And therefore, here is the next entry in the Fancast Spotlight project. For more about the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project, go here. You can also check out the other great fanzines and fancasts featured by clicking here.
Today, I’m pleased to feature Light On Light Through, a podcast run by Paul Levinson, who’s a science fiction author, singer/songwriter, media critic and professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University.
Paul Levinson is clearly a very busy man, so I’m thrilled to welcome him to my blog today to talk about Light On Light Through.
Tell us about your podcast or channel.
I posted the first episode of Light On Light Through on 21 October 2006, a little over 15 years ago to the day. The topics of the podcast are everything I find interesting or important, ranging from the cars I drive to the science fiction series I watch on television. The format is usually me talking. Sometimes I do interviews with editors, authors and actors, sometimes I post readings that I do of my science fiction stories and concerts of my music. I started the podcast doing as many as two or three episodes a week. As the years went by, I became so involved in other projects – finishing a novel, making a new recording – that the number of episodes of Light On Light Through were just three or four per year. But during the lockdown due to the pandemic, I was spending much more time at home, and by the Summer of 2020 I was back to doing as many as 4 or 5 episodes a month. The past few months, the early Fall of 2021, have brought such a cascade of great science fiction on the screen that I’m posting podcast reviews several times a week. In just the past few days, I’ve watched and reviewed a new episode of the Foundation series, the first half of the new Dune movie, and the debut of a new series, Invasion.
Who are the people behind your podcast or channel?
Just me. I do all the taking and recording and posting links to the episodes all over the known and unknown universe. That’s actually one of the things I really love about podcasting – I can do whatever I want with the podcast, whenever I want. Podcasting is a great way to satisfy your creative impulses.
Why did you decide to start your podcast or channel?
I love to talk. That’s one of the reasons I became a professor. But the advantage of podcasting is you can talk about whatever you want to talk about. My first episode in 2006 was about the joys of driving my new hybrid Prius. The second was a review of Battlestar Galactica. Then I had episodes that discussed why I like Trader Joe’s supermarkets and dislike Daylight Savings Time. By the way, I also love to write – that’s why I became an author. I review lots of science fiction on my blog. These often are written springboards for my podcast episodes.
What format do you use for your podcast or channel and why did you choose this format?
I upload MP3s of my episodes to Libsyn. I’ve been with them from the very beginning of my podcast in 2006. Yes, they do charge a monthly fee, but they have great statistics on number and places of downloads, and they have great distribution to social media and podcast apps all over the world.
The fan categories at the Hugos were there at the very beginning, but they are also the categories which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines, fancasts and other fan projects are important?
Fanzines and other fan projects are vitally important because they are the voice of the people – literally so in the case of podcasts. Why, for example, should reviews of science fiction television series be only found in professional publications on the Internet, like Variety or The New York Times? The beauty and utility of podcasting is that anyone can express their opinion for the world to hear.
In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online and fancasts have sprung up. What do you think the future of fan media looks like?
I think the future of fanzines and fancasts is very bright. Podcasts have been bursting out all over the past few years. Listeners love their convenience and specific focus on subjects of interest. I expect fan media to continue growing at an even faster pace.
The four fan categories of the Hugos (best fanzine, fan writer, fan artist and fancast) tend to get less attention than the fiction and dramatic presentation categories. Are there any awesome fanzines, fancasts, fan writers and fan artists you’d like to recommend?
Right now, I’m really focused on the Foundation series on Apple TV+ and the original Isaac Asimov stories and novels. My favorite fancast about the importance of the Foundation narrative, and its relevance to our world today, is Joel McKinnon’s Seldon Crisis podcast. My favorite fan writer review site is Cora Buhlert’s own blog, where she provides in-depth, spirited reviews of each episode, with a copy of Asimov’s novels close at hand.
But before we get to this week’s episode of Foundation, I also want to point you to the other TV show of which I’m currently doing episode by episode reviews. Because my latest Raumpatrouille Orion (Space Patrol Orion) reviews are up at Galactic Journey. Here’s episode 2, “Planet Off Course” and episode 3 “Guardians of the Law”, which also happens to be an unofficial adaptation of an Isaac Asimov robot story.
Which brings us back to Foundation, one of the comparatively few official Asimov adaptations.
It’s time for the first entry in my Semiprozine Spotlight project. For more about the Semiprozine Spotlight project, go here.
I’ll start off the Semiprozine Spotlight project by interviewing a good friend of mine, Jean-Paul Garnier of the Space Cowboy Books Presents Simultaneous Times science fiction podcast. Come on, of course, I contacted people I already know first before cold-e-mailing editors I don’t know. And in the interest of full disclosure, yes, Simultaneous Times have produced three stories of mine to date.
So I’m happy to welcome Jean-Paul Garnier of Space Cowboy Books, a great SFF specialty bookstore in Joshua Tree, California, as well as producer and narrator of the Simultaneous Times science fiction podcast.
Tell us about your magazine.
Space Cowboy Books Presents: Simultaneous Times is a monthly science fiction podcast, released on the 15th of each month. We create audio adaptations of stories by contemporary science fiction authors from all over the world, set to original soundtracks created by our team of composers. When possible we do cast readings of the stories, and we have featured works by authors such as: David Brin, Rudy Rucker, Michael Butterworth, and tons of other wonderful contemporary writers.
Who are the people behind your magazine?
We are blessed with an amazing team! Our main composers are RedBlueBlackSilver and Phog Masheeen, but we have also featured music from Dain Luscombe, Julie Carpenter, Oneirothopter, Patrick Urn, Scott Scott Smigiel, and loopool. My partner Zara Kand is also an integral part of the podcast and does proofreading and voice acting. We’ve also had a long list of voice actors participate and bring their unique skill to the production. And last but not least, we’ve had an incredible list of authors and poets who have graced us with their work.
Why did you decide to start your magazine?
