Maximizing the Crunch: Dystopia 23

Monday, August 31st, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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In my last article, I reviewed one of the most rules light systems I have ever read. Some game masters (GMs) and players like games with a hefty amount of crunch — that is, game mechanics that require dice rolling or calculations and with a level of specific details for certain types of tasks. Dystopia 23 may take this to the most extreme I have ever experience. The Primer is 149 pages. By comparison, the quick start rules for The Expanse were 42 pages. For The Witcher TRPG (called Easy Mode) they were 32. For Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, two booklets were a total of 98 pages — including a lot of flavor text. In terms of crunch, Dystopia 23 pummels those quick start rules into the ground.

When the Dicegeeks podcast interviewed Dystopia 23’s creator, Jason Carruth, he made no bones about how he loved to see a lot of crunch in a game. He reveled in the joy of designing crunchy games.

Before I cover the mechanics, however, let’s talk about the setting. Dystopia 23 covers familiar cyberpunk ground. The game takes place in the 23rd century. After economic collapses and mismanagement, the corporations have become the power in the world. Hordes of impoverished people struggle in the sprawls — vast favelas and slums that buttress up to the walled cities where the middle and upper classes live. Sprawls are unpoliced anarchy, which gangs and other various power brokers seize upon to exert control, often with as careless disregard of human lives as corporations. Even the cities are divided, with corporations having purchased areas for their exclusive use.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Steven H Silver Asks ‘Can You Name This Hardboiled Flick?’

Monday, August 31st, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

SilverMarx_Todd2EDITEDA hallmark of my success here at Black Gate has been to get other writers, with actual talent, to write for my column. I accomplish that feat again today as fellow Black Gater Steven H Silver takes a look at a classic film and gives it a hardboiled review. You may not immediately guess what film he’s looking at, although I’d bet you’ve heard of it before. Take it away, Steven!

I’m going to look at one of the stranger “Gat” films. With action taking place in a variety of places, ranging from a state room on an ocean liner to a swanky long island party to a rousing conclusion in a barn.

Rockliffe Fellows plays “Big Joe” Helton, an older mob boss who is returned from Europe aboard an ocean liner with his daughter, Mary, played by Ruth Hall. Also on board the ship is Alky Briggs, played by Harry Woods, Briggs is accompanied by his wife, Lucille, portrayed by Thelma Todd, right at the midpoint of her career. Oddly enough, aside from these women, both of these men seem to be traveling without any members of their gangs, although they both are able to rectify that oversight.

We’re first introduced to Briggs in his cabin, where his wife, Lucille is complaining that he has been ignoring her on the voyage. Briggs makes it clear that he isn’t making a play for any other woman, rather his purpose for being on the ship is because he has determined that being alone on the ocean is the perfect time to attempt to muscle in on Helton’s territory. Here is a huge difference between Lucille’s language and Briggs. The writers have given Thelma Todd natural dialogue and she delivers it well. Briggs’ lines are written almost as a parody of a movie gangster, with no recognition that he and Lucille are in an actual relationship and Woods delivers them in a such a stereotypical manner that the only conclusion a viewer can have is that he’s decided to play tough-guy Briggs as a satire.

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Uncanny Origins

Sunday, August 30th, 2020 | Posted by Uncanny Magazine

Kickstarter Cover Collage

We here at Uncanny Magazine we are in the middle of the Uncanny Magazine Year 7: Space Unicorns Shine On Together Kickstarter, and after six years of bringing our Hugo Award-winning magazine featuring passionate SF/F fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, provocative nonfiction, and a deep investment in the diverse SF/F culture, along with a Parsec Award-winning monthly podcast to readers and listeners, we asked each other, how did we get here?

Specifically, what science fiction and fantasy works started each of us down the path of becoming SF/F interviewers, editors, podcasters, and writers?

