Shadows, Robots, and Warrior Monks: Amazon Selects the Five Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of June

Saturday, June 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Amazon Top Five SF & Fantasy in June

Amazon closes out a month of great books with their 5 Top Picks for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of June. The list includes some pretty familiar titles, including Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M, Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun, Stephanie Garber’s Legendary, and the debut novel by Black Gate‘s own Todd McAulty. Here’s their take.

The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty

Robots have taken over most of the world, but not quite in the way you’d expect. Some have fought their way to dominion. Others have been voted into power by human citizens who think AIs will make better decisions. Readers who enjoyed the complex robot-human relationships within Robopocalypse and the investigations in World War Z about how institutions function (or don’t) in the face of species-changing event will happily sink their teeth into The Robots of Gotham.

See the complete list here.


Peplum Populist: Goliath and the Vampires (1961)

Saturday, June 30th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

goliath-and-vampies-lobby-card

Okay, another Maciste film! Let’s do this!

When writing about Maciste’s history in silent movies, I promised that the next Peplum Populist article would hurtle ahead to Maciste’s first appearance in the sword-and-sandal boom of the 1960s, Son of Samson (Maciste nella valle dei Re). But I have a DVD of Goliath and the Vampires (Maciste contro il vampiro) lying here on the shelf, and it’s about time I completed the “dark fantasy” trio of peplum classics after writing about Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) and Maciste in Hell/The Witch’s Curse (1962). Although Goliath and the Vampires doesn’t have the same visual imagination, it’s in the 90th percentile as far as sword-and-sandal fun goes.

Goliath and the Vampires features more stock genre situations than those two other films. The fantastic elements don’t dictate the story as much as they’re pasted onto the pre-fabricated framework of what sword-and-sandal films were quickly solidifying into.

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Birthday Reviews: Adam Roberts’s “Pest Control”

Saturday, June 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Julek Heller

Cover by Julek Heller

Adam Roberts was born on June 30, 1965.

Roberts won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and the British SF Association Award for his novel Jack Glass in 2013. In 2016, he won a second BSFA Award for his non-fiction book Rave and Let Die: The SF and Fantasy of 2014. He has also been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, the Sidewise Award, and the Kitschies. In addition to writing series science fiction, he also has published several fantasy parodies, usually identifiable based on a series of Rs as his middle initial.

“Pest Control” was purchased by Mike Ashley for inclusion in the 2005 anthology The Mammoth Book of New Comic Fantasy. Although it appeared in a Science Fiction Book Club reprint of the volume, it has not appeared elsewhere.

A familiarity with the poem Beowulf is a benefit for those reading Adam Roberts’s “Pest Control,” although at the same it can be something of an hindrance. The story relates the events of the poem, but rather than Beowulf coming to Hrothgar’s aide to rid Heorot of Grendel, in Roberts’s version of the story, Beowulf, or Mr. Wulf, calls a modern day pest control company to get rid of the creature.

The humor of the story comes from the juxtaposition of the ancient story of Beowulf and Des Hannigan, the representative of King and Kegan Pest Control, treating the situation as normal, although he thought he was being called to take care of a rat infestation rather than a Grendel. The story follows the tripartite nature of the original poem, so anyone who knows the poem has a good idea about the results of each of the attempts at pest eradication.

Roberts manages to make his jokes land, although it seems like having Mr. Wulf as the pest control specialist and the person with the Grendel problem being a Mr. Hrothgar would have fit the pattern of the original poem a bit better. As it is, Des provides solutions for the clearly not very bright Mr. Wulf and while the reader is allowed to see the progression of the story, the ultimate pest control issue is left to the imagination.

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For Those Who Conjure: Anna Tambour’s The Road to Neozon from Obsidian Sky

Friday, June 29th, 2018 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

The Road to Neozon-small The Road to Neozon-back-small

NEW READS!

The Road to Neozon is the latest collection of short stories by author Anna Tambour (Smoke, Paper, Mirrors; Crandolin; Spotted Lily; Monterra’s Deliciosa and Other Tales), and the latest publication of Obsidian Sky books.

Author Paul Di Filipo once wrote that Tambour will “register Richter-powerful on the delighted synapses of all patrons of weird, funny fabulism.” Her new book, Road to Neozon, invites “those who lack caution” to “proceed,” and offers its pages “to those who conjure. To those who wander. To those with a hopeful eye for things unseen.”

Neozon showcases eleven “distinctly Tambourian (7 special to this collection), typically slippery tales to celebrate life’s wondrous unease, and its unerring ability to attract the attention of forces that grin at the notion of human control.”

