A Trio of Links: Vintage Crime Fiction, 1960s Protests and New Sword and Sorcery

The next Obi-Wan Kenobi and Star Trek reviews are coming, but first of all, here are some links to new work by me that may be found elsewhere:

The Drink Tank Issue No. 439

To begin with, issue 439 of the fanzine The Drink Tank has just come out. The theme of this issue is crime fiction before 1950 and I have an article in it about Harald Harst, a forgotten Weimar Republic era pulp detective. You can also read articles by Christopher J. Garcia, Julian West and Ian Nicholas about topics as varied as Sherlock Holmes, J.G. Reeder or the Moon Man. There is a noir title generator as well.

So what are you waiting for? Download the issue here and start reading.

Yesterday, I was also over at Galactic Journey again with an article about the protests against the visit of the Shah of Iran to West Berlin and the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg in 1967. This was the moment where the peace and love sixties turned violent in (West) Germany and would have reverberations into the 1970s and beyond. It’s also a truly horrifying story, even more horrifying than I knew.

Content warning for photos and descriptions of police violence as well as a photo of a body, because you can’t write about the murder Benno Ohnesorg without the iconic photo of him dying in a West Berlin backyard.

Whetstone Magazine of Sword and Sorcery No. 5Finally, I also have a story out in issue 5 of Whetstone Amateur Magazine of Sword and Sorcery.  It’s called “Village of the Unavenged Dead” and is a dark story about a cruel emperor, a vengeful necromancer and a spooky village.

You’ll also find new sword and sorcery stories by G.T. Wilcox, Michael Burke, George Jacobs, Dariel Quiogue, T.A. Markitan, Robert O’Leary, Charles Dooley, Jason M. Waltz, Gregory D. Mele, H.R. Laurence, Anthony Perconti, Chuck Clark, Nathaniel Webb, Patrick Groleau, J. Thomas Howard, B. Harlan Crawford, Rev. Joe Kelly, Rett Weissenfels and Scott Oden and an evocative cover by Jake Kelly in this issue. If you’re interested in what the sword and sorcery genre looks like today, you could do worse than check out Whetstone. Best of all, it’s 100% free.

So what are you waiting for? Download issue 5 of Whetstone right here.

ETA: J. Thomas Howard shares a lovely review of issue 5 of Whetstone, just in case you needed an additional incentive to download it.

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First Monday Free Fiction: The Beast from the Sea of Blood

The Beast from the Sea of Blood by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertWelcome to the June 2022 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

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

June is the first month of summer, so here is The Beast from the Sea of Blood, a summery sword and sorcery story of a trip to the seaside, a crab boil on the beach… and a monster.

So accompany Thurvok, Meldom, Sharenna and Lysha as they face…

The Beast from the Sea of Blood

From the ocean called the Sea of Blood for its red waters the colour of freshly shed blood rose a small rocky island. Nothing and no one lived here except for a colony of noisy seagulls and some crabs, which scuttled across a narrow strip of sandy beach. This was the Desolate Isle, a place avoided by sailors far and wide, because it was believed to be cursed. At least, that’s what old Danvalk said. But then Danvalk would believe his own bed was cursed, should he happen to fall out of it in a drunken stupor.

Thurvok the sellsword, on the other hand, did not believe in curses. But nonetheless, the red waves, so very much like the fresh blood sprouting from an enemy’s cut throat, unnerved him. As a son of the Eastern steppes, he did not much care for the sea in general. Any body of water larger than a well, a puddle or bathing pond tended to make him nervous. But the Sea of Blood with its eerie gory colouring made him even more nervous. Water should simply not be that colour and only the cannibals of Grokh bathed in fresh blood.

Nonetheless, he was stuck here for the time being. For the Mermaid’s Scorn, a small fishing sloop that Thurvok and his friends had purchased from the one-legged sailor Danvalk, sole survivor of an ill-fated expedition to the lost city of Nhom’zonac, had run aground on the sands just off the Desolate Isle. Until the tide rolled in, she would not sail again. At least, that’s what Sharenna had said and she prided herself in her knowledge of the sea. Even though she had run the Mermaid’s Scorn aground, come to think of it.

Worse, the quest that had brought them here, a great pirate treasure supposedly hidden among the seagull nests, had proven to be a bust. Thurvok’s friend and companion Meldom — thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin — had gotten the story of the treasure from an old acquaintance, who’d claimed that he’d been right there, when it was hidden.

“Well, if the treasure really is so great, why doesn’t he get it himself then?” Thurvok had asked.

Meldom had no answer to that, probably because there was none.

Not that it mattered much. For as usual, Thurvok’s objections had been overridden. For Meldom had never heard a rumour of a treasure he did not want to go chasing after. His lover Lysha inevitably sided with him and besides, she was forever concerned about replenishing their dwindling funds. And the sorceress Sharenna, who would normally have been the voice of reason, liked feeling the sea wind in her hair a little too much. And so Thurvok was outvoted and the quartet set sail for the Desolate Isle. Only old Danvalk, whom the foursome occasionally took along on their quests to take advantage of his sailing skills, flat out refused to come.

“I’m not setting a foot, let alone two, on the Desolate Isle,” Danvalk had insisted, “That place is cursed. Cursed, I’m telling you, and beset by monsters and evil powers.”

Of course, Danvalk only had one foot left — as Meldom was about to point out, when a jab from Lysha silenced him. Nonetheless, the old sailor had a point. For there was something very off about the Sea of Blood and the lone rocky island that rose from its waters.

As soon as the quartet reached the blood-red waters, things started to go wrong. The wind became erratic, alternating between eerie calm and violent gusts. And then, when they reached the Desolate Isle, the Mermaid’s Scorn had run aground. Meldom and Sharenna were still arguing about whose fault that was.

But whoever was to blame, they were all stuck here until the tide rolled in, which should happen in approximately eight hours. And so Thurvok and Meldom had busied themselves scaling the slippery rocks to look for the legendary pirate treasure. They found lots of seagull nests and even more seagull shit. What they did not find, however, was even a hint of any treasure.

“All this bother and nothing to show for it,” Thurvok grunted as he and Meldom sat side by side on top of the highest rocks looking out across the tiny island and the bloody sea roiling all around as far as the eye could see.

“Maybe the seagulls ate the treasure,” Meldom mused, “After all, they seem to eat everything else.”

“And shit it out again,” Thurvok added, “No, if there was a treasure here buried in a pile of bird shit, we would have found it.” He sighed. “This whole expedition has been a waste of time.”

“Would you rather sit in The Rusty Nail in Neamene and drink yourself into a stupor?” Meldom countered.

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

Meldom shook his head. “Some adventurer you are.”

“Better a happy, well fed and drunk adventurer, then hungry, thirsty and shipwrecked.”

Meldom rolled his eyes. “Oh please, you make it sound as if we’ll be marooned here forever. It’s only eight hours…” He looked up at the sun, which had sunk further towards the west, and mentally calculated. “…more like five now. And we do have provisions, so it’s not as if we’ll die of hunger or thirst.”

“Yeah, stale bread and water,” Thurvok grunted, “As if we were prisoners languishing in a dungeon.”

“I wanted to take along some salted herrings for variety,” Meldom said, “But you said you’d rather die than eat another salted herring.”

“It’s not natural for a man to eat so much fish,” Thurvok said.

“That’s just because you’re from the Eastern steppes where fish are as rare as ice beasts, dragons and pots of gold. In the coastal cities, it’s perfectly normal to enjoy the bounty of the sea.”

Even an encounter with a dragon would be preferable to being marooned on this forsaken rock in a Sea of Blood, Thurvok thought, though he did not say so out loud.

Meldom, meanwhile, spotted an ivory gleam among the mounts of bird shit. He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt — black, like the rest of his attire — wrinkled his nose and reached into the pile of shit.

He held the object aloft. “Look at what I found.”

Thurvok looked and shrank back at once with such force that he almost toppled from the rock down to the beach below.

“By the crown of Kresgumm…” he exclaimed.

For the object in Meldom’s hand was not a jewel or a gold doubloon, but a skull. A grinning skull with bird shit sticking between its teeth and dripping out of its eye sockets.

“What’s your problem?” Meldom wanted to know, “This is good news. It means that someone has been here before.”

“Yes, and look what happened to him.” Thurvok scratched his chin in confusion, because he had no real way of knowing what gender the owner of the skull had been. “Her? Them?”

“It probably belonged to one of the pirates who buried the treasure,” Meldom mused.

“Or to another treasure hunter. Or just a hapless shipwrecked sailor.”

“Maybe…” Meldom waved the skull about to shoo away one of the ever-present seagulls. “…a bird ate him.”

“Whatever ate that poor soul…” Thurvok said darkly, “…was a lot bigger than a bird.”

He did his best to ignore the skull in Meldom’s hand and how it was staring at him with its hollow, bird shit dripping eyes.

So instead, he looked down at the beach, where Sharenna and Lysha were skipping across the sand and scrambling between the rocks by the sea. Occasionally, they bent down to pick up something from among the rocks and put it into bucket.

“What are the girls doing down there?” Thurvok wondered.

Meldom shrugged. “Gathering firewood maybe.”

“With a bucket?”

“Why not?”

As if to prove him right, Lysha walked past at just this moment with an armful of dry driftwood, which she began to build into a campfire. Sharenna followed, lugging the bucket.

“Come on down,” she called up at them, “Lysha and I have gathered crabs and mussels for a seafood boil.”

Thurvok wasn’t entirely sure what a seafood boil was, though crabs and mussels didn’t sound particularly appetising. And anyway, what was wrong with plain old meat? Though he figured that even crabs and mussels were better than stale bread and plain water.

Though he was lithely built, Meldom was perpetually hungry. And so the promise of food — even food as unenticing as boiled crabs and mussels — made him to stuff the skull into his bag and begin to scramble down the rock.

With a grunt, Thurvok followed. Though in the end, Thurvok reached the beach before Meldom, who’d been shat upon by a seagull halfway down.

On the beach, Lysha had gotten a good fire going, while Sharenna was bent over the bucket, adding some herbs and oil from her bag.

“You’re not trying to magick us, are you?”

Sharenna rolled her eyes. “Of course not. Herbs and oil are good for both magic and cooking. The only thing that differs is the recipe.”

Thurvok peered into the bucket. A crab peered back at him with black beady eyes and menacingly clicked its pincers.

“Crap, those things are still alive.”

“Of course,” Sharenna replied and took the bucket away to fill it up with water, the eerie blood red water of the sea, “If they were dead, we couldn’t eat them, because they’d have gone off already.”

