Origins Game Fair: Origins Awards

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

256 Starfinder CoreLast week and weekend, gamers descended upon the city of Columbus, OH, for Origins Game Fair. Running from June 13 to 17 – Wednesday through Sunday – the event is five solid days focused on playing some of the best games out there. And this year was my first time attending.

I have pretty extensive experience with smaller literary conventions, and I’ve gone to GenCon every year for about a decade at this point, so Origins felt pretty familiar to me. It filled the Columbus Convention Center, but had a smaller and less commercial feel than GenCon, on some level. There is more emphasis on playing games than on big marketing pushes, new releases, or even really game sales. The exhibit hall is a fraction the size of that at GenCon, and many major publishers don’t even have a sales presence at the convention.

My son turned 13 on Friday and the trip to Origins was part of his birthday present. Turns out that he wanted to spend all day on Saturday playing through three Starfinder sessions … which I suppose explains why the game won the Fan Favorite Best Roleplaying Game category in the Origins Awards. Read More »


Future Treasures: Gate Crashers by Patrick S Tomlinson

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Gate Crashers Patrick S Tomlinson-smallPatrick S. Tomlinson’s debut novel was The Ark, a murder mystery set on a generation ship just before it arrived at its destination. Publishers Weekly called it “Impressive,” saying “Tomlinson’s pacing is beyond reproach, as he deftly crafts an ever more elaborate web of intrigue within the self-contained setting.” The Ark was published by Angry Robot, and it became the opening book in the Children of a Dead Earth trilogy, which wrapped up last year.

Tomlinson’s newest book arrives next week, and it looks like a standalone novel — an easier bite to chew if your reading time is as precious as mine this month. Joel Cunningham at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog says “Gate Crashers is a story of space exploration and humanity’s first contact with aliens, plus a healthy dose of irreverent humor.”

The only thing as infinite and expansive as the universe is humanity’s unquestionable ability to make bad decisions.

Humankind ventures further into the galaxy than ever before… and immediately causes an intergalactic incident. In their infinite wisdom, the crew of the exploration vessel Magellan, or as she prefers “Maggie,” decides to bring the alien structure they just found back to Earth. The only problem? The aliens are awfully fond of that structure.

A planet full of bumbling, highly evolved primates has just put itself on a collision course with a far wider, and more hostile, galaxy that is stranger than anyone can possibly imagine.

Gate Crashers will be published by Tor Books on June 26, 2018. It is 416 pages, priced at $18.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover art is uncredited. Read Chapter One here.

See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF & fantasy here.


On to Khatovar: Shadow Games by Glen Cook

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_193232fSIKM2J0If the previous book, The Silver Spike, told of endings, Shadow Games (1989) is about beginnings.

Picking up at the end of The White Rose (and taking place at the same time as The Silver Spike), Croaker, newly elected captain of the Black Company, decided he and any remaining members would return to Khatovar. With only six soldiers and Lady, it’s the only thing Croaker can think of doing: return the Company to its home. Unfortunately, neither Croaker nor anybody else knows precisely where Khatovar is (other than two continents away to the south) nor what it is. The Company’s annals describe it as one of the Free Companies of Khatovar, but the volumes from the first of the Company’s four centuries of existence were lost somewhere along the way. Trouble magnet that it is, and with a lost history brimming with evil deeds, the Black Company is certain to have a difficult path to Khatovar.

Shadow Games is the fifth of The Black Company books I’ve revisited, and so far my favorite. I suspect some will cry “Heretic!” So be it. Again be warned, there be spoilers below.

Even more than in the earlier books, Croaker is the lead character. As Captain, it’s he who is now responsible for the Company’s actions. Before, he was only an observer of the goings on of great men and women, now he is one of them. Cook presents him as the same snarky romantic from the previous volumes, but now he’s constrained by his position as the face and brains of the Company. The reader also gets to see the various levels of military preparation, only alluded to before, that go on in the Black Company.

As given to introspection as he’s always been, several of Croaker’s ruminations are deeper, and underline his separation from the world beyond the Company.

