Pathfinder Second Edition

Saturday, August 31st, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Pathfinder2EAs has been the case for the last few years, this year’s big Gen Con release was from the folks at Paizo. Two years ago we got the release of Starfinder. Last year was the release of the Pathfinder Playtest. And this year the Pathfinder Playtest reaches its fruition with the release of Pathfinder Second Edition, released into the wild at the beginning of August.

The gamer fanatics that we are here at Black Gate, we’ve been interested in this since Pathfinder Second Edition was first announced.  Last fall, I covered the Pathfinder Playtest, and most of the basic game mechanics introduced in the playtest stayed constant in the Second Edition release, even if some of the specifics changed.

The pacing is one of the best aspects of Pathfinder Second Edition. The action economy of having three actions each turn, and different tasks taking different numbers of those actions, helps keep players and the gamemaster moving smoothly through the turns. Each character can track their most common actions, based upon their character build, so that they can easily keep track of their options in the action economy.

The character design in Pathfinder Second Edition is around accumulating feats – ancestry & heritage feats, class feats, general feats, and skill feats – that allow for a wide range of diversity. Some of these feats also unlock uncommon task types, which players without those feats aren’t able to access. This keeps the distinctive customization that has really become the hallmark of the Pathfinder RPG over the last decade.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 11, Part 2: The Boxer’s Omen

Saturday, August 31st, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Boxer's OmenFor my second film of July 21 I stayed at the De Sève Theatre to watch one of my more anticipated movies of the festival. Each year Fantasia plays a Shaw Brothers film on 35mm — not one of the Shaw classics, usually, but one of their stranger works. The past few years I’ve seen Demon of the Lute, Buddha’s Palm, Flame of the Martial World, and Bastard Swordsman, as well as Five Fingers of Death. This year we got to see The Boxer’s Omen (Mo, 魔), from 1983, directed by Kuei Chih-Hung from his own story as scripted by Szeto On. Technically a sequel to Kuei’s film Gu, the English title hints at some of its influences: a bit of The Omen, a bit of Rocky, and a lot of low-budget exploitation film.

When Hong Kong gangster Chan Hung (Phillip Ko Fei) sees his brother crippled in a match with a cheating Thai kickboxer, Bu Bo (Bolo Yeung Sze), he travels to Thailand to challenge the evildoer to a revenge match. While there, weird visions lead him to a Buddhist monastery. It turns out that in previous lives Chan and the recently-deceased abbot were twins. This is a problem for Chan. The abbot killed the student of an evil wizard (Elvis Tsui), leading the wizard to then kill him with a spell that will now go on to kill Chan due to his linkage to the aforesaid abbot. Chan learns this from talking to the dead abbot, and after some confusion decides to become a monk to be able to defeat the wizard — but what of his match against the kickboxer who crippled his brother? And what about the wizard’s three living students?

This description of the plot barely hints at how bizarre, dreamlike, and transgressive this film is, but ideally gives an idea of how much scope there is for mystical goings-on. Rituals and spells are depicted with loving care, even when grotesque or indeed outright disgusting. But then a flashback in which the abbot fights the student and master wizards is simply surprising, as the duels involve crystals and puppets and wall-crawling and lurid lighting. On the other hand, an extended sequence shows the wizard’s students preparing a spell of revenge, which involves each of them eating and regurgitating food for the others to then ingest — and goes on from there, creating a demon inside a crocodile corpse, who Chan eventually must defeat. That of course comes at the climax of the film, in an ancient temple in Nepal, when Chan must engage in a magical fight unlike any I have ever seen.

What is most strange about the film is how it doesn’t feel like a straight-ahead exploitation film. Theoretically it should. There’s the gross-out bits, there’s a couple of violent kickboxing scenes, there’s a fair amount of nudity. And yet there’s also something else going on. I’ve seen some writers compare the film to Jodorowsky, and maybe that’s reasonable for the weirdness of it.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Amateur Magazine: Energumen

Saturday, August 31st, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

energumen cover

The Hugo Award for Best Fanzine was first awarded in 1955 to Science-Fiction Times, edited by James V. Taurasi, Sr. and Ray Van Houten. That was the second year of the Hugo Awards (which began in 1953 and skipped 1954.) It has been awarded every year since then (except 1958) in some form – the name has varied a bit, from Fanzine to Fan Magazine to Amateur Magazine, before settling on Fanzine.

