Tagged: Charles Saunders

Puip Fiction Reviews Black Pulp

Ron Fortier turns over the reins of Pulp Fiction Review to Guest Reviewer Lucas Garrett, who takes a look at Pro Se Productions’ Black Pulp.

Edited by Tommy Hancock, Gary Philips & Morgan Minor
Pro Se Productions
288 pages
Guest Reviewer – Lucas Garrett

Every once in a while a book comes along that changes the playing field, that opens up new horizons where there once were none to be found. BLACK PULP is such a book.
Published by Pro Se Productions, under the careful and diligent leadership of Tommy Hancock, BLACK PULP brings together some of today’s best writers to tell stories of the extraordinary, the uncanny, the arcane, but never the mundane.

My fascination with BLACK PULP comes from a deep-seated need to right an unfortunate wrong in literary history.

I am a man of color, and as a man of color, I have read countless tales of adventure and intrigue where the main protagonist was primarily of Caucasian descent. Especially, in the Pulp literature of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s. People of color were either non-existent, servants, savages, or villains to be defeated and subdued. Very few characters of color were treated with the dignity and respect that they deserved. Times were different in those days. Racial politics and culture were the policy of the day, especially in the Deep South, and parts of the North such as New York, Chicago, and Boston. It was a time when people of color were supposed to know their place. It was a dark time in our nation’s, and to a larger extent, our world’s history. And despite the fact that I now live in a time when many are trying to sugar-coat or forget that period in our history, I refuse to do so. It is a battle scar my country, and our world, must live with, and embrace, in order to go forward, which brings me back to BLACK PULP and its true importance.

BLACK PULP is a wonderful anthology of short stories that expands the world of Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Shadow, The Spider, The Phantom Detective, The Green Lama, Ki-Gor, G-8, Secret Agent X, Secret Service Operator #5, and their contemporaries. And BLACK PULP populates this world with hitmen, boxers-turned-vigilantes, female aviators, wildmen, mercenaries-for-hire, private detectives, femme fatales, naval aviators, freedom-fighting pirates, paranormal investigators, real life lawmen, adventurers, and many more. It is a world where men and women of color are put in dire circumstances, and readers see how they deal with these situations. And these situations are made more perilous due to the times in which these heroic figures live such as Ngola, the African pirate who fights to free all slaves, and to severely punish all slavers from slave trading nations in the early 19th century. Or the real life legendary lawman, Bass Reeves, who blazed a trail throughout the Old West in the latter 19th century. BLACK PULP shows the reader that heroes of all colors and backgrounds can arise in oppressive times when needed.

BLACK PULP is a true no holds barred, adult, and realistic take on the world of the Pulps. BLACK PULP is not for the timid at heart.

When I read the stories, I feel as if I am being transported to the times and places in which these adventures are being told. There is a lived in quality to the stories of this book. I can smell the cigars and perfumes in offices and bar rooms; I can hear tires screeching as robbers or kidnappers try to get away, with the hero in pursuit, as gunshots are heard in the night; I see and hear the clanking of cutlasses and the firing of pistols onboard slave ships, and I hear the rattling of chains being unlocked as slaves of several generations are finally freed. I experience all of this, and more.

More importantly, I can relate with the main protagonists, and their supporting cast, and see the world through their eyes. And I want to see more stories about these characters.

In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing a crossover story starring Charles Saunder’s Mtimu and Damballa.Or maybe having Gary Phillips’s Decimator Smith and Alan Lewis’s Black Wolfe teaming up with Derrick Ferguson’s Fortune McCall for a case, or two. Or perhaps having Ron Fortier’s Bass Reeves and Derrick Ferguson’s Sebastian Red hunt down outlaws. That is how much I love the characters of BLACK PULP. And I see so much potential for more stories with these characters, and new ones as well, who will be as alive and vibrant as Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Avenger. There is a depth to the characters of BLACK PULP that will pull you in, and have you wanting more. And I can see a world where all of these characters can co-exist with the great legends of golden age of Pulp. I can see Decimator Smith and the Green Lama meeting, fighting each other, and then teaming up to fight the villain of that adventure. Or Black Wolfe working with Secret Agent X on a case that brings the mystery man to Port Victoria, South Carolina. The possibilities are endless. I love thinking about it. And I love that BLACK PULP allows me to think about it.

