Book Review: Line in the Valley

I originally wrote this for Breach-Bang-Clear a while back, but it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle, so here it is.

Line in the Valley is hard to categorize.  It’s a crime novel, a war novel, and a psychological study of men under the highest possible stress in combat, all at the same time.  It’s set against a backdrop of an invasion of South Texas, but that really only sets the background against which the events take place.

The story starts off with a bang, as advance elements made up of local gang-bangers eliminate all the cops in the target border towns.  It then follows the initial response, which goes very badly, before we get into the nitty gritty of the counterattack, which is where the meat of the story happens. Continue reading “Book Review: Line in the Valley”

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Tales of the Once and Future King

I’ve got a story in the new anthology, Tales of the Once and Future King.  It’s a bit of a departure from what I’ve put out before, being more of a heroic fantasy/chivalric romance/bardic tale than anything else.  I get to introduce Taliesin, Arthur’s bard.  While the stories in the anthology cover a pretty wide range of genres, I kept mine solidly late-Roman, early medieval Britain.  It’s called Taliesin’s Riddle.

It is said that King Arthur will return in Britain’s hour of greatest need.

That time is coming.

Four travelers, searching for the Pendragon, are quickly embroiled in a plot to rescue the beloved of a banished forest lord. And while they concoct their desperate plan a Bard, the new Taliesin, regales them with stories: Tales of Knights, yes, but also tales of robots and vampires, music and monsters, airships and armies – tales to inspire heroism and hope. And when all seems lost, perhaps these tales will be their salvation.

This book is an anthology.
This book is a novel.
This book is a romance
This book is science fiction
This book is a fantasy

This is “Tales of the Once and Future King”

It’s available for pre-order on Amazon now, and comes out on September 30.

“Older and Fouler Things” Is Here!

The weird odor in the air, that managed to smell like blood, rot, sulfur, and burned meat all at the same time, got more intense.  My guts twisted and I tried not to inhale, but it seemed to reach into my nose anyway, forcing itself past my nasal passages and into my sinuses.  A piercing, stabbing pain started to build behind my left eye.

I heard Kolya grunt, and Eryn was panting, breathing shallowly.  I spared a worried glance at her, to see that she still had her shotgun up, though she looked pale and sick.  Granted, some of that might have been the green light of the candles on her already fair complexion, but whatever was happening in that room was not conducive to human life.

As soon as they landed on the corpse pile, both figures went limp, though blood continued to pump from their savaged throats, coating the floor and the already bloody meat that had once been human beings.  For a moment, all was still.  Father Ignacio was continuing the Rite of Exorcism, but the three still-living cultists, or whatever they were, were still facing the pile of human remains, still croaking that blasphemous sound, though they still flinched with each syllable of the Rite.

Then the pile started moving.

Older and Fouler Things, the fourth book in the Jed Horn series, is now live on Amazon!

Jed Horn has always known that there’s something odd about Ray’s place, which has always been a halfway house for Witch Hunters up in the hills of the Northwest. Between the Fae girl in the woods and Ray’s gigantic and uncanny dog, Magnus, there’s enough weirdness to raise eyebrows. But Ray’s never talked about it, and most Hunters don’t ask.

But when a demon follows them home after an exorcism in Spokane, Jed and his companions will have to find out what lies beneath the strangeness of Ray’s place. Because they suddenly find themselves attacked by demons inside, and a vampire outside, all aiming to take the Hunters out of the picture and awaken something ancient and terrible, something that would make the Walker on the Hills look nice.

Jed has fought monsters and banished demons before. But now, the demons are coming at them from within, even as the monsters assault them from without. It will take grit, determination, and faith if any of them are ever going see the light again…

Telling Spook Stories Around the Campfire

I got my start as a storyteller in the dark, around campfires, up at Camp Fife in Washington State, about eighteen years ago, now.  In a real way, the Jed Horn series is simply a continuation of that old tradition.

There are two kinds of campfire story; the traditional ones that are passed down from fire to fire, for years, only changing in small details of the telling, flexible things that are simply the flavor the teller adds as he goes.  The other kind are the ones I mostly told; the improvised scary stories.

My first was pretty simple.  A wisp in the woods, a curious Scout, and a game of cat-and-mouse underground with a monster that could change shape at will.  It wasn’t the best spook story ever told, but I had already learned a few things from it.  Between that one and a couple of the later ones, I developed a few rules. Continue reading “Telling Spook Stories Around the Campfire”

Lest We Forget

I cannot let 9/11 go by unremarked.  It is the single event that defined my adult life.  While I knew no one who died that day, much of my life after was dedicated to the pursuit of those 19 hijackers’ fellow fanatics, and I have buried friends in the course of that war.

