Vintage Treasures: Big Planet by Jack Vance

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Startling Stories September 1952-small Big Planet Jack Vance Ace-small Big-Planet-Ace-1978-small

I’m embarrassed to admit that I became a Jack Vance fan only late in life. I blame a misspent youth.

I first discovered him through his short fiction — especially “The Dragon Masters” and “The Moon Moth,” two brilliantly imaginative tales of far-off worlds. But I was slow to discover his novels and I’ve spent the last few years trying to catch up.

The one I want to read next is Big Planet, his 1952 novel of a massive but technologically backwards world known simply as Big Planet, settled over the centuries by a host of criminals, malcontents, and outcasts from Earth. Claude Glystra is sent to Big Planet to investigate rumors of a dark plot against Earth, but his ship is sabotaged and crash-lands 40,000 miles from his destination. Glystra and his crewmates must undertake an impossible journey on foot across a dangerous landscape filled with aliens, human colonies isolated for centuries, and the treacherous agents of his enemies.

Big Planet was Vance’s first major SF novel, and it is one of the classic adventure fantasies of the 1950s. It has been reprinted over a dozen times. I have several different paperback editions — and they are, in fact, very different. All I have to do is figure out which one to read.

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What Would it Look Like to Pull a Watchmen on Planetary Romance? Part II

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

carson aWhen we last left our intrepid blogger (me) two weeks ago, he was blogging (very roughly) about the superhero genre, pre- and post-Watchmen, and the kind of light that Alan Moore’s Watchmen shone onto superhero comics. I did this because I think Moore did something very special and I wondered if it could be done to other fields, especially planetary romance.

I ended on a cliffhanger. And now, Part II….

I said last time that most of the traditions of the superhero genre were born in a very brief period between 1938 and 1945. In fact, the elements of the superhero tradition come part and parcel from the larger pulp tradition, which contained westerns; gritty and occasionally lurid detective stories; and planetary romances like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, and Carson Napier of Venus.

The planetary romance tradition was powerfully tailored to its key market: white male American teens and men. If you were an under-appreciated teen with hero or power fantasies, pulp was your thing.

The heroes were young, white, smart, good looking, physically able, self-deprecating, and commanding. They confronted immediate perils (like a monster) or vast dangers (like an invasion), often single-handedly, or from a position of inspiring leadership.

And the opponents the hero fought were most often one-dimensional, morally-destitute cardboard placeholders for savage (non-whites) in our world, a view consistent with racial views of the late 19th century.

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New Treasures: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Full Fathom Five Max Gladstone Tor-smallBack in June, I reported on the second novel in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. And just in time, too… the third, Full Fathom Five, arrived barely a month later, and I don’t wanna appear behind the times (any more than usual, anyway.)

The best description of this series I’ve found so far is from Elizabeth Bear (no surprise), who says at her blog:

The Craft Sequence books are all about ancient necromancers in charge of corporations; liches running litigation; court battles fought by means of sorcerous contests; deities dueling by means of legal proxies and stock trading souls.

I have several narrative hot buttons when shopping for fantasy and that description punches every one of them. If John Grisham wrote zombie novels, we might have plots as cool as Max Gladstone’s. Maybe.

I wrote about the first book in the sequence, Three Parts Dead, in 2012, and Two Serpents Rise in June. The fourth, Last First Snow, is not yet scheduled. Max describes it as follows:

Last First Snow, as the (working) title suggests, is set a bit earlier along the series timeline, and shows the older generation’s history. Dresediel Lex teeters on the edge of a knife, riven by protest over controversial zoning legislation, while a younger Elayne Kevarian confronts a tangle of conspiracies, revolutionaries, personal demons, and dead gods.

I can see I’m going to have to set some time aside for that one, too.

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Experience the Second Era of Space with Mindjammer

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mindjammer-smallTrying out a new role playing game takes a pretty serious investment of time and energy, and I don’t do it often. I think the last time was probably Pelgrane Press’s excellent SF game Ashen Stars, which turned out to be worth the investment.

A few months ago, the talented Sarah Newton sent me a copy of her ambitious new RPG Mindjammer, and I found myself intrigued. Early this year, it beat out 13th Age, Hillfolk, and other great games to win the Griffie Award for Best Roleplaying Game, which only sharpened my interest.

