Eric John Stark – Social Justice Warrior of Mars

Today, I’m over at Galactic Journey again, reviewing The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman by Leigh Brackett, the 1964 expansions of the novellas “Queen of the Martian Catacombs” and “Black Amazon of Mars” from 1949 and 1951 respectively. These are two of the three novellas about Eric John Stark that Leigh Brackett wrote for Planet Stories in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The third, “Enchantress of Venus” from 1949, was not reprinted in the 1964 edition and has never been expanded to novel length either.

With the 1944 Retro Hugos and this review for Galactic Journey, I have been reading a lot of vintage Leigh Brackett. And one thing that struck me was that even though Leigh Brackett has never been considered a left-leaning writer in any way, her space opera adventures from the 1940s and 1950s show a lot of sympathy for marginalised people, particular for downtrodden and exploited indigenous people. Furthermore, Leigh Brackett’s stories featured quite a few protagonists of colour, including Eric John Stark himself, and women with agency (even if that agency all too often manifested as typical 1940s femme fatale villainy) at a time when that was far from common in science fiction.

I’ve already written at length about the 1944 Retro Hugo finalist “Citadel of the Lost Ships” and its protagonist Roy Campbell here. Now Roy Campbell very much struck me as a prototype for Eric John Stark, who showed up a few years later to the point that both characters are men of colour, even if the cover artists inevitably ignored that fact until well into the 21st century. Campbell and Stark are very similar characters with similar outlooks, though Stark is much better developed and indeed one of the most interesting characters of the Golden Age, which usually was not particularly strong on characterisation.

But as I reread the three stories about him (cause I reread “Enchantress of Venus, too, while I was at it) it struck me that Eric John Stark is a literal social justice warrior. Nominally, Stark is a mercenary, though he himself admits that “mercenary” is just a kinder word for “outlaw” in his case (and it’s striking how many outlaw protagonists there are in Golden Age SFF, e.g. Conan, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, Northwest Smith, Roy Campbell and of course Eric John Stark). However, unlike most mercenaries, Stark doesn’t go where the money is, but inevitably sides with various oppressed native people throughout the solar system who have the misfortune to get in the way of the expansion of the Terran empire. And so Stark is involved in an endless series of uprisings and guerilla wars, usually against the twin forces of colonialism and capitalism. We only get brief flashbacks of these uprisings and hints that most of them failed.

The fact that Stark inevitably sides with the underdog is due to his unusual upbringing as an oprhaned human child adopted by a native tribe on Mercury and then orphaned a second time, when greedy miners exterminated his tribe and put young Stark in a cage. He was rescued by Simon Ashton, a Terran police officer who took Stark in and raised him to adulthood. Given Stark’s history, it’s not surprising that he fights to protect other indigenous people when he could not protect his own tribe. And Simon Ashton, though theoretically a representative of a system that sides with the oppressors instead of the oppressed, nonetheless has a lot of sympathy for Stark’s less than legal activities, as becomes clear in the opening pages of Queen of the Martian Catacombs/The Secret of Sinharat. Coincidentally – and this is something I had forgotten – Simon Ashton is described as dark-skinned as well.

In the first of his three adventures chronicled in Planet Stories between 1949 and 1951, Eric John Stark tries to keep a charismatic con man and his retinue of interplanetary gangsters from trying to incite a holy war on Mars, because the indigenous people would be the ones who suffer the most. Later, he starts a slave revolt on Venus and takes down a decadent aristocratic family and finally, he helps to defend the Martian city of Kushat, a city he has no connection to beyond the fact that a dead friend hailed from there, against yet another warlord who wants to conquer them as well as against sinister aliens from the polar regions of Mars. Stark always fights for justice and freedom for the oppressed, both in his chronicled adventures as well as in the ones we don’t see. So yes, he’s definitely a social justice warrior and he’s far from the only one in Leigh Brackett’s Golden Age stories.

Of course, there’s also the Skaith trilogy from the mid 1970s, where Eric John Stark travels to the dying planet of Skaith to rescue his mentor and surrogate father Simon Ashton from the planet’s evil rulers, who have installed a socialist nightmare regime right out of central casting which taxes the hardworking population half to death, keeps them subjugated with superstition and tries to prevent them from emigrating to greener pastures (that is why they kidnapped Ashton) and also floods the planet with hordes of evil space hippies who form a sort of instant army deployable wherever needed. So how does the anti-leftwing slant of this trilogy square with the social justice slant of the earlier stories?

Well, for starters political views often change over a lifetime and many people become more conservative as they age. Leigh Brackett was in her thirties when she wrote the earlier Stark stories and around sixty when she wrote the Skaith trilogy, so she probably moved further to the right as she aged. Heinlein from the 1940s also reads very differently from Heinlein in the 1970s. And besides, Stark only comes to Skaith to rescue Simon Ashton and initially has little interest in the local conflict, though the local conflict won’t leave him alone. Stark does eventually side with the locals, as he comes to know them (and falls in love with one of them). And besides, the inhabitants of Skaith genuinely are oppressed, even if their oppressors are evil space Socialists rather than evil space capitalists.

As for the evil space hippies, who very much puzzled my younger self, because I couldn’t imagine less likely villains than hippies of all people. My theory at the time was, “Well, Leigh Brackett is from California and The Ginger Star was published in 1974 and California was hippie central in the 1960s and 1970s. Who knows, maybe she found drugged out hippies asleep in her garden, the needle still in their arm, every morning. If I had to step over drugged out hippies every time I get out to fetch the newspaper, I’d be pissed off, too.” Now drug addicts sleeping and sometimes dying in other people’s gardens and doorways was big problem in the Steintor neighbourhood of Bremen around the time I first read the Skaith trilogy, so I simply projected an issue I was familiar with elsewhere.

However, thanks to Quentin Tarantino and an endless number of articles and essays commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Manson murders, we know that much of Hollywood really was deadly afraid of hippies – not just Charles Manson and his followers, but anybody who even remotely looked like a hippie – in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Now I was certainly aware of the Manson murders at the time I first read the Skaith trilogy – if only because I remember watching The Fearless Vampire Killers at the movie night at my school with a bunch of friends and whispering, “That’s her. That’s the one who got murdered”, followed by lurid and probably incorrect details about what had happened to Sharon Tate – but to me those murders were only something terrible that had happened a long time ago in a place far away. It wasn’t until the deluge of articles about the fiftieth anniversary of the Manson murders and that bloody Tarantino film that I realised that those long ago murders apparently had a much bigger psychological impact on the American psyche, particular those of people living in Los Angeles at the time, than I thought. Though I still roll my eyes at the narrative about how the Manson murders marked the end of the peaceful flower power sixties, because from my point of view, the various countercultural movements of the 1960s have always been intertwined with violence from all sides. The brutal attacks on peaceful protesters during the state visit of the Shah of Persia in 1967, the murder of Benno Ohnesorg during said protests (yes, I’m calling it murder), the attempt on the life of student activist Rudi Dutschke in 1968, the riots in Paris and the violent suppression of the Prague spring, both in 1968, and let’s not forget the 1967 L’Innovation department store fire in Brussels, which left 251 people dead and has long been suspected to have been caused by arson attack by a group protesting the “American weeks” at the department store. And while it has never been proven whether the L’Innovation fire was arson, the leftwing German Kommune 1 were gloating in this disgusting leaflet and members of what would eventually become the Red Army Fraction started their terrorist careers by committing arson attacks on German department stores inspired by the Brussels fire, which thankfully did not cause any deaths or injuries. So in Europe, the peace and love sixties were never peaceful. Nor were they in the US, as the violent attacks on and murders of civil rights activists, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968 (and the murder of John F. Kennedy earlier in the decade) and the bloody war in Vietnam show. In fact, given all this carnage in what was a very violent decade, I’m surprised that the admittedly horrible murders of a young actress and her friends and a couple of supermarket owners had such an outsized impact.

But to get back to the point (sorry, but I wanted to write the above ever since that bloody Tarantino movie came out), much of Hollywood and much of America in general was terrified of hippies after the Manson murders. Leigh Brackett worked as a screenwriter and wrote the screenplay for Rio Lobo, which came out in 1970, i.e. she may well have been in Hollywood at the time of the murders and would certainly have been aware of the general atmosphere of fear. The Ginger Star came out in 1974, so it’s well possible that it was influenced by the mood of the time.

However, the Skaith trilogy is late period Brackett. And her works from the 1940s and 1950s show a lot of sympathy for anti-colonialist and anti-capitalist causes. Which in turn makes me wonder why Leigh Brackett has been embraced by the Sad and Rabid Puppies, particularly the Pulp Revolution offshot movement. Now on the surface, Leigh Brackett’s Golden Age stories are very much what the Puppies claim to want, chockfull of adventure and action (and Brackett is listed in Appendix N in the original Dungeons & Dragons handbook from the 1970s, which is a sort of literary Bible to the Pulp Revolution movement). The protagonists, including Eric John Stark, are generally macho types who just grab a woman they like and plant a “kiss brutal as a blow” (actual quote from “Black Amazon of Mars”) on her lips. On the other hand, Leigh Brackett had a lot more characters of colour than was common in the Golden Age and Brackett’s women are usually strong women with agency, even if a lot of them are villainesses or at least antiheroines. Ciaran, the antiheroine of People of the Talisman even delivers a very feminist statement (quoted over at Galactic Journey), when Stark asks her how such a nice girl came to be a battle axe wielding Martian warlord. But I suspect that the puppies are willing to overlook those bits, especially since Brackett delivers thrills and action aplenty. Though I do wonder how they managed to miss the anti-colonial and anti-capitalist bits in many of Brackett’s Golden Age stories.

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The 2019 Dragon Award Finalists: Mainstream Respectability at Last?

The best thing about the Dragon Awards, an SFF prize given out by DragonCon, a big convention in Atlanta, is that the finalist announcement enlivens the dead period between the close of the Hugo nominations and the start of WorldCon. And even though this year’s announcement is a day and a half late, the Dragons did not disappoint once again. The full list of finalists is here or, in less eye-searing design, here at File 770. Camestros Felapton also has some commentary here.

For those who’ve been following the Dragon Awards saga these past four years (my previous posts about this may be found here), the most notable thing about this year’s ballot is how much like the ballot of a regular mainstream award it looks. There are very few “Who the hell is this?” finalists – indeed, even the Nebula ballot looked odder this year than the Dragon ballot. So it seems as if the Dragon Awards are finally maturing, so sadly we still have no info about the number of ballots cast, let along any voting breakdowns, longlists or the like. We also still don’t know how the finalists and winners are determined, because the rules still state that the administrators can decide finalists and winners, if they want. Not saying that they do – those clauses are an artifact of the Dragon Awards cribbing boilerplate rules from internet sweepstakes.

The growing respectability of the Dragon Awards is at least partly due to the efforts of the Red Panda Fraction, a group of Atlanta area fans and Dragon Con attendees, who want to see the Dragon Awards become what they were intended to be, Dragon Con’s award for broadly popular SFF works. The Red Panda Fraction have created an open eligibility spreadsheet for the Dragon Awards, modelled after Renay’s Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom. Given the odd eligiblity period for the Dragon Awards, this spreadsheet was enormously helpful.

