Steampunk Spelljamming Ship

A free image from Pixabay that felt very “Steampunk Spelljammer.” While perfect for Time of Ages, I figured I’d reblog it here on Wildspace too. -RPB

Spelljammer Gone Wild

I found this image on Pixabay and immediately thought Spelljammer, and the image’s creator even noted it as being a steampunk-inspired creation. This old trader ship would be typical for the Aether skies of Rielunspace — older ships that have fallen out of favour in the spacelanes of the Kings’ Monarchy.

Image byJazellafromPixabay

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Rielun Revised

This world map shows the primary campaign world, Rielun, within my Spelljammer Gone Wild steampunk cosmology for D&D v.3.5. The map was created using the free version of a program called Hexographer.

You can read about the world’s prehistory here.

Spelljammer Gone Wild

While I had completed this map in Hexographer some time ago, I never got around to sharing it on here. This is now the official Time of Ages campaign setting map from which all others will be created.

Direct link to map.

World of Rielun The primary world for my Time of Ages 3E campaign setting set in my Steampunk Spelljammer cosmology.

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Video

Homefront: Toy Soldier Saga Livestreamed Readings!

Livestreamed reading of Chapter 1 of Homefront, my Toy Soldier Saga novella, which appeared in the limited edition On the Horizon book bundle! The Toy Soldier Saga is derived from Spelljammer, though it removes all proprietary content and has now become its own thing.

Want the rest of the story? You can get it here or here, or you could sign up for my Patreon at the $2 a month plus level, which will give you the rest of the livestreams (and the archives.)  And it gives you access to my other livestreams and audiobooks as well!

I’ll be reading one chapter a day until they’re done.

Book Review: Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

Downbelow Station (The Company Wars #1)Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the 12 in 12 Challenge, the LGBTQ Speculative Fiction Challenge,, the Military Spec-Fic Reading Challenge, the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge, the Grand Mistresses of Genre Fiction Challenge, the Hard Core Sci-Fi Challenge, the Read the Sequel Challenge, and the Space Opera Challenge (2018).

This book won the 1982 Hugo Award.

I have been meaning to read this book ever since I heard Heather Alexander & Leslie Fish’s filks about it. That was back in 1993. So I guess it’s been on my TBR list for 25 years. That’s a bloody long time!

It was awesome! I’ve skimmed some of the other reviews here on Goodreads and I think some people just didn’t get the book, or maybe it wasn’t what they were expecting and so they didn’t like it.

First of all, it’s military sci-fi, but proceed with the understanding that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Cherryh is far more concerned with the people and the politics than the details of the battles. Battles occur when there has been a failure of diplomacy, and they are quick and dirty and ugly. Sometimes she skips over battles entirely, if they’re backgrounding and not immediately important. I found this approach disjointed and a little surreal in the beginning, but by the end of the book I understood what she was trying to do and I am grateful she didn’t waste our time by showing, not telling, things, that were not important to the overall plot (unlike David Weber). Much time, however, is spent on strategy and tactics, and an understanding of strategy and tactics are needed to understand what’s going on.

Second, this is layers and wheel and politics on the level of Game of Thrones, only she did it first, all in one book, and in space. Each side has a fully-realized character that represents its interests and goals, and thus, you grasp their intentions and motivations much more thoroughly than you would if they were described in an abstract way. Even the aliens are fully realized, and while they’re as intelligent as humans, they don’t think like humans do.

Third, there are no good guys, except maybe the Downers, a.k.a. the hisa, who are local aliens with gentle natures caught up in the whole mess. There are only shades of grey. Some are much darker than others, but every group acts according to its own needs and interests, and sometimes these coincide, and sometimes they directly oppose one another.

Fourth, for some reason people on Goodreads seem to think this is the first book in The Company Wars. It’s actually the third (not that I’ve read the other two yet.) Cherryh says so herself on her website.

The action centers around a space station called Pell, which happens to be between Earth and the far beyond territories of a polity called Union. The goal is to possess this station, which is an essential waypoint of trade and in a natural no-man’s-land between the two. The interested parties are: Earth, Union, the Mazianni (which started out as a far-space Earth loyal unit but is now a fleet of privateers,) the hisa, merchanters (who trade in space between the two,) and the stationers themselves.

