• A look back at Golden Age "Antiviral Alliance" comic books

    For those of us who grew up encountering Golden Age comic books — comics published between 1938–1956, that is — haphazardly, picking up a tattered issue here or there at flea markets and yard sales, the effort to discern how each of these random pieces might fit into some larger, coherent, meaningful whole was a head-scratching affair. With so many gaps in our data sets, and absent any sort of definitive guide, we were forced to engage in various forms of creative misprision, deciding for ourselves what it all might add up to. (The protagonist of Daniel Clowes's graphic novel David Boring, who broods over Golden Age comics written and drawn by his missing father, is an avatar of precisely this sort of pop hermeneutics.) In that spirit, during the COVID-19 epidemic, I've taken to brooding over the phenomenon of the very first costumed comic-book vigilantes who wore masks capable of preventing the spread of airborne viruses.

    I know very little about Blazing Skull, Kinks Mason, Micro-Face, and most of these other characters who appeared — in comic books cranked out by a wide variety of short-lived publishers — in the years shortly before and after America joined WWII. I've seen individual panels, sometimes full pages, from comics in which they've appeared… but that's about it. However, taking inspiration from the early 19th-century astronomers who discerned that there was an eighth planet in the solar system (Neptune), which couldn't be directly perceived through even the finest telescopes, but whose existence would alone explain the strange deviations in Uranus's orbit, I feel confident in announcing my discovery of a hitherto-unknown squad of comic-book vigilantes.

    The original intercompany crossover "event," preceding and no doubt inspiring the formation of the Justice Society (National Comics + All-American Publications) a year later, the 1939 teaming up of three properly masked heroes was — as far as I can tell — intended as a public service. The Clock (who first appeared in Funny Pages in 1936), Fantom of the Fair (Amazing Mystery Funnies, 1939), and Sandman (New York World's Fair Comics, 1939) were each dedicated not only to fighting crime but preventing a pandemic. It makes perfect sense, then, that they'd join forces to become… the Antiviral Alliance!

    Though no doubt mocked and scorned by fans of free-breathing early comic-book heroes like Superman, Batman, Namor, Zatara, and Blue Beetle, the Antiviral Alliance remembered that the great influenza pandemic of 1918-19 (often called the Spanish flu) caused about 50 million deaths worldwide, far more than the deaths from combat casualties in WWI. And they understood that wearing a proper mask, staying six feet apart, and avoiding crowds were crucial behaviors to model. They fought the good fight through 1941, during which year the original trio was joined by ten other antiviral vigilantes. 

    Alas, not long after America entered the war in December '41, the Antiviral Alliance more or less disbanded. Did its members enlist in the military? Or, perhaps, might the patriotic fervor that gripped the nation after Pearl Harbor have made it untenable to promote proper mask-wearing — that is to say, was doing one's part to prevent the spread of infectious disease politicized by the ignorant America-firsters of the era? Like so much else about the AA, it's a mystery.

    Please enjoy the series VIRUS VIGILANTE, published at HILOBROW during the dark days of 4Q2020"


  • Best older kid's literature from 1966


    As I've mentioned before, I'm a true-blue fan of intermediate-reader adventures published during the Sixties (1964–73). Attribute this, if you will, to the fact that these books were popular when I was an impressionable adolescent in the late 1970s. The fact remains, the Sixties were a cornucopia producing a flood of extraordinary titles: Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles series, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Sure, I dig older kids' lit from other eras, too. But nothing compares.

    In anticipation of their 50th anniversaries, this year, here's my list of the Best Older Kid's Lit of 1966. Please let me know which favorite titles of yours I've overlooked!

    OLDER KIDS' LIT on HILOBROW: Best of 1963 | Best of 1964 | Best of 1965 | Best of 1966 | Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Lost Prince (serialized) | YA Sci-Fi | ALSO SEE: Best 1966 Adventures (for Grownups).


