Science Fiction (Wired): Conventional wisdom holds that science fiction was written almost exclusively by men until the advent of feminism in the 1960s and ’70s. But when Lisa Yaszek, who teaches science fiction studies at Georgia Tech, went digging through old magazines, she discovered a very different story.

 

 

 

 

Tolkien (Daily Mail): In a 1937 letter to an Oxford colleague, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien confessed that he didn’t much care for The Hobbit, one of his already popular works that was about to go into its second printing.

He wrote: ‘I don’t much approve of The Hobbit myself, prefering my own mythology (which is just touched on) with its consistent nomenclature … and organized history, to this rabble of Eddaic-named dwarves out of Voluspa, newfangled hobbits and gollums (invented in an idle hour) and Anglo-Saxon runes.’

 

Authors (Davy Crockett’s Almanac): If you really want to know Robert E. Howard, you’re out of luck. But the closest you’ll ever get (barring the invention of a time machine) is this lengthy memoir by his almost-girlfriend Novalyne Price.

The two became friends when she took a teaching job at the high school in Cross Plains, Texas in August 1934, and spent a lot of time together until July of the next year, when he found out she was dating his friend Truett Vinson. But their friendship continued, albeit less frequently, until he shot himself in June 1936.

 

Authors (Adventures Fantastic): John D. MacDonald was born on this date, July 24, in 1916.  I’ve written about him before (see herehere, and here).

Although he’s probably best remembered today as the author of the Travis McGee series of men’s adventure thrillers, MacDonald learned his chops in the pulps, albeit during the tail end of the pulp era.

 

Games (Follow Me and Die): As an RPG content producer, I’ve spent a lot of money on fancy tools, some that require more money when versions are updated, etc. Check out episode 77 of my podcast where I discuss this topic*.

Several years ago, I was very big into Linux and free and open source software. I’m still a proponent of free and open source software, I just had issues in the past finding Linux based solutions for some of my Read More

A couple weeks back, I was at the main library for the county and happened to notice a weird western anthology that I knew of but had not read was on the shelves. Dead Man’s Hand is a trade paperback edited by John Joseph Adams. Published by Titan Books in May 2014. A total of 397 pages plus a section on the contributors in the back.

In the introduction, John Joseph Adams distinguishes that that steampunk can be anywhere and often has an urban setting. The weird western “is typically a darker, grittier take on a similar notion.” He mentions The Wild Wild West, The Dark Tower, The Phantom Empire. Brief mention of Robert E. Howard and Joe Lansdale’s novel Dead in the West.

I had to get a new set of tires on my car and took the book with me while I waited.

The first story is Joe Lansdale’s “The Red Headed Dead.” It is dedicated to Robert E. Howard. Reverend Mercer, protagonist of Dead in the West, fights a Progeny of Judas, a form of vampire. A story very pulp in execution with plenty of action. Very much an homage to Robert E. Howard and I would also throw in Manly Wade Wellman who wrote more weird westerns in the 1930s than Howard. A good start to the book.

Ben H. Winters, “The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space.” Alien from Neptune approaches a duo of prospectors in early 1850’s California with a proposition. He will use a gun to find gold on their claim in return for 50% of the cut.

David Farland, “Hellfire on the High Frontier” Morgan Gray sent to fight a Clockwork gunfighter. This story has several different things going on with a Cheyenne skin walker, a cloud land with dirty angels, and a psychopathic steampunk robot who likes to kill people.

Mike Resnick’s “The Hell-Bound Stagecoach” has group of dead people on the way to Hell. They get off the stage along the way and set up a way station. A little cliched but well done.

I have not liked anything Seanan McGuire I have read in a few anthologies. “Stingers and Strangers” set in Colorado in 1931. Jonathan Healy and Frances Brown fight an Apraxis hive of big intelligent wasps. I liked this one I think mainly it got to the point and was short. A check at isfdb shows it is part of the “InCryptid” series. Read More

Jay Allan’s Blood on the Stars series, of which The Grand Alliance is the eleventh book, is the heir to David Weber’s epic Honor Harrington series.

