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Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapters Seventeen to Twenty

I'm boggled how this series just reinvents itself every few chapters. nearest thing I can liken it to is Star Wars where the action suddenly shifts to a whole other planet every so often.

I'm not saying its a bad thing. It keeps things fresh and it keeps us readers on our toes. I'm really liking the gangster city setting you've got right now. I guess somebody's going to be rubbed out.

Part of the brief for SPIRES was to showcase the diversity and flexibility of the Blackthorn setting and concept. The regular episodic format is an ideal was to quickly map the narrative diversity of Blackthorn and his world.

PIP WOOD comments:
Sorry not to get back to you on the Phoenix Landing strand. But now I'm here to go "Whoah!" Really good stuff. Blackthorn goes steampunk and James Bond.

Really really happy to see Reith, who I liked from the other book. And here he even gets the spotlight for a chapter. Also jazzed to see Morningstar turn up again. He always lives things up.

Still don't know where this is going, but I'm loving the ride!

Editor Van Plexico is a world class Babylon 5 fan, so we had to include “a meeting-place for diplomats, travellers, hustlers, wanderers…” (or whatever the original B5 opening credits called the place). I.A. Watson is obsessed with how things like the economy of future-Mars works, so he wanted to show more of the infrastructure of the planet. And Reith needed a spotlight in a setting that suited him well. So: Phoenix Landing.

No letters page? Does that mean no letters? If so, here's one.

One of the things I like about this series is the colors. I know that sounds mad in a written story but Blackthorn's Mars is painted so well that the colors just jump out. Makes me realize how great a movie this would make - or one of those old-time matinee serials!

Anyhoo, keep it up.

We’re glad the imagery gets across to you. You can’t beat the visual effects budget of a prose story with an imaginative reader.

TOM SHEA comments:
Somebody’s been doing their research. The robotic Mars probe Phoenix landed in the Vastitas Borealis on 11/10/08 and took soil samples for microbial life. The landing site was unofficially dubbed Green Valley (from “green for go”). You’re even right about the unusual geographic features it found, ice or sand-wedge polygons. But this wasn’t the first Mars landing, it was the sixth (of 7 to date), tho the first one run from a university - my Alma Mater, University of Arizona! Go Wildcats! Bear down!

For purposes of future Mars history we’ve assumed that the suitable conditions for a robot module landing were also good for Mars’ first manned mission and that the site was chosen as destination for humans to visit their nearest planetary neighbour. Indeed, the site was also the location of the first colony ships that landed on Mars; hence the recycled ship materials that form the city of our present narrative.

Wait, is that all we get of Mel Manysongs? Boo. Bring her back on.

Sorry, that’s it for Mel in our current story. Although I.A. Watson did mutter something about an additional prologue and epilogue for the collected print edition of SPIRES OF MARS that might feature a hot-headed young bard-girl…

The Trojan Goat should join the team as a regular.

We’ll get on to that right away.

Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Seventeen

I’m blown away by the conclusion to the Tortugos battle. This is brilliant stuff! Congratulations to all involved. I just love the idea of a kraken “on-team”. Can’t wait for the kraken/chimera spin off series.

We’ll pass on your suggestion to editor Van Plexico. Preferably when he’s got a mouth full of food.

PIP WOOD writes:
A very satisfying conclusion to the big ghost pirate story. I’m impressed that each of the big battle scenes you’ve done son far has been so completely different. You weren’t kidding about Blackthorn’s Mars being a place where all kinds of styles meet and anything can happen. Kudos. Now, about the Morningstar guy…

Strange you should mention the colonel, Pip. We hear more from him in our very next chapter, as we pick up our mystery and manage an entire chapter without Blackthorn, Aria, Oglok, Tybald or Ysilde. On the other hand, we do feature a requested character and another face from a previous adventure.

You may want to read it.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Sixteen

PIP WOOD comments:
Now that’s the way to fight a war! Great use of the characters, an intelligent plan, distinctive action sequences. I’m buzzing.

And that ending. Uh oh.

We’ll see your uh oh and raise you an Eeks!

Hey! Foul! No fair after the good guys do so well to suddenly drop a kraken on ‘em!

The collective work for krakens is the same as the singular: An overkill of krakens.

Whoa. Big dude at the end! Bummer!

You know how it is. You either use your CGI budget or lose it!


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Fifteen

RUSSELL FOR RENT says: I really like it when the heroes and villains get their &*^£ together and show competence, why they’re badass. Here we get to see General Blackthorn actually generaling. He’s the man with the plan. Love that. And we see the bad guys on their game too. Toss in that kraken!

Looks like it could be a big fight next time!

One of the objectives for this story was to offer a whole range of different kinds of fight scenes that didn’t feel same-y. We hope you’ll agree that our Siege of Tortugos conflict is unlike any other.

LUCYDEE says: Oooh, I love this set-up.

Then out job is done.

CAPTAIN APPLICATION says: Okay Blackthorn’s done Day of the Dead, Star Wars and Tomb of Dracula and now he’s on to Pirates of the Caribbean. Bring on Jack Sparrow! Or Legolas!

How do you feel on the topic of Babylon 5?


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Fourteen

PIP WOOD says: For a chapter that was mostly to set up the rest of the action this one had a lot of meaty ideas. The whole thing about Korzan having to decide about the revolution made this stand out from the fight-fests and monster of the week episodes. The brother and sister bit made for some uncomfortable (fun) reading.

And now ghost ships!

We knew that DYNASTY OF MARS would be “out there” from this point in our story, and since most of that novel takes place before our present SPIRES tale we stopped being afraid of spoilers and continuity from here on in.

If you haven’t yet bought DYNASTY, what are you waiting for?

RUSSELL FOR RENT says: Hey, it’s that Korzan guy again from the other book, but this time he’s got some personality and backstory! I’m liking him a lot now. I can see why he was let into the Dynasty of Mars epilog.

