Tempus Unbound by Janet & Chris Morris reviewed on Library of Erana

Review – Tempus Unbound #Fantasy – Janet Morris


Review for Tempus Unbound

5 stars

This particular Tempus/Sacred Band book is a little different – for a start, it’s all from Tempus’ point of view, and we have only Tempus himself, Cime and Askelon from the former books. Don’t let this put you off, there’s a host of worthies – not least Mano the mercenary from the future and bad guys to rival anyone in Sanctuary.

Called to Lemuria, a strange citadel between the worlds, and times it’s a chance to right wrongs if only you can work out WHICH wrongs. Tempus is lonely, alone save for his petulant and truculent god. Who is who, and who needs whom? That’s one of the questions asked as Tempus fights an old enemy in a new and unfamiliar world. The future is dark, and war will out. Strife is all and king of all. And so it was in his own time, and in this possible future. We see our hero struggle with technology he can barely imagine and his friends see power and courage they can barely comprehend. Gods, magic and tech fight as Tempus tries to save his sister, and save the world from his deadly sister. Choices are made, and regrets are put aside in the names of love and courage. Ideals are questioned, and truth is harsh.

As usual, the characters are supremely crafted, with a richness that brings emotion and a real sense of reality. In Morris’s world, anything is possible, and the reader believes it.  These aren’t easy reads, they have a high level of violence, sex and themes that require the reader to engage their brain. But this, and the other Sacred Band/Tempus books are worth the time, and the brainpower. Rarely does a reader find a world so rich, or characters so enchanting, or writing so lyrical.  The tempo of the book is a call to war, a call to stand for what is good, and a call to give all.

Heartily recommend this – even if you’re unfamiliar with the characters, and setting Tempus Unbound takes the reader on a journey from ancient times, to a future and it’s a thrilling journey and is a great intro to Tempus and his worlds.


Andrew P. Weston reviews the new Author’s Cut edition of Tempus Unbound by Janet & Chris Morris for Amazon UK.

Format: Kindle Edition

     Tempus the Black – Lord of Time, Commander of the Sacred Band, Avatar of Enlil the storm god – enters Lemuria on New Year’s Eve, not quite sure why his deity has seen fit to place him there.
Once inside, he becomes a guest of Chiara – the Evening Star – and is invited to a sumptuous feast where he is greeted by a number of other visitors who, as it transpires, are from different epochs of earth’s history. Mingled in amongst them is none other than Aškelon of Meridian, Lord of Dreams and entelechy of the Seventh Sphere; onetime husband of Tempus’ sister, Cime.
While the majority of the group believes they are there to determine the fate of billions in the present and future by undoing mistakes & manipulating events in the past, Tempus suspects events are being staged, for Cime had disappeared from the land of dreams, along with her deadly rods. Thus begins the hunt that sees the storm god’s avatar transported to present day – and 22nd Century – New York.
Tempus in New York! Can you imagine?
The culture shock itself leads to some rather imaginative confrontations. And that’s only the beginning, for there is an Archmage and his minions to kill.
Enmity is guaranteed. Combat is inevitable. Bloodletting abounds.
Along the way, old wounds are opened; long held grudges come to the fore; bitter lessons are learned; eternal stories come full circle; and Tempus discovers just how intimately his affairs are interwoven to that of his god.
Having read all of Tempus’ adventures, I have to say this is one of my favorites. Fast paced, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable, it adds a clever twist to his epic narrative and keeps his story as fresh today as it’s always been.
     Tempus Unbound, #2 in the Sacred Band Book series,  is available in a new Author’s Cut Edition from Perseid Press  in digital, trade paper, and hardback formats on Amazon worldwide, Barnes & Noble, and everywhere else….
     And if you’re not yet a fan of the Sacred Band books and series, here’s a thumbnail to whet your appetite:
“Janet Morris, Tempus (1987), and, with Chris Morris, Tempus Unbound (1989), The Sacred Band (2010).

“A fantasy series about the Sacred Band of Stepsons, an elite army modeled on the fourth-century B.C.E. Sacred Band of Thebes. The stories explore the fraught personal relationships of mixed hetero- and homosexual troops, only sometimes paired, as they fight for their commander, the immortal Tempus. Morris includes archaeological and historical details, from physical items to social practices, religion, and philosophy, to create a fantasy world that is, in many ways, more historically accurate than many popular accounts of antiquity.” — Robert W. Cape, Jr, in Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, Brett M. Rogers & Benjamin Eldon Stevens, eds.,  Oxford University Press

Book Spotlight: The Carnelian Throne by Janet Morris. Author’s Cut Edition

Book Spotlight – The Carnelian Throne – Science Fiction/Spec Fic/Fantasy

see original post at: https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/book-spotlight-the-carnelian-throne-science-fictionspec-ficfantasy/comment-page-1/#comment-1604


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Title: The Carnelian Throne

Author: Janet Morris

Genre: allegorical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, political fiction

Main character description (short).

In a far and dystopian future, three rulers seeking to make truth of prophecy explore the “shores of which none are empowered to speak,” a forbidden continent where humanity no longer rules.


Brief Excerpt 250 words:

“Gate!” he bellowed over the storm, his dripping lips at my ear. The deluge had made us sparing of words. Under leathers soaked to thrice their weight, I shivered in spasms. Arms clutched to my sides, I stared into the rain. The driven sheets slashed me for my audacity. Lightning flared, illuminating the riverbank white. A moment later, the bright noise cracked through my head. The hillock trembled.

Over the gate danced the lightning. Its crackling fingers quested down thick-crossed slabs of iron, seared flesh. Emblazoned as they tumbled were those six-legged amphibians, their streamered tails lashing, scaled, fangful heads thrown back in dismay. I saw their afterimage: beryl and cinnabar, aglow upon the storm. Then their charred remains splashed into oblivion, spun away on the fast current.

“Down!” One man shouted, the other shoved me, and as I staggered to kneel in the sedges, the god that washed this land shook it, grumbling. I crouched on my hands and knees on the bucking sod, between them. Little protection could they offer up against shaking earth and searing sky, not even for themselves, without divorcing themselves from the reality they had come here to explore. And that they would not do.

Somewhere far off the weather struck earth again. We knelt on a fast-declining shore. On our right and left, steeps ascended, cresting in a plume of dense rain forest. In that moment of illumination the whole river valley and the gate set into the river stood bared of shadow. Six times the height of a man was that gate.

Why should readers buy this book (50 words max)?

The Carnelian Throne makes you think as it explores the revenge of nature upon humanity once we have despoiled land and sea, and what our manipulation of genetics may mean for the future as the three foretold seek truth in prophecy where men no longer rule.


Links etc.

Kindle On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XDC8Y4K/

Hardcover on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Carnelian-Throne-Silistra-Quartet/dp/099775835X/

Trade paper on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Carnelian-Throne-Silistra-Quartet/dp/0997758341/

Hardcover on Barnes and Noble

Paperback on Barnes and Noble

Nook Edition

The Silistra Quartet on Black Gate Magazine: https://www.blackgate.com/2016/03/19/vintage-treasures-the-silistra-quartet-by-janet-morris/

Google Books: https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Carnelian_Throne.html?id=NJcIMQAACAAJ&source=kp_cover

About the Author:  Best selling author Janet Morris began writing in 1976 and has since published more than 30 novels. She wrote the bestselling Silistra Quartet in the 1970s, including High Couch of Silistra, The Golden Sword, Wind from the Abyss, and The Carnelian Throne. This quartet had more than four million copies in Bantam print alone, and was translated into German, French, Italian, Russian and other languages. In the 1980s, Baen Books released a second edition of this landmark series. This third edition is the Author’s Cut edition, newly revised by the author for Perseid Press. Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Morris has written, contributed to, or edited several book-length works of nonfiction, as well as papers and articles on nonlethal weapons, developmental military technology and other defense and national security topics.

Andrew P. Weston meets Mighty Thor Jr

See the original post at: https://mightythorjrs.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/guest-blog-welcome-to-my-world-by-andrew-weston-author-of-the-ix-and-exordium-of-tears/

Mighty Thor Jr. Guest Blog: Welcome To My World by Andrew Weston author of The IX, and Exordium of Tears

As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot. Andrew P Weston the author of The IX, and Exordium of Tears has been kind enough to write a guest blog post for MightyThor JRS today. I am very excited and I would like to thank Andrew and Perseid Press for the opportunity to host this Guest Blog. 

The IX

by Andrew P Weston

is Out NOW!


Exordium of Tears

by Andrew P Weston

is available now!

IXExordium-Large .jpg



So go get your copies!


