PC Koshinbun – Anime, Appendix N, and Strong Women

Cirsova reviews Cute Knight


Cute Knight, for PC, looks to be a quirky anime-style RPG with a number of tried and proven mechanics (e.g. dating sim style stat and money balancing activities). Alex shares his thoughts after three play-throughs, and though this particular one won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it does sound worth a look.

Getting to know the Man(ly)

In what looks to be a multi-part series, Oghma tells of how he became acquainted with the works of  Manly Wade Wellman – a great blend of personal anecdote and appreciation for another great writer we’d do well to check out. “Silver John” – what a cool-sounding character!

Sizzling hot princess, beef

In honor of Women’s Day, Jon M. decided to highlight one of SFF’s most underappreciated (and hottest) strong women – Dejah Thoris. *Trigger warning: this post contains a delicious steak sandwich recipe. You may not want to read if you’re hungry and have no steak on hand.


Get a’writing (via Seagull Rising)!

Indie publishing seems to have really taken off, especially among the Pulp Revolution crowd. But outlets like Cirsova can only fit so much. What’s an aspiring short fiction writer to do? Well, there are other outlets out there. Jon shared one recently – StoryHack Action & Adventure is currently accepting submissions, and it’s worth checking out if you’ve got something you can send in by April 1st!

(Japanese) picture of a good “strong female” character

Over at SupervisiveSF, Anthony looks at Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky and concludes that Sheeta is a much more attractive and effective strong female character than many in contemporary storytelling. As he points out, a well-done woman character can be brave, competent, and feminine. Humility is an attractive virtue, not a weakness, and a good woman should be complementary to a man, not overtly usurp his role or compete with him. Double thumbs up for the Rey-bashing.


Comparing Heinlein

I must confess I haven’t read either of these books, but HP does a commendable job looking at two Young Adult SF stories – one very recent, and one over half a century old. The bottom line seems to be that while there are many imitators, it’s hard to match Heinlein at his best. Lest you think that’s all there is to HP’s review, though:

“Have Space Suit—Will Travel and Martians Abroad couldn’t be more different.  The former is emphatically blue SF and the latter is emphatically pink SF.  They aren’t even in the same sub-genre.”

Princess Monomoke – BEST MOVIE EVER

I must confess I was a little skeptical at first; I’m a fan of Princess Mononoke, but it might not even be in my top 10 animated film picks. Still, Malcolm makes a great argument for the depth and supervisiveness that many viewers may miss. Game of Thrones grayness but hopeful instead of nihilistic? That’s actually some pretty potent stuff.



There’s a great post over at Tribality with twenty ghosts and spirits from various cultures that don’t get much play (literally). Some time ago Jeffro noted an observation by game designer James Raggi:  “Because monsters should be unnatural and hopefully a little terrifying, using stock examples goes against the purpose of using monsters to begin with.”

So why not spice up your game with some more obscure or unique demons and specters? Of course we’re most likely all familiar with the banshee, but personally I had never heard of most of these.

Potentially great inspiration for writers, too!

Getting fired up by Anderson

Poul Anderson is another awesome old SFF writer that I had never heard of before diving into the pulp scene. It’s great to see him getting some play! Jon Del Arroz recently read Fire Time, and shares his impressions.

Castalia House sweeps the scene

It’s hard to cover everything, so I don’t even try! Be sure to check out Jeffro’s latest sensor sweep over at the Castalia House blog for some more noteworthy articles. There may be one or two overlaps, so feel free to read those particular posts twice!

The Kaiju

Also if you’ve been following Kaiju’s sword and sorcery tale, be sure to check out his latest installment. Plenty of action and gore in this one!



PC Koshinbun – Anime, Appendix N, and Strong Women


As much as I may hand-wring about overaggressiveness from the Pulp Revolution crowd (I still prefer to think of myself as a moderating voice rather than a scold), I have to say that at least most of these folks conduct themselves with a level of decorum that seems to be absent in other quarters.

At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory about “my own side,” I’ve seen very little objectionable behavior from “us.” Sure, there’s some shitlording and sometimes you’ll see some bad language, it’s true. But I have yet to see anyone write off a good faith effort to engage. Dialogue and debate are welcome.