High praise, to be sure, and a statement that sets high expectations for readers. This feat is even more impressive as Allan is not writing Hornblower in Space, yet still conveys the heart of the naval tale: wooden ships and iron men. Denied the escalating technological arms race of Honor Harrington, Allan’s Tyler Barron must rely on leadership, motivation, diplomacy, and his damage control crews to outfight the numerically superior Union and the technologically superior Hegemony. In earlier books, Allan conveys the tension of a damage control race between opposing ships vying to bring their guns back online first without resorting to Star Trek physics-defying wizardry or Honor Harrington’s occasional forays into the accountant’s view of war.

In The Grand Alliance, now-Admiral Barron is gathering forces to retake the Confederation’s capital after the brutal battle that stopped the Hegemony’s invasion. He needs time to rebuilt his fleet, time that will only make the Hegemony invaders increasingly stronger than his forces can ever become. While the rump of the Confederation’s government seeks to negotiate with the invaders assimilating their citizens, Barron decides to risk it all in one last drive to the Capital. But first he must draw away enough Hegemony ships to give his strike a chance.

The resulting campaign, from first raid to the final and decisive throw of the dice, forces the fleet to endure hardship, attrition, and even setback. Allan humanizes these costs without grinding the reader down or diving into anti-war cliche. It is right, good, and necessary to fight for one’s homeland, but scars are unavoidable. This human focus means that when it comes time to determine if Barron’s gamble leads to victory or disaster, the action is riveting as Confederation fighters lash out at Hegemony escorts and the lines of battleships duel, uninterrupted by clinical descriptions of ordnance and volume. The result reads like a “good parts” abridgment of a Honor Harrington novel while still maintaining its own identity.


War of the Spheres, by B. V. Larson and James D. Millington, begins as a security operative staggers out of suspended animation. Plagued with gaps in his memory, Chief Gray is assigned to protect a military research and development program plagued by strange disappearances. But when Chief Gray finds the lead scientist gutted by a shadowy alien assassin, he learns the truth about the program. It is an attempt to create a new propulsion system to breach the force sphere around the solar system that imprisons humanity. Now Chef Gray must fight against alien spies, an entrenched military bureaucracy, the vices of supervisors and scientists, and even his own replacement to make sure this moonshot project succeeds.

Larson has sold over three million books by sticking to a simple formula. A military-minded man gets swept up into secretive events driven by contact with a previously unknown group of aliens, and only succeeds in finding the best course of action for Earth because he is unencumbered by the vices of lesser men–including many of the vices celebrated by more traditional science fiction writers. Larson’s heroes especially are plagued by arrogant and uncooperative scientists who are worthless in social settings, but must be endured for their occasional utility. The technology and nature of the threat change from series to series, keeping the formula fresh.

Here, the conflict is spy verses spy as Chief Gray tries to keep the new star drive out of the hands/claws/manipulators of an insectoid alien crew trying to steal it through commando raids. Compared to the galaxy-spanning conflicts in earlier Larson series, the smaller scope keeps Chief Gray’s involvement small–nowhere near the imperial heights that previous protagonists climbed. Gray’s other strength is his social skills. He might not be deferential, or polite, or even agreeable, but his approach is direct and convincing:

“You left Logan out there,” Whitman said bluntly.

“That’s better than having that thing in here with us, isn’t it?”

“You shoved him out.”

I looked Whitman in the eye. “Yes, I did.”

He thought about that, and he nodded his head. “You played it right. Logan was always impossible. He knew it all–you couldn’t tell him anything.”

For once, we get science fiction that refuses to glorify the secret king, choosing instead to stuff him in a locker at every chance. This isn’t out of cruelty, since the vices of lesser men, cowardice, gluttony, pride, jealousy, etc., actively threaten Chief Gray’s mission and get a space station of bystanders killed. But while countless warnings of what not to be abound in the Chief’s path, no aspirational examples exist. Chief Gray is the sole man of virtu in the world of vice, and I hope sequels will show how fellow men like the Chief interact and support each other’s missions. In the meantime, following the Chief as he stalks alien commandos across the solar system is an unabashed pleasure.