One of I.A. Watson’s most fun jobs in the DYNASTY and SPIRES novels was fleshing out the named but not described characters in the very final pages of THUNDER ON MARS. More on Korzan in the chapters to come.

LUCYDEE says: Is GlobalNomad seeing anyone?

We doubt it.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Thirteen

Pirates of Mars! You guys are nuts. Anything can happen in this story. Zombies, slavers, vampires, hi-tec bounty hunters, now this! Pirates!

After our big pirate/ghost arc we’ll offer a bit more variety and throw in some Blade Runner or something.

LUCYDEE says: Aria & Ysilde is interesting. They’ve got a lot in common – including secrets! And maybe problem boyfriends.

Not an accident, LD. In some ways Aria is everything Ysilde wants to be, whereas Ysilde had the family upbringing Aria would have liked to have. The contrasts with the men in their life… that’s more complex.


Review By Brad Mengel - New Pulp Reviewers Round Table

"Blackthorn: Thunder on Mars" edited by Van Allen Plexico 2011 White Rocket books.

I’ve long been a fan of the planetary romance; an Earthman travels to another planet and has adventures. Van Allen Plexico’s Blackthorn is a fun addition to the genre.

Plexico’s introduction tells us about the inspiration of the character, mixing Burroughs with Kirby to create a new hero with a contemporary twist. John Blackthorn is a United States Army General who is killed in duty on a mission in Afghanistan, he and two of his men awaken on a post-apocalyptic Mars in new bodies through the magic or science of The Black Sorcerer. Blackthorn escapes the custody of The Black Sorcerer and begins adventuring with two Martian companions Princess Aria and Oglok The Mock-Man (a sort of Lion-Human hybrid) .

The three travel around inciting rebellion against The Black Sorcerer and the other three First Men who ruled Mars as well as any number of petty tyrants and warlords. This is concept that can be played out across any number of volumes as this future post-apocalyptic Mars has become a collection of feudal states.

The eight stories in this volume are exciting and interesting adventures. Series creator Plexico opens and closes the volume. “Bastion Of The Black Sorcerer” introduces John Blackthorn and his companions in a way that gives us all the information that we need to understand the stories and is still an exciting adventure. The other story “Epilogue: Red Planet Blues” finishes the collection and hints at the direction that the series will continue if there are future volumes.

Each story manages to explore some facet of Martian society and coheres together with no detail in one story contradicting another story. “Quest for the Eye” by Joe Crowe is the shortest story in the collection but tells a funny side adventure and “Ghosts of Acheron” by I.A. Watson offers a major revelation about one of Blackthorn’s companions as well as a dangerous new enemy. I like the fact that the series has the scope to allow for these different types of stories.

Indeed the concept allows itself open to any number of books and stories with Blackthorn and his allies travelling Mars. The fact that this future Mars has been terraformed makes me wonder if other planets in the solar system have been similarly transformed and colonised if so the series might travel the solar system. I look forward to future books in the series.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Eleven and Chapter Twelve

Here’s a bumper double-sized compilation of comments on Chapters 11 and 12 of our ongoing serial:

WORLDNOMAD #7 says of Chapter 11:
This is why its best to use GHB.

Um, well, we’ll be sure to pass that on to… the FBI or someone.

Crap, that is NOT the way that rescue stuff is supposed to go! Kudos for finding a way to subvert the whole story and swerve it off where we didn’t expect, first with Ysilde screaming for help, then with every damn bad guy in the story showing up all at one to wale on the good guys.

This is really, really hotting up. Feels like you’ve cranked it up a level.

The story was plotted for episodic release, which requires lots of little mini-climaxes and regular payoffs, with the occasional twist to keep readers on their toes. The next big “boss fight” will be bigger and badder.

And wait till we get to the finale fight in Chapter 30!

ROSE writes:
I'm really enjoying the more in-depth exploration of the Sorcerer of Night's lands, very atmospheric and believable. The plan to get into the cathedral was fun and it really wasn't the heroes' fault that Morningstar spoiled their rescue without even being there. Fortunately they won't have to worry about that mystery much longer as that cliffhanger may well be their last. I hope it isn't though, I'm enjoying this far too much.

That was one of our favourite cliffhangers too, Rose. The archvillain reveal is a classic hook, and we’re all about respecting the classics.

Whoops! Just when we thought we knew where this was going it turned out to be the last-but-one chapter! At least that’s what it looks like. You managed to build up the Sorcerer of Night pretty good. He’s not appeared before in any Blackthorn, right? You got me picturing him somewhere between Frank Langella and Christopher Lee. Really stoked for the next chapter now!

The Sorcerer of Night has appeared in “Into the Canyon of Night” by Danny Wall, which was one of two bonus stories included in the e-book version of BLACKTHORN: THUNDER ON MARS. Your casting ideas seem fine to us. In fact is folks have any other ideas for the movie version of our story we’d be happy to hear your actor lists.

And then people told us what they thought of “The War of Light and Darkness”:

ROSE writes:
Wow. I was expecting an epic battle and you didn't disappoint. The Sorcerer of Night may be taking Blackthorn a bit more seriously next time, that can't have been good for his pride. I have a mental image of him repeatedly mocking the Black Sorcerer over having so much trouble with a 'petty mortal' and then having to put up with the response after this.

Seeing Blackthorn's death was interesting and the bit with Yuen was a lovely character moment. it also helps remind the reader why need to stop Morningstar, I now want to see him get punched.

It’s been pointed out to us that so far in the entire Blackthorn series, David Morningstar hasn’t had so much as a hair on his head ruffled. That’s good villaining. Blackthorn is with you about the punching, however, so we’ll see.

Van Plexico’s already approved plans for an eventual story in which the four First Men actually get to compare notes about Blackthorn. Expect a good deal of insult and mockery amongst the series’ villains at that point.

PIP WOOD comments:
I’d kind of expected that the big fight between Blackthorn and the Sorcerer would be heavy and brutal. I really like that it turned out to be emotional and complex. Swerving into the general’s backstory was a really great way to shift the ground under our feat and help us realize what happened with Morningstar’s betrayal and the human cost of it.

