Graggonspeak August 2020

by Austin Gragg

Welcome to Graggonspeak! This monthly article is a companion to the quarterly Graggonspeak in Space & Time Magazine’s regular issues. My name is Austin Gragg, and I’m a writer as well as a contributing editor here at S&T. In Graggonspeak, both monthly and online, you’ll find a combination of reviews and genre-world commentary — maybe even the occasional hot take or friendly ramble. I hope you enjoy it and stay with us to see Graggonspeak evolve and find its sweet spot both online and in print.

Schlock Mercenary Ends and Howard Tayler Revisits its First Strip

The man I awkwardly stalked for ten minutes at the 2016 WorldCon/MidAmeriCon2 before working up the courage to thank him for his excellent work on the Writing Excuses podcast, Howard Tayler, has revisited his first Schlock Mercenary comic strip on July 27th, 2020.

The redrawing and slight edits to the June 12th, 2000 strip are refinements long-time fans of the SF comic will love. This comes after a phenomenal twenty-year run of the strip, always posting without fail.

“When I started creating Schlock Mercenary,” Tayler said in a July 22nd blog post, “it poured forth like a dam had broken. I was driven—whether by deep personal need, or demons from the deep, it doesn’t matter—to make comics…” Tayler then went on to explain that the story, for now, is done — and he intends to take a break.

It’s a long deserved break in my opinion. If you are unfamiliar with Schlock or are someone who avoids incomplete series, now is the time to check it out. If you’re needing some happiness in your life, Schlock just might do the trick.

Whatever comes next from Howard Tayler will undoubtedly be great. But for now, let’s let the man rest, and celebrate twenty years of laughs and superb science fiction.


MURMUR – Patrick Freivald, Barking Deer Press

Four time Bram Stoker Award nominee and recipient of the HWA’s Richard Laymon President’s Award, Patrick Freivald has a new novel out from Barking Deer Press. Barking Deer is always keen to deliver the strange and sexually charged and Murmur is no exception. As author Lisa Morton (six-time stoker winner) asked, “Who knew demons and evil could be so sexy?”

If you’re a fan of the sexier moments in something as fantastical as The Dresden Files, Murmur may be the horror novel you’d love for going much, much darker, and a tad farther. The twists and turns are sharp in this novel and the character development was satisfying. Plot monkeys might find some things to nit-pick here, but if you’re a reader who’s there for character first and foremost, you’ll enjoy the ride.

From the publisher:

Violinist Davis MacArthur bound the demon Murmur to himself to keep it from escaping into the world.

Despite being plagued by hellish visions, he’s beaten back mental illness and alcoholism to become a world-renowned virtuoso, until an encounter with an alluring stranger plunges him into a twisted, sexual game of cat-and-mouse filled with madness and murder.

Desperate to save his soul, he risks damnation to protect the people he loves.

FUTURE TENSE FICTION – Anthology, The Unnamed Press

There is no “future tense fiction” in this anthology. I think that’s best because this October 2019 release did nothing to warn me of 2020. It was however, delightfully imaginative and entertaining. Nnedi Okorafor leads this anthology with the strong story, “Mother of Invention.”

I met Dr. Okorafor at the LitUp Festival in Independence, MO a few years back when I worked for the Mid-Continent Public Library system. Meeting her was almost as awkward as meeting Howard Tayler. She was probably wondering why this grown man wanted her to sign Who Fears Death, a very adult novel, at a teen literature festival. I was too nervous to explain I was an employee. This anthology is wonderful, and showcases some excellent writers. It gives much of its focus to new technologies, much like the short fiction writers from the golden age of SF.

From the publisher:

Featuring Carmen Maria Machado, Emily St. John Mandel, Charlie Jane Anders, Paolo Bacigalupi, Madeline Ashby, Mark Oshiro, Meg Elison, Maureen McHugh, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Hannu Rajaniemi, Annalee Newitz, Lee Konstantinou, and Mark Stasenko—Future Tense Fiction points the way forward to the fiction of tomorrow.  

A disease surveillance robot whose social programming gets put to the test. A future in which everyone receives universal basic income—but it’s still not enough. A futuristic sport, in which all the athletes have been chemically and physically enhanced. An A.I. company that manufactures a neural bridge allowing ordinary people to share their memories. Brimming with excitement and exploring new ideas, the stories collected by the editors of Slate’s Future Tense are philosophically ambitious and haunting in their creativity. At times terrifying and heartwrenching, hilarious and optimistic, this is a collection that ushers in a new age for our world and for the short story. 

A partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University, Future Tense explores how emerging technologies will change the way we live, in reality and fiction.

Closing: A Word on the Art of Doomscrolling

In March and April, Kevin Roose, in The New York Times and Kathy Katella, in Yale Medicine (respectively) both used the word Doomsurfing in their articles. Not long after, doomscrolling hit the Twitter-verse as a word of fashion. I can’t say I’ve heard the word before this particular moment in history. The word defines itself openly — the digital consumption (surfing or scrolling) of doom itself. No, not the wonderful 1993 first-person shooter (who also got a mention in Graggonspeak’s first column) but the Doom with a capital D we’ve all been suffering as of late. Doomscrolling or doomsurfing is when we feed ourselves nothing but the bad.

I have, unfortunately, a good feeling we’ll see this word added to our dictionaries officially in the near future.

If you’re feeling low, if the lockdowns, the news, the lack of leadership at every fundamental level (here in the US) is giving you trouble — consider unplugging. Sure, stay in the loop, continue to be alert, read your news as you need it. But don’t let doomscrolling hurt you. You’re worth more than the world’s sick masturbation of madness and mayhem. The news media, and the social media attempting a coup upon it — both damaging good journalism — are growing fast into things as large and evil as AM from Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”

Times are tough right now, which means some of the most important time you can take is time for yourself. Don’t doomscroll. Stay informed, but don’t hurt yourself — instead, find ways to help and move forward.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s Graggonspeak. I also hope you’ll subscribe and check back in as this article, both in its online and print versions, finds its groove.

You too, can speak the language of dragons! Write to me at or send mail to PO Box 4195, Independence, MO (I LOVE actual letters and often write back)—to chat stories or poetry, share opinions, or ask questions.

—Austin Gragg

Austin Gragg lives in Independence, Missouri and shares his hometown not only with Harry S Truman, but two of his favorite fantasy authors, Jim Butcher and Margaret Weis. Austin is a member of the Horror Writers Association and was a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest. He is also an Associate Editor at Space & Time Magazine — the longest still publishing semi-pro SFF mag. When he isn’t writing, reading, or spending time in his garden, he can be found playing Dungeons & Dragons with his partner, friends, and a pride of small domestic lions. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@austingragg), Facebook (@graggwrites), or visit him online at

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