‘Dear Luke, We Need To Talk’ Author John Moe On Humor And Hopelessness

Posted by Admin - June 24th, 2014

What’s so funny about The Walking Dead or Jurassic Park? A lot, according to writer and radio journalist John Moe. In Dear Luke: We Need To Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture Correspondences, Moe invites readers to take a peek into the secret memos, letters, emails, and even “Yelp” reviews of famous characters from popular culture. In Moe’s world, Darth Vader’s desk is full of crumpled up, half-finished letters to Luke Skywalker, the shark from Jaws is trying to control his compulsions to kill by keeping a journal, and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are gathered around a boardroom table brainstorming ways to get the park back on its feet.

Between writing for McSweeney’s, working on a book, and hosting his hilarious weekly radio show/podcast Wits, Moe stays pretty busy. Happily, he was able to take a breather and supply me with some correspondence of his own.

I noticed that you took a second swipe at the band in “Memo regarding changes to the Hotel California in light of Mr. Don Henley’s recent complaint.” You’re a musician, yourself. Does that influence who you choose for “Pop Song Correspondences”, be it on Wits or McSweeney’s?

Only in the sense that I think about music A LOT. Probably too much. And in the bands I’ve been in, I write the lyrics for the songs so I’m more lyrics-obsessed than the average person. As a writer and radio journalist, I’m always interested in telling stories so it all came together.

It looks like you have a wide range of pop culture knowledge. Do you actively pursue this or do you just soak it all up like a sponge?

It’s a hard thing to actively pursue and you don’t really need to because it’s just delivered to you. I will say that I have no interest in the reality show side of pop culture. I’ve never seen the Kardashian thing or any of those other shows because they seem so desperate and sad and I just don’t want to participate. But in terms of movies, music, most TV, I just feel naturally plugged in.

I see a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and horror here: Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic Park, Jaws, The Walking Dead. The X-Files, Psycho…Are you a fan of any of these things, personally? Have you had an “a-ha” moment watching any of them where you thought “That. That is the thing that’s going to make this work.”

I’m a fan of all of it to some extent. I’m more Wars than Trek. I’m really hooked on The Walking Dead and I’m not sure why. I just love hopelessness? With some of those things in the book like Jurassic Park, Jaws, and Walking Dead, I try to think about what characters we haven’t heard from and it’s generally the monsters: dinosaurs, sharks, and zombies. And in all those cases, the monsters are just in a tough spot and trying to make the best of it. With some of the others you mention, I try to flesh out the back story a bit and find a new angle.

Have you ever had something that you thought started out thinking might be funny but turned out to be impossible?

A lot of the ideas I’ve had, I just haven’t cracked them yet. I know there’s something great in “Sympathy for the Devil”, the way he demands everyone guess his name when everyone already knows his name. I just haven’t figured out how to make it work yet.

Some of the best satire and humor I’ve read comes from a darker place, be it contempt for the familiar, an urge to speak truth to power, or just to cause trouble. Some of your funniest pieces here are really, really dark. I never thought the old Popeye cartoon would creep me out more than it already did (The Goons are borderline horror movie material), but you really managed to take it to a new level with “The Cast of the Popeye Cartoons Remembers”, and “An Oral History of the Pac-Man Ghosts” is Kafkaesque. Where does this kind of thing come from?

Those two stories, as well as the Mickey Mouse/Goofy/Pluto one, kind of found their own trajectories. I had the characters explain themselves and tell their stories and then I just wrote up what the next logical thing would be. I don’t really see those stories as dark as just maybe less snappy and cheeky than the others. I think for the Pac-Man ghosts, for instance, the idea is already pretty grim: they are ghosts who live in a maze, they pursue a giant mouth who steals from them, sometimes they are stricken with a ghost disease(?) and become vulnerable. Nothing all that happy-funny about that.

Is it true you wrote for video games? Which ones?

I did. I wrote for a series of Ripley’s Believe It or Not games. I was also one of the writers on the Turbo edition of the board game Cranium. Fun assignments but very very hard.

Fans can be extremely prickly when it comes to the subjects of their adulation. Sometimes they can be downright humorless! Have you had anyone react badly to your take on a movie or television show?

Not so far. But I don’t really set out to destroy any of the subjects or say that they’re terrible. Most of the things I write about and make fun of are things I really love. Hopefully that comes across.

I look at things like “The Onion” (founded in Madison, Wisconsin), and humorists like Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, and yourself, and wonder if there’s some kind of satiric or absurdist tradition of humor in the midwest.

