Loki Meets “The Variant”

Another Wednesday, another episode of Loki. For my takes on previous episodes (well, just one so far), go here.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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Cora Talks About Old SFF Elsewhere

“But what’s new about that?” some of you will ask. She always talks about old SFF somewhere.

However, today I had not one but two items coming out elsewhere. The first is my latest post over at Galactic Journey, where I talk about the science fiction anthology Orbit 1, edited by Damon Knight (and also about a lost whale on the Rhine). Orbit 1 is not only a very good anthology, where even the weaker stories are worth reading, but it’s doubly remarkable, because the table of contents is fifty percent women – in 1966.

Of course, we know that the “Women did not write SFF before [insert date here]” claims are nonsense, but it’s still nice to find an anthology or a magazine with a fifty percent famel table of contents in the 1960s, when all-male table of contents were the norm rather than the exception.

In some ways, the stories in Orbit are works of their time – 1960s/70s concerns about overpopulation pop up a few times as do the even older obsessions about racial memory and “Oh my God, we might devolve!” which pop up in SFF all the way back to the 1930s – but in other way, the stories feel remarkably modern. The stories deal with how humans can relate to the Other (usually represented by aliens), how to communicate with beings of different cultures, whether violence is really the best solution (spoiler alert: It’s not) and the dark sides of colonialism and imperialism. The story that most clearly criticises colonialism and points out that even initially good intentions can lead to bad outcomes is by Poul Anderson of all people, i.e. not an author anybody would accuse of being a strident Social Justice Warrior. Though this was likely written before the rightwing libertarian brain eater virus that spread through the SFF community in the 1960s and 1970s and beyond got Anderson.

ETA: In a stroke of cosmic serendipity, James Davis Nicoll has also just reviewed Orbit 1. Check out his thoughts here.

ETA 2: Apparently, I’ve also pissed off some people by daring to give the James Blish and Thomas M. Disch stories a low rating.

However, I’m not just at Galactic Journey today. I’m also the special guest in episode 97 of the Appendix N Book Club, a great podcast (which I featured as part of my fancast spotlight here) which discusses the inspirational works listed in the Appendix N of the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide.

In this episode, we discussed Xiccarph, a collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s interplanetary tales which came out in 1972 as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, even though the stories date from the 1920s and 1930s.

I have two Clark Ashton Smith collections on my book shelf, but the first time I tried to read him, I bounced off Clark Ashton Smith’s work. This is not Smith’s fault at all – I was basically challenged to read Smith by someone who was convinced I was too stupid to understand him, which obviously did not make me inclined to enjoy the experience. Though the stories and the haunting atmosphere Smith creates were clearly memorable, because I found that I could recall details of several Smith stories, even though it has been more than twenty years since I first read them.

So I was happy to be given a most excellent excuse to revisit Clark Ashton Smith’s work. I appreciated his work a lot more the second time around. Indeed, one thing I’ve found with many of the authors associated with Weird Tales is that I enjoy their work more upon rereading it – including things like the Conan, Jirel of Joiry or Northwest Smith stories I liked the first time around, too. Though I still think that Clark Ashton Smith is best savoured in smaller doses.

Anyway, just listen to the episode and then listen to the other 96 episodes of the Appendix N Book Club, because it is a really great podcast.

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New Story “The Gate of Mist” available in Issue 3 of Whetstone Magazine of Sword and Sorcery

I have two links to share today. First of all, my friend and fellow Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist Paul Weimer has revived the popular Mind Meld feature, where several SFF authors and fans answer the same question, at nerds of a feather.

This edition of the Mind Meld asks the following following question:

Congratulations. You have been given a Star Trek style holodeck, fully capable otherwise, you can bring in anyone you want, hold a roomful of people but not an entire Worldcon in it,  but you can only program it to be fixed to one time and place or the verse of one fictional work or series.

Where/what do you program your holodeck for? (Star Wars and Star Trek are off the table!)

Visit nerds of a feather to read the answers of Fonda Lee, K.B. Wagers, Beverly Bambury, Arturo Serrano, Mikalea Lind, Camestros Felapton, H.M. Long, Claire O’Dell, Maurice Broaddus, Catherine Lundoff, Elizabeth Bear, Andrew Hiller, K.B. Spengler, Nancy Jane Moore, Shelley Parker-Chan and myself.

I have to admit that Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar and Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age were on my shortlist of possible places to program my holodeck for, before I decided on a setting with indoor plumbing and less chance of random and brutal death.

Whetstone Issue 3Therefore, it’s only fitting that my other announcement concerns new sword and sorcery fiction. Because issue 3 of Whetstone Amateur Magazine of Sword and Sorcery just came out today on the 85th anniversary of the death of Robert E. Howard, founding father of the sword and sorcery genre and creator of Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, Dark Agnes and many others.

This issue includes my story “The Gate of Mist” as well as new sword and sorcery tales (as well as at least one sword and planet story) by N.A. Chaudhry, Michael Burke, Jace Phelps, Chuck E. Clark, Scott Schmidt, Luke E. Dodd, J. Thomas Howard, Ethan Sabatella, T.A. Markitan, L.D. Whitney, Rob Graham, George Jacobs, Richard Truong, B. Harlan Crawford and Dimitar Dakovski with an introduction by editor Jason Ray Carney and a great cover by Mustafa Bekir.

My story is called “The Gate of Mist”. It’s another story that originated during the 2020 July Short Story Challenge. At the time, I called it “Brokeback Mountain”, but with warrior monks and cloud monsters (and a happy for now ending), which is still an appropriate description. Come to think of it, the fact that “The Gate of Mist” is an LGBTQ+ story makes it doubly appropriate, because June is also Pride Month.

So what are you waiting for? Get issue 3 of Whetstone here.

ETA: Here’s a review of Whetstone Issue 3 by J. Thomas Howard, who is also one of the authors who appear in this issue.

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Loki Finds His “Glorious Purpose”

“Glorious Purpose”, the first episode of Loki, Disney’s latest Marvel related TV offering, became available for streaming today. I’m not sure if I’ll do episode by episode reviews of this one, because it’s a lot of work, but here are my thoughts on the premiere.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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Fanzine Spotlight: Ansible

I initially started the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project to highlight Hugo-eligible fanzines, fansites and podcasts. For more about the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project, go here. You can also check out the other great fanzines and fancasts featured by clicking here.

The Hugo finalists for 2021 have long since been announced, but I want to keep the project going, because after the Hugo nominations is before the Hugo nominations. And besides, there are still a lot of great fanzines, blogs and podcasts out there that I haven’t covered.

Today’s featured fanzine is a true classic. Ansible is a six-time Hugo winner in itself, while editor/writer David Langford has won a staggering twenty-one Hugo Awards for Best Fan Writer.

Therefore, I’m pleased to welcome David Langford to my blog:

Ansible Logo

Tell us about your site or zine.

My fanzine is the newsletter or newszine Ansible, which tries, maybe not always successfully, to cover highlights of the SF and fan scene from a British viewpoint while struggling to retain a sense of humour. Once upon a time Ansible appeared only in printed form — mimeographed in the early years from 1979, just as in The Enchanted Duplicator. There was a gap in the continuity after the 1987 UK Worldcon where Ansible won its first Hugo, but I started afresh in 1991 and have kept to a monthly schedule ever since. Charles Stross first posted the electronic text (sent to him on floppy disks) to Usenet, for several months in 1993 before I caught up with his cutting-edge technology; email and website distribution soon followed.

Who are the people behind your site or zine?

In theory it’s just me. In practice I couldn’t keep going without all the correspondents who send obituaries, interesting news snippets, more obituaries, convention news, too many obituaries, and contributions to such regular departments as As Others See Us and Thog’s Masterclass. The first collects notably patronizing or ignorant comments on the SF genre from the mainstream media, with special attention to authors who write science fiction but prefer to pretend they don’t (Margaret Atwood once explained that SF was “talking squids in outer space” and since she didn’t write that she had to be innocent of SF contamination). Thog’s Masterclass is for embarrassingly or comically bad sentences in published fiction, not always SF — as well as the usual genre suspects, the Masterclass has showcased such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Vladimir Nabokov and Sean Penn.

Why did you decide to start your site or zine?

My unconvincing story is that it’s all the fault of Peter Roberts, the long-time UK fan who throughout the 1970s published what was then our national SF/fan newsletter, Checkpoint. By 1979 he’d grown weary of it and looked around for some gullible young lad to take over the subscription list, though not (he insisted) the title. That lad was myself, and the first issue of Ansible appeared at the 1979 UK Worldcon. Peter’s words in Checkpoint #97 — “Checkpoint will be folding with the 100th issue, that being more than enough for any sane fan editor” — have regularly returned to haunt me, most recently when I published Ansible #400.

What format do you use for your site or zine (blog, e-mail newsletter, PDF zine, paper zine) and why did you choose this format?

All of the above. I always do the printed Ansible first, which since 1991 has been a single sheet of A4. The mailing envelopes are traditionally stuffed during a pub lunch, replaced since March 2020 by a simulated pub lunch at home. Each issue then hits the website as a two-page PDF identical to the print version, and as an HTML page with a few extras at the end. Next comes a plain-text version for the email list, the other email list for people who are paranoid about Google Groups, Usenet and so on. There are a couple of blogs that don’t actually host Ansible but announce and link to new issues, which I also do on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thus, by madly embracing every format I can cope with, I can evade difficult questions like “why did you choose this format?”

The fanzine category at the Hugos is one of the oldest, but also the category which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines and sites are important?

Force of habit. After all, I’ve been reading fanzines for very nearly fifty years (gulp), writing for them since 1975 and publishing them since 1976. My wife says helpfully supportive things like, “Isn’t it time to retire?”

In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online. What do you think the future of fanzines looks like?

Like today but more so? I privately regret the increasing move to podcasts and other audiovisual channels, because I love the printed word and also have serious long-standing hearing problems. Hence the tasteful UK fan catchphrase of the 1970s: “that deaf twit Langford”.

The four fan categories of the Hugos (best fanzine, fan writer, fan artist and fancast) tend to get less attention than the fiction and dramatic presentation categories. Are there any awesome fanzines, fancasts, fan writers and fan artists you’d like to recommend?

Having grown up in primitive fannish times when it was considered rather ostentatious to type in a straight line or pay attention to page margins, I’ve been impressed by some of today’s high-class printed fanzines such as the recent memorial double issue of the late Bill Bowers’s Outworlds, William Breiding’s Portable Storage, Michael Dobson’s Random Jottings and Bruce Gillespie’s long-running (since 1969!) but still amazing SF Commentary. Outside the realm of impressive production values, Fred Lerner’s quietly literate and erudite Lofgeornost is also much appreciated here. I suppose I’m out of touch with the fannish Zeitgeist, since none of the above is a current Hugo finalist. All of them helped goad me to produce my own POD fanwriting collections Beachcombings and Don’t Try This at Home, if only for something to send in trade.