So let’s take a look at the finalists:

The best science fiction novel category is entirely full of finalists by mainstream publishers (though not big five, because Solaris and Baen are not big five), most of them broadly popular. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is one of most discussed space opera novels of the year (in a year that has an embarrassment of riches in the space opera genre). Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers is a Hugo finalist by a popular author. Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey is the latest installment in the hyper-popular The Expanse series. Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson is another novel by an author with a big fanbase and one I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the Hugo longlist. Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson is a bit of the odd finalist out here, because while Dave Hutchinson’s Europe series is popular in the UK, it’s much less known in the US, whence most Dragon Award attendees hail. Europe at Dawn is also more of a Clarke Award or BSFA Award book than a Dragon Award book. It’s also near future dystopian fiction, whereas everything else in this category are various flavours of space opera, hard science fiction or military science fiction. Finally, we have A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad Torgersen. This might be considered the requisite puppy finalist, except that I’m not sure if it is. Because A Star-Wheeled Sky was published by Baen who traditionally have a big presence at Dragon Con. Not to mention that Brad Torgersen still seems to be popular with the Analog and Baen crowd. Finally, some Amazon reviewers are grumbling that there are too many female characters in this book, which is interesting, given the author.

Diversity count: 5 men, 2 women (James S.A. Corey is two people), 1 writer of colour, at least 1 LGBTQ writer

Best fantasy novel is another category entirely full of broadly popular books by mainstream publishers. We have the highly popular Hugo and Nebula finalist Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik and Ann Leckie’s highly anticipated foray into epic fantasy The Raven Tower, which was also my pick in this category. Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett is another popular fantasy novel that got a lot of buzz last year and will probably pop up on the Hugo longlist. Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovich is the latest installment in the highly popular Peter Grent urban fantasy series. House of Assassins is the second or third book in Larry Correia’s sword and sorcery series. Again, I wouldn’t call it a pure puppy finalist, because Larry Correia does have a big fanbase, though his books aren’t to my taste at all. Also, I’ve heard that his sword and sorcery books are more palatable to readers outside his gunlover fanbase than the Monster Hunter books. So again, it’s not exactly a surprising finalist. Though according to this comment at File 770, Larry Correia explicitly asked his fans not to nominate him. I’m sure he’ll be devastated. Meanwhile, the most surprising finalist in this category is Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys, her spin on the Lovecraft mythos, which is more horror than straight fantasy.

Diversity count: 3 women, 3 men, 1 writer of colour, 1 international writer

In past years, Best Young Adult/Middle Grade book was the Dragon Award category with the most mainstream books and winners. This year, it looks less mainstream than the science fiction and fantasy category, which is certainly interesting. That said, Archenemies by Marissa Meyer, Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard and Imposters by Scott Westerfeld are all broadly popular YA novels. The YA horror novel Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand got a lot of buzz as well, though in horror and thriller circles rather than in the broader SFF community, and is a Bram Stoker Award and Lambda Literary finalist. None of these are in any way surprising finalists. The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler is a book I’d never heard of. It’s a YA science fiction novel published by HarperTeen, a mainstream publisher. Judging by its Amazon ranking and review count as well as the number of Goodreads rankings and reviews (which offer only a snapshot), it doesn’t seem to be hugely popular, but maybe Bridget Tyler has a small, but engaged fanbase or is otherwise well known among the DragonCon crowd. This brings us to the two offbeat finalists. Armageddon Girls by Aaron Michael Ritchey is post-apocalyptic YA and was published by an outfit called Shadow Alley Press, which appears to be an indie author collective. I know nothing else about them and have never heard of any of their authors, though they do mention that one of their authors (not Ritchey) will be appearing at DragonCon. Meanwhile, one of Aaron Michael Ritchey’s previous books was published by Kevin J. Anderson’s WirdFire Press and Anderson is of course popular with the Dragon crowd. Finally, we have The King’s Regret, a YA Steampunk novel by one Philip Ligon. The King’s Regret was published by Russell Newquist’s Silver Empire Press, who are affiliated with the Superversive SF movement and also publish premier Dragon Award champion Declan Finn, who included Ligon’s novel in his Dragon Award recommendations. I haven’t been able to find out much about Philip Ligon beyond a bare bones website and this interview from 2017. That’s a nice cover BTW. And kind of familiar.

Diversity count: 3 women, 3 men, 1 international writer, 2 indie writers

So let’s take a look at best military science fiction/fantasy. As Camestros Felapton said, this is the most Dragon Award looking category on this ballot. The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, which was also my pick for this category, got a lot of buzz earlier this year, though it is not your typical military SF novel and indeed has made puppies cry. Uncompromising Honor by David Weber is the latest novel in his hugely popular Honor Harrington series, plus Weber is very popular with the DragonCon crowd. Joshua Dazelle is a very popular indie author of military science fiction and if I’m not mistaken, I featured his Dragon nominated novel Marine in one of my new release round-ups. Order of the Centurion is the first book in a subseries of Nick Cole and Jason Anspach’s Galaxy’s Edge series. Nick Cole is the one puppy-affiliated author whose indie novels with Jason Anspach have broken out of the puppy bubble into the broader Kindle Unlimited readership, probably because Cole and Anspach write the sort of crash boom bang military SF that KU readers like. Finally, A Pale Dawn by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey and Sons of the Lion by Jason Cordova were both published by Chris Kennedy’s publishing outfit and are both part of Kennedy’s Omega War series and linked to his Four Horsemen universe. We’ve seen Kennedy and friends at the Dragon Awards before. So in short, we have two broadly popular and wildly different mainstream novels and four popular indie books in this category. And considering that military science fiction is extremely dominated by indie authors these days (and traditionally published military science fiction like Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade or Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy or Elizabeth Bonesteel’s Central Corps series, while excellent, doesn’t deliver the sort of white dude wish fulfilment fantasy that habitual readers of the genre want), that is not exactly surprising.

Diversity count: 1 woman, 7 men, 1 writer of colour, 4 indie writers

On to Best alternate history. In many ways, this has always been the oddest Dragon Award category, because alternate history is such a tiny subgenre. Which makes this year’s very mainstream finalists in this category even more surprising. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal is extremely popular, a Hugo finalist and Nebula and Locus Award winner. Lavie Tidhar is a highly regarded author and Unholy Land is alternate history set in a Jewish state in East Africa. Though Lavie Tidhar strikes me more as a Clarke Award and World Fantasy Award author than a dragon Award finalist. The Black Chamber is a WWI alternate history novel by S.M. Stirling, a popular author of alternate history. The Iron Codex by David Mack is WWII alternate history by an author best known for his Star Trek tie-ins. Holding up the indie flag is The World Asunder by Kacey Ezell, a cold war alternate history novel with psychic powers set in Berlin. Kacey Ezell was also nominated in this category last year and is published by Chris Kennedy’s outfit. Finally, we come to what has to be oddest Dragon Award finalist of all time and given the history of this award, that’s saying a lot. I’m talking about Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan – yes, the Booker Prize stalwart who vehemently insisted that his book isn’t science fiction, even though it absolutely is (and also definitely alternate history, set in a 1980s Britain with advanced AI due to Alan Turing not taking his own life because of general homophobia). The highly touted Machines Like Me did not make the Booker Prize longlist this year, though four other literary SFF novels did, so now Ian McEwan gets a Dragon Award nomination as a consolation prize, which is sort of a tradition with this award. Though I suspect Mr. McEwan will be very puzzled by his Dragon Award nomination and even more puzzled, if he wins. I’m almost tempted to vote for him, just because.

By the way, one thing I noticed is that all of these alternate history novels are set in the 20th century or beyond. We have WWI, the ever popular WWII, the Cold War and the Space Race, the 1980s and Unholy War, whose setting seems to be contemporary/near contemporary. I’m not sure what to make of this. Are writers and readers simply less interested in alternate history with pre-20th century settings? Is this the result of the extreme 20th century focus in history classes in many countries?

Diversity count: 2 women, 4 men, 2 international writers, 1 indie writer

Best media tie-in is exactly the sort of thing the Dragon Awards were supposedly created to honour, books that are very popular, but often overlooked by other awards. And so we have several big and popular franchises such as Big Damn Hero, a Firefly tie-in by James Lovegrove and Nancy Holder, The Darkness on the Edge of Town, a Stranger Things tie-in by Adam Christopher, The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack, a Star Trek Discovery tie-in, two Star Wars tie-ins, Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray and Thrawn: Alliance by Timothy Zahn (I continue to be baffled by the popularity of Grand Admiral Thrawn, since I didn’t even care for him all that much when Heir to the Empire came out 28 years ago). The sixth finalist is rather baffling, since it’s our friend Chris Kennedy again with The Replicant War, which appears to be a LitRPG novel, though it’s difficult to tell what media it ties into. Okay, so it is listed in the media tie-in category at Amazon, but that can happen also to non-tie-in books when you use keywords like “TV”, “cartoon”, “toy”, etc… Blasters of Forever, Cartoony Justice and The Faulty Television Receiver have all been listed in the media tie-in category at Amazon, even though none of them are tie-ins to any existing media. Looking up Anticipation Press, the publisher of The Replicant War, doesn’t help either, because it leads you to two other books sold in Baen’s e-book store. According to Doris V. Sutherland commenting at Camestros’ blog, The Replicant War ties in to a videogame called Turbolance, which I’ve never heard of either. Still very odd.

Diversity count: 3 women, 4 men, 3 international writers, 1 indie writer

On to Best Horror: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix is a rock horror novel that got a lot of buzz and awards love. Robert McCammon is a popular horror author and Cardinal Black is the latest novel in his popular Matthew Corbett series. Little Darlings by Melanie Golding is an extremely popular book that got a huge amount of buzz – however, it’s usually classified as a psychological thriller rather than horror. Riddance by Shelley Jackson is a literary ghost horror novel that got a lot of critical acclaim. Shelley Jackson is also the ex-wife of Jonathan Lethem. 100 Fathoms Below by Steven L. Kent and Nicholas Kaufman is submarine horror by a popular horror author and an author better known for his military science fiction. Zombie Airman by David Guenther is a self-published zombie novel. To my knowledge, Guenther is not affiliated with any of the groups of indie authors we have encountered at the Dragon Awards before.

Diversity count: 2 women, 5 men, 1 international author, 1 indie author

Best comic book is dominated by popular and well regarded comics. We have two Batman books, a Spider-Man book, Mister Miracle, perennial awards favourite Saga and the Eisner Award winning Black Hammer.

Best graphic novel is more of a mix with Hugo finalists Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda and On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (which is lovely BTW, and which I nominated), an X-Men book by ed Piskor, I Am Young by M. Dean, a graphic novel about the relationship between two Beatles fans, one of them a second generation Iranian immigrant (Do I hear puppies crying?), in Scotland, Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka, a graphic novel memoir about a boy growing up in a family of addicts (more puppy crying), and Berlin by Jason Lutes, a historical graphic novel set in Berlin during the dying days of the Weimar Republic. Interestingly, the last three of those don’t seem to be SFFnal at all.

