Okay, this is a really great show. I find it absolutely fascinating how people can have such completely different understandings of role-playing games even when they’re are more or less working from the same reference points. Getting these sorts of perspectives side by side and in conversation with each other is awesome.
One funny bit, though: after the show I gave the host Dorinal a link to Cirsova’s awesome 5e to OSR/Old School Conversion PDF. He gushed for about five minutes about how kind it was of me to point this out to him as it was exactly the sort of thing he was looking for in his campaign.
Then he opened the PDF.
Anyway, check out all of these great resources. And listen to the whole show!
This chapter contains an absolutely first rate retrospective on Lovecraft’s works. And when the authors write that “Lovecraft is recognized as being one of the foremost horror writers of the twentieth century,” there are no ifs, buts, caveats, or footnotes. It is absolutely refreshing to have this stated so plainly. And I have not seen a better summary of his work and impact anywhere.
This cleared up several questions I had from reading the Mythos stories myself for Appendix N and which I had not stumbled across in the time since delving into these topics on my own. For instance, I could not figure out why it was that Lovecraft collaborated with Zealia Bishop and Hazel Heald. And given that I’d actually taken some criticism for treating these particular stories as first class examples of Lovecraft’s oeuvre, I really wanted to know more!
According to the designers, Lovecraft was uncompromising in his “gentleman’s desire to reach for aesthetic goals unfettered by commercial demands.” He did about ninety percent of the work on these stories, developing complete stories from little more than “a few root ideas” supplied by the people that would end up receiving the credit at the time. Surprisingly, these stories were “quickly accepted” by Farnsworth Wright for Weird Tales at a time when Lovecraft’s stories were being consistently rejected.
Date Line by Noel Loomis appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories and is the first in the Orig Prem series.
I’ve read stories that have made me think “Wow, this seems like it probably inspired an episode of the Twilight Zone” and stories that have made me think “Wow, this seems like it probably inspired an episode of the Outer Limits.” Now I can say that I’ve read a pulp story that has made me think “Wow, this seems like it probably inspired a bit on Firesign Theatre.”
In “The FutureTM” (2230), people have mastered time travel and in a desperate game to fend off ennui in a time when nothing interesting happens anymore, the primary news organization in the solar system publishes nothing but “This day in history” type puff pieces, featuring live, on the ground coverage of things going on 100, 200, 500, 1000, etc. years ago. There’s a spectre of Pluto cancelling their subscription and that severance leading to political upheaval in the solar system, but we’ll get back to that.
Stieve Andro has been stuck doing “This day 300 years ago” for so long he’s that bored and sick of it. Sure, there was the big collapse, but he’d rather be doing something, anything, else. It also doesn’t help that his robot companion Orig Prem got drunk and made passes at the Mayor’s wife at his inauguration (and Stieve himself was guilty of getting caught with the Mayor’s wife’s maid), which has brought some significant heat onto the both of them in the 20th century. Stieve begs the director of the Solar News Time Travel division to let him do something more interesting, like cover the period of the Last War in 2091, when “the world got in such a turmoil they even threw away all the calendars until somebody made out another one in Twenty-One-O-Five, after it was all over.” Eventually, Stieve manages to beg a cakewalk special feature assignment covering Columbus’s discovery of America. When he gets there, his robot assistant Orig Prem has already been hard at work, turning the event into a circus.
The Narrow Land is a collection of six short stories and one novella by Jack Vance. This was my first exposure to Vance after The Dying Earth. What it doesn’t have is the magic of The Dying Earth stories. But it is better by a large margin than the average collection of short stories you would see today. The stories remind me a lot of the original Twilight Zone, which I tend to consider the platonic ideal for science fiction short stories.
The Narrow Land
This is the title story represented by the cover art on my copy. It’s a mix of pulp weirdness and New Age interest in social science fiction. Lizardmen crawl out of a primordial ooze. Some develop more crests than others. Vaguely does some interesting things with gender, but ultimately it’s all worldbuilding and little story.
Black Gate has a great post up about Famous Fantastic Mysteries, an anthology drawn from the magazine that kept the classics of the early days of fantasy and science fiction in print with top flight covers that could rival the likes of Margaret Brundage and Frank Frazetta. Put together in 1991, it represents an extremely good introduction to the science fiction and fantasy canon:
In short, this volume looks absolutely fantastic and is absolutely worth tracking down. Certainly, the A. Merritt selection is among his best works. If the rest are as well chosen, this has to be one of the best reads anywhere.
Robert Ervin Howard was an incredibly prolific writer, and produced a bibliography so full as to make those of us with limited reading time weep.
Some modern (and not so modern) critics have apparently dismissed Howard as a kind of idiot savant who was able to succeed despite his lack of education and training mainly by luck of having his own obsessions so closely aligned with what the publishing world (and readers) wanted at the time. This of course denies Howard’s strong autodidactic streak, and ignores the evidence in his work of having read widely and deeply, not only in the pulps of the day – which obviously he would have had to have known well in order to be successful – but also in history, geography, and philosophy.
Some also dismiss Howard as a one-note wonder, and to some extent this isn’t an entirely unfair comment: it’s true that the heroes he’s known for – whether we’re thinking of the iconic Conan stories or others such as Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, the various Cormacs, perhaps even Dark Agnes or Jack Kirowan! – often seem to be cast from very much the same mold. But although the characters Howard created had a great deal of overlap, it’s not as though other writers have never played with a recurring archetype, searching for just the right formula. Howard was no different.
And if we look more closely at some of his less known characters, we can actually see elements of his more iconic works starting to take root. One such example is Sailor Steve Costigan.