In fact with this chapter you went way beyond the comic-book stuff (not saying comics can’t be deep and layered, but the limited word count stops some of the deep digging and mood-setting). You built up a picture of a hero who was really pushed then really pushed back.

More, this was a fight that feels like its going to have consequences. If the story had ended right there, with an epilog where Ysilde goes home, it would have been a good story. But it’s carrying on, which means that good as this gets you intend it to get better, right? So the next big fight will be bigger. The heartbreak will me more heartbreak-y.

Count me in.

So counted.

For our serial story we had to try and layer things, so that there wasn’t a big information dump up-front and we didn’t dive right in with major combat before anyone cared about the combatants. As readers develop some loyalty to the characters and some understanding of their backstory we can do more complex, elaborate, and hopefully more effective things. Stay tuned.

KENNETH MORRISSON writes for the first time to say:
Damn, but this is a weird mash-up of styles and elements – but it works! I never expected to see Saturday cartoons, brutal warfields, fantasy princesses, undead religious zealots, and dystopian societies all mixed together into something entirely its own. You’re transcending your medium here. I am officially impressed.

It’s that “mash-up” which was the raison d’être of the Blackthorn series in the first place. The multiple writers each tossed some elements in to make a very diverse stew. In SPIRES OF MARS and DYNASTY OF MARS, I.A. Watson has just dipped the ladle in and scooped out big heaping dishfuls of the stuff – and added spice to taste!

Love the way that Aria so wants to jump Blackthorn’s bones. You go girl!

Princess Aria is certain that she would not do such a thing. As if!

But you did read the epilogue to DYNASTY OF MARS, right?

You know, you’ve got this old-school letters page and nobody’s sending you old-school question lists! So here goes :-)

Okay, go for it.

1. Where do you get your ideas?

We have a special Bag if Ideas. Every chapter we just shake it, dig our hand in, and drag out whatever we find in there. No, honestly.

2. Where does that Sword of Light actually come from that makes it so big-ass powerful?

That’s one of the ongoing mysteries of the series, but we do touch on it a little more in a later chapter of our present story. There are other clues offered when Aria visits her childhood home and enters the Hall of Reflections in DYNASTY OF MARS.

3. How did that mechanical thing get inside Ysilde’s stomach? Does she know about it?

That one gets explained later too; but no, she doesn’t know it’s there. The question is whether Morningstar or Arcantrus Veil know either.

4. Why doesn’t Blackthorn know who Aria really is?

She’s never got round to telling him who her parents were. This gets explored a little more in that same epilogue to DYNASTY OF MARS, but the short version seems to be that she’s afraid that Blackthorn knowing who her father is will change their relationship, and that after so long it is too late to tell him. It is perhaps THE outstanding relationship plot point to address at some time.

5. How are the First Men so damned powerful?

SPIRES OF MARS will definitely answer this one. Keep reading.

6. Why don’t they just nuke each other?

There is an enforced accord between the First Men, something akin to the Geneva Convention but with punitive power behind it. We’ll be getting to that at some future point in our Blackthorn storytelling. I think series editor Van Plexico was heard to mutter something about BLACKTHORN AND THE SORCERERS OF MARS.

7. How many of these questions are you going to answer?

That’s enough.

We’ve also received a couple of comments on BLACKTHORN: DYNASTY OF MARS. We’re saving them up to so a special column sometime soon, so if you have a review or questions to add then send ‘em in.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Ten and Jack Kirby:

PIP WOOD writes:
Now that’s what I call a cliffhanger! Good stuff.

What’s more, this answer will be continued next time, if we can only…

Ouch! Be quiet, you silly girl! Can’t you see the big hunky heroes are trying to rescue you? Don’t listen to that dreamy handsome Morningstar just because he’s got that bad-boy vibe with those flashing eyes and… um… yeah… Scream, Ysilde! Call for some help. SCREAM!!!

Big help you are. We’re trying to run a getaway here.

Congratulations on making the Kirby museum. There’s some really great roots to your stories (I think they shine out even more in the Dynasty of Mars book, actually). I hope you’re planning some more. Maybe throw in a dinosaur and his ape rider?

We’ll try and be a bit more subtle than that in our homages. Hopefully, when Spires is complete, folks will see that we’ve also borrowed another of Jack’s regular tropes, the Really High Concept History, and put it to good use. There is actually a reason for the title of the novel.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Nine:

Hey, what happened to the letters page?

It took the day off last time, on account of there being no letters to publish.

PIP WOOD said:
No comments for #8. Or just getting sloppy? I hope people are letting you know how enjoyable this is.

We had all the answers pre-generated, but then nobody showed up to use them on. Here’s one from last time:

That’s the funniest thing we’ve ever heard, [letter writer’s name]. Shame about the fettuccini. And the answer to your speculation about Oglok’s… habit, is a definite yes.

See? We did our part.

ROSE said:
Well that complicates matters. Nice to see Incantrus Veil again and having him teamed up with Morningstar means he'll be a lot more dangerous and the heroes are going to have a nasty surprise.

I'm very sorry for not replying to chapter 8, it was great too. I'd be interested to know what people who haven't read Dynasty of Mars thought of their introduction to Reith.

The interview with Adam Diller was good as well, it's always interesting to find out more about someone's creative process.

By the way, I think 9 may have been the first chapter to not involve anyone hitting anyone.

It’s chapter nine. It’s time for a complication. And just a couple of chapters back folks were wanting to have more ties to the other Blackthorn stuff. In just two episodes we serve up Reith and Morningstar. How’s that for fan service?

Adam’s an interesting chap. Some people claim he’s “the real thing”.

And yes, right again on the lack of combat. We’ve done the “fight of the chapter” formula while folks were getting used to Blackthorn. Time to move on now.