Well, I think we have maybe more time on our hands here to think things over. And I do believe that Midwesterners are inherently more social. But I’ve only lived here six years or so. I grew up in Seattle and lived there my whole life.

It seems to me that finding a suitable subject for parody might be hard work. Finding something that’s “so so” isn’t that hard, but those things don’t really work for humor, do they? I may be completely off-base here, but am I right in thinking that something has to be really awful or really good to be a good target for humor? What kind of criteria do you use, if any, to select your topics?

I don’t think it needs to fit either one of those. For what I do, it just has to have a strongly unique characteristic. I don’t think Happy Days was an especially brilliant show. A good show, very popular, but it was no I Love Lucy or Breaking Bad. But it did have Fonzie, who was just such a unique character that there are plenty of alternative stories one could explore.

Actually, one of my early ideas for the book was about Chuck, Richie Cunningham’s older brother, who was in the first season for a few episodes and then NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN. I tried writing up something about how Chuck moved into a shed in the back yard and simply watched all the action of the whole series. But it’s hard to tell a story that is completely passive.

Do you think that public radio is a good target? Ever want to take a swing at A Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk, or Snap Judgment? I love Snap and host Glynn Washington, but you know what they say: You only hurt the ones you love.

The first radio sketch I ever wrote was about Ira Glass filling in for the Car Talk guys. Public radio is hilarious, I’ve always thought so. I guess I didn’t tackle much of it in this book but it is ripe. I’d love to do it but I worry I might be too inside.

You’ve had a long career as a writer and journalist, and I’m curious if being exposed to so many voices and styles of writing has helped you to develop your career as a humorist. I’m a former public relations guy for a very large organization, and I have to say that your mastery of “corporate-ese” is impeccable.

Thank you. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of jobs, read a lot of company e-mails, been in plenty of staff meetings. I didn’t really start writing in earnest until I was in my early thirties. I thought it sounded fun to be a writer before that but I honestly didn’t know what I’d write about. There are great young writers out there, bless ‘em, but I needed to live a while first.

While I wouldn’t put anything I’ve written anywhere near the level of your own work, I know that my sense of humor seems to be at its sharpest when I’m a little tired or irritated. Deciding to be “funny” never works for me. What is your ideal state of mind and environment for work?

I do enough of it and have for so long that I can tell my brain that it’s time to get to work and then I can produce. Between the weekly radio show and the book and everything else, I can’t really afford to do anything other than hunker down and turn on the writing spigot. I do have some habits, though. I don’t write much at home, mostly because I have three kids who don’t really want to leave me alone. So I write either at my office or at this one cafe, Nina’s in St Paul, where I can go, put on headphones, and plow through things (and spend money and tip well). I never meet anyone there for lunch, I never socialize there, it’s a place where I’ve trained my brain to understand that it is a work space.

Do you have any advice to would be comedy writers, or maybe even writers who just want to make a living at their work?

Listen to who you are instead of trying to write like Donna Tartt or Dave Eggers or anyone else. Lean in to the stupid idea that you don’t think anyone else will like and work that idea. And really work it. The writing muscle is like any other muscle, it gets stronger the more exercise you give it. I know in my case, years of journalism work has meant I have air time to fill and I have strict, immovable deadlines. That meant I was always “in shape” with writing and I met deadlines.

The other thing is to find a venue where you might be at home. Years ago, a friend pointed me to the McSweeney’s website as a place where my sensibility might match up. Like the site, I was fond of over-analyzing for comic effect, overly wordy descriptors, and turning pop culture inside out. That exposure and platform meant everything to me and I just thanked that friend a couple of days ago.

READ SOME EXCERPTS FROM DEAR LUKE HERE!


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Investigate Cosmic Horror Kitty Style In ‘The Call of Catthulhu’ RPG

Posted by Admin - June 24th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 10.02.13 PMThe great pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft adored cats, so much so that he worked the creatures in among the Elder Gods and dark, squamous, gibbering tentacled things that haunt the shadows of his Cthulhu Mythos (in the short story “The Cats of Ulthar“ most notably) and wrote about them at length in a 1926 essay:

”We have but to glance analytically at the two animals [cats and dogs] to see the points pile up in favour of the cat. Beauty, which is probably the only thing of any basic significance in all the cosmos, ought to be our chief criterion; and here the cat excels so brilliantly that all comparisons collapse. Some dogs, it is true, have beauty in a very ample degree; but even the highest level of canine beauty falls far below the feline average. The cat is classic whilst the dog is Gothic — nowhere in the animal world can we discover such really Hellenic perfection of form, with anatomy adapted to function, as in the felidae. Puss is a Doric temple — an Ionic colonnade — in the utter classicism of its structural and decorative harmonies. And this is just as true kinetically as statically, for art has no parallel for the bewitching grace of the cat’s slightest motion. The sheer, perfect aestheticism of kitty’s lazy stretchings, industrious face-washings, playful rollings, and little involuntary shiftings in sleep is something as keen and vital as the best pastoral poetry or genre painting; whilst the unerring accuracy of his leaping and springing, running and hunting, has an art-value just as high in a more spirited way but it is his capacity for leisure and repose which makes the cat preeminent.”

With this in mind, I can’t help but assume that he wold enjoy The Call of Catthulhu: a roleplaying game of cosmic horror in which the players take the roles of adventuring cats. It sounds like an enormous joke, and to be sure, it’s funny, but it’s also a fantastic low-complexity tabletop roleplaying game perfect for introducing new players to the hobby or for experienced players looking for something different.

The Call of Catthulhu comes in two core books. volume One, The Nekonomicon, is a player’s manual of sorts, but really contains everything that a group of gamers could need to start up a game, especially if they’re comfortable fudging some of the setting details.

At all corners of the world, cats are squaring up against unspeakable horrors from beyond this world, but the humans – the “two-legs” – are too unobservant tot notice. That’s okay, though: Cats accept this burden as part of the “Great Idea”. In the dawn of time, human beings were pushed alone their evolutionary path by cats eager to have servants and playmates, even if they’re generally as clueless and can’t seem to function without the presence of cats. Cats have been goading humans along ever since. After all, bellies will not rub themselves, and tuna cans won’t open when you don’t have any thumbs. If the occasional monstrous servant of the dark gods has to be driven away, then so be it.

Within moments of choosing a cat’s lifestyle (ex.: feral cat) its lifestyle and a role (There are five of them, including things like Scrappers or Tiger Dreamers) each has to find “have no special powers beyond being smart kitties. They don’t have thumbs, or know what telephones are, or have the slightest idea of how to drive a car. They can’t pick things up except with their mouths, and they find it distasteful to do so. Instead, the player has to work within the limits of what a cat is commonly understood to be able to do.

If character generation is simple, the rules themselves are even more so. The Game Master (or Cat Herder), rolls one or more six-siced dice in a dice pool mechanic, and all action is skewed toward the player’s success. Results of one or two are treated as failures, and results of four through six as successes, which the players are rolling, but the inverse is true when the Cat Herder is rolling for bad guys. It is indeed possible to have a character get hurt or even killed playing the game, but it has to have been a phenomenally bad stretch of luck to get them there.

The characters, as cats, stand against the dark cults of other animals and the horrific things that wander the night. Dread Catthulhu, Doggone, and many other cat-friendly takes on Lovecraftian horrors figure prominently in the book, but so do sadistic human beings, dogs, and other natural enemies. Cats must defeat them by wits or by guile, or rarely, with the judicious use of claws and fangs. For the most part, violence isn’t a very good option: Cats are smart, sleek, and agile. Those are their gifts, but they have one other as well: Dreaming.

As any cat owner knows, our precious purr balls spend at least two-thirds of every 24 hours asleep. Perhaps we shouldn’t disturb them: In The Call of Catthulhu, these four-footed heroes are wandering the dreamlands, where everyone and everything has a counterpart. Especially gifted cats can call enter Dream and call upon mystical forces for assistance in the form of prophecies and other gifts. It’s a nice nod to Lovecraft and his Cats of Ulthar.

The second core book, Unaussprechlichen Katzen, presents Catthulhu Cat Herders with all sorts of information about the various gods and other cosmic powers in the universe, their cults and followers, magic rituals and rites, and other great background stuff. I especially liked the background information on the origin of the Great Idea and how it changed human evolution.

The book end with three sample adventures, which should be enough to give any Cat Herder and players enough of a taste for the game to know whether they’ll want to play more. I know I will.

The Call of Catthulhu will probably be a lot of fun for any gaming group, and the silliness of it is entirely dependent upon what kind of attitude players bring to it. Books like Tad Williams’s Tailchaser’s Song and Dark Horse Comics’ Beast of Burden make a convincing case that it’s perfectly within reason to have a “serious” fantasy tale with feline protagonists, but for those who are looking for a little goofy fun, that’s there too.