As already indicated, I don’t have anything to say about fancasts… but must gratefully mention the fan artists who brighten up Ansible, currently Brad W. Foster, Sue Mason and Ulrika O’Brien in rotation. With occasional guest appearances by the late Arthur “Atom” Thomson, just for the nostalgia value.

Where can people find you?

The main Ansible site, which archives all the back issues and supplements, plus Ansible’s predecessor Checkpoint:

https://news.ansible.uk/

Thog’s own site, explaining the origins of this barbarian critic and including the infamous Thog-o-Matic Random Selector with its “I Feel Unlucky” button:

http://thog.org/

Social media:

https://www.facebook.com/ansible

https://twitter.com/ansiblemag

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First Monday Free Fiction: Countdown to Death

Countdown to Death coverWelcome to the June 2021 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.

As you may know, I just published Tales of the Silencer, a collection of all Silencer stories to date. Therefore, it’s only fitting that this month’s free story is a Silencer story, namely the very first one, Countdown to Death.

So follow Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the Silencer as he faces his…

Countdown to Death

“SILENCER TO FACE HANGMAN” the headline screamed. Blood red letters, two inch high, running through a rotary press at a rate of five hundred pages per minute.

Jake Levonsky grabbed a paper from the press and scanned the opening paragraph:

Appeal denied — Vigilante to be executed on Tuesday

Today, the governor revoked the final appeal of Richard Blakemore, which means that Blakemore will die in the electric chair on Tuesday.

The local writer and playboy brought many a criminal to justice in the guise of the masked vigilante known as the Silencer, a pulp character of his own creation. Earlier this year, Blakemore was found guilty of murdering the mobster Antonio Tortelli…

“Bullshit,” Levonsky exclaimed and flung the paper into a corner. The fresh ink came off on his fingers and he rubbed them carelessly in his pants.

“Jake, I realize that you’re biased.” Randall Whitman bent down to rescue the paper Levonsky had so casually tossed. Even at a print run of five hundred thousand, he still hated to see even a single paper go to waste. “After all, the man used to work for you.”

“Richard Blakemore didn’t just work for me.” Levonsky puffed his omnipresent cigar. “He is my star author, damn it! The mainstay of my magazine line.”

“And a convicted murderer.”

“Bullshit,” Levonsky roared, loud enough to momentarily drown out the printing press, “I know Richard Blakemore and I know that he didn’t murder anybody.”

“But he was found guilty…”

“A gross miscarriage of justice.”

“There were witnesses…”

“Criminals. Mobsters. Liars, one and all.”

“There was also evidence. Even you can’t deny that, Jake.”

“False. Fabricated.” Puffs of cigar smoke punctuated every single word.

Randall Whitman drew on his pipe “They found Blakemore’s fingerprints all over Tortelli’s mansion,” he said, “They found Blakemore himself, unconscious, in Tortelli’s garden.”

“He was framed.” A perfectly formed smoke ring escaped from Levonsky’s mouth. “Richard Blakemore would never have been so stupid.”

“And what about the full Silencer costume found in Blakemore’s house. Coat, hat, mask, bulletproof steel vest, twin .45 automatics. Just as described in the magazines, to the last detail. What was Blakemore doing with that stuff?”

Levonsky shrugged. “He had all that stuff to try out how it would feel to be in the Silencer’s shoes, to wear that costume and all that equipment. Richard always researched his stories very thoroughly.”

“Come on, Jake. He had the costume and all that, because he was the Silencer. Maybe he really wanted to try out how it felt at first, but then something snapped and he started to believe that he was his own character.” Whitman took another draw of his pipe. “I mean, most of those pulp authors are more or less crazy. That’s probably what happens when you crank out a full-length novel per month. Blakemore just went too far and now he’s paying the price…”

Levonsky jabbed his cigar at Whitman, sprinkling ashes all over the floor. “And there we have it, Randall! Now you’re going to tell me how inferior my magazine line is to your newspaper. And next you’re going to blame me for all this, because I published the damn Silencer magazine in this first place.”

Whitman put a calming hand on the shoulder of his enraged colleague. “Jake, nobody’s blaming you. Hell, I’m not even blaming Blakemore. He did the right thing, if you ask me. Put away a lot of criminals that needed putting away. Plus, the Silencer sightings were always good for a story. But the law is the law, and the law says Blakemore is a murderer. There’s nothing you or I can do about it.”

Levonsky sighed. “I know. It’s just that I know the man. He’s been working for me for three years now. He’s been to my house, met my family. And I just cannot believe that he’s a murderer.”

Whitman gave him a sympathetic nod. “You look like you could use a drink, Jake,” he said, “Let’s go up to my office. I have a good bottle of Bourbon stashed away in my desk.”

***

It was late at night and so the usually busy offices of the New York Star were largely deserted. Whitman and Levonsky made their way through empty desks and abandoned typewriters towards Whitman’s corner office.

Randall Whitman pushed the door open and flipped the light switch on. But the office remained dark. There was a movement in a corner. Then suddenly, a figure stepped from the shadows into the dim light falling in from the bullpen. A sinister figure, dressed in a long black coat with gleaming silver buttons and a black wide-brimmed hat. The face was entirely covered by a mask of polished steel.

Levonsky gulped. He knew who the mysterious figure was. He knew only too well. After all, that very same figure appeared every month on the cover of Levonsky’s best-selling pulp magazine.

Whitman knew who the visitor was as well. “The Silencer,” he whispered, “the real one.”

“Good evening, gentlemen,” the masked man said. His voice sounded hoarse and tinny. “Sit down.” He pointed at the two empty chairs in front of Whitman’s desk with one of his silver-plated .45 automatics.

Both Levonsky and Whitman did as he said, never taking their eyes of the masked stranger. The Silencer himself sat down in Whitman’s swivel chair, leisurely, seemingly at ease. But the automatic always remained within reach.

He looked different than Levonsky had expected. Or rather, he looked different from the artist’s representations on the covers of Levonsky’s pulp magazines. Shorter, slighter, less muscular. But no less menacing. Though the righteous had nothing to fear from the Silencer, Levonsky reminded himself.

“You know who I am,” the masked man said, “You know what I do. You have both detailed my exploits in your publications. You know what I stand for. Justice.”

Now the Silencer looked directly at Whitman and Levonsky, an eerie red glow where his eyes should be. “There is an innocent man on death row in Sing Sing and I cannot allow that. I want you to write about it, to tell your readers about it. Good night, gentlemen.”

Without another word, the Silencer got up, spun around with a swish of his long coat and walked over to the window. He pushed the window up, climbed outside and vanished. For a few seconds, Whitman and Levonsky remained where they were, just starring after the vigilante. Them as if on cue, both men scrambled to their feet and rushed over to the open window. Sticking their heads out into the stifling city air, they looked left, right, down, even up. But the mysterious cloaked figure was nowhere to be seen.

“Vanished, just like that,” Whitman said, closing the window, “How does he do that?”

“Thin and extremely strong grappling cord,” Levonsky replied, “according to the novels at least.”

His mind still couldn’t quite accept what had just happened, what he had seen. For despite all the reports in the news, all the letters his magazine received, Jake Levonsky had never actually believed that there was a real Silencer. He had always dismissed the people who claimed to have seen him as crazy. Until today…

Whitman, on the other hand, seemed to have far fewer problems accepting their encounter with the masked vigilante. “Amazing,” he exclaimed, “We just met the Silencer. The real Silencer. I can already see the headline: ‘Eye to eye with death — My encounter with the Silencer’ By Randall J. Whitman.”

He rushed from the office into the bullpen. “Stop the presses,” he yelled, though it was doubtful that anybody heard him. “Maybe we can still get that story in the morning edition.”

“What’s your problem, Jake?” Whitman asked, noticing Levonsky’s sceptical look, “He explicitly asked us to write about it.”

“I know. It’s just… I have no one to write about this. Richard Blakemore wrote all the Silencer novels, and he…”

“Well, it’s still five days till Tuesday. Maybe you can get Blakemore to crank out one last Silencer story till then. Hell, it’s not as if he’s got anything better to do…”

***

It was 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and police captain Justin O’Grady had just returned to his home. He had spent most of the night listening to the statements of two hysterical newspapermen who claimed to have received a visit from the Silencer.

It was bullshit of course. A big load of bullshit. There were no witnesses except the two gentlemen of the press, no fingerprints, no evidence, no nothing. O’Grady was convinced that the two men had made the whole story up. Whitman owned the largest newspaper in town and Levonsky was a pulp publisher. They both made their living making up stories. And now they had made one up trying to help a mutual friend. It was only natural.

Only five days left. Or rather, four days and three hours. Weird things tended to happen so close to the execution date. Surprise witnesses coming out of the woodwork, people making false confessions. It happened every damned time.

If only it was Tuesday already… — No, that was wrong! O’Grady wished no man death, even if he deserved it. He would certainly not wish it upon a man he had once called friend.

But Richard Blakemore was guilty, there was no doubt about it. If there had been doubt, no matter how slight, O’Grady would have done everything in his power to save him. But Blakemore was guilty, damn it! All the evidence pointed to him. His fingerprints found in Tortelli’s house. Blakemore himself, found unconscious in Tortelli’s garden with Tortelli’s blood all over his clothes. Witnesses who claimed to have seen Blakemore with Tortelli. The fact that the Silencer had publicly sworn to bring down the mob, by all means necessary.

And Richard Blakemore wrote the Silencer tales for Levonsky’s magazine line. Allegedly inspired by the real life vigilante’s exploits. But the pulp stories were often way too close to the truth, as O’Grady had found out once he had actually forced himself to read one of the wretched things. To top it off, the Silencer’s costume and equipment were found in Blakemore’s house, neatly hidden behind a false wall. He was guilty, there was no other explanation. O’Grady had been right to arrest him, the judge and jury had been right to convict him.

It still didn’t make O’Grady feel any better, though. He had always held a grudging respect for the mysterious vigilante, even though they had been professional enemies. But the Silencer’s own brand of two gun justice had helped to put many a criminal behind lock and bar, to make the city a safer place. And Richard Blakemore, Richard Blakemore had been his friend, damn it. A man O’Grady had trusted, even though Blakemore had constantly betrayed that trust. How many times had he come to O’Grady. Just a friendly chat, he’d said, but in truth he’d been fishing for information. Research for his pulp stories, he had called it. Some research.

He needed a drink, O’Grady realized. There was a bottle of Malt in the cupboard. So he stumbled into the living room, weary to his bones. There was no light, but O’Grady didn’t need any. He knew his way around even in complete darkness. His fingers found the cupboard, opened it, took out the bottle and a glass. He twisted off the cap and began to pour.

