Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes — Disturbing Entities to Inspire Great Adventures… or Nightmares

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallDungeons & Dragons 5th Edition seems to have a good handle on what’s needed for a rule book, and what’s needed for an expansion. Like its immediate predecessor, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes covers a variety of topics. It’s meant to fill in some gaps for specific areas players and game masters might want to have more detail about.

It’s broadly divided into two sections: five chapters devoted to the history of different races and their factions and how they can be used both by the GM and the players, and a generous bestiary stuffed full with old favorites and permutations of them that haven’t reappeared yet.

This includes new monsters and monsters specifically related to the first half of the book. You’ll see what I mean shortly.

It’s a great book, probably my favorite yet of the expansions, and maybe the first one I’d consider a must-have for all campaigns, owing to the wealth of information provided on basic character races like Elves and Dwarves.

Don’t get me wrong, I think most game masters would want Xanathar’s Guide on their shelves, because it offers so many tweaks and suggestions. But I believe Mordenkainen’s Tome will be even more broadly useful to a slightly higher percentage of players

I must be the odd man out, but I’ve never been especially interested in demons or devils, and the fascination many have with them has always baffled me. So I probably wasn’t the target audience for the first chapter, devoted to the long war between the two races, but darned if I wasn’t impressed anyway.

No, I’m not suddenly inspired to run a campaign centered on interactions with the infernal, but there’s a lot of cool and clever information, and, should this be more your cup of tea, some interesting hooks. It’s also rounded out with lots of ideas that can help players flesh out their Tiefling characters.

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Birthday Reviews: Murray Leinster’s “Pipeline to Pluto”

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by William Timmins

Cover by William Timmins

Murray Leinster was born William F. Jenkins on June 16, 1896 and died on June 8, 1975.

Murray Leinster was one of many nom de plumes used by William Fitzgerald Jenkins. He won the Liberty Award in 1937 for “A Very Nice Family,” the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for “Exploration Team,” and a retro-Hugo in 1996 for Best Novelette for “First Contact.” Leinster was the Guest of Honor at the 21st Worldcon in 1963 and in 1969 was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame. In 1995, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History was established, named after Leinster’s story “Sidewise in Time.”

Jenkins holds patent #2727427, issued on December 20, 1955 for an “Apparatus for Production of Light Effects in Composite Photography” and patent 2727429, issued the same day for an “Apparatus for Production of Composite Photographic Effects.”

Leinster first published “Pipeline to Pluto” in the August 1945 issue of Astounding, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Ten years later, Groff Conklin included it in his anthology Science Fiction Terror Tales. It appeared in both versions of The Best of Murray Leinster, the British volume edited by Brian Davis and the American volume edited by J.J. Pierce (each book had a completely different table of contents). The story most recently appeared in First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster. Over the years, it has been translated into Japanese, Croatian, German, Italian, and Russian.

“Pipeline to Pluto” is a slight story, focusing on Hill’s attempts to get from Earth to Pluto via a system of cargos shuttles. A bruiser, all that Leinster lets the reader know about him is that he has an urgent need to stowaway in the “pipeline” and he has bought another stowaway’s rights to a place. The majority of the action looks at Hill’s attempts to convince Crowder and Moore, who run the smuggling ring, to get him off Earth that evening.

Hill’s pleading and threats to the men are punctuated with exposition in which Leinster explains how the pipeline works. A series of cargo ships, one launched each day from Pluto and one launched from Earth, forming a long line carrying supplies to Pluto and ores mined on Pluto back to the home planet. Leinster not only describes the vessels and how they launch, but eventually describes the impact of being on board the vessels to humans.

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Gods and Robots: Booklist‘s Best New Books Include Starless and The Robots of Gotham

Friday, June 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Starless Jacqueline Carey-small The Robots of Gotham McAulty-small

The good folks at Booklist, the flagship publication of the American Library Association, regularly select the Best New Books, and this week two genre releases made the cut: Jacqueline Carey’s Starless, which “may well be the epic fantasy of the year,” and Todd McAulty’s debut The Robots of Gotham, which they proclaim is “thrilling, epic SF.”

