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Shapers of Worlds Volume II Edited by Edward Willett

In Shapers of Worlds Volume II, Saskatchewan-based author and publisher Edward Willett packages up 24 speculative short stories penned by writers who have been featured on his podcast, The Worldshapers. Published under the auspices of Shadowpaw Press, Willett’s own imprint, Shapers of Worlds Volume II offers stories ranging from alternate history to science fiction and fantasy. Though six of the tales have been previously published, the majority have not. Included between the pages are elves, mages, detectives, retired henchmen, ancient heroes, commoners, and athletes. Though a variety of characters and settings are employed, one thing is consistent—the stories are both engaging, and engagingly told.

Readers familiar with the Canadian speculative fiction scene will recognize a number of the included authors, including Ira Nayman, Matthew Hughes, Susan Forest, and Candas Jane Dorsey. Forest’s story, “The Only Road,” was one of the standouts. Historical fiction with a fantasy twist, “The Only Road” whisks the reader to India at the time of British occupation. Forest provides a strong description to aid the reader in making the trek. The story opens with the lines:

A tin wind-up drummer marched jerkily in its red uniform along the broad, flat surface of the Thangdu Temple balustrade as Orville waved a handful of the mechanical soldiers and cried out to buyers in the crowd. Above the restless flow of the market, the high, white cliffs of Khangchengyao sparkled in the clear morning air.

“Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes.”

Though “The Only Road” reads like historical fiction, there is a mystical twist with references to the mystical land of Shangri, “a land of magic, a land said to perch at the top of a hanging valley, accessible only by no more than a gossamer ladder, a land that touched the realms of the Gods.” “The Only Road” is a backstory to Forest’s Addicted to Heaven series from Laska Media. The first two books in the series won Canada’s Aurora Awards for Best Young Adult novel in 2020 and 2021.

In “The Cat and the Merrythought,” decorated writer Matthew Hughes, author of the novels What the Wind Brings and A God in Chains, spins a tale of an ancient artifact that has more to it than meets the eye. The story, which features two good friends named Baldemar and Oldo, is packed with humour and makes for easy reading. In “I Remember Paris,” James Alan Gardner provides a re-imagining of the events that occurred after Eris, the Goddess of Discord, threw the ill-fated golden apple into the midst of a certain gathering. Entertaining and imaginative, the story is lent greater resonance by Gardner’s ending. In “Message Found in a Variable Temporality Appliance,” Ira Nayman shows the clever humour that is on display in his other works, including the Multiverse: Transdimensional Authority series. “Shapeshifter Finals” by Jeffrey A. Carver offers something of appeal for sports fans, describing a futuristic wrestling match between a human and a shapeshifter. At the same time, the story illustrates how the collaborative comradery of sport might transcend species boundaries. “Going to Ground” by Candas Jane Dorsey is also noteworthy.

One of the stories I found most enjoyable was S.M. Stirling’s “A Murder in Eddsford,” a detective tale set against a backdrop of an alternate-history Earth. In Stirling’s story, events occurring just prior to the year 2000 resulted in the total failure of all machinery: “under the laws of nature as they’d applied since . . . March 17 of 1998, you couldn’t get mechanical work out of heat, not in any really useful amount. Not in an engine, not in a firearm.” Set at a time just over 50 years after The Change, as it is referred to, “A Murder in Eddsford” portrays a world in which wind pumps, thatched roofs, and horse-drawn coaches are ubiquitous. Besides the intrinsic appeal of a well-rendered and familiar, yet different, world, Stirling provides an intriguing mystery as Detective Inspector Ingmar Rutherston attempts to unravel the circumstances behind the death of a much-disliked man named Jon Wooton.

Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes. Besides being entertaining in itself, the collection might inspire further exploration of the works of authors the reader finds appealing.


