Story Review: The People of the Black Circle by Robert E. Howard

Covering a Conan story is a nice addition to my continuing search of early speculative fiction. I’ve previously covered The King of Elfland’s Daughter and The Ship of Ishtar. If you like older stories, check those reviews out.

Robert E. Howard is an author I have mixed feelings for. On the one hand, I look up to how great he is as an author, but on the other, I really feel he’s raised up on a pedestal beyond what he deserves.

The People of the Black Circle was the second real Conan story I read. I wasn’t a huge fan of Howard before, but I liked him well enough. Honestly this story made me reevaluate my opinion of him.

The story is epic. The Emperor of Vendhya is killed and the Devi Yasmina comes to power. She swears to kill the assassins, who used magic to kill her brother. Amidst all of this, Conan has come to negotiate for the release of his seven warriors from a jail in Vendhya. Conan takes Yasmina as a hostage and flees Vendhya, unknowingly jumping into a battle of kings and wizards. With this comes its own dangers, as a mystical man in a camel vest pursues Conan and Yasmina.

I can’t recommend this story enough. The progression is great, Conan as a character is strong and interesting, and Yasmina is a beautiful, proud woman. Not to mention, the action is fantastic. There’s numerous fights in canyons and tricky interpretations of mystical words. It’s all around great.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

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Story Review: Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

I can’t use the cover used in Planet Stories. However, this is the cover used for the story collection in Fantasy Masterworks.

I get this story recommended to me often. In truth, the circles I run in love older stories, and they seem to always extol Black Amazon of Mars as one of the better tales from the past.

Leigh Brackett was once called the “Queen of Space Opera”, and I have to admit that this story lives up to the hype.

Black Amazon of Mars has vivid storytelling, a fast pace, interesting action and characters, and twists and turns I didn’t see coming.

The story follows Eric John Stark, a recurring character in Brackett’s work. First published in 1951, it was originally in PLanet Stories, but subsequent publications used either the changed version or the original (depending). I read the original.

In this story, Eric is with his friend Camar, who is dying. Camar held in his possession a lens of some type that has some powerful abilities. As Camar dies, he Eric volunteers to take the lens back to his Martian people. However, a band of marauders, lead by the mysterious Lord Ciaran, are planning an attack on the city Camar comes from.

Stark is a good character, though he felt pretty generic. His “wandering rogue” aesthetic held pretty standard for a pulp story, but the real shining stars were the other characters. Lord Ciaran, in particular, was fascinating. There are a lot of martians in the city that interested me, but mostly by that part of the story, Ciaran’s uniqueness eclipsed the other characters.

All in all, I’d recommend this for anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy. It’s only about 70 pages, so I think it’s worth it. It’s fantastic.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson

I’ve reviewed several Poul Anderson books, including The Broken Sword and The High Crusade. Honestly, he’s quickly becoming my favorite author, though I suspect Jack Vance still holds that title in my heart.

Three Hearts and Three Lions follows Holger, an Allied fighter in World War 2, who awakens to find himself transported to a medieval fairy world of magic and witches. Finding himself with a horse and equipment in his size, as well as a shield bearing the titular “Three Hearts and Three Lions” design, he decides to go on a journey. He wants to find a way back, and on the way comes across a Dwarf named Hugi and a swan woman named Alianora.

The story is somewhat episodic. It would honestly make a decent television show, if not for the lackluster ending. Holger is a witty, 20th century personality in a medieval fantasy setting. He makes for a fantastic fish-out-of-water character.

There are several creative ideas. I love how Holger defeats a dragon, for example, or his riddles against a giant. Basically, if you like medieval fantasy with a touch of 20th century flair, this book is right up your alley.


If you liked this review you might like some of my others:

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

You may also like my work on writing:

What is Science Fiction?

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

Personal Update – May 15th, 2019

Hello! Thanks for reading this. I just wanted to let you know that I still read and write, but my circumstances have shifted slightly. To be honest, I have a new job opportunity at work, and I’m going to be working on it over the next few months. Because of that, I’ve been a little preoccupied at work and unable to focus enough to write a book review, or even finish a book I felt like reviewing.

Oh I’ve read plenty, but I don’t feel like they’re worth writing reviews of (lots of graphic novels and light novels, as well).

