GenCon 2014 – Part 3: Pathfinder, Pathfinder, and More Pathfinder

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderAdvancedClassGuideEvery year, one of the most enjoyable booths to attend at GenCon is the Paizo booth. And I’m certainly not alone in that belief. Last year, the massive rush at Paizo to get copies of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords base set (more on this later) resulted in a line that snaked its away across a massive section of the Exhibit Hall. This year, they had to actually have a line out in the hallway to even be admitted into the booth, to avoid cluttering up the Exhibit Hall itself with all the desperate Pathfinder fans. And there were certainly a lot of great products to inspire a spending frenzy this year.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

The flagship product coming from Paizo Publishing is the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Pathfinder always has a ton of great releases coming out on an extremely aggressive schedule – a range of adventure modules, player companion supplements, campaign setting supplements, and so on – but here are some main hardcover rulebooks slated for the next few months that are of particular interest to anyone who plays Pathfinder.

Advanced Class Guide (Amazon, Paizo)

This new book provides details on 10 new hybrid classes, which are designed to meld together traits from two of the core and base classes from previous supplements. For example, the hunter is a hybrid of the ranger and druid, a martial character who is able to channel animal powers and bond more closely with their animal companion, but still wield spells. The bloodrager mixes the combat features of the barbarian with the mystical bloodlines of the sorcerer. The brawler is a fighter who gains several of the unarmed combat benefits of the monk, but without the spiritual aspects.

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GenCon 2014 – Part 2: Kickstarters of Future and Past

Monday, August 18th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

DungeonDwellersTitleYesterday, I spent some time talking about some new games that are becoming available from smaller game publishers. Several of these had their origins in Kickstarters … and that’s becoming such a common thing that it’s worth devoting a single post just to Kickstarter-based games. This model by which fans can directly support their games that are under development is growing more and more popular among the GenCon crowd. It seems like most of the smaller, independent game companies have been going the Kickstarter route.

We’ll start with the new games and products that have already been successfully funded on Kickstarter:

Dungeon Dwellers - This is a cooperative dungeon crawl-themed card game, which I stumbled upon while trying to get across the Exhibit Hall on Sunday. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t have time to play a demo of the game, despite the fact that it looked like a lot of fun. Fortunately, their website has a number of videos showing how the game is played for those who are interested.

Incredible Expeditions: Quest for Atlantis – This steampunk exploration card game was so new that they didn’t even have copies to sell at GenCon because it was held up by U.S. Customs. (People who have backed games on Kickstarter have no doubt gained an amazing appreciation for how diligent our nation’s Customs officials are … at least when it comes to slowing down delivery of games.) They did, however, have demo copies and a great booth that drew a lot of attention and traffic to make use of those demos. The game can be played either cooperatively or competitively, as well, which I always consider to be a bonus. Again, their website has a great video talking about the game, though, so check it out.

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Vintage Treasures: Sturgeon in Orbit by Theodore Sturgeon

Friday, August 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Sturgeon in Orbit-smallA few weeks ago, I wrote about my surprise in finding a Theodore Sturgeon collection I hadn’t known existed: To Here and the Easel, a handsome Panther Books paperback from 1975 that never had a US edition.

That book re-ignited my interest in Theodore Sturgeon, whom I consider one of the finest short story writers to dabble in SF and fantasy in the 20th Century. And it reminded me that I have by no means exhausted the Sturgeon titles I already have in my collection.

So this week I pulled another one off my shelf — the 1978 paperback edition of Sturgeon in Orbit, which I’ve never read before. It collects a fine sample of Sturgeon’s work from the early 1950s, the era of flying saucers, national paranoia, and a newborn fear of nuclear Armageddon. It features mysterious alien invaders, noble scientists facing terrifying choices, and stranger things.

The unusual cover, by Stanislaw Fernandes, was a departure for Sturgeon, whose books usually featured abstract space scenes. This one features… well, I’m not sure really. A runway model wearing three capes and a swami headdress, who looks like she’s about to level up. I get it.

Whatever the case, it’s a nice, slender volume that promises to be something I haven’t enjoyed in a while – a very quick read. So far, it’s been a lot of fun and I look forward to finishing it this weekend.

Here’s the description from the back of the book.

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My Inspiration: Black Canaan

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 | Posted by Elwin Cotman

Black Canaan-small

He was clad in ragged trousers, but on his head was a band of beaten gold set with a huge red jewel, and on his feet were barbaric sandals. His features reflected titanic vitality no less than his huge body. But he was all Negro — flaring nostrils, thick lips, ebony skin. I knew I looked upon Saul Stark, the conjer man.
– “Black Canaan,” by Robert E. Howard

A poor man, a black man, but still a king. A king with a realm he carved out himself.

In my first story collection, The Jack Daniels Sessions EP, there is a novella about a young boy who sees dead people. Very original, I know. The gist is that he has shamanist powers that have lain dormant in his genes. At one point, he is told a story about a plantation shaman who empowered the slaves with his magic, enabling them to sabotage the farm. There is also a legend about runaways joining up with Indians in the swamp, my own riff on the Black Seminoles. The boy’s exposure to his African roots is an uncomfortable one for him, sometimes physically so, as it is a part of his lineage he had no awareness of.

