The History of the Other Necronomicon

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

Necronomicon-small(With sincerest apologies to H. P. Lovecraft)

Original title, Watdiz Rafaflafla — Rafaflafla being the word used by residents of the greater Pittsburgh area to designate that harrowing sound (made by insects and tiny flying horses) suppos’d to resemble the flatulence of daemons who have been tuned to the key of B flat.

Composed by Haminah Haminah H. Haminah, Esq., a sad clown and learned scholar of the Peoria, in the American caliphate of the Illinois, who is said to have flourished during the early period of the Flock of Seagulls and the A-ha, circa 1983 A.D. He visited the ruins of the Cleveland and he explored subterranean secrets of the Memphis and spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of the Phoenix — the Hoolenah Whooleenah or “Artificially Irrigated Space” of the ancients, which is held to be inhabited by evil blue-haired spirits and sundry other monsters of the retirement catacombs. Of this desert many tedious and mediocre marvels are told by those who have much time on their hands and are usually about two and a half sheets to the wind.

In his last years H. Haminah dwelt in Topeka, where the Necronomicon II was written, and of his final death or disappearance (c. 1989 A.D.) many random and pointless things are told. He is said by Reebeeh Bopaloola (his biographer) to have been seized by an unspeakably vile monster with breath that would stop a tank in broad daylight in the produce aisle of the Safeway and devoured horribly before a smattering of bored witnesses. Who just wanted some arugula and really didn’t want to get mixed up in yet another one of those supermarket devouring incidents.

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Fantasy Literature: The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth edited by S. M. Stirling

Sunday, July 26th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

The Change Tales of Downfall and Rebirth-smallIn The Change, the author of the Emberverse novels opens the doors to his post-apocalyptic universe wide. A substantial text at more than 600 pages, it contains 16 stories and an introduction by S.M. Stirling, who also contributes “Hot Night at the Hopping Toad,” featuring the most contemporary protagonist of the Emberverse series, Orlaith.

Sterling’s series has seen extensive attention here in the Fantasy Literature column at Black Gate. Those entries were less reviews than low brow scholarly chatter about the many interesting features, issues, and aspects of the Emberverse. This, however, is a review. But what is this Emberverse?

In short, the Emberverse begins with something commonly called the Change (some tales here call it other things, of course). In 1997 all high-energy technologies cease to function — something tweaked the rules of physics. Guns won’t fire. Electricity doesn’t electricit. Even steam engines won’t steam — at least not usefully. While the sun burns on, here on Earth, the technological culture we take for granted grinds to a halt. Billions die by violence, through hunger, and from disease.

Some small number survive; Stirling’s early novels in the series describe the events of the Change and the first ten or so years; 2014′s novel, The Golden Princess, features the granddaughter of various key players of the recovery from the Change in the Pacific northwest: Orlaith Mackenzie. A lot of war and politics lies behind the cutting edge of the series, but these stories take place at various points in the chronology of the Emberverse.

The first question: can a reader new to the Emberverse read and enjoy this anthology? Yes.

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Shin Megami Tensei and a Different Take on JRPGs (Part 1)

Saturday, July 25th, 2015 | Posted by Josh Bycer

This may surprise some of you after my love letter to Etrian Odyssey, but for the longest time I didn’t like the RPG genre. During the mid 90s to early 00s, I was stuck between the grind-heavy traditional Japanese RPG (JRPG) design, and the number-crunching computer RPGs of the day. There were exceptions of course, such as Earthbound and Knights of the Old Republic. But it wasn’t until I found the Shin Megami Tensei series that I fell back in love with the genre.

ShinMegamiTenseiChange is Coming

Shin Megami Tensei has been a Atlus staple since the early 90s; the brand has gotten so big that I have to split this examination into two parts, with this one covering the main branch titles.