I bring this up because of an encounter Alex of Cirsova had yesterday. Summary:


(Updated – thanks for clarifying a point here, Alex)

– Dude writes a blog post about the Arthur C. Clark Award and his thoughts on the SFF genre.

– A commenter mentions Cirsova magazine’s contributions to the genre.

– Cirsova pops in to elaborate about his SFF magazine.

– Dude replies back observing that the Cirsova website has a Gamergate banner.

– Cirsova affirms this.

– Dude replies back accusing Cirsova and/or its fans of being misogynistic fascists. Unprovoked.

– Cirsova makes a graceful exit.

– Dude takes a parting shot.

– I drop a post mocking Dude’s lack of civility.

– Dude calls us self-serving Nazi pricks.

You can see the archived image here.

I think, in the long-run, this kind of thing can be good for us. The average observer, seeing this, is going to conclude that Dude is an asshole. It’s the same kind of poor behavior we see from the likes of Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street, or the Trump protesters. Sorry guys – setting cop cars on fire and smashing Starbucks windows is not going to win you any prizes, nor will it ingratiate you with the public.

This, I think, is part of the reason the pendulum swung to the right this election cycle. Bad behavior is not rewarded.

I mean, who comes out looking badly here?


From where I’m standing, it’s not Cirsova.

Even if it *were* ok to punch Nazis in the face, you can’t just declare everyone who disagrees with you to be a Nazi. Eventually you’re going to punch someone and either (a) get hauled off or (b) get the shit kicked out of you.






I’ve mentioned Alex’s Cirsova blog numerous times as one of the main inspirations for my foray into pulp/classic SFF. It’s been more than a few months now since the publication of the first volume of the titular retro SFF magazine. I was quick to buy but very slow to read, and I just this morning finished up. In my defense, since reading Jack Vance’s Gray Prince and ERB’s Mars books last spring, I don’t think I’ve cracked anything (save Cirsova) written since the late 70’s.

I just wanted to get down a few thoughts, then, to mark this occasion. First a minor disclosure – I’ve acknowledged that Alex has been an influence of mine. We’re on friendly terms online and travel within some of the same social media and blogging circles.

I really appreciate what Cirsova magazine is doing. That’s why I was quick to back the first volume on Kickstarter and didn’t hesitate to do the same for the next three volumes, despite having only had a consumed a small sample.

If you haven’t read H.P.’s review, I would direct you do to so. I think I largely agree with his takes on the individual stories.

Jeffro wrote a while ago about being a literary critic, and I commented that doing so requires some very particular skills, plus a certain kind of courage (or else lack of empathy, I suppose). I’ve never enjoyed panning other people’s work, except in the case of smug, bloviating arseholes, perhaps. As this pertains to Volume 1, let me just back up a moment and first say that overall I thought it achieved what it set out to do. I thought it had some solid entries, led by Hernstrom’s Gift of the Ob-Men and Burnett’s A Hill of Stars.

Although I must note here that while I enjoyed Hernstrom’s first Cirsova entry (I know there are more in successive volumes), I was nowhere near impressed enough to compare him to Jack Vance. That’s not a knock on the guy. For me to make that leap, I’d need to see a consistently top-notch level of output. Maybe that’ll be the case with Hernstrom. I haven’t read his short story collection or other Cirsova pieces yet, so I can’t say. Maybe I’ll jump on board with Jon Mollison at some point. For now I may be too enamored by the classics.

Jumping back to the topic at hand, I also enjoyed Jeffro’s piece (full disclosure that Jeffro is another blogging/reading influence of mine and another friendly). Though I’ve never played Traveller nor yet read any EC Tubb, Jeffro, true to form, delivers a thoughtful and fun exploration of Dumarest’s contribution to the popular pen and paper RPG. References to other nerd favorites like Daredevil and Firefly provide interesting tidbits and observations for most of the sort who would likely be reading this kind of a magazine.

I found most of the rest of the volume to be a little uneven. The John Carter tribute was appreciated, but I have a difficult time with long poems. So I think My Name is John Carter (Part 1) was a worthy addition to the publication, just not for me.

