Reviews, March 2019

The Color Symphony

Champions, 4th Edition — George MacDonald, Steve Peterson, Rob Bell

Hero Games’ Champions wasn’t the first superhero roleplaying game1 or even the first SHRPG I played2. It was, however, the SHRPG I played the most often.

Originally published in 1981, the system was initially developed in a rather haphazard way; rules accreted across several editions of rule books. Efforts to correct this lack of organization began in the mid-1980s. 1989’s 4th Edition Champions, written by George MacDonald, Steve Peterson, and Rob Bell was arguable the culmination of this process. Known as the Big Blue Book, it was a fan favorite that shaped many games that came after it.

How does the rulebook stand up after OH GOD HOW IT IS 30 YEARS ALREADY?



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All Alone in the Moonlight

A Memory Called Empire — Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire is Arkady Martine’s debut novel. It is a space opera.

Lsel Station has spent ages engaged in a careful dance with the Teixcalaanli Empire. It tries to maintain vital trade ties to the vast polity, but avoids becoming so essential as to invite annexation. The empire is a dangerous neighbour, but it protects Lsel from neighboring polities who are even worse. Hence the dance.

Mahit Dzmare is the latest ambassador to be dispatched by the Stationers to the empire. If she plays her cards badly, she may be the final ambassador to the empire.


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And The Wind Blows Free

Xia Da
Choukakou, book 3

Choukakou, which is also known as Chang Ge Xing, Chang Ge’s Journey, or Song of the Long March, is an ongoing manhua (Chinese comic) series by Xia Da. Volume Three collects issues twelve through eighteen.

Princess Li Chang Ge survived the Turkish conquest of Shuo by transferring her allegiance from the doomed governor of Shuo to General Sun of the Turks. Sun accepted Li Chang Ge as a subordinate. Sun is unaware that:

  • Li Chang Ge is a woman;

  • she is the niece of the Chinese emperor Taizong;

  • Taizong ordered Li Chang Ge’s father and his entire family executed;

  • Li Chang Ge is a wanted fugitive.

Sun habitually distrusts women and he certainly does not need to be drawn into Chinese dynastic disputes. He has Turkish dynastic disputes to concern him.


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Meaning of Life

The Afterward — E. K. Johnston

E. K. Johnston’s 2019 The Afterward is a standalone secondary-universe fantasy.

Summoned out of oblivion by power-hungry fools, the Old God raised an army of mind-controlled slaves and marched to retake the world it once owned. As so often happens to world-conquering villains, the God was vanquished by seven adventurers led by Sir Erris Quicksword.

The world saved, the adventurers were each rewarded (although not too lavishly) and were free to return to their old lives. Or so some might have thought.


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Where The Rippling Waters Glide

Hestia — C. J. Cherryh

C. J. Cherryh’s 1979 Hestia is a standalone science fiction novel.

The colonists who settled Hestia were warned that the valley on which they had set their hopes was not suitable. The settlers ignored the warnings and founded a community in the valley. In the century since settlement, the community has endured disaster after disaster. Each year the community is worse off.

The colonists now believe that they have a solution: a dam to control the river. Only problem: they lack dam-building know-how. That’s where Sam Merritt, our protagonist, enters the narrative.


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See Them Bloom

The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction — Tarun K. Saint


Tarun K. Saint’s 2019 The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction delivers precisely what it promises on the cover1.


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Somewhere Beyond the Barricade

Kim Eun-hee & Kim Seong-hun
Kingdom, book 2

Kingdom is a 2019 South Korean television series. It was written by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Kim Seong-hun. There are six episodes in season one, of which this is the second.

Primary cast:

Supporting cast:

The Haewon Cho clan has unjustly framed Crown Prince Yi Chang. They accuse him — correctly, as it happens, although innocence would not have stopped the clan from trying to remove the Prince — of conspiring against his own father, the King of Great Joseon. The Crown Prince has serendipitously left the capital before he could be arrested.

Great Joseon has problems much larger than mere dynastic conflicts.


