, am I hooked on this series. Part of the appeal is the truly gorgeous art. The other appeal is the super well-developed characters. Every person in this story has hopes, fears, traumas and quirks. Despite everyone looking like a pinup, they act like real people. This series doesn’t feel like BDSM porn, it feels like a real account of romance.

Speaking of porn, it is remarkable how there is little to no sex in this series. Characters get naked, and characters talk about sex and fantasies, but sex scenes are skipped over. It fits with the theme of the series, that all of the stories are told years later and therefore, the author can’t recount the blow-by-blow of what happens. It also keeps the focus on the story without sex scenes breaking up the flow of the plot.

This is the rare BDSM series where I feel like experienced people will enjoy it because it perfectly captures what it is like to be kinky and in love, and I feel like total newbies will also enjoy the series as it captures that euphoric new-kink energy that beginners have. I would also recommend it to vanilla people who just love a good romance story.

There are archives online of the series as well as hard copies you can purchase.

Dec 032018

Ramsey Campbell is a grandmaster of horror. He has been around for ages and has been writing the entire time. He got his start writing Lovecraft Mythos books, creating his own corner of cosmic terror in England. Most Call of Cthulhu fans know him for his early work but the guy has kept writing and only gets better.

Personally, I am a little burned out on Lovecraft and the problematic issues that come with reading his stuff. When I heard that Campbell has returned to Lovercraft style stories with “The Searching Dead,” I was motivated to seek it out. A rave review convinced me otherwise and now I am glad I have read it.

The Searching Dead is about a young boy, Dominic, in Liverpool in the 1950’s. England is still rationing, neighborhoods are still devastated from German bombing and people are getting awfully worried about Communists.  Dominic has two best friends that he formed a little child detective group with when they were younger. He writes about their fictional adventures, much to the embarrassment of his male friend.

One day, Dominic overhears his parents talking to a family friend who is convinced her church can raise ghosts. Dominic’s parents think spiritualism is a crock, but Dominic experiences a few strange incidents and becomes convinced that not only are ghosts real, but the church that is raising them is up to no good. To investigate, Dominic enlists his friends.

Now, this sounds like British version of “It”, or maybe a Hardy Boys Meets a Shoggoth, but the thing that elevates this book is the hyper-realism. There are weird things going on, but they are subtle, so obtuse, so damn-near-mysterious, that you would have to be a lunatic (or a reader) to assume any of this weird stuff is real. Empty coats look fuller than they should. There is a whisper in Dominic’s ear. A bunch of kids have bad dreams on a field trip. This is the kind of evidence that would make Fox Mulder roll his eyes and declare it swamp gas. Dominic believes, but his friends, parents and school does not. Dominic is truly alone in this really creepy situation.

And ghosts and cultists are not Dominic’s only concern. He goes to a religious school that already thinks he’s a walking sin machine. His parents really wish Dominic would not find out about any terrible conspiracies because that means they would have to do something and that would endanger their social standing as normal good citizens. Other adults are looking for commies and labor organizers with the zeal that should be reserving for cultists. Quite frankly, Dominic lives in a scary restrictive dystopia and its called the 1950’s.

Which is why I enjoyed the book so much. Sure, the creepy mystery and cultists were cool, but the setting is the real horror. It captures a weird moment in time and marries it with the helplessness of being a kid. Oh, and throws in some really creepy theories about death and the soul.

This is the first book of three, but it ends with a satisfying conclusion. Dominic solves the cultist church problem with a mixture of cleverness and pre-teenage tantrum-throwing.  There is a final scene where Dominic witnesses something truly mind-blowing that is too creepy to give away here. This book is going to stick me with for a long time and I can only imagine what the other books will be like.


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