Monday, January 31, 2022

News From The Home Front - We Have Ceilings!

I can't believe how long this journey has been. We have a completion date of mid-March to early April. We finally have enough of a house that I can start thinking about returning home. I took a panoramic photo in the middle of what will be our living room. 

We are slowly making progress. 

Mapping Monday and Session 0 - Mark of Terminus

I ordered Into the Wild by Todd Leback aka Third Kingdom Games. I've really meant to use it sooner than now. Over the weekend, I rolled up some OSE characters and got brewing. 

I had to develop my own map, which is plenty large enough for a long series of play sessions. 

As per normal, the setting is my own, based on Rome. This is a rough map based on the island of Corsica (EDIT - no, it's not). The red hexes are 30-mile hexes, the sub hexes are six miles because I really have a rough time with scale. I am using Worldographer for the mapping and somehow botched my math. I'm no stranger to screwing up math. Corsica is 114 miles from north to south while this map shows it as over 150 miles. (EDIT - This is true, but I scrolled down too far on my map and I am looking at Sardinia, not Corsica. You can ignore the next sentence.) 

I think I goofed on the proportions of each hex, which per Worldographer is 46.18 tall by 40 wide. Still, I like it. It's based on the island of Corsica but is a fantasy version of it. So math can take a hike. 

The red hexes are an overlay created with my
DriveThruRPG offering, The Hex Pack.

The characters have a couple mission targets. Item one, restore the lost Western Marker of Terminus. Item two, map the region so as to find the best place to hunt rock seals. Third, it would be handy if sources of freshwater were known. 

Since this is a test mission, the characters have been dropped by a lembus, a ship type similar to a trireme. They are meant to carry men or cargo. This one is named the Zypher, however, at some point in the recent past, it was used for cattle. The party has been bothered by seasickness and the smell of cattle sparked a new secret name for the ship, "The Heifer". They hate it. 

The party will start on the northeastern point of the island. The party of 8 adventures is not the typical group having a paladin, a cleric of a different sect from the paladin and thief who annoys everyone by aggrandizing theft. The only thing the 8 agree on is they hate sea travel and want off the ship. 

The party's initial goal is to work their way down the eastern side of the island, with the Zypher popping in to check on them. They built a small hut at their landing point and will proceed south with only two pack mules in support. They do not have the supplies or capacity to climb mountains, so not every hex will be explored this time around. 

If the party is successful, they will meet the Zypher in a week or so on the southeastern point of the island. If unsuccessful, the Zypher will scout the coast looking for survivors. 

Wish them luck! 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Book Review - Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds

Title: Inhibitor Phase
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Year: 2021
Pages: 496 pages
Print Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inhibitor Phase is Alastair Reynolds' fourth book in the Revelation Space saga. The war against the Inhibitors was not going well, leaving humanity with two options, fight and die or run and hide. We meet Miguel de Ruyter, a failed politician of the Hollow Sun. Miguel's days are numbered, he self-selected for a diabolical one-way mission. 

Hollow Sun is one of the last bastions of humanity as the Inhibitors have hunted down and destroyed all human habitats. To protect their home, to protect one of the last outposts of mankind, Miguel must destroy a light hugger loaded with sleeping humans. Hollow Sun has no capacity for more people, they are just barely holding on. As the ship goes down, Miguel suffers a bout of compassion and picks up a lifeboat. 

And the trap is sprung. Join Miguel on a grand adventure to destroy the Inhibitors hunting mankind across all of Revelation Space. 

This particular story plays fast and loose with the timeline of the prior 3 books, something that the author mentions in the introduction. Rather than a completion of the other three books, this is a mythological tale where some logic has to be put aside to tell. 

You can try a search for it on Abebooks. Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds on Abebooks.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Designing Swag - Coffee Mugs

Over the past 18 months, I've been trying to come up with a way to fund my website. Redbubble.com came to mind. 

Right now I have a few offerings over there. As I design these things, I place an order to make sure the quality and value is there. So far, I've ordered a few mugs and some notebooks. I use the mugs everyday, but they are not without some flaws. 

The mugs retail at about $16.00 each, which I feel is a little high. When Redbubble runs sales or if you order more than one, the price comes down to about $12 or 14 bucks. 

One of the flaws is that the logo is not even on the cup. It's close but not quite centered. I'm looking to fix that but since I lost my files, I haven't been able to get the time and redo the image. 

Click here to see it on Redbubble


I also have the same mug in pure white. I'm not sure which one I like best. 

