“I chose the impossible…”

If I were to draw a Venn diagram of the artistic inspirations of the new video game Prey, there’d be a big blue circle marked “Bioshock” and a big red circle marked “Dead Space 2” and where they overlapped, all that purple space would be marked Prey. Now, I’m not saying Prey is ripped off from Bioshock

…wait, yes I am. I am exactly saying that Prey is a big old ripoff of Bioshock, right down to the psychic powers, wrench-as-a-weapon, and the late-game reveal that All Is Not What You Thought It Was. It’s just like Bioshock, but even more convoluted.

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#SpaceOperaWeek (SuperversiveSF) When New Is (Not) Best–The Degradation of Grand Master Anne McCaffrey — “I don’t know what is more shocking to me: That this person who supposedly reviews SF spoke so lightly of this Grand Master who changed the field and who still sells today. That a person who is so old-fashioned as to use the Victorian term bluestocking shows no regard for the past.”

#SpaceOperaWeek (Jon Del Arroz) When It’s #SpaceOperaWeek And Your Contributors Hate Space Opera — “I wrote Star Realms: Rescue Run because I love space opera more than anything. I love it in my gaming, I love it in my fiction. Space battles between worlds are interesting. The geopolitics of the colonies vs. the extreme corporate Earth of Star Realms is even more interesting… and we haven’t even gotten to the weird alien species in the story outside of small mentions. I like to build up the world from the ground up. From the human outward. But the hallmark of space opera is that it reaches that outward plane to where it bends the mind. And that’s why it’s great in a nutshell.”

#SpaceOperaWeek (Yakov Merkin) It’s #SpaceOperaWeek, but Where are the Aliens? — “I still remember watching Star Wars, and to a lesser extent, Star Trek (which despite trying not to be, was often not too far off (and the new, J. J. Abrams films are most certainly space opera), and being awed by the wide variety of aliens on the screen. Since then, in all of my favorite space opera universes, including the Mass Effect franchise, the Starcraft franchise, and of course, Star Wars, the non-human characters have always been my favorites, and the ones I wanted to spend the most time with, from Tassadar and Artanis to Tali and Garrus to Plo Koon and Ahsoka Tano, among many others. However, even in these space opera universes where aliens are plentiful and diverse (and I’ll be getting back to that hot-button word in a bit), something always bugged me. Humans. Humans are always the center of attention, the main characters, and in many stories, the most important species.”

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My series of conversations with Cirsova authors concludes with Michael Tierney.  Anyone doubting the abundance of great science fiction, fantasy and even horror needs to get acquainted with the Cirsova crew.  I wish I had more time to interview all of the Cirsova team but look forward to exploring the stories of the authors I missed. A list of links for this series is available at the end of this post.

Michael’s first Cirsova story was a psychological horror story called Shark Fighter and the latest issue carries his historical fantasy, The Bears of 1812, in which he weaves Sacagawea from the Lewis & Clark expedition into a pivotal role in the War of 1812. It’s a wild story and the reader should keep in mind a lot of the events actually happened.

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk on the CH blog and in social media about “Operatic Science Fiction” so I was excited to learn about Michael’s Wild Stars comic book series.  We discuss Wild Stars and Michael’s latest project, Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology. Exhaustively researched over Michael’s lifetime, Book 1 will cover Burroughs’ illustrative history in the pulps, Book 2 will cover the hardcovers and paperback in both the US and Britain, Book 3 will cover the newspaper comics plus the Golden and Silver ages of the comic books, while Book 4 will cover the Bronze and Modern ages of Burroughs’ comics as well as their entire history in Britain. Currently, the plan is the series will be released first as art book sized individual hardcovers, then as a limited edition slip-cased set, and finally as a paperback set. Scroll down at trolllord.com for the latest news and go here to sign up for a mailing list and opportunity to get an advanced copy of the first volume.

We discuss Michael’s experiences in mitigating the effects of a not-well-thought-out censorship law, why digital will never replace print, scuba diving and more, accompanied by some great art in the form of draft covers; all designed by Michael.  For the ERB 100 Year Art project Michael processed all the images, page layouts and designs and was his own editor. Basically, a one man band from concept to the printers. As always, lots of good stuff follows, to include an offer for CH Blog readers and Cirsova fans at either of Michael’s stores in Little Rock.

