Vintage Treasures: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy by Keith Laumer

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy (Berkley Medallion, 1968). Cover by Richard Powers

Science Fiction comedy isn’t much of a subgenre these days. Well, it never really was, to be truthful. But a few brave souls — Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Harry Harrison, Robert Asprin — made a career of it over the years.

Keith Laumer is one of those who occasionally dabbled in SF comedy, or at least light-hearted fare, with fine results. His satirical tales of Retief the galactic diplomat ran to more than 15 volumes during his lifetime, and many of his short stories showed a humorous bent. His 1968 collection It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy — a riff on the zany and wildly popular United Artists film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), a stable in Saturday afternoon reruns even in the early 70s when I was growing up — collects four long novelettes from Galaxy and Worlds of Tomorrow, all written between 1963-67, and one tale original to this collection.

Unlike Laumer’s Retief collections, which remained in print for decades, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy came and went without leaving much of a ripple. It has been out of print for over five decades. It still finds favor among modern readers, however. In a fairly typical 4-star review at Goodreads from 2016. Mike S wrote:

A collection of Laumer short stories, typically fast paced, imaginative, witty, gritty, funny… classic Laumer. I liked them all, a couple were really good, one was outstanding.

Although copies are cheap (I acquired mine very inexpensively on eBay), they can be a little tricky to find. A better option may be Eric Flint’s generous 2002 collection from Baen, Keith Laumer: The Lighter Side, which contains three of the stories, and much more, packed into a generous 500-page volume.

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Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 44 Now Available

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly–Q44

Issue banner by Rengin Tumer

The ancient druids used to use gigantic standing stones to precisely chart the passing of the seasons. Me, I have a more accurate and satisfying method. I rely on the mystical and inexorable cosmic cycle that gives birth to a new issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, every quarter, without fail.

HFQ 44 is a special treat as it contains a complete story by our very own Greg Mele, whose most recent article for Black Gate, an Interview with Christian Cameron, appeared just last week. Tangent Online gives “Heart of Vengeance” a solid thumb’s up, calling it “A dark tale of betrayal and lethal fury, this thoroughly enjoyable story is as much about the power of love and sacrifice as it is the justice of the grave.” For audiobook fans, there’s also a complete reading of the tale by Karen Bovenmeyer.

The issue also contains “The Whispering Healer,” by Larisa Walk (which Tangent calls “full of the unexpected,”) and “Do Not Fear, for the Work Will be Pure,” by Michael Johnston (which “follows the mission of the royal sculptor Deonoro Zayal… [into] the wilds facing down mutated brigands”).

Here’s the complete TOC, with fiction links.

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Son of 19 Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird Edition

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

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Six-String Samurai (Palm Pictures, 1998)

Check out Nineteen 1950’s SF Movies To Help Get You Through the Next Few Weeks, posted at Black Gate in April.

A mix of genres this time around, not all sf/fan. The thing these films all have in common is that they’re weird. Off the beaten track. Cock-eyed and sideways. The “weird factor” is rather unmeasurable by scientific means, but then what isn’t when you’re dealing with the arts? You’ll note that all these films have a dual rating, 10+ to 1, best to worst. Since this list (by any measure) does include some bad movies, the first number refers to entertainment value rather than quality, since some (I stress, some) bad movies can be very entertaining. The second number refers to weirdness factor, my best effort at evaluating this vague, but important component. YMMV.

19. Six-String Samurai (1998: 8/8) A good example of Indie film-making which spoofs Mad Max movies, after the apocalypse films in general, Lone Wolf and Cub, and The Wizard of Oz. Decent martial arts action set on a bizarre alternate world where Russia attacked the U.S. in 1957 and wiped out every city except Vegas, where Elvis had ruled for forty years as king. Well, Vegas needs a new king, baby.

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Future Treasures: Ballistic, Book 2 of The Palladium Wars by Marko Kloos

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Aftershocks and Ballistic, the first books in The Palladium Wars (47North). Cover design by Shasti O’Leary Soudant.

Marko Kloos is the author of six books in the Frontlines military SF series, starting with Terms of Enlistment (2013) and Lines of Departure (2014). His newest series is The Palladium Wars, a space opera trilogy which kicked off with Aftershocks last summer. In a far-ranging interview at The Verge, Kloos laid out the intriguing backdrop.

Aftershocks is set in the aftermath of that massive, system-wide conflict over resources — namely palladium — that saw its instigator, the planet Gretia, endure a major defeat and occupation by its enemies. One of the story’s central characters, Aden Robertson, was on the losing side, and he’s just been released from a POW camp where he’s had to contend with the atrocities that he witnessed during the war. Kloos explains that he wanted to deal with a character who had to come to terms with the collapse of a system he supported for two decades, and “how you find your identity after that.”

