SENSOR SWEEP: Creepy Elves, Prattian Magic, Dangerous Demonization, and Soaked-In Misogyny

Wednesday , 3, August 2016 6 Comments

Appendix N (Save Versus All Wands) Top Ten Reasons Why I Hate Drow  — “Ideally, all elves should be dangerous, mysterious and perhaps even somewhat creepy. Creating a new category of elves that are almost defined as such, effectively means that elves in general (all the other elves) will not be dangerous, mysterious and somewhat creepy.”

Appendix N (Zak S.) Melville, Freud & Lovecraft (Thought Eater) — “But Lovecraft has a much greater influence over our culture than Melville. Nobody has ever tried to make a roleplaying game about Melville. And I think this is because Melville is more specific. You can take Lovecraft and put him in space or the Himalayas or the grimdark future where there is only war. You can’t do that with Melville. I mean, you can, but there’s like one or two space Moby-Dicks. There’s a million space Lovecrafts. Lovecraft gets in everything, like sand the day after the beach. Melville is less flexible. If Lovecraft is sand then Melville marble. Beautiful on his own, but denser and harder to cut and you need to be much smarter about it if you’re going to make anything out of him.”

Appendix N (Tales to Astound) TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–The Casual and Improvisatory Nature of Early Traveller Play — “Miller did not concern himself with a fully realized background built from countless books printed by GDW (countless books had not been printed yet), but grabbed details from a short story he had read to flesh out the environment….”

Pulp Revolution (Seagull Rising) Cirsova: A Contemporary Pulp Magazine  — “Turns out the poindexter crowd has learned some valuable lessons. Not content merely holding the safe ground of video games, they are moving to recapture lost ground in a variety of areas.  To the surprise of no one, literature – and specifically sci-fi and fantasy – is near the top of the list.”

Pulp Revolution (War in a Box) Cirsova, A Review  — “Like so many members of my generation, my love of the short fiction magazine faded over the years. That loss of interest was chalked up to putting away childish things and the rise of digital entertainment against which no mere magazine could possibly hope to compete. Both of those rationalizations made little sense when Project Gutenberg made authors like Burroughs and Howard available for a nostalgic re-read, and demonstrated that the old stories still held up.  Re-reading Tolkien every few years helped prove that the newer works generally didn’t live up to the high reputation of their predecessors. An occasional foray into the magazine stacks at the big box bookstores only provided more evidence that the time of quality short fiction had passed for good.”

Old School (Methods & Madness) REALLY OLD SCHOOL house rules — “I spend a significant amount of time ‘fixing’ the stuff I dislike in D&D. From time to time, I find something that reminds me that there is nothing new under the sun. It seems that most of the possible variations were created in the few years that followed the publication of D&D, and subsequent editions just adopted one or another without really innovating that much.”

New School (Hollywood Metal) D&D Basic (1983) — “After a few ill placed zombies, a statue that swung whenever someone touched it, and a few kobolds that didn’t want to reason, my players found themselves victorious following 5 character deaths, three trips to town, and 4.5 hours into the session. The only surviving player found himself around a quarter of a way to go in terms of reaching level 2 and they still had the basement to go. Though the amount of experience and treasure this basic adventure gave was paltry nearing the level of abuse, it did teach my Pathfinder players the value of one gold piece and one hit point as that could be the difference between life and death. Gygar’s Basement urged the dungeon master to stock the rooms with monsters and treasure and while we never reached that point, I am sure that had I stocked it, it would be with healing potions, piles of money, and monsters that have more than 5XP and no treasure.”

Pink Slime Watch Revisited (Stuff I Like) EPIC: Some Last Notes on The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant — “Creating a world of gray and gray morality filled with characters hued in wondrous shades of gray is no deep insight. Personally, I think it’s a childish one that should only sound insightful to a college freshman. There’s nothing gray in Thomas Covenant’s world. His world, in fact, it’s a pretty black and white one, it’s just that even good actions can have terrible consequences. It’s a much more nuanced and realistic vision, something missing in most of today’s supposedly more ‘realistic’ fantasy.”

Appendix N (PC Bushi) Taking a SFF Step Back — “One of the things I love about SFF is its foundation in myth and legend and folktale. Going back to older literature and stories rooted in oral tradition can be a mentally taxing affair when your mind isn’t acclimated to older writing styles, but the payoff is great. Just as modern writers borrow and steal and modify from works past, so have those older creators drawn upon the stories of their own times and prior. Man is an imaginative creature who has been dreaming of heroes and maidens and dragons and the stars long before the formal emergence of SFF.”

Music (Chicago Reader) Out of Tunes — “Some of the new jazz was undeniably brilliant, and many of the bebop and hard bop recordings that have been remastered and reissued only seem to acquire more appeal with age. Albums like Parker’s Now’s the Time, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Dexter Gordon’s Go, Sonny Rollins Vol. 2, and Coltrane’s Blue Train are timeless, bristling with energy, jaw-dropping improvisation, and deep spirituality. But when they cast their spell, they laid complete waste to the pop-jazz tradition.”

Message Fiction Then (Cirsova) The Zanti Misfits — “The really scary part of this episode is the US government’s acquiescence to this hostile external power, how cowed they are, how they do not dare risk offending the obviously intelligent and peaceful Zanti, and when things go wrong and people start dying, it’s obviously our fault for not respecting the Zanti and doing what they say. The US Government are, rather than willing to protect its citizens from an external threat, complicit in allowing dangerous and hostile aliens into the country.”

Message Fiction Now (Learn Liberty) 7 Fantasy/Science Fiction Epics That Can Inform You About the Real-World Political Scene — “The new series reflects the left-wing reaction to the War on Terror: the Cylon attack is at least partly the result of ‘blowback’ caused by the humans’ own wrongdoing. The series stresses the importance of democracy and civilian leadership, and condemns what it regards as dangerous demonization and mistreatment of the enemy—even one that commits genocide and mass murder.”