Welcome To My World

By Andrew Weston

When it comes to writing, one of my “things” is what most people refer to as – World Building – the process of constructing an imaginary framework in which to set your epic adventure. What’s a shame is the fact that, in many cases, authors don’t put enough effort into creating a real setting for their stories, something that contains sufficient coherent qualities such as history, geography, ecology and suchlike. Yet, when you think about it, this is a key task, especially for novelists like me who concentrate on science fiction and fantasy.

So, how do I do it?

I usually begin my process from the top down. What does that mean? Basically, I devise a general overview of the world in which I’m going to set my creation and then I start working inwards. Here’s a broad example of what I did for the IX Series:

I started by considering where the world – Arden, the main location where adventure begins – would be situated.


What type of sun would it have? Who would be its inhabitants and what was their history? What level of technology did they possess? What geographical and topographical features does Arden have how does this affect things like climate and skin tone?

Once I’d determined those facets, I started to add smaller details in layers – or as I refer to them – modules.
Personally, I devise a number of sketches from which I can create maps, bases or starships, etc, and continually refine them as I go along until I have something concrete.






That might sound a lot of trouble to go to, but it gives me a sense of scale from which I can later determine other factors like timing and provisions and equipment, (especially important if different groups of protagonists and antagonists clash at varying venues). I also find this method allows me to build well-integrated societies or storylines, which in turn, reflects a superior level of quality and realism within the narrative itself.

This is another vital ingredient we writers have to ensure. We want the picture we create in the readers minds to be as vivid as possible. You can’t do that unless you create a solid foundation for them to recreate our vision in their own minds.

That’s why I go so far as to construct actual languages, flora and fauna, behavioral and migratory patterns. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t drown the reader in a deluge of detail, but I have lots of elements ready – at my beck and call, so to speak – so I can add the little touches here and there that gradually fills the narrative out and makes it sparkle.
Imagine, for a moment, how that helps the reader to connect to, and bring your imaginary world to life.

I like to think of my stories as rough diamonds. To begin with, I’ve got an absolute gem of an idea to work with. But it’s rough and lackluster. I need to examine it closely and buff it up with world building. Decide what to engrave and shape, and where to spend time grinding and polishing. As it gets into the final stages, I make sure each facet gleams and that there’s a sharp definite edge to the final cut, a depth and perspective you won’t see until you’ve viewed all the angles.

One of the main ingredients in my imaginary worlds is the “keep it real” ethic. I’m fortunate to be a Master of Astronomy. So, when I devise my fictional setting, I base futuristic technology on the very latest theoretical science.

And think about what’s been in the news over the past year or so: teleportation was the stuff of pure science fiction not so long ago, but now, scientists can transport quantum packets of information through the ether with remarkable clarity and accuracy; we can levitate objects; have artificial air scrubbers that make the foulest environment breathable; there are engines under development that researchers are sure will punch us to Mars in a matter of weeks, not months.
All these things help me stretch the imagination that little bit further, so my readers can seriously consider…“Yes, the citizens of Arden – thousands of years in advance of our own – use everyday constructs that we are only just delving into. I can believe that.”
Once you establish such a connection, you’ve got your readers hooked…
Then it’s just a matter of reeling them in.

How to do that?

Aha – we’ll chat next time in – Keeping Things Balanced 🙂

Andrew P. Weston is Royal Marine and Police veteran from the UK who now lives on the beautiful Greek island of Kos with his wife, Annette, and their growing family of rescue cats.

An astronomy and law graduate, he is the creator of the international number one bestselling, IX Series and Hell Bound, (A novel forming part of Janet Morris’ critically acclaimed Heroes in Hell shared universe). Andrew also has the privilege of being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Fantasy Society, the British Science Fiction Association and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

When not writing, Andrew devotes some of his spare time to assisting NASA with one of their remote research projects, and writes educational articles for Astronaut.com and Amazing Stories.

Author Website: http://www.andrewpweston.com/


Exordium of Tears

by Andrew P Weston

Fight or die.

That simple yet brutal reality is the tenet by which the refugees from Earth – including the fabled lost 9th Legion of Rome; the 5thCompany, 2nd Mounted Cavalry Unit; and the Special Forces Anti-Terrorist Team – were forced to live by while the Horde menace existed. Believing that the threat is over, the survivors now yearn to settle down, start families, and reclaim the lives stolen from them.

But such aspirations might remain beyond their reach, for a shadow looms on the rose-tinted horizon of new beginnings.

The release of the re-genesis matrix has done much to foster a restoration of exuberance across Arden. Along with a resurgence in floral and faunal diversity comes the results of splicing the Ardenese and human genomes: transmutation. A metamorphosis of stunning magnitude that not only affects the living, but those still is stasis as well.

Recognizing the emergence of a new hybrid species, the Architect – the arcane AI construct tasked with the preservation of the Ardenese race – responds by unlocking previously hidden and inaccessible areas of the city. It also releases an archive of sealed state secrets. Such revelations are eagerly perused, whereupon a shocking discovery is made.

Prior to the fall, it was common knowledge amongst the Senatum (the highest levels of Arden’s government) that not all the rabid Horde had joined in the rampage across the stars toward Arden.

Realizing that the peril still exists, the newly reformed administration elects to respond in earnest. Existing resources are utilized, suitable candidates are chosen, and a flotilla of ships is sent out to secure, quarantine, and reclaim the outer colonies.

A mammoth and hazardous undertaking. And nowhere more so than at the planet from where the outbreak was known to have originated – Exordium – for there, the ancient Horde are not only supremely evolved and highly organized, but are capable of a level of lethal sophistication, the likes of which has never been witnessed before.

It is into this kiln of incendiary potential that the cream of Arden’s fighting forces is deployed.

Worlds are torn asunder, suns destroyed, and star systems obliterated. Yes, tragedy is forged, in a universe spanning conflict which proves once again that…

Death is only the beginning of the adventure.




The IX

by Andrew P Weston

Roman legionaries, far from home, lost in the mists of Caledonia.

A US cavalry company, engaged on a special mission, vital to the peace treaty proposed by Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln.

A twenty-first century Special Forces unit, desperate to prevent a nuclear catastrophe.

From vastly different backgrounds, these soldiers are united when they are snatched away from Earth at the moment of their passing. Thinking they may have been granted a reprieve, imagine their horror when they discover they have been transported to a failing planet on the far side of the galaxy, where they are given a simple ultimatum. Fight or die. Against all odds, this group of misfits manages to turn the tide against a relentless foe, only to discover the true cost of victory might exact a price they are unwilling to pay.

How far would you be willing to go to stay alive?

The IX.

Sometimes, death is only the beginning of the adventure.


Estri of Silistra Interviewed

Originally published by  Library of Erana at: https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/character-interview-number-thirty-eight-estri-of-silistra/

Character Interview Number Thirty-Eight – Estri of Silistra

Name (s) Estri Hadrath diet Estrazi

Age: Three hundred forty Silistran years old

Please tell us a little about yourself.

First, I must say that your language is difficult, not one intuitive to me. Nevertheless I shall try to answer you in your own tongue. Excuse my syntax, and I will tell you what I can.

Once I ruled the greatest house of pleasure in the civilized stars. When I reached my majority of three hundred years, I undertook a quest to find my father at the behest of my dead mother. So I left my position as Well-Keepress in my beloved Astria, and nothing has been the same for me since. All I thought I knew, I now question. So many truths proved false, so many assumptions groundless, so much love lost and found. I have greater powers now than I once did, but wisdom can triumph over power, and color all life anew.

I have been many things: aristocrat, outcast, picara, slave, ruler. I have served powers greater than my own, and baser than my soul could stand. I have had everything, lost everything, and gained knowledge by seeking love along the way. Doubtless I am wiser now than when I began my journey out of Astria, having learned that true wisdom comes only to a loving heart. But where love lies, there hatred takes root, and envy, and fear, and dangers undreamt. And yet, love is the key to every mystery: to life and death and creation itself. For without love, what are we, but a brief glimmer seen against eternal night? Where are we in this combustible universe? What arms hold us safe? What we learn, exploring, brings us home to ourselves, to our own loves, our own hearts. Creation plays no favorites, seeking only change. Love can surmount all, I once believed as a naive girl, and believe it yet.

Describe your appearance in 10 words or less. Copper-skinned, copper-haired, with a body to please the gods.

Do you have a moral code? If so what is it? Silistra’s moral code I still hold as mine: my world was wrecked and sundered by unbridled lusts for power. We who remain must rebuild not only our population, but our faith that whatever man destroys, nature can put to rights . . . given time.

