If you have not read very much science fiction or fantasy from before 1940, then you are liable to struggle with this. If your concept of science fiction and fantasy is derived primarily from movies and television, then you will definitely struggle with this. And if Christian thought is so offensive to you that you’re actively engaged in some kind of non-stop culture war against it, well… you’re naturally going to pretend that what I’m saying makes no sense at all. Assuming, that is, that you’re capable of seeing the point in the first place.

What it comes down to is what authors and directors do on a scene by scene basis in order to establish, develop, and maintain the likability of the hero. And these creative choices do not happen in a vacuum. They are informed by a value system. And how these scenes play with an audience hinges on their culture.

This would seem to be a rather self-evident observation, but it is one that will be sniped at from any of a half dozen spurious angles. If you’re talking about the work of a particular author, then someone will point out how they were not professing Christians or how they had their own particular vices or how they were really brilliant at cocktail parties or something. If one can sidestep this distraction, then one still has to establish the fact that American culture was inherently Christian in the 19th Century and then well into the 20th. This of course can be deduced from a survey of fantasy and science fiction of the sixties and seventies, which was so aggressive in its attempts to transform the culture that you could reverse engineer what must have been the norm on the basis of what they held in contempt.

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In several of my previous articles in this space I have discussed how often war is fought on unequal terms, yet Wargames, especially tabletop Wargames, play things out with even forces. From the simple Risk to the more complex tournament games, the essentials of the Wargames which keep hobby shops alive through sales and events represent this navel-gazing viewpoint on the art of war: For things to be even or fair—two concepts a good commander seeks to avoid—the forces must be balanced, at least roughly. Read More

This game is something else!

Not that it doesn’t come in for a lot of guff from the “real” wargaming set. You see, due to the command card system, you can’t always move the pieces you want. All the action might be happening on the right and you can end up being unable to respond if you are unlucky or if you fail to manage your hand.

I like the extra chaos, though. I mean… compared to games where each side can move and attack with all of the pieces on every single turn…? That’s a board game, not a war game! In real wars, a leader won’t be sure all of his orders can get even through. And then there all those special, unique events that really color an engagement but which can’t be counted on to happen every single battle. The card system really captures that, making even the surefire move into something that has some significant risk attached to it.

One thing that hasn’t worked out for me is that things don’t always work out like the historical battles. The idea is that the ancient armies are supposed to line up and stark walloping each other in a great big line… and then one sides cavalry is supposed to crush the other side’s flanks and end the battle in an epic sweep of ancient style military genius. That doesn’t happen. It’s hard to move that whole line up together… and usually when it does the cavalry have already spent themselves doing more or less useless attrition attacks, pinging blocks away here and there on the wings.

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“‘PC Load Letter’? What the **** does that mean?”

Cult Classic (noun): A movie liked only by a tiny group of unhealthily obsessed fans. Probably garbage, possibly repellent, the reason it failed commercially is usually immediately obvious to anybody who isn’t one of the unhealthily obsessed fans. See The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

To be fair, cult classics are not always totally terrible. In fact, many of them are quite good. That said, all of them appeal to a narrow slice of the audience and it’s usually pretty easy to see why.

Office Space is a cult classic. Quite funny, and eminently quotable… in fact, let’s do a little bit of that.

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I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about the movie Dunkirk.  Usually, my taste in movies does not align with the critics but, despite that, I decided to make a rare visit to the theater and suggest you do the same.

Dunkirk follows three story lines. The first concerns two soldiers doing their best to escape the beaches. After the introductory scenes a title appears: “The Mole, one week”. I was confused as usually a reference would give the exact date or begin a count down such as “Day 1”.  The next storyline begins on a warf in England and follows a man, his son and his son’s friend as they sail their small craft across the Channel towards Dunkirk.  This scene is introduced as “one day”.  Finally, a squadron of Spitfires flying across the channel to provide air cover is introduced and tagged as  “one hour”.  Now it made sense. All three storylines are interrelated though the movie goes back and forth in time as we follow the soldiers through a week long ordeal on the beaches, the sailors on a perilous journey and the pilots through a very eventful hour.

No compliants with this movie.  Despite a scene in which the boat captain explains why he will continue to sail into danger the film is refreshingly absent of the insuffereably bad heroic speeches which infest Hollywood’s attempts at history.  If you want good speeches then the previews revealed a movie release this this October about Churchill at the beginning of World War II,  so hold tight.