Therefore, I would like to congratulate Walter Mosley, Joe R. Lansdale, Gary Phillips, Charles Saunders, Derrick Ferguson, Alan Lewis, Christopher Chambers, Mel Odom, Kimberly Richardson, Ron Fortier, Michael Gonzales, Gar Anthony Haywood, Tommy Hancock, Adam Shaw, Sean E. Ali, and Russ Anderson on a job well done. Thank you all for creating this fine piece of work that I hold in my hands, read on my Android phone, and my laptop computer. Thank you.

So should you pick up a copy of BLACK PULP? I think that you know my answer.
What are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy, or two! You will not be disappointed.
I’m know I’m not. I’m reading it again right now.


Batesville, AR – 4/17/2013 – Pro Se Productions, a Publisher known for balancing tales harkening back to classic Pulp Fiction with stories pushing the boundaries of modern Genre Fiction, continues its publishing of books that do both. Pro Se proudly announces the debut of BLACK PULP, a collection featuring the work of various authors, including bestsellers Walter Mosley and Joe R. Lansdale. 

BLACK PULP is an anthology of original stories featuring black characters in leading roles in stories running the genre gamut. Pulp fiction of the early 20th century rarely, if ever, focused on characters of color and the handful of black characters in these stories were typically portrayed stereotypically. BLACK PULP brings some of today’s best authors together with up and coming writers to craft stories of adventure, mystery, and more — all with black characters in the forefront.

Co-editor of BLACK PULP, crime novelist Gary Phillips observed, “While revisionism is not history, as the films Django Unchained and 42 attest, nonetheless historical matters find their way into popular fiction. This is certainly the case with New Pulp as it handles such issues as race with a modern take, even though stories can be set in a retro context.” 

Black Pulp offers exciting tales of derring-do from larger-than-life heroes and heroines; aviators in sky battles, lords of the jungle, pirates battling slavers and the walking dead, gadget-wielding soldiers-of-fortune saving the world to mystics fighting for justice in other worlds. 

“The title is indeed BLACK PULP,” Pro Se Productions publisher and Black Pulp co-editor Tommy Hancock, “but these stories appeal to all. All of the basic needs for a story to touch a reader are there, including emotion, action, relevance, and more. To see all of that in a Pulp story funneled through characters that got the short shrift in terms of appropriate treatment in classic Pulp is definitely something worth sharing.”

BLACK PULP also features a new essay on the nature of Pulp, both classic and modern, by award winning bestselling author Walter Mosley. 

The other writers contributing original works to the anthology are: two-time Shamus award winner Gar Anthony Haywood, two time Award finalist Kimberly Richardson, Dixon Medal winner Christopher Chambers, critically acclaimed novelist Mel Odom, hip-hop chronicler Michael Gonzales, and award winning leading New Pulp writers Ron Fortier, D. Alan Lewis, Derrick Ferguson, Charles Saunders, Tommy Hancock, and Chester Himes award winner Phillips. This collection also features a classic story by Joe R. Lansdale, winner of the Edgar Allan Poe award, and multiple Bram Stoker awards.

BLACK PULP is available now from Amazon athttp://tinyurl.com/d8wjtph
and via Pro Se’s own store at https://www.createspace.com/4248056! Coming soon in digital format to Kindle, Nook, and more!
With a pulse pounding original cover by artist Adam Shaw and stunning cover design by Sean Ali, BLACK PULP delivers hair raising action and two fisted adventure out of both barrels! 

For more information concerning BLACK PULP, including interviews and review copies, contact Pro Se Productions at 870-834-4022 or at proseproductions@earthlink.net.