The other stories were, for the most part, forgettable for me. I didn’t think they were all bad, though there were a couple that had me scratching my head. Interesting ideas but somewhat flawed technical execution, it seemed to me. It’s my hope that all of the writers will continue to grow and improve, as will Cirsova. I’ll need to strive to broaden my reading queue a bit over the next half year and get to Volume 2 quicker this time.

You can buy Cirsova Volume 1 over at Amazon to support the cause, or read it for free online on its website.


I’m loving the Jabari Weathers cover art, by the way.






Shadows and dust of Amber

For the month of October, I mostly opted to play follow the leader – dashing through Nine Princes in Amber with the Puppy of the Month Club, and Frankenstein in solidarity with HP over at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.

*Moderate spoilers ahead!*


There are already a number of great Amber posts up, so feel free to check those out if you’re familiar with the story already and looking for some analysis:

Hooc Ott laid down a fascinating look at Amber’s influence on a classic D&D campaign module.

Jon M’s overview is worth a read. He makes some astute observations about the tone and setting of the story, and I’m in full agreement on how it concludes. It doesn’t feel like a good place to end, and while I generally prefer novellas to lengthy tomes, had I been reading Amber as it was written I’d have been disappointed.

The Frisky Pagan also makes some good points. I found myself nodding along to his opinion about the highs and lows of the first Amber tale. The invasion of Amber did seem anticlimactic and relatively dull compared to the character-building periods like Corwin’s imprisonment.

As I read the story myself, I found myself thinking about an exchange I had with Alex of Cirsova on Twitter:


As to his distaste for Corwin, I didn’t share the feeling but I can definitely see where he’s coming from. As the book advances, Corwin demonstrates admirable feelings like remorse, pity, and guilt. He may be a narcissist, but I didn’t find him consistently unlikable.

Alex’s second grievance gave me more pause (incidentally he also observed at the PotM Club blog that Amber’s shadowstuff was one of the main inspirations for D&D’s illusionist class).  I haven’t read past the first book, so I could be completely off-base here and contradicted by the succeeding stories, but my impression was that the Shadows were more than illusions.

So far as the children of Oberon believe, Amber is the only Substance; all else is Shadow. However it also appears that the people of Amber do not know everything about their world or how their powers work. They seem to speculate and take for granted.

Furthermore, Corwin feels sympathy for his Shadows. When he and Bleys move against Eric, our protagonist notes his pity for their dying, suffering soldiers. When faced with his inevitable defeat at sea, Corwin even decides that though he would personally never choose to surrender, he would give himself up to save his men. If these devotees were mere dust, only illusion, then why would he do such a thing (especially seeing as he clearly values himself so highly)? Is this nothing more than the sympathy one might feel for a video game avatar or maybe even a pet? Possible, but doubtful to me. Feelings of human decency might compel me not to beat a hooker to death in GTA, but they would not make me sacrifice in real life for said digital prostitute.

Even if Corwin doesn’t consciously realize it, I think he knows that the people of the Shadows are more than nothing. Perhaps this is a result of having lived on our Earth for some centuries. That, too, raises an interesting point. If the Shadow worlds are just reflections of Amber, devoid of any substance, then we too are nothing.

Again, I could be completely off the mark here. I’ll pick Amber back up sometime and see what else is said of the Shadow. But I want to give Zelazny credit here and believe that #ShadowLivesMatter, too. Otherwise, as Alex says, there are some big elements rendered meaningless.



Shadows and dust of Amber

16 Nerdy blogs for your perusal

I was talking with Twitter friends @Emily30Red and @Brainfertilizer earlier about SFF matters – the latter fellow trying to get back into writing and thinking of exploring some blogs. Red Emily also expressed interest in a few recommendations. So here are some that I’ve found and enjoyed recently, mostly pertaining to classic SFF and gaming, but with some overlap into other nerdy spheres, culture, and religion, as well:

John C Wright’s Journal


Notes: Blog of author and atheist -to-Catholic convert, John C Wright. I’ve been reading this one the longest of any on my list. Some of his posts are novel-length, but he makes some very sharp observations about both culture and nerd matters (lit, film, games, etc). A lot of content to explore.





