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My coverage of Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series continues with Nor Crystal Tears (1982). This third novel focuses on the early history of the setting, and the first encounter between humans and the insect-like Thranx. Can the plucky agronomist Ryozenzuzex bridge the cultural barriers with a freakish species who wear their skeletons on the inside? Support the show
Aliens, generation ships, dated social attitudes, and the horror of infinite nothingness. This episode is an overview of the book Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void. Published by the British Library in 2021, this anthology of classic science fiction stories set in space features short fiction by John Brunner, Jack Vance, Judith Merril, Richard C. Meredith, and more. Which are the essential tales, and which should be tossed out of the nearest airlock? Support the show
This month's bumper roundup of the games I played features seven entries:Asterigos: Curse of the Stars (2022)Dome Keeper (2022)Gotham Knights (2022)Titanfall 2 (2016)Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013)Cultic (2022)Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2022) Support the show
Another month bites the dust, and it was a busy one for me. Writing for Entertainium, I reviewed three games in September - a record. First up was Circus Electrique, an interesting mix of management and turn-based battles in steampunk London. I was much less impressed by No Place for Bravery, a Brazilian indie Soulslike which I found to be way wide of the mark. Conversely, I liked Sunday Gold far more than I expected to. My hatred of point-and-click adventure games is on the record, but this one won me over with its logical puzzles and the addition of its own turn-based combat.This month’s update also features two older games. I caught up with Iron Harvest (2020), a noble effort to revitalise the ailing real-time strategy genre which meets with mixed results. And lastly for September, I finally played BioShock Infinite (2013), a full nine years after it came out. Irrational’s sequel is showing its age a bit, but it’s still easy to see why it received such a rapturous reception at the time. Support the show
American author Patricia A. McKillip passed away in May 2022. This episode covers her breakthrough novel for adults, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974), which won the first World Fantasy Award. The book focuses on a wizard-woman who commands a group of magical animals and gradually becomes drawn into human conflicts. But how does McKillip's novel weave a spell of its own? Support the show
Each month, I take a look back at the games I've played recently - be they new or old - and share my quick thoughts. In this instalment, I cover new releases Hard West II and Cursed to Golf, as well as Metro: Last Light (2013) and There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension (2020). Support the show
Would you believe it, it's the 75th episode! Thank you to everyone who has listened to this odd, bitesize, sort-of-podcast and its highly inconsistent subject matter. Barry Malzberg's breakthrough science fiction novel Beyond Apollo (1972) was the first ever winner of the prestigious Campbell award. Not everyone liked the book's experimental approach, though.  Expect sex, madness, and a completely unreliable narrator in this brief tour of one of the most controversial SF books of the 1970s. Support the show
Originally serialised in Analog magazine in 1975, Lifeboat is a collaborative SF novel by Harry Harrison and Gordon R. Dickson. Can the humans and aliens trapped together in a cramped interstellar escape module find a way to survive? And did Harrison and Dickson deliver an engaging story? Support the show
Inflation is rising rapidly, plunging working people into poverty. A huge strike wave spreads from one sector to another. A major economy has pulled out of Europe, adding to the economic chaos, and a new disease spreads around the continent. The British government neglects these crises, and instead pursues a culture war. This bleak description fits the UK in the summer of 2022, but it is also the backdrop to John Brunner’s 1973 novel The Stone That Never Came Down. This episode takes a look at this prescient novel of a declining, crisis-stricken UK.For more SF reviews, visit andyjohnson.xyz Support the show
This latest instalment of my monthly series on the games I’ve played has four entries. It kicks off with Strange Brigade and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, two very different games which are united by their unmistakable Britishness, sense of humour, and love of alliteration. Next up I have a few words about the fairly obscure action RPG Of Orcs and Men, made across the Channel in France. If you’ve enjoyed the fantasy stealth games in the Styx series, then you may enjoy the game that first introduced that gregarious goblin. Finally for July, I revisited an indie masterpiece which has just been given a free and impressive overhaul. Tactics classic Into the Breach has been picked up by Netflix, who are making it available to their subscribers. To celebrate, Subset Games have upgraded all versions of the game to the even more excellent Advanced Edition. This gratis update adds a ton of new features, and makes one of the best indie games ever somehow even more perfect. Support the show
Normal human lives are in short supply in The Time Dweller. Originally published in 1969, this collection is one of the earliest efforts to gather together some of Michael Moorcock’s shorter stories. Of the nine entries in this volume, seven were originally published in New Worlds, one of the leading British SF magazines. It might not have been too difficult to get them published, because at the time the editor was one... Michael Moorcock. Support the show