In 1973 the Hugo for Best Amateur Magazine went to Energumen, edited by Mike Glicksohn and Susan Wood Glicksohn. Energumen ran for 15 issues (plus two supplements) from 1970 through 1973, with an additional issue in 1981, published after Susan Wood’s death, aged only 32, in 1980. The fanzine essentially ran for the duration of the marriage of Mike and Susan. Mike Glicksohn died in 2011. Both editors received Hugo Nominations as Best Fan Writer – Mike Glicksohn in 1977, and Susan Wood 8 times, winning in 1974, 1977, and posthumously in 1981.

I can’t say I read Energumen in my Golden Age. Alas, the first fanzines I read were a couple of years later – Locus and Science Fiction Review (aka The Alien Critic), both in 1975 (or maybe late 1974.) So I took the time to head to and look through the 1972 issues of Energumen. The magazine was nominally quarterly, and indeed four issues appeared in 1972, numbers 11 through 14. (The thirteenth issue announced that #15 would be the last.)

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Vintage Treasures: In the Drift by Michael Swanwick

Friday, August 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

In the Drift Ace Science Fiction Special-small In the Drift Ace Science Fiction Special-back-small

Ace Special edition of In the Drift (1985). Cover by Ron Lieberman

In the Drift was Michael Swanwick’s debut novel. It came in third for the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and was warmly reviewed by the usual sites, including Analog, Locus, and the New York Daily News.

It’s a science fantasy novel that imagines what might have happened if the 1979 partial meltdown of Reactor Number 2 at Three Mile Island, New York — a PR nightmare that almost single-handedly brought America’s brief infatuation with atomic power to an end — had instead been a full-blown nuclear disaster, contaminating the surrounding geography for hundreds of years and precipitating an era of mutants and monsters.

Now, that already sounds like something I’d be interested in. But what drew me to In the Drift — sucked me in like a nuclear-powered vacuum cleaner — was a casual read of the very first page. It’s a gorgeously rendered visualization of a postapocalyptic dark age, filled with vampires and mutants, laser guns, and an Italian Market. Seriously. Check it out below.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 11, Part 1: Cencoroll Connect

Friday, August 30th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Cencoroll ConnectMy first film at Fantasia on July 21 was actually two films put together. In 2009 Atsuya Uki released a 25-minute short he’d written and directed, called “Cencoroll,” based on a one-shot manga he’d written and illustrated. The short was well-received, and over the last decade he’s created a 50-minute follow-up. The two movies have now been released as one, Cencoroll Connect (Senkorōru, センコロール コネクト). They work together as one story, but I wonder, never having seen the original “Cencoroll” on its own, whether the first short would have left more room for an audience’s imagination to work.

The story begins with a giant amorphous monster appearing in a town in the north of Japan, where a young man named Tetsu (Hiro Shimono) already has a smaller monster that can change shape, Cenco, as a kind of pet. But Shu (Ryohei Kimura), another young man with yet another creature, has schemes for the giant newcomer. Into this mix comes Yuki (Kana Hanazawa, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl) a classmate of Tetsu who finds out about Cenco — and who turns out to have a unique gift of her own.

That sets up the plot of the first short, which unsurprisingly ends with a massive fight scene. The second (spliced seamlessly after the first) then expands from there, adding new factions, explaining Shu’s background, and giving some new context to the power Yuki displayed. It doesn’t play like two disconnected stories; the first film serves well as an explosive if somewhat long first act, while the second film feels like the logical continuation. I would not have guessed the two parts of the story were created a decade apart.

It’s solid work, well-animated, though at times a bit small-scale. Massive brawls in the middle of a city feel empty, where you’d expect to have more involvement from police or the armed forces (though it has to be said there’s an implied explanation in some of what we learn in part two). Cencoroll Connect makes up for that with fluidity of motion, and the way the inhuman monsters attack and respond and react to things around them in human ways that convey emotion through movement.