Speaking of graphic novels, I thought about reviewing the Sandman series, since I’m a pretty big Neil Gaiman fan. Let me know if you’d be interested in that!

I’ve also got a poem or two I’ve been working on. One’s been rounding through the submission cycles, and if it doesn’t land at the tenth one, I’ll probably just post it here!

Anyways, I appreciate you reading this. I’ll update with something writing related tomorrow. Thanks for reading, again!

Book Review: There Will Be Dragons by John Ringo

I’ve previously reviewed several of John Ringo’s books, including The Troy Rising series and Gust Front, part of the Legacy of the Aldenata series (also known as the Posleen War series).

This book is about war. Ringo’s writing is straightforward, and a lot of what he delves into is the logic inherent in the story. In the Posleen War series he goes into depth about how the aliens work, how to fight them, and what a war on the Earth would look like, all within the logic of the series. He does the same here.

He also does a good job in pacing. Early on I was a little worried that it was lagging too much, but right around the 100-page mark the story shifted dramatically and my interest was rekindled. Ringo setup a LOT in the early chapters, and the pay offs were worth it. If I have one complaint it’s that I couldn’t really follow a protagonist. Ringo sort of drifted between several POV characters, but ultimately seemed to “zoom in” on Edmund Talbot and Herzer Herrick.

From there, however, the book takes a turn. Instead of being a fantasy book set in the far future, it becomes military fantasy. I’m not complaining, I like that genre, but it wasn’t apparent from the beginning.

Also, if you don’t like discussion of sexual assault this book may not be for you. There’s a prominent attack, which hangs over the head of most of the characters the rest of the book.

Ultimately, I like the book a lot. After burning through the first two hundred pages, I got hooked. If you like military fantasy it’s for you.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

What Books Would You Recommend for Pre-Teens?

I’ve seen this question a lot. I think the age range is right there where a young person can start to read solid genre fiction outside of the “kiddie” hold of children’s fiction. There are some children’s books that work for this, obviously, but in general the genre can be a bit too juvenile for a middle-school aged young person.

That isn’t to mock children’s books whatsoever. I have great respect for authors of all age groups, but in this particular age range I’ve found that young people don’t respond well to books with younger themes.

As far as speculative fiction goes, there’s a number of books that could be recommended comfortably to younger readers in order to stoke their imagination and encourage them to read more. So here’s a list I composed of books I’d recommend to middle-school aged young people. I’ll include my recommendation, the genre, and the reason for my recommendation.


Interstellar Pig by William Sleator. Science fiction. My first exposure to science fiction, as I previously mentioned. It’s the story of a young man who goes on vacation when he meets strange kids who share a board game with him. In the game, you have to keep a “Piggy”on your planet in order to prevent the world from being destroyed. The board game seems to simulate reality, and I think most young readers would love this one. It’s fun, imaginative, and has a few twists and turns to it to keep it interesting.

Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert Heinlein. Science fiction. One of the more adventurous stories by Heinlein and one of his “juveniles”, the stories he intended for young readers. I previously reviewed Heinlein’s Space Cadet, another of his juveniles, though I wouldn’t put it on this list. A young man named Kip is kidnapped by an alien. From there, the story takes off to become a bizarre exploration of humanity. It’s worth a read and young readers should love it.

House of Stairs by William Sleator. Science fiction. If you can’t tell by now I love Sleator. He wrote mainly for this age range, which is why his work continues to show up on this list. House of Stairs follows a group of kids who find themselves in a strange room with stairs. It’s seemingly calculated to test them in various ways, and there’s more to it then it seems.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Fantasy. Probably Tolkien’s most approachable book. It’s quirky in weird ways and definately dated, but it’s the forefather of a lot of fantasy stories. It’s worth picking up.

Singularity by William Sleator. Science fiction. A story about twin brothers who discover a small singularity in their uncle’s shed. There’s water and food, and apparently someone is able to stay in the shed while time slows outside the shed. This is widely considered Sleator’s best work.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Fantasy. This should be obvious enough. Rowling is a great writer, and as the characters age up so do the subjects they deal with. It’s imaginative and younger readers will love it.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Fantasy. This one is probably most suited for kids, but the witty wordplay is probably appreciated more by preteens. Alice follows a rabbit and ends up in a strange world. It’s mostly nonsense literature, but I think it’s probably still fantasy.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. Science fiction. I read this book at the appropriate age. I loved it. It’s a dystopian novel about a future society that engineers their citizens to conform to set standards. It’s a great way to introduce philosophy to young people.

