My Favorite Things with Rhonda Mason

They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome back to My Favorite Things, the weekly column where we grab someone in speculative circles to gab about the greatest in geek. This week, we sit down with science fiction author Rhonda Mason. You may recognize her name from a previous My Favorite Things column, where one of our contributor squeed over Mason’s debut, The Empress Game. Since that debut, Rhonda Mason has released the sequel, Cloak of War, and the third book in the trilogy, Exile’s Throne, is due in 2018.

What does Rhonda Mason love when she’s not writing about space operas featuring gladiatorial empresses? Spoiler alert: tabletop gaming in person and on YouTube, the painting of miniatures, science fiction rock operas that describe the rise and fall or alien races, and a favorite cover artist. Come on, you know you can’t resist. Read on for more!

Not only do I love to read and write Speculative Fiction, I also love all things nerdy. I am unabashedly nerdy. Until recently, I had a standing Friday night date with my gaming buddies. We played Pathfinder long-distance via Skype, that’s how nerdy we are. It’s no surprise, then, that the first of my favorite things is a YouTube channel about tabletop gaming. The channel — Guerrilla Miniature Games — is amazing! Watching it lets me explore all sorts of games and minis without having to buy them. (For which my hubby is very thankful!)

I got hooked on this channel when I learned that its creator, Ash Barker, was playing Warhammer Quest: Steel Tower with Danny Casey, my favorite painter of miniatures.

Danny is amazing. I have no idea how he gets such detail on each mini. I actually have a few minis painted by Danny — I’m a total fangirl. Danny painted the full set of Steel Tower minis that he and Ash use to go through the Warhammer Quest: Steel Tower game. Check out the first episode here:



Danny is the one on the left, isn’t he dreamy? I might have a bit of a crush on him. (Don’t tell my hubby!)

Once I started watching the Guerrilla Miniature Games YouTube channel, I was hooked. Ash posts a new video every day, and it’s not just footage of him playing different tabletop games. My fave segments are On the Painting Table and Widgets and Wonders. In On the Painting Table, he shows off the different scenery sets and miniatures he’s painting this week. I’ve never played a game with actual scenery, so that blows my mind. In Widgets and Wonders, Ash showcases products by small companies and hobbyists that go along with the games, such as token sets, game maps, and carrying cases. I love that he’s supporting these smaller companies, and that he does the hard work of tracking down these products so that I don’t have to.

Side note: The best tabletop game of all time is, of course, Wizards. This was the first tabletop game I ever played, and it has a special place in my heart. Shout out to the Bucknam Ely family for introducing me to it.

The second thing on my favorites list is a bit of a throwback item: Ayreon‘s two disc album titled (awkwardly) 01011001.

Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Ayreon. It’s not a band in the traditional sense. Ayreon is the brainchild of musical artist Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Ayreon is Arjen’s “fluid musical project.” Arjen comes up with a story idea for an Ayreon album, then invites some of his favorite musicians to take part in certain tracks on that particular album. The players and singers are then changed out for the next Ayreon album.

I love 01011001 because it is a science fiction rock opera! How cool is that? The fact that the album is composed using a wide body of musicians means the album has a crazy mix of sound styles. I certainly love some songs more than others, but the whole thing works well together to tell the story of an advanced race of aliens who have discovered the secret to longevity. Sadly, the method of extending their lifespan has left them entirely dependent on machines, and they are losing their emotions.

When they discover a passing comet headed to Earth, they decide to include their DNA on it, to seed the planet and give them a rebirth. What follows is the musical tale of the rise of humans and their emotional decline as humans become increasingly hooked on electronics. The aliens looking on have to decide if they want to intercede and change the course of mankind’s evolution, or let the humans fall to the same “plague” that ruined the aliens’ own civilization.

Sounds hokey when described like that, but it totally works.

The album is enjoyable for its sheer musical genius alone. If you chose to, however, you could listen closely to the lyrics and read them like a scifi audiobook. I highly recommend it to musicphiles and spec fic readers alike.

You can check out 01011001 and other Ayreon albums here.

The third of my favorite things is a “who” — speculative fiction illustrator Michael Whelan. I’m not someone who typically knows book cover artists’ names. That said, Whelan’s cover art paintings are SO striking that they catch my eye every time. Back in the day, before online book reviews, I would pick my next big fantasy series to read by walking down the bookstore aisles and picking out a book with an appealing cover. I became aware over time that I kept pulling out books with covers done by the same artist. I started looking at the names of the cover artists and realized that Michael Whelan was hands down my favorite artist.

The aspect of his work that most appeals to me is his color palette. He uses bright, bold colors to great effect. Just look at these striking covers:

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His use of color is what drew me in initially, but the exquisite detail of his illustrations is what hooked me for life.

And for those of you thinking, “Well, you can’t judge a book by its cover,” I say, “When Michael Whelan is the one doing the cover, yes, you can.” In fact, you probably recognize some of his covers, such as Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern covers; Stephen King’s The Dark Tower covers; Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive covers; Tad Williams’ covers for both the Otherland series and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and so on.

To Green Angel Tower, Tad Williams

Thanks for letting me share!

Rhonda Mason is the author of The Empress Game Trilogy — a space opera series published by Titan Books. She divides her writing time equally between fantasy and science fiction, with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. She has an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, a B.S. in Environmental Geoscience, and a B.A. in History with a Medieval concentration. (She really is unabashedly nerdy.) When not writing, you can find her reading, snorkeling, paddleboarding and gaming. She makes her home in Florida with her marine biologist husband and their neurotic rescue bulldog, Grace. Visit Rhonda at


  • Weasel of Doom October 30, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    I love Michael Whelan’s covers of C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy.

  • Rhonda Mason (@RMasonWriter) November 1, 2017 at 11:54 am

    It was so hard to choose which covers to include! I completely agree with you about the Coldfire Trilogy. Also, the original Otherland by Tad Williams covers, with each being a different color, look so great together 🙂

  • Heidi Ruby Miller November 28, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Loved seeing some of your favorite things, Rhonda, considering your books are some of mine. 😉 Thank you for bringing Rhonda to us, Speculative Chic.


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