Airship 27 Productions is delighted to announce the release of a brand new crime thriller by one of the finest talents in genre fiction today; Mike Baron!
From the award winning creator of Nexus and Badger, comes a tale of terror and suspense set against the backdrop of the Outlaw Biker culture.  Josh Pratt is an ex-con turned private investigator.  A woman dying of cancer hires him to find the son she gave up as a baby.  The child’s father is a sadistic sociopath named Moon who has vowed to kill her for abandoning them.
Josh is the BIKER, caught up in a race for survival against a human monster on the road between heaven and hell at the end of which lies either salvation or damnation.  Baron spins a tale of unrelenting suspense and horror that moves across his narrative landscape like the roar of a chopper’s engine.  Creating memorable characters and authentic backgrounds, this is an amazing, quality crime thriller unlike anything you’ve ever read before.  The man who shook up the comic industry with his revolutionary stories now turns his limitless imagination to the world of crime fiction and the result will blow you away.
“Mike Baron tells a story like nobody else in the business,” says Airship 27 Productions Managing Editor, Ron Fortier.  “For years he’s captivated comic fans with his innovative tales of the erratic kung-fu Badger and the star-spanning, philosophical avenger, Nexus.  Now he’s entered the world of crime and horror fiction to rousing applause from fans everywhere.  We at Airship 27 Productions are very excited about bringing readers his latest novel; a riveting, no-holds-barred winner.  BIKER simply rocks!”
Featuring illustrations by artist Joseph Arnold and designed by award-winning Art Director, Rob Davis, BIKER is a punch-to-the-gut reading experience even the most jaded thriller fan will be cheering.
“Hard-boiled. Hard-edged. Hard-core. Hard to put down until you get to the last page.”
Charles Saunders, author of Imaro and Damballa.

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – Pulp Fiction For a New Generation!

Now on sale (https://www.createspace.com/4204985)
On Kindle within 2 days.
At our Airship 27 website as a PDF download for $3.
Within a week at Amazon and (www.IndyPlanet.com)



Publisher Announces BLACK PULP Collection

Featuring Best Selling Authors

Batesville, AR – 1/26/2013 – Pro Se Productions, a publisher of Genre Fiction, works to not only harken back to the classic fiction of Pulp magazines and adventure tales, but also to push the boundaries of modern Genre fiction in many directions.   To that end, Pro Se Productions reveals a new anthology to be released in early 2013, a collection featuring the work of various authors, including bestsellers Walter Mosley and Joe R. Lansdale. 

Cover for BLACK PULP
by Adam Shaw

Black Pulp is a collection of stories featuring African characters in leading roles in stories running the genre gamut.   Pulp Fiction of the early 20th Century rarely, if ever, focused on characters of color and the handful of black characters in these stories were typically portrayed as racial stereotypes.  Black Pulp, a concept developed by noted crime novelist Gary Phillips, brings some of today’s best authors together with up and coming writers to craft adventure tales, mysteries, and more, all with black characters at the forefront.

 Also co-editor of Black Pulp, Phillips observed, “While revisionism is not history, as Django Unchained signifies, nonetheless historical matters find their way into popular fiction.  This is certainly the case with new pulp as it handles such issues as race with a modern take, even though stories can be set in a retro context.  Black Pulp then offers exciting tales of derring-do and clear-eyed heroes and heroines of darker hues appealing to all.”

Black Pulp features a new original essay on the nature of Pulp, both classic and modern, by award winning author Walter Mosley.  Known for his bestselling Easy Rawlins novel series as well as books featuring Private Eye Leonid McGill, Mosley is widely published in fiction, both literary and genre, and non-fiction. Mosley has received several honors, including a Grammy, PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and an O. Henry award.

Also featured in the anthology is a classic story by Joe R. Lansdale. Lansdale is not unfamiliar to Pulp, having written such notable characters as Tarzan as well many of his own original creations, including Hap & Leonard.  Winner of the Edgar Award, multiple Bram Stoker Awards, The Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award and many others, Lansdale’s story provides his own take on Black Pulp.

Black Pulp Co-Editor, Contributor,
And Idea Bringer
Gary Phillips

Other contributing writers include Chester Himes Award winner Phillips, two time Shamus Award winner Gar Anthony Heywood, noted author Kimberly Richardson who currently has two works enlisted for Pulitzer Prize nomination, Dixon Medal winner Christopher Chambers, critically acclaimed novelist Mel Odom, hip-hop chronicler Michael Gonzales, Pulp Factory and Pulp Ark Award winner Ron Fortier, Pulp Factory Award winner Charles Saunders, Pulp Ark Award winners Derrick Ferguson and Tommy Hancock(also Publisher co-editor of Black Pulp), and noted writers Michael Gonzales and Alan D. Lewis.

