Listen to Cora rambling on about Isaac Asimov and Foundation at the Stars End Podcast

I’m still busy with this year’s July Short Story Challenge (you can follow along here), so I almost forgot to mention that I’ve been interviewed on the Stars End Podcast, a great new podcast dedicated to the works of Isaac Asimov in general and Foundation in particular. As you may know, I was a huge Isaac Asimov and Foundation fan in my teens and still have a soft spot for the good doctor in spite of all his flaws, so it was a pleasure to geek out with likeminded folks.

I’ll also be interviewing the guys behind Stars End for my Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight soon. We truly have an embarrassment of great SFF related podcasts out there.

You can listen to the episode here. And if you want to watch the trailer for the upcoming Foundation streaming series, you can watch it here. The visuals look great and I think Jared Harris will make an excellent Hari Seldon, though I’m a bit doubtful about the focus on the Emperor (who’s only a strictly peripheral figure in the stories) and the clone dynasty plot, which seems to be taken from Ancillary Justice rather than Foundation. Still, I’ll be watching and reviewing Foundation, when it hits the airwaves in September.

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Loki Continues “For All Time. Always.”

It’s Wednesday, so here is my take on the final episode of season 1 of Loki. For my takes on previous episodes, go here.

Oh yes, and if you missed my reading yesterday, you can watch a recording on YouTube or listen to an audio recording here.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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See Cora Read at the Space Cowboy Books Flash Fiction Night

Flash Fiction Night Online Reading

I have another event to announce. Cause on Tuesday, July 13th at 6 PM Pacific US Time I will be taking part in the monthly Flash Fiction Night organised by my friends of Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree, California.

I’ll be reading some science fiction flash fiction together with Andy Dibble and Douglas A. Blanc. It’s already the third Flash Fiction Night and you can watch recordings of the first two on the Space Cowboy Books YouTube channel.

It’s an online event (well, I’m obviously not going to travel to California, especially since I’ve only had one covid shot) and you can register for free here.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up and join us for an evening of flash science fiction.

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Loki goes on a “Journey Into Mystery”

Another Wednesday, another episode of Loki. For my takes on previous episodes, go here.

A few words regarding the episode title, Journey Into Mystery was of course the title of the horror/monster anthology comic wherein Thor (and Loki) debuted back in 1962. So the episode title is an in-joke for longterm Marvel fans. It’s far from the only one in this episode.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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First Monday Free Fiction: The Sphere That Ate the Mississippi Delta

Southern MonstersWelcome to the July 2021 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

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

Since I’m currently in the middle of the 2021 July Short Story Challenge, here is a cosmic horror story that was one of the stories written during the 2016 July Short Story Challenge. It’s called “The Sphere That Ate the Mississippi Delta” and it may be found in the collection Southern Monsters.

So follow our narrator, an astronomer from Tulane University, as he faces…

The Sphere That Ate the Mississippi Delta

It all started in early March, just after Mardi Gras, when a streak of light appeared in the night sky over the Mississippi River Delta. Sheriff’s departments from Galveston to Mobile were inundated with reports of everything from UFO sightings via World War Three to angels, demons and the rapture.

But I was an astronomer, a man of science and reason in a part of the country all too often beset by irrationality. I’d clawed my way up from the Lower Ninth Ward all the way to Tulane, a local boy done good. And so I immediately recognised that the strange phenomenon that lit up the Southern sky was a meteorite, a meteorite that had landed somewhere in the delta. My calculations could even pinpoint the meteorite’s landing place with fair accuracy, estimates that were bolstered by eyewitness reports from fishermen who claimed to have seen a ball of fire fall from the sky near Delacroix Island.

The next day, three geology students from Tulane University set out in a small boat to locate and secure the meteorite for the University’s collection. They were never heard from again, just vanished without a trace. At first, no one was overly worried about that. A tragedy, for sure, but hardly unexpected. After all, the bayous were treacherous, the alligators perpetually hungry and the students had been inexperienced, three boys from the Midwest who’d probably never even seen a boat before, much less steered one.

So the university mourned the three lives lost, the dean of the geology department mourned the loss of a valuable addition to his meteorite collection and I mourned the chance to have my calculations proven right. But otherwise, we all went on with our lives.

Two weeks later, a tiny article in the local part of Times-Picayune caught my eye. A fishing boat had gone missing in St. Bernard Parish, near Delacroix Island. I didn’t think much about it — just another pointless tragedy — and promptly forgot about it.

But then, the following week, there was another article in the local section of Times-Picayune. A fisherman from Shell Beach had gone missing. His wife said that he’d gone crab fishing at Delacroix Island.

Then, two weeks later, another boat went missing, this time a speedboat carrying three young never-do-wells from Wood Lake. And once again, the boat had last been spotted near Delacroix Island. The three boys had been known troublemakers, drinking and driving, drinking and boating, all combined with weed and meth. It was only a matter of time before something happened, the locals said.

It was at this moment, when I read the article about the three missing boys from Wood Lake, that something clicked inside my head. Of course, boats went missing on the delta all the time, for any number of reasons. But four boats in six weeks? And all near Delacroix Island?

Of course, it might all be coincidence. The geology students had been inexperienced and really had no business being in a boat on the river all on their own in the first place. And the boys from Wood Lake had been known drinkers with a drug habit. So yes, their disappearances might have been a tragic accident. But the fishermen had been experienced and knew the delta like the back of their hands. Sure, fishing was a dangerous profession and deaths were common. But fishing boats rarely vanished without a trace. And what were the odds that all of these tragic accidents would happen in such a short span of time and all near the same small island? The very island where the meteorite had come down.

So I decided to investigate further. I drove down to St. Bernard Parish myself — no, not to head for Delacroix Island, I wasn’t that stupid. Instead, I went to the office of the local newspaper, the St. Bernard Voice, and asked to see their archives.

I found a lot more information about the missing fishermen, all highly experienced skippers who’d been fishing on the delta for decades. I found more information about the three missing boys — troublemakers, yes, but also the sons of local fishermen who knew their way around a boat. I found information on the missing students — though nothing I hadn’t heard yet at Tulane. I even found information about the meteorite, eyewitness accounts about a fiery ball straight out of hell that had fallen into the river near Delacroix Island.

But I found even more. For the four missing boats and their crews weren’t the only ones who’d gone missing in St. Bernard Parish of late. There had also been a wave of disappearances of pets — dogs and cats mostly, but also backyard chickens — all attributed to alligators, though some also suspected pet snatchers at work. In Meraux, a man had reported his wife missing, after she hadn’t returned from a visit to her parents on Delacroix Island. No foul play was suspected, it was believed she’d run off with a lover. And in Reggio, an elderly man with dementia had gone missing, believed to have fallen into the bayou.

There were other reports as well. An oyster bank had suddenly died off to much hue and cry from the local fishermen; the cause was believed to be pollution. Fishermen said they’d seen bubbles rise from the water near Delacroix Island. Others reported seeing strange lights, will-o-the-wisps, dancing above the bayou at night. And one fisherman, a fellow by the name of John Letourneur, claimed that he had spotted a black blob under the surface of the water, believed to be a massive oil clump left over from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

It might still all be coincidence. But the coincidences were really piling up by now. And they were all centered on one place: Delacroix Island.

So I finally did what I should have done in the first place. I went out to Delacroix Island myself. And unlike those unfortunate three geology students, I hired one of the most experienced fishermen of St. Bernard Parish to take me there, the very John Letourneur who’d claimed to have spotted the oil blob.

I asked him to take me to the exact spot where he had seen the oil clump. But in the end, that turned out not to be necessary, for the object that Letourneur had seen was easy enough to spot. And it definitely wasn’t an oil clump.

It was about the size of a house, a smooth sphere that rose from the water, its surface a glossy black. The meteorite, I was certain, only that it looked like no meteorite I had ever seen. It was also, so John Letourneur assured me, a lot bigger than the first time he’d seen it.

“God in Heaven,” John exclaimed and promptly crossed himself, “What is it?”

“I have no idea,” I whispered, and though I was a lapsed Catholic, I mirrored his gesture.

