White Trash Warlock

David R Slayton’s White Trash Warlock, read by Michael David Axtell, was a mostly enjoyable book. I have no complaints about the writing or the performance.

What did bother me about the book might not even matter to someone else, so I’ll start with the positive.

The main character is likable, which is vital for me. Adam Binder is from a trailer park in a small town in the Midwest, the product of a broken home, a high school dropout, pretty much all the clichés that one associates with “White Trash”.

His big problem, though, is that he is a witch, sensitive to the unseen world. His mother and his older brother are not, and they had him committed to a mental institution in his teens.

He is also homosexual, which is part of who he is, but not all of who he is. The fact that he sees spirits and landscapes that nobody else can see is far more important to his development than liking boys–which is a refreshing change from most Alphabet Fantasy. (And for readers who are squicked out by gay sex, there’s only a couple of kisses and nothing more. His relationship with other male characters is important to the plot, but soft focus.)

I really like the central conceit of the novel, which is that Adam has enough magic to screw up his life, but not enough to do a lot. He’s not Harry Dresden, or even Harry Potter. His power is very subtle, mostly being able to sense when something supernatural is happening. His visions don’t come with subtitles and he spends most of the novel trying to make sense of the wider spiritual world that he can see but not understand.

Which brings me to my main complaint. Without getting into spoiler territory, Adam is drawn into a magical event that is way out of his league. It starts with a call from his estranged brother, asking for help with his sister-in-law, who has become strange. It seems, at first, to be an ordinary case of possession, which Adam could handle with smudges and charms, but it escalates quickly.

Personally, I would have preferred that the novel stayed at the trailer park level of magic, but the plot turns on the big wheels of the supernatural world, with ancient entities and immortal royalty.

This having been said, I can still recommend the book. It surprised me, and maybe disappointed me a little, but I can forgive straying into Prophecy Of The Chosen One territory a little.

All in all, recommended.

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Cosmic Delivery Boy

This is a fun book.

L G Estrella’s novel harkens back to the kind of Young Adult Fantasy that used to be fairly common, before the advent of Twilight and paranormal bodice rippers took over the genre.

Simon is a young man attending university and working to help support his family, and in particular his mother’s medical bills. When his boss suggests that a new job has opened up that would pay considerably more, Simon is wary, but agrees to listen to the pitch, providing nothing illegal is involved.

It’s not illegal, but it is incredible. There is a multi-universe company–called, simply, The Company–run by Cosmic Guinea Pigs (yes, really) and they need delivery personnel.

For complex reasons involving a multiverse-wide war, these deliveries must be made by mundane operatives. They can be outfitted with high tech equipment, but can’t be too powerful themselves. Simon fits the ideal delivery boy profile–an ordinary person who is resourceful and open-minded and dedicated to getting the job done.

There follows Simon’s first two adventures as a Cosmic Delivery Boy, to two very different universes.

I would have preferred shorter adventures and more of them (the author spends a lot of time discussing the history of the two worlds and why each one is at war) but it doesn’t bog down too much in backstory. Also, the action is a bit cartoony and over the top–Simon’s equipment is so powerful that there isn’t any sense that he’s ever in real danger. But my complaints are minor ones.

It is, as I said, a fun book. I laughed at Simon’s adventures, and I could imagine the various situations he found himself thrust into. What’s more, Simon is a positive male role model without being unbelievable. He’s trying to do the best he can for his sick mother, his overworked father, and his boss, whom he admires. He’s virtuous without being smug, and the narrative voice is excellently delivered by the reader, Matt Cowlrick.

This is an enjoyable romp that avoids the “edgy” and “grimdark” feel of so much modern Fantasy.

Highly recommended.

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The Thing From HR

Click On The Picture For The Audible Link

I just finished listening to The Thing From HR, written Roy M Griffis and narrated by Magnus Carlssen.

