Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tannhäuser Tuesday - Michiko Tsuki Ken

Sorry for the delay, but here she is, fresh from photoshop...

An updated bio will follow...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pulp of the Week - Doc Savage #25


 March 1935 - Land of Always-Night

Written by Ryerson Johnson and Lester Dent
Illustrated by Paul Orban

The Land of Always Night is another terrific read and this time out, it is not  a (primarily) Lester Dent tale. This story was written by Ryerson Johnson stepping in as Kenneth Robeson with Dent editing and providing about a third of the book according to Bobb Cotter's A History of the Doc Savage Adventures. In this story a mysterious pair of goggles draws a lot of attention after a hood is ruthlessly killed. The goggles have thick lenses "the size of a small can of condensed milk" that are black as pitch.

These goggles, and the strange white skinned Ool that desperately wants them back, lead to a bizarre civilization hidden under the arctic ice. 

This is truly a lost world novel as the underground dwellers have evolved radically differently than we have. They have an entire technologically superior, yet socially stunted, civilization based underground, away from the frigid arctic temperatures. Much of their structures and items are made from a plastic generated from processed fungus.

The story features the full cast and a native beauty named Sona as well. It is explained that Long Tom got his nickname "after a disastrous experience in trying to make use of a rusted 'long tom' cannon of buccaneer vintage."

The Land of Always Night is full of big SF ideas, from Doc's streamlined dirigible that uses a non-flammable gas with greater lifting power than hydrogen, to the lost society with towering geometric structures hidden in the caverns. There is "cold light" technology and the society of workers and elites reminded me of the classic SF films "Metropolis" and "Things to Come."

Even before looking I could tell that Dent was not the author of this one. Not that it was better or worse, it was just different. Kind of refreshing, and interesting that this lost advanced civilization novel came from Ryerson Johnson, a man most associated with westerns.

In an interview Johnson  said, "I never could spell good. I had sold maybe a dozen stories to Western Stories and I wandered in to talk to the editor. And the publisher comes in and I'm introduced and he says."Oh, yeah boy you write a good story but your spelling is terrible." I must have looked downhearted at that, because he says, "Oh, don't worry, don't worry, we can get Welsley girls and Harvard boys to fix the spelling. Just keep sending us those good stories."

Well, this is one of those good stories. I give Land of Always-Night an 9 out of 10. The pulp cover is by Walter Baumhofer and the Bantam paperback is by James Bama, goggles, mushrooms, creepy underground dwellers, and all.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tannhäuser Tuesday - NEW FACTION!!!

Fantasy Flight has just today announced their new Japanese faction:

Hiro Minamoto - The Daimyo

The Troop Pack - Shin Agent (left) and Ashigaru (right)

This  last one is something of a surprise - normally these things say "This is a reprint" - this does not. Is this a hint of a new iteration of the rules? Or is it just an oversight, having left off the reprint status...

So, clearly I have to do a rewrite of my Faction to make them a Chinese Faction. I'll do a rewrite of the characters and come back to this... This kind of political upheaval in Japan will clearly lead to some expatriates that will fight against the power grab and try to restore the Emperor to the throne.

I'll repost the Michiko stuff later...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pulp of the Week - The Hunger Games



The Hunger Games
Written by Suzanne Collins
Cover art by Tim O'Brien
Cover Design by Elizabeth B. Parisi and Phil Falco

The Hunger Games may very well be the best selling science fiction book (with over 2.5 million copies in print) in a very long time. A movie is on the way starring Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar nominee for Winter's Bone) and Josh Hutcherson.

The premise of the novel is not groundbreaking, but it is a solid SF idea. In the future the USA has collapsed after an ecopocalypse (trademark pending), leaving the nation of Panem with 12 states and the capital located in the Rockies.

