• Top 5 Christopher Lee movies

    Top 5 Christopher Lee movies

    Christopher Lee (1922-2015) was a Renaissance Man, who, much like Vincent Price, was greater than the sum of his parts. Known primarily for his role of Count Dracula in Hammer Studios many film sequels, he played the part of the legendary vampire seven times for them and another two times for other studios, and his version of Dracula stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Lugosi’s in terms of popularity and influence. 

    Lee was born into an aristocratic family (his father was a decorated British military man and his mother was an Italian countess), and his early years were full of world travel, private schools, and eventually a classical education at Wellington College. After he graduated, he did more traveling and ended up in the military, eventually serving as an intelligence officer in World War II, and afterward, he helped round up Nazi war criminals. Upon mustering out of the RAF, he was at a loss with what to do with himself. After a storied career in the military, he didn’t think he could take a job as a clerk or sitting at a desk. His cousin, the Italian ambassador to Britain, urged him to take up acting.

    He was initially told that his height (6’ 4”) wouldn’t allow him to be an actor, but Lee decided to prove them wrong, and took bit parts, small roles, and stock characters for the next ten years, using the experiences to listen and learn the craft as we went. In 1957, Lee was cast as the monster in Hammer Studios foray into horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein. Playing opposite him as the deranged Dr. Frankenstein was Peter Cushing. They became lifelong friends and starred in twenty films together. Having worked with director Terence Fischer already, he was cast as Dracula the following year in The Horror of Dracula, with Cushing along to play Van Helsing. It’s not possible to overstate the impact Lee’s performance had on the character. Two decades after Lugosi’s turn, filmed in garish color, Lee’s Dracula has all of the aristocratic charm and poise that Lee could effortlessly bring to the role. But when blood was shed, and the vampire emerged, Lee turned into a force of nature; fast, strong, violent, terrifying, and ultimately, sexy. His portrayal was the final ingredient to the pop culture construction of Dracula.

    Lee enjoyed a second career in his final years that began with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as the white wizard Saruman, and later, in the Star Wars saga, as Count Dooku, but Lee never strayed far from his horror roots. He borrowed a quote from Anthony Perkins when he said, “I don’t play villains, I play people.” Some of his best roles are just that, but since these are horror movie lists, I’ve constrained myself from mentioning Rochefort in The Three Musketeers and Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun, as that would be cheating. As with Lugosi and Karloff, Lee’s contributions to Dracula and Frankenstein will be found on separate Top 5 lists.

  • Top 5 Folk Horror Movies

    Top 5 Folk Horror Movies

    This sub-genre of horror is enjoying a bit of a Renaissance in the early 2020s, no doubt fueled in part by one of the most horrifying things a 21st century teenager can conceive of—being somewhere without cell service and no wi-fi. As the name suggests, the horror in these movies is based on folklore, most likely observed by outsiders, aka “city folk,” who find themselves in a remote village or isolated community and are forced to observe or confront the backwards superstitions of these “simple people.” Of course, the folklore elements in the movie is inevitably real, or treated as such by the villagers, who just so happen to need a sacrifice to whatever dark entity they are beholden to for a bountiful harvest, and no one will miss the young hitchhikers who don’t believe this stuff is real anyways.

    I don’t quite know if Folk Horror needs its own definition—certainly, in fiction, there’s so much of this kind of thing from H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard to Manly Wade Wellman and Dennis Wheately and so many others, for years everyone I ever knew simply called it “horror” or sometimes “supernatural horror.” In film, however, it’s less omnipresent, first showing up in the 1960s and 1970s before the maypoles were abandoned entirely and chainsaws were picked up instead. It may even be possible to throw too large a net over the concept—for instance, would The Blair Witch Project qualify as Folk Horror? I think so.

    The American version of Witchfinder General. Despite the cool poster, do not seek it out.

    Nevertheless, there’s a minor renaissance happening in horror circles in the production of numerous movies utilizing these specific narrative building blocks; paganism, witchcraft, sacrifice, occult rites, and the like. Many of the better films appear on other lists, like the Top 5 Witch movies, but these movies are known primarily for being folk horror forward, if you will. These movies may or may not scare you senseless, depending on your adherence to the Old Ways yourself, or whether or not you’re frightened by people dancing naked in the woods (hey, it was the 60s, after all), but the essential elements are all on display here (along with some boobs—sorry!) so that you can identify modern folk horror movies by their subject matter.

  • Top 5 Boris Karloff movies

    Top 5 Boris Karloff movies

    Boris Karloff (1887-1969) was born William Henry Pratt, and is best known for his portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster, or as he is widely known in popular culture, simply “Frankenstein.” 