Comments on "Dynasty of Mars" and "Spires of Mars" Chapter Seven:

We kick off this time with this heartwarming story...

Dynasty of Mars cover artist ADAM DILLER says:
I showed [the Dynasty of Mars press release] to my extended family over a nice lunch out that we were having, and everyone was most impressed. When my cousins arrived, my Aunt insisted I show them, telling them (proudly) that I had provided the cover to a "slutty adventure novel".

So you have me to thank for that snap-judgement of your work now.

In any event, congrats on it hitting the sales floor (or whatever it might be in this day and age), and it is fun to be able to direct people to Amazon to see something of mine.

Well, I guess your aunt probably read to the bit where Coda of Prima Prevura appears. Or that part with Colonel Morningstar’s candlelight assignation. Or the opening scene where Aria’s wearing a good deal less than she is on your cover. Or… um, yeah. Maybe we’ll just use the “adventure novel” part of that pull quote.

PIP WOOD, says:
Well done to all involved in that Blackthorn – Dynasty e-book. Very very nice. Makes me want to shell out for the print edition when funds allow. This is one I’ll want to read over and over again.

What to say about it? This felt like an epic movie, except it did things a only a book can do as well. It really made me care for the characters. By the end I was really pulling for them as the odds stacked against them. It managed to make me forget I was reading about a fictional place with what would normally have been stock characters and swept me off into the emotional and political plots they had to navigate.

Definitely superior stuff. I loved the sprawling cast. Any chance that any of them might turn up in the Spires of Mars story? I noticed that Reith got a namecheck last time. And how about we get to see some actual First Men, or maybe Morningstar himself? You’ve got ‘em – use ‘em!

We’re delighted you enjoyed your e-book. We priced to so low for the exact cunning reason you just demonstrated: we think maybe if folks risk less than the price of a comic book on it to read on Kindle then some of them will decide they want the “souvenir” printed issue too. So far sales have been strong on both.

Interesting you should mention our Dynasty cast turning up in Spires. We knew that the first half-dozen chapters or so of our online serial would be out before Dynasty hit the bookshops so we deliberately kept those opening parts cast-light and spoiler free. Now that Dynasty’s out there we don’t really need to do that any more. Look for one Dynasty cast member in our very next episode, and a lot more to follow.

ROSE says:
Eep. That last chapter got a little creepy towards the end. It was the little screaming faces that did it. Congratulations on making me scared of the Sorcerer of Fatal Laughter without even including him. Disturbing visuals aside, I enjoyed seeing Aria 'play royalty' and it looks like the plots really moving forward. And a rare shadow door? Right after the heroes annoyed the undead of shadow doors himself? I'm going to have to agree with previous comments on Incantrus Veil's apparent demise, this is too coincidental.

Whenever the Lord of Fatal Laughter gets involved, things go a bit Grand Guignol. It’s actually in his contract. As for the rest of the plot progression, author I.A. Watson is a believer in the re-readability of his works. A second time through after getting to the end of the novel should reward a careful reader who will spot how things were foreshadowed (pun intended).

Aria ‘playing royalty’ – or not playing - also elicited comment after her guest appearance being interviewed at Sean Taylor’s Writing Blog.

KALIMAR writes:
Loved the interview with Princess Aria!! Hugely funny, insightful, and actually in character!!! You should do a whole set of these, tho’ the Oglok one might be a bit tough.

We’d have to locate another Chronal Audio Interfaces first, since bad things happened to that last one. And possibly wait until Sean’s burns have healed a bit.

I want Aria to phone me up next.

There’s a waiting list.

Finally, MATT CARNEY enquires:
With all the effort you guys are going to to push Blackthorn, how come there’s no Wikipedia page for the series? Given the kind of stuff that gets tossed on there the Blackthorn stuff more than deserves an entry. Type Blackthorn into Wikipedia right now and you get an entry on prunus spinosa, a kind of plum.

Prunus Spinosa would be a great name for a Blackthorn villain!

That sound you hear is White Rocket publisher and EIC Van Plexico hiding under his desk and sobbing. He’s the web-savvy guru responsible for knowing the complexities of the interwebs, so any Wiki-ing is probably his department. We’ll be sure to drag him from his happy place, slap him with a wet Mock-man, and set him to work right away.


Comments on "Dynasty of Mars" publication and "Spires of Mars" Chapter Six:

Yeah! Awesome book with awesome cover. Any chance of a poster? Really looking forward to getting my hands on this one.

You mean the book, right? Because Blackthorn tends to get grumpy when people get grabby with Aria. And you don’t want to make a guy with a Sword of Light grumpy.

ROSE says:
Wow. Dynasty of Mars is amazing. I liked Aria in Thunder on Mars so had high hopes for a novel focussing on her and it didn’t disappoint – I like Aria even more now, her character development and depth is incredible. I could enthuse for hours on any aspect of the book so I’ll limit myself to saying that the alternate perspective on mars and Blackthorn was brilliant for viewing both world and character in more depth and that I absolutely agree with your assertion that the cover deserves an award.

In other areas, Spires of Mars continues to be interesting. Some nice detective work from the heroes there and a good bit of humour in the bar fight. It’s a nice change to have a bit of combat that isn’t all life and death for once. I assume that the spires in the title are the Harmony Spires seen in Dynasty of Mars?

The current font colour is much better than the last though it makes it more difficult to differentiate the headings for each batch of mail. It is your website though so go with whatever you think best.

Thanks for the kind words, Rose. When we did our post-game assessment of THUNDER ON MARS we agreed that getting Aria more background was one of the priorities in establishing our future-Mars. It was only when we started mapping out and exploring her background that we realised she could - and should - be the key that brings all the other rich history into play.

Telling a story from Aria's point of view also allowed us to focus some more on the four First Men, especially the Black Sorcerer since she grew up in his Bastion. We also wanted to make sure that we'd got profiles of our main villains in our readers minds before we moved on.

