Play Host to Newborn Ghoulish Creatures in Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League Publishing

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Alien RPG-small

An official Alien role playing game is arriving in game stores next week, courtesy of Free League Publishing, the geniuses behind the brilliant Coriolis science fiction game, Mutant: Year Zero, and Forbidden Lands.

Any RPG that does justice to Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror masterpiece will have to have a dark and chilling aesthetic, and a cinematic play style. And for accuracy, probably a short (very short!) character life expectancy. Fortunately Alien: The Role Playing Game looks like it’s captured the look and feel of the franchise with real surety. Here’s Rachel Watts from her preview at PC Gamer last month.

Free League Publishing and 20th Century Fox have joined forces to create a tabletop RPG set in the harsh universe of the Alien films. It will drop players into the dark, merciless void of space, but this adaptation sounds far from empty.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game has two playable modes, cinematic and campaign. The cinematic option lets you play through a scenario similar to the events of the films in one session, and emphasises “high stakes and fast and brutal gameplay”, which doesn’t sound ominous at all. The campaign mode takes more of a Gloomhaven structure and lets players explore the Alien universe more freely over multiple game sessions.

The RPG comes in a chunky 392-page core rule book, which I think definitely leaves the definition of rulebook behind and goes straight into short novel territory. Free League Publishing have printed these rules in a hardback book and thrown in some cool illustrations… Alongside the core rule book, you’ll get a set of custom dice, a set of maps, and a GM Screen.

Can Free League Publishing get the all important feel of Alien right in an RPG? The rules follow their acclaimed Year Zero Engine, used in Tales from the Loop and Mutant: Year Zero, and they warn that “it’s unlikely your character will survive.” Sounds like they got the basics right to me.

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

Sunday, December 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth-small Made Things Adrian Tchaikovsky-small The Killing Light Myke Cole-small

It’s December already. Hard to believe, I know. But it’s true.

It’s many ways I’m not sad to have November in the rear view mirror. For one thing, the weather was terrible. More importantly, it brought disturbing changes to one of my favorite genre websites, the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, which fired all their freelancers on November 26th. I don’t know if the ongoing changes will also impact folks like founding editor Joel Cunningham, or Jeff Somers, who writes the top-notch book survey every month, but I really hope not. We’ve benefited greatly from their work here at Black Gate, and I hope it continues.

In particular, Jeff Somers’ monthly survey of the best genre books is something I always look forward to, and he never disappoints. His November column — with 25 titles by Neil Gaiman, Myke Cole, Walter Jon Williams, and many others — is a classic example. Packed in there with the blockbuster new books by E.E. Knight, Howard Andrew Jones, and Rebecca Roanhorse, are several genuine surprises. Here’s a look at the best unexpected books on the list.

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Build a Galactic Empire of Your Very Own in New Frontiers

Sunday, December 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Puerto Rico game-small New Frontiers game-small

Andreas Seyfarth’s Puerto Rico is one of the most acclaimed board games of the last two decades. I hear a lot about it — at conventions, from friends, and even from co-workers at the Catapult tech incubator where I work in Chicago. It’s a classic euro-game with a simple premise: It’s 50 years after Columbus’s first voyage to America, the age of Caribbean ascendancy, and players are colonial governors on the island of Puerto Rico. Taking the role that best suits them — prospector, governor, captain, trader, craftsman, builder — players manage their colonists, sell goods, erect buildings, nurture plantations, and more to bring a prosperous and thriving colony into being. Its simplicity is a big part of its success, and 17 years after its release Puerto Rico still ranks highly on BoardGameGeek’s All Time Game Rankings.

Its colony-building theme is one common to a lot of space-faring games, of course. Years ago game designer Tom Lehman created a card version of Puerto Rico that, after some tweaks, became the runaway hit Roll for the Galaxy. His latest project is New Frontiers, advertised as a Race for the Galaxy game, in which some folks still see strong roots in Puerto Rico. Here’s an excerpt from William Peteresen’s review, currently the top-ranked review at Amazon.com.