Today, developers Bungie are known for the blockbuster Halo series and more recently, for the Destiny games. And while the studio changed first-person shooters forever, first on the Mac and then on consoles, none of their later successes would have been possible without their earlier work in a different genre altogether. It was the success of pioneering real-time tactics game Myth: The Fallen Lords which, in part, prompted Microsoft to purchase Bungie and to help propel Halo to industry-shaking success in 2001.Myth was ahead of its time. Its 3D environments were some of the first in the genre and Bungie’s work helped to forge a new style of gameplay. They cut away the base building, resource management, and large unit counts that defined Command & Conquer (1995) and Total Annihilation (1997). Myth isn’t a strategy title at all - but part of the first wave of real-time tactics games. It does more than make players think; it makes them feel. Thanks a unique union of writing and gameplay, each of Myth’s missions inspires feelings of desperation, terror, relief and - hopefully - triumph. 25 years later, it’s the emotional impact of Myth which makes it special to this day. Support the show
There’s not much need for preamble this month - I had a busy June, but still managed to play quite a few games. They were mostly on the older side; in fact the only 2022 release I played during June was a demo, and I rarely play those.I revisited two classics from my youth which still stand up remarkably well, in the form of gloomy tactics game Myth: The Fallen Lords (1997) and the forgotten Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb (2003). I continued my increasingly familiar ramble through the Halo series with the fairly tiresome spinoff Halo 3: ODST (2009), and that demo I mentioned was for the upcoming Agent 64: Spies Never Die. The real standout for me, though, was definitely Dragon’s Dogma. Inspired by the long-awaited announcement of a sequel, I finally picked up Hideaki Itsuno’s cult favourite action RPG and have been revelling in its idiosyncratic charms. Support the show
Frederik Pohl (1919 - 2013) had an incredibly long career in science fiction. He wrote, edited and worked as an agent for over 70 years, from the early 1940s right through to the end of his long life. Gateway is a key work in the second wave of his writing career, which began in 1969 after a long spell helping others to get their stories published. Originally serialised in Galaxy magazine, Gateway was a major success which won both the Locus and Nebula Awards for best novel, and the John W. Campbell award.This episode is a short review of the novel, which features abandoned alien starships, sexual hang-ups, AI-assisted psychotherapy, and space-prospectors gambling with their lives at faster-than-light speeds. Support the show
This special books episode covers three classic novels:The million-selling horror The Rats  (1974) by James HerbertThe aerial thriller Flight into Fear (1972) by Duncan KyleThe lunar science fiction suspense of A Fall of Moondust (1961) by Arthur C. Clarke Support the show
May’s instalment of “what I played” is a relatively brief one, simply because - well, I didn’t play that many games during the month. What I did unexpectedly get the chance to do is to review the excellent Sniper Elite 5, which is easily one of my favourite games of 2022 so far. I can admit to a surge of local pride, as developers Rebellion are based just down the road from me in Oxford. My full thoughts on the game are available for your reading pleasure at Entertainium.I of course also found a bit of time to tackle some older games. Thanks to the generous folks at Epic, I was able to play hyper-fast futuristic racer Redout (2016). I took a bloody trip into the distant past with Raven’s badly dated shooter Soldier of Fortune (2000). Finally, I have a few thoughts on the remaster of the end-of-the-world action-adventure Darksiders (2010). Support the show
The second standalone novel in Alan Dean Foster's sprawling "Humanx Commonwealth" series, Cachalot is an intriguing sci-fi mystery story set on an ocean planet and starring three scientists, a cop, and two friendly killer whales. Support the show
One is a Lonely Number (1952) by Bruce Elliott is a real obscurity, a dark and nihilistic escaped-convict story set mostly in Ohio. Black Wings Has My Angel (1953) by Elliott Chaze is one of the most praised crime noir books of its era, and for many years was a very desirable rarity in paperback.These are both excellent books, terse and powerful and as lively today as they were in the early ‘50s. If you like the sound of them, then I can recommend Paperback Warrior and Stark House Press, who I’m sure will guide you and I alike to many more engaging reads from back in the glory days of paperback fiction. Support the show
For me, April was another bumper month of games. In this month’s instalment of “What I played”, I cover seven games including two brand new ones which I’ve reviewed, and even one unreleased one, all of which I covered for Entertainium. In boomer shooter Forgive Me Father I confronted eldritch abominations, cosmic horrors and a sometimes severe lack of ammunition. B.I.O.T.A., meanwhile, is a very entertaining 8-bit style side-scroller set on an asteroid plagued by ravenous mutants. Both of these games have largely flown under the radar, but I do recommend them.The four older games I tackled in April were the impressive remake Black Mesa (2020), underrated open-world shooter Rage 2 (2019), baffling Japanese adventure Yakuza 0 (2015) and the excellent sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015).  Support the show
Alan Dean Foster has a very extensive catalogue of SF works under his belt, most notably in his “Humanx Commonwealth” universe, which centres on an alliance between humans and the intelligent insectoid species the Thranx. Midworld, published in 1975, is a superb standalone novel in this setting - albeit one which doesn’t feature the Thranx. Instead, it is set on a nameless, verdant, and hostile jungle planet which is home to the descendants of humans left stranded by a starship crash many decades earlier. In the book, Foster tells an enthralling story within a brilliantly realised and convincing setting - and very likely inspired Avatar. Support the show
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