With a Bang: Issue 12 Release

Cover Image of Issue 12

Issue 12 will be the final issue of Broadswords and Blasters for the foreseeable future. Both editors are old enough to know that never is a really long time, so we aren’t permanently closing the door on it ever coming back, but we both acknowledged earlier this year that we were starting to get burnt out on the endeavor. We wanted to end while it was still fun and entertaining instead of trying to drive it down into dust. When will we be back? We can say with all honesty: We don’t know.

That said, we decided to go out in style with a tremendous double issue to celebrate three years of awesome New Pulp fiction. Because why go out with a whimper when you can go out with a bang?

J. Rohr returns to Broadswords and Blasters (he was last seen in issue 5) with “Riding the Rails,” a kick-ass Weird Western of dragons, veteran gunslingers, and redemption.

Veteran BS&B alum Richard Rubin (issues 4 and 7) brings us another two-fisted “Captain Saturn” story, this time going up against the Air Bandit of Mars, and DJ Tyrer’s Nyssa of Abanos is also back (having first appeared in issue 8) this time in “Journey to Mount Argaeas”. Tryer previously also had a story way back in Issue 4 with “The Sewers of Paris.”

Kristen Reid is new to us, but come with a great Civil War era horror story in “American Appetites,” while Jonathan Mast steers us into weird sci-fi with “Callahan and the Bomb Squid.”

No Broadswords issue would be complete without a few Westerns, and S. Gepp brings that with “No Stand.”

Ben Serna-Grey is no stranger to these pages (see issue 7), but “Smoke and Hamsters” is definitely the weirdest story we’ve had the pleasure to publish.

Keith Kennedy flips the magazine over to the dark side with the deliciously dark noir piece “The Drive Home” while E.G. Thompson follows a couple of soldiers in dragon ravaged post-apocalypse with “The DSD.”

“Crowbait” by T.L. Simpson takes a good hard look at the price of vengeance and where swallowing grief and moving on may be the best course of action.

It’s not often we’re sold on a story from the title, but “Shootout at Namaste Mart” nearly did that for one editor… and the story kept getting better from there.

“Spaceman and the Freakshow” by Roger H. Stone deals with a smartass thirteen year old girl, the autistic boy next door, and the friendship they forge.

Steve DuBois went ahead and sent us his weirdest story yet in “The Professionals” which is all about “magically-enhanced urban professionals escorting a Kennedy baby to the ruins of Dallas for inauguration as God-Emperor.”[1]

Our cover story is “Aces and Rogues” by Anthony Picket, a two-fisted space action tale complete with dog fights, hard choices, and moral dilemmas.

“Don’t Let the Law Hit Ya Where the Good Lord Split Ya” spilled off the keyboard of Russel W. Johnson and into our laps and left us with a big ol’ grin on our faces.

Kristen Brand’s “Starstruck” is a sci-fi tale of solar guardsmen, celebrity, mixed loyalties and duty.

“A Lone Man is No Warrior” by Scott Forbes Crawford’s traces the tale of a man out of place, finding purpose again when a mob boss attempts to murder a local woman.

Finally, we end the issue with Matt Spencer’s occult tale “The Radiant Abyss.” Spencer has been with us since day one, and we felt it apt to end much like we began.

As always, Luke Spooner of Carrion House created the gorgeous artwork for the cover.

As a final word, thank you. Thank you to the writers, the readers, the reviewers, to Luke for the covers, and to our friends and families for your support as we undertook this endeavor. We couldn’t have done this without you.

You can grab issue 12 at amazon in either digital or print.

[1] His words, not ours.

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Pulp Consumption: The Mandalorian

I’ve been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember, but I’ve actually never been a fan of the Expanded Universe books and shows. Maybe it’s my character flaw, but nothing outside of the self-contained movie series has ever really captured my attention. I mean, I’ve read the Admiral Thrawn books and some of the New Jedi Order. The book Kenobi was decent enough, as have been some of the short story collections, but even those didn’t excite me the way the original trilogy did. People kept telling me to watch the CGI cartoons like Clone Wars and Rebels, but I can’t stand that kind of animation outside of video games. And, yes, I’ve played a lot of the games, but again they are sort of stored in a separate vault in my brain, alongside the tabletop RPG versions. They’re fun, but if they didn’t exist I don’t think I’d have a hole in my geekdom, whereas if Star Wars hadn’t been made there sure would be.

