Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Saga of Adalwolf

Adalwolf and his brothers try to avenge on the field of battle their father's defeat by Faramund.  His shaman brother Gasto notices ravens following Adalwolf, an omen of death.  Gasto tries to talk Adalwof out of the battle, but Adalwolf is obsessed with killing Faramund.  The battle is joined, and Adalwolf turns full berserker.  Despite Adalwolf's prowess, Faramund destroys the avengers.  Gasto leads the escape back to Adalwolf's family, who refuses to flee with him.  Instead, they abandon him for places at Faramund's table.  Betrayed, alone, and ready to curse it all, Adalwolf is visited by the All-Father, who hands him a spear that allows him to kill fifty men by himself...

In the Pulp Revival, we talk about regressing further, to draw upon the forms and stories of the past to write new stories.  "The Saga of Adalwolf" takes this idea, but goes further back than the pulps and penny dreadfuls of the late 1800s and early 1900s to the Nordic tales of a millennium and more in the past.  Alone of the stories in Thune's Vision, "Adalwolf" takes place our past among the Scandinavian peoples, referencing Norse myth and ritual.  Norse sagas often center around feuds, like Adalwolf's feud with Faramund.  And, like Beowulf, the most recognized of sagas to the English reader, Adalwolf's feats on the battlefield lead to commanding warriors and kingship.  And pride causes both Beowulf and Adalwolf to fall from their heights.

For "Adalwolf" is also a tragedy.  In many forms of tragedy, the hero starts in a low station, is raised to the heights of society through individual acts of valor and prowess, and is brought low again because his personality faults drive him to make bad decisions.  The All-Father's spear gives Adalwolf the renown needed to amass a warband to defeat Faramund.  But after Faramund is killed, his treasures and halls seized, and his wife now Adalwolf's mistress, Adalwolf keeps the spear instead of returning it.  Pride in his feats fans ambition, and Adalwolf seeks kingship over all who share his language.  Once his people are united, he would conquer to the south, where disciplined fighting men in tercios (or maybe even legions) guard the riches of the southern peoples.  Meanwhile, the old hurt of his ex-wife abandoning him prevents him from marrying his mistress as he should.  Both pride and hurt spur him into making poor choices that remove the gods' blessings and eventually drive Adalwolf to his death on the field of battle.  Yet he still remains a sympathetic figure, as we see how he is manipulated into every poor decision, whether by the machinations of rivals, ambitions, or hurts.  Those wanting to find catharsis at the end of this tale, as in the best tragedies, can do so.  Others may find moral instruction.  Either way, the traditions of the tragedy are also ancient, stretching back beyond the oral stories that became the Illiad.

Which leads to the most important question: is "Adalwolf" an enjoyable read?  Yes, yes, emphatically, yes.  It is a roaring yet cautionary tale, full of action and moral question for the reader to enjoy.  At the same time, "Adalwolf" like all of Schuyler Hernstrom's stories in Thune's Vision, shows that there can be some real literary meat to sword and sorcery, actual form and craft in story, not just the sentence tricks many writers use to sound literary.  I heartily recommend Thune's Vision to both readers wanting a fun read and writers who want to learn their craft.

Additonal Reading: The Schuyler Hernstrom Edition

Much has been made this month about Hernstrom's work and how it manages to "regress harder" while simultaneously feeling fresh and new.  Although his voice is unique in these times of over-whelming pink slime literature, he wears his inspiration on his writing sleeve.  So far just this month, discussion of his work has name checked a few of the best and brightest pre-1980 writers.  For those looking for stories with the same feel and vision as those found in Thune's Vision, here are a few recommendations from the editors, complete with Amazon links for easy shopping:

Cirsova Magazine
  • In addition to publishing several of Herstrom's short stories and novella's, this is the single best source for new short fiction that stands shoulder to shoulder with Schuyler Hernstrom's work.
Poul Andersen
  • Hrolf Kraki's Saga - A Viking tale of battles, magic, betrayal, and kings, strongly reminiscent of The Saga Of Adalwolf.
  • The High Crusade - The free English knighthood commandeers a space ship in service to the King and Crown.
  • The Broken Sword - A complex web of betrayal and redemption that revolves around a changeling prince and his elven-raised human brother.  A fine mythic tale of witches, kings, and elves.
Jack Vance
  • Dying Earth - A series of novellas featuring a rogue's gallery conniving to out-rogue even less honorable men than the protagonists.  These tales evoke the same sensibilities as Ecology of the Unicorn.
Richard Uitvlugt
  • In the Day's of the Witch-Queens - A recent work, this novel was recommended by Castalia House as, "old school swords and sorcery fiction in the same vein as Thune’s Vision," I haven't read it yet.  If you have and you concur, let us know!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Athan and the Priestess: A Quick Take

(Check out Jon's summary and review here.)

From the deathbed of the seer Thune, the gods of Death and Change require a service from Athan, lord of the steppe warriors.
Thune lurched forward, heaving black bile onto the matted furs of the hut’s floor. His first wife wiped the mess from his face as he continued in a choking voice, extending a bony finger toward Athan.
“The wall above the river, the barrier that separates us from the Ullin, you must breach it. You must find the high priestess and become one with her. The scion of your union will sunder both lands and bring light and dark together again so that mankind is whole!
“The kiss of the sea witch will permit you to breathe under the deepest water. See her and beg her favor. Then cross under the barrier, through the river, and seek the priestess in the land of the Ullin. Forget your pathetic songs of pathetic raids! Begin the dynasty that will make the world anew and lay waste to the arrogant Ullin!”
It's hard not to cheer for Athan, especially once he breaches the barrier.  The earthly paradise of the Ullin is superficial, full of rotten iron and grime stereotypical of the more slanderous tales of steppe people instead of pinnacles of civilization.  The sexes are segregated, with reproduction stripped of its personal nature - and personages altogether.  Life among the Ullin is one of monotonous ease, and, like all decadent cultures, in need of the vigor of a conqueror - and the Ullin themselves realize it as well.  Yet it is Athan's task to sire that conqueror, not to himself afflict the mighty and topple the proud.  His fate at the end serves as a reminder, almost as if, like Moses, he cannot see the future he brought about because he was disobedient along the way.

