Connor Gormley wrote a post not long ago in which he discussed the seeming sameness of the current state of Fantasy. That the genre which should be most imaginative showed a singular lack of imagination, or flexibility might be a better word, in its choice of settings and characters. The comments give you a pretty good idea of how people agreed or disagreed with his thesis, and the whole post is well worth looking at. I think what it did for a lot of people, however, is remind them of books they’ve read that aren’t cloyed down with the sameness of things.
In my case, I was reminded specifically of Dave Duncan’s work. I’ve mentioned his Alchemist Novels in discussing fantasy mysteries, and one day I’d like discuss the brilliant West of January in more detail, but at the moment I want to introduce you to the trilogy The Great Game, made up of Past Imperative, Present Tense, and Future Indefinite.
At first glance it seems we’re being dealt a typical stranger-in-a-strange land trope, but as is so often the case with Duncan, the first glance is all you get for free. I think it’s safe to say that whatever you think Duncan’s up to, it’s very seldom what’s going on.
Part Imperative begin with two apparently unconnected storylines, or rather, we assume they are connected – not being entirely new to this game ourselves – but we aren’t shown how until much farther into the narrative than we’d expect. An epigraph does give us a broad hint, but honestly, it’s very easy to overlook. I have a theory that fewer than half of all readers actually read epigraphs, even the ones at the beginning of chapters, but that’s neither here nor there – which, come to think of it, pretty much describes the position of Duncan’s characters.
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Goth Chick News fav, director Eli Roth, has been a very busy gent lately. And even if he didn’t look like that, we still wouldn’t be able to tear our eyes away from his latest lineup of projects.
First off, there the third and final season of the supernatural, hottie-monster-ridden joy ride that is Roth’s Netflix series Hemlock Grove. If you haven’t caught up with this yet, there is still time to binge watch Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgard and Landon Liboiron tear through a small, New England town that is home to everything from vampires and werewolves to witches and mad doctors – and still have time to pine away that the next ten episodes will be the last.
Says the man himself:
We are so grateful to the fans of Hemlock Grove who have championed the series so intensely over two seasons. We are looking forward to taking the last and final season into some dark and unexpected places, and to giving viewers the killer finale.
Oh Eli, you know just what to say to a girl. But when exactly?
Season 1 premiered in April and season two showed up in July. A January 1st post on the HG Twitter feed said only that season three was “so close you could almost feel it” which means who-knows-what, but could indicate another full season landing in the early spring.
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The June, 1952 issue of Galaxy is another good one. It included six pieces of fiction and a science article by Willy Ley.
“Gravy Planet” (Part 1) by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth – Mitch Courtenay works at Fowler Shocken, the top ad agency in the world. And now, the agency has its eyes on the possibility of colonizing Venus with governmental approval to exclusively profit from the venture. Fowler Shocken chooses Mitch as chairman of the Venus Section, leaving Mitch to all the details around drawing public interest to going to Venus and actually making it hospitable.
Besides his work duties, Mitch tries to revive his failing marriage. His wife is a talented surgeon, but she’s seen Mitch try to pull her away from her career to become a housewife. With the news of his advancement, she’s willing to date him again, albeit with boundaries.
As if the stress of the campaign and a sinking love life isn’t enough, Mitch becomes a target. He narrowly survives two attempts on his life, and the private sector detectives aren’t much help. He pursues the man likely responsible for the attempts (along with sabotages to the Venus campaign), tracking him to Antarctica. Unfortunately for Mitch, he’s heading straight into an ambush.
“Gravy Planet” was published as a novel under the title The Space Merchants in 1953. It moves very well, and the futuristic world the authors seems close to modern in 2015. It doesn’t try to turn Venus into an Earth-like planet, but it’s not quite as inhospitable to life as we know it presently. (The Mariner 2 probe sent to Venus in 1962 measured surface temperature among other data, so the authors didn’t have access to all of that information.) Letting the details about Venus go, this novel (so far) is a great ride.