    In no particular order…


    1. René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's bande dessinée Asterix adventure Asterix the Legionary. The tenth Asterix story is a particular favorite of mine — because it is a sardonic inversion of one of my favorite sub-genres of adventure: the all-for-one, one-for-all argonautica. In order to rescue a Gaul who has been conscripted into the Roman army and shipped to North Africa, where Julius Caesar was battling Metellus Scipio, Asterix and Obelix enlist in the army themselves. Along with a rag-tag group of conscripts from every corner of the empire — Hemispheric the Goth, Selectivemploymentax the Briton, Gastronomix the Belgian, Neveratalos the Greek, and Ptenisnet the Egyptian (who speaks in hieroglyphics) — our heroes must, for once, help Caesar win a battle.
    2. *


    3. Lloyd Alexander's fantasy adventure The Castle of Llyr. The third of five volumes in The Chronicles of Prydain is the series' most gothic installment: ruined castle, secret identities, lost memories! When heroic princess Eilonwy is forced to continue her education on the Isle of Mona, her companion Taran — assistant pig-keeper and would-be hero — comes along. Joined by the bard Fflewddur Fflam, Prince Gwydion (disguised as a shoemaker), and an incompetent princeling named Rhun, Taran seeks to rescue Eilonwy after she is kidnapped by the sorceress Achren. Along the way, they encounter Glew, a pathetic but dangerous giant, and an enormous mountain cat too. When Taran locates Eilonwy, in a castle that's sinking into the sea, she doesn't know him! Fun fact: "Isle of Mona" is a version of Ynys Môn, the Welsh name for the Isle of Anglesey.
    4. *

      tintin 714

    5. Hergé's bande dessinée Tintin adventure Flight 714. In their 22nd adventure, Tintin, Snowy, Haddock, and Professor Calculus are inadvertently embroiled in the villainous Rastapopoulos's scheme to kidnap and rob the eccentric aircraft industrialist Laszlo Carreidas. Whisked away to an uncharted Southeastern Asian island, Tintin and his friends must escape from Rastapopoulos and his henchman, Alan, and rescue Carreidas; after which, guided by a telepathic voice (!), they discover a temple hidden inside the island's volcano. Why do the temple's ancient statues resemble astronauts? When Rastapopoulos triggers a volcanic eruption, how will any of them survive? Fun fact: Hergé's story was influenced by the ancient-astronaut theories of French sci-fi comic strip author Robert Charroux. Note that I didn't let my own children read this Tintin adventure until they were older, because: hypodermics, machine guns, Alan's shattered teeth.
    6. *

      aiken nightbirds

    7. Joan Aiken's parallel-history adventure Nightbirds on Nantucket. Having gone down with the ship at the end of the previous installment in Aiken's terrific Wolves Chronicles, Cockney ne'er-do-well Dido Twite wakes up in the middle of the Arctic sea, aboard a whaler out of Nantucket. While an Ahab-like Captain Casket pursues a magnificent pink whale, his motherless young daughter, Dutiful Penitence, refuses to venture out of her cabin. Dido befriends Penny, then accompanies her to her Aunt Tribulation's home on Nantucket. The girls soon uncover a Hanoverian plot involving a giant cannon — designed by a Wernher von Braun-type German scientist — that will be fired from Nantucket, and which will destroy England's Buckingham Palace. Meanwhile, Aunt Tribulation may not be what she seems. As ever, Dido's use of dialect — "havey-cavey," "tipple-topped," "in the nitch" — is awesome. Fun fact: Some Dido Twite fans suggest reading Nightbirds on Nantucket first, then (as prequels) The Whispering Mountain (1968), The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962), and Black Hearts in Battersea (1964), before reading the rest of the series in the order of their publication. That's not how I did it, but I do like the idea.
    8. *

      peyton thunder

    9. K.M. Peyton's sailing adventure Thunder in the Sky. Before K.M. Peyton became famous for innumerable books about girls and ponies, not to mention her romantic Flambards series, she wrote several YA adventures which — like this one — revolve around sailing. So if, like me, you're a fan of sailing adventures like The Riddle of the Sands, the Swallows and Amazons series, or the Horatio Hornblower books, then check out Peyton's Windfall (1962), The Maplin Bird (1964), and The Plan for Birdsmarsh (1965). In Thunder in the Sky, which is set during WWI, 16-year-old Sam works on his family's sailing barge. He is disappointed that his older brother, Gil, doesn't see it as his patriotic duty to enlist in the fighting; in fact, he begins to suspect that Gil might be an enemy spy. Will a supply run to France — carrying flammable cargo past bomb-dropping dirigibles — end in disaster? Some readers may complain about the exacting detail into which Peyton goes about how barges are sailed. But not this reader! Fun fact: Recommended by the British Library Association as one of the outstanding books for young readers published that year.
    10. *