Best TV series is a ballot full of highly popular series with Game of Thrones, Lucifer, The Orville, Star Trek Discovery, Good Omens and The Umbrella Academy. Absolutely no surprises here.

Best movie is not surprising either with a bounty of comic book adaptations. We have a Marvel trifecta with Avengers Endgame (well, it only is the highest grossing movie of all time), Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home, another Spider-Man film with the delightful Hugo finalist Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Aquaman. The biggest surprise in this category is Alita: Battle Angel, which was generally not well received and got middling to bad reviews. But then, even badly reviewed movies can do well, as the huge grosses of those completely superfluous Disney live action remakes of animated classics show.

I can’t say much about the game categories, because I’m not a gamer. But I see a lot o big names like Assassin’s Creed, World of Warcraft, Red Dead Redemption (Is this weird western? Cause I thought it was plain western), Elder Scrolls, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Fallout, Magic: the Gathering, Call of the Cthulhu and Warhammer 40000.

So the Dragon Awards finally seem to be moving towards what they were supposed to do, namely reward broadly popular works in a variety of genres. Indies and eager self-promoters can still grab slots in the less popular down ballot categories, but except for military science fiction they no longer dominate any one category. Chris Kennedy still managed to grab a few slots for his publishing outfit, but then maybe he is one of the few who still care. Meanwhile, the 20Booksto50K/LMBPN Publishing folks are notable by their complete absence. There are a few puppy/puppy adjacent authors, but most of them have fanbases beyond the puppy bubble. And indeed, Camestros Felapton dug up Brad Torgersen’s reaction to the ballot and a list of which finalists he considers the relevant ones. It’s about the names you’d expect except for Philip Ligon, who’s notable by his absence.

Sadly, the Dragon Awards are still lacking on the diversity front, but then popular vote awards often default to the straight, white and male, because books by straight white men still get more promotion. Of 48 finalists in the fiction categories 17 are women, that’s 35 percent. Not too bad, but still much lower than what we see in other awards, especially considering that some of the most popular and highly acclaimed SFF authors of today are women. Only three writers of colour, all of them Latino, managed to get nominated, that’s a pitiful 6.25 percent. There are also eight international authors nominated for the Dragon Awards. Six of them are British, one Australian and one Israeli respectively. The comparatively many British Dragon finalists are surprising, since DragonCon is a very American dominated convention.

There is also more than one decent finalist to vote for in every category – in several categories there are five or six good finalists. This is a huge improvement. Whether this is organic or carefully curated by the Dragon Award administratos we will never know.

So that’s it for the 2019 Dragon Award finalists. Who will win? We’ll see in September.

ETA: File 770 lists the number of Goodreads ratings for the Dragon Award finalists, which offers some clues regarding their wider popularity.

ETA 2: Camestros Felapton has made a gender breakdown of the Dragon Awards in the fiction and comic categories and notes that the gender balance is much better this year, though far from even.

ETA 3: Camestros Felapton has also done a breakdown of publishers to see how the big five publishers, medium publishers like Baen or Kensington, small presses, author collectives and indie authors are doing in the Dragon Awards.

ETA 4: Camestros Felapton offers some speculations based on some vague stats in a press release about the Dragon Awards.

ETA 5: Richard Paolinelli, Dragon Award finalist in 2017 (I think) is still pissed off that I linked to his post about the Dragon finalists last year, because that apparently means that I want to silence him, as he keeps tweeting at me every week or so. No, I have no idea why linking to someone’s post is silencing them either. However, in his periodic reminders that I haven’t silenced him yet, Paolinelli also pointed me to his post about the 2019 Dragon Awards, where he lists his nominees and what he will be voting for. The link goes to archive.org, just in case poor Richard thinks I’m trying to silence him again.

ETA 6: Larry Correia is happy to be nominated for a Dragon Award and still can’t help to get in a dig at File 770, because he believes that the posters there are angry about his nomination. Of course, absolutely no one at File 770 has any issues with Larry Correia being nominated for a Dragon Award, because he has a big fanbase. But then I suspect Larry Correia is only happy when he can feel persecuted.

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First Monday Free Fiction: Albrecht, the Nightmare

Welcome to the August 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 every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

Albrecht, the NightmareThis month’s free story Albrecht, the Nightmare is a humorous contemporary fantasy tale about a nightmare demon named Albrecht, his human girlfriend Lina and the unexpected difficulties caused by an ancient warding spell.

This is one of the comparatively few stories I’ve ever written that is not just set in Germany, namely in Altenmarhorst near Twistringen some twenty-five kilometres from where I live, but that also draws on local folklore. Cause the farmhouses with the crossed horsehead gable are real and nigh ubiquitous. Albrecht’s friend Lambert Sprengepiel, hero of the Thirty Years War turned hellhound, was a real person as well, though most likely he did not really turn into a hellhound. The city of Vechta has a statue dedicated to him, in hellhound form. Though Councillor Müller-Wölenkamp is entirely fictional.

So enjoy the misadventures of

Albrecht, the Nightmare

All in all, the great supernatural coming out of 2020 was a much bigger success than anybody could have anticipated.

After the initial announcement in Germany’s biggest tabloid, there were extensive debates everywhere. For maybe two months every single political talk show in the country discussed a variation of the subject “Do supernatural beings have a place in our society?” Though the TV producers had stopped inviting actual supernatural beings to these talk shows after a massive debacle when Günther Jauch was seen interviewing empty air for ten minutes, because vampires couldn’t be caught on camera. Jauch himself later insisted that it was the best interview he’d ever done, but since no one had seen or heard anything, there was unfortunately no way of proving that assertion.

The Federal German Parliament got into the act as well and came to the conclusion that as long as they had a German passport, supernatural beings were indeed German citizens, a decision later confirmed by the Supreme Court. Of course, it wasn’t as if parliament had any choice in the matter, considering that several members of parliament were revealed to be supernatural beings themselves, including a former secretary of finance, who — it turned out — had been a werewolf all along.

Once the official status of supernaturals had been confirmed by the Federal German Parliament, supernaturals began outing themselves in countries all over the world, much to the embarrassment of those pundits and politicians who had insisted that “that sort of thing” was unthinkable in their own countries.

Of course, there also was opposition, as might have been expected. In Dresden, a group calling themselves PEADO — Patriotic Europeans Against the Demonisation of the Occident — held a few marches and candlelight vigils. They eventually stopped, when the patriotic Europeans got bored of standing around in the cold every Monday night. Not to mention that several of the brave and patriotic Europeans became rather nervous when vampires and werewolves started hanging out at the edges of their marches, staring hungrily at the protesters.

A few hate crimes against supernaturals were registered as well. There was a wave of stake attacks against vampires, all unsuccessful, because regular humans are simply to slow to do much harm to a vampire. And in Hoyerswerda — where else? — a skinhead tried to stab a werewolf with a silver fork and was promptly eaten for his trouble. The resulting trial was a media sensation, but eventually the judge came to the conclusion that eating skinheads was indeed self-defence, provided the skinheads attacked first.

But in general, the country quickly adjusted to the presence of its new supernatural citizens. Within weeks of the announcement, humans and supernaturals alike were partying in the secret underground vampire clubs of Berlin and only a handful of people got bitten, all voluntarily. Restaurants began offering fresh blood and raw meat on their menus and added warning labels for garlic. Grocery stores soon followed suit. Someone started a petition to remove roadside crosses, since they were upsetting vampires.

In March 2021, a vampire family moved into the soap opera Lindenstraße, played by human actors alas, because technology still hadn’t found a way around the problem of capturing vampires on any kind of recording media. In 2023, a zombified ex-celebrity accidentally infected all the contestants of I’m a celebrity — Get me out of here!, causing a zombie hunt in the jungle and promptly giving the fading show its highest ratings ever. At the 2024 Olympics, a selkie won an unprecedented number of gold medals in the swimming competitions.

All in all, it was a good time to be a supernatural. Unless you were Albrecht.

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Albrecht, the Nightmare. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

Check back next month, when there will be a new story available.

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The 2019 July Short Story Challenge Post-Mortem – 31 Stories in 31 Days

You may have noticed that blogging was light this past month, because I was doing the July Short Story Challenge again for the fifth consecutive year.

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

One thing I did differently in 2019 was that I also kept a running tally of stories written with title, wordcount, genre and a brief synopsis right here on this blog. You can find it here.

So let’s take a look at the genre/subgenre breakdown:

  • Mystery and crime fiction: 7 stories
  • Sword and sorcery: 5 stories
  • Space opera: 3 stories
  • General science fiction: 3 stories
  • Post-apocalyptic fiction: 3 stories
  • Epic fantasy: 3 stories
  • Alien invasion/First contact: 2 stories
  • Urban fantasy: 2 stories
  • Horror: 2 stories
  • Science fantasy: 1 story

Compared to previous years, there is a lot more mystery and crime fiction this year. There is a reason for this, which will explained later. The remaining 24 stories are all some flavour of speculative fiction. There is no explicit romance story this year – I had an idea for a historical romance story, but shelved it, because the story would have been too long. However, at least nine stories prominently feature romantic relationships. A lot of stories also mix genre, e.g. two space operas, one sword and sorcery story and both urban fantasies also have crime and mystery subplots. The sword and sorcery stories have strong horror elements. One of the horror stories is also a historical story set in the Spanish occupied Netherlands in the 16th century.

A brief aside about the day by day tally: None of these stories will appear in print as is. Almost all of them will probably gain a couple of hundred words during the second draft. Several titles will likely change and some stories might not see the light of day for a long time – because they are too short to stand alone and I don’t have anything similar enough to bundle them with or because they don’t work. Cause not every story to come out of the July Short Story Challenge can be a winner. Some stories are great and need only very little work, others need extensive rewrites to be brought into publishable form. Finally, some stories aren’t really publishable at all. But with 31 stories even the occasional story that’s not publishable isn’t a great loss.

So let’s take a look at the length breakdown. The shortest story was 705 words long, the longest 6260 words. This matches my experience from previous years that the stories resulting from this challenge range in length from flash fiction to the lower end of the novelette spectrum with the majority falling in the 2000 to 4000 word range. This year, I wrote two flash fiction pieces of less than 1000 words. Seventeen stories were more than 2000 words long, nine more than 3000 words, five more than 4000 words. All in all, I wrote approximately 78000 words of new fiction last months, which is less than last year, but higher than 2015, 2016 and 2017.

When Dean Wesley Smith did his July short story challenge back in 2015, he found that most of the stories he wrote were part of established worlds or series. Interestingly, my experience at the time was the opposite and I wrote only standalones. Though in subsequent July short story challenges, the number of stories in established or new series slowly went up. So I wrote five series stories in 2016, seven in 2017 (though two of those only became series subsequently) and fifteen series stories in 2018. This year, I got fourteen and a half series stories.

And so I wrote five Thurvok stories, two In Love and War stories and a Helen Shepherd Mysteries story featuring DC Kevin Walker and scene of the crime officer Charlotte Wong (not sure whether I’ll publish this and two other Helen-less Helen Shepherd stories as a spin-off are part of the main series).