The episodes of slave revolt are based on history. It was also history I had to seek out myself. The teaching of black history in schools is such an insidious con job, it angers me to write about it. Fifty years ago, there were downtrodden blacks, then good white people passed laws and they could sit at a lunch counter. One hundred and forty-six years ago, there were slaves, then good white people passed a law and they were free. (Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot that slavery ended 500 years ago, or 600, or whatever it is now.)

The most we learned about slavery in elementary school was the cakewalk, and that as a form of cornpone entertainment, not the satire on whites that it was. American history classes largely leave out the stories of blacks’ role in their own liberation. They also leave out any information on Africa, continuing the stereotype of the continent as a savage place, not the fertile land of kingdoms it was prior to colonization.

Ironically, one of my earliest introductions to black liberation was a story by someone decried as a racist, Robert E. Howard’s “Black Canaan.”

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Future Treasures: The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Midnight Queen-smallIn these post Harry Potter days, it takes a certain authorial courage to set a fantasy novel in a wizarding school. Sylvia Izzo Hunter has done exactly that with her first novel The Midnight Queen, the opening book in the Noctis Magicae series, released next month. I’m intrigued by the book blurb, which hints at an older target audience than Rowling’s series, as well as a hint of romance.

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented — and highest born — sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover…

Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace — and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

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My Fantasia Festival Wrap-up

Friday, August 8th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Fantasia 2014As I write this, I’m preparing for a vacation in the country. It’s an odd thing, in that the past three weeks have been a kind of vacation in themselves, as thanks to John O’Neill here at Black Gate and to the Fantasia staff, I was able to cover this year’s edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival. Still, watching (by my count) thirty-nine movies and writing about all of them was quite a project. Fun, though. I thought I’d take a quick post to wrap up my coverage by talking about what I’ve learned from the experience.

First, an observation: the other day, Montreal’s venerable Festival des Films du Monde put up a press release on their site which, so far as I can see, states that they’ll be showing 160 features and about 190 shorts in this year’s edition of their festival. The Fantasia festival that I’ve been covering also had 160 features this year, along with 300 shorts. Fantasia, established 1996, is at least for this year larger than the Festival des Films du Monde, making it the largest film festival in Montreal. I have no idea how the audience figures break down between the two festivals, but I know people at Fantasia were pleased to announce that they’d had an attendance of over 128,000 by Tuesday. All of which is just to say that this festival is vigorous and growing, a testament to the strength of genre filmmaking around the world.

And another observation: about a dozen years ago, I taught a college-level film course. I already knew a certain amount about film, but I educated myself a fair bit more, learning about film history and technique. Now, like I said, that was a dozen years ago. And I haven’t made an especial effort to keep up. But here’s the thing about film: it’s a young medium and changes fast. I spend a lot of my time, here and elsewhere, engaged with literature — which, in the West, has over 3000 years behind it. Film has about 120. Which is to say that when I say I studied film a dozen years ago, that’s a tenth of the total time that the medium’s been around. And I suspect there’s a disproportion in the amount of activity in the medium during that dozen years: digital cameras have made filmmaking easier, and more countries have developed film industries of their own. In a way, these past weeks at Fantasia have re-educated me about film, bringing me face-to-face with the reality of where cinema is now.

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The Series Series: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

sword-of-the-bright-lady-mc-planck-smallIf you liked Eric Flint’s 1634 books, if you liked The Chronicles of Narnia, if you liked… Well let’s just start with those two, because Sword of the Bright Lady deals in surprising juxtapositions of familiar tropes.

At times I wondered whether it dealt in anything deeper. I’ve concluded that it does. This is a fun book and it feels like it was fun to write. The author’s acknowledgments note that it took three months to write and ten years to revise. Am I churlish to wish the revision had gone one step further?

What works here works beautifully. Less than a day after I finished reading, I had to go back and prove to myself that the narration was in the third person, because I remembered Christopher’s adventures with first-person clarity, as if they had happened to me.

Christopher went out to walk his dogs one Arizona night and woke up in the snowy hinterlands of another world. His rescuers, an earthy old churchman and his orphaned servant girl, nurse him back to health, though they have no common language with him. When he’s well enough to pick up some of the household work, he tries practicing kata from his martial arts practice back home. Before he knows it, he’s challenged to a duel by a local nobleman, blessed by a language spell that allows him to understand exactly how much danger he’s in, and claimed by the local war god.

At first, Christopher insists that he’s an everyman, not famous back home nor expected to be famous by anyone who knew him there. But as he begins to see how he can help the people who have saved him, he accepts the identity the villagers thrust on him: “Crazy Pater Christopher, who never means what everyone else means.” He sets about industrializing his feudal neighbors — who all have lively personalities and complex lives — preparing them for the spring’s military campaign, because the war god Marcius has promised to return Christopher home to his beloved wife… um… what was her name again?

