Gen Con Threatens to Leave Indiana Over Religious Freedom Bill

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Gen Con logo-smallGen Con has threatened to move out of Indiana if Republican Governor Mike Pence signs a controversial anti-gay law into effect.

Gen Con, the largest gaming convention in North America, began in Gary Gygax’s home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in 1967; from 1985 to 2002 it was held in Milwaukee, and in 2003 it moved to its current home in Indianapolis, Indiana. Attendance last year was more than 56,000, making it the largest convention of any kind in the state.

The bill in question, Senate Bill 101 (SB101), has already passed the state legislature and is expected to be signed by Pence soon. It allows business owners to refuse to serve same-sex couples if they have religious objections, in the same manner that white business owners once were legally permitted to refuse to serve black customers in many southern states.

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Saying Goodbye to Those We Never Quite Knew

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

weefreeThe death of Sir Terry Pratchett hit me hard.

It’s a strange thing, to mourn a man you’ve never met in person, but in truth he’s had more impact on my life than many people I’ve spent a lot more time with.

My first encounter with him was in 1995. I went to a small high school called the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and the Humanities (along with fellow Black Gate blogger Andrew Zimmerman Jones), and my group of friends were all obsessed with Sandman. This was the final year of its regular publication, and we had weekly pilgrimages down to the comic shop to see if the latest issue was in. Someone showed up in the lounge one day with a copy of Good Omens and said “The guy who writes Sandman wrote this too! With some other guy.”

Later, when I was a practicing witch (I’ve led an interesting life. Sometimes I wonder what I’ll tell the children.) the coven I was a member of owed more to Terry Pratchett than to, say, Starhawk. Granny Weatherwax was our patron saint, and the kind of magic I learned had more to do with her than any other twentieth century influence.

In short, since I was sixteen, Pratchett has been one of the languages I spoke. In the way of all literate societies, quotes and reference makes up a large portion of our patois. Pratchett was as much a part of our cant as Latin derived terminology, and there is no way on earth you can convince me that scientists won’t eventually find a way to quantify Narrativium.

Of course, he wasn’t the only author or creator to fill that space in my life.

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What Are the Best Star Trek Original Series Episodes for Kids?

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


When I’m not writing for all you fine folks, I’m generally hanging out with my nine-year-old son, a budding engineer and scientist. If you have an intellectually curious child it’s best to feed their head, so we give him a steady diet of Lego Tech sets, electronics kits, and educational shows.

(Thank you, National Geographic, for getting my kid to actually ask to see documentaries on Saturday mornings.)

As we all know, there’s nothing better for a young mind than some good science fiction, so we’ve been watching Original Series Star Trek. The blend of action, humor, science, sociology, and good old silliness is what makes the program a classic. It’s hard to pick which episodes are the most fun for kids, so I gathered a panel of experts (i.e., my Facebook friends) and asked them. It turns out many parents agree on the best episodes.

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Future Treasures: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grace of Kings-smallSaga Press is the brand new fantasy and science fiction imprint of Simon & Schuster. I met Navah Wolfe, the editor for Saga Press, at the World Fantasy convention last November, and she really impressed me with her enthusiasm and knowledge of the field.

Their first book, Ken Liu’s debut novel The Grace of Kings, hits the stands in two weeks, and it looks like a major new heroic fantasy. In his short career Liu has won the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards for his short fiction, and — based on the pre-release buzz — it seems apparent his first novel will make a major splash.

As the Empire Falls, A War Will Consume All in the Name of Justice.

The archipelago of Dara was once divided into seven kingdoms, with shifting alliances and constant battles — a tempest of diverse dialects and cultures. When a relentless king united the seven lands into one empire, some thought it would bring peace, an end to the turmoil. Instead, it brought stagnation and suffering, the anger of the gods, and, finally, a rebellion.

