SENSOR SWEEP: Smoking Hot Babes, Ticket-Punching Careerists, Wonderful Magnanimity, and Noxious Aspects

Monday , 20, March 2017 28 Comments

Appendix N (PC Bushi) The Overworld and the Undertale — “Cugel is a dick. And not one of those guys who’s a dick but then actually has a heart of gold, a ‘la Han Solo. For example, in one incident, Cugel is interacting with some clam-men (yes, they’re dudes who live in clams). They play a trick on Cugel by ‘gifting’ a shirt made of water, which holds together initially, and then…falls apart and drenches him. He retaliates by killing one of the clam guys, who places a curse upon Cugel with his dying breath. Cugel also abandons smoking hot babes to servitude and death, and murders (or arranges accidents) for various wayfarers he encounters when he can profit by doing so. And he is remorseless for all of these misdeeds.”

Things Fall Apart (Pulp Archivist) The 1970s Sci Fi Cargo Cult — “This shift in gatekeepers from fans and writers to ticket-punching careerists gutted science fiction of its pulp and Campbell traditions, a loss apparent to the old hands as early as 1981. By publishing what looked liked science fiction instead of the previous mainstream of science fiction, they were no different than the cargo cultists of World War 2. And the readers who were served imitation science fiction instead of the real deal left in droves.”

Genre Wars (Misha Burnett) Enough With This Genre Foolishness Already — “I am suggesting a three-dimensional schema for classifying fiction. I would like to believe that adopting such a schema would end the Genre Wars, but I’m not quite so naive. But getting everyone on the same page would make it easier to keep score.”

Appendix N (Jon del Arroz) Retro Review: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson — “The character of Holger is worth reading, however. I like how he holds to some morality, gives into base sins at times which would be hard to avoid (I mean… let’s be honest, anyone would give into the hot faerie chicks from time to time), and I also appreciates how he holds the real woman he cares about to a higher standard to where he won’t simply frolic with her, even though she’s more than willing – the sign of a true relationship and partnership. Very real characterization from a 1951 book at that.”

It’s Not Just a Clever Name (eFanzines) Futurian War Digest — “I must thank the Futurian Society of New York for their wonderful magnanimity in allowing other people to use the word they so neatly appropriated unto themselves. And seeing as we were never asked what we meant by the term ‘Futurian’ it might be considered presumptious for the New Yorkers to define it as they wish. However, I am grateful for the acknowledgement of the purloining of the term, an acknowledgement some seven years overdue. It is interesting to note that I possess a letter, written when the term was adopted, by DAW stating that ‘Futurian came just when it was needed, and so was appropriated’; and one from Pohl which says that the New York people thought of the term before we did and had adopted it before they knew we were using it. Amusing, eh no?”

Role-Playing (Bradford C. Walker) Tabletop RPGs: Best Kept Simple — “You don’t need a publisher to sell you a setting, because you can create it as you play. You don’t need a publisher to sell you a campaign, because your players will create it emergently as they run that feedback loop. Neither may be what you expected, but they will be what your groups’ actions result in when you sit down to play. Miniatures, maps, fat tomes of mechanics and rules- all completely optional and not at all required. Once common people experience this in action, they break from thinking of TRPGs as ‘incomplete’, see how complete it really is, and see how they are separate and distinct from other forms of RPGs (and other forms of game).”

D&D (Shane Play) Dungeon Grappling Review — “It offers a rich, alternative and, for the most part, non-lethal combat system that runs in parallel with the existing combat systems in D&D, Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry. It doesn’t replace the existing system, nor does it add moves, abilities and feats to the existing system… it’s a parallel combat system that uses it’s own attack, defense and ‘hit point’ system alongside the existing rules.”

History (Benjamin Cheah) Disney’s Gay LeFou is Tokenism — “Disney claims there will be a happily ever after moment for LeFou. This flies in the face of historical fact. The gay subculture of mid-18th century France was marked with profligacy, prostitution, casual sex and group sex. Men in committed relationships with other men were despised — especially those with reputations for being debauchees.”

Role-Playing (Walker’s Retreat) The Internet Changed The Tabletop RPGs Business — “You are NOT in the business of selling [stuff] that you can get for free on a wiki. You are in the business of selling tools that your customers need to facilitate their engagement with the tabletop RPG medium. What you have to do to make selling the old way at all viable now is to castrate its potential as a TRPG product line, and in practice that means Organized Play (because centralized canon and cross-table rulesets are worthless otherwise; your brand, therefore, is your setting/campaign and NOT the ruleset) or you’re going transmedia and need a brand for your fiction line (e.g. Forgotten Realms).”

