Unify England During the Hundred Years War in Lancaster from Queen Games

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Lancaster game-small

If you’re like me, maybe you’ve been watching Games of Thrones and it’s spurred an interest in its historical analog, the 15th Century English civil war between the houses Lancaster and York. Or maybe you’ve found yourself yearning to conquer a kingdom of your own. Or maybe you’re just curious about all these deep discount Queen Games at Amazon for the past month.

Any (or all) of these things could have brought you to discover Lancaster, the acclaimed board game of kingmaking in 15th Century England. Here’s a snippet of the review at The Opinionated Gamers.

Lancaster proves that [designer Matthias] Cramer is anything but a one-hit wonder… Lancaster is a quasi-Worker Placement game set in 15th Century England. Despite the title, it doesn’t deal with the War of the Roses, but at the beginning of the reign of Henry V, of the House of Lancaster, 40 years earlier. That places the action smack in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War and, in fact, the players can take an active role in Henry’s successful campaigns against the French…

It only takes a little exposure to Lancaster to realize that this is a very professional, polished design. There seems to be a lot of moving parts, but it all hangs together very nicely. The game plays smoothly, with plenty of interaction, but not so much as to make it overly nasty… Lancaster is a gamer’s game, but I think it could also work well for the more casual gamer who is looking for a greater challenge than gateway fare. I think the SdJ jury pegged it correctly when they nominated the game for the Kennerspiel award.

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Postapocalyptic Adventure on the Gulf Coast: The Ship Breaker Trilogy by Paolo Bacigalupi

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Ship Breaker Paolo Bacigalupi-small The Drowned CIties Paolo Bacigalupi-small Tool of War Paolo Bacigalupi-small

Paolo Bacigalupi’s breakout book was The Windup Girl (2009), which won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. He followed that triumph with his first New York Times bestseller, the National Book Award Finalist Ship Breaker (2010), the tale of a teenage boy in a future Gulf Coast devastated by the forces of climate change. Here’s the description.

In America’s flooded Gulf Coast region, oil is scarce, but loyalty is scarcer. Grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts by crews of young people. Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or by chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life….

He followed Ship Breaker with The Drowned Cities, a 2012 Los Angeles Public Library Best Teen Book.

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Spanish Castle Magic, Part Four

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


One of the best things about living in Spain is being able to visit the many castles that dot the landscape. Actually it’s the food and wine and relatively low cost of living, but the castles are nice too. Not far from Madrid is the Castillo de Manzanares El Real. It was built in 1475 by the I Duque del Infantado, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, and is billed as one of the “jewels of Spain.”

The castle replaced a smaller and less elegant castle in town, and was constructed as both a fortification and a residence. The choice of construction was a bit outmoded, as artillery was already making fortifications such as this one ineffective. Fortunately for the duke, it was never attacked and in fact the family only lived there until 1530.

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Rube Goldberg’s Radio Robot

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Steve Carper

Rube Goldberg How to Get an Olive Out of a Long-Necked Bottle, Washington Times April 20, 1922

A robot on radio? What would be the point?

You might ask what was the point of a ventriloquist on radio, but Edgar Bergen made himself a multi-gazillionaire by ignoring other people’s considerations of sense or logic.

Bergen’s success with Charlie McCarthy was still a year off when Reuben Garrett Lucius “Rube” Goldberg had another of his incredibly numerous bright ideas. The cartoonist introduced the strip Mike and Ike (They Look Alike) in 1907. Calling lookalikes by those names became part of the language. So did the obscure slang term “boob” after Goldberg started the strip starring Boob McNutt in 1915. You think Al Jaffee created the bit Snappy Answers to Foolish Questions? Off by about a half-century. Goldberg’s Foolish Questions started appearing in 1915.

Not a bad legacy, though they all pale to his supreme cartoon invention — the Rube Goldberg machine. That term entered the dictionary, too, “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.” Above and below are a couple of examples from the early 1920s.

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies 239 Now Available

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Beneath Ceaseless Skies 239-smallThe latest issue of Scott Andrew’s Beneath Ceaseless Skies has new fiction from Adam-Troy Castro & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, and Michael Anthony Ashley, plus an Audio Fiction Podcast, and a reprint by Catherynne M. Valente. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

The Mouth of the Oyster,” Adam-Troy Castro & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Sometimes we treated our anger as a polished jewel, too precious to be set aside. I retained mine for many long seconds before seeing it as a burden and letting it slip, unmourned, into the peace of the fine day. The last of it expressed itself with a grumpy, “For a man who makes eyes, you certainly have much to learn about the blind.”