    Karloff was the youngest of nine children into a family of politicians and diplomats. He was expected to follow his siblings into the foreign service, but in 1909, he abruptly left college and sailed to Canada, where he worked his way across the country as a day laborer. He fell in with a theater troupe in 1911, and adopted his stage name at that time. For the next decade, he acted in repertory troupes and did manual labor in between plays in order to make ends meet. The grueling labor left a permanent strain on his back that only worsened as he aged. By 1919, he’d made his way to Hollywood and spent several years in bit parts, small roles, and eventually a slew of serials. In 1931, he starred in Howard Hawkes’ film version of The Criminal Code, wherein he played a gangster. He was offered the role of Frankenstein’s monster when Bela Lugosi refused to play the part. And that was that.

    Karloff acted in over 80 movies before being “discovered” by James Whale. After the role, which took a physical toll on him due to the costume and make-up, he got busy making other Universal films such as The Mummy (1932) and The Old Dark House (1932), and these roles quickly established him as a master of the macabre, so much so that for many years at Universal, he was billed only as “Karloff,” because you didn’t need to know anything else about the movie but that. His name was used to connote murder and the macabre for the rest of his career, and he lent his name and likeness to books, comics, and television and his unmistakable voice—well, if you’ve ever belted out “Monster Mash,” sung by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, then you’re a Karloff fan and you didn’t even know it.

    Karloff was able widen his repertoire in ways that fellow horror icon Bela Lugosi could not, and his success was a sticking point for Lugosi; despite that, they starred together in 7 films together and more often than not brought out the best in one another. Karloff embraced his public persona and happily played a variety of sorcerers, cultists, madmen, psychopaths, and monsters in a career that lasted into the 1960s. But nothing else he did left as big an impact on popular culture as Frankenstein.

    Sporting Jack Pierce’s iconic flat-head make-up, Karloff only played role three times, but those performances informed not only every other actor’s portrayal throughout the 30s and 40s, but became the de facto Frankenstein version in the minds of everyone, extending into comics, television, advertising, toys, and all other echelons of popular culture, so much so that several attempts to return the monster to his literary roots were always met with indifference by the public, because they couldn’t accept Dr. Frankenstein’s creature without bolts in his neck. Together with Lugosi, their depictions of Frankenstein and Dracula established the first shared world “universe” and remain relevant to the horror genre gestalt to this very day. Having already covered Frankenstein on a separate Top 5 list, this list focuses instead on other performances by the great Karloff, several of which stand apart as among his best, most memorable roles.

  • Top 5 When Insects Attack Movies

    Top 5 When Insects Attack Movies

    A recurring specter in 1970s pop culture dealt with the energy crisis and what that would do to the Earth’s ecosystem. This was the decade of mutant bears (from radiation), giant animals (from scientific meddling), and good old fashioned bug swarms, driven by ecological upheaval and/or man’s indifference. At the time, these movies were written off as alarmist fare, and even considered science fiction, rather than horror. Decades later, we’d all see the film of the polar bear on the flotilla of ice and a lot of people would say, out loud, with no trace of irony, “Why didn’t someone WARN us?”

    Few things generate such universal dismay as insects (and spiders, and the rest of their ilk), especially the dirty and/or dangerous kind: ants, flies, wasps, roaches, spiders, scorpions, etc. If it stings, bites or flies, our first reaction is to reach for a shoe, or the can of insect spray that fires pesticide forty feet in a straight line. We’ve all got at least one enlightened friend who lectures us on the value of spiders, which is all well and good, until you walk into a spider web and just for one second, you wonder if the web belonged to a black widow as you flail for your life. 

    The insect swarms in these films are hordes of regular-sized insects (more or less), as opposed to giant mutated insects, which of course moves them over into the Kaiju class of monsters (and unfortunately, renders them far less scary, with one notable exception: THEM! (1954) manages to embiggen the ants and keep them creepy. None of these movies has aged particularly well, and attempts to replicate the existential dread of the 1970s with 1990s cynicism (such as Eight Legged Freaks) were always played for intentional laughs, rather than the unintentional ones some of the weaker films generated. These are, for their sins, my take on the best of the best, with the usual skew in place, depending on which bugs you like or don’t like.

