Browsed by
Tag: review

Rogue One: I Am One With the Force and the Force Is With Me

Rogue One: I Am One With the Force and the Force Is With Me

star-wars-rogue-one-trailer-10
A most excellent hero for this movie

When I was eight years old, some friends of the family gave me The Star Wars Storybook. Back in 1979, there was just one movie (and a confusing, once-seen Christmas special), and the action figures.

Everything I could learn of the larger universe of the movie that had changed my life was in that book. I wanted to know about the rebels, the past of Darth Vader and Kenobi, and who were these alliance pilots and Grand Moff Tarkin?

Some questions were answered in Empire, and Return of the Jedi, and others I got through comic books (I really enjoyed the Marvel Star Wars comic series started in 1977). And of course, we have the Jar-Jar infected prequels, which, with just enough denial, can be watchable for the light saber fights, or shown to children, who love them.

But it was only yesterday, when I saw Rogue One, that I saw the world I’d glimpsed when pressing my face against the glass as an eight-year old. I watched Rogue One with my brother, his eleven-year old son, and my own eleven-year old. And I really enjoyed it, in a complex way.

Read More Read More

The Doctor Is In: Marvel’s New Doctor Strange Movie

The Doctor Is In: Marvel’s New Doctor Strange Movie

doctor-strangeOK. I may have let on that I like Dr Strange when I wrote two blog posts about his early development in Marvel Comics:

Dr. Strange, Part I: Establishing the Mythos: Master of the Mystic Arts in The Lee-Ditko Era
Dr. Strange, Part II: Becoming Sorcerer Supreme and Dying in the Englehart Era.

I just watched the movie (here’s a trailer) and have to say I really enjoyed it. I’m not going to do anything spoilery here.

Nor do I have strong feelings about the change in the Ancient One other than to say I don’t care what gender the character is, but a Himalayan mystic should have stayed Asian, despite all the stereotype problems built in the Ancient One figure anyway.

But I am doing some puzzling over what kind of Dr. Strange I just saw. Doctor Strange as a 53-year old intellectual property of Marvel Comics has stayed remarkably faithful to the origin tone, no matter what decade, or what cross-over event he’s been involved with.

Cyclops and Professor X had their turns at being evil. Magneto had his turn at being good. The Fantastic Four has rotated its lineup. Tony Stark was a carefree millionaire who got drunk and lost his company. Steve Rogers became Nomad for a time.

But other than a few failings built into the character early in the game, Strange has remained pretty consistent. But this movie didn’t hit the tone I expected.

Read More Read More

Fantasy Adventure on a Tablet: Talisman: Digital Edition

Fantasy Adventure on a Tablet: Talisman: Digital Edition

Talisman_BoardTalisman is a fantasy board game that first came out about twenty years ago. There have been a couple editions and multiple expansions. In December of 2008, Fantasy Flight Games released a revised fourth edition, for which expansions are still being produced.

In 2012, Thumbstar Games released Talisman: Prologue, a sort of ‘Talisman Light’ ipad app. It was a one-player game and was a decent translation of the board game, though not very absorbing.

In 2014, however, Nomad Games released Talisman: Digital Edition, which is a full-blown, 1-4 player game. It’s a fine adaptation of the original.

Read More Read More

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: New Treasures: The Game’s Afoot (Wordsworth)

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: New Treasures: The Game’s Afoot (Wordsworth)

Wordsworth_GamesAfootOur fearless leader, John O’Neill, has been reviewing entries in Wordsworth’s Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural series: with emphasis on the supernatural end. So…I figured I’d look at one of the mystery entries.

Sherlock Holmes: The Game’s Afoot, offers twenty new tales of the world’s first private consulting detective. The real mystery is why I couldn’t find a single reference to this book anywhere on Wordsworth’s website. Curious, indeed.

Sherlockian pastiches are meant to emulate the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original tales. As opposed to parodies, which spoof Holmes.

With the explosion of self-publishing, the quality of pastiches has come to vary wildly. There is quite a bit of dreck out there and the days of buying every Holmes story listed on Amazon are long gone.