About the Editor

EDWARD WILLETT is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages, including the Worldshapers series and the Masks of Agyrima trilogy (as E.C. Blake) for DAW Books, the YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, and most recently, the YA SF novel Star Song. Ed won Canada’s Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW) and for Best Fan Related Work in 2019 for The Worldshapers podcast. His humorous space opera The Tangled Stars comes out from DAW in 2022. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. Find him at edwardwillett.com or on Twitter @ewillett.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Shadowpaw Press (Oct. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 544 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989398286
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989398289

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Dragon’s Fury by Pierre C. Arseneault

All he could see was the tall grass as he laid face down hiding from sight, fearing the beast would see him. The element of surprise might give him a fighting chance against those razor-sharp claws and rows of pointy teeth. Tark the warrior lay in the grass waiting patiently for the beast to show itself. For once the hunted would be the hunter as he had to slay the beast before it would slay him and everyone in his village. The great and powerful scaly green dragon had begun terrorizing his tiny village weeks ago. Since it began its reign of terror it had killed many a peasant as well as many brave warriors. He could wait no longer for the council of elders to send more champions. He was the youngest of the warriors in his tribe but he had the most courage.

Also, he had an advantage over all the other warriors of his village as only he possessed the sword of dragon slaying. It was a magnificent sword with intricate gold carvings and green gems decorating the hilt. The long etched blade itself was so sharp it would easily cut through the beast’s thick hide. It contained the magical power to drain the life from the dragon with every blow.

The great Sorceress Tabitha had given him this blade so that he would have a better chance to slay the foul beast and save the village. She knew its magic would only work in the hands of a true and noble warrior. No other in the village could wield it, she had said. This is why she had not given it to anyone until now.

“His heart started to race as suddenly he could hear the flapping of wings in the distance. Would his courage hold up he wondered as the moment of truth arrived? He crouched down next to the trunk of the huge tree and watched in awe as the powerful wings brought the evil creature gracefully to the ground.”

But first, he would have to get close enough and its breath of fire would burn him like many of the other warriors who tried their hand at slaying the beast. But again he felt he had no reason to fear the dragon’s breath. The Sorceress Esmeralda, sister of Tabitha had gifted him with a magical silver and gold breastplate that would protect him from the dragon’s fire. Armed with great courage, the magical sword and shield while wearing his armour, he thought himself near invincible. He knew to avoid attacking from the rear as its tail was too dangerous. Best to face it head-on as it was the only way he would stand a chance.

The grass was so tall he could barely see anything as he lay in it. The mighty Tark crept forward, inching his way towards a copse of trees up ahead. He knew the trees would provide cover from above as it should be flying in anytime now like it had done every afternoon for the past few weeks. Soon it would swoop down and carry off another helpless victim unless someone was there to stop it. He waited under the cover of the biggest tree, its branches reaching towards the heavens as if trying to touch the clouds. Its abundance of large green leaves creating a canopy for him to hide under and wait. The trunk of the tree was so large that he could easily hide behind it without being seen.

The dragon had often landed in this very field before flying into the village to choose its next meal. The field was a bit elevated and so the creature would look upon the village and watch as the villagers ran and hid from the large hungry dragon.

He intended on surprising it when it did, hoping that he could strike before it could fly off. His mindset on wounding its wings so it would not be able to escape his mighty blade.

His heart started to race as suddenly he could hear the flapping of wings in the distance. Would his courage hold up he wondered as the moment of truth arrived? He crouched down next to the trunk of the huge tree and watched in awe as the powerful wings brought the evil creature gracefully to the ground.  

The creature paused momentarily looking down upon the village as if choosing carefully where to strike. At that moment the warrior sprung from the tree that concealed him and without uttering his usual battle cry he lunged forward at full speed. His blade gleamed in the sunlight as he cut through the right-wing as easily as cutting through air. The dragon shrieked and jerked his wing back in pain. It took a quick step back and turned to face the puny warrior who only stood about knee-high to the beast. A loud roar echoed through the cluster of trees but the warrior didn’t back down. Instead, he stepped forward and jabbed at the stunned beast as it was still reeling from the surprise attack.

The creature spread its wings as if to lift off the ground. With a flap of wings, it shrieked and remained grounded. The warrior’s plan had worked as the beast no longer could fly away. A giant tear in the leathery wing of the beast was the first of many wounds the warrior would inflict as the creature was not used to his food fighting so fiercely. Most would cower and hesitate long enough for him to strike them down or bath them in a sea of flames.

