How G.O.G. Rescued the Classic Forgotten Realms Computer Games

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pool of Radiance SSI Gold Box-smallLast year I signed up at GOG.com, the digital video game distribution platform, because they had great deals on classic RPGs. I’m not kidding — this site requires some serious self control. I got Starflight & Starflight 2 for just $2.99, Planescape: Torment for $3.99, Wizardry 6 & 7 for $2.99, and Baldur’s Gate for $3.99. Best of all, they did all the hard work of converting the games to run on modern versions of Windows, so I could stop fussing around with DOSBox and my Amiga emulator. GOG is owned by CD Projekt, a Polish company that also owns CD Projekt RED, the developer behind the popular Witcher games.

A few weeks ago I was delighted to discover they were now offering a package deal on my all-time favorite computer role playing games — SSI’s Pool of Radiance and its various sequels, the so-called Gold Box games. I bought a package of eight games for $9.99 (and I swear I’m going to play them soon. All of ‘em!) But I hadn’t realized the amazing story behind GOG’s new offering — that in order to secure these classic games, the company had to navigate a legal ownership maze to obtain the rights, before they could begin the hard work of converting them for modern platforms. Dan Griliopoulos at PC Gamer posted an excellent article yesterday exploring just what was involved:

With the trail running cold, GOG tracked down SSI’s original President and founder, Joel Billings. “As a huge fan of D&D he was willing to help walk us through a detailed history behind SSI mergers and narrow the search down to two potential candidates: Mattel, or Gores Technology Group (who had acquired The Learning Company). The latter was a hit. We had found the actual rights owners to the Forgotten Realms games, and after several more months of negotiations, they agreed to sell them to us outright.”

GOG managed to recover thirteen games this way. They are: the party-based RPG Pool of Radiance; its sequels Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades and Pools of Darkness; C&C creators Westwood’s minigame RPG Hillsfar; the RPG construction kit Unlimited Adventures; Westwood’s first-person Eye of the Beholder Trilogy; the roguelike FPS Dungeon Hack; the two Savage Frontier games; and the Ultima Underworld-like Underdark exploration game Menzoberranzan.

Then they had the not-so-small matter of getting all thirteen running and bug-free for modern systems including Windows 10. Considering these were huge games — and not bug free in their release versions — that’s a massive task that the GOG team has been working on since April.

Read the complete article at PC Gamer — and check out the amazing and fast-growing library of old games at GOG.com.


Vintage Treasures: The Pocket Games of Task Force Games, Part One

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Starfire Task Force Games-small Asteroid Zero-Four-small Valkenburg Castle-smaller

The Shiva Option-smallTask Force Games, based in Amarillo, Texas, was one of the very best board game companies in the business in the 80s, especially for science fiction fans. They published the majestic Federation & Empire (and its follow-up, Federation Commander), Kings Bounty, Godsfire, Battlewagon, Armor at Kursk, Musketeers, and the RPGs Crime Fighter, Prime Directive (based on Star Trek), and the glorious Heroes of Olympus — among many, many others — before the company was sold to Might & Magic developer New World Computing in 1988, and then went out of business.

Of course, who could afford big games like that? Not me, that’s for sure. But that’s okay, because Task Force Games was also a pioneer in the microgame market, with a line of truly stellar Pocket Games, starting with Starfire in 1979. Starfire was one of the most successful microgames ever released. It sold a zillion copies, went through six different editions, and is still being sold today by Starfire Design Studio. It was so popular it eventually inspired a series of novels by David Weber and Steve White, including the New York Times bestseller The Shiva Option.

Starfire wasn’t even the most popular Task Force pocket game. That honor belongs to the ubiquitous Star Fleet Battles. Everybody owned a copy of Star Fleet Battles in the 80s. I think it was required by law. I’d tell you how many editions of Star Fleet Battles exist, but no one truly knows. Academics around the world have gone insane, just trying to figure out how many editions of Star Fleet Battles there are. It’s like writiing your Ph.D. thesis on the Necronomicon.

