Summer Review Round-up

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a round-up of my Castalia House Short Reviews.

One of the cool things is, since someone uploaded scans of a ton of Planet Stories back in December of last year, you can actually read a most, if not all, of the stories I’ve been talking about! Going forward, I’ve been including links to where you can read the stories within the articles themselves. Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about Queen of the Martian Catacombs.

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A Quick Short Review Round-up

Here’s a quick look a what I’ve been talking about over at Castalia House.  If you haven’t read these, check them out.  Or better yet, find these stories and read them yourself if you can!

Coming of the Gods by Chester Whitehorn – Martian vs Rat-men
Assault on a City by Jack Vance – A pulp dame saves herself from rapists.
Cosmic Yo-yo by Ross Rocklynne – Asteroid Haulers crash the competition and find true love
Mists of Mars by George A. Whittington – A Martian Princess’ revolution succeeds with the help of a space cop
The Spider Men of Gharr by Wilbur Scott Peacock – Cryofrozen action scientist awakes to find Earth conquered by evil aliens
Retro Fandom Friday – 1940s fans celebrate and complain about Sci-fi


Short Reviews – The Overworld, by Jack Vance

The Overworld by Jack Vance first appeared in the December 1965 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.


Real Short Reviews will return at Castalia House next week with George A. Whittington’s Mists of Mars.  Today, check out this interview I did with Joe Stech of Compelling Science Fiction.  No foolin!*

Since I’ve been talking about thieves this week and have finally had a chance to dig back into my Dying Earth Omnibus again for the first time in nearly two months, expect to see some actual Vance stuff in the soontime.

*:Hopefully our site will be back up soon; we’ve had some ISP issues the last couple of days; apologies to anyone who has clicked through to the short reviews I linked earlier only to land at a 404 page.  Until Castalia House comes back online, the interview with Joe Stech can be found here.


New Short Review Up – Raiders of the Second Moon + Stat Blocks

Normally I would wait a few weeks and do a round-up of my Castalia House posts, but today’s post has vital gaming content, including how with two stat blocks and two magic items you could run Basil Wells’ Raiders of the Second Moon as an adventure hook for the Holmes Sample mega-dungeon.

Check it out!

Short Review & Wargame Roundup

You may have noticed that I haven’t been making my Short Reviews or Wargame posts here lately.  If you didn’t already know that you could find them at the Castalia House blog, you know now.  If you’re only following me here, this is what you may have missed:

Today, my first of two pieces on Avalon Hill’s War and Peace is up:

Later this week, I’ll be digging into some Retro Fandom, sharing a few highlights from the letters section of the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories.  What do I have in common with Algis Budrys?  We both want more Albert de Pina!

Short Reviews – The Sword of Johnny Damokles, Hugh Frazier Parker

The Sword of Johnny Damokles originally appeared in the March 1943 issue of Planet Stories.  The version reviewed was the reprint featured in the Fall 1953 issue of Tops in Science Fiction.

A tribe of evil Neptunian lizard men have stolen a copy of Mein Kampf and used it as a blue print to unite the other tribes of evil Neptunian lizard men to launch a war against Earth.  Only Ti, the brave spaceman, and Johnny Damokles, the charming Greek space cook, can stop them!

Seriously?  You need more than that?

Okay, I’ll talk about the two most interesting aspects of this story.  First of all, it’s worth noting that this piece was written mid-war; Greece had completely fallen to the Germans just two years earlier. Secondly, in the distance future portrayed in the story, out of all of the people in the human solar empire, only the Greeks managed to retain their unique cultural identity.

Of course, this means that Johnny Damokles comes off at first as a caricature of the fat clumsy Greek (“Why you a make the fun of the Greeks?  She are a great peoples!”), but he eventually wins over Ti by showing himself to be both brave and clever, willing to fight and brave death against tyranny to prove the worth of Greece’s greatest legacies of philosophy, freedom and individuality.

At least according to ISFDB, Hugh Frazier Parker never had any other stories published, which is a damn shame.

Short Reviews – And the Gods Laughed, Fredric Brown

And the Gods Laughed by Fredric Brown appeared in the Spring 1944 issue of Planet Stories.  The version reviewed was the 1953 reprint in the Fall issue of Tops in Science Fiction.

And the Gods Laughed is one of those stories that you can imagine inspiring things like the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits.  In fact, I would not be surprised if there’s an episode of Outer Limits loosely based on this one.

The story is framed by the pastime of spacers telling each other tall tales of their previous space adventures to while away the time.  One of the guys mentions earrings, which sets the narrator off on his own story about a race they encountered on Ganymede, all naked except for giant gold earrings (‘where the earrings wore the natives’).  Long story short, the gold earrings are parasitic aliens with telepathic capabilities who take over and use the host bodies until they wear out.  They are limited by the intellect of their hosts so have been trapped on the planetoid with their primitive hosts until the spacemen from earth set down providing them an opportunity to escape.

There is some genuinely creepy imagery in this story.  The part that still sticks out in my mind, providing nightmare fuel, is when one of the natives is in the river and gets his legs bit off by some kind of giant crocodile; the native crawls out, walks around on bloody stumps for bit before handing his earring off to someone else and falling down dead.

The story was good enough that I almost felt that the twist ending detracted from it a bit; sometimes the better twist is to not jump on the obvious twist, but I still really liked this one.  These guys would make a great monster race to include in a tabletop game.  I might stat them up later today.