Panem is not a democracy. The blue collar class has been expanded and oppressed. Katness Everdeen is the main character and narrator of the novel. She lives in the Appalacian District 12 of Panem. They are mainly coal miners and Katness and her friend Gale supplement their resources by gathering and hunting in a nearby forbidden woods. This aspect reminded me of Robin Hood hunting in Sherwood where hunting is forbidden by the king.

Every year Panem chooses 2 "Tributes" (one boy and one girl) aged 12 to 18 from each District to compete in the annual "Hunger Games", a televised bloodsport held in a vast outdoor arena that can have only one winner.

When Katniss' frail sister Prim is chosen, Katniss finds herself volunteering to be the Tribute in her place. The boy tribute is an acquaintance named Peeta. I'm not sure if that is a reference to the animal rights group PETA or not.

The Tributes are gathered in the Capitol, given training and set out in the arena to fight. The bulk of the novel takes place there, in the arena, with the 24 Tributes. Each evening, the Tributes that died that day have their images projected on the clouds so that the survivors know who is left.

While deathsports are not new to science fiction - I happen to be a fan of The 10th Victim series - ones that have children as combatants is a narrower field. Battle Royale in particular comes to mind and I wonder if Suzanne Collins had read that book, or seen the movie, or manga that came from it. The author says the idea for the Hunger Games came to her while switching between a competitive reality show and Iraq war footage.

Regardless of its genesis, the novel is a taut thriller that doesn't pull any punches and treats the premise seriously. Collins has written a gripping and emotional novel that is followed by two sequels - Catching Fire and Mockingjay complete the trilogy. You can visit Collins' website here

Katniss is a terrific character and there are hints that she is going to be a key character in upsetting the status quo of Panem society. The people are hungry and she is clearly destined for great things.

I give The Hunger Games an 8.5 out of 10. The score is probably lower than it should be, but until I see how the trilogy pans out, I hesitate to award a higher score for its potential. My son, on the other hand, loved it and gave it a 9.5 out of 5 on his blog, 6 out of 5.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tannhäuser Tuesday - Michiko Tsuki Ken


This is an abbreviated Tannhäuser Tuesday. I will fill in with the proper character sheet later, but here are Michiko's powers...

Michiko Tsuki Ken

Michiko may seem weak at the start of a fight, but once you draw blood, she goes off!

Special Ability
Astonishing Reflexes - The first time Michiko is successfully wounded by an opposing character, the attack will be limited to one wound.

Combat Pack

Crescent Moon Blades - Weapon, Hand-to-Hand - Add 2 dice for each Crescent Moon Blade token on Michiko's card. When this weapon is chosen stack 2 Moon Blade tokens on your card.

Double Attack - Ability - Michiko may attack up to two adjacent characters each turn. When attacking the second character, subtract 1 from each die rolled.

Flying Moon - Ability Michiko Tsuki Ken may throw her Crescent Moon Blades at any figure on her path. You may make two attacks. If the second attack is at the same target as the first, add 2 to each die rolled. Place the Crescent Moon Blade tokens on the target character's circle.

Stamina Pack

Crescent Moon Blades - Weapon, Hand-to-Hand - Add 2 dice for each Crescent Moon Blade token on Michiko's card. When this weapon is chosen stack 2 Moon Blade tokens on your card.

Martial Artist
- Ability - Machiko adds 1 to each die when making a Hand to Hand attack in addition to any other bonuses.

Parry and Reposte - Ability - If Machiko is attacked in Hand to Hand combat and receives no wounds, she may make a free Hand to Hand Counterattack. This Counterattack may only be made if both Crescent Moon Blade Tokens are on Machiko's card.

Command Pack

Crescent Moon Blades - Weapon, Hand-to-Hand - Add 2 dice for each Crescent Moon Blade token on Michiko's card. When this weapon is chosen stack 2 Moon Blade tokens on your card.

Cherry Blossom - Ability - Add +2 to your sides Initiative Rolls.

