New Treasures: One Man by Harry Connolly

Thursday, January 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

One Man Harry Connolly-small One Man Harry Connolly-back-small

Harry Connolly was one of the most popular writers we published in Black Gate magazine, starting right out of the gate with his first fiction sale “The Whoremaster of Pald,” which you can read here and which appeared way back in Black Gate 2. His career really took off with his first novels, including the 4-volume Twenty Palaces series (which opened in 2009 with Child of Fire) and The Great Way trilogy, which M Harold Page called “More hardboiled than the Dresden Files.” It’s been some four years since Harry published a new novel, so the arrival of One Man in November, from Harry’s own Radar Avenue Press, was a very welcome surprise. He explains on his blog.

It’s been four years since I released a new novel… This book is the reason.

I spent two years writing One Man. It’s is a big book, over 150,000 words. It’s complicated, with lots of POV characters and locations. The setting is limited – almost every chapter takes place in a single city – but it’s complex. Which is another way of saying that a lot of time and sweat went into this novel, and I’m proud of the result.

See, I wanted to try an experiment. Most fantasy novels have huge stakes: A Dark Lord trying to conquer all. A usurper seizing the throne, pushing a kingdom toward civil war. A world-shattering magical cataclysm. Invasion of monsters. Return of monsters. Whatever. But what if I wanted to create a fantasy story about a quest for something small. Something important, but not world-shattering. For instance: the life of a single little girl. Not even his own, just someone he knows…

I think it’s a good book. A thriller with strange magic, desperation, betrayal, and murder. But it’s an odd book, too, with bourgeois hobbit vampires, and sleeping giants whose flesh can heal you, and a sprawling city built inside the skeletons of two gods… I’m hoping you’re interested in a big, odd, ambitious book about crime and magic and a screwed-up guy who has one last chance to do something decent in this world.

One World is the first novel in The City of Fallen Gods (which is maybe the name of a new series, I dunno?) It was published by Radar Avenue Press on November 26, 2019. It is 637 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 in digital formats. Read the first two chapters here, and see all our latest coverage of Black Gate writers here.


Stories That Work: “Selfless” by James Patrick Kelly, and “I Met a Traveler In an Antique Land” by Connie Willis

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 | Posted by James Van Pelt

Asimov's Science Fiction November December 2017-medium Asimovs-Science-Ficion-November-December-2019-medium

Covers by Eldar Zakirov and Donato Giancola

Do you remember a German pop band called Nena and their single big song, “99 Luftballons”? No? Well, they were a one-hit wonder. How amazing is it, to be a one-hit wonder? Think of all the bands, playing in garages, trying their hardest to line up gigs, who never make the charts, whose songs are never heard by anyone other than family and friends. What do you think the ratio of unheard bands to one-hit wonders is?

Hard to calculate, but I’ll bet it’s huge.

Consider all the factors that have to come together for a song to rise to the prominence of “99 Luftballons,” and then imagine how all the other bands vying for attention would give almost anything to have that single moment of success that Nena enjoyed.

Just one hit.

And then think of Linda Ronstadt or Bruce Springsteen and their numerous triumphs.

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An Apology to Jaym Gates

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 | Posted by Rich Horton

Mike Resnick obit

Mike Resnick, March 5, 1942 — January 9, 2020

After Mike Resnick’s death, some people, Jaym Gates in particular, posted some of their thoughts about his career, most particularly his SFWA Bulletin piece in which he made some sexist remarks about historical women editors. I’m not the right person to dig into detail about that, but it represented part of a historical attitude that, even when held with superficially positive intentions (praise of said editor’s actual editing work, for example), clearly sent a message that for women in the field, one’s appearance can affect one’s reception. And that’s just wrong. No argument. (There is much more to unpack on that subject, and I’m not the person to do it. See Jaym’s post, or see some of the articles posted back then (2013).)

But I confess I was a bit bothered that this discussion happened immediately on Resnick’s death. I am culturally conditioned to follow the ancient Latin maxim “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” (say nothing but good of the dead). I mentioned my feelings on another person’s FB page. And I got some pushback.

I thought some good points were made by those who responded to me … One is that people who have been truly hurt by someone else have an understandably complicated reaction to news of that person’s death. At the very least, even if one disagrees with that person’s reaction, one ought to have sympathy, to try to understand why they felt they had to say what they said. Another point is that if the full story of a man’s life, his contributions, is to be offered, when will it be seen except when he’s in the news? Many of us have made posts celebrating the good Mike Resnick did — and make no doubt of it, he did much good for the field. But I acknowledge that he also caused harm — and those who have been harmed deserve a voice, too. A third point is that the voices of people traditionally marginalized — as women have been in our society and in our field — sometimes don’t get heard, or weren’t heard when it really mattered. (The Isaac Asimov stories should make that clear.) If it takes a little rudeness to make sure those voices are heard, that’s a price we ought to be prepared to accept.