This is a fantastic novel that holds up every bit as well now as it did in 1982. Classic space opera, classic military fiction, classic hard sci-fi. Highly recommended!

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Posting to Patreon: The Eye of the Storm (Toy Soldier Saga)

Hi all, Sable here!  This is my heads up that tomorrow I will be posting the completed and edited story, “The Eye of the Storm,” as a charged post for my Patrons at Patreon.  This is my Shaundar and Y’Anid elf-orc love story, for my Toy Soldier fans!  This is your one and only chance to get it if you want it without buying the Chasing Fireflies anthology!  Note that there may be some small changes in the story between now and the time it appears in the anthology.  Chasing Fireflies will be released July 1, 2017.  (Rated R for graphic sex.)

Originally posted at Toy Soldier: A Spelljammer Saga.

Book Review: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Starship TroopersStarship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the Space Opera 2016 Reading Challenge and the 12 Awards in 12 Months Reading Challenge.

This is one of Heinlein’s most controversial novels. Along with Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, this is the novel that invented the space marine and military science fiction. If you look around you can see its influence in so many works of sci-fi that it’s become a trope: Halo, Warhammer 40000, Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, even Mechwarrior. Master Chief and the Spartans wear Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry suits.

The first thing I will tell you is this: do you remember the big-budget film made a few years back with Denise Richards playing Carmen Ibanez? Yeah, well; don’t waste your time. The director admitted to having only read the first couple of pages and it shows. If you’re going to claim that a movie is an adaptation of a famous novel, then tell the story the novel tells, dammit! Don’t slap a famous name on it, borrow a couple of character names, and then claim you’ve made an adaptation. How people get away with this without lawsuits I will never know. It was such a far cry from the actual novel that I don’t know why they bothered to connect it at all. Grrrrrr!

Okay, now that I have gotten that out of my system: Starship Troopers is controversial because it has a reputation as being an ode to fascism. Having re-read it now for the first time since I was a pre-teen, I think that this reputation must be due to one of two things: either people do not understand the novel, or people do not understand what fascism is. I am willing to concede the latter after overhearing some man confirm his wife’s belief, when they were passing through the biography section in the bookstore where I work, that Stalin was “Hitler’s right hand man.” A similar confusion has occurred here: if anything, the philosophy outlined by the characters in Starship Troopers is an extreme of communism, which, of course, is fascism’s polar opposite.

I can see how someone who didn’t read it thoughtfully might have gotten this idea. In the society of Starship Troopers, only citizens have the right to vote, and the only way to become a citizen is to offer two years of service (more if required) to the state. This service is up to the state’s discretion, with some weight given to a person’s preferences. And it doesn’t necessarily mean military service; you might be a bureaucrat in an office. But Juan Rico (whose native tongue is Tagalog; how director Paul Verhoeven and scriptwriter Edward Neumeier got their Aryan Nation Nazi fantasy out of a cast of Filipino and Hispanic characters I will never know) is assigned to the Mobile Infantry; space marines.

The Mobile Infantry is a brutal place, where occasionally bones are broken and people are even killed as a normal part of basic training. However, you can leave at any time, and the only penalty for leaving is that you aren’t allowed to come back and you won’t ever be given the right to vote. In one passage, one of the instructors informs Rico that this is so that only those who really give a damn about duty to others before themselves will actually make it through, and so that only those who are willing to defend that at any cost make it. It sounds like a “the few, the proud” speech, so I suppose you could take that as fascism if you weren’t paying attention. Except that it’s really the extreme of socialism; though of course, in the spirit of the time, it denounces Communism as being more suited to the evolution of the insectoid species the human characters are fighting against.