With New Frontiers, Lehman has come full circle. For New Frontiers IS Puerto Rico with a sci-fi skin! If you’ve played Puerto Rico, or ANY of the Race for the Galaxy games, you can learn this game in about 5 minutes! Yep, it’s that simple and easy for any RFG fan! And it plays fast… For non Puerto Rico/RFG [gamers], New Frontiers is a fast action selection/engine-building game set in the far future! Each player is trying to build a space empire that will ultimately garner him/her the most VPs! Each turn, the acting player will choose one of six (seven in the advanced game) action tiles. These action tiles will allow all players to preform [sic] the chosen action (settle, produce, trade/consume, explore, develop), with the active player [getting] a bonus action and the privilege of doing the action first…

The game really is that simple, but it has A LOT of deep strategy and requires some far planning just like the original game, Puerto Rico. But I think New Frontiers is superior to that game because of the theme and because NF has MUCH more variety in terms of strategy… Strangely, New Frontiers is actually the easiest of the RFG games to learn (IMO) … Since nearly everything is also written on the action cards, development and planet tiles in both icon and [words].

New Frontiers has not yet achieved the heights of popularity of Puerto Rico or Roll for the Galaxy, but it appeals to the space-faring gamer in me more than those two titles. What gamer doesn’t dream of guiding a fledgling Galactic Empire to glory?

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Check Out Angry Robot’s 2020 Catalog

Friday, November 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Angry Robot 2020 catalog

I miss the days when publishers mailed out catalogs. Yes, it was, like, a hundred years ago. And yes, it means I’m old. But paging through through slick color brochures and discovering a favorite writer had a new title coming out in three months? That was cool. Old school, maybe. But still cool.

Those days are over, of course. Nobody mails physical catalogs any more. But catalogs haven’t actually vanished. Like everything else, they’ve just migrated online. And they’re still fun to page through, and they can still surprise you.

Have a look at the Angry Robot January-June 2020 catalog, for example. Angry Robot is one of the most exciting and innovative publishers active today — and one of the few still publishing mass mass market paperbacks. We’ve covered a whole lot of exciting releases from them recently, including Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz, The Axiom series by Tim Pratt, and The Traitor God and its sequel by Cameron Johnston, among others.

Their 2020 catalog showcases upcoming books by Myke Cole, Jeff Noon, Kameron Hurley, Rod Duncan, Asaf Ashery, and lots more. It’s well worth a look, especially if you’re not familiar with their back catalog, which is top notch. Check out out here, and support one of the most exciting publishers in the industry.


Judith Tarr on The Golden Age of Andre Norton

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Andre Norton Android At Arms-small Andre Norton-Star Born-small Ice Crown-Andre Norton-small

Covers by unknown, Gino D’Achille, and Paul Alexander

I’ve been enjoying Judith Tarr’s detailed and enthusiastic Andre Norton reread over at Tor.com. So far she’s covered…. whew, so many novels I’ve lost count. 70? 75? Seriously, it’s a lot.

The fact that there’s a science fiction writer with 70+ novels worth talking about is astonishing in itself. Andre Norton was a genre onto herself in her heyday, roughly 1952-1998, but very little of her work remains in print. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeking out for modern readers. In last week’s post, “Agency and Mind Control in Andre Norton’s Ice Crown,” Judith makes a case that the Golden Age of Andre Norton was 1962-76, and she may have a point. Anyway, who’s going to argue with someone who’s read 72 Andre Norton novels in a row?

Now that I’ve read and reread a wide range of Norton novels from the Fifties to the early years of the new millennium, I’ve concluded that, for me, her “golden age” ran from the early Sixties through the mid-Seventies. Her official “Golden Age of SF” books of the Fifties have a distinct retro charm, and her later works kept on trucking for decades, delivering the patented Norton themes and settings and the occasional new one — and then there are her many collaborations with younger writers, some of them truly fine. But from about 1962 until about 1976, she wrote the novels that spoke to me most clearly and influenced my own writing the most.

I managed to miss Ice Crown at the time (1970). It hasn’t displaced any of my favorites from the period. But it’s classic Sixties/Seventies Norton.

