And the Wall Comes Tumbling Down – The Two Towers Deck Building Game

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

The Two Towers Deck Building GameI wasn’t sure what to expect upon opening The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Deck Building Game (Amazon) from Cryptozoic. I was familiar with the basic concept of deck building games and had played both Ascension and Marvel Legendary, but the only deck building game I actually owned was the science fiction game Eminent Domain. Fortunately, LOTR: The Two Towers contains some engaging variations on basic deck-building strategy, resulting in a fun competitive game that is sure to entertain fans of the series for endless variations of play, especially when combined with other deck-building games in the series.

If you’ve never played one, here’s the basic mechanic behind deck-building games: Each player begins with a small default deck of cards (10 starting out in all of the above games) and goes through rounds in which they play cards from their hands to buy more cards into their discard pile. When they run through all their cards, the player shuffles it back into the deck. Many of the cards have a secondary ability, such as letting the player draw more cards out of the deck, take cards from the discard pile, or eliminate useless cards from their hand or discard pile. The goal is to gain effective cards and streamline your deck to get as many effective cards into your hand as quickly as possible.

The first thing that makes The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers stand out is that each player gets to assume the role of one of the characters from the film: Samwise, Frodo, Legolas, Aragorn, Merry & Pippin, Gimli, or King Theoden. By drawing from a selection of oversized Hero cards, the player randomly determine which character they are (or you can just choose). Each different character gets a unique card that goes into their starting deck. For example, Frodo’s card (called “It’s Getting Heavier”) allows him to gain control of The One Ring card while Samwise’s card (“There’s Some Good in This World”) protects from possible negative results from cards and allows you to draw another card.

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See the First Glimpse of Maleficent, a Dark Fantasy from Disney

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

Who is Maleficent?

Maleficent was the name Disney gave to the wicked witch in the classic animated film Sleeping Beauty (1959). She is one of the superb creations of 20th Century film and the character has endured well beyond the original movie. Maleficent has appeared in numerous other Disney books and movies, including the TV series House of Mouse, Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers novels, the ongoing ABC series Once Upon a Time, and perhaps most notably as a major character in the popular Kingdom Hearts video games. When the Ultimate Disney website hosted their top 30 Disney Villains countdown, Maleficent ranked #1.

Now her story is being told properly, in a big-budget live action release from Disney scheduled to arrive May 30. Described as both a prequel and a remake of Sleeping Beauty, the film presents the story from the point of view of Maleficent. Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol) is behind the project; it was written by Paul Dini and Linda Woolverton, and directed by Robert Stromberg. Imelda Staunton, Miranda Richardson, and Elle Fanning star, and the title role is portrayed by Angelina Jolie.

Watch the first trailer below to get a taste of this new dark fantasy from Disney. It promises to be a wholly different take on a famous story.

New Treasures: In Space No One Can Hear You Scream, edited by Hank Davis

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

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream-smallIn 2013, no one remembers that “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” was the tag line of a 1979 horror movie.

Well, after 34 years, I guess it’s okay to recycle a decent tag line, even for a film as popular as Alien. Especially when the end product is as intriguing as this Halloween-themed science fiction anthology. The moment I saw it I thought, “I wonder if it has the really great horror SF, like Arthur C. Clarke’s “A Walk in the Dark,” and George R.R. Martin’s “Sandkings?” It has both, in fact, alongside 11 short stories and novelettes from Theodore Sturgeon, Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, and others — plus a long novella from James H. Schmitz.


“The oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” the grand master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft, once wrote. And the greatest unknown is the vast universe, shrouded in eternal cosmic night. What things might be on other planets — or in the dark gulfs between the stars?

Giving very unsettling answers to that question are such writers as Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Sheckley, James. H. Schmitz, Clark Ashton Smith, Neal Asher, Sarah A. Hoyt, Tony Daniel and more, all equally masters of science fiction and of terror.

One might hope that in the void beyond the earth will be found friendly aliens, benevolent and possibly wiser than humanity, but don’t be surprised if other worlds have unpleasant surprises in store for future visitors. And in vacuum, no one will be able to hear your screams — as if it would do any good if they could…

Here’s the complete table of contents.

