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, 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
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
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
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.

Monday, 31 March 2014

My kind of Fantasy Adventure

I enjoy the stories of high adventure, huge magic and exotic locations. They're fun, fast and exciting, and I get plenty of entertainment from a plethora of creatures threatening the heroes in alien landscapes as wizards blast a multitude of fireworks from their fingertips while chanting and gesticulating, and warriors wear impossible suits of armour and wield their two-handed swords one-handed.

But this isn't the kind of fantasy world I would like to live in.

In the 1980s I had two fantasy loves; the television show 'Robin of Sherwood' and the books and radio play of JRR Tolkien.

Robin of Sherwood was a low-fantasy take on the classic legend, with Herne the Hunter, and ancient pagan God of the forests, proclaiming that Robin was his son and that he was here to protect the innocent. There was very low-key magic, mysticism and adventure, a heady mix of pseudo history and fantasy, like the 'one God had come to drive out the many' (as Merlin in the movie 'Excalibur' quite correctly put it). It was quite excellent and the adventures that Robin and his companions had were complemented by the excellent characters in the ensemble and the great writing of Richard Carpenter. This was my kind of fantasy, and my kind of gaming setup; a small band of connected friends fighting against the odds.

Then there was my favourite thing in the world; Middle-earth. The stories of Tolkien, in particular The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings and the tale of the Children of Hurin, was exactly the kind of stuff I liked best about the fantasy genre. The history of Middle-earth is an explosion of high fantasy, with Gods at war in heaven and tragic high adventure on the surface of the world, but I was more interested in the events of the second and third ages, where the action was centered around a smaller selections of heroes and the grand exploits of history were stories and myths. This gave the setting depth and a realism I have never come across in any other fantasy work. I wanted my own creations to adventure in the low-magic world of the Third and Fourth ages as this felt like a place I could explore and learn about, and old ruins existed for much more involved reasons than simply a place for characters to have a bit of an adventure in.

As with Robin of Sherwood, Middle-earth had a reality to it that was tangible and this was primarily thanks to the movies of Peter Jackson, which gave it a look and atmosphere so real that everything had a place. Robin of Sherwood had the reality of history to frame it.

This is my kind of fantasy. Low-magic, character-driven adventure in which the story and the decisions the characters make drives the fun and frolics. High fantasy magical fireworks and improbable armour is window dressing. When you can tell a superb story with a sword, a run-down castle and a few curious friends then you've got real substance.

Using the Cthulhu: Dark Ages system to game in Middle-earth

Just to be clear, I never introduced the Cthulhu mythos to Middle-earth. What I did was something I had planned to do for a long time and that was to use the Cthulhu: Dark Ages BRP system to run a campaign in Tolkien's world.

Why not just use BRP or Runequest? Well, those system as they are don't really appeal to me due to the options and some rules that I thought complicated the game, because after a couple of years playing 'simpler' systems such as Basic D&D, Dragon Warriors and Star Wars D6, I didn't want to get bogged down. We did flirt with D&D and even Pathfinder, but it was agreed that BRP was the best fit for what we wanted to do.

To get away from the more complicated options of BRP and to save me the work of trimming down Runequest to suit my needs, Cthulhu: Dark Ages rose to the challenge. As a trimmed-down version of Runequest/Cthulhu it's pretty much what I want in a fantasy RPG. Runequest Monsters and some of the mythos creatures fit well, and thanks to some Middle-earth downloads from the BRP message board I was able to fill in a lot of blanks. In fact, that download page and the Cthulhu: Dark Ages core rulebook was all I required to run the game.

The first session went well. It's being played as a sandbox setting so that the players, both of whom know the setting well, can explore to their heart's content. It's set two years after the War of the Ring so the world is still a little shaky and the armies of Sauron are fled or hiding.

There are plenty of places that are now abandoned, such as elven settlements and old forts and towers, so there's some great potential for adventures.

For the game I also used: The character counters from the Pathfinder Beginner's Box for minis, Mongoose's 'Legend' core rulebook for some of the options,The Illustrated Guide to Tolkien's Middle-earth for quick reference, the appendices of The Lord of the Rings for post-war information and state of play, the three 'Art Of' books from the Peter Jackson movies for visuals, and lots of art from the 1980s MERP game for the same. Big J, one of my players, was kind enough to print out plenty of sheets and old MERP module covers and set up a large reference board to help with the atmosphere.

The adventure began at the small settlement of Hedgehome by the westernmost entrance to the road through Mirkwood. Who was the Traitor General, and why has the village of Fortuin been abandoned?

It worked really well, quick and easy and it had a great atmosphere. I'm thinking of changing the Sanity system to a form of corruption, in which the characters may be influenced by the darkness seeping from Mordor... Right now I have no need for magic, but I'll probably use a cut-down version of the Runequest magic system. No magic missiles or fireballs, just some defensive, light and nature spells so that it fits in with Tolkien's world.

It's a lot of fun.

D&D artist David A Trampier passes away

One of the defining artists for me in my early gaming years, David A Trampier, has sadly died aged 59.

David A Trampier art