The Man of Gold by M.A.R. Barker

The Man of GoldIn 1975, Gary Gygax, wrote lavish praise in the foreword to M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne, calling it the 'most beautifully done fantasy game ever created' and saying Barker's world, Tékumel, was - except for Tolkien - completely without peer. Gygax concludes that the primary difference between the two (Tolkien and Barker) is that the latter "has neither had the opportunity to introduce and familiarise his Tékumel by means of popular works of fiction".1

In 1984, that opportunity came, as Barker's The Man of Gold was published by DAW, the first of five novels set in the universe. Harsan is a young novice in the temple of Thumis, the Lord of Wisdom. His speciality is linguistics, and at the start of the book, he's just about the wrap up his thesis - a study into one of Tékumel's long-dead languages (there are a lot of them - it is an old, old world, built on the ruins of a long of old, old cultures). His bucolic - if dull - monastic existence is interrupted by a messenger sent from the Tsolyani empire.

The Tsolyani are at war with the Kingdom of Yan Kor, and the latter are equipped with an ancient artifact, the tautly-named 'Weapon Without Answer'. Rumor has it, there may be an answer - at least, a crumbling manuscripts says so. But the Tsolyani need someone proficient in the Llyani language to work out the details. For example: Harsan.

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Week of Ones


This week was widely noted by the comic news sites and many comic stores as an especially big one as far as volume of new publications is concerned, and also, given that this was the week Marvel began rolling out its new post-Secret Wars series, a week when a particularly large number of the titles published were first issues.

In the grand tradition of "I read them so you don't have to", following are my pick of the best of the bunch.

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Review Round-up: Knitters, Pirates, Cops, Princesses and Priests

TheBig SinA quick-fire round-up of eight recent holiday reads - including some vintage mysteries, a brand new fantasy, a YA that'll have you in stitches (fnar) and a saucy pirate romance. Most of these were recommendations via Twitter, so thank you all for sending them my way!

Prologue Books are one of my go-to publishers - whomever is putting together this list of out-of-print fiction is doing a cracking job. (Also, they use Amazon well, so I can find their books by searching Prologue Crime or Prologue Western, which is really helpful.) Anyway, that baseline of praise established... Jack Webb's The Big Sin (1952) might be one of my favourites so far. Webb's story ticks all the right narrative boxes: a cop versus a Big City machine, a man framed for murder, criminals being forced to choose between doing 'bad' and doing 'evil', the works. And, beneath it all, he underpins everything with a discussion of faith.

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Radio Drama: "Subject 428A" (1964)

Subject 428A"Subject 428A"

Original air date: October 2, 1964, from the series Theatre Five.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Thoughts Before Listening

I’m thinking this will be about a prisoner or a patient or an experiment or a prisoner patient experiment. Also thinking that it would be really neat if this was about zombie unicorns. It probably isn’t. It might be though.

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Weirdness Rodeo: Harlequin, Netflix and Reboots


Is that your brand extending, or are you just happy to see me?

Harlequin - who have always been one of the more innovative publishers (probably because they have one of the strongest brands) - are extending into... wine. I mean, why not? Even as a stunt, this is good PR.

The publisher is partnering with Vintage Wine Estates to create Vintages by Harlequin, three wines now available for $14.95 a pop on Amazon. There’s a chardonnay (“Substitute for Love”), a cabernet sauvignon (“Pardon My Body”), and red wine blend (“Wild at Heart”). “Harlequin has a deep history of creating experiences for women, and we are thrilled to bring this new opportunity to market,” Harlequin CEO and publisher Craig Swinwood said in a statement. 

Ok, almost definitely a PR stunt. But I like that Harlequin sees their role - as a publisher - as 'creating experiences for women'. That's bold language, and one that opens them up, and credibly, to making more than books.

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Friday Five: 5 Comics About the Magic of Everyday Life

This week's Friday Five features five comics books that talk about magic. And life. And where the two intersect. Or don't.