The Shin Megami Tensei series has several staples that exist between all the games, with “change” being the principle theme. In every title, the protagonist is either a part of a cataclysmic event, or will be the one that changes the world forever by causing one. Aiding him are a changing stock of demons that the player can recruit through different means; usually by talking to them.

Demons belong to different families and have varying stats and powers. What’s important about the series’ design is that your party is never the same for long due to two things. First is that exploiting enemy weaknesses is vital to having any chance of beating a SMT game. (Later titles, such as Nocturne and Shin Megami Tensei 4, actively punished or rewarded the player for keeping track of element resists, but more on that in a minute.)

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Young Magicians edited by Lin Carter

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 | Posted by westkeith

Young MagiciansThe Young Magicians
Lin Carter, ed.
Ballantine Books
October 1969, 280p. $0.95
Cover art by Sheryl Slavitt

I apologize for having taken so long to get this post done. I’ve been on the road for over half the weekends since the end of April, mostly family trips for graduations or dive meets my son was competing in. I thought I would have a little more time when the second summer session started since I would be teaching, but that hasn’t exactly been the case. (No, I have no idea why I would have thought that.)

But I’m back, and I would like to thank John for his patience. I’m tanned; I’m rested; I’m ready. Well, I’m tanned at any rate. And I’ve got a pretty darned good anthology to tell you about.

A number of people, myself included, have said that Lin Carter’s legacy will ultimately not be his writing or his Conan pastiches, but the work he did on the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. It’s hard in this day and age of ebooks and specialty presses to remember how hard fantasy was to find on bookstore shelves in the late 1960s. The commercial fantasy boom wasn’t far off, but it hadn’t gotten there. It was possible to read just about all of the titles that were easily available at the time.

The Young Magicians was a companion volume to Dragons, Elves, and Heroes with both of them being published in October 1969. That volume contained examples of imaginary world fantasy beginning with folktales and sagas and ending with William Morris. In The Young Magicians, Carter starts with Morris and provides samples of fantasy from more contemporary writers, ending with Lin Carter himself.

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A Wild Ride Through a Cold Hell: A Review of J.P. Wilder’s Schade of Night

Friday, July 17th, 2015 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Schade of Night-smallSchade of Night
J.P Wilder
iUniverse (350 pages, $20.95 in trade paperback, $3.99 in digital format, December 19, 2014)

Don’t let the lovely young lady and her smile gracing the cover of J.P. Wilder’s wonderful Schade of Night fool you: Schade Lee does little smiling in this dark, action-packed, modern-day fantasy that reads like a paramilitary thriller graced with supernatural overtones.

Schade has some issues, for sure. But she’s one tough, no-nonsense private detective, who can be as stubborn as a mule, as fearless and reckless as a teenager, and often lets her heart rule her head. She’s a disgraced, ex-FBI agent turned investigator who has been hired to find a young girl named Kylie Berson, who’s been kidnapped by one especially sick and twisted serial killer — a real dangerous foe who often leaves cryptic messages for Schade, usually carved into the flesh of his victims. Kylie may already be dead, but Schade refuses to believe that, to accept that, and has vowed not to lose another victim to this crazed maniac.

The story takes place in and around Flagstaff, Arizona, during a dark and cold season of snow and harsh weather. Schade she sets out to save Kylie, no matter what it takes, no matter what it costs. To complicate matters, Schade has been having dreams and visions… visions of places that are real, and she glimpses disturbing images of things that have or will happen in these places.

Add to that a feeling, a sense of some of mysterious power building inside her, her trusty SIG automatic that is some kind of “foci” that can suck the souls out of those she shoots and kills, and then absorb those souls into her own, and you have a young woman with more on her plate than she may be able to handle. She certainly has no idea why these things are happening to her, or how. But when she does find out, well… you can just imagine how she takes the news. Like I said, she’s stubborn.

