After Forty Years: The War of the Worlds Revisited

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Tripod-smallIt’s that time of year, friends, the time when we look back in sorrow on the New Year’s resolutions that drooped and faded before the first bloom of spring, and when we start to formulate the resolutions that we know we’re really going to keep this time, dammit. I generally don’t make new year’s resolutions myself, for the reasons implied above, but last year I did — I decided that 2014 would be the year of rereading.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that even as I’m reading more than ever, I almost never do any re-reading. There are just so many books, both enticing new ones and old ones that I’ve always meant to get around to and never have (you know, all those great books, old and new, that you find out about whenever you visit a certain website which shall remain nameless).

When I finish one book and reach for another, the pressure exerted by both the never-ceasing pile up of the present and the still-unexplored past seems to weigh overwhelmingly in favor of the as yet unread. Rereading falls by the wayside.

This is in sharp contrast to my adolescent days, when I would regularly reread my favorite books, some of them many times. (I’ve probably read Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Gods of Mars eight or ten times each, for instance.)

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The German Indiana Jones: Out of the Rat Trap: Desert Adventures with Rommel by Max Reisch

Friday, December 19th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

Out of the Rat Trap

What should we see in the middle of the desert but a bedside cabinet! Yes, really…no human brain could be capable of inventing something so idiotic

Why, you ask, am I reviewing a book by a former Africa Korps officer?

Partly, this:

What should we see in the middle of the desert but a bedside cabinet! Yes, really… the picture is pointless because all it shows is a single piece of furniture. There’s nothing to prove that it is standing in the middle of the Libyan desert. But you can take my word for it… because no human brain could be capable of inventing something so idiotic.

Reisch, Max. Out of the Rat Trap: Desert Adventures with Rommel.

But also because it reads like something Edgar Rice Burroughs might have written.

In a classic ERBish foreword, Reisch describes how he wrote the manuscript high in the Italian mountains. The Nazis were in retreat, and this seemed like a good place to wait out the mayhem and surrender on his own terms. To pass the time, he purchased writing materials from a local farmer and recounted his escape from another military disaster — the collapse of the Africa Korps.

As we read, we discover that he’s the German motorised Indiana Jones, with pre-war capers including biking from Vienna to Bombay.

Come World War II he found himself in the desert  helping run transport for Rommel’s army. This meant scavenging abandoned British equipment picked up during long missions into the desert flank.

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Sing, Muse: Ody-C Provides a Hundred New Twists on an Ancient Tale

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

ODY-C-1-CoverI love Classical literature. I have since the third grade, when I first picked up a copy of D’Aulaire’s Greek Mythology. That love drove my choices in schooling until fairly recently, and there was no work I enjoyed more than Homer’s Odyssey.

You may have noticed.

I also love comic books. I’m much more of a dabbler on that front, but I’m always looking for a new book to follow.

So when I heard that Image Comics was putting out Ody-C, a gender-bent Sci-Fi version of the Odyssey, I was excited. Actually, I think I squealed, screamed on Facebook, and immediately made plans to blog about the title here. This past weekend, I finally sat down and read through the premier issue.

And I still don’t know what I think. So while I will tag this a review, call it more a series of impressions and a place for discussion, while I wait for the next issue (which will be available December 24th).

Now, when I say I don’t know what I think, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. I think I do. In fact, I think I’m going to love it. But Ody-C is so deeply, intensely strange that it is taking me a long time to wrap my brain around it. Matt Fraction and Christian Ward have come up with a work that is thoroughly alien, shocking, and surreal.

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November Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Whelp, it’s well into December and I’m only getting to the November roundup now. My apologies, and here goes.

oie_146527XTeMGO0FLast month, I promised I’d let you know about Fantasy Scroll #3. Despite its name and its side-of-a-van-worthy covers, the magazine continues to be mostly science fiction or non-heroic fantasy. When you buy something with a cover like the one to the left of this paragraph (<—), and you don’t get a lot of swordplay, demons, and wizards, you might feel like you bought a pig in a poke. Maybe they’ve got plans to mix things up a little more in the future. There are two S&S out of thirteen stories in Issue #3, but I’m definitely hoping for more per issue in the future.