I also wrote six Culinary Assassin stories, which are intended for an upcoming collection of very short (under 2000 words) stories featuring an assassin who kills people in restaurants, after sampling the food. I wrote the first Culinary Assassin story in my notebook in a restaurant and it started out as a descriptive piece about the restaurant and the food. When I got home, I looked at the piece I’d written and thought, “Hey, this is good. But it doesn’t have a plot. So what if the narrator was there to kill someone after dinner?” Then this spring, I found myself alone with my notebook in a restaurant again and started describing the place. Then I remembered the little story I’d written a couple of months before about the assassin who kills someone in a restaurant and thought, “What if that assassin does it again? And what other restaurants can they visit?”

The half series story is intended for Raygun Romances, a new anthology series of Planet Stories/Startling Stories type pulpy science fiction. I’ll probably pass them off as the work of Richard Blakemore, hardworking pulp writer by day and the masked vigilante known only as the Silencer by night, because using Richard’s byline is a good way to separate my retro pulp stories from my other stories. The initial plan was for the Raygun Romances to be largely self-contained adventures, but the one I wrote was clearly the sequal to an adventure that had started elsewhere, so I (and Richard) will have to write that story, too. And so it’s half a series story in two different. First of all, there actually isn’t a series yet and secondly, the story in question is part of a sub-series in itself.

Both series and standalone stories offer different advantages and challenges. The good thing about series stories is that that worldbuilding is already done. Furthermore, I know the characters and how they will react to a given situation, so it’s easy to plug them into a new story and just let them do their thing. On the downside, series characters also bring all sorts of baggage and backstory with them. As a result, the series stories are usually longer. Standalone stories, on the other hand, require developing the world, the characters, the plot, everything from scratch. On the plus side, the characters don’t have any baggage or backstory except what is required for the story.

And indeed, the series for which I wrote stories during the July Short Story Challenge are all the sort of series which lend themselves to shorter standalone adventures. The Helen Shepherd Mysteries are all standalone cases with the characters and their changing relationships the only connecting thread. They also follow a certain formula, so it’s easy to insert the characters into a new story. Though the case in this July’s stor was rather low-key, so I gave it to DC Kevin Walker and Charlotte Wong to solve during their weekend off. The In Love and War series does have quite a bit of action, but also lends itself to quieter character pieces. The two In Love and War stories I wrote for this year’s July Short Story Challenge fall into the latter category, i.e. they’re closer to The Taste of Home (which also was a July Short Story Challenge story) than to e.g. Hunter and Hunted.

The Culinary Assassin stories are a special case, because the Culinary Assassin is a character with neither baggage nor backstory. We neither know the protagonist’s name nor gender, all we know is their profession and that they are something of a foodie. And indeed, they started out as experiments in writing description (which is not exactly my strong point) and follow a certain formula (though two of the stories I wrote during the challenge twist the formula a little). The assassin arrives, describes the restaurant, describes the food, describes the target (all thoroughly unpleasant people), does the job and leaves. That also makes them short and quick to write. And indeed I found that on days when I was tired and stressed out and low on ideas (and there were quite a few of those thanks to the heatwave and pre-WorldCon stress) and still had to write my story for the day, I often thought, “Okay, why not write another Culinary Assassin? Where can we eat today?”

As for Thurvok, which is after all a series that was born during the July Short Story Challenge, for some reason this series lends itself extremely well to stories which are written very quickly. I have my quartet of adventurers, so all I need is a treasure for them to seek, a monster to fight or a mystery to solve, then I turn them lose and let them do their thing. In general, it seems as if there is something about the sword and sorcery genre, which is after all a child of the pulps, which lends itself to stories written quickly and in rapid succession. Robert E. Howard reportedly felt possessed by Conan and spent several weeks writing nothing but Conan stories in rapid succession. During the more difficult times of his career, Fritz Leiber still kept on writing Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, dozens of them over the course of almost fifty years. Michael Moorcock’s infamous weekend novels were often Elric or Corum stories, i.e. sword and sorcery.

So let’s take a look at ideas and inspiration. After four July Short Story Challenges, I know which methods of idea generation work for me and can plan accordingly. Using images as writing prompts usually works well for me and by now I have a whole folder on my harddrive which contains inspirational images – basically my own catalogue of concept art writing prompts. Random stuff found on Twitter – a joke, a meme, an editor’s “I’d like to see more stories about X” comment – were another unexpected source of inspiration. Other source include food I’ve eaten/cooked, crocheting hyperbolic shrubs for the Raksura Colony Tree project and the backcover blurb of a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child (this one) which I picked up at a bookstore, but did not buy. As always, the best thing about the July Short Story Challenge is that for thirty-one days, every idea, no matter how offbeat or obscure is viable.

Every year, certain tropes and themes appear during the July Short Story Challenge that occur in several of the stories, especially since the stories also build upon each other on occasion. Food is a big one and not only the six Culinary Assassin stories feature extensive descriptions of food, but also several other stories as well. But then I like writing about food. Such old standbys as “stories told in bars and taverns” also show up again, though there are fewer post-apocalyptic stories this year. There are three stories which feature robots, written on three consecutive days as well as three stories featuring dinosaurs (written in the space of four days), which I suspect were inspired by Camestros Felapton’s Dinography project. There are also two dragon stories and a whole lot of monsters in general. As a matter of fact, monsters of some kind (dinosaurs, dragons, zombies, Lovecraftian horrors) feature in twelve stories. Another mini theme that show up in three stories is the subversion of epic fantasy clichés. Finally, I also wrote two very different prison break stories, but then I have something of a weakness for prison and particularly prison break stories (but I don’t care for Orange Is the New Black – go figure), so it’s not unusual that these tropes show up during the July Short Story Challenge.

Once again, I’ve found that the July Short Story Challenge offers a wide range of settings and characters. Settings range from various fantasy lands and the Spanish occupied Netherlands in the 16th century via suburban and rural America, a cave in contemporary Belgium, a sausage stand in Berlin, a pancake shop in Rotterdam and Paris Charles de Gaulle airport to various dystopian and post-apocalyptic future and far off planets. POV characters include men and women, gay and straight characters, characters of varying ages, races, ethnicities and backgrounds and even one alien. Which proves that creating under pressure doesn’t meant that you have to default to straight white protagonists.

One thing that the July short story challenge proves time and again (apart from that it’s possible to write a short story in a day and that those stories can sometimes be damned good) is that everything that we read, watch or otherwise consume goes into the great stewpot of our subconscious, where it’s mixed and blended, until it arises in the form of story ideas. The July Short Story Challenge functions like a pressure cooker for your creativity and speeds up the stewing process. And sometimes, the result is magic.

So will I do another July Short Story Challenge next year? Well, time and health permitting, why not? After all, the past five challenges have resulted in a lot of wonderful stories and even series that might otherwise have never been written.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for July 2019

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 authors newly published this month, though some June books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, YA fntasy, paranormal romance, paranormal mystery, science fiction romance, science fiction mystery, space opera, military science fiction, YA science fiction, science fantasy, dystopian fiction, postapocalyptic fiction, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, time travel, werewolves, vampires, zombies, dragons, aliens, space pirates, space marines, superheroes, spell speakers, crime-busting witches, Nazi-punching witches, undead detectives, telepathic dogs, dragon fight clubs 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:

Crossfire by Lindsay BurokerCrossfire by Lindsay Buroker:

For the first time in his life, roboticist Casmir Dabrowski is headed to another star system as an advisor for the Kingdom space fleet. He’s being given a chance to prove himself to King Jager by helping find the ancient artifact he inadvertently lost. It’s best not to think about what might happen if he fails…

But with technologically advanced astroshamans after the artifact, not to mention the deadly mercenary captain Tenebris Rache, it’s not long before the mission collides with disaster.

Soon, Casmir and his friends are caught between warring factions, and he must choose between what the king would want and what he knows is right.

Pursuits Unknown by Ellen ClaryPursuits Unknown by Ellen Clary:

Amy and her kelpie-shepherd mix, Lars, work with a search team that specializes in finding lost people. Despite his average-mutt appearance, Lars is no ordinary dog. He and Amy have a telepathic connection. While Lars has a lot to learn about human language, their bond allows them to communicate in unusual ways and is a boon to their success rate.

When Amy and Lars find a missing scientist suffering from the Alzheimer’s-like disorder “Disorientation,” Amy and her support team realize this is not a typical lost-person case. Instead, this assignment appears to be an attempt to steal this man’s highly sensitive research on nanotechnology—which, in the wrong hands, could be used to wipe out undesirables from their overpopulated world. Forced to go undercover to seek out the truth, Amy will have to confront—and surpass—her own limitations.

Witch Hunt by L.R. DeneyWitch Hunt by L.R. Deney:

Strange kidnappings are taking place throughout Seattle. In the wake of a problematic election in America, the crimes seem to be racially motivated. Left behind at the scene of each disappearance is the symbol of the Black Sun, a symbol that is connected to Naziism.

It’s up to Staci Drenvauder, a witch and mistress of the Dark Arts, to investigate the kidnappings. But the Nazis appear to be infecting everything, even the secret, magical city of Azramoas seems to be affected with strange happenings taking place on the ruling Council. To complicate matters further, a demonic force from Staci’s past makes itself known once more.

Snark, gloom, and romance intermix within this riveting tale. Join Staci in her quest to punch Nazis.

A Dark and Stormy Day by Charon DunnA Dark and Stormy Day by Charon Dunn:

3748 crashes to a halt as Sonny Knight visits Times Square to ring in the New Year.

He’s a little sad because his girlfriend – one of the terrorist clones holding his family prisoner (but she’s one of the nicer ones) – has dumped him. Or maybe she’s being held prisoner by a different band of terrorists, and would appreciate being rescued?

Sonny’s going to have to pull himself together if he’s going to help her. He needs to deal with his grief issues, residual anxiety from everything that happened to him in the last two books, and a blossoming substance problem. Then there’s his fresh anxiety from all the new and exciting dangers that befall him in this one.

Which include more pliosaurs, explosions, avalanches, crowds, true love, assault, battery … the usual.

This is the conclusion of the Adventures of Sonny Knight trilogy.

The Heisenberg Corollary by C.M. DuryeaThe Heisenberg Corollary by C.H. Duryea:

A radical new technology. A horde of homicidal aliens. A snarky would-be girlfriend. Science never used to be like this.

Zeke Travers is a brilliant theoretical physicist on the verge of a breakthrough: a prototype drive capable of transporting a spacecraft to parallel universes. His place in the annals of scientific history seems all but assured. But when an alien warship materializes in Earth orbit and commences blasting everything in its path to atoms, Zeke and his team must make a choice between annihilation–or becoming test subjects in their own interdimensional experiments.

As they careen from continuum to continuum, some ruled by technology, others by magic, Zeke and his band of geeky, over-educated scientists will have to discover their inner ass-kickers if they’re going to survive the perils of the Multiverse.

Legend of DreamwalkerLegend of Dreamwalker by Timothy Ellis:

Chris Ecclestone has had a full on day. And it isn’t over yet!

He’s done the impossible, been promoted, called a legend, and now he’s alone with his girlfriend and about to get the reward he really wants.

Tomorrow is another day, and a badly needed boring one at that.