As the dragon staggered backwards the warrior lunged forward slashing away at the belly of the beast. With each swing of his blade striking home cutting into the flesh of the dragon he felt confident he had already won the battle. But his confidence faded when he saw the beast take a deep breath as it was about to breathe fire upon him. For the first time, he took a step back.  Raising his shield and praying to the Gods that the breastplate given to him by the Sorceress would indeed protect him from the dragon’s breath. The dragon blew with all his might at the warrior covering him completely in a giant spray of orange and red flames. It took a moment for Tark to realize that the flames were washing over him like a cool breeze. But soon he realized that even though he was protected from the flames he couldn’t breathe. The rain of fire was taking away all oxygen and he would drown in this relentless sea of fire. Losing track of how long the dragon spewed forth the flames he staggered in them blindly until they simply vanished from around him. The dragon reeled as if gasping for air as it staggered unsteadily on its giant back legs.

Being so used to nothing surviving its breath attack the dragon was surprised as out of the flames the warrior appeared unharmed. Tark lurched forward as the beast drew breath and struck, plunging his blade deep into the belly of the man-eating monster. In one last desperate attempt, the dragon leapt upwards and flapped its giant wings as if to take flight. With one wing badly cut open the dragon lurched upwards and sideways as one wing trapped the air like normal but the other did not. Because of this, it spun and collapsed on its right side pinning its wounded wing to the ground.

With the dragon in this suddenly vulnerable position, the warrior dealt a death blow with all his might cutting the dragon’s head off in one stroke. Staggering from the effort with sweat dripping from his brow Tark raised his sword in the air in victory.

In that instant, the mighty Tark heard what sounded like a shriek coming from the village below. With his tired arms now hanging at his sides he turned to look toward the village.  His head cocked to the side as if listening intently. At that moment he heard the shrieking again and this time he recognized it. Even though he was weary from the battle with the dragon, Tark ran as fast as he could towards the village. As he approached he would see that it was the Sorceress sisters that were calling him. They bid him to come quickly as they stood before the great keep awaiting his return.

“Did you slay the dragon?” Tabitha asked, smiling warmly.

“Yes,” Tark exclaimed proudly as he rushed headlong past the sisters entering the keep without hesitation.

Now that everyone was inside.

“Shoes!” Tabitha shouted.

“Sorry,” came a reply from a short distance away

“That sword and shield was the best gift I ever gave him, who knew that a few plastic toys would entertain him so much,” Tabitha said as she slipped on her oven mitts and opened the oven door. She pulled out a steaming hot homemade pizza and set it on a cutting board.

“And that breastplate you bought him was the icing on the cake for Tobey. He wanted to wear it to school at first. It took a while but I talked him out of it,” Tabitha continued.

Tobey walked in smiling from ear to ear still wearing his grass-stained t-shirt and jeans and his plastic breastplate.

“Did you wash your hands?” Tabitha asked as she rolled the pizza cutter across the steaming pie.

“Yes, mom,” the boy replied as he showed her his still wet hands.

“Come give your Aunt Esmeralda a huge. I haven’t seen you since your birthday party two weeks ago,” she said with open arms while smiling at the boy.

“Did I tell you he made me call him Tark for a week?” the boy’s mother added as she took out plates and silverware. “And we haven’t seen any trolls, goblins or dragons near the house since his birthday. Tark slays them all and protects the village and all who live in it. Right, Tobey?”

“It’s Tark, mommy,” the boy replied as he sat waiting for his favourite homemade pizza.

The End


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pierre C. Arsenault is the youngest of eleven children and grew up in the small town of Rogersville New Brunswick. As a cartoonist, Pierre was published in over a dozen newspapers. As an author, he has five titles published so far:

www.mysteriousink.ca
www.pcatoons.com

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All rights reserved:: Pierre C. Arseneault
Some Rights Reserved  

Seeds and Other Stories by Ursula Pflug

In my years of reading and reviewing, I consider Ursula Pflug one of my “finds”, that is, an author that I enjoy reading and want to read everything he/she produces. I was first introduced to Ms. Pflug by her 2017 novella Mountain. Down From (2018), is derived from the seeds of two short stories (“The Dreams of Trees” and “Daughter Catcher”) in this collection of her previously published works from the past decade or so. So, then, Seeds is a fitting title!

“Ms. Pflug’s style is a nice little mixture of literature, surrealism and sci-fi. In short, escapist reading with significance, if you will.”

