Jack Williamson, Lin Carter and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Humanoids-smallMordicai Knode and Tim Callahan are making me look bad.

I know, what else is new. But seriously, these two have taken on the project of a lifetime — reading every author in Gary Gygax’s famous Appendix N (all 29) and reporting back in great detail every week at Tor.com.

I took on the project of a lazy Saturday afternoon: read their posts whenever I got around to it and report back here every two weeks or so. Sounded easy at the time. But Knode and Callahan still somehow managed to get way ahead of me. They’re relentless — since I last checked, they’ve covered Jack Williamson, Lin Carter, and John Bellairs, and meanwhile I’m still trying to figure out where the hell I left my copy of The Face in the Frost.

Okay, time to play a little catch-up. Let’s start with post 14 in the ongoing series, in which they tackle Jack Williamson’s classic SF novel, The Humanoids:

Mordicai: I’m just unclear on how it relates to Dungeons and Dragons. I mean, you could have a whole campaign about golems or Inevitables or Modrons and co-opt the plot from this book, but I think that is a stretch. Maybe the lesson you could learn from this book is that making hugely flawed characters is more interesting than making banal superhuman heroes who laugh in the face of danger and never give into the temptation to pry the ruby eyes out of the idol of Fraz-Urb’luu?

Tim: Yeah, I don’t see the Dungeons and Dragons link at all, and I am pretty darn sure Gary Gygax didn’t have any Modrons in mind when he generated his list of fave books. The Modrons are wonderful and all — who doesn’t like Rubik the Amazing Cube mashed up with Mr. Spock — but they aren’t central to early D&D. Or any D&D. Ever.

But, to be fair, Appendix N doesn’t specifically name The Humanoids as an influence, but mentions Jack Williamson in general. Probably his pulpier early stuff was what Gygax had had in mind. In retrospect, we should have read the Legion of Musketeers in Space with Falstaff and Friends book. But something called The Humanoids sounds like D&D from a distance. If you squint. And don’t read the back of the book.

Yeah, The Humanoids has nothing to do with D&D. Could have told you that. Guys, guys. You should have read our Jack Williamson feature last month. This is why we do this stuff.

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Sea-Change

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 | Posted by James Maliszewski

moldvay-basic1Fantasy literature and Dungeons & Dragons have a long history together. In his foreword to the original edition of the game (dated November 1, 1973), Gary Gygax specifically references several authors’ works, such as “Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits,” “Howard’s Conan saga,” “the de Camp & Pratt fantasies,” and “Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries.” There are also – or, rather, were – references to Tolkien as well, but these were excised after the Professor’s estate objected (the excisions were not very thorough; even in later printings, one can still find occasional references to ents and balrogs, among other things). My own beloved “Blue Book” edition of D&D (edited by J. Eric Holmes) includes references not only to Tolkien, Howard, and Leiber, but also to Gardner F. Fox, creator of Alan Morgan, Kothar, and Kyrik, as well as to H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old One, Cthulhu.

By now, Appendix N of the Dungeon Masters Guide is well known, both on this site and elsewhere. What many people do not know is that Gygax produced a “rough draft” of that appendix in issue number 4 of Dragon magazine (December 1976). Entitled “Fantasy/Swords & Sorcery: Recommended Reading,” its content is roughly the same as that in Appendix N. It’s primarily noteworthy for including Algernon Blackwood, though Gygax makes no reference to any titles he recommends from this great British writer of ghost tales. Another interesting aspect, at least from my perspective, is that, unlike Appendix N, which is quite clearly presented as a list of the books Gygax himself found “of particular inspiration” (to borrow his own phrase once more), this early version is presented as one of “recommended reading,” as if he were an instructor drawing up a list for an Introduction to Fantasy Literature course.

Fascinatingly enough, the 1981 edition of Dungeons & Dragons, edited by Tom Moldvay, includes an extensive “Inspirational Source Material” section that was drawn up, not by a university professor, but by a children’s librarian at the Lake Geneva Public Library. This librarian, Barbara Davis, is given a “special thanks” citation in the rulebook’s credits for “compiling part of our bibliography.”

Though it’s quite possible, even likely, that many of the titles included in the 1981 list were inspirational to Moldvay or to other members of the editorial team at TSR Hobbies, its presentation is much different than that of Appendix N. Whereas Gygax simply lists his favorite authors in alphabetical order, the later list is divided into several categories in an almost scholarly fashion. The three largest sections are “Fiction: Young Adult Fantasy,” “Non-Fiction: Young Adult,” and “Fiction: Adult Fantasy.” There are also sections for “Short Story Collections” and “Non-Fiction,” as well as a list of “some additional authors of fantasy fiction.”