But there’s a war on, and romance has to wait when allies call for help, and boring is what happens between battles and exhaustion.

Combat awaits, and this time, he’s a senior officer contemplating how fast he’s failing upwards.

The Imperium is spread too thin, and the Trixone are attacking in too many places.

When your war comes down to you and your fighter pilots, what must be done to survive?

And when survival includes the fate of the Imperium, will his lack of senior officer skills be a help, or their downfall?

Fate has been messing with Chris all his life, and all he wanted to be was a fighter pilot.

Instead, he’s the Legend of Dreamwalker.

And he doesn’t have the time to not like it.

Lee Shores by Rachel FordLee Shores by Rachel Ford:

Sometimes still waters are the most dangerous.

Murder turns a quiet month of shore leave into a nightmare for Chief Engineer Kay Ellis and Captain Magdalene Landon of the Black Flag. When a member of their crew is implicated in the killing of a young woman, the privateers find themselves pawns in an interplanetary diplomatic struggle that predates any of them.

With little evidence to support their claims of innocence, an alien government eager to make examples of the human visitors, and the eyes of two superpowers watching their every move, every passing day brings them closer to ruin.

If they don’t find the real killer soon, they’ll swing for a crime they didn’t commit. And the Union will be hung out to dry with them.

Incarnation by Kevin HardmanIncarnation by Kevin Hardman:

Jim (aka Kid Sensation) is no stranger to difficult and dangerous tasks. Having faced down everything from ruthless aliens to sadistic supervillains, he’s shown that he can more than hold his own under almost any circumstances. But now he’s facing a situation unlike anything he’s ever encountered before.

Recruited by a colleague for a mysterious mission and transported to a realm beyond space and time, Jim finds himself thrust into the company of Incarnates – individuals with powers and abilities so vast that they can do almost anything, including warp reality. But these esteemed personages are plagued by a dark issue, for which they turn to Jim for help: one amongst them is a murderer.

Charged with finding this killer, Jim soon realizes the inherent folly of pursuing an individual who is power personified and able to alter reality with the wave of a hand. With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, he must find a way to defeat a murderous, nigh-omnipotent foe who can not only match his powers, but also negate them – fully and permanently.

The Day I Died by Aya KnightThe Day I Died by Aya Knight:

She had to die, to find the truth.

Oshin Fletcher lives by three rules: obey authority, don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself, and above all else, never leave the city walls.

Some say that rules are meant to be broken. For Oshin, her world shattered on the day she was betrayed. A secret meeting leads her beyond the safety of her city. Lured by the ignorance that comes with being lonely and hopeful, Oshin was about to discover just how severe consequences could be. Lost and alone, she waited; no one came. But they did. The infected, the decaying, the undead.

Oshin wakes to find herself in an abandoned house, deep within the forest. Her body was changing, her desire to feed, uncontrollable. She was a marionette—her hunger, the puppeteer. She pivots on a line between life and death. They say the undead are mindless, but Oshin was very much aware. She sets out in an unknown world where the worst evils aren’t the undead, but humanity itself. With only days before the effects of the disease take hold and decay sets in, Oshin must race to find a way back home for a cure. She soon discovers that home is not everything she thought it to be. Dark secrets have been in play since the moment she was born.

An emotionally intense zombie survival story.

To Spell With It by Amanda M. LeeTo Spell With It by Amanda M. Lee:

Hadley Hunter thinks she’s seen everything – okay, maybe not everything but a lot of things – but she’s never seen a cupid convention.When her good friend Booker’s fellow cupids descend on Moonstone Bay, she thinks it’s going to be fun and games. Instead, it’s mayhem and mystery when a rash of suicides and attempted suicides hit random island residents.That means it’s off to the races to solve another mystery.Hadley has been doing a lot of thinking about her life. She wants a career, not a job. She also wants to uncover a murderer. Even though her boyfriend Galen tries to keep her out of the case, she’s bound and determined to be in the thick of things.Galen’s fears come to fruition when something starts calling to Hadley in her dreams and he’s convinced whatever creature convinced the others to try to kill themselves is now after Hadley.Between egocentric cupids who are at war with each other, a big mystery regarding the origin of some of Hadley’s favorite paranormal friends, and her own determination, Hadley isn’t giving up without answers.She’s used to having magical backup at every turn. This time, she’s going to have to fight the ultimate battle alone.Is she up to the challenge? She’d better be. Everyone she loves is in danger and she’s the only one who can save them.It’s time to witch up … and she’s ready.

The Spell Speakers by Day LeitaoThe Spell Speakers by Day Leitao:

He was raised to resist them. Now he has to join them.

14-year-old Darian was raised in an isolated village in Whyland, among people who resisted the oppression of the King and his army. When his life takes a tragic turn, he ends up living in the King’s castle, forced to train in the military academy, closer to his enemies than he has ever dreamed. His only solace is Cayla, a girl he befriends at the castle, who helps him smile and feel whole again, with whom he slowly falls in love, whose identity he ignores at his own peril.

But the castle holds more dangers than expected. Darian has to thread carefully if he wants use his position to help Whyland find freedom and remain alive.

Spell Speakers is a coming-of-age fantasy novella introducing characters featured in the upcoming series Portals to Whyland.

Of Dawn and Embers by Kyoko M.Of Dawn and Embers by Kyoko M.:

It’s been six months since Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali had their dragon cloning project shut down by the government. Just when they think they’ve gotten their lives back together, an agency within the government hits them with another suckerpunch: a criminal organization has cloned dozens of dragons in order to hold vicious dragon fighting rings. The government recruits Jack and Kamala to help them track down the organization. Jack and Kamala set out to put a stop to the illegal fights before any more dragons die…or worse, escape.

Of Dawn and Embers is the third novel in Kyoko M’s sci-fi/contemporary fantasy series, following Of Cinder and Bone and Of Blood and Ashes.

Apatura Iris by Jon MessengerApatura Iris by Jon Messenger:

Magic is an abomination—one that has grown tired of being hunted.

The Inquisitors have hunted magical creatures for a dozen years, striking fear into the monsters that dare to escape the Rift. In the swamps in Northern Ocker, however, a new evil arises—one that’s not afraid of Inquisitors. One that’s hunting Inquisitors.

One that’s killing Inquisitors.

Still reeling from the pain of recent events, Simon is more than willing to walk into danger. But now he and Luthor must hunt this new evil into the very house of madness: The Sanitarium. And the madness seems to be catching…

Apatura Iris is the fourth book in the Magic and Machinery series by Jon Messenger.

The Gathering by Vanessa NelsonThe Gathering by Vanessa Nelson:

Scarred by a brutal past, she has sworn to help those in need.

As one of the Hundred, Yvonne cannot ignore a plea for help, even if all she wants is a quiet life, somewhere safe for her adopted children to grow into adulthood.

Safety is in short supply. Young people, some of them children, are going missing in large numbers, leaving bewildered and grieving families behind. It’s not something she can ignore.

She finds an unexpected ally in an arrogant goblin lord, who seems intent on following her from place to place. With her skills in magic, and his resources, can they track down the kidnappers and return the children home?

The Gathering is the first book in a new fantasy trilogy series. If you like your fantasy with plenty of mystery and magic, and a strong heroine, you’ll love this new trilogy by Vanessa Nelson.

Get your copy of The Gathering now, to start reading Yvonne’s story.

Memory Aether by Reesha RugrodenMemory Aether by Reesha Rugroden:

Earth is at war, and a secret mission depends on Alexia modifying her boyfriend Michael’s memory, erasing herself completely from his mind. She holds onto his memories in the hope that someday she can reinstate them. But something goes wrong and Michael is captured as a prisoner of war, held on a distant moon. Alexia must work with old friends to decode the memories she extracted. A government agent with his own agenda shows up at just the right time, equipping them with what they need. Alexia doesn’t trust him, but working with him is the only way she can save Michael.

The Girl from the Sea by Jessica RydillThe Girl from the Sea by Jessica Rydill:

When Aude steps out of the sea, she changes three lives; her own and that of a brother and sister born under a curse.

Exiled from her castle home in the far north, Aude is a Doxan, follower of the Mother Goddess, Megalmayar; Yuste and Yuda are Wanderers, a race the Goddess cursed to live without a homeland until the return of her Son.

But the twins are also shamans, destined to wield remarkable powers when they come of age, a time that is drawing near.

Together, the children face a terrible enemy that rises from a lost city under the sea. Will they survive the perils of adolescence in their world, and defeat the threat from beneath the waves?

Canticle of the Midnight Moon by Val St. CroweCanticle of the Midnight Moon by Val St. Crowe:

An uneasy alliance between the former vampire king, Viggo Heathcote, Camber Fordham, and her new mate Landon Bowie, has been formed to search for those stolen by the powerful dark figure.

Viggo claims to love Camber’s sister Desta, and says he will do anything to rescue her, but Camber doesn’t trust him, and Landon straight-up hates him. This doesn’t make it easy to deal with attacking bloodhounds and faulty blood magic, even in the best of circumstances.

But then the three of them are captured by the dark figure as well. Now, in order to save the people she cares about, Camber must also escape. And there is no way out.

Refuge by Glynn StewartRefuge by Glynn Stewart:

A dying world, shattered by a broken machine
A desperate flight, their only hope for refuge
A robotic race, ally and destroyer alike

The Republic of Exilium has grown in strength and confidence at the far end of the galaxy from the rest of mankind, sending out scout ships to survey the worlds around them as they try to learn more about the mysterious Construction Matrix AIs.

Finding one of the genocidal rogues of that mysterious “race” in the process of destroying an inhabited world, Captain Octavio Catalan takes his ship into a desperate battle. He is victorious—but he is too late. The world of the strange aliens he has encountered is doomed.

The distant Republic can barely help, but the honor of their leaders will not permit them to stand idly by. Ships and crews are set into motion to commence a desperate evacuation of their newfound friends, and debts with the strange Matrices are called in.

One branch of Matrices destroyed the planet. Another may well save it—but the AIs have their own agenda and the price they ask may be beyond the Republic and its new allies…

Jane Bond: Dark Side of the Moon by V.R. TapscottJane Bond: Dark Side of the Moon by V.R. Tapscott:

In this sequel to Jane Bond, Jane finds some very interesting things in the basement left behind when Kit went away. Among them is a fully operational space ship.

Of course, the catch is, how can Jane fly it? Once Jane overcomes that hurdle, she and her friends are on the way again – and a new friend by the name of Olive comes along to pilot the ship – and make pancakes.

Who knew pancakes were so important!

But – will pancakes be enough to deal with what lies on the Dark Side of the Moon?

New Enemy by James David VictorNew Enemy by James David Victor:

As if one unstoppable alien force isn’t enough.

Jack and Sam have made it back to the fleet, but have not received a warm welcome. Treated as traitors and scientific curiosities, they must fight to free themselves from their own kind. And if the internal enemy isn’t enough, there’s a new enemy on the horizon that even the Devex fear. Can Jack free himself from his own kind and save humanity from two deadly alien forces?

New Enemy is the fourth book in the Jack Forge, Lost Marine series. If you like fast-paced military science fiction, you will love watching Jack fight for the freedom of all.

