SENSOR SWEEP: Raffish and Déclassé, Freewheeling Roots, Terrible Purpose, and Chunky Salsa

Monday , 24, April 2017 32 Comments

Books (Quintus Curtius) Why Every Man Should Read “Robinson Crusoe” — “Never before had English readers seen a story like it. Instead of telling a tale of man against man, Robinson Crusoe deals with that far more common circumstance: man against himself. While most of us will never be shipwrecked on a deserted island, we will without doubt be faced with loneliness, isolation, and the grief of abandonment. How a man deals with these things, how he overcomes the voices of defeatism and despair, are what really concern us. And Robinson Crusoe tells us how to deal with these emotions.”

Pulp Devolution (Ququ Media) Old Venus – Book Review: Part 1 — “There is one comment that really ruins the essay, and for some at least, it might ruin the whole book. ‘Venus also featured as a setting in somewhat more mainline science fiction as well, outside of the confines of the pure Planetary Romance story (which, truth to tell, was looked down upon as somewhat raffish and déclassé by the core science-fiction fans),’ So, yeah, the book starts off by telling fans of Planetary Romance that they’re not real Science Fiction fans; real Science Fiction fans scoff at that sort of story-telling.”

Pulp Revolution (Cirsova) You Can’t Judge a Pulp by its Pitch — “The thing is, a Pulp is much more than its pitch. A lot of pulp stories, when you try to distill their plots down to a sentence or two, come across as the wildest, most off-the-wall gonzo nonsense you can dream up. Except when you actually read the stories, they’re not only internally consistent, they often take themselves and the wild situations therein fairly seriously. While there might be some humor, the elements in the stories are usually not played for laughs.”

Appendix N (Into the Night) Appendix N Challenge: The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany — “Seriously, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read this guy there’s a massive part of your education missing. Yes, he jumps around idea-wise like a kid with ADHD sometimes, but you get used to it. Think of it as learning a new language. The language of fantasy perhaps.”

D&D (Rampant Games) Simpler Dungeon Design: Consider the Antagonists — “The nice thing here is that while he’s planning out how these encounters might play out, the insistence on including it in a wandering monster table forces a different perspective on things, unlike the WotC approach. The WotC approach was very linear. The monsters are here, the obstacles are here, the special conditions are thus, and the players must succeed by accomplishing this. Jeffro’s approach requires the DM to be in a more interactive mindset. The party may bypass combat with bribes, threats, negotiations, stealth, you name it. It’s good for the DM to have at least a default plan… for all that the party tends to upend the best-laid plans, in practice with my own group, they stay within the lines more often than not. Just not when you expect them to…”

Books (Black Gate) The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh — “Across her career, Cherryh has excelled at creating beings who are not rubber-forehead aliens or from the planet of hats. Her aliens think, act, and contemplate the universe in very different ways than each other. Even when broad traits exist across a single species, different factions and nations within them operate from their own motives and individual beliefs. What lies at the heart of the Chanur stories is the exploration of how beings who have little-to-nothing in common regarding their basic perceptions of the world might communicate and even cooperate.”

Tunnels & Trolls (Save Versus All Wands) Game Review (Part 8): Tunnels & Trolls, 1st edition: Monsters! — “The publication of the Monster Manual, in 1977, effectively created a new fantasy canon that would make people forget the games’s more freewheeling roots. And some of the more freewheeling monsters of OD&D – the Martians, robots, amazons, vikings and so on – would quickly fall out of later editions of the game, as the universe of Dungeon’s & Dragons was made to more and more conform to what has been called ‘Gygaxian naturalism.’ Robots were too science-fiction. Amazons were too historical, and so on. To some extent, Narnia plus dinosaurs and robots became a renaissance faire run by the Disney company. It was a great loss.”

