Non-Fiction Spotlight: Cosplay: A History by Andrew Liptak

After the Hugos is before the next Hugos, so I’m continuing my Non-Fiction Spotlight project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that come out in 2022 and are eligible for the 2023 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.

For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.

Today’s featured non-fiction book is the definitive history of a phenomenon born out of SFF fandom. Therefore, I am happy to welcome Andrew Liptak, author of Cosplay: A History, to my blog today.

Cosplay: A History by Andrew LiptakTell us about your book.

The book is a big overview of how and when cosplay came about! Cosplay as we understand it today has undergone some considerable changes over the decades, and as a historian and cosplay, I was interested in how and why we ended up dressing up at cons.

There’s the conventional history: that Forest Ackerman dressed up for the 1939 World Science Fiction convention, but there’s precedence to that: there were people dressing up well before he and his then-partner, Myrtle Douglas (who made his costume, along with one for herself) suited up in New York: Jules Verne had a costume party where guests showed up as his characters, there was an early convention at the Royal Albert Hall to commemorate a popular science fiction novel, Vril, and some other scattered examples throughout the 19th and early 20th century.

But you can also go back a bit further, and I wanted to also explore the broad story of how costumes became a tool for storytellers and how their use evolved with time.

In many ways, this is one of the core stories in the book: how we use costuming to relate to stories, and when you look at it through that lense, you see other, similar examples: people using costumes for political purposes, like protests (all the way up to the modern day), or education (living history and reenacting), and for one’s own personal journey to understand their identity, their fandom, or just for their own entertainment.

The other core part of the book is that it’s a story of fandom and community: it’s about how fans come together to share in their common interest, whether it’s to show off their work at a convention or to help one another build their costumes. I’ve been a member of the 501st Legion, a Star Wars costuming group for nearly 20 years, and that group takes a bit of the forefront of the book, because it’s a big part of my upbringing and identity, but also because I felt that it serves as a solid, representative microcosm for the growth and mainstream profile that the activity has experienced in the last couple of decades.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a historian and journalist who’s written pretty extensively about science fiction and fandom for a long time. I fell in love with Star Wars when the special editions hit theaters, and after burning my way through the various tie-in books in high school, I jumped over to everything else I could get my hands on, from Redwall to Lord of the Rings to Foundation to Dune, and quite a bit more.

I studied history and then military history (BA and then MA), and found myself writing for a bunch of places like SF Signal, io9, and Kirkus Reviews about SF/F stuff. One of those projects was a history of SF/F at Kirkus, which gave me a broad understanding of how the genre evolved over time, and introduced me to some of that earlier history.

From there, I jumped over to The Verge, a tech / culture site run by Vox Media, and wrote extensively about SF/F stuff. But more importantly, I worked with two editors, Bryan Bishop and Laura Hudson, who really transformed how I thought about storytelling and how we relate it it: how does fan culture impact the things we consume, and what do those various books, comics, TV shows, games, and movies shape our view of the world? And of course, there’s the technology stuff, like how social media and the internet helps those things.

Above all, I’m also a cosplayer. I was a Star Wars fan from ‘97, and acquired my own set of stormtrooper armor in 2003: I’ve been with the group ever since in various roles, from regular trooper to holding leadership roles in my local garrison, and I’ve branched out to various other costumes over the years.

What prompted you to write/edit this book?

Saga Press’s Joe Monti did! He met some members of the 501st Legion at San Diego Comic Con back in 2015 or 2016, and reached out to me to see if there was a story there. The project went through a bunch of iterations until 2019 when we sold it. It went from a bit of a more specific history of the 501st to a much wider focus of cosplay in general, which I’m pretty thrilled at: the more I developed the project, the more I recognized how much bigger this story was.

Joe ended up setting me up with fellow Saga / Gallery editor Amara Hoshijo, who picked up the project and really helped me hammer it into shape from a manuscript into an actual book.

But I’ve always been interested in history, and how the past connects to the present that we currently exist in, and learning about the past helps to bring about some understanding as to why the institutions and traditions that surround us are here.

Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?

In short, it’s a history of fandom as a community — not just the capital F literary traditions/community, but of the wider history of fandom and how it’s evolved and changed over the decades.

This was a particularly fascinating thing to watch as I interviewed folks or pored over documents from Fanac.org: how did the act of costuming become an institution within the worldcon scene, and how did it grow out and fracture as fandom expanded and Balkanized as science fiction and fantasy entertainment began to take over movie theaters, television sets, and video game consoles? It’s a really fascinating evolution, and one that I think is well worth paying attention to, culturally.

It’s a high-level overview of the larger fan world, one that touches on a bunch of these various tribes. I wanted to make sure that it was approachable to folks who have been fans for decades, long-time costumers/cosplayers/makers, and to folks who were just casual fans or who wanted to learn a little more. Hopefully, it’s a good entry point to understand the larger cosplay — and fan — world.

Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?

Hm. There were some things that I just didn’t have time or space to include: I wanted to write a chapter about furries, but just ran out of time to really do the topic justice. I also came across some interesting tidbits about the impact of laws designed to curb KKK members from masking up around the US and how that’s impacted costuming in various places. (Didn’t quite fit with the topic of the book, but it’s something I’d like to delve into a bit more.)

Those are things that I’m hoping to do a bit more research into in the coming months for what I’m thinking of as “lost chapters”, which I’m thinking I’ll release in the newsletter I write.

But with any history, there are things you learn after the fact that you just didn’t come across during the initial research. Arthur Conan Doyle dressed up as his character Professor Challenger, and apparently there was a Roman Emperor, Commodus, who apparently dressed up as the hero Hercules. And, literally while writing this, someone just told me about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, who apparently commissioned a Jannissary uniform for a costume ball he attended. There’s undoubtedly plenty of other examples of this that I’ll be reading / researching!

SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?

I think the awards are an excellent way to highlight the scholarship that takes place about science fiction and fantasy. As a historian (I might be a bit biased here), I think it’s important to research and understand the past, because the fans, authors, editors, the works they produced and the events they participated in help to form the foundation of the community that we’re part of now. Those actions and works have a profound, lasting effect on everything that follows: look at how we’re still grappling with issues of equality and equity with fan circles. So, understanding and deconstructing the road that brought us here helps us conceptualize the environment we’re in today.

There’s been a lot of good work towards this end, and I think that an award nomination is useful to encourage people to seek out these works and these histories.

That said, I don’t think that something like “Best Related Work” necessarily needs to be limited to just book-length projects, but I do think that there’s value in specifically promoting long-form scholarship, because of the work that goes into it, and what such works yield for the reader and community at whole. I think it’s worth pointing out that the works that have ended up on the Hugo ballot have largely been well worth the inclusion on those lists.

The primary issue that I see is that “Best Related Work” is something of a catch-all, and I think that if we want to make sure that we’re putting attention to these things, and if we really value this as a category Hugo members need to draw up some more specific boundaries for that (maybe even something as simple as BRW Long / Short form). But then again, the Hugo ceremony is already pretty long and mission creep is a thing.

Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?

There are a couple of books that I’ve picked up in recent weeks/months. The first is Ben Rigg’s Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons, which is a voice-y nerd history but which essentially boils down to an interesting business book about TSR and a bunch of the product, business and organizational mistakes they made over the course of theri run. Riggs is essentially asking a question: why did Wizards of the Coast buy TSR in the 1990s, and lays out the case for that. It’s less about the making of D&D (there are lots of histories of this), which I found intriguing.

The other is Phasers On Stun! How the Making (and Remaking) of Star Trek Changed the World by Ryan Britt, which I’m reading now, and which is proving to be an interesting history of that particular franchise.

Where can people buy your book?

It’s published by Simon & Schuster’s Saga Press, so anywhere you buy books! If you’re interested in a signed copy, some of the stores near me, like Bear Pond Books, Yankee Bookshop, and Phoenix Books should have some that they can mail to you if you’re not in the area.

Where can people find you?

My main home online is a newsletter I write, Transfer Orbit, which I write on a somewhat regular (weeklyish) basis. You can also find me on my website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Thank you, Andrew, for stopping by and answering my questions. Do check out Cosplay: A History, if you’re at all interested in the history of fandom and cosplay.

About Cosplay: A History:

A history of the colorful and complex kingdom of cosplay and fandom fashion by Andrew Liptak, journalist, historian, and member of the legendary fan-based Star Wars organization the 501st Legion.

In recent years, cosplay—the practice of dressing up in costume as a character—has exploded, becoming a mainstream cultural phenomenon. But what are the circumstances that made its rise possible?

Andrew Liptak—a member of the legendary 501st Legion, an international fan-based organization dedicated to the dark side of Star Wars—delves into the origins and culture of cosplay to answer this question. Cosplay: A History looks at the practice’s ever-growing fandom and conventions, its roots in 15th-century costuming, the relationship between franchises and the cosplayers they inspire, and the technology that brings even the most intricate details in these costumes to life.

Cosplay veterans and newcomers alike will find much to relish in this rich and comprehensive history.

About Andrew Liptak:

Andrew Liptak is a writer and historian based in Vermont. He graduated from Norwich University with a master’s degree in military history and writes about history, technology, and science fiction in his newsletter Transfer Orbit. His work has appeared in Armchair General MagazineClarkesworld Magazine, Gizmodo, io9, Slate, The Verge, and other publications. He coedited the anthology War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, and his short fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine and Curious Fictions.

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Are you publishing a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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Non-Fiction Spotlight: Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller by Alec Nevala-Lee

After the Hugos is before the next Hugos, so I’m continuing my Non-Fiction Spotlight project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that come out in 2022 and are eligible for the 2023 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.

For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.

Biographies of prominent SFF and SFF-adjacent people are quite common on the Hugo ballot and today’s featured non-fiction book is just such a biography.

Therefore, I am pleased to welcome Alec Nevala-Lee, author of Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller to my blog today.

Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller by Alec Nevala-Lee

Tell us about your book.

Inventor of the Future is the first comprehensive biography of Buckminster Fuller, the architectural designer best known for the geodesic dome and the concept of Spaceship Earth. During his lifetime, Fuller was the most famous futurist in the world, and he had a particularly strong influence on the founders of Silicon Valley.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction was a Hugo and Locus Awards finalist in 2019. On the fiction side, I’ve published three suspense novels with Penguin and many hard SF stories in Analog, which will be releasing my latest novella, “The Elephant Maker,” sometime next year. I studied classics at Harvard University. My favorite writer is Jorge Luis Borges, and my other big influences include the movies of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The X-Files, and the Pet Shop Boys. I’m half Chinese and half Finnish/Estonian, I identify as bisexual, and I live with my wife and daughter in Oak Park, Illinois.

What prompted you to write/edit this book?

I’ve been interested since high school in Fuller, whom I first encountered in the pages of the Whole Earth Catalog. After Astounding, I was looking to expand the range of subjects that I could cover as a writer, and Fuller was an obvious choice—his life expresses many of the themes that I’ve explored in my earlier work, and until now, there’s never been a reliable biography that covered his entire career using the best available sources. I hoped that writing it would be a real intellectual adventure, and it was.

Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?

Norman Spinrad once referred to Fuller as “a science fiction hero in the real world,” and his career offers a case study in how a certain kind of technologist might attempt to realize these ideals in practice. Fuller believed in solving social problems through design and engineering rather than politics or activism, which was part of the reason that he had such an impact on so many key players in the personal computer revolution. His approach didn’t always work as intended, and I see him as both a role model and a cautionary tale for enacting the values of science fiction in real life. (The book also features cameo appearances from numerous science fiction writers, including H.G. Wells, L. Ron Hubbard, and Arthur C. Clarke.)

Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?

One fact that I discovered too late to include in the book is that the director George Miller—of Max Max fame—is a huge Fuller fan. According to a recent profile in the New York Times, a lecture by Fuller that Miller attended in medical school inspired him to pursue filmmaking as well as medicine: “He synthesized so much that was rumbling around loosely [in] my mind.”

SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?

There are dozens of books that ought to be written about the history of science fiction, both because it’s inherently fascinating and for the insights that it can provide for authors and fans who are trying to make sense of the genre for themselves. (I’ve learned a lot about how to survive as a writer—and as a human being—from the lives that I’ve studied.) Since the financial rewards for this kind of work aren’t always great, a Hugo Award that was expressly designed to honor serious nonfiction would encourage a wider range of scholars, which is why I’m in favor of establishing a separate category for Best Nonfiction Book, while keeping Best Related Work as it is.

Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?

The best works of SF nonfiction that I’ve ever read—aside from Astounding, of course—are probably Isaac Asimov’s memoirs In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt, as long as you remember that there are less attractive aspects of his personality, particularly his harassment of women, that aren’t reflected there.

Where can people buy your book?

Inventor of The Future will be available everywhere on August 2, although I’d prefer that people support their independent bookstores, e.g. by searching for the book on Indiebound.

Where can people find you?

I have a blog at www.nevalalee.com, which isn’t particularly active these days, although the “Science Fiction Studies” page includes hundreds of thousands of words of history and criticism that I wasn’t able to fit into Astounding. If you want to see what I’m currently doing, you can follow me on Twitter at @nevalalee.

Thank you, Alec, for stopping by and answering my questions.

Do check out Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller, which just came out yesterday. And if you haven’t read it already, also check out Alec’s other SFF-related non-fiction book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which is probably my favourite non-fiction book of recent years.

About Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller:

From Alec Nevala-Lee, the author of the Hugo and Locus Award finalist Astounding, comes a revelatory biography of the visionary designer who defined the rules of startup culture and shaped America’s idea of the future. 

During his lifetime, Buckminster Fuller was hailed as one of the greatest geniuses of the twentieth century. As the architectural designer and futurist best known for the geodesic dome, he enthralled a vast popular audience, inspired devotion from both the counterculture and the establishment, and was praised as a modern Leonardo da Vinci. To his admirers, he exemplified what one man could accomplish by approaching urgent design problems using a radically unconventional set of strategies, which he based on a mystical conception of the universe’s geometry. His views on sustainability, as embodied in the image of Spaceship Earth, convinced him that it was possible to provide for all humanity through the efficient use of planetary resources. From Epcot Center to the molecule named in his honor as the buckyball, Fuller’s legacy endures to this day, and his belief in the transformative potential of technology profoundly influenced the founders of Silicon Valley.

Inventor of the Future is the first authoritative biography to cover all aspects of Fuller’s career. Drawing on meticulous research, dozens of interviews, and thousands of unpublished documents, Nevala-Lee has produced a riveting portrait that transcends the myth of Fuller as an otherworldly generalist. It reconstructs the true origins of his most famous inventions, including the Dymaxion Car, the Wichita House, and the dome itself; his fraught relationships with his students and collaborators; his interactions with Frank Lloyd Wright, Isamu Noguchi, Clare Boothe Luce, John Cage, Steve Jobs, and many others; and his tumultuous private life, in which his determination to succeed on his own terms came at an immense personal cost. In an era of accelerating change, Fuller’s example remains enormously relevant, and his lessons for designers, activists, and innovators are as powerful and essential as ever.

About Alec Nevala-Lee:

Alec Nevala-Lee was a 2019 Hugo and Locus Awards finalist for Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which was named one of the best books of the year by The Economist. His latest book is Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller (Dey Street Books / HarperCollins), which will be released on August 2. He is the author of three novels, including The Icon Thief, and his nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Salon, and The Daily Beast. His short stories have been published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Lightspeed, and two editions of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, as well as the audio collection Syndromes.