The InBetween by Dick WybrowThe InBetween by Dick Wybrow:

Painter Mann is a one-of-a-kind private investigator. He may even be the world’s best, but mainly that’s because he’s dead.

Assisted by his “Temps”— a select few of the very old who are so close to death they can actually hear him— Painter has sworn to help the murder victims stuck in The InBetween by revealing their killers so they can move on.

But, a new mass murder case threatens everything after Painter recognizes the killer’s face as the person who murdered him.

Exposing them will free dozens of ghosts but will also clear Painter, leaving no one to help the souls trapped in The InBetween.

Also, he’s really into the whole private investigator thing. When alive he was never really good at much. Dead? He’s a hell of a PI.

Is Painter willing to risk it all to save those he’s sworn to help?

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for July 2019

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 speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some June books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, animal mysteries, culinary mysteries, historical mysteries, jazz age mysteries, WWII mysteries, paranormal mysteries, science fiction mysteries, crime thrillers, legal thrillers, action thrillers, spy thrillers, paranormal thrillers, police procedurals, private investigators, amateur sleuths, lawyers, profilers, missing persons, organised crime, wrongful convictions, crime-busting witches, crime-busting bakers, crime-busting grannies, crime-busting sports agents, undead detectives, telepathic dogs, murders in small towns and big cities, at the seaside, at the circus and in country manors, in Florida, Southern California, Northumbria, Scotland, the Louisiana bayous 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:

Frosted Donuts and Fatal Falls by Cindy BellFrosted Donuts and Fatal Falls by Cindy Bell:

Joyce and Brenda walk a tightrope of danger as they race to find the truth before the circus moves on and the murderer disappears!

The circus is in town and Joyce and Brenda are excited that Donuts on the Move will be one of the vendors at the event. The circus has a close-knit, fun, eclectic bunch of performers and crew, and Joyce and Brenda are looking forward to getting to know them and to watch them in action.

But when one of the performers falls to his death, Joyce and Brenda find themselves right in the middle of a murder mystery. They land up juggling a long list of suspects and clues in order to help uncover the truth. But will they drop the ball before the murderer is caught?

It is a race against time for Joyce and Brenda to find the murderer before the circus moves to its next destination.

Murder by Chocolate by Beth ByersMurder by Chocolate by Beth Byers:

July 1925

Lady Violet is Mrs. Wakefield now, and she’s settled rather comfortably into her life. During a trip to her country house, she meets a chocolate artisan, she decides that nothing else will suit than an evening at home—with chocolate—as a married woman.

When she invites her friends to her house, she little expects her home to be christened not by chocolate but by murder. Yet again, Vi, Jack, and friends are dragged into a murder investigation. Just who would commit the crime of poisoning chocolate? And why?

Pursuits Unknown by Ellen ClaryPursuits Unknown by Ellen Clary:

Amy and her kelpie-shepherd mix, Lars, work with a search team that specializes in finding lost people. Despite his average-mutt appearance, Lars is no ordinary dog. He and Amy have a telepathic connection. While Lars has a lot to learn about human language, their bond allows them to communicate in unusual ways and is a boon to their success rate.

When Amy and Lars find a missing scientist suffering from the Alzheimer’s-like disorder “Disorientation,” Amy and her support team realize this is not a typical lost-person case. Instead, this assignment appears to be an attempt to steal this man’s highly sensitive research on nanotechnology—which, in the wrong hands, could be used to wipe out undesirables from their overpopulated world. Forced to go undercover to seek out the truth, Amy will have to confront—and surpass—her own limitations.

Cajun Fried Felony by Jana DeLeonCajun Fried Felony by Jana DeLeon:

Venus Thibodeaux had a reputation for being trouble. Some said she started at birth. When she finally left Sinful shortly after turning eighteen, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. When she blew back into town four years later, no one was happy about her return. She immediately launched into her same old scams, picking off Sinful residents with ease before disappearing again as quickly as she’d appeared.

Everyone assumed she’d headed back to New Orleans.

But when an accident at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Run uncovers her body, everyone Venus took for a ride becomes a suspect. The man at the top of that list sees the writing on the wall and hires Fortune to figure out who killed Venus, before he goes to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Fortune, Ida Belle, and Gertie start poking around into Venus’s complicated life, hoping to find the killer. And to solve their first official case.

Tight Lies by Ted DentonTight Lies by Ted Denton:

Ted Denton’s explosive debut novel is an exhilarating action thriller pitching the privileged seductive world of a professional sports’ agent against a backdrop of political double dealing, corporate corruption and brutal violence. A young Daniel Ratchet arrives in Spain to begin his dream job as a golf agent on the European Tour. In London, the Russian Rublex Corporation, with its history mired in ‘Vory’ mafia criminality, is working on a huge gas deal off the Falkland Islands with the British government. Veteran civil servant Derek Hemmings is tasked to rubber-stamp the deal for the Foreign Office. But things are not what they seem … With the help of Wallace, a cantankerous old golf coach, Daniel discovers match fixing, fraud and corruption on the Tour, all at the seeming behest of Rublex. A thorn in the Russians’ side, Daniel is kidnapped before he can expose the truth. Wallace, needing help, contacts an old army buddy who deploys violent loose cannon Tom Hunter on the mission to save him. A tense race against time ensues – both to rescue Daniel from the clutches of the ‘Vory’ and for Hemmings in Whitehall to prove that the deadly deal is corrupt. The stakes are high. As the body count mounts will the volatile Hunter get to the truth or will he be just too late? Dead or alive. The truth always comes at a cost.

On a Quiet Street by J.L. DoucetteOn a Quiet Street by J.L. Doucette:

When the fiancée of a prominent attorney is murdered, Dr. Pepper Hunt joins forces again with Detective Beau Antelope of the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Department to search for the killer.

Prosecutor Connor Collin’S dreams are shattered when Stacy Hart is found strangled in their home a month before their wedding. He’s convinced Jack Swailes, the contractor who found the body, killed her in a jealous rage. And Jack looks guilty when he mysteriously disappears later that day.

The investigation takes a different turn when Pepper uses her clinical skills to probe below the surface of the perfect couple’s lives. Chilling secrets and sinister motives that lead back to unsolved crimes with a direct link to Stacy’s murder are finally brought to light.

Ann's War: Victory by Hannah HoweAnn’s War: Victory by Hannah Howe:

The war is over and Ann’s community is preparing for the VE Day celebrations. However, not everyone is in a celebratory mood. Ann’s husband, Emrys, has returned from France, a shadow of the man who left to serve his country. What happened in France? What thoughts are weighing heavily on Emrys’ mind?

Meanwhile, Doris Michael hires Ann to find her brother, Glyn, a man she hasn’t seen for two years. What has happened to Glyn? And what crucial part did he play in determining the outcome of the war?

As Ann seeks answers, she realises that even though the war is over, the true battle has only just begun, the battle to win the peace.

18 Minutes by Ethan Jones18 Minutes by Ethan Jones:

What choice can he make with only 18 minutes?

FSB Agent Max Thorne might be shy and lack confidence, but he has never lost any of the high-value detainees he transports … yet. Assigned a daunting new mission, Max must lead a two-man team and transfer a high-profile banker to a safehouse in Moscow. Meanwhile, overwhelming opposition is determined to free the banker at any cost.

With no safehouse, no backup, and no options, Max must make an impossible choice.

But can he do it in only 18 minutes?

Turtle Cove by Marc LandauTurtle Cove by Marc Landau:

“It’s a shell of a beach read!”

Nolan Parker just wants to relax, paint some turtles, and toss a ball with the dog. But like much of life, thing’s aren’t going as planned. The economy is supposedly, “The greatest in the history of the world,” but he’s just scraping by. What starts out as a side hustle to pay for wifi and dog treats, ends up with Nolan chasing a teenage runaway around the beaches of Florida trying not to get killed. Worse, his tropical paradise has been invaded by a crew of wacky Floridians…and maybe an alligator.

Will Nolan find the kid and get the girl? Or will the sunshine state suck him into its swamplands?

To Spell With It by Amanda M. LeeTo Spell With It by Amanda M. Lee:

Hadley Hunter thinks she’s seen everything – okay, maybe not everything but a lot of things – but she’s never seen a cupid convention.When her good friend Booker’s fellow cupids descend on Moonstone Bay, she thinks it’s going to be fun and games. Instead, it’s mayhem and mystery when a rash of suicides and attempted suicides hit random island residents.That means it’s off to the races to solve another mystery.Hadley has been doing a lot of thinking about her life. She wants a career, not a job. She also wants to uncover a murderer. Even though her boyfriend Galen tries to keep her out of the case, she’s bound and determined to be in the thick of things.Galen’s fears come to fruition when something starts calling to Hadley in her dreams and he’s convinced whatever creature convinced the others to try to kill themselves is now after Hadley.Between egocentric cupids who are at war with each other, a big mystery regarding the origin of some of Hadley’s favorite paranormal friends, and her own determination, Hadley isn’t giving up without answers.She’s used to having magical backup at every turn. This time, she’s going to have to fight the ultimate battle alone.Is she up to the challenge? She’d better be. Everyone she loves is in danger and she’s the only one who can save them.It’s time to witch up … and she’s ready.

Back of the Bayou by Dawn Lee McKennaBack of the Bayou by Dawn Lee McKenna:

Miss Evangeline, a middle-aged Creole woman, takes it upon herself to care for a little Cajun boy when his beautiful mother is killed. The first time she walked down the dirt road to the boy’s remote and ramshackle home, she had no idea she would walk that road for decades. She also had no idea how important that boy would become to her, or how their lives were about to be permanently interwoven.

Back of the Bayou moves through the 50s and 60s with these two beloved characters from the series, and reveals not only the events that made them who they are, but the shared experiences that made them who they are to each other.

Murder in Cold Mud by Emily OrganMurder in Cold Mud by Emily Organ:

Having established themselves as a successful detective duo, pensioners Annabel Churchill and Doris Pemberley face a new case.

The Compton Poppleford Horticultural Society Annual Show is just around the corner but there’s a problem: someone is murdering the competitors. Stories of vegetable rivalry abound as the local constabulary, Inspector Mappin, investigates.

When the death toll increases, Mappin drafts in assistance but refuses to allow Churchill and Pemberley to help. The two ladies decide to solve the case themselves, however their efforts are hampered by the inspector’s accusations of meddling.

Can Churchill and Pemberley battle the odds to find the culprit before another gardener dies? Compton Poppleford’s long-buried secrets are unearthed as the duo close in on the killer in their midst.

Murder in Bloom by Carly ReidMurder in Bloom by Carly Reid:

A bad breakup, a new business…

…and a body in the cellar.

Jessica’s future might be temporarily on hold, but her Aunt Reenie’s could be over. Has Jessica got what it takes to solve the mystery before Reenie runs out of time?

When Jessica Greer comes to Scotland to help Aunt Reenie set up a new flower shop, her plan is to spend the summer getting over her ex-boyfriend and find some distance and comfort in her ancestral home – as well as donning those paint overalls and getting Reenie’s business ready for opening day of course. But when the local estate agent turns up dead in the new shop cellar, and the locals seems keen to pin the crime on an outsider, Jessica finds herself drawn in to the events, secrets and drama of a not-so-sleepy Scottish village.

