From Buffalo Castle to Choose Your Own Adventure: The Evolution of Solitaire Board Games

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Buffalo Castle Rick Loomis-small Death Test The Fantasy Trip-small Wizards and Warriors Jeffrey Dillow-small

I’m old enough to remember when Choose Your Own Adventure books first appeared in bookstores and supermarkets in the late 70s and early 80s, and what a sensation they created.

I remember thinking how simplistic they were, especially compared to the more sophisticated solitaire fare already available in gaming stores at the time. Like Rick Loomis’ groundbreaking Buffalo Castle (Flying Buffalo, 1976), the first solo adventure for Tunnels & Trolls (and considered by some to be the first published adventure gamebook, period); Steve Jackson’s bestselling Death Test for The Fantasy Trip (Metagaming, 1978); and especially Jeffrey C. Dillow’s brilliant collection of early solo adventures, Wizards and Warriors (Prentice Hall, 1982), which I played to death and passed around repeatedly to my gaming group.

But there was something powerfully appealing in the very simplicity of Choose Your Own Adventure titles, and it didn’t take long for me to become a convert. I wasn’t the only one. Bantam published its first Choose Your Own Adventure book, The Cave of Time by creator Edward Packard, in 1979, and the series quickly surpassed role playing in popularity, selling more than 250 million copies. That’s more — far more — than virtually any RPG or fantasy or series in history. (For comparison, The Lord of the Rings has sold 150 million copies over the past 70 years, and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novels a scant 90 million. Only J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, at 500 million, offer real competition). Bantam produced 184 titles in the series between 1979 and 1998.

Role Playing has evolved and expanded enormously since the 70s. You can’t say the same of Choose Your Own Adventure… but the franchise isn’t as dead as you might think. Most interesting to serious games is a pair of cooperative adventure board games released by Z-Man Games that capture the spirit of the CToA line, and take it in some intriguing new directions.

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John DeNardo on the Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Books for December

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Splintegrate Deborah Teramis Christian-small The Best of Uncanny edited by Lynne M. Thomas-small Invocations Warhammer Horror-small

The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, one of my favorite genre websites, essentially shut down on December 16th of this year, firing all freelancers and halting production of new content. They’ve left older content up, thankfully, so our many links to articles by Jeff Somers, Joel Cunningham, and others still work (for now). Like Penguin’s much-missed Unbound Worlds (formerly Suvudu), the B&N Sci-Fi Blog was an inventive and far-ranging publisher-funded genre site that never found a business model, or managed to consistently prove value to its owner in the rapidly-changing publishing industry. I’ll miss many things about the site, but most of all I’ll miss their monthly round-up of the best new SF and fantasy titles.

Fortunately we still have the tireless John DeNardo, who still does a top-notch round-up as part of his regular article series at Kirkus Reviews. This month John calls out new books by Deborah Teramis Christian, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Jeff VanderMeer, Tomi Adeyemi, Rachel Atwood, Charles Soule, Joe R. Lansdale, and others. Here’s a few highlights.

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Future Treasures: A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

Monday, December 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

An-Easy-Death-small A Longer Fall-small

An Easy Death (October 2018) and A Longer Fall (January 2020), both from Saga Press. Covers by Colin Anderson

There aren’t enough Weird Westerns in the world, which is why I treasure them when I find ’em. Charlaine Harris (the Sookie Stackhouse novels) kicked off a promising series last year with An Easy Death, the first Gunnie Rose novel, which follows gunslinger Lizbeth Rose in the fractured countries and territories that were once the U.S. A Longer Fall, which arrives in hardcover in two weeks, sends Lizbeth to the southeast territory of Dixie on a dangerous mission. Here’s an excerpt from the enthusiastic review at Kirkus for An Easy Death.

In the opening novel of Harris’ new series, set in a dangerous and largely lawless alternate United States, a young gunslinger for hire hits the trail to track down a descendant of Rasputin.

Life isn’t easy and death is around every corner in Harris’ thrilling new adventure, in which the U.S. is a shadow of its former self. Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated before he could be sworn in, and the country was subsequently fractured: Mexico has reclaimed Texas, Canada has usurped a large swath of the northern states, and the Holy Russian Empire has taken over California… Nineteen-year-old Lizbeth Rose is a skilled gunslinger for hire, but a disastrous run-in with bandits has left her the sole survivor of her crew. After making it home, she’s approached by Paulina Coopersmith and Ilya “Eli” Savarov, two grigoris (aka wizards), who want her to help them find wizard Oleg Karkarov, who they think is a descendant of Rasputin and whose blood may be able to help their beloved czar. There’s a hitch: She tells them he’s dead but doesn’t mention that she’s the one who killed him… A refreshing and cinematic, weird Western starring a sharp-as-nails, can-do heroine. Harris’ many fans will surely follow Gunnie Rose anywhere.