Would you kill for those you love? I have done so, and killed that I myself survive.

Would you die for those you love? Would that I had the chance. To die for something is an honor.  To die for nothing is a cruelty greater than any other.

What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses? Ha. You must not know my people, to ask such a thing. Some say my strengths are in my blood, that I was bred to this battle between the spirit and the flesh, between man and woman, between life ineffable and life everlasting, a battle begun long before I was born. Some say my coming was devoutly to be wished, and others say I and those who love me are travesties, a flaw in the natural order. I myself say that life and love are their own justification, where passion rules.

Do you have any relationships you prize above others? Why? What entitles you to know my heart, my mind, my soul? Shall I feed you platitudes, disarming truisms and children’s tales? Of my beloveds, you need to know very little, perhaps only one thing: “We are all bound, the greatest no less than the meanest,” as my lover says. I prize the sky and earth and every creature upon it with a love fierce enough to defeat even the foolishness of man.

Do you like animals? Do you have any pets/animal companions? I have whatever walks or crawls or slithers or swims, slinks or flies free in our air. We are part of our world’s nature, sometimes its victims, but never its masters. I have friends among the honest killers of the wild, for all kill to eat and thrive and risk their own lives so their offspring will survive. Sometimes I ride on the backs of those who roam the plains or stalk their prey, or live cheek by jowl with them; sometimes not. But they are not mine any more or less than I am theirs.

Do you have a family? Tell us about them. You haven’t the time to hear my story here and now. I’ve written some of it; look there to see my mother, my father, my lost child, my relations, deadly every one. My bloodline is old: to live so long, to prowl the universe and shower in star’s breath, my family well learned the wisdom of survival, when to destroy and when to succor.

Can you remember something from your childhood which influences your behavior? How do you think it influences you? Where I live, some can survive for hundreds of years or more. When my mother bade me seek my father, she sent me on a trek more dangerous than my young and foolish self understood. Before then, I thought that men and women were put on the ground to reproduce, to conserve, not to destroy. To claim my heritage, I learned hard lessons — about the nature of life, and the degree to which we are all controlled by the wisdom of our sex. And thus did I blindly go forth to claim my inheritance, thinking all I had to do was ask and the universe would serve my pleasure. I learned otherwise, in the doing; that the world turns by a greater will than mine; that reality is the child of biology, that all things come into being by strife; these truths I learned by battling against men, against women, and sometimes against the gods themselves.

I learned many lessons about what men will do to win, and what women will do, and why. I learned that men who punish men and women lust to rule all; that women who punish men and women lust after dominion, and how dangerous both can be.

From childhood’s days to these, I have striven to keep my wits well about me, and shape my own fate.

Please give us an interesting and unusual fact about yourself. In my three hundredth years, I was known as the most beautiful and exotic courtesan in the civilized stars. I commanded a great price.

Tell Us About Your World

Please give us a little information about the world in which you live. Silistra is a planet in the Bipedal Federate Group.  Our main exports are our life-extending serums. Our men, in their romance with machines and technology, warred until our planet and its ecology was all but destroyed and life on the surface became nearly impossible. One result of this war was that conception became very difficult, and those who could conceive a child had power. Then did our leaders develop the life-extending serum which gave us some hope of not becoming extinct.  For thousands of years, a few survivors languished in underground shelters, while women took power away from the men that had nearly destroyed us all.

When the time came that Silistrans could live above the ground, we instituted the Well system, where a fertile woman could come to find a man who could impregnate her, and the nature of our culture, under the guidance of our spiritual leaders, became life-conserving, rather than life-destroying.

Does your world have religion or other spiritual beliefs? If so do you follow one of them? Please describe (briefly) how this affects your behavior. On Silistra, some believe in gods, some are descended from gods, some meet with gods, face to face. Whether or not we believe in gods, the gods who made us take a hand in our fates. We are a culture that values those skills by which an individual mind can shape the future. Our dhareners, interpreters of the will of those gods who walk with mankind, guide our development by choosing our paths and making our laws.

Do you travel in the course of your adventures? If so where? I have been to places on Silistra that are thought mythical and mystical, where few outsiders have ever been; I have gone to the places where gods hold sway, and seen what few Silistrans have ever seen. I have traveled among the stars, and farther.

What form of politics is dominant in your world? (Democracy, Theocracy, Meritocracy, Monarchy, Kakistocracy etc.) On civilized Silistra, our government is controlled by our dhareners, our spiritual leaders, and by the Well-Keepresses, hereditary matriarchs, or by the cahndors, hereditary patriarchs. But our governments have no simple rule by the lowest common denominator as seen on other worlds, nor the rule by wealth, nor are we controlled by a theocracy as you will know the term. The composition of our high councils varies, depending on where one lives or travels. Like our government or not, it has kept us safe from the depredations of plutocracy and the tyranny of mercantilists and their machines. Some parts of Silistra are timocratic, some oligarchic, and some, such as the Wells, are controlled by a hereditary matriarchy or patriarchy.

Does your world have different races of people? If so do they get on with one another?We are few, and some are black, brown, copper-colored, red or white. On Silistra, what is in the heart, the mind, and the bloodline determines status, not the color of skin.

Name a couple of myths and legends particular to your culture/people. Silistran myths are predominantly memories, from before the fall of man. My favorite is the legend of Se’keroth, and if you read my writings, you will see why.

We also have a divination system, called Ors Yris-tera, that guides some of us and helps us forecast the Weathers of Life.  But on Silistra, any legend that survives is a memory of truths from the past or a portent of the future. Or both.

What is the technology level for your world/place of residence? What item would you not be able to live without? Most of us live without technology, as you know it, by choice. The off-worlders who visit try to seduce us with their machines of ease and speed, but we have lived upon and below the surface of a world ravaged by technology for too long to be fooled. True strength lies in the one’s mind and heart. If we wish to do more than a person should, the old weapons and tools of our fallen past still exist in our ‘hides,’ where those who lust for such things can still find them.

Book(s) in which this character appears plus links:

High Couch of Silsitra:         https://www.amazon.com/High-Couch-Silistra-Quartet-Book-ebook/dp/B01B1M1JBY/

The Golden Sword…………. https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Sword-Silistra-Quartet-Book-ebook/dp/B01FCMA7LM/
The Silistra Quartet consists of four books in chronological order:  High Couch of Silistra, The Golden Sword, Wind from the Abyss, and The Carnelian Throne. The first two books are now available in hardcover, trade paper, and e-book “Author’s Cut” editions from Perseid Press.  The final two books will be available from Perseid in 2017.

The Bantam and Baen editions of the Silistra Quartet are out of print.

Author name: Janet Morris

Website/Blog/Author pages etc.





Epicstream reviews Exordium of Tears

First published at: http://epicstream.com/reviews/Book-Review-Exordium-of-Tears-The-IX-Series-Book-2-by-Andrew-P-Weston


Book Review: ‘Exordium of Tears’ (The IX Series Book 2) by Andrew P. Weston

Author ThumbnailHannah Anderson –March 01, 2016
Science fiction and fantasy are all about expanding new horizons and augmenting the knowledge we currently hold. It is only fitting, then, that a new first for myself as an Epicstream reviewer come in the package of a fantasy and science fiction novel. This is the first time I have had the pleasure to read both the beginning novel of a series and its direct sequel, and that it is The IX Series by Andrew P. Weston makes that first all the sweeter.
In my review of The IX, I mentioned it is a refreshing blend of the classic elements of science fiction and fantasy. In Exordium of Tears, Weston continues this tradition of mixing the best of the best with new, thrilling storylines. The sequel follows the majority of the characters from The IX as they move toward a more democratic, established society in the wake of a long battle with the Horde, enemies with a surprising origin. This development into a more civilized way of life eventually leads the characters into interstellar travel as they attempt to resettle and reshape colonies affected by the Horde.
Although the novel itself is satisfying and fulfilling as its own work, I highly recommend readers first take in The IX before reading Exordium of Tears. As a reader who did so, I found the experience enriching. The sequel has enough nods to the first novel in The IX Series that understanding the events of The IX is helpful to reading Exordium of Tears, but it never felt like a rehash of the first novel, nor like Weston was trying too hard to expand the universe and characters he built up in The IX. The progression of the story was understandable and logically follows from the conclusion of The IX, and the same themes of honor, duty, and the survival of humanity that made The IX a favorite of mine are also present in Exordium of Tears.
One of the best aspects of reading Exordium of Tears is the way that Weston allows characters who once had minor or even passing roles in The IX a chance to flourish in new and unexpected ways. Several characters are far more prominent in Exordium of Tears, and while this growth is certainly necessary for the success of the novel, Weston writes his characters in such a natural way that the growth is never forced.
Weston doesn’t hide his characters’ flaws or mistakes, which makes them all the more admirable: they’re allowed to be human. This humanity is explored and expanded, almost to the breaking point, by the circumstances the characters encounter. These situations are neither artificial, nor forced – they’re logical consequences of decisions made or actions taken by the characters, and thus more dramatic than any deus ex machina set-up more mainstream books may employ.
The attention to detail of both the ancient Earth culture of some characters and the new, expanding culture in Exordium of Tears is astounding. Plausible explanations are provided for scientific advances, problems are solved thoroughly but realistically, and conflicts occur that seem organic and understandable. While some characters are neither sympathetic nor likeable, they only enhance the world that Weston has built in The IX Series. Relationships between characters, be they platonic or romantic, blossom in a way that feels genuine, and the perspectives that Weston shifts through to provide a multifaceted mode of delivery never complicate the overarching story or its themes. Weston maintains a precarious balancing act, an act which pays in dividends as the story of Exordium of Tears unfolds.
As Weston continues to expand The IX Series, I look forward to following the progress of the world he has crafted. If Exordium of Tears is any indication of the growth Weston will continue to undergo as a writer, the story will only get better from here.