“Got one for me, too, O’Grady?” a strange voice asked.

O’Grady spun around, spilling whiskey in the process. Every muscle, every sinew, every nerve in his body tensed. “Who are you?” he called out into the darkness.

“You know who I am, O’Grady,” the voice said. It was a peculiar voice, strangely hollow, with an almost metallic tinge.

In the middle of the darkened room, the outline of a figure appeared. A man, somewhat shorter than O’Grady, dressed in a long coat and a wide-brimmed hat. Stray beams of moonlight fell through the window, revealing gleaming metal where the stranger’s face should have been.

“The Silencer,” O’Grady whispered. Behind his back, he was frantically fumbling for his back-up gun in the open cupboard.

“Put your hands where I can see them,” the Silencer commanded. The moonlight struck a metallic object in his right hand. A gun, O’Grady realized.

“And don’t even think of grabbing the spare revolver you always keep in that cupboard,” the Silencer said. Damn, how could he know? “You would regret it.”

“I thought you didn’t shoot police officers,” O’Grady said.

“I don’t shoot anybody unless I’m threatened. And I wouldn’t even need to fire to put you out of commission. So play it cool and nobody gets hurt.”

“What do you want?” O’Grady demanded.

“You know what I want. The release of Richard Blakemore. He is innocent.”

“You know I can’t do that. Blakemore was legally tried and convicted. In the eyes of the law he’s guilty.”

“But you don’t believe he did it?”

“It doesn’t matter what I believe. Blakemore was found guilty. And there’s nothing you and I can do about it.” O’Grady took a deep breath. “What are you trying to accomplish anyway? Prove that Richard Blakemore is not the Silencer? It’s too late for that, damn it. If you really wanted to do something, you should’ve shown up at the trial. Hell, why didn’t you?”

“I believe in justice,” the Silencer said, “It’s only when justice fails that I take action. And justice has failed in the case of Richard Blakemore. You will help me to remedy that, Justin O’Grady. Good night.”

With that, the Silencer spun around, making a good show of swirling his long black coat, and walked towards the window.

“Wait,” O’Grady called after him, “Did you murder Antonio Tortelli?”

The Silencer stopped in front of the open window. “I did not,” he said, “Neither did Richard Blakemore.”

“Then who murdered Tortelli?”

“Isn’t it your job to find that out, Captain,” the Silencer said and jumped out of the window.

As soon as he was gone, O’Grady grabbed his gun and rushed after him. But when he reached the window, he could see nothing out there except his own backyard, peaceful in the moonlight.

Cursing, O’Grady put his gun away and switched on the light in the living room. So the two gentlemen of the press had told the truth after all. There really was somebody out there, masquerading as the Silencer. And he was very concerned about the fate of Richard Blakemore.

Could it be that they had been wrong after all, that Richard Blakemore was not the Silencer? That Blakemore was not the murderer of Antonio Tortelli? No, the evidence had been absolutely watertight. Blakemore was guilty, there was no doubt about that.

But then who… what was this Silencer? A last ditch attempt to save Blakemore, that’s what. Somebody dressing up in hat, coat and mask, hoping to convince everybody that he was the real Silencer, that Blakemore was innocent after all. Who though? Somebody close to Blakemore, that much was certain. The fake Silencer’s voice and appearance didn’t suggest anybody specific. Not that there were a whole lot of possibilities.

O’Grady picked up the phone. Maybe it wasn’t the best of ideas to ring up Judge Perkins at this time of the night. But he wanted to see an end put to this nonsense. As soon as possible.

***

Early the next morning, Justin O’Grady arrived in front of Richard Blakemore’s house, accompanied by eight police officers. It was a strange house. Large, a mansion almost, entirely built of grey granite. The architecture was decidedly modernist, but nevertheless the house had an archaic feel. Like a medieval fortress, forbidding, with a sinister air. A fitting residence for a masked vigilante, O’Grady thought. And the money to pay for all this certainly did not come from cranking out pulp novels for Jake Levonsky at two cents a word.

O’Grady took a deep breath, walked up to the massive oak door and rung the bell. The door opened and O’Grady experienced a slight shock. He had expected the butler to open, a fiercely loyal man named Cassidy. Or the housekeeper, one Mrs Travis, who claimed to know absolutely nothing of her employer’s nocturnal activities and quite possibly didn’t. He had not expected this.

For there in the doorway stood a young woman. She was tall, almost as tall as O’Grady. Under different circumstances, she would have been called beautiful. But her eyes were reddened and weary. Her skin had a ghostly pale tone, enhanced by the simple black dress she was wearing. Red hair fell down to her shoulders, slightly wavy, but otherwise unstyled.

O’Grady knew her. He knew her only too well, even though she was about the last person he wanted to see right now. Constance Allen, Richard Blakemore’s fiancée.

“What do you want, Justin?” she said brusquely. There was something cold and hard in her eyes. “If this is just a social call, I’d prefer if you left. Now.”

“I’m sorry, Constance, but I’m here on business,” O’Grady said and held the warrant up for her to see.

“Well then, come in,” she said and stepped aside, “I don’t have the power to stop you.”

O’Grady felt her eyes burning into him. If looks could kill… — well, he’d be a smoldering pile of ash right now. “She hates me,” he thought, “And with good reason, too.”

Most women wouldn’t take it well, if you sent their fiancé to the electric chair. And Constance Allen was not like most women. She was tougher, stronger. The kind of woman who knew how to ride a horse and how to operate an automobile. The kind of woman who was equally adept with a tennis racket and a hunting rifle. One of the strange androgynous creatures birthed by this modern age. Yet still utterly devoted to her fiancé. Not many women would have stood by Richard Blakemore throughout his trial and conviction. Not many women would have endured the publicity, the gossip, the shame. Constance Allen had.

O’Grady was certain that she had been privy to Blakemore’s secret. Not that he had ever been able to prove anything. But Constance Allen had had dealings with the Silencer, he knew that much. The vigilante had brought her father’s killer, the fiend known as the Scarlet Executioner, to justice. And saved Constance Allen from the villain’s guillotine. She had started dating Richard Blakemore at around the same time. Coincidence? Certainly not.

A thorough search of the house yielded nothing, except hostile looks from its occupants. Even the secret room, hidden behind a revolving bookshelf, was as empty as O’Grady had left it after his men had last searched the place.

“I don’t know what you hope to find,” Constance Allen said to him. She was standing in the middle of the library, flanked by the furious butler and upset housekeeper. “But it’s quite obviously not here. So I’d be very grateful if you and your men could leave now.”

Damn, O’Grady had been sure that he would find something. A second Silencer costume for example, hidden in the secret room behind the bookshelf. A long black coat, a slouch hat lying at the back of some wardrobe. The Silencer’s steel mask, hidden in that workshop/laboratory in the cellar. Two silver-plated .45 automatics, locked away in a drawer of Blakemore’s elaborately carved ebony writing desk. Any kind of evidence to justify what he was about to do. Not that he couldn’t do without.

O’Grady turned to the butler. “Neal Cassidy,” he said, “You’re under arrest.”

Protest arose at once, though strangely enough not from the butler.

“You can’t just arrest him, Justin,” Constance Allen exclaimed, “What is the charge?”

“Breaking and entering, threatening a police officer, and that’s just for starters. The Silencer paid me a visit last night. It seems he also harassed Jake Levonsky and Randall Whitman of the Star.”

“Then what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be out there, hunting the Silencer?”

“Come on, Constance, let’s forget all pretenses for once. Richard is the Silencer. You and I both know it. But Richard is locked away in Sing Sing. So the question is, who was wearing the Silencer costume last night. Regarding the circumstances, it’s safe to assume that it was someone close to Richard. And since I do not believe that you or Mrs Travis go roaming the streets by night, dressed in coat, mask and slouch hat, Mr. Cassidy is by far the most likely suspect.”

“You have no proof,” Constance Allen snapped, “These charges will never stick.”

O’Grady was well aware of that himself. But he had Judge Perkins’ support.

“I don’t need the charges to stick permanently. All I need is Mr Cassidy out of the way for a few days. And given his past record it shouldn’t be too hard to keep him behind lock and bar for some days, evidence or not.”

Neal Cassidy had been a smalltime crook in the years directly after the Great War. Involved in gambling, smuggling, probably worse. Then, in ’32 he’d gone straight all of a sudden and became Blakemore’s devoted butler.

O’Grady looked the man up and down. Light but muscular body, slightly shorter than O’Grady himself, the stature was like that of the man who had visited him. The voice was wrong, but maybe Blakemore had developed some means of distorting it. And the butler was a perfect fit otherwise. Athletic though no longer young, with a shady past that had taught him all the skills the Silencer might need, utterly devoted to Blakemore. There was no doubt. Neal Cassidy was the man who had posed as the Silencer last night.

“Johnson, Avery,” O’Grady called to two of his men, “Take him away. And see to it that he knows his rights, we don’t want any legal complications here.”

“You will hear from our lawyer,” Constance Allen hissed, as she watched the two policemen handcuff the butler, “I will not let this happen.”

“It’s okay, Miss Constance,” Cassidy said. Throughout the arrest, he had not offered the least bit of resistance. “I’ll be fine. You just look out for the boss.”

Then Johnson and Avery took him away, muttering the prisoner’s rights, mechanically, like a poem recited far too often. O’Grady turned around and followed them, all the while feeling Constance Allen’s green eyes burning into his back.

***

Fourteen very exhausting hours later, Justin O’Grady was finally returning to his home. He had spent most of the day trying to question Neal Cassidy. To no avail, because the butler just sat there with a defiant smile on his face, saying nothing.

Then he had to deal with the press who had magically shown up, even though the arrest had not been announced. There had been a lot of questions, of course. Questions that O’Grady neither could nor wanted to answer. Finally, he had grabbed Randall Whitman of the Star to confront him with the prisoner. He had hoped to get a positive identification, after all Whitman had been visited by the Silencer the night before. But as it was, Whitman could not tell the butler from a lamp post. “How should I know if that’s the man, Captain,” he said to O’Grady, “He was wearing a mask.”

The afternoon and most of the evening had been spent fencing with Blakemore’s lawyer over the release of Neal Cassidy. For of course the lawyer believed that the arrest was unlawful. And went on to claim that his client had only been arrested because of his association with the convicted murderer Richard Blakemore. Which was even true. Then the whole thing turned into a lecture on the Blakemore case and how the police and the justice system had failed his client. The lawyer finally ended his rant with “Damn you, O’Grady, the man was your friend!”

Was. As if the executioner had flicked that switch already. Even though Richard Blakemore still had a little over three days to live. This whole damned case was tearing at O’Grady’s nerves as much as at everybody else’s. He needed a drink, he realized. He had felt that need with alarming frequency lately.

