New Star Trek Into Darkness Trailer Features More ‘Splosions

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The trailers are coming fast and furious now. This one reveals a bit more of the plot, including a high-level Federation meeting, some shots of 23rd Century London, and a chilling scene in the last few seconds.

We last reported on Star Trek Into Darkness when we asked “Did Entertainment Weekly Reveal that Benedict Cumberbatch is Playing Khan?” here, and in “Star Trek Into Darkness Poster Fuels Gary Mitchell Speculation” (here).

Star Trek Into Darkness is directed by J. J. Abrams, and written by Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and Roberto Orci. It is the twelfth feature-length Star Trek film and the sequel to 2009′s Star Trek. It is set for release on May 17, 2013.


Earn Your Gold Honestly in Valdora — By Digging For It

Friday, March 22nd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

valdora gameOn March 10, I attended the Spring Auction at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL. I went chiefly in search of select fantasy games I’ve had my eye on for some time… but also in the hope of a surprise or two.

It didn’t take long to get what I wished for, at least in terms of surprises. I wasn’t in my seat ten minutes when an eye-catching box with three obvious adventurers on the cover came up for bid.

What the heck was this? The cover art — with snow-capped mountains, a medieval walled town, and three young lads decked out in standard issue dungeon-exploring garb — spoke of an adventure game, but I’d never heard of it. The box looked substantial (and expensive), and it appeared to be in great shape, but there’s only so much you can tell sitting in a metal chair at an auction.

Bidding was brisk, and I didn’t have much time to make up my mind. I took a chance, and seven seconds (and 15 bucks) later a nearly-new copy of Valdora was mine. Here’s what I found on the back when I was able to examine it:

Hidden far away from our time lies a valley of unimaginable riches. Drawn by the lure of gold, silver, and precious jewels, adventurers from all over the world soon find their way there. While some of them still carefully choose commissions and provisions, others quickly rush off to bring valuable gems back to their patrons. But those who wish for fame and fortune will have to be cleverer than their opponents!

Peeking through the box there seems to be a dearth of dungeons, but plenty of Settlers of Catan-like strategy, with players working to acquire tools, complete commissions, and control workshops. Looks like you have to earn your gold and gems the old-fashioned way: by earning them. The components — including a colorful and detailed game board, gemstones, cards, tiles, coins, pawns, a sturdy fabric bag, and four wooden books — are excellent. It looks like a solid family game that I can force all of my children to play with me.

Valdora was designed by Michael Schacht and published by ABACUSSPIELE/Rio Grande Games. It was released in 2009, and has a list price of $74.99 — which makes my auction purchase at $15 a real bargain. Score another point for the Paris Fashion Week of Games.


Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Trail of Fu Manchu, Part Three

Friday, March 22nd, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Trail ConsulTrail Doubleday spineSax Rohmer’s The Trail of Fu Manchu was originally serialized in Collier’s from April 28 to July 14, 1934. It was published in book form later that year by Cassell in the UK and Doubleday in the US. The book marked the first time Rohmer employed third person narrative in the series and dispensed with the first person narrative voice modeled on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. The results dilute what would otherwise have been a stronger novel that saw the series return to its roots.

Chief Inspector Gallaho leads a police raid on Sam Pak’s opium den and begins the descent into the tunnel system below the Thames where Fu Manchu is transmuting base metal to gold in an alchemical process utilizing human bodies fed into a giant underground furnace. Alan Sterling has been sent to labor in the boiler room while Sir Denis Nayland Smith has been condemned to death alongside Fah lo Suee, Fu Manchu’s treacherous daughter. Sir Denis is puzzled why Fah lo Suee has forfeited her own life in a failed effort to save his own. He is startled when she confesses the reason is that she has loved him for many years as the man who did not fear to stand up to her father.

Sterling succumbs while working in the heat of the boiler room and awakens to find himself bound and sharing the same cell with Sir Denis and Fah lo Suee. Ali, Fu Manchu’s servant, who recognized Sterling and delivered his message to Sir Denis, is with them. They watch in horror as Fu Manchu orders Ali’s execution. He is first decapitated and then his body is thrown into the furnace.

