Thank You, D&D

Friday, July 31st, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

dungeon-masterA recent entry over at Joe Abercrombie’s blog about his encounter with a neighbor boy who hadn’t even heard of D&D got me reflecting on many of the things Abercrombie himself covers in his post. He and I are about the same age, and belong to a pre-internet, pre-500 cable channels, pre-iPhone generation that entertained ourselves around the wood stoves of our drafty log cabins with shadow puppets and recitations of railway time tables. But something happened to transform our sepia-toned youth into an exciting time of monster-slaying, dungeon-crawling, infinite gold-carrying, NPC-bullying, and rules-lawyring adventure — and that something was Dungeons & Dragons.

Of course, let’s get something straight, there was Dungeons & Dragons, and there was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and my activities were limited solely to the later. And, hey, I was a snob about it. I mean, in D&D elves and dwarves were considered a class? All the cool kids where into AD&D — though for the purposes of this entry, and since the distinction no longer has any meaning, anyway, I’ll just lump them both together as D&D.

I say ‘cool kids,’ but that wasn’t the case. Cool kids played flag football in their spare time, rebuilt carburetors, and rode their Schwinns to rendezvous with married women in their thirties whose husbands were out of town. Actually, I have no idea what the cool kids did, preferring as I did the company of dorks, misfits, and other geekly types such as myself, and I suppose if I ever imagined what they were up to it would veer widely between the poles of pathetically banal and enviably adult. Me, I drew dungeons on graph paper.

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Moonbats and Penny Papers: The Sun and the Moon by Matthew Goodman

Thursday, July 30th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

This is a strange book about a strange event in a strange time. In the summer of 1835, the first successful penny paper in New York published a series of articles documenting an extraordinary series of discoveries by the most famous astronomer in the world, John Herschel (son of the even-more-famous William Herschel). With the aid of a new optical technology and the pristinely clear skies over the Cape of Good Hope, Herschel had discovered life and, indeed, civilization on the moon.

The reason why these discoveries never came up in the recent 40th-anniversary celebrations of the Apollo moon landing is, of course, the moon landings were faked by the people who would later forge Obama’s birth certificate the truth is out there pyramids were built by Atlantean space aliens from SPA-A-A-ACE they didn’t really happen. The editor of the New York Sun, Richard Adams Locke, needed money. The publisher of the Sun, Benjamin Day, wanted to increase circulation–and wasn’t averse to money either. Day paid Locke to write a series of articles about the supposed “discoveries” of Herschel. Day never admitted that he knew the stories were false, but Locke eventually confessed both that he wrote them (they were originally published anonymously), and that they were false. By the time of his confession, everyone knew this, but when the articles first appeared it seems as if almost everyone took them at face value.

It was the golden age of hoaxes. The world and people’s understanding of it were being transformed by new science and technology. The penny paper, a primitive medium to our way of thinking, allowed information (or misinformation) to spread wide and sink deep into the awareness of an urban population. People were excited by the possibilities of the new world they were entering, threatened by its dangers, and eager on both counts to learn whatever they could about it.

[Hic, haec, hoax: beyond the jump.]

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Pastiches ‘R’ Us: Conan the Free Lance

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

conan-free-lanceConan the Free Lance

Steve Perry (Tor, 1990)

Let’s see … I’ve reviewed a Conan pastiche novel each from Leonard Carpenter and John Maddox Roberts. So next up, Steve Perry.

If there’s one word I would used to describe Steve Perry’s Conan novels, it’s goofy. Perry has a reputation among Conan fandom for overkill and general silliness. He apparently loves high fantasy. Perhaps he loves it too much. His Conan books burst at the seams with fantastic monsters, strange races, and weird magic … and not in an ideal way. Although Perry has an enormous imagination, it gets away from him and creates a world that has almost no resemblance to Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age. It’s not so much that these elements are silly, but that they seem so when placed in Howard’s setting. They would work fine in the Star Wars universe — and Perry has written some good Star Wars novels to prove it; I’ll admit I enjoyed his Shadows of the Empire, even if LucasFilm tried shoving it down my throat first. But in the grittier, more-historically centered Hyborian Age, where magic is rare and sinister, Perry’s style feels like someone trying to write a Forbidden Realms novel who accidentally wandered into Robert E. Howard-land.