All of our projects were born out of Space Cowboy Books, our science fiction specialty bookstore in Joshua Tree, CA. While we love selling books, the goal has always been to contribute to the amazing world of science fiction. We’ve been fortunate to meet so many great authors when hosting readings, both online and in person, and from there we branched out and do our best to help support the SF community at large.
What format do you use for your magazine (print zine, PDF zine, e-mail zine, online zine, podcast, etc…) and why did you choose this format?
Our main output is in podcast format, and I decided to go this route because of my experience as an audio engineer and background in radio. But we also produce a series of paperback anthologies featuring stories from the podcast and some appearing for the first time. In addition to this we also produce a monthly print newsletter which features interviews with SF authors and editors. The newsletter is available for free subscription and is also available on our website as a free PDF download. We also just released a PDF ebook featuring authors from Simultaneous Times podcast, as well as illustrations from amazing artists all over the world. The ebook, Simultaneous Times 2.5, is also available for free download at our website.
Science fiction, fantasy and horror were born in the pulps and short fiction has long been the beating heart of the genre. However, the focus of attention is increasingly moving towards novels and series. So why do you think SFF short fiction is important and worthy of attention?
So many of the great novelists got their start writing for magazines, and I think that today this still rings true. The short story is a very different art form than the novel, and not all authors excel at both. But generally those that perfect their craft in the short story markets can go on to have wonderful careers. Selling a novel can be difficult and can take a long time. The short fiction markets tend to move faster, and therefore gives authors opportunities for publication that would not be available in long form fiction. I know for working at the bookstore that many readers still prefer short fiction, or even flash. Not everyone has the luxury of time to read novels, and short stories fill the gaps for those folks who still want to read.
One big problem for SFF magazines is monetarization. Readers are happy to consume short fiction, but they’re often unwilling to pay for it. What are your strategies for financing your magazine and paying your writers and staff?
As for most small presses this is always a struggle, but fortunately we have the bookstore to help pay the bills. We pay all of our writers, and this money is often generated from articles I write about podcasting, which appear on DreamFoundry.org’s blog. In late 2020 we were also extremely fortunate to receive the SFWA’s Givers Grant, which has helped pay for the postage for our newsletter and for the hosting of the podcast. At some point we will set up a Patreon, but for the better part of the fours years the podcast has been running I have paid for it out of pocket, because I love what I do and always wanted to give back the SF community.
The format of fiction magazines has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Print magazines still exist, but are no longer as dominant. Online and PDF zines are now the dominant form of short fiction delivery and fiction podcasts are becoming ever more popular. So where do you think magazines will go next?
I suspect that many of the wonderful online and PDF magazines will move into print as their popularity grows, and I see more and more of them starting to podcast as well. As always, predicting the future can be tricky, but I’m sure that the literary arts will continue to morph with and exploit new technological changes. That being said I think that for many of us print is still the goal, there is just no replacement for holding a book in your hand. A few of the things I’d like to see are more non-linear storytelling and I’ve always loved the Shared Universe approach, collaboration between writers and artists – we are fortunate to live in a world where it is fairly easy to connect, so let’s connect!
Are there any other great magazines, podcasts, editors, stories, etc… you’d like to recommend?
There are so many wonderful magazines and podcasts today that it’s hard to choose, but a few of my favorites are Hexagon Magazine and Mermaids Monthly. Not a podcast, but my favorite SF radio program is Mind Webs, which ran from the mid-70s into the early 80s (the complete recordings can be found on archive.org).
Thank you, Jean-Paul, for stopping by and answering my questions.
Do check out Simultaneous Times, cause it’s a great podcast. And should you ever find yourself in Joshua Tree, California, visit Space Cowboy Books in person or check out their online store from anywhere in the world.
Do you run a semiprozine and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.
Earlier this year, I started the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project to highlight the many worthy fanzines, blogs and fancasts are out there.
Originally, that project was intended to coincide with the nomination period for the 2021 Hugo Awards. However, I’ll be continuing this project on and off, because there are new fanzines, blogs and fancasts springing up all the time plus plenty of existing ones that I missed the first time around. Besides, after the Hugo nominations is before the Hugo nominations.
3.3.13: Best Semiprozine. Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, which does not qualify as a fancast, and which in the previous calendar year met at least one (1) of the following criteria:
(1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication,
(2) was generally available only for paid purchase
And because semiprozines can not be professional by definition, here’s the WSFS definition of a professional publication:
3.2.11: A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria:
(1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or,
(2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.
That’s a lot of legalese, but the short version is that semiprozines are smaller magazines that pay their contributors and/or staff in other than copies, but don’t make enough money to provide at least a quarter of the income for staff or owners.
Semiprozines range from the very well known to the obscure, so I thought it was time to shine a light on the many great semiprozines that are out there and decided to interview the editors and staff of various semiprozines. I hope this series will be of interest not just to potential Hugo nominators, but to everybody who is looking for great SFF short fiction.
I want to feature as many different semiprozines as possible and everybody is welcome to participate. However, I reserve the right to refuse to feature something, e.g. if a zine (and/or the people behind it) is known for shitposting, harrassment and generally terrible behaviour.
I will post responses as I get them, including potentially controversial answers, unless there are egregiously problematic, e.g. racist, sexist, homophobic, etc… comments, in which case I will contact the interviewee to discuss edits.
Finally, a feature is not an endorsement. Instead, the Semiprozine Spotlight project is intended as a resource to show potential Hugo nominators and SFF fans in general what’s out there.
The first Semiprozine Spotlight will go live tomorrow and I hope to have many more. Do you run a semiprozine and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.
Your zine is not actually a semiprozine? Well, I’m still running the Fanzine and Fancast sSpotlights, too, so contact me anyway.
Your zine is actually a prozine? Well, I’ll still interview you, but I’ll mark the post respectively. Though I doubt that will be much of a problem.
So check out all the great semiprozines that will be featured and consider nominating your favourites for the 2022 Hugo Awards next year.
