Author Archive

MIND MELD: Great Books to Read During Winter

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week, in time for the change of season, we asked about Winter:

In the Northern Hemisphere, the weather is turning colder, and the season of Winter is upon us. What are your favorite genre stories and novels that revolve around the coldest season. How do they make use of the season, and how do they evoke it?
This is what they had to say…
Gwenda Bond
Gwenda Bond’s debut novel, Blackwood, was a September 2012 launch title for Strange Chemistry, the new YA imprint of Angry Robot Books. Her next novel, The Woken Gods, will be released in July 2013. She is also a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly, regularly reviews for Locus, guest-edited a special YA issue of Subterranean Online, and has an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie. Visit her online at her website (www.gwendabond.com) or on twitter (@gwenda).

The first novel that leaps to mind is Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness. It’s a wonderfully bizarre tour de force about a girl, Sym, who is obsessed with all things Antarctic, including her imaginary boyfriend, the deceased Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates. Her mad “uncle” takes her on a once in a lifetime trip there, which turns out to be a nightmare. He believes in the hollow Earth theory and that they will prove it’s true. Along the way, McCaughrean masterfully reveals more and more about Sym’s own past and her phony uncle. Sym’s voice is arresting despite how very in her own head she is—and it’s perhaps because of how that works with a backdrop that is spectacularly isolated and physically challenging. Some people may argue this isn’t a true fantasy, but I would debate them (citing spoilers), and regardless of which of us won I maintain it’d still be of interest to many genre readers because of the hollow Earth fringe science driving the plot.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Creative Fire by Brenda Cooper

REVIEW SUMMARY: Cooper marries the classic SF trope of a Generation Starship to an intensely character-driven drama with a fascinating main character.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ruby Martin, bot technician trainee on a class-riven generation starship, struggles for freedom and the rights of her underclass peers.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Captivating main character; strong character-focused story with strong themes; stunning cover art.
CONS: A couple of Ruby’s relationships feel a bit false.
BOTTOM LINE: The Creative Fire is a powerful opening half to a planned diptych of novels.

Ruby Martin lives on The Creative Fire, a generation starship, making its way between the stars. As one of the underclass, called ‘greys’ by the classes above her, she feels she is destined to live out her life as a robot technician quietly toiling away, unappreciated and unnoticed, in the bowels of the ship.  An accident exposes Ruby to the world above. At the same time, the shakeup caused by the accident provides Ruby with the opportunity to try and reach that greater world. Little does Ruby realize that her gifts are stronger than she suspects, and her charisma, voice, thirst for knowledge, and potential leadership skills are perhaps more powerful than any weapon on board the ship, if she is only allowed the chance to use them.

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Interview with “Dark Lord” Author Jamie Thomson

Award winning author Jamie Thomson is the author of numerous books, ranging from Choose your own adventure style adventure books to his newest series, revolving around a Dark Lord trapped in the form of a ten year old boy. Jamie was kind enough to answer a few questions about him and his work.


Paul Weimer: Let’s start off with the deceptively simple opening: Who is Jamie Thomson?

Jamie Thomson: Jamie Thomson is the Greatest Living Writer to Ever Walk the Earth. Well, alright, perhaps not the entire earth. My village anyway. Actually, that’s not quite true. Oh alright, Jamie Thomson is the Greatest Living Writer in this room. At the moment. As long as no-one else walks in. He has also been in writing and computer games and fantasy and SF and all that stuff for years, and years and years.

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BOOK REVIEW: Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald

REVIEW SUMMARY: McDonald proves the concept of his world of the Infundibulum has legs, and provides some intriguing new ideas amid an entertaining adventure.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fleeing Charlotte Villers and seeking a way to find and rescue his father, Everett and his friends aboard airship Everness discover why a particular world is off limits.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Lots of ideas thrown out and explored; good development of main characters.
CONS: The establishment of Everett’s double as nemesis feels extremely forced.
BOTTOM LINE: Malevolent Nanotech. More world hopping. A solidly entertaining second volume to the series.