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice. Horror. Obviously this one contains blood and some disturbing elements. It’s a great vampire story. I recall my sister loving it when she was a young teen, and I suspect many other young readers will find Rice’s story compelling. If you want to wait to suggest it until high school, that would make sense in this case.

Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard. Heroic fantasy. It will contain violence, but if you think your young person can handle it, this book is solid. It follows an older King Conan who leaves and journeys back to retake his kingdom.

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein. Science fiction. Another of Heinlein’s juveniles. A slave boy is bought by a beggar and given a job. It’s based in a space-faring society and clearly one of Heinlein’s best juveniles.

Jirel of Joiry by C. L Moore. Sword and sorcery. There is some violence in these stories. These stories are sometimes collected as “Black God’s Kiss”, the name of the most popular of the stories in the collection. Jirel is a french swordswoman who rules over a medieval state. She’s arrogant, brash, angry, and by far one of the most interesting characters on this list. Young readers should find her stories interesting, but I’m tempted to say that teenagers would appreciate the work more.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Fantasy. I wrote a review of this one. I didn’t think it particularly showcased Gaiman’s skill, but it’s still some great work. If you can find videos of Gaiman reading it to an audience, I’d recommend looking those up. It’s appropriate for younger readers who’d like to know about this mythology. It does contain some violence, of course, but an early teen should be able to handle that.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Horror. I hesitate to list this one since it’s a bit unwieldy for modern readers. However, I enjoyed it when I was young and I’m sure young people today would like it as well. It’s gloomy, dark, and mysterious. If you’ve never read it, the book is unique in how it tells its story.


Maybe you’ll like some of my posts on writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing with Inspiration

Or maybe a couple of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Should I Write a Short Story or a Novel?

This question has vexed me since I’ve started writing. The first novel-length work I ever wrote was effectively a lengthened short story by throwing contrived plot twists into the story.

It was terrible.

However, the question is a valid one: What should the length of my story be?

To be honest, there’s more options than just short story or novel. You could write a novella (and I am currently working on one) or any other length of work. So I brainstormed and came up with a few pointers for people, like me, who struggle to decide which way to go with their fiction:

  • The length of the work should depend on the work itself and your own style.

I spent some time working on a short story. I really liked where it was going. A deep lore, interesting fantasy elements, and even a geography. I think you can see the problem already. This work was not meant to be a short story. It was meant to be a longer format.

If your story involves a deeply entrenched history and other worldbuilding elements, you may want to go with a longer format. Short stories are designed to tell a tale quickly and effectively. It’s hard to get as detailed as you’d like with a short story, but not impossible.

  • A longer format allows for mistakes.

Novels can be messy. By that I mean they should be well-written, plotted, and designed to have a story with characters. But, you can make “mistakes” that you can’t make with short stories.

Due to the word constraints in a short story, there’s less space to experiment with different scenes, or beats, in a story. You have to setup and pay off within the same 3000 words, for example. In a novel, you can set things up that suggest something, then have a reversal of those expectations later in the story. However, it may be 30,000 words between setup and pay off. You have the room to experiment with it.

If your style is more attuned to adding new plot threads, suggestions of further depth, or hidden secrets, then a longer length may be preferable.

If the story contains those elements in your outlining, then you may want to think about going for the longer length, as well.

  • Short fiction has the benefit of brevity.

If “brevity is the soul of wit”, then I’d argue that a short story helps writers become witty with their choices.

Short fiction helps a writer develop plotting and endings far better than any novel. However, once a writer has developed as a short story writer, most will make the move to novels. The character development, dialogue, and worldbuilding that you can do in a novel is just plain fun. Conventional wisdom has always held that a writer should work on short stories first, then work on novels. I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying that’s required in all cases, but I see the benefits.

All in all, think about it. You and your story may benefit from a different format.