  • Top 5 Bela Lugosi movies

    Top 5 Bela Lugosi movies

    Bela Lugosi (1882 – 1956) was a Hungarian-American actor who gained international fame onstage as Count Dracula, the character that would define his career in film. He starred in a number of horror and mystery films where his saturnine good looks were either exaggerated for effect or obscured by disfiguring make-up. Along with colleague and occasional rival, Boris Karloff, he would define the meaning of horror for mass audiences for the much of the twentieth century.

    Lugosi was born in Lugos, Hungary in 1882, the youngest of four kids. He dropped out of school and left home at the age of 12, and by 1902 began his acting career. His participation in the formation of an actor’s union made him a political target for imprisonment or death, and he fled Hungary in 1919, acting when and where he could. He emigrated to America in 1920 on a merchant ship, working as a sailor. He made his way to New York and joined the other Hungarian immigrants and also the theater scene, where he resumed his stage career.

    In 1927, he played Dracula on stage, and the rest was history. His turn as the doomed aristocratic Count Dracula made him a Broadway star, and he toured across the country performing. When the touring company reached the west coast, Lugosi decided to stay there and act in movies. When the film rights were announced for the stage play, Lugosi campaigned for the part, and after much trial and error by Universal to find the right actor, he got a chance to audition for director Tod Browning. The film was a smash sensation, and it made Lugosi a household name.

    Over the years, Lugosi tried to play other parts in films, but his presence as Dracula was such that he was only offered roles as villains, heavies, and a variety of mad scientists. The public loved Lugosi and Dracula and never let him forget it. His public appearances were always billed as some variation of “Dracula himself!” He expressed regret at not being able to play more varied roles in film, and he died while working with Ed Wood, Jr. on a Plan Nine from Outer Space in 1956.

    Despite the circumstances, Lugosi was instrumental in creating a character that moved far beyond his literary roots, in looks, in mannerisms, and especially through his voice, with Lugosi’s Hungarian accent exaggerated to the point of caricature. Lugosi was Dracula for the 20th century.

    These movies listed below serve as examples of Lugosi when he was able to shed the mantle of Dracula, and even occasionally trade on it (see below) to great effect. His signature films appear on other lists such as my Top 5 Dracula movies, and won’t be repeated here; instead, this list is for fans who want a more complete and well-rounded example of Lugosi during his heyday.

  • McCarthy/McMurtry


    Earlier this week, upon learning that Cormac McCarthy died at the age of 89, I posted what I felt was Middle-of-the-Road response to what was already dividing the Internet into Love/Hate categories:

    Not even his Texas-ness could overcome my utter bafflement at the level of his success. I tried to read him at several points in his career and was dumbfounded by his ability to sell his one trick as a complete magic show.

    For those of you who are grieving, my condolences, sincerely.

    Myself, I’m going to head out, as all of the oxygen that has suddenly been freed up in the tent of Texas literature is making me a little dizzy.

    You would have thought I’d just called Santa Claus an asshole. Within minutes, I was being chastised, and this took up the rest of the day. And while I wasn’t surprised by the two camps forming, I was a bit surprised by the hostility in kind.

  • Field Report: 2023 North Texas RPG Con

    Field Report: 2023 North Texas RPG Con

    Your Intrepid N.T.A.B. Field Research Team has just returned from the Fury Road Killing Fields of the Metroplex, where we set up a mobile field office at NTRPG Con, one of the three premiere OSR/RPG gaming conventions in the country. This was not my first outing, but it was my first attendance with the Human Gorilla table, and it was laden with wares; books, game zines, dice, and a few odd changemakers. We even brought worksheets for the kids.

    Bunker Ops, admiring her handiwork.

    The table was a great success, thanks to the engineering skills of Bunker Ops, who packed everything into four milk crates and two collapsible dollies. Set up and take down was measures in minutes. We are thinking about additional accoutrements for future field endeavors, but I’m determined to keep the footprint as small as possible.

    Administration, taking pictures of Ogre’s 11 in progress.

    We rode into town on Wednesday and threw ourselves into the chaos of everyone else showing up at the same time and watching con organizer Gary running in multiple directions at the same time. It seems everyone had a question only he could answer, but he got everyone squared away like a champ.

    Mutant Crawl Classics. Our GM, Keelan, brought his A-Game from Alaska and wowed us all.

    We were ensconced in one of the big rooms, along with a few other folks, including Mike Woo, selling his OOP RPG wares, and Ernst from 5th Field Fantasy Miniatures, who kept Bunker Ops company when the foot traffic was slow and Administration was away from the table in four-hour increments, killing mutants with dice. You must go check out Ernst’s wares, especially if you’re an original AD&D player. His minis are straight outta the Old School, very evocative of those classic minis of yesteryear. And cast in pewter! I got myself an owlbear. I nearly bought a brace of his lizardmen–they’re like Trampier Lizardmen, no foolin’. Go look for yourself.