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The Hero’s Struggle

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

The Swords of Lankhmar-smallConan the Barbarian. Elric of Melnibone. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Gilgamesh. Hercules. Hector of Troy.

These giants of heroic fantasy (and the mythology from whence it springs) strode across the landscape of my imagination as a young man. They were my guiding stars when I started to write my own stories. But what were they teaching me?

When I think about these heroes, one thing that comes through is their incredible lust for life. Even when they lapse into melancholy, they never stop striving, never stop fighting, and that struggle is the essence of life. Whether it’s Conan carving out a place for himself in the kingdoms of Hyborea, or Elric fighting to keep his fragile body alive with potions and sorcery, or Hector facing the dread Achilles to protect his home, these heroes confront the challenges of their ages.

Their struggles say a lot about humanity. How far would we go to protect our own? Where is the line between justice and vengeance? Is violence ever warranted?

So when it came time to create the heroes for my own stories, I didn’t set out to emulate these characters, but time and time again I noticed certain parallels. For instance, Caim (the main character of my Shadow Saga) has many of the physical traits of the Gray Mouser, but married to a personality more like Conan. Caim is direct in his sneakiness, deliberate in his dealings, and he possesses a code of honor that, although rather bleak and brutal to most people, elevates him above his peers.

Heroes often fight. They tend to love and mourn with superhuman passion. But first and foremost, they struggle. With their enemies, with their societies, with the gods, and oftentimes even with themselves. They struggle, and so must our contemporary heroes who wish to tread in their titan-sized footsteps.

November/December Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction now on Sale

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

F&SF Nov-Dec 2013-smallI wish I had time to really keep up with F&SF. As it is, I barely have time to run out to the bookstore every two months to pick up a copy.

Nonetheless, I’m proud to be able to support the magazine. Ever since it switched to a bimonthly format in April 2009, six double issues a year, the huge 256-page issues have felt more like anthologies than a magazine. Editor Gordon van Gelder maintains a nice mix of SF and fantasy — including the occasional sword & sorcery piece — the only major magazine to dare to blend genres.

Colleen Chen reviewed the issue at Tangent Online:

“Baba Makosh” by M. K. Hobson is my favorite story of this issue. Three Comrades, fighting for the Red Army in the Russian civil war, are sent as a squad to seek Hell… Baba Makosh leads them to a village and a great building made of twisted roots, inside which they meet her sons, who look like stags but walk like men, and her husband — whom only Pudovkin sees is the horned god Veles. His companions are too busy gorging on cheese to notice. Pudovkin begins to question the post-revolutionary principles of the Red Army — principles he has supported until now — as Veles and Baba Makosh show through their words and actions that the traditions his grandfather loved, cruel though they may seem, have a strength and a rationale for existence that cannot be controlled nor defeated.

This piece offers beautiful, lush writing, a unique plot, strong characters, and folklore intertwined with history so skillfully that the whole takes on a magical quality that transports the reader completely to this new reality. The story is worth dissecting and even more worth reading as a whole — it’s rich in theme, with every word and line placed with purpose.

The issue also includes a novella by Michael Blumlein and novelettes and stories by Matthew Hughes, James Patrick Kelly, Albert E. Cowdrey, Tim Sullivan, and others. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Revisiting the Scene of the Crash: John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Ghosts of Mars One SheetI thought writing two John Carpenter articles in a row was sufficient. I had a strong enough excuse to go two-for-two with Carpenter because of the Blu-ray debuts of Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness, films that have developed a growing and appreciative fan base. The idea of doing a third article on a John Carpenter film, let alone one on the critically rejected Ghosts of Mars… no that never crossed my mind when I penciled in on my calendar, “Blu-rays for PoD and ItMoM! Write for Black Gate!”

However, enthusiastic comments on both Black Gate and Facebook made it imperative I complete a John Carpenter on Blu-ray trilogy of articles.