I don’t think there’s anything spectacularly original in either the story or the designs, but the animation gives the story a fair amount of energy. There’s an odd lack of colour in the film, or at least an overall cool palette. This perhaps emphasises the prosaic setting for the various monster fights — the film never leaves the city setting for long, and battles take place in city streets and a school rooftop and the tip of a skyscraper. But if the tone of the climax gains from an increasing darkness, visually the movie is overall, if not dull, at least neutral in places where you’d expect it to pop.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Donald M. Grant

Friday, August 30th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Richard Robertson

Cover by Richard Robertson

Photo by Andrew Porter

Photo by Andrew Porter

Cover by Stephan Peregrine

Cover by Stephan Peregrine

The World Fantasy Awards are presented during the World Fantasy Convention and are selected by a mix of nominations from members of the convention and a panel of judges. The awards were established in 1975 and presented at the 1st World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island. Traditionally, the awards took the form of a bust of H.P. Lovecraft sculpted by Gahan Wilson, however in recent years the trophy became controversial in light of Lovecraft’s more problematic beliefs. The Professional Special Award has been part of the award since its founding. In 1980, the year Grant received the award for his work on Fantasy Newsletter, the convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Grant had previously received the award in 1976 and would receive the award again in 1983. In addition, Grant received A World Fantasy Con Special Convention Award in 1984 and was named a Grand Master in 2003.

Donald M. Grant became interested in reading science fiction and fantasy when he was 10 years old. He co-founded his first publishing company, Grant-Hadley, with Thomas Hadley in 1945 and they published Rhode Island on Lovecraft. The next year, Kenneth Krueger joined the company and Grant was inducted into the military. The company changed its name to The Buffalo Book Company and they published The Time Stream, by John Taine and the first edition of The Skylark of Space, by E.E. “Doc” Smith. Grant and Krueger wound up leading the company, which took on the name The Hadley Publishing Company, which published four more volumes over the next three years.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Six

Friday, August 30th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_33Master of Kung Fu #33 sees writer Doug Moench continuing to build upon the series’ new direction while also continuing to deploy offbeat humor sparingly to great effect. This first installment of a three-part storyline begins when Shang-Chi thwarts an assassination attempt on Clive Reston by a highly-advanced automaton. The reader and Shang-Chi learn from MI5 that the automaton is one of the toys of Mordillo, a robotics genius and master assassin who, it transpires, was the force behind Carlton Velcro.

Shang-Chi is provided with his own swank London townhouse (courtesy of MI5). While Clive Reston is showing him around his new digs, they encounter Reston’s former lover, seductive MI5 agent Leiko Wu. Her introductory scene, taking a bubble bath and shamelessly dressing (barely) in front of Reston and Shang-Chi establishes her not only as a Bondian seductress, but also signals her as a confident and capable woman who is content to leave a string of broken hearts in her wake. Doug Moench excels at establishing a sense of fatalism in his work. Just as the reader understands that Shang-Chi compromising his principles in working for MI5 will only lead to regret; so too the reader understands that the innocent and somewhat naive Shang-Chi falling for the far more worldly Leiko Wu is also fated to end in pain and suffering. Shang-Chi, in his professional and personal choices, chooses the short-term good and ignores the fact that the long-term can only lead to misery.

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Goth Chick News: Wizard World Chicago and a Goth Chick Wannabe

Thursday, August 29th, 2019 | Posted by Chris Zemko

Wizard World Goth Chick 1-small

Let me start by painting you all a picture. Everyone’s favorite Goth Chick comes to me (Black Gate photog Chris Z.) and says “Guess what…you get to write the article for Wizard World Chicago this year!”

“Excuse Me?…What?…Who approved this?”

Apparently even Goth Chicks need a vacation away from the world of Horror and Mischief at Black Gate magazine. Who knew? Anyway, I headed down to the Black Gate office complex by myself and made my way down to the Goth Chick bunker. Upon arriving, I noticed it’s a lot creepier then I remember. I called “Big Cheese” John O and he said, “Just don’t stare at anything with eyes.”