Don’t Read Anything Before 1980 (Black Gate) A Tremendously Disappointing Re-Read: The Soaked-in Misogyny of Piers Anthony’s Xanth — “Returning to this book (and a couple of the sequels) as a mature adult makes me embarrassed that I was not offended at its soaked-in misogyny earlier in life. It’s another piece of evidence that I really didn’t grow into a feminist until I got to university.”

Cutting Edge Sci-Fi! (Kameron Hurley) You Don’t Owe Anyone Your Time — “The truth is that all this [stuff] is made up, and because it’s made up, it can be remade.”

Appendix N (A Paladin in Citadel) Vancian Magic? Prattian Magic?  — “While the old-school D&D magic system is often described as Vancian, it is actually a mish-mash of different magic systems, mixed together in an unholy goulash. Take the magic system described in deCamp and Pratt’s magical misadventures of Harold Shea. In that system, spells can be created, without advance study or meditation, as long as appropriate material, verbal and somatic components are combined. While the impressing of spells upon ones mind was borrowed from Vance, the idea of material, verbal and somatic components, central to the magic system in AD&D, comes from deCamp and Pratt.”

Appendix N (Hooc Ott) Jane Ain’t The Only One. — “Tarzan grows from infant to man in the jungle. He talks to apes. He tames an elephant which he rides. He gives, or perhaps his ape tribe did, names to the beasts in the jungle. There is a literal buried treasure. There are seamen who are mutineers, two crews of them separated by 18 years, if not out right pirates. And yes even a Jane Austen-esque romance plot complete with Tarzan’s Jane frustrated by the choice of following her heart’s passion into Tarzan’s jungle or following her reason into the arms of a British Lord.”

Appendix N (Cirsova) Some Thoughts on Conan + Margaret Brundage — “Brundage herself is experiencing a bit of a resurgence; she received a posthumous award at last year’s Worldcon and is up for another this year, I believe. As female icons of the early sci-fi era are being rediscovered and celebrated, Brundage gets to enjoy some of the deserved accolades for her contribution to the field, but she also presents a bit of an uncomfortable truth that iconic women aren’t always going to be what people who are looking for iconic women want to see.”

Appendix N (Every Day Should Be Tuesday) Throwback SF Thursday: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson — “Anderson’s medieval denizens sound, well, medieval.  The language is archaic and beautiful and most importantly perfectly in line with the setting.  This is something that Tolkien did extremely well—yet is wrongly and too often criticized for—and that even very good modern writers like George R.R. Martin and Miles Cameron can’t or won’t do. It’s something that modern editors probably wouldn’t let fly even if authors could pull it off, which is a shame, because it adds a certain effect and complements the story.”

Appendix N (Rawle Nyanzi) Three Hearts and Three Lions — “Anderson also shows that he knows the old folktales on a very deep level, interweaving them into crucial plot points throughout the entire novel — it made the tale feel deep and full. It was nothing at all like the fantasy stuff I was used to, where a legendary figure’s name would be used without capturing any of that character’s substance. It did not treat European folklore as a grab-bag of powers and names to use simply because they sounded cool; I could tell that this story came from the pen of someone who truly loved these tales.”

Movies (John C. Wright) Wondering about Wonder Woman — “The idea that an Amazon from ancient Greece would describe a secretary (an office known to the ancients; they had scribes) as a slave because she obeys orders from a superior officer is not just stupid, it is in-your-face stupid. It is an unkind, even insulting thing to say, doubly so when said to someone just met. It is as if the film maker is double-dog daring us not to like an bitchy and unpleasant character merely because that character is a woman. Would all soldiers and servants be described as slaves by an Amazon, or only female ones?”

From the Comments (Rawle Nyanzi) Frank Frazetta Is 100% Correct — “There have been times (too few, though that’s probably more me vs. opportunity) when I’ve been brought up short by something real that is more beautiful than any artwork… yet THAT, it seems to me, is the part of life that art tries to capture. It packages up distilled beauty, courage, joy, hope, and all the other pieces of the world and gives it to us in such a way we can’t ignore it or forget it.”

6 Comments
  • Rawle Nyanzi says:

    Thanks for linking me, Jeffro. It’s always good to find like-minded folks.

    • Alex says:

      Hey, man, you’re practically in the inner circle of the Order of Appendix N now.

      The Brotherhood looks out for its own!

      (Seriously, though, a lot of folks are thrilled that people are picking up old books and talking about them; it’s exciting stuff).

      • Rawle Nyanzi says:

        Hey, man, you’re practically in the inner circle of the Order of Appendix N now.

        The Brotherhood looks out for its own!

        (Seriously, though, a lot of folks are thrilled that people are picking up old books and talking about them; it’s exciting stuff).

        Thank you. I am humbled to be in such great company.

  • PCBushi says:

    Thanks for putting these round-ups together, Jeffro. The h/t is appreciated, and I’m always on the lookout for new blogs to check out or good posts I may have missed.

  • Jon M says:

    Hey, look at that, I made the sweep. Just glad it could be in service to Cirsova – that’s a great magazine, and I’ll have a couple more pieces on it coming up in the next few days. It deserves all the free word of mouth advertising it can get.

  • Scholar-at-Arms says:

    Oh, lord, that Learn Liberty article…
    No, the “dangers of nationalism” were not a recurring theme in Babylon 5, but rather the dangers of hubris, ambition, and self-delusion. The politics were vaguely left-of-centre, but JMS was too great an artist to make any of the larger elements of his magnum opus boil down to a simple short-term political message.

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