    Skeeter Green and Levi Combs want to know what’s up with you?

    I was signed up for four games, and ended up getting into a fifth. Everything I played this weekend was either OSR-Retro or Made in the 1980s. There were some 5e games going, and a couple of other systems, but they were one offs, for the most part. No one had a kind word to say about what Hasbro did/is doing/is fixing to do. Reactions ranged from a look of scorn and derision to chuckles and muttered curses whenever 5e was mentioned. I can’t blame them. No one could. Hasbro had no defenders.

    Hyperborea Game 1: GM Chance sets out a brace of skeletons while Kevin counts his hit points.

    And with the recent success of Arcane Library’s Shadowdark Kickstarter (well over a million dollars for an old school game that’s standing on it’s roots) and Ben Milton’s Knave 2nd Edition Kickstarter (over half a million dollars and eleven thousand backers), we’re not alone in being ready to move on, for the good of the hobby and the future of gaming. By the way, Shadowdark is taking late pledges if you missed out.

    Hyperborea, Game 2: the heist was less Parker and more Dortmunder. But we got it done!

    Speaking of which, I was lucky enough to bump into Kelsey Dionne, the architect of Arcane Library and the creator of Shadowdark. We had a mutual appreciation moment wherein she told me she nearly bought Blood & Thunder last week, and now here I am! Turns out, she’s a Robert E. Howard fan, and so we spent a few minutes mutually geeking out over that. She confessed that she’d been trying to get her wife into REH, and may have sold Jessee on giving Howard’s poetry a try.

    What? Oh, nothing, just chillin’ with my new bestie, Kelsey, talkin’ ’bout REH.

    I played in two Dungeon Crawl Classics derivatives, a Mutant Crawl Classics mash-up and a Weird Frontiers game, and both of them were gonzo and nutty and our tables had a blast playing. I was curious how Weird Frontiers played, and it was pretty smooth, but the addition of the deck of cards for pistol misfires and crits might have been one bit of management too much–I don’t know. I liked it, when I remembered to DO it, which was the rub for all of us gun-totin’ hombres. The only other off-putting thing about Weird Frontiers was the $85 price tag for the book…until I saw the damn thing and realized you could hide a body in a hollowed-out rulebook. It’s enormous. Gutenberg Bible-esque in execution. I dearly hope they do a second printing with two books of a manageable size. I’m all in if that happens.

    Every table had a huge battle map in place for quick tactical set-ups, like us being outnumbered…

    I also got to play in two Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea games, with the same core group of folks, and man, that’s a fun setting (and great set of OSR rules). We had big fun finding crypts and stealing pendants. Not too many games out there where you can play a Pictish Barbarian! I also got to hang out with ASSH creator and publisher Jeff Talanian, and we spent a while talking comics, artwork, and stuff, like you do, and it was so good to just shoot the shit with him.

    The fabled DCC dice chain. I put the weird ones in a different color to get to them quicker.

    Both of these games are part of the Old School Renaissance/Revival, and also very strongly flavored for sword and sorcery as opposed to high fantasy or whatever we’re calling Tolkien-esque stuff these days, or D&D’s homogenized fantasy setting. That’s part of what makes their games so great. It’s not the rules, per se. That’s a delivery system. It’s the setting, and in particular, it’s the uniqueness of the setting, that makes those games work as well as they do. Gonzo sorcery and eldritch shenanigans are the buy-in, with no apologies. Death is certain. Life is cheap. Get what you can and try to stay alive. I miss playing that way. I really miss not being able to run games that way.

    Chance plots our inevitable demise from behind his GM screen. Seth and Kevin seem braced for it.

    The last game I played was the one I was most looking forward to. Daredevils was a pulp-era based RPG put out in the early 1980s by Fantasy Games Unlimited. Robert Charrette wrote the rules, and to to call them crunchy would be an insult to hard rock candy. Charrette’s design style was steeped in math and mechanics, and there was a lot of math you had to do to get to a target number to roll on a d20 for your chance of success. It seemed like there was a better, or maybe just quicker, way to get to that number, but no matter. What Daredevils had going for it was a lifepath character generator that gave your character a checkered and interesting path, a weird variety of skills, and it was one of the few games where it was okay to be older rather than younger (it certainly made you wiser).

    Daredevils rpg. Bring a calculator!