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I’m not alone in my fascination for all things Appendix N. Author Colin Anders Brodd is as taken with the subject as anybody and is undertaking his own survey of the fantasy and science fiction canon:

So what is the point of all this? Well, in part, it is “getting in touch with my roots” – returning ad fontes to the sources of inspiration for my fantasy RPG Hobby and my own writing. In part, it is an attempt to give some structure to my rather haphazard re-reading of the Appendix N corpus, and to organize my thoughts on what I’m reading. And in part, it’s just for fun. So I’m going to start reading now, and you can look for blog posts on the subject starting around the Ides of January. My intent is to work through as much of the actual Gygaxian Appendix N as possible before moving on to alternate “inspirational reading” lists, such as that of Moldvay or the creators of the Pathfinder RPG.

The guy followed through on this, too: his blog is loaded with commentary on greats like Leigh Brackett, Poul Anderson, and Edgar Rice Burroughs!

Ironically, Colin was just getting started on this right when my book hit the market. Fortunately, this doesn’t seemed to have slowed him down. And it shouldn’t, really. There’s a bazillion ways to delve into the subject matter, after all. And now that the reviews are coming in, it’s clear that not everyone’s going to want to kick back with a mix of game design history, book reviews, and culture criticism like mine.

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I reviewed the first Swords of Steel anthology earlier this year. A second volume came out in 2016. Swords of Steel III had a release of Friday, May 19th.

Dave Ritzlin sent me a file of the book to review. Good timing for me. Seems like life is full of putting out fires constantly leaving one tired and run down. Nothing like reading some rip-roaring sword and sorcery stories to lift the spirit.

The premise remains the same as in the first book. All stories are written by musicians who have been or are in heavy metal bands.

This volume is a little longer with 208 pages in comparison to 182 pages for Swords of Steel II. There are seven stories and one poem in volume III while II has nine stories, one poem, and one essay.

Mark Shelton of the bands Manilla Road, Hellwell, and Riddlemaster has a nice introduction that touches on epics, legends, music, and art throughout the ages as foundations for sword and sorcery fiction.

Howie Bentley starts off with “Thannhausefeer’s Guest.” The character Argantyr was present in volume II and returns in this story. Argantyr is the lone survivor of a shipwreck. He is found and taken to a castle where he recuperates from injuries. He also does not remember his identity. The lord of the castle is a giant, 12 feet tall – Thanhausefeer. The giant lord has games to the death between warriors wishing to sail with a great treasure. During the story, Argantyr remembers his identity and the mission he is on. Howie Bentley’s writing has improved since his story in the first Swords of Steel. His series reminds me of 1970s sword and sorcery along the lines of Karl Edward Wagner or in Swords Against Darkness. There is a very memorable plot and secondary characters. I will remember this story in the future, which at this is one of the highest compliments I can give. Read More

Time and again we’ve seen it this week. People weigh in on the topic of space opera and then… somehow start talking about something entirely different that has nothing to do with it. It’s baffling really.

But it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about alternative marriage arrangements in Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17 or the ultimate obsolescence of the incest taboo in the lifetime of Robert A. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long. If that’s your concept of what great science fiction is, then you are entitled to your opinion. If that’s your notion of how science fiction began, you are wrong. And if that’s your concept space opera… well, that’s just plain nuts.

The one thing that Heinlein and Delany have in common is that the entire point of the literary ethos that they hitched their wagons to was that it was inherently superior to space opera. To them and to the sort of people that tended to champion them, space opera is the worst sort of literature and it deserved to be sneered right out of not just the narrative, but the science fiction encyclopedias as well. Guys like them may well have consciously appropriated or developed space opera elements in their works. But what they wrote was not space opera by any reasonable standard.

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I don’t profess to be an expert on the excellent Robert E Howard.  In fact, it was over two decades after Conan the Barbarian became a favorite character of mine that I read Howard’s stories about the Cimmerian!  My first exposure to the pulp titan was in the form of Saturday morning cartoon Conan the Adventurer.  Not bad as children’s animation goes, and it captured my fancy at the ripe old age of five.  Three years later, I watched Milius’s masterpiece Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, a movie I have revisited a hundred times since.

From there, I decided to read the books.  But rather than the Howard originals, these were later paperbacks written by authors like Steve Perry, Leonard Carpenter, and Robert Jordan (yes, THAT Robert Jordan) in the 80s with titles like Conan the MagnificentConan the Fearless, and Conan the Renegade.  As a kid, I didn’t know any better, and the Internet wasn’t developed enough to inform me that this was not authentic Conan.  These works were enjoyable enough, but hardly astounded me with their brilliance.

Thus, it was only in my later twenties that I got to read the genuine Conan stories of Robert E Howard.  And of the dozen or so I went through, none has impressed me more than Shadows in Zamboula.