Once again, a story in Thune's Vision contrasts with the favored storytelling techniques of the day.  In the endless attempts to shore up the saggy middle of the middle act, writers have taken to using series of try-fail cycles, where complications and setbacks move the protagonist towards the finale.  Instead of try-fail cycles, Athan is given trials, or obstacles that must be overcome by strength and cunning in order to achieve his goal.  To achieve the one night stand the gods have decreed for him, Athan must earn the kiss of the sea witch, escape the frenzy of her pets, impress the drowned shades of his ancestors, breach the barrier into Ullin, duel a guardian, and finally sneak his way into the priestess's quarters.  Unlike many modern stories, Athan does not go around these roadblocks, but through.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thune's Vision: Other Hot Takes

We here at The Puppy of the Month Book Club like to select a wide variety of works to discuss.  Last month we selected the well known classic, Nine Princes In Amber.  This month's selection, Thune's Vision, is considerably more recent.  As a result, there just isn't a whole lot of links available to reviews of Hernstrom's collection.  Which means that the Puppy of the Month Book Club is doing what it was designed to do - help trigger discussions about worthy books.

Nonetheless, the editors have scoured the internet and found a few gems worthy of note.  Of course you can always read a few of the glowing reviews at, but we prefer to link to those with a dedicated web presence, like these fine fellows:

No One Writes Dames Like Schuyler Hernstrom (Cirsova)
"Probably one of the hardest part of writing dames is conveying just how gorgeous and desirable they are. Some writers are content to just tell us outright that they’re pretty, beautiful, hot, whatever.  Others might try to throw at us ‘garments clinging to their supple form’, ‘milky thighs’, ‘ample bosoms’, or ‘pert upturned breasts’ if they’re really reaching.  Schuyler Hernstrom’ll either make you step your game up or give it up."
Review: Thune’s Vision (The Frisky Pagan) - This was linked to previously, and is included here because it's the most complete review, it's funny, and for the sake of easy reference:
Recommended for: People who enjoy good and strong writing, those who want to go back to the real roots of fantasy, pulp fans, and people who like to think about what they read. For fans of R.E. Howard, Burroughs, and Jack Vance this should be a no-brainer.
Not recommended for: Spineless cowards, soviet agents of International Communism, people who enjoy being laughed at, and lovers of young adult fantasy fodder.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Challenger's Garland: Nathan's Take

Drawn by their dreams, Molok, Death's Black Knight, and Lobon, White Champion of Azal, meet before the white citadel of Azal in single combat.

"The Challenger's Garland" is the simplest story yet read by the Puppy of the Month Club, but don't be fooled. Simple does not mean poor. In this case, the simplicity creates room for "The Challenger's Garland" to develop theme and setting to enrich the story. Molok and Lobon are mirrored opposites of each other, and the fates have chosen these opposites to duel. The Black Knight serves Death, is driven by duty, and has no memories of his life before his service. Champion Lobon feeds off the bloodlust of battle, serves the living, and has the comfort of a wife and family. Both combatants are undefeated, at least before their duel. In his review, Jon noticed that “this is a yin-yang fight that leaves the reader an observer who is both fully neutral and fully invested in the outcome.” This observation continues to the outcome of the battle.  Molok recovers his lost memories just before Lobon kills him. Afterwards, Lobon takes up the mantle and weapons of Death's Black Knight, complete with its loss of self. The black turned to white and the white turned to black.  Redemption accompanied by a fall.

One of the pet peeves of mine in fantasy is the Grand Tour through the world that the author has built.  Normally, a story (or, more likely, a series) is drawn out to visit all the places an author has created to the detriment of the pacing and the plot.  "The Challenger's Garland" avoids that pitfall.  As Molok rides through Azari and Kinnivesse on the way to Azal, we see the dread he inspires from the reactions of the various peoples of the lands he rides through.  Instead of just showing off a writer's creativity, these lands and people build up Molok's might in the eye of the reader.  And when he requests a garland from the blind girl in Azal, it shows the dedication to his purpose.  While I would not go so far to say it humanizes Molok, it does show that he is not one for aimless cruelty.  Here the setting has a purpose, to develop character while it flavors the tale with the exotic.

Finally, "The Challenger's Garland" sets up the themes for Thune's Vision: Death and Fate. Molok goes to his fate as a matter of duty, observing the norms required.  Kor of the Ar, in “The Movements of the Ige”, courts his fate, chasing after his ritual death when it is denied to him.  Athan quests for his fate in "Athan and the Priestess", risking all for the greater future shown to him.   But Thune's Vision, in the great tradition of the pulps, also shows the folly of defying both Death and Fate. Lobon clings to his life and bloodlust, and, at the time of dying, ultimately chooses to defy his fate. Instead, he accepts another, more evil fate as Death's executioner, complete with the utter loss of everything that made him Lobon. By attempting to escape his fated death, Malathikos of “The Ecology of the Unicorn” rushed headlong towards it.  Each of the tales shows that the right action of Man is to, as Schuyler Hernstrom himself has said, "Hail beauty and truth. Hail courage and hail the hand that smites evil. Hail love and life. And when your sun finally sets, as it must, then hail death."

(You can read Jon's review of "The Challenger's Garland" here.)

Friday, November 25, 2016

The rise and fall of practically everybody.

Many writers have a theme or subject to which they return even despite their best efforts. It is an idea, concept, or belief around which many of their stories revolve even when they may appear wildly different at first glance. It may be a unique fear or anxiety (as with many dystopian writers,) an image of unknown origin that somehow keeps following them, or a philosophical idea. Regardless of what it is, it's almost always there, and the writer seems to have problems getting away from it.

Traditionally, a lot of fantasy has not shown this trait. This is not necessarily wrong or a defect, and if the goal of your novel or short story is just a tale of adventures, there may not be any need for any more complex subtext. Excitement for a well-written adventure is a goal in itself that doesn't require any justification. Still, many of the old masters of fantasy did have their main themes to which they always returned. As E. R Burroughs once said:

“We wish to escape not alone the narrow confines of city streets for the freedom of the wilderness, but the restrictions of man-made laws, and the inhibitions that society has placed on us.  We like to picture ourselves as roaming free, the lords of ourselves and of our world, in other words, we would each like to be Tarzan.  At least I would.  I admit it.” 

That individualism, the "roaming free" experience and the nakedness of Burroughs' and Howard's heroes (especially as interpreted by Frank Frazetta) must be understood in that light, as a symbol of pure and unaided strength. The armor-clad knight is a symbol of civilization, technique, discipline, order, and aristocracy, the peak development of a medieval arms race,  but Tarzan or the roaming barbarian who kills his enemies carrying barely anything are symbols of primal and universal raw force, independent of place or time. To quote Tarzan once again:

"to me the only pleasure in the hunt is the knowledge that the hunted thing has power to harm me as much as I have to harm him. If I went out with a couple of rifles and a gun bearer, and twenty or thirty beaters, to hunt a lion, I should not feel that the lion had much chance, and so the pleasure of the hunt would be lessened in proportion to the increased safety which I felt." Tarzan of the Apes, chapter 26.