The strong female protagonist, the overt feminism (so different from her all-male Fifties universes), the attempts at deeper characterization — it’s all there. Along with some of her patented themes and settings: alienation, psychic powers and mind control, political intrigue, and the just about inevitable subterranean adventures. Norton did love her caves.

Read the complete article here, and check out all 72 installments (so far) in the Andre Norton Reread at Tor.com. Here’s the back covers for the novels above: Android at Arms (Ace Books, 1973), Star Born (Ace, 1978), and Ice Crown (Ace, 1981).

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Vintage Treasures: The Tomorrow’s Warfare Anthologies, edited by Joe Haldeman, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin Harry Greenberg

Sunday, November 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Body Armor 2000-small Supertanks-small Space-Fighters-small

Covers by Walter Velez

One of the things I miss about modern publishing is mass market anthologies. There’s still loads of anthologies being published, of course — we’ve covered dozens in just the last few months — but most come from small presses, and all of them are in hardcover or trade paperback. Casual buyers just don’t buy short fiction these days. Certainly not in enough volume to make inexpensive paperback anthologies viable, anyway. Which is a shame, since there were a ton of ’em in the 70s and 80s, and it was pretty much the way you discovered new authors back then. This fact was not lost on publishers, and the savvy ones — like Ace and DAW — promoted their stable of authors pretty regularly in themed anthologies.

Take the Tomorrow’s Warfare trilogy of anthologies, for example. Edited by the powerhouse trio of Joe Haldeman, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin Harry Greenberg, they appeared between 1986-88 from Ace Books. Each followed a loose future-war theme, and each was packed with stories from the top writers in the industry.

And such stories! A Hugo-nominated Alliance-Union novella by C. J. Cherryh, a Hammer’s Slammers novella by David Drake, the complete short novel Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny (a 1968 Hugo nominee), a Bolo story by Keith Laumer, a Berserker novelette by Fred Saberhagen, the original short story “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, an Instrumentality of Mankind tale by Cordwainer Smith, plus stories by Gene Wolfe, Harry Harrison, George R. R. Martin, Robert Sheckley, Gordon R. Dickson, Terry Carr, Christopher Anvil, Joe Haldeman, Edward Bryant, Ben Bova, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Keith Laumer, Ian McDonald, and many, many more.

Anthologies like this don’t exist in paperback anymore. But that’s okay, because I’m still discovering  the old ones — and they’re are still widely available, and they’re still cheap. I wasn’t even aware of this series until I stumbled on two of the three anthologies above in that gargantuan haul of $1 paperbacks I brought home from Windy City Pulp and Paper in April. And I just ordered the third one (Supertanks) on eBay for $1.94.

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Dark Cults and Alien Mysteries: Warhammer 40,000: The Magos by Dan Abnett

Thursday, November 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Magos Audiobook-big

I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to audiobooks as I take the train into Chicago every morning. Yes, it’s a little risky to be wearing headphones in the middle of that jostling crowd, completely caught up in tales spun by skilled narrators while blithely stepping out into traffic. Someday you may read a somber obituary that claims I was splatted by a fast-moving cab. But know that I died happy.

This morning I was enjoying the new Eisenhorn “novel” by Dan Abnett, The Magos, which is really a fat collection of short stories (plus a new novel). And I was completely and utterly caught up in Toby Longworth’s brilliant narration of “The Curiosity,” the short tale of a taxonomist who finds himself in a life-and-death hunt for an alien beast in the mist-crowded hills of a backward province. I found this brief review at Track of Words that let me know there are other tales featuring Valentin Drusher, magos biologis, and that makes me happy.

First published in 2003 in Inferno! magazine, Dan Abnett’s short story “The Curiosity” offers the first glimpse of Valentin Drusher, magos biologis… Dispatched to a bleak, distant province to investigate sightings of an unknown beast that’s left a trail of corpses behind it, it’s not long before he realises this is more than just an apex predator he somehow missed. Caught up in the hunt for the beast, Drusher is out of his league and in terrible danger…

Drusher may be an amateur sleuth rather than an inquisitor, but that just makes the situation that bit more dangerous. It’s a nicely self-contained story, complete with all the descriptive scene-setting and strong, effective characterisation that you’d expect from Abnett, and the slightly baffled, eccentric Drusher is instantly engaging. In the grand scheme of 40k the stakes are small, but away from the battlefields and in context of a simple, rural community there’s more than enough drama for this to be gripping and entirely satisfying.