You see, fascism is all about a “superior” elite distinguishing themselves from common people and thus, proving their “right to rule” over everyone else, applying Darwin’s theories to social behaviour. Socialism is about believing that the group is more important than any one individual; which, in its extremes (such as Communist Russia) can be brutal, compassionless and dehumanizing. In this case, the welfare of the group must be more important to a person than their own life or limb, and this is the qualifier for the right to vote. I’m not sure this is a bad idea. Wouldn’t it be great if only those who have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are not interested in selfish motives could have a voice in politics? Of course I can’t think of any real-life way to establish this without creating the very “elitist” class that it would be intended to avoid, but this is a novel, and who is to say that the society of the future looks anything like the society we have now?

Another passage which might support the fascism theory is in support of spanking a child and of corporal punishment, which are accepted parts of this future society. This is not a popular idea in our time, but do remember that this book was written in 1959. Keeping that in mind, the fact that Heinlein includes female pilots and ship’s crews in his future military is impressive, based in the idea that, on average, women have faster reflexes and reaction times and, on average, men are physically stronger. There are always exceptions of course, and Heinlein’s military allows for them, but Carmenica (not even just Carmen, for crying out loud!) Ibanez becomes a pilot and not a trooper. Since women were denied the right to join the Apollo missions a decade later, this is downright revolutionarily feminist in 1959. And Heinlein’s women are no less brave and heroic than their male counterparts. The pilot of Rico’s ship flies directly into an overwhelmed fire zone to do a pickup, and then makes an impossible landing, giving Rico hell for risking all their lives by delaying the pickup all the while.

Now that I’m done arguing against the critics, I’ll address the book itself. Heinlein starts in media res and the rest of the book is excellently paced between philosophy and action. You never find out who won the war, or whether or not Rico even lived through the experience, but that’s not what the story is about. It’s about a boy growing up by finding himself in the military and creating an identity for himself as a soldier. It’s an old story; one not currently popular, but one that’s nonetheless true for many people and has been for centuries.

It’s worth contrasting Paul Mandela’s experience in The Forever War with Juan Rico’s experience. Both books have a lot of valuable things to say about war. In The Forever War, Mandela is drafted into a war he doesn’t understand or believe in, and he finds the space marines to be an alienating, dehumanizing experience of horror and misery. In Starship Troopers, Rico volunteers during peacetime, before the war begins, and he finds himself and his personal identity as a soldier, putting his life on the line for the sake of others, and it fits him well. If you’ve known any soldiers, you know that one of the ways they see themselves is as sheepdogs, who protect the flock from the wolves. It may well have been Heinlein who gave us this reference. Starship Troopers was once on the U.S. Marines’ recommended reading list, only recently replaced by Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.

And speaking of Ender’s Game: the alien Bugs that Heinlein’s troopers are fighting are incomprehensible to human beings, and were probably Bugs in order to make them incomprehensible, because the plot isn’t really about them. Humanity and the Bugs are competing for the same ecological niche; and in Heinlein’s novel, this competition is what creates the conditions for war in the first place; population pressure. It’s suggested that the technology might be available to just outright destroy the Bug planets, but they don’t do that because “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” The idea is to force the other side to do what they want; destroying them isn’t going to do that. More than a little, Ender’s Game was an answer to Starship Troopers, in which Card suggests that humanity, if it possesses the technology to commit genocide, will do so; and that this is wrong because all life is precious, even those of Bugs. And that, too, is something important to be said about war.

A lot to think about in a little 208 page novel! But I suppose that’s why it won the 1960 Hugo award and is considered one of the defining books of science fiction. I chewed through it quickly and would have done it even faster if I hadn’t been spending those four days mostly driving. I’m sure I’ll read it again, maybe with a completely different viewpoint. But in any case, it’s certainly food for thought, and is definitely a must-read for anyone with even a casual interest in science fiction.

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Book Review: The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian

The Mauritius Command (Aubrey/Maturin, #4)The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the Vernon Library Summer Reading Challenge.

I have been a Patrick O’Brain fan for some time, so I was perhaps primed to appreciate this book more than I otherwise might have been. But the exploits of Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, who seem a very unlikely pair of friends, are among my favourites. In Canada it seems a rare thing to encounter others who share my joy, and I am told that aside from me, only “old guys” read O’Brian’s nautical classics at the bookstore where I work. If that’s true, I’d like to contribute to a revival. These excellent nautical tales have received international acclaim for their historic accuracy, and they have directly contributed to the development of modern space opera. Many of the giants of that genre, such as David Weber, have acknowledged their debt to O’Brian, C.S. Forester and Joseph Conrad, the Grand Triumvirate of nautical adventure stories.