You can purchase both volumes of The Call of Catthulhu at DrivethruRPG.com.


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Marvel Comics Unveils Another Fan Letter From A Young George R.R. Martin

Posted by Admin - June 18th, 2014

ff17Those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin known that he’s an incredibly down-to-Earth guy, especially for a writer regularly described as “America’s Tolkien”. He hasn’t forgotten his roots, and those roots are buried deep in fan culture, as a 1961 fan letter published in issue #20 of Marvel Comics’s Fantastic Four affirms.

Martin, who was twelve at the time, wrote to legendary comic creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to praise issue #17, which he assured them “… would will live forever as one of the greatest F.F. comics ever printed, ergo, as one of ALL comics.”

He goes on to praise Marvel Comics for the improvement he’s seen in the series:

“Then there’s your cover boast—THE WORLD’S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE! Brilliant! You were just about the World’s worst mag when you started, but you set yourself an ideal, and, by gumbo, you achieved it! More than achieved it, in fact—why, if you were only half as good as you are now, you’d still be the world’s best mag!!!”

This isn’t the first fan letter from a young Martin that Marvel has shared. A couple of years later, another fan letter from Martin (endearingly referred to as “Georgie” in the editor’s response) appeared in Avengers #12. In this letter, a young Martin jokes that he’s considering having Fantastic Four #32 and Avengers #9 cast in bronze and mounted in his living room. He has a little bit of criticism too, though: He’s not crazy about four new villains, and describes them as the worst Marvel have ever introduced:   “…the Thinker, the Moleman, the Puppet Master and Diablo deserve permanent exile”

In a speech delivered at a con in 1984, Martin recalled that these fan letters brought him his own first taste of “fame” twenty years earlier in the form of a call from a reportedly wealthy young man.

…I started buying comics again just in time to snatch up the first issues of Spiderman and the Fantastic Four, thereby fortuitously providing for my retirement, though I’d hardly have guessed it at the time. So much did I love the FF that, around the time I was starting high school, I wrote a letter to the magazine, and got it published. It was a balanced, insightful, intelligent letter, as I recall, very perceptive and analytical — the main thrust of my argument was that Shakespeare had better move on over now that Stan Lee had arrived on the scene. Ahem.

Well, anyway, that was how I broke into professional print, in a manner of speaking, but having that letter published had a couple of odd consequences. One day soon thereafter I was watching the “Demon with a Glass Hand” episode of Outer Limits when I got a long distance phone call from Louisiana, which was rather extraordinary, since nobody in our family lived in Louisiana or knew anybody in Louisiana. Nobody in our family knew anybody in Jersey City, for that matter.

Turned out the guy calling had read my letter in Fantastic Four and gotten my number from information. He just wanted to talk about comic books. He said he was twenty years old and fabulously wealthy and he called up people all the time like this. He was so rich that at one point, when it came out that my family didn’t have a car, he offered to buy one and send it to me. It was a generous offer, but I was only thirteen and didn’t drive anyway, so I declined. We talked about the Fantastic Four for a couple of hours, long distance. To this day, I have no idea how “Demon with a Glass Hand” ends. My Louisiana friend continued to phone two or three times a week, for perhaps a month, to chat about comics and offer to give me automobiles. Then he stopped phoning.

The next person I heard from was an investigator with Ma Bell. Alas, my mystery caller wasn’t rich after all. Nor was he twenty. He was around thirteen too, and lived with his grandfather, and had amused himself for a month by phoning me and dozens of other people like me all over the US, giving an assortment of assumed names. It was a lot of fun until his grandfather unexpectedly received a phone bill for something like ,000.

That was my first contact with fandom, in a way. Oddly enough, it was also the last time any fan has offered to buy me a car. Next time, I’m going to take it. I’m older now, and I know you should never look a gift car in the mouth, unless it’s a Ford. If any of you would like to uphold this fannish tradition of offering me free automobiles, my top choice would be a classic Mercedes Benz 300 SL gullwing from the 50s, but I’m not fussy, I’ll settle for a Ferrari.

These letters are a wonderful reminder that most of our favorite writers started out just like us fans. Could it be that the next great fantasy writer is even now busy pecking out a fan letter to Martin?

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FF AVG


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Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Posted by Admin - June 10th, 2014

Official Author Website
Pre-order the book HERE
Read additional entries from Lily Rose’s journal

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: In the beginning was nothing. From nothing emerged night. Then came the children of nothing and night.”