Author JD Cowan examines Science Fiction: An Illustrated History, by Sam J. Lundwall in the first of many parts. Written in 1975, during the tumultuous years just after John Campbell’s death, Lundwall’s account offers an examination of science fiction history unclouded by the revisionism that accompanied the latest editorial handover in the mid-2000s. Lundwall, a Swedish member of SFWA and other SF organizations, set out to “prove that science fiction is a worldwide phenomenon that hadn’t blossomed in English speaking countries until post-World War I.”

While a European perspective is welcome, as it counteracts American science fiction’s continued provincial myopia concerning World science fiction, Lundwall does a disservice to Poe, Wells, and Burroughs in his claim. Furthermore, English language science fiction was thrust in the limelight after World War I because France, Germany, and other nations involved in both science fiction and World War I lost the spark of hope for the future needed to write science fiction and abandoned the field. American and English science fictions were the loudest voices in a much-diminished choir.

Lundwall and Cowan’s conversation on science fiction sparks many points of discussion, such as the earliest works in the form, how science fiction’s secularization killed its spirit of wonder, and more. Lundwall offers science fiction as the mythology of progress, while Cowan is quick to point out where the mythology diminishes itself:

Mr. Lundwell continues to pry a genre definition from half-formed ideas and made-up terms in order to put to paper what science fiction is. The fact is that it doesn’t have one, and that might be because it is not much in the way of a standalone genre. 

Unlike, say, mystery which is about mystery, or romance which is about romance, or adventure which is about adventure, if your genre requires mental gymnastics to explain to a child then you should go back to the drawing board. One sentence should be enough. Genres aren’t aesthetics or themes. Genres are defined by what emotion and sense they are meant to invoke in the reader. This is why the average reader picks up a book. They choose one based on the experience it will give them. 

What they are fumbling around to define in the above definitions is Wonder. Wonder is a trait from adventure fiction and its subgenres fantasy and horror. It is the adventure of exploring new lands, peoples, and possibilities. Pair that with the origins of those listed in the paragraph above and you will see where I am going with this, and why the battle for an original definition has been fruitless for well over a century. It’s never going to have one, and that is a point that should be discussed more than it is.

That science fiction might be closer to chinoiserie than mystery or horror is a point to ponder. But it is the following exchange which highlight Lundwall’s claim of science fiction as a global phenomenon–and gores a sacred cow of science fiction in the 2010s:

And to quash another canard, the author continues:

“When some critics argue that the English author Mary Shelley invented modern science fiction with the novel Frankenstein (1818), they forget that she was drawing upon more than fifty years of Marchen literature, most of it infinitely better and more modern than Frankenstein was.”

No, that wasn’t written by Jeffro Johnson. In fact you will soon see that the author is no friend of the pulps or the old stories at all. There is a larger point here. This is a man who stood at fandom’s heart, and here he is admitting what no one currently in that position will. If you accept Mary Shelley as science fiction (and horror, when it’s convenient to the argument) you have to accept many other works that came before hers. You do not get to pick and choose. 

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A.I. extermination fleets, shape shifting mecha, and desperate gambles feature in this week’s roundup of science fiction’s newest releases.


A.I. Void Ship (The A.I. Series #6) – Vaughn Heppner

Through desperate tactics and by deliberately keeping a low profile, we survived the machine assaults longer than any human or cybership thought possible. But now our luck has deserted us. The main A.I. brain-core has just given human extinction top priority. The robots are massing an armada to exterminate us.

We’ve done what we could in expectation of this grim day, grabbing enemy factory planets to mass produce warships. And we found an ally, the Star Lords of Roke. But it’s just not enough, damn it.

We need more…like the alien void ship Hawkins once saw. Or maybe we can make a deal with the treacherous Cog Primus. One thing’s sure. We’d better do it soon or we’ll join thousands of other extinct species obliterated by the hateful death machines.


