Written In Red

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I picked this book up from the paperback carousel at my neighborhood library recently, while trolling for SFF written in the last ten-fifteen years by female authors. It had positive blurbs, it sounded like an interesting premise, and it was a category that I generally enjoy for diversionary reading. Urban fantasy/paranormal romance is fun, and I appreciate the effort and energy that writers in this field devote to world-building, which is a heavy professional interest for me.

That said, I’ve read widely enough in the genre at this point that urban fantasy sometimes grows stale for me. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immediately engrossed and deeply moved by this novel, which has recognizable elements of paranormal romance, horror, high fantasy and young adult fiction for girls. It’s not necessarily a mix that you’d think would work, especially in a novel with multiple limited third person viewpoints rather than the standard first person narrative style.

It does work, however, and quite well. It made me not only want to find the rest of these books and read them immediately, but to put some thought into how the elements of this story came together.

The world-building and mysticism of the milieu was very well done. This is the first urban fantasy novel I’ve read in which humans are not the Earth’s dominant species, which I found to be an interesting starting position.

The problem of race and difference in this novel is not posed as a familiar struggle between the Other as a powerful and angry underdog versus an overwhelmingly hegemonic “Vanilla Human” population. The Others of this series are not hiding in the shadows or concealing themselves in the cracks of the world–humans are the subaltern race, who navigate a world fraught with systematic inequality which does not favor them.

Ultimately, though, what won me over was the characters, both human and non-human, and their simple, primal motives. It has been a long time since I read a book which wasn’t desperately striving to paint the world in ugly shades of grey. It’s oddly poignant to see an author present an extended argument that love or kindness really ARE the answer, in a world consumed by violence and mutual alienation.

The heroine, Meg Corbyn, reminds me a great deal of the protagonists of YA fiction for girls at the turn of the 20th century. There are echoes of Anne of Green Gables or Fern Arable, the human supporting character from Charlotte’s Web. Meg wields the power of the traditional female virtues.

Meg is kind, egalitarian, clean, thoughtful, industrious, gentle, courteous, determined, self-sacrificing, and service-oriented. She isn’t weak or lacking in will, but her resistance to abuse or coercion is always non-violent. emotionally and physically, and comes across as “adorable” or “endearing”, because she poses no danger to anyone.

There’s never the ugly, alienating or unattractive moment where we see Meg break down or melt down from anger or frustration, and reveal a darker side of herself. She never wields the kind of rage or develops the kind of resentment that scares people.

Similarly, most of the Other characters who have viewpoint scenes or speaking parts in the book are quite sympathetic and have clean, easy-to-understand motives. They are making mistakes, errors in judgment, errors in tactics….but they are very straightforward, simple mistakes, which are consistent with their values and knowledge. And they are all suckers for a little kindness and courtesy.

It’s an interesting story for survivors of trauma and abuse, and will appeal to anyone who has had to emerge from a painful past, reinvent herself, and make a new life. Creating a powerful network of support is often very difficult in reality, but in fiction like this the normally slow process is stream-lined to its essentials: diligence, volunteerism, kindness, honesty, and tolerance.

I’ve given this my highest rating because I think this is a really interesting offering, and I will be pursuing more of this author’s work.

Highly recommended.

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Full Indie Summit 2014: The Secret Story of Your Game

The great team at Full Indie has edited and uploaded all of the talks from the 2014 Full Indie Summit! There is video and audio of some great presentations from indie developers and facilitators from all over the world, including yours truly.

Check out all the great talks if you’re interested in the various aspects of the indie scene, from sound design and programming to narrative design, marketing, retaining sanity while working in a high-stress art form, and even analyzing the science of fun, and how games engage the human mind.

Full Indie Summit 2014 was a great experience and I’ve already purchased my ticket for the upcoming summit on October 31, 2015. Honestly the 31st is a big day in my calendar year, and I wasn’t sure I could make it, but I figured it was worth it to spend the ticket price and support a great organization and a great event in whatever way I could.

 

 

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Sword of the Stars Dice are here!

a shipping box of Sword of the Stars dice

A full box of custom six-sided dice!

Came home this evening to find that the long-awaited Sword of the Stars dice have arrived! Hundreds of custom six-siders with the faction logos of the SotSverse. As you can see, they turned out super cool!

I’m just going to post the pictures here so that people can check them out, link to them and enjoy the pleasant anticipation of waiting for them to arrive in the mailbox soon.

Thanks so much again to all of you who have given your support to our crowdfunding campaigns. I love seeing all the goodies come together, and I hope you enjoy these.

Sol Force faction dice

Sol Force faction dice

Hiver faction dice!

Hiver faction dice!

Tarka faction dice!

Tarka faction dice!

Liir faction dice! (oo, sparkly!)

Liir faction dice! (oo, sparkly!)

Zuul faction dice!

Zuul faction dice!

Morrigi faction dice!

Morrigi faction dice!

Loa faction dice!

Loa faction dice!

The full set of Sword of the Stars dice!

The full set of Sword of the Stars dice!

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen

Photo of Ursula Andress in costume as Ayesha

Ursula Andress as Ayesha in the 1965 Hammer Film.

