Monday, 28 April 2014

Author Gail Z. Martin on preparing to write

I was wondering how to get myself geared up to write, and then I was invited to a Reddit AMA session by author Gail Z. Martin and I figured; ask a professional!

You can read the entire AMA here.

Her new book, Reign of Ash, is out now.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Interview - Jonathan Green

Please welcome Jonathan Green who I interviewed at the Sci-Fi Weekender 5 in March. Jonathan is well known for his contributions to the Fighting Fantasy range of adventure gamebooks, numerous Black Library publications, and he's done work for Doctor Who, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Sonic the Hedgehog and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He's also the creator of the Pax Britannia series for Abaddon Books.

The weather was slightly against us so apologies for sound issues, and many thanks to Jonathan for being a great sport and taking the time to speak to me.


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Book review - The Emperor’s Will (Agents of the Imperium)

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger guest blogger Richard Williams, a fellow gamer, weird stuff enthusiast, writer and a really good friend of mine. Richard has a passion for art books and for a few weeks he'll be sharing his thoughts on some of his favourites.

Emperor's Will, TheThe Emperor’s Will (Agents of the Imperium) is a great book and definitely worth it (because you know what Games Workshop/Black Library publications are like when it comes to pricing).

My only gripes with this book are:

1: No descriptions with the pictures. Publishers, please, when making an art book there should always be something to explain the picture/artists thoughts/processes/something. Not so much writing that it gets in the way, but enough that it's interesting and useful.

2: There's not enough! It's a good size and, like I said, well worth the money but you know there must be more artwork back at GWHQ. Maybe there'll be a volume 2, who knows.

What is great about this book is that it's A4 format and the pictures are all full page, so you don't have to squint at any tiny pictures slipped in. I personally would love to see them produce a book like this for all the different sections of the Imperium as well as for the alien races.

On that note I should mention that there are no space marines or pictures of anything else from the WH40K universe, these are just pictures of the agents of the Imperium (so Ordo Xenos/Malleus/inquisitors/etc).

So, to recap, great price, great pictures at a good size, and it will leave you wanting more.

Inquisitors, assassins, astropaths, navigators – these and many other agents of the Imperium are celebrated in this glorious full-colour art book.

Packed with previously unseen illustrations from John Blanche and David Gallagher as well as a host of classic images, The Emperor’s Will provides an unparalleled glimpse into the inner workings of the Imperium of man.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Book Excerpt - 'How To Be An Annoying Player'

The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and IdeasThis is an excerpt from my book 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas', available now on Kindle and DrivethruRPG.

Although this and many of the 29 articles in the book were written with a light-hearted tone, there was a somewhat serious side to the essays in that I was exploring different aspects through careful observation during the literally hundreds of games I played in and ran with dozens of groups during my 30 years in the hobby.

This particular article literally drips with sarcasm; it was the mirror image of Gary Gygax's book 'Role-Playing Mastery', but written in a way that might make players sit and think about their actions.

Looking back on it, I hope nobody took it seriously.

How to be an annoying player.

Every game has them, and you don't want to be the exception. Take a few tips from these ten easy to learn steps on how to ruin the game your GM has so carefully designed.

Number One: Make sure that you never talk in character. Its much more effective to say 'My character tells the Navy officer to surrender or die' instead of just giving the GM a scowl and saying 'Surrender or die, Captain Vud!' in the most convincing Royal Shakespeare voice you can manage. Keeping the gulf between your characters personality and your own roleplaying talents as wide as possible is an absolute must for all players.

Number Two: Always express your own opinions and ideas, especially when someone else is talking, preferably the GM. Interrupting an explanation or a piece of dialogue with brash statements will win the respect of other players. All gamers are well known for their tolerance for people butting in on their repartee. If you make sure your speech is loud and overbearing, you may even succeed in drowning out the other people at the table.

Number Three: Don't be concerned about turning up for the game on time. Arriving about twenty minutes to half an hour after the agreed meeting time is suggested, although three quarters of an hour would be a fine example. Keeping other players waiting is a good test of their patience, of which they'll need a lot with you around. It's good to keep them on their toes.

Number Four: Wait until a moment of high drama has arrived and then talk about something that has absolutely nothing to do with the game. Football or last night's television programmes are always good subjects to throw in. It makes the game unpredictable and sometimes quite surrealistic. So next time the GM gets to the part of the game where the final confrontation with the corrupt syndicate boss is just about to happen, make sure you come out with something like 'I saw this great program last night on telly, listen to this...'

Number Five: The game will progress much better if you don't actually take much notice of what is going on. Sitting in your chair and reading a book or a magazine while the game is in progress is a definite sign of good roleplaying. Every now and then nudge another player and show them what interesting things you've just read about, and when the GM looks upon you and asks what it is you want to do, just give him a blank look and say 'huh?'