Of course, I longed to investigate further, but neither John nor I were stupid enough to go anywhere near the sphere. After all, it might well be connected to the disappearance of thirteen people and heaven knew how many pets. So we returned to make our reports, John to the local sheriff department and I to the university.

The investigation into the nature of the sphere was mounted by the geology department of Tulane. Everybody was there, the dean and his entire faculty, down to the last adjunct, the sheriff and his deputies, the State Police, a preacher who talked of the end times, and reporters from the St. Bernard Voice and the Times-Picayune.

The dean himself approached the sphere to take a sample. “It is hard…” he reported, “…smooth like… — arrgh!”

That was the last we ever heard of him, because the sphere suddenly swallowed him, just sucked him in. In the confusion that followed, it also consumed two deputies, the ranting preacher and the entire geology department of Tulane.

At first, we thought we could contain it. The State Police and the Coast Guard put up warning signs and barriers all around the sphere. But it was to no avail, for the sphere continued to grow, feeding on alligators and pelicans, on crabs and oysters and on the bayou itself.

The National Guard was called in and later the Army and the Navy and the Air Force. Planes from Keesler Air Force Base flew daily rounds over the sphere to monitor its growth, while their bosses were trying to figure out what to do about it. They fired everything they had at the sphere, from bullets to missiles. But nothing they could throw at the sphere as much as made a dent into its smooth black exterior. The bullets and missiles simply vanished, swallowed up, while the sphere grew a little bigger.

Delacroix Island was evacuated soon thereafter, then Wood Lake, Reggio, Yscloskey, Shell Beach, Scarsdale, Poydras, until eventually all of St. Bernard Parish and parts of Plaquemines Parish and Hancock County in Mississippi had to be evacuated as well. And steadily the sphere grew and grew.

You could see while it driving across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway now, a massive malevolent thing rising from the delta and blotting out the view. And still it was growing.

The federal government didn’t help us, but after Katrina and Deepwater Horizon we were used to that. The rest of America simply didn’t care about the Gulf Coast. We were the embarrassing poor relations, backwards, racist, rednecks, hicks. Even if like me, you were neither. No one cared what happened to us.

And still the sphere grew. Highways 300 and 46 were already gone, along with several towns and communities. And we all knew that it was only a matter of time before it took New Orleans, feasting on homes and businesses, streets and canals.

Some generals at the Pentagon — bless their hearts — suggested nuking the thing. Sure, it would turn Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast into a radioactive wasteland, but who cared? Those people were just hicks and rednecks anyway. But the President vetoed the decision and declared he would not nuke his own country, no matter the reason.

And still the sphere grew.

Now here I am, stopping my car on the deserted Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the last to evacuate New Orleans.

I get out of the car — no traffic to worry about, not anymore — and turn around to watch the sphere consume New Orleans, watch it eat my city in its never-ending appetite.

I watch One Shell Square go down, the World Trade Center, Place St. Charles, the Plaza Tower, the Energy Center, the Sheraton, the Marriott, the Hyatt, the Hibernia Bank building, the First Bank and Trust, the Superdome, watch as the sphere swallows them up. I feel the Causeway shake beneath my feet, as the sphere consumes its southern terminus.

I know I should get into my car and leave, press down on the accelerator and get away as fast as I can. But what’s the point?

The sphere isn’t going to stop, once it has swallowed up New Orleans. It isn’t going to stop, once it has swallowed up Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, the entire South. It’s not even going to stop when it has eaten the whole country, when it has taken Washington DC and the Pentagon with the generals who wanted to nuke us and the White House with the President who didn’t.

It’s not going to stop, ever, until it has swallowed the world whole.

So I stay and watch the sphere nibble away at the Causeway, bit by bit, mile by mile, watch it eclipse the city and the lake and the sky and the entire world.

The End…

***

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

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The 2021 July Short Story Challenge – Day by Day

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

In other news, blogging will be light this month and the remaining two Loki reviews may be delayed, because I’m currently doing the July Short Story Challenge again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1, 2021: I Deal in Death: Confessions of a Death Dealer, sword and sorcery, 1825 words

Once, Malaroc of Grim Valley was just a farmboy, chasing adventure and glory on the battlefield. Now, he is the royal executioner, known only as the Death Dealer. But Malaroc isn’t happy with his job and has hopes and dreams that are quite different…

This one was inspired by Frank Frazetta’s famous painting “Death Dealer”. I wondered who the man with the bloody axe and the horned helmet was and had the idea to write a “True Confessions” type story from his POV. It was initially supposed to be a humor piece, but turned out a lot more earnest in the end, as my take on this character is someone who’s deeply conflicted about staying in a job he doesn’t like, but that pays well and that he’d good at, or following his dreams.

July 2, 2021: The Thing in the Sewer, horror, 3882 words

During the summer after finishing school and before starting university, Nina takes a job as a newspaper delivery girl in a deceptively quiet suburban neighbourhood.

But then, cats and dogs start vanishing in the neighbourhood. And Nina begins to hear strange sounds from the sewers.

This one was inspired by my daily morning walks. Pretty much everything in this story is real… except for the monster in the sewers.

July 3, 2021: The Wrong Dragonslayer, fantasy, 2909 words

Khulan was never supposed to be the one who kills the dread dragon Shirasemur. But the knights of the realm are bloody useless, her friend Saranta is about to be sacrificed to the dragon and someone had to do it.

But Khulan’s troubles only begin once she has slain the dragon. For the knights of the realm are not only useless, they’re also treacherous…

This is another story that was inspired by a piece of fantasy art, namely this one by Brock Grossman.

July 4, 2021: Desolation Rock (The Day the Saucers Came…), alien invasion, 3895 words

It’s June 9, 1956, also known as the day the saucers came. Maggie is eighteen and helps out at KGTV Radio in Desolation Rock, a radio station that her family has operated for thirty years now.

However, Maggie is troubled, because her father, who hasn’t been quite right in the head since he came back from the war, has taken a turn for the worse and is babbling about mysterious alien signals, glowing discs and little green men from outer space. Luckily, there’s also Billy Ray, the new discjockey with the easy smile who plays all the latest rock ‘n roll records.

Then one night, the universe proves Maggie’s father right, when a flying saucer appears in the sky over Desolation Rock…

This story was inspired by another piece of SFF art, namely this one by Alben Tan. When I saw it, I thought, “That looks like a The Day the Saucers Came… story.” So I wrote a story about a rural radio station, two young rock ‘n roll fans and the only person in the entire series who isn’t surprised when the saucers arrive. We also learn that the saucers have been here before.

July 5, 2021: Devil’s Moor, horror, 3118 words

The runestone has been standing at the edge of Devil’s Moor for centuries, protecting the village from the things that dwell on the moors.

Rieke is a village girl from the moors and knows all the old legends, but she doesn’t really believe them. After all, she went to school in the city. And so, when Dr. Johansen, curator of the local museum and anthropology student Michael, who’s doing his internship at the museum, ask Rieke to show them the runestone, she’s only to happy to oblige.

However, there is more than a kernel of truth to the old legends…

The initial inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diehl. The setting, Devil’s Moor, is a real place just north of Bremen, where my parents had a holiday cabin, when I was a kid. It does have bogholes and old legends, but no runestones nor things that dwell on the moors.

For some reason, this story wound up being set in the 1970s, probably because the real Devil’s Moor region was still quite backwards at the time, though that was changing fast. Still perfect for a story that’s about a clash between the modern and the ancient world.

July 6, 2021: Village of the Unavenged Dead, dark fantasy, 1853 words

Thirty years ago, the village of Taichar at the foot of the Tenegri mountains rose in revolt against the cruel Emperor Gemur. When the imperial troops retook the village, the Emperor’s vengeance was swift and he ordered every single man, woman and child in the village put to death.

But one man escaped the slaughter, Khubidek, apprentice to a local wizard. Khubidek fled and wandered the world, accumulating magical knowledge.

And now, thirty years later, Khubidek is back. Now a powerful necromancer, he’s still hellbent on vengenance and if he has to raise the unavenged dead of Taichar, then so be it…

This story was inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diehl. The result feels a bit Clark Ashton Smith like.