But before I get to my adventures at Octocon, I first want to point you to another great discussion I was involved in at the Hugos There! podcast last weekend. Hosted by Seth Healey, a panel consisting of Ivor Watkins, Alan Bailey of the If This Goes On… Don’t Panic! podcast, Lise Andreasen, Sarah Elkins, J.W. Wartick, Lori Anderson, Haley Zapal and Amy Salley of the Hugo Girl! podcast as well as yours truly met to discuss the 2021 nominees for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
So let’s get back to Octocon. The con started on Friday, but my first panel was the international comics panel on Saturday morning. True to form, we were a very international group of panelists. Moderator Sakuya from France, Ann Gry from Russia, Christopher Hwang from Singapore, with whom I was on a similar panel at the Dublin Worldcon in 2019, and me from Germany. “Is anybody here actually from Ireland?” someone asked during the pre-panel chat.
Every virtual con is bound to have technical issues and this panel was the one that was affected, because the stream didn’t go live until ten minutes after the designated start time. We panelists were a tad confused – “Are we live or not?” – since we were discussing quantum mechanics (like you do) rather than the comics we were supposed to discuss. Eventually, we got hold of an Octocon volunteer and the panel went live.
We discussed our own comics experience growing up, different regional comics traditions, the impact of American superhero comics (everybody wants their own shared universe a la Marvel now) and how well comics translate across cultures (remarkably well). This was a fascinating panel, especially since I know very little about Russian comics and not a lot more about comics from South East Asia.
As for how well comics translate across cultures, manga is read and understood by millions of people worldwide, even though it often requires reading in a format that westerners are not used to. Also, Asterix is one of the most reprinted and translated comics ever. And people all over the world have no problems understanding and enjoying the stories, even if they are not familiar with the historical background. The many allusions to French politics in the originals (sometimes translated into allusions to local politics) are also lost on international audiences. In fact, much of what I know about the Roman occupation of Gaul I know from comics like Asterix or the lesser known Alix. The rest is from reading Commentarii de Bello Gallico by Gaius Julius Caesar (a biased source, if there ever was one) in high school Latin class. The Latin teacher was a huge Asterix fan BTW. And pretty much everything I know about the Eighty Years War a.k.a. the Dutch war of independence against Spain comes from a Belgian comic called De Geuzen.
The thing about virtual cons is that you are both at a con and at home, so I went to make lunch after the panel and took care of some other household stuff. Then I returned to the computer for my next panel about the fantasy genre before Lord of the Rings. Unlike the previous panel, this one was all-Irish except for me. The moderator was Elaine McIonyn and the other panelists were scholar, author and editor Jack Fennell and Dr. Helen Conrad-O’Briain from Trinity College.
I was the resident specialist for American pulp fantasy, mainly Weird Tales and Unknown and their mainstays like Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft (yes, he was a racist, but you also can’t ignore the huge influence he had), C.L. Moore, Fritz Leiber, etc…, whereas the other panelists contributed knowledge about authors like E.R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake and of course Ireland’s own Lord Dunsany. We had great discussion, covering e.g. that secondary world fantasy was extremely rare pre-Tolkien – most fantasy was either historical fantasy (Conan is historical fantasy, since the Hyborian Age is supposed to be our past that never was) or contemporary fantasy (Weird Tales published a lot of what we would now call urban fantasy) or portal fantasy – with the fantastic being placed either someplace far away (difficult to do once the previously blank spots on the map vanished) or in the distant past (again difficult as historical knowledge increased).
As for Lord of the Rings, the interesting thing is that it was a true slow-burn success. The Hobbit came out in 1937 and was viewed as a children’s book. The Lord of the Rings trilogy came out in hardcover in 1954 and 1955 and received a positive, but not enthusiastic reception. The trilogy was also far from a runaway bestseller, largely because hardcovers were really expensive. The runaway success of Lord of the Rings didn’t begin until 1965, when Donald Wollheim published a not quite legal paperback edition of the trilogy (Tolkien sued and Wollheim paid him 8000 US-dollars in royalties, a huge sum in 1965, which also defused Tolkien’s prejudice against paperbacks), which sold like the proverbial hotcakes and also put the already simmering fantasy revival of the 1960s (see the Galactic Journey article about Cele Goldsmith Lalli, editor of Fantastic) into overdrive.
But the fantasy that was published after and often directly as a result of the huge success of The Lord of the Rings in paperback were not the Tolkien clones that dominated the fantasy shelves in the 1980s and 1990s. No, the first of those – The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, on which I may have been a little hard on the panel – was not published until 1977, twelve years after the paperback publication of The Lord of the Rings and four years after Tolkien’s death. Instead, paperback publishers printed any kind of fantasy they could get their hands on and so we got the Lancer Conan reprints, which ushered in the sword and sorcery boom, the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser collections, anthologies like the Flashing Swords series, the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, which reprinted a lot of the classic pre-Tolkien fantasy by authors like Lord Dunsany that were discussed on the panel, and 1960s classics like The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle or A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.
The glut of bad Tolkien clones in the 1980s and 1990s is not Tolkien’s fault – he wrote a unique and amazing work and had no idea nor any intention to create a genre – anymore than Robert E. Howard is to blame for the glut of bad “Clonans” of the 1970s and 1980s, published decades after his death by people who didn’t understand his work. It’s not even Terry Brooks’ fault, cause Sword of Shannara was just one book that eventually became a series. No, the reason that the fantasy genre became overrun by bad would-be Tolkien tomes were the economics of publishing. Tolkien clones sold, more than the more idiosyncratic works. Plus, rising printing costs drove book lengths upwards throughout the 1980s and 1990s. And epic fantasies are often big fat books in lengthy series. whereas e.g. sword and sorcery tends towards shorter length. No wonder publishers loved them.