Notes: I’ve been following this one for a while now. It’s affiliated with the relatively new retro-SFF magazine of the same name. Some posts with music recommendations and a few reflections on cultural trends (usually anti-SJW), but a lot of incisive commentary and reviews on classic SFF and gaming materials. This was my gateway to Jeffro and a whole mess of other blogs. Highly recommended; a lot of good archive material.


Castalia House



Notes: The official site and blog of the Castalia House publishing company. Alex of Cirsova and Jeffro (see next entry) and a couple other writers post regular articles related to classic SFF and tabletop gaming.  To my knowledge Jeffro runs the Twitter account. Highly Recommended.


Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog


Notes: Jeffro is pretty active on Google+ and the Castalia House blog, but he will sometimes post to his personal site, as well. There are periods of long inactivity, but some very interesting posts here. Dig into the archives. Highly recommended.


Every Day Should Be Tuesday



Notes: Attorney and book reviewer HP writes mostly reviews of speculative fiction (including his Throwback Thursdays devoted to classic SFF), with miscellaneous other nerdbits thrown in. Great blog.


The Catholic Geeks



Notes: As the name suggests, this is a geek blog from a Catholic outlook. As you may imagine, some religious content here. Mostly you’ll find commentary and reviews on books, film, TV shows, comics, etc. I haven’t read this one extensively but have liked what I’ve seen.


Don’t Split the Party


Notes: Old school gamer Rick Stump lays out very astute reviews on TV and film (check out his posts on Blade Runner and Stranger Things!), as well as gaming materials and other nerdy things. Very good!


Black Gate



Notes: Another publishing house’s blog. This one is hit or miss; some nice book/magazine reviews, but also some banal SJWish content on occasion (see my post making fun of one such review).


The Land of Nod


Notes: RPG writer’s blog focusing mostly on tabletop resources and ideas, with a smattering of literature reviews and other stuff. I haven’t delved too deeply, but seems cool.




Notes: A nerd hobbyist’s blog about tabletop RPGs, video games, comics, art, etc. An interesting variety of material, and he puts together a giant blog list (almost) every year.


Tales to Astound


Notes: A blog that seems mostly focused on resources and inspirations for the Traveller tabletop RPG. Also haven’t dug too deep here, but some of the article titles have caught my eye.


The Frisky Pagan



Notes: A bilingual blog about culture, gaming, and other nerdy pursuits. Good variety of content.


Seagull Rising



Notes: A (as of this writing) young blog mostly about culture, gaming, and fiction. Jon and I hold opposing views on a number of issues, but he strikes me as well-spoken, respectful, and affable.  Worth checking out!


Campaign Mastery



Notes: Mostly a gaming (pen and paper RPG) resource for DMs. Some material is interesting to read even outside of that context, like this post exploring possible explanations of/for in-game (or in-story) magic.


Battered, Tattered, Yellow, and Creased


Notes: A blog devoted to reviewing and analyzing vintage “genre” fiction. Not updated so often anymore, but it has a great index of book reviews, including many SFF items.




Another blog that I haven’t read extensively, but has some eye-catching posts about games and films. It was originally his two reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that drew my attention.


Bonus resource:

If you’re interested in classic SFF and haven’t yet checked out my Grand List, I shamelessly invite you to do so!




16 Nerdy blogs for your perusal

Dragons, crusades, witchers, and chaos

Greetings, friends. It’s been a busy day of troubleshooting, but I wanted to bang out a quick update about what’s in the pipeline.

As I turn the dial on Heroes of the Storm down to a 1 or 2, I gain some room for other pursuits.


On one track, I’m revisiting the Witcher. I read the Last Wish maybe a couple years ago, having been a big fan of the PC game. Now that the Sword of Destiny is out, I’m told by The Internet that I can proceed to the next nugget. So that’s on the shortlist of what I’ll be reading next. Meanwhile, I’m trying to speed-walk my way through the Witcher 2 for maybe the 3rd or 4th time. I think I’ve finally got the controls set up in such a way that combat feels challenging but not frustratingly difficult on Normal mode. I’m eager to get to the Witcher 3, so I think this time I’ll actually make it all the way through.