In general, this year’s July short story challenge tends to yield dark and gloomy stories and well as a surprising amount of horror stories. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Weird Tales or maybe it’s just the general mood. On the other hand, I finally seem to have figured out how to write horror, which is a good thing.

July 7, 2021: Free to a Good Home, science fiction, 1663 words

Naoko is a single Mom and space freighter captain. During a stop on the planet Yerxa, her daughter Mika spots a sign saying “Free to a good home” next to a native creature. And Mika would very much like a pet.

There’s only one problem. The native creature in question is a Yerxanian hybrid hell pig and it’s huge and ugly…

This story grew from a mix of inspirations. One was this piece of SFF art by Nikolai Lockertsen. The other was a news report about radioactive hybrid pigs terrorising the Fukushima exclusion zone. The result was a rather sweet story (and the only one without a body count so far) about a little girl, her mom, an aged miner and a good-natured alien monster pig.

This story is rather short, because I have to get up early tomorrow. The review of this week’s episode of Loki may be a bit late for the same reason.

July 8, 2021: The Vault with the Nine Sigils, dark fantasy, 1653 words

Deep in the jungle of Teyapan, there stands a ruined city that is not on any maps. And at the heart of this city stands a mighty temple, under which there is a sealed vault marked with nine glowing sigils and the following inscription:

“Beware Traveller. Three sigils to seal the vault. Three sigils to open it. Three sigils to doom. Choose wisely, Traveller, and be on your way.”

One day, the bandits Zeferi Santos and Alaric Gazul stumble upon the lost city and the vault under the temple. Hoping for treasure, they attempt to open the vault. Alaric perishes, but Zeferi spends months trying to open the vault, never once wondering whether that’s even a good idea…

This is another short one. I got my first covid shot today and am pretty tired and the penultimate Loki review took up time as well.

This is another rather grim story that feels a little Clark Ashton Smith like. No idea why my mind keeps turning out gloomy short stories. The actual inspiration was this piece of SFF art by Nele Diehl.

July 9, 2021: The Inn at the Foot of the Accursed Mountains, horror, 2513 words

On the border of the kingdom, there stands a mountain range known as the Accursed Mountains, because travellers keep vanishing in those mountains. Eventually, only the clueless, the desperate or the foolhardy will dare to cross the Accursed Mountains.

A young scholar on a mission to deliver an important letter to the far side of the mountains is desperate enough to attempt the crossing. But by the time he reached the Accursed Mountains, night has fallen, so the inn at the foot of those mountains seems like a safe haven.

But maybe it’s not the mountains that are accursed. Maybe it’s the inn…

This is another rather gloomy horror story. Every year during this challenge, I find that there is one kind of story that my mind is able to churn out even when I’m tired. This year, my mind seems to be determined to churn out gloomy horror stories.

The initial inspiration for this story was another piece of fantasy art by Nele Diehl. Further influences were The Spessart Inn, From Dusk Till Dawn and yet another Nele Diehl illustration.

July 10, 2021: The Frozen Sword, historical fantasy, 1396 words

Far up north in the frozen wastelands, where the ice never melts, there stands a tower of grey granite, covered over and over in runic inscriptions. Near that tower, a sword stricks out of the ice. When a young archaeology student unwisely attempts to pull the sword out of the ice, he suddenly gets a very vivid glimpse of the distant past.

I had a busy day today and am also still experiencing some mild fatigue due to getting my first covid shot on Thursday, so this is another very short story. The inspiration was this piece of fantasy art.

July 11, 2021: The Allies of Red Isabella, historical fantasy, 1983 words

Isabella Jimenez a.k.a. Red Isabella is the most notorious pirate of the Spanish Main. But her glorious career seems destined to end on the gallows, when Captain Robert Kennard of the Royal Navy frigate Relentless lays a trap for Isabella, sinks her ship, slaughters her crew and captures Isabella to take her to Port Royal for trial and execution.

But Isabella still has an ace up her sleeve. For she is allied with the sea itself and all its creatures…

This story was inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Odin Dwarfi. But pirates, particularly female pirates, have been on my mind of late, whether it’s Valeria of the Red Brotherhood from “Red Nails”, the last Conan story Robert E. Howard wrote during his lifetime, which I’m currently rereading, or a pirate subplot in a smartphone game I sometimes play to relax.  So I guess my mind was simply primed to spin a pirate tale. Besides, I happen to like pirate stories, though it’s been a while since I wrote one.

I really like the protagonist, Red Isabella, the pirate captain who can talk with the animals of the sea (and her parrot Buckshot), and wouldn’t be surprised if she pops up again eventually.

July 12, 2021: Canned Food, fantasy, 712 words

American tourist Joe Mackintosh wants to visit the homeland of his ancestors and decides to explore the Scottish Highlands while going way too fast in a rented sportscar, anooying sheep and almost running over a capercaillie.

Joe is an accident waiting to happen and it’s just pure luck that he hasn’t killed anybody yet. But eventually his luck runs out and he crashes his rented sportscar into Loch Ness and meets its most famous inhabitant. Too bad that Nessie is a carnivore… and hungry…

This is the shortest July challenge to date, but not because I ran out of time, but simply because it didn’t need to be any longer. The inspiration was a discussion about American tourists renting overpowered cars, while in Europe, and causing accidents and near misses.

This one could theoretically be science fiction as well, depending on whether you believe that the Loch Ness Monster exists, but I’m going with fantasy here, because the story also has multiple talking animals and is largely told from their POV.

July 13, 2021: The Healing Tree, historical fantasy, 955 words

In the French Alps, there is a monastery where a magical tree grows. A single leaf of this tree can cure any illness and even bring back people from the brink of death. However, there is a price. For anybody who plucks a leaf from the healing tree will lose their most cherished memory.

One day a student named Rathier visits the monastery to pluck a leaf from the healing tree to cure a woman with whom he’d fallen in love at first sight…

Another very short flash piece, but then I had a busy day today and it’s not yet over, cause I still have a reading in two hours.

This started out as one of those vignette style pieces about strange fantasy locations that I occasionally turn out, but then it actually developed a plot. The inspiration was this piece of fantasy art.

July 14, 2o21: Hotel of Hell, horror, 1727 words

College student Joe Cummings tries to summon a minor demon, using a grimoire he found in the university library. Unfortunately, the deserted house he’s chosen for this purpose has a dark history, for it was here that seriel killer Henry William Webster killed twenty-two guests of the boarding house he operated.

Due to the dark energy pervading, the spell is a lot more powerful than Joe expects and summons not a demon, but a Great Old One. Luckily, Elijah Blackstone, sworn enemy of evil and hunter of monsters, is on the case.

I wasn’t really expecting to write an occult detective story, but it seems I have. The initial inspiration was this piece of fantasy art by Erikas Perl. The story of 19th century serial killer H.H. Holmes and his “murder castle” also played a part.

July 15, 2021: The Bog of the Damned, horror, 1916 words

Jutland, 152 BC

Germanic Chieftain Holmgeir has the perfect plan to get rid of his rival Hakon and his unwanted wife Katla by having them executed for adultery and thrown into the bog at the edge of the village. But Hakon and Katla swear vengeance, either in this life or the next.

Jutland, 1958

Linette has been crowned the May Queen at the May Day dance in her Danish village. However, the mayor Arnold Svenningsen believes that his office also gives him certain rights with regard to the May Queen.

Linette manages to escape him and runs off into the moor, but Svenningsen pursues her. But the ghosts of Hakon and Katla are still waiting, biding their time to have their vengeance…

The initial inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy art by Erikas Perl. Somehow, it turned into a story about vengeance, bog bodies and reincarnation.

July 16, 2021: Lady in Waiting, fantasy, 1765 words

Every day, Princess Iolithia stands by the great window of the palace, waiting for her beloved Floribert to return from the quest on which her father King Ranulf sent him.

However, Iolithia does not know that Floribert will never come back, because her tyrannical father sent a squad of assassins after him to kill him. Once she finds out, things turn ugly…

I had a nasty headache today and so it took me a long time to come up with an idea for today’s story. What finally sparked one was this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diehl.