If you enjoy a classic cozy whodunnit, kick off the Dalkinchie Mysteries with Murder in Bloom.

What You Did by Willow RoseWhat You Did by Willow Rose

Three girls disappear on prom night at the local high school. One of them is the prom queen.

FBI profiler Eva Rae Thomas is chasing her long-lost sister when detective— and boyfriend — Matt Miller asks her to join the investigation of the three girls’ disappearance. They were last seen walking home together after the dance.

When the body of a young girl shows up in her backyard, Eva Rae knows she can no longer watch from the sidelines, and soon she realizes not only is she involved in this investigation, she’s also this killer’s target.

WHAT YOU DID is the second book in the Eva Rae Thomas Mystery Series and can be read as a standalone.

Penshaw by L.J. RossPenshaw by L.J. Ross:

When you sell your soul, the devil gives no refunds…

When an old man is burned alive in a sleepy ex-mining village, Detective Chief Inspector Ryan is called in to investigate. He soon discovers that, beneath the facade of a close-knit community, the burn from decades-old betrayal still smoulders. When everyone had a motive, can he unravel the secrets of the past before the killer strikes again?

Meanwhile, back at Northumbria CID, trouble is brewing with rumours of a mole in Ryan’s department. With everyone under suspicion, can he count on anybody but himself?

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

Wrongful Conviction by Rachel SinclairWrongful Conviction by Rachel Sinclair:

A young black boy serving life in prison…
A city on fire…
One man stands between a life behind bars and total exoneration…

Christian Davis, a former big-firm lawyer turned social justice warrior, has just been assigned the case of his life by the State of California. Jamel Jackson, a 16-year-old black boy, has just been convicted for the brutal rape of a prominent movie star.

Christian digs into the case with gusto, as he examines the trial court transcript for any hint that the trial court might have erred in Jamel’s case. As he gets into the investigation of the case, he’s shocked at what he has found. Corruption at the highest level is staring him in the face.

The problem is, the person who Christian suspects was actually behind the rape is somebody who is powerful and connected. And this person will stop at anything to make sure that young Jamel stays in prison for the crime.

Christian soon finds himself not only fighting the system, but also trying to stay one step ahead of the man who Christian knows was the one who raped the actress.

Because Christian knows that Jamel will not remain in prison for this rich bastard’s crime.

And he will risk all, even his life, to make that doesn’t happen.

The InBetween by Dick WybrowThe InBetween by Dick Wybrow:

Painter Mann is a one-of-a-kind private investigator. He may even be the world’s best, but mainly that’s because he’s dead.

Assisted by his “Temps”— a select few of the very old who are so close to death they can actually hear him— Painter has sworn to help the murder victims stuck in The InBetween by revealing their killers so they can move on.

But, a new mass murder case threatens everything after Painter recognizes the killer’s face as the person who murdered him.

Exposing them will free dozens of ghosts but will also clear Painter, leaving no one to help the souls trapped in The InBetween.

Also, he’s really into the whole private investigator thing. When alive he was never really good at much. Dead? He’s a hell of a PI.

Is Painter willing to risk it all to save those he’s sworn to help?

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Commercial Break

You may have noticed that blogging has been light these past few weeks, but that is because I’m still doing the 2019 July Short Story Challenge, where the aim is to write a story per day during the month of July. You can follow my progress along live in this post, which is updated daily.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for free or cheap books (and who isn’t?), I also have a couple of giveaways and sales to announce:

A giveaway for Science Fiction and Fantasy Flavoured Romance is currently going on at StoryOrigins. You can get 27 SFF romance e-books for free, if you enter your e-mail address and sign up for the respective authors’ newsletters (don’t worry, you can always unsubscribe later). So if you want to try Bullet Holes for free, head on over there.

Furthermore, Smashwords is still having its annual summer sale, where you can get plenty of e-books at reduced prices, including several of mine.

The good folks at DriveThruFiction are holding their annual Christmas in July sale. Again, you can get lots of e-books at reduced prices, including several of mine.

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Remembering Artur Brauner and Dr. Mabuse

This will only be a short post, because I’m still hard at work doing the 2019 July short story challenge. If you want to follow along, bookmark my July short story challenge day by day post.

Meanwhile, I’m also over at Galactic Journey (not to mention fifty-five years in the past) again today, this time with an article about the great bodyhopping supervillain Dr. Mabuse and his remarkable criminal career which stretched from the Weimar Republic into the 1960s and beyond. For more about the evil Doctor, you can also read the article I wrote about him for Thriller UK in the early 2000s (PDF link), which covers Mabuse’s entire filmic career. Though Mabuse’s appearance became sporadic after Die Todesstrahlen des Dr. Mabuse (The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse) came out in September 1964 (this film will be covered in an upcoming Galactic Journey article). Afterwards, Mabuse was relegated to a retitled Hammer mad scientist movie that had nothing to do with him originally, an unwatchably bad Jess Franco movie, a guest appearance in the Austrian TV show Kottan ermittelt (Kottan investigates), which is still the only Mabuse appearance I have never seen, an earnest but ultimately unsuccessful revival attempt by Claude Chabrol which was entitled Dr. M. for rights’ reasons, a graphic novel and a couple of audio dramas in the 2000s as well as a new movie that was never made.

Though Mabuse still stalks German crime fiction, because he’s such a versatile character who can be plugged into any situation. Plus, he’s basically immortal, so he can cause a lot of harm over the decades. I’ve always wanted to pit the Silencer against Dr. Mabuse or rather a character who is Mabuse in everything but the name, since the character is still under copyright. And in Volker Kutscher’s Gereon Rath historical mysteries, upon which the TV show Babylon Berlin is based (the books are much better though, with better female characters, who are not all occasional prostitutes, and the research is excellent, compared to some anachronistic howlers in the TV show), Berlin police inspector Gereon Rath tangles with the sinister Johann Marlow, medical doctor turned criminal mastermind, who once again is Mabuse in all but the name. Meanwhile, Gereon Rath’s boss is the legendary head of the Berlin police homicide department Ernst Gennat, the real life model for Mabuse’s most persistent pursuer Kommissar Lohmann. The TV show downplays the Marlow character and also changes his name, probably again due to rights issues. Though I would love to see the team behind Babylon Berlin do a proper Mabuse movie.

And talking of Dr. Mabuse, Artur Brauner, the German film producer who produced the postwar Dr. Mabuse movies and whose company holds the rights to the character, died yesterday aged 100. Artur Brauner survived the Holocaust and later became (West) Germany’s most successful film producer, producing dozens of movies in his long and successful life.

Most obituaries focus on the various movies about the Holocaust that Brauner produced, movies which were very important to him for obvious reasons. And Brauner produced not only the first movie about the Holocaust made in West Germany (and I think one of the first wordwide), Morituri in 1948, but also the Golden Globe winning Hitlerjunge Salomon (Hitler Youth Salomon), which for unknown reasons was retitled Europa, Europa for international release. I have no idea why this was done, because Hitler Youth Salomon is pretty much the perfect title. It both tells you at a glance what the story is about and is also intriguing enough that you want to know more. And it also refers to the infamous Nazi propaganda film Hitlerjunge Quex (Hitler Youth Quex). Meanwhile, Europa, Europa sounds like the title of a documentary about the European Union. But whatever the title, the film is well worth watching.

However, Artur Brauner’s oevre includes so much more than movies about the Third Reich and the Holocaust. He was one of the true greats of German postwar cinema, did a lot to restore German cinema to the glory days of the Weimar Republic (including remaking several Weimar era classics) and made dozens of movies in many genres, including a lot of forgettable flicks (he even produced trashy softcore erotica in the 1970s), but also some minor and major classics. I’ve already written about the Dr. Mabuse series above, but Brauner – who always had a nose for trendy topics – also produced some of the Edgar Wallace and Winnetou movies, though the better known ones were made by Horst Wendtland.

Artur Brauner enticed Fritz Lang to return to Germany for his last three movies, the above mentioned 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse as well as the 1959 duology The Tiger of Eshnapur and The Indian Tomb. Both are the sort of “exotic” adventure movies that were popular from the 1920s well into the 1950s and haven’t dated all that well, but at least the 1959 version (there have been two previous adaptations of the novel by Fritz Lang’s ex-wife and Metropolis screenwriter Thea von Harbou in 1921 and 1938) at least questions the habit of white westerners to barge into India with zero knowledge of and respect for the local culture. The Maharadja may be a villain, but the protagonist, German architect Harald Berger (Paul Hubschmid), is not a good person (he seduces the Maharadja’s intended bride Seetha, played by Debra Paget) and the movie knows it.

Artur Brauner also produced the best adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s crime novel The Pledge as Es geschah am hellichten Tag (It Happened in Broad Daylight) in 1958, which is not just a great thriller, but also the granddaddy of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels, the TV show Criminal Minds and the profiling thrillers of today. Gestehen Sie, Dr. Corda (Confess, Dr. Corda) is another great crime thriller produced by Artur Brauner also in 1958.

Furthermore, Artur Brauner produced the only Johannes Mario Simmel adaptation worth watching, the delightful 1961 spy comedy Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein (It can’t always be caviar) and the sequel Diesmal muß es Kaviar sein (This time it has to be caviar).

Artur Brauner was also very active in the juvenile delinquent subgenre of the 1950s and produced the film that kicked off the genre, Die Halbstarken (Teenage Wolfpack) in 1956. I’m not a huge fan of Die Halbstarken, which is basically a juvenile delinquent sleaze paperback in movie form and terribly sexist besides, but it was a huge success and spawned a host of immitators, many of which were produced by the enterprising Artur Brauner. The most interesting of the many “troubled youth” movies Brauner produced is Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform), a drama set at a girls’ boarding school with hints at lesbian love. Yes, Artur Brauner cast Romy Schneider, the darling of West German postwar cinema, as a teenage lesbian and that in 1958. The romance of course ends tragically – well, it was 1958.

Artur Brauner even produced one of the comparatively few science fiction movies made in Germany post-WWII, Zurück aus dem Weltall (Moon Wolf) in 1959. It’s basically a touching story about a man and his dog, where the dog just happens to be a canine astronaut. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find.

Finally, let’s give a shout-out to what supposedly was Artur Brauner’s personal favourite of the many films he produced, the 1960 adaptation of Der brave Soldat Schwejk (The Good Soldier Schwejk), starring Heinz Rühmann. It’s a pretty good movie, the rare example of an anti-war movie that’s also funny, and won Brauner an Academy Award nomination, one of several. He eventually won an Academy Award in 1972 for The Garden of the Finzi Continis, which I haven’t seen.

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The 2019 July Short Story Challenge – Day by Day

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

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

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

Because I’ve already done the July short story challenge four years in a row now and always found the experience very rewarding, I’m aiming for a repeat this year. At first, I’m only committing to doing this for a week (which is almost half over) and if things are going well, I’ll keep going.

