Our first story in this issue is from returning Broadswords and Blasters author David F. Shultz, who we last published in Issue 5 with his neo-classic “Jerold’s Stand.” This time he’s back with another neo-classic, “Addrassus,” which contains shades of Odysseus and some of the best action sequences you’ll read this year.
Next up is “Temporally Out of Service” from Jason E. Maddux, about a private investigator, an elevator with a quirky sign, the nature of free will, time paradoxes, and a kick-ass recipe for chocolate cake.
Cynthia Ward, whose novellas we’ve reviewed on the blog, has graced us with “Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat,” a disturbing story of a child and his dysfunctional relationship with his friends and family.
Look, if you aren’t familiar with DJ Tyrer yet, his third appearance in our magazine should highlight just how great we think his stories are. This time around you get to read our cover story, “Talons of the Snatcher,” featuring the warrior Nyssa and her deadly spear.
New to us, Kent Rosenberger,
joins the Broadswords and Blasters
family with the dystopian near-future world of “Lawbreaker” and the disturbing court
system which isn’t nearly so far-fetched as it may seem.
Next in queue is Michael DeCarolis’ wonderful “Thunderbolt Colt” about a gunslinger and his faithful steed, a buffalo, from a not-quite-right Wild West tradition by way of the Greek gods if they had made it across the pond to settle in the Sonoran desert.
Weird West not your thing? How about a change of pace, to a world where wizards work as detectives cleaning up slave rings and investigating murders? Austin Worley’s “Lightning Between Your Fingers” has you covered.
Sunday evenings may be times of peace and respite, but you know that’s not the Broadswords and Blasters way. Myke Edwards is here to disabuse you of the idea that driving back country roads on a “Sunday Evening” is in any way peaceful and calm.
Batting cleanup this issue is yet another returning author, Steve DuBois, with his brilliantly comedic take on pre-pubescent super villains and their most-hated classmate. If you don’t laugh at “Screaming Timmy Must Die,” then what do you laugh at?
Because all the cool kids are doing it, here’s the list of work Broadswords and Blasters published in 2018. This doesn’t include the blog posts, twitter rants, or other nonsense we may have engaged in. We would love to hear what your favorite story was from last year, and you can use this if you are thinking about nominating any of the stories below. Stories are listed by issue and by the order they appeared in the table-of-contents. All stories fall into the short story category.
2018 saw Broadswords and Blasters publish 4 issues:
Issue 4 (January 6, 2018)
“Commander Saturn and the Deadly Invaders from Rigel by Richard L. Rubin
“Demons Within” by Karen Thrower
“Monsters in Heaven” by Steve Dubois
“A Brush With Death” by Benjamin Cooper
“Granny May Saves the Day” by Freddie Silva, Jr.
“Regarding the Journal of Jessix Rutherford and Its Connection to the Beacon’s Tower Massacre of 1446 AR” by CB Droege
“The Lady and The Gunsmith” by Chad Eagleton
“The Sewers of Paris” by DJ Tyrer
Cover Art by Luke Spooner (Carrion House)
Issue 5 (Published April 2, 2018)
“After War” by Alison McBain
“Irini” by Aaron Emmel
“Let It All Bleed Out” by J. Rohr
“Jerold’s Stand” by David F. Schulz
“Giving Up The Ghost” by Dianne M. Williams
“Last Train to Oblivion” by Tom Howard
“Petals, Falling Like Memories” by L Chan
Cover Art by Luke Spooner (Carrion House)
Issue 6 (Published July 13, 2018)
“The Ogre’s Secret” by Robert Walton
“Marshal Marshall Meets the Mechanical Marauder” by Rie Sheridan Rose
“Collateral Damage” by Adam S. Furman
“A Scent of Blood and Salt” by Marcus Hansson
“Royal Stowaway” by Catherine J. Cole
“Her Coffin’s Colder than the Mink Glove” by J.D. Graves
“Pigsty” by Jared Mason
“Tomorrow’s Eyes” by David VonAllmen
Cover by Luke Spooner (Carrion House)
Issue 7 (Published October 15, 2018)
“Commander Saturn and the Pirates of Ganymede” by Richard L. Rubin
“Jigsaw” by Tom Barlow
“Choice Cuts” by Ben Serna-Grey
“Land and Money and Old Bones” by Rob Francis
“A Curious Case in the Deep” by Sara Codair
“Between” by Z. S. Reynolds
“The Best Laid Plans” by Joe Kilgore
“The Whisker-Wood” by Brad Young
“Harvest Moon” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
Cover art by (you guessed it) Luke Spooner (Carrion House)
The editors of all issues were Cameron Mount and Matthew X. Gomez.