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If there’s anything you learn quickly from Ovid, it’s that the gods are real jerks. They aren’t people you want anything to do with.
This is a consistent theme in the ancient world. The entire goal of existence with relation to the gods was to do what you had to do to stay in their good graces and to avoid them ever noticing you. Make your sacrifices, avoid outright blasphemy and sins that really anger them, and otherwise? Don’t ever be too.
Too rich. Too powerful. Too beautiful. Too lucky. Too happy. All of these things are potentially fatal, and that’s just if you’re a mere mortal. If you have the ill luck to be related to one of the gods, you’re all but guaranteed trouble.
So Phaeton is pretty well doomed. When he is taunted by a friend for being a bastard, he asks mother for proof of his parentage. She tells him where to find the palace of the sun, and off he goes. When he arrives, the Sun confirms that he is indeed Phaeton’s father and offers him one favor of his choosing to prove it.
Next rule: never accept a favor from a god. Or a nymph. Or a spirit of any kind. If you ever find yourself in a myth, turn down all favors. It will not end well.
Phaeton, being a young man, asks to borrow his dad’s car. The super cool one that burns with the heat of the sun. Pheobus immediately realizes that he has made a terrible mistake, but his son won’t be persuaded. Off Phaeton goes, with his father’s reins in hand.
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Muiderslot on a typically cloudy Dutch day. The castle measures only 105 by 115 feet (32 by 35 meters) yet is perfectly placed to control shipping on the river and along the coast.
While many people go to Amsterdam to get baked and stare at Van Gogh paintings, the area around the city has a lot to offer, including one of the most visited castles in The Netherlands.
A twenty-minute bus ride from Amstel station takes you to the little port of Muiden, and from there it’s a pleasant walk through a park and along the coast to Muiderslot, a picturesque little castle by the sea.
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G.C. Edmondson was not a prolific fantasy author. He wrote barely half a dozen novels between 1965 and 1981. But at least one, The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream, became an acknowledged classic, kept in print by Ace Books for nearly two decades after it first appeared in 1965.
Edmondson wrote Westerns under at least three pseudonyms. The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream was his his fantasy novel; it first appeared as part of an Ace Double, paired with Stranger Than You Think, a collection of Edmondson’s short stories (cover by Jack Gaughan, above left.)
The book, the tale of a military research ship cast back in time to the Bronze Age while testing experimental submarine detection gear, was an immediate critical success. It was nominated for the Nebula Award (it lost to Frank Herbert’s Dune), and Jerry Pournelle, co-author of The Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer, called it “One of the best time travel novels I have ever read.”
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I’ve been heartily enjoying The Early Jack Vance volumes from Subterranean Press, which collect the hard-to-find early pulp SF and fantasy from one of the greatest writers of the genre, Jack Vance.
The first two, Hard Luck Diggings (2010) and Dream Castles (2012), are now sold out and out of print — and rapidly raising in price. They collected fiction from the very start of Vance’s career, the late 40s through the late 60s.
Two more volumes are now in print, with one more due in March. Minding the Stars, the fourth volume, spans the years from 1952 to 1967, collecting four long novellas and four short stories, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, Future Science Fiction, Fantastic Universe, Amazing Stories, and other fine publications. Here’s the complete table of contents:
Introduction by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
“Nopalgarth” (Originally published as The Brains of Earth, Ace Double, 1966)
“Telek” (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1952)
“Four Hundred Blackbirds” (Future Science Fiction, July 1953)
“Alfred’s Ark” (New Worlds SF, May 1965)
“Meet Miss Universe” (Fantastic Universe, March 1955)
“The World Between” (Future Science Fiction, May 1953)
“Milton Hack from Zodiac” (Amazing Stories, August 1967)
“Parapsyche” (Amazing Science Fiction Stories, August 1958)
The opening story, “Nopalgarth,” was originally published as half of an Ace Double in 1966, under the title The Brains of Earth. Vance collectors may recognize it as one of three novellas published in a slender collection from DAW in September 1980, under the title Nopalgarth (see below).