Black Pulp is slated for print and digital release in early 2013 and features an original cover by Adam Shaw.  For more information concerning Black Pulp and Pro Se Productions, contact proseproductions@earthlink.net.


ALL PULP REVIEWS- Reviews by Ron Fortier
By Balogun Ojetade
Meji Books
MV Media LLC
145 pages
Since the advent of Sword & Soul, a subgenre focusing primarily on African mythology, we’ve seen many wonderful anthologies and novels come along that are breathing new life and welcomed vigor into fantasy literature.  The two biggest proponents, creators if you will, of this new classification are authors Charles Saunders and Milton Davis.  Saunders is known for his lifelong achievements in authoring some of the finest black fantasy fiction ever put to paper to include his marvelous heroes, Imaro and Dossouye.  Whereas Davis, beside his own amazing fiction, has been the driving force behind MV media, LLC, a publishing brand devoted to Sword & Soul.
Now, from that house, we have ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA by Balgum Ojetade; a sprawling, colorful and fast moving adventure that defines the best of Sword & Soul.  It is a tale of whimsy, love, magic and war told with such comfortable ease as to pull the reader along effortlessly.  Now in all fairness, this reviewer was challenged to keep the many characters separate due to their exotic foreign names that twists one’s mental tongue in a variety of unique vowels and consonants.  Thankfully Ojetade does provide a glossary of names at the book’s conclusion which was most helpful.  Despite this minor annoyance, he does distinguish each figure in unique ways that did allow us to enjoy the action without getting overly concerned about proper pronunciations along the way.
Alaafin, the Emperor of the Empire of Oyo wishes to marry off his beautiful but mischievous daughter, Princess Esuseeke.  Seeke, as she is referred to, is very much a “tomboy” who prefers studying martial arts rather than learning sewing or poetry in the royal palace.  It is Alaafin’s prime minister, Temileke who suggest Alaafin sponsor a Grand Tournament to feature the best fighters in all the land brought together to battle for the hand of the princess.  The emperor approves of the idea and dispatches Temileke to the furthest corners of Oyo to recruit only the greatest warriors in the kingdom to participate.
Meanwhile, Seeke, frustrated by her role as the prize in such a contest, accidently encounters her father’s chief general, Aare Ona Kakanfo.  Or so she believes. In reality the person she meets wearing the general’s combat mask is actually Akinkugbe; a young warrior wishing to enter the contest disguised as the general.  When Akin manages to win Seeke’s heart, things start to get complicated.  All the while the real Kakanfo is commanding the forces of Oyo in the south against their enemies the Urabi, desert people whose singular goal is to conquer Oyo.
As the day of the tournament fast approaches, Akin is trapped having to maintain his disguise and somehow figure a way to defeat the other fighters to win the hand of the woman he loves.  While at the same time, the Urabi, unable to defeat Kakanfo’s troops, desperately recruit the services of a brutal demon and a deadly female assassin to help turn the tide of battle in their favor.
All these various plot elements converge dramatically at the book’s conclusion wherein Akin and Seeke not only must overcome overwhelming odds to be together but at the same time rally their people to withstand the calamitous assault of their fiendish enemies and save the empire.  ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA is a rousing, old fashion adventure tale that had me wishing Hollywood would pick it up and film it; it is that captivating an epic.  Ojetade is a writer worth taking note of, he delivers on all fronts and this reviewer has become an instant fan. 


The third annual Pulp Factory Awards were announced and distributed at this year’s Windy City Paper & Pulp Show on May 27th.  The Pulp Factory is an internet group made up of over one hundred pulp enthusiasts, some professional writers and artists, all devoted pulp fans. There are four categories and cover all new pulp fiction and artwork created in the previous year.
The winners this year were works published in 2011 were.
Best Pulp Novel
“Damballa” by Charles Saunders – Published by Airship 27 Productions
Best Pulp Short Story
“Vengeance Is Mine,” by Ron Fortier – Published in The Avenger –Justice Inc. from Moonstone Books.
Best Pulp Cover
Michael Kalula for “Challenger Storm – Isle of Blood” by Don Gates from Airship 27 Productions.