No, I’m not trying to claim that STAR WARS is pulp with this article, as its general themes of a grand evil to be overcome, a plucky band of adventures, and a complete heroic arc puts it firmly in the realm of a fantasy epic. SOLO, however, is a great case for a pulp style adventure.
The film opens with Han being a thief on the planet Corellia, working for a Fagin type figure of Lady Proxima who controls the underground. In an attempt to get out from under her thumb, he ends up fleeing Corellia, but ends up leaving his girlfriend, Qi’ra behind. Originally enlisting with the Imperial Navy, at some point he ends up being busted down to regular Imperial Army and finds himself in the mud in the middle of a battle. It’s there that he meets Tobias Beckett and his gang, and he quickly figures out that they are up to something seeing as how there are blaster marks on their uniforms but Tobias isn’t wounded. He tries to turn the tables on Tobias… but Tobias is able to pull his non-existent rank and claim that Han s a deserter… which gets him thrown into a pit with “The Beast.” That turns out to be a half-starved Chewbacca, but Han, thanks to knowing a bit of Shyriiwook is able to turn a death sentence into an opportunity to escape. He does end up part of Tobias’ team in an elaborate heist scheme working for the Crimson Dawn.
What follows is a series of heists, crosses, and double crosses. The action is more light-hearted than what’s been seen recently from STAR WAR films, especially compared to the other stand-alone Star Wars film, ROGUE ONE. It ends up being a fairly slick film of compromised loyalties where each of the characters is ultimately looking out for themselves first and foremost. There is also enough in the movie to appeal to fans of the original trilogy, from Lando’s mispronunciation of Han’s name to Han decidedly shooting first to explaining the reference to Kessel Run in twelve parsecs.
What really is the best part is the first ten minutes, which quickly establishes Han’s character as someone playing fast and loose with the law, someone who is devoted to the people he cares about, but is also willing to take risks because he can. Everything else flows from those opening moments.
This won’t end well.
If there is any complaint I might have about the film is that it often feels frenetic, lacking the deliberate pacing that marks the best of STAR WARS. Some purists might also be saddened at the lack of lightsabers and the Force, but I didn’t really feel its lack. The biggest complaint I probably have is that with the lackluster box office and lukewarm reception, we probably will never see what happens next.
Editors’ Note: Matt Spencer is the author of numerous novellas and short-stories, as well as the novels The Night and the Land, The Trail of the Beast, and Summer Reaping on the Fields of Nowhere. His latest book is the short-fiction collection Story Time With Crazy Uncle Matt. He’s been a journalist, New Orleans restaurant cook, factory worker, radio DJ, and a no-good ramblin’ bum. He’s also a song lyricist, playwright, actor, and martial artist. As of this writing, he lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.
If you know me and/or the kind of stuff I write, you’re probably at least passingly familiar with the works of Robert E. Howard, even if only by reputation, as to the man’s profound influence on the evolution of heroic adventure lit, and fantasy/speculative-fiction in general. On those merits, whether you’ve read him or not, you probably already have an idea whether or not his stuff’s for you…and yet perhaps not. If you’ve dismissed Conan the Barbarian as simplistic, macho male wish-fulfillment fantasy…honestly, hey, fair enough, whatever. I make no apologies for art that resonates with me personally, for whatever reason, high and low and everything in between, though I’d also guess that you haven’t read the longer Conan tales such as Red Nails and Beyond the Black River. It’s when we get into Howard’s far larger, non-Conan body of work that things get a lot weirder, darker, stickier, and more complex.