O’Grady fumbled with the key and finally managed to push the door open. A stiff drink and a warm bed, that was all he wanted right now…

“You messed up, O’Grady,” a hollow voice said from somewhere within the house. Because of the darkness, O’Grady couldn’t see where it came from. But then he didn’t need to. He already knew who it was.

“You got the wrong man,” the voice said, its tone harsh and mocking, “Again.”

O’Grady flicked the light switch with his left hand, simultaneously reaching for his gun with the right. The lights flickered on, revealing a familiar figure in black standing in the middle of the hallway. But even in bright light, the figure’s appearance gave no clue to his identity. For that mask of polished steel revealed nothing.

Well, O’Grady would find out who was behind that mask. He would find out in a minute. Because he had absolutely had enough of this nonsense. “Hands up, Silencer,” he said, “You’re under arrest.” With that he aimed his gun straight at the mysterious figure.

“Don’t be ridiculous, O’Grady,” the Silencer said. In a movement almost too swift for human eyes to follow he drew one of his own guns and pointed it straight at O’Grady. “You don’t have what it takes to capture me. And anyway, I’m not your enemy.”

“You break into my house,” O’Grady said without lowering his gun, “Twice. You threaten me with your gun. Not exactly the behaviour of a friend.”

“But sadly necessary, since you insist on arresting me. And everybody you believe to be me. Neal Cassidy is innocent. As is Richard Blakemore. But there is a murderer out there, free. Antonio Tortelli’s murderer. Instead of wasting your time chasing phantoms, you should rather chase him.”

“Well, since you seem to know everything, who murdered Tortelli then? Can you answer that?”

“I’m sure you could answer that question yourself, O’Grady. If you’d only use your brain for once. Who profits from Tortelli’s demise? Who profits from having the Silencer out of the way? Those are the questions you should be asking yourself. Good night, O’Grady.”

The Silencer turned around, the black coat swirling behind him. “Stop,” O’Grady yelled. He brought up his pistol and aimed it at the black-clad figure. But the Silencer was faster. The silver-plated automatic flashed, as a shot was fired into the hallway. Glass shattered. O’Grady ducked. The lights went out.

Only now did O’Grady realize that he had never been the target. The Silencer did not fire on policemen, not even when cornered. However, he had no compunctions about firing at wall lamps. Cursing, O’Grady got up and stumbled through the darkened corridor after the fleeing vigilante.

He finally made it into the living room and fumbled for the switch beside the door. The lights came on, momentarily blinding O’Grady. He blinked once, twice, until his eyes had become accustomed to the light. The room was empty, and a soft night breeze was blowing in through the open window. Damn!

O’Grady was about to rush over to the window, even though he knew that it was in vain. But then he noticed a strange chiming sound. The telephone was ringing. It had been ringing for about half a minute, but O’Grady only became aware of it now. He took up the receiver and bellowed, “Yes, O’Grady here.”

“It’s Burton, sir,” the voice at the other end of the line said. O’Grady recognized it as the night shift sergeant. “We just got an emergency call from Judge Perkins. You won’t believe what happened, sir. The Silencer paid him a visit half an hour ago.”

“Yeah, me too,” O’Grady said and hung up.

He sighed. It would be another long night. But he would put an end to this nonsense once and for all. Even if it meant arresting every single person in the city who had ever had contact with Richard Blakemore.

***

Jake Levonsky was not at all happy about being arrested. His wife and teenaged daughter were watching in tears, as O’Grady’s men took him away, hands cuffed behind his back. The magazine publisher himself was yelling insults and did not shut up until he was locked in a cell at the police station.

The lawyer was even worse. He was ranting as well, though thankfully not quite as loud as Levonsky. However, he kept on threatening to sue the police in general and O’Grady in particular. O’Grady would even have taken that threat seriously, if he hadn’t had Judge Perkins’ full support. But the judge had been severely rattled by the unexpected visit the night before. His wife had even fainted in shock. So Perkins was willing to do whatever it took to stop the Silencer once and for all. Even if it meant arresting one of the city’s best known lawyers.

On the other hand, Blakemore’s gardener, an aged black man named Eugene, took his arrest surprisingly well. He did not resist, he did not complain. He only kept muttering “I don’t know nothing” over and over again.

Timmy Thompson, finally, a fourteen-year-old newsboy whom Blakemore had taken under his wing, just began to cry and did not stop until he finally fell asleep on the narrow cot in the holding cell.

O’Grady was about to go home, to finally get some sleep himself, when the phone on his desk rang.

“Maybe you should arrest yourself, O’Grady…,” a hollow metallic voice said. It was a voice that O’Grady knew only too well. “…considering that you used to be friends with Richard Blakemore. Word of advice though. Instead of harassing innocent citizens, you should rather hunt down the real murderers of Antonio Tortelli.”

“Damn it, who are you?” O’Grady yelled into the receiver but the Silencer had already hung up. And of course the technicians — damned useless lot that they were — didn’t manage to trace the call.

O’Grady was at the end of his wits now. He had arrested every possible and impossible suspect and still the Silencer roamed free. Had he been wrong after all? Was the Silencer someone else altogether, someone totally unconnected to Richard Blakemore? But that would mean that Richard Blakemore, the man who would die in the electric chair less than two days from now, might be innocent after all… Only one person knew for sure. And O’Grady would talk to that very person. Even though he was less than certain that he would get an answer.

***

In the grey dusk of a dreary November day, Sing Sing prison looked even more oppressive than usual. Justin O’Grady shivered as he passed the massive gates. Walking the path to the death house, he felt the cold gnaw down to his bones.

“Quite unusual that you’d want to see an inmate so shortly before the date,” the warden remarked.

“A new situation has come up,” O’Grady said.

“Well, I hope that it’s a good one for that poor guy. I always liked the Silencer, you know. If there were more of his kind, there’d be less to do for me and my kind. A very pleasant fellow, too, this Mr Blakemore. A true gentleman.”

Sing Sing death house was a like a maze. O’Grady followed the warden through seemingly endless corridors deep into the bowels of the withered brick building. In the distance, he could hear the low humming of high-voltage electricity. It must have been a trick of the mind, for O’Grady knew that the generators wouldn’t be powered up. Not yet.

Finally, they reached their destination and the warden unlocked a door. “Please wait in here, Captain,” he said, “I’ll get the prisoner.”

The room was small and virtually featureless. A wooden table, two wooden chairs, a barred window, that was all. O’Grady sat down in one of the chairs and waited. The lone lightbulb flickered from time to time and O’Grady could hear that humming again, somewhere in the building. It was not an illusion. O’Grady pressed his hands over his ears, but it would not go away.

After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened again. The warden entered, together with a colleague. A third man was walking between them. He was dressed in standard prisoner’s garb, and he could not walk properly, only hobble, because his feet as well as his hands were bound.

But despite all that, there was an air of dignity about him. His back was upright, his dark hair was immaculately cut, his chin was clean shaven, his grey eyes were alert and intelligent. The man was Richard Blakemore, pulp writer, vigilante and convicted murderer.

“Justin, what a pleasant surprise,” Blakemore called out as soon as he noticed O’Grady. He tried to sound cheerful, but his words only barely masked the strain in his voice. “Been awhile.”

“Yeah, sorry,” O’Grady said, not looking Blakemore. He hadn’t been able to visit his former friend, here on death row in Sing Sing. Just as he wasn’t able to look Blakemore in the eyes now. To look a man in the eyes who would die tomorrow morning. Who would die because O’Grady might have made a mistake.

Blakemore sat down on the second wooden chair, which took awhile because his shackles made it difficult to move. O’Grady wished that the two guards would help him to sit down, but they remained standing next to the door, as stiff and unmoving as statues. They were making him nervous, O’Grady realized. And anyway, he didn’t need them here. He couldn’t talk freely with those two listening in.

“You can leave now,” he said to the two men.

“Are you sure, Captain? The prisoner might…”

“The prisoner will do nothing. Now would you please leave us alone?”

One of the guards shrugged his shoulders. “If you wish, Captain? We’ll be outside if you need us.” They left, locking the door behind them.

“What brings you here anyway, Justin?” Blakemore asked as soon as they were gone, “I was expecting my lawyer to be honest.”

“Your lawyer is part of the reason why I’m here. I was forced to arrest him yesterday.”

Richard Blakemore raised an eyebrow. “You arrested my lawyer?”

“And Jake Levonsky, Neal Cassidy, your gardener, young Timmy Thompson… I’d have arrested Randall Whitman, too, but Judge Perkins chickened out of it.”

“And why did you arrest all these people? Were they conspiring to break me out or something? In that case you should have arrested Mrs. Travis, too. I’m sure she was supplying the conspirators with her famous pumpkin cookies.”

“Damn it, Richard, this is serious. The Silencer is back. He paid me a visit Friday night and the night before. He harassed Whitman and Levonsky, or so they claim. And finally, he climbed through Judge Perkins’ bedroom window. Perkins is up in arms. Seems he nearly had a heart attack. His wife fainted from shock.”

Richard Blakemore smiled. “Hmm, now it gets interesting. And you believe that Cassidy or Levonsky or even my lawyer…?”

“Look, Richard, if you know anything at all about this…”

“Ha, that’s a good one, Justin. I’ve been locked up here for eight months now. Every visit, every phone call, every letter is monitored. I’ve spent the last week or so in a windowless cell with someone checking on me every fifteen minutes, day or night, to make sure I don’t kill myself and spare the executioner the trouble. So how could I possibly know anything that the guards and therefore you don’t know about?”

“Sorry,” O’Grady mumbled. He was trying hard to stare at the wall, for he found that he still could not look his friend in the eyes.

“You’re going to release them again?” Blakemore asked, “Cassidy, Levonsky and the others.”

“Of course. Once…” O’Grady let the sentence trail. What should he say? Once all this is over? Once you’re dead? “We can’t hold them for long anyway, since we don’t have any solid evidence,” he added hastily, “We frisked your house yesterday, but didn’t find anything.”

“Again? I’d think there wasn’t any stone left that you hadn’t turned over twice already.”

“Look, Richard, I’m sorry, but I’m just doing my job here. And, hell, this situation is bad enough! Levonsky and that lawyer of yours are threatening to sue my ass off, if I don’t release them at once. Randall Whitman is calling for my blood in that newspaper rag of his, since I — as he puts it — frivolously arrest innocent people. Constance hates me.”

“Constance doesn’t hate you,” Blakemore said, “She’s just upset, that’s all.”

“You didn’t see the look in her eyes, when I had your house searched. She’d have killed me on the spot, if that’d changed anything.”

“About Constance…, I want you to take care of her, when… when…” Blakemore paused. Apparently, he wasn’t able to say it aloud either. “She will need someone to stand by her,” he finally said, “Promise me you’ll take care of her.”