“I’m not eating live crabs,” Thurvok grunted.

“Don’t worry.” Sharenna hung the bucket with the scrambling, clawing, living crabs over the fire. “By the time dinner’s ready, they won’t be. Even crabs can’t survive boiling water.”

At this moment, Meldom appeared, cursing and brushing at a stain of white-grey seagull shit, which now adorned his jerkin, black like the rest of his garb.

“I’ll never get this out of the fabric again,” he lamented and shook his fist at the seagulls circling overhead.

“Just let it dry and brush it off,” Sharenna said.

“That’ll still leave a stain,” Meldom replied.

“Yes, but you can wash it out with saltwater and vinegar,” Lysha said. When Meldom shot her a curious look, she added, “Oh please, I’m the daughter of a silk merchant. I know a thing or two about removing stains from fabric.”

***

The wind had picked up again and was blowing in cold from the sea, so cold that the four adventurers huddled around the campfire, which was blazing away merrily. The bucket had been hung over the fire and occasionally, Meldom or Sharenna reached out with a stick to shove a crab trying to escape the boiling inferno back into the pot.

Thurvok did not touch the bucket or the crabs. Those scuttling, skittering, clicking things with their beady black eyes freaked him out. There was something unnatural about them.

“So did you find anything?” Lysha wanted to know.

“No treasure, unfortunately,” Meldom said, though he seemed remarkably unbothered by the fact that this whole quest had been for naught. “But we found this.”

He opened his bag and pulled out the skull.

Lysha emitted a little squeak, much to Meldom’s amusement. Sharenna frowned.

“Where did you find that?”

“Up yonder among the seagull nests,” Thurvok replied.

“And the seagull shit,” Meldom added.

Sharenna still frowned. “Could you give that to me?”

“What do you want with that?” Thurvok wanted to know, “It’s all dirty and full of bird shit.”

Meldom’s grey eyes went wide, while his already pale complexion turned a shade paler. “You’re not going to reanimate it, are you?

“Why not?” Sharenna countered, “If there really is a treasure hidden here, the skull might know where it is.”

As a sorceress, Sharenna occasionally engaged in a spot of necromancy, though only in emergencies. And unpleasant as being stuck on an island in the middle of a blood red sea with not a single copper penny to show for it was, Thurvok was not entirely sure if it constituted an emergency.

“I thought you needed whole bodies to reanimate,” he pointed out.

“Oh, it works just as well with parts, though normally there isn’t much of a point to reanimating a severed limb or a headless body. After all, it’s not as if they can do much or tell you anything. A skull, on the other hand…”

“Try it!” Meldom all but shoved the skull at her.

“All right.” Sharenna accepted the skull, wrinkling her nose at the bird shit that was still clinging to the bone. She held the skull between her hands and her expression grew blank and distant, as she called up her magic.

Sharenna closed her eyes. Abruptly, the skull’s jaw dropped, as its mouth opened.

“Beware,” the skull said, its voice grating and hollow, like something from the depths of the underworld, “Beware the Beast from the Sea of Blood. Or it will take you, as it took me. Snapped me in half and left me lying on the beach, my bones to be picked clean by the gulls.”

The skull’s mouth closed. At the same instant, Sharenna opened her eyes and dropped the skull as if it were made of red hot iron. The skull rolled into the campfire and lay there, as the flames ignited the bird shit and licked out of the hollow eye socket.

Sharenna seemed troubled, so Thurvok quickly put his arm around her, pulling her close.

“Are you all right?”

Sharenna nodded weakly. “I just need a moment.”

Meldom reached out with a stick to pull the skull out of the fire and cursed, as the stick caught fire as well.

“Now that was ominous,” he announced, “And utterly unhelpful. Nothing about a treasure, just some blather about how the seagulls picked clean his — or her — bones. As if it wasn’t bloody obvious that that was what happened.”

“Don’t forget the beast,” Thurvok pointed out, “It also talked of a beast.”

“Yes, the beast from the sea of blood. And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”

“I for one am not keen to find out,” Thurvok said.

“I just wonder how that skull could talk at all,” Lysha wondered, “After all, it neither has a tongue nor vocal cords.” She cast a doubtful glance at the skull and the flames that enveloped it. “At least, I think it doesn’t.”

Meldom scowled. “No matter how the skull managed to talk, I still think he — she — could have been more precise. I mean, is this beast a sea serpent, a mermaid, an oversized fish, a creature like the monstrous guardian of the lost city of… well, you know what I mean?”

“Does it matter?” Thurvok countered, “It’s a beast and it killed this poor soul. Does it really matter what manner of creature it is?”

“As matter of fact, yes. If we knew what it is, we would have some idea how to fight it? But a beast could be anything, even those blasted seagulls. After all, their shit truly is beastly.” Meldom futilely began to rub at the stain on his jerkin again.

“It’s not a seagull,” Sharenna said suddenly, “But something much bigger and much more dangerous. I couldn’t see it, because he couldn’t, but I felt his fear and his desperation, as he tried to climb the rocks to save himself. But he wasn’t fast enough and so the best got him.”

“How do you know all that?” Thurvok asked.

The flickering firelight illuminated Sharenna’s face and suddenly she looked very witchy indeed. “Sometimes…” she began, “…when I reanimate a body, I get an impression of their final moments. This is what I got from him. And yes, it was a man. A sailor. I could see that very clearly.”

“Did you get anything about a treasure?” Meldom asked, single-minded as always.

Sharenna shook her head. “No, only his final moments. And they didn’t involve a treasure, just fear, terror and an unseen monster.”

“So what do we do now?” Lysha wanted to know, “About the monster, I mean?”

“I don’t think there is much we can do,” Sharenna replied, “Except wait for the tide to roll in, so we can take the Mermaid’s Scorn and get out of here. But until then…”

She peered into bucket and stirred it with a stick, pointedly ignoring the flaming skull at her feet.

“…dinner is ready.”

***

Sharenna emptied the bucket and all four of them cracked open the crabs and mussels to get at the soft flesh within. And even Thurvok, who was deeply suspicious of the sea and anything connected with it had to admit that the food was good.

Meldom waded over to the Mermaid’s Scorn and brought back a jug of rum, which they shared around the fire, while the sun slowly sank towards the western horizon.

“How much longer?” Thurvok asked, keeping a wary eye on his surroundings, just in case this beast the skull had mentioned decided to put in an appearance after all.

“Not long now,” Meldom promised, “The water is already coming back. Another hour or so and the Mermaid’s Scorn will sail again.”

Thurvok looked at the sun, which was already very close to the horizon, painting the Sea of Blood even redder.

“In an hour it will be almost dark,” he said, “Can we even make it back to Neamene in the dark?”

“Of course, we can,” Sharenna replied, “After all, the fisherman go out to sea by night. And if they can navigate in the dark, then so can we.”

Thurvok was about the point out that Sharenna’s and Meldom’s navigation skills were what had caused the Mermaid’s Scorn to run aground in the first place, but then he thought the better of it. He knew a lost argument, when he saw one.

And besides, his stomach was full, the rum was warming his chilly limbs and even his worries about the skull’s ominous pronouncements were slowly fading. In fact, Thurvok felt as comfortable as he had ever since they set out for the Desolate Isle. But as always, when life was going well, it could not last.

Meldom heard it first, a clicking, scuttling sound blowing in from the sea with the wind.

“Please not a storm, please not a storm,” he muttered to himself and turned towards the sound. “What in the name of the Seven Gods of Grayvault,” he exclaimed.

For from the Sea of Blood, halfway to the horizon and further out than the Mermaid’s Scorn, rose a rock where there hadn’t been one before.

“Maybe the tide uncovered it,” Thurvok suggested.

“When it recedes maybe,” Meldom countered. His hand reached for the sheathed dagger at his waist, “But the tide is rising.”

And then the rock ended all speculations, when it began to move, move inexorably towards the shore.

They all jumped to their feet, the fire and the rum forgotten. Thurvok drew his word. Meldom pushed Lysha behind him and drew his dagger. Sharenna stood between them, outwardly calm, but the slight glow around her hands showed that she was calling up her magic.

The thing grew ever bigger as it approached the island. By now, Thurvok could make out details. Eight scuttling legs. Two black beady eyes the size of a baby’s head. And two clicking pincers big enough to snap a man clean in half.

“This would be the beast then,” Sharenna said.

“Uhm, folks, I think it’s angry that we ate its brethren,” Lysha whispered and reached for the slingshot she used for defence.

Meldom sheathed his dagger, for it was clearly no good against a creature of this size, and drew his own slingshot.

And still the giant crab scuttled towards the beach, pincers clicking menacingly. Meldom and Lysha fired their slingshots and pelted it with pebbles and seashells, which did not even slow the thing down.

Thurvok rushed to meet the creature in the lapping water, his mighty sword raised high above his head. He swung his blade in a mighty blow that would have taken a man’s head clean off. But the blade glanced harmlessly off the creature’s shell, while the backlash knocked Thurvok off his feet and into the wet sand.

The beast was almost upon him now, but Thurvok managed to scramble to his feet just in time. He changed tactics and stabbed at the thing, again and again, hoping to find some weak spot. But the point of his sword could not pierce the monster’s sturdy shell and so he only succeeded in annoying the creature. The crab swung one of its pincers towards Thurvok, snapping madly, and only a quick roll to the side saved him from decapitation.

He got to his feet again and swung his sword, this time aiming low at the legs. But once more, it was to no avail. There was no way to stop this creature, no way to even slow it down. All four of them would end like the poor fellow whose skull Meldom had found among the rocks, snapped in half, their bones picked clean by seagulls.

“Get back,” Sharenna cried out, “Its armour is too strong. Your blade can’t hurt it.” She called up a fireball in her hands. “But my magic can.”

Once Thurvok had rolled clear, Sharenna hurled her fireball at the critter. It missed the massive armoured body and landed in the water at its feet instead, exploding in a hiss of steam.

“You missed,” Thurvok called out.

“No, I didn’t.” Sharenna hurled another fireball at the thing’s feet. It hit the water with a hiss and bathed the thing in steam. “I’m boiling the crab.”

After the third fireball, the crab screeched in pain, while the steam and the hot water slowly turned its shell a bright fiery red. But it took another five fireballs, until the thing finally collapsed into the shallow water, quite dead. Waves crashed onto the sand, drenching their shoes and the hems of their clothes.