You might like some of my book reviews:

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

You may also like my other work on writing:

Finding Your Writing Style

Dodging Derivatives

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Harlan Ellison on Not Being a Science Fiction Writer

I love listening to the old authors of speculative fiction. In this way I came upon a 1976 interview of Harlan Ellison describing why he is not a science fiction writer. He thinks his work doesn’t actually fit that label, and I think he’s probably right.

Sure, many of his fiction works fall into science, but others have fantasy elements or are simply real world fiction. It isn’t so simple as saying “this guy was a sci-fi writer.”

There’s much to learn from Ellison’s philosophy of writing, and I think his idea of genre is especially useful. However, if you’re a new author looking to get published, having a clearly defined genre may be more useful. It’s debatable.

Here’s the interview, at the appropriate part. I’d recommend the entire interview if you have the time!


You may like some of my other posts about writing:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Revising Your First Draft Novel

Also check out my book reviews:

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Also make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

I’ve read several stories from Michael Moorcock. In fact, I’ve read several of his Elric stories, but never grabbed a vintage paperback version of any one of them. So, when I saw a copy of Stormbringer, I had to have it and read it.

Not the version I own, but similar to it.

Stormbringer is the last book in terms of the chronology of the Elric series. I knew, going into it, that I was missing some pieces of the story. This book was actually four short stories bonded into a single narrative.

Each of the four arcs felt pretty disconnected, but had several stand out moments. There was the resurrection of a dead god, the cruel death of a character in an inevitable way, and the confrontation between the Lords of Chaos and Lords of Order.

Without spoiling the story, I will say that the book, as a whole, was compelling and well-written. In particular (and I shared this on Instagram) Moorcock’s descriptions are amazing. His writing style is epic, even if the tone is dark and somber. If you like epic fantasy AND dark fantasy, this is right up your alley.

The story also delves into Moorcock’s Multiverse. I didn’t know that the Multiverse was actually a part of the Moorcock mythos, but after reading this book I dug deeper into it to find some fascinating tidbits about it. But I digress.

As far as the ending goes, I felt it was far too abrupt. It wasn’t satisfying for me, and I feel like it was a rare misstep. Ultimately, like the rest of the Elric series, Stormbringer was dark and unhappy.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

2018 Year End Review

An interesting image I found online.
I just thought I’d share it with you.

I think 2018 was a good year for me. Granted, while I may not have been as active as I would have liked, I feel the posts I made were of a higher quality than the ones I started out with.

Before I list out some of my favorite posts from 2018, I want to thank you for participating in this site of mine.

I’ve got even more going on in 2019. From contest submissions, to novel writing and poetry, it’s going to be a goodyear!

Here’s some of my favorite reviews from 2018:

  • My review of The King of Elfland’s Daughter. This was published back in September, and was part of an ongoing series of reviews I did covering the early days of 20th century speculative fiction.
  • In the same vein, my review of A Princess of Mars was also one of my favorite posts. It was my first time really reading the book, and I was taken by it.
  • Back in July I did a review of The Broken Sword, a Poul Anderson classic I read for the first time. It was fantastic, and the review is worth your time.
  • In June was a review of N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, which I truly enjoyed. The review is much further in depth than some of the others, and based on only the effort alone, I think is worth your time.
  • Starting off the year strong was another review I did for a book I wanted to read for years. The Dragon Masters was a great read, and a book I recommend anyone into either science fiction or fantasy to enjoy.

Now, some of my more general posts were somewhat enjoyable as well. Let me go through a few of my favorite:

  • In April I posted a poem called “Cardinals in Spring Snow“. It was by far my favorite poem of the year.
  • In June I tried to sort out my thoughts on the big question, “What is Science Fiction?” I think it’s in interesting post, but after all these months, I’m not sure I agree with it. It’s still a good read, though.
  • In April was a writing post I made called Writing Descriptions. It stemmed from a conversation I had with an author friend of mine, and is still interesting to me.
  • In March was a more personal post I wrote about my struggles as a writer. It was called 75% Writing, 25% Coping, and was mostly about my thoughts on being a writer and dealing with rejection. You become able to handle rejection the more you’re exposed to it.

I hope this has been interesting, and I appreciate your time.

Thank you!


If you liked this, you may want to follow me on Twitter or Facebook!
You can also find me on Instagram, though it’s mostly pictures of books.