Bringers of Hell (Tau Ceti Agenda #6) – Travis S. Taylor

HELL WILL BREAK LOOSE

Despite unprecedented victories on the part of humanity, the war with the alien Chiata Horde drags on. The Chiata may be temporarily hindered by the cunning tenacity of General Alexander Moore and the men and women who fight at his side, but they have no intention of beating a hasty retreat. In fact, intelligence suggests that the Chiata Invasion is at hand, and with numbers sure to overwhelm humankind. But hope has come from an unlikely source: the Thgreeth, long-dead inhabitants of a world ground under the heels of the Chiata millennia ago. In the crumbled ruins of their homeworld is a map—and it may lead to victory.

PHOENIX WILL RISE

Meanwhile, Alexander Moore’s daughter, Deanna Moore, now known by the callsign “Phoenix,” wages a personal war on the Chiata. Grievously wounded in the battle for Thgreeth and rebuilt with state-of-the-art cybernetics, she leads a group of mecha-suited Marines known as “The Bringers of Hell.” Once a tough-as-nails Marine, she has been reborn as an implacable scourge to the Chiata. And nothing will stand in the way of her mission: to take down the alien scourge.

HER ENEMIES WILL PAY


The Grand Alliance (Blood on the Stars #11) – Jay Alan

Hell is Unleashed

The Hegemony controls Megara, the Confederation’s capital. War has raged for five years. Millions are dead, vast fleets of ships have been destroyed. But in the stronghold where Tyler Barron and his comrades have gathered their allies and the last of their strength, a plan is being devised.

Barron and his people have fought bravely, stubbornly, relentlessly, but the Hegemony has been too strong. Now, Barron is relying on the one source of strength that remains to him.

Defiance.

He will not surrender, he will not yield. And he will not remain meekly on the defensive, waiting for the enemy to bring forward reinforcements to launch the final assault.

That leaves only one option. Attack. Take back what the enemy has captured. Bring the war to the invader, and send them reeling back into the Badlands from whence they came.

The fight will be difficult, the odds steep. But Barron is ready to take the final gamble, and as one, the thousands of spacers he leads are behind him, shouting a single rallying cry.

Back to Megara!


The Link (AI Empire #1) – Isaac Hooke

An impossible enemy. A fleet surrounded.

Jain and his fleet of elite AI warships hurry to Earth’s defense when an alien empire known as the Link stages an all-out attack. Though his fleet is equipped with the most powerful weapons tech ever developed, with enough firepower to raze an entire moon base, even Jain’s mighty vessels prove no match for the enemy.

When unexpected allies show up, the tide seems to turn in his favor. But will it be enough?

Perhaps. The aliens were expecting to find a race of organics barely out of the stone ages.

It must have come as quite a shock when they realized they faced a budding AI Empire.

Also available: The Alliance (AI Empire #2) Read More

Keep it Simple, by Frances M. Deegan appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

I haven’t really read enough Spy-Fi from this period to accurately judge Frances M. Deegan’s Keep It Simple. While it wasn’t quite as high-tension thrilling as the first half of Heinlein’s Gulf, it didn’t wet itself with high-concept wankery at end, and managed to offer a consistently enjoyable, if not particularly groundbreaking, read.

You’ve got a no-nonsense, man-of-action agent who’s been burned, a cute Russo-Slavic dame with a thick accent who’s actually an alien princess or something, and a tidy little Men In Black-style “Aliens are living among us” story that gets the two of them together despite some Cold War-era diplomatic entanglements.

The tale begins with Mike Bannon being dressed down by his friend benefactor, the wealthy Washington tycoon JP Snell, over an incident in which Bannon drove off with Felice, the daughter of the Merovian minister, in the minister’s own private motor car. Papa was a spy, and the daughter wanted out; Bannon was hoping he could give it to her, but the incident puts him on the outs. Snell’s VP, Corboy, gets Bannon sent out to Mount Morgan on pretext to carry out a survey; effectively, the FBI dump him on a mountain to die—he can easily be “disappeared” here without notice: a mountaineering mishap perhaps?

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QUANTUM MORTIS: A Man Disrupted #4: We Regret to Inform is now available at Arkhaven Comics in high-resolution CBZ format and Kindle format for $2.99. As are the three previous issues.