Sharenna swayed and would have fallen, if Thurvok had not caught her by the waist. Using her magic always took a lot out of her and taking down the giant crab had required some mighty magic.

“Uhm, guys…” Lysha pointed at the horizon, where two more rocks, which had not been there before, had appeared, while the wind blew a scuttling, clicking sound towards the beach, a sound that was getting steadily louder.

“I’d suggest we’d better get back to the ship and away from here fast,” Meldom said, “Before more of those things show up.”

“Can the ship even sail again?” Thurvok wanted to know.

“It’ll have to, unless we want to be crab fodder.”

“And what if we can’t get free?” Lysha asked.

“Then Thurvok will have to get out and push.”

So they all raced for the Mermaid’s Scorn. Meldom and Lysha dashed ahead to unfurl the sails, though Meldom thought to grab the jug of rum first. Thurvok picked up Sharenna, who was still too weak to run, and carried her on board. He set her down against the stern railing and gripped the tiller, following Sharenna’s directions. For unlike Thurvok, Sharenna knew a little about the sea and sailing.

As the Mermaid’s Scorn sped away from the Desolate Isle, Thurvok looked back and saw two giant crabs launching themselves at their fallen comrade, while more of creatures rose from the sea. Seagulls circled overhead.

It was only when they were well away from the Desolate Isle and its monstrous inhabitants and had reached the area where the blood-red sea turned into regular blue-green again — or would, if night hadn’t fallen in the meantime, turning the water to ink — that they dared to relax.

Thurvok fastened the tiller with a rope and Meldom evenly divided the last of the rum between four cups.

“Well, we did not find the treasure, but that was certainly an adventure,” he said, “And it will make a grand tale to tell at The Rusty Nail or any other harbour bar in Neamene.”

“So more gullible folks will come here in search of treasure and night have their heads snapped off,” Thurvok grumbled.

“Well, that’s their choice, isn’t it? After all, it’s not as if we’re going to pretend that we found the treasure.”

“Maybe we should,” Lysha pointed out, “To discourage other adventures and make sure they won’t get eaten by the monster crabs.”

Meldom laughed. “That won’t work. Cause don’t you know that rumours of treasures found always draw more treasure seekers.”

“Well, you should know,” Thurvok said, “After all, there was never a rumour about a treasure that you did not follow up on. Even though all it ever got us was vengeful corpses, crazed cultists, tentacled monsters and now giant crabs.”

“And bird shit,” Meldom said, still rubbing at the stain on his jerkin, “Don’t forget the bird shit.”

“Oh, stop complaining,” Sharenna, who was largely recovered by now, said, “At least be grateful that it was a regular sized seagull and not a monster-sized one.”

Thurvok lifted his cup. “I’ll drink to that.”

***

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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Down and Out in Tatooine and Alderaan: Some Thoughts on Obi-Wan Kenobi Parts I and II

Since last weekend was a long holiday weekend in the US, Disney Plus in its infinite wisdom has decided to give us the first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi in one go and then the next episode dropped today. Though the first episode begins with what is basically a recap of the prequel trilogy in five minutes.

But before we get started, fellow Hugo finalist Camestros Felapton is currently doing profiles of all the 2022 Best Fan Writer finalists and today it was my turn. Also check out Cam’s profiles of Chris M. Barkley, Bitter Karella and Alex Brown with Jason Sanford and Paul Weimer still to come.

But now, let’s get back to Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Warning: Spoilers after the cut! Continue reading

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for May 2022

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

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie and small press authors newly published this month, though some 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 urban fantasy, epic fantasy, dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, fantasy romance, paranormal romance, paranormal mystery, science fiction romance, space opera, military science fiction, near future science fiction, dystopian fiction, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, horror, magical realism, LitRPG, wizards, dragons, immortals, assassins, exorcists, first contact, alien abductions, super soldiers, space marines, stargates, crime-busting witches, crime-busting ghosts, pirates of the sea, the air and space 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:

Wizard's Tower by Gregory AllantherWizard’s Tower by Gregory Allanther:

The humans call me Nemon Fargus. They call me wizard, and [Elementalist] and [Enchanter]. They call me teacher. They call me adventurer.

But I don’t care. Not anymore.

For more than 150 years I’ve served the Kingdom of Sena. Through four Kings and a Queen. Two wars and a rebellion. I’ve founded and taught at a magic school. I’ve fought against beast waves and dungeon breaks.

But now? Now, the one close friend I had left has passed. So, I’m done with their politics and their economics. The short and busy lives of humans are more burden than benefit on the weary soul of this half-elf.

Now, I’m looking for a refuge, a place that can well and truly be my own. Away from the growing cities and the bustling markets, away from the pointless wars, away from the eager students and the arrogant adventurers.

I’m seeking the peaceful life of a wizard in his tower, studying magic to advance my spellcraft…We’ll see if that happens.

Experience the start of a LitRPG Series from Gregory Allanther, the bestselling author of An Old Man’s Journey. With millions of views previously on Royal Road, this hit web serial is new and improved on Kindle & Audible.

Adrift in Starlight by Mindi BriarAdrift in Starlight by Mindi Briar:

When set adrift in the universe, some things are worth holding onto.

Titan Valentino has been offered a job they can’t refuse.

Tai, a gender-neutral courtesan, receives a scandalous proposition: seduce an actor’s virgin fiancée. The money is enough to pay off Tai’s crushing medical debt, a tantalizing prospect.

Too bad Aisha Malik isn’t the easy target they expect.

A standoffish historian who hates to be touched, she’s laser-focused on her career, and completely unaware that her marriage has been arranged behind her back. This could be the one instance where Tai’s charm and charisma fail them.

Then an accidental heist throws them together as partners in crime.

Fleeing from the Authorities, they’re dragged into one adventure after another: alien planets, pirate duels, and narrow escapes from the law. As Tai and Aisha open up to each other, deeper feelings kindle between them. But that reward money still hangs over Tai’s head. Telling Aisha the truth could ruin everything…

Their freedom, their career, and their blossoming love all hang in the balance. To save one might mean sacrificing the rest.

Sky on Fire by Lindsay BurokerSky on Fire by Lindsay Buroker:

The dragons of eld, once benevolent allies to mankind, have been infested by a magical parasite that makes them cruel and aggressive. They’ve flown through the ancient portal to invade Torvil and plan to kill or enslave all of humanity.

If Jak and his allies can’t figure out how to destroy the parasite, a parasite the powerful dragons themselves were helpless to thwart, everyone they care about—everyone in the world—will be doomed.

Panacea Genesis by L. Ana EllisPanecea Genesis by L. Ana Ellis:

Mariela Stafford’s life just hit rock bottom. Her boss, the CEO of Panacea Corp, created a digital clone of himself, demoted Mariela, gave the clone her job, and told Mariela to train it. Now the clone wants her to help it kill the CEO.

In 2115, embedded chips, virtual reality, and the threat of extreme weather have led to a market for businesses that keep a person’s body alive in a habitation pod while the person lives entirely in the metaverse. But not everyone embraces technological advances– a group of people have adopted the tech of 2005 while isolating themselves from the temptation of advanced technology. Panacea Corp – the world’s most powerful corporation – connects both worlds through providing the metaverse, the pod warehouses, and the land to the technology resisters.

Mariela Stafford, a vice president for Panacea Corp, is demoted after her new boss assigns his digital clone to take over her job. Assisted by Amoco, an eccentric polymath who also works for the corporation, she schemes a way to get rid of the clone. To delete it, they’ll need to recruit a team to access an eighty-year-old server farm in a remote location—which would be a lot easier to do if the records on the location of the server farm hadn’t been lost.

This ‘earth’ opera—a tale with all the drama, expansiveness, and varied cast of a space opera, but set on earth—will appeal to anyone who’s ever felt out-of-control of the technology in their lives.

Inquisitor's Bane by Rachel FordInquisitor’s Bane by Rachel Ford:

The Inquisitor is dead. But Black Port’s problems are only just beginning.

Knight Protector Portia Daysen returns to the South, she’s a new woman, with new secrets. She means to continue the work of Black Wyvern, the secret order intent on rescuing elves and dragons from captivity and death.

Meanwhile, Captain Valia Iceborn struggles with her growing feelings for Portia – and how they may be impacting her judgement. Should she stay in Black Port, and risk detection? Or should she go to ground now, before the king’s men – and a new inquisitor – show up?

When the pair learn of the kidnapping of a rare black wyvern hatchling, a hatchling who can communicate with mortals and immortals alike, they realize his rescue must be priority number one.

But if there’s one thing the nations of North and South can agree upon, it’s the danger to their own power that such a wyvern poses. To rescue the missing hatchling, the two women will need to contend with more than inquisitors.

They’ll need to outwit and outrun the forces of two nations, hellbent on stopping them by any means necessary.

Ghostly Shadows by Lily Harper HartGhostly Shadows by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow has it all, including a new business, a husband she adores, and a best friend she’s determined not to murder even though he’s determined to be the groomzilla to end all groomzillas. Life is good … until it’s not.

Everything is thrown into doubt when her former boyfriend, a grifter on trial for murder, escapes from the county courthouse and starts terrorizing Whisper Cove.

Her husband Jared Monroe is on edge. Quinn Jackson has proven himself to be a threat more than once, and it’s clear Quinn is gunning for Harper because he blames her for being caught in the first place. That means Zander and Shawn – who are in the midst of preparing for their wedding – have to move in so everybody is safe.

It’s a full house and the stakes are high. A dead courthouse guard is their only guide, and he’s not enough.

Harper is determined to get her happily ever after, as well as Zander’s too. That means they have to grapple with Quinn before the big day arrives.

Murder is on the menu and Quinn has nothing to lose. It’s a race to the finish – and down the aisle – and winner takes all.

Strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Alondra by A.L. HawkeAlondra by A.L. Hawke:

I fell in love with a goth, but she’s a witch.

Starting school at Hawthorne University was not going well, until I met my classmate Alondra. Allie was different. She was goth. But she was also mysterious, confident and fun. I was into that. My name’s Liam. My friends call me Lee.

Things got weird after I accompanied her to her haunts. Poltergeists and demons attacked little girls. I watched Alondra help exorcise these ghosts, but some of their evil stuck to me.

Well, being attracted to a witch was one thing; dating one was quite another. It seemed the closer I got to Allie, the more her witchcraft endangered my friends. And my soul. You decide. I chronicled everything here in her book.

Alondra is a prequel to the internationally bestselling Hawthorne University Witch series. The novel takes place twenty years before Broomstick.

