Starfinder Update: Space Fantasy in the Future of Pathfinder

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarfinderBeginnerBoxFor the last couple of years, one of my favorite games has been the science fantasy RPG Starfinder from Paizo, the makers of the Pathfinder RPG. Starfinder has all the magic and adventure of Pathfinder, co-mingled with high technology and a wild space setting. The best way to describe the feel of the adventures is a mix of Dungeons & Dragons with Guardians of the Galaxy.

The game has expanded at a steady pace over the last couple of years. Two Alien Archive supplements have been released, with a third slated for a GenCon release in August. They’ve released the Pact Worlds setting book and an Armory supplement, and a Character Operations Manual focusing on increased player options is coming in October 2019. They’ve also just announced a collaboration with WizKids to produce a Starfinder Battles series of prepainted miniatures.

The setting focuses on the solar system that once housed the planet of Golarion, the main Pathfinder setting, but Golarion itself no longer exists. In its place is Absalom Station, a giant space station that houses the Soulstone and is a hub of travel for shifts traveling through the Drift, the mysterious dimension that allows for rapid travel across vast distances of space. Among many other things, Absalom Station is the headquarters of the Starfinder Society, a group of explorers and adventurers who travel throughout the Pact Worlds and beyond into the Vast to discover new worlds and civilizations, occasionally running afoul of the undead Corpse Fleet or other threats, from space pirates to alien menaces like the vicious Swarm.

For those who haven’t yet explored the setting, and are looking for a guided introduction, the new Starfinder Beginner Box offers a great springboard to get into the game. It comes with a streamlined rule set, some cards that help provide rule and condition reminders, pregenerated characters, a variety of cardboard pawns representing characters and creatures, a gridded map for play, and an introductory adventure module.

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Future Treasures: Nexus, Book 2 of The Androma Saga by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Zenith The Androma Saga-small Nexus The Androma Saga-small

When I parked myself in the sprawling Young Adult section at Barnes & Noble last December, I decided to take home the single book that appealed to me the most. I ended up choosing Zenith, the first book in The Androma Saga by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. This is why:

The book that won out over all the others was an instant New York Times bestseller by two popular YA writers, a tale of an all-girl crew of space privateers getting caught up in “a dark and complex sci-fi drama” (Library Journal), and it just screamed fun.

Publishers Weekly said the first volume “features plentiful action, complex politics, and a rich mythology,” and Buzzfeed went much further, saying:

This sci-fi novel follows Andi, also known as the Bloody Baroness, and her fearless all-female crew of space pirates. When someone of high importance proposes a mission that Andi cannot refuse, she finds herself and her crew partnered with Dex — a bounty hunter who has a not-so-pleasant past with Andy. They must work together to complete a nearly impossible mission. But what they don’t know is that the ruler of the planet Xen Ptera is planning to extract revenge on the galaxy, threatening all who inhabit it. Zenith is an spectacularly stunning, whirlwind adventure with a race-against-the-clock plot and strong as hell female characters.

The next book in the series, Nexus, arrives in hardcover next week, and it continues the saga in high fashion. Here’s the description.

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Wildside Press MEGAPACKs for Under a Buck!

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pic_MegpackPrice1The Black Gate staff loves the pulps. Science fiction, fantasy, weird menace, horror, hardboiled, adventure, westerns — the list goes on. So much that was long out of print has come back through the efforts of imprints like Mysterious Press, Altus Press, Black Dog, Crippin & Landru, Fedogan & Bremer, Haffner Press, and more.

Coupled with the advent of ebooks, it’s a veritable gold mine for pulp fans. John Betancourt, founder of Wildside Press, has a line of ebooks under the MEGAPACK moniker. Covering all genres, they offer a plethora of pulp stories. Yes, many of the books are a mix of the wheat and the chaff, but there’s plenty of good reading to be had. At an affordable price. How affordable? Below is a list of MEGAPACKS selling for either 55 or 99 cents at Amazon. I’m not sure if that’s the regular price (I’ve paid a bit more in the past).

This is NOT a comprehensive list. I simply got tired of typing entries (and the word, ‘MEGAPACK’). But this gives you a feel for how many different collections there are. In multiple genres, as well. Look for an author, or field, you like and spend less than a buck  a volume to pick up some stories (and even novels). I’m pretty sure you’ll find something that is more than worth your money!

