Gaming Vicariously: Rolling the Dice with Critical Role

If you’ve ever participated in a role-playing game, you know that moment: when everything is on the line, the monster is this close to defeat, and you have the perfect opening. All you need is a little cooperation from your dice. You take a breath. Your party holds theirs. You toss the dice. And when it’s a success—or even better, a crit—that blooming bubble of joy, giddiness, and celebration bursts from you and your party, as your DM describes the moment of victory. If you miss that feeling of unrestrained, breathless happiness at the twists and turns to be found in a roleplaying game, then you’re probably the perfect audience for Critical Role.

Started by gaming and nerd channel Geek & Sundry in late 2014, Critical Role chronicles the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition adventure of eight professional voice actors and friends. They started playing Pathfinder together a year or so before Geek & Sundry asked them to take the game live and the show was born; now through the magic of the livestream channel Twitch, having migrated over to DnD, Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer and his seven friends gather together every Thursday at 7PM West Coast time to continue the harrowing, hilarious, and dramatic adventures of Vox Machina. A group of noble, lovable misfits who have become a family, our adventurers have fought everywhere from the depths of the Underdark to the heights of Gatshadow Mountain; they’ve traveled between planes, battled vampiric lords and ladies, savage Beholders, nobility from the Nine Hells, and most recently have dedicated themselves to the destruction of a vicious group of chromatic dragons who have razed the country they love.

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Sir Ian McKellen Marches with a Friend

Women’s Marches were held all over the world this weekend, which naturally led to a cavalcade of creative signs, including some shared by Mark Hamill and Lois Lane author Gwenda Bond. But our favorite may have been this eloquent statement from Sir Ian McKellen, who attended the march in London. As he says in his attached note, he found the sign after he had already marched, but we’re glad he shared the experience with his BFF, Sir Patrick Stewart.

Jon Hamm is Becoming a Hologram–Literally

In his new science fiction dramedy Marjorie Prime, Jon Hamm plays a hologram… and he’s really getting into character. In a neat bit of tie-in promotion, Passage Pictures has partnered with technology startup 8i to turn Hamm into an actual, lifelike, three-dimensional hologram for Sundance Film Festival attendees to interact with. With the #Holohamm (hee) possessing the actual volume and depth of Hamm, visitors to Sundance’s virtual reality and augmented reality will feel as if they’re actually interacting with the actor. Or at least, with his character, Walter Prime.

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Holy Rewatch Batman! “Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!”

“Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under”
Written by Charles Hoffman
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
Season 3, Episode 10
Production code 1714
Original air dates: November 16, 1967

The Bat-signal: The World Surfing Championship is coming up, and it’s going to be held at Gotham Point. Barbara’s old friend Skip Parker is a favorite to win the championship, and she watches him ride a wave and compliments him on his form. The Joker shows up in his Jokermobile with two henchmen, Wipeout and Riptide, and he radios his moll, Undine, at the Hang Five, a surfin’ hangout run by Hot Dog Harrigan. (The radios actually are in the shapes of hot dogs, for whatever reason.) Riptide and Wipeout put Hot Dog in a bag and then send Undine to tell Skip there’s a phone call for him. Skip enters the Hang Five and Joker gasses him and takes him off to his secret HQ.

[“Barbara had to go back to the library but she told me to keep an eye on the girl behind the counter.” “You mean the one talking to her hot dog?”]

Series: Holy Rewatch Batman!

Old-Fashioned SciFi: Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

Martians Abroad is a new stand-alone novel from Carrie Vaughn, the author most famously responsible for the Kitty Norville, werewolf radio host series. Set in the not-so-far future, it features a solar system where humans have habitats on the moon, colonies on Mars, and habitable stations further out, but Earth is still the wealth-and-culture capital of everything.

Polly Newton is the teenaged daughter of the director of Mars Colony. Her one dream in life is to be a pilot, and she has her future planned out. When her mother decides to send her and her “twin” brother Charles to the exclusive Galileo Academy on Earth, though, Polly’s plans are derailed. Unlike Charles—a genius and a manipulative wee asshole—Polly doesn’t adjust well to the new environment. Isolated and homesick, things aren’t going too well for Polly even before a string of dangerous accidents starts putting her powerful and well-connected classmates at risk. Something is rotten in Galileo Academy, and with their next class trip taking Polly, Charles, and their classmates to the moon, another accident may kill them all.

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Can’t Hardly Bear It: Malachy McCoy’s Kodiak!

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, your fifteen-foot tall, 1,500 pound, fur-covered guide to the dusty old out-of-print paperbacks of yesteryear. We eat our weight in fresh salmon every day.

