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Author: Tony Den

An Inaudible Blast from the Past: Silent Death: The Next Millennium (Part II)

An Inaudible Blast from the Past: Silent Death: The Next Millennium (Part II)

Silent Death The Next Millenium-small

Silent Death: The Next Millennium Deluxe Edition (ICE, 1995). Cover art by Kevin Ward

In Part I of this two-part series on the iconic space combat miniatures game Silent Death – Metal Express, published by Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) in 1990, I discussed the game’s history and basic mechanics. Due to various factors, I.C.E. ceased production of their original Silent Death – Metal Express game after the Night Brood expansion was released in 1992. Part 2 discusses what happened after that decision.

ICE took the bold move to reboot Silent Death rather than try and fix it through further expansions. In 1995 a new version, Silent Death: The Next Millennium (TNM), hit the shelves. By all accounts it was an immediate hit that saw a number of reprints over the next few years. The Deluxe Edition box set was impressive, including a huge rulebook that revised and expanded the original rules while providing the balance that the punters craved. It came with 48 plastic miniatures with revised ship designs as well as much of the same setup paraphernalia as the original game box.

On a personal level I found the whole reboot somewhat vexing. Having invested a lot in the original game, I was super upset that it and all it stood for had been swept aside. TNM had also become expensive beyond my reach. So for the next few years, apart from the occasional nostalgic game using the original rules, Silent Death took a back seat for me, until my finances improved and I discovered eBay some years later.

While ICE pursued a vigorous publication schedule, things were far different. The expansions they’d planned for the original game were revised and released in quick succession, while numerous additional supplements followed. Silent Death: The Next Millennium went from strength to strength. The last official expansion for their flagship science fiction RPG SpaceMaster was released in 1994, and Silent Death appears to have taken up the slack and continued to expand on what had come before.

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An Inaudible Blast from the Past: Silent Death — The Game of Spaceship Combat (Part 1)

An Inaudible Blast from the Past: Silent Death — The Game of Spaceship Combat (Part 1)

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Silent Death – Metal Express original box set (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1990). Art by Angus McKie

What do a fantasy miniatures line and a contemporary science fiction novel have in common? Not much at a glance, but if you put on your Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency hat and apply the theory of The Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things, a relatively straight line can be drawn between the two.

A recent post here at Black Gate about Chaos Vector, an exquisite looking new novel by Megan E. O‘Keefe, got my attention. While I dearly want to lay my hands on it (and its forerunner, Velocity Weapon), what really piqued my interest was the beautiful SPAC (Single Person Attack Craft) with its forward swept wings on the cover.

You see, it looks quite a bit like a ship called a Talon, from the beloved space combat game Silent Death. Which triggered this article, and a step back in time to the late 1980s…

Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) was a game publisher known mostly for their successful Middle Earth Role Playing line and the complex Rolemaster fantasy role playing game. They released the Rolemaster Future Lore book in 1985 , which subsequently spawned the SpaceMaster Science Fiction line (stay with me here). Star Strike, a space combat game for SpaceMaster, was created by Kevin Barrett and released in 1988. That could have been the end of it, and this article could be covering Star Strike, a game I’ve only read about…

It did not end there! While Star Strike was relatively successful for its time, it was dogged by its heritage. Even though it was a fast-paced space combat game, its association with the notoriously crunchy SpaceMaster came at a cost. While Rolemaster and SpaceMaster had loyal fan bases, plenty of gamers found them to be overly complex and rules heavy.