      queens brooch

    11. Henry Treece's historical adventures The Bronze Sword, The Queen's Brooch, and Red Queen, White Queen. Treece, a British poet and author, is best remembered today for his YA historical novels set at the end of the Viking period and during the Roman conquest of Britain. These three novels are set during Queen Boudicca's uprising against the Romans. The Bronze Sword is the most famous, I suppose, but I'm fond of The Queen's Brooch, in which Marcus, the son of a Roman Tribune, familiar with Celtic customs and friendly with the Celts, becomes a warrior… only to encounter horrific behavior on the part of tribal chieftains and their Roman conquerors alike. In the end, he becomes a proto-modern figure: adrift in a heartless world. Fun fact: As a poet, Treece was a founder of the New Apocalypse movement, a reaction against the politically oriented, machine-age literature and realist poetry of the 1930s. I also recommended Treece's Viking Trilogy, which includes Viking's Dawn (1955), The Road to Miklagard (1957), and Viking's Sunset (1960); and his 1956 prehistoric yarn, The Golden Strangers, one of my all-time favorite adventures, which depicts the encounter between primitive Britons and Indo-European invaders.
    12. *

      garfield devil

    13. Leon Garfield's historical adventure Devil-in-the-Fog. If Garfield's first YA novel, Jack Holborn (1964), was an homage to Robert Louis Stevenson, then his second, Devil-In-The-Fog, pays obeisance to Charles Dickens. George is a member of the traveling Treet family, impoverished but happy thespians; twice a year, a mysterious stranger emerges from foggy London streets and delivers a sum of money to Mr. Treet. When George turns 14, he learns that he is actually the son of a nobleman, Sir John Dexter, with whom he must now live. But his father has been wounded in a duel with his brother, Richard. When Richard escapes from prison, someone tries to kill George. What devil lurks in the fog? To quote a recent Guardian write-up of Garfield's third novel, Smith (1967): "Not an easy read if you are under eleven, but an enormously satisfying one. The vividness of Garfield's writing puts the blandness of many modern writers' prose in the shade." Fun fact: Devil-in-the-Fog won the inaugural, 1967 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.
    14. *

      odell kings fifth

    15. Scott O'Dell's historical, treasure-seeking adventure The King's Fifth. Think of The Treasure of Sierra Madre, but set in 1540 and written for older kids. During Vasquez de Coronado's expedition from Mexico through parts of the present-day southwestern United States, a rogue conquistador strikes out on his own in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. He is accompanied by the story's narrator, Esteban, a teenage Spanish cartographer who becomes one of the first Europeans to catch sight of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. The conquistadors' lust for gold drives their cruel treatment of the native Indians, and their mutual mistrust. We learn that Esteban is later imprisoned for having found a treasure without submitting the "King's Fifth," a tax levied by the King of Spain on precious metals. What has happened to the mule-train of gold? Fun fact: Written by the author of the much-admired YA adventure Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960). In 1982, The King's Fifth was adapted into the Japanese-French anime TV series The Mysterious Cities of Gold. Oh, and the few good ideas from the Disney movie The Road to El Dorado (2000) appear to have been lifted from O'Dell's book, too.
    16. chancy

    17. Sid Fleischman's historical/tall-tale adventure Chancy and the Grand Rascal. Separated from his family during the Civil War, an Ohio farm boy sets out to locate his orphaned brother and sisters. He soon falls in with a wily, charming, peripatetic con-man and BS artist… who turns out to be his long-lost uncle, Will Buckthorn. Together, Chancy and the Grand Rascal see the world along the Ohio River and the Great Plains frontier, seeking their family and getting into and out of scrapes. After many adventures, they discover that Chancy's siblings have been taken in by a pretty schoolmarm in Sun Dance, Kansas. What's a Grand Rascal to do? As a "coming-and-going" kind of man, can he be persuaded to settle down at last? Fun fact: Chancy and the Grand Rascal is the final installment in an extraordinary run of titles that Fleischman cranked out in the early 1960s, including: Mr. Mysterious & Company (1962, his first children's book), By the Great Horn Spoon! (1963), and The Ghost in the Noonday Sun (1965). I'm also a fan of Jingo Django (1971), which was recently adapted as a Quentin Tarantino movie. Just joshin'.
    18. *


