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Blog Posts from June 2021 (11)

June 2021 in Review

30 Jun, 2021


June 2021

22 works reviewed. 12 by women (55%), 10 by men (45%), 0 by non-binary
authors (0%), 0 by authors whose gender is unknown (0%), and 8 works
by POC (36%)

Year to Date

128 works reviewed. 69.5 by women (54%), 52.5 by men (41%), 3 by
non-binary authors (2%), 3 by authors whose gender is unknown (2%), and
52 works by POC (41%)

Grand Total to Date

1876 works reviewed. 1052 by women (56%), 782 by men (42%), 24 by
non-binary authors (1%), 18 by authors whose gender is unknown (1%), and 531.75 (28%) by POC (28%).

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Books Received: A Large Box Filled Mostly But Not Entirely By Tesseracts Anthologies

30 Jun, 2021

1 comment

Tesseracts edited by Judith Merril

The FIRST volume of the ongoing series…

Each year we choose a team of editors from among the best of Canada’s writers, publishers and critics to select innovative and futuristic fiction and poetry from the leaders and emerging voices in Canadian speculative fiction. This is the anthology that started it all!

Tesseracts features fiction by Hugo and Nebula award winning authors Spider Robinson and William Gibson, as well as Élisabeth Vonarburg, Rhea Rose, Robert Zend, Michael G. Coney, Robert Priest, Candas Jane Dorsey, Eileen Kernaghan, Christopher Dewdney, Daniel Sernine, D. M. Price,Terence M. Green, Dorothy Corbett Gentleman, Gerry Truscott, Benjamin Freedman, Phyllis Gotlieb, Gary Eikenberry, Marc Sevigny, Robert John Colombo, Marian Engel, D. M. Price, Margaret McBride, A. K. Dewdney, Susan Swan, Lesley Choyce, Robert Sward, and David Kilpatrick.

About Judith Merril

The late Judith Merril is considered one of the most prolific authors and editors in the field of Science Fiction. Born in New York in 1923, she founded the Futurians, a group of SF writers and editors. Her first SF story, That Only a Mother,’ was published in 1948. Judith edited numerous SF anthologies including Dell’s Year’s Best SF from 1956 – 1967, and was the Books’ columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1965 – 69. She helped to establish Toronto’s Rochdale College library (based largely on her own private collection) which is now known as The Merril Collection. Judith founded the speculative fiction writers group Hydra North in 1984, and was awarded two Canadian Science Fiction Lifetime Achievement Awards: for contributions to the field and for achievements in editing. She passed away September 12, 1997 from complications following an angiogram. She is sorely missed by her fans and fellow writers. 

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Roleplaying Games I Might Someday Try 2: Basic Roleplaying: The Chaosium System revised by Jason Durall and Sam Johnson

28 Jun, 2021


Runequest 2nd edition was, as previously established, my second go-to roleplaying game in my (and the hobby’s) early days of roleplaying. The house system used for RQ came to be known as Basic Roleplaying or BRP. The earliest instance of the BRP rules on their own was a 16-page booklet in the Worlds of Wonder box set. This and the three setting specific world books established that BRP could serve as a game engine for a wide range of genres. 

Skip forward twenty years

Thanks to various events, Chaosium lost the rights to Runequest. They still owned Basic Roleplaying, however, and this, the 2008 Big Gold Book, is the most recent attempt to distill into one volume enough essentials of the system to serve as a generic game system, from fantasy to science fiction, from mystery to superhero. 

BRP mechanics are straight-forward and suit settings where characters should be comparatively fragile. The essentials are easy to convey to new players, although the ease with which characters die or go mad should perhaps be left as a delightful surprise. 

As it happens, Chaosium regained the rights to Runequest, which means this edition of BRP is somewhat surplus to their needs.. PDFs of the main book and various supplement are available but currently physical books are not available. This may change in the future. In any case, another streamlined edition of BRP and various BRP-based games are in the offing. 

As it happens, I have a use for such a flexible system. The nostalgia aspect does not hurt.

(I’m joking. I’ll kick ideas around, and hunt down various supplements to see if they have the elements I want but I never actually run anything)

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Books Received, June 19 — June 25

26 Jun, 2021


Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers. The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain. When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected – she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way – and stop more girls from being sacrificed. 

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Roleplaying Games I Might Someday Try 1: Alien by Tomas Härenstam and others

21 Jun, 2021


(My master list alphabetical but I reserve the right to backtrack or jump ahead as the whim takes me. Also, my intention is one of these per week for a year but my list currently has about three dozen games on it, well short of fifty-two)

One of a surprising number of Fria Ligan games I own (they had a sale! Buying RPGs was my go-stress relief in the waning days of the Trump regime), this RPG is an an official licensed product for the Alien movie franchise. Licensed products are a bit of a risk for companies; large media empires are prone to arbitrary decisions and often disappointed by the money RPGs deliver, while franchise fans can be very picky, for example as I was when I complained thirty years ago that Leading Edge’s 1991 Aliens Adventure Game could not duplicate the events of the film.

Although I have not played this game – obviously, or why would I be discussing it – casual perusal suggests that unlike its predecessor, Aliens does a very nice job of simulating the movies. Partly, this is because the Year Zero game engine Fria Ligan uses produces fragile player characters. Partly, it is thanks to a mechanic particular to this iteration of the Year Zero engine, stress dice. This reflect that many characters find being stalked by hordes of ravenous predators a bit trying. A little stress actually helps characters accomplish tasks, the catch being that stress also increases the odds of catastrophic failure. Campaigns could be tricky due to the tendency of player characters to explode like tripe-filled balloons, but it could be an amusing one-off.

Like all of the Fria Ligan books I’ve purchased, the production values on this are great, although I find white print on black background hard to read. The book looks very sturdy. As an artifact, Alien is very impressive. 

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Books Received, June 12 — June 18

19 Jun, 2021


Twenty Five to Life by R. W. W. Greene

Julie Riley is two years too young to get out from under her mother’s thumb, and what does it matter? She’s over-educated, under-employed, and kept mostly numb by her pharma emplant. Her best friend, who she’s mostly been interacting with via virtual reality for the past decade, is part of the colony mission to Proxima Centauri. Plus, the world is coming to an end. So, there’s that. When Julie’s mother decides it’s time to let go of the family home in a failing suburb and move to the city to be closer to work and her new beau, Julie decides to take matters into her own hands. She runs, illegally, hoping to find and hide with the Volksgeist, a loose-knit culture of tramps, hoboes, senior citizens, artists, and never-do-wells who have elected to ride out the end of the world in their campers and converted vans, constantly on the move over the back roads of America. 

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Damon Knight’s Orbit

15 Jun, 2021


Damon Knight’s Orbit anthology series was published between 1966 and 1980. Over fourteen years, Knight edited twenty-one volumes (which I own), as well as one volume featuring the best stories from Orbit (which I don’t own because what would be the point when I already had the stories in question). Offering stories that ranged from avant-garde to more standard fare, Orbit came to be viewed as suspiciously intellectual by some of the grumpier SF authors, with consequences that will be seen when the relevant volumes are reviewed. 

Time is not science fiction’s friend. It can be particularly hard on cutting-edge works, whose social views may age badly while the aspects that were ground-breaking at the time were so widely copied in the following decades later it’s now hard to understand the initial praise. Will Orbit stories now reflect quaint values? Will what was then new seem ho-hum? I sure hope the stories are (mostly) neither troglodytic nor passe, because I have agreed to review all twenty-one volumes. 


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Books Received, June 5 — June 11

12 Jun, 2021


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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