Give a Warm Welcome to Saga Press, Launching This Spring

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grace of Kings Persona City of Savages The Darkside War

There are a lot of books vying for your attention at the World Fantasy Convention. Publishers put free books in your convention bag, publicists place colorful flyers on the giveaway table, and hopeful authors hand out bookmarks and cards by the dozens. I always leave the con with my head brimming with promising new books, authors, and publishers.

Of course, I forget most of them within a day or two. Well, maybe it’s for the best. I couldn’t possibly read them all anyway.

It’s the ones that linger in my mind a couple weeks after the con that truly deserve my attention. Sort of a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest contest, taking place in the dusty corners of my brain. Good to know those brain cells are doing something, I suppose.

It’s been over two weeks since the 2014 World Fantasy Convention now, and I’m already having trouble remembering what city it was in. (Some brains are more skilled at forgetting than others. My brain is an expert.) But a handful of books I glimpsed at the con have managed to stay with me, and a surprising number of them are from the brand new publisher, Saga Press. In fact, I’d venture to say that Saga had perhaps the most impressive slate of upcoming titles I saw at the con — and that’s saying something.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Munchkin

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Munhkin_BoxToday, we’re going off topic to talk about the funnest (Most fun? More fun than any other?) game I play, Munchkin.

Those of us old enough to remember micro games recognize the name Steve Jackson as the creator of OGRE. This tiny little “board game” with the flimsy cardboard pieces launched the micro game market. As the founder of Steve Jackson Games, Jackson has produced a great many board and role playing games, including his own RPG system, GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System).

Back in 2001, Jackson released Munchkin, a fantasy parody card game with the motto, ‘Kill the monsters, steal the treasure, stab your buddy.’ For several years, I looked down on Munchkin as a cheap attempt to cash in on the RPG field. Then a friend bought the original Munchkin game last year. Boy, was I wrong!!

Munchkin (which comes in several variations), is flat out the most fun I’ve ever had playing a board or card game. It can be played by two, but as I’ll explain below, it really only clicks with at least three. The ‘helping’ dynamic doesn’t have nearly as great an impact in a two player game and things can get a bit flat. But with a third, it’s no holds barred.

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“It Is Neither Allegory Nor Fable But A Story To Be Read For Its Own Sake”: E.R. Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros, and Zimiamvia

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Worm OuroborosLast August, John O’Neill noted that HarperCollins would be reprinting four classic fantasies by E.R. Eddison: The Worm Ouroboros (first published in 1922), Mistress of Mistresses (from 1935), A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941), and The Mezentian Gate. Gate was unfinished when Eddison died, but he prepared it as best he could for publication before his death, writing a detailed synopsis for the chapters he hadn’t completed. The book was published in 1958 as the synopsis with some finished chapters. A 1992 one-volume reprinting of Mistress, Fish Dinner, and Gate, which together make up a sequence called the Zimiamvia trilogy, added several fragments of chapters found since Gate’s first publication. I have not seen the new printing, so can’t tell if anything more has been added to Gate for the Harper edition. But, as the new printings of the books came out in October, I thought I’d take a look back at Eddison’s best-known fantasy stories.

The Worm Ouroboros is widely and justly acclaimed as a classic. It deals, broadly, with the conflict on the planet Mercury (any resemblance between this Mercury and the real planet Mercury is purely coincidental) between Demonland and Witchland. The Demons and Witches — and Imps and Goblins — are all basically human, but their kings and champions are legendary heroes on a Homeric or Arthurian scale, while the setting echoes the Elizabethan and Jacobean era in its culture and especially its elaborate language. The plot follows four great heroes of Demonland as they quest across deep seas and high mountains for a means to defeat the armies of the Witch-king Gorice, while the in-fighting of his scheming court provides a kind of counter-plot centering around the ambiguous figure of the exiled Goblin Lord Gro.

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When Stellar Empires Clash: GDW’s Dark Nebula and Imperium

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dark Nebula Game Designers Workshop-smallIn this new Golden Age of science fiction and fantasy board games, when all the chatter is about the latest and greatest mega-games (when it isn’t about the big Fantasy Flight Holiday Sale), I’d like to take a moment to appreciate two classic games of interstellar combat: GDW’s Imperium and Dark Nebula, originally published in 1977 and 1980.

Both may appear simplistic compared to modern games of empire-building in space, like Eclipse, EVE Conquests, or Empires of the Void. At first glance, they may seem more comparable to fast-action games like Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic LeagueAstra Titanus, or the Warhammer 40K game Relic.

But just because both are packaged in relatively small boxes with a slender set of rules doesn’t mean they aren’t ambitious and nuanced games. Both are set in the Traveller universe designed by Marc Miller and, if you’re familiar with that game, they’re a great way to play out some of the far-ranging conflicts that shaped The Third Imperium.