    19. R. Macherot's talking-animal bande dessinée adventure Sibyl-Anne Vs. Ratticus. When Ratticus, an aristocratic rat, is kicked out of his ancestral castle, he preys on the mice and other animals in the surrounding forest. It's up to hot-tempered Sibyl-Anne, her easy-going fiancé Boomer, the cowardly but entrepreneurial crow Floozemaker, the porcupine police sergeant Verboten, and others to stop him. Long before Brian Jacques' similar Redwall series, here we find a peaceful mouse forced to band together with an unlikely assortment of animals and defend her homeland against the land, sea, and air invasion of an invading rat horde. Fun fact: Serialized, as "Sibylline en Danger," in the Franco-Belgian comics journal Spirou in 1966 and 1967. I've waited for years for this strip to appear in English; in 2011, Fantagraphics's Kim Thompson translated and published it. Sibyl-Anne Vs. Ratticus comprises the fourth and fifth Sibylline stories.
    20. *

    Happy 50th anniversary!

  • The best adventure stories for kids from 1965

    Wes Anderson's 2012 movie Moonrise Kingdom, which is in large part an homage to the older kids' lit of the mid-1960s, is set in the year 1965. Say what you like, the guy has excellent taste.

    The books Suzy carries, in MOONRISE KINGDOM

    The books Suzy carries, in MOONRISE KINGDOM

    A year ago, I posted a list of the Best Older Kid's Lit of 1964. The year 1964 was a cusp, a fulcrum between the eras we know as the Fifties (1954–63) and the Sixties (1964–73). By 1965, the Sixties were well under way… building towards their apex in '68 and '69. I think Wes Anderson would agree that the Golden Age for older kid's lit began in the Fifties, reached its full potential in the Sixties… and began to decline after 1973. Many good kids' books have been published since '73, of course, but the Golden Age was over.

    Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese comic strip, Richard Adams's Watership Down, Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles series, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, Jean Merrill's The Pushcart War, John Christopher's Tripods trilogy and Sword of the Spirits trilogy, S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Peter Dickinson's Changes trilogy, Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Ian Fleming's Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series, Alan Garner's Elidor and The Owl Service, not to mention Jack Kirby's various "Fourth World" DC comics series and Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth… these all appeared in the Sixties. See my Best Sixties Adventure (1964–73) list, for more examples.

    In anticipation of the 50th anniversaries, this year, of the following titles, here's my list of the Best Older Kid's Lit of 1965. Please let me know what I've overlooked!

    Older Kids' Lit on Hilobrow: Best of 1963 | Best of 1964 | Best of 1965 | Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Lost Prince (serialized) | YA Sci-Fi |


    Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's THE INHUMANS. Prior to the Sixties (1964–73), Lee and Kirby created superhero teams who'd develop into beloved, enduring franchises: The Fantastic Four in '61, The X-Men in '63, The Avengers in '63. But the Inhumans, who first appeared in the November 1965 – March 1966 issues of Fantastic Four, were a different kettle of fish: misfits and outsiders even among mutant superheroes, a superior race living in the shadows. Black Bolt, Crystal, Karnak, Medusa, Gorgon aren't lovable; in fact, they're slightly villainous. But that just makes them an all the more romantic version of the Argonaut Folly mytheme.


    Susan Cooper's OVER SEA, UNDER STONE. This is the first installment in The Dark is Rising: the best YA fantasy series ever, not to mention one of the best "Matter of Britain" (i.e., medieval Arthurian legend) adventure series. This particular installment is not particularly fantastical: It's a treasure-hunt thriller featuring three siblings on holiday in Cornwall. However, although the story begins in this Famous Five/Swallows and Amazons vein, soon enough we discover that the treasure the children (and some creepy adults) are seeking is in fact an artifact of the Light: a faction, that is to say, in an ancient, ongoing, worldwide struggle of free will and order vs. subservience and chaos! PS: Apparently, this is one of Wes Anderson's favorite books.