How would the fantasy genre have looked if Tolkien had never existed or at least never written Lord of the Rings? I suspect we would have seen the rise of fantasy anyway, because that trend was already underway by 1965, though it might have been less meteoric and would probably have looked differently. The sword and sorcery boom would probably still have happened, if only because the sword and sorcery revival was already in progress by 1965 and the Lancer Conan reprints, which fuelled the boom, would probably have happened anyway. The bust of the 1980s would probably have happened as well, though I suspect sword and sorcery would not have vanished as completely as it did, if big fat epic fantasy hadn’t been there to fill the void. As for other trends, it’s possible that contemporary fantasy would have reappeared earlier than it did. And without Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin might have become the dominant voice in the genre via The Chronicles of Earthsea. Maybe we would have seen more fantasy in non-western settings such as Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro series or Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Tomoe Gozen series.
After the fantasy before Tolkien panel, I switched over to watch Angeline B. Adams‘ fascinating presentation about disability and the roots of heroic fantasy. Then I had dinner and in the evening went to an open Zoom chat for Octocon members, which was a lot of fun.
On Sunday, I was on the panel about “Uncovering the Hidden Treasures of the Past” with Michael Carroll, who was also the Octocon Guest of Honour, Cheryl Morgan, Deirdre Thornton. Ian Moore was the moderator. This panel was recorded and may be watched along with other great content at the Octocon Twitch channel.
Now everybody who knows me should know that I love talking about old SFF and the many great stories and novels of past decades that are not nearly as well known as they should be, so that was exactly the right panel for me. We agreed that reading and discussing older SFF is valuable, because it shows us where the genre came from and how it got where it is now. Besides, actually reading older SFF and not just the few books anointed classics either is also the best antidote against the common claim that women, people of colour, LGBTQ people, [insert minority here] were not writing SFF before the current time, because women, people of colour, LGBTQ people, etc… were always part of the genre, we have just chosen to forget and ignore many of them, denying the writers who follow role models.
Finally, we also discussed why some works are remembered, while other equally good or better works are forgotten and came to the conclusion that quite often the editors of reprint anthologies are to blame, e.g. Isaac Asimov’s and Martin H. Greenberg’s Golden Age year by year anthologies drew disproportionately from Astounding while ignoring many of the good stories published in the likes of Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories or Weird Tales (which Asimov famously disliked), cementing the belief that Astounding was the best magazine of the era, even though that isn’t true, if you read the actual magazines. Also, it really helps to be a white cisman to be remembered and reprinted, though it’s no guarantee.
Because one of the recommendations for a work that should be remembered more was The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner. Now I absolutely agree that we should remember The Sheep Look Up, it’s just a pity that we forgot it in the first place. Also, I remember reading an article lamenting that everything by John Brunner was out of print in SFX magazine sometime in 1995/96, i.e. twenty-five years ago. Now, in 2021, at least some of John Brunner’s work is in print, but we still need to remind people to read him.
Another recommendation were the Witch World books by Andre Norton, another seminal series that really shouldn’t be forgotten. Also, it’s a pity if we are on the verge of forgetting Andre Norton, considering how prolific she was and for how many people her works for younger readers served as a gateway into the genre. Especially since Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles are in no danger of being forgotten. My own recommendations were for Margaret St. Clair and Rosel George Brown BTW.
Octocon also had craft workshops and projects, including one where you could crochet your very own version of Octo, the Octocon mascot. The actual workshop conflicted with one of my panels, but then I can crochet and read a pattern well enough not to need a workshop, though crafting with others is fun. So I also made an cuddly Octo during the weekend – from yarn I had brought back from the 2019 Worldcon in Ireland. You can see him below:
All in all, I really enjoyed Octocon. The program offered a variety of fascinating items across a wide range of subjects. In fact, I found the Octocon program much better than that of some much bigger cons.
October is the spooky month, so it’s the perfect time to post a spooky story. Of course, I’m still horror-impaired, though I’m getting better, so most of my attempts at writing horror either turn into “Let’s figure out what the ghost/werewolf/vampire/insert monster here wants” or they turn into humour pieces skewering horror tropes.
So follow Lucas, as his attempt to summon a demon goes quite differently than expected.
Lucas took a deep breath. Everything was ready.
The altar had been prepared and the ritual circle had been drawn on the basement floor with chalk pilfered from the classroom. A gong had been set up. The candles and the incense — proper church incense and not those joss sticks from the Chinese import store — awaited. The correct page was bookmarked in the ancient grimoire he’d found in the local used book store. Lucas had put on a ceremonial robe that looked only a little bit like the bathrobe it was. The athame was ready — forged of virgin steel as required (though Lucas wasn’t sure if there even was non-virginal steel — after all, who had sex with daggers?). He’d even procured a sacrifice, a clucking chicken that had gifted him with a bonus egg it had laid that afternoon.
Lucas checked his wristwatch. The hour was here, determined by arcane calculations. In its cage, the chicken clucked and idly picked at some grains.
Time to get started. Time to summon a demon, a real bona-fide demon. A demon who would hopefully help Lucas win the heart and undying love of Bethany Morris, the prettiest girl in his class.
Lucas lit the candles and the incense and promptly inhaled a plume of smoke, which caused a violent coughing fit and drove tears into his eyes.
So Lucas had to step out of the circle again to get his inhaler, which he’d forgotten. Of course in theory, you weren’t supposed to leave the circle, once the ritual had started. But then, Lucas hadn’t gotten started yet, not really. All he’d done was light the incense and the candles. And besides, he was extra careful not to smudge the chalk lines that marked the circle.
Once he’d dealt with his inopportune coughing fit, Lucas picked up the grimoire and began to read, solemnly intoning the words. The summoning ritual was in Latin with a bit of Hebrew sprinkled in, as magical rituals tended to be.
Of course, Lucas spoke neither Latin nor Hebrew, so he had absolutely no idea just what he was intoning. He only hoped it wasn’t something terribly embarrassing.
Besides, the guy in the used book store who’d sold him the grimoire had said that most magicians did not actually speak Latin, let alone Hebrew. It was perfectly okay just to recite the words.