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Are you publishing a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre: “Holiday on Orkas Island”

It’s time for another Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre photo story, featuring the latest addition to my collection. The name “Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre” was coined by Kevin Beckett at the Whetstone Discord server.

The small toy aisle at the German drugstore chain Rossmann has turned out to be an unlikely source of Masters of the Universe Origins toys, because they tend to have even hard-to-find figures at regular prices. And during my last visit to the local Rossmann store, I hit paydirt and found Clawful, the lobster-like Evil Warrior who is almost impossible to find in Germany. I got even luckier at the shoe shop next door and walked out with a pair of half-price Dockers.

Clawful figure

Clawful is ready to wreak havoc with his claws and his club.

In the 1980s Filmation cartoon, Clawful looks quite different from his toy counterpart, probably because the cartoon was based on an early prototype. He also seems to be one of a kind. However, the 2002 He-Man cartoon reveals that there is a whole species of lobster people out there and that they hail from a place called Orkas Island, which also happens to be the retirement home of an aged warrior called Dekker, Duncan’s former mentor and predecessor at Man-at-Arms.

So I decided to send Prince Adam, Teela and Man-at-Arms on a well-deserved holiday and have Clawful and his fellow aquatic Evil Warrior Mer-Man cause some trouble. I also got out a bunch of maritime themed objects to serve as props.

On Orkas Island in the Ocean of Gnarl (yes, I looked up the names):

Prince Adam and Teela are kissing on the beach.“I was a bit skeptical about leaving the palace unguarded at first, but this beach holiday was a great idea, Adam.”

“The palace will be fine, Teela. After all, your guards are there to watch over it. And I think we all needed a break from fighting the Evil Forces of Skeletor. Plus, you and I finally get to spend some time alone.”

“Yes, luckily my father decided to go fishing in that secluded cove that only he and Dekker know about.”

“Come to think of it, it is a bit strange that your father left so quickly.”

“By Zoar, you don’t think he knows, do you? I mean, we’ve been so careful.”

“Well, I still have all my body parts, so I don’t think he knows.”

“Don’t be silly! My Dad loves you. You’re the son he never had.”

“That doesn’t mean he thinks I’m good enough for his daughter.”

“You’re the Crown Prince of Eternia and Champion of Grayskull. If you’re not good enough for me, then who is?”

In a secluded cove nearby:

Duncan is fishing.“I wonder how long I have to stay here and pretend to be fishing, so Adam and Teela can have some privacy. Sigh, I just wish they’d make it official, so we can all stop pretending we don’t know what they’re doing when they sneak off to be alone. Not that I never snuck off to meet my lover. Though I do hope I was a bit less obvious about it. Sigh, I just hope they’re careful. Not sure I’m ready for grandchildren yet. Yeah right, because I was so careful that I managed to get the Sorceress of Grayskull pregnant…”

Also nearby:

Clawful and Mer-Man are arguing.“Well, Skeletor is the Lord of Destruction, Beast-Man is the Master of Beasts, Evil-Lyn is the Mistress of Dark Magic and I shall be King of the Ocean.”

“No, I’m King of the Ocean.”

“And what about me?”

“You can be Lord of the Lobsters.”

Clawful points something out to Mer-Man.“I’m not a lobster. Hey, check that out!”

“Yeah, it’s Prince Adam making out with Captain Teela. Again.”

“Right. Prince Adam and Teela.”

“Oh, and if we capture them, Skeletor will be so pleased that he’ll promote me to his right-fin man.”

“No, he’ll promote me to his right-claw man.”

Back on the beach:

Adam and Teela are making out on the beach.“You’re wearing too many clothes, Adam.”

“Ahem, if you want He-Man, I told you that’s too dangerous. I could hurt you.”

“I don’t want He-Man, stupid, I want Adam… naked.”

“In that case, I think I can oblige.”

Clawful and Mer-Man sneak up on Adam and Teela making out.“Why is it that whenever I see Prince Adam, he’s either chained up in the dungeons of Snake Mountain or boning the Captain of the Royal Guard?”

“Well, I’ve also seen him standing next to the King at a public audience.”

“What were you doing at one of King Randor’s public audiences?”

“I was using the opportunity to scout out the palace and look for weaknesses, okay? Anyway, let’s go and get them!”

Mer-Man and Clawful attack Adam and Teela on the beach.“Oh crap, it’s Mer-Man and Clawful. Is it too much to hope for some privacy around here? Is it too much to ask for a quiet day on the beach just once.”

“Let’s just kick their arses and get back to business.”

“Do you want to change? I can hold them off, while you run behind those rocks over there.”

“I don’t want to leave you alone. And besides, Prince Adam is enough for those guys.”

Adam fights Mer-Man and Teela fights Clawful.“What’s the matter, Your Highness? Are you waiting for He-Man to come and save your arse?”

“I don’t need He-Man to deal with the likes of you, Mer-Man.”

“Then bring it on, puny Prince!”

“Feel the power of my claws, Captain.”

“Feel the power of my staff, lobster face.”

“For the last time, I’m not a lobster.”

Adam has disarmed Mer-Man, while Clawful is fighting Teela.“Who’s puny now? Yield, Mer-Man!”

“That silly little shield won’t protect you from my club, Captain.”

“That’s a buckler, fish-face.”

“I’m not a fish either.”

Clawful grabs Teela, while Adam holds Mer-Man at sword point.“Now I’ve got you, my pretty. Skeletor will be very pleased about this catch.”

“Ah, let go off me!”

“Teela, no!”

Meanwhile, in a secluded cove nearby:

Duncan hears screams, while fishing.“Dekker was right, fishing can be very meditative. I think I’ve finally figured out how to fix that pesky induction coupling on the Road Ripper. Though if I don’t catch something soon, we’ll go hungry tonight, because I’m pretty sure Adam and Teela are way too busy with each other to catch any fish…”

“Aaahhh!”

“What’s that? Screams? By Zoar, what now? I’d better go investigate.”

Adam and Duncan rescue Teela from Clawful.“Oww, this hurts.”

“Let go off her, Clawful, and take on someone your own size.”

“Leave my daughter alone, you lobster-faced fiend!”

“For the last time, I’m not a lobster.”

Duncan fights Clawful, Adam hugs Teela and Mer-Man makes his escape.“Touch my daughter again and I’ll make crab cakes out of you.”

“I’m not a crab either, I’m Karikoni. Is that so difficult to understand?”

“Teela, are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Adam. Just a little bruised, that’s all.”

“Uhm, I’d better make my escape. Let Clawful go to prison for this. After all, it was his idea.”

Duncan and Adam comfort Teela, while Clawful and Mer-Man make their escape.“Wait for me, Mer-Man!”

“Are you hurt, my daughter?”

“I’m fine, Dad. Just a few bruises.”

“Let me see. I just want to check if anything’s broken.”

“Thanks for the help, Duncan. Though I could have handled him.”

“Oh, I have no doubt of that, Adam.”

Later, on the beach:

Adam, Teela and Duncan are having a lobster boil on the beach.“Well, after all that excitement, I’m certainly hungry. Good thing you caught that lobster, Duncan.”

“Well, I guess the two of you were much too busy to catch anything.”

“Busy with Clawful and Mer-Man, you mean?”

“Of course, what else would I mean?”

Meanwhile, back at Snake Mountain, Skeletor is having a shrimp boil of his own:

Skeletor is threatening Clawful and Mer-Man with Old Bay seasoning.“You had Prince Adam and Teela in your claws and let them go? You’ll pay for that, you incompetent seafood platter.”

“No, Skeletor, I beg you, have mercy! Not the Old Bay!”

***

The Old Bay gag was inspired by my friend and fellow Hugo finalist Paul Weimer, who remarked that the Twitter version of this story was missing an Old Bay joke. And since I had a container of Old Bay seasoning in the pantry, I let Skeletor have a shrimp boil of his own.

I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story. There will be more stories soon. Meanwhile, here is a preview of Coming Attractions:

Castle Grayskull boxYes, I got myself a Castle Grayskull. Though it’s still in the box for now, because the space where I’m planning to set it up is not ready yet, because the carpenter is on holiday.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

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First Monday Free Fiction: Bullet Holes

Bullet Holes by Cora BuhlertWelcome to the August 2022 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

This month’s story is called Bullet Holes and is part of my In Love and War space opera romance series. Anjali and Mikhail are two soldiers from opposite sides of an intergalactic war, who fell in love and decided to go on the run together, pursued by both sides. In this story, they have a run-in with Mikhail’s former superior and finds themselves dealing with…

Bullet Holes

Varishka was a miserable ball of ice and mud on the galactic rim, orbiting a distant sun. Its remoteness, hostile climate and a lack of useful resources meant that neither the Republic of United Planets nor the Empire of Worlds, the two powers that had divided the galaxy amongst themselves, had any interest in the planet. Those very same qualities, however, had made Varishka extremely interesting to the assortment of smugglers, pirates, outlaws, fugitives and other lowlives who had established a colony here.

Through the commercial district of Varishka’s capital, a man and a woman, both in their mid twenties, trudged side by side through the wet snow. Their pace was brisk, their movements in synch with each other, all of which suggested a close and intimate partnership.

The woman was short, with brown skin, sparkling dark eyes and thick black hair that fell loosely down her back in soft waves. She was Lieutenant Anjali Patel, formerly of the Imperial Shakyri Expeditionary Corps, now a deserter, traitor and wanted fugitive.

The man was tall with pale skin, striking blue eyes and long dark hair that he wore tied back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He was Captain Mikhail Alexeievich Grikov, formerly of the Republican Special Commando Forces, now a deserter, traitor and wanted fugitive, just like his partner.

Mikhail and Anjali had met on the battlefield of the eighty-eight year war that the Empire and the Republic had been waging on each other. Against all odds, they had fallen in love and decided to run away together to eek out a living in the independent worlds of the lawless rim. Neither the Republic nor the Empire were particularly happy about that.

Since they’d gone AWOL, Anjali and Mikhail had taken all sorts of odd jobs from anybody on the rim who required their particular skills and didn’t ask too many questions. Such as the smuggler who’d hired them to deliver a shipment of black market cyber-implants to her customer.

“I don’t like this,” Anjali said quietly to Mikhail, speaking in the Imperial tongue, so they wouldn’t be overheard, “We’re fighters, not smugglers.”

“We’re not the smugglers, just the delivery service,” Mikhail pointed out.

“We’re not couriers either.”

“I know. But the money is good and we need to replenish our funds.”

“It’s too good,” Anjali countered, “Who in their right mind would pay that much just for a courier? Especially since there are plenty of established courier services around who’ll work for much less.”

“Our client is also paying for the extra security.”

“Yeah, but why?” Anjali adjusted her shawl and kept her head down against the snow and the icy wind. “Sure, those implants are almost certainly smuggled and very probably stolen, but they’re still not valuable enough to require extra security to deliver.”

Mikhail winked at her. “Well, I for one am not going to ask the person who is paying us an obscene amount of money for an easy delivery job just why she feels the need to do so…”

Anjali scanned their surroundings, a warehouse district that seemed largely deserted. “Are you sure this is the right way?”

“Quite sure,” Mikhail replied, “In fact, our destination should be right ahead.”

Like all warriors of the Shakyri Corps, Anjali had an implanted compass, which facilitated navigation in unknown terrain. But that was nothing against Mikhail’s uncanny knack — enhanced by some Republican nano-tech wizardry — for effortlessly locating any place anywhere.

“Your sense of direction continues to amaze me,” she remarked, “One of these days, you have to tell me just how the Republic makes this work.”

Mikhail shrugged. “There’s no big secret to it. I’ve been to Varishka before, on an undercover mission last year. Still have a few friends here, too.”

“Friends of yours or of whatever alias you used back then?”

In his time with the Republican Special Commando Forces, Mikhail had been an undercover agent, operating under a dozen different names on countless different worlds. The fact that they were on the run frequently required Mikhail to slip back into one of those aliases, becoming a completely different person. Even after several months together, Anjali still found this disconcerting.

“Both, actually,” Mikhail replied, “Most people here on Varishka only know me as the smuggler and merc I pretended to be back then. But I ran into a spot of trouble and needed an emergency upgrade for my nano-agents, so a handful of people here know who I really am.”

“Do you trust them?” Anjali wanted to know.

“As much as I trust anybody. They’re no friends of the Republic nor the Empire, that much is for sure.”

“And they still helped you? Even knowing you were a Republican agent?”

Mikhail winked at her. “I can be very charming. And very persuasive.”

Anjali could attest to that. After all, she’d fallen for the charming and persuasive side of Mikhail long before she knew who he really was. Though his sense of unerring direction had been uncanny even back then.

“And even a year later, you still remember every street and every corner in this city?”

Mikhail flashed her a quick smile. “Like you said, I’ve got an excellent sense of direction.” He broke off abruptly. “We’re here.”

“Here” turned out to be a warehouse with windowless walls of corrugated steel, probably pre-fab. The building would have been utterly unremarkable, if not for the sheer amount of sensors and camera eyes studding the walls.

“Pretty heavy security,” Anjali remarked.

“Maybe they have reason to be cautious,” Mikhail whispered back, “After all, this world is a den of crooks and thieves, like you said earlier. So maybe they have powerful enemies.”

“If that’s the case, then let’s deliver the implants and begone, cause I’d rather not be dragged into any conflict with those powerful enemies.”

“Same here,” Mikhail agreed.

Anjali studied the warehouse again. “So how do we let them know we’re here? Cause I don’t see any door signal.”

Mikhail nodded at the camera eyes set into the walls that seemed to be following them, as they moved around the outside of the warehouse.

“I think they already know we’re here.”

As if on cue, a portion of the wall swung away.

***

Inside, it was dark. Anjali’s heightened senses could make out boxes stacked on both sides of a narrow passage that led towards a single light at the end.

Of course, boxes and labyrinthine passages in warehouses were not exactly uncommon, nonetheless something about the whole set-up gave Anjali that tell-tale prickle at the back of her neck that told her they were walking into a trap.

Her right hand drifted to the grip of her blaster, while her left reached for the hilt of her dagger, the signature weapon of the Shakyri Corps. She cast a sideways glance at Mikhail, which told her that his hand was resting on the grip of his blaster, too.

Their steps slowed, as they cautiously moved forward, Anjali using her genetically enhanced senses to scan for potential dangers ahead.

A normal, unenhanced human, and even Mikhail, who was far from normal, would never have picked up the subtle sounds near the pool of light at the end of the passage. But Anjali did. She picked up the quickened breaths of nervous humans, the slight shuffling of feet jockeying for a better position, the gentle clicks of blasters and rifles being readied for action.

“Mikhail,” she whispered, “Run.”

And not a moment too soon, before a volley of gunfire opened on them.

They ran back down the passage, dodging and swerving to avoid the blaster bolts and bullets — Honestly, bullets? Who the fuck used projectile weapons these days? — crisscrossing the warehouse, only to realise that the door at the far end had swung shut.

They were trapped.

Mikhail pushed Anjali into a side passage, really nothing more than a gap between two shipping containers, and took up position at the entrance to return fire at their attackers.

The overhead lights came on, blindingly bright, allowing them to finally see their pursuers.

“Mine or yours?” Anjali asked, her body flattened against the wall of the container.

“Mine, I fear,” Mikhail replied, “Republican Special Commando Forces, a squad in full armour.”

“Fuck,” Anjali exclaimed.