Woe and Other Remedies,” Michael Anthony Ashley

On rang the bells, and the guests, as if released from fetters, dispersed to take their seats. And here we are, Gama III thought. The table was full, the moment at hand. Anticipation moved as a wild fondle from seat to seat, bowel to bowel, quivers begetting moans and hoarse whispers, emotion stretching jaws with violence.

Audio Fiction Podcast: “The Mouth of the Oyster,” Adam-Troy Castro & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

And with that I gave up so many things, so many golden sunrises and so many lingering sunsets.

From the Archives: “The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery,” Catherynne M. Valente

For the sake of the beautiful Dogaressa, I took up my father’s battered old pipe and punty.

Read issue 239 online completely free here.

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New Treasures: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

A Plague of Giants-smallKevin Hearne is the author of the New York Times bestselling Iron Druid Chronicles, as well as the Star Wars novel Heir to the Jedi. His latest, A Plague of Giants, kicks off a brand new fantasy series with an intriguing mythology — complete with shape-shifting bards, fire-wielding giants, and children who can speak to strange beasts.

Tallynd is a soldier who has already survived her toughest battle: losing her husband. But now she finds herself on the front lines of an invasion of giants, intent on wiping out the entire kingdom, including Tallynd’s two sons — all that she has left. The stakes have never been higher. If Tallynd fails, her boys may never become men.

Dervan is an historian who longs for a simple, quiet life. But he’s drawn into intrigue when he’s hired to record the tales of a mysterious bard who may be a spy or even an assassin for a rival kingdom. As the bard shares his fantastical stories, Dervan makes a shocking discovery: He may have a connection to the tales, one that will bring his own secrets to light.

Abhi’s family have always been hunters, but Abhi wants to choose a different life for himself. Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, Abhi soon learns that his destiny is far greater than he imagined: a powerful new magic thrust upon him may hold the key to defeating the giants once and for all — if it doesn’t destroy him first.

Set in a magical world of terror and wonder, this novel is a deeply felt epic of courage and war, in which the fates of these characters intertwine — and where ordinary people become heroes, and their lives become legend.

A Plague of Giants was published by Del Rey on October 17, 2017. It is 640 pages, priced at $28.99 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. The eye-catching jacket design and illustration is by David G. Stevenson.

The Road of Azrael by Robert E. Howard

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

TRDOZRL1979I can remember when my dad brought home The Road of Azrael (1979) and Sowers of the Thunder (1980), collections of Robert E. Howard’s historical adventure tales. My reading tastes were so exclusively fantasy and science fiction then, I couldn’t imagine wasting any time on boring, mundane stories. No wizards, no demons? What the heck was anybody thinking?

I grew out of that attitude a few years later and read both volumes. I remember liking them, but if you asked me for details on either one, I couldn’t have told you a thing. I read them once and never again. In fact, until recently I hadn’t read any other historical adventure even though, theoretically at least, I was a fan. I mean, it’s one of the primary root sources of swords & sorcery. At a very basic level, Robert E. Howard took the historical adventures of writers like Harold Lamb and Talbot Mundy and added magic and monsters.

It wasn’t until I started blogging about swords & sorcery and started getting all sorts of recommendations for the stuff that I looked into the genre again. With my review of Henry Treece’s The Great Captains four years ago, I started including some novels in my writing for Black Gate. I’ve been including a taste every month or so (most recently Purity of Blood by Arturo Pérez-Reverte), and it’s gone over well.

One of the pledges I made to myself at the start of my Black Gate tenure four years ago, was to avoid the big names of swords & sorcery. No one, I felt, needed another article about Michael Moorcock, or Fritz Leiber, or especially Robert E. Howard. Considering I wrote about Karl Edward Wagner’s Night Winds for my very first full review, THAT promise didn’t last very long, but I have tried to keep my focus on lesser-known or forgotten authors in my reviews of older works. Since then, I’ve reviewed a Moorcock book, a new one by Charles Saunders, and several more Wagner books, but until now I’ve steered clear of REH (especially because Bob Byrne has done a terrific job writing about him here at BG in his ongoing Discovering Robert E. Howard columns). It’s too hard to completely avoid the foundational figures of swords & sorcery when writing as often as I do, but I try to keep it to a minimum.

All this is a complicated way to say I’m reviewing The Road of Azrael by Robert E. Howard, and feel fully justified in doing so. It collects five historical tales of varying quality.

The paperback edition I read has execrable cover art, which did nothing to add appeal for me. Fortunately, the first thing in the book is a laudatory introduction by Gordon Dickson, no slouch of a storyteller himself, praising REH’s storytelling talents. Not that I need reminding of just how good Howard could be, but it’s always nice to see him get the praise he deserves. Unfortunately, I did not like the opening story, “Hawks Over Egypt.”