The author does a number of very difficult things in this book and makes them look easy. What’s more, many of them–Lovecraft inspired horror/comedy, an inhuman narrator, historical fiction, metaphysical fiction–are things that often have been done very badly.

I was hesitant, in fact, to pick up this book because of what my publisher refers to as “Cthulolz”. There is a lot of uninspired pastiche that attempts to ride on Lovecraft’s coattails by namedropping elder gods into an otherwise flaccid story.

What sets The Thing From HR apart is the voice of the main character. Narg is a likeable shoggoth. From his own perspective he is very ordinary, working his job, flirting with his secretary, Bug, spending his days in obscurity. He has a delightful lack of comprehension regarding the human world, despite being in the office of Human Restraint which handles the paperwork for humans who meddle in Things Man Was Not Meant To Know Or Even Guess At.

The story begins with Narg being sent on assignment to the human world. There things start to go south as soon as he arrives. He is shoehorned into a human body and given the soul of a dead human as a native guide. Unfortunately, neither Narg nor the former human, Murph, have any idea what the assignment is or how to accomplish it.

What follows is a comedy of errors. Narg and Murph blunder from one awkward situation to another, encountering cultists, murderers, Nazi spies, and a femme fatale who is both more and less than she seems.

Throughout the novel Griffis maintains an affection for his characters and for the work of Lovecraft than inspired them. We are invited to laugh with the absurdities of the conceit, not laugh at it. For all of its horrors this is a novel with a gentle and compassionate heart. We want Narg to succeed at his enigmatic mission and along the way we meet other quirky and likable characters.

The voice acting of Magnus Carlssen is perfect for the feel of the novel. He makes the characters very real and manages a number of accents (including the shoggoth language) naturally.

Highly recommended.

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The Test

Recently on The Mad Genius blog there was a challenge called Picture Postcards. You send them an email, and they send you a picture. And you are supposed to write a 50 word story about the picture.

Well, I tried, and I failed. I wrote the story, all right, but it’s way over 50 words. So I decided to post it here, where I can make my own rules.

The Test

The stars went out and fluorescent lights came on, turning the heavens into the vaulted ceiling of a hanger. The airlock door to the control room opened and Dr. Haver came in, shaking his head sadly at the scene. The pilot of Earth’s first FTL starship sat in his command chair, staring at his bloody hands.

On the floor beside him, the body of his first mate and wife lay still, her head a smashed ruin.

The pilot looked up, mute with shock.

“It’s over, Eddie,” Dr. Haver said. “The mission, the flight, everything. It was a test, a trial to see if human beings could take the stress of prolonged isolation. You failed.”

“Not as badly as you did,” said the corpse, sitting up and pulling the bloody prosthesis off her undamaged face. “You sat there in your office for three years, watching things in this pretend spaceship get worse and worse, and never once even suggested that the project be stopped.”

Eddie—now perfectly calm—turned to face Haver. “I’m disappointed in you, doc. You were the best of the lot, but in the end you let your intellectual detachment overcome your humanity.”

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Cirsova Needs Cash Badly!

Cirsova

While we managed to finish out 2023 with a few rounding errors and personal items claimed as expenses for tax purposes [hey, technically, any Kickstarters we back are research] shy of turning a profit, real personal expenses [mostly plumbing, but also automotive] have wiped out our cash reserves!

We’ve got a few big projects that are bound to make us some money fairly soon [Mongoose & Meerkat Volume 3], and our royalties are in the $500-$700 a month range from Amazon, but…

We just bought a roll of 100 ISBNs! If anything, this commits me to at least another 3-4 years of doing Cirsova, so you guys are in luck. But this costs nearly $600, all on credit at the moment.

Want to help us out ASAP?

Check out our eBay store!