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Goth Chick News: Hansel & Gretel: WTF…?

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Hansel and Gretel PosterGet ready to put this little morsel under the heading, “You’re Kidding, Right??”

Partially because it is my sworn journalistic commitment to bring you all things scary and partially because of Jeremy Renner, I actually paid full price to sit through Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in its bombastic entirety.  Little did I know when I entered the theater that I really wasn’t getting a private screening due to my Black Gate creds, but was just far more optimistic than the rest of the viewing public by showing up to see it.

I occupied my favorite location in the dead center rows of seats that Saturday night, very much alone as I watched a Pepsi commercial with extremely high production values, yet filled with hope that what I was about to witness would be a reimaging of a well-known tale in the vein of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Eighty-eight excruciating minutes later I realized I should have bailed after the Pepsi commercial.

Dialog: lame, special effects: marginal, acting: vapid (yes even my beloved Mr. Renner), and plot: so thin you could read War and Peace through it, which would likely be a far better use of your time.

And, by the way, how is that even possible when a good chunk of the story has been in existence since 1812?

It wasn’t until weeks later that I learned Hansel & Gretel cost $50M to make and grossed only $54M in the US, which should have labeled it an unqualified bomb and immediately relegated it to a local RedBox.

But that’s before considering the audiences in what must truly be the global movie wastelands of Brazil, Russia and Mexico.  Because, lo and behold, Hansel and Gretel grossed a whopping $150M more internationally, thanks primarily to those countries.

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“Exceptional. A must read”: Tangent Online on “Seeker of Fortune”

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

David Evan Harris2Louis West at Tangent Online reviews David Evan Harris’s contemporary fantasy short story, published here on Sunday, March 17:

David Evan Harris, in “Seeker of Fortune,” creates a fascinating reality in which luck can be manipulated by Fortune Stackers. They can draw luck from one person and give it to another, or take it for themselves. But it’s a zero-sum game. Stackers often drift with the poker circuit, careful not to get caught. Since Sniffers protect casinos and lotteries, and Stackers that are caught suffer unlucky accidents, that only leaves two professions available — casino security and hit man…

John Sherman is one such talent. Not being the strongest or boldest of Stackers, he gets by. For a while he was engaged to Ronnie, the strongest Stacker known, until he watched her kill an entire family just to take out her target. John left her at the altar on their wedding day, and her fury promised a hard death if she ever caught up with him. Unfortunately (fitting for a Fortune Stacker), John finds his work leading him back to Las Vegas, the city he’d vowed never to return to, Ronnie’s stomping grounds.

How John survives his encounter with Ronnie makes for an incredible chase scene that I would stack up against (pun intended) some of the best from the Matrix movie trilogy… Exceptional. A must read.

David Evan Harris’s first fiction sale, “The Mudslinger,” was published in Black Gate 11. It was one of the most acclaimed stories in the issue, and Grasping For the Wind said, “Harris has the makings of an epic fantasy… I look forward to more.” You can read Louis’s complete review here.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Aaron Bradford Starr, Mark Rigney, C.S.E. Cooney, Vaughn Heppner, E.E. Knight, Jason E. Thummel, Judith Berman, Howard Andrew Jones, Dave Gross, Harry Connolly, and others, is here.

“Seeker of Fortune” is a 7,300-word short story of contemporary fantasy. It is offered at no cost. Read the complete story here.


Tomb of Horrors Gets a Fourth Edition Makeover

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Tomb of Horrors 4th EditionOne of the more intriguing treasures I brought home from the Paris Fashion Week of Games last week was the compact new edition of Gary Gygax’s famous player-killer Tomb of Horrors.

Now, if you don’t play role playing games yet still find the name Tomb of Horrors oddly familiar, it’s probably because it’s a touchstone of considerable significance in geek culture and you’ve come across one of the many modern references to it. Most recently, for example, it featured in Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel Ready Player One, which is set in a virtual reality world created by a fan of Tomb of Horrors. Or maybe your older brother’s beloved 10th-level paladin was killed by an unspeakable thing 20 minutes after he set foot inside the Tomb, and he’s been suffering from PTSD ever since, muttering the name Acererak and shuddering uncontrollably.