Finally, readers who follow both DYNASTY and SPIRES OF MARS may be pleasantly surprised to find how much these two books add value to the other in terms of plot threads and backstory. We'd love to hear your views on that when you've had a chance to browse them both.

PIP WOOD says:
Suddenly, the plot thickens! Incantrus Veil is history (sure!) and now we're moving on across atmospheric Mars. I really love the world you've created here, full of weird places and people. Feels like a proper space opera/fantasy - and doesn't apologize for it.

And the House of Abu Mansoor? That's a dirty joke from the Arabian Nights.

Guilty as charged! Readers of less expurgated versions of 1001 Nights may recall the Porter's Tale, wherein one of three bathing ladies uses the name as a euphemism for an intimate area of her person; which may offer some kind of clue as to the sort of accomodation that Blackthorn and co. end up at next time.

I'm enjoying the new setting for your story. A barfight in a cantina? With a big hairy ape-man there? And a princess who wants to run a rebel alliance? And a guy with a light sword? Bring on the droids!

We have droids next time. We brought them in specially for you. We draw the line at Ewoks and Gungan.

Great news on the book. Definitely one for the shelf. And that Diller art! Where does he find his models? And can I have one please?

We think that sort of transaction is against Amazon's terms and conditions. However, it is true that Adam Diller's magnificent painting has been universally admired. Other comments include:

JAMES PALMER: hamanahamanahamana


VAN PLEXICO: I think White Rocket just might be in contention for an award or two, this year....! :-)

JAMES PALMER: I wouldn't doubt it! Very Dejah Thoris in Second Life. : )

LEE HOUSTON, JUNIOR: As a single man, I have to strongly second James Palmer's comment.

SHELVY: Yeah! Introduce me! ...To the model first, THEN the artist...[g]

MARK HALEGUA: Forget the cover (OK, it IS good). Introduce me to HER!!

Pulp-savvy readers might notice that all these comments come from some of the current luminaries of the genre, several of them Blackthorn alumni. Click on their names for links to what they're doing.

And finally, the answer from our talented cover-artist himself.

Sadly, the artist's guild has never forwarded me proper directions to the grotto where they keep the busty models of inspiration. I assume that it's a truly magical place.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Five:

ROSE says:
Sorry for forgetting to reply to chapter 4, it was very good with a compelling villain and a cliff-hanger that was more of a just-fell-off-the-cliff-er (literally for Oglok). Chapter 5 continues this well, giving each of the heroes a separate fight was interesting as it demonstrated their different approaches and allowed Tybald to have some action without being shown up as a newbie.

There is no way in the world that Incantrus Veil is dead.

In regards to the debate on the website I’m happy how it is. If you improve it then all the better but I’d far rather have an old-fashioned website than one that’s completely bug-ridden because you’re exceeding your abilities unnecessarily. You keep advertising Blackthorn as a new outlet for familiar concepts, let your site reflect that. I would however advise against the new orange font as it clashes with the red.

Blackthorn’s world is a mash-up of lots of different sources with hopefully a dash of something all its own. The first five parts of the story are really meant as an introduction to new readers and a reminder to old ones about what we’re about. Think of it as the establishing act. Next time we move on, develop the plot, and chase the missing lady.

As for Incantrus Veil, he does seem popular so maybe he’s not died by falling into a bottomless pit?

As for letters page colour schemes, how about this one?

Jazzed about new Blackthorn novels and rumored anthology. Will Sean Taylor be back to do more? Does he have a website? :-)

SEAN TAYLOR himself replies:
Sean Taylor will indeed be back for more Blackthorn. Maybe even some of the crazy snake ladies. I had far too much fun writing the Blackthorn tale to let go of my blackmail material now that I have on Van. I'm in for the long haul.

As to that website, I have several, but the two most important ones are and That's my official website and my writing blog, and I update those two more frequently than anything else. Please drop by and say hello.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Four:

Newton's comments last time provoked a bit of feedback. Thanks, Newton! It's very encouraging for us to know that people are paying attention!

The guy who emailed you was incorrect about a few things.

CSS is no more than theming and customizing technology. All it does is make the fonts, background, colors, and such consistent and easily changeable, and allow unusual the table layouts and bordered images the PVB uses.

RSS is a text-only summary technology used by the PVB too, but it's useless for any site that does not constantly update information. Otherwise, the RSS feed never changes. It basically breaks out the decorative elements of the page and leaves only summarizing text.

Facebook links are a matter of taste, and whether you're actually into FB. It's notoriously difficult to implement nowadays except for the "like" button. People were using outside sites to spam people's FB walls, so now it requires registering as a website developer and authenticating - except for the "like" button, which is an IFRAME that goes anywhere.

Speaking of which, that's the only improvement that might be worthwhile - use an IFRAME in the center, and javascript with the links which change the "target" of the IFRAME so it loads content into the center of the page. Also maybe doing the same for the stuff on the right and left sides, so they can scroll independently of the rest of the page, so the background and title stay static. That would give it more of a modern look, but it's also quite a bit of work getting the javascript and target IFRAMES right.

We're looking into the Facebook "Like" button. We certainly appreciate your comments.

Some folks might not know that Jason Froikin, MangaJason above, is Lead Developer at Powermad Software and a superhero fiction author in his own right. He's the guy who designed the current software for the Comicboards message boards. If you want to provide us with a link to your stuff, Jason, we'd be glad to publish it.

PIP WOOD says:
I disagree that you should make your site more flashy. It doesn't need the knobs, bells, and whistles. I like that it loads on my browser without taking five minutes to look up google and facebook and all of that. Keep it simple and concentrate on the content.

And I'm liking the content. Each episode so far has had action, but each fight has been a different kind. Beware of getting too much "monster of the week" though. Love the idea of a bad guy who makes shadow-portals. That's a dangerous superpower.

I'm really into this as an introduction of the Blackthorn series. I had high expectations of an I.A. Watson story and this looks like it will meet them.

