Update on my writing.

They Say the Sirens Left the Seas

Obviously They Say the Sirens Left the Seas is now out, and I’ve been trying to get book bloggers to promote it.


Last year I finished a long poem called ‘Telelee’, about visitors from Earth to the fantasy city (or a version of it anyway). I hoped that Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, which has published a couple of my shorter poems, might be interested in publishing it. However HFQ has had it since November last year and, as they haven’t responded to my follow-up email, I think they might have ceased to exist.

Since most poetry magazines pay ‘by the poem’ rather than by the word, there are very few potential markets for it.

So I’m planning to contact another potential market next month. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go straight to self-publishing.

I’m planning to publish the poem along with the short stories I’ve written set in Telelee, most of which were in The New Death and others.

I’m also considering including ‘The Encyclopedia of Telelee’: that is, the things I’ve posted on my blog about the city, edited, cross-referenced and put into alphabetical order. I’m interested to know whether people would find this interesting, or see this as self-indulgent ‘let me tell you about my setting’. Please let me know in the comments.

Confession of a Bounty Hunter and My Name Is John Carter.

I have another finished and unpublished long poem, this time set in the old West. This has even fewer potential magazines than ‘Telelee’, because it isn’t fantasy.

I’m planning to put this one out, along with a couple of other poems set in the old West that are in They Say the Sirens…, and one other, as soon as I write the one other.

I have an abandoned, unfinished verse version of A Princess of Mars, which emphasizes John Carter’s life before Mars. I’m considering rewriting what I’ve done to make it the fourth poem for this publication. However this is ‘in the queue’. I’m currently working on…

Once Upon a Time In Araby

A non-fantasy long poem set in a not-very-historical version of ancient Arabia. Given that, as I’ve already discussed, long poems are very hard to get into magazines, this one will probably end up going straight to self-publishing as well (I seem to have a tendency to be good at things the less commercial they are).

The Case of the Syphilitic Sister and The Adventure of the Resurrected Nobleman

These are unfinished works of prose.

The first is a combination of detective novel and superhero story (via Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Top 10). I’ve written about 10,000 words of this.

The second is a short story in which Sherlock Holmes meets Dracula. However the tone is more serious than that makes it sound. It’s mainly inspired by Neil Gaiman’s A Study In Emerald, which combines Sherlock Holmes with the Cthulhu Mythos.

I’m planning to look at these again in November, when it’s NaNoWriMo.

Unnamed game

A while ago I made Under the Moons of Mars, which was…OK. As I was making it, I found myself less and less happy with using d6 Shooters as a base, and more and more interested in ‘choose your own adventure’-like paragraphs.

I’d like to make a game which would be similar to Barbarian Prince, although with a more original setting, clearer rules, and more variety of characters and encounters. This would use the things I liked from Under the Moons of Mars, along with various other ideas that I’ve either come up with or found in my reading.

I was hoping to pitch this game to Heroic Fantasy Quarterly but, as I said, I think it’s ceased publication (or at least taken a long break). I could pitch it to other fantasy magazines, but I think HFQ was more likely to take it.

It could be put out on computer, and/or in print. The latter would, of course, require some crowd-funding.

Anyway this is probably something I’ll look at after all the other things mentioned above have been dealt with.

Anyway, as always, please let me know your thoughts.

Rogue Planet: Fortress at the Top of the World (review)

I asked Ian Harac of Lizard’s Gaming and Geekery site if he’d send me a free ebook in return for a review. He did, so here it is.

Ian Harac has written several RPG products, the most relevant being Tales of the Solar Patrol for GURPS, and Iron Lords of Jupiter for d20 Modern.

Rogue Planet: Fortress at the Top of the World (link to Amazon) was written as the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign.

His stated aim was to write a ‘sword and planet’ story – not a parody or deconstruction of the genre, but an unironic example of it.

‘Sword and planet’ is a sub-genre of science fiction dominated by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter or Barsoom books, which were an influence on Star Wars (the words ‘jedi’, ‘bantha’, ‘sith’ and ‘padawan’ all seem to be derived from words in the John Carter books).

The genre generally has a male from Earth as the hero, but takes place on an alien world (usually a single world- there’s very little space travel). The world tends to have lots of species, and a mixture of advanced and archaic technology and society. Thus on Barsoom you have princesses and sword-wielding heroes with a chivalrous code of honour, along with an atmosphere plant that generates oxygen to keep the planet liveable. The stories tend to be simple adventures, with very good goodies and very bad baddies.

If Star Wars took place on a single planet, Luke Skywalker was from Kansas, and the Force was a fraud which he unmasked, then that would be pretty much sword and planet.

Ian Harac succeeds in his stated aim. The book is a fast-moving and readable example of the sub-genre, which ‘ticks the boxes’- as Harac puts it, it has “Swords! Rayguns! Airships! Strange vistas, odd civilizations, lost secrets, brightly colored princesses!”

I think it has some problems. For example, at the start of the book it seems like the hero is deeply troubled- and, indeed, goes along with the mission as a form of suicide. However at other times he seems like a wise-cracking adventurer of the Han Solo or Indiana Jones type.

There are also some places where the writing could be more clear. For example, he says that there could only be one reason why his family hasn’t told him something- but I wasn’t sure whether this meant that the military had kept the news from him, or his relatives hated him. Similarly, he describes the same body as both an artificial sun and an artificial moon, and I wasn’t clear whether it’s entirely bright like the sun, or has spots of brightness like a city at night (which one passage seemed to say).

Finally, one character seems very out of place- they’re very close to being the ‘grumpy dwarf’ character seen in the Lord of the Rings films and many D&D games.