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Three Against the Witch World by Andre Norton

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2122256U6CJIW64Daybreak - 2250 A.D.-smallWhen I was growing up in the seventies, the most represented science-fiction author in the children’s section of my local library was Andre Norton. Her books took up more shelf space than either Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. Maybe the children’s librarian was a fan.

And then there were the Andre Norton books on my father’s bookshelf. As cool as the cover of Daybreak – 2250A.D. looked, I never read it. For the next forty years, I managed to avoid anything by Norton.

Then two years ago, as I was getting my Swords & Sorcery blog up to speed, I pulled out my copies of Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords series. There in the second volume was “Toads of Grimmerdale” by Andre Norton.

Carter’s enthusiastic introduction was enough to make me give it a shot. Since I knew many of Norton’s novels were young adult, I wasn’t expecting a story about revenge. Woven from strands of darkness and shards of ice, it’s a haunting introduction to Witch World that I strongly recommend.

“Toads” was enough to make me root through the boxes of my dad’s old books, hunting for other Witch World stories. Since then, I’ve read the first three novels in the series — Witch World (1963), Web of the Witch World (1964), and Three Against the Witch World (1965) — as well as two collections of stories: Spell of the Witch World (1972) (reviewed by me at my site) and Lore of the Witch World (1980). It’s the third novel I will speak of here.

In Witch World (just reviewed here by Matthew David Surridge), Norton takes ex-U.S. soldier and blackmarketeer Simon Tregarth and tosses him through a dimensional gate. He must adjust to a world of super-science and magic, and quickly at that, for he must choose sides in a war. Simon is immediately caught up in the affairs of the witches of Estcarp and their ongoing struggle against the thuggish realm of Karsten. He joins a group of exiles and settlers from other dimensions and plunges into battle on and under the sea, in the air, and into far dimensions.

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Kaiju Rising

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Nick Sharps

Kaiju Rising-smallI’m going to let you in on a little secret – I’m not a fan of anthologies.

Shocking, I know, given that I am the creator of KAIJU RISING: Age of Monsters, an anthology inspired by such films as Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Cloverfield, Monsters, and more. Anyone familiar with my reviews on SF Signal or Elitist Book Reviews will likely recognize the refrain, “I’m not typically a fan of [insert genre], but…” and I find that it’s applicable here.

I’m not a fan of anthologies, but perhaps that’s because there aren’t enough featuring giant monsters! After watching Pacific Rim in theaters for the third time, I had the desire to read stories that dealt with similar subject matter – and I wanted those stories to be written by my favorite authors.

It was something I wanted that, to my knowledge, didn’t yet exist. I half-jokingly took the idea to Joe Martin, a friend of mine and the owner of Nine Worlds Media.

In previous interviews, I’ve mentioned that I wasn’t entirely serious about creating an anthology, but I’d like to be completely clear on this matter – I never expected this idea to go so far. As I was talking to Joe about it, I even made a snarky Facebook post…

“Joe Martin and I are putting together a kaiju inspired anthology. Who’s interested?”

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What is the Practical Benefit of Science Fiction and Fantasy?

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Nick Ozment

photo-3[The transcript that follows is of a voice memo recorded on an iPhone during my commute to work.]

So the local police cruisers in the town where I live recently got a new paint job to make them look like Transformers.

Well, mostly they just look like police SUVs, but on the hood of two is the large silver decal of an Autobot; the third sports a red Decepticon logo. These are quite striking against the black paint.

The first time I saw the Decepticon Dodge Durango squad car, I did a double take just to confirm that it was an actual police vehicle and not some private party’s clever paint job. My first conjecture was that it was the vehicle they use in the D.A.R.E. program, the one they drive when they go to schools in the area, and that they must’ve calculated it would be more cool to the kids.

[Subsequent to my recording these thoughts, I did talk to one of the local police officers. He confirmed that it was done largely to get local youth talking, to help with public relations in providing a bridge to younger residents. He added that many of the people in town over forty have no idea what they are. That may be skewing the demographic for recognition a tad young — I just turned forty-one and I knew what that robot face was right away. The Transformers toys exploded in the early ‘80s, just at the tail end of my toy-playing days. I suspect some older people also recognize the logos either from having been parents of Transformers fanatics or from having seen the recent Hollywood films. This is a rural farm community, though, so I’ve no doubt that many older locals would have no clue what this robot face on the police cruisers is all about.]

