The Cosmic Jackpot by George O. Smith appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

The Cosmic Jackpot opens with a confused and angry Martian scientist receiving a red lipstick and a couple of worthless silver slugs in his change from a vending machine.

Meanwhile, on Earth, a scientist/entrepreneur has just announced the official roll-out of his commercial service: a point-of-sale matter transportation device. Simply put in your money, tell the machine what it is you want, and the good folks down at the warehouse will atomize your order and send it to you ASAP. So, like a cross between the replicators on Star Trek and Amazon Same Day Deliver. Except something goes wrong. When the scientist punches in an order for a lipstick for his dame during a demonstration for investors, rather than a lipstick, he gets an odd canister and some coinage of unknown origin!

Yep, the newly developed technology on earth is interfering with the commercial matter transfer vending machines on Mars. It only happens when the earthman and the Martian use the machine at the exact same moment; of course, they’re both determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on, so they doggedly use their machines over and over again until they are able to use the machine simultaneously at regular intervals.

The two men learn about each other’s worlds via the cheap and strange trinkets they send one another, from toys to postcards to starlet magazines. Each has to build their impression of the other on what they’re able to send and receive. Just as the earthman had been certain there was no possible intelligent life on Mars (too dry!), the Martian was certain that there was no possible intelligent life on Earth (too wet!); one of the best moments was the Martian’s fear and revulsion at a postcard of humans splashing about in the water on the Atlantic City beaches (that one went in the fireplace).

Eventually, both men send over bottles of air and are set to send themselves to the other’s world via the machine’s product return/refund mechanism. The earthman gets there first, just in time, too, since the Martian is about to be arrested for having fed slugs (the US dimes) into the machine.

Again, we have an idea piece, where the story revolves tightly around the concept, which is not so much the matter transmitter but the limitations of trying to learn about another culture through its commonplace artifacts. If you had to convey the entirety of what it is to be a human living on earth via stuff you could send them out of a Sear Catalog, what would you send?

The RPG Tequendria by Scott Malthouse and published through The Trollish Delver Games was released recently on DriveThruRPG as a pay-what-you-want pdf and let me tell you, I immediately wanted to snap it up. Why? Well, the price was right but, that’s not the main reason. The main reason is that it is the only RPG that I know of based directly on the works of Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany or, as he’s better known, Lord Dunsany.

The system is based on The Trollish Delver Games Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying (USR) system and more on that later. But first, let’s talk briefly about Lord Dunsany. Lord Dunsany had a prolific and popular writing career of 52 years and more than eighty books published – mostly fantasy but, also war memoirs (he served in the first Boer War and World War I). He also worked in the theatre, radio, television, and film. Without him we almost certainly would have had no H.P. Lovecraft and he influenced too many writers to mention. But, let the short list include many early pulp writers such as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Manly Wade Wellman and also more recent writers such as Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, and even Guilliermo Del Toro. But, he’s not much read. Even by myself. I don’t know the exact reasons why. Despite his popularity in the early 20th Century, in the second half of the 20th and into the 21st he remains largely unavailable. It wasn’t until about five years ago I ran across his most popular work The King of Elfland’s Daughter, which was a book I’d been on the lookout for for years. Prior to that, the only Dunsany I had read was the collection Beyond the Fields We Know from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line published in 1972 and read by myself in the early 1980s.

I say don’t know the reason why he fell from popularity because all I have read has been gold. His style simultaneously evokes both biblical writings, the Norse sagas, and the One Thousand and One Nights. The stories themselves always evoke quite a feeling of the strange and sublime. But, perhaps it is his style that fell from favor as it does land hard on modern ears raised on staccato Hemingway influenced prose. All I can say is try it; it’s wonderful. And, if you try this game you can try it because the last third of the book is taken up by three complete Dunsany works: Idle Days on the Yann, Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller, and The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth. If these three stories don’t leave you yearning for more Dunsany, I can’t help you. But, for those who I can help, you can find more Dunsany here. If you haven’t read any Dunsany I recommend that you read at least these three stories first to get the feel of the things. Read More

It does bother me.