July 17, 2021: The Tear of Chronos (Kurval), sword and sorcery, 7374 words

It’s the day of Kurval’s official coronation, after he took the throne of Azakoria. And as part of the festivities, Kurval is required to ask the Tear of Chronos, a magical jewel kept at the temple of the moon goddess Ashvarya for a vision of his future.

But there are those who want nothing more than to see Kurval gone, so they can take the throne for themselves. Furthermore, Kurval’s meditation in the inner sanctum is interrupted by the sudden arrival of a flesh and blood woman who’s not only the spitting image of the goddess, but who also wears the Tear of Chronos around her neck…

This is the longest July story challenges to date, just below the novelette line (and it will likely cross that line in edits). It was also a lot of fun, because it teams up Kurval with one of my oldest characters, Stella, a sorceress with a magical jewel who can travel through time and space, which means she can pop up anywhere. This time around, Stella wanted to guest star in a Kurval story and dress up like a woman from a Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover, so who am I to deny her?

This story is also quite meta, because Stella very much knows that she has landed in a sword and sorcery story.

July 18, 2021: Santa Maria, crime fiction, 1483 words

It was supposed to be a two week all inclusive holiday on the Caribbean island of Santa Maria, dalliances with local women included. But for one man, his dream holiday quickly turns into a nightmare, when his relationship with a local woman named Sharisha goes disastrously wrong…

I normally write quite a few crime shorts during the July Short Story Challenge, but this is the first one I’ve written this year. The inspiration came from a Twitter conversation, wherein the German pop song “Santa Maria” by Roland Kaiser was mentioned, which for some reason is considered a Christmas song in the Netherlands, even though it’s actually a song about a guy on holiday on some tropical island, where he deflowers a local girl on the beach, before jetting off home again.

Now “Santa Maria” is a terrible song and with terribly cliched and borderline creepy lyrics. Singer Roland Kaiser supposedly wrote the lyrics as a parody of German pop song clichés, after the record company rejected his original lyrics, and was shocked that the record company actually liked that nonsense.

Since the song was not only stuck in my head now and but also is already pretty creepy, I had the idea to turn it into a crime story, where the sexual encounter on the snow-white beach goes disastrously bad. The woman is no sweet innocent virgin here, but a thief, and the guy is worse.

July 19, 2021: Conversation with a Demon, urban fantasy, 1844 words

Katherine, a devoutly religious college student, suddenly finds herself possessed by a demon and considers an exorcism. Her friend and roomate Saffron is vehemently opposed to this idea. Instead, she proposes asking the demon what precisely it wants…

The inspiration for this one was that in The Exorcist and similar horror movies and novels, the premise is always that demons possessing someone is a bad thing and that the demon must be removed by all means possible. However, no one ever bothers to find out what the demon wants and if it’s possible to find a compromise. So I wrote a story where the characters just ask the demon what it wants.

This was originally intended as a humor piece, but I realised that I couldn’t write it, unless I took Katherine’s belief in and fear of demons seriously. It’s also another example of my favourite approach to dealing with the supernatural, namely figure out what it wants.

July 20, 2021: The Crypt of the Damned, historical horror, 1398 words

1566 AD. The French aristocrat Guillaume de Saint-Yves is an alchemist and dabbles in black magic. One day, the grimoire of an executed sorcerer falls into his hands. The grimoire is full of exciting spells Guillaume is eager to try out, including a spell that promises to summon a Great Old One from the depths of the Earth to smite one’s enemies. There is no way that is a good idea…

The inspiration for this story was this drawing by Spanish artist Raúlo Cáceres, which I found in a review of his Lovecraftian graphic novel Insania Tenebris at Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein.

July 21, 2021: The Isle of the Dragon, historical fantasy, 928 words

High up in the North Atlantic, there is an small island surrounded by steep cliffs. On this island, there is a mountain topped by curious structures which look like the skeleton of a dragon.

For once, this island was inhabited by the fire-breathing dragon Nildredir who terrorised all ships that dared to come too close to the island. Until the viking Hallgrim Hardbeinsson and his East Roman friend Gaius Cantilius Dannicus come up with a plan to kill the dragon…

I was planning to write something else today, but it was a busy day, so all I could manage was this flash piece. The inspiration was this piece of fantasy art by Dmitry Dubinsky.

July 22, 2021: Out of Work, science fiction, 1069 words

Jirghogugur, Jirg for short, is a bug-eyed monster, who’s out of work after the death of the science fiction pulps has killed off the demand for bug-eyed monster cover models. So he heads to an employment agency to find a new job.

But what job can possibly by suitable for a slimy alien with a dozen eyestalks and countless tentacles?

The inspiration for this story was a conversation on Twitter about vintage pulp covers and how readers tended to complain about the lurid covers. In particular, a reader wrote a letter to Planet Stories, saying that if not for Planet Stories covers, all of those poor bug-eyed monsters would be out of work.

So the idea was born to write a story about an unemployed bug-eyed monster at an employment agency.

July 23, 2021: The Witchfinder’s Apprentice, historical horror, 2528 words

Matthew Goodson is apprenticed to the witchfinders Gideon Jacobs and Caine Hopkins and their torturer/executioner Fear-God Moody. Together, they travel from village to village and town to town in 17th century New England, always on the hunt for witches, eager to do God’s work and stamp out evil.

But Matthew has his doubts about his trade and whether they are truly doing good. And these doubts come to a head, when Matthew is ordered to executed a young witch with his own hands…

The inspiration for this story was this post by Grady Hendrix at Tor.com, wherein Hendrix talks about the depiction of criminal profilers in popular culture and how it has next to nothing to do with reality. Hendrix writes:

Profilers were dedicated men (or mostly men) with strong convictions who went to small towns where evil had been done. They examined the scene of the crime, years of training allowing them to see evidence invisible to the untrained eye, trying to stop these godless monsters before they struck again. They had very little in common with actual FBI profilers who spent most of their time in offices typing reports, but they did have a lot in common with 17th-century witch hunters. Like profilers, witch hunters were men on a mission who arrived in small towns armed with nothing more than extensive training and faith in their infallibility. They visited crime scenes and conducted interrogations to discover the identities of secret evildoers who lurked undetected in the midst of their neighbors, trying to stop them before they struck again. Both serial killers and witches were viewed as nothing more than pure, Satanic evil—so anything you did to capture and/or kill them was totally justified.

The comparison of criminal profilers, as depicted in popular culture, and 17th century witch hunters sparked an idea to write a story that’s basically Criminal Minds with Puritan witch hunters. The witchfinder team is loosely based on members of the Criminal Minds team. I may eventually expand this to novelette length, because it has potential.

July 24, 2021: The Frozen Citadel (Kurval), sword and sorcery, 4153 words

During his days as a mercenary, Kurval and his friend Tsabo head for the Citadel of Harjula in the frozen north of the kingdom of Simola to take service there. But when they finally get there, no one answers their calls and the citadel is seemingly deserted. Inside, they find the soldiers frozen where they stoof, encased in solid blocks of ice. And whatever attacked them is still inside the fortress…

This story was inspired partly by a throwaway line in one of the other Kurval stories about the monsters he fought in the part and partly several pieces of fantasy art, namely this one, this one and this one, all by Nele Diel.

July 25, 2021: The Fairy Ring of Misty Meadows (Hallowind Cove), cozy fantasy, 2184 words

On one of the rare clear days in the permanently fog-shrouded seaside town of Hallowind Cove, a fairy ring appears on the playground of Misty Meadows.

Hallowind Cove is known as the Harbour of the Weird for good reasons and so the locals know that fairy rings are bad news. Unfortunately, the Hutchinson family, who have only just recently moved to Hallowind Cove, decide to take their little daughter Emma to the playground on just that day. And since the Hutchinsons don’t believe in fairies, they certainly don’t pay attention to fairy circles either…

The inspiration for this story was this tweet by Catherynne M. Valente with a photo of a fairy ring on a playground. It sparked an idea about fairies snatching children from a playground.

