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Books Received, June 5 — June 11

12 Jun, 2021

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Forever Curious by Jetse de Vries

In an intellectual clash of galactic proportions, the biggest mystery in the Universe encounters the smartest girl from Earth. Na-Yeli Maya is humanity’s champion exploring the forbidding Enigmatic Object. She’s not truly alone, as her exosuit is armed with the most advanced quantum computer — and obnoxious digital assistant — ever, and her tri-schizoid condition enables her to call up her ultimate warrior and lateral thinker personas in times of dire need. Along the way, she partners with a stranded Moiety Alien and adopts a group of hypersounders, as they make it all the way into the Core. What will they find? 

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Books Received, May 29 — June 4

5 Jun, 2021

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Sibyl Sue Blue by Rosel George Brown

Stop a murder, save two planets!

Who she is: Sibyl Sue Blue, single mom, undercover detective, and damn good at her job.

What she wants: to solve the mysterious benzale murders, prevent more teenage deaths, and maybe find her long-lost husband.

How she’ll get it: seduce a millionaire, catch a ride on his spaceship, and crack the case at the edge of the known galaxy.

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My Ten Most Recent Roleplaying Games 8: Numenera

31 May, 2021

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Inspired by Aaron de Orive’s 2020 First Ten RPGs, a brief account of the roleplaying games I have played most recently, beginning with the most recent and working backwards. Number Eight: Monte Cook’s Numenera.

Numenera is a science fantasy roleplaying game set one billion years in the future. At least eight great civilizations have risen and then collapsed. Player characters live during the ninth civilization, the so-called Ninth World. It is a world rich in remnants of vanished cultures, not all of which appear to have been human.

Character generation is extremely simple: I am a [descriptor] [noun] who [focus/main talent].” Thus, one might be a strong barbarian who fights, or a wise archaeologist who learns, or so on. We didn’t play it for long but the game mechanics seemed perfectly functional. 

As I recall, I played someone from the Eight World who craftily froze himself so that he could emerge in the time after the Eight World fell and dominate the barbarians to come with his wonders of technology. He got his timing wrong so he emerged to discover he was armed with technology slightly less sophisticated than Ninth World technology. Whoops. 

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May 2021 in Review

31 May, 2021

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May 2021

21 works reviewed. 10 by women (48%), 7 by men (33%), 2 by non-binary authors (10%), 2 by authors whose gender is unknown (10%), and 9 works by POC (43%)

Year to Date

106 works reviewed. 57.5 by women (54%), 42.5 by men (40), 3 by non-binary authors (3%), 3 by authors whose gender is unknown (3%), and 44 works by POC (42%)

Grand Total to Date

1854 works reviewed. 1040 by women (56%), 772 by men (42%), 24 by
non-binary authors (1%), 18 by authors whose gender is unknown (1%), and 523.75 (28%)

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Books Received, May 22 — May 28

29 May, 2021

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Three Twins at the Crater School by Chaz Brenchley

Mars, the Red Planet, farthest flung outpost of the British Empire. Under the benevolent reign of the Empress Eternal, commerce and culture are flourishing along the banks of the great canals, and around the shores of the crater lakes. But this brave new world is not as safe as it might seem. The Russians, unhappy that Venus has proved far less hospitable, covet Britain’s colony. And the Martian creatures, while not as intelligent and malevolent as HG Wells had predicted, are certainly dangerous to the unwary.

What, then, of the young girls of the Martian colony? Their brothers might be sent to Earth for education at Eton and Oxbridge, but girls are made of sterner stuff. Be it unreasonable parents, Russian spies, or the deadly Martian wildlife, no challenge is beyond the resourceful girls of the Crater School. 


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My Ten Most Recent Roleplaying Games 7: Trail of Cthulhu

24 May, 2021

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Inspired by Aaron de Orive’s 2020 First Ten RPGs, a brief account of the roleplaying games I have played most recently, beginning with the most recent and working backwards. Number Seven1: Kenneth Hite’s horror investigation RPG, Trail of Cthulhu.

Although mechanically quite distinct, Trail draws on the same body of work as Call of Cthulhu, namely noted timorous xenophobe H. P. Lovecraft. Providence’s most famous racist’s fiction provides a rich world in which the answers to every question are deeply regrettable, assuming the asker lives long enough to comprehend what they have discovered. 

Trail uses Robin D. Laws’ Gumshoe game mechanics. Characters are generated using a points-based system. As I recall we used pre-generated characters, so my knowledge of that end of things is minimal. The game is skill-based, with players trying to exceed a target number (usually 4). Results can be improved by drawing on points from the relevant Investigative Abilities Pools, which the player must decide to do before seeing how their d6 betrayed them.