Kuni Garu is a wily bandit who is more concerned with finding his next drink and being well-liked than with the affairs of the empire, until he meets his match: Jia. This free-spirited daughter of a well-regarded family has a prophetic vision about Kuni that transcends his slovenly beginnings: He has greatness within him and may be the key to freeing Dara from a cruel despot. Driven by Jia’s love and touched by the grace of the common people, Kuni sets out on an unlikely path to heroism — and perhaps a daring wager against the gods.

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Two Great Books by Poul Anderson: The High Crusade and The Golden Slave

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

The High Crusade Poul Anderson-smallIf Three Hearts and Three Lions owes something to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, then so does The High Crusade. But The High Crusade inverts Mark Twain’s concept. This book isn’t written by a modern who time traveled to Arthur’s court, but rather is written by a medieval scribe who witnessed Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville and his knights and court invade an alien spaceship and end up using it to conquer a major portion of interstellar Space. The bookends are provided by a space captain of Earth’s future space age, who hardly can believe, by reading the contained epistle, that humans from the Middle Ages have been in space for some time now and even have established a Holy Galactic Empire. Add to this, at the plot’s center, a courtly betrayal through a love triangle much like that of Arthur’s, Guinevere’s and Lancelot’s.

This book is really good. It’s a fast, enjoyable read. It was serialized originally in Astounding magazine as that publication was changing its name to Analog. When the book was published as a novel, it lost out on a 1961 Hugo to Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. I find it interesting that Miller’s work, along with Anderson’s The High Crusade, limned medieval perspectives on futuristic landscapes. Perhaps this was the zeitgeist of the time. I read Baen’s edition of The High Crusade, which begins with a number of appreciations. This edition also contains a coda in the form of a short story called “Quest”, which takes place in the universe of The High Crusade. If the novel is a take on the Arthurian love triangle, then this story is a take on Galahad’s quest for the holy grail.

Also really good is what Wikipedia calls a historical novel and what Zebra, one publisher, calls heroic fantasy, though I certainly see no reason to quibble about terms of genre, and I’m guessing that terms were not so rigid in 1960 (or even in 1980, which is the date of the revised Zebra edition). I am talking about Poul Anderson’s The Golden Slave.

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Gygax Magazine #5 Now Available

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Gygax Magazine 5-smallThe last time I visited a local gaming shop (the excellent Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL), I noticed that the latest issue of Gygax magazine had hit the stands. Apparently it had been out for several weeks… obviously, I need to get to the game store more often.

Well, better late than never. As usual, this issue comes packed with lots of great articles, including Leomund’s Secure Shelter by Lenard Lakofka, Munchkin Tips & Tricks by Andrew Hackard, Bottom of the Pile by Tim Kask, and Zen and the Art of Game Mastery by Michael E. Shea. There’s also a One Page Dungeon by Will Doyle, with commentary by Gygax editor Jayson Elliot.

Every issue of Gygax has a fold-out adventure, and this time it’s Fox Hunt, and adventure for the Godlike RPG by Shane Ivey. Comics this issue include Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams, and Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew.

We last covered Gygax magazine with issue #4, released last summer. It’s officially a quarterly, but realistically TSR produces roughly two issues/year, and this one reportedly shipped last month.

Gygax #5 is edited by Jayson Elliot and published by TSR. It is 68 pages, priced at $8.95 for the print edition, or $4.99 for a watermarked PDF available through DriveThruRPG. Cover art by Walter Velez. A one year subscription (4 issues) is $35. Order copies directly from the website.

New Treasures: Clarkesworld: Year Seven, edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Clarkesworld Year Seven-smallThese annual Clarkesworld anthologies are a tremendous bargain. The individual magazines are $3.99 each, but these volumes collect all the original fiction for a full 12 months in a handsome package for just $16.99.

If you haven’t tried Clarkesworld, you’re missing out on one of the most vibrant and celebrated SF and fantasy magazines on the market. It is a three-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, and in 2013 it received more Hugo nominations for short fiction than all the leading print magazines (Asimov’s, Analog, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) combined. Last November the magazine was awarded a World Fantasy Award.