When I started to write, I called my fairy-haunted playground “Misty Meadows” and thought, “Wait a minute, that sounds like someplace in Hallowind Cove.” And so the idea to turn the story into a Hallowind Cove tale was born. It also made the writing easier, because Hallowind Cove already has an established cast of characters. And so the Hutchinsons from The Standarounds of Twilight Gardens are back as are Paul MacQuarie and Rachel Hammersmith (whose baking skills save the day again) and of course, Hugo the raven.

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Loki Experiences “The Nexus Event”, As the Plot Heats Up

Another Wednesday, another episode of Loki. For my takes on previous episodes, go here.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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Conan the Socialist

I know that I should probably spend more of my time reading current year Hugo finalists, but instead I’m still reading my way through the entire Conan series. I read some of the bowdlerized Lancer/Ace Conan editions years ago, but I finally decided to replace them with the definitive Del Rey editions.

My teenaged self certainly enjoyed the Conan stories as great and glorious adventures. Plus, there was the thrill of reading “violent American trash” that sensible educated people weren’t supposed to read or enjoy. However, upon rereading these stories as an adult, I find that there is a lot of depth and subtext in the Conan series that my teenaged self missed.

I just finished rereading “The Black Stranger”, one of only three completed Conan stories that remained unpublished during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime. According to the notes in the back of the Del Rey edition, “The Black Stranger” was written sometime in late 1934/early 1935.

I don’t think I read this story during my earlier encounter with Conan. Or maybe I just forgot I read it, because this was one of the stories that suffered badly from L. Sprague de Camp’s and Lin Carter’s “editing” efforts, even though there really was no reason to mess with this one, because it is a complete story.

Warning: There will be some spoilers in the following! Continue reading

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for June 2021

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

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie and small press authors newly published this month, though some May 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, dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, paranormal mystery, science fiction romance, space opera, space westerns, military science fiction, horror, time travel, first contact, vampires, wizards, dragons, black knights, barbarian kings, blood cults, aliens, monsters, space cruises, intergalactic smuggler, crime-busting witches, crime-busting ghosts and much more.

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

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

And now on to the books without further ado:

The Rogue Wolf by K.T. BeltThe Rogue Wolf by K.T. Belt:

Billions dead, entire worlds under siege, and no end in sight.

The most destructive war in the history of the galaxy has arrived and every able-bodied man and woman is mobilized, save one. Carmen Grey has been released from the facility into an uncertain future. The young Clairvoyant can fly and read minds and has been trained since the age of six to do one thing and one thing only: kill. Yet Carmen struggles with an entirely different battle—how to ring up customers without them running away from her.

As she tries desperately to keep her life from falling apart, everything changes when someone close to her is swept into the conflict. Carmen vowed to never fight again, but she will have to rely on her best skill in a race against time. When everything is on the line, will she be able to stay good?

The Black Knight by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertThe Black Knight by Richard Blakemore and Cora Buhlert:

The Lords of Angilbert have been a thorn in the side of the Kings of Azakoria for decades, refusing to pay taxes or to accept the authority of the throne.

King Kurval of Azakoria inherited the conflict with the Black Knight of Angilbert from his predecessor. Determined to bring the Black Knight to heel once and for all, Kurval besieges Castle Angilbert. But when he finally comes face to face with the mysterious Black Knight, he’s in for a shock.

The law demands that the Black Knight be executed for treason. However, Kurval does not want to sentence the Black Knight to death, especially once he learns that the Lords of Angilbert have a very good reason to hate the Kings of Azakoria.

But is it even possible to find a peaceful solution or can the feud with the Black Knight of Angilbert end only in bloodshed and death?

The new sword and sorcery adventure by two-time Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert and her occasional alter ego, 1930s pulp writer Richard Blakemore. This is a novella of 33400 words or approx. 112 print pages in the Kurval series but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

Warning: This is a dark story, which contains scenes of a violent and sexual nature.

The Bridge by J.S. BreukelaarThe Bridge by J.S. Breukelaar:

Meera and her twin sister Kai are among thousands of hybrid women—called Mades—bred by the Father in his Blood Temple cult. Meera is rescued by a mysterious healer and storyteller, Narn, but her sister, Kai, does not survive the Father’s “unmaking.” Years later, when the cult is discovered and abolished, Meera, still racked with guilt and grief, enrolls in college to take advantage of a generous new Redress Program. When Narn’s conjure stories buy Meera a free ride to a notorious horror reading series, she is soon the darling of the lit set, feted by the other students, finally whole, finally free of the idea that she should have died instead of her sister. But college is not all it seems—Narn has lost a sister too, and Meera agrees to try and find her if Narn will keep feeding Meera the stories that are opening her up to memories she’s never acknowledged, secrets she’s never wanted to know, about Narn’s and the Father’s connection to a violent campus stalker.

The Art of the Hunt by Lindsay BurokerArt of the Hunt by Lindsay Buroker:

Our heroes have escaped with the ancient dragon gate, but powerful enemies are right behind them.

If they can’t figure out the magic of the mysterious artifact, and find great allies and resources in another world, their hopes of overthrowing their tyrannical wizard rulers will end as surely as their lives.

 

 

Jury Duty by Peter CawdronJury Duty by Peter Cawdron:

FIRST CONTACT is a series of stand-alone novels that explore the concept of humanity’s first interaction with extraterrestrial life.

The United Nations is thrown into chaos when an alien spacecraft is discovered buried beneath the ice in Antarctica. With no one nation able to lay claim to the craft, a multinational effort is undertaken to salvage the vessel, which is estimated to have crashed several hundred thousand years ago. Rather than leaving key decisions to hostile governments or their armies, a jury is established to represent the average global citizen, being selected from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Their job is to review findings and guide the process of discovery.

The FIRST CONTACT series is like BLACK MIRROR or THE TWILIGHT ZONE in that it is based on a common theme rather than common characters. This allows the series to be read in any order. Technically, they’re all first as they all deal with how we might respond to contact with an alien intelligence. This series explores the social, political, religious and scientific aspects of First Contact.

A Grimoire for Gamblers by Amanda CreiglowA Grimoire for Gamblers by Amanda Creiglow:

Magic may be secret, but it’ll kill you anyway.

Small town mayor’s assistant Elizabeth has enough on her plate grieving her father’s suicide. She doesn’t need his stash of magical knowledge in the attic. She doesn’t need the hidden supernatural subculture of monsters it pulls her into. And she certainly doesn’t need hints that her father’s madness might have been a smokescreen for something far darker.

But uncovering her father’s secrets could be the only way Elizabeth can stop a string of suspicious suicides… if the local wizard doesn’t rip the memories out of her mind, first.

Wizards, right?

Simultaneous Times Vol. 2 editec by Jean-Paul GarnierSimultaneous Times Vol. 2, edited by Jean-Paul Garnier:

From Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree, California. The second volume of the companion book series to the Space Cowboy Books Presents: Simultaneous Times science fiction anthology podcast. In Simultaneous Times Volume Two Space Cowboy Books brings you a collection of science fiction short stories from our local Hi-Desert authors, featuring both stories that have been featured on the podcast, as well as some appearing for the first time. An eclectic mix of approaches to the science fiction genre which range from rebellions against oppressive robots to alien encounters to pure campy fun, with writing styles varying from traditional to experimental. The collection features nine different authors, each paired up with five different illustrators to bring each story to life with original artwork.

Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage by Marcus Alexander HartGalaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage by Marcus Alexander Hart:

Humanity needed a hero. It got a karaoke DJ.

Leo MacGavin is not the brightest specimen of humanity. But when he inadvertently rescues a flirty alien heiress, he’s promoted from second-rate lounge entertainer to captain of the galaxy’s most sophisticated cruise ship.

Before he can flee in terror, a human-hating executive gives Leo an ultimatum—complete the vessel’s maiden voyage or mankind’s last colony will be turned into a sewage dump. To make matters worse, a militant cyborg is undermining his authority, a giant spider is terrifying the passengers, and a sentient plant keeps stealing all the beer.

If Leo ever wants to see his home again, he’ll have to keep the guests happy through seven days of onboard antics and madcap shore excursions. As strange malfunctions tear the ship apart, can he hold his rag-tag crew together, or will he flush the last bastion of humanity down the crapper?

