Columns Archives

Robin Hobb (penname for Megan Lindholm) is a globally recognized, acclaimed writer. Her tales of Fitzchivalry Farseer are some of the most beloved fantasies on the shelves. She’s written two trilogies about the Royal Bastard and has begun a third trilogy which is being called “Fitz and the Fool.”  Here at the Completist, I’ve tried to feature authors who may have flown under the radar but this time around, I’m featuring a series that doesn’t necessarily feature the author’s best known character. Admittedly, Robin Hobb is far from such an “under the radar” author. (At one point in time, there was talk of her outselling George R.R. Martin in Europe). With that, let me introduce you to Bingtown, a port/trading city south of the Six Duchies (the primary location of the novels featuring FitzChivalry Farseer) and the primary setting for “The Liveship Traders” trilog. Like some previous installments of this column, it has been quite a while since I read these books (I read them as each book was published 1998, 1999, 2000), but much of the emotional impact of the novels remains very strongly with me.

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Recent Graphic Novel Reads of Interest

After spending all of my previous column focused on the comics of Joe R. Lansdale, I’ve decided to devote this entire missive to recent reads.

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Paul Weimer! – Sarah Chorn

Minnesota dwelling Ex-pat New Yorker Paul Weimer is a Hugo Nominated podcaster [The Skiffy and Fanty Show 2014], SF Signal Irregular, Genre reviewer/columnist & writer. When he isn’t doing all of that, he loves photography and playing and talking about roleplaying games. You can find him on Twitter, and commenting on genre blogs far and wide.

Rolling Perception plus Awareness with Characters with Special Needs

by Paul Weimer

In roleplaying games, players inhabit other characters, other people, in other worlds. Wizards in a city in a desert, fighting a battle against the incoming horde of the Sand Sultan. A sword swinging barbarian delving into an ancient maze of tunnels called the “Londn Undrgrnd”. The pilot of a starship full of rogues and freebooters, the kind of woman who has the engines hot for the inevitably necessary getaway. The gnomish clockmaker, building golems to defend his allies. The Paladin of a Goddess of Law, who fights for justice not only on the tourney field, but in the Courts as well. Characters of all sorts of ethnicities, races, species and genders.

Is playing a character without legs, or with a mental disability, so different than these? Sometimes, when you roll perception plus awareness, you’re rolling for a character who has special needs. The one-eyed archer. The wheelchaired mutant with psychokinetic powers. The police officer, former army veteran, with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The dark elf cleric, an exile to the surface world, who is severely weakened by sunlight.
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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 7/22/2014

Crowd funding is the in thing for obtaining money to fund a variety of projects, with Kickstarter being the most prominent of these sites. With new projects going live daily, it’s a chore to keep up with, let alone find, interesting genre projects. The Crowd Funding Roundup will be our effort to bring projects we think are interesting to your attention so you can, if you so choose, decide to help out. These posts are a collaborative effort between James Aquilone and JP Frantz.

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Max Gladstone! – Sarah Chorn


Max Gladstonehas taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia. Max graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese. You can find out more about him, and his books on his website.

Life’s Objectivity

by Max Gladstone

Life’s not as objective as we imagine.

An airplane transfer is a pleasant brisk walk—or an infuriating ordeal if you have a bad knee or a degenerated disc. An easy climb may be impossible for someone without legs, or not, if they have the right prosthetic. A ten pound book bag is a trivial burden for some and back-wrenching for others. A dyslexic person and a speed reader occupy different spaces of possibility. Depending on one’s position in the world, a hundred dollars may be a nice dinner for two, a life-changing amount of money, or an insignificant fraction of a dividend payment. Some people respond to deadlines with grim determination and gritted teeth. Others lie sleepless for a month before an important meeting, and comparison-shop earplugs and blackout curtains.
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It’s been a couple of months since the last installment of the Indie Author Spotlight, but we are back with a new author and interview! After spending quite some time searching for a new book and reading a plethora of boring synopses and poor reviews, I decided I would narrow my search: I wanted to find a female author. Cue M. Orenda.