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Candle On The Water

Burning Bright — Melissa McShane
Extraordinaries, book 1

2016’s Burning Bright is the first volume of Melissa McShane’s Extraordinaries series.

Elinor Pembroke discovers she has extraordinary powers when she wakes to discover her bedchamber is on fire. She extinguishes the flames with a thought. This marks her not just as a so-called scorcher, a pyrokinetic, but as the very special sort of scorcher who can control and dismiss the flames she creates.

Since the year is 1812, this means that Elinor is no longer an unremarkable middle sister well on her way towards spinsterhood. She’s now a valuable commodity on the marriage mart. Her father is eager to hawk her to the first sufficiently well-born prospect.


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And Learn How to Fly

A House in Space — Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr.

Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr’s 1976 A House in Space is a short account of Skylab, America’s first manned space station.


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To Dream the Impossible Dream

Startide Rising — David Brin

1983’s Startide Rising is the second novel set in David Brin’s Uplift universe. It is also a standalone.

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Down Came The Rain And Washed The Spider Out.

Storm of Locusts — Rebecca Roanhorse
Sixth World, book 2

2019’s Storm of Locusts is the second volume in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Sixth World series1.

The oceans rose, civilization fell, and the gods returned. Possibly not in that order. The Walls of Dinétah keep the worst of the chaos outside Diné lands. Yet life inside the Walls can still be challenging, thanks to a plague of wandering monsters. Against the monsters stand a chosen few, the beneficiaries of what are called clan gifts. Superpowers. The chosen ones may lead lives that are all too often pitiably short, but it’s worth it to protect friends and families from the stalking horrors.

Maggie Hoskie’s gifts — speed, bloodlust — make her a superb monster-hunter. The events of the earlier volume, Trail of Lightning, left her in possession of a magic sword. She will need it soon. Too bad she has no idea how to wield it.


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Life’s Little Day

Tsukumizu
Girls' Last Tour, book 6

Tsukumizu’s Girl’s Last Tour, volume six was first published in 2017. The Yen Press translation into English was published in 2019. It collects chapters 41 to 47 of Tsukumizu’s ongoing tale of two girls, Yuuri and Chito, wandering a desolate, doomed Earth. It is the final volume.


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Not Ready To Make Nice

The Element of Fire — Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ 1993 debut novel The Element of Fire is a standalone secondary-universe fantasy. It is the first of Wells’ Ile-Rien books. It was followed by The Death of the Necromancer, The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy (The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods) and various short pieces.

A daring night-time raid on a sorcerer’s lair, a victim recovered, a mansion left aflame: enough of an adventure in itself. For Captain Thomas Boniface, this was just the beginning of a longer, more perilous campaign.


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By The Last Breath Of The Four Winds That Blow

The Stars My Destination — Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester’s 1956 The Stars My Destination is a standalone tale of REVENGE! And a change of heart.

Psychic teleportation transformed society. The economic effects triggered war between the Inner Planets and the Outer Satellites.

Gulliver Foyle survived the destruction of the interplanetary space craft Nomad only to spend six months trapped on the hulk. When finally another ship, the Vorga, came within rescue range, Foyle was quick to fire off distress signals. Inexplicably, the Vorga ignored the flares and continued on its way.

Until this moment, Foyle had been an entirely unremarkable prole, uneducated, unmotivated, and destined to live and die in obscurity. Vorga’s act gave Foyle the motivation he had previously lacked. Now he has goals: survive and make the crew of Vorga pay for leaving him in deep space.


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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The Smoke-Scented Girl — Melissa McShane
Dalanine, book 1

2015’s The Smoke-Scented Girl is the first volume in Melissa McShane’s Dalanine secondary-universe fantasy series.

The kingdom of Dalanine is under attack. The Despot is marching steadily, unstoppably, towards the capital. Dalanine is also dealing with a rash of deadly arson attacks.

Research magician Evon Lorantis is working desperately to work out who or what agency is causing the fires.

What he discovers: a young woman who can’t control her new powers.


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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Monstress, book 1

Monstress, Book One1 collects the first eighteen issues of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s epic secondary-universe fantasy manga.