Bloody Magic by N.R. HairstonBloody Magic by N.R. Hairston:

The second I enter the world Pilo, I get a fireball hurled towards my face. My crew and I end up in a fight that has nothing to do with us. Now we’ve offended some very powerful people, and they’re coming for us.

We’re used to fighting, but they made the mistake of going after our loved ones. Now we’re coming for them. No Mercy.

This is a fight to the death. These people mean to kill us and everyone we love. My crew and I can’t let that happen. We’ll fight to our last breath.

They call me the World Breaker. They call my crew the Wrath Bringers. We never back down from a fight, but this time I wonder if any of us will make it out alive.

Bourbon Street Ghosts by Lily Harper HartBourbon Street Ghosts by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow-Monroe and Zander Pritchett have been excited for their upcoming ghost conference in New Orleans for years, since before they were involved with their significant others. What was once a trip for two has now become a trip for four … but that doesn’t make them any less excited.

Ofelia Archer has just found out that her bar Krewe is about to be inundated with ghost hunters … and she’s beyond excited. She’s looking forward to a good week, which means more money to funnel into her next business venture.

Two worlds collide when Harper and Ofelia meet in Jackson Square, a ghost catching their attention. Before they realize what’s happening, they’re embroiled in a huge mystery … one that involves New Orleans’ colorful past and worry for the future.

Harper and Ofelia have a lot in common and they bond quickly. That adds a colorful edge to their friendship. Add Zander to the mix and the Big Easy is in for big trouble.

Hang on because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Between ghosts, Zander’s attitude, and Ofelia’s mother … it’s going to be a very strange trip. It could also be deadly.

Note: This is a crossover book between Harper Harlow and Ofelia Archer. It’s set after Ghostly Travels and Hex, Drugs & Rock and Roll.

The Asylum Aberration by Amanda M. LeeThe Asylum Aberration by Amanda M. Lee:

Charlie Rhodes has spent her entire life wondering who she is, why she was abandoned as a child, and what’s behind the magical powers she can wield in the blink of an eye.

She’s finally getting her answers.

Now that she’s been reunited with her birth mother and brother, the search is on for her father. He’s supposed to be somewhere in Boston … but where? He’s fallen out of touch and finding him is virtually impossible.

Thankfully for Charlie, the Legacy Foundation’s next assignment is in a suburb of the very city where she lives, which means there’s plenty of time to find her father and solve the mystery of a haunted former hospital that’s apparently eating construction workers on a regular basis.

Heavenstone Asylum was considered the height of sophistication in psychiatric circles back in the day. In the years since the facility closed, the main doctor’s legacy has been tarnished by horror stories of treatments gone wrong and disappearing patients.

The second Charlie walks into the building, she recognizes that the past is hardly buried within the walls. There are tortured souls at every turn, and it’s her job to help them.

Heavenstone’s history makes for interesting reading but the harder Charlie digs, the more horrifying the story. Somehow she needs to uncover the truth … and survive the ghosts long enough to free them.

It’s going to take everything she’s got to see things through until the end.

All Charlie wants are answers. She’s going to get them. Surviving long enough to do anything with them is another story.

It’s about to be the Legacy Foundation’s finest hour … or is it?

Thunder Moon Tussle by Torn MacAlesterThunder Moon Tussle by Torn MacAlester:

Nils Carmike, a fallen from grace astronaut turned smuggler, forges a new life on the lunar frontier. Harassed by the strikingly beautiful and demanding Deputy Miller, he is faced with fines and conflict, resulting in a tumultuous relationship and ultimatum he can’t refuse. Running for their life they struggle against their pasts, hoping to outsmart the common faceless enemy and forced to focus on the only rule that matters: survive!

 

 

Blue Sun Armada by Scott MoonBlue Sun Armada by Scott Moon:

War is coming.
Duke Uron Marlboro led his mighty house to victory in the Zezner war. The last thing he expected was for his allies to turn on him.

With a new civil war brewing, the Duke and his family have one option to survive the king’s wrath—

They must flee.
Will they survive the political games of their past? Can they escape their doomed planet and find a new place to thrive before their once great house is destroyed… forever.

Blue Sun Armada is the first in a new epic space opera set in the far-flung future. Legendary mech battles, intense fleet engagements, and deadly politics all make Blue Sun Armada a magnificent read. Pick your side and buy now to start the fight for survival!

Blood Moon by Nazri NoorBlood Moon by Nazri Noor:

All vampires suck. Sterling just happens to be very good at it.

Vainglorious vampire Sterling is forced to trade his big city hedonism for a trip to a sleepy mountain town, where mangled dead bodies have been discovered. Soon he’s entangled with snooty vampire nobles, territorial werewolves, and a society of law-enforcing sorcerers.

The locals aren’t so bad, like the luscious young lady at the fruit shop, or the hunky electrician whose smile sends out sparks. But they’re distractions from the hunt for the mountain murderer. And then there’s the eerie enigma: why are all these corpses missing their faces?

Catalyst by Amanda Quintenz-FiedlerCatalyst by Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler:

When a serious accident triggers dangerous medical episodes, 25-year-old Taylor must unravel the clues in her past to save her own life.

Taylor’s old life is just a memory. No more dinners with friends, afternoon gardening, or partying with her sister. Seemingly at random, violent episodes catapult her body into shock and her mind into her past. She’s lonely, depressed and confined to a hospital. What’s worse, she’s surrounded by medical professionals who don’t know what’s wrong with her and won’t let her leave.

When a handsome young doctor’s interest ignites Taylor’s desire to live, she and another patient set out to solve the riddle of her mysterious illness themselves. But as the clues mount, Dr. Riaz begins to doubt her sanity. And as the physical toll of her fits escalates, Taylor discovers the only way to solve the riddle is from inside an episode.

Can Taylor discover the key to the illness that plagues her in time to save her life and build a future worth living?

With elements of science fiction, mystery and romance, Catalyst is the fast-paced first installment of Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler’s riveting Möbius Syndrome trilogy.

You See the Monster by Luke SmitherdYou See the Monster by Luke Smitherd:

The sound hits Guy in some low, forgotten part of his psyche – a part of him that understands the truth about shadows. The part of him that knows the deep, dark truth behind fairy stories and myths.

Guy is about to finish writing his breakthrough online article. He overheard the story by chance in a pub and it’s guaranteed to go viral – all he needs to do is persuade the World’s Unluckiest Man to talk to him. His best friend Larry’s quest for killer clickbait material has led him to a recently-appeared shanty town in Glasgow, where he finds some kind of urban voodoo cult. Ex-cop Sam has already come face to face with the terrifying force behind both these phenomena, but he’s been trying to put it out of his mind.

When Larry is killed in inexplicably gruesome circumstances, Guy knows he’s also a target. The evidence of malevolent power is suddenly proliferating – but why now? Together, Sam and Guy enter a shadow world of ancient monsters and modern curses, in a battle to figure out the rules of the game and bring them to the light before it’s far too late.

Drifter's Folly by Glynn StewartDrifter’s Folly by Glynn Stewart:

An enemy on the run to neutral space
An elite squadron beyond the reach of any backup
A secret deal that could doom the whole sector…

When United Planets Alliance Captain Henry Wong and Ambassador Sylvia Todorovich attempted to bring peace to the Ra Sector, they turned to the Drifters for neutral ground. Instead, the nomadic spacers betrayed the summit and attempted to kill everyone there.

With peace forged despite the Drifters’ betrayal, Henry and Sylvia take an elite squadron in pursuit of the Drifter Convoy. Their enemies have friends at every turn, neutral worlds who will give them shelter—and if the UPA breaches that neutrality, everything Henry and Sylvia have worked for could crash down in flames.

If the UPA is to keep the peace in the stars of a fallen empire, their diplomats must be untouchable, their honor unblemished. But as Henry’s superiors prepare for all-out war, his ships fly ever closer to a deadly trap laid by an enemy that knows them all too well…

Find(H)er by Charles WelchhFind(H)er by Charles Welch:

Laurie is a woman with a penchant for displaying impatience and judgement. She does not like to be bothered, particularly when she is in a hurry, which is a most unfortunate thing. One morning on her way to an important appointment, Laurie is confronted by a homeless woman who wants a small amount of money, and respect.