Content warning: Alondra is a new adult college paranormal romance containing profanity, sexual scenes, adult situations, and, of course, witchcraft.

Ambassador: The Unfolding Army by Patty JansenAmbassador: The Unfolding Army by Patty Jansen:

For three months, Cory and his team have hung with Asto’s military in orbit, watching as drone armies attacked Earth.

They could have helped more had Nations of Earth communicated with the fleet or if they could only find out where these drones come from, who controls them and from where. The enemy is smart, enmeshed with sections of Earth’s population and Asto’s military severely hamstrung by Nations of Earth playing chicken.

Three months ago, the president contacted Cory asking for help. The connection was interrupted and never re-established.

It’s as if they don’t want help.

Cory’s got gamra breathing down his neck with the requirement that Nations of Earth officially approves the presence of Asto’s military in orbit.

Something has to give.

He and his team return to a battle-scarred Earth on a hare-brained mission to talk to Nations of Earth, to check on the president, to get him to sign for approval. Getting there is hard. The state of the Nations of Earth assembly is deeply troubling. But getting out, that’s where it gets truly interesting.

The Obanaax by Kirk A. JohnsonThe Obanaax and Other Tales of Heroes and Horrors by Kirk A. Johnson:

“The Obanaax” is a collection of two novelettes and two short stories that take the reader on a journey to the world of Aaduna on the great northern continent of Mbor. This novel’s imaginative sword and sorcery world, influenced by several West African languages, sets this book apart from other stories explored in this genre. These narrative elements, naming conventions, and heart-pounding prose makes “The Obanaax” an adventure that will ignite a passion for exploring this undreamed-of new world far beyond the last page has turned. These tales from far afield will introduce to you the adventurous daring-do of those unaccustomed to the monstrous chaos of the unnatural and, at times, its alien desires. An epic for those willing to brave far and away from the world we know.

Dark Factory by Kathe KojaDark Factory by Kathe Koja:

Welcome to Dark Factory! You may experience strobe effects, Y reality, DJ beats, love, sex, betrayal, triple shot espresso, broken bones, broken dreams, ecstasy, self-knowledge, and the void.Dark Factory is a dance club: three floors of DJs, drinks, and customizable reality, everything you see and hear and feel. Ari Regon is the club’s wild card floor manager, Max Caspar is a stubborn DIY artist, both chasing a vision of true reality. And rogue journalist Marfa Carpenter is there to write it all down. Then a rooftop rave sets in motion a fathomless energy that may drive Ari and Max to the edge of the ultimate experience.Dark Factory is Kathe Koja’s wholly original new novel from Meerkat Press, that combines her award-winning writing and her skill directing immersive events, to create a story that unfolds on the page, online, and in the reader’s creative mind. www.Darkfactory.club

Sun & Dreams by J. Steven LampertiSun & Dream by J. Steven Lamperti:

Anise has power in her dreams – too much power.

When your dreams can change the world, you need to learn to control them.

Anise’s uncle Sebastian takes her to the Academy, the school where the wizards of Liamec learn to use their powers.

But the people in Anise’s small village are not the only ones who notice the young girl’s abilities. Who is the Watcher, the malevolent presence Anise feels in her dreams, and why is Helios, the sun-god, protecting her?

While Anise studies the ways of the wizards, a dark secret that hangs over the founding of the Academy threatens to unravel reality and destroy the land of Liamec.

Death's Touch by Erme LanderDeath’s Touch by Erme Lander:

Centuries ago Tomas made a promise and has kept it out of cowardice. He has lived under the radar for all this time, hiding from the authorities where he can. Recipient of a terrible gift, his belief that he is the only one like himself is about to be exploded. The gods’ favoured are corrupt, power hungry and know how to find him.

 

 

 

Friday the Witchteenth by Amanda M. LeeFriday the Witchteenth by Amanda M. Lee:

Bay Winchester is newly married and happy. Things have been quiet since she returned from her honeymoon, which means trouble is just around the corner. When it comes, it takes the form of a despondent man on a bridge. Despite her best efforts, Bay and the hostage negotiator can’t save him, and death is swift.

That should’ve been the end of it, but a weird symbol on the dead man’s hand piques Bay’s interest, and when the negotiator turns up sick with the same symptoms, she knows that they have a problem on their hands.

Suicide as a contagion? It’s not the fight Bay was expecting, and it’s definitely not the one she was looking for. Still, it’s the problem that keeps on giving … especially when it spreads to Mrs. Little.

In her heart, Bay knows that she shouldn’t care about the woman who has hurt her family at every turn. Ignoring the problem isn’t an option though. If she stands back and does nothing in an attempt to end the chain, she’ll never be able to live with herself. If she gets too close, she could get infected herself.

Bay has never doubted her magic, but the current fight is out of her wheelhouse. Magic is at the core of what’s happening, but their enemy is invisible.

The Winchester witches have never met an enemy they can’t fight … until now. Will they be able to pull together and save Hemlock Cove? Or is the town doomed to fall to a curse without a name and an evil without a soul?

Strap in, because the answer is more than anybody is expecting, and if everybody is to survive, the fight will have to move to an entirely new level.

The game is on. In this one, the winner will take all.

Fire by L.C. MawsonFire by L.C. Mawson:

It only takes one night for the world to turn on its head…

Finishing my second degree was supposed to be a quiet time of wrapping up my academic work and maybe making a friend or two before everyone left town. That was before the monsters started attacking.

I’ve always ignored the strange occurrences that tend to happen around me, but now these creatures are hunting me, everything I touch is erupting into flame, and all I’ve got to help is a guy I barely know, his reclusive sister, an invitation to train with a secretive magical faction, and a strange necklace that apparently belongs to the magical world’s most wanted…

I’m not used to trusting anyone, but as monsters close in, I don’t think I have a choice.

Iron Paws and the Tinker's Forced Marriage by Juli D. RevezzoIron Paws and the Tinker’s Forged Marriage by Juli D. Revezzo:

A year ago, Vesta Bartlett received a rather unusual assignment.

Now, as if perfecting her clockwork puppies for Queen Victoria weren’t enough, a surprise invitation to present them to the Texas Republic president makes Vesta question a number of things, including will the president accept the clockwork from a woman? Unsure, she agrees to allow Henry to go along, as her spokesman and husband, regardless of how her father may feel about a fake marriage.

But they have bigger problems than her father’s anger when an anti-alchemist group takes issue with her clockwork creations and decide they need to stop Vesta’s work. By any means, no matter how violent.

Speed of Dark by Patricia RickettsSpeed of Dark by Patricia Ricketts:

Mary Em Phillips has decided to end it all after losing her beloved Mamie, who raised her; her husband, Jack, who has left her for another woman; and her only son, Petey, who has died as a result of a freak bacterial infection. But when Mosely Albright, a black man from Chicago’s South Side, comes to her back door one morning needing a drink of water and seeking directions back to the train, her plans are derailed . . . to the chagrin of Mishigami (so named by the Ojibwe, also known as Lake Michigan), who has been trying to lure Mary Em into his icy depths in the hopes that she will save him.

Mary Em wants nothing more than to end her anguish. Mosely is searching for the love he’s been missing most of his life. And Mishigami—who fears he is dying from rampant pollution and overfishing—seeks a champion.

A story of friendship, survival, connection and the unquestioning power of nature told through three distinct voices, Speed of Dark affirms a love of humanity that transcends all else, including race and background.

The Exorcist's House by Nick RobertsThe Exorcist’s House by Nick Roberts:

This psychological thriller follows a family to their Appalachian farmhouse, where they encounter an unimaginable horror.

In the summer of 1994, psychologist Daniel Hill buys a rustic farmhouse nestled in the rolling hills of West Virginia.

Along with his wife and teenage daughter, the family uproots their lives in Ohio and moves south. They are initially seduced by the natural beauty of the country setting. That soon changes when they discover a hidden room in the basement with a well, boarded shut and adorned with crucifixes.

Local legends about the previous owner being an exorcist come to light, but by then, all Hell has broken loose.

This 1990s horror novel is perfect for fans of family thriller books, stories of demonic possession, exorcism fiction, the occult, or thrillers like The Exorcist, A Head Full of Ghosts, and The Amityville Horror.

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

Huntress by Glynn StewartHuntress by Glynn Stewart:

A peaceful world in the crosshairs
A rising threat armed by an old foe
A call to arms she can’t ignore…

Admiral Kira Demirci lost the coin toss with her second-in-command and was supposed to be taking a holiday. That meant waiting in the Redward System while Memorial Force’s new carrier Huntress was commissioned and turned over to the mercenary space fleet.

But when a stranger arrives looking to hire Memorial Force to protect her homeworld, Kira finds money, boredom and altruism combining to bring her into action. The majority of her fleet is elsewhere, but she has two heavy warships, including Huntress. More than enough to protect the pacifist system of Samuels from their neighbors.

Those neighbors were armed by Kira’s old foes in the Brisingr System, and she smells the hand of the Equilibrium Institute behind the scheme. A chance to protect the innocent and frustrate two old foes at once is hard to turn down—and even if things go wrong, the rest of her fleet is on their way.

She’s planned for everything. Hasn’t she?

City in the Sky by Glynn StewartCity in the Sky by Glynn Stewart:

“Killing a man isn’t an easy thing to live with, no matter the cause.”

Erik Tarverro is a skilled blacksmith, a better swordsman—and hated for his mixed aeradi parentage. Denied mastery of his craft in the human city he grew up in, he accepts a risky contract from a dangerous stranger.

With new enemies at his heels, he leaps at the chance to join his father’s people in the sky city of Newport. Despite his human blood, he finds his place among the aeradi: heir to an ancient noble family.

His duty leads him to sailing the skies and learning what it means to lead soldiers. But Erik’s enemies will have blood, and the peace between his people and the Draconan dragon riders is like a powder keg. All it would take is one spark—and dragons will fly on his newfound city in the sky.

Reclamation Mind Jack by E.L. StrifeReclamation Mind Jack by E.L. Strife:

Marci, a super soldier and escapee of the Astral’s bio-enhancement military program Zedger, has found a new purpose in rescuing others like her. But she can’t do it alone, and not without parts. Marci must travel to the last standing city of Tellurians in the irradiated expanse of Zion. There, in EsoTerra, she must fight for her right to trade with others for what she requires.

She tries to hide her identity, mask her skills, play down her expertise, but too many have heard rumors of her. Marci can’t hide from the truth forever.