All links go to the Redbubble order page. Each mug holds 11 oz. (325 ml) and are 3.2" (8.2 cm) around, not including handle. They are dishwasher and microwave safe. 

Five Point Friday - January 28th, 2022

Today's Five Point Friday is history-themed. 

Point 1: I picked up copy of Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials. I love this version of B/X. It was offered as a Kickstarter a long time a go. I happily picked up a copy at a local store, but really want the whole set. 

Well, now it will be available via Kickstarter near the end of Feburary. I can't wait to get my hands on the whole deal. I had thought it would happen some day in 2019 or 2020. 2021 was too challenging to me. But now in 2022, I will get my hard copy.  

Point 2: OSE features dozens of charcter classes including gnomes, elves, duergar, and svirfnevlin. 

Did you know that in Iceland, these types of creatures are called the Huldufolk, the hidden people? Nearly 50% of the population currently believe that the Huldufolk might exist. 

It isn't just a hokey belief, they actually redirected road construction to avoid a Huldufolk settlement. There is something dangerous about the Huldufolk. That danger apparently doubles when you introduce machinery into the mix. Dynomite is apparently right out. 

Here is an interesting article from the BBC on the Huldufolk. If you want something more polished, check out the Lore podcast episode 5, "Under Construction." Researched, written, and produced by Aaron Mahnke, it details the same events of the BBC article.


A imagined likeness of Lars
Posena from 1500 AD
Point 3: Lars Porsena, King of Clusium. As an Etruscan king, most of Lars Porsena's history comes to us via the Romans. We know that King Porsena lived in what would become the modern city of Chiusi, he minted coins with his likeness and we might know where his tomb is. So, he was a real person. 

But the Romans played him out like an evil villain most of the time. 

The Roman were excellent narrators of history, however they are not without their flaws. Rome was sacked by the Gauls on July 18th, 390 BC. It was a Thursday. This sacking destroyed the historial records of the Romans and allowed future historians to rewrite their own history as they saw fit. They modified their humble beginings to mirror the Greeks and not surprisingly, these "historical" stories make the Romans the first of all people to do anything of note. 

Since Lars Porsena was around about 200 years before the first sack of Rome, he has become "unhitched" in time. We don't know when Porsena really ruled, but the Romans tell us it about 508 BC. Maybe on a Friday. But probably not. 

This is an Ertuscia coin. Note the Janus like head.
It's called a dupondius and the Romans used it, too. 

One of the funny things about history and Lars Porsena is how little people change over time. Lars appears on Rome's doorstep in support of the deposed Roman king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. The Romans had shifted to a republic due to the Tarquinian king's poor conduct. The Romans seriously hated all kings after him, King Lars Porsena included. 

There is the epic story of Gaius Mucius Scaevola, a Roman citizen hell bent on breaking Lars Porsena's seige of Rome. Gaius was an assassin, a would be King-Slayer. 

Here is where it gets funny. Gaius arrived in the seige camp ready for murder. However, being about 500 BC, he didn't have a picture of the king. He had no idea who he was after. Since this was payday, King Lars dispatched his paymaster to distribute cash and prizes. And as per normal, this paymaster was dressed as King Lars. 

Wait? What? 

The King forced a follower to dress like him and watched that person distribute paychecks, to make sure that his minions were suitably appreacative of the pay they had worked so hard to earn. Only to be rewarded with the scene of his imposter-king paymaster getting knifed to death by someone in the crowd. 

Has anyone seen The Office? This is exactly something Michael would do. My PCs would totally do this. D&D, Star Frontiers, doesn't matter. My players would wack the wrong guy for fun. 

This is why I love history so much. The story is supposed to be about the evil of kings, the heroism and determination of the Romans, the love of the Eternal City, yada-yada-yada. 

Instead, if you turn the story a tiny bit, you get comedy and humor. Which was probably not lost on the Romans themselves. 

Point 4: I resevered Point 4 for Sci-fi. So, I would be remiss if I didn't mention episode 5 of the Book of Boba Fett. This is hands down the best episode of the series. Because it is missing all of the main characters. I couldn't like it more for that. You can skip every episode up to the Fifth Episode and be fine with it. 

Point 5: Something about nothing at all... hmm. I've rambled enough I think. At some point, you just need to end a good yarn. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Book Review - Aurora Rising (The Prefect) by Alastair Reynolds

Title: Aurora Rising (aka The Prefect) 
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Year: 2007
Pages: 428 pages
Print Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: N/A 

Welcome to the Glitter Band, a series of thousands of orbital habits around Epsilon Eridani. In the Revelation Space series, the planet Yellowstone is the starting point or key place for every novel. In the Prefect series, Alastair Reynolds skews the perspective by focusing on the myriad habitats orbiting the star and police force named the Panoply that is charged with keeping them safe. 