    This game used the Daredevils rules, but it was set in the 1970s and it was an original adventure featuring Kolchak: the Night Stalker, using Karl himself as a character and all of the series regulars and a few guest stars, too. “The Wrong Goodbye” was a blast. I was excited to get to play Kolchak himself, and they even let me read the narrative voice-over to start the adventure. Cool!

    Me, rocking the Kolchak hat! Darren McGavin wore it better…

    This show was a blast. Getting to meet the people that wrote, drew, or otherwise created the role-playing game industry and say hi, shoot the breeze, ask questions, or just say ‘thank you,’ is awesome. That they are just as into all of this stuff as you are? A cool bonus. You never know who you’re gonna bump into, or where. It’s pretty damn awesome.

    Janice was my rock this weekend. I couldn’t have done it without her. She is my MVP!

    We sold many books: Gobsmack! went fast, when we started rolling up people’s goblin names for them. Tools of the Trade got a lot of attention, mostly from folks who said they were thinking about picking it up already and since I was here with it… and I sold several copies of Blood & Thunder, including a copy to Manda Dee, Jeff Dee’s wife, after a spirited conversation wherein I learned they were reading the Breckinridge Elkins stories! They are both big REH fans–there were a lot of them at this show–and I didn’t want for any conversations along those lines the whole weekend.

    I don’t remember what this drink was called: maple bourbon, vanilla cold foam, and espresso. Some Dwarven thing, and I’m glad is was $15, or I would have hurt myself drinking them. Holy shit, it was tasty!

    One last thing: I really like it when the hotel gets into the spirit of the convention. They had themed menus for both food and drink, with (very) slight discounts on gamer food. Oh, and the best of all: the convention employed runners to check on every game in progress at least one time per session, asking us if we needed anything like food or drink (nothing alcoholic, but so what!). Twice that saved my ass; they brought coffee, food, water bottles, what-have-you. It was the Grown-Up version of your mom yelling from the kitchen, “Do you boys want me to make you a pizza?” The answer was always “YeeEEEeess!” Killing monsters is thirsty work.

    We’ll be back next year, with more stuff to sell, and I’ll be running at least one game. Thanks to everyone who stopped by, bought something cool, talked shop with me, or played in games with me. And thanks to the staff for the stellar job of running a con this size, focused on playing games, in such a concentrated area. The hard work was noticed and appreciated.

    Hey! Come sign up for the NTAB newsletter! It’s free!

  • 1d6 Questions With…Oliver Brackenbury

    1d6 Questions With…Oliver Brackenbury

    I’m starting a new feature on the blog that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, now. I know a lot of cool people, creative and otherwise, who are doing cool things, and I’m going to interview them from time to time in the hopes that you will get to know them, as well.

    Oliver Brackenbury is screenwriter and author currently living in Toronto. He’s written screenplays, short stories, and novels of a fantastic nature, and now he’s turning his attention to editing with a new magazine, currently funding on Kickstarter. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about Sword and Sorcery and his new project.

    1. Sword and Sorcery may be one of the most loosely defined sub-genres in fantasy fiction over the last 75 years or so. How does New Edge Sword and Sorcery drill down past the clutter and more importantly, why?

    Oliver: New Edge Sword & Sorcery takes the genre’s virtues of its outsider protagonists, thrilling energy, wondrous weirdness, and a large body of classic tales, then alloys inclusivity, mutual creator support, a positive fan community, and enthusiastic promotion of new works into the mix.

    Why? Because Sword & Sorcery is a powerful, flexible sub-genre with an impressive canon of classic tales, and an incredible potential for inclusive, boundary-pushing storytelling which is still totally recognizable as being S&S.

    2. Pop culture has been more likely to utilize Sword and Sorcery as a storytelling genre ever since the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Some of these offerings have been great; others, not so much. Are there any examples of new Sword and Sorcery films or television in the zeitgeist at the moment?

    Oliver: I would say The Northman definitely qualifies, and though elements of it feel more High Fantasy to me, one could fairly point to The Witcher. GoT: House of the Dragon, like its predecessor, certainly has a lot of S&S DNA in there. Matt Smith’s character is the spitting image of Michael Moorcock’s Elric!

    3. Let’s talk about your magazine, currently funding on Kickstarter. How did this idea come about?

    Oliver: It was unexpected for me even though, in early 2020, I did have vague thoughts about putting out a speculative fiction magazine. I’d just fallen in love with Tales from the Magician’s Skull and decided to reach out to its editor for advice. Howard Andrew Jones, a real mensch, gave me an hour of his time over the phone. I soon realized a magazine wasn’t something I was ready for, and put the idea aside.