To be honest, I only learned enough of the rules to play the game. Looking at it in more detail now, I see there are two modes of play, Purist or Pulp. In the purist mode, player characters are bugs on the fast-moving windshield of the Mythos. In Pulp mode, they are somewhat more durable, a veritable mouse in a tiger’s cage. Either way, it’s probably best to have a back-up character or two. 

I find the Ability pool mechanics a bit counter-intuitive. Once the pools are used up, it becomes much harder to succeed at tasks. I suppose this could represent cognitive fatigue but I am not used to thinking of skills as something with a finite number of uses. Otherwise, Trail was a perfectly fine little game. 

1: Yes, there was a different 7 but I discovered the author is a person I don’t want to promote. Ironically, that 7 was itself a replacement for an entirely different game that was problematic in its own way, both in terms of the designer and the unmentionable group of people with whom I played it. Ah, well. There is no limit to how often I can apply Damnatio memoriae.

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Books Received, May 15 — May 21

22 May, 2021

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Generation Manifestation by Steven Bereznai

A richly realized dystopian world that reads like The Hunger Games meets X‑Men.” –Ryan Porter, The Toronto Star By the award-winning, bestselling author (previously published as I Want Superpowers) New Apple Literary Award winnerGen M: Book 1; the adventure starts hereStrong, conflicted female protagonistNeurodiversityLGBTQ positiveLove-story light DON’T BE DNA REGULAR. BE GENERATION MANIFESTATION. The Genetic Wars that turned most of the planet into a wasteland are over. The so-called dregs” (DNA regulars) and superpowered Supergenics now live separately from each other – the Supergenics in the shiny towers of Jupitar City; the dregs across the river in the squat concrete buildings of the boroughs. But some dreg parents bear Supergenic children; under repressive laws, they must be sent to live with their own kind. THEY ARE GEN M. To find these special few, every teen faces Testing Day. When her turn comes, socially isolated Caitlin Feral is determined to Manifest powers like the heroes in the comic book propaganda she loves. If she fails, she faces a lifetime of loneliness and drudgery in the boroughs. How much is Caitlin willing to sacrifice to be a supergirl? When she uncovers dark secrets, does she dare start another war to reveal the truth? And…who will pay the price? Find out in Generation Manifestation 

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My Ten Most Recent Roleplaying Games 6: Masks

17 May, 2021

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Inspired by Aaron de Orive’s 2020 First Ten RPGs, a brief account of the roleplaying games I have played most recently, beginning with the most recent and working backwards. Number Six: Brendan Conway et al’s Masks, published by Magpie Games. 

Masks is another superhero game, of which I’ve played many. This is one of many, many games in the Powered by the Apocalypse lineage, which has its roots in Meguey Baker and Vincent Baker’s 2010 Apocalypse World1. Player characters in Masks are teen superheroes. Very unusually for roleplaying games, there are no hit points as such. Instead, there’s emotional trauma, which turns out to be just as effective at sidelining characters. 

I’ve only played Masks once2 so take this with a grain of salt. The emotional trauma in lieu of hit points threw me a bit. Characters have to be one of a limited number of templates. These can be personalized to a degree but there is not a general design system. It seems to me that there are reasonable characters the game cannot accommodate because there is no way to generate them. As well, once characters mature enough, they graduate from the game and are no longer playable. Having recently encountered a number of games with defined exit points for characters, I’ve discovered I don’t care for that.

Still, I can see people enjoying this if they like roleplaying emotionally vulnerable teens with powers beyond human ken. 

1: Which I have not played. 

2: Yet another variation of Kid Apocalypse, whose concept is extraordinary power levels combined with lousy control. Thus, the Uxbridge Incident, which he doesn’t like to talk about. The other character was a succubus whose entire goal was to provoke Kid Apocalypse into doing something horrific, for the lols. 

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Books Received, May 8 — May 14

15 May, 2021

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The Fallen by Ada Hoffman

From the immersive and intoxicating world of The Outside , comes the exhilarating sequel *from Philip K Dick and Compton Crook Award-nominated author, Ada Hoffmann.* 

The laws of physics acting on the planet of Jai have been forever upended; its surface completely altered, and its inhabitants permanently changed, causing chaos. Fearing heresy, the artificially intelligent Gods that once ruled the galaxy became the planet’s jailers.

Tiv Hunt, who once trusted these Gods completely, spends her days helping the last remaining survivors of Jai. Everyone is fighting for their freedom and they call out for drastic action from their saviour, Tiv’s girlfriend Yasira. But Yasira has become deeply ill, debilitated by her Outside exposure, and is barely able to breathe, let alone lead a revolution.

Hunted by the Gods and Akavi, the disgraced angel, Yasira and Tiv must delve further than ever before into the maddening mysteries of their fractured planet in order to save – or perhaps even destroy – their fading world. 

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