Bears are the most employable members of the animal kingdom. Kuma is the bodyguard for Heihachi Mishima. Billy Bob Brockali leads the Rock-afire Explosion Band at Showbiz Pizza (his evil cousin, Freddy Fazbear does the same over at the pizza parlor bearing his name). Fozzie Bear is a professional stand-up comedian for the Muppets. And Smokey is the most famous park ranger of all time. Then there are the questionable bears. The illegal immigrant bears (Paddington), the freeloaders (Yogi), the addicts (Winnie the Pooh), and those stupid lazy polar bears who just sit on their butts and drink Coca-Cola all day long.

Far worse, however, are the thug bears.

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Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Assail, Chapter Fifteen

Welcome back to the Malazan Reread of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda, and finally comments from readers. Today we’re continuing Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Assail, covering chapter fifteen.

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing, but the summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.

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Series: Malazan Reread of the Fallen

The Clairvoyants Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a galley copy of Karen Brown’s The Clairvoyants, available February 7th from Henry Holt & Company!

The Clairvoyants is Karen Brown’s most hypnotic novel to date—gothic-inflected psychological suspense that unmasks the secret desires of a young woman with a mystical gift

On the family homestead by the sea where she grew up, Martha Mary saw ghosts. As a young woman, she hopes to distance herself from those spirits by escaping to an inland college town. There, she is absorbed by a budding romance, relieved by separation from an unstable sister, and disinterested in the flyers seeking information about a young woman who’s disappeared—until one Indian summer afternoon when the missing woman appears beneath Martha’s apartment window, wearing a down coat, her hair coated with ice.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 12:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on January 20th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on January 24th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

The One Book That Introduced Me to Internet Fandom and Coincidentally Led to True Love

There are a couple of things you should know about me before I tell you this story. The first is that I’ve been a fan of Stephen King for as long as I can really remember. I think my first of his books might have been Needful Things, and from there I would borrow as many as I could from the library, heaving home huge stacks of those doorstops with their black covers and lurid fonts. The second thing is that I have a terrible tendency to read things in the wrong order. It’s not a deliberate quirk—more that I have a relaxed attitude to sensible chronology. I think this was also something I picked up from being a big borrower of library books; I would take whatever book happened to be on the shelf at the time, regardless of whether it was the next one I was supposed to read or not.

Now I must take you back to 1997. My mum had gotten into the habit of buying me two things at Christmas: whatever hardback Terry Pratchett book happened to be out, and whatever hardback Stephen King book happened to be out. That year, it was Wizard & Glass, which my mum merrily bought and popped under the Christmas tree, not realizing that it was the fourth volume in King’s The Dark Tower series. And let’s be fair, it didn’t worry me too much. I was, after all, the person who started reading The Sandman with The Kindly Ones. I was a maverick. A loose cannon.

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See Ellen Klages and Celebrate Passing Strange This Spring!

Next Tuesday, you’ll finally be able to get your hands on Passing Strange, the new novella from Nebula and World Fantasy Award winning author Ellen Klages. Called “a moving and genuine love story” by The Washington Post, the book takes place in San Francisco in 1940, and revolves around the intersecting lives of six women discovering romance and danger in the boundaries where magic, science, and art intersect. You can read an excerpt over at the Book Smugglers, and if you’re in the Bay Area, Oregon, or Orlando, you’ll have a chance to see Ellen as she celebrates the release of Passing Strange with readings and events this spring!

See a full list of events from January to March below.

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Five Books About Espionage

Whenever the subject of writing about espionage comes up in conversation and I say it’s something I’m interested in, the immediate reaction I’ve come to expect is, “Oh, you mean like James Bond?” It’s actually quite predictable, just as “Oh, like Star Wars?” used to be the usual reaction to me saying I write science fiction … and it’s just as wrong.

This month Tor published Empire Games, the first book in my Empire Games trilogy. It’s a science-fictional spy thriller; so if you can imagine a James Bond movie set in the Star Wars universe? That’s almost exactly not what it’s about.

Espionage is about spies the way that science fiction is about rocket ships or astronomy is about building telescopes: yes, those items feature in the field to some extent, but there’s a lot more to it. Espionage—or more accurately, intelligence-gathering—is about the process of piecing together an accurate picture of a target’s intentions and capabilities, to enable policy-makers (be they corporate or national) to put in place an appropriate response.

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Series: Five Books About…

Here Comes the General!

We love this timely tribute to General/Princess Leia Organa: Diplomat. Leader. Freedom Fighter.

Designed by Mississippi artist Hayley Gilmore and donated for people to use at the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches around the country and around the world on Saturday, the poster is available to download here—although you may have to try a few times, as the poster seems to be in high demand. Gilmore notes that the piece is intended to be “a tribute to the life and legacy of Carrie Fisher” and to serve as a source of inspiration and insight to those who will be participating in the march:

“On Saturday, women across the nation will be attending the Women’s March on Washington as well as marches in many sister states. The mission of the march is to send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”

We think Fisher would be proud.