During an opening scene on the beach I noticed what looked to be a couple of modern apartment buildings in the distance. I believe a lot of filming was done at Dunkirk so there must have been a lot of effort to avoid filming modern buildings or cover hide them using special effects. Only a minor quibble but the Mole was not a pier but was actually a mole, i.e., a breakwater. The piers and quays at Dunkirk were already rendered unusuable by bombing. The importance of the mole and the small boats was that the shore at Dunkirk shelved only gradually, so larger ships could not get in close for embarkation.

Some small details that I enjoyed:   a rifle jamming in the opening scene and the Spitfire pilots discussing the amount of time they will have providing aircover over the beaches depending on the altitude they fly en route. When one of the plane’s fuel gauges fails the pilot radios his comrade asking how many gallons the other plane has left.  When told the other plane has fifty gallons left the pilot does some mental math and uses chalk to mark his dashboard with the time he had left to return home safely. I bet a few CH Blog readers can relate but may have used a grease pencil on glass instead.  Finally, some Dutch schuyts helped with the evacuation and I think I saw one in the movie.

The Spitfires were beautiful to see but I am upset that they didn’t put in a disclaimer stating that “No Spitfires were hurt in the making of this movie”.

For those interested in reseraching the evacuation look up “Operation Dynamo”.

Instead of using a point or star system to grade this movie I’ll use a binary grading system: is this movie worth enduring the standard the crappy movie house commercials and previews, all in high volume?  Yes.

 

 

Pulp Revolution (Kairos) PulpFail — “There are people whose lives have no other meaning than Star Wars. They are legion. And now their last common cultural touchstone is being strip-mined of all value. It’s like some kind of memetic disease. They pay people who hate them to be insulted. Delude themselves into thinking they enjoyed the experience. Realize they’ve been had on the second viewing. But selective amnesia sets in by the time the next round of postmodern hazing begins. I don’t know if these inmates of pop culture purgatory can be saved. I have to try.”

Appendix N (Pits Perilous) The Methodological OSR? — “Things were approached from the perspective(s) of those living at the time. Believe me, four decades of role-playing has given rise to many abiding conventions; among them, the idea that dwarves are miniature Vikings with a Scottish accent. But back then, dwarves were more often based on the stuff of 19th century fairy tales. You know, impish little people with colorful cloaks. Look at the elf on page 32 of OD&D’s Men & Magic booklet or the various depictions in TSR’s Swords & Spells. It was all tasseled hats and curly-toed shoes because back then, that’s the antiquated lens we saw demi-humans through.”

From the Comments (Pulprev.com) Getting Started: Stuff You Can Show Your Friends — “I highly recommend reading The Three Musketeers, fantastic adventure story with even better sequels. Dumas reads almost contemporary. But, a huge sticking point that has to be mentioned. You have to make sure to get the superior Richard Pavear translation. The cheap stuff is based on dry and censored Victorian era translations. It’s night and day in quality.”

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Astounding Frontiers is a brand new magazine that embraces the pulp brand– one that promises to “evoke wonder in the way the golden age of science fiction did.” This is absolutely a step in the right direction and I have no doubts that if there had been magazines on the newsstands during the nineties even remotely like this that there would be more people reading and writing science fiction today and the short science fiction scene we have inherited today would be that much less of a wasteland.

Everything you’ve heard the leading lights of the various puppy movements denounce as garbage? It’s basically not here. These are straight ahead stories devoid of naked attempts to be taken seriously by the sort of people that reflexively hate normal people, Western Civilization, rationality, and common sense. Even better, the stories here are short, they don’t waste your time, and deliver their payload with very little in the way of preamble and cruft. Yes, heavy hitters like John C. Wright and Nick Cole are here with with serials that are by themselves worth the price of admission. But there’s some new faces as well, as well as authors that you might not know well enough yet to take a chance on with a full length novel.

I’ve heard so much frustration from authors that want to be part of the short fiction scene but which are arbitrarily excluded for the flimsiest of ideological reasons. I’m not talking about the hard core people, either. I’m talking about extremely inoffensive moderates whose only crime is that their fail to join into the current “Two Minutes Hate” aggressively enough for the gatekeepers. And then there’s the guy that submitted to a Weird Tales revival that got a rejection note that stated that his story had too much wonder. (?!)