E Hoffman Price’s Two-Fisted Detectives (19)

The Weird Fiction MEGAPACK (25)

The Talbot Mundy MEGAPACK (28)

The Second Science Fiction MEGAPACK (25)

The William Hope Hodgson MEGPACK (35)

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Warhammer Chronicles: The Gotrek & Felix Novels by William King and Nathan Long are Back in Print

Monday, April 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Gotrek and Felix Volume 1-small Gotrek & Felix The Second Omnibus-small Gotrek & Felix The Third Omnibus-small

I became a fan of Warhammer through Relic’s Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War series of computer games, and eventually became a huge fan of their audiobooks. But people I respect have been telling me for years that their fiction is worth reading. Howard Andrew Jones in particular recommended Clint Werner’s Brunner novels and Nathan Long’s Blackhearts volumes as fine examples of modern sword & sorcery.

But the series I’ve heard the most about is the long-running Gotrek and Felix, which currently stands at no less than 17 volumes, written by William King, Nathan Long, Josh Reynolds, and David Guymer. King is the originator of the series and he wrote the first seven volumes, which I’ve heard described as “the reference series for Warhammer fantasy.”

The early editions are long out of print, and in fact the original omnibus reprints, which collected three novels each and were issued in 2003-2004, are out as print as well. They’re expensive collectors editions today. So are the second batch of reprints, published by Black Library in 2006-2013, which gathered the first 12 novels.

So I was pleased to see Games Workshop issue a third edition of this classic adventure fantasy series, and bought the first volume as soon as it became available. The second volume arrived in February. and the third is due in June. Here’s the details.

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Hither Came Conan: Ryan Harvey on “Hour of the Dragon”

Monday, April 29th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_HourWTCoverEDITEDWelcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert examines one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best in it. Today, it’s Ryan Harvey looking at the only Conan novel, Hour of the Dragon (not Conan the Conquerer!).  And here we go!

When Robert E. Howard’s twenty-one completed Conan stories are randomly distributed to twenty-one people, each challenged to argue that their assigned work is the finest of all, it brings up some interesting questions if you’re among the twenty-one.

The chances of getting your favorite? Approximately 4.8%. The chances of getting an excellent story, even if not your favorite? Quite high, I’d say. The chances of a mediocre one are low, but there’s certain to be something interesting to mine from those mid-tier works. And there’s only a 4.8% chance of getting stuck with the worst one, “The Vale of Lost Women,” or ending up with the longest one, The Hour of the Dragon.

So before I received my assignment, I felt safe I’d end up with something interesting, although not my favorite, and one that might be a novella, but still not the longest.

Then I got The Hour of the Dragon. Which is both.

I don’t know who else may have inadvertently gotten their true favorite Conan work and therefore end up effectively not participating in this experiment of trying to promote as the best something you don’t think is the best (there’s a 95.2% chance I’m the only one). But here I am. The Hour of the Dragon is the best Conan story and I don’t have to stretch to make that sound true, because it is true. At least to me.

The Hour of the Dragon is a gigantic work: the only Conan novel Howard wrote, twice as long as the second lengthiest Conan story and twenty-two times longer than the shortest. Even though 72,000 words, short for modern fantasy novels, it contains more incidence than novels three times its length. This is a monstrous mural of fantasy, crossing much of the Hyborian kingdoms and going as far south as Stygia.

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Will the Real Captain Marvel Please Stand Up, or Why Can’t the World’s Mightiest Mortal Use His Own Name?

Sunday, April 28th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Is this Captain Marvel-small (2) Or is this Captain Marvel-small

A few weeks ago my wife and I saw the new Captain Marvel movie. I thought it was a smashingly successful film, above all in its demonstration of how shockingly superhero storytelling has degenerated over the past fifteen years. But whether I liked it or not is neither here nor there; after all, the movie made a billion dollars, and as Doctor Doom himself would be the first to acknowledge, that’s the important part.

