Trapped in a forest, the party walks in a single-file line, carefully stepping over giant roots and branches. Ahead, the ruins of an old castle, or a mansion, or a spaceship, long abandoned, but strangely alive and vibrant. You know you shouldn’t go in (the Game Master has been very clear—do not enter the low place, look at the dark spot, nor search for the lair of the Gravenbest) but at the same time, you know that the only way through is ahead, and death stalks not far behind.
Often books are like tides. The plot comes in waves, leaving characters half-buried in the sand. In order to find the seashells, skulls, strangely twisted driftwood amid the seaweed and salt, you must have a keen eye. It might take a few passes across a small, strange stretch of beach or stone or mud but these liminal places are the only place a sea, or a story, willingly lets go of its dead.
The Fourth Island is like a dark tide. It flows in and out of time, history, and myth, creating a picture of the Aran Islands that is deeply enmeshed in Irish culture.
The ragtag crew of space junkers glance at each other, psionic weapons hefted and pointed at the door that the Game Master previously described as “impenetrable”, only to see the metal start to glow a bright red. They read the room, and the dice, and quickly realize that the smugglers hinted at two sessions ago have finally caught up to their spaceship, Starskipper.
Roleplaying games ventured outside of the fantasy realm almost as soon as they began. The original publishers of Dungeons and Dragons knew that it was only a matter of time before people would want to start playing out their own space-age story, and in 1976, published the first SciFi RPG, Metamorphosis Alpha. You could say that they were a little ahead of the curve, considering A New Hope was released in ‘77.
A group of friends lean in; it’s the final battle, the end of an epic campaign, years in the making. The only thing that stands between them and the ultimate triumph of good over evil is the roll of a single die…
Well, that’s how Dungeons and Dragons does it, anyway. But genre games are as varied as genre fiction, and most don’t require the time or monetary investment that a thick, rules-heavy D&D campaign often asks for. The stories told around the table (or over Zoom!) with your adventuring party can rival the great works of fiction, and have been oft-cited as sources of inspiration. But with the advent of experimental lyric games, journaling prompts, and new systems for mechanics—including using tarot cards, betting structures, or even a Jenga tower—genre tabletop games have never been more diverse or more exciting.
Toph invented cops.
I have to reiterate that, because it’s a fact. Toph Beifong invented the first and only police system in the Avatar universe, and it’s deeply insidious and bizarre.
We have to examine, first of all, how the police force in Republic City came about, and why Toph was the worst and only person who could have created it; and secondly, why writers of speculative media choose to create endings for characters with great power that continually place them in systemic positions of power over other people.
In the lead-up to the 2020 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s best novella Finalists, and what makes each of them great.
Letters are romantic. They’re personal promises, sent out on hope, and when they land in an inbox, a mailbox, a cubby, they’re proof of consideration, and time, and love. Even if it’s not a letter to a lover, but just to a friend, a neighbor, or your family, the art of letter writing has never lost its charm, despite what junk mail has done to our sense of a mailbox.
This is How You Lose the Time War is one extended, synthetic, fantastic love letter to genre.
Patricia Campbell has done everything right. She was a working woman, and then she got married. She got pregnant—twice!—and delivered two amazing children. The perfect housewife, she moved to a small town to support her husband’s new business… and she’s bored. Terribly so. When her book club splinters and Patricia’s friend picks The Manson Trials over Cry, the Beloved Country Patricia’s boredom abates, at least for a little while.
When Patricia is brutally attacked, leaving her scarred and a dead body twitching in her front lawn, she can’t get over the sense of wrongness. Maybe it’s the true crime novels, maybe it’s women’s intuition, maybe it’s just being unwilling to believe the easiest explanation simply because it’s convenient. But it’s this moment, when Patricia’s ear gets bitten off behind the trashcans, when we realize that this book—done up in Southern propriety and hidden behind vacuumed curtains—is a bloody horror story.
In her first two books, Natasha Pulley created a magical, soft-steampunk world inspired by folklore, history, and clairvoyant futurists. Both her debut, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and sophomore release, The Bedlam Stacks, share space in the same universe, but are distantly related by small threads. Her newest book, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, is a direct sequel Filigree Street, taking place five years later.
The story once again follows Nathaniel Steepleton as he makes his way through the world twisted around the machinations of Baron Keita Mori, the Japanese samurai/soothsayer who seems to be pulling the strings of fate in every movement and breath. In this novel, Thaniel and Mori, along with their adopted daughter Six, travel to Japan, where Thaniel takes up a post at the Foreign Affairs office in Tokyo. In the Meiji era, the politics of Tokyo are strung in between Western modernization and traditionalist values. Nearby, strange storms are brewing on Mount Fuji, and people are seeing ghosts.
On rare occasions you pick up a book that gives you everything you want and leaves you wide-eyed, searching for more. It’s a delightful feeling, to be surprised over and over again throughout the course of a novel and still want to read more at the end of it. I didn’t close The Unspoken Name feeling like I had missed something, instead, I felt like I had just found my newest fantasy fixation.
Over the past five years, Dungeons & Dragons has experienced not only a revival, but a renaissance. With more cultural connections, digital assets, and online gameplay opportunities, the barrier for entry into the tabletop game is lower than ever. Within this revival, D&D has found a large, outspoken following among queer and gender non-conforming people.
While queer people have always been nerdy as hell, the vocal contingent of gay-mers and queer roleplayers has created a new facet of appreciation and understanding for D&D. Because of the way that the game is set up, D&D allows for new methods of play as identity and queerness intersect and are explored. The power of queer people to interact with a game that does not question their existence, but molds itself to support it, is a hugely emancipating and rewarding experience. Dungeons & Dragons is an open sandbox in which queer folk can enact their fantasies of power and gender without consequence or question.
Shipwrights have always possessed space within our stories. How many of us grew up with the fable of Noah, the ark-builder destined to save humanity? Others of us probably heard tales of Manu, king of Dravida, who built a boat to ferry the Vedas safely during a great flood. Others still learned of Jason’s adventures on the Argo, or of the sons of Ivadi who crafted Skidbladnir, or even Nu’u, who landed his vessel on the top of Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island after a great flood. Many myths characterize shipbuilders as beacons of hope, harbingers of change, and men who possess a unique—and often divine—vision of the future. These ideals have been passed down from ancient archetypes into our current works of science fiction and fantasy.
The book begins in a suitably disconcerting setting: a Victorian-style graveyard in the mysterious city of Caligo. A young man, Roger X. Weathersby, is stalking the dead. Roger is the titular Resurrectionist—a grave-robber who seeks out just-barely-cold bodies to sell to institutions of science and learning. Caligo is made up of a fictional London mixed with a dash of New Orleans houdou, a blend of deeply ingrained classist institutions and social ranks mixing alongside a royal pantheon of blueblood sorcerers, all said to be descended from… a selkie?
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