Kloos’s own German roots figure into the larger geopolitics of the series. “I totally cribbed from history,” he says. “The aggressors here are basically space Germany. It’s kind of like this cross between the end of World War I and the end of World War II. I kind of mashed it up a bit so that there’s a set of circumstances where it was a war of aggression, and they definitely are the bad guys, but also make the war logically understandable and consistent — a war for resources.”

Booklist called Aftershocks a “fast-moving combination of corporate machinations, police procedural, and interstellar naval combat.” The second volume Ballistic arrives from 47North on May 26, 2020, priced at $24.95 in hardcover, $14.95 in trade paperback, and $4.99 in digital formats. It is 318 pages. The cover was designed by Shasti O’Leary Soudant.

See all our recent Future Treasures here.


Flipping the Game: Uncertain Rolls in Traveller

Monday, May 11th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Traveller5 Core Rules, three volumes, 2019
Marc Miller
Far Future Enterprises

I was running a Traveller game the other night. My brother was playing in it and wanted to camouflage his characters — they had just crash landed their shuttle and fled approaching raiders — to avoid discovery. I asked him to make a roll based on his skills and characteristic. He rolled his two six-sided dice, and he did not hit the targeted number.

Tabletop role playing games — by and large — use dice rolls to add randomness to the success or failure of character actions. The dice are modified by character skills and attributes, environmental conditions, and other factors. From the perspective of the player, the results are often binary: succeed or fail — though some games introduce degrees of success or failure in a number of ways (most famously Dungeons & Dragons critical successes and failures by rolling a 20 or 1 on the twenty-sided die). Of course, many situations in real life have a level of ambiguity or uncertainty to the successor failure of actions.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: It’s a Hardboiled May on TCM

Monday, May 11th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

EdwardRobinsonSo, Edward G. Robinson is the May Star of the Month on TCM. Every Thursday there is a batch of Robinson movies, as well as some other movies featuring hardboiled stars, like Humphrey Bogart. Things kicked off May 7th with eight Robinson flicks, including two excellent Bogie movies, Key Largo, and Bullets or Ballots. But the past is prologue.

Let’s take a look at some of the films coming up this month, all EST. A note: any movie shown on TCM, which they don’t sell the DVD for, can be viewed on WatchTCM for a week after it airs. So, for example, Bullets or Ballots can be seen right now, but Key Largo can’t.

May 14th

8:15 AM – All Through the Night

This is one of my Top Ten Bogart films – might even be Top Five. Bogart is Gloves Donahue, a NYC gangster. It opened up in January of 1942, in the early stages of the war. Hollywood was shifting from making gangster movies to war films, and this is both! Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser in Casablanca) leads a Nazi spy ring that runs afoul of Bogart’s gang. It’s a comedy-gangster-spy movie, and I think it’s a great watch. There’s a superb supporting cast, including Peter Lorre, William Demarest, Frank McHugh, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, and Barton MacLane! I highly recommend this one.

In Casablanca, when Rick is advising Major Strasser about invading certain parts of New York, that’s an in-joke back to this movie.

4:15 PM – The Return of Doctor X

This is a bad, science fiction/horror movie. It’s a little campy; but mostly just bad. I’ll let Bogie tell you himself how bad it was:

“This is one of those pictures that made me march in to (Warner Brothers boss Jack L. Warner) and ask for more money again. You can’t believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it’d been Jack Warner’s or Harry (Warner’s) blood, I wouldn’t have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie.”

That’s from an essay I wrote about it here at Black Gate. Watch the movie, read my essay. You’ll thank me later.

9:45 PM – A Slight Case of Murder

I’m not crazy about Robinson’s gangster comedies, of which this is one. A gangster goes straight. Much hilarity ensues. Sort of. It does have the always reliable Alan Jenkins, who appeared in lots of Warners crime films.

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Vanguard Dream! A Sampling Of Bushiroad Media, Part I

Sunday, May 10th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

1A - Bushiroad logo

For a prime example of just how elaborately interconnected and cross-platform some multimedia projects can become – particularly, in Japan! – you needn’t look any further than the activities of Bushiroad, which is surely one of the most quickly expanding media phenomena out there, both in its home country and internationally.

Best known perhaps as a purveyor of card battle games, for which they regularly hold official tournament events all around the world, they have also made major incursions into the worlds of anime and manga, video games, music and nearly any other medium which might promote their various properties. In particular, the Bushiroad Music division has had an increasingly huge role in their operations; and that will be the main focus of this article as well. Not attempting any kind of a detailed overview, we’ll be looking primarily at two of their best-known franchises: Cardfight!! Vanguard and BanG Dream!

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New Treasures: Providence by Max Barry

Sunday, May 10th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Providence Max Barry-smallMax Barry is the author of Lexicon, the tale of a secret war between rival poet factions, which Time called “Unquestionably the year’s smartest thriller;” the New York Times Notable Book Jennifer Government; and Syrup, adapted as a 2013 film starring Amber Heard.

