Regarding Two Earlier Posts

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

Regarding two earlier posts:

In reporting the demise of Jim Baen’s Universe, I started wondering about the habit in genre fiction to use a famous author as a brand or a subgenre. There’s a line of “Ray Bradbury Presents” paperbacks, and then, of course, there’s Asimov’s and Alfred Hitchcock magazines. This doesn’t happen in mainstream fiction. As far as I know, there’s no Hemingway’s or “Shakespeare Presents” or T. C. Boyle Digest.

And what’s with this “nines” thing? In addition to those nines I’ve already mentioned, along comes The Law of Nines from Terry Goodkind.

I guess the sequels will be called “18.”

An Interview with Midnight Syndicate mastermind Ed Douglas

Friday, August 21st, 2009 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Dead Matter

Yes, my goth friends, there is a Santa! The highly creative people over at Midnight Syndicate are finally delivering on my personal wish list in the form a movie, The Dead Matter. Best known for creating amazing soundtracks to your worse nightmares, Ed Douglas and company are raising the stakes (or should I say “driving in the stakes”?) with this spine-tingler due out later this year. If their latest CD, The Dead Matter, Cemetery Gates is any indication, you won’t want to miss this cinematic horror extravaganza that mixes all the best elements of a classic, 1930’s monster movie, with your favorite bits from the 80’s. And if you’re listening to a Midnight Syndicate classic as you read this article, you’ve got something in common with Hugh Hefner! Read on to learn more as we clear the cob webs and sit down for a chat with the masterful music and movie creator, Ed Douglas. Read More »

The Ham-Sized Fist Award

Friday, August 21st, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

fist-bigA while back I talked about The David Gemmell Legend Award, given this year for the first time to a fan favorite novel of heroic fantasy. Like most fans of adventure-oriented secondary world fantasy, I was used to seeing writers and books I liked pretty much ignored when it came to awards — so the Gemmell Legend Award came as a pleasant and welcome surprise. Well, seems another award for our fair sub-genre is also getting its start this year, one that specifically looks at sword & sorcery and heroic fantasy short fiction — The Ham-Sized Fist Award.

Boasting a (currently) 800 dollar prize split between author and publisher, and a name no one is likely to forget, The Ham-Sized Fist Award was founded by editor Jeff Crook with the intention of recognizing excellence in the rather neglected field of short form  heroic fantasy. It’s open to any works published in 2009 in print or electronic venues that use an editorial process for selection. So far, works from Black Gate, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flashing Swords, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Black Dragon, White Dragon, and Rage of the Behemoth, among others, have been nominated.

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Short Fiction Beat: Tale of Two Magazines

Thursday, August 20th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

Well, here we are in Web 2.0 (whatever that exactly means), print magazines are supposedly dying (even as they are being resuscitated, c.f., Realms of Fantasy) and people still aren’t quite sure how to make the on-line magazine model work.  One problem is that, if you’re like me, you don’t like reading stories on a screen.  You like to lay down on your favorite couch and turn pages.  Of course, if you’re like my daughter, it’s not an issue — when she asks me if I’ve read an article that was in The New York Times, I know without asking that she’s referring to an on-line article.

table_of_contents__jim_baen_s_universe__volume_4__So, here’s the bad news/goods news.  First the bad news. A little while ago, Jim Baen’s Universe announced that after four years it was closing down. The short explanation was, not a surprise given the “information is free” mentality of the Internet, subscriptions couldn’t sustain a magazine that sought to maintain professional print standards (i.e., actually paying authors competitive rates for their work).  Everyone, including The New York Times is trying to figure this one out, and one approach has been to not pay writers. Not surprisingly, frequently you get what you pay for.

As for the good news, Strange Horizons, which has had great success with a sort of public radio/tv fund drive donation model, has exceeded its 2009 Fund Drive goals way ahead of schedule (though you can still contribute, by the way).sh_head
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Thoughts Concerning Scurvy (De Scorbuto)

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

I come from a medical family. Of the five members of my immediate nuclear family, I’m the only one who lacks a background or job in medicine or health care. As a writer and historian growing up in a family that now consists of a pathologist, a nurse and lactation expert, a medical student on the cusp of graduation, and an occupational therapist, it was probably inevitable that I developed an interest in disease both in history and fiction. I would never get near the profession of medicine (the general public ought to thank me for this—I’d make a horrible doctor), but the dramatic role of disease in writing has always entranced me.