In the Prefect or Aurora Rising, as the title was renamed a few years back, Prefect Tom Dreyfus begins his quest to maintain the safety of the Glitter Band's rights by investigating polling fraud. The situation was more dire than Dreyfus understood as the investigation sparks to mass murder to cover up something entirely different. Dreyfus assembles a team of Prefects to get to the bottom of these heinous crimes. 

Dreyfus and the other officers from the Panoply have to dig deep to figure out what is happening and then how to resolve the situation. The novel dives and swoops through twists and turns, keeping the reader on the edge of their seats and flipping pages. It's very hard to set down. 

This is one part thriller, one part detective novel, and a third-part science fiction story. Reynolds does all three very well as he often investigates the consequences of the technology he uses while being very careful to create plausible limitations to that technology. There is a smorgasbord of wild and insane technology in these books, all operating together to create the 'verse where these characters live. The result is a very "lived in" feel to the characters' world which is reminiscent of Firefly and Serenity as opposed to Star Wars or Star Trek. 

This is a two-book series, Aurora Rising and Elysium Fire which runs alongside the rest of the Revelation Space novels. It's interesting because Reynolds loves a cast of thousands in his books and you can't help but notice when the characters reference each other. Oddly, there is no requirement to read those other books. But you should. 

The Revelation Space series verges on diamond-hard science fiction, where faster than light travel does not exist. I like it, but sometimes the whole thing can jump to body horror or technophobia as some of the threats enter the realm of "what would happen if you stuck an atom bomb in your eye" or "stepped into a running jet engine". Actually, both happen more than once... Crazy. 

You can search for it on Abebooks. 

Aurora Rising (The Prefect) by Alastair Reynolds on AbeBooks.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Five Point Friday - January 21, 2022

You know what? Mondays suck. Five Point Friday is better. 

Back in the day, I used to do a series of posts called "Just 5 Things" or "J5T". It didn't take off, not even with me.  

This time, I have an idea that might be workable. Every Friday, I'll post about 5 things. The first 3 will be D&D or OSR related, the fourth sci-fi or horror, and the last will be completely random, having little to do with anything gaming. 

Number 1: Dyson Logos, if you don't know it, is a mapper and artist. In my mind, he is like the cartographer version of Wil Wheaton. You know him, you like him, you do not follow his blog. Do yourself a favor and follow his blog. It's great. 

Number 2: #10MonsterSetting from 3 Toadstool Publishing. 3 Toadstool Publishing is a great blog but this one post really struck a chord with me. Shane Ward wanted a setting populated with the lesser-used critters in the Monster Manual. Chris Hall on MeWe came up with a list of 10 monster types that a new world required and the whole thing took off. It is ingenious. 

The first link is to the blog, the second two are to MeWe. 


Number 3: Screaming Skulls on The Red Dice Diaries. The hosts of The Red Dice Diaries, John and Hanna talk about the phenomena of Screaming Skulls and how you can work one into your campaign. The link above leads to a couple of handy tables to create a background for your campaign's screaming skull. Additionally, they found a 1950's film with a screaming skull to review.

Great stuff. I love the dynamic that 2 hosts create, a back and forth that is super easy to listen to while bringing different perspectives together. 

Number 4: I have Sci-fi on the brain this month, which is why I am using this format to push myself away from it and back to fantasy. My Sci-fi point of the week is Star Frontiers is 40 years old. WTF. It's a great little game that rolls together the OSR vibe with some attributes of boardgames and exploration. Check out my review of it here

Number 5: And finally, something about nothing OSR but maybe connectable to Sci-fi. One of my favorite podcast is Astronomy Cast, hosted by Dr. Pamela L. Gay and Fraser Cain. It started back in 2006 with the Episode "Pluto's Planetary Identity Problem". 

Recently, they are running a series about the solar system, hopping from Gas Giants and the minor bodies. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Chicken Cashew

I need to start eating better. It would help if I knew how to cook. To that end, I purchased a couple of cookbooks. 

My wife and I purchased this many years ago on our honeymoon in Disney World. That was a long time ago and to be honest, we never used it. It sat on our shelf for years, forgotten. It wasn't until the fire in our home that I remember it. 

I purchased a new one off of Amazon and made a pact with my wife to use it once a week. Despite the cover, it is not a kid's book. I swear. This is a great cookbook. It was probably published in 1989 or so. They have listings for "Walt Disney World Shopping Village" restaurants, but no listings for MGM Studios. 