Seventeen-year-old Finn Sullivan has the luck of the Irish, if you consider how the phrase was used during Irish immigration to the New World. When she was living in Vermont, her mother was killed in an auto accident. A move to San Francisco did not improve things for good as her older sister, Lily Rose, committed suicide there. A need for a change of scene brings Finn and her Da back to the town where he was raised, Fair Hollow, in upstate New York. Enrolled in a local college, HallowHeart, she meets the dazzling but mysterious Jack Fata. They may or may not be fated to be together, but the Fata family is very definitely a big deal in this small town, which is not exactly the epitome of exurban serenity.

So what’s with all the little pixies everywhere? Carved into HallowHeart, the theater…”
They were worshipped here…”
Pixies?”
Fairy folk. Some of the immigrants from Ireland followed the fairy faith. And the Irish had badass fairies.”

The local décor seems to favor the mythological, as if the entire place had brought in the Brothers Grimm and Arthur Rackham to consult on a makeover. The older mansions tend toward the abandoned and the locals tend toward the odd. Finn finds a few friends, and together they try to figure out the enigma that is Fair Hollow, maybe save a few folks from a dark end, and try to stay alive long enough to accomplish both.

There are twists aplenty and a steady drumbeat of revelation and challenge to keep readers guessing. Finn is easy to root for, a smart, curious kid with a good heart who sometimes makes questionable decisions, but always means well. Jack offers danger and charm, threat and vulnerability. And Reiko Fata, the local Dragon Lady, a strong malevolent force, provides a worthy opponent. Harbour has fun with characters’ names that even Rowling would enjoy. Jane Ivy, for example, teaches botany. A teacher of metal-working is named, I suspect, for a metal band front man.

Each chapter begins with two quotes (well, most chapters anyway). One is from diverse sources on mythology and literature, and the second is from the journal of Finn’s late sibling. They serve to give readers a heads up about some elements of what lies ahead. One of the things that I found interesting about this book was the sheer volume of references to literature and mythology from across the world, not just in the chapter-intro quotes but in the text as well. I spent quite a bit of time making use of the google machine checking out many of these. You could probably craft an entire course on mythology just from the references in this book. In fact the author includes a bibliography of some of the referenced works. There are references as well to painterly works of art. Harbour includes a glossary of terms used by or in reference to the Fata family that comes in very handy. The core mythological element here is Tam Lin, a tale from the British Isles about a man who is the captive of the Queen of the Fairies and the young lady who seeks to free him.

The dream scene where Finn is speaking with her older sister and things grow sinister was an actual dream I had when I was seventeen. The revision was influenced by a book called Visions and Folktales in the West of Ireland, by Lady Gregory, a collection of local stories about some very scary faeries. The Thorn Jack trilogy is influenced by Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Frankenstein.” (from the author’s site)

It is tough to read a book about young attraction of this sort and not think of Twilight, or Romeo and Juliet for that matter. And where there is a school in a place in which there are some odd goings on, and mystery-laden instructors, there will always be a whiff of Hogwarts in the air. But this one stands pretty well on its own.

book cover
There are some scenes in Thorn Jack that include statuary of magical beings. I wonder if, as Harbour is from Albany, and was certainly exposed to Saratoga Springs, only about 30 miles away, (my wife and I visited in Autumn 2013) she might have been influenced by this Pan statue and/or similar pieces in Congress Park there. On her site, she talks about being inspired by abandoned mansions along the Hudson. Here is a site that shows all sorts of abandoned buildings, along the Hudson and elsewhere.

Gripes-section: I did indeed enjoy the mythology tutorial available here, but sometimes I felt that the author could have pared this element down a bit. One result of this wealth of material was that it made the book a slow read for me. But then I have OCD inclinations, and have to look up every bloody one of these things. You may not suffer from this particular affliction, so may skip through much more quickly than I did. Or, if you are a regular reader of fantasy fiction, you may already know the references that my ignorant and memory-challenged self had to look up. Also, there are a LOT of characters. I tried my best to keep track by making a list and I strongly advise you to keep a chart of your own. It can get confusing.

Finally, the quoted passages from Lily Rose’s journal do not much sound like passages from anyone‘s journal and seem to be present primarily to offer a double-dip into mythological reference material. Harbour has two more planned for the series, The Briar Queen and The Nettle King. I would expect she would address some of the questions that linger at the end of this first entry. What did her parents know and when did they know it? Is there an actual core curriculum requirement at HallowHeart College?