The reader, talking about the pleasure of reading a story, could say the same. 

Why I'm saying all this? Well, first because those authors are part of the genus or family into which I would classify Hernstrom's work. And second, because they are a useful contrast with his work. Although there are obvious similarities between Henstrom's stories and, for example, Howard's barbarian tales, there are some stark thematic differences even when they share certain philosophies. The most important one is, I believe, related to the main theme that informs almost all of the Hernstrom's works I have read: The cyclical rise and fall of cultures and civilization.

While many pulpish heroes seem unrooted, their cultures barely mentioned, almost like aliens from another planet (quite literally with John Carter,) Henstrom gives an unusual attention to the protagonists' societies, beliefs, religions, and myths. Many of the heroes of the stories we read here at the Puppy Book Club work better as universal archetypes, as somewhat independent of circumstances, time, or place. However, the barbarian warlord in Athan and the Priestess can't be understood without paying attention to his culture, society, or even his surrounding geography. Athan, as an individual, isn't really that important in the story; it's the role he plays in the great historical /divine drama what matters. In fact, his death is somewhat anticlimactic and irrelevant as he had already accomplished his purpose, and he doesn't even see the result of his actions (i.e. sleeping with a hot princess.) But that's because he is not the center of the story, that would be the almost Hegelian historical process he initiates: the synthesis of two opposite cultures, the hypermasculine and degenerate barbarian tribes with the equally broken but hyperfeminine people from the other side of the barrier.

That is a theme that repeats itself in many of Hernstrom's stories, and he has mentioned his interest in such ideas. After all, in this Gabbin' with the Geeks podcast, he asked if someone had read Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West. He was one of the most influential philosophers in a long list of thinkers who have understood cultures and civilizations in an organic manner, as living organism and, therefore, like systems with their burgeoning and blooming phases, but also their inevitable decline. And in the upper-left corner of Thune's Vision cover, you can see the Futhark rune Yr, which sometimes has been interpreted as meaning "death." Also, less subtly, there is a whooping giant skull in the cover. Still, this shouldn't be interpreted in an ominous or depressing manner since in (almost) all the stories, death or loss is only one side of the coin.

Without dwelling too much on the specifics, these are the stories in Thune's Vision and how they relate to what I'm explaining here.

The Challenger's Garland: Death's Champion challenges a living champion. Life defeats death, but he then accepts the mantle of Death's Champion and the cycle starts again. I should note here, as a curiosity, that the new champion of Death always forgets his past role, so he thinks he is the only one. Amnesia between the cycles (individual or societal,) is a common theme in all these stories and one of the reasons the cycle keeps repeating ("Those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it," and all that, I guess.)

Athan and the Priestess: Already mentioned. A Hegelian synthesis that starts at the orders of Thune, the shaman who received a prophecy from the gods of Change and Time.

The Movement of the Ige: An anthropological sci-fi story where a species of lizardmen reproduce thanks to warfare and slaughter. Their culture revolves around their sun and the beauty of their death dances. It's difficult to find a stronger symbolism of the symbiosis between life and death than a species that must kill to reproduce.

The Ecology of the Unicorn: A humorous story and less somber than the others. It's also more personal and, for that reason, not focused on societal changes but on the ambitions of an individual, a wizard who thanks to his powers can (or so he believes) outwit death. He fails at that but achieves an immortality of sorts.

The saga of Adalwolf: Most of Hernstrom's stories seem to possess a certain musicality or rhythm, a feeling strengthened by the cyclical nature of its philosophical themes. That's boldly expressed in this novella, whose first paragraph essentially prefigures its end. The story is also full of symbols that repeat themselves and, as with the other stories, the main theme is about the rise and fall of culture, a nation, and a shared worldview. This development manifest from top to bottom, from the gods themselves (Odin) to Adalwolf, whose hubris, rise to power and final decline mirrors (and causes) the rise and fall of his nation.

Finally, although they are not part of Thune's Vision, two extras:

The Gift of the Ob-Men: a short story that appeared in Cirsova #1, this one follows a Conan-like warrior, cast away from their tribe after breaking "the idol of a strange god", forced to wander a land dotted with the remains of mysterious, advanced, and incomprehensible (from his barbarian point of view) ancient civilizations. He receives a third eye that allows him to see through time, and the story ends with this vision:

"His descendants would multiply and cover the world, learning of iron and grain. [...]

The descendants would form first kingdoms and then great nations. They would war among themselves under a hundred banners. They would make symbols to record their deeds and art to display their vanities. They would raise great cites [sic] of metal and temples of mirrors and forget again the name of the gods. They would become lost in the labyrinths of their own minds. The great towers would crumble and the cathedrals would fall. The cities would rot as man would return to the earth, again stalking the forests for game and fighting their enemies with blades of stone, building great bonfires to hold the terrors of the night at bay. They would dwindle in number, debased, and fearful.

Then a day would come when a warrior would stalk the ruins and find the idol of a forgotten god, a strange statue with three eyes."
And so the cycle continues.

Images of the Goddess: A novella that appeared in Cirsova #2. This Dying Earth-like story tells the adventures of... oh, ok, this one probably doesn't follow the epic themes mentioned here. Still, I couldn't finish this piece without mentioning the exploits of novice Plom and his quest the reclaim a priceless relic from ages long forgotten, an artifact crafted by the superior minds of ancient civilizations, a libram flawlessly depicting the glorious Goddess! (Spoiler: It's an adult magazine.)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Puppy Talk: An Interview with Schuyler Hernstrom

Schuyler Hernstrom, author of this month's Puppy of the Month and frequent contributor to Cirsova Magazine, is a rarity in the new publishing world - an author without a major social media presence.  While his works are becoming increasingly well known, the author himself is something of a mystery.  Just as his writing harkens back to that of the old masters, Hernstrom typically parcels out information about himself in short paragraphs included with his works.  In what may be the longest interview published to date, he talks about his writing inspiration and shares a few small glimpses into his  adventurous life away from the keyboard.  Enjoy!