(Oh, wait: Assault on Precinct 13 arrives on Blu-ray today. Should I go for four in a row? Or instead do that examination of the Russian animated film The Snow Queen in time for the release of Frozen? I wish more of life’s dilemmas were of this type.)

Watching Ghosts of Mars on Blu-ray was my first time seeing the movie since August 2001, when it managed to hold onto multiplex screens for a week. The horrific opening weekend — coming in ninth place — meant Ghosts of Mars rapidly evaporated into the thin atmosphere, leaving a carbon blast mark people interpreted as the end of John Carpenter’s career. The $28 million science-fiction action/horror film managed a dismal $14 million global gross. Yes, global. Even in a career like Carpenter’s, filled with disappointing box-office returns, Ghost of Mars crashed epically. The critical and audience reaction was also murderous; it seemed unlikely the film would join some of Carpenter’s other financial disappointments like The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China in future fan appreciation.

Yet Carpenter has always had a reputation for being ahead of his time. Was it now time for Ghosts of Mars? Did the passage of twelve years give the film a better sheen, offer more to digest?

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Securing Gamer Posterity

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 | Posted by James Maliszewski

pic_MirusiyaLetterThe hobby of tabletop roleplaying games officially kicked off in early 1974, with the publication of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s Dungeons & Dragons. 2014, which is right around the corner, is thus the 40th anniversary of both D&D and the hobby to which it gave birth. Think about that for a moment: people have been rolling polyhedral dice and pretending to be knights and wizards for nearly four decades. If I didn’t already feel old, that fact certainly would have made feel so.

Though RPGs are still going strong after all these years, the same cannot, unfortunately, be said of many of its founding figures. We lost Gary Gygax in 2008 and Dave Arneson the following year. Many more have followed in the years since, several of whom have been noted here at Black Gate. Many others are still with us, of course; it’s my hope that we’ll take the time to honor and, above all, thank them for their contributions to our lives while we still have the chance to do so. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have been endlessly enriched and improved because of that boxed set I cracked open at Christmas 1979. I cannot begin to imagine how different the course of my life might have run if it had not been for this crazy hobby. Roleplaying games have truly had a huge impact in making me the person I am today. I doubt I am alone in feeling this way.

Given the importance RPGs have played in so many lives and how influential roleplaying games, both as entertainments and as creative endeavors, have become, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to want to see their history preserved for the benefit of future gamers – and historians, some of whom will undoubtedly find value in exploring how a bunch of “let’s pretend” games came to be the wellsprings of so much of contemporary popular culture. Sadly, this hasn’t been the case. There’s no Gygax Collection at the University of Chicago nor are the Arneson Papers safely lodged at the Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota. If you’re interested in piecing together the early history of the hobby – and the individuals who helped create it – you’ll likely have to rely on much more scattered resources to do so, assuming you can find them at all.

Unless you’re interested in M.A.R. Barker and his fantasy world of Tékumel, that is.

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Battle in the Dawn: The Complete Hok the Mighty by Manly Wade Wellman

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1743857GRCQJimHHistorical adventure fiction is one of the primary roots of swords & sorcery. From it you get the same fast-paced adventure in exotic settings.

Some writers of S&S, Robert E. Howard and Sprague de Camp for example, wrote historical adventure fiction alongside their more fantastic stories. Often the tales involve battling Crusaders and Saracens, high seas Viking adventures, swashbuckling freebooters, or Roman centurions fighting Teutonic hordes. Sometimes, though, they star cavemen.

Manly Wade Wellman spent his childhood in a primitive village in Portuguese West Africa. Till he died Wellman spoke of a young boy forced to kill a leopard in order to protect cattle. Other boys had been less lucky and had fallen prey to leopards. His time and experience in Angola was perhaps the greatest influence on his life, but most certainly on his prehistoric stories.

In 1939, after a decade of writing pulp science fiction with titles like “The Disc-Men of Jupiter” and “Outlaws on Callisto,” Manly Wade Wellman introduced his Cro-Magnon hero, Hok the Mighty, in the novelette “Battle in the Dawn.” Four stories followed before he retired the character. While there’s a strong anthropological component to the Hok stories, with footnotes explaining then-current thoughts on the discoveries made by early man, these five tales get progressively more fantastic.

