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Friday 15 March 2024

Magazine Madness 30: Parallel Worlds Issue #06

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickstarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.


The sixth issue—and it is the sixth issue and not the correctly numbered fifth issue—of Parallel Worlds was published in February 2020. As with previous issues, it contains no gaming content as such, but rather discusses and aspects of not just the hobby, but different hobbies—board games, roleplaying games, computer games, films, and more. Previous issues placed an emphasis on everything else—books and films in particular—rather than gaming, and although that emphasis remains, with Parallel Worlds Issue #5, the magazine began to strive for a more balanced mix of content. It also became better organised, continuing the colour-coding of the various sections, so that the issue’s interviews are together and its tabletop content is together, but just arranging the order of articles in different sections so that they flow thematically from one into the other and so give a touch of continuity in places. The articles also got more interesting and informative, resulting on a far more readable issue which covered horror and Science Fiction, roleplaying communities, films and books and computer games. In the case of Parallel Worlds Issue #5, this countered the issue that the magazine does not support the tabletop gaming hobby very well. This continues with Parallel Worlds Issue #6, which has a Science Fiction theme.

Parallel Worlds Issue #6 opens with the first interview in the issue. This is by Marc Cross with the leaders of ‘South London Warlords’, the long-running wargames club. This is part of the ‘Know Your Community’ strand, highlighting communities dedicated to tabletop gaming. In the case of the South London Warlords, it highlights their activities in making the hobby of wargaming a welcoming one, and in particular, the staging of Salute, the one-day wargaming event. At the time of the review, both it and the club have been running for fifty years, and this interview was nicely timed before the then next event. The wargaming strand continues with Rob Sawyer’s ‘BattleTech – Faster, My Giant Stompy Robot’. Written and published to coincide with the release of the computer game, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, this gives a history and overview of the now forty-year-old intellectual property which developed from the single robot combat game into a franchise that has supported numerous board and miniatures games and supplements and sourcebooks for both, collectible miniatures games, collectible card game, over one hundred novels, numerous computer games, and a Saturday morning cartoon. The lengthiest piece in the magazine, it is not wholly comprehensive, since it really only explores the original situation in the Successor States, that detailed in the original boxed set and supplements that followed, rather than the later period with the coming of the Clans and subsequent events. Nevertheless, it provides a very good introduction to the setting and even includes one or two facts that that are new to this longtime BattleTech fan.

If ‘BattleTech – Faster, My Giant Stompy Robot’ is relevant today because 2024 is the fortieth anniversary of Battletech, Chris Cunliffe’s ‘Play Safe’ is equally as relevant today because it explores the still topical issues of how to handle consent at the table in roleplaying. He makes the point that as roleplaying games have evolved and focused more on story in the last few decades, it has been accompanied by more mature and more difficult content that not every player would want to see included in what is their play. As a response, there has been a rise in the number of safety tools available which a Game Master and her players can deploy to establish the subjects and areas that they do not want to experience or explore. The X-Card is perhaps the most well-known, but not the earliest and not the most nuanced. The earliest perhaps are the ‘Lines and Veils’ introduced by Ron Edwards in 2004 in Sex and Sorcery, a supplement for the Sorcerer roleplaying game, so they date back two decades now in 2024. However, there are issues with those too, and consequently Cunliffe explores other options as well. In the process, he provides the reader with a range of choices so that he can decide which one toolset works best for him and the rest of his group. This is a solid introduction to the subject and very useful.

Christopher Jarvis’ review of the board game Lifeform is decent, but given the fact that it is inspired by the film Alien, feels as it should have been reviewed in Parallel Worlds Issue #5. The ‘Mini of the Month’, this time written by Angus McNicholl about an Authorised Bounty Hunter miniature sculpted and manufactured by Corvus Belli for the Infinity Science Fiction skirmish game, continues be an uninteresting space filler. At worst, it could be reduced to a single page in future issues, at best, it could be cancelled as a regular feature and its space devoted to almost anything else that would undoubtedly be actually interesting.

The first of two Thinkpiece articles in Parallel Worlds Issue #6 looks at the lack of female representation in various media, primarily genre media. ‘Creative Equality’ by Jane Clewett and Ben Potts looks at their role in Science Fiction, fantasy, and horror, how they have broken ground, like Mary Shelley with Frankenstein or Shirly Jackson with The Haunting of Hill House, but progress in their representation has been limited, despite for example, female writers having won the Hugo award for best novel several times in the last few years. The same situation applies in video games too, with more video game protagonists being male than female still despite the greater number of players being female. It is a disappointing article to read and a pity that Parallel Worlds is not around today to return to the subject to assess the situation four years on.