Both the Republic and the Empire were hunting them, eager to bring the deserters and traitors to justice. Though it seemed to Anjali that the Republic was more enthusiastic about it. Probably because Mikhail hadn’t just walked out on his comrades and his country, he’d also walked on his mentor, who just happened to be the Deputy Commander of the Republican Special Commando Forces and was apparently the type to hold grudges.

While Mikhail kept returning fire at his former comrades, Anjali scanned their surroundings for a way out, only to find that there was none. The side passage, into which they’d ducked, ended after a few meters at the exterior wall of the warehouse. And the only exit was the one they’d come in through.

“It’s a dead end,” she said to Mikhail, raising her voice over the roar of the guns, “We’re trapped.”

“Maybe not,” Mikhail replied, keeping his eyes focussed on the enemy, while his blaster spat fire, “The wall’s standard corrugated steel, not very thick. We should be able to blast our way out.”

With his free hand, Mikhail reached into his black synth-leather coat and produced a standard magnetic charge with a five second timer. He flashed her a devilish smile.

“Could you take over for a moment, while I make us an exit?”

Anjali returned his smile. “My pleasure.”

She crouched down at the entrance of the passage to pick off the advancing Republicans, while Mikhail planted the charges.

Mikhail had fired to slow down the Republican troopers, but Anjali shot to stop them. They had never been her comrades and brothers-in-arms, after all, so she felt no guilt at maiming or even killing any of them.

Though the troopers turned out to be damned hard to kill, but then they were the best and deadliest the Republic had to offer. Which was pretty damn good and pretty damn deadly — after all, Anjali knew what Mikhail was capable of. And so the Republicans were already uncomfortably close by the time Mikhail had finished setting the charges.

He shouted a warning and shielded Anjali with his own body, as the charges exploded. The smoke had barely cleared, when he was back on his feet again, dragging Anjali towards the hole in the wall.

Anjali was just about the clamber through the hole, when the Republicans burst around the corner and fired. Mikhail fired back, covering her, and then she was outside, running towards the nearest corner that would take them back into the labyrinthine alleys of the commercial district, where they could hopefully lose their pursuers.

Just before she rounded the corner, Anjali felt an impact on her left calf, followed by a stab of pain. One of the Republicans had gotten lucky.

Adrenaline flooded her system, dulling the pain and allowing her to run after Mikhail, keeping up with his pace with very little effort. Not a serious wound then, just a graze that would heal in no time. Though Mikhail would probably fuss about it.

***

After countless twists and turns that would have left Anjali completely disoriented, if not for her implanted compass (and all that did was tell her which way was north), they had finally lost their pursuers. At any rate, Anjali hadn’t seen any sign of Republican troopers since a few corners back.

So Mikhail and Anjali allowed themselves a brief moment of rest behind a stack of food crates in an alley behind a restaurant.

“Did we lose them?” Anjali asked.

Mikhail peered around the stack of crates. “I think so. Seems almost too easy. As if they weren’t all that interested in apprehending us.”

“Or maybe we’re just that good.”

“I recognised some of those troopers. They’re as good as I am.”

“Well, how do they say? Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”

There was an unpleasant sensation — not pain exactly, but pressure — where Anjali had been shot, so she shifted her weight onto the other leg, which caused Mikhail to spot the blood on her calf.

“You’re hurt.”

“It’s nothing. Just a graze “

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because it’s nothing. One of those bastards got lucky, that’s all.”

“Sit down and let me take a look.”

Anjali shook her head. “There’s no time for that. And besides, I’ll heal.”

“I know that you will. But I’d like to take a look anyway.”

Because she knew that it was no use arguing with Mikhail, not where her health was concerned, Anjali obediently settled down on a crate and pulled up the hem of her utility pants to let Mikhail examine her injury.

On her left calf, there was a small round wound maybe a centimetre across. A projectile weapon then, not a blaster. Anjali should probably count herself lucky, since blasters left nasty burns, whereas projectile weapons left only holes.

There had been some bleeding, but it had stopped by now. And the wound was already closing thanks to the military grade nano-agents coursing through her bloodstream.

“See? It’s nothing.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” Mikhail said. He poked and prodded at the leg for a few moments, always extra careful not to hurt her. Then he produced a can of liquid bandage and sprayed it onto the wound.

“The projectile’s stuck inside your calf, but it hasn’t hit any bones or vital arteries. I’ll have to take it out later, but for now you should be able to walk, until we can find a place to lay low.”

“If the Republic’s here, we also need to warn Tyrone,” Anjali said.

“As soon as we’re safe.” Mikhail got up and helped Anjali to her feet.

She smiled at him. “See? I told you it’s noth… aahhh!”

“Anjali…” Mikhail wrapped his arms around her, steadying her. “…what is it? What’s wrong?”

“The bullet…” Anjali looked up at him, an expression of pure horror on her face. “…it’s moving.”

Smart bullets was what they were called. One of the many nasty inventions to come out of the weapons factories of the Republic. At first, they looked and behaved just like regular projectiles, but once they’d lodged themselves inside your body, they inevitably bored their way towards your heart, causing a lot of damage and excruciating pain along the way. They couldn’t be surgically removed either, since they tended to either explode or pump a load of lethal poison into the victim’s system. Though often, that was the kinder option.

Smart bullets had been banned by the Accords of Logabirum eight years ago and the Empire had never used them anyway, considering them cowardly weapons. But trust the Republican Special Commando Forces not to play by the rules.

Mikhail still held her crushed against his chest, while Anjali felt the bullet squirm its way up her leg. It wasn’t particularly fast, moving only a few millimetres per minute. But then it didn’t have to be fast. That way, the terror it inspired in the victim was even greater.

“What do we do?” she whispered, “Can’t the nanos take care of it?”

Mikhail shook his head. “Smart bullets can be programmed so that the nanos leave them alone. You’d need the exact frequency, of course, but…”

“…the Republic has that,” Anjali completed.

The Empire did not believe in nano-tech, one of the many things they did not believe in. And so the self-replicating, military grade nano-agents coursing through Anjali’s bloodstream had originally been Mikhail’s, a standard part of the enhancements all members of the Republican Special Commando Forces underwent. Anjali had ended up with them, when Mikhail gave her an emergency blood transfusion to save her life.

“So what do you do if you accidentally shoot one of your own people with one of those?” she wanted to know.

“There’s a deactivation code. Renders the bullet harmless.”

“So that’s why it was so easy to shake them off,” Anjali whispered. She still felt the bullet moving in her leg, so she clung even tighter to Mikhail, as if his solid presence could drive the pain and the horror away. “They never really wanted to capture us at all, they just wanted to tag us with the smart bullets to force us to surrender.”

Mikhail was about to say something, but then he clutched his right ear, as his old military com implant activated.

***

“Hi there, Grikov. Been a while.”

The voice that echoed through his com implant, a gruff and businesslike baritone that could be surprisingly kind on occasion, was one that Mikhail had known since he was eight years old.

“I trust you’ve found the bullet by now. Kendrick tells me he hit Patel in the leg.”

“Damn you, Brian. Damn you, you god-damned bastard.”

Mikhail felt Anjali’s questioning look on his face. His com implant was shielded from external eavesdroppers — even those with genetically enhanced Shakyri senses — so she could hear only his half of the conversation. He pulled her closer, as if his arms could shield her from the fate that awaited her.

“How could you do something like this? You know what those god-damned things do to human beings.”

“Yes, I do,” Brian Mayhew, Deputy Commander of the Republican Special Commando Forces and the closest thing Mikhail had to a steady presence in his life since he’d lost his family at the age of eight, said, “I know the effects of a smart bullet as well as you.”

There was a pause and some faint clicking in the background, which told Mikhail that Mayhew was reviewing information.

“Kendrick says he hit Patel in the calf. That means she has what… six hours, maybe eight. Though she’ll probably be begging for death long before then.”

“You fucking bastard!”

“I know you love the girl,” Mayhew continued, his tone surprisingly gentle, “I know you don’t want to see her suffer. So here’s the deal: Surrender, both of you, and you have my word that the smart bullet will be deactivated.”

“What does he want?” Anjali whispered.

“Surrender and he’ll deactivate the bullet,” Mikhail whispered back.

“So I can stand upright, when we face the firing squad? Screw that. Do you hear me, Mayhew? Screw you. There will be no deal.”

“I hear Lieutenant Patel is still spirited as ever, even in the face of an excruciating death,” Mayhew said, “I can understand what you see in her, Mikhail, I really can.”

“Damn you, Brian, why couldn’t you just leave us alone?”

“Because this is war, Mikhail. And war requires harsh measures. I know that and once you did, too.”

“You also once believed that torturing and abusing prisoners was wrong,” Mikhail countered.

There was a brief pause, which told Mikhail that his words had hit whatever shreds of a conscience Mayhew had left.

“I still do,” he said, “But I have my orders and orders must be obeyed, no matter our feelings.” There was another pause. “You once understood that, too.”

“Maybe I did,” Mikhail said, “Maybe I once followed orders without questioning. But then I opened my eyes and saw what we did. I saw what we did to Anjali, what we did at Unity, what we did during so many other missions. It’s wrong, Brian. What we did was wrong. And I want no more part of it.”

“You can argue about the morality of our actions at your trial,” Mayhew said, “And yes, you have my word that you will get a fair trial, though that’s all I can do for you.”

Mikhail had seen too many “fair trials” to know that the conclusion was foregone. If the Republic ever got their hands on him, he’d face the firing squad. And unlike many others who’d gotten fair trials at the hands of a Republican military tribunal, Mikhail had at least done most of the things he was accused of.

But this was no longer just about him. There was someone else in his life now, someone who meant everything to him, someone it was worth going to the firing squad for.

“And Anjali? What about her?”

“Surrender and we will deactivate the bullet.”

“And then? Will you promise that you’ll let her go, if I surrender? I’m the one you want, the traitor and deserter. Not her.”

Mayhew emitted a small sigh. “You know I can’t do that, Mikhail. Patel is still an enemy combatant and prisoner of war and she’ll be treated accordingly.”

“What will happen to her?”

Mayhew’s voice was final. “You know what. And for the record, I don’t like it either.”

Six months ago, Brian Mayhew had ordered Mikhail, then still a loyal officer of the Republican Special Commando Forces, to seduce and capture a member of the Shakyri Corps and bring her back, so Republican scientists could finally figure out just how the genetic enhancements the Empire used on the Shakyri warriors worked. Unfortunately, the only way to do that was via vivisection.

It would be painless, Mayhew had assured him. Anjali would be sedated all the time, she wouldn’t feel a thing. Nonetheless, Mikhail found that he could not consign another human being to such a fate, let alone the woman he’d fallen in love with. And so he’d taken Anjali and went on the run with her, leaving behind the only life he’d ever known. It was a decision he’d never regretted.

“You’re not honestly thinking of surrendering, are you?” Anjali wanted to know.

Mikhail shook his head. “It wouldn’t change a thing. You’d be dead either way and I’d be facing the firing squad or serving a life sentence.” He shot her a questioning look. “Unless you’d rather avoid the pain…?”

“I’m a Shakyri,” Anjali said through gritted teeth, “We’re not afraid of pain. And this way, you’ll at least be free and alive.”

Only that it wouldn’t matter without her. Anjali was his life, his light, his love. In not yet thirty years of life, Mikhail had already lost more than any one person should lose. He was not going to lose her, too.

“All right,” Mayhew’s voice said in his ear, “Now you’ve had the time to discuss the matter among yourselves, what is your answer?”

“The same one Anjali already gave you,” Mikhail said, his lips twisting into a feral smile, for an alternative plan had begun to form in his mind. All right, so it was really just a vague possibility, but anything was better than certain death for both of them.

“Screw you, Brian.”

“I’d really hoped you’d be reasonable, Mikhail,” Mayhew said, “Because now you force me to do this.”

Anjali cried out, as her wounded leg suddenly gave way beneath her. She would have fallen, if Mikhail hadn’t caught her.

“The bullet just released some of its poison load,” Mayhew said calmly, “For now, the leg is merely paralysed. Not fatal or irreversible, but she won’t be able to walk, unless I enter the deactivation code. It will also dull the pain, at least for a while. Call it an extra incentive.”

“Damn you, you fucking bastard,” Mikhail said, “If she dies, I swear that I’ll kill you.” He cut the connection.

Anjali clung to him, her face lined in pain. “Mikhail, what…?”

“The smart bullet injected a paralytic agent into your leg,” Mikhail explained, “Mayhew’s idea of an incentive.”

He swept Anjali up in his arms.

“It will only get worse, will it?”

Mikhail nodded.

“If… if it comes to the worst, you’ll be there, will you? Hold my hand, so I won’t have to face the end alone? Like you promised?”

Last year, when Anjali had still been his prisoner, slated for vivisection at the hands of the researchers of the Scientific Council, Mikhail had promised her that he wouldn’t leave her to face her fate alone, that he’d be with her till the end, holding her hand. It was a promise he’d hoped he would never have to keep.

Mikhail crushed her tighter to his chest and buried his face in her hair. “Of course, I’ll be there for you. I’ll always be there for you. And I won’t let you die.”

“I don’t think you’ll have much of a say about that,” Anjali whispered against his chest, “That thing is inside me now and we can’t get it out. Just promise me that no matter how bad it gets, you won’t surrender to Mayhew. I don’t want you suffering and dying on my behalf.”

“It’s not over yet,” Mikhail said, his voice choked with unshed tears, “I have a plan. It’s not a very good plan, but it might just work.”

“Right now any plan sounds good,” Anjali said weakly, “As long as it doesn’t involve surrendering.”

Once Anjali was settled in his arms, Mikhail strode off through the swirling snow, his nano-enhanced muscles carrying her as if she weighed nothing at all.

“Mayhew made a mistake,” he said grimly, “He shouldn’t have staged his ambush on a world I know better than he does, a world where I have friends.”

***

Some twenty minutes later, Mikhail Grikov burst into a non-descript shop in a side street, accompanied by a blast of icy wind and a flurry of snowflakes. Above the door, a buzzing red neon sign grandly proclaimed “Medical Clinic”. “Treatment against cash only” a smaller sign announced on the door itself.

Behind the door lay a small lobby, really just a few battered aluminium chairs and a counter. Behind the counter sat a pleasant-faced woman, watching a vid melodrama on her screen. She was in her thirties, with rosy cheeks and brown hair pulled back at the nape of her neck. The woman was dressed in a nurse’s uniform that had seen better days. A golden crucifix was gleaming at her throat.

As the door opened, a chime sounded. The woman behind the counter looked up to see Mikhail standing before her, the unconscious Anjali cradled in his arms. Recognition lit up her face.

“Mikhail?” the woman exclaimed, “You vanish for… like… a whole year and then you walk back in, as if nothing happened.”

“I’ll explain later, Sladjana,” Mikhail said, “But right now I need your help. Yours and Drago’s.”

Sladjana took one look at the unconscious Anjali and asked, “For her? What happened?”

“We got into a fire fight and she was shot.”

Sladjana sighed. “Will you ever come to see us when you’re not in dire trouble?”

“I was going to see you. Trouble just caught up with us first.” Mikhail took a deep breath. “You and Drago are our only hope. We can’t go anywhere else.”

Sladjana nodded. “I see. Bring her right in then.” She swept aside the plastic curtain that led to the treatment area. “I’ll fetch Drago.”

The treatment room looked just as bad as Mikhail remembered it. The place was grimy and dirty, more butcher’s shop than medical facility. The floor tiles were cracked, the steel walls rusty, the ventilation system hissing like a late stage lung cancer patient. The smell was appalling, the floor stained with splatters of blood and other, even less savoury bodily fluids. It looked more like a torture chamber than a place of treatment.