An interesting challenge this morning on the Facebook Wall of author Adam-Troy Castro: what if you had to create a League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen?

It’s a straight-up proposition. Create an action-adventure Dream Team using the female characters of Victorian adventure/YA fiction, in much the same way that Alan Moore teamed up Alan Quartermain, The Invisible Man, Jeckyll/Hyde, Captain Nemo, and Mina Harker in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Sticking to the Victorian adventure fiction challenge, I found it interesting to note that not all of the “heroes” of Moore’s The League were actually heroes in their stories of origin. Jeckyll/Hyde was an anti-hero at best, as was Griffin in the Invisible Man–these were both unfortunate souls who became the victims of their own brilliance, in the sense that their scientific breakthroughs revealed and amplified their flawed character, rather than masking it. And Mina Harker is essentially the survivor of abuse/brainwashing who has chosen to be “empowered” rather than destroyed in the aftermath of her kidnapping by a monster.

In that vein, I would point out that Bram Stoker’s work does contain some female characters who could be exploited. Most of those novels are dreadful, of course, but The Jewel of Seven Stars contains Margaret Trelawney, the plucky and attractive daughter of the famous Egyptologist. In the course of the novel, the young woman merges with an ancient evil, the immortal Queen Tera, a mummy/demoness who seems to have been based partially on the historical Hatshepsut. I think the character and her ongoing duality has potential as a Jeckyll/Hyde problem, and she could probably be used to good effect in a story.

Turning to Haggard’s work: there’s always Hiya/Ayesha, the mad queen known as She Who Must Be Obeyed. She’s quite an interesting character, last survivor of the Ptolemaic dynasty. She comes equipped with the power of her Gorgonian beauty, which would compel her to wear a veil or a mask at all times to prevent people from falling under her spell…but she also has centuries of knowledge of alchemy/chemistry and the natural world, which she continued to study as any Ptolemy would while she was on the lam in sub-Saharan Africa, hiding from the History of a Man’s World: the Roman Empire, the Islamic conquest, the Renaissance and the rise of the slave-trade. She may seem an unlikely protagonist, but as a figure of redemption she’s not much worse than Griffin from The Invisible Man. The question is: after power has corrupted you absolutely and led to your humiliating and crushing defeat…then what?

A lot of people have also pointed out that there are real-life women who could be fictionalized cleverly for this challenge, and I wholeheartedly agree. Nellie Bly is a real life detective and journalist hero that anyone could look up to–I am very glad she’s being noticed in the modern age. If we need another real life hero to fill the Sawyer role on the team, you could also use a real woman: Belle Starr and Annie Oakley were both great shootists from that period, and there’s also Calamity Jane.

My personal suggestion to take over the Quartermain leadership position would be Gertrude Bell, who was kicking ass and taking names throughout the Near East at the time. Gertrude Bell was in the prime of her life in the late 1800’s, making history and being brilliant, competent and effective: her peers in terms of charisma and impact in that time and place were Lawrence of Arabia and Winston Churchill, which should help contextualize her for those who have never heard of her.

If you need a secret Victorian science hero, you have Marie Curie living and working in the heart of Paris with the MYSTERIES OF RADIOACTIVE STUFF RAAAAR. And what tour of iconic womanhood  and female power of that century that does not include a visit to see Marie LaVeau?

So, open question: what female heroes and redeemed villains would you like to see on the team?

And who gets to be the Token Male in this story? :P

 

 

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A Premium Lore Book Update

endsheet_1pg_single-smallJust a quick update to mention that the Sword of the Stars Premium Lore Book is currently in the final stages of tinkering as we work with the printers to deliver our limited edition premium hardback.

There are all sorts of weird little tasks which have to be performed, in order to create a fancy limited edition book. For example…endpapers. Who ever thinks of endpapers? And nonetheless, they are a thing that a big beautiful hardback book needs.

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Here are the endpapers that we’ve been working on, designed by Ken Lee. I’m waiting for the proofs with my fingers crossed, because I think these are awesome, and would look great if we can pull it off.

Wish us luck!

 

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Ground Pounders T-shirts!

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Just a quick word about the arrival of our beautiful Sword of the Stars: Ground Pounders t-shirts, which were recently delivered by the wonderful team at Orion Screenworks in North Vancouver.

The logo is the emblem of the Ground Forces branch of Sol Force, and features their motto, Hos Mundos Custodiemus–“We Will Watch Over These Worlds”. The real Ground Forces color is the light brown–the blue is for devs and family.

These will be shipped soon along with all the other awesome goodies that we’re cooking up during the Summer of Fulfillment. Thanks again for supporting our art and keeping the fires burning!

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Wolf Mother

Wolf-Mother-Portrait

My friend Ludovic Mercier drew this sketch of me as a lycanthrope, and I absolutely love it. :)

You can support his Patreon campaign of fantasy, transformational and furry art here.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I resolved at the end of May to dedicate this summer to fulfillment–not just of my personal dreams or ambitions, but of promises and obligations.

In particular, I set my sights on all of the Perks that remained outstanding from the crowdfunding campaigns that my team has launched from 2012 to 2014.