In The Mauritius Command, Jack Aubrey is appointed Commodore in command of the British Royal Navy’s fleet at Mauritius, which is an island very near to Cape Town that is occupied by the French. O’Brian based most of the events of the story on a real-life navy campaign during the Napoleonic Wars, including the outcome of battles, the ships involved, and many of the details. The small fleet is to blockade the French ships and protect England’s vital merchant marine. This mission is extremely challenging – Jack must proceed badly outnumbered, with outdated and smaller ships, and England’s closest supply port is almost a thousand miles’ sail away, while the French, of course, have the islands. This is Aubrey’s first fleet command and he struggles with his lack of experience in ways that directly complicate the plot. The task is made even more difficult and dangerous by the dangerous, notoriously stormy seas, and by the undermanned army garrison that is to support him in these aims, which is waiting for desperately-needed reinforcements. Jack’s command is fraught with great responsibility and little privilege, but his career might be made or broken on it, provided he survives. To up the stakes, Jack’s rather large immediate family, including wife and small twin girls, are entirely dependent upon his fortunes; and also thousands of miles away in England. The fleet’s brave and ingenious solutions form this novel’s riveting plotline.

One of the best parts about O’Brian’s series is that Aubrey and Maturin share equal billing as protagonists, and O’Brian successfully writes accordingly. In this novel Maturin plays an essential but mostly supporting role, having maneuvered to land his friend this command in the first place, and putting his considerable skills as a spy and a propagandist to work on Aubrey’s (and England’s) behalf.

I found this book to be one of the best of the series, filled with action, dramatic tension, sudden reversals, glorious triumphs and crushing defeats. If you enjoy military fiction, adventure, politics, historical fiction or even space opera, you really should put it on your list.

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Video: Okanagan Library Summer Reading Challenge Update August 20 #ORL

Update on my Vernon Library Summer Reading Challenge and my Worlds Without End reading challenges, including a short review of “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart and of “The Mauritius Command” by Patrick O’Brian. Also, what to expect in the next couple of weeks and the rest of my reading list for the challenge!

Source: Video: Okanagan Library Summer Reading Challenge Update August 20 #ORL

RPG Now: Player’s Guide to Skybourne

“I have become the destroyer of worlds.”

So begins a player’s adventures in Skybourne. A wizard’s arrogance left a world broken, ravaged by a sentient forest, and surrounded by the planar wound called the maelstrom. Yet in this aftermath lies a world of adventure, where airship pilots delve a world’s worth of ruins looking for ancient treasure, where Aasimar kings and barbarian lords battle for control of a dozen new cultures, and where anyone with a ship and a will can make their fortune, if they have luck on their side.

Built for both the traditional and Spheres of Power magic systems, Skybourne is a campaign setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game built around the adventures of an airship and its crew, and borrows as much in tone from Firefly, Star Wars, and other shows as it does from classic sword and sorcery adventures. In this, the Player’s Guide to Skybourne, you’ll find:

  • A host of new races, including the plant-born Alraun, the octopus-like Cacaelia, the dinosaur-blooded Cherufe, the magically-constructed Created, the draconic Cuazaj, the pheonix-like Fenghaung, the plant-like Leshy, the fey-blooded Sidhier, and the insectoid alien Tatulani.
  • Over a dozen new archetypes, including the Halfling dragonrider, the tranquil barbarian, the Alraune bodysnatcher, the gun chemist, and more!
  • New traditions, a ‘tradition trait’ system, and the Fallen Fey racial sphere for the Spheres of Power magic system.
  • Religions and magic rituals.
  • Rules for using crews- swarm-like groups of hired hands that aid the PCs in sailing ships and attacking their enemies!
  • Airship rules, including sailing, customization, and combat!
  • New feats, new skills, new equipment, new magic items, and more!

Watermarked PDF $9.99 by Drop Dead Studios.