In Planesrunner, the first novel in Ian McDonald’s YA series about Everett Singh, we were introduced to the world of the Infundibulum. Everett’s father, with help from Everett himself, unlocked inter-world travel, a breakthrough powerful and potent enough that people will go to great lengths to possess the technology. Everett’s journeys takes him to a parallel world of carbon fiber technology and enormous airships. At the end of the first book, Everett’s father has been cast to somewhere in the multiverse, and Everett is determined to find and save him, even as the forces arrayed against him are in hot pursuit.  Now, those forces, led by Charlotte Villiers, have a new plan for capturing Everett and his key to the mulltiverse. They intend to use the one person who can anticipate and counter Everett’s moves and actions: himself…

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Interview with Chaz Brenchley

British Fantasy Award winning author Chaz Brenchley is the author of nine thrillers, most recently Shelter and two fantasy series, The Books of Outremer and Selling Water by the River. As Daniel Fox he has published a Chinese-based fantasy series, beginning with Dragon in Chains, as Ben Macallan, an urban fantasy, Desdæmona. I talked to Chaz about his many hats, and his writing.

Photo by Donna-Lisa Healy.

Paul Weimer: So let’s begin with a deceptively easy question. Who is Chaz Brenchley?

Chaz Brenchley: Chaz Brenchley is a British novelist and short story writer. He sold his first stories when he was eighteen, and he’s never had another job: which means he’s been making a living from his keyboard for thirty-five years now. He’s published short fiction in almost every genre except Westerns (and that may change). His novels range from mysteries through supernatural thrillers to fantasies and SF. He likes to say he lives down the dirty end of genre fiction; in fact, after thirty years in Newcastle on Tyne, he’s just moved to Silicon Valley with two fractious cats and an unconscionable quantity of books.

Also, Chaz Brenchley is Daniel Fox. Who went to Taiwan for the millennium, as a guest of the government; went back as a guest of his interpreter; studied classical Mandarin for six years after that and then wrote a trilogy set in an analogue world, transposing contemporary Taiwan – loosely – onto imperial China.

Also, Chaz Brenchley is Ben Macallan. Who began life as the narrator of two Chaz Brenchley novels, Dead of Light and Light Errant, but then branched out into writing fiction of his own. His first book, Desdaemona, is an urban fantasy set in an England saturated with mythic figures; the sequel, Pandaemonium, has just been published.

Away from the keyboard, he has been described as “the finest cook in this room”. That isn’t always true.

He has also been described as “the only man we know – apart from Christopher Lee – who’s met both Tolkien and Gandalf.” As far as we know, that one is true.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Siren Depths by Martha Wells

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong third entry in the Books of the Raksura series by Martha Wells.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Moon, only slowly getting used to his role in his own Court, finds himself unexpectedly traded to another. Worse, the Fell are on the move again and they have a plan…

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong writing, especially with regards to the social relationships and conflicts within the Raksura; more interesting worldbuilding.
CONS: Pacing in the last portion of the novel is too swift; the final act feels far too short as compared to the remainder of the novel
BOTTOM LINE: A welcome way to round out the three Books of the Raksura.
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INTERVIEW: David Tallerman on Writing, the Fantasy Genre, and Stealing Giants

David Tallerman is the author of Giant Thief and its sequel, Crown Thief, from Angry Robot Books, as well as numerous short stories, comics and film scripts, covering a wide variety of subjects and themes. David was kind enough to answer a few questions about his writing and work.


Paul Weimer: You’ve been writing professionally for a few years, and Giant Thief is your first novel. What drew you to writing fantasy?

David Tallerman: The obvious reason is that I love Fantasy as a genre, both to read and to write; but since I feel the same way about Science-Fiction and Horror, and since I’ve written short fiction in all three genres, I guess that’s not really an answer.