But beggars couldn’t be choosers. And besides, Drago Drakovic was the best black market cybersurgeon on the rim. If anybody could remove the bullet from Anjali’s leg without killing her, it was Drago.

Mikhail carried Anjali over to the treatment chair and laid her down. The chair was in no better condition than the rest of the clinic. It was at least forty years old and looked as if Drago had liberated it from a junkyard. The synth-leather covering was grimy and patched with duct tape in many places, but the chair was fully functional. The tiles underneath were splattered with old blood, while the instrumentation above the chair — designed and assembled by Drago himself — looked positively sinister.

But in spite of the dismal surroundings in which he worked, Drago knew his job. Mikhail had met him and his sister Sladjana during his undercover mission last year, when Mikhail had been hit with a pulse gun that had caused the nanos in his bloodstream to go awry. Drago had managed to reprogram the nanos and done his job so well that even the head of the medical facility of the Special Commando Forces had been impressed.

Draco and Sladjana had also kept the truth about Mikhail’s identity to themselves, even though they could probably have earned a load of credits, if they’d sold him out to one of the many crime syndicates operating on Varishka. They were friends and Mikhail didn’t have many of those.

On the chair, Anjali moaned and Mikhail brushed her sweat-matted hair from her forehead. He hated seeing her like this, hated what Mayhew and his bullet had done to her, were doing to her.

He knelt beside the chair and took her hand in his, just like he’d promised. “Don’t worry, I’m here. I’ll always be here,” he whispered and pressed a kiss onto the back of her hand.

Anjali had lost consciousness sometime ago, while Mikhail carried her through the streets of Varishka City. But though she likely couldn’t hear him, couldn’t feel his hand clutching hers, it nonetheless seemed to him as if she became calmer.

“Mikhail?”

Drago stepped into the treatment parlour, followed by Sladjana. He had the same round face, ruddy cheeks and brown hair as his sister. It made him look jovial in spite of his sinister profession. As always, Drago was dressed in a simple grey coverall and boots of black plastic, encrusted with all sorts of substances. Over the coverall, he wore a plastic apron that had once been white, a long time ago.

“It’s been ages. Where have you been, old friend?”

“I’ll explain later,” Mikhail repeated, “But right now, we need your help.”

Drago spotted the patient on the treatment chair and promptly became all businesslike.

“All right, who is she? And what happened?”

“She’s my partner,” Mikhail replied, “And she’s got a smart bullet stuck in her left leg.”

“Oh my God,” Sladjana exclaimed and crossed herself.

“A smart bullet?” Drago said, “Fuck. I thought only you guys had those toys.”

Mikhail winced. “It was one of ‘my guys’ who shot her.”

“Your guys?” Sladjana said, “But I thought…”

Mikhail took a deep breath. Might as well let it all out. “I’m no longer with the Republican Special Commando Forces. I’m… well, technically I’m a traitor and deserter.”

Drago emitted a deep belly laugh and clapped Mikhail on the back. “Ah, so you’ve finally decided to take my advice and took your skills to the free market.”

Mikhail was about to point out that it hadn’t been that way, not really. But there were more important things to attend to, such as Anjali.

Drago had already put on his cyberhelmet, which made him look like an insectoid alien from a horror vid. He bent down to examine Anjali.

“How long ago was she shot?”

“Half an hour maybe,” Mikhail replied, “The bullet went into her calf. We thought everything was okay, until it started moving.”

“She looks in a bad way for only half an hour,” Drago remarked.

“My… the bastard who once was my commander had the bullet release a paralytic agent as an extra incentive.”

“A paralysing smart bullet as an incentive?” Sladjana exclaimed in horror, “Goodness, Mikhail, what did you do to piss those people off?”

Mikhail flashed her a wry smile. “Fall in love,” he said, “With an officer of the Imperial Shakyri Expeditionary Corps.”

“Is that who she is?” Sladjana asked, “I thought the symbol on her dagger looked familiar.”

“She’s a Shakyri?” Drago wanted to know, “Damn, I’ve never met one of them before. If only half of the things they say about them are true…”

“Most of them are true,” Mikhail said, “Can you help her, Drago? She… she means everything to me.”

In response, Drago flipped up his helmet. “I think I can. Though you will have to donate some of your nano-agents to her.”

Mikhail shook his head. “Not necessary. I already did. Emergency transfusion.”

Drago raised an eyebrow. “Looks like you’ll have a bunch of stories to tell after we finish with your partner here.”

“But the nanos aren’t affecting the bullet,” Mikhail said, “My former bosses programmed the projectile so the nanos would ignore it.”

Drago flashed him a smug smile. “Yeah, but nanos can be reprogrammed. As you should well know. And now get out of the way, while I do my job. Sladjana, strap her down.”

Sladjana stepped forward to close the straps that held the patient on the treatment chair. And though Anjali was unconscious, she began to thrash about.

Mikhail squeezed her hand. “It’s all right. They’re friends and they’re here to help.”

Anjali promptly calmed down, allowing Sladjana to tighten the straps.

“Mikhail…” Drago said warningly. His helmet was down again, his voice muffled.

“Why don’t you go to the waiting room and have a cup of coffee?” Sladjana said gently, “There’s nothing you can do here.”

Mikhail knew that there was nothing he could do, that Anjali’s life lay in Drago’s hands now. But he still had a promise to keep.

“Can I stay, please? I promised that I’d always be with her and hold her hand.”

“His presence seems to calm her,” Sladjana whispered to her brother.

Drago finally relented. “All right, you may stay. But keep out of my way and don’t argue.”

“Wouldn’t think of it.” Mikhail moved out of the way to let Drago and Sladjana work, never letting go of Anjali’s hand. “And Drago… thank you.”

“That’s what friends are for,” Drago mumbled and got to work.

***

A tense four hours later, Anjali came to again. Her leg hurt, dulled by what had to be some heavy-duty painkiller, but otherwise she was still very much alive to her own surprise.

She blinked, blinded by the surgery lights that were shining down on her, way too bright. When she opened her eyes again, she found Mikhail smiling down at her. His hand was entwined with hers, just as he’d promised her all those months ago.

“Hi there,” he said.

“Hi yourself.” Anjali attempted a smile, though she wasn’t sure whether she succeeded. “What happened?” She remembered the shot, the bullet moving up her leg, the pain. “The bullet, what…?”

“It’s gone.” Mikhail squeezed her hand. “You’re safe.”

“But I…I thought it couldn’t be removed.” A horrible thought dawned on her. “You… you didn’t surrender, did you? This isn’t the last time I get to see you, before they haul me off to the lab and you before the firing squad?”

“No, of course not.” Mikhail bent down and planted a kiss on her forehead. “You know I wouldn’t surrender.”

“But then how?”

“That would be thanks to me,” a new voice said. A second later, a man in his thirties with a round, jolly face and a shock of brown unruly hair appeared in her field of vision. “I reprogrammed the nano-agents in your bloodstream to recognise and neutralise the smart bullet, so I could remove it.” He held up a gleaming projectile covered in circuitry. “I’ve got it here, just in case you want a souvenir.”

“Not particularly, no,” Anjali said. She shot Mikhail a questioning look. “Who…?”

Mikhail smiled. “Allow me to introduce you to my good friend Drago Drakovic, the best black market cybersurgeon on the rim.”

Mikhail turned to the surgeon. “Drago, this is Anjali Patel, my love and partner in crime.”

The surgeon, Drakovic, took Anjali’s free hand and shook it. “Well, after poking around in your body, it’s a pleasure to finally meet the woman who persuaded Mikhail here to turn his back on the Republic. And may I just say that I’m extremely impressed by everything I’ve heard about the Shakyri Corps, Ms. Patel?”

“Th… thank you,” Anjali said, “For everything.”

Mikhail and Drakovic turned around, as a third person entered the room. A few seconds later, a woman who shared Drakovic’s round face and brown hair, looked down at Anjali.

“Oh, I see the patient is awake,” the woman said, “Just in time, too, cause I’ve made a pot of pasulj.” She smiled at Anjali, a pleasant smile. “Now that horrible bullet is out, a good hot bowl of pasulj will make you feel better in no time.”

Noticing Anjali’s questioning glance, Mikhail said, “This is Sladjana, Drago’s sister. They’re both very good friends.”

Those had to be the friends he’d mentioned earlier then.

“Pleased to meet you both,” Anjali said, “I have just one question. What is pas…?”

Pasulj? It’s bean soup. A good hearty bean soup.”

Anjali attempted another smile. “Bean soup sounds excellent. Though where I come from, we call it dal.”

“You’ll have to tell us all about that,” Sladjana said, “And how the two of you met, of course. It must have been very romantic.”

Anjali and Mikhail exchanged a glance.

“We first met in a luxury resort on Brahimi Prime…” Anjali began.

“We danced, walked along the beach, went sailing,” Mikhail continued.

Sladjana clapped her hands. “Oh, that sounds very romantic.”

“It was,” Anjali said, “For a while. Until the Republic showed up and ruined everything. Then it was just dark cells, restraints and sensory deprivation masks…”

Mikhail reached for her hand and squeezed it, a silent apology for the role he’d played in her capture. Anjali returned the squeeze and smiled at him.

It’s okay. I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago.

“And then we spent several days trapped in a crashed spaceship in the frozen wastes of Brahimi Tertius,” Mikhail continued, “We fought, talked…”

“…and in the end, we decided that we’d rather be together and free than prisoners of our respective governments,” Anjali completed, “And that’s how we ended up here on the rim.”

“That sounds like one hell of a story,” Drago said.

“And we’d just love to hear more about it over dinner,” Sladjana said and helped Anjali to her feet, “But now come. The pasulj is waiting.”

Anjali began to follow her, but she was still a little wobbly on her feet and promptly swayed. Mikhail was by her side at once, supporting her.

“Easy,” Drago said, “I may have taken out the bullet, but you’re still weak.”

He lowered his voice. “Not that I mind having the two of you stay with us, but if your people are here on Varishka…”

He nodded to Mikhail.

“…you should find passage of planet ASAP.”

“I know,” Mikhail said.

“Any ideas?”

Mikhail and Anjali exchanged a glance.

“There’s a freighter in port,” Mikhail finally said, “The Freedom’s Horizon. The Captain and the crew are friends and they’ve helped us before. I hate to involve them in this again, but…”

“…it looks like we have no choice,” Anjali completed, “We’ll have to warn them anyway. After all, they helped us to escape from Metra Litko and I’m pretty sure Mayhew is the sort to hold grudges.”

“Then you’d best call them,” Drago said, “Soon.”

The End

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new free story will be posted.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for July 2022

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie and small press authors newly published this month, though some June books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have urban fantasy, epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, fantasy romance, paranormal romance, paranormal mystery, science fiction romance, space opera, military science fiction, weird western, horror, wizards, werewolves, domens, elves, fox shifters, Greek mythology, alien invasions, space marines, space pirates, space cops, crime-busting witches, haunted streetcars and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

The Princess Paradigm by Lindsay BurokerThe Princess Paradigm by Lindsay Buroker:

Elven princesses aren’t supposed to fall for brutish human warriors, especially not warriors from an empire of ferocious conquerers.

But when the tattooed Colonel Mrothgar stalks into the elven court, claiming to be there on a diplomatic mission, Princess Hysithea has to learn more about him.

Not because he’s handsome and his smile makes her insides melt. As a princess, it’s her duty to protect her people, and she needs to find out if the colonel is a threat to them.

But what if the answer is yes? And what if her heart leads her astray?

She can’t protect her people if she falls in love with the man who wants to conquer them.

Corsairs: Mathiras by Ruby DixonCorsairs: Mathiras by Ruby Dixon:

Someone is illegally stealing humans from their home world and cloning them.

For months, we’ve been hunting this ring of criminals and the end is in sight. I’m separating from my brothers and taking my ship to track down the bad guys.

One small problem — Helen insists upon joining me on this dangerous mission.

Helen herself is a clone, created to be an object of beauty. She’s not safe if she goes with me, as her kind are coveted all across the universe. But she’s not interested in staying safe. She’s interested in staying at my side…and tempting me to kiss her.

And kef me, is it ever a temptation.

Am I really going to run headlong into danger with the universe’s most beguiling female at my side? Am I going to be able to resist her charms?

(I think we all know the answers to those questions.)

Underworld Elements by Rachel FordUnderworld Elements by Rachel Ford:

They say the only guarantees in life are death and taxes, but they forget crime.

Not Space Station Frontera’s Marshal Kalandri, though. Crime is her business. And on Frontera, a port truly on the frontier of inhabited space? Well, job security is never a worry.

When a station-wide power outage enables a brazen heist, Kalandri is tasked with finding the culprits and retrieving the stolen goods. She knows just who is behind it, too.

Dani “Dusty” Agincourt: the beautiful underworld queen who always seems to be one step ahead of the law.
Proving it is going another thing altogether, though – because Dusty has covered her tracks, and covered them well.

When the privateer ship Black Flag pulls into port with the parts needed to fix the power system – and an unexpected stowaway – things go from bad to worse. Because that’s when the killings start.

To stop a ruthless assassin, the lawwoman and the underworld queen are going to have to strike a truce. It’s a risky business, and Kalandri knows she’ll regret it.

If she lives that long, anyway.

Space Station Frontera is an all-new space opera series in the Black Flag world. It features new characters and new adventures, and can be read independently of the Black Flag series.

Judas Kiss by Rachel FordJudas Kiss by Rachel Ford:

Mercy is weakness. Forgiveness is blasphemy. Sin is crime.

Agata and Father Edlin have made a new life on a colony of outcasts and fugitives far beyond the tyranny of the Union. He practices his heretical faith in freedom, without fear of prosecution, and she and her little ship supply their colony. Life is good.

And then an old friend – and sometimes enemy – arrives, with a desperate plea for help. Soon, they find themselves back in the Union, racing against time to unravel a terrible conspiracy.

A conspiracy that might blow the Union apart at the seams and ignite an intergalactic holy war in the process.

A holy war that will destroy them and any hope of a new life.

Witch at the End of the Tunnel by Lily Harper HartWitch at the End of the Tunnel by Lily Harper Hart:

Vanity is the one thing Hali Waverly has never understood. That’s about to become a weakness.

Life at the Salty Cauldron is going well…right up until a body washes onto the beach. The dead woman, who is forty years younger than her husband, had a run-in with Hali in her tiki bar the previous day. Authorities assume it was an accidental drowning, but a mark on the dead woman’s neck gives Hali pause.

Grayson Hunter finds himself in a pickle when the identity of the body becomes public. Seems he was the one hired by the victim’s husband to investigate her extra-curricular activities. Surprisingly enough, it turns out she wasn’t having an affair. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t up to something nefarious.

Crossing paths has Hali and Gray partnering up for a second time, and as tense as things are between them, things are worse when they enter the world of Selfie Planet, the victim’s place of business.

Vanity goes by many names, has many faces. The one Gray and Hali find themselves facing off with is dark and menacing. There’s more going on than selfies and rampant narcissism, however. There’s also a mirror monster and several soulless individuals walking around making things worse.

Separately, Hali and Gray are forces to be reckoned with. Together, they can handle almost anything…except maybe this.

Worlds are about to collide, and nothing will ever be the same again.