So Lucas did just that. He recited the words, struck the gong at the prescribed moments and did his best to ignore the clucking chicken. He did all that and nothing, absolutely nothing happened, except that the chicken began to pick at stray crumbs of ash raining from the incense burner.
After about ten minutes of nothing happening, Lucas began to feel very silly indeed. After all, he was standing here in his bathrobe in the basement, breathing incense fumes that made his asthma flare up and reciting strange words in a language he did not understand, while a chicken offered a running commentary in clicks and clucks.
It was, in a word, ridiculous. And obviously not going to work, because there was no sign of a demon, not even the faint smell of brimstone, whatever brimstone was supposed to smell like. Unless it smelled like this godawful stinking church incense he’d bought.
Lucas abruptly stopped and plopped down on his butt in the middle of his magical circle. He looked over at the cage with the clucking chicken and wondered what to do with it now. The ritual called for slitting its throat with the athame and spilling its blood on the altar, but Lucas probably could never have brought himself to do that anyway. The chicken was a living creature, after all, and Lucas was just too damned soft-hearted to kill it, demon summoning ritual or not.
Maybe he could just keep the chicken as a pet. After all, he’d always wanted a pet. And fresh eggs every morning would sure be nice and a welcome change from last night’s stale pizza.
So he reached for the cage and got to his feet. “Sorry, pal,” he said to the chicken, “I wasn’t really going to slit your throat, you know? No hard feelings, okay?”
And then, as he was just about to leave the circle, the cage with the chicken in hand, the unthinkable happened. A demon appeared in a puff of smoke that stank of the aftermath of a high school chemistry experiment gone wrong.
Okay, so that’s what brimstone was.
“I am Razariel, the Fearsome, and that was the worst Latin I ever heard,” the demon thundered.
The creature looked just like Lucas had expected a demon to look. Blood red skin, yellow eyes, cloven hooves, horns and a spiked tail.
“It’s ‘sacrificio’ with a k-sound, not an s-sound,” the demon continued, clearly infuriated.
Lucas took a step back, stumbled over the altar and promptly landed on his butt, though thankfully still inside the circle. The chicken squeaked in protest.
“I… I beg your pardon,” he stammered.
“Your Latin is absolutely abominable,” the demon continued, “And don’t even get me started on your Hebrew. At any rate, I suspect those strange throat-clearing noises you just made were supposed to be Hebrew. Cause if they were really just throat-clearing, I’d see a doctor about that. What do they teach you kids at school these days?”
“Ahem, I… I took Spanish,” Lucas stammered.
“Well, next time before you summon anybody, learn proper Latin first,” the demon snarled, “And is that a chicken? Let me guess, you wanted to sacrifice it to gain my favour?”
“That was the idea, yes.”
“Do I look like I want a chicken?” the demon demanded, “If I get a hankering for chicken, I go to Kentucky Fried Chicken just like everybody else. But if I’m to be summoned, I at least expect a nice, juicy virgin, preferably two, as a reward.”
The demon sniffed the air.
“Oh dear, you are a virgin,” it said.
Lucas felt himself blushing furiously. “Uhm yes, but…”
“You weren’t planning to sacrifice yourself, were you?”
Lucas shook his head.
“Well, good for you and the chicken here that I’ve just had a nice big, super-spicy burrito and am not hungry anyway. And just a tip, next time you want to summon someone, bring a burrito rather than a live chicken…”
“I… I’ll remember it, thanks.”
The demon sighed, emitting a burp of sulphur in the process.
“All right, so you summoned me. Congratulations. Now tell me what you want, so I can get back to my Narcos binge.”
“Uhm, I… I…”
“Are you brain-damaged or just stupid? You did summon me for a reason, did you? Not just to see if I would show up. Cause I’m warning you, we demons don’t like jokers who summon us just to prove a point.”
“I didn’t,” Lucas said hastily, “I really wanted something.”
The demon tapped its cloved-hoofed foot, while its tail swished back and forth. “Well, what?”
“B… Be… Bethany Morris. I want the undying love of Bethany Morris.”
The demon rolled its yellow eyes. “That’s all? You summon a demon from hell and interrupt my Narcos binge just to win the heart of some girl? What happened? Was the local occult shop all out of love charms? Or did you accidentally open that grimoire on the wrong page and ended up with a demon summoning spell instead of a love spell?”
“I… It said in there…” Lucas pointed at the grimoire. “…that you would grant me my heart’s desire. And my heart’s desire is the undying love of Bethany Morris.”
The demon emitted another sulphurous sigh. “Humans. So predictable. You are aware that she’ll probably want to get married and move to the suburbs one day, that the sex will get boring and that she’ll get fat and that she’ll want babies that cry and poop all the time…”
The demon glared at Lucas with its yellow eyes.
“So are you really sure you want Bethany Whatshername and not riches beyond your imagination or everlasting fame or to become the best blues musician of all time or one of the other classic wishes?”
“No, I…” Lucas hesitated for a moment, because fame and fortune and musical talent and riches beyond his imagination really did sound tempting. “…I want the love of Bethany Morris.”
“All right then…”
The demon made a few strange gestures that looked a bit like interpretative dance and mumbled some words in what Lucas presumed was correctly pronounced Latin. Or maybe it was correctly pronounced Hebrew.
“There. That’s it,” the demon said with a toothy smile, “Now go find Bethany Whatshername and talk to her, which is what you should have done in the first place. Maybe tell her you summoned a demon to win her love, cause that’s sure to impress her.”
The demon looked Lucas up and down with its yellow eyes.
“On the other hand, maybe not. Anyway, if we’re all done now, then good-bye and all that jazz. Narcos awaits.”
The demon vanished in a puff of foul-smelling smoke.
When it was gone and Lucas had stopped coughing, he turned to the chicken.
“All right, so do you think I should call Bethany?”
The chicken clucked once. Lucas decided to take that as a yes.