On the way to the theater, my wife wanted to know just who this Captain Marvel was – Brie Larson sure didn’t look like the hero that she thought bore that name, the grinning hunk in the bright red suit with the yellow lightning bolt on his chest. Did Captain Marvel have some sort of life crisis that required an extreme change in direction – and wardrobe? (That happens these days, even in comic books.) She was especially confused because there’s another movie out right now that features the crimson-clad character that she’s familiar with, except in this other movie, he’s called Shazam, not Captain Marvel.

The explanation is simple… well, not really simple, but I’ll try to at least make it comprehensible. This Captain Marvel is not that Captain Marvel. The guy in the red suit is the first, the real Captain Marvel, with a pedigree going all the way back to the fabled Golden Age of the 1940’s, while this current version is, for all of her many virtues, a claim jumper. And yes, something indeed happened to the original hero. He was the victim of a plot more nefarious than anything the Joker or the Red Skull ever cooked up, and he suffered something more starkly evil, more life shattering, and more humiliatingly debilitating than any wound inflicted by magic talisman or sinister superweapon.

So what was it that laid Captain Marvel low?

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A.E. van Vogt

Sunday, April 28th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

A. E. van Vogt

A. E. van Vogt

The Ceourl Award was founded in 1980 to recognize Canadian Science Fiction and for the first two years was presented for Lifetime Achievement only. The original nickname for the award was based on the similarity of the award and the creature feature in A.E. can Vogt’s story “Black Destroyer.” The name was changed to the Casper Award in its second year. In the award’s third year, a category for Outstanding Work in English was added to the award, with additional awards added in subsequent years. In 1991, the popular award’s name was changed to the Aurora Award. The awards are administered by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) and are voted on by members of the annual Canadian National Convention. Although the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented annually from 1980-1983, only three additional awards have been presented, most recently in 2013 to Robert J. Sawyer. The first award was presented to A.E. van Vogt at Canvention 1 in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the weekend of March 7-9.

Alfred Vogt was born on April 26, 1912 in Edenburg, Manitoba, Canada. During the early years of his life, his family moved around Western Canada, never settling down long enough to have roots. The stock market crash of 1929 killed van Vogt’s chances of attending college and he began to work a series of odd jobs, including work as a farmhand, a truck driver, and for the Canadian census bureau. While working these jobs, he began to publish anonymously and pseudonymously in the “true confessions” genre.

Around 1930, he moved back to Winnipeg, where he continued to write pseudonymously, as well as selling advertising space in newspapers. During this time, he wrote radio dramas for the local station. He also began to play with his name, adding the middle name Elton and the van to become Alfred Elton van Vogt and eventually A.E. van Vogt.

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When Earth is a Graveyard of Gods: Edges by Linda Nagata

Saturday, April 27th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

Edges Linda Nagata-small Edges Linda Nagata-back-small

The Fermi Paradox is relatively simple. It asks, considering the immense expanse of time, the apparent plentitude of planets in our galaxy, and thus the likelihood of intelligent life somewhere else — why don’t we see it? Why is the sky so resolutely silent? Answering this question has become something of a hobby among science fiction writers, with responses ranging from the transcendental to the sobering. Maybe life evolves quickly beyond the physical. Or maybe life is out there but quietly watching and waiting. Linda Nagata’s work offers a more straightforward answer: intelligent life is hunted.

In Nagata’s universe, Chenzeme coursers are living alien weapons: biomechanical vessels coated in hulls of intelligent “philosopher cells.” The ships are programmed to systematically hunt down technological civilizations and sterilize entire worlds. In her previous series, humanity’s spread into the frontier was halted by encounters with these vessels. The coursers were only one prong though in an ancient assault that had long outlasted the ship’s original creators. The other was an ancient virus, which bypassed the frontier worlds and affected the original core planets of humanity’s origins, including Earth, subsuming entire planetary populations into huge group-minds that went on to construct immense Dyson spheres enclosing their stars.

I fell into this universe through a paperback copy of the final book in her previous series, Vast (1998), and was immediately entranced (I reviewed Vast for Black Gate here). Nagata has a way of making the incredible distances, both in space and time, of galactic travel real. Humans are tenuous here, following divergent evolutionary roads, clinging to disparate worlds in the night. Vast followed an expedition from the planet Deception Well to find the source of the Chenzeme coursers and spun out from there into a stunning novel that was at its core a centuries-long chase sequence but managed to explore the characters and the biomechanical and technological realities of life aboard the exploratory ship.