I ordered a day of rest at the vast caravan camp outside the city wall, along the westward road, while I went into town and indulged myself, walking streets I had run as a kid. Like Otto said about Rebosa, the same and yet dramatically changed. The difference, of course, was inside me.

I stalked through the old neighborhood, past the old tenement. I saw no one I knew — unless a woman glimpsed briefly, who looked like my grandmother, was my sister. I did not confront her, nor ask. To those people I am dead.

A return as imperial legate would not change that.

Something Croaker has mentioned several times over the series is that the Company is constantly changing. At one point in past centuries, the men of the Black Company were actually all black. By the time of the original trilogy, the only such member is One-Eye. As Croaker and friends go south, they slowly enroll new members. The greatest find are the Nar in the city of Gea-Xle. They are the descendants of members of the original Company who put the city’s reigning dynasty in power and stayed on as a hereditary caste of warriors. Croaker describes their leader, Mogaba, as the “the best pure soldier” he ever met. Gradually, Croaker builds on his pitiful remnant and something resembling a real fighting force, able to at least protect itself from the dangers of the road, is reborn.

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Birthday Reviews: Robert Moore Williams’s “Quest on Io”

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Albert Drake

Cover by Albert Drake

Robert Moore Williams was born on June 19, 1907 and died on May 12, 1977. He published under his own name as well as the pseudonyms Robert Moore, John S. Browning, H.H. Harmon, Russel Storm, and the house name E.K. Jarvis. He may have been best known for his Jongor series.

Moore’s story “Quest on Io” appeared in the Fall 1940 issue of Planet Stories, edited by Malcolm Reiss. The story was never picked up for publication elsewhere, but in 2011, that issue of Planet Stories was reprinted as a trade paperback anthology.

Despite the title of Williams’s “Quest on Io,” there isn’t really a quest. Andy Horn is a navigator who is spending some downtime while his spaceship is being repaired prospecting on Io with his talking Ganymedian honey bear companion, Oscar. The two come under attack from another prospector who believes they are claimjumpers and when Andy confronts the other prospector, he discovers it is a woman, Frieda Dahlem. While the two of them quickly straighten out their differences, it becomes apparent that there are three claimjumpers who are out to kill both of them (plus Oscar) in order to keep their activities secret.

The story is essentially a western, although the action has been moved to Io. It feels written for an audience of young boys who know women exist, but think there are gross, only around to get in the way. Andy’s relationship with Frieda is very basic. Frieda appears to be a competent woman until a man is around, whether Andy, who becomes her hero, or the three claimjumpers, who turn her into a puddle of incompetence. Oscar seems to exist in the story purely for comic relief, although the humor misfires repeatedly.

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Bloody Court Intrigue: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Ash-Princess-smallTheodosia just wants to survive.

Ten years ago, the Kaiser’s forces invaded and slit her mother the Queen’s throat. Theo’s been the Kaiser’s prisoner ever since. She tries to forget she was once heir to the throne, rather than a princess of nothing but ashes. She tries to forget the magical powers the old gods used to give humans, now that their temples lie in ruins. She tries to forget that her best friend’s father was the one who murdered her mother.

Whatever it takes to survive, Theo does. As long as she doesn’t look at her countrypeople, she won’t have to see their suffering. As long as she censors her speech, her three Shadows won’t guess what she really thinks. As long as she does whatever the Kaiser wants, he’ll keep her alive. Someday, one of the rebels will save her.

But ten years of playing it safe, of hiding and assimilating, come to an abrupt end in the opening chapter of Ash Princess.

It all starts when the Kaiser sends for her. The only time he ever does that is when he’s going to punish her. It doesn’t matter that Theo hasn’t misbehaved. The Kaiser whips her in public whenever he catches a rebel.

This time, he’s caught the head of all the rebels, the one she always dreamed would lead her rescue – her father.