Partly it was just that my protagonist Easie Damasco’s story was the first I came up with that I really felt could work at novel length. There was something in the idea of a thief stealing a giant that, right from the beginning, felt as though it could grow and perhaps be the seed of an entire book.
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INTERVIEW: John Anealio on SF Music, the Musical Creative Process and More

John Anealio writes songs about science fiction and fantasy and other geeky things. Alternate-tuned acoustic guitar picking, soaring synthesizers, and catchy pop hooks power his odes to androids, princesses, and vampires. His newest album, available on his website JohnAnealio.com as well as iTunes is the Chuck Wendig named album Laser Zombie Robot Love. He also recently released a free single to commemorate the fall of Felix Baumgartner from space to the ground. He is the co-creator and co-host of The Functional Nerds and has come up with theme songs for a variety of other podcasts as well, including the one for the SF Signal podcast.

I decided to sit down with John to learn more about him and his writing and creative process…


Paul Weimer: Laser Zombie Robot Love is your newest album. But where did the idea of doing geeky songs, as opposed to, say, covers or homages to Rush or Emerson Lake and Palmer come from?

John Anealio: For years, I was a straight-up folk/pop singer/songwriter. My songs were about relationships and other typical subject matter. As my writing grew, I started to write about all kinds of things. The first CD that I put out as a typical singer/songwriter included a song about vampires and one titled Orbit. At one point, I decided to focus my writing on subjects that would appeal to genre fans and tech geeks. Part of the idea behind this stemmed from my then, new found interest in blogs and podcasts. I was reading all of these Sci-Fi review blogs and I thought if I wrote songs inspired by the books that these folks were reviewing, then they’d probably enjoy them and maybe even spread the word about them. That was the start and it pretty much worked. However, it quickly changed to writing about all different subjects and themes within the genre, not just about specific Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books.

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MIND MELD: The Intersection Between Gothic Horror and Urban Fantasy

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week, just in time for Halloween, we asked our distinguished panelists about Gothic and Urban Fantasy…

The theme of this year’s World Fantasy Convention is “Northern Gothic and Urban Fantasy”. The thesis is that Urban Fantasy represents the new Gothic; castles and haunted locations have been replaced by the Modern City.

Q: How do you see the intersection between Gothic Horror and modern Urban Fantasy? How connected are these two genres in your mind?

This is what they had to say…

Lyda Morehouse
Lyda Morehouseis the author of the Archangel Protocol novels, most recently Resurrection Code, out from Mad Norwegian Press. She also writes novels as Tate Halloway. Check out LydaMorehouse.com to find out more about her and her work.

I suppose if you go back far enough, this is a valid theory. It doesn’t, however, happen to be mine. Probably because I’m not literate enough. I’m not sure I’ve read a single book that Michael Ashley or John Clute references in their essays.
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BOOK REVIEW: Osiris by E.J. Swift

REVIEW SUMMARY: A debut novel with interesting characters, writing, setting and premise let down significantly by plotting issues.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Osiris, apparently the city on Earth, is the site of a conflict between the haves and have nots, as a scion of the most powerful family and a have-not shake Osiris by their alliance.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting characters, premise and a great “bottle” setting; excellent prose and evocation of themes.
CONS: Very weak plotting and narrative flaws undermine the strengths of the novel.
BOTTOM LINE: A premise and set-up that doesn’t rise as far above the waves as it should.

The last bastion of human civilization, after our Neon Age has come and fallen, is a city built on a continental shelf in the ocean. A city divided by fabulous wealth and the remnants of the old age on the one half, and grinding poverty, hunger, need and lack on the other side. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and Osiris is a house that may not manage to stand. Shortages threaten the social fabric and changing weather threatens all. When a maverick scion of the powerful Rechenov family meets a westerner seeking social justice, the world of Osiris hangs on their actions.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Editor Jonathan Strahan buttresses his core argument about the next generation of SF with a strong set of Solar System-set Science Fiction stories

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 18 stories from the likes of Elizabeth Bear, Alastair Reynolds and James S.A. Corey, all based around the idea of up to date views about living in the Solar System

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong writing, a dream line up of authors
CONS: A couple of the stories skate the boundaries set out by the editor
BOTTOM LINE: A book that effectively lays down a marker for Fourth Generation Science Fiction.