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Street Fighters of the 41st Millennium: Gaunt’s Ghosts: Necropolis

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015 | Posted by Sean Stiennon

Necropolis_oldNecropolis marks a turning point in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series for a few reasons. It’s the first book written entirely as an original novel rather than an expansion of previously published short work. It also broadens the scope of the first couple books in covering an entire Imperial Guard campaign from the first rain of shells to the final confrontation with a Chaos warlord, as the Ghosts join in the defense of a hive city besieged by a horde of millions.

Hive cities are one of the key features of life in the 41st millennium, and they’re exactly what the name implies: Enormous cities where millions, if not billions, of Imperial citizens live elbow-to-elbow in habitation towers most easily measured in kilometers. They’re usually built around some kind of industry, whether raw resource mining, mass agriculture, or manufacturing, and exist almost as worlds unto themselves. Hives have their own aristocracy, their own independent militaries, their own networks of corporations and guilds, their underclasses and underworlds.

Vervunhive, on the Sabbat Worlds planet Verghast, actually seems like a reasonably nice place to live, by 41st millennium standards. That is until warning claxons fill every corner of the hive, and a merciless barrage of shells starts falling from guns placed over the horizon.

Panic spreads through all levels of the hive as we skip viewpoints from Agun Soric, a manufacturing plant supervisor, to Gol Kolea, a deep-shaft miner, and from Tona Criid, a gangster from the hives depths, to Salvador Sondar, the half-mad ruler of the hive. An unstoppable tide of armor follows on the heels of the shelling, smashing the attempted counterattack by the Vervunhive defense regiments, and only the hive’s defensive energy shield keeps it from being overrun. Their neighbor, Zoica, has been corrupted by the dark powers of Chaos, and now the entire population and industrial might of that rival hive have mobilized to claim the rest of the planet.

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Books for Writers: A Guide to Improvised Weaponry

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

A Guide to Improvised Weaponry-smallThere are a lot of how-to manuals for writers out there–books about world building, books about grammar, books about finding markets, books about almost every aspect of the writing life. Sadly, there’s no book telling writers how to defend themselves if an axe murderer invades their home office.

Until now.

A Guide to Improvised Weaponry is the perfect self-defense manual for any writer. It tells you just how to defend yourself when ISIS terrorists decided your work in progress makes you a candidate for their next YouTube video. It’s written by Terry Schappert, a Green Beret and Master sergeant in the U.S. Army Special Forces. This guy knows how to kill you with a pencil. It’s co-written by Adam Slutsky, a professional writer who probably had to explain to Terry that a disappointing advance, low royalties, and non-compete clauses are not valid reasons for killing an acquisitions editor with a pencil.

Each chapter focuses on a common object that you probably have in your home. I was especially interested in objects that are in my home office, ready to be picked up the moment one of my many anonymous online haters kicks in my door.

First, my coffee cup, strategically located to the left of my computer, ready to protect me and mine. Schappert makes the obvious suggestions, like flinging my hot Ethiopian brew into my attacker’s face or using it as a knuckle duster, with the caveat that there’s a good chance of hurting your hand with that second method. He also explains how you can use it to catch the tip of your attacker’s knife and deflect the blow.

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Building a World in a Vacant Lot: The Circus of Dr. Lao

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 | Posted by Thomas Parker

The Circus of Dr Lao Bison 2nd Edition-smallFantasy, like all life-consuming obsessions (fly fishing, stamp collecting, running for public office) has a language all its own, one that can seem arcane and incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Polder, thinning, underlier, Dark Lord, secondary world, Hidden Monarch, threshold, time abyss, mythago – each of these names a vital fantasy concept or device, and of all such terms, none is more important to the modern genre than worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is, according to Wikipedia, (the greatest repository of fantasy on the internet) the process of “developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology,” and it “often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people for the world.”

In worldbuilding as in so many other things, it was J.R.R. Tolkien who set the standard for all who followed. His Middle Earth, with its immensely deep and detailed history, cosmogony, and geography, was worldbuilding on an unprecedented scale, even to the creation of complete languages for the various races that inhabit this invented milieu.

