Reviews: City of Stairs, Mythago Wood, In the House of Aryaman, and a Zelazny classic.

The Lampworks Lamplighter

SF & Fantasy News & Reviews

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In this issue

Narrative in Board Games

Imagine if the Lord of the Rings had been laid out as a pile of 3x5 cards: characters, plot lines, events, and turning points. Now imagine shuffling those cards and dealing them out on a table. What is the likelihood of them making sense? This is the challenge of creating a narrative board game. The designer wants to avoid "railroading" the players, but also wants to tell a story that the players experience as though they were characters in that story.

Roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons have a "game master" who reveals a story bit by bit as players explore their environment in whatever order they choose. A more tightly controlled board game can do this as well. Some board games are designed around the story. The players are characters traveling through settings, meeting challenges and gaining rewards. One game that delivers strongly in this area is "War of the Ring." While this is a sprawling wargame that encompasses the story of the Lord of the Rings, it plays out differently each time the game is played and still makes sense, making for compelling game play.

This is part of the inspiration for Embers of the Empire, a game currently under development that is set in the Sellenria universe, one thousand years after the events in the book. In Embers, the core of the game is equally about the action and the story, but rather than have the events occur in the same order every time, people should be able to replay the game without being able to predict what happens next. In order to have a sense of growing tension and danger, the events are divided into 3 eras. Although the players increase capabilities through time, the enemy becomes more powerful and the situation more dire. The goal is a varied and changing narrative through every played game.
-Dan


Knots

Cover of Knots on Amazon

Oh, dearie me. In all my years as an Astromancer I haven't seen such a one as this. The young man thought he was being clever, not giving his real name when he climbed the hill to my door. Hah! I had already seen him coming, a man with a such a cloud of names he may not even know which one is his. I have set influences upon his stars to guide him as he searches for his impossible bridge. Even now, as he descends the hill, I've nudged a star close to his and guided some paws to cross his path. He'll need a friend.

And now that is the last visitor that has been foretold. I know what that means, and I must be ready.

Sellenria

Cover of Sellenria on Amazon

The sky ship drew a sword across the night, as blue as chance.

Chance is a complex skinword. The shape of a cloud on the horizon, striated and lit from below. Shaded towards red, it means a threat. Towards yellow it means a difficulty to be surmounted. In that clear blue, it means the unknown and uncontrolled, that which might break in your favor or against it. It could also be translated into human language as opportunity.

Now the passenger from the sky ship sits at my table at the Inn, telling me he doesn't need my protection to reach Misthaven. He is a magnet for trouble, this I can foretell. Chance and opportunity take the form of a lost archaeologist today. Ah, Polnedra protect us, he has already attracted a Morghaest…


What we're reading

Cover of City of Stairs

City of Stairs

— Robert Jackson Bennet

The Continent was once ruled by seven gods, until one man found out how to kill them. Their miracles died with them, leaving all they built a crumpled ruin. Their very mention was outlawed and their history was rewritten. Now a historian has been murdered for finding what was forbidden, and Shara, grandaughter of the man who killed the gods, must unearth the plot. A fantasy mixed with espionage and a murder mystery, filled with evocative language. Just one of my favorite quotes: “The woman smiles. The smile is neither pleasant nor unpleasant: it is a smile like fine silver plate, used for one occasion and polished and put away once finished.“

Cover of Junkyard Cats

Mythago Wood

— Robert Holdstock

Ryhope Wood is a small woodland about 3 miles square. But George Huxley knew there was more to the small bit of primeval forest than met the eye. His experiments revealed a hidden world within, and awoke an ancient force that has begun tentatively extending beyond the bounds of the woodland. And now George is missing and mysterious figures and creatures wander at twilight along the edges of his estate...

Cover of In the House of Aryaman

In the House of Aryman a Lonely Signal Burns

— Elizabeth Bear

In the city of Bangalor, India, fifty years in our future, a murder is committed. Sub-Inspector Ferron is called in to investigate. This is the simple beginning to this short tale, which proves to be neither simple nor short by the end of its 77 pages.

Bear conveys a three-dimensional character by weaving a tapestry whose threads extend off the page, connecting her to her mother, her relatives, her career choice, and even her choice of name.

Cover of A Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome October

— Roger Zelazny

Re-reading an old favorite. Narrated by Snuff, the watchdog of an occult practitioner named Jack, the thirty-one short chapters chronicle the thirty-one days of a particular October. A group has gathered to play an ancient game with high stakes. The tale is told through the familiars of the (mostly) human players as they negotiate to alternately aid and confuse the other teams. But you can't say which team you're on untill the last moment.


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— C. D. Tavenor

Meet Theren: a new synthetic intelligence. The first synthetic intelligence. Created in a lab with sterile white walls, Theren longs to meet the people of the world. The first SI has hopes, fears, and dreams, just like a human.

Cover of The Rose Princess

The Rose Princess and the Queen of the Dark Salt Sea

— Isabelle Quilty

In the Kingdom of Sweethearth, two queens are locked in an eternal battle for the throne. Their daughters, the Rose Princess Hanna and Iris Princess Dori fight to break the curse that threatens to one day make them enemies for life

Cover of Tier 1

Tier 1

— Cindy Gunderson

A virus nearly wiped out the human race. But is controlled survival a future worth living?


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