It is a war that began long before any of us were born, and will likely continue.  It is unpopular to say that there is a war between Islam and the West.  Islam, truly devoted Islam, has been at war with all and sundry for 1300 years.  Are many Muslims not at war?  Of course.  Far more Muslims have died to crush ISIS than Americans.  But the historical record remains.  Even when we are at peace, sooner or later, that peace will end.

The hijackers did not choose September the 11th at random.  It was not a date that simply came up in the course of planning and logistics.  Like all fanatics, they sought to make a deeper statement in their act of mass murder.

September 11 was the day before the anniversary of the Battle of Vienna.  In 1683, the Ottoman Empire, then the Muslim Caliphate on the face of the planet, laid siege to the city of Vienna.  On September 12, the combined forces of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth broke the siege, and in so doing, broke the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, beginning a decline in Ottoman (and therefore Muslim) power and influence that would culminate in the utter destruction of the Ottoman Empire in 1918.

Jan Sobieski’s charge, with his Polish Winged Hussars, was one of the largest cavalry charges in history, with eighteen thousand horsemen descending from the hills onto the Ottoman forces.

The war is older than any of us.

Never forget.

Looking for Volunteers

So, the earlier poll (coupled with a mirror version on The Action Thriller Renaissance on Facebook) was pretty definitive.  The votes are for the volunteer Advance Review Copy Reader List.  So, since the first draft of #1 is past half-finished, as of now, I am putting out the call for volunteers who would like to receive ARCs of the Brannigan’s Bastards series.

The signup comes with a caveat: continued receipt of ARCs is contingent on an Amazon review during the first week of release.  A link to said review can be sent to the Contact form here on the blog, or by PM on Facebook.  I’ve got to put that in there just to be sure that there is a purpose to this list, and I’m not just giving stuff away for free.

Also, the list will only include the first 25-30 people who sign up.  I’ve got to cut it off there.  It’s possible that you might still sign up before I yank the form (since I can’t just sit here and watch it), but if you’re number 31 or higher, my apologies.

Sign up here.

The (Literary) Problem of Evil

From a piece by John C. Wright, from a few years ago:

In none of the stories I just mentioned, even stories where the image of Our Lord in His suffering nailed to a cross is what drives back vampires, is any mentioned made of the Christ. Is is always an Old Testament sort of God ruling Heaven, or no one at all is in charge.

So why in Heaven’s name is Heaven always so bland, unappealing, or evil in these spooky stories?

I can see the logic of the artistic decisions behind these choices, honestly, I can. If I were writing these series, I would have (had only I been gifted enough to do it) done the same and for the same reason.

It is the same question that George Orwell criticized in his review of THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH by CS Lewis. In the Manchester Evening News, 16 August 1945, Orwell writes that the evil scientists in the NICE [the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments, who are the Black Hats of the yarn] are actually evil magicians of a modern, materialist bent, in communion with ‘evil spirits.’ Orwell comments:

Mr. Lewis appears to believe in the existence of such spirits, and of benevolent ones as well. He is entitled to his beliefs, but they weaken his story, not only because they offend the average reader’s sense of probability but because in effect they decide the issue in advance. [emphasis mine] When one is told that God and the Devil are in conflict one always knows which side is going to win. The whole drama of the struggle against evil lies in the fact that one does not have supernatural aid.

I myself happen to think Mr. Orwell’s criticism is utter rubbish.

Is Milton’s PARADISE LOST lacking in drama because one know which side is going to win? What about the story of the Passion of the Christ in any of its versions, including the child’s fairytale version as told in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE? Or what about any and every version of Dracula? While there may be modern versions where vampires are driven away by leather-clad vampiresses in shiny coats shooting explosive bullets while doing wire-fu backflips, in the older versions of the tale, it was the crucifix that drove off the evil spirits. Merely having God Almighty on your side does not remove the element of doubt nor the element of drama.

This is something that I’ve had to deal with with the Jed Horn series.  Steve Tompkins said in his introduction to Kull: Exile of Atlantis, “a writer who avails himself of the name ‘Atlantis’ gives away his ending.”  Similarly, the ending is already established by the mere presence of the Crucifix.  THE sacrifice has been made, the war is already won.  How can you tell a scary story with that backdrop?

The war is won, but battles may still be lost.  And that is where the tension in the Jed Horn series ultimately lies, not only in the fear of being physically squished, tormented, or eaten by the monsters, but by the possibility that the characters might just fall, that this battle might be lost, regardless of the ultimate victory having already been won.  The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the War of 1812 was officially over.  Our own battles with the darkness are no different.

I tried to establish this in A Silver Cross and a Winchester, way back in 2013.  The demons won’t succeed in bringing about the actual end of the world until God says otherwise.  But they can still cause a great deal of harm in the meantime, which is why they must be opposed.

Go read the rest of John’s essay; as usual, he is rather more eloquent than I.

Jed Horn #4, Older and Fouler Things, is three weeks away.  Go pre-order it.