Among writers, bubonic plague is the leading favorite pestilence. It’s hard to resist the power of an illness that wiped out a third of Europe during the late Middle Ages and has a death toll exceeding two hundred million. The very title “The Black Death” instantly conjures up Hieronymous Bosch grotesques in most people’s minds. It’s a disease with an outstanding pedigree for fantasy and historical writers.

However, I’d like to shine an operating room light on another disease that I think is one of the most useful for a writer. At a cursory glance, it seems like it shouldn’t have any dramatic potential at all: not only is it easily preventable, it’s also easily cured. It isn’t even communicable. But a second glance reveals that this disease is a superb tool for fiction.

The disease is scurvy.

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The costs vs the benefits of blogging

Sunday, August 16th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

I very much understand James Enge’s grounds for advising writers to avoid blogging. If one hopes to appeal to the widest possible audience, it is completely logical to assume that avoiding causing direct offense to anyone will tend to increase a writer’s sales by preserving the potential market size for his books.

There’s just one problem with this perfectly sensible logic. Its conclusion is flawed, because it confuses the potential market with the probable market. In theory, every writer has a potential market of around six billion. But, the vast majority of those six billion can be safely discounted because they are children with no money, they don’t read the language in which the book is written, or most importantly, they have no interest in the subject of the book. Three months ago, a good friend of mine insisted on taking home a copy of my latest novel against my advice; I told her not to feel bad when she returned it to me unread because I know her literary tastes don’t run to intellectual fantasy. Last week, she brought the book back and admitted that running into a page of untranslated Latin was enough to make her put down the book with alacrity. Which is fine, she was a potential reader but she was never a probable reader.
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Gen Con 2009 Report #5 – The Free Blog Edition

Sunday, August 16th, 2009 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

I read a lot of geeky books. And I don’t just mean science fiction and fantasy, I mean books that make even many normal geeks raise an eyebrow at my choices, such as books on game theory, economics and business, philosophy, and so on … things that have nary a laser rifle or robot or sword or sorcerer in sight. Right now, I’m reading Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine. (An abridged audiobook version is available for free.)

It seems like when I read these books, the principles they espouse often show up all over the place, and that’s certainly happening at GenCon. In fact, the principles of “free” described by Anderson have always, in some form, been at the heart of every industry of sales. (Early on in the book, he explains how free cookbooks made the failing Jell-O company thrive.) And the gaming industry is no different.

For example, many roleplaying games have for years offered free little booklets that allow you to get started with a game, try it out in a limited way, and see if you enjoy it before you invest dollars and hours into playing it. But the problem is that these books were not actually free. There was a trade-off, because the publishers still had to actually print out the booklets and distribute them and so on. There was a cost to this, so it wasn’t just that they wanted to make money – if the gambit didn’t work, they were actually out money! Now, with the online world, PDF versions of books can be distributed (virtually) free of cost! That’s how Black Gate is able to offer reviews and commentary for free through these online blogs, for example.

Many of the gaming companies at GenCon have also embraced “free,” such as Hero Mages, an online board/strategy game that is completely free to play, but which allows players to pay a price to access certain premium characters and options (such as the ability to create and save your own map designs). (Anderson calls this business model a “freemium” model, where a portion of the users spend money for upgrades, which supports the site for everyone.)


Another company that is brilliantly using “free” as a means of promotion is Shard Studios, who have created the Shard RPG. This game is based on the Hindu mythology of India and allows you to play a number of animal-based races. The setting doesn’t have any metal, but their weapons and equipment are built from gems of various types that can be used to power magical items, such as flying airships, or forged into weapons (such as the swords in the pictures above) with different properties. The books are beautiful and the setting is truly enthralling … it is one of a handful of games that I left GenCon knowing I would definitely want to try out by running a full game with.

How is Shard using “free”? Well, on their website, if you go to “The Game” link you can choose to download a “Welcome Booklet.” This booklet contains the entire game mechanics of the system, setting information, some introductory character templates, and so on. It is essentially the bulk of the main core rulebook … except for character creation, for which you need to buy the actual book. But, by checking out the Welcome Booklet, you can be sure that you really want the game before you shell out the money for the entire set of rules. And, if you just want to play the game and never create a character, I suppose you could even do that (although, as most gamers know, character creation is one of the most fun aspects of any game).

Gen Con 2009 Report #4

Saturday, August 15th, 2009 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

I don’t know how many attendees are making it to GenCon this year, but the place is certainly packed. For example, here’s one of the game rooms. Not a dealer’s room, but just a room where people are playing board games.