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Exploring Character in Starfinder

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarfinderCharacterOperationsOne great feature of the class designs in the Starfinder Core Rulebook is that each class has a variety of choices, allowing for distinct builds that can suit a variety of play styles. You can build a Mechanic or Technomancer that is either a weak combat-avoiding technician or a combat-ready armored cyber-warrior, for example. This initial diversity has allowed for many permutations on the basic character options, so right out of the gate there’s little chance of players feeling like they’ve explored everything their characters can do. Over its first couple of years, the expansions have focused on new playable races (across three Alien Archive volumes!) and equipment (in an entire Armory volume), but there have been fewer additional options by comparison to modify the core characters.

The release of Starfinder‘s most recent rules supplement, the Character Operations Manual (Paizo, Amazon), definitely helps remedy that situation. Like Pathfinder‘s Advanced Player’s Guide, this is really the volume that establishes the ability to deeply customize characters … a hallmark of what made the Pathfinder RPG distinctive. In addition to three completely new classes, the Character Operations Manual presents more Themes, alternate racial traits for core races and Pathfinder legacy races, Archetypes that provide alternate class features, feats, equipment (including shields), spells, new starship combat rules, and an entirely new downtime system mechanic.

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Future Treasures: The Bard’s Blade, Book I of The Sorcerer’s Song by Brian D. Anderson

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Bard's Blade-small A Chorus of Fire-small

Cover art by Felix Ortiz

Brian D. Anderson is a self-published author who’s sold over half a million copies of his books worldwide — no mean feat. His bestselling series include The Godling Chronicles and Dragonvein. This month he makes the move to mainstream publishing with his first book for Tor, The Bard’s Blade. It’s the opening novel in The Sorcerer’s Song, which Publisher’s Weekly calls “an ambitious, enjoyable tale.” Here’s the description.

Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together.

But destiny has a way of choosing its own path, and when a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, the two are faced with a terrible prophecy. For beyond the borders, an ancient evil is returning, its age-old prison shattered.

The two must leave their home behind, and in doing so will face sorcerers and thieves, con-men and assassins, treachery and greed. How far down this path will they have to go to stop the rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?

The Bard’s Blade will be published by Tor Books on January 28, 2020. It is 430 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Felix Ortiz. It will be followed A Chorus of Fire, coming in August. Read a brief excerpt at the Tor/Forge Blog, and see all of our recent coverage of the best upcoming science fiction and fantasy here.


So… I Watched The Witcher

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

The Witcher Banner

Good morning, Readers!

As promised when I first blogged my thoughts about the then-upcoming now-released Netflix adaptation of The Witcher IP, I did, in fact watch it.  To prepare myself for the first season, I read The Last Wish, which I thought I ought to do before I watch the series, and enjoyed it enough to look forward to the rest. I’m going to run down to the bookshop in a bit to buy The Sword of Destiny, which I think is another collection of short stories set before the saga with Ciri. When I’m done with that, I’ll head back for the rest of the books. They’re pretty good. That’s neither here nor there, however.

I’m very pleased to say that the show followed the books quite closely, near as I’m able to tell, with only a few changes, all of which made sense for an adaptation; and also helped make Geralt appear less like a twit in some cases. That said, he still falls in love at the drop of a hat, and that will never not make me laugh at the ridiculousness of it.

The point is, I watched the show – more than once… because I was going to review it here. Yes. That’s totally why – and I have thoughts, people. Quelle suprise.

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Gas-sharks, Jump Bridges, and the Church of Stellar Divinity: Behind the Claw by Martin J. Dougherty

Monday, January 13th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

Traveller Behind the Claw-small

Behind the Claw
By Martin J. Dougherty
Mongoose Publishing (288 pages, $30.00 PDF, $59.99 hardcover pre-order, March 31, 2020)

Traveller is a popular science fiction role playing game originally released in 1977. Over the decades several editions have been released, along with a substantial volume of player created resources and supplements.

Since the 1980s the earliest supplements have been fleshing out the Spinward Marches and Deneb sectors of Charted Space (the Traveller term for the area of the galaxy that has been widely explored), where the Zhodani Consulate and the Imperium have fought four wars with a fifth looming. Meanwhile, the Vargr Extents provide numerous corsairs that raid shipping and planets. Rich with conflict and tension, referees have and continue to find many adventures to send their players on in this locale.

This latest foray into this classic setting comes from Mongoose Publishing in Behind the Claw, a full-color 288-page sourcebook in the style Mongoose has adopted for the latest edition of their Traveller line. The book looks excellent as a result. Crammed with content, buyers will also get two 28×40-inch poster maps of the Spinward Marches and Deneb sectors.

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Pop Dungeon: A Star Wars Pops Game

Monday, January 13th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

SWPop_OneEDITEDMy son’s birthday is December 22nd. We’ve made sure that Sean, who just turned twelve, gets two events, and two sets of presents: we don’t combine it with Christmas. So, he’s pretty much buried in new ‘stuff’ for a week. This year, the day before his birthday, I took him and a friend to see The Rise of Skywalker. And that set him off on a Star Wars Pops buying-binge. He had a half dozen within a week. It quickly went up to eight, where it’s in a holding pattern.

