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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

BuffyIt isn't often that you find an unopened, 12 year old board game in a charity shop (for £3.99, at that). And, honestly, that probably should have been a warning. Or an omen. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer The Board Game (2000) is like entering the Hellmouth. 

The physical elements of the game are deceptively simple. There's a board with a rectangular track on it, with 8 locations (High School, The Abandoned Warehouse, The Library...) spread evenly around the board. There are also three sets of cards: colour cards (8), character cards (8) and "Fate" cards (some amount). Finally, there are 8 crappy little plastic coloured doohickies that look like they fell out of Sorry

The game pits the vampires versus the humans. There are 3 of the former and 5 of the latter, each represented by one of the character cards. The objective of the game is to eradicate the enemy, and the winning side is the last one standing. The trick is that the game is conducted in a state of existential chaos: nobody knows who is playing who. Or even what game piece they are.

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How Rez Taught me to Stop Worrying and Love Torchwood

MDMA In my extremely delayed misspent adolescence, I went clubbing quite a lot. I love the more euphoric end of the dance music spectrum and, though I was rather late to the party, Dreamcast classic Rez (now on Xbox Live Arcade) looked like it would be right up my street. Rez, for those who’ve never played it, is a trippy rail shooter with a techno soundtrack.

The only trouble was, I AM UNSPEAKABLY RUBBISH at twitch games. I am so rubbish that I couldn’t actually get past the first level of Rez to hear the rest of the bangin’ tunes. Let me give you an idea of just how bad at twitch games I am. When I was playing Half Life 2, I got so stuck I looked up the cheat codes to give myself unlimited health and ammo and I STILL COULDN’T FINISH THE GAME.

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The Repairer of Reputations: Blue-Bird Weather by Robert Chambers

Blue-Bird Weather“Quiet sea and quiet sky,
Idle sail and anchored boat,
Just a snowflake gull afloat,
Drifting like a feather—
And the gray hawk crying,
And a man's heart sighing—
That is blue-bird weather:—
And the high hawk crying,
And a maid's heart sighing
Till lass and lover come together,—
This is blue-bird weather.”

This winsome little ditty is at the heart of Robert Chambers' short novel, Blue-Bird Weather. First serialized in 1911, it was later published in its complete form in 1912. 

The story features Mr. Marche, the very model of the Chambersian hero. He's young, straight-limbed, fair-haired scion of an upper-crust family. He's taken his family business (something white collar and vaguely finance-y), carried it through times good and bad and now, he's off on a well-deserved vacation. 

Mr. Chambers' male heroes fall into two categories: the foppish and the flawed. In the diabetic's nightmare that was The Green Mouse, Mr. Chambers had a surfeit of the former. A vast array of insipid blue-blooded twits, propagating the species with their equally vapid mates. In his more serious romances, for example, The Firing Line and The Fighting Chance, the protagonists are about 90% perfect. For external viewing purposes, they maintain their Aryan sensibilities - but inside, they're plagued with alcholism, depression or some other un-Godly-flaw that can only be cured by the love of a good woman.

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Underground Reading: Playing Games with William Sleator, H.G. Wells and Heather Killough-Walden

On its most commercial level, game fiction panders to the fantasy/sf reader's own interests. For the author, the use of a game provides a regimented narrative structure with built-in conflict. And for the reader, it provides another level of empathetic escapism. A world which the-protagonist-me masters swordplay to save the universe is (sadly) far-fetched. One in which the-protagonist-me beats DOOM to save the universe? Still far-fetched, but it is an easier jump to get into the hero's bootsAuthors from Orson Scott Card to Piers Anthony to Iain Banks have all used the device to great success. Here are three others...

Interstellar PigWilliam Sleator's Interstellar Pig (1984) is a book I'd encountered as a young adult. I'd forgotten it (blocked it?) entirely until Bex mentioned it a few weeks ago. And then, when she realized I hadn't read it for decades, she thrust it into my hands and stood over me until I finished. "Encountered" and "blocked it" are deliberately pejorative words. This supposed children's book is exactly the sort of thing that breaks fragile young minds. Not because it is bad - more the reverse: Sleator's hallucinogenic science fiction is way too well-written.

Barney is a lonely, slightly-geeky 16 year old with parents that "just don't understand" (in fairness to Mr. Sleator's characterization, he does a great job creating the distant/loyal Charlie Brown style parental unit). His miserable summer is enlivened when three very peculiar strangers move next door and entice him into playing their favorite board game.