Conan the Free Lance (yes, two words, not one, according to the actual title page — Conan isn’t picking up occasional assignments for the New Yorker) won’t change anyone’s mind about Perry’s style. The story occurs in an overt wonderland akin to high fantasy. Its villain and the instigator of our plot, Dimma the Mist Mage, lives in fortress on a bed of sargasso weeds in a Karpash Mountains lake. He needs a talisman to restore his body to its solid form, and so he sends his shapeshifting servants the selkies to fetch it from the Tree Folk. Conan, while on his way to Shadizar, rescues Cheen, a medicine woman of the Tree Folk, from the draconian hunting beasts of the reptilian-descended Pili. (Okay, we already have far too many demi-human races running around.) Conan helps the Tree Folk repulse the selkie attack, but the selkie leader Kleg escapes with the talisman—the ‘Seed’ which the Tree Folk need to make their tree homes grow. He also kidnaps Cheen’s young brother, Hok. Conan joins the Tree Folk in the quest to save Hok and recapture the Seed.

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On the problem of literary awards

Sunday, July 26th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

I was quite interested in James Enge’s previous post on the recent discourse about the Hugo Awards List involving Adam Roberts and John Scalzi. It’s a matter of particular interest to me because I have thrice been a member of SFWA Nebula Award juries, am on friendly terms with a few award winners, and happen to have had the occasional online encounter with John Scalzi myself. Who, I must say, handles his budding institution status within SF rather better than most of us would.

That being said, my sympathies on this particular matter tend to lie with Mr. Roberts, although I think it is worth pointing out that this is really not a matter of Roberts v Scalzi and it is doubtful that there is any serious possibility of improving the situation. Adam Roberts is writing about the way he believes things should be, whereas Scalzi is simply accepting the way things are. Now, I could not, and would not, blame John Scalzi in the least for appreciating the present status quo; he would have to be either insane or a rapaciously greedy fame-whore to not enjoy what has clearly worked out rather well for him. Very much to his credit, Scalzi clearly understands and is appreciative of the way in which the stars have aligned and permitted him to become a best-selling, award-winning, leading figure in science fiction today. While I disagree with him on many, many issues, I have nothing but admiration for the cheerful comportment with which he has handled not only his success, but his popularity. It is nowhere nearly as easy as he makes it look.
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Comic Con

Saturday, July 25th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

comic-ss-190Courtesy of The New York Times comes this report of  Comic-Con at the San Diego Convention Center. Here’s a picture of some of the attendees.  This is why I’ve never been to a con.


Sam Raimi to Direct World of Warcraft, or What’s Wrong With Video Game Movies?

Friday, July 24th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

worldofwarcraft1Come with me, if you will, to a magical, improbable land. A land where ideas and craft outweigh brand recognition and marketing potential, where films are the visions of writers and directors rather than of moneyed committees, and where the word ‘remake’ is most commonly associated with smoothing the bedsheets after a midday nap. It’s a place perhaps more fantastic than worlds of warring orcs and elves, since at least the orcs and elves are behaving according to their nature.

Blizzard — world-straddling giant of the video game industry — just issued a press release saying that Sam Raimi of Evil Dead and Spiderman fame has signed on to direct a movie based on Blizzard’s megaton MMORPG hit World of Warcraft. This interests me on a lot of levels, though as one of the mere thirty or so people in North America that has never actually played World of Warcraft I can’t really discuss it from the angle of a fan.

In fact, I may be spectacularly ill-equipped to talk about this at all. When I heard that WoW — as World of Warcraft is affectionately known to its fans (it’s also called Warcrack, as many a neglected girlfriend can well-attest) — was potentially being made into a film, I said to myself “Oh great, another video game movie,” closely followed by “Oh great, something to blog about at BG!” I then did my best to be charitable and think of all the video game movies I liked. Drawing a blank, I ransacked the little gray cells for examples of video game movies I’d actually seen. Coming up with nothing, I then went to that resource of first-resort for the google generation, Wikipedia, for a list of films based on video games and confirmed my suspicions.