CONCLUSION: That being said, Thorn Jack was an engaging and entertaining story, offering mystery, frights, young romance, and a chance to brush up on your mythology. Think Veronica Mars in Forks by way of Robert Graves.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will’s blog. Author picture courtesy of the author herself. Pan statue picture courtesy of Will Byrnes.

Fantasy Book Critic

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Want To Take A Helicopter Ride To A Wolf Sanctuary With George R.R. Martin?

Posted by Admin - June 5th, 2014

imageThe Wolf in the North may be dead, but now there’s an opportunity for fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga to save some wolves of the four-legged kind.

George has raised the banner today in service to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary of Santa Fe, NM, and is asking you to join him. Don’t call for your armor, though: George – and the wolves – need you to loosen the strings on your coin purse and participate in this crowdfunding project instead.

Wait – where are you going? Worry not! You might be getting something in return, beyond the joy of helping these beautiful animals. What do you think about a helicopter ride with George and a tour of the sanctuary? Anyone who makes a donation of any size to George’s crowdfunding project is automatically entered in a drawing to win this once in a lifetime experience. Not only will you get a chance to get up close and personal with these beautiful animals, you’ll also have plenty of time to chat with George about the books, the HBO series, Westeros, anything you want. George will fly you and a travel companion in from anywhere in the world if you win. Now, will you pledge your sword?

Ah, I see that you’re quite canny when it comes to matters of coin. A most admirable trait. Very well. Donors can also lay claim to amazing prizes simply by contributing.

Match the sum in the chart below and you’ll receive the prize indicated:

Ranger: – Entered in the drawing.

Grand Maester: – Get a thank you e-card.

Kingsguard: – Get an exclusive campaign t-shirt.

Maester of Coin: 0 – Get a campaign t-shirt and a thank you video.

Lord of Winterfell: 0 – Get a signed map of Westeros (limited quantity available).

Lord Commander: 0 – Get a signed and dedicated Game of Thrones cookbook (limited quantity available).

Prince: ,200 – Get a handwritten thank you note (limited quantity available).

Queen: 00 – Get script of the first ever episode signed by the cast and the crew.

King: 00 – Get a pair of tickets to the Season 5 premiere.

Crown: 00 – Get George R.R. Martin’s worn hat!

Hand at the Table: ,000 – Have breakfast with George!

Martyr: ,000 – Appear in the novel! (No guarantees about your longevity…)

Finally, should you still not be convinced to rally to George’s banner, you may be swayed to know that funds raised through this endeavor will also go to the Food Depot, a non-profit that feeds people in need throughout northern New Mexico.

Now will you ride with George?

Learn more about the charities and prizes, and how to make your donations here!


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Take Five With Kieran Shea, Author, ‘Koko Takes A Holiday’

Posted by Admin - June 5th, 2014

Kieran Shea is the contributor for today’s Take Five: A regular series where we ask authors and editors to share five facts about their latest book. Shea is the author of Koko Takes A Holiday:

Five hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an easy early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic komodo dragons, Koko finds the most challenging part of her day might be deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her.

Kieran Shea:

1. The graffiti quote at the beginning of the book that reads “Icarus fell, but, oh, what a tan…” was lifted from the bathroom at The Northeast Taproom in Reading, Pennsylvania. One night many, many years ago I saw that etched on the wall and thought, “Wow, someday I have to put that line in a book.” True story.
2. The character of Jedidiah Flynn was modeled after crime writer and friend, Jedidiah Ayres. Back in 2009 in Philadelphia, Jed was the one who suggested I blow out the original short story incarnation of Koko Takes a Holiday into full-length novel. Had it not been for Jed’s encouragement, I think I’d still be tinkering around with dark, goofball detective stories.
3. To help with world building, scripted media feeds are featured throughout the book. Originally I toyed with the idea of having the content of these scripted media feeds scroll across the lower part of the page like a 24-hour news crawl. I envisioned a page-flip mechanism or something similar to Sergio Aragonés’ classic “Mad Marginals” comics in Mad Magazine. Thankfully, I came to my senses.
4. The Sixty Islands, the manufactured archipelago resort in the novel, was inspired by the marvelous, hubristic folly of Dubai’s engineered Palm Islands and jacked to the polar opposite and hedonistic extreme.
5. The novel’s juicy cover art is the amazing work of South African-based graphic artist Joey Hi-Fi. What’s great about Joey’s work is that he pulls out specific elements from the book. It was practically a throwaway reference, but I really dig the fact that he included the surfers pursued by cyborg Tiger sharks in the final artwork.