Clarkesworld Year Seven collects original fiction from many of the most exciting writers on the market, including Genevieve Valentine, Aliette de Bodard, James Patrick Kelly, E. Catherine Tobler, E. Lily Yu, and many others.

The book also serves as a fund-raiser for the magazine, and every purchase helps support one of the finest magazines out there.

This year’s edition contains a whopping 36 stories. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Join Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward in a Swords Against Death Re-Read

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Swords Against Death-smallI’ve been enjoying the re-read of Fritz Leiber’s famous Lankhmar stories over at Howard Andrew Jones’ website. Howard and Bill Ward have taken a break from their entertaining examination of Lord Dunsany, and have turned their keen eye towards one of the most famous sword and sorcery series of all time, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books. They open the series with an overview of the second volume, Swords Against Death, a collection of short stories. Here’s Howard.

Once I got past the short, storyless opening (“The Circle Curse”) I was engrossed. Every short story was approximately the same length, and a few were tangentially connected. It was a little like episodic television.

More importantly, it was exciting, fast-paced, brimming with magic and sword-play and horror and mystery — and beautiful women, a subject that was becoming increasingly interesting to teenaged Howard. I loved Swords Against Death so much that I read it at least six times in the next few years (oh, to have so much spare time and energy).

Swords Against Death was not only one of the first fantasy books I read, it was my introduction to true sword-and-sorcery. These days the line between sword-and-sorcery is a lot more blurred than it was in the mid ’70s. Back then you pretty much had high fantasy, or sword-and-sorcery, and I definitely preferred the latter for the grit and the kind of protagonists, not to mention the pacing.

Swords Against Death was published in July 1970 by Ace Books. It is 251 pages, originally priced at $0.75. The gorgeous cover is by the one-and-only Jeff Jones.

Read the complete overview here, and part one (a look at “The Circle Curse”) here.

Vintage Treasures: Science Fiction: The Great Years edited by Carol & Frederik Pohl

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Science Fiction The Great Years Pohl-small Science Fiction The Great Years Sphere-small

Science Fiction From the Great YearsOne of my favorite pulp reprint anthologies is Science Fiction: The Great Years, edited by Carol & Frederik Pohl and released by Ace Books in 1973 (cover artist unknown), and by Sphere in the UK in 1977 (cover by Peter Jones).

Part of the reason I like it is because it’s part of a series I remember very fondly. The second volume, Science Fiction: The Great Years, Volume II, was released in 1976. It was also part of an Ace imprint, Science Fiction From the Great Years, a line of 17 pulp classics edited and selected by Fred Pohl and published in paperback between 1972 and 1976. All bore the colophon at left. I first discovered pulps in the mid-70s, in Jacques Sadoul’s marvelous art book 2000 A.D: Illustrations From the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps, and finding these paperbacks on the shelves proudly proclaiming their pulp roots at around the same time was an exciting discovery.

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Building Up Fantasy Readers

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

micemysticsIn a recent post, M. Harold Page gave some thoughts for gamer parents which I found very helpful. Particularly that instead of focusing on our old games, we should look to new games as perfectly acceptable entries into tabletop.

I spend a lot of time gaming with my kids, and it’s very easy for me to want to rush them. For example, at my wife’s urging, when my 9-year-old grew enamored with one of my NPCs, I decided to try to bring him into our adult Pathfinder RPG gaming group by letting him take over the character. He was constantly impatient, wanting to jump his turn in the cycle, asking questions constantly. Enthusiastic … but in a way that clearly drove the other players nuts.

However, instead of going full-on RPG, we can play games such as Mice & Mystics (Plaid Hat Games, Amazon) or the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (Paizo, Amazon), games which have a lot of moving parts and tell a story, but are also more structurally well-defined than a traditional tabletop RPG.

It’s very easy for me to want to share with the kids the games that I most want to play, instead of taking a step back to find the ones that are more appropriate for them. I have to meet them halfway.

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