Anyway, Task Force Games had a huge hit with their Pocket games line. Shipped in zip locks bags (eventually shrinkwrap), and priced at $3.95, the games were designed to be easy to learn and quick to play. All told they released twenty-two, all but three with science fiction or fantasy themes, including many that are still highly regarded today. The most successful, like Starfire, Star Fleet Battles, Armor at Kursk, and Swordquest, eventually graduated to  full-fledged boxed editions, but the zip-lock versions were fully playable (and a lot more portable).

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The Guanches: Prehistoric Culture of the Canary Islands

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Guanche idol. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Guanche idol. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks working on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. This island chain is owned by Spain and sits just off the coast of Western Sahara. Besides having my first flying lesson, I got to drink lots of wine explore the island’s culture and history. In prehistoric times, the Canary Islands were home to a native people called the Guanche. While they had no writing of their own, some of their language has survived in the local dialect and has similarities to Berber. For thousands of years they kept their culture intact, being visited by the Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, and Arabs but remaining uncolonized until the Spanish landed in 1402.

The Guanches came to the islands by 1000 BC, although some archaeologists claim they arrived much earlier than that. They survived by a mixture of farming and fishing and were divided into several small kingdoms. Each island was fairly isolated from the others and in fact Guanche is only the term for the people of Tenerife. The other islands each had their own distinct term but Guanche has now become the general term.

Sadly, the Guanches suffered a common fate of colonized peoples. Many died off from war and disease, or merged into the Spanish community through marriage. A significant percentage of modern Canary Islanders boast Guanche blood and names. The coolest survival from those times is Silbo, a whistling language that you can see on this video. The sharp whistles used in Silbo carry far across the mountains and valleys of these rough islands and were a common means of communication until very recent times.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: David Hardy on El Borak – The First and Last REH Hero

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ElBorak_EarlyToday, our ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series talks about my favorite REH stories: those featuring El Borak. David Hardy wrote the introduction to the Robert E. Howard Foundation’s The Early Adventures of El Borak and he also contributed what is essentially the afterward to Del Rey’s El Borak and Other Desert Adventures.  There’s no one better suited to expound on Francis Xavier Gordon, so enough blathering from me. Let’s check out ‘The Swift.’


Francis Xavier Gordon, known from Stamboul to the China Sea as “El Borak”-the Swift-is perhaps the first of Robert E. Howard’s characters, and the last. El Borak is one of those distinctive characters that could only come from the fertile imagination of REH. He is a Texas gunslinger from El Paso, an adventurer, who has cast his lot in the deserts and mountains of Arabia and Afghanistan. There’s a little bit of John Wesley Hardin in his makeup, a bit of Lawrence of Arabia, and just a touch of Genghis Khan.

Howard described the origin of Gordon and other characters to Alvin Earl Perry: “The first character I ever created was Francis Xavier Gordon, El Borak, the hero of “The Daughter of Erlik Khan” (Top Notch), etc. I don’t remember his genesis. He came to life in my mind when I was about ten years old.”

That would put El Borak’s origins about 1915, the year Rafael Sabatini’s pirate novel The Sea Hawk appeared. The titular Sea Hawk is an Englishman who joins the corsairs of the Barbary Coast. There is also a supporting character named El Borak. Howard also noted that Bran Mak Morn, hero of “Worms of the Earth,” bore a resemblance to El Borak.

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Future Treasures: A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Red-Rose Chain-smallThere are times when I’m looking for a good standalone fantasy… and there are times when I want to sink my teeth into something a lot more substantial. I discovered Seanan McGuire’s urban fantasy October “Toby” Daye series with the eighth volume, The Winter Long, and now I’m impatiently waiting for the ninth installment, A Red-Rose Chain, to arrive next month. Carrie Cuinn at SF Signal tipped me to them saying “These books are like watching half a season of your favorite television series all at once,” and that was just the kind of engrossing read I was looking for.