In the 1960’s, Science Fiction, already having gone through a couple of changes in the century but seemingly running a bit long in the tooth, runs into the New Wave, where authors like Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock bring new sensibilities and wonders and points of view to the genre. In the 1980’s, science fiction, again seemingly moribund and worn out, was transformed by William Gibson and the Cyberpunk movement.  In 2012, I see plenty of articles and chatter that science fiction is insular looking, more concerned with the past, unwilling to engage a future. That science fiction is getting “tired”, and science fiction authors are getting tired, or horrors, are fleeing into the kingdoms of fantasy. Sounds like awfully familiar rhetoric to me.  Are we due for another change? Jonathan Strahan and a host of heavyweights in the genre say ‘yes’.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: An intriguing if slightly uneven collection of stories exploring the other side of antagonists–the home front.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An intriguing collection of stories with a strong lineup of authors both well known and new.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Some really fresh and interesting stories from both well known and newcomer writers alike. A large selection (over two dozen) of stories with a variety of authors and ideas.
CONS: A fair number of the stories fell flat for me. Some stories aren’t to theme.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting mix of stories with villain protagonists.

Novels and stories with the villain as the lead are not really something new and unprecedented in genre fiction. John Gardner’s Grendel tells the story of Beowulf from the viewpoint of the titular monster, The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell, has a special ops group working for an evil overlord. The movie Midnight Chronicles, set in the titular RPG world deals with a trio of investigators in a town only loosely under control of the world-spanning villain. Sometimes telling the story from the “bad guys” point of view is a way to get at truths, or tell stories that you can’t tell if you focus on the protagonists, or focus on those caught in the conflict between hero and villain. And I have always thought that villains, done right, can make a book or other artistic work come alive. This is doubly so when the villain is the central viewpoint figure.

Oftentimes, though, these works are defined by the villain’s conflict with the hero, or those who oppose him. Much less often do we get to see the domestic side for a villain. What happens to the villain who returns home, defeated and disgraced, or victorious? How do villains deal with the home front? When the Villain Comes Home, an anthology of stories edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood sets out to answer those questions.

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BOOK REVEW: The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

REVIEW SUMMARY: Schafer convincingly adds secondary world cities to her list of well evoked fantasy locales in the second book of the Shattered Sigil.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A threat to the barriers surrounding Alathia bring prisoners Dev and Kiran back to the titular tainted city of Ninavel, and the dangers of being involved with the doings of powerful mages.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Schafer brings the city of Ninavel to as full flower as she did the mountains of The Whitefire Crossing
CONS: A plot device used feels a bit like a reset button. The book could sorely use some maps and a concordance.
BOTTOM LINE: Schafer continues to develop as a writer in her sophomore effort.

In her debut novel The Whitefire Crossing [My SF Signal review here] Courtney Schafer introduced us to The Whitefire Mountains, the perilous mountain border between the Painted Desert, with Ninavel, the city of Mages, and Alathia, a prosperous country with a tight rein on its magic users. The Whitefire Crossing is the story of Dev and Kiran. The latter a mountaineer and caravaners with a love of the mountains who is asked to smuggle a perilous cargo–Kiran, a mage who is fleeing his master. And both men are soon caught in events and plots much larger than they realize.

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MIND MELD: Holding out for a Hero

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

On SF Signal Mind Melds, we’ve discussed Anti-Heroes, Villains, and
Sidekicks. It’s been a while since we tackled straight up heroes.So, this week we asked about heroes:

What makes a hero (or heroine) a hero instead of merely a protagonist? Is the idea of a straight up hero old fashioned or out of date in this day and age?