The game is, of course, the titular "Interstellar Pig". Each player assumes the role of an alien - the representative of their entire species. The aliens quest around the universe in search of the "Piggy", an artifact of unknown origin or value. When the timer goes off, the alien holding the Piggy is spared. All the other species - and their homeworlds - are extinguished. 

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The Weeks that Were

Another three weeks have gone by - and here's what happened.

The real excitement came with adding another member to the team - the amazing Rebecca Levene. Her first post was on Portal 2 and The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

And our reviews:

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The NPR Challenge: Our Favorite Sci Fi & Fantasy Novels

Friday FiveNational Public Radio recently turned to the internet in order to compile a "100 best" list of science fiction and fantasy novels.  Fans were asked to nominate five novels in the comments section of the article calling for suggestions: series are okay, but no kids or YA, and no horror or paranormal romance.

By Wednesday morning, there were 3,707 comments.

Clearly, that's 3,704 too many comments for any reasonable person to trawl.  So we've aggregated our three favorites - our own.  Check out our picks after the jump, and share yours in the comments!

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Oh GLaDOS, Don't Ever Change!

(Be warned - massive spoilers for Portal 2 and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will follow.)

Cameron When I was younger and fonder of beige, I really quite enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation and Data’s whole Space Pinocchio storyline. I loved Asimov’s Bicentennial Man too, before it got all Robin Williamsified. As I got older and learnt words like ‘subtextually’, ‘narrative’ and ‘imperialist’ I might have noticed that, subtextually, it was rather an imperialist narrative. Everyone who isn’t us can become like us if they just try hard enough, and what’s more, they should really want to. But it didn’t matter. I’m just a sucker for that kind of redemption story.

Then, three years ago, along came Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Cameron. For those of you who haven’t watched T:TSCC – and you really should, because it’s fabulous – Cameron is the new Terminator sent back in time to protect John Connor. And it seems, at least at first, that they’re going to do the same thing with her that they did with Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in T2, teaching her all about the value of human emotion, kindness, compassion and… oh, you know the schtick.

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Pornokitsch: Now with 50% More Kitschiness!

We're extraordinarily pleased (and more than a little boastful) to be adding another blogger to our ranks: the amazing Rebecca Levene. We couldn't be more proud to bring a writer of her caliber to our team. Except when she disagrees with us, in which case we're voting her off the island and keeping her cat.

Bex will be adding a new layer to the Pornokitsch sandwich as she'll be addressing the world of video games and gaming - aspects of geekery that are otherwise completely beyond our ken. She also brings another (extremely) opinionated and articulate voice into our Kitschies mix. We're looking forward to her first post tomorrow.

Underground Reading: A Western Round-Up

Four vintage Westerns that kept me company on a trip to Texas. Two by Clifton Adams, two by Frank Castle (sadly, not the Punisher). MBHR3PABVPVJ

Colonels LadyThe Colonel's Lady (1952) was the first book by Clifton Adams, who went on to have a career of four decades and over three dozen books (under a few different names, as well). Based on this debut effort, that's more than justified. Although the plot is a little contrived at times, The Colonel's Lady is an outstanding look into one of the genre's most frequently scrutinized topics: weakness.

Reardon is an ex-Confederate officer. The war is over, and, at the start of the book, he's on his way out west to join the US Army. Joining the cavalry out west isn't much different to a prison sentence. It is a remote post, surrounded by hostile Indians, with extremely limited food, drink and access to the ladyfolk. It is normally the last respite of desperate men. Reardon's reason is also his weakness - he spotted his ex-love, Caroline, on the arm of an army colonel. Keen to see her again her, he joins the regiment. The book follows his training and his first few missions as a scout.

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DGLA x Chosen

Yikes Last night's David Gemmell Legend Award for "Best Novel" went to Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, a novel with "race-related plot themes that will raise some eyebrows" (Publishers Weekly). We went a little further in our own review.

We also shared some - unasked for - thoughts on the DGLA a few weeks ago. Although there's no denying Mr. Sanderson's proficiency, we're still disappointed that this sprawling novel was chosen as the "best" of the year. However, the anticipated indignity of Mr. Sanderson's victory paled in comparison to the utterly bizarre selection of best cover art

(A [genuine] congratulations to Darius Hinks for his Morningstar Award for best debut. We can't figure out how Black Library didn't own the shortlist again, especially after last year's victory for Graham McNeill. Did all the Games Workshop fans take the year off voting?)