When I stumbled upon Orenda’s first (and only at the moment) novel, Fort Liberty, Vol. 1, there were four factors that made it easy for me to choose her book: military science fiction, great reviews, a cool cover — reminiscent of many comics, which makes complete sense when reading the action sequences — and finally, selflessness. What do I mean by selflessness? Well, M. Orenda uses her talents as a writer to help support others. As it states under the book’s rundown, “All proceeds from the Fort Liberty Series go to support non-profit organizations focused on helping US Veterans and their families.” Wow, real altruism at its finest!

So, what is Fort Liberty about? Check it out:
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Due to various people being absent at cons, I haven’t really dug into the new season yet, and in any event it only just started. So I’ll save the first episodes for next time, and instead do something suggested by reader Platypus — look back at the past seasons I’d previewed and see what show actually panned out. Opinions are tricky, of course, and this is only a partial list. It’s fun to look at what I wrote about from just seeing the first episodes, though!

I should note that any of the series I mention, I watched all the way to the end, so I at least enjoyed them that much. I’m not saying the ones I mentioned negatively are bad, or that you necessarily shouldn’t watch them, just that they failed to ascend to the heights where I’d actively pick them out to talk about in the future.
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Fourteen years ago, Robert Zemeckis defended his decision to divulge major spoilers in the trailer of What Lies Beneath, arguing that audiences prefer attending a movie when they know going in precisely what they will see. “It’s just one of those things,” he told David Poland, an excuse of such disingenuousness that one might presume his statement belied a possible run for political office. (Indeed, when I first read that line several years ago, I envisioned Zemeckis cowering behind it with the same hunch of a candidate waving his hands to a dissenting crowd during a stump speech after letting slip a flog of lore and shouting, “Statistics don’t lie!” over its incredulous din. No, statistics don’t lie, but statisticians often do.) Regardless of his claim’s dubious veracity, the resulting mindset permeated a medium already denigrated by inept craftsmen and second-rate artisans to the point where its most readily available trifles resembled the ramshackle cuisine rolling from the never-ending assembly line between McDonald’s golden arches. Even those celluloid confections crafted with the utmost care by auteurs demonstrating a love of both form and content nonetheless face audiences fully aware of both text and subtext before the theater lights dim. Gone forever are the days of arriving at a theater on a whim and casually perusing the posters before asking the pimply adolescent working in the box office for a summary of one or two features. We can blame Internet culture for their demise—it certainly didn’t help—but the rise of focus groups placed them in the crosshairs long before.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Zachary Jernigan! – Sarah Chorn


Zachary Jernigan is a 34-year-old, typically shaven-headed writer and narrator from Northern Arizona. He’s lived in AZ since 1990, with relatively short stints in Utah, Oregon, Maine, and Chile. His first novel, No Return, is a science fiction/fantasy tale filled with sex, violence, looming middle-age angst, and muscular people in weird skintight costumes (including one capricious god). It came out from Night Shade Books in March of 2013 in hardcover and July of 2014 in paperback. The still-in-progress sequel, Shower of Stones, is forthcoming in 2015, also from Night Shade Books. His short fiction runs the gamut of sf and fantasy and has appeared in a variety of places, including Asimov’s Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, Escape Pod, as well as anthologies such as Manifesto UF and Daughters of Icarus . He’s been nominated for the Pushcart a couple times and shortlisted once for the Spectrum Award.
He recently released his first short story collection, The Bottom Of The Sea independently at the end of 2013. You can learn more about Zachary by visiting his website.

Narrow Margins: Why Defining Oneself as a Writer with Mental Illness is Difficult

by Zachary Jernigan

I’m really kind of a problematic sort. There are a lot of things that bother me. (I’ll give a pause here so that the folks who know me can roll their eyes and go, “Really, Zack? I never knew that!”) For all my interest in people and my enthusiasm for making friends, I’m functionally kind of a sociopath. Okay, not a sociopath, but often kind of a butt. I can get a bit ranty.