Janet Morris and Chris Morris interview on the collaborative process in literature

Originally published in Uviart.  Thanks. Uvi Poznansky, for this incisive interview



Interview about Collaboration:
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”
Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Authors of
And more books
So said Shakespeare’s Polonius of Hamlet, in Hamlet. So say Janet Morris and Chris Morris, lifetime collaborators in words, music, and strategy. I cornered this elusive pair to ask some hard questions about how they do what they do, and why.
Janet and Chris, writing is known to be a solitary art. How do you two manage to write seamlessly together, so much so that no one can tell which of you wrote what?
Uvi, Apropos of collaboration, Shakespeare’s Touchstone said in As You Like It, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers.” As Chris and I often do.
But first let us give you our view of collaboration as an art form. For centuries, two or more people have been collaborating on written works under one person’s name. History is rife with collaborations, announced and unannounced.
Some examples? Shakespeare had several close collaborators, none so famous in his own right as Christopher Marlowe, who seems to us to have been his closest collaborator, due to similarity in each man’s work and style. We’ve written of these two collaborating in various tales in our Heroes in Hell series. J, the Yahwist, first writer of the Old Testament, also had many collaborators. Even before Biblical times, collaboration was common: the Greek mythic cycles were written not only by Homer, but by many writers; whether these collaborators wrote at the same time, or followed one another, is immaterial: these were true collaborations. As literature became a business, not merely an art form for the collective memory of the human race, the custom and marketing strategy of putting one — almost always male — name on a work became an unwritten convention, pushing anonymous contributors into the background. Yet they often can be found, peeking out from history’s shadows, unsung and influential.
But these questions are about us, collaborating today: while we’re alive, we can answer what questions we choose, rather than leaving posterity to wonder; be as forthcoming as we wish about life and love and art. For us, life and love and art are one. We have always written together, first song melodies and lyrics, later novels — but always with one of us taking the lead, the other in support. In our early days, Janet supported Chris’ music, and Chris supported Janet’s prose. Since we met in 1966, we spent years smoothing the rough edges of our collaborative process, learning to focus on the art in question, not the artist, and thereby improving both. If we write seamlessly, it is because we deliberate about every thought, every phrase, every word, every rhythm, yet strive never to lose the shape of the initial conception. Our prose is rhythmic, our plots inventive, our song lyrics carry messages because we are keenly aware that a person has only so much time in life, and must use that time wisely.  When we begin a new piece of prose or piece of music, we start with a clear idea of what that story or song must say. We vigorously weed out irrelevancies and polish our idea until it is bright, clear, shining in our hearts and in our minds. When writing prose, the mind’s eye is where the visualization first takes place; when we write music, it is the ear which first carries the message to the brain.
All art is communication of ideas. We have co-written op/eds and policy pieces for governments, strategic plans for military, academic, and industrial users, as well as fiction. Writing nonfiction has taught us when and how to be sparing of words. Chris has been the voice of a TV station and products as well as our music. Now we are exploring the close relationships between music and writing fiction by producing audio books. The Sacred Band (audio edition) took a year to complete. Because the story’s characters live deep in our hearts and first drew breath in the 20th century, we took great pains to ensure that the narration remains true to the characters, who have evolved over decades and millions of words. Narration is only one breath away from literary exposition.
For each art form, our process is the same: one of us begins the effort with a title, a musical passage, a topic or an idea, or a clearly-stated purpose. Once the title and the purpose of the piece are agreed, the process of perfecting story and rhythm — yes, even fiction should have its rhythms, its beats — is sometimes begun by one or the other. Often, when a day’s work is completed by one, the other adds a voicing, a suggestion, recognizes a lost facet or missed opportunity, clarifies whatever is unclear; changes are agreed, and at the end of the day, we are sitting together, reading or playing the work aloud and finishing what the morning began. In music or prose, we never continue drafting or recording a long piece of work until we’re both happy with what we’ve done previously. If later in the evolution of the piece an element needs to be included that was omitted or unrecognized in the work as we began it, we go back and make those changes. Some recent examples of this process can be seen in our Heroes in Hell series,
For instance, Chris began Babe in Hell (a story in Rogues in Hell) with the idea of a baby and Solomon reprising the famous Biblical story, albeit in Hell. To Hell Bent in Dreamers in Hell Chris immediately added the quip “And twice on Sadderdays.” Once we’d named the play which is the centerpiece of the story, Janet added the flayed skins of heroes to be used as props. But sometimes, in longer works, we can’t recall who authored what lines. In “Words” in Poets in Hell, working on the first paragraph, Janet asked Chris to supply the crucial word: “Words are the what? of the mind” Janet asked. Chris said “mortar.” So the line now reads “Words are the mortar of the mind.” And so it goes, a natural give and take, sometimes contentious, often strenuous, always fascinating.
Our process is not quick. We’ve taken years to do a book such as I, the Sun; we say The Sacred Band (TSB) took eighteen months, but if one includes the research and discussion time before the first word was written, TSB culminates years of effort to crystallize that story so we could then write it. In this way, we please ourselves, and have pleased many readers and listeners as well.
You who know our body of work are now wondering why one name appears on so many of the books or musical compositions. For now, suffice it to say that publishers think readers want a work crafted by an individual, preferably a male (unless the work is a romance or a book about women in society).
Now that you have told us how you write together, answer this harder question: Why?
Why write together? A collaborator provides perspective, a broader view; a universality that one mind, male or female, often cannot attain. For centuries such collaborations were known only behind the scenes:  the woman or man who was the editor, co-creator of ideas, first reader, was the power behind the throne, unnamed, a secret presence. So how do we decide whose name goes on a work when only one name appears? If one writer drives the work individually, or if a work is best read as the product of male or female, we so credit it. For this reason, we have several times used male pseudonyms when selling a book to a publisher for a particular market.
As you point out, the two of you haven’t always published with joint bylines. How did your first official collaborations come about?
Our first official collaborations in song music and lyrics preceded our collaborations in books and stories by about a decade. Although Janet received some writing credits on The Christopher Morris Band (MCA 1977) record album, and High Couch of Silistra was published under the byline ‘Janet Morris’ in that same year, not until 1984 was the first fantasy fiction story, “What Women Do Best,” published with the byline ‘Chris and Janet Morris’ in Wings of Omen, (Ace, 1984). And that occurred only with editor Bob Asprin grumbling that ‘now everybody’s going to want to do this in Thieves’ World®.’”
If Janet hadn’t been a canonical contributor to the series at that time, we wouldn’t have gotten permission for the dual byline. And sure enough, other spouses and collaborators long relegated to the background began appearing in Thieves’ World volumes and other places.
Subsequently, we signed a multi-book contract with Jim Baen, one of the caveats being dual authorship for some titles, but not all. We delivered those books, including The 40-Minute War, M.E.D.U.S.A, City at the Edge of Time, Tempus Unbound, and Storm Seed with dual authorship and Jim published them that way.
This in turn led to other joint book contracts, including but not limited to Outpassage (1988), Threshold (1990), Trust Territory (1992), The Stalk (1994), as well as several books by single-author male pseudonyms.
Nevertheless, publishers generally still wanted single male names on adventure or nonfiction or ‘serious books’ and female names on romance books, so the market continued to conform to its preference for single-writer bylines.
A book with the name ‘Janet Morris’ was still worth more to a publisher than a book with ‘Janet Morris and Chris Morris’ as listed co-authors. So we created male pseudonyms and these books commanded substantial advances in markets formerly closed to us. In the minds of publishers then, and perhaps readers, a story told by a single male was preferable, but even a tale told by a woman was preferable to a tale told by one woman and one man. We set our sites on this ox, and set off to gore it. And might have succeeded, as male/female co-authorship became more commonplace, but our brainchild “nonlethal weapons” intervened, taking us out of the fiction marketplace for nearly two decades. In that interval, Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, another writer at the literary agency which handles us, wrote War and Anti-war with his wife Heidi Toffler, insisting her name appear this time as co-author. The revolution had begun in earnest among writers with enough clout to enforce their wishes.
Do you believe that putting a man’s name or a woman’s name on a book effects who will read that book?
We experimented, as did other writers and publishers, with putting different names on books. Sometimes Janet wrote with other male or female writers, to see if the ‘Janet Morris’ brand could be transferred as publishers looked for ways to turn writers into franchises, as was done with Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, etc. But when a better writer is paired with a lesser writer, quality may suffer, and even honest writers trying to accommodate one another may lose the consistency of purpose, passion, and voice that a single writer or a self-chosen pair of writers can achieve.
The ‘brand name writer’ bias may then kick in, causing readers to buy only books written by the individuals or pairs of writers they already enjoy, not the franchised producers of subsidiary works or ‘as told to’ books.
As for the ‘gender’ bias in literature, at present this is still a real and strong force. Men looking for adventure fantasy or science fiction or military books are less likely to buy a book written by a woman; women with a strong allegiance to women’s rights and women’s issues are less likely to buy a book by a man or co-written by a man.
So the issue of whether a man’s name or a woman’s name goes on a book may be inextricably linked to subject as well as story, insight, and prose quality.
You’ve both written under single-author pseudonyms, always choosing a single male. Why did you do that? Do you still do it? If, so, why or why not?
We did this to break out of the science fiction/fantasy ghetto, into the mainstream, in days when those genres had a more limited market than today.
Do we still do it? No.
In actuality, our body of work allows us to write what we wish under either or both our names. For instance, we’re writing a novel about Rhesos of Thrace — as is our wont, this book has a Homeric feel, a purport that takes the Iliad for true, but focuses on a single character from that story and his later adventures. This book is a true novel — one part mythical realism, one part dark fantasy, one part heroic fiction in the literary sense, and one part a historical representation of the mythos of that character. We plan a new Sacred Band of Stepsons novel, which requires very specific voices and explores the hero-cult as a fait accompli, a subject fascinating us.
But if we were to undertake a contemporary story dealing with modern politics (sexual, racial, governmental and corporate), we’d consider writing such a book under a new male pseudonym, to allow us complete freedom of what we’d say and how we’d say it, because the truths behind these topics are brutal and unwelcome to those who think revisionist history will solve all the problems inherent in modern society and the human condition. Which condition is, of course, the only fit subject for fiction.
What are the benefits and debits of collaboration so far as process, not marketing, is concerned?
If a pair entering into a collaboration sets ground rules, defines story elements and shares a joint preoccupation with the characters, two hearts, two sets of eyes and two sets of ears impart an enhanced perspective, powering the creation of characters spun from utmost reality, characters perhaps more fully realized than a single mind might contrive to make them. In a pair made up of one male and one female writer, the native intelligence of both sexes is present in great measure, bringing a universal verisimilitude. The process of reaching truth and clarity for characters and story may have uncomfortable moments for one or both writers, but facing those places in the soul where one hesitates to look is the true purpose of fiction — to portray the world through a temperament (or two, or three).
What advice would you give to other collaborators about creating and marketing their joint works?
If two collaborators each have a previous body of work, then once both acknowledge parity, a new book can begin taking shape. If one writer is better known or better at structure or at lyric, then play to those strengths. Do not show this book to third parties, or discuss it with others until both writers are completely certain of every nuance, every line, every twist and turn of plot and psyche.
If two collaborators have no previous experience working with others, they must work harder to put aside their preconceptions and look at story and character honestly: success, not in the short term but for all time, depends upon the quality of every word. Make sure that both collaborators share the same goals. Define the story elements. Invoke the characters and be sure both agree who those characters are and what they represent concerning the story’s driving purpose.
Then begin, starting at the beginning. Create an adventure that two can share, and you will have created an adventure that the world can love.
Only when this first book is finished, no longer a fragile vision, but a full blown juggernaut of risk and beauty, show it to a publisher whose other publications attract you. If you both like what an editor or publisher has previously chosen, they may well decide to choose you.
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Seven Against Hell, the full story…