Which brings me to Howard’s oft-collected/anthologized novella Worms of the Earth, one of his most famous and influential non-Conan tales. It’s a fan-favorite for good reason, though also a fascinating anomaly, specifically for how it subverts the very tropes of hard-edged sword-and-sorcery (more popularly called “Grimdark” these days) Howard himself unwittingly codified.
The premise will sound familiar enough: sometime in the third century, a corrupt Roman General unjustly executes one of the people of Pictish leader Bran Mak Morn, who vows revenge. To modern audiences accustomed to scrappy, rustic freedom-fighter hero-types in movies like BRAVEHEART, ROB ROY and GLADIATOR, Bran comes across as comfortably familiar enough, at a glance. He’s more complicated than that, though, and Howard’s not interested in anything so simplistically sentimental so far as bloody ancient history as seen through a fictional lens. Bran is caught up in a double uphill fight, struggling both against Roman occupation in ancient Britain and to raise his own people out of primitivism, with his own distant, hazy dreams of Empire-building. Howard wrote several lengthy stories featuring Bran as a prominent ensemble character, but WOTE is the only completed work with the character as the central point-of-view protagonist. The tale seamlessly weaves a blend of real history and ancient British/Celtic mythology/folklore, with a few not-so-subtle winking nods to the mythos of his pen-pal and literary contemporary H.P. Lovecraft.
Bran witnesses the execution while spying on the Romans disguised as an emissary. While he’s clearly a badass, he’s also smart enough to realize that trying to get to the General directly would be both personal and political suicide, and he has to think of his own people’s interests before his own. So he does what, y’know, any sensible person would do under such circumstances: vow in a fit of rage to enlist supernatural assistance, from some fabled subterranean abominations of the lore of his homeland. He does this against the advice of his own tribal elder who visits him in a dream to say basically, “Dude, I know what you’re thinking, and…No, trust me on this, man, don’t go there, just…NO!” Undeterred, Bran sets out on his quest to strike a Faustian bargain with the Worms of the Earth. His journey takes him to the gloomy, lonely moorlands, where he meets and enlists the aid of a reclusive witch Atla, who may well be herself something other than human. From there, without giving away the outcome, the tale becomes a surprisingly nuanced tragedy of how revenge, even when successful, can turn out to be a “Be careful what you wish for” affair.
The tale showcases Howard’s vivid, poetic prose at its best; while his dialogue is often embarrassingly melodramatic, the descriptions of both open natural landscape and shadowy, spooky locations are timeless, the very definition of “Puts you right there.” To a 21st century reader, the imagery feels uncannily like epic, fantastical cinematography worthy of Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS films captured in concise prose.
It’s in the details, however, that things get more subversive. Atla the wolf-witch of the moors is one of Howard’s more enigmatically intriguing female characters. She essentially acts here as a femme fatale, tauntingly warning Bran to be careful what he wishes for, while guiding him towards it anyway. Yet instead of being treated as the sultry sex-object one might expect, she’s described through Bran’s eyes as unsettlingly alien, to where he responds to her sexual advances with squirmy discomfort rather than titillation. Even her attraction to Bran has less to do with his mighty, kingly, heroic studliness, more to do with her natural sexual frustration as a social outcast. Re-reading the story recently, whatever Howard’s authorial intent, I found myself sympathizing more with Atla than with Bran on some levels. Also, while Howard’s knack for vivid, visceral violence is on full display in this yarn, it never takes the form of heroic swashbuckling combat one might expect, from Howard or in this kind of story in general. Rather, acts of violence are presented as stark, abrupt, ugly and cruel, when committed by sympathetic and unsympathetic characters alike. Such instances are few and far between, yet they serve to ratchet up the tension of the larger narrative, lending a pervasive sense that such volatile danger is the norm, ready to break through at any moment…and that no matter what creepy-crawly supernatural menace our hero encounters, at the end of the day, it’s us humans who are the real monsters.