Things are looking up.

For the first time in what feels like years, October “Toby” Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her life — and she likes what she sees. She has friends. She has allies. She has a squire to train and a King of Cats to love, and maybe, just maybe, she can let her guard down for a change.

Or not. When Queen Windermere’s seneschal is elf-shot and thrown into an enchanted sleep by agents from the neighboring Kingdom of Silences, Toby finds herself in a role she never expected to play: that of a diplomat. She must travel to Portland, Oregon, to convince King Rhys of Silences not to go to war against the Mists. But nothing is that simple, and what October finds in Silences is worse than she would ever have imagined.

How far will Toby go when lives are on the line, and when allies both old and new are threatened by a force she had never expected to face again? How much is October willing to give up, and how much is she willing to change? In Faerie, what’s past is never really gone.

It’s just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

A Red-Rose Chain will be published by DAW Books on September 1, 2015. It is 358 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital versions. The cover is by Chris McGrath.


Camestros Felapton on The True History of the Great Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The True History of the Great Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015-smallIf you’re feeling a certain degree of Hugo controversy exhaustion, no one could blame you. The past few days have seen an explosion of debate and analysis, here and elsewhere, since the winners of the 2015 Hugo Awards were announced late Saturday night.

If you’re a little late to the party, or just not following events all that closely this year, the high volume of virtual high-fives and angry rebukes ricocheting around every corner of the genre is probably pretty confusing. Figuring it all out at this late date probably seems a little daunting. I would have agreed, until I stumbled across this summary of the entire affair by Camestros Felapton, “The True History of the Great Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015,” a marvel of compact narrative. I do believe it has captured virtually every event of importance in the whole affair, with the sole exception of Amal El-Mohtar’s June 2013 call to expel Theodore Beale from SFWA, which arguably triggered Vox Day’s two year scheme for revenge against the entire industry. Here’s Felapton’s intro:

This is literally a narrative as it is a story shown over time with a plot and complications but it is also a subjective mapping of headspace. It looks more serious than my map but the same caveats apply – it is how I perceive the kerfuffle and while it is made out of truthful bricks (I believe) the structure itself is a fabricated thing. Same warnings about false balance apply and also the timeline has the issue of stirring up old arguments.

Suggestions and corrections are welcome within the limit of not wanting to re-kerfuff old kerfuffles and certainly not wanting to re-open old wounds.

Major sources: Mike Glyer’s puppy round ups, Jim C Hines’s article “Puppies in Their Own Words”, The Hugo Awards blog, and the blogs of Larry Correia, Vox Day, Brad Torgersen and John C Wright.

See the thing in its mind-boggling entirety here.


New Treasures: Stairwell To Hell, and Other Fine Stories by Michael Canfield

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Stairwell to Hell and Nine Other Stories to Disturb You-small The Woods Wife and Other Tales of Mystery and Magic-small Bad People-small

Michael Canfield has been a very busy guy.

In the past few weeks he’s published a novel and two short story collections, and re-published two novellas that originally appeared exclusively in digital format. A pretty impressive accomplishment, no matter how you look at it.

Bad People (August 2)
Stairwell to Hell: and Nine Other Stories to Disturb You (August 9)
The Woods Wife & Other Tales of Mystery & Magic (August 10)
Scaffolds (August 17)
Super-Villains (August 18)

It’s like Michael Canfieldpaloza! But without all the headache over parking.

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Adventures In Benign Cults: Parable Of the Talents

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Parable Of the Talents-smallIf a book vaults from mere printed text to a work of serious literature by virtue of posing a question, and then exploring it through the course of the story, then Octavia Butler’s The Parable Of the Talents fits the bill very neatly indeed.

