Watch this Tolkien expert's master class on every race in Middle Earth

Cory Olsen, aka The Tolkien Professor, explains how Tolkien's hobbit stories got fused with his earlier mythologic work around languages he created to become the Tolkien universe inhabited by Hobbits, Men, Ents, Elves, Dwarves, and what-not. Read the rest

"Fantasy Magazine" returns after nearly a decade away

Acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy publisher John Joseph Adams has announced the return of Fantasy Magazine, after being shuttered for nearly a decade. Here's the official history, according to the press release:

Fantasy Magazine was originally launched in 2005, published by Sean Wallace and edited by a team of Wallace and Paul Tremblay. It started as a print magazine before shifting to digital-only publication in 2007. That shift coincided with an editorial change: Paul Tremblay stepped down and was replaced by Cat Rambo, with Wallace continuing to serve as publisher and co-editor. Rambo and Wallace remained as joint editors of Fantasy until March 2011 when they both stepped down as editors and were replaced by John Joseph Adams. Adams edited Fantasy for the rest of 2011. Beginning in January 2012, Adams took over as publisher of Fantasy and its sister-magazine, Lightspeed (which he was also already editor of), and merged the two magazines together under the single title of Lightspeed. At that time, Fantasy, as an ongoing publication, went on indefinite hiatus, though it reappeared for single special issues in 2014, 2015, and 2016. The November 2020 issue will be the first new Fantasy issue in four years.

Lightspeed and Nightmare will continue to operate as usual; Lightspeed will still also publish fantasy fiction as well as SF at the same schedule it does currently, and likewise Nightmare will still publish dark fantasy as well as horror.

This new iteration of Fantasy will be edited by Arley Sorg and Christie Yant, with Adams serving as publisher for the entire line, which will now be known as Adamant Press line (not to be confused with Adam and the Ants). Read the rest

Ray Bradbury's captivating explanation of his Mr. Electrico character's uncanny origins

As Ray Bradbury fans know, there's a curious minor character named Mr. Electrico who turns up in his creeptastic 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury always insisted Mr. Electrico was real but scholars never could confirm that. Then in a fantastic interview from 2010 by Sam Weller in The Paris Review, Bradbury tells the uncanny story of how he met the real Mr. Electrico:

...He was a real man. That was his real name. Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.

The next day, I had to go the funeral of one of my favorite uncles. Driving back from the graveyard with my family, I looked down the hill toward the shoreline of Lake Michigan and I saw the tents and the flags of the carnival and I said to my father, Stop the car. He said, What do you mean? And I said, I have to get out. My father was furious with me. He expected me to stay with the family to mourn, but I got out of the car anyway and I ran down the hill toward the carnival.

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Creating realistic vegetation for a tabletop gaming board

Last month, I covered the unreal tabletop fantasy village that Real Terrain Hobbies and Goobertown Hobbies built using buildings from Tabletop World, two Croatian sculptors who pretty much make the best resin-cast fantasy buildings in the world.

Now, Neil of Real Terrain is building a gaming board and terrain features worthy of the Tabletop World buildings that he and Brent so meticulously painted.

Here are his first two videos documenting the process. The first is of him building the actual board, the second is him beginning to add paint, the ground cover, and vegetation. These videos are something of a masterclass in terrain making.

One thing that Neil shares in the second video is a great tip for all miniatures painters and terrain makers. As he begins to put the watered down paint onto his foam rock formations (in gray, brown, green, and black), he has to remind himself that it's going to look kind of awful, like it might not be working, before he's done. This is something that often frustrates and scares newbies. Often, basecoats and early layerings of paint can look bad and you can become fearful that you're on the wrong track. As you gain more experience painting and weathering, you realize that it takes time to build up your colors, and that, for things to look realistic, you need many different colors and sometimes some of those colors look wrong when first applied. Things in nature are not a single color. Your minis and terrain look best when they have a complex of color. Read the rest

The fantastic fantasy miniatures game, Frostgrave, is currently free!

Osprey Games has made the PDF version of their popular game, Frostgrave, free in a gesture of support for self-isolating gamers who might be interested in the award-winning skirmish-level fantasy miniatures game.

Frostgrave is normally a two-player game of wizards and their warbands duking it out over treasure and other spoils in the ruins of the frozen city of Frostgrave. But there have been some solo adventures in the Dark Alchemy supplement and the recent Perilous Dark supplement. As part of their shut-in bundle, Osprey is also giving away Dark Alchemy for free, along with the three solo scenarios from Perilous Dark. You use the code FGV2020 on check-out to get the free deal.

Frostgrave is one of my favorite tabletop miniature games and I can't say enough good things about it. I've never played solo, but I became tempted when Perilous Dark was released. Now that we're all trapped in our wizard's towers, under siege from tiny, glowing invisible monsters, it seems like a good time to give solo Frostgrave a roll. I've got an Explosive Rune spell with "COVID-19" written all over it.