Podcast Producer Erika Ensign

SF/F was baked into my very bones. I’m told that mother and father, tried-and-true nerds themselves, went to see Star Wars when I was in utero. I’m not entirely certain that counts as a formative experience, but I like to claim it anyway. Some of my very earliest memories are watching Doctor Who with my mom (or sneakily, from the top of the stairs when I was supposed to be in bed) and listening to my dad read A Wrinkle in Time to my siblings and me. I truly don’t remember a time before SF/F came into my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Andrew Liptak on 20 Sci-fi and Fantasy Books to Check Out in August

Sunday, August 30th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar-small Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May-small The Mother Code-small

Cover art: uncredited, Dan dos Santos, and Anthony Ramondo (click to embiggen)

I’ve grown to rely on Andrew Liptak’s newsletter to keep me up-to-date on the latest releases, especially during the era of the pandemic. He’s got a keen eye, and roves far and wide to compile a list of the best new books every month. His list of August’s most noteworthy titles does not disappoint, with new releases from Carrie Vaughn, Tamsyn Muir, Seth Dickinson, L. Penelope, Lavie Tidhar, Lisbeth Campbell, Marina J. Lostetter, Emily Tesh, Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick, Karen Osborne, Carole Stivers, and Ashley Blooms. Here’s a few of the highlights.

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar (Tor Books, 416 pages, $27.99/$14.99 digital, August 11, 2020)

Over the years, I’ve really enjoyed Lavie Tidhar’s work — particularly The Violent Century and Unholy Land. (I still need to read Central Station). He likes to play with tropes, upending conventional characters and stories, and his next is an intriguing-sounding take on the King Arthur mythos.

Tidhar puts a gritty edge to the Arthurian legend, portraying Arthur and his companions as gangsters and criminals running drugs and weapons through a London that’s been abandoned by Rome. Writing for Locus, Ian Mond writes that “For all its foul language and radical deconstruc­tion, of which I’ve provided only a taste (you should see what Tidhar does with the Holy Grail), By Force Alone isn’t a desecration of the Arthurian romances. Instead, he pays homage to the writers and poets who took their turn in adapting and refining Monmouth’s text.”

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 18: Juggernaut and Magneto – For The Very First Time!

Saturday, August 29th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


Welcome to part 18 of my Quixotic reread of the X-Men, starting with issue #1 in 1963. We’re now in 1976 and I ended my last post partway through #101 because Phoenix’s introduction is the real climax of the last arc and it made sense to stop there.

After Phoenix’ appearance and the hospital reunions, a new story arc starts, insofar as one can ever say a story starts or ends in Claremont’s braided narrative. In this post, I’m going to cover the last half of Uncanny X-Men #101 to the end of issue #104 because it covers the new X-Men’s meeting with two hugely important and iconic villains: the Juggernaut and Magneto.

Personally, this set of stories fits into my life in that I read issue #101 in French in B&W as an 11 year old in 1982, and couldn’t afford to read issue #102-#104 until the summer of 1987 when they were reprinted in the Classic X-Men. So I’d been waiting 6 years for these stories. The Classic X-Men reprint series was great — it allowed me to fill out all the story gaps in my collection; by then, by trading with friends or buying from the comic shops in Toronto, I’d already gotten a complete run from #134 onward.

With Phoenix in the hospital in issue #101 (October, 1976) the X-Men, led by Banshee, go to Ireland on a forced vacation. Jean needs rest and support the Scott and Professor X can offer, and the new X-Men need to get out from underfoot.

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New Treasures: grotesquerie by Richard Gavin

Saturday, August 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Mike Davis (click to embiggen)

Undertow Publications commands my attention these days. Editor Michael Kelly has a truly keen eye for fiction, and he’s published some of the most acclaimed short story collections of Weird Horror in the last decade, including Simon Strantzas’s Nothing is Everything, V. H. Leslie’s Skein and Bone, and Kay Chronister’s Thin Places. On Tuesday he adds another to that impressive list, grotesquerie by Richard Gavin.

Gavin is the author of five previous collections, including Omens (Mythos Books, 2007), At Fear’s Altar (Hippocampus Press, 2012), and Sylvan Dread: Tales of Pastoral Darkness (Three Hands Press, 2016). Ramsey Campbell said, “Richard Gavin’s tales are genuinely evocative of the strange and alien,” and Publishers Weekly reviewed grotesquerie warmly last month, saying:

The 16 dark tales in this collection from Gavin (Sylvan Dread) are distinctive and macabre… The strongest — including “Neithernor,” in which a man stumbles upon his cousin’s uncanny art show at a strange gallery; “Scold’s Bridle: A Cruelty,” about a mask used as a torture device; and “Three Knocks on a Buried Door,” about a man who discovers an elaborate residence occupied by a mysterious being just beneath his apartment building — are richly articulated nightmares that will delight horror fans… the heady, transportive atmosphere of many of these stories… will put readers in mind of both classic weird fiction and the supernatural mysteries of the 1970s. Dedicated weird fiction readers will find this worth a look.