Pleased to hear that, Pip. Hopefully you'll find the story moves on from its early "monster of the week" format now. I.A. Watson deliberately established a "mission-style" opening few chapters to get folks into Blackthorn's world. He described it as being a bit like the pre-credits sequence of a movie. After chapter five we're into the main feature.

I enjoyed that podcast. Ian and Van seem to have a real enthusiasm for the stories - and they know their comic books! It's great that those old-time creators are getting some respect, and great that some new stuff like Blackthorn carries their spirit on.

Van and Ian had a great time with Ric at Ric's Comics. Folks who want to know where the Blackthorn series came from and is going to might want to check it out.

WGMY 104.1 says:
Have been enjoying this as it builds. Liking the format, and naturally the writing. As for the entertaining Nocturne interview, the list of projects published and forthcoming again leaves me wondering how you find time to sleep. Love the idea of the Babel mystery. It sounds like a real mind-bender. How far along are you with that?

"The Babel mystery" refers to one of I.A. Watson's upcoming novels, THE FALL OF BABEL, but he warns it's not as upcoming as some other things from him, including the last part of his Robin Hood trilogy, FREEDOM'S OUTLAW, a couple of Robin Hood short stories to support and promote that, some tales in various anthologies, and final drafts of another superhero-type novel set in World War II.

We are very pleased you are enjoying the story, WGMY 104.1. Can we call you WG for short, or would that be too familiar?

Incantrus Veil! Fabulous villain! I'm rooting for HIM!

So that's one vote for the bad guys. Noted.

Last word goes again to the gnomic WORLDNOMAD#7:
Dude, you killed everybody! Whoa. Bad karma!

It is possible that one or more of our cast survives into chapter five, if that's not too big a spoiler. Otherwise our tale would consist of 26 more episodes of the villains gloating and Blackthorn gently decomposing.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Three:

NEWTON says:
Just found the Blackthorn webpages and online story material. A few points. The website is a bit antique. No CSS, no Facebook links, no RSS. This would be a great site in 2001. Get someone in to give it gloss. Especially lose the green on the letters page – impossible to read without highlighting the text. Content is okay, but needs more pictures. If the idea’s to sell books you need the buying links up front and center.

Story’s okay too as far as it goes. Bit D&D, with your adventuring party going thru monsters and random encounters then finding the villain’s lair. Needs to be more than that to the plot tho. Makes me want to like it but I’m waiting for more than monster-bashing. Don’t give it up – like website good stuff but retro, could do with a bit of a polish!

We’re pretty much at the technical skills limits of our current website team, Newton. As you spotted, anything beyond basic HTML is a little advanced for our present resources, although we’re open to advice. Some of us have heard of style sheets but are suspicious of those new-fangled contraptions. It’ll never replace the horse.

Good point on the green text, we thought. Is this any better?

The Spires of Mars is proving to be an interesting experience. We’d hoped for interactivity with our audience, just like ongoing comic books sometimes achieve, so feedback good or bad helps us to determine what works and what doesn’t. As a regular serial the story has to unfold in segments without too much up-front information dumped in the reader. It needs to bring new readers up to speed whilst meeting the expectations of existing fans. And each episode has to offer a mini-story in its own right. Also, since this story takes place after all but the epilogue of the upcoming Dynasty of Mars volume we’re keen not to put any spoilers for the events in that book into Spires until after the point where Dynasty is in the shops. Keep telling us how you think we’re doing.

Thanks for the feedback about artist influences. I can see some of what you’re going for in the Blackthorn book and the online story. I guess if you want to realize that in words you have to describe places and events to make it real, like the big-ass Kirby machine in the ruined manor hallway. So will we get some comics-type bad guys turning up soon? Feels like its time to intro a real villain.

Your instincts are good. Chapter Four, “The Tomb of Incantrus Veil”, may well go a long way to meeting your adversary requirements and allow for some different kinds of interactions.

Getting the visuals out of a writer’s head and into prose is an important part of telling an engaging story. Spires writer I.A. Watson says: “This kind of story needs to be plotted out a bit like a comic strip, panel by panel. Just as a graphic story writer would need to describe to an artist what is going on in each panel, right down to the size and layout of panels on a page to help set pacing, so a prose writer needs to provide that information to a readers so the audience can paint its own mental pictures. At least as much information needs to be conveyed in prose as would be offered to an illustrating artist – plus the additional gloss of choice of language that is prose adventure’s greatest strength.”

ROSE says:
Chapter 3 of Spires of Mars was really creepy. The carvings on the walls were very atmospheric and the monsters belonged in a horror movie. The banter between characters balanced it out nicely though and I'm looking forward to more.

We're happy to do the traditional genre stuff but we like to give it that extra twist. Try next episode's undead and see how he works for you.

Are you guys British or something?

Contributor I.A. Watson and the website team hail from the UK, so given that I.A. Watson is offering the first serial content on the Blackthorn site there’s probably an Anglocentric flavour to these pages just now. There’s no extra charge.

The rest of the Blackthorn creators are from the Western side of the pond. We'll wheel them all out for inspection as time goes by.


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter Two:

Today’s mailbag starts with the celebrity comments as the pros weigh in.

I've just read the first two chapters of Spires of Mars and was quite impressed. I've enjoyed everything else I've ever read by Ian Watson and this was no exception. In the first chapter, I was expecting Tybald to be killed and reanimated into an enemy the heroes would face. Ian didn't go in that direction and that surprised me. The enemies he's already shown are quite varied and impressive and I like the cliffhanger at the end of chapter 2. It's good stuff and I'll definitely be back for more.

We thank you for the kind words. One of the definite benefits of the short serial approach to this and having an audience versed in the clichés and conventions of the genre is that we can play with expectations. On chapter two the idea was to get the audience all geared up for a big bandit fight – then take them somewhere else. We don’t promise there won’t be predictable bits, or takes on familiar cliffhangers (in fact there’s even one has-just-fallen-off ending) but we can at least offer a varied diet of different ones as we range the field from imminent peril and shock revelation to anticipate-the-next-scene and now-the-villain’s-for-it.