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One of the stranger entries in the franchise, Lupin III’s 40th anniversary special, the 2008 Green vs. Red, took a risk by not featuring its namesake character at all. Instead, it pitted two of the most iconic versions of Lupin against each other in a fight for the Lupin name, the Green Jacket against the Red, each worn by an impostor to the name. Through non-sequential story-telling, the audience learns about the man who would wear the Green and why he would become the world’s greatest thief.

Yasuo, a down on his luck ramen cook, comes across a green jacket and a Walther P38 by accident. Mistaken by the police for Lupin III, Yasuo decides to become yet another of a long line of impersonators trying to take the place of the missing master thief. As he studies the skills of the master, Yasuo starts picking pockets, first to buy presents for his reporter girlfriend Yukiko, and then to help pay for her family’s medical bills. As his dissatisfaction with his life grows, Yasuo retreats into the persona of the Green Jacket Lupin until he decides to prove himself as the real Lupin. When another impersonator gets arrested for mere shoplifting, a legion of Lupin look-alikes descend upon the town, each wanting to prove themselves the real deal. But Yasuo proves himself better than the rest, and to crown himself as Lupin, he sets his eyes on the Ice Cube diamond, setting out on a heist with Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko. He is stopped, however by a Lupin in a Red Jacket. Claiming  to be an impostor as well, he challenges Yasuo to a duel for the Lupin name. As Green and Red square off, other impostors swarm, Zenigata chases, and Yukiko learns the truth behind Yasuo’s new hobby. And when things can’t get any worse, the Red Jacket Lupin might be the real one… Read More

Carl Lundgren (born 1947) is an artist who you probably have seen but did not realize who he is. He started out in the mid 1970s with a post-Frazetta style for the first printings of the first two Horseclans books by Robert Adams.

These covers in my opinion are superior to the later Ken Kelly covers with their Mr. Universe posing. Lungren illustrates dynamic action going on.

Lundgren also did some covers for the cheesy “Richard Blade” series. He also produced a cover for Pinnacle’s reprints of the Harold Lamb histories in the late 1970s.

Suleiman the Magnificent

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My own column from two weeks ago got me thinking recently.  Has there ever been a good, nevermind great science fiction novel that did not feature a strong, unique hero?  We’re not considering short stories or novellas, as some don’t even have significant protagonists, but full-length works.

At first, my mind couldn’t come up with an example.  Even books famed for other qualities had excellent heroes.  Dune has the best world-building I’ve come across, but Paul Atreides is a tremendous protagonist.  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a phenomenal story of revolt, conspiracy, politics, and freedom, but it has no fewer than four memorable, outstanding main heroes, including the computer, Mike.  In fact, none of the Heinlein books I read qualify. A common theme of many of his works, especially the juveniles, was the transformation of the main character into a hero.

Philip K Dick may be known for his brilliant, insane works, but damn if Rick Deckard or Jason Tarverner aren’t resourceful, intellectually deep, original protagonists.

Finally, I came up with two books, and it will be interesting to see whether their more generic, weaker protagonists added to the story or hindered it.

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John Carter of Mars

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a giant of the sci-fi genre, popularizing many of the tropes we associate with it, from humanlike aliens and post-apocalyptic settings to lightsaber battles and proud warrior races, among other things. But even though most of the attention goes to Tarzan, John Carter had a far bigger impact than anyone realized.

In short, one can draw a direct line from John Carter, clean-limbed fighting man of Virginia, to Son Goku, the Super Saiyan God.

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Another day another nontroversy, with the usual crowd this week cheering the announcement that the next Doctor Who protagonist will be a woman and simultaneously gnashing their teeth at the mouth-breathers who aren’t ready for a Strong Woman Doctor! Meanwhile the rest of us carry on not watching Doctor Who and not caring much either way.

Continuing on with my series on awesome women in scifi/fantasy (Brackett, Bradamante), I’d like to highlight a well-done female character from a much better scifi series – Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. That’s right – for all the talk of women breaking new ground in film and TV in recent years, 22 years ago we were introduced to a badass female commanding officer from one of the most popular scifi franchises in the world.

Now I know I’m probably in the minority in my love of Voyager, but I’m going to put a pin in that for now and focus on why Janeway was such a great character and my favorite Star Trek captain.

Somewhat reminiscent of the Iowan Captain Kirk, Janeway was raised on the plains of Indiana, spending much of her childhood years on her grandfather’s farm. She was both curious and outdoorsy, and would later muse that there were no anomalies more frightening than a thunderstorm on the plains. Much like Kirk, Janeway’s diligent, defiant, and pioneering American spirit would serve her well in the captain’s chair.

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