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Battle of the Sexes: Sword & Circlet Volume 1 by Carole Nelson Douglas

Battle of the Sexes: Sword & Circlet Volume 1 by Carole Nelson Douglas

Art: Steven Hickman
Art: Steven Hickman

Art: Steve Crisp
Art: Steve Crisp

Art: Luis Royo
Art: Luis Royo

Earlier this year I wrote about two books by Carole Nelson Douglas which became known as the Kendric and Irissa duology. These eighties’ fantasy classics spawned a subsequent trilogy, The Sword and Circlet. Whilst I had this trilogy on hand, I thought a break was in order after completing my review of Six of Swords and Exiles of the Rynth. John had been enticing me to visit some other neglected volumes on my shelf through his ongoing Vintage Treasures posts which saw me breeze through some Wyndham and Vance (which I posted mini-reviews for, in the comments of each article). With this post, I am back to focus on Carole Nelson Douglas.

When one starts to read volume one of the Sword and Circlet Trilogy it becomes immediately clear that this is no afterthought, or clumsy tack on to ride the wave of success the first two books experienced.  Keepers of the Edanvant picks up almost immediately where Exiles of the Rynth left off, pausing only to provide a small prologue and recap of what had gone before.

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An Offshore Haul

An Offshore Haul

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Latest Haul

As I’m sure regular visitors have noticed, Black Gate has over time become a home for like-minded people, introducing readers to new authors. The regular posts that really appeal to me are, not surprisingly, John O’Neill’s reports on the book collections he’s secured online, or via visits to local conventions like Windy City Pulp & Paper. Nick Ozment has also come across the odd windfall while glancing about thrift stores.

Not to be outdone this side of the Atlantic, I’ve also made some cool finds, often at bargain prices. Recently I killed an hour in a second hand bookshop, and it’s a testament to Black Gate that the books I came away with were far different from what I would have sought out a decade ago.

The shop in question is a bit of a mess, with volumes haphazardly stacked. They have (for the most part) separated books into genres, but between inattentive browsers — and perhaps just lack of diligence on the part of the owners — the books are all over the show, with only a minor nod to any sort of alphabetic sorting. Faced with this challenge, I dug in and soon found myself sporting a decent pile of overlooked volumes, including the sought after Panther version of Farewell Fantastic Venus (discussed at Black Gate some time back).

While nowhere near the size of many of John’s hauls, I am fair impressed with what I managed to pick up for the princely sum of ZAR97 (about USD6.75). The only duplicate, that I am aware of (mistakes have been made before), is the Lyndon Hardy, which I chose to complete the set by the same publisher.

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Eighties Fantasy Classics: Six of Swords and Exiles of the Rynth by Carole Nelson Douglas

Eighties Fantasy Classics: Six of Swords and Exiles of the Rynth by Carole Nelson Douglas

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Corgi editions of Six of Swords (1985) and Exiles of the Rynth (1986); art by Steve Crisp

I started reading fantasy as a teenager during the second half of the 1980s. A friend recommended Anne McCafferey’s Pern books, readily available at the public library. Another friend whom I had recently started playing D&D with was very much taken with David Eddings’ Belgeriad and advised me to give them a bash. I have since grown out of Eddings, but at the time I thought The Belgariad was the best thing since sliced bread.

I began to mince about the fantasy and science fiction shelves in local bookshops. The main chain store bookseller of the day predominantly stocked British publishers; mainly Corgi, Grafton and Orbit. Corgi was the most accessible, being moderately cheaper than Grafton. They also had a habit of including advertisements in back pages. One came up consistently; Six of Swords by Carole Nelson Douglas. It looked interesting , and I picked it up in a clearance sale and read it sometime in the mid 1990s. I eventually discovered the sequel, Exiles of the Rynth, and a follow on series, the Sword and Circlet trilogy. I thought I would concentrate on the first two here, and post about the others in due course.

I will not go too much into the development of 1980s fantasy. Matthew David Surridge explored how the decade in many ways was a proving ground for the Big Fat Fantasy that followed in his review of Lyndon Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics series, and touched on the topic several times in his book Once Only Imagined: Collected Reviews, Vol II. What I can say is that my fantasy baptism mostly occurred in the 80s, notwithstanding my dabbling with Jane Gaskell. As such I was unencumbered with other expectations. I only got around to Robert E Howard and JRR Tolkien right at the end of the decade.