I’ve listed some of my Dad’s old boardgame collection [mostly titles that didn’t have sentimental value]…

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Diary Of A Bomoh

Kit Sun Cheah’s novel has a distinctly Edwardian feel. It is presented in the form of an annotated diary and I was reminded at times of both The King In Yellow and The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. Comparisons don’t really do it justice, though, because this is not a pastiche, it is a modern novel about present day Singapore.

The story begins with the discovery of a decomposed corpse in an apartment. The police can find no identification, but there are a series of journals near the body, written in a mixture of languages.

Two police officers work on the case, a translator, and, after the nature of the diaries becomes clear, an officer who is familiar with the local traditions of witchcraft.

The diaries tell the story of an unnamed young man who is in training to become a bomoh, a Malay sorcerer. The officers assigned to the case append their notes to the translated document, but for the most part the young man tells his own story.

There is a kind of bleak inevitability to the tale. Even without the opening scene to give away the end of the story the descent of the narrator is clear.

Here Cheah performs a kind of dark alchemy. We see a man who is surrendering to evil, step by step, and yet–somehow, it was impossible for me not to feel for him.

Rather like The Stranger and The Collector, the bomoh justifies every step of his descent. He is an intelligent, articulate man, not without a certain naïve charm. He inspires both fear and pity, and sense of lost potential. Here, I kept thinking, is a man who could have been a very good man, if things had only been different.

The foreign (to me, an unregenerate Midwestern American) locale is handled deftly. What is important for Westerners to grasp about the culture of Singapore is delivered simply and without apology. The pathos of the story is universal, the details never got in the way.

All in all, a classic cautionary tale. The format adds gravitas to the morality play. Without being preachy, the warning is clear. More than once during the story I was uncomfortably reminded of my own misspent youth, and paths that, but for the grace of God, I could have taken.

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Cirsova Winter Issue Out Now!

Cirsova

The Cirsova Winter 2022 Issue is Out Now!

Sister Winter
By JOHN DAKER

On a cold night, Martin is confronted by a strange aetherial being calling itself Sister Winter! There are dangerous men looking for her, and she needs Martin’s help!

Lights
By LOU NORMANN

On an isolated stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere, Jack sees a car pulled over, wrecked… then another, riddled with bullets and a police car behind it!

Pick Trick
By TROY RISER

Tony DeLuca hates playing a hick, but witness protection was better than his old boss finding out he was a rat! Who else knows where the Feds have stashed him?!

Wishing Well
By MICHAEL WIESENBERG

Throw in a penny, and your wish could come true… Johnny Gibson wishes for his true love’s hand, but one day a suave interloper begins edging in on his best girl!

The…

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Cirsova 2023 Calendars Are Here!

I just ordered mine!

Cirsova

For the first time ever, we’re offering Cirsova wall calendars, featuring some of our best covers!

Misha Burnett has been bugging us for years to put together a calendar, so we took the time to reformat a dozen of our merch-formatted cover images to work for Lulu’s POD calendars.

Not only does this have standard holidays, it also marks our magazine’s release dates and submissions window so you’ll know when you can submit to us!

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Burst Water Heater

Cirsova

So, my water heater just went out, and the cost to not only replace it but bring the whole installation up to code is through the roof.

There has never been a better time to buy from us!

  • Amazon [Paperbacks and eBooks]
  • Lulu [Paperbacks and Hardcovers]
  • eBay [Boardgames, Toys, Original Art, and More!]

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Escape From Coffee Creek

Okay, so I’m back in St. Louis. I don’t like to get personal in this blog, but the short form is that I’m glad I went to Texas, and I think I did some good there, but I’m also glad to be home. I will be interviewing at the University where I used to work, in fact.

As far as my writing is concerned, I have a couple of stories out on submission now–both of them, now that I think about it, inspired by Role Playing Game worlds.

I have several stories that I should be working on. One is for a new market, one is for an invite only collection, and one is for a collection I intend to release next year. None of them are urgent, which is good because my real life is kind of busy with the move and all.

I am glad to be with my cats and my dog and my roommate again.

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