In 2010 Paizo collected all the Hok stories, along with several fragments and the cavenmen vs. Martians mini-epic “The Day of the Conquerors,” in Battle in the Dawn: The Complete Hok the Mighty for their Planet Stories line.

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New Treasures: Assassin’s Dawn: The Complete Hoorka Trilogy, by Stephen Leigh

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

Slow Fall to Dawn-small Dance of the Hag-small A Quiet of Stone-small Untitled-3

[Click on any of the images above for bigger versions.]

Paperback publishing has come a long way since the early 80s. Improved binding and glues have made producing thicker books much more economical. Or something, I dunno. But we’re definitely living in the golden age of the omnibus, when publishers are cramming shelves with big, fat paperbacks collecting forgotten fantasy and SF series from prior decades, all for about the same price as every other dopey paperback.

Is that a great deal, or what?  I certainly thought so on Saturday, when I found a handsome volume collecting all three novels in Stephen Leigh’s long out-of-print science fantasy Hoorka Trilogy on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Assassin’s Dawn includes Slow Fall to Dawn (1981), Dance of the Hag (1983), and A Quiet of Stone (1984). The Hoorka are a guild of assassins with a strict code: any victim that can survive until dawn may go free, unmolested. But the consequences of this law can be harsh, especially when the client has no such scruples, as their leader Gyll discovers as he tries to take his guild offworld, into the newly thriving Alliance, a star-spanning organization attempting to put together the pieces of a once-great empire.

Stephen Leigh is also the author of The Crystal Memory, Dark Water’s Embrace, Dinosaur Planet, Speaking Stones, The Bones of God, and The Abraxas Marvel Circus. His publisher DAW has been something of a pioneer in the fantasy omnibus biz, with a nice assortment from Terry A. Adams, Tanya Huff, Marion Zimmer Bradley, C. J Cherryh, Jennifer Roberson, S. Andrew Swann, Peter Morwood, and many others.

Assassin’s Dawn was published May 2013 by DAW. It is 610 fat pages, priced at $8.99 for both the paperback and digital versions.

Amazing Science Fiction, December 1959: A Retro-Review

Monday, November 18th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Science Fiction December 1959-smallHere’s an issue from very early in Cele Goldsmith’s tenure (and very early in my life, I might add – this issue presumably appeared about a month after I did). It was in fact the first issue of Goldsmith’s second year at the helm.

The cover is by Leo Summers, illustrating (not too accurately) Alan Nourse’s novel Star Surgeon, which appears complete in this issue. Above the magazine title is the title of another story, “Knights of the Dark Tower,” without mention of the author, as was Amazing’s curious habit. Interior illustrations are by Summers, Virgil Finlay, and Mel Varga (with one uncredited).

The editorial, by Norman Lobsenz, celebrates Walter X. Osborn, a man living in the Philippines who was then 85 and had been reading Amazing since its beginning. Osborn’s favorite story? Possibly “The Green Man Returns,” by Harold M. Sherman from December 1947. His least favorite? The Shaver mysteries.

S. E. Cotts’ book review column, The Spectroscope, is extremely short. The one novel covered is Seed of Light, by Edmund Cooper, which Cotts criticizes for being too ambitious. But high praise goes to two anthologies, The World That Couldn’t Be, edited by H. L. Gold, and Mary Kornbluth’s Science Fiction Showcase, which she put together with Fred Pohl’s help (Pohl insists she picked the stories, though – he just helped clear the rights) after Cyril Kornbluth’s death.

The letter column features Bob Anderson, John Hitt, Ray Hahn, Jacqueline Brice, James S. Veldman, Paul Matthews, and Bobby Gene Warner (no names familiar to me, though Warner, as I recall, showed up in another Amazing lettercol from this period). No real controversies. Lots of Praise for Murray Leinster’s “Long Ago, Far Away”.

There is one “Complete Novel”, and 6 short stories, one of them a very brief vignette.

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