These flaws might derive from time constraints, and pressure to deliver a product, that Harac talks about here. Perhaps it would be a good idea to take some time and do a new edition?

In any case, this is an enjoyable example of a type of story that, these days, is more often seen in films or TV than books.

Fantasy Chess


I recently bought the pdf of Fantasy Chess, a game which adds simple RPG-like elements, such as hit points, rolling to hit and healing, to chess.

This is an idea that’s appealed to me for a long time, possibly fueled by the book The Chessmen of Mars and the old computer game Battle Chess (although Battle Chess is actually just normal chess with cool animations).

Anyway Fantasy Chess does a good job in my opinion, although I changed some of the rules to make it easier (specifically the rules about carrying other pieces). The actual pdf looks quite amateurish, but the game is better than that suggests.

If you’re interested in playing this game, you need a bigger board for your pieces than for normal chess. This is because up to 6 pieces can be on the board at the same time. I was lucky in finding a single eBay auction which had a chess set and a larger-scale checkers set for sale.

I still live!

Apparently you guys are interested in my Mars game (or those of you that aren’t, aren’t commenting). So I’m going to keep posting about it here.

I got an interesting long comment that asked, among other things,

Air? Is Mars supposed to be terraformed to some degree, or are our characters in spacesuits constantly?

The setting is based on 19th century ideas about what Mars might be like: a world that is far older than Earth, but basically Earth-like. Mars was once covered in oceans, but is now a dying, desert world, and so its people have built a planet-wide network of canals in order to bring water from the polar ice caps.

The most famous example of fiction set in such a world is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, featuring the Earthman John Carter who is transported to Mars. The Red Martians possess advanced technology, but appear to have degenerated into a violent, chivalrous, fuedal society.

My version of Mars is related to Barsoom, roughly as the Dungeons & Dragons world is related to Middle Earth. That is, ‘my Mars’ is based on Barsoom, but I’ve freely changed the details and added other elements that I thought were cool or interesting (thanks to Adventures on Mars for this explanation).

Mars game: The Red Martians.

The Red Martians may be the Anasazi, the “ancient enemies” or “ancient foreigners” of the Navajo. Their cities bear some resemblance to Anasazi ruins.

They may also have come from the civilisation represented on Earth by the so-called ‘Lost City of Z’ in what is now Matto Grosso of Brazil. The Red Martians’ mythology says that their oldest ancestors lived in a forest (or rather “a place of tall plants”, forests and indeed trees being unknown on Mars). Whether this refers to the Amazon, or to a now-disappeared forest of Mars, is disputed.

Some religious scholars assert that they are the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Whatever the truth, how they came to Mars is unknown.

Notes for Mars game.

Obviously any of this might change based on play-testing. However, here are my ideas for the game so far.

The setting will be Mars; not the Mars of reality, but that of science fiction, especially the five books of the John Carter / Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs that are in the public domain.

The first scenario will be as follows: the player’s character was on their way to get married in another city, when their flyer crashed into the desert. It turns out to have been sabotaged. The aim is to cross the desert, and work out who’s responsible for trying to kill them.

The game will be similar to d6 Shooters, but it’s intended to be a new game with similar mechanics, rather than a variant of d6 Shooters. The first draft will probably be closer to d6 Shooters, with new drafts adding or changing rules.

Similarities to d6 Shooters

  • The basic mechanic will be rolling a large number of dice, with a number of optional re-rolls, and working out what happens based on how many of each number you end up with.
  • The variables will be similar: number of followers (although I’m thinking of adding a ‘Willpower’ stat as well), food, trade goods (although not themed as gold), information.
  • The theme will be completing a dangerous journey in a limited time.


  • There won’t be a board. You’ll keep track of how far away you are as a number, and roll for encounters as you go.
  • Events and cities will be rolled into one: that is, finding a settlement will be a common type of event.
  • Combat will be considerably changed, with more options and with combat tending to be more deadly. The rules for this will be inspired by this.
  • More possible events, and more choices in those events. This is the biggest single area that I want to work on. Most events in d6 Shooters don’t involve any player choice. I want all events in my game to involve at least one meaningful choice. Events will be handled using a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-like system of paragraphs.

Wandering heroes of Mars, Haiti or the Brandlewood.

Now that I’ve finished my second d6 Shooters game, I’m ready to start designing my own version.

Hopefully this will turn into its own game, but I’m going to start from the base of d6 Shooters’ rules.

However, I’d like to try a theme other than Westerns.

I’ve been thinking about doing a game set on a ‘sword and planet’ Mars – mostly like the Barsoom series, but adding in elements from Dune, The Martian Chronicles and so on.

I was also considering a fantasy version of Haiti – based on Wade Davis’ studies of zombie folklore.

Finally, a fairly ‘vanilla’ fantasy setting has the advantages of familiarity and popularity, as well as the capacity to add just about anything (‘brandle’, by the way, is a made-up word from a role-playing blog, but I can’t find the source now – can anyone help so I can give credit?)

Your comments and suggestions?

How to speak Barsoomian

I found a series of blog posts about the language of Barsoom here. It’s obviously quite speculative, because Edgar Rice Burroughs never tried to invent a consistent language. There is, apparently, only one complete sentence of Barsoomian in the series, and it’s one word long (‘Sak!’, meaning ‘Jump!’). But it’s interesting anyway.

For the John Carter movie, Disney hired linguist Paul Frommer to invent a more detailed Barsoomian language. He did the same for the Na’vi in Avatar. However the details of this version of Barsoomian aren’t available anywhere: it’s just something they used for the film. There’s an interview with him about it here.

Finally, there are some more speculations here, based on the premise that the language in Lin Carter’s Martian novels is the same as Barsoomian.