All that is to preface The Mandalorian, which is everything I wanted the EU to actually be. It keeps the tone of two-fisted pulp space-western from the original films and doesn’t crap on anything. The acting is superb, the CG is unobtrusive and blends pretty naturally, and the character development is justified and earned.

As if most of you readers don’t know…The Mandalorian traces the story of a bounty hunter after the Empire has fallen at the end of Return of the Jedi but before the New Order has arisen in The Force Awakens. The whole series starts off with the bounty hunter walking into a saloon, getting into a gun battle, and taking his bounty. It’s the clearest western influence seen in Star Wars since perhaps meeting Han Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina, as later movies borrowed more heavily from Lucas’ Asian influences (I’m looking at you, prequels!) and the more recent Disney movies are trading much more heavily on Disney Princess storylines (orphaned castaways are secretly powerful Mary Sues) except in Disney Princess movies the writers are competent and actually justify the character development (I don’t think there’s any doubt how I feel about Rey’s character, is there?).

After that opening, the real meat of the series begins. The Mandalorian takes on a job, and is supposed to adhere to The Transporter rules (Never open the package), but circumstances interfere and eventually he has to choose between the bounty and doing what is right. Our hero does both. At this point the Western influence remains strong, but then the Japanese metaplot of Lone Wolf and Cub takes over for the rest of the first season.

I’m sure I can’t really spoil the series since most people here have probably watched it, but I’m still not going to say much more. Suffice to say I’m hooked in here. The Mandalorian is doing what the movies wish they could do – compelling, earned character development while honoring source and inspiration material, and somehow managing not to alienate huge sections of fandom in the process.

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Pulp Consumption: Storyhack #4

Storyhack continues to put out an extremely professional looking magazine, and issue 4 is no exception. Each story comes with an internal illustration, and the external artwork leaves no doubt as to what the magazine is about. It is highly recommend for people who want action-adventure in their stories, but are less concerned with stories fitting within a certain genre as editor Bryce Beattie tends to pull from all conventions… so long as there is action to be had.

StoryHack Action & Adventure, Issue Four by [Beattie, Bryce, Blaylock, Sidney, Hart, Spencer, Restrick, Jason, Barrows, Brandon, Burnett, Misha, Frost, Julie, Mollison, Jon, Olsen, John, Mincemeyer, Damascus]

HawkeMoon by Sidney Blaylock, Jr. A king has been assassinated, so the captain of the royal guard goes in search of the one master assassin who was responsible… only it turns out she wasn’t the one behind it. This story is memorable for its characters, but even more so for the ultimate villain of the piece, The Scarecrow King.” I wished the setting had been a bit more developed than it was, as it felt very much a cardboard backdrop against which the characters acted, as opposed to a fully developed world. I know, that’s a lot to ask for in a short story, but I still think the overall setting was too roughly sketched, and thus seemed fairly generic for my taste. This story is the cover story for the issue, and I can absolutely see why.

Island Rescue by Spencer E. Hart. A group of mercenaries invades the private island of a billionaire. It’s up to the son of a computer engineer, Frank, and the billionaire’s daughter, Denise, to stay safe and get help before their fathers are hurt or killed. Honestly, I had a hard time getting into this story, but the writer does keep the action moving at a steady clip. I did feel the romance aspect forced, especially since Denise is said to have lived an extremely sheltered life. While she ends up getting a bit more freedom at the end of the story than what she started with, the idea that she is somehow beholden to her rescuer didn’t sit quite right with me. I would have preferred it if there was more of her making a definitive choice as opposed to her picking the only real option available.

Beyond the Temple of Baktaar by Jason Restrick. An American soldier in the trenches of World War I is approached by an apparition of a old comrade thought lostin an expedition three years ago. The action moves between the current of the war and the journal entries of his comrade as the main character seeks him out. The story comes across more disjointed than I would like, and the style is archaic, making it a bit harder to get into and enjoy. I did appreciate the character of Sam Walters, as he is a throwback to the heroes of Robert Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but the way the story was told I didn’t ever feel as if I was on the sharp end of danger as much as I would have liked.