Editor: Rabid or Sad?
SH: Ya know, this is corny but I am actually going to pull a quote from my own work to answer. It is a bit early in the career to pull a stunt like this but it is so apropos I can’t resist:
He took a knife from his belt and cut away the flag and a length of cloth from the sleeve and turned to Tyur. He tied the thing to the hunter’s thick arm. Tyur looked down in awe.
“But I am not of your blood…”
“All who fight tyranny are of my tribe.”
The young man grasped his host’s shoulders and the old man returned the gesture.
Hopefully the whole thing will be in the Cirsova Eldritch Earth issue.
When was the moment you realized there was something lacking in today's fiction? Did that coincide with your desire to start writing?
Photo courtesy of
Actually as a young man I was inundated with Vance, Howard, Lieber, Jakes, Anderson, everything. So when I would step out, and this is in the eighties, I would pick up a science fiction magazine from time to time and be sent flying back into the arms of these old paperbacks, or a comic. I didn’t know how to interpret it at the time. I figured there was the good, fun stuff, and the sophisticated, boring stuff. The dichotomy never really made perfect sense even back then. Herbert’s "Dune" is jam packed with all things I wanted when I was 12 but it is also an incredibly deep look at human history.  
I had no idea what the field was like when I finally sat down to write. I still don’t really understand it. I try to read up a bit, I follow Jeffro and read commentary on the state of the genre. I am coming late to the discussion but in the end everything points to much larger issues. I’ve come to find that my thinking on the genre is like putting a magnifying glass on the elephant’s tail. I feel like I need to go back to anthropology, philosophy, and try to understand how cultures create their values and what that means. When I feel as if I am living among ruins, is that just me being maudlin? Medieval Italians took stones from the Coliseum to build houses. What are we dismantling now?
In recent interviews, you revealed that writing is a second career that you started only after your 40th birthday.  What motivated you to start?  Do you have any formal training?
I’ve always wanted to do some writing but the time never felt right. I always felt like I would write a novel one day but how to even get started? But I get older, I get domesticated, and a friend of mine brings up short fiction and encourages me to try it, and here we are. He designs and publishes miniatures games and over the years I got to have fun writing fluff fiction for some of his books. He was thinking about writing some shorts for Pathfinder, I guess they do some short fiction somehow, and he prodded me to try it. I played around a bit and then just had fun with it, forgetting all about Pathfinder and not thinking about venues or anything. When the dust settled I had something I really liked so I just kept going.
When I was 19 I took a creative writing course and it was a bit of a disaster. I don’t want to harp on this because everyone is different but I have gotten nothing out of any formal instruction or written advice anywhere with the exception of one article, a piece written by John C. Wright that had a few paragraphs and explained why they worked. The article was short, I got it for free somehow, and it was gold. Pure gold. With all the how-to books and everything no one had actually explained the sleight of hand, the actual craft, right there, right in front of your face. I found I was doing it, but reading the explanation made sure that I could continue doing it, and do it better. I cannot imagine that info isn’t out there somewhere else. But I hadn’t found it. Now, again, everyone is different, and I have not scoured the earth looking for good advice on writing. So no one be dissuaded from their own research about how to be better.
A number of people have offered up suggestions for authors who have inspired your work ranging from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Jack Vance to Poul Anderson.  Do you have an author that you consider your primary influence?
That’s pretty tough. I write a couple different types of stories but the ones closest to my heart are the ones like "Athan and the Priestess". They happen in a sort of myth world that occupies some nook in my brain, living on despite constant assault from the modern world. The writer who best resembles that inner myth world is Dunsany. Howard and Vance are huge as well, probably in practical terms bigger influences, but Dunsany goes for that sort of transcendent quality I find irresistible
Terronus, by  Scott R. Pyle and
Schuyler Hernstrom
Who are some of your favorite authors writing today?
Cirsova kicked off a real renaissance for me in terms of new writers to check out. That is turning into a deep ocean. Outside of that pool there is Dariel Quiogue, a guy I found through Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, really good sword and sorcery there. Past puppy pick Niemeier is blowing my mind. The aforementioned John C. Wright is incredibly talented. And I am really excited about more stuff from Adrian Cole on the way!
With its strong grounding in epic fantasy, sprawling worlds, and constant action and adventure, your work could stand proudly among the ranks of the Appendix N books.  It’s clear that you have taken considerable inspiration from many of them.  As we all know, Appendix N was an expression of tabletop gaming.  Are you a tabletop gamer?  Did you discover these works through Gygax’s tome, or did you come to gaming through a love of fantasy literature?
Being marked as “N” quality is the highest compliment I could hope to receive. I do play D&D. I run a public 5E game and I have a B/X game for me and my buds. For me gaming and literature have always been intertwined. Appendix N was well represented on the shelves in my home growing up. My dad was into this stuff and I grew up in a house creaking under the weight of all the books. I feel really lucky. There were the books, the Frazetta covers, Savage Sword of Conan, games, movies, tv shows, all boiling in a giant cauldron. It spilled into everything, car and motorcycle culture with a nod to airbrushed panels and tanks, painting miniatures, heavy metal, tattoos, Wagner, everything, even bodybuilding and martial arts. Geek culture likes to arrange everything in little fandom boxes but for me it has always been such a multifaceted thing.  
Do you have a writing routine?
I don’t really have a routine. I have to be in a certain state of mind when I start something. Once it is begun, then I can feed off it to get back into that state of mind, like an engine that has been warmed up. I use a lot of music to get in the mood, and sometimes weed.
Are you planning to write a full novel or, as is common in fantasy, a multi-volume saga?
I don’t want to close the door on anything but I cannot imagine writing one of those sprawling sagas. It just isn’t in me. Those things are written with a different purpose than the one that motivates my writing. Nothing at all wrong with them, it just isn’t me. I have a novel in my head but I keep going back on forth with it. I am having so much fun with the short fiction that I don’t feel a burning need to do the novel, but then I think I really should.
Is there a genre you haven't yet tried but would want to? And, also, is there something you'd never write?
I think multi-volume things are off the menu as I talked about earlier. As far as other genres, sometimes I get the urge to write “literary fiction”.  There are a number of authors I like outside the genre, Ernst Junger, Mishima, Hesse, Dostoevsky, and sometimes I dare to think that I should be working on something to document the particular mental spaces that we occupy today. Then I remember that the things I would have to say would be likely be outside the boundaries of discourse set in place by our betters that it would never get anywhere.