    In June of that year, I began serious work on my still untitled Sword & Sorcery novel, using a string of short stories to tell the tale of the adventuring life lived by a northern isle barbarian named Voe.

    A year later, in 2021, I decided to launch my podcast, So I’m Writing a Novel . . . as a way of building an audience for the book while I wrote it, alternating between behind-the-scenes craft-focused episodes following me writing the thing, and interviews with cool authors, editors, and publishers -— mostly in the Sword & Sorcery scene.

    After another year, in which I’d befriended many interesting people by interviewing them and spending time in the Whetstone Tavern Discord, a conversation on the server about “how we get more young and diverse people into sword & sorcery?” began. An incredible energy was uncorked, sparking three straight days of intense discussion in which “New Edge Sword & Sorcery” was brought up as a possible term for a body of values, and rallying flag for a new wave of Sword & Sorcery popularity!

    By June, some Tavern-goers were suggesting I do a New Edge Sword & Sorcery anthology. I thought about it, remembered what I’d called Howard about two years ago, then said, “How about a magazine? And would anybody want to help me put it together?” The answer to both was a resounding “Yes!”

    Since then, working almost entirely with other Whetstone Tavern patrons, I’ve assembled & published issue #0 of New Edge Sword & Sorcery, then done all the hard work to get things together for the Kickstarter to pay for issues #1 and #2. It couldn’t have happened without the Tavern, which I wouldn’t have come to without the podcast, which wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t writing that novel. It all seems so clear now as I type this, but it was a very organic evolution filled with unexpected turns.

    I’m so happy it all went down the way it did. I’ve really enjoyed putting together a new Sword & Sorcery short fiction magazine! If enough people back the Kickstarter for issues #1 and #2 then we’ll get to do more, benefitting from lessons learned and an actual budget to pay people. I’d love that.

    4. Will the magazine include any reprints of any kind, either prescient fiction and poetry, or any forgotten diamonds in the rough?

    Oliver: Currently the answer is no, as our focus is on creating and promoting new work. However, if we get to make more issues of the magazine we’ll also begin plans to eventually publish special themed issues, anthologies, and novellas. Any one of those could involve reprints, and I will confess there is one author’s five story run with a now largely forgotten character who I’d love to collect & publish.

    For now we’re honoring the classics mostly in our non-fiction, with one historical S&S profile per issue, such as the profile on C.L. Moore in issue #0, and the ones we have planned for Cele Goldsmith and Charles Saunders in issues #1 and #2. The essays also have potential to cover classic territory, such as issue #0’s essay by Nicole Emmelhainz on gender in REH’s Sword Woman tales.

    5. One of the pervasive and eternal laments is that “Magazines are dying,” followed closely by “no one buys anthologies.” I know this to be untrue, but how do you plan to overcome this ingrained bias?

    I actually made a video update for the Kickstarter where I do my best to present reasons why people should read short fiction magazines. In it I discuss:

    • How they’re an easy way to try out new authors and artists
    • How you can sample character’s adventures before committing to buying their books & series
    • How they go easy on your to-be-read pile, and can provide a satisfying reading experience in very little time
    • The joys of serialized characters
    • Being able to start anywhere with a character’s adventures, thanks to episodic storytelling
    • The great short fiction fan communities you can find

    I made this is in part because while the modern Internet has helped breath new life into the format – I’ve no idea how I’d have started NESS before broadband – it’s true that most people don’t read them.

    So I’m trying not to wear the blinkers which are so easily worn when you’re neck deep in a specific scene, laying out for people strong arguments like that video, and presenting strong evidence in the form of the highest quality magazine I can produce, as well as endorsing the best work I see amongst my peers.

    6. What are you most looking forward to with this project? Are there any authors you’re excited about working with?

    Oliver: “All of them” is a cheesy answer, however it’s true. There’s not one member of our ToC, author or artist, whom I’m not jazzed to work with or I wouldn’t have invited them in the first place.

    However, it would be pretty disingenuous of me not to say there’s an extra spark when I think about how the Kickstarter succeeding means I’ll get to work with Michael Moorcock, a living legend with no dust on him, an author as important to Sword & Sorcery as Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Charles Saunders, or Fritz Leiber.

    Bring it on home for us: what’s the pitch?
    Oliver: As the campaign ends very soon, 8am EST on Saturday, March 4th, I’d encourage people to head straight to the Kickstarter. We have a pretty cool campaign video, samples of work by our artists, and interesting updates for everyone to enjoy.

