Giant Season: A Review of Shingeki no Kyoujin (Attack on Titan)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 | Posted by Sean Stiennon

I love anime, but I’d fallen out of the habit of watching it. The last series I finished was Claymore, nearly a year ago, and that disappointed me with paper-thin worldbuilding, slow animation, and one-note characters. Anime was beginning to look like a habit I’d dropped.

And then, based on a massive Internet buzz, I watched the first episode of Shingeki no Kyoujin, aka Attack on Titan. Within that short period — a mere twenty-two minutes, minus commercial interruptions — it became clear that I had stumbled across something great. I was moved, horrified, tantalized with the promise of soaring action to come, and, most importantly of all, captured by the mystery and terror of a bizarre world.

Take a moment to ravish your eyes on the glory of this opening song, which added a layer of fresh hair to my already-manly chest:

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Vintage Treasures: The Best of Jack Williamson

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of Jack Williamson-smallJack Williamson is a true legend among science fiction fans.

My favorite story about Jack Williamson concerns his first published story, “The Metal Man,” published in the December 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, when he was just 20 years old. The editor, Hugo Gernsback, was notoriously slow in paying his authors… so slow, in fact, that Williamson discovered he had broken into the magazine when he first laid eyes on the issue in a magazine rack and recognized his hero on the cover.

Williamson was one of the earliest pulp writers and he had an impressive career right through the 30s. He survived the coming of Campbell and continued writing into the 40s, 50s, and much later.

Which brings me to my second favorite Jack Williamson story. In the late 90s, Williamson was still regularly publishing short stories in major magazines, including “The Firefly Tree” (Science Fiction Age, 1997), “The Hole in the World” (F&SF, 1997), and “Miss Million” (Amazing Stories, 1999). A buzz began to go around fandom that if Williamson appeared in the magazines in the year 2000, that would mean he had been published in professional SF magazines for eight straight decades — a feat unequaled and very likely to remain unequaled for a long time.

Fandom held its breath. Jack Williamson turned 92 years old in the year 2000. And he published no less than three short stories that year: “Agents of the Moon” (Science Fiction Age), “Eden Star” (Star Colonies, edited by Martin H. Greenberg), and finally “The Ultimate Earth” (Analog).

“The Ultimate Earth” was nominated — and won — the Hugo Award for best novella of the year. It also won the Nebula.

As for Williamson, he kept publishing stories. Two in 2001, three in 2002, one in 2003, and an incredible seven in 2004 (including a collaboration with Edmond Hamilton – don’t ask how that happened).

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Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1951: A Retro-Review

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction April 1951With this issue, Galaxy reached a crossroads. Caught by rising costs, H. L. Gold had to do something.

He noted on the Editor’s Page that he could take one of two actions. He could cut costs by lowering fiction pay rates or the quality of the paper stock. Or he could raise the price of the magazine. Pressed for time, he opted for the latter. Beginning with the May, 1951 publication, the price jumped from 25 cents to 35 cents.

For those who love statistics but hate math, that’s a 40% increase. But the way I see it: quality has a cost. Good call, Mr. Gold.

Now let’s turn to the fiction.

“Nice Girl with 5 Husbands” by Fritz Leiber – Tom Dorset is an artist, unknowingly displaced by the winds of time to a century in the future. He meets a girl named Lois who brings him back home to meet her family. Tom learns that not only is Lois married, but the relational structure of the family is unlike anything he’s ever heard of.

I found it interesting that the protagonist never put together that he was in the future until someone casually mentioned the date. The story seemed more of a quick picture of how the future could unfold, but I wanted something deeper by the end.

“Inside Earth” by Poul Anderson – Conru gives up his entire life, even his physical appearance, in order to appear like an Earthling. Valgolia rules the galaxy, including Earth, but its aim is more than controlling the planets. It wants equality throughout the planets, and such can only be achieved by forcing unity.

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A Shard in Horror’s Broken Mirror…

Monday, August 26th, 2013 | Posted by Nick Ozment

The Dad Who Turns Into a Supernaturally Driven Psycho Killer

shiningAre you afraid of the dark? Are you afraid of ghosts? Hey, if you’re a family man, are you afraid a malevolent ghost is going to possess you and turn you into a psycho killer?

[Okay, before I get to all that, let me give a quick shout-out to those who have been following my ongoing blog of ARAK, Son of Thunder: I’ll have a new installment (covering the two-part story of issues 7 and 8) here for you next Monday. But this week I’d like to introduce the first in an occasional series examining aspects of the horror (primarily film) genre, which I’m going to call A Shard in Horror’s Broken Mirror. (Hey, how many “occasional series” does this guy have, anyway? Is he really, like, three different guys who take turns writing this blog under the same pen name?)]

The shard of horror I’m looking at today is an oft-recurring theme in many modern ghost thrillers: A character — usually, but certainly not always, the lead male — is manipulated or outright possessed by a supernatural agent (ghost, demon) and gradually becomes mentally cracked. This nearly always culminates in a final act where he is chasing his loved ones through a spooky locale with murderous intent.

Let me say at the outset that I’m generally not a big fan of this plot twist in most contemporary horror films. More on that later. First, though, a few words on where this narrative concept comes from.