Mark’s own Blackthorn story, “Shamblers of Mars”, appears in the e-book version of Blackthorn: Thunder on Mars.

By the way, rumour has it that Mark Beaulieu has his own SF creation shaping up for debut, so watch for news of that when its ready to loom out of the shadows.

Your Blackthorn is excellent, I am enjoying the serial tremendously and can't wait for each chapter. Keep up the excellent work.

Those not aware of Ric’s efforts in The Book Cave need to rush over and try his long-running blog now. I think he’s up to #187 by now! And there’s a forthcoming interview scheduled with the Blackthorn people due very soon.

Special credit gets given for Ric’s regular e-mail tag-line:

"When I have money I buy books, then I worry about the unimportant things like food and clothes."

Next up it’s the regulars turn:

ROSE returns to say:
Chapter 2 of Spires of Mars continues to be good. You recapped the plot effectively – it's interesting to see the heroes from an outside perspective – and the cliffhanger was ominous, the countdown made it seem very sudden. I’m definitely going to keep reading this.

It’ll be interesting to see how folks react when we progress beyond chapter five. Those first sections are really an introduction and showcase, establishing the characters and setting for new readers and reminding previous ones of why they showed up. After that our story here gets wider, with more locations, characters, and range of threats. The great thing about prose adventure is that it has no budget limitations on locations, cast size, or special effects, and we intend to exploit that to the full!

Thanks for the feedback on your comics influences. I was interested that so many of them are artists rather than / as well as writers. How would you say an artist impacts on a written no-pictures story?

Good question. I.A. Watson replies:

“For me the mental visuals are an important part of writing the story. It’s the author’s job to get those pictures out of his head and into the text. Because I love comics and because Blackthorn’s a very comic-book influenced series it’s appropriate to visualise it in terms of how it would look in comics art. So the Black Sorcerer’s bastion is pure Kirby, full of crackling dots and big metal machines. Lord Ruin’s war-cities are probably Simonson. The Sorcerer of Night’s terrain is Sutton. The Lord of Fatal Laughter’s domain is, well, Heironymous Bosche if he’d drawn the Joker for Bob Kane. Oglok’s by Herb Trimpe and Aria is pure Wally Wood.

“Once the scenery and the character appearances are there in the writer’s head the mood and events of the story get filtered through that. We want Blackthorn to drip tone and seep action and high drama, so anything we can squeeze out of the inspiration of the greats is going to help.”

Cyborg zombies are cool.

But don’t try that at home.

And finally, a comment from B.M. ZAFIR:
Creepy idea, simple but well done. V. impressed with the background info on the website. Might have to give these books a try, but Amazon shipping v. expensive outside America. Any alternatives?

Glad you like the work. The hefty overseas shipping is a perennial problem. One work-around would be to pick up the e-edition at at $2.99 (plus any local sales tax). Alternatively, the shipping might be less if you waited and purchased Thunder over Mars and Dynasty of Mars together. Not that we’re trying to shill you our product, you understand!


Comments on "Spires of Mars" Chapter One:

JJC says:
This one could be a winner. I used to love the old Thundaar cartoons that were on continual rerun when I was a kid. I like the feel of the stuff so far. Steampunk meets Conan. Looks from the site like a lot of work’s gone into this. Thanks for the free stuff.

You’re right about some of the influences there. The original brief was “Kirby meets Burroughs” but inevitably some other things crept into the mix. Blackthorn’s Mars has been at war for millennia, so naturally everything gets worn down and ruined and patched and recycled. That’s great when we need haunted ruins or weird mutations, and it gives the series a feel that moves it on a little from its source inspirations.

PIP WOOD says:
I read the original Blackthorn e-book and quite liked it. It was patchy, but it painted a world I wanted to like, wanted to explore. It was unashamedly Saturday Morning cartoony – but hey, I like Saturday Morning cartoon. I’m jazzed that there might be more coming, especially from Watson whose work I’ve followed in other places (hello, Robin Hood!). His story in that book seemed to “get it” so I have high hopes for this story also. And its free, so I won’t complain.

Blackthorn: Thunder on Mars was our demo piece in some ways, bringing together a bunch of talented folks who each had their own take on what we’d been thinking about. Obviously, as our series progresses we’ll tighten in cohesion, continuity, character, all kinds of things beginning with C. Part of the brief of Spires of Mars and the forthcoming Dynasty of Mars was to bring together what we’d done before and weave it into a platform for what we do after.

Hey, Ian. Congrats on the new project. Looks interesting – though early to say yet. I’ll be watching carefully. Make it good.

Thanks, WM. Keep making the world safer for, um, wombats. And keep reading.

Came to this by way of the interview at Nocturne. Any fan of Kirby and Ditko deserves a try-out. First chapter’s a bit more Ploog/EC but I can live with that. Strongish start, though you’ll need to give me some solid backstory if you want me hooked. I know this has some cartoon roots but you need to go deeper for prose. Is this going to get collected as an e-book in the end?

Some perceptive thinking there. The comics roots of some of our source material can and does shine though. Let’s toss some Wally Wood, some P. Craig Russell, some Don McGregor, some Kurt Busiek, some Will Eisner in there if we can. A little aspirational, maybe, but we’ll reach for the stars. We’re also aware that prose superhero adventure material needs a different pacing and level of detail than comic-book stuff, so hopefully we’ll keep the balance between the needs of the medium and the joys of the sources. There’s been discussion of an eventual publication for Spires, and the talks, as they say, are ongoing.

A serial story and an old-school letter column? Count me in. Oh, and call the letters page BlackthornMailed. You know you want to!

That's the second suggestion we've had of this kind. Could we be moving towards a quorum? Any other ideas?