They all suck.

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Adam Link, Kerfufflebot; or, Scalzi Over the Brown Rainbow

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

Internet kerfuffles almost inevitably become incestuous loops of recursion and fail–and, if not, they’re hardly any fun at all. But John Scalzi’s response to Adam Roberts’ complaint about this year’s Hugo slate at least led me to do one thing: I ordered Roberts’ Gradisil, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time.

The rest of my reaction is sort of a-plague-on-both-your-houses-ish. I cannot take seriously complaints about a shortlist from people who could have participated in shaping it but did not. This is not an original observation: it was made by a number of people on Roberts’ blog, on Scalzi’s blog and elsewhere. And when it arises, someone always replies, “Oh, I’ve heard that before.” As if that were some kind of answer. You have heard it before because it is true. No one listens to people who sing the blues without paying their dues.

[Meta-kvetchery abounds beyond the jump.]

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More Disturbing Library Trends

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

It seems that the deterioration of the American public library is worse than I had at first feared. At least if I am to use the Beverly Hills Public Library as an example. (Beverly Hills isn’t exactly the best example of any trend in North America, being a bizarre entity that I think J. G. Ballard invented for one of his novels, but in terms of civic decline I think I’m on safe ground using it.)

I recently posted about my discovery that a coffee shop—with fudge included, for some reason known only to “Kelly”—had mysteriously arisen inside the BHPL. I tried to satisfy myself with the knowledge that the library would at least strive to keep the coffee and fudge behind the glass doors of Kelly’s Staining Bean Juice and Contaminating Sugar Sludge, away from the precious volumes of books and helping to keep at bay the armies of paper-munching insects that might like to snack on old copies of Gormenghast.

However, on my last visit to the library, I made some disturbing discoveries. I hadn’t received the full story about the Kelly’s invasion.

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Short Fiction Review #18: Paradox-Final Issue

Saturday, July 18th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

paradox-cover043It’s nothing new to hear that yet another print publication has gone the way of the dinosaurs.  Still, for those of us who retain affection for inked dead trees, it’s always a cheerless day to learn of yet another comet strike.

The latest victim is Paradox, Editor/Publisher Christopher Cevasco’s biannual magazine of  historical speculative fiction, which is now, well, history. After thirteen issues (read into the significance of the number what you will), Cevasco has retired the magazine effective with the Spring 2009 edition. Although he hints that an on-line version may arise from the ashes at some point, or that there may be a future Paradox-themed anthology, it would appear this is not going to be a Lance Armstrong/Bret Favre kind of retirement – Cevasco seems pretty adamant that this is it for the magazine.

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Charles R. Saunders’ ‘Luendi’

Friday, July 17th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

0_61_100906_diamondCharles Saunders has posted a terrific short story over at the blog section of his website — the sort of story that would not have been out of place in a classic issue of Weird Tales. ‘Luendi’ is in four, rather short, parts, and gives us the fate of one Piet van Brug, a man that embodies all the vilest characteristics of imperialism. Colonial Africa in 1890 is the setting, or more precisely an unexplored section of the interior beyond the British and Boer possessions of South Africa dubbed ‘Azungaland’ by its conqueror. It is an area rich in diamonds — rich enough to bring the yoke down around the heads of the peaceful and previously unknown people that live there.

The Azunga rescued van Brug from disease and death in the wake of a disastrous expedition sponsored by Cecil Rhodes to explore the land “between the Zambezi River and the upper reaches of the Kalahari Desert.” Peaceful, living in a fabulous stone kraal akin to the ruins of Zimbabwe, the Azunga welcome van Brug with kindness and are repaid with treachery. When van Brug discovers they posses a rich seam of diamonds in a cave nearby, he returns to Johannesburg, raises an expeditionary army with the diamonds he managed to steal, and returns to enslave the people that had saved his life.

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