Harmony and Disharmony by Bill HiattHarmony and Disharmony by Bill Hiatt:

Orpheus is not interested in inheriting his father’s throne. He wants nothing more than to use music to bring joy to his fellow mortals. Jason believes that nothing is more important than wresting his father’s throne from a usurper. He wants to perform heroic feats that will earn him as much glory as possible. Under ordinary circumstances, Orpheus and Jason would probably never have met. Certainly, they would never have been allies. But scheming gods plunge them into adventures greater than either of them has ever imagined. Both of them want to achieve their respective dreams. But facing hostile armies, monsters, and even conflicts among the gods will force them into horrible dilemmas. Will they sacrifice their dreams, or will they die trying to preserve them?

Invasion by Joshua JamesInvasion by Joshua James:

THEY INVADED.
THEY CONQUERED.
THEY UNDERESTIMATED.

The War of the Worlds gets turbocharged in this nonstop action-packed thriller about a group of survivors thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

When aliens arrive on Earth, the tiny town of Little Creek isn’t any more prepared than the rest of the planet.

Without warning or provocation, the otherworldly creatures begin to lay waste to everything.

In the chaos that follows, an unlikely group bands together:

A beauty queen with something to prove…
A shopkeeper with something to hide…
A shellshocked teenager set on revenge…
And a world-weary veteran desperate to save them all.

As time runs out, this ragtag crew must find a way to fight back against the alien forces massing around them.

What are they? What do they want? How can they be stopped?

If they fail, it won’t just be Little Creek that is lost.

It will be all of humanity.

A Book of Blades, edited by L.D. Whitney and Matt JohnA Book of Blades, edited by Matt John and L.D. Whitney:

Within this tome are buried the blades of warriors, thieves, and wizards. Tales of their deeds, glories, and triumphs shall ring throughout the ages.

Rogues in the House Podcast has gathered the best tales of Sword & Sorcery from across the community.

Here, brave adventurers will find stories lovingly crafted from Heroic Fantasy greats such as Howard Andrew Jones, John R. Fultz, and John C. Hocking. At their side are up and coming genre authors Chuck Clark, T.A. Markitan, Cora Buhlert, and many more.

Includes artwork from various artists, including Morgan King, director of Spine of the Night, and Sara Frazetta, granddaughter of the Legend himself!

Witch is the Word by Amanda M. LeeWitch Is the Word by Amanda M. Lee:

Hadley Hunter is finally getting a handle on life as a witch. Island living isn’t always beautiful sunsets and fruity cocktails, but things have never been better…until a body washes up on the beach during a private picnic with her boyfriend Galen Blackwood.

The body belongs to a local business manager, who just happens to be married to the daughter of one of the richest men on the island. Unfortunately for their victim, nobody – including his wife and daughters – seems to care that he’s gone. The deeper they dig, the more dirt they come up with on the victim … and the clues lead them straight to the isolated coven on the far side of the island.

Hadley doesn’t know a lot about witches, including herself, but what she learns doesn’t leave her with warm and fuzzy feelings. These witches mean business, and they’re intent on keeping their secrets from seeing the light of day.

When more bodies start dropping, all coven members, Hadley realizes something very big is about to happen. What, though?
With Galen and their friends at her side, Hadley is ready to engage in a new type of battle. This one is bigger than witches because it leads right through the heart of the island’s government body, the terrifying DDA.

Hadley thought she was adjusting but things are about to change. The question is, when the dust settles, who will be left standing and what side will they be on?

Sinister Magic by N.P. MartinSinister Magic by N.P. Martin:

A Dead Witch. A Dark Elf. An Avenging Wizard

The name’s Corvin Chance, and though I was born with magical abilities, I’d rather be playing my guitar in one of my local pubs than running around flashing my magic.

Until someone murdered my mother that is.

Now I’m slinging magic around the streets of Dublin as I try to find out who killed her. A gangster elf who crowned himself the king of the south is my main suspect. But besides being powerful and sociopathic, the elf is also part of a murderous cabal that includes a bloodthirsty vampire prince. I’m good, but not that good.

Luckily, I have my two best friends: Dalia, a sardonic Demi-Fae who could scare the bejeezus out of Lucifer himself; and Monty, a wise-cracking street magician and YouTube star with a gift for cybermancy and conjuring.

Together we will enter a dangerous Dublin underbelly populated by dark elves, vampires, goblins, and orcs to discover just who killed my mother and why… if we don’t die ourselves first, that is.

Join me and my oddball motley crew as we attempt to solve a murder, exact justice and just maybe… get a pint of the black stuff afterwards.

Last Car to Annwn Station by Michael MerriamLast Car to Annwn Station by Michael Merriam:

One week to save the child, bargain with Death and get the girl…

Child Protective Services Attorney Maeve Malveaux is sure that Chrysandra Arneson needs to be rescued from her rich, powerful and abusive family. But how? Her boss won’t listen to her and neither will the judge. But after she gets taken off the case and sent on involuntary leave to get her out of the way, she’s determined to find out what’s going on.

She’s not counting on joining forces with Jill, the gorgeous law librarian from work, and a mismatched collection of fairy folk. Or getting the ghostly assistance of the long-defunct Minneapolis streetcar system. And, perhaps, even a hand from Death himself. Mae and Jill are about to be caught up in a supernatural power struggle that will take them on an adventure from the Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis into faery realms and beyond. All they need is a dime for the streetcar fare and a little help from their new allies to be on their way. But will it be enough to save a little girl and get them where they need to go? They’ve only got a week to find out…

I Have Asked To Be Where No Storms Come by Gwendolyn N. NixI Have Asked To Be Where No Storms Come by Gwendolyn N. Nix:

The demons are coming, and Hell’s coming with them.

A weird west alternate history horror novel set in Hell. “…like Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy teaming up to reboot Dante’s Inferno as a Western.”—Michael Pogach

The facts of Domino Bluepoint’s afterlife are simple in this horror adventure: he’s a half-breed witch from a people without a name, and no one wants to be stuck in Hell with witch blood.

When a demon bounty-hunter comes calling, Domino pairs up with his mother, who died too young and carries the witch lineage in her veins, to survive. Soon the two of them are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid running from whatever torture awaits them and whoever wants to harvest their magic.

Yet, Domino doesn’t know that his brother, Wicasah, is behind this and is desperate to resurrect Domino out of long-lasting guilt and a sensation of belonging to no place and no one.

As Wicasah dives deeper into darker magic that ends in an ill-made deal, Domino must overcome addiction, depression, and hone his own brand of witch-magic to help save his brother—and the world—from an ancient god.

I Have Asked to be Where No Storms Come is perfect for fans of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, supernatural fiction, dark fantasy, adult horror books.

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depth.

Fox Heart by Hollis ShilohFox Heart by Hollis Shiloh:

There are too many cops in my life. First there’s Ken, the guy I’ve been seeing. I’ve been his secret for far too long. Now he wants to join the Shifters and Partners organization—with me as his partner.

I’m not convinced. There’s also this wolf hanging around now. Eli works with the cops, and he’s awfully easy to get a rise out of. But he’s also kind of my friend now. And he’s…hot?

Fox shifters and wolf shifters don’t mix. Everybody knows that. But this situation is starting to get tricky for my poor heart.

What am I supposed to do when love is always just around the corner—for somebody else, but not for me?

Discretion by Glynn StewartDiscretion by Glynn Stewart:

A crew, scattered across enemy lines
A father, separated from his daughter
A daughter who will not wait for rescue

The bounty for bringing down a major crime syndicate may have removed Captain Evridiki “EB” Bardacki’s immediate financial needs, but no freighter captain wants to fly empty between the stars.

A cargo mission to run a blockade seems within his crew’s unique mix of talents, and he agrees to supply weapons to one side of a stalemated civil war in the Estutmost star system.

The sudden collapse of the stalemate puts EB on the wrong side of the front lines from his adopted daughter.

He took down a crime syndicate to protect her once—what’s a planetary military or two?

Breaker Marine by James David VictorBreaker Marine by James David Victor:

As a breaker, she was destined to live a hard life serving the whims of galactic corporations. As an Earth Alliance Marine, she has a chance to change the balance of power in the galaxy.

Holly Cropper grew up as a Breaker, mining the outer reaches of space. Now, she’s an up-and-coming lieutenant in the Earth Alliance Marines. Her mission: keep the peace and help humanity survive in the endless darkness of space. When a distress call comes in from a large mining vessel, her orderly world gets turned upside down. What starts with a simple pirate takeover turns into a hostile alien invasion. This Breaker Marine and her small team might be the only thing standing between humanity and annihilation at the hands of ancient aliens.

Breaker Marine is the first book in the Star Breaker series. If you like fast-paced space adventures with interesting characters who battle aliens, evil corporations, and space pirates, Holly Cropper and her team of Marines are ready to share their epic adventure with you.

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for July 2022


Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of crime fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some June books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries,  historical mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, paranormal mysteries, crime thrillers, adventure thrillers, legal thrillers, police procedurals, romantic suspense, police officers, FBI agents, lawyers, journalists, amateur sleuths, missing persons, serial killers, poachers, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting realtors, murder and mayhem in London, Edinburgh, Cornwall, South Dakota, Michigan, Florida and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Murder, Perhaps by Beth ByersMurder, Perhaps by Beth Byers:

When Vi gets a visit from her brother, Geoffrey, she is delighted. Their relationship has been shaky from the beginning, but he’s older now. He even seems to have shaken off the claws of his mother.

Even so, when he tells Vi he’s seen a murder, she can’t quite believe it. It becomes clear that their relationship may never recover if she doesn’t take him seriously. Before long, Vi faces more than an investigation. She’s dealing with a nightmare she never expected: asking questions about a doubtful murder with her stepmother, her brother, and her father.

The mystery quickly becomes not whether she’ll find the killer, but whether her sanity will survive the investigation.

All Or Nothing by John CarsonAll Or Nothing by John Carson:

Practice makes perfect. Even in death.

DCI Harry McNeil is back at the helm, joined by his old friend, DI Frank Miller. He is juggling his private life with being a single father, running a new Major Investigation Team, and spending time with a woman who may or may not become more than just friends.

Edinburgh at New Year is a time for celebration, fun, and for one person, murder.

The festivities leading up to Hogmanay are tinged with fear as Harry’s team gets a shout when the murdered body of a woman is found floating in the Water of Leith near the docks.

A vicious killer has left his mark and Harry’s new team is put to the test.

But with time running out, the killer is going to be knocking on Harry McNeil’s door, in more ways than one…

Paradise Gone by David CrosbyParadise Gone by David Crosby:

AN ENDANGERED FLORIDA PANTHER, A DEADLY
POACHER, AND A KID IN TROUBLE…

Hotshot Florida journalist Will Harper, known for reporting hard-hitting stories (and for living on a trawler), is quietly doing both those things when cans of worms suddenly explode in all directions.

His story-in-progress seems safe enough, even a bit predictable—it’s about overdevelopment killing Florida culture and wildlife. But when he contacts a wildlife photographer for information, he finds himself listening to a much more compelling yarn than the one he’s working on. The photographer and her assistant recently filmed a mother black bear tragically killed by a poacher in front of her cubs.

And then the poacher, carefully setting his sights on the humans, shot her assistant right in front of her.

Rushing to get help, she returned with the police only to find that both the wounded man and the bear’s corpse had disappeared. With no evidence, the cops declined to investigate

Enter the ever-quixotic investigative reporter—if no one else is going to look into this, Will sure will.

But his investigation is hampered by a new development that’s destroying his domestic peace and quiet. It seems his girlfriend neglected to mention she has a teenage daughter who’s hell on wheels and who’s now been to sent to live with her mom and Will—which means their once-peaceful trawler is now home to squabbling, tension, and teen-age angst.

So while Will is hellbent on trying to track down the missing assistant, he’s also got to keep this teenager from finding a way to get in touch with her psycho biker boyfriend. Watch the exceedingly nimble Will juggle his article on gorgeous (and disappearing) Florida culture, his investigation into the deadly poacher’s ghastly crimes, and his big-hearted attempts to keep the angry teenager from being kidnapped by the so-called “love of her life.”

All in a day’s work for this guy.

Witch at the End of the Tunnel by Lily Harper HartWitch at the End of the Tunnel by Lily Harper Hart:

Vanity is the one thing Hali Waverly has never understood. That’s about to become a weakness.

Life at the Salty Cauldron is going well…right up until a body washes onto the beach. The dead woman, who is forty years younger than her husband, had a run-in with Hali in her tiki bar the previous day. Authorities assume it was an accidental drowning, but a mark on the dead woman’s neck gives Hali pause.

Grayson Hunter finds himself in a pickle when the identity of the body becomes public. Seems he was the one hired by the victim’s husband to investigate her extra-curricular activities. Surprisingly enough, it turns out she wasn’t having an affair. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t up to something nefarious.

Crossing paths has Hali and Gray partnering up for a second time, and as tense as things are between them, things are worse when they enter the world of Selfie Planet, the victim’s place of business.

Vanity goes by many names, has many faces. The one Gray and Hali find themselves facing off with is dark and menacing. There’s more going on than selfies and rampant narcissism, however. There’s also a mirror monster and several soulless individuals walking around making things worse.

Separately, Hali and Gray are forces to be reckoned with. Together, they can handle almost anything…except maybe this.

Worlds are about to collide, and nothing will ever be the same again.

The Escrow Escape by CeeCee JamesThe Escrow Escape by CeeCee James:

It’s a Georgie and Stella combo!

Stella’s routine is getting back to normal after her mother’s trip to Poland. But even the simplest things can lead to unexpected adventures. While searching for a mystery at the local bookstore, Stella picks up an abandoned book. A handwritten note falls out with an odd message: Where she goes there are no shoes…

When she mentions the note to her Oscar, her grandpa, the retired FBI agent tells her about the missing persons case he couldn’t solve a decade ago and shows her an old newspaper clipping. The photo shows the phrase spray painted on a wall, with red paint. Before long, Stella is wrapped up in the strangest mystery she’s faced yet.

Three Ring Murder by CeeCee JamesThree Ring Murder by CeeCee James:

Perfect for readers who love mysteries with unforgettable characters. Join Trixie in this newest cozy mystery where she must rescue her friend Jerry, accused for the death of the Mayor! With the evidence in plain sight, it seems the detectives have the right guy. But Trixie remembers a certain someone sneaking around the Big Top who didn’t belong, despite being a respected politician. With Prancer, her horse, and the many circus dogs, Trixie is on the hunt for both evidence and the true villain.

Then she discovers he may be on the hunt for her. Can she catch him in time in this fast-paced mystery?

Cold Evidence by Robin JamesCold Evidence by Robin James:

A murder so brutal, only a monster could have committed it. The accused had no motive. But there’s a mountain of evidence against him.

A decorated war hero, Ty Chapman has built his dream life in the quiet lakeside community of Delphi, Michigan. He has a beautiful wife. A baby on the way. Everything to live for. He’s the last person anyone would suspect of beating a local handyman to death behind a seedy motel. But when two credible witnesses see him running from the crime scene, hands bloodied, the police believe they have him cold.

There has to be a reason for the killing. But the prime suspect won’t talk. Not even to his lawyer.

Cass Leary is Delphi’s top defense attorney. In Ty Chapman, she’s finally got a client who can afford her. Only Ty goes mute anytime she tries to get his side of the story. All she has is a parade of character witnesses who swear Ty isn’t capable of such a heinous act.

The more Cass delves into the mystery, the more questions she has about the victim. Only most of what she learns is inadmissible in court and Ty still won’t tell her what really happened in those woods. If that weren’t enough, Cass gets a call that her former mob boss has gone missing and the FBI thinks she’s the key to finding him. Their timing couldn’t be worse as Cass heads into the courtroom to argue for Ty Chapman’s future.