This is a very large game. It positively exudes gravitas. It’s among the most revered and most talked about rpgs of all time. The people with epic stories of awesome game sessions that came out of playing this system are legion. This is not something I’m just going to spontaneously pick up and run with, so I’m going to take it one chapter at a time.
Introductions to role-playing games tend to be largely a bunch of boiler plate, but even here there are things worth commenting on. There’s just something very unique about rpgs, for instance:
When a number of people get together cooperatively, they build a communal fantasy far more interesting and imaginative than a single person can– and the joint effort results in an extremely fun and satisfying experience for all involved. Together you create and develop a story in which each of your investigators plays a leading role.
Pulp Nova represents James Desborough’s attempt to recapture the spirit of the Golden Age of Science-Fiction. Written back in 2013, Desborough recognized even back then that the self-publishing made possible by changing technology was creating a publishing environment similar to that of the pulp era. The easy cost of production gives free rein to writers to experiment with new and unusual forms of storytelling unencumbered by the heavy burden of massive back-end costs. No doubt, his experiences in the self-publishing corners of the role-playing game industry played a role here – Desborough has maintained a solid and successful presence with the RPG hobby for years.
While he likely views the growing Pulp Revolution with a touch of wry amusement, he is a savvy enough marketer to recognize the Johnny Come Lately’s within that movement as a collection of fans tailor made for Pulp Nova. Lately, he has offered Pulp Nova as something for Pulp Revolution fans. So let’s look at how well his stories fulfill that promise.
Cichol’s Children kicks off this collection with a whimper, and that’s no insult. Desborough chooses to begin his collection with a rather sedate, but unusually successful, homage to the pulp era’s weird tales grandmaster, H. P. Lovecraft. Cichol’s Children begins:
Geneaology, that’s the thing. People like to know where they came from and who they’re related to, what their heritage is, and what it means to be them. It’s nonsense, of course. Who we come from doesn’t make our destiny, doesn’t dictate what we do.
If you’ve read Lovecraft, you know our narrator is in for a rather rude awakening. Desborough has a clear understanding of what makes Lovecraftian fiction work, choosing to slowly ratchet up the tension with a near fatal accident which strands the narrator in a remote sea-side area where is only source of solace is a sea-side inn managed by a family that seems a little off. He checks off all of the usual checkboxes that hint at the influence of primordial creatures from the sea, ancient gold, dusty tomes, churches buried by the tide, and even a few hints at human-other breeding.
Back behind the scenes in our super-secret superversive headquarters located deep in the Misty Mountains, somewhere south of the Hundred Acre Wood and east of Oz (Narnia, of course, can only be accessed via Wardrobe), we had a discussion once about whether or not there could be such a thing as a superversive tragedy. The original consensus was that while it was not technically impossible, the nature of a tragedy would make it extraordinarily difficult, and it’s possible no examples actually existed.
Since then we’ve codified the superversive concept down into concrete elements, and given these parameters the idea of a superversive tragedy becomes a little bit easier to swallow. There’s no reason a tragedy can’t contain at least the five categories of simple superversive, right?
But are there any specific examples of tragic superversive spec fic?
Yes, there are. And one of the prime examples is Nick Cole’s “The Savage Boy”.
To be clear – I am now a huge Nick Cole fan, and I’ve only read five of his books; one I wasn’t even a huge fan of (“The Red King” underwhelmed me, but the sequel was better). The reason I am a huge fan is his Wasteland trilogy. It is – and I am hesitant about saying this, because it’s a somewhat overused term, but I really think it’s appropriate here – a masterpiece of post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s unbelievably good. And while there are minor things to criticize here or there, it executes certain things so ridiculously, impossibly well that it’s amazing the man isn’t even more popular than he is. Read More
The Superversive Roundable from this past Saturday was all about RPGs. This was a really interesting show for a lot of reasons, but I have to say the most mind blowing thing about it is that John C. Wright has been playing role-playing games for decades… without ever playing the ones that everybody else on the internet spends all their time taking apart, developing, and arguing about. His games are very much in the spirit of what designers like Gary Gygax, James Ward, Ken St. Andre, and Marc Miller did, however: they tend to be mashups of a smorgasbord of classic science fiction and fantasy. But he doesn’t use anybody’s system. He makes up his own systems with mechanics tailored to the theme.
What does this mean…? Well, the guy that writes books as if the “Appendix N” era never stopped also games like the “old school” days never came to an end, either.
Check it out. It’s a great show!
Why is it modern comics suck so badly? It didn’t used to be this way. I recently had cause to read several issues of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man from 1983, and they were AWESOME.
Sure there were WAY cheesy things happening—a girl with a secret crush on Peter discovered he’s Spider-Man, Black Cat (his current girlfriend) is only attracted to him when he’s in crimefighter mode, a drug kingpin gets killed by other costumed vigilantes, but comes back to life as a cyborg—but it was all in service to a fast-paced, action-oriented, FUN FUN FUN story. It was delightful.
Modern comics—and their spinoffs—have lost all sense of delight, joy, and wonder. Let me show you what I mean.
As noted in a recent article, Sax Rohmer managed to write one of the greatest pulp novels ever, The Insidious Dr.Fu-Manchu, as well as one of its worst, Brood of the Witch-Queen. While I examined the former in-depth, I didn’t do so for the latter.
Well, I believe any negative opinion of a book deserves a full explanation, especially one penned by a significant writer like Rohmer. Furthermore, it will be instructive to see the possible pitfalls of pulp, and how they can be avoided.