This week I made two different recipes. I'll start with the one that got 5 stars - Chicken Cashew. 

This cookbook is broken down by typical food types but also breaks them down by restaurant and theme park. Chicken Cashew was offered at the Polynesian Village Resort. It's delicate ginger and cashew-flavored chicken breast. 

This is the prettiest picture of 
raw chicken I have ever taken.

The ingredients are simple: Chicken breasts, white wine, butter, ginger, chicken broth, bouillon cubes, cashews, cornstarch, and water. With a dash of pepper and salt.  

The chicken is pan-fried in butter until golden brown. In a different pan, brown the cashews. When nice and golden brown, put both aside. 

Take the bouillon, broth (or chicken stock), wine, and ginger and simmer for 15 minutes. Slowly add water and cornstarch to thicken. 

When everything is done, plate it up.

Now, the cookbook offers no details as to what this chicken is served with, so I had to improvise with veggies and starches. Snow peas would have been amazing as would fresh green beans. I didn't have those so I made broccoli. For a starch, I made Carolina rice. 

I could see this working with noodles of some kind, but not potatoes. 

Anyway, here is what it looks like: 

You'll notice that my plate has an extra ingredient, cauliflower. This is because I am diabetic. I can't handle a lot of rice. The little cup holds about 1.5 to 2 oz. of rice. 

Now, I have teenage children, three of them. I paired this with about 4 cooked cups of rice and a pound of broccoli. Since the recipe states "serves 6", I have enough for a full lunch and enough rice and veggies for a second lunch or a few snacks. 

The family's response to this one was 5 of 5 stars, "definitely make this again". That was a real confidence builder. 

I might as well mention the wine I used. I picked a nice California wine, Dark Horse Sauvignon Blanc. It's not the best wine, but it serves for cooking and is easily obtainable. It is dry with some fruity notes. I've always wanted to say that about a wine. Anyway, it would be fine before dinner or with a rice or pasta dish. Being a dry white, it has a surprisingly refreshing ending. 

Circling back to the cookbook itself, this 33-year-old book is still fairly available at a good price. Apparently, there are a couple of editions, ranging from 1986 to 1990. All of them are basically the same. Click this link for Cooking with Mickey Around Our World at Abebooks.com. 

Just so you are aware, this cookbook dates back to a time when Disney Cast Members would give visitors recipes on request. Typically, they were handwritten on the spot. A few were popular enough to typewritten (on a typewriter) and photocopied. As a result, there are some typos and editing errors in this cookbook. I find it more charming than confusing. 

Book Review - Sanctuary by Lynn Abbey

Title: Sanctuary
Author: Lynn Abbey
Year: 2003
Pages: 480 pages
Print Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: N/A 

Ah, the little disappointments of eBooks and companies reselling products. I had purchased this book with the expectation that it was an Omnibus Edition of The Thieves World collection sold in the 80s. It is not and I was massively confused as I expected to settle in with a tried and true collection of short stores set in the city of Sanctuary. 

Adding to my confusion, this novel is marketed as having three books: Return To The City That Would Not Die!, Return To Thieves' World! and Return To Sanctuary!. All with exclamation points. Structurally, the novel is a single book and it's not really clear if this was ever serialized or three different books. G-- damn Marketroids screwing a good thing up. 

This book, which shares the title of the 1982 Omnibus edition is a newer novel by Lynn Abbey. 
In this story, we follow the adventures of Molin Torchholder as he literally passes the torch to a new generation of characters. This treatment was excellently handled as the new generation of characters are not simply derivative of old characters. They are couched in the term of the old Thieves World characters without actually being those people in a renewed form. They are markedly different even if they aspire to be as famous as the prior generation of anti-heroes. 

You would think that Molin would be a bad character to lead the next generation of scum in the city of Sanctuary. And to an extent that would be correct. However, as a survivor and an archpriest to the deposed and hidden god, Vashanka it made a lot of sense. He survives by pigheaded stubbornness, who else could live this long? 

The book has many callbacks to the original series, answering many questions while leaving some unanswered. While I was supremely disappointed that this was not the omnibus edition I was looking for, I found it an excellent read. I believe that this novel could be an excellent launching point if one as never read a Thieves World book before, as the callbacks and setting both come across as epic worldbuilding, invoking age and mystery for the reader.  

If you prefer a physical copies, check out Sanctuary by Lynn Abbey on Abebooks. This link will take you to a search page with different offerings at prices you can afford. 