And this time, the Kaiser commands Theo to kill her father in order to prove her loyalty.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – January, 1935

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BlackMask_January1935

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw was still at the helm of Black Mask in January of 1935, when Raymond Chandler’s “Killer in the Rain” scored the cover. But this issue also included stories by Frederick Nebel, Erle Stanley Gardner, George Harmon Coxe and Roger Torrey. All that for fifteen cents!

“Killer in the Rain” featured Carmady. I’m in the camp that feels all of Chandler’s PIs: Carmady, Ted Carmady, Ted Malvern and John Dalmas were all essentially Philip Marlowe with slight differences. Carmady appeared in six stories – all in Black Mask.

The story was heavily cannibalized for Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. Carmen Dravec became Carmen Sternwood, played memorably by Martha Vickers in the HumphreyBogart film. Two other Carmady stories, “The Curtain” and “Finger Man,” were also used. I think that “Killer in the Rain” is a strong story on its own and is definitely worth reading. I’m tinkering with ideas for a separate post on this story.

Frederick Nebel, whose Tough Dick Donahue (subject of an earlier post in the series) would replace The Continental Op when Dashiell Hammett left the pulps, provided Black Mask readers with the twenty-eighth adventure featuring Captain Steve MacBride of the Richmond City Police and newsman Kennedy of the Free Press. MacBride is a tough, by-the-book cop, while Kennedy is a hard-drinking smart aleck reporter. However, both are committed to justice and cleaning up corrupt Richmond City.

Except for one story (“Hell on Wheels” – Dime Detective), the entire series appeared in Black Mask. The collection has been reprinted in a three-volume series from Altus Press.

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Birthday Reviews: Vivian Vande Velde’s “The Granddaughter”

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Bran Weinman

Cover by Brad Weinman

Vivian Vande Velde was born on June 18, 1951.

Her novel Never Trust a Dead Man received the Edgar Award for Best YA Novel in 2000 and Heir Apparent was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s literature in 2003.

Vande Velde initially published “The Granddaughter” in her 1995 collection Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird. The story was selected by Terri Windling for inclusion in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Ninth Annual Collection, edited with Ellen Datlow. Asdide from those appearances, the story has not been reprinted.

Retellings of fairy tales have a long established role, in fact the earliest version of fairy tales are often just the first version of a retelling of an oral tradition. Vivian Vande Velde has targeted the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” which dates back at least as far as the tenth century and has been retold by both Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. In “The Granddaughter,” Vande Velde’s focus is on the wolf, who can speak and is good friends with the title character’s grandmother.

Little Red Riding Hood, who is also known as Lucinda in this version, although she prefers the nickname, is an aspiring actress, almost completely self-centered, and horrified that her grandmother would be friends with a wolf, even one who can speak. The wolf, for his part, is equally horrified at Lucinda’s attitudes and inability to allow anyone else speak during a “conversation.” Not, at first understanding the grandmother’s reluctance to have Lucinda visit, the wolf quickly comes around to her point of view and works to rescue the woman from her granddaughter’s visit.

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Steampunk Critical Mass: The Signal Airship Novels by Robyn Bennis

Sunday, June 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Guns Above-small By Fire Above-small

Last year Tor published The Guns Above, the first installment in Robyn Bennis’ Signal Airship military fantasy series, and Ann Aguirre called it “Marvelous, witty and action-packed steampunk… she honest to God made me believe you could build an airship from spare parts.” I’ve gotten pretty jaded towards author blurbs over the years, but I gotta admit that one piqued my interest.

It was hardly the only good press the book received. Liz Bourke at Tor.com labeled it “immensely entertaining, fast-paced adventure,” and Patricia Briggs said it was “full of sass and terrific characters.” That all sounded pretty compelling, but I’m a guy who likes to have a couple of installments at hand before I dive into a new adventure series. So I was pleased to see By Fire Above arrive right on time last month. Here’s the description.

“All’s fair in love and war,” according to airship captain Josette Dupre, until her hometown of Durum becomes occupied by the enemy and her mother a prisoner of war. Then it becomes, “Nothing’s fair except bombing those Vins to high hell.”