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In 500 Words or Less: Kate Heartfield’s Debut Novel Armed in Her Fashion

Friday, June 29th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Armed in Her Fashion-smallArmed in Her Fashion
By Kate Heartfield
ChiZine Publications (350 pages, $17.99 paperback, $10.99 eBook, April 2018)

Fantasy is a tough industry. You can a) stick to tried-and-true tropes and structures and hope to stand out in subtler ways or b) come up with something truly outside-the-box and hope that it still appeals to the traditional fantasy audience. Neither of these options is a sure thing (is anything?). But it seems like every month, reviewers point out authors who are doing one or the other and doing it well.

That’s basically what I’m doing here. Not simply because I’ve been a fan of Kate Heartfield’s short fiction since well before I got to know her here in Ottawa (she’s awesome, by the way). It’s because her first novel, Armed in Her Fashion, is basically Option B on some performance-enhancing drug.

We’ve all seen the basic quest narrative, right? Protagonist and company need to travel somewhere and do a thing, they go through a bunch of challenges en route, and the path to their goal isn’t at all what they expect when they set out from home. Fashion is essentially a Campbellian hero’s journey, but it’s also way more. It’s set in 14th century Flanders, for one thing. It’s also alternate history, taking place at the outset of the Hundred Years War, but with a Hellmouth and revenants in play. And the cast is mostly women, centered on widow Margriet de Vos and her daughter Beatrix, looking to reclaim the latter’s inheritance from Margriet’s sorta-dead husband. The concept of women’s rights and authority is a huge piece of this story, but in a medieval context, and with an additional angle in the form of Claude, a transgender man-at-arms. Claude is a particularly compelling character, allowing Heartfield to explore a topic I’ve never seen in fantasy before: how a transgendered individual would be treated by a medieval, patriarchal society. As well, the disconnect between how Claude views himself and how even Fashion’s other protagonists view him as “that woman who dresses like a man” isn’t all that alien when compared to contemporary society.

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Birthday Reviews: Jeff Duntemann’s “Guardian”

Friday, June 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Alex Schomburg

Cover by Alex Schomburg

Jeff Duntemann was born on June 29, 1952.

Duntemann began publishing in 1974 with “Our Lady of the Endless Sky,” and has mostly published short fiction. In 1981 Duntemann appeared on the Hugo Award for Short Story ballot twice, for “Cold Hands” and “Guardian,” losing to Clifford Simak’s “Grotto of the Dancing Deer.” In 2005 ISFiC Press published his first novel, The Cunning Blood. He collaborated with Nancy Kress on the story “Borovsky’s Hollow Woman” in 1983.

“Guardian” appeared in the September 1980 issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, edited by George H. Scithers. It was translated for its appearance in the German edition of the magazine, Isaac Asimovs Science Fiction Magazin 13 Folge and was included by Herbert W. Franke in the anthology Kontinuum 4 in 1987.

Duntemann’s “Guardian” is an interesting mix of futuristic and historic. The Guardian in question has been tasked with protecting Princess Divin Rea Hol Wervig, even beyond death. When the princess’s skull is taken from the swamp where she was interred, the Guardian seeks its return and vengeance. He makes his way into the nearby village where he finds himself confronting Abbot Gorman Izak.

In the millennia since the princess died and the Guardian, which is clearly robotic in nature, has come into contact with human civilization, society has changed, as has the technology level. Abbott Izak is clearly a religious in the Christian tradition who is able to have an intelligent conversation with the Guardian and manages to delay its vengeance by a week, during which time the Abbot promises to find the culprit who stole the skull.

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Goth Chick News: Disenchantment — Your Next Netflix Obsession

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Disenchantment

There is a demon in here, so bear with me.

Last summer, Netflix ordered twenty episodes of Disenchantment, an  animated comedy-fantasy series from the mind of The Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening. If you’re a fan of either show, you know how close to the line both get without stepping over what would be tolerated on commercial television. So, l invite you to let this news sink in…

It’s going to be an adult-themed animated comedy-fantasy series on Netflix.

Sweet.

In Disenchantment, viewers will be whisked away to the crumbling medieval kingdom of Dreamland, where they will follow the misadventures of hard-drinking young princess Bean, her feisty elf companion Elfo, and her personal demon Luci. Along the way, the oddball trio will encounter ogres, sprites, harpies, imps, trolls, walruses, and lots of human fools.

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Mage: The Hero Denied #9

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage-9-smallSo there’s a weird thing that happens in superhero comics after they’ve been running for a while. No matter what sort of superhero we’re dealing with, how weak or powerful, eventually we start to see stories that begin with someone attacking them out of the blue, followed by the hero trying to figure out what’s happening. This happens even more often with superhero teams, since they tend to have publicly known headquarters. While these are sometimes set up as stories of revenge for some past defeat, more often it’s something along the lines of, “The hero is going to stop my evil plan, so before I even start the evil plan, I’m going to take out the hero.” Strangely, after the villain fails to take out the hero, they’ll just go ahead with the plan anyway. But in almost all of those stories, the hero wouldn’t even have KNOWN there was an evil plan if they hadn’t been attacked.