I’ve finished rereading the Dragon and the George, which I wrote a little bit about recently. I very much enjoyed the second readthrough, and would say once again that although it didn’t make the cut, so to speak, with Appendix N, in my opinion it’s certainly a great read and a worthy entry in the (g)old catalog of pre-70’s SFF. I intend to write more on the Dragon Knight books after I get to reading the titular second book in the series. Top that off with some Cirsova #2.

At the moment I’m reading the High Crusade. HP over at Every Day Should Be Tuesday just wrote up a review of this one, which I’m avoiding until I finish (which shouldn’t be too long; it’s a thin book). This is my introduction to Anderson, and so far I’m liking it. It’s amusing and in some ways funny without being silly or comical. There are two or more other Anderson books I’d like to read in the near-medium term future, and so far this bodes well.


I also picked up Chaos Reborn on Steam the other day, because of course it was on sale for like $6. I played through the tutorial and am intrigued by the hex-based tactical nature of play combined with deck-building (cards, like butter, make everything better) and wizard-customization elements. There are a lot of little moving parts that could make this an intriguing and deep game while at the same time being relatively easy to learn and play. I think I’ll try the campaign and perhaps quick battle mode or whatever it’s dubbed, and maybe I’ll write more then.



Dragons, crusades, witchers, and chaos

Thoughts on My Lord Barbarian

Last month I noted that I’d picked up my first Offutt book on the strength of Cirsova and Jeffro’s recommendations. On review of my previous post, I erred in calling Jeffro’s post a “review” exactly. He calls the novel his favorite of Offutt’s scifi works. Still a solid endorsement, to be added to the Cirsova write-up.


I’m slightly embarrassed that it took me a full month to finish given its slender form and economy of words and plot. I did enjoy it, and I’m satisfied with the purchase and the time spent reading. Still, I think I lean towards agreeing with my Twitter crony Nathan Alexander here.

While I don’t see barbarian protagonist Valeron as a Conan clone per se, both physically and temperamentally he does bear uncanny resemblance. Beyond that fact I do have a few nits to pick with the story and the writing. I don’t mean this as a refutation of Alex or Jeffro; I would still judge this a worthy read and a good addition to an Appendix N or pulp scifi collection. So how about I scatter in some laud with the more negative critiques?

**Heavy spoilers to follow**

I’m not sure when the “post-apocalyptic world thrown back to feudalism” became a popular setting, but when done right it can make for a fascinating universe that leaves open nearly limitless writing directions and plot opportunities. I enjoyed Offutt’s implementation here, and even though I had read Cirsova’s review (and forgotten key parts, apparently), it took me a while to realize that the god Siense was actually “science.” Little things like the bastardization of words we know throw you into the fiction.

The flip side of that for me was that Offutt really didn’t spend much time developing any settings outside of the Imperial castle (and underground secret). This may not bother all readers. Personally I’m not all that big on writers spending numerous pages on extraneous information for worlds that the reader doesn’t need to know about. In the case of My Lord Barbarian, however, we hear about 7 artificial worlds and learn to some degree about their leaders, but little to nothing about the planets themselves. By the end of the story we know that Branarius is a rocky, warlike world with mountains and salt. But what of the others? Much of the story takes place on the capital world, but what kind of a world Carmeis is we know not. Barren? Lush? Super urban? I remember very vague, general description being supplied of how the Ancients placed the planets equidistant from their shared sun. But little else.

Another little “world building” element that alternatingly grated and amused me was the mechanics of the universe’s language (which extended beyond dialogue to narration). Rather than murdering someone, a person “does murder” upon another. Death and rape and slander are “done.” Kinda reminded me of the Japanese language, actually, with all kinds of nouns attached to する to “verbatize” them.

I remember someone comparing My Lord Barbarian to Game of Thrones, but with a streamlined plot. I must disagree there. There is definitely some politics involved, but this is a sword and sorcery (or sword and science) story. If you’re a politico who enjoys turnabouts, secret alliances, betrayals, and plots that you didn’t see coming, this isn’t the story for you.