“I promise,” O’Grady said solemnly. He’d have hated to refuse a doomed man’s final wish, even though he knew that Constance Allen would never speak a word with him again.

O’Grady took a deep breath. There was something else he had to ask, something he had to know. “Just between you and me, Richard,” he began, “Did you kill Tortelli?”

Blakemore’s answer was firm. “I did not.”

“Look, Richard, I’m sorry… about all this. If I had anything to say… — But I’m just doing my job, damn it! You’ve got to understand that. But I want you to know that I’m sorry…”

“It’s okay, old friend,” Blakemore said, “Be seeing you. Tomorrow.”

On his way back to the city, O’Grady stopped at some bar in Ossining. He ordered a glass of whiskey and downed it in a single gulp.

***

On a rooftop opposite of the police station, a strange figure stood. The cold November wind was tearing at its black coat, flapping it like the wings of a monstrous crow. The black-clad figure, however, did not seem to notice. Instead, the stranger was intently watching Justin O’Grady though a pair of high magnification binoculars.

This was no good. Harassing O’Grady, Whitman, Levonsky even Judge Perkins, was getting nowhere. Whitman and Levonsky didn’t have the power to do anything. The judge was too afraid of the Silencer to listen what he had to say. O’Grady was venting his frustration by randomly arresting people. And drinking of course. He didn’t listen. He didn’t go after the real killers. And time was running out for Richard Blakemore.

Something else would have to be done. Something more drastic. And a lot more risky. Something that might cost the life of the person beneath the Silencer’s mask. It didn’t matter. Want a job done right, do it yourself. And if the Silencer wanted the real killers of Antonio Tortelli brought to justice, he would have to capture them himself.

***

In the backroom of a small Trattoria in Little Italy, a private party was going on. Eddie “the Rat” Rizzo, a local Mafioso, and Armando Faggini, his trusted advisor, were enjoying a bottle of the best Chianti the cellar had to offer. Two guards, armed with automatics and Tommy guns, were flanking the door that led out into a dirty backalley.

Eddie Rizzo felt completely safe. The police and the Bureau of Investigation had not a clue about this place. His biggest rival, Tony Tortelli, had bit the dust eight months ago. And the Silencer — that mysterious stranger all clad in black who had been terrorizing Rizzo’s operation for months now — the Silencer would be history at sunrise tomorrow. Life was good.

Rizzo raised his glass. “To the future” he said, “to a future without Tony Tortelli or the Silencer meddling with our business. And to the Silencer, may God rest his soul.”

“Amen,” Faggini mumbled and lowered his head in a silent prayer for the soon to be dead. Then he raised his glass in turn and took a sip of wine.

Glass shattered. A metallic object, shaped somewhat like a baby’s rattle, was hurled through the window and landed on the floor.

“Grenade,” one of the bodyguards cried out. He threw himself over the object to shield his bosses from the deadly blast.

But when the grenade popped, there was no fire, no bang, no explosion. There was only a whitish vapour rising from the metal shell. The man who had thrown himself over the grenade was the first to inhale the vapour. Within seconds, he had lost consciousness.

“Gas,” the second bodyguard exclaimed. Already choking and coughing he grabbed his Tommy gun in an attempt to fire out of the window at whoever was behind this attack. But the gas had already messed with his sense of direction and so he ended up spraying bullets across the room instead. A stray shot hit Armando Faggini in the back, and his body fell forward straight into a full plate of pasta, quite dead.

“Stop, you idiot!” Rizzo yelled. He covered his nose and mouth with a napkin and tried to run for the door. But before he could ever reach it, he collapsed onto the floor, unconscious.

About a minute later, the door opened and a sinister figure, all dressed in black, walked into the room. Filters built into a mask of polished steel protected him from the gas, as he stepped across the fallen bodyguards. He paused briefly to check Armando Faggini for signs of life. Then he walked over to the door and bent down over the unconscious form of Eddie Rizzo.

A terrible laugh issued from somewhere beneath that mask.

***

It was 10:45 p.m. on Monday evening. Justin O’Grady had just taken the last sheet of paper from his typewriter and downed the last drop of coffee left in his mug. It would be a long drive up to Ossining.

“You’re going up to Sing Sing right away, Sir?” Sergeant Burton asked.

O’Grady nodded.

“Maybe you should go home first and catch a bit of sleep,” Burton suggested, “No offence, sir, but you look awful.”

Sleep. In the last four nights O’Grady hadn’t had more than three hours of sleep in a row, and it was beginning to show. He had to retype a report three times before it was finally free of typos. Go on like this and he would start hallucinating. In fact it was a wonder that he hadn’t already. But sleep? No, he couldn’t sleep. Not tonight. Not when Richard Blakemore had only seven hours left to live.

O’Grady shook his head. “No, I’d rather get to Sing Sing early. And there’ll be time enough to sleep when all this is over.”

“Nothing in the world could get me to go up there tonight,” Burton said, “I hate seeing people fry.”

“Me too,” O’Grady said quietly.

“Yeah. Makes this job so much easier if you don’t exactly know what’s gonna happen to them.”

O’Grady nodded. Because he knew exactly what was going to happen. He had seen it before, a few times even. And he knew exactly how it would be. When the switch was flicked, two thousand volts would shoot through the body of the condemned. The body would heave, go into convulsions, held back only by the leather straps that bound it to the chair. Two weaker shocks would follow and then a strong one again. Until the body finally stopped convulsing and lay in the chair as limp as a doll’s. They said that the prisoner lost consciousness after the first shock, that the brain was destroyed at once. But the heart sometimes kept on beating for minutes afterwards. Occasionally, smoke would rise from beneath the leather cap that covered the prisoner’s face. Not a pleasant sight. But the smell, that sweetish stench of burnt flesh, that was the worst.

Yes, O’Grady had witnessed a few executions in his time, and he had never exactly liked it. Even though he knew that the convicts were murderers, rapists, kidnappers, criminals of the worst kind. He knew that they deserved it, and even though watching them die in that chair always left him with a sick feeling in his stomach that would not vanish until he had had a drink. But this time it was different. This time it would be a friend sitting in that chair. And a man that O’Grady was not certain anymore deserved to die.

“I’ll be going now,” O’Grady said to the sergeant.

Suddenly, he became aware of some kind of commotion going on outside in the waiting area. Loud voices could be heard. They were arguing.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but you can’t…”

“Listen, I wanna talk to Captain O’Grady. Now. Capice?”

“I’m really sorry…”

“I’ve had it with your sorrys. You take me to your boss. At once.”

Burton sighed. “I’ll see what it is,” he said.

“Let me,” O’Grady offered, “I was leaving anyway. And whoever is making all that ruckuss out there obviously wants to see me.”

At that moment, the door was thrown wide open and a man came stomping in. A small fat man with oily black hair, a pencil-thin moustache and a really bad taste in clothes. O’Grady recognized him at once. It was Eddie “the Rat” Rizzo, a small-time gangster with big-time ambitions.

“Ah, there you are, O’Grady,” Rizzo exclaimed, “I’ve got to talk to you.”

The mobster looked even worse than usual, O’Grady noticed. His hair was dishevelled, his too flashy clothing showed stains of something red and he sported a black eye. O’Grady couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to him. A little skirmish between rival families most likely. Though why was Eddie complaining to the police? Usually, the mob dealt with this sort of thing among themselves.

But whatever had happened here, O’Grady had neither the time nor the energy to deal with it right now. “Look, Eddie, this is a very bad time,” he said, “But whatever your problem is, I’m sure one of my colleagues…”

“Damn it, O’Grady, I want to talk to you. Not with the hired help. With you. And I’ve got the right, this is what I pay taxes for…”

“Eddie, you’ve never paid taxes in your whole life.”

““But you’ve got to listen to me, O’Grady. I’ve got a confession to make, yes I do. But you’ve got to help me, you’ve got to protect me. Swear that you’ll protect me. By all the saints, protect me or he’ll kill me. He said he’d kill me.”

O’Grady sighed. “Who, Eddie? Who said he’d kill you?”

“The… the… the Silencer.”

O’Grady unbuttoned his coat again. This was getting interesting.

“He said he’d kill me if I didn’t tell you everything. And he’d do a lot worse than what’ll happen to that writer fellow up in Sing Sing.”

Without invitation, the mobster plopped down on the chair opposite O’Grady’s desk.

“I killed Tony Tortelli,” he said, “yes, I did. He started showing up on my turf, messing with my business and he needed a lesson. It was his own fault, yes, it was.”

“Burton,” O’Grady called to the sergeant, “You will protocol everything this gentleman here says. And now, Eddie, you’ll tell me and the sergeant here everything right from the beginning.”

“It was all Tortelli’s fault. He was too greedy, he was. Wanted more’n his share of the pie. And it was my turf he wanted. I had to kill him, don’t you see? It was only self-defence, yes, it was.”

“And what about Richard Blakemore? How does he fit into this?”

“The writer? Well, we’d been having trouble with this Silencer guy, you know. Kept interrupting our business, he did. And Armando — he’s real smart, you know — he knew that the Silencer was really a character from a magazine. So we wondered, how can a magazine character be interrupting our business, when he’s not even real? Except that he is real, you know. So Armando says, ‘Let’s find out who writes those magazines?’ Name on the cover was fake of course, but we found out anyway. Was a guy named Blakemore. We started watching Blakemore, and well, he goes out a lot at night. At nights when the Silencer strikes. So we figured Blakemore is the Silencer…”

Eddie paused, gasping for breath.

“And then Armando, he had a plan. He said, we kill Tony Tortelli — cause we had to, you know — and blame it on that Blakemore fellow. And then we’re rid of both. It’s — how do you say — two flies with one swat.” Eddie slammed his hand down on O’Grady’s desk to illustrate his point.

“Don’t know how we could’ve been wrong, but Blakemore isn’t the Silencer. The real Silencer is still out there and he said he’d kill me if I didn’t tell you everything.”

Eddie suddenly leant across the desk and grabbed O’Grady by the lapels of his coat. “Oh please, Captain, you’ve gotta protect me from him. He’s terrible, I tell you, really terrible. He’s got glowing eyes like the devil, and his face is of metal and his voice, his voice… — that’s no human voice I’m telling you…”

Eddie Rizzo’s head dropped onto the wooden desk and the mobster started to sob uncontrollably.

“Whatever the Silencer did to Eddie, it sure put the fear of God into him,” O’Grady said. He looked at his watch and shot a worried glance at Sergeant Burton. “You’d better call Judge Perkins, Burton. No, forget that! Give me the governor right away.”