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Vintage Bits: Lordlings of Yore

Monday, August 26th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Lordlings of Yore-smallThere’s a lot of interest in retro-gaming today. Seriously, it’s a thing. There are fewer sales of big-budget shooters and a lot more people hunkered over tablets and cell phones, playing games that look like they were first compiled in 1995. I’ve seen my sons jump over more platforms and spill more monster guts in low resolution on their iPad recently than on their Xbox 360, let me tell you.

I appreciate the nod to the early days of the genre, but that ain’t true retro gaming. True retro games aren’t downloaded from the Internet. True retro games don’t even come in a box.

You really want retro gaming? You need to pull open a zip-lock bag, my friend. Respect.

I own a lot of computer games. A lot of them are old. Hell, most of them are old. The bulk of my collection comes from 1989 – 2003, when I still had time to occasionally insert a disk into my desktop machine and play Icewind Dale or Mechcommander a few hours a week.

Amiga games? I got ’em. Commodore 64? Couple hundred, easy. But we’re still talking the era of boxes here. You want real retro gaming, you need to go back even before my time, to when the first computer games were sold in zip-lock bags in small hobby shops, and almost exclusively for the Apple II.

I’ve collected a few of those fascinating relics over the years, but only a very few. I have Cranston Manor, Hi-Res Adventure #3, from an outfit called Sierra On-Line, Inc (1981). I have Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure, from Synergistic Software, from 1980 (purchased on eBay nearly 10 years ago for a ridiculous sum). But the rarest game — and certainly one of the most interesting — I possess is probably Lordlings of Yore, a marvelous fantasy strategy game I found on a used game shelf in a computer store in Champaign, Illinois in 1993.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: An Excerpt from The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen

Sunday, August 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Black Fire Concerto-smallBlack Gate is very pleased to offer our readers an exclusive first look at The Black Fire Concerto, a dark fantasy novel by Mike Allen, the acclaimed editor and publisher of the anthology series Clockwork Phoenix and the poetry journal Mythic Delirium.

It was one of the twins who warned her just after dark that a man dressed head-to-toe in black had come through the village earlier that day asking after a piper and harpist and left quickly upon getting an affirmative.

Olyssa had seen the cultists coming up the street from the wharf. At least thirty, all armed with rifles. When she returned to their room on the second story she told Erzelle that there might well be more covering the other exits.

After that brief announcement she sat lotus-style on the floor between their cots with her rifle in her lap and began to chant as the rough voice outside taunted.

“Come out and know our mercy. Come out or you’ll wish you had been eaten.”

She held the rifle up with both hands as if presenting it for an offering. Its red runes glowed brighter and brighter, her chant unceasing. Huddled under a cot, Erzelle made out the words, uttered fast and sing-song: “Find my enemies. Find my enemies. Find my enemies.”

Glowing brighter still, the rifle shuddered and lifted into the air.

John R. Fultz tells us “The Black Fire Concerto is Horror. It’s Magic. It’s a post-apocalyptic melody played on strings of Terror and Sorcery.” And Tiffany Trent says “Mike Allen offers readers a gift of the most delicately layered dark fantasy presented carefully on a post-apocalyptic platter.” And Tanith Lee called The Black Fire Concerto, “A prize for the multitude of fans who relish strong Grand Guignol with their sword and sorcery.”

Mike’s short fiction has appeared in Solaris Rising 2Best Horror of the Year, Volume 1, and Cthulhu’s Reign, among other places. He was a Nebula Award finalist in 2009 for his short story, “The Button Bin,” and his first collection of short fiction, The Button Bin And Other Horrors, is forthcoming from Dagan Books.

The Black Fire Concerto was published July 15 by Haunted Stars Publishing. It is a 202-page trade paperback available for $15.95 and $8.95 for the Kindle version. Listen to the first chapter here, and learn more at Haunted Stars.

Read an exclusive chapter from The Black Fire Concerto here.

New Treasures: Monster Island by Pete Nash & Friends

Sunday, August 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Monster Island Runequest-smallI’ve been on a bit of a RuneQuest kick recently, inspired by my purchase of the incredible Pavis: Gateway to Adventure setting from Moon Design.

I honestly didn’t expect to encounter anything comparable to Pavis any time soon. But I didn’t reckon with The Design Mechanism and their equally ambitious campaign setting Monster Island — a massive and mysterious island which invites gamers to “delve back to a time of classic Sword & Sorcery with priceless jewels, fierce dinosaurs, and dark horror!”

Monster Island is precisely the kind of fully realized and adventure-packed product I wish I’d had when I first tried RuneQuest years ago. It’s a marvelously imaginative sandbox setting, complete with strange monsters, dangerous ruins, giant (and I do mean giant!) beasts, and even greater surprises. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

Author Pete Nash dedicated the book to two people, both of whom we lost this year: legendary Chaosium editor Lynn Willis, “who was my mentor and gave me my start in gaming,” and filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, “whose monsters have never been surpassed. Both of you spurred my imagination and haunted my dreams…. this book is a fruition of your influences.”

