Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Michael E. Moore kicks off issue #9 with a lengthy interview with Hal Barwood, the producer of the 1981 fantasy film Dragonslayer. It's a fairly interesting article, though not exactly revelatory to anyone who saw the movie or has read about it. I didn't see Dragonslayer when it was first released, but I did see it a year later as the second part of a double feature with E.T. I've always had a certain fondness for it, perhaps because nearly everything about it is charmingly earnest without degenerating into camp, like so many other fantasy movies from that era.
As part of the magazine's renewed focus on gaming, there's article consisting of playtester and designer notes for the science fiction wargame, The Sword and the Stars. At the same time, we also get another "science fact" article by John Boardman, called "Lasers in Space." Strangely, this one does not wholly poo-poo the idea that lasers could make viable weapons in certain contexts. This makes me wonder if perhaps Boardman was employed by the US Department of Defense to work on the Strategic Defense Initiative. Boardman's "Science for Science Fiction" returns, along with Susan Schwartz's "Facts for Fantasy." These articles remain as dry as ever. There is fiction in this issue, a short story by David J. Schow called "The Embracing" that I found utterly forgettable.
Christopher John provides movie reviews for several noteworthy films of the era, starting with Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, like all good people, he loves. He is more critical, though still positive about Superman II, while he raves about Excalibur, a movie about which I've always been a lot more ambivalent. There are also reviews of Knightriders and Clash of the Titans, both of which are generally positive. David J. Schow reappears in an odd article entitled "Back in the Stocks," in which he laments the loss of bookstores with extensive back stock, making it harder and harder to find the classics of the past, "the past" in many cases being only a few years prior. Greg Costikyan reviews several books, most notably the first two volumes of Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, while Eric Goldberg reviews games, including High Fantasy and Adventures in High Fantasy. Goldberg, once again, seems far less snarky in his reviews than in previous issues, which is to be commended in my opinion.
We get brief -- a couple of paragraphs -- designer's notes for various SPI games, along with another installment of "DragonNotes," but the real attraction of issue #9 gaming-wise is DeltaVee. DeltaVee is not just a starship combat game for use with the Universe SF RPG, it's also the biggest game yet to appear in Ares -- so big that it was printed as a separate booklet rather than being inside the issue itself. Designed by John H. Butterfield and Redmond Simonsen, it's 16 pages long and very dense, far more dense than any of the starship combat systems with which I've regularly played. I have no doubt that its use of real world physics (hence its name) make for interesting gameplay, but nothing about it grabbed me enough to give it a whirl either now or back in the day, when I had a copy of the Universe boxed set that included it. Of course, I'd love to hear from gamers who did use DeltaVee, because I've always had the nagging sense that I gave up on it too easily.
Ares continues to change with every issue I read, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's great because it means that I never know what to expect, but that's also why it's a curse. You can clearly see Simonsen and SPI shifting ground, looking for the proper mix of material to include that will satisfy their subscribers and the wider gaming public. It's fascinating to watch, especially through the distance of time, knowing as I do that Ares, like SPI itself, was destined not to survive much longer.