Hollywood is a big old pile of suck, and it’s not all the fault of the usual suspects: lazy writers, crappy directors, and incompetent studio execs. No, the MPAA plays a big part as well.

The MPAA—Motion Picture Association of America—is responsible for handing out all the movie ratings you see. They, and they alone, decide what qualifies as an “R”, “PG”, “G”, and so forth. They change the guidelines on a whim (one of the reasons the guidelines are kept secret from the rest of the world), apply them unfairly (letting one movie get away with stuff they no one else would), and sometimes just do their job badly. (1976’s Taxi Driver infamously spoofed the ratings board by resubmitting the exact same edit of the movie over and over again, each time claiming they’d cut some gore as requested, when they hadn’t cut a single frame, until eventually the MPAA approved the pic’s “R” rating, instead of the dreaded “X”, because now the movie wasn’t so violent anymore.) The latest example of MPAA incompetence is this: People are no longer allowed to hit each other in a PG-13 movie.

Every get the feeling that modern fight scenes suck? Or that they feel fake and unreal? It isn’t just you. Directors are no longer allowed to show fists impacting the human body, and keep a sub-“R” rating. One punch impacting a face, and it’s “children under-17 admitted only with an adult” time for your comic book epic.

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SFF History (The Pulp Archivist) The Age of Despair — “By the time ‘The Cold Equations’ killed off the Campbelline Revolution in 1954, science fiction sales had plateaued and most of the Campbelline authors, to include Asimov, the Kuttners, and Heinlein, had either abandoned science fiction entirely or sought out more lucrative markets. Science fiction magazines became increasingly dominated by an ever-shrinking authorship, and despair clung to the stories well into the 1980s, when Bruce Sterling would complain about the same types of stories as Gold.”

D&D (Gaming While Conservative) RPG Losers — “If you enjoy RPGs, then you don’t need the steady doling out of power-ups. If you enjoy the exploration, then the exploration is the reward. If you enjoy the game, then the game is the reward. You can spend countless hours at the table and not fret for a moment about how you will earn enough XP to finally reach the character you really want to play. The character you really want to play is the one right there on the cheeto-stained sheet in front of you right now! Strength 6, 1d4 HD thief though he be, he is yours, and he is enough.”

Pulp Revolution (Rampant Games) How to Write Pulp Fiction for Fun and Profit – Part 2 — “After the pulp era, science fiction suffered a decline in readership, to the point where it has become something of a niche. There are lots of arguments over the whys and hows of it, but as I implied in the intro, the success of big-ticket SF movies suggests there’s a hungry potential audience out there, but the industry is catering to only a tiny niche. I have nothing against serving a niche, mind you, but I think a huge potential is out there to grow the science fiction audience, and the potential is named PULP.”

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There was a time in the 1970s when Frank Frazetta retreated as the preeminent painter of fantasy paperback book covers but before the rise of Ken Kelly, Boris Vallejo, and Rowena. This was a time of Frazetta imitators. Among those were Spanish artists brought in by Warren Magazines.

One of those was Enrique Torres. He is known as Enrich Torres and sometimes as just Enric. He and Manuel Sanjulian both long careers in book illustration.

There is little information in English on Enrich Torres. Birthdates don’t even agree, some say 1939, some say 1940.

One of his first book covers was for an Ace Book reprint for Leigh Brackett’s “The Secret of Sinharat”/ “The People of the Talisman.” Frankly these covers are horrible. They are very reminiscent of the covers that Gino D’Achille was producing for Ballantine for the Barsoom series. Read More

The Comics Code Authority is a much-maligned list of rules that comic book retailers adopted in the 1950s to stave off social criticism and possible government regulation. It is often blamed for “ruining the comics industry” at a time when more adult-oriented crime and horror comics were gaining in popularity, turning it into “kids’ stuff” not worth anyone’s time.

But a recent Google+ post gave me some food for thought: the Comics Code may have saved the comics industry by forcing creators to be more kid-friendly. This meant that the stories *had* to be fun and interesting, because they wouldn’t hold children’s attention otherwise.

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I was recently pondering why certain works of science fiction horror, whether employing the written word or the moving picture, appeal to me, and others do not.  This is slightly different than asking what makes a good or bad book, because horror works more on the emotions.  Either it succeeds in forming a memorable, strong emotion, or it doesn’t.  And neither rich, flowery prose nor perfect cinemaphotography are as valuable here as they are, for instance, in a drama.  Ultimately, I came up with two central elements that unsuccessful works invariably fail to fulfill. The effective written stories pass both and the good cinematic works satisfy one, being an intrinsically more shallow medium.