So if you’re a fan of dark fantasy, historical fiction, or sword-and-sorcery, and you haven’t read this powerful little masterpiece…what are you waiting for?
Worms of the Earth can currently be found in print and e-book, in the collections BRAN MAK MORN: THE LAST KING, CRIMSON SHADOWS: THE BEST OF ROBERT E. HOWARD vol. 1, and THE HORROR STORIES OF ROBERT E. HOWARD.
 – The term honestly makes me cringe, but hey, it’s stuck as a marketing label within the industry, so whattayagonnado, right?
 – Howard’s depiction of the Picts, while largely debunked now, was meticulously accurate to historical scholarship available to an amateur history enthusiast in the 1920s.
 – Fans of the 1982 CONAN THE BARBARIAN movie will instantly recognize this lady as the source of an homage.
 – I don’t know what Bran’s problem is; Atla sure sounds hot to me. Hey, don’t kink-shame me, folks!
Okay, let’s get the big piece out of the way. DIE HARD is a Christmas movie. Beyond the obvious (the action takes place during a holiday party), there is a sense of reconnecting with family, of finding happiness in little things, and of course Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
DIE HARD came out in 1988, based on a novel by Roderick Thorp, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER . There are significant changes between the novel and the book, enough that DIE HARD can legitimately seen as its own product.
For the five or so people who haven’t seen it, the basic plot is that John McClane is flying from New York to Los Angeles in an attempt to reconnect with his estranged wife, Holly. McClane is a beat cop, eleven years on the force. His wife is a high powered executive married to her job. He’s supposed to go to her holiday party, which is being held at the unfinished Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper. Unfortunately for John and Holly, their reunion is interrupted by Hans Gruber and his merry band of thieves masquerading as terrorists who are after the $640 million in bearer bonds being held in the on-site safe.
Only, John isn’t in the main area where the party is being held when the terrorists arrive, and is able to elude their initial sweep of the offices because the thieves end up distracted by a woman who was mostly naked at the time. McClane initially tries, and fails, to contact the police for help, but ends up being unsuccessful until he drops the body of one of Hans’ group onto the police cruiser of Al Powell. McClane doesn’t want to try and take on the bad guys by himself. His initial instinct is to get away and get reinforcements (though the LAPD and later the FBI are not only incompetent but actually end up playing into Gruber’s plans). He doesn’t step up until it becomes obvious that the outside world won’t be able to help after all.
DIE HARD is also noteworthy in that the villains’ plan and execution is very, very smart. They have a well detailed plan and stick to it. Gruber has taken into account most variables, even baking the FBI and police response into his overall scheme. They have a clear exit strategy and concise goals and are prepared for contingencies (why else bring rocket launchers unless they were planning on using them?).
Rocket Launchers. Just in case the police have a RV.
The biggest stumbling block of course is McClane, which is especially notable in that he rarely has a concise plan. As a great example, see where he is tying himself to the fire
Even John thought this was a bad idea.
hose before jumping off the roof and asking himself “John, what the fuck are you doing?” Or before that sticking a bunch of detonators into a brick of plastic explosive because he doesn’t actually know what he is doing. McClane’s biggest advantage is his ability to think on his feet and react quickly… well, that and his ability to never quit .
DIE HARD also doesn’t need to fill every moment with action. There are several quiet scenes where John and Al talk, where John and Hans meet near the roof (and which makes John realize there is something going on with the roof), and where John and Holly’s children are interviewed that act as brief breathers to the rest of the action.
