Rise to the Throne in Ethnos

Friday, June 8th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill


We’re definitely living in a golden age of fantasy board games.

How can you tell? Well, for one thing, a generation ago a relatively modest game such CMON’s Ethnos would have been a pocket game, like Star Fleet Battles or Valkenburg Castle, with a two-color map and paper tokens, crammed into your back pocket to play at lunch. Today it gets the deluxe treatment, with quality components, full color cards, and art by the great John Howe. Times are good for fantasy gamers, and no mistake.

Whatever form it takes, part of the charm of Ethos is its simplicity. It’s a fairly straightforward game of conquest, with a 45-60 minute play time and virtually no set up time — a far cry from the more massive games I’ve been writing about recently, like Axis & Allies and Chaos in the Old World, let me tell you. Plus, this is definitely old-school, with wizards, giants, and skeleton armies. You barely need to look at the rule book. Beer and pretzels, some glory tokens, and a lust for conquest on your lunch hour is all you need to carry you to victory.

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Future Treasures: Space Pioneers, edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Space Pioneers Hank Davis-smallIt’s been too long since we’ve checked in with Hank Davis, the mad genius editor at Baen behind the anthologies Things From Outer Space and In Space No One Can Hear You Scream. I figured he had to have something interesting cooking and, sure enough, when I asked him to comment, here’s what he told me.

Coming in December this year, looking for stockings to stuff, is Space Pioneers, a rough of whose cover is now on Baen.com, though the author lineup thereon may be modified…

After that, still in the works is Overruled!, an anthology of stories about courtrooms, lawyers, and other low-lifes. In the future beyond that will be an anthology of military sf stories involving time travel, whose working title is Time Troopers, but that may change. I was going to handle the Psychotechnic League stories by Poul Anderson, but was felled by health problems at a crucial juncture, so it’s in other hands. (The timing of those problems is also why the first volume of The Best of Gordon R. Dickson came out without my usual tedious introductions and notes, but I’ll try to give better value in the next volume).

I do hope that Space Pioneers does well, since I could do a *series* of anthologies on this theme without breaking sweat. My hat’s off (dangerous move for a bald geezer) to my co-ed, Christopher Ruocchio, who did much of the busy work (contracts, nudging agents, etc.) while I was still recovering, and who also talked me into using two Poul Anderson yarns, a suggestion I had absolutely no problem with (and I have a third in mind if there’s a Volume II). And that’s the current state of the pipeline. I should remind everyone that these will all be mass market paperbacks.

Sounds like a great line-up! Space Pioneers in particular looks like a terrific book, and a splendid addition to Hank’s catalog of top-notch anthologies. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for it, and making some more noise about it here as we get closer to the release date.

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New Treasures: The Rise of the Terran Federation, edited by John F. Carr

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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H. Beam Piper was one of my earliest discoveries, and he quickly became one of my favorite SF writers. I snapped up every book with his name on it in the mid-70s, all Ace paperback editions with gorgeous Michael Whelan covers.

Piper committed suicide a few months after I was born, in November 1964. But his work has endured, and as recently as 2011 John Scalzi published Fuzzy Nation, a retelling of Piper’s most famous novel Little Fuzzy. Last year editor John F. Carr assembled an anthology of a handful of Piper’s Federation and Paratime Police tales, and invited Wolfgang Diehr, David Johnson, and Jonathan Crocker to contribute fiction set in Piper’s universe. He added a pair of essays by John A. Anderson, The Early History of the Terran Federation and Chartered Companies of the Terran Federation, and his own preface, The Terro-human Future History, and the result was The Rise of the Terran Federation, published in hardcover by Pequod Press. Here’s the description.

The Rise of the Terran Federation is new collection of new and old stories chronicling the rise of H. Beam Piper’s Terran Federation. With story introductions and essays on the establishment of the Federation, this book is the ultimate overview of the beginning of Piper’s crowning creation, the Terro-Human Future History. This collection will include some of Piper’s early Federation stories, like “Edge of the Knife” and Omnilingual.”

This collection also contains new stories about the aftermath of the Third and Fourth World Wars, the Thorans and life on Baldur. The Rise of the Terran Federation is an essential work for fans of Piper’s future history and his unique view of what lies ahead for mankind.

There are precious few SF writers whose work has endured five decades. Piper didn’t live long enough to see it, but his stories have entertained three generations of SF fans, and I expect them to still be in print 50 years from today.