Chief Warrant Officer Graven Tower is a ruggedly handsome military policeman who hates aliens. Fortunately, as a member of His Grace’s Military Crimes Investigation Division – Xenocriminology and Alien Relations, he gets to arrest a lot of them. Sometimes he even gets to shoot them.

Chief Tower and Detector Derin Hildreth of the Trans Paradis Police Department are investigating the murder of the Crown Prince of Morchard, and when there is a second attempt on the life of his brother and successor, they rush to the scene. But their investigation is complicated by the discovery that the assassin is in the employ of a foreign embassy. Does Tower dare risking the wrath of an ambassador with diplomatic immunity? Do you even have to ask?

The Kindle version is also available on Amazon now. It will NOT be available in Kindle Unlimited.

There must be more to life than mere survival.  Authors who neglect to provide a deeper meaning to the day-to-day struggle to survive in a hostile universe set themselves up to create the literary equivalent of a Michael Bey film: a lot of sound and thunder and flashing lights that signify nothing.  The journey might be exciting, but it won’t make a lasting impression on the reader.

Enter Recruit: Iron Legion Book One, by David Ryker and Daniel Morgan.  As military science-fiction novels go, it isn’t bad.  The story of James Maddox, a vat grown wage slave shanghaied into the Federation army and challenged by nature, man, and his own conscience, clips along at a solid pace.  It provides all of the daring escapes and front line action and hard tech combat jargon to satisfy any fan of the mil-sf genre.  It’s a good looking roller coaster ride filled with fully realized characters and a timeless central conflict that provides a suitable backdrop to the adventure.

But it has no soul.

Like the Galaxy’s Edge books, the character drama takes place within a morally ambiguous universe where the good guys and bad guys wear matching gray hats.  We’re meant to sympathize with our hero, who must make his way through the morass of the uncaring conflict as best he can, doing what he must to survive, while clinging to his last few vestiges of integrity.  The problem with this set-up arises when the principal means by which our hero interacts with the universe consists of other characters within that universe.  The twin messages that “no one cares” and “noting matters” get hammered home by the wide supporting cast within Recruit, which consists almost entirely of despicable people. Read More

Prelude

The 293rd VG Regiment at start. Scout cars spotted at one bridge and the two companies at top will encounter and destroy another Recon troop as they advance through the fog across the bridges over the Our River

From the In Front of St. Vith chapter of A Time for Trumpets: “Split seconds before 5:30 A.M. on Saturday, December 16, an American soldier from Company K, 110th Infantry, manning an observation post atop a concrete water tower along the Skyline Drive in the village of Hosingen (south of this battle’s AOR), telephoned his company commander. In the distance on the German side of the Our, he could see a strange phenomenon: countless flickering pinpoints of light”.  At the same time, 14th Armored Group sentries in various villages of the Losheim Gap saw the same flickers, almost immediately followed by a tremendous artillery barrage. “Amid the thunder the troops could make out the distinctive screeching sound of rockets (the Americans called them “Screaming Meemies”) from the Nebelwerfer, a multiple-barreled, electrically fired rocket launcher”.

MacDonald continues: “Yet little of the shelling hit the villages in the southernmost reaches of the Losheim Gap, the villages of Weckerath, Roth, and Kobscheid. That reflected the fact that German patrols had found an undefended area of more than a mile between Weckerath and Roth, and at the last minute General von Manteuffel decided to eschew an artillery preparation there while sending a column through the gap to gain a leg on the march to the valley of the Our. A battalion of Volksgrenadiers was soon pushing unhindered in the darkness toward the village of Auw…”.

A map showing the situation at the end of the German first turn on the next page.

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This question is related to a series of posts on the current Venezuelan situation in which I categorize the battle for recognition between the Maduro regime and the U.S. backed National Assembly as a war of nerves. In the introduction I speculate on how this stage of the conflict could be simulated.

My request / question, mostly for those that were in university in the 70’s or even the 60’s is if anyone remembers a certain international diplomacy team simulation?  I don’t want to say game as it was actually a role playing game.  I came across it accompanying my father to the school library. He was conducting research for an essay and I was attracted to this simulation’s boxed set of modules. I was very young and my memory is vague and can’t give the Dewey number of the section we were in.  If I had to guess maybe 300 (Social Sciences) but most probably 900 (History, Geography & Biography).