Wild Yellow by Brandon Barrows. A dying man in the desert frontier is rescued by a local lawman. Only it turns out there’s trouble in town as someone is stealing from the local silver mine. But can the hero overcome his own cowardice and rise to the occasion? A well told Western, and one that isn’t nearly so gritty or grim as the ones we tend to publish. The dd thing out was the local sheriff’s daughter pledging to marry the man who brought her brother’s killer to justice. Sure, she might have said that because she liked the looks of the main character, but it still seemed more the kind of thing you’d find a fantasy princess saying than in a Western period piece.

My Foe Outstretched by Misha Burnett. Two men in a future setting enter into a controlled arena… where only one can exit. While the action is tense, there is not a great sense of what led to the current action… except that one man felt that he was wronged by the other. The ending was a surprise, but made me think of the saying: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Alpha Equation by Julie Frost. Werewolves in space. The youngest of the pack tries to escape his new over domineering alpha by escaping off world. There’s a good amount of action to this, and the development of the characters is well done, especially with how the main character eventually warms to and befriends his new “pack.” The sci-fi and fantasy tones feel a bit forced at times, especially since there’s no real explanation why moons other than the one around earth has any affect on werewolf cycles. I don’t say this often, but a bit more exposition wouldn’t have gone amiss.

The Bouncer’s Tale by Jon Mollison. Part three of an ongoing crime story, but instead of the parts being sequential, it is a Rashomon style story where each character in it gets to tell the story from their viewpoint. In this case, it is the bouncer who is dragged into the criminal world against his will and the choices he’s forced to make along the way. Well written, and with a good deal of action, but I can’t help but feel if some of the tension is taken out since the basics of the story don’t change much from view to view.

Retirement Plan by John M. Olsen. A military veteran settles on a backwoods planet and plans to enjoy his twilight years in idyllic rest. Unfortunately, a band of outlaws show up which ruins that plan. The science-fiction aspect is well done with detail paid to how the tech works, but more importantly the character of Brad Smith feels well-developed, helped along by the first person narration.

The Spirit of St. George by Damascus Mincemeyer. Flying aces against dragons in the Rocky Mountains. This was easily the best story in the collection and the one I most enjoyed, complete with cultists, intrigue, and high-flying action. The nods to actual historic events and figures was a nice tough and showed the writer put quite a bit of care into the story.

Storyhack 4 is available in print and kindle at Amazon.

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Pulp Consumption: Almuric by Robert E. Howard (Guest Post by Anthony Perconti)

Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums.  His articles have appeared in several online venues and can be found on Twitter at @AnthonyPerconti.

Robert E. Howard’s novella Almuric[1] was his first and only foray into the ‘sword and planet’ subgenre of science fiction. Published posthumously in the pages of Weird Tales in 1939, Almuric recounts the trials and tribulations of Texan Esau Cairn on the savage planet of the story’s title. Howard presents a character, born in the wrong era, who is an out and out bruiser; a man so strong and physically imposing that he must always keep his strength in check. While on the run from the law for the accidental killing of the crooked political boss Blaine, he encounters one Professor Hildebrand, the inventor of a teleportation device (with the wonderfully pulpy name, the ‘Great Secret’). In dire straits, Cairn agrees to be the test subject of this device and is transmitted (presumably) light years from Earth.

Upon his arrival on this savage planet, Cairn is freed from the fetters of the modern era. He is able to test his mettle against an inimical wilderness and the various cultures of this world. In this new environment, Cairn is able to cut loose from the societal restraints of the 20th Century and utilize his full strength for the first time in his life. As he fights for survival against the wild animals and the hominids that he encounters, Cairn goes through a crucible process, coming out the other side as a tougher, more resilient individual. “Yet, I gave a good account of myself. Ears split, noses crumpled and teeth splintered under the crushing impact of my iron hard fists and the yells of the wounded were music to my battered ears.” He eventually is adopted into the hominid culture of the Guras, where he is considered an equal member of the tribe and given the appellation ‘Ironhand’[2].