There are twenty-six short stories in Seeds’ almost 300 pages, and while some are brief (“A Shower of Fireflies”) others are much longer and tell a more complete story averaging about 15-20 pages per story. Ms. Pflug’s style is a nice little mixture of literature, surrealism and sci-fi. In short, escapist reading with significance, if you will. The title story is post-apocalyptic science-fiction that seems a little closer to reality reading it in the midst of a pandemic. “The Lonely Planet Guide to Other Dimensions” has two hotels physically separated by distance, but connected by a portal:

“The hotel is a node. People from another dimension can stay here. The hotel exists in two dimensions at once, and in the other one it’s called The Red Arcade.”

What is fascinating about this story is that Rachel, living in one dimension, is writing a story about Esme, who lives in another, but they manage to meet via this portal. In “Mother Down the Well” a very different type of portal exists deep in a well on a farm in Ontario. Clarissa’s mother fell (jumped?) into it before Clarissa was born and has been living down there ever since.

My mother jumped down the well the day after her wedding to a local settler boy. Everyone thought her young husband must have been awful until a beautiful baby girl floated to the surface nine months later. That would’ve been me. Dave followed a year later although how Pa impregnated Ma once she was living down the well I was too shy to ever ask.
Pa did a fine job raising us. I think he missed my mother a lot and wished he had been able to provide whatever it was she got suckling at the portal down the well, but of course could not. Special as he may have been he couldn’t provide her with whatever other dimensional flavour it was she loved best, for it simply doesn’t exist here on Earth, not now and probably never. Ma never did tell me what it was either.

The above passage is a good example of Ms. Pflug’s pragmatic story-telling style as if things like portals and interdimensional travel are occurrences that are not unusual in themselves, they just transpose that way in the telling, like trying to explain the colour blue to a sightless person.

Is Seeds and Other Stories unusual? Yes. Far-fetched? Maybe, but not unreasonably so, I don’t believe. But this is what I so enjoy about reading Ursula Pflug. “A little bit of escapism with your literature, James?” “Yes, I don’t mind if I do Ms. Pflug, thanks.”


About the author: Ursula Pflug is author of the novels Green Music, The Alphabet Stones, Motion Sickness (a flash novel illustrated by SK Dyment), the novellas Mountain and Down From, and the story collections After the Fires and Harvesting the Moon. Her fiction has appeared internationally in award-winning genre and literary publications including Lightspeed, Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Postscripts, Leviathan, LCRW, and Bamboo Ridge. Her fiction has won small press awards abroad and been a finalist for the Aurora, ReLit and KM Hunter Awards as well as the 3 Day Novel and Descant Novella Contests at home.

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series (May 1 2020)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1771337458

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As Fierce as Steel (Gold & Steel Saga) by Christopher Walsh

First-time novelist Christopher Walsh has penned a formidable fantasy novel in Fierce as Steel (2016), the first instalment in the Gold & Steel saga set in the country of Illiastra where revolution is brewing against the wealthy and all-controlling Elite Merchant Party (EMP) and the Triarchists, the sole ‘official’ state-sanctioned religion. The principal revolutionaries are the Thieves, led by the elusive Lady Orangecloak, whose mission is to “steal back freedom” for the oppressed. However, many of the Thieves are captured in a raid and imprisoned. Soon thereafter, Lady Orangecloak is captured by a bounty hunter and brought to Grenjin Howland, the leader of the EMP. Tryst Reine, the hired Master of Blades who is employed by Howland, defects from Howland’s service and effects Orangecloak’s escape from prison and convinces her to use her political leadership and combat skills to mount attacks against EMP-held territories.

“It is said that while Grenjin Howland is the controlling head of human Illiastra, it is the Lady Orangecloak that is the heart. The will of the people flows through you, my lady.”

Kevane Dupoire

That’s the story in a (very small) nutshell, but with under 700 pages to its credit, the story has many twists and turns and multiple threads of intrigue running through it. You can learn more about the characters and read an excerpt at https://thegoldandsteelsaga.com/.