Going back and reading the old books, getting excited about them, wanting to explain what it is I’m seeing, I’ll necessarily come back with an imperfect abstraction. One brief enough that people will actually read what I have to say. And so many people have never even heard of these books and these authors. Or if they have, they’ve heard nothing but bad. So some of them go read for themselves and then they come back sputtering, mostly just due to the pure joy of it all. But also for the pure strangeness of the fact that no one ever told them that this was there.

That happens. But just as often, there are the people that don’t want to believe it. They are content with contemporary science fiction and fantasy more or less as it is. Or maybe they are reformers that only want to make modest, incremental changes. Or maybe they see the cachet that the old works have and want to position themselves as having the same spark and energy. Or maybe they see that people really like the old books and it just hurts that the things that they like aren’t as cool. And they want the things that they like to be cool, too… so without reading they look at the Appendix N discussions, extract out talking points and some sort of checklist… and then they say, “see…? There’s no difference!”

Read More

Last month’s review of Ambassador of the Shadows introduced the BD comic of Valerian and Laureline, a legendary science fiction adventure with a forty-five year run. Influencing visual science fiction such as Star Wars, The Fifth Element, and various anime, in summer 2017, this classic tale will arrive on the silver screen in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. While Ambassador of the Shadows was a landmark story, featured in Heavy Metal magazine, it focused on Laureline’s search through Point Central in search of a missing ambassador and her Valerian. Save for a sweet kiss when Laureline reunited with Valerian, little of the namesake hero appeared in that book. To fully appreciate the characters, one would have to read additional stories, such as the pivotal two part adventure of Ghosts of Inverloch and Wrath of Hypsis.

In Ghosts of Inverloch, twin catastrophes face the Earth. In the 1980s, the nuclear powers are losing control of their arsenals through a quiet string of accidents. In Valerian’s present, a wave of causality caused by spatio-temporal agents threatens to erase Galaxity and the Earth from space and time. To prevent these cataclysms, assignments are handed out that bring Laureline, Valerian, the trio of alien shingouz, an aged British pilot, the inventor of spatio-temporal technology known as Mister Albert, and Valerian’s boss in the Space-Time Bureau to Inverloch. Together, this assembly must discern the hand of Hypsis, Galaxity’s rival, in these events, and foil it. But before he can arrive at Inverloch, Valerian must kidnap a Glapum’tian, an aquatic genius that looks like a baleen squid ray, from its homeworld. The book ends shortly after all the parties arrive, with a growing sense of dread as Valerian’s boss reveals the cost of failure. There’s not a story self-contained within this volume, just vignettes of what each party was doing prior to arriving at Inverloch.

Ghosts is an important volume in the progression of the Valerian and Laureline series. Not only does it set up the defining moment of the series, the disappearance of Earth and all of humanity besides Valerian and his Laureline, it also rehabilitates Valerian from the three volumes of abuse his character has suffered. Valerian and Laureline is an unashamedly feminist series, wasting no opportunity to show that Laureline’s indirect and social approach to solving problems is better than Valerian’s straight-forward and muscular ways. Since Ambassador of the Shadows, Valerian had been reduced over time to little more than a dumb brute as Laureline’s girl power ruled the day. However, writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières realized that Valerian was slipping into parody and reversed course with Ghosts. Here, Valerian must complete his abduction of the Glapum’tian alone. His repeated failures force him to abandon the direct approach of the boy scout hero for a cunning more in line of a pulp hero. This gives depth to Valerian, providing a male lead who can stand next to the strong-willed Laureline, and one she can’t keep her hands off of. It is not the contrast of weak man and strong woman that makes Valerian and Laureline work, but the complimentary nature of a strong man and strong woman together. Laureline still gets to break the ties, though, as Christin and Mézières still espouse the superiority of the feminine in their stories. (Of course, their sense of the masculine is a strawman, but that’s an essay for another time.)