The eleven authors who contributed to this collection worked hard to create the same kind of atmosphere Conan Doyle did. David Stuart Davies is the editor of this Wordsworth series and is a well-respected Sherlockian. He includes three of his tales. June Thomson, John Hall, Dennis O. Smith … there are some well-respected Sherlockian names in this collection.

 

Read More Read More

Spotlight on Interactive Fiction: Choice of the Deathless by Max Gladstone

Spotlight on Interactive Fiction: Choice of the Deathless by Max Gladstone

Between keeping up with my usual webcomics, Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and several writing projects (one of them my own current work for Choice of Games), I haven’t had as much time to play games (or review them) as I’d like. But back in my December 20 post, I promised an upcoming review of Choice of the Deathless by Max Gladstone. Max is a writer friend of mine and I’m not shy about proclaiming my love for his Craft Sequence — of which Choice of the Deathless is a corollary. Since Max is currently a John W. Campbell nominee, and his Three Parts Dead just made Reddit’s list of under-read fantasy, I thought now would be a great time to spend some time on Choice of the Deathless — and mention his novels as well.

Choice of the Deathless, art by Ron Chan
Choice of the Deathless, art by Ron Chan

The world of the Craft Sequence is one in which human wizards — usually necromancers, most of whom wear pin striped suits and run corporations called Concerns — rose up against the gods in a huge war and won, leaving most of the gods dead. Lest you think this means the conceit of the world is all about the virtues of Progress over Faith, I assure you I don’t read the stories at all that way. Progress has its own failings, Faith has its strengths, and the stories told in Max’s books and game strike me as being about characters who try to find a way to reconcile the two to make the world a better place. Also: necromancers who are, effectively, lawyers, and fantasy novels that are also legal thrillers. Sometimes about ecoterrorism, corporate espionage, or just trying to find a good cup of coffee. What’s not to love?

Choice of the Deathless gives the player a chance to take part in that world of exciting corporate magic, beginning at the low rung of a Concern’s ladder with hopes of climbing all the way up to Partner. But while student loans, crappy apartments, and a lack of sleep all add flavor to the game, things really start to get interesting when the PC starts dealing with literal demons. In one case, the PC needs to keep demons from finding a contractual loophole that would allow them to gain an unlimited foothold in the human world. In another, an oppressed demon wants out of an abusive contract, without getting sent back to the demon lands. In a third, the PC must decide whether to advise a minor goddess to seek out her own lawyer or take her to court for everything she has. And the larger story arc gives PCs the chance to eventually become a skeletal, undead, master of magic — if they play their cards right.

Read More Read More

Spotlight on Interactive Fiction: More Superheroes!

Spotlight on Interactive Fiction: More Superheroes!

Cover image from Heroes Rise by Zachary Sergi; art by Jason Wiser
Cover image from Heroes Rise by Zachary Sergi; art by Jason Wiser

Last week, I talked about superhero webcomics, and there was some fun discussion in the comments about superheroes and fantasy and where those genres meet. Fritz Freiheit also pointed me in the direction of his slightly out of date “A Brief Overview of Superhero Fiction,” which means I’m going to have a bunch of novels to add to my TBR pile. But prose and comics aren’t the only homes of superheroes: there are a handful of interactive fiction games that let you become a super yourself. Lest you think I play a vast majority of my interactive fiction games from Choice of Games (disclosure: actually, that’s true, but I do try to diversify for this column), in this spotlight, we have two superhero games to compare and only one is from Choice of Games.

Heroes Rise: The Prodigy is the first Heroes Rise game by Zachary Sergei. (The second, Heroes Rise: The Hero Project, I have yet to play.) In it, you are a beginning hero, just on the verge of getting your license to be an official hero in Millennia City. You live with your grandmother, who has a Power with plants, because your superhero parents were arrested for the accidental killing (the court said “murder”) of a supervillain. Your family relationships are fraught, but you’re getting ready to take Millennia City by storm.