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Caverna The Cave Farmers: The Most Fun You’ll Have Managing Animals, Minerals and Vegetables

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I’ve heard a lot about the top-selling Agricola. It was the board game that finally ended Puerto Rico‘s five year-rein as the highest-rated game at BoardGameGeek, and it thoroughly dominated the rankings from September 2008 until March 2010. It certainly sounds like something I should investigate, but I have to admit it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm… I mean, just how much fun can it be to simulate a farming couple living in a two-room hut?

As you can probably imagine, I was much more intrigued by Agricola‘s sequel Caverna: The Cave Farmers, which changed up the setting and added a fantasy veneer, putting you in the role of dwarves leading tiny family clans in mountain caves. The reviews have been pretty promising; Shut Up & Sit Down said:

The sequel to Agricola is here, and it’s the heaviest and most expensive game we’ve ever reviewed. A titan of the table.

There’s no question. Caverna: The Cave Farmers is the most fun you’re going to have managing animals, minerals and vegetables.

Wait, are they being snarky? It’s hard to tell. Only one way to find out for sure.. I finally took the plunge and shelled out $80 for a copy of Caverna, and it arrived today. And wow, this thing is gigantic.

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The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of May 2018

Thursday, May 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Helicopters-small Song of Blood and Stone-small The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn-small

We’ve reached the end of May already. I don’t know about you, but I thought I’d have a lot more reading done by now. Well, that’s why there’s always next month.

But before we bring down the curtain entirely on May, let’s make sure we haven’t overlooked anything interesting. Over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, Jeff Somers tells us all about their selections for the top release for the month. Here’s a few highlights.

Black Helicopters, by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Tor Books, 208 pages, $14.99 paperback/$.99 digital, May 1)

An expanded version of a novella previously nominated for a World Fantasy Award, Black Helicopters is set in a world where logic and the laws of nature seem to be decaying. Off the coast of Maine, huge monstrosities appear, and head inland. Forces assemble to hold back the darkness, among them Sixty-Six, the scion of a CIA experiment, while across the ocean in Dublin, an immortal secret agent tracks down twin sisters with incredible powers to recruit them for the cause. As the world descends into paranoia and chaos, buried connections come to light that change everything. As a companion piece to the fungal horror of 2016’s Agents of Dreamland, this novella doesn’t disappoint.

We covered Agents of Dreamland just last year.

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New Treasures: Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre

Thursday, May 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Murder in orbit seems to be the latest hot literary trend. Police procedurals on alien planets, tense mysteries on far-future space stations, spy thrillers in the cold vacuum of space… that’s a whole lot of genre blending. Just in the last few months I’ve written about a cargohold full of futuristic noir, including:

The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker – a police procedural murder mystery on a generation starship, by the author of the Locus Award-winning Whiteout
Outer Earth by Rob Boffard — A thriller set on an overcrowded space station, from the author of the upcoming Adrift
The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts — Death, disappearances, and secret revolution on a far-future construction ship
Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen — A covert agent in the near-future forced to go on vacation to Mars
The Chaos of Luck by Catherine Cerveny — A Brazilian tarot card reader and a Russian crime lord race to stop a conspiracy on Mars
Blood Orbit by K.R. Richardson — The murder here isn’t really in orbit (it’s on an alien planet) but this one gets points for being extra-noir
The Central Corps trilogy by Elizabeth Bonesteel — SFF World called the opening novel, The Cold Between, a “taut, space-based science fiction mystery”

I heartily approve of this new trend towards SF noir. I’m not the only one to have noticed — the Murder & Mayhem blog did a great piece on Rusted Chrome: 14 Sci-Fi Noir Books for Blade Runner Fans, just as an example.

The reason I bring this up today is because I recently bought another example in the same category, and it looks very promising indeed. Chris Brookmyre is a Scottish writer with some 20 mystery and thriller novels under his belt, including Dead Girl Walking and Where the Bodies Are Buried. His first SF novel, Places in the Darkness, is a tale of mystery and murder on a vast orbital platform.

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io9 on 28 New Sci-fi and Fantasy Books to Add to Your Shelves in May

Thursday, May 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cheryl Eddy at io9 has a gift for you folks who’ve run out of things to read already this month (Seriously, how does that happen?? Whatever, we don’t judge.) A tidy list of 28 New Sci-fi and Fantasy Books to Add to Your Shelves.