That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new free story will be posted.
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.
So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie and small press authors newly published this month, though some August books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.
Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have urban fantasy, epic fantasy, adventure fantasy, YA fantasy, paranormal mystery, paranormal romance, fairy tales, space opera, military science fiction, planetary romance, post-apocalyptic fiction, cyberpunk, biopunk, LitRPG, cosmic horror, historical horror, psychological horror, vampires, dragons, demons, angels, fae, giants, space marines, aliens, fae princes, space mages, Martian invasions, Victorian zombies, crime-busting witches, crime-busting ghosts, amnesiac jailers, troubled insomniacs, Cthulhu 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.
Fire and plague. Certainly no strangers to London Town. But when legions of living dead rise from the Thames’ fetid waters to feast upon the living, the city teeters on the brink of antihalation. And while floaters seek blood, another army takes advantage of the chaos. Boiling out of their rookeries of crime, marauders swarm through London’s affluent neighborhoods looting and burning.
Hooligans vs the Living Dead: A Victorian Zombie Adventure!
With the beleaguered police and the Queen’s army battling twin plagues—human and inhuman—London’s criminal youth gangs join forces to save their city. Will Tagget, leader of the Lambeth Lads, together with his enemies Bill Drummond of the Drury Lane Gang, bull-necked George Fish of the Elephant and Castle Gang, shillelagh-wielding Dirk Bogart of the New Cut Gang, Quincy Bird of City Road, along with their female counterparts—Lambeth Kate, Queen Jane, New Cut Beth, Razor Lil and Dirty Deidre—set out on an adventure the telling of which might earn a man a lifetime of free drinks. If he lives to tell it.
Will these violent gangs put aside their rivalries long enough to get the job done?
Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.
As a bookish, introverted database programmer, Morgen Keller never thought she was a candidate for a midlife crisis. That was before her husband divorced her, her boss let her go, and her grandmother died. Forty wasn’t supposed to look like this.
When Morgen heads up to the small town of Bellrock, Washington, to settle the estate, she looks forward to taking a peaceful break from life and figuring out what she’s going to do next.
But peace isn’t to be had. The old farmhouse is full of witch paraphernalia, a fearsome werewolf has claimed the property, and contrary to what the family was told, Grandma didn’t die of natural causes.
Embroiled in a mystery, and heir to powers she knew nothing about, Morgen must turn to the only person who might be able to help: the werewolf who threatened to rip her throat out for trespassing.
This isn’t the fresh start on life that Morgen had in mind.
A Witch in Wolf Wood is perfect for fans of mystery, magic, slow-burn romance, and second chances.
Rhonda is a noble giant, a huge savage beauty learning to become a ranger and a chieftess. But five centuries after a terrible war eliminated the noble giants’ civilization, Rhonda wakes up alone on a runic ritual site far from home. Her culture is plundered, erased, and nearly forgotten. Terrible beasts roam the land, and smaller beings are taking over. Stranger yet, there’s a mystical mechanism revealing to Rhonda her class, attributes, perks, star power, and more.
It’s the Star System!
And its master could be an eldritch thing covering the world, unknown to all except the giantess herself.
Follow Rhonda and her friends on an epic CONQUEST to collect star power, go berserk on their enemies, and make an impact no one can ignore. The noble giants’ civilization may have fallen, but it’s Rhonda’s birthright to shake the realm.
The world ended five years ago. Caleb Franks has lived in the shadows ever since, scraping together a meager existence on his homestead with his faithful friend, a Great Pyrenees named Elim.
Then the North American People’s Army shows up, promising a new way of life: ready food, security, community, and maybe even a family someday, if he proves himself worthy. All they ask in return is absolute loyalty.
Caleb will need to make a choice: security, or freedom. All that hangs in the balance is everything.
This is a post-apocalyptic novelette. It is a work of speculative fiction and though in no way graphic, may contain elements that some readers will find disturbing.
From Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree, California: A free e-book companion to the Space Cowboy Books Presents: Simultaneous Times science fiction anthology podcast.
Featuring stories by: Cora Buhlert, Kim Martin, Brent A. Harris, Renan Bernardo, RedBlueBlackSilver, Robin Rose Graves, Douglas A. Blanc, Michael Butterworth & J. Jeff Jones – with illustrations by: Austin Hart, Dante Luiz, Chynna DeSimone, Douglas A. Blanc, & Zara Kand.
He saved my life, only to steal it away with his dragon’s blood.
Midlife was supposed to be steady, where I’d find everything I needed and finally get it together.
Nope. Hollywood lied. Because here I was, again, trying to get my legs under me.
I’d lost my job, fallen into the Atlantic, and woken up changed forever. Forever as in eternity forever because the blood my rescuer gave me to save my life had one itty bitty unforeseen consequence.
It made me a vampire.
I know, fang my life.
Now I’d need a miracle just to get through the day. And that miracle is Alistair, the handsome dragon shifter who saved my life and really shouldn’t exist. But he is very much a real man–and a real temptation.
And he’s offering me a fresh start that comes with a secret organization of supernaturals who live in the shadows.
Harper Harlow is ready to move forward with her business, which just so happens to include taking ownership of the beleaguered Whisper Cove Cemetery. She and her partner Zander Pritchett have big plans … until the day they close on the property and discover a body on one of the well-worn pathways.
Cassie Clifton is recently divorced, a devoted runner, and an individual with a lot of secrets. She was estranged from her parents before her death and apparently desperate to get out of town. Why, though? Harper is determined to figure answers, no matter how hard she has to dig.
Harper’s husband Jared Monroe is on the case but the proximity of death to his new wife has him spinning. It was supposed to be a fun business endeavor, a way for Harper to continue running her cemetery tours without oversight. It’s turned into so much more.
Harper and Jared join together, and when they uncover ties between Cassie and one of their closest friends, they’re thrown for a loop. Have they embedded themselves with a killer?