Number Six: Every time the GM has to make a ruling, make sure you disagree with it, or at least question it before grudgingly giving in. Plenty of games have been filled with hilariously enjoyable hours of players and GM's conversing over their interpretation of the rulebook. And remember - if the GM succeeds in having his ruling accepted make sure you're miserable and surly for the rest of the session. In fact, moan about it for the next few days. After all, the game is being played for your enjoyment so why should the GM ruin your fun?

Number Seven: Wit and humour are what makes a roleplayer, so why not treat the whole game like a joke? This works most effectively when the GM has designed a game that's dark and sombre. Why play along with that, when cracks such as 'So that's an octopus’s great wobbly tentacle! Fnarr, Fnarr!' and 'I'll jump in front of the female guard and shout "Get back or I'll whip out my baton!" Ho, Ho!' will carry the atmosphere effectively.

Number Eight: Cheat at your dice rolls. You may think this is dishonest, but look at it this way; won't your fun be heightened if your character succeeds at most of her rolls? Of course! Forget about chance and tension, just roll those dice, scoop them up before anyone else sees them and say you've succeeded. The game is supposed to be fun, so you want to milk that fun for all it's worth, even at the expense of effectively roleplaying a character that is on the front line of danger.

Number Nine: Take lots and lots of food with you. This may be the normal thing to do for most players, but make sure you take plenty of chewy sweets. Having your mouth full with thick toffee and trying to explain your actions to a GM makes the game just ooze with realism. So when the GM next asks you what course of action you wish to take against the soldier who is about to attack you, you can reply with 'Gile thwig ag im wig my shord’.

Number Ten: Have you recently had a slight disagreement with another player over something trivial, out of the game? Do you want to know how you get back at that player? Well, the answer is simple. Use your character to spite him. Make the odd sarcastic comment to his character through yours, with the obvious reference to what you disagreed about, and then afterward say 'I was only roleplaying'. Better still, have your character try to bump off the offending player's character in some way. Using PC's to settle petty differences are a great way to improve the session and strengthens the relationship between players.

Using one or two of these steps will make you an annoying player. Using several in conjunction, or better still the whole repertoire, will let others know that you are definitely on the road to complete roleplaying player mastery.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Book review - Chronicles: Art & Design: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger guest blogger Richard Williams, a fellow gamer, writer and weird stuff enthusiast.

by Daniel Falconer
Publisher: HarperCollins

Anyone who has already bought a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit artbook will already know both the quality and style of this book. While I maintain that I would have preferred the books to be portrait format rather than landscape, so as to better fit in with my other books, I must admit that the Hobbit artbooks do look very nice.

As to the interior I was more than pleased when I first flicked through the pages. As ever there are the stunning location designs; moody forests, soaring mountains and towns and villages that frankly make you want to pack your things and move there this afternoon. Gus Hunter's image of the Ancient Dale is easily worthy of gracing anyone's living room wall, right next to Eduardo Pena's picture of the same. What I'm saying is that there isn't just rough design work, as you'd expect from concept art books, but gallery-quality art too.

The Orcs get a nice section to themselves this time around as there are three characters in particular that play a major part in the film. Once more the designs show a lot of thought and consideration behind why the Orcs would dress the way they do or have what they have. At the heart of it I would say it's this fact which gives the work from Weta's art department so much life and realism. Things have a reason for being there, not just because they look cool, but because there's a history and a story to everything. If a creature is shown wearing a fur hide then someone, somewhere, has thought about where it came from and how the wearer came to possess it.

There is also a decent chunk of the book dedicated to Beorn; his home, his lands and, of course, the man himself. This is where we find a lot of the John Howe and Alan Lee sketch work and I'm not sure I've ever wanted a timber framed house more than I do when I look at it. They should go into business with Ikea to make a range of Middle Earth flatpack wooden houses. As ever it's not just the big picture that warrants attention but, again, it's all the little details. Things that you might not even notice when watching the film, such as the chair backs, a hand-carved chess board, archways and mantelpiece ornamentation, which the artists focus upon to make the world a living, breathing place.

But by far my favourite section of this book is the Mirkwood Elves. Forget what you know about glamorous High Elves with fine clothes and ornate buildings. What we see here is considerably moodier, darker and more menacing, yet still with the signature Elven grace and elegance. A fine balancing act for the artists to accomplish. While there is much in Middle Earth that I wish I could see with my own eyes, Mirkwood is not one of them. The images found here will leave you in no doubt that it is a hostile place and even if there weren't elves to contend with then you'd still do well to heed Gandalf's advice and 'stick to the path'.

Mixed in with all of this is the usual cornucopia of costume designs, interior and exterior building sketches, the always reassuring pencil work of Alan Lee and John Howe (which some might say is worth the price of the book alone), superbly realised tools, weapons and other sundry items and, if that weren't enough for you, there's even some work involving a dragon.