Read More Read More

Spotlight on Fantasy Webcomics: Lora Innes’s Dreamer Comic Captures 1776

Spotlight on Fantasy Webcomics: Lora Innes’s Dreamer Comic Captures 1776

Lora Innes's Alan and Beatrice -- starcrossed lovers?
Lora Innes’s Alan and Beatrice — starcrossed lovers?

It starts with a kiss.

That’s the first thing that modern teen Beatrice really remembers about the strange dreams that start plaguing her life. But the theater student with very little knowledge of history starts getting a crash course in the history of the American Revolution when she finds herself thrust into the middle of the Revolutionary War herself. In her dreams, she is still Beatrice Whaley, but she’s the daughter of a Tory from Boston, in love with an apple farmer patriot who’s given up rank and position in the army all for the chance of rescuing her from the Redcoats.

Portal fantasy — the subgenre where modern people (usually children) travel to a fantasy world — is supposedly not en vogue right now. Dream fantasy seems to me to be a subset of that. But Lora Innes’s comic The Dreamer is one of those stories that makes me wonder why more people don’t love this format. It is in many ways a perfect gateway into history. As a kid, I remember reading The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, in which a modern teen is transported into the middle of the Holocaust, and feeling that it was the book about the Holocaust (and there were many) that best made me understand what it was like to be in the middle of those horrific events. The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, which won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in Best Children’s Literature in 2012, transports a girl from 1960 to 1860, and — even as an adult — gave me greater insight into both time periods. Having a Hannah or a Sophie, that modern voice I can identify with, introduce me to history makes it more real. And even though I’ve read a great deal about the American Revolution, watching Bea learn about it, both as she sleeps and — as her friends are threatened by the perils of the war — through the research she begins during her waking hours, brings that period to life in a fresh new way.

The romance angle, of course, doesn’t hurt.

Read More Read More

Spotlight on Fantasy Webcomics: Thistil Mistil Kistil‘s spin on Loki

Spotlight on Fantasy Webcomics: Thistil Mistil Kistil‘s spin on Loki

It’s the official release date for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, and posts on Norse Mythology, the Thunder God, and the Trickster Loki are cropping up all over the Internet. (Fantasy author Max Gladstone’s post on “The Real Loki” at Think Progress is one of my favorites.) I’m grateful to Marvel for drawing attention to Asgard, especially because it gives me the excuse to write about one of my very favorite webcomics, Thistil Mistil Kistil (TMK) by Sarah Schanze. It’s a unique spin on Norse mythology that features Loki as one of the major protagonists — and while he’s still a trickster with a distinct tendency toward chaos (and probably ADHD), he’s not the villain that the stories so often make him out to be.

An early page from Sarah Schanze's Thistil, Mistil, Kistil, featuring hero Coal and trickster god Loki.
An early page from Sarah Schanze’s Thistil, Mistil, Kistil, featuring hero Coal and trickster god Loki.

The story begins with Coal, a young Viking warrior who ought to be on his way to Valhalla. But despite his heroic death, he’s brought to Odin and the All Father (with the help of an irritable Thor) explains that Loki has stolen the weapons of the gods and it’s up to Coal to get them back. Since Loki once saved Coal’s life, Coal believes he might just be able to accomplish the task — but Loki being Loki, it’s not going to be simple. Set during the Viking Era, with plenty of detail about the world in which the historical (rather than mythical) Vikings explored, TMK combines fantasy, history, and mythology in one big quest tale. And as Coal and Loki search for the missing weapons (because of course Loki doesn’t have them any more — that would be too easy!), new non-Viking characters–including shy Hedda, the former thrall, and Ibrahim, a Moor scholar–get pulled into the adventure.

I discovered TMK in 2010, through Comic Creators for Freedom, a group that does a fundraiser every year to promote awareness of and fight against human trafficking. That was where I first met Hedda, who doesn’t appear until Chapter 5 of the story (so I had to wait a while to actually see her appear). For people unfamiliar with CCF’s fundraiser, the comic creators collaborate on a desktop wallpaper featuring characters from each of their comics, which donors to the fundraiser receive. All of the donations go to the charity Love146. I’ve found several of my favorite webcomics through the fundraiser, and I feel good about supporting artists who are involved with the charity.