The rooms that house the miniature war games – WarMachine, Hordes, HeroClix, Dark Ages, and the like – are typically even larger than this one. They’re spread throughout the building, in rooms both large and small. And, of course, some of the attendees choose more elaborate clothing.

Now, back to the games. This time I’m just going to focus on one – Colonial Gothic from Rogue Games. This is a secret history setting that takes place during the early days of the American Revolution. Among all of the historical events of the American Revolution, there also exist monsters, demons, and witches prowling the colonies. Your character is aware of their presence and fights against these forces.
One nice feature of the game is that it has three play styles: High Action Style, Occult & Mystery Style, and Supernatural Style. So, depending on how your GM and players prefer to play, you can run scenarios that fit the style of story that they’d all most like to be involved in. These styles are not firm – you can have an Occult & Mystery game that has High Action elements, of course. The overall design of Colonial Gothic is to provide the setting information and game mechanics, but to provide the player with a wide range of approaches for how to actually construct a storyline. The creator of the game is also extremely proud of the amount of research that went into the setting, so this might also be a good way to play with younger players who need to learn about this period in American history.

The Nines

Saturday, August 15th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

14district9_6001This certainly sounds interesting.  I wonder if the title “District 9” was in any way inspired by director Edward Wood’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” infamous for its bad acting, ridiculous script and amateurish special effects.  Apparently (I haven’t seen it yet), this new film is the opposite and perhaps a welcome relief from the standard cinematic science fiction films that rely more on special effects than effective storytelling.

I’m not sure what’s with the “9” thing of late.  Equally 200px-plan_nine_from_outer_space2intriguing is another science fiction film, produced by Tim Burton, to be released on 9-09-09 called, well, you’ve already figured that out.

Gen Con 2009 Report #3 – the Electronic Game Report

Friday, August 14th, 2009 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Today, I’m going to focus on some of the electronic/video games that caught my eye at GenCon. I normally don’t spend a ton of time in the video game section, because my life doesn’t leave a lot of time anymore for video games, but once upon a time I was an avid online gamer, and it is always fun to dip my toes into that genre of games now and again.

One of the games I played back in the day was City of Heroes, the MMORPG superhero game created by Cryptic Studios and NCsoft. (In fact, one of my first paying writing gigs was a review of City of Heroes for City Slab magazine.) I haven’t played City of Heroes in over four years, but apparently the partnership between Cryptic and SOE has fallen apart, with NCsoft retaining ownership of the City of Heroes intellectual property. Cryptic Studios, in turn, teamed up with Atari and Hero Games to create Champions Online, taking everything they learned from the original creation of City of Heroes and improving upon it. The graphics are slick and the game play looks pretty smooth. Visually, of course, it looks like a comic book world, and the overall appearance is much like City of Heroes, but the stats system is built upon the Champions RPG structure and it uses the Champions setting. It’ll be interesting to see how this superhero MMORPG competes with the established City of Heroes.

While that was the only MMORPG that really caught my eye, there was another online game of interest – Hero Mages. This is a free (yes, you read that correctly!) online board/strategy game, which can be played by up to four players against each other. Each player controls a magic-user (chosen from fighter mage, wizard, sorcerer, and summoner) and two guardians (chosen from bard, rogue, barbarian, paladin, psionist, soul reaver, warrior, and samurai). The goal is to destroy the enemy teams before your own team is killed. It’s a fun game and free, so check it out.

Two other stand alone games warrant mention. If bloody console-based game mayhem is your thing, then check out Dante’s Inferno from Electronic Arts. The game follows Dante as he battles his way through Hell to rescue his fair love, Beatrice, who is being held captive by Lucifer. I’m not much on these slash-em-up games even in the best of times, but if there were ever a game that made me want to pick up a gaming console and rip through some demons, this was it. The graphics were phenomenal, and the players seemed to be hypnotized by the screen.

On the other end of the spectrum, and much more my speed, was the quirky stand alone PC game Odd Society. You play one of the ODDs, a race of creatures that have recently gained freedom from The Conglomerate, to whom they were enslaved. Now they are forced to find resources and build a society for themselves. The mechanics are mostly simple point-and-click, so it’s pretty easy to get into the game quickly. The graphics on this game aren’t nearly as slick as Dante’s Inferno, but that’s part of the point … unlike the Inferno hellbeasts, the ODDs are unusual little beings that are supposed to be endearing and sort of roughly rendered, like Dr. Seuss characters.

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