That said, the magazine managed to get a Piers Anthony story, “Descant.” It’s a love story set to music about an intelligent king and princess. There are some awkward sentences and overall I found it a little boring. But it doesn’t have any puns, so it’s got that going for it.

James Beamon’s very funny “Orc Legal” is about the prison and courtroom travails of an orc named Anglewood. He’s been jailed pretty much for being an ex-evil henchman. He takes on the defense of a centaur charged with lewd behavior in order to finish the community service part of his sentence. No Atticus Finch, he uses any tool, from obfuscation to outright threats, to win his client’s acquittal. Beamon has a lot of fun with all the orc stereotypes, and gets a few well-deserved digs at snooty elves as well. I like a funny story that’s actually funny, and this one definitely is.

The First First Fire” by Alexander Monteagudo is a very short story. Ralo, the first man ever appointed First Fire — essentially the tribal wizard –is normally a peaceful man. But a caravan from his home, the village of Pempansie, has been attacked by slavers. While warriors defeated the slavers, everyone knows they’ll be back. This brief tale describes how the young magic user decides what to do in the face of the threat to his family and friends. There’s not much here, but I enjoyed it and would be happy enough to see more of the character.

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The Series Series: Clariel by Garth Nix

Thursday, December 11th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Clariel Garth Nix-smallClariel is a surprise, not quite like anything we’ve seen from the Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series. For a longtime fan of the Old Kingdom, Clariel stands alone well — its plot arc is complete and satisfying in one volume — but for a newcomer to the Old Kingdom, it’s still best to start at the beginning. Fortunately for any of you who are newcomers, the beginning is awesome and absolutely worth backtracking for.

Like its predecessors, Clariel offers exceptionally disturbing monsters, the tragic undead, gorgeous worldbuilding, and coming-of-age anxiety that uses its powers for good. Well, in Clariel, the good is more complicated than ever before, because the title character has no talent for the Charter Magic that could connect her to the natural laws and relationships that make her world possible. Clariel’s knack is for Free Magic. While the Free part sounds good at first, Free Magic tends to corrode all relationships based on compassion, protection, and kinship, instead dragging its human practitioners into the thrall of monstrous beings older than the world. How can a girl with such a knack come into her power without destroying everything she holds dear?

Garth Nix’s novels of the Old Kingdom are among my favorite YA books. The first volume, Sabriel, is a consistent favorite of my students, too. A family of benevolent necromancers keep the dead down in a nation that barely holds together against a deviously masterminded invasion from the afterworld. Sabriel comes of age as she struggles to save what’s left of a basically failed state. The title character in Lirael discovers her connection with the Abhorsen family a generation later, when the Old Kingdom’s fragile new peace is threatened by an even more ancient foe, and in Abhorsen the whole family gathers for some very deep magic that opens new questions about the underpinnings of their whole world.

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A Preliminary Look at Dragon Age: Inquisition

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

daI-coverIf you or anyone you know are into video gaming at all, you’ve been hearing a lot about Dragon Age: Inquisition lately (Official Bioware trailer here). Bioware’s latest installment in the Dragon Age series was released November 18th, and some of us have vanished down the rabbit hole after it. Well, more than a few of us: it premiered to strong sales and consistently solid reviews across the board. And having played it, it’s not hard to see why.

A little background first. When I was ten, my brother got a Nintendo. Dating myself, aren’t I? The original grey brick. My brother loved that thing. And I loved watching him play. But when I sat down to play Super Mario Bros., I couldn’t get past the first few levels. I tried for a while, then gave up in absolute frustration. I was convinced I was terrible at video games.

Then Final Fantasy VII came out. By then, I was in college and lived with three other friends. My then-fiance brought home a Playstation and we all took turns playing obsessively. I discovered that I COULD play. In fact, I was pretty good at it. I just had to find the right kind of game.