Read More

Okay, you’ll definitely want to check this out.

The short version, though? These people are giving away a bunch of books! These, to be precise:

Just for entering, you’ll get:

  • Brother, Frank by Michael Bunker
  • The Red King by Nick Cole
  • Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt
  • The Yanthus Prime Job by Robert Kroese
  • The Darkness by W.J. Lundy
  • Nethereal by Brian Niemeier
  • Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson

Three lucky winners will also receive:

  • Wick by Michael Bunker
  • Ctrl+Alt+Revolt by Nick Cole
  • Darkship Revenge by Sarah A. Hoyt
  • Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese
  • The Shadows by W.J. Lundy
  • Souldancer by Brian Niemeier
  • Better to Beg Forgiveness by Michael Z. Williamson

This is of course a round up of the usual suspects. Darkship Thieves is one of the first science fiction novels I reviewed– way back in 2012! I reviewed Ctrl+Alt+Revolt here and Nethereal here. Alex just reviewed The Yanthus Prime Job here. And Puppy of the Month Book Club is currently tearing through Souldancer!

Enter today!

John Tiller was good enough to answer a few questions about Campaign Series and I was lucky enough to interview one of the original CS scenario designers, Glenn Saunders. I have fond memories of his Tarnished Honor scenario which simulates the forlorn Canadian defense of Hong Kong.        

Tarnished Honor map with starting positions. Place names only appear when pressing a button so they don’t clutter the screen during play.

A screenshot of the 2D map is to the right and the 3D map (3D in terms of the figures being lifelike representations of soldiers, guns and tanks, not virtual reality) version is on the next page. 

My advice to a new player (advice which I consistently find hard to follow) is not be tempted to contest every VP hex and spread your forces too thin. There is a tendency to contest all VP areas but scenario time limits usually force a commander to prioritize.  There is utility in sending feints and positioning spotters around the map but try to concentrate your forces, especially during an advance. Always leave some units with enough action points left to perform op fire on counter attacking units. As a defender, a favorite tactic of mine, especially when playing Russians against the Germans is to wait until the enemy gets close then launch an assault from multiple directions. Initially, my first wave will charge from head on and take awful damage soaking up op fire. By the time I commit units that can flank the enemy most op fire is done for and my forces can get in close and fight on an equal basis.

Additionally, each of the CS games contains extensive tutorial scenarios that will aid the novice in learning the game mechanics and basic tactics.

 

Read More

David C. Smith presents the first non-fiction piece in Swords and Sorcery II, and it’s a beauty. There exists a massive amount of scholarship on Robert E. Howard, his life, his history, and his work, and with very few exceptions (see: Damon Knight’s spiteful and amateur analysis), the analysts agree that Howard’s work conveys a depth and significance all out of proportion to the humble pulp magazines that served as his canvas. Naturally, the literary criticism of Robert E. Howard presented in a swords and sorcery collection would be as positive as the majority, but the specific thrust of this book – written by heavy metal fans for heavy metal fans – allows David C. Smith to take a fresh and original approach.

That approach, analyzing the influence of Howard’s work on the heavy metal genre, doesn’t just allow for a fresh perspective on the great man himself, it also provides a glimpse into heavy metal for those of us who have only the most shallow knowledge of the style of music. Read More

Metachronopolis is the golden city beyond time. Ruled by the Masters of Time, who can travel freely throughout the multitudinous time lines of Man’s history, the city is a shining society of heroes and horrors. For the arrogant Masters, who steal famous men and women out of the past and bring them to the eternal city for their amusement, are not only beyond time, but beyond remorse and retribution too.

CITY BEYOND TIME: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis is John C. Wright’s mind-bending and astonishingly brilliant take on time travel. Utilizing a centuries-spanning perspective, Wright expertly weaves a larger tale out of a series of smaller ones. Part anthology and part novel, CITY BEYOND TIME is fascinating, melancholy, frightening, and a true masterpiece of story-telling by one of the most important and audacious authors in science fiction today.