Role-Playing (Rawle Nyanzi) When Playing RPGs, Go Homebrew or Go Home — “Homebrewing is mandatory because the system as published will not be able to handle everything you and your group will want in your game. The best thing about this is that it will happen slowly and organically. At first, there will be a house rule or two. Next, as the campaign progresses, new situations will arise, and the official rules won’t address them, so the players will need to invent new rules and ignore some official rules. Go on long enough, and the game the group is playing will look nothing like the game in the rulebook.”

Game Design (Lewis Pulsipher) Do’s and Don’ts of RPG Monster Design — “The big difference is that in tabletop RPGs, unlike video games, if you die you don’t have a save game to go back to. Bosses are designed with the idea that there’s a save game to go back to. They are designed to kill you several times before you succeed. You can’t play tabletop RPGs that way, even today with all the easy healing, because if you die you’re dead (more or less). So in video games the purpose of any monster can be to kill the characters the first several times, whereas in tabletop the purpose is to scare the snot out of the players by threatening their characters in some way, but not by actually killing the characters. Death may happen occasionally (just to keep everyone ‘honest’), but it can’t happen frequently, or you’re not going to have much of a campaign.”

Ideas (Kairos) A Metaphysic of Beauty — “St. Thomas notes that beauty gives pleasure when contemplated, but he maintains that beauty is located in the object. In other words, beauty is not a concept in the mind of the beholder imposed onto a given object; it’s caused when the form of an object is impressed on the mind. Beauty is pleasurable because it satisfies one or more of the following criteria to a greater or lesser degree.”

It All Blurs Together (Black Gate) Asimov’s Science Fiction, Vol. 41, Nos. 1 & 2 (January/February 2017) — “On the surface, the story is about a father taking his two daughters to see the beautiful mechanical birds of the title. A low-tech story set in the near-future with regard to climate change, it could easily have been switched over to a current-day setting. While there is no intelligent life native to the planet, intelligent life might naturally evolve there over hundreds of millions of years. A bit preachy, but the characters he meets are interesting. It’s much more of a fictional story about the history of science than what we’d generally consider traditional ‘science fiction.’ Of course, the two girls go exploring and see some truly bizarre stuff, communicating ideas about prejudice and current debates on wildlife preservation that are all too relevant to the here and now. But the research team has discovered one man, one solitary man in all the recorded multiverse, whose life NEVER deviates from a single course, no matter what happens around him. Sure, it gets a little preachy, but the characters are all well-defined and the ending has just a tinge of fun irony to it.”

Campbellian SF (Ququ Media) I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – Book Review — “This brings us to the stories of Powell and Donovan, who are the two most boring characters in the entire book. They are two engineers who are shown at various stages of their careers throughout I, Robot, and their only differentiating characteristics is that one of them has curly red hair and the other has a mustache, though I cannot remember which one had which without looking it up. I understand that this is more a book about exploring ideas than it is about the nature of the human/robot condition, but those two are so boring that I couldn’t bring myself to care during the times when their lives were in dangers, making their stories somewhat of a slog to read through.”

Comics (Jon del Arroz) “Make Mine Marvel No More!” — “What I heard today was disconcerting to me, because I care about Marvel Comics, and more because of what their mistakes do to the comic industry as a whole. The local shop owner told me that Marvel used to comprise about 48% of their sales, and now they’re down to about 25%. Whoa. That’s a huge drop. And I know that doesn’t mean that people are jumping ship and buying equal amount of titles of other books. The comic book readers like me, are mostly quitting except for picking out a few titles here and there. It’s really sad.”

Struggle Time (Tor.com) Revisiting Lovecraft, in Horror and in Ambiguity — “Invoking the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft in fiction is 2017 is no easy task. On the one hand, you have his visionary take on horror, which remains influential to a host of writers; on the other, you have his loathsome racism that’s frequently inseparable from the stories he’s telling. A handful of nods to the Cthulhu Mythos in a story or novel can sometimes feel less like a warm homage and more of an oversight regarding the more noxious aspects of his body of work.”

Pulp Revolution (Seagull Rising) Further West — “West seems to be a part of the Utah action-writer crew along with Correia and Torgersen, and his work reminds me strongly of Correia’s. They share a healthy blue-collar disregard for literary frippery in favor of a blunt, smash mouth style of writing. I actually prefer West’s writing to Correia’s – the Monster Hunter International series felt cold and angsty to me. So if you’re looking for more in the Correia vein, West is a safe bet.”

Genre Wars (JimFear138) Let’s Talk “Hard SF” — “People have this weird obsession with ‘acting adult.’ They want to be considered mature by their peers, and if everyone is telling them that the sword and planet stories they’re writing are juvenile crap and not ‘real scifi,’ eventually they’re going to start listening. The phenomenon of internalization is very real, and people rely on their peers for cues going forward with their projects. I do it, you do it, we all do it. So this setup of, ‘It must be scientifically accurate or it’s nothing,’ is a quick way to kill the genre by playing to an incredibly small, unsustainable audience.”