In truth there's too much amazing artwork here to talk about it all and still do it justice. Suffice to say that it is all a treat for the eyes and imagination. The work doesn't so much show you the world of Middle Earth as invite you to the table with it. This book is a must-have for any Lord of the Rings fans and lovers of fantasy artwork. Buy it and be happy.

Monday, 21 April 2014


Heroes of Magnimar Contest and Global Game Store Events Planned to Celebrate Release of Pathfinder: City of Secrets

REDMOND, WA (April 21, 2014): Paizo Inc., publisher of the world's best-selling Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, as well as novels, game accessories, board games, and the wildly popular Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, along with Dynamite Entertainment, announce today the kick-off of the Heroes of Magnimar Contest, in celebration of next month's release of the new comic book series, Pathfinder: City of Secrets.

In the Pathfinder: City of Secrets Heroes of Magnimar contest, Pathfinder players will have a chance to submit a 300-word description of their hero to a team of judges at Paizo. Five winning submissions will have their descriptions translated to game statistics, and Dynamite's artists will bring those characters to life. Each issue of Pathfinder: City of Secrets (starting with issue #2, scheduled for a June release), will feature a single winning Hero of Magnimar, and that hero will become an official part of the Pathfinder universe.

For contest details, please visit paizo.com/heroesofmagnimar.
In further celebration of the new series' release, Dynamite and Paizo will be organizing special in-store Pathfinder game events, in which chosen local comic stores will become part of the story and game play. Comic shops interested in participating should visit the official City of Secrets Comic Store Invasion event page at paizo.com/pathfinder/comicinvasion.

Pathfinder: City of Secrets #1 is written by returning superstar writer Jim Zub, with interior art by Leandro Oliveira and cover art by Genzoman, Carlos Gomez, Sean Izaakse and Steven Cummings. This issue marks the beginning of a new adventure series and is the perfect starting point for new readers. Each issue also includes an exclusive Pathfinder Roleplaying Game encounter, and a bonus playable tactical map/art poster. Issue #1 debuts May 21, 2014 worldwide.

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is the world's best-selling tabletop RPG, in which players take on the role of brave adventurers fighting to survive in a world beset by magic and evil. The Pathfinder RPG is currently translated into multiple languages, and the vibrant Pathfinder universe has been licensed for comic book series, graphic novels, miniatures, plush toys, apparel, and is being developed into a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.

About Dynamite Entertainment:
Dynamite was founded in 2004 and is home to several best-selling comic book titles and properties, including The Boys, The Shadow, Vampirella, Warlord of Mars, Bionic Man, A Game of Thrones, and more.  Dynamite owns and controls an extensive library with over 3,000 characters (which includes the Harris Comics and Chaos Comics properties), such as Vampirella, Pantha, Evil Ernie, Smiley the Psychotic Button, Chastity, Purgatori, and Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt.  In addition to their critically-acclaimed titles and bestselling comics, Dynamite works with some of the most high profile creators in comics and entertainment, including Kevin Smith, Alex Ross, Neil Gaiman, Andy Diggle, John Cassaday, Garth Ennis, Jae Lee, Marc Guggenheim, Mike Carey, Jim Krueger, Greg Pak, Brett Matthews, Matt Wagner, Gail Simone, Steve Niles, James Robinson, and a host of up-and-coming new talent.  Dynamite is consistently ranked in the upper tiers of comic book publishers and several of their titles - including Alex Ross and Jim Krueger's Project Superpowers - have debuted in the Top Ten lists produced by Diamond Comics Distributors. In 2005, Diamond awarded the company a GEM award for Best New Publisher and another GEM in 2006 for Comics Publisher of the Year (under 5%) and again in 2011. The company has also been nominated for and won several industry awards, including the prestigious Harvey and Eisner Awards.

About Paizo Inc.
Paizo Inc. is publisher of the world's best-selling Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the wildly popular Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, as well as Pathfinder Tales novels, board games, and gaming accessories. Paizo.com is the leading online hobby retail store, offering tens of thousands of products from a variety of publishers to customers all over the world. In the eleven years since its founding, Paizo Publishing has received more than 50 major awards and has grown to become one of the most influential companies in the hobby games industry.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Board game review - Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger guest blogger Richard Williams, a fellow gamer, writer and weird stuff enthusiast.

I bought Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective as a birthday present for my dad, a great fan of all things Holmesian, and it's been a great success. The co-operative nature of the gameplay makes this the perfect game for families/friends who are too competitive (and therefore dare not sit around a monopoly board together) but it also just makes for a nicer evening. While it is possible to play in separate teams my dad, brothers, nephew and I just played as one big team trying to solve the clues and it kept us entertained for several hours per case, each one just right for an evening.