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    “The Immortal Crown” by Richelle Mead (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

    Posted by Admin - May 30th, 2014

    Order “The Immortal CrownHERE
    Read An Excerpt HERE
    Read FBC’s Review of “Gameboard of the Gods
    The Immortal Crown is the second volume in Richelle Mead’s Age of X series, which is a post-apocalyptic (not dystopian) blend of science fiction and fantasy. If you’re new to the series, you can actually pick this book up first and not be lost: Mead does perhaps the best job I’ve ever seen of getting you caught up in the first chapters without boring returning readers. You’ll get more out of The Immortal Crown if you read Gameboard of the Gods first, and I highly recommend it, but the author gives you the critical information that you need to make sense of the story.
    In short, I think the sequel is even stronger than the first book. The story is told from the perspectives of the same three protagonists: Mae Koskinen, a powerful upper caste warrior whose abilities are desired by everyone with power, be they man or god; Dr. Justin March, a Sherlock Holmes-esque investigator who has been saddled with Odin’s ravens; and Tessa, a student from Panama studying abroad in the Republic of United America.
    All of these characters grow in ways I didn’t expect them to. My favorite part is that each protagonist is working first and foremost toward their own plot. There isn’t a final showdown that everyone contributes to: although all of their plots intersect, and one character might help another, they are each the protagonists of their own equally-weighted plot arcs. I also love how active all of these characters are, how complicated their choices are, and how invested they are in the freedom to make choices for themselves.
    In this book we get more glimpses of what the gods are about, what that means for the characters and the world. We explore the politics and technology of the RUNA more deeply with Tessa’s media project, while Mae and Justin have to work in what’s become of the former southern states of the USA, a place that went a very different direction after the apocalypse.
    On a purely prose level, this book is very tight. And Meaddoesn’t shy away from serious issues raised in her world design, be it abuses of technology, systemic racism, or the dangers of misogyny.
    In the end, The Age of X series is coming along beautifully, and once again Richelle Mead has ended the book with some very troubling circumstances to lead us into the third installment.


    Fantasy Book Critic

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    Clark Ashton Smith: The Dark Eidolon And Other Fantasies

    Posted by Admin - May 27th, 2014

    9780143107385M-2Clark Ashton Smith was one of the three major figures in the Lovecraft circle: The other two being Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, and H.P. Lovecraft himself. Smith began his correspondence with Lovecraft in 1922, and it continued through the next 15 years. Smith also exchanged letters with Howard, albeit to a lesser extent.

    All three men had works that appeared in Weird Tales, and borrowed the names of gods, lands, and other details from each other’s work on a fairly regular basis, in the process creating a “shared world” long before anyone had ever considered such a thing in any formal sense. References to the Necronomicon, Tsathoggua the bat/toad god, and other elements appeared in all of their stories, and were passed down to later generations of writers, artists and even musicians.

    Smith was born in 1893 and grew up in a log cabin near Auburn, CA. He was a nervous and sickly child, and convinced his parents to allow him to quit school in favor of pursuing his own interests at home. During this time Smith discovered the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany, and other authors of the weird and fantastic. He also read his parents’ encyclopedia set several times over and pretty much memorized an unexpurgated dictionary. His vocabulary grew to be incredibly diverse, and he developed a love for words: Not just their meaning, but the way they sounded.

    Most of Smith’s stories took place in one of four settings: A medieval France-like world called Averoigne; the ancient Atlantis-like land Poseidonus; a far future Earth known as Zothique; and a highly fictionalized Mars – all of it rendered in flowery, almost hypnotic prose.

    He loved to write poetry – and it did bring him attention from critics – but his stories actually made money. At least, when he was paid. His mother supported his literary career and helped out by selling magazine subscriptions and copies of literary journals. This wasn’t to say that Smith lived the life of a sensitive artiste: He chopped wood, pick apples and did other things to help his parents make ends meet. Smith saw himself as a poet rather than a fiction author, and considered prose something he did to make his daily bread.

    In addition to his skills as a poet and prose author, Smith was a gifted painter and sculptor of work that might be called “primitivist” or “outsider” art today. His visual art sometimes depicted gods and entities from his stories, but not always. His art, like his poetry, brought some acclaim, but didn’t make as much money as his prose. Later, after the deaths of Howard, Lovecraft, and his parents, Smith returned to sculpting and painting, and left much of his writing behind.