The second Thinkpiece connects to the first piece on TV & Film. In the Thinkpiece, ‘Think Bigger: Megastructures’, Thomas Turnball-Ross explores the history of the megastructure in Science Fiction, which of course, began with Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Since then, megastructures have been a feature of the Halo series of computer games, films such as Pixar’s WALL-E, and more. Not just ringworlds, but also Dyson Spheres, arks, and the Stanford torus. Numerous different media are mentioned here, such as Ian M Banks’ Consider Phlebas and Elite Dangerous, but you wish that each was given a clear and proper illustration so that the reader has some idea of what they look like. Otherwise, this is a serviceable introduction to what it describes as a civilisation’s ultimate manifestation. Indeed, one of the tropes in Science Fiction for megastructures is for them to have been abandoned and the identity of the builders lost, but rediscovered as part of their exploration. That goes all the way back again, to Niven’s Ringworld. This is a companion piece to Allen Stroud’s ‘The Big Dumb Object’ from Parallel Worlds Issue #5, and there is some crossover between the two.

There is another purpose for the megastructure discussed in the following article by Jane Clewett. In ‘Why Watch… Babylon 5?’, she asks whether one of the biggest Science Fiction television series of the nineteen nineties worth watching after almost three decades since it was first broadcast. The series really was groundbreaking in terms of its characters, the sweep of its plot and character story arcs, the presentations of its alien species, and the use of computers to create its special effects. The latter look dated now, as does its attitude to LGBT issues, but then that was not its fault and it did at least hint at their inclusion. So that is not really a fair criticism. The megastructure in the series is Babylon 5 itself , a giant space station built to facilitate and foster peace between the galactic powers, and is a character in part itself. The article does a good job of selling the series and making clear that it is worth checking to see if the potential watcher will enjoy it.

The ‘TV & Film’ articles in the issue continue the discussion pieces of ‘Let’s Talk About... The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ from Parallel Worlds Issue #03, ‘Let’s Talk About... Ad Astra’ from Parallel Worlds Issue #04, and ‘Let’s Talk About... Joker’ ‘from Parallel Worlds Issue #05. Those articles were two-handers, but in Parallel Worlds Issue #06, it becomes a three-hander between Allen Stroud, Ben Potts, and Jane Clewett. Together, they discuss Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Numerous controversaries have been and gone since the release of the third and final part of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, so the divisive nature of this film—and the trilogy in general, has faded into memory. So it is interesting to return to the divided opinions prevalent at the time and see them discussed in a courteous and enjoyable manner. Each of the three contributors has a very different opinion.

For the books strand, Connor Eddles provides a solid overview and history of the Amazing Stories pulp Science Fiction magazine in ‘Pulp Pioneers’, Ant Jones reviews The Blackbird and the Ghots and Catching Light in ‘Self-Pub Review’, and Jane Clewett delves into ‘the luminaries – chose your social media adventure’. The first two of these are quick and breezy, whereas the third uses Susan Dennard’s The Luminaries, a six-month long adventure presented via a series of choices on Twitter to direct the story, as a springboard to examine the state of interactive fiction. This covers books like the Fighting Fantasy series and television programme such as Black Books’ ‘Bandersnatch’, before ultimately returning to the starting point, unsure of whether the publication of the original ‘choose your own adventure’ story will work in print as well as it did online.

Tom Grundy’s review of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Ruin follows, whilst in ‘The Mysterious Case of Dentra Rast’, Allen Stroud returns to the fiction he wrote at the time of his work on the Elite Dangerous Roleplaying Game involving the character Dentra Rast and see what happened next. What did happen took place in another game all together, EVE Online, and is quite surprising. An interesting article for fans of both computer games. Lastly, the issue is rounded out with a short story also by Allen Stroud, ‘Lost at the Wedding’, which is quite enjoyable.

Physically, Parallel Worlds Issue #6 is cleanly and tidily presented, and on the whole, it is a bright and breezy affair. Unlike in previous issues, there is less of the stretching of the content to fit the pages, so the magazine feels fuller and tighter. However, that does not apply to ‘Mini of the Month’.

Parallel Worlds Issue #6 has a lot of enjoyable and interesting content benefiting from its strong Science Fiction theme, in particular the article on BattleTech and safety in gaming stand out. The latter in particular, feels timely and actually connected and relevant to the gaming hobby, something that gaming articles in previous issues did not usually achieve. Overall, Parallel Worlds Issue #6 continues the improvement begun in Parallel Worlds Issue #5 and it is beginning to become a magazine that you want to read.

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