The 2012 Nebula Winners have been announced. You can find them, along with the nominees, over at the SFWA. Have to admit I haven't read many of these. Guess I got some good summer reading to do. Enjoy!
Review: Stack & Attack
In their own words: “In 'Stack & Attack', you take on the role of a Stone Age Neanderthal who worships the gods of Earth, Sun, and Wind by stacking stone towers to the sky.”
Components: The game features attractive box and card art. The box is nice and sturdy. The cards are of okay quality. They look and feel good, but they shuffle poorly—a fact mitigated by the fact that the hands are so small that players will usually be pile shuffling anyway. The stacking boards are thick and work well, but the sticky mesh between the two halves to allow them to fold and fit in the box feels and looks a bit like a cheap fix. Overall, though, the game looks good on the table.
Game Play: Stack & Attack is a small deck-building game that puts the players in the role of neanderthals as they attempt to build a stone tower high enough to please the gods (the magic number is 15 arms of height, apparently). It is the second game I've been provided a copy of recently that purports to be a deck-builder but seriously alters the base mechanics of that genre (Shadow Days was the other—a review of the finished product is coming soon).
The setup of the game feels very familiar. Players get identical starting hands of cards (all representing rocks of different sizes). Then, like Ascension, a single draw deck is placed between them and the initial set of cards available to buy are dealt onto the table. The first change to the formula is obvious from the start: the cards have a cost but no “gold” value. Instead of using the cards to buy new cards for their deck, players spend some of the four action points available to them.
This leaves the player with some decisions to make each turn. Does she use her points to add a rock to her stack? Should she use those points to buy a needed card from the tableau? Instead of those, should she use her points to throw a rock at her opponent's stack in an attempt to knock it down a bit lower? As the game progresses, players get to add action points through cards and/or building to certain heights.
Play goes back and forth until one player has built his tower to fifteen arms in height.
My Take: I love the theme of the game, and the art is a lot of fun. The game certainly works. Each turn goes quickly and the entire game is over in between twenty and thirty minutes—perfect for a filler. The game is very accessible. I could teach it to even non-gamers in just a few minutes. My four-year-old probably could play the game though the lining the cards up on the stack card would be an adventure. Despite that simplicity, there are interesting choices to be made. Because of this, I could see this game getting some play at my family game nights and with students and non-gaming co-workers.
Unfortunately, my more strategy-oriented game group had some issues that will probably keep the game off the tables there. The first issue was the fact that players reshuffle their entire decks and re-draw after each turn. This means, unlike in Dominion, Thunderstone, Ascension, and all of the other deck-builders we play, that it is possible to buy a card and not get to play it, ever. Still, deck sizes don't really grow that large, so it isn't likely a problem in most games. The bigger problem is how attacking works in the game. With the limited amount of actions available, going for an attack that had much chance of succeeding meant skipping building or, at least, barely advancing your own tower. If the attack was successful, that meant players that were not involved in the combat gained ground on the defender and the attacker. In a three player game, this was like handing the win to the neutral player. The fallout from that realization was that no one wanted to attack, which turned the game into a race to stack cards which, unfortunately, because of the constant reshuffling, highlighted the prominence luck takes in the game. I'm going to force the game to the table at least once more, but unless more plays reveal strategy we have missed, I don't think this one will stay in the group's rotation.
Review Score: I'm tempted to give one of those split reviews—one score for family gamers, another for strategy gamers—but I think I'll average the two instead. So, it is likely a three star game for families and, at best, a two-star game for more hardcore gamers. Two and one-half stars seems about right for the game.
I was so sad to just receive the news that Ray Harryhausen has passed away. There are very few artists in the world whose work had more of an impact on my childhood than Harryhausen. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the Sinbad movies, Jason and the Argonauts, all were huge parts of my childhood. To this day, I prefer stop-motion animation and other practical effects to any of the magic digital effects can offer. I'll probably write more about Harryhausen's films when I get the time, but, until then, here are a few of my favorite among his creations. R.I.P. Ray. You made all of our lives a lot more fun.
The skeleton fight from Jason and the Argonauts: this is probably my favorite film scene from my childhood. All other fantasy battles on film suffer in comparison.
Mighty Joe Young Coin Toss. Willis O'Brien won the Oscar for visual effects for this film, but it is well known that Harryhausen handled most of the actual animation duties as O'Brien dealt with other technical aspect. It still surprises me how emotive Joe is.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms destroys "Coney Island." This was Harryhausen's first major solo turn as special effects director. The film originally had another title, but the studio had to buy the rights to Ray Bradbury's story of the same name to avoid a rights dispute. Coincidentally, the two Rays were childhood friends. I got to meet the two of them together at a DragonCon years ago. It is one of the highlights of my life. I'm not much on autographs, but I really wish I had gotten Harryhausen to sign something that day.
Clash of the Titans: Medusa Battle. Clash of the Titans was the first of Harryhausen's films that I was able to see in the theater. It came years after Star Wars and Close Encounters had re-written the rules for special effects. A lot of critics at the time saw the effects as dated. I loved them. This medusa battle is about as perfect as fantasy effects get, as far as I'm concerned.