***

It was 5:45 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and Richard Blakemore was taking the last walk of his life, accompanied by two guards and a priest named Father O’Rafferty. The endless corridors of Sing Sing death house were a maze, a labyrinth of despair. But Richard Blakemore walked it bravely, even though every step took him closer to death.

The witness benches in the execution chamber were surprisingly empty. The prison director and the district attorney were there, of course, as well as a bunch of journalists including Randall Whitman himself. However, the condemned’s lawyer could not attend the execution, since he was in prison himself. Constance Allen would have been there, to stand by her fiancé till the end, but Richard Blakemore did not want the woman he loved to see him die.

Justin O’Grady should have been there, but for some reason he wasn’t. “Probably been drinking again,” the district attorney whispered to the prison director.

“Hush,” the director replied. He disliked talking in the execution chamber. It was disrespectful. Besides, the condemned would be here any minute now.

The door opened and the two guards brought Blakemore in. He walked to the chair, upright, never faltering. A very brave man, the prison director noted. The guards unlocked the chains that bound Blakemore’s wrists and ankles, so he could sit down. Then they proceeded to strap him into the chair. Two straps for the legs, two for the arms, one across the chest. Next they connected the electrodes, one to the forehead, the other to the right leg. Somewhere in the distance, the humming of the generators could be heard.

“Do you have anything to say?” one of the guards asked.

Richard Blakemore seemed completely calm. “I am innocent,” he said.

The guards placed a leather cap over his head. The chamber was completely still except for the priest mumbling and praying in the corner. In the next room, separated from the chamber only by a curtain, stood the man who would flick the switch. He was waiting for his signal.

The prison director looked at the wall clock. Almost six. Just twenty seconds left. Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, sixteen, fifteen…

The telephone rang.

***

“And then Eddie ‘the Rat’ Rizzo walked straight into the police station and confessed,” O’Grady said to a tired looking Richard Blakemore in front of Sing Sing prison.

“Tortelli had been a rival of Rizzo, we knew that, and in fact we had been investigating Rizzo after the murder. But Rizzo had an alibi, provided by his good friend Armando Faggini. And then he started being so damned helpful, telling us Tortelli had been threatened by the Silencer and all that. Everything supported by Faggini, of course. Turned out Faggini and Rizzo had planned it together. Wanted to get rid of Tortelli and the Silencer at the same time. They figured that you were the Silencer and so you got dragged into all this…”

Blakemore nodded and smiled, but the strain of the past eight months, not to mention the past few hours was all too plain on his face. In fact, he looked on the verge of collapse. Not that O’Grady could blame him. Still, he’d better make this quick.

“We immediately arrested Rizzo, of course. He’s gonna fry for this. Faggini is dead, by the way. We found him face down in a plate of spaghetti, with a bullet in his back. One of his own bodyguards shot him. An accident, he claims. Might even be true, but he’ll still stand trial for it. Too good an opportunity to pass up.”

O’Grady took a deep breath. “As for the Silencer, no idea who he really was. We already released all the people we arrested in connection with the Silencer case, of course. But should you see him, the Silencer I mean, tell him from me that he did well.”

“A very fascinating story,” Richard Blakemore said, “Would make a good pulp tale, I’m sure. But if you don’t mind, I’d really like to go home now. I’m tired and I need a shower and I want to see Constance. She knows, doesn’t she?”

“Of course,” O’Grady assured him, “We called her as soon as the governor had signed the papers.” He paused briefly, then he said, “And Richard, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Justin,” Blakemore said.

On a rooftop opposite the prison, a figure all dressed in black was watching. Beneath the steel mask, a pair of lips formed a smile.

***

When Richard Blakemore finally returned to his fortress-like home, he found a black-clad, masked figure standing in the middle of his living room. A figure he knew only too well.

But unlike most people who had been graced by a visit from the Silencer, Richard Blakemore was not the least bit afraid. Instead, he rushed towards the masked figure and embraced it wordlessly.

“You knew?” the Silencer asked in that eerie artificial voice.

“I could guess. There weren’t that many possibilities left after Justin’s arresting spree. And contrary to Justin, I know what you’re capable of.”

The Silencer nodded. “Much as I like him, Justin is a fool. And terribly old-fashioned.”

Gloved hands began to unbutton the black coat. “I will be glad to be out of those clothes, though. Damned uncomfortable. I wonder how you can stand it.”

The heavy coat was flung onto a nearby sofa, as the Silencer unstrapped the holster holding the twin .45 automatics. “And by the way, can’t you use smaller guns? These things alone weigh a ton fully loaded, and they’re not easy to fire accurately. Most of the time, showing them was sufficient, but once I had to shoot to put out a light when Justin was after me. The recoil nearly broke my wrist.”

“But you’re okay?”

The figure nodded, taking off the metal breastplate that protected the Silencer from bullets fired at him. Beneath the bulky costume, its body was very slender, slight even.

“You took a damned risk with what you did” Richard Blakemore remarked.

“I know. But I couldn’t just let them kill you. I love you too much for that. And after all legal means were exhausted, this was the only way.”

“Where did you hide the costume anyway that Justin and his men didn’t find it when they searched the house?”

The Silencer took the wide-brimmed hat off. “My place. And even if they’d searched that, men generally get embarrassed when rummaging through a woman’s clothes.” A few pins were removed, and long red hair fell down to the Silencer’s shoulders.

Slender fingers removed a strange box-like object which was tied to the Silencer’s throat. “The voice processor works like a charm by the way,” a female voice remarked. Finally, the mask of polished steel was removed, revealing the face of Constance Allen underneath.

“But this mask,” she said, “really ruins the complexion.”

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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Some Thoughts on the 2020 Nebula Award Winners

The winners of the 2020 Nebula Awards were announced last night. The full list of winners may be seen here. For my comments on the finalists, see here.

The virtual ceremony was livestreamed, but I didn’t watch, because I was busy with other things and so only noticed that the ceremony was already going, when I saw a winner announcement on Twitter.

So let’s take a look at the winners.

In a decision that will surprise no one, the 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novel goes to Network Effect by Martha Wells.  The Murderbot stories are widely beloved and also really great, so I’m not at all surprised to see it winning.

The winner of the 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novella is Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark. This is a most worthy winner and probably also my favourite of the three novellas on the Nebula ballot that I have read. Horror normally doesn’t do all that well in the Nebulas and Hugos, so it’s interesting that this year’s Nebula Award goes to an explicit horror novella.

The 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novelette is “Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker. It’s a great story and very worthy winner, though I like the “Shadow Prisons” triptych by Caroline M. Yoachim a little more.

The winner of the 2020 Nebula Award for Best Short Story is “Open House on Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell. It’s a fine story, which is also a Hugo finalist in this category. We also have another spooky story winning, though it’s not explicitly horror. And come to think of it, “Two Truths and a Lie” is a spooky story as well.

The 2020 Andre Norton Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction goes to A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. This is a truly delightful book and I’m very happy that it won.

The winner of the 2020 Nebula Award for Game Writing is Hades. As I’ve said before, I’m not a gamer, so I can’t say much about this category (and I’m not sure if I will vote in the special videogame category of the Hugos this year). That said, I know that Hades is a very popular game. It is also a Hugo finalist.

Finally, the 2020 Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation goes once again to an episode of The Good Place. This is the only Nebula winner this year that I’m not happy with. Not just because I can’t stand The Good Place, even though it is a terrible show and its popularity is a complete mystery to me. But yes, apparently a lot of people really like The Good Place. This is also its first Nebula win, though it feels as if it has won more often, probably because Hugo voters keep voting for the blasted thing and the Hugo and Nebula ballots occasionally blur together in my memory.

And honestly, does The Good Place need to win a major SFF award every single year? We are currently living in a golden age of SFF TV and streaming shows with more great shows than any one person can watch, unless you never want to do anything except watch TV. So why on Earth does The Good Place keep getting nominated for (and winning, in the case of the Hugos) major genre awards, when there are so many other great genre shows out there?

There were a lot of good films and TV episodes on this year’s Nebula ballot. The Mandalorian, The Expanse and Lovecraft Country are all good TV shows*, which have never won a Nebula, though The Expanse won a Hugo once. Lovecraft Country also won’t be getting a second season and was ignored by the Hugos, so this was its only chance of winning anything. The Old Guard was a great fantasy action movie and updated the Highlander concept for the 21st century. I still haven’t seen the Birds of Prey movie, but I doubt that it’s worse than The Good Place.

At least, this will be the last year that The Good Place will win anything, because the show ended last year. Still, I feel sorry for all the good works that didn’t win because The Good Place keeps clogging up the genre awards.

A couple of special awards were given out as well. Nalo Hopkinson receives the 2020 Damon Knight Grand Master Award. The recipient of the 2020 Kevin J. O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award is Connie Willis. Finally, the 2020 Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award goes to Jarvis Sheffield as well as posthumously to Ben Bova and Rachel Caine. All are excellent choices and I’m particularly glad to see Rachel Caine recognised, because her Weather Wardens books did not nearly get the attention they deserved.

All in all, the 2o20 Nebula Award winners are a good, if largely uncontroversial selection. Even the win for The Good Place is not really controversial, even though I find the show terrible, because it is a popular show. One trend that’s notable is that the three short fiction winners all either straddle to border to horror or – in the case of Ring Shout – are explicit horror stories.

Those who worry that women are taking over the major SFF awards will hopefully be pleased that this year, two of the five Nebula winners in the fiction categories are men. If you include the game writing and dramatic presentation awards, which were both won by men as well, you even get four male and three female winners. But I bet that the usual suspects who worry about the poor widdle men being shut out of SFF awards will complain that the wrong men won or something like that.

*Even if Lovecraft Country has a character quote a Lovecraft poem that was not published until the 1970s, twenty years after the show is set, it still was a good show.

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Retro Review: “The God in the Bowl” by Robert E. Howard or Conan Does Agatha Christie

The Coming of Conan the CimmerianNo, not that way. Get your mind out of the gutter!

Before I dig deeper into the science fiction and fantasy of 1946 (for more about Chicon’s 1946 Retrospective project, see here), I want to go back to the early 1930s to revisit one of the more unusual Conan sword and sorcery stories. This review will also be crossposted to Retro Reviews.

“The God in the Bowl” is one of the first batch of Conan stories that Robert E. Howard wrote. According to Patrice Louinet’s essay “Hyborian Genesis” in the back of the Del Rey edition of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, “The God in the Bowl” was written in March 1932 and was the third Conan story written, following “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”.

Unlike the two previous stories, “The God in the Bowl” remained unpublished during Howard’s lifetime and appeared for the first time in the September 1952 issue of the short-lived magazine Space Science Fiction. Why on Earth editor Lester del Rey decided that a Conan story was a good fit for a magazine that otherwise published such Astounding stalwarts as George O. Smith, Clifford D. Simak and Murray Leinster will probably forever remain a mystery.