grotesquerie will be published by Undertow Publications on September 1, 2020. It is 292 pages, priced at $17.99 in paperback and $5.99 in digital formats. The hypnotic cover is by Mike Davis. Order copies directly from Undertow.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

Today is Jack Vance’s 104th Birthday

Friday, August 28th, 2020 | Posted by John-Henri Holmberg

Jack Vance-smallToday, just 104 years ago, Jack Vance was born in San Francisco. Or, actually, John Holbrook Vance. He grew up to live on a farm, suddenly become almost destitute and have to leave junior college, work in a cannery, as a bellhop and on a gold dredge. Later, at UC Berkeley, he studied mining engineering, physics, journalism and English, and wrote his first science fiction stories. Still later, he worked as an electrician in the naval yards at Pearl Harbor, but left a month before the Japanese attack. During the war he worked as a rigger and a merchant seaman, after faking his eyesight test. A jazz musician, a carpenter, a surveyor and a ceramicist he was a sailor throughout life, building his own boats and dreaming of vast oceans and rivers on distant planets.

He began publishing science fiction in 1945, had his breakthrough with The Dying Earth in 1950, became a staff writer for the Captain Video TV show in 1952, had further breakthroughs when his first crime novel under his own name, The Man in the Cage, had a 1961 Edgar Award for best first novel, and again when his novellas “The Dragon Masters” and “The Last Castle” won Hugos and Nebulas in 1963 and 1966. But his real and lasting breakthrough was as one of the finest, most bitingly satirical and ironic, most stylistically intransigent and most unforgettably original science fiction (and, by all means, also fantasy) authors of the 20th century.

In 1976 I and Per Insulander, who co-chaired that year’s Swedish national SF convention, invited Jack to be our guest of honor. He accepted, stayed for a week in Stockholm, and called us his friends; I think we were. A year later we sailed with him in San Francisco bay and stayed at his house in Oakland; for many years, I kept in touch with him and continued to publish him in Sweden. When Jack grew almost totally blind in the 1990s, he kept writing. If you haven’t already read his work, you must. It is sui generis; nobody else has written science fiction as Jack did, and you either love it or just can’t see what he was doing. Nobody else has written science fiction that to the same extent bares our souls, satirizes our most cherished idiocies, heckles the hypocrisies and nonsensicalities of our religions, social codes, moral codes and pointless squabbles. Read the five novels in his Demon Princes series; read his wonderful and absurd Tschai novels (published in the US as the Planet of Adventure books); read his subversive Lyonesse fantasy trilogy; read him. Thanks to his son, John Vance, all of Jack’s books are in print. I hope they remain so. Jack Vance was a writer for the ages, and of the enlightenment.

Jack died on May 26, 2013. I mourn him still, but more importantly I still read him. So should you.

Fantasia 2020, Part VII: The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw

Friday, August 28th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Curse of Audrey EarnshawDay four of Fantasia was another quiet one for me, with a single movie on my docket. First, though, came a panel discussion with some of the editors of Rue Morgue magazine. Rue Morgue’s been covering horror and related fields since the late 1990s, and it continues to exist as a print publication even while maintaining a strong web presence. A wide-ranging discussion anchored by Executive Editor Andrea Subissati dealt with, among other things, the challenges of keeping the magazine going, how to start writing for Rue Morgue and in general, and the practicalities of publishing. You can find it here.

Not too long after that I watched The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, written and directed by Thomas Robert Lee. It’s a solid occult horror film with an original setting, but I found it frustrating as well. While it’s a good movie, the sort of thing that’d make for fine Halloween viewing, I thought a few things done a little differently could have made it truly outstanding.

It opens with an extensive text crawl explaining backstory. In 1873 a group of immigrants from Ireland settled in North America, and maintained the traditions of their era as the world changed around them. In 1956 a curse settled on their lands, at the same time as a woman named Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker) secretly bore a child she named Audrey. It’s now 1973; Agatha’s kept now-17-year-old Audrey (Jessica Reynolds) hidden from the community all her life, but Audrey’s begun to develop strange powers, while the rest of the people continue to struggle with their barren fields.