    Lloyd Alexander's THE BLACK CAULDRON. The second in a series of Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain books, which use Welsh mythology (Prydain is the medieval Welsh term for the Brittonic parts of the island of Britain), particularly the Mabinogion, for inspiration, The Black Cauldron is my favorite. (But they're all good; see The Book of Three, on my Best Older Kids' Lit 1964 list.) The antiheroic Prince Ellidyr, who loves only his horse, sickly Gwystyl of the Fair Folk, the sorceresses Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch, and the doomed minstrel Adaon are tremendous characters. It's like Michael Moorcock's Elric series without the sex, drugs, and despair.


    Alan Garner's ELIDOR. The author of the uncanny 1960 fantasy adventure The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath (included on my Best Older Kid's Lit 1963 list), returned in '65 with this retelling of Britain's "Childe Roland" fairy tale. Four English children enter a fantasy world, and set off on a quest to retrieve four treasures — a spear, a sword, a stone, and a cauldron. Most fantasy stories would have ended with the successful resolution of this quest; however, when the children return to Manchester — which is portrayed as an uninhabitable wasteland — evil follows them. The book is written in two different styles: When the children are in Elidor, we're reading High Fantasy; when they're back in England, we're reading The Famous Five. It's uneven, but in a good way.


    Tove Jansson's MOOMINPAPPA AT SEA. The character of Moominpappa was an uncanny one, to me, when I first read these books. He alternates between writing his memoirs and sudden whims; his emotions are volatile. Here, he decides he wants to be a more traditional paterfamilias, because he realizes that his family doesn't look to him for guidance or support… so he herds his wife and children onto a boat, and sets off for Moominpappa's Island. (The plot is in some ways quite similar to Paul Theroux's The Mosquito Coast, also a sardonic inversion of the Robinsonade adventure genre.) Moominpappa's family suffers through one problem after another… why? Because they love him.


    Sid Fleischman's THE GHOST IN THE NOONDAY SUN. He's not read much any more, I suspect, but Fleischman was one of my very favorite authors when I was between, say, 9 and 13. This book falls between Fleischman's two best: By the Great Horn Spoon! (included on my Best Older Kid's Lit 1963 list) and Chancy and the Grand Rascal (1966). Like these yarns, the protagonist — 12-year-old Oliver Finch, who is kidnapped by pirates because they believe he can see ghosts, and they want to thwart the ghosts guarding treasure they've buried — is looking for a father figure, and finds one in an unlikely place. It's a version of Treasure Island… but easier for today's older kid to actually read.


    René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's ASTERIX and CLEOPATRA. The sixth book in the Asterix comic book series; it was originally published in serial form in 1963. My favorite Asterix book has got to be Asterix the Gladiator… but this adventure is right up there. Enraged at Julius Caesar's cultural imperialism, Cleopatra orders the Egyptian architect Edifis to build a new palace in Alexandria within three months. Edifis recruits Asterix, Obelix, and Getafix to help out… which they do by dosing the Egyptian workers with their magic potion. Edifis's arch-rival attempts to sabotage the palace's progress, leading to a fun escape-from-a-pyramid sequence, in which Dogmatix saves the day. (Note that Asterix and the Banquet also first appeared in album form in 1965.)


    Bertrand R. Brinley's THE MAD SCIENTISTS' CLUB. Jeff, Henry, Dinky, and other members of the do-it-yourself Mad Scientists' Club tinker in a makeshift electronics lab above their town's hardware store, and use whatever materials they can find to pull off various pranks and stunts. For example: a remote-controlled lake monster! Fun fact: The author of the Mad Scientists series — story collections published in 1965 and 1968; and the novels The Big Kerplop! (1974) and The Big Chunk of Ice (2005) — directed an Army program for assistance and safety instruction for amateur rocketeers. He also wrote Rocket Manual for Amateurs (1960). so he actually knew what he was talking about. These stories first appeared in the Boy Scouts magazine Boys' Life.