Space Science Fiction September 1952As for why I decided to review this particular Conan story rather than some of the better known adventures of our favourite Cimmerian adventurer (which I may eventually do), part of the reason is that the story just came up in a conversation I had with Bobby Derie on Twitter. Besides, I have been reading my way through the Del Rey Robert E. Howard editions of late and realised that there are a lot of layers to those stories that I missed when I read them the first time around as a teenager.

I don’t think I read “The God in the Bowl” during my first go-around with Conan or at least I don’t remember the story. And I’m pretty sure I would have remembered it, simply because it is such an unusual story. Because “The God in the Bowl” is a locked room – pardon, locked museum – mystery set in the Hyborian Age and features Conan as the prime suspect.

Warning: Spoilers beyond this point! Continue reading

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for May 2021

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 April 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 epic fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, paranormal mystery, paranormal romance, science fiction romance, space opera, military science fiction, science fiction mystery, dystopian fiction, biopunk, agripunk, LitRPG, horror, Greek mythology, aliens, magicians, ghosts, superheroes, mechas, space marines, sea monsters, dragon-slayers, pirates, fallen angels, fallen goddesses, crime-busting witches, crime-busting psychics, opera singing vampires 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:

Wunderkind by Z.Z. AdamsWunderkind by Z.Z. Adams:

How do you defeat an enemy you cannot touch? When you’re fighting shadows, it pays to remember what might be lurking behind the curtain.

When the usually sleepy university city of Oxford, England is beset by a series of horrific murders, Elliot Goshawk, a fresh arrival to Oxford and one of the youngest to ever pass admission, must overcome his fear and defeat the murderer. At just fourteen, Elliot may not appear to have the skills for the job, but he has had an unusual childhood. Trained from birth as an assassin, there’s no one better qualified to stop this menace.

With a wayward time traveller, a professor of the arcane, and a city full of intelligence operatives on his tail, can Elliot find a way to take on and defeat the deadly alien shadow? Are MI6 agents really harder than those from the Coldhorn Initiative? Do they do any actual studying in Oxford?

Because Elliot also has another, deeper secret and something he fears above everything else: it might have been his fault that the shadow creature emerged in the first place.

This science-fiction thriller is a dark and humorous tale of wayward superheroes, the evil megacorporation stalking them, and the teamwork it will take to save the world.

Song of Redemption by Jonathan P. Brazee and J.N. ChaneySong of Redemption by Jonathan P. Brazee and J.N. Chaney:

In the midst of humanity’s greatest fight for survival, old rivalries threaten to pull allies apart in a rush for rumored alien tech.

With the newly weaponized Sergeant Reverent Pelletier and his Marine Raiders at the tip of the spear, only they stand a chance at holding the shaky alliance together long enough to meet the enemy.

The Centaurs are on their way to destroy the very birthplace of human civilization: Mother Earth itself.

Humanity’s end may be upon us… but only if Rev and his team fail to do the impossible.

The Invisible Body by Jenny CuttsThe Invisible Body by Jenny Cutts:

A strange ability. A discovered corpse. But will his supernatural sleuthing skills lead him into a killer’s trap?

England, 1990. Reed has travelled his whole life in search of someone who understands him. So he’s thrilled when his journey brings him to free-spirited Zoya, who shares his rare ability to dream-walk. But after his gift leads him to a hidden corpse, he becomes the prime suspect in the murder.

Despite the setback, Reed resolves to use his power to help crack the case.

When the real perpetrator delivers a violent threat, he’s tempted to give up, slip into his camper van and hit the road again. After all, who would miss him?

Will Reed flee the tiny seaside town and abandon his new friends – or will he risk everything to expose the murderer?

The Invisible Body is the first book of The Falling Awake Mysteries, a captivating, character-led series that blends amateur sleuth crime story with an exploration of human connection. If you like compelling characters, seaside settings and a hint of the paranormal, then you’ll love Jenny Cutts’ intriguing novel.

George by Kate DanleyGeorge by Kate Danley:

George is just your normal peasant, with parents who abandoned him to join up with pirates and a terrible family secret he carries around his neck.

But when a wandering knight scoops him up to carry all his heavy stuff, George feels like his dreams are coming true! Except the knight dies. And now George is in trouble. Will donning the knight’s armor and taking his place solve his problems? What about when a dragon shows up and George is expected to fight it? Things are about to get complicated…

Chase away the darkness with George and his friends in this hilarious rollicking riff on George and the Dragon by USA TODAY bestselling author, Kate Danley.

These dragons aren’t going to slay themselves!

Of Men and Monsters by Tom DeadyOf Men and Monsters by Tom Deady:

In June of 1975, Ryan Baxter’s mom moves him and his brother, Matt, to the small seaside town of Bayport, MA to escape their abusive father. For an eleven-year-old, spending lazy days hanging out at the beach and the arcades sounds like a dream.

When he meets Leah and she agrees to be his girlfriend, Ryan is happier than he’s been in his young life. Then the “Sea Monkeys” knock-off he bought from the back of a comic book starts to grow…and grow and grow.

As Ryan and Matt struggle with their new lives and new friends, they begin to receive mysterious phone calls. As the sea monster in their house begins to get out of control, the real monster draws nearer to Bayport in the shape of their father.

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

Chasing Shadows by Morgan De GuerreChasing Shadows by Morgan De Guerre:

A hundred years ago, I hung up my cape.

I was tired of being Destiny’s puppet, serving my purpose through my country’s history, signing my name in blood and death. I had enough of intrigues, mysteries, and betrayals. I sought sanctuary in the Bakirville National Opera, where I found peace, hiding in plain sight.

Killing people onstage after having killed so many in real life keeps my memories alive. I don’t recant my past. I’d like to think I learned from it.

A hundred years was enough for people to forget. They love me now with a different kind of passion than they did centuries ago. I am content to exist here, to bring joy with the same diligence with which I used to bring justice. But I can sense my time of peace is about to end. When two of our singers disappear in the space of a month, I know something is wrong. Someone is hunting my people. Someone is in my house.

Sooner or later, I’ll have to do something about it.

Welcome to Talinia
On this side of the Unbroken Barrier, humans live alongside vampires, werecreatures, wizards and witches, prophets and hellhounds. In our world, souls, youth and power are commodities to be bought and sold.

Magician Rising by Renée des LauriersMagician Rising by Renée des Lauriers:

Dark powers she can’t control. Deadly hunters tracking her down. Can she rip the target off her back before it turns fatal?

Jun Bear has lived with bad luck all her life. And when a professor threatens to give her a failing grade, the college senior sees her hopes for graduating in two months going down another ill-fated drain. But her fortunes plunge further when an unnatural earthquake shakes the campus and unleashes cold-blooded assassins after her head…

Unsure what’s happening, Jun finds herself facing a trained killer intent on exposing the wielder of the dangerous magic. And when she’s provoked into revealing her unexpected new abilities, she’s determined to prove her innocence before she’s permanently eliminated.

Can she win over an ally and survive a bloodthirsty secret society fixated on wiping her out?

Magician Rising is the fast-paced first book in the Divination in Darkness urban fantasy series. If you like plucky heroines, gory humor, and breathtaking action, then you’ll love Renee des Lauriers’ gritty thrill-ride.

Iaxiabor's Revenge by Rachel FordIaxiabor’s Revenge by Rachel Ford:

A fully immersive virtual reality system. A beta testing opportunity that’s the stuff of dreams – or a nightmare that may never end.

Jack Owens is stuck in Marshfield Studio’s newest virtual reality RPG. But the end is finally in sight.
Once he’s done with the filler quests and the boss fight from heck, the game will be over. And he can get back to his real life.

Or can he?

Conjure Web by Yasmine GalenornConjure Web by Yasmine Galenorn:

As January delves into her family history, she discovers dark secrets about her great-grandmother Colleen and those secrets threaten everything she ever thought she knew about her heritage. Now, with her confidence already on shaky ground, January takes on a case with her friend Ari. Hired by a friend to discover whether their child is really their child, January and Ari delve into the Mystic Woods, looking for the answer. Their investigation leads them down the rabbit hole of magical intrigue, unrequited love, and into the world of the Woodlings, where January finds her worldview at risk, as well as her life.

Ghostly Travels by Lily Harper HartGhostly Travels by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow-Monroe thought getting to her wedding would be the hard part. She was wrong. Getting through her honeymoon is going to be a whole lot worse.

Jared Monroe decided to surprise his new wife with a honeymoon in Salem, Massachusetts. The goal was to have fun, bask in the sun, and eat some good seafood while shutting out the rest of the world. The fact that there’s a ghost hunting conference happening at the same time is just added icing on the cupcake of life.

Then the unthinkable happens and Harper’s best friend Zander Pritchett magically shows up for the conference … and decides to hijack their honeymoon.

Jared might be able to put up with Zander, but when a missing girl and several ghosts rile up the atmosphere, things threaten to spiral out of control.

Harper is who she is. When she finds out several teenagers have gone missing over the course of a month, she can’t stop herself from digging hard. What she finds is a strange nexus of ghosts who don’t act like she expects … and a story that might haunt her for the rest of her life.

Harper is determined to make this a honeymoon to remember despite Zander and the ghosts working against her. She’s going to have to survive for that to happen … and nothing is a given.

Salem is a city with a long history. Hopefully, it won’t be the end for Harper and Jared.

Cora: Rise of the Fallen Goddess by A.L. HawkeCora: Rise of the Fallen Goddess by A.L. Hawke:

Abandoned. Imprisoned. Loved.

Cora is the goddess Persephone, living in Greece in the fourteenth century B.C. In order to shelter her from prophecy, her mother, Demeter, sends her away to Azure Blue. The young girl is raised and protected by the nymph queen, Nephrea, in a dreamlike crystal palace among azure trees and amethyst fields under a green sun. She’s adopted into the Amazon code of honor, bravery, and righteousness. But Cora is not an Amazon nymph. And prophecy holds quite a different fate for her as she grows into adulthood—Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

Upon Persephone’s fall, Demeter rages and threatens to freeze the entire world under ice and snow forever. Nephrea offers a sacrifice to quell her rage, but down in the fiery world below, it might be more than just the goddess who will need saving.

Raven's Haven for Women of Magic by Anna KirtlanRaven’s Haven for Women of Magic by Anna Kirtlan:

Cassandra Frost has zero interest in fortune telling or brewing foul smelling things in cauldrons, and much prefers the company of non-magical folk. She does her best to keep her powers under wraps to protect the secrecy of the Wellington witching community.

Unfortunately that’s easier said than done when your grandmother lives in Raven’s Haven for Women of Magic. Magical fireworks, mobility broom races and irresponsible use of cat litter spells are all part of the game for the witching retirement village residents. But when Cassandra’s forced to cast a spell in the open to save Adrian, a geeky graphic designer with secrets of his own, her two worlds spectacularly collide, and she learns the haven is much more than meets the eye.