Soon, she finds herself helping other soldiers dumped from Zedger. Recent “disposals” have lost their minds to the Genesis program Astrals use to control their creations. Marci must deep dive the soldiers’ cerebral enhancements to figure out why and salvage everyone she can.

What she discovers when searching Genesis streams alerts Astrals to her position. Lead rain soon falls from the sky in the form of BloodTitans.

Can Marci save the soldiers and her people? Or is this the Tellurians’ last stand?

With Slight Tremors by Ed TejaWith Slight Tremors by Ed Teja:

It’s time to take a break from the world you think you know and to step through into another one. These five stories offer a guided tour of new possibilities and different places. They rely on magic, science, and sleight of hand, and will betray your trust at every opportunity. But just because they are fantastic, doesn’t mean they aren’t real (somewhere).

You can stay tucked away on a safe perch and let this book unveil the genre-bending consequences of rather minor changes to a world that might be the one you live in, or might not; you can follow the way events unravel when cause and effect aren’t quite so boringly predictable.

Stories of ideas are, however, always dangerous. Consider yourself warned.

Martian Jump Gate by James David VictorMartian Jump Gate by James David Victor:

Humanity has opened a door that allows for instantaneous travel through the stars. What they find on the other side might mean the end of all mankind.

The invention of jump-gates has allowed instantaneous travel throughout the solar system, and beyond. Captain Shoji Mora will lead the first expedition through the jump-gate to Mars in a gigantic space robot known as Tin Man. Their mission soon turns from mining and exploration to defending humanity from an alien invasion. Can the giant space robot defend mankind from certain destruction at the hands of a superior alien armada?

Mars Jump Gate is the first book in the Tin Man Space Opera Adventure. If you like fast-paced sci-fi adventures, make Tin Man your next epic space adventure.

The Orion Abduction by Dylan WhiteThe Orion Abduction by Dylan White:

He’s either the key to our evolution or our destruction. And they’re coming for him.

For most of his fifteen years, Joshua Fox believed he was being abducted by aliens.

Just searching for normalcy in his small Kansas town, he discovers he’s unwittingly been involved in something much bigger and everything he thought he knew is now in question.

All Josh really knows is he must find out the truth before it’s too late—not just to save himself and his friends, but the entire world.

Grayshade by Gregory A. WilsonGrayshade by Gregory A. Wilson:

For ten years, the assassin Grayshade has eliminated threats to the Order of Argoth, the Just God. Within the towering walls of Cohrelle, all bow to the Order’s authority, even while the city officials publicly distance themselves from its actions.

As the supreme executor of the Order’s edicts, Grayshade dispatches his targets with protocol and precision. But when an assignment breaks these rules, he does the most dangerous thing an Acolyte of Argoth can do: he asks why. Now a target of the Order he so long served without question, he must use all of his skills not only to kill . . . but to stay alive.

Grayshade is a novel of violent faith and shifting loyalties, a story about whether we can rise above our pasts to craft new futures.

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for May 2022


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

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of crime fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some 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.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, animal mysteries, historical mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, paranormal mysteries, crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, action thrillers, adventure thrillers, horror thrillers, police procedurals, detective novels, police officers, ex-cops, private investigators, amateur sleuths, thieves, con artists, serial killers, organised crime, drug dealing, human trafficking, heists, sleazy megachurch ministers, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting ghosts, crime-busting dogs, deadly writer retreats, murder and mayhem in London, Rutland, the Pacific Northwest, Florida, Texas, Kansas, Calgary and much more.

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

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

And now on to the books without further ado:

Murder Over the Cold Grave by Blythe BakerMurder Over the Cold Grave by Blythe Baker:

When a serial killer draws Lillian Crawford into a deadly game, she and Eugene Osbourn must team up one final time to thwart their mysterious foe. But will they stop the murderer’s twisted game in time to prevent one more death?

 

 

 

Iconoclast by Laurie BuchananIconoclast by Laurie Buchanan:

Burdened by the pressing weight of survivor’s guilt, Sean McPherson, an ex-cop, is desperate for redemption. At Pines & Quill, a writer’s retreat in the Pacific Northwest, he and his fiancée, Emma Benton, are planning their lives together. He wants to go back into law enforcement. She plans to walk again.

Georgio “The Bull” Gambino, head of a Seattle-based crime family, has a long reach. Like cockroaches, his minions infiltrate even the most inaccessible of places to do his bidding. With Seattle to the south, the Canadian border a stone’s throw to the north, and Bellingham Bay—a gateway to the Pacific Ocean—immediately to the west, Bellingham is the ideal location for the Gambino crime family to traffic drugs, weapons, and humans. But McPherson’s in Gambino’s way, which means he must be eliminated.

The writers in residence at Pines & Quill include an Afghanistan War veteran, a professional photographer, a civil rights attorney, and a gourmet chef. But McPherson suspects that there’s more going on than the joy of creating plot twists. Is one of them conspiring murder outside the pages of their manuscript?

Murder with Daffodils by Beth ByersMurder With Daffodils by Beth Byers:

Vi and friends have traveled to a nearby village to see the flowers. These aren’t just any spring bulbs. They are fields of flowers planted as a living love poem. People who know of their existence travel from miles around to witness the beauty.

If only they could be surprised when they discover a mystery along with the blossoms. Vi and friends are also not surprised when, once again, they can’t leave things alone. This time they’re intrigued by the very person the flowers were planted for, and the one who planted them.

As the case progresses, they wonder if it’s a romance or a horror story. Violet uncovers clues and chases down secrets, delving into the darkness amidst the beauty. Only as they draw closer to the killer, they discover that maybe they don’t want to know what happened after all.

The Megachurch Heist by L.W. CadleThe Megachurch Heist by L.W. Cadle:

1.4 million in stolen cash. It should be a simple heist to steal from a thief. What could go wrong?

Darla Doyle could have retired with the money she made from her last heist. But her partner in crime, Flynn, comes to her with an offer she can’t refuse.

Andrew Curtis, a sleazy megachurch minister, has stolen 1.4 million in donations and hid the cash, and Flynn knows exactly where. Darla has a personal grudge to settle with religious scammers, so she signs on.

But when they get to the Kansas church, posing as a preaching couple wanting business advice, Darla finds it nearly impossible to keep up the persona they’ve created for her. She’s no actress, she’s a getaway driver! And worse, the megachurch’s head of security, Silas Flecke, is far sharper an operator than she expected to encounter.

Flecke is a pro at securing the church against crime. Darla and Flynn are pros at stealing. Who will come out on top when they break into the church at night to retrieve the stolen cash?

Watch Your Back by Stacy ClaflinWatch Your Back by Stacy Claflin:

Even perfect neighborhoods have deadly secrets.

Ariana and Damon moved to the gated neighborhood of Rosy Hills to leave behind their traumatic pasts. Now they have their dream jobs and are part of a tight group of friends. All of that crumbles when their neighbor Rita disappears without a trace.

Now it looks like one of their own could be a killer. Ariana and Damon must figure out who it is, or they risk never finding Rita alive. If they don’t reach her in time, they could all end up dead…

Kiss of Death by Adam CroftKiss of Death by Adam Croft:

An elderly woman collapses and dies during a Sunday morning church service in Oakham. But things aren’t quite as innocent as they seem.

Within hours, there’s a second unexplained death in Rutland. Then a third. But the victims appear to be completely unconnected.

With the body count rising by the day, DI Caroline Hills and DS Dexter Antoine need to uncover the link before more innocent people die.

Only one thing is certain: a killer walks the streets of Rutland. But no-one knows who the next victim will be, when they will be killed — or why.

The Bus to Beulah by E.C. HanesThe Bus to Beulah by E.C. Hanes:

On her way to a new job in America, Maria Puente accidentally discovers a human trafficking ring. Fearing exposure, the American company that manages the operation—with the help of their Mexican partners—kidnaps Maria.

Maria’s disappearance triggers a desperate search, by her family and local law enforcement, to find her before the kidnappers can permanently dispose of her. As the investigation unfolds, long-time Hogg County high sheriff Will Moser confronts Albert Waters, a powerful businessman who Will suspects knows about Maria’s disappearance—but Albert and his Mexican cartel partners prove to be brick walls.

At the urging of his wife, Lana, Will calls on Elijah Kahn, a man he got to know while serving in Vietnam who now runs one of the largest international security firms in the world. The idea of working with men who are rightly known as mercenaries troubles Will, but he knows he’ll never find Maria without Elijah’s help—and when Lana reminds Will of the debt they owe to Tomas Delgado, Maria’s uncle, his hesitation evaporates.

Organized in an hour-by-hour structure, The Bus to Beulah is a taut thriller that culminates in a massive, heatrt-pounding chase to save Maria—before she disappears forever.

Ghostly Shadows by Lily Harper HartGhostly Shadows by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow has it all, including a new business, a husband she adores, and a best friend she’s determined not to murder even though he’s determined to be the groomzilla to end all groomzillas. Life is good … until it’s not.

Everything is thrown into doubt when her former boyfriend, a grifter on trial for murder, escapes from the county courthouse and starts terrorizing Whisper Cove.

Her husband Jared Monroe is on edge. Quinn Jackson has proven himself to be a threat more than once, and it’s clear Quinn is gunning for Harper because he blames her for being caught in the first place. That means Zander and Shawn – who are in the midst of preparing for their wedding – have to move in so everybody is safe.

It’s a full house and the stakes are high. A dead courthouse guard is their only guide, and he’s not enough.

Harper is determined to get her happily ever after, as well as Zander’s too. That means they have to grapple with Quinn before the big day arrives.

Murder is on the menu and Quinn has nothing to lose. It’s a race to the finish – and down the aisle – and winner takes all.

Strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Deceived by Mary KeliikoaDeceived by Mary Keliikoa:

PI Kelly Pruett finally feels like she’s coming into her own. With her personal life well on track, a gig uncovering what drove a client’s granddaughter underground could be good for business. But after her undercover operation at the homeless shelter reveals rampant drug dealing, she’s suddenly kicked off the case… just as another girl goes missing.

Vowing to expose the truth even if it means pro-bono work, Kelly is taken aback when her half-sister helps her hunt down answers in a tent city brimming with distrust. When her investigation doesn’t move quickly enough to save a second woman from a vicious murder, Kelly doubles her efforts unwilling to accept defeat.

Friday the Witchteenth by Amanda M. LeeFriday the Witchteenth by Amanda M. Lee:

Bay Winchester is newly married and happy. Things have been quiet since she returned from her honeymoon, which means trouble is just around the corner. When it comes, it takes the form of a despondent man on a bridge. Despite her best efforts, Bay and the hostage negotiator can’t save him, and death is swift.