Will Cass’s fight win her client’s freedom or expose an even more shocking truth?

Witch is the Word by Amanda M. LeeWitch Is the Word by Amanda M. Lee:

Hadley Hunter is finally getting a handle on life as a witch. Island living isn’t always beautiful sunsets and fruity cocktails, but things have never been better…until a body washes up on the beach during a private picnic with her boyfriend Galen Blackwood.

The body belongs to a local business manager, who just happens to be married to the daughter of one of the richest men on the island. Unfortunately for their victim, nobody – including his wife and daughters – seems to care that he’s gone. The deeper they dig, the more dirt they come up with on the victim … and the clues lead them straight to the isolated coven on the far side of the island.

Hadley doesn’t know a lot about witches, including herself, but what she learns doesn’t leave her with warm and fuzzy feelings. These witches mean business, and they’re intent on keeping their secrets from seeing the light of day.

When more bodies start dropping, all coven members, Hadley realizes something very big is about to happen. What, though?
With Galen and their friends at her side, Hadley is ready to engage in a new type of battle. This one is bigger than witches because it leads right through the heart of the island’s government body, the terrifying DDA.

Hadley thought she was adjusting but things are about to change. The question is, when the dust settles, who will be left standing and what side will they be on?

The Girl and the Twisted End by A.J. RiversThe Girl and the Twisted End by A.J. Rivers:

A horrific beginning.
Ends with the most unexpected twist…

Marie was young, beautiful, and vibrant.
Her life was cruelly taken from her.
Her murderer still roams this world, potentially looking for a new prey.
With Sam devoting himself to finally bringing an end to Marie’s case, Emma dives further into the twisted worlds of corruption and brutality, to finally bring an end to the mystery behind Miley’s disappearance…
As the pieces seem to fall into place to bring an end to the cases FBI Agent Emma Griffin has been chasing, unexpected people come into her life.

The question is… what are their true motives?
Who or what do you believe?

All questions are ready to be answered.
All the mysteries lead to one twisted and shocking conclusion.
There’s a storm brewing around Emma Griffin.
Will she get through the eye of the storm or get swept up into utter destruction?

The Creek by L.J. RossThe Creek by L.J. Ross:

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE…

Kate Irving arrives at her grandfather’s cottage at Frenchman’s Creek in the dead of night with her young son, a small suitcase and little else. Its scattered community of fishermen, farmers, artists and jetsetters barely bat an eyelid, because theirs is a rarefied world, tucked beneath the lush forest that lines the banks of the Helford estuary, deep in the heart of Cornwall, where life is slow and people generally mind their own business. Unless, of course, your grandfather happens to be a pillar of the local community…

Kate’s left the past behind and guards her privacy and her son fiercely. She’s wary of accepting the friendship her new neighbours offer, but their kindness is too great to refuse and she begins to feel she has found her place in the world. That is, until tragedy strikes, and her new friends look to her for the answers…

Kate soon learns that the past always catches up with you, in the end—the question is, will she be able to face it, when it does?

Suspense is peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced mystery, set amidst the spectacular Cornish landscape.

Man Overboard by Wayne StinnettMan Overboard by Wayne Stinnett:

Jesse McDermitt has returned to the Florida Keys. But things in the islands are different now. The locals are worried, but nobody can explain why. A sense of foreboding hangs in the humid July air.

One of the locals, an investment banker, is waiting tables at the Rusty Anchor Bar and Grill. He seems a shell of the man he used to be—a hollow man whose fortune and wife are gone. He’s tight-lipped about how he came to be a guest in Rufus’s little shack behind the bar.

Something very sinister is going on—Jesse smells it. He’s usually very good at rooting out the source of a problem, but is stumped this time. Will he figure it out in time to stop it from happening to someone else?

Until another tight-lipped hollow man shows up.

Murder at the Boxing Club by Lee StraussMurder at the Boxing Club by Lee Strauss:

Murder’s a knockout!

Despite her misgivings and general distaste for fighting sports, Mrs. Ginger Reed, also known as Lady Gold, agrees to attend a boxing match to support her adopted son’s cousin, a street fighter who’s quickly risen in the ranks.

But when his opponent, the presumed champion-to-be, drops out and then drops dead, Ginger and her husband, Basil, a chief inspector at Scotland Yard, investigate. Was the fighter dead because of sports-betting gone awry? Were London gangs involved? And has an old, but newly present danger returned to threaten the Reed family?

When one of their own falls prey, the gloves come off and the fight becomes personal. Can Ginger and Basil save their family and stop a killer before the towel is thrown in the ring?

Without Mercy by Ava StrongWithout Mercy by Ava Strong:

MMA champ-turned-FBI Special Agent and BAU specialist Dakota Steele is as tough as they come—and as brilliant, too, able to crack serial killers that no one else can. But this new case is unlike anything she’s seen, and Dakota, weighed down by the demons of her own past, may have just reached her breaking point.

Dakota’s last case broke her, driving her to quit the FBI and return to the hard streets of her South Dakota hometown. She is weighed down by a lifetime of fighting, and by the demons of her dark past: her missing sister who vanished when Dakota was a teenager. Her estranged father, who she still can’t bring herself to speak to.

The killer she let get away.

Dakota has hit her low point.

Only the most desperate case—and the tough love of her partner—can lure her back.

Victims are disappearing along empty stretches of desert highway, with no witnesses. The landscape is desolate, the people tough and dangerous. And the police are stumped.

Time is running out before the next victim is taken, and it’s up to Dakota to connect the dots.

Can Dakota stop him in time?

Or will her own demons take her for good?

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Non-Fiction Spotlight: Management Lessons from Game of Thrones: Organization Theory and Strategy in Westeros by Fiona Moore

First of all, I was at the Hugos There podcast again as part of a great panel discussing the 2022 Hugo finalists for Best Novella. You can listen here or watch us blabber on YouTube here.

After the Hugos is before the next Hugos, so I’m continuing my Non-Fiction Spotlight project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that come out in 2022 and are eligible for the 2023 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.

For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.

Business books are not exactly what you’d expect to find in a series of spotlights about SFF-related non-fiction. However, a business book is absolutely appropriate for this series, when it shares management and business lessons from Game of Thrones.

Therefore, I am happy to welcome Dr. Fiona Moore, author of Management Lessons from Game of Thrones: Organization Theory and Strategy in Westeros to my blog today:

Management Lessons from Game of Thrones by Fiona Moore

Tell us about your book.

Management Lessons from Game of Thrones takes a look at management theory through a Westerosi lens. I use characters, organisations, and events from the television series (primarily, though there’s some references to A Song of Ice and Fire in there as well) to explain the background and concepts of organisation theory, human resource management, strategy, and mergers and acquisitions (or, in the Westerosi context, weddings and warfare). I also look at how and why Game of Thrones is such a useful tool for management education, and suggest ways in which the reader can develop their own understanding of organisations through the use of SFF stories.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m an anthropologist who wandered into a business school twenty years ago and stayed because they keep feeding her! Seriously, I did my doctorate in anthropology, but, because my area of interest centred around multinational corporations, I found it easier to get a job in a management studies department. However, while I was doing my doctorate I also started co-writing guidebooks to cult and/or SF television, which has led to a parallel career writing academic works on SF, and the two streams have finally intersected.

I also write fiction; most of my published work is about intelligent machines and people learning to live with them, though I also write Lynchian horror and a series I generally describe as “Gerry Anderson, but with lesbians.”

And I have a tortoiseshell cat who is mostly bent on world domination, though at thirteen she’s mellowed a tiny bit.

What prompted you to write/edit this book?

It was very much an unexpected journey. I’m a Game of Thrones fan, and I teach, among other things, leadership theory to masters’ students—many of whom are also Game of Thrones fans. In order to make it more interesting for them, I began using examples from Game of Thrones.

Word got around the business school and before long I was giving a cut-down version as a “taster lecture” to prospective students.

Then, encouraged by various friends in fandom, I wrote it up as a blog post series, and gave a talk at Eastercon. But people kept asking, ‘when are you going to write a textbook?” And, when academic publishers Edward Elgar approached me asking if I had any ideas for new books, I pitched this one to them and they were delighted.

Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?

In the first place, I think SFF fans in general should read it because, at the risk of sounding arrogant, it should teach you something, and in what is hopefully a fun and interesting way. That was my original aim when I started out, and I still think it’s easier to learn about, for instance, the role of the personnel function in organisations when you’re thinking about it in terms of how the Night’s Watch works, or mergers and acquisitions through the history of Winterfell. Even if you’ve got a background in management studies, this approach should give you some insights you might not have had otherwise.

More seriously, and for the Hugo voters, this approach also does the reverse, and gives us insights into Game of Thrones. The reason Game of Thrones works so well as a management teaching tool is because it was written in a context of late American capitalism, based loosely on historical societies at a time and place when businesses as we know them were starting to evolve. This book allows us to see how Game of Thrones holds a mirror up to our world, and, through allegory and fiction, tackles problems that ordinary managers face.

Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?

There was one insight into Ironborn society that I had when I was exploring the complicated issue of gender and leadership on Westeros. There are a number of societies, for instance the Inuit, which have very strict gender roles, and which handle a situation where a family has too many people of one gender and not enough of the other by re-gendering some of the kids. Or adults. In Albania, for instance, where a lot of men die in blood feuds, some of the women become what they call “sworn virgins”, who are socially male. Though in most cases that re-gendering only goes so far: ”sworn virgins” can’t marry, for instance.

And although nobody’s ever said so, that would explain Yara Greyjoy perfectly. One son is dead, the other traded off to the Starks as a hostage and considered no longer an Ironborn: so you raise the daughter in a male role. And then hit the inevitable problem when you run up against the limit of the re-gendering, and she can’t in fact inherit her father’s title.

That’s the sort of thing that anthropologists love to think about, but it was a bit harder to work into a management text!

SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?

SFF-related non-fiction is important because that’s where our insights come from. I like to read Vector and Foundation, two SFF non-fiction journals here in the UK, because I always come away seeing a familiar work in a new light, or understanding it in a way I didn’t before. If people didn’t take a step back from the genre and think about what makes it work, we wouldn’t understand it as well as we do.

Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?

For a start, Vector and Foundation, as I mentioned above. Obverse Books do a great line in short monographs about Doctor Who and other cult television series (full disclosure, I’ve written one of them). Academics I follow include Tony Keen, who writes on popular works on classics; Dassi Elber-Aviram, who has a new book out called Fairy Tales of London, Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James; Andrew Butler, whose book on 1970s SF I find a useful reference; Amy Binns, who has written a great book on John Wyndham; and Ali Baker, who does a podcast called Fantasy Book Swap. Outside of academia but still in nonfiction, I can also recommend my frequent co-author Alan Stevens; Rob Fairclough; Andrew Pixley; and the Doctor Who focused zine Vworp! Vworp! I’m also addicted to the Octothorpe podcast, but that’s by the way.

Where can people buy your book?

You can buy direct from the publisher here , and I believe they have international shopping. Otherwise, easiest way internationally is probably Amazon. You can find it on Amazon UK at and Amazon US. If you want to order from an independent bookshop, and I would encourage you to, the ISBN is 978 1 83910 528 9.

Where can people find you?

I’m @drfionamoore on all social media, my professional website is www.fiona-moore.com, and my blog is www.adoctorofmanythings.com. There’s an essay series on my blog called Leadership Lessons from Game of Thrones (linked to on its sidebar) which is a bit of a taster for the book if you’re hesitating about buying it!

Thank you, Fiona, for stopping by and answering my questions.

Do check out Management Lessons from Game of Thrones: Organization Theory and Strategy in Westeros, which came out today.

About Management Lessons from Game of Thrones: Organization Theory and Strategy in Westeros:

This intriguing and absorbing book takes a look at aspects of Westerosi society and politics from an anthropological and organizational studies angle. It shows both how management theory influenced the world-building in the Game of Thrones franchise, and also how students, academics and managers can draw on the series to further enhance their understanding of concepts in human resource management and organization theory.

Based on a detailed knowledge of Game of Thrones but grounded in serious management research, Fiona Moore provides a tour of the organizations, leaders and followers in Westeros, giving insights into the fantasy kingdom as well as important lessons managers can use in their own careers. Providing a brief and enjoyable introduction to management and organization theory, the book then discusses how and why modern management concepts can be seen in Game of Thrones, exploring concepts such as leadership, strategy and human resource management through a unique lens.

Unconventional in its approach, this book will prove a key resource for students and scholars in areas such as business leadership, human resource management and organization studies looking for new and entertaining ways of understanding the theory behind management.

About Fiona Moore:

Fiona Moore is a two-time BSFA Award finalist, writer and academic whose work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Asimov, Cossmass Infinities, and three consecutive editions of The Best of British SF. Her publications include one novel; numerous articles in journals such as Foundation; guidebooks to Blake’s Seven, The Prisoner, Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who; three stage plays and four audio plays. When not writing, she is a Professor of Business Anthropology at Royal Holloway, University of London. She lives in Southwest England with a tortoiseshell cat which is bent on world domination. More details, and free content, can be found at www.fiona-moore.com.

***

Are you publishing a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

Posted in Books, Non-Fiction Spotlight, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Toy Photo Story: “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” – and some mixed links

I have another toy photo story coming up. Not a Masters-of-the-Universe-piece Theatre story this time, because it involves vinyl figurines (of which I have a huge collection going back more than forty years) rather than Masters of the Universe toys.

However, first I also have a couple of links to other places on the web where you can find me and my work.

First of all, I have another flash story available at Wyngraf Magazine of Cozy Fantasy. It’s called “Demon Child” and its basically a changeling story in reverse.

Earlier this week, I was over at Galactic Journey, where I review two SFF novels of 1967: the sword and planet novel Flame of Iridar by Lin Carter, which was actually decent, a throwback to the sort of fiction published in Planet Stories or Startling Stories in the 1940s, and Chthon by Piers Anthony, which I first read at the age of sixteen and disliked so much that it turned me off the entire New Wave for years. I explicitly offered to review Chthon for the Journey, because I still have my old copy (given the price of import paperbacks in the 1980s, you did not throw even a bad book away) and because I wanted to give it another chance to see if I was maybe too young to enjoy it. However, it turns out that I actually liked Chthon even less the second time around. Gideon Marcus, who found a copy and decided to read it, also hated it, by the way. Based on my observations, Chthon is also the first SFF novel of the 1960s with truly creepy sex scenes and a lot of them. Even the first Gor book was more dull than anything else with comparatively little of what made the series infamous later on.

Finally, I’ve also been on the Hugos There! podcast, discussing the 2022 Hugo finalists for Best Short Story (video here) and Best Novelette (video here) with a bunch of cool people.

And now, let’s get to the main event, a toy photo story adaptation of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” by Robert E. Howard. For those who don’t know, “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” is the second story about Conan of Cimmeria that Robert E. Howard ever wrote, ninety years ago now. It was rejected by Weird Tales and only published in altered form (with Conan renamed Amra) in the fanzine The Fantasy Fan during Howard’s lifetime. The original version did not appear until way after Howard’s death. You can read the Amra version here.

“The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” is set early during Conan’s career. Many believe it is the earliest of Conan’s chronicles adventures. I’m not entirely convinced by this, but Conan is definitely young in this story.