I’ll admit that the last chapter or so had the wheels in my head turning. Valeron’s decision to give up the Imperial throne and the empress in favor of the sexy fighting slave girl wasn’t surprising. It was perhaps noble and may have been in keeping with his character, but even on that count I’m not 100% sure. So much of the story was spent on his battling and sexing that I didn’t really have a strong feel for what kind of man he was. Several times he debated with himself about his ambition. And hell, there’s nothing wrong with being a king. But I wonder that he would think so highly of himself as a leader and resent the condescension of his peers and yet give up his chance to make himself ruler of them all. He does anticipate that the other kings may not peacefully and willingly bend the knee, but would the great Warlord of Branarius blanch at such a prospect? I don’t know. Perhaps we was just satisfied to accept his gains and rule his own planet, but doesn’t sound like many conquerors I’ve heard of.

Speaking of characterization, I found many of the cast to be thinly fleshed out, which I suppose isn’t surprising given the book’s length. Darcus Cannu, our story’s villain, manages to assassinate the Emperor, yes. We are told many times how crafty and cunning and self-controlled he is. But then when his trap is sprung and Valeron is fighting to escape, Cannu simply stamps and yells. “You idiots, I want him alive!” he cries in typical cartoonish form. Controlled, indeed. Why do you need him alive? If the plan is to frame him for the death of the emperor, it’s extremely plausible that the royal guard would cut him down as soon as the deed were done; not capture him. Why leave his death to chance or let him speak out and cause some doubt as to what really happened? Because despite the great potential of the right-hand man or close advisor turned traitor (See Jafar or Iago – the Shakespeare character, not the bird), the Cannu character was kind of wasted. He made a good “hook” for Valeron’s adventure, but was too easily foiled. And then when captured at the end of the book, instead of zapping his enemies with his ray guy, he merely admits his guilt, monologues about how he was justified, and then then tells everyone he’s about to shoot Valeron, giving Jallad ample time to intercede. For such a clever guy he really doesn’t anticipate much.

That brings me to Jallad, and Valeron’s ultimate decision not to pursue the crown and Aleysha. Jallad really intrigued me, and I think there was a lot of squandered potential here. Towards the later parts of the book, we learn that all of the kings have joined Valeron – except Jallad, the scholar-boy-king, who had traveled to the capital. To borrow Offutt’s style for a moment, nervousness is with Valeron and his peers. What does this mean? Has Jallad joined Cannu? Is he privy to the conspiracy, and where do his loyalties lie?

Even once Cannu is dead and things are wrapping up, Jallad is a mystery. What was he doing at the palace for two weeks? Wooing Aleysha, presumably. But what was his game? Cannu intended to marry her. Was Jallad just hanging out? Was he biding his time and plotting his own conspiracy against Cannu? Granted Valeron isn’t portrayed as being politically savvy, but this should give him pause in his decision not to claim the throne. Jallad’s motives, and what kind of emperor he will be, are suspect.

The other various officers and kings are also somewhat lacking. Aleysha is a girl struggling to become an empress; that much is achieved. Jheru is a buxom slave warrior with sass. Fine. King Vidul is adequately done; at least he and Valeron become friends as kindred spirits. The other rulers…meh.

We’ve got the homely woman king, the priest king, and the leader king, in addition to Vidul, Jallad, and Valeron. Lexton at least seems honorable, if bland. Narran and Eshara? I don’t know, they struck me as kind of dumb plot tools. When Cannu is pleading his case, he asserts that the assassination and attempt to place himself on the throne were done out of a selfless desire to do what’s best for the Empire. To this Narran and Eshara each reply “Ah yes, that makes sense. I believe this guy was just trying to do the right thing.” Then Jallad steps in and points out that motive hardly matters when you commit empericide and then attempt to frame a king. Narran and Eshara are swayed back. “Oh yes, good point.”


For all my criticisms, this was a world I wanted to see more of, and I was disappointed that this was a standalone and not part of a series. I would have liked to read more of the various worlds and their peoples, and to see what would become of the Empire. Would Valeron be called back to serve and fight, or would Jallad prove a capable and worthy emperor? Alas, we shall never know. For all the merits of shorter novels, I wish there were more meat to this one; not because it sucked, but because I was intrigued.



Thoughts on My Lord Barbarian