Howard crafted a tale very much in the Burroughs mold, in which those familiar John Carter story beats are front and center. Cairn even falls in love with his own version of Dejah Thoris, the beautiful tribal maiden Altha and wins her hand in the process. The antagonists of the piece are the Yagas, a decadent, bat winged species that prey on the Guras. Ironhand wages war against these winged reavers, runs afoul of their queen Yasmeena and the piece de resistance, battles a gigantic electric slug (no, really). Almuric is not exemplary when held against Howard’s greater body of work. It is quite formulaic, faithfully following Burroughs’ Barsoom recipe. So why read this you ask? The main strength of Almuric lies not in its originality, but rather in Howard’s lean and mean, muscular prose. “He was primitive in his passions, with a gusty temper and a courage inferior to none on this planet….Born in the Southwest, of old frontier stock, he came of a race whose characteristics were inclined toward violence, and whose traditions were of war and feud and battle against man and nature.” Unlike John Carter, there is no pompous, self aggrandizing, genteel posturing with Esau Cairn. The man knows exactly what he is and makes no qualms about it. He is a straight up head smasher, who thrills in the simple kill or be killed ethos of his adopted world. I’m of the opinion that Esau Cairn has more in common with that other Burroughs character, Tarzan, than he does with that gentleman form Virginia. Like Lord Greystoke, Cairn has an unhampered view of the natural cycle in which, an individual is either a predator or prey; he is perfectly at home surviving and thriving in the wilderness for an indefinite period. With Almuric, Robert E. Howard formed a thrilling piece of (sword and planet) pulp fiction in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs. What it lacks in originality, this story certainly makes up for it in cheap thrills.

[1] Dark Horse Comics collected and published the Marvel Comics, Epic Illustrated adaptation of Almuric in the early 1990’s. With REH alum, Roy Thomas on scripting duties and superstar illustrator Tim Conrad on art, this superbly rendered graphic novel goes for a pretty penny (if you can find a copy).

[2] In 1991, Dark Horse Comics published Ironhand of Almuric, a sequel to the adventures of Esau Cairn, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Mark Winchell. I wrote a detailed review of this miniseries back in 2018. If interested, you can find it here: https://dmrbooks.com/test-blog/2018/10/9/ironhand-of-almuric-a-review

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Issue 12 Cover Reveal

Early on we were so excited about the cover art we had blog posts that were just cover reveals. We never lost the enthusiasm for the cover art, but somewhere along the way we just forgot to highlight it on its own. Well, let’s rectify that with the end of our third year of production, Issue 12. As always, Luke Spooner/Carrion House has knocked it right out of the park. This cover illustrates a scene from Anthony Pinkett’s “Aces and Rogues.” Issue 12 is scheduled for release around January 15th. Stay tuned for Kindle preorder information.

Cover of Issue 12, shows two starfighters roaring in from the top left.

Make sure you save a few dollars/pounds/yen/shekels/euros/etc from your holiday shopping. You’ll definitely want to get your hands on this beefy boy. You are reading that cover right: there are 18 authors listed, meaning this is indeed a double issue! Yes, we may be biased, but as a standalone issue, this really may be our best one yet. There should be something in here for everyone. Just look at this cover!

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Pulp Appeal: The Journeys of the Viking Prince (Guest Post by G.W. Thomas)

(Editor’s Note: G. W. Thomas has been a published author since 1987 with “The City in the Sea” in Cthulhu Now! By 1993 he was appearing in Writer’s Digest along with other magazines such as The Writer, The Armchair Detective, The Mystery Review and Black October Magazine. In 1999 he received an Honorable Mention from Years’ Best Fantasy & Horror for “Waking Dream” (Flesh & Blood #4, June 1999). Currently he is focused on writing Mythos Noir with his Book Collector series and Sword & Sorcery fiction.