    Louise Fitzhugh's THE LONG SECRET. This book might blow your mind… if you are, like I was when I first read it, a devoted fan of Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy (included on my est Older Kids' Lit 1964 list). In this sequel, Harriet has another mystery to crack. She's summering on Montauk — not with her excellent outsider weirdo friends Sport and Janie, but with the milquetoasty Beth Ellen — when nasty notes begin to appear around town. Like the vicious aperçus from Harriet's own notebooks, they're right on target. Who's leaving them? And what's happening to Beth Ellen's body? Also: Harriet is a jerk, kinda! Lizzie Skurnick's take on this book ("CSI: Puberty") is really spot-on: check it out.


    Beverly Cleary's THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE. By the author of the wildly successful kids' books (1950–99) about Henry Huggins, Ribsy, Beezus, and Ramona Quimby. I liked those books OK, when I was a kid… but I really liked this one. Set in a run-down resort hotel in California, it concerns the fateful meeting of Ralph, a mouse who longs for danger and speed, and Keith, a boy with a toy motorcycle. It turns out that Ralph can make the motorcycle run by making an engine noise with his lips… and off he goes, zooming up and down the creepy hotel's corridors, dodging vacuum cleaners and cats. (Is this where Kubrick got the idea for those scary Big Wheel scenes in The Shining?) When Keith falls sick, Ralph must brave the greatest danger of all in order to bring him medicine.


  • The 10 best adventure novels from 1965

    The year 1965 was half a century ago, as of next month.

    The years 1963 and 1964 were cusp years between the eras we think of as the Nineteen-Fifties and Sixties; by '65 the Sixties were fully underway, building steam as the era headed towards its 1968–69 apex. In the best adventure novels of 1965, we find few relics of the Fifties: things are falling apart; the center isn't holding.

    In 1965, the science fiction and fantasy adventure genres begin to be ambitious, self-consciously artistic, proto-psychedelic. The espionage and mystery adventure genres, meanwhile, have become self-reflexive and sardonic.


  • Best ever cooperative boardgames

    Cooperative boardgames require some mental readjustment. Your fellow players aren't your opponents; they're on your team! Either you all beat the game, or you all lose!

    Lord of the Rings: The Board Game

    Designed by Reiner Knizia

    Players: 2–5 | Age: 12+ Duration: 60 minutes

    Each player takes on the role of one of five hobbits; the object of the game is to destroy the One Ring before the ring-bearer is captured by Sauron. During each turn, a player must flip Event Tiles—some of which cause bad events to happen to the hobbits, others of which cause good events to happen. Not to be confused with the children's game of the same name.

    Shadows Over Camelot

    Designed by Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget

    Players: 3–7 | Age: 10+ Duration: 90 minutes

    Each player is one of the knights of Camelot (or King Arthur himself ), and together you defend ancient Britain from the forces of evil. The knights must defeat the Black Knight, search for Excalibur and the Holy Grail, and more. Meanwhile, catapults are surrounding Camelot.


    Designed by Matt Leacock

    Players: 2–4 | Age: 8+ Duration: 60 minutes

    Diseases are breaking out around the world, and the game's players—each of whom is a disease-fighting specialist, such as an Operations Expert or a Scientist— must work closely together to eradicate them. Players travel around the world, from outbreak to outbreak.

    Forbidden Island

    Designed by Matt Leacock

    Players: 2–4 | Age: 10+ Duration: 30 minutes.

    As adventurers move around an island—constructed from game tiles, in a different arrangement each time you play—it slowly sinks! You're on a mission to retrieve four treasures from the island before it vanishes beneath the waves. Each character has a special ability, so on your turn you'll want to consult with your teammates about what your best course of action might be.

    max-catMax the Cat

    Designed by Jim Deacove

    Players: 1–8 | Age: 4+ Duration: 20 minutes

    Since 1972, Family Pastimes has designed games in which people play together and not against each other. Some favorite games include Amazing Illusions (a team of magicians performs illusions — and tries not to get trapped in them) and Mountaineering (a group works together to scale a mountain). But even older players will enjoy simpler Family Pastime games, including Caves & Claws, Harvest Time, and particularly Max — in which players work together to distract a tomcat.