Although it’s probably more accurate to say that Dark Nebula shared a setting with Imperium, which gradually became part of the Traveller universe. Imperium, an ambitious two-player game of space empire conflict set in 22nd Century, was released by GDW in 1977 — the same year the company also published Traveller.  Imperium had a very intriguing backstory, with two great empires in conflict, hints of failed diplomacy, and a vast stellar empire in slow decline.

Conversely, the original boxed edition of Traveller didn’t really have a setting — it was sort of a generic system for role playing in space, and it drew on the popular vision of a galaxy-spanning human civilization found in the science fiction of the time by Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Keith Laumer, H. Beam Piper, and others. (James Maliszewski did a splendid job of re-constructing the formative SF behind Traveller in “Appendix T.”) It was a game desperately in need of a rich setting, and it found one in Imperium.

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An Infinity of Worlds: Encountering The Madness of Cthulhu

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 | Posted by G. Winston Hyatt

The Madness of Cthulhu-smallJonathan Mayberry observes in his introduction to The Madness of Cthulhu that H.P. Lovecraft has inspired a subgenre that “already has thousands of stories and hundreds of novels in it, not to mention movies, TV shows, toys, video and board games, and even live-action role playing.” Nowadays, it seems every other horror fiction outing can at least in part be described as “Lovecraftian,” an amorphous adjective that has come to mean so many things that one wonders if it retains any meaning at all. This, as Mayberry points out, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Lovecraft didn’t give us one world — he gave us “an infinity of worlds.”

Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness serves as the inspiration for many of the authors in The Madness of Cthulhu. HPL’s reputation among science fiction writers (as well as critics) has always been, as S.T. Joshi states in the anthology’s second introduction, “ambivalent.” At the Mountains of Madness itself is a fine example of both the first-rate and the rather questionable aspects of HPL’s work.

On one hand, it’s masterful in concept and at times in execution. A fusion of Antarctic adventure, science fiction, and early-modern horror, it not only offers chilling passages with an escalating sense of dread and isolation, but also constructs a world horrifying in its implications about mankind.

On the other hand, it includes phrases such as “a myriad of grotesque penguins.” The Antarctic landscape is compared, between two characters, four separate times to “the Asian paintings of Roerich.” HPL is simultaneously brilliant and absurd, at turns deeply unsettling and unintentionally comical. Rather than sweep this ambiguity aside, The Madness of Cthulhu wisely embraces the spectrum of tone and content HPL can inspire.

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Vintage Treasures: Gateway to Elsewhere by Murray Leinster / The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gateway to Elsewhere-small The Weapon Shops of Isher-small

And now we come to one of my favorite Ace Doubles: Murray Leinster’s Arabian Nights fantasy Gateway to Elsewhere, paired with the classic science fiction novel The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt.

Of the two, Gateway to Elsewhere is significantly lesser known. It was Leinster’s first fantasy novel, although he’d previously published two SF novels, The Murder of the U.S.A. (as Will F. Jenkins, in 1946) and The Black Galaxy (in Startling, March 1949). Gateway to Elsewhere originally appeared in a two-part serial in the seventh issue of the small circulation digest Fantasy Book in 1950/51 under the title Journey to Barkut. The entire novel was reprinted in the January 1952 issue of Startling Stories, still under the title Journey to Barkut, with a handsome cover by Earle Bergey (see below).

Two years later, it appeared as half of Ace Double D-53, with the new title Gateway to Elsewhere, and a splendid cover by Harry Barton.

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New Treasures: Hidden by Benedict Jacka

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Hidden Benedict Jacka-smallBenedict Jacka’s first Alex Versus novel, Fated, was published by Ace on February 28, 2012. He’s kept up a regular schedule since, with four more following over the last two years: Cursed, Taken, Chosen, and now Hidden.

They’ve gradually been gathering some acclaim, too. In a starred review of Chosen, Publishers Weekly said “Jacka puts other urban fantasists to shame.” It called Cursed “An even more impressive tale of gunplay and spellcraft in present-day London… [a] tasty blend of magic, explosions, and moral complexity.” And Patricia Briggs, author of Shifting Shadows, called the opening volume in the series “A stay-up-all-night read.” I haven’t been able to keep up with the latest in urban fantasy over the past five years, but the Alex Versus novels are definitely near the top of my list.

With his talent for divining the future, Alex Verus should have foreseen his friends’ reactions to the revelations about his previous life. Anne Walker no longer trusts him—and has also cut all ties with the mage community after getting kicked out of the apprentice program. As a favor to Luna, Alex’s own apprentice and Anne’s best friend, he checks in on her only to be told to leave her alone.