It’s a race to the finish to find Cassie’s murderer and bolster Harper’s new business in the process. It’s going to take everything they have – every member of their motley crew of friends working together – to cross the finish line safely.
Death is stalking Whisper Cove again. Will they all survive to see another day?
Mina Daaé dreams of performing on Broadway. Like her great ancestor, Christine Daaé, who sang at the prestigious Palais Garnier a hundred years before, Mina has the voice of an angel. But after graduating from Conservatoire de Paris, fortune fails her. Until the circus comes to town.
Mina’s close friend Toni Vollini offers her a role in his new Broadway play mixing Mozart with clowns. Known as The Harlequin, the musical is an inimitable adaptation of the opera Don Giovanni. Toni says Mina will soar, but with pathologic acrophobia, she’s afraid she’ll fall. And the ghost in her head says she will.
Toni and a ghost vie for her love, but Mina thinks her ghost is just another hallucination. Or is her ghost a phantom of the opera?
Phantom Masquerade is a contemporary adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera integrating romance and the paranormal.
A collection of short stories inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. These stories are not parodies or pastiches but darkly ironic fantasies that connect with the Mythos at a tangent. Open-minded devotees of Lovecraft may find amusement in the offbeat ideas, paradoxical plots, whimsical language and strange originality of these tales. But whether you know what you want or not, be assured of one thing: Cthulhu wants you!
She knew her hand in marriage would be sold. She had no idea a fae prince was the buyer.
Katria swore she’d never fall in love. She’s seen what “love” means through the cruelty of her family. So when she’s married off to the mysterious Lord Fenwood for a handsome price, all Katria wants is a better life than the one she’s leaving. Feelings are off the table.
But her new husband makes not falling in love difficult.
As their attraction begins to grow, so too do the oddities within her new life: strange rules, screams in the night, and attacks by fae that Katria never thought were real. When she witnesses a ritual not meant for human eyes, Katria finds herself spirited away to the land of Midscape.
Surviving the fae wilds as a human is hard enough. Katria must survive as a human who accidently pilfered the magic of ancient kings – magic a bloodthirsty king is ready to kill her for in order to keep his stolen throne – and her new husband is the rightful heir in hiding.
The power to save the fae is in her hands. But who will save her from a love she vowed never to feel?
Scout Randall knows what she is, more than a witch, more powerful than she ever thought imaginable. She’s only hit the tip of the iceberg on what she can do. Now she has to grapple with another problem.
When her former partner Evan was believed dead in a vampire attack, she blamed herself, mourned, and tried to move on. Now he’s back, and he’s more than anybody ever imagined, too. Unfortunately, nobody can find him.
When news reaches Scout that there’s been a potential vampire attack in neighboring Hemlock Cove, she packs her bags and hits the parnormal tourist destination with her boyfriend Gunner as backup. She’s not prepared for what she finds, including a gaggle of witches who like to cause trouble wherever they go.
Evan is there, lurking in the shadows and struggling with an identity he didn’t ask for, but death is stalking the town from multiple directions. Murder, mayhem, and monsters are afoot and Scout is determined to get to the bottom of it all … even if her life is in danger in the process.
The baddest motorcycle gang in the Midwest is about to meet the Winchester witches. The world will never be the same.
When an ancient sorcerer pursues an enchanted blade at any cost, only one man stands in his way.
Archaeologists uncovering a lost Mayan city unearth a magic artifact. An earthquake disturbs the operations of neighboring narcotraffickers. An ancient sorcerer and his mercenary henchmen arrive to claim the artifact.
When these three factions converge, Karl Thorson, ex-Special Forces, is thrust into action.
Dexicos Megistos, a nigh immortal sorcerer, wants to retrieve a mystical jade dagger. Alejandra Matamoros-Lopez wants to smuggle narcotics through the tunnels beneath the ruins, avoiding the notice of rival cartels. Professor May Chen wants to see if any sparks remain from her relationship with the head of the archaeological dig.
Karl Thorson just wants to do his job, and maybe have a cold beer.
Can he safeguard the archaeologists, especially the lovely Professor May Chen? Can he defeat a murderous band of narcotraffickers? And can he deprive the sorcerer Dexicos Megistos of the jade dagger?
Praised by Publishers Weekly as “slickly paced” and “overflowing with witty banter,” The Black Parade (Book One), She Who Fights Monsters (Book Two), and The Holy Dark (Book Three) tell the tale of Seer Jordan Amador, her snarky partner and paramour Michael, and a siege of ghosts and murderous demons out to cause Hell on Earth.
The Black Parade (Book #1):
Jordan Amador. 21. New Yorker. Waitress. Mild alcoholic. Murderer.
Two years ago, Jordan accidentally shot and killed a Seer: a person who can see, hear, and talk to ghosts with unfinished business. Her crime came with a hefty price, too. She has two years to help a hundred souls cross over to the afterlife or her soul is bound for hell. Tough break.
As if that weren’t bad enough, two days before her deadline a handsome pain-in-the-ass poltergeist named Michael strolls into her life. His soul is the key to her salvation, but the cost just might be more than she can handle. Solving his death puts her right in the crosshairs of Belial: a vain, bloodthirsty archdemon who won’t rest until she’s his slave. Can she rescue Michael and save her own soul, or will they both be dragged down into the clutches of the eternal black parade?
She Who Fights Monsters (Book #2):
The dynamic supernatural duo of Seer Jordan Amador and her husband the archangel Michael is back in the sequel to the bestselling urban fantasy novel, The Black Parade, trying to solve a deadly case. Someone is methodically hunting down and murdering Seers one by one. After six months with no leads on the killer, Jordan and Michael are forced to work with their worst enemy—the archdemon Belial: a self-professed Prince of Hell who is dead set on stealing Jordan for himself. However, with the archdemon’s help, they pick up on the trail of the serial killer and plan to stop him no matter what the cost.
When the shocking truth behind the murderer’s identity is revealed, Jordan begins asking herself if she is still fighting for the good guys or has she become one of the monsters she is desperately trying to stop?