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Okay, I actually quite enjoyed this one. Everything was gorgeous. The bad guys were evil and decadent. The world building was extravagant. The life of every human being on earth was at stake. There were androids, rat men, humanoid dragon-people, guys with bird wings… all the staples from the pulp science fiction tradition, really. There was even an epic space wedding!

The pace was so relentless you might not have noticed that it was leavened with exactly the same dearth of chemistry that you would expect from the guys that brought you the Neo and Trinity. I know on my first viewing I failed to catch that the dialog between the space hunk and the space princess was just plain godawful. The action and the visuals really did sweep me away enough that it went right past me. But yeah, it really was some of the most cringe-worthy stuff in cinema history.

But the acting and the dialog is not what ultimately ruined this film. Structuring it around a female romantic lead did. Here’s why:

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All Rome ever wanted was to earn a place in the village as a hunter, so that he could explore beyond the safe confines of the village farm fields, but when monstrous slavers destroy his village he is forced to head west into the irradiated wastelands in search of anything that might give him the power to save his people. Accompanied by his chief rival, his journey takes him farther than he ever imagined.

From the author of Sudden Rescue and The Kind’s Dragon… it’s an all-new novel. Check it out!

No Winter, No Summer, by Damon Knight and James Blish (writing as Donald Laverty) appeared in the October 1948 Issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

While there were a couple stories in this issue that I didn’t like, particularly Bradbury’s “crazy people aren’t crazy if you stick them in an environment that nurtures and caters to their crazy”, this was the only one that was not only disagreeable but felt wholly out of place in the magazine. Somehow, I find myself not surprised when I find James Blish and Damon Knight behind pseud.

Time Travel is real and the future is slowly conquering the past. A bland and hyperhomogenized evolved state of man has replaced every inch of earth with a great city; all energy is directed toward expanding man’s habitat and removing any impediments to it.

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Generated via Zhodani Base

Space Opera seems to be in the air these days. And, I gues I’m not immune. I’ve been talked into it. It being running a Classic Traveller game. Which is the original and first Space Opera role playing game. The wrinkle we are taking is to play Proto-Traveller (term coined by this blog’s el jeffe Jeffro Johnson) by which I mean playing using solely the original Books 1-3 first published in 1977. Partly this is a conceptual exercise but, partly it’s to keep things simple. There are a lot of books just included in Classic Traveller. And, I want to keep the things to keep track of small. Plus, my main goal to is try really playing the trading rules which have been present from the start.

A key thing to note is that like Michael J. Fox has no Elvis in him, Books 1-3 have no Imperium in them. And, no subsectors. It’s up to the GM to make the setting. Given that, the first thing to do is to create a subsector. Book 3 presents a method for creating a subsector and worlds within it solely using tables and random dice rolls. Which I did; and, I didn’t fudge any of the rolls. Without going into the play by play of each roll, here’s the first draft of what I rolled. Note: I made zero decisions here, it was entirely stochastic. That’s the systems, starport type and Space Lanes. Notice I have done this manually. There are online subsector generators available but, none of them that I have found use the 1977 rules. And besides manual methods are just fine. This is handcrafted bespoke Traveller.

Now, that I have the systems and Space Lanes outlined what to notice? Well, the Spacelanes are fractured. So, my first decision is that each grouping of Space Lanes will be its own polity or, “empire”, if you will. Though, looking at some of these systems, empire is likely too highfalutin a word. Three major empires and four minor empires. Plus a scattering of non-aligned systems.

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I recently saw Guardians Of The Galaxy 2. I loved it, it was a great big multi-colored thrill ride of a film, pretty much non-stop from the ELO-fueled dance/combat sequence that opens the movie to the final post-credits sequence. (You don’t have to be told not to leave until the ushers physically drag you out, right?  This is a Marvel movie, after all.)

There are a lot of reasons why I like this movie—despite the fact that it is not a vaguely disquieting New Wave experimental film with inexplicable special effects, long shots of people staring moodily off into the distance and an ambiguous ending—but the main one is that the filmmakers understand the proper usage of Myth.

Space Opera is essentially mythic.  The sorts of scientific absurdities that you find in Space Opera are the same sort that you find in Myth.  Men with the heads of beasts, heroes who travel between worlds, weapons of vast power, capricious immortal beings, enormous monsters and planet-ending catastrophes.

There is a veneer of science fiction, just as in older myths there is a veneer of history or geography, but the essential nature of the tale is that it takes place in a universe of wonder and magic and monsters.

Or “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” as the saying goes.

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