Finally, DIE HARD is one of those movies that rewards the viewer for paying attention. From Holly’s gold watch to Argyle being trapped in the garage in the limo to the nationality of the kids’ babysitter, it all comes into play and finds use in the film. So yes, I’ll be watching DIE HARD again this Christmas, and so should you.
Last week Matt tackled the 1986 movie, Highlander, a film we share a mutual love for. I first came across the film when I was about 11 or 12 on a free HBO weekend, or something like that. While I enjoyed it for what it was, even then I recognized there were elements of greatness (the soundtrack, Clancy Brown’s Kurgan) amidst elements I felt were less than satisfactory. We had a French actor playing a Scotsman, a Scot playing a Spaniard by way of ancient Egypt, sword-fighting which was merely okay despite having immortals who’ve had eons to perfect their skills, and some cringingly terrible dialog. Of course at 11 or 12 I didn’t have my vocabulary established enough to employ it in this sort of article, but I knew something was off. It was in my teens when I started watching the tv series that I really understood why I balked at aspects of the movie.
Now, I’m not going to tell you the tv series is in any way high art, but it did fix several of the flaws I saw. First and foremost, the casting was fixed, and I mean in every way. Look, Christopher Lambert isn’t awful. He was okay as Tarzan and as Connor MacLeod. But if you compare him to Adrian Paul, Connor’s younger cousin Duncan, it’s not really a contest. Perhaps it’s rose-tinted nostalgia here, but having a trained martial artist who could actually pull off a Scottish accent portray an immortal Scot swordsman (really, more like samurai here with his sword and how he uses it) sets a whole different vibe than whatever Lambert was trying for. That said, the series is of, by, and for the 1990s, so maybe keep that in mind if you choose to go back and watch it.
There are too many seasons of Highlander to do them all justice, and the show isn’t completely perfect. There’s some hand-waving of the movie’s plot. Connor exists alongside Duncan and no one has yet won The Prize. There are an awful lot of immortals still left walking the Earth, whereas in the movie they’re far fewer in number. And there’s the introduction of the obnoxious sidekick, Richie. And while I love the show, don’t get it twisted – I hate the Richie character and all of his subplot storylines. He’s supposed to be Robin to Duncan’s Batman, but he’s a Robin who maybe should have been killed during a circus accident. Maybe that’s too harsh, but…yeah, I don’t like Richie.
For those minor flaws, the rest of the show stands up and is not only a worthy successor to, but perhaps better (and pulpier!) version of the film. There are clear good guys and bad guys. There’s detective work, including mortal friends of Duncan who are aware of the Immortals and track their movement. This group, The Watchers, have a code to watch but never interfere, but there are secret factions machinating in the background, hoping to sway the outcome of The Game so that the winner of The Prize isn’t a total jerk.
Richie isn’t the only recurring character. There’s Joe Dawson, one of the aforementioned Watchers; Methos, purported to be the oldest living Immortal having lived since around the time of the Sumerians; Tessa, Duncan’s girlfriend at the start of the series; Amanda, Duncan’s on-again, off-again Immortal lover. The latter is played by former Miss America Elizabeth Gracen. And she’s not the only famous person to have played a role on the show. The Who’s frontman, Roger Daltrey, played Hugh Fitzcairn in seven episodes. Other shorter cameos included singers and actors like Ron Perlman (a Broadswords and Blasters personal favorite), Graham McTavish (now more famous for Starz’s Outlander), Roddy Piper, Sheena Easton, and Joan Jett.
Something the show does better than the film is show the everyday life of an Immortal, and their various incarnations over decades as they must move and reinvent themselves every generation or so to prevent regular humans from seeing their longevity. Some Immortals, like Duncan, reveal portions of their long histories to companions, but others use and abuse humans like cattle, seeing them as pawns in The Game.