Fierce as Steel has no wizardry, magic or dragons in its storyline. It is more like the “fantastical realism” style of Ian H. McKinley; it is set in mythical places, in a time when swords were the weapon of choice, but some guns (non-automatic) exist as well. There is also electricity, trains (coal-powered) and warships, but of the wood and sail variety. The action, when it occurs, is based on the skillset of the combatants, using stealth and disabling their foes rather than outright dispatching them, since the Thieves refrain from using violence if at all possible. Character development takes place through well-written (and well-worded) dialogues as well as each character’s thoughts and actions. While it took me some time to get through the book, it wasn’t due in any way to its size or pacing (I had other, shorter titles to read and review). Indeed, it is well paced, intriguing and easy to follow. The storyline of Fierce as Steel doesn’t confuse one with extraneous details about every little place person or thing. It would have been nice to have some maps of the countries Mr Walsh has created, but that is a minor point. I was also dismayed to learn that the F-bomb and other expletives also exist in this make-believe world, however, they are only employed by the basest of characters.  Fierce as Steel is quite an admirable work of writing for a first-time novelist, and it is with great eagerness I anticipate its sequel, The Worth of Gold. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

Note: Fierce as Steel is available as hardcover or softcover, but for only $3.89, you can purchase the Kindle edition below.


Christopher Walsh was born in rural Newfoundland in 1985, a place he still calls home. The Gold & Steel series, which he has been crafting since 2009, is his first foray into the literary world.

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Harbinger: Book 1 of Northern Fire by Ian H. McKinley

New Brunswick’s resident writer of fantastic realism, Ian H. McKinley, has just released Harbinger, Book 1 of his Northern Fire series. It is firmly rooted in Nordic myth and legend, a time of swords, spears, axes, bow and arrow and fearless sea raiders that pillage enemy villages along the coasts and fjords of the Northlands.

“Mr McKinley’s writing style is solid and detailed, yet pleasurable to read. He has concocted a mythopoeic story of the first rank in Harbinger.” 

Four Children of Destiny

Four children are born in the village on Darknight (the winter solstice) marking them as special and destined for greatness, according to the villagers and seers among them. Harbinger (which is the name given to an unusual sword found by one of the children) traces the lives of the four (Lars, Thay, Cairn and Lora) as they grow, learning the ways of the village and the wills of the various gods they worship. Alll learn to handle the various weapons of the day for the village being on the coast could be at the mercy of the Sea Wolves without warning. The Sea Wolves are a little bit pirate, a little bit coast guard in that while they may give protection to a village that provides them with supplies and young men to train, they raid enemy villages and cart off spoil and men to serve as slaves at the oars.

When the four become of age they are given to the Sea Wolves by their parents (some of whom are former Sea Wolves themselves) to train and to become better Fjordlanders. While the Sea Wolves are off on a raiding expedition, the four are left behind to guard the three boats. The raid goes terribly awry and a lone survivor makes it back to the four instructing them to set fire to the boats and escape for their lives:

Lars clenched his teeth, heaved in a deep breath, nodded and hissed, “Aye, I’ll light a northern fire.” An odd look crossed Lora’s face and she said, “It’ll set the world ablaze.”

The four escape in the remaining boat and this is the true start of the adventures to follow as the sea takes them far from home and brings them ashore in a place they had only ever heard of, trying to survive as strangers in a strange land with varying customs, language and a healthy fear of the “Thorn People” as Fjordlanders are known as in these parts. Their fortunes improve somewhat when they come across the outcast Elkor, a bitter and disfigured man falsely labelled by the ignorant populace as a necromancer.

Conclusion

I truly enjoyed reading this book, and while I am not a fan of the wizards and warriors type of fantasy, Harbinger is closer to reality, aside from the place names which are realistic enough in their own right. Mr McKinley’s writing style is solid and detailed, yet pleasurable to read. He has concocted a mythopoeic story of the first rank and one that will have you highly anticipating Book 2 of Northern Fire: The Winter Wars, due in November 2017.

You can purchase copies of Ian’s books directly from his website, which also has coloured maps of the imaginary countries of Harbinger: http://northernfire.net/

Here is the official trailer for Harbinger:

Ian is a career diplomat with Global Affairs Canada who has served abroad in Colombia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and at the Canadian Mission to the U.N. in New York. He speaks English, French, and Spanish, and can say hello in Shona and Swahili. Ian is a proud member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick (wfnb.ca) and the Sunburst Award Society that promotes Canadian literature of the fantastic (sunburstaward.org). Ian was named a Prélude “Emerging Writer” at Frye Festival 2016. His previous book is The Gallows Gem of Prallyn.

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