Create Your Character Backstory with Style: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Call to Adventure-small

I attended Gen Con for the first time in roughly fifteen years this year, and let me tell you, it was an experience. Wandering the massive Exhibit Hall — which quite literally took me three full days  — drove home for the first time just how truly enormous the modern board game market is. 50,000 excited attendees packed the halls and pathways connecting over a thousand vendor booths, displaying thousands of new releases and tens of thousands of games. It was so packed it was sometimes impossible to move.

For a gamer whose very first gaming convention (CanGames in Ottawa in the late 70s) had maybe 250 attendees, it was a revelation. Fantasy gaming — like comics, role playing, and fantasy films — has gone mainstream in a big way. The tiny hobby I was once a part of is now a multibillion dollar business. Fantasy and Science Fiction were the dominant genres, but there were plenty of family games, wargames, and strange unclassifiable titles.

But it’s still about the games. I realized early that it would be impossible to take in every new title of interest, so instead I started at one end of the Exhibit Hall, taking pictures with my iPhone. I  made my way methodically up and down each aisle until I arrived, three days and many hundreds of photos later, at the far end, with a record of every new game of interest. I can’t cover them all of course, but I can discuss a few here on the blog. And I’ll start with one of the first games I ordered as soon as I returned from Indianapolis: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise Games.

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Giving People What They Want: James Nicoll on The Traveler in Black by John Brunner

Thursday, October 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Traveler in Black John Brunner-small The Traveler in Black John Brunner-back-small

The Traveler in Black (Ace Books, 1971). Cover by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon

Outside of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock, the 20th Century didn’t produce a great many enduring Sword and Sorcery series. Which is why we cherish those we have, like John Brunner’s The Traveler in Black.

The Traveler in Black first appeared in a short story in Science Fantasy in 1960. He was a captivating and enigmatic figure, and he proved popular enough that Brunner returned to his creation four more times in the next two decades. The first four tales were collected in The Traveler in Black, a 1971 paperback original from Ace Books, part of Terry Carr’s famed Ace SF Special series. James Nicoll turned a fresh eye to them this summer, saying:

Chaos is losing its grip on reality. The Traveller in Black does his humble best to accelerate the process. In most cases he does this by using his power to warp reality to give people what they want — at which point they find they didn’t really want it after all…

There are parallels between the Traveller stories and Tanith Lee’s later Flat Earth books. While Brunner might have influenced Lee, I think it more likely that both are playing in a sub-genre of fantasy now unfashionable, in which fantastic worlds evolve towards the mundane.

Where Lee’s Flat Earth revels in decadence, the world of the Traveller in Black is one in which one finds a sardonic pleasure in watching people get their just desserts. The delight is redoubled in that one can predict a catastrophe, but one cannot predict just HOW foolish choices will backfire. If that’s the way your sense of humour rolls, you’ll enjoy this book.

It’s always great to read a thoughtful review of a nearly 50-year old S&S vintage paperback (and it’s especially great that we’re not the only ones writing them.)

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BookRiot on 30 Haunted House Books that will Give You the Creeps

Sunday, October 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grip of It Jac Jemc-small THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS AMY LUKAVICS-small THE GOOD HOUSE TANANARIVE DUE-small

Ah, October. The month when I finally catch up on all the all the spooky reads I’ve been hoarding all year.

Back in July, Jessica Avery at Book Riot posted a fine survey of 30 Haunted House Books that will Give You the Creeps. Who wants to read haunted house novels in July? But now that the evenings are getting cold and leaves are starting to fall off the trees, a young man’s thoughts naturally turn to… creepy houses and buried family secrets. So I returned to Jessica’s piece, and it features some very intriguing titles indeed. Here’s the highlights.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc (FSG Originals, 288 pages, $15 paperback/$2.99 digital, August 1, 2017)

This addition to the list was recommended to me as being just absolutely read-through-your-fingers frightening. In one of those plots familiar to many haunted house books, Julie and James need to get out of the city and end up settling in a house in the country. But what was supposed to be a fresh start for the troubled couple soon turns into a nightmare. As the house seems to misshape and decay before their eyes, Julie and James rush to discover its history before they follow suit.

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October 1 New Releases: Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik, The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss, and Hex Life, edited by Christopher Golden and Rachel Autumn Deering

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Aurora Blazing-small The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl-small Hex Life Wicked New Tales of Witchery-small

Welcome to October! It’s Release Day for a trio of terrific books, and I couldn’t decide which one to feature, so I’m going to cover them all. You’re welcome.

Let’s get right to it. The first one is the sequel to Jessie Mihalik’s debut novel, the space opera-romance Polaris Rising, which we covered back in February. Aurora Blazing (Harper Voyager, 400 pages, $16.99 trade paperback/$11.99 digital, October 1, 2019) is the second novel in The Consortium Rebellion.