He lives in the cold, flat part of Alberta, Canada and can be found at http://darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/)

Most Sword & Sorcery fans consider “Crom the Barbarian” by Gardener F. Fox and John Giunta (Out of This World #1, June 1950) the first true S&S comic. One can make the case that even earlier was the Prince Valiant comic strip back in 1937. This strip by Hal Foster influenced everything that came after. Prince Valiant follows the adventures of a knight in Arthurian times, has an encounter with a dinosaur and a witch. Does that make it S&S? Not really since the bulk of the strip isn’t supernatural but a costume drama. Fox’s Crom is truly a Howardian pastiche like no other.

But was Crom the only contender? There was another who came a little later that is worth looking at too. This is “The Viking Prince” by Bob Kanigher and Joe Kubert. This comic that appeared in the first twenty-four issue of The Brave and the Bold went through three phases before being driven out by costumed superheroes. 

DC’s The Brave and the Bold began as an anthology of historical adventure comics. “The Silent Knight”, “The Golden Gladiator” and “Robin Hood” shared space with Jon the Viking Prince. From Issue #1 we learn Jon is a foundling who has lost his memory. Jon ends up in a fishing village near Lord Thorvald’s castle. Thorvald plots Jon’s death, for Jon is the rightful heir to the throne. Each episode has Thorvald coming up with a cunning plan to kill Jon, which ultimately fails. All supernatural elements, such as the Hammer of Thor, or an iceberg carved like a dragon, or an ocean volcano prove to be false. The philosophy of the comic is one John W. Campbell would have approved of in Unknown, with science lying behind everything. In this way, “The Viking Prince” was no different than the monthly escapades of Robin Hood to thwart Prince John or Marcus against Cinna. After the second issue, Kanigher handed scripting chores over to Bob Haney and Bill Finger.

After fifteen episodes of fighting with Thorvald and flirting with Gunnda, Bob Haney changed things up. A new origin and a new type of story arrived as well. Jon, still having no memory of his past, sets out to win his kingship by completing the Twelve Tasks of Thor. These include fighting giants, battling Valkyries, defeating living statues (ala Ray Harryhausen’s Talos) and giant fire birds. This second incarnation of Jon was actual Sword & Sorcery. In this version of the comic, Jon is accompanied by a minstrel who can’t speak, only sing. He knows the answer to Jon’s journey but can’t tell him. It is too bad he doesn’t tell us because the thread of the Twelve Tasks of Thor remains unfinished.

A third version of “The Viking Prince” appeared in the last two issues to feature the comic. Once again, the writer switched things up, this time returning to the original non-supernatural historical drama format. It was a sad change that fortunately didn’t last long. Jon is now the son of King Rikk, who Jon must rescue repeatedly from his enemies. 

Through these three incarnations we got to watch Joe Kubert’s art evolve. The initial phase has artwork similar to his early stuff on Son of Sinbad. By the end, it is the mature work we loved years later on Tarzan.

This was not the end for Jon the Viking. Kubert would try to re-ignite interest in the comic during the Sword & Sorcery craze that followed Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith’s Conan the Barbarian, with a reprint volume in DC Special #12 (May-June 1971). Two of the middle period stories were reprinted along with a few new pages for continuity but the experience must have failed. No new The Viking Prince appeared though DC did try with Stalker, Beowulf Dragonslayer, Hercules, Claw the Unconquered, Sword of Sorcery and several others. The only big winner here was Mike Grell’s The Warlord. Kubert would bring Jon back for a Sgt. Rock cross-over in Our Army at War #162-163 and again in Sgt. Rock Special #1 (October 1988). He would appear in later DC comics as well but now he was little more than another superhero.

Jan Duusema and Bob Kanigher would create a new four-parter “Frozen Hell for a Viking” as a back-up feature in Arak, Son of Thunder #8-11 (April – July, 1982). The convoluted tale gives us a youth of Jon and his twin sister, Alisa. Krogg the Red kidnaps the girl setting Jon on a journey that involves having his arm re-attached by a witch after a battle with druids. Along the way, Jon gains companions in the silent bard from the previous comics, Illan, the beautiful redhead who falls for the Viking Prince, Evor the dwarf, court jester turned warrior, and the boy Nikki, who possesses a giant hawk. Together they infiltrate Krogg’s castle, only to have Alisa pointlessly throw herself out a window to her death. Jon kills Krogg before setting out on new adventures that never happened.