Imagining a fusion of the brilliance of Chaosium’s best adventure modules — including Cthulhu By Gaslight, the award-winning Masks of Nyarlathotep, Thieves’ World, and Shadows of Yog-Sothoth — and the unfettered imagination of Ray Harryhausen is as good a way as any to describe Monster Island, a true adventurer’s paradise packed with mystery, danger, and constant surprises.

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Vintage Treasures: Jolly R. Blackburn’s Shadis #15

Saturday, August 24th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Shadis 15-smallA few weeks ago, I stumbled on an eBay seller unloading a nice collection of vintage gaming merchandise. Quite a bit of it sold at high prices too, especially TSR’s Dragon Dice sets and several classic D&D modules in mint condition.

What wasn’t selling? The seller had haphazardly bundled some old gaming publications, in lots labeled “Magazine/Fanzine.” They included a pretty wide range of titles of various quality, including Game Trade Magazine, Games Quarterly, Game News, Gameplay, Games, Shred, The V.I.P. of Gaming Magazine, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Games Unplugged, Dungeon, White Dwarf, Arcane, and Shadis. All the lots were priced at a dollar.

There wasn’t much interest in them, to be honest. In some cases, it wasn’t really a surprise. The lots were oddly bundled — one contained eleven magazines, including four copies of Games Quarterly #7 and six copies of Game Trade Magazine #125.

I couldn’t figure out why the seller didn’t split those up into different lots. Who on Earth would want six copies of GTM #125?

I won most of the lots for between one to two bucks each, answering my own question. I now own six copies of GTM #125 — and 52 other vintage gaming magazines published between 1982 and 2012.

There’s a lot of great reading and gaming history in there. I was especially pleased to see Sorcerer’s ApprenticeWhite Dwarf, and Arcane, all of which are highly collectible today.

But the real delight, of course, was the single issue of Jolly R. Blackburn’s marvelous Shadis: issue #15, cover-dated Sept/Oct 1994, one of the most famous issues of the magazine ever published — and indeed, one of the highest selling single issues of any gaming magazine of the 90s.

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Get the First Seven eBook Titles from Strange Chemistry for Just $1.99

Saturday, August 24th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Assassin's Curse-smallHappy first birthday to Strange Chemistry Books!

Strange Chemistry is the Young Adult imprint of Angry Robot Books, “dedicated to the best in modern young adult science fiction, fantasy and everything in between.” It was launched in September 2012 under the stewardship of editor Amanda Rutter and over the last twelve months it has released no less than seventeen books, signed twenty four authors, and had one novel optioned for a TV show.

And what great books! Back in June, we shared a book cover montage of their first 18 releases, including Katya’s World by Black Gate author Jonathan L. Howard (“The Shuttered Temple” and “The Beautiful Corridor”), and Martha Wells’s Emilie and the Hollow World.

Now, to celebrate their first birthday, Strange Chemistry had reduced the price on the digital versions of each of their first seven releases, including The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke and Katya’s World to just $1.99:

Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond
Shift, by Kim Curran
The Assassin’s Curse, by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Poltergeeks, by Sean Cummings
Katya’s World, by Jonathan L. Howard
Broken, by A.E. Rought
Pantomime, by Laura Lam

I took advantage of the offer to buy both The Assassin’s Curse and Katya’s World — and I was sorely tempted by the rest. The offer is available for a limited time, so don’t delay.

The digital books are available Nook and Kindle format, though both Amazon and Amazon UK. Complete details (and links to the special offers) are at the Strange Chemistry website.

Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Five

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

kurtzman_flash_gordon_cvr1MV5BMzk2NTI0Nzg3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTg3MjE5Mw@@__V1_SY317_CR3,0,214,317_“The Space Kids on Zoran” was Dan Barry’s first Flash Gordon storyline following the departure of Harvey Kurtzman from the strip. It was published by King Features Syndicate from April 21 to October 24, 1953. The storyline shows the influence of Captain Video and his Video Rangers, the seminal series that was to the first television generation what the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials had been to their parents. As the storyline progresses, Barry incorporates another Biblical parable, this time offering up a space age twist on the Christ story.

Dan Barry had settled into a more comfortable style with the characters that was recognizably his own take on Alex Raymond’s original work. This style would remain constant until the early 1980s. The story begins with Flash and Dale driving to visit Ray Carson, who has set up a club called the Space Kids at an abandoned site. The boys have built a full-size model rocket out of wood and spare parts that Ray’s father gave him. Flash agrees to help the boys that weekend. There is a definite switch to a more juvenile approach to the strip, with the portrayal of the kids more reminiscent of Harvey Comics than a dramatic adventure strip. The sight of Flash smoking a pipe as he surveys the youngsters’ work is also somewhat disconcerting.

From there, Flash leaves for a meeting with aeronautics industrialist, J. B. Pennington, who is employing Ray’s dad to build a rocket and has hired Flash to fly it. Pennington is the stereotypical capitalist authority figure. He is dismissive of his employees and unloving to his young son, Cyril. Flash’s contemptuous attitude is meant to endear him to the young readers of the strip more than it is to offer social criticism as the generation gap becomes one of the major themes of the storyline.

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