Is Emma Peel Feminine? (Nixon Now) The Action Girl and the Killer Plant Monster from Outer Space — “If you decide to write a story and in it all women essentially have superpowers and can take down any man, then you have to build the world around it to reflect this change. But nobody does. Which is why it begins to stick in the craw. If all women had this ability, society would not be the same. It would be very different. So this element does not jive with the world in which it is presented as much as people would like to pretend otherwise. A man-eating plant monster, however, doesn’t exist. A plant monster could be anything. As long as it follows the internal rules which the writer has set up, why shouldn’t we believe it?”

Pulp Revolution (Jon Del Arroz) The Review You’ve Been Waiting For: Cirsova Magazine Issue 5 — “Misha’s own ‘In The Gloaming O My Darling’ actually was the closest of the set to something of traditional Lovecraft horror, but the way it was presented with the characters was far more enjoyable than most of the other work I’ve read in that genre. He really told a classic short story very well with this one.”

Appendix N (Colin Anders Brodd) Fredric Brown Revisited – Appendix N Revisited, Part 4 — “Fredric Brown (1906-1972) was a science fiction author known for both his humor and his mastery of the form of the short story. From personal experience, I can attest that short stories are tremendously difficult to do well, and I find myself rarely able to do one in fewer than 8 pages or so. Many of Brown’s stories are merely a page or two; some are just a paragraph or two – and they’re good! I have immense respect for his skill with the form. The humorous nature of many of his stories makes them stand out a bit from more mainstream science fiction – Brown loves to end a story with a twist, especially a humorous one!”

Appendix N (Into the night) Appendix N Challenge: The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs — “There is a darkness within the story that creeps up on you, elements of horror that occur to you as you’re laying in bed at night trying to think of other things. It’s not the in your face crassness of slasher movies, more like the unsettling imagery of a Shirley Jackson or HPL. It’s so casually done too, a master of prose putting it in because he can and, like his magic, it fits.”

Appendix N (Into the night) Appendix N Challenge: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. — “Morgan shows on more than one occasion that she loves Carlson and does her best to protect him while advancing her own plans. Carlson has to fight the feelings that he has for her to do what he knows is right. It’s shades of grey done right and creates depth without leaving you feeling sullied by what you’ve read.”

Pulp Revolution (Bryce A Beattie) StoryHack Action & Adventure, Issue 0 Lineup — “Sending out rejections is really hard for me to do. It hurt to make that last round of cuts. But now is not the time for wallowing in pain. Now is the time for excitement and revelry! There’s some great fiction headed your way.”

Film ( David Lynch’s Dune is What You Get When You Build a Science Fictional World With No Interest in Science Fiction — “Not only does he make it rain, but there is another useless voiceover that tells us that Muad’Dib will bring peace where there’s war and love where there’s hate. So not only did David Lynch not really care much for science fiction, he completely passed over the entire point of Dune. Which is that Paul is going to help the Fremen remake Arrakis as they see fit using methods that they have perfected. Paul is made into a god in the minds of men, not that he truly was one. And the belief in this godhood, the worship of him and his cause will actually bring endless war to the cosmos, something that he fights to prevent and is eventually forced to succumb to; his terrible purpose.”

Pulp Revolution (Jon Del Arroz) It’s Time To Burn The Ships In Publishing — “I talked to an agent the other day about these issues and how for the simple crime of speaking out, there’s only one publisher who is ever even remotely likely to pick my work up at this juncture, and the agent didn’t disagree. What troubles me is that the agent didn’t seem to think that was a problem.”

Appendix N (Walker’s Retreat) My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars – Lensman — “Alongside Edgar Rice Burroughs, E.E. Smith is one of the great treasures of American culture and literature; that he is forgotten by most people (and actively memory-holed by Academia) is a crime against Civilization.”

RPGs are prisoners of capitalism! (Just The Caffeine Talking) Experience Points (Part 1): Do We Need Them? — “And from a blatantly commercial standpoint, characters who ‘level up’ can gain cool new abilities, which are explained in these cool new game supplements, which cost a cool thirty bucks each. In games without XPs, the only things players can drool over and spend money on is new equipment. In a game with XPs, they can drool over gear and character abilities, which means the publisher can sell two supplements instead of one. Note that I’m not sneering at mere commerce here. I’ve written some of those supplements. Especially in the 1990s and early 2000s, selling a constant stream of supplements was the only way to stay in business.”