Best Interior Illustrations
Michael Kaluta for “Challenger Storm –Isle of Blood” by Don Gates from Airship 27 Productions.
This is the first time one creator has won two awards.  This year’s nominees and winning tales and art were culled from seventeen publishers of new pulp fiction and art; a welcome sign that this genre continues to grow.
The membership of the Pulp Factory wish to congratulate all nominees and our three winners and to thank the Windy City Promoters Doug Ellis and John Gunnerson for their continued support of these awards.


Aces & Eights
By Dale Lucas
Beating Windward Press
201 pages
Last year well known fantasy author Charles Saunders delighted the new pulp community by releasing his novel DAMBALLA, making it the very first pulp novel set in the 1930s to feature an African American hero.  Just this week that same book has been nominated for the Pulp Factory Awards of 2011 for Best Pulp Novel.
Of course good ideas often emerge simultaneously amongst multiple creators and this was the case here.  While DAMBALLA was making its big splash from its widely respected new pulp publisher, Airship 27 Productions, another hard hitting new pulp thriller was debuting from a little known outfit called Beating Windward Press.  This one also featured an African American avenger operating in Harlem, only this one was set in 1926, the heart of the Roaring Twenties.  Written by California based Dale Lucas, “Doc Voodoo” shares several iconic similarities with Damballa to be sure, yet there are also enough differences to define each hero as unique and original in the world of pulpdom.
The hero is a World War One veteran of the famous Harlem Hellfighters 369th Infantry Division named Booker Dubois Butler Corveaux, a practicing M.D. known in his community as Doc Dub Corveaux.  Raised in Haiti and  having traveled the globe during his service years, Doc Corveaux is well versed in the Voodoo Religion and has become the physical agent of three  powerful entities who, when possessing his physical body, imbue it with supernatural abilities that make him virtually indestructible.  Thus in this state, he dons the garb of the Cemetery Man, black clothes, twin .45 automatics, magical clay bombs, a top hat and white painted face to resemble a skull. This frightening entity has assumed the mantle of Harlem’s protector and as we learn in this first book, she needs one desperately.
Two rival gangs are battle for control of the streets and the action is focused on a tough minded woman known as Queen Bee attempting to open a posh speakeasy called Aces & Eights.  Her opponent is a sadistic gang lord called Papa House who will do anything to ruin her plans even if it means unleashing a terrifying magic to corrupt the entire neighborhood and bring about untold suffering and misery.  Into this vicious contest comes the Cemetery Man, guns blazing, determined to thwart that black magic and save the innocent souls caught in the crossfire.
Dale Lucas is a superb writer with an eye for period detail. His research is meticulous and he knows New York from one end to the other, painting a virtual setting that is truly authentic for its period.  His command of slang and mood of the times pulls the reader into a world in flux, a world caught between the past horrors of the first world conflict and the heady exuberance of a social order challenging the mores of the future.
And like any classic pulp tale, the pacing is fast, the characters brilliantly etched and the action non-stop.  This is a true page-turner that will have you cheering with each new gun battle, from this new pulp hero’s first appearance to his last.  And Lucas wisely leaves the finale open ended for many more sequels, all of which we eagerly await.
“Aces & Eights” is as good a pulp actioner as any other there on the market today.  It’s one and only flaw is its packaging.  Most new pulp publishers are aware of the demands of the genre in regards to marketing.  True, one cannot judge the contents of a book by its cover, but then again, one can’t sell a good book with a bad cover.  “Aces & Eights” isn’t so much a bad cover as a non-existent one.  The tiny image of a white skull and a little color design manipulation do not make a great pulp cover.  I would argue this book would have won lots more attention had it sported a traditional pulp painted front, visually debuting Doc Voodoo in full regalia, guns firing away.  So please, Dale Lucas, if you do indeed have more of his wonderful adventures in store for us, give your packaging the extra attention it really deserves.