One upshot of this is the possibility that in my town you can be pulled over and ticketed by an Autobot (or a Decepticon). Indeed, just prior to beginning this voice memo, I saw that black SUV with the big red Decepticon face coming toward me in the northbound lane and I eased down on the gas a little as I passed him. Not that I was really speeding; I had it on cruise, but I tend to set my cruise control at two-three miles over the speed limit.

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The Lovecraft Circle at the First World Fantasy Convention

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 | Posted by James McGlothlin

H.P. Lovecraft and Frank Belknap Long (Brooklyn, 1931)

H.P. Lovecraft and Frank Belknap Long (Brooklyn, 1931)

In a recent Silver Lodge podcast I listened to, British horror writer Ramsey Campbell mentioned that there was an online recording of panels at the first World Fantasy Convention held in Providence, Rhode Island in 1975 that included some members of the original “Lovecraft Circle” — those writers who were first influenced by, and in contact with, horror pulp writer H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) before he died.

I was immediately intrigued and attempted to track down this recording. In the Community Audio section of the Internet Archive, I found there were actually three separate MP3 tracks, composing two different panel discussions recorded at this inaugural World Fantasy Convention held in Lovecraft’s honor.

The first was with some well-known fantasy & horror authors, concerning how they came to write fantasy and supernatural fiction. Moderated by cartoonist and editor Gahan Wilson, these authors included Joseph Payne Brennan, Manly Wade Wellman, and Lovecraft Circle members Robert Bloch and Frank Belknap Long. (As far as I know, Brennan and Wellman were not in contact with Lovecraft before he died.) One common thread was that Arkham House published all four of these authors.

The second and third files are from another panel discussion at the convention, this time about fantasy and supernatural horror publishing. Again moderated by Gahan Wilson, the speakers include publisher Donald A. Wollheim and author Robert Bloch.

According to the webpage,

The audio was recorded in October 1975 by and for Myrddin Press, which published the fanzine Myrddin. The recordings were made with a Sony monophonic cassette recorder, and parts of it appeared on a paper-thin flexible vinyl disc that came with the third issue of Myrddin. The three files uploaded here contain the clearest and most interesting portions from the tapes.

If you’re interested in any of these individuals or their works, I highly recommend that you give these recordings a listen (total audio time just under 90 minutes). I’ll mention a few tidbits from the panel discussions that I found very interesting and which I hope will peak your interest to attempt a listen yourself.

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New Treasures: Cold Copper by Devon Monk

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Cold Copper-smallOne of the best things about editing the print version of Black Gate was discovering great new writers.

Everyone who reads discovers new writers, of course. But I’m talking about finding major new talents while they’re just getting started — still unpublished, or with just a handful of sales under their belts. Trust me, there’s nothing like finding a story that really dazzles you, after long hours slogging through the submissions slush pile. The joy of discovery doesn’t stop after you proudly showcase their work, either. No, you hold your breath, anxious to see what these incredibly talented writers will do next. Where their careers will take them and what wonders they’ll accomplish.

That’s what it was like to publish Devon Monk. I plucked her story, “Stichery,” out of the submission pile in 2000 for Black Gate 2. It was hardly her first sale — she’d sold around a dozen previous stories, to places like Amazing Stories and Talebones — although her name was unfamiliar to me. But the story really impressed me and I knew immediately this was an author who was going places. Her career took off from there; “Stichery” was reprinted in David Hartwell’s Year’s Best Fantasy 2 and many more stories followed. The first novel in her 9-volume Allie Beckstrom urban fantasy series, Magic to the Bone, appeared in 2008, and in 2011 she kicked off a brand new series set in a steam age America where men, monsters, machines, and magic battle for supremacy: Age of Steam. It opened with Dead Iron; Tin Swift followed a year later, and now at last we have the third volume, Cold Copper.

Bounty hunter and lycanthrope Cedar Hunt vowed to track down all seven pieces of the Holder — a strange device capable of deadly destruction. And, accompanied by witch Mae Lindson and the capricious Madder brothers, he sets out to do just that. But the crew is forced to take refuge in the frontier town of Des Moines, Iowa, when a glacial storm stops them in their tracks. The town, under mayor Killian Vosbrough, is ruled with an iron fist — and plagued by the steely Strange, creatures that pour through the streets like the unshuttered wind.