Piloting the ‘mech! (Just The Caffeine Talking) Experience Points (Part 2): Problems and Solutions — “More to the point, it’s a serious obstacle to the ‘immersion’ in the roleplaying experience we all love if your character isn’t a character but an incomplete set of abilities lacking only 5600 more XP to become the character you want. While the “hero’s journey” of a character like Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker is interesting, we can also enjoy the adventures of ‘complete’ characters like Conan or Han Solo. In the course of his adventures in the Star Wars films, Han experiences a moral awakening and meets the love of his life, but there’s no sense that he gets better at piloting spaceships or beating greedy bounty-hunters to the draw in a gunfight.”

D&D (Don’t Split the Party) Your Party Had Better Have More Than Four People In It – Hints for Players and GMs — “From all reports, henchmen were ubiquitous in the gaming of E.G.G. and I have to admit they are ubiquitous in all of mine, as well. I have never understood the entire ‘wno one wants to play a cleric, but Joe has to’ dynamic when you can just get 2-3 cleric henchmen and let everyone play the class they like. Henchmen also help with encumbrance – many hands make for light work. Heck, they help with looking for secret doors – more dice get rolled! D&D always has an element of resource management in it and I am not sure why people don’t seem to grasp that PCs/henchmen are part of those managed resources.”

D&D (Don’t Split the Party) Misunderstood and Improperly Played: Save or Die Mechanics. — “Fiction is chock-a-block full of extraordinary characters that avoid certain death… somehow. Dr. Who never quite gets murderized by the instant-kill dalek death ray; Jason doesn’t really die when he’s thrown into that wood chipper; John Matrix is 3 feet from an exploding grenade, is tossed through the air – and got a scratch; Buck Rogers is in the path of the disintegrator beam and somehow deflects it with a plate of inertron from his jump pack; I could go on. See, in heroic fiction the heroes and the villains sometimes tell the Chunky Salsa Rule to buzz off.”

Pulp Revolution (Kairos) Pulp Speed — “The golden age of fiction for readers has returned. The crap rules the traditional publishers forced on writers are gone for writers smart enough to escape them. Just as with the pulp era, writers are free to write stories again at whatever pace they want to write. And readers are free to read what they want without some snobby person telling them it is good or bad. The second pulp era is upon us.”

D&D (Semper Initiativus Unam) A Frequently Missed Point on Saving Throws — “Without getting fancy about it, the OD&D chart has a clear tendency to have lower numbers on the left side of the chart. Sure, it’s a little backward with high level magic-users, but for the most part the easier saves are further to the left. And at the same time, these are the saves that are more likely to take a PC out of the game. A fighter with decent hit points can take a Fireball or the breath of a smaller dragon on the chin, but poison and Finger of Death are save or die. And polymorph / paralyzation is a remove-from-game save.”

Old School Fantasy (Pulp Archivist) Isekai: From the Familiar to the Strange — “This movement from familiar to strange cushions the shock of the weirdness of science fiction and fantasy while serving also as a point of contrast for the strangeness of the new world. The technique helps build sense of wonder through the contrast while lulling the sense of disbelief to sleep by starting in the familiar. Isekai is the current Japanese expression of this movement from the familiar to the strange, and, like the pulps, it’s selling like hotcakes.”

  • Jesse Lucas says:

    By the same token, it’s way too easy to take a wild, off-the-wall pitch and make it boring.

  • Hooc Ott says:

    “So, yeah, the book starts off by telling fans of Planetary Romance that they’re not real Science Fiction fans; real Science Fiction fans scoff at that sort of story-telling.””

    That Old Venus book is a GRRM joint isn’t it.

    I remember seeing an interview or panel where a young women gushed about Jon Snow and Ygritte (Its the cave love scene that does it. Literally grabs the ladies by the…) and how great GRRM is at writing women and oh how does it he do it so well.