Lotus Tea
- Ability - As an action, discard this token to negate your next wound, or an adjacent character's next wound by up to two.

I Feel U-Chronic!


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dust Tactics - Official Cards With an AT-43 Twist

So here is another project - like I don't have enough to do. Dust Tactics from Fantasy Flight Games is a board game / miniatures game hybrid from Paolo Parente's Dust Games. It is set in an alternate history World War 2.

I have purchased figures for a lot of games, AT-43 among them. So To increase the available forces I am making cards for the AT-43 figures. Oddly, the Red Blok seemed to fit the best, even though I don't have that many Red Blok figures. I ended up using all but one.

Here is the first card. The stats are unchanged from the official ones. I have made both a USA and a Russian version.

In the fullness of time there will a full complement of these... I'd like to thank the Dust Tactics: The War Continues blog for posting the cards. There are also blank cards up on BGG.

For my own use, I'll probably use the one with the Tsar's crest. The figure used is AT-43's Red Blok Odin. She comes in a pack with Manon and the Urod walker.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tannhäuser Tuesday - Michiko Tsuki Ken


Michiko Tsuki Ken is a Hero recruited from a Japanese slum by the great Chinese Elementalist Wushi Zhu himself. He saw her ferocity and acrobatic skill as a nine year old runaway. When she tried to pick-pocket him on the street Zhu knew she was fearless. He enrolled her in the People's Force One training Dojo immeadiately. Michiko has not disappointed.

Michiko may seem weak at the start of a fight, but once you draw blood, she goes off!

The figure representing Michiko is Kabuki from Indy Heroclix  #077 - $0.29.

I painted her clothes a bit to fit in with the team better. Here’s how she looked originally: 


Monday, May 2, 2011

Pulp of the Week - Author Spotlight Interview - Diving Into the Wreck


Diving Into the Wreck
Written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Cover painting by Dave Seeley

I picked up this book after hearing an interview with Kristine Rusch on the Dragon Page: Cover to Cover podcast in January 2010. The author described the story as a throwback to good, solid SF. Space adventure fiction. Well, that is something I like, and after reading Diving Into the Wreck, I know she is absolutely right.

While the book echoes back to classic adventure stories like the Chanur series by CJ Cherryh, Arthur C. Clarke's A Fall of Moondust, and Lester Del Rey's Attack From Atlantis (the first SF book I read as a boy), it is also a completely modern piece of SF.

Rusch's tale follows a 'wreck diver' - adventurers that explore and salvage ancient starships. She is known only by her nickname, Boss. Through fluke circumstances she discovers a Dignity Vessel - a type of ship made long, long ago in Earth orbit and containing Stealth technology. In the intervening 5000 years that technology has been lost and the ship is impossibly far from Earth - no ship of that era was ever known to have ventured out that far - so how did it get there?

The secrets of Stealth tech are extremely valuable and eventually people find out what Boss is up to. A mysterious woman named Riya Trekov convinces Boss (with an epic pile of cash) to travel to the legendary Room of Lost Souls where Riya's father disappeared. This oddity in space has a place in Boss' past, too and she reluctantly agrees to go. After all, she already agreed to the mission and took the money.

What follows is a terrific adventure exploring the Dignity Ship, the bizarre Room of Lost Souls, as well as Boss' past and her relationship with her father.

The story is well written, the great characters are faced with surprisingly large personal stakes. The book is written in first person from Boss' perspective. It took me a while to realize that it was also written in present tense - my natural writing voice. Kristine Rusch's Boss has a strong and consistent voice that I really enjoyed.
Before I started reading, I noticed that portions of the book had previously been published "in different form" in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. When I finished the first part and started the second, I was disappointed because it seemed that I was started on a separate novella with Boss. I flipped ahead and sure enough there was a third part. I was thinking that three novellas had been packaged as a book.

However, it soon became obvious that the parts were inexorably linked together and the book was indeed one story.