That should’ve been the end of it, but a weird symbol on the dead man’s hand piques Bay’s interest, and when the negotiator turns up sick with the same symptoms, she knows that they have a problem on their hands.

Suicide as a contagion? It’s not the fight Bay was expecting, and it’s definitely not the one she was looking for. Still, it’s the problem that keeps on giving … especially when it spreads to Mrs. Little.

In her heart, Bay knows that she shouldn’t care about the woman who has hurt her family at every turn. Ignoring the problem isn’t an option though. If she stands back and does nothing in an attempt to end the chain, she’ll never be able to live with herself. If she gets too close, she could get infected herself.

Bay has never doubted her magic, but the current fight is out of her wheelhouse. Magic is at the core of what’s happening, but their enemy is invisible.

The Winchester witches have never met an enemy they can’t fight … until now. Will they be able to pull together and save Hemlock Cove? Or is the town doomed to fall to a curse without a name and an evil without a soul?

Strap in, because the answer is more than anybody is expecting, and if everybody is to survive, the fight will have to move to an entirely new level.

The game is on. In this one, the winner will take all.

Scavenger Hunt by Duane LindsayScavenger Hunt by Duane Lindsay:

It looked like taking candy from a baby. Until it didn’t…

For a con artist like Dani Silver, the mark’s low-hanging fruit—a recently signed basketball prodigy suddenly worth millions—and too young and naïve to know who to trust. Only one problem–so many people are already trying to scam him there’s literally no way to get to him.

Except, that is, to make a deal with the devil— aka Greville Norquist, a fixer with a reputation as the prince of darkness. The deal: Greville will arrange an intro and in return, Dani must provide him with four seemingly worthless items scammed or stolen from people Greville specifies—one of them being a snuffbox.

It’s a perfect set-up for author Lindsay to work his comic magic, deftly twisting one plot around the other like a couple of puppies in a box. But there are two obstacles— first, the snuffbox owner turns out to be nearly as hard to find as the mark.

And second, the mark turns out to be a sweet kid with an even sweeter fiancée— Leticia’s so lovely Dani’s ally, Foster Stevens the gay apy, more or less falls for her. In fact, pretty soon the whole gang balks at scamming these two. And Dani herself has taken a vow never to cheat a good guy.

So how are they supposed to turn a profit on this one?

As it turns out, it’s the least of their worries—Greville’s declared war on them.

Dog's Honest Truth by Neil S. PlakcyDog’s Honest Truth by Neil S. Plakcy:

Steve and Rochester seek the truth about a neighbor’s murder

There’s a new dog in town – a golden retriever named Luke, in training to be a seeing-eye dog. He and Rochester immediately bond, but there’s something odd about Luke’s human, Ben Ji. How can someone so young afford an expensive townhouse on Sarajevo Way? When Ben is shot, Steve begins to discover the lies he has been telling.

Steve’s also forced to tell the truth about his past, when he deals with a student plagiarist at Eastern College, a professor locked in the stone age, a climate activist with dangerous habits, an angry bartender—and a rifle-wielding assassin.

Will he and Rochester be able to dig up the clues to all these mysteries? Or will a deadly killer go unpunished?

The Exorcist's House by Nick RobertsThe Exorcist’s House by Nick Roberts:

This psychological thriller follows a family to their Appalachian farmhouse, where they encounter an unimaginable horror.

In the summer of 1994, psychologist Daniel Hill buys a rustic farmhouse nestled in the rolling hills of West Virginia.

Along with his wife and teenage daughter, the family uproots their lives in Ohio and moves south. They are initially seduced by the natural beauty of the country setting. That soon changes when they discover a hidden room in the basement with a well, boarded shut and adorned with crucifixes.

Local legends about the previous owner being an exorcist come to light, but by then, all Hell has broken loose.

This 1990s horror novel is perfect for fans of family thriller books, stories of demonic possession, exorcism fiction, the occult, or thrillers like The Exorcist, A Head Full of Ghosts, and The Amityville Horror.

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

Elusive Charity by Wayne StinnettElusive Charity by Wayne Stinnett:

Since the recent death of a wealthy but perverted businessman, Charity Styles has been hiding in plain sight, as if challenging anyone to come after her.

She’s on her own once more, living day to day on her beloved Wind Dancer, anchored near a quaint little Gulf Coast town in the Florida Panhandle. But when the son of a fishing client ends up dead, the father’s employer hires Charity to find the person responsible.

Intrigue mounts faster than the list of suspects and Charity finds new purpose and direction, and possibly a guide. But will her new outlook make her fall prey to the local crime boss? Very few know of her abilities and many have come up short in trying to take her. Will this be Charity’s final downfall from grace?

Murder at the Circus by Lee StraussMurder at the Circus by Lee Strauss:

Murder’s a spectacle!

When Ginger Reed ~ aka Lady Gold ~ and Basil Reed’s son Scout runs away to join the circus, it’s not all fun and games. As a disgruntled teen unhappy at boarding school, Scout intends to work with his cousin Marvin, newly (and dishonourably) discharged from the navy. An animal lover at heart, Scout is tickled to assist the animal trainer and develops a particular bond with the matriarchal elephant, Tulip.

The big top event pleases the crowds, but when a performer dies under suspicious circumstances, Scout and Tulip find themselves in real, three ring trouble!

Pineapple Podcast by Amy VansantPineapple Podcast by Amy Vansant:

Pineapple Podcast is packed full of Pineapple Port surprises!

Charlotte hunts a killer with a curious cookie-cutter calling card who seems to be out to impress the local true-crime podcaster. The work keeps her from concentrating on the fact her boyfriend has been acting strange…it seems Declan is ready to make a few major life decisions.

Meanwhile, Mariska and Darla take over a local restaurant while the owner’s out of town, and can’t help but add a few things to the menu… bad idea, since the owner belongs to a true crime club that roots for the killers…

Mix in an earbud-wearing puppy, a starry-eyed deputy, and white-knuckle action and you’ll find yourself wanting to move to Pineapple Port…again!

Immersed in the View by P.D. WorkmanImmersed in the View by P.D. Workman:

A Wake Up Call

Detective “Parks” Pat is back. Now an established and accepted member of the homicide squad, she unexpectedly brings a new case to the table when she stumbles across a body as Canada Day dawns. While it was initially assumed to be an accidental drowning, the autopsy results say otherwise.

Margie is soon off and running, but the lack of witnesses has her going in circles. Meanwhile, the brass wants the investigation put to bed before the city is flooded with Calgary Stampede tourists and dignitaries.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Meets the “Children of the Comet”

It’s time for the next Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review. Reviews of previous episodes (well, just one so far) may be found here.

Warning: Spoilers under the cut! Continue reading

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A Trio of Links and News

Here’s a brief link post, since I have a couple of things to announce:

For starters, my latest article is now live on Galactic Journey. This one is about a forgotten tragedy from fifty-five years ago, a devastating fire at the À l’Innovation department store in Brussels on May 22, 1967, which not only gutted a historic Art Noveau building, but also killed more than three hundred people (the exact number of dead is still disputed). I’m very proud of this article and it’s probably the most detailed account of this forgotten tragedy available in English.

Content warning: There are no photos of bodies, but if you have issues with fire, proceed with caution.

In other news, voting is now open for the 2022 Hugo Awards and the full Hugo voter packet is available to all members of Chicon 8, the 2022 Worldcon. You can also still download my portion of the Hugo Voter Packet for free at StoryOrigins – no Worldcon membership required. Though you will need a membership in order to vote.

Finally, in exactly one month, on June 28, 2022, you can hear and see me as well as Todd Sullivan and Jana Bianchi read at the Online Flash Science Fiction Night event organised by my good friends of Space Cowboy Books, an SFF specialty bookshop in Joshua Tree, California.

Flash Science Fiction Night flyer

The reading is 100% free, so what are you waiting for? Register and join us for a night of short science fiction.

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Star Trek Explores “Strange New Worlds” and Returns To Its Roots

At last, here is the long-awaited Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, starting with the first episode, which is entitled simply “Strange New Worlds”.

Warning! Spoilers under the cut! Continue reading

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Some Thoughts on the 2021 Nebula Award Winners – and Two SFWA Uproars

Yes, the much delayed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode reviews are coming and there will be more Masters of the Universe action figure photo stories as well, simply because I enjoy doing them.

However, for today I’m interrupting your regularly scheduled programming for another popular feature on this blog, namely awards commentary. For the winners of the 2021 Nebula Awards were announced last night. The full list of winners may be seen here. For my comments on the finalists, see here.

SFWA has also been beset with two very different problems during the annual Nebula Conference, which was virtual again this year. The first and IMO more serious problem is that someone scraped the private SFWA members directory and published all personal information contained therein online. This is a bad enough in itself and made worse by the fact that we know that there are multiple groups of trolls and bad actors out there who’s sole purpose in life seems to be harassing SFF authors and critics. And the SFWA doxxing has just given those trolls and bad actors more information about existing victims as well as access to other potential victims. In short, this has the potential to be very bad indeed and I am surprised that there is so little discussion about it, most likely because it was drowned out by the Nebula ceremony which started almost immediately afterwards.

So let’s take a look at the 2021 Nebula winners:

The 2021 Nebula Award for Best Novel goes to A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark. IMO, this is a very good choice, but then the 2021 Nebula ballot for Best Novel was very strong in general and I would have been okay with any of the finslists winning.

The winner of the 2021 Nebula Award for Best Novella is And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed. I haven’t read this novella, so I can’t really comment on it, though I am happy for both Premee Mohamed, an author who does good work but is usually overlooked by the various genre awards, as well as for the small press Neon Hemlock, which again does good work, but cannot compete with the marketing budget of Tor.com.

The 2021 Nebula Award for Best Novelette goes to “O2 Arena” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki. This is a win which makes me very happy, because not only is it a good story, but it’s also (to my knowledge, at least) the first Nebula win for an author who lives and was born in Africa. Coincidentally, it is also the first Nebula win for Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which normally doesn’t get a whole lot of awards love.

The winner of the 2021 Nebula Award for Best Short Story is “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker. Again, this is a wonderful story and a great choice.

The people who are permanently worried about male authors being excluded from the mayor SFF awards, because we have had a few years of more women than men winning and even entire years of only women winning, should be relieved now, because of the four main fiction categories at the Nebula, two were won by male authors. Alas, both P. Djèlí Clark and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki are black, so I suspect that usual suspects will continue to complain.