Kevin Matchstick is semi-retired at the start of Hero Denied. He has no idea that the Umbra Sprite has set up a new operation. He’s raising his kids and doing nothing that will cross his path with the Umbra Sprite. He’s not even looking for the Fisher King. Really, he doesn’t start moving until he’s attacked. And even then, he’s basically flailing about with no real focus until his wife and son are kidnapped.

So if the Umbra Sprite had just left Kevin Matchstick alone, he wouldn’t be coming after her. He wouldn’t even have known that anything was going on. Which I suppose is a lesson in how we often make bigger problems for ourselves by overthinking situations.

The issue opens with Kevin and Miranda driving through Fairy Land. Kevin’s got a dozen baseball bats in the backseat, ready to get charged up. I’m not sure how we’re meant to take that fact. On the one hand, it could mean that Kevin’s just getting ready for a lot of fighting. But since he can basically charge any object with magic energy, there is the question of why he’s chosen only to pack baseball bats instead of an assortment of weapons. Or why he doesn’t continue the habit he’s developed in the first half of this series of using improvisation to charge up whatever’s around. It might just be that he’s grasping for something familiar and comfortable as his world is torn apart.

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A First Look At Elysium Flare (A Fate Space Opera RPG): #1 Fate Variant Ruleset

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

Elysium Flare: Unashamedly SciFi Space Opera, with a strong sense of galactic geography

Elysium Flare: Unashamedly SciFi Space Opera, with a strong sense of galactic geography

I know I shouldn’t have, but on impulse bought a new tabletop roleplaying game. Listen!

The Gulfs between the Arms are nearly empty of stars and difficult to navigate. In these places there are few civilizations but there are other things. In the Gulfs horrors lurk, sleeping for slow millennia until the fast bright minds of the civilizations come too close. As with the Rim, there are inhabitants of the Hub that believe these horrors can be harnessed or at least aimed and unleashed. This almost always ends badly. But if they can be tamed or at least directed, the power one might wield over the Hub worlds would be unstoppable.

Imagine a roleplaying game that put boots on the ground — or was it flippers? — in a the kind of wide-angle galaxy depicted by strategy games like Stellaris or Eclipse, or perhaps Twilight Imperium? Or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, only good.

That’s what Elysium Flare promises to do.

Elysium Flare unapologetically emulates sweeping Sci-Fi Space Opera, cheerfully mixing magic (sort of) and science. In tone, it’s more Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok than Rogue One. However, it’s not actually Starfinder‘s leaner more narrativist cousin; it has much stronger sense of galactic geography, which offers a quite different aesthetic.

Perhaps best of all for overstretched middle aged players like me, it seems to do it in a way that’s both “lite” and structured using an elegantly hacked-down Fate variant that’s narrativist — of course! — but still offers playable peril.

It’s also a delightful read — tellingly, I’m not the only person to use that term. It’s nicely illustrated without going over the top, presented in well-written and readable form, has an Index (ARE YOU READING THIS MONGOOSE???). I counted about three minor typos and I don’t know what the softback is like because it hasn’t arrived yet. It’s missing blank character sheets, but I believe these are on their way. So it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a mature “indy” games publisher

It comes from VSCA, the same team that made Diaspora, meaning mostly Brad J Murray and his mates on Google+. Though this is very different in both setting and complexity, the strengths have definitely carried over from one to the other.

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Can a Trilogy Have Six Books? The Legends of the First Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Age of Myth-small Age of Swords-small Age of War-small

Every time an author wraps up a trilogy, we bake a cake at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters.

Of course, this sometimes leads to anxiety. Is the series really wrapped up? Are there going to be more books? It’s not like the publisher slaps a sticker on the book saying Finito!, exactly. What if we bake a cake, and it turns out there’s four more books? Won’t we look stupid.

Ah, the hell with it. It’s cake! We’ll be forgiven. Probably. In that spirit, we were all dressed up to celebrate the arrival of Age of War, the third and (final? maybe?) book in Michael J. Sullivan’s The Legends of the First Empire series, when one of Goth Chick’s interns did some actual research (i.e. spent five minutes on Sullivan’s website). Turns out there’s a whopping six books planned for the series. Who knew?

Fortunately for those of us on staff who love cake (meaning, like, everybody), the first three books in the series will be the only ones published by Del Rey, so Age of War is an ending, of sorts. Good enough for us. Cake for everyone!

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