A Longer Fall will be published by Saga Press on January 14, 2020. It is 304 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Colin Anderson. Read Chapter One (and details on the cover) at Paste Magazine.

A (Black) Gat in The Hand: Bill Crider Reviews ‘The Brass Cupcake’

Monday, December 30th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Crider_BillEDITEDYou’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

If you asked me to name the nicest person I’ve encountered since becoming a writer/blogger/whatever I am, I’d immediately fire back, “Bill Crider.” I have yet to come across one person who had anything bad to say about Bill. He was always friendly, and generous with his knowledge and advice. Bill was an excellent writer of mysteries and westerns, best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series.

His ‘Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine’ was a fun blog, full of all kinds of short posts about books, music, advertisements, history – pop culture stuff. I’m pretty sure that Bill would have liked A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And I think he would have contributed an essay. So, for the final entry in round two, I’m reposting Bill’s review of John D. MacDonld’s The Brass Cupcake. Swing by his blog and read some great stuff!

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Nothing’s Perfect… Not Even Star Wars

Sunday, December 29th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

The Rise of Skywalker-small

I was chatting with one of my best friends after seeing The Rise of Skywalker, and as writers do inevitably, we critiqued it. She said something partway through the conversation that I think was meant half as a joke: “perfection is a myth created by the man to keep us line, Brandon.”

It’s rare to come across a story that’s close to perfect, and no Star Wars movie ever has been. I was reluctant to talk TROS here since online discussions of major fandoms are sometimes as vitriolic as anything else, especially when you want to resoundingly say, “That was awesome!” about a film while acknowledging the faults. But if the Resistance can face the First Order, I can face you, Internet. Because by Lucas, I agree with fellow columnist Bob Byrne that TROS was “an excellent ending to the epic cycle” that is Star Wars.

SPOILERS from here on out, folks. You’ve been warned.

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A Brainy Psychological Fantasy: Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Sunday, December 29th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Fireborne-smallUpon successfully overthrowing the cruel dragonborn families, the leaders of the Revolution imprison their previous masters to await trial. But the oppressed population is hungry for revenge. Vigilantes overrun the building and start to exact their own bloody justice.

Atreus, the new realm’s First Protector, discovers one group still in the process of murdering the Drakarch of the Far Highlands’ family. Only the dragonlord himself and his youngest son, a boy of about seven or eight, are still alive when Atreus arrives.

The Drakarch begs Atreus to spare his son. Atreus murmurs an order to a guard, who takes the boy away. Then he slits the dragonlord’s throat.

Lee, the Drakarch’s son, becomes the only member of the dragonborn caste to survive the Revolution. He grows up in an orphanage in Cheapside, where he befriends another orphan, Annie. No one knows who he really is. Even the First Protector, his savior, appears to have forgotten him. He knows he must keep his identity secret, but at the same time, he thirsts to regain the exalted position that had once been his birthright. Stripped of his privileges, Lee must fight for his rank like everyone else.

Now a teenager, Lee stands on the brink of attaining his dream: to become Firstrider, the best dragonrider in the land and commander of the dragon fleet. He has aced the entrance exam, been chosen by a dragon, and gained recognition as an elite rider. Now he must compete against the other top riders to prove he’s the best. Perhaps it’s ironic that Lee rides to serve those who killed his family. But if he can become Firstrider, not only will he win back the power that his father lost, but also he will prove himself to have been worthy of his birthright all along.

Prevailing over his classmates is Lee’s greatest concern, that is, until he learns that he isn’t the last remaining member of the dragonborn, after all. His cousin, with whom he played as a child, contacts him in secret. She reveals that members of the other dragonborn families escaped and created a refuge in another land. They have their own dragons and riders. Now the time has come for them to retake their ancestral country, restoring the old order.

Lee must choose. Will he defend the life he’s made for himself under the new regime? Or will he help the dragonlords recapture the possibilities he had thought were dead?