“OK…well here goes.”

So this past weekend, Goth Chick News headed over to the 2019 edition of Wizard World Chicago. This year’s production included guests such as Jeff Goldblum (A Goth Chick Favorite), John “Vinnie Barbarino” Travolta, Zachary Levi (Shazam) and the flippin “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”!

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Fantasia 2019, Day 10, Part 4: 8

Thursday, August 29th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

8My last movie of July 20 was a horror film from South Africa. Written and directed by Harold Holscher, 8 has elements of the classical ghost story embedded in a larger tale of folklore and tragedy. It’s a period tale, set in 1977, and is set in a farm named Hemel op Aarde: Heaven on Earth.

Not long after the start of the film the run-down farm’s inherited by a man named William (Garth Breytenbach), a failed businessman who wants to start over there along with his wife Sarah (Inge Beckmann) and niece Mary (Keita Luna). Mary, who came to live with William and Sarah after the death of her parents, is happy to come to the farm; she’s an inquisitive girl deeply interested in all manner of subjects, including African myth and insects. Sarah doesn’t care for these things, or for having to live far from the big city. William’s difficulty in getting the electricity running at the farm doesn’t help. Luckily, the White family is given a hand by an older Black man named Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe). William’s soon relying on Lazarus for all sorts of things, despite Sarah’s distrust. And despite the distrust of a nearby village of Black people, who know and despise Lazarus, and who have no use for William, either. Is Lazarus hiding a dark secret?

In fact, we know from the opening shots of the movie that he is. And as 8 goes on that mystery is unveiled; unveiled almost too completely for the film to stay a horror story, in fact. There’s an honesty and directness to the film that’s unusual in horror. There are few jump scares, and few horrific twists. Instead there’s an ultimately character-based story that comes close to being a kind of tragedy. You know why people act the way they do, and what Lazarus wants. You understand the price he has to pay for his actions. And you have sympathy for everyone involved.

It’s oddly colourful for a horror movie, too, rich and shadowed, but not afraid of the bright light of the sun. I found approaching it as a horror film left me wrong-footed; the farmhouse, which seems like a spooky haunted house in the early scenes of the movie, becomes less important narratively and thematically as the story goes on. If the usual haunted house seems to have something to say about (for example) class or power or history or the personality that dwells within it, Heaven on Earth comes to have less and less meaning, as the focus of the story increasingly moves away from the main building. What might have been an icon of colonial power is instead just a place where things happen.

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of August 2019

Thursday, August 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Hollow Kingdom Kira Jane Buxton-small The Cruel Stars John Birmingham-small The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday Saad Z. Hossain-small

Andrew Liptak was fired from his position as Weekend Editor at The Verge two weeks ago, which means that we’ll no longer get to enjoy his monthly Best SF Books lists (you can see while we’ll miss them so much right here). Fortunately he was just hired on to write news items for, and he’s picked up some freelance work at The Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, which seems like the perfect home for him.

In the meantime, Jeff Somers at the B&N Blog continues his excellent work cataloging the most interesting new releases each month. For August he’s itemized 22 items, including new books by Julie E. Czerneda, Kameron Hurley, Marie Brennan, R.F. Kuang, Tricia Sullivan, and many others. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton (Grand Central Publishing, 320 pages, $27 in hardcover/$13.99 digital, August 6, 2019) — cover by Jerrod Taylor

Kira Jane Buxton’s debut puts a deliriously original spin on the viral zombie apocalypse as human civilization’s collapse is witnessed — and challenged — by S.T., a pet crow. S.T. may be a bird, but he loves many aspects of human culture, and he’s alarmed when his owner, Big Jim, begins to behave strangely and undergo physical changes. Realizing that something is terribly wrong, S.T. teams up with bloodhound Dennis and is soon tasked with saving as many pets as possible, even as humanity descends into chaos. It’s a darkly hilarious twist on the formula, proving again why the zombie novel subgenre is nigh-unkillable.

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