All this to say I was thrilled when I learned that Nagata, after nearly two decades, was returning to this universe with a follow-up series called Inverted Frontier. The first book in this series, Edges, was released this spring and Nagata was kind enough to send me a pre-print for review.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Nebula Award for Best Novella: “A Meeting With Medusa” by Arthur C. Clarke

Saturday, April 27th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

A Meeting with Medusa Tor Double-small

Tor Double #1, October 1988. Cover by Vincent Di Fate

Arthur C. Clarke, of course, was a towering figure in SF circles – when I began reading SF, there was an indisputable “Big Three”: Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Clarke. And, indeed, that’s how I saw things at that age. Curiously, Heinlein was not really central to my earliest reading, and I didn’t read the bulk of his juveniles until a couple of decades later (though I had read his adult work in my teens.) But Clarke and Asimov were among the “adult” SF writers I first discovered, and I was reading novels like Against the Fall of Night when I was 12.

Clarke was born in 1917. He began publishing SF in 1946 with “Rescue Party” (a story that still gives me a thrill.) He made his mark in SF in the next decade or so with many further fine stories and with novels like The City and the Stars and Childhood’s End. He made his mark in the wider world when the movie 2001 appeared in 1968 – Clarke had written the original story (“The Sentinel”) upon which it was based, and he also worked with Kubrick on developing the story for the movie, and wrote the “novelization.” He had moved to Sri Lanka in 1956, partly because of his interest in scuba diving, but also possibly because he was gay, and homosexual activity was still illegal in England. He was knighted in 1998, at which time disturbing stories accusing him of pedophilia surfaced. He was cleared by the Sri Lankan police, and died a decade later.

“A Meeting with Medusa” first appeared in Playboy in December 1971. (I’m not sure why it was still eligible for the Nebula ballot in 1973 – this was before the “rolling eligibility” period of the Nebulas.) I’d have reproduced a cover image of its first place of publication, but Black Gate is a family website, as so well evidenced by the Margaret Brundage paintings we sometimes feature! I should also mention that this was a period when Playboy published a fair amount of excellent SF — for example, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Nine Lives”, just a couple of years earlier.

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New Treasures: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles

Friday, April 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Winds of Marque-small Winds of Marque-back-small

You love tales of space pirates, yes? Of course you do. Why did I even ask?

Bennett R. Coles is the author of the Virtues of War trilogy, which we covered here around this time two years ago. His latest, Winds of Marque, is a tale of star-sailing ships, secret identities, dashing commanders and plucky quartermasters, not to mention “interplanetary travel, black powder cannons, and close quarter cutlass duels with members of the brutish Theropods and their mighty tail swords” (Booklist). And pirates! Lots of pirates. Kirkus gives it their stamp of approval.

With solar sails hoisted and war with the Sectoids imminent, Imperial Navy Subcmdr. Liam Blackwood, enigmatic quartermaster Amelia Virtue, and the crew of the HMSS Daring must stop space pirates from disrupting human supply lines in the outer sectors in the first book in a new series.

Unable to catch the pirates outright, they pose as opportunistic space merchants to gather intelligence. Any booty they take from the pirates remains their prize, but sailing the system under a false flag comes with great risk: Fail, and the emperor will disavow all knowledge of the mission. Every member of the crew will be dishonorably discharged and made destitute. When Daring commander Sophia Riverton’s orders jeopardize the mission, that threat becomes all too real, and the crew slips closer and closer toward mutiny. Romantic complications notwithstanding, Liam and Amelia have to uncover the truth about Riverton before the pirates discover their ruse and scuttle the mission, destroying any chance humankind has against the relentless Sectoids… Traditional science fiction lovers may get distracted looking for more space tech, but lovers of classic high-seas adventures and those who enjoy genre-bending SF will find this swashbuckling space adventure a worthy read.

Winds of Marque is the opening volume in a new series, Blackwood & Virtue. It is 354 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Damonza. Read a sizable 30-page excerpt, the complete first two chapters, here, and listen to a 4-minute audio sample here.

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