Book Review: Sally Slick and the Miniature Menace

Sally Slick and the Miniature Menace returns us to the world of Young Centurions and to the adventures of Sally Slick and Jet Black, first seen in Sally Slick and the Steel Syndicate. This time around we get right into the action as Sally fumes over being shut out of the local tractor races. With the circus in town, Sally decides to race “unofficially”; of course, Sally leaves everyone else in the dust. After showing up the local bullies and drawing the attention of the circus owner, Sally’s prized tractor goes missing!

Author Carrie Harris turns out prose with precision and clarity, aimed at a teen audience with an adult reading level. Her action scenes left me breathless and her description of Sally’s and Jet’s perspective on their adventures plunged me back through time to the days when 100 yards worth of woods around the neighborhood drainage ditch sheltered ninjas and monsters aplenty. Add in a dash of the exotic by having the two of them literally running away to join the circus and this story becomes exactly the kind of adventure I always wanted as a kid. From my current perspective, many years and much hair removed, it’s an adventure well suited to the abilities and station of the characters. It’s only an evening’s read for an adult but I consider it time well spent.

“Miniature Menace” deftly sidesteps most of the issues I complained about in “Steel Syndicate”. The opposition is well suited to the characters; even the mysterious bad guys deal with the teens at their own level, and can be effectively fought in that way. My sole complaint of any substance is that Sally and Jet seem to have been shoehorned into this book when it really should have been a Mack Silver adventure. Their motivations for getting involved with the circus are painfully contrived but quickly superseded by Mack’s part in the story.

Much is made of Sally’s conflict with the local bullies, who don’t want a girl competing in their tractor racing. The Young Centurions series attempts to recreate the atmosphere of the 1910s, but both historical records and the literature of the time depict women and teenage girls as starkly independent and broadly capable, especially in the American Midwest. The emphasis placed on her unsuitability as a mechanic and racer because she’s a girl is oddly misplaced for the time period. The idea that the bullies are objecting to her participation because she’s a girl feels awkwardly forced.

Sally’s mechanical tendencies also create tension between Sally and her father in the early part of the novel, contributing to Sally’s decision to defy her parents and undertake the search for her tractor. Again, I found the basis for the conflict to be awkward and forced, as Midwest farm girls of the era were expected to contribute to the family and run every part of the house. On the other hand, I completely empathize with Mr. Slick’s inability to understand the thoughts and actions of his teenage daughter! It’s a tribute to Harris’ ability to involve me in the story that I felt truly concerned about whether or not Sally would be able to heal her relationship with her father. The denouement scene between father and daughter alone is reason enough to put this book on any parent’s or preteen’s reading list.

While it’s also an engaging adventure novel, Sally Slick and the Miniature Menace serves as a superior introduction to the world of Young Centurions. We get introduced to several of the main characters, a circus that provides a natural springboard for adventure, the idea of the Century Club, and a wealth of suitable opposition. The structure of the story breaks down seamlessly into scenes and encounters that form a bang-on model for a game outline. This is so good that I found myself wishing the text of the novel had been incorporated into the Young Centurions RPG book instead of being published separately. The RPG desperately needed something to tie it together, and dropping chapters of the novel in between portions of the RPG text would have a been a perfect fit. As a companion piece it goes from merely a satisfying read to an essential addition to the game book.

I really liked this book. It’s a great introduction to Young Centurions, involving far more of the cast than just Sally and Jet. I really don’t feel the title does the story justice, as this is predominantly Mack Silver’s adventure. The threat of the miniature menace seems tacked on as well, but by the time it became a factor I gleefully hand-waved my concerns away in order to keep turning pages. If you are a fan of any of the Spirit of the Century products, pulp fiction in particular, or YA novels in general then I expect you will enjoy this book every bit as much as I did.

Evil Hat’s Magic 8-Ball selected me as a reviewer for Sally Slick and the Miniature Menace and provided me with a digital copy of the book. I’m very much afraid that only motivated me to go ahead and pick up the print copy from my FLGS and spend a few bucks on DriveThruRPG to add it to my mobile shelf. When Sally and Jet pick up their next adventure, hopefully exploring yet another corner of the Young Centurions world, I’ll be waiting in the wings.