Black Gate Online Fiction: “Seven Against Hell”

By Janet Morris and Chris Morris

This is a complete work of fiction presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Janet Morris and Chris Morris, and New Epoch Press, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2014 by Janet Morris and Chris Morris.

[Diomedes] fights with fury and fills men’s souls with panic.
I hold him mightiest of all; we did not fear even their great
champion Achilleus, son of an immortal though he be, as we
do this man: his rage exceeds all bounds, and none can vie
with him in prowess.
—   Homer, The Iliad

Poets in Hell-smallI am Diomedes, son of Tydeus.

These poets in hell account me ‘second best’ of the Achaeans, after pouty Achilleus. How is that? I killed more Trojans than he upon Troy’s battlefield, yet never committed hubris. I partnered with Odysseus on the night hunt. My aristeia, my excellence in combat, at Ilion was unsurpassed. I even stole the enemy’s best horses. Although I was the youngest warrior-king among the Argives, I won more than my fair share of glory. Poets through the ages extolled my battle: Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Colophon, Sophocles, Antimachus, Appolodorus, Virgil, Ovid, Pausanias, Dante, Marlowe;  even the loutish William Shakespeare, barely a man himself, praised my valor.

When Shakespeare’s wittol Marlowe recast Ovid’s Elegia, he wrote of me:

Tydides left worst signs of villainy;
He first a goddess struck: another I.
Yet he harmed less; whom I professed to love
I harmed: a foe did Diomede’s anger move.

So why am I in New Hell, you ask, sitting on this rise called the Devil’s Mound, above the infamous Damned Meadow, a sheep field boasting a clamshell stage where perdition’s self-appointed greats come to outshout one another’s verses?

True it is that on the battlefield of Troy in a single day I killed Astynous, Hyperion, Abas, Polyidus, Xanthus, Thoon, and two of Priam’s sons, Echemmon and Chromius. And I wounded Aphrodite, but at Athene’s order. And attacked Apollo. Twice. Thus I became the only man to wound two Olympians on one day in that battle. Notwithstanding, the worst I ever did on my own account was to steal the Trojan Palladium, their statue of Athene, with my bloody hands: yet without that theft, said the oracle, Ilion would never fall. So we took it, Odysseus and I, and this exploit brought Odysseus and myself not to Elysion with her bright blue sky and starry nights, but to Tartaros, to Erebos, thence to stinking New Hell City, here where the worst of the damned prey upon one another.

This hell of the New Dead is more proliferate than Achaea, vaster than all of Hades’, and full of pitfalls as grave as the love of a faithless woman  —   or any woman, since faithless all will be: my queen Aegialia proved that more than once.

Even a man such as I, who founds ten cities and is worshipped in his day and thereafter, can end in Erebos or Tartaros or worse. Thus here I am, with my fellow Epigoni  —   sons of heroes, accursedly forgetful of our valor: Until we drink the blood of earthly sacrifice we don’t recall our names, despite all that Mnemosyne, the waters of Memory, can do to prompt us.

So here I await a hero’s coming, in New Hell’s foulest park, while flocks of damned souls crowd and churn below me, hoping to find a patch of grass near the clamshell where the poetry contests will be held.

No matter what you’ve heard, it was Homer who in seven thousand lines told my Epigoni’s story, the tale of us seven heroes’ sons avenging our fathers’ deaths upon all of Thebes, commencing: “Now, Muses, let us begin to sing of younger men…”

What modern scribbler could vie with that? What thewless mincer down alleyways in darkest night, what tattooed and pierced and wild-haired oaf of little use could sing a song of heroes, since these but talk and heroes do?

Above my head the vault is ugly today, pulsing like a fish belly when first you gut it, bloody and streaked with veins of purple and scarlet and black. Praise hides her glow. Paradise turns away her face, her fell light taunting those who’ll never bathe in the shining love of gods.

Gods love the loyal, the true, the honest, the brave; not these damned crusts and crumbs of stalest souls, who have deserted honor and lost all. I thought Pallas Athene loved me. Even wounded, an arrow deep in my right shoulder, at the hollow of my corselet, I fought as if she did. I won as if she did.