28! How does she do that, and with astonishingly little overlap with John DeNardo’s list of the Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror in May? I have no idea, but perhaps dark magics were involved, and maybe we shouldn’t question it. Let’s just dive into the list, and see what grabs us.

The Glory of the Empress by Sean Danker (Ace, 352 pages, $4.99 digital, May 1, 2018)

Amid a raging interstellar war, a group of soldiers develops a new weapon they hope will turn the tide in their side’s favor — not realizing their test runs in a far-off pocket of the galaxy will have unexpectedly towering consequences.

The Glory of the Empress is the third book in the series that began with Admiral (2016), which was selected by Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2016, and continued with Free Space (2017). While the first two were published in print and digital formats, this one is only available digitally.

Eeep! Is that a thing now? Hope that doesn’t frustrate too many old school readers… I’m frustrated, and I haven’t even read the first one yet.

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The 2017 Nebula Award Winners

Sunday, May 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I turned 54 years old today. And as a birthday present to me, just as it does every year, the Science Fiction Writers of America gave out the 52nd Annual Nebula Awards. This year they were presented at the SFWA Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center.

Unlike the last 2015 and 2016 events (which were held in Chicago), I was unable to attend, but they somehow went on without me. Here’s the complete list of winners.


The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)


All Systems Red, Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)

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Win One of Ten Copies of Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham

Saturday, May 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Todd McAulty was the most popular writer to appear in the print version of Black Gate magazine. Locus said “Todd McAulty is Black Gate‘s great discovery,” and in their wrap-up of our entire 15-issue run, Free SF Reader wrote: “McAulty appears to be world class… If I was crazy enough to want to be an editor, I’d be trying to poach him, or wheedle work out of him, or kidnap him and have him chained up and guarded by a woman with blunt weaponry.”

We’ve been waiting for a long time for a full-length novel from Mr. McAulty, and at long last the wait is almost over. His massive debut The Robots of Gotham, a fast-paced thriller set in a world on the verge of total subjugation by machines, will be published next month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Early buzz has been mounting fast — Julie E. Czerneda calls it “Incredible,” Publishers Weekly says it “maintains breathless momentum throughout,” James Enge says it’s “The sort of book that makes people SF addicts for life,” and bestselling author Daniel H. Wilson calls it “A thrilling ride.” Early reviews from the public have been breathless as well — Joe Crowe was the very first to rate it at Goodreads, saying,

The whole story is a thrilling action flick in book form, with cool robots and conspiracies and things blowing up. Read it while walking in slow-motion away from an explosion.

You’ll have to wait until June 19th to buy the hardcover…. or if you can’t wait, jump over to The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, where they’re giving away 10 advance copies! You’ll need a Twitter account to be eligible, but how hard can that be? Easier than surviving the coming robot apocalypse, that’s for sure. While you’re contemplating, click the image above to see the beautiful ‘splosiony cover in full detail, with the end flap text and all those cool blurbs.

The Robots of Gotham will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/John Joseph Adams Books on June 19, 2018. It is 688 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital version. The cover was designed by Mark R. Robinson. Get all the details here.

The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in April

Saturday, May 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Joe Bonadonna had the top post at Black Gate in April, with his review of Andrew P. Weston’s Hell Hounds, the follow-up to his 2015 novel Hell Bound, and the second novel featuring the Daemon Grimm and his adventures in the Heroes in Hell universe created by Janet Morris.

Not to be intimidated, both Bob Byrne and Fletcher Vredenburgh placed two articles in the Top Ten last month. Bob’s feature on Arthurian Elements in the Conan Canon came in at #4, and his post on Tolkien’s Magic Sword Anglachel placed 9th. Fletcher claimed the sixth slot with his review of Andre Norton’s classic Witch World, and his look at Fred Saberhagen’s long-neglected novel The Broken Lands landed at #10.

There were a handful of folks in the Top Ten who weren’t named Joe, Bob, or Fletcher. Our feature on 40 Years of Gaming in Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar grabbed the #2 slot, and Ryans Harvey’s celebration of My 300th Black Gate Post soared to #3. James Wallace Harris asked if we are Fans of a Dying Art Form in our #5 piece, and our Vintage Treasure article comparing The Best Science Fiction of 1974 anthologies from Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, and Donald Wollheim was good for #7. Rounding out the list was our brief history of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine.

The complete list of Top Articles for April follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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