Here's a bit more about the free PDF deal from Frostgrave's creator, Joseph McCullough.

Image: Cover art for Frostgrave: The Wizard's Conclave Read the rest

A free short story about Irish history to read while you're quarantined over St. Patrick's Day

I wrote An Baile na mBan: a story of mothers, monsters, and war a few years ago for an anthology called Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Originally published by Crossed Genres Publishing, the anthology focused on sci-fi/fantasy stories of adolescent protagonists from historically marginalized communities from before the 1920s. This story was loosely inspired by the tragic discovery of a mass grave at an Irish nunnery for single mothers, and thus involves pretty much all of the horrible things that might relate to that:

Set during the Irish War of Independence, An Baile na mBan tells the story of 16-year-old Caoimhe, a Traveller girl who has been paying off her debts to the Catholic Church by working at the nunnery that took her in while she was with child—and by stealing their supplies and selling them on streets. When one of her black market customers takes an interest in Aisling, the young Protestant girl who recently arrived at the home, he offers Caoimhe a chance to reunite with her daughter in exchange for a favor. But the club-footed man isn't all that he seems, and neither are his plans for Aisling's child. Or his stake in the war that rages through the land.

In case you aren't familiar with Travellers, they're a distinct ethnic group in Ireland, with their own language and culture that goes back hundreds of years. Unfortunately, they still deal with a lot of discrimination today, because the ladder of oppression is always ugly and complicated. Read the rest

Hand of Glory offers modular, magnetic gaming miniatures

If you've ever tried to create swapable arms and weapons on gaming miniatures, using rare earth magnets, you know what a hassle it can be. Great idea, not fun to implement.

In 2018, a Kickstarter called Hand of Glory raised $156,000 to create a line of hot-swapable fantasy miniatures. With a collection of figures outfitted with rare earth magnet wrists and a line of weapons and other accessories, you could mix and match to create unique miniatures tailored to your game. Hand of Glory is back with another campaign to add more figures and tons more weapons and accessory options to the line.

The folks at Hand of Glory were kind enough to send me a sample box of minis and weapons. The minis are wonderfully sculpted and the weapons and other components are varied and characterful. Hand of Glory 2 introduces 11 new figures and over 100 new weapons and other items. Among the new additions are chain-based weapons and animal figures on chain leashes.

I have never played a game using magnetized minis, so I can't judge how fussy the process is of changing out parts on the fly, or how often things fall off. The magnets do seem strong, but I did notice that some of the bigger, heavier weapons sometimes pivot on the magnetic wrist as you move the figure and "go limp," not something you ever want your scary, intimidating weapon to do. But this is a minor quibble.

With so many people using miniatures in RPGs these days, and so many cool "miniature agnostic" fantasy skirmish games out there, these sort of modular, design-your-own minis make a lot of sense. Read the rest

Two well-known YouTube game crafters paint up an entire tabletop fantasy village in five days

"Two men, one highly detailed resin fantasy village, and five days to paint it."

If you're a fantasy tabletop gamer, you likely know about Tabletop World, two Croatian terrain makers whose resin-cast buildings are the gold standard in tabletop gaming. Read the rest

Nerdforge binds a leather book with an electrified Witcher sigil on the cover

Nerdforge is a young Norwegian couple who documents all of their creative projects on YouTube. Martina is a talented crafter who specializes in fantasy dioramas and book binding.

In this episode, she binds a leather spell book and embellishes the cover with The Witcher signs (sigils) and the Wolf School medallion with glowing red eyes.

Image: YouTube Read the rest

'Lord of the Rings'-themed wedding looks like a lot of fun

IMGURian @Sgraceoh shared these phenomenal images of their “Lord of the Rings themed wedding,” and it looks like a good time was had by all. Read the rest

Excellent review of Jack Vance's "Tales of the Dying Earth"

I read and greatly enjoyed Jack Vance's 4-book series, Tales of the Dying Earth last year. Today I wanted to tell my daughter about one of the spells in the book (the Spell of Forlorn Encystment), so I looked it up online. One of the top results Alison Flood's 2011 review of the series in The Guardian. She likes the books for the same reasons I do, describing the stories as "strange, and disturbing, and glowing."

"Glowing" is an especially good way to describe Vance's writing. His use of language in enchanting, and it really does feel like his sentences and words are manifesting some kind of spell.

From Flood's review:

All is recounted in Vance's wonderful, unique prose. Is it possible to be both deadpan and flowery at the same time? I think he pulls this off, to hilarious effect. "These girls seem not to relish the garland of pulchritude," says Guyal of a collection of unattractive women. Cugel, after ditching a former princess into the hands of a brigand (it was his own hopelessness which led to her losing her kingdom), justifies himself angrily. "'The woman is a monomaniac!' he told himself. 'She lacks clarity and perceptiveness; how could I have done else, for her welfare and my own? I am rationality personified; it is unthinking to suggest otherwise.'"