Where is Odysseus? Late, when battle waits in Tartaros, and so many wrongs to be put right? Or not coming today? But a gray-faced messenger had brought me word: “My master, great-hearted Odysseus, asks your aid to undo a grave injustice. On Devil’s Mound in Decentral Park in New Hell City, on the first day of the poetry festival, please await him.”

So I’d left my six Epigoni, all my shining brothers in arms, to rendezvous with crafty Odysseus here, who shouldn’t wander underworldly realms. And neither should my Epigoni, if courage counts for aught and vengeance is sweet to heaven. We are seven, all told: Aegialeus, son of Adrastus; Alcmaeon and Amphilochus, sons of Amphiaraus; Euryalus, son of Mecisteus; Promachus, son of Parthenopaeus; Sthenelus, son of Capaneus; Thersander, son of Polynices (who by our efforts became king of Thebes); and myself, son of Tydeus and Deipyle.

Comes a climber up the hill, a mystic specter under hell’s rufous vault, wrapped in a linen robe from head to ankle, dark and stiff as if with blood. This swinging stride devours ground; this posture tugs my memory; this creature comes onward like a demon or devil or worse, all black inside that hooded robe.

I sit where I am. Long in the underworlds has taught me to rise only for good reason: in eternity, a man conserves his strength.

The enshrouded thing reaches my hilltop and stands before me, cowled; looks down at me. Its cloak is soaked in black blood, now I am sure: I can smell it.

It calls me by name. I have been speaking English for thousands of years, but that facile tongue deserts me. I respond in Attic to this manlike thing: “What?”

I know it by its very first word, but it speaks on as I rise up and stand, fists balled, uncertain of what to do now:

“‘…to Tydeus’ son Diomedes, Pallas Athene granted strength and daring, that he might be conspicuous among all the Argives and win the glory of valor. She made weariless fire blaze from his head and his shoulders and urged him into the midst of battle, where most were struggling.’”

And these are Homer’s words, from his Iliad, which all we who fought at Troy know by heart; every line of its fifteen thousand, six hundred ninety-three is filled with our blood and death and courage. But this man is not Homer. I know him as I know my own heart, as a wheel horse knows its running mate, as a pack-wolf knows its leader, as a lover the voice of his beloved. Yet peer as I may, inside that hood I see no beard, no weathered skin, no flaring nostrils…

“Odysseus. What happened to you? Why are you drenched in blackest blood, my friend?”

“I am skinned, Tydides, master of the great war cry.” He lets his cloak fall open.

Tydides. So long since any have called me that, save my own Epigoni. I close my eyes against a horror man should never know: a walking hero drenched in pain, without a single bit of skin anywhere on his body that I can see.

His right hand, quivering with rawest flesh, reaches out to me. “Powerful Diomed, help me get my skin back.”

“How? When?” I want to meet his flesh with mine, clasp arms, embrace this man who, I had thought, became a god upon his death. I must do it. I grit my teeth and clasp that meaty forearm which for so long I admired when weathered skin and tawny hair enwrapped it. I can feel the blood pulse, and leach, and drip sticky onto me. I want to pull back but he is Odysseus; I am Diomedes: I cannot be less than he needs. Not now. Not ever. “Help you? Of course I will. Where is your skin? We’ll go together, as in former times, and steal back what was taken, or secure it by force of arms. I’ll bring all my brother Epigoni with me.”

So we stand that way, until Odysseus can answer with his peeled and suppurating lips: I hear the raspy breathing of this tortured soul. And in that sound, finally, I learn what torment can be. In that grip of his, so tight despite his pain, I grasp the horror of an afterlife of penance unending, even for this hero, this giant of a man, whom so many wept to emulate.

At last Odysseus speaks again:

“I cannot go; I am too weak. You must go for me. In the Pandemonium Theatre, my skin and the skins of other heroes hang as costumes for fops to wear. And every time one of them pulls my skin about him, such pain overcomes my body as could make a man pray for madness, or oblivion.”

Too weak? Odysseus? What dreadful anguish, this?

“We Epigoni will steal it back, then. We stole Trojan glory. We stole Aeneas’ horses. We stole the Palladium. We stole Ilion with our wooden horse. We’ll find your hide and take it back, and again you’ll wear it  —   proudly.”

Despite the agony in every iota of him, Odysseus clasps me tight against his chest. I feel him shiver. And I wonder, despite my words, if we can do this thing, under the noses of every devil and demon and lord of hell. And why the gods allow this travesty.

Sappho heard the clanking armor of Greek heroes cutting through the crowd toward her podium long before she saw them: she needed to finish her recitation. She could not yet look up. Much rested on winning this poetry prize, New Hell’s most prestigious.

When nearly done, she dared raise her head. The Epigoni, unmistakable, stood before her: men such as Nature never made in later days, armed and bold, with ready shields  —   and one with a shield licked by fire. That one must be Diomedes, with his father’s plain sword and the shield Athene had given him, which threw flame when he so commanded.

She hoped he liked her recital. She nearly stumbled over her final words, “‘…some say cavalry, some say an army on foot, some say a fleet of ships are the most beautiful sights on this black earth, but I say it is whatever you love best.’” Then she stopped, gaze demurely downcast, and bowed her head…

…while from under her brows she stared at those dauntless half-naked Epigoni; at Diomedes, most beautiful of all, and added, “…unless it be heroes that make a heart race in its breast.” She hadn’t added words to that line for eons.

The crowd roared. Thin-necked and thick-girthed, big-headed, soft and small, these were the poets of all the newer hells, and more: real bards from early days, true singers from the nether hells. This competition would not be won without a fight.

Sappho was not above theatrics: she’d take advantage of these heroes, come from nowhere. She stepped off the dais as the crowd clapped and stamped and cheered, and strode up to Diomedes. On one side of him stood Thersander, by his kingly bearing and gold breastplate; on the other, Sthenelus, Diomedes’ sturdy partner at war before the slanty walls of Troy. To call herself a poet, a soul must know her Homer, and the Theban Cycle, and more.

These warriors ducked their heads to look at her and she felt a girl again, felt what she’d felt for her ferryman again. Sometimes a woman, yes, but sometimes a man is what a woman needs, if that man be as heroic as these.

“Sappho,” she gives her name, suddenly uncertain. “Have the Muses brought you to aid me? Let me walk with you.” Heroes such as these surely were not here for entertainment.

“Diomed,” affirmed the one whose helmet had the longest purple crest, whose breastplate bore a gilded boar, who wore Athene’s shield of blessed fire on his arm. “Come hear our plea, honored poetess. We seek a favor.”

Poetess? A favor? So they knew precisely who she was.

The Epigoni swirled around her like a cloak and off they went, amid the awed mutters and whispers of this posturing crowd of poets. “A favor? Of course,” Sappho breathed, agog at the venture beckoning, more dazzling than any other  —   as were these heroes from Erebos. “What brings you to the lesser hells, heroes?”

“We brought our ancestor Andromeda up from Hades for the day, to enjoy your festival,” said Thersander, gallantly flattering her with a lie: no dark Andromeda walked among them, nor would they have left her behind, among the dross of ages here.

The Epigoni escorted her, Diomedes on her right, Thersander on her left, followed by the other five, spears bristling, close about her: what a finale, fit counterpoint for her presentation at the contest. If she didn’t win the poetry prize, no matter: she’d gained a greater prize here, on her left, on her right, at her back. More beautiful than aught else in the nether realms were these heroic souls. Behind her, a white-winged angel exhorted all participants in the competition, contestants and audience, to climb up on the clamshell stage and “mingle.”

Sappho looked back over her shoulder: some New Dead poet was spilling words that tumbled from his lips in fiery letters. Never mind: Sappho was headed somewhere else, with these seven warriors called the Epigoni. But … caution: she’d not taught school without learning something: “And that’s all you want, Epigoni? To enjoy the festival? Ask a favor? Diomed, is that all you want?” This Diomedes was a hero of lyric proportions, in his body, in the eyes of history, and now in her heart.

“I need a poet to pry loose from two poets something belonging to my friend, much-enduring Odysseus,” Diomedes told her.

“Ah, I see.” But she didn’t. Instead she saw Homer, almost completely blind today, poking his way along the hillside with a stick. “How about two poets?”

“Two?” Diomedes echoed low, in that voice famed for its great war cry.

“Great Homer,” she called, “attend us! And I shall be your guide to an exploit most rare.” Ancient body, bony face: Homer’s cloudy eyes shift and drill to the bedrock of her soul. Then the Ionian bard turned from the clamshell, from the crowd, and picked his palsied way up the rise toward them.