This is what they had to say…

Emma Newman
Emma lives in Somerset, England and drinks far too much tea. She writes dark short stories, post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy novels and records audiobooks in all genres. Her debut short-story collection From Dark Places was published in 2011 and 20 Years Later, her debut post-apocalyptic novel for young adults, was released early 2012. The first book of Emma’s new Split Worlds urban fantasy series called Between Two Thorns will be published by Angry Robot Books in 2013. She is represented by Jennifer Udden at DMLA. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk, rarely gets enough sleep and refuses to eat mushrooms.

For me, a hero is someone who actively works to achieve a goal for the good of others when there is a risk of losing something, ranging from a peaceful existence to their own life. Perseverance is critical; a hero persists in their heroic endeavour far beyond the point where most people would give up. Most wouldn’t even try in the first place.

As for whether a hero is old-fashioned; no. The portrayal of heroes (i.e massively flawed as opposed to nothing more than bravery in a bap) changes to fit the needs and sophistication of the audience. However, the basic need to see someone being more than we are – but everything we could be – is eternal.

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BOOK REVIEW: Rapture by Kameron Hurley

REVIEW SUMMARY: Hurley finishes Nyx’s story, completing the story of the bloody former Bel Dame.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Years after attempting retirement, Nyx is coaxed back into one more job that will take her across Umayma and possibly keep her homeland intact.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: More inventive worldbuilding. Well realized character arcs. Good integration with previous novels.
CONS: A few dangling threads and elements not integrated well; ending may be polarizing for some.
BOTTOM LINE: A winning third “panel” to the Bel Dame Apocrypha.

In the Godfather III, Michael Corleone, attempting to go into a straight and crime free life, and failing, complains memorably: “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”.

Nyxnissa so Dasheem, or just Nyx, can sympathize with Corleone’s sentiment. Years after peacefully disappearing (read: self-exile) to an obscure corner of the planet Umayma, Nyx is bribed, cajoled and outright blackmailed into serving as a bounty hunter once again. However, Nyx is unaware that some of her former colleagues and friends have problems of their own that dovetail with Nyx’s search and retrieval mission. And its a mission that could decide the fate of her homeland and allow for that rara avis, peace, to finally take flight.

But its just one more mission. What could go wrong? Plenty!

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The Five Most Influential Books in my Life

A meme going around recently in the genre blogosphere is to name the five most influential books in your life, and how they changed your life.

Some examples recently include : Ian Sales), Justin Landon , and Aidan Moher.

I can never resist a chance to talk about books, and so here are mine:
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BOOK REVIEW: Lance of Earth and Sky by Erin Hoffman

REVIEW SUMMARY: Erin Hoffman continues the story of Captain Vidarian Rulorat, as the consequences of his fateful decision ripple across his entire world.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After Vidarian’s opening of the Gate, the consequences of letting loose unpredictable magical forces play out across the entire world.

MY REVIEW:
PROS:More inventive worldbuilding, and a good exploration of theme of exploring the long range consequences of a world-affecting decision.
CONS: The frantic pace continued from the first novel definitely does not work here. Too often the book rushes where it should tarry. Novel could sorely use a summary of prior events or other aids.
BOTTOM LINE: A sophomore effort that doesn’t live up to the promise of the first novel.

