“What A Wonderful Smell You’ve Discovered”

Friday, October 26th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

Harold_and_Maude_(1971_film)_posterWe all do it. We all have favourite lines that we quote at appropriate – and inappropriate – times. It happens even when you’re out of the house, and sometimes leads to the person you’re with asking “That’s from a movie, isn’t it?” To which the answer is pretty much always, “yup.”

The movie that gets quoted most around our house is the one I was talking about last time: The Princess Bride. Back when I was working as a temp, I used to say “Murdered by pirates is good” every time I left a particular doctor’s office. (When I passed a certain other person in the corridor, I would whistle the witch’s theme from The Wizard of Oz)

When we’re watching Jeopardy, and the contestant misses something we consider an easy one, we shout “Morons!” at the screen. It’s both an accurate representation of our feelings at that moment, and a reference to our favourite movie. It  relieves our feelings of outrage, and it’s fun.

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Gyro, Bazark, Ruffnik, and Oom-a-Gog

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Oom-a-Gog on TWA

Through the number of television sets in living rooms rose exponentially from 1948 to 1958, programming lagged behind. At first networks provided their affiliates only enough programs to fill what we now call prime time. The rest of the day was filled in piecemeal over time, early morning shows, late-night chat, afternoon soaps and game shows.

Local stations had little choice. They found ways to fill in non-network time. Budgets were ridiculously small, just sufficient to hire a personable young newcomer willing to work cheap with few other props than a desk and a chair and their ingenuity in filling hours of airtime without a script. Steve Allen and Ernie Kovacs made their names with innovative and distinctive locals shows before the networks swooped them up. Thirty-year-old Betty White took over a show called Hollywood on Television in 1952. It broadcast five-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week for four years. (To fill up her copious free time she also starred in the local, later syndicated, sitcom Life with Elizabeth.)

Having no idea of what would work and hours to experiment with, local stations tried every type of show they could think of: cooking, gardening, public affairs, fashion. And then for the afterschool crowd, kiddie shows.

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Modular: Sagas of Midgard Invades… Well, Midgard

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

SoMcoverIt’s been awhile, and not because there’s been any shortage of Norse-themed role playing games! In this time, we’ve had the 5e derivative Dragon Heresy, a d6 system called Vikingr, older campaign settings such as Hellfrost and systems such as Trudvang Chronicles, and many others. Our topic on this Odin’s Day, however, is the latest of these: Sagas of Midgard.

Honestly, I had kind of retired from investment in Viking-age rpgs. My home game hasn’t involved the Norse-specific setting for more than a year, my pocketbook doesn’t drip nine golden rings as Odin’s Draupnir does, and there isn’t much utility in owning much more, since I doubt I’d be able to wrest my gamers from my tabletop version of Fourth Age Middle-earth anytime soon. But the Sagas of Midgard Kickstarter advertised savage, fast-paced gameplay and rules for Raiding—an essential component of the northern milieu and one that I had not ever seen treated to my satisfaction. So I backed a PDF copy, mostly out of curiosity.

When I received it, I realized I was encountering something much more than a few interesting mechanics. This looks like a really good game! You’ll notice that I don’t precisely say that it is simply because I haven’t had a chance to run it yet. Character abilities originate from five separate Domains, and each Domain is governed by a Norse deity. At character creation (and during advancement) players spend points within these domains for specific powers and abilities. These are fueled by a currency called Favor, which characters can obtain through a variety of methods, many of them mechanical. The core mechanic is what the designers call the “Rollover System.” Every task and adversary has a “Rollover Score,” usually between 1 and 100, that a PC has to beat (with a roll of d100) to obtain the effect she wants. There are modifiers, of course, resulting from other game mechanics, and a core feature is that the GM never rolls the dice, something shared by a few other systems and (though denying the GM the pleasure of rolling dice) allows her to focus on storytelling and character interaction.

My main criticism, though, is that the rules explanations can be hard to follow (while recognizing reasons for the authors’ organizational choices). I contacted the authors about this, and they told me that they already had been drafting a “cheat sheet” that should be helpful even to new gamers. And, in the midst of my enthusiasm for their game, I succeeded in getting the creators, Nick Porter and Dominic De Duonni, to agree to an interview.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)

Monday, October 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

I reached out to some friends to help me with A (Black) Gat in the Hand, as I certainly can’t cover everything and do it all justice. Our latest guest is author and fellow Black Gater, Joe Bonadonna. And Joe delivered an in-depth look at hardboiled adaptations on the silver screen. In fact, he covered so much ground, it’s gonna be a two-parter! So, let’s dig in! 


