The Conquering Sword of Conan is the final volume in Del Rey’s three-volume collection of every Robert E. Howard Conan story.  I wrote about the second volume, and how Robert E. Howard wrote like Hank Williams sang, over at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.  Gregory Manchess provides the illustrations for this volume, and they may be my favorite of the three.  There is again a foreword by the illustration, as well as an introduction (by Patrice Louinet), notes, synopses, and drafts, a letter, and the final part of Louinet’s Genesis of the Hyborian Age essay.  The letter, in particular, is interesting.  It tells us essentially everything we know about Conan’s early and later years.

The Conquering Sword of Conan is probably the strongest volume of the three.  At least two stories—Beyond the Black River and Red Nails—are frequently cited among Conan’s best, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.  But Howard was growing tired of writing Conan stories, or at least disassociated with the character.  He wanted to write stories in new settings and it shows.  Beyond the Black River could have been set on the Texas frontier, The Black Stranger the coast of North Carolina during the Golden Age of Piracy, Red Nails Aztec Mexico at the discovery of the New World.

George R.R. Martin has been called the American Tolkien.  He isn’t, but if he were, Robert E. Howard would be the Texan Tolkien.  Read More

How role-playing campaigns finally click together is kind of a strange thing to begin with. This one, being a relatively rare “by the book” Traveller game is maybe a little more unusual. And the game in those original three Little Black Books is without a doubt a wide open sandbox campaign by default. Given that I have wondered for decades just how this could actually work in practice, I think this is worth breaking down in detail.

Now… this this started off with Brian rolling up a subsector and everyone else taking whatever character the dice gave them. We ended with a merchant with a free trader and an ex-Scout with a scout ship… but the merchant and his entourage ended up dropping out of the story when his player didn’t make it back into the game for several sessions. Two new characters entered the game at the next planet, a retiree played by Neal Durando and some kind of skuzzie “Other” type played by Sky Hernstrom.

I worked the passenger/cargo mini-game pretty hard for a couple of jumps. Making money is tough, so I was really hustling. Then Neal’s character made 100,000 Credits with his Gambling-2 and loaded up my ship with gear so that I’d stop hassling him for high passage.

So everything in the campaign at this point is pretty much randomly generated. There was a bit of a backstory that the referee had put together to provide both a backdrop and some “push”– some crazy coup happening across a dozen worlds. There was an ongoing subplot about this psionically gifted kid and his mother that were on the run from several governments. I had hints about what some of the other worlds were like… but no clear idea of why I would really go to one over the other.

Then things started happening.

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Earlier this week, on Sunday, July 15, George Romero passed away at the venerable age of 77.

Alternately ridiculed as a low-budget B movie that leans too heavily on sometimes ridiculous stock footage and lauded as a brilliant cult classic – as a number of media outlets have already commented – it’s hard to exaggerate the impact his iconic film Night of the Living Dead has had on genre media. His influence has been broad, from his own sequels to imitators to comics to books to games and back to TV and film again. His vision could be said to have radically transformed the conception of “zombie” in English genre media, despite the fact he never used the word himself and in fact didn’t think of his creations as zombies at all.

But then, you know all this – Romero’s impact is almost certainly a fixture in the lives of many of you reading this blog, whether you know it or not. So I won’t bore you with what the traditional media will already be going on about.

Instead, let’s ask ourselves: where did Romero come from?

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The third book in B. V. Larson’s Rebel Fleet series.

The Imperials have devised a cunning new method of destroying Rebel worlds.

Captain Leo Blake is largely responsible for both our survival and our current predicament. He and his crew are infamous among the stars. As a result, when ships of an unknown configuration begin flowing out of swirling rifts above Earth, Blake is called upon again to deal with the problem.

But the approaching fleet isn’t what it seems. They’re employing an entirely new way to exterminate Rebels. They will accept nothing less than conquering Earth—or better yet, destroying all life on our planet.

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Reader Praise for the Rebelt Fleet series:

“A classic Larson novel, set in a detailed environment with an uncertain atmosphere. If you enjoy his other works, this won’t disappoint.”

“Hard to put down, perfect for a all night read.”

“It’s like a cliffhanger that just never ended. The pace is fast and not one to induce and kind of boredom. If you’re on a pacemaker, don’t buy this book.”

“I really like the character of Leo Blake – he’s savvy, smart and underneath the manipulative exterior, [he] is a guy who does care about the people around him. You might say, it is his ability to manipulate events and people around him, which helps him and his fellow humans survive the rigours of being a part of the Rebel Fleet as they face off against the much stronger Imperial Fleet.”