Read More Read More

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

the-land-of-laughs-by-jonathan-carrollTo start, this is the debut novel from my favorite author, Jonathan Carroll.  First published in 1980, The Land of Laughs has enjoyed a sporadic publication history (like most of Carroll’s books), going in and out of print.  Unlike a lot of debut novels, the themes and voice found in his later books is already present and strong, making this an excellent place to start if you’ve never read anything by him.

The story opens with a disillusioned high school teacher, Thomas Abbey, taking a year off to write a biography of his favorite children’s author, Marshall France.  Joining him is another Marshall France fan and brilliant researcher, Saxony Gardner.  After some early chapters spent doing basic background research, the two of them go to France’s hometown of Galen, Missouri.  They are immediately greeted warmly by the townspeople and the author’s daughter, but soon discover that the many secrets surrounding Marshall France’s life, death, and work are being doled out slowly.  Eventually, Thomas realizes that they’re too far in to the web of conspiracies to ever leave the town alive.

As with most of Jonathan Carroll’s work, this falls into the uneasy genre of magic realism (which is not really the same as fantasy).  What makes him such an effective author is that he’s able to infuse the more mundane elements (a budding romance, living in the shadow of a famous father, the obsessiveness of fans) with so much depth and power that they seem equally important compared to the more fantastic elements.  Reading his books, I am always left with the impression of a world in which everything is significant.  Perhaps it’s because even the bit characters (the mortuary owners or Marshall France’s agent or even the English bull terrier) are described so vividly.

The subject matter, how art influences the world, is obviously helped by this style of writing.  We see the obsession of both Thomas and Saxony’s interest in Marshall France.  We see the almost religious devotion that France’s daughter, Anna, has in protecting her father’s legacy.  We see the excitement laced with disappointment as Thomas sees where his idol got his ideas, finding so much of it to be terribly mundane.  By the time the supernatural elements are introduced (and they’re introduced in a delightfully off-hand, out-of-left-field manner), we’ve already become accustomed to strangeness.

By the novel’s end, we’ve come to know the world of Jonathan Carroll’s work, where the everyday and the supernatural exist side-by-side, complementing eachother.  Thomas Abbey’s internal struggle with living up to his father’s legacy is highlighted by his external struggle to survive his encounter with the deceptively idyllic town of Galen.  Not a word is wasted and the final lines of the novel provide the perfect sort of surprise ending, one in which all the clues have been laid out in previous chapters.  Absolutely worth your time.

Rage of the Behemoth Review

Rage of the Behemoth Review

Rage of the BehemothI have to confess that I was not initially impressed with Rage of the Behemoth, the heroic adventure anthology from Rogue Blades. The first two stories didn’t start out slow, exactly, but they struck me as being more akin to fan fiction than professional fantasy literature. I was on the verge of setting it aside when I read Sean T. M. Stiennon’s strange and enthralling “Black Water”, which is without a doubt the best story about a heroic crab warrior I have ever encountered. Intrigued anew, I lost the urge to put the book down and by the time I had reached Bill Ward’s excellent “The Wolf of Winter” a few stories later, I realized that I needed to completely revise my attitude about what had turned into one of the more consistent anthologies I have had the good fortune to read.

Editor Jason M. Waltz has done an excellent job both in selecting the stories for this anthology as well as presenting them in loosely connected theme sets based on their environments. This approach really works well as it prevents the reader from being jarred too completely in the transition from one fantasy world to the next. There is the Water set, the Jungle set, the Mountain set and so forth; my favorites tended to be concentrated in the Winter set although that may reflect nothing more than a susceptibility to the romanticism that CS Lewis once described as “Northernness”. The average level of the stories is very strong regarding both quality and action; this is supposed to be heroic fantasy after all. And it is truly heroic, there is very little of the anti-heroism that has become so tiresomely cliched over the last two decades. If some of the heroes whose deeds are recorded here commit acts of appalling violence, they mostly do so out of necessity and often with a genuinely sacrificial sensibility. It is Conan, but it is Conan with a soul.

Read More Read More