Instead, of respect, Laurie tells the woman that she is a lost soul, feeding off the back of humanity.

What Laurie doesn’t know is that this particular homeless woman is not simply an unfortunate, down on her luck member of society.

She is a powerful, ancient God, as old as time itself. A God who has been escorting mankind to the Land of the Dead for an eternity. Soon, Laurie finds herself lost in this timeless, corrupt land.

Boone is a man who desires nothing more than to be known as ordinary. He does not like attention from others and detests physical touch. Boone lives a life of contentment, until the day that he discovers his new gift. It is a gift that Boone has not sought, and one that he does not want, for he suddenly has acquired the gift to find things that have been lost.

Amid his struggle to comprehend where his gift has come from, and why it has selected him, Boone’s best friend, the only person he trusts, Sly, comes to him with a request.

Sly asks him find Laurie.

The Land of the Dead is a poisoned land. It is a land filled with angry and vengeful Gods who protect the Hall of Truth from those who have not yet been judged for their sinful existences.

Sly will stop at nothing to find his lost love, Laurie.

Can Laurie be saved before she is judged in the Hall of Truth?

Boone and Sly will need to survive the dangers of a lost world to save her.

They will need to overcome a wasted land, and the evil that desires their death, to Find(h)er.

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for June 2021


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

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

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, historical mysteries, retro mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, 1960s mysteries, paranormal mysteries, crime thrillers, action thrillers, adventure thrillers, spy thrillers, police procedurals, police officers, amateur sleuths, burglars, spies, FBI agents, ex Navy SEALs, drug dealers, cold cases, missing princess, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting ghosts, crime-busting cats, murder and mayhem in Washington DC, New Orleans, London, Northern England, the Bahamas, the Caymans, Brazil, Australia and much more.

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

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

And now on to the books without further ado:

Murder at the Fair by Verity BrightMurder at the Fair by Verity Bright:

Summer flowers, warm sunshine, a maypole dance and… is that another murder? A tricky case is afoot for Lady Swift!

Summer, 1921. Lady Eleanor Swift, the best amateur sleuth in the country, is delighted to be in charge of the prize-giving at her village summer fair. But the traditional homemade raft race takes a tragic turn when the local undertaker, Solemn Jon, turns up dead amongst the ducks. Jon was the life of any party and loved by the entire village. Surely this was simply an awful accident?

But when a spiteful obituary is printed in the local paper, Eleanor realises there may be more to Jon’s death than first thought. Despite handsome Detective Seldon giving her strict instructions not to interfere, Eleanor owes it to Jon’s good name to root out the truth. So with her partner in crime, Gladstone the bulldog, Eleanor starts digging for clues…

When another local dies in a riding accident, the police refuse to believe he was murdered. But a second vindictive death notice convinces Eleanor of foul play. Solemn Jon’s assistant, a bullish banker and a majestic marquess make her suspect list, but it isn’t until she finds a dusty old photograph that she knows the true culprit behind both crimes. Then another obituary appears – her own! Can Eleanor nail the killer before she too turns up dead among the ducks?

Stealing Murder byx Beth ByersStealing Murder by Beth Byers:

April 1961

Cat Clarke tends towards the naughty. You know…a little vengeful pickpocketing. A smidgeon of well-aimed fraud. A dabbling of burglary from the deserving.

She’s a woman with her eye on the prize, and with her unexpected team, she might have planned her greatest heist yet. Only while she’s in the act of cutting the painting from the frame, she hears a murder.

If Cat doesn’t catch the killer first, the feds may never stop chasing her. Time for her team to accomplish their greatest feat yet: find the killer, leave him gift-wrapped for the feds, and disappear into the night.

Book ONE in the Cat Clarke 1960s Adventures. It’s time for a new adventure, and you’re going to love Cat Clarke and her family.

One-time orphans turned family, Cat might be fiendish, but her mother, Louisa, is all-good. Then there is the pragmatic Albert and the loyal Thea. This family sticks together no matter what hijinks Cat drags them into. Prepare yourself for a series of mysteries and heists and grab onto something, because it isn’t just her family that Cat will charm.

Murder on a Yacht by Beth ByersMurder on a Yacht by Beth Byers:

August 1926

After a long slog of dark days, Vi and friends buy a yacht and go for some time on the sea. It’s what they need. Their nightmares come to an end along with the gray days too many of them have been fighting. They stop in at Monaco and, to their surprise, find old school friends. A few days of revelry, an evening party, and–of course—a body.

Once again, they’re pulled into another round of questions and investigations. This time, they’re the suspects. Forced into working to solve another murder, will they lose the peace they’ve found? Or will they find a way to navigate the murder and maintain a level of happiness?

Murder in England by Dianne HarmanMurder in England by Dianne Harman:

When an employee of the English pub where you’re staying during your vacation is murdered, and it happens on the first night you’re there, it’s definitely not the way to start a vacation!

A vacation in Northern England with three friends is a dream come true for Kat. Many famous authors lived and worked there, and Kat, who is an author, was looking forward to learning more about them. But the ugly hand of murder upset her plans when Sam, a popular employee at the pub, is murdered on his way home from work.

Kat’s been involved in several successful murder investigations at her home back in Kansas (her husband is the local District Attorney), and she feels she has to help investigate his murder. And even though she’d promised her husband she wouldn’t become involved in any more murder investigations, she can’t turn her back on Sam’s uncle, the owner of the pub, who has no idea what to do. She can see that he desperately needs her help.

Kat can’t get rid of the thought that Bailey, Sam’s Belgian Malinois dog, must have known who the murderer was because he didn’t try to protect Sam from the killer. After all, he’d come to Sam’s rescue before, so why didn’t he protect Sam on the night the murder took place? Had he recognized the murderer? Was it someone Sam knew and was on friendly terms with?

Join Kat and her friends as they explore the Northern England countryside while they help the local authorities solve a murder.

Bourbon Street Ghosts by Lily Harper HartBourbon Street Ghosts by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow-Monroe and Zander Pritchett have been excited for their upcoming ghost conference in New Orleans for years, since before they were involved with their significant others. What was once a trip for two has now become a trip for four … but that doesn’t make them any less excited.

Ofelia Archer has just found out that her bar Krewe is about to be inundated with ghost hunters … and she’s beyond excited. She’s looking forward to a good week, which means more money to funnel into her next business venture.

Two worlds collide when Harper and Ofelia meet in Jackson Square, a ghost catching their attention. Before they realize what’s happening, they’re embroiled in a huge mystery … one that involves New Orleans’ colorful past and worry for the future.

Harper and Ofelia have a lot in common and they bond quickly. That adds a colorful edge to their friendship. Add Zander to the mix and the Big Easy is in for big trouble.

Hang on because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Between ghosts, Zander’s attitude, and Ofelia’s mother … it’s going to be a very strange trip. It could also be deadly.

Note: This is a crossover book between Harper Harlow and Ofelia Archer. It’s set after Ghostly Travels and Hex, Drugs & Rock and Roll.

Bloody Bay Rum Club by Nicholas HarveyBloody Bay Rum Club by Nicholas Harvey:

An idyllic Caribbean island. An exclusive resort. A deceptive façade.

While on holiday in Little Cayman, dive boat operator AJ Bailey expects a peaceful getaway. Nothing sounds better than uniquely-aged rum, crystal-clear water, and world-class diving.

But, beneath the surface, the Bloody Bay Rum Club is hiding a dangerous secret, and when AJ uncovers the truth, things turn deadly.

Bloody Bay Rum Club keeps you on the edge of your seat in book 10 of this exciting series.

The Cold Light of Death by Scott HunterThe Cold Light of Death by Scott Hunter:

July, 1976 – Thames Valley, UK. Long, scorching days of blue skies, water shortages, and record temperatures. A newly promoted Detective-Sergeant is tasked with investigating the murder of a local shop owner – an investigation that goes tragically wrong…

Fast-forward forty-five years to 2021, when a chance discovery exposes a grim secret that forces a reexamination of the circumstances surrounding the ill-fated murder inquiry.