Flash forward another :cough: years, and Dragon Age: Origins. My eldest daughter was a newborn nurseling, and I played through four times. So it was with great excitement (and many warnings to my husband about his upcoming increase in child-related duties) that I anticipated November 18th, 2014.

And I have not been disappointed.

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A Red & Pleasant Land

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

araplWhen I started school in the mid-1970s, our teachers used the New Macmillan Reading Program. The books in that program, in addition to featuring original stories, also included excerpts from world literature. I credit those readers with instilling in me a lifelong love of reading; to this day, I still remember many of the stories I read within their pages. In the seventh grade – this would have been 1981 or ’82 – one reader included a lengthy excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

The excerpt in question dealt with Alice’s encounter with Humpty Dumpty, in which the anthropomorphic egg boasts that  ”When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” He illustrated his point by quoting from the nonsense poem Jabberwocky. I can’t begin to tell you how profoundly I was impressed with and affected by this excerpt. Humpty Dumpty’s perspective was (and is) abhorrent to me and, along with Alice, I found myself feeling anger at his articulation of it. Despite that, I eventually memorized the whole of Jabberwocky (which I can still recite to this day) and headed to the library to read the whole book, as well as its predecessor, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I should clarify that, before this point, I was, of course, already broadly familiar with Wonderland and its denizens. Some of that familiarity was achieved via “cultural osmosis” – the same way I “knew” about, say, Davy Crockett or the Headless Horseman. These were things “everyone” knew about, regardless of whether or not they’d ever actually read a book (or even seen a TV show or movie) on the subject. And, as it happened, I had seen Disney’s 1951 film adaptation, inadequate though it was.

Seventh grade also coincided with the high water mark of the early years of my involvement in the roleplaying hobby. By that point, I’d been playing Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs for a couple of years. My friends and I considered ourselves “veterans” and prided ourselves on how many different games we’d tried. I was also deep into the idolization of Gary Gygax. I hung on the man’s every word in the pages of Dragon magazine (though, to my credit, I never got around to building a literal shrine to him in my basement). It was probably through one of Gary’s articles that I first encountered the idea of combining D&D and Wonderland, an idea that initially struck me as bizarre, but that slowly grew on me as my love for both Carroll and RPGs did. Besides, I reasoned, if such a pairing was good enough for Gygax’s fabled Greyhawk campaign, who was I to think otherwise?

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Thongor of Lemuria – Part One by Lin Carter

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

BerkleyX1777If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria novels were a deliberate exercise in camp. The first two novels in the seven book series, Thongor And The Wizard of Lemuria (1965) and Thongor And The Dragon City (1966), are so frenetic and exaggerated there are times it’s difficult to believe they were intended to be taken seriously. I struggle to believe that Carter hadn’t meant for me to laugh when I read that Thongor distrusted magic because of his “clean healthy, Northlander blood.”

But I do know better. Much has been written (some of it by me) about Lin Carter’s love for heroic fantasy and his efforts to emulate his favorite writers in his own books. The Thongor stories read like he took Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, smooshed them together with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter novels, then cranked everything up to eleven. But, and this is true of his Lovecraft Mythos fiction too, he mimics the style of his literary heroes without ever conveying the substance that gives power to their work to this day.

To give Lin Carter his due, Wizard of Lemuria is his first published novel and Dragon City his third in only two years. In those ancient times, there was little new swords & sorcery of the mighty barbarian type being written. Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber were tweaking (and tweaking the nose of) the genre and Karl Edward Wagner and Charles Saunders were still kids. The big boom was right around the corner, but it hadn’t happened yet. He took the chance and stepped up to create the sort of stories he wanted to see and that’s something I will always respect.

One of the earliest reviews at my site, Swords & Sorcery: A Blog, was of Thongor And The Wizard of Lemuria (so, yes, for those of you who’ve read it, I have indeed read it a second time). It was harsh and a little intemperate. I’ve since decided that reviews of that sort don’t serve any real purpose. I also don’t want to pick on someone who can’t fight back. I want my reviews to promote the good books and understand why the weak ones fail and encourage better writing.

