Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1954. Cover by Emsh
Ah, yes, it’s that time again to look back at Galaxy Science Fiction. The rumor that I was traded for a box of unopened board games is untrue. But John has quite the penchant for such things, so I hope no one puts this to the test. I’m quite happy working in the Black Gate office.
The cover, titled “Space-Time in One Tough Lesson,” is by Ed Emshwiller. His birthday was February 16, 1925. And since this is being published less that a week later, it seems fitting to wish him a happy birthday. If he were still alive, he’d be 96 this year.
“How-2” by Clifford D. Simak — Gordon Knight, like so many other people, works a job with very limited hours, allowing him ample leisure time. His hobby is building things, following the directions of various How-2 kits he orders. His latest is for an artificial dog, but he finds a robot kit sent to him by mistake. Rather than sending the kit back immediately, he decides to see if he’s up to the challenge of assembling a robot. But once he assembles Albert, Gordon finds he doesn’t have the heart to send the robot back.
The Silence of Six
E. C. Myers
Adaptive Books (368 pages, November 5, 2014, $17.99 in hardcover)
When we meet Max Stein, he and his friends are attending a presidential debate hosted at their high school. This isn’t just any debate — the candidates are there to discuss education and internet regulations, both of which are topics of great concern to the youth of America. To highlight this, the moderator fields questions posted through Panjea, a popular social network. As the debate is about to begin, Max gets a text from an anonymous number: a passcode several digits long from a person who identifies himself as STOP.
Max instantly knows STOP’s identity: Evan Baxter, his best friend and fellow hacker. Moments later, Evan — wearing a hood and masking his voice — hacks into the debate’s live feed and posts a live video question: “What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?” Then, horribly, Evan kills himself with a gun on camera.
Max is devastated. While he and Evan had grown apart over the past several months — Max had left the hacking world behind to pursue soccer and girls and popularity — he still considers Evan his best friend. He knows Evan wouldn’t have committed such a heinous, irreversible act without a good reason; he also knows the passcode that Evan gave him is the key that will unlock everything.
With no one to trust and the Feds on his tail, Max goes on the run in search of what Evan knew. His discovery will change how the world views social media forever. That is, if he can make it public before he becomes the seventh person silenced…
Color me rotting-flesh green and call me thunderstruck. I believe I’ve been playing the best board game in my thirty years of dice rolling this week: the Plaid Hat Games survival horror magnificence that is Dead of Winter.
Ron Burgundy “That’s No Lie” seal of approval. I know I often write here with tongue probing my cheek, but this time I’m undeadly serious. Maybe it was just the subject matter, or how dark the game can get as desperation builds, but I found it my most enjoyable gaming session in memory.
I’m not just trying to squeeze in another gore-dripped Zombie-related post before Halloween, either. I was perfectly willing to let my one sad little movie post for the month be my fall contribution, but honestly, this game has taken over my brain like a Venusian virus brought back to Earth and I must write about it.
Like tabletop gaming with friends? Like Zombies? If either of these conditions = TRUE, you can read through all my blah blah questionable-humor blah blah blah, or you can get off the Internet, utilize your preferred mode of transport (I don’t care about your hair, that’s why God created baseball hats), go to your Friendly Local Game Store and grab this jewel so you can read the rules and play it over the course of Halloween all the more quickly.
There’s a strange divide between superhero fiction and the rest of SFF. It may be because superheroes started out in comics. Almost all the tropes — the spandex, the tights, the rules of combat enforced by the Comics Code of the 1950s — come out of those comic book origins. As more and more superheroes hit the big screen, it hasn’t been surprising to see them in novels, some of them on the literary side of SFF (like Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible, Carrie Vaughn’s “Golden Age” books), and many of them looking at how those tropes play out when you’re not in a visual medium.
So how do you classify superhero webcomics that play with the tropes in the way that those SFF novels have done? Are they fantasy or are they superhero comics, or are those lines really more fluid than the divisions warrant? Either way, three of my favorite webcomics are superhero comics and all of them look at the genre in a way that questions our assumptions about how superheroes work.
What happens when a superhero gets married to a nice, normal girl — and what kind of strengths does it require to be married to someone with a secret identity? What does it matter if you can kick butt and take names if you’re not contributing to solving the big world problems? What is it like to be an 8 year-old superhero? Keep reading and find out how three very different comics are looking at superheroes (and why you should be reading them).
In my first blog post, I wrote about getting hooked on web comics, but I have an older love that vies for my Internet time. I speak of interactive fiction, a type of storytelling in which I’ve indulged from childhood. I am a game writer and I also like to write about games. (Back in 2008, I wrote a long post about games and interactive storytelling for Journey to the Sea; this long interest continues to crop up in my blogging and my hobbies.)
The Internet is the perfect environment in which interactive fiction can thrive, whether it’s through forum games, freestyle shared twitter and blog communities, or games that are a little more structured. Since the user-driven games are hard to judge from outside the community, I’m interested in discussing the latter style. And the perfect place to start for that is with Choice of the Dragon, the first game put out by small game company Choice of Games. (Disclosure: I write for Choice of Games, but I played Choice of the Dragon long before I started working with them.)
Released in 2009, Choice of the Dragon was the first multiple-choice novel game I’d ever played. Reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, the story narrates in second person, allowing you, the reader, to become the main character. In this case, you’re a dragon.
As the story opens, a knight charges you. Do you deal with the predicament by engaging in combat, fleeing the scene, or quickly incinerating the knight with your fiery breath? The story progresses through a number of challenges, including a flashback to your hatchling days, a quest to find a proper mate, and a decision of how to deal with local humans.
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities
Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Harper Voyager (320 pp, $22.99, July 2011)
Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead (1900 – 2003) was a fictional collector of the arcane. His cabinet was no mere front room shelving unit of Cracker Barrel knick knacks and China plates. Think pickled punks, death rays and human skulls that scream uncontrollably during new moons. It is unclear whether Lambshead’s entire home was his cabinet, as visitors were not regularly allowed and tours were given only under duress, but it has been rumored that the whole of his estate in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England was of museum exhibition quality. If you were speculating where the wonder-bits of the world went, the terrifying bygones, the transmundane thingamajigs – Thackery T. Lambshead had them.
Though he spent his hundred-and-three years surrounded by dangerous oddities, precarious art installments and occult objects, Dr. Lambshead didn’t shuffle off to the Greater Unknown through a latent Crowley curse, an infection from preserved plague rats or squashed under one of his many mechanical animals (rumored to be gods). He died of dishwater-dull heart failure. It’s not exactly that I rejoice in his demise…it’s just…well, now that he’s gone Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have finally been able to intensely study his collection and thereby release, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, an anthology of what they and other artistic scholars found.