The original Tomb of Horrors was released in 1978; it’s one of the best-selling Dungeons and Dragons adventure modules of all time. I’m not sure why, to be completely honest. You don’t have fun playing Tomb of Horrors, exactly. And it has certainly killed far, far more player characters than it has rewarded. You know the phrase “Bad things happen to good people?” It was first spoken by the few, shell-shocked survivors of Tomb of Horrors.

Despite — or perhaps because of — its killer rep, the module is still highly regarded today, and has been remade and expanded several times, most recently as a 4th Edition hardcover by Ari Marmell and Scott Fitzgerald Gray in July 2010. This isn’t that version. This is a bare-bones conversion of the original adventure for 4th Edition rules, written by Scott Fitzgerald Gray and mailed out to members of the RPGA as part of the DM Rewards program. Instead of the separate art booklet — one of the most famous features of the original release, which allowed players to gawk in wonder at detailed renderings of the horrific things that had just killed them — this edition incorporates most of the original art into the body of the module. The cover is also recycled from the 2002 Greyhawk novel of the same name by Keith Francis Strohm (which we last discussed in “The Seven Greyhawk Classics of the Ancient World,” here).

For all that, it’s still fun to sit down and re-read Gygax’s original sadistic masterpiece again. The layout is clean and attractive, and the map of Acererak’s tomb has been given new life as a detailed color fold-out. Since it was never offered to retailers it’s a little tricky to find, however, and prices vary widely. As it was originally offered for free, some folks re-sell it at a reasonable price; but the average asking price I found on eBay was just over $50. I paid $7 for a shrinkwraped copy at auction.

Tomb of Horrors, by Gary Gygax and Scott Fitzgerald Gray, was published by Wizards of the Coast in 2010. It is a 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure for five 9th-level characters. It is 36 pages in softcover, with a loose cardstock cover and a fold-out color map. It has no price.


Released This Week: Upside Down

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Upside Down, the French-Canadian science fiction romance starring Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess, finally gets a U.S. release this week.

The film is visually gorgeous — just have a look at the trailer below. It also has an intriguing and unique premise (although I had a tough time explaining it to my son Tim, whose high school physics required him to challenge just how separate planetary gravities might work. It’s Hollywood Tim, just go with it). The film does not have anything resembling a wide release, at least not here in Chicago, but it might be well worth tracking it down. Or at least waiting for the DVD.

Upside Down was produced by Millennium Entertainment and released on March 15. The website, with additional trailers, behind-the-scenes info, and photo galleries, is here.


Vintage Treasures: Was Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter the First True Steampunk novel?

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Morlock nightI have vivid memories of watching George Pal’s science fiction thriller The Time Machine — based on the classic novel by H.G. Wells — in a theater, even though it came out in 1960, four years before I was born. Likely I saw it in an auditorium during a Cub Scouts movie night, or something. In any event, I remember the Morlocks. Scary, scary dudes.

In the last ten years there’s been an explosion of sequels to classic fiction. You don’t have to look far to find examples; not with Oz the Great and Powerful playing in theaters, and shelves and shelves of Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austin sequels crowding bookstores.

Typically, however, K.W. Jeter — the man who created the word “Steampunk” — was there first, with the novel Morlock Night in 1979. Morlock Night explores what might have happened if the Time Traveler’s wonderful machine fell into the hands of the Morlocks and they used it to return to Victorian England and turn London into their new hunting ground.

Morlock Night is full of surprises, as the premise becomes the launching point for a fast-paced fantasy involving King Arthur and Merlin, Excalibur, an ancient Atlantean submarine, and the fabric of the Cosmos being torn to the ripping point by the paradoxes of time travel… standard steampunk fare by today’s standards, but that was pretty wild stuff in 1979.