The quality of the game is also superior. Each of the ten cases is contained in its own glossy 'magazine' format booklet and is accompanied by a broadsheet style two-sided newspaper with stories that might relate to the case but which are mostly just contemporary filler. A neat feature of the newspapers is that editions from earlier cases may actually have articles which give clues to later cases so making sure to give each newspaper a thorough read is a must. There is also a map of London with hundreds of houses/locations which are numbered and a directory booklet which lists all the people who can be found at those addresses.
It's really a very well produced game.

Furthermore each case is more than just one case. There is the main case (which gets you the most points for solving) but there are also other mysteries which need solving which can bag you further, those less numerous, points.

One criticism is simply that some of these cases can be just as bafflingly hinged upon a minute detail, which requires the absolutely correct interpretation, as you would expect to find in a Sherlock Holmes story. On the one hand that makes the game more true to it's source material but on the other it can make it damned hard to solve which is, of course, the point of the game. It's also fair to say, I feel, that on at least one of the cases the secondary questions, relating to a triple homicide, but which only scored an additional 10 points each, was really the bigger of the two cases. What I'm saying is that sometimes the conclusions can be slightly frustrating. This does not detract too strongly, however, from the fact that the preceding several hours had been a lot of fun.I shall be looking to see if there is an expansion pack containing more cases for this game and it there isn't then I shall be writing to the makers requesting one.

All in all I think that's about as positive a result as the designers could hope for. In short an ideal game for Holmes fans, team players and lovers of deductive mental exercises.

Comic Review - Amazing and Fantastic Tales Issue #2

A review by guest blogger Richard Williams.

Published by: Planet Jimbot
Author: Anthology
Artist: Anthology

More stories of the unusual in the second installment of Amazing and Fantastic Tales. Sadly this issue does not build upon the expectations created by the first edition and I feel my interest has been dimmed considerably by #2.

Once again it starts with Kroom (written by Jim Alexander with artwork by Glenn B Fleming) and I can’t help but wonder why when there were other, better, stories which were begun in #1 which didn’t have an appearance in #2. The dialogue is still poor and the story itself just hops from one ill-conceived moment to the next. Our heroes teleport/dimension jump/I don’t really know what into a realm of clothes. Because they need clothes after escaping from the hospital in issue #1 so of course you go to a dimension of clothes which rather pointlessly tell the wearer about the lives of previous owners. A fact which is not built upon at all. A quick fight with a monster is resolved by having the hero literally cough up a kidney to distract the beast whilst making an escape. Should he be concerned that he just lost an internal organ? No, because apparently he’s got lots of kidneys. Or so he says. It’s just not very good.

The second story is part 2 of The Posse by Jim Alexander. Alexander’s prose work is significantly better than the dialogue on show in Kroom and I find myself enjoying this tale of wild west weirdness. We now have some more famous characters added to the roster and a fair amount of action but I would have liked to have a little more time spent on the overall mystery of the strange town of Totem. Having said that I can appreciate a slow burn if the ending has a decent pay-off and my hope is that Alexander continues as well as he’s begun.

Happy Slappy is the third tale (yet another Jim Alexander piece with artwork by Andrew Docherty), and it is so far the first tale that does not fit with the titles stated mandate of being Amazing & Fantastic. Instead we have the mundane story of an artist who is slapped until he bleeds upon a canvas which then sells for big money at auction. This is a short story (1 page/9 panels) and I’m not sure if it’s meant to be mildly amusing or a commentary on the art world but it falls flat as either. Were I to make a recommendation to the creators of A&F I would say ‘stick to the publication’s title’.

Next up we have the aptly named Flat Champagne, by John McShane, a one off short sci-fi story about a man who wakes up from cryo on a spaceship but is only one of three survivors. Why nobody else has survived is neither explored nor questioned. There is much to not like about this story, from the childish wording (one character is described as a ‘spoilsport’ when insisting that the protagonist will need to learn a useful skill) to the shallow characterisation and frankly unsympathetic central character. McShane would do well to read Save the Cat and learn the important lesson of making your hero a person the audience will like. During disposal of the unfortunate crew, sadly never to wake from cryosleep, our ostensible hero can only think about Star Trek II and how bored he is.

Following Flat Champagne is Point Blank by Jim Alexander and artwork by Scott Sackett. A hit-and-miss affair that tells the tale of a two men born at exactly the same moment and the one finding himself with the uncanny ability to know when the other is in mortal danger. As a basic premise I like it but I felt that the story followed the wrong elements. Instead of exploring this intrinsic link between the two men instead we have a recapping of near-fatal close-calls, which often leave the hero injured or otherwise worse off, and ending with a frankly mystifying conclusion. The artwork is also somewhat up and down, sometimes being decent black and white line work yet at other times making errors, such as drawing people with oddly proportioned limbs. The real shame here is that it could have been a great story but they told the wrong one. Perhaps the authors could salvage it by making it a recurring theme but using different protagonists, like 100 Bullets, and having the many possible versions of this story told.