  1. A logical series of events and explanations.
  2. A novel, interesting idea.

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Leigh Brackett is something of a staple here at Castalia House and for the Pulp Revolution crowd at large, but I must admit it’s taken me quite a while to get to her stuff. I’ve seen Alex’s reviews, of course, and I’ve noted her constant exclusion by the “women have historically been excluded from SFF!!1” crowd. But in my crazed consumption of Howard, Burroughs, Vance, and other old-timey greats I’ve neglected some of the other masters. It’s a far out kind of experience, trying to get up to speed on Appendix N (though my reading list is slightly expanded). O glut of goodness!

Here’s another admission – I actually read one of her short stories a few months ago and for the most part I kept my mouth shut. Because I didn’t really care for it. But wait, don’t reach for your blaster yet! Winning the Every Day Should Be Tuesday Leigh Brackett Giveaway prompted a revisiting. So now I’ve started reading the Eric John Star stories, and I’ve also gone back and read a couple more of her shorts.

And I have reassessed.

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The House Where Time Stood Still by Seabury Quinn appeared in the March 1939 issue of Weird Tales. A scanned pdf of this issue can be found here at Luminist.org.

I’m sure that if I had the time and money to delve deeper into Weird Tales, I’d find myself wondering why and pontificating on the injustice that Lovecraft is one the only horror writers from that magazine who is still talked about. Seabury Quinn’s The House Where Time Stood Still is a damned creepy story that’s almost certain to give one nightmares. This is some real Cronenberg/Lynch stuff here, except decades before either of them. In fact, I hate that I have to use contemporary frames of reference to describe stories like this, because it should be the other way around.

Quinn’s story begins, more or less, with his famed Occult Detective Jules de Grandin explaining to his friend and Watson, Trowbridge, the philosophical differences between medicine as art (physicians/healers) and medicine as science (doctors); “followers of Aesculapius”… ”are concerned with individual cases” and “alleviating suffering in the patient”, while “the doctor, the learned savant, the experimenting scientist”… “cannot see [man the individual] for bones and cells and tissues where micro-organisms breed and multiply to be a menace to the species as a whole.” Needless to say, this conversation serves to foreshadow the villain of the tale, who embodies the worst attributes of the latter. If this were an English paper, I’d be more prone to also discuss the repeated references to Faust throughout, reinforcing the theme of the mystical vs. scientific, spiced with notions of damnation, predestination, unholy inevitabilities, and yes, also salvation, but I’ll suffice it to say it’s there.

Quinn serves up a clever misdirect, as Grandin is interrupted by the arrival of some copper pals from England. Some important dispatches from the embassy have gone missing along with the lad sent to deliver them; they hope to enlist Grandin and Trowbridge to look for the young man, last seen zooming off into the countryside in a conspicuous red hot-rod. Of course, this just serves to set-up the tale for Trowbridge to be in the right spot at the right time to fall into the hands of a megalomaniacal supervillain who’s been using an insane asylum as cover for his experiments in vivisection.

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The full Gondwane Epic runs six books.  Lin Carter apparently planned ten.  I have the first four chronologically—The Warrior of World’s End, The Enchantress of World’s End, The Immortal of World’s End, and The Barbarian of World’s End (there are rather expensive copies available on Amazon; I can’t vouch for their quality).  Carter really should have called it the World’s End epic.  Carter wrote Giant of World’s End first, then went back and wrote five prequel novels.  The odd novel out is The Pirate of World’s End.

The Gondwane books are set roughly 700 million years into the future.  The sun is a bit dimmer and the moon closer to earth and showing the cracks which will be it (and life on earth’s) undoing.  The continents kept moving and met on the other side, forming another supercontinent, and giving the books their name—Gondwane.  (Fortuitously, I was reading a bit about the summer solstice and learned that days are slowly getting longer as the earth’s rotation slows, but the days on Gondwane are not abnormally long.)  The laws of physics have subtly changed, and magic is as common as science, but each is more likely to appear as an inscrutable artifact.

The hero of Carter’s epic is no mere man.  Ganelon is found stumbling naked through a blue rain beside crystal mountains.  A wizard later determines he is a non-human construct.  For all intents and purposes a superman created by the Time Gods to face some potential disaster they foresaw millions of years after his demise (he was evidently hatched from stasis early and will miss his purpose, but no one gives much thought to this).  He is superhuman in every way.  He towers head and shoulders over mortal men.  He can outrun a horse in a sprint or a marathon.  Or he could, if horses weren’t extinct.  He has superhuman strength and stamina.  His skin is tougher than most armor, and he heals fast enough to practically have a healing factor.  Oh, and his hair is silver.  Not silver like your debonair uncle’s hair silver, silver like your avaricious aunt’s silver silver.  So basically he looks like this.

Jeffro wrote a Retrospective post on book 1, The Warrior of World’s End, and Morgan has a bit to say about the Gondwane books in his post on the Lin Carter style.

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Almost certainly not what C.S. Lewis had in mind – but an amazing image! What would the conflict between Aslan and Tash look like if Lewis had had this on his desk? (Image of Narasinha, avatar of Vishnu, slaying Hiranyakashipu from krishna.com)

The greatest argument for reading much and reading widely is the chance to see sides of things that were invisible to the authors – if only by virtue of having a completely different perspective.[1]

An excellent example of this is this article by Vishwas R. Gaitonde on viewing Narnia through a Hindu lens.

Gaitonde takes us on a tour of the Narnia Chronicles, pointing out places where some of the ideas of Hinduism[2]  can be seen resonating with the text.

At first blush, this seems surprising – didn’t Lewis write the Narnia Chronicles as a kind of Christian allegory?[3] Certainly, given Lewis’s reputation as an apologist this would seem to be the obvious assumption.

However, the story may be more complicated, and in this case at least it’s possible that the fresh, invisible perspectives that Mr. Gaitonde sees through a Hindu lens may not be entirely unintended by Lewis. Read More

It turns out that Rocket’s Red Glare is NOT an exclusively American themed collection.  A few of the stories fit that theme, but now that the number has dipped below .500, I’m forced to conclude that the unabashedly pro-US position in some of the stories is the icing and not the cake.  Which is fine – the quality of the stories ranges from the merely good to the great, and I would certainly recommend this collection.  It’s probably not something to recommend to those who become triggered when accidentally reading a story that exults in a pro-Western worldview, but normal science fiction fans with a healthy psyche will definitely enjoy Rocket’s Red Glare.

The next story in the line-up is Jupiter Convergence, by Robert E. Vardeman, an interesting first contact tale that pits the heroic and humble lunar scientists who made the contact against the petty political appointees of the UN who want to commandeer the project for their own vainglory.  The adventure hops around the solar system and strikes a perfect balance between thinking man’s puzzles, political chicanery, and fast paced action.

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Dungeon design in Amsterdam. Not my picture or map but this guy has the right idea.

On Google + I discovered The Library of Gaming Maps community and recommend you check it out.  Currently, there almost 4k members with an active contributor base of artists who “……post and share maps they’re making, for the entertainment or aid of other gamers who may not have the chops or time to make their own!”.

Browse the posts and even if you are not a gamer you’re bound to find something of interest, especially if you are a SciFi or Fantasy fan. One can filter posts by topic which includes Fantasy (predominant), SciFi, Historical, Icons and Tokens and an eclectic Modern topic section, which contains a real grab bag of interesting posts.

Many members also link to interesting sites such as this one so there is enough here to stimulate the imagination of a game designer or game master.
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The question of just what sort of game Classic Traveller really was at the beginning is among the greatest mysteries of gaming. Mind you, that’d be Traveller without the Third Imperium. Without the big ships of High Guard or the grav tank design sequences of Striker. Traveller without “advanced” character generation. Without the Spinward Marches. Without the Droyne, the Zhodani, the Aslan, or the Solomani. Without the sector sized campaign maps produced by GDW and Judges Guild.

What happens when you go back to just those three original little black books…? This:

Sir Percival Jones
54576B Scout (3 Terms) Pilot-1, J-o-T-1, ATV-1, Vacc Suit-1, Electronics-3. Primitive “Alien” Paddle Sword, Scout ship “Nellie Gray”. No credits.

The emergence of this character broke pretty much whatever was happening before his entry into the game. When I’d got done rolling the dice, some sort of merchant campaign was brewing featuring a Marquis and a tramp freighter. But then I hustled a psionically “gifted” child and his mom off of a world descending into chaos. Thanks to the jump-2 rating of my scout ship combined with the absence of the merchant captain the next session, and suddenly my character is arbitrarily the center of the action. Comments on the after action report had the merchant captain wanting to roll up a new character that could take passage on Percival Jones’s ship!

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