All that’s just my way of segueing into my actual opening, which is kind of negative (it uses the word hate, in fact!)…
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Crowd funding is the in thing for obtaining money to fund a variety of projects, with Kickstarter being the most prominent of these sites. With new projects going live daily, it’s a chore to keep up with, let alone find, interesting genre projects. The Crowd Funding Roundup will be our effort to bring projects we think are interesting to your attention so you can, if you so choose, decide to help out. These posts are a collaborative effort between James Aquilone and JP Frantz.

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As the blazing eye of summer fixates on the Northern Hemisphere, John E. O. Stevens, Fred Kiesche and Jeff Patterson call upon a special guest FROM THE FUTURE! From the wintry land of Australia, Locus Award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan rides over from Coode Street to discuss SFF anthology creation, “peak short story,” and the publishing environment for short fiction past, present, and future!

Also: Can you really can claim to have “nothing to read” given the several dozen sources of periodical fiction (and hundreds of anthologies) that we have access to these days? Unlike the Dawn of Time when the Hoarsemen were young and had to walk twelve miles, uphill, both ways, in the snow, to buy magazine fiction…

Finally, we once again attempt to separate money from your wallet with all of the titles that we’ve read since the last show. Comics! Books! Roleplaying games! Heavens, we’re even spreading it out to our families.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Mur Lafferty! – Sarah Chorn


Insightful, witty, and passionate, Mur Lafferty is a pioneer in podcasting and an exciting new voice in urban fantasy. After making her podcasting debut in 2004, she has become a respected contributor to podcasting and the speculative fiction genre. In January 2014, Mur graduated from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine with an MFA in popular fiction. In 2013, Mur won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her first professionally published novel, The Shambling Guide to New York City, debuted with Orbit Books in 2013. The sequel, Ghost Train to New Orleans was published in March 2014. Mur currently lives in Durham, NC with her family. She enjoys running, martial arts, board games, video games, and cooking. You can learn more about Mur by visiting her website.

Limitations for the Supernatural

by Mur Lafferty

Commonly, supernatural creatures are drawn as stronger, better, and with more opportunities than mere humans. Vampires can do anything from fly to shapechange to hypnotize to sparkle, depending on the story involved. Zombies kill/infect with just a scratch, and their strength lies in numbers. And being really gross. Even in the urban fantasy stories that place these monsters in our contemporary lives, these creatures manage to be a lot better settled within life than humans.

Ever notice how all vampires of a certain age (like 100+ years) are wealthy and sophisticated? No one is like your skeevy Uncle Larry who’s always coming around for a loan. I suppose Uncle Larry would be an easy target for someone like Buffy, but I do wonder why there aren’t more vampires who are very good at getting by, but very bad at investing.
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Remember last month when this column hosted a roundtable of people who had recently attended their first convention? Well, I got so many responses that I had to split the roundtable into two parts. And what a variety of responses I got! A Blogger who had a blast at Eastercon, Stargate and Star Trek fans meeting actors and writers, a first adventure at BEA and more! Here’s what I asked everyone:

Q: Tell us a little about the first convention you attended. Why did you choose this one to be your very first con? Did it meet your expectations, and if not, what changes would you like to see at future events? is this a convention you’d attend again?

and here’s what they said:

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Here at the Completist, I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether I should include certain series because of their availability (or lack thereof) to readers.  After some thought, I realized (rather, hoped) if I covered some series that had limited availability, people would be encouraged to hunt down these books and perhaps renew interest with the publisher to make the books more readily available. With all of that said, I wanted to highlight a trilogy of novels I read a few years ago that stood out to me for many reasons, and I think to others who have read the books. Military Science Fiction is and has been one of the most popular sub-genres in science fiction, but the books here are quite different from the typical first-person Soldier-in-Training-Then-Fighting-a-War story.
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Lost in Animeland: Kino’s Journey

For me personally, the term “episodic” is usually not a compliment when it comes to anime. It depends on the genre, of course: comedies work better in an episode-by-episode format than dramas do, because there’s only so much of a dramatic arc that can be squeezed into 22 minutes. At their worst, episodic shows devolve in a “monster/case/artifact of the week” and repetitive formulas — this was very common back when more shows were 26 episodes instead of 13 and need more filler.