In the end we can accept the second version of Jon as the second true Sword & Sorcery comic of the 1950s. “Clawfang the Barbarian” Unearthly Spectaculars #2 (December 1965) would try in the 1960s along with numerous individual stories in the Warren magazines, but it would take powerhouse Conan the Cimmerian to cement the idea of Sword & Sorcery comics for all time. 

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Pulp Consumption: Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths” (Guest Post by Anthony Perconti)

Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums.  His articles have appeared in several online venues and can be found on Twitter at @AnthonyPerconti.

I was introduced to the writings of Jorge Luis Borges through the recently departed American fantasists, Gene Wolfe. The two authors shared concurrent interests in exploring grand themes and big ideas in their respective works. Borges is the type of writer that is at once easily accessible and like Wolfe, highly perplexing. His stories are only a few pages long, yet they are densely packed with such information that relates to the metaphysical. One such tale is his 1941 offering, “The Garden of Forking Paths”. Published in English in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in August 1948, “Garden” is a ‘metaphysical detective’ yarn that prefigures such stories as Michael Moorcock’s “The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius” and The Metatemporal Detective sequence. 

“Garden” takes place in the midst of the First World War. Doctor Yu Tsun is a professor of English (of Chinese heritage) living in England. He is also an agent of the Kaiser’s military intelligence apparatus. When Tsun discovers that his cover has been compromised, he is ruthlessly pursued by Captain Richard Madden, an agent of the British Crown.  Narrowly escaping his pursuer, Tsun catches a train out of London to the village of Ashgrove. After wandering around (seemingly) aimlessly through the village, he is directed by a group of youths to the home of Sinologist, Doctor Stephen Albert. In what seems like a shocking turn of fate, Tsun discovers that Doctor Albert is something of an expert on his ancestor, Ts’ui Pen. This ancestor, who retired from the position of provincial governor, sequestered himself in his Pavilion of Limpid Solitude for thirteen years to “compose a book and a labyrinth.” The work of literature (The Garden of Forking Paths) is an indecipherable jumble in which the hero dies in the third chapter, only to be alive again in the fourth. 

Doctor Albert has cracked the mystery; the book and the labyrinth are one in the same.  “The explanation is obvious: The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as conceived by Ts’ui Pen. Unlike Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform and absolute time; he believed in an infinite series of times, a growing, dizzying web of divergent, convergent, and parallel times. That fabric of times that approach one another, fork, are snipped off, or are simply unknown for centuries, contains all possibilities. In most of those times, we do not exist; in some, you exist but I do not; in others, I do and you do not; in others still, we both do. In this one, which the favouring hand of chance has dealt me, you have come to my home; in another, when you come through my garden you find me dead; in another, I say these same words, but I am an error, a ghost.”

This is Borges tackling the cosmological concept of the multiple worlds or multiverse theory. The Garden of Forking Paths is a tome whose core conceit is an exploration of parallel timelines; where any and all possible outcomes are represented. Nonlinear time is Ts’ui Pen’s labyrinth; a constantly bifurcating and ever expanding cosmological tree of divergent universes. Not to spoil the ending of the tale, but suffice it to say that Tsun takes matters into his own hands and creates a new branch in the multiversal tree, while simultaneously fulfilling his duty to Germany in the war effort. 

In the decades since the publication of this tale, the theme of parallel worlds in science fiction has become commonplace. However, it should be noted that Borges was exploring these trippy metaphysical concepts in the early 1940’s; he was a trailblazer in this regard. The concepts found in “Garden”, would be taken up and expanded upon greatly a few decades later by British writer, Michael Moorcock. In Moorcock’s cosmology, every single one of his characters and stories, regardless of genre, are interlinked through the meta-concept of the Multiverse. A fan favorite character such as Elric for example, is just another aspect, another filament, in a vastly larger, interwoven tapestry. Like Tsun and Albert, it is quite possible that a multiplicity of versions of the same characters exist in neighboring timelines. In addition to exploring these grand metaphysical ideas in their fiction, Borges and Moorcock, are also extremely entertaining story tellers. You can’t go wrong with either of their works. A word of warning though; once you start reading them, it’s very difficult to stop.

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