As one of Cirsova’s regular contributors, has all of your work for that magazine been submitted blind, or do you do spec work to fill in holes in the editor’s line-ups?
It was pretty much blind but I got on the list for the Eldritch Earth issue so that is nice.
You’ve done an admirable job straddling the line between self-publishing and securing work through Cirsova magazine.  How has self-publishing worked out for you?  Any advice for the recent crop of authors picking up the pen and throwing their own hats into the self-publishing ring?
My strategy comes from Dean Wesley Smith. Get into some magazines and then have some self-published stuff on the rack for people who like your work. If it wasn’t for people like him giving us wanna-be’s the straight dope I would be pretty clueless. The publishing industry does a really good job of controlling the frame but between the internet and Amazon things are opening up. Larry Correia also dishes out a great deal of hardcore info about how the whole thing works. My only advice to people starting out is do some homework and be fearless. Considering the work I have done to promote myself, my venture into self-publishing has succeeded much better than I dared hope.
Unlike other contemporary self-published authors, you seem hesitant to advertise yourself or to have a social media presence. Why is that so?
I think it goes back to that little bio of Vance in the back of the book. That was enough back then. I take my work very seriously. I want my work to be more out there, more known, more prominent than me. I don’t want to have public stances on every event or issue that comes up. I don’t want to spend time creating content other than my writing. A great many writers are doing that, and I do not begrudge them any of it. They are doing what they want to do, putting themselves out there, partly to market their work and because they have something to say. I think that is awesome. It just isn’t me. When it is all said and done my career may suffer for this, but I just have to do it my way. Otherwise I would be faking it. I’ve been contacted by people that wanted to let me know they like my stuff or ask a question and I love it, I love meeting people. I am just not going to maintain any sort of real presence online.

Lore, Vol. 2, No. 5 contains Hernstrom's
short story, "Palace of the Androgyne"
"Thune’s Vision", this month’s Puppy of the Month selection, is your first independently available title.  Can you tell us what you have in store in the near future?
I don’t know! Ideas for stories keep popping into my head but I have a novel cooking back there somewhere and I honestly have trouble deciding where to concentrate my efforts. Whichever way I go I just want to keep making things. I’ve had a blast so far, I’ve met some amazing people, and I expect it is only going to get better.
The Puppy of the Month Book Club has given you their take on your work – do you want to take a few shots at our reviews?
Oh no. Anything that I disagreed with simply boils down to a matter of personal taste. I was surprised "Movements of the Ige" was so well liked. I imagined it would be thought of as a palette cleanser. Obviously I love it, but you just never know.  It comes as close as I can to an “idea” story. In Star Trek and other franchises, you have your warrior races. I like Star Trek, not knocking it, but I just wanted to take the warrior race to its limit.  Thus warfare is actually part of their ecology. And I like beauty, so let’s make it all beautiful. Why not?
Your Amazon bio mentions that you were enlisted twice and have been "a paratrooper, sailor, janitor, bouncer in Roppongi*, librarian, and a dozen other things, bringing a world wise slant to his tales of the fantastic. " There must be something funny or interesting there with such a life you could share with the Puppy of the Month Book Club.
Oh man. I have more stories than people have time to hear. When I was 19 I was bouncing off the walls. Remember before the internet when the only stuff you knew about an author was from a paragraph at the end of a book? I took note that Jack Vance was a well-travelled man. I decided to join the military and my mom begged me to go into the navy, the least dangerous one. I don’t know what she was worried about, this was after history had ended when the Soviet Union closed up shop but before the neocons had seized complete control. Vance had been a sailor so that was good enough for me. So I went into the navy. I can keep my mouth shut and obey complicated instructions so I did well in boot and got a school out of it. I picked intelligence analyst after watching the movie “Patriot Games”. I blame Polly Walker. At intel school I was the best at memorizing Russian weapons platforms so I got choice of station and picked Japan. I had an incredible time, got to visit a dozen different countries and sail all over the western Pacific.

After my enlistment was up I stayed over there. I had a job on the base and on the weekends I did the bouncing. It was pretty farcical. I think I got the gig based on my tattoo sleeves.  At the time I was built like an otter, very lithe, about 180 probably, and I’m 6’3”. But my comrades there were all very large, very fit men. Some of them had come over to get on the K-1 circuit. They were kickboxers. So as we settled into our roles it became clear that I was there as comic relief, a role I accepted with grace and seriousness. I worked in two different clubs, one in Shibuya and one in Roppongi. I never had to lay anyone out the whole time. There weren’t any bikers or skinheads over there, at least in those clubs, and when the Japanese party they just want to party. If anyone was going to be causing trouble it would have likely been me, and I was working, so there you go. My manager was a mountainous black guy, a true giant. He was a good natured man but one night the drink called up demons in him. As the club was letting out he got into it with a big group of natives and things went really south quickly. I will never forget the sight of him, bellowing his battle cries as a dozen Japanese men crawled all over him. People didn’t really “fight” fight over there, it is difficult to describe, more like a pushing match punctuated by the occasional pulled punch. In societies with high cohesion and homogeneity I think you are less likely to want to kill your foe during altercations. Anyway, it was like watching a tribe of goblins storming castle walls. Me and the other guys just pulled the Japanese off, one by one, and carried them to where “Big Al”, another large black man with hands like Christmas hams, was corralling them. The whole time the women were screeching and screaming. Even in mild distress the noises they make are still “kawaii”.
I travelled for spectacle and I got it. When I finally got back stateside I kicked around for a little bit and then went into the army, 11B, airborne, but a bout of Hodgkin’s Disease ended my military career right as Iraq was kicking off. It gets more and more boring after that. But I have my memories, tons of them, and I still manage to find some spectacle even after being domesticated. If you are stuck somewhere, fear not, just try to squeeze everything you can from the environment around you. I traded sunsets on the South Pacific and the thrill of parachuting for the hills of my home in Western PA. But they are beautiful hills and if they were all I could have it would be enough.
Great advice for all of us.  Any parting thoughts?
Thanks to everyone out there for the support. People have a million ways to spend their precious free time. If you’ve spent any of it on my writing you have my sincerest gratitude. And to all the other writers and content creators and bloggers, thanks for the help.  
Support your local Cirsova.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Of course he doesn't like you. You are a servant of selfish evil."

In a previous post, Nathan Housley commented on the selfishness of "The Ecology of the Unicorn" protagonists. I don't know about Rutu, but Malathikos is clearly not a poster boy for goodness. I mean, with a name like that, it's a dead giveaway, like naming your character Torquemada, Sidious, Mrs. Malice, or His Evilness.

There is a small but important tradition of storytelling where the protagonist is the worst person around. This may be used to teach that evil doesn't pay or, as is common in more modern "realistic" literature, just because evil is a facet of humanity. Sometimes, on the other hand, because it's fun. If well played (and it takes skill) there is a lot of comedic potential in a story filled with consummate egotist always looking for Number One. Of course, because there can only be one Number One, hilarity ensues when all the characters foolishly try to achieve their usually impossible or overblown goals. This narcissism is the source of amusement, not only for the mischief and damage it causes to others (who may actually deserve whatever happens to them) but  because it's self-destructive and the protagonists are their worst enemies. 