Wicked + Divine

The Wicked + The Divine (Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, Image, 2014/15)

This is absolutely a capital-G-Great comic, with stunning art and an exceptional high concept premise: perpetually reincarnated divine avatars, reappearing (briefly and wonderfully) every generation to inspire the mundane. The whole thing, see, is a metaphor for art, y'know - with the gods as creators, living their (literal) fifteen minutes of fame and bringing magic to the masses. And, in WicDiv (as the tumbleyoot say), that's hammered home in pretty much every conceivable way: the gods are artists, and use their holy platform to make everything from dance videos to long-form Medium-esque rants. 

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Stark Reviews: Robin Hood (1973)

Stark says: “Listen Friar, you’re mighty preachy, and you gonna preach your neck right into a hangman’s noose.”

Sounds like a Western, doesn’t it? What if I told you there was also a corrupt Sheriff, a ruthless Land Boss, a shooting contest, a root-tootin’ barn dance, a pair of outlaws and a stagecoach heist? No, it ain’t The Quick and the Dead. It’s Disney’s Robin Hood and for this month’s review I’m going to forgo my usual Good-Bad-and-Ugly rating and bust a gut trying to convince y’all that this film is actually a Western.

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That's One Impressive Pair Of Ironies

Red One

Team One Comic tries its best to be alert to the subtleties of its subject matter as well as trying to bring some political awareness and sensitivity to bear. Issue #1 of Red One from Image Comics offers a challenge or two on this front. If you're being ironic about sexism in a visual medium it's hard to avoid it looking like sexism, and that's assuming it's meant to be ironic in the first place.

Red One herself is a Soviet-era super-agent, so Jared takes the opportunity to have a rummage around among the various Soviet and Russian super characters scattered across the comics landscape for this show's 3&1.

Review Round-up: The Collegium Chronicles and Unfaithful Wives

Two books/series with very little in common. Except, I suppose, I found them both kind of dissatisfying - Mercedes Lackey's Collegium Chronicles and Orrie Hitt's Unfaithful Wives.

RedoubtThe Collegium Chronicles (2008 - 2013) are five of the (counts rapidly) bajillion Valdemar novels by Mercedes Lackey. This particular sequence follows the young Mags as he's rescued from working as a mine slave and makes the startling transition to student at a magical university. His efforts to fit in, make friends, and adapt to his comfy new existence are occasionally interrupted by assassins.

If I sat down at wrote a list of 'stuff that bugged me in fantasy novels', the Collegium Chronicles would tick a dozen different items - from annoying dialects to poverty porn to magical horses to meandering descriptions of meaningless trivia (seriously, one of the books features a page-long list of pie fillings) to frequent, implausible deus ex machina to heavy-handed infodumping. Hell, there's even a shameless Quidditch knockoff.

And, good lord, the Chosen One-ness. Mags is lifted from obscurity because he's born magical and special - if he weren't, his plight (like those of his dozens of peers in the mines) would have gone completely unnoticed. As he grows, we learn that he's amazingly special in so many, many unique ways. Even at a magical university packed with magical snowflakes, he's the snowflakiest of all: the best at everything he does, possessed of a uniquely powerful magical talent, and, of course, descended from a mysterious bloodline. 

And yet...

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The Hunger Games - Greatest Modern Movie Epic?

Lorde - "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Catching Fire)

Finally saw Mockingjay, Part 1 last weekend. All three movies seem to be a slightly different style, but they all revolve around a really interesting anti-authoritarian, anti-media theme. What's interesting isn't just how the theme is handled (intelligently and provocatively), but how it has evolved over the three films, without losing the basic action/adventure/coming-of-age premise that makes the whole thing so fun. It is also, in a way that many of its peers is not, strikingly contemporary.

It'll be interesting to see how it dates, but given the world doesn't seem to be de-paranoia-ing, de-militarising or de-media-saturating any time soon, I suspect this might be something made for the long haul.