Post-Tolkien fantasy is largely the story of the primacy of this kind of worldbuilding, as the maps, glossaries, and genealogies that pad the backs of so many fat paperbacks attest, and almost all epic fantasies published since The Lord of the Rings owe a large debt to Tolkien and his example. But all writers are worldbuilders, Hemingway and Updike as much as Jordan and Martin, and perfect as the Tolkien method is for a particular kind of tale, there are many ways to create a believable world — even a fantasy one.

The kind of construction exemplified in The Lord of the Rings is largely external, which is well suited to Tolkien’s rather formal purposes. There is another kind of worldbuilding, however, one less concerned with royal lines and the names of rivers than with what might be called the mythic geography of ordinary life. A superb example of this kind of work is Charles G. Finney’s The Circus of Dr. Lao. Published in 1935, it is one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written; indeed, in some moods I’m inclined to think that it is the greatest of them all.

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June Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_733452qBKy8XQAIt’s that time again, folks: the short story roundup! June was a pretty good month, with some nice work from lesser-known (to me, at least) authors as well as some bigger names. A good sample of work from the spectrum of heroic fiction.

While there’s not a lot of action in either of Swords and Sorcery Magazine Issue 41‘s two stories, there is some very good writing.

The first, “Wind Song” by Kevin Cockle, is my favorite story this month. The narrator is a member of a class that possesses the special talent to control djinns, which are then used to power flying ships. His nation has fought great wars against the Kyberi, a people who fly dragons into battle. In the past the dragon-riders were often victorious, but now their enemies have developed weapons and stratagems to defeat them.

When the ship he directs is pursued by a dragon, the narrator finds he is able to make a psychic connection with its rider. From her he gains insights into the enemy he has never had before.

It’s a simple story with not much plot, but Cockle writes wonderfully.

The waters in the Bay of Nandorin are freakish clear – like stained blue glass – and one can see clearly the sunken hulks of long-ago warships littering the sea-floor like scattered toys. Though a man grown, I became a boy again whenever we made Nandorin, peering down into the pristine depths at the haphazard city of ghost-ships beneath. On the surface, stone towers stood like widely spaced square teeth across the mouth of the bay: their anxious sentinels craning their necks skyward to track our dragon-shadow.

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Adventures In Cards: Munchkin!

Monday, July 6th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Munchkin coverHow was my day, you asked? Well, I’ll tell you. My Halfling wizard and I spent the last hour fleeing from a Gazebo, leveling up by way of a Drooling Slime, and staying alive by means of the Kneepads Of Allure and a (basic but useful) Huge Rock.

What on earth could cause such havoc and silliness? Surely not Dungeons & Dragons?

Nope. It’s D&D’s hell-spawn little brat of a brother, the card game Munchkin. Now possibly I’m late to the table on this (I often am), but Munchkin has to be the geekiest, most asinine, not to mention juvenile, card game going. It’s also a diverting homage to AD&D, and better yet, it makes both kids and grown-ups laugh.

Consider Munchkin’s very own press: “…the mega-hit card game about dungeon adventure… with none of that stupid role-playing stuff.”

Of course D&D remains a clear progenitor, and possibly Munchkin owes something to Magic: the Gathering, but it strikes me that Munchkin’s most direct sire is a horse of a very different color, the irreverent and insouciant Killer Bunnies, which, if you’ve never played it, is a must for any gaming fan’s bucket list.

That said, you’ll need a lot of patience (or a sensai) to figure out how to play Killer Bunnies. But. Once you’ve “mastered” this obscenely complicated, impossible-to-predict killing spree of a game, enjoyment and strategy abound. I’d even be willing to state in a court of law, no less, that killing rabbits has never been so pleasurable, or so downright wicked neat. After all, who wouldn’t want to do in a (purple) Congenial Bunny while wielding a piece of flying burnt toast?

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