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Fantasia 2017, Day 14, Part 2: Folklore and Fans (November and Tokyo Idols)

Monday, November 20th, 2017 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

NovemberI wrote the other day about 78/52, the first movie I saw at Fantasia on Wednesday, July 26. It played at the De Sève Theatre, the smaller of the two main Fantasia cinemas, and as it happened I’d see two more movies there the same day. The first was an Estonian movie (technically an Estonian-Dutch-Polish co-production) called November, a period piece set among Northern forests, rich in folklore and cinematic beauty. The second was a documentary called Tokyo Idols, about the Tokyo-centred industry of young female pop singers.

November was written and directed by Rainer Sarnet from the novel Rehepapp by Andrus Kivirähk. Shot in a sumptuous black and white, it shows us an Estonian peasant village in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, isolated among the deep woods, ruled by a family of Germans. We see the grinding poverty of pre-industrial village life and we see the German lords in their rich but decaying manor house. More significantly, perhaps, we see the world of spiritual forces and witchcraft within which the peasants live. Dead souls return to share a feast. Witches can teach a girl to take the shape of a wolf. Hidden treasures lurk under floorboards. Plagues take human form. And you can sell your soul to the devil to get a servant made of scraps of wood and other leftovers, a thing called a kratt; if you’re really cunning, if you know the trick of it, maybe you can cheat the devil and get away with your soul intact.

Against this rich background we see a love triangle develop. Liina (Rea Lest) is love with Hans (Jörgen Liik) who himself has his heart set on the German baroness. In and around this are other subplots and anecdotes of village life. A man becomes obsessed with the maid of the manor house. Older people see what might have in their own lives as Liina pursues Hans. Hans, meanwhile, also aspires to be a poet. But if he sells his soul for love, can he ever become the writer he wants to be?

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Vintage Treasures: Sword & Sorceress, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Monday, November 20th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Sword & Sorceress Anthologies-small

Sword and Sorcery has a rich history of anthology series. Lin Carter’s seminal Flashing Swords and Andy Offutt’s Swords Against Darkness are probably the most famous examples, but in terms of longevity and influence on the field I think they’re both eclipsed by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress anthologies. The first one appeared from DAW Books in 1984, and there’s been a new volume every year since, with a single three-year gap between 2004-07. Last year’s Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress, edited by Elisabeth Waters, was #31.

The series is critical to the history of the field for more than its longevity, however. Unlike Carter and Offutt, who invited established authors to fill their pages, Bradley and her fellow editors opened their volumes up to submissions, and the results were pretty extraordinary. Numerous young writers who would go on to great things, many of them women, were discovered or promoted very early in their career in the pages of S&S, including Emma Bull, Mercedes Lackey, Jennifer Roberson, Diana L. Paxson, Laurell K. Hamilton, Phyllis Ann Karr, Rachel Pollack, Vera Nazarian, Deborah J. Ross, Elizabeth Moon, Janet Fox, Laura J. Underwood, Rosemary Edghill, Syne Mitchell, Devon Monk, Carrie Vaughn, and many, many others. You could make a pretty compelling case that Sword & Sorceress (together with its sister publication, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine) dramatically remade modern fantasy, and may be the single greatest influence on 21st Century American fantasy so far.

The first volumes of S&S came out just as I entered grad school and my reading time dropped precipitously. So I missed out on al the excitement, but it’s not too late to catch up. I found the above collection of the first nine volumes (plus VIII and XV) in great shape on eBay, and bought it for $20, about two bucks per book — about half the original cover price. That’s a heck of a bargain for a lot of great reading.

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Future Treasures: Persepolis Rising by James S. A. Corey

Sunday, November 19th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Persepolis Rising-smallJames S. A. Corey is the pen name of fantasy author Daniel Abraham (the Long Price Quartet) and writer Ty Franck. Their Expanse series, a New York Times bestseller, is one of the most popular SF series on the shelves at the moment. It has been filmed as The Expanse, a breakout hit for the SyFy channel, which was just renewed for a third season.

At six volumes this is a substantial reading project already. The seventh novel, Persepolis Rising, arrives in hardcover next month from Orbit.


In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever…

Here’s the complete list of novels.

The Expanse
Leviathan Wakes
Caliban’s War
Abaddon’s Gate
Cibola Burn
Nemesis Games
Babylon’s Ashes
Persepolis Rising

Persepolis Rising will be published by Orbit on December 5, 2017. It is 560 pages, priced at $28 on hardcover and $14.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Daniel Dociu. See all of our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and Fantasy here.

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