    Of course in a later book Jon betrays Ygritte she shoots him in the leg and later she is killed. Why she is with Jon Snow in the first place is a complete mystery. Ygritte goes on and on about how with her people the men grab the women and must fight off or fool her family to win her….and then after explaining all this and how great it is she just jumps in the sack with him for no reason what so ever.

    Irregardless it amazes me how women put up with this garbage. Twilight at least has alphas that want the main. Watching trailers of the films I think they even fight over her once or twice. In fact I am pretty sure most of the bodice rippers have that SFF or not.

    The whole Ygritte subplot is just that a superfluous subplot. It is actually there for those kind of ladies. And once drawn in GRRM kicks their teeth out and yet they still come back for more.

    So weird.

    • Jon Mollison says:

      It’s a bit meta, but maybe GRRM is giving the ladies the kind of abuse that drives them wild by teasing them with romance then kicking them in the teeth. He’s running a weird kind of Game on them!

      • caleb says:

        Speaking of the kind of abuse they like, I’m getting flashbacks to now dead (and never lamented) IMDB forums, that is to ladies discussing just how cute Ramsay actually was or, back in the day, lamenting the passing of Dany’s batshit brother. Methinks that it has something to do with ye olde “healing broken men thru the power of LOVE(TM)” thing that is so perennially loved by romance readers. GoT sure offers large selection and variety of such men to fantasize about, even if it doesn’t provide its female viewership with romantic payback.

  • Thanks for the mention!

  • I see that my Lensman post made quite the impression. Thanks, Jeffro!

    • Jeffro says:

      A series I passed over along with the John Carter mars books back in the day. I just couldn’t imagine it being any good. Doh!

      • Man of the Atom says:

        Tarzan is usually passed over due to most people knowing the character through bad Hollywood movies rather than the books instead of Burroughs’ prose.

        Unlike you youngsters, my parents and my grade school teachers pushed E. E. Smith, ERB, K. Robeson, R. E. Howard, and other pulpy writers on us in the late 60s and early 70s. One of my elementary teachers read us chapters of “Galactic Patrol” for part of our English class.

        Jeffro, kudos to you and the rest of the Pulp Revivalists! So glad you guys are discovering this wonderful trove of adventure and imagination! Woot!

  • caleb says:

    Frisky Pagan’s reviews of them Hugo nominees are both hilarious and depressing.

  • Dean says:

    Thanks for including me Jeffro, it’s really appreciated. I’m loving reading through the recommendations.

  • john silence says:

    Yeah, Dune was a mess, and its production was a mess. That article is strangely agreeable for once, especially since it for once targets artsy pretentious crowd (Dune was Lynch’s intentional rebellion against Star Wars! It is so dark and surreal and ugly and intelligent -even though it filled with giant plot holes and is spectacular dumbing down of its source material!), same crowd that Tor wants to be associated with. But, later on it devolves into accusations of homophobia and sexism. Also, no idea what to make out of bits like this one:

    “This looks like a future computer, I’m pretty sure.”

    If he made fun out of idea that they had portable COMPUTER in Dune, then yeah that shows spectacular ignorance of the source material on the filmmakers’ part. However, if writer made fun of how that gadget doesn’t look particularly futuristic even for mid 80s, then, um…

    • Andy says:

      I was under the impression that Lynch agreed to direct Dune because he regretted turning down Return of the Jedi? (And then he regretted doing Dune because he just isn’t for sci-fi….)

      I remember reading an interesting interview with Mark Frost in which Frost said that contrary to his reputation Lynch isn’t actually subversive but is genuinely sincere about loving small town America and classical values. He doesn’t make Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks because he wants to mock those settings but because in his mind it’s about contrasting good-natured people with complete monsters. It would seem to explain how he’s able to make movies like The Elephant Man or The Straight Story without them seeming to contradict the rest of his catalog.