As the dutiful daughter of High House von Hasenberg, Bianca set aside her personal feelings and agreed to a political match arranged by her family, only to end up trapped in a loveless, miserable marriage. When her husband unexpectedly dies, Bianca vows never to wed again. Newly independent, she secretly uses her wealth and influence to save other women stuck in dire circumstances. Information is power and Bianca has a network of allies and spies that would be the envy of the ’verse — if anyone knew about it.

When her family’s House is mysteriously attacked, Bianca’s oldest brother, the heir to House von Hasenberg, disappears. Fearful for her brother’s life, the headstrong Bianca defies her father and leaves Earth to save him. Ian Bishop, the director of House von Hasenberg security — and Bianca’s first love — is ordered to find and retrieve the rebellious woman.

Ian is the last man Bianca wants to see. To evade capture, she leads him on a merry chase across the universe. But when their paths finally collide, she knows she must persuade him to help her. Bianca will do anything to save her sibling, even if it means spending time alone on a small ship with the handsome, infuriating man who once broke her heart.

As the search takes them deep into rival House Rockhurst territory, Bianca must decide if she can trust Ian with the one piece of information that could destroy her completely…

The third book in the series, Chaos Reigning, is tentatively scheduled for May 2020. Read the opening three chapters of the first volume here.

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Vintage Treasures: The World of Science Fiction: The History of a Subculture by Lester Del Rey

Saturday, September 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The World of Science Fiction-small The World of Science Fiction-back-small

Lester del Rey is one of the most important figures in the long history of Science Fiction. Along with his fourth wife Judy-Lynn del Rey, he was the editor at Del Rey Books, the hugely successful fantasy and science fiction imprint of Ballantine Books, from 1977 until his death in 1993. He wrote the long-running The Reference Library review column in Analog magazine, and was a member of the Trap Door Spiders, the New York supper group that was the basis for the Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov’s fictional group of dining detectives. But he was also a gifted writer, author of over three dozen novels and collections.

But I think my favorite book by Del Rey is his non-fiction SF history The World of Science Fiction: The History of a Subculture, written in 1979. which looked back at fifty years of genre history from 1926-1976. This is an entertaining and embracing read for true SF fans, one which wraps us up in a warm hug and lets us know we’re not alone in obsessing over obscure stories published in Galaxy magazine in the 1950s.

The World of Science Fiction is not an objective history of SF. There’s plenty of those out there — and besides, that’s not what we want or expect from del Rey. This is the story of an enormously successful publisher, the man who published the first true bestselling science fiction book in North America in 1977 (The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks), yet who remains a steadfast fan in his heart. A man whose primary emotion, as he sits atop the publishing empire he built with his own hands, is ill-concealed resentment that it took so long for the rest of the world to finally accept the genre he loves.

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

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Harp of Kings-small The Bone Ships-small The Monster of Elendhaven-small

After leaving The Verve, Andrew Liptak has landed at Polygon. Or at least his monthly New Science Fiction and Fantasy column did, anyway. He’s in top form in September as he looks at 13 New science fiction and fantasy books to check out this September, including new books by Becky Chambers, Margaret Atwood, Tamsyn Muir, and Stan Lee and Kat Rosenfield.

I was going to feature some of Andrew’s suggestions, but then I checked out Jeff Somer’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of September 2019 list at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, which features a whopping 32 titles, and it won me over. Sorry Andrew, we’ll get you next time. Here’s a few of the highlights from Jeff’s list.

The Harp of Kings, by Juliet Marillier (Ace, 464 pages, $16 trade paperback/$7.99 digital, September 3)

Liobhan and her brother Brocc are talented musicians and singers training as warriors on Swan Island in the kingdom of Breifne. When the sacred Harp of Kings — vital to the successful coronation of a new king — goes missing just weeks before the Midsummer Day ceremony, they are drafted to pose as traveling musicians on a quest to retrieve the harp before disaster strikes. Soaked in gorgeous Celtic imagery and mythology, this standalone fantasy from the author of the Sevenwaters novels offers a perfect entry point for readers of Naomi Novik and Anne Bishop eager for a book that offers similar pleasures.

The Harp of Kings is Book 1 of Warrior Bards. Our previous coverage of Juliet Marillier includes The Blackthorn & Grim Trilogy.

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Vintage Treasures: The Opener of the Way by Robert Bloch

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Robert Bloch Panther editions-small

Panther edition paperbacks (1976). Covers by Anthony Roberts.

The Opener of the Way was Robert Bloch’s very first collection, published by Arkham House way back in 1945, when he was all of 28 years old. It contained 21 stories, all but two of which originally appeared in Weird Tales, including classics such as “Waxworks,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” and the Cthulhu Mythos tale “The Shambler from the Stars,” which inspired Lovecraft to write “The Haunter of the Dark,” his last work.