Then Anne gets kidnapped. The Council Keepers of the Order of the Star believe Dark mages from her past may be involved. Working with the Keepers, Alex and Luna discover that Anne has been taken into the shadow realm of Sagash, her former Dark mage mentor, and they must find a way to rescue her.

But another shadow from the past has resurfaced—Alex’s former master may be back in London, and Alex has no idea what his agenda is…

Hidden was published by Ace Books on September 2, 2014. It is 293 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.

Game Books, Epic Fantasy, and Military Science Fiction: The Multiple Identities of R.A.V. Salsitz

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Magickers-small Death Storm-small Night of Dragons-small The Sand Wars-small The Dark Ferryman-small

Do you enjoy the fantasy novels of Emily Drake, author of the popular The Magickers series? What about the contemporary horror of Anne Knight, author of Death Storm? Perhaps you’re more partial to the light fantasy of R.A.V. Salsitz, author of Night of Dragons and The Unicorn Dancer novels. Or the military science fiction of Charles Ingrid, author of the long-running Sand Wars series. Or maybe the dark fantasy of Jenna Rhodes (The Dark Ferryman).

Possibly the contemporary science fiction of Elizabeth Forrest (Phoenix Fire, Dark Tide) is more your thing. Or the fantasy novels of Rhondi Vilott Salsitz (The Twilight Gate). Perhaps the eleven volumes in Rhondi Vilott’s Dragon Roads gamebook series have fired your imagination.

Possibly you’ve enjoyed them all, as they’re all written by the same person.

It’s not unusual for popular writers to use a pseudonym in this industry — indeed, even multiple pseudonyms. But in a field where almost everyone seems to have a secret identity or two, R.A.V. Salsitz still stands out. She has an amazing number of pseudonyms, and has published successfully in numerous genres, including epic fantasy, horror, mystery, game books, YA, military science fiction, romance, and urban fantasy. Her first novel was Her Secret Self, published by Bantam in 1982; since then she’s published dozens more.

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Future Treasures: The Wide World’s End by James Enge

Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Wide World's End-smallTurn off the television, unplug the phone, and disconnect the wireless. We just received an advance proof of The Wide World’s End, the latest Morlock novel from James Enge and our friends at Pyr Books. Don’t bother us for two days, okay? Unless you’re going to send food.

The tale of the early days of Morlock Ambrosius — master of all magical makers, wandering swordsman, and son of Merlin — concludes!

From beyond the northern edge of the world, the Sunkillers (undying enemies of everything that lives and breathes and is an individual) are reaching into the sky of Laent to drain out its light and warmth. Their hope is to scrape sky, land, and sea clean of mortal life and return to where they once dwelled, before the first rising of the sun. Against them stand only the Graith of Guardians, defenders of the peaceful anarchy of the Wardlands. But the agents of the Sunkillers are abroad even in the Wardlands: plotting, betraying, murdering among the Graith.

Married now for a century, Morlock Ambrosius and Aloê Oaij will take different paths to counter the threat. As Aloê ferrets out the enemy within the Graith, Morlock joins forces with his sister, the formidable Ambrosia Viviana, and crosses the monster-haunted plains of the deep north to confront the Sunkillers in their own realm. Morlock and Aloê think their parting is temporary, but it is final. They may or may not save the world, but they will not save each other, or themselves.

The Wide World’s End is the third volume of A Tournament of Shadows, the origin story of Morlock Ambrosius. It follows A Guile of Dragons (2012) and Wrath-Bearing Tree (2013). James’s tales of Morlock first appeared in Black Gate magazine, starting with BG 8.

The Wide World’s End will be published by Pyr Books on February 17, 2015. It is 409 pages, priced at $18 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Steve Stone.

Firefly Friday: Leaves on the Wind Comic

Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Serenity_Leaves_on_the_Wind_HC_coverThe film Serenity brought a fair amount of closure to fans of Firefly, but as with any great story it didn’t end there. Each character goes through events in the film that transforms them in some way, and the story is never over. The classic hero’s journey ends not with the climactic battle, but with the return. The hero comes back to where he (or she) began and, through the events, has been transformed. Indeed, often their home itself has been transformed in some way, even if only in the way they view it.

The 6-issue limited comic book limited series, now collected together in Serenity: Leaves on the Wind (Amazon) completes the “Return” aspect of the hero’s journey for our crew … and since it’s a story in its own right, it also contains a full journey within it, with a new call to action, a new conflict, a new shift under the feet of the heroes. New allies and enemies are introduced, and the crew continues to change.

The series begins in the aftermath of Serenity, where the revelations about the origins of the Reavers spark heated debate across the ‘Verse. While pundits debate the veracity of the allegations, both the Alliance and a growing New Resistance movement are looking for the man who started it all: Malcolm Reynolds.

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