There are remnants of ancient civilisations: floating roads and air-cars. There are horrific images galore: a pyramid of screaming flesh half a thousand feet high. And so, so much of these stories can be seen in the work of later authors.

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The world's first Christmas movie is a silent one made in 1898

While looking up something else on YouTube, I came across Santa Claus, the world's first Christmas movie! This British silent film, a little over a minute long, was made in 1898 and was directed by George Albert Smith, a "stage hypnotist, psychic, magic lantern lecturer, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, inventor" and noted film pioneer. It was considered a technical marvel in its time and definitely worth a watch.

Michael Brooke of BFI National Archive reports that the movie had "considerable technical ambition and accomplishment for its period," and that it "uses pioneering visual effects in its depiction of a visit from St. Nicholas." He also writes that it is "believed to be the cinema's earliest known example of parallel action and, when coupled with double-exposure techniques that Smith had already demonstrated in the same year's The Mesmerist (1898) and Photographing a Ghost (1898), the result is one of the most visually and conceptually sophisticated British films made up to then."

In this picture you see two children being placed in bed by a maid, lights are then shut off. Santa Claus enters the room from the fireplace and proceeds to trim the tree. He then fills the stockings that were previously hung on the mantle by the children. After walking backward and surveying his work, he suddenly darts at the fireplace and disappears up the chimney. This film surprises everyone and leaves them to wonder how old St. Nicholas disappears.

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Thanks to an article about why science fiction great John M Ford's books are out of print, they're coming back

John M Ford -- AKA Mike Ford -- (previously) was a spectacular and varied science fiction writer who performed brilliantly across a wide range of genres and formats, from RPGs (GURPS, Paranoia) to licensed Star Trek fiction (his "How Much for Just the Planet" effectively created Klingon fandom) to fantasy novels like The Dragon Waiting, which grip and delight the reader in ways to rival George RR Martin or Ursula K LeGuin. Read the rest

Fixing a car-door dent with fantasy cartography

Did you get dinged in a parking lot? Or did you back into a phone-poll? A little bondo, a little black pinstriping, and voila, you've turned your car's unsightly, damaged door panel into a map of fantastic, Tolkien-adjacent realms. Read the rest

The colonialism behind fantasy's vaguely Irish Elves

Motherfoclóir is a delightful podcast about language and linguistics as they relate to Ireland ("foclóir" being the Irish word for "dictionary," and thus completely unrelated to that homophonic English-language word you're surely thinking of, c'mon). While that might seem like a niche topic outside of the Emerald Isle herself, a recent episode tackled something that's surely on everyone's mind: those fantastical pointy-eared aristocrats known only as elves.

Specifically, it's a conversation with Irish writer Orla Ní Dhúill, whose blog about elves, Irishness, and colonialism gained a lot of traction among fantasy fans across the globe.

Growing up as a nerdy Irish-American kid, I always understood there to be something vaguely Gael-ish about elves. Even though I didn't know why. Even though I knew it didn't make sense. Even though I knew that Tolkien himself was not particularly fond of the Irish (the language, at least, if not the people). Was it because they used an cló gaelach, the insular font so often associated with Irish Gaelic? Even in my later adolescence, as I wasted my measly weekend job wages on Warhammer 40K, I couldn't help but notice the inherent Irishness in the names and terms of the mystical Eldar alien race who are basically space elves anyway (spoiler: it turns out the Eldar language is, in fact, mostly just bastardized lines from Irish Gaelic proverbs).

The podcast episode is full of insightful exchanges on language and colonialism between Ní Dhúill and host Peader Kavanagh. You can listen below, or on your preferred podcasting platform. Read the rest

The lost audiobooks of Roger Zelazny reading the Chronicles of Amber

When I was a kid, my whole circle of D&D-playing, science-fiction reading pals was really into Roger Zelazny's ten-volume Chronicles of Amber, but somehow I never read it; for years, I'd intended to correct this oversight, but I never seemed to find the time -- after all, there's more amazing new stuff than I can possibly read, how could I justify looking backwards, especially over the course of ten books? Read the rest

Tolkien’s Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is probably a misogynist satire of women's rights campaigner Victoria Sackville-West

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is a Lord of the Rings Hobbit, one of the few, rare female characters in that series, and she's a nasty piece of work: a bitter enemy of Frodo and Bilbo, she is mostly depicted trying to either steal their stuff or buy it at deep discounts from them: she ends her days first imprisoned and starved, and then dead shortly after she's sprung. Read the rest

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