The best filler ever?

The best filler ever? (Click for animated GIF.)

Making a dramatic, episodic show work is not impossible, but it takes superior writing — there’s no room for lost time when you’re trying to tell a fairly complex plot in a short span of time. I’ve already talked about one show that does it, Paranoia Agent. While it has a continuing story, each episode (until the very end) is a separately crafted piece. Cowboy Bebop, which follows the standard plot-filler-plot-filler-plot structure, has filler episodes that are individually so good you’d never notice. Today I’d like to talk about another show that does this style very well!

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds first appeared on my site Bookworm Blues a few years ago. I thought it was a very powerful piece and I wanted to give it more exposure. I asked Anon if I could use it again on SF Signal. Anon was nice enough to say yes, they just wanted to edit it a bit first. Here is the new, updated, and still intensely powerful piece. – Sarah Chorn

‘Anon’ hails from a far and distant land, but has found a cozy spot in the English-speaking SFF community. ‘Anon’ enjoys everything dark and weird in every medium possible. Occasional reviewer and a writer of SFF fiction, ‘Anon’ currently dips toes in the world of editing and personal branding and marketing.

Depression in a Place Where Depression Is Not a Thing

I’m probably the poster child for the argument of fiction as an escape, which I find a bit funny since you’ve no idea who I am. What drew me to fiction – epic fantasy and sword & sorcery in particular – was the effortless ability to dissolve into the mindscape of someone else. Not be present in my life, which during my formative years brought nothing worthwhile – only verbal abuse, negligence and expectations that I conform with ideas of normalcy.
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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 6/24/2014

Crowd funding is the in thing for obtaining money to fund a variety of projects, with Kickstarter being the most prominent of these sites. With new projects going live daily, it’s a chore to keep up with, let alone find, interesting genre projects. The Crowd Funding Roundup will be our effort to bring projects we think are interesting to your attention so you can, if you so choose, decide to help out. These posts are a collaborative effort between James Aquilone and JP Frantz.

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Welcome back to Roll Perception Plus Awareness, a column about roleplaying games and their place in a genre reader’s and writer’s world.

Recently, I got to talking with Role Playing game creator Ryan Macklin. He is the creator of Backstory Cards, a tabletop roleplaying game aid currently being funded on Kickstarter. Ryan was kind enough to answer some questions about him, and Backstory Cards.

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Jaye Wells! – Sarah Chorn


Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. Jaye lives in Texas. You can learn more about Jaye and her books by visiting her on her website. The first book in the Prospero’s War series, Dirty Magic, was released on January 21, 2014. Cursed Magic is to be released on August 12, 2014.

Addiction in Fantasy

by Jaye Wells

“Everyone has a hole in their center. A gaping shadow that demands to be filled. Some people fill it with faith and God. Others with money or fame. Then there are those who fill it with food, alcohol, nicotine or, yeah, potions.” – Dirty Magic

In my new Prospero’s War series, the central conceit is that magic is addictive. The main character, Kate Prospero, is a beat cop who gets promoted to a special task force charged with breaking up the dirty magic covens that sell illegal dirty magic on the streets of fictional Babylon, Ohio.

A lot of people who have read the first book in the series, Dirty Magic, have commented on the use of magic as a metaphor for drugs. But when I decided to write this series, I didn’t want to just talk about magic as a metaphor for drugs. I wanted to talk about our society’s addictive nature. I wanted to talk about how we look externally for solutions to internal problems. I wanted to talk about our addiction to convenience and quick fixes. I also wanted to talk about how difficult it is to overcome our addictions in a world obsessed with fame, beauty, money, and power.
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Lost in Animeland: Code Geass and Endings

Endings have always been a problem in anime. Even among my favorite shows, those that actually come to some kind of satisfying conclusion at the end of the series are a small minority. As an anime fan, it’s just something you learn to deal with — I’m at the point, especially with one season (13 episode) shows, that I just don’t expect them to actually wrap anything up. Even so, it can be frustrating!

(It also means that when a show does have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, planned and executed for its run time, it often stands out. This is one of the reasons Madoka Magika was so impressive.)
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