I will be searching for those original omnibus editions, so stay tuned for more from Sanctuary and Thieves World. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Adventure Review - 'No Tears Over Spilled Coffee!'

I have to be honest, I don't play e5 much. People cry over it. There should be no crying in D&D. I wouldn't have noticed this adventure except for the hue and cry people put up over it. 

The free adventure is called 'No Tears Over Spilled Coffee!' and is available at D&D Beyond

Allow me to throw up the standard stat block before I get into the review. 

Title: No Tears Over Spilled Coffee
Author: Michael Galvis
Year: 2022
Pages: 6 pages
Rating: 2 of 5 stars

The hue and cry over this adventure revolve around the premise of a band of characters working in the Firejolt Cafe, a coffee shop. Let me tell you, every person who offered this criticism is wrong. Flat wrong. 

There is a long history of landing adventures in the wrong role for the rule of funny. Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures come to mind rather easily. If Asprin can have Skeve walking into an Expy McDonalds in search of a trollop and finding trolls waiting tables, then so can you. 



I have to put an ad in here to honor the late author Robert Asprin. His characters, much like the characters in Coming to America, know their version of Mcdonald's is treading dangerously close to some sort of infringement. It is the rule of funny. 

The setting is not where this adventure falls apart. 

The Crew

The character's mission starts with a call from Ellina, the owner of the Firejolt Café. She has lost all of her staff and the party of new hires is her last chance to stay open. Unfortunately for all, Ellina is starting to get sick, so this first day will include some training, then Ellina will absent herself from the rest of the adventure. 

Literally. Like her employees, she never comes back for the rest of the adventure. 

There are a couple of problems with this scenario, beyond being snatched from the headlines, possibly right from your player's typical workday. 

Some of the problems could be reworked to be funny as opposed to problems. For example, it seems the author thinks there are cell phones in this world. "Called..." Yeah, if you accept some sort of anachronistic coffee shop, then you get cell phones. 

But imagine the contrary. Metron the Mercilous is lost, at sea between campaigns. He hires a band of criers to advertise his willingness to cut on people and burn villages.  In response, a crier approaches him with an excellent, turn-key opportunity with Ellian. Metron orders his henchmen to assemble as he reaches out to his assassin and thieving friends, plus a cleric of dubious intentions to seal the deal. He and his warband march off to the Firejolt Café to claim the prize appointments, prepared for the obvious campaign of bloodletting. 

To his surprise, he finds a gang of union members around the Café trying to get him to join. They promise Metron and his boys a minimum of 15 coppers an hour. Metron reaches for his battle-ax as Ellian quickly runs out to separate the gangs before anyone is separated from their heads. 

Yes, the whole premise could be seriously funny. 

Anyway, back to the actual adventure. 

Ellian (and the DM) walk the players through the game mechanics for play. Some characters can gain an advantage by being observant and utilizing the offered materials in the Café. Eventually, the party breaks common tasks down and gets to work. 

The day progresses without offering the players and their characters any option using strategy or tactics or any bit of creativity to succeed. 

Yawn. 

The Challenge

Finally! A challenge presents itself. The party has to work together to deal with a particularly difficult task. Ok. This is fine. 

The party has to come up with a perfect drink for a difficult customer. This is where the whole thing unravels. 

Up to this point, the characters have had an easy time of it. In order to complete this challenge, they must pass 5 successive DC 11 skill rolls. And here in lies the problem. 

Do you know the chances of rolling an 11 or higher on a 1d20? It's 50-50. A coin toss. Players generally know how to measure their chances and this one will ring out as carney style game. 50-50 sounds pretty great. That's easy. 

But 5 in a row... ah... That works out to be a 3% chance. That's exactly like flipping a fair coin 5 times in a row and getting tails each time. 

Worse than 3%

But it's worse than the numbers hint at. As each player attempts to roll an 11 or higher, there will be a crystal clear point where someone's failure will screw the party. 

Essentially, as the party rolls, someone has a 50-50 chance of blowing it and that failure will land on a single player and their poor die rolls. Even if the characters have a skill that pushes up their chances to say 12 in twenty, the chances rise to a mere 7%. The check would have to push to 18 in 20 to give a better than 50% chance of success. 

It is one thing where a party snatches victory from the jaws of defeat by careful application of skills and talents. It's something different when you have some to roll less than an 18 which sounds like a challenge until you flip it around and ask them to roll over a 2 on a twenty-sided die. 

Presentation

As you can see, under 18 and over 2 sounds like two different things because of the presentation. This adventure's saving grace is the slick presentation where it sounds like the party can do something together. But the math shows otherwise. 