Lastly we have the second part of The Roustabout by Lynsey May and Fin Cramb. Once again it’s only a page but it’s a good page and this time it ends at, what I would say, is just the right moment. The writing is generally very good and I like the first person perspective. It reads somewhat unrealistically regarding the procedure following a death but by the same token it reminded me of the way Hollywood movies fluff procedure in order to tell a good story. Because of this I find myself forgiving it as I would for a good horror film. My favourite story of the issue without a doubt.

But could I recommend the issue over all? In all honesty the answer is no. There were too many misses this time around and if the stories don’t improve by issue #3 then I certainly won’t be inclined to give issue #4 a chance.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Book review - Transformers: The Art of Fall of Cybertron

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger guest blogger Richard Williams, a fellow gamer, weird stuff enthusiast, writer and a really good friend of mine. Richard has a passion for art books and for a few weeks he'll be sharing his thoughts on some of his favourites.

I actually cancelled my purchase of Transformers: The Art of Fall of Cybertron at one point, deciding to save money, but later changed my mind. And I am so glad I did.

This is an excellent art book with just the right amount of descriptive text, choc full of pull page and two page spread artwork of incredible quality. A must for transformer fans, especially fans of the original G1 series, even if you have no intention of playing the game (like me!).

This book embodies all the best layout features of a truly great art book and brings together some of the best transformer artwork ever made (if not just THE best). I'd say snap it up now because I imagine the price on this will only go up and up.

The curtain is raised on the biggest and best Transformers game in history! See never-before-revealed art from the genre-smashing Transformers: Fall of Cybertron! 

Watch as Optimus Prime, Grimlock, Bumblebee, and Shockwave grow from conceptual sketches into finished, fully-realized characters; witness the development of Cybertron into the most detailed renderings of the planet that have ever existed; learn the behind-the-scenes secrets from the visionary artists at Activision and High Moon Studios! 

The Art of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a must-have for any fan of Transformers, gaming, or great art!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Comic Review - Amazing and Fantastic Tales Issue #1

A review by guest blogger and all-round superstar Richard Williams.

Published by: Planet Jimbot
Author: Anthology
Artist: Anthology

What we have here is a mixed bag of bizarre stories that wear their influences proudly upon the sleeve. Some of the tales are prose whilst others are presented as comics but on the whole the quality of the writing is good and the stories almost all ended in a way that left me wanting more (which I consider a good thing).

First up we have ‘Kroom - Part 1’, written by Jim Alexander with artwork from Glenn B Fleming, which tells the tale of a mysterious man with power over electricity who has the ability to jump between worlds/dimensions. At least I think that’s what it’s about. This is a very short introduction (only 17 panels) and the dialogue is very rushed and also feels a little cliched in places. The fast pace is to the story’s detriment. The artwork is nice but nothing to get excited about however I appreciate that they used colour. On the whole this was my least favourite story of the bunch but I would like to see if it gets any better.

The second story is ‘A Mischief of Devils: The Duke and the Thief’ by Tom Carroll with art from the interestingly named Fin Cramb. The art in question is a couple of black and white character sketches used to illustrate the beginning and end of the story, which I mention just so you don’t think this is another comic format. I enjoyed the form of Tom Carroll’s prose immensely and it’s clear that he considers himself something of a wordsmith. The words flowed in a way that made it very easy to read and had me admiring the turns of phrase and little touches of style. This flamboyant approach works very well with the short story format and elevates it above more mundane offerings but more importantly was much needed for this story given that so much of the text was world building and demonic political exposition. I feel the tagline for this story, “Hell is a place, politics is everywhere”, sums up the feel of the story perfectly.

The third offering, again written by Jim Alexander, is ‘The Last Posse - Part 1’ and follows the form of a wild west supernatural mystery in which Wyat Earp and other prominent figures from that era of history find themselves in a strange and dangerous place. Alexander’s writing in this story, another straight up short story, is significantly better than that found in the introductory comic ‘Kroom’ (which gives me hope for that series). As an introduction this story was perhaps the best of the bunch and ended at exactly the right moment to get the reader keen for Part 2.

Next up is ‘Deadlines: The Wererats of London’ by Luke Cooper who handles both writer and artist duties for this comic. Overall this was my favourite story of the lot. The black and white artwork  is minimalistic to an extent that wouldn’t suit many stories but which fits here aptly and reminds me, slightly, of Queen and Country. The tale follows the exploits of a female journalist exploring the London underground for evidence of the eponymous Wererat and getting more than she bargained for. It’s a story format that will likely put older readers in mind of Kolchak: The Night Stalker and maybe even, to a lesser extent, The X-files and this is something I’m very keen to follow further.

