American writer Patricia A. McKillip, who died in May 2022, was a major author of fantasy and science fiction. She was noted for her stylised, poetic prose and for stories rich with strong themes. She wrote many novels including the Riddle-Master trilogy (1976 - 1979), but all of her books after 1994 were standalones.
McKillip’s breakthrough was her first novel for adults. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was published in 1974, and won the first World Fantasy Award the following year. The book was written when the author was just 26, and has become a prominent classic of the genre. Notably, it is an entry in both iterations of the Fantasy Masterworks line. The book focuses on a powerful “wizard woman”, who dwells in seclusion with a group of enchanted animals held there by her magic. But how does the novel weave a spell of its own?
It’s a brief update this time around - while I played quite a bit in August, I won’t be done with some of those games until well into September. What is on the docket is a set of four very different games, in a very wide range of styles.
First up, I played the very meta French adventure There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension (2020). While it definitely hasn’t converted me to point-and-click adventure games, it’s easily the best one I’ve played. Next up is a pair of games I’ve reviewed for Entertainium. The first is Cursed to Golf (2022), which failed to impress me with its eccentric take on the sport. I much preferred the turn-based tactics of Hard West II (2022), even though I have some misgivings about its difficulty. Finally, the best gaming experience I had in August was Metro: Last Light (2013), the superbly atmospheric shooter sequel made in Ukraine and Malta by 4A Games.
Before 1972, American author Barry Malzberg had written a handful of science fiction novels and over a dozen works of erotic fiction, mostly under psuedonyms. His breakthrough came with Beyond Apollo, which won the first ever John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1973. It received a mixture of rapturous praise and scathing criticism. What made this slim volume one of the most divisive and controversial SF books of the 1970s?
This short collaborative novel, originally serialised in Analog magazine in 1975, focuses on humans and aliens trapped together in a cramped interstellar escape module. Despite a promising start, Harrison and Dickson struggle to wring much interest out of this concept.
Prolific British science fiction author John Brunner (1934-1995) was known for the predictive power of his work. Although set in the 1980s, his 1973 novel The Stone That Never Came Down anticipates the declining, crisis-stricken UK of 2022.
This latest instalment of my monthly series on the games I’ve played has four entries. It kicks off with Strange Brigade and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, two very different games which are united by their unmistakable Britishness, sense of humour, and love of alliteration. Next up I have a few words about the fairly obscure action RPG Of Orcs and Men, made across the Channel in France. If you’ve enjoyed the fantasy stealth games in the Styx series, then you may enjoy the game that first introduced that gregarious goblin.
Finally for July, I revisited an indie masterpiece which has just been given a free and impressive overhaul. Tactics classic Into the Breach has been picked up by Netflix, who are making it available to their subscribers. To celebrate, Subset Games have upgraded all versions of the game to the even more excellent Advanced Edition. This gratis update adds a ton of new features, and makes one of the best indie games ever somehow even more perfect.
Legendary British author Michael Moorcock has a dizzyingly massive bibliography. He has written so many fantasy, science fiction and literary novels that surely only a handful of people can possibly have read them all. In the sphere of short fiction, though, Moorcock has been a bit less prolific. Reading his collected short fiction is the kind of undertaking that could even be completed in a normal human lifespan.
Normal human lives are in short supply, though, in The Time Dweller. Originally published in 1969, this collection is one of the earliest efforts to gather together some of Moorcock’s shorter stories. Of the nine entries in this volume, seven were originally published in New Worlds, one of the leading British SF magazines. It might not have been too difficult to get them published, because at the time the editor was one Michael Moorcock.
The nine stories fit the New Wave style which the magazine was known for during Moorcock’s first tenure as editor (1964 - 1971). They are experimental, somewhat literary, and tend to involve surreal journeys or transformations of one kind or another. As with much of the author’s work, they often straddle the line between SF and fantasy. They’re also quite gloomy in tone, dealing with desperate characters striving in dying worlds. While unlike the slightly more easygoing antiheroic fantasy of Moorcock’s Elric saga, these stories are worth seeking out for fans of the author - if not so much for more casual readers.
Today, developers Bungie are known for the blockbuster Halo series and more recently, for the Destiny games. And while the studio changed first-person shooters forever, first on the Mac and then on consoles, none of their later successes would have been possible without their earlier work in a different genre altogether. It was the success of pioneering real-time tactics game Myth: The Fallen Lords which, in part, prompted Microsoft to purchase Bungie and to help propel Halo to industry-shaking success in 2001.
Myth was ahead of its time. Its 3D environments were some of the first in the genre and Bungie’s work helped to forge a new style of gameplay. They cut away the base building, resource management, and large unit counts that defined Command & Conquer (1995) and Total Annihilation (1997). Myth isn’t a strategy title at all - but part of the first wave of real-time tactics games. It does more than make players think; it makes them feel. Thanks a unique union of writing and gameplay, each of Myth’s missions inspires feelings of desperation, terror, relief and - hopefully - triumph. 25 years later, it’s the emotional impact of Myth which makes it special to this day.
There’s not much need for preamble this month - I had a busy June, but still managed to play quite a few games. They were mostly on the older side; in fact the only 2022 release I played during June was a demo, and I rarely play those.
I revisited two classics from my youth which still stand up remarkably well, in the form of gloomy tactics game Myth: The Fallen Lords (1997) and the forgotten Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb (2003). I continued my increasingly familiar ramble through the Halo series with the fairly tiresome spinoff Halo 3: ODST (2009), and that demo I mentioned was for the upcoming Agent 64: Spies Never Die. The real standout for me, though, was definitely Dragon’s Dogma. Inspired by the long-awaited announcement of a sequel, I finally picked up Hideaki Itsuno’s cult favourite action RPG and have been revelling in its idiosyncratic charms.
Frederik Pohl (1919 - 2013) had an incredibly long career in science fiction. He wrote, edited and worked as an agent for over 70 years, from the early 1940s right through to the end of his long life. Gateway is a key work in the second wave of his writing career, which began in 1969 after a long spell helping others to get their stories published. Originally serialised in Galaxy magazine, Gateway was a major success which won both the Locus and Nebula Awards for best novel, and the John W. Campbell award.
Robinette Broadhead lives on a bleak, desperately overpopulated future Earth. Working in the grim “food mines” of Wyoming, he longs for a break and finally gets one - a lottery win. With his prize, Broadhead buys himself a trip to “Gateway”, a hollowed-out asteroid found concealed within our solar system. Once used by the mysterious, vanished alien Heechee, this rocky enigma contains a thousand of their highly advanced starships. Gateway is the centre of a “star rush”, humanity’s chance to explore and exploit the galaxy. Broadhead hopes to strike it lucky, to crew a Heechee ship that might discover alien relics. Success could mean fame, fortune, and a life of luxury.
The starships, though, are as inscrutable as they are powerful. Broadhead learns that the vessels are easy to pilot, but impossible to control. Any trip out is not only long, cramped and squalid but could see its crew come back empty handed - if they make it back at all.
I write about books, film, videogames, boardgames and music. I'm a contributor to Entertainium.