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The swords & sorcery that works best for me, the tales that get my heart pounding, come in short story form. It was Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”, Fritz Leiber’s “Ill Met in Lankhmar”, and Karl Edward Wagner’s “Reflections for the Winter of My Soul” that made me love this genre. In those stories, the authors distilled everything down to forty or fifty pages of concentrated action, mayhem, and bloodshed. There are no wasted words, no longuers. While all three authors wrote decent enough S&S novels, it’s their short stories that roar down the tracks like a train, pulling me along. S&S is a fiction of action and plot. I want speed; economy of story-telling.
Even in 2015, thirty years after the end of swords & sorcery’s glory days, there are new short stories being written all the time. Each year, several anthologies’-worth of short fiction, once the lifeblood of S&S, still appear in various print and electronic magazines (read my most recent review here).
But you rarely see actual S&S anthologies published anymore. The only recent collections of original stories that spring to mind are the excellent Swords and Dark Magic, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, and Jason M. Waltz’s equally cool Return of the Sword. David Hartwell and Jacob Weisman’s The Sword and Sorcery Anthology is a decent enough collection, though of mostly reprints reaching all the way back to S&S’s earliest days.
But once upon a time anthologies seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. Probably the most well known are Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! series and Andrew J. Offut’s Swords Against Darkness series. Amanda Salmonson edited two collections about women warriors, called succinctly, Amazons and Amazons II. Robot-like, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Swords and Sorceress series continued for four years after she died in 1999.
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Let me state for the record that I am a fan of the film adaptation of The Lord Of the Rings. Jack Nicholson can complain all he likes about “too many endings,” but that celluloid trilogy managed the impossible: it successfully imbued a made-up world not only with turmoil and action but with genuine emotional gravitas. The Lord Of the Rings (2001 – 2003), against all odds, mattered.
Having just seen the third of The Hobbit installments (2012 – 2014), I fear I cannot say the same for these sequel-prequels. I want to. At certain moments, I’m convinced. At others?
Yes, the task of adapting a book to the screen is arduous, full of perils, and the fact that Jackson’s scriptwriting team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and (for these films) Guillermo del Toro have had any success at all is remarkable. Tolkien, let’s face it, was not an efficient story-teller. Given characters like Tom Bombadil, it would not be unfair to crown him as King Of All Digressions.
So let’s take it as a given that adaptation involves violence toward the source material. Additions will be made, and subtractions, too. So be it. The goal, typically, is to preserve the spirit of the original.
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Lately I’ve been reading a fair amount of Pathfinder novels. Partly this is because I want to play Pathfinder and have no one with whom to play it, because all of my adult friends who are so inclined live too far away, and my children and I just aren’t in the same frame of mind. (Roleplaying with a fourteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old is challenging, simply because logic, for all involved, works a little differently. For this audience, a straightforward dungeon crawl, like Fantasy Flight’s Descent, is a more viable option, but, with that, you don’t get enough freedom for story creation and character generation.)
Another reason I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because my oldest son has started reading them. If I read them as well, we can inhabit a shared text (and perhaps, in time, a satisfying Pathfinder gaming session).
And yet another reason why I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because they’re good.
This was announced not too long ago, at least in reference to Howard Andrew Jones’s Stalking the Beast, when Nick Ozment realized that that novel was “better than it needed to be.” I’ve read some Pathfinder novels by other writers as well, and I will say that most of them are quite good.
Nick made clear why he found Jones’s second novel for the franchise so good, but what do I mean when I say that, in general, I like the series? I will say that they are highly satisfying Sword and Sorcery novels. They are entertaining. They are escapist. They have cool things in them. And, above all, they are quite familiar. They are based on the 3.5 (or 3.75) edition of Dungeons & Dragons, after all.
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