Just in time. For meanwhile, behind Homer, audience and contestants thronged the clamshell stage, until that stage could hold no more souls. Then the clamshell snapped shut around poetical woe, swallowing screams and wails of terror, while the huge bivalve spun and spun, and dug its way into the sheep field’s ground as if bedding itself ever deeper in a sandy seafloor.

Sappho stared past frail Homer, to the source of first cacophony, then complete absence of sound, until the burrowing clamshell with its catch of lyric souls completely disappeared and black ground covered it. She whispered, “Diomed, you and your brother Epigoni may have saved me.”

“As you saved long-remembering Homer?” Diomedes shrugged shoulders that could heft a world. “Happens all the time, Muse,” said the hero of Ilion, with his hand at the small of her back to guide her onward as Homer, squinting hard, joined with the Epigoni and began regaling all in heroic hexameter with his lost lines that sang their glory.

By this, Sappho knew she was stepping into something much, much more than simply another day in perdition. She closed her eyes and thanked her muse for putting her once again in the path of a story worth telling, among souls worth enshrining  —  and, more than all else, promising glories in hell which Sappho never would forget.

Pandemonium’s towering walls, built to discourage scaling, gave me pause and struck Homer fully blind with their majesty. Battlements greater than Ilion’s were these, black as the heart of their lord. In their shadow we planned our strategy as Paradise glowered baleful above, longing to set.

Mighty Thersander drew his bow and shot two grapple-hooked ropes over the spiky ramparts once we’d learned the pattern of the watch patrolling, cocky on their battlements, protecting Satan’s infernal seat. My war-partner Sthenelus and I clambered up those ropes as spiders scale their webs. And there we lurked until a pair of watchmen passed the crenel where we hid.

Lunging from cover, we overcame them in two strides, laid sharp bronze against their quivering throats, promising to free them once they told us the watchword. When we heard it, we broke both their necks where they stood, spilling not a drop of blood, stealing their mantles and helmets and throwing their naked corpses over the wilderness side of the lofty wall.

I’d done as much before, in the darkness, with Odysseus as my partner outside Ilion’s gates, so I found it fitting, even in this hellish place with no sun or moon, just Paradise still shining down.

For Odysseus, we would risk all and do all.

Now disguised as henchmen of the devil, we climbed down our ropes, back to our brother Epigoni, unnoticed in the black wall’s shadows: men guarding such a height hardly ever look straight down, but outward.

With our brother Epigoni and two poets, plus the watchword and our stolen cloaks and helmets, we were ready.

We walked right in, between the gate towers, using Sappho and Homer as our diversion, those two reciting epic verse in a rhythm to fascinate the coldest soul:

Homer sang his Iliad: ‘“O Muse, sing what woe the discontent/ Of Thetis’ son Achilleus brought the Greeks; what souls/ Of heroes down to Erebos it sent…’” And on, pausing only for Sappho to sing in turn.

And Sappho rejoined with her own work:

Then Helen, who outshone
All others in beauty, left a fine husband,
She sailed for Troy
without a thought…
Led astray…

Their singing caught everyone’s attention, and held it as we warriors passed by, unnoticed.

Soon enough we found the Pandemonium Theatre, hulking huge. None had missed the slain watchmen yet; no call to arms ripped the ruddy gloom. But we must hurry: soon enough, someone would.

“Alcmaeon and Amphilochus, guard this theatre entrance,” I told these long-haired brothers, like twins, both blond and brazen. Alcmaeon had led us against Thebes, but led us not today: on this foray, the Epigoni take my orders. “Euryalus, Promachus, circle around back and hold the rear door.” Those two had spitted their share before wide-walled Troy, and fought like bears rampaging. They’d keep clear our escape from this massive Pandemonium Theatre, big as a palace and tall-spired, so broad and lofty it taunts the vault of heaven. “Parthenopaeus, watch over Homer and Sappho with sharp bronze and quail not at any demon or wraith you see: pierce all comers. And look sharp about you for a wagon big enough to carry our poets and what heroes’ skins we find.” A rough-faced berserker he was in life and is in soul, and needs no help from any other. “Homer, Sappho, sing more songs, recite what verse you may, but keep all entranced; distract and delay them; let none get past you through this door.”

Blind Homer blinked at me. “Be certain we will, noble Tydides, daring breaker of horses. I’ll tell of you, your hungry valor, as my mind’s eye first saw it.”

“And I,” said Sappho with that voice like a brook in springtime. “‘Although only breath, words which I command are immortal.’” She’d said that before; I’d heard that before, but it is yet true. No time now, but later, if victory is mine, I’ll let her whisper in my ear. She added: “I’ll sing of you, how Helen chose you not, you so like a god in valor; how she fled her home…”

“Fine. You sing what you wish, Sappho.” I turned back to my own: “Sthenelus, son of Capaneus, you fight by me.” Sthenelus, once my charioteer and loving friend in life, showed his teeth. “Thersander, as we made you king of Thebes once, now you’ll bring your rage and help get back every hero’s hide from this foul barrow. Fight close behind me and Sthenelus, protect our rear, and help carry out the skins when we get them. And you, Aegialeus, mighty son of Adrastus, be as inescapable in our cause as was your father.”

At least no gods would take the field against us, I told myself, although hell has gods: gods of its weeping dead and its sleeping dead and its regretful dead.

“And all of you: we fight for the skin of Odysseus and perhaps the hides of many other heroes. We fight and die if need be, here where death is not the worst tithe we can pay. Hear my strategy: this is our duty, to put an end to the skinning of heroes by those who believe not in honor, or heroes, or anything at all. So when I give my war cry, storm in, all but Parthenopaeus, who’ll bide with Sappho and great Homer.”

“But — ” Sappho objected. “We want to go in with you, see the fighting, to sing a song of glories won — ”

For centuries few have dared interrupt me; I found my grip on my spear too tight. Angry words burst from my heart: “You’ll do as you’re told, poetess. Now, stay.” My rage came hot upon me, pounding in my heart and firing up my brain, making a mist before my eyes as bloody as the vault above. But before I could reach through fury for kinder words, old Homer spoke:

“Sappho of the best-chosen phrases, we are here to use poetics to help save the skin of my grandfather, crafty and unparalleled Odysseus. What we must do, we will do: recite epic verse to ensnare the boldest soul. What we can’t see, we’ll not see: hard for you, easy for me. And these heroes will honor not only my grandfather, but your words and mine. Respect wild-hearted Diomedes, ready for war; recall this man, who fought the immortals and returned home to an unfaithful wife after the fighting and the bitter warfare. And be silent now, knowing you are graced as no other woman, to be here.”

I said nothing more, but my fingers loosened on my spear. Blind, Homer may be, at the whim of gods and devilish demons, but he sees too much.

I leveled my ash spear. At that signal, the Epigoni deployed, stealthy and unerring, until only Sthenelus remained with me.

Using great Homer and the poetess for our diversion: would the gods of hell take umbrage at my plan? And if they did, would they come fight against me? I’d skewered Apollo and Aphrodite and survived. Aye, let them come, angry demons or devil or underworldly gods. If they dare.

Up adamantine stairs we strode. I adjusted my shield of fiery nature that Athene had given me in life; I keep it always with me; I was buried with it. At least none had asked me how we would fight our way out of Pandemonium with our prizes of precious hide: this city, full of warriors, is vast and labyrinthine, Satan’s devilish seat.

Thus far, none opposed us, late in the day with Paradise glaring close above spike-topped crenels. In we go, charging, pushing oak doors apart, shields on our left arms, purple-plumed helmets on our heads.

Quiet it is, inside this dark place, where torches flicker as the doors behind us slowly shut. We pass a choke point, where someone should be to say who can enter, who cannot. Today no one stands there.

Every sound here is far too loud, down a stone-walled corridor that opens onto a stage before rows of empty seats. Our sandals echo; I can hear my own breathing, far too loud. I touch Sthenelus’ arm and take off my helmet; he does the same.

We vault onto the stage, spears ready, and I want to draw my sword, cut empty air to ribbons. We search, poking and prodding curtains with our spears and shields, until we find a way behind them.

Here all is quiet; here there are ropes and rigging and eye-whites disappearing into shadows far above us, where I hear stirrings as if birds are nesting or panthers hiding on cedar rafters; here is the stench of creams and unguents and stale sweaty bodies.

Hotheaded Sthenelus looks up and stabs overhead as high as he can with whetted bronze on ash shaft. Something skitters. Sthenelus looks at me askance.

Angling my shield upward, I slap my spearhead twice against this shield Athene gave me; a gout of flame billows forth, and up, toward whatever might lurk aloft.