Like August Derleth and Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter’s too readily bad-mouthed these days (except when the stupendously important Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series is mentioned). I don’t think his fiction is read that much anymore and I feel I owe him at least the courtesy of that. So I’m going to plow through the series and report back to you, Black Gate‘s faithful readers.

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Self-published Book Review: The Rude Adventures of Trenchfoot by Reuben Dendinger

Sunday, December 7th, 2014 | Posted by Donald Crankshaw

If you have a book you’d like me to review, please see the submission guidelines here. I’ve run short on books that I’ve received in the past year, so anything new has a good chance of being reviewed. I won’t be posting a review in January, since I’ll be spending time with my family over Christmas, and not at all because I’ll be too busy playing Dragon Age: Inquisition.

TRENCHFOOTFrontCover-1I’ve been doing these reviews for the past two years, and this is the first time I’ve had a paperback to review. It’s been a while since I’ve read a paperback of any sort. I’ve grown used to e-books, so it was something of a novelty to read an actual physical copy of The Rude Adventures of Trenchfoot by Reuben Dendinger.

The Rude Adventures of Trenchfoot is described by its author as quasi-satire. That may be underselling the satire somewhat. Whether it’s the horse that chews its way through miles of dirt, the three young men that overload a virility draining machine through the sheer power of their manliness, or the magical fusion of two half-dead people into one fully living and one fully dead person, this is not a book that takes itself too seriously. I may have classed it more as parody than satire, a mocking take on gritty sword and sorcery, with perhaps a bit more grit than you really want.

The hero, Trenchfoot, was born full-grown from the union of the night and the earth, with a destiny to travel from the south pole of his birthplace to the equator and decide the nature of the Cosmic Night. The Cosmic Day of the past 500,000 years is coming to an end, and order must give way to chaos, but whether that will be the (relatively) benign chaos of lunacy or the hellish chaos of nihilism has yet to be decided. That is Trenchfoot’s role.

He is joined on his adventures by his male lover the swordsman Cass, his female lover Hyppa, and the scholar and astronomer Thexeded, who foresees the impending collapse of order and civilization and is all for it. Also joining him is the dirt-eating and wine-drinking horse, Oar, born like Trenchfoot from the night and the earth—who’ve apparently had a lot of children, among them inanimate objects, prophecies, and animals, but no humans before Trenchfoot.

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Art of the Genre: Playing D&D 5E and an In-Depth Look at the new DMG

Sunday, December 7th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

The new 5E artwork reflects Chris Nolan's Dark Knight, which upon reflection might not be such a great thing.

The new 5E artwork reflects Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight, which upon reflection might not be such a great thing.

I’ve spoken a bit in the past about both the 5E Player’s Handbook, as well as the Monster Manual, but today I’d like to take a more in-depth look at the system and the new Dungeon Master’s Guide that will be released this week (the 9th) from Wizards of the Coast.

Unlike my fearless editor John O’Neill, I’m actually going to give you a look at the product beyond reading the jacked cover. [Sorry John, but I couldn’t resist.]

So, let’s get started. My initial impression of D&D 5E was that I wouldn’t be interested in learning a new system as I hadn’t even attempted to pick up D&D 4E. However, after reading the Player’s Handbook, I was intrigued, as were my gaming friends, who had recently returned to playing traditional Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 2011 after a two year romance with Pathfinder.

Their interest, as well as a thorough read of the PHB, had me wanting to see how the system played on a table. Luckily, in early November, I got the chance to go back to my home town for a weekend in which an extended 5E session was planned.

Delving into the mechanics once more, I designed two characters, both from my Fleetwood family tree, and had the opportunity to lay hands on the system in a way a simple read won’t allow. Character creation, as any gamer knows, is paramount in getting your feet wet, and so once I had characters in hand I was even more excited to see how my abilities would interact with dice, once play began.

As per our usual dynamic, the DM duties were shared by both myself, running the social aspect of the campaign, and my old DM Mark, who ran the traditional dungeon delve side of a new campaign entitled ‘The Runelands of Daro’, set in my Nameless Realms.

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