The characters are great and I thought Diving Into the Wreck was a terrific adventure and apparently Pyr Books did, too. I give Diving Into the Wreck and 8.5 out of 10.

The sequel is out now...

Kristine Rusch can be found online here and the artist Dave Seeley's site is here.

I took the opportunity to ask Kristine Kathryn Rusch a few questions about writing and Diving into the Wreck.

How would you describe the type of stories that inspired Diving Into the Wreck? Are there any particular authors that inspired your delving into the 'space opera' / star faring adventure genre?

I love space opera/space adventure.  I was a big Andre Norton fan as a kid, and as the editor of F&SF, I tried to buy space opera/space adventure whenever I could. The problem was that not many people were writing it.

The book is written in an interesting style. You have chosen first person present tense. What led to the decision to write the story this way?

Here’s some mystical writer talk.  My characters dictate how I tell a story.  And this one had to be first person present tense because Boss tries very hard to only live in the present.

I have used that style and received negative feedback on it. People (online reviewers) say that cyberpunk killed it, which I find ridiculous, but I am wondering if you have gotten a reaction to writing or publishing present tense stories as a author or editor.

Here’s what I think:  Conventional wisdom is hooey.  If the story demands present tense, write in present tense.  If it demands past tense, write in past.  Clearly the people who are complaining to you don’t read outside of the sf genre.  Mainstream novels (which some call “literary” novels, as if other novels aren’t literary) use present tense all the time. So do bestselling novelists, like Robert Crais, who switches from first to third person, present tense to past, within the same book.  If readers didn’t like that technique, then he wouldn’t be a bestselling writer.

Writers have to write their stories.  Readers will decide if the stories work. Writers who write according to criticism end up diluting their stories until the stories aren’t theirs any more.

But that’s just my opinion.  I’ve written that way my whole life, and it works for me. :-)

I may be wrong about this, but as far as I can tell, you never name the main character and the other characters only refer to her as, "Boss." What led to that choice?

Again, mystical writers talk. She never told me her name.  In fact, I just finished up the third book, Boneyards, and I was going to have a big reveal scene where you learned her name.  I came to the scene and couldn’t write it.  I may never know her name, and if I don’t know, the readers won’t know either.

So now we know that Kris is not holding back the name from us; Boss is holding it back from Kris.

After finishing the Room of Lost Souls why did you not submit the third part to Asimov's?

I don’t write in order for one thing, so the next thing I wrote was the opening section of City of Ruins (where Boss & crew go to Vaycehn).  Then I wrote another section of City. Then I wrote the end of Diving, and it doesn’t stand alone like the original novella and Room of Lost Souls. That opening section of City doesn’t stand alone either, but the next section did, and just appeared as Becoming One With The Ghosts in Asimov’s.  Then I wrote yet another novella as background, and that became Becalmed, also in Asimov’s.  Only so far, Becalmed is not part of any upcoming novel.

How different are the first two parts from the version that is in Asimov's?

Very different. They’re much more fleshed out, more setting, more background, more detail, and a bit more plot.

Well, as I mentioned in my note, I was going to ask if there was a sequel in the offing, but now I already know it is. Could you tell us about that and if the sequel was planned before Diving Into the Wreck was published?

Oh, yes. This is a very big world, and I have a lot of stories to tell.

Can you give a little tease about City of Ruins?

City of Ruins takes place five years after Diving.  City does stand alone, so readers can start there if they want.  (I’d still recommend starting with Diving, though.)  Boss & crew make a discovery on a planet called Wyr that changes everything in their universe—and I do mean everything.

Thanks you Kris, I appreciate the time an interview takes out of an author's day and I'm looking forward to City of Ruins and Boneyards. If my readers are headed to Amazon to buy these, please use the link at the top of the blog. 
I have been reading Kristine's husband Dean Wesley Smith's blog and their thoughts on writing and the state of publishing are fascinating and appreciated.