My adaptation differs from the original story in two aspects. For starters, I made it less rapey. Secondly, instead of the male pseudo-Viking companions from the original story, the companion I gave Conan is Valeria of the Red Brotherhood, pirate, mercenary, swordswoman and all around awesome character, whom Conan meets in the later story “Red Nails”.

So I present you: “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” by Robert E. Howard, starring Conan of Cimmeria and Valeria of the Red Brotherhood:

Far up in the frozen wastes of Nordheim:

Ymir and Atali

“I hunger, Atali, my daughter. Bring me food.”

“There has been a battle nearby. I shall find a strong warrior for you there.”

A little later on a nearby battlefield:

Conan and Valeria meet Atali

“By Crom, it’s a girl. Here, on the battlefield. I wonder if she’s cold in those gossamer robes.”

“Hello there, warrior. I am Atali and I am looking for a strong man just like you. Follow me.”

“Of course, I’d follow you anywhere.”

“Uhm, Conan, I don’t think that this is a good idea.”

Conan follows Atali, while Valeria follows Conan.

“Come on, big bad Barbarian. Catch me, if you can.”

“I shall catch you and then I will show you how a Cimmerian makes love.”

“Conan, wait! Oh great, why must that idiot always think with the dangly end?”

Atali seduces Conan, while Ymir lurks in the background.

“By Crom, you’ve led me on a merry chase, girl.”

“Come on, big bad Barbarian, meet my father Ymir and my brothers.”

“Just to make things clear, I am not the sort of man you take home to meet your family, girl. Conan is not a man to marry.”

“Who said anything about marriage?”

Ymir attacks Conan while Atali looks on.

“Meet my father!”

“Roar, I am hungry. He looks strong… and tasty. You have done well, daughter.”

“Crom, this did not go as planned.”

Conan fights Ymir, while Atali looks on.

“Crom, he is big. And a lot faster than he looks.”

Valeria comes to Conan's aid and fights Ymir, while Atali looks on.

“Let go off Conan, monster!”

“Valeria, what are you doing here?”

“What’s it look like? I’m saving your arse. Again.”

Ymir is down and Valeria is threatening Atali, while Conan looks on.

“Father, no!”

“Not so fast, witch. You’re involved in this, too, aren’t you?”

“My father! You slew my father, Barbarian swine.”

“Uhm, your father was trying to eat me. What did you expect me to do?”

Atali mourns Ymir, while Conan and Valeria leave.

“Father, no. What will I do now that you’re gone?”

“Thanks for the help, Valeria. What would I do without you?”

“Get eaten by whatever monster uses a comely witch to lure you into its lair, I guess. Anyway, next time use your brain before you run after strange women.”

The End.

***

Ymir, the Frost Giant is a Schleich Eldrador ice monster. Valeria is a Schleich Amazon warrior and Atali is a Schleich princess. Conan is a Comics Spain figurine. The frozen wastes of Nordheim are portrayed by glass paperweights and nice white pebbles.

I love the various Schleich dinosaurs and monsters. Not only are they awesome, the larger ones also match the Masters of the Universe Origins figures in scale and look a lot like the weird and wonderful fauna of Eternia seen in the 1980s Filmation cartoons. And because I got a good deal on them online, I ordered two monsters, a rock monster and an ice monster:

Schleich Eldrador rock monster and ice monster

They’re both awesome and the rock monster looks just like the rock people that occasionally show up in the vintage Masters of the Universe cartoon. The ice monster also looks like something out of the vintage Masters of the Universe cartoon, but it’s a bit too small for the Origins figures. However, it’s a perfect fit for my Conan figurine, so the idea to do an adaptation of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” was born.

Bonus: He-Man and Teela fight the rock monster.

He-Man and Teela fight the rock monster

“When you said, ‘Let’s patrol the outer perimeter for some alone time’, I certainly did not expect to be interrupted by rock monsters.”

“Rabar want sword. Rabar want to be warrior.”

“Hey, ugly, interrupting people, when they just want some privacy is rude. And now leave my boyfriend alone.”

***

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

 

Posted in Links, Toy Photo Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Non-Fiction Spotlight: More Modern Mythmakers: 25 Interviews with Horror and Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers by Michael McCarty

After the Hugos is before the next Hugos, so I’m continuing my Non-Fiction Spotlight project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that come out in 2022 and are eligible for the 2023 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.

For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.

Interview collections have long been a part of SFF-related non-fiction, therefore I’m thrilled to welcome Michael McCarty, author of More Modern Mythmakers: 25 Interviews with Horror and Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers to my blog today:

More Modern Mythmakers by Michael McCarty

Tell us about your book.

MICHAEL McCARTY:  More Modern Mythmakers features Horror, Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy’s most influential writers and filmmakers interviewed about the art and craft of their genres.

The 25 interviews include Steve Alten, Reggie Bannister, Terry Brooks, Charles de Lint, Dennis Etchison, John Everson, Alan Dean Foster, Ray Garton, Sephera Giron, Owl Goingback, Charles Grant, Nancy Holder, Paul Kane, Ronald Kelly, Joe Lansdale, Bentley Little, Jeff Long, Jonathan Maberry, Elizabeth Massie, Larry Niven, William Stout, Jeff Strand, Harry Turtledove, J.N. Williamson, Connie Willis. The foreword is by Gerard Houarner and the afterword by Jeffrey Thomas

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

McCARTY: I’m from the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois along the Mississippi River). I am a 5-Time Bram Stoker Finalist and author of over 50 books. I did win the David R. Collins’ Literary Achievement Award from the Midwest Writing Center. I am married to a lovely lady named Cindy and we have a pet rabbit named Yeti.

I was a freelance writer for about twenty years working for such magazines as “Starlog,” “Fangoria,” “Cemetery Dance,” “Filmfax,”and eventually became a staff writer for “Science Fiction Weekly,” the website of the Sci-Fi network, which eventually became the Sy-Fy network.

What prompted you to write/edit this book?

McCARTY: I do apologize in advance because this is a long answer.

My first pro sale was in 1983 for a regional music magazine. My first national sale was in 1993 to Starlog. And my first book was in 2003.

In 2015 , Crystal Lake Publishing, published Modern Mythmakers, a collection of 35 interviews with the likes of Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, John Carpenter, John Saul, Dean Koontz, Elvira, Whitley Streiter, Forry Ackerman, Timothy Zahn and more. It was ten years of my life boiled down to 90,000 words.

Modern Mythmakers

At this point, doing hundreds of interviews for over four decades, I decided to retire from interviews.

I hadn’t done a nonfiction book for a while, but when I hit Haunted America up with the idea of doing a true ghost book called Ghosts of the Quad Cities they eagerly agreed. For that book, I had to do several interviews with paranormal investigators, librarians, and local historians.

Of course, I did a sequel called Eerie Quad Cities in 2021.

I got bitten again by the interview bug. And although it was about five years after the original Modern Mythmakers: 35 Interviews with Horror and Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers it contained to sell well over the years.

I decided to leave retirement for doing interview behind and hit Joe Mynhardt (the editor and publisher) about doing a sequel and he said yes.

Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?

McCARTY:  I have some great interviews with some great science fiction and fantasy writers such as Alan Dean Foster, Harry Turtledove, Terry Brooks and Charles de Lint and Connie Willis. Plus, a slew of horror and dark fantasy writers and filmmakers as well.

The book is bursting at the seams with great interviews. You’ll walk away knowing more about the interviewees but also about the horror and science fiction publishing and film industry the art and craft of writing books and doing movies.

I hope the reader comes away more knowledgeable and inspired and will write a terrific work after they finish the book. No thanks needed.

Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?

That would take a book length to answer to be honest. Each interview really was like travelling a dark and mysterious river and by the end, I seen the light and discovery and joy and knowledge.

I’ve read tons of interviews by my interviewees in the book, for example Ray Garton, Jonathan Maberry, Alan Dean Foster and Connie Willis – and they were even a bit surprised at the questions, and I was equally surprised with the answers/

SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category, and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?

Winning awards are nice. Super nice, the icing on any cake. But I don’t write books to win awards, I write books to educate, entertain and for the reader to be hopefully inspired to also write a terrific book or screenplay as well.

Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc.…) you’d like to recommend?

 The Writing Life by Jeff Strand, How to Write Horror Fiction by William F. Nolan, Let’s Get Creative  also by William F. Nolan, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell, How to Write Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction edited by J.N. Williams and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. Every writer listed here has been interviewed by me one time or another, these books are close to my heart.

Also of course, Stephen King’s On Writing.

I’d also highly recommend the book On Writing Horror edited by Mort Castle for the Horror Writers Association. This book is terrific, it is eight sections and has essays about writing from Harlan Ellison, David Morrrell, Jack Ketchum and Ramsey Campbell (who, also, at one time or another I interviewed too).

The thing about On Writing Horror, I am most proud of is this, like I said, the book is in eight sections. Section One is “Horror, Literature and Horror Literature,” and consist of two essays and a speech by Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King and Michael McCarty (yup… that’s me).

Where can people buy your book?

Amazon, Barnes & Noble if your favorite bookstore isn’t carrying it, they could order it.

Where can people find you?

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/MichaelMcCarty.Horror and https://www.facebook.com/QCGhosts

Twitter:  MichaelMcCarty7

And I have a monthly blog at: https://monstermikeyaauthor.wordpress.com/

Thank you, Michael, for stopping by and answering my questions.

About More Modern Mythmakers: 25 Interviews with Horror and Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers:

More Modern Mythmakers features Horror, Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy’s most influential writers and filmmakers interviewed about the art and craft of their genres.

The 25 interviews include:
Steve Alten
Reggie Bannister
Terry Brooks
Charles de Lint
Dennis Etchison
John Everson
Alan Dean Foster
Ray Garton
Sephera Giron
Owl Goingback
Charles Grant
Nancy Holder
Paul Kane
Ronald Kelly
Joe Lansdale
Bentley Little
Jeff Long
Jonathan Maberry
Elizabeth Massie
Larry Niven
William Stout
Jeff Strand
Harry Turtledove
J.N. Williamson
Connie Willis

Foreword by Gerard Houarner
Afterword by Jeffrey Thomas

If you’re interested in books on writing, the horror genre, science fiction, famous authors, or even becoming a full time author, this book is a must-have.

More Modern Mythmakers is the sequel to 2015’s Modern Mythmakers by Michael McCarty, published by Crystal Lake Publishing.

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

About Michael McCarty:

Michael McCarty has been a professional writer since 1983, and the author of over fifty books of fiction, including I Kissed A Ghoul, Frankenstein’s Mistress, Dark Cities: Dark Tales, A Little Help From My Fiends, Liquid Diet & Midnight Snack, Dark Duets, Dracula Transformed and Other Bloodthirsty Tales (with Mark McLaughlin), Lost Girl Of The Lake (with Joe McKinney), the vampire Bloodless series: Bloodless, Bloodlust and Bloodline (with Jody LaGreca). He is a five-time Bram Stoker Finalist, and in 2008 won the David R. Collins’ Literary Achievement Award from the Midwest Writing Center.

His nonfiction books include: Esoteria-Land: The Authentic, Eclectic and Eccentric Nonfiction of Michael McCarty, Ghosts of the Quad Cities (with Mark McLaughlin), Eerie Quad Cities (with John Brassard Jr.), and Modern Mythmakers: 35 Interviews With Horror and Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers which features interviews with Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, John Carpenter, Richard Matheson, Elvira, Linnea Quigley, John Saul, Joe McKinney, and many more.

Michael McCarty lives in Rock Island, Illinois with his wife Cindy and pet rabbit Yeti.

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Are you publishing a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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The 2022 July Short Story Challenge – Day by Day

For starters, Smashwords is currently having its annual summer sale, where you can get plenty of e-books at reduced prices or for free, including several of mine.

In other news, blogging will be light this month, because I’m currently doing the July Short Story Challenge again.

What is the July Short Story Challenge, you ask? Well, in July 2015, Dean Wesley Smith announced that he was planning to write a brand new short story every day during the month of July. The original post seems to be gone now, but the Wayback Machine has a copy here. At the time, several people announced that they would play along, so I decided to give it a try as well. And then I did it again the following year. And the next. And the next. If you want to read my post-mortems of the previous July short story challenges, here are the posts for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Because I’ve already done the July short story challenge seven years in a row now and always found the experience very rewarding, I’m aiming for a repeat this year. This July is a very busy month for me, never mind that I caught a persistent and annoying cold (not covid, I did a test). Therefore I initially only committed to doing this for a single week, which is already finished, and now I’m going for the second week. Then, if things are going well, I’ll keep going.

In previous years, I’ve always done a post-mortem post about the July Short Story Challenge in August. In 2019, I also started keeping a running tally of all stories written to date right here on this blog to hold myself accountable. It worked well and so I did it again in 2020 and 2021. I will do it again this year as well and will update this post with every new story. This tally will be very basic, listing just the date, title, word count, genre, series, if any, and maybe a one or two sentence summary/comment.

Most of these stories will become longer in editing. Many will eventually change their titles and some may never see the light of day at all.

If you want to follow along with the challenge, bookmark this post. And if you want to play along or cheer me on, feel free to do so in the comments.

And now, let’s take a look at the stories:

July 1, 2022: The Offering, fantasy, 2344 words

Every twenty years, the people of the fishing village of Thesipha at the edge of the Bay of Ambirosi, make an offering to Sabeana, goddess of the sea and patron of fishermen, hoping for rich fishing in the bay.

The young fisherman Pelinas is chosen to present the offering to the goddess. But as he waits at the edge of the pier for the goddess to claim her offering, he realises that the offering is not what he thought it was…

Like many of the stories from this challenge, this story was inspired by a piece of fantasy art, namely this one by Richard Hescox.

July 2, 2022: Sanctuary, historical fantasy, 2435 words

Deep in the woods that surround the town of Immergrün in Medieval Germany, there is a place called Sanctuary, where the women in trouble can escape from the men who pursue them.

One of those women is Katharina who finds herself pregnant by a man who wants nothing to do with her and accuses her of being a witch and bearing the devil’s child. But before Katharina can be burned at the stake, an unexpected ally frees her…

This story was partly inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diel and by discussing the 2022 Hugo Finalists for Best Short Story on the Hugos There! podcast, since two of the stories in question feature dryads, so they were on my mind.

July 3, 2022: Silverthorn, fantasy, 1467 words

Silverthorn is a magical sword. Her last wielder, the knight Vultorf, retired into the woods to become a hermit. After he died, Silverthorn is looking for a new wielder. But she had high standards and won’t just let anyone wield her. No, she will only pledge herself to a worthy cause.

Finally, after two hundred years of waiting, a worthy wielder finally stumbles upon Silverthorn, though he is not at all what she expected.

This story was inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diel, which sparked the idea to write a story about a magical sword from the point of view of the sword.

July 4, 2022: Buttercup, crime fiction (The Culinary Assassin), 2116 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson shoots a con woman in a hipster cupcake shop.

Yes, it’s another Culinary Assassin story. Somehow, I find these easy to write, when I’m stressed out, because it’s basically “Pick a locations, a dish and a target and start writing”.

I wrote a Culinary Assassin story during last year’s challenge, which basically retells the famous final scene of The Sopranos from the POV of the assassin. Now the Culinary Assassin takes aim at another HBO prestige show (TM), Sex and the City, and shoots a Carrie Bradshaw stand-in at the Buttercup Bakery, which is a stand-in for the Magnolia Bakery from the show. The brief scene at the Magnolia Bakery, which brought tourist crowds to what had been a quiet neighbourhood, also set off the gentrification of the area and pretty much destroyed it as chronicled here.