John Keogh’s starred review of The Robots of Gotham appeared online this week:

Machine intelligences rule most of the world, human governments are rapidly losing their power, a war-ravaged U.S. is on the brink of descending into chaos, and a mysterious new plague is on the loose. In Chicago, one man finds himself at the nexus of a complex web of secrets that threatens to upend the world as we know it. This debut novel beautifully combines a postapocalyptic man-versus-machine conflict and a medical thriller. The world is immersive and detailed, the characters have depth, the writing is assured, the plotting intelligent, and the pacing about perfect. McAulty’s take on how AI might evolve gives the premise a unique twist. The story is action-packed, starting with a boom (literally) and driving you along from one crisis to the next. The action rarely lets up, yet it never becomes tiresome… This is thrilling, epic sf.

And here’s a snippet from Diana Tixier Herald’s review of Starless.

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In 500 Words of Less: Early Review of Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart by Steven Erikson

Friday, June 15th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Rejoice A Knife to the Heart US-smallRejoice: A Knife to the Heart
By Steven Erikson
Promontory Press (460 pages, $26 hardcover, October 2018)

I’ve been a Steven Erikson fan for a long time, ever since a friend handed me the first Malazan novel, Gardens of the Moon, when I was in university. You might have seen on here a few months ago that I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Steven at Can*Con in Ottawa, where he was Author Guest of Honor. That whole experience was cool all on its own, but following that I got the privilege of reading an ARC of his forthcoming novel Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart, which Bennett R. Coles has already called “a stunning work of literature.”

Honestly, the literature side of Rejoice is what surprised me the most. In our interview, Steven and I talked about how his first publications before Malazan were literary, which struck me since it’s rare for authors in our industry to jump genres like that. But what’s particularly interesting with Rejoice is that he takes the large-scale worldbuilding, extensive cast of characters and air of mystery of his fantasy work and applies is to the present day – or a twist on the present day, involving Earth’s first contact with an alien race. The novel’s already been described as “a first contact story without contact”; since this isn’t Independence Day or Close Encounters, the focus is instead on us, and how we’d react if an alien intelligence showed up and gave us a chance to improve ourselves.

That might sound like this is a novel that preaches or proselytizes, but it really doesn’t. Instead what you see is snapshots of people’s lives around the planet, from politicians to scientists to media tycoons to refugees in developing countries, all facing situations beyond their control (and almost their comprehension) and needing to decide what they should do about it. If you’re hoping for flashy energy weapons or epic journeys like in the Malazan books, you won’t find it here – but the debates and conversations between the characters in Rejoice, and the steps they take in response to this alien influence, are often tense and always intriguing. At the end of the day, a lot of our way of life (regardless of political ideology or religious belief) is about having some measure of control over our lives, and when that’s taken away very interesting things can happen.

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Birthday Reviews: Richard Parks’s “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng”

Friday, June 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Black Gate Issue 1

Black Gate Issue 1

Richard Parks was born on June 15, 1955.

At the beginning of his writing career, Parks published a few works as B. Richard Parks. He has also used the pseudonym W.J. Everett. Parks received a World Fantasy Award nomination for his collection The Ogre’s Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups. In 2012, his novel The Heavenly Fox was nominated for a Mythopoeic Award.

“Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng” is the first story to appear in the first issue of Black Gate magazine in the Spring 2001 issue, published by John O’Neill. The story was picked up by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer for inclusion in the inaugural volume of their Year’s Best Fantasy anthology series. Parks also used the story in his 2002 collection The Ogre’s Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups.

In “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng,” Seven is a young man living in an ancient China. On a trip to the city, he sees a woman, Jia Jin, and falls immediately in love with her. When it is explained to him that she is a gift to the Marquis of Zeng, who is near to death, and will be entombed with the Marquis along with his other concubines, Seven determines that he must rescue her and marry her.