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Winston Crutchfield reads far more than is healthy, but is attempting to compensate by foisting his favorite books onto his rebellious teenagers. He’s always open to discussion about books and looking for reading suggestions. He can be found on the Christian Geek Central forums as “MindSpike” or on Goodreads under his own name.

RPG Review: Young Centurions

Visit a world of pulp action-adventure in the 1910s with the Young Centurions RPG from Evil Hat Productions. If you’re new to Fate or to the Spirit of the Century setting, this book belongs on your shelf. If you’re already familiar with either of those, take a minute to see if this book is going to add value to your collection before you jump on it.
In Young Centurions, you take on the role of a unique individual, born in the first minute of the first hour of the first day of the new century. You embody a Spirit of the age, an aspect of the new century that shapes your character with the positive energy of things to come. Shadows oppose you, those people born on the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the previous century, empowered by the energetic detritus of what has gone before. It’s not always easy to separate Spirit from Shadow in the confusion of the new century, even when it seems you’re all working toward the same goals. And oh yes, you’re all teenagers.
Young Centurions is the prelude to Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century and Strange Tales of the Century, books that focus on adult characters of the 30s and 40s. Those books use the original Fate or Fate Core rules while Young Centurions uses the Fate Accelerated rules. Characters in Young Centurions tend to be less powerful, less capable, and more vulnerable than adult Centurions, both because the rules of the game provide fewer powers and because, well, you’re all teenagers.
That emphasis on the characters as teenagers dealing with unique teenage problems is one of the strongest aspects of the game. (Fate pun…) We’re not talking teen angst here; the responsibilities of teenagers involve personal and family matters far more often than issues of society.
Adult heroes make decisions that impact the world at large in ways that shape the events of society as a whole. Teen heroes make decisions that change their family dynamic and potentially jeopardize and hurt the people that matter most in their life.
The book does a lot of things right. It provides a set of character archetypes to use as a foundation, with aspect questions and stunt packages that quickly get players into the meat of the game. It explains the use of approaches with clarity and through the use of examples. It teases the flavor of the world with story snippets and plot hooks as a springboard for your game.
The GM chapter contains solid advice on gaming with teens as both players and characters, as well as tips on how to use the unique elements of the Young Centurions setting. The setting chapter gives us an intriguing glimpse of the world and just what role we’re going to play. Most important, the book makes me want to be a part of this universe.
Still, there are things that I wish Evil Hat would have done differently. I see no need to reprint the Fate Accelerated rules, not when they make the FAE book so readily and inexpensively available. Young Centurions does nothing to significantly change the rules; simply adding the setting-specific material would have been sufficient.
For all the intrigue generated by the setting teasers, the book leaves us completely cold when it comes to running the foundational elements of the background. The setting has no central conflict around which to build a campaign, though opposing agendas are implied between the Century Club and the Shadows.
The book leaves the GM with a great deal of work to do in order to construct a group template, including deciding the specifics of the supporting structure and writing up stats for the opposition. I wanted more details on the Century Club, Doctor Methuselah, and the Steel Don. I want to draw inspiration from that material for my stories; I don’t want to have to create everything from scratch.
I find only one critical fault with the book. Young Centurions games follow a story structure rather than a tactical structure, but the book provides no instruction on how to set up a game. This means you can’t simply stock a building with mooks and repeatedly kick down doors. You need to construct your game for narrative flow and problem solving. The Fate Core book includes a whole chapter on how to construct conflict scenes and tie them together. That instruction is absolutely essential to Young Centurions and its absence creates problems for GMs without a strong narrative background.
So I’m conflicted. I want to like this book. The premise appeals to me a great deal. It’s a fairly solid introduction to the world of Spirit of the Century. It’s self-contained, since it reprints Fate Acceleratedand does a pretty good job with the rules. It captures the flavor of teen adventure and preserves a spirit of optimism.
This is a setting for stories that I really want to read, but it’s also a game that I really don’t want to try to run. Story structure games put up a truckload of work for the GM and require a whole table of players that know how to effectively resolve conflict within a story structure. Spirit of the Century at least gives you the option to focus on the action scenes and talk through the rest without detracting from the game play.
At the end of the book, I find myself wanting more. I really think there should have been more background material and a chapter on game construction. At only 160 pages, there’s ample room to push the page count up to 198 and create a truly complete product. The price point is good, only $20 for a full-color hardcover – half that for the PDF.
It’s a great introduction to Fate and the to Spirit of the Century setting. By the same token, if you’ve already got Spirit of the Century or Strange Tales of the Century this book adds very little to either rules or setting. Even if you’ve already got the Fate rules in one form or another, this book adds some nice new mechanics and just barely enough flavor to make Young Centurions worth the purchase.
My copy came from the original Fate Core Kickstarter, though when Evil Hat’s Magic 8-Ball selected me as a Young Centurions reviewer they also provided a digital copy. They have also requested reviews of the two Young Centurions novels: Sally Slick and the Steel Syndicate, and Sally Slick and the Miniature Menace. I read Steel Syndicate back when it was first released and loved it; I’m looking forward to reading it again on my way to the Miniature Menace ARC. See you then!