In previous years, I’ve always done a post-mortem post about the July Short Story Challenge in August. I’ll probably be doing one this year as well, but in order to hold myself accountable, I’ll also be doing something else. I will keep a running tally of all stories written to date and update this post accordingly. This tally will be very basic, listing just the date, title, word count, genre, series, if any, and maybe a one or two sentence summary/comment.

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

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

July 1, 2019:  Coffee Shop AU, fantasy, 3576 words

The characters of a cop show suddenly find themselves whisked into a universe, where all those coffee shops from a certain kind of fanfiction are coexisting in the same neighbourhood.

July 2, 2019:  Terminal 2G (The Culinary Assassin), crime fiction, 1515 words

The Culinary Assassin will eventually be a collection of short crime stories about an assassin who only kills people restaurants – after first sampling the food. In this one, the culinary assassin finds himself in an airport and has to deal with overpriced airport food as well as the target, all without shooting.

July 3, 2019:  Poffertjes (The Culinary Assassin), crime fiction, 1440 words

Another Culinary Assassin tale, wherein the world’s only gourmet hitperson eats Dutch pancakes and kills a real estate developer.

July 4, 2019: Unwanted Rescue, epic fantasy, 1055 words

Sir Clarenbald the Bold comes to slay a dragon and rescue a princess. But the princess doesn’t want to be rescued…

July 5, 2019: Green Thumb (Helen Shepherd Mysteries), crime fiction, 4419 words

Detective Constable Kevin Walker and his girlfriend, Scene of the Crime Officer Charlotte Wong, have a solo adventure and hunt down a flower thief in South London.

July 6, 2019: Patient X-5, science fiction, 1357 words

A robot consults a psychologist.

July 7, 2019: The Day the Mechas Came to Eureka Creek, post-apocalyptic, 2168 words

In an America besieged by giant robots, three kids find an inert mecha in a wheat field. This is one of those post-apocalyptic slice-of-life stories that this challenge frequently seems to yield for me.

July 8, 2019: Stalked, post-apocalyptic, 1428 words

A scavenger is stalked by a giant killer robot through a ruined city. Yup, it’s another robocalypse story and also the third robot story in a row. Hmm, I’m sensing a theme here.

July 9, 2019: The Cryptozoological Invasion, post-apocalyptic, 1080 words

The Loch Ness monster, the Yeti, the Sasquatch, dinosaurs surviving in inaccessible parts of the Amazon and the Congo basin, the Thing from another world and the unspeakable Lovecraftian monsters in the Antarctic – they’re all real and climate change is driving them from their ancient habitats and into contact with humans.

July 10, 2019: The Secret Nightlife of the Lawn Flamingos, horror, 705 words

They’re alive and they’re evil. The title says it all basically.

July 11, 2019: Prison Moon (Raygun Romances), space opera, 6260 words

Ray Cassidy was an officer of the Space Patrol, until he turned against them, when ordered to brutally squash a miners’ strike. Now Ray has been sentenced to life imprisonment on the prison moon of Paradine, from where there is no escape but death. But Juanita Deveron, a young rebel fighter whose life Ray saved, is not willing to let him languish in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Raygun Romances is the proposed title for a series of retro style science fiction adventures – think Planet Stories or Startling Stories in the 1940s and 1950s.

July 12, 2019: The Great Dinosaur Derby, science fiction, 1177 words

Humans manage to clone dinosaurs and decide to hold t-rex races. What could go wrong? The title says it all, really.

July 13, 2019: The Tentacled Terror (Thurvok), sword and sorcery, 3148 words

Thurvok, Meldom, Sharenna and Lysha set sail for the lost city of Nhom’zonac, looking for treasure. But they have to get past the Lovecraftian horror guarding the city first.

July 14, 2019: Harlequin (The Culinary Assassin), crime fiction, 1181 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson eats an ice cream sundae and kills a gangster who escaped the hangman.

July 15, 2019: The Beast from the Sea of Blood (Thurvok), sword and sorcery, 2500 words

Thurvok, Meldom, Sharenna and Lysha search for a pirate treasure, enjoy a seafood boil and fight off a giant crab.

July 16, 2019: Tiki Tack (The Culinary Assassin), crime fiction, 1586 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson visits a tiki bar and shoots a mob boss.

July 17, 2019: Crawfish Creole (The Culinary Assassin), crime fiction, 1678 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson has dinner in New Orleans and shoots a vulture capitalist.

I’d been planning to write something else today, but because I have to get up early tomorrow morning, I wrote a Culinary Assassin story instead, because those are fairly short and fast to write.

July 18, 2019: Unwanted Hostages, science fiction, 830 words

Aliens kidnap the leaders of the biggest and most important countries on Earth and hold them hostage, until the Earth surrenders. Unfortunately, no one wants the politicians back.

Another very short one, but it’s been a tough week for me.

July 19, 2019: Tribute, epic fantasy, 2126 words

For the good of the realm, Princess Calyssa is about to be sacrificed to the dragon Gruvrom the Fearsome. But Gruvrom has other ideas.

July 20, 2019: Currywurst (The Culinary Assassin), crime fiction, 1287 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson enjoys a currywurst and shoots a violent pimp.

I’d been planning to write something else today, but I didn’t feel well and so I wrote another culinary assassin story instead.

July 21, 2019: The Ghosts of Doodenbos, historical horror, 2682 words

Never go into the woods alone. Ann, a young widow in 16th century Netherlands, has been hearing those words all her life. But when her little son goes missing, Ann has to venture into the woods to confront the ghosts of Doodenbos.

July 22, 2019: The Thing from the Dread Swamp (Thurvok), sword and sorcery, 3283 words

Thurvok, Meldom, Sharenna and Lysha rescue a kidnapped girl from the clutches of a swamp monster.

July 23, 2019: Legacy, epic fantasy, 2251 words

A farmboy inherits a magic sword from his grandfather and years later uses it to save the village.

July 24, 2019: Ingredients for a New Life (In Love and War), cozy space opera, 4355 words

It’s very early in Anjali and Mikhail’s relationship and they are still trying to navigate their new life together. Food can certainly help and so Anjali makes curry and has some trouble finding the right ingredients.

This is another quiet In Love and War story along the lines of The Taste of Home. And once more, there is food.

July 25, 2019: Puncture Wounds, urban fantasy, 1946 words

One day, Brett wakes up and finds blood on his sheet and a puncture wound in his calf. At first, he dismisses it, but then it happens again and again. So Brett sets out to entrap the person he calls “the night pricker”.

July 26, 2019: The Temple of the Snake God (Thurvok), sword and sorcery, 3002 words

Thurvok, Meldom, Sharenna and Lysha are hired to steal the eye of the idol of the snake god Tseghirun. But the Temple of Tseghirun is not as deserted as it should be and soon our quartet of adventurers are fighting fanatical cultists and vicious snakes.

July 27, 2019: Spelunkers, science fiction, 2628 words

Three spelunkers find an alien portal in a cave in Belgium.

July 28, 2019: Family Picnic on Perasi, science fiction, 2008 words

On the supposedly uninhabited planet of Perasi, a family are enjoying a hiking trip and a picnic in an uncharted alien valley. But Perasi is not as uninhabited as the galactic survey board believes…

July 29, 2019: The Night Court (Thurvok), sword and sorcery, 5533 words

Meldom finds himself accused of a murder he hasn’t committed and Thurvok, Sharenna and Lysha have to race to save him. And they only have until sunrise, otherwise Meldom will be hanged.

July 30, 2019: Hyperbolic, science fantasy, 2577 words

In a universe where spaceship are propelled by sympathetic needlecraft magic: Gem’s twin brother Aran snags one of the coverted slots in the Space Academy. Gem accompanies him as an attendant to cook and clean, do household chores and mend clothes. But one day, Gem’s skill with a needle catches the eye of Professor Pennyworth, who offers Gem a place in her class on needlecraft and advanced mathematics.

Spaceships, magic and crochet, what’s not to love?

July 31, 2019: Mementos and Memories (In Love and War), cozy space opera, 6134 words

During a stroll across the Floating Market of the rim world Sentosa, Anjali and Mikhail come across a Shakyri dagger for sale and track down its owner.

This is another quieter In Love and War story with a sweet elderly gay couple, too.

***

And that’s it. 31 stories written in 31 days. The post-mortem will come sometime in the next few days.

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First Monday Free Fiction: Boardwalk Baby

Welcome to the July 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 every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

Boardwalk Baby by Cora BuhlertThis month’s free story is Boardwalk Baby, a fantasy novelette set on the Jersey Shore that’s perfect for summer.

There are two things about herself that Izzy has always known with absolute certainty: One, that she was adopted and two, that she has an affinity for the sea. For from her earliest memories on, the ocean has always called out to Izzy. But her adoptive parents thwart her attempts to get closer to the sea at every turn.

When Izzy turns eighteen, she goes in search of her past and her birth family. It’s a quest that will take her to the boardwalk of Ocean City, New Jersey, and to a mysterious fur coat that might hold all the answers to Izzy’s questions.

***

Boardwalk Baby

Izzy had always known two things about herself with absolute certainty: One, that she was adopted and two, that she had an affinity for the sea.

She’d learned about the first from a book her parents, her adoptive parents, had always read to her at bedtime when she was little. The book was called The Greatest Gift. It told the story of a big house, drawn in bright, cheerful colours. Women who were too poor or too sick or just had too many children already could put the babies they couldn’t keep into the mailbox of the house. The women, called “birth mothers” in adoption agency jargon, were rendered in washed-out, grey hues, fading from the page as they faded from the lives of their children. The babies, in the other hand, were little bundles of joy with ruddy cheeks and round smiling faces in pink, a yellowish beige and various shades of brown.

Inside the big house, the babies were taken out of the mailbox by roly-poly jolly teddy bears and put into little beds. There was a long row of little beds with babies of all shapes, colours and sizes, cared for by the roly-poly jolly teddy bears and kept behind glass, as if they were dolls in the display windows of Macy’s at Christmas time.

Then a couple came to the house, a couple who were so very sad, because they would love to have children, but couldn’t have any. The jolly teddy bears asked them in and took them to the big room with the long row of little beds behind glass. And the couple walked along the display windows like shoppers walked past Macy’s at Christmas time. Finally, they picked the perfect baby from the many, many babies in the long row of little beds. And then the couple went home with the perfect baby and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Over the years, Izzy had come to hate that book. Oh, it was all right at first. After all, it was a bedtime story and all kids loved bedtime stories, didn’t they? But when her parents kept reading that stupid book to her again and again — never Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales or Where the Wild Things Are or Pippi Longstocking or Horton Hears a Who! or The Rainbow Fish, but always that same bloody book — Izzy had gradually come to hate it. For who wanted to hear the same stupid bedtime story over and over again every single night? Even if, so her parents had insisted, it was Izzy’s own story.

Years later, Izzy had learned that her parents had been given the book by the adoption agency to take home and read to their perfect child to accustom the child to the idea that he or she was adopted. She’d also learned that there were different versions of the book, featuring different coloured parents and babies.

The book was one of the reasons why Izzy hated the adoption agency. Because they honestly thought that such a stupid, silly picture book was all the explanation an adopted kid would ever need or want.

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Boardwalk Baby. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

Check back next month, when there will be a new story available.

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