Hardboiled Film Noir: From Printed Page to Moving Pictures (Part One)

“You’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

Prologue

Bonadonna_HardboiledAnthologyCrime does not discriminate. From city streets and slums to quiet suburbia, from the mansions of the rich to the boardrooms of the powerful, crime is alive and well. It can be found in dance halls, beer halls and gambling halls . . . speakeasies, seedy gin joints, smoke-filled pool halls, dive hotels, and wharf-side saloons. Crime exists everywhere, and writers and filmmakers have been telling stories about crime since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

This article deals mainly with American pulp fiction, novels and films, and a few theatrical plays, too. I’m going to give a little background history on the source material for these films and on some of the writers who penned the original stories upon which they were based.

Long ago, long before television came along, the film industry turned to books, magazine stories, theatrical plays, and radio shows for their source material, as well as original screenplays. Movie moguls bought the rights to numerous best-selling novels, mined the pages of pulp magazines, comic books, and even newspaper comic strips.

Many films made during this period were Saturday matinee serials such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and The Shadow. Dick Tracy was actually given a series of stand-alone films, and of course we had Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.

Most of these serials were the “comic book” films about pulp fiction superheroes, caped crusaders, masked avengers, and magical crime fighters. Many others films, however, were turned into “programmers,” as they were sometimes called: B-pictures with low budgets, made by up-and-coming directors, and featuring actors who had not yet attained A-list status.

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Stuffed Fables: If Toy Story Were a Role-Playing Board Game

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StuffedFablesDemoYou are a stuffed animal, who has watched over and cared for your child for many years. Tonight is a big night, though, as the parents have bought your child a big girl bed. As the lights go out, your child goes to sleep for the first night without the protection of her crib. Little did you know that this was the night you were preparing for … when dark forces of nightmare would reach out for your child, trying to destroy the hope and joy that you cherish within her.

This is the premise of the board game Stuffed Fables, by Plaid Hat Games. Plaid Hat has created a number of exceptional games, including Summoner War and the zombie survival Dead of Winter franchise. Stuffed Fables is designed by Jerry Hawthorne, who is also responsible for Plaid Hat’s Mice and Mystics franchise games, including the spin-off battle game Tail Feathers. Each of the games is great to play and worth an in-depth review of its own, but for now, let’s get focus back on Stuffed Fables.

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The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_164159RYRk8xECHaving set out to discuss The Claw of the Concilator (1981), the second entry in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, I’m completely unsure of what to write. Oh, I can tell you what happened, even how some things happened, but I’m not sure I can tell you why a lot of things happened. It’s probably due to a lack of context as two books remain in the series, but I’m not totally sure about that. Much of the story is conveyed via weird encounters, dreams, memories, fables, and even the text of a play. It’s challenging to piece the parts together to form a linear narrative, let alone anticipate the tale’s direction, which remains nearly as mysterious at the conclusion as at the start.

At the end of the previous book, The Shadow of the Torturer, Severian and his companions were caught in a violent outburst among the crowd of people at the great gate exiting the city Nessus. Severian is now accompanied by Jonas, a man with “a jointed contrivance of steel” for a right hand. The others he traveled with, Dr. Talos, Baldanders, Jolenta, and Dorcas, were lost to him in the chaos. While intent on reaching Thrax to take up his assignment as the town’s executioner, Severian and Jonas still hope to find the others. Severian makes his way serving as itinerant headsman and torturer in several towns along the road. It is in the mining town of Saltus (its mine is the buried ruins of an ancient city) that we find Severian and Jonas as Claw opens.

After he carries out a pair of executions, Severian is lured into danger by Agia. Previously she had colluded in setting him up to be killed and robbed, resulting in her own brother’s execution. She had also stolen the powerful artifact, the Claw of the Conciliator, and hidden it on Severian. Having discovered it, he has begun to realize it can emit a powerful light, heal wounds, and even raise the dead. With it, he is able to survive and overcome the trap set for him.

Unfortunately it can’t keep him from falling into the hands of the rebel leader, Vodalus. This encounter leads to Severian and Jonas signing on with the rebels and being sent to the House Absolute, the secret palace of the Autarch. There he must deliver a message to another agent of the uprising. They will also find their friends there who have been hired to put on a play. Along the way things get extra weird.

By book’s end, Severian has still not reached Thrax. He has, though, explored the House Absolute, one of the coolest works of fantastical architecture. It is covered with lawns and gardens to keep it from be spied from the sky. Miles and miles of tunnels lie below it, some, perhaps, even reaching all the way back to Nessus. Even more mysterious than the secret passages and rooms that seem de rigueur for any self-respecting palace, is the Second House. Instead of just adding more hidden chambers, the Autarch’s mysterious aide, Father Inrie, added an entire new house within the very structure of the House Absolute.