Sometimes, like in the British black comedy Black Adder (mostly seasons two and three,) the main protagonist seems to be the only one intelligent around, something that in an almost Darwinian sense justifies his behavior because everyone else around him is too stupid for his own good, so they might as well be fleeced by the only one around with a hint of self-awareness. Besides, it's also common that almost anyone else is a huge egoist, too; the problem is not alignment, then, but that they used INT as their dumping stat. It seems that we humans get a kick out of seeing a bunch of snakes tearing each other apart.

Following the style of Jack Vance's stories, The Ecology of the Unicorn also has a self-centered (but somewhat charming) egotist as the main protagonist. Now, although some people may mince words and talk about "anti-heroes," the simple truth is that characters like Cugel the Clever (at least in The Eyes of the Overworld) would have been hanged in almost all known jurisdictions. And a few would have allowed the death penalty just for him. He is evil (with a small e, to be fair) clearly self-centered, narcissistic, and a cruel and vindictive man. His ego is as big as his usually underserved soubriquet, "The Clever," which makes his inevitable (but mostly self-imposed) failures even funnier. 

Being a competent wizard who has managed to dodge death's embrace for a long time, Malathikos doesn't seem to be such a fool, but like in many stories with a villainous protagonist, he is his own downfall. His ambition and his inability to accept death -which drive him to seek out the mysterious source of the fae's immortality- end up killing him when the creature he apparently needs (a unicorn,) a beast of unblemished good, sniffs his wicked aura and impales him with its horn, sending him to a well-deserved but inglorious end. However -and unlike Cugel-, being a forward-thinking gentleman, Malathikos had already planned for such eventuality, and his demise triggers a catastrophic event that ultimately earns him immortality of another kind: the destruction of the Great Tree of the fairies by a giant demon who repeatedly screams his name like an infernal loudspeaker. Malathikos had wanted immortality, and something of that kind he got. Better to be known as a sinner than not at all, he probably would have said.

Here I'd like to add that it is nice to see authors who follow that old tradition of making any magic user wicked or, at least, certainly not normal. Before the advent of high fantasy and its derivatives (where being a mage is just like any other profession,) magic was essentially demonic or of questionable origin, and it was also assumed that even if it was used for noble purposes, its wielder could not be a "nice guy" or a normal, well-adjusted individual. After all, the point of magic is an unwillingness to accept the normal laws of reality. If they hadn't sold their souls to an inhuman abomination like the wizards of R. E. Howard, they were the haughty, conceited, hedonistic, and some of them barely sane wizards of Vance's 21st Aeon. I have noticed the treatment of magic and magic-users seem to be a telltale sign that separates those who follow older (and, I believe, better) traditions of fantasy from those who follow modern ones, and Hernstrom is certainly in the first group. 

While in contemporary fantasy magic is usually just pyrotechnics or a tool like any other (i.e. warriors attack with a sword and wizards throw fireballs, but it's essentially the same*,) for the old masters of fantasy magic was part of the character and the plot. It was part of his personality, desires, and ambitions. It allowed him to accomplish things, even immoral things, which would be impossible otherwise. In many cases, it was a necessary condition for the plot to make sense. And if science wonders are (or should be) essential for a science fiction story to make any sense, magic should also be a necessary narrative tool for a sorcery-centered story to make sense. The Ecology of the Unicorn, even if it is a short and humorous tale of overblown egos and foolish magicks, accomplishes that.

* Just different ways to kill something. I guess this could be an undesired consequence of D&D's popularity, where a mage is just that, a class.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


I chose Thune's Vision because I believe it's a great book. That may not be the deepest analysis ever done or the best possible endorsement, but it's the truth. I might have chosen it even if this were not a Club devoted to a unique subgenre of fiction. I can imagine myself in your average reading club, confidently pointing at the cover of Thune's Vision, surrounded by housewives and other Normal Ordinary Responsible Persons, and telling them to stop reading garbage ("Excuse me, but what's this Paulo Coelho nonsense?") and read something useful for once. "Especially that part where Athan disembowels a bunch of underwater abominations. That was pretty cool," I would tell them. 

We don't read any book here, though, but those that represent the spirit and style of fiction that was once popular and emulated, but now has waned, even if there are already many signs of a resurgence. And Thune's Vision is one of those signs.  And what's more, if someone who doesn't know much about fantasy (or someone burned out by today's fantasy novels) asked me for a book to get into the genre, this would be one of those I'd prescribe as a good starting point. It is well written (in my opinion, a surprisingly uncommon thing in fantasy,) it is short, it has humor, it is exciting (and what's the point of reading fantasy if it's not exciting?), and sometimes it can be quite deep if you pay enough attention.

As I had already written a somewhat long analysis of the book on my blog, I won't write a standard review here because I don't want to repeat myself. However, I'll comment a few things about the main themes of the stories, the qualities in which they excel, or just... funny stuff that I found interesting. Until then, you can read Nathan Housley's commentaries or take a peek at my review.

Next Puppy: Swan Knight's Son, by John C. Wright

Click to buy.
Multiple Hugo Award Nominee, Nebula Award finalist, and frequent target of the CHORFs, John C. Wright is well regarded as one of the intellectual heavy-weights of the Puppy movement.  His blog serves as a verbal lembas for we few, we happy few caught up in the fight against Mordor on the Hudson.  His writing, both blog and print, provides sustenance for the mind and soul on our journey from this world into the next.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading his works already knows that his writing combines a strong dose of intellectualism with a fairy tale sense of wonder, and that he leavens that surprising combination with enough action and adventure to make the reader's head spin.  It is with great pleasure that the Puppy of the Month Book Club has selected Swan Knight's Son as the December novel. 

If you enjoy this book you won't have to wait for years on end to find out what happens next.  The second book in the Green Knight's Squire series, Feast of the Elfs, is already available through Amazon.  In addition, Vox Day has also confirmed that the third book in the series, Swan Knight's Sword, should be out before Christmas. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Ecology of the Unicorn

To stave off the pursuit of the black rider of Death, the sorcerer Malathikos searches for any hidden knowledge that might prolong his life.  He tortures a fae servant, Rutu, for the secret of fae immortality.  Rutu is oathbound not to reveal his people's secrets, but he might just leave a book or two open to hint at the solution.  Malathikos lets the fae loose in the library.  Rutu escapes, leaving behind a book open to the ecology of the unicorn, mythical beasts who live in Illylisily.