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Relive the victories of Captain Leo Blake and the Rebel Fleet with these earlier adventures:

I rarely read historical novels, though I was educated as an historian. Britannia-playing friends introduced me to Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon novels, about a part of the era my game Britannia covers. They were so good that I have tried some of his other medieval novels, though never his Sharp’s Rifles novels (Napoleonic Era) that have been his most well-known work owing to 16 TV movies starring Sean Bean.

Formerly “The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories,” these 10 books (more coming) have been renamed “The Last Kingdom” to mesh with the BBC TV series. The story arc begins during the gradual occupation of some of England by Vikings (“the Danelaw”), and will ultimately reach the Battle of Brunanburh many decades later.

The protagonist is an heir to what is now known as Bamburg Castle, disinherited and brought up by Vikings. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is very much a man’s man, sometimes Conan-esque (R.E.Howard style). There is a lot of fighting, down-in-the-dirt nasty-grim fighting, something like the real thing. George RR Martin has said Cornwell writes the best battle scenes he’s ever read, and not a book goes by without several battles. And there are a lot of strategems: Uhtred, like any good leader, would rather massacre the enemy (if they won’t surrender) than engage in a fair fight (that’s for suckers). I’m not a critical reader, more a “what happens next” type, and I certainly don’t see many of these strategems coming before they’re sprung.

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Image result for breaking bad season 3You know, all the time, I see a lot of guys on the pulp rev side of the crowd express confusion about what superversive is supposed to be. Some go as far as to say that we’re being inconsistent or don’t have a clear idea. I’ve even seen some say that it’s not possible to judge a work as superversive or not, and that the whole idea is impossible.

Obviously, I don’t think this is true or I wouldn’t be writing this. And to give you an idea of what we mean, I’m going to give as unconventional an example as I possibly can. Something that may make your heads spin when you first read it, but which I’ll try to explain properly.

“Breaking Bad” is superversive. Read More

A week or so ago, I saw the official Star Wars Twitter account share a poll, asking which character fans were most excited to see in the upcoming Forces of Destiny series of animated shorts, which, incidentally, reminding me that it even existed—I’d heard a mention of it a while back, but had completely forgotten. So I looked at the poll, and the provided image, and it quickly became apparent, even before I looked more into it, what this actually was. Put simply, the Forces of Destiny series is meant to “celebrate the female heroes of Star Wars.” This is said as though it was something desperately needed, like Star Wars‘s heroines had previously been ignored or marginalized. (Actually, a couple of male characters will be appearing—Chewbacca, BB-8, and Wickett the Ewok. Yes, just the ones that essentially don’t talk.)

This has been par for the course, since Disney acquired Star Wars. We’ve seen it in both movies released thus far, the Rebels television show, as well as in the new comics, books and the upcoming game Battlefront II. Female characters, specifically “badass” female characters, are being pushed heavily. They are very much in the forefront as the primary characters, and have essentially become action heroes. One can speculate as to the reasons for that, and there is a very fair politically charged reason that comes to mind, but truthfully, that isn’t what bothers me the most. What truly bothers me, as a lifelong Star Wars fan, is that with all the focus on these characters, making them the central characters of the new movies and comics, making a new show solely dedicated to them, and with constant talk about how great and important it is to have these characters, is leading to inferior characters. This, of course, is only magnified by similar-minded people in the media and in the Star Wars fandom. This hitting us over the head with the character they deem as “important,” simply because they are female, seems to have become the goal, as opposed to creating great characters, and the quality of the new characters—both female and male—suffer because of this.

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The newest Four Hoursemen novel by Mark Wandrey arrives.

For more than a century, Winged Hussars has been the richest of Earth’s mercenary companies, as well as the only one to specialize in space warfare. Led by Alexis Cromwell, they have carved out a reputation in the galaxy for being dependable, unflappable, and lethally efficient. Until people began shooting at them everywhere they went.

Rick Culper left Earth in the hopes of finding a job as a merc. A natural at fighting in the armed suits known as CASPers, he finally caught on with one of the premier Four Horsemen companies, but it’s with the Winged Hussars, and the company’s prospects are beginning to look bleak.

Traps have been laid throughout a number of systems, and Commander Alexis Cromwell and her flagship, Pegasus, will be hard-pressed to make it back to their secret base. Even with Rick’s help, the situation is much worse than anyone in the Hussars could have imagined. The Four Horsemen are being hunted, and the Hussar’s future is dark. But there’s one thing Alexis’ enemies didn’t count on—Alexis Cromwell is nobody’s prey.

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Reviewer praise for the Four Horsemen series:

“This is the kind of book that makes me want to get into that suit, load onto a drop ship, and head to a planet. What could be better really? Books like this made me want science and engineering to open up new doors for human exploration and adventure. I’m glad to find that feeling again.”

“Fast paced, extraterrestrial villains you love to hate, military sci-fi with armored suits. What’s not to love about this book?”

“If you want the taste of adventure and mercenaries (and more!) then this is the thing for you.”