  • john silence says:

    Though, it would be interesting to see if he is actually supportive of Jodo’s failed attempt. Since, you know, that one gave even less thought to its source material, and it gave precisely zero f***s about that SF aspect of it, being just a huge occult-alchemical allegory.

  • icewater says:

    Truth be told, I am almost sympathetic of Lynch’s portrayal of Harkonens, even though it is both huge strawmaning of their book portrayal and downright torture for the eyes. Thing is, blockbuster audiences need binary good guys/bad guys division, and there’s no way that he could’ve instilled the books’s nuance into such a short time while still having them as convincing decadent baddies. And message is sympathetic to me: Harkonnens live in this degenerate. amoral industrial hellhole, whereas Atreides come from noble traditionalist society. Also, even more obvious, having overweight gay pedophiliac for your baddie was already triggering to some back then, and such a thing would be impossible today in our current cultural context.

    Not trying to defend to movie in total mind you, it is this badly produced clusterfuck that sucked all the depth and all the sense of adventure and wonder from Dune. But, there is some sympathetic stuff there.

  • Robert says:

    “Save versus all Wangs” is this a meta catholic joke?

    Robert Jordan had some ideas on what a society with superpowered women would be like – One dealt with it by enslaving them and beating them into submission. Kind of awkward when you put it like that.

    Lynch’s Dune was a major inspiration for Masamune Shirow, so some good things came from it…

  • keith says:

    Regarding that Cherryh bit, and the whole rarity of fictional alien species that aren’t monocultures, tinfoilish part of me cannot help but wonder if there is more to it than authors merely making it easier on themselves. One questions if, at least unconsciously, that might be another result of their globalist mentality that views existence of vastly differing cultures as something unnatural, constructed, dangerous… Something that more advanced civilisation will certainly leave behind, or even one particularly human folly that won’t be encountered in equally or less developed alien species.

    • Man of the Atom says:

      Certainly was the standard for much of Star Trek, especially the 80s series. Plastic foreheads and monoculture societies.

    • icewater says:

      Pretty fair assumption, I’d say, given how many authors had communist/collectivist leanings.

    • deuce says:

      Your tinfoil hat is firmly on in this case, IF you were actually referring to Cherryh. From the very beginnings of the pulps, you had planets with monocultures and, oftentimes, monoclimates. No commie infiltration, just easier on the writer.

      Cherryh isn’t any sort of “commie collectivist”. She was raised on an Oklahoma farm and proud of it. She’s a fan of Merritt and REH and says so on her website. She won an award a couple of years ago and told the audience that she never considered herself a “women’s writer”, just simply a writer. Full stop. Heroes in her fiction are usually strong individualists. The regul in her “Faded Sun” series are obviously modeled on Oriental collectivist societies. They’re the bad guys.

      When it comes to the scifi/fantasy split, she said, “I don’t like this specialization in which one side sniffs at the other as if they were some other species. No, no, no. We started out one creature.” CJC and Warpig are on the same side.

      • icewater says:

        I think that he was commenting on monocultures in speculative fiction in general rather than accusing Cherryh. Even if he haven’t read her, that linked BG article, even the selected quote, made that clear in relation to her fiction.

      • keith says:

        I wasn’t speaking of her fiction…

      • deuce says:

        I was giving you the benefit of a doubt. Very cool you weren’t talking about Cherryh.

        While I could see the monocultural appeal to SF collectivists, it can just as easily be seen as a Darwinian thing. One culture simply became dominant — by whatever means — on a planet by the time they achieved space travel. As Vox points out, multiculturalism within a given society tends toward eventual monoculturalism. Of course, there are plenty of work-arounds for an author who wants something different.

  • Dan Wolfgang says:

    Thanks for the link, Jeffro! I’ve found a lot of great blogs from your Sensor Sweeps, and I’m honored to now be included among them.

  • Nixon Maxy says:

    It’s a funny thing to start reading a blog regularly and then a couple weeks later get linked to from it. I’m glad you liked the post, Jeffro. Thanks!

  • Colin Brodd says:

    Thanks for including my comments on Fredric Brown!

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