While the premise could be interesting, the given purpose and tasks offer little or no reward to the players and are actually crocked to ensure the party fails. 

I gave this adventure one star for being free and a second for being creative. It is an excellent learning experience for DM to learn how not to create an adventure. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

New Reviews - Five Books

Last year, I managed more than 52 reviews. Most of them were sci-fi-themed as I reviewed a ton of Helen Mary Hoover books. Technically, she is a young adult author but also ticks off the science fiction and young women coming of age in bleak future tropes. I love them. I hope to finish up the last of her books this year. 

I've got a great start this year, having tackled 5 books in 15 days. Well, 5 novels anyway. I read a few more than that if you include gamebooks or science lectures. Back in 2016, I graduated with my Bachelor's in History. I would typically read a book a week per class. Each 16 week semester I would chew through 45+ books, not counting textbooks or articles, or other reading materials. Two or 3 books a week is a nice slow pace for me. It makes the content easy to digest.  

All but one of these are classics, being over 20 years old and must-reads for the science-fiction or fantasy buff. The odd man out is Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds as it was published in 2021. 

My intention with this post was to have all 5 reviews done before posting. But that turned out to be more time-consuming than I anticipated. As I post more reviews, I will add more links. Additionally, I would like to rework the top page bar at the top of my blog to break down reviews into categories, so that Traveller Fans don't have to pick through fantasy books and vice versa. 

As a part of the digestion portion of these readings, I also plan to have a post about science fiction weapons that are terrifying. Niven, Pournelle, and Reynolds have stuff in their books that is absolutely insane and somewhat based on reality. 

In addition to all of this, I also have several new sources for books. I have my favorite two or three local bookshops, but those aren't available online. Abebooks is an excellent resource. I will be sharing each of these with you as a part of the review process. 

Book Review - The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubbs

Title: The Winds of Gath
Author: E. C. Tubbs
Year: 1982
Pages: 192 pages
Print Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: N/A 

The Winds of Gath is a curious story that was suggested to me by SAFCO podcast. This is the first in a series describing Earl Dumarest journey back home to Earth. Being born on Earth, Earl is the only person who knows it is real, everyone else believes it's a myth. 

E. C. Tubbs spends a lot of pages describing the titular planet of Gath, the winds, and the society that Earl must navigate to get home. By way of explanation, Earl was presented as a youthful 30-something, somewhat unaware of the nature of the worlds he navigates. From the text, it is very obvious that the Traveller game has roots here. The older age of the protagonists, the technologies, skills available and the progression Earl follows to the conclusion all harken back to the aesthetics of Traveller. 

What I find interesting is the obvious comparison to the book, The Grapes of Wrath. The hard-luck freedom gained by Earl and Tom Joad in the opening of each book is similar. Their exploration of their immediate situation leads to a journey full of adventure, disappointment, and mediocrity. Both stories end with a brutal fight against the powers that be, Tom beating a deputy and Earl beating a battle-trained prince. Where Tom's story ends, Earl's continues in a series of 32 other books. Welcome to the Dumarest Saga. 

Obviously, where Tom was a Christ analog, Earl is not. All three take the role of teacher at various points, but Earl's situation is wildly different as this is a story of belief as opposed to one of leadership in belief and love.  

I find this story to be very creative and appealing. However, I think that Earl and Tubbs come into their own in future titles, as the point of this story is less the journey and more the miles. 

As always, I suggest that you look for this title in your local book store. However, if it is not available you can check out AbeBooks.com for a copy. Click here to search for The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubbs. All clicks and purchases provide remuneration to support this site

Book Review - Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

Title: Swords and Deviltry: The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Author: Fritz Leiber
Narrator: Jonathan Davis, Neil Gaiman (introduction only)
Year: 1970
Pages: 254 pages
Print Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: 5 of 5

In 2022, I would like to add a lot more fantasy to my collection of book reviews. Today, I look at a classic by Fritz Leiber.

Swords and Deviltry tells the story of The Gray Mouser and Fafhrd's first meeting in 4 short stories that Leiber weaves together into an excellent novel. 

If you have never read Fritz Leiber, his prose is clean, poetic, and fine. This is the perfect book to listen to via Audible as Jonathan Davis's voice is amazing. At the outset, I had my doubts because the book has an introduction by Neil Gaiman, whose voice sounds like golden whiskey to me. Davis sounds plain by comparison, but his care and tone with the characters is perfect. Davis does not do "voices" for different characters, but his style of slightly changing his voice while adding subtle tones conveys so much. 