    Some cool stuff about the two issues we’re trying to fund includes:

    • That commitment for a new, original story from S&S legend Michael Moorcock! Gosh, it still feels wild to say that.. We also have Canadian horror master Gemma Files, Margaret Killjoy, and Jeremy Pak Lin, in our roster of 14 fiction authors.
    • One of our stories comes to us from the vibrant Spanish language S&S scene south of the border – the U.S. border, that is (I’m a Canuck). It’ll be translated into English, and if we hit our top stretch goal then we’ll be translating all of our English stories for a Spanish epub edition of our magazine’s new issues. As far as I know, we’re the only S&S magazine publishing translated fiction.
    • Also as far as I know, we’re the only S&S magazine with an intentional approach to inclusion, trying to make the genre’s fandom and pool of published creators not only larger, but more diverse.
    • Most of our stretch goals are pay raises for contributors. We believe strongly in paying creatives!
    • We’re spoiled for high quality artists. Again, plenty of samples to be seen on our Kickstarter page.

    Folks may also wish to check out our website, where there are links to download issue #0 in digital formats for free, buy physical formats at cost, and…head to the Kickstarter, naturally.

    We can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

    But mostly, mostly I’d say folks should run, not walk, over to the Kickstarter!

    You heard the man!  Hie thee over to the link and help them cross the finish line.

  • A Shopping Notice from the N.T.A.B. Department of Trade and Commerce: 2022 Christmas Edition

    The administration would like to again strenuously object to any form of venturing out into public squares, marketplaces, big box stores, or malls on this or any other weekend. If you want to take your life into your own hands, we are hosting a series of gladiator-style contests here at the bunker, focusing on fighting style, brute strength, and the ability to dodge a thrown hand axe.

    I realize that in some certain cases, you may be forced to make the trip due to lack of access to available raw materials to carve and shape your own Monopoly board. The NTAB Department of Trade and Commerce would like to remind all of you to shop as close to your home as possible, either from local retailers, local artists, other small manufacturing concerns in your city or county, or within the state of your residence, or within the United States—in that order—whenever you can. This ensures that money spent there will re-circulate in the area in which is was spent, up to 2.5-3 times as 67 cents per dollar spent sticks around and benefits your community in some way. Money to other states, countries, or into the maw of Eldritch corporations with amorphous structures and no accountability do not recirculate as much, and only about 31 cents per dollar benefits your community.

    Cyber-Monday Options For Your Uber-geeks

    I’m going to come right out and say it: buy stuff from the creative people in your life. You heard me. I know (and you know, too, by way of transitive property) some really talented people. The bunker is chock-full of clever and inventive associates, all of whom would love to supply you with just the thing for the oddball cousin or sibling in your life…or maybe you’re that oddball, for whom everyone just expects wild and weird presents. Either way.

    1. Small Press Games and Zines!

    There are a ton of small press game and content creators who are making some inexpensive publications that are just gems—beautifully written, illustrated, fun and easy to play, and like nothing else out there right now. This of course includes My Zines like Tools of the Trade: A GM’s Guide to Creating & Running Fantasy Heists (but you knew that already, right?) One of the big online repositories of some of these zinesters is Exalted Funeral.  They sell and help distribute small press games and zines and you will Their site is but the tip of the iceberg.

    Another thing I want to recommend is Tim Hutchings’ Thousand Year-Old Vampire. It’s a solo game, where you journal the life of a, well, you get it, using a series of writing prompts—no two games are alike—and when you get finished, you have this interesting story that you can do something cool with, like turn it into a graphic novel. That’s the nuts and bolts, but what my pithy little description fails to convey is the beautiful, fascinating, utterly engrossing layout and art design that won Tim so many awards and accolades. It looks exactly like the thing it’s supposed to be: someone’s old travel journal. You gotta check out some of the pages at his website, above. If you have a vampire nut in your life, they will love this game, guaranteed.

    2.  RPG Boxed Starter Sets

    You know what’s making a comeback? Your favorite game from 40 years ago. No, not that one, the other one! Thanks to the success of Dungeon & Dragon’s Starter Set and Essentials Set, this is a new-old-new again trend, making an introduction to a bigger, more complicated game, that includes everything a new player or group needs, including some dice. Now all you need is pencils, paper, and your imagination—just like back in the good old days.

    If you’ve got someone who wants to play games, but can’t be bothered to put down the controller, there’s a Fallout tabletop RPG Starter Set from Modiphius to ease them away from talking to screens to talking to people. It’s completely on-brand, including some Vault-Tec inspired dice. And you can buy actual Nuka-Cola caps on Etsy for even more immersion (try it out first, though!).