The semi-magical Arcanics are descended from godlike beings. When properly processed, their body parts can be transformed into the extremely useful substance Lilium. The humans, in particular the witches of the Cumaea, see the Arcanics as beasts fit only for slavery or for slow, painful conversion into Lilium. The Arcanics disagree. Hence the seemingly endless wars between the Arcanics and the Federation of Man.

The most recent war ended when the entire city of Constantine and all within it were burned from the face of the planet. Believing this was a work of a new Arcanic weapon, the Federation agreed to peace … for the moment.

Which gets us to one-armed Maika, an Arcanic who when we first meet her is about to sold into slavery or worse.


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Have You Seen the Way?

Adachitoka
Noragami, book 11

Adachitoka’s Noragami Volume 11 collects issues 40 to 43 of the adventures of the stray god Yato. The manga was first published in 2014; the English translation was published in 2016. Included in the volume are

  • 40. “We Not-So-Humbly Pray” (恐み恐みも白さず “Kashikomi mo Mōsazu”)

  • 41. “A Picture Together” (一緒に写真を “Issho ni Shashin wo”)

  • 42. “Causes Nothing but Disaster” (厄災しか起こせない “Yakusai Shika Okosenai”)

  • 43. “Secrets” (秘め事 “Himegoto”)


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And Drop Them in a Teacup

Carpe Diem — Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Liaden, book 3

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s 1989 Carpe Diem is the third novel published in their long-running Liaden series.

Set upon by the predatory Yxtrang, Val Con yos’Phelium makes a desperate bid to escape into faster-than-light drive. It’s successful in the sense that Val Con and his companion Miri Robertson escape horrific deaths at the hands of the Yxtrang. It’s unsuccessful in that their badly damaged ship ends up in the back of beyond, orbiting the interdicted world of Vandar.

Briefly orbiting. A forced descent follows.


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Another Day Older And Deeper In Debt

Trouble on Titan — Alan E. Nourse

1954’s Trouble on Titan was Alan E. Nourse’s debut novel1. It is standalone juvenile SF. It has recently been reprinted and issued in e-book form by Prologue Books.

Tuck Benedict is disappointed to learn that his hoped-for reunion with his father must be postponed. Colonel Benedict has spent years troubleshooting on Mars and Venus for the Security Commission. His leave has been cancelled. He’s been dispatched to Titan, home to unruly rubidium miners.

The colonel invites Tuck to join him on his mission to Titan, but Tuck fears delay in reporting to college could cost him his scholarship. Then … luck puts Tuck in a position to save his father from a mail bomb. Afraid that the assassin might succeed if Tuck is not there to protect his father, Tuck changes his mind. School must wait until Tuck returns from the mining colony.

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All Kinds of Kinds

This Alien Shore — C. S. Friedman

C. S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore is a standalone space-opera/cyberpunk novel.

The Hausman drive gave humanity the stars. It also induced mutations in crew, passengers, and colonists. The mutations thrived in the new colonies, which became known as Variants. A bigoted, xenophobic Earth abandoned its colonies. Two centuries later, the Guerans developed an entirely new method of faster-than-light travel, via ainniq, points that give access to an alien realm governed by unfamiliar laws. The Gueran Guild reached out to all of humanity’s worlds, including standoffish Earth, and rebuilt the interstellar community Earth had cast aside.

Now someone is trying to destroy that community.


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Hunt The Haunted

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 — P. Djèlí Clark

P. Djèlí Clark’s 2019 novella, The Haunting of Tram Car 015, is a supernatural police procedural. It shares its setting with A Dead Djinn in Cairo.

Agent Hamed Nasr of Egypt’s Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities has learned many odd things over the course of his career, but he’s never learned to lay ghosts. Nevertheless, Nasr and new partner Onsi Youssef are summoned to Ramses Station to deal with what’s said to be a haunted tram car. Could this finally be a true haunting?

No. Whatever the entity is, it is not a ghost. It is, however, real. It is definitely hostile.


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