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 2: Early Guest Appearances, X-Men #21-23 and X-Men: First Class Volume I

Saturday, December 28th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Marvel X-Men 23-small

While I was travelling, I loaded a bunch of X-Men comics onto my phone for the airports. I haven’t stopped reading and I started blogging about my reread in Part I two weeks ago, which covered X-Men #1 (Nov, 1963) to X-Men #20 (May, 1966). It’s been a lot of fun, with not too many cringey moments.

This second post, I’m continuing my reading, but altering the experience a bit. I’m not just going to include the core X-Men series. I think I would like to try reading the stories in the chronology that Marvel sort of had in mind for each story.

So I’m going to start including guest appearances and cross-overs and later series that added history to this period. So this post will cover Strange Tales #120, Fantastic Four #28, Tales of Suspense #49, Journey Into Mystery #109, and X-Men issues #21-23, all of which were published between 1963 and 1966, and Volume I of X-Men: First Class, which was published in 2006-2007, but whose events occur before X-Men #24. I hope this ride is not too disorienting for you or me!

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Sixty Years of Lunar Anthologies

Saturday, December 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Men on the Moon-small The Moon Era-small Blue Moon-small

Men on the Moon (Ace, 1958, cover by Emsh), The Moon Era (Curtis Books, 1969), Blue Moon (Mayflower, 1970, Josh Kirby)

This past July was the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing — a pretty major milestone in human civilization. A major milestone for science fiction fans as well, and we celebrated it in our own way. Most notably, Neil Clarke published The Eagle Has Landed: 50 Years of Lunar Science Fiction, a fat 570-page reprint anthology that I finally bought last week.

Neil’s book is the best moon-centered anthology I’ve ever seen, but it builds on a long history of classic SF volumes dating back at least six decades. While I was preparing a New Treasures article about it I kept going back to look at favorite moon books in my collection, and eventually I got the idea to craft a longer piece on half a dozen Lunar anthologies that all deserved a look.

I don’t mean to slight Neil’s excellent book, which we’ll dig into in detail. But if you’re like me and you can’t pick up a modern book about the moon without thinking of Donald A. Wollheim’s Ace Double Men on the Moon (from 1958), or Mike Ashley’s terrific Moonrise: The Golden Era of Lunar Adventures, then this article is for you.

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Rogue Blades Foundation Announces Upcoming Second Book: The Lost Empire of Sol

Friday, December 27th, 2019 | Posted by Ty Johnston


Not sitting on its laurels, the recently-formed non-profit publisher Rogue Blades Foundation (RBF) last week announced the upcoming release of its second book, Scott Oden Presents The Lost Empire of Sol: An Anthology of Sword & Planet Tales.

Edited by Jason M Waltz and Fletcher Vredenburgh, this collection brings together ten stories of adventure and excitement from across a gloomy and ancient solar system far older than the one known to us. From the back cover of the book, “The legends speak of a united Empire that spanned the entire system.” Then, “All that is certain is that when the Daemons came, they brought a level of destruction not experienced in countless millennia.” And, “In the end, the Empire was fractured in the wake of the Daemons’ passing. Some worlds maintained tenuous contact; others were blasted into a state that left them bereft of their own history …”

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Tarantino’s Time Machine: Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Friday, December 27th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood-small

The other day the nice man from UPS brought me something that I had been looking forward to receiving for quite a while: a Blu-ray of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, which I had pre-ordered months ago on the first day it became possible to do so. I had seen it three times in the theater and wanted to be able to watch it again with minimal delay. (It’s only the third movie I have ever seen that many times as a paying customer, the other two being Raging Bull and Magnolia.)

I have very contradictory feelings about Quentin Tarantino. He’s an acknowledged “major director” – one of the few we have left – whose excesses can make every film feel like a guilty pleasure. A technical master who too often displays the emotional maturity of a fourteen-year-old, at his best Tarantino can still be a dynamite filmmaker, and I enjoyed Once Upon a Time more than any movie I’ve seen in years. I think it’s Tarantino’s strongest work since Jackie Brown.

Set in Hollywood in 1969, the movie follows semi-washed up TV western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his buddy, stunt double, and factotum, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they try to keep Rick’s head above water in the wake of the cancellation of his series, Bounty Law. (At one point Rick and Cliff spend a short time in Italy making spaghetti westerns, and in true Tarantino fashion, we get to see posters and footage from these epics, along with pitch-perfect clips from fake episodes of Bounty Law, Lancer, and The F.B.I. The last two were real shows that Rick was doing guest shots on.) During the course of these efforts, this entertainment industry duo crosses paths with another group emblematic of 1969 LA, those ultimate devils of the 20th Century American imagination, the Manson Family.

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