    Like Howard and Lovecraft, Smith was a man out of time. Where Howard sometimes thought that the frontier might have better suited him than Cross Plains, Texas of the 20s and 30s, and Lovecraft seemed to hold to some sort of 18th century version of Anglo-Saxon propriety, Smith might have been better suited for future. Had he been born just a few decades later, his interests in the arts and Eastern religions, his rustic lifestyle and residence in the greater Sacramento area might have all endeared him to the youthful counterculture of the fifties and sixties. Sadly, he was already an old man when Jack Kerouac and his Beat Generation peers were challenging the literary establishment, and died in 1961, well before the hippies replaced them.

    Even though Smith might have not been around to enjoy his fame, mass reprints of his work in fantasy paperbacks from publishers like Ballantine and Ace, as well as collectors editions from Arkham House and other presses, found an audience among new fantasy readers. Some of them became writers themselves and carried Smith’s special brand of erudite weirdness into the future. Others, like the future creators of Dungeons & Dragons went on to influence popular culture in other ways. (Including Tom Moldvay’s Castle Amber: An adventure module set in Smith’s Averoigne.)

    A new generation of writers have come to claim Smith as an influence, and The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies is a great way to sample his work and see what you have been missing. If you enjoy the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock or Gene Wolfe, then you really should give Smith a look.


    Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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    Star Wars: Attack Squadrons Grounded… For Now?

    Posted by Admin - May 26th, 2014

    imageStar Wars: Attack Squadrons alpha testers: Your Sortie is over. Disney Digital has discontinued development of the game to focus on other Star Wars gaming experiences. As a longtime fan of game titles like Star Wars: Battlefront (which featured awesome dogfights, IMHO), Star Wars: X-Wing Fighter, and Star Wars: Tie-Fighter, as well as a very avid player of Fantasy Flight’s utterly awesome tabletop skirmish game Star Wars: X-Wing (I’ve got an incredible Imperial fleet going.) I can safely say that I’m probably as disappointed as any of you.

    However – and I understand this is a big thing to ask when you’re disappointed – let’s be optimistic about this decision: Just because Star Wars: Attack Squadrons is off the table, that doesn’t mean that we won’t have a Star Wars dogfighting game soon. They might have scrapped this online “free to play” game for any number of legitimate reasons.

    Maybe it was going to conflict with another upcoming game – a better one. I know that we’ve got another Star Wars Battlefront coming sometime next year, and I can’t imagine that there won’t be a dogfighting element there. We might even see a console/PC download version of Star Wars: Attack Squadrons under a different name. That would be fine with me.

    Perhaps there wasn’t enough interest in the free online model. Really, the “free” should have an asterisk next to it anyway: I have yet to play a free online game that didn’t severely hobble free players in an effort to convince them to spend a few bucks for upgrades. I’d rather drop a few bucks upfront and know what I’m getting.

    Here’s another one: Maybe the game had problems, and Disney wants to make sure they release a high quality product. Better that than to release something of less than stellar quality to Star Wars fans. It’s no secret that we’re picky, to put it mildly. We expect great things. We might just see the game return in some new and improved form. I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been very happy with how they’ve handled the property so far, and I’m convinced that the story group and technical folks at Disney folks will settle for nothing less than excellence.

    There have been a fair number of Star Wars games over the years, and sadly, many of those were… well… disappointing. Remember: This game never made it out of alpha testing. Maybe this “end” is actually just the beginning of something wonderful for Star Wars gamers.

    In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to grab Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing miniatures game to get your dogfight fix. I’ve never been a war gamer, but this game has managed to capture and hold my attention in a way that few others have. Sure, it’s not a computer game, but the miniatures are unbelievably detailed (and when have you needed a reason to buy Star Wars memorabilia anyway?) and you’ll find that your brain has better special effects than any computer game. Don’t underestimate the childlike joy of pushing a tiny X-Wing across your dining room table while making “blat blat” noises.

    You can also revisit (or discover, if you haven’t read them yet) Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston’s amazing X-Wing novels. Or re-watch the movies. Or even boot up the old X-Wing/Tie-Fighter games. There’s plenty of ways to experience the thrill of Star Wars dogfighting, so don’t let this one game worry you too much.


    Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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    Scenes from ‘ALIENS’ Rendered in Lego!

    Posted by Admin - May 25th, 2014

    image
    “Game over, man! Game over!”

    Flickr user Missing Brick has created several scenes from James Cameron’s sci-fi classic ALIENS in Lego! I never had much Lego when I was a kid. Sure wish I did! I really want to see an entire ALIENS Lego movie now.

    See the entire gallery here!


    Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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