Seven’s quest takes him far from the capital city and along the way he learns more of Chinese burial customs and a spirit tells him to seek a woman named Golden Bell. Upon finding her, he learns that he must sacrifice his heart and his soul to her in order to gain the knowledge to save Jia Jin from her fate. Although Parks glosses over it, the idea that Seven can give his heart and soul to one woman but later give it to another is glossed over, although it is an interesting point not often included in stories.

Eventually, Seven finds himself confronting the Marquis of Zeng in an attempt to marry Jia Jin, whose desires are not particularly important to either the Marquis or Seven.

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Goth Chick News: Tish, That’s French…

Thursday, June 14th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The-addams-family animated-small

Most people assume The Addams Family started life on TV in the 1960s, but they were actually conceived by Charles Addams as a series of comic panels for The New Yorker magazine, beginning in 1938 and running until Addams’ death in 1988. The roughly 150 unrelated panels that make up The Addams Family story are still enormously popular today, especially with me, who has stationary, artwork, and couple of tee-shirts depicting the family as well as a vintage Morticia and Gomez, Ken and Barbie set which is about as close as I have or ever will get to the Malibu version.

In the spring of 2017 there were rumors that on the heels of the success of The Incredibles and Hotel Transylvania, the world was now sufficiently primed for a seriously upscale animated version of The Addams Family which to me sounded like first-rate idea considering what happened the last time.

If you can believe this, The Addams Family had been animated before, having appeared in a well-received 1972 episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, “Scooby-Doo Meets the Addams Family” which saw several of the original cast members return to voice their TV roles. This resulted in Hannah Barbera’s launch of a cartoon modelled on Addams’ comic panels, which ran for two seasons (although the second was just repeats). A big change to the format was having the family hit the road in a Wacky Races-style Victorian motorhome. Sadly, the format change along with the loss of all but two of the original cast sort of doomed this venture, though not without launching the career of a 10-year-old Jodie Foster who voiced Pugsley.

Last summer it was officially announced that Oscar Isaac (Star Wars, X-Men) was slated to voice Gomez Addams in Sausage Party director Conrad Vernon‘s animated Addams Family film for MGM. This week Deadline has reported the entire core voice cast was announced, and it’s pretty unbelievably awesome end-to-end.

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Future Treasures: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White

Thursday, June 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe-smallAlex White is the author of the ghostly mystery Every Mountain Made Low (Solaris, 2016) and Alien: The Cold Forge (Titan, 2018). His latest is a space opera romp that sounds like it might appeal to the role players in the audience. Publishers Weekly called it,

An entertaining throwback with some fun worldbuilding and two great lead characters. In the distant future, well after space has been colonized, almost all humans have magic powers, conveniently divided into RPG-like classes (machinists are great with tech, fatalists are perfect shots, etc.)

Here’s the description.

Furious and fun, the first book in this bold, new science fiction adventure series follows a crew of outcasts as they try to find a legendary ship that just might be the key to saving themselves — and the universe.

Boots Elsworth was a famous treasure hunter in another life, but now she’s washed up. She makes her meager living faking salvage legends and selling them to the highest bidder, but this time she got something real — the story of the Harrow, a famous warship, capable of untold destruction.

Nilah Brio is the top driver in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation and the darling of the racing world — until she witnesses Mother murder a fellow racer. Framed for the murder and on the hunt to clear her name, Nilah has only one lead: the killer also hunts Boots.

On the wrong side of the law, the two women board a smuggler’s ship that will take them on a quest for fame, for riches, and for justice.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is Book 1 of The Salvagers series. Book 2, A Bad Deal For the Whole Galaxy, has already been announced; it arrives on December 11th, 2018. Book 3 will be titled The Worst of All Possible Worlds.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe will be published by Orbit on June 26, 2018. It is 480 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. Read Chapter One at Quiet Earth.


Birthday Reviews: Harry Turtledove’s “Half the Battle”

Thursday, June 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Tony Roberts

Cover by Tony Roberts

Harry Turtledove was born on June 14, 1949.