In his now-famous letter to Locus in April 1987, Jeter was the first to use the word “steampunk” to describe this book, and the strange and exciting new sub-genre of retro-adventure fantasy also being written by Tim Powers and James Blaylock:

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term… like “steampunks,” perhaps…

Morlock Knight was out of print for over three decades, until Angry Robot reprinted it in a handsome new edition in April, 2011. It was originally published in paperback by DAW in June 1979, with a vivid (and very yellow) cover by Josh Kirby, who later became renowned for his Discworld covers (click the image for a bigger version). It is 156 pages, originally priced at $1.75; the new edition is $7.99 ($6.99 for the digital version).


New Treasures: Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Blood's PrideI’m still reading the books I picked up over the weekend — including Michael Shea’s Nifft the Lean, and Karen Heuler’s fascinating collection The Inner City. Heck, I haven’t even finished the digital version of The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination I bought weeks ago. I suck.

Fortunately, sucking as a reader isn’t a crime (yet). And besides, it’s hard to stay focused when so many delicious new titles cross my desk every day. Titles like Evie Manieri’s intriguing first novel Blood’s Pride, which promises a tale of vengeance, conquest & rebellion, and long-buried secrets.

Rising from their sea-torn ships like vengeful, pale phantoms, the Norlanders laid waste to the Shadar under cover of darkness. They forced the once-peaceful fisher folk into slavery and forged an alliance with their former trading partners, the desert-dwelling Nomas tribe, cutting off any hope of salvation.

Now, two decades after the invasion, a rebellion gathers strength in the dark corridors of the city. A small faction of Shadari have hired the Mongrel, an infamous mercenary, to aid their fledgling uprising — but with her own shadowy ties to the region, she is a frighteningly volatile ally. Has she really come to lead a revolution, or for a more sinister purpose all her own?

The eye-catching cover art is by Kekai Kotaki — click on the image for a bigger version. Evie Manieri is a graduate of Wesleyan University with a double major in medieval history and theater — a promising mix for a career as a fantasy novelist. She lives in New York. According to her website bio this is the first novel in the Shattered Kingdoms trilogy; the next installment, Fortune’s Blight, is due out in the Fall.

Blood’s Pride was published on February 19, 2013 by Tor Books. It is 516 pages in hardcover, priced at $24.99.


Red Sonja 15

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Red Sonja 15 coverI know I’ve gone on about this before, but cover spoilers can ruin an otherwise great story. Seriously, click the cover to Red Sonja 15 and tell me if you can guess the secret of the three dead kings. Honestly, even the title (The Tomb of Three Dead Kings!) practically gives it away.

So it is a little surprising when we open to page one and find … a mummy. Just some guy wrapped in cloth strips, surrounded by a circle of swords in the snow. Sonja stops at the sight of him and is about to take a closer look when she sees three men dressed like kings (spoiler, they are) riding in the distance. So what’s an adventurer to do? Investigate the mummy or the three kings riding together in the dark?

Sonja opts for neither. Instead, she heads in the opposite direction to a sleepy little town where she finds a warm inn to relax in.

Of course, Red Sonja’s idea of relaxing includes beating everyone at dice until her satchel is full of coins and everyone at the inn is mad at her. She gets invited into the backroom by three of the losers, only to get attacked. Even though she’s expecting it, one of them gets a lucky shot and Sonja’s quickly stripped of her sword and purse, then thrown out in the snow.

Even with her cloak, that bikini isn’t helping much in the snow. And, honestly, why would she still be wearing a bikini in the dead of winter? In fact, a metal bikini would get even colder than a regular cloth one. Even her horse is wearing a blanket.

Fortunately, Red Sonja always keeps an emergency coin in her boot, so she has enough to cover a crappy inn on the other side of town. Before she goes, she manages to steal a sword by holding a passerby at knife-point. Near as I can tell, this is just one of the shlubs she beat at dice a few hours earlier. He’s not one of the guys who attacked her and he didn’t even try to hold out on what he owed. He just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and now Sonja has a new sword.

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