The fans and players of our games have been really patient and supportive, and with their help and encouragement we’ve delivered three games as promised since February of 2013. Nonetheless, there were some campaigns extras–books, t-shirts and physical knick-knacks–which had been stalled for far too long.

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The Hiver suit of the Ground Pounders card deck.

This summer I’ve plowed the last of the obstacles out of the way, and I’ve been busting hump finding fulfillment partners for a whole ton of physical merchandise. Coming up soon, we’ll have the Hiver War playing cards, a set of six-sided SotS Dice, a Challenge Coin, and the Ground Pounders t-shirt.

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Tarka Suit of the Ground Pounders card deck!

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Sword of the Stars Faction dice!

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Ground Pounders t-shirt in Ground Forces tan.

We’ll also be printing and shipping the Sword of the Stars Premium Lore Book as a limited edition hardback, and Black Section: The Complete Files, as well as some cool merch from the Kaiju-A-Gogo campaign. Stay tuned for more updates in the future, and thanks again for everyone’s support–it is appreciated.

 

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Hallucigenia

Thought this was pretty cool. Video of the ancient Cambrian worm Hallucigenia.

“I’m pretty sure that scientists are just getting high and making up prehistoric animals at this point.”  ~ Saladin Ahmed

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Mother of Assassins

 

assassins-apprentice-h-por

Author Molly Tanzer posted a link to an article on Topless Robot today called “8 Fantasy Series That You Should Check Out If You Love Game of Thrones“.

Tanzer pointed out in her post that there wasn’t a single female author on the list, which was certainly a fair point. But when I looked at the list, I actually saw a trend which I find more disturbing in modern science fiction and fantasy criticism, so I’m going to point it out explicitly.

Not only does this list explicitly ignore ALL female authors and their contributions (which is an obvious problem)…but it explicitly ignores a woman who made a critical and SEMINAL contribution to the field of modern fantasy, in favor of including one of her less original imitators.

In this case, the imitator is male: Brent Weeks, the author of the Night Angel Triology, is placed on the list while Robin Hobb, the author of the Farseer Trilogy, is ignored.

Please let me say in advance that I have no problem with any of the series listed by this article. I particularly agree with the inclusion of The Dark Tower, The Black Company, and Night Angel as must-read series, and I enjoyed the Night Angel books a great deal. I even tried re-reading them recently, although I crapped out in the last novel when I realized that I had no interest in wading through a lot of material about infidelity, which is always a huge turn-off.

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Nevertheless, leaving Robin Hobb off this list when she has produced some of the best fantasy world-building and plotting of the last twenty years is just inexcusable, and including the Night Angel Triology rather than the Farseer Trilogy, and without even mentioning Hobb and her influence on the field of modern fantasy, is just foolish.

The Night Angel Trilogy debuted in 2008: Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice was published in 1995. It predates Night Angel by over a decade, and covers much of the same ground in terms of plot, themes, and world-building–in particular the combination of the assassin’s trade with supernatural abilities.

The Farseer Trilogy also pre-dates the game series Assassin’s Creed, to which Night Angel in inevitably compared, by several years. The first game in that series was released in 2007, and probably influenced the cover artist of the Night Angel books significantly, although the game is not likely to be an influence on the author.

assassinscreed_cover

The discussion of influences in weird fiction and fantasy is obviously a slippery slope. I would never say that Robin Hobb originated the whole field of modern sword and sorcery, for example, given the seminal influence of authors like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. She also didn’t begin the trend in making modern fantasy much darker and more gritty, in the 1980’s–note that both the first books of The Black Company series and The Dark Tower series made it to this list, published in 1984 and 1982 respectively.

If you go back far enough time, I wouldn’t deny the orientalizing influence of Richard Francis Burton’s translations of 1001 Arabian Nights on these novels, particularly as those stories were filtered by fantasy authors like Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith.

The point is that there is a time-line, a continuum of influence and growth in the field of fantasy, and it is the habit of modern critics to cut women out of the Family Tree in horrendously dishonest and destructive ways.

Women in science fiction and fantasy are too often denied credit for being “seminal” creative forces in their field of endeavor. When women do achieve great things, and pass on tremendous gifts of creativity, ideas and influence to others, they are far too often carved out of their rightful positions of respect and homage.

Laurell K. Hamilton is arguably the creative grandmother of at least three popular franchise IP’s in the present day: Twilight (and by extension 50 Shades of Grey), True Blood and Harry Dresden are all seeds sprung from the new ground that Hamilton broke in her Anita Blake series.

Nonetheless, Hamilton rarely receives thanks from any of her imitators and proteges, nor are her books lauded and promoted by critics and fans of the popular series that looted her work. Instead she tends to be erased from the discourse…and since she is very much alive and working, she is arguably being impoverished and harmed by this treatment.

In much the same way, Robin Hobb is indisputably the Mother of the Assassin Trope in postmodern fantasy. And she should be credited as such, and read by those who want to understand modern fantasy and enjoy it more deeply. She certainly deserves better than to be erased from the picture by fans, critics, and corporations who exploit the genre for profit.

 

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