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Check out the previous Four Horsemen adventures:

Look, it’s really hard to get passionate about just okay stuff. With great stuff, you can tell people “WATCH THIS NOW OR YOU’LL MISS OUT ON THE GREATEST THING EVER!”, and with bad stuff you can tell people “DON’T EVER READ THIS EVER OR YOUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN WILL BE WEEPING TEARS OF BLOOD THEIR ENTIRE LIVES!”, but with just okay stuff you’re just like “Yeah, I played it. It was fine.” Which brings us to iZombie.

Yeah, I watched it. It was fine. Until this season, at least. Then it took a nosedive from “marginally watchable” to “marginally unwatchable”.

What do you say when something kinda meh goes bad? “YOU RUINED MY CHILDHOOD!” is waaaaaaaay too hyperbolic (even for me): you can’t work up a really good sense of betrayal at losing something that hasn’t been around that long, and wasn’t all that good to begin with. When the truly mediocre takes a nosedive, all you can say is “OK, guess I’ll watch something else then.” (Which just takes all the fun out of hyperbolically ranting about it.)

So what killed the zombie show? Something something clever metaphor Mozambique Drill: “Two to the chest, face gets the rest.”

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Appendix N (Cirsova) Reviews on Issue 5, CL Moore & Hugos — “I’d read some Moore, but I’m just now getting around this classic anthology edited by Lester Del Ray. I was left a bit unimpressed by her collab with Kuttner on The Last Citadel, but I gave the grande dame another chance when I found a Jirel anthology, which I enjoyed thoroughly, yet now, reading a bit broader range of her stories, I’m blown away. I’m only a little ways into this anthology, but The Black Thirst and The Bright Illusion… Wow. C.L. Moore may be better at writing Lovecraftian Science Fiction than Lovecraft! I’d strongly recommend that anyone considering trying their hand at writing ‘Lovecraftian’ or Weird Fiction in general would be doing themselves a huge favor in reading Moore and looking to her for inspiration rather than those who were trying to directly ape Lovecraft’s writing.”

The Campbellian Heresy (Nathan Housley) C. L. Moore’s Space Gothic — “Science fiction has Gothic roots. Moore was not writing a space western with Northwest Smith, she was writing space Gothic. This is also why Campbell’s amputating of those Gothic roots from science fiction and fantasy is such a big deal–he took the horror out of both genres. And some of the beauty as well.”

RPGs (Ron Edwards) The little game that could — “There is a big shadow side to it, though. It’s right there in that first adventure-book in that original box, and as far as I can tell, took over every single publication of that type thereafter. Bluntly, they all stink – utterly canned set-piece fight scenarios, with a very strong emphasis on playing the canonical characters in canonical, thespian ways. Junk all that stuff about Karma and Popularity, forget long-term life-style play, never mind making up your own characters completely aside from Marvel Universe this-or-that.”

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LawDog had the honor of representing law and order in the Texas town of Bugscuffle as a Sheriff’s Deputy, where he became notorious for, among other things, the famous Case of the Pink Gorilla Suit. In THE LAWDOG FILES, he chronicles his official encounters with everything from naked bikers, combative eco-warriors, suicidal drunks, respectful methheads, prison tattoo artists, and creepy children to six-foot chickens and lethal chihuahuas.

THE LAWDOG FILES range from the bittersweet to the explosively hilarious, as LawDog relates his unforgettable experiences in a laconic, self-deprecating manner that is funny in its own right. The book is more than mere entertainment, it is an education in two English dialects, Police and Texas Country. And underlying the humor is an unmistakable sympathy for society’s less fortunate – and in most cases, significantly less intelligent – whose encounters with the law are an all-too-frequent affair.

Diversity & Comics points out that something we’ve observed in written science fiction has now hit the comics good and hard:

“They’ve taken romance out of comics entirely. You look at all the comic characters, the classic ones– the cis-white males we have to eliminate or replace– every single character you name you can think of their great love and the story about it. You go Spider-man: Mary Jane. You go Matt Murdock: Electra. Iron Man: everyone! (Heh.) Wolverine: Mariko. Bruce Banner: Betty. It just comes at you; it’s literally throwing a rubber ball at a wall. You say it and you immediately come back with their big romance. It’s like… Khamala Khan: Bleah! (Nothing!) Captain Marvel: Uargh! Just all of them, all of the SJW characters. Not only is it post-Adventure– they don’t even have adventures– it’s also post-romance.”

And this is something that goes way back. No one has to think too hard to come up with the feminine foils to King Arthur, Robin Hood, John Carter, or Tarzan. Even Conan had Belit. But then, practically overnight… fantasy and science fiction got way too serious and sophisticated to tell the sort of mythical adventure stories that people have enjoyed for thousands of years.