The last story is ‘The Roustabout’, a single page first chapter by Lynsey May and Fin Cramb set on an oilrig. As teasers go it has much to recommend it. It is nicely written and so little is revealed, so much left uncertain, we’re not even sure anything is seriously wrong. Only the place of publication tells me that something very weird (and possibly Cthulhu-ish I reckon) is about to happen. I would have liked a little more to happen, and thus have a more satisfying hook, but I’ll certainly read the next chapter when I get to the next issue of Amazing & Fantastic Tales.

So… should you read it? I would say yes. There’s some nice talent on show here and even though not all the stories hit the nail bang centre on the head even the worst of them come damn close.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Convention Review - Sci-Fi Weekender 5

Travelling to the convention in North Wales was a journey through Middle-earth itself as we meandered through Snowdonia National Park, so that was more than enough to get us in the mood for Sci-Fi Weekender 5.

Upon arrival on the Thursday we picked up our keys to a wonderfully comfortable three-berth caravan, which we were sharing with top photographer James Loveridge of www.lostmedia.org, and a wonderful place it was. Comfortable, warm and the television was streaming continuous science fiction and fantasy movies provided by Sci-Fi London Film Festival. While we were in the caravan getting ready between trips to the shows we constantly had movies like Cocoon, Pitch Black and Predator  playing as background noise, so the atmosphere was constant.

Image courtesy of www.lostmedia.org
That night we went to the quiz and had a few drinks and a pizza just to soak in a bit of the atmosphere. The costumes were out already, the people were buzzing, and everyone was getting ready for the next few days of fun and frolics. A couple of beers back at the caravan and a reasonable bedtime and we were ready to go.

The next morning was a little gloomy and the rain was constantly threatening to hurl down upon us, but we made our way to the arenas. The show had three areas.The Sci Fi London Arena was screening movies over the weekend. The Main Void was where the celebrities would be talking and where the shows would take place, and the Spaceport where there was a stage for talks, the autograph section and traders could be found. We started the day with a tour of every area, a good root through the traders section and then got ourselves set up for the interviews with Dez Skinn, Jonathan Green and Royd Tolkien amongst others. It was a busy day interspersed with drinks, waiting in a queue at the chip shop with the dwarves of Erebor and the elves of Mirkwood, and plenty of things to see and do.

Image courtesy of www.lostmedia.org
So let me explain to you what the show is all about. Over the days of March 27th to March 30th, a huge bunch of science fiction and fantasy fanatics of all genres, walks of life and varying levels of interest descend on a Haven holiday park in North Wales, and for those days they mix, dance, drink, talk, meet guests and peruse trade stands, and otherwise indulge in everything wierd and wonderful. Cosplayers walk the halls as people listen to and take part in talks and interviews, eager fans converse with their heroes and idols and everywhere there is the buzz of fun and adventure, as we slowly realise we are all here for the same reasons and to be your true self is what is expected of you.

This makes for an incredibly strong feeling of freedom as you realise that every person there is present for the exact same reason you are; to share their love of their favourite fantasy or science fiction show, book or setting. You may not share their love for a certain thing - and the mix went from fantasy to hard science fiction to steampunk and horror - but you certainly share their passion, and that results in no judgement or ignorance. You get to experience other aspects of the hobby as well as indulge yourself in your own. It's a wonderful sense of freedom that very few other gatherings can offer.

For myself, meeting authors Robert Rankin and Jonathan Green was a great moment, and also meeting Royd Tolkien - JRR Tolkien's great-grandson - was in itself an amazing experience for me. The cosplayers were great, with a heady mix of Dredds, Star Wars characters and lots of crazy costumes. The entertainment was excellent, with Darth Elvis and the Imperials rocking the arena and stage shows entertaining the troops. Everywhere there were smiling faces, flowing drinks and dancing feet and the atmosphere was one of freedom and relaxation.

Image courtesy of www.lostmedia.org
And that, to me, is what the Sci-Fi Weekender is all about. Relaxing with fellow nerds and geeks who share a passion for this pastime, collectors and fanatics and cosplayers and gamers and movie buffs and TV show fans and writers... all kinds of people thrown together in a huge mixing bowl of creativity and imagination. I dare anyone not to be inspired by it.

We're definitely going back next year. How could we not?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Book review - The Art of Dead Space

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger guest blogger Richard Williams, a fellow gamer, weird stuff enthusiast, writer and a really good friend of mine. Richard has a passion for art books and for a few weeks he'll be sharing his thoughts on some of his favourites.

Titan have truly cemented themselves, in my opinion, as one of the best producers of art books. The Art of Dead Space is a large format book and the art is presented full page where possible.

The talent on show is undeniable and fans of the games would not be disappointed and neither would fans of tie-in art books. Admittedly there are some pictures that are quite gruesome but that is to be expected, given this is an art book about horror games.

Is it good value for money? I would say yes. When you think of the price of art books generally then it fits nicely in the lower to mid-price range. Something Titan always do with their art books (which I really appreciate) is to have nice, concise info provided for almost every picture from the artists themselves explaining the picture, the thoughts behind it, how they feel about it, or some combination of these points.