    Castle Panic

    Designed by Justin De Witt

    Players: 1–6 | Age: 8+ Duration: 60 minutes

    Do you enjoy the addictive online game/app Kingdom Rush? Here's a tower defense boardgame in which players work together to defend their castle against a horde of crazed trolls, goblins, orcs, and other monsters. Strategizing is important: If you have a card that won't be useful for battling monsters until it's another player's turn, then swap it for another card with that player. You're all in this mess together.

    Excerpted from Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen.

    Read Carla Sinclair's review of Unbored Games on Wink.


  • 10 days left to rescue out-of-print adventure stories from copyright limbo

    [I really want Save the Adventure to be a success! For just $25, you'll get a year-long (12-book) subscription — Mark]

    Only 10 days left, before it's too late!

    Singularity & Co., the Brooklyn-based science fiction bookstore that a year ago launched the digital book club Save the Sci-Fi, is kickstarting a brand-new digital book club, Save the Adventure.

    Because they like what I've done with HiLoBooks's Radium Age Science Fiction Series (paperback reissues of forgotten sci-fi novels from 1904–33), the folks at Singularity & Co. have asked me to be Save the Adventure's founding editor.

    The goal of Save the Adventure is to rescue out-of-print adventure stories from copyright limbo. Each month (assuming we raise sufficient funding), I'll choose an out-of-print but amazing adventure novel — at which point Singularity & Co. will track down the rights-holder, clear the electronic publishing rights, scan and proof the text, and make the novel available as an e-book.

    The campaign deadline is November 9th. Rewards ship in December — a subscription to the Save the Adventure book club will make a perfect holiday gift.


  • The Radium Age science fiction library


    Several years ago, I read Brian Aldiss's Billion Year Spree — his "true history of science fiction" from Mary Shelley to the early 1970s. I found Aldiss's account of the genre's development entertaining and informative… but something bothered me, long after I'd finished reading it. So much so that I've since spent hundreds of dollars on forgotten, out-of-print books; I've written dozens of long, scholarly posts about the thing that bothered me so much, for io9 and my own blog, HiLobrow; and this year I've even launched a money-losing publishing imprint in a quixotic effort to set the record straight.

    Aldiss's book is terrific on the topic of science fiction from Frankenstein through the "scientific romances" of Verne, Poe, and Wells — and also terrific on science fiction's so-called Golden Age, the start of which he, like every other sf exegete, dates to John W. Campbell's 1937 assumption of the editorship of the pulp magazine Astounding. However, regarding science fiction published between the beginning of the Golden Age and the end of the Verne-Poe-Wells "scientific romance" era, Aldiss (who rightly laments that Wells's 20th century fiction after, perhaps, 1904's The Food of the Gods, fails to recapture "that darkly beautiful quality of imagination, or that instinctive-seeming unity of construction, which lives in his early novels") has very little to say. "Hm," I thought, when I noticed that. "That's an awfully long stretch of science fiction history to overlook, isn't it?"

    Aldiss seems to feel that authors of science fiction after Wells and before the Golden Age weren't very talented. He doesn't think much, for example, of the literary skills of Hugo Gernsback (sometimes called the "Father of Science Fiction") who founded Amazing Stories in 1926 and coined the phrase "science fiction" while he was at it. True, Gernsback's ideas were advanced, while his story-telling abilities were primitive. But does that really justify skipping over the 1900s through the mid-1930s? (PS: By my reckoning, Campbell and his cohort first began to develop their literate, analytical, socially conscious science fiction in reaction to the 1934 advent of the campy "Flash Gordon" comic strip, not to mention Hollywood's innumerable mid-1930s Bug-Eyed Monster-heavy "sci-fi" blockbusters that sought to ape the success of 1933's King Kong. They were also no doubt influenced by the 1932 publication of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In other words, the Golden Age began before 1937; if I had to choose a year, I'd say 1934.) Is Aldiss's animus against that era due solely to style and quality? I suspect not. Billion Year Spree reminds me of one of those airbrushed Soviet-era photos from which an embarrassing historical fact has been excised.