His latest is an interstellar thriller which Publishers Weekly calls “a terrific sci-fi thriller,” and which Paul Di Filippo describes as “a blend of Starship Troopers, UK cult TV show Red Dwarf and the cinematic Alien franchise, with Barry’s own unique slant and voice.” That sounds pretty compelling to me. Here’s an excerpt from Paul’s Locus Online review.

We are in a future era — say, fifty to one hundred years ahead of 2020…  this world has FTL travel, and pretty soon there’s a First Contact. The aliens, eventually dubbed “salamanders,” are inherently and implacably hostile… After witnessing the initial slaughter of kindly human ambassadors, we jump ahead to a time when humanity seems to be winning the war against the salamanders. A fleet of enormous battle-ready starships, the Providence class, has taken the fight to the native territory of the aliens, who seem to occupy not planets, but artificial “hives,” located at various random points in interstellar space. The Providence ships, run by very clever but non-self-aware artificial intelligences, each have a crew of four humans, who are present mainly as operational backups — and also as media-friendly faces for humanity’s self-esteem.

Our focus is on the crew of the newest war vessel: Isiah “Gilly” Gilligan, the techie; Paul Anders, the warrior; Jolene Jackson, the captain; and Talia Beanfield, the life-support expert… However, two years into their intermittently deadly cruise (a section that occupies about the first third of the book, during which we learn all the important parameters of the war and the emotional mechanics of the crew interactions), after effortlessly wiping out all the salamanders they encounter, things start to go wrong. Anders begins to go screwy, as does the ship’s AI. And the salamanders exhibit new refinements of strategy that eventually pose a mortal threat to the crew and their ship. How the humans react in the face of these challenges forms the last two-thirds of the tale…

When the battle klaxon sounds, Barry shifts into suspenseful military-SF mode, delivering tense and suspenseful depictions of warfare. His speculative elements are top-notch, as is his technological gadgetry. And when we eventually get a peek into the salamander home world, his crafting of their ecology and culture surprises and astounds.

Providence was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on March 31, 2020. It is 320 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover artist is uncredited. Read a lengthy excerpt here.

See all our recent coverage of the best new SF and fantasy here.


Another Childhood Classic Disappoints: Thuvia Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Saturday, May 9th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Thuvia of Mars paperback editions (Ace 1962, Ballantine 1969, Four Square 1962). Art by Roy Krenkel, Jr., Bob Abbett, and Roy Carnon

During confinement and adjusting to a new job (while writing a new novel!), I’ve been feeling like my bandwidth is restricted. To calm my brain at times, I’ve been rereading books I enjoyed. My reread of the X-Men is well underway (here’s post X in the blog series), and I’ve also relistened to R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing (covered here by Theo), Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children and the first two books of The Lord of the Rings. They were all good.

I’ve had rocky experiences on rereads before though. Dune aged poorly for me in some important ways (I detailed it here) and Anthony’s Spell for Chameleon had little redeem itself in my mind (the ways that reread fell flat are here).

I was optimistic about rereading my first novel experiences, Edgar Rice Burroughs though. I’d previously talked about Burroughs and the amazing biography written about him here. Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars were all too well remembered so I downloaded Thuvia Maid of Mars at Librivox.org, which does audio recordings of public domain books. This novel was also discussed by Black Gate blogger Ryan Harvey a few years ago, so if you want an alternate view, it’s here.

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Claim the Night in Terrors of London from Kolossal Games

Saturday, May 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Terrors of London (Kolossal Games, 2019)

As of today, May 9, Gen Con 2020 is still on. I find it very hard to believe the nation’s situation will change enough in the next 82 days that 60,000 gamers from around the world will feel perfectly relaxed gathering in halls in Indianapolis, packed together like attendees at a rock concert. I’m fairly certain that the powers that be will face reality in the next few weeks, and postpone or cancel the event this year. And if not, I can’t imagine it will be well attended — not nearly enough for it to break even, anyway.

That’s okay, though. I’m still unpacking from last year’s con, sifting through all the great games I picked up, and sorting through the many hundreds of pics I snapped as I wandered the Exhibit Hall. If Gen Con became a once-a-decade event it would still pay off handsomely for me, as I suspect it’ll take at least ten years to track down all the fascinating games I glimpsed during my arduous three-day walk through the giant Hall.

Today I want to take a look at Terrors of London, a competitive fantasy card game from Kolossal Games with a very cool Victorian horror theme. I only got a glance at it during my marathon trek through the Hall, but it stuck out. The component art was fantastic, and the premise — players are arcane Overlords assembling hordes of monsters and undead to secretly tussle for control of the smoke-shrouded city — appealed to me immediately. The whole thing has an Underworld vibe, and I can definitely see a leather-clad Kate Beckinsale fitting right in.

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