Fortier Takes on Sword and Soul Stories with "GRIOTS!"

Edited by Milton Davis & Charles Saunders
MV Media LLC.
284 pages

This reviewer has often made it known that he enjoys anthologies for two reasons; the first being the concept of similarly themed tales from various writers collected between two cover is just plain fun.  The second is the continued encouragement of the short story format. For many years academics were decrying the extinction of this form with the loss of so many monthly literary magazines and they were right to do so. But thanks to the emergence of genre themed anthologies, the short story has truly had a strong resurgence in popularity over the past decade.

Now comes this truly unique book which heralds the supposed creation of yet another fiction genre, that of “sword and soul.”  In the opening introduction, editors Davis and Saunders, both African Americans and leading writers in the field of fantasy adventure, detail a history of the genre first established by pulp writer Robert E. Howard when he invented sword and sorcery with his well known Conan adventures.  Whereas Saunders entered the field in the 1970s with the creation of his own barbaric warrior hero, Imaro and later Davis followed suit, each imbuing this fantasy sub-genre with what they believe is a clearly felt African sensibility.  Davis argues this is a new, original evolution of the well established sword and sorcery theme.  Are they correct, or simply trying to sell us something old with a new coat of paint?

As always, reviewing an anthology to determine its entertainment worth is pure mathematics.  You simply count how many stories are in the volume and then during the course of reading label those which are exceptional, those which are simply mediocre and those that are ineffective. At the end, whichever way the scales tip, you have your verdict.  GRIOTS, that’s French  for African storytellers, collects fourteen tales of exotic action and adventure all presented by African American writers.  Here are my favorite six in this collection.

“Changeling” by Carole McDonnell is my favorite of the bunch.  It tells the story of three sisters and their fates in a poignant tale of human emotions from the noble self-scarifying nature of true love to the petty ugliness of greed and jealousy.  Three princesses, each cast in a different mold confront the meanings of their lives and truth while resigning themselves to destiny proving the age old adage that a leopard can’t change its spots.  McDonnell is a gifted writer and she lays out her plot with an efficiency of words that mesmerize and paint images long remembered after the reading.

“The Three Faced One,” by Charles Saunders was no surprise as my second favorite here in that it is us another great tale of the wandering warrior, Imaro, the hero of several of Saunders’ novels.  This story finds Imaro coming to the aid of a tribe of cattle herders being taken abused by a three-faced demon.  Once more the powerful hero must pit his muscles against the forces of evil sorcery.  This is pure Imaro gold and worth the price of admission by itself.

“Skin Magic” by P.Djeli Clark is a gripping, original action piece about the victim of a dying sorcerer’s curse.  A young thief must live with moving tattoos etched his chest that are actual portals to other worlds and the monsters that live there.  How he comes to deal with this horrid fate is a very gripping and exciting entry. 

Whereas co-editor Milton Davis’s own “Captured Beauty” is the rollicking action tale of Changa, who despises slavery and risks his own position with his sympathetic employer to find a kidnapped maiden and rescue her from a cruel master who wields black magic.  

Another winner is “The Demon in the Wall,” by Stafford L.Battle featuring beautiful Makhulu and her warrior grandson Zende.  Together they must rescue their captured family from the demoness Swallow and her human ally, the rich and fat Fabu. Together they are an unbeatable combination of sorcery and strength.
In “The Queen, The Demon & The Mercenary,” by Ronald T. Jones, Queen Zara’s land is besieged by an evil demon warrior and her salvation lies in the hands of an enigmatic mercenary with a cocky air of self-confidence.

The above half dozen are extremely well done and highly recommended.  At the same time honorable mention goes to “Awakening” by Valjeanne Jeffers, “Lost Son” by Maurice Broaddus, “The General’s Daughter” by Anthony Kwamu and “The Leopard Walks Alone,” by Melvin Carter.

The remaining four failed to impress me and one was so convoluted in its prose, I re-read it twice and still couldn’t decipher what exactly was going in the story.  You may have a different opinion.  Still six truly well crafted adventures and four equally well told make GRIOTS a winning anthology unlike most of the fantasy found on today’s book shelves.  Is it really a new genre?  I leave that for you to decide, me, I just enjoyed the stories regardless of what anyone wishes to label them.