The Magos is available in print and on audio, but you really haven’t experienced this story until you’ve listened to Longworth’s deep, resonant (and surprising versatile) voice bring it to life — preferably while watching Chicago slide by through a rain-slicked window. Highly recommended. The audio version is 20 hours, and sells for $22.90 on Audible.


Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019 edited by Paula Guran

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019

Usually when I write a Future Treasures piece, it’s about a book that hasn’t been published yet. And that applies in this case. The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019, the tenth volume in Paula Guran’s excellent anthology series, definitely ain’t out yet.

Now, the official publication date was yesterday, so this is a little frustrating. I look forward to this book every year. It’s the companion to my favorite Year’s Best volume, Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Paula is one of the most experienced editors in the business. She has a sharp eye for delightful and surprising fiction, and this year’s volume — with stories by Tim Powers, Jeffrey Ford, Simon Strantzas, Tim Lebbon, Naomi Kritzer, Mary Robinette Kowal, E. Lily Yu, Isabel Yap, Michael Wehunt, Steve Rasnic Tem, Brian Hodge, Robert Shearman, Angela Slatter, M. Rickert, and many others — looks like a terrific package. But despite having an official pub date of November 19, it’s listed as unavailable at every online outlet I’ve checked.

I assume this is something that the publisher, Prime Books, will sort out in the next few weeks (they usually do). In the meantime I shall wait patiently, as I look over the delicious Table of Contents with great anticipation. Here it is.

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Tor.com on Six-Guns and Strange Shooters

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Territory Emma Bull-small Dust Devil Blu Ray-small Jonah Hex Face Ful of Violence-small

It’s been a very good year for science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy, and overall I am content. But, you know, I’m never totally content, because really, what’s the point of that? This year my crankiness originates from a near total lack of Weird Westerns. It’s like the genre dried up and blew away in the wind in 2019.

At least there are a few Weird West books, movies and comics to fall back on. Earlier this year at Tor.com Theresa DeLucci shared her picks of some of the best in Six-Guns and Strange Shooters: A Weird West Primer, and she managed to point out more than a few I haven’t tried yet, including Emma Bull’s fantasy retelling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Territory, and the 1990 film Dust Devil. And she reminded me I need to read more Jonah Hex. Here’s what she said about everyone’s favorite creepy gunslinger.

Forget the terrible movie. (You know Josh Brolin wishes he could.) The original 1977 DC comic is considered one of the first popular representations of the Weird West. The bounty hunter marked by a demon’s brand seeks out the West’s worst and also, sometimes, less earthly quarry. He also sometimes time travels and gets into a gun-fight with a T-Rex. Jonah Hex‘s best and creepiest run was written by east Texan horror master Joe R. Lansdale and come highly recommended.

Theresa also showcases The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, the Golgotha novels by R. S. Belcher, the great Deadlands: Reloaded RPG, and much more. Check out her article here.

See all our coverage of the best of the Weird West here.


A Wide Range of Stories: John DeNardo on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books in October

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey-small How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse-small Salvation Lost Peter F. Hamilton-small

In his intro to his book roundup for October over at Kirkus Reviews, John DeNardo says:

I’m constantly surprised at the wide range of stories offered within the science fiction and fantasy genres. Just take a look at this month’s top science fiction and fantasy picks and you’ll see what I mean.

He’s certainly got a point. SF and fantasy fans are constantly making up new sub-genres and sub-sub-genres to categorize just what the hell we read every month (Weird Western, Urban Fantasy, Sword-and-Planet, Space Opera, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Ghostpunk, Elfpunk…), and it still seems that half the new stuff is just flat-out uncategorizable.

October’s new SF & Fantasy is no different. Over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog Jeff Somers catalogs 29 October titles by Tade Thompson, Cixin Liu, Tim Pratt, Theodora Goss, and our very own Derek Künsken, but John takes a different tack, narrowing his focus to The 7 Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read This October. Here’s a few highlights from his suggestions.

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