Genre Wars (SuperversiveSF) Men With Screwdrivers and Men With Magnifying Glasses — “Okay. Let’s pretend we’re not reading science fiction for a moment. What sort of fiction is made up mostly of ‘smart guys thinking their ways out of difficult problems?’ Anybody? Give up yet? Yeah. It’s detective fiction.”

Chivalry (Dalrock) Riding to Lancelot’s rescue. — “Chances are if you have a cherished tale of Lancelot, it has an embedded philosophy of courtly love and you never even noticed it. This is after all what we love about these tales, even though we aren’t aware that the very concept was manufactured some time in the twelfth century. We love it without being consciously aware that it even exists, because as Lewis explains it simply seems normal.”

Literature (Vintage Novels) The Book Sacrifice Tag! — “I did not like that book. Now that I am grown, I suspect that I was not meant to like it, but where is the point of reading something meant specifically to annoy? Down with you, Gatsby.”

Books (Vintage Novels) Eothen by AW Kinglake — “Modern readers might find Kinglake’s attitude toward the locals rather snobbish and condescending – and so it is, although I don’t believe moderners themselves are any less so when beholding their forbears.”

Games (The Last Redoubt) My First Palladium — “I bought TMNT in high school because it just. Looked. Freakin’. Cool. The system was a hot mess, but what a glorious mess. I also ended up buying a copy of the firs Mechanoid Invasion book left laying around, which channeled, in a lot of ways, the same mood as Gregory Benford’s Great Sky River. The Palladium games I actually ended up playing any significant amount of were the Macross-based Robotech books they published. But good lord I loved having them all.”

The Other Campbell (The Last Redoubt) Tha Backstory, tha Whole Backstory, and Nothing But tha Backstory, Pt 2 — “I kid you not that it is everywhere, not just Hollywood. If you go back through the podcast Writing Excuses (even the better pre-Kowal episodes), the heroes journey and hollywood writing formula are explicitly discussed and promoted. Of course, simply transforming the protagonist, letting him grow wasn’t enough. Combine that with post-modernism and nihilism, tearing everything down, and you get character arcs that either end in cynicism, or where all the work and effort are proven futile.”

Genre Wars (SuperversiveSF) John W. Campbell versus Appendix N — “His power was holding the editorship of one magazine: Astounding, later Analog, from 1937 to 1971. He turned that into the flagship of Hard SF, aka Blue SF, and boosted the careers of many writers. He’s been praised as the most influential editor ever . . . by writers whose careers he started and sustained. I don’t disagree that he was willing to sacrifice heroism and Christian values in stories to get the technical content he wanted. But how much impact did he have outside of the pages of his own magazine?”

Criticism (Misha Burnett) The Tool For The Job — “There are characters who have particular virtues among the protagonists–wisdom, self-control, courage, ingenuity, and so on. However, none of them mean bupkis because the Mutants solve their problems by being Mutants. They are born that way. All of Charles Xavier’s wisdom or Logan’s compassion would mean nothing if they hadn’t been born superhuman. The films are Evolutionary Calvinism–the Elect prevail because they are predestined to prevail. Either you’re born a Mutant or you’re not, and if you’re not it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to face off against a guy who can shoot lasers from his eyes.”

28 Comments
  • deuce says:

    Wow. More cool stuff to explore — but not in one paltry sitting. A hefty batch of Sweeps, indeed. I didn’t give the Tor link a click. I’ve read the same tripe from them a thousand times. Or close enough.

  • Rawle Nyanzi says:

    Overall, a good Sensor Sweep.

  • Anthony says:

    Thanks again for linking! I’m happy to spread the discussion around.

  • Anthony says:

    Also, I always enjoyed the Donovan and Powell stories. It was less about the characters and more that those stories had more of an undercurrent of humor to them than his more serious Calvin stories.

  • keith says:

    Man, that is business as usual as far as Cthulhu Mythos goes…
    Horror and weird fiction needs its own equivalent of pulp revolution, I think. Scene is almost exclusively far left these days. I find that fascinating as much as it is depressing, since it seems that it was ever so broad in the past: you always had many left leaning authors in that field, but you also had conservatives like Aickman, deeply religious authors like M. R. James or Arthur Machen, non-materialistic and spiritually-minded libertarians like Bradbury, we had conservative thinkers like Russell Kirk who were also accomplished and award winning horror writers and so on. And one need not mention Lovecraft himself and many of his close friends.
    And yet today…

    • deuce says:

      Robert M. Price is a highly-respected scholar of Lovecraft and his circle. He is also a highly-respected Biblical scholar, especially in regard to the New Testament. Perhaps I should say “WAS” highly-respected. Because of his views on Islam and his support of Trump, he has been kicked out of his professional group of Biblical scholars, his publisher refuses to look at any new manuscripts, he’s been kicked out of NecronomiCon in Providence and his scholarly columns were kicked off of Mike Davis’ Lovecraft eZine just the other day.