Scuttling and scrabbling increase overhead among the rigging, but no hellish creature drops upon us from those high rafters; no Erinys or Ker or winged beast; nothing dares Athene’s flame  —   or nothing cares to try.

Then we find stairs leading downward into narrow corridors: the worst fighting joins always in close quarters, corridor to corridor, room to room.

Sthenelus lifts his hand in caution: he’s heard a sound; I hear it too. We make that way, and are rewarded as we burst in together, shoulder to shoulder, splintering oaken doors off their hinges:

Two men cry out, scramble from their table where they work by torch and candlelight, till they feel walls against their backs. One is braver; this one stands before the other: “Who are you? What do you seek?” His is the face of a child, with but a wisp of beard curling round his womanly mouth; yet he stands before the other man, arms spread  —   and I see a child’s dagger in his hand, glinting in the torchlight from their worktable.

This room has no windows, no other door: these two men in their hose, with their curled hair and goats’ beards and their puffy pants, are trapped.

“We are Epigoni, here for the skin of wise Odysseus, and more. What we want is every hide stored here, of every hero from former times. Or we’ll take your skins instead, without even knowing who you are, or caring.” This is not a worthy battle; these are soft, pale men. The better of the two holds the dagger. I could spit them both in two heartbeats.

I heft my spear.

“Wait,” says the prissy, knock-kneed one in green hose, with his hand upon his protector’s shoulder. “I know you!”

“Wait for what?” Sthenelus says upon a snarl. “You know us? So? All men should know their executioners. You’re in our way. Men who stand between us and what we want soon die  —   even if you’re barely men.” He levels his spear. “Unless, of course, you lead us to those hides of heroes kept here  —   each and every one.”

“Satan is our taskmaster,” says the foremost. “We labor in his cause.”

“So what? My partner Diomedes has wounded gods. What care we for devils?”

The baby-faced man sidles left, his friend keeping pace, but Sthenelus too has him within range: one lunge, one solid thrust, and either of us can pierce both soft bellies offered under flimsy garb: run the first man through and skewer the second with the selfsame spear. These two are more women than men, and quail like it. “You’ll care if Satan shows his face here, spear-chucker,” warns the foremost fop, chin jutting.

The man behind that one said, “Diomedes, don’t you remember me?” as if crestfallen. “From the Hellfire Club? From the polo match? Do you not know how I wrote about you, having Aeneas say, ‘We know each other well,’ and you reply, ‘We do, and long to know each other worse.’”

I scoffed. “I knew Aeneas only well enough to steal his best horses, but if you’ve his skin here too, I’ll take it with me: even Aeneas, counselor of Trojans, is a real hero  —   not like you two.”

My words made Sthenelus bark: “We don’t care who you are or what you wrote, you womany thing. Will you give up Odysseus’ skin and the other hides of heroes that you have, every one? Or not? If I learn you’ve ever donned that skin of Odysseus, or any of our fellows flayed by evil, I’ll skin you both here and now and find a dog and bitch to wear the both of you.”

One of them let gas, or worse: a stench wafted through the room.

So I said to the wide-hipped one, “Give me my friend’s skin, then, and the skins of all of his fellow heroes. You’re Shakespeare, are you? What of it? One more dead poet who dreamed of being me.”

“We cannot give up those costumes, Will,” said the other man, the fitter of the two, screwing up his baby face and whispering softly to his friend: “They’re Satan’s props. Or can we?”

“We must, Kit,” hissed Shakespeare, hiding behind his friend. “Sheathe your blade, Kit Marlowe. A visit to the Undertaker, run clean through, is not on my agenda for today. Or yours, if I can forfend it. I will bear responsibility, explain to His Infernal Majesty.”

And so I gave my war cry for gathering, and all my Epigoni came to help carry away the skins of heroes that these girly-men had in their closets, Homer panting but keeping pace, as by touch and Sappho’s descriptions he identified each hero’s skin.

When out of their closet these prissy boys pulled skin after skin, my heart beat faster. We would need to range far and wide in hell, to give this score of skins back to those who’d grown them.

The sight of so many heroic hides on hooks was so awful that Thersander retched, spitting bile into his blond beard. But we managed.

And all the while they brought us skins, those two fops gibbered to each other about who we all were: about Sappho and Homer and the seven Epigoni.

“You Epigoni and you poets,” said the one called Marlowe, “be assured that Satan will come after these skins, and all of you for damnable theft.”

“Homer and Sappho had no part in this,” I lied. “We abducted them, to make sure we knew whose skins we took. And as for your devil and his minions, bring them on. We are only seven, but we are the Epigoni, and if that makes seven against hell, think what the plague god Erra and his Seven, the Sibitti, have done to bring infernity to its knees. What we can do, let Satan come and see.”

Soon we left, stealing a wagon from behind the stage and sneaking out the back door of Satan’s Pandemonium Theatre with the blind bard and the poetess perched atop twenty skins of heroes known from former times, and Thersander retching, and Sappho singing, and Homer crowing our glory, and Sthenelus steady by my side.

I kept my fire-spitting shield by the wagon with its gory cargo the whole time, but Sthenelus and I still wore our stolen mantles, thus we strode right out the gate.

An arduous task ahead, to deliver all these skins safely to their owners throughout the netherworlds. First we’d give Odysseus his hide back, then seek the others. Already I was planning our next move.

In hell, where forever weighs upon the heart, few deeds are fit for honorable souls, but returning a hero his skin is worth doing, no matter the cost.

I can hardly wait to see Odysseus’ face…

…and when I do, I see a strong man weep. Even in hell, this is a sight more awful to behold than most souls can bear.

He touches his skin, puts his hands on that boneless countenance, then on the flesh of his raw and bloody face. He shakes out his body’s skin as he stands there, and if I could I would help him.

But this mastermind Odysseus, this great-hearted sacker of cities, is brought low. With a stifled sob he puts one foot down one leg of that hide, then the other.

Next he lets his cowled robe fall away, and I see yellow and white and purpled bone and meat and recall Thersander, retching.

There is nothing to say, nothing I can do but watch as mighty Odysseus with trembling limbs pulls his skin up, and up, and wriggles his hips, and smooths the eyeless hide over his face and head.

Comes a puff of wind, a blink of lightning…

…and here stands Odysseus, man of pain, great glory of the Achaeans, as he always was and should be, his gory linen shed and lying black with crusted blood around his feet.

He rubs his face, puts trembling fingers to his mouth, and says to me haltingly through lips once again his own, “Diomed … are there more of us, enduring this?”

“More,” I tell him. “I have a cartful of hides that quiver and stink, bereft of bone and meat and man.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Odysseus looks at me from bloodshot eyes, picks up his stiff and blood-soaked cloak and wraps himself, then gives a cry to curdle all the blood in hell.

That cry resounds, carried on an ungodly wind far and wide. It reverberates inside my soul and wends away.

Now once more all the Epigoni will gather, and every skinned hero in hell will know we’re coming.

I can taste the blood of war upon the air.

“Seven Against Hell” is just one story from

Poets in Hell, edited by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

Read the original story in Poets in Hell or on Black Gate, as well as commentary by:Joe BonadonnaImage


Get Poets in Hell from Amazon in the Perseid Press trade edition and for Kindle:  http://www.amazon.com/Poets-Hell-Heroes-Book-17-ebook/dp/B00KWKNTTW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1404249412&sr=1-1&keywords=poets+in+hell

Or at Barnes & Noble in trade and for Nook:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/poets-in-hell-janet-morris/1119740472?ean=9780991465439


Heaven and Hell Collide …oh Baby!

IMAGE MARCH 28, 2014Heaven and Hell Collide …oh Baby!Rogues in Hell (Heroes in Hell) [Kindle Edition]Janet Morris leads her writers back to Hell.Hot on the heels of Lawyers in Hell, the New Hell Sinday Times bestseller, comes ROGUES IN HELL…The war heats up, Satan antes up, and rogues go adventuring as Hell’s landlord faces off with Heaven’s auditors.Veteran Hellions sin again and new writers fall from grace:Shirley Meier, Bradley H. Sinor, Michael Z. Williamson, Deborah Koren, Julie Cochrane, Bruce Durham, Janet Morris, Chris Morris, Richard Groller, H. David Blalock, Nancy Asire, Michael H. Hanson, Sarah Hulcy, Michael A. Armstrong, Larry Atchley, Jr., Bill Snider, Edward McKeown, John Manning, Jack William Finley, David L. Burkhead and Allan Gilbreath

via Heaven and Hell Collide …oh Baby!.

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