So over the last few weeks and months, I’ve been digging into it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a really terrific SF role playing game, with a flavor all its own.

Mindjammer describes itself as a game of “Transhumanism Adventure,” which in practical terms means it’s a mix of science fiction and superhero gaming. Hyperadvanced technology, synthetic intelligence, cybernetics, and ancient lost tech have changed what it means to be human, opening up a wide range of fabulous and inventive skills for your players — things like Xeno-empathy, Starship therapy, logic shields, and many others. It makes character generation a lot of fun, and really gets players thinking about the type of universe they’re about to step into.

And what kind of universe is that, exactly? One where humans mingle with divergent hominids, uplifted animals, synthetic beings, and stranger things. Players can even play a sentient starship — which may give you some idea of the scale and ambition of this fine game.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Shadow of Fu Manchu, Part One

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Doubleday ShadowShadow JenkinsThe Shadow of Fu Manchu was serialized in Collier’s from May 8 to June 12, 1948. Hardcover editions followed later that year from Doubleday in the U.S. and Herbert Jenkins in the U.K. The book was Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller and was also the last of the perennial series to make the New York Times bestseller list.

The story had its origins in a Fu Manchu stage play that Rohmer had developed for actor Basil Rathbone. The project had failed to get off the ground, but became instead the first new Fu Manchu novel in seven years. Sadly, during these seven years, the property had begun to fade from the public eye.

It had been eight years since the character last appeared on the big screen (in the popular 1940 Republic serial, Drums of Fu Manchu) and eight years since the well-received Shadow of Fu Manchu radio series (from which the planned stage play and later novel borrowed its title) had left the air. Detective Comics had long since finished reprinting the Fu Manchu newspaper comic strip as a back-up feature for Batman. As far as the public was concerned, Fu Manchu was a part of the past that seemed far removed from the world that had been transformed by the Second World War.

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The Huffington Post on Fantasy Series Better Than Harry Potter

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Master of the Five Magics-smallOver at The Huffington Post, author Jeff Somers (The Digital Plague, The Ustari Cycle) holds forth on fantasy worlds that are more appealing than the mega-successful Harry Potter series.

I was surprised to see his list consisted exclusively of vintage paperbacks, including Jack L. Chalker’s Midnight at the Well of Souls (1980), Piers Anthony’s first Xanth novel A Spell for Chameleon (1977), L. Frank Baum’s The Magic of Oz (1919), and Master of the Five Magics (1980) by Lyndon Hardy. Perhaps not coincidentally, all are part of a fantasy series. Here he is on the latter book:

I read this book as a kid, and the magic system Hardy creates remains one of the more interesting and entertaining ones out there. He imagines a universe that has (initially) five magical disciplines: Thaumaturgy, Alchemy, Magic, Sorcery, and Wizardry. Each form of magic has a clear set of rules that govern how it works. For example, Wizardry is the discipline that summons demons, and it has two rules: the Law of Ubiquity, which states that flame permeates all (making it a gateway between worlds), and the Law of Dichotomy, which states that once a demon is summoned it must either dominate the summoner or be dominated. All in all, a logical system that requires the protagonist to actually study and learn and think critically about the magic, instead of waking up one morning with the ability to turn people into newts or something.

Lyndon Hardy wrote two sequels to Master of the Five Magics: Secret of the Sixth Magic (1984) and Riddle of the Seven Realms (1988). He has not returned to fantasy since. Outside of fantasy, he is perhaps best known as the mastermind of the 1961 Great Rose Bowl Hoax.

Read Somers’ complete article here.


Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook Now on Sale

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook Fifth Edition-smallIn June of 2008, Wizards of the Coast launched the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons with considerable fanfare. While there was a lot of initial interest — and solid early sales — it never truly caught on.

Personally, I enjoyed lot of the supplemental material, like the updated Dark Sun setting and the excellent Shadowfell boxed set, but by 2011 I noticed new releases had slowed to a trickle. Eventually, they stopped entirely.

This was bad news for RPG fans. When sales of the world’s most popular role playing game collapse scarcely three years after the launch of a new edition, the entire industry suffers. Was this the end of the most famous game franchise in the adventure game hobby?

Fortunately, it was not. Wizards of the Coast made a major commitment to re-launch D&D, and in January 2012 it announced what was then known as D&D Next. The game had a few name changes over the next two years (it was Fifth Edition for a while, until WotC eventually settled on just Dungeons & Dragons), but for much of that time WotC maintained an open beta on the rules and kept players involved and informed.