July 5, 2022: Rum Ball, crime fiction (The Culinary Assassin), 1684 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson heads to rural Northern Germany to eat rum balls in the best bakery in the region and takes out a pedophile priest as well.

I had a busy day today and did not feel all that great, so here’s another Culinary Assassin tale.

Since yesterday’s story was about a hit in a trendy hipster cupcake shop, today I sent the culinary assassin to one of my favourite bakeries, which is the complete opposite of hip. And yes, the bakery is a real place and occasionally shows up in my fiction, e.g. tuckerised as the name of a planet in the In Love and War series.  The rum balls are real, too, though both the assassin and their target are fictional.

July 6, 2022: The Message of the Runes, horror, 1504 words

A student of archaeology falls into a hole and stumbles upon a rune stone in what appears to be an ancient burial chamber and decides to decipher it. This turns out to be a very bad idea…

The inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy artwork by Nele Diel. For the setting, I chose the famous neolithic tomb known as “The Visbek Bride”, which is a popular tourist site around here. Plus, the setting and particularly the proximity to the Autobahn A1 also gave me a brilliant way to dispose of the monster my idiotic archaeology student has accidentally unleashed. Let’s just say say in a contest between an ancient monster from the dawn of time and a Dutch truck carrying cucumbers, the truck wins.

July 7, 2022: Adventurer’s Rest, cozy fantasy, 1336 words

After a lifetime of adventuring, Dankar has grown old and opened an inn called Adventurer’s Rest, together with his found family: his daughter Talia, deposed prince Cadwyn, Ghuk the golem and Ughiwyn the wizard.

This is a cozy slice of life piece about an aged adventurer who has found a place to rest for himself and the people he loves. The inspiration was a simple “What if an aging warrior opened a roadside inn for others like him.

July 8, 2022: Just Another Snake Cult, sword and sorcery, 1429 words

Killing their king Enzummu was supposed to end the reign of terror of the serpent men, but instead it set off a new problem, when every single surviving serpent coucillor, general, dignity or priest set up their own cult, until there was a snake cult on every street corner.

The unnamed protagonist is a Warrior of the Light sworn to wipe out the serpent men and smite their snake cults with extreme prejudice. But this mission is his most difficult yet, for he must stop Zuanzi, former right-hand man of Enzummu, from opening a portal on the night of the blood moon to raise the Great Snake God Nergai, who will devour the entire world…

The inspiration for this one comes from a discussion about the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian. In the movie, a character says that until recently, Thulsa Doom’s sect was “just another snake cults”, which begets the question of exactly how many snake cults are there in the Hyborian Age. I then had the idea of a holy warrior sworn to take down snake cults and being frustrated that snake cults are like the Hydra, take out one and two more pop up in its wake.

July 9, 2022: Wrong Turn, fantasy/fairy tale, 1903 words

On her way to grandma’s house, Little Red Riding Hood – who’s not so little and only known as Red in this story – takes a wrong turn and stumbles upon a group of witches frolicking naked in the woods.  This leads to a much happier ending for Red, though poor grandma still gets eaten.

The initial inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy art by Ilya Gorbunov. Also, this is the second story about lesbian wood nymphs I have written during this challenge. I’m beginning to sense a theme here.

July 10, 2022: The Horror in the Cathedral, dark fantasy, 1108 words

The cathedral Notre Dame de Desmarais has been infested by an ancient evil, a demon who is rising the dead buried inside the cathedral to attack the living. So far, the ghoulds have already lsain two priests, a Dominican friar, two exorcists and the most feared witchhunter in all of France. So the bishop seeks a knight who will venture into the cathedral and deal with the ghoul problem. But only the female knight Ghislaine la Véridique is willing to go…

This story was inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Adam Barker. I’m not happy with the title, since it’s too generic and will probably change it.

July 11, 2022: Pasta all’Ortolana, crime fiction (The Culinary Assassin), 968 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson goes to a restaurant in the non-touristy part of Rome, eats pasta and shoots a local mafioso.

I was busy and tired today, so all I could manage was a very short Culinary Assassin story. The inspiration was the fact that I actually made this dish two days ago, based on Rachel Roddy’s recipe from the Guardian.

July 12, 2022: Rest My Weary Bones, dark fantasy, 1052 words

Once Grimwald the Mighty was a respected warrior and mercenary in service to anyone who’d pay him. Now, however, he is dead and denied his eternal rest and reward by the machinations of the necromancer Unvaldor, who keeps raising Grimwald and others like him to fight his battles on his behalf, again and again and again.

Grimwald is sick of fighting someone else’s battles. But the same spell that Unvaldor used to raise Grimwald and compell him to fight also keeps Grimwald from turning against him. There’s nothing he can do to end his pain. Or is there?

The inspiration for this was literally the phrase that became the title along with the skeleton warriors occasionally seem in the background of Masters of the Universe artwork (and more prominently in the Masters of the Universe: Revelation cartoon), which brought on the idea of a skeleton warrior forced to fight by a necromancer, even though all he wants to do is rest.

July 13, 2022: Service Station Dammer Berge, crime fiction (The Culinary Assassin), 1268 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson puts in a pit stop at service station Dammer Berge to eat scrambled eggs and dispatches of a truck driver who smuggles refugees in his sealed refrigerated truck with zero regard for the fact that a lot of them do not survive.

I had a tiring day today, including a three and a half hours in a car, so today’s story is another short and quick one. The inspiration arrived during said trip, when I passed the service station Dammer Berge on the Autobahn A1. I’ve always had a soft spot for service station Dammer Berge with its unique modernist design, so I thought, “I’ve never written about this place, so why not send the culinary assassin here to do a job?”

I did cheat a little bit, though, because the original late 1960s interior was remodelled to “looks like a school cafeteria” blandness sometime in the early 2000s.

July 14, 2022: Accident Report, horror, 1567 words

This is a sort of companion piece to The Message of the Runes, the story I wrote on July 6. That story ends with a note that the Lovecraftian horror unleashed by a hapless student of archaeology near the Visbek Bride neolithic tomb was subsequently run over by a Dutch truck carrying cucumbers on the nearby Autobahn A1. This story now consist of eyewitness reports by the truck driver, another driver and a police officer about the accident.

The inspiration was that I actually drove along the A1, but no Lovecraftian horror decided to cross the road between the exit Wildeshausen West and the junction Ahlhorner Heide near the Engelmannsbäke rest area. Still, I decided it would be fun to write a companion piece to the earlier story.

July 15, 2022: The Werewolf Stalks By Night, horror, 690 words

A medieval city is stalked by a werewolf, who is only recognisable as such by his shadow and who seduces the women of the city. The men are not at all happy about this…

A really short story, but stories are as long as they need to be. The inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy artwork of the shadow of a wolf falling on the wall of a medieval city. This sparked the idea of a werewolf who is only recognisable by his shadow, but otherwise looks human. The werewolf is also not the villain of this story, since all he does is have consensual sex with the women of the city. The true villains are the men of the city.

July 16, 2022: The Oval Room, sword and sorcery, 2105 words

Jengar the Swift and Skorr the Doorbuster are thieves trying to steal a jewel called The Flawless Eye from a trap-laden treasure house. In order to get to the jewel, they must transverse a terrifying magical trap called the oval room. Jengar barely escapes the room. Skorr does not and suddenly finds himself somewhere else…

The inspiration for this story was this writing prompt on the Whetstone blog.

July 17, 2022: Totengrund, horror, 1083 words

Deep in the heart of the Spessart woods, there is a forsaken place called Totengrund. A village and a castle once stood here, but both were destroyed more than five hundred years ago, when the evil knight Ulrich of Dunkelfels sacrificed every single person in the village to try to raise a demon…

Another short one, inspired by this piece of fantasy art.

July 18, 2022: Duel in the Snow (Jalkar and Anora), sword and sorcery, 1708 words

Jalkar the sellsword and his adopted daughter Anora are travelling across the frozen plains of Drossad. When they are forced to make camp, they are attacked by three men who have an uncommon interest in baby Anora…

This is a sequel to “A Cry on the Battlefield”, which started out as a July Short Story Challenge Story, and was published on the Wyngraf Magazine website earlier this year.

July 19, 2022: Homecoming Gift, cozy fantasy, 1371 words

After three long years away, Prince Colwyn returns home from war to see his parents and Talisa, the girl he loved and had to leave behind. But he also finds an unexpected surprise waiting for him.

I’m not really sure what inspired this story. I really like it, though.

July 20, 2022: Bat Whispers, horror, 722 words

Professor Gregor Bakalov hopes to decode bat calls and thus assembles the world’s largest archive of bat calls. However, once he finally figures out what the bats are saying, he finds something horrible…

Today was the hottest day of the year, plus I had to go on a two hours each way drive, so I was tired and could only manage a very short story. The inspiration for this was the news headline “Volunteers collect one million bat voices”, which made me wonder why someone would collect bat voices and what the bats were saying.

July 21, 2022: The Lonely Troll, cozy fantasy, 1445 words

Grollbar the troll is lonely, ever since the new bridge was built a few kilometres upstream and no one crosses the old bridge anymore. Gradually, the old bridge falls into disrepair and Grollbar slowly turns to rock and becomes overgrown with moss. But then one day, Grollbar is woken from his long slumber by a small voice, a little girl named Emma who’s also lonely and has run away from home…

The inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy artwork by Morten Solgaard Pedersen.

July 22, 2022: The Mandelbulb, cosmic horror, 1142 words

One morning, the Mandelbulb, a four-dimensional fractal of unknown origin and insatisable hunger appears in the middle of a path in Mirror Lake Park. It gobbles up a dog, a groundkeeper and a member of a biohazard team, before someone calls in the narrator, a scientist. However, the army also gets involved and their only solution to any problem is shooting at it.

Another very short story, since I can’t seem to concentrate on longer stories for challenge this year. The inspiration for this story was this tweet with CGI footage of a Mandelbulb copied into the real world environment of a park.

July 23, 2022: The Day the Robots Left, science fiction, 691 words

The robot uprising happens, though not as expected. Because instead of killing everybody, the robots just get up and leave…

I had a busy day today, so today’s story is another very short one. It was inspired by a discussion about the 2022 Hugo finalists for Best Novella at the Hugos There podcast.

July 24, 2022: Deal with the Dragon, fantasy 1160 words

Gilander the rogue has been roped into selling his services as a dragonslayer, though he only wanted to scam the villagers out of their gold. However, the villagers won’t pay Gilander, until he presents proof that he has slain the dragon, so he finds himself thrust into the dragon’s cave.

Gilander isn’t a killer and besides, the dragon is very big and very scary. But maybe, there is another way out of this dilemma that’s mutually beneficial to all parties…

The inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy art by Jan Ditlev.

July 25, 2022: The Land of Forgotten Swords, sword and sorcery, 1459 words

At the very edge of the civilised world, there lies the Land of Forgotten Swords, where aged warriors bury their swords before travelling onwards to the warriors’ final repose whence no one ever returns. But one day, Erak, a deposed prince with a prize on his head and pursuers hot on his heels, stumbles into the Land of Forgotten Swords and finds that there is still a lot of fight left in those discarded blades…

I initially planned to write a different story today, but that one would not come together, so switched gears and wrote this story instead. The inspiration was this drawing by Reza Afshar.

July 26, 2022: Hot Berliners After the Apocalypse, post-apocalyptic, 1796 words

Mia’s family runs a roadside stall, selling Berliner and Schmalzkuchen, a business which continues with little interruption after the apocalypse.

The inspiration for this was passing a closed roadside stall offering Berliner and Schmalzkuchen (both are fall and winter treats and not usually offered in summer) today. Grass had sprung up around the stall and it looked as if it had been closed and abandoned for longer than it probably was. It looked a little post-apocalyptic, which inspired a story about a family operating a Berliner stall after the apocalypse.

July 27, 2022: Straw Men, sword and sorcery (Kurval), 2614 words

During Kurval’s time as a wandering mercenary, Kurval and his friend Tsabo chance to pass a freshly harvested field dotted with sheaves of hay shaped like men. Worse, the sheaves seem to be moving…

The inspiration for this one was talking a walk past a freshly harvested field full of hay bales early in the morning shortly before sunrise. Due to a trick of the light, it seemed as if there was movement among the hay bales. So I thought, “What if the hay bales actually did move? And what if they were hostile?”

July 28, 2022: Petition to Allow Employees to Work From Home in Light of the Recent Uptick in Kaiju Attacks, science fiction, 355 words

What it says on the tin. There has been an uptick in kaiju attacks on Tokyo and the employees working at the Tokishiro Tower, a building at the frontline of these attacks, have had enough…

I had another very stressful day, so this is another very short story. The inspiration was someone saying on Discord that the building in Tokyo, where he works, was destroyed on screen in both Shin Godzilla and Ultraman. This sparked on idea about how people would react when the building where they work was constantly the target of kaiju attacks.

July 29, 2022: The Portal, science fiction horror, 1306 words

At the stroke of midnight, an alarm goes off at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. When the staff on duty investigate, they find the accelerator coil ripped open and a pulsating object which turns out to be a portal to another world hovering in the breach…

The inspiration for this story was coming across this USA Today article, which notes that the scientists working at the CERN Large Hadron Collider are not in fact trying to open a portal to hell. At first, the headline amused me, because while I know that there are a lot of fears regarding the Large Hadron Collider, the fact that it might open a portal to hell was a new one for me. And then I thought, “What if the Large Hadron Collider really did manage to open a portal to hell?” The story grew from there.

Alfred from Alfred and Bertha’s Marvellous Twenty-First Century Life appears in this story, because Alfred actually works at the Large Hadron Collider, which he never fails to explain to Bertha and anybody else who’ll listen to him. However, this is a very different kind of story from the Alfred and Bertha stories.

July 30, 2022: The Siren of the Semois, horror, 1633 words

Dutchman Joop Ter Meulen is on holiday in the south of Belgium in a village called Alle-sur-Semois. On his first day of vacation, he decides to go kayaking on the river Semois. Then he sees a face under the surface of the water. The face of a beautiful woman…

This story took more than twenty years to come together. Alle-sur-Semois is a real village in Belgium. I was there many years ago and at the time, the river Semois was covered in river crowfoot, a blooming water plant. It looked stunning, like mermaid hair, so I came up with an idea for a story about a siren who lives in the river Semois, though I got further than the title and a few paragraphs of description. I recently found the old file again and decided to finally write the story.

July 31, 2022: The Queen from the Stars, sword and planet, 6031 words

It’s a familiar story. A spaceship from Earth crashlands on an alien world and an astronaut winds up falling in love with and marrying the local ruler. But astronaut Madeleine Kennedy finds out that marrying the king of a war-torn alien world is not such a great idea, if it makes you and your children a target for murderous warlords. She also finds out that her husband has been lying to her… a lot. But can she really go home again? And what about her children?

This story basically tells what happens after the usual “Earthperson crashlands on alien planet and falls in love with local royalty” sword and planet story ends, namely that there isn’t necessarily a happy ending. Though the actual inspiration was watching the Masters of the Universe cartoons and thinking that considering how much crap Queen Marlena has to put up with – constant attacks, permanent wars, one child stolen and the other in constant danger – I’m surprised that she didn’t grab her kids at the first opportunity and hightailed it back to Earth. And then I thought, “But what would have happened, if she had?”

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And that’s it for this year’s challenge. Thirty-one stories in thirty-one days. And even though a lot of them were shorter than usual, because I had a lot of work and other crap to deal with this month, I still made it.

 

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