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Weird Sea Adventures: Archipelago – Calendar Year 1

Weird Sea Adventures: Archipelago – Calendar Year 1

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Archipelago Portal

Some time back I posted a brief review of the Archipelago Kickstarter reward chapbook. I was impressed, and joined the Archipelago crew at their chosen home, Patreon, becoming a Crew Member for the princely sum of $2 per month. This slightly higher rank than the run-of-the-mill $1-paying Bilge Rats allows for certain privileges, such as voting in the occasional Blood Pearl polls, through which one can guide the direction of certain stories. The main privilege of course is access to the excellent monthly magazine, every issue of which contains three installments set in the shared world of Archipelago.

Archipelago’s inaugural issue was in May 2017; since then it has been monthly. I initially hoped to cover a quarterly spread of issues, but I got distracted with other tasks. Things have not changed much, as may be obvious from my thin coverage and participation at Black Gate in 2018.

Fortunately my cell office is so remote and difficult to find among the winding multi-level corridors of the Black Gate basement that I’ve managed to escape eviction for not pulling my weight. I’m fortunate John O’Neill doesn’t usually bother to read the contributions from us underground dwellers (preferring to leave such editorial drudgery to a bot — also somewhat confusingly called John O’Neill), otherwise this article may just remind him to dispatch someone into the dungeon basement to root me out.

I resolved to write my review in two parts, each based on calendar year, thus buying myself some time to read the 2018 editions. That said, this particular article has been pending for months, so time to get cracking and let BG readers know what’s happening on the world of Archipelago!

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A Relative Journey: Starflight 3000 by R.W. Mackelworth

A Relative Journey: Starflight 3000 by R.W. Mackelworth

Starflight 3000-Balllentine

Cover by Chris Foss

While perusing the shelves of Bookdealers of Rosebank, in Johannesburg, an excellent shop that sadly closed its doors a while back, I came across a nondescript book with an unbent spine. Finding a used paperback of any age with a good-as-new spine is a rarity, and I was drawn to it.

I slipped it from its recess and took a closer look. It was a Ballantine paperback with an intriguing space ship on a wrap around cover. The title was Starflight 3000 by R.W. Mackelworth.

I had never heard of Mackelworth, but then again I am not the best informed on science fiction authors. While I was impressed with its pristine condition, it also set off some warning bells. Why was it unread? Was the story that bad? But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And besides, it was a very reasonable price. I bundled it with some other selections and headed to the cashier.

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Short Sharp Adventures: World of the Masterminds / To the End of Time and Other Short Stories by Robert Moore Williams

Short Sharp Adventures: World of the Masterminds / To the End of Time and Other Short Stories by Robert Moore Williams

World of the Masterminds-small To the End of Time and Other Stories-small

At the very top of my Books to Read shelf I have a slowly growing collection of Ace Doubles. I usually work my way forward numerically, starting with the D series, but will occasionally jump back a few if a new addition arrives. Thanks to this habit (and some other haphazard literary tastes) I am still, pleasantly, stuck within the Ace Double D range.

The next one in the schedule is a well preserved book with both sides by the same author, Robert Moore Williams. Ace Double D-427 comprises a “complete” novel, World of the Masterminds, and a collection of short stories, To the End of Time and Other Stories.

Robert Moore Williams wasn’t an author I was familiar with, although Black Gate readers will have encountered the odd mention of him, including a 2015 review by Rich Horton of the Ace Double The Star Wasps by Robert Moore Williams, paired with Warlord of Kor by Terry Carr.

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Weird Sea Adventures: A Review of the Archipelago Kickstarter Reward Magazine

Weird Sea Adventures: A Review of the Archipelago Kickstarter Reward Magazine

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Click image to enlarge

First there was the Weird Tale, which hit the mark. Then there was the Weird Western, which hit the mark for many, but not all. Now there is the Weird Sea…

The advent of Archipelago came to my attention on Black Gate via Brandon Crilly’s post post earlier this year, which included some cool art and a teaser story – “The Ur-Ring” by Charlotte Ashley.