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Winston Crutchfield reads far more than is healthy, but is attempting to compensate by foisting his favorite books onto his rebellious teenagers. He’s always open to discussion about books and looking for reading suggestions. He can be found on the Christian Geek Central forums as “MindSpike” or on Goodreads under his own name.

The Justice Formula

AUGMENT: HUMAN SERVICESI’m joined in the reaction chamber by author Phil Elmore, action novelist and editor for The League Entertainment Group. Phil is a long time action novelist, and we spend some time discussing his work on The Executioner, the longest running men’s action novel series to date. Phil has a good grasp of the formula that makes a successful action hero, and he shares his insights with us. In addition to his work for Gold Eagle, Phil discusses his cyberpunk work. Currently available is Augment part one: Human Services, and the serial novel working title “4104”. The former can be found on Amazon while the latter is being released only through Phil’s website. Of course, no visit would be complete without a mention of Duke Manfist, the World’s Manliest Action Hero. (It says so on his card…..) Last but not least, my Kickstarter project for Fate Core is currently funding, so get over there and check it out!

1-4 Courage and Sacrifice

rock the dragonIn this episode of Rock the Dragon, we touch on themes of courage and sacrifice as each of the Z fighters lays down his life in an effort to prevent the Saiyans from destroying the Earth. There’s some heavy stuff going on and in the finest tradition of Shakespeare, everybody dies.

Rocco’s Retreads

hell-and-goneHenry “Hank” Brown came to my attention because we both participate in the action-adventure forums over at mackbolan.com. I bought his book simply because he came on the forums, mentioned the novel and asked people to buy it. Marketing at its most basic. When I eventually got around to reading it, I shot him an email half-way through the book and he was kind enough to do a podcast interview with me. Hank is a former soldier who’s put that experience to good use in his stories.

“Hell and Gone” tells the story of Rocco Cavarra and a group of retired special operators assembled by the CIA for a dirty op. Islamic terrorists have possession of an atomic weapon, and it’s up to Rocco’s Retreads to get it back at all costs and without implicating the U.S. Mission creep sets in fairly early, and before they can even fire a shot, these old soldiers are in it up to their necks. As a military thriller catering to the same crowd that reads Tom Clancy and Mack Bolan, “Hell and Gone” delivers hard core action grounded in the kind of realism that comes from experience.

{4reels} Continue reading Rocco’s Retreads

Only War

Click here to get it from Amazon!

“In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.”

Warhammer 40K brought the mythology of the wildly successful Warhammer Fantasy world into space, extending the mythos to embrace sci-fi tropes and aliens. The property started as a tabletop miniatures game, and has gone through many iterations through the years. When Fantasy Flight successfully licensed Warhammer 40K for a role playing game line in 2008, they sold out of their first print run in a matter of months. Along the way, the property has forayed into computer games, music, and fiction. Several attempts to animate a film have finally resulted in the video release of “Ultramarines”, the first official feature-length video project from Games Workshop.

The story follows Brother Proteus, newly armored soldier in the Ultramarines, one of the elite Space Marine warriors in service to the Emporer of Mankind. Answering a distress beacon from a brother Space Marine detachment, a squad of Ultramarines finds themselves in battle with the legions of Chaos. They march for Macragge, and they shall know no fear. Cue bolters and chainswords.

{3reels} Continue reading Only War