Will Cassandra listen to her heart and learn to embrace her powers? Will the non-magical world be put at risk? Find out in this Contemporary Witchy Fiction novella featuring powerful witches, troublesome crones and an unseemly amount of cats.

Prelude to a Witch by Amanda M. LeePrelude to a Witch by Amanda M. Lee:

Bay Winchester has battled ghosts, shades, poltergeists … and sometimes her own family. It’s the latter giving her fits now. Well, and Hemlock Cove’s younger set of course.

Bay thought the worst was behind her when she modified the memories of four tempestuous teenagers bent on stealing magic and wielding it in a tyrannical manner. Unfortunately for her, when one of those teenagers ends up dead behind the inn her father owns, things start to spiral.

The girl’s death is ritual in fashion, bloody runes painted on the trees, and Bay can’t wrap her head around exactly what has happened. Then things get worse when dark figures start appearing in windows, black ghosts threatening Bay and her family at every turn.

Between the horror haunting Hemlock Cove and the annoying presence of Bay’s former boss and his current fiancée, who just so happens to be a distant relative, Bay has her hands full … and that’s before her cousin Clove’s baby starts displaying a rather interesting skillset that is going to force accommodations within the family.

All Bay wants is a little break to plan her wedding and look forward to happily ever after with her fiancé Landon Michaels. What’s she’s going to get is a whole lot of trouble.

Bay’s growing powers are drawing in a new element of evil. It’s going to take everything she has – and a little help from Aunt Tillie – to fight the ultimate battle. Survival isn’t a given but Bay is determined to make it to her big day.

No matter what.

Goodbye to the Sun by Jonathan NevairGoodbye to the Sun by Jonathan Nevair:

A nonstop thrill ride across an unstable galaxy, combining moral struggle with character-driven adventure…

Tucked away in the blue sands of Kol 2, the Motes are on the brink of cultural collapse. Razor, a bold and daring pilot, leads a last-ditch gambit against their local oppressors, the Targitians. The plan – abduct visiting Ambassador Keen Draden and use him as a bargaining chip to restore her people’s independence in the Sagittarius Arm. But when the operation unravels, Razor is forced to renegotiate terms with the arrogant diplomat.

Light years away on Heroon a radical resistance blossoms. The alluring rainforest planet haunts Keen. All his problems started there during the Patent War, but it’s where Razor’s troubles may find a solution. The moral tide ebbs, exposing an impossible choice that links their futures together more tragically than they ever thought possible.

Goodbye to the Sun: a space opera inspired by the Greek tragedy, Antigone.

Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere by Joyce Reynolds-WardBroken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere by Joyce Reynolds-Ward:

Exiled heir. Rebel. Husband. Father.

In 2029, Gabriel Martiniere testified against the Martiniere Group’s forced imposition of mind control programming on unwilling indentured workers.

For his pains, he was forced into exile for over thirty years. Forced to divorce the love of his life.

But he’s still coming. Still bent on vengeance against the man who forced him into exile, Philip Martiniere.

Gabe will win…or die trying.

Under Black Skies by Clare SagerUnder Black Skies by Clare Sager:

Enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies. Now they’re ‘just friends.’ Sure.

Reunited with her crew, Vice is on the hunt for Drake’s treasure. But there’s a good reason it hasn’t been seen in two hundred years – it’s hidden by fiendish clues and deadly traps. To keep her crew – her family safe, she can’t afford a single misstep. That’s easier said than done with a distraction like Knigh Blackwood around.

Knigh might not sail for the Navy anymore, but he’s found a new place in the world – home with Vice on the Venatrix. Even as he longs for more than ‘just friends’, he battles with demons from his past and one from his present. To save his family, he needs money. Lots of it. A legendary treasure would be the perfect solution.

But traps and troublesome feelings aren’t the only dangers they face. When treachery strikes at the heart of pirate-kind, no one is safe: not their home, not Knigh’s family, not even the Pirate Queen herself.

Witch's Guide to Romantic Comedy by Lotta SmithWitch’s Guide to Romantic Comedy by Lotta Smith:

Sometimes, the most powerful miracle hits you in the middle of a total magical eclipse…

I’m Sophie Rowling. I used to be a world-renowned violinist, until my world was turned upside down. Following a freak accident in Paris, I can’t remember how to play the violin anymore. To make matters worse, I’m supposed to perform for my childhood teacher’s retirement party, which is just weeks away. Usually I would turn to my BFFs, Jackie the ghost and Allegra the violin fairy, for moral support, but I’ve also lost my ability to talk to them.

Then fate steps in, and Dante enters my life. He’s hot, dangerous, and addictive. I can’t spend a moment without thinking of him, and I keep on bumping into him. Honestly, this is so wrong. I should forget about him and focus on my music—in order to keep what’s left of my sanity.

But wait, do I really need sanity? As they say, “Insane is the new cool,” and maybe I need to try being cool.

* * *

Dante had a simple job: fly to Japan, run an errand, and go back to the US for good. He wasn’t expecting Sophie, an innocent girl with an attitude, to literally fall into his arms. Now they are being followed, attacked, and can’t get enough of each other.

As their lives intertwine, the danger and passion grow between them. Will the fates allow them to have a happily ever after? Or will fate continue to put them in harm’s way?

Caged Alien Mate by Ivy SparksCaged Alien Mate by Ivy Sparks:

I’ve been tossed inside a cage with an exiled, tortured alien prince. And our captors expect us to produce an heir.

So here I thought my situation was bad. I’m a navigator in training who crash landed on the galaxy’s most brutal planet, only to be enslaved by reptilians. But after I meet Xavi, I realize I’ve had it easy.

He’s been beaten by our captors for God knows how long, and his massive body has the scars to prove it. He is hardened, vengeful. But when we first lock eyes…

Talk about sparks flying.

He might be an outcast – a figure of contempt and controversy in his world. But in my world? He makes this dungeon bearable.

Galactic Search and Rescue by Carol Van NattaGalactic Search and Rescue by Carol Van Natta:

When an earthquake shakes up a nearby world, can two star-crossed rescuers save an entire community… and each other?

Experienced rescuer Subcaptain Taz Correa hides her wounded heart. A telekinetic tech-whiz recently transferred to the worst Galactic Search and Rescue unit in the galaxy, she’d hoped after her string of epically bad breakups she’d have a fresh start. But when she can’t fight her feelings for her new teammate, she’s terrified her secret affection will show and cost both their careers.

Subcaptain Rylando Dalroinn’s telepathic connection to animals used to be everything. But he has no idea how to admit his growing attraction to Taz, especially as it’s completely against the rules. And when they’re sent as a team of two to help a devastated town, he knows he can’t afford to let his heart’s desire distract him from their dangerous mission.

As Taz works with Rylando and his unusual squad of trained animal helpers to free a desperate group of citizens, she puts her life on the line to protect her partner’s beloved creatures. But when Rylando realizes the people he’s rescuing are more than just innocent victims, he’ll have to throw out the rulebook to save them both.

Can love—and a clever crew of animals—guide the couple out of the rubble and into a future together?

Galactic Search and Rescue is a pulse-pounding story in the Central Galactic Concordance space opera series. If you like lovers in denial, edge-of-your-seat twists and turns, and intriguing psychic powers, then you’ll adore Carol Van Natta’s thrilling tale.

Metal Warrior: Ring of Steel by James David VictorMetal Warrior: Ring of Steel by James David Victor:

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. At last that’s what they want you to believe.

Dane has escaped the clutches of the Exin Queen and her War Master and brought back valuable intel. When they find the wreckage of an Exin warship, they come across a potentially valuable survivor. And a way to possibly win the war. Before they can launch an offensive, the battlefield changes yet again. Will Dane and his fellow mech fighters find themselves surrounded by a ring of steel intent on crushing the life out of all humanity? Or will humanity finally be on the way to winning the war?

Metal Warrior: Ring of Steel is the seventh book in the Mech Fighter series. If you like fast-paced space adventures with engaging characters and exciting battles, you will definitely want to see how the Metal Warriors save mankind, or if they can.

Libra by John WegenerLibra by John Wegener:

I appeal to the President of the Confederation…

When a duke and duchess are murdered on Franconia and a Cetusian is convicted, he appeals to the Confederation as a last resort. Can the true murderer be brought to justice? And what is the motive?

Chooli has just graduated as a police officer and joined the GIA. She is asked to team up with her partner Alex to investigate the crime on the luxurious planet – one that has dark secrets.

Ignoring warnings to stop their investigation, Chooli is kidnapped by the assassin, making the pursuit personal for Alex, as he battles against time to save her.

When Chooli escapes her captors, she finds herself in the middle of a war where she is captured again and stumbles on a monumental conspiracy that she must stop before it is too late.

Can Alex find Chooli in time to save her? Can Chooli prevent a catastrophe? Can they both bring the mastermind behind it all to justice?

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New Collection Available: “Tales of the Silencer: The Complete Series”

Before we get to the new release, I first have some other news to share.

I already linked to the interview that the local paper Kreiszeitung did with me about my Hugo nomination.

Now Alexandra Penth of the other local paper Weser-Kurier also interviewed me about my Hugo nomination as well. You can read the interview here, but unless you’re a Weser-Kurier subscriber it’s behind a paywall. However, you can also access the interview via the Google cache of the article or via this archive.is version of the page.

And now, let’s get to the new release, which isn’t actually all that new, since it’s a collection of previously published stories. But if you’ve always wanted to give my Silencer series of retro pulp thrillers a try, but didn’t want to buy the individual stories, you’re in luck, because the entire Silencer series is now available in one handy collection.

Tales of the Silencer: The Complete Series
Tales of the Silencer by Cora BuhlertHardworking pulp writer by day and steel-masked crimefighter by night, the Silencer fights criminal low-lives and larger-than-life master villains in the streets of Depression era New York City. Together with his beautiful fiancée Constance Allen and pickpocket turned butler Neal Cassidy, Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the Silencer keeps the city safe from those criminals the law cannot catch.

This series of high octane adventure stories by two-time Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert is an homage to the heroic pulp crimefighters of the 1930s such as the Shadow, the Spider and Doc Savage as well as the writers who brought them to life.

This complete omnibus edition of 112000 words or approximately 375 print pages collects the entire Silencer series.

Contains the following stories:

  • Countdown to Death
  • Flying Bombs
  • The Spiked Death
  • Elevator of Doom
  • The Great Fraud
  • Mean Streets and Dead Alleys
  • Fact or Fiction
  • St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen
  • The Milk Truck Gang
  • A Valentine for the Silencer
  • The Heavy Hand of the Editor

List price: 4.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, Vivlio and XinXii.

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