Review Postscript – I do have one final critique concerning GRIOTS, but as it does not concern its literary contents, I felt it best to set this issue apart from my main review.  Many readers do not give much attention to the accompanying artwork in such volumes but they are, at least to this reviewer, an integral part of the book’s overall presentation.  Following the tradition of classic pulp fiction, GRIOTS, besides its lovely cover painting, also showcases fourteen black and white interior illustrations, one for each of the stories. 

And therein is my frustration as the art is delivered by half a dozen artists.  At their basic core, anthologies are diverse stories all connected by a central theme.  Nothing helps cement that theme more than one artist bringing his or her talent to a book, giving it a visual cohesiveness that is crucial to the overall feel of the tome.  But when a reader is confronted by multiple art pieces done in a variety of styles with differing levels of quality that unifying thread is shattered. 

Consider this analogy if you will.  Imagine being invited to a fancy, hip hop dance with lively modern music.  You’re out on the dance floor have a grand time when suddenly you have to hold up because every new track being played has to be handled by a new D.J.  All too soon what was once a fun time is now a discordant mess.  A single, talented D.J. can clearly leave his or her personality imprint on such a party, a single illustrator for GRIOTS would have left the same kind of visual oneness.

I would strongly urge the editors to consider using only one interior artist for their follow up sequels.  And just so you do not think I’m anti artists, let me finish with saying I really liked the work of Stanley Weaver, John Jennings, Paul Davey and Shawn Alleyne found in this book.

Derrick Ferguson Listens To The Tales Of the GRIOTS!