It paid off. The buzz surrounding the game has been building nicely. On Tuesday of this week, the first of the three core volumes, the highly anticipated Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, finally shipped (click on the image at left to see it in its high-res glory). And according to io9, it was the number one selling book — of any kind — at Amazon on the day of its release.

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The Series Series: Quintessence by David Walton

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Quintessence David Walton-smallQuintessence is a story of the Age of Exploration, as it might have unfolded on a literally flat Earth where some of the wilder alchemists’ ideas were right. Here there be dragons. If you list all the cool stuff in this book, it looks like a sure bet for most fantasy readers: voyages at sea (doomed and desperate), houses of solid diamond, heresy, plucky young people changing the world, and monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

In attitude, character, and pacing, however, the book feels more like science fiction in the tradition of John W. Campbell. I grew up reading that stuff — odds are that you did, too — so I found a great deal to enjoy in Quintessence. Just not quite the things I came to the book hoping to enjoy.

David Walton’s bestiary is worth the price of admission. The man knows how to fill a fanciful ecosystem, and if he had found some comic artist to collaborate with and had published a volume of the characters’ field notes, it would have been its own weird hit.

Perhaps if the creatures had been less gloriously inventive, the characters would have felt more vivid. As the book stands, the characterization falls far enough behind the worldbuilding for the characters to feel at times like types out of Commedia Dell’Arte. That is, if Commedia Dell’Arte had been invented by John W. Campbell.

We have our earnest scientist and our mad one. We have our plucky maiden and her plucky suitor, both brilliant engineers whose talents for tinkering had gone unnoticed back in England. We have a sort of Greek chorus of thinking men whom the earnest scientific hero forms into a discussion society for brainstorming and peer review. For villains, we have a smarmy politician and a religious fanatic, who care nothing for science.

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Goth Chick News: The Zombie Apocalypse Spreads to a $100K Kickstarter Campaign

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image006Here in the underground offices of Goth Chick News, the only thing we appreciate more than a blended, adult beverage is an independent film; more specifically, an independent horror film.

So guys like Wyatt Weed from Pirate Pictures and Roze (who like all icons goes by one name only) are serious heroes around here.  And though the whole Pirate Pictures crew have been Black Gate regulars for some time, Roze wasn’t slated to make an appearance until early next year.

If you aren’t familiar with his work, Roze is an Arizona-based writer/director with a passion for the macabre. Roze and his wife Candace co-founded the independent production company Gas Mask Films, which made its debut in 2006 with Denial, a short film screened at the Cannes Film Market Short Film Corner. In 2008, the feature-length film Deadfall Trail was shot and produced entirely in Arizona for less than $80,000. After the success of Deadfall Trail, Gas Mask Films went on to produce the feature horror film, Speak No Evil, slated for wide release by Lions Gate in 2015.

And 2015 is when we expected to tell you about Roze — that is until he floated over an idea that was just too perfect not to pass along.

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Duart Castle: A Stronghold on the Edge of the World in the Midst of History

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

http://www.duartcastle.com/

Duart Castle
(Image courtesy of Duart Castle)

Today a wind blusters off the North Sea, gnawing away at the Scottish summer and I’m a tank.

Arms serving as sponson-mounted guns, I trundle up the path waiting for the ambush. The boys have vanished into the bracken ahead and I’m going to spot them before they get behind me…

“Bang bang bang bang!” Long hair as wild as wood-elf’s, Morgenstern, my 6-year old daughter, explodes out of the greenery, pink boots crushing the foliage. “Got you, Daddy!”

“Ha!” I say. “You’re making machine gun sounds. That won’t do anything against a tank.”

Morgenstern grins and explains as if to an idiot: “No, Daddy, I’m using a plasma gun from Halo*.”

*Geek Parenting Tip: Most games are age appropriate if you hold your finger over the “1” when showing the PEGI rating to older relatives.

I want to tell her that plasma guns are off topic, but then I look to my right and grin. We’re playing around the rocky base of Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, seat of the Macleans since the mid 14th century.

You know the castles you read about in Fantasy epics? Where the family history is woven into the fabric? Where the rooms are wrapped in story? That’s Duart.

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