The 2021 Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and YA Fiction goes to A Snake Falls To Earth by Darcie Little Badger. I haven’t read this book yet, but I enjoyed last year’s Nebula and Lodestar finalist Elatsoe a whole lot, so I’m glad to see Darcie Little Badger recognised.

The winner of the Ray Bradbury Nebula Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation is WandaVision. Now WandaVision was the most positive surprise of last year’s crop of Disney+ Marvel shows for me, because I expected very little of it and ended up enjoying it a whole lot. Not to mention that it gave a lot of screentime and characterisation to underused characters like Wanda and Vision, introduced a memorable villain in Agatha “All Along” Harkness and managed to pull off its bonkers “sitcom parody cum Philip K. Dickian reality slip” premise, too. So I’m happy that WandaVision was recognised by the Nebulas, especially since the Emmys snubbed the show by putting it not in the sitcom category, where it belonged, but in the mini-series and TV-movie category, where it was squashed by very serious dramas (TM) about very serious issues.

There are some complaints from the usual suspects on the left that SFWA members should not have voted for a Disney-produced movie or TV-show, considering Disney’s continuing failure to pay writers contractually agreed royalties. However, the writers of WandaVision are not to blame for Disney’s crappy behaviour and may well be affected themselves. Never mind that four of seven finalists in this category were Disney productions. And the three non-Disney finalists, The Green Knight, Space Sweepers and What We Do In the Shadows are probably a bit too niche to win. Not that we shouldn’t talk abut Disney’s dominance in the world of SFF TV and movies. However, while Disney has more money and marketing dollars than God (all the more reason to finally pay writers what they’re due), they also put out a lot of good work. Okay, so I personally have zero interest in Encanto, but it’s far from an unworthy finalist. And WandaVision, Loki and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings were all very good and entertaining entries in the Marvel canon.

The 2021 Nebula Award for Game Writing goes to Thirsty Sword Lesbians. Now I’m not a gamer and know nothing about the finalists in this category, but Thirsty Sword Lesbians is an awesome title and deserving of a Nebula for that alone.

Several special awards were also given alongside the Nebula. The winners of the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award are Arley Sorg, Troy L. Wiggins and (posthumously) Petra Mayer. All three are excellent choice who have done a lot for the genre. I’m particularly happy to see NPR reviewer and critic Petra Mayer honoured, since she left us far too early. The Kevin I’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award goes to Colin Coyle, whom I’m not familiar with.

Finally, the winner of the 38th Damon Knight Grand Master Award is Mercedes Lackey. I thought this was a good decision, when it was announced earlier this year, because Mercedes Lackey is one of those authors who – inspite of a lengthy and very successful career – has been mostly overlooked by the major SFF Awards, probably because her career started at a time when there was still a massive bias against fantasy among the Hugo and Nebula electorate. Besides, Mercedes Lackey had LGBTQ people and diverse characters in general in the 1980s, when this was far from common, so she is a highly deserving winner.

But then today, this happened. Personally, I think that part of the blame here lies with the moderator who should have corrected Lackey’s use of an outdated term now considered offensive. And if the moderator had intervened and Lackey had apologised, I suspect that would have been the end of it.

Apparently, Mercedes Lackey’s husband Larry Dixon was removed from the Nebula Conference as well, according to this Twitter thread here, which makes me wonder whether there isn’t more going on here than just a single slip of the tongue.

Anyway, this is a fine crop of Nebula winners and there’s not a single choice I’m dissatisfied with. Let’s hope that the winners and their celebration are not overshadowed by the twin uproars.

ETA: In a development that sadly doesn’t come as a surprise, Jen Brown, the panelist who called out Mercedes Lackey over the use of an outdated term now deemed offensive, is now being subjected to racist harassment. Just for once, can people maybe not do this?

ETA 2: Mercedes Lackey has now apologised.

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Secrets of Eternia: A Photo Story or Watch Cora Play with Action Figures, Part 2: The Origin of Teela

It’s the second installment of a new series of posts which are basically me posing my Masters of the Universe Origins action figures to reenact scenes from the cartoons and my imagination. Part 1, where I discuss the secret identity of He-Man, is here.

However, in addition to the secret identity of He-Man, Masters of the Universe: Revelation also addressed another major secret, which has been a part of the series at least since the original Filmation cartoon from the early 1980s, namely the mystery of Teela’s origin.

As far as Teela knows, she is the adopted daughter of Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms. However, the original cartoon revealed that Teela’s biological mother is none other than the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull and all subsequent versions (except for the recent Netflix CGI cartoon, which has Duncan and Teela as good friends of the same age for reasons best known to the writers, though the Sorceress is still her mother) have stuck with this.

Once again, Teela’s true parentage is kept secret from her to keep her safe, because as the guardian of Castle Grayskull and the Orb of Power that rests underneath the castle, the Sorceress is also a prime target for Skeletor, Hordak, King Hiss and anybody else who wants to conquer Eternia. In many ways, this makes more sense than Adam keeping the fact that he is He-Man from his parents and Teela.

However, there is no real reason for the Sorceress not to tell Teela the truth, once Teela comes of age, especially since Teela has not only inherited her mother’s abilities but is also expected to eventually succeed her. As for why Duncan doesn’t tell her, the Sorceress swore him to silence and he is the sort of person to honour such a vow under any circumstance, which is probably why he winds up keeping every single secret on Eternia. Though in an episode of the 2002 cartoon, an uncommonly angry Duncan demands that the Sorceress tell Teela herself that she is her mother.

As with the secret identity of He-Man keeping the truth about her parentage from Teela actually causes more harm than good. For starters, Teela is terrified and confused by the powers she inherited from her mother and only embraces them, once she learns the truth.

Another issue, which is mostly only alluded to in the various cartoons, is the psychological effect that believing she is a foundling orphan has on Teela. Because in every version of the story, Teela is an absolute overarchiever. Whereas Adam is often seen napping, reading, fishing or otherwise relaxing with Cringer, Teela is always training or practicing. I don’t think we ever see her relaxing just once. And her constant training is rewarded with success, because she is promoted to Captain of the Royal Guard at a very young age and orders about soldiers a lot older than she is.

Now as a kid, I always liked Teela. And a large part of the reason is that Teela always was the best at everything, stronger, faster and more skilled than Adam in his untransformed form. However, as an adult I can see how annoying growing up with someone like Teela must have been for everybody else around her. There is a flashback in an episode of the original cartoon, where an approximately twelve-year-old Teela is seen bossing around a squad of teenaged boys and making them march around the palace courtyard. She also bosses Adam around, who lets her, because he loves her. Plus, Adam has figured out how to sneak away and avoid Teela, when he’s not in the mood for yet another combat training session.

In another episode of the Filmation cartoon, we see Teela furious, because she lost a Sky Sled tournament. Her father, Adam and even Queen Marlena try to comfort her and praise her performance, but Teela won’t have any of that and even lashes out at poor Adam, when he tells her that she did great. No matter how good her performance, she lost, so she is a failure. Honestly, rewatching those cartoons as an adult, I often want to tell Teela, “Please, girl, just  slow down, relax and have a bit of fun.”

If you work with young people, you will have encountered overarchievers like Teela. Mostly, they tend to be girls, though there are boys like that as well. Maybe you’ve even been one yourself (I was). As for why kids are like that, they realised at some point that getting good grades and being the best at something gains them approval from parents and other adults, so some of them develop the idea that they always need to be the best to be loved and wanted and that not being the very best mean they are a failure.

With Teela, there is an additional layer here, because as far as she knows, she’s an abandoned child who was adopted and therefore she feels the constant need to prove herself worthy of being loved and cared for. Of course, Teela doesn’t need to prove anything – her father loves her and her friends love her – but she still feels that she does and that’s why she is the way she is. It explains why she is constantly exasperated at Adam’s more laid back attitude, probably because she assumes that Adam can afford to be something of a slacker, because his position is assured, unlike hers. Though Adam of course has problems of his own, since his father thinks he’s something of a failure.

None of the cartoons ever explicitly spelled this out, but it’s definitely there in the background. And I read somewhere that Filmation actually had a teacher (the teacher of one of the kids of Filmation founder Lou Scheimer) on staff as a pedagogic consultant to review the scripts and come up with the little moral messages tacked on at the end of every episode. And as a teacher, you encounter overarchieving kids very quickly – there’s usually at least one in every class –  so that consultant would have known exactly what such kids are like and that “You know, your parents will still love you, even if you’re not always the best” was a message they needed to hear once in a while.

Revelation comes the closest to spelling all this out, when Teela, just as she is about to be named the new Man-at-Arms, tells Adam that she has finally proven to everybody that this little orphan girl is worthy and Adam replies that she never had to prove anything to him. Even Teela’s rebellion, complete with hairstyle, clothing and career change, fits in with this, because constant overarchievement is not sustainable and these kids eventually tend to rebel and reinvent themselves, usually sometime in their twenties.

Would telling Teela the truth about her parentage, once she was old enough, make her less of an overarchiever? Probably not, especially since most kids who are overarchievers are not adopted. However, knowing that her mother gave her away to protect her and not because she didn’t want or love her would still have helped.

Teela does come close to uncovering the secret of her parentage a few times and the Sorceress even has to wipe her memory at one point, but she only learns the truth when Adam (who found out in an episode of the original cartoon) tells her in Masters of the Universe: Revelation – after her mother has been murdered by Skeletor.

Duncan, Teela and the Sorceress

Proud parents: Duncan and the Sorceress with grown-up Teela.

As for why Duncan wound up raising Teela, the various cartoons offer slightly different versions of the story. In the original Filmation cartoon ( You can watch the episode in question here), Duncan just happens to pass by, while the Sorceress is defending her baby from an attack by Mer-Man and his cronies. After Mer-Man has been defeated, the Sorceress realises that she cannot protect her daughter and gives her to Duncan.

Here is a recreation of that version of the story:

Duncan and the Sorceress fight Mer-Man over Baby Teela

Yes, I know the Sorceress puts her baby in a bird’s nest in the original cartoon for reasons best known to herself. However, I did not have a bird’s nest, though I did have a turtle-shaped silver pill box. The baby is a figurine for baby showers and the like that just happens to have the right scale.

“Hah, this child will make a tasty morsel for our Lord Cthulhu, when he rises from the depths.”

“Over my dead body, fiend!”

“Duncan, protect our daughter!”

The Sorceress, Duncan and a defeated Mer-Man.“You were right, Duncan. The royal palace is a safer place for our baby than a tortoise shell.”

