This crowdfunding pitch I came across via Cory Doctorow managed managed to lose me at the first sentence:

So Robert Heinlein is what we call one of the big three: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein. And those are the first people to really make science fiction work…

I suppose I should be happy with it. As much as you hear today about Mary Shelley inventing the science fiction novel, it maybe ought to be comforting hearing that people are still peddling yesterday’s narrative. But am I really supposed to believe that Jules Verne and H. G. Wells failed to really make science fiction work…? That A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars just… didn’t work…?

There are many others, to be sure… but I must say that it is particularly galling to be told that C. L. Moore failed to make science fiction work with her Northwest Smith stories. Show her work to someone that has been taught their entire life that science fiction really only started with Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein and they’re liable to feel betrayed. She’s just that good.

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The late 60s, when Hanoi Jane was one of the sexiest women in the world, and not just a vile leftist betraying American troops.

People have strange ideas about the history of science fiction in film.  Some years ago, a Canadian video games programmer and designer in his early 40s, no fool, sagely explained to me that 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) completely changed everything about the genre, and that before then, silly movies like Barbarella were all audiences had to watch.  A fascinating theory!  There are just a few problems;

  1. Barbarella was firmly tongue-in-cheek.
  2. Barbarella was most assuredly not emblematic of science fiction movies of the 60s.
  3. Or of the decades before then, which he seemed blissfully unaware of.
  4. Barbarella actually came out 5 months after 2001.

This isn’t even considering that if you forced me to watch one, I would choose the psychedelic sex comedy in space over Kubrick’s pretentious, ruthlessly boring adaptation of Clarke’s novel.  Now, I don’t consider myself an expert on science fiction in film, and one can write an entire book, let alone a column, about its evolution through the decades. However, I’ve seen enough older pictures to have a perspective, and unlike most cinephiles, enjoy reading, too.

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Today’s guest post is by David Lille, co-creator with Liz Lille of the Dreamkeepers graphic novel seriesYou can follow them on a variety of social media platforms including Gab.

Faithful readers of the Castalia House blog are familiar with our Comic Revolution endeavor. Pursuant to that, I’ve been invited to talk about our own series, Dreamkeepers.

Typically I demur from making qualitative declarations about our work. Readers can decide for themselves whether it’s good or a pile of flaming neon trash. But our career is at the point where a fleet of readers have, quite evidently, decided.

Support has surged over the years to grant us full-time work and launch our own publishing imprint including a spin-off novel, merchandise, and a game adaptation.

Surprising to me is the proportion of our readership with a military background. A host of our graphic novels go out to APO and FPO addresses, and we’ve received letters from soldiers indicating that our webcomic was a welcome companion during their deployment.

But why is that the case?

Who’d predict that a colorful comic with cartoon animals would gather a following among hardened active-duty service members? Read More

This is positively mind blowing:

“The Science Fiction Age, as we have known it during the past few years, is over. Definitely over and done with. Dead, gentlemen, of intellectual bankruptcy.”

That’s John B. Michel in 1937. 1937!

If you came away from QuQu and Dan Wolfgang’s The Ideological Conquest of Science Fiction Literature wanting to know more about what happened and when and why… then you won’t want to miss Max Kolbe and Brian Niemeier as they delve into this further.

Great show here. Check it out!

The Westerly Gales sweep across the seas to their conclusion in Assault on Zanzibar!

Centuries in the future, mankind struggles to survive after the “Troubles”, a generation-long series of catastrophes that caused the largest population crash in the history of the human race. Everywhere, humanity has regressed to a paleolithic level of technology, hunter-gatherers eking out a bare subsistence — everywhere except for a single barren sub-Antarctic island where a small group of refugees has managed to preserve some pre-Troubles technology and a semblance of civilization. Against all odds, the Kerguelenians not only survive, but build a maritime culture with settlements throughout the Southern Ocean. As far as they know, they are the only surviving fragment of literacy and technology in the world — until they begin to expand northward into the Indian Ocean, and encounter a mysterious and hostile people, also seafarers, the Sultanate of Zanzibar, who are determined, for motives unknown, to destroy Kerguelenian trade and settlements

Commodore Sam Bowditch and the Republic of Kerguelen Navy face their biggest challenge as the Sultanate of Zanzibar mounts another attempt to retake Mafia Island, this time with new technology and a massive mercenary fleet — while at a critical moment Bowditch must return to Kerguelen to fight for the life of his infant navy.

Don’t miss this thrilling climax to the post-apocalyptic Westerly Gales saga.

Balu the Bear by Blanche E. Ward appeared in the June 1944 issue of The Wide World.

Sometimes you need a good diversion; a short, droll piece to fill a page.

Balu the Bear is just such a piece.

A dancing bear is sold to a rich guy who keeps it around because when you are rich, it’s nice to have things like dancing bears, especially since fancy ladies loves such conversation pieces.

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Taking up where the last session report left off.

Session characters:

Sir Percival Jones, 54577B, Age 30, Scout (3 terms, mustered out), Pilot 1, JOT 1, ATV 1, Vacc Suit 1 Elect 3. He’s cash poor, but, a lucky chap who’s survived 12 years as a scout and the service appreciates it by loaning him a ship. He’s playing Galahad on for a mother (Astrid Anderson) and child (Frelser Anderson) on the run from the Psionic Institute authorities.

Mirin Beg, 354848, Age 50, Other (8 terms, retired), Brawling 2, Gambling 2, Cutlass 3, Mechanical 2, Bribery 1. He’s got a shady background but, he gets things done. Last job he had was with Mainstar Mining Company. Now, though, he’d like to take his retirement and find a nice quite planet to relax on.

Hugo Abe, 647897, Age 26, Other (2 terms mustered out), Auto Rifle 1, Cudgel 1, Forgery 1. Something of a thug, he’s looking to make himself scarce from local organized crime groups; perhaps start a new life on the off-world colonies. Turns out he’s been bonding with Frelser and helping him during his seizures during jumps.

While Hugo and Mirin plot their assault on the villa, Percival begins work on building a psionic ability detector with the ultimate goal of building a psionic shielding device. As he’s doing this, Astrid stops by to pay him their agreed upon fee as she’s elected to join a wagon train as a cook and plans to lose herself and Frelser in the wilds of Sytorgus far away from Imperial agents.

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I was wondering if perhaps I had overstated my case in claiming that most people wrongly assume that D&D sprang from Tolkien’s approach to fantasy… but no, it really is par for the course:

Let’s review, shall we…?

  1. The OD&D three-point alignment system, the AD&D Paladin class, and regenerating trolls were all lifted wholesale from Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions. Additionally, the book explains the broader context behind why a Keep on the Borderlands would be a particularly significant location for fantasy role-playing adventure.
  2. The idea that players would naturally advance to the point where they could stand up against gods and demons in battle derives from Michael Moorcock’s The Stealer of Souls.
  3. The thief class is an amalgam of Fritz Leiber’s Grey Mouser, Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever, and Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows. The latter is why thieves have a “hide in shadows” ability rather than a generic (and mundane) stealth skill; it’s also why thieves are unaccountably good at climbing. All of these characters are why thieves and rogues in early fantasy role-playing games have far more magical ability than what most people would tend to given them these days.
  4. Most everyone knows that the D&D magic system is pulled from Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth. Fewer know that the concept for reversing spells is taken directly from The Eyes of the Overlord.
  5. The inspiration for the AD&D planar cosmology is from de Camp and Pratt’s The Fallible Fiend, though Moorcock also contributed to this aspect of the game.
  6. The AD&D system of spell components is taken from de Camp and Pratt’s Harold Shea stories. Also, the setting for module G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is pulled verbatim from de Camp and Pratt’s The Roaring Trumpet, as are dragons that breath clouds of chlorine gas.
  7. The nucleus of the AD&D psionics system comes from Sterling Lanier’s Heiro’s Journey. (The green slime monster is also plundered from this novel in addition to large swaths of Gamma World.)
  8. The template for the Gygaxian mega-dungeon is pulled from Margaret St. Clair’s The Sign of the Labrys.
  9. The idea that it would make sense to simply plunder every mythos from every culture in the world is a touchstone of early D&D. You will also find this approach to fantasy in Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword.
  10. The “fighting man” class of OD&D is based on John Carter of Mars and Barsoom puts in an appearance in the OD&D wilderness encounter tables. The “White Ape” from the Moldvay Basic Set is another clue regarding the primacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs in classic fantasy games.

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Samuel E. Green and Michael-Scott Earle summon Space Knight, a genre-blending adventure mixing space opera, high fantasy, and litRPG elements.

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A world where science and magic co-exist

Mankind has mastered space travel and set out to colonize other planets. The Kingdoms formed, and war came as each side sought to command the universe.

Then the portals opened and the monsters came.

No one knows why the Grendels attacked, but mankind’s scientific weapons were not prepared for the creatures’ powers. Billions of lives were lost before humans tamed the Grendels’ magic.

Weapons, armor, and relics were created using distilled Arcane Dust, and a select few warriors were given powerful runes so that they could wield the magical equipment.

These men and women are called Space Knights, and they alone stand between the Grendels and the extinction of humanity.

One man’s quest to become a Knight

Many years have passed since the first Grendel portal opened. Now, warriors of all stripes fight for their kingdoms and clear portals for loot, prestige, and Arcane Dust.

Squire Nicholas Lyons is one such warrior. Joined by a ragtag crew of knights, soldiers, and enchanters, he seeks to serve his queen by slaying Grendels. But when his final mission as an Academy cadet goes horribly wrong, Nicholas discovers he possesses illegal magical abilities that grant him power far beyond that of a normal man, knight, or mage.

When a clandestine assignment lands Nicholas on the worst starship in the kingdom’s fleet, he finds a motley crew of warriors hiding their own terrible secret. Death and betrayal lurk around every corner, and Nicholas finds himself torn between his loyalties to his new crew, or the oath he swore to his queen.

And death no matter which choice he makes.

The burglar fumbled in his pocket, and Dunne leaned forward sharply, the gun jutting out. It was only the jewelry. It glowed on the man’s big palm and Dunne whistled softly. 

“You damned fool,” he whispered. “You utter damned fool. That’s moonglow jewel jade! Worth a fortune. Good lord, it’s priceless! That bit there shaped like a bat….” 

He caught it up, and the burglar scrambled abjectly to his feet, round eyes bulging while Dunne examined the intricate carving of the precious stuff. The bat was really superb workmanship. 

“Geez, chief,” the burglar gasped. “You gotta take it now. No fence would touch stuff like that.”

*****

Norvell W. Page is best known for writing the adventures of the pulp hero The Spider, one of the more successful hero pulps to follow in The Shadow’s wake. But when he wasn’t writing for the hero pulps and comics, to include The Shadow and The Phantom, he indulged in the growing field of weird menace, a sensationalized form of the detective story that mixed a generous heaping of over-the-top violence, a dash of dread, a sprinkle of the spicy, and a bit of that black magic into the conventional detective recipe.

His “When the Death-Bat Flies” is a six chapter novelette that mines one of the most common veins of 1930s occult menace, the mysteries of chinoiserie. Reflecting the West’s growing fascination with all things Asia–East, West, and South, the lands of China, Japan, India, and Persia were ready sources of exotic mysteries for writers to spin into their stories. But where in the 1910s, this would have led to unadulterated Yellow Peril racism in the mold of Fu Machu (who still acted more honorable than his Western nemesis), exposure to such tales as Charlie Chan had changed the hero pulps. While men from the East would still be villains, they would also be sidekicks, teachers, and heroes in their own right. And in “When the Death-Bat Flies”, Norvell Page brought this sensibility into his weird menace.

On to the story… Read More

Monsters! Monsters! is a fascinating game. Keep in mind that the publication of role-playing games had only begun two years before. This was followed up with the 1975 release of “the poor man’s alternative to D&D”, Tunnels & Trolls. Monsters! Monsters! was released during America’s bicentennial and notice TSR’s response the next year. They produced the a “Basic Set” version of the D&D game and a game supplement dedicated entirely to monsters: The AD&D Monster Manual.

The fact is, TSR was hustling to catch up to the Phoenix gaming scene, because Tunnels & Trolls was arguably first on both counts. The “Number Two” fantasy role-playing game simply didn’t need a basic version. Heck, it was designed from the ground up as an answer to the “excessive complexity” of its chief competitor.

Of course, the simplicity of the game can be a little unnerving. The first edition of the game did not even include any example monsters, just a system for rating them and then running them based off of a single stat: their monster rating. The fourth edition of Tunnels & Trolls addressed that by included a chart of sample monsters with their ratings broken out by level. And though the famed Peters & Mcallister chart opened the way for players to create the now-traditional demi-human player characters of dwarf, elf, leprechaun, faerie, and hobbit extraction, monster fans were left with a few sketchy suggestions on how to scale up man-sized weapons for monster use and also allow your monsters to level up just like the player characters.

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Chris Fox begins a new series, The Magitech Chronicles.

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Enslaved and Forced to Fight Dragons

Aran awakens in chains with no memory. He’s conscripted into the Confederate Marines as a Tech Mage, given a spellrifle, then hurled into the war with the draconic Krox and their Void Wyrm masters.

Desperate to escape, Aran struggles to master his abilities, while surviving the Krox onslaught. Fighting alongside him are a Major who will do anything to win, a Captain who will stop at nothing to see him dead, and a woman who’s past is as blank as his own.

Caught between survival and loyalty Aran must choose. If he flees he will live, but the Krox will burn the galaxy. Stopping them requires a price Aran may be unable to pay:

Learning to trust the very people who enslaved him.