·  Paperback: 294 pages
·  Publisher: MVmedia, LLC (August 7, 2011)
·  Language: English
·  ISBN-10: 0980084288
·  ISBN-13: 978-0980084283
Before we get into the meat-n-potatoes of this review, it’s necessary that Sherman set the Wayback Machine for 1970’s so we can indulge in a brief history lesson for context: Charles R. Saunders is a writer who like most of you reading this review fell in love with the work of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, King Kull and Solomon Kane.  REH is credited with being the creator of “sword and sorcery” a sub-genre of epic fantasy.  Sword and sorcery concerns itself with stories driven by action, healthy doses of sex and violence and strong supernatural/magical elements.
So in love with sword and sorcery is he that Mr. Saunders sets about writing his own stories.  And in doing so he determines to expand the genre by creating a black heroic fantasy character and set his adventures in a mythical Africa just as fabulous and dangerous as Howard’s Hyborian Age.  And with his stories of Imaro, Charles Saunders gives birth to what is now known as “sword and soul” which are fantasy stories with an African connection or featuring African characters 
I’ve been a fan of Mr. Saunders and his work ever since I was a high school student back in the 70’s and devouring heroic fiction at an appalling rate.  And as the Wayback Machine brings us back to the present we can begin this review proper with the good news that sword-and-soul is not only thriving here and now, it is giving voice to a new generation of African American fantasy writers eager to explore the genre and continue to nourish it with their talents.
GRIOTS is an anthology of sword and soul stories co-edited by Mr. Saunders and Milton J. Davis who himself has long carved out his own territory in the genre.  The fourteen stories in the book are:
“Captured Beauty” by Milton Davis.  It’s a great action story to lead off the book with.  It’s a simple plot having to do with rescuing a beautiful damsel in distress from the clutches of a vile villain.  But what made this story stand out for me were the characterizations of the protagonist Changa and his employer, the merchant Belay and their relationship.
“Awakening” by Valjeanne Jeffers.  It starts out with a little girl who has no desire to spend her adult days sitting around being ladylike and raising squalling brats while the men have all the fun being warriors. The girl, Nandi, grows up and finds out that there’s a supernatural force in her life who also thinks that yeah, her being a warrior is a pretty good idea.
“Lost Son” by Maurice Broaddus is a story I wanted to like a lot more than I do as I like Mr. Broaddus’ style of writing.  But the story just seemed to end without resolution or even much of a point.
“In The Wake of Mist” by Kirk A. Johnson is another story I didn’t get.  Although I liked the imagery the writer evokes, that’s all the impression the story made on me.  A series of wonderfully described images that really didn’t seem to go anywhere or evoke any sort of feeling in me.
“Skin Magic” by Djeli A. Clark kicks the anthology back into action mode with a story that has a healthy heap of horror.  The main character is a thief on the run who has living tattoos on his skin that are portals to a nightmarish limbo through which Cthulhuian creatures can emerge into our world.  The thief, barely able to control this horrible ability is pursued by the fearsome minions of a consortium of dark magicians who desire this power for their own purposes.  As soon as I finished this story, I wanted to read a sequel right away.
“The Demon In The Wall” by Stafford L. Battle is one of my favorite stories in this anthology.  Equal parts high adventure and comedy, it’s an entertaining near parody of the genre.  The sorceress Makhulu and her grandson, the warrior Zende are characters I’d love to see more of.  The banter between them alone is worth reading the story for.
“The Belly of The Crocodile” by Minister Faust is a tale of sibling rivalry.  And that’s all I’ll say about it because it’s not a long story and its emotional punch is best served by reading it yourself.
“Changeling” by Carole McDonnell is a story that works just the way it is but if it were twice as long I wouldn’t kick.  This is about three sisters destined to marry and become queens of their own kingdoms.  But the real prize is their native kingdom only one of them will inherit when their mother dies.  It’s got that ‘Once Upon A Time” feeling as it unfolds it’s ultimately sorrowful tale.  It’s a story of Shakespearean tragedy that has a lot to say about human nature and the ugly power of jealousy. 
“The General’s Daughter” by Anthony Nana Kwamu is a good choice to follow “Changeling” as they have something in common.  Both of them have more than their share of action but they also dig deeper into the emotional core of their characters to reveal who these people really are and why we should care about what happens to them.  I really liked the emotional resonance I felt in both these stories after I finished them.
“Sekadi’s Koan” by Geoffrey Thorne is another story I immediately wanted a sequel to as soon as I finished reading it.  I got a very strong Roger Zelazny vibe in this tale of a gifted martial artist studying her deadly art at a school located…well, I’m not sure where it’s located but I was so entertained I didn’t care.  And unlike some other stories where I got the impression that the writers themselves weren’t sure of where their stories were happening, I didn’t get that impression from Mr. Thorne.  I got the feeling he knew exactly where and when his story was taking place but is saving that for what I hope will be future stories about Sekadi.
“The Queen, The Demon and The Mercenary” is by Ronald T. Jones and like “The Demon In The Wall” is a story that seems designed for nothing but the reader to have as much fun reading it as I’m sure the writer had writing it.  The swaggering warrior Toulou sets out to rescue a suffering kingdom from the demon-wizard terrorizing the people and does it in style.  Highly recommended.
“Icewitch” by Rebecca McFarland Kyle proves that you don’t necessarily have to set a sword and soul story in an African setting.  This story takes place in a frigid realm where a dark-skinned youth struggles to find acceptance among his mother’s people who are lighter-skinned. 
The only real problem I have with Melvin Carter’s “The Leopard Walks Alone” is the ugliness of the names in the story.  I tried saying them aloud and I swear I bruised my tongue.  I realize it’s a somewhat petty quibble but naming is important in fantasy stories.  Difficult and harsh sounding names should be used sparingly. 
And The Master himself, Charles Saunders finishes up the anthology with a tale of Imaro: “The Three Faced One”  If you’ve never read an Imaro story or anything by Charles Saunders, this is an excellent introduction to both.
GRIOTS also boasts fourteen interior black and white illustrations by fourteen separate artists as well as biographical information about the writers and artists and introductory essays by the editors.  The cover by Natiq Jalil is simply wonderful to look at.
So should you read GRIOTS?  Absolutely.  True, a few of the stories didn’t turn my crank but most of them did.  If you’re a sword and sorcery fan looking for some heroic fantasy that takes place in realms other than the Medieval or ancient settings most sword-and-sorcery stories take place in then you most certainly should check this anthology out.