As a longstanding fan of maritime literature, specifically the Richard Bolitho stories by Alexander Kent (pseudonym of Douglas Reeman) and C.S. Forrester’s Hornblower stories, my ears figuratively pricked up when I saw Brandon’s article. Maritime adventure combined with fantasy… what more could one ask? Hmm, a Cylon Base Star perhaps, but we won’t go there…

For those who haven’t read Brandon’s original post, the basic premise of Archipelago is that of a Shared World, where people from earth’s 17th century have come across various ocean based portals to another world. To quote the Kickstarter:

Four hundred years ago, when control of the world came to depend on naval power as never before, a courageous few set off on journeys of discovery and conquest that would alter the fates of nations in ways no-one could imagine.

But once they’d sailed the seven seas, what if they found another?

ARCHIPELAGO is a historical fantasy serial with multiple new episodes appearing every month. Imagine a blend of Moby Dick, Pirates of the Caribbean, Master & Commander and Game of Thrones — with Lovecraftian monsters lurking beneath the surface!

Looking at the Archipelago Kickstarter it became evident that they did not require a massive contribution, more just seed funding to get their project going. The rewards were interesting, insofar as one could — as was a common practice way back in the British military establishment — purchase a commission. The difference being that instead of buying a rank in the navy, one could purchase a custom mention in a future story, which I thought was pretty cool. As they state it:

Archipelago isn’t just about storytelling, though. Readers will have the opportunity to influence events as the adventure develops, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes devastating.

I was hooked and proceeded to participate in the Kickstarter.

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A Not So Trimphant Ending to The Atlan Saga: Some Summer Lands by Jane Gaskell

A Not So Trimphant Ending to The Atlan Saga: Some Summer Lands by Jane Gaskell

Orbit Futura Edition
Orbit Futura Edition

“The Fourth Book in the Hitch-Hiker Trilogy” proclaimed the cover blurb on the Pan version of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams. And many smiled and thought this was very clever and funny. The fourth book in a trilogy wasn’t actually a new idea, even back in the 1984. Now a fifth book in a trilogy is a little more unusual, and indeed when one appeared (Mostly Harmless, in 1992) the updated blurb proclaimed: “The Fifth Book in the Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhikers Trilogy”.

What has Douglas Adams got to do with Jane Gaskell?

Well, she did the same thing. She wrote a pretty good trilogy – albeit one which some publishers stretched into four books – and then, by all appearances, decided to tack on another volume some years later. This is of course my opinion, but if you’ll indulge me a bit you will see why I reached that conclusion.

Now there are plenty of authors who have tacked books on to a successful trilogy — and some who have even added a whole follow up series. To be fair to Mr Adams, his additional books were pretty good, though not up to the standard of the original series. To me, they still felt like they were more of an afterthought than a specifically planned and executed conclusion.

Some Summer Lands also does not quite fit. Sadly, that is not the only issue. I cannot in honesty give this book the same recommendation I gave to the other books in the Atlan Saga, which were pretty good, with occasional flashes of brilliance. Some Summer Lands was published in 1977, roughly ten years after The City. My Orbit Futura edition weighed in at 360 pages split into three parts of varying length.

Some Summer Lands is not pretty good. Dismally disjointed, maybe. Rambling, definitely. Misguided, certainly. One of the few positives I had from the experience was that it helped me realize why I had taken on re-reading the series with such trepidation. The first three (or four) books surprised me, as I did not have fond memories of the series when I read it in my youth.

Anyone who has read my earlier reviews may remember me marveling at certain aspects and wondering why I had disliked them as a teenager. Now I know why! It’s this last book which casts a dark shadow.

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