Malathikos follows Rutu to the forests of Illylisily, trailing the fae with star dust.  He corners Rutu, who agrees to help if they both survive the arrival of the guards.  A patrol of hussars then confronts the sorcerer.  After a formal show of force is rendered ineffectual by Malathikos's protective wardings, the hussars leave, carrying a large ruby gift from Malathikos to smooth over relations with the king and his wizards.

Rutu leads Malathikos to the pools where the unicorns graze.  Malathikos reaches out to a fairly placid male, only to remember too late that unicorns always travel in pairs...


I'll be honest, I did not enjoy reading this story.  Malathikos and Rutu are both unsympathetic schemers of cloudy and uncertain parentage.  Like the wasp landing on a nettle, someone's going to get stung, and I don't mind who.  Malathikos was distilled evil, and Rutu plotted against him for immediate personal advantage with no thoughts to how his actions might affect others.  Driven by selfishness, Rutu's tactical victories turned into strategic defeat.  That said, unappealing characters do not a bad story make.  Despite watching two different flavors of destructive selfishness duel, I was never tempted to throw my Kindle against the wall, nor did I feel the need to take a bath afterwards.  Like in the Hays Code of old, both cheats got their just reward.  I would rather read about the heroism of the Ige instead.


"The Ecology of the Unicorn" is not the first story to explore how the steps to avoid a given fate may instead bring it about.  The black rider, symbol of approaching death, sparks Malathikos's fatal search to escape it.  Unlike previous tales, however, this fact remains in the background.  While Malathikos does strive against death, his efforts are directed towards obtaining the secrets of the fae from Rutu instead of lamenting an inevitable fate.

Fate and death appear to be the two great themes of the shorter tales of Thune's Vision.


While musing over what to write in for my review of "The Movements of the Ige", I had considered comparing that story to the Hollywood formula.  In that structure, a protagonist tries to obtain a goal, an antagonist tries to prevent the protagonist from obtaining it, and the protagonist will reconcile with the relationship character who has been traveling with him.  Please check out the link for examples.  As a relationship structure, the Hollywood formula puts character and thematic conflict into sharp relief.  As a plot structure, however, it suffers from the same fault as the three act structure: a saggy middle act.

However I was forced to abandon that idea as neither "The Movements of the Ige" nor "The Ecology of the Unicorn" have a relationship character.  What both short stories do have, though, is clearly delineated conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist.  In "Ige", Kor wishes to fulfill his destiny to die before his god-sun.  The arrival of the unnamed astronauts prevent that.  In "Unicorn", Malathikos seeks to learn the secrets of fae immortality to stave off his approaching death.  Rutu tries to prevent that.  Both stories feature conflict that is personal, consequential, and definite.  Kor succeeds over the shattered faceplates of the astronauts; Malathikos fails utterly, foiled by Rutu.  There are no draws.  Hernstrom's stories are focused duels between the protagonist and the foes of his desire, and read like the single combat of heroes of old. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Athan and the Priestess

A barbarian undertakes a quest to save the world by banging a hot queen.  This is one of those stories we aren't supposed to like.  In unskilled hands a story based on that premise would be a campy little romp, but Hernstrom's hands are anything but unskilled and he stays firmly on the serious side of fun with Athan and the Princess.

Image result for frazetta barbarian undeadThis is the one, people.  This is the story from which this collection draws its name.  It's the longest of the stories, and certainly the most sprawling.  It begins with the titular character, Athan the barbarian warlord, being summoned to the tent of the tribal shaman, Thune, to hear of his vision and prophecy.  With his last breath, the old man gasps out a prophecy that leaves Athan with a choice.  He may stay at home and live the rest of his days raiding amongst the barbarian tribes, or he may undergo a quest that will end the world as the tribes know it, but one which will result in the rebirth of man and Athan's progeny ruling down through centuries.

Of course Athan takes the quest, brings down the barrier protecting the tribe's ancient enemies, the Ullin, from the warlike barbarians, meets a princess and sires the child that changes the world.

In many ways, this work shares similar themes with The Challenger's Garland.  You have cultures that have atrophied and grown stale, and the only way to reinvigorate them is through fresh blood.  You have two kingdoms that mirror each other - one dark and one light, or one decidedly masculine and one decidedly feminine, and it is only through a union of the two that growth can occur.

On the other hand, this is a traditional quest story.  The hero must visit a sea witch and resist her powers, both subtle and unsubtle, to break through the barrier.  He faces down the ghosts of the past - literally - who provide him with important exposition, and who he defeats not by strength of arms, but by sheer honesty and compassion.  He escapes imprisonment and scales the exterior of a tall tower to reach a princess.

Once there, he again finds that strength of arms will not avail him, and he is forced to seduce the princess.  By fathering her child, he breaks the spell that holds the world in stasis, and he returns to a tribe that is also changed by the experience.  Interestingly, the need for fresh blood to renew a dying world is paralleled in that blood has to be spilled, and a new bloodline established.  The tale begins with the death of Athune and ends with the birth of Athan's child.  There's a theme of death and rebirth running through this story that helps keep it grounded in a serious mood.

The denouement is quick to read, but covers the millennia that follow.  In just two paragraphs we learn how Athan's little adventure causes the barrier between his land and the other to fall, and how it lead to the return of the gods to the lands.

He ends by teasing that the stories hinted at in the denouement are for another time.  Let's all hope another time comes sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Gabbin' With the Geeks

Several months ago, Schuyler Hernstrom was interviewed on Geek Gab!, an almost weekly podcast featuring Daddy Warpig, Brian Niemeier, and John...somebody.  Somebody smarter than me said he talks about writing the way metalheads talk about music.  He does have a rather sedated method of speaking that somehow enhances the furious activity that seems to be going on in his head during this interview.  Enough talk - get listening.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Movements of the Ige: Nathan's Take

I've been searching for a way to properly review short stories, as I have found the way I do novels to be unsatisfactory for shorter works.  An entire school of short story writing depends on a revelatory twist in the final sentences, making the shorter works more vulnerable to spoilers. Yet without that twist, discussing the short story becomes difficult.

Take "The Movements of the Ige" as an example.  We are introduced to an alien species reminiscent of feathered serpents fighting and dying underneath their world's sun in a mating ritual,  For the sterile males, the highest goal is to die, making the most beautiful death throes before their bodies feed the creatures who are later fed to the Ige females' eggs.  Ritual constrains the bloodshed to one day a year, and the chief of the Ar tribe, Kor, now seeks his death before his god-sun after three years of battle.  But a strange sight in the heavens interrupts the battle, and neither the Ar nor their enemies wish to fight and die.