The Opener of the Way was to be Bloch’s only fantasy collection until Pleasant Dreams—Nightmares was published by Arkham fifteen long years later. Like most early Arkham House collections, it is a very expensive book these days. It has never been reprinted in the US, which hasn’t hurt its collectability any. Fortunately Panther reprinted it in the UK in 1976, splitting it into two paperback volumes: The Opener of the Way and House of the Hatchet.

Of course, those two paperbacks are now highly sought after as well (the set pictured above sold on eBay this summer for $72.51). Which figures. I only learned about the Panther reprints recently, and after a brief search tracked down a copy of The Opener of the Way paperback for $9.95, which made me happy. Here’s a look at the contents.

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Get a Free Sword & Sorcery Anthology from DMR Books!

Sunday, September 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories

DMR Books, helmed by the tireless Dave Ritzlin, is one of the more exciting modern publishers of science fiction & fantasy. Bob Byrne and I shared a table with Dave at the Windy City Pulp & Paper show here in Chicago last year, and we got to see first hand how enthusiastically modern readers respond to his books.

Last month DMR released a free sample book with stories from DMR’s previous releases, upcoming titles, and a few you won’t find anywhere else. The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories contains eleven thrilling tales of swords and sorcery by Clifford Ball, Nictzin Dyalhis, Howie K. Bentley, and many others. How are the stories connected? In each one, “Mighty warriors do battle with foul demons, nefarious wizards and strange monstrosities!” Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

“The Infernal Bargain” by D.M. Ritzlin
“Thannhausefeer’s Guest” by Howie K. Bentley
“Into the Dawn of Storms” by Byron A. Roberts
“Grumfobbler” by Gael DeRoane
“The Mountains Have Eyes and the Woods Have Teeth” by Harry Piper
“The Sapphire Goddess” by Nictzin Dyalhis
“The Gift of the Ob-men” by Schuyler Hernstrom
“The Thief of Forthe” by Clifford Ball
“Black Genesis” by Mark Taverna
“Adventure in Lemuria” by Frederick Arnold Kummer, Jr.
“The Heaviest Sword” by Geoff Blackwell

Get your free digital copy right here.

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

Thursday, August 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Hollow Kingdom Kira Jane Buxton-small The Cruel Stars John Birmingham-small The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday Saad Z. Hossain-small

Andrew Liptak was fired from his position as Weekend Editor at The Verge two weeks ago, which means that we’ll no longer get to enjoy his monthly Best SF Books lists (you can see while we’ll miss them so much right here). Fortunately he was just hired on to write news items for Tor.com, and he’s picked up some freelance work at The Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, which seems like the perfect home for him.

In the meantime, Jeff Somers at the B&N Blog continues his excellent work cataloging the most interesting new releases each month. For August he’s itemized 22 items, including new books by Julie E. Czerneda, Kameron Hurley, Marie Brennan, R.F. Kuang, Tricia Sullivan, and many others. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton (Grand Central Publishing, 320 pages, $27 in hardcover/$13.99 digital, August 6, 2019) — cover by Jerrod Taylor

Kira Jane Buxton’s debut puts a deliriously original spin on the viral zombie apocalypse as human civilization’s collapse is witnessed — and challenged — by S.T., a pet crow. S.T. may be a bird, but he loves many aspects of human culture, and he’s alarmed when his owner, Big Jim, begins to behave strangely and undergo physical changes. Realizing that something is terribly wrong, S.T. teams up with bloodhound Dennis and is soon tasked with saving as many pets as possible, even as humanity descends into chaos. It’s a darkly hilarious twist on the formula, proving again why the zombie novel subgenre is nigh-unkillable.

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Support the Hyperborea: Otherworldly Tales Kickstarter

Sunday, August 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

THE LOST TREASURE OF ATLANTIS-small THE SEA-WOLF'S DAUGHTER-small

It’s hard to believe that I reviewed Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea right here seven long years ago. Since then it’s produced a revised and updated Second Edition, and become one of the most beloved independent RPGs on the market. I’m not the only one to fall in love with the system; Gabe Dybing interviewed creator Jeffrey Talanian for us back in 2016, and here’s what Howard Andrew Jones said on his blog in 2017:

The new Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is a thing of beauty, a work of art. I spent thirty minutes last night just flipping through and soaking up all the artwork. If it’s not THE go-to sword-and-sorcery rpg at this point, it’s tied for first place. It just oozes the right vibe.

Now Jeff’s gaming company North Wind Adventures has launched a brand new Kickstarter to fund two new adventures, The Lost Treasure of Atlantis and The Sea-Wolf’s Daughter. Here’s what Jeff tells us about them.

Dear fellow Black Gate enthusiasts and fans of Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft: Do you like swords-and-sorcery and weird-fantasy role-playing game adventures? Well, North Wind Adventures, makers of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, have two new adventure modules coming out soon! Find out all the details here.

The campaign has already more than doubled its goal of $9,000, with seven days to go. It’s not too late to get on board — pledge right here, and check out all the recent goodies from North Wind Adventures in my 2018 Gencon report.


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