Before she can rescue her town, however, Josette must maneuver her way through the nest of overstuffed vipers that make up Garnia’s military and royal leaders in order to drum up support. The foppish and mostly tolerated Mistral crew member Lord Bernat steps in to advise her, along with his very attractive older brother.

Between noble scheming, under-trained recruits, and supply shortages, Josette and the crew of the Mistral figure out a way to return to Durum ― only to discover that when the homefront turns into the frontlines, things are more dangerous than they seem.

Now that the series has reached critical mass (well, two books), it has a lot more appeal, and I’ll clear away some time this summer to give it a try. By Fire Above was published by Tor Books on May 15, 2018. It is 368 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 for the digital version. We covered The Guns Above here.


Birthday Reviews: Andrew Weiner’s “Bootlegger”

Sunday, June 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Joyce Kline

Cover by Joyce Kline

Andrew Weiner was born on June 17, 1949.

Weiner’s story “The Third Test” was nominated for the British SF Association Award. He has also been nominated for the Aurora Award three times, for the original story “Station Gehenna” (which he expanded to a novel), “Eternity, Baby,” and “Seeing.”

“Bootlegger” was published in 1997 by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink in the anthology Tesseracts6. The story has not been reprinted.

“Bootlegger” tells the story of Marshall Baron, a washed up musician who discovers that there are CDs being circulated that purport to be bootlegs of some of his early music. The problem is that he knows that he never recorded or wrote the songs that are on the albums, although voice analysis claims they are by him. He has Alderman, one of his agents, try to find the source of the bootlegs so they can figure out what is happening.

Alderman’s investigations lead him to Greenspan, a fan of Baron’s who has written several gossipy books about the singer. Although Baron wants nothing to do with the man, whom he considers a crank, Greenspan will only reveal his source of the bootlegs to Baron, nobody else. Greenspan’s revelation is that he has access to another world where Baron’s career had a different, more successful, trajectory. He feels that Baron could still make a difference in their own world, spark the revolution that his early music promised, although Baron disagrees, feeling that the revolution has passed.

Greenspan is not only a fan of Baron’s work, but also jealous of him and something of a radical. If Baron isn’t going to use his talents to make the world a better place, Greenspan is going to use his ability to access other worlds to create the world that he feels is necessary, even if it means taking Baron away from everything that he has achieved. Greenspan’s plans work within the context of the story, although when fully explored, there were other, less disruptive options he could have chosen.

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Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes — Disturbing Entities to Inspire Great Adventures… or Nightmares

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallDungeons & Dragons 5th Edition seems to have a good handle on what’s needed for a rule book, and what’s needed for an expansion. Like its immediate predecessor, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes covers a variety of topics. It’s meant to fill in some gaps for specific areas players and game masters might want to have more detail about.

It’s broadly divided into two sections: five chapters devoted to the history of different races and their factions and how they can be used both by the GM and the players, and a generous bestiary stuffed full with old favorites and permutations of them that haven’t reappeared yet.

This includes new monsters and monsters specifically related to the first half of the book. You’ll see what I mean shortly.

It’s a great book, probably my favorite yet of the expansions, and maybe the first one I’d consider a must-have for all campaigns, owing to the wealth of information provided on basic character races like Elves and Dwarves.

Don’t get me wrong, I think most game masters would want Xanathar’s Guide on their shelves, because it offers so many tweaks and suggestions. But I believe Mordenkainen’s Tome will be even more broadly useful to a slightly higher percentage of players

I must be the odd man out, but I’ve never been especially interested in demons or devils, and the fascination many have with them has always baffled me. So I probably wasn’t the target audience for the first chapter, devoted to the long war between the two races, but darned if I wasn’t impressed anyway.

No, I’m not suddenly inspired to run a campaign centered on interactions with the infernal, but there’s a lot of cool and clever information, and, should this be more your cup of tea, some interesting hooks. It’s also rounded out with lots of ideas that can help players flesh out their Tiefling characters.

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