As mentioned before, this "novel" is 4 stories assembled in novel form. They were originally separate short stories for magazines. I have provided the date of publication next to each one: 

  • Opening Introduction/Credits read by Neil Gaiman. 
  • "Induction" (1957)
  • "The Snow Women" (1970)
  • "The Unholy Grail" (1962)
  • "Ill Met in Lankhmar" (1970)

Induction was the primer on the world of Nehwon and was only about 300 words long. It wasn't really necessary to include it, but Leiber was building epic characters so the magical world of Nehwon needed to be set. 

The Snow Women dealt with Fafhrd's family issues and lovers. Fafhrd leaves his lover Mara behind to adventure south the sultry actress Vlana. Fafhrd danced delicately between the two women and the magic, onuses, and curses sent by his mother and her coven. Davis, the Audible narrator really shines in this presentation, giving voice to both Vlana and Mara. His tone and tempo convey a sense of drive and passion in these characters. You can almost hear blushing, eye-rolling, and pursed lips in his delivery. This was very important to the presentation of Fafhrd, who has what could be described as a feminine voice himself. At no point is this confusing to the listener. On paper, in prose, these characters are driven and strong, no doubt about it. Both renditions were excellent but I was surprised at Davis's performance in the audio version. 

In the 3rd story, we meet Mouse as the apprentice of the magician Glavas Rho. Mouse is torn between what type of magic he wanted to pursue. Mouse, as read by Davis becomes stronger and more solid as the performance and story progress, which seems to have been the intent of Leiber writing of him. Sure, but not cocky, determined at first and later driven describes Mouse's transformation. And what a transformation it is. His hand was forced as the Duke slew Glavas Rho while capturing the poor Mouse. As a captive, he discovered the Duke's daughter, Ivrian was also an apprentice to Glavas Rho. Using her as a conduit, he escaped torture by casting the darkest black magic at the Duke. 

And finally, in Ill Met in Lankhmar, the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd bushwacked a pair the thieves on their way to the fence some items at the guild house. Realizing they are kindred, the two adventurers join forces to infiltrate the thieves guild. Unfortunately, their loves pay for their daring and are killed, setting the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd on a path of vengeance and adventure. 

This collection was the very start of the duo that really shaped sword and sorcery fiction. Six more books followed these first adventures.  

I cannot suggest Swords and Deviltry enough. I would hope that the book is available at your local book store, but if it isn't click the link to search AbeBooks.com.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Book Review - Footfall by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven


Title: Footfall
Author: Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven
Audible Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
Year: 1985
Pages: 495 pages
Print Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I explored two different versions of this title: the ebook and the Audible version. Both have their flaws, but of the two I found the ebook superior until the final 100 hundred pages where the Audible book is by far superior. Niven 'n Pournelle are a dynamic duo, the authors of dozens of books together. And they fit together nicely as it is difficult to sense a shift of voice that can happen with two authors. However, this is a weakly told story with many flaws. 

I find Footfall difficult to review as it doesn't really fit with my reading habits. It's iron-hard science fiction in the guise of a summer blockbuster. It's tough on the reader. Back in 1985, I am sure that it was groundbreaking but over the years, 75 to 85% of the book is dated to the point of being trite. The ebook edition leads with a cast of characters that is longer than the chapters of books I have read. The Audible version experiences many near-failures with trying to render an alien language which makes the narrator sound like he is having a stroke. It really wasn't Andrews' fault, it was the story. 

In order to get through the review, I will ignore the flaws and get right to the 5 W's and H questions. In 1995, the Soviet Union is winning the Space Race and the Americans are deeply concerned as a mysterious spacecraft is spotted near Saturn. As the craft approaches Earth, a cast of easily a hundred characters in the United States and the Soviet Union band together to welcome our first contact aliens, the Fithp. 

Niven and Pournelle flesh out these aliens to an insane degree. They have a language, a homeworld, a collection of technology, and psychology. They are elephant-like creatures with superior firepower and a herd mentality. The authors hang out the lampshade on war-like, herd animals right at the outset and screw in a strobe light so the reader never forgets it.

First contact goes as well as you can expect, with a human delegation on the Soviet space station taken captive as all infrastructure for communication and war-making was bombarded from orbit. Much of the American countryside was laid to waste and the story shifts from the East and West coasts to the heartland states. 