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Birthday Reviews: Lawrence Schimel’s “Taking Action”

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Lawrence Schimel was born on October 16, 1971.

Schimel won the Rhysling Award for Long Poem in 2002 for “How to Make a Human.” In 2007, he shared the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Other Work with Richard Labonte for their anthologies The Future Is Queer. Schimel has also been nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and the Lambda Award. In addition to his collaboration with Labonte, he has edited multiple anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg and has collaborated on fiction with Mike Resnick, Billie Sue Mosiman, and Mark A. Garland. He has, on occasion, published using the pseudonym David Laurents.

Schimel published “Taking Action” in Mike Resnick’s anthology Alternate Warriors in 1993. The story has never been reprinted.

One of the issues with the anthology Alternate Warriors is that many of the individuals who became the focus of stories were known for their advocacy of non-violence. Someone who advocates peaceful means to achieve their goals must change so much to become a warrior that they are practically unrecognizable. Schimel manages to overcome that issue in “Taking Action” by offering a plausible reason for Martin Luther King, Jr. to use violence in his campaign for civil rights.

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Birthday Reviews: James H. Schmitz’s “The Vampirate”

Monday, October 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Frank R. Paul

Cover by Frank R. Paul

James H. Schmitz was born on October 15, 1911 and died on April 18, 1981.

Schmitz was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1962 for Best Short Fiction for his story “Lion Loose” and in 1967 for the novel The Witches of Karres. In 1966, he had four Nebula nominations for his short story “Balanced Ecology,” the Novelettes “Planet of Forgetting” and “Goblin Night,” and for the novella “Research Alpha,” co-written with A.E. van Vogt.

“Vampirate” was first published in Science-Fiction Plus in December 1953. It was the magazine’s final issue and the last science fiction magazine edited by Hugo Gernsback. When Eric Flint and Guy Gordon included it in their collection of Schmitz’s stories, Telzey Amberdon in 2000, they changed the story’s title to “Blood of Nalakia.”

Lane Rawlings is a slave who learned a secret about her master, the Nachief of Frome, and made the mistake of sharing that secret with two other slaves. The three of them find themselves on a ship with the Nachief heading for an unnamed planet, where he intends to kill all three of them. Before they can land, however, their ship comes under attack. While Lane and the Nachief survive, the other two slaves are killed. Lane escapes her master and manages to convince Frazer, the only person on the island where they landed, that the Nachief is a sort of vampire.

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Vintage Treasures: The Illusionists by Faren Miller

Saturday, October 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Illusionists Faren Miller-small The Illusionists Faren Miller-back-small

Faren Miller’s The Illusionists is a curious book. I snapped up a copy when it first appeared in 1991, chiefly because of the author. Faren Miller had been writing for Locus magazine for ten years by then (and she still is, with some 3,100 articles and reviews to her name in the ISFDB index), and she’d gradually become one of my favorite reviewers. Her writing was polished and assured, and always insightful and entertaining, and when ads for her debut novel The Illusionists began to appear from the fledgling Questar, the short-lived SF imprint of Warner Books, I was very intrigued.

The Illusionists came in 7th for the Locus Award for Best First Novel that year, but didn’t receive much other press that I could see, good or bad. The book vanished and has never been reprinted. Miller never wrote another novel, and this seemed to be the beginning and ending of her writing career. It currently has a lukewarm 3.0 rating at Goodreads, with only two reviews, one which enthusiastically proclaims “Just started this book with hopes that it would be a trashy Sci-Fantasy story, I am not disappointed!” and another that complains, “I did not care for this novel at all. The writing was poetic and descriptive, but the characters and plot failed to generate any sort of interest.”

But I still find the plot and setting of The Illusionists intriguing, even after all these years. I pulled out my copy this morning, and found the Prologue promising enough to grab my attention. The gorgeous cover by Gary Ruddell doesn’t hurt, either.  That’s my reading for the weekend sorted then.

The Illusionists was published by Questar Books in March 1991. It is 213 pages, priced at $4.95 in paperback.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.


The Poison Apple: Talking About Ghosts — an Interview with the Queen of Many Genres, Heather Graham

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Crowens

Heather Graham Pale-as-Death-small

Elizabeth: Heather, of all people you’ve not only explored many genres but often you’ve blended them together.

Heather: Recently at ThrillerFest, I encountered other authors who had a stigma against horror and its association with slasher themes. If it has ghosts or similar phenomena call it paranormal. I’m so glad now that genres do cross so much. Seriously, Conan the Barbarian — great romance. Look at the love between the two of them. Star Wars — its adventure but it’s a romance, too. My first sales were romance novels.

How many books have you written, and how long have you been writing?

I don’t know the exact number, but it’s been over two hundred. My first book was sold in 1982 and published in 1983.

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