And that brings us to a sticking point I have to talk about. It’s not that M.C. Planck has done anything uncommonly wrong here, but rather that he’s fallen into a classic blunder that I see committed all over the place, but that nobody seems to talk about.

Let’s call it the Precious Ming Vase Problem.

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New Pulp Delivers its own Occult Anti-Hero in Magee

Friday, August 1st, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

22ca6069f22a20114e9bdbb1f223deb7f3ce43c715119I’ll come right out and admit I have mixed feelings about ebooks. I travel considerably for my day job and don’t mind having portable versions of books I own for quick reference, but the idea of owning books that cannot be found in print editions on my shelves at home irks me. That said, I recognize the market for digital-only titles is steadily growing, particularly among small press publishers. This, of course, is having its impact on the “New Pulp” community. Witness Pro Se Press’s decision earlier this year to discontinue their pulp magazine, Pro Se Presents and replace it with their Single Shot Signatures line of short stories available exclusively as ebooks.

My first sampling of the above is the newly published Magee, Volume One – “Knight from Hell” by David White. At first glance, I was struck by the apparent illustration of publisher Tommy Hancock on the cover, but on second glance I determined it was actually author David White wearing one of Tommy’s trademark hats. Of course, I was wrong on both counts since the illustration actually depicts the anti-hero of the piece, Magee.

Magee, it transpires, is actually the fallen angel Malachi who was exiled from Heaven after a fight over a woman with the archangel Michael. We’ll pause right here and note that David White is not a theologian and plays fast and loose with Christian tradition on such celestial matters. Following that disclaimer, we’ll make mention of the fact that Michael likewise banished the archangel Lucifer from Heaven following a similar fight. It seems that God is an absentee deity in these proceedings as He has abandoned Heaven to putter around in the Garden of Eden for several thousand years now.

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My Fantasia Festival, Day Four: Jellyfish Eyes, In the Land of the Head Hunters, and The Reconstruction of William Zero

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Jellyfish EyesLast Sunday, June 20, I saw four movies. I’ve already written about one of them, Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, which deserved its own post. But that’s not to say that all the other films I saw that day were poor. It was in fact an odd mix; out of the three other films I saw, I’m quite glad to have seen two of them, while the third at least had points of interest.

Things began with Takashi Murakami’s children’s fantasy Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no Kuragi in the original Japanese), which was followed by The Zero Theorem, both at the Hall Theatre. Then I went across the street to the De Sève to watch an utterly fascinating silent film from 1914, Edward Curtis’s In the Land of the Head Hunters, which mixed an early attempt at anthropological documentary into a fantasy adventure. My day concluded with Dan Bush’s intelligent low-budget sf film The Reconstruction of William Zero. Put them all together, and it made for a memorable cinematic experience.

That said, Jellyfish Eyes was something of a disappointment. Murakami’s an internationally-renowned artist, known in particular for creating or identifying the ‘superflat’ style of art — the word’s meant to refer not only to Murakami’s own style, but to the Japanese artistic tradition in general. Which emphatically includes popular art. Anime and manga artists have been exhibited in ‘superflat’ gallery shows, and Murakami’s own art has been said to be inspired by anime. The impression I get from what I’ve read is that it’s almost a take on the idea of pop art, combining Japanese popular culture with certain aspects of graphic design as a way of critiquing consumerism. So, all in all, it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that Murakami’s first film was an anime-inflected mash-up of Pokémon, kaiju, even a bit of Spielberg; nor surprising that its potential is largely nullified by a bluntness of approach.

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Why Must Han Solo Die?

Monday, July 28th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

han soloLast week, I made the prediction that Han Solo will die in the new Star Wars film. I have no evidence; it’s just a theory based on a confluence of random speculations and gut instinct. Here I’ll lay out, in no particular order, some of the thoughts that led me to posit this guess.

My premise begins with the knowledge that Han apparently plays a fairly major role in the plot, given that Harrison Ford’s recent injury shut down the entire production schedule for two weeks (an indication that his is much more than just a “cameo,” which easily could have been filmed around, with some scenes rescheduled for later in the shoot).

Observation #1

Some critics decried the rescue of Han from Jabba in the first act of Return of the Jedi as a cop-out, contending that his death would have provided a dramatic catalyst for the other characters. Of course, Lucas wasn’t going to go there (he’s George Lucas, not Joss Whedon); even Han’s blindness following his release from carbonite was temporary. Such characters in traditional heroes’ tales often suffer a permanent physical loss, such as blindness, that is compensated for by new wisdom or insight. Han’s blindness wore off pretty fast, and by the end of the movie he was back to being good ol’ Han Solo, the wise-cracking pirate with a heart of gold. So maybe J.J. Abrams and company will want to make a big end for the character this time out.

Observation #2

For all we know, Harrison Ford — who just turned 72 this month — stipulated that while he’d gladly reprise the role that made him famous, it would be just this once, and that he didn’t want to be running around playing a space pirate at 75. Even if he made no such stipulation, the age of the actor is a big factor. Which leads me to…

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