I am tempted to leave the summary finished here as none of the surprises of "The Movements of the Ige" have been revealed.  Unfortunately, that also gives a false impression of the story.  At this point, it could be easily be mistaken for a typical fantasy, albeit one leaning more towards the strange ecologies of Sanderson's Stormlight Archive instead of the more familiar realms of Middle Earth, Westeros, or the Land of the Wheel of Time.  But the sign in the heavens is a landing spaceship, presumed to be human as the description of the egg-like ship and the single large bronze eye of its occupants are strongly evocative of the Apollo moon missions.

This week in 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts Jim Iwrin and David Scott deployed the first Lunar Roving Vehicle on the moon.

"The Movements of the Ige" is actually a first contact story from the perspective of the aliens, drawn from sword and planet tropes instead of science fiction.  Kor does not worship the newcomers as gods, nor are there ham-handed replays of the Conquistators landing in  America.  Instead, his actions are driven by his worship of the god-sun and the importance of the killing day.  It's almost as if the story is a refutation of the hoary trope that native tribes would worship starfarers as gods.  Kor does indeed find the death before the god-sun he seeks, but I will leave how for readers to discover.

Having read the four shorter stories in the collection, "The Movements of the Ige" is my favorite.  Not only was I impressed by the strangeness of the life-cycle of the Ige, Kor is alien without devolving into a Star Trek rubber nosed human clone.  That alienness resonated with me in a way that the other stories did not.  Furthermore, "The Movements of the Ige" is an examination of the science fiction standard of first contact, but, by examining it through the lens of heroic fantasy, it breathes new life into that moldy oldie.  Proper pulp entertainment, this story is, and a worthy addition to the field.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Challenger’s Garland: Jon's Take

"Molok rose from his resting place in the damp earth."

What a great first line! Moloch conjures images of the Moloch of the bible[?], a harbinger of death. It’s clear from the first that this is going to be an epic tale. The opening stages of the story set the stage for a story that harkens back to the dark, yet sweeping, tales of [WHAT’S HIS NAME’S] film Excalibur, or even the grittier sorts of swords and sorcery fairy tales presented by Heavy Metal. The images in my mind as I read this tale owed far more to a Ralph Bakshi animated film than the cookie cutter sort of Disneyesque fantasy that rules the box office today.
An initial confrontation with the King of Death establishes that Molok is less a primary actor, than he is a loyal servant summoned by the fates to do their bidding. The King’s ignorance of Molok’s mission gives us a hint that even the King is a pawn in a larger game. It’s a deft touch that tells the reader not to judge too harshly, not to assume that the black knight relishes the task ahead. That’s an important consideration when asking the reader to spend time and perhaps even sympathize with a destructive force of nature.

The long journey Molok makes to meet the white knight in battle shows Herstrom’s strengths as a writer who can paint detailed landscapes with just a smattering of words. In three short paragraphs, each just three sentences long, he crafts a world that stretches past horizon after horizon. The fourth paragraph eases the reader into the gentle rolling hills of the pleasant land of Lobon, the champion Molok has been tasked with slaying. Herstrom’s work in these short paragraphs so impressionistic you almost wonder if he’s ever heard of the concept of being paid on a per-word basis.

But the real trick of this story is the way that Hernstrom provides the reader with two champions, both appealing in their own way. The black knight is a relentless champion of death that yet retains a touch of humanity. The white knight is a fully human champion of life stained by an addiction to death. This is a yin-yang fight that leaves the reader an observer who is both fully neutral and fully invested in the outcome.

The fight scene is long and brutal and just what you’d expect from two deathless champions who have slain a thousand champions each. At the last, we are reminded once more of both Molok’s lingering humanity and its contrast with Lobon’s desire for both death and the continued dealing of death. In the end, both warriors earn their just rewards – peace or continued death – though perhaps not in the way they anticipated.

Of course, they both earned their unexpected reward after following the advice of the trickster god, and though subtle, that unpredictability may be the most predictable part of the story.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Playtime! Thune's Vision

Welcome to another month of posts and discussions about a book that fails to meet the tedious standards of the coastal media trend setters.  Instead, we talk about books that are fun to read, written by the wrong sorts of people, and that don't provide a dose of left-wing message fiction.  We read books in class when we should be listening to her drone on about the import of To Kill A Mockingbird.  We gorge ourselves on books with knights who save princesses (rather than the other way around), hard sci-fi military fiction featuring grizzled drill sergeants with multiple robotic limbs, and dog eared paperbacks printed on cheap yellow paper with anatomically correct models wearing impractical garb and sword fighting on alien planets in the far future.  In short, we're the kids your English teacher warned you about. 

This month's selection, Thune's Vision, by Schuyler Hernstrom, was made by the Frisky Pagan, and I for one could not be happier about it.  Schuyler Hernstrom burst onto the scene with a series of well-received short fiction works in Cirsova Magazine, and this month's Puppy features five more of his outstanding works.  We'll get into each story in more detail later - for today, I just want to talk about the book as a whole.

For one thing, Schuyler hasn't appeared on any Puppy voting lists.  He isn't an Appendix N author.  So where do we get off classifying him as a Puppy?  If you've read the book already, you'll agree that his work is too avante garde - in the best throwback style - to show up in the reading circles of the File770 types.  His stories are well written, fun to read, don't batter you with identity politics, and feature the sort of good-versus-evil, sword swinging barbarians, and complete lack of regard for modern day politics that the Puppy of the Month Book Club loves.

The stories in this collection are an eclectic bunch, written by a man who seems to be experimenting.  That's an awfully dry and clinical word that doesn't do the results justice.  This body of work consists of a series of homages to different styles of sci-fi and fantasy.  In one he's playing with the classic white hat versus black hat.  In another, he's trying his hand at alien worlds written from the alien perspective.  In another, he takes a whimsical fairy tale approach to the anti-hero getting his just deserts. 

Each story takes a different tone, and has a very different feel.  In the hands of a lesser writer, it might feel random or like an inexperienced author trying to find his voice.  Thune's Vision didn't strike this reader that way.  Rather, that the author is adept at writing from different perspectives - that he seamlessly dons new personas like a stage actor.

That gift of Hernstrom's is a powerful one, and one that the big publishing houses seem hell bent on running away from.  They place a strong emphasis on the identity of the writer, and insist that the writer bring his or her own voice to each work.  This book cuts across that grain by featuring a writer who doesn't have A voice.  He's got a lot of voices.  And they are all a lot of fun to hear.

And that, dear reader, is the true measure of literature.