The movie opens with Audrey, hidden in a box, watching her mother be accosted by townspeople. A young couple’s just seen their boy die, and the father, Colm (Jared Abrahamson), takes out his grief on Audrey, a figure of suspicion because her farm is the only one in the area consistently producing healthy crops. He threatens her, pushes her, and threatens to take her goods before his father, Seamus, the priest of the village, steps in and calms things down. Audrey decides to seek revenge on Colm, and on everyone else who mistreats her and her mother, a quest that threatens the destruction not only of Colm and his wife Bridget (Hannah Emily Anderson) but of the rest of their community as well.

The first thing to be said about this film is that it looks spectacular. Wide vistas show nature in late autumn, dark and barren. The lighting’s spectacular, using what looks like rich natural light, and the muted muted colour palette builds a strong atmosphere. Costumes and props immerse the viewer in the not-quite-Victorian world of the community.

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Vintage Treasures: So Bright the Vision by Clifford D. Simak

Friday, August 28th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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So Bright the Vision by Clifford D. Simak (Ace, 1976). Cover uncredited, but likely Michael Whelan

Over the last few weeks I heartily enjoyed writing a pair of lengthy articles on the way Berkley Books packaged and marketed Poul Anderson in 1976-79, and Ace Books did the same thing with Robert Silverberg in 1977. I think I had so much fun because it allowed me to indulge in my favorite past time (obsessing over old paperbacks) for hours, and dress it up as legit research. Yes, I did relentlessly track down every single Poul Anderson paperback published by Berkley in the 70s, including The High Crusade, even though I already had four editions of that damn book. But I did it for science. Well, paperback science. Which is totally a thing, and not a form of hoarding or mental illness or anything. Look, I have these scholarly articles to prove it.

In any event, my thoughts have now turned to what author/publisher combo I should examine next (for science, naturally). There are lots of possibilities of course, but ideally it should be a terrific writer, paired with a cover artist who knocked it out of the park. And the more I think about it, the more I think it should be the four Clifford D. Simak paperbacks published by Ace in a single month in September, 1976.

Simak had been a steadfast earner at Ace for decades, but despite having many of his titles in their back catalog, they’d never done any author branding for him. When the Ace editorial team simultaneously secured the rights to a set of Simak reprints in 1976 — CitySo Bright the Vision, The Trouble with Tycho, and Time and Again — they gave him a consistent cover design for the first time, and paired him with a young 26-year old up-and-coming artist named Michael Whelan, who’d done only four previous covers for Ace in his short career.

Needless to say, Whelan did indeed knock it out of the park, delivering iconic illustrations for all four books. Well unofficially, anyway. Because while the cover art for the sole collection in the set, So Bright the Vision, is clearly by Michael Whelan, officially the cover artist remains unidentified.

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Goth Chick News: Throwback Thursday: The Disturbing Insanity of The Cell

Thursday, August 27th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Cell movie poster-small

Last week’s robust discussion about the 2002 horror flick Ghost Ship, got me to thinking about the look of the genre in the early 2000’s. A peruse through Rotten Tomato’s top horror movies of the 90’s reveals a trend toward monsters in all their iterations. Werewolves, vampires and demons were primary themes, so it is interesting to see the change brought on by the new decade. With the new millennium came introspective horror of the psychological kind. Collider’s list has titles like Saw, American Psycho and The Orphan where the frights came from our fellow humans. Even Ghost Ship had the mortals onboard being the victims of their own human failings. Maybe what we learned by the end of the 20th Century is that the human psyche is the scariest monster of all. So, when The Cell popped up on one of my feeds on its 20th anniversary this month, I thought it was worth looking at it again – especially if you haven’t seen it.

When The Cell hit theaters on August 18, 2000, audiences either loved it or hated it. There was literally no middle ground. On one hand Roger Ebert awarded The Cell four out of four stars, while dozens of other critics took issue with the subject matter and violence, not to mention the sympathetic slant the plot has toward an entirely deranged serial killer.

Now, 20 years later, The Cell, with its insane costume design, over-the-top production values and an Oscar-worthy performance by Vincent D’Onofrio, is well worth a look.

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