Anyway, after a day or so of pondering, here's my challenge - is there a better modern movie epic?

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Weirdness Rodeo: Libraries, Twitter & Succeeding on Social

Your occasional and opinion-laden round-up of interesting links, marketing & publishing news, fun stories and, you know, stuff

People are using libraries less/more

Pew Research on how Americans use libraries:

Americans remain steady in their beliefs that libraries are important to their community, their family and themselves. Two-thirds (65%) of all of those 16 and older say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community... [but] traditional activities such as checking out a book or getting help from a librarian are somewhat on the decline.

The number of people borrowing a print book has declined over the past three years, as has 'asking a librarian for help'. But attending a class, program, lecture or meeting has held steady, checking out ebooks has increased (slightly - not as much as print books has decreased) and 'just sit and read, study, or watch/listen to media' has increased.

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How are your books organised? (Part 2)


We've been getting new shelves put in. A very exciting experience, although our friends are extremely tired of the kvetching we've laid down over the past few months. But now the shelves are here, and, as a result, we get to reorganise all the books. I am very, very excited.

Despite all the good advice - and better role models - that you've all provided, in all likelihood the final organisation of our books is going to be total chaos. Although we've tried alphabetising in the past, they all wind up gravitating together in strange, altogether personal, accumulations. Not entirely collections, as much as weak covalent bonds of book association that can only be perceived by Anne and/or me. 

So, why battle it? One thing we've always discussed is getting brass bookplates for shelves, a bit like some older libraries. The labels inside would be paper, so there's no firm commitment to what each said, but it'd be a fun way to decorate our shelves. 

The thing is, we don't want to do anything boring like "Fiction, A-B" or "Cookbooks" or even specific authors. We want to be more oblique. For example:

  • "Tentacular" = Kitschies finalists
  • "Detectives, Gin-Soaked" = Travis McGee mysteries
  • "Local History (Isola)" = Ed McBain's 87th precinct
  • "Rhinoceroses" = Patrick Ness

So, yes. Very oblique. 

So here's the challenge - what would you do? Think about your collections or aggregations of various books. How would you name them that would bring a smile to your face?

Friday Five: 5 Things That Will Change Your Mind About Things You Thought You Knew

A Killing in the SunThis week's guest is Dilman Dila, writer and filmmaker from Uganda. He manages the literary magazine, Lawino, and recently published a collection of speculative stories, A Killing in the Sun. And his films include What Happened in Room 13 (which has attracted over two million views on YouTube) and The Felistas Fable, which was nominated for Best First Feature at Africa Movie Academy Awards (2014), and which won four major awards at the Uganda Film Festival (2014).

His story "How My Father Became a God" was on the Short Story Day Africa longlist and has been collected in the (rather exceptional) Apex Book of World SF 4.

Dilman's taken our Friday Five challenge in a unique way, choosing five different topics - from books to food to monsters - and how they can challenge our assumptions...


1. African Science Fiction and Fantasy

This is a growing genre, riding on a recent wave of specfic from the continent, but that is not to say that it is a recent import into the continent. European conquerors have whitewashed African histories but reading works in the genre - including those that were told orally for centuries before labels were applied to stories - will change your mind about what you think of Africa. For example, the Acholi folktales about Hare using weapons and devices he manufactured to defeat his enemies indicate the Acholi believed, and told stories about, science and invention.

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Not a Hoax! Not a Dream!


This issue, an X-Man dies!

They didn't use that cover line, as they didn't want to give it away, but at the risk of spoiling something thirty five years old, One Comic spends some time with the issue that gave the world the (first) death of Jean Grey: Uncanny X-Men 137. Double-sized and ending a story years in the making, this is one of the most famous Marvel comics of all time. But how does it hold up? And how much difference does the editorially-mandated change to the ending make?

And to round things out, we consider the best and worst of the X-Men retcons - mostly the worst, because they're all pretty bad.