As the human captives were interrogated, the reader and the humans learned more about the Fithp than the Fithp learned about humans. As I said, the lampshade non-preditors having war machines was unavoidable. Back on Earth, President Coffey moved his office and command to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. The best and brightest minds were assembled like the Avengers, everyone from scientists and military men to the Secret Service and sci-fi authors who are thinly veiled analogs of real-world authors, including Niven and Pournelle themselves. The best and the brightest were able to probe the Fithp's motives and limits to come up with several plans to fight back, which climaxes in the titular Footfall, an asteroid dropped into the Indian Ocean. The devastation was incredible. It neutralized every force except for a couple of small rag-tag bands in the United States and U.S.S.R. 

The Fithp had the upper hand but a herd mentality is difficult to shake off. On the Fithp homeworld, there was a technologically superior race that died out, leaving the Fithp all of their scientific knowledge. The knowledge that a band of exiled Fithp planned to use against the people of Earth. The Fithp, being herd creatures do not engage in battles to the death, they surrender if overwhelmed. They do not understand why humans continued to fight back. More importantly they, like the authors, do not understand how humans would suddenly band together against a common enemy and say, "F--- it, let's kill 'em all."

The story itself is a 2-star yarn. Where it shines is in the diversity of characters and the incredible feats of realistic science, all of which become apparent in the end. The last 100 or so pages of the book are pure awesomeness. I won't spoil it for you. 

But let me tell you about the hurdles that the final 100 pages had to overcome to drag this book from 2 stars to five. First, back in '85, the United States and the Soviet Union were super clear white hats and black hats. The Soviet characters actually age well, becoming more heroic than the author intended. They have a female cosmonaut, a handicapped astronaut and insisted on having a Keyan delegation member onboard the space station to meet the Fithp. They are smart, wise, and cunning. The Soviet cosmonauts come across as absolutely ruthless adversaries to the Fithp, as if the authors believed the reader would suddenly feel compassion for murderous aliens. They almost read as noble determinators. 

Illyana, the deputy officer on the Soviet space station highlights the second problem with the story, whacky scrabbled-egg misogyny engaged in by the authors and all of the male characters. Every woman in the novel as a vehicle for sexual use or a strange depreciation. Oddly, the story can't happen without these characters as they seem to be the prime movers for every plot point. It is the strange case of "Livia was a whore AND she did it". 

Livia cum filio suo Tiberio.

In case you don't get that reference, Livia was the wife of Caesar Augustus. In Roman history, women were tagged as either saintly women or as evil stepmothers. Livia strangely had both attributes as she wisely advised her husband until his death, but might have also murdered him for her son's benefit. There are T-shirts that read "Livia did it." The women in this book, despite being the prime movers of the story are not treated as kindly the Augusta. 

The degradation doesn't stop with the writing, in the Audible version all but two women are portrayed with a whining tone at all times, which makes it difficult to distinguish them. Only two (maybe, three) women don't have this attribute or characterization and are better for it, but they have little to do with the major plot points.  

I hate to say it, but the authors were confused about what the characters did and their importance. With a cast of 100, cutting off 50 female characters at the knees doesn't help with the confusion.

How can a book like this jump from 2 stars to five? The human response to the aliens and their ruthless methods of destruction and subjection of the threat. Earth fights back. And hard. This is no snub fighters against the Deathstar. It ends in a curb-stomping battle of diamond-hard science.

The Fithp have lasers and relativistic kinetic weapons. The humans have better. Gamma-ray laser and 2000 lbs. nuclear shells. And I haven't even told you the best part. I won't spoil it for you, read it yourself. All I can say is after I read the last quarter of the book I reread it. Then I switched to the Audible version because I couldn't believe what I heard. The Narrator who had been suffering through the first three-quarters of the book positively shone in the last quarter. It was amazing. 

Footfall may be available on AbeBooks.com. This affiliate link will take you to the appropriate AbeBooks search page. Books are sorted by title and lowest price. I find that AbeBooks is a great source for old paperbacks and hard-to-find books at a good price.  

Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Inaugural 2022 Post

Welcome to 2022! The year of Time Runner and Soylent Green. 

As promised, I will continue to do science fiction and fantasy book reviews. Last year I was heavy on the sci-fi so this year I hope to swing the other direction into fantasy. 

It's January 2nd and I have already burned most of a $75.00 B&N gift card and a good chunk of another gift card. And read a book, Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds. I have a couple of other books lined up for review this year, classics like Fritz Leiber's Swords Against Deviltry and a newer title, After Dark by Michael and Shell DiBaggio. I also have Aurora Rising, Permafrost, The Winds of Gath for my Traveller friends and Sanctuary for you murderous thieves lurking out there. 


Lastly, I have picked up about 7 game titles from Noble Knights and DriveThruRPG to round everything out.

I hope you stay tuned this year. Join me on a year of epic reading.