Here’s what I remember about the simulation:

  • At least 5 or 6 boxed modules. Each module filled with country data for one team. The modules had emblems representing the fictional country on the spine.
  • All countries were fictional but modeled on North / South Korean international diplomacy. There was a country split into two, and the stand in for North Korea had an appropriate industrial worker and peasant tools emblem with red background. For China, the emblem was yellow with a sheaf of wheat.
  • The fictional countries were based on North and South Korea, China, Russia and the U.S. Not sure if there were others.
  • The modules contained extensive briefing data and briefing sheets for those playing various government positions (president, foreign affairs, minister of defense, etc.).
  • I remember representing China, had access to a lot of manpower but its military was at a technical disadvantage.  The North Korean country was heavily industrialized.

I don’t remember much else about this simulation but I’m certain it contains many innovations and processes useful for game design, especially when one wants to incorporate a diplomatic aspect to a multi-player game. At the very least, if I knew the name of this simulation it would make for a great WW post.

Update:

I highly recommend reading the comments to this post. Rocky Mountain Navy, I owe you a beer.

At first, I confused RM Navy’s suggestion concerning matrix games with the game company, Matrix Games.  Anyway, Brian Train set me straight and you can read an e-mail he sent containing more links and information here.

I’m in the process of looking at Train’s Caudillo and how I can incorporate elements of it into my Venezuela posts. In the meantime, I’ll copy an e-mail Brian sent me providing some background on matrix games.  After reading, I’m sure the simulation tool I am looking for was a matrix game, if not a mod of the Inter-Nation Simulation that Brian has turned me on to.

Both books of Peter Grant’s very well-regarded Western series, The Ames Archives, are now available in high-quality, DRM-free MP4 format on the Arkhaven store.

BRINGS THE LIGHTNING

When the Civil War ends, where can a former Confederate soldier go to escape the long memories of neighbors who supported the winning side? Where can Johnny Reb go when he can’t go home?

He can go out west, where the land is hard, where there is danger on every side, and where no one cares for whom you fought – only how well you can do it. Walt Ames, a former cavalryman with the First Virginia, is headed west with little more than a rifle, a revolver, and a pocket full of looted Yankee gold. But in his way stand bushwhackers, bluecoats, con men, and the ever-restless Indians. 7 hours, 57 minutes. $11.99.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN RETRIBUTION

Ambushed on their way south, Walt and his men uncover a web of corruption and crime to rival anything in the big city. And rough justice, Western-style, sparks a private war between Walt and some of the most dangerous killers he’s ever encountered, a deadly war in which neither friends nor family are spared.

Across the mountains and valleys of the southern Rocky Mountains, Walt and his men hunt for the ruthless man at the center of the web. Retribution won’t be long delayed…and it cannot be denied. 8 hours, 40 minutes. $11.99.

RPG (RPG Pundit): There’s a whole generation of new D&D gamers who missed all the long history of people studying and debating RPG theory, and the thinking behind the conclusion that regular RPGs are not a good medium for ‘making story’.  And a lot of them have been fed the same old bullshit as in the old days, being told that’s what D&D is for.

 

Gaming (Niche Gamer): Following the news that Deep Silver has dropped the Steam release of for an Epic Games Store-exclusive release, many fans were understandably frustrated with the decision and began to review bomb the entire series on Steam.

To combat review bombing, Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney noted the Epic Games Store will soon get an opt-in review system. The store itself is based on the Unreal Engine marketplace, and so too will be the reviews – because in the marketplace user reviews aren’t required either.

“We think this is best because review bombing and other gaming-the-system is a real problem,” Sweeney explained.

 

Gaming (Table Top Gaming News): I’m a big fan of having the right mini out on the table when fighting in an RPG. That can sometimes be tough, if you don’t quite have the mini you need, or maybe too many minis of the same exact type and you can’t tell them apart. Thankfully, WizKids and Paizo are coming out with a new Pathfinder Battlesset, the Ruins of Lastwall, that will help with that. Check out the new preview Paizo posted. Read More