DCI Brendan Moran is assigned this coldest of cases, and it soon becomes apparent that he is dealing with a cold and calculating criminal mind. Can Moran and his team piece together the events of that long forgotten summer and unmask the killer before history repeats itself?

Catastrophe in the Library by CeeCee JamesCatastrophe in the Library by CeeCee James:

A mysterious mansion, a suspicious death, and a cat too smart for its own good…

Laura Lee and her secret book club, led by Hank the marmalade cat, find themselves in the heart of their deepest mystery yet! Laura Lee’s efforts to bring the beautiful but decrepit old manor back to life uncover even more secrets that the ancient house has been keeping from her.

Hank, hiding from the workmen, gets himself stuck under a broken board. Rescuing him, Laura Lee finds not only a small root cellar, but a nearly intact skeleton holding a sheaf of papers. How long has it been there? Who was it? And why were those papers so important?

It’s not just a lesson in history; someone who’s very much alive is trying to stop them from discovering the secret . It will take the entire book club’s help to discover the truth as every clue they find takes them in a different direction and puts them in unknown danger.

Extracted Asset by Ethan JonesExtracted Asset by Ethan Jones:

The Storm they weren’t expecting…

Elite extractor Jack Storm is pulled into a sinister new operation in hopes that it will lead him to key information as to what happened to his missing family…

Information he would do anything for…

Jack’s operation is to find and retrieve a missing Saudi princess whose secret escape has greatly embarrassed her royal family.

A secret they will do anything to hide…

As Jack is thrust into a world of betrayal and deception, he searches the Caribbean for the princess and soon realizes he’s not the only one. Cold-blooded assassins are closing in. But they have no idea what’s raging towards them. Knowing the retrieval is now a rescue, how can Jack desperate for his own answers, save the princess with no place to run?

The Asylum Aberration by Amanda M. LeeThe Asylum Aberration by Amanda M. Lee:

Charlie Rhodes has spent her entire life wondering who she is, why she was abandoned as a child, and what’s behind the magical powers she can wield in the blink of an eye.

She’s finally getting her answers.

Now that she’s been reunited with her birth mother and brother, the search is on for her father. He’s supposed to be somewhere in Boston … but where? He’s fallen out of touch and finding him is virtually impossible.

Thankfully for Charlie, the Legacy Foundation’s next assignment is in a suburb of the very city where she lives, which means there’s plenty of time to find her father and solve the mystery of a haunted former hospital that’s apparently eating construction workers on a regular basis.

Heavenstone Asylum was considered the height of sophistication in psychiatric circles back in the day. In the years since the facility closed, the main doctor’s legacy has been tarnished by horror stories of treatments gone wrong and disappearing patients.

The second Charlie walks into the building, she recognizes that the past is hardly buried within the walls. There are tortured souls at every turn, and it’s her job to help them.

Heavenstone’s history makes for interesting reading but the harder Charlie digs, the more horrifying the story. Somehow she needs to uncover the truth … and survive the ghosts long enough to free them.

It’s going to take everything she’s got to see things through until the end.

All Charlie wants are answers. She’s going to get them. Surviving long enough to do anything with them is another story.

It’s about to be the Legacy Foundation’s finest hour … or is it?

White Haron by J.J. MarshWhite Heron by J.J. Marsh:

For Ann Sheldon, the past no longer exists. All she wants is a place to run and hide. Where better than a tiny shack between the Brazilian jungle and the Atlantic Ocean to appreciate the natural world and obliterate her memories?

Hermit-style living goes well until a local is murdered in shocking circumstances. Violence has followed her 5,000 miles to a remote fishing village? Against her will, Ann is drawn into a murder investigation, in close proximity to the last thing she needs: a smart cop.

Erasing history is a challenge but unlearning experience is impossible. Ann knows trouble when she sees it. Surfers are dealing drugs and the man in snakeskin boots is their supplier. She tells herself it’s not her problem. But when drug wars come to the beach, it’s everyone’s problem.

She knows it will end in blood and tears.

Must she take flight again?

Such a Good Girl by Willow RoseSuch a Good Girl by Willow Rose:

A girl falls from the penthouse floor of an apartment in Washington, D.C.

Media Mogul Richard Wanton owns the apartment and is seen standing on the balcony when the girl falls.

He is accused of killing her, but the FBI struggles to find enough solid evidence to convict him.

They have a witness, someone who was in the apartment when it happened, but she doesn’t want to talk to them.

She’ll only speak to one person, ex-FBI profiler Eva Rae Thomas. The problem is, Eva Rae Thomas has no interest in talking to her.

As a matter of fact, she’d rather see this woman dead than have to face her.

But Eva Rae Thomas isn’t someone who can leave a case alone, especially not when she starts to ask questions and things aren’t adding up.

As she digs in deeper—with the entire world watching—she soon finds herself in too deep and realizes she can’t trust anyone’s motives.

But by then, it is too late, and the killer is already tracking her down.

Goodbye Port Alma by Anne ShilloloGoodbye Port Alma by Anne Shillolo:

A beautiful teen is killed on a glorious June afternoon, hidden in plain sight, and discovered by an anonymous caller.

Did her secrets die with her? Or are they still alive – with the power to seduce and destroy the lives of a select few?

DC Holly Towns is on the team that has to untangle a far-reaching web of sex, drugs, and money, and solve a crime that threatens to tear the city apart. Are the victim’s two best friends the next targets? With a suspect list of movers and shakers, even with all the hard work in the world, no one has more to lose than Holly herself if the killer strikes again.

As a new Detective Constable, Holly gets a second chance to prove herself in a job where even her friends wonder if she can succeed. She likes police work, but her future is a coin-toss. She’s either on the way out, courtesy of a vindictive former boss, or on the way up, thanks to her intuition and stubborn persistence. And some days are a struggle to tame her own demons and escape her past.

If you like complex characters, twisty plots, and a fast-paced story, the Port Alma Murder Mysteries series is for you.

Murder in Belgravia by Lee StraussMurder in Belgravia by Lee Strauss:

Murder’s a piece of cake!

Wedding bells are ringing in Belgravia, and Ginger couldn’t be happier to attend the nuptials of Felicia Gold and Lord Davenport-Witt. If only she could put her mind at ease about the things she knew about the groom’s past.

When a death occurs at the wedding party, Ginger is placed in a frightfully difficult position. Betray her vow of secrecy to the crown, or let a killer go free.

 

A viable Threat by Ed TejaA Viable Threat by Ed Teja:

They want to kill a Senator

Stopping it calls for running a hair-brained, off-the-books abduction, grabbing a Dutch national from a private island in The Bahamas. It doesn’t help that the senator whose life is in danger is Martin’s ex-wife, Polly. And then there is the minor detail that the intelligence for the mission, the idea of running it, was arranged by a US Navy Admiral who just happens to be Polly’s current husband. The presence of a hard-nosed (and very sexy) DEA agent with her own agenda, one who forced her way into the center of a mission she shouldn’t have even known about… well, it’s complicated.

But hey, it’s all part of a normal day in the life of an ex-SEAL who only wants to be an average freighter captain in the Caribbean — at least Martin would like to think so.

The Girl Who Was Forgotten by Amy VasantThe Girl Who Was Forgotten by Amy Vasant:

Life was supposed to start feeling like a permanent vacation.

After years on the run from a vengeful killer, Shee McQueen is home at her father’s beach hotel. The Loggerhead Inn doubles as a retreat for sunburned tourists and a haven for recovering ex-military — men and women who help right wrongs for people in need of their particular skills.

What could be more relaxing?

Unless…

…Shee’s estranged boyfriend — the only man she’s ever loved — has discovered her darkest secret and the reason she left him so many years ago…
…or her first job for her father has ended in a double homicide…
…or that her very presence is driving the hotel’s regulars to prove their worth by starting dangerous covert missions of their own…

Wait. It couldn’t be a botched kidnapping is started looking more like the work of a deranged serial killer?

Hm.

Maybe hold the tanning lotion.

This might take a minute.

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