Additionally, since each episode is a self-contained story-of-the-week, it reads a lot more like a Conan or Solomon Kane. But since it is story of the week, there do have to be concessions to the story, as in the previously mentioned hand-waving over The Game and The Prize. The most obvious one, and what makes this show fun but also perhaps slightly less believable than the movie, is the number of Immortals running around. Each episode Duncan is faced with an Immortal he must deal with. Some are friends, such as one could have in a Game that rests on only one winner at the end, but most are enemies. Many of them are people who have long histories with each other, having variously been friends, enemies, or even lovers in past locations.
If I’m honest, I’d say the show loses almost all appeal around the middle of the fourth season. Then it went on for two more seasons. Without a doubt, the series simply went on too long. Although many other series hit the point of having long outlived their best stories, I was perhaps more annoyed by this one simply because I liked it better. The high point for me, and many others apparently, exists in between the middle of seasons 2 and 3. That’s when the mythology is at its best, works within the confines of its own canon, and tells the most engaging stories. Den of Geek! has a suggested viewing order, which sounds like a good idea, too. Start with the pilot, skip ahead to episode 13, and then hop around a bit in the rest of the first season since most of the episodes are relatively self-contained. After that, you can go back through the series in order.
Well, that might have been true back in 1986, but Highlander, the movie featuring Christopher Lambert as the immortal Scotsman Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) spawned two other feature films, two separate live action television shows, an anime series, and one television movie.
So what about this movie made it so popular? Was it the idea of immortals existing throughout time, experiencing different cultures and periods? Was it the implied backstory with the arcane rules (there can be only one, no fighting on holy ground)? Or was it the simple fact that watching a swordfight in the modern day turned out to be strangely compelling?
In case you weren’t aware, HIGHLANDER traces Connor MacLeod’s humble beginning as a clan warrior in the highlands of Scotland through the centuries to modern (okay, 1980s) New York. It is in that time and place where there will be The Gathering, where the immortals who exist at that time will gather together until there is only one remaining. The one, of course, will gain The Prize. Yes, the Prize is poorly defined (there is some sense that winning the prize will make the winner mortal and able to have children… but then why the concern over an evil immortal winning it?). Perhaps the nature of the Prize is governed by what the immortal who wins it wants.
All of that is well and good, but what drives the conflict is the personal animosity between Conor MacLeod and the Kurgan, played to the hilt by the inestimable Clancy Brown. The Kurgan has been tracking Connor down through the centuries, and is in fact responsible for the death of Connor’s immortal mentor, Ramirez (Sean Connery), an ancient Egyptian by way of Spain… who just so happened to spend some time in Japan.
What the film does well, despite being an action-film, is addressing some of the deeper concerns over immortality. Connor, despite finding another love interest (or two, or three) throughout the centuries, still remembers and cares about his first wife, and the fact that he was forced to watch her grow old while he retained the same appearance obviously weighed heavily on him. The film also addresses the ways that immortals attempt to blend into society but the movie also makes clear that modern forensics is catching up and is able to expose them… if not explain them. Finally, despite the Gathering and that immortals are destined to fight until only one is left, the idea is explored that some of them at least get along quite well with one another… because they are the only ones that understand the experiences and trials they face.
HIGHLANDER is also noteworthy for having one of the more memorable villains in the Kurgan. Unapologetic, crass, and more than a little mean, he acts as a perfect foil to the more urbane, modern Connor. Connor is a character that has adapted, at least partially, to modern life, while the Kurgan remains a barbarian, caring only for his own needs and seeing the teeming throngs of mortals as beneath him. The movie also does an excellent job of showcasing what kind of threat he is more than once… when he fights and kills Ramirez in Scotland in the first case, and then again when he kills Connor’s friend Kastagir. And who can forget his immortal line: “I have something to say! It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”
You know he’s evil because he’s wearing a bear skull as a hat.
With a killer soundtrack by Queen as well, this is a movie you should check out again if it’s been a while… and well, if you’ve never watched it: what are you waiting for?