Turtledove began publishing using the pseudonym “Eric G. Iverson” and has also published under the names “Mark Gordion,” “H.N. Turteltaub,” and “Dan Chernenko.” Known for his alternate history novels and epics, he has also published numerous science fiction and fantasy works. In 1994 his novella “Down in the Bottomlands” received the Hugo Award. He won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History twice, for his novels How Few Remain and Ruled Britannia. Two of the novels in his Young Adult Crosstime series have won awards. Gunpowder Empire won the 2004 Golden Duck Hal Clement Award given by SuperConDuckTivity and The Gladiator received the 2008 Prometheus Award. His novel WorldWar: In the Balance received the Italia Award in 1996. Turtledove served as Toast Master at Chicon 2000, the Worldcon. In 1995 he received the Forry Award from LASFS.

“Half the Battle” was published by Jerry Pournelle in 1990, in volume 9 of his There Will Be War anthology series, After Armageddon. The story has not been reprinted.

The story opens sometime after an apocalyptic event has destroyed civilization in southern California. A new society has arisen around several small kingdoms, with Turtledove looking at the king of Canoga. When a book is found that describes a machine that the ancients had that can spit bullets, a machine gun, King Byron has his artificers try to replicate the lost device to replace the slow matchlocks his troops are using. The fact that King Byron and his people knew the gun could exist gave them the edge in re-creating it.

The story uses several time jumps to explore where this future will go. In each period, King Byron’s descendants have managed to extend and consolidate the kingdom’s power and in each period, they come across other devices of the ancients that they work to replicate, because knowing it can be done is “half the battle.”

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As Gritty As It Gets: The Ashes of Berlin by Luke McCallin

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The Ashes of Berlin-smallBerlin, 1947.

The city is in ruins and divided between American, British, French, and Russian sectors. German war veteran and police detective Gregor Reinhardt is trying to reassemble his life but, like his city, it’s been smashed into too many pieces.

Not only does he have to contend with the loss of his family and his home, but also guilt over the war and the politics of a police department in which everyone has a sponsor among one of the occupying powers and geopolitics gets played out in the office.

And now he has a serial murderer on his hands, one who shoves sand or water down his victim’s throats in order to suffocate or drown them. Throw in some unrepentant Nazis and a frighteningly efficient Soviet officer, and Reinhardt is up for a long case.

I found this book by accident while browsing through my local bookshop and it’s the best mystery novel I’ve read all year. McCallin is a master storyteller who evokes the grim, surreal landscape of postwar Berlin.

As he takes us along on Reinhardt’s case, we get to experience the sights, sounds, and even the smells and tastes of a once-proud city trying to dig itself out from disaster. The author has clearly done his homework and we learn all sorts of fascinating details about life for regular Germans after the war and the politics of the four “Allied” powers ruling Germany.

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Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Second Discussion

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

Downbelow Station UK-smallWelcome to the second round of discussion on C.J. Cherryh’s classic 1981 novel Downbelow Station. New to the program? The first discussion can be found here.

Chris Hocking gets the ball rolling this time around.

Chris Hocking

Hi people,

I had business travel to do and took Downbelow Station on the plane for some serious reading. I came away from it realizing that I had developed an unusual (for me at least) attitude toward the book.

This is an intense SF novel depicting otherworldly conflict in alien environments, but it’s tone is resolutely workaday and normalized. The exotic situations and scenes described are experienced by the characters, and presented to the reader, with matter-of-fact realism. We follow several characters whose histories and position are laid out and fitted into this fictional environment with great skill. This is a story of interplanetary war, of political maneuver and counter-maneuver, of individuals and policy makers struggling to deal with the critical issues and collateral adjustments that inevitably arise in wartime. It is executed by Cherryh with remarkable depth and solidity: the environment meshes completely with the story being told and the overall effect is very convincing. This is a powerful and deep imagination at work.

Yet having said all that, I find the book a half-step out of phase with my own reading tastes. The consistent desperation of most of the characters, the grueling effects of war and displacement are all well done and appropriate to the story being told, but for me the cumulative effect was kind of enervating. I’ve read enough bleak modern fiction and noir that this didn’t bother me much in itself, but it was coupled with the notable absence of an element I tend to seek in Science Fiction.

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