In Sword of Fire and Sea, Vidarian, a ship captain on Andovar, — a world with decaying elemental magic, Gryphons and more — has a request to escort a Fire Priestess. It turns into a world-changing event when he chooses to open up a long-closed portal to another, richer magic realm, allowing its magic and inhabitants to flow into his world. The second novel, Lance of Earth and Sky, explores the consequences of that fateful action, as the appearance of lost races and lost magics threaten to topple kingdoms and remake the world.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Outcast Blade by Jon C. Grimwood

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second Assassini novel strongly continues the story of an alternate Venice in a world with Vampires, Magic and Werewolves.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Tycho, Giulietta and the rest of Venice are caught in the gaze of two avaricious and dangerous Empires–the Holy Roman and the Byzantine

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Immersive and deep writing, excellent invocation of place and character
CONS: A few plot points seem strangely unresolved. A lack of sympathetic characters may turn off some readers.
BOTTOM LINE: Excellent build on the first novel that feels like a continuation rather than a middle book.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, in The Fallen Blade [My SF Signal review here], introduced us to an alternate medieval Venice; a Venice where Marco Polo did not come back to be thrown in prison, but rather, with Mongol help (and a Mongol wife) set himself up to rule, a Venice with German Kriegshund (Werewolves), Vampires, and Magic, a Venice which is a powder keg of danger, discontent, and possibly, doom for the Queen of the Adriatic. The actions of an unlikely hero have saved the city from an enemy fleet, but even more pressing dangers remain…

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MIND MELD: Where is Urban Fantasy Headed?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Urban Fantasy remains as a strong and vibrant subgenre of Fantasy. Like any subgenres, over the last few years, new authors, new ideas and new motifs have often radically reshaped a genre once known for “supernaturals in the night” into a much broader category. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Where do you see Urban Fantasy going from here?

This is what they had to say…

Tad Williams
Tad Williams is best known as the author of the Otherland series. His most recent work, Urban Fantasy, is The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

The problem with knowing where a genre is going starts with defining the genre itself. What exactly is “Urban Fantasy”? There’s always been a category of work in what was then just called “Science Fiction” that fits this bill, from Bradbury’s October Country stuff to Sturgeon and Leiber and many others, including myself and many contemporaries. (I’d love to know what my book War of the Flowers was if it wasn’t urban fantasy.) But these days it’s also a consumer category — that is, it’s meant to narrowcast to people who apparently like fantasy stories that don’t take place in the traditional epic-fantasy environments of imaginary pasts. At the moment that means lots of fairies, vampires, werewolves, and zombies, most of which used to be thought of as components of “Horror”. So it’s hard to say. The trendy stuff — hello, bloodsuckers! — will peak and dwindle, just like serial killer novels did, but there will always be stories that can rightly be called Urban Fantasy. So I suspect it’s not a question of whether the waves will still come in — they will — but what kind of surfers will be on them. Memes will rise and decay (mostly through incestuous overuse) but as long as people stay interested in what lies behind ordinary life, I suspect the genre, at least the part that is about storytelling, will stay strong.

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The 1979 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide is a milestone in the history of the roleplaying hobby. A quantum leap in terms of scale, scope and information on Dungeons and Dragons from previous offerings and editions, it was an essential volume for any Dungeon Master at the time.  The book is a folio of wonders, and is a delight to flip through, even if I have not run a straight Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game in many years.  For example, the art of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is a real treat, from small illustrations like a farmer running from a giant insectoid Ankheg, to bits of humor (The mickey mouse ear wearing adventurers are hilarious, to some absolutely gorgeous full page illustrations.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide, as you might expect, includes information on an often bewildering array of subjects that I’ve used then, and now. Magic item lists? Check. Strange Artifacts (including how to roll your own)? Yep. Want to create a random dungeon? Rules for that. Random encounter table for a fantasy city? Got those, too. [You, too, can have your player characters run into a Weretiger. 1 percent chance!] How long does it take for an armorer to make plate mail? Yep, a chart for that. [90 days].

There is also some extremely weird information that never entered any game I ran or ever heard of anyone using. Saving Throws for magical and non magical items. Types of Insanity. The Humanoid Racial Preferences Table [Did you know that Trolls and Hobgoblins hate each other and your Evil Overlord should not be keeping them near each other?] The chances of your player’s characters getting a parasitic infection. [base 3 percent chance per month, before modifiers.] And much more.

And then there is the heart of the matter for today’s column, Appendix N.
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