      Modern Mythos studies and fiction is No Country for Right Men. A bunch of father-hating, self-devouring ninnies, they are. Fully converged.

      • icewater says:

        FFS, they all but kicked out his pal Joshi too, one of (if not THE) most respected and through scholars of HPL and horror fiction in general. And guy happens to be Hillary-loving liberal of Hindu ancestry.
        Unless you’re fully subscribed to TEH NARRATIVE, you’re going down.

      • john silence says:

        Well damn it, I just checked his FB as you’re right. And it looks like other authors were treated in similar manner. I stopped even checking their site age ago, but once it looked Davis was politics-agnostic as far as him magazine goes.
        If this is how he’ll play now, fuck him. Chances are that good chunk of his audience was there because of Price, not the other way around.

      • Rawle Nyanzi says:

        Things like that make spaces like this all the more important.

    • icewater says:

      Fun fact, one of the best and bleakest pieces of Cthulhu Mythos fiction that I had pleasure to read, and one that also dealt with such themes like European colonialism and mistreatment of African natives, was written by… goddamn David Drake.
      And it dealt with its themes way better than some recentish race or gender-based “subversions” of Lovecraft that are touted for it! Not that you’ll ever hear them praising Drake’s story because LITERALLY HITLER and all that.
      So yeah, bring back horror written by non-shitlib authors!

    • deuce says:

      Yeah, that was a great tale from Drake. Not pushing an agenda, just laying things out as they happened, but working in a little Mythos as well. I loved the gunslinger/bodyguard.

      Drake is definitely conservative. I can see why he moved the hell out of Raleigh. I had a gf in high school who was great. We broke up, she went to UNC and came back an SJW — though of a fairly low-grade order.

      Price used to live in North Carolina. At one point, you had Karl Wagner, Wellman, Drake and Price all living in the same state. There may’ve been a couple of others from that period I’ve forgotten. NC is a great state once you get out beyond the big college towns.

  • The sensor sweep here has become like the Drudge Report of SF/F blogs worth reading.

  • john silence says:

    There is very slight but noticeable transformation to Cogel’s character in the second collection themed around him. Now, he doesn’t become by any stretch of imagination good, but he does become slightly more reasonable and sympathetic. It helps that Vance now balanced him out with opposition that is as rotten or worse than him, and it is him that gets shafted multiple times.

    Anyhow… I can see why he might become tiresome to some, but I do love a good Flashman-grade a-hole every now and then, especially when humor is so strong.

    (Also, Michael Shea’s attempted sequel to the first Cugel collection might be worth a look, but it is both a different beast and not nearly as good. Humor is much weaker too, but on the other hand Shea had enjoyably twisted imagination so you’ll encounter stuff like the garden seeded with bodies that constantly produce new body parts and so on.)

    • deuce says:

      I thinks Shea’s “Simbilis” is worth reading, but he found his real footing with Nifft, who is a superior creation to Cugel, IMO. We lost Shea too soon. He was a great guy from what I hear.

  • Thanks for the signal boost!

  • I’m doing something right to merit two mentions in a single sweep. Thanks!

  • Fenris Wulf says:

    “But the research team has discovered one man, one solitary man in all the recorded multiverse, whose life NEVER deviates from a single course, no matter what happens around him.”

    Copying error – that’s a different story. I was intrigued enough to look it up. Alas, it’s typical ASIMOV’S fare. The idea doesn’t lead to anything interesting and the story peters out.

  • Dan Wolfgang says:

    Thanks for the link, Jeffro! I really appreciate it.

  • Douglas Cole says:

    Thus far, Dungeon Grappling has been very well received critically. I maintain my contention that grappling needs to be part of any game that features combat. The less the grappling rules deviate from the regular combat rules, the better they are as an option that can be integrated easily with the normal flow at the table.

    Shane was gracious enough to invite me on his program, and he also independently reviewed the play of the game. And by that, I mean he actually played out some combats using the grappling rules and reported on how it worked for the game.

    I think his review is both favorable and accurate. But I also think it presents a take on things that invite comment, so I’m going to indulge in a bit of quote-response.

    https://gamingballistic.com/2017/03/22/shane-plays-review-of-dungeon-grappling-comments/

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