John C. Wright is the Dragon Award-winning author of SOMEWHITHER, THE GOLDEN AGE and AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND.

The superversive conversation at the moment has more or less centered around two topics (things tend to move in cycles; we’ll move on eventually):

  1. What makes a good “strong female character”
  2. The connection between superversive and pulp

I’m not going to rehash that conversation; if you want to see the relevant posts, try these, and click through the comments for discussion. Instead, I’m going to try to give you an example of a relatively modern superversive novel that seems like it would fit pretty firmly in the pulp tradition: Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”.

Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series, which is a ton of fun (and pretty pulpy itself) but leans hard into feminism and environmental politics. And it’s not his best work; that would be “Airman”, which is a superb adventure novel that I may also write about one day.

“The Wish List” is something very different than both of those, and in some ways it’s a remarkable book. Read More

Before we get into this one, I have to say… I’ve been discussing games, science fiction, and fantasy online with him for about four years. He’s one of twelve people that took the time to write an introduction to my book Appendix N, too. While we’re as about as close as two people can get in the quasi-reality of online blogging and social media, we’re still very different people with fairly different tastes and goals. Being objective in a discussion of this story is going to be fairly difficult for two reasons, then.

Really, though… you can’t discuss what’s going on in short science fiction and fantasy without touching on Misha’s stories and commentary. He has a surprising amount of influence and a wide range of people pay attention to his commentary.

Before I get into why this is such a good story, I do want to get some of the hard stuff out of the way. First, this is I think a good example of a contemporary New Wave story. It’s not the sort of tale I have advocated in my critiques. Indeed, the premise and arc of the tale are inverted, at least compared to the other stories in this issue of Cirsova. Rather than a stunningly good looking Andromeda type chained to the rocks, we have a couple of young boys. Rather than a fairy-tale ending we have… something horrible.

Read More

Rifts. Batcrap insane, yet amazingly over-the-top awesome.

The cry has gone out across the land: “So, Daddy Warpig, is all you know how to do is aggravate other geeks over the fact that the Pulps were, hands down no questions asked or needed, The Golden Age of Fantasy & Science Fiction?” I wish to reassure my millions of screaming fans that that is NOT all that Daddy Warpig is about.

I can also aggravate people over tabletop roleplaying games.

Read More

Tunnels & Trolls (Save Versus All Wands) Game Review (Part 2): Tunnels & Trolls, 1st edition: Troll Talk, Character Creation and a Tasteless Joke — “I’ll take a juvenile sexist joke, or, at least, a young hobby where authors occasionally make juvenile sexist jokes in print, over the dumbed down, prudish, committee-composed, corporate, politically-correct pap that passes for ‘writing’ in, say, the current iteration of ‘the world’s most popular role-playing game,’ or the way-past-its prime mainstream hobby that it represents, any day.”

Regress Harder! (Rawle Nyanzi) A Sudden Rescue of Male-Female Polarity — “This right here is golden; modern speculative fiction simply does not portray it anymore. Such tropes are blasted as outdated relics from a backward time, failing to affirm equality between men and women. Yet when these allegedly retrograde tropes play out, the story feels right. It feels nice. It feels satisfying.”

Genre Wars (Benjamin Cheah) Can post-cyberpunk fiction be superversive? — “Readers need to empathise with characters. Actions should not entirely be in vain. Evil is punished, good prevails, civilisation endures or evolves. Without these elements, it becomes exceedingly hard for a reader to care. Why should a reader care about a self-destructive misanthropic loner who remains a self-destructive misanthropic loner? Why should a reader be concerned about the fate of an oppressive dystopia? Why should a reader cheer on a traitor, a liar or a murderer with no redeeming traits? With such societies and characters, it takes great skill to hook a reader and keep him invested in the story — a skill few cyberpunk writers, if any, have. Indeed, it is telling that the authors once associated with cyberpunk no longer write cyberpunk.”

Read More