Do I have any complaints? Yes. I want more! It's a good sized art book, average really (not a beast like the Blizzard Entertainment art book), so you know there is a lot more art they could have put in. They talk about all the iterations that pictures went through but in most cases only show the final design of a creature/location/character.

Not in all cases, mind. There are quite a few pictures exploring the design of Isaac Clarke and various weapons and other features. But still, it would have been very rewarding to see the design process in a little more depth.

In conclusion I would highly recommend this book for lovers of concept art or Dead Space. If you're a fan of both then you will consider the book quite cheap as it really is a fantastic, well produced and beautiful book.

The Art of Dead Space is the ultimate gallery of the Dead Space universe, with over 300 images plus sketches and concept art by acclaimed artists from breathtaking spacescapes to terrifying necromorphs, character designs to creating a religion, plus commentary from the artists. 

Includes art from, Dead Space, Dead Space: Extraction, Dead Space: Ignition, Dead Space 2, Dead Space 3.

Book Review - The New Gothic

Authors: Jesse Bullington, S. J. Chambers, Fi Michell, Laura Ellen Joyce, Richard Dansky,Steve Dempsey, Ramsey Campbell, Dmetri Kakmi, Sean Logan, Mason Wild, Damien Kelly, Phil Reeves,Ed Martin.

Published by Stone Skin Press.

I'm not a reader of horror apart from the stories gifted to us by H P Lovecraft and I have a shelf of spooky books that I have purchased but not yet cracked open. When The New Gothic landed on my doorstep I was more than intrigued but a little unsure; there'd been a lot of teen vamps and decidedly unscary wolves around, recently, and I was a bit concerned that the contemporary nature of the stories would result in yet more cuddly fan-friendly monsters.

So it was with a sense of relief - and a healthy dose of shock - that I read the first story 'Dive In Me' and pretty much realised straight away that there was going to be no sign of any misunderstood nightcrawlers here. This story hits the ground running and pretty much sets the pace for the rest of the book. It's a strong start and, gladly, the following stories manage to keep up with that initial punch to the gut with a flurry of blows, creating that 'just one more page before lights out' approach to reading. Although, I'd be surprised if you wanted to turn the lights out after putting this down.

The stories on offer give you ghosts, scary houses, remote locations, monsters - if you're scared of it the chances are that it's covered by this anthology. Each story is sharp and well written and full of imagery that hits hard and honestly leaves you gasping. If you're a horror aficionado then you may not be as hard hit by the stories as I was, but then horror isn't really my thing so it was bound to get to me. That makes the book quite appealing to non-horror fans or people wanting to experience the genre for the first time; the variety of stories on offer gives you a look at different stories and approaches so it'll no doubt help you get a feel for what it is you want out of scary books.

The stories in here are of a high quality but if I had to pick a favourite then I'd have to say ‘The Vault of Artemas Smith’ by Phil Reeves. The first-person Lovecraftian-style narrative makes the action incredibly immediate and the personal nature of the style increases the tension as you're taken on a journey through a destroyed house. It's easy to understand why I love this story as it has that feel of the Lovecraftian stories that I enjoy, but that just reinforces the fact that there's something in this book for everyone. I was certainly happy to find a story such as this, and I was more than pleased to be introduced to many more horror stories that I would never have otherwise experienced.

I can heartily recommend The New Gothic. It's a great read that hooks you - in a horrible blood-spattering way - and the talent on show here is excellent.

Not sure when I'll be picking it up to read again, mind you...

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Comic Review - The Secret Service: Kingsman

By Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons and Matthew Vaughn

Published by Titan Books

"Gary’s life is going nowhere. He lives in public housing with his mother and spends his nights carousing with his friends. But Gary’s Uncle Jack has taken a different path of glamour, danger and mystery. When Jack has to get his nephew out of trouble, their lives are going to intersect in a way neither of them could have foreseen. From Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen)."

How do I describe this comic? The easy explanation? It's like the TV show Shameless had been written by a drunk Ian Fleming.

Imagine that James Bond had a nephew, and that nephew spent his time on a run-down estate committing petty crime and stealing cars, jobless, living with a mother who seems to accept their fate as she struggles to get by with an abusive boyfriend. Gary, the nephew, is smart and doesn't like where he is and after another run-in with the law his uncle, Jack, decides to get him out of the downward spiral he's in... by enrolling him in what is basically 'spy school'.

It doesn't get much more fish-out-of-water than that. While Gary goes through the hard and rigorous training, uncle Jack investigates the disappearance of celebrities and scientists - in fact, the comic opens with Star Wars stars Mark Hamill being sort-of rescued by a British Secret Service agent in true James Bond movie opening action scene style. This plot is given a little attention as Gary's story goes on but blossoms as the story begins to escalate and the threads come together.