The Holy Dark (Book #3):
Sarcastic demon-slayer extraordinaire Jordan Amador has been locked in a year-long struggle to hunt down the thirty silver coins paid to Judas Iscariot. The mere touch of these coins is enough to kill any angel.
Jordan’s demonic opposition grows more desperate with each coin found, so they call on the ultimate reinforcement: Moloch, the Archdemon of War. Moloch puts out a contract on Jordan as well as her estranged husband, the Archangel Michael. Now Jordan and Michael will have to find a way to work together to survive against impossible odds and stop Moloch’s plan, or else he’ll wage a war that will wipe out the human race.
While a war rages in space, a revolutionary group of humans, shapeshifters, and telepaths gather to prove their races can live together in peace. They believe in peace enough to erase their memories and begin a primitive city on a secluded planet, Vastus.
Generations later, conflicts on Vastus force people to flee their city. Meanwhile, a few Peace Bringers arrive on a broken-down space station to observe the inhabitants on Vastus. What they see is anything but encouraging, and they must deal with problems of their own. Vastus Station is falling apart, and the relationships between the occupants are equally precarious.
Barrett Boyd has awakened from death to a new and baffling life. He knows that he is a guard in the queendom’s royal prison, the Eternal Dungeon. But why do the prisoners matters so much to him? Who are these other guards who appear to have claims over him? And how will he survive while he finds his new place in this world?
As Barrett seeks to make sense of his surroundings, he must contend with a would-be love-mate, a grumbling rebel, deadly enemies, and the challenge of how to wield his expanded skills.
This suspenseful novel can be read on its own or as the first volume of Dungeon Guards, an alternate history series about nineteenth-century prison workers who seek love and companionship as they fight together against danger.
Dungeon Guards is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series about disreputable men on the margins of society, and the men and women who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as in a future that never existed, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times.
Now the Midcoast nations of this world have reached a turning point: the old order is about to be overthrown. Brought together in friendship and romance by the danger of rising events, the people of the Midcoast nations must learn to adjust to a new world.
Honored six times in the Rainbow Awards for LGBTA literature, Turn-of-the-Century Toughs presents an epic tale of adventure, friendship, romance, and class struggles.
One princess. Two realms. And a reckless choice that could destroy kingdoms…
Rose Valrois has escaped the sorcerous red priests and returned to the castle beside the enchanted Darkwood, but her troubles are far from over. Her stepsister, Princess Neeve, is more secretive than ever, and as war threatens, Rose’s mother pushes her toward a political alliance, even as her heart is torn between a heroic prince and the Dark Elf guardian of the forest.
But when Neeve makes a terrible choice, the fate of two kingdoms hangs in the balance. Rose must risk her freedom, her world, and even her heart to save her sister. Can she bear to make that sacrifice? Does she even have the choice?
Some soldiers are the shields of innocent souls
Others are the fanatics of their cause
And for them…no war is ever truly over!
Tempered on the anvil of the war against the secessionist UnArcana Worlds and tested against the evil of Project Orpheus, Mage-Commander Roslyn Chambers has risen through the ranks of the Royal Martian Navy to serve as second-in-command of one of their most prestigious battlecruisers, Duke of Magnificence.
A desperate call for help sends Roslyn and her new ship deep into the frontiers of Protectorate space, where they discover that hold-outs of the UnArcana Worlds’ fleets have returned to plunder innocent ships across the Fringe.
To protect the innocent and serve her Queen, Roslyn Chambers must rise to the task before her. She must learn to command—both herself and a warship of the Mage-Queen of Mars!
After losing her job, twenty-nine-year-old Abigail Ritter isn’t looking forward to returning to her hometown of Magic Lake, Wisconsin, for her grandmother’s birthday party. All she has to offer her family is her own special fruit juice and tea blend. But when Grandma suffers a fatal accident in her apartment building, The Grand, Abigail’s cousin Brian is blamed. Abigail will have to step up and investigate with the help of her best friend Sam, an intriguing detective, and a magical stuffed fox named Sherlock. Abigail’s got a plan for the Grand and its shuttered restaurant, but will she solve the case or drown in a sea of suspects?
Staying out of the far-reaching sight of Brenna and the Garden is another matter. It doesn’t help that the Department of Defense is still hunting Jenny Mercado and her man Leo like dogs, and now there is a new mysterious force that threatens to destroy everyone they hold dear.
The very concept of escape is quaint in this brave new world of surveillance, and when their world is brutally shattered, Jenny and Leo must decide whether to keep running, or to find the courage to punch back.
ARMAGARDEN is the thrilling conclusion to the NeuralTech Rising trilogy, and will have readers pondering the nature of memory, and of reality, long after they have read the last page.
The stakes are escalating and no place in the galaxy seems to be safe, but Earth still has the Breaker Marine on their side.
Holly Cropper and her squad of Marines are finally being recognized for their accomplishments, but not even an awards ceremony is safe. When they are attacked by more of the very robots they just defeated, the entire planet of Mars might become collateral damage. Can Holly and her team track down and destroy all these robots or will they destroy everything on the red planet?
Martian Invasion is the third book in the Star Breaker series. If you like fast-paced space adventures with interesting characters who battle aliens, evil corporations, and space pirates, Holly Cropper and her team of Marines are ready to share their epic adventure with you.
It’s been over a year since insomniac Chrystine Brown got a full night’s rest. So she’s astounded—and relieved—when her new sleep music app puts her in a sound slumber and keeps her there.
But the app’s soothing interface conceals a horrifying secret.
A secret that’s become a part of her.
A secret she may never escape…
* * *
If you’re looking for scares that unnerve instead of nauseate, look no further. Horror stories from Danielle Williams lean towards slow-burn scares and the unsettling. If you take your creeps with a PG-13 sensibility—think The Sixth Sense, The Outer Limits, or The Twilight Zone—this is a story for you.