Its primary question seems to be discovering meaning in what is for Butler a necessarily godless world, but it takes on secondary questions galore. Among these: what is the difference, if any, between a religion and a cult? How fine is the line between healthy determination and destructive obsession? And just how often do we reject others simply on the grounds that they challenge those (shaky) convictions on which we’ve built our lives? In other words, we blame and hold accountable people who represent our own failings.

Butler has a field day with all of these and more in charting the life of Lauren Oya Olamina, founder of Earthseed, a cult that locates God in change — the concept of change — and sets its sights on the stars when life on earth (or at least in the Disunited States of the 2030s) is nothing but chaos.

Formally, Butler’s Parable Of the Talents (the sequel to Parable Of the Sower) is epistolary work. The story is related through select journal entries, mostly Olamina’s, with other voices interspersed. These include her husband, her lost daughter, and her estranged younger brother.

First published in 1998, Parable Of the Talents won the Nebula Award in 1999. Like a good many other Nebula winners (such as The Speed Of Dark, which I wrote about here recently), this is not hard science. If you’re looking for the nuts and bolts engineering or chemistry found in Kim Stanley Robinson or Andy Weir, look elsewhere. Butler’s near-future tale focuses on social disintegration, and its rebirth via the benign (?) cult of Earthseed.

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September 2015 Asimov’s Science Fiction Now on Sale

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Asimov's Science Fiction September 2015-smallAsimov’s Science Fiction has a spiffy new website this month, with loads of new content — including issue and individual story summaries, a vintage cover gallery (cool!), and lots more. You should check it out. Here’s what they say about the latest issue:

Brenda Cooper’s lead story in our September 2015 issue looks at the lines we draw between ethics and scientific research. A deadly clash between forces making last ditch efforts to preserve life as we know it and renegades involved in potentially dangerous, but possibly life saving, experimentation will ultimately determine what will be the “Biology at the End of the World”!

Distinguished author Jim Grimsley returns to Asimov’s with a terrifying depiction of “The God Year”; Nebula Award winner Vylar Kaftan exposes us to an arctic chill on “The Last Hunt”; Sean Monaghan’s “The Molenstraat Music Festival” paints a far future of exquisite invention that hasn’t lost touch with the beauty of art; Jason Sanford’s “Duller’s Peace” imagines a far less happy future where even thoughts are under government surveillance; new to Asimov’s, author Sam J. Miller looks at lives upended by drastic climate change in “Calved”; and Peter Wood lightens our mood as he chronicles the story of a single mother and her young son out “Searching for Commander Parsec.”

And there’s more… Robert Silverberg’s Reflections hands us the key to “The Sixth Palace!”; Paul Di Filippo’s On Books investigates the short form, with a look at collections by Robert Silverberg and Delia Sherman, as well as a new Dozois/Martin anthology; plus we have an array of poetry and other features you’re sure to enjoy.

The only things missing are a cover credit, and a convenient link to last issue’s contents… which I’m sure is there somewhere, I’m just damned if I can find it. Also, every single TOC link in our past Asimov’s SF coverage is now defunct, which is annoying.

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Getting Closer to Home: A Review of Milton J. Davis’ Saga Changa’s Safari

Monday, August 24th, 2015 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Changa's Safari-small Changa's Safari 2-small Changa's Safari 3-small

I have been a fan of Milton J. Davis’ saga of Changa Diop ever since I read the first volume, Changa’s Safari, back in 2010. All three volumes are published by MVmedia, LLC. They are:

Changa’s Safari: A Sword and Soul Epic (2010)
Changa’s Safari, Volume Two (2012)
Changa’s Safari, Volume Three (2014)

[Click on any of the images in this article for bigger versions.]

It’s no secret that Davis has been influenced by the father of the Sword and Soul brand of Heroic Fantasy, introduced to the world in the 1970s by the eminent author, Charles R. Saunders, creator of the Imaro novels, the first black, Sword and Sorcery hero and star of his own series.

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