ROSE says:
The opening to Spires of Mars is really interesting, there isn’t enough of it yet to make a full judgement but the set-up seems good and shows promise of being a fun adventure. I’m also really excited about the upcoming Dynasty of Mars, the revelation about Aria at the end of Ghosts of Acheron had me going back through all the previous stories to try and work out more of her character so a full novel about her from the same author sounds ideal. I’m looking forward to more.

The downside of episodic stories is that it's not feasible to get all the stuff in the first chapter one might wish without it becoming a stodgy info-dump. Given that some readers will be new, some will have read previous Blackthorn narratives, and some will discover this tale after reading the forthcoming DYNASTY OF MARS, we'll have to present the relevant information while trying to not spoil key parts of other stories. Fortunately we do have a good timeline on this website (although beware Dynasty spoilers there) that helps keep us on track, and the Spires series is intended to bring any newbies right up to speed about what's what and who's who on future-Mars.

We want to know how we'll we're going all that, though, so feedback is very valuable to us.

I want to be a princess.

We say go for it.


Comments on "Thunder on Mars":


Why on earth would a writer/editor like Van Plexico want to take a 1980 Saturday morning cartoon television show and meld it with a classic Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy series? The answer to that perplexing question is found in this book, which by the way, is the result of that odd pairing. In the introduction, Plexico tells of his love for an old Jack Kirby created TV series called “Thundarr the Barbarian” and how, for whatever twists of the muses, it seemed to plague his thoughts over the years. Enough so that he decided to one day do something with the concept, adding a new and fresh spin to the plot. It would be another few years for that final element of this eclectic brew would reveal itself to him when one day he started thinking of Burroughs legendary Martian series.

Just like that the pieces were suddenly all there and when he mentally assembled them in his ever wondrous imagination, there he beheld the story of an American General who, upon his death in the Middle East, awoke to find his soul had been replaced in a brand new body; a body locked in the lab of a mad sorcerer on the planet Mars. Yet more revelations arise when this character, General John Blackthorn discovers his spirit has not only traveled through space but also time as this is a Terra-Formed Mars of the far-flung future.

Within minutes of his bizarre awakening in his younger, stronger body, Blackthorn manages to escape the sorcerer with several other soul-transplanted fellows. In their flight, he eventually meets the beautiful, dark haired sorceress Aria and the fur skinned humanoid creature Oglok of the Mock Men. It is this trio, once met, that join forces to travel the amazing, fantastic landscape that is a post-apocalyptic Mars. Their further adventures are chronicled by a half dozen of the finest writers in new pulp today.

Mark Bousquet, Joe Crowe, Bobby Nash, James Palmer, Sean Taylor and I.A. Watson spin exciting, fast moving adventures that pit Blackthorn and his allies against lizard men, battling robots and an ocean wide haunted valley from which no one has ever returned to name a few. Each story is a well crafted pearl in a thematic necklace of classical pulp sci-fi and brings Plexico’s dream to vibrant life before our eyes.

It is abundantly clear that Plexico has tapped the mother-lode of adventure fiction with John Blackthorn and I can guarantee you we haven’t seen the last of him, or Aria and Oglok. One can only wait in breathless anticipation to see where on the giant Red Planet their travels take them next.



This review is going to start off a bit strange. I am a huge fan of Plexico's work - I love his Sentinels books. That being said, I had a lot of problems read through this book at the beginning. It wasn't because of an issue with the quality of his writing, just that some of the names of characters, and the scenario itself, were so close to that of the old Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon (completely intentional on the author's part) that I was thrown off.

However, once I was a little ways into the first story, I completely forgot about the problem. Sure, I still get a cringe when the princess or "mock-man" are mentioned, or when some of the more obvious nods to the show pop up, but the story itself was a ton of fun. This is the equivalent to a SyFy Channel movie brought to paper. If you don't mind the obvious homages, then you'll love the rip-roaring adventures of Blackthorn. My favorite stories were by Plexico (leader of the bunch), Sean Taylor and Bobby Nash, but all of the stories were decent. No stinkers in this bunch.

The other thing I want to mention is that Plexico included illustrations in the e-version, which was a great surprise. It's nice to see him step up his game with the addition of artwork.


All Pulp's Round Robin Interview with the creators of Blackthorn: Thunder on Mars


From ROSE:

Blackthorn: Thunder on Mars is an anthology containing seven entertaining stories about a new pulp hero. The concept is drawn from traditional archetypes - Van Allen Plexico unashamedly admits to influence from Thundarr the Barbarian, John Carter of Mars, a text from the Maya and many more in the introduction - and uses this to its advantage rather than detriment, adding just enough new material to just enough older ideas to create an exciting, innovative and yet reassuringly familiar world.

Modern day General John Blackthorn is betrayed to death by his second-in-command and unexpectedly wakes up in a new body on a futuristic version of Mars ruled by four godlike 'First Men'. It's a world where science can create the effects of magic and genetic experiments have created a myriad of different races. Teaming up with a sorceress princess and strong yet hairy 'Mock Man' (think Wookie and you're not far off) Blackthorn sets out to liberate the war-torn planet.

All the stories are interesting and show a variety of settings and adventure types without stretching the overall cohesion too far and the Saturday morning cartoon roots are often alluded to in very visual storytelling. The strongest stories are the first and last, an establishing story by Van Allen Plexico and a very moody and emotionally real piece by I.A. Watson which makes all the reading before it better by association.


WE'D LOVE YOUR FEEDBACK. We want the adventures of John Blackthorn to be a fun, interactive experience. Your comments on our work so far can only help us improve! Encourage our creators and inspire the future of Mars with your comments. We'll post the best of them on our Letters Page and do our best to reply!

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We reserve the right to edit your comments but we won't change the sense of them. Comments in this page reflect the views of the people making them and don't neccessarily reflect the opinions of our creators or staff.


Original concepts, characters, and situations copyright © 2012 reserved by Ian Watson. Key characters and concepts from the Blackthorn works of Van Allen Plexico copyright © 2012 by him. The right of Ian Watson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.

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