SENSOR SWEEP: Existential Dread, Victorian Fictions, Tradition Defying Geniuses, and the Jaded Old Debauchee

Friday , 5, February 2016 8 Comments

Pink Slime Watch (Black Gate) Despair All The Way Down: The Illearth War by Stephen R. Donaldson — “The Illearth War is a story steeped in existential dread. Both inaction and action in the face of soul-crushing evil seem to lead to disastrous ends. To believe or not to believe? To fight or not to fight? To kill or to be killed? Does it make any difference? This is heady stuff for fantasy and bound to put off more casual readers, but Donaldson takes on the debate with conviction and seriousness.”

Appendix N (Wasteland and Sky) The Worm Turns — “Fantasy is more than archaic settings and dialogue. It’s also a genre about superversive ideas and themes, a place for imagination and wonder, and a hope in eternity.”

Vanity of Vanities… (The Lovecraft eZine) — Lovecraft, Nihilism, and Fascism — “Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition toward chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and as stripped of meaning as the unfettered movements of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure ‘Victorian fictions.’ All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact, and radiant.”

D&D (Cirsova) Sargon Would Understand Alignment — “Without a natural-order/Christendom vs a moral relativism/feywild dichotomy, notions of law and chaos aren’t going to make much mechanical sense….”

The Classics (SuperversiveSF) Where Religion and Fantasy Meet — “There was no one more suited to attempt Purgatory than Odysseus, and fail. Had Dante even invented another figure, that figure would require his own odyssey, which, to have the same power, would require yet more theological inaccuracies to create dangers against which mortal strength could prevail. Only then could this new Odysseus fail against the supernatural.”

Trends (Misha Burnett) Rumpots, Crackpots, And How Are You, Mr. Wilson? — “Personally, I find the successes of these projects to be very encouraging.  It tells me that following trends is not the only way to reach an audience.  In fact, it’s probably not even the best way.  Instead, follow your heart.  Make the art that you want, the work that satisfies your own soul and gets you excited.  Because it’s likely that what you want is also what other people want, and just ignore the ‘experts’ who want to pontificate about the next big thing.”

Star Wars (Bustle) 9 Star Wars Women Ranked By Character Development, From Aunt Beru To Rey — “‘Development’ can’t always be defined for Star Wars films the same way it is for other movies. Captain Phasma barely speaks and doesn’t have much of a discernible personality. But she shows the progression of the franchise’s attitude towards gender by being a recognizably (yet not at all feminized) female character in a role that would normally be filled by a man.”

Star Wars (Jewocity) Star Wars: Episode IX director-Rey’s backstory will be “deeply satisfying” — “This only became more intense when ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ premiered, which raised more questions about Rey and who she is, and if she has any connection with some of the established Star Wars characters…. Fans expecting the answer to be revealed in Episode VIII may be in for an even longer wait though.”

Pink Slime Watch (Bondwine Books) 1977: Lord of the Rinky-dink — “If The Sword of Shannara were submitted as a first novel today, I doubt it would get past any publisher’s slush-reader. But in 1977 there was a huge virgin market for epic fantasy, and Terry Brooks showed how easy it was to exploit it. Since then the virgin has become a jaded old debauchee. One could wish that someone else had beaten Brooks to the punch, and established a higher standard for her taste; but the very badness of his early work, and its huge sales in spite of that, proved beyond doubt that the fantasy element alone, divorced from literary quality, was enough to sell books. On this discovery was founded a whole category of fiction publishing.”

Movies (SCIFIST) Mesa of Lost Women — “Exploitation director Ron Ormond built a new film on top of a completed, but shelved production by German wannabe director Herbert von Schoellenbach. Uncle Fester stars as a mad scientist creating spider women in a cave in a mesa, where a ragtag group of heroes and villains crash their plane after being kidnapped by a madman. There are giant spider props, mute and sultry spider girls, evil dwarves, a Chinese valet who speaks in proverbs, a mad one-eyed scientist, and by some miracle it all adds up to one of the most boring films in history. Worse than anything Ed Wood ever made. But still strangely compelling.”

Books (Brain Pickings) How Aubrey Beardsley’s Visionary Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’ Subverted Victorian Gender Norms and Revolutionized the Graphic Arts — “The combined force of these two tradition-defying geniuses resulted in nothing short of a creative revolution — the play was already targeted by censors for its depiction of Biblical characters and Beardsley’s intensely erotic drawings subverted the era’s gender norms by portraying women as sexually empowered, even predatory, rather than the docile and demure creatures Victorian society expected them to be.”