But Cedar soon learns that Vosbrough is mining cold copper for the cataclysmic generators he’s manufacturing deep beneath Des Moines, bringing the search for the Holder to a halt. Chipping through ice, snow, and bone-chilling bewitchment to expose a dangerous plot, Cedar must stop Vosbrough and his scheme to rule the land and sky….

Cold Copper was published by Roc Books on July 2. It is 400 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition.


Black Gate Online Fiction: “Tsathoggua” by Michael Shea

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Michael Shea-smallMichael Shea, one of the most acclaimed sword & sorcery and horror writers working today, brings us a chilling novelette of Lovecraftian horror.

Maureen had fallen asleep in her barcalounger, snug in quilts with the clicker at hand and Muffin curled on her lap. It was Muffin’s gentle movements in her lap that awakened her. She had a vague sensation of small, light forms dispersing across her thighs…

Her wakening was hazy and slow, for she’d had one of her nice pills before she and Muffin settled down. She raised her head, so comfy and heavy. Yes, there he was in her lap, his adorable little muzzle thrust up inquiringly towards Maureen’s face, and his little fawn-colored flanks so fluffy. But…

Maureen hoisted herself a little higher. Muffin blinked calmly back at her. But Muffy had no legs. No legs at all. Muffin was only his head, his fat fluffy little torso, and his tail. He looked perfectly sleek, like he’d never had legs… !

Maureen was utterly, albeit groggily, astonished.

And just then she felt a delicate movement across the slipper on her right foot.

Michael Shea is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of A Quest for SimbilisThe Color Out Of TimeNifft the LeanIn YanaThe Extra, and the new Assault on Sunrise, among other novels. His collections include Polyphemus (1987), The Autopsy and Other Tales (2008), and Copping Squid and Other Mythos Tales (2010).

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Ryan Harvey, Peadar Ó Guilín, Dave Gross, Mike Allen, Vaughn Heppner, Aaron Bradford Starr, Martha Wells, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, E.E. Knight, C.S.E. Cooney, Howard Andrew Jones, and many others, is here.

“Tsathoggua” is a complete 12,000-word novelette of weird horror. It is offered at no cost.

Warning: This story involves mature themes. Reader discretion is advised.

Read the complete story here.


Vintage Treasures: The Best of Philip K. Dick

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of Philip K Dick-smallI didn’t know anything about Philip K. Dick when The Best of Philip K. Dick was released in 1977. That was the year Star Wars came out and I was more interested in trying to make a light saber out of my sister’s hair dryer.

I wasn’t alone (about Dick, not my obsession with my sister’s hair dryer). Philip K. Dick was a midlist paperback science fiction writer in the mid-70s, with few awards and only a handful of successful novels to his name, largely unknown except inside the genre. As Robert Silverberg observed in his famous comments on full-time SF writers, “Phil Dick was a full-timer, but lived at the poverty level.”

Dick was an unusual choice for Lester del Rey’s Classics of Science Fiction line for another reason. If you’ve been following the entries so far (see below for a complete list of the titles we’ve covered), you know that a typical volume consists of long out-of-print pulp stories by a writer who later achieved some measure of fame, usually for their novels.

The most recent story in last week’s entry, for example, The Best of John W. Campbell, was “Cloak of Aesir,” originally published in 1939. Similarly with The Best of Henry Kuttner (most recent entry from 1946), C.L. Moore (1946), Stanley Weinbaum (1936), and others.

By contract, the earliest story in The Best of Philip K. Dick, “Beyond Lie the Wub,” originally appeared in 1952. He’d barely been published for two decades by the time this book arrived, which didn’t fit the profile of Del Rey’s other choices at all. In fact, in many ways Dick was the most contemporary subject Del Rey chose for his select line of collections.

I can only conclude that Del Rey saw something special in Dick’s short stories. He wasn’t the only one, either — by the late 70s, the brilliant work being done by Dick at short length was becoming obvious to his fellow writers, even if wider recognition still eluded him. The blurbs on the inside cover reflect this. Here’s Norman Spinrad:

He has produced the most significant body of work of any science-fiction writer.

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The Revelations of Zang: Now In Print

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 | Posted by John R. Fultz

The Revelations of Zang-small

THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG: Twelve Tales of the Continent is finally available in print format from Fantastic Books. 

The e-book version (from 01 Publishing) has been out for several months, but now readers have their choice of an electronic or good-ol’ paper-and-ink book.

Both versions are now on sale at Amazon.com.

For more info on the collection, see the previous Black Gate posts HERE and HERE.


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