The late period of comic's Golden Age (and the beginning of their Silver Age) was a fascinating time. Comic's popularity was at a height it will likely never again equal and many of the themes and motifs that still drive interest in comic books were saw a movement from a primitive state to their classical form. The popularity and explosion of creativity were both a blessing and a problem, however. The rise of horror comics as an alternative to super hero and detective comics brought the attention of the nation's parents and, more importantly, politicians to the industry. The result was a series of bans and self-imposed regulations that briefly stagnated the industry and stunted the growth of the art form. It is around these events that the narrative of Max Allan Collin's Seduction of the Innocent is built.
Informed readers will probably note that the novel's title is the same as the title of the famous pop psychology book by Fredric Wertham that argued that reading comics increased juvenile delinquency. In the place of Wertham, Collin's novel has the fictional Dr. Werner Frederick, and his critical book Ravage the Lambs. Along with Frederick, the novel has various other luminaries of the period that have been fictionalized but are still recognizable. These characters are constantly engaged in discussion of real-life stars, politicians and events—enough so that some people would likely characterize the book as historical fiction.
Despite its dedication to historical accuracy, Seduction of the Innocent is primarily a hard-boiled detective novel, a genre Collin's does better than almost any of his contemporaries. Here, the protagonist is not a private eye or a cop but, instead, a co-owner of a newspaper syndicate who specializes in investigating whatever the company needs investigated. This is apparently the third book featuring Jack Starr and his young step-mother Maggie, but it is the first one I had stumbled across. Finishing the book then finding out it was part of a trilogy hit me with a bit of mixed emotion. I hate jumping in to the middle of an established series and don't do it as a rule, but I really loved the two main characters and I'm excited to have two more books to read. For those that are wondering, I think this is a great place to start as I never felt like I was missing any back-story or relationship knowledge as I read the book.
More importantly, the book is wonderful. Collin's captures the period perfectly from the details in the surroundings to the rhythm of the language. Jack is a great protagonist, one that could easily be imagine being portrayed on film be Bogart, or maybe Mitchum. Collin's has updated the genre conventions a bit to squeeze out the misogyny and marginalize stereotypes, but, otherwise this feels like it could have been pulled out of a pile of pulp paperbacks on the dusty shelves of a used bookstore.
Seduction of the Innocent features some amazing art in the style of the period by Terry Beatty. I was first introduced to Collins through his Ms. Tree graphic novels and Beatty's illustrations gave me a bit of the nostalgia glow whenever they would appear.
To discuss the plot too much would be a spoilery sin, but the way it follows then strays from the actual events of the time, moves from historical fiction to clever interpretation, makes for a familiar tale that still seems surprisingly fresh. I couldn't possibly recommend the book more to fans of the genre or classic comics.
One of my Fantasy Literature students turned this in. I really enjoyed it, so I thought I'd share. Enjoy! JS
Many authors from the early 20th century to modern day have written influential and entertaining science fiction about what could happen with the advancement of technology; Asimov, Bradbury, Dick, Heinlein, Clark, among others. We have embraced these predictions into our popular culture through adaptations, merchandise, reprints, and movies. The possibility of space colonization is much more widely accepted now than it was when these authors were writing about it, and these feats are certainly much more possible. When I look up at the moon, I don’t see any flashing lights to guide incoming cargo ships or the dim glow of a colony’s solar-powered street lamps. I see an unexplored rock that could possibly tell us more about our own history than any taken from Earth’s soil. And yet, the human race as a whole seems not to care.
How can we have spent so much time thinking and dreaming about outer space, about the unforeseeable possibilities it will open for us, and then just play all of our hypothesization off as some stupid idea we had 40 years ago? It took eight years for the human race to go from the first man in space to the first man on the moon. We were interested in the bettering of our country as a world power, and certainly weren’t about to let the commies be ahead of us for long. It was a healthy competition, a rare occurrence between world powers, but one of the most productive competitions there can be. Americans cared about space, the public eye was on the moon, and we were genuinely invested in what was said to be the coming Space Age.
Well, here we are. The Space Age. In the forty years since its beginning, we have explored a massive 0% farther than where we were when we started. As far as knowledge goes, that certainly has changed. Our study and probing of our solar system has led us to a very different extraterrestrial knowledge than what we had pre-space. In this respect, the Space Age hasn’t been a failure. We must first have background knowledge about something before we can safely explore it. But it seems that we have become content with simply gaining this knowledge without putting it to use.
With our space shuttle program shut down in 2011, space and Wall Street speak the same language. The only planned space expeditions are backed by privatized companies, like Bigelow Aerospace. Perhaps that long-lost sense of competition that fueled our first foray into the Final Frontier will be returned by competing companies. Maybe we can finally stop dreaming and start doing. Maybe the Final Four bracket in 40 more years will be the top four companies predicted to reach Proxima Centauri. No one can say for sure, but if the government has foregone space exploration altogether, then help us, privatization, you are our only hope.
by Drew Raleigh