    Free League Publishing makes beautiful games, both big and small, and they will tempt you with affordable boxed starter sets for Alien (as in “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream”) and The One Ring (AKA “The Lord of the Rings”) role-playing games. The Alien game includes a stress mechanic that is not unlike the Sanity checks in Call of Cthulhu, and it’s designed to take you from cool as a cucumber all the way to “Game Over, Man!” It’s one of the best-designed games I’ve seen in a long time. And speaking of Sanity Los…

    Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu Seventh Edition boxed starter set is nearly-just perfect, walking you through creating a character step-by-step as you play through a solo adventure. This storied game system is easy to learn, incredibly expansive, and boasts the most amazing collection of support props and documents from their massive creative community. If you’ve never played before, or if you’re a veteran wanting to come back, this is your jam.

    3.  Dice and Dice Bags

    Maybe you know some gamers but don’t know what they are into (I find this very unlikely as most gamers are only too happy to talk to you about their character and the latest adventure they went on), but even flying blind, there’s always something you can buy gamers that they will appreciate: Dice and Dice Bags. Black Oak Workshop is my go-to for those things; their newest dice bags showed up just in time for the Christmas season and they don’t ever disappoint.  Here’s me, with the one I got.

    Yes, that IS Thulsa Doom’s symbol. On my dice bag. With a d20 in the middle. See, this is what I’m talking about. There are some really cool dice bag designs over at the website, above, and you will not be disappointed, either. Their dice are big and chunky and incredibly well-designed. Last year, I posted pictures of the dice I was pulling every day out of their Advent-ure Calendar. It’s become one of their best-selling products, and with good reason. You get a lot of dice, and they are all themed up, too.

    4. Geek Chic Art!  

    Tim Doyle is a fantastic artist and a stand-up guy, to boot, and his art prints are both stylish and affordable. Bolster your Geek Cred with these amazing prints pulled from popular culture. Maybe you know someone who likes things a little darker? Check out the limited run Bernie Wrightson prints he’s selling (with the full blessing and endorsement of Michelle, Wrightson’s widow). He’s got a sale going on right now at Nakatomi Inc. I own several of Tim’s prints and his art book, and I’m never disappointed with the quality or the professionalism of his studio’s output.

    5. Books!

    I’m on the record as being pro-book. In fact, I’ve written a few. You should have all of them in your personal library already, so let me just suggest a few recent publications that you may not have on your shelves that you can buy for someone else, or better yet, buy it for you, wrap it, put it under the tree labeled to Yourself, from Santa, and then look very surprised and confused when you open it on Christmas Day.

    Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

    This book is the gender-flipped Sci-Fi version of The Seven Samurai that you didn’t know you needed. Stina is a fantastic writer and this book may well be her best one yet. The book really made me want to start up a Traveller game and I may yet do it.

    Love, Death + Robots: the Official Anthology (vol 1, and vol. 2 and 3)

    If you haven’t been watching the series on Netflix (but, that’s ridiculous, of course you have, right?) you may have wondered where you could read all of the wonderful. Short stories that the series seemed to be basing its episodes on. Well, good news: someone did that for you! There’s two books, one for volume 1 of the show, and another for volumes 2 and 3 together.

    A Book of Blades: A Sword and Sorcery Anthology from the Rogues in the House Podcast

    I’ve got the privilege of knowing most of the people involved with this project, but even if I didn’t know them, I’d want this fantastic collection of new-era Sword and Sorcery stories that have all of the wild derring-do and batshit crazy magic that the genre is known for, without all of the chauvinistic and bigoted tendencies that older sword and sorcery sometimes gets saddled with.

    Astute readers will notice that there is no Amazon link above. You don’t need a link to Amazon. You know where it is already. Try to find these in the wild, first, if you can. If your friendly local book store or game store doesn’t have these titles, they can order them. If they can’t order them, there are lots of locally owned and/or independent booksellers online, from Powell’s on down. Please take a few extra minutes and buy from someone who will appreciate your business.

  • From the Vault: Keep Your Nuts to Yourself

    From the Vault: Keep Your Nuts to Yourself

    As Thanksgiving descends upon us like the advance vanguard of an invading green and red armada of suck, and as the kitchens of America all go into high gear, and all of you talented amateur (and professional) cooks, chefs, and weekend caterers all dive into your treasured stack of recipes, and start posting pictures on Facebook, and even as some of you are considering sending along plates of sweets and Christmas tins full of home-made treats, allow me to offer one direct request:

    Keep your nuts to yourself.