The script is sharp, witty and well realised and there are some particularly good laugh out loud moments. It's crisp and the dialogue feels natural in some respects, a little too much like a lecture in others as the story shows the downside of life in the run-down estates but also has something of a stab at it. That's not what the comic is about, mind you, and it primarily reflects the changes that Gary goes through as he learns about the wider world and also learns new skills and tricks. He's still a ragamuffin at heart - his language and behaviour more than tells you that - so it's interesting to watch him transform from an estate rat to a rat of as higher calibre.

Gibbons' artwork suits the story and is up to his usual standard. I may be a little bit biased, here, as I grew up with his work in the pages of 2000AD and admired everything he put to paper. The panels are almost movie-like in appearance - which is not too surprising as this comic is in the works to become a motion picture, thanks to the involvement of movie supremo Matthew Vaughn - and you can more than see this on the big screen. The artwork of Gibbons sells that notion and his talent never fails to impress me.

An excellent comic that will appeal to casual readers and fans of the spy genre especially. Recommended.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Comic Review - Pathfinder: City of Secrets #1

Pathfinder: City of Secrets #1

Dynamite Entertainment and Paizo Inc.

Written by Jim Zub
Interior art by Leandro Oliveira

"In Pathfinder: City of Secrets #1, the Pathfinder heroes head to the city of Magnimar, and danger isn't far behind. As the wizard Ezren seeks an audience with the Pathfinder Society, his adventuring allies explore the city's ancient magic, well-hidden secrets, and deep political divides. The dangers and opportunities of the big city could bring the adventurers closer together - or tear them apart!"

Type 'Pathfinder Heroes' into Google and you'll find images of the primary Pathfinder personalities as illustrated by Wayne Reynolds. They have poise and something of a personality, and each one appears adventure-weary and experienced; each one has a history and a story to tell. It's only natural that such iconic images would have to appear in their own series.

It's also natural that they should appear in comic book format, considering they are the visual key of the Pathfinder world. They have already had some intense adventures in a previous series so here they are again, on the adventure trail in the city of Magnimar.

The heroes are Seoni the sorcerer; Valeros the fighter, mercenary; Harsk, Dwarf ranger; Ezren the wizard; Merisial the Elf rogue; Kyra the cleric. The six of them arrive in the city by ship and the opening panels give you a slight indication of their personalities, both visually and narratively, but it's when they get into the city proper that their stories begin.

Jim Zub's writing is neat and the story is conveyed through the conversations between the characters and not in narrative panels. This approach usually results in stilted dialogue that feels like awkward exposition, something I dislike in any form of storytellling, but Jim's writing does away with the majority of that. It flows well, the exchanges between characters feel natural and, even though you can't get away from exposition in all it's forms, he manages to make the conversations interesting. The story itself is only at the beginning so you can forgive the slow start, and slow it is; they arrive in the city and the story follows four threads that are setting the characters up for the ongoing adventure. Just as the story hits a possible moment of action - cliffhanger! This isn't half as bad as it sounds as the opening issue really is a scene-setter and eases you into the new adventure. There's plenty to come so that suits the series just fine.

The characters are well known as Wayne Reynolds illustrations so to transfer them onto the pages of a comic and give them life and dynamism is no small feat; luckily, this comic has artist Leandro Oliveira to make sure that this goes off without a hitch. He renders these characters well and they each have their own visual personality, but I was ever so slightly concerned about the environment as I turned to the second page, in which we see the city in all it's splendour as the ship comes in to harbour. The view is excellent but lacking in detail, and the city seems a little unequal, but you certainly get an impression of scale. That's a minor gripe as the art throughout is excellent and you do get a feel for the characters and the city itself. In particular there's a great illustration of the heroes sat around a table discussing their next move and that, to me, sums up a gaming adventurer party. The illustrations are crisp and detailed and the designs are very Pathfinder, that high-fantasy aesthetic that feels quite used and practical. Leandro Oliveira has done a fantastic job of recreating this particular world and I look forward to seeing much more of his work.

Pathfinder: City of Secrets #1 is a great first issue and a great introduction to this new adventure, and will appeal to new readers as well as those already immersed in the adventures of these Pathfinder heroes.

"Each issue also includes an exclusive Pathfinder Roleplaying Game encounter, and a bonus playable tactical map/art poster. In celebration of the new series' release, and in conjunction with New Comic Book Day, Dynamite and Paizo will be organizing special in-store Pathfinder game events, in which chosen local comic stores will become part of the story and game play. (Comic shops interested in participating should contact their local Dynamite rep). Further, Pathfinder fans can have their character immortalized with game statistics and an original illustration in the special "Heroes of Magnimar" game supplement, part of the Pathfinder: City of Secrets collection."

Pathfinder: City of Secrets #1 will be available on May 14th.