“Have no fear, my love. I shall protect our daughter – with my life if necessary.”

“Waahhh!”

“Don’t cry, little Teela. The big bad stinky Mer-Man can’t hurt you anymore. Here, Daddy has a rattle for you.”

“Duncan, that’s no rattle.”

“I know. But do you have a better idea to calm her down? Here, little one, look at the pretty flashing lights on the mace – err – rattle.”

The Sorceress, Duncan and Baby Teela.

Eternian Family portrait: The Sorceress, Duncan and Baby Teela.

But if the Sorceress is Teela’s mother, then who is her biological father? The original cartoon mentions an unnamed husband of the Sorceress, a brave warrior who died in battle.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation ditches the mysterious dead husband and simply shows us Duncan and the Sorceress as two people who fell in love and had a baby together. But then the Sorceress had to fulfill her mythic destiny and abandon all attachments and Duncan was left holding the baby.

The Sorceress, Duncan and Baby Teela

Eternian Family Portrait No. 2: The Sorceress and Duncan with their baby daughter.

I like this version of the story much better, if only because every version of this story from the original cartoon onwards has hinted that Duncan is in love with the Sorceress. It’s fairly low-key and I for one never noticed until very recently (probably because you don’t pay much attention to the parent figures, when you’re a kid, and certainly don’t want to imagine them getting romantically entangled), but it’s definitely there all the way back to the Filmation cartoons of the early 1980s.

Duncan and the Sorceress kissing

Duncan and the Sorceress enjoy some quality time together in the bowels of Castle Grayskull.

The 2002 cartoon series, meanwhile, goes for a mix of both versions described above. Once again, Duncan is handed a swaddled baby by the Sorceress and once again, he vows to protect the child and raise her as his own. But unlike the Filmation cartoon from the 1980s, this version of the story gives us some more information about the Sorceress’ mysterious husband (who is very much not dead in the 2002 cartoon), though we still don’t learn his identity, largely because the Sorceress herself doesn’t know for sure.

Basically, the Sorceress gets bored being all alone inside Castle Grayskull all day and decides that she wants to see more of Eternia. Her magical powers don’t work very well outside the Castle, but well enough for her to defend a village against some attackers. All this happens during something called “the Great Unrest” (basically a civil war, which makes me wonder how the Sorceress thought this would be a good time to leave her magical castle empty and undefended). One day, a grieveously wounded soldier is brought into the village. The Sorceress nurses him back to health and they fall in love, even though the Sorceress has never seen his face, since it’s completely covered in bandages, nor does she know his name, because the soldier has amnesia due to his injuries. In fact, I suspect that main reason these two fell in love or rather lust with each other is because they literally are the only compatible humans in the whole village, which is inhabited by white little Ewok type creatures. At any rate, they get married. Apparently, either US children’s TV in general or Mattel in particular had a policy that characters have to be married before having children, even if that wedding is literally officiated by a small fuzzy Ewok critter.  Eventually, the soldier recovers his memories and leaves the village and his pregnant wife behind, promptly forgetting all about her. And yes, I know that’s not how amnesia works and in fact this whole story sounds like the plot of a bad Mills & Boon/Harlequin romance novel with a title like The Wounded Soldier’s Secret Baby.

But who was that mysterious soldier? The episode in which the Sorceress recounts that tale heavily implies that it was Duncan himself, especially since Duncan and the wounded soldier have the same square jawline. However, the writers were apparently planning to go into a different direction and reveal that Teela’s biological father was none other than Fisto.

What the fuck…?

That was my reaction, at any rate. True, he may be partly inspired by late medieval knight Götz von Berlichingen, who had an iron hand prosthesis to replace a hand lost in battle, with a bit of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane thrown in, but Fisto has always been a bit of a joke. He is the character who gave birth to a thousand memes and mainly seems to exist to allow the writers to sneak fisting jokes into a kids show. Even the Götz von Berlichingen connection is appropriate here, because nowadays, the historical Götz von Berlichingen is mainly remembered for the very rude quote that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe gave him in his eponymous play about Götz, much to the delight of every German schoolkid forced to read that play.

Fisto

Could this man be Teela’s biological father?

Fisto punched Beast-Man

“Eat steel knuckles and tell Skeletor that he can lick my arse.”

The strict standards of US children’s TV with regard to swearing prevent Fisto from quoting the other steel-fisted warrior Götz von Berlichingen, but he has always been something of a weird character.

When he was first introduced in the Filmation cartoon in 1984, Fisto was actually a villain of sorts, a grumpy loner who lives in the forest and harrasses Eternian peasants until the superior fists of He-Man and the power of kindess make him see the error of his ways and join the good guys.

Fisto in the forest

Fisto in his grumpy woodsman persona.

As an origin story, it’s weird and I now wonder whether Fisto was initially intended to be a villain, until Mattel decided to make him one of the good guys or whether Filmation just told the story they wanted to tell, toy continuity be damned. And because Fisto had such a weird origin story, the 2002 cartoon retconned it somewhat. In this version, Fisto is still a grumpy loner who hangs out in seedy bars and gets into fights. However, this Fisto is also the estranged brother of Man-at-Arms. Duncan and Fisto a.k.a. Malcolm don’t get along with each other – which is unusal, because Duncan gets along with everybody – and nearly come to blows more than once, though Fisto also saves everybody’s lives and badly damages his hand in the process, which is why Duncan builds the iron fist for him. The reason why Duncan and Fisto don’t get along is that Duncan thinks Fisto is a coward and deserter, because he vanished in the middle of a battle. Fisto, however, insists that he was injured and had amnesia… just like the Sorceress’ wounded soldier.

Fisto only shows up in the last few episodes of the 2002 cartoon and so the mystery of who Teela’s father is remains unsolved on screen, though someone from Mattel later confirmed that Fisto was supposed to be revealed as Teela’s biological father eventually. However, personally I prefer Duncan to be both the biological father and the parent who actually raised Teela. For starters, because both Teela and the Sorceress deserve better than Fisto. Never mind that I have a hard time believing that a guy called Fisto is straight.

Still, since I had all the required figures, I made a little photo story about what happens when Duncan confronts Fisto about this:

Fisto threatens Duncan, while He-Man and Teela look on“Get out of my sight, Malcolm. You’re a coward and deserter.”

“I was wounded and had amnesia.”

“Right, and isn’t that a convenient excuse?”

“So you’re calling me a liar?”

“He-Man, do you think we should intervene?”

“No, Teela, they need to sort this out between themselves.”

Fisto punches Duncan, while Teela and He-Man look on.“You’re a coward, a deserter and you slept with my girlfriend, arsehole!”

“What?! I’m pretty sure I’d remember that.”

“So you’re denying you slept with my girlfriend?”

“Duncan, you never even had a girlfriend. Always way too focussed on your duty to have a bit of fun.”

“At least I did my duty. Unlike you, deserter.”

“Eat steel knuckles, shithead!”

“That’s it. I’m stepping in.”

Duncan and Fisto are tussling, while Teela and He-Man prepare to step in.“I agree, Teela. Let’s stop them before they hurt each other.”

“Had enough yet, Duncan? Or do you want some more of my iron fist?”

“Anytime, deserter and girlfriend poacher.”

“Father, Uncle, stop it!”

He-Man and Teela stop Duncan and Fisto from fighting“No, Dad, he’s not worth it. Save it for Skeletor.”

“What’s the matter, Duncan? Hiding behind your daughter? So who’s the coward now?”

“That’s enough, Fisto. Stand down or you’ll feel my fist.”

Duncan walks off, Fisto shakes his fist and He-Man and Teela are very confused.“That’s it. I’m talking to the other person who knows the truth. And she will tell me.”

“Father, come back!”

“Yeah, run off, Duncan, like the coward that you are.”

“Shut up, Fisto!”

“So, He-Man. do you have any idea what that was all about?”

“Uhm, Teela, you’d better ask your father about that.”

Duncan confronts the Sorceress, as Fisto looks on.

A bit later, at Castle Grayskull…

“No, Duncan, I did not sleep with your loser brother. What do you take me for?”

“He’s not a loser. Okay, he is, but… are you sure, my love? Cause he said…”

“Of course, I’m sure. I do remember who I sleep with.”

The Sorceress struts off, leaving Duncan and Fisto standing.“Men! Why do I even bother?”

“My love, wait. I’m sorry. I…”

“Uhm, Duncan, if it helps, I’m actually gay and she’s so not my type.”

Duncan and Fisto

Brothers in arms: Man-at-Arms and Fisto a.k.a. Duncan and Malcom

“Wait a minute, you’re gay? Why did you never tell me?”

“Because you’re… well, you’re you. You’re straight as an arrow and you always find fault in me, so I had no idea how you would react.”

“How do you think I would ract? You’re my brother and I love you.”

“Only that you forget that at times. But anyway, you and the Sorceress…?!”

“Got any problems with that?”

“No, I’m just surprised, that’s all. And Teela…?”

“Is our daughter, but don’t you dare tell her. So, Malcolm, do you… uhm … have anyone?”

“Yeah, but that’s private. So about the Sorceress, I’m curious. Are those wings part of her outfit or her body?”

“That’s private. But maybe I’ll tell you over a drink.”

“Yeah, let’s have a drink.”

I actually wanted to take a picture of Duncan and Fisto sharing a drink, but it turns out that I did not have any bottles or beer glasses in a remotely correct scale. The only thing I had was a Playmobil baby bottle, which isn’t really suitable. And even though I have decided that Fisto is gay in my head canon, I have no idea whom I’ll eventually fix him up with.

Anyway, the secret identity of He-Man and the origin of Teela are the two long-standing secrets that are revealed in Masters of the Universe Revelation.  However, there are yet more dark secrets surrounding the royal family of Eternia.

The Sorceress shows He-Man the Orb of Powe

The Orb of Power is actually a shiny marble, but it works really well.

“And this, He-Man, is the Orb of Power, from which all the power in the universe flows into your sword.”

“Why is it sitting in a tortoise shell?”

“Because the tortoise shell was useless as a baby crib, but makes a good orb holder.”

“What do you need a baby crib for?”

“Ahem, that’s private. Anyway, the Orb…”

“Wait a minute, why does your sword look like the twin of mine?”

“Not all secrets shall be revealed today, He-Man. Anyway, the Orb…”

So tune in again for the next installment of my Secrets of Eternia Photo Stories, where we tackle the mystery of He-Man’s long lost sister…

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

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