Sean decided he wanted to be a Dungeon Master, and he created a new game to pay with me: Pop Dungeon. He pulled an oversized red die we had from some toy bin somewhere (it’s not from any game), and as a backup, he set aside two regular six-sided dice, though we rarely use those.

Grabbing a mish-mash of items from around his room, including a rope, a big AT-AT, some plastic apples, a Transformer, a tank, a baseball cap, and more and he placed them all around his room. Then he put six of the Pops  on his school desk, and proceeded to Dungeon Master me through a Pop Dungeon adventure!

Each Turn gives me two options: “Fight or run away.” “Search, or heal.” “Try to fix the jeep, or walk.”

I roll the ridiculously bouncy, giant red die. A 1 is catastrophic. 2 is pretty bad. 3 is not too bad. 4 means I accomplished what I picked to do. 5 or 6 means I succeeded with some type of bonus effect. It is RIDICULOUS how many times I roll a 1. I’m going to record it for one session some time, because it is waaaaaaaaay beyond statistically improbable!

There are a lot of Turns. And he gets to roll the die for his guys after two of my Turns. Even if I string together a couple successes in a row, a 1 or 2 (or a couple of them) knocks the party for a loop. The first couple sessions went an hour-plus, so I had to shorten them up.

Sometimes, the party members are killed and some aspect of the force reanimates them and they are on his team. I think in one adventure, Captain Phasma was killed from my party, then I had to kill her twice more when she was brought back on the other team. Though, Sean’s been thrashing me so soundly, he hasn’t had to do that lately.

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The Best in Modern Sword & Sorcery: The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Volume 3

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Volume 3-small The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Volume 3-back-small

Cover by Zoltan

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has been published, like clockwork, every quarter since June 2009. And every eight issues, like clockwork, the editors of HFQ assemble a Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly volume, as a way to celebrate another milestone and promote their worthy magazine.

These books are top-notch examples of modern sword & sorcery (and I’m not just saying that because I was invited to write the introduction for Volume I.) In his review of Volume I, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is… the most consistent forum for the best in contemporary swords & sorcery. Some may think I’m laying it on a little thick, but The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 1, 2009-2011, a distillation of the mag’s first three years, should prove that I’m not.

Volume III has just arrived, with a dynamic cover by Zoltan and stories by Charles Gramlich, P. Djéli Clark, Adrian Simmons, David Farney, and many others — plus an introduction by Darrell Schweitzer, and original art for each story by Miguel Santos, Justin Pfiel, Garry McCluskey, Robert Zoltan, and others. It’s an all-around gorgeous package, and a fine reminder that Heroic Fantasy is still a vibrant genre in the 21st Century. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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New Treasures: Unnatural Magic by C. M. Waggoner

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Unnatural Magic-small Unnatural Magic-back-small

Cover by Tomas Almeida

In these days of effortless online shopping, it still pays off to visit your local bookstore.

Yesterday I did exactly that, with my regular Saturday trip to our local Barnes & Noble in Geneva, Illinois. There I picked up my usual batch of magazines (Asimov’s SF, Analog, F&SF, and Interzone), and spent 20 minutes browsing the science fiction section. I’m pretty good about keeping on top of new releases in the industry, but the staff stocking the shelves at B&N always manage to surprise me — and they didn’t disappoint. I found nearly a dozen new titles, including a few that insisted they come home with me. Top of the list was Unnatural Magic by newcomer C. M. Waggoner, which Martin Cahill treated with a rave review over at Tor.com.

Unnatural Magic, a debut from author C. M. Waggoner, is utterly delightful.

It has all the elements of a parlor room mystery, with the depth and complexity of any sturdy secondary world fantasy, with just enough sense of humor, danger, and reality to round out the whole book into a startling sort of debut. Waggoner has created a world set at about the turn of the century, with a feel of industry sitting alongside a pastoral and intimate world, one which humans share with the mysterious clans of long-lived trolls, who hold a different sort of magic away from their human neighbors. Both have opinions on the others, as human and troll culture are wildly different from the other, but this world exists with mostly respect for each other, until the murders begin….

Unnatural Magic contains something for everyone. It has gentle, but efficient worldbuilding, with a colorful cast of characters… It has lush prose, with poetic turns of phrase scattered throughout. It has romance, certainly, and daring in heaping amounts. It has magic, and it has a mystery at its core. But mostly, what this brilliant debut novel has, is a massive amount of heart. It made me smile and it made me happy, and mostly, it made me very excited to see what Waggoner has cooking next. If it’s anything like Unnatural Magic, sign me up now. She’s absolutely an author to watch.

Unnatural Magic was published by Ace Books on November 5, 2019. It is 390 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Tomas Almeida. Read an 8-page excerpt from Chapter One here. See all our recent coverage of the best new science fiction and fantasy here.


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