Traveller (Tales to Astound) TRAVELLER: Out of the Box-The Skill System (which I don’t think is a Skill System) — “Sometimes we view the Classic Traveller rules through the lens of game design that came after it. In doing so, I think we do the game a disservice. We judge it for failing to work the way other games work, when in fact the game works very well to do what it was deigned to do, to play the way it was designed to be played.”

Game Design (Gaming Ballistic) Heretic DnD5: Hit, Miss, Armor, Shield — “If I’m going to toss out the usual way of doing things, or modify it, I’d better have a care for what I’m replacing. To borrow a line that always stuck with me from grade school: ‘When we take away from a man his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace it with something of value’ (Robert Ruark).”

Magazines (Cirsova) Dunhams Destroys, Cirsova Builds — “I will pay triple what Dunhams Manor is offering for the opposite of what they’re asking for. Take the kind of story that Lovecraft, Merritt, Dunsany, Chambers or your other favorite pre-Derlethian weird writer would’ve told and tell it without any irony, any deconstruction, any tongue-in-cheek, any post-modern moralizing or mockery. Tell a good classic pulpy science fiction story with a twinge of existentialist horror via alien and isolating elements. Or take a heroic fantasy approach to the Mythos; tell a story of the naked apes struggling to survive in the world ruled by Elder Gods and Old Ones.”

Wargames (Board Game Geek) Ethics of Wargames — “This is the dumbest thread I’ve ever seen. Bar none. Why spend so much intellectual energy on a forum that is so silly? I’ll play any wargame of any type. It is just a game….tell the witless, spineless jellyfish who would call this hobby in any way immoral to go pound sand. It is just paper and cardboard. Do we need a safe space for the uber sheltered we have raised to participate in our ‘brutal’ hobby?”

Wargames (PAXsims) Thiele: Marines ought to play more games! — “When played against an opponent, wargames allow participants to experience conflict with a hostile, independent will. In order to win, Marines will be forced to think constantly about the enemy, how they can thwart the enemy’s plans, and how they can accomplish their own. Marines will also learn to remain flexible in their approach. Well-balanced games will force players to be creative and resourceful, maximizing any advantage—no matter how slight—in order to win.”

RPGs (Reviews from R’lyeh) Retrospective: Starstone — “Starstone: a Medieval Fantasy Campaign is a low fantasy campaign, with a certain sense of desperation and an underlying mood of fear that together prefigures the ‘Grim and Perilous Adventure’ of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay five years later… It certainly has that RPG’s same emphasis on investigation and interaction over combat—though there is plenty of scope for the latter—even if the DM will need to work a little harder to extract such an emphasis from the book’s dense text. Whilst its handicaps mean that it is not quite perfect, Starstone: a Medieval Fantasy Campaign is a classic mini-campaign, rich in gaming potential, and unfinished as its plots are, rife with possibilities for the Dunegon Master to expand.”

D&D (Zenopus Archives) The d6 HD OD&D Thief — “Most notably, the Great Plains Thief uses the original d6 system for hit dice, where all classes use d6s. For the thief this means 1d6 at level 1, 1d6+1 HD at level 2, 2d6 at level 3, etc. This really gives this version a ‘LBB’ feel. Greyhawk only presents thieves using the ‘alternate hit dice’ where they get a d4 hit dice per level.”

8 Comments
  • CharlieBaud says:

    So “tradition-defying genius” is code for “prototypical feminist slut”. Got it. I find that whenever someone is lauded for breaking” gender-norms”, they usually make the world a little worse.

    • Alex says:

      Strikes me as more of a return to tradition; though very stylized, the works in question are highly reminiscent of Roman erotic art from antiquity and classical grotesque. What makes it uncomfortable and subversive is the reminder that there was no mythical golden age of purity and virtue.

  • Craig N. says:

    How did you happen to run into Tom Simon’s old Shannara review? (I’m not complaining — Tom’s fan writing ought to be much better known — but I’m curious how it came to your attention in with all the recent links.)

    • Jeffro says:

      Scholar-at-Arms pointed me at them in the past week. My Appendix N series is an exploration of what sff was like before the disruptive changes in publishing that began in 1977– and Simon explains what’s wrong with what came after well enough that I don’t have to try. The guy is brilliant.

  • Blue SFF Reader says:

    Virgil Finlay art for the win!

  • Carrington Dixon says:

    Does the Finlay picture of the Snake Mother relate to something in the post? Or is it there just because its Virgil Finlay?

    Either way, I like it.

    • Jeffro says:

      